The Demons of Constantinople
In the year 1372, the space-time continuum has been breached and demons spill from the netherworld into the human one. Teenagers from the future along with allies they’ve made—human and supernatural—travel to Constantinople in hopes of finding a way to close the demon rift.
In the year 1372, the space-time continuum has been breached and demons of all kind, evil and benign, spill from the netherworld into the human one. Pucorl, one of the demons who comes across the rift, accidentally brings with him a van from the Paris of the twenty-first century. The van is filled with a drama teacher, her son, and eight high school students—along with all of their electronic devices.
Soon, more demons arrive, many of whom are entranced by the electronics of a future world. Laptops, tablets and cell-phones—not to mention the van’s equipment—become possessed by imps and spirits of the netherworld.
After defeating the demon lord Beslizoswian and the French prince he had seduced to evil, Pucorl and his teenage allies from the future go to Constantinople. Perhaps in that great city full of scholars they can find the means to close the rift between the universes.
But when they arrive, they find that Constantinople is a nightmare of its own. Imperial intrigues abound, as do those of the Church’s patriarchy. Still worse, the city is plagued by demons and sorcerers of all kinds. And to cap it all, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire has enslaved an afreet and plans to use the great ancient monster to conquer the Byzantine Empire—starting with Constantinople itself.
Location: Farming Village, Lorraine, France
Time: Evening, August 23, 1372
Half an hour into her stalk, the cat was frustrated and angry. She moved through the weeds next to the clearing as silent as death, watching the crow calmly peck at something, apparently completely unaware. Again hope of a meal rose. This time I’ll pounce.
This hunt had started deep in the grove of trees that was the cat’s hunting ground. Every time she got close to pouncing, the crow flew away. Never too far. But always a tiny bit out of pounce range. By now her emotions were so strong that she didn’t even notice that she was about to leap into an open field filled with humans and their works.
Then the cat heard a voice.
“You don’t want to do that.”
It was said in cat, and the cat twisted her left ear back in the direction of the voice.
“Not a good idea,” the voice said.
The cat growled back, “Mind your own business.” Then she turned her head to bring the source of the voice into view. It wasn’t a cat. It was a human. A human with strange clothing and stuff, sitting on a fallen log next to the clearing.
“Okay,” the human said in cat, “but that’s not an ordinary crow. It’s part wiloklisp.” The last bit wasn’t in cat or human talk, but the cat still understood it.
That was when it occurred to the cat that the speaker wasn’t an ordinary human. A human shouldn’t be able to speak cat. Even cats didn’t speak cat with the sort of clarity or precision that the human’s meows conveyed. And that last bit was a combination of sounds like nothing she had ever heard before, but she understood it. A wiloklisp was a “lying light” that led travelers and enemies into traps. A hunter who hunted by being hunted.
The crow said something in human talk.
“You’re welcome, Carlos,” the human cawed in crow, with more than a little sarcasm. Then the human turned back to the cat. “Carlos,” he pointed at the crow, “was ‘thanking’ me for spoiling his game. You would have lost an eye, not gained a meal.”
The cat looked at the crow, and it laughed a cawing laugh at her. Disgusted and intent on ignoring the crow, the cat turned back to the human. “How can you talk to me?”
“It’s magic,” the human said.
And the cat, who had never even had the concept of magic before, now understood what the word meant, and even that it was at best an inadequate explanation of what was going on. It growled in frustration. “Explain.” Another new concept.
“All right,” the human said. “I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m Wilber Hyde-Davis. Before we came here, I was profoundly deaf. I had a device to let me hear, called a cochlear implant. When we were brought to this time, a muse—that’s a being from the netherworld—inhabited my hearing aid and implant, and in the process, fixed my hearing. Now my implant is at least sort of alive and a part of me. It gives me the magical ability to translate. I can talk to almost anything in their own language, even if they don’t have a language. That’s the magic part.
“Merlin, that’s the muse, is still hooked into the implant—” Wilber pointed at a point behind his left ear. “—but he mostly resides in my computer.” He twisted a flat box thing with the top open around, so the cat could see its screen. “He can talk to me via my implant. He can also talk to other people through my computer, or indirectly through my phone, or any of the electronic devices, with the consent of whichever demon resides in the device. Say hi, Merlin.”
The screen of the computer showed a man with wings like a bird. It bowed at the cat and said, “Hello, cat. What shall we call you?”
Like Wilber, when Merlin talked to her, she could understand. But the cat didn’t really have a name. There were things the humans in the village said, but the cat mostly thought of those sounds as instructions. “Here, Brownie” meant she should come get food or petting. Or “Damn cat” meant she should go away if she didn’t want to get kicked. Which she generally didn’t.
She explained that and Wilber said, “How about we call you Leo?” and the damned crow laughed again. Through the magic, the cat knew that Leo was sort of short for lion and was a male name, and so understood the crow’s derision.
Apparently the human was so stupid it couldn’t tell a male cat from a female cat. With a flick of her tail, the cat said, “I am female.”
“Oh, sorry,” Wilber said. “Ah, how about Fluffy?” At her look, he said, “No, I guess not. Leona?”
The crow laughed again. And said something in crow that Wilber didn’t translate, but was probably insulting.
“Fine,” Leona agreed, as much because the crow didn’t like it as because she liked the fact that Leona meant female lion. “Now, do you have any food?” she asked, since snooty crow didn’t appear to be on the menu.
“I think we can manage something,” Wilber said. He drew a knife and sliced off a chunk of the fine white cheese that the villagers made, and tossed it at Leona.
Leona jumped back. In her experience the things thrown at her were hard, not edible. And in that moment, the crow swooped in and stole her cheese.
Wilber shook his head. “Carlos is a bit of an asshole.” He cut another slice of cheese and set it on the ground. Leona made her way cautiously to the cheese and grabbed it in her mouth, then quickly backed away. Because she could understand Wilber didn’t mean she trusted him.
For a time Leona nibbled on her cheese, while Wilber made strange gestures and spoke to the air in words of some language that made no sense to Leona. When Leona had finished her cheese, which wasn’t truly enough for a real meal but did take the edge off, she meowed a question. “What are you doing?”
“I’m preparing a spell,” Wilber told Leona, and again as she heard the meow she knew what a spell was, though not what this particular spell was.
“What does the spell do?”
“Nothing yet, but once it’s finished I will be able to invoke it and it will produce a set of wards that will prevent demons or angels from entering the mortal realm around us.
“Now, I’m kind of busy, so why don’t you go over to the van?” He pointed at what looked like a human house on wheels. It had an opening on the side, and a man and a woman were sitting in the opening, while two children were seated on the grass next to the opening. One of the children had a tail and cat’s ears. “You could chat with Doctor Delaflote, Mrs. Grady and the kids. Merlin, will you translate for Leona?”
“I guess so. . . . If necessary.”
“Why wouldn’t it be necessary?”
“Kitten is part nekomimi, and it is not uncommon for catgirls to speak cat.”
“Kitten is the girl with the cat ears and the tail,” Wilber said.
Leona gave him a look, then went over to the van.
Kitten looked over as the bluetooth that she was born with warned her of the cat’s approach and provided her with the particulars. Kitten was the daughter of a dryad and a human. Well, Mom was working as a succubus at the time, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Her dad, Jeff Martin, had been one of the twenty-firsters, the people from the twenty-first century who were dragged here when Pucorl grabbed their van to use as his body when he was pulled here from the netherworld by Doctor Delaflote’s spell. She quickly put thoughts of her dad aside, because he had died less than a month ago, and she didn’t want to start bawling again.
“Hello, Leona,” Kitten meowed. Everyone looked at her, then at the cat. “This is Leona.”
“How do you know?” Paul Grady asked.
She tapped her dataport which was located behind her left ear. It wasn’t connected to a cable at the moment, so she added, “Bluetooth. Merlin told Pucorl and Pucorl told me.” She grinned because Paul was a normal human boy with no dataport or bluetooth, and he really, really wanted one. Her dataport and bluetooth, along with the fact that she was a girl and he was only a boy, proved that she was his superior in every way that mattered.
After some negotiations, Leona settled on Kitten’s lap while Dr. Delaflote, Mrs. Grady and another of the odd boxy things that the humans called laptop computers instructed the children in such arcane matters as reading, math, and magic. This computer was named Catvia and was Kitten’s mother. Merlin, Catvia, and Kitten translated so that Leona wasn’t bored. She wasn’t completely convinced of the utility of such things when compared to the practical skills of tracking and pouncing, but with the magical translation they weren’t the boring gibberish that all human yapping had been before.
As the sun was getting ready to set, Pucorl announced that it was returning to the garage for the night.
“Since Mrs. Grady gave Pucorl the van,” Kitten explained while scratching Leona behind the ears, “and especially since he was knighted, he can return to his garage from anywhere. And after we got on the road, it finally occurred to our ‘brilliant’ magicians that we could store our stuff at Pucorl’s garage and not have to carry it in wagons over the rough roads of France.”
“Did you think of it?” Leona asked.
Leona twisted her head to look at Kitten. She realized that half magical creature and half human or not, Kitten was still basically a kitten. Leona was a bit under a year old and considered herself a fully mature, but still young, cat. So she stared at Kitten and waited.
“All right,” Kitten said grumpily. “Anyway, I have to go. I sleep in my tree most nights.”
On the spur of the moment, Leona decided that she wanted to see this tree. “Take me with you.”
“I don’t know,” Kitten worried. “Animals don’t do well in the netherworld. Not even the Elysian Fields.”
“Why not? I mean, if humans can go, why can’t a cat?”
“Well, not all humans can. Pucorl keeps his garage human friendly, but it’s still dangerous for humans who don’t have familiars or enchanted devices. They can be really screwed up when visiting. You know, like never eating anything in Elfland or you’re stuck there. It really is a different reality, and it takes imagination to translate.
“Dr. Delaflote’s crow would have gone nuts if the demon occupying it hadn’t translated. And most of the troop don’t like going there, even if Pucorl’s garage has a motel attached to it now, since he ate that evil demon lord on the field outside Paris.
“It’s staffed by dryads and fauns, so Mom doesn’t let me stay there. Well, there are the rooms right next to the garage. They’re G-rated because of Paul. But I like my tree better. After all, the tree’s my brother, sort of.”
“I’m not a crow. I’m a cat. And you and your brother can translate for me.”
“Well, okay. Hop in my backpack.” Kitten had a Hello Kitty backpack that was enchanted burlap. That is, a burlap backpack that was imbued with the essence of a minor silk demon. So it was a magical backpack that her Mom could afford mostly because the whole dryads’ grove was doing much better since they had joined Pucorl’s lands, and especially since the veils between the world were so ripped up that they could get energy from mortals.
“Because if they see you, Dr. Delaflote may not let you come.”
Leona jumped into the backpack, and Kitten, carrying the backpack, climbed into the van.
Location: Pucorl’s Garage, Netherworld
The van was now in a different place and Leona peeked out of Kitten’s backpack as the side door opened again. With one arm through the backpack’s strap, and the other holding Catvia’s computer, Kitten climbed out of the van and started walking toward the dryads’ grove.
It was a magical sort of place. The trees had tan-colored bark that was almost like skin, and leaves of every color in the rainbow and some more besides. The most common color was gold. The sun was in the sky, and it was a bit dimmer than Leona was used to, but you could feel the warmth gently. The breezes were cool and caressing. Leona sniffed the air. It smelled of flowers and wine.
As they left the black stuff that was right around the garage and walked over a wooden e, Leona decided that she was done riding. She jumped out of the backpack and landed on the soft green grass that was the edge of the grove. The stream under the bridge burbled happily and she could almost understand it.
“What’s this?” asked Catvia, but not like she was really surprised.
“Leona wanted to see the grove, Mama.” Then, with a severe look at Leona, Kitten added, “Leona was supposed to stay in my backpack till we got to my tree.”
“Did you tell her that?” Catvia asked, and a mist flowed from the box and turned into a woman with cat ears and a tail. “Never mind. If you don’t know better than to think you can tell cats what to do, it’s time you learned.”
Leona meowed in complete agreement with this.
“But you tell me what to do all the time,” Kitten complained.
“You’re a kitten and I am your mother. It’s my job.”
Again Leona meowed her agreement. Then she asked, “Why didn’t you walk around like this in the . . .” Leona was at a loss. How could she describe home? The grove of scrub wood next to the village where she grew up.
“You mean the mortal realm?” Catvia said more than asked.
Leona flicked her ears in a cat shrug. “I guess.”
“It’s called the mortal world,” Catvia said, “and sometimes the humans call it the natural world, though I myself don’t see it as any more natural than this world. But your question was why I didn’t walk around like this in the mortal world. The answer is that I can’t, at least not yet. Even doing it here takes a certain amount of energy, though I have gotten better at it since the grove joined Pucorl’s lands. We’re on a higher energy plane than we were before.”
“Kitten, you explain it,” Catvia said. “I want to see how much you understand.”
“Okay,” Kitten said, running ahead to a sapling about fifteen feet tall. She hugged the sapling and two of the lower limbs seemed to hug her back. The sapling was pinkish tan and, like Kitten, it had a data port. It also had a mouth and eyes, as well as the rainbow of leaves that were common to every tree in the grove. A cord from the tree spiraled up and plugged into Kitten behind her left ear. For a moment she was still, then the cable released, and she grinned and sat down with her back to the tree. “Data dumps make telling each other what’s happened so much easier.
“The reason . . . No, never mind. I’ll explain about dataports later. Kitten, you were going to explain about the energy planes,” Catvia said.
“That’s what Wilber calls them,” Kitten told Leona while she patted her lap.
Leona considered. A petting might be nice, but she wasn’t sure she wanted this kitten to get ideas. After a moment, she walked over and curled up on the grass next to the kitten.
“The ones up there—” Kitten pointed at the sky. “—are the crystal spheres of heaven. And the ones down below have lots of names. Underhill, the dark places, or even the nine circles of hell. But that’s only heavenly propaganda. After all, Mom was from there. The whole grove was there before the dryads—they were succubi at the time—made a deal with Pucorl and they were perfectly nice. Coach says so. Coach is the faun that was Dan’s sports watch.”
“Ahem. The point, Kitten. You were talking about the energy planes.”
“Okay, Mom, okay. The ‘energy planes’ make up this universe, which Wilber says is a different universe from the universe he’s from. He says that they are passing through each other and for the longest time they barely touched each other at all, even as they passed through. But then something happened and they started interacting a lot more. That was about two years ago in that other universe. Back then, time moved differently in this universe. So I’m eight, almost nine. As old as Paul, even though I was only born a few weeks ago in that other universe’s time.”
Leona meowed in total confusion. Magic or not, this kitten was talking nonsense.
“We can worry about temporal distortions later,” Catvia said. “Go on about the energy planes.”
“Well, we’re on the middle one now. The energy plane about half way from the top of heaven to the bottom of hell. The part of it we’re in is called the Elysian Fields. It’s roughly analogous to England in the mortal world, and at about the same level, so to go from here to England is a step sideways, in a way. A special direction.”
“Is that where I’m from?” Leona asked.
“No. That’s why we had to use Pucorl to get here. He can go to his lands from anywhere in the mortal realm. Or, for that matter, from about any place in the netherworld. But we can’t . . . well, Mom can’t, and I’m not allowed to.”
“Why can’t Catvia?” Leona asked.
“Dryads are tied to the location of their tree,” Catvia said. “We can’t travel far from them without special help. When we are pulled into the mortal world, we are especially weak, only capable of manifesting in dreams, even with the veil ripped all asunder. We can only produce dreams. Most of us is our trees. So the farther from our trees we are, the weaker we are. I am freer to move about than most because Kitten’s father gave me the computer that is, in a sense, my body. But even so, when I go to the mortal realm with Pucorl, I prefer to stay as close to the van as possible to piggyback on Pucorl’s link to these lands and my tree.”
“Yeah, the only way our trees can move is if the land moves too,” Kitten said, then added, “like it has been my whole life. The grove has been shifting around to match the tree locations in the mortal realms. For the first time in eons, our trees will have mortal trees to match them.”
Leona looked over to Catvia for an explanation of this.
“Remember that we of the netherworld are without form unless we impose it on ourselves, or someone else imposes it on us. Having a matching thing from the mortal realm helps, makes it easier for us to maintain a form. The less of ourselves we are spending on that, the more we can spend on other things.”
“Except for me,” Kitten crowed. “I have a mortal father, so I have a defined body that grows, and I don’t have to work hardly at all to keep that shape.” Then she pouted. “But I can hardly change my shape at all.”
“Talk to Kitten,” Catvia told Leona. “I have to go to work.” Picking up the laptop, Catvia strolled over to a large tree near to Kitten’s tree, and walked right into the tree.
Leona looked at Kitten and then decided to have a nap. She climbed up on the girl’s lap, curled up in a ball, and went to sleep.
Location: Pucorl’s Garage & Happytime Motel, Netherworld
Time: 8:50 PM, August 23, 1372
Roger McLean lifted the Sword of Themis from his back where it floated. It was five feet long with a foot and a half of hilt. It was also light as a feather in his hand. He laid it in the rack that Pucorl installed in his room, then sat on the bed to take off his boots. He opened Sun Tzu, his laptop, enchanted by a muse of war. “Sun Tzu, where are we?”
The map function came up. There was no GPS in the fourteenth century, but Pucorl could and did record each rotation of each of his wheels, giving them an accurate mile count. His internal systems also had a compass, adding direction to the mile count. That combined with some fairly primitive surveying equipment—made in Paris by local smiths to designs that were developed between Wilber, Annabelle Cooper-Smith, Jennifer Fairbanks and Jennifer’s physics textbook chapter on optics, gave them location data and allowed the mapping programs to fill in the gaps.
So Sun Tzu had a detailed map of where they had been and a basic map of the rest of the world. Well, it was fairly detailed for France, but not truly accurate in terms of fourteenth century roads and structures.
Still, the planned route to Constantinople was, in Roger’s opinion, stupid. Especially now that everything but Pucorl, the horses, and people could be stored here in Pucorl’s lands. It would be better even now to turn south to Marseille, and take ship from there. Surely there was a ship large enough to carry Pucorl. A galley, maybe. He used the touchpad to draw a route to southern France, then by sea around the boot of Italy and Greece, to the Bosporus Straits.
“It’s seventeen hundred miles,” Sun Tzu said in Chinese-accented English. “But the real issue is that we know that Pucorl can come here and return to the same point of land he left from. A boat moves all the time and at sea it will be miles away by the time Pucorl gets back to this world. Will he reappear over open ocean or on the boat? We don’t know. And Pucorl isn’t going to take the chance.”
“I know, but what about the Danube?” Roger asked, drawing lines on the screen with his finger. “We can hit the Danube at Donauworth in not more than five hundred miles. Then we buy or make a barge to carry Pucorl. After that we can stop once a day while Pucorl does his jump home for supplies and maybe drops us at the hotel to spend the night in comfort.”
“Time is still different in Pucorl’s lands when Pucorl is not in residence.”
“Not that different. A few minutes a day shorter or longer.”
“Yes, but that is without the distorting effect of mortals left here. Remember, time in our realm is somewhat subject to the will of the individual. And you humans have an unfortunate tendency to insist on a few more hours to sleep or study or play. When Pucorl is in residence, he keeps time fairly constant using his onboard clock and the pendulum clock we bought in Paris and shipped to Pucorl’s lands.”
Pendulum clocks were an invention of the seventeenth century, but that was before the twenty-firsters had arrived in Paris in February of 1372. They had all seen grandfather clocks, and between Annabelle, Jennifer, and the local craftsmen they managed to make pendulum-based clocks, one of which was bought by Pucorl and placed in the lobby of the Happytime Motel. Several others had been built and now resided in Paris. King Charles had three and there was a big one, recently finished, at the cathedral of Notre Dame.
They knew that because one of the phones and one of the computers, as well as an enchanted crystal radio set, had been left in Paris. Which, with Merlin’s place being located in the netherworld analogous to the Île de la Cité in Paris meant that they had an indirect radio connection. The network went from Pucorl’s van to Pucorl’s lands, to Merlin’s place, to the enchanted crystal set on the Île de la Cité, to the phone in the royal palace, or to the king’s computer that His Majesty had loaned to the University of Paris. In spite of being unofficially banished, they had friends in Paris.
“Besides,” Sun Tzu added, “you are neglecting the politics. You know that most of the religious contingent refuses to set foot in Pucorl’s lands.”
The excuse for getting them out of France was for the twenty-firsters to act as escorts for a papal mission to the Patriarch of Constantinople to consider the possibility of reuniting the Catholic church with the Eastern Orthodox church, in light of the introduction of the netherworld into the mortal world with its demons and old beliefs. That meant they had a cardinal from Avignon with three priests, not including Monsignor Giuseppe Savona, papal nuncio to the twenty-firsters. Monsignor Savona had a room in the Happytime, but didn’t welcome the dryads to his dreams. However, Cardinal Pierre de Monteruc refused to enter Pucorl’s lands, even refused to ride in Pucorl, and the three fathers that accompanied him followed his lead. Other than that, he wasn’t particularly belligerent. He would speak to Pucorl, Merlin, and the rest. He was simply unwilling to put himself in any way at their mercy.
That included Raphico, the “angel” that inhabited the phone that Monsignor Savona carried. It was not owned by Giuseppe Savona but, in theory, by God. Cardinal de Monteruc was not convinced that the being which owned the phone was literally the God of heaven and Earth, but instead suggested that it might be the god, or a god, of that other realm where the demons came from. In other words, not the one true God, only a being of great power and uncertain motivation.
“I know that, but that too argues for using the Danube. Get other river barges for the horses, men, and priests that are coming along.”
“Eighty men at arms, one hundred and twenty horses, ten wagons. That is a lot of barges.” Not all their gear was stowed in Pucorl’s lands. But most of it was.
“I know. But however we do this, it’s going to be a lot of something.” Roger looked at the computer on the screen. Sun Tzu, a small man with a fu manchu mustache and wings, sat in a chair looking at a three-dimensional map of their projected route. He was scratching at his chin. “What’s really bugging you, Tzu?”
“The river is a line, not an area. It will make us much easier to find and not everyone in the netherworld is on our side. It seems an invitation to be ambushed.”
“Sure,” Roger agreed, then countered with, “but on the river we will be moving twenty hours a day. On land we’re stopped sixteen to eighteen hours every day, and where we’re stopped is predictable to bandits who know the territory we’re traveling through.”
“Call Bertrand,” Roger said, referring to Bertrand du Guesclin, the former Constable of France, who was in charge of the military contingent of their not-so-little caravan.
The phone rang. It was new to Bertrand, and existed only in this place of Pucorl’s. The phones were from movies and books brought by the twenty-firsters, and the infrastructure that made the connections was completely magic. Tiphaine was in the shower, so he didn’t turn on the camera, but instead picked up the headset.
“General, I think we should make for the Danube. It’s only five hundred miles from Paris to Donauworth and we’ve already covered two hundred. We could be there in another week, or perhaps a bit more. Then we stop, prepare barges and move downriver to the Black Sea, and from there to Constantinople. It’s a little farther that way, but we avoid the Alps, or at least most of them, and we can travel more than four hours a day.”
Bertrand considered. It was better than Roger’s notion of going by the Mediterranean Sea, but he wasn’t sure how much better. Then Tiphaine came out of the bathroom, wearing only a smile. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow, Roger.” He hung up.
Location: Kitten’s Tree, Dryad’s Grove, Netherworld
Time: Late Evening, August 23, 1372
Leona looked around the grove and wondered. Why humans did things was always a mystery, and here she was with a human. At least, a sort of human she could talk to. “Why were you in my village, Kitten?”
Kitten yawned and curled up next to the tree. “We were going from Paris to Constantinople. Your village was on the way.”
“And why are you going to Constantinople? Is there good hunting there?”
Kitten’s eyes opened, then she giggled. “No, silly. Humans don’t have to hunt to eat. We’re on a mission.”
Leona was offended by the “silly” comment, but she was also curious. And, as usual for her, the curiosity won. “What sort of mission?”
“We’re looking for the cause of the rifts in the veils.”
“What are the rifts in the veils, and why should you care?”
“Because Wilber and Dr. Delaflote say that if the veils aren’t fixed, both the mortal world and the netherworld could be destroyed.” She yawned again. “I’m sleepy, Leona.”
Leona let her sleep, but Leona wasn’t a sleepy kitten and this news was disturbing. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, but if the world was destroyed, her grove back next to the village and this grove with the magic would be destroyed too. She needed to find out what was going on.
Location: Farming Village, Lorraine, France
Time: Early Morning, August 24, 1372
Kitten was worried. Leona was missing. She had spent the night in Kitten’s tree and wandering the dryad’s grove, but this morning she was missing and there wasn’t time to find her. They transported back to the field next to the village, and then they were off. Kitten rode in Pucorl, since Paul had his horse now and rode it most days. Roger, Liane Boucher and Wilber were also riding horses, but Mrs. Grady, Lakshmi Rawal, Jennifer Fairbanks and Bill Howe were in the van, along with Tiphaine de Raguenel, her personal servant Jolie, Dr. Gabriel Delaflote, and Monsignor Savona. Kitten’s tail came up and over her shoulder while she nibbled on the tip.
“What’s wrong, Kitten?” asked Mrs. Grady. In the time since they started traveling, Mrs. Grady and Kitten’s mom, Catvia, had come to an understanding. Catvia watched out for Paul in the netherworld, keeping him from getting an advanced education from the dryads, and in the mortal realm, Mrs. Grady looked after Kitten, since her mother lived in a computer when they were in the mortal world.
“Nothing,” Kitten insisted, without much hope.
“Kitten, do you really want me to call your mom?” Mrs. Grady asked.
“It’s really nothing. It’s just, well, I can’t find Leona.”
“Leona? Wait. You mean the stray cat that visited us yesterday? Surely it’s back at the village.” Something must have shown in her face because after a moment Mrs. Grady continued. “Kitten, what did you do?”
“She wanted to visit the grove.”
“You know that animals go nuts in the netherworld.”
“Only in the bad bits. And you know that Pucorl’s lands are almost as civilized as Themis’ lands.” Themis was a titan, the goddess of proper behavior that Philip the Bold had forced into a sword and who Roger had freed to return to her own realm. Roger still had the sword and there was a pentagram in Pucorl’s garage that connected it to Themis as there was one that linked to Merlin’s lands. “She was doing fine when I went to sleep last night.”
“So she is still in the netherworld?”
Location: Forest of Dean, England
Time: Before Dawn, August 24, 1372
Leona felt the shift even here. She grabbed the fat field mouse by its broken neck and slipped through the gap in the veil back to Pucorl’s lands, arriving where she had left, in the grove of the dryads next to the babbling brook.
Location: Brook, Pucorl’s Lands, Netherworld
Time: Early Morning, August 24, 1372
Leona settled on the bank, eating her field mouse and chatting with the brook. It was the first time she had ever encountered a babbling brook, and she was finding it interesting and frustrating at the same time. She knew there were fish in the brook, but the brook babbled on about the dappled sunlight and how she had been forced to change her course when Pucorl moved in to the area. But the brook said not a word about where Leona should pounce if she wanted fish for lunch.
“Anyway, when Chevalier Pucorl’s lands floated up from the netherworld—”
“I thought this was the netherworld.”
“No, silly. This is the Elysian Fields, which reside between the netherworld and the crystal spheres. When Chevalier Pucorl got knight—”
Suddenly the whole place got weird. The hairs on Leona’s back stood up all on their own, nothing had changed, yet everything was different. “What?” Leona meowed.
“Oh, that. The chevalier is not in residence. Like I was saying, Chevalier Pucorl got knighted. These lands are him. The lord is the land and the land is the lord. Since Chevalier Pucorl got knighted, these lands are a part of him and he is a part of them. They respond to his presence or absence. Did you know that Themis herself confirmed the Chevalier’s knighthood? That’s much better than being knighted by a mortal king. She also confirmed his eating Beslizoswian.”
“Wait a second. How can she confirm his eating this Beslizoswian? Either he did or he didn’t, right?”
“Well, no, silly. He defeated Beslizoswian, subsumed him, but Beslizoswian was a demon lord. Its lands were a monstrous cavern below Themis. I don’t care if he was in the body of a van and wearing a cold iron cow catcher, a puck doesn’t eat a demon lord. Beslizoswian would have re-formed in a few years from the stuff of the cavern, or Themis could have cut Pucorl open and pulled Beslizoswian out right then, like Zeus pulled Saturn and his other siblings out of Cronus. Instead, she confirmed Pucorl’s victory, so all the land that was Beslizoswian is now part of Pucorl. It’s still moving from under Themis to here. And it’s been pushing other parts of the Elysian Fields out of the way as it moves in. And land doesn’t like to move.”
“Never mind that. You demons eat each other?”
“Sure, fish and deer, foxes and cattle are drinking me all the time.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Not especially. In a few days I’ll be swallowed up by a river then the river will be swallowed by the sea. But it all comes back around. Go ahead, have a taste.”
Leona did. The water was cool and clear. It tasted of forest glades and fruit trees. Leona was almost used to the change in the land since Pucorl left, but the difference was still there. Not so much that the place was more magical, but more that the restrictions on that magic were loosened. This glade out behind Pucorl’s garage and next to the dryads’ grove was a tricksy kind of place, full of wonder, but not at all safe. She could feel it.
But she was more interested in the fact that demons ate other demons, and that she could drink a demon. At least, she could drink from a babbling brook and the brook didn’t get mad about it. It was a different way of thinking about the world than she was used to. It offered all sorts of possibilities, so for the next little while, she asked about how this whole demon eating demon thing worked. “So does a wiloklisp own the land like a demon lord?”
“No, silly. A wiloklisp is more like a puck, except they are posted as guards, used to delay enemies, or draw them into traps.”
“So if a wiloklisp got eaten, it wouldn’t have to be confirmed? It would merely be eaten?”
“It depends.” The brook was bright, a bit flighty, tumbling over rocks and dancing in the sunlight. “Most wiloklisp are owned by a lord of some sort. So if one gets eaten, then the eater should have the permission of the lord. Unless it has a protector of its own.”
About then, the change that took place when Chevalier Pucorl left was reversed. And a moment later, the brook said, “You need to go back to the garage. Pucorl wants to talk to you.”
“I don’t see why.” Leona yawned in indifference that was only partly feigned. She was, after all, a cat.
“These are Pucorl’s lands. Piss him off and you’re going to spend a lot of time getting rained on and getting burrs in your fur.”
“Well, if you’re going to be that way about it.”
A few minutes later, Leona strolled onto the parking lot of Pucorl’s garage and Pucorl opened his side door. “Kitten is worried you got lost and Mrs. Grady . . .” Pucorl sighed heavily. “. . . insisted I come pick you up before the magic of my world drove you crazy.”
“I don’t doubt it, but let’s keep them happy. I’ll arrange for some smoked fish for dinner.”
Leona strolled over to the van and leapt in. The door closed and suddenly they were back in the mortal realm. Leaping up to the back of one of the seats, Leona saw that the humans were packing up. She watched as Wilber walked around the campsite, gathering little flicks of light as he went. “What’s he doing?”
“Picking up the wards he put out last night,” came Merlin’s voice. Then the door opened and Kitten climbed into the van. “Bad Leona,” she said in cat.
Leona looked back at the kitten and growled low in her throat. “You don’t own me, little kitten. Behave, or I’ll box your ears.”
“I’m sorry,” Kitten said meekly, “but I was worried.”
“It’s all right.” Leona forgave her and jumped down into Kitten’s lap to be petted.
The others climbed in and Pucorl drove off, following several horsemen.
For the rest of the morning they rode, taking a break every hour and traveling about twelve miles an hour the rest of the time. Around noon, they stopped and set up camp. They would spend the rest of the day and tonight here while the horses grazed and slept. That left plenty of time for Kitten and Paul to be educated in their school on the road. They practiced sword play with wooden swords under the tutelage of Bertrand du Guesclin’s guardsmen, reading and writing, math and physics, from Mrs. Grady and Jennifer Fairbanks, magic from Dr. Delaflote and Wilber, aided by Merlin and Archimedes, and that began the cycle. Mornings were spent traveling, afternoons studying, evenings and nights in Pucorl’s lands, while half the guards kept watch on the campsite within the wards that Wilber set.
Location: On the Road, France
Time: 9:37 AM, August 24, 1372
Wilber sat astride Meurtrier, the war horse that only allowed Wilber to ride him. He wore a saddle, but no bridle and Wilber wore riding boots, but no spurs. He mostly guided Meurtrier by voice, with an occasional movement of his knee. Roger McLean, on another war horse, rode up beside him.
“What’s up?” Wilber asked.
“I want to take the Danube across the Germanies and all the way to the Black Sea.”
“Why all the way? I can see following the Danube until we get to, say, Belgrade, but after that it starts going out of the way.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t want to ride along the banks. I want to buy boats and boat down the river.”
“You think they have river boats big enough for Pucorl? Or do you want him to drive along the banks while we ride boats?”
“If we can’t buy one that’s big enough, we have one built,” Roger said. “Look, boats aren’t faster than horses, but they travel all day and all night. We can stop when we need to pick up something from Pucorl’s lands, and spend the rest of the time traveling. Heck, Wilber—” By now they were all used to avoiding words that invoked the beings of the netherworld, so heck replaced hell and darn, damn. “—even traveling ten full hours a day at eight miles an hour would double the miles we cover in a day.”
Wilber took a moment to run the numbers in his head. Not that he doubted Roger, but the guy did get enthusiastic about things. His numbers were good, though, and since people and horses could rest on boats while the boats traveled, they would be better rested.
“We can use the birds, Archimedes, Carlos, and the rest to scout while we travel, so we don’t get ambushed.”
“Carlos, maybe. But Archimedes is Dr. Delaflote’s familiar spirit. He has better things to do than flap around trees. This isn’t Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Fine. Archimedes can lecture Gabriel on the proper way to boil an eye of newt. By now half of Bertrand’s men at arms have some sort of familiar. Even Louis has that glider Jennifer made for him.”
The glider in question was bat-winged, made of sticks and lacquered cloth, and was halfway between a triangular kite from the twentieth century and a model of a bat. It would fly like a kite if you tied a string to it, but it was enchanted and could fly for hours after Louis tossed it into the air. It had three eyes, two looking forward and one looking down, a small speaker, and two bat’s ears, so it could even do echolocation. Louis had paid Wilber a goodly amount for enchanting it.
Wilber looked up. Ariel was flying right now. He could barely see it, because it was painted blue gray on the bottom. “We need to talk to Bertrand.”
“Right. I called him last night, but we didn’t get into it,” Roger agreed. “Whose phone is he using today?”
Bertrand didn’t own a phone. Only the twenty-firsters, the King of France, and God owned phones. But Bertrand usually borrowed someone’s phone so that he could be reached if anything came up. Annabelle’s or Wilber’s most often. After all, Annabelle was in Pucorl most of the time and Pucorl had his own phone. Roger pulled his phone from his pocket and said, “Clausewitz, find Bertrand would you, and see if he’s busy. Wilber and I want to talk to him.”
As it happened, Bertrand was carrying Annabelle’s phone. Enzo said, “Phone call from Roger, General. You want to take it?”
Bertrand looked around. He was riding with the scouting element, ten horsemen who were riding a quarter mile ahead of the main party, scouting the trail as much for deadfalls and trees that would need to be cut to let Pucorl and the cardinal’s wagons through as for bandits.
They were in a grove of trees, but it was a small one and Bertrand could see the fields of a village ahead. “I’ll ride back, Enzo. Tell Roger I’ll be there in a minute.” He turned his horse and put it into a trot with a squeeze of his knees.
By the time he got back to the main body, Roger, Wilber, and Jennifer Fairbanks were all riding next to Pucorl, with Mrs. Grady leaning out of the passenger side window.
“What brings about this conclave of twenty-firsters?” Bertrand asked.
“Noah, here,” Amelia Grady hooked a thumb at Roger, “wants to build an ark.”
After that, they explained the plan as they rode along the path. Bertrand had the same basic concern that Sun Tzu had. Bertrand was fond of Roger’s computer. It was teaching him Go and chess. Pucorl was in favor of the idea. He had a good bit of biodiesel stored in his garage, but didn’t like wasting it.
They spent the rest of the morning discussing the possibilities of enchanted river boats and what sort of demon would be best to enchant them.
Location: On the Road, France
Time: 2:14 PM, August 24, 1372
As they drove along, Pucorl was playing music over the stereo system. It was quiet music, and at first Annabelle didn’t notice. Then Paul started singing along.
“We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”
Annabelle rolled her eyes. “This is hardly a yellow brick road, Pucorl. And we aren’t headed for Australia, anyway.”
“Besides,” Amelia Grady said, taking hold of Gabriel Delaflote’s arm, “We have the best wizard on Earth right here with us.”
“You want to play something a bit more grown-up?” Annabelle asked.
“Pucorl and grown-up don’t belong in the same sentence,” Paul announced. “That’s what Mom says.”
Pucorl sniffed loudly over the sound system. “I am most profoundly displeased.” Then he giggled.
Amelia’s phone Laurence said, in the voice of Laurence Olivier, “Well, we could be on a yellow brick road. At least in Pucorl’s lands.”
And so it proved. For that night, when they returned to the netherworld, the blacktop road that led to Pucorl’s Garage had been replaced by a two-lane-wide yellow brick road.
Location: Pucorl’s Garage, Netherworld
Time: 9:37 PM, August 24, 1372
Roger stepped into the pentagram in a room off the mechanic’s bays in Pucorl’s garage. This was a special pentagram. It went from Pucorl’s lands to the land of Themis. He bowed and sat in the chair.
A moment later the titan Themis appeared in the pentagram, sitting on her throne. “Hello, Roger,” Themis said. “What can I do for you today?”
Themis was a friend. Normally mortals didn’t count titans as friends, in the same way that peasants didn’t normally think of kings as friends. Only more so. But this was a special case. Roger McLean had, for a short time, owned Themis and had freely given her to herself, freeing her from the bondage that Beslizoswian, a demon lord, had forced on her. It was partly that Roger gave her her freedom, but mostly that he did so not out of expectation of reward, but because it was the right thing to do. And Themis was the titan of right behavior. It was a bond between them.
Besides, as a titan and the parent of a god or two, Themis could be in as many places at once as she needed to.
“Mostly some advice, Themis. We were wondering who we should recruit to enchant a river boat.”
“That’s an interesting thought. You know I extend out to sea some way. Well, partially. My nephew Poseidon shares, ah, I guess you would say sovereignty of the coastal areas with me.” Themis was referring to the fact that she was both the queen of her lands and the land itself. Her body, as it were, was the entire land of Themis, which was roughly analogous to the Thrace of the ancient world, and included most of the remaining Byzantine Empire. And apparently she mixed with Poseidon on the coast.
“Before I was stolen from my place and forced into the sword, I had a lovely sea monster locked in the Bay of Athyra. It would have been a thousand years ago. When I was forced to enchant the dead for—” Her voice became as cold as a glacier on Pluto. “—that creature Philip, I used the more powerful, but not necessarily brighter, of my servants to enchant those who were to serve that creature personally. The kraken I am thinking about wasn’t all that thrilled to be locked in my bay in the first place, and it’s one of those who declined to return after you allowed me to free them. It’s residing in a rock at the bottom of a creek in France at the moment. I can ask it if it would like a change of residence.”
Which she certainly could, since she knew the creature’s full name to the last accent on the least syllable. Demonic kind were controlled mostly by the invoking of their name. The more of their name you knew, the more control you had over them. The kraken wasn’t in that rock only because it chose to be, but because Themis, who had learned to love freedom, allowed it to stay in that rock.
Location: Happytime Motel, Pucorl’s Lands, Netherworld
Time: 9:45 PM, August 24, 1372
There was a meow and the door to Wilber’s apartment in the Happytime opened enough to let Leona in.
“Pucorl, in the future, wait until I invite someone in, please.” It was Pucorl’s lands, and he could control things like doors at will.
“Why? You weren’t doing anything important. Reading your books.”
“Meow,” Leona said. It meant “I need to talk to you.” And Wilber decided that the discussion of manners with Pucorl could wait. It would be an utterly useless discussion anyway.
“What do you want to talk about, Leona?”
“Is the world going to end?” As she meowed, her body sank to the floor, ready to pounce or jump out of the way. Which was cat for “intensely concerned,” which made sense.
Wilber was intensely concerned himself. He sighed. No matter how important the issue, you couldn’t spend all your time waiting to pounce. “I don’t know. It could happen if the veils aren’t repaired. As long as they were in place, the netherworld slid right by the natural world with little interaction in either direction. But now it could be that as the netherworld moves, it will rip apart our world and vice versa. Honestly, I think that the vice versa is more likely, that the netherworld will be destroyed. But that doesn’t mean that the side effects won’t knock down mountains and shift Earth’s orbit so that we fall into the sun, or are thrown right out of the solar system. The planet will still be in basically one piece, but everyone will be dead.”
And because of Wilber’s magic, Leona understood every word. They talked into the night and Leona learned that the threat to the universe wasn’t that bad, or might be even worse. Time in the netherworld wasn’t the same as time in the natural. In the netherworld, it was cyclic. In the natural world, linear. So when this destruction would occur was hard to calculate. It might be a million years in the future or a million years in the past, but most likely would be right around the time when the veils were ripped. So, if they failed to fix the problem, they might well cease to exist.
“That makes no sense,” Leona meowed.
“I know. It’s because we aren’t sure how the two timelines will interact. But Themis is concerned, and her calculations add up. We have to stabilize things, and that means we have to figure out what caused the rifts in the first place.”
Location: On the Road, France
Time: 8:40 AM, August 25, 1372
Roger slid the black charger up alongside Bertrand’s huge gray and said, “I talked with Themis last night. She knows a kraken that might want to be a river boat.”
“We will need more than one.” Bertrand glanced at Roger, then went back to scanning the fields and hedges around them. “If we are going to enchant river boats with demons, we will need at least half a dozen. Nor am I convinced that a kraken is the best option.”
“Kraken are based on cephalopods, and aside from whales are the brightest things in the oceans,” Roger said. “Besides, one of their means of locomotion is their legs.”
“And what good does that do us if we are putting it into a boat? The last time I checked, boats didn’t have legs.”
“No, but river boats have poles to push against the land or oars to move through the water. Perhaps those can double as the kraken’s legs.”
Bertrand shrugged shoulders so wide as to make him seem almost dwarfish. “Talk to Annabelle.”
“I think better Jennifer,” Roger said. “Annabelle is more of a mechanic. I don’t know how much she knows about boats. Jennifer has a better background in physics.”
“Consult with both then, but consider whales if the netherworld has them.”
Roger turned his horse and headed back to the van.
“How they bouncing?” Pucorl asked as Roger rode up.
Roger ignored the quip. Pucorl had been a puck for millennia before he got the van for a body. It was in his nature to be a smart ass. “Annabelle, you know anything about boats?”
“Not much,” Annabelle said, leaning out Pucorl’s driver’s side window. The van was only traveling about eight miles an hour. “And nothing at all about the ships of this time. Engine girl, here.”
“I was afraid of that.” He pulled out his phone “Jennifer, you got a minute?”
“I guess. What’s up, Roger?”
Roger could see her bay gelding pull away from one of the priest’s wagons, and canter up to the van. “I need to know about boats.”
“What kind of boats?”
“Riverboats.” He explained about his plan to use the Danube to get them to Constantinople faster.
“Bertrand okay with that?”
“Yes, reasonably. Assuming we can find a riverboat big enough to hold Fatso here.” He hooked a thumb at the van, which was twice the size of the cardinal’s carriage, which was the second largest vehicle in their caravan.
“Not Fatso,” Pucorl insisted. “The Incredible Van. You know, like the Incredible Hulk.” The van, as it happened, was painted dark green. It was one of the standard colors that the van came in, and Pucorl’s body had started life as a school van. “And assuming you can find a river boat suited to my—” Pucorl honked a haughty sniff. “—grandeur. What are you going to do for the rest of the party? That’s a lot of riverboats and I ain’t dragging them all along behind me.”
“We hire some. Even if they don’t have anything big enough for you, they ought to have some that will hold horses and wagons.”
Location: Field Outside Donauworth, Germany
Time: 2:25 PM, September 1, 1372
The mayor of Donauworth wasn’t thrilled to see them. After one look at Pucorl, he refused any of them entrance into the city, even the cardinal.
Bertrand looked at the city that Paris made into a small town. He looked over at Pucorl and his cavalry, and wondered if he could take this city. That would be an extremely bad idea, starting a war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, so he bit down on his irritation and agreed to camp outside town.
As they were setting up camp, he asked Monsignor Savona to see about negotiating with the city’s burghers for entrance into the city. Only during daylight hours, and only to arrange to buy boats, barges, and food, for which they would pay in good French silver.
Monsignor Savona, Cardinal de Monteruc and the priests were refused entrance, but the senior local priest came to the gate and explained. “Since whatever it was happened, the city has been beset. The kobolds are spoiling the milk, the wild hunts run most nights, and the nixes are dancing naked up and down the river and singing in voices that tempt our young to debauchery and death.”
“There are wards, Father,” Monsignor Savona said. “Wilber Hyde-Davis is becoming adept at their use. And so is Doctor Delaflote.”
“Why would you accompany those who traffic with demons?” the priest asked. “Especially after your experience with the demons raising the dead to grim war.”
That brought on discussion of what happened in Paris and it was admitted that they were using demons to fight demons. Monsignor Savona introduced Raphico and when the priest held out his cross as though to ward off the phone, the phone’s screen lit with a golden cross on a field of white. Monsignor Savona mentioned that among the functions of the angel-enchanted phone was one of healing. And that even if the townsfolk wouldn’t let them in, they were still willing to heal the sick.
The priest promised to consider it.
Location: Field Outside Donauworth, Germany
Time: 10:15 PM, September 1, 1372
They came through the night, blowing ghostly horns that sent terror straight into the bones. They rode around the town, over the water as though it was firm land, then straight at the camp.
Bertrand was wakened by the howl of the trumpets and came out of his tent, sword in hand. Tiphaine was at the Happytime Motel, but after the warnings Bertrand, Roger, and Wilber had decided to spend the night in camp. Just in case.
Wilber was outside his tent, making magical gestures and intoning something in demonic. Roger had the Sword of Themis riding on his back, and as the wild hunt rode into view, Pucorl appeared in the middle of camp.
Leading the hunt was a tall man in armor that glowed silver. The man had long hair so pale it was white in the moonlight. He had no beard and his eyes were slanted up. He had pointed ears and his laugh was cold and evil. He rode straight at the wards with his companions and his hounds all about him.
As he reached the barrier, Roger drew the Sword of Themis, which lit with fire. And then the wild hunt hit the wards . . .
. . . and splashed.
First the dogs hit, and were ripped to bloody mist. And though the elf lord tried to turn, he wasn’t in time. He ran into the wall of magical force and his front half was turned into mist. There was a pause as the rest of the wild hunt diverted around the wards, some of them riding right through the walls of Donauworth as they tried to avoid the wards. They went around the wards, rode on, and then turned around. The wild hunt came back. By now, the elf lord was re-forming. His horse was still half bone, but he himself was almost back to his form, save for his right hand, which was bone with flesh starting to re-form on it.
In a voice like a banshee, he shouted, “Who dares interfere with my hunt?”
Roger looked at Bertrand. Bertrand looked at Roger.
In a loud voice, Wilber said, “That would be me. Now what are you doing in the mortal realms?”
“I go where I wish, mortal. These are my lands, whether mortal or fairy. Mortals are mine to hunt.”
“I’m right here. Hunt away.”
Suddenly a woman stood in the clearing. She held a book in one hand and scales in the other. It was Themis, and divinity glowed from her. She looked around, walked the wards, and while she did so everyone was held motionless. Within the wards, outside the wards, mortal and elf in the field and on the walls of Donauworth, no one could move but to look at her. She examined Wilber’s wards and clucked her tongue, pointing at flaws. Wilber blushed.
She looked at the elf lord, and he said, “This is not your place.”
“As justice is everywhere, I am everywhere. As decency is everywhere, I am everywhere.”
Then she went over to Roger. “But, Roger, there is also freedom. Theirs as well as yours. So this I lay upon you. You may use my sword to defend yourself and your companions.” She looked around, saw Leona sitting on Pucorl’s dashboard and smiled. “Even to the cat who has joined your company. However, you may not use my sword simply to strike those you dislike or disapprove of.” The book became a torch and she held it high. “For they too have freedom.”
Roger looked at her, then he looked at the elf lord who was starting to smile. “What about my rifle?”
Themis laughed. “You too are free, Roger. But don’t use my sword for this.” She looked around again and then faded away.
Roger put the Sword of Themis over his back, and turned to his tent, but one of the squires was ahead of him. The lad, perhaps seventeen, had the rifle in his hands and was running over to bring it to Roger.
“Thank you,” Roger said, taking the rifle.
“Husband,” said a beautiful elven woman with flaming hair and glowing eyes, “will you let the night’s sport be spoiled by this rude interruption and these mortals who think themselves our equals?”
Until that moment, Roger noted, there was at least a chance that the wild hunt would pack it in for the night. But not now. He sighed, and lifted the rifle.
“Coward!” roared the elf lord. “Hiding behind your wards while you attack me from afar.”
Roger looked at him, then at Bertrand.
Bertrand shrugged. “He has a point. But, at the same time, if he’s after a duel, it should be between you and him.”
“The thing that I’m worried about,” Roger said quietly as he walked over to Bertrand, “is the town. Those people have no defense against the wild hunt and the way the powers that be are reacting, they aren’t going to have one either. They won’t even let us help them unless we demonstrate that we are on the side of the angels, so to speak. If we do nothing but sit here in our camp, those folk—” He hooked a thumb at the wild hunt. “—are going to take their frustration out on the town.”
“If you desire a duel, elf lord, then face him one on one!” Bertrand shouted.
The elf lord waved away his fellows. He sheathed his sword, and gathered up an elven bow, then dismounted and walked to stand a ways off. Roger opened the rifle. It was a breech loading weapon that opened like a shotgun. He loaded it with an iron bolt that had a lead sabot around it, then with a block of shaped black powder. That last wouldn’t work without the demon that resided in the firing chamber.
Roger closed the weapon and carefully stepped over the glowing wards without touching them. He could feel the magic flow around him.
The elf lord watched the mortal step out from the wards and let the rage take him. How dare this flyspeck consort with titans and embarrass him before his lady? But there was calculation in his heart as well as rage, for the fool brought the Sword of Themis with him. And to the victor goeth the spoils. He smiled and laid the elven shaft into the bow. He waited.
Roger moved slowly, rifle held ready to fire. The rifle was a distance weapon. It had rifling and enchanted sights. That would let him see where the bolt would go. But that wouldn’t matter much today, because there wouldn’t be time to aim. This was more a wild west gunfight than a formal duel. It would start when one of them started to move.
Roger watched, right hand on the trigger, left hand holding the barrel. Roger was a good shot, and before they were brought here, he had hunted birds and shot skeet with his father.
He was never sure what it was that brought him to decision, but in a moment he was moving, and so was the elf lord. As the elf lord lifted the bow and pulled the bowstring, Roger lifted the barrel of his rifle with his left hand and pulled the trigger long before the rifle reached his shoulder.
The hammer struck the home of the salamander and the little demonic creature of flame was released. It consumed the charge of black powder in a tiny fraction of a second, then retreated back to its home as the bullet sped across the field.
The elf lord’s bow came up and as the bowstring touched his cheek, he heard the crack and felt the iron bullet rip through him, and it ripped him in a way that bronze or wood could never do. It ripped and twisted the connections that made him what he was. The bow was a part of him, the arrow was a part of him, as was his horse and to an extent the whole wild hunt. All were a part of him.
No more. All those connections were ripped asunder as the cold iron bolt ripped through him.
The elf shot bolt was bereft. In the normal course of things, it would be guided by its master to the target. But now it was loose, with no guidance. It went looking for a target, flying in random spirals.
It saw the strange cart that stank of magic, decided that was a target worthy of its attention, and flew at it.
It never got there.
It hit the wards and was broken and shattered into nothingness.
This cannot be, the elf lady thought in shocked horror. My lord is a being of magic. He cannot be harmed by a mortal. This was sport, nothing more. The worst that could possibly happen was that he might be forced back underhill to the netherworld, to return on another night. But truly damaged . . .
In horror, she ran.
And the wild hunt ran with her.
Location: Outside Donauworth, Germany
Time: Dawn, September 2, 1372
As the sun peeped over the horizon, the gates of Donauworth opened and the townspeople came out. Not all of them, but a goodly number. First were the poor and the sick, who came to see if the healing that Monsignor Savona promised was as real as the wild hunt and the fight seen by the city guard last night.
Then there were merchants and boatmen who, whatever the town fathers said, came to see if they might make a profit dealing with these people.
Liane Boucher pointed her camera, DW, at the child and the camera saw, but it saw with magic as well as integrated circuits. It saw—with advice from Raphico and knowledge from high school health and biology texts—how to see illness and what the things it saw in the little girl’s body meant, and then it sent that knowledge to Raphico by bluetooth connection.
By the time the little girl got to the angel-enchanted smartphone, Raphico knew what was wrong with her. She had tuberculosis, and Raphico went through not only wiping out the tubular bacilli, but explaining to the little girl’s body how to recognize them and fight them on its own.
With the images from DW, it took little energy.
The next patient had tapeworms. He was a man of thirty-five. And after him came a man with an infected jaw, the result of a decaying, impacted wisdom tooth.
It went on all day, with Raphico and DW having to take cooling breaks, for even with demonic help, each healing used the circuits of the camera and phone to direct the energies of the demon and angel, and that use heated the CPUs.
As it went on, several of the priests of the town watched. Finally, around two in the afternoon, one of the priests asked, “How can you believe that is an angel if it is so willing to talk with a demon?”
Cardinal de Monteruc said, “I have asked the same question many times. Raphico insists that the politics of Heaven are more complicated than mortals realize, or want to realize. For myself, I am skeptical of Raphico’s true allegiance. At the same time, I know that he is healing the sick and doing so in God’s name. And that I cannot condemn, not while I am not certain he is evil.”
Several of the local priests nodded as a man with a broken hand was healed.
The barge maker, after getting permission, went to Pucorl and, grabbing his front bumper, lifted. Well, tried to lift. Pucorl didn’t help and weighed over four thousand pounds even empty. After grunting a bit he stood, looked at the van, shook his head and said. “It’s too big, too heavy. The water is shallow in many places this far up the Danube. The cart will make the barge sink three, maybe four, feet into the water and that’s too much draft. Better you go downriver to Ingolstadt.”
The barge he was talking about had thick walls of wood and would weigh a considerable amount even empty. Jennifer had a better—or at least different—idea. She wanted a thin-walled flotation chamber made from a wooden structure wrapped in cloth which would then be painted with boiled pine resin. The idea was to produce something between the doped canvas wings of a WWI airplane and a fiberglass boat body.
But as long as she was the one bringing it up, the bargeman was uninterested. When Bertrand demanded that he listen, his attitude changed. Mostly that was because Bertrand was a large, scary man, not an attractive teenage girl. But, in large part, it was because he assumed that Bertrand was in charge of the money, which wasn’t true.
As it happened, the biggest part of the twenty-firsters’ funds were owned by Mrs. Grady and her son Paul, who had sold a phone and a computer to the king of France. The next largest part was owned by Liane Boucher, because the pope, after a long, private talk with Monsignor Savona, had decided that she should be paid for her phone by the church. Even if she did give it directly to God, and not the church, it was given to God in care of the church.
More surprising than the church paying was that it stayed with Monsignor Savona instead of returning to Avignon with the pope. Raphico, however, had insisted. Cardinal de Monteruc had his own funds, and Bertrand had a chest of silver for expenses, but the people who would be paying for the barge—at least Pucoral’s barge—were going to be the twenty-firsters. So after two days of negotiations, Jennifer got her way.
Wilber didn’t have much in the way of cash, but he was in an excellent position to work his magic with the aid of Merlin. With Archimedes the crow, Doctor Delaflote and Wilber were fairly capable wizards.
“We,” the mayor, a fat man with an ermine cloak and a wide leather belt, said pompously, “will consider letting your party enter the city.” He looked around the tent. There were two rickety looking tables and six chairs. Seated in the chairs were Bertrand du Guesclin, his wife Tiphaine, Wilber Hyde-Davis, Gabriel Delaflote, and Mrs. Amelia Grady.
“Don’t trouble yourself,” said Wilber Hyde-Davis in excellent German. “It’s no trouble at all for us to stay here while we do our business. After all, Pucorl’s lands are only a moment away.” He waved at Merlin, who was open on the table, and the screen changed to show Pucorl’s lands with the dryads’ grove, the Happytime Motel, the garage and shop, and the little brook that wound its way around behind the garage and through the dryads’ grove.
It was, in its—to Wilber’s mind—tacky way, a nice place and much better than sharing a bedbug-infested canvas sack filled with hay in one of the local inns. But Wilber knew perfectly well that that wasn’t what this was about. This meeting was about kobolds and wards to keep the wild hunt out of Donauworth— and for that matter, off the backs of the peasants harvesting the grain that would feed the region for the winter into next spring. Mayor Fats was trying for bargaining points. “On the other hand, if you want to talk to Cardinal de Monteruc, I’m sure he will be pleased to know the town is now open to him.”
Wilber hid a smile as the mayor’s face congealed before his eyes.
The mayor looked around at the rest of those present, and Bertrand spoke.
“Well, I thank you for your city council’s forbearance. My men will be better for the occasional night in a tavern.”
“There are conditions.” The mayor jumped back on script like a starving dog on a steak.
“I’ll instruct my men to be on their best behavior,” Bertrand offered airily.
“It’s not that. It’s . . . well, it’s the elves and the kobolds. You have to get rid of them for us.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Gabriel said. “And it may not be possible at all.”
“But they’re demons! Fey creatures! And you’re wizards. You have to be able to get rid of them.” The mayor went from bluster to begging in a moment, and in spite of the way they had been treated, Wilber felt for the guy.
But that didn’t change the facts. The veil was in shreds, and kobolds didn’t live far below the surface in places like this. Donauworth had been here for centuries and its echos affected the netherworld. On the other side of the veil was a fairly close copy of Donauworth, and that copy was the home of kobolds, one for every structure in the town. They lived there and were affected by the actions of the inhabitants of Donauworth for the simple reason that the netherworld, that other universe that impinged on the imperial plane, had little structure of its own. The netherworld got imprinted, and by now the beings in that other realm were mostly converted into what the people living here for the last thousand years or so thought was there.
And now they could cross from their copies of the houses of Donauworth right into the real world houses. Usually at the hearth, because that was the center of most homes.
“We can’t make them leave,” Wilber said, “because they live here too. Always have. It’s only that their ‘here’ is a half a beat to the side. Out of the corner of your eye. And they had nothing to do with the ripping up of the veil that separates our world from theirs.”
“Then you can’t help us? But you fought off the wild hunt.”
“That was different,” Bertrand said. “While the fey are local to the region, the wild hunt participants aren’t local to Donauworth, and they are from a couple of levels farther away. It was Roger and his rifle that did for the elflord. But at least for the town proper, Wilber and Doctor Delaflote should be able to produce wards to keep the wild hunt away.”
“And,” added Tiphaine, “with the aid of Pucorl and the twenty-firsters, if you are willing and reasonable, we should be able to negotiate some sort of rapprochement with the kobolds and other fey creatures that inhabit your town. Back in our lands in France, we managed fairly well with simple courtesy.”
The discussion went on. Ways and means, what the town wanted, and what it would accept. Then, after they had a rough idea of what the powerful in Donauworth wanted, it was time to find out what the kobolds wanted.
They would open the gates and Pucorl would drive to the central square, and then slip across into the netherworld. Not back to his place, but to that part of the netherworld that matched this place.
The sun was bright as Pucorl, with Annabelle, Roger, Wilber, and Doctor Delaflote shifted. The sun dimmed as though it was behind a cloud, but it wasn’t. The sun was still there, glowing yellow in a blue sky, but a bit dimmer. The town too was dimmer, and the houses were shorter, to suit the size of the people who were mostly kobolds. There were others of the magic world here, some with names of legend, some with no name that any living human would know. The arrival of Pucorl in their midst was a shock for them and the Landdísir of Donauworth. In truth, she was the Landdísir of Donauworth before Donauworth was Donauworth, back when it was a fishing village and a crossing point before Christianity got to this part of the world. Her name was long since forgotten by any living person, but she was the mistress and mother to the kobolds of Donauworth and the other fey of the area. Her name was long and complex and not something she was willing to share, but a thousand years before, when the villagers offered gifts at her shrine, she was called Mareike ves Landdisir.
Talks with Mareike were complicated by the fact that she was miffed that she had been forgotten, and not at all pleased with the Catholic church, which had enforced the forgetting. Her priestesses had been murdered by Christian mobs.
“I think we are going to need Raphico for this,” Wilber told Roger a few minutes in.
“I think we are going to need Tiphaine,” Roger said.
“Let’s wrap this up and go get them both.”
There was also the fact that while the kobolds were Mareike’s children, they weren’t the most obedient of children. There was some question as to whether she could command them to behave, even if she wanted to.
Even with the inclusion of Tiphaine and Raphico, the negotiations took the rest of the time they were in Donauworth and were still ongoing when they left. What was in place was more like a framework for the individual households of Donauworth to make their own deal with the kobold of their house or the river spirits for fishermen, that sort of thing.
What the twenty-firsters, and especially Pucorl, got out of the deal were several barges, including a large purpose-built, flat-bottomed enchanted barge for Pucorl. They needed the enchantment for two things.
One because the barge without enchantment wouldn’t last the trip down the river. It was too flimsy and, as it turned out, a lot of fish found the resin-soaked cloth that was its skin absolutely delicious. The demon who inhabited the barge managed to make the little fishes leave it alone by making the barge seem a large hungry predator, which was what the spirit they called to the barge was—a kraken from the sea next to Themis’ lands. It had gotten caught up in the battle for Paris, and was looking for a new body.
The first thing the kraken, who chose to be called Joe Kraken, did was demand that the poles that pushed the barge along the river be replaced. Not good enough, not flexible enough, according to Joe Kraken.
Instead . . .
“That’s kind of creepy,” said Jennifer, as she watched the workmen attach the leather and canvas tentacles with their leather suckers to the bottom rear of the barge. There were ten of the things, eight that were ten meters long and a half meter thick at the base, and two that were fifteen meters long and a meter wide at the base.
“That’s not the half of it,” Roger said, pointing at the back of the kraken barge where they were installing—also at the kraken’s insistence—a beak made of wrought iron, a leather tongue embedded with “teeth,” and a gullet that went into the body of the barge. The kraken would be able to eat.
Once the new tentacles, mouth and so on were added, they re-did the enchantment. As they had learned with Pucorl, repeating the enchantment process let the kraken migrate into its new additions to its body.
Roger, Jennifer, Annabelle and Wilber watched as workmen with poles levered the newly modified barge onto greased wooden rails and slid it down into the river. It was thirty feet long with a flat area for the first twenty-two feet and an eight foot long, ten foot wide cabin in the back. The front had a liftable ramp that could carry Pucorl and was how he would drive onto and off the barge. The cabin in the back was eight feet tall with a slightly curved roof, so that rain would poor off. It had two eyes, one to either side, and there were a matching pair below the waterline, so that Joe Kraken could see the bottom of the river. Behind the eyes and in the back were the tentacles, eight thirty feet long, and two forty-five feet long. And they writhed as Joe was slid down the rails to the river.
A tentacle grabbed a bush and pulled it out of the ground, then tossed it away. Jennifer shuddered.
Once in the water, the tentacles were mostly hidden. The bases of the upper ones could be seen, but they quickly bent down into the water and the water roiled with their movement. Joe Kraken twisted about, using his tentacles to shift the barge back and forth, then pushed out into the middle of the river, scooted over to the far bank, and turned back. A tentacle came out of the water and grabbed a tree, then flexed, pushing the barge quickly down the river. Then the barge turned and crossed the river again. Back on this side, a tentacle grabbed a rock for purchase, and they could almost see that it was doing the same thing underwater.
Jennifer shuddered again. “Creepy.”
The next day, Joe Kraken was still learning his body configuration. Jennifer and Roger were aboard, sitting on the roof of the cabin. Jennifer was there to examine how her design was working. Roger was there in case someone wanted to take the barge away from Jennifer. The Danube was not the safe, policed river of the twenty-first century.
They were two miles downriver from Donauworth when one of the two longer tentacles came up out of the water and grabbed a cow. The cow was pulled against, which moved the barge, then was picked up and pulled beneath the river. Its subsequent fate was unclear because of the muddy water but almost certainly not good.
“Oh, that’s really creepy,” said Jennifer. She glared at Roger, standing next to her. “How do you know that . . . that thing won’t use one of us for a snack next time?”
“It’s not mine.” Roger was wondering the same thing himself. “Hey, Joe. You’re not supposed to eat the wildlife.”
Joe didn’t answer.
“Joe Kraken, answer me.” They knew that the kraken could hear them. It had microphones and speakers in the cabin and outside it, as well. The silence made him nervous. He didn’t want to be on a sea monster that had gone rogue.
He reached up and grabbed Themis. “Excuse me. Could we get a little help here?”
Whenever the titan wasn’t present in person, she could talk to Roger through the sword—and on those occasions she was something of a mind-reader.
<You needn’t worry. The kraken’s not all that smart, but he’s smart enough to know the difference between a person and an animal. He won’t harm anyone unless he is ordered to.>
“Ordered by whom?”
<By the owner of its vehicle. Haven’t you been paying attention for the last almost a year? In this case, Pucorl owns his vehicle, so Pucorl is his master. I have some authority, since I created him with the help of my nephew, Poseidon.>
Roger was still not satisfied. “But that cow belonged to somebody. We’re not going to make ourselves real popular if our demon-possessed river barge is lunching on livestock and pets as we go along.”
<He won’t bother any animal clearly attached to a human. By a tether, a leash, whatever. If the animal’s not attached, you’ll have to instruct him not to eat it. And now, I’m busy. This is not important.>
And she was gone.
After Roger explained the gist of the conversation, Jennifer shook her head. “It’s still creepy. You’d better give the thing its instructions now, though, before we run across any more domestic munchies.”
“It’s not listening to me.”
“Then call Pucorl.”
“Why me?” He was practically whining by now.
“Never mind.” She called Pucorl. “Pucorl, you need to talk to your barge. It’s ignoring us. And it’s eating the local livestock.”
“Do I have to?” complained a deep fog horn of a voice through the external speakers, clearly in response to Pucorl’s instructions. But at least it was speaking though the speakers.
“Kraken,” said Roger. Then, in the vague hope that personalizing the creature might be of help, he asked, “Joe?”
“Joe,” the speaker agreed.
“Don’t eat any more cows, Joe. Or a horse. Or a sheep. Or a pig. Or a goat. Or a dog.” Each was accompanied by a mental image. “Or . . . I guess that’s enough.”
“You didn’t tell him to stay away from cats and chickens,” said Jennifer.
“Who cares about chickens? And I don’t like cats.”
“Well, we have a cat with us. And if Joe eats Leona, much less Kitten, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
“Then you tell him.”
Jennifer did, but she wasn’t entirely sure that she was getting through, so she called Wilber.
Wilber called Joe by way of his built-in crystal set. And to clarify, he sent it a list of animals with their images. Then he called Jennifer back. She put her phone on speaker so Roger could hear.
“Squid brains are really different from human brains. They don’t have voices at all, and they barely have ears. They communicate with colored patterns on their skin. It’s a language and a way of thinking that’s so strange it gives me fits, in spite of my magic.
“But we put in speakers and microphones, and it does talk.”
“Yes, but I’m not so sure how much it understands. That’s why the pictures.”
Jennifer had to be satisfied with that.
Location: North Bank of the Danube at Donauworth, Germany
Time: Dawn, September 19, 1372
One last time they brought Joe Kraken up onto the shore and repaired the pentagram. The pentagram was made of river plants and fish parts from the Danube, ground into a paste and blessed by Monsignor Savona and the local priests. The latter based on the notion that a kraken in the Danube would be a bit safer if the priests of Donauworth were involved. Joe Kraken, the boat, was a complex combination of magic, twenty-firster technology, and courtesy. Joe Kraken, the demon, was contacted by the twenty-firsters before they reached Donauworth. When it became clear that the twenty-firsters would have to have a specialized boat built to spec, Joe was asked what he would like in his new body. As it turned out he could communicate with them through their cell phones, and communicate reasonably well with Pucorl.
Sort of. It was a bit like talking to a three year old. His calling name was discussed too. Kraken because he was a sea monster, and Joe after Joe Louis, because he was a fighter. Especially now that he had tentacles to punch with.
Joe Kraken wanted four eyes, two permanently fixed on the boat’s pilot house. That way he could see without having to constantly heave himself above the surface, and two more painted on the sides below the waterline. Happily, the pilot house eyes didn’t need to be the size of Joe’s own eyes. That would have been beyond the skill of the local glassmakers.
In front of the pilot house was a long and wide flat surface that Pucorl would ride on, and inside the body of the boat was a leather sack that had openings in the bow and stern. That was an experiment to see if Joe Kraken was able to use it like a squid’s bladder to propel itself through the water. Not use the bladder itself—it was much too small—but somehow make it work as a surrogate.
Roger didn’t ask too many questions. The less he had to contemplate what was happening at the barge’s bottom, the better. Jennifer was right. It was really creepy.
But it worked.