A tale of two redcoats

“What is it that you’re working on, Merlin?”

Strange looked up from his notebook, eyebrows raised in question. He had been lost deep in thought and had forgotten that anyone else was even present. Colonel De Lancey was looking at him now from the opposite side of the table, waiting for an answer.

“… I am trying to decipher precisely what it was that caused my protection spell to go awry.”

De Lancey pushed aside his papers and sat back in his chair. “Did it?” he asked. “Go awry, I mean?”

Strange cocked his head to the side, regarding De Lancey with a curious look. “I turned Major Grant into a fox, Colonel.”

Title: A tale of two redcoats

Author: nothinghamshire

Characters: Colquhoun Grant, William De Lancey & Jonathan Strange

Summary: This is the sequel to The Curious Incident of the Fox in the Wartime, written as a birthday gift for solitaryjo.  It is followed by The Thrill of the Chase, a response by solitaryjo.

This fic does not currently appear elsewhere on the net, so if you don’t follow nothinghamshire and solitaryjo on Tumblr (you should!), and you’d like to leave feedback, please do so below.

~*~

“What is it that you’re working on, Merlin?”

Strange looked up from his notebook, eyebrows raised in question. He had been lost deep in thought and had forgotten that anyone else was even present. Colonel De Lancey was looking at him now from the opposite side of the table, waiting for an answer.

“… I am trying to decipher precisely what it was that caused my protection spell to go awry.”

De Lancey pushed aside his papers and sat back in his chair. “Did it?” he asked. “Go awry, I mean?”

Strange cocked his head to the side, regarding De Lancey with a curious look. “I turned Major Grant into a fox, Colonel.”

Grant, seated to De Lancey’s right, smiled down at the map he was perusing. De Lancey’s mouth twitched in amusement. “I remember it well, sir, but your intention was to protect and disguise Grant, was it not? It seems to me that your spell worked very well.”

Strange sighed, putting down his pencil. “Yes, but… I can’t very well turn the entire army into foxes, can I? Certainly they will be disguised, but I can’t imagine that they would prove to be very effective in combat. For one, they’d have a devil of a time handling guns.”

Grant looked up at this. “You wish to use magic to protect and hide the entirety of our forces?”

“Certainly!” Strange said, baffled by the very notion that his idea should be questioned. “If I can manage it, well, we should be unstoppable. Surely Lord Wellington could not object to that?”

Grant mulled this over for a moment or two. “If it should go awry again,” he said at length. “And we suddenly had tens of thousands of foxes roaming about the peninsular, I imagine Lord Wellington would object quite strongly. Unless he was of course among their number and then I am afraid you would be on the receiving end of a rather nasty bite to the ankle.”

De Lancey chuckled, but Strange wouldn’t rise to the bait. “I do not see that it can hurt to try,” he said. “In fact, I feel duty bound to do so.”

De Lancey nodded. “I admire your determination, Merlin. Though I do wonder where you shall find so great a quantity of heart shaped pendants.”

Strange felt heat rise in his cheeks as Grant cleared his throat and turned his attention back to his work. Strange had not expected that Grant would be willing to share that little piece of information.

“There are any number of tokens that might suffice…” he began, but De Lancey ceased him with a wave of his hand.

“Forgive me,” De Lancey said. “This is a serious business and you are right that you ought to give it a try, but one favour, if you please?”

“Name it, Colonel.”

“No more experimenting with Grant. We made light of it before, but truly our heads would roll if any harm came to him.”

Grant huffed a short laugh, looking up at De Lancey with a wry, questioning look. De Lancey shrugged.

“Yes,” Strange replied, chagrined. “Yes, of course. As you wish.”

Two days later, Strange was alone in his tent, sitting on the ground with his notes scattered about him. After much deliberation, he felt confident that he had determined the particulars of the spell and was ready to try a new enchantment, but found himself in the unfortunate situation of having no suitable object to serve as a talisman. The pendant had been ideal as it was small, easy to conceal and its relatively unique appearance in a camp of soldiers meant there was little chance of it being mistaken as belonging to someone else if it was mislaid. Looking through his belongings now, Strange found that he had to choose between a pencil, a shaving brush, or an item of clothing. Something which could be worn seemed preferable and given that his choice of garments was somewhat limited these days, he decided that he could do without one less cravat and chose the one which was most tattered and soiled.

He performed his bit of magic with efficiency, holding the scrap of material out in front of himself and speaking the incantation under his breath. He felt the loose ends of the spell tie together and allowed himself a triumphant little smile. There was no doubt in his mind that this time he had managed it, so he had no qualms in putting the scarf about his neck. However, just as he was about to begin knotting it, Grant’s words echoed in his thoughts. If it should go awry again…

If it should, Strange would find himself in a spot of trouble. No one other than De Lancey and Grant knew that he was attempting this spell and if should suddenly transform into a fox – or something worse – there would be no magician to right it. Cursing under his breath, Strange tucked the cravat into his pocket, climbed to his feet and blustered out of his tent.

He walked about the camp until he happened upon Colonel De Lancey and was unsurprised to find Major Grant nearby.

“Merlin,” De Lancey said by way of greeting. “Don’t tell me: you’ve found an exceedingly well stocked jewelers?”

Strange ignored this, giving a bitter little smile. “Colonel De Lancey,” he said. “Major Grant. Forgive me if I am intruding.”

Grant shook his head. “Not at all, Merlin. I was just about to go and find a cup of wine and a bite to eat if you’d care to join me?”

“Ah,” Strange said. “A kind offer, but I wonder if you might be persuaded to delay. Just slightly, of course.”

Grant raised an eyebrow in question.

Strange turned to De Lancey, looking very pleased with himself “I am happy to report that I have modified my spell and have one again performed it.”

Now it was De Lancey who was arching an eyebrow. “Well, I am sorry to have to say it, but I fear it hasn’t worked. I can see you as plain as day.”

Strange rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I have performed the spell, which is to say I have enchanted a talisman, but I am not wearing it because it has occurred to me that it would be wise to err on the side of caution.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Grant replied.

Strange ignored this remark and instead turned to De Lancey. “Now, I see that there could be some danger in performing the magic on myself and I have given you my word that I will not perform in upon Major Grant, so I wonder, Colonel, if you might be willing to volunteer yourself?”

So it was that they ended up by a small copse of trees, not too far from the camp but far enough that they had the required privacy. Strange had asked that Grant join them, in case his assistance was needed and De Lancey had seemed content to go along with the plan up until the moment when Strange produced the cravat from his pocket.

“What is it that will happen to me?” he asked, warily eyeing the not at all suspicious seeming neck scarf.

“As with the last attempt, you will become impervious to harm and be seen as a natural part of the environment,” Strange answered simply.

De Lancey frowned. “A natural part of the environment. But not a fox?”

Strange gave an exasperated sigh. “No. Not a fox. It merely means that you will… blend in.”

De Lancey looked at Grant. Grant shrugged.

“Very well,” De Lancey said, slipping out his jacket and handing it to Grant. “I am in your hands, Mr Strange.”

Strange looked at Grant, who gave a firm nod. With that, Strange wrapped the cravat around De Lancey’s neck and began to knot it.

“God speed,” Grant said with a grin.

De Lancey didn’t have the chance to respond before the magic took hold. Grant watched in wonder as the atmosphere around Strange and De Lancey shifted and in the blink of an eye, De Lancey was no longer there. Just as before, when Grant had been the subject of the spell, all that remained was an empty uniform pooled upon the ground. Strange looked back at Grant with a self-satisfied smile.

“Capital,” he said to himself.

“So… where is he?” Grant asked.

“Hm? Oh… well, he’s,” Strange waved his hands about aimlessly. “Around.”

Grant stepped forward, looking about the clearing. “And clearly nude. Was that intentional?”

Strange looked down at De Lancey’s uniform, his frown giving way to an unconvincing nod. “Yes. Quite intentional.”

At that moment, there was a distinct rustling coming from the discarded clothing. Strange and Grant looked at one another.

“Merlin…?”

“Ah…”

Grant carefully nudged De Lancey’s shirt with this foot, then the breeches. He shook his head, about to reassure Strange that they were not to be subjected to a repeat performance, when two tiny red paws, swiftly followed by a small tuft-eared head emerged from De Lancey’s left boot. Grant flinched and stepped back, his brain not quite making the connection between the squirrel and the Colonel before it was too late. He lunged forward to grab the boot at the same moment as Strange, which only resulted in them sending it sprawling and the squirrel – De Lancey – skittered off into the undergrowth.

A few seconds passed as the Major and the magician stood, dumbfounded, looking off into the trees.

“How absolutely fascinating…” Strange murmured, breaking the silence.

Grant’s eyebrows rose towards his hairline. “Merlin, if you start to take notes, so help me-”

Strange rolled his eyes. Grant shot him an accusatory look. They ran off into the wood in search of their errant Colonel.

“I imagine,” Strange said. “That we must have seemed terribly frightening to so very small a creature.”

They had been walking in circles for a good thirty minutes, examining the treetops as they went.

“Perhaps,” Grant replied vacantly, his attention focussed on the task at hand. “Yet I find it hard to imagine De Lancey feeling intimidated, whatever his size.”

“I never did ask… were you aware of your own mind? When you were a fox, I mean. Is that why you came back?”

Grant paused and eased out the crick in his neck from looking up for so long. “It was very instinctual, at first. I only felt that I should not be where I was, that there was danger and I ought to flee. It was impossible to resist that urge”

Strange yearned to reach into his pocket for his notebook. He settled instead on touching the closest tree, feeling the ridges of its gnarled bark under his fingers. “And after that?”

A small, boyish smile curved on Grant’s lips. “I had the time of my life. I fear I couldn’t properly put it into words, but I felt… free, I suppose.”

“So, you could control it?”

Grant nodded. “Yes, once I had become accustomed to it.”

He was watching Strange carefully, an all too obvious thought beginning to take shape in his mind. Strange reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small woven bag.

“I have kept this with me, for fear it might fall into the wrong hands. I did not think we would have use for it again.”

He took the pendant from the bag and held it out, offering it to Grant.

“A fox is a natural predator, you know,” Grant said, even as he took the necklace.

“Precisely! I have no doubt you will be able to hunt him and you need not fear; he will be quite safe. I saw bullets bounce off you like rain off a window pane. That part of the magic has been successful at least.”

Resigned to his task, Grant briskly removed his outer clothing, until he was left in just his drawers. Strange politely averted his eyes until the moment when Grant slipped the golden chain over his head and once more transformed into the handsome, lithe creature that Strange’s magic had made him. Despite Grant’s assertion that he could master the instincts of the animal, the fox reacted in much the same way as it had on their first encounter, warily eyeing Strange before turning and dashing off into the wood.

“Grant!” Strange yelled, running off after it. “I say, Grant! Do not forget De Lancey!”

Fortunately for Strange, foxes were not inclined to scamper off up trees, so he had a far easier job of following the transformed Grant than they’d had tracking the squirrel version of De Lancey. A squirrel! The precise detail of what he had done wrong baffled him and he knew that he would stay up half the night trying to fathom it, but the immediate moment called for more pressing action. Losing one of Lord Wellington’s prized officers had been one matter, but Strange dreaded to think what would happen to him if he had to confess to turning two into wild animals. A flash of red fur to his left caught his attention and he slowed his pace, not wanting to startle the fox. The creature itself had come to a standstill and had its nose pressed to the ground, snuffling about the base of a tree. Strange stepped tentatively towards it.

“… Major Grant?” he asked, softly.

The fox looked up. Strange froze. It regarded him carefully for a moment, then went back to the business of sniffing. Strange took another two steps forward. The fox sat back on his haunches and looked up into the tree. Strange followed its gaze and sure enough, there on the lowest branch sat a small red squirrel. It was entirely motionless, its flat black eyes fixed on the fox.

Strange crouched down, a mere few feet away now.

“Grant?” he tried again. “I trust you can hear me in there. Is that… is that De Lancey?”

The fox went up on its hind legs, it’s fore paws resting against the trunk of the tree. Strange could have sworn it looked concerned. Above them, the squirrel made an angry sort of chittering sound and Strange would have laughed at the utter preposterousness of the situation had it not been imperative that he lure his companions back.

“It is him, isn’t it?” he said, keeping his voice quiet. “And he hasn’t quite remembered himself yet…”

The fox made an odd sort of bark, which made the squirrel chitter anew. It was a fierce little thing, that much was sure. A lesser squirrel would surely have retreated, but De Lancey held firm. He would defend his tree with his life. Again, Grant tried to communicate, this time with a soft crooning howl, the like of which Strange had never heard and wasn’t sure an actual fox was capable of making. The squirrel made an inquisitive sound in reply. Strange was stunned; it was truly remarkable and altogether odd.

The fox dropped down onto all fours and approached Strange. It nudged at Strange’s knee with its head. He didn’t quite take the hint, so it repeated the action until he stood.

“You wish me to leave?” he asked and once more the fox butted against him. “Alright, alright. You have made your point.”

Leaving the bizarre sounds of animal conversation behind him, he returned to where they had left Grant’s discarded uniform. With nothing else to do, he sat and waited, nervously tapping his foot and watching the gap in the trees through which he had come. Some ten minutes had passed when he spied the fox sauntering into view, a small red bundle of fur clasped in its mouth. Strange’s stomach churned.

“Dear Lord,” he said under his breath, scarcely daring to move. Had he been wrong about the spell? Had De Lancey been entirely vulnerable and Grant powerless to his hunting instincts? He crawled forward towards the fox. “Grant? Listen to me very carefully… I must ask that you drop that squirrel.”

The fox bent its head and very gently parted its jaws, setting its prize down on the floor. Strange, fearing the worse, tentatively reached out. The squirrel righted itself and looked up at him quizzically. Strange laughed. It was wearing a miniature cravat – his cravat, he realised – which the spell must have caused to shrink. It was ridiculously endearing.

“Colonel,” Strange said. “Thank heavens.”

The fox made a huffing sound which was eerily like a laugh and Strange decided in that moment that he’d had quite enough of these peculiar versions of his friends. He very carefully extricated the tiny cravat from about the throat of the squirrel and sighed with huge relief as De Lancey, entirely unscathed and entirely naked, reappeared before him. For once in his life, De Lancey was speechless. He merely blinked, watching as Strange removed the pendant from around the fox’s neck to reveal Grant, who immediately spluttered and complained of having fur in his mouth.

Strange quickly tucked the two enchanted objects into the bag and stuffed it into his pocket.

“Merlin?” De Lancey said, sounding very unsure of himself.

Strange and Grant shared a concerned look.

“Are you quite alright, Colonel?” Strange asked.

De Lancey shook his head, as though clearing away some unpleasant thought, then regarded them both with his usual confident smirk. “You will not be surprised to hear that I have decided to not recommend this particular magic to his lordship, but I do wonder if you might enchant the hats of the French and turn them all into voles?”

Strange almost crumpled with relief as Grant and De Lancey began to laugh. So it was that the officers retrieved their uniforms and the three of them returned to camp, Grant and De Lancey arguing the superior merits of each of their animal counterparts the entire way.

5 responses to “A tale of two redcoats

  1. YES! A sequel to the delightful Fox transfiguration story, and it’s every bit as beautifully-handled, and well-balanced as its predecessor. Good, good *rubs hands*

    Grant was as patient and humorous as ever (LOVED the line about fox!Wellington biting Merlin on the ankle).

    De Lancey was perfectly realised throughout. It’s so good to see him coming to the fore in Team Peninsular stories, because he’s an all-round splendid fellow and deserves more attention. You give us just the right balance of cheerful wit and practical caution, but that line about heart-shaped pendants? That made me hoot with laughter, and I loved Grant and Strange’s reactions.

    I could have slapped Strange for ALMOST putting on the enchanted neck-cloth himself – you utter doofus, Jonathan! – and props to Grant for commenting upon it.

    The appearance – and rapid disappearance – of squirrel!De Lancey was unutterably sweet. I loved his bold, angry defence of his tree, and the tiny cravat was ADORABLE.

    The story unfolds in a very natural and completely rational way. The animal conversation between the two was creepy rather than cute, as it should be. When both were transformed back into men (naked men *fans self*), they reacted with their usual good humour to the unusual experience, and like Strange, I was relieved that they seemed to come through it unscathed. Oh: “Grant and De Lancey arguing the superior merits of each of their animal counterparts the entire way”: yes, I can totally see this.

    What else is going on? Grant and De Lancey trust Merlin not to cock up and kill them. Or are they just impetuous? The former, I think, and I love reading about Jonathan’s experiments: there should be many more stories about this. The special relationship between Grant and De Lancey is explored a little. The quality of writing is superb, as ever: great narrative flow, an easy, fluid style, a pleasure to read.

    Only his Lordship remains unaccounted for. If you ever revisit this, may I suggest a majestic red stag?

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Thrill of the Chase | Not Particularly Safe·

  3. I somehow missed this before, and I’m kicking myself because it is so wonderful! Squirrel!De Lancey emerging from his boot is the cutest thing I can imagine, and he and Grant communicating in animal form is perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Curious Incident Of The Fox In The Wartime | Not Particularly Safe·

  5. Pingback: Jonathan Stoat | Not Particularly Safe·

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