Well, it's been a long time since I posted a chapter from my upcoming sequel to The Book of Drachma. The sequel does not yet have a title (though I'm getting somewhat closer to titling the work). So here it is, and be prepared - it is not what you expect...
Book Four, Chapter Five
Marilyn Gilsen hung up the phone, then just sat back down and stared ahead, saying nothing. It was obvious to Charlie Stephens that this was one of those calls that had gotten to her. But then he knew enough from his years as an investigative reporter that some things were better left alone until such time as the “victim” had to process the information. So he, too, just sat and quietly looked at Marilyn. Her own appearance was of someone wounded, as she absentmindedly played with a loose strand of her hair, brooding, and bit her lower lip.
He then reached over, and poured some more of the wine into her glass. She stared straight ahead, seeming not to notice. After another minute of silence, Marilyn finally spoke.
“You know, Charlie, this is why I haven’t married you.”
Charlie looked puzzled, and said, “Oh? And what am I supposed to make of that statement?”
She next picked up her wine glass, and sipped some of the Chianti. As she set the glass down, she spoke again.
“Well, let me first say thanks… for the wine, for not interrupting my thoughts, and for just being you.” A stray tear escaped her eye, which she wiped away with her napkin.
“You’re welcome, I guess,” was all he could answer.
“Let me just say this much. That call took me back a ways, to a place I thought was gone from my life forever. And before I say too much, I think it might behoove us to pay a visit to our friend, Shepperton.”
“Oh, my. Well, I’ll ask no more then, and I’ll be glad to accompany you to a visit with our old buddy.”
So, they finished eating, and while Marilyn was putting the dishes in the dishwasher, Charlie called their friend’s house, and was told that the earl was presently out, but was expected back within the hour, and that they were most welcome to come over if they wished.
“OK, we’ll be there in about an hour. Just tell him that it’s Marilyn and Charlie, and we’ll be bringing a blast from the past… No just those words will do… Thank you.”
When Charlie hung up, he found Marilyn looking at him with an expression that was as unreadable as it was scary. Quite suddenly, she rushed past him, then up the stairs, as if she were truly afraid. Charlie just waited, but then went up the stairway when he heard Marilyn’s sobbing. As he approached her bedroom, he could see her sitting on the bed, holding the little box, but as he got closer, he could see that it was empty. There was the blue velvet, but the drachma was missing.
Through her tears, Marilyn motioned for him to come and sit down beside her. As he did, she reached around him in an embrace, and held him to her as if to say her world had just come apart, and that he was there as her last vestige of sanity.
“All right, m’lady,” he said, almost unconsciously, “it would appear to be time that you told me something of what’s been going on. Let’s begin with that phone call, and maybe we can piece some of this all together.”
It was an hour later that the two of them pulled into the driveway of the very austere-looking home on Elliot Avenue. They were greeted at the door by Carol, who hugged them both and invited them in. She led them back through the old, hardwood hallway to the study. There sat their friend, behind a large desk, strewn with piles of books and papers.
“My dearest friends! What is it that brings you out on this evening? I would surmise that it is something of significance, else you would have waited ‘til the morrow. Now, please, have a seat, both of you, and tell me of this.”
They both sat down in a couple of stuffed, comfortable chairs. It was Charlie who spoke first.
“Well, you surmised correctly, Earl. We would have waited, had it been anything else. But, as it is, it would seem that Marilyn, at least, was not going to get any sleep tonight, nor me either, after I had heard her story.”
“My good lady. What is it then that troubles you?”
Marilyn pulled out of her purse her little box. She handed it over to the earl of Shepperton, who took it reverently, opened it, and found it empty. She then began her tale.
“I’m sure that you remember hearing of this box, and what was in it, and how Janie Crabtree and Judy Morrison had happened upon it. And also, how it ended up with me – having received it from your Carlo Vincente.”
“Indeed, m’lady. That I do remember. Now I also remember some things from a bygone era, but of that we shall speak later.”
Carol then appeared at the doorway to the study, carrying a tray with cups of steaming cider.
“I thought that you could use some hot spiced cider. It would seem that you’ve got some serious talking to do.”
“Oh, Carol, you didn’t have to. But thank you so much.” Marilyn thought back to her first visit with this wondrous nurse at the bedside of the then critically ill man of mystery. And she thought of what had happened in the last three years, and how the love and devotion of this one woman had meant the world to the earl, and to her, Janie and Charlie. And the thought of Janie just now brought tears to her eyes. As she reached out for her cup of cider, she said, “Oh, Carol, won’t you stay? You’ve gotten so involved with all of us, and I do believe we could use your insights.”
“When I heard that the two of you were coming over, and that you were going to bring something of the old days with you – well, I just sort of invited myself into this little party, if you don’t mind.” Carol answered her with a wink. “No, I wouldn’t miss this for all the world.”
And so, with all of them sitting in the office, full of books, papers and memories, Marilyn resumed her story.
“Now, I guess I’d better start back to an incident last week. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but it looks like it’s now become significant. It was while I was taking my walk, when I saw what I thought was some homeless man just sitting on the curb. As I was walking past him, he smiled at me – a knowing, but inviting kind of smile, and then he spoke to me. He said, in a particularly kind and peculiar way that I was the one he had been searching for. When I kind of started, and began to back away, he said that I was “to fear not.” That he was not there to hurt me, but only to provide guidance. His name, he said, was Falma, and that he knew of Master Gilsen. And then he stood up, and walked back into the woods, but as he turned, he said that we would meet again. And I just continued my walk, thinking back to my encounters, years ago with Carlo Vincente. But then I got busy with my daily stuff, and put it out of my mind. That is until I got that phone call.”
The earl then spoke up. “You say his name was Falma? Well, that is most interesting, indeed. We go back many years, he and I.”
“Now, wait just a minute.” Charlie couldn’t contain himself any more. “Marilyn, you never even told me the details of this encounter. You just said that you ran into some homeless man while walking, and if I recall, I told you to be careful of homeless men, especially when walking near the woods.”
“I honestly didn’t think too much about it, really. It just kind of was there in the back of my mind. That was until today’s phone call. Then, as you know everything changed. Now I will say that after my encounter with the old man, I did check my box, and the drachma was still in there. But today, while I was sitting down to dinner with you, Charlie the phone rang, and it was Detective Lewinsky. Now, at hearing her voice again, my heart just started banging in my chest, and memories came rushing back. I asked her what she wanted, and she just told me that she wanted me to come down to the station and talk. She had just gotten back from a call out to our end of town, and she said she saw an old vagrant there, near where I had been walking. But she said that the old man just smiled as she sat and talked with him. She asked if he had a home, and he assured her that he did, and not to worry about him. And that he meant no harm, but he was there as a “guide for Madam Gilsen.” And if she should see me to give her his best wishes, and he let her know that he would be around for “just a short while” before returning. She said she almost brought him into the station for more questioning. But that was when he mentioned the name Carlo Vincente, which caught her off guard, and to say that he too wished us well, but to look into the box. And then he just walked off into the woods, and faded into the trees.
“By now I was shaking inside, and the more I tried not to show it, the more upset I became, and I just had to go check the box, and there it is as I found it – without my precious drachma inside. It was supposed to tell me that Bob was all right. And now… now I’m afraid that he is not – and here I am all these many miles and years from him, and feeling helpless. But at least I’ve got you – friends I can talk to, without sounding too crazy.”
“My lady,” said the earl of Shepperton, “if I may be so bold as to tell you some of what I know of this man, Falma, who does appear to you at this time.”
“Yes, Earl, please do,” said Marilyn.
“It would seem, my good lady, that Falma must have died, back in the old time. But while he was alive, he was my greatest friend and ally. He was also my loremaster, a post that he took over after my own father died, for he was loremaster to him as well. There is no way to speak of Falma without also speaking of Drachma, for their history is entwined. It was Drachma who was behind Falma’s rise in stature, and was his most constant advisor and companion.
“Now, if I had any difficult decision to make, or if there were persons to consider for specific tasks, it was always Falma whose wise counsel I sought. And nay, I’ll not tell you that I always did what Falma suggested, but I should tell you that his advice was always given with deference and humility; and it was more often than not, the correct advice that he did give.
“So, now you say, m’lady that he himself is here among us, though not for long. And for what? To act as your guide. I should advise you to pay close attention to what he does say. And to think that he did mention this drachma that was yours – that is most astonishing, indeed.”
There was an eerie silence that swept through the room. Each one there felt it as something visceral. It was almost as if they could sense that there was another presence among them, and one who would be taking all they said into consideration.
It was Carol who broke the silence.
“Does anyone else feel that?” she asked. “It’s as if what you are saying is being heard by someone else. Or is it just me?”
“No, Carol, it is definitely not just you,” Charlie answered. “I feel it, too. It sounds kind of odd, but I would agree with your assessment.”
“It would seem, my friends,” the earl spoke again, “that what we are discussing here this evening has but one more silent participant who shall, I am quite certain, be speaking with you, m’lady. Now, here’s to you both, m’lady Marilyn, and to you, my dear Falma!”
Marilyn just sat and shivered. She couldn’t say a word. The rest of the evening at the earl’s became a gradual blur. The ride back to her own home, she barely remembered. After saying goodnight to Charlie, kissing him, and thanking him for being there for her, she turned and walked into her living room, clutching her empty little box. She turned on her living room light – and there he was, seated in her living room, as if he belonged there. At first, Marilyn’s heart skipped a beat, then she began sweating, then she lost consciousness.
She awoke in her living room, with Falma seated beside her. He smiled gently at her and handed her the box. Marilyn was still feeling a bit dizzy, but took the little box, with a sort of timid grace, and mumbled thanks.
How strange, she thought, I should be afraid. But I’m not at all.
What she felt, she could not describe. Here, in her own living room, alone with this very strange old man, who obviously knew her, and knew her husband, so many miles and years away – it gave her a feeling of restlessness, tinged with awe.
“Well, Mr. Falma, I must say that was quite some way to get my attention. Now I’ve just come back from a visit with your earl. But somehow, I know that you already knew that.”
“Oh, aye, m’lady that I did. But let me properly introduce myself. I am, indeed, Falma. And I was alchemist and loremaster to the once earl of Shepperton, who now resides among you. And I have been sent to guide you in your quest. But that is for later. For now, I must tell you of some of what has happened, and some of what might yet happen. And to start, I must tell you of something that you have learned in part. That would be of the drachma that you have been granted by one Carlo Vincente, as a token. Now you were given the box, with the drachma inside, and told that it was to be a token of the health of your husband.”
“And now,” said Marilyn, “the drachma’s gone…”
“But not the end of the story, m’lady.”
Marilyn thought about this for a moment, then said, “well, Mr. Falma, you’ve got my undivided attention.”
Falma nodded, and next began his story.
“Madam Gilsen, I am certain that you remember, rather painfully, the events surrounding your husband’s disappearance.” He looked at Marilyn with empathy, as she began to tear up again. “In this regard, let me say that Master Carlo Vincente does send his regards, and wishes only the best for you. And what he said was, in his last words to you, that this token tells of the health of your husband. But he did not say that either the drachma or the box would tell, nor specifically what they do tell. And it is, in part what I do tell you, and what you make of it, that may determine the course of events as to your husband’s welfare.
“Let me explain, for your role may, indeed, become quite complex. You see, when I was still of this world, I had the task of bringing one lady Judy Morrison across our island, toward the safety of the earl’s castle, where your husband had previously been brought. It was at that time that the earl was very ill, and was made so by one of our councilors, as well as a certain Antoine LeGace – now I shall speak more of him in a while. But as to the earl’s illness, your husband did accomplish two things. The first thing that he did was to prove, beyond any doubt, that what he was dying of was attempted murder, and also who was responsible. Next, he provided a means for treatment of the earl, in your time and place. But I should tell you that he did so, giving up his only chance to come back to your world.”
“So, what you’re saying,” said Marilyn, “is that Bob somehow came to your world, but he gave up coming back, to send the earl to us, so that the earl would have a chance to get the treatment he needed.”
“Exactly…” Falma let the import of what he had just told Marilyn sink in.
“Oh, my! That does sound like Bob.” Marilyn just put her head down in her hands and cried. “I think… now I see… the importance of… your earl.”
Falma waited patiently, then as Marilyn began to recover, he spoke again. “Now, you see the significance of that note, which I believe you also have in your possession, and that small appendix which he wrote to you.”
She just nodded in response, and realized, rather suddenly that it was not just the drachma in its small box which told of Bob’s health and well-being. Rather it was that note that had come with the earl which spoke directly to her, and was the one bit of certainty, which she could carry with her as a saintly relic, that told her, no matter what, this was all real and true.
“All right, I do see now. The drachma isn’t the whole story, is it?”
“Nay, m’lady, for the story is rather long, rather complex, and involves many persons.”
“Well, then, here we are, you and me, and I wasn’t going to go to sleep anytime soon. So, as they say, lay it on me…”
Falma smiled, and began, “well enough, my lady. Let me begin by telling of the lady Judy Morrison. As I said, I was sent out into the interior of the island in a winter storm, by one also called Drachma, to bring this woman back safely to the castle, who, though she came to us from a time far down the way from ours, within her hands she carried the ancient healing magic. Our excursion was more than a wee bit of an adventure, but that is a tale worth telling our grandchildren by the fireplace in the evenings. Nevertheless, I, with the help of Drachma’s men, was finally able to bring this lady back to the castle. Now, unbeknownst to your Robert, this lady was instrumental in forestalling the earl’s dire illness long enough for Robert’s own workings, and for his decision to send the earl in his stead back to your time and place.
“As it happened, this lady’s hands and heart carried more than healing, for they did project something of herself onto her closest friends, something that I had seen once before, in a woman who did die before the arrival of your husband and the lady Judy, and who, it turns out, was killed by the same hands that tried to kill the earl. This was the lady Felicia, of whom you have heard from Lord Vincente. Anyway, as someone who has been affected by both of these women, let me just say that neither of them was at all aware of their own power.”
“OK, I’m starting to get a bit nervous,” Marilyn said, “for I get the feeling that things are going to get a bit sticky here.”
“Very perceptive of you, m’lady,” answered Falma, “for indeed, they are. You see, your husband, having given up any hope of returning to his former life, now found himself, if you will, somewhat alone in the world, and there was but one person from his former world close by. This was the lady Judy.”
Marilyn was beginning to see where some of this was leading. She kept her thoughts to herself, though, and let Falma continue.
“Now that you have some of this knowledge, that I must tell you that your husband and the lady Judy did develop something more than friendship, and when I did leave their world, it was apparent that they were to be wed.”
“I’m sorry, but how long ago was that?” Marilyn couldn’t help asking.
“That is not an easy question to answer, but if I were to let you know that it was, in their time, about a year and a half from the time that I first brought Judy to the island until I left their world, would that help?”
Marilyn thought about it. She thought of all that had happened in her own life since Bob’s disappearance. How, in that time she had gotten to know Charlie Stephens, how she had learned of the earl of Shepperton, and how Carol had fit in so neatly into his life, and how their friendship had blossomed into something more. She considered all these things, and, as painful as it was, a gleam of understanding shone through her thoughts.
“It’s hard, but yes, I do understand. I can tell you that it’s not an easy thing to swallow, after fourteen years of marriage. But there have been many changes in all of us…”
“Well, now, m’lady, this brings me to a point where I must ask you – would you be willing to risk your own safety and security here for the chance to save your husband’s life in a land and realm far away?”
“What… of course. But what do mean? Is this what the missing coin is all about?”
“Ah, aye. So you do sense the connection?”
“Do you remember my mentioning the name of Antoine LeGace? Well, then let me tell you of what he has done, and what he intends. But first, I should tell you of some of the things that have been wrought by your husband, the lady Judy, by Melchior, Craycroft, and a number of the island’s youth. Well, by now your husband has created, upon our isle, a center of learning and healing, unlike any in the world. He has broken many of the bonds of ignorance, and within Shepperton, there is now developing a new, but dangerous knowledge of the world around. And this knowledge is also powerful, so powerful that the likes of Antoine LeGace have discovered it, and seek to destroy it. Why? You might ask, but think on it but a few moments. How does one control those around? It should come as no surprise that with just a bit more knowledge than they, that one can control their actions.
“Well, it turns out that Antoine LeGace was the one who murdered our Lady Felicia, and then tried to kill the earl, and though he was not, in the truest sense successful, he did, in fact, succeed in removing the earl from Shepperton. He has also killed our councilor Reordan, and has managed to gain his own house and servants. And now, he has managed to gain the help of the king’s own envoy. And from his small, but effective vantage point, he does plan to spring his own trap, to take over the running of Shepperton Island, to kill Craycroft, your husband, and anyone else “in his way.” For you see, it is only power that he seeks – not the knowledge, but simply the power over people and what they produce.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Falma. But what does this have to do with me, with us, here in the twentieth century? What you’re describing is a situation that we can read about in history books, but are unable to do anything about. And look at me – I’m just a woman. Stuck here, so to speak, and though I would like to help, I just don’t see how.”
“But that is precisely why I am here. I have come to be your guide. Your way shall not be easy, and I cannot tell you of the ultimate outcome. But I will tell you this – you are the only one who can help. And you shall be known to but a very few in Shepperton. For now, know the names of a young girl named Alex, a seafaring prince named Diego, and Tom. But let me say this. Your own bravery shall make its mark in history.
“For now, m’lady, just do what you must, and know that we shall meet again soon.”
With that, the old man got up, made his way to the door, and let himself out into the night. Marilyn just sat in her chair and stared straight ahead. Her thoughts raced, in their own jumbled way.
“Oh, Bob… Bob, what have you done?”