Don’t Call Me A Hero: Major Harker.
by Kate Johnson
He doesn’t really like being called a hero. He doesn’t really reckon he’s done anything heroic. He’s just done his job. It’s never occurred to him not to.
For Harker, being a soldier is about one thing only: looking after your mates. And as he’s been promoted, his mates have become his lads, they’re in his care, he’s their leader. But he’s still looking after them. To Harker, success isn’t measured by how many yards of land you’ve won from the enemy that day, it’s in counting heads and getting the same number as you did before you started fighting.
All right, he has bigger concerns than that. He belongs to his country, body and soul. He’ll do anything the general tells him to, because she’s his general and he’s a major and that’s just how it works. Questioning orders is like questioning why a bullet comes out of the gun when you pull the trigger. And because he respects the general, most of the time he’ll do what she asks, even when it’s not an order. Most of the time.
He didn’t join the army in search of glory. Of course, at the time there wasn’t a war on. At the time, the army offered the best prospects for a working-class lad with no education and an ageing mother to support. Twenty-five years’ service and you get a decent pension. Retire as a sergeant, that’s a very good pension indeed. Enough to find a nice little place, maybe raise a family. He can send his pay home and not worry that his mother isn’t being cared for. Or course she didn’t really want him to join the army, she wanted him to go to the grammar school and become a teacher. In his heart of hearts, that’s what Harker wanted, too. But you can’t always get what you want. He knows that pretty well.
The army breaks some men and makes others. Harker was one of the latter. He’s a natural leader. That promotion to sergeant came quickly and deservedly. He’s still not sure if his ex-wife was behind his commission as an officer, but the role suits him. More men to look after, sure, but he’s got a natural authority, he takes care of his men and he listens to them. They know he’s got their best interests at heart. They know he won’t ask them to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. They know he’d actually do the dangerous stuff for them if he thought he could spare them the pain.
He’s got about as much in common with a traditional leading man as he has with a teapot. He’s not good-looking, he hasn’t cut his hair in years, and he’ll only shave if someone threatens him with a knife. He doesn’t have sexy and exciting scars, he has ugly patches of scar tissue where people have tried, repeatedly, to kill him. He has no idea how many confirmed kills he has to his name. Only a bastard would count. He can use a sword or a gun or he can fight with his bare hands, and if you offered him a fencing foil he’d punch you in the face. He doesn’t see the point of wearing a suit or having special shoes to go with it. Hates his dress uniform with all its shiny braid. He refuses to refine his accent, especially when there are posh people around to annoy. He’ll hold the door open for you whether you’re male or female, soldier or civilian, but you won’t get called Sir or Ma’am unless you happen to be of a higher rank than him. Or he’s patronising you. He spends most of his pay on importing cigarettes, which he smokes when he’s thinking, or when he’s worried, or frustrated, or stressed. Which is most of the time.
He leads like a wolf alpha leads: unself-consciously, without arrogance, and without vanity. He leads with natural authority and the respect of his men. He’ll go to hell and back for someone he considers to be his.
He’s Major William Harker of the 75th of Foot, and he’s at your service.
Excerpt from The Untied Kingdom, available from Choc Lit 1st April 2011
‘Sir! Sir, are you all right?’
That was Tallulah. Grimly, Harker dropped to the stony shore under the Tower’s walls and let the body over his shoulder flop on the pebbles.
‘I’m all right,’ he said. ‘Get a doctor, would you?’
She peered closer at the limp body. ‘Is it – is it a person? Is it alive?’
Harker, busy performing mouth-to-mouth and trying not to think about what the drowned woman would be coughing up if she was still alive, didn’t bother to answer. In the background, people were shouting. The guards on the walls had seen him dive into the river and come out with some sort of bedraggled alien.
Well, it wasn’t an alien, Harker was pretty sure. It was a human woman, and she – yes, there she went, coughing up river water through blue lips.
He rolled on to his back and fought the urge to throw up. Who knew what he’d ingested in the Thames’ foetid depths?
People were streaming out of the South Gate now, and a guy with a stethoscope flung over his pyjamas was kneeling by the unconscious woman.
‘She all right?’ Harker said, and the doctor nodded.
‘I think so. We need to get her inside. Can I get a stretcher?’
‘Dunno,’ Harker said, mostly to himself. ‘Can you?’ Patting his pockets, he found his cigarettes – a soggy, unsmokable mess. Dammit. Well, if he couldn’t have a quiet smoke, he’d have a quiet nap instead.
He lay back, closed his eyes, and tried to block out all the noise and the light. It was a trick he’d perfected after years on campaign. These days he could sleep anywhere, any time.
Then a foot prodded his ribs, and he opened one eye, grumpily.
‘Well, then, hero,’ Saskia said, her face demonic in the torchlight. ‘I suppose you’ll be needing medical attention, too?’
Harker waved a hand. Truth be told, he was so wet and cold he was beginning to worry about his extremities. ‘Get me a packet of smokes and I’ll survive,’ he said.
‘I think we can run to that.’ Saskia extended a hand. ‘Come on. Wheeler wants to see you.’
Harker groaned. ‘Why? What’d I do?’
Saskia just glared at him.
‘Oh, right.’ Ignoring her hand, he hauled himself upright. ‘Let’s go and face the fun, then.’
Dripping wet, he squelched through the gate after Saskia and gave the guard there a damp salute.
‘Sir, is it true you pulled an alien from the river?’
Harker rolled his eyes at Saskia. ‘Yep. Blue skin, it had, and one giant wing.’
The young man’s eyes were enormous. ‘Gosh!’
‘That wasn’t necessary,’ Saskia said, as they made their way to the General’s quarters next to the mess.
‘Yeah, but it was fun,’ Harker said.
Kate is a prolific writer of romantic and paranormal fiction and lives in the south east of England with a small and cheerfully insane collection of cats. She misspent her youth watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and reading Terry Pratchett, which sort of made writing fantasy a bit inevitable. Under the name Cat Marsters she also writes award-winning erotic romance. She lives behind a keyboard in Essex and can be found online most days talking about men she fancies, the pride of adored felines aiding her ambition to become Crazy Cat Lady, and the Demon Puppy hindering it. Sometimes she talks about writing. Occasionally, she stops talking about writing and actually does it.
Buy link: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781906931681/The-Untied-Kingdom