The more I think about this new-found freedom of mine, the more I wonder about the difficulties it entails and the responsibilities attached. Each time I think about it, it seems that there are more and more rules that would have to be followed to avoid setting up some paradox that could break me, or the world. I will ask Alec, but even there, I feel I might take his advice with a pinch of salt, since he may possibly think himself exempt. He as much as said so to me before he released me. And, from my reading of Dee’s journal, he appeared to have little compunction when it came to the rules.
In the meanwhile, I shall have to formulate the rules as best I can. And while I may come up with a few on my own, it is somehow easier when talking to somebody else. But then, that has always been the way with me. I have always found that the easiest way for me to learn something is to try to teach somebody else. The matter of the rules came up in conversation in the tavern this past evening, mostly in respect of trying to persuade Orie that he could not go back to his foxhole in the war. Strangely, though, this was not a discussion about my powers, it was a discussion about the Shadow Roads. I had known that they too led to elsewhere and elsewhen, but had not thought of the risk of paradox in respect of that. I shall have to ask Valene if they have rules too.
I was reading in my cottage, relaxing with a little Mallory after the strains of Gods and Demons, when Gwyn came knocking. It was cider o’clock, she told me. I was a little taken aback by her clothing, which, while very nice, was very different in style from what I was used to. I suspected it was the fashion of her time rather than mine. I asked if I should get changed to go to the tavern. She joked that she preferred me without a stitch on, but didn’t think Hal would appreciate it in quite the same way. I thought about that for a moment and opined that it was unlikely. Besides, having fallen asleep in the tavern on many occasions, I was sure Hal would have had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate any such appreciation if there had been such. We then departed in the direction of the tavern, there to indulge in cider, or rum in my case.
But first, there was steward business to be done. We encountered Galyanna and Orie outside the castle and asked if they wanted to join us for a drink. Galyanna declined, but suggested Orie join Gwyn for a drink while she borrowed me for a while. She promised to return me in one piece. Orie went off grumbling about needing to retrieve some gear, while Gwyn headed off to get the drinks in.
I asked Galyanna what she wanted of me, joking that her promise of returning me intact implied that she didn’t need me for my swordsmanship. It was not, she said. She had been tasked with something by Vedis, in case that Vedis was not awake when required. There was a mirror, she said, of importance to our alliance, and it would make things a lot easier if she knew where it was and how to gain access to it.
She spoke, of course, of the mirror portal set up in the dungeons. I told her that I could take her there, but I did not know how to give her access to the castle areas. That would have to be done by Maric. There was another thing. The room was warded against demons, and since I did not know the nature of Galyanna, I did not know if it would be set off by her, and I did not know how to enable or disable it. I tried to explain delicately, trying to give her the option of answering without revealing her nature, which she managed to do. I promised that I would speak with Maric as a matter of urgency, since I needed to know how to enable and disable the wards anyway. I asked if she was going to join us for a drink, but she demurred, saying that she apparently had to have some meeting with the Unseelie Queen for some reason or other. I smiled and said that the queen probably wanted to thank her for her part in rescuing her from the giant sushi monster. I told her to smile sweetly and say that she had only been doing her duty. Faermorn was a good person, I said, for all that she was Unseelie, and you never knew when the favour of a queen might be useful. Galyanna grinned and thanked me, promising she would play nice, and then she headed off towards the edge of the village.
I wandered back to the tavern and joined Gwyn, muttering to her about needing to find Alec and learn what I needed about this realm hopping. Aoibheann was there, huddled by the fire and not looking well. She was saying something about having been visiting old friends, but that they had not gone via the Shadow Roads. From other things I heard as I was going in, the subject of the Roads had come up and Orie was enquiring about the use. Could they return him back to where he came from, back in 1914?
This was a matter that had been much on my mind lately, albeit in terms of Alec’s realm-walking rather than the Shadow Roads. However, I quickly reached the conclusion that the same restrictions might apply. I told Orie that it wasn’t that simple. Returning him might cause a paradox with unknown consequences, if we returned him to somewhere other than his foxhole. It would be too difficult to explain. Even if he could be returned to the exact place and time from which he left, which I didn’t even know was possible, it was likely to still be a problem.
Gwyn said something to me about being able to visit Alec any time I liked, and she would show me how. She then answered Orie much as I had, telling him that there were problems that could create a paradox. Time had a way of correcting things and it wasn’t something to take chances with. She tried to tell him that there was a reason he was here, but even if it was a cosmic accident, here was where he was meant to be. Orie seemed disappointed, annoyed even. He couldn’t see why it would be difficult to explain, and he was certainly not happy with the idea of his life being a cosmic accident.
I tried to explain further. He was gone from that place and time. An anomaly in itself, but if the war was as terrible as he had said, one more missing infantryman was only a minor matter. Whatever options there were about returning him to somewhere, there would be difficulties, things that could not be explained, things that would be paradoxical. Also, I said, he was a changed man – could he go back to that life, knowing the things he did now? Gwyn did whisper to me that there was somebody who could perhaps make him that offer, but the price would be steep. If she meant the Boatman, I did not think that an option I wanted to explore right at that moment, especially given what their last encounter had been like. Meanwhile, Aoibheann was shivering even though she was by the fire and then, perhaps not quite understanding, said to Orie that you couldn’t turn back, because turning back meant being caught by whatever was hunting you.
Orie started to get angry. He didn’t care about paradoxes, he didn’t care about the things he had seen and learned. He would give anything to go back to before the war before… He stopped, staring angrily at the floor. We didn’t understand, he said. I told him that was not possible. What would he do if he went back to before the war? Try to persuade himself to not go to that war? In which case, he would not have ended up here and thus, would not be able to go back on tell himself not to go. Gwyn agreed with me, but said she would try to find out if there was a way. She then turned her attention to Aoibheann, concerned for her and asking if we should get her back to her room in the castle, or make her a bed by the fire here. Aoibheann shivered and asked if we had seen Maric.
Orie was clearly struggling with his anger now. He needed to know, he said. He needed to know if he could get back there, to see… I tried to calm him. I told him that perhaps it could be done, and we would try to find out, but even if he could go back, he may not be able to change whatever it was that was bothering him. Gwyn tried to tell him the same, and then spoke of her own experience, and how she had been angry and confused about losing her old life, but, she had held on, and now had made a new one. She turned to Aoibheann and said that she hadn’t seen Maric, asking if she had brought something for him. Aoibheann said something about bringing him a rock, which she wanted to make something out of, but it was too hard. I had no idea what she was on about. Perhaps some gift, like the cuffs that Gwyn had brought for me.
Orie lost it, throwing his axe down at the floor, where it stuck. He didn’t care about changing things; he didn’t care what it took, if there was only a way to see her again. He managed to regain some control, asking what the point of this place was if it only drove you crazy and could hell be any worse? I didn’t react to the axe-throw, just stepped forward, saying I understood. I told hem that we had all lost people. I told him how I had lost my wife in childbirth, and how I had lost my parents. I didn’t know if there was anything we could do for him. Perhaps seeing whoever it was could be possible, as there would be less paradox if he only observed. I asked who it was he wanted to see. Gwyn joined in again, talking of her losses, and then started reciting something. I didn’t know what, but she later said it was Eliot, which I had thought it might be, since she is so fond of said poet.
Orie had apparently annoyed Aoibheann, since she struggled to her feet, seemingly intending to do something about it. She accused him of insulting her home and threatening it. Whatever her intent, she did not achieve it, as she got herself entangled in her chair and fell down again, where she changed her mind and decided that perhaps bed was a better idea. Orie looked at Gwyn, saying that what she had recited sounded like Ecclesiastes. He turned to me and told me that he had been speaking of Rebecca – Becky, his wife. The magical world be damned, he said. He had died a long time ago and nothing now made a difference. I felt a rush of sympathy for him, for I knew that pain only too well. I told him about getting back from sea too late to hold my wife. I told him how I had held my mother’s hand as she passed away. Nothing could take away that pain, and there was nothing I could do about it. I could not go back to that. I took Gwyn’s hand, saying that I had found a new light, at least. We would look into it, I told him, and if there was anything we could do, we would let him know. I told him that he should not feel alone, because there were people here who understood.
He picked up his axe and started reciting something, possibly the Ecclesiastes he had made reference too before. It included lines about going quietly to the place where he belonged, and with that, he was gone across the green, disappearing into the darkness. I thought for a moment of following him, but decided he perhaps needed some time. I did not judge him likely to do anything foolish. In the meanwhile, Aoibheann managed to get to her feet and staggered off in the direction of the castle, leaving Gwyn and I to ourselves, and we soon decided to depart the tavern also, for the comfort of my bed and each other’s arms.
Later, as Gwyn lay sleeping, her head on my chest, I found myself staring at the ceiling, wondering about the past, about Alexandria and Mother. If I was able, could I go back, would I go back? That was a question I could not answer. One part of me was thinking, paradox be damned, I would do it for one more moment with Alex, but another, saner part of me thought that it would not change anything, only add more pain. There are no easy answers, and, it seems, now, the questions only get harder and more complicated. And was there, as Gwyn’s beloved Eliot said, “time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions”? That, I did not know. But, in my heart, I knew, there was no going back.