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Authors: James A. Owen

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BOOK: The Indigo King
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“It’s here,” said Reynard, gesturing to the small booth near the table. There on a small platform sat an unusual if not extraordinary device.

“To leave a message, he can use a magic ring,” said Jack, “but for time travel, we need an antique projector. Splendid.”

John ignored his friend’s sarcasm and set about examining the machine. The slides were already set into a rotating frame in the center, and where the original gas lamp had been in the back there was an incandescent bulb. Below it an electric cord snaked down and across the floor to an outlet.

“Not entirely antique,” John said appraisingly. “Shall we give it a go?”

“Not yet,” Jack replied, turning to face Chaz. “You’re going to stay here, where you won’t cause any trouble.”

“Fine by me,” Chaz said, plopping himself heavily into one of the chairs. “Nothing to do with me, anyroad.”

“Wrong,” said John. “Verne said all three of us were meant to do this. And even Mordred himself said in the prophecy that we three—”

“Not we three,” Chaz shot back. “You, him, and some bloke called Charles, who I in’t. I won’t be going anywheres with you lot. I’m fine right where I be.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” John said. “Uncas! Stop that!”

While the humans were arguing, the badgers had switched on the Lanterna Magica and were using the light projected through one of the empty frames to make shadow puppets on the wall.

“Look!” said Uncas. “It’s a rooster.”

“Quit playing with the time machine,” John said sternly. “Remember what happened with the door.”

“Sorry,” said Uncas.

“Since it’s already on,” John said as Jack continued glaring at Chaz, “we might as well see what we’re in for.”

At his signal, Fred scurried over to the Lanterna Magica and rotated the disk that held the five slides. The first frame had been empty and simply projected a pool of light against the curtains. But the next contained a slide—a landscape of some kind. And as they looked, it seemed that the images projected through the stationary slide …

… were
moving
.

“Here,” Reynard said, pulling on the draw for the curtains. “Perhaps this will help.”

Instead of a screen or sheet, behind the curtains were layers of a gossamer substance, very much like theatrical backdrops. The image from the projector passed through some layers, but not others. It was like watching a film painted on smoke.

The landscape in the projection was unmistakably Greek. There were temples and great statues of ancient gods visible, all entwined with grapevines and at the bases, olive trees. Farther back, they could see a large group of people gathered in a small amphitheater, listening to a man who stood in the center. The details were sharp and clear, and to the companions it seemed as if they could reach in and touch one of the stately columns.

Then there was a gust of wind in the projection, and one of the grape leaves twisted off its vine and twirled through the air to land in the room at Reynard’s feet.

“Dear God,” John breathed. “It does work. It will work. Just like the doors.”

“But with a time limit, remember,” said Jack.

Just then a rumble of thunder shook the room, and the projection wobbled. Reynard looked visibly alarmed, and with no comment, hurried from the room.

“A storm must have come up,” said Jack. “Funny. It was clear out before.”

“That’s not thunder,” said John. “That’s an impact tremor. Something massive just stepped onto the island.”

They looked at one another in alarm. It could only be the giants. Mordred had discovered their escape from Bert’s shack and had sent his largest servants to reclaim them.

“Oh, that’s capital,” groaned Jack. He turned to Chaz, teeth clenched and his temper rising. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you?”

Chaz stood up defensively. “I been with you the whole time! And I got no loyalty to him! Not now!”

“You mean after he betrayed you the way you betrayed us?” snapped Jack.

“I’m sorry!” Chaz said. “I … I didn’t know.”

Reynard ran back into the room as another footfall rattled the island. “The giants have come, friends of the Caretaker. And it is time for you to leave.”

“What about you?” Jack said. “We can’t abandon you!”

The fox shook his head. “We have an understanding with the giants. They only want you. If you are not here, they will leave us be. It doesn’t matter where else you go, or,” he said, gesturing suggestively at the projection, “when.”

Uncas and Fred both agreed with Reynard—they would be safe. So John grabbed the bag with their scanty supplies and stepped quickly between the chairs to the screen, gesturing to the others as he did so. “Jack! Charles! No time to debate! Let’s go!”

“I am
not
Charles!” Chaz exclaimed over the din. “I shouldn’t be allowed!”

Jack merely shook his head in disgust and stepped into the projection. John turned around and faced Chaz.

“Perhaps not in this place,” he said through the crashing sounds that were now all around them, “but in another place, another dimension, you
are
our friend Charles, and I would not think of leaving you behind.”

He reached out his hand, imploring the confused man to take it.

“Chaz!” John beckoned. “Come with us! Now!”

With both hands, Chaz took John’s outstretched arm and stepped into the picture.

PART THREE

After the Age of Fable

CHAPTER NINE

The Storyteller

This Pellinor, Hugo decided, was the most loquacious fellow he’d ever met, even if he seemed mostly to be conversing with himself. The fact that Hugo had more than a passing fluency with Anglo-Saxon made little difference: King Pellinor was in his own realm, and Hugo was merely an interested observer and infrequent participant.

That was fine with Hugo, who had at first determined that he was at the center of the greatest, most elaborate practical joke ever devised by an Oxford don. Jack was probably the instigator, but John had certainly played his part, and played it well. That they had both disappeared along with the door he’d passed through could be attributed to some sort of stage illusion; but the fact that they’d made Magdalen, and in fact, all of Oxford itself disappear could only be explained by the idea that he’d been hypnotized, or transmogrified, or whatever it was that the illusionists did to people that made them think they were the Queen or a chicken or some such. But as the hours passed, Hugo began to realize that it was no illusion, and certainly no joke.

The strange old king produced the crumpled photograph of Hugo that had been taken at the University of Reading, where he taught English, but he remained closemouthed as to who had given it to him and why.

They traveled southward throughout the night, their path lit only by the small lamp Pellinor had attached to the side of the cart. The king kept up a rambling monologue (or more precisely, a solo dialogue) for most of the way, only occasionally interrupting the flow of words to incorporate an answer to one of Hugo’s queries. Most of the tales the king told seemed to involve his personal genealogy, and an ancestor who had been shamed at Alexandria, but Hugo couldn’t really be sure.

With the coming of daylight, Hugo was better able to take in Pellinor’s unusual appearance. The clothing was as authentic as any Hugo had ever seen in museums—but so were the scars that laced the old man’s arms and neck. There was even a deep gash along his cheek, which had long since healed.

The old king dismissed queries about the wounds with a laugh and a story about the mythical Questing Beast. And after noticing the weapons and armor still reddened with blood in the back of the cart, Hugo stopped asking questions and just listened to Pellinor ramble.

As the light came up, Hugo could make out other carts and horsemen off in the distance all around them, all headed in the same direction.

He asked Pellinor about them, and the old king answered with an uncommon gravity. “They are going to the same place that we journey to,” he said, eyes fixed on Hugo. “To the tournament. To the great Debate.”

“Debate?” asked Hugo. “What kind of debate requires horsemen and swordplay?”

“The kind that determines the future of the land,” said Pellinor. “The kind that may only be held in a sacred place. A place of death and rebirth.”

“And where is that?” asked Hugo.

Pellinor answered, but the accent made it difficult to understand.

“Camazotz?” Hugo said.

Pellinor laughed. “Close enough, my odd friend.

“Camelot,” the king said. “We are going to Camelot.”

Once John, Jack, and Chaz were through the portal, all the din and clamor of the giants’ assault upon Sanctuary ceased. It had opened along the wall of a tall building and was framed by pillars and grapevines. Looking back, they could see the faint impressions of the room they had left behind, lit by the glare of the projector. Reynard was near the door of the room, barking instructions to someone in the hallway, and both badgers were giving a relieved thumbs-up to the companions, who would be visible now inside the projection. There was no doubt—Verne’s Infernal Device had worked.

The building formations within the plaza where they had emerged were familiar to John and Jack, who had seen similar structures in the islands of the Underneath in the Archipelago. The main difference was that these were clean and undamaged. This architecture was that of a vital, living city.

Chaz couldn’t understand the words being spoken by the storyteller in the amphitheater, but John and Jack were both adept at speaking the language and identified it immediately.

“Extraordinary,” marveled Jack. “We’ve actually gone back in time.”

“And, ah, across in space,” added John. “We’re in Greece … or perhaps Turkey.”

Jack nodded. “The structures are Ionian, definitely. But it must be prior to the Persian conquest,” he said, glancing about, “given the manner of dress we’re seeing. So what time do you think it is, anyway?”

On impulse, John reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket watch. He had it open for a few seconds before chuckling mirthlessly and hastily putting it back.

“Force of habit,” he said, shrugging and hoping no one had noticed the strange device he’d just held.

Jack voiced a similar concern. “We’re not going to accomplish much dressed like this.” He gestured at their modern English outfits. “We’re going to need to, um, borrow something more suitable.”

A robed figure appeared at their side and proffered two robes to them. “Here, take these.”

It was Chaz.

“How did you get these?” exclaimed Jack. “We’ve only just walked through the portal!”

“I’m a thief, remember?” Chaz said drolly. “Just doin’ what comes natural.”

“Oh, I’m not …,” Jack started to protest, as John took both robes and pressed one on him.

“Don’t argue, Jack,” he said. “We were about to do the same thing—you just resent that it was Chaz who acquired them for us.”

Jack grumbled under his breath but put on the robe. With their sleeves and trousers sticking out, they looked more akin to travelers from the east or south than native Greeks, but the disguises would work well enough.

No one was looking at them, anyway. The attention of everyone in the plaza and amphitheater was focused on the young man in the center, who was telling stories. And for good reason—he was positively magnetic.

The man exuded a natural charisma that came with the confidence of knowing that the audience was completely caught up in the tale being told.

Chaz looked bewildered; he clearly could not understand anything being said. John leaned close to him to translate.

“He’s telling a story about a great warrior,” he whispered, “who came to this land at the behest of a king called Minos, to defeat a giant called Asterius. The giant had horns and six arms and could not be beaten by a display of strength or prowess, but only by a game of logic.”

“Six arms,” Chaz replied. “Who ever heard of a giant with six arms?”

“He’s got the number of arms right,” Jack put in, “but if Asterius is a giant, I’m Sir Walter Scott.”

Chaz, scowling, continued watching the storyteller. He’d survived in the Winterland by being aware of everything in his environment. And here he was watching with the eyes of a predator; not looking for prey, but trying to spot the competition. And in a trice, he realized that was exactly what he was seeing: another predator.

“The teller,” Chaz said, moving closer to the others and speaking in a hushed whisper. “Look closely at the teller.”

There
was
something familiar about the young man. The tilt of his head, perhaps; maybe the tone of his voice, even disguised as it was by the rhythms of ancient Greek speech. Even his gestures seemed …

“That’s it,” breathed Jack. “My God, Chaz, you’re right. It’s how he moves, his body language. It’s definitely familiar. Could this boy actually be a young Mordred? Is he the one we’ve come to find?”

“Possibly,” John replied. “This is the place that Verne’s machine sent us. It can’t be coincidence that the fellow who’s the center of attention seems so familiar to us.”

The young man was just finishing his tale of Asterius, much to the delight of his audience, who responded with laughter and applause.

“Tomorrow,” the storyteller said, “I will tell you a tale of the giant Polyphemus, who was blinded by the great Odysseus, the sacker-of-cities, and then killed by the slayer-of-giants called Jack.”

John looked accusingly at Jack, who sighed heavily and rolled his eyes.

“What?” said Chaz, who had caught Jack’s name among the gibberish. “What did you do?”

“Don’t look at
me
!” Jack whispered. “I don’t have the slightest idea what all this ‘Giant-Killer’ business is all about. It’s got to be coincidence, that’s all.”

“Except the giants back in Albion recognized your voice, didn’t they?” asked Chaz. “How do you explain
that
?”

“I can’t,” Jack said hotly. “But until I actually kill a giant, I’m not taking the blame, whatever rumors have gone around.”

“Look at it this way,” offered John. “At least you know that whenever it does take place, the outcome is assured.”

“Easy for you to say,” said Jack. “You’re not the one who’s going to feel the pressure of centuries of expectations.”

“Far easier to do summat about this boy teller,” Chaz reasoned, moving around Jack with his eyes fixed on the man at the front of the amphitheater. “We ought t’ just kill him here and be done wi’ it.”

“We can’t!” John hissed, grabbing his arm. “We are only supposed to learn his true name and Bind him, remember?”

“And who’s t’ do th’ Binding?” asked Chaz. “You?”

He was right. John and Jack might know the words, but they didn’t have the authority to speak the Binding. Only one of the royal bloodline could—and there wasn’t anyone left who qualified back in Albion.

“Drat,” said Jack. “Maybe we
should
just kill him.”

“And risk really wrecking history?” said John. “I don’t think so. Look at how much trouble Hugo caused—and he only went back six centuries. We’ve gone considerably further than that. If we change something now, the repercussions could be disastrous.”

“On t’ other hand,” said Chaz, “there’d be no King Mordred t’ trample an’ piss all over everything. Might be worth the trade.”

John looked down at the possible Mordred, who was conversing with the crowd as they left the amphitheater. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “We were given instructions by Verne to discover Mordred’s true name, then return to Noble’s Isle. And that’s what I intend to do.”

Jack and Chaz looked at each other, debating. “You’re the Caretaker Principia,” Jack said. “I’ll defer to you.”

“Fine,” said John. “Chaz?”

Chaz shrugged. “Whatever you say. I’m not even supposed t’ be here, remember?”

As they spoke, a short, solidly built man who had been watching them from across the plaza approached, and before any of them could move, he had pointed a small dagger at John’s stomach.

“My name is Anaximander,” the man said, smiling politely, “and you do not belong here. Please state your business, or I will slay you where you stand.”

Chaz and Jack both tensed for a fight, but John answered first, holding out his hands placatingly. “We are travelers, strangers to your land,” he said in fluent Greek. “We’ve come here seeking knowledge of that man, there.”

Anaximander’s eyes darted along the line John’s arm made to the young storyteller, who was still accepting farewells from his listeners. “Is that so?” he said. “That’s very interesting, as I happen to be his teacher. How is it that you know of him at all, that you come seeking to know more?”

“We’ve got a history with him,” Jack said, “so to speak.”

“I don’t believe you,” Anaximander said, pressing closer with the blade. “Tell me something truthful, or your friend will pay the price, and you after.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Jack said to John. “Mordred’s almost as much trouble here and now as he was in the Archipelago.”

Jack had switched to English, but Anaximander recognized the word “Archipelago,” and it startled him. He lowered the dagger and looked at the three companions appraisingly.

“Perhaps you speak truth after all,” he said finally. “You mean him no harm?”

Jack started to reply, but John cut him off. “We just want to speak with him,” he said testily. “That’s all. And then we plan to, ah, return to our homeland.”

“Fair enough,” Anaximander said. “We’ll be meeting later, at my home. Please, come with me.” With that, he turned and strode away. The companions had little choice but to follow.

The home of Anaximander was only a short distance away, but Chaz kept an eye on the streets they traversed so as not to forget where the portal was located. Of the three of them, he was the one most aware that they had a time limit.

Anaximander’s home consisted of three low bungalows connected by a courtyard where he could teach small groups of students. A few minutes before, he’d threatened the companions with violence, but now he was acting the perfect host. He offered them wine and a platter of cold figs, which they consumed with great vigor.

“You seem quite hungry,” Anaximander commented. “Did you not bring provisions for your journey? You seem ill-equipped for a long voyage.”

“We’re staying nearby,” Jack said, not exactly lying. “Everything we need is there.”

“You said you were a teacher,” said John. “What do you teach, if I might ask?”

Anaximander bowed his head at the question. “I am a philosopher of the school of my master, Thales, and I teach what I am still seeking the answers to myself: the origin of all things. I call it Aperion.”

BOOK: The Indigo King
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