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Should Harm Befall Us

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Should Harm Befall Us

 

Prologue

 

London, September 1666

Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, walked slowly down the lane towards the wrought-iron gates, the only opening in the high wall which surrounded the grounds and manor house he occupied when he was in London.  At the sentry posts the guards shifted nervously at his approach, backs straightening and cramped fingers flexing around the heavy weapons they held at the ready.  It would not do for the monarch to be harmed or even worse, assassinated, within his own estate, with those who were charged to keep him safe so close at hand… and they knew it well. 

He reached the gates and stood for a moment, ignoring the guards and their watchful eyes.  At his back, behind the stone-and-mortar safety of the walls, the lawns of his estate stretched out as a rolling carpet.  The colour-touched leaves on the trees fluttered in the light breeze, and the long beds of roses and other late-summer blooms were a startling contrast against the emerald green which remained despite the encroaching autumn. 

But try as he might, he was unable to detect any of the delightful fragrance he knew should be there.  Instead, on what should have been a fine September day, full of sunshine and the delights of the season, he took a shallow, cautious breath of air that was filled with the heaviness of soot and ash.  For the sprawling view of the city in front of him was not the thriving bustle of his kingdom’s capital, but instead a reeking ruin of charred timbers and partially burned brick and stone structures.  Coils of smoke rose from debris which still smouldered, spot fires not yet fully extinguished by the embattled and exhausted fire brigade.  And he could already see the certain sign of what danger London was facing – wheeling in slow circles in the sky above his city were the ravens, the opportunistic bringers of pestilence and disease.  They were the harbingers of doom and disaster for his city, presenting the very real threat of a return to the horrors of the Great Plague.  This, on top of the catastrophic damage from the fire, would be a crippling blow from which even noble London might never recover.

It was days since the fire had finally been brought under control; today was the first in which he would be free to meet with those who gave him counsel.  His advisors had been fiendishly busy, but so had he himself, and his brother James, caught up in the battle to save the city; only now was time available to them all once again.  Notably, his royal astronomer, John Flamsteed, had sent a request through his own personal clerk for a private consultation, on a matter which he described as having the utmost urgency and importance.  He had granted the audience and would meet with him shortly.  He considered it likely he’d end up supporting whatever Flamsteed wanted to do; the man had not led him astray in all the years he’d served the royal household.

With a final long look around, he gathered his cloak around his shoulders and turned back toward his manor, only to find himself accosted by a hooded figure who appeared from the shadows cast on the public roadway by the estate walls.  The guards, already weary and on edge after days of days of encroaching smoke and fire, moved quickly to intercept the man before he reached the king, pushing him to his knees and levelling their swords at his throat.  Yet even as he fell, the stranger called out to the king.

“Your Majesty!” The voice broke off with a cry as one guard dealt a glancing blow off the side of his head, but continued, “I beg of you, sire, a moment, that you would hear my words…”

Charles hesitated, then stepped forward to look more closely at the figure kneeling in the mud in front of him.  The man was dressed in the simple clothing of a peasant, his cloak worn and tattered, with the hood falling away to reveal a face etched with the lines of a life hard-lived.  He waved the guards off, seeing no weapon raised against him, and with the instincts of one accustomed to weighing a man’s intent with but a glance – a skill his life had depended upon many times – perceived no intent of harm from the stranger.  Reluctantly they moved away, remaining at a close enough distance that they might intervene should it become necessary.

“Speak, man,” Charles said at length, continuing to watch the shivering form before him.  “You have my attention for this moment; say what you came to say.”

The man took a deep breath and looked up into the impassive face of his king.  “Majesty, hear my words,” he said again. “You must let them be, let them remain in the city.  Else we will face certain peril.  The Tower will crumble to dust, and great harm will befall the kingdom!”  He pushed himself upright, but his wavering step towards Charles immediately brought the guards forward.  The king stood his ground between the stranger and his men, however, and nodded that he should continue. 

“No matter what others will ask, or demand be done, you must let them stay!  You must!” The voice rose to a hoarse shout, which proved to be the final straw as far as the soldiers were concerned.  They began to drag him away, back towards the road.  “Birds of ill omen they may be, but the ravens must stay!  Your Majesty!  Tell me you will make it so!”

Charles finally stepped back and let the guards do their job, yet he continued to watch as the man was given a final sharp shove and then melted back into the shadows.  The king stood in the silence, the back of his neck continuing to prickle long after the stranger disappeared from his sight.  It was a few more moments before he turned to walk back to the house and his waiting advisors.

*

London, September 1979

George Cowley had always considered himself a pragmatic man, not given to an excessive imagination or flights of fancy.  Years of service in the military and intelligence community had forged a determined, driven man who had ultimately directed his principles into the creation and leadership of Criminal Intelligence Five, CI5, with its mandate (in his view, anyway) of keeping the kingdom smelling, even if ever so faintly, of lavender and roses. 

Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public… he’d expected to face all of this and more, and thus trained his men and women hard to give them every advantage in the battle, for it was indeed a war in which they were engaged. 

He’d certainly not anticipated, however, that all his resources would now be fighting a centuries-old legend and prophecy.

As it went, Cowley knew, ‘peril would befall the kingdom should the ravens be removed from the Tower.’  Charles II, king of England from 1660 to 1685, had surveyed the ruins of his capital city and heeded the words of a stranger over those of his own royal astronomer; six ravens had been placed in permanent residence at the Tower of London, under the care of a dedicated warder. 

Centuries had come and gone, and the ravens remained; generations of careful breeding and fresh stock from around the nation combining to keep the birds in their official duty.  A close brush with devastation occurred during the Battle of Britain, when the flock was reduced to two, then wiped out completely by enemy bombs.  When the guns and planes fell silent at last, the nation’s recovery began with the re-establishment of the six ravens, plus one more permanently in reserve, living at the Tower with a Ravenmaster chosen and appointed from amongst the Yeoman Warders.

As the decades of the twentieth century progressed, the role of the birds and their Master seemed more important than ever.  The tension of more conflicts, on two different Asian peninsulas in two different decades, lasted for years until cease-fires and surrenders and withdrawals stopped the fighting.  Yet the world remained uneasy, and all the nations of the great alliances, including Britain, knew little of true peace.  Within the walls of the ancient fortress, Her Majesty’s ravens lived and died, not only under the watchful and caring eye of their keeper, but in full view of the throngs of a tourist-public that trooped through the Tower expecting to see them and delighting in their antics.  

So the kingdom continued without the prophesied ‘perishing harm’ … until the day the ravens disappeared… and Cowley was left not just to keep the kingdom safe, but to ensure its very survival.

 

oOo

 

Part One

 

Mid-August 1979  

Ten seconds more, and Bodie would’ve have been late for the morning briefing.

Naturally, on a day where an unexpected early-morning call from one of his grasses had diverted him from his usual route to headquarters and then sent him straight back into heavier traffic, the lift was out of service for maintenance, and he’d had to sprint up the stairs.  He’d barely had time to slip into a chair in the back row, while his boss had his back turned to survey the information pinned to the notice board at the front of the Squad meeting room.  George Cowley was a predictable old bastard in many ways; the collections of photographs, data sheets, and various other items that were displayed on the briefing room boards were always arranged just so, providing maximum effect with minimal space, and his morning briefings always began on time. 

Bodie slunk down in the uncomfortable metal chair, aware that Cowley had probably already noted that he was sitting apart from his partner, instead of beside him, front and centre in their usual pair of seats, and would have surmised, correctly, that he was running late.  Resigning himself to the fact that he would no doubt hear about the virtues of punctuality from both his partner and Cowley later, Bodie settled in to hear about the latest villains and their attempts to destroy England’s green and pleasant land.

When the briefing ended there was the usual rustle of chairs being pushed around, and several members of the Squad scurried out the door on their way to time-sensitive tasks.  At the front of the room, Cowley slipped his spectacles into his pocket and picked up the folders of notes and case files he’d been presenting.  He stopped to talk to a couple of agents on his way out of the room, and at the doorway turned back and made eye contact with Bodie.

“I’ll see you in my office in five minutes,” he said to him.  “And bring your partner along, I’ve a new assignment that will involve you both.”

 

*

 

“Three-seven.  Six-two.” George Cowley motioned to the pair of chairs in front of his desk without looking up.  “You’re hereby pulled from the duty roster, and relieved from all your current investigations, effective immediately.”

Bodie and Murphy exchanged a startled glance.

“All investigations, sir?”  Bodie watched his partner settle onto his favourite chair, then perched on the edge of the other.  “Even the Ryerson case…?  We’re due to spell Anson and McCabe later this morning…”

Cowley paused in his reading of the file in front of him.  “Aye, Bodie,” he said.  “All investigations.  Others will be assigned to take your places.”  He looked back down, frowning.  “And make sure you hand off your notes to Betty, so she can pass them along.”

“Yes, sir, we will,” said Murphy, before Bodie could say anything about that.  Of the two of them, Murphy was the primary note-keeper, although Bodie did carry a small notebook, and even occasionally used it.

The silence stretched, then, for a few moments, while Cowley finished his reading and scratched a few lines onto the report’s last page.  At length, the Controller put down his pen and closed the folder.  He removed his heavy-framed glasses but let them sit, at the ready, in one hand.

“What I’m about to say goes no further than this room,” Cowley said.  “There are precious few who know about this … situation.  And we intend it to stay that way.”

Bodie settled back into his chair, greeting his partner’s raised eyebrow with one of his own.  Cowley’s prologue was largely unnecessary, of course, since much of what CI5 did came under the watchful eye of the Official Secrets Act.  Clearly, whatever this was, it had prompted more agitation from their boss than they usually saw.

“Credible threats have been made against the nation’s antiquities,” Cowley said.  “Threats upon which both the minister and prime minister have directed that action be taken.”  He replaced his glasses with one hand and re-opened the file on the desk with the other, the motion smooth and familiar from countless repetitions.  “In London and the home counties, those antiquities threatened include the Tower of London, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and Windsor Castle, just to name a few.”

Bodie shook his head.  “There’s always some nutter going on about that,” he said.  “Blowing up the Palace, knocking down Tower Bridge, even the clock works in Big Ben.  We’ve heard it all before!”

“I said credible threats, three-seven!”  Cowley stood, a bit stiffly, and began pacing in the small area behind his desk.  “Aye, we’ve seen plenty of attention-seekers who want their moment in the spotlight, but what’s out there right now is real, very real.”  He paused and fixed his gaze on the two seated agents.  “And much, much more dangerous.  My investigation is narrowing in on a small, shadowy cell on the outer fringes of the IRA.  And I say shadowy because although I have some idea of what their goal may be, I haven’t yet identified any of the key players, including who is leading them.  But they’re out there, to be sure.”

“Dangerous in what way, sir?”  Murphy’s question broke the small silence Cowley’s words had produced.

Cowley settled back into his chair, still focussed on Bodie and Murphy opposite him.  “Has either of you hear about the theft of the altar stone, from Saint Pancras Old Church?  This would have been, say, two years ago…”

“No, sir,” was Bodie’s first response, but then a thought surfaced from the depth of his memory.  “Wait a minute, wasn’t that …”

“From Old Saint Pancras?”  Murphy flashed a triumphant grin at his partner.  “That was reported to be a local gang initiation task, though.  And wasn’t the stone returned two days later?”

“Indeed, it was.  Well done, Murphy.” Cowley ignored the eye roll and light punch on the shoulder Bodie sent Murphy’s way.  “That report, of course, was utterly false.  One of my better pieces of fiction, I must say, which did serve its purpose: to disguise the nature of the actual threat.  Even if we didn’t fully understand it ourselves at the time.”

“Oh, come on, this is beginning to sound a bit melodramatic,” Bodie said.  “Threats and sinister purposes, over the theft of a bit of rock from an old church?”

Cowley glared at Bodie over the heavy rims of his glasses.  “The relics of Saint Pancras are purported to be so potent that they had to be split up and scattered throughout the Christian world, including into Britain.  One of them is at Old Saint Pancras Church.  It is said that any blasphemer faces possession, collapse, or death due to the power of the remnants.

“Over the past eighteen months,” he continued, “there have been four similar events at places of historical significance, all with legends or warnings attached to them.  They are all connected, as we can now see.”  Then he did hesitate, before removing a photograph from his file.  “This is the most recent … incident.  It occurred four days ago.”

Bodie accepted the photo, holding it so Murphy could see it as well.  “Looks like some fallen stones and a dead bird…?”  He studied it again to see if there was anything he had missed, a weapon, an identifying mark as to where this was, then looked back at Cowley, eyebrows raised.

“Six-two?” Cowley’s question to Murphy produced a similar response.  “Well then,” he said.  “What you see here is a raven, and yes, it’s quite dead, Bodie.  The stones behind it are a few pieces from one of the window ledges of the White Tower … the Tower of London.”

“This is one of the Tower’s ravens?” Murphy was beginning to look concerned.  “What about the others?”

Cowley nodded in satisfaction.  “I see you are beginning to understand the gravity of the situation,” he said.  “The other ravens are fine, for now, thanks to the efforts of a few people at the Tower, including the RavenMaster himself, who was injured as a result of the attack.”

Bodie shifted impatiently in his chair.  “I’m still not seeing the significance for us,” he said.

“It’s the legend of the ravens,” Murphy said, and at an encouraging nod from Cowley he continued.  “Legend has it that if the ravens are ever removed from the Tower of London, the kingdom will fall.  There have been ravens at the Tower for centuries,” he said, biting his lip as he tried to pull the tale from his memory.  “Back to the time of King…”

“King Charles the Second.”  Cowley completed Murphy’s recitation.  “Every schoolchild learns the legend of the ravens, and it is, for the most part, treated as the folklore it surely is.  Or was always thought to be…”  He frowned, suddenly deep in thought.

“Sir?”  Now both Bodie and Murphy were looking concerned.

Cowley placed his spectacles onto the desk, then rose and limped across the office to the small cabinet where he kept his supply of scotch.  Returning with one of his finer single malts and three crystal tumblers, he poured a generous amount into each one, sliding two across the desk.  He raised his glass in a silent toast, then took a healthy sip as he watched his men do the same.  Comfortably fortified, he leaned forward and waited for their attention to return to him.

“Your new assignment,” Cowley said, “will have you both undercover, at the Tower of London.”  He paused, then added, “As Yeoman Warders.”

“Is this a joke?!”  Bodie shot to his feet, spun around the chair and stood there, gripping its back until his knuckles shone white with the strain.  “Undercover as a puffed-up tour guide, smiling for the tourists?  I don’t think so…”

“Sit down, Bodie,” Cowley said.  “Now,” he added, as Bodie hesitated for a moment, the disbelief and horror still showing in his expression.

Cowley waited for his agent to take his seat again before continuing.  “What you may not be aware of, gentlemen, is that for several years a number of the Yeoman Warders have been part of another force, a special defence squad at the Tower.”  The statement produced raised eyebrows from Bodie, but a nod from Murphy.  “While the Warders do maintain their traditional role as the ceremonial keepers of the Tower, and act as ambassadors, if you will, for the visitors to the Tower to engage with, a good two thirds of them are also highly trained members of this force.  The Guard Extraordinary, as it’s known, takes its name from the full title of the Yeoman Warders, who are Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary.” He paused, to let everything begin to sink in.  “And this information is largely unknown to the public, the tourists especially.  Despite its history, we don’t want the image of the Tower of London to be that of an impenetrable fortress with heavily armed guards at its perimeter.”

“Even if that’s what it actually was, I mean, is…” Bodie shook his head in disbelief.

“Ahh,” Murphy said suddenly.  “this defence force… this is why there was the change in the recruiting for the Yeoman Warders’ positions.  What?”  He returned his incredulous partner’s look with a frown.  “I had actually considered applying, when I left the Regiment.”

“Did you, indeed.”  Cowley’s flat tone indicated he was probably already aware of what Murphy’s intentions had been.  “But you’re quite correct, Murphy, the royal decree which opened up recruiting for the Yeoman Warders disguised the actual formation of the Guard Extraordinary.  And now, like me, they draw on all the services – army, police, all specialties – and they are fully integrated into the daily operation of the Tower.”  He pulled two sheets of paper from the file and slid them across the desk.  “Here are the details of your assignments.  Three-seven, you will have some small role in the traditional Yeoman Warder activities, but you will principally be involved in the ongoing training of the members of the Extraordinary.  Tactics and weapon drills, mostly.  Your past experiences should serve you well.”  He turned to Murphy.  “I trust you will understand why I have you in the position which will have more contact with the general public.  But in this role, you will be able to observe the visitors much more closely than three-seven.”

“In other words, I look prettier than – oi!”  Murphy only half dodged a punch to the arm from his partner.  “All right, less menacing than Bodie.”  He grinned at Bodie’s outraged expression.

“Quite.”  Cowley retrieved a second file from a desk drawer and handed it to Murphy.  “Here are the rest of the details you’ll need to know.  You both report to the chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower tomorrow morning.”  He stood, and Bodie and Murphy rose with him.  “You’ll be living in quarters at the Tower, so use the rest of the day to set your affairs in order.”

As they nodded their response, Cowley added, “And take care, gentlemen.  The prime minister herself has stressed the high importance of this assignment.  Clearly, the Tower of London must not fall, whether figuratively or literally.”  He followed them as they made their way out of the office and stood, leaning on the door frame to watch them go, their chatter fading as they walked down the corridor.  “On your bikes, lads,” he said quietly.  “And above all, look after those ravens.  The fate of the kingdom may depend on it.”

 

*

 

By mutual, unspoken consent they ended up at Bodie’s flat, after wrapping up their now-former case files and delivering them to Betty as Cowley had instructed.  Now, two hours later, they were ensconced on the sofa in the lounge, the notes from the briefing files spread out on the coffee table in front of them, along with a couple of mugs of tea and a plate of biscuits.  They’d each done a quick read-through of the material, and were now settled in for a more detailed session of analysis and, of course, memorization.

Bodie picked up the report on the Saint Pancras Old Church theft.  “Murph,” he said, “Why did you remember the details of this?  It was hardly a CI5 case at the time, despite what the old man said about helping to cover it up.”

“You know I’ve always been a bit of a history buff,” Murphy said.

At that Bodie rolled his eyes.  ‘Buff’ didn’t begin to describe his partner’s fascination with ancient things, and his unfortunate (in Bodie’s opinion) tendency to inflict that enthusiasm upon whoever happened to be nearest at the time.  Many a quiet obbo had seen Bodie treated to a monologue on Murphy’s latest antiquity of interest.

Murphy sniffed in disdain, then continued to answer the question.  “I’ve been to that church,” he said.  “Actually saw the bit of stone we’re talking about.  It was in a display case, with security alarms, of course… right in the narthex of the church.  The entranceway,” he added, at Bodie’s blank look.  “And like Cowley said, there’s a plaque with a brief telling of the story of the cult of Saint Pancras.”

Bodie stared moodily at the report.  “Do you believe the rest of the story, about what happened after the theft?  And after these other incidents as well?”  He waved his hand over the pile of folders on the table, plucking another one up at random.  “This one, here… Pickering Castle.  A promise of ‘judgement most severe’ which protects the old courthouse.”

“This pattern that we can see… I don’t know, mate.”  Murphy looked thoughtful.  “To me it looks like someone was trying to see, oh, I don’t know, if the legends were actually real.  And how much trouble or damage would be the consequence.”  He shook his head and looked at Bodie, seeing the open skepticism on his partner’s face.  “It looks and sounds crazy, doesn’t it,” he said.  “But I’m not sure we can be arrogant enough in our own narrow understanding of the world to completely dismiss the incidents which occurred after each and every one of these thefts.”

“You’re starting to sound like Cowley,” Bodie said, more sharply than he’d intended.  “And he thinks it’s a splinter of the bloody IRA.”  The unease which had started back in the Controller’s office continued to crawl around in the back of his mind, growing despite his efforts to tamp it down.  He stood and walked to the window, looking out at the normal drear that was his third-floor view.  “Mystical legends, consequences of doom…  It’s all just a bit too, I don’t know, fanciful?  This is the real world we’re talking about, not some pulp science fiction novel.”

Murphy picked up the reports from where Bodie had dropped them on the table.  “There was an earthquake, an earthquake, for Christ’s sake, Bodie!  After the judicial mallet was stolen from the display at Pickering Castle.  When was the last time there was a bloody earthquake in Yorkshire?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

Unexpectedly Murphy laughed.  “Well, actually, I can’t,” he said.  “Not off the top of my head, at any rate.  But I think we can assume it was a while ago, and did not match the date and time of the theft of a sacred relic.”  He put the reports back into their pile on the table.  “The poor bastards who took the altar stone had to deal with a much more, shall we say, personal fallout…?”

“People drop dead of sudden strokes all the time, even thieves and other less desirable types,” Bodie said.  “Nothing unusual about that, even if the timing was terrible for them.  Right inside the church as they tried to return what they’d stolen?”  He shook his head.  “An unfortunate coincidence, mate, that’s all.”

“Unfortunate indeed.”  Murphy let that thought linger for a moment, then pointed to the photo of the dead raven.  “At any rate, our focus is the Tower of London, and how to prevent anything more happening against those ravens.  Come on, three-seven,” he said.  “Time to review your training schedule for the Tower’s defence force.  And I get to memorize the history of the place, so I don’t spread any misinformation to the innocent, unsuspecting public.”

“There’s one more thing we both need to do, mate,” Bodie said.  “Have you read our cover information yet?  Ah, I thought not.”  He grinned at his partner.  “We’re both still active members of the service, old son.  Seconded from the SAS to the Guard Extraordinary in a time of crisis, and all that.  Which means breaking out the uniform that I know you still have lurking at the back of your wardrobe…”

Murphy groaned.  “I haven’t been in uniform since I left the Regiment,” he said.  “Although I’m pretty sure it will still fit.”  He patted his flat stomach thoughtfully.  “Yours, on the other hand…”

“… fits just fine, thank you very much,” Bodie said.  “But you’ve overlooked the other part of it.  The part that won’t quite be such an adaptation for me as for you.”  When Murphy continued to look puzzled, Bodie’s smile grew broader.  “Haircut, mate.  Your beautiful feathered locks have got to go.” 

The woebegone look on Murphy’s face made Bodie laugh out loud.

 

oOo

 

As a child, Bodie had been to the Tower of London just once, but the visit stuck in his memory because it was one of the few positive recollections he had of his childhood.  While the circumstances of the visit were a bit vague – it had been an aunt on his mother’s side, he thought, who’d brought him down to London for a few days ‘to see the sights all youngsters should see’, and he’d been maybe ten years old at the time – the details of those sights remained clear in his mind even all these years later. 

They’d admired Nelson’s Column and fed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, experienced the Whispering Gallery and then climbed up those winding metal staircases to the very top of the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and ridden in a river tour boat which took them to Greenwich, where they’d walked the Prime Meridian and laughed about having one foot in each half of the world.  They’d stood beside the Parliament Buildings and stared up at Big Ben, listening to and feeling the resonance of the bells as the giant clock had struck the hour, and they’d leaned right up against the fence at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard.  Bodie had even trailed around after his aunt in Harrods, eyes wide with wonder at the displays of fancy clothes, jewellery, furniture and household items, and toys that were completely beyond even his youthful dreams.

But it was the visit to the Tower of London which Bodie remembered best.  Although he’d been excited to see the Yeoman Warders in their fancy dress, and the display of the Crown Jewels, he was even more thrilled with the soaring stone walls of the fortress, the battlements, the shiny black cannons scattered throughout the grounds.  He’d had to be dragged from the hall where the suits of armour were displayed… gleaming metal, elegant chainmail, the huge variety of shapes and styles, some even for horses!  The hands-on activities with various weapons of war – from drawing back an ancient bowstring, to aiming a musket, brandishing a sword… even learning how to load one of the cannons – it had all made Bodie feel like a soldier in history.  The Tower had captured his imagination and held him spellbound for hours, and his ten-year-old self had vowed to come back and see it again and again.  Of course, it hadn’t worked out that way, but even through the difficult and dangerous years of his life which followed, Bodie held on to his memories of this special place in his distant homeland and vowed to see it again.

Yet, in all the time since, including the five years he’d lived in London after becoming a member of CI5, Bodie had not returned to visit the Tower of London.  Until today, of course, when he and Murphy arrived at the ‘staff entrance’, an unobtrusive little gate-and-door in the curtain wall which opened into an area of the grounds that was off-limits to tourists. 

There were already people entering through this door – employees of the Tower and the collection of shops and businesses which made up the residents’ village.  Bodie and Murphy slipped in as well, waiting just inside the door for their escort to pick them up.  Promptly at 0630 hours, they were approached by a man dressed in the blue working uniform of the Yeoman Warders, adorned by rank insignia denoting lieutenant colonel, and a second badge which both recognized as the crest of the Guard Extraordinary.

“Sergeant Bodie and Sergeant Murphy, I presume?”  The voice matched the visual, managing to sound booming and yet not loud in this enclosed space of the entranceway.

Bodie was immediately reminded of a particularly effective sergeant-major he’d served under in his final year in the SAS.  He stiffened to attention, his salute to the officer was crisp and quick, belying the fact he’d spent the last several years out of uniform.  “Sir,” he said.  “I’m Bodie.”

“And I’m Murphy.” 

His partner’s reaction was equally tight and sharp, as it should be, Bodie noted with some amusement, since Murphy had actually spent more time in uniformed service to Her Majesty than he himself had.

Returning the salute, the officer then offered a handshake to them both.  “Good morning, gentlemen,” he said.  He gave them a quick but thorough once-over, then said, “Are the rank and uniforms part of your cover, Bodie, or are you and Murphy …”

“They’re very real, sir.”  Bodie managed to straighten his shoulders into another level of attention.  “Three years in the Paras, another four with the Regiment for me.  Murphy was a Royal Engineer before his stint.”

“Excellent.  Now both of you, at ease!”  He smiled as they complied, although Bodie merely settled to his standard parade rest while Murphy stood a little easier.  “My name is Keith Harrison; I’m the Deputy Chief Yeoman Warder and the second in command of the Guard Extraordinary.  He took a step toward the cobblestone footpath leading into the grounds and motioned that they should follow.  “I took a commission from the ranks because the command structure of the Guard Extraordinary demands a senior officer as deputy commander, not a regimental sergeant-major.  When we’re in public, I’m your superior officer, and will be addressed as such.  Behind closed doors,” he quirked an eyebrow, “and at the pub, I’m Harry.”

“Yes, sir.”

Bodie slipped in behind Harrison and Murphy on the path, restraining himself to only a slight roll of his eyes.  But then he glanced ahead and found himself slowing at the spectacle.  In the twilight of the early morning the stone was awash with the pink-tinged light of the rising sun.  It was enough to make a man feel rather insignificant, if he were to contemplate the number of sunrises these ancient stones had seen.  Looking over at his partner, he saw a similar expression to the one he felt must be on his face… awestruck and humbled at the same time.  But now was not the time to linger, and they both picked up their pace to catch up to their new commander, who had paused to wait for them.

“Sergeant Bodie, I thought we’d begin with a complete tour of the grounds for you, both public and areas which are not open to visitors,” Harrison said.  “We can take a preliminary look at the security measures which are in place, and review the responsibilities of all personnel assigned any role in the protection of Her Majesty’s Tower.”

“That sounds fine, sir,” Bodie said.  “And Murphy…?”

Harrison signalled a nearby Yeoman Warder, who had clearly been waiting for them, to come forward.  “This is Corporal Hobbs,” he said.  “He’ll give Murphy the working man’s tour, and introduce him around to the members on duty this morning.  We’ll meet up again for lunch at the Commander’s office.”

 

*

 

The tour lasted the entire morning, and despite the serious circumstances which had brought him here, it revived that excitement felt by Bodie’s distant ten-year-old self.  He was shown through all the major exhibit halls and the open grounds, and the private residential area.  Unfortunately, though, a stop at the raven enclosure beside the White Tower didn’t produce a meeting with either the RavenMaster or any of the birds themselves. 

“It’s good the ravens are all out,” said Harrison.  “The tourists expect to see them, of course.  We might as well close the gates if all of the major attractions, including the ravens, aren’t available.”  He shook his head.  “The Assistant RavenMaster has been looking after things these last few days, though, and doing a fine job.”

The sequestered community where the Warders and their families lived had been a revelation to Bodie; there were rows of terraced flats, shops selling food and other household goods, a launderette and drycleaner, and of course, a barbershop – all those military men needed their regulation trim!  There was even a pub, the storied Yeoman Warders Club (now known as The Keys, Bodie was informed), and Lieutenant Colonel Harrison promised a visit, for inspection purposes only, of course, at the end of the day. 

The final stop at the end of the tour was the office of the Chief Yeoman Warder.  Murphy was already there, his own trip around the Tower completed.  Bodie moved to stand beside him; he was eager to hear if his partner had picked up on anything from the staffer who’d shown him around.

The Commander himself came out to greet them at the office door; after instructing his aide to arrange for lunch to be delivered, he ushered them inside.  “Colonel James Gibson,” he said to them, his handshake as brisk and firm as his manner. “It’s good to meet you, Bodie and Murphy, isn’t it?  Although under grave circumstances, I’m afraid.” 

“Indeed they are, sir,” said Bodie.  “And we’re here to provide an extra layer of protection for the ravens and RavenMaster.  We might also be able to assist with an overall look at security… an outside set of eyes.  CI5 has already begun a deep vetting of all personnel assigned here.  Not that it hasn’t already been done as part of the application and training process for the Guard Extraordinary,” he added hastily.  “Generally speaking, though, we have…”

The Colonel nodded.  “More resources than I do.  Yes, quite,” he said.  “George Cowley and I have had a few discussions about how things might be best accomplished… you have been briefed?”

“Mr. Cowley gave us a fairly extensive file, with the understanding that we would have specific roles here,” Murphy said.

“I’m inclined to believe that a boost in our training programme will do the Guard some good,” Colonel Gibson said.  “Not that the men are unprepared in any way, of course, but since the attack last week we have had to be that much more vigilant.”

“Bodie is to be the additional trainer, according to Major Cowley.”  Keith Harrison set down the file he’d been looking at since they’d arrived at the office.  “Weapons and tactical defence drills.  The schedule has been put together by CI5’s experts, and was posted yesterday for the members of the Extraordinary to see.  You start tomorrow morning, I believe, Sergeant Bodie?”  Harrison waited for a nod of confirmation from Bodie, then looked over at Murphy.  “And Murphy will be out in the grounds as part of the regular patrols, later in the day.  This will allow him to have regular access to both the ravens and the RavenMaster, when they are out in the common areas.”

“Tell me, what do you think of our RavenMaster?”  Colonel Gibson said, with a glance at his deputy as he spoke. 

“Didn’t get to meet him, sir,” Harrison spoke up before either Bodie or Murphy could answer.  “He’s back on partial duty tomorrow, only been out of the infirmary for a couple of days.  He was doing better when I stopped in at his flat yesterday.” 

“Ah yes, that’s right.  Hell of a fall he took, gentlemen.”  Gibson shook his head.  “What about the ravens, then?”

“The ravens have been out in the grounds under the supervision of his assistant, MacKnight,” Harrison said.  “And I did, of course, catch the odd glimpse of them in the grounds.  All seemed well.”

Bodie exchanged a quick glance with Murphy, receiving a raised brow in response.  He made a mental note to look up the full report of the attack which had led to the death of the raven and injuries to the RavenMaster; Cowley’s briefing package may not have been as complete as it could have been with regards to the circumstances of the incident.

A knock at the door revealed the Commander’s aide ready to bring in a platter of sandwiches and some tea; as the four men ate, the conversation turned to what Bodie and Murphy had planned for the afternoon.

“Murphy and I are ready to move into quarters here at the Tower,” Bodie said.  “We’ll just need to pick up our kit from my flat and bring it here.”

“We’ve arranged accommodations for you in the section of the village allocated for the single Warders,” Harrison said.  “The flats are small but suitable for your use.  We have also assembled for each of you,” he continued, “the full uniforms of the Yeoman Warders and Extraordinary.  They’re in your quarters already.”

“Cowley assures me you will be prepared to assume your roles immediately,” said Colonel Gibson.  “Are you ready to do so?”

Bodie set his plate and teacup down and rose to his feet; he watched his partner quickly do the same.  “Yes, sir,” he said.  “We’ll do everything we can to strengthen the protection of the Tower.  And CI5’s resources are working to fully identify and neutralize the threat, so that nothing further will happen.”  In preparation to leave, he replaced his headdress and straightened to full attention.  “Sir.”  He saluted the two senior Warders.  “We’ll be on our way, then.”

The commander nodded in acknowledgement.  Harrison walked them out the door and into the entranceway of the Tower’s command centre.  “Report back to me here at 1700 hours,” he said, pointing to his own office door.  “We’ll swing by the raven enclosure for a quick look, then do that final visit I promised you… to The Keys.”

“Yes sir!”  This time it was Murphy who responded.  “1700 hours, we’ll be there.”

 

oOo

 

Yeoman Warder Raymond Doyle, of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, and also the RavenMaster, tucked himself further into the quietest, least-visible table in The Keys, and watched the ebb and flow of the early evening activities.  There weren’t many members in yet; the evening shift of both Warders and the Extraordinary were still at work, would be until the Ceremony of The Keys in a couple of hours.  Others were likely still at home finishing up their evening meal with their families.  Ray had settled in at the conclusion of an afternoon of physiotherapy at the Tower’s infirmary, finding himself reluctant to return to his solitary quarters just yet.  He’d had four endless days away from his duties, and the ravens… and also his fellow Warders.  A bit of human contact might be a welcome distraction from everything.

Not for the first time, however, he found himself wishing that The Keys had a more … traditional … pub setup.

A typical local, in Ray’s considered opinion, needed both a long and cluttered bar where the number of stools matched the number of taps, and a collection of dimly lit nooks and crannies where tiny tables and their occupants could disappear into the warm fug of the lengthening evening.  A true measure of a pub’s character was to see how early that would happen.

The Keys, as it was now known after decades (or was it centuries? he wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed likely) of being simply The Yeoman Warders Club, had none of this charm, of course; it was wide open, bright and cheerful, and instead of the local football team colours or England jerseys adorning the walls, there were swords, portraits, and glass cases displaying variants on the formal scarlet uniform that was worn by the majority of the exclusive club’s members.  The framed signature of one of the Tower of London’s most infamous ‘guests’, Rudolph Hess, was just the crowning touch of unreality.

Two newcomers stepped in the door, notable for the fact that strangers were rarely seen in the club, as membership was restricted to the Yeoman Warders, the Guard Extraordinary, and their guests.  Ray straightened in his seat, his attention caught by the men as they hesitated in the doorway, standing right between the brightly coloured uniforms in their display cases.  He sat back as he realized he’d seen both of them in various place around the Tower earlier in the day, one of them even in the company of the deputy commander of the Warders.  He knew there’d been a new intake scheduled for the Extraordinary; likely these men were part of that.

Ray noted the military uniforms, neat and tidy despite what was sure to have been a long day for the men.  Both wore the rank of sergeant, although the darker-haired one had a couple of extra patches and badges that indicated he was more than just a typical SAS man.  If there was such a thing, of course… not being military himself, Ray didn’t fully recognize and understand all the minutia that made up the regimental markings.

The two soldiers each picked up a pint of the pub’s finest – Beefeater Bitter, by the looks of it – and stood for a moment, surveying the room with what Ray had come to recognize as a typical security operative’s stare.  It was second nature to him, a honed instinct, had been for years… and up until five days ago he’d thought he could depend on it to keep both himself and everything he was charged to look at both safe and sound against any manner of threat.  Clearly, he’d been wrong about that.  He shifted slightly, hoping to ease the ache in his wrapped and braced knee, his foot propped up on the chair at the other side of his small corner table to keep his leg elevated.  When all his action achieved was a fresh twinge in the strained ligaments, he scowled into his glass of orange juice – nothing alcoholic permitted because of the heavy-duty anti-inflammatory tablets the medical officer insisted he still had to take, thank you very much – and then returned his gaze to the two men on the other side of the room.

They’d settled at a table with a couple of off-duty members of the Guard Extraordinary, including the deputy commander himself.  Introductions appeared to have gone well, and why wouldn’t they, Ray mused… most members of the Extraordinary were current or very recently ex military, even though the Extraordinary itself was not part of the military chain of command.  There were only a few, like himself, who didn’t have a bloody armoured-personnel-carrier-load of regimental tales with which to regale an unsuspecting listener, although here within the hallowed walls of The Keys, the stories were mostly told among compatriots.

Ray shifted again in his chair, picking up his glass and moodily sipping the juice.  Perhaps it had been a mistake to come out to the pub so soon; after all, it had been not even a week since the … incident … that had left him injured and unconscious on the lawn beside the White Tower, with the motionless form of one of his charges beside him… Raven Winston, whom he’d sworn to protect against all perils.  Yet he hadn’t been good enough, or strong enough, to fulfil his duty.  No, he shouldn’t have come out tonight at all.

With a surge of motion, Ray abandoned his drink, replacing it in his hand with the smoothly rounded handle of the cane that was his constant companion.  He stood too quickly and swayed for a few seconds, angry at the weakness and pain that kept him from even the most basic of tasks without nearly falling over.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement at a nearby table, and quietly sighed… so much for a quick and unobtrusive exit. 

“Doyle.”  It was the concern-filled voice of Benny Clarke, a fellow former copper who’d been recruited to the Guard Extraordinary just six months before Ray himself had arrived; although they’d never served together in the Met, their common background had made them natural allies in a unit full of military representation.  “Good to see you out and about, mate.”  Clarke clapped a gentle hand to Ray’s left shoulder, careful not to upset his somewhat precarious balance with the cane.  “If I’d known you were here, I’d have asked you to join us.”

“Benny.”  Ray forced a smile that took in both Benny and his wife, who was still seated at their table.  “Hello, Meg,” he said.  “Not a worry, I wasn’t here long, and as you can see,” he gestured to his bandaged leg, “I’m not up to much at all.  Making an early evening of it, in fact.”

“Yeah.”  Clarke looked at him with sympathy in his gaze.  “The shoulder still gamey too?  That was a hell of a fall you took, Ray.  You should still be on leave.”

“It’ll do,” Ray said.  “And you know I have to get back, even to partial duty.”

“Yeah,” Benny said again.  “Be glad you’re not on full duty, mate,” he added with a rueful grin.  “Word is we’ve got a new training officer, and the first thing he’s gone and done is schedule a session at oh-dark-hundred tomorrow morning.  Full combat dress, if you please…”

It was Ray’s turn for sympathy.  “Rather you than me,” he said.  “Although, I’ll be up at dawn with my lovelies.  They need to see that I’m there, same as always.”  He shifted slightly to ease the aches which were again making themselves felt.  “I’ll see you around, Benny.  Meg.”  He nodded at them both, and took a couple of halting steps before he was able to establish the relatively smoother hobbling pace with the cane.  He felt eyes on him from all around the room, hating the sensation of being the centre of attention which just showcased his weakness that much more.  Ray glared around at all of them, and most gazes dropped and went back to their own companions.  But as he stumped toward the door, he knew that some were still watching… especially from that table across the room.

With as much force as he could manage, he slammed the door shut behind him and limped off into the twilight of the evening.

 

oOo

 

There were few things more satisfying at the end of a long, hard day at work than stopping in at your local and relaxing over a pint of the publican’s finest, banishing all thoughts of the job and allowing the soothing hum of the room to settle the soul. 

Or so Bodie had hoped, even if it was part of his undercover role and an ‘order’ from the deputy commander.

The Tower of London’s pub, The Keys, did not invoke this end-of-day relaxation.  An open, rectangular room with the bar at one end and large, solid tables lining the cream-coloured walls, it had the added misfortune of being cheerfully lit and smoke-free to boot, increasing the bright assault on its patrons’ senses.

Bodie’s preference after a busy day like he had just completed would have been to stake out one of the good tables in the back corner at his own local and settle in for a few pints and a turn or two at the dartboard.  Sometimes alone, at other times with his partner, Bodie appreciated the comforting familiarity and its ability to wash away the darkness of CI5’s often-unpleasant missions.  The Keys, unfortunately, was not destined to deliver this experience; it would, however, be a good opportunity to get to know a number of the members of the Extraordinary, the people he and Murphy would be relying on for information, assistance, and perhaps even more, for the duration of this assignment.

They stepped in the door together, and Bodie took a quick moment to scan the pub before heading for the bar.  Midway down the room, Keith Harrison and a couple of other men were seated at a table; the deputy commander gave a wave in their direction and raised his glass.  Bodie raised a hand in return and joined his partner in contemplating the available choices on tap at the bar.

The bartender gave them a friendly smile.  “Newly-posted in, lads?” he said.  At their affirming nod, he continued, “Welcome to The Keys.  I’m Neil Canfield, the barkeep for this week.”

“I’m Murphy, and that’s Bodie.”  Murphy made the introductions, and then blinked.  “Wait, for this week?” he said.  “Does that mean…”

“Yes.  All the Yeoman Warders participate in the rotation, even the commander steps in on occasion.  But don’t worry,” he said.  “You’ll get a chance to settle in before you take a turn in here.”  Canfield placed two full pint glasses on the counter.  “Here you are, Warders Murphy and Bodie.  Beefeater Bitter, of course, courtesy of Harry.  Enjoy, gentleman.”

“Ta.”

“Cheers.” Bodie echoed Murphy’s thanks, then turned to take another longer look through the room.  It was a habit he found hard to break, the standard assessing security sweep, even knowing that this pub was probably one of the safest he’d ever been in.  Few tables were occupied, perhaps given the hour - a few couples, and of course the deputy commander and his companions.  It was only as he walked down the middle of the room that Bodie caught sight of another patron of the pub, seated at a small table that was tucked into the only nook in the whole room.  The man, whose decidedly non-regulation-cut hair and civilian clothing would have raised a few eyebrows in a true military mess, was sitting alone, his gaze fixed on the glass in front of him, and he didn’t look up when Bodie and Murphy walked by.  Bodie frowned; he didn’t recognize him from any point in their tour.  He moved on past and joined Murphy at the table in receiving the welcome and greetings from Keith Harrison and his companions.

While it was a pleasant break from the intensity of the day, the gathering did not last long.  Both men knew they had a long evening of work ahead, and a very early morning on the small arms range, courtesy of the Extraordinary’s new training schedule.  Finishing up his pint, Bodie found his attention caught again by the figure at the corner table.  The man reached down beside his chair and picked up a dark wooden cane, and Bodie suddenly realized who he was looking at: this was Doyle, the RavenMaster.   As he watched, Doyle took a moment to catch his balance, then paused as he limped past a table occupied by another Warder.  When Doyle again swayed slightly on his feet, Bodie was almost ready to stand and offer assistance, but a fierce glare around the room from the RavenMaster left no doubt as to how that would have been received. 

The sound of the pub’s door banging shut broke Bodie’s brief reverie, and he turned his attention back to Murphy and the others to say their own farewells. 

 

oOo

 

The familiarity of his early-morning routine should have been enough to settle Ray’s jangling nerves, which had been on edge since he’d been released from the infirmary five days ago.  Preparing the ravens’ food at the beginning of each day was such a thing, a chore that had occupied his first morning hour since he’d been appointed RavenMaster nearly eighteen months prior.  It was one of the few peaceful times in the Tower of London, hours before the gates opened to admit the tourist throngs, before many of the day staff and volunteers arrived for their shifts in the gift shops, groundskeeping corps, and the many other background positions which supported the Tower’s daily life, and he cherished the quiet hush.  Often, even the ravens themselves were still asleep in their cages in the enclosure when he arrived, although once they discovered he was there, they would make their presence felt, first with quiet chitters and then a determined rattling of their cage doors.  The younger birds, especially, were impatient to be out, and not subtle in their demands for freedom once they sensed it was imminent.

But on this morning, as on the previous one, Ray felt little of his usual calm.  There were, of course, his own physical limitations of an arm just out of a sling and a knee so badly twisted he’d be leaning on a cane for at least another week.  The Commander had wanted him to take an extended leave to recover, but Ray had insisted on returning to his duties as soon as he could; so long as the ravens behaved themselves and didn’t lead him on too many merry chases around the grounds of the Tower, he’d be able to look after them just fine.

What was the most disturbing to him, however, was the disruption which the events of the previous week had wrought upon this routine.  For instead of the familiar seven portions of the ravens’ daily feed, he was only preparing six.

 

*

 

Later in the morning Ray returned to the enclosure on the South Lawn; the birds were safely out and about in the grounds, involved in their own series of activities and games around the Tower.  His assistant had watched them closely for a few days after the attack, while he’d been out of commission first in the infirmary and then confined to his quarters.  Although it was clear they knew one of their own was missing, their typical behaviour around the tourists carried on close to normal.  Which was more than he could say about himself…  But in the meantime, there were more chores to be done before he rejoined his charges for their midday feeding.  He spent a few moments putting the small workroom to rights, making a few notes in the official log of the RavenMaster, and checking the quantities of food items remaining in the large refrigeration unit.  The few days he’d been excused from official duties had been just long enough to lose touch with how the supply levels were faring; he needed to ensure the birds wouldn’t go hungry in the immediate future.

Leaving the room’s door open behind him, Ray moved into the first of the cage areas and began his inspection; the ravens were notorious scavengers, thieves, really… and they frequently brought their spoils back to their home.  Most of the time it was the detritus of life in the Tower… litter, remnants of food picked from the waste bins (or even from an unsuspecting tourist’s lunch!), twigs and other broken bits of greenery from the hedges.  On occasion, however, he did find an item of value.  Ravens had an eye for shiny things, and one day Ray had discovered an elegant silver and turquoise bangle tucked into the straw in a corner of Raven George’s cage.  A quick trip to the Tower’s administration offices with the jewellery had resulted in a very relieved Visitor Services manager, who could now make a good-news phone call to the guest who had reported the bracelet lost.  This incident, along with Raven Munin presenting him with his own key ring late one afternoon, prompted Ray’s own increased diligence in inspecting the cages.

Engrossed in his task as he was, he still heard the first footfall of someone entering the enclosure.  His gun was drawn from his concealed shoulder holster and passed from left hand to right before his brain caught up to his actions; his shoulder gave an angry twinge before retreating into a steadier and more familiar ache.  With a quiet hiss of pain, he raised his right arm, and was gratified to note the hand holding the weapon was steady and level.  Taking a deep, settling breath, and grabbing his walking stick from where it was leaning against the wall, Ray stepped out of the raven cage and approached the doorway to the storeroom, cursing the awkward dragging limp that made his movements less than graceful, and definitely not silent.  He could hear the other person moving about in the room now, towards the door which led to the cages, the door which he himself had left open not five minutes ago.

Ray flattened himself against the wall beside the door, took another fortifying breath, and pivoted on his good leg into the open doorway, his cane clattering to the ground beside him as his left hand joined his right wrapped firmly around the grip of his gun.  Abruptly, he found himself staring down the barrel of a weapon that was similar to his own.

“Lower your weapon.”  The voice was level and impersonal, and it belonged, Ray realized with a quick blink of recognition, to one of the soldiers he’d seen in the pub last night.  Only this time, instead of the military dress with the fancy SAS patches, the man was wearing the working uniform of the Extraordinary.  And wearing it well, too, the muscled fitness of his frame clearly evident under the long blue tunic and narrow trousers.  Of course, as SAS, he’d have to be fit… Appalled at the direction his thoughts had taken, Ray focused his glare back on the soldier, and the handgun being aimed in his direction.

Keeping his own tone low, he didn’t allow his gun to drop even an inch.  “You lower yours!” he said.  “And I might remind you you’re in my enclosure, so no matter what you’re wearing on your uniform,” he paused to take a quick, confirming look at the rank insignia on the sleeve of the uniform tunic, “Sergeant, my word is what controls this space.  So I say again, you lower yours.”

Long seconds stretched, then the man spoke again.  “Together, then,” he said.  “One, two…”  And with that countdown, he lowered his arm on the ‘three’, but only slightly… and his finger remained on the trigger for an extra second before sliding up to sit above the guard. 

Ray watched the man for another second before allowing his own arms to drop fully.  “Whoever you are, I’m not used to having a weapon pointed at me in my own workspace.”  He eased the safety back on, but made no further move to re-holster his gun.  “So you’d better have a bloody good reason for it.”  His bad knee chose that moment to buckle, and Ray grabbed for the door frame, regretting his haste in dropping his stick as he barely managed to stay upright.  “Ahh, shit.”  The world greyed out for a few seconds, and Ray cursed his own weakness and vulnerability.  But his focus sharpened again as the intruder reached out a hand of support.  “Not so fast, sergeant,” he said, this time just his left hand lifting the gun again, almost as steady as before, although the rest of his limbs had begun a fine, visible trembling.  Beads of sweat lined his pale face, despite the cool of the shaded enclosure.

“Quick reflexes,” the man said, “and apparently ambidextrous.  Good, that’s a useful skill to have.”  He bent down and picked up the abandoned cane from the ground, and held it out to Ray.  “Here, you’d better make use of this and get yourself sitting down, right now, before you fall down.” 

Ray snatched the proffered walking stick and avoided the supportive hand reached in his direction with a deftness he knew he wasn’t feeling.  He pushed past the man and limped awkwardly over to the workroom’s single chair where he sat down with an undignified thump.  “So,” he said, double-checking that the safety was on his weapon, and re-holstering it with only a slight twinge in his bad shoulder. “Who are you, then?  Obviously a new member of the Extraordinary, freshly posted for duty. And carrying such nice hardware around the Tower, as well.”

An arched eyebrow greeted Ray’s observation, but the man nodded and said, “Bodie.  Sergeant, as you’ve already helpfully pointed out.”  He, too, tucked his handgun back into its snug-fitting holster, and leaned nonchalantly against the wall.  “And you are Doyle.  The RavenMaster.”

“Oh, that’s very good,” Ray said.  “Figured it out all on your own, then?”  He let his gaze dwell on the labelled cannisters of food on the worktable, then out the doorway on the frames and wire screening of the cages on the lawn.  “What gave me away?”

“A lucky guess, I suppose.”  The man called Bodie shrugged.  “That, and the bird shite all over your shoes…”

Ray looked at Bodie’s uniform boots, gleaming like twin mirrors even in the relative dimness of the room, and then at his own footwear, the ankle-boot of the Warder’s ordinary uniform he wore when he was working with the ravens.  The dust and smudges of dirt (and yes, likely some droppings as well) were the result of his typical morning’s work, and not something he regretted in the slightest.

“So, is there something I can do for you, Sergeant Bodie?” Ray said at last, when the silence stretched between them and Bodie made no attempt to either start a conversation or leave.  “Or did you stop by just to make observations about my dress and deportment…?”

The sergeant frowned, and then retrieved a folded sheet of paper from one of his pockets.  He shook it open and held it out to Ray.  “Here, this is for you.”

Ray made no attempt to take the sheet from Bodie’s hand.  “What is it?”

“It’s a copy of the new training schedule for the Extraordinary,” Bodie said.  “And it’s been posted for three days in the barracks, the gym, and the range.  Even the pub.”  He straightened up, away from the wall, and pushed the paper closer to Ray.  “You missed the first session, Doyle; the schedule began this morning.  Weapons drills.”

“I’m on restricted duty.  And my duties with the ravens…”

“… do not permit you to miss the training.”  Bodie dropped the schedule onto the counter beside where Ray was sitting, and moved to exit the room.  “I’ll expect you on the range tomorrow morning, Doyle.  Zero six hundred hours.”  He paused in the doorway and looked back.  “Bring whatever armoury you normally carry… and don’t be late.”

Ray stared at the departing figure, as Sergeant Bodie strode along the path away from the raven enclosure and disappeared around the corner of the White Tower.  Of course he hadn’t seen the bloody training schedule; over the last week he’d been in hospital for a couple of days, and then stuck in his tiny flat in the Tower’s residential community for two more until his injured knee allowed him any kind of mobility. 

With a sigh he picked up the paper and studied its contents.  Signed by one W. Bodie, Sgt, Training Supervisor, the schedule laid out daily sessions of weapons drills on the firing range, classroom tactical lectures, and culminated in some off-site combat scenario exercises at the vaunted CI5 Training Centre in three weeks’ time.   Christ, no wonder his mate Benny had seemed so … uneasy … at The Keys the previous evening. 

Ray folded the sheet back up and tucked it into his tunic pocket; with much more on his mind, including a tall, dark-haired SAS sergeant, he grabbed his cane and limped back out to the enclosure, to finish his daily inspection of his charges’ cages.

 

oOo

 

“Weapons, clear!”

Bodie stood at the firing line of the small-arms range which was built deep under the Tower’s walls, waiting for the participants in his training session to clear their weapons of any unexpended rounds and prepare for his inspection.  The essence of the thin haze of smoke produced by the handguns as they were fired was as familiar to him as his favourite bottle of aftershave, the pungent scent of cordite swirling in the air before the range’s exhaust system managed to grab and filter and expel it.

If he listened closely, he could here the distant rumble of an underground train as it passed by near the Curtain Wall’s foundations.  Anyone out in those tunnels might also hear the echo of the handguns and dull thunk of their ammunition striking the heavily fortified berm at the end of the range, although Bodie doubted they would identify the sound’s origin.  Daily life in London went on, the citizens blissfully unaware of the efforts being made to keep them, and their country, safe from threat of harm.

Bodie moved along the line of men, tapping each on the shoulder in acknowledgement of his weapon unloaded and made safe.  As the last man relaxed and lowered his hands, Bodie turned and spoke to the whole group.  “Not a bad morning’s efforts,” he said.  “I now have a solid baseline for your individual skill level, and I’ll be using that to assign you into training teams for further drills.”  His steady gaze took in the expressions on the faces opposite him, almost to a man set with determination to surpass the day’s scores.  He smiled.  “Look for the new schedule to be posted later this morning.  Dismissed!”

As the Guard Extraordinary members filed out, Bodie stepped over to Murphy, whom he’d appointed as his range safety officer and the keeper of the scores.  “Let’s see, Murph,” he said.  “Who’s going to challenge us as a certified marksman out of this lot?”

Murphy shook his head.  “Got a couple close,” he said, “which doesn’t surprise me one bit, considering the background of most of this mob.  When you move to rifles next week, the men who’ve done the SAS sniper training will make even you work hard to beat their scores.”

Bodie took the proffered clipboard from Murphy’s hand, casting his eye down the list of names and scores.  He frowned, flipped the page over and looked carefully, then raised his gaze to his partner.  “I don’t see Doyle’s name on this list,” he said, raising an eyebrow.  “Did you see him here this morning, Murph?  Did anyone else, for that matter?”

“Doyle?  The RavenMaster?  I don’t think so,” Murphy said.  “His is the only score you’re missing, as well.  Won’t be able to set up your drill teams without it.”

“I warned him yesterday,” Bodie said.  “Went out of my way to do it, in fact, with express instructions that he was to attend today.”  

Murphy frowned.  “Isn’t he still on medical leave?  The reports Cowley gave us said the RavenMaster was injured in the attack last week.”

“He’s back from leave.  I saw him working yesterday.  And if he’s fit enough to be back on duty,” Bodie tapped the clipboard for emphasis, “then he’s fit enough to attend the training sessions.”  He gave a quick look around the now-deserted range.  “Come with me, Murphy, we’ll go pay Doyle a visit.”

“Not right now we won’t.”  At Bodie’s blank look, Murphy continued, “You’ve forgotten, mate, both of us are on duty in the grounds this morning, when the gates open to let the tourist hordes inside.”

Bodie groaned in dismay.  “Christ, I’d forgotten about that.”

Murphy grinned at his partner as they walked out of the range and headed through the underground tunnel to the exit.  “There’s just time to go back to The Barracks and change,” he said.  “We can’t be meeting the public looking like this, now.  People expect to see Beefeaters, not combat soldiers.”

“Bloody Cowley,” Bodie said, blinking in the bright morning sun. “Having us poncing around in fancy dress, smiling for the cameras.  We need to be hands-on with the investigation and protection detail, not sodding performing peacocks!”

“We have another briefing with Colonel Gibson tomorrow.”

“I know.”  Bodie recognized his partner’s attempt to calm him down, and forced himself to take a deep, centering breath.  “And I know being out in the grounds and interacting with the visitors will let us watch for any behaviour, any patterns that might give us a clue as to…”

“As to what the threat, whoever or whatever they are, will do next.” Murphy finished the thought for him.

“Yeah.”  They walked in silence for a moment, watching the bustle of the Tower’s morning routine swirl around them, even in the residential ‘village’ which was off-limits to the general public.  Yeoman Warders who weren’t members of the Extraordinary were on their way to assume their posts; the day staff of the village’s small businesses were arriving.  And out in the open areas, the Tower would be receiving its final spit and polish before the gates opened.

“They’ll go for the ravens again,” Murphy said at length.  He stopped in front of the narrow door in the middle of the terrace which made up one section of The Barracks, the single quarters for the Yeoman Warders.  He and Bodie had each been assigned bachelor flats; Bodie’s door was a bit further along the row.

Bodie continued for a few more steps, then stopped, and turned to look at his partner.  “I know,” he said.  “That’s why I want to make sure everyone, including the RavenMaster, is at the top of their game with weapons and drills.”

Murphy grinned.  “A few more early mornings like this one, and they will be,” he said. “Although they’re good already.”

“Not good enough to stop that first attack.”  And there it was; that was what it all came down to, Bodie knew.  That was the reason they were there.  Without another word, he spun away and strode the final few yards to his own door, already mapping out the rest of his day after this first shift as a uniformed Yeoman Warder.

 

*

 

Two hours later, he’d smiled for dozens of photos, pointed the way to the toilets for sullen teens and grateful mothers alike, and smilingly explained to an enthusiastic youngster that no, Yeoman Warders weren’t knights, but if he was looking for knightly things, he should ask his mum to take him into the White Tower to see the suits of armour.  For a brief moment he was a little boy again, touring the Tower and all its wonders… but as the woman and child disappeared into the White Tower, Bodie returned abruptly to the here-and-now, and the looming, unknown peril he and Murphy were there to stop.

Bodie made his way through the grounds of the Tower, following a slow route which eventually led him to the south lawns and into the restricted area of the raven habitat.  Despite his initial complaint to Cowley and his admittedly ongoing griping to Murphy, Bodie had come to realize that his official cover in the role of a Yeoman Warder actually gave him the freedom he needed to walk about the grounds, unimpeded and unquestioned.  And this morning, he intended to use that liberty to pay another visit to the domain of the RavenMaster.

He walked along the same cobbled path as he had the day before, which led to the stone outbuilding that was the RavenMaster’s workroom.  As he approached, he heard the murmur of voices, and when he looked in, he saw Doyle perched on a stool at the worktable, his back to the door, speaking to two people.  One was a Yeoman Warder whose uniform tunic, he noted, did not contain the discreet insignia of the Guard Extraordinary, and the other an older man wearing a dark green jacket marked with the distinctive logo of the London Zoo.

For a few moments he stood just outside the doorway, unobserved, as Doyle carried on what was clearly a demonstration of sorts; there were containers which looked to contain various types of feed laid out, along with a series of trays which were labelled with names Bodie recognized as those of the ravens.  He watched as Doyle directed the men in the careful measuring and mixing of the ingredients in each individual pan, then supervised the transfer of those mixtures to small name-labelled buckets.  It was only as Doyle gestured to a cabinet beside the door, twisting on the stool as he did so, that Bodie lost his element of concealment at the doorframe.

“You.”  Doyle’s eyes briefly widened, then settled into a narrow glare at the sight of Bodie in the doorway.  “Sergeant Bodie… or I guess it’s Yeoman Warder Bodie today.”  He stood, took a second or two to steady his balance, then limped over to the cabinet he’d been looking at and picked up a pile of plastic lids.  “Is there something I can do for you?  Or perhaps you want to sit in on our discussion of some new food combinations for the ravens…?”

Bodie waited until Doyle had handed off the lids to the other men before responding.  “I’m not here to talk about raven food,” he said.  “When you’ve got a minute, Doyle, I need to have a word with you.”

The silence between them stretched, before Doyle finally responded.  “We’ll be finished with this in around five minutes… if you can wait that long?”

Bodie gave a terse nod.  “That’s fine,” he said.  “I have no fixed timings for this part of my shift.  I’ll wait.”

While the men finished up with the food mixture, Bodie settled himself against the back wall of the room, close to the door out into the raven enclosure.  He could hear what sounded like a deep croaking noise, which meant there was at least one raven in the cages.  He now knew, from the briefing with the Commander, that this was unusual.  ‘Tourists come to the Tower to see the ravens, so we have them out all day every day, with only a few exceptional circumstances that would keep them in.’  Bodie had just taken a step towards the door when he became aware that the gathering in the room was finally breaking up.

Changing direction, he headed towards the other doorway and stood, watching and waiting until the men had completely disappeared around the corner before he spoke.  “Doyle,” he said.  “I stood in this very room yesterday afternoon and informed you of the range training session this morning.”  He heard movement behind him and turned to face back into the room.  Doyle had resumed his perch on the high stool, he noted; he’d closed his eyes and was pinching the bridge of his nose with fingers that weren’t quite steady.  “Do I have your full attention, RavenMaster?”

Doyle stiffened.  “You do,” he said.  His hand dropped to rest on the worktable, clenching and unclenching around a small glass beaker, but his steady gaze was fixed on Bodie.

“Then perhaps you could explain to me why you weren’t present at the range this morning, like the rest of the Extraordinary were.”  Bodie stared back at the unflinching glare.

Doyle took a deep breath. “At zero six hundred this morning,” he said.  “I was on duty here, with the ravens.  Had been, in fact,” he added, “since zero four hundred, when I received a call from the night watch that a couple of the ravens appeared to be in distress.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow; he hadn’t heard about that.  He made a note to look up the watch report before his scheduled check-in with Cowley later in the afternoon, and the Commander, tomorrow morning… and also to get himself and Murphy put on the distribution list for any such future reports.  Another incident with the ravens was exactly what the two of them were supposed to be preventing!  It was imperative that they receive any information regarding the birds; not being in the loop could make all the difference, in the wrong manner.  “I trust the ravens are all right?” he said, scrambling slightly to get himself back in control of the conversation.

Doyle nodded.  “I consulted with the on-call vet,” he said, “and then arranged for one of the veterinary technicians who’s assigned to us from the zoo to come in first thing.  The birds are healthy, fortunately.”  He gestured to the neat row of buckets at the end of the bench.  “We’ve made a small adjustment to their feed for the next few days.  Kala and Garvey have been a bit off, since last week.”  Doyle looked down, and dragged a hand through his hair.  “The ravens are creatures of habit.  Quite simply, they miss their mate.  And when they need looking after, I’m here.  Your range exercise just doesn’t compete.”  He lifted his head and fixed a steady gaze at Bodie. 

Bodie thought for a moment.  “Look, Doyle,” he said.  “I need to set up the next level of training, and you’re the only member who hasn’t shot to give me a baseline score.”  He ignored the snort and rude word from the other side of the room and continued, “And since you’ve either been not up to coming to the range, or on extra duty with the ravens during scheduled sessions, I’ll just put you into the bottom third and let you train with…”

“Like fuck you will!”  Doyle was up and off the stool and standing entirely too much in Bodie’s personal space faster than he would have anticipated most people moving, let alone a man with a gimpy knee. 

Bodie blinked and raised a hand, in case Doyle should overbalance and careen right into him. “I don’t… what?”

“I said, like fuck will you put me into the bottom third of the rankings.”  Doyle punctuated his words with a jabbing finger that stopped just shy of Bodie’s shoulder.  “You want me at the range, Sergeant Bodie?  Fine.  Tell me what time this afternoon, then, and I’ll be there.  With bloody bells on.”

Bodie’s duty finished mid-afternoon; he needed a brief break to change, then… “Fifteen-thirty hours, Doyle,” he said.  “On the line, ready to fire.  And,” he added, “bells are optional.  Your best effort is not.”

“I’ll be there.”  Doyle glared at him for a moment, then stepped back.  “See yourself out, Bodie.  I’ve got work to do.”  He turned and made his way toward the door to the cages, and he didn’t look back.

Bodie shook his head; despite Doyle’s cautious pace, the set of his back and shoulders fairly shouted that he was stomping away, and if there hadn’t been at least one bird in the enclosure which needed care, not sudden loud noises, then he likely would have slammed the door as well.

The RavenMaster was proving to be somewhat of an enigma.  At once defensive, prickly, and stubborn, he was far too dismissive of rank and position to have been a soldier himself, which left his background a bit of a mystery.  His concern for the ravens in his charge was obvious, even to the detriment of his own standing within the Guard Extraordinary.  It was a curious mix, which, despite the hostility between them, was beginning to interest him.  After a last lingering look, Bodie turned and left the workshop, to head back to the tourists and their cameras.

 

*

 

Bodie arrived at the range at quarter past three, dressed in the same training fatigues of the Guard Extraordinary that he’d worn for the morning’s exercise.  He and Murphy had finished out their official shifts in the Tower grounds; they had both handed off to their replacements who would continue to be the face and voice of the Tower with the tourists until the gates closed in the evening. 

He’d seen Doyle a couple of times, out on the lawns around the White Tower, which was where a number of the ravens seemed to prefer to spend their time.  The RavenMaster had always been surrounded by a crowd; the tourists were endlessly fascinated by the birds and their interaction with their keeper.  And it had seemed the people were oblivious of his discomfort; he’d seen the tension in Doyle’s stance, the white knuckles on the hand which held his walking-stick.   Bodie half expected to find that Doyle had decided not to attend the range.

He would have been wrong.

The RavenMaster was already behind the firing line, seated beside Murphy at the scorekeeper’s table.  He was dressed in the training fatigues of the Extraordinary – when had he found time to change?  Bodie had seen him just a short time before, speaking with a group of people while one of the ravens bobbed around on the grass beside him – and he had his weapon (a Walther P38, he noted, the same one he’d had the previous day) dismantled and laid out in front of him, gun oil and a cleaning rag in his hand.  As Bodie watched, Doyle gave a few careful swipes with the cloth, checking the cleanliness of the barrel with every pull.  He then reassembled the pistol, cocking it and releasing the trigger a couple of times before laying it back down in front of him. 

“Are you satisfied with my assembly drills, Sergeant?”

Bodie started at Doyle’s caustic words.  Giving himself a mental shake at being caught woolgathering on the range, of all places, he stepped up to the table and unholstered his own weapon to make it ready for firing.  “We’ll just see how it goes on the drills that count, shall we?”  He nodded a quick greeting to Murphy, who was watching the byplay between them with interest.  “This is Sergeant Murphy, Doyle,” he said. “He’ll be acting as both range safety officer and scorekeeper this afternoon.”

“We’ve met.”  Doyle’s tone was neutral, noncommittal, but the slight narrowing of his eyes was telling… of something.  Bodie wasn’t quite sure what it meant, yet.

“You got everything set for us, Murphy?”  Bodie gestured to the pile of paper targets and neat rows of ammunition boxes on the table.

Murphy nodded.  “I’m ready whenever you are,” he said. 

“Excellent,” Bodie said.  He swept up one of the pairs of ear defenders and strode forward to the firing line, gesturing for Doyle to do the same.  “Let’s get this done.  Deploy the first series of targets.”

Doyle settled into position beside him, knees slightly bent, both hands wrapped around the handle of his Walther.  It was a perfect, textbook stance, mirror to his own, which Doyle unexpectedly broke for a few seconds, turning his head slightly to make eye contact, and allowing a brief, feral grin to escape.  Then his gaze focused downrange again as the first of the targets was revealed – and the drills were underway.

Forty-five minutes later it was all over.  Doyle conferred briefly with Murphy over the scoresheet, then left the range without another word to either of them.  Bodie remained at the firing point for an extra few moments, his Magnum pointing downward at his side, his free hand clenching and unclenching into a tight, white-knuckled fist.

It was Murphy who broke the silence.  “Nice shooting, as usual, mate,” he said.  “Your scores were better than they were earlier.  Clearly playing tour guide for the masses this morning didn’t put you off your game.”

Bodie stared at him blankly, then re-holstered his gun into its shoulder harness.  Then he too left the range in silence, leaving Murphy to scramble and tidy the supplies on his own. 

 

oOo

 

Ray’s adrenaline high lasted long enough to get him clear of the range and out the tunnel door before he was forced to slow down and lean against a convenient tree along the path, taking a moment to ease the weight off his aching knee.  He’d been on his feet for most of the past couple of hours, all told, including the forty or so minutes standing at the firing line.  On the range he’d settled into the familiar stance for the various drills, his eyes and the muscle memory in his hands and arms working together on autopilot and, a corner of his thoughts gratefully acknowledged, they hadn’t let him down.  Ray was a top-level shot, a Class A marksman, had been all his years in the Met, and his two-plus years as a member of the Guard Extraordinary had only strengthened his skills.  He was gratified that even under adverse conditions, the hours of training he regularly put in on the range, and his own natural ability, had seen him through.  It would have been mortifying to have faltered in front of that jumped-up military trainer.

He closed his eyes for a moment, his mind skidding away from thoughts of the dark-haired sergeant, thankful that he was still in a part of the grounds not open to tourists.  He reeked of sweat and cordite and gun oil, and his training fatigues were definitely the worse for wear… not the image the Chief Yeoman Warder would want any of his men to present to the public.  And to top it all off, Ray had left his walking stick on the table in the range, which meant either an awkward hobble back inside to pick it up, or a long, slow journey through the grounds to his quarters where he could fall down in private… and send his assistant to fetch the wretched thing for him.  He ran a slightly shaking hand through his already tangled hair, and sighed.  Not even his lovelies would come too close to him right now, which was too bad, he could have used the company.

None of the ravens were at hand, though; the path near the range entrance was one of the few places the flock observed as a no-go area, in spite of their deep and innate curiosity.  He’d often wondered if it was the smell of the gunpowder which inevitably escaped from the range despite the extensive filtering of the air blowing out through the extraction fans… or perhaps the ravens could hear the gunfire when the range was in use, and understood its implicit threat on a very basic level.

The bang of the range door brought Ray’s attention back to his surroundings.  As he watched, Sergeants Bodie and Murphy stood stopped in the entranceway, clearly involved in an animated discussion.  Although he was too far away to hear the actual words, Ray was willing to bet it involved him.  A savage grin crossed his face as he remembered the look on Bodie’s face when it had become clear he was being outshot in every single drill and firing pattern.  The mighty SAS man, brought down by a mere copper!

Eventually the pair moved on, striding along the path and seemingly ignoring him as they approached the tree where he remained, propped up on its far side.  As they passed, though, Ray caught a quick glimpse of movement, and barely got a hand up in time to catch his cane, tossed at him by the other man, Murphy, as the two of them went by without breaking their pace.  Then as Ray continued to follow their progress, he thought that Murphy might have sneaked in a quick glance back.

Ray eased away from the tree and stepped back on the path, heading for his quarters.  He needed to give his gun a quick cleaning, and then to shower and wash away the residue of the range before heading back to the grounds to check on the ravens. 

 

oOo

 

For the second time that day, Bodie stalked away from the range, shoulders rigid, eyes narrowed as he covered the last of the distance through the underground tunnel to the exit.  He’d been in a foul mood after the morning’s training session, and this past hour had left him seething.  It was all down to one reason:  Doyle.  First the irritating sod didn’t show up, and then when he did, he shot through the drills and targets with a ruthless and deadly accuracy that left nothing but perfect, tight groupings in its wake.

Running footsteps sounded behind him, but Bodie ignored both them and the call from his partner until they both reached the door at the same time.  “Give over, Murphy,” he said.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’ve got your first one, did you even look at the scores?  Your first Class A marksman.”  Murphy stood blocking the open door and shoved the clipboard at Bodie’s unreceptive hands.  “Doyle didn’t just top all the other members of the Extraordinary, he also beat my score, and yours too, both sets of them.  This afternoon, and from your shooting with the Guard this morning.”

Bodie scanned the scoresheet and pushed it back at Murphy.  “You knew, you bastard, didn’t you?”

“Not this morning, no.”  Murphy shook his head.  “But before he reported to the range this afternoon, I looked up his file.  Got much more detail than Cowley gave us in our brief.  RavenMaster Doyle, ex-Detective Constable Doyle, was the Met’s top marksman for six years running, before he was recruited to join the Guard Extraordinary more than two years ago.  Nobody could beat him with a handgun.  And he’s none too shabby with a rifle, either.”  As Bodie continued to stare at him, Murphy said, “This is a good thing, mate.  Even with Doyle not at one hundred percent, he’s still just about the best man to have in charge of the ravens’ safety.  You know he’s always carrying, too.”

“Doyle’s a bloody copper.”  Bodie snorted in disbelief.  “But a PC-plod marksman?  That hardly seems likely.”

“The files don’t lie, Bodie, and neither do his scores.  It’s there in the groupings on his targets.  He’s bloody good, mate.”  Murphy paused, then added, “You think he’s shown you up deliberately, don’t you… but you’re wrong.  You’re just letting him get under your skin, for some reason.”

Bodie glared at his partner for a moment, then sighed.  “No, I suppose the scores can’t lie,” he said.  “But we still need to be vigilant, especially around Doyle.  If there’s another attempt on the ravens, it will likely include an attack on him again too.  An attack which might not allow him to show off those super Class-A marksman skills.  So you and I will have to continue to stay close.”  He pushed past Murphy and went out into the late afternoon sunlight.  “Come on, Murph,” he said.  “We need to report in to Cowley, before he comes here himself and pulls it out of us.  Maybe he’s got something new information, as unlikely as that sounds.”

They set off along the path, Bodie leading and Murphy trailing slightly behind, balancing the clipboard and pen in one hand, and a length of dark brown polished wood with a curved handle in the other.  Bodie was in such a funk he failed to notice the figure standing off to one side of the path, leaning heavily against a tree.  Murphy, however, was fully aware of where the RavenMaster was, and timed his toss of the forgotten walking stick perfectly for a hand to reach out and grab it as they passed.  Without breaking stride Murphy cast a quick look back, and was gratified to see Doyle ease out onto the path and start to walk behind them, albeit a good deal more slowly.  Then he and Bodie continued around the corner, past the base of one of the lesser towers and well on the way to the appointed meeting with their Controller.

 

oOo

 

Part Two

 

Third week in August 1979

The alarm awakened Ray from the half-doze he’d been in since he’d jolted into alertness with a muscle cramp at four thirty in the morning.  Groaning, he slapped at the clock until it finally settled into sullen silence, wondering how it could possibly be morning since he’d only closed his eyes a few seconds earlier.  For one anxious moment he thought he’d overslept and should be scrambling to try and get himself to one of the early-morning training sessions led by that evil bastard Sergeant Bodie; he relaxed as he remembered there was no training scheduled for the morning.  Even better, he’d arranged to have his assistant tending to the ravens, making this a rare morning indeed, with no imminent obligation for him to meet.

He eased himself up into a sitting position, aware that for the first time since he’d been released from the infirmary his shoulder wasn’t howling a protest at the movement; a dull twinge was all he felt as his arms briefly supported his whole weight.  His leg was less forgiving; the echoes of the cramp that had interrupted his sleep had his knee aching fiercely, and this was before he’d even tried to stand, let alone take a step.  But even through all that, he was aware that his leg was getting better.  And on that positive note, he was able to manoeuver himself up and out of his tiny bedroom and across the hallway into the bog before heading into the main room of the flat.

Thirty minutes later, Ray was mopping the sweat from his face with a towel, leaning up against the wall and wondering if his leg would continue to hold him up.  Gratifyingly, it did, and as exhausted as he was, he was also thinking that maybe, finally, he had turned a corner.  He’d worked through the series of exercises and stretches the physiotherapist had given him to do, and he could already feel the difference, the improvement over what he’d managed just a couple of days ago.

Another half hour saw him showered, dressed in his work blue tunic, and tea and toast dispatched for breakfast.  He grabbed the despised walking stick and eased his way down the narrow stairs and out of his flat.  When he’d been accepted as a Yeoman Warder and then into the Guard Extraordinary, he’d been one of several single recruits in his intake, which had produced a bit of a crisis in availability of single quarters.  The housing officer had been apologetic when he’d assigned Ray the flat: a quirky unit at the end of one of the older rows, with sloping ceilings and a couple of old leaded windows in odd places.  And then there were the stairs, barely wide enough at the top for a Yeoman Warder in full dress, but smooth and worn with the patina of age and the many thousands of footfalls from his predecessors in the flat.  Upon his appointment as RavenMaster he’d been offered larger accommodations, but he’d refused, having become attached to living in the little garret.  Right now, his leg hated the stairs, but he still had no regrets about keeping the flat.

Ray reached the pathways and headed for the south lawn.  His schedule for the day was light: he’d be briefed by his assistant on the morning feeding and release of the ravens, and be joined in the enclosure by Kian Twomey, the veterinary technician corvid specialist from the London Zoo.  Kian had been in for a visit a couple of days earlier, but they still had work to catch up on from the days where Ray had been laid up in the infirmary and then confined to his quarters.  As he approached the enclosure, he saw the distinctive markings of one of the Zoo’s small cargo trucks, the bright green lettering standing out over the fainter black and white of the zebra stripes on the truck’s side panels.  Kian was early, Ray noted; the technician was a keen worker who hadn’t missed a weekly visit in all the time Ray had known him, not even to make a visit home to the family in Ireland, although he spoke of them regularly.  The RavenMaster’s logbook had even more details; it indicated that Kian hadn’t been absent at all since he’d been assigned to the Tower flock by the zoo almost 5 years ago.  It was a bit unusual, Ray thought, but he did understand the dedication which the ravens engendered in people; he himself had not had any significant leave in the past couple of years, the only exception being the annual fortnight of refresher training with the Guard Extraordinary. 

Ray walked into his workshop and took a moment to stand in the door and appreciate how good it felt to be on the mend and in his space.  Neither of the men in the room had noticed his approach, so he was able to watch them work for a couple of minutes before he was spotted.

“Ray!”  Kian put down the box he’d been fumbling with and came to shake Ray’s hand.  “It’s good to see you moving so well, my friend.  After everything that’s happened, and all…  You look much better than you did the other morning.”

Ray returned the man’s greeting.  “I’m doing better every day, Kian,” he said.  “Won’t be long before I’m back to full duty.”  He nodded at his assistant, Alan MacKnight, who was completing the daily entries in the RavenMaster’s logbook.  “Alan, is there anything to report from this morning’s routine?  Odd items in the cages, birds off their food…?”

MacKnight looked over the notes he had just written.  “Grog brought an unusual amount of garbage, wrappers mostly, from the grounds yesterday,” he said.  “And I found a toddler’s sock in with George.  Nothing shiny, though.  And everyone ate a normal first meal before I let them all out.  In order.”

“The biscuits?”

“Soaking in the blood now.”  MacKnight swallowed heavily and studiously kept his gaze away from the bins sitting on the countertop.

“Don’t worry, Alan, you’ll get used to it,” Ray said reassuringly.

“And if he can’t?”  Kian said.  “What happens then, Ray… do you get a new assistant?”

“Nothing nearly so melodramatic as that,” Ray said.  “Just more opportunity to deal with it.” Now, Kian,” he continued.  “A couple of weeks ago you mentioned some concern about some bird flocks in the city that the zoo is monitoring.  Is there any update on that?”

“Ah, yes, there is some news.  Doctor Meadows…”  Twomey’s voice trailed off; he coughed, cleared his throat, and started again.  “Doctor Meadows has been in touch with a couple of vets in private practice in the areas we’ve been watching.  She feels there may be a need to sequester your birds for a period of time, perhaps beginning as soon as this week.”

Ray raised an eyebrow.  “It’s that serious?” he said.  “I’ve been watching for notices from the Animal Health and Welfare department, but there’s nothing yet.”

“Sequester the flock?”  MacKnight looked back and forth from Ray to Twomey.

“Keep them in their enclosure.” Twomey answered the question.  “Don’t let the ravens out into the grounds, where they will come into contact with other birds.”

“We haven’t had to do it in the time since you’ve been my assistant,” Ray said.  “If there’s any concern for the transfer of a pest, or illness like an avian flu, we hold the ravens in place until threat is passed.  The last time that happened, they were in the enclosure for nearly four months.”  He shook his head.  “But a virulent strain of flu would wipe out the flock pretty quickly, so it’s a necessary precaution.”

“Especially as you’re down one already.” 

Ray sucked in his breath at Twomey’s unexpectedly casual reference to the death of Raven Winston ten days earlier; he saw a similar reaction in MacKnight’s expression. “That’s right,” he said flatly.  “Extra vigilance is necessary at all times, from all of us.”

MacKnight nodded.  “Always, RavenMaster,” he said. 

“Yes, always.”  Twomey echoed the assistant’s words.  He blinked and took in the identical expressions on the other two men’s faces.  “Oh, but Ray, I did not mean to imply…”

“Never mind.”  Ray limped over to the counter to have a look at the logbook and eased himself down onto the high work stool.  “We’d better get on with things, especially if we may have to plan to keep the birds in the enclosure for a while.”

“I’ll make sure the basic supplies are adequate for the next few days, and put an order in for more.”  The Assistant RavenMaster was already starting to make notes on a pad of paper.  “And I’ll arrange for an extra hand or two for a good cleaning of the enclosure.  Did you know,” he said to Ray.  “That new man Murphy, the one who was just posted in the other day… he’s asked about how he might get to work with the ravens.  Says he likes birds, or some such thing.  You may have seen him on the range with our new training officer?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen him.”  Ray tamped down the sudden flare of emotion at the mention of Sergeant Bodie and his compatriot.  “Another army yob, right?  Bloody SAS, they’re everywhere.  Can’t escape you lot at all…”  He found himself smiling, though; this was an old game, played frequently between himself and his assistant, the copper versus the soldier.

MacKnight smirked at him.  “I believe that’s the point, RavenMaster,” he said. 

Ray shook his head.  “If you see him, let him know he can stop by… when he’s not being an arse on the firing range, that is.  I’ll talk to him about doing some work cleaning the cages.  Now, in the meantime, I’m going to take a walk around the lawns, see what the lovelies are up to,” he said.  “Come and get me if there’s anything else I need to deal with.  Join me before you head out, Kian?”

The technician hesitated for a moment, then nodded in agreement.  “Sure, Ray,” he said.  “Let’s go see how much food your ravens have managed to nick from the tourists already.”  He picked up the tote he’d brought in with him.  “I’ll just put this into the van,” he said, “and then we’ll go.”

They walked out the door and along the path, Ray settling into his public Yeoman Warder persona as the first of the visitors approached.  He politely fielded their questions, posed for a photo on the grass where Kala was strutting and enjoying the attention.  Kian stayed with him and watched for a while, then bade him farewell and returned to the enclosure to pick up his vehicle.

It wasn’t until much later in the morning, when he’d been on his own for a couple of hours, that Ray acknowledged the feeling that had set up camp at the edge of his consciousness:  alarm.  He’d been living with a general sense of it ever since the attack and killing of Winston… but now his copper’s intuition was whispering a fresh warning at him, and he couldn’t identify what had set it off.  Damn this threat with its murderous intent and constant peril.

He spent the rest of the day stalking through the grounds, keeping as close to the ravens as he could be without crowding them out of their favourite haunts.  Most of the time the birds could read his mood like a book, and he didn’t need to provide them with more fodder for upset than they already had.

 

oOo

 

Last week in August 1979

From the relative safety of an arching doorway near one corner of the White Tower, Bodie watched Ray Doyle interact with the crowd.  In addition to seeing to all the aspects of physical care for the ravens, the RavenMaster also spent hours almost every day out in the grounds, available for members of the public to approach without restriction.  And an adoring public it was, with today no different from any other time he’d watched Doyle at work.  The tourists wanted to see the ravens up close and personal, or to feed them, or to ask for their names; Bodie knew this, because all the Yeoman Warders were asked questions about the ravens, without fail.  For the most part he could provide the basics about the ravens – how many there were and their names, where they might be – but he referred any more detailed inquiries directly to Doyle himself.

Bodie couldn’t hear what was being said, but as he watched, Doyle pulled a small black feather out of his tunic pocket and slipped it into the palm of the young woman who was standing in front of him.  He’d seen him do that before, to visitors ranging from schoolchildren to grandparents.  This morning’s recipient gave Doyle a shy smile and held his hand for a moment while she spoke to him for a moment longer.  Then the group that she was with moved on, and Doyle was left alone on the lawn.

Almost immediately a raven swooped in and landed on the grass beside him.  It was Munin; Bodie could identify her from the gold leg band she wore.  He’d also observed that this was the bird that seemed to spend the most time in close proximity to the RavenMaster, although she ignored other people at the Tower, both visitors and residents alike.  The raven strutted back and forth in front of Doyle, a quiet kronk kronk accompanying her pacing.  And as Bodie watched, Doyle smiled at the raven’s antics, his usually austere expression transformed as he looked down at the bird.  The raven responded immediately, standing still and looking up at Doyle with a little flutter of one wing and her head slightly cocked to one side.

For a brief moment Bodie found himself wondering what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that warmth and affection which had been directed at the raven.  He blinked in surprise, wondering where in the hell that thought had come from.  Since the day of their showdown on the firing range, Doyle had done his best to avoid any contact with him, and Bodie himself hadn’t made any more direct overtures either.  The RavenMaster was scrupulously and distantly polite in his interaction with most of the members of the Extraordinary, including Murphy; he seemed to have only a couple of closer acquaintances within the ranks of the Yeoman Warders. 

But Bodie knew there was something more beneath that cool façade; Doyle’s flare of temper with the threat of relegation to the bottom third of shooting statistics, and the almost savage satisfaction he’d shown at the end of the range drills, were intriguing hints that drew Bodie’s curiosity.  The ongoing tactical training Bodie was conducting for the members of the Extraordinary provided another clue:  for a former copper, Doyle showed a keen awareness of the subject material, and often set off lively debates within the sessions, arguing his point of view from a perspective that belied his lack of pure military experience.  It was all enough to make him want to provoke the RavenMaster, one on one, just to see what kind of reaction he’d get.

On the lawn in front of him, Doyle knelt down, and extended a hand to Munin.  The raven chattered quietly and approached her keeper with an air of supreme nonchalance, at least, right up until the minute she nicked the proffered peanut from his palm and scooted back across the lawn, looking pleased with herself.  Doyle smiled again and reached into his tunic pocket to pull out another peanut.  Munin repeated the process, grabbing the treat more quickly the second time and half flew, half ran to the far side of the grassy area.

It was Bodie’s turn to smile; the ravens were masters of petty larceny when it came to food.  The previous day he’d watched a tourist lose a battle for possession of half a ham sandwich when the bird had reached up between the slats of the wooden bench she’d been sitting on and pulled it down to the ground.  By the time the woman had realized what had happened, the raven and the food were long gone.

As Doyle straightened up, flexing his leg but otherwise showing no signs of discomfort from what was now a mostly-healed knee, Bodie pressed back against the door frame, trying to remain out of the RavenMaster’s line of sight.  He wasn’t sure if Doyle was aware that he was under regular, although not constant, surveillance, and didn’t want to get caught where members of the public could be witnesses to his presence being spectacularly called out.  

Bodie watched Doyle track Munin’s path near the edge of the grass; the bird appeared content to wander back and forth, occasionally flexing her impressive wingspan for a group of passing tourists.  After the lightness of the previous few moments, however, Doyle now appeared sombre, deep in thought.  From his pocket he produced another black feather, this one much larger than the one he’d given the tourist; he ran a finger up and down the length of it, from quill to tip, back and forth, his expressive face filled with… sadness?  Regret?  Bodie found himself watching more closely.  When Doyle set off along the path, heading away from Tower Green, he slipped out of the doorway and followed.

 

oOo

 

Ray’s journey took him along the cobblestones which led through the grounds, from Tower Green outwards, toward the fortress’s outer walls.  On the way he nodded politely at one group of visitors, and pointed down a pathway in response to another guest’s request for directions, but he didn’t linger with them; he didn’t trust that he’d be able to speak clearly or coherently to anyone, let alone the tourists.

The urge to get out of the public eye drove him on without breaking his stride until he arrived at the Middle Drawbridge, which was one of the main entrance routes into the grounds.  Stopping just short of the bridge, he moved along the wall until he came to one of the access stairwells; he quickly slipped down the steps and into the grassy moat, and once there, he walked a few yards alongside the ancient gray stones until he came to a small black wooden signboard. There, on the far side of the sign and away from any prying eyes from the drawbridge, he leaned on the wall and slid down to rest on his haunches, then eased into a seated position on the ground.  He pulled the feather out of the pocket he’d slipped it back into, gently smoothing it into neatness before setting it down in his lap.  Eyes closed, he dropped his head into his hands and simply breathed, in and out, until the urge to shout, or weep (or both) passed, leaving in its wake a hollow emptiness and hands that shook as they swiped at the lone tear winding its way down his cheek. Picking up the feather again, he froze for a second at the sound of a twig snapping close by, then rolled to his feet and tucked himself in behind the sign, his right hand at the ready near his holstered gun.

 

oOo

 

Bodie followed the RavenMaster as closely as he dared, feeling conspicuous in his blue uniform tunic and hat, but also blending in due to what he wore; Yeoman Warders were part of the expected scenery within the Tower grounds.  He’d nearly lost him at the Middle Drawbridge; the flow of the crowd had made him to miss Doyle’s exit from the path down into the moat.  He stood on the bridge, looking both ways, and was about to turn back when he caught a glimpse of movement against the outer wall of the moat, behind a black sign with white lettering.  Tower Raven Memorial.  Suddenly it was clear why Doyle had come here.

A bit of further investigation revealed the same door-and-steps through the wall that Doyle must have used, and Bodie descended to the moat.  As he approached, he could see the sign held a list of names, some long gone, and others more recent, including the final entry, Winston – 1979.  The paint was crisp and white, and well it should be, he knew, since it would have been done just two weeks ago.  Behind the sign he could see Doyle, seated on the grass, his back to the wall. 

Bodie hesitated, now loathe to intrude on what was clearly a private moment for the RavenMaster.  But as he turned to head back to the doorway, he trod on a twig buried in the soft grass, and the resulting crack echoed sharply through the moat, easily carrying over the local rumble of foot traffic on the bridge and the general background noise of the city on the other side of the walls.  He froze for an instant, then pivoted slowly around to face a grim-faced Doyle staring at him, grief and anger and a bit of embarrassment vying for dominance in his gaze.

“You.” 

The single word was an accusation, and Bodie flinched before he could stop himself. 

“You’ve been following me all afternoon,” Doyle said, straightening up and emerging from behind the Memorial.  “And I’ve seen you around Tower Green a bit more often during the past few days than would be just coincidence… even if I were to believe in coincidences.  Which I don’t, by the way,” he added.  “So, Sergeant Bodie, why don’t you tell me what brings you down into the moat on this fine afternoon?”

“Join me for a drink, at The Keys?”  The words were out of Bodie’s mouth before he knew where they came from.  “We’re both off right now… unless you have something scheduled with the ravens…?  And out here in the moat is hardly the place to have a conversation.”  The walk to the pub would also give him time to come up with a plausible explanation of why he’d been following Doyle so closely this afternoon… and he did not wish to be on the receiving end of Cowley’s wrath if he’d been rumbled by the man he was there to protect. 

Doyle canted his head slightly and regarded him, and Bodie had a sudden vision in his mind’s eye of Raven Munin doing the exact same thing, not even thirty minutes ago.  Absently he wondered who had picked up the mannerism from whom.  The amusement at such an absurd thought must have shown on his face, for Doyle frowned fiercely at him.  Bodie hastily schooled his features into a more neutral expression as he waited for Doyle’s response to his invitation.

“All right,” Doyle said at last.  “Let’s go.  There’s about an hour before I need to put the evening meal out for the ravens in their enclosure.” 

“Splendid!” Bodie said… and it was, he hoped.  He’d been wondering how he might get some time with the RavenMaster, and here it was, his opportunity.  He led the way to the door in the wall, and Doyle followed closely behind.

 

*

 

The Keys was just starting to fill up with both Yeoman Warders and members of the Guard Extraordinary stopping in after finishing their scheduled shifts.  Both Bodie and Doyle were greeted by name by a number of them, and each acknowledged another couple of waves from men already seated at tables.  Bodie ordered a couple of pints of Beefeater Bitter, and walked nearly the length of the pub to take an empty table near the display case of swords on the far wall.

Doyle wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter.  “You’ve been watching me,” he said.  “And thinking about it, so have some of the others, including your good friend Sergeant Murphy.” He paused and fixed a hard gaze at Bodie.  “Why?  Don’t you trust me to do my job?”

“Cheers.”  Bodie raised his glass and waited for the return gesture, albeit grudgingly offered from across the table, before he responded to Doyle’s question.  “This has nothing to do with trust, mate,” he said.  “And everything to do with increased vigilance, by everyone, for every minute of every shift.  The Extraordinary especially, since not all of the Guard have regular duties around Tower Green.”  He paused to take a long drink, downing nearly half the glass’s contents in one go.  “It is simply the Extraordinary, carrying out Lieutenant Colonel Harrison’s orders, to have more frequent eyes on Tower Green and all the other places in which those lovely birds of yours like to roost.”

“Harry’s directive…”  Doyle also sipped at his beer, frowning.  “Since I’m already watching practically every bloody inch of this place already, a call for more of the same wouldn’t make me change my routines,” he said.  “And I suppose that’s why you’ve led all the extra sessions, then.  To be better trained for this extra observation.” 

Bodie nodded, relaxing a bit now that Doyle appeared to accept his explanation.  It was true that the deputy commander had laid out instructions for the Warders and the Extraordinary, just not quite to that extent; CI5’s involvement was the source of the extra training.  But so long as he and Murphy remained safely undercover, the perpetrators of the threat would not know the depth of the surveillance on the ravens and their master, and so might be more likely to drop their guard and make a mistake.  Or so the theory went.   “Not that your copper’s instinct would need much of a boost, of course,” he said.  “Yes, I know your background,” he added, in response to a raised eyebrow.  “After you trounced me on the range the other week, I made sure I knew who and what I was dealing with, for future planning purposes, of course.”

“Of course.”  Unexpectedly he grinned at Bodie.  “You looked angry enough to spit tacks,” he said.  “It’s probably a good thing your mate Murphy was there, else there might have been an … incident.”

“I expect I was,” Bodie said, remembering just how upset he’d been.  But those had been the early days of his assignment here, and he’d been the top-scoring marksman in CI5 for long enough that being outscored had indeed gotten under his skin.  “Not a man on the squad… in my unit,” he quickly corrected himself, “can outshoot me on most days.  But you clearly spend extra time on the range, beyond even what the Extraordinary does.”

“I do.”  Doyle pondered his drink for a moment, then looked back up at Bodie.  “Skills fade if you don’t keep them sharp.  And I need to keep mine as pointy as they can get.  Although it didn’t help me when…”  He broke off and pushed the glass away in frustration.  “It didn’t help me save Winston, now, did it…  He still died.  And I was right there…”

Bodie shook his head.  “From what I’ve heard, there wasn’t anything you could have done differently,” he said.  “The setup was no-win.  The only way you could free the raven from the snare was to climb out on the ledge, and when the window was opened it released…”

“It released the wire which was holding the trap on the ledge.  I know.  I read the report,” Doyle said flatly.  “And then the ledge, which had been tampered with, crumbled under my weight when I grabbed for the wire, and we both fell.  I survived because I knew how to tuck and roll when I hit the ground… and Winston’s wings were bound by the snare.”  He clenched his fists and took a deep breath.  “The poor creature never had a chance.  He died right there in front of me.  And I can’t… I won’t let that happen to the others!”

There was nothing Bodie could immediately say into the silence that followed.  “The feather you carry,” he said finally.  “It came from Winston?”

Doyle nodded.  “I found it in his night cage in the enclosure, on the first day I was able to get back to work,” he said.  “And in case that sounds… macabre … I have a couple of other feathers from ravens that have died in the time I’ve worked with the flock.  Natural causes, both of them.  Winston is the only one I’m directly responsible for.”  He picked up his pint and lifted the glass in salute.  “To Winston,” he said.

“Winston.” Bodie echoed the toast.

Doyle looked at the large grandfather clock that sat next to the case of swords on the wall.  “Christ, I’ve got to go,” he said.  “The ravens are creatures of habit, and they like to be fed at the same time every day.”  He stood, and after a brief hesitation, stretched out his arm to offer a handshake.  “Sergeant Bodie,” he said.  “You know, you’re not all bad… for a bloody army yob, that is.”

Bodie rose and shook the proffered hand with a firm grip.  “It’s just Bodie,” he said.  “And a bit less of that attitude, PC Plod.”

They left the pub together, Doyle heading for the raven enclosure, and Bodie to find Murphy and brief him before the evening patrols began.  And neither one noticed that once out of each other’s direct line of sight, they both hesitated and looked back for a quick moment, before carrying on to their destinations.


oOo

 

Despite the apparent thaw in relations the day before, the glare Doyle sent Bodie’s way as he crossed Tower Green the following afternoon left no doubt as to the RavenMaster’s opinion of the continued close surveillance he found himself under.  Murphy had been on watch in the morning, since he was assigned to the grounds for a regular shift, and it was Bodie’s turn for the afternoon and early evening.  Doyle had had hours to build up this head of steam, and it showed.

The late summer day was cool, and a steady drizzling rain kept the crowds smaller, and less likely to linger outside; on days like this, the indoor exhibits were the most popular.  But there were the always the diehards who wanted to see the ravens, and Bodie watched an increasingly-damp Doyle deal patiently with their inquiries and seemingly endless chatter. 

One of the ravens was putting on a show, strutting across the lawn, preening and shaking the water from its wings while cameras clicked and children laughed.  Another was perched high on one of the towers overlooking the Green, and the occasional deep kronk kronk of its call inevitably produced a response from the bird on the ground.  Bodie watched Doyle watching the birds, and wished himself anywhere but where he was, standing in the rain in a nightmare of a uniform, with his thoughts becoming more and more entangled around a certain irritating ex-copper-turned-birdkeeper. 

Abruptly he turned and left the Green, striding through the nearly empty paths until he realized that quite without intending to, he’d made his way to the raven enclosure on the south side of the White Tower.  Knowing that Doyle was still enmeshed in his duties with the tourists, Bodie decided to take advantage of the opportunity to explore the ravens’ compound more closely.  Murphy had been here a couple of times, and had even spoken with the Assistant RavenMaster, but other than his two brief visits to deal with Doyle’s absence from the range, Bodie himself hadn’t been back. 

The door to the workshop was closed but unlocked; Bodie frowned and made a mental note to see about having it secured during the day when the Tower gates were open.  He noted (and approved of) the tidy workbench, the neatly-labelled rows of boxes and other containers on the shelves laid out with almost military precision.  Curious, he opened first the big chest freezer, and then the refrigerator next to it.  Rows of frozen packets of beef and chicken sat innocently next to clear bags containing large, whole rats.  The refrigerator was even more… interesting … with shelves filled with stainless steel pans of what looked like dog biscuits soaking in a thick, dark red liquid.  Bodie stepped back from the fridge and took a deep breath, making a mental note to himself never to let Doyle offer to cook dinner for him.

Feeling the need for some fresh air, he headed out the other door to the workshop into the cage enclosure area.  To his surprise he found his progress immediately under the scrutiny of a pair of beady, jet-black eyes.  One of the ravens, Kala, he absently noted as he read the nameplate on the cage door, was not out in the grounds of the Tower, but secured in her cage instead.

As he watched the bird watch him, he was struck by just how large the raven was.  He’d seen them at a distance, of course, over the past couple of weeks, but never quite this close.  The whole bird gleamed with a blue-black sheen, and a hint of other colours too… deep purple and green … in the lightly ruffling feathers.  Bodie stood, transfixed, until the raven herself broke the spell, giving an odd little shimmy and flexing her wings as she turned her back and shuffled to the far side of her cage.

“Beautiful, isn’t she.” 

Bodie hadn’t been aware Doyle had joined him in the cage enclosure.  He gave himself a quick mental shake; he’d allowed himself to become distracted, never a wise path in his line of work.  The raven perked up immediately, making a series of cackling and grunting noises and clicking its beak, although it stayed where it was.  Bodie gave a quick nod.  “I haven’t managed to see a raven up this close until now,” he said.  “She’s bigger than I thought they were… and not quite as black.”

“They’re known as black birds,” Doyle said.  “Immortalized in poetry and stories for centuries, and usually as a villain or a harbinger of doom.  But as you can see, there’s much more than that.”

“ ‘… this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore …’ ”

Doyle raised an eyebrow.  “Edgar Allan Poe?  That’s a bit obvious, don’t you think?”

“You can’t argue with the most well known,” Bodie said.  “But if you’ve not got a mind for Poe, how about some Coleridge?  ‘Over hill, over dale, did the black Raven go. / Many Autumns, many Springs / Traveled he with wandering wings…’ ”

“My ravens don’t travel, of course,” Doyle said flatly.  “And since when does the SAS have training in quoting poetry?”

“Are you saying that none of the birds have ever flown away?”  Bodie ignored the not-so-veiled insult in Doyle’s question; he certainly wasn’t going to explain his interest in poetry to an irritating ex-copper with a giant chip on his shoulder.

Doyle shook his head.  “Not on my watch,” he said.  “We follow a practice of regular trimming of their flight feathers, not to incapacitate the birds, of course, but to restrict their ability to achieve full flight.  It’s Kala’s turn for that today, in fact.” he added.  “That’s why she’s inside right now.”

“But birds have escaped?”  Bodie wasn’t sure why he kept pushing.  Could there be a plan to remove the ravens from the Tower by assisting them to escape?  He made a mental note to bring up the possibility with both the Commander and Cowley at their next briefing, later that afternoon.  Becoming aware that Doyle was staring at him expectantly, he hastily dragged his attention back to the RavenMaster.

“I could tell you a couple of tall tales about ravens escaping the Tower,” Doyle said.  “As I said, though, not since I’ve been RavenMaster.”  Doyle emphasized each word, as he pulled on a pair of heavy leather gloves.  He paused in front of the cage door, one hand on the latching mechanism.  “Did you stop in for any particular reason, Sergeant Bodie?  I do need to get on with this.”

Back to that formality again?  Damn.  “Is there anything I can do to help?” Bodie said, unwilling to be put off.

Doyle thought for a moment, then jerked his head toward the workshop.  “Grab a pair of gloves, then, and a handful of peanuts from the bin on the counter.  And when you come back in, close the door behind you.”  He tossed a peanut he’d pulled from a pocket into the cage.  “There, my lovely,” he said to the bird, “nothing to worry about.  I won’t let the army get too close.”

It was Bodie’s turn to glare as he came back into the enclosure to hear Doyle’s words.  “Bloody copper,” he said.

Doyle smiled, the strain of a few moments ago gone without a trace.  “Just stand back and watch,” he said.  “I’ll let you know if I need a hand… or a peanut.  And by the way,” he added. “Did you know that a group of ravens isn’t called a flock, it’s an ‘unkindness’… or perhaps a ‘congress’, or ‘parliament’… or maybe even a ‘conspiracy.’ ”  His smile broadened to an outright grin.  “But never just a flock.  You and everyone else had best remember that, Sergeant Bodie.”

 

*

 

Feeling on edge after an … unusual … afternoon spent in the domain of the RavenMaster, and a half hour spent briefing Colonel Gibson and Cowley in the commander’s office, Bodie headed out for a run in the late-evening darkness.  It was at least a start to the release of the tension he’d been feeling more intensely for the past few days.  In addition, he had scheduled an off-site session the following week at the Training Centre for a section from the Extraordinary, and he had no desire to be on the receiving end of Brian Macklin’s not-so-gentle reminders about his own fitness.  Bodie had been left bloody and bruised by a number of ‘refresher’ courses concocted by CI5’s resident trainer, and already suspected that another would be in the works for himself and Murphy when this assignment ended.  If it ended well…

The Tower’s main western gate was still open, although it was due to close shortly with the Ceremony of the Keys.  Bodie limited his route to a full circuit around the outer walls, followed by a stretch of the nearby Tower Bridge Road, crossing the bridge over the river before looping around and heading back to the Tower. 

Coming back within the boundary, he felt the noise of the city lessen just a bit, pushed back by the ancient stone walls.  The ebb and flow of life in London after dark was as familiar as breathing to Bodie.  God knew he and his partner spent enough time on late-night obbos, meetings with various grasses, and whatever else George-bloody-Cowley came up with for them to do.  But the unique sounds of the Tower were also becoming part of his subconscious… which is why when the R/T in the pocket of his tracksuit jacket suddenly squawked at him, he was already subliminally aware that something was amiss.  And when Murphy’s hurried call for assistance reached him, he’d already doubled his pace as he headed for the White Tower and where he knew the trouble was… the raven enclosure. 

 

*

 

Bodie could hear the ravens more clearly as he approached: a chorus of guttural calls and clicking from the entire flock – correction, unkindness – as he remembered Doyle’s words from earlier that afternoon.  He skidded to a halt on the cobbled path outside the workshop, where Murphy and a pair of medics were bent over the prone, unconscious form of the RavenMaster. 

“Doyle!”  He knelt beside the still figure, his fingers automatically seeking a pulse despite the busy ministrations of the medics.  He looked over at Murphy.  “What the hell happened here, Murphy?”

Murphy straightened and drew Bodie up with him, jerking his head to indicate they should step to the side, near the workshop’s open door.  “I was patrolling near the enclosure,” he said.  “The ravens started making a racket; you could hear it halfway across the grounds.  I came over and found the place open, and Doyle on the floor of the workshop.  I dragged him out right away, and Bodie,” Murphy paused to cough and clear his throat.  “I could smell something in the air, pungent and sweet at the same time.  Made me dizzy for a minute… and Doyle probably got a full dose of whatever it was.”

“The ravens?”  Bodie looked through the workshop, and saw the far door to the enclosure was slightly ajar. 

“Haven’t gone in yet,” Murphy said.  “My priority was to get Doyle out into the fresh air.  But I did call for his assistant to get here as soon as he could.”

“I’m here now.”  An out-of-breath Alan MacKnight was suddenly there beside them.  “What’s happened, Sergeant?”

“There’s been an incident,” Bodie said curtly.  “You and Murphy get inside, check on the ravens.  Let me know their status.”  He moved to stand beside the medics, who had placed an oxygen mask over Doyle’s nose and mouth and were now loading him onto a canvas stretcher.  “I’ll go with Doyle to the infirmary.  Report to me there,” he said to Murphy, and then followed the medics as they carried their patient away from the workshop.

 

*

 

Bodie settled himself into the uncomfortable plastic chair, to watch and wait as Doyle slept off the aftereffects of the powerful sedative in an observation ward at the Tower’s small infirmary.  The doctor had reassured him that there was no lasting harm done; Doyle would make a full recovery and likely be released at some point in the following day.

Doyle.  Even deep in drugged slumber, the man was restless, hands clenching and unclenching, a frown or grimace crossing his face before he settled back into stillness, only to repeat the cycle again a few minutes later.   Bodie wondered what it was that disturbed the RavenMaster on such a level that interrupted even this sleep… and then answered his own musings almost immediately:  the ravens.  Of course.

In the privacy granted by the late hour and otherwise-empty ward, he studied the other man closely.  The pallor brought on by the attack made the distinctive raised cheekbone more prominent than ever.  Not for the first time, Bodie let his imagination question the old injury’s origin… youthful exploits?  The wrong end of a dust-up with some criminal element from his days with the Met?  One day, perhaps, he’d hear the story.

In the bed, Doyle stirred again and reached out, blindly thrashing with the arm that was tethered to the intravenous drip the doctor had insisted on to aid in the drug’s dissipation.  Unfocussed green eyes opened to half mast and Doyle looked around in confusion.  Bodie caught the flailing hand and held tight against the surprisingly strong pull.  “Easy there, mate,” he found himself saying.  “Just relax and sleep, you’re safe.  Oh, and the ravens as well,” he added, when Doyle struggled harder, panic visible even through the glassiness of the gaze that was now locked with his own.  “All the birds are safe in their cages.”

To Bodie’s surprise, his words had an immediate effect; Doyle relaxed his death grip on his hand, and closed his eyes to settle into seemingly easier sleep with a sigh and a mumble of words he couldn’t quite catch.  He held on for a moment longer, then gently placed Doyle’s hand back on the bed, watching as the long fingers flexed slightly, then went limp in total relaxation.  As he settled back into the chair, he felt a strange tremor of emotion, a wave of awe that in this most vulnerable state, the outwardly prickly and fiercely independent Doyle should trust him to this extent.  It was a humbling thought, which gave him plenty to think about during the remainder of the long, dark hours of the night.

 

oOo

 

Daylight was just beginning to peek in at the edges of the window when Ray jolted awake, suddenly alert in a rush of panic-tinged confusion.  He pushed himself into a sitting position and immediately regretted it, as a sharp stab of headache tried to detach his skull from the rest of his also-aching body.  Closing his eyes with a hiss of pain, he pressed his hands to his temples to try to contain the wash of dizziness and nausea.

“Doyle?” 

The nearby voice saying his name was almost familiar.  Unable to quite place it, Ray cracked open one eye to discover a fuzzy-around-the-edges figure that resembled Bodie straightening up in a chair next to his bedside… bedside?  Ray ran a shaking hand through his tangled curls and tried desperately to figure out where he was and what had happened to put him there.  He struggled to speak but could only cough instead, his mouth dry as sandpaper and tasting like things he didn’t want to imagine.

“Here. Drink this.” 

The voice again, and another careful look did determine that it was Bodie, this time holding out a plastic beaker with a straw, the universal source of tepid water provided to hospital patients.  Reaching out for the cup, Ray managed to swallow a few sips before Bodie rescued it from a certain tumble into his lap.

“Better, yeah?”

Ray coughed again, but nodded in the affirmative.  “Thanks,” he said, his voice hoarse and roughened with strain.  He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, already feeling the nausea begin to subside.  Eyes open again, he looked around the room for a moment before letting his gaze settle on the man beside him.  “Bodie,” he said, and then his eyes widened.  “The ravens!  What… Are they all right?”  He began to push himself out of the bed.  “I’ve got to get to them…”  A fresh wave of dizziness brought him back down, hands holding his aching head, the room swirling uncomfortably around him. 

He felt the gentle contact of hands easing him back on the pillow, and the touch of the straw to his lips.  He sipped again, the water sliding down his throat but doing little to ease the tightness and tension.  Pushing the beaker away, he looked mutely at Bodie, an urgent appeal for an explanation and reassurance… and Bodie gave it to him right away.

“First off, all the ravens are fine.” 

Ray closed his eyes in relief.  Not another failure, then.  “So, what…?”

“You’re in the infirmary, if you haven’t guessed.” 

Ray heard the trace of humour in Bodie’s voice, and nodded for him to continue.

“To put it simply,” Bodie said, “you were gassed.  Some kind of a knockout compound, from a cannister with a time-release spring lid which had been planted in your workshop.  We found it taped under the counter.”  He paused, then added, “Quite sophisticated, and fast acting, too… you never had a chance to realize there was a threat, let alone draw your weapon.”

“And once I was out…”

“Once you were out, the bird-napper, if you will, had open access to the ravens, and was presumably getting ready to take them away.”

“What…”  Ray cleared his throat again.  “What stopped them?”

“The ravens themselves.”  Bodie shook his head.  “They raised such a ruckus that the night patrol, plus a few other members of the Extraordinary who were out in the grounds, came to investigate the noise.  They found you, unconscious, on the floor, and even though the door to the raven enclosure itself was open, all their cages were still closed and none of them had gotten out.”

“Christ,” said Ray.  “Did they catch who did it?”  He watched Bodie stand, walk over to the window, and push the blind aside to look out at the pale sunlight of the early morning.

“No,” Bodie said.  “Whoever it was, they managed to get out of the Tower grounds before anyone knew what had happened.  And this was just before The Ceremony, so the gates were still open.”

“Christ,” Ray said again, into the silence which followed Bodie’s explanation.  He sank back into the pillows on the bed and closed his eyes.  “I should be there with them.”

“Your assistant, MacKnight, was with the ravens after you were brought here,” Bodie said.  “A couple of other members of the Guard were going to be there with him overnight.”

Ray opened his eyes again, and made a move, more cautiously this time, to rise from the bed.  “I need to leave, to get over to the enclosure… now!”  He tugged at the tape holding the intravenous needle in place in his arm.  “Help me get this out, will you?  And where are my clothes?  Dammit…”  He overbalanced on the edge of the mattress and nearly fell.  Only Bodie’s quick reflexes kept him from ending up in an undignified heap on the floor. 

“Look, Doyle, I don’t think you should be up until the doc says so…”  Bodie was interrupted by a noise at the end of the ward, and immediately straightened, right hand easing under his jacket to loosen his weapon in its holster.  The next second he relaxed away from drawing the gun, but remained beside the bed as the infirmary’s staff doctor made his way toward them.

“Doyle, I wasn’t expecting to see you until next week.”  The doctor reached Ray’s bedside and picked up the chart from its slot on the wall and read the entries left by the staff overnight.  “And then you managed to let some more trouble find you,” he said.  “Now, tell me how you’re feeling this morning.”

“I’m fine.”  Ray was abrupt and rude and didn’t care in the slightest. 

“Not quite, you’re not,” the doctor said.  “But you will be.  There will be some aftereffects from the drug... weakness, dizziness, and you’re still a bit dehydrated.  I’ll release you to your quarters this afternoon, and not to return to work for two full days.”

“That’s not going to happen.”  Ray was already starting to get out of bed again.  “I will be with the ravens this morning, whether or not you officially release me.”  He ignored the wave of light-headedness and thrust his arm at the doctor.  “And get this fucking thing out of me before I pull it out myself.  Now.”

Before the doctor could speak, Bodie stepped forward.  “If you release Doyle now, I’ll escort him to his quarters and make sure he’s off duty for the rest of the day.”

Silence greeted Bodie’s words, then both men started speaking at the same time.

“That would be acceptable, Sergeant Bodie,” the doctor said.  “I’ll give you some instructions on what to look out for…”

“Like fuck you’ll watch over me!”  Ray glared at Bodie.  “I’m not some helpless lightweight who needs a bloody minder to make sure I drink my juice and eat my vegetables!  So you can just take this idea of yours and… dammit.”  He again wavered on the edge of the bed; this time it was the doctor who pushed him back against the pillows.  Swallowing a cough, he took a deep breath and made an effort to quell the lurking sick and dizzy feeling that threatened to prove the medic’s prognosis all too correct.

“RavenMaster Doyle.”  The doctor spoke quietly but firmly.  “You must rest, and let the drug you inhaled work fully out of your system.  I’m willing to let you do that in your quarters, but you should not be alone.  If Sergeant Bodie here,” he nodded in Bodie’s direction, “is willing to stay with you, I’ll release you to his care.  But if you’re not willing to rest, I can and will insist that you remain here, under my tender mercies, until you are fit.  Do you understand me?”

Ray hesitated, then gave a small, terse nod.  “Where are my clothes?” he said.  “I’d like to get changed now, if you don’t mind.”

The doctor and Bodie exchanged a glance.  “Your clothes were, uh, taken away as part of the investigation into the attack,” Bodie said.  “I have your wallet and the keys that were in your pockets… I can go fetch something for you to wear.”

“Fine, take them,” Ray said, and gave in to the urge to lean back into the pillows and close his eyes.  “I’ll just wait here for you to get back.” 

“We’ll be ready when you return,” the doctor said.  “Take a bit of extra time to perhaps get yourself some coffee, Sergeant.  It’s been a long night for everyone.”

 

oOo

 

Bodie returned to the infirmary forty-five minutes later, having taken the doctor’s advice and stopped off at his own flat to shower and change and have a fast bite to eat, before picking up some clothing for Doyle.  The RavenMaster’s flat was a bit of a jumble compared to his own, but he’d been able to find and pack up a track suit and a pair of trainers with little difficulty.

Doyle was waiting for him, still resting on the bed, but with the drip removed and a small, neat plaster on the back of his hand where the needle had been.  Without a word he took the bag of clothing and pointed to the door.

“You’re welcome,” Bodie said, but left the ward to give Doyle the privacy he had demanded.  Moments later, with the doctor’s admonition to return if any of a list of symptoms recurred, they were able to leave the infirmary and began the journey to Doyle’s quarters.

Despite the short distance, Doyle’s strength was flagging before they were halfway there.  Bodie watched him grit his teeth and attempt to keep up the slow, steady pace he’d set; the first offer of assistance was refused with a snarl and his hand pushed away.  The second time Doyle nearly toppled over, Bodie fastened a grip under a wavering elbow and kept him upright for the remainder of the trip.  He all but carried Doyle up the narrow staircase to the door, and replied with a scowl of his own when Doyle tried to suggest that it would be fine to leave him at the door.  In the flat at last, Bodie steered the exhausted man to the sofa and eased him down, settling his head down on the cushion and stretching his legs out to the other end. 

Doyle almost immediately went limp, but struggled briefly to stay awake. “I’ll just sit here for a moment,” he said, “and then you can go and I’ll see to the ravens…”  Within a minute he was deep in sleep.

Bodie sighed and went to find a pillow and blankets.  He slipped the pillow under Doyle’s head, then removed the tattered red trainers and covered him with a blanket emblazoned with the insignia of the Metropolitan Police.  “It seems to be my lot in life to watch over you, Doyle,” he said to the room at large.  He checked one last time to make sure Doyle was all right, then he settled into a chair on the other side of the cozy lounge and reached for his R/T to call Murphy.

 

oOo

 

For the second time that day Ray awoke with the sensation that the top of his skull was going to fly off.  This time, he moved more slowly, gradually flexing his arms and legs but keeping otherwise still until he was sure his aching head wasn’t going to roll away.  The familiar lumps and bumps of his sofa told him that he was in his flat, but how had he…?  Memory abruptly rushed back, and eyes that had been about to open now squeezed shut in mortification.  “Christ,” he said.

“Feeling better now?”

The quietly spoken words could have been mocking, but Ray didn’t think they were.  “Yes, thank you,” he said.  “Although I’m a bit… fuzzy … on what’s happened.”  He opened his eyes carefully to see the late afternoon sun shining in the lounge window.  “What time is it?”

“It’s gone four.  You’ve been asleep for most of the day, after barely making it here under your own power, and then telling me that you’d be off to work after a quick break,” Bodie said, uncurling himself from the chair he’d been occupying. 

Ray groaned in fresh embarrassment and dropped his head back onto the pillow.  Just as quickly, he looked up again at Bodie.

“And before you ask, yes, the ravens are all well and have followed their normal daily routine, according to the updates I’ve been receiving from MacKnight and Murphy.”

Ray released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.  “Thank God for that,” he said.  He sat up and pushed the blanket aside, then carefully stood and stretched a bit more.  “Back in a minute,” he added, and disappeared down the narrow hallway.  When he returned a few moments later, he found a mug of tea on the coffee table awaiting him, along with a plate containing a couple of sandwiches.  Bodie had the same for himself on the other side of the table.

“Figured you’d be hungry when you woke up, so I had Murphy come over with a few provisions.  Your cupboards, Mother Hubbard, are bare,” said Bodie.  “I hope cheese and pickle is all right… you can always have half my ham if you like.”

Ray shook his head.  “This is fine, thank you,” he said, and in very short order most of one sandwich and half the tea had disappeared.

Bodie nodded his approval.  “Murphy wasn’t the only one to stop by, either,” he said.  “I’ve been fending off a steady stream of gentleman callers, you know.”

Ray choked on a mouthful of tea, his startled, wide-eyed gaze meeting Bodie’s for a panicked instant before he brought himself back under control.  He looked away, focusing on the mug he held, and took another, smaller sip.  “Who…?”

“Lieutenant Colonel Harrison, wondering how you were doing,” Bodie said.  “A friend of yours, Clarke, was his name.  And of course, your assistant, MacKnight, with a couple of updates on the ravens.”

“Thank you for dealing with all that.”  Ray was pleased his voice was back under his control.  Gentleman callers indeed…  Not that there would be callers of any kind here, of course; Yeoman Warders were expected to maintain the epitome of discretion, the single men especially, while living at the Tower.  And since his transfer here from the Met, Ray had met that expectation, and more.

They finished their tea quickly, and Ray collected their mugs and plates and took them to the kitchen.  When he returned, he found Bodie watching him closely, and sighed; this was taking the doctor’s instructions a bit too much to heart.  “I’m feeling fine now, Bodie,” he said.  “Really.  Thank you for staying here, but if you have somewhere you need to be, you don’t have to stay here anymore.  I’ll take it easy, I promise.”

Bodie gave him another long look, then nodded.  “I’ll be off, then,” he said.  “I’m glad you’re on the mend.”  He picked up his shoulder holster and buckled it into place, then pulled on his jacket and shoes.  “But call in if you need assistance,” he added.  “The duty officer can have someone here in no time.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ray said again.  He followed Bodie to the door, and fastened the lock after he’d left.  What he craved now, just like his charges, was to get back to his routine as quickly as possible.  With that in mind, he took a minute to lay out his uniform, then headed for the shower.  The RavenMaster’s evening duties awaited him.

 

*

 

Ray was only a few minutes out of his quarters before the ravens found him. 

Specifically, it was Munin that arrived first, fluttering down from her favourite perch high on the White Tower to land on the grass beside him, a buoyant kronk kronk announcing her discovery to the rest of the flock, and everyone else who happened to be around near Tower Green.  And as Ray walked along the path which led to the raven enclosure, two more of his lovelies appeared – Kala and Garvey – to hop along with him.  Ray smiled as Munin flexed her wings and rolled a beady eye at the pair; her usual antagonism toward the other ravens was in full force, which meant that at least she was feeling no ill effects from the scare the previous evening.  His grin broadened when he saw a fourth bird waiting right beside the enclosure.  While he spent a good deal of time watching his ravens, he was completely aware that they were watching him almost as intently, and very likely ‘talking’ amongst themselves when they thought he wasn’t paying attention.  Christ, but he loved his job, even after a day like today.

“Ray!”  Alan MacKnight met him at the door to the workshop.  “We weren’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.  Bodie said you’d been sentenced to bed rest in your flat!”

Ray laughed; he couldn’t help it.  “Not bloody likely, mate,” he said.  “I just needed a bit of a nap, that’s all.”  He stepped inside and greeted the room’s other occupant.  “Kian.  I suppose I’m not surprised to see you here.  Alan called you in, I suppose, after last night.”

“Hello, Ray.”  Kian Twomey greeted him with a handshake.  “He did, yes.  I am surprised that you’re here, though.  Are you sure you are well?”

“Really, I’m fine,” Ray said.  “And I’ve managed to bring along three of the lovelies with me, my escorts along the path, and a fourth serving as doorman to this fine establishment.  Let’s see about getting them all in for the evening, shall we?”

The routine was just as reassuring as Ray had hoped it would be.  The ravens came to their roosts in the enclosure in their usual pecking order, each one checked over by both Ray and his assistant, before they laid out the evening meal of chicken and lamb.  Ray also prepared an extra treat for them, digging into the bin of biscuits and setting a handful for a quick soak.  While the ravens were happily making short work of their dinner, Ray and Alan secured the enclosure for the night, making it ready for the birds to settle into their night boxes.

Chores complete and ravens safe, Ray let himself relax just a bit, and eased himself down onto one of the stools by the workbench.  He watched as Alan finished the cleanup in the shop, leaving everything ready for the early morning start the next day.

“Ray.”  Twomey stepped forward to stand at the bench beside Ray, holding a box he’d pulled out of his London Zoo carryall.  “I’ve brought a new formulation of supplement to add to the ravens’ feed.  Doctor Meadows has made up something similar for the corvids under her care at the zoo, when she felt the flock was under extra stress.  She’s used a blend of herb extracts known for their soothing qualities.  It can be mixed directly into the blend of meat chunks you prepare, in small amounts, to be laid out daily.”

“A sort of herbal medicine for corvids… hmmm.”  Ray picked up the box and pulled out the unlabeled metal canister that was inside.  He opened it and took a sniff.  “Whew, that’s a pong,” he said.  “Show me what you mean by a small amount, Kian.” 

“I’ll prepare enough for the next few days,” the technician said, reaching out to take the canister from Ray’s hands.  “That way you won’t have to …”

“Show me,” Ray said again.  “I want to make sure that I understand what the ratio should be, so that we can mix it ourselves when you’re not here.  There’s a tray of meat in the refrigerator that Alan’s laid out for tomorrow, you can use that.”

Twomey hesitated, then nodded.  “All right, Ray, I’ll show you.  We’ll start it in small increments and work up over the next few days, see?”  He went to the fridge and pulled out the large tray of chopped meat chunks.  Bringing it back to the counter, he sprinkled a small amount of the supplement over the top then stirred it in to distribute the grainy powder.  “Like this for a week, then doubled for the next.  We can… we can then hold at that to see how they’re doing.” 

“All right,” Ray said.  “Doctor Meadows wants this to start … today?  Perhaps we could add it to the biscuits?”

“Tomorrow is fine,” Twomey said.  “Seven days at the lesser amount, and then double it.”  He re-covered the tray of meat and placed it back on the shelf in the fridge.

“Put it in the logbook,” Ray said to his assistant.  “And stick a label on the canister of the supplement, will you?  I don’t like unlabeled containers of anything on the shelves in here.”  He stood and stretched, then went to have a quick look at the ravens.  “I’ll be on in the morning, Alan,” he said.  “You can have most of tomorrow clear.  You’ve had a long time here, last night and today.”

MacKnight smiled his thanks.  “Murphy spelled me off for a bit this afternoon,” he said.  “And he’s coming in shortly, to take the watch until the gates are closed.  You’d approve of the way he is with the birds,” he added.  “Seems to take to it naturally.  You might want to add him to your short list of potential assistants.”

“I’ll keep him in mind,” said Ray.  “Come on, Kian, I’ll walk you to your truck.  And thank you, for all that you’re doing for our flock.”

 

oOo

 

It was not Bodie’s custom to sit and brood; he was much more an action man, preferring a quick, direct approach to any situation over lengthy thought and angst.  This business with the ravens, though… it was sorely testing his patience.  Two weeks he and Murphy had been at the Tower, fourteen long days of uniforms and dealing with tourists, of ritual and routine…

He did have to admit to himself that the atmosphere, the aura of timelessness and the weight of history that the Tower of London simply exuded out of every stone, armament, even the stained glass in the Chapel Royal… this did not wear off or get tiresome, in any way.  In the midst of his assignment and his duty to Cowley and CI5, Bodie was very much aware of where he was and what he was doing.

And right now, he was at The Keys, the pub whose name he now understood more fully, having watched The Ceremony of the Keys for the first time a few evenings ago.  The ring of large, old-fashioned keys which the Chief Yeoman Warder retrieved, carried to the gate, and then replaced in its resting place at The Queen’s House at the conclusion of the seven hundred year old ritual, was replicated in the stylized logo found in and around the pub.

Bodie settled back in his chair and surveyed the room from the one place which allowed a patron to have the illusion of a secluded nook:  the table behind the wall at the entrance.  Sitting here, he could appreciate why Doyle had practically staked it out as his private territory.  Tucked into the corner, the RavenMaster could remain virtually hidden, out of the direct view of members who dispersed into the room after picking up their drinks at the bar… by the time they saw him, they’d already settled in at other tables, in other groups.  Bodie himself had done that a number of times.  But, when he’d arrived at The Keys a short while ago, ‘Doyle’s’ table was empty, the RavenMaster nowhere to be seen.  Bodie hoped it meant that Doyle was in his quarters; the instructions from the doctor at the infirmary had been quite clear about him needing to rest and recover from the attack.  The attack…

So he’d settled in, and found himself watching the ebb and flow of the room, and … brooding.

Two weeks of extra training for the Guard Extraordinary had tightened up the force around the edges, although, giving credit where it was due, the Commander ran a good and efficient unit.  Bodie had moved from weapons drills to tactics, both classroom work and some practical exercises and mock scenarios around the grounds.  He’d watched and evaluated them all, quietly supervised new routines and a couple of different pairings for the patrols, and he’d generally been pleased with the results.

And yet, it still hadn’t been enough.

The attack the previous evening had shown him just how vulnerable the ravens were, despite all the precautions that were being taken.  Bodie had only half jokingly recommended to Cowley that the only way to keep the flock safe was to lock them up in cages and post a twenty-four-hour guard – preferably far away from the Tower of London.  It was an impossible request, however; the Controller hadn’t needed to remind him that there could be no appearance of a threat to the tourist hordes.  That damned English stiff upper lip was in full play, and he knew it.

Bodie scowled into his glass of scotch.  He’d have to step his own surveillance on the RavenMaster, and beef up Murphy’s presence too.  Maybe he could get Cowley to arrange for a series of cameras around the raven enclosure.

“That’s my seat you’re in.  My seat, at my table.” 

Bodie started; he’d been deep in thought and absorbed by the amber-tinged shadows his glass was throwing on the table, and hadn’t been aware of any approach to his nook.  He looked up to find the object of his thoughts standing in front of him, a pint in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other, and a look – Bodie couldn’t quite tell what the look meant – aimed in his direction.  “Your table?” he said.  “Well, in that case, you’d better have a seat.”  He reached out and pushed the table’s second chair out to make room for Doyle.  “Sit down before you fall down,” he continued.  “You look terrible, by the way, but I suppose that will happen when you ignore doctors’ orders and go to work when you’re supposed to be resting.”

Doyle set the glasses on the table and pushed the pint towards Bodie.  “I came to a compromise,” he said.  “I’ve left MacKnight and Murphy to finish the watch for the evening… and I’m not mixing anything alcoholic with the tail end of that sleeping drug.”  An eyebrow was lifted, and the level green gaze shifted to outright challenge.  “Are you going to report me, Sergeant Bodie?”

“Not a word from me, RavenMaster Doyle,” said Bodie.  “Not even to any of your gentleman callers from this afternoon.”  He watched with interest as Doyle flushed, just as he had earlier, made even more visible by the pallor of exhaustion which Doyle still clearly exhibited.  “So. you haven’t had enough of my company yet… we’ve spent almost the last twenty-four hours together, you know, even if you did sleep through most of it.  I thought you had a … a thing against us military types.”

Doyle flushed even deeper, and glowered for a moment at his tumbler of juice.  But then, to Bodie’s surprise, Doyle relaxed and gave him an almost friendly grin.  “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said.  “There’s enough bloody SAS around here that you’re always tripping over some regimental tall tale or another.  MacKnight and I have had a running battle about this since the day I made him my assistant.”  He paused, then continued, “But it’s supposed to make everyone feel protected, I guess.  For the kingdom, and all that.”

With that, Bodie abruptly turned serious.  He looked up from his glass to find Doyle watching him with a steady gaze.  “We couldn’t keep you safe last night,” he said.  “Everything that the Extraordinary is doing, all the extra training and precautions, and you were still attacked.”

“We’re doing all we can,” Doyle said.  “We’ll keep watching, and keep hoping it’s enough.”

They sat quietly for a few minutes, each lost in thoughts deep and turbulent.  

“I want to thank you, by the way, for last night,” Doyle said suddenly.  “I don’t remember much, except knowing I was going to pass out, and then nothing until I woke up in the infirmary, and you were there, and told me the ravens were all right.”  He hesitated, then added, “And I wasn’t alone… like the last time.”  He stopped and shook his head.  “Christ, forget I said that.  My mind’s obviously still drug-addled… I’ve got to go.”  Doyle pushed away from the table and stood up, tension visible in the rigid set of his shoulders, even through the uniform tunic.

Bodie stood too, and placed a hand on Doyle’s forearm.  “Doyle.  Ray,” he said.  “Stay and finish your drink.  You probably need the vitamins, anyway.”  He looked around quickly, but nobody in the sparsely populated pub seemed to be taking any notice of them.  “Please.  At least let me finish my pint, then.  For… for the sake of good military/copper relations, if nothing else.”

“You are unbelievable,” said Doyle, but after a few seconds, he sat back down.  He picked up his glass and studied its contents closely.  “To good relations, of course,” he said, raising the glass before taking a respectful sip.

Bodie hastily swallowed the mouthful he’d already taken and lifted his own pint glass to touch the rim of Doyle’s drink.  “To good relations,” he managed to say, and took another large sip to relieve the sudden dryness in his throat.

Doyle pushed his glass to the centre of the table with a slightly unsteady hand.  “I’m ready to turn in for the evening,” he said.  “And I’ve got a passably good bottle of pure malt scotch … perhaps when you’ve finished your pint, you’ll join me for a last drink.”  He stood, picked up his hat, and walked around the wall and out the door without a backward glance.

Five minutes later, Bodie’s glass joined Doyle’s, and he followed in the RavenMaster’s footsteps.

 

oOo

 

Ray arrived at his flat without any real recollection of how he got there.  He went up the staircase and unlocked the door with a hand that still wasn’t entirely steady.  Force of habit had him closing and locking up, but then he paused and undid the locks, and walked into the flat leaving the door slightly ajar.  Sergeant Bodie probably wouldn’t approve… but Ray was hoping it wouldn’t be the taskmaster sergeant who would soon be here.

Unless he had gotten it completely wrong, of course, and misread the signals he thought Bodie had been sending out.  The … watching … could be explained as the extra close surveillance that many of the members of the Extraordinary were doing, around him and the ravens.  Bodie might simply be following directions from their Commanding Officer. 

But the crack about ‘gentleman callers’, well, that had been an unusual choice of words, and it made Ray wonder if Bodie had picked up on the fact that for all the watching he was doing, he had also been under the same amount of scrutiny himself.  Ray figured his years of walking a beat, and then participating in more stakeouts than he wanted to remember, gave him an edge in the way of discretion.  More than a year of stalking the ravens around the Tower grounds, keeping them under steady surveillance, had only added to his considerable skill set.  But since the death of Raven Winston he’d felt off his game, and more vulnerable than he’d been ready to admit even to himself.

Thoughts still spinning and threatening to get out of control, Ray unfastened the buttons of his tunic but left it on, thinking somehow that getting out of uniform might be interpreted as ‘slipping into something more comfortable’.  But that was what he wanted, wasn’t it?  He fetched the bottle of scotch and set it carefully on the table, then sighed in exasperation and went back for glasses.  His mind whirling, Ray sank down on the sofa and dropped his head into his hands, fleetingly considered a quick escape to the raven enclosure before Bodie arrived …  if he was going to arrive…  but no.  He rose again, and moved to the room’s small window, feeling a need for some fresh air.  Then he heard footsteps, and the creak of the flat door as it opened. 

Time for reckoning…

 

*

 

Bodie sat, unable to move, as he watched Doyle walk away from the table and out of their little nook beside the wall; a moment later he heard the pub door swing open and shut.  The RavenMaster was gone.  And now the question was, had that been an actual invitation from Doyle?

He took a long pull from his pint, and turned the thought over in his mind.  Sure, he’d been baiting Doyle with his ‘gentleman callers’ comment, and it had been worth it – Doyle’s reaction the second time had been even more obvious.  He’d been aware of Doyle surreptitiously watching him for the past few days, although with his copper’s skill he had done a fair job of concealing it.  So Bodie didn’t believe he was misreading any signals, inasmuch as Doyle seemed to be trying not to be obvious about it. 

And that unthinking, unguarded comment about being alone… 

Bodie took another drink and thought about it some more, then pushed his glass to the middle of the table, where it clinked together with the one abandoned by Doyle just moments before.  Then he, too, rose from the table and left the pub, walking down the laneway towards the single quarters, following in the footsteps of the RavenMaster.  He climbed the narrow staircase leading to Doyle’s flat, taking the steps two at a time, but slowing as he approached the top.  Because there, in front of him, was the answer to his question.

The door was open…

 

*

 

The snick of the door latch and the lock being slid into place, the rattle of the security chain, were an almost deafening intrusion into the silence of the flat.  No, not quite silence.  Bodie could hear the soft creak of the floorboards in the lounge.  Having spent most of the day here in this space, keeping watch while Doyle was deep in healing sleep, Bodie recognized the path those footsteps were taking.  With a final quick check on the security of the door, he moved forward to the door to the lounge, stopping once he’d stepped inside.  Sure enough, there was Doyle, standing by the window; he made no acknowledgement that he’d heard Bodie come in, other than a slight stiffening of his already-set shoulders.

Bodie moved forward into the dim light of the room, blinking as his eyes made the adjustment.  On the coffee table, a distinctive bottle of single malt stood between a pair of heavy crystal tumblers, a generous couple of fingers of deep amber liquid in each.  He picked up the glasses and approached Doyle, stopping short and holding one out for him with an almost-steadiness that would have to do, for now.

“Here,” he said.  “Get your hand around this.”

“What?  Oh, thanks.” After a brief hesitation, Doyle reached out and took the glass. 

Their fingers briefly met; Bodie felt a quick thrill, a frisson of tension that raced through his entire body.  “Don’t thank me, mate, it’s your liquor,” he said, managing to keep the tremor he felt from his voice.

“So it is.”  Doyle looked down at the glass in his hand, then looked back out the window.  “Cheers, then,” he said.

Bodie took a generous sip, and then another, savouring the smooth and settling warmth of the scotch as it slid down this throat.  Beside him, Doyle continued to stand, glass held at the ready but not yet touched.  “It tastes better if you actually drink it, you know,” he said.

“What?”  Doyle said again, then shook his head.  “Uh, yeah, I s’pose it does, at that.”  He lifted the tumbler to his lips and swallowed half its contents in one go, closing his eyes as a fine shudder shook through his frame.  He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and feeling it take some of the tension with it. 

Shifting a bit closer to Doyle, Bodie let his gaze line up with Doyle’s.  “What do you see, when you look out there?” he said.

“Well,” Doyle said.  “From this part of the barracks, the actual view isn’t all that great, really, if you’re looking for interesting parts of the Tower, like some of the smaller battlements.  This is just one of the side walls of the White Tower.”  He paused briefly, a faint smile on his face.  “What I see is a series of nooks and crannies where I know my lovelies try to hide from me.  I have to stay sharp,” he added.  “They’re always finding new places, especially if there’s scaffolding anywhere in the grounds.  In behind tarpaulins, on ledges…”  Doyle abruptly fell silent, and in a burst of motion stalked away from the window.  He dropped onto the sofa, staring broodingly into his glass of scotch.

Bodie moved to stand across the table from Doyle, watching the sequence of expressions play across his face, finding himself drawn in to the swirl of emotions laid open for him alone to see… and very much aware of the trust being awarded to him by the RavenMaster.  The previous night in the infirmary, and now, with the invitation into his flat, Doyle was giving him a most humbling gift.  He placed his glass back down on the coffee table, and reached out to gently take Doyle’s, and put it down too. 

“Ray.”

And with that one word, they both moved, Doyle rising up as Bodie stepped forward… coming together so they were almost, but not quite, touching.  Bodie met the open, questioning gaze of the blue-green eyes so close to his and nodded slightly.  He reached up a hand, to lightly brush the longer-than-regulation hair that had so intrigued him, yes, he acknowledged to himself, since the day they’d first met.  He smoothed a wayward curl back into place, and the featherlight touch quickly became more.  Both of Bodie’s hands now tangled in Doyle’s hair, tugging him even closer until their warm, scotch-scented breath mingled between them. 

“Ray,” Bodie said again, and then their lips met, clumsy at first but then fusing together in a blaze of heat that took them both by surprise, and the ancient duel of give and take began.  Doyle tasted of scotch, with a hint of the orange juice he’d had earlier at the pub.  It was a heady, intoxicating blend, and the combination of flavour and sensation sent Bodie soaring to heights he’d somehow known would be the result of touching Doyle.

They broke apart at last, leaning forehead to forehead, gasping in great lungfuls of air.  Bodie’s hands stayed woven through Doyle’s curls, and Doyle’s hands rested on Bodie’s shoulders as if to hold himself up. 

“Christ.”  Either one of them could have said it… and then they were moving again, stumbling around the coffee table to spill untidily onto the sofa.  Ray tugged first at the jacket, then the tie that Bodie was wearing in deference to the dress code of The Keys.  The crisp white dress shirt slowed him down, though, his fingers fumbling uselessly at the tiny buttons and French cuffs.  Ray felt a rumble of laughter run through Bodie, and then his heavy uniform tunic was being removed, by hands that felt much more clever and sure than his own. 

Bodie tossed aside Ray’s tunic, and made short work of the lighter jersey he wore underneath.  And then there was nothing but skin for his hands to feel, warm and responsive to his touch.  Bodie trailed nimble fingers down the lightly-furred torso, stopping to explore flat brown nipples which promptly rose to hard nubs under his careful attention.  Hearing Ray’s sharply indrawn breath, Bodie followed with his mouth where his hands had been, first swirling his tongue around each bud, then tugging gently with his teeth.  Back and forth he went, revelling in the sound of Ray’s enthusiastic and increasingly vocal response.

He took pity on Ray for a moment, breaking away just long enough to remove his own shirt, scattering buttons in his hurry to feel the skin-to-skin contact that they were both craving.  Bodie kissed his way along Ray’s slightly-stubbled jawline, then back to his mouth once again, barely able to concentrate once the RavenMaster’s strong, calloused hands begin their own exploration.  He pressed Ray back into the cushions of the sofa, and went to work on his belt buckle.  Ray arched into his touch as Bodie’s hand slid past the elastic of his pants and found its target, hot and hard, the tip already wet with pre-cum. 

“Easy, sunshine,” Bodie said, stroking back and forth a few times, watching as Ray’s eyes began to glaze over.  “Let me take care of you…”   He took Ray’s cock between his lips, his tongue swirling into the slit where his thumb had been seconds before, revelling in its taste and feel.  Beneath him Ray bucked and twisted, his breathing sharp gasps punctuated with moans that had Bodie increasing his efforts, just to hear more of that erotic sound.  And when he felt Ray’s hand give him a warning nudge on the shoulder, he simply held on tighter and swallowed every last drop.

“Christ…” 

The quiet epithet had Bodie smiling as he slid down to sit on the floor, closing his eyes to listen as Doyle brought his breathing back under control.  He shifted awkwardly, trying to make himself less uncomfortable while still constrained by his trousers… and suddenly Doyle was there, on the floor beside him, pushing the coffee table and its contents of bottle and glasses safely out of the way.  Bodie opened his eyes to see the intense gaze of the RavenMaster as he leaned over him, and he was immediately lost in sensation as Doyle’s hands and mouth beginning a similar journey of exploration.

“My.  Turn.  Now.”  Doyle licked, nipped, and suckled his way to finding every sensitive spot that Bodie had, plus a few others he had no idea existed.  By the time Ray drew him in, Bodie felt half mad with need.  He exploded into that clever mouth, shouting in a release that seemed to go on forever, with Doyle’s stroking touch gentling to bring him back down to earth in a steady, grounding descent.

He raised a shaking hand to cup Doyle’s cheek.  “Christ, indeed,” he said, and pulled Doyle closer, settling them a bit more comfortably against the sofa.  He felt rather than saw the grin of response, then closed his eyes and drifted off while he waited for the world to stop spinning.

 Seconds, minutes, maybe hours later, they both stirred as the chill of the late evening air began to make itself felt, along with the discomfort that came from curling up on the hard floor.  Bodie stood first, rolling to his feet and stretching stiff muscles with a groan.  He took a tentative step and knocked his shin into the coffee table.

“Dammit.”  Stumbling blindly in the dark… fuck, if Cowley could see him now…

A quiet chuckle sounded in the darkness.  “Mind your eyes,” Doyle said. 

Bodie heard a match flare, then blinked as the room was flooded with the soft light from a candle set into a wall sconce.  Looking around, he located his trousers and shirt, and slipped them on.  The couple of missing buttons on the shirt he could cover by fastening up his jacket, but there was no sign of his tie… lord knew where it had gotten to.  After a quick search, he gave up, and settled for what he had; it was enough to get him safely to his quarters, at any rate. 

All the while he was aware of Doyle, standing off to one side of the room, uniform jersey and trousers haphazardly tugged on, watching his every move in silence.  In the flickering candlelight he looked distant, remote; Bodie could almost hear the RavenMaster reassembling his barriers.  When he spoke, however, his tone was mild.

“Early morning tomorrow, yeah?  On the range?”

Okay, he could play it cool, as well.  Bodie scrambled to call up the training schedule in his memory, then nodded.  “Handgun drills at 0600 hours.”  He looked at Doyle.  “The range safety officer had better get at least a bit of proper rest, then.” 

“And the rank and file of the Extraordinary, as well.  ’Specially since they’re going to kick the range safety officer’s arse into next week.”  A pause, then, “Again.” 

Bodie tracked down his shoes and shoved his feet into them, then headed for the doorway of the lounge.  “Just make sure you’re on time.”  Stepping into the hallway, he looked back at the still-motionless Doyle.  “Ray.  Lock up after I’ve gone, all right?”  He waited to see the nod of acknowledgement, and then he was gone, out the door and down the stairs.  But once outside on the road in front of the barracks, he tucked himself into a shadowy nook where he could see the little lounge window.  There he watched and waited, and only after he’d seen the glow of the candlelight disappear did he emerge and walk slowly down the pavement to his own quarters.

 

oOo

 

Part Three

 

Second week of September 1979

The alarm was raised at zero six hundred hours on a Monday morning by the assistant to the RavenMaster, Yeoman Warder Alan MacKnight.  It was one of his scheduled mornings to wake the birds and give them their morning feed, but what he’d found at their enclosure had sent him scrambling for his hand radio to call the duty officer of the Guard Extraordinary.

The ravens were gone.

Bodie and Murphy arrived on the run within minutes, roused by Chief Yeoman Warder Gibson himself.  There was already a crowd gathering at the enclosure; in addition to MacKnight, there was the night patrol team from the grounds, both the outgoing and incoming duty officers, and the Deputy Chief Warder, Keith Harrison.  The workroom was full of people, but Bodie was immediately aware that the one person who should have been there was not.  The realization sent a twist of terror through his gut; he ruthlessly shoved it aside, pulling his professional mask over all the fear and worry.

“Right,” said Bodie into the sudden silence which greeted their arrival.  “Where’s Doyle?”

Lieutenant Colonel Harrison stepped forward.  “I had the patrol stop by his flat when he didn’t answer his radio,” he said.  “He’s not there.”

Bodie blinked and stared at him for a moment, while the terror abruptly spun faster.  “What the hell do you mean, he’s not there?  Sir,” he added hastily.  He looked around the room and let his gaze rest on Doyle’s assistant.  “MacKnight!  When was the last time you saw Doyle?  When any of you saw him?  This morning… last night?”

MacKnight shook his head.  “I haven’t seen him since late yesterday afternoon, Bodie,” he said.  “We were both in the grounds with the ravens, then came back here to prepare their evening feed.  I went off shift, and he stayed because he was about to bring in the birds for the night.”

“And everything here was all right?”

“Completely.  I wouldn’t have left if it wasn’t.”  MacKnight was firm in his statement.

The patrol leader stepped forward.  “We didn’t actually see Doyle last night,” he said.  “But there was a light on in this workroom at around zero one hundred hours.  We made note of it in our log.”

“Your log.  Logs!”  Bodie snapped his fingers and looked at the duty officers, Warders Lake and Percy.  “Did anyone sign in last night … anyone unusual, out of order, for a Sunday evening?  Come on, Lake, there must be something that stood out.”

“I… I reviewed the logbook when I assumed the watch at twenty-two hundred hours.”  Yeoman Warder Lake closed his eyes and frowned as he tried to remember.  “We had a couple of evening deliveries and such – supplies for the café and the greengrocer, the rubbish bins were emptied.  Nothing unusual about any of that.”

Bodie shared a frustrated glance with Murphy.  “There’s got to be something else,” he said. “Someone else…”

“Did you actually send the patrol to go and check the enclosure?  After they reported the light on?”  Murphy addressed the duty officer.

“Well, no.”  Lake shook his head.  “The night patrol often sees the lights on in the workshop.  The RavenMaster does keep odd hours at times, especially if one of the ravens is sick or needs some extra special care.  We’ve all seen him here plenty of times.”

“And he usually tells us to go away, since we might wake up the ravens. So we didn’t go in last night,” said the patrol leader.  “I’m really sorry, Bodie, Colonel Gibson.  But there was no way for us to know this was any different.”

Yes, there was! Bodie wanted to shout.  You bastards could have done your job… it’s what we’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing in the Extraordinary’s tactical training!  He opened his mouth to speak, and felt the quick brush of a hand on his forearm.  Looking up, he saw Murphy give a tiny shake of his head.  Right, then… no shouting.  At least, not yet.

Instead, he made his way to Colonel Gibson’s side.  “Sir, we need to remember that the raven enclosure, including this workshop, is a crime scene,” he said.  “We really do need to clear everyone out and see if we can find any evidence of what happened.”

The Colonel nodded.  “I’ll take care of it,” he said quietly.  “You and Murphy damned well better find out what happened to our ravens and their Master and get them back here as soon as possible.”  He raised his voice to add, “Right, we need to clear the area so a proper forensic investigation can take place.  All personnel are to report to the garrison briefing room at once.  Lieutenant Colonel Harrison will begin to take your statements.”

“Thank you, sir.”  Bodie was already moving back to Murphy as the Colonel made his announcement.

The room cleared quickly as Colonels Gibson and Harrison took charge of the exodus.  In the sudden silence Bodie and Murphy looked at each other in disbelief.  “Christ, Murph,” Bodie said.  “Cowley’s going to have our guts for garters. The two of us here, all this extra training and awareness, and somebody just waltzes in and spirits away six bloody ravens and their keeper.  All on a quiet Sunday night where any kind of activity should have raised every red flag in the book!  Christ,” he said again.

“Bodie,” said Murphy.  “One thing you left out with the Commander… did you see Doyle last night?  I know the two of you have been…” 

Bodie dragged a shaking hand through his hair.  “No,” he said.  “We met at the pub and had a drink when I came off shift after the Tower closed.  It was his night to do the final settling of the ravens, just like MacKnight said.”  He looked unhappily at his partner.  “We had no … plans … to see each other later.  I went to my flat and did my fucking laundry, Murphy.  Just another quiet Sunday night.  Except it wasn’t so quiet after all.”  He wanted to shout, or punch something – or better yet, someone – but most of all, he wanted Doyle to be safely within the Tower’s walls… safely within his walls.

“We’ll get them back,” Murphy said firmly.  “Now, are you with me?  Bodie?”  He watched Bodie’s eyes harden with focus, then continued, “Let’s start in the cages, then.  They haven’t been trampled through by half the garrison.  Maybe we’ll find something there.”

They both immediately noticed the signs of a struggle.  The door to one of the cages hung at a crazy angle, another was completely ripped out of the frame. 

“Doyle put up a fight,” Murphy said.

“Of course he put up a bloody fight!”  Bodie leaned in for a closer look at the mangled door.  “Damn, there’s some blood here.  Doyle may be injured.  Or maybe one of the ravens…”  He paced the length of the cage enclosure.  “But look, the rest of the cages are intact,” he said.  “No real evidence that the ravens were chased around their cages to be captured.  Which means…”

“Which means the ravens might have been drugged, knocked out, and then picked up by the attacker.  They were quiet, Bodie.  No noise or fuss, like what happened the other week.  Christ, they might even have known the attacker!”  Murphy frowned.  “If the birds weren’t able to fly or scramble around, then, they could have been carried away in quite a small vehicle.  A panel van, perhaps, or maybe a smaller delivery lorry.”

“If the ravens knew the thief, and were comfortable in his company… that really narrows the list of possibilities, doesn’t it?  And there was at least one delivery vehicle which signed in, the duty officer said,” Bodie said.  “Should be easy enough to check out if there actually was a delivery.”

“Look here.”  Murphy motioned Bodie over to the far end of the row of cages.  “This wire’s been cut, and the fencing bent back into place.”  He stepped out through the gap and crouched down to look at the ground.  “Tire tracks,” he said.  “Fresh, too.  You can see where they crushed the grass with the dew.  There was definitely a vehicle here last night.”  He slipped back in through the fence and held something out.  “Here.  As if we needed further proof…”  He handed Bodie a single long, black feather. 

Bodie took the feather and held it for a moment.  The memory of Doyle carrying one of Winston’s flight feathers was still fresh in his mind, and he tucked the long quill carefully into his jacket pocket.  “There’s something else,” he said.  “Notice anything in the cages?  Something that’s in all of them…?”  He watched Murphy’s eyes widen with comprehension as he saw the six identical little plates, each containing a few crumbs of food.  “Come on, mate, let’s get a couple of samples, and see what’s in the workroom to match.” 

“You pick up some jars for the samples,” Murphy said.  “I’ll see what I can find from the shelves.”

They walked past the ruined cage doors again, and Bodie forced himself not to dwell on the bloodstains.  If the ravens had been drugged and taken alive, then was it possible, maybe even likely, that the thieves – whoever they were – would have wanted the keeper alive as well?  And if there was one thing he had learned about Doyle over the past few weeks, it was that he was a resourceful bastard who would move heaven and earth to keep his ravens safe, wherever they were. 

He found Murphy poking through the many bins of food and other supplies on the shelves and refrigerator in the workshop.  “Anything?” he said, setting his own two small containers on the counter.

“Yes,” Murphy said.  He pointed to a row of open canisters.  “These are all slightly different versions of the supplement which the vet tech, Twomey, was bringing in every couple of weeks.  We’ll have to do an analysis of the samples, but I think he was conditioning the birds to eat increasingly strong concentrations of a sedative in their food.”

“Why not just give them the needed dose when he wanted to take them?”

“I think he did it gradually so that they wouldn’t raise an alarm when he tried to feed them a high enough dose to knock them out.  No, really,” Murphy said as Bodie made a scoffing noise.  “The ravens are creatures of routine and habit.  Any interruption to what they’re used to, and they react, usually badly.  If they had a radically different-tasting meal, they might make enough of a disturbance that someone would come to investigate.”  He stopped and shook his head in disgust.  “Bodie, how did we not see this?  Twomey would be trying to prevent the ravens from raising holy hell…”

“… because he’d already seen them do it. During his first attempt.  Christ,” Bodie said.  “At any rate, we’ve definitely got enough to go to Colonel Gibson and let him know what happened.  Then we can get Cowley to lay on the search for Twomey.”  He picked up the containers to take for analysis and headed for the door.

Murphy followed closely behind, shutting and latching the door behind them.  “I saw him a few times in the last couple of weeks,” he said.  “He was good, really very cool-headed, if he is indeed our man.”

 

oOo

 

Day One

Ray drifted up out of the darkness over a long, indeterminate time.  The blackness was oddly comforting, with little pain and an odd detachment from the anger and guilt that he’d ultimately failed in his duty to keep his charges safe.  Eventually he arrived at an awareness where he could no longer hide from the feelings as they welled up and through him.  He was lying on a chill, unyielding floor, with dirt and grit and God knows what else under his bruised, aching cheek.  It was dark, with only thin seams of sunlight visible around a door frame on the far side of the large, open room, and fainter lines marking several rectangular windows; even that hint of brightness was enough to send shards of pain through his head, and he squeezed his eyes shut again.  He had no idea how much time had elapsed; his last coherent memory was of it being night, and although he’d just seen daylight, it was beyond his ability to tell what time it was.  Time… Ray fumbled for his watch but found his wrist empty.  He sucked in a breath as he moved his left arm, and the fabric of his tunic felt cold and stiff as it scraped against his forearm.

There was something poking at the side of his head… a sharp pecking, accompanied by a quiet kronk kronk that gradually began to get louder as he ignored it.  He reached up with a hand he realized was shaking, and his fingers encountered the familiar texture of stiff quill and smooth softness – the pinion feather of a bird.  He opened his eyes again and found himself under the close beady gaze of one of his ravens.

“Munin?” His voice was barely a croak, and he coughed, trying to bring relief to his parched mouth and aching throat.  “Munin, if that’s you, take it easy, girl.” 

The raven hopped back a step and flexed its wings, the flutter of air stirring the dust on the floor and making him cough again.  But this time the bird hacked along with him, mimicking the sound almost perfectly; in spite of himself, he laughed and spluttered along with the raven, only stopping when he felt the unmistakable jab from another beak into the back of his neck.

With a groan Ray dragged himself into a sitting position, hands coming up to clutch his temples as his aching head attempted to detach itself from his shoulders and roll across the floor.  Munin settled in a little closer to him, and the second raven presence he’d felt clucked and strutted around behind him.  He sat, breathing steadily and gradually more deeply, until he felt the blinding pain ease just enough that he could begin to focus on his immediate surroundings.

He began to have a look around for the rest of ravens.  It was Munin – he’d know her call anywhere – beside him, and another was close, although he couldn’t tell which one.  As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he was able to pick out the silhouette of a pair of birds, resting beside each other on what looked like a boarded-up window.  Kala and Garvey, then, the only bonded pair among the flock, and the only two likely to be that close to one another.  But he’d need some more light to see any further…

Ray fumbled at the inner pockets of his tunic, hoping against the odds that his captors, when they’d removed his watch, had not done a thorough search through the rest of his uniform.  He discovered that his swiss army knife was indeed gone, but they’d left behind the penlight he always carried, likely thinking that it was just a plain biro.  The ravens’ tendency to find dark spaces around the Tower made this little light indispensable, and he was never more thankful that he’d followed his personal routine of fully kitting himself out when putting on his uniform, no matter what the task or occasion.

Clicking the penlight on, Ray was able to see a dark red leg band on the other raven beside him: Grog.  He also spotted George perched on the arm of the sole piece of furniture in the area, a tall-backed wooden chair, his purple leg band dark against the pale slats.  Which just left Harris… Ray felt his gut tighten as he swooped the beam around the room, looking for the last raven.

“Harris,” he managed to say.  “Come on, old man, where are you?  Harris?”

The nearby muttering and pacing stopped, and Ray followed the direction of the gaze of the other ravens.  To his horror he saw a dark shape lying on the floor, the bright green of its leg band glowing in the dim light.  “Harris,” he said, crawling on his hands and knees over to the still form.  He reached out slowly, with the ingrained caution of his years of experience in full control despite the fog in his brain; an injured animal, even a slightly domesticated raven, might strike out when injured or in pain or distress.  He found the bird unresponsive to his touch, but the feathered breast fluttered with the quickness of its normal breath.  Alive, then, the realization of which had Ray sagging back down to the floor in relief. 

Gently picking up the motionless raven, he cradled it with his aching left arm while he used his right to inch along the floor.  He eventually arrived at a wall and settled his back against it.  Munin and Grog followed him, Grog keeping his distance but still watching, chattering to himself and bobbing his head from side to side.  Garvey and Kala muttered and clicked quietly at each other and moved to another window, this one closer to him.  And George, independent as he usually was, remained on the chair, although he did shift so he was able to see in a direct line to the wall where Ray sat.  Dropping his pounding head into his free hand, Ray continued to hold Harris, easing the raven into his lap, and carefully stroking the long pinion feathers back into their place. 

He remembered a bit more, now.  The late-evening call from the duty officer to check on the birds, his hurried flight from his quarters to the raven enclosure… and his immediate awareness that something was amiss.  It had been the silence when he’d entered through the workroom.  Even when the birds were sleeping there was usually a reaction to his presence, a flutter of a wing, a quiet call and response between a couple of them, something.  But there was no motion, no sound… until the sudden burst of movement from the shadows had taken him by surprise, and he’d had no chance against the pair of bigger, stronger men who’d ambushed him just as thoroughly as if he was a first-week cadet at Hendon.  They’d knocked him around for a few moments, then one held him down while the other produced a hypodermic needle from a pouch on his belt and jabbed it home into the side of his neck.  The blackness had descended quickly after that; he never felt the rough hands drag him across the enclosure and out through the fence to the van which was parked along the path.  And he’d missed the journey which had brought him here, wherever here was.

It was while he was piecing together the events which had led him to this situation that another wave of horror swept through him.  If he and the ravens were… here … then they weren’t at the Tower.  Ray had followed the briefings given by Colonel Gibson very closely, had understood what the commander had been trying to say without coming off sounding like a raving lunatic or a character from a bad science-fiction film.  As unlikely as it sounded, the legends, curses, and prophecies which were part and parcel of many of the nation’s antiquities appeared to be coming true; there was more than coincidence at play, even though it sounded like more fantasy than fact.  And if this was indeed the case, the mother of all the prophecies had just been invoked:  the kingdom was in peril.

Despite his best efforts. Ray felt himself drifting again.  The damned drug he’d been injected with had a powerful pull, and he was losing the battle to stay conscious.  He eased Harris onto the floor beside him, cradling the bird’s head with a shaking hand.  The last thing he was aware of was Munin chirruping and hopping over to stand beside his other leg.  Then his chin dropped to his chest and his eyes closed, and the darkness was complete once more.

 

*

 

Ray settled into the wooden chair in his ‘enclosure’ in the barn – it was the only way he could accurately describe the setup of the structure in which he found himself – needing to take a moment to rest after his exertions of the past hour.

When he’d woken up again, this time with a much clearer head, he had taken a few moments to locate and check on the well-being of the ravens.  And although the birds seemed overall to be more anxious and showed some skittishness around him, he was relieved to find that they were all awake and alert, including Harris.  Drugged like he had been, Ray presumed, and each bird had recovered at his or her own pace.

His concerns about the ravens temporarily put to the side, Ray had taken a moment to check himself over.  He eased his left arm out of his tunic; the sleeve was torn, and in the flickering glow of the penlight he could see the heavy dark blue fabric looked wet.  The gash in his forearm looked worse than he felt, or so he hoped.  Pulling a handkerchief from another inner pocket, Ray knotted it around his arm, sucking in a breath as he applied the necessary pressure to the wound.   He gingerly tucked his arm back into the sleeve and flexed his hand; passable, and shouldn’t stop him from doing what he needed to do, fortunately.

After a quick search, he’d found light switches that provided levels of illumination ranging from twilight to bright midday; they were on the wall near the doorway he’d seen, where they were protected by a triple-latched metal box against any damage by curious ravens.  Through the small amount of natural light which did come in through the boarded windows and fans, he was able to determine it was later in the day, approaching evening, perhaps… although he was uncertain what day it actually was.

Over the next hour, he’d undertaken a thorough investigation of the building.  It was a wooden barn, perhaps two storeys high, which showed a few signs of age but was relatively clean and dry.  Ray hadn’t taken long to realize the barn had clearly been modified for one specific function:  to house him and the ravens, perhaps for an extended period of time. 

No light shone in through gaps or cracks in the roof, and the area under the eaves was completely filled in.  The positive side of that was all around him; a dry floor, no evidence of insect or rodent infestation.  Although, he conceded, the ravens would have enjoyed the presence of some fresh prey.  The downside, of course, his copper’s brain insisted on adding, was that a watertight roof and blocked-in eaves meant there were no holes for the ravens, or himself, to escape through.

A pair of ventilation fans, one on each end wall, were caged in with fine chain-link fencing, and wooden baffles around the holes also suggested any light inside the barn would be contained.  The windows were also covered with the chain-link material and boarded up with similarly shaped baffles to the fans. 

The barn’s large sliding door was bolted shut, and the bolts themselves were welded in place.  Around its smaller door, a chain-link cage had been built, which would allow someone to enter the barn but be protected from its occupants.  The gate in this cage had hinges which were also welded together, and was latched with two heavy-duty padlocks.

A complete dead tree trunk had been wired into place in one corner of the space, branches large and small protruding at many different heights.  Scattered around the barn were a series of ledges both fastened to the walls and topping freestanding posts sprouting from the floor.  They created a series of nooks and secluded areas along two of the barn’s walls and corners.  

But the most interesting feature of this barn was the mesh-covered framework tucked into the fourth corner.  Measuring perhaps eight feet high, it was a square enclosure which was large enough to house a stainless-steel countertop with a built-in sink and running water, a shelving unit, and a large commercial refrigerator and freezer.  There was a partitioned area at one end with a small table and chair, an army cot, and loo fixtures.  The whole enclosure had clear plastic sheeting as a sort of roof, which would protect the area from being subject to bird droppings.  The door built into this framework also contained a latch with a lockable hasp; a combination lock with digits etched into it hung through the loop.  It was necessary protection against the ravens for the occupant, and the lock looked to be beyond even the talents and intelligence of the ravens to open. 

The irony of it all was not lost on Ray; essentially, instead of the ravens living in an enclosure in the human world, he now lived in an enclosure in theirs.

He’d also found the fridge and freezer to be well-stocked with meats and other food supplies for the ravens.  The storage shelves held dry foodstuffs and bowls and utensils, plus cleaning supplies and tools… in short, all items which could be found in the RavenMaster’s workshop at the Tower of London.

So they – whoever they were – wanted to keep the ravens alive, and it looked like he was to provide their care.  His anger began to build at the enormity of his situation, and at the man who’d created it.  For he now suspected who it was that had brought them here.  Nobody else would have been able to duplicate his workroom with such accurate detail.

Forcing his attention to the ravens, Ray put out bowls of water for them, and filled a beaker for himself as well.  He settled in the chair and watched the birds as they squabbled over who had access to which container, who would drink first, and wondered which would be the first bowl to be upended in the resulting scuffles.  George, ever the splendid isolationist, dragged one of the bowls off to a secluded corner, defending it all the way against any interest from his fellow ravens.  In a way Ray was cheered by this behaviour, as it was typical of what he oversaw at the Tower.  He would put food out shortly, just a small amount, in case there were any ill effects remaining from the sedatives they’d been fed during their capture.

He had just risen to refill his cup when a rattling sound came from outside, and the barn door swung noiselessly open on well-oiled hinges.  The ravens reacted with calls and clicking beaks, and scurried away into the shadowed corners of the barn.  Ray dropped his cup in the sink and moved toward the door.  Squinting against the brightness he saw the silhouette of a man, but it wasn’t until the door closed that he could recognize who it was.

“You!”

 

oOo

 

“Kian Twomey.  Born and raised in Ireland, travelled to London to train as a veterinary technician, graduated in 1968.  Returned to Ireland and worked for several veterinarians and one animal park over a six-year period.  In 1974 returned to London and was employed by the London Zoo, where he continued up to the present day.”  George Cowley paced the narrow width of the briefing room, reading from the report he held tightly in his left hand.  “The zoo’s lead veterinarian has stated that Twomey worked a normal shift yesterday.  He was driving one of the fleet vehicles, a small panel van, when he left the zoo late yesterday afternoon.  A common occurrence, apparently, if he had errands or consultation visits with animals offsite, such as, of course, the ravens.”  Cowley slapped the file down on the desk at the empty place reserved for him at the head of the table.  “He was a deep plant, gentlemen, very deep,” he said.  “In place for more than five years before he was activated.  That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with, and the long-term planning they’ve been doing.  And now,” he added, “we’ve got to outthink them, on every level.”

Bodie and Murphy had arrived at the briefing room to find George Cowley already there and engaged in deep discussion with Colonel Gibson.  They’d put forward their theory, only to be told of another piece of the puzzle that all but proved their suspicions.

“We reviewed the duty officer’s logs,” said Colonel Gibson, “which confirmed that another visitor had in fact signed in on Sunday evening.  Kian Twomey, who seemed to be alone and driving his usual van from the London Zoo, arrived to pay a visit to the ravens in their enclosure, apparently requested by RavenMaster Ray Doyle.”  He shook his head in disgust.  “It was plausible… we had known him make similar visits in the past, so there was no alarm raised by the duty officer, despite the late hour.”

“He probably had at least one accomplice in the van with him,” Bodie said.  “He wouldn’t have been able to overpower Doyle on his own, and he would have needed help with the ravens if the drugs he was using hadn’t worked properly.”

“Aye, that’s likely so,” said Cowley.  “We’ve put out a call to track the van, of course, but as they had more than a six-hour head start on us, it’s likely they’ve gone to ground, perhaps in their intended hideout, or maybe a stop along the way to their destination.”

“And how do we know that Doyle and the ravens are still alive?”  Lieutenant Colonel Harrison put voice to the question that hung heavily in the room.  “I can understand that they might not have wanted to kill the birds here, but once they were outside the wall…”

“It’s the legend, isn’t it… excuse me for interrupting, sir.”  Murphy leaned forward.  “He couldn’t kill the birds here, because the legend says when the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will be in peril.  So he had to take them out alive.”

Bodie shook his head.  “That’s nonsense.  Isn’t it?”  He appealed to Cowley.  “Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”

Cowley pulled off his glasses and tossed them onto the table in front of him.  “Is it ridiculous, Bodie?  You’ve read the other incident reports, and witnessed what was the second attempt to get at the ravens here.”  He met Bodie’s question with a level gaze, before turning back to the Chief Warder.

 “Have you heard from them?” said Colonel Gibson.  “Has there been any official contact, a list of demands, anything?”

“Not yet,” said Cowley.  “We’re watching all the usual channels of communication, of course, and all the unusual ones as well.  But that is the job of the Home Office, gentlemen.  Ours is quite different.  Bodie, Murphy, you will coordinate the search for Yeoman Warder Doyle and the ravens.  All of CI5’s resources are in play and available to you. We’ve got to find where that vehicle went, and where they’ve gone to ground.”

“And we’d better do everything pretty damned quickly.”  Colonel Gibson returned to the group, having stepped away briefly to confer with an aide.  He dropped a chunk of familiar-looking grey stone onto the table in front of them.  “This is a piece of the southern wall of the White Tower.  Our engineering department reports that a number of cracks have appeared in the wall, and some sizeable blocks of stone are beginning to fall.  I’ve ordered a team to try and contain the damage with a wire mesh, but… we’ve had to close the Tower to the public, effective immediately. At least until we can get some scaffolding up around the White Tower.”

“My God.”  Murphy was the one who spoke, but it could have been any of them.  “It’s begun… the prophecy is coming true.”

 

oOo

 

Within seconds of the door closing, Ray was out of the enclosure and standing against the entrance’s protective fence.  “Twomey, you bastard,” he said, spitting out the name of the man who had been part of the Tower’s raven-care team for more than five years.

“Good evening, RavenMaster Doyle.”  Twomey inclined his head in response to Ray’s words.

“There’s nothing good about it at all, Twomey.”  Ray wrapped his fingers into the chain link and shook it, hard.  “Whatever you’ve got going here… whatever it is, make it end now.  Turn yourself in, and let us go.” 

“You know that’s not going to happen. Ray.” 

Ray let go of the fence and began to pace along its length.  “I think you should reconsider,” he said.  “Every law enforcement agent in the country will looking for you.  It’s going to be very unpleasant for you when you’re caught.”

Twomey shook his head.  “We won’t get caught,” he said.  “Because everybody’s going to be too busy dealing with… events … than to look for me, or even you and the ravens.”

“Let us go,” Ray said again.  “I can see about making it easier for you.” 

“I won’t need your help, or anyone else’s.”  Twomey shook his head.  “It’s already started, you know.  The Tower of London closed yesterday.  Apparently, there is some concern about the stability of the White Tower!  And today…” 

Ray stopped as close to Twomey as he could get, white-knuckled fingers tightening again around the metal fencing.  “What about today?”

“There was a crash, at Heathrow.  One of those giant cargo planes that carries goods and vehicles and such around the world.  The damage to two of the main runways is said to be extensive.”  Twomey was warming to his subject, looking more animated than Ray had seen him in all his work at the Tower.  “The Tower will crumble, and the kingdom will fall… you know the prophecy as well as I do, Ray.  The tourists ask you about it all the time!  But what you don’t realize is, it’s real.  We know it’s real, and now that I’ve got the ravens, it’s all going to happen.”

Now it was Twomey’s time to pace, back and forth in the confined space at the door.  “I want you to take very good care of the ravens for me, Ray,” he said.  “That’s why you’re here.  When the kingdom falls, as it most surely will, we need them alive and well to protect our leaders, our new republic.  Our ‘kingdom,’ if you will.”  He sighed happily.  “And a new legend will be born.”

Ray stared at him, at the smile and the beatific expression on his face.  “You’re mad, Twomey,” he finally managed to say.  “Absolutely, utterly mad.”

“I could have looked after them, you know,” Twomey continued, as if Ray hadn’t spoken.  “After all, I’ve spent the last five years building that trust!  But after the ravens acted up the first evening I tried to take them away, the group decided it was best to have you along as well.  And someone needs to keep you in provisions, after all, and I know what they require.”  He looked over Ray’s shoulder, into the barn.  “You could be here for a long time.  We don’t know how long this process that we’ve started is going to take.  This habitat will keep you and the ravens safe.”  Abruptly his gaze hardened, and he refocussed on Ray with a sombre expression.  “You will look after our ravens well, Ray Doyle.  You talk of things being unpleasant for me?  You would be best to realize that the same applies to you!  When we establish our rule, you will be our RavenMaster, in our Tower.”

Ray lunged at the fence, slamming at it with both hands.  “Twomey!”  The pain in his arm nearly made him stagger; he’d forgotten about the wound he’d bound up earlier.  Hanging on with one hand now, he steadied himself and returned Twomey’s stare. 

“Look after our ravens,” Twomey said again, and with a last look around the barn he was gone, out the door into the fading evening twilight.

Ray heard the solid thunk of the deadbolt sliding home; it echoed in his mind as his knees suddenly gave way and he slid down to sit on the floor.  He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the fence, anger and disbelief vying for equal measure in his thoughts.  They were at the mercy of a madman, or more accurately, he supposed, a group of madmen.  And these lunatics believed they had somehow managed to tap into something ancient and powerful…   He dragged a shaking hand through his hair, again remembering Colonel Gibson’s briefings on legends seemingly coming true.  Christ, the world’s gone mad and taken us all with it.

A fluttering of wings and a firm poke at his boot brought Ray’s attention back to his immediate surroundings.  Munin was standing beside him, head cocked, feathers twitching slightly in a perfect depiction of impatience.  Ray shook his head at the bird.  “I can always count on you, can’t I,” he said to her, “to show me what’s important right now.  Come on, old girl.”  He pulled himself to his feet and headed for the workroom enclosure.  “I’ll get you all some food.”

 

oOo

 

Day Six

The ravens, and Doyle, had been gone for five days, and the investigation into their disappearance was not going well.

Bodie left his flat early in the morning, dashing out into the pouring rain and wind and running the half block to where his car was parked.  Even in that short distance he was near soaked by the time he got the door unlocked and threw himself into the driver’s seat.  A once-in-a-hundred-years storm, the reporters were calling this weather, the storm of the century.  If only they knew…

Intending to pick up Murphy to begin another round of shakedowns and threats amongst their grasses, Bodie instead found himself heading in the opposite direction, towards the Tower.  He wasn’t sure why; a sudden hunch, a feeling.  He hadn’t been back since the initial investigation had wound up and they’d relocated back to CI5 headquarters.  But now he followed his instincts and went back to the place where it had all begun… where he had last seen Doyle.

Doyle.

Bodie hadn’t let himself think about Doyle except as The RavenMaster, almost an abstract concept, an object they were searching for, instead of a man. 

He’d buried his emotional reaction, his fear for the safety of the man he had only just started to get to know.  Never before had he been so reckless, so irresponsible, as to become involved with the subject of an op, while the op was still underway!  Christ!  He could almost hear the blistering lecture Cowley would lay on him if he found out. 

The – whatever it was – which had sparked, then exploded, between himself and Doyle on that night more than two weeks ago had caught them both by surprise  

They’d pushed it aside the following morning, retreating into the adversarial give and take which had been present between them right from the start, but now without the raw edge of antagonism and suspicion.  A couple of sessions on the range, early morning runs around the outer walls as Doyle’s recovering leg at last allowed him to begin training again, evenings in the pub at what he had grown to think of as ‘Doyle’s’ table…  

Bodie thought he’d been able to re-establish his necessary detachment, even as they’d begun to build… something.  And he’d wondered if it might be the same for Doyle, too.

He hoped he’d get a chance to find out.

 

*

 

At the Tower he was waved in by the Yeoman Warder standing sentry at the staff entrance in the outer wall, who recognized him immediately.  There’d been little pushback from the actual members of the Guard Extraordinary when CI5’s undercover operation was revealed; police and military backgrounds had exposed most of them to the necessity for covert strategies and missions. 

Bodie hurried across the footbridge over the grass of the moat, the wind and rain blowing nearly sideways at him, funnelled through the narrow channel between the walls.  Once inside the grounds, however, he paused, taking shelter in a doorway to one of the smaller towers along the inner wall.  He’d followed his gut and come here, but now he was uncertain as to what he expected to find.  

A clanging of metal-on-metal drew his attention to the White Tower looming in front of him at the centre of the grounds.  Heavy scaffolding covered two sides of the ancient structure, a complex criss-crossing of steel piping and wooden boards, with tarpaulins fastened to the framework to provide additional protection to the stonework.  Under the constant buffeting of the storm, the scaffold flexed and shifted slightly, the sounds of the wind and material combining to briefly transport Bodie back to a time from his early days in the merchant marine, when a force eight gale had howled around the ship he was on and nearly convinced him that the end was nigh.  He’d survived, of course, but as he stood surrounded by the current maelstrom, he wished the same good fortune on any sailors who were unfortunate enough to be out at sea during this storm.

Another sound, heard even over the din, brought Bodie’s focus abruptly back to the present.  Kronk kronk.  Perched up on the very top of one of the White Tower’s domed turrets, was a large black bird.  A raven.  It swayed and fluttered in the wind for a moment, then took off in flight, circling the turret a number of times before swooping down close to where he stood, and then rising again and heading off to the south, towards the river and Tower Bridge.

Bodie stared, his first wild thought that his was one of the Tower’s ravens returned home disappearing in the realization that none of those birds were able to fly like that.  Seeing the raven, however, led him to step out of his sheltering doorway and back onto the path to the south lawn, to the raven enclosure.

Propelled by a combination of the wind and his own haste to get somewhere dry, Bodie burst into the workshop, where he was greeted by a startled Yeoman Warder Alan MacKnight.

“Bodie!”  The Assistant RavenMaster grabbed at his notebook which nearly blew off the desk at Bodie’s entry.  “Shut the door behind you, and I’ll get you a towel.”  He opened a cupboard beside the workbench and pulled out an incongruously bright tea towel, tossing it over to him.

Bodie blinked and grabbed the towel, shaking some of the water from his hair before mopping at his face and head.  “Thank you,” he said.

MacKnight waved a hand in acknowledgement.  “What brings you by, Bodie?  Is there any word about…?  Are they…?”  He trailed off, unable to complete the question.

“There’s nothing.”  Bodie answered quickly, spitting out the words that had been the steady mantra in his head for the last several days.  “There’s no trace of them, not one sighting, not even one suspicious report.”

“Damn.”  MacKnight slammed the cupboard door shut and stalked over to the partially open door to the sheltered nooks of the cage enclosure. 

Bodie took one last swipe with the towel and placed it down on the counter.  “Yeah.”  He joined the other man at the doorway and looked outside.  “You’ve repaired the damage done to the cages,” he said. 

“We need to be ready for the ravens when they come back.”  MacKnight’s tone was matter-of-fact.  “I have the freezer stocked, as well, and our usual trader at Smithfield is on standby to provide fresh meat at a moment’s notice.”  He shook his head.  “I hope I get the chance to put that to the test, Bodie,” he said. 

“That’s what we’re all working for.”  Bodie stepped back from the door as a particularly strong gust of wind rattled the cage framework and flung rain into the workshop.  “MacKnight,” he said.  “On my way in, through the grounds, I saw a raven, up on the White Tower, above the scaffolding.  And I swear, when it saw me looking at it, it took off and headed out over the river.  Through all the wind and rain.”  He shook his head.  “It was the damnedest thing.  Are there more ravens moving in now that the Tower birds aren’t here?”

Alan MacKnight looked up sharply.  “Are you sure it was a raven?  Of course you are,” he said, answering his own question.  “In the last week, we’ve spotted a few wild ravens.  None would come with the others here, you know.  Ravens are territorial, even our birds, who are more, ah, humanized, I guess you’d say.”  He paused, then added, “You know, I think the few I’ve seen over the last few days have also flown off to the south when they saw me watching them.”

“Is that normal behaviour?  For wild ravens, I mean,” said Bodie.  “Maybe I’m imagining things, but could they be trying to tell us something?  Doyle was always…”  He caught himself, then continued.  “Doyle was always telling me how smart they were.  He was sure the ravens were watching humans just as much as we were watching them.”

“Doyle’s right, they are bloody smart birds.  And Munin was always hanging around him, whenever he was out on the lawns,” MacKnight said.  “But flying off the same way?  I’m not sure what’s normal for wild birds.  I’ve only really had experience with the Tower flock.”  He grabbed a notepad off the workbench and scratched a quick note to himself.  “But I can contact the zoo and talk to the veterinarian we usually deal with.  She’d know more about this than me.”

Bodie reached out to shake MacKnight’s hand.  “You’ll get back to me, then, as soon as you hear anything?” he said.  “At this point we’ll take anything, any information that might help us know where to look.” 

MacKnight returned the handshake with a firm grip.  “I’ll let you know.  And Bodie,” he said.  “Find them and bring them all back safe, yeah?” 

With a nod and one last look back, Bodie was out the door and into the teeth of the wind and rain.  He trotted along the cobbles, heading for the gate, but by a different route.  He steered into the roadway where the residential quarters were, and found his pace slowing as he passed the end of the row of houses where Doyle’s flat was.  Without conscious thought he was through the outer door and up the stairs, hand in his pocket pulling out the little ring which held a certain key… which he’d surreptitiously picked up on the first day of the investigation.

He and Murphy been through the flat on the day Doyle went missing, of course.  All they’d found was a half-drunk mug of tea on the kitchen counter, and a tumbled pile of clothing in the bedroom, which seemed to suggest that Doyle had been in a hurry when he left the flat. 

The air was a bit stale when Bodie entered now, but of course, the flat had been empty for nearly a week.  Walking through, he noticed the kitchen area had been cleaned up.  MacKnight, or perhaps Doyle’s copper friend, Clarke.  Bodie scanned the bedroom; the clothes, too, had been tidied.  A jumble of items covered the dresser top: a framed photograph of an older couple – Doyle clearly took after his mother – a silver tray strewn with uniform buttons, an electric razor, a chipped Met Police mug half full of change, and – Bodie had to smile – more hair care accoutrements than he usually saw on his barber’s counter.  And there, right in the middle, was his regimental tie, folded with care and set neatly apart from everything else.

They hadn’t made it to the bedroom, that night… 

He retreated to the lounge and stood in the centre of the room, just for a moment, eyes closed, senses attuned to the space around him.  When his R/T buzzed in his pocket, he started, the mood abruptly broken.  “Yeah, six-two,” he said in reply to his partner’s impatient inquiry.  “I’ll be by to get you in about twenty minutes.  Out.” 

I’ll get you home soon, Ray.  I promise.

 

oOo

 

Day Seven

The dim nighttime lighting from the hallway spilled into the office as CI5’s Controller opened the door and slipped inside.  He closed it again immediately and paused a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the office, the subtle glow from the pale pre-dawn sky visible through the window but not yet bright enough to light the room. 

Moving slowly, Cowley walked to the desk and set down his briefcase, then took off his hat and coat and hung them neatly on the hatstand in the corner.  The kingdom might be going to hell in a handbasket, but that was no reason to allow the disciplines of neatness and order slide; if he let them go, surely it would lead to a cascade of difficulties on top of the already dire circumstances.  He went back to the desk and opened the case; a red folder sat inside, its colour indicating it had come from the Minister himself.  He briefly considered pouring a drink, but decided it was just a wee bit early, even for him.  Besides, he didn’t want muddle his thoughts too much just yet.

Cowley turned on the desk lamp and blinked in the sudden glare.  He pulled the file out of the briefcase and set it in front of him on the desk; the Minister had sent it to him at his flat less than an hour ago.  Everyone was keeping late nights and early mornings, he knew.  The Controller had already seen the report’s sections prepared by other branches of the intelligence community, and much of the background material on the earlier events at Pickering Castle and the Old Saint Pancras Church in London he had written himself.  What was new was the detailed reporting on the series of incidents which had occurred in the days since the ravens had been taken.   He read the report three times before tucking the papers back within their folder, then closed the cover, noting absently that someone, likely the Minister himself, judging by the handwriting, had added a new file number which ended with the letters PVC.  Post Vulpes corvum… after the ravens.  The minister’s sense of the moment was bitingly accurate.

A week, it had been, although it seemed so much longer… seven days of escalating peril and harm.  A plane crash which had largely destroyed two of the principal runways at Heathrow.  A trading session producing the worst losses ever realized in the history of the London Stock Exchange.  A devastating storm that lashed the southern half of the country for days, taking the lives of 15 sailors participating in a yacht race.  What could be next?

The ravens are no longer in the Tower. 

A legend and myth from the seventeenth century, frequently dismissed as an outright untruth by historians and largely ignored by the sophisticated and worldly citizens of the latter part of the twentieth century.  Yet when the whispers began, on the third day, they found fertile ground in the imagination of a population in the early stages of fright.  The tabloid press, as was their wont, had been all too quick in fanning the flames of what was quickly becoming a national panic.

And now, one week on, the Minister was adamant that it remained CI5’s job to fix the problem, and quickly.

The past week had seriously tested Cowley’s worldview.  His rational, pragmatic Scottish brain struggled mightily to reconcile what he had always understood as the normal laws of the world with the proposed explanation of what was currently happening in Her Majesty’s kingdom.  And this line of reasoning came from men he knew to be even more solidly grounded than he was!  This innate resistance was strong even though he himself had been responsible for some of the research and confirmation of fact which currently made up the briefing package.  But perhaps that was because the first three incidents had resulted in smaller, more local consequences, notwithstanding the more widespread effects of the earthquake which had rattled part of Yorkshire.

The trouble had started eighteen months prior, when the notion of the legends had been suggested by a minor defence analyst whose hobbies included, among others, participating in dramatic re-enactments of historical events, and the study of ancient legends and prophecies.  She had attended one such gathering where part of the ‘drama’ was the supposed fallout from the theft and destruction of a relic from an ancient ruin in the north of England.  With that weekend’s activities fresh in her mind, she had read the news accounts of an earthquake in Yorkshire the day after the theft of a relic from Pickering Castle, and wondered if the two events were related.

Her theory had been dismissed out of hand by everyone she had tried to tell, and reluctantly she’d let the idea die without going further.  Two more such events had occurred in the following year, and each had been considered briefly within the analyst’s theory’s framework and then set aside, with any hint of the associated legend passed off as unfortunate coincidence. 

It had taken the fourth incident, the attack and the death of the raven at the Tower of London, to raise another red flag in the mind of the analyst.  Now a more senior official in the office of the Home Secretary, she had seen the pattern again and had brought it forward to her superior.  Together with the details from the other happenings, they had been able to piece it together and see the precedent which had been present all along, that there was a single intent behind all of these events, and there was an ultimate target: the ravens.

Cowley took off his glasses and tossed them onto the desk in front of him, rubbing his aching forehead with fingers stiff with tension.  Giving in to the urge, he rose and limped painfully over to his secluded drinks cabinet and poured himself a healthy portion of scotch.  He set the glass on his desk and contemplated the amber liquid within.  He’d sent his best team to the Tower as further protection for the ravens, and despite their presence, the birds had been taken. 

His entire organization was involved in the search for them.  The field agents had initially scattered throughout the country, following up leads first from their own sources, and then from anything that the B Squad could ferret out of the hundreds of calls which were coming in each day from agitated members of the public.  He’d summoned most of them back to headquarters, to regroup and focus on things closer to home.  He could only hope that the change in tactic would lead to a break in the case.

Thinking of his agents, Cowley settled back into his chair and began to assemble his notes for the morning briefing.

 

oOo

 

Part Four

 

Day Eight

Ray awoke suddenly on the eighth day, sitting up and coming to full alertness in the near blackness of the barn.  None of the splinters of light which came in around the door and fans were visible, making the hour predawn at the latest.  He stayed on the cot and looked around, cast around with his other senses, wondering what had disturbed him so early.  There was no sound of a raven awake, fluttering around the perches or rattling a bowl.

Sound.  It was the lack of sound that had woken him up… silence in the barn after three days of howling wind and driving rain pounding on the roof and walls.  The storm had begun on day five of his captivity, with wind that had quickly picked up to near gale force, and rain that had started and not stopped for a full three days and nights.  The barn had held together and was almost completely dry; the ‘renovations’ done to reinforce the roof and eaves had held fast and kept the water out, the only exception being a patch of damp floor near the small access door.

The power had stayed on for the first day and a half of the storm, but after a few warning flickers it had gone out for good.  In the near darkness the ravens had been restless and irritable; Ray had been forced to make a few quick retreats to his enclosure to keep out of reach of their talons and bills.  By the end of the third day he’d been even more ill-tempered than the birds.

Ray looked across the enclosure to where he knew the appliances stood; he couldn’t hear them running, but that didn’t mean that the power was still out.  Rising quietly from the cot, he stepped carefully across the floor to the work area, and followed the countertop with his hand until he reached the refrigerator.  Cracking it open, he was greeted by more darkness: no power yet, then.  He closed the door again, concerned about the safety of the food that was in the fridge.  The modern appliance was well insulated, and he’d had the door open as little as possible to keep the cold in, but the internal temperature was definitely on the rise.  The freezer, too, was beginning to show signs of defrosting. 

His own supplies were running low, as well.  While he’d gone hungry for the first twenty-four hours in the barn, he’d woken up on the second morning to discover a large crate had been left inside, just past the door’s protective fence.  There’d been basic foodstuffs that didn’t require the use of a cooker – bread, cheese, boiled eggs, a bag of apples, a box of tea and a small kettle, even a pot of marmalade, and canned stews and vegetables which could be eaten cold.  Not inspiring fare, to be sure, but he wasn’t starving. 

He’d carefully portioned out all the food, both human and raven, to last as long as possible, since he had no way of knowing when it might be restocked.   Now he could only hope that Twomey would provide some new food soon.

 

*

 

In the quiet darkness, with the ravens still not stirring, Ray decided to begin his workout a bit early.  He didn’t need light to do his sets of pushups, sit-ups, and skipping with a length of rope he’d found in the barn.  One of the Guard Extraordinary’s training modules the previous year had included lectures, and some limited practice sessions as well, on how to cope with confinement, or a long-term lockdown situation.  At the time Ray had considered it peripheral knowledge at best, not likely to be used in the normal pursuit of his duties as RavenMaster.  But after his arrival at the barn, he’d dredged up one of the key training points from his memory: routine. 

He had established daily schedules for both himself and the ravens, and this had allowed him to self-monitor and also keep his focus on the wellbeing of the birds.  Their lives at the Tower were governed by familiar routines and habits; any disturbances to the daily sequence usually resulted in touchiness and irritability on the part of the ravens, which in turn made for unhappiness and extra stress for the RavenMaster.  From the first day in the barn, Ray had attempted to make the pattern of each day as close to what it had been; waking and feeding and interacting with them as if they were still in London. 

Physical exercise had also been part of this routine from the very beginning; he didn’t want to find himself with an opportunity for action, and have a lack of fitness or mental sharpness slow him down.  Ray paused and stretched between sets, feeling the burn in his shoulders and arms from the increasing number of pushups he was forcing himself to do.  Yet another thing to thank Bodie for, if, no, when he got out of this mess.

Bodie.

Ray dropped down onto his cot, suddenly losing interest in continuing his workout.  He hadn’t let himself think about Bodie too much; the jumble of feeling that accompanied his recollection of their night together left him twisted into knots … worry about how Bodie was dealing with the situation, and even whether the rest of the Extraordinary was all right, or if Twomey and his cell had gone after the Tower in other ways. 

And then he wondered if he was reading too much into a simple one-off… except, of course, it really hadn’t been a one-off, not in his head, anyway.  Although they had both retreated into their expected roles in the pale light of the next morning, he and Bodie had spent a good deal of time together during the following days.  He’d shown Bodie up at the range again, but an almost painfully slow run around the perimeter walls had made him very much aware of his own physical limitations next to the obviously very fit SAS soldier.  They’d had a few evenings in the pub, and Ray had reluctantly admitted to himself that he hadn’t really minded having someone else invade the sanctity of ‘his’ table.  He had even begun to wonder if he and Bodie were starting to build the foundation of – dare he think it – a relationship.

The swirling turmoil of his thoughts threatened to destroy his tenuous control, so with a concerted effort he pushed the thoughts of Sergeant Bodie back into the box where he’d kept them for the last week.  The first sounds of a raven moving in the barn pulled Ray’s focus back to the reality of his situation, but for the rest of the morning routine, he was aware of the lid of that box straining against its weakening latches.

 

*

 

By midmorning the power had come back on, and Ray took advantage of the barn’s bright lighting to do a complete check of the structure.  While the ravens watched with interest, he examined the boarded-up windows through their protective mesh, then attempted a precarious climb up to the higher-level vent fans using the table and chair from ‘his’ enclosure. 

Munin followed him up to the first one, fluttering awkwardly as she gripped the top of the chain-link barrier in front of the fan.  Ray hung on just as tightly while he balanced on the chair, then nearly fell in spite of himself as he looked through the fencing.  There had been some storm damage, after all.  A piece of the wooden baffle around one of the windows had disappeared, leaving him with a narrow view of the area outside the barn’s main door.  On the highest ventilation fan, one wooden plank had completely broken free from the framework around the fan, and a second flexed slightly as the gentle breeze caught it.  Ray tugged at the unmoving metal barrier in frustration; the only thing escaping from both the window and the vent might be a little bit of light.  The movement caused him to overbalance and he tumbled down as the chair tipped over.  He rolled out of the fall with a decided lack of grace, but was uninjured as he sat himself up on the barn floor. 

Still up beside the fan, Munin croaked down at him, sounding for all the world like she was laughing at him.  When Kala and Garvey chimed in from where they were perched on the other side of the barn, Ray found himself laughing along with them.  He rose to his feet, brushing the dust from the floor off his slightly bruised dignity.  “All right, old girl,” he said.  “That’s enough of that.  You can come down now.”  But instead of swooping down, as he expected, the raven continued to chatter and call, bobbing and weaving while maintaining her tight grip on the fencing.  Ray watched for a moment, but Munin seemed secure, just… noisy. 

As he continued to observe her, he heard another sound, this one coming from outside:  the call of another raven.  And he wasn’t the only one who noticed, either.  First Harris, then Kala and Garvey flew up to sit beside Munin at the fan.  They all joined in the chorus of sound, a low drone at first, which rose steadily into long guttural croaks.  Back and forth, from inside and outside the barn, the ravens’ eerie call and response continued for some time before it finally tailed off.  Ray listened in fascination to the different voices, the more familiar sounds of ‘his’ flock alternating with the birds outside. 

 

oOo

 

More than a week into the investigation of the ravens’ disappearance, and there were still no concrete leads for Bodie and Murphy to follow.  All the usual sources had been rumbled, all possibilities checked and double-checked, and even though they had identified the primary player within a few hours of the ravens being taken, he had managed to disappear off the radar.  CI5’s finest had turned Kian Twomey’s life inside out, but he’d left no clues as to where he’d gone, or who his fellow conspirators were.  A deep plant, Cowley had called him, on that first terrible day, but not even the vaunted Controller had realized just how profound that depth would turn out to be.

Cowley now had his agents scouring call transcripts and police reports from the day of the kidnapping onward, starting close to London in the Home Counties and working their way outward, in the hopes that some member of the public had reported something to do with the ravens that may have been missed at a first glance.  He had also sent out a directive to all law enforcement agencies that any reports about birds of any kind be forward through to CI5.

An increasingly restive Bodie chafed at this deskwork, wanting to be out there, anywhere, looking for the ravens and their master.  The calm weather after three hellish days of wind and rain only increased this feeling.  But even he had to admit that they couldn’t search every inch of the English countryside – he didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that they were no longer in England – so he immersed himself in the paperwork and hoped he’d spot something… anything.

“Here’s an odd one for you, three-seven.”

Bodie looked up from the report he’d been reading, blinking and pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to dislodge the headache which had been hovering for the past several days.  “What’s an odd one, Anson?” he said, reaching to take the sheet of paper that his cigar-smoking compatriot was dangling in front of him.

“The local constabulary in…” Anson snatched the paper back to read it before returning it to Bodie’s grasping hands.  “… Madehurst, Sussex, a lively little community of, well, some people…”

“Get on with it, Anson,” Bodie said testily.

“All right, keep your hair on,” Anson said.  “The local coppers got a call from an old dear who wanted to report some unusual bird activity around her farm and the property next to hers.  And not just any birds, mate.  She said they were ravens.”

Bodie scanned the printout.  “A much larger number of ravens in the area than usual,” he said, reading the text of the police report.  “Circling her barn, then flying in a straight line a couple of miles across the fields to the neighbour’s barn, and circling there.  Repeating this all day today, since first light.  But might have even been doing this over the past couple of days, even in the storm.”  The wild ravens he and MacKnight had observed at the Tower had done something similar, Bodie realized, with their circling of the White Tower and wheeling south across the river.  And the veterinarian from the zoo had confirmed that this behaviour was unusual.  He slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and allowed his fingers to brush against the feather he still carried.  “Right,” he said.  “Where’s Murphy?  We need to go see the old man.”

“You’re never going to check this out.  Bodie!”  Anson stubbed out the cigar he’d been smoking and followed Bodie out of the rest room.  “There’s been a hundred reports of people seeing ravens.  In their yards, up on buildings.  All false alarms,” he said.  “What makes you think this is any different?”

“Because it is different,” Bodie said.  “Those other reports are just about seeing ravens.  This is about ravens doing something different from their normal behaviour.”  He stuck his head into the tiny office where Murphy had spread out the reports he’d been working through.  “Come on, Murph, we’ve got a lead to check out.”  He looked back at Anson.  “You weren’t there at the Tower, to see how incredibly intelligent those birds were.  Are!” he corrected himself quickly.  “How intelligent they are…”

“Intelligent birds flying in circles.” Anson shook his head.  “Still, checking it out will get you out of this madhouse.”

“This place is only mad because we’re all …”  Murphy’s observation was interrupted by a shout from the end of the corridor, and a grim-faced Cowley was abruptly bearing down on them.

“All agents to the briefing room.  Now.”  The Controller pushed past and opened the rest room door himself to make the announcement.  “That includes you, gentlemen,” he said, when Bodie hesitated and raised the paper Anson had given him.

“Yes, sir,” Bodie said.  “But I’ve just picked up a possible sighting.  Can I…”

“See me after the briefing.”  Cowley turned and strode back down the hallway.

Murphy grabbed Bodie by the elbow and dragged him along in Cowley’s wake. 

 

oOo

 

Ray spent a good deal of his time between afternoon ‘chores’ looking out the window, through the gap the damaged wooden slat had created.  He could tell there was a farmhouse, perhaps a hundred yards away, but he couldn’t see the whole thing, or if there were any vehicles parked nearby.  He’d heard a car come and go a couple of times early in his captivity, but the noise from the long storm had made that impossible for the last few days.  And today had been quiet, well, mostly quiet, the one exception being the ravens. 

Ray thought he caught a glimpse of a group of ravens, circling in the sky above the barn.  The sounds from outside hadn’t stopped, either, but the noise had settled into a regular pattern of noisy chatter and interaction with the more outgoing of his birds, followed by about half an hour of silence, and then a return to the racket around the exhaust fan.  Munin and the others had established their own internal routine, as well.  They took turns sitting up by the vent, three at a time, since there wasn’t room for them all at once.  By the time he’d prepared the late afternoon meal and set it out in bowls around the barn, he had a hard time attracting their attention to come and get the food.  In the end, he left them to it and returned to one of the other routine tasks he’d assigned himself: trying to pick the locks on the gate of the door enclosure.

Kian Twomey and his associates had been thorough, but prudent, in what they had provided for the workshop’s cutlery and tools.  The larger, sharp items were chained to a rail on the countertop, with just enough slack to allow their use and not an inch more.  He’d been working on those chains for the entire week, with no success.  The handful of spoons were small and broad in shape, and had wide wooden handles – not good lockpicking material at all.  Ray had scoured the barn for loose bits of wire, nails, screws, for anything that might become a tool to use on the locks, with no success.  He had even tried climbing the indoor tree, chasing away the ravens as they perched in front of him, to try and retrieve a piece of the wiring holding it up, but the branches where the tree was fastened to the wall were too small to support his weight.

Now, after another fruitless session with some twigs and a spoon he’d tried to sharpen into a point, Ray tossed the implements aside with an exclamation of disgust and sank down to the floor beside the gate, dropping his head into his hands in frustration.

Kronk kronk. 

He looked up.  Munin. “Hey, old girl,” he said, pulling a peanut out of his pocket and holding it out for the raven to take.  “I wish we could make a trade… I give you a treat, and you give me, say, a nail, or a little metal bar.  Or better yet,” he continued, watching as Munin snatched the nut from his palm and retreated a couple of steps to crack it open.  “You could fetch me some nice, shiny keys, so’s I can get that door unlocked.  What d’you say, my lovely, do we have a deal?”

The raven cocked her head, unblinking black eyes staring as he made his ‘offer’.  She clicked her beak and chattered back at him, then hopped close enough again to tap his hand with a delicately extended wing. 

“More? You want more?”  Ray let the bird nudge around his hand before producing another peanut for her to take.  “Go on, then, enjoy it.”  He climbed to his feet and slowly made his way back to his enclosure, locking its gate behind him.  Sitting down on the cot, he kicked off his boots and swung his feet up, leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes.  There was time enough for him to relax for a few minutes before he had to begin the end-of-day cleanup and next day’s food preparation in the workshop.

 

oOo

 

The briefing room was fully at capacity, the crowd of agents hard pressed to make space for Cowley as he made his way to the front.  Bodie and Murphy settled against the wall on one side, near the chalkboard which was, for once, ominously empty.  Around the room the low hum of talk between the agents – all of the A Squad was present, and it looked like the larger B Squad was also fully in attendance – continued to rise, then tailed off abruptly as Cowley gave a couple of sharp raps on the podium.

“Ladies and gentlemen.”  The Controller spoke into the silence.  “The last few days have given us an aeroplane crash, a stock market collapse, and wind and rain some have called the storm of the century.  Today has dealt us something worse… very much worse, I’m afraid.”  Cowley pulled his spectacles off and set them on the podium in front of him, and looked around at his gathered agents.  “Approximately twenty minutes ago, Lord Louis Mountbatten and several members of his family were killed in an explosion aboard his boat, off the coast of Ireland.”

There were a few audible gasps, a murmuring, and a voice spoke up.  “A bomb, sir?  And the Queen…?”

“The royal family has immediately been sequestered into their various residences.  The Queen and Prince Philip have been at Balmoral for the duration of this … crisis … with the ravens, and will remain there until it is resolved,” said Cowley.   “The Royalty Protection Branch has deployed extra units to ensure their safety.  And as to the other question,” he continued, donning his glasses again to read from the file in front of him, “Preliminary reports are that there appears to have been an explosion in the boat’s engine room.  There is no initial evidence of an explosive device of any kind; it appears to simply be a tragic accident.”  He paused, then added, “All the services, including CI5, will be participating in the investigation.”

“… and great harm will befall the kingdom …”  Murphy’s quiet comment broke the silence in the room.

“Aye, six-two, that is what the press has been saying,” Cowley said.  “This latest incident will undoubtedly make them say it all the more.  And it’s not just the press, but the politicians, the civil servants… all the way down to the common folk.  What will happen next, they are saying…  And indeed, what will be worse than the death of a member of the Royal Family?” 

“But it’s all nonsense…”

“… people actually believe that’s why things are happening…?”

“Whatever your own personal beliefs are, they have no place in this investigation.”  Cowley’s voice cut above the chatter which had erupted.  He glared daggers around the room, which quickly fell silent again, and took a deep breath.  “We are poised on the edge of what could become a national panic.  You must all redouble your efforts.  Find those ravens!”  He slid his glasses into the breast pocket of his jacket and picked up the folder.  “Dismissed.”

The room erupted into motion, with the majority of the agents headed for the doors.  Bodie grabbed Murphy’s arm and steered him against the tide, towards the front of the room where Cowley remained.

“You said you had something, three-seven?”  Cowley joined the flow of men in the direction of the exit. 

“Yes, sir,” Bodie said, falling into step behind the Controller.  “A report from a farm in Sussex.  A flock of ravens behaving oddly, according to the farmer’s wife.  Flying in circles and then back and forth…”

“It’s an unkindness,” Murphy said abruptly.  “A group of ravens is called an unkindness, not a flock.”

“… back and forth with a neighbour’s barn.”  Bodie completed his sentence and glared at Murphy.  “I don’t care what they’re bloody well called, Murphy.  We’re going to check this out.  That is,” he said, switching his gaze back to Cowley.  “If you approve.  Sir.”

Cowley grabbed the sheet of paper that Bodie offered, scanned it quickly, and thrust it back.  “Go, then, and take a look,” he said.  “Report back if there’s anything of substance.”  The Controller pushed ahead through the crowd in the hallway and made his way toward his office.

“Yes, sir.”  Bodie pushed the paper in Murphy’s direction.  “An unkindness, Murph?  Come on, let’s go,” he continued.  “Twomey is going to feel a whole lot of unkindness when we catch up to him.  And I’ve got a feeling that we will, soon.”

 

oOo

 

For the second time on this long, unusual day, Ray awakened with a jolt, sitting up abruptly in the dim gloom of what looked like early evening.  He hadn’t intended to sleep at all, yet clearly more than a couple of hours had passed.  Dammit.  He pulled on his boots and grabbed his tunic to put on against the chill in the air.

A ruckus out in the barn drew his attention, and he quickly set the lighting levels so he could see the whole interior.  A couple of the ravens were still up around the ventilation fan caging, fluttering to keep their positions and chattering at each other… and at another raven outside, he quickly realized.  As he watched, he saw one of the birds practically flatten himself against the metal fencing and reach through with as much of its beak as possible, supported and held in place by the other bird.  They swooped down to the floor together, landing near one of the stainless-steel food bowls, and Ray heard the distinctive chink of metal on metal.

Christ, what had the ravens managed to do?

As Ray exited his enclosure, he was met by an excited Munin, who scrambled back and forth across his path and all but led him over to the bowl in the middle of the floor.  She rolled her shoulder and flexed a wing, then stood back with her head cocked expectantly.  Kala and Garvey abruptly dropped to the floor beside Munin; Grog and Harris followed, and even the reticent George settled in nearby, just outside the loose circle the ravens formed around the bowl. 

Ray knelt and looked inside, and felt his jaw drop in amazement.  Sitting in the bottom of the bowl was an assortment of metal pieces, from a handful of nails, to a length of baling twine, even a couple of coins, although not enough to get him much more than a takeaway coffee, he noted wryly.  He poked a slightly shaking finger in at the items, and this time the shock actually knocked him from his knees to his arse on the hard barn floor.  For underneath the heavy 10 p pieces he found the real treasure: a pair of keys on a small ring.

“Ah, my lovelies,” he said, gazing at the ravens gathered around him.  “And your companions outside, too,” he added, as there was a fresh rattle from the direction of the fan in the wall.  “I don’t know how you’ve done it, but this is exactly what I need.”  A fluttering of wings greeted his words, and the birds began to drift away, back to their preferred territories in the barn.  Munin remained nearby, watching closely as he sat, mind racing with the myriad possibilities now open to him.  The nails or the wire, for the pair of padlocks protecting the door, and of course, those keys…!  

A poke from an impatient beak brought Ray back to the moment with a start.  He rolled to his feet and slowly headed back to the enclosure.  “Come on, old girl,” he said to the raven.  “Let’s get you and your mates a special something as an evening snack.  I think you’ve earned it.”  And though he was nearly twitching with the desire to fully explore what the ravens had acquired, he left the bowl where it was, turning instead to rummage in the refrigerator and reward his charges for their extraordinary actions.

A short time later, however, while the ravens were tearing into their chopped-up pieces of rat carcass, Ray picked up the bowl of metal bits and secured it safely in his enclosure.  The evening routine needed to be as close to normal as he could make it, to keep the ravens, and also, he admitted, himself, as calm as possible.  He dimmed the lights but left the workbench lamp on, and when the low chatter and shuffling from the ravens faded, he quietly began to work.

From the bowl he took one of the nails and the twine, and headed for the gate in the protective fencing around the barn door.  As awkward as it was to get his fingers through the chain link and into the right position, it was only a couple of minutes before he heard the satisfying click of the first lock opening.  Thanking an equal combination of police training and a misspent youth, Ray had the second padlock picked in an even shorter time.  But the exterior door he chose to leave untested for the moment, not wanting to alert anyone on the outside that anything was amiss.  Although he’d been imagining and plotting his escape since the first day, now that it was in his grasp, he needed to make sure he had everything planned down to the last detail.  He was certain that he’d only get the one chance.

Leaving the unlocked padlocks in place on the still-latched gate, Ray tucked away all the bits and pieces of metal the ravens had provided for him into his tunic pockets for safekeeping and, as difficult as it was, turned his back on the barn door.  Nourishment and rest, now… He made himself a small meal of one of the remaining tins of stew, then forced himself to turn off the light and settle onto his cot. 

 

oOo

 

Bodie and Murphy’s journey from London to Madehurst had them arriving at the local police station at around 5 pm, just in time to interrupt the lone occupant’s supper hour.  At the sight of two CI5 identification badges pushed at him, the tall, dour constable reluctantly set aside his plate of food and pulled out a file from his desk drawer.

Murphy picked it up off the desk and scanned the single sheet it contained.  “What can you tell us that isn’t in here?” he said.  “You took the old woman’s statement; is she reliable?  Is what she says credible?”

Police Constable Hamilton nodded.  “The widow Ramsay,” he said.  “Well known in our community.  Lived on the farm for forty years or more, although she’s been on her own for a couple of years now, since her husband passed on.  No real farming anymore, but she has some hens and sells the eggs, and a kitchen garden to keep her connection to the land.  No question, she’s reliable.  Besides,” he added.  “As odd as the report about the birds sounds, I can vouch for it.  Saw them myself, not four hours ago.”

“What about the neighbouring farm, where she said the ravens were flying to?”  Bodie said.  “What do you know about them?”

“Not much,” Hamilton said.  “Was a working farm up until about five years ago when the family that owned it decided to move north.  The new owner did some work on the barn, as I recall, but then never came back, never officially moved in.”

Bodie and Murphy exchanged a glance.  “Could you direct us to the Ramsay farm, Constable?” said Bodie.  “I believe we’ll go and have a word with Mrs. Ramsay ourselves.”  

Outside the station, they sat in their car while Bodie read through the report.  “I don’t know about you,” he said.  “But I’d say the timeline on the other farm is about right.  Five years fits in with Twomey starting work in London.”  

“Yeah.”  Murphy reached for the radio.  “Let’s see what Anson can come up with on those new owners while we’re on our way.”

 

*

 

“Mrs. Ramsay?”  Bodie watched impatiently as Murphy turned on the smooth charm for the elderly woman who cautiously answered their knock at her door.

A pair of keen blue eyes looked them up and down through the narrow gap.  “Yes, I’m Helen Ramsay,” she said.  “Oh, are you the boys that Constable Hamilton said would be coming by?”

“That’s right.  I’m Murphy, and this is Bodie.”  Murphy held his ID high for her to see, and nudged Bodie none too gently to do the same.

“Do come in, then.” Mrs. Ramsay beamed at them, and swung the door open wide.  “I’ll put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea.  Have you travelled far?  The constable told me he was calling up to London to pass on my story about the ravens.”  She led the way into the kitchen and waved them towards the table while she fussed with the kettle and stove.

“We’ve just come down from London,” Murphy said.  “Do you think you could answer some questions for us, Mrs. Ramsay?”

“About the ravens, you mean?  Of course, dear.”  She poured boiling water into a large teapot and brought it to the table, then fetched some mugs and milk and sugar.  “It was the strangest thing, really.  I went out to check on my chickens this morning, early.  I was glad that awful storm had finally ended, so I could get out.”

“The ravens, Mrs. Ramsay…?”

“Oh yes, I was getting to them.  I thought I’d have a walk around the barn, you see, to look for any damage from the wind.  These old buildings…” she said.  “Well, I went into the barn for a moment, and when I came out, there they were.  Up in the sky, flying a big circle around the barn roof.”

“There were a lot of them, then?” Bodie said.

“Oh my, yes.  A good-sized unkindness, I should think.”

“Told you, didn’t I, mate.”  Murphy couldn’t resist the quiet aside.

“Yeah, all right.”  Bodie raised an eyebrow at his partner, before returning his attention to the woman.  “Please go on, Mrs. Ramsay.” 

“Those ravens kept going in a circle, around and around, for maybe ten minutes.  Calling to one another, made a bit of a frightening sound, they did.”  Mrs. Ramsay looked thoughtful.  “And then, they all flew away in a line, straight across the fields, in that direction.”  She rose and pointed out the kitchen window.

Murphy stood and joined her at the window.  “Mrs. Ramsay, you said in your report to the constable that the ravens flew straight across the fields to your neighbour’s property.  How do you know that’s where they went?  Because from here, and from where we stood in your yard, we can’t see your neighbour.  It’s just a ridge of trees.”

“Ah yes, well…”  She looked faintly embarrassed. “After the ravens came back and flew around, and then left, a couple more times during the morning, I got curious.  So, when they left for the fourth time, I got in my car and followed them.”

“You followed the ravens?  Across the field?”

“Of course not!  I’d have wrecked my car if I did that!  I went along the road, of course.”  She looked indignant as she returned to the table.  “But I could see the ravens, flying above the field.  And then I saw them arrive at the barn, and do exactly the same thing that they were doing at mine… flying around it in a circle.”

“Mrs. Ramsay, how long have you lived here?”  Bodie asked the question, even though they already had the answer from the constable’s report.

“Oh, gracious, it’s going on forty years, now.”  Mrs. Ramsay smiled.  “My late husband bought this acreage just after we were married, you know.  And we farmed it together for a lot of years, before he passed two years ago, God rest his soul.”

“You get a lot of ravens in this area, do you?”

“Ravens are a part of country life, young man.  We see them all the time.”

“Have you ever seen them behave this way before?”  Bodie leaned closer, intent on her answer.

“Never.” 

Bodie sat back.  “Mrs. Ramsay, I understand that country folk are usually pretty friendly.  Do you know your neighbours, at the next farm?  What can you tell us about them?”

“Well, I can’t tell you anything,” Mrs. Ramsay said.  “I’ve never met them.  Most of us that live on this road – there’s a few of us – well, we know each other, give each other a hand, if necessary.  But not one of us has ever met the person who bought that farm.  Not five years ago,” she added, “and not last week, when he came back.”

“Last week?  Are you sure?”  Bodie looked at Murphy, and saw he’d reached the same conclusion.  “This is terribly important, Mrs. Ramsay.  Are you certain that your neighbouring farm is now occupied, after being empty for five years?”

Mrs. Ramsay nodded.  “I am certain of it,” she said firmly.  “A few of us saw his truck, about ten days ago.  Oh my,” she said faintly, finally catching on as to why she was being questioned.  “Do you really think that’s where, I mean… are the Tower’s ravens there?  At the next farm?”  She stood and walked across the kitchen to look out the window again, across the field.  “My goodness.  Who would have thought… oh!”  She hurried back into the room, picked up a mason jar and dumped it out, scattering its contents across the large countertop.  “Where is it?  I know it’s here,” she said, poking through the items impatiently.  “Here it is.  Perhaps this might mean something to you.”  She held up a brass button with a trailing length of blue fabric.  “One of the ravens who visits my farm regularly brings me little ‘gifts’, things that he’s picked up around the area.  Mostly it’s just rubbish, bits of shiny packaging, but sometimes it’s more.  One day he brought me a ring of keys.”  Mrs. Ramsay laughed at the memory.  “They belonged to a neighbour; had fallen out of her pocket!  But this button, now, my raven brought it last week.  Could it possibly mean something?”

Both Bodie and Murphy moved to join her, Bodie reaching out to take it from her outstretched hand.  His eyes widened as he got a good look at it, and Murphy’s shocked expression confirmed his own recognition of the item.

“We, ah, don’t know yet, Mrs. Ramsay, “Bodie said at last.  “But you’ve given us an important lead to check out.”

“Thank you for all the help you’ve provided,” Murphy said.  “And can we suggest that for the rest of the evening and overnight into tomorrow morning, you stay inside your house?  Not that we’re expecting anything to happen, it’s just a precaution.”

“Of course I will,” she said.  “Except for my quick visit to the henhouse, is that all right?  Or perhaps not,” she added, noting the serious expressions on their faces.

“We’ll check back in with you when we’ve finished up our investigation,” said Murphy, even as Bodie was grabbing his arm and steering him towards the front door.  “Thank you again.”

“Good-bye, dears,” said Mrs. Ramsay, following them through the hallway.  “You get those precious ravens back to their home!”

Bodie barely turned, but he nodded at her.  “It’s why we’re here,” he said.  “We’ll get them home, and their keeper too.”

Once outside on the house’s front path, with the front door firmly closed and no curious ears listening, Bodie reached for his R/T.  “This is it, Murph, it’s got to be,” he said.

Murphy nodded in agreement.  “We’ll call it in,” he said.  “But you know the old man’s going to have us wait until he can get more teams down here.  We can’t go in without backup, mate, and you know it.”

Bodie sighed.  “Yeah, I know.  We’ll stay out of sight,” he said.  “But let’s have a look around the perimeter, to be ready when the squad gets here.  This is all going to end, in just a few hours.”  He held up the button in the fading early evening light, tracing the raised outline of its insignia with a finger – the stylized E-R, the mark of the sovereign, which was on every button of the uniform of the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.

 

oOo

 

Day Nine

It was time.  Ray had been awake for most of the night, apprehensive in anticipation of his planned breakout and unable to settle into any kind of meaningful sleep.  Munin, as the most humanized of the ravens, was empathetic to his mood, and had been restless herself.  Eventually he’d slipped out of his enclosure and seated himself beside her night ‘perch’ on the floor, and she’d promptly leaned against his leg, relaxing even further into sleep as he’d gently straightened her pinion feathers with a long, slow sweeping motion of his hand. 

Now, with the dim light of the pre-dawn visible at the window, Ray gave Munin’s wing a final stroke, then eased away from her and stood and walked toward the door, moving slowly and steadily so as not to attract the attention of the rest of the ravens.  He opened the pair of padlocks which he’d picked the previous evening, slipping through the gate into the caged area and silently re-latching it behind him.  He didn’t want the ravens to rush the door, as they might likely do once they saw daylight and realized it was open.  Pulling the pair of keys from his pocket, he studied them briefly to make a guess as to which one would fit the lock for the barn door itself.  Selecting one, he inserted it into the lock.  He took a deep breath, held it, and turned the key… and a second later Ray heard the snick as the deadbolt retracted and the door unlocked.  Yet again he could only marvel at the ingenuity, the sheer intelligence of ravens.  His lovelies had somehow known, then communicated what he wanted, and their wild cousins had not only understood, but then taken their natural attraction to shiny objects and managed to achieve the impossible – they’d brought the key to the barn.

He opened the door a crack, casting an eye out into the early morning twilight, and surveyed the yard beside the barn.  The tiny glimpses he’d managed through the window shutters had given him some sense of the lay of the land outside.  The yard was empty, no farm vehicles or equipment in sight.  There was a house, about a hundred yards from the barn, and it was there Ray saw what he’d been hoping for: a vehicle, specifically, a panel truck with a cargo space that looked big enough to carry the birds.  It was likely even the vehicle that had transported them here… wherever here was.  He’d worry about that part once he got the ravens out of the barn and into the truck.  Moving slowly, he eased out the door and closed it behind him.

The house was dark, no lights on at this early hour, which unfortunately meant there was no way to tell if it was occupied.  Although Twomey had visited the barn on a couple of occasions during the earlier part of the week, Ray had no way of knowing if he or any others were staying at the farm. 

Ray took another moment to look around, to see if there was any clue as to his geographical location.  The farm appeared to be isolated, with ground long left fallow full of scrub brush and long golden grasses; ragged fences stood sentry over what had once been a large array of productive fields.  A long driveway snaked its way along the fence-line and ended at a road, perhaps five hundred yards distant.  Further away, gently rolling hills were covered with the dark green of trees, although hints of yellow and brown were beginning to show in the leaves.  Autumn in the wild was beginning to show its colours.  But none of this gave Ray any clues as to what specific part of the country he was in, although the terrain suggested somewhere south, rather than the north country.

He heard a flutter of wings, and suddenly a pair of wild ravens settled onto the ground between him and the farmhouse.  Ray froze, hoping not to startle the birds as they paced back and forth, quietly muttering to themselves and casting the occasional beady glance in his direction.  “Hello, my lovelies,” he said quietly.

The larger of the two ravens cocked its head at him, then rolled its shoulder in a shrugging motion Ray had seen ‘his’ birds do hundreds of times.  “Well, then,” he said, slowly crouching down to their level.  “You’ll be wanting some kind of reward for the good deed you and your mate have done.”  The raven bobbed its head as if in agreement and clicked some chatter at him.  Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out a few of the peanuts he’d put there to help him bribe the flock into the truck.  “Here you go, my friends,” he said, tossing one to each of the birds, and holding his hand with more.  The other bird moved first, darting forward to grab another peanut, then skittering away to crack the shell and make short work of the tasty nut inside.

“Thank you for your assistance,” Ray said to the ravens.  “But you should go away now, for your own safety.  I don’t know how this is all going to go down.”  He waved an arm at them and they danced back out of reach.  “Go on, lovelies!”  Ray knew the birds couldn’t really understand him, but at last they seemed to get the idea and rose as one into flight, circled around the barn a couple of times, and disappeared over the field towards the trees.

He trotted over to the truck and picked the locks on both the driver’s door and the pair of rear cargo doors.  A quick look inside showed him this was, indeed, the vehicle which had brought them to the farm.  The floor was strewn with burlap sacking and a couple of dark green tarps bearing the logo of the London Zoo.  The sides of the cargo area were built in with cages, three on each side, with a framework of chain-link fencing walls and a double access door similar to the construct in the barn. 

A sudden thought had him checking the second key on the ring the birds had brought him; it opened all the individual padlocks on the cage doors.  Quickly he readied the cages for occupancy again.  The ravens wouldn’t be particularly comfortable or happy, but this was the safest way to transport them.  Grabbing the burlap sacks, Ray left the cargo doors ajar and headed back to the barn. 

Over the next half hour, as the sky gradually lightened, Ray left the barn six times, gently cradling a burlap-wrapped bundle in his arms.  One by one he deposited the ravens into the cages in the van, snapping each padlock shut and ensuring it was securely locked before moving on to the next one.  The last thing he needed was for one of the crafty birds to escape… during their escape!

Munin was the last bird to leave the barn, and contrary to her usual role as Ray’s friendly shadow, she proved to be the most difficult to capture and confine for the transfer to the van.  By the time he’d finally managed to corral her, Ray’s hands and forearms were bruised and cut in several places, despite his uniform tunic and the heavy work gloves he was wearing for the task.  When he finally was able to shut and lock the van’s cargo doors, his arms were trembling in fatigue and he cursed his lack of dexterity as he fumbled with the wires under the dash.  Hotwiring vehicles had never been his strong suit, even during his rough-and-tumble youth.  The rising noise level from the back of the van had him glancing at the farmhouse, knowing that if Twomey or anyone else was inside, the ruckus outside was sure to wake them up.

 

*

 

“NOOOO!”

The front door of the house crashed open at the exact same second the van’s engine roared to life.  A wild-eyed, disheveled Kian Twomey burst out, waving a handgun and shouting at Ray.  He lunged off the porch in the direction of the van.

“STOP!  YOU CAN’T GO!” 

Twomey’s cry echoed through the yard as Ray slammed the van’s door shut and wrestled the transmission into gear.  The rear tyres sprayed gravel as he floored the accelerator, the steering wheel bucking violently as the wheels fought for purchase on the loose surface.  Finally he was able to get it under control, gathering speed into the driveway, toward the safety and freedom which awaited him on the county road.

One of the van’s front tyres exploded as Twomey’s wild shooting found a target.  The wheel jerked out of Ray’s hands as the van skidded off the drive in a cloud of dust and gravel, coming to rest in the ditch, against the remnants of the fence. 

Dazed and hurting from slamming into the door at the abrupt stop, Ray shook his head to try and clear the black spots dancing in front of his eyes.  He turned off the engine, and in the sudden quiet he could hear the ravens’ agitated calls; he needed to check on them, he realized, but first he had to take care of Twomey. 

Running footsteps sounded outside – Twomey was close.  Ray groped around under the front seats in the van, hoping to find something – anything – to use as a weapon.  His hand closed around a large wrench and he gripped it firmly, before opening the door and stepping cautiously out of the vehicle.  He couldn’t hear Twomey anymore, just the croaking sounds of the ravens and the faint stirrings of a breeze rustling in the long grasses in the field.  He eased around the front end of the van, frantically scanning the drive and the ditch, the metal tool in his hand raised and ready.

“Stop right there!”

Ray froze and turned slowly to face his pursuer, still gripping the wrench.

“Drop it.”  Twomey was on the drive, standing in the churned-up gravel tracks the van had made as it veered into the ditch.  His voice remained calm… and the gun in his hand was rock steady in its aim.

Ray let go of the wrench; it clattered to the ground at his side and tumbled partially underneath the vehicle.

“Very good.”  Twomey looked Ray up and down.  “You disappoint me, RavenMaster,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, Kian.”  Ray hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.  “Call an end to it, right now.  Let me return to London with the ravens.”

“I wanted to keep you.  The others didn’t, you know.”  Twomey stared earnestly at Ray.  “They planned to leave you dead, at the Tower.  But I know how much you love the ravens… how you take such good care of them.  I persuaded my companions to bring you along, to have you look after the ravens in the barn.  And you were doing such a wonderful job!  But now,” his voice hardened, and the wide-eyed gaze sharpened to an icy glare.  “Now you’ve gone and betrayed us.  And that won’t do, Ray, it just won’t do.”

Without warning he fired, the report of the handgun shattering the early morning quiet, the edge of the sound wave almost visible as it spread outward across the fields.  In the distance, a number of black shapes rose into the air and began a slow spiral, coalescing into a widening circle that began to make its way towards the two men.

The bullet caught Ray high in the right shoulder, the impact spinning him around and sending him hard into the side of the van.  The explosion of pain drove him down to his knees, his left hand grasping at his shoulder and coming away sticky with blood.  Ray struggled against a wave of dizziness and fought to stay upright.  He leaned against the vehicle, shaking and gasping for breath as the pain quickly began to take hold.

“I’m sorry, Ray.”  Twomey took a couple of steps toward him.  “I didn’t want to have to do that.  But you left me no choice!  You can’t be allowed to take the ravens away from us.”

This is it, then… NO!  Not taking his eye off the gun, Ray scrabbled around on the ground behind him with his good hand, looking for the wrench he knew had fallen.  His grasping fingers found it, pulled it toward him…

Twomey levelled the gun at him again; in the clarity of the moment Ray saw his finger twitch on the trigger.  But then reality seemed to blur around the edges.  From the field and the sky, the wild ravens attacked, descending on Twomey with swooping, targeted dives, knocking his gun arm askew and sending a rain of blows to his head and face with powerful pulses from their wings.  They drove at him with beaks and claws, drawing blood where they bit and scratched, all accompanied by a deep, guttural croaking that resonated through the air with steady rhythm and intensity.

Ray heard Twomey cry out as he went down, about half the ravens still dancing around in contact with him, the rest rising to circle above the drive where the Irishman had fallen.  He watched, unable to move to give him any help.  But it seemed the ravens had no interest in serious harm.  For a few moments longer they harassed and harangued, keeping Twomey on the ground and preventing him from picking up his weapon. 

It was only as a line of cars came speeding along the road and turned into the driveway that the ravens ceased their attack.  As one they rose, completed a final lazy turn above the area, then flew off in a straight line across the field, eventually disappearing into the treeline.

From his spot on the ground beside the van, Ray watched the cars skid to a halt; their doors opened and men tumbled out with guns drawn, quickly scattering across the area.  As several of them made their way towards him, he pushed himself to his feet and brandished the wrench in front of him, leaning heavily on the van.  “Get back,” he said, blinking and shaking his head against the blackness edging into his vision.  The heavy metal tool wobbled in his hand, and he struggled to hold it up.

“Doyle!” 

Over the roaring in his ears he heard a voice calling his name.  It sounded like…  He spun around, looking for the source.  A tall, dark-haired figure detached itself from the group, and suddenly was there in front of him, plucking the wrench from his nerveless fingers, holding him up, steadying him.  Bodie?  “You dumb crud,” Ray said, as he swayed on his feet. “What took you so long?”

Bodie shook his head.  “You look terrible,” he said.  “And I’ll have you know, we got here as fast as we could.  It’s a big country, you know.”

“It was Twomey… he…”  Doyle looked around the yard.  “Where is he?”

“We’ve got him, Ray.  You’re safe.”  Bodie pointed to where a dazed and handcuffed Kian Twomey was being hauled unceremoniously to his feet and marched to one of the cars.  “See, there he is.” 

Doyle watched for a moment.  “The ravens are in the van,” he said.  “Need to check on them.” 

“We’ve got people here to take care of them, mate,” Bodie said.  “They’re five minutes away, down the road at the next farm.  MacKnight, and your zoo vet and one of her technicians,” he added, in response to Doyle’s unspoken question.  “We’ve already called for them to join us.” 

Murphy and another man Doyle didn’t recognize trotted up.  “House and barn are clear, Bodie,” he said.  “And the medics are on the way as well.”

“Good.  Anson, you and McCabe coordinate with the local constabulary and get the perimeter of this property locked down.  We don’t need curious members of the public all over our crime scene.”

“We’ll take care of it, Bodie.”  The man called Anson gave a brisk nod and walked away.

Ray stared at the familiar, and yet now somehow different versions of Bodie and Murphy in front of him.  He didn’t recognize any of the other men who were part of this rescue mission, so they weren’t Yeoman Warders or members of the Guard Extraordinary.  Military, perhaps?  But there were no uniforms…  Thinking about it made his head spin again, and he staggered as he tried to take a couple of steps away from them, his adrenaline-fuelled strength finally deserting him. 

“Come on, mate, you need to sit down.”  Bodie put a supporting arm across Doyle’s shoulders to steer him toward the nearest car.  Doyle would have none of it, however; he shook Bodie’s arm off, and concentrated on putting one shuffling foot in front of the other.  Eventually they arrived beside the vehicle and Doyle half sat, half fell, down onto the front seat.

Bodie gently eased Doyle’s tunic open and winced at the sight.  “Hang on, sunshine, this might hurt a bit.”  He took off his jacket and peeled out of the polo shirt he was wearing.  Folding it up into a large compress, he pressed the shirt against the flow of blood and quickly buttoned the tunic back into place.  Doyle shuddered and gave a choked-off cry, closing his eyes against another wave of dizziness.

“Shock,” Bodie said quietly.  “Dammit, where are those medics?”

“They’re coming,” Murphy said, equally soft.  Raising his voice, he said, “I’ll check on the ravens for you, Doyle,”

Ray managed a nod of acknowledgement.  “Cages.  In the van,” he said.  He fumbled in a pocket with his good hand and managed to drop them in the dirt.  “Keys…”

Murphy picked them up.  “Got them,” he said.  “Hang in there, Doyle, help’s coming.”

Bodie watched Murphy stride back to the crippled van, and was relieved when he saw the London Zoo lorry pull into the driveway, followed by an ambulance.  He turned his attention back to Doyle and found a pair of green eyes open again and fixed on him, much as they had been before, but now the shock and pain was overshadowed by something else: confusion, with not a small amount of anger mixed in.

“Who … what are you?”  Doyle’s voice was low.  “This… operation.  It’s not the Extraordinary at all, is it?”  He gestured with his left hand, and let it fall back weakly.  “These men, I don’t recognize any of them,” he said, “except for you and Murphy.  If those are even your real names.”

“They are.”  Bodie’s face tightened, and he looked away for a moment.  “But you’re right, this isn’t the Extraordinary.  We’re CI5.”

“CI5.”  Doyle closed his eyes again.  “At the Tower for the last month.  An assignment.”

“No.  Yes” 

Doyle’s weak laugh held no humour.  “Which was it, sunshine?” he said.  “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”  He sank back into the seat, attempting to shrug off Bodie’s supporting hand for a second time, and only managed to jar his injured shoulder.  “Get off, dammit…”

“Ray.”  Anything more Bodie wanted to say was interrupted by the arrival of the CI5 medics; he stepped back reluctantly and let them do their work on the now barely-conscious Doyle. 

A nudge at his shoulder from Murphy pulled Bodie further away from the car.  “The veterinarian says the ravens appear to be unharmed,” he said.  “But agitated and kicking up a right fuss.  She’s going to sedate them, and transport them back to London in her lorry, under CI5 protection, of course.  MacKnight will stay with them and make sure everything gets settled into place when they get back to the Tower.”  He looked over Bodie’s shoulder to see Doyle being eased out of the car and onto a canvas stretcher.  “How’s Doyle?”

“Not too pleased with us.”  Bodie broke off to watch the medics load the stretcher into the waiting ambulance.  “This was a cock-up right from the start, Murph!  The background checks should have flagged Twomey immediately, and any cohort he might have had among the Tower personnel.  How could we protect the ravens from an outside threat when the real danger was already inside?!”

Slightly uneven, and very familiar footfalls approached them where they stood.  “Your point is well taken, Bodie,” said Cowley.  “Vetting of all personnel working in positions of trust has already been increased.  Next time, someone like Twomey might not make it through.”  He shook his head.  “Or maybe they will.  We’ll do what we can, in any case.  How is the RavenMaster?”

“It looks like he’s going to make it.”  Murphy spoke up when there was no response from Bodie.

“I’ve arranged for a helicopter to fly Doyle to London.  It should arrive momentarily.” Cowley continued.  “You will accompany him, Bodie.  Murphy and I will be part of the motorcade that transports the ravens.  And stay with him until you’re relieved by either another member of the squad, or someone from the Tower.”

“Sir, I…” Bodie said, only to be interrupted by Cowley.

“And, for God’s sake, be alert.  We don’t know how many others are in Twomey’s cell,” said the Controller.  “Now, on your bike, man, the ambulance is about to leave.”

Bodie nodded tightly, and jogged over to where the medics were getting ready to close up the rear doors of the ambulance.  He waved off an offer to sit in the front, instead climbing into the back to sit on the bench beside the medic.  On the trolley, Doyle was unmoving, his eyes closed. 

“He’s stable,” the medic said, reading the question in Bodie’s expression.  “We’re meeting the helicopter at the next farm along the road.  I understand there’s to be a doctor on board.  The RavenMaster will be well looked after, Bodie.”

The journey down the road was brief, and as promised, the helicopter was waiting for them, its rotors spinning, and one of CI5’s medical officers standing in the open side door.  Two other agents stood point in the farmyard, weapons at the ready, as the ambulance crew transferred the trolley over to the helicopter.  Bodie caught a glimpse of Mrs. Ramsay, in her front window, looking wide-eyed at the flurry of activity in her yard.  And then they were away, rising into the still-early morning air and heading directly towards London.

 

*

 

At the hospital Bodie stayed close, following the doctor into the examination room and taking up a watchful stance in the corner.  Only when it was time to move Doyle to the theatre did Bodie relinquish his direct observation of the RavenMaster, and even then, he remained close by, pacing small circles in the cramped waiting room at the end of the corridor. 

He was joined after about an hour by the Chief Yeoman Warder, Colonel Gibson, and two sombre members of the Guard Extraordinary. 

“Sergeant Bodie.”  Colonel Gibson acknowledged Bodie’s automatic stiffening to attention and waved it off.  “Where is the RavenMaster?  How is Doyle?”

Bodie nodded toward the double doors.  “He’s still in surgery,” he said.  “Haven’t heard anything since they went in over an hour ago.  But they said he was stable enough.”

“Thank God,” Gibson said.  “I have to say, when Cowley contacted me earlier this morning, I really did fear the worst.  But now, I understand that the terrorists have been captured, everyone is safe, and the ravens are to be returned to the Tower.”  He reached out and clasped Bodie’s hand in a firm handshake.  “Thank you, Sergeant Bodie, and the rest of CI5, for your hard work.”

“Glad we were able to get there in time, sir.”  Bodie managed a small smile.  “And the ravens are on their way back to London by secure convoy, escorted by a protective guard led by Mr. Cowley himself.”

“Excellent.”  Gibson nodded to the two men with him, who promptly stepped forward to assume positions outside the lounge door, within clear sightlines of the exit from the operating theatre.    “We’ll take over the watch, now, Bodie.  You may consider yourself relieved.  Doyle’s one of us, and we will take care of our own.”

Bodie froze, then forced himself to relax.  “Thank you, sir, I stand relieved.”  He accepted the release from duty, the familiar formality of the words, and recognized a unit closing ranks around a wounded member, just as CI5 would do – had done – for himself or any other agent.  “I think I’ll stay here for a while, though, if you don’t mind, sir,” he said.  “I’d like to have an update on Doyle’s condition for Mr. Cowley when he asks for it.”  At the colonel’s nod he settled into one of the chairs at the end of the lounge.  He’d wait to hear the news from the surgeon… maybe even stay long enough to see Doyle settled into a ward to begin his recovery, and check out the security detail from the Extraordinary, to make sure they were actually doing their job, before he’d be ready to leave and report in at headquarters.

He sat, and as the minutes passed slowly, tried not to think about the previous couple of hours.   The close call at the barn, an injured but defiant Doyle attempting to protect his ravens with nothing but a bloody wrench in his hand… and the dawning anger and betrayal in Doyle’s eyes when he’d demanded and received the truth about who exactly Bodie really was.  The hurt had stayed there even as the RavenMaster faded in and out of consciousness, all the way back to London in the helicopter.  And it was the last thing he’d seen in the examination room before Doyle had finally succumbed to the pull of the medication.

The arrival of the surgeon into the waiting area startled Bodie out of the deep thoughts he’d drifted into.  He watched as Colonel Gibson moved away from his men to receive the briefing from the doctor – reassuring news, judging from the expression on the commander’s face – then they all headed down the corridor after the doctor.  Bodie followed, pausing as he rounded a corner to see Gibson enter a room, and the two members of the Extraordinary take up positions flanking its door.  Doyle. 

It was time for him to leave, to go to headquarters and make his report to Cowley.  But first – he slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and brushed a fingertip along the length of smooth feather – there was one quick stop to make.  He waited in the corridor, watching as the colonel emerged a few moments later and gave the guards a few terse instructions before walking away.  Bodie hesitated a moment, then stepped forward to the door.  “I’ll only be a moment,” he said, and the two men stood again to attention as he went inside.

 

oOo

 

Ray opened his eyes to find the hospital ward where he’d first awakened had transformed and become the familiar institutional walls of the infirmary at the Tower of London.  He had no recollection of how and when the move had happened.  Christ, most of his adult working life passed by with only an occasional visit to a doctor – and here he was, a guest of this fine establishment for the third time in a month!  With that depressing thought crossing his mind, Ray shifted slightly on the pillow, and froze as his injured shoulder flared to life, and with a rush he remembered why he was here.

There was movement by the side of his bed, and Ray found himself looking at a slight, middle-aged man with thinning ginger hair and lively, intelligent eyes which were watching him with a calm intensity.

“Ah, good evening, RavenMaster.”

A Scots accent rolled over him, in a voice that was at once reassuring and compelling.  A voice with a resonance of leadership, that reminded Ray of an instructor he’d had at Herndon whose thick brogue had equally reprimanded and steadied his cadets through the difficult months of their training.

“It’s good to see you awake at last,” the voice continued.  “You’ve slept the clock round, and then some.  Can I get you some water, perhaps… or would you have me fetch your doctor?”

“Water, please.”  Ray gratefully accepted a cup of water from the stranger’s hand.

“My name is Cowley.  I’m with CI5.” 

Ray hesitated, then lifted the tumbler’s straw to his mouth to take another sip before putting the cup down on the table beside the bed.  “I suppose a madman like Twomey might fall under your brief,” he said.  “Terrorist, all-round threat to the common good, that’s CI5’s sort of thing, isn’t it?”  At Cowley’s raised eyebrow, he continued, “I was presented with, options, I guess you’d say, when I … resigned, from the Met.  I believe that was how my guv described CI5.”

“A not inaccurate portrayal,” Cowley said.  He pulled a notebook from the inside pocket of his suitcoat.  “I’d like to take your preliminary statement, if you feel up to it,” he said.  “I just need a few points clarified for now, Doyle, and then I’ll let you get some more rest.”

 

*

 

The interrogation was brief; in short order Cowley capped his pen and flipped his book closed.  Ray sank back into the pillow, drained and in pain, but still alert enough to ask a question or two of his own. 

“You did get him alive?  Twomey?” he said.  “The last I saw him was when the ravens came at him.  And then I think your men took him away?”

Cowley gave a thin smile of satisfaction.  “Aye, we got him, alive and fit to be tied.”

“That’s good.”  Ray closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again and looked at Cowley.  “You were there, then, on the driveway by the barn.”

“Yes, our investigation and rescue operation brought us to you right at the moment where the ravens… attacked.”  Cowley shook his head.  “An unusual sight, to be sure.  And thankfully, a successful conclusion to this entire business.”  He stood and picked up his trench coat from the back of his chair.  “I’ll send the doctor in on my way out, laddie,” he said.  “He’ll likely give you something more suitable than the wee dram of single malt I could offer you.”

Ray managed a smile.  “Some day I might take you up on that,” he said.

“Indeed.”  Cowley moved toward the door, then paused and looked back at Ray.  “You mentioned you had options, when you were being forced out of the police service.  Ach, don’t look so surprised, now,” he said, as Ray’s eyes widened.  “The situation with Preston was, shall we say, known to other authorities at the time.  You were never as alone as you might have thought you were.”  He kept a steady gaze on Ray.  “And you chose to join the Guard Extraordinary?”

“It seemed to be a good way to continue to serve.  And without much contact with the police, since the Extraordinary is largely staffed by the military.”

“Yes, quite.”  Cowley nodded in agreement.  “But then, so might CI5 have been a good way, Doyle.  And I had your service docket in my recruitment files.”  He paused, then added, “Where it remains even to this day, updated with your current assignment, of course.  You may wish to keep this in mind, should you at any point be considering your options again.”  He shrugged into his coat and pushed the door open.  “Mend well, RavenMaster,” he said, and then he was gone.

 

*

 

Daylight was peeking in through the blinds when Ray stirred again.  Mindful of his tightly-wrapped shoulder and arm, he took a couple of experimental deep breaths in lieu of stretching, which although painful, did make him aware that he felt better than he had yesterday.

Christ.

Two days ago he’d risen from that uncomfortable cot in the barn, tense and poised for his escape attempt.  What a difference a day or two could make.  The ravens were safe and back in their home – he did remember being told his assistant and the vet had taken charge of them after Twomey’s capture, and repeated assurances that the birds were fine – and for that matter, he was, too.  Although for him that meant time in the infirmary, recovering from surgery which had removed the bullet from his shoulder, and the endless rehab that would undoubtedly be necessary before he could fully return to duty.  Fine was clearly a relative term.

So. with the ‘successful conclusion to this business’, as he remembered Cowley putting it last night, he and the ravens were no longer CI5’s concern.  He could go back to his duties without being the ‘assignment’ for a pair of undercover operatives who were only there to do a job.  And yet, he’d seen Murphy begin to develop a genuine rapport with the ravens.  Ray knew his lovelies were keen judges of character, who easily saw through subterfuge or sensed a person’s discomfort in their presence, and they’d accepted Murphy into their team of human caregivers without resistance. 

Bodie… Ray recognized that his anger with Bodie a couple of days ago might have been uncalled for, although, in his own defence, he’d just escaped after a harrowing week of captivity, and then been shot!  He did understand the necessity of working undercover – he’d done it often enough, toward the end of his time with the Met.  Bodie’s deepening involvement with him, or whatever he chose to call it, could have been part of the assignment, merely a way of getting and keeping him under close observation.  But how much of it, if any, was real?  Dammit, how much did he want it to be real?

And then there was the feather.  He’d been hazily aware of people moving around his hospital bed… nurses, the doctor, even his commanding officer had been there.  But there had been someone else, a shadowy figure who’d leaned close for a moment, and then disappeared.  The next time he’d opened his eyes, he’d discovered it, sitting on the pillow next to him – a long, black pinion feather from a raven.

The ultimate result of this whole situation, of course, was that he was alone again, which unexpectedly didn’t have the same appeal as it had just a few short weeks ago.  Ahh, Bodie…

The deep contemplation was making his head spin, and he shifted slightly to try and ease the ache in his shoulder.  Still groggy from painkillers, and lost in the turmoil of his reflections, Ray didn’t immediately notice the figure sitting motionless in the uncomfortable plastic chair next to the bed.  But then a voice he wasn’t sure he would ever hear again spoke, and a thread of hope began to uncoil in his thoughts.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

 

oOo

 

Epilogue

 

London, September 1980

Doyle and Bodie went back to the Tower together, on the day of the ceremony for the appointment of the new raven, invited guests of Colonel Gibson himself.  They were met at the gate by an old friend: Yeoman Warder Murphy, looking resplendent in his scarlet full-dress tunic and tall black hat.

“Murph, old son.”  Bodie batted away Murphy’s outstretched hand and grabbed his former partner in a quick, cheerful bear hug.

“Gerroff, you animal!”  Murphy laughed as he returned the hug.  “Mind all the bits and buttons, Bodie, or you’re liable to be wearing some of them yourself!”  He stepped back and offered his hand to Ray.  “Good to see you again, Doyle.  You’re looking well, despite being partnered with this mad bastard.”

“Murphy.  Congratulations on being made Assistant RavenMaster.  The badge looks good on you.”  Ray returned the handshake with a firm, warm grip.  “And surviving Bodie is a doddle, mate.  It’s the combination of Macklin and Towser that you didn’t warn me about!”

“Ah, but our Brian means well, even if he will half kill you and call it a light training exercise.” Bodie shook his head.  “You sure you don’t want to come back to CI5, Murphy?  Think of all you’re missing.”

“I don’t think so.”  Murphy led them along the cobbled path and across the bridge over the moat.  “Besides, some of the training regimen that’s used here was written by a sadistic SAS sergeant during his brief posting here, last year.  You wouldn’t know anything about that, now, would you, Bodie?”

Bodie beamed in delight.  “A fine piece of work, that was,” he said.  “I was happy to introduce the Guard Extraordinary to some of my favourite drills and exercises.”

Ray looked around the grounds, and the crowd of workers that seemed to be milling around.  “There’s a lot more people than I’d have expected to see at this hour.”

“Oh, that,” Murphy said.  “Some last-minute spit and polish and then another complete security sweep.  We were informed yesterday afternoon that there’d be more than one HRH here for the ceremony this morning.  Still using your manual for that, too,” he added.

“Now you’ve gone and done it,” Ray said with a sigh.  “He’ll be insufferable for the rest of the day.”

Murphy grinned as Bodie put on his best affronted look.  “Listen, I have a bit of preparation I have to do before the ceremony.  Why don’t you two take a look around the grounds, for old time’s sake,” he said.  “Oh, and though your seats are reserved for you, don’t be late, yeah?”  And with that he was gone, hurrying down the path which would lead him to the raven enclosure.

 

*

 

They found themselves walking beside the White Tower, and stopped to survey the impressive scaffolding that covered two full walls. 

“She may have been battered, but she never really crumbled,” Bodie said.  “Despite what the prophecy said.  It’s a shame the scaffolding couldn’t be down in time for today, though.”

“I’m not surprised.  Remember, I saw a lot of the damage firsthand.”  Ray shook his head.  “That scaffolding will be up for a while.  And I’m sure it’s causing no end of trouble for the RavenMaster.  The birds are always wanting to explore behind the tarps…”  He trailed off, gazing blindly up at the concealed tower.

“Any regrets, sunshine?”  The inquiry was almost gentle, from the side of Bodie that Ray had come to learn that very few people saw, and even then, it emerged only occasionally.

“Regrets?  No.”  Ray’s answer was firm.  “But I do miss it.  Even all the bird shite I had to clean up on a daily basis.”  He looked at his partner.  “That was one of the first things you said to me, remember?  That I had bird shite all over my shoes…”

“Well, you did, as I recall.”  Bodie smiled at the reminiscence.  “You were an irritating sod, you know, fouling up my training plans at every turn.  And then you outshot me on the range…”

That drew a grin from Ray.  “I still do, mate.”

“On occasion.  When I have an off day.”  Bodie’s expression became pensive.  “A lot of water under the bridge since those days.” 

“Yeah.” 

 

oOo

 

In the aftermath of the saga of the ravens, the nation had remained on edge for some time.  The tabloids spilled a great deal of ink running stories about the Great Prophecy, taking their incomplete knowledge of events during that eight-day period, and twisting themselves into knots trying to bind everything together into one fearsome tale.  For weeks, their headlines continued to shout doomsday scenarios about the fall of the kingdom.  Even the more respectable side of Fleet Street produced its own share of speculation, with deep-thinking opinion columns and letters from learned people throughout the country.  A selection of well-placed editorials by yet more eminent figures, quietly ‘sponsored’ by the Home Office, worked to deflect any further conjecture about the ‘unfortunate occurrences’ which had affected the nation.

But in the end, the story faded into obscurity as the everyday goings-on of the nation rose back to the fore: politics, football, and debate about which fine young woman the Prince of Wales might marry.

CI5 continued its investigation into Kian Twomey’s cell, and in short order rounded up the shadowy leader and his other associates, including a pair of long-serving Yeoman Warders at the Tower.  The group’s movement hadn’t been widespread, despite their apparent ‘success’ in triggering ancient prophecies.  The extra protection around the country’s antiquities, including the Tower of London, gradually eased, although the strengthened Guard Extraordinary remained a permanent fixture there. 

Doyle offered his resignation to Colonel Gibson before he was even out of the infirmary, feeling he’d been derelict in his duty to the ravens and as a member of the Extraordinary; the colonel summarily refused to accept it.  Back on duty within a week of his return to the Tower, albeit in a limited capacity while his injured shoulder healed, Ray and his assistant spent weeks settling the ravens back into their habitat.  All six ravens reintegrated well, and gradually re-established their familiar territories and haunts throughout the Tower grounds. 

When Raven Munin, living up to her reputation as the ‘keeper’s shadow’, began to spend more time with Assistant RavenMaster MacKnight, it gave Doyle pause for thought.  But it was a combination of this, plus the arrival of former CI5 operative Murphy as a member of the Extraordinary, that had him remembering George Cowley’s cryptic comments on the day he’d visited the infirmary.  Options.  Eight months later, Doyle formally accepted a permanent secondment to CI5.

 

*

 

After the extensive debriefing and endless interviews of all those involved in the ravens’ abduction were completed, Bodie found himself spending some additional time at the Tower, at the request of Colonel Gibson, not as a Yeoman Warder, of course, but in the role of consultant towards the improvement of the fortress’s defenses.  He told himself it was all for the good of the Tower, and not so that he could continue to keep an eye on both the ravens - he and the birds settled into a sort of peaceful coexistence - and their master.  But occasional evenings found the nook table in The Keys occupied, sometimes by Bodie alone, and at other times, with Doyle there too.

Bodie also had to deal with the departure from CI5 of his long-time partner and friend, who went through his own period of consideration after their mission at the Tower of London came to an end.  As Murphy himself had pointed out in the initial briefing in Cowley’s office, he’d previously expressed interest in the Guard Extraordinary.  Their time spent in the Guard had reawakened that interest … and with Cowley’s blessing Murphy applied for and received a secondment from CI5 to the Extraordinary.  Colonel Gibson had expedited the request, and Bodie found himself temporarily without a partner.  Then Cowley casually mentioned that he was preparing to assign one of the new recruits as his partner, at least on a temporary basis.

 

oOo

 

And now, here they were, back at the place where it had all begun.  Partners for a month in CI5; still learning to work together, but already meshing in a way that George Cowley could only hope for in all his pairings.  The other side of their relationship was more complicated - hell, everything involving Doyle was complicated - but it, too, was progressing in a way Bodie could call most satisfactory.  He hadn't quite managed to convince his stubborn partner that he was the best thing for him, but the campaign was well underway.  And in the meantime, they spent more time together than most married couples, maintaining the furious pace and schedule set for them by Cowley, and many evenings were content to retire to one flat or the other and pick the day apart over a drink and takeaway.

The inspection of the Guard was conducted, the speeches made, and the final event of the ceremony was the official appointment of a new raven into service at the Tower.  The RavenMaster, Yeoman Warder Alan MacKnight, brought the exuberant young bird perched on his arm to the stage, where a few formal sentences made it official.  The dignitaries also unveiled a small plaque which was to be installed by the fence of the raven enclosure, bearing notation that one Raymond Doyle was named RavenMaster emeritus, in consideration of his dedicated service to the Tower’s flock.  No fuss was made, no extra notice taken.  Cowley had insisted, not wanting attention drawn to his new agent.  He’d had no objection from Doyle, who was more than happy to accept Cowley’s restriction.

Bodie stood to attention, along with all the other guests, as the Royals and dignitaries departed.  Beside him, Ray also stood, holding the formal stiffness as protocol required, but Bodie could sense in his partner the faintest quiver of impending motion, the urge to flee strongly felt and equally strongly held in check.  Leading up to this day, Doyle had alternated between a state of nervous anticipation and a resolute desire not to attend; Bodie still wasn’t sure which mood he’d had brought with him.  He could see now, though, that Doyle had reached his limit and would not be lingering after the ceremony.

Shaking hands with the senior leadership of the Tower administration, and the Extraordinary’s commander and number two, Bodie was aware his partner had slipped away.  He gave Ray a few moments, then smoothly made his own excuses and headed out into the grounds, away from the White Tower.  He followed in the steps he was certain Ray had taken:  the path leading to the south lawn.  He found him there, leaning against the freshly restored and constructed rows of fencing which made up the raven enclosure.

“They’ve done a good job,” Bodie said into the quiet.  “It looks even more secure than it was, but still gives them space.”

Doyle nodded, hands absently clasping and opening on the chain link in front of him.  “Did you know?”  he said.  “About the name for the new raven?”

Bodie hesitated briefly, knowing he was giving Doyle all the answer he needed.  “It is customary, isn’t it, to name a new raven after a past RavenMaster?” he said.

“It has been, yeah.”  Doyle stared into the enclosure for another moment then turned and looked at Bodie, standing so innocently beside him.  “But usually after they’re dead!  Or, at least, long gone from service…”

“It’s an honour you deserve, Ray,” Bodie said, laying a hand on his partner’s shoulder and giving it a quick squeeze.  “Even if you’re not quite ready to shuffle off this mortal coil…”

Doyle blinked.  “That’s a pleasant thought,” he said.  “You do know how to turn a charming phrase, mate.”

“Always at your service.”  Bodie’s faux plummy tones were accompanied by a flourishing bow in Doyle’s direction.

“You and Mister Shakespeare, at any rate.”  Doyle pushed away from the metal fence and began to walk across the grass, but Bodie caught a glimpse of a faint, if reluctant, grin as he turned.  He slung an arm over Doyle’s shoulders and steered him towards the nearest pathway.

“Come on then, sunshine,” Bodie said.  “Let’s go find Murphy and make our farewells.  The Cow gave us the whole day off to attend this ceremony, and it’s barely gone noon.”  He shot a grin back at his partner, eyes alight with promise.  “I may just have plans for the rest of the day.”

“Yeah?” said Doyle.  “The whole day?”  He didn’t move to dislodge the arm.

Bodie’s grin widened.  “They begin with a toast to young Raven Raymond,” he said.  “I’ve set aside a bottle of particularly fine malt scotch, just for the occasion.  There’s food in, too,” he added.  “Even some of the healthy stuff you like to try and sneak into things when you think I’m not looking.”

“I suppose this is your delicate way of asking me to cook dinner for you.”  Ray slowed as they reached the path, and leaned in briefly against Bodie’s side.  “The answer is yes.  Let’s call it my thanks to you for putting up with me these last few days.”

“And by days, you mean weeks.”  But Bodie’s words held no complaint, and he pulled Doyle just a bit closer before giving him a quick nudge and ruffling a hand through his curls.  Moments later, he followed his partner along the cobbles toward the way out, Murphy’s cheerful farewell and admonition to return soon ringing in his ears.  They would be back again, Bodie knew, but in the meantime, they had some celebrating, and much more, to get underway.

 

oOo

 

From far above, nestled in a perch near the top of the White Tower’s scaffolding, a pair of yellow eyes followed their progress toward the main gate.  Raven Munin rolled her shoulder and flexed the length of her wing, uttering a soft kronk kronk as she did so.  She watched them hesitate for a moment, heads canted in her direction, before they finally turned and walked out the gate.  It was a long time before she fluttered gracefully down to join her companions on the south lawn.

 

End