She watched him carefully as he bucked the straps of his helmet and closed the visor. He appeared distant and passionless, quite obviously focused. He donned his heavy gauntlets and accepted his practice sword. Several minutes of weapon exercises left her warm and loose, ready for the bout.
“Be careful, Martina,” her companion warned her. “He is incredibly good.”
“Good,” she smiled. “I need a good bout before next months tournaments.”
“Don’t blink,” Gunther laughed. “You don’t want to miss this.”
Martina shook her head angrily and stepped forward, her opponent stepped into the square and saluted her with his weapon, she replied gravely. “This will be fought to the best of three,” Gunther announced, “approach and touch blades.”
They closed to the center and touched, then dropped into ready positions. Her opponent seemed content to wait, she lunged, careful not to overextend; he slapped her blade aside with his own and drove the blunt tip of his sword into her breastplate. It was not a brutal blow but applied with enough force to prove that it was intentional.
“First touch to the gentleman,” Gunther announced. “Carry on.”
Martina waited for his approach, his attacks were not probing nor were they cautious. He pressed her hard but did not take advantage of several openings that would have carried the touch and the bout. She countered furiously, more from anger than desperation, but she did not seem to affect him in the slightest. Lunge, parry, cut or thrust, every move anticipated and countered. Her eyes narrowed, disappearing between the grillwork of her helmet. She attacked again, a fast series of strikes and he turned every one without apparent effort. Damn him! He was toying with her and she did not care for it at all.
“Quit playing,” she hissed.
He laughed easily. “I thought that was what we were doing.”
“Show me what you’ve got,” she countered.
“As you wish,” his padded sword lashed out in an odd pattern of strikes, she felt the blows at each shoulder as she tried block them, and then the sword was struck from her hands. She stood, breathing heavily and contemplating the blunt end of the weapon resting lightly at her breastbone. She nodded her defeat and stepped back to unbuckle her helmet.
“Touch and bout to the gentleman,” Gunther Amundsen called. He smiled as he crossed the square to his coworker. “I told you that he was good, Martina,” Gunther goaded her slightly as he returned her sword.
“Damn, he’s a terror,” she smiled ruefully as she shook her long red hair loose from the bun. She was drenched in sweat from the effort and the hot tournament armor. Her opponent set his weapon on the bleachers nearby, removed his gauntlets, and fumbled with the chinstrap of his helmet.
“His armor is beautiful,” she commented. “I don’t recognize the style but the detail is exquisite.”
“I asked him about that, he just said that it was made by a friend.”
“Contemporary then, but I haven’t seen any like it in tournaments or at the faires.”
He walked across the floor toward her, hand extended. She reached for his hand but he reached past it and they clasped forearms. “Well fought,” he complimented her. She noticed immediately that he had not broken a sweat, for that matter he had not even mussed his hair. His pale blue eyes met hers, there was something strange and compelling in their depths, she broke eye contact with his and blushed slightly.
“Nice of you to say, but I’m not in your league.”
He studied her deep green eyes for a moment and smiled slightly. “Nonsense, I just have more practice than you do.”
“Well, I have ten years and you made me look like an amateur.”
He smiled sheepishly at her; his teeth white and even. “I have much more time than that, and my lessons were normally painful for far longer than the first ten years.”
“Which kingdom do you serve?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Aren’t you SCA?”
“Oh, kingdom,” He smiled again. “I Serve a realm by the sea.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“You may in time, but we don’t tend to travel in this direction too much, Doctor Kingston.”
She wiped her face with a towel, and then remembered her manners. “Martina,” she extended her hand again, he clasped her hand this time and shook it firmly, but without crushing her fingers. “Thomas,” he introduced himself.
“Tommy Lee,” his beautiful young companion called from the door to the gymnasium. “Do you need some help getting out of that can?”
“Yeah,” he called back, “do you know where Erv left the chests for this?”
“Of course,” she replied, “they’re in the locker room.”
“Okay, thanks, Sis, I’ll be right there.”
”You’d better hurry, you always stink after you wear that stuff.”
“You’re too kind,” he shook his head and waved her away.
“Your sister?” she asked.
“My baby sister,” he corrected with a smile. “I need a shower. We’re going to lunch afterwards, want to join us? I have reservations at the Space Needle.”
“Who would ‘us’ be?” She asked carefully.
“Marie and Gunther,” he answered.
“Alright, I’ll hit the showers and meet you out here.”
Thomas nodded and retrieved his helmet and practice sword on his way to the locker room. Marie was waiting for him with his armor chests open. “Good fight,” She commented.
“She’s talented,” he commented.
“You whupped her good though,” she observed.
“Centuries of painful practice,” he smiled cryptically. They quickly shucked him out of his armor and packed it away in the chests.
“Aren’t you going to clean it or anything first?”
“I’ll have Erv do it,” he glanced at the clock on the wall. “You’d better get out of here, I need to shower.”
“You didn’t even break a sweat,” she teased him.
“Beat it!” He growled.
“After Erv packs, that’s too cool to miss,” she laughed.
“Oh all right,” he sighed. He patted a black pouch at the hip of his thickly padded pants. Grab the gear, Erv.”
The top of the bag tucked under his belt and secured with two cords that clasped together. At his command, the hands unclasped and the bag dropped to the floor, the hands dragged it across the floor and the mouth of the bag opened and swallowed the large chests effortlessly. Marie laughed as it climbed back up his leg and secured itself to his belt.
“There, you’ve seen it, now go wait in the gym.” She waved as she left him to clean up.
Martina packed her gear into a large locker and hurried through her shower and preparations. Despite her haste, Thomas was sitting in the bleachers shooting the breeze with Gunther and his sister when she emerged. Thomas was dressed simply, thank goodness; his jeans, cowboy boots, white button-down shirt and brown leather jacket would compliment her green denim dress and white sweater nicely. Not that it mattered in the slightest, of course.
“Where’s your gear?”
“Already packed out,” Thomas answered simply. “Shall we go?”
“Was I that long?” Martina asked Gunther as they filed out of the gym.
“Not that I noticed, but I was distracted.”
The view of Seattle from the needle is legendary, they soaked in the scenery as the restaurant rotated slowly. The conversation was lively, but Thomas seemed more content to remain aloof, only answering a question directly put to him. Otherwise, he seemed content to sip at a large draft and study his lunch companions. He had a disconcerting eye, never maintaining long eye contact with Martina but could actually feel when his attention was upon her.
“Your sister has a very strong southern accent, but yours is strange, almost foreign sounding, where are you from.”
“Texas,” Thomas answered, “but I have spent most of my life out of the country.”
“Military,” Thomas replied.
“What did you do?”
Thomas drank deeply from his beer. “A bit of everything,” he replied enigmatically. “I retired as an engineer.”
“Sounds interesting,” Martina leaned forward.
“Not terribly,” he signaled for another beer. “I understand that you teach history.”
“I specialize in the Roman Empire, but I am fairly well versed from the Empire to the Renaissance.”
“Interesting times,” Thomas commented. “Especially for a Ren Faire gal.”
“Well,” she acknowledged, “they do tie together nicely.”
“Simpler times,” Thomas sighed.
“Not really, a web of political and religious alliances, kings and lords and popes all made life very interesting.”
“From the warrior’s point of view it was much simpler, no gunpowder, chemicals or nuclear weapons, reconnaissance done on foot or the back of the horse. We have the ability to erase millions, while war in those days was limited to the thousands.”
“Unless you factor in the plague.”
“That was more of a random event, it would be difficult, with their technology, to use it as a weapon.”
“It was tried,” she sighed.
“Of course,” Thomas acknowledged, “fortunately science was in its infancy, NBC factors were simply too advanced for their level of technological development.”
“NBC?” Martina asked.
“Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. The three horseman of modern apocalypse.” Thomas set a sugar cube on the handle of a spoon and launched it, all watched as it bounced off the window. “The catapult was the equivalent of aerial bombardment and artillery alike. War has never been a civilized endeavor, but it was limited in its capability to inflict slaughter.”
“I can agree with that, but there were fewer rules in those days. They ransomed captured lords and put the prisoners without rank or title to the sword. We are much more civilized in these days.”
“No, we just make a better show of it now. In this country, we adhere to the Geneva Convention and a warehouse full of treaties, but I’ll bet that the Kurds, Jews, Gypsies, to name a few, would disagree with you. Modern man is not all that civilized, we just have spin control.”
“Why did you leave the military?” Gunther asked.
“I retired,” Thomas answered. “My twenty was up, actually my twenty-five, and I wanted to move along. Explore my horizons, I guess that you could say.”
“What did you do before you were an engineer?”
“I have always been an engineer, that was my first degree. I managed to keep my hand in many areas. I finished my doctorates in mechanical and electronic engineering, and after I retired I accumulated another in history.”
“You don’t look that old,” Martina observed.
“I just turned fifty.”
“You don’t look a day over thirty.”
“Thank-you,” he smiled, “but I guess that is all good genes.”
“And Grecian Formula 10?” Gunther joked.
“Thankfully, no.” Thomas laughed. “You are only as old as you want to be, and I don’t want to be old.”
“Can you teach me the trick?” Martina smiled.
“I’m afraid that it isn’t something that you can teach, you either have it or you don’t.” Thomas smiled. “Rather like your command of a sword, you are excellent by the way. Where did you study?”
“I worked a long time with the S.C.A.”
“You have a natural aptitude,” Thomas approved. “It isn’t easy to learn something that was for all intents and purposes, a lost art.”
“There are a lot of surviving texts,” Martina disagreed. “And even more people that aren’t willing to let some skills just fade away. Where did you learn?”
“I’ve studied with several masters, in several styles. The art of the sword isn’t completely lost, there are still some that follow the ‘lost arts’ quite faithfully. I managed to squeeze in a few months studying with the Royal Armoury. I’ve even been involved in a few of their exhibitions.”
“I’ve never had the money to go see the Royal Armoury, I hope to one day, perhaps I can convince the University to send me.” Martina said wistfully.
“Its worth your time,” Thomas agreed.
“Where did you get the armor, it is the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen, outside of a museum.”
“It was made for me by a master, several years ago.”
“And you wear it in tournaments?” She asked incredulously. “How much did it cost?”
“It was a gift,” Thomas answered. “But I can’t find anyone willing to put a price on it, I would guess more than five hundred thousand dollars for an opening bid.”
“And you wear it like it was nothing?”
“It was made for battle,” Thomas disagreed. “You wouldn’t find its equivalent on any battlefield of history, it’s not a trophy or made for ceremonial or display, so I do the master the honor of using it for what it was intended. I own several shotguns worth ten thousand or more, but I use them for skeet and hunting, what’s the difference?”
“But if it’s damaged, that would be terrible.”
“True enough, but it’ll be hard to find the weapon that would hurt it. I can also say with some modesty that you’d play hell to find the person that could damage it or me.”
Martina laughed. “Modesty becomes you, so little.”
“Aw shucks,” Thomas grinned. “Modesty is for those that have something to be modest about.”
“What are you doing now?” Gunther asked.
“I dabble,” Thomas moved to allow the server to place a very large steak in front of him. “Ranching, inn keeping, investing and consulting even a bit of teaching. Whatever keeps coin in the purse.”
“Odd turn of phrase,” Martina commented as she peppered her fish.
“I’m just an oddly turned kind of guy,” Thomas carved his steak.
They ate quietly; Thomas was obviously not a dinner conversationalist. They finished eating and he was still at it, a huge steak, corn and baked potato gave way to a large slice of cheesecake and finally coffee and ice cream.
“How do you stay so thin?” Gunther marveled.
“High metabolism,” Thomas smiled as he sipped his coffee.
Gunther looked at his watch. “I hate to eat and run, but I have advisory this afternoon.”
“Can you drop me,” Marie asked as she also rose.
“Certainly,” he waved and led her to the elevator.
“What are you doing this afternoon?” Martina asked.
“I was thinking of wandering through that big market and then cleaning my armor.”
“I’ll show you the market if I get to look over your armor.”
“Done,” Thomas agreed.
They walked slowly through Pike Place Market, Thomas paid cursory attention to the vast displays of seafood packed in ice. He seemed somehow preoccupied, even the espresso barely made a dent in his demeanor. He did perk up a bit as he arranged delivery of several cases of microbrew to his hotel.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Martina finally ventured.
“I wish that it was that simple,” Thomas smiled ruefully.
“Well, what is it?”
“I’m never sure how to go about this, not that it has happened too often. I always wind up sounding like a piece of bad fiction, or a Twilight Zone episode. Then I have to go through the inevitable ‘prove it’ process. What a bloody pain that is, I’ll tell you.”
“What is it?”
Thomas reached into his pocket and withdrew a small, clear disc.
“What is this?” She asked.
“Look at it,” he urged her.
It was small and perfectly round. “The engraving is exquisite, but I don’t recognize the language.”
“It is based upon ancient elven,” Thomas answered. “From a Realm far from here.”
“Elves,” she commented. “From yourSCA Kingdom?”
“No, my dear, from a realm not of this worlda.”
“I don’t understand, what is this thing?”
“A coin,” he replied.
“Who would make a coin out of glass?”
“It’s neither glass nor crystal,” He explained. “It is a metal called diamond silver, or diamanta to be precise.”
“There is no such thing,” she protested. “Metal can’t be transparent.”
“Quick silver, mercury, is a liquid metal.”
“But a transparent metal is impossible.”
“No, you hold the proof in your hands. It isn’t impossible, just incredibly difficult. In fact the outer layer of my armor is covered with the same metal.”
“That’s just clear enamel.” She protested.
“Now you see why I hate this part,” he sighed. “First let me assure you that I’ve never been inside of a flying saucer, and I’ve never seen bigfoot, but I have been to this Realm; in fact, I’m going back there soon.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” she looked around quickly to see how many people were around her. “What does it have to do with me?”
Thomas glanced to the crowd around them; they were attracting too much attention. “Would you like to go somewhere quiet and discuss this?”
“No,” she insisted, “I think that a crowd is a good idea right now.”
“Do you have the time?”
“Two-thirty,” she glanced at her watch.
Thomas fought down his irritation and stared deeply into her eyes for a moment. She fought down a sense of panic but her vision blurred and when it cleared, she was sitting in the bright sunshine. Thomas still looked into her eyes, now wearing mirrored sunglasses.
“Where the hell are we?” She demanded.
“Look around,” He smiled.
“Green Lake?” She ventured.
“Very good,” he complimented her. His hand reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and drew out a lit cigar. He stretched his feet out in front of him and puffed contentedly. “Now, we are still out in the open and there are people about, are you ready to listen?”
“How did I get here? Did you drug me?”
Thomas waved to a lady jogging around the lake. “I beg your pardon, have you the time?”
“Two twenty-five,” the jogger replied.
Martina checked her watch it read the same time, five minutes earlier. “How?”
“Are you ready to listen?”
“Yes,” she conceded after a few moments of silence.
“All of us, humans that is, have various levels of mental ability. Most have so little that it can’t really be measured, some have some limited ability but no idea how to access it, others have the ability to access it, but no idea how to control it. I am at the far end of the scale, I have great ability and I can use and completely control it. I can also quite happily say that I am conscious of the talent, able to control it and have not lost my mind because of it.”
“Where do I fit on this scale?”
“You don’t have enough to measure, you are extremely intelligent, but that is the extent.”
“Gee, thanks!” she snapped sarcastically.
“Don’t blame the messenger,” he shook his head and continued. “I became aware of my abilities and began to experiment with them. At first, the tricks were simple. I can read books in seconds and recall every single word. Then I stumbled across parlor tricks, moving things with thought and all of that hokey crap. Over the years, I found that I could transport myself with a thought, thus our little trip here. If I were a computer you would say that I multi-task, I can concentrate the equivalent of a normal person’s full attention on dozens of problems simultaneously.
“I also began to sense that there was more than the consciousness of this planet. I began to explore these worlds, all from the comfort of my bed as I slept at night. Three years ago, by our calendar, I found a world that fascinated me. It was in complete upheaval but there were good people there, and I felt that I could help. I arrived there centuries ago, actually millennia ago, but I found that as long as I ignored the constraints of time they would ignore me, and so I went there.”
“You live there now?”
“Well, yes and no, if I left now you would find me in Texas. Actually you would find Tommy Lee, the retired GI come home to ranch. He and I are the same person.”
“That’s impossible, it would be a paradox.”
Thomas choked on the smoke of his cigar as he laughed, it took several seconds to compose himself. “You make it sound so complicated.”
“You don’t think that it’s complicated?” She asked.
“No, to me bearing a child sounds terribly complicated, but you as a woman would probably see it as a natural thing. We find difficulty in those things that we are unable to do.”
“You can’t have children?”
“I can reproduce, just like any man, but I can see no reason to defeat the designs of God by creating children without a woman.”
“But could you?”
“Does it matter?”
“If you do these things, how can you believe in God?”
Thomas choked again on the smoke, he finally surrendered and tucked it back into his pocket. “I refuse to accept that someone like me could be the most powerful entity alive. God is out there, I sure of it, I just have no idea what God’s master plan could be.”
Martina shook her head and sat in silence, contemplating the enormity of what he had told her. Unable to believe a word of what she had heard. “This can’t be happening.”
“Oh I assure you, it is.” Thomas smiled, he pulled a loaf of French bread from the inner pocket of his jacket and tore off several pieces. The ducks attacked them as soon as they hit the ground. “Are we still at the proof stage?”
“You’d better believe it, bub!”
Their surroundings faded for a split second before a new scene appeared before her. She was in her own apartment. “You must save a fortune in gas,” she commented.
“Who cares, I like to drive.” Thomas removed the pouch from his belt and tossed it upon the floor. “Erv,” he called aloud, “say something to the pretty lady.”
The bag untied itself and two large hands emerged, dark olive in color with faint streaks of deep brown. They grabbed the outer flaps to allow the occupant of the tiny bag to see out. A long series of guttural sounds emerged, followed closely by what could only be laughter.
“What the hell is that?”
“That is Ervang, he keeps track of things for me,” Thomas smiled. “Erv, give her a kiss, on the cheek.”
Before she could move or protest the bag dashed under the hem of her dress and climbed her leg, Martina scrambled about trying to dislodge the intruder. The bag emerged from the open collar at her throat the hands grasped her head and pulled the bag close to her face; a wet, sticky, slimy sensation covered the side of her face. The bag dropped clear before she could grab it, or worse. Thomas passed her a large handkerchief. “There, you’ve met Erv.”
“You asshole!” she shrieked.
“You’d be surprised how often that I hear that,” Thomas laughed.
“No I wouldn’t,” she disagreed vehemently as she scrubbed the side of her face.
Thomas waited patiently for her composure to return. He mumbled a request into the bag, soon rewarded with two huge tankards. Martina sat in the chair across from him and regarded it contents with suspicion. “Black Ale,” he informed her, before drinking deeply himself. She sampled it and found it potent and rich in flavor.
“Careful, it will sneak up on you.”
“Good,” she retorted, “I could use it right now!” She tilted the tankard and drank deeply. “Why are you here?” She finally asked.
“About time that you asked,” Thomas sighed. “And if you think that I hate the first part, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“It can’t be that bad,” she coaxed him, “can it?”
“It couldn’t be worse,” he sighed. “Do you have any vodka?”
“No,” she answered, “that bad, huh?”
“Erv, vodka me,” he ordered. The bag, resting on the table opened, Thomas deftly caught the bottle from the air. Glasses followed, he carefully poured two tall shots and offered her the second. She declined; Thomas nodded and drained both off quickly.
“All better?” She smiled carefully.
He shook his head. “Tomorrow, early in the morning, you will go jogging. You will not return from your run, you will disappear, a missing person eventually declared legally dead.”
“How do you know this?”
Thomas stared at her for a moment. “Haven’t you been paying attention?”
“Okay, maybe I deserved that,” she conceded. “Would you believe the story if our places were reversed.”
“Depends,” Thomas sighed, “do you know anyone else that can pop from place to place?”
“Point taken,” She agreed. “But now for the obvious question: why are you here?”
“To take you away from here,” Thomas explained as he poured two more shots, she didn’t refuse this time. “I want to take you to a place where none of this matters.”
“Where?” She asked her voice hoarse from the strong spirits.
“You asked what kingdom that I fought for, and I told you Selnendrin. It is a real place Martina, it is my home now, hell it’s been my home for two millennia.”
She poured them each another drink. “You look in pretty good shape, considering that you could be Methuselah’s grandfather.”
“I’m in an unusual position, I ignore time and it extends me the same courtesy.”
“That is your sole explanation of how you got to be some kind of superman?”
“How in God’s name could I explain that?” Thomas rose and paced the room. “As far as I know I have the same DNA as you do, I cut and I bleed and I’ve nearly died more times than I can count. I’m as human as you are Martina, I’m not God and I’m not a god. Hell, I haven’t even met or heard from him. I fit into somebody’s plan for the universe and I try to play my part, the same as you or anyone else. Don’t see me for what I am not.”
Martina stared incredulously at him. “For what you are not,” she laughed, “I’ve already seen too much for that.”
“All that I am is a soldier and teacher and an innkeeper. Isn’t that enough?”
“No, it can’t be enough, how do you know what is going to happen to me?”
Thomas sighed and removed his cigar from that odd pocket, he puffed on it furiously, scarcely noticing when she opened a window to vent the acrid smoke. “Isn’t it enough for you to know that I do know what is going to happen?”
“No, how could it be?” She protested. “I need to know how you could know.”
He retreated into puffing his cigar again. “I return often, to visit my family and to touch base with my home. I leave for a year or two at a time, but I always return to this period in time. Give or take a year or so. I often stop in a few months ahead to see what will happen, before I come to this time. It takes the thrill of experiencing history as it happens, but I am nosey and don’t like surprises. Sometimes I find people in your situation and if you possess the skills that I can put into play elsewhere I approach and make the offer.”
“And if they don’t have these skills? You just let them die?”
Thomas bit angrily into his cigar and spoke with it clenched between his teeth. “Do you realize what I go through just to save one of you? Tomorrow morning your neighbors will see you stretch on the steps out front, you’ll wave to a few of them and begin your run. It won’t be you, it will look, feel, act and even taste like you. I will have to create this duplicate, clone, or simulacrum, whatever you chose to call it. I will have control over it until the instant that it dies, and part of me will suffer the pain and anguish that I am sparing you. How often do you think that I could stand that? You will be the thirteenth person that I have done this for, and I dread the experience. Step down from your high horse, missy, until you can understand what will happen to me you have nothing to say in this.”
“Then why do it?”
“Because you have talents and knowledge that will do little for this world, but you have the chance to help another.”
“But why go to all of the trouble,” Martina probed carefully.
“Because the history of this world, past, present and future is set. If you are to die then you must die, you cannot simply disappear, your fate is set and must be met.”
“You can’t change these things?”
“No, if I alter your future then who’s will be affected. You are going to die a horrible death. You will suffer for days at the hands of a butcher and your raped and mutilated body will never be found. If you are not there to meet this fate then who are you condemning to replace you? I have more moral constraints upon me than I have power, despite what you have witnessed and what you may believe. I cannot fail to meet my responsibilities.”
“And if I decide not to go with you?” she asked carefully.
“Then I will leave, and take all knowledge of my visit with me. Tomorrow you will leave this apartment and never return. All that the world will know of you is a lock of hair in a madman’s trophy case. Your DNA will be identified and a madman will be sentenced for your murder and countless others just like it. I will return to Selnendrin and I will do what I may to guide them to their future, and I won’t have your help. I’m done talking about this.” He tossed his cigar, burning tip downward into an empty glass. “Pack it up Erv, its time.”
The odd hand cleared away the bottle, glasses and tankards a few sad noises emerged. “I don’t know, Erv. Are you coming with us, or not?”
The next morning Doctor Martina Kingston, PhD., stood on the steps of her apartment. She stretched and exchanged her morning’s greetings with her neighbor. Across the street a completely normal appearing man waited in a dark van, his eyes took in her features. She was all that he wanted, pale skin, large breasts, red hair, his eyes followed her long legs upward and he licked his lips obscenely as she waved and trotted away, she took her beginning heartbeat and moved quickly down the sidewalk, waving and smiling at another neighbor. He put the van into gear and merged with traffic, just another vehicle beginning the busy workday.
The sun rose gloriously over the mountains. Martina pushed away her blankets and sat up in the comfortable pallet of quilts over pine needles. Thomas stood on the other side of the fire from her; he held a steaming mug against the morning chill staring into a deep valley below. Trees, vast and tall emerged from a deep fog, she marveled again at the beauty of this place. It was the Scottish Highlands, the hills of Ireland and Yosemite all blended in a perfect, unspoiled tapestry.
“Its unbelievable,” she marveled.
“I come to this spot often,” Thomas agreed. “If I ever get used to it I’ve lived too long.”
“Why are we waiting here?”
“Friends of mine will be along this morning. We’ll ride with them to your new home.”
“In a city?” she asked.
“A city, a fort, a great school, and your future,” he answered enigmatically, a habit that she found herself becoming used to in the past few days.
“Then you know what will happen here too?”
“No, not really,” he admitted. “But I do have hunches and I’ve learned to listen to them. I can do very little on earth because I know what will happen there. It’s future is set. I make a point of not knowing the future here, which allows me a freedom of movement because the future is not yet set. You wouldn’t believe it just by looking, but this poor land is nearly bled white. We’re just out of a war, it lasted nearly thirty years, and the wardens of this fair land are desperately rebuilding before their enemies take advantage of their weakness. There are so many good people counting upon their army and their government, and they are faltering. I am here to insure that they succeed.”
“And what am I here to do?”
“To teach,” Thomas answered. “In a few years you will assume duties as a teacher at a very special Academy. You will instill the future officers of the Realm with the discipline and knowledge that they will need to insure the freedom of the noblest people of this world. You will live the life that you wished for every time that you sewed garments from ancient patterns and carried a wooden sword into recreated and regulated battles.”
“Will I be able to wear armor and carry a sword here?”
“You will be able to in thisprovince. It will be you and women like you, which will carry the acceptance of women in arms to the remainder of the Realm. It is legal now, the King decreed so just a few months ago, but you and those that follow will make it proper.”
Martina toyed with her hair, noticing something for the first time. “Is it my imagination, or has my hair darkened?”
“No, it is not your imagination, it is the same color that you were when you were in college.”
“What did you do?”
“I rolled back your clock a bit,” he smiled. “You will still have a finite lifespan, but I did cheat just a bit to get the most that I can from you.”
“You rolled back my clock?”
“Lets just say that I erased a few years of time and gravity from your exterior,” he explained vaguely.
“That makes it sound like you restored an old hag,” she protested.
Thomas ran an appraising eye over her; she was dressed in a light shift despite the coolness of the morning. His examination was thorough and verged on lewd. “You look incredible though,” he smiled wickedly.
She blushed deeply and crossed her arms over her breasts. “I could actually feel you looking at me, just like you were looking though me.”
“Not through you, I stopped well short of that.” He laughed and winked. He returned his attention to the road hidden in the trees below. “You may want to get dressed,” he announced. “You only have an hour or so before our escort arrives.”
“Are you sure?”
Thomas turned and stared at her, and shook his head as he laughed again. “Erv, could you arrange a large kettle of hot water. I’m sure that Lady Martia would like to freshen up for travel.”
“Lady Martia?” Martina asked carefully.
“Martina is too uncommon of a name here, and of course I’ll arrange some form of title for you. A title will make people take you seriously until you establish yourself. I have arranged your adoption into a family, actually into a clan to establish your identity. You will meet your father soon.”
“Your adopted father of course,” he explained unnecessarily.
“Who will I be?”
“Lady Martia Alford, the youngest daughter of Lord Sterling Alford. He is the Count of Alford and chief of Clan Alford. They are a small clan, that live very near the provincial border. Quite near a ford by coincidence.”
“Why would he adopt me, sight unseen?”
“Because his children were killed in the war, you closely resemble his daughters, and I am restoring the wealth of his family. He left himself a pauper supporting refugees of the war, but mainly he is doing this because I have asked him to.” He returned his attention to the road. “You had better hurry, my Lady, our escort is closing.”
She bathed in a large wooden tub screened by blankets strung between saplings. She examined herself quickly, but thoroughly, as she washed. “Thomas,” she called.
“Yes,” he replied.
“How far back did you roll my clock,” she asked, “I mean, how old am I?”
“You have just turned twenty.”
“How thorough were you?” she asked.
“How old were you when you lost your virginity?”
“Twenty-two,” she answered carefully.
“I was that thorough, at least,” Thomas laughed. She felt herself blush again, he could embarrass her so easily. “Hurry along now, there are no blow driers here, and you don’t want to greet our guests with wet hair do you?”
Martina Kingston, Lady Martia Alford, was dressed for travel when the escort arrived. A very tall and handsome young man in full plate led the column. He acknowledged Thomas with a friendly wave, and then froze at the sight of his friend’s companion. Martia rose from a campstool. Her height was not lost on him, neither was her long red hair and green eyes. Thomas had presented her a traveling outfit of deep hunter green that matched her eyes and complexion to perfection.
The young man realized that he had frozen like a statue, arm raised in greeting and his mouth hanging open. In truth he would have sat there for much longer if his sister hadn’t ridden forward and rapped him lightly on the back of his head. She removed her helmet and shook her long braid loose.
“Thomas,” she smiled in greeting.
“Captain Telbrantil,” he greeted her with friendly formality.
“General Chaliese,” she corrected him on both counts. She slipped off her cloak and dismounted.
Thomas met her with and embraced her tightly. “I congratulate you on both counts then.” He stepped back and made a great show of examining her. “You are with child, my Lady,” he commented.
“Just barely,” she acknowledged. “I found out during my accolade.”
“Lord Defender of the Realm, or is it Lady Defender?” He asked with humor.
“Dame Defender,” she replied. “My brothers within the Order are yet coming to grips with a woman in their midst. It will come to them with time.”
“Should you really be riding at a time like this?” Thomas asked.
“You are as bad as the rest of them,” she struck him in the shoulder.
Thomas led her across the camp; the young man was still somewhat awestruck as he nervously studied Martia. “Lady Martia, allow me to present General Elliese Chaliese, and her brother, Drake Telbrantil V, the Lord of Talmaran.”
“Pleased, my lord, I’m sure,” she greeted him as she curtsied. He found no words to reply.
The years stop for no man, despite his feelings to the contrary. Thomas sat in his customary place, watching the patrons of his the Traveler, a vast building with several different inns, taverns, shops and gambling dens. A messenger passed him a note with mute respect. Thomas nodded and slid a silver coin across the table to him. The messenger at first refused, but an insistent tap on the proffered compensation made him reconsider. He nodded his thanks and left, not a word exchanged between them.
He sighed deeply as he opened and read the message. He rose and walked quietly from his great inn. Only his employees of long service saw the haste in his step. He strode into the night, and those few that watched his departure swore that he simply faded from existence. Inside they received a last drink of the night and instructions to go home and sleep it off.
Thomas started a few with his arrival, appearing from thin air. She lay, propped slightly, in a great bed in the center of a vast room in Talmaran. The years had been kind to her, he reflected as he took her hand. Her hair was now completely white, but still thick and slightly curled. She was thinner than he remembered, but he ruefully admitted that he always remembered her as he had first viewed her, and now eighty years and more had passed.
“You came,” her voice was scarcely more than a whisper.
“Of course, my dear,” he sat on the edge of the bed. “I am ever yours to command.”
“Tripe,” she scoffed with a smile, “but gallant tripe none-the-less. No one commands the Traveler.”
Thomas smiled, his pale eyes misty. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he teased her fondly.
“Thomas,” she looked him straight in the eyes. “Thank you for this life.”
“You are quite welcome, my dear, but I am more in your debt for living this life.”
“You talk just like them,” she smiled.
“No, they all talk like me, I claim seniority in this matter.”
“Have I done well?” She asked. “It seems silly to wait until now to ask, I know, but allow an old woman her conceits.”
“Look about you,” Thomas answered, gesturing at the large crowd that lined the walls of the large room. “You are surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There is the King, and the Crown Prince. You lie surrounded by almost all of the nobility of the Realm, the commanders of the armies and navies; there must be a hundred packed into this room alone and more waiting outside. I brought you here to teach, and you have created a revolution. The country rebuilt from ruins, and you have taught them that women have strength and brains. You have brought them forward five centuries military thinking and at least a millennium in equality of the sexes. You will be remembered, and you will be very sadly missed.”
She smiled faintly and continued to study his face. “You are still so young,” she sighed.
“Nonsense,” he smiled, “I’m just too vain to look my age.”
Her eyes twinkled at the joke that she had so often made herself. Thomas studied her intently, she had so little time left, and already he could see her heart begin to flutter. He reached out with a thought and steadied its rhythm. She smiled again at him. “You can’t do that forever.”
“No, but I can give you the time that you will need to make your farewell.”
She nodded her thanks. “How many people get the opportunity to spend so long pondering upon their last words?” she wondered. Thomas motioned to the crowd to move closer, and instantly her bed was lost in a sea of well-wishers.
“My time is close,” she announced, her voice had regained some of its strength. “I love you all,” her gaze met the eyes of all that she could see. “It saddens me that I should have to leave you, but that is the way of things. I leave you knowing that I have done all that I may to increase the glory of the Realm, and I charge you each to do the same. We are an island of hope in a world of despair, retain your vigilance. Do not allow the dark hand of despair to ever touch this golden Realm.” Her heart again faltered, and she could feel her voice fail her. Thomas leaned forward.
“I love you most of all,” she whispered in his ear. “Try to find others to share this world with.”
“I will,” Thomas promised, he kissed her lightly as her final breath escaped. Her eyes closed and a faint smile teased at the corner of her lips. He remained seated, holding her hand. He felt the faint and erratic pulse for a few seconds longer. He actually felt her leave, for a moment he could feel her presence, a palatable sensation of love and joy, and then it too was gone. For the first time in longer than he could remember, the solitary man felt truly alone.
© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.