Premiered – 1 May 2004 (Beltane)
( November 1, 1977 )
It was late evening on an otherwise ordinary November first, when the deserted village suddenly reverberated with the sound of horses. Located in the highlands southeast of Naples , the site of a failed monastery for austere-seeking monks, the place seldom had visitors. Even the occasional guest that did frequent the dusty, narrow streets was unlikely to be anything more than the sporadic Libyan talent scout checking the local populace as trainees for their outward bound terrorist program. Bleached by sun and wind, the village clung to the small saddle between two mountainous hills, and only marginally tolerated monks, villages, and/or visitors
Today, it was tolerating four charging horsemen -- or more accurately, one horseman leading the charge and three out-of-control riders, desperately trying to keep up with the first horseman. The lead rider came galloping into the village's main street, where he reined his mount to a halt in the proverbial cloud of dust, just as his three companions came galloping up behind him. It took the latter three men a moment to realize the first man had stopped, whereupon they attempted to do the same.
Unfortunately, the three men's reining in of their mounts had little effect on the horses actually slowing their mad rush through the village. Had their mounts heard the word "cut", they would have known immediately that the scene was over and that they should stop – something which they would have done with sufficient speed to unseat their riders. These horses weren't Spaghetti Western veterans for nothing. On this day, however, the horses only heard quaint things like "whoa" and "whoaaaaa damnit!", and "Oh shit, stop!!!” Maybe an occasional "Arrrggggggg!!" But never, "Cut!" The horses, being fluent in three languages -- none of which was guttural English or Italian -- were understandably slow to grasp their riders' meaning. For all the horses knew, their riders might just be having a wonderful time, screaming to their heart's content. The horses were certainly having fun. Consequently, the horses continued their charge, while their riders yelled various, unintelligible, words and phrases, full of sound and fury and signifying, as it turned out, absolutely nothing.
The first rider sat watching the latter three gallop by, hanging on to their mounts and making every effort to vainly rein them in. Chirles dropped his head and sighed heavily. His attempts to train the three men in equestrian techniques seemed doomed to failure. Brains were often the prerequisite for so many learned skills and his "companions" seemed to have a severe lack of said prerequisites for the learning of horsemanship.
Admittedly, the three men were somewhat encumbered by the fact each carried a small arsenal about his body, and invariably spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid the automatic weapons from bouncing up and hitting their owners in the mouth. The Uzi's were, of course, cleverly concealed in automatic weapons' tote bags, fashionably known as AwTBs, but such tote bags were not particularly designed for being carried on horseback. Instead, the AwTBs were designed for fashion (naturally), and as such, were all the rage in 1977 Italy .
Chirles, unlike his companions, was a horseman par excellence. He had other talents par excellence, but horses were his first, true love. He even looked the part, sort of an older, slimmed down version of an Italian Marlboro Man. More importantly, he was an authority on the beasts and the beasts in turn respected that fact. He also knew that when the three riders' horses came to the very rocky, very steep hill at the other end of the village (making the village the definitive statement of a "dead end village"), the horses would stop and allow their riders a brief respite from charging about the Italian countryside.
In the meantime, Chirles glanced around the village. It had not changed in all the years he had made the long ride to its splendid view and equally splendid isolation. Over the years, he had grown quite affectionate of the long-deserted walls, caved-in roofs, and overgrown courtyards. He and his daughter, Teresa, had had numerous pleasant experiences here during her occasional visits. They had even dubbed the hill upon which it rested, Mount Pelion . The fact that no one in the entire Italian nation agreed with them, neither with respect to the name, nor to the fact of someone calling a prominent hill a mountain, made any difference to Chirles or Teresa. It was a reminder of times past, and they would call it whatever they liked.
Chirles was like that. He had not liked the name, Charles, and with little hesitation had changed the spelling to reflect his uniqueness. He had also assumed the stilted, pretentious English pronunciation -- just for the hell of it. Out of courtesy to his unwed mother, Phyllis, he had left his last name of Ronson intact. Had she not been one of the early casualties of the Nazi invasion of Greece , she might have appreciated her young son's thoughtfulness. Or the fact that her death had prompted him to join the Greek Resistance in July 1941, at the tender age of 13 1/2. (One never can tell what mothers might appreciate.)
Chirles glanced at his watch. Almost seven o'clock . Not much light left, despite the remnants of last week's full moon. But the darkness hardly bothered Chirles. He preferred it, perhaps from the days when he had served as a courier for the resistance. Life was a bit softer, making the distinction between things black and white less threatening. Chirles, a nocturnal sort of fellow and with a countenance like Ichabod Crane, rather enjoyed his late evening rides.
Unfortunately, his three Italian-style Musketeers were not similarly nocturnal, becoming exceedingly nervous when things became hard to see. It's harder to shoot people you can't see. Consequently, they would be more than ready to return to the estates of their mutual employer, particularly since they were so heavily responsible for Chirles' welfare.
It was really, a rather awkward situation. Chirles loved horses and rode one every day. Sometimes dressage, sometimes jumping, sometimes just gallivanting about the immediate Southern Italian countryside. His "companions", on the other hand, were more like bodyguards, or perhaps just plain guards. They could care less about horses, and even less about riding the unwieldy beasts. Horses were, after all, a very expensive hobby, and the other three men had not grown up with the financial or other opportunities which might allow one to learn equestrian skills – or even experiences to appreciate such skills.
Chirles was not wealthy either, but he worked for a very "influential" man who was both his employer, and in a strange way, his protector and safe haven in a storm. The rest of the world could pretty well forget trying to involve Chirles in its daily happenings as long as he lived on the estates of his employer. Which he had for almost twelve years.
In that interim of time, Chirles had become a very valuable asset of his employer. He was a capable advisor and confidant -- to the extent that his employer would confide in anyone -- and he provided a host of other benefits to his boss, including the fact of his being an integral part of his employer making substantial sums of money. His boss subsequently treated him as an adopted brother. Or perhaps an asset. Chattel. Rather like a wife. As it turned out, Chirles was, in fact, related to his employer by blood, but not legitimately so.
In any case, Chirles's employer did not like to risk his valuable assets, or to allow them to ride about the local countryside alone. Thus the guards. A simpler solution might have been to eliminate the rides altogether. But inasmuch as riding was Chirles' one great love, and because valued employees needed their perks lest they not work at their maximum potential, he was allowed to ride. It was important for this employee to work at his peak.
There was, of course, the added caveat that Chirles had once done a substantial favor for some very important people. Such favors among old families had long been deemed of major significance. Consequently, he rode his horses daily -- even if always accompanied by well-armed companions. Companions with the kind of disposition whereby they would not hesitate to blow anyone away for merely staring at their ward, and who were just now struggling to return to their place beside him.
What with Chirles never being one to do things halfway, the ride to this point had been a strenuous one. But in galloping up and down the hills and mountains, his companions had been hard pressed to keep up. Despite the fact the horses had obviously done most of the work, the men were out-of-breath, exhausted and in general fed up with trying to stay on wild horses whose greatest goal was to star in the next sequel to The Man from Snowy River .
Winded, sweating profusely, and somewhat relieved at having rejoined Chirles, the guards momentarily let their guard down. Which was a mistake. (Letting one's guard down in small Italian villages is invariably a mistake.) Subtly, without any warning, each of them felt what could have been a heavy tic bite – a tic about the size of an owl. The tic bites occurred virtually simultaneously, and each of the men quickly began to feel the effects of a potent drug. Only one of them had the presence of mind to suspect something other than a late tic season -- with surprisingly aggressive tics -- and that was Bernie-One. (Chirles had always referred, indiscriminately, to all three of the men as Bernie).
For just a split second, the first Bernie had the fleeting realization of ambush, the response to reach for his automatic weapon, and the idea of making a sound of warning to Bernies Two and Three. But the drug was quicker than his brain / trigger-finger coordination, and his yell was strangely muted. While the others begin to slump off their horses by leaning forward and slightly to one side or another, Bernie-One fairly reeled over backwards, falling off his horse in an extremely awkward manner. His fall was accentuated by one foot not having the good grace to slip immediately out of the stirrup and thus allow a free and uninhibited fall. The result resembled somewhat a half gainer, double-twist-split, and jack-knife combination dive. Only the fact that all three were now so thoroughly drugged -- and thus their bodies very relaxed -- were their falls relatively painless and without serious injury. The horses also avoided the temptation to stomp the guards once they were on the ground. (Professional courtesy of Show Biz veterans, no doubt.)
Chirles had turned back from appraising the next stage of his intended romp when his guards had their falling out. At first he merely watched them as they poured themselves onto the ground. The coordinated, slow motion aspect of their fall more fascinated than alarmed him, as he intuitively recognized the symptoms of their drugged state. He knew immediately what had happened. For Chirles, this was becoming… interesting.
On cue, a half dozen men suddenly appeared from the village's dilapidated structures. Two came directly toward Chirles and made it clear that he was not going anywhere without permission. What they didn't know was that it had not even occurred to Chirles that he would want to leave and miss the proceedings. This was obviously a well planned ambush! Consequently, there was no disagreement here. Chirles simply watched, as several others ran to the guards now laid out on the ground, and began to check them for vital signs.
One of the newer intruders in particular caught Chirles' eye, as the man quickly and expertly checked each of the guards. That done, he began giving each a hypodermic shot in the arm -- possibly something to counteract the potentially lethal effects of the drug. It was then that Chirles recognized his old friend, "Doc Lupus". 'Now, this was fascinating!' he thought. 'But what in the hell was Doc Lupus doing here?'
Doc had been a MASH surgeon in Vietnam and upon his return to the states had begun spending his time trying to heal the veterans who had survived the war. It was then that he and Chirles had become friends, as both delved into the common goal of healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), even before it became an official diagnosis. Chirles smiled slightly, as he knew Doc -- perhaps more than any other man – was aware of the infinite variety and potential uses of drugs. His guards were in good hands. Clearly, the intent had not been to kill, but to use darts of sufficient potency to knock a healthy, dangerous male off his horse very quickly and without permanent damage. While the guards' social standing among their peers and their employer might be somewhat the worse for wear, the men would eventually wake up -- albeit with a major headache.
Chirles could not help but smile at the outpouring of events. In many respects it wasn't that much of a surprise; he had been sensing something for days. But he had never been able to quite put his finger on the source of his feelings. It was as if he had known something was afoot, but had not yet been appraised of exactly what.
His curiosity was aroused even more when a young man, perhaps in his late teens, approached him on horseback (a horse which Chirles immediately noticed and admired). Perhaps it was the youth's air of confidence, or just the broad smile, or the fact that he was riding such an excellent horse. But he had gathered Chirles' full attention at once. Then the young man spoke, with a deep, melodic voice. "Uncle Chirles, I presume."
Chirles immediately liked the young man, had a sense he knew him from a long time ago, and that the two of them were going to get along famously. It was as if two important destinies had crossed paths at precisely the proper time. And Chirles was a great believer in destinies.
But he was also one to measure his words. Despite his intuition -- of which he had enormous reserves -- and the sense that he knew exactly who the young man was -- Chirles was not yet ready to admit of even suspecting what was happening. Instead, he simply said, "I'm afraid you have the advantage of me, sir." At the same time, he continued to appraise the young man, noting his apparent age, his unstated courage, the way he carried himself, and his sudden appearance in Chirles's life on this particular day. ‘Virtually perfect timing', he thought. Chirles almost smiled.
The young man did not answer Chirles, but simply smiled, taking his own measure of the older man. For a moment the two men just smiled and appraised one another. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Chirles noticed a colorfully dressed woman as her horse brought her alongside the youth. Chirles' heavy, dark eyebrows raised in definite surprise as he abruptly recognized the young lady. He could not help but voice his amazement. "Iris!?"
The woman smiled. "Hello, Chirles. Happy Birthday."
Chirles ignored the reference to his birthday (he was not particularly thrilled to have reached the half century mark). Instead, he concentrated on the presence of one of his employer's trusted couriers. "I'm rather surprised to see you here, Iris." Then he added, his eyes gesturing to the activity about them, "Particularly under these circumstances."
Iris continued to smile but her voice was authoritative, carrying a sense of the very profound. "It's time for your return, Chirles."
"And your companions needed some inside information. Is that it?"
"Communications is what I'm good at. You should know that."
"But how did you know that I'd be here... This particular evening? I told no one."
"Your daughter knows you quite well. She's become very adept at anticipating your every move. And with it being your birthday..."
"You make it sound quite simple."
"Sometimes it is."
Gesturing to the young man he asked, "Aren't you going to introduce me?"
"All in good time, my friend," Iris answered. "This is not the moment. Still, I'm sure the two of you will get along fine. You have something in common." When Chirles did not immediately reply, she added, "You both have the same birthday."
Chirles looked at the young man again, gauging him for a moment. "Eighteen?"
The young man was visibly impressed, even in the dim light. "Very good."
"And is this your coming out party?"
Iris smiled again. "To tell the truth, Chirles: it's your coming out party."
"Oh? You mean a combination birthday and coming out party?"
"Something like that."
Chirles looked around. "So where's the party?"
"Not far. It's an easy ride. Especially for you."
For a moment, Chirles cocked his eyebrow. "Fascinating!"
The young man turned to Iris, "Time to ride." Then he glanced back at Chirles. "Wouldn't want to be late."
"No hints?" Chirles asked, willing for either of the young people to answer.
Iris smiled. "Let's just say that your expertise and talents need a slightly wider distribution than they've been getting of late."
One of the men, now on horseback and a rifle in his hand interrupted them by speaking to the young man, "Everything's completed, sir. I suggest we clear the area."
"Good," the young man answered. Then he turned directly to Chirles, "You will ride behind Iris and me. Close behind. My men will be behind you."
"Of course," Chirles agreed. Then when the young man hesitated, looking intently at the older man, Chirles added, "Don't worry. I intend to follow you very close. This is far too intriguing for me to simply wander off on my own. Besides, it will be nice to see my daughter again. It's been a long time. We have much to talk about, and apparently she's been very busy with new projects."
With that the young man smiled, wheeled his horse around, and took off down the hill. Iris moved with him as if in formation. Chirles followed Iris and her friend without any hesitation, apparently eager to attend any party that combined two birthdays and a coming out. Three of the men, on horseback, followed Chirles, as the others finished their work with the blissfully sleeping guards. One stuffed a wad of bills into each man's shirt, thus giving each one the option of avoiding the wrath of his employer and a chance to make his own escape. The new man then quickly mounted his horse. Within moments the area was clear of activity, save for the shallow breathing of three former guards.
Chapter Three – Eldest Son
Chapter Five – The Children
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]