Author Topic: Chapter 2  (Read 10374 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 2
« on: November 21, 2022, 12:49:19 AM »
His giddiness continued for hours after that, as Tupper made his way through the darkened fields. He couldn’t risk Apparating anywhere, in case someone saw him appear on the other end, but he could see well enough. Elves were often shut into dark spaces as punishment, when they weren’t forced to punish themselves, and had developed good vision. It wouldn’t be necessary for long, though. The sky was brightening in preparation for the coming dawn.

He still couldn’t believe it. For as long as he’d remembered, the phrase in his head had been rattling around, like a loose screw inside an otherwise-perfect pocketwatch. Now it was gone, and he couldn’t be happier! Despite the importance of his task, and the enormous responsibility he’d taken on by even travelling into the past, he felt like singing and dancing down the hill towards the city!

He’d been here a few times over the years, but that had all been during his own era. So much of this area was unoccupied in this time. Tupper could see the road at the bottom of the hill, snaking its way into the city. The Thames ran its lazy way through it as well, though it wouldn’t be called that for a long time yet. From his research, Tupper knew it was called the ‘Tamesis’, for now.

Tupper still couldn’t believe that it had worked, either. He’d half expected the timelight to tear him apart, despite his years of preparations. The incantation he’d invented had worked perfectly, though the landing could have been a bit smoother. He rubbed his nose gingerly, and was gratified to find it had stopped bleeding.

The rattling of a cart behind him caught his ears, and Tupper deftly stepped behind a large tree. A donkey, probably not even shoed, was pulling the cart on the cobblestone road, being led by a diminutive human. Elven Ancestors, he was barely taller than Tupper himself! He was hunched over, and his skin was mottled and pockmarked. What did these people eat, anyway? Tupper was afraid to consider what he might have to eat if he had to stay here a while.

Regardless, it was an opportunity, and Tupper wasn’t going to waste it. As soon as the cart had passed, Tupper sidled up behind it, and slipped over the latch on the back. He immediately regretted it, as the road was not smooth at all. At least the cart was full of oats from the feel of it, so Tupper wasn’t rattled around too much on the way. If this guy was going into town to sell his crop, Tupper should be able to sneak out at some point, and make his way to the local Tabularium.

It was the stink that he noticed first. The stench of human waste and unwashed flesh. He’d known it would be bad, but his sensitive nose was particularly vulnerable to the sheer odor wafting in through the cart’s hide covering. No wonder people in this era hadn’t lived longer than fifty or sixty years! Holding his nose tightly and trying desperately to guess when the cart had gone far enough, Tupper tried not to think about all the dirt and grime and filth getting into his lungs.

Then he felt the cart slowing down. Whether he was far enough or not, this was his stop. He peeked out the back of it, took a look around for any possible witnesses, and then dropped to the ground. He scurried out of sight as quickly as possible, grateful that his cardigan was a dull brown color. White clothes in the sixth century were almost unheard of. Shortly later, he was able to climb up on top of one of the wooden buildings, which still creaked warningly under his weight, and get a better look at the city.

Londinium. Originally a Roman colonial city, it had grown by leaps and bounds in the first few hundred years. The Romans had abandoned it a few centuries ago, but by now the Angles and Saxons were putting down roots. Based on the snippets of conversation Tupper could pick out, Old English was being spoken here. He let out a breath of relief, and then grimaced as the stink forced its way back into his nose. At least he’d studied for this. It shouldn’t take him too long to get an understanding of their language.

Aside from the language, there were really only two remnants left of the Roman colonization of this land: the church and the Tabularium. The pointed cross off in the distance was easy to spot, but from his research, Tupper knew that the Tabularium would be somewhere on the west side of the city. Actual cathedrals and abbeys wouldn’t be built for another fifty years or so, but widespread Catholic religion was well underway. In a few years, Pope Gregory I would be paying a visit to try and convert the Kingdom of Kent. Tupper had no intention of being around for that little Muggle ceremony.

People here couldn’t read at all, and libraries wouldn’t be a thing for hundreds of more years, but the Tabularium was as close to a public records office as this world could offer. The ruins of this one were in the London he knew, but of course all the records had been hauled off to museums a long time ago. These records were brand new. Tupper scurried from building to building, shadow to shadow. He grabbed a hide off a tanning rack, and wrapped it around himself. Hopefully, if people weren’t looking too closely, he could pass as a dog.

Finally, he’d reached his destination. Old columns, left over Roman architecture, stood watch over the building, but there were no guards present. Why would people try to steal the records anyway, if they couldn’t read them? Slipping inside, Tupper shed his fake dog costume and began running up the stone corridors, looking for the right records. They were written in Latin, of course. He checked the provincial records for this area, found the right dates, and then cast a translation spell. The Latin words didn’t change. They were supposed to shift around, temporarily, into English that he could read, but they didn’t!

Hurriedly, Tupper tried again. Briefly, he wished he’d taken that moron’s wand with him. Elf magic didn’t need a wand, but it definitely helped to have one. Again, nothing happened!

What was happening here? He had to be careful using magic in this era, but he had to use some. Was there some wizard around here suppressing his powers? Tupper couldn’t see anyone, though rumor had it that some Roman wizards had employed terrible spells in the conquest of their empire. But they were long gone, weren’t they?

A shattering noise jolted Tupper out of his confusion, and he turned to look at its source. A little boy, maybe ten years old, was standing at the entrance to the Tabularium, staring at him. The remnants of a clay pot littered the ground in front of him. “Hellcniht!” He screamed, pointing at Tupper in terror.

Tupper winced under the noise. “I am not a demon,” he protested, covering his ears. “I’m just a little guy with long thin fingers, a pointed nose, leathery skin… and… batlike ears. You know what? Now that I say it aloud, yeah, I can see what you mean. But I’m no threat to you.” He paused for a moment, trying to remember the right words. “Uh, yfel uncýme êower nâwa bealu,” he said quickly, trying to assure the kid that he didn’t need to be afraid.

But the kid screamed again and again, calling him an imp, or a familiar, or a hellspawn, or any number of inventive Christian words for anything that the primitives didn’t understand. This would ordinarily be the point where Tupper just Apparated out of there with his prize, but apparently that wouldn’t work either! Clutching at the stone tablets and hoping fervently that they wouldn’t break the delicate vials he had under his shirt, Tupper ran back into the stone columns. There had to be a back exit here somewhere!

Other townsfolk had arrived, and dogs started barking in concert with their yells. Fortunately only the kid had seen him so far, and he was apparently having a hard time convincing the others that Satan himself was inside the records office.

Panting under the effort of running with those heavy tablets, Tupper barely got under cover outside the back entrance of the building, before more people came running. It was a good thing this whole city smelled like open sewage, because otherwise the dogs would probably have been able to smell him. The villagers gave a thorough search of the Tabularium, but then gave up. Tupper took the opportunity to climb back onto one of the roofs, out of sight of the short humans.

That had been close. Really, really close. He hoped the kid wouldn’t get into trouble for telling lies. If the villagers noticed the tablets were missing, they’d at least have some reason to believe the kid. As loud as he had been, he didn’t deserve to be punished just for seeing something beyond his understanding.

This no-magic thing seriously complicated Tupper’s task. He could get around unnoticed, if it was dark enough, but he had no idea if his potions would be affected by… whatever was causing this. He could translate the tablets in time, though his Latin was a bit rusty, but actually getting to his destination and finding the right person to talk to? Who knew if that was even possible without his magic?

Well, he had to try. Leaning up against the roof as best he could to avoid rolling off, Tupper sat down to wait out the day. With luck, he wouldn’t be noticed again until after nightfall.

-.-

A growing noise in the distance woke him, and Tupper jerked back from the edge with a start. With all the stresses of being chased, yelled at, trying to translate the tablets while staying hidden and, oh, time travelling, he must have dozed off. He’d nearly fallen off the roof in his slumber.

At least it was dark again. Torches had been lit along the roads, though too few and far between for his liking. He missed Muggle streetlights. The stink was still there, of course, but he was getting used to it a little. The noise was raised voices, but from a distance away. Curious, Tupper slid the stone tablets into the makeshift hide pouch he’d stolen, and slung it over his shoulder. Then he slid off the roof and skulked his way over to the crowd that was gathering to the south.

He wasn’t very concerned about being spotted—they were all focusing on the pyre in the town center. Tupper’s eyes widened though, as he saw who had been tied to the stake in the middle of that pyre. The man was big—far larger than any of the townsfolk—and practically hogtied to keep him from bursting free. He was also dressed strangely, at least to everyone here except for Tupper. It was Brinks!

What in the name of the Elven Ancestors was he doing here? How had he gotten here??

Tupper ducked back undercover as more villagers ran up to the crowd. They were chanting “beorht wægn hellcniht,” over and over. Burn the demon. Burn the demon. As they did so, one of the villagers lifted a road torch from its sconce, and set it to the base of the pyre. Without petrol or some other accelerant, the fire wouldn’t spread fast, but it would spread.

Brinks must have gotten into the timelight as well, somehow. The light would have spat him out somewhere else, probably within sight of the locals, and he’d been swarmed as a giant servant of Satan. He clearly didn’t speak a word of Old English, and as such couldn’t explain things to the superstitious mob. Without his magic, or his wand—Tupper couldn’t see it anywhere, either—Brinks wouldn’t have stood much of a chance.

By all rights, this was none of Tupper’s business. Brinks hadn’t been forced to follow him. Tupper had left him with an obvious escape—he could have just scooped up his wand and Apparated out of there. Instead he’d wandered, heedless of plan or purpose, into the damn sixth century!

But deep down, Tupper knew that this was his fault. The arrogant, self-indulgent sneak-thief might deserve a good thrashing, but he didn’t deserve to be burned alive. Still, what could Tupper do to help him, given his own current limitations?

Thinking quickly, Tupper thought back to the naturalist training he’d put himself through before coming to this time. He needed a distraction to get the eyes of the crowd away from their victim for just a few moments, and then an obfuscation to get Brinks out of there. The distraction was easy enough. Torches were everywhere, and were for now unattended, so he just needed to grab one. It was a good thing these people were so tiny compared to humans from his time—the sconces were much closer to the ground.

Newly acquired firebrand in hand, Tupper quickly lit fires on four or five adjoining structures, once he was sure they were close enough to the river. The threat of fires spreading was a major concern during this time, as it was well before Aguamenti, and whatever Muggles used to put out fires.

He scurried away from the new fires, and around the square where Brinks was about to be killed. Fortunately elm trees were abundant in this part of England, or what would soon be called the Kingdom of Essex. Villagers had chopped down a bunch of greenwood recently, including branches and sticks. Tupper looked up as he heard a noise down the way. The villagers had noticed the other fires, and an alarm had gone out.

Now was his time to act. Carefully, he pulled a vial out from its hiding place inside his cardigan, and painstakingly dripped a few drops from it onto the assembled elm branches. He’d brewed the potion himself, and getting the components to make it had not been easy, especially since he’d done it over in America. Sloths weren’t even native to most of that country, and their brains had been particularly rare. He’d had to raid a couple of zoos.

Fortunately, the potion also had specific instructions when brewed. Now that it was done, any more exposure to flames would set off a huge cloud of smoke that would linger for hours. Combined with the elm branches, it should be enough cover.

Watching the demon burn and watching their village burn wasn’t much of a contest, and the crowd was mostly gone by now. Those who remained were distracted, and didn’t notice the dog-shaped figure scurry over to the base of the pyre and toss more wood on it. The potion ingredient interacted with the flames immediately, and a cloud of smoke billowed outwards. Brinks had been yelling for them to let him go, apparently unable to comprehend that they didn’t understand him, but his yells immediately ceased.

Tupper jumped up as soon as the smoke rose, covering his nose and mouth against it. He circled the pyre, to where the flames hadn’t spread yet, and came up behind Brinks. For a moment he was tempted to just climb up and cut the man’s throat, but no. Without his magic, he needed Brinks alive. Pulling out the flint knife he’d pilfered earlier, Tupper climbed up the post from behind Brinks, and started sawing away at the ropes binding him.

“Who’s there?” Brinks said, his voice trembling.

Tupper spared a moment to thwack him on the back of the head. “Quiet, you idiot! Just let me finish this!” He kept on sawing.

Apparently the villagers had gotten the other fires under control, and were now coming back into the square. They couldn’t see a thing for now, but eventually the wind would disperse the smoke. Finally, Tupper cut the last rope, and felt Brinks step free. He immediately shrank back away from the advancing flames. “Now, cry out. You’re being burned alive, remember? Give your death cry, as loud as you can, and then come with me!”

Brinks shrieked as if he truly were aflame, and Tupper winced under the noise. Elves had always had sensitive hearing, so that they could better hear their master’s call. It was sickening, and in this case, annoying. Once the yells faded, Tupper dragged Brinks backwards off of the pyre and navigated by memory down one of the alleys. He remembered coming this way before. He thought he did, anyway. Tupper barely remembered to bring the ropes along. He couldn’t afford any of the villagers to find cut ropes left behind, and realize their victim hadn’t just exploded or vanished as demons do, but had escaped.

“Tupper, is that you?”

Tupper paused long enough to kick him in the shin. “Quiet! Do you want to end up on another pyre? Come on!”

The wind had picked up slightly, but it was blowing their direction, so the cloud seemed to be following them a little. That was good, because Tupper could fairly easily hide himself, but not Brinks as well. The man was a giant compared to the others, which made sense. Not that Tupper could see any significant difference between humans and giants back in his own time. They were both large, senseless, violent animals with no regard for the consequences of their actions.

With a great deal of luck, Tupper thought, they were able to get out of the city, with Brinks goggling at him nearly the whole way. It was a good thing Londinium was so much smaller than London, or they would have been spotted for sure.

Once they were into the tall grass outside the city, Tupper yanked on Brinks’ arm, hauling him down. “Stay down, and keep your voice low, but we should be able to talk now for a spell. I’ll hear any villagers coming, even if they are travelling this late.”

“Talk? Why should I believe a word you have to say?” Brinks demanded, thankfully quietly. “You knocked me out and stole my wand! And stranded us here, wherever here is. Who are those people, anyway, and what were they speaking?”

“Old English, idiot!” Tupper said severely. “You haven’t Apparated anywhere. You were sent back in time, to sixth-century London. Now, you’re coming with me. We should only travel at night, because hiding you during the day would be almost impossible.”

He grabbed for Brinks’ arm again, but Brinks pulled away. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”

Tupper lifted a finger menacingly. “You will if you know what’s good for you. I can blast you right back into that town square if I want to, and without your wand, you can’t do a thing to stop me. You left it back in the Department of Mysteries, remember?”

Brinks swallowed, looking nervously down at Tupper’s extended finger. Tupper kept his feet square on the ground, hoping that Brinks wouldn’t see he was bluffing. Eventually Brinks nodded, and they got moving again. They walked in silence for a while, heading roughly west into the foothills. Tupper stayed behind him, holding a finger warningly out, and Brinks looked back at him from time to time.

“Why did you kidnap me?” Brinks finally asked, in a louder voice, but it was sorted because they were far enough away now. “Why did you bring me into the past? I didn’t think anyone could even go this far back! The time-turners only take you back an hour, or were you lying about that, too?”

“Typical wizard,” Tupper grunted. “Thinking it’s all about you. I didn’t kidnap you—I didn’t even plan for you to be here! I just needed your wand to stabilize the time-turner energy. When I was gone, you were supposed to grab your wand and get out of there, but nooo,” he added sarcastically. “You had to follow me. Moron.”

Brinks stiffened slightly under yet another insult, but he kept walking. “All right, why are you here, then? What, are you going to steal the Mona Lisa right off the easel, and then jump back to our time with it?”

Tupper snorted. “Shows what you know. I’m not here to alter the past; I’m here to learn from it! The only reason I started those fires and cut you free was because your death in sixth-century Londinium would be a huge stick poked right into the eye of causality! I mean, imagine it! A modern-day, bog-standard idiot human, killed and then probably put on display, in what will one day be one of the most important cities in the world?

“By now, people are already starting to study human anatomy, and it wouldn’t take long for them to figure out that you’re very different. Your skull alone would probably become a national treasure, and spark debate for Muggles and wizards alike! The ripples from that event alone could tear our own time to shreds!” Tupper let out an exasperated sigh. He’d come here intending to leave as little impact on history as possible, but had already caused a major uproar without even meaning to!

“Ok, so you rescued me to keep your plan intact, whatever that is. Why haven’t you killed me, then? You need me for something.”

“And I’ll tell you what that is, when you need to know. Right now, you don’t,” Tupper maintained stubbornly. He wished Brinks would just shut up. The man was edging dangerously close to figuring out the truth. Besides, without magic to Apparate around and turn himself invisible at will, Tupper needed someone who at least sounded like they belonged. If the ancient Brits didn’t look too closely, Brinks might fit in as just an abnormally healthy local.

As he thought about it, he realized that would never work. Once again, Tupper considered just killing him and burying his body somewhere in the wilderness. No one would be looking out here, and it should have a minimal impact on history.

No, aside from the practical concerns—Brinks was a lot bigger than Tupper, and once he realized Tupper was also magicless, he’d put up a fight—there was also right and wrong to consider. Brinks was a wizard, and just as guilty as the rest of their wretched kind, but he didn’t deserve to just be killed. Maimed, maybe, or horribly mutilated, but nothing more.

“Just so you know,” Brinks went on as they continued walking into the night, “I didn’t choose to come here. That time-turner energy stuff reached out and grabbed me. The next thing I knew, I was facedown in an alley in… Londinium, I guess. Those guys caught me shortly after that. I’m a lot stronger than they are, but there were a lot more of them than me.”

Tupper blinked. “That, uh, wasn’t supposed to happen. My spell was supposed to keep the timelight stable and unmoving for at least a minute. I must have underestimated some aspect of the magical flow somewhere in the incantation. Wait, what exactly did you do once you arrived? Did you hurt or kill any of them? That could have just as bad an effect on history!”

“Nothing! I was still sore as hell from you knocking me out.” Brinks put a hand to the back of his head. “I’m still not sure you didn’t break any bones. Anyway, I tried to run, but they swarmed all over me, trussed me up like a turkey, and tried to have their own Thanksgiving cookout.”

“Good,” Tupper said with some relief. It was looking more and more likely that he’d be able to return to a relatively undamaged timeline. Provided he could keep Brinks under control. “You must have arrived a few hours after I did. Probably because we entered the timelight at different times. You’re lucky, you know. If the spell had worn off any sooner, you might have ended up in prehistory!”

“Yeah, lucky me,” Brinks grumbled. “You don’t have anything to eat at all, do you? Unlike you, I didn’t exactly plan for this trip.”

“Just keep walking. This area had plenty of forageable plants at this time, and we should be able to find wild berries on the way.”

Brinks came to a stop. “You know what? No. I’m not going any further. You don’t have any magic at all, do you?”

Tupper made his best threatening glare. “You want to test that, wizard?” He lifted his finger.

“Actually I do. If you really had powers, you could have zipped us out here instantly, instead of walking. You could have conjured up food for yourself—that’s right, I heard your stomach growling. I don’t know how you made that smoke cloud back there in the city, but it wasn’t with magic, or at least not the normal kind. You’ve got nothing, and I could probably kick you as far as a football right now.” Strangely, Tupper could detect no gloating in Brinks’ voice—just confidence.

Tupper pulled out his flint knife. “Try it, and you’ll be hopping the rest of the way. Bully for you; you figured it out. But it doesn’t change anything. I have a plan to get back to my own time, and you don’t know what it is!”

“Let me guess. You’ll find some isolated cave somewhere. You’ve done research, and you know it won’t be dug up for a thousand years at least. You’ve got petrification potions on you, and plan to basically sleep until our time shows up again.”

Despite himself, Tupper felt his eyes widen. Perhaps Brinks wasn’t as idiotic as he looked. “Lucky guess. How did you know I had the potions?”

“I heard them clinking inside your cardigan. Elves aren’t the only ones with good ears, you know.”

Tupper shrugged. “Still doesn’t change anything. As you said, I did my research. I know which caves and tors and hollows will be safe, and which ones aren’t. Even if you can take my potions from me without shattering them first, you have no idea where to hide. If you put yourself to sleep, you could wake up in a cage, or on display in some Muggle museum, or most likely a Muggle lab before the potion wears off. You need me, if you ever plan to get home. I don’t need you.”

Brinks shook his head. “I’m not going to take anything from you, Tupper. I didn’t bring you here, remember? I’m just trying to figure out how to get home.” He paused for a few seconds. “If, and I stress if, you’re willing to help me, do you have enough potion for both of us?”

“Of course. I didn’t know if my plan would work. For all I knew, I’d end up thousands of years into the past, so I brought much more potion than I needed.”

Brinks raised an eyebrow. “And how do I know you’re telling the truth? If you only have enough for yourself, you’ve got every reason to lie about it.”

Tupper let out an exasperated noise. “See for yourself!” He lifted the cord underneath his cardigan, pulling out four large vials of the potion. A fifth smaller one, empty, rattled next to them. “Each vial holds enough to suspend a person for a thousand years. The last one is exactly how much I need to return to the year before I left. I can measure more precisely once I have magic again. I assume,” he admitted begrudgingly, “that we don’t have magic because this time is before magic was in common use. Once we’re at least near our own time, we should be ourselves again.” For a moment, Tupper considered that maybe he didn’t want to go back. He was free in this time, probably for the same reason he couldn’t use magic. Not having the words in his head was still, even a day after his arrival, the most wondrous feeling he’d ever had!

No, he wasn’t doing this for himself. He had to go back.

After a moment, Brinks nodded. “All right. After you complete your task, which I guess is none of my beeswax, we’ll both sleep until we’re in our own time again. Sound fair?”

“Only if I keep the potions with me until we drink them, and you drink yours first,” Tupper insisted.

Brinks threw up his hands. “Fine! Whatever! I don’t think you’re a bad guy, Tupper, but I’m not either!”

“You’re a wizard,” Tupper pointed out. “That’s close enough.”

“What??”

The look on Brinks’ face was so bewildered, and so flustered, that Tupper couldn’t resist. “You really have no idea, do you? You haven’t got a bloody clue! You just sail through life, never thinking about the people who are drowning underneath you. None of you do. None of you ever have, since long before you or I were even born!”

“Tupper, what are you talking about?”

But the moment had passed. Tupper’s anger was under control again, and he just gave Brinks a cold look. “You wouldn’t understand, so there’s no point explaining. Look, my task is to the west, a couple of days’ walk at least. You can stay here, or you can come with me, but I’m not giving you a drop of potion or telling you where to drink it until I’m done. If you come with me, we’ll have to travel at night, because you’re too big to hide. Either way, I’m going.”

Brinks was just staring at him, if possible, with eyes even wider than just after the rescue. Eventually though, he started moving again. “I guess we both are, then.”
« Last Edit: November 21, 2022, 12:58:23 AM by Daen »