Aoife sat by the fire sewing a pair of trousers for Nick. Nick sat at the dining table with his newest creation from the forge. With long strokes, Nick slid the edge of the two-handed sword along the sharpening stone.
Setting down her sewing, Aoife added another log to the fire, walked over to Nick, and watched him work, “It’s beautiful.”
He looked away from his work. His skills as a blacksmith had grown by leaps and bounds since they had come here. He had a basic understanding of the job as a hobby back in the 24th Century.
Perhaps it was the 25th century now, Aoife mused.
“Thank you,” Nick said, examining the sword with a critical eye. He tested the sharpness by shaving the hairs on his arm.
“How much is something like that worth?”
Nick shrugged, “Not sure. Probably two or more cows or a few months’ salary.”
“Who is going to buy it?” Aoife asked. “Farmers can’t use it or afford it.”
Nick shrugged again, “More than likely. Maybe this was about testing my skills.”
“Your skills would be better suited to getting us food for the winter. We were pretty skinny coming out of last winter.”
Nick frowned, remembering that lean time. He traded work for food, and it was just barely enough, and that work debt hadn’t been fully paid off until late summer. Now it was late fall coming on to winter. “I have another plow shear almost finished,” Nick said. “Nate Thatcher has expressed interest and is willing to trade a pig and a cow for it.”
Satisfied, Aoife smiled, “I will check my supplies. I think we have a little coin for salt if there’s not enough to preserve the meat. But I expect that will get us through the winter and spring. The garden was a success, and we have bags of potatoes and dried beans in the cellar.”
Nick squeezed her shoulder, “We are making a life here. You got your teaching, and I the blacksmithing. We are important figures in this community.”
She sighed, “It is true. We are better off this year than when we were last year.” She sat down on the other chair and rested her arms on the wooden table. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Uh-oh,” Nick said in a teasing tone. “That’s a scary thought.”
She playfully slapped his shoulder, “You remember the inscription on the artifact?”
Nick shook his head, “Nope. Can’t say as I do.”
“I don’t remember it exactly, but it mentioned something about Marlin’s Staff. What if the tachyon emitter functions as that staff.”
“So, we can point that emitter all over Avalon. At ourselves. The sky. It won’t matter. It’s just the control mechanism. We need an artifact on this side.”
It was Nick’s turn to sigh. He set the sword across his lap and sat back in the chair. “So where do we find that artifact?”
Aoife shook her head, “I don’t know.”
Suddenly there was a bang on the door, “Nicholas and Aoife Halstead, come out and answer the charges!”
Fear crossed Aoife’s face, “Charges?”
Nicholas stood and crossed the room. He peeled back the oiled skin window covering and peered into the night. Stepping back with a frown, “It’s a mob and looks like it’s led by the bishop.”
“We should run.” Fear etched on her face.
“Too late for that,” Nick said. He slid the sword under the mattress of his bed before walking to the door. He hesitated for only an instant before lifting the bar and swinging the door open. “What is this all about?”
The bishop pushed his way onto the single-room cottage, followed by the justice of the peace and two burly men. None of the intruders said anything as the burly men bound Nick’s hands with rope and Aoife’s.
Drug out of their cottage, they were forced down the street as villagers mocked and spit on them. Aoife’s eyes were wide in terror as torches cast a demonic glow upon the faces of people whom she had considered friends.
At the home of the justice of the peace, Aoife and Nick were shoved into the smoke shed, and the door slammed shut, casting them into pure darkness. The thump of a bar locking the door made for the finality of the situation.
“Your trial for heresy and witchcraft will start tomorrow,” the bishop said through the wooden slats. “May God have mercy on your souls.”
Aoife didn’t know what time it was. It was still dark. She and Nicholas had sat huddled together on the dirt floor of the smoke shed with hams and bacon hanging above their heads. Sleep had been mostly impossible with their violent shivering and puffs of frozen breath.
The day had started early for Alexander, as it always did. He’d found exile suited him and his unusual talents in agriculture aided him in making it through the rough winters. The readings had come first over his fresh breakfast and then his markings on his maps as he wandered into the depths of the forest, and mountains had taken most of the morning and afternoon. This was his late afternoon lunch, prayers, a meditation on his studies, and finally, the chance to rest his weary bones.
That had been before his friend from the village had come running as the sun was falling. Something terrible was going to happen to someone. There was something about them…and the things they were accused of that his friend thought might aid him in his search. Black thought for a moment and agreed. He gathered his supplies, staff, and sword. He was soon riding across the land on his sturdy horse Thunderstruck, following in the stead of his friend Tomass. They arrived in town as darkness swept over them. Alexander had his friend get him one more horse and set them up a bit away from where they were being held. The guard was indifferent. He was too young to have known Cleric Alexander William Black or his reason for exile. It worked to his advantage as he approached the boy, acting all the way like a doddering fool. A swift and hard punch to the face sent the boy to the ground, dead to the world. He went to the door and carefully pushed and pulled the door open.
With her hands bound behind her she stared wide-eyed in terror at the stranger. Had the bishop decided to forego a trial and kill them in the night?
Nicholas made an effort to put himself between Aoife and the stranger. He braced himself for an attack that didn’t come.
He smiled wide and whispered, “Cleric Alexander William Black. Exiled heretic. Here to help you escape. I hear you have something that has the power of Merlin and Arthur.” He leaned in, “I know they did not find it in your home. I have three horses. We can move quickly in the quiet village.”
“Merlin?” Aoife said, her voice weak and uncertain.
Black gave her and the man a look, “If I were to kill you, you’d be dead already. The point is the legends of Merlin tell of powerful tools and magics – you certainly caused a stir with yours. We could stand here speaking until someone comes to check on your guard. I don’t wish to be here when that happens. You must retrieve the thing from wherever you hide it, and then we must tide like the winds of the tempest. They will unleash hell to find you again when they find you gone. I can hide you far away.”
She still wasn’t feeling at the top of her game, but she nodded. She glanced at Nicholas, and the decision crossed her face. They had nothing to lose, “It’s not exactly the power of Merlin, but I believe I know what you refer to.”
“It is hidden in the blacksmith shop next to our cottage,” Nicholas added.
“If we are to journey, we will need provisions,” Aoife said.
Alexander gave them another look, “Our horses are ready for the journey with provisions I have brought. Your importance in this world and its history…so much possibility hinges on just the two of you…come, let go to your shop and get on our way. You need rest, food, and the healing waters near my home.”
Black had cut their bounds, and they fled into the night. The village street was quiet at this hour. There wasn’t even the barking of a dog or the clucking of chickens.
Nicholas and Aoife glanced at each other as they walked, “I’ll get the emitter.”
“Good. You need anything in the house?”
“Grab that sword. I feel we may need it.”
Aoife nodded and headed into the cottage. Nicholas looked at Black, “You are the first here to mention Merlin. When we first arrived, we asked a few times, but people would clam up.”
He pulled the door open, entered the shop, and lit a lantern. It only took a few minutes of digging. Under a bench covered in canvas, Nicholas removed the tachyon emitter. He stared at it for a moment and glanced at their benefactor, “This is going to be a dangerous journey, isn’t it?”
The Avalon citizen chuckled, “There is danger in everything we do, friends. Life is dangerous for someone exiled from their home…danger is always at my heels.”
He lifted the lid to a trunk, and inside was a full suit of plate armor, “I’m not sure why I made this. Well, I do, sort of. I was testing my skills to see if I could.” He shrugged, “The helm and breastplates were the hardest, but I did it.”
Black leaned over and admired the armor, “It is a work of art. If you were to stay here, you could challenge the blacksmith to his throne. But you cannot stay. And we must go.” The sounds of alarm in the distant village reached their ears, “We must go now. Bring the armor. The horses can take it.”
Aoife rushed out lf the house with their cloaks, a bag of food, and the sword tucked under her arm. She threw the bag over the saddle and shoved a cloak and sword into Nick’s arms. Her eyes were wide with fear. They had just missed whatever fate the bishop had in store for them, and they weren’t free yet.
They moved quickly, and within moments everything had its place. Alexander hoisted himself on his horse as the other two did the same, “We must ride like the wind – that danger you spoke of has arrived.” Each of them kicked their horse, and the three flew off into the darkness, with Black leading through the edges of the community and beyond. The aging woods soon filled their vision until they were swallowed into it, leaving their pursuers at the wall of dense trees.