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The Homecoming

Every time I had come home to my village it was different. I was different, my people were different. War leaves nothing unchanged. But there was something about this time—different than all the rest. The hair prickled up on the back of my neck, warning of danger. What, I knew not. I stopped my horse on the edge of town, looking carefully to the priming of my pistol. It and the rapier at my side I carried for protection against the countless vagabonds and highwaymen roaming England these days. Discharged soldiers or mercenaries like myself, unable to return to the plow after smelling the powder of battle. Danger lurked everywhere—but not here. Not my village. Surely not. . . Nevertheless, the instincts that had carried me through countless battles against the Ironsides of Oliver Cromwell did not desert me now. I tethered my mount to a post there on the perimeter of the village, drawing my sword from its scabbard. A blade in my right hand, a loaded wheellock in my left. I felt a strange sense of unease at striding into my home in this warlike fashion, but something was wrong. No traders bartered in the market. No children chased each other through the streets, laughing and shrieking at each other. This time was nothing like my last return home. What had happened? I walked carefully up the hill toward the center of the village, limping a little at each step. A musketball had lodged in my hip at Edgehill, ending my role in the war for the space of about five months. Now I could predict the weather as readily as a seer, and it was equally accurate in predicting danger. It pained me now. Nothing was moving, even the birds seemed to have stopped their singing. The only signs of life were the wisps of smoke drifting upward from the chimney of Godfrey the tanner. I stopped by the wall, checking the priming of my pistol once again. Nerves. I thought I had conquered them long ago—but there was something uncanny about this. This was not the battlefield, this was my home. Yet Death hovered nearby, I could feel his presence. The Reaper. I lurched toward the tanner’s door, putting weight on my good leg, aware that my investigation must begin at his house. Silence. No sound greeted my ears as I approached. His latch-string was out, and I pulled the hammer of the pistol back to full-cock, placing my sword-hand on the door. I pulled it open quickly and stepped inside, stepping into the unknown. . .

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