Disclaimer: With the exception of the human characters, I do not own any of the characters from Watership Down and Tales from Watership Down, or their screen adaptations, which are the property of Richard Adams and Martin Rosen. Any similarity to anyone, alive or dead, is purely coincidental and no absolutely profit is intended from this work. Rated PG for some violence in later chapters.
Notice to all readers: This is a sequel to Watership Down the New World (also found in my profile). If you haven't read that story already, stop reading now or you will be very confused!
January 15th 2011
Although the winter snow still had several weeks to melt, the sky was clear and bright on that day, in Highgate Cemetery in London. A procession marched towards the latest grave dug in the Johnson family plot in the heart of the ancient graveyard. Today was the funeral of a Royal Navy hero who had recently perished at sea, whilst doing his duty in the midst of the war that had ravaged the world.
The Third World War, as the latest conflict between the East and West had been named, had lasted three long years. Bloodshed and destruction had been high on both sides; but not so high as the loss of life in the Battle of the South China Sea; destroyers, aircraft carriers, resupply convoys, submarines, and aircraft alike now lay wrecked on the bottom of the Pacific, entombing their crews that had gone down with them.
Among the many vessels lost was the HMS Shardik, one of the finest submarines in the Royal Navy, commandeered by Captain Royce Johnson on his first command. Like all war heroes, Royce and his crew had met with a bad end after running foul of a Chinese destroyer, following an engine failure that had left them sitting ducks, drifting without power, within the enemy lines. Such was written in the Admiral's letter received by Royce's only living relative, along with the posthumously awarded Victoria Cross: his estranged younger brother, Dr Alan Johnson.
Since childhood, the two brothers had had a bitter feud, eventually up to the point that they remained relatives in name only. In contrast to his brother, Royce had never married or started a family; instead, he had found his call in the Royal Navy, as Chief of Boat, executive officer and finally Captain. Having circumnavigated the globe several times throughout his career on the high seas, Royce was nicknamed 'Her Majesty's Sea Wolf' by his fellow officers.
Unfortunately, like all sea wolves before him, he had eventually found his match in the enemy. The HMS Shardik was registered as 'lost with all hands', the full details of its final mission classified, and the wreck never found. For his contribution to the Royal Navy, Royce's superiors had given him a fine funeral and, as per his wishes, his empty coffin would be buried alongside his parents in the family plot.
A fancy copper casket, wrapped in the British flag and containing Royce's Cross, as well as several of his prized possessions, but not his body, was lowered into the ground by several marines, while A small group of attendees watched in silence, their hands crossed in respect. Despite Royce's reputation, the number of his funeral attendees was rather small: several fellow officers, his direct superior and close friend Dr Clint Van Owen, a military scientist and defence contractor specialising in bio weaponry, Father Herbert Campbell, a priest and former head of the orphanage where Royce had grown up, and finally Royce's estranged brother Alan, accompanied by his wife and daughter. None of the attendees acknowledged the presence of yet another attendee who stood apart from the others, surveying the funeral from afar.
While a priest conducted the ceremony, only one person wasn't paying attention to the proceedings: Alan's six-year-old daughter Lucy, bored silly, had wondered off, looking at all the different tombstones and monuments. As she run around a tombstone, chasing a rabbit, she run straight into the unidentified spectator, knocking her off her feet. The stranger had the wind knocked out of him for an instant, caught by surprise, before helping her up.
"Watch it, little miss! Are you all right? What's your name?" Lucy looked a little taken aback at being spoken to by a stranger, yet her confidence returned by his gentle nature, as she replied, "Yes, thank you, mister. My name is Lucy, Lucy Johnson. Mummy and Daddy have come to say goodbye to my Uncle Royce. They said he is going to Heaven to meet Grandma and Grandpa…""I see," replied the stranger, smiling at her childish innocence, "Maybe we should get you back to your parents?" As if on queue, a feminine voice called from the direction of the crowd. "Lucy! Lucy, where are you, dear?" The stranger turned and saw a red-haired woman approaching, looking concerned, "There you are! How many times have I told you not to wonder off alone…Oh," she said, as she caught sight of the stranger holding her daughter's hand, "I am ever so sorry, she is always curious…"
"That's quite all right, Mrs…" replied the stranger curtly, pulling his cap low as if to hide his face, "I am sorry, what's your name, ma'am?"
"Johnson, Mary Johnson," the woman replied politely, shaking hands with the stranger who, strangely enough, did not introduce himself in return, "Did you know my brother-in-law?"
"I guess you could say that, Mrs Johnson," replied the stranger softly, "I am sorry if I'm intruding. I just wanted to pay my last respects to Royce. I'll be on my way soon…"
"Would you like to talk to my husband?" offered Mary, "The death of his brother has hit him rather bad; I am sure he'd appreciate talking to someone that had been close to him…" The stranger hesitated for a moment, as if considering the offer. But as he caught sight of Alan thanking Dr Van Owen, who had taken the liberty of making the funeral arrangements for his brother, his face formed into a slight frown and he shook his head.
"I am sorry Mrs Johnson but I was only an old acquaintance of Royce's; it would be inappropriate for me to impose like that. And I really must get going…"
"Are you sure you're feeling all right, sir?" persisted Mary, looking curiously at the stranger. There was something very peculiar about his attitude, despite his good manners, and even with his cap and sunglasses obscuring his face, Mary could have sworn there was something oddly familiar about him... However, she shrugged it off.
"Well then, goodbye sir." She turned to leave, clutching her daughter's hand, when the stranger suddenly called her back, "Wait, Mrs Johnson, do you happen to know what has become of Royce's old dog, Rowf?"
"That old rottweiler?" asked Mary, "I think Royce's boss has taken him in temporarily until they can find a new home for him. My husband suggested we take him in, but we live in a flat without a garden, and we both work long hours. It would be impossible…" But the stranger looked pleased.
"If it's all right, I'll send someone from Royce's old headquarters to pick him up tomorrow. I can manage a dog just fine." Mary smiled.
"I am sure Dr Van Owen won't have any objection. Besides, I'd hate to see it go to the pound. I'll tell him." The man nodded in gratitude and as Mary turned to leave again, she heard the man say, "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Mary. Please send your husband my condolences for Royce." Giving Lucy a playful wink, which she returned with a wink of her own, the stranger turned to leave, pausing for a moment at the gate of the cemetery, to cast one last glance at the Johnson family standing around the now filled grave of Royce Johnson.
Mary and Lucy made their way back to Alan, who was conversing with his old mentor, Father Herbert. When Alan and Royce had lived at his orphanage as children, the priest and retired soldier had taken a great interest in the two brothers, treating Alan almost like a son, and to a lesser extent, Royce, trying unsuccessfully to mend the breach which had been rapidly growing between them after their mother had died giving birth to her youngest son. As a result of that tragedy, Royce had always despised his brother, eventually forcing them to part ways forever.
Although Alan had secretly always hoped for a chance to make amends with his older brother someday, just like Father Herbert had wanted, unfortunately that notion was now lost with Royce's death. Lucy tugged on her mother's arm, "Mummy, who was that man?"
"I have no idea sweetheart. No idea at all…"
Although Mary was certain that that this mysterious stranger was somehow not a complete stranger to her, and maybe not to her husband either, she never lived long enough to find out. Only two months after Royce's funeral, it made the headlines that she and her daughter had been brutally slain by an unknown killer during a family daytrip to Kingsclere. A year later, the incident was on the headlines again, when it came out that a terrorist faction had been targeting her husband, who was also killed attempting to unravel the plot, becoming a posthumous hero just like his brother.
Royce's superior Dr Van Owen mysteriously disappeared only two days after the funeral. His house was found burned to the ground and all his private work lost, but no traces of his body. Whether he had been kidnapped and murdered by some rival scientist, or committed suicide because his company was revealed to be filing was bankruptcy, remained a mystery for years until it was forgotten altogether when civilisation was destroyed by the asteroid apocalypse of 2029. Royce's grave was left forgotten for centuries, with not a living soul aware of the terrible secret that lay tucked beneath the ground, waiting to be discovered someday…
Author's note: My beloved readers, I am back! Behold the sequel to Watership Down The New World, just like I promised I would write. As in the previous story, I will be writing many chapters that will end in cliffhangers or unanswered questions, which will be answered in due course. As I requested before, good reviews will speed up my rate of updating, so PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO REVIEW! Reviews are inspiration and will help improve the story greatly. Enjoy!