Waterloo Station, London
Saturday, 2 September 1939
"Major? Major? I'm sorry to wake you, sir, but the train has arrived at Waterloo and you'll have to disembark."
Jack Skelton jerked too fast from deep sleep into wakefulness, and for several disorienting moments stared into the face of the conductor leaning over him, his mind unable to let go the dream images that skidded through it.
Frank Bentley and his insipid wife, Violet. Stella Wentworth, standing beautiful and untouchable under the embankment light. Matilda and Ecub, suburban housewives in dressing gowns. Asterion--Weyland Orr--taking him to Pen Hill. Faerie Hill Manor, and both the Lord of the Faerie and the king of England, George VI, waiting for him.
"Sir, I must ask you to--"
"Yes, yes. I'm awake." Jack Skelton struggled to his feet, one hand clutching at the overhead luggage rack for support as his head reeled.
The conductor stepped back. "It's been a bad few days, sir," he said, watching the American major curiously as he straightened his tie and uniform jacket, then lifted his greatcoat down from the rack. He wondered why the American was here, and hoped that it might be some indication that the Yanks wouldn't leave it as long to help out in this war as they had left it the last. "We've heard news on the wireless that the PM has sent an ultimatum to the Nazis. Get out of Poland or we'll go to war."
The conductor paused, his face glum. "No chance that the Germans will back off, d'you think, major?"
Finally fully awake and oriented, Jack studied the man, knowing there was no chance for peace, andwondering if the man wanted false reassurances or the truth.
"It is too late now," he said. "I'm sorry."
The conductor's face tightened, and he gave a small nod. "Let me help you with your bag, sir."
Once on the platform, Jack tipped the conductor then stood motionless, looking about. Because he'd been so deeply asleep when the train had pulled in, and had probably then slept for fifteen minutes or more before the conductor woke him up, most of the other passengers had departed, and now the great cavernous space of Waterloo Station was all but deserted. He shivered, and tried to put it down to the cold night air.
The conductor had got back on the train, and now the platform was empty save for himself and several baggage handlers at the far end of the train, standing about an empty trolley, smoking and talking.
About the forthcoming war, no doubt. The Germans had invaded Poland earlier today, and war was inevitable. Jack could feel it seeping over the vast stretches of land and water between where he stood and where the Poles battled desperately. It was only a matter of time before it reached London.
He shivered again, and hunched deeper into his greatcoat, lighting his own cigarette then flicking the match away. He drew a deep breath, taking comfort in the smoke. Jack had first come to this land almost three and a half thousand years ago as Brutus, the exiled Trojan prince. With Genvissa he'd thought to resurrect the ancient Troy Game, but everything had fallen apart when his then-wife, Cornelia, had murdered Genvissa before they could complete the game. For three and a half thousand years Jack had--as Brutus, then as William, Duke of Normandy, and subsequently Louis de Silva--fought to finish what he had started so long ago. But always events and people (and that mostly Cornelia in her rebirth as Caela and then Noah) conspired to prevent him.
God, how long had it been since he'd last been in England? Almost three hundred years, give or take a decade or two. Oh, he'd come back briefly now and then, stepping through the realm of the Faerie, to meet with either Coel, the Lord of the Faerie, or with his father, Silvius, but apart from those fleeting visits...nothing. He'd walked away from the smoking ruins of London in 1666, walked away from the disaster of his hopes and dreams.
Walked away from Noah, who had abandoned her love for him to live with Asterion, and give him a child.
Walked away from the Troy Game.
Walked away from it all.
He'd wandered first in the form of Louis de Silva rather than in his magical form of Ringwalker. He'd gone back to his father's estates in France, and from there, desperate, restless, angry beyond knowing, he'd drifted through the forests and fields and pleasure halls of Europe. Then, as the years passed, he assumed the form of a priest, because in his anger that amused him, and desecrated his way through Egypt and Arabia. From there, to India, and then even farther east, and as the decades spun by and his resentment and bewilderment at what had happened deepened, he became a sailor in a Portuguese man-of-war that had berthed in the Philippines, and fought and squandered his way across the oceans of the world.
Then he'd landed in America--new and brash and uncaring--and here Jack had found a home. He settled in the Appalachian mountains, finding solace in their high mountain lakes and dark forests. He lived there for a hundred years or more, spending more and more time not as a man but as Ringwalker, the name he took when he assumed the mantle of the ancient Stag God, roaming the wild paths and tracks through the wilderness as he had once roamed the forests in England.
He found peace, and a renewed purpose. It was about this time, perhaps almost two hundred years after the Great Fire of London, that Jack made contact with the Lord of the Faerie again. Just a touch, a glimmer of friendship sent through the Faerie, but it was enough to begin rebuilding the bonds between them. From that point they'd met once every five or six years, sometimes in the forests of America, sometimes in the Faerie. These meetings lasted only a short while, less than an hour, and they rarely talked. They just spent time together.
About forty years ago, when they'd met in a lonely spot of the Faerie, the Lord of the Faerie had put his hand on Ringwalker's shoulders, and said, "My friend, John Thornton is back, a prince of the realm now. Loth is back also, and as wedded to the Christian church as he was when last he walked."
Ringwalker had tensed. "The others?"
"None of the rest of us had to be reborn. We have all done much as you have for the past few hundred years--moved in and out of the Faerie and in and out of mortal form as it suited us. Apart from John and Loth, we've all gone too far to be trapped by birth and death now."
We're all way too powerful. Too fey.
"And her? Is she still with him?"
"Noah? With Weyland? Of course, for they love each other deeply. Ringwalker, please, the land needs you back. We need you back. All of us."
"I don't think I can--"
"You must," the Lord of the Faerie had said quietly, and Ringwalker had bowed his head in acceptance.
Five months ago dreams began to pervade Jack's sleep. Each night, over and over, he dreamed of arriving in London, meeting with a nervous man called Frank Bentley, then walking about London, meeting in turn each of the people who had become caught up in the Troy Game.
Everyone save Noah.
Jack never met Noah in his dreams.
He knew what the dreams meant. It was time to go back. Time to move.
Time to find Noah.
And so now here he was, Major Jack Skelton, standing on the empty platform at Waterloo Station at ten p.m. waiting for someone to meet him. Jack had sent word (together with a request he hoped the Lord of the Faerie could accommodate) a week ago that he'd be here. Surely they'd send someone.
Noah? No, they'd not dare. Stella, perhaps--the Lord of the Faerie had told Jack of the name Genvissa-reborn used when she stepped out into the mortal world.
Would the Lord of the Faerie come himself?
Would the Troy Game meet him?
Not the Frank Bentley from his dreams, surely. Please let Frank be a figment of his dreaming mind...please...
Then Jack saw him. A tall, imposing figure striding onto the platform from the gate that led to the station concourse. A black trilby pulled down low over his brow. Flapping overcoat, beautifully cut, over an equally well tailored two-piece, double-breasted suit. A red silk scarf rippling at his throat. Matching leather gloves which the man was even now pulling off and stuffing into the pockets of his coat.
A gleaming smile in a swarthy face, redolent with mischief.
Not Frank Bentley.
"Jack!" The man held out his arms, and Jack laughed, and stepped into them.
His father grabbed him into a huge bear hug, almost lifting Jack off his feet. Jack hugged him back, and then both men were laughing, and leaning back from each other.
"Jack! Is there ever an incarnation you're willing to make when you're not as handsome as the worst renegade pirate?"
"How can I help that, with your blood in me?"
They fell silent, both men grinning hugely, unable to help themselves. For many thousands of years there had been nothing but hatred and guilt between them. During the Bronze Age Silvius had been a Trojan prince, living in exile in Alba after the Greeks had sacked and destroyed Troy. As a prince of Troy Silvius had also been a Kingman--one trained in the ancient Aegean mysteries of the Game, a labyrinthine enchantment that a Kingman and his female counterpart, a Mistress of the Labyrinth, constructed via dance and magic in order to protect a city. Brutus, Silvius' fifteen-year-old son, had wanted his father's titles and powers, and had taken the first possible opportunity to murder his father. Brutus seized Silvius' six golden kingship bands of Troy, magical limb bands that enhanced the wearer's Kingman powers, and eventually found his way to the island of Britain, then called Llangarlia. Here, with Genvissa, a Mistress of the Labyrinth and Darkwitch, he had resurrected the Troy Game in order to found London. But Brutus had used his father's murder to infuse the Game with power, and for thousands of years Silvius had been trapped in the vile dark heart of the labyrinth which lay at the center of the Troy Game (and which, in its physical form, lay under St. Paul's Cathedral in the center of London). It was only during Jack's last life as Louis de Silva that Silvius had managed to escape from the labyrinth's heart. Silvius and Brutus could have continued their hatred, but instead they had managed to set their violent past behind them, and understand that all the other one had ever wanted was approval, and love.
Silvius' hands tightened on Jack's shoulders, and he sobered. "I'm glad you're back. We all are."
"All of us, Jack."
Jack wasn't so sure of that. It wasn't just he and his father who had a history of discord; Jack had a complex history of love and betrayal with most of the people caught up in the Troy Game: Cornelia, the wife he had originally despised and then come to love in her reincarnations as Caela and Noah, had betrayed him with Asterion, the creature who had lived at the dark heart of the labyrinth on Crete and who now lived as Weyland Orr; Asterion himself, who had not only stolen Noah from him, but had also spent thousands of years trying to wrest control of the Troy Game away from Jack; Genvissa, the Mistress who had originally allied herself with Jack and who had then betrayed him to Asterion; Coel, a Llangarlian man who Jack, as Brutus, had murdered but who was now Jack's friend and ally as the Lord of the Faerie; Loth, a Llangarlian priest who had always fought against both Jack and the Troy Game; Ariadne, the ancient Darkwitch who, as Asterion's lover, had begun the series of events that had culminated in the destruction of Troy; and, last but not least, the Troy Game itself, which had taken the form of a little girl called Catling, and manipulated everyone in her effort to finally achieve completion. Jack found it hard to believe that any of these people, save his father and the Lord of the Faerie, were really "glad" to have him back. They might need him--almost everyone save Jack himself, who remained noncommittal on the subject, needed Jack if they wanted any chance of destroying the Troy Game, which most had come to see as evil incarnate--but Jack did not believe for an instant they were happy to have him here.
"We need you, Jack," Silvius said softly, still holding onto Jack's shoulders.
Ah, that's better. Yes, you all need me, but I doubt all of you are "glad" at my return.
"You're a cynical laddie," Silvius said, finally letting his son go and bending down to grab Jack's holdall. "God knows where you picked that up."
Jack grinned again, his humor restored, and stubbed out his cigarette out under his shoe. "And you, father? What is this form you step out in? Do I detect an Italian accent in your voice?"
Silvius nodded toward the concourse, and they started to walk toward the gate at the end of the platform. "Mr. Silvius Makris, esquire, at your service," he said. "And a vaguely Mediterranean birth, if you please, not Italian. Not in this milieu in which we live."
"And what does Mr. Silvius Makris do in this modern world, eh?"
Silvius grinned again. "He mixes with the best crowd, don't you know, flaunting vague hints of an industrial fortune at his back, and buying the jolly crowd at the dance halls and nightclubs as many cocktails as they can manage before management has to drag them out by their coattails and mink stoles."
"A somewhat jolly but shallow existence, Silvius?"
"Beats the hell out of living trapped in the heart of the labyrinth, sonny."
That silenced Jack, and dampened the mood between them, as little else could have done. He and his father may have reconciled, but Jack still felt deep pangs of guilt at the way he'd trapped his father in the labyrinth.
"I'm sorry, Jack," Silvius said as they walked through the gate--Jack handing the ticket inspector his ticket as they passed. "I could have said that a little more diplomatically."
"You had every right to say it any way you wanted, Silvius."
"Ah, Jack, we shouldn't have to spend the rest of our lives apologizing. In our time I've been a pitiful father and you've been a lousy son. We'll just have to live with it." They'd reached the revolving doors leading out from the station into the street. "Now, what say you we step out into London and see what the night has to offer, eh?"
As he had in his dream, Jack paused once they stood on the pavement outside. There was a fair amount of traffic on the road--mostly lorries and taxicabs--but few pedestrians.
Most people would be home, glued to the wireless, waiting on news from Europe.
Or Downing Street.
And, as he had in his dream, Jack looked northward. It was difficult from this angle, but he thought he could make out the dome of St. Paul's across the Thames.
He shivered again, and cursed silently the fact he'd agreed to come home.
"The car's this way, Jack," said Silvius, nodding to a point farther along the road.
Silvius ginned. "Yes. Normally Harry would have given me a driver--God knows he's surrounded with enough lackies at Faerie Hill Manor--but I thought that for tonight we might like to talk. Catch you up on the news, so to speak."
They'd been walking along the pavement toward Silvius' car, but now Jack stopped again. "Harry?"
Silvius shifted the weight of Jack's holdall into his other hand. "Brigadier--retired--Sir Harold Cole." His grin spread a bit wider as he waited for his son's reaction.
Jack suddenly realized who Silvius meant, and gave a short nod of understanding. Coel, reborn as Harold, king of England, reborn as Charles II--the Lord of the Faerie. Harold Cole now, in this mortal world. Jack hadn't realised as the only times he'd met with the man was when he walked in his Faerie form.
"When he's in this mortal land of toil the Lord of the Faerie walks as Harry Cole," Silvius said as they resumed walking. "He lives as a sort of...oh, a sort of a 'boffin' up at Faerie Hill Manor in Epping Forest. No one--beyond those of us who have known him for the past few thousand years, of course--really knows what he does, but he is trusted within the highest echelons of both government and military, and is consulted by both on matters of intelligence and defense. He's a close friend of the king."
Silvius slid a look Jack's way. "You know..."
"That John Thornton has been reborn as George VI? Yes, I knew that." Jack gave a short laugh. "We've been handing that pretty title about our group fairly evenly, I think."
"Very democratically," Silvius agreed. Then he stopped by a huge black saloon car. "Here we are, then."
He stowed Jack's holdall in the trunk, nodding Jack to get in the passenger side.
When he was behind the wheel, Silvius took a moment to draw on his leather gloves again. "It's been bad without you, Jack," he said, looking ahead at the road rather than at his son. "None of us know what we can do against the Troy--"
"I don't want to talk about that now," Jack said quietly, his own eyes fixed ahead. His hand fumbled about in the pocket of his greatcoat and he drew out his cigarettes and matches. "Smoke?"
Silvius shook his head. "Jack--"
"Not now, Silvius, please," Jack said, then struck a match and drew deeply on his cigarette. "Not yet."
Silvius sighed, started up the car, and drove off.
Within moments they were on Blackfriars Bridge, and moments after that Silvius turned the car right up Ludgate Hill.
"Silvius?" Jack straightened in his seat. "Where are we going?"
"To pick someone up," Silvius said. "Another reason neither Harry nor myself wanted a civilian driver tonight."
Jack tensed, his cigarette forgotten in his hand. They were driving directly toward St. Paul's cathedral.
Copyright © 2006 by Sara Douglass Enterprises Pty Ltd.