Author Note: All references and concepts of Riverworld are Trademarked/Copyright protected by the Estate of Philip Jose Farmer. Farmer wrote five novels about the Riverworld beginning with the novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go. The storyline begins on the Day of the Great Shout. All of humanity has died only to be resurrected along the banks of a vast river that snakes across a massive planet. This original Fan Fiction story is one I wrote within the framework of Farmer’s Riverworld. The basis for this story is a simple one. How far would one man go to find his old, one true love from Old Earth? My Love was originally published on the Official Philip Jose Farmer website in 2002. This story version has been edited for errors.
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It is with apprehension and shame that I write these words on willow leaf paper, but I feel compelled, obsessively driven, to write them. In my terrestrial life, I had read somewhere a long-forgotten quote that every man should write a book or a story. I forget the person who quoted it, or the reason why one should, but I am here to do that.
I hope that someday someone will read these words and heed what I am to say. These words of caution are of vast importance to me. Who I am is unimportant. Suffice it to say, my good deeds along this vast river valley are known and should speak for themselves. I consider it a pittance for my past sins.
The monastery where I stay is composed of fourteenth and fifteenth-century Italian and French monks. I am one of these although my terrestrial birth was the year nineteen hundred and sixty-nine. I am the youngest of the Lord’s flock here. Wars and raids from outsiders have raged about this monastery quite often since I appeared here on its shores some five years ago. I thank the Holy Trinity for this blessing. I have not slain another man or woman since my day of conversion or the seeing of the light. May God grant me the strength to never again pick up the sword. Praise be to God!
But I stray and lose myself in my self-righteousness.
All stories have a beginning and the beginning of my tale begins in my terrestrial life.
I was married to the most enchanting woman I have ever encountered. Never have I seen such beauty and strong morals of devotion before or since, even along this vast river of an afterlife. Her hair, my brothers, was of fine long red hair that reached just below the fine curves of her buttocks, and the long shapely legs were of marvel. Her eyes were as green as the long grass that grows here, and her small upturned nose was of perfect sculpture. It was her strong sense of devotion to me that never allowed me to lay an eye on another woman. Some women had tried but they failed. I was forever to be equally devoted.
It was fate, and a tragic one, that separated us when I was killed in an automobile accident. The car, an invention of the twentieth century, drove across the center of the road and smashed into my car head-on. I was crushed against my car’s steering wheel. As I gasped my last bloody breath, I thought of her and the child I would soon leave behind.
I awoke on the riverbanks on the Day of the Great Awakening. Everyone along this river remembers this day. For me? I remember peacefully opening my eyes and looking with marvel at the dense blue sky. I also noted that my injuries were gone. We also know the shock of having no clothes and hair. My nakedness did not stop me from looking for my red-haired wife and our child. I searched and saw that among this group of several hundred, she was not there. I had spent the day and a half of the next looking and asking if anyone had seen her. Everyone indicated through hand signs, writing in the dirt, or speaking with English people, that they had not. My being unable to find my love caused me, with shame and disgust even today, to curse God, the Holy Trinity, and Mother Mary.
I did not waste time and eventually struck out on my own, departing my group of resurrected fellows, and began a quest to find her. I felt that if God was to pass judgment soon, he was going to have to wait until I found her. For many years, I traveled and took many methods of transportation, the most common was traveling by canoe, raft, or what God had given me: my feet. I have lost count of the number of deaths I have suffered through accidents or wars. I have encountered many cultures and people along this vast river, but none I may add was from my time frame or place. Eventually, with each passing year, I grew bitter and angry at not finding her as these years rolled away.
Eventually, I settled on a new profession along this river since these kinds of skills are highly required and desired as cultures, kingdoms, and power-hungry monarchs advanced their mad quest for power and technology. I had picked up the sword and began a new life as a mercenary for hire. This skill assisted me by being able to move along the river unhindered. I had fought in many engagements under many banners and many generals famous and not.
“Why do you seek this woman with red hair?” Asked Lusious Thumas, a Roman general in his terrestrial life who had been poisoned for his popularity with his men and other political motives. This was the first time he had spoken to me since my enlisting in his army. We made quick friends afterward on the field of battle and off. We had just conquered a section of territory under dispute when he happened upon me sitting on a small hill watching the soldiers below ravaging and ransacking the corpses of the vanquished. He had heard of my quest, and it intrigued him. All Romans are such good romantics despite their appetite for destruction.
I said nothing for a moment, tired from the battle. “Because of her loyalty to me and her beauty.”
“There are plenty of women here for you to take for your own, even some with red hair. You should go and examine them and stop this nonsense of your quest. It will drive you mad.”
He was serious and sincere in his efforts. Even to this day, I remember every word he had spoken in our conversations afterward, but I was still entitled to look for my beautiful wife. Thumas even granted me a concession. After each battle, I could examine the captured red-haired women. Each time I circled the slave pens, I was further distressed by my inability to find her. After some time, he silently mentioned to the generals under his command to spare the red-haired women defenders of any territories we were warring on. Perhaps he felt sympathy for me in my madness. Perhaps he respected me since I refused to rape, murder, or pilfer the fallen defenders. I had personal convictions.
I was killed in action while attacking a large force of defenders hidden behind an earthen barrier mound reinforced with large logs. A defender had stabbed me through the throat with a large, long spear as I scaled the earthworks. I awoke the following morning along a deserted part of the river. I gathered myself up, silently wishing Thumas well in his quest, and continued with my own.
It had been some twenty-eight years since the Day of the Great Awakening, or at the least, I thought it had been. Time here on the river passes quickly. The idea of time is immaterial since the threat of permanent death is non-existent.
I enlisted my services with a small band of Viking warriors who were traveling upriver on a ship they had made and called the Monastrarous. There had been a lot of traffic on the river. Rumors of a large paddleboat traveling to the end of the waterway abounded. I had befriended a member of the crew, a large bear of a man, by the name of Hrothgar. He was a mild-tempered and strong-willed man with a strong appetite for women. It was considered a duty to sample all the women along the shores where ever we stopped. He was puzzled as to why I did not engage physically with any women. I calmly explained my situation.
“What? You would hold yourself back from all women because of one red-haired one?” He roared out in laughter. His great-barreled chest shook heavily. “Why would you do such a thing? Odin has decreed that all women are here for our pleasure, and you should partake in this feast before the tool…” he paused, eyeing my crotch, “…becomes too rusty for use.”
I did not tell him that I had been with several women since the resurrection day but afterward, was wracked with remorse and guilt. With a renewed commitment to finding my wife of old, I struck out once more. I told him instead that I was sure she was looking for me also. One day I would find her. I wanted to stay pure for her.
Hrothgar just shook his enormous head. He calmly commented that having small genitals was not a reason to refrain from women. I think to this day he respected me for my perseverance and fortitude. At times while we were camped out on shore to refill our grails or barter our mercenary services, he would round up all the red-haired women he could find and bring them to me for my viewing. It began to frustrate him also, and after some time had passed, he would try to talk me out of this madness.
The leader of this large Viking vessel went by the name of Bulyvie. At times we found employment through his master of the tongue and languages. I can say he had a real gift for negotiating employment and our small band of twenty-two men were for some time set in the ways of wine, women, and war. That’s all these Norsemen lived for. I was happy to be a part of them for it helped soothe my anxiety.
Now it happened on a clear day just before sunrise that we were negotiating rather fast-moving rapids, unusual for this river. Bulyvie was yelling to the forward crew to pull in the oars should these be broken on the rocks. The ship shuddered as it hit these rocks. Bulyvie lost his grip on the railing and was thrown over the side to disappear in the frothy waters. After we had cleared the rapids we quickly began our search for him. We found him eventually, floating face down in the waters. We reaffirmed our fears when we pulled him aboard and saw that his head had been split open and that he was quite dead.
This left Hrothgar in charge of the crew and ship.
Some weeks later, we were passing through a kingdom that was ruled by a man known as King Henry on both sides of the river. I do not recall if he was King Henry the first or the eighth, nor did I care. All kings along this river awaken with the sickness of obtaining power and will stop at nothing until they have it. We were approaching a long suspended rope bridge that connected both sides of the river and on each end of this bridge was a large, wooden tower about four or five stories tall. About eight guards, armed with large, heavy spears, were guarding it. One of them called out.
“And who goes there!” he shouted.
Hrothgar stepped forward and shouted back, “It is the crew of the Monastrarous! we seek passage through your waters unharmed!”
The guard that had first yelled out was conferring with the others before he answered. “You will put ashore for inspection.”
“And if we do not?” Hrothgar already knew the answer.
The guard laughed. “Don’t be stupid and just dock the damn boat.”
We maneuvered the Monastrarous under the rope bridge, our ship’s mast barely passing under, and made our way to the nearest docks. The crew was silent and quietly looked to Hrothgar for the sign to defend the ship for it was home to them. Hrothgar kept his hands away from the hilt of his sword but quietly watched as the small army of about fifty soldiers awaited us on the docks. The crew obediently took the docking ropes thrown to them by the dockworkers. The soldiers quickly swarmed over the ship and disarmed the crew, including myself. We were then escorted off the ship at sword point and forced to watch as the soldiers ransacked the ship leaving nothing unturned in their search for whatever contraband they were looking for.
After some time, a captain approached and told us that we were to be detained for further questioning. At hearing this, the crew surged forth in revolt, and only with Hrothgar’s command to hold still, did they settle back down. “And why do you need to detain us? We have not anything to hide and you hinder us greatly.”
The captain nodded in agreement. “Yes, but the King does not take lightly to trespassing, especially in this time of war with those downriver.” He gave a signal. We marched away to a building not far from the docks. Each crew member was placed in a separate holding cell. I spent most of the night talking with the guard of the stockade. He was a happy enough fellow, volunteering any information to questions I had. I mentioned that all soldiers here had metal spear points and swords and other miscellaneous metal objects. To this, he answered that they had traded with the Aztecs downriver. The look he gave told me he was lying, and he quickly ended our conversation.
It was morning the next day when two soldiers, with Hrothgar standing behind them, came and unlocked my door. I stepped out. Hrothgar stood with a large smile playing across his face. “Well my little titmouse,” he began, “We have work to do.”
I was confused and asked him what was going on and if we could leave.
Hrothgar explained that he had been to see the King and after explaining who they were, what they did and a good night’s drinking, the King decided to employ those of the ship for a little scouting job, after which we were free to go. “For the meantime,” he added, ” we are to report to the head staff for a quick briefing.”
I followed him out of the stockade and met the rest of the crew of the ship waiting in the large courtyard. Hrothgar informed Olaf, a large Russian and a good man, that he was in command until he returned and to take the crew back to the ship. He then turned to me and said I was to accompany him to the meeting and under close watch from the regular guards.
We were escorted through the paths and streets of the miniature city. As we walked through this city, I asked one of the guards that escorted us the name of this place. I was awestruck at the magnitude and size of this encampment. The guard quickly informed me that the city was named Isabelle after one of the King’s mistresses in his terrestrial life. The King had had several mistresses, but none of those affairs were as memorable as this woman named Isabelle. Remembering my wife I could understand.
The city bustled with life as women and men went about their everyday chores. I remember passing a great oak-planked building and looking inside through the open doors. There within were shelf upon shelf of books. I made a mental note to stop here for I had been an avid reader in my terrestrial life. There were bartering stations or trading posts. I remembered these because I had several unwanted items and need other things. Hrothgar’s attention was drawn toward the vibrant youth of the women and the number of swinging hips he hoped to encounter later.
After some time, we came to a large walled-in compound near the end of the dirt street we were traveling on. The compound had tall towers located on the corners, and each was manned by men armed with heavy crossbows and dressed in painted bone and fish leather armor. They eyed us cautiously as we neared the gates. I was to find out later, that these were the King’s Royal Guards. Only the best of military men along this part of the river could be one, and even then, the training was extensive and brutal. I had heard later that only three out of every seven men who applied for this prestigious position were successful. They were men not to be taken lightly and served double duty as heavy shock troops in times of war, and as official upholders of the laws of the land in times of peace.
We stopped at the huge double gates of the compound. The captain that was leading our detail, called out over the wall. One of the gates opened and six men, also armed, stepped out and greeted us. The captain then handed over a small letter to the one that held the highest rank in the group. After reading the letter he nodded and informed the captain that he would take us from there.
Hrothgar and I stepped through the gate and into the open compound where we were again searched for weapons. Finding none, they led us through the training area where men practiced throwing the spear and target-practiced with bows and the dreaded hacking posts. Men trained with the sword and their arms are strapped with heavyweights while they hacked away at this wooden post. Once a man became accustomed to a certain weight he was laden only with more. I had the privilege of this training before and knew the merits. Once these weights were removed, these men would be fast and agile with the blade.
There was a little man who carried a wooden cane and oversaw the training of these men. He would occasionally stop and criticize a trainee loud enough for all to hear and point out this person’s faults. Of course, this was after smacking the trainee in error across the back with the heavy cane to get his attention. He eyed us with suspicion as we passed him. I noted the heavy scars on his body and the missing eye. He was of Oriental origins and his body moved with quick fluid movements that commanded attention and obedience. Our little group entered a large round building just past the training area. We were told to wait in the foray while the commander was notified of our being there. After some minutes, a slender, bald man dressed in flowing white robes came out and led us away for our meeting.
We entered a large chamber where four men, who I knew held power and sway over this region’s military, awaited us. After serving in the numerous armies here on this river, you know who is in power. The man with the flowing robes exited the room pulling the doors closed behind him. A smaller man with heavy blue tattoos on his face stepped forward. He introduced himself to us and the others behind him and then quickly went straight to the point.
“I hear you are to be the ones to go upriver and retrieve information on the territory of Lantan. Let me be the first to say here and now, that if you are captured we will deny any involvement in this operation. The King has managed to introduce a thin veil of a truce to the populous there. The capturing of any spies lurking in that land could damage this truce and create a major backlash that we the military here are unprepared for at the moment.” He paused then and motioned for one of the other men to hand him a map. After laying it out on the table he continued. “We know very little about their defenses. That is your job. To establish what kinds of defenses they have and about how many men might be in their military.”
I could understand trying to figure out their defenses, but trying to figure out how many men they had? This was another question and I mentioned this fact.
The tattooed man nodded, “There is the Aztec Nation on the other side of Lantan territories. They have said they would not interfere with any military operation there as long as it did not spill over onto their lands. We need to be sure of this fact. When you are in there, see if you notice any large groups of Aztecs.” He added that relations with the Aztecs were stable but still King Henry did not trust them.
I thought about asking about the metal weapons I had seen here but thought better of it. Now was not the time to ask. I felt there was something hidden here.
Hrothgar and the general haggled back and forth about where and how they were to get in. Both sides tightly guarded the land’s borders. Anyone entering their lands was quickly turned away or worse. The King owned both sides of the river here and had control of the lands upriver, placing these in control of loyal land barons. It was evident that King Henry had reneged on a deal somewhere along the line. This fact was omitted from the conversation, but I was to find out later the main reason. The real issue was the truth threatened to destabilize the region.
A revolt had been carried out some time ago. Those loyal to King Henry were slaughtered. King Henry had renounced them and demanded his lands back or face the wrath of his military. Those people of Lantan had answered quickly by placing the heads of the land barons, and those loyal to them, in a boat and sending it upriver.
Now they were in a stalemate and King Henry did not like it. He needed more information before attacking. Sending in regular soldiers or a common person with no skills in the art of spying was out of the question due to the possibility of being captured and tortured for information. They needed someone with the skills but had no knowledge to give. It was then that fate intervened and pushed our ship into the waterways belonging to him.
With the briefing over and our objectives given, we were then free to wander about the city, although we were given strict orders not to approach any of the king’s property or personnel. Hrothgar already knew what I was looking for when we exited the Royal Guards walled encampment as well as my motives. He shook his head in disapproval. “You can’t do that now. We are to prepare for this operation and the night is coming on fast.”
I started to complain but he held up his hand to silence my protests. “You will do this for I need you now, there will be plenty of time later to search.” I knew Hrothgar was right, once he had a job to complete it was a sacred oath for him to obligate. No woman or drink would detour him from completing it except death. I acknowledged him to be correct and quietly obeyed, but this did not stop me from looking at any red-headed women on the way back to the ship.
The Monastrarous was still tied to the docks and under guard, although it was a small detachment, it was a sign that even we were not to be trusted. Hrothgar gave quick orders and began to team up two-man groups based on the person’s skills and history of loyalty and bravery. I already knew that Hrothgar and myself would go in together. I managed to free myself from the group of men and made my way to my cabin below deck to prepare for the night’s coming events. Once below I gathered the gear I would need and for the first time in a long time, I sat back against the wall, and smoked a cigarette feeling edgy as the day quickly faded into night.
Nighttime had come. We branched off into two-man groups comprising six men altogether. We marched our way close to the borders of Lantan. We were under close guard. This was in case we happened upon one of the King’s patrols’ and did not get our hides shot full of arrows. From there we made our way to the river and slipped off into the cold, dark waters, holding on to the logs we had found nearby. We slowly kicked and paddled our way downriver. With the logs serving as protection, we would float on by any Lantian scouts near the riverbanks and appear to be a floating piece of debris. I was with Hrothgar.
The only noise we made was that of our labored breathing. I would say we had paddled about three miles or more. We beached ourselves on the opposite side of the river and well into Lantan territory hidden among a heavy outcrop of trees that fed on the river. We rested for a few minutes and donned our dark clothing and plastered ourselves with mud from the riverbanks to help break up our outlines as we proceeded with our clandestine effort.
The other groups floated by us and one landed on the further side of the river opposite of us. I could see under the river valley’s full moon as they disappeared within the shadows of the vegetation there. I knew that Olaf and Tesstrine would be there according to the plan. Their part of the plan would be to spy on the Lantian garrison that was supposed to be there. The other two clung to their log and continued to float downriver. They were to make their way to the Lantan and Aztec borders to observe anything unusual there.
Hrothgar whispered to me, “All right, now we play but stay close.” and we both started towards Lantan staying off any trails and avoiding several patrols. We then crested a small hill and stopped.
The village of Lantan was larger than I thought. I would have labeled it more of a medium-sized citadel. The populous was well-armed and heavy patrols were in evidence. There were several groups of men and women armed with heavy pikes and swords. They were clad in heavy armor. It looked like they were patrolling the outskirts of a larger warehouse located near the outer boundaries of the encampment. Hrothgar nudged me with his elbow soft enough to cave in a cow’s rib cage and nodded off towards the larger warehouse. I nodded my acknowledgment and we both made our way toward it taking advantage of the sparse vegetation and outhouses as cover. We crept past several huts and avoided several more groups of armed populous that were standing around passing the wine jug or patrolling talking about King Henry and when he would attack.
We managed to work our way to the darker side of the warehouse to assist in avoiding our detection, and both of us realized that this was a storehouse for something. Several guards patrolled the outside perimeter. They intended to keep whatever it housed secret and I told Hrothgar this. He agreed and motioned that we should examine its contents more closely. The front entrance was heavily guarded. Looking upwards, I calculated the only way in was through the roof. We had seen several vents there. Light spilled out from them indicating that the interior was well-lit with torches.
He removed the rope he had bought with the three horn fish jaws tied together and swung it up to the several-story roof effortlessly. The hooked end had grabbed a vent cap there. He tested the strength of the rope and hook and began climbing up. I being in good shape, could not have done a feat like this on the first try. We both climbed the braided rope and after being safely planted there on the roof’s edge, we pulled the rope up behind us. We half crawled our way softly across the peaked roof, away from the end cap, careful not to attract too much noise from the creaking wooden planks. There was a capped roof vent near the center. We paused here to look in.
There were more guards inside heavily armed of course and they were grouped near the front entranceway. They were busy smoking the musky marijuana sticks that are common in everyone’s food grails. But it was not them that gathered my attention but the rows upon rows of rifles. By the gods they had rifles!
These rifles were neatly lined up on racks and the metal was gleaned by torchlight. How in the hell did they come across the metal? So this was what all the confusion was about. Was the metal already there or did it fall from the sky? There had been a large rumor of a large meteor falling from the sky some years ago. If this was true then perhaps a small fragment had broken away and landed here. It was a far-fetched theory, but a plausible one. I doubted if the metal was already there.
King Henry had been in power then and had established a quick ruling influence in Lantan. At that time, only a small group of Second Chancers had a church there. The King must have pushed them out to eliminate any word of the meteor or the metal source from getting out. By pushing them out, it was probable that he had them slaughtered. It had taken them this long to locate the metal source. I figured that the land barons had discovered the metal and reported it to King Henry and quickly began mining. They needed more people and began to acquire slaves or anyone unfortunate enough to stop in Lantan.
It was perhaps somebody here in power who was sympathetic to the Lantian slaves and leaked the information to them. The people here were already getting the short end of the stick when it came to trading goods. The fact that these people here in Lantan were captured slaves made to work under heavy guard made no difference. They were expendable and slaves in large numbers could easily start a revolt. What the populous here did not have was an edge, something they could use to their advantage when the revolt took place. The King needed weapons to hold the people of Lantan in check and perhaps continue a conquering sweep to acquire more lands and absorb other people’s technology. The people here though had found out quickly about the metal and the manufacturing of the rifles. They quickly took decisive action.
It was also why I noted large quantities of metal weapons here along this stretch of the river. The King’s Royal Guards had metal weapons along with the other soldiers under King Henry. It dawned on me then that we were in the midst of a rather shady deal. For once in my life here along this river, we were fighting on the wrong side. It was nothing new to me being on the wrong side being a mercenary, but this looked to me to be a case of slaves uprising to be free.
I stopped to look around searching for what I knew was somewhere close by. It was not close, but far off in the distance near the base of the huge mountains that are common here in the river valley. I knew this to be the mining site and forgery. Lights glared heavily along the mountain baseline indicating that the forgery and the mining site were still heavily at work.
Hrothgar, I knew, was interested in what these rifles were. I quickly gave him a history lesson in the art of rifles to advance my theory about what exactly was going on here.
“So you say that these ‘rifles’ as you call them, can kill a man from a great distance? They fire a small metal projectile at a man?” Hrothgar paused and looked back at the racks. I think he was thinking of the crew being armed with these weapons but he instead answered: “We need to take one of these rifles back to the King as proof.”
I nodded and added, “I don‘t think our services are needed any further after this. It smells of deceit.”
Hrothgar nodded in agreement but I could see something else working in the back of his mind. “My oath is solid and we must continue with what we agreed on no matter what we find here.”
“Well, I guess we better go down there and get one of those rifles.” I had reserved the notion that Hrothgar’s bargain with King Henry went deeper than what he had originally said but I would stand by him no matter what.
Hrothgar went back and retrieved the rope that we had used earlier and removing one of the side panels to the vent cap, he lowered the rope slowly inside. The guards had gathered together at the furthest end of the warehouse. They were softly talking among themselves. Sweat ran freely down my face as I lowered myself down the rope. Hrothgar held the end acting as an anchor.
When I touched the floor, I quickly reached out and grabbed a rifle. I noted that these were crude copies of some muzzle-loading rifles and only fired one shot at a time. Quickly, I began to search for any gunpowder or bullets. I needed to make sure that I had everything I needed. Everywhere I searched, I saw more items of value. Crates of lead balls, flasks of gunpowder, cleaning kits, and everything needed to operate and maintain these weapons. I wished I could have grabbed the whole warehouse’s contents.
Anywhere along the river, such weapons as these would prove to be of great value in a fight anywhere. If the ship’s crew was armed with these we would be able to defend ourselves better, but I knew that right now, it was a far reached idea. I found crates of handguns that resemble those of the late eighteenth century. After a closer examination, I noted they were approximately the same caliber as the rifles. I stuffed away four of these in a sack I had bought with me along with the necessary items to fire them. I quickly made my way back up the rope. The exertion had tired me but Hrothgar exhibited displeasure at my playing around. “Damn! I thought you were going to enlist in their army you damn well took long enough!”
His complaining was short-lived when I presented him with two of the four pistols I had bought with me.
“I’ll show you how to work these later now let us leave we’ve wasted too much time here” With that, we walked back across the roof and lowered the rope after noting that there were no guards, and scurried back to the solid ground.
Hrothgar was about halfway down the rope when I heard a burst of soft laughter, a burst of very feminine laughter from somewhere off behind several huts to my left. There was something very familiar in that laugh and it scratched lightly on the surface of my memory. I needed to follow that laugh.
Hrothgar had just touched the ground when I moved off slowly toward the huts. I maneuvered my way along the wooden sides being careful to stay in the shadows. I peered around and saw a group of guards standing around a small bonfire.
The woman that had heard laughing minutes earlier giggled again. I recognized her but I could not see her due to her back facing toward me. There was a changing of the guard taking place and they bade each other a good night and moved off. The woman that held my attention continued to hold her back from me and again that scratching of my memory took place. I watched the swinging of her hips and the long flowing red hair or at least it looked red. She was with another fellow of taller height and heavy muscular girth than me and she took hold of his arm the way only lovers do. They faded off into the darkness behind another hut and I was determined to follow.
I turned and ran face-first into Hrothgar’s massive chest. I was startled and would have cried out if his massive hand had not covered my mouth. He lowered himself to my eye level and whispered, “What in Hades are you doing?”
He dragged me off back behind the hut in the shadows. I managed to break his grasp and whispered harshly, “Damn it Hrothgar I need to follow that woman!”
I had never gotten angry with him before. I’m sure it startled him, which caused him to release me quickly. Unslinging the rifle from my shoulder, I handed it to him before moving off quickly before he could answer.
I hunched over at a half crawl. Working my way between the huts and various guards and village occupants again taking advantage of any shadows and cover. I followed the path that I had seen the woman and her oversized male companion take. After some time, I spotted them walking along the path still, headed to a large grouping of trees and heavy foliage near the river where I and Hrothgar had made our entry. I again heard her laugh. The man had said something and it spurred me on more.
It was very possible.
I slipped into the foliage some fifty yards or so further up from where they had entered, careful not to attract their attention. My heart was pounding hard and I tried to control my breathing through my mouth. The smelly mixture of my sweat, dirt, and dank river water on me was overpowering. The excitement I held within my rib cage was overwhelming and I feared at the moment that the two would hear the beating of my heart. I managed to slip in closer to the two as they undressed by the riverbanks near a small tide pool area.
The moon was high in the nighttime sky. I rested near a large boulder that was near them. The shadows here hid me well and I was sure they did not hear or see me. From here I watched the two talk and strip nude and holding hands they entered the waters to wash away the day’s work.
The woman turned away from me. I examined her naked backside and long red hair, as I had guessed correctly the color. The man facing me was a giant and quite muscular. Their clothing and weapons were left on the riverbanks and already a force of action was working within my mind. The large man reached out for the woman and pulled her in close to him and said something about admiring her more under this moonlit sky and reached up and softly caressed her breast. She whispered something I could not understand, but she did not object to his physical caresses and even moved in closer to him. I watched carefully waiting to see this woman’s face.
The moment came as the man offered to wash her back and she turned in acceptance to face the riverbanks. I could have never been more shocked in my entire life! And I sat up to take in the sight of her.
I saw that it was her! The small upturned nose the shape of her eyes and the curves of her body had confirmed it! My god, my search was over! The plan to overpower the man was formulating and the excitement of finally finding my love reached a pitch. I did not want to attract unwanted attention or startle her, but I could see no other way. After I had taken the man out I had to explain to her quickly that I was searching for her all this time since the Resurrection and then she would have to understand. Never mind the man, they could then look for their child.
I withdrew my knife from its belt scabbard and slowly gathered my legs under me. Slowly I rose within the mist that had started to form near the river’s edge. Creeping silently forward. I held my knife low, but an explosion of stars clouded my vision and everything went black.
I was awake again, being carried by Hrothgar slung over his massive shoulder like a side of beef. I muttered something and he stopped walking and threw me to the ground.
“By Tyre’s third testicle, I can’t believe you went and did something like that!” He was yelling, more like roaring, and I found that I was soaking wet. He had carried me from the river’s edge, back through the woods, and across the river to here. I rolled over onto my hands and knees crying softly.
I explained all that I had seen and this did nothing to calm Hrothgar’s anger. “You could have gotten me killed and this nonsense of finding your wife is just utter madness, it’s just a damn good thing that I managed to slip away you dumb bastard, or I would’ve snapped your neck!”
I did not answer. I was so close to her that I could still taste her and the residual memory I held was overwhelming. Lost in my madness, I stumbled to my feet and began the long trek back to the ship, after we had hooked up with the others of our group and hooked up with the escort guards. We were quiet in our return, Hrothgar handed over the rifle and assorted goods, minus the handguns, to the Royal Guards and we spoke not another word as I departed from them and made my way to the ship alone. I boarded the ship, not talking to any of the crew when asked how it all went and I went straight to my cabin and collapsed on the bed. I did not undress from my dirty wet clothing and fell off into a troubled sleep.
It was well into the afternoon when I heard Hrothgar bellowing for me to wake up and opening one sticky red-rimmed eyelid I saw him squatting near me a huge smile playing across his face. I was getting tired of that smile. “Well, it’s about damn time my titmouse!” And that too.
I rolled over and sat up slowly. My head ached and emitted a pulsating throbbing that threatened to crack my skull open. “What did you hit me with last night, you giant oaf?”
Hrothgar reached down into his belt and removed one of the handguns I had given him. “If I had known how to shoot this thing I would have done so but being the cultured man I am I used the other end. Not to worry though the two romantics in the river never heard a thing.”
I rolled off the bed, letting my feet touch the wooden planks, and the memories of the large, muscular man caressing my former wife were still vivid. “She was my wife the one I have been looking for all these years Hrothgar I am sure of it. Did you see…?” I did not want to finish the thought that swam in my mind then. Hrothgar bit on his lower lip and turned away. “I had no choice but to wait for them to finish. There sure as hell was no way I was going to drag you out then.”
With a great groan, I leaned forward to hold my head in my hands and began to massage the temples. The headache was nothing compared to the shattering of my heart. I could not blame or curse my love, after all, it had been close to thirty years since I had seen her. I could understand why she went into the arms of another man. Every man and woman along this river needs comfort in each other and the odds of us finding each other were next to impossible. It was strictly good fortune, or bad however you viewed it, that I found her now.
“How can you be so sure? There are plenty of women around that could resemble your wife.”
I stood up. The possibilities for a mistaken identity were intense but I remembered little things about my wife such as the way she walked and the air of confidence she gave or her laughter. Any man that has lived with a woman long enough begins to notice these things and remembers them. The woman I had seen on the river was the closest resemblance to all the women I had seen along this river. I feared many times that time would have dimmed my memory of her but the constant thinking of her and her looks have kept her memory alive within me. My answer was, “I’m sure of it.”
Hrothgar let out his breath slowly and quickly changed the subject. “Well, I went and talked to the king and showed him our little rifle. He was quite impressed along with the other materials gathered by Olaf and the others. The King was also glad to hear that we didn’t see any Aztecs. He has gathered together his war council and is working out a strategy for an assault. We are stuck here or we can fight.”
My head was throbbing again. “I’m sorry about my actions I could have gotten both of us killed.”
“No one knows of it. I know how you are in this search for your wife all be it though as dumb as it is.” Hrothgar reached out dropping his massive arm across my shoulder and led me towards the doorway, “Now my friend, you must drink deep of the ale, it will soothe the headache you have. We do have a red-haired beauty to save from the evil clutches of Lantian dictatorship.”
Hrothgar further explained to me as we drank in one of the nearby taverns, that he had bartered with the king. If the crew of the Monastrarous fought alongside the king’s armies, they stood to gain not only a cut of the spoils but also a small percentage of the firearms and accessories such as bullets and gunpowder. He was reluctant in doing the deal and added that after the war was done the crew of the Monastrarous was to leave immediately. He did not want to face any armed boat people in the future.
Hrothgar had already talked it over with the crew and they all had decided it would be best to fight. It was better than sitting around waiting for the war to end and there was no telling how long that was to be. King Henry had already dispatched twenty thousand troops across the river to mount a sweeping assault from the mountains in the Lantan territories.
“All this in such short of time?” I asked.
Hrothgar laughed out loud, snorting, and with the back of his massive hand, he wiped away the tears from his eyes. “What the hell’s so funny?”
“By the gods, I must have knocked you upside the head harder than I thought… you’ve been out asleep for nearly a day and a half.”
We were to attack that night I discovered. The crew of the Monastrarous was to take part in the King’s flotilla of about thirty-five ships. The moon was again to be full and provided us at a disadvantage since the territories of Lantan would be able to see us coming from far off. The troops that the king had sent ahead were to attack at first sight of us. They were to take the forgeries that manufactured the guns and the mining site and push on towards the end of the village itself and destroy any resistance in between. The main flotilla force was to head toward the main dock area and land.
The main force of Lantan would be concentrated near the docks anyway since the village outpost guards would have alerted the military to the oncoming flotilla. From there the flotilla force was to offload the troops as quickly as they could, secure the beachfront for more incoming troops, and head to the warehouses where the rifles and other firearms were stored. This was to be a horrendous feat to pull off and chances of surviving were slim. Lantan’s military was always on guard and quick to respond to any threat. It sounded like a decent plan.
We exited the tavern, none the worse off was my headache and I pulled myself away from Hrothgar and the commotion going on to load up supplies on the vessels for the night’s raid. In the tavern, the people there had wrinkled their noses at me, especially the serving girl, and after smelling myself I had to agree I needed a bath and bad. I went to my cabin gathered up a towel and went topside, stripped, and dove into the water. I bathed quickly and went back to my cabin to prepare my gear.
After cleaning up my armor, I cleaned my sword, aware that soon it would be covered in the blood of slaughter. I fell back against the wall of my bunk and lit a cigarette. With practiced hands, I fidgeted with the handguns and examined how they worked. I was a firearms collector in my first life and had several muzzleloaders within my collection. These followed the same pattern when it came to loading and firing. I was working the angles in my mind on how I was to get my wife out of Lantan and the war that was to come when sleep overtook me.
My eyes snapped open. I was instantly alert.
I could feel the ship moving from side to side and various shouts and loud footfalls above me. The cabin was dark and I quickly gathered my gear and rushed topside. The boat was top-heavy with men and women dressed in full armor, some were talking or some were off against the railing catching what sleep they could get. I searched for Hrothgar. He was found at the forward part of the ship looking out over the river waters. I did not ask why he hadn’t awakened me, hell I needed the sleep anyway.
We could see the firelights of Lantan off in the distance. Quickly, with practiced hands, I donned my armor. Hrothgar only nodded to my being there with him. The battle was short in coming.
I could hear shouts echoing in the dark river valley and the nighttime sky lit up with large arrows and missiles that were aflame with hot pitch. Several ships received direct hits and were quickly floundering. A wave of arrows struck the Monastrarous sending the small army of King Henry and the crew into action to defend themselves from the pointy death. Still, the large flotilla sailed onward to the dock area. From the ship’s bow, I could see men in large groups running about on the shorefront, preparing for the fight when we landed.
The lead ship, the HMS Henry landed first and men spilled out from the decks into the knee-deep waters. I could hear the arrows still whistling through the air overhead and the fire missiles still being launched from the shores. Large catapults lined the beachfront and were quickly being put into action, launching large boulders and rocks at the incoming fleet. We were within twenty-five yards or so from the docks and the defenders there were running from the onslaught of men as they departed the ship en masse, yelling to pull back.
“Stay close and we’ll find this red-haired wife of yours.” was all Hrothgar said and I nodded in quick agreement. We both held our weapons at the ready and held our shields up to protect us from any incoming arrows that were still flying overhead and prepared ourselves for battle.
The Monastrarous pulled up alongside the dock and quickly we unassed ourselves from the ship and began the battle to secure the dock area for the rest of the fleet. I was greeted quickly by a small man wielding a large spiked ball connected with a chain and a wooden handle and he quickly reduced my shield to splinters before I managed to spill his intestines on the docks. Discarding what was left of my shield, I then moved on and withdrew my pistol and shot it point-blank into another defender’s face. Hrothgar was close behind me and was making quick work of the defenders with his double-edged ax. A large force of Lantian defenders moved in and each time we managed to repel their efforts to push us back into the waters.
I had just cleaved a man’s head in two when I heard the order to advance inland. The ships had beached themselves, pulled up to the docks, or were still in the waters and like clockwork, they began unloading their deadly cargo and advanced to push the defenders back. Like a cloud of locusts, we surged forth destroying those unfortunate enough to be in our path. That night our force of three thousand earned their keep and kept up with the slaughter pushing the defenders back.
The open field beyond the docks began to pile up heavily with the dead and dying from both sides and arms and armor lay scattered about. Sometime during the battle, some of the huts and buildings of Lantan were put to the torch and we continued to fight by the heat and light of the flames. We were within sight of the warehouses’ and the defenders were arming themselves with the rifles there. Our forces clashed with them before they could get off a shot and we slaughtered them to a man to where their blood ran in rivers.
It was then that I saw her, my red-haired wife, fighting hard beside the same large man that I had seen her bathing in the river water the night before. They fought off all comers near the edge of the field behind the warehouse, preventing our troops from singularly going beyond them. I yelled something out and ran towards them. Hrothgar was busy fighting off three defenders and had not heard or seen me dash off toward them.
I ran towards the wall of a man and clashed with him violently. Our swords quickly locked together and our faces met. He was a handsome enough fellow I must add here that I saw the attraction my wife had for him. The strain caused his face to change to a red color and the veins in his neck stood out. He quickly moved back and then surged forward, throwing me off balance and throwing me back. The half-nude man became a tidal wave of swordplay that I must admit here I feared that I would be cleaved in two. I faltered back fending off blow after blow unable to countermove. We were both away from my red-haired wife.
Occasionally, she would cast a look at this man I fought with and then would resume her defense with another man from the King‘s army. We paused for a moment, circling each other and catching our breath when he spoke. “And who is this that I fight? Do you not know who I am?” He had seen an opening as I dropped my defense a little and he lunged forward with a stab that nicked my forearm. Blood began to run down and I realized then that if I did not put this man away quickly, the blood from the cut would make my sword grip slippery.
I did not answer and advanced my attack but with every swing of my sword, he managed to fend them off easily and countered each blow. I considered myself to be an efficient swordsman, a skill I had advanced with much tutoring and education from my services with other armies, but this man was just as or more skilled than I. Again he came on like a tidal wave of blinding swordplay smashing me to the ground and being able to just avoid getting cut in two. The hilt guard to my sword collapsed then, pinching my fingers and I yelped out in pain.
The wall of a man stood back breathing with exertion but holding his sword steady. “You have fought well but you can not win this one go now and live and tell of your fight with one who has fought in the Circus Maximus.” I managed to free my fingers a bit from the bent guard and looked to where my wife was. She was still fending off two or three attackers with a spear and quite skillfully. I can only assume that this man I fought with now had taught her what she knew but she was still mine.
“You are quite good but I cannot retreat for fate calls me to end this fight and retrieve my prize!” It was the best answer I could think of at the moment and nodded off to my wife. He stole a glance at his love and eyed me with hatred. I knew then I had said the wrong thing albeit I knew he misunderstood and I didn’t have the time to explain. He quickly stabbed forward and withdrew to swing at my side this I blocked but the force of the swing and clanging of the blades began to numb my sword arm.
By the gods his strength was astounding, but I still could not give up and renewed my attack. We locked swords again and together we strained to gain an advantage over the other. I saw a quick opportunity and gave a hard head butt over his right eye. Blood began to flow into the eye and he continuously had to shake his head clear of sweat and blood like a wet dog. I took advantage and advanced another series of attacks and managed to gouge out a chunk of his forearm and the blood flowed. He was far from done and came on again like a madman, grunting, yelling, and swearing.
I saw my opportunity arise. Dropping to one knee as he raised his sword high above his head, I thrust my blade upwards into his belly. His stomach muscles tighten around the blade as it sank halfway into him. I pulled it hard from side to side and removed my blade. I stepped back and wiped the corner of my mouth and watched him fall over to his side and then roll over onto his back holding his deadly injury. He did not speak to me at all but as he died he held onto his quizzical expression. I did not waste any more time and turned to grab my wife’s attention.
Hrothgar bellowed for my attention across the sounds of battle. I turned in his direction. He was bloody from this night’s work and an arrow was stuck high in his shoulder. He fended off another blow from a defender and he quickly pointed his heavy ax out in front of him indicating for me to look that way. The sun was just beginning to rise over the valley and smoke from the burning buildings and the stench of death hung heavily in the air. I looked to where he had pointed.
Massive bodies of armed soldiers numbering in the thousands were advancing toward us and it was under the Aztec Nation’s flag. Half-naked men marched their way towards us armed with long pike spears and chanting their war songs. A double-cross had taken place and the Aztecs had decided to join the war after all. Their motives could have been numerous but to this day I think they needed more lands and Lantan was more than ideal.
“Damn it, boy, it’s a full retreat! Quit playing and let’s get to the ships!” Hrothgar hacked a defender through and turned to run, the arrow in his shoulder bouncing with each step. I stood there on the small rise not moving, exhausted from the slaughter. Looking from side to side, I had to grab my wife quickly. Our army was in retreat at the sight of the Aztec armies. I was not going to leave her, not this close anyway.
A large force of Lantians assisted with the Aztec’s help had smashed our flanks and rear and was making quick work of our dwindling force. Men turned and were running back to the ships; some of these were aflame and sinking beneath the surface of the waters. Escape was quickly becoming impossible for King Henry’s military force. I stood there and turned to where I had last seen my wife.
A sharp twisting pain entered my back. I grunted out loud as a pointed, bloody spear exploded through my chest. I fell to the ground and rolled over to my side. My red-haired wife stood over me holding a large curved sword high above her head. Her red hair was a tangled mess and her body was covered with assorted nicks and cuts. I could not tell if the blood was from her injuries or from the men she had killed. It registered in my mind that she had thrown the spear into my back.
I said something but the blood was bubbling up in my throat and the words came out in an inaudible gurgling. I reached for her. She stepped back. I could see tears welling up in her eyes and the sword over her head wavered a bit. I wanted to explain to her everything but could not and quickly she thrust the sword forward from over her head and blinding light and darkness ensued.
I awoke again far from the sounds of battle and found myself lying next to one of the huge gray mushroom-shaped grail stones. It was morning. I sat up with tears and a heavy heart. I did not move for some time and watched boats on the river dragging in fishnets heavy with fish. A man dressed in a hooded frock greeted me and with kind words, he knelt and helped me up to my feet. I looked out over the green river valley and thought about nothing but her. Had she recognized me? Would she have spared me knowing who I was? It was too many questions and not many answers. I asked the hooded figure if he had heard of King Henry or the provinces of Lantan. He slowly answered he had not.
I had not planned on staying here at this monastery for very long, but time has passed and here I remain today. I became a convert, but in all truthfulness, this has done nothing to quiet the restlessness and the many questions within me. God forgive me. Occasionally, those that travel through, I manage to secret them off to the side away from my brethren and quietly ask them if they have heard of Lantan or King Henry, or even of a ship called the Monastrarous, and each time the answer is no.
I have no idea whether I am upriver or downriver from that battlefield, but I can only hope that one day, a ship called the Monastrarous will stop here to refill their grails. For the rest of human time, I swear to God, I have given up hope of having the red-haired wife of my terrestrial life. I have learned that there is no living in the past. Those that we knew in our previous lives are forever changed here along this endless river valley.