by David McLeod
Being of Light
Jon and Tyler followed the traces of the old road until mid-afternoon. The path ended in a thicket. Jon pushed aside the branches to reveal a wide road, paved with stone blocks. He looked left and right; there was no one in sight. Jon gestured for Tyler to follow, and stepped from the concealment of the thicket onto the road.
"This road is ancient," Jon said. "But it's still being used."
"How can you tell?" Tyler asked.
"What do you see?" Jon countered.
Tyler looked at the road. "These groves; they were worn by wheels; they're cut into this stone, which is granite. Therefore, the road is old. Yet the weeds that grow in the cracks are beaten and worn down in the groves and down the center of the road, but not everywhere. So, there's traffic."
"Yes, that's what I thought," Jon said.
They saw nothing in either direction but meadow and forest. Jon shrugged. "I don't have my uh . . . uh . . . auto club card. Guess we'd better start walking."
Tyler giggled again. This time, his laughter was more genuine. For no particular reason except that it put the afternoon sun behind them, they started walking toward the east.
They had been walking less than an hour when, "Someone's coming," Tyler said.
"Yes, someone on a horse," Jon said. "I heard horseshoes in a trot a minute or so ago." He gestured for Tyler to follow, and stepped toward the left side of the road. They watched a single man on horseback approach.
Jon quickly assimilated what he saw. Leather on his arms. A heavy looking sword! Someone going to a costume party? Not at this time of day, and not on a road like this. The horse is shod in iron, from the sound on the road. This was all he had time to see. The man stopped the horse about ten yards away, and dismounted, dropping the reins to the ground.
"Too tired to run any more, eh?" the man said in a non sequitur that left Jon speechless for a moment. In that time, the man had taken a rope from his saddlebags. He stepped toward Jon and Tyler.
"No trouble, now. There's a bounty for escaped slaves, but only if they're unharmed. Just hold out your hands."
"We're not slaves!" Tyler blurted. The boy went silent at Jon's touch.
"He's correct," Jon said. "We are not slaves, and we mean you no harm. We will pass peaceably."
"Not slaves! Wearing slave garb, you are," the man said. "Slave garb and no badge."
On his vest, Jon thought. I didn't see it before. A sword crossed by a dagger, I believe. "You are a soldier?" he asked, seeking more time in which to think. "I was a soldier."
"Do I look like a soldier?" the man interrupted. "Are you so ignorant you don't recognize . . ." By this time, he had drawn his sword. Sunlight glittered along the edge. "You look like trouble. The boy will bring sufficient reward." He swung the sword at Jon. His intent was obvious. He meant to kill Jon.
That's a real sword, Jon thought. The edge is razor sharp the way it catches the light. I've only one chance. Faster than the thought, Jon stepped toward the man and crouched. The sword swung harmlessly over his head. Jon's right fist drove into the man's solar plexus. Jon then straightened his legs, standing only inches from the man. The man's head snapped forward with the shock of Jon's blow to his midsection. The heel of Jon's left hand met the man's nose. Blood spurted when shards of nasal and ethmoid bone crashed into the forebrain. The man's eyes dimmed; his sword clattered to the road. He fell. His body twitched a few times and then was still.
"He . . . is he dead?" Tyler asked. His voice was trembling.
"Yes," Jon said. "He's dead. I hope the law around here recognizes self-defense."
As Jon spoke, he looked up and down the road. The road was still deserted. But for how long, Jon wondered.
Tyler had been alternately angry, petulant, and sullen since the horseman's death. Jon had thrown the man's body over the saddle before leading the horse and a stunned Tyler into a copse some hundred yards from the road. Tyler had watched Jon remove the man's clothes and weapons and inventory the contents of his saddlebags.
"I don't know what he meant by slave garb, but he seemed to think our scrubs were. Slave garb, that is," Jon said. "Here, this shirt's a little large for you but–"
"It's a jerkin," Tyler said. "Not a shirt."
"A jerkin?" Jon asked.
"Yeah," Tyler said. "Sleeveless, no collar, tight in the waist and flaring at the hips so you can ride a horse."
"Where did you learn that?" Jon asked, hoping to keep interest and civility in the boy's voice.
"Fantasy and role-playing games," Tyler said, naming several games of which Jon had heard.
"Oh, that's excellent!" Jon said.
"Because," Jon said, "I think we've found ourselves in the middle of one–a real one. That sword? It's no replica; it's real, and he meant to use it. Look hard at the jerkin, and tell me what you see."
Tyler turned his head and looked at Jon. Subconsciously he recognized Jon's teaching voice. He took the jerkin from Jon's hand, and examined it closely.
"Stitches are large and irregular; it was sewn by hand. The cloth is wool, roughly woven. It's what they used to call shoddy–wool made from re-processed rags. The buttons are horn, and carved by hand. This is not the product of an industrial civilization." Tyler looked at Jon.
"Excellent," Jon said and smiled at Tyler. Tyler blushed at Jon's praise. "If we were on Earth, what century might we be in?"
Tyler started, and then thought hard. Jon never asks unless I can find the answer, he thought. The sword.
Tyler pulled the sword from its leather sheath and looked closely at it. Now, the saddle, Tyler thought. Stirrups were brought to Europe perhaps in 700 C.E, but probably weren't in general use until 800 or 900 C. E. The Carolingians–even before Charlemagne–wore them in about 900 C.E. Let's see, Jon has spread his stuff on the blanket. Tyler examined the odds and ends–all that was left of their attacker's life.
"I'm going to guess around 1000 or 1100 C.E.," Tyler said. "I don't think everything would correspond, but the stirrups, the quality of the saddle, and the lack of any written material suggests that."
"That's very good. You saw more than I did. More from your role-playing games?"
Tyler blushed again. "Yeah. The guy who ran the games insisted on no anachronisms, and he made us tell him in detail what weapons and armor we wanted to buy. I learned more history from him than in school." The boy paused. "There's something else, though."
"What's that?" Jon asked.
"His sword," Tyler said, "and his horse. The sword's first rate. Excellent steel, and folded when it was forged. See these marks?"
Jon looked where Tyler pointed and nodded. "That's more advanced?" he asked.
"Not so much advanced," Tyler said. "The Japanese were doing it way pre-Common Era. But it is hard, and takes a lot of time. The sword's probably very expensive. And his horse, too. He dropped the reins and the animal stood fast until you led him away. That means the horse was well-trained, and probably expensive."
"I noticed that, too, but had dismissed it," Jon said. "Glad you caught it."
Tyler blushed, again.
"What do you think about these coins?" Jon asked. He gave Tyler several coins from the dead man's purse.
Tyler's eyes widened. "These are gold! I mean, are they really gold?"
"I think so," Jon said. "They're dense. And see, the edges are milled."
"That's pretty sophisticated," Tyler said. "The earliest coins on Earth were just chunks of electrum. Even the pieces of eight of the 16th century weren't milled."
"What about this picture?" Jon asked.
"Oberon and Lucernae Rex." Tyler said. "Oberon was the King of the Fairies in Midsummer Night's Dream. And Rex means king in Latin. I don't know what Lucernae means."
Tyler returned the coin out to Jon, and then added, "He doesn't look like a fairy. He looks more like an ogre."
"Yes," Jon said. "Yes, he does. You are right; Rex is Latin for king, and lucerna is Latin for lamp. Now, look at this one."
Jon handed the boy another coin, this one larger–about the size of a silver dollar–that appeared to be made of silver. "Look at the words. Look very closely."
Tyler squinted. "Henry Fitz Empress, the Generous and Benevolent, Prince of Agium, Hero of the Battle of Eddings Field, Son of Robert the Stern and Matilda . . . One Shilling. This guy thinks a lot of himself–" Tyler's brow furrowed. He looked up at Jon, and then down at the coin again. He gasped. "It's not English. They're roman letters, but it's not English. But I can read it!"
"And speak it," Jon said. "Whatever it is, we're speaking it."
"Okay, the letters are roman–we know them–it's just a b c d e eth f g h i–" Tyler gasped. "Eth?" He continued more slowly, "a b c d e eth f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z. The alphabet's the same…except what's an eth and why do I know it! And why is there Latin but not English. I still know what it is–and why can we speak a whole new language?" The boy choked out the last few words through tears.
Jon dropped the coins onto the blanket and reached out to hold Tyler. "Shhh, shhh," he said. "It's all ri–" Jon stopped, and then continued. "It's most decidedly not all right, but we are together. Come on, Tyler, I need you. I need you to be strong."
Tyler's sobs grew more infrequent. He looked up. "I'm . . . I guess I'm okay, now. Uh, do you really need me?"
"Yes, Tyler," Jon said very seriously. "I need your strength, your companionship, your knowledge. Wherever we are, and whatever brought us here, and changed our bodies and took away our language–our English, anyway–but left Latin. Whatever that was and why-ever it is–we've got a lot to work through. I want that to be together."
This time, Tyler reached out and hugged Jon.
"So, whatever it was that brought us here also changed us? Is that what you mean?" Tyler asked.
"It's the simplest explanation, and it fits all the facts," Jon replied. "It's possible that one thing or one person is responsible for our being here, and another for teaching us a new language, and another for the physical changes we see. However, that's unnecessarily complicated." I hope that there's only one answer to this mystery, Jon thought. It might make it a lot easier to solve.
"The language, the changes, that's not all that's bothering you," Jon said. "Will you tell me?"
Tyler hesitated, and then looked hard at Jon. "How did you kill him?" Tyler asked. "I never saw anyone move so fast."
"Ranger training," Jon replied. "The Army wanted a doctor, not just a medic, embedded in some of the Ranger units. I wanted to be a surgeon. We came to an agreement."
"But you killed him . . ." Tyler's voice drifted off.
"I'm sorry I had to kill him," Jon said. "But I saw no alternative. He'd rejected reason, and there's no doubt that he meant to kill me and make you a slave."
Tyler looked at his feet. "I'm sorry, Jon. I'm so–" The boy's voice broke and he felt Jon's arms around him again.
Tyler had initially shied away from wearing any of the dead man's clothes, most of which were too big for him, in any case. Finally, a bone-colored linen shirt and a pair of woolen trousers cut off at the knees and belted with a piece of rope, replaced Tyler's scrubs. The shirt fell nearly to Tyler's knees. "This looks pretty silly," Tyler grumbled, but acquiesced to Jon's logic.
Tyler had wanted to cut down the scrubs pants for underwear, but Jon vetoed that notion. "It may be the color. We need to abandon these, hide them, even," he said. Again, the boy acquiesced when Jon showed him how to tie a fundoshi from a strip of linen cut from the over-long shirt.
Jon donned a pair of rough, woolen trousers and another shirt. "Going commando in these is going to be tough," he said. Tyler blushed. It was over a year since he and Jon had become sexual partners, but the boy was still shy.
Jon carried the mercenary's body a quarter of a mile farther from the road, and dumped it into a ravine. When he returned, the sun had slipped behind hills to the west. The sky was still light, but it wouldn't be for long. The mercenary's saddlebags held crackers that resembled chunks of stale pita bread, dried fruit, and something like beef jerky. Jon had sniffed the jerky–"Even though a lot of food poisons don't smell," he said–and looked closely at it. "The meat has been dried and smoked. And it has grain in it, too. He was planning to eat it, I'd think. The risk is small."
While they ate in the fading light, Tyler looked at the coins. "These coins have other pictures on them," Tyler said. "And cartouches. It's like there are a lot of different kingdoms, or something."
"I think you're on to something," Jon said. "Coins with the sovereign's picture, and with standardized weight help hold a country or nation together, to provide a common sense of identity. Look at this copper one: it's been hammered, probably to obliterate an earlier inscription, and this–thing–whatever it is, crudely pressed into it. That suggests some impermanency in government, and perhaps many different governments."
"It's a rune," Tyler said, looking at the "thing" Jon had pointed out. "It means grist mill. Oh shit, how did I know that!"
"It's like the language," Jon said, hugging the boy close. He felt Tyler shaking. "Please don't be afraid."
Tyler untied the dead Mercenary's bedroll–a bundle of several wool blankets wrapped in canvas–and sniffed them. "They don't smell too bad," he said, although the tone of his voice suggested otherwise.
"Let me try something," Jon said, taking one of the blankets to the pool below a spring that bubbled from one corner of the copse. He wet a corner and squeezed out the water. Standing, he snapped the blanket. "The corner's dry, and a lot cleaner, I'd think," he said before washing and drying all the blankets.
"I wish I knew how you did that," Tyler said, "and why I can't."
"If we were in one of your role-playing games," Jon said, "what would be the answer?"
Tyler thought for a moment. "You know, one thing is common in just about every game: characters have different abilities. I mean, it may be strength, agility, charisma, intelligence, offensive or defensive weapons skills, vision. Each game has its own list but the core abilities are usually the same. I guess it means that you have a plus-15 clothes drying talent." Tyler giggled at his own joke.
Jon, who had spread the blankets on a soft-looking patch of moss near an old oak tree, looked at Tyler in the dim light. "I have another talent that you once rated excellent," he said.
Tyler blushed, thinking of the first time he and Jon had sex. "Do you?"
"Do I want to have sex with you?" Jon asked. "You bet."
It had taken several weeks, but Jon kept insisting. Finally, Tyler had been able to keep his eyes open during sex. "It's not something that I'm ashamed of," Jon had said. "It's not something to hide in the darkness." That had been another obstacle to overcome: Tyler wanted the lights off. Jon, however, would not permit it.
Tonight, in the dim light just before total darkness, Tyler kept his eyes wide open while he slowly and deliberately brought Jon to orgasm. Tyler nearly lost his composure when Jon climaxed, for Jon's body glowed with a golden light that flowed from him into Tyler.
When Tyler caught his breath, he whispered to Jon, "Jon, do you remember those Japanese cartoon books I used to read?"
"Um, hmm," Jon replied. His voice was muffled because his mouth was already busy on Tyler's neck.
"Do you remember the Being of Light? The one who appeared when people were in trouble, and rescued them? Um, before we had sex the first time, I, uh, I used to masturbate thinking about you. I used to pretend that you were a Being of Light, because you rescued me."
Jon stopped kissing Tyler's neck. "Uh, huh."
"Well, I was right. You are a Being of Light. When you, um, came, some of your light went from you into me."
"You saw this light?" Jon asked.
"Yeah," Tyler said. "It was warm and golden and I could taste you–not just your semen, I mean–I tasted more than that. I don't know how to explain it.
"Do you think I'm crazy?" Tyler concluded after a moment's thought.
"No, Tyler, I don't. I think you've just found one of your abilities. You're a plus 20 sex partner; now you're a plus 20 seer of life force or whatever. Now, do you want me to continue?"
"Yeah, but nobody is better than plus 15. In anything . . . Oh, g . . . g . . . g . . .!"
Tyler watched. He and Jon were both limned with the golden light. Tyler's breath caught in his throat. Jon touched, stroked, and touched again one special place after another. That was another thing Jon had taught him: to watch his partner's reactions to touching, kissing, stroking, and to memorize what Jon called "G spots."
Tyler gasped, and the light flowed from him into Jon without being diminished.