Back | Next

Chapter 5—On The River Again

Location: Near Asuma’s Tree, Vienna, Austria
Time: 6:45 PM, September 23, 1372

No one noticed the events in Asuma’s pentagram, because they were all distracted by a nobleman who’d accompanied Leopold to the scene. He was a big, tough-looking fellow they’d never seen before.

As the sun was touching the treetops, and moments after Themis disappeared, Leopold’s companion drew his sword and proclaimed, “I challenge you, Roger McLean, for you are peasant born and unworthy to own such a blade.”

“Put your sword away,” Roger said without drawing the sword. “I don’t own this sword, to begin with. It is the Sword of Themis, and no man owns it.”

“Then I claim it as my right,” Leopold’s companion said.

It was obvious to Roger that whoever this arrogant jackass was, Leopold himself had put him up to it. He looked at him and said, “Archduke, this is really not smart. Call him off.”

Leopold said nothing. Still holding his sword, his companion came up to Roger and reached as though to take the sword.

Some small part of Themis’ awareness was always in the sword, and Roger was expecting her simply to refuse to move, as she had dealt with Charles of France.

But Themis had apparently had enough of being claimed by nobles by right of blood. Or, for that matter, being claimed by anyone.

<Kill him!> The words were shouted in Roger’s mind in a voice that was Themis’ and not Themis’, and there was no question at all that this was a command. Almost without his will—and certainly without any sort of thought or consideration—Roger’s hand flashed back over his shoulder, grasped Themis’ hilt, and swung. As always, Themis was as light as a feather in his hands and Roger was strong. The blade moved almost faster than the eye could follow and passed through the nobleman from shoulder to hip.

It wasn’t a fight. Holding his sword or not, Leopold’s companion never stood a chance. It was an execution ordered by a god and carried out by Roger. The man’s upper body fell to one side, his lower to the other. Blood gushed everywhere. So did intestines and . . . other organs.

Roger flicked Themis and more blood spattered the grass. When he returned the sword to his shoulder, it was clean and dry as though it had not cut through a man. And in his mind he asked, “Why?”

<It was not my sister Themis who gave you your command, Roger, but me, Nemesis.>

<Do not rail at my sister.> Themis said. <She would not have acted without my acquiescence.>

Roger was soaked in blood and covered with gore. “You may have given your acquiescence. I didn’t give mine, not to your sister.” Roger was pissed. He had a personal relationship with Themis, like a lot of Christians claim to have with God. In Roger’s case there was no illusion to it. He had owned her for a short, if very intense, time and felt the depth of her mind and soul. It let him trust her in a way that he didn’t trust anyone else, not even himself. That trust was definitely not extended to her sister or the other gods who were her family. That Themis would let her sister use him this way . . . that was a betrayal.

The whole thing had happened so fast he’d never had time to even think about getting himself out of the way, much less refusing. The smell was . . . incredible. Roger had heard of slaughterhouse stench but had never experienced it himself. Luckily, there was a breeze blowing and he was able to step aside and get away from it.

His nerves were steady, though. That had been true when he killed Philip as well. He turned and faced Albert III, who was staring at him in shock. “I am sorry that had to happen, Your Grace. But I warned your brother and his man”—he didn’t bother looking at Leopold—“and in this I was a man under orders. Queen Themis of Themis will not be claimed by mortal man, and any who tries to hold her against her wishes will have their mortality instantly demonstrated.”

Location: Pucorl’s Lands
Time: 11:55 PM, September 23, 1372

Pucorl appeared in his spot of the parking lot at Pucorl’s Garage and the passengers piled out. After the events of the evening, they had left Vienna almost in an armed truce. It was clear and witnessed that the assault was caused by Leopold, but he was still Albert’s brother. And if they would have had difficulties later in life, that didn’t mean that Albert was happy his brother’s man had died. Almost the only thing that kept him from ordering Roger’s arrest was the Sword of Themis, still riding on his shoulder.

“What is it with you, Roger?” Lakshmi asked. “Do you have to get us kicked out of every kingdom we pass through?”

“Not my idea this time. Or, for that matter, the other time either. If I recall correctly, having me run off with Themis after the battle of Paris was Raphico’s idea, and the rest of you agreed.”

“Well, titan or not, your sword needs deportment lessons. Talk first, kill later. That way, if you do it right, you can avoid the killing part.” She sighed. “Never mind. I know it’s not your fault. Maybe it’s not even Themis’ fault. But we have to develop better ways of dealing with these barbarian kings than we have found so far.”

Roger didn’t correct her about which god gave the order. That was an issue between him and Themis. He didn’t blame Nemesis. It was Themis who had lent him to her sister as though he was a possession.

“Oh, I don’t know . . .” Annabelle smirked. “. . . it seems efficient to me. If we can get them to line up, Rog can kill enough of the bastards to make democracy feasible. I never thought I would say it back in the world, but I want politicians.”


Wilber let them talk. Since they were back in the netherworld, Merlin had assumed his winged human form and was carrying Wilber’s computer under his arm. As he was walking toward the Happytime, Wilber saw a cat run over the bridge, then spread its wings and fly. “What the heck?”

A few quick flaps and a glide, and the cat, which was now a cat-sized gryphon, landed on the path ahead of Wilber and said “Hi” in Leona’s voice. And Wilber realized it wasn’t exactly a gryphon. At least, not a standard gryphon. It fell somewhere between a gryphon and a manticore. It still had a cat’s head, but the jaw was more pointed. It had a cat’s ears, but the hair was almost tufts of feathers around the ears. It did have the front claws of a crow, and the back claws of a cat.

“What happened to you, Leona?”

“It turns out that Carlos was on the menu, after all,” Leona said with a very cattish smirk in her meow. Then continued. “I didn’t expect the wings or the talons. But I am not displeased.”

Leona was still a fairly small cat. But for a winged creature, she was huge, about the size of an eagle.

“Anyway, I need you to have a talk with Charles de Long. I ate his crow, but he don’t own me. I’m a cat! Well, sort of.”

Wilber shook his head. “We’ll think of something.”


Bertrand du Guesclin came to visit Roger that evening. By then, there wasn’t anything left in Roger’s stomach. His nerves had held steady until they were out of any danger, but then the reaction had finally hit. He’d spent several minutes on his hands and knees vomiting. Fortunately, he’d been able to get out on an empty patch of land before doing so.

The former Constable of France sat next to him and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You’ve never killed anyone up close like that, I believe.”

Roger shook his head. “Dammit, Bertrand, I come from a civilized world, meaning no offense. I’d never killed anyone until I came here. The zombies on the wall don’t count. That was combat and they were already dead.”

The truth was that Roger wasn’t sure that everyone he killed on the walls of Paris was already dead. The living were mixed into that zombie army.

“I think the first, and until now the last, person I killed was Philip and I was never within thirty feet of the man, even when I called the sword.” Roger shook his head. “A couple of high school fist fights, that was it. And shooting Philip wasn’t . . .” He shook his head again.

“Not the same thing as hacking a man in pieces and being covered by his blood and guts. Yes, I know. I will never forget my first battlefield. Believe me, I wasn’t the only survivor puking afterward. If it makes you feel any better, you will get used to it as time passes—although you never will completely, unless you are a madman.”

Roger wiped his face with a hand. “Boy, does that make me not feel good.”

Bertrand patted his shoulder again. “You said it yourself. You are no longer in a civilized world. And I didn’t take offense at that because I agree with you. Ours is a barbarous world.”

He rose to his feet. “I predict you will do well here. Tiphaine’s done your horoscope and predicts the same.”

Location: Joe Kraken, Near the Black Sea End of the Bosporus
Time: 2:15 PM, September 27, 1372

Pucorl sat on Joe Kraken’s deck as the rain poured over him. Pucorl was a van, so rain didn’t bother him all that much. He ran his wipers and had the heat going on low, so Annabelle was comfortable. She and Jennifer were working on a new crystal set. Jennifer had the theory, but Annabelle had talented hands. This model was going to have speakers, earphones, eyes, and a screen. It wouldn’t be a real screen. It would be a flat piece of wood painted with a chemical mix that was similar to that used on Joe Kraken’s hull. Because of his chephlopodish origins, Joe Kraken knew about skin that could change color in a heartbeat and they were trying for the same thing in this crystal set. They were also waiting for the scouts to get back.


Wilber, sitting in Joe Kraken’s cabin with Merlin on the table in front of him and Leona curled up on the cat stand, looking over his shoulder at the screen, was working on the incantation that would help adapt a demon to the crystal set phone.

When he wasn’t being interrupted by Leona’s comments or the requests for translation from animals with the scouting party.

“Meow,” Leona said, asking if he really wanted that diphthong there. Leona didn’t know anything about magic, but the fact that she was magical now, combined with the fact that she was a cat, convinced her that she must know more about magic than Wilber did.

Then a horse started complaining about the rain.

Wilber sighed.

Location: North Shore of the Bosporus
Time: 2:17 PM, September 27, 1372

The rain dripped off Roger’s helmet and down the back of his neck. His horse nickered at him in what Roger was sure was a complaint.

His phone, Clausewitz, added, “Wilber says Beau would like you to turn off the rain.”

Having someone who could talk to animals was often a convenience. However, having your horse know that it can complain and be understood was not always a boon. Like now. “Have Wilber tell Beau, for the fourteenth time, that I don’t control the weather.”

The phone neighed as they rode slowly into the village. No one heard, thank goodness. Because of the rain, no one was outside.

Bertrand guided his horse to the little stable on the north side of the mud patch that seemed to think it was a road through the village. As near as he understood, had this been the netherworld, the mud patch would truly have thought that it was a road.

There were two mules in the stable, but no horses. There was also only room for about a half-dozen horses and there were twenty in their party. There was a fenced-in paddock where most of the horses would have to reside.

What there wasn’t, was anyone in the stable area. Across the mud was another building that might be a small tavern. Or maybe an over-large hut for a relatively well off villager.

Bertrand pointed. “Father Dalpozzo, would you mind riding over there and seeing if that’s an inn? And, in any case, where the stable keeper might be found.”

They waited. A few minutes later, the priest waved for them to come over, and a moment after that, an old man and a boy came out of the door. While Roger dismounted, the two locals made their way to the stables, shouting in the worst accented Greek that Roger had ever failed to understand.

Clausewitz translated. “Hey you, what are you doing putting your horses in my paddock without my permission?”

“Bargaining,” the phone added in Wilber’s voice. “He isn’t really upset at all.”

“Shut up, Wilber,” Roger said. “At least until we have the lay of the land.”


In the tavern several minutes later, Roger wrung out his cloak before hanging it on a peg. The inn was smoky and stank, but it was dry and it was also full, mostly of fishermen. Waiting for the rain to end so that they could take their small skiffs out into the Bosporus, Roger guessed.

The party sat around three large wooden bench style tables and ordered a meal with the local sour wine. Then they asked for the news from Constantinople.

The barmaid, who looked about forty—and Roger figured was the tavern keeper’s wife—proceeded to look them over, then started talking. Roger couldn’t understand a word, but he got a report later. She first asked, “Are you the wizards from France?” Then without waiting for an answer, she went on. “Magic is illegal in Constantinople.”

Father Dalpozzo asked, “But not here?”

“It’s illegal here too, but we don’t care much. Certainly not enough to fight armed men over it.”

At that point, Father Dalpozzo had Roger pull Clausewitz out, and from then on Wilber—safe and dry in Joe Kracken’s cabin—provided a running translation.

They talked over magic with the locals. The local priest was Greek Orthodox and while still doing services to God had set up an altar next door to Poseidon, and was offering prayers to the Greek god of the sea for the protection of the local fisher folk.

Father Dalpozzo wasn’t pleased with that, but Father Grigoris didn’t much care what some Catholic thought. He had a village full of people to look after.

Over the evening, they learned that though the political powers tried to outlaw magic, and especially heresy, the old gods were being prayed to again, in a way that they probably hadn’t been even when they were the only gods available. For one thing, prayers to Poseidon were occasionally answered.

While that was going on, Roger was aware that he was in that part of the natural world that correlated to Themis’ lands, or at least close to it. He could feel it. Roger wasn’t exactly anxious to give up the sword, but he felt he should. For one thing, the netherworld was affected by the natural world, and having the physical sword in her part of the netherworld would give Themis back that part of herself that was perforce left in the sword when he released her from it.

Themis had never said anything about it, but Roger felt like he was holding the sword under false pretences.

And there was one other thing.

The Sword of Themis was, in a way, like Excalibur of legend. It could act as the sword of state for the Byzantine Empire. And that would give Themis a say in who was to be emperor of the Byzantine Empire.

The histories in their little collection were limited in regard to royal families in Constantinople, merely recording that the Byzantine Empire was to fall to the caliphate in a few years. But Themis was a god, one who remembered history, and not only the past history, but history into the future. Even many histories, probabilities, as Pucorl called them. It struck Roger as important that Themis have a say in who sat on the throne of the Byzantine Empire.

Others might be going to Constantinople for other reasons. But that was Roger’s reason.

After a lot of discussion, they decided that they would move a bit closer to Constantinople, then send a small party into the city to find out the situation and see if they could get some sort of prior agreement before bringing Pucorl and Joe Kraken, not to mention the other enchanted boats, into the city.

Location: Village on the North Coast of the Bosporus
Time: 10:15 AM, September 29, 1372

The sun was bright and shiny as Joe Kraken pulled up to the beach at the village and extended his ramp. Pucorl drove down, and then up into a field to the north of the village. He would be staying here, along with most of the party, while Bertrand, Monsignor Savona, Father Dalpozzo, Dr. Delaflote and some of the armsmen went into Constantinople. Jennifer was a bit upset about being left behind, but stopped arguing when Tiphaine told her some horror stories about women alone in this time.

But they wouldn’t lack for occupation. The village was fairly prosperous for a village in the Byzantine Empire of 1372, but that meant that they usually—but not always—had enough to eat. There were a lot of fallow fields here because of the loss of the population over the last half century or so. Besides, they were anxious to exploit the oceanids, the ship fairies of legend. They were, variously, the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, or the spirits of the sea or boats. And while Oceanus was no longer lord of the sea, his daughters were still running around in the netherworld, performing all sorts of functions, including the protection of boats and ships on the ocean or any other body of water.

At least that’s what the local legends and mythos said. Half-believed stories told around the fire. But since the ripping of the veil, these nymphs had often been seen cavorting in the waves. The villagers wished to capture these creatures and put them in their boats to help protect the fishermen and insure a good catch.

After listening to all this, Tiphaine shook her head. “It is most unwise to try to enslave the creatures of fairie. It is better to offer them a home in exchange for service.”

“And considering their father might well be a titan of old,” Wilber added, “it’s doubly unwise. I have met a titan. They aren’t the sort of folk you want to piss off.” He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Igor, can you contact Themis directly for us?” He turned to Father Grigoris and explained. “Themis’ lands are around here, where ancient Thrace and Greece were, so I am wondering if Igor can reach her directly without going through Pucorl to his lands and to the pentagram that connects his lands with her lands in the netherworld.”

Igor tried, and did make contact of a sort, but it was patchy. He only got one bar. So he went through the network, and got put off on one of Themis’ assistants, Iris, who they had kidnapped, then released, during the Pretendership War in France last year.

Iris didn’t hold a grudge. Not exactly. But neither did that noble lady of the netherworld think that the twenty-firsters—aside from Roger McLain—were of such a rank to disturb her mistress.

“What do you want to know?” she asked.

“We were wondering about the sea nymphs and boat nymphs,” Wilber said. “What sort of container they might find acceptable.”

“You should speak with Oceanus or Poseidon. Not bother Her Majesty with such questions. As well, you will want the owner’s permission.”

“Well, can you connect us with Oceanus?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would Oceanus consent to speak to you? I will contact one of the oceanids. Maybe she will consent to help you.” At which point Wilber was put on hold.

The ancient Greek muzak coming out of his phone made Wilber shake his head and laugh. “Iris isn’t a fan.”

“Well, she should be,” Tiphaine said. “If it weren’t for us she might well have been locked into a decaying body.”

That got her asked to tell the story, and she did until the oceanid Korálli came on the line. She spoke a language that was more akin to the speech of dolphins than anything a human might know. Her language was made up in part of sonar images or perhaps sonar descriptions, combining echolocation with squeaks and whistles which allowed her to communicate the shape and compositions of undersea features, including fish, with a clarity that human language couldn’t hope to emulate. Wilber quickly became so engrossed in his conversation with her that he utterly ignored the staring villagers.

Lakshmi said, “Wilber, you’re being rude.”

“Oh, sorry. But I am learning things. There are things you will need to do to your boats, additions that you will need to make. Aside from the eyes, you will want to make sonar clickers and microphones. So that the oceanids won’t be left half-blind from human ignorance.”

At the blank looks, Wilber explained sonar in Greek. It was a new concept to the villagers.

“Do fish truly see that way?” asked Katos, the village headman/master fisherman.

“Not all fish. Dolphins, killer whales, and whales in general, use echolocation. Sharks, aside from eyesight, also use electromagnetism to locate prey and avoid threats. Squid have several means of communication, including their camouflage ability.” Some of this was from Wilber’s twenty-first century, but more was from Joe Kraken and the conversation he’d had with Korálli.

There was more conversation, and eventually a design of modifications was worked out.


Leona sat on the branch and meowed at the local tom, a big, strapping fellow that she would have found quite interesting a few months ago. But he didn’t have wings and Leona wasn’t in the mood anyway. So she chatted from a safe altitude, confident that she could fly away if the need arose.

He wasn’t convinced that she was truly a cat, even if she did speak cat. And in any case, he wanted her to know that this was his hunting ground, not hers.

Back | Next