Antony knew he was dying. He’d felt the thud and the kick as the bullet had struck him. He’d gone to the ground thinking that godforsaken vest had finally done something besides cause him to sweat his bollocks off. It didn’t register until he saw that first spray of blood, so red it shone – arterial blood.
Laying there on that dusty road, he swore. At least, he tried to swear but all that came out was a jaggered gasp. He realised he couldn’t draw in air.
He thought he’d be more panicked, had gone over the possibility thousands of times in his head, calculated his chances. They never looked good.
His body reacted without him, hour after hour of drills had him move without thinking. His thick gloves were off and his hands were at his throat. The blood was so warm, even under the blazing sun. It felt like it would scald him.
Where was the medic?
He forced himself to ignore the darkness nipping at the edge of his vision, to ignore the burning in his lungs.
His fingers groped at his neck, slick and wet with blood. Two holes, one small, one large. High-velocity round.
There was no pain. He knew there should be but there wasn’t.
A finger probed tentatively confirming what he already knew: it had passed through his larynx, nicked the carotid on exit.
Where was that fucking medic?
Why was he here?
What was he doing in this fucking country?
A tear formed in his eye, rolled slowly down to fall on the parched earth. From somewhere high overhead, he heard a familiar whump whump. MEDEVAC chopper? Was it coming for him? He searched but couldn’t see it. The sun blotted everything from the sky.
He knew there was nothing he could do besides wait and hold on. He just didn’t know how long he could hold on for.
The darkness was spreading. He shivered.
Whump whump. Louder this time. Closer.
How long had it been since he’d last taken a breath? He couldn’t remember. Time passed too fast, time passed too slowly.
He didn’t want to die here.
He wanted to see his family again. He needed to see them again.
His wife, she’d be so angry at him if she knew. She’d hated the idea of him signing up, worried for him while he was away. He wanted to tell her she was right: he was an idiot. He loved her so much.
His sons, Michael and Lee, seven and three now. He needed to pick them up, toss them over his shoulders. He needed to see them smile, to hear them laugh.
He craned his neck as far as the helmet would allow, trying to see the chopper.
What was it waiting for?
A burst of colour filled the sky. A shimmer of greens and blues.
He saw her then, on that horse.
She was beautiful.
She was terrifying.
She was here for him.
V is for Valkyries
The Valkyries (‘Choosers of the Slain’) are beautiful young women from the Norse pantheon. Mounted upon winged horses and armed with helms and spears, they roam the battlefields in search of the bravest warriors for Odin’s armies. When the Valkyries ride forth, the flicking of their armour creates the Aurora Borealis.