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Topic Subject: FATE'S PORTAL - A Story
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posted 05-03-04 20:45 EST (US)   
FATE'S PORTAL

A STORY BY CIVIS ROMANUS

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

Please do not post in this story thread. Instead, please post your comments in this linked READER'S COMMENT THREAD. Thank you for your cooperation.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-10-2004 @ 03:23 PM).]

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posted 05-03-04 20:49 EST (US)     1 / 29  
EDWINSTOWE, UNITED KINGDOM - PRESENT DAY


The clerk never even lifted his head as I stood before him in the registration line ready to answer his questions. Instead, he shifted the ball point pen in his right hand to the next line on the sheet of paper while holding his left hand out for the documents I held in mine. I gave him the documents. His hand closed upon them mechanically. His eyes continued to stare at the list under his pen.

"Name?" he asked in a monotone voice carrying the same level of animated interest as would a stone.

"Which, sir?" I asked.

"Which what?" He asked in response.

"Name, sir. I mean, last or first?"

"Last, of course."

"Oh, I suppose I should have known," I acknowledged, just to appear agreeable.

"Get on with it, then! Name. Last first." His furrowed brows conveyed the point. No need to upset the clerk. In a competition of this kind it's a bad way to get started.

"Lackland," I answered.

"Now your first name," the clerk painstakingly said as if being put out by the need.

"Robert."

"Age?" The exasperation was gone now. The clerk seemed pleased to be able to fill in squares on the list. Amazing the things that please.

"21."

"Competition?"

"Archery."

"Which one?"

I was ready for this question. "Both."

The clerk stopped scribbling on the sheet and finally raised his eyes to meet mine. "Unusual," he observed. "Few try both." He paused and his eyes turned to and focussed on the papers in his left hand. He glanced through them looking for whatever a registration clerk looks for on papers. "Everything is in order..." He hesitated and looked at me again. "Hopefully you won't embarrass yourself," he said under his breath louder than he intended (or maybe as loudly as he intended) as he lowered his eyes and marked the two blocks under the "Archery" column. The first block was titled "Stationary" and the second block was titled "Mounted".

"Thank you," I said as I accepted the Competitor's pass from him. "I don't intend to."

"Don't intend to what?" he asked, though the clerk knew perfectly well what I meant.

"Embarrass myself."

The clerk grunted, obviously unconvinced. "We'll see. Now move on, Lackland. There are others to register."

In fact there were. As I stepped away I looked at the others in the line waiting behind me. I knew full well some of them would be competing against me. I wondered who among them would be the ones to beat me this day, just like I'd been beaten those other days and other times I competed. Though getting monotonous and predictable, still I try. Don't ask me why I continue to compete because I really haven't an answer. It's just something I feel compelled to do.

I never saw the clerk shift his eyes away from the list and nod towards a diminuitive young woman sitting under the shade of the only tree still standing in the field.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-04-2004 @ 11:38 AM).]

posted 05-05-04 15:37 EST (US)     2 / 29  
With the urgency of registration now relieved, I felt compelled and safe to look around the grounds and see what there was to see.

I couldn't help but chuckle. There present were all of the usual oddities: people who looked like illustrations out of place, and bad illustrations at that. Such ridiculous efforts to look like 12th Century ladies and gents. Just like... Just like... What was the name of that odd organization? Oh yes, the one called something like "Creative Anachronisms," that's the one.

I laughed a little more when the poor fellow dressed in plate armor slipped on something in the grass and fell down on his rear plate, then backwards flush onto the ground. He looked and sounded like a tipped over pot belly stove. Ridiculous.

So why was I there? I don't know. The bizarre goings on maybe? Jugglers, troubadors, merchants-all of them behaving like people out of time, out of character... Out of their minds, I suspect. All right, curiousity. Aimless, unfounded curiousity. Maybe I fit in somehow and don't know it. Anyway, I didn't want to think anymore about that so I walked towards the remuda where the horses were being kept.

No, I don't have a horse of my own. A friend of mine does. I can ride. He let's me exercise the horse. It was my choice how to do it. I chose to combine the horse and archery. That's how I came to be able to ride and shoot. Well, once you learn how to guide a horse with your knees, your hands are free to do something else than worry the horse's direction through reins. I thought, why not try shooting arrows from the saddle of a moving horse. To my surprise I did well. To my continuing disappointment, I never did well enough for it to matter. Today I would try again. It won't matter any more today or tomorrow than before, of that I was more sure than not.

Good looking horses, these. One came over to sniff me or something as I stood beside the fencing of the remuda. A voice rang out from somewhere in a nearby makeshift shelter. "Get out of here," he bellowed. "Stay away from the horses! You know better than to hang around them before the competition!"

Actually I didn't, but once more it was wiser to agree with the officials, no matter their rank, than to argue. Too big a downside if one turns belligerant towards the wrong official at the wrong time. I apologized profusely and quickly stepped away to another part of the field far from the remuda and its cranky caretaker.

That's when I felt the soft tap on the back of my shoulder and turned to discover it came from the young woman who had followed me all of the way from her place in the shade of the lone tree in the field. Of course I didn't know that then. It was much later I learned how our meeting occurred. But by then, so much more had happened to us and to me, that... Well all this really can wait.

"Hello Sire," she said sweetly to me, a smile delicately forming a small dimple in each of her dove white cheeks. "I'm to accompany you during this tournament. My name is May. How may I be of service to you?"

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-05-2004 @ 06:47 PM).]

posted 05-07-04 16:48 EST (US)     3 / 29  
"Of service to me? Why?" I asked her, surprised and even slightly amused at the prospect. "This has not been a part of any competition I've been in before."

"But Sire, we assumed you were not from this area and needed the aid of a guide." She looked puzzled and even a little dismayed.

"Not really. I'm here from Edwinstowe as a matter of fact."

An odd look passed across her face that I couldn't interpret. Not an unpleasant one, just odd. She lowered her eyes. Chasing the odd expression seemed to be another that looked like disappointment. "Is there nothing I can do to help you, Sire?"

May stood about three inches shorter than me. Her hair was pleasantly arranged but mostly hidden under a wrap. Where it showed it was shiny, ebony black. Blue grey eyes under full, yet unotrusively black brows added a splash of color to her oval shaped dove white face. The wind or the sun caused to appear creamy pink splotches of color, one on each cheek, to complement the blue grey of her eyes. Lips neither too full nor too thin, red on their own without aid of cosmetics, completed the portrait. Oh and yes, I did almost forget, there were the dimples, gone now with the retreat of her former smile. She was enchanting. I didn't bother with the rest. One look at her pretty face and the rest became irrelevant.

I felt badly to be the cause of her discomfort. It wasn't her fault, the mistake that was made. So what's the harm? She fulfills her assignment and I have some pleasant company. Nobody's the worse, and the day might pass a little more acceptably than if I worried about my coming defeat. "Perhaps there is," I replied after an unsuitably long pause.

"Wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Sire, please stay here a moment and I shall be right back. There is a report I must give."

"Okay," I said. Report? Must be about me. I was far more right than I knew, and only later would I learn what report it was she gave and the incredible way it was given.

She hurried off and returned rather soon afterwards. "What shall we do now, Sire? My report is given and I'm free to assist."

"So let's just walk awhile, and perhaps talk," I said.

She smiled and the dimples reappeared. "As you wish, Sire."

"Robert," I said. "My name is Robert. This is not the time of castles, knights and kings."

She nodded to say she understood. "But what if it were?" I heard her mutter under her breath even while she smiled at me so prettily I barely heard the words at all and quickly forgot them only a moment later.


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

posted 05-10-04 16:00 EST (US)     4 / 29  
What now, I wondered. Here I am, accompanied by a lovely young woman, who agreed to stay at my side for the day at my request. Such a bounty has never been my lot in the past. If not for the obvious feeling of sun and breeze on my face and the scent of the field in my nostrils I might have concluded I was dreaming this whole thing in my sleep. No, I was wide awake and all too aware this was real. Still I wondered at my sudden good fortune.

"You must be hungry," she said after an extended silence while we strolled across the area, each of us keeping our thoughts to ourselves.

"Why, what time is it?"

"Half past one o'clock," she confirmed.

"Well, now that you mention it..."

"Fine. I know a pub, the Royal Oak. Care to let me escort you there?"

"Uhh, sure. I live in Edwinstowe you know. I'm familiar with it."

"Good, then you can give me directions in the event I go the wrong way or something," she said.

"Somehow I doubt that assistance will be needed," I said, with truthful conviction in my voice.

She laughed. "I hope not, but just in case, be ready." She laughed again, that delightful smile of hers making her dimples all the more obvious.

Mini-Cooper automobiles are a remarkable combination of miniaturization, engineering savy, economical design and workmanship all rolled up into a tiny package absolutely suitable for the streets and roads of the United Kingdom, and for Edwinstowe in particular. Edwinstowe? It's a small town south of one of England's remaining forests and is said to be the site where King Edwin was crowned, one of the very early Kings in English history.

"Nice car," I noted. "How long have you owned it?"

"Oh, I don't own this car. It's a company car. I just use it." She sent me a sidelong glance when she said "It's a company car." There was the hint of a message in that glance. I felt rather dull since I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the message was she was sending. Nothing new there. I generally go blind, deaf and ignorant instantaneously when it comes to conversing with women. Many in the past have told me so, just before they slammed the door in my face or set their phone's handset down hard on the cradle. I don't believe them of course, because I can see and hear the door slam in my face and hear the phone go dead. But ignorant? I never understood why they called me ignorant. Unless it has to do with never understanding their glances and body language. I felt ill at ease knowing I missed a message once again. I vowed to stay clear of doors and phones at least for awhile.

The pub suddenly appeared in front of us. I guess I wouldn't be called on for directions after all. May parked the car and we entered the pub. The door swung open and closed behind me. If I had known then what I know now, I'm not sure I would have stepped so readily into its darkish interior. Instead, I might have begun to run and continued running until I could run no more, leaving Edwinstowe and the competition far, far behind... never to return to either of them again.


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-10-2004 @ 04:06 PM).]

posted 05-11-04 16:07 EST (US)     5 / 29  
The Royal Oak was the oldest pub in Edwinstowe. It had been prominent at one time as the first public place on the road into the town coming from the south. Nobody knew exactly how old the structure might be. It was old enough to manifest a number of rebuilds. Some thought it might date back from the period of the Tudor Dynasty. Others suggested the upper structure might be that old but the lower structure was earlier, and the foundation laid in place earlier yet. Elements of the structure might be as old as 900 years or so, the experts said.

The pub was indeed old. Inside the pub the upper structure, what could be seen in the dim interior, was supported by darkly stained, roughly hewn square posts nearly one foot wide on all sides. The ceiling was bright white, except where the broad fireplace had obviously spewn soot from the many fires lit in its bowels. In remote corners of the pub stood small stoves obviously intended for burning coal. These were in place to add additional warmth to the corners of the structure unreachable by the heat of the fireplace.

Except for May and I, the pub surprisingly was empty of customers. We stepped into the pub navigating the two shallow stairs just beyond the door. We noticed the proprietor behind the crudely built bar and walked in his direction in order to execute the ritual of ordering a pub dinner: First, order your meal; second, order your beverage and third, find a table at which to sit and wait. When it's ready, it will be brought to you or you will be told it's time to pick it up.

I ordered chicken and salad. May ordered the same. In deference to company and the time of day, we both ordered bottled mineral water. She preferred "still," water without effervescence; and I selected "sparkling," the bubbly kind. Then we selected a table from those available and sat down to wait.

May had nothing to say for the moment it seemed so I glanced around at the objects positioned here and there on the walls and ledges of the pub. I saw lanterns, metal implements that seemed to be crudely constructed tools. A sword and shield was mounted to distant wall, and very near me, hanging on a square spike driven into one of the support posts, was a very old bow, obviously hand made, and an ancient quiver bearing a couple of dozen hand fashioned arrows. I know these things. I am an archer, remember?

I turned my head to see that May was studying me even as I was studying the walls and perimeter of the nearly empty pub. Her eyes posed a question I answered without her having to ask. "Interesting stuff on the wall." She nodded her head in agreement. Encouraged, I continued. "Bow and quiver, especially." She smiled, but remained silent. "Must be exceptionally old. I wonder what it would feel like to handle a bow such as that?"

She chose this moment to say, "Ask the proprietor. I doubt he will object if he knows you are an archer."

The proprietor was still behind the bar. I called out to him. "Sir, I am one of the competitors at the archery contest tomorrow. May I examine your amazing bow and quiver. I promise to be careful."

"Aye, ye may!" he loudly replied back to me.

Ye may? Might he be Scottish? But the pronunciation... No, not Scottish. Not even British... Yet it was english and for the life of me I couldn't place the origin of the accent. "Thank you, Sir," I said for proper courtesy's sake and reached for the bow and quiver. I had to rise slightly out of my chair to reach it and didn't notice the proprietor's hand seek out something under the bar just as my hand made contact with the ancient bow and its quiver of arrows.

When I sat down, the objects in my hand, I suddenly experienced the oddest sensation. It was a feeling of motion, somewhat dizzying motion. Yet I was not moving, just reseating myself at the table. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, a tingling sensation coursed up my body beginning at my feet and concluding at the top of my head. I quickly glanced at May to see if she was feeling it as well. Her expression belied the possibility, but the edges of her face were fuzzed, simply not visually sharp as before, and it wasn't due to the dim light of the pub.

A touch of nausea welled up but failed to reach finality. Things began to settle down again and the odd, prickly sensation fled from my skin everywhere. In a brief moment I felt the same as before and none the worse for the experience. May looked just as she had previously, dressed nicely in her period costume. The proprietor stood exactly where he stood before. But the pub... The pub had changed. At that very moment I realized with a rush of confusion just what had changed. The pub, that old structure situated on the road south from Edwinstowe, was no longer old. In fact, the Royal Oak looked as if it had been constructed just a few weeks prior and first opened for business this very day.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-11-2004 @ 04:18 PM).]

posted 05-12-04 15:44 EST (US)     6 / 29  
As I was sitting at the table holding the bow and quiver, a door leading from the pub to a room in the back opened . My eyes captured the entrance of a smallish, unkept little man dressed in inexpertly woven clothes made, it seemed, entirely out of wool. I blinked twice hoping it would clear my mind as well as my vision. Only my vision responded.

In this moment I noticed something I hadn't noticed before. The proprietor himself wore similar clothing, though more expertly weaved and not at all as threadworn as the little man's. Without ceremony, the proprietor walked over to a barrel unseen below the bar, turned the spigot and began to pour dark ale into a vessel. He brought it to the newly arrived customer receiving in exchange a glance and a nod but no words or payment. The customer took the vessel, a tankard it seemed, tapped it once on the thickly cut wooden table top and began to take long draughts of the brew. The proprietor nodded, smiled and returned to the place behind the bar where he had been standing when the little man first entered through the backroom's door.

The door leading to the street now flew open and two burly men dressed in armor and bearing swords walked in. More oddities from the pseudo Medieval Faire it seemed. But no, their armor-mostly chain mail, overshirt, sword and helm-looked as if it were fashioned by a smithie. They looked roadworn and stank like horses as they passed us by heading straight for the little man sitting at the table, whose eyes I could see were opening wide with fear. One of the men positioned himself between the man and the backroom door. The other drew his sword and stood threateningly before the little man whose hands, I could see, were shaking where he gripped the tankard of ale.

"You are the one poaching in the forest! We followed you here! Where is the buck you took?"

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-12-2004 @ 11:04 PM).]

posted 05-12-04 23:03 EST (US)     7 / 29  
"Buck? What buck? I took no buck!" the little man protested, all the while his hands shaking sufficiently to cause the ale in the tankard to slosh about.

"No lies, peasant! We saw you carrying the buck across your horse!"

"My horse is tied up outside. There is no buck. See for yourself."

The soldier stared at the little man, whose hands seemed to be trembling a little less, perhaps as confidence began to flow back into him from wherever it had flown. I watched the proceedings with some interest, especially when I detected some kind of French accent lacing his english. I became especially interested when the soldier turned his head and addressed me in particular. "You, with the wench (for some reason I didn't like that term hung on May) has he been in this place all of this time?"

"No," I answered truthfully.

"Aha!" exclaimed the soldier, "So you have been out and about in the forest! I have proof of your poaching."

That kind of self-serving logic had always been a sore point with me that often led to an irrational, or should I say foolhardy reaction on my part. "It does not!" I shouted out instantly regretting the words I spoke. Both soldiers turned their attention from the little man and focussed malicious stares on me. "I mean," I began hoping to salvage something positive and extricate myself from my foolhardiness. "I mean, where is the buck he should have if he poached one? That's the evidence you need."

The soldier nearest the accused poacher took two steps towards me. Instinctively my hand tightened on the bow and quiver I held in my hand below the table. "We are here on the King's business. If you are as well say so, otherwise speak when spoken to." The warning was clear. King's business? Did I hear him say king's business?

"What king," I said, confusion overriding caution. "Elizabeth is Queen, there is no king. Did something happen to the Queen?"

I felt a shoed foot embed itself in my shin causing me to wince. I looked at May and blinked. Ooops. The two soldiers eyed me strangely and then looked at each other questioningly. I heard one say to the other, "Elizabeth? Be there a woman who seeks the throne from the rightful king?" The other replied, "What doth this oddly dressed stranger know that the king should learn?" They seemed to make a silent decision between them that disposed of the issue of poaching and centered itself on me. Both soldiers began to walk towards me. Expecting the worse, I immediately rose from my chair, drew an arrow from the quiver and in one smooth, deft move had the business end of the arrow pointed at the chest of the more talkative soldier and the drawstring pulled back ready to be released. The soldier stopped dead in his tracks as his eyes opened wide in surprise. He and his companion tightend their grips on their swords.

"Now the two of you leave. I don't want any trouble," I protested, my voice wavering with the stew of emotions flowing through me. This can't be happening to me my mind screamed even as my eyes repeatedly proved otherwise. What is going on here!?

Something silent and deadly passed as a message between the soldiers. Suddenly they dashed left and right to circle and capture me. I let fly an arrow that missed. Just as quickly I fetched a second from the quiver, nocked it and let it loose at the soldier on my right. It caught him dead center where his heart should be. He staggered and fell flat on his face. The other soldier, now very close, lifted his sword to strike me down while my bow stayed empty. May screamed my name and a warning, "Robert, watch out!" But it turned out to be unnecessary. A scream exploded from the soldier on my left and he fell face forward onto our table and finished his fall sprawled on the ground, the overturned table rolling near his unmoving body. A hunting knife stuck out from his back, thrown hard enough, like the strike of my arrow at close range, to penetrate chain mail. The hunting knife belonged to the little man accused of poaching.

The shock of what happened, what I did, turned my legs into rubber. I sought out a chair and sat down in it heavily. I looked up to see three pairs of eyes staring at me: the proprietor's, the little man's and May's. What was I to say. I just killed a man and caused another to die as well. I would have killed the second one too if I'd been quicker. "Better call the police," I said. "I'll have to report this matter to Scotland Yard."

"What be this 'Scotland Yard'?" asked the little man. "What thing is 'police' that I should call?"

The proprietor blinked and looked at May. "Best remove him now, I think. We've learned what we needed to learn." In my daze I saw May nod. The next thing I knew, I was assisted from my chair and taken to the door leading to the back room of the pub and heard the door being closed by the proprietor behind us.

May let go of me. The sunlight leaking in through a second door shined upon the carcass of a buck deer lying across three casks of ale stored in the room. The little man with the hunting knife was indeed a poacher! I did this for someone who was guilty as charged?! Oh, the trouble I knew I was in.

But I soon forgot that as once more an incredible tingling sensation passed over me. I felt nauseated and dizzy, but to my relief it began to pass just as quickly as it occurred. May threw open the outer door and she guided me outside. Blinking in the sunlight I saw the road in front of the pub, the place where May's auto was parked, and no sign of horses or soldiers anywhere.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-13-2004 @ 01:17 PM).]

posted 05-13-04 20:57 EST (US)     8 / 29  
The inside of May's auto was warm from being closed up and parked in the sun. I didn't mind. The warmth seemed to rejuvenate my senses and chase away the fog that once again permeated my thinking. For some reason, the more I sat there as May arranged her things in the console next to the driver's seat, the more the clearing fog seemed to make distant and increasingly unclear the events that had just occurred. I fumbled about in my mind trying to make sense out of this. I failed.

"May?" I asked. "What just happened?"

"We had dinner."

"Funny. I still seem hungry," I noted.

"You ate very little."

"Seems like I ate nothing at all."

May shrugged her shoulders. "We spent considerable time there. Shall I take you back to the field or elsewhere?"

"To the field, I think. I can take a motorcoach from there."

"I could drive you home. It won't be a bother. No need to take a motorcoach."

"It's out of your way, isn't it. I mean, that's not what you're supposed to do. You're here only to assist me during the competition. Right?"

"When I'm on duty, yes. When I'm not, what I do is up to me. So, since I'm not on duty, may I take you to your home?"

I sighed and surrendered. I don't like motorcoaches anyway. "Sure. Thanks." I told her my address. Oddly, she seemed to know right where it was located. Couldn't have been easy as I live on a narrow little cobblestone street tucked away such that only one car can park on one curbside only, and those that do so park at great risk to side mirrors. She positioned her auto expertly and turned off the engine.

"Look," she said. "I hope you don't think me too forward, but you seem very uncomfortable, distracted even. Tomorrow's the competition. You need some rest. Let me kind of, ummm, accompany you for awhile and then leave you to your preparations. I can go up to your place and sort of, well, we can talk, maybe. Maybe a little supper, you know."

"May, I am not quite set up to receive guests."

"I've been in my bachelor brother's place. Nothing can shock me that way."

"Nor am I stocked for food for company."

"No bother there, either. I saw a little food shop just around the corner from here. I needed to get some things anyway. Show me what you have and I'll add the rest." Her smile emphasized her dimples. There must have been something of a spell at the very bottom of each lovely indentation. I felt like someone other than myself had taken control of my head and was making me nod yes though I really craved solitude, or I thought I did. We got out of her auto and she pulled a satchel of something from out of the cargo space in the back.

I opened the door to my flat and let us both in, bending down briefly to pick up the day's post pushed through the slot in my door while I was away. There was nothing in it of importance so I threw the unopened envelopes on a small nearby table and walked towards the pantry. A couple of bends and turns and I was there, but when I turned around, May was nowhere to be seen.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-14-2004 @ 01:12 AM).]

posted 05-15-04 11:58 EST (US)     9 / 29  
"May!" I called out her name and listened for her response. No answer. "May! Where are you?!" I started retracing my steps. I heard a low voice as if speaking to someone behind the closed door to my small 2nd bedroom, the one I used as a pseudo office. I couldn't make out the words. "May, is that you?"

May's voice finally came through the door. "Robert! Don't come in yet! I'm changing out of my clothes!"

"You're what?"

"Getting out of my clothes."

I suddenly became very nervous. "May, now understand I didn't mean, I mean, well certainly, but inviting you up here, well, uhhh, well, I appreciate you telling me, uhhh." I did my involuntary imitation of "Hugh Grant stuttering through a monologue" since the extent of the response I received was only the sound of movement within the room. I retreated back to the pantry in order to recover something of my self control.

The 6 foot high pantry door was wide open and blocking my view of the entrance to the tiny kitchen. As I studied the content of the pantry, I heard movement on the other side of the door. Closing it I found May had quietly stepped into the kitchen and was standing there. Contrary to my foolish speculations, she had transformed herself into no less than a typical 21st century young woman dressed in navy blue ladies slacks and a very nice pale blue, twin pocketed, collared, long sleeved, ladies shirt. I silently chastised myself for permitting typical male ego and too many films at the cinema to override my common sense. I actually breathed a sigh of relief.

Not that May was any less stunning in her new generally everyday dress than in her period costume. In fact, her medieval costume, while it emphasized waist and facial features, did nothing for any other element of her appearance. Instead, it mostly hid them under layers of petticoat, dress and apron. On the other hand, her contemporary outfit, even though conservatively styled and comfortably fitted, made it very clear that this was a woman, and a lovely young woman at that. With great effort I averted my eyes to avoid giving the impression I was staring. My last glimpse of her for the moment left indelibly imprinted May's remarkable smile, while her two dimples worked overtime on my senses.

"Now Robert, I can't see what's in there if you stand in the way, can I?" she said with a laugh added to her mild admonishment. I moved out of the way. May studied the content of the pantry, then walked over to the 'fridge, opened the door and peered inside. "Hmmmm. If men could live their lives by consuming nothing but beer, I presume they would be happy from birth to death. You're well stocked there I see."

"There was a sale."

"I imagine. Did you leave a bottle or two for someone else?"

"A few," I admitted.

"Lucky them. Well, that gives me an idea or two. See you in a bit." She abruptly closed the 'fridge, turned about, grabbed her purse from the table, her costume from the other room and walked out the door. "Cheers!" she called back to me. "Open it up when I knock. I'll have a bag of things when I return." Without further ceremony she shut the door behind her and was gone on her errand.

The silence was deafening. I never noticed how quiet it could be in my flat. It was too quiet. For the first time in my life, I didn't like the quiet. I sat down in my lone overstuffed chair and tried to think through the events of the day, at least through those I could clearly remember. I was incredibly hungry. Made no sense. Had dinner, in a pub; but what was the name of the pub? What had I eaten? I just couldn't remember.

The events of registration were clear enough; the warning from the animal keeper I clearly remembered. I even recalled my first meeting with May. The rest just hovered somewhere in my memory hidden by a proverbial 19th century London fog. I must have fallen asleep in my overstuffed chair because the next thing I knew, seemingly only a moment later, a knocking at the door awakened me.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

posted 05-17-04 16:01 EST (US)     10 / 29  
May had two sacks filled with groceries. Most of the content was her's. There were a few items she indicated were for tonight's supper. I didn't realize how late in the day it had become. I certainly knew just how hungry I felt. May went to work in the kitchen and told me to find something productive to do, like check my equipment for tomorrow's competition. Good idea.

My office closet is the place where I keep my archery equipment. I already checked it once earlier in the week. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to check it again. I returned to my overstuffed chair with equipment in hand and began my schedule of inspections. Enough arrows, check. Bow strings unfrayed, check. Spare bow springs, check. Pull back on the bowstring... No squeaks, no rubbing. Good working order. Alignment right. Everything seemed ready.

I looked at the bow appreciating its complexity and beauty trying to imagine how the archers of history managed their weapons without all of the engineering found in these weapons today. A thought occurred to me. "May, seems okay!" I shouted towards the kitchen. "As good to go as the one in the pub!" A little shock wave came at me and rolled over my body on its way to who knew where. A bow in the pub? Where did that come from?

May's head appeared just outside of the door, her blue grey eyes staring at me, her face wearing a moderate frown of surprise and concern. "Yes, the one in the pub," she said confirming my seemingly unexpected recollection.

I felt as surprised as she looked. "The pub, what was it's name again?" I asked.

"The Royal Oak," she answered, looking nervously over her shoulder at something in the kitchen. "Now Robert, I really have to finish what I'm doing if we're to enjoy something of our supper." Before I could answer her face was gone from the doorway. I could hear kitchen tools at work and decided it wasn't wise to disturb her again.

In the general peace that followed I had this little sensation of domesticity arise. It had been a long time, actually, since I felt anything like this. That was when Laura... Yes, well, that was a long time ago. About eighteen months since the day when... I stopped thinking about it. The time was gone, she was gone.

"Supper's ready," I heard May say from the kitchen. I could hardly wait, the scent of cooking was already driving my salivary glands to flood stage. In a controlled frenzy of moving hands, utensils and serving vessels, I loaded my plate and consumed a supper consisting of a baked quarter chicken, seasoned rice and sliced green beans. Second helpings followed. It was delicious. May said nothing as I voraciously rampaged through my supper, that is, until I set down my fork and knife and leaned into the back of my chair feeling satiated.

"A little hungry were we?" she said, a bemused smile assisting her dimples to appear and disappear as she daintily chewed on some green beans.

"Famished," I acknowledged. "It was very nicely prepared and cooked. Thank you."

"You're welcome," she said as she lowered her eyes while poking at something on her plate with her fork, her smile disappearing to some other room in the flat. "Tell me about the pub. What else do you remember?"

The image of the bow flashed into my mind. Then I remembered the entrance to the pub, ordering a meal, asking permission before I reached for the bow. My recollections hit a brick wall at that point, until a scene unfolded lit by bright sunlight. A scene that featured my return to May's auto and our departure from the pub. These were the memories I spoke about to May. She nodded her head as if agreeing with my recollection.

"That's all?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"Good? Why is remembering only that limited detail out of a day and not the rest considered good."

"No, I mean it's good that you remembered what you have."

"What do I not remember?" I said looking at her a frown creasing my brow this time.

"Nothing actually. We spent some time there and left. That is all." She suddenly rose from the table. "I'll take the plates to the kitchen and wash them, then I have to be going. You need your rest." I promptly understood the subject was closed and the evening was at an end. When the door to my flat closed behind her, I at least felt relieved that I still could remember and feel the light brush of her lips on my cheek from the moment when she said goodnight with a soft, unexpected kiss. Now I was alone, thoroughly alone. I forceably turned my thoughts to tomorrow, the first day of the competition. The other thoughts were much too difficult to wrestle with this night.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-17-2004 @ 04:05 PM).]

posted 05-19-04 15:55 EST (US)     11 / 29  
The first day of the competition arrived despite my fond wish that it would postpone itself for an eternity. Equipment in hand I waited nervously for May to come by and pick me up, something she offered and I accepted just before she left the flat last night. The knock came exactly when she said it would despite the challenge of parking her car in the close (narrow side street) outside my door.

"Morning, Robert," she said cheerily as I opened the door. "Ready for the competition?"

"No."

"And why not?"

"Rather not do this," I said grumpily.

"Are we having a few pre-competition jitters?" Her face broke into a wide smile that caused a dimple to dominate each rosy cheek. My eyes found them and fell in. "I have just the ticket for making those jitters go away," she announced.

"You do?" I asked suspiciously.

"Sure. Close your eyes."

Oh God, I thought. What is she going to do now? My concern was promptly answered by a warm brush of lips on my cheek ending in a soft kiss. "I'm not done yet," she warned as my legs unbraced and the tension in my body eased ever so slightly with the diversion of sensories moving at high speed to my left cheek. "Keep them closed a moment more."

May kissed me hard, meaningfully on my lips. Despite her orders, my eyes popped open at the unexpected intensity of the kiss, at the sheer surprise of the physical manifestation of her rather bold assumption that I would welcome such an act. The woman was brilliant! My legs turned to rubber, every muscle in my body tried yielding to gravity. I dropped my equipment bag and wrapped my arms around her giving back responsively the very same she was giving to me. Finally she gently pushed back to signal her decision that both of us probably just had all we could stand. "Now," she said somewhat more breathlessly than before, "let's try that over again."

"Sure," I said as I reached for her.

"No, silly. Let's try that greeting again. Morning, Robert."

"Good Morning, May," I responded with a great deal more enthusiasm than before.

"That's better. Now let's be on our way. The competition is waiting for you and it's my job to make sure you are not late. So pick up your equipment and let's get on with it, shall we."

"Yes, M'am." I did as I was told. Had to, paid in advance as I was by this lovely girl who I somehow luckily gained as my personal escort. Never had such a thing happened to me before. I couldn't believe my good fortune.

So many thoughts ran through my mind I barely paid attention to the drive to the competition field. I did take a moment, however, to observe that May's clothing seemed different, more intricate, more dressy, more of everything than the clothing of the day before. She seemed prepared for some kind of unique social occasion, not a day in the field, a galley or some other medieval commoner's place for chores. Her dress was brightly colored and made of a polished material manifesting a subtle blue sheen. It was cut lower in the bodice than the previous clothing, a fact I did not miss, but chose not to dwell upon, at least noticeably.

Too soon we were at the site of the competition. Too soon I was at the reporting table. Too soon the competition began. Far too soon, I heard my name called for the heat to which I was assigned.


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

posted 05-20-04 15:59 EST (US)     12 / 29  
"Stationary targets!" announced the Competition Supervisor. "Heat Number Five!" he confirmed, his voice booming over the field's loudspeaker system. "Ten meters!" That would be the first set of targets for each of the six archers in the heat, the final heat of the first round. "Ready arrows! I pulled an arrow from my quiver and placed it properly in my bow. "Ready bows!" I eyed the target and elevated my bow to the position I thought best to compensate for the distance, speed of the wind and location of the target. "Release!" Six arrows took flight. All landed in the target, but as the target was zoned with points awarded in increasing value the closer to the center each arrow struck, the scores for each archer would not necessarily be the same.

Four more times this sequence was repeated. All of my competitors and I managed to place arrows on the target without a miss. "Score!" cried out the Competition Supervisor. "Competitors may rest!" A smallish man opened the door to the protected portable field shack that looked like a privy on wheels, designed so that no errant arrow could strike the field official, but by its close proximity and portability allowing the official to quickly arrive at the targets and count the points earned by each archer.

The count was completed. The field official brought the bullhorn he carried up to his lips and announced each competitors number and score. I took some satisfaction in that I was tied for first in the heat, a better score for me than usual. But then again, the competition was still in its earliest and easiest phase. The worst was yet to come.

We repeated the sequence for targets at twenty-five meters and then for targets at the final distance of fifty meters, five shots only per target. I missed some at fifty meters, but so did the others. On the other hand, arrows of mine that found the targets managed to perch themselves in the higher yielding point zones. I hoped the hits would offset the misses adequately to keep me in the competition.

"Competitors may rest!" ordered the Competition Director. "Score for the round!" he called out, and once more the field official scurried about checking the position of arrows landing on the targets. The bullhorn sounded out competitor numbers and scores. "Competitors may view the Event Results Board!" That meant we could walk to the electric signboard and see our cumulative and round scores put up for all to see, along with our resulting rankings. The two best scores in each of the five heats would advance to the semifinals, plus the addition of two selectees with the best score among all competitors who were not first or second in their heat. I had a fair chance of making the semifinals. My score lit up next to my name and it became official. I was first in my heat and therefore invited back for the next round.

I was still staring at the electric signboard trying to determine who I would be competing against when May appeared at my side. "Congratulations," she said. "You seemed to have overcome your jitters."

I laughed a little. "I had some help early on." May didn't laugh, she simply smiled.

"I have something to tell you."

"And it is?" I responded.

"You are cordially invited to a social occasion this evening at which you will meet some interesting people, but there are two catches."

I frowned. "May, I'm in competition and tomorrow is the equestrian contest. I can't be partying it up right now."

"Not to worry, Robert. Your host knows this and doesn't expect anything of you but to appear, enjoy a meal, converse and depart."

"Alright May, what are the two catches?"

"First, you will have to be in period costume... (she saw my frown) Now don't worry, I have that all arranged." She paused to allow my frown to melt away. "And secondly, you must appear with a lady on your arm."

"A lady on my arm?"

"Yes, that's what I said, a lady on your arm."

An imp inside me escaped from its holding cell and took over my body. I began to look around at everyone, competitor and gallery visitor alike, but not once glancing at May. "Hmmm, let's see, who shall it be. Now over there is a young redhead, possibly Scottish, maybe Irish, who might fit the bill. And then over there is a blonde lady, very Kensington. Yes, she would do I think. Oh, and there is a brunette..."

I glanced at May not able to contain my curiousity any longer about how she might be reacting. There she stood, hands on hips, a frown on her face, no doubt a dainty foot hidden by her long bell skirt tapping repeatedly at the floor of the field in irritation. I didn't have the heart to prolong the joke. "Oh well, I really don't know them, so I guess it will have to be you." I held out my arm in the proper position to receive the hand of a lady. "Shall we practice, Lady May?"

"Just for a moment or two, Mi'lord," she responded goodnaturedly, her feigned irritation quickly gone. "Let me quickly update you on the formalities..." she added, a note of seriousness added to her otherwise lighthearted tone.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-20-2004 @ 04:07 PM).]

posted 05-21-04 15:37 EST (US)     13 / 29  
I nodded my head as each compact little instruction was poured one by one into my ears and made to find its way laboriously into my short term memory. The reasonably brief litany did finally end and I was declared fit and ready. "Fit" maybe. "Ready" was another matter.

Even so, very little could dampen my rather elevated spirits as the realization that I had won my heat for the first time ever finally and indelibly registered. And on my arm was a lovely young woman, seeming increasingly so to me, who appeared to want nothing more than to make my day comfortable and happy. Should I pinch myself to see if I was dreaming all of this? I hadn't the courage to try.

"It's too bad none of your family are here to see how well you are doing," May said rather casually, almost absentmindedly after we walked a few paces to find some shade under a quite lonely appearing tree, one of the few scattered here and there where once a forest stood proudly. My world darkened considerably in that moment, and it was not from the shade.

"I have no family. None."

"Wouldn't your foster parents..." May began, but stopped when she saw me look at her rather sharply.

"How do you know about them?" I asked, wondering actually why this conversation even occurred.

"I don't. I just... guessed... you were an orphan. You listed no relatives on your registration form. I have to review it, you know, when I'm required to escort a competitor at one of these."

I pursed my lips and frowned a little. "I didn't know that."

"Well, I'm the first competitor escort you've had I think."

"That's right."

"So it goes to explain why... Well, anyway, aren't you an orphan?"

"Yes. My father and mother were killed in an auto accident. I have no living relatives, none anyway that would take me in. The government placed me with a foster family, you know, one that's paid to take in orphans or runaways. I had a lot of sisters and brothers there. None who were around for very long. "Turnover" is what my guardians called it."

"Did they care for you? Treat you like a son?"

"I was fed, clothed and cared for; but as for being a son? No, I think they feared attachments. Afterall, none of us would be around any longer than necessary and there was always a new one to care for. I was treated fairly, but never like a son. I'm not even sure what that would be."

May nodded and looked at the ground. "I really never felt alone before, at least not until my first year at university."

"You went to university?"

"Yes."

"Did you finish? You seem like you should have finished quite recently."

May looked at me with an odd expression. "Yes, recently. Something came along that interested me and I decided against an advanced degree. Yourself?"

"No. Took the test, missed the cut. Just barely. Story of my life."

May shook her head. "Not today, Robert."

"The day isn't over yet," I countered, sticking fingers in the leaky dike in my mind threatening to let the rising flow of melancholy pour into my soul.

We fell silent after that. Neither of us thinking of anything more to say, nor feeling like the other wanted to hear it if it was said. The Competition loudspeaker interrupted our conjoined silence.

"YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! THE SEMIFINALS OF THE STATIONARY TARGET ARCHERY COMPETITION WILL BEGIN IN THIRTY MINUTES. COMPETITORS, SEE TO YOUR EQUIPMENT AND REPORT TO THE COMPETITION FIELD. I REPEAT..."


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-21-2004 @ 03:56 PM).]

posted 05-23-04 13:51 EST (US)     14 / 29  
I lined up for the second heat. There were only two heats this time, six competitors per heat. The first two finishers in each heat would advance to the finals, plus two others selected on the basis of best overall score. As expected, the targets were moved out farther as a starting point than in the previous heats. It was in the rules, that's why I expected it.

When the time for my heat came, May wished me good luck and took her place near the gallery. I found it odd that she was the only escort or hostess or whatever you'd call her I could see in the area. I mean, at least she was the only obvious one. Nobody else was dressed in a period costume at all, just May.

The first target was set at twenty-five meters, the second at fifty meters and the third at seventy-five. I felt rather loose and comfortable, an exception to my usual feelings before a heat began. I can't explain why, it just seemed right. As my American friend would say, I felt "in the zone." The arrows I let fly took their cue from my mindset and unerringly found their targets. No misses whatsoever. Of course I didn't maximize the points I could have earned. Indeed, some of my arrows seemed to find merely the edges of the target at seventy-five meters. Nonetheless, once again I found myself the leader in my heat and once again I qualified for the succeeding round, this time it would be the finals.

Exhilarated, I sought out May and found her among the spectators in the gallery, her back turned to me. "May!" I exclaimed even before I was particularly close enough to speak to her. "Did you see?!"

She startled at my voice or at hearing her name called out so loudly and turned somewhat in my direction. Surprise was written all over her face. She quickly spoke words I couldn't hear into the object in her hand, a small metal box of some kind, concealed it with her other hand and stuffed it into a recess located somewhere in her clothing. Odd, I thought, then quickly pushed the thought out of my mind as she turned fully towards me, her cheerful smile and dimples welcoming me back to her side.

"Of course I saw what you did. Congratulations!" she said. "I knew you were going to do well. I had a feeling. You know, one of those feelings."

"I guess so," I replied as I remembered back to my experience during the second round of the competition. "I felt so very relaxed out there. Everything was crisp and clear. I can't explain it. Never happened to me before."

"It will happen again. It does if you stay open to the opportunity."

I looked at her somewhat quizzically. "Have you put some kind of spell on me?"

"Me? Robert Lackland, are you accusing me of being a witch?"

"Witch?! No way! Sorceress, maybe. Not a witch!"

"Good. The last time I checked I was neither green nor sprouting hair out of unsightly warts or moles on my face."

"Not at all," I agreed. "In fact, you are exceptionally lovely in my opinion."

Her face turned pink. So did mine. I couldn't believe I said that. Me, Mr. Withdrawn, Mr. Inhibited. "That was very nice of you," May said hesitatingly, her eyes focussed on mine, probing for something behind them I wasn't sure at the time she found. "I do a little conjuring now and then, no spells," she said. "Call tonight's little social occasion an example after I conjure you into the guise of... Well, you'll see."

"I think I can wait."

"You'll have too Mr. Archer, 'cause you have equipment to check and one more round to get through before this day is done."

She was right about that. So I set about to do just as she said I should. And then I waited for the field call asking competitors to assemble for the finals of the Stationary Target Archery Contest.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-23-2004 @ 01:56 PM).]

posted 05-24-04 16:00 EST (US)     15 / 29  
The final six contestants, myself one of them, all lined up, bows and arrows ready, waiting for the Competition Director to give his instructions. A few minutes later this final phase of the Stationary Target Competition began. Thirty minutes later, the targets which had been positioned first at fifty meters and then at seventy-five meters were moved out to one hundred meters. I knew this would occur. I practiced for this distance, but never before had I ever competed at this distance; for never before had I lasted this long into a competition.

I could barely make out the target. It seemed to be a small, distant something at which to aim and let fly an arrow. I mentally told myself to stay focussed and sample the windage with a hand or a finger and calculate the strength of the breeze by turning my attention to the sensations on either of my facial cheeks. Two things I confirmed: 1)the wind was blowing from left to right, and 2)the breeze was gentle, at least where I was standing.

"Archers, select your arrows!" began the usual litany. Four launches later, my mental calculations based on the field official's scoring put me in the lead by the slimmest of margins. My closest competitor trailed me by only five points. Not just close, but very close. The other four archers couldn't possibly catch either of us and were competing among themselves for the bronze competition medal.

"Final flight!" announced the Competition Director. "Select your arrows!" One archer at a time to release!" I would be launching last as I was the leader. I waited my turn. My closest competitor was five archers away from my position though he was only five points away from me in the competition. I dared not look at him, just at his target one-hundred meters away. I heard the twang of his bowstring. I saw his arrow in flight at its downward arc heading true for the target. I saw it most likely striking his target and waited for the field official to confirm what I saw. "On target! Ten points!"

My insides quaked. I knew I must strike the target to win. It didn't matter where. The lowest possible score was ten points for striking the edge of the target. I needed only ten points to win the gold competition medal. I only needed to hit the target. Anywhere.

I heard the Competition Director giving his directions to select an arrow, ready my bow and release. I followed them mechanically though my mind was in a whirl and the breeze, so quiet until now, seemed to be rushing by my ears even though the velocity had not really changed at all. The gallery of onlookers remained as silent as possible.

TWANG!

I released the arrow and rode it with my mind, my heart and soul all of the way to the target. It arc'd beautifully, perfectly, peaking just over the fifty meter mark before beginning its graceful descent. "It's true! It's true!" I heard someone cry out behind me, a member of the gallery who seemed to have adopted me mid-competition as his own. I agreed with him, it was flying true. Then it shifted somewhat, as if an invisible hand had reached out and given it a nudge. It continued to arc downwards and to the best that I could see was still on target. It struck the target right at the edge. The ten points I needed were there for the taking, the roar from the gallery confirming their opinion that it was my right to do so. But instead the points were denied to me; for the arrow, the moment it struck the target, began to tilt downwards until relentlessly, undeniably, the force of gravity overcame the strength of the arrow's point, and the arrow fell from the target and onto the field.

The gallery went silent again. Then an audible groan of sympathy escaped from many an onlooker followed by hearty applause, not just for the winner of the gold competition medal, but also for me. Small consolation really, even as my hands closed around the silver competition medal awarded to me by the Director along with kind words during the awards ceremony.

The bronze medal winner and others among the competitors walked up and congratulated me. Well intentioned words failed to fill the hollow place still inside. I should be happy, they told me. A brilliant piece of archery, others said. Then the gold medal winner walked up to me. I wondered what he planned to say such that it too would be lost in the black hole I felt I had become.

I spoke first as that is the custom when addressing a competitor who finished higher than you. "Congratulations. A fine win, Sir." I held out my hand. It was taken firmly in a warm, cordial grip.

"My name is Godfrey... Godfrey Stanbridge. My congratulations to you as well on your win."

"Mr. Stanbridge, I have not won," I protested. "You have won this competition."

"The name is Godfrey, please. The competition? Yes, a gold medal. Lovely, of course. But you, Mr. Lackland, have won as well. More than you really yet know."

"Uhh, Robert will do for me." Godfrey nodded acknowledging the courtesy I extended. Regardless of these proprieties, I still felt totally confused by his meaning. "What do you mean by that? What is it I have yet to know?"

Godfrey smiled. "In good time, Robert. I must leave now and prepare for tonight. Besides, I see there is someone behind you who is a better choice for conversation than me. Good day, Sir. Well met."

Impulsively at Godfrey's words I swiveled my head around and saw that it was May standing there. I looked back to see that Godfrey had already left us. Even as I turned May was already set to place her arms around me and give me a kiss. I had absolutely no intention of prohibiting such a thing in public this day, but I felt undeserving. "May, I didn't win..." She made the words so muffled with her kiss after that even I don't know what they were.

"Quiet. She said, her eyes sparkling in the light of the descending sun. "You won me, didn't you?"

"I did?"

"Yes, you silly archer. As if you were Apollo himself! Now let's get ready for tonight!" She led me away from the field and into the most amazing evening of my life.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-24-2004 @ 04:17 PM).]

posted 05-26-04 21:12 EST (US)     16 / 29  
Early evening descended upon us as I finished climbing into my clothing following a reviving shower in the small yet efficient bathroom in my flat. I looked in the shoulder length mirror and concluded I was ready for anything.

Before I began my ministrations May had deposited my clothing in my hands, first withdrawing it from the luggage compartment in her car, and then giving me specific instructions on the more unusual wrappings. She emphasized her need to freshen up and had driven away leaving me to my task. (I knew she lived nearby, just how close I wasn't exactly sure.) The knock on the door I surmised was May returning to pick me up for the drive to the place where the evening's activities would occur. I was right.

She had made a subtle change in her clothing. It seemed more, how shall I say it, regal or noble? She wore a second wrap around her waist and the overall appearance was much more formal than at the competition. In fact, I would swear to the fact that she changed her entire outfit substituting another of much finer quality but of the same pale blue color and similar form. "You look lovely," I told her, the complement flowing naturally.

"Why thank you, Sir," she answered, the smile growing on her face and her dimples sinking into her rosy cheeks. She put the two woolen cloaks she was carrying down on the chair as she asked, "Are you ready?"

"I suppose so. How do I look?"

May studied my appearance head to toe with a frown. She reached out and adjusted a few elements of my clothing. Breeches were tugged slightly right. Billowing shirt was checked for fit. Arm lengths examined and cuffs checked for appropriate tightness. "One last thing," she said, and she handed me a slim bladed knife in a sheath designed to be worn at the waist. "Put this on."

"But that's a knife!" I said, quite surprised at the instrument.

"I know it's a knife. You'll need it tonight."

"But why?"

"Because forks are not used where you'll be going."

I knew what that meant. I had been to one of those meals once. A knife was your only implement, and your hands were all that was left to be used. I sighed. "Okay."

"And this, wear this as well." She handed me the larger of the two cloaks. It was well assembled, obviously not by a machine, for though it obviously would withstand heavy wear, it lacked the uniformity a machine assembled garment would exhibit. "Hand-made?" I asked. She nodded as if saying it was so.

A disassociated thought crossed my mind as she drove us to the... well, wherever it was we were going. "May, what did you study at university?" I had meant to ask that earlier in the day before the competition distracted me.'

She looked at me somewhat oddly, a touch of suspicion in evidence in her eyes. "Uhhh, history. Why?"

"Curiousity. That's why I asked." I paused for a moment, then looked down at my empty hands. "If I had qualified for university I think that's what I would have studied too."

"Yes we..., I mean, I know. I mean..." May looked out the left window as she seemed to be collecting herself for some reason. "I'm sorry, Robert. I meant to say I thought as much given what we've talked about these two days and the collection you have."

"How do you know about my collection?"

"It was in the room, you know, the one you call your office."

"But I never showed it to you."

May's cheeks seemed rosier than when we first started the drive. "I saw it when I was changing in there, the first day. Remember?"

"It's just a few things: Saxon arrowheads, section of an old Norman sword, a Viking artifact. Not enough to call it a collection."

"It was very interesting."

"I have more items I've not yet displayed," I volunteered, her interest raising my enthusiasm, confusion about her earlier comments fading away.

"And you would not call that a collection?" May said, glancing towards me and then returning her eyes to the road.

"Okay, I guess it is," I conceded. The smile returned to her face and her cheeks seemed to return to their earlier less intense rosy lustre.

We parked on a paved driveway toe to nose with about five other vehicles. Not as large a gathering as I expected. May permitted me to assist her from her car and I closed the right side door behind her. "Please, Robert, go to the door. I shall be there in a moment."

As I walked to the door of the compact stone structure, vaguely reminiscent of a Norman keep I glanced over my shoulder to see that May's back was turned to me and she seemed to be attending to something in her hand. She must have been talking to herself for some unknown reason because words too faintly spoken to understand clearly were being carried a short distance on the evening breeze from May to me. I returned my attention to the door pointed to by May, reached it and turned in time to see May hurrying after me only a few steps away. She arrived at my side just a few seconds later. "Ready?" she said.

"I guess so," I answered with some hesitation.

"Right! So let's go in." May waited as I knocked on the door. It swung open of its own accord, not a human being in sight. I walked into the smallest vestibule within a stone ediface I had ever seen. The door closed behind us and I reached for the second door that undoubtedly opened, I expected, into a much larger room. Where was the host or hostess who would welcome us? How odd. Then, as my hand firmly gripped and turned the wooden knob (wooden?) on the opposite door, I once again felt that very odd tingling sensation I recalled affected me when I touched the bow hanging on the support post in the pub in Edwinstowe. It was not as severe nor as disconcerting, but the sensation certainly was unmistakeably out of place and entirely unexpected.

Unexpected as well was the scene that greeted me when the door opened full wide to the room beyond.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

posted 05-27-04 15:53 EST (US)     17 / 29  
The heavy rough-hewn door with the wooden door knob latched behind me with an unexpectedly crude iron-like clank. The room I entered was obviously the main banquet hall, modest in size compared to some I'd seen. Costumed people were milling about and chatting, but none were seated at the long, thick planked great table that dominated the hall's center. It was set with a mix of pewter plates, crockery cups, wooden serving bowls and other various and assorted objects to contain or serve food. There were no utensils except thick wooden spoons laid beside the wooden bowls, which were stacked on smaller plates, which were stacked on larger plates, and so forth.

The entire chamber and its grey stone walls and floor were illuminated by thick candles, some in candle holders on the table, the others in chandeliers hanging from the support beams crossing left to right perpendicular to the long planks making up the irregularly flat ceiling. Well done, I thought to myself. Well done, indeed; for it seemed modeled perfectly on similar halls I'd seen in period structures still standing in England. Tudor? No, pre-Tudor, I concluded. Much earlier, in fact.

Less than a dozen people were milling around the room. That explained the scarcity of automobiles in the parking aisle outside. It was to be a small gathering apparently. Near slit-sized, shuttered openings stood men who were not milling around. They were uniformly dressed in the same peculiar clothing, all of the clothing a muted crimson color. They wore breeches, straight line shirts and hats that looked for all of the world like the paper airplanes I made as a child, the fancier ones that is. Each hat sported a colorful feather. Hanging on a spike in the wall near each opening was a bow and a quiver full of arrows. To complete the image, each man wore a moderately broad-bladed sword in a scabbard at his side. I was quite impressed by the attention to detail. Not a single one of the men gave hint of his times by exposing a wristwatch or some other modern essential. Well done, I thought again. Well done, indeed.

Whether the disturbing tingling wore off of its own accord or the intricacy of the setting distracted me from its effects I do not know, for soon after entering I felt no odd sensations at all. In fact, I felt quite normal in these very abnormal surroundings. May layed her hand across my arm as a reminder that I should be properly escorting her into the room. I lifted my arm waist high with the lower part of the arm parallel to the floor and stepped further into the room conveying her hand in the manner she described earlier is appropriate. Within moments a middle-aged man, shorter than myself, removed himself from the milling guests and made his way straight towards us.

"Halloo! Halloo!" he shouted such that it echoed across the hall. "I am so glad you could come! I wasn't sure you would find it safe to travel given the number of the sheriff's men out tonight."

May curtsied when the man was about two steps away. "Rise, please!" said our apparent host jovially. "And allow me to greet you without all of that damnable formality!" Even so, I gave a bow of my head and a slight tilt of my shoulders to signify respect upon meeting our host, just as May said I should.

"My dear Earl, you are most welcome to my humble household as is the lovely lady you bring with you. The servants of the Earl of Edwinstowe shall be at your beck and call. I will hear of it if you are not well cared for!"

The words stuck in my throat. Earl? Did he call me Earl? Our host stared at me, his smile slowly fading away as I remained speechless, my mind in turmoil. This far and away was becoming more intense than I expected. May broke the silence on my behalf. "I should say, Milord, that your household must be considered far from humble." Her dimples seemed to have the same effect on the Earl as they did on me. His eyes found them and stayed focussed on them even as she continued to speak. "Your reputation for hospitality makes one receiving an invitation to your manor the envy of all." Well said, I thought. You pulled my feet out of that fire. It also inspired me.

"Yes, Earl, I should add how pleased I am to receive your invitation. I find your accomplishments a wonderful example for those who are members of my manor as well." Inside I laughed at myself. 'My manor' indeed. Oh well, why not play along. I even added a second bow as emphasis.

"Now, now, Earl. You try to flatter me. I will not have that in my manor." His smile was as wide as his facial muscles would allow. He leaned into me as if to share a confidence. "Except in public." He started to guffaw, making his slightly thickened, middle-aged belly jiggle up and down. I took an instant liking to the man. It was clear May thought highly of him as well. "Now, please join us in our toast. Mead!" the Earl of Edwinstowe bellowed to his servants across the hall. "It is time for the mead! Everyone, gather to me. We shall have our toast and then proceed to the table!"

Guests stopped their conversation and immediately gathered closeby receiving small vessels filled with golden colored mead. One man, his back to me since I arrived, finally turned around so that I could see his face. It was Godfrey. He caught my eye and smiled, lifting his glass slightly as if signalling a part of the toast to come would be from him to me. I responded in kind when the vessel was placed in my hands.

The Earl raised his cup. "To my guests," he began.

"To our host," we responded.

"To our ladies," he added, a twinkle in his eyes.

"To the lady of this manor," we responded, just as May said we should.

"To Saxon England!" the Earl exclaimed.

"Down with the King! Down with the traitorous Sheriff!" the guests, all except me, responded. "To Saxon England and its rightful King!" My eyes went wide with surprise. I followed their lead by unconsciously, mechanically downing the cup of mead, all of my thoughts digesting these words and their meaning. Distracted, I nearly choked on the mead's sudden warming spirits.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-28-2004 @ 00:19 AM).]

posted 05-28-04 15:57 EST (US)     18 / 29  
Recovering my composure, at the same time I cast a brief glance at Godfrey only to notice he was looking at me and bearing an odd little grin. I thought it rather discourteous of him to be finding humor in my obvious discomfort. To my chagrin, I also noticed that our host was motioning to me to sit at his right hand and for Godfrey to sit next to Lady Edwinstowe on his left. The other guests were permitted to sit wherever they chose. This was getting even more intense than I first assumed.

First to be served was a generous pouring of ale. The Earl's servants carried large tankards from which they poured the brew into our cups and then placed the partially emptied vessels they carried on the table for our use. Lady servants carried bread to the table, freshly baked, still warm, the crust hardening, but not yet too hard as to damage sensitive 21st Century teeth or replacements.

Our first course was soup or thick broth or something like that, which can be described best by saying a taste of it was as good as a feast. I said so to our host and he accepted the complement with solemn grace, yet the sparkling of obvious pleasure shown in his eyes. I meant no flattery in any event and I believe he understood that implicitly.

Pewter platters filled with roasted forest fowl appeared next, followed by a roasted suckling pig. Now we made use of the only remaining implement available to us. Out came our knives to poke and prod at the offerings, to slice portions for ourselves or to stab a steaming fowl and place it on our plates for dismemberment at our hands. Pheasant, quail, dove... The pig was flavorful, but I merely sampled it and returned once more to the more delicate flavor of fowl.

Boiled carrots, their greens cut off with only the orange root left for eating, were carried in as an accompaniment to the meats served previously. We feasted heartily and drank heartily, but carefully in my case as I knew the competition tomorrow demanded a nutritioned body but not a mind fogged by brew.

The Earl waved his hand part way through the banquet and two musicians entered the hall taking up a place in the far corner. One played a flute and the other a lute. The music was light, well paced and sufficiently respectful of the guests conversation so as not to dominate the hall in place of our talk. Would that self-centered modern bands understand that their presence in such affairs is best served by not drawing all attention to themselves but to permit human conversation just as if they weren't there at all. I found myself unconsciously tapping my foot in time to the embedded melodies in the duo's music even as I conversed with May and with our host.

I saw Godfrey lean across the table and catch my eye. "Much to enjoy in all of this, isn't there?"

I couldn't help but agree. "Yes. A marvelous banquet. Fine music and good company."

Godfrey smiled and returned to his conversation with Lady Edwinstowe, an elegantly featured mature woman who I could see was perfectly at ease in this company. I glanced at May who was conversing with the young man at her right. She seemed to be equally comfortable and enjoying this occasion as much as I. I glanced towards the roaring fire in the huge fireplace designed to warm as much of the hall as possible. Whether the brew or the food or both, nonetheless I felt contentment in a way I had not felt since I could remember.

How wonderfully arranged and presented, so authentic in every detail, so very much according to the texts I read quoting descriptions written by the hands of those who actually lived in this evening's simulated medieval time. Lost in reverie, I nearly missed the behaviour of one of the, shall I call them this, soldiers. He seemed to be something of a leader, perhaps their Captain. He walked from soldier to soldier and said something very quietly that caused each of them to reach for their bow and quiver hanging from a spike in the wall near each shuttered window slot. They each slid their quivers over their shoulders and held their bows in their hands. They seemed alert for something. What it was I would find out soon enough.


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-29-2004 @ 11:30 AM).]

posted 05-29-04 12:29 EST (US)     19 / 29  
The Captain spoke to the last soldier manning a slotted opening and then made his way to the chair of our host. He had a trio of bows and quivers in his hand. The Captain paused near the Earl and bent to speak into the Earl's right ear. I heard whisperings between them but nothing I could make out. Nonetheless, the Earl's face increasingly became more of a creased frown the longer the Captain spoke to him. Then the Captain nodded and passed by the back of my chair. Distracted by the expression on the Earl's face, I did not notice the Captain pausing to lay something down near my chair.

"Milords and Ladies," said the Earl rising in his chair. "There is no reason for alarm but it seems we will have some unexpected entertainment this evening. My servants near the edge of the forest have returned to tell my Captain that the sheriff and a number of his men are on their way to this location. I intend to permit them entrance as I think otherwise we will have more entertainment than we could possibly stand."

The faces of the women began to mirror fear. The men looked at each other and then around the hall to assess the Earl's preparation. I already knew the count of archers simply out of earlier curiousity more than anything else. It could be a difficult situation however it was play acted. Exciting, well dramatized. I began to wonder if such a scenario could be conducted profitably in a dinner establishment somewhere in London, or did it have to be a country setting? Hmmmmm.

The Earl of Edwinshire leaned towards me and whispered, "Protect the Lady at your side, Earl. She has been of particular interest to the Sheriff of late. There is a bow and quiver at the foot of your chair, or would you prefer a sword?"

I looked down at the base of my chair and just as the Earl said I found a bow and a quiver full of arrows. "The bow will be adequate. I have greater skill in it than in a sword," I answered honestly, trying to play along with the mood and setting. The last time I did this was in a senior school class when we role-played something in a setting I can only barely remember. I felt a warm, but slightly shaking hand on my arm.

"Be careful, Robert. Take no chances and assume nothing."

Now what in the world did she mean by that? I mean, really! "I can play this game, May," I responded in the same light whisper she used in speaking to me. "It should be fun." What she said next sent a cold shiver down my spine.

"This is not a game."

"But..."

"Robert!" her whisper intensified. "We had not expected the Sheriff. This is for real."

We? Real? "Alright, so the sheriff and a bobby or two are coming here to vent for some reason..."

"These are not bobbies and the Sheriff is not who you think."

"May, I don't understand!"

"You will soon enough, if we make it through this evening."

If it was her intent to add a note of suspense to the overall drama, she did a fine job. She, I thought, was the most convincing of the characters being portrayed.

We heard the sound of horse hoofs (Horses? Why not autos?) through the slotted windows, their shutters now open, the soldiers now alert beside them, arrows steadied on drawn bows. My this really is intense! So well done, too!

The Earl shouted to the soldiers. "No, slack those bows! Do not release!" The Captain turned and looked at the Earl, his face full of worry and obvious disagreement. "Captain, we do not want to give the Sheriff, or the King especially, any excuse. Understand?" The Captain nodded, albeit with obvious reluctance. "Let him in and as many men as he cares to have with him. Bid him welcome. We'll see what his intentions are by coming here. But stay alert, understand?"

"Yes, Milord," answered the Captain, appearing somewhat more agreeable at what seemed to be a willingness for some action on the part of the Earl.

Beyond the inner wooden door I heard gruff voices becoming increasingly loud as if approaching it but not yet quite nearby. Then the door flew open, and with nothing to stop it, swung on its hinges and slammed into the stone of the wall on which it was mounted. In strode a burly man about my heighth, which in medieval times would make him tall in comparison to others. He was dressed in a long draped shirt with no sleeves. I couldn't recall the name for the shirt but remembered that it was worn over chain mail. Yes, there was the chain mail covering his body from his neck to his knees. He bore a heavy sword at his side and a crudely hammered helmet to protect his head. The men entering behind him, all five, were dressed similarly, though not as colorfully. Their shirts were plain, the shirts showing evidence of their ride with places where stains and dirt discolored the yellowish white of the cloth.

These certainly were not bobbies, just as May said. These were actors playing their part of the drama. I misunderstood. Maybe the bobbies were yet to arrive. May's hand gripping my arm tightened considerably. There was no reassurance that I could detect in her firm grip. There was fear only. But it was my right arm she grasped and I needed it free to reach for the bow should I need it to act out my part. I was compelled to pull her hand off my arm; but as she quickly looked at me, I smiled just to reassure her that everything would be fine. I knew how to play my role.

The Sheriff played his very well too. Exceptionally well. In fact, to perfection. If only I had truly understood May's warning...

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-01-2004 @ 03:56 PM).]

posted 06-01-04 15:55 EST (US)     20 / 29  
"Edwinstowe!" bellowed the Sheriff, "I am here at the bidding of the King!"

The Earl looked steadily at the Sheriff. "Thank you for quickly clearing that matter up, Sheriff. At first I thought my clerk had mistakenly invited you."

The muscles of the Sheriff's jaw rippled with tension as he held them tightly closed while trying to act as if he had ignored the Earl's implied insult. Finally, the Sheriff under somewhat better control retorted, "I would not have come regardless. I have no interest in these little country affairs of yours."

"Which I'm sure," observed the Earl, "makes my guests as happy as it makes me."

"Enough!" roared the Sheriff, his face red as the apples sitting in wooden bowls on the banquet table. "I have no time to waste or interest in this game of words with you!"

"Nor competence, either," added the Earl.

The Sheriff's voice rose an octave and grew louder still. "Here me now, Earl of Edwinstowe. I carry a writ from the King accusing you of the theft of the King's property. I am here to serve his writ and to take you into custody!"

I reached back into my memory of the history I read and recalled that such a crime was typically punishable by death, the confiscation of the accused's entire worldly property by the King and the resulting impoverishment of the accused man's family. Little proof other than having the King's written accusation was necessary in English courts to convict someone of this crime. Acts of these kinds among other practices by unscrupulous English Kings led to the creation of the Magna Carta. I didn't like what I was hearing. Taken into custody?

"What does the King accuse me of stealing?" asked the Earl.

"From the forest," answered the Sheriff.

"What from the forest?" clarified the Earl, sighing to signify his boredom with the Sheriff's presence.

The Sheriff looked around struggling to think of an answer. Apparently the King saw fit to not list in his writ specific alledged thefts in order to avoid having any of them be so detailed as to be refutable. "The food on your table!"

"Nonsense. What we serve is either grown here or captured on our land. I suspect the fowl who might be from the forest flew away from the forest when they finally learned who owned it, making my table their choice rather than be taken to the King's table."

The Sheriff's hands were noticeably shaking with rage. "The timber in this room, then!"

"This structure was built with this wood before the King was born!" The Earl's expression knit into a meaningful frown. "You, Sheriff, of a Saxon family that has lived here for many generations, know full well that my family and this structure and this land has been here as long as you and yours, maybe longer. How dare you break into my manor, disrupt this banquet and pronounce sentence on me with a parchment filled with lies made up by Lackland himself!"

That got my attention in a hurry. "Lackland?" I said, not noticing May's wincing expression as I glanced first at the Earl and then at the Sheriff. "Is he a relative of mine?"

"Hush, lad!" whispered the Earl. "Say nothing!" The warning came too late. The Sheriff heard and turned his attention to me almost immediately.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-01-2004 @ 04:02 PM).]

posted 06-03-04 16:07 EST (US)     21 / 29  
"Are you related to the King?" asked the Sheriff, his eyes studying me, although shifting repeatedly to stare briefly at May, a different look in his eyes each time he made the shift to her.

"Ahem," I paused trying to think of what to say in this unfamiliar, yet hostile gameplay situation. I suddenly felt the press of the bow and quiver in my hand. May had picked them up and placed the objects in my hand below the level of the table and out of eyesight of the Sheriff. I looked at her. The words in her eyes said caution. Fear underlined each word. "If he is a Lackland then possibly," I finally replied. I heard snickering coming from the table on all sides and observed the Sheriff's face reddening some more.

"We don't use that expression in reference to His Highness," said the Sheriff through clenched teeth.

The Earl snorted. "Elevated by a chair which he also doesn't own."

"I remind you Edwinstowe that I have a writ for your arrest!" bellowed the Sheriff. "I shall serve it one way or another!"

"Look around you, Sheriff. Have you the ability?"

"I see your men. I have men of my own. Inside, outside and in the village. We'll come back if necessary with as many as it will take. If not tonight, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then another day; but I assure you we will return. But first I must attend to your young guest here, the comedian with the unexpected name..." The Sheriff looked at me directly. "How do you come to be here, stranger, in the company of the woman I intend to be my wife."

May let out a gasp and put her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide with shock and no small amount of disgust mixed with fear. I saw this quite clearly and knew the role I should play. "Sheriff, I think the lady has no such intentions."

"Her intentions don't matter, only mine matter."

"They matter to me," I said with a high degree of special emphasis. All within the hall fell stone silent.

"No, Robert!" whispered May, the stress of the moment evident in the strained way she whispered to me. "Don't do this. I... I don't want you to."

She was lying. I could tell this easily. Surprising how much you learn about a person so very quickly. I had no intention of playing the role of a room rug to this man, be he a sheriff or not. I maneuvered an arrow from the quiver and held it against the bow, both of the items in my right hand.

"We'll see what matters to you," stated the Sheriff as he took a step towards May. My bow came up in my hand with arrow nocked almost as if it had a mind of its own.

"You will stay where you are, Sheriff. Better yet, you will leave with your men and never come back!" I aimed the arrow at the center of his chest. The Sheriff's men reached for their swords. The Earl's men pulled back on the strings of their bows. The Sheriff raised his left hand and wordlessly commanded his men not to pull their swords and risk a battle. The Earl, seeing the Sheriff restrain his men, raised his hand to signal his guards to lower their bows. All of them eased back their weapons, albeit reluctantly. I kept my arrow aimed straight and true at the Sheriff.

I will give the Sheriff this credit, he is a bold and perhaps foolhardily brave man. For his next words to me were these, "I have no reason to believe your aim is particularly true."

"Then see for yourself! That shield hanging above!" I said this quite loudly and let fly my arrow, elevating my bow enough to send my arrow straight into the center of the red cross adorning the face of the shield. The force of the arrow's impact caused the shield to fall from the beam on which it was mounted. The Sheriff leaped aside to avoid the falling shield. It clattered onto the stone floor, banged around a bit and then lay still. I already had my next arrow nocked in my bow and the string pulled back ready to let it fly again. Once more an arrow's tip was pointed at the Sheriff's chest. The Sheriff rose to his feet something akin to newfound respect visible in his eyes.

"I will remember you, Robert of Lackland. The King will hear of these events."

"And I will hear of it if Edwinstowe remains falsely accused or his lands falsely taken. Beware the forest, Sheriff. The King's stolen forest. Neither he nor you nor anyone who favors the King will be welcome in the forest, the nearby forest that rightfully belongs to the people of this area and not the King alone."

The Sheriff said nothing to this. He merely glared at me and then turned around to leave. His men followed the Sheriff, all of them looking left and right to make sure a sudden flight of arrows wasn't heading their way. The door closed behind them, and a moment later the Captain signaled to the Earl that the Sheriff and his men were gone.

A sigh of relief could be heard coming from more than one guest. I looked at May. She was both pleased and annoyed. I would have to find out later what was the more dominant emotion, for no sooner had the Captain reported all was clear than the table emptied and all of the men as well as the Earl were around me slapping my back and talking to me all at once. The women approached May and were talking with her, more than one of them casting a look at me as they spoke with May. They made me far more nervous than the men, the Earl or even the Sheriff.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-03-2004 @ 08:25 PM).]

posted 06-03-04 21:12 EST (US)     22 / 29  
"Well said, Earl Robert!" shouted Edwinstowe, trying to be heard above the general din. The others became generally quiet to hear what the Earl had to say. "Unfortunately, lad, the man has a long memory and your face will be forever there. What are your plans?"

"My plans?"

"Yes. What are your plans for dealing with the Sheriff?"

"Well... I mean... Uhhh. I have no plans."

Edwinstowe frowned. "Well you had better put some together post haste or the Sheriff will gain the upperhand. How will you protect your holdings?"

"My holdings? I have no holdings."

"No land. No estate. Why you are indeed a lackland, just like the King, who inherited a throne but none of his father's holdings. Those passed to the eldest son, Richard." He saw my frown. "Oh lad, don't take what I say as an affront. Many among us have already lost our land or are about to. We have decided to fight back. The question is... Are you with us or not."

"Milord, I shall not take offense. You say Richard? Then the King is the brother of Richard?"

"Yes."

"Is it John who is King?"

"Some call him that, John I mean. Others call him his true name, Johann. Most like us call him King Lackland. You act as if all of this is unknown to you."

I hesitated. What could I say? I looked at May. She had broken away from the other ladies and was studying me with a worried expression on her face. I saw her glance at Godfrey. Why would she do that? The more I thought about it the more I hesitated. Finally I decided enough was enough, the game had progressed as far as I cared it to. I made up my mind to declare the evening's entertainment over so far as I was concerned because I had a tournament tomorrow and needed rest. Time to thank our host and hostess and to ask May to drive me home.

Godfrey must have seen me about to speak and guessed correctly at what I was about to say. He spoke up just as I opened my mouth to say the first word of my farewell speech.

"Milord," Godfrey began, "I think our young Earl may be in some danger this evening. I propose we be permitted to leave somewhat early. I would like to accompany him and the Lady to a safe location of which I am aware."

"He could stay here, Sir Godfrey."

"Of course, Milord. But I think the Sheriff will draw the same conclusion. I think it best if he leaves now before the Sheriff can recover the few senses he has." Snickering and laughter again was evident here and there.

"As you suggest, Sir Godfrey."

"Thank you, Milord." Godfrey bowed.

I took the cue from Godfrey and bowed as well. "My gratitude, Milord, for an excellent evening. Entertaining as well. Consider me with you." I thought that would be the best way to conclude the night's drama. A happy ending, so to speak.

May also gave her thanks. She was beaming. I could not understand what it was that was making her so happy. What an incredible night! What an amazingly confusing series of events!"

Godfrey opened the door with the wooden handle and we stepped into the smallish vestibule once more. He closed the door behind May and me, stood still for a moment, a puzzled expression forming on his face at the same time it formed on May's. Godfrey then opened the outer door permitting all three of us to step into the evening air.

Now it was my turn to be puzzled, for where May's auto should be there were saddled horses only. Where the asphalt paved road should be, there was a rutted carriage path. And where the trappings of modern civilization should have been-light poles, signage, power lines-there was nothing in place whatsoever.

I saw Godfrey and May look at each other and then at me. Finally, Godfrey said to May something that seemed obvious even to me. "May, I think there is a problem."


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

posted 06-04-04 15:46 EST (US)     23 / 29  
May's worried expression confirmed her belief even before her words made it fact. "Agreed. What now, Godfrey?"

The exchange was dizzyingly rapid. "We can't wait here. The others will begin to ask."

"What about the subject?"

"He'll have to learn about this sooner or later. It was only a matter of time."

"Later would be better."

"Yes. Later."

"Under cover?"

"Yes, the forest."

"Alternate portal, then?"

"No other choice." Godfrey stared at May waiting for her response.

May looked at me. "I hope he's ready. We can't afford to lose him now."

I had the distinct feeling that they were speaking to each other about me. "Now wait a minute," I interrupted. "What's all this about 'losing him' and a 'portal'. I mean, what's going on here?"

Godfrey raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips as he continued obviously to fish for an answer. "Alright, Robert, we agree you deserve to be told what is going on. But this is not the place. We are too badly exposed. Come, take a horse. Ride with us. You will learn all about it very soon."

This was now becoming a most annoying evening. "Look, Godfrey, I have a contest tomorrow. It's getting late and I need rest. Don't you think it's time for me to get into May's auto and go home?"

Godfrey snorted. "Look around you, Robert. See an auto anywhere? See a road? There won't be any contest for you tomorrow if we don't get moving. The real contest will be here and now, for real. Horses is all we have. If you won't trust me, trust May. Do what she asks. Please." There were two tones in his voice. One that sounded commanding, and another that sounded very much like pleading.

I looked at May. She nodded her head. "You must come away from here, Robert. There is so much for you to learn. Please trust us. I... I want you to..." She hesitated. There was something she wanted to say but could not do it. "Please, just give us a chance." Her voice conveyed nothing else but the sound of a plea.

I made a decision in that moment that set the course for my life ever after. "Show me my horse, then. Let's ride." May's face broke out into that dimpled smile I so enjoyed.

Godfrey grasped my shoulder in a firm yet friendly manner. "Good. Follow us then."

We selected three horses and mounted them. From a hook in the saddle of his horse, Godfrey produced a bow and quiver of arrows of the kind useful for shooting from horseback. The bow was shorter, the arrows too. The weapon was just as powerful at close range as longer bows, but lacked the range of the bows used by foot archers. "You might need this," said Godfrey as he handed the weapon to me."

I didn't question him. I didn't care to question anything more during this strange night. Everything seemed so unreal. In fact, it seemed so contrary to what had been my life that I began to suspect my perception of what was real had been altered well before this night occurred. These thoughts playing with others in my mind, I set out with Godfrey and May onto the rutted road at a speed just slightly under a gallop, the way illuminated by the light of the full moon hanging midway above the horizon.

We slowed our speed once we entered the dense forest just north of Edwinstowe's manor. The grey shadows cast by the moonlight playing on the trunks of the trees served to make the forest seem denser than it actually was. Nonetheless, I remembered the terrain from the contest earlier in the day and from other times when I made an excursion into this area. One fact stood out from all of the rest: there were far and away more trees growing on the land than I could ever remember. In fact, the entire forest appeared to have withstood the woodchopper's axe quite successfully.

Godfrey suddenly reined in his horse. We instinctively followed his lead. He put an index finger to his lips to indicate silence and motioned to us to guide the horses off the road and into the trees. May and I did as he instructed. We all dismounted and imitated Godfrey by placing a free hand on our horses' muzzles just to keep the beasts calm and reassured, from what I had no idea. My puzzlement was cleared up by the sound of a troop of mounted soldiers passing by, 30 in number, heading most likely for the manor of the Earl of Edwinstowe. They passed without noticing us.

We remounted our horses and guided them back onto the road once the way was clear. "Heading for Edwinstowe?" I asked, taking the risk that I was speaking the obvious.

In the moonlight Godfrey nodded. "Most likely."

"Nice touch," I commented knowing nothing better to say. "Adds a little suspense to the drama. Wide-screen cinema and all that." I smiled. My smile faded away when I saw both Godfrey and May staring at me without any humor written in their expressions at all. "Well this is just an elaborate show, isn't it?!" I said, exasperation finally overflowing my ability to hold it back.

"No Robert," May replied. "This is not a drama. This is not fiction. This is not a show or entertainment of any kind. I said so to you before when you confronted the Sheriff. I say it again. This is real. Very real. Just how real you will learn in a matter of an hour or so."

As if she were a prophetess with bad timing, something whizzed past my head and embedded itself in a nearby tree trunk. It was an arrow. Godfrey uttered an epithet under his breath. "Ride!" he shouted. "As fast as you can!"

Neither May nor I had to be told twice.


All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-07-2004 @ 11:23 AM).]

posted 06-07-04 16:11 EST (US)     24 / 29  
"Some of them must have turned back suspecting something!" shouted Godfrey as his horse galloped just a little ahead of us." I glanced over my shoulder and could make out about five of them galloping as fast as their horses could carry the armored riders. Two riders seemed to be carrying bows.

My mind kept crying out to me "Nightmare! Full color! Wake up!" But I couldn't wake up. How can you wake up when you are already awake. The dust, the smell of the forest. Too real. It couldn't be anything other than real.

Thwisshhhh! The arrow that passed by my ear, just over my shoulder, was exceptionally real, especially to my dismay when I saw it try to bury itself in May's gown near her thigh. The cloth was too thick and the power of the arrow too spent for it to penetrate. It fell harmlessly into the roadway.

It did succeed however in causing a warm flush of anger to form at the base of my neck and begin an ascent upwards making the hairs it encountered stiffly upright. If this then was real, and May was being endangered this way, then my response would be just as real and far more deadly.

Reaching for my bow and quiver, I abandoned the horse's reins and locked my knees into English riding position to guide the beast. Quickly I nocked an arrow, turned in my saddle and let fly a shaft at the nearest of the riders. It struck the rider in his helmet, too high to do any real damage except causing him to duck.

Competition practice came back to me almost automatically. I had the next arrow ready to be loosed even before the first arrow struck the mounted soldier. It was in flight as fast as I could release it. This one struck a nearby soldier, one of the archers I noticed, and he tumbled from his saddle onto the side of the road. The trailing soldier hurried to fill the gap.

My next arrow struck the lead soldier once more, this time in the narrow opening between his chin and his chest. He reared back in his saddle and in doing so pulled back on the reins to his horse confusing the galloping beast. His horse tried to come to a sudden stop, but succeeded only in causing the other three remaining riders to carreen into each other while trying to avoid the dead soldier's now erratically moving mount. The last I saw of them in the diming moonlight, the dust and the trees was bodies hurtling into the air and one body hanging from its saddle by an ankle, about to be dragged all of the way back to wherever the horse came from.

We galloped on until Godfrey signaled we should slow down for the sake of the horses. We did this gradually until the horses were trotting. "We're close," I heard Godfrey announce to May.

"Do you see the opening?"

"Not yet... No, not there yet... A little ways more... There! See it?!"

"Yes!" confirmed May excitedly. She turned in her saddle and called back to me, "Follow us, Robert. And stay close. Watch for low branches."

"Low branches, right!" I called back and moved my horse close to May's. This time I kept the bow in my hand and the quiver on my back. My bow hand shook. I had most likely just killed a man, maybe two. If this is real, then it had better be what I was beginning to suspect it was or I would have a very hard time explaining what happened to an inspector from Scotland Yard. It was nearly impossible to explain it all even to myself.

We came to a stop at the edge of a small clearing dominated in the center by a young, though well branched oak tree. "Stay under the cover of the trees!" said Godfrey. We turned our horses into the forest once more and dismounted, following Godfrey's example. "Wait here," he said in a low voice that was almost a whisper.

Godfrey handed the reins of his horse to me and walked along the edge of the clearing until he was at the place where the distance across the clearing to the oak tree was narrowest. We heard him softly call a name that sounded like "Will" or "William." A man emerged from the shadows of the forest across from the tree and Godfrey. He looked left and right and then ran across the clearing to the place where Godfrey waited. They conversed for a moment and then both of them walked towards where we remained hidden in the forest.

The newcomer was tall and slender. He had a narrow face and a longish, aristocratic nose. I couldn't see his eyes in the dark, but I noticed his feathered hat was dark crimson in color, and matched the hue of his loosely fitting woven wool clothing. Even when he was finally standing in front of us I could barely make out his face in the dark of the forest. His first act was to greet May. Then he held out his hand to me. "Robert, I've heard good words about you. Welcome to the Forest."

"I don't think I have had the pleasure of knowing you before this, Sir." I tried to respond as courteously as I could. He started to laugh.

"Well, yes and no, lad. You have but you haven't. Call me Will, and we'll call you Robert for now." Will began to chuckle in a way that could soon become a guffaw. Good natured man, I concluded, in a very annoying way.

I twitched a shoulder in irritation and felt my face frown. Games! Games! Too many games!

Godfrey must have guessed what I was about to say. He interrupted me before I could speak my mind. "Will, no time for your usual banter. We must get through the portal."

There's that word 'portal' again. I looked around for an arch, a door, any structure to properly represent a portal, and utterly failed to see or find anything close. "I don't see any doorway. Where's the portal?" I asked, frustrated and just a little tired.

"There," said Godfrey. I followed his pointing finger to see that he was indicating the middle of the clearing and the oak tree deeply rooted in its center.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-09-2004 @ 04:01 PM).]

posted 06-09-04 16:01 EST (US)     25 / 29  
"I don't see any portal, just a tree," I protested.

"The tree is the portal."

"You have to be kidding," I said, my words dripping with disbelief. All three merely stared at me. The silence said it all. "Alright, alright; but wouldn't you be a doubter too if someone walked up to you and said walk to a certain tree and a door will open?"

"We said nothing about a door opening," noted Godfrey correctly. "We call it a portal for a reason you will soon learn."

I shrugged my shoulders. "Fine, then show me."

"We shall," answered Godfrey. "Give your horses to Will. He will take care of them. Follow me." May did exactly what Godfrey said without hesitation. I was a little slower to respond but realized I had little alternative. Will led the horses away and disappeared into the dark of the forest. We edged along the forest towards the tree and then walked directly to the place where its strong, yet still somewhat narrow trunk grew out of the ground. A door did not open.

"Where's the door?" I asked looking all around the trunk for a knob or something to turn or pull.

Godfrey shook his head. "No door. Just start climbing with me. Then we'll help May into the tree."

We found a perch on a strong branch and reached down for May's hands. She seemed to know just what to do, where to place her feet to help make lifting her easy on us and herself. Momentarily she was in the tree on a different branch, sitting on her perch expectently.

"Now what?" I said, feeling just a little silly for having to behave like a kid in a park.

"Wait."

I waited. About a minute had passed when my skin began to feel like an army of ants was suddenly crawling all over it. I looked at May who smiled and nodded her head. I felt just a little lightheaded, like the time I entered the pub... The pub... Like the time...

It was still dark around us, but from the perch I could see that the tree in which we sat was much fuller, the trunk thicker and the branches more pronounced in both length and breadth. There were far fewer trees in the vicinity than before, although most were quite old unlike the forest we rode through earlier. Most surprising was that the branch of the tree we men were sitting on was supported by three planks of hewn wood. The planks had not been there before. Godfrey interrupted my observations. "We'll get down first and then help May."

I said nothing but did as I was told. Soon afterwards without incident May was standing next to us looking all around for something or someone. Will? For good reason I doubted it would be the man who held our horses. We were standing in the open without fear of discovery, almost inviting it in fact. I looked back at the tree that had been our perch. I suddenly recognized it. "The Major Tree!" I said rather loudly. May and Godfrey ceased their looking around and looked directly at me instead.

"Right you are, Robert. It's the Major Tree, one of the oldest living trees in the Kingdom."

"But you say it's your portal?"

"One of our portals." Godfrey seemed like he was going to say more, but the sound of an approaching automobile caused him to halt his speaking to me. The vehicle was a tan colored Land Rover and the vehicle, its headlights illuminating nearby trees and the ground, was heading straight for us. "In a moment, Robert."

The frustration of these 'in a moments' was beginning to really twist my wrappings. "Will you please tell me what is going on!" My words echoed off the trunks of the nearest trees, perhaps Major Tree itself.

"In the car," said May, looking meaningfully at Godfrey who seemed not to raise an objection. "When we're in the car," she said just to be sure I understood. Then she took the two steps that separated her from my side, reached down and with her left hand grasped my right hand, squeezing it gently I suppose for reassurance. Her closeness and the touch of her hand felt delightful. I reluctantly admitted to myself I could in fact be patient. So I waited for the auto to arrive and after Godfrey climbed into the left front passenger seat, I climbed into the back seat with May ready to hear their explanation of the night's bizarre events.

All text copyright 2004 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here by permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 06-10-2004 @ 01:40 AM).]

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