An Unknown Date, 1306
Several days passed in the same manner. Kit lost all track of time, though he quite suspected that it had been three nights or more that he had spent in the sorceress's company. He found that he could not remain angry with her, even though he sensed that she was not being honest with him when it came to the subject of Leveque.
Though Semirami was more inclined to play hostess than teacher, she had given Kit a tremendous gift – at least from his perspective. Such "pittances" obviously met nothing to her, the sorceress had seen fit to instruct Kit in what she called "rudimentary" magic. She spoke at length about some of the other sorts of wizards he was liable to encounter and explained to him that the "Ways" that Leveque had rambled on about were secret, invisible paths formed of magical energy that wizards could travel upon. Semirami described to Kit some of the kinds of faeries and other immortal creatures that lived in the world... and taught him, not only how to make himself invisible, but how to catch the attention of a Jinn if he needed to travel with haste – and how to tell if an item was magical or not.
Kit might have found himself tempted to accept the sorceress's offer to continue as her traveling companion... if the absence of the ravens who'd fought so valiantly on his behalf did not fill him with a sense of impending danger. Semirami had knowledge that Kit did not possess – but there was a palatable darkness that surrounded her, and Kit did not doubt that she intended to kill Leveque if he did not peacefully return the box that she claimed he had stolen.
While he had no reason to trust Leveque either, considering how the man had introduced him to magic and then blazed away without a backwards glance, Kit still felt that he had to speak with him. He was certain that Leveque had known how inevitable it was that he would choose the path of a wizard – and yet he'd left him behind all the same, knowing, probably – that the Order of Neptune would attempt to kill him at soonest opportunity.
Had Leveque left him to the wolves on purpose?
Or... well, if the Bréanainn Faol themselves were wolves – had Leveque left him to the wolf-hunters, knowing that many people Kit had never met already desired his head on a pike, apparently for the sins of his absent, "faerie" father.
That did not sit well with Kit at all.
As they neared Beverly, Semirami decided that she wanted to spend the night in "a quaint little rustic inn" instead of her palatial magical tent. While her faceless servitors were busy ferrying her belongings from her carriage into the room where she intended to spend the night, the sorceress walked with Kit outside in the snow. She seemed fascinated with the cold and her eyes lit up when snowflakes began to fall, just a child's would upon beholding Christmas dinner.
For the first time since he'd met Semirami, Kit noticed a raven perched in a tree. The bird watched him but seemed to be trying very hard to keep out of sight. When Semirami saw it, it flew away with a sudden caw. Kit watched the raven fly away. Old Meg had said that the ravens were his friends. If they were, and they feared Semirami like they seemed to – then what was she? He glanced at his traveling companion.
The sorceress was dressed no less ostentatiously than she had been on the day that he had met her, in her usual colors of red and gold. She looked like a queen and she was powerful beyond all reason. That alone made Kit suspicious of her. He also disliked how his tongue had escaped him after drinking her qahwa. Though he had no secrets left to reveal, he suspected that he'd learned an important lesson about any other wizards he was liable to run into.
Obviously, none of them could be trusted. And despite the little bag of Roman coins that had been left to him by his absent parents – if Kit had learned one thing about wizards... it was that their currency was secrets, not gold or silver.
"There is something I think you should know. My jinn have brought me a message." Semirami announced suddenly. "The authorities have caught Leveque. Word has it that he'll be put on trial and then executed."
"Executed?" Kit gasped. "Why?"
"Boy, think about your question." The sorceress advised.
Kit's spirits sank as he looked up and saw that they had come to a crossroads. Above his head was suspended a rotting corpse in the iron cage with the unmistakable sign chained round his neck.
Kit stared for a long time at the corpse and then slowly turned back to Semirami.
The sorceress had vanished without a trace.
He looked around for her frantically and then realized that it was ridiculous of him to assume that he had any way of finding the woman who'd taught him about invisibility if she did not wish to be found. He should have known better when Semirami had suggested that they stay at "the quaint little inn" instead of in her fabulous magical tent.
Sighing heavily, Kit glanced west at the setting sun and then trudged slowly over to the door of the inn. When he reached the place where they had planned to spend the night, he was not entirely surprised to discover that no one remembered any guests at all, let alone a queen in red and gold with an entourage of masked soldiers. Apparently, Semirami had no further use for him. That did not sit well with Kit at all.A great deal closer to Beverly, but with more questions than he had answers for, Kit took his time washing his face and having his breakfast before departing the inn the following morning. He was in a hurry to find Leveque. Thanks to Semirami, he had two more spells at his disposal but neither of them would make him a match for someone like Prospero – which meant that he needed to reach Beverly sooner than he was expected. Regardless of whether she was his friend or his foe, Semirami had given Kit exactly what he needed to have a slight advantage. The Order of Neptune would certainly expect the magic of the Bréanainn Faol... but there was a good chance that they would not be prepared for Arabic sorcery. Though Kit didn't think he could trust Semirami, her distaste for The Order of Neptune had been fairly obvious and not at all feigned. Kit had discovered that every time he mentioned Prospero she wrinkled her nose and gritted her teeth slightly. Leaving the inn through the back door, he whispered the word Janna. Once invisible, he hid himself between two trees and waited. When a knight on horseback came thundering over the crest of the hill, Kit felt for the wind and uttered the other words that he'd learned from Shammuramat. It had taken him a tremendous amount of silent practice to feel comfortable invoking them, as awkward-sounding as they were. "Ta'ala ma'ee khayl khalîfa!" He called out. The wind spirit following in the wake of the horse rushed up all around him and for a moment Kit heard laughter – he suspected it was the jinn. Though the wind spirit did not speak nor show itself, it lifted Kit from his feet and began to move him at the pace of the galloping horse. He flailed and floundered at first, shocked by the sensation of flying through the air and almost lost his staff in the process. The spell he had worked to conceal himself held fast as long as he clung to it, and so he focused on the word Janna with all his strength. All of the travelers who saw the knight galloping past bowed their heads and cleared the road respectfully, none of them even blinking at the flying, nearly invisible boy that kept pace with his warhorse. When the knight finally slowed his mount and the jinn who'd been creating the wind in his wake departed, Kit fell to the ground. Though the impact hurt, he sighed in relief. He darted into the trees where he was certain that no one could see him and spoke the words laa Janna as he'd been instructed to revoke his invisibility. As taxing as the magic was, he suspected that it might be a dangerous thing to overuse. Then he felt his heart seize in his chest and he belatedly wished that he had waited longer before ending his spell. Ahead of him, already within sight... were two more caged corpses that the ravens were picking clean, both with the word "wizard" ominously printed on the signs round their necks. And just beyond those grim warnings... was Beverly.
An Unknown Date, 1306Before anyone might catch sight of him, Kit hid himself behind a tree stump. He took off his cloak and rolled up his wolf skin, stuffing it down the back of his shirt. Though doing so made him look somewhat hunchbacked and the sudden cold made him shiver, the corpses outside of the city gates made it very clear to Kit that he couldn't enter the town looking as he did. Tearing a narrow strip of cloth from each of his sleeves, he wound them tightly around his staff, trying to conceal the black words that now coiled around the staff, written in two distinct, impossibly beautiful styles of handwriting. The Bréanainn Faol magic that he had learned was almost legible to him – in letters that he recognized at any rate. Shammuramat's strange invocations were in a script he knew that he shouldn't be able to read, but he was able to identify them all the same. The smell of sweet burning wood, almost like incense also emanated from the staff. How much magic could he work before he risked burning it into a cinder? It seemed like a very important question. Putting his hood up and keeping his eyes low, Kit emerged from the forest for the second time and slowly walked through the gates of the city. There were many people on the streets despite the weather and Kit did not look as out-of-place amongst all of the pilgrims as he had feared that he might. Eager to escape the cold, he found a public house that looked reasonably priced and darted inside just as a pair of soldiers turned the corner, clearly on patrol. A very loud, familiar laugh sent a chill racing down his spine and Kit froze where he stood in the doorway of the public house. Sitting at a table with Jack and his three companions that Kit had camped with was the one person from Sir Aleyn's lands that Kit had hoped desperately that he would never see again. Though he could not comprehend how anyone had made it so far before him – Robin was in Beverly! With the soldiers still patrolling the streets and Robin in the middle of the room, Kit clung to the shadows, watching his former tormentor intently. If he hadn't been so terribly afraid of winding up in a cage with a sign around his own neck, he might have gladly confessed the whole of what had happened to him. Kit smiled slightly as he considered how Robin would react to learn that he could turn himself invisible, change his shape, invoke light and fire and summon up the spirits of the wind – despite the fact that he'd only "come into his own" as a wizard little more than a week ago. "Ahah!" Robin's voice exclaimed. Apparently Kit was not hiding as well as he'd hoped. "There you are, you wretched little cockroach!" Kit gasped as Robin shoved him roughly into the wall. He dropped his staff and cursed as Robin tore off his cloak. "Thought you could run away, did you? Chasing after that stupid wizard and his stupid damned box! And right before the first frost! Do you have any idea how much work I had to do because you couldn't be found?" He snarled. "Stupid selfish whelp! Nell should have left you for the wolves!" "I'm sure it was horrible!" Kit gritted his teeth. "One whole week of having to do what the rest of us do every day?" He snapped, trying to worm his way free of Robin's grasp. "One whole week?" Robin spat. "It's past Christmas, you fool! The harvest wasn't even finished when you disappeared! You're a slippery one, I'll give you that. If that Venetian hadn't told me where to find you..."
"Venetian?" Kit echoed.
"The one you robbed?" Robin sneered.
"I didn't rob anybody!" Kit protested, grimacing as Robin again hit him on the back of the head and pressed his nose into the wall. The rough wood drew a slight amount of blood from his lip and he grimaced.
That was when he noticed an odd pattern of frost on the window out of the corner of his eye. There were two faeries of the Winter Heralds sitting on the sill, gesturing frantically in the direction of the stairs. A heavy, even tread caught Kit's attention – and nearly everyone else's as a very tall, elegant nobleman dressed entirely in black made his entrance. He surveyed the gathered patrons with disinterest and then his eyes slowly came to rest on Robin and Kit.
Fear caused Kit's heart to skip a beat as he saw the man's eyes, a cold, icy blue color – almost as chilling as the peculiar sapphire amulet he wore around his neck, etched with the same telltale symbol that Kit had seen on the imps that the ravens had slain. He could sense the magic radiating from the stranger and did not doubt for a moment who Robin's mysterious source of information had to be.
"The Venetian" was surely Giovanni Prospero, the head of The Order of Neptune.
Ignoring the exclamations of shock from everyone in the room, the nobleman reached into thin air and produced a gnarled black staff. He brushed Robin aside and turned Kit roughly to face him, pointing his wicked-looking weapon directly in Kit's face. Kit stared in horror.
"Unhand that boy!" Jack interrupted, rising from his seat. The boy with the prayer book had also stood with his hands on his hips, looking very annoyed.
"Stay out of this, peasant!" Prospero sneered. "This is none of your business!"
"None of our business?" The red-headed older woman demanded. Though when Kit had first met them, the two women had scarcely spoken a word, leaving all the conversation to Jack and the boy they traveled with... there was a strange new fire in their eyes then, as if they had all been playing the part of demure ladies when in reality they were as rough and reckless as any young boy might aspire to be. Kit reached out for his staff with his foot and almost cursed aloud as Prospero stamped down on his foot.
Robin stared in confusion at the staff on the floor and then at the four pilgrims who he'd been drinking with only a moment before. All of them were on their feet.
"I must confess, I am really going to enjoy this!" Prospero hissed, pushing Kit's chin with his staff. Kit gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, certain that he was about to be killed and helpless to do anything about it. He considered invoking fire to defend himself, but he could barely breathe with Prospero's staff pressed against his throat and doubted that any magic he could manage would stand a chance against someone so powerful who had obviously been expecting him.
That was when the Prospero's clothing did catch fire. He cursed and whirled around, firing a burst of lightning from his staff with an incoherent word. Jack dodged the spell with a slight sidestep and produced a staff of his own from under the table. It was covered in black letters and very little of the original wood was still visible at all. His appearance shifted slightly and the color bled out of his clothing, the musty reddish cloak he wore suddenly taking the appearance of a silvery wolf pelt.
Kit stared in disbelief at Leveque, and then at the three other Bréanainn Faol who stood with him, all revealed in that instant, despite the fact that two dead wizards were currently hanging outside the gates of Beverly. He grinned very broadly despite himself and seized his own staff in Prospero's moment of distraction.
"You mess with one wolf, you mess with the whole pack!" The youngest girl proclaimed, producing a staff of her own.
"Leveque!" Prospero sneered. "I should have known!"
"Stop what you are doing at once, all of you!" A voice ordered.
Kit turned and blinked in surprise as he realized that in the midst of the turmoil the wizard's unmasking had caused... someone had actually slipped out undetected and fetched the soldiers that were patrolling the streets. A dozen of them stood in the doorway, their weapons at the ready. And though Kit did not doubt that any of theBréanainn Faol were more than a match for the soldiers... that did not change the fact that there were a large number of people in what was beginning to seem like a very small and dangerous space.
"Run, Remus! We'll catch up with you!" Leveque shouted.
Kit did not need any further coaxing. His eyes met Prospero's again for the briefest of moments and he took off as fast as his legs would carry him, as if he'd been set on fire himself. With the front door of the public house blocked by soldiers and the back door covered by Prospero, Kit lept up on the nearest table and went in the only direction he could – up the stairs. As the confusion mounted and all of the tavern's patrons began to panic, he let the chaos cover his escape, trying every door at the top of the stairs for one that might be unlocked. If he could find a window to escape out of, he could call up a jinn. It didn't matter who saw him work magic anymore. Obviously, Beverly was a hotbed of wizards and it helped that all of them had very publically displayed their powers to the local militia. Surely Prospero would make a more interesting target than Kit.
Opening the first unlocked door that he came across, Kit darted into the room, hearing the sound of footsteps and the heavy clanging of men in armor drawing closer to him. He searched the room quickly with his eyes and then caught sight of a large, familiar-looking shape covered with a white sheet.
It was Leveque's box!
With nowhere else to hide, Kit tore off the sheet and leapt inside the box without considering that it ought to have been locked. Belatedly, he realized that it was a very obvious place to hide and that he would be detected in a heartbeat, especially since he had no idea how to activate the box's disappearing powers. He closed his eyes and prayed with all of his strength.
The lid of the box creaked slightly and opened. Still nervous, Kit slowly opened one eye. A girl stared down at him in disbelief. She was probably around twenty years old with a mane of black curls and her clothing was all mismatched... some of it very fine but poorly repaired and of an unusual style. She wore several strands of pearls around her neck and large gold earrings. A dagger worn comfortably on her hip also suggested that she was probably more dangerous than she seemed. Kit's first thought was to call her a gypsy.
Kit sat up immediately and blinked in disbelief at the trees that surrounded him. From the looks of things – it was midsummer and he was a long way from Beverly. The sun was beginning to go down and the trees looked like nothing he'd ever seen before.
"Where am I?" Kit wondered incredulously.
"Padre nostro, che sei nei cieli, sia santificato il tuo nome..." The Gypsy girl took several steps back, making the sign of the cross repeatedly.
"I'm not going to hurt you!" Kit protested. Without considering how the girl would surely react to what he was about to do, he reached out and took her hand. Before she could pull away, he spoke the word Caint without considering whether such magic would work on a human as it worked on animals. "Can you understand me now?"
"You're Venetian?" The girl blinked in surprise.
Venice! A world away, shock he felt must have registered on his face as he remembered what his mother had said about having to go to London and perhaps even further.
"Where am I?" Kit pressed, ignoring what the girl had said. It sounded like clear English to him, but it was obvious that the magic he'd worked was allowing him to speak in her native language and not the other way around. From the way she'd reacted to his appearance, he doubted that she was working for Prospero – and there were lots of people in Venice, probably not all of them evil wizards.
"You don't know?" The girl pressed.
"I was locked in a box." Kit informed her.
"Um..." The girl hesitated. Without explaining, she pointed just behind Kit and he turned slowly, staring in horror at the gravestone. Though he hadn't noticed such a thing at first, the Traveling Box had lost its usual luster and in every way most perfectly resembled a rather large coffin. There were several shovels near the spot where he had apparently been dug up and a small pile of somewhat gruesome loot amongst the roots of a nearby tree... including a gold ring with someone's finger bone still stuck inside of it.
"You're robbing graves?" Kit gasped in disbelief.
"Hey! There's no need to be judgmental! You were buried in one, weren't you? Aren't you glad we dug you up?" The girl demanded. "But dios mios, we can't tell Antonio that! He didn't like this idea in the first place and if he finds out I've been sneaking out here and helping myself to, um... stuff... that's no good."
She trailed off into silence. Kit heard the sounds of several men approaching.
"I take it those are your accomplices?" He observed.
"Naturally. A lady like me doesn't do her own digging!" She replied with her hands on her hips. "How long were you in that hole anyway? We've been working here for days and we haven't seen a soul!"
"I..." Kit sighed in defeat. "It's complicated."
"You're going to have to tell me everything. But first I'm going to have to convince my boys not to kill you on sight. They'll be here any minute. What's your name?" The girl pressed.
"Kit." Kit replied.
"Well, Kit... you can call me Bella. Bella Giorno. You and I are old friends starting right now." She bowed dramatically. "And to answer your previous question, we're about two days from Paris. There used to be a Franciscan monastery here, but it burned to the ground more than a century ago."
"Paris?" Kit blinked in disbelief. "We're almost in Paris?"
"Oui." Bella smirked. "Do you speak French?"
"Um... if I need to?" Kit smiled slightly despite himself. Despite the shock of everything that had just happened, he had to admit that he found Bella very difficult not to like.
"Anything in particular that I should know about you while I lie to my associates?" She pressed. "Besides the fact that you're Venetian?"
Kit reached into the box and pulling out his staff. It tingled in his grasp and when he tore the pieces of his shirt sleeve off of it, he saw that there was – not a new word, but a sun-and-moon symbol burned deeply into the wood, identical to the Janus-like face on the outside of the box. He took his wolf pelt out from inside of his shirt and put it back over his shoulders. Although it didn't look quite as nice without his gray cloak under it, it was more comfortable wearing the skin than carrying it hidden inside of his clothing – and if he was in Paris, he was probably a good long way from the witch hunters and anyone else who wanted to kill him. Even if Prospero, Semirami and everyone else was chasing after Scheherazade's Box, none of them seemed able to catch up with the speed that it traveled at.
"Well, I'm not actually Venetian." Kit replied. As Bella's three unsavory looking companions entered into the cemetery, he cupped one hand over his mouth and whispered in her ear. "I'm English. Or Irish, I suppose I should say."
And a little bit Sidhe. He thought silently to himself.
Bella said nothing, but Kit could tell that she was biting her tongue. He smiled slightly despite himself. The words he considered still sounded mad to speak aloud, but they no longer shocked him as they once had.
"Who's this now?" The first of the men demanded, glaring at Bella. Kit stared at him, not sure if he was speaking in English or Italian. He supposed that it didn't really matter – Bella could obviously understand, and by extension – so could he.
"Antonio, this is Kit." Bella replied without missing a beat. " You know, my English friend? The one who showed me how to find this place. Kit... Antonio, Francois and Louis."
Francois, seeming to be the most cordial of the lot reached out for Kit's hand and as they made contact, Kit whispered the word Caint again under his breath. He wasn't sure how far his ability to understand a language extended – and though he'd absorbed Bella's speech easily enough, he did not know how much French she knew.
"I suppose you'll want a cut as well." Antonio remarked dryly.
"I'm not interested in robbing the dead. You can keep your loot and I won't be staying long." Kit replied a little more sharply than he had intended. "I'm on my way to Paris."
"Oh? And what's your business there?" Francois pressed.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine. His name is Leveque." Kit replied, searching the faces of the gathered for some signs of recognition. There didn't seem to be any. Kit sighed in relieve but carefully made sure not to get too loud. If he had learned nothing at all from years of dodging Robin, it was that the safest lies were the ones which were closest to the truth.
The grave robbers glanced to one another doubtfully and then Antonio motioned for Bella to come speak with him in private. They had a loud and animated argument that Kit could make neither head nor tail of, despite the fact that his "Caint" over Bella's native tongue still held. At least he suspected that the two were arguing in Venetian with the way they threw their hands in the air and gestured wildly at one another.
Finally, there seemed to be some sort of truce made. Francois and Louis went back to gravesites they had been digging up and Antonio looked down into the magical box that Kit had apparently been buried inside, seeming disappointed that there was nothing at all inside of it. When the sun began to go down, they traveled some ways down the road from the cemetery and set camp. None of the men spoke to Kit directly, but all three of them watched him.
Bella, continuing with her ruse sat down casually beside him and offered him a piece of stale bread. Hungry as he was, Kit devoured it without complaint. The last food he'd had to eat had been in Semirami's traveling tent and really, he'd no idea how long ago that had been. According to Robin, Christmas had come and gone without his knowledge, and after jumping into the traveling box, it looked like he'd missed the rest of winter as well.
Or had he missed even more than that?
Bella's mismatched clothing had certainly seemed unusual to him, but Kit gathered from the way that the men watched her disdainfully that she made quite an impression on everyone. He'd since learned that she wasn't a gypsy, despite the fact that her manner of dress made her look like one. She professed again that she was Venetian and knew very well how to properly dress herself and fix her hair... but it was silly to waste time with such niceties when one was tramping around in the forest with a cadre of grave-robbers. Kit stared, particularly at Antonio. The clothing that all three of the men wore really caught his attention – the dyes seemed too bright and the fabric too fine. And did every bandit in France wear such impressive boots?
"Where are you from, anyway?" Antonio demanded, watching Kit with a critical eye. "Your clothes are a wreck. You look like you fell right off of some old tapestry."
"I've been traveling for a long while." Kit admitted awkwardly. It seemed like a safe answer.
"Looking for your friend Leveque, eh?" Antonio mused.
"Yes." Kit paused.
"What's this Leveque's profession? His name sounds familiar to me." Antonio mused.
"He's a... an actor." Kit lied.
"Hunh. And I'm the Pope!" Antonio snorted. "We've done you the courtesy of not gutting you for trespassing on our trespassing. My brothers and I have no reason to trust you at all, beyond the word of this black-hearted wench who lies like she wags her tongue – which is to say all of the time!" He jerked his thumb at Bella, who scowled at him. "We're trusting you not to kill us in our sleep and you won't even trust us not to divulge your business?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I did tell you the truth!" Kit snapped.
"Try telling the truth and we'll see if it's worth believing." Antonio retorted.
It occurred to Kit that there was no reason he couldn't convince Antonio that he was telling the truth – except that doing so would involve confessing his own part in the matter, namely, that he was a wizard himself.
Visions of dead men in cages burned in his memory and Kit grimaced.
"All right, Leveque is a thief. And I suspect that some people would also call him a heretic. I haven't known him long, but he does have has a very impressive number of powerful enemies." Kit sighed.
"That's closer to the truth, but there's still a bit more to it. This Leveque? He's dangerous himself?" Antonio observed.
"Extremely." Kit nodded. "Maybe even more dangerous than the people who are after him."
"And he's not the only one you're mixed up with either?" Antonio pressed.
"No. There's a man called Prospero. He's one of those enemies of Leveque's that I was telling you about." Kit admitted.
"Prospero?" Louis turned to Antonio. "Like the sorcerer you played in that great big Shakespeare spectacle? What was the name of it again?"
"Oh! The Tempest! Tres bien!" Francois exclaimed.
"Well, I don't know about any playwright called Shakespeare." Kit admitted.
"You don't know Shakespeare? Aren't you English?" Louis demanded. "Why, to be, or not to be? No?" He raised an eyebrow in Kit's direction and then turned to Antonio. "How does the rest of that one go anyway?"
"I never learned it." Antonio admitted. "But the boy would remember Hamlet, surely, if he ever saw it done. Well then, what of Macbeth – that Scottish play? Francois?
"Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more:
it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing." Francois bowed dramatically. Bella shoved him aside and took center stage over the fire herself.
"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I'll no longer be a Capulet!" Bella recited. "Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers! My favorite." She clarified.
"All right, you harlot. That wasn't half bad – for a woman." Antonio cleared his throat. "And as for Prospero – well, as Francois pointed out, that play is called The Tempest." Antonio stood slowly and cleared his throat.
"These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep."
"I've never heard words like those before. Shakespeare, eh?" Kit smiled slightly.
"Aye, and properly delivered too! As I ought to know! I used to work for the man! The greatest playwright of our age!" Antonio smirked.
"Could you take me to meet him?" Kit wondered hopefully. Though he wasn't in a hurry to tangle with Prospero, he was beginning to suspect that he might be able to learn more about his terrifyingly powerful adversary by chasing down playwrights instead of demons.
"Would if I could. He's dead though. God's bones, when was it he died?" Antonio wondered.
"Sixteen sixteen, it was. I shall never forget." Louis supplied.
Kit stared with his jaw dropped. "Sixteen sixteen?" He echoed incredulously.
"What year is it?"
"Sixteen twenty-four." Bella supplied. "You didn't know?"
Kit stared in disbelief. "Are you wizards?"
"Wizards?" The grave-robbers eyed him suspiciously.
"When I woke up this morning, it was 1306... 1307!" Kit replied, remembering belatedly that it had actually been after the new year, not mid-November. "I'm three hundred years in the future! That's very surprising!"
The grave-robbers glanced at one another and laughed... all except Bella who stared at Kit with an expression of fierce determination on her face, as if she had just begun to understand everything strange that she had witnessed.
"Why would you think that we were wizards?" Louis asked. "Because we know a little poetry, or because we haven't enough fear of God to keep from robbing the dead?"
"I... I don't know." Kit paused for a moment. "How stupid of me. I suppose I thought that you four were traveling, but wasn't you that went anywhere. It was me! Oh, I must sound just like Leveque right now!"
"You honestly expect us to believe that you came here from three hundred years in the past?" Antonio demanded.
"I believe him." Bella replied.
"Bella?" Antonio put his hands on his hips. He spoke her name in a reprimanding tone as if he were preparing for a lecture he'd delivered many times before.
"I lied to you again. I never knew Kit before today. I... I went back to the grave we dug up yesterday when you three were fighting earlier. The blue box. I wanted to see if there was anything worth taking in there and have my pick of it first. But when I opened it - he was inside." Bella finished.
"She dug you out of a grave?" Antonio blinked at Kit in disbelief.
Kit nodded slowly.
"And how did you come to be in that grave?" He pressed.
"I was running from Prospero." Kit explained.
"A fictional character?" Antonio protested.
"Oh no, Prospero is definitely real! And he's a sorcerer, just like in your Shakespeare's play!" Kit argued. "He's very powerful and I'm sure that he hates me for reasons I don't understand. It probably has to do with my father. I honestly don't know what he would have done if Leveque hadn't set his cloak on fire and distracted him long enough for me to escape and get inside the Traveling Box."
"The Traveling Box?" Francois echoed. "You know the stories of Scheherazade?"
"Yes, exactly!" Kit exclaimed. "The blue box that Bella found me in. It's one of Scheherazade's Traveling Boxes! It travels from one place to another and apparently also forwards or backwards in time." Kit explained. "I didn't intend to use it and I honestly don't know how to turn it on or off. I just wanted to get away from Prospero!"
"Someone's addled your brains, boy – and nearly buried you alive!" Antonio rolled his eyes, wagging a disapproving finger at Kit. "Prospero is not real, and there is no such thing as a Traveling Box!"
Kit sighed heavily and picked up his staff. He considered working some magic to terrify the men out of their wits and then decided against it, staring at Antonio's crossbow and the sword Louis had on his hip. He wondered briefly why the faeries and the ravens hadn't yet found him. Perhaps the same faeries he'd met on the road to Beverly wouldn't be able to instantly travel as far as the outskirts of Paris, but it seemed to him that some others should have detected the tremendous magic of Scheherazade's box.
Without another word, Kit headed back in the direction of the old cemetery and sat down next to the half-buried box. How could he possibly survive in a future that he knew nothing at all about? Would he ever find his father, Leveque or the four other Bréanainn Faol who'd risked their own lives to help him? Would he ever see any of the people that had raised him or his adoptive mother ever again? Kit ran his fingers across the faintly blue-stained wood, remembering how beautiful the box had appeared the first time that he'd seen it.
A rustle in the bushes caught his attention and for a moment he thought that some animal or fey creature had finally found him, but it turned out to be Bella.
"I should think you'd be terrified of that thing after being buried alive inside of it." Bella remarked dryly.
"I didn't know I was buried until you told me so. And maybe you won't believe me... but this isn't just some ordinary box." Kit replied. "A lot of people would kill to get their hands on it."
"All the more reason to leave it be." Bella advised. Kit climbed to his feet and the two began walking back in the direction of the grave-robbers camp.
"The boys and I are going on to Paris in the morning. They think you're crazy but you're still welcome to come with us and look for your man Leveque. Of course, we've got no way of carrying something that size – so it'll have to stay where it lies. You can come back for it later if it's really as important as you say. Paris isn't too far from here, and you'd better not have it there anyway. It might draw some attention and we aren't looking for trouble." Bella paused.
"But what if trouble is looking for me?" Kit whispered. Bella turned slowly. Though neither of them were close enough to see Antonio and the others gathered around their campfire, they could hear the sound of several horses approaching. A smell like sulfur lingered in the air, freezing the marrow in Kit's bones. Bella started to ask a question and he quickly put both of his hands over her mouth.
They listened in silence from their hiding place in the bushes and Kit gasped in horror as the leader of the strangers who had just arrived at the grave-robbers camp turned to face Antonio. It was Prospero who'd found him first – and this time, neither the ravens, the Winter Heralds nor the Bréanainn Faol who'd come to his rescue in Beverly were going to save him.
One of Prospero's imp minions flitted close to Kit's head. He might have thought it was a moth except for the smell, and after what he'd seen such monsters do he did not hesitate for a moment. Not bothering to consider that Bella or worse still, Prospero, might catch sight of him the moment he took action, Kit focused on the imp. "Solas!" He hissed.
A burst of light leapt from his fingertips and the imp barely had time to shriek before it crumbled into a pile of ash. Bella almost fell from her perch. She stared at Kit in disbelief and he put a finger to his lips, hoping she would hold her tongue.
He realized belatedly that while he'd been talking about Leveque and Prospero being Wizards – he'd left out one important detail... that he was also one himself.
"Where is the boy?" Prospero demanded. There were four men on horseback with him and Kit could make out at least a dozen little black imps hiding in the trees nearby. But where were his protectors? Had they abandoned him?
"I don't know what you're talking about." Antonio replied, not looking up to face him directly. "There's no one here but the three of us and my woman."
"And where is your woman?" The sorcerer pressed.
"Howling at the moon, as per usual. She's down by the river. Had to take a bath." Antonio wrinkled his nose as if he were annoyed and did not miss a beat. He was a more practiced liar than Kit was, and even Prospero seemed convinced by his ruse. At least, until another imp discovered Kit and Bella's hiding place, letting loose a high-pitched squeal moments before Kit could react and incinerate it. Bella fell from her perch, almost landing on top of Kit and Prospero strode towards the two of them, drawing his staff from thin air as he had back in the public house in Beverly. A string of curses escaped Francois and Louis almost lost his footing, horrified by what he'd just seen. Bella seized Kit's sleeve and he tightened both hands around his staff, gritting his teeth and preparing for the one trick he had – which he rather suspected wouldn't actually work.
Hopefully, Prospero would be distracted just long enough for him to run.
"Dóiteán!" Kit shouted, throwing all of the force he could behind that word. Blue-white fire flowed from his fingertips like water, cutting a swath through the trees and the underbrush. Prospero's hidden imps and his guards who followed him on horseback scattered and Antonio and the other grave-robbers immediately fled.
Bella stared in disbelief at the still-smouldering line of fire that Kit had blazed across the ground with his invocation. Kit stared in bewilderment at his own hands and coughed in the smoke.
"The box!" Bella shouted, tugging on him.
"That's got to be how Prospero found us! We can't hide there!" Kit protested.
"Then we won't hide, you'll make it travel!" Bella ordered.
"I don't know how!" Kit protested.
"Well, you'd bloody better figure it out!" Bella shoved Kit into the Box and then leapt in on top of him, closing the lid as she did so. Nothing happened. Kit gritted his teeth and listened for the sound of Prospero and his men approaching.
There wasn't a sound. It was as quiet as any cemetery might aspire to be.
"How long are we going to stay in here?" Kit hissed. "Your knee is in my stomach." He informed Bella.
"Shh. Don't be such a sissy!" Bella reprimanded him. "Aren't you a great and powerful wizard?"
"In case you haven't noticed, there's a madman out there who wants to kill me – and this box is really not made for two people." Kit replied.
"I think it's cozy." Bella replied. "Now three or four people in a space this size – then you're talking uncomfortable!" She giggled slightly.
"Be quiet! He's going to find us!" Kit ordered. "Are you crazy?"
They stayed silent for a few moments and waited.
And then Kit heard it – a voice reciting in English, but with an intonation that sounded at once strange and familiar to him.
"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended...
That you have but slumber'd here
Whilst these visions did appear."
"Shakespeare? Is that Antonio?" Kit wondered.
"No, he's not that good." Bella replied. "I'm going to have a peek."
Kit groaned as she kneed him in the gut and put her elbow into his ear, clambering over him and slowly cracking the lid of the box. He heard her sharp intake of breath before he could see anything and thought for a moment that the both of them were about to die until bright white light struck his eyes. Very slowly, he sat up, realizing that the box, as brightly painted as it had ever been sat in the middle of a theatre stage surrounded by actors and actresses dressed like faeries. The light that stung his eyes came from high above and it was brighter than any lamp he'd ever seen lit.
Bella seemed equally awed by it, but she was somewhat quicker to react than Kit was.
The actor who'd been delivering his speech turned back to the audience with a sheepish grin. "Ahem." He cleared his throat.
"Whilst these... visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon we will mend.
Else the Puck a liar call.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends."
The audience applauded and the curtains drew closed. The actors all gathered around Kit and Bella, hopping nervously and preening like a flock of chickens looking for feed.
"I suppose one need not ask what the two of you were doing in that box." A man with an enormous mustache in a strange black suit entered onto the stage, walking briskly. "On that note, who are you two? You're not even in my cast! Get out of here!"
Some of the actors took Kit by the arms and two of the actresses moved towards Bella.
"The box!" Kit hissed.
"We'll come back for it!" Bella promised.
Kit winced as the actors shoved the two of them out the back door of the theatre and onto the street. His eyes adjusted and he stared in awe.
"Where are we?" He whispered. He had never seen or even imagined such a place! The buildings were impossibly tall and the streets teemed with life. There were hundreds – thousands of people everywhere he looked and the night was lit up by globes of fire atop tall iron posts.
"I think this is London." Bella replied. She jumped as a piece of paper blew past the two of them on the wind and smiled as she seized it. After reading it for a moment, she grinned very broadly and showed it to Kit.
"Eighteen ninety-eight?" Kit echoed incredulously. He'd been shocked enough to find himself three hundred years in the future... but at the very end of the millennium? Heaven or hell had seemed more real to him than such a distant future!
"Let's go exploring!" Bella decided.
"Is that a good idea?" Kit grimaced.
"Kit, I was digging up graves with three out-of-work actors when you met me. When I was your age, my father sent me to away to a convent for fooling around with the kitchen boy! Of course, I got myself thrown out of there by starting a fire in the chapel. I've been stealing and conning my way across Europe ever since!" She winked mischievously. "I think it's safe to say that "good ideas" aren't really my thing." She looped her arm over his shoulders and led him out onto the street. "No, on the contrary! I am all about fun!"