Pete Felgate smoked in sharp needy drags, eyes glazing over as he counts the bricks in the wall of the bingo hall. From inside the faint chiming rhythms of game play and the muted cheer of the players was soothing to him.
The letter was still in his pocket, the polite wheedling apology from the local health authority that there wasn’t money to fund the medication. Jen had idly wondered if it had been his smoking that had undermined their appeal, but he knew it wasn’t that simple. There just wasn’t the money for the medication. Nothing personal in it.
Numbers on a spreadsheet.
The quivering politicians who announced how much harder things needed to be but weren’t sacrificing anything themselves. He’d recalled the bitter conversations between patrols. You’d never do it for queen and country, you did it for your oppos. People gave a shit about each other but they voted in ways that made sense to anyone who understood their history.
Pete had about an hour until he signed on and Jen was at the college letting hairdressing students cut her hair to save money so he had the bitter luxury of time to waste.
He stood in the alleyways between the public toilets and the bingo hall at the back of the job centre, steeling himself for another awkward meeting. Cancer wasn’t considered an impediment to employment by the faceless blind rules he lived under these days. He figured it cancelled out his military service so he had a square go, same as everyone else.
That he met the endless supply of shit thrown his way with a grim determination was misconstrued as apathy. Even Jen would weep only in moments.
Selling her mum’s rings for a grubby pile of cash to a simian bailiff had been a low point for them. It was when he’d said aloud that he was glad they’d not had kids that she broke for a while. Locked herself in the bathroom and let him listen to her keening sobs.
Bored with the bricks, Pete looked at a pile of damp,crumpled boxes that slouched like a drunk against the wall. He walked over to it and as he drew closer, the bright glint of yellow drew his curiosity.
He pitched his roll up away and dragged the box towards him.
The light that came from the box was burnished gold, jewels embedded in the guard set above a hilt bound with warm, soft leather made dark with sweat and use. Without thinking, Pete touched it, his mouth hung open and pupils dilated with awe. The merest brush with his index finger was a revelation.
Awaiting resurrection, called to the son of Uther Pendragon to aid him against the enemies of Albion. The sight of her, incandescent skin and eyes that shone with the clear passion of a love that would cost a man everything.
Son-cousin, golden skin and rotted breath, immune to blades kiss.
A life spent in defence of an ideal larger than any one man. Returned to loamy depths and mossy beds.
I await you to become Albion’s champion once again.
Pete flinched back, clutching his hand like he’d been scalded. He could not speak but his mind raced with old knowledge and new purpose. It took everything within him to retain his essential Pete-ness but even that was renewed.
He breathed in, and found that he could do so without that sickening ache creeping through him. He stood up, taller than mere height and took the sword from the box.
He never made his appointment and by the time his sanction letter had arrived, it joined an increasing pile of bills and demands. Of course, him and Jen had been featured on the news, addressing a crowd of wild eyed believers whilst behind him stood the implacable knights of old. Smooth marble features wearing armour that would,in time, shrug off anti tank rounds and swords that cut through steel plate.
His employment adviser was interviewed and she spoke about him with the same bemusement as his friends and family did.
‘He was a good man. Loved his country, but wasn’t happy about what it was becoming. ‘
In his sleep, Pete still wondered how things would have been if he’d never looked in the box.