Authors: Simon Hawke
His name was Reese Hunter and he, too, did not fit into his own time. On the day she met him, his time would not yet come for another fourteen hundred years. He was a deserter from the Temporal Corps and he possessed a device he called a chronoplate, a machine for traveling through time.
He had told her that he was not a sorcerer, yet what he called "science" seemed nothing less than magic. Though he had learned her secret, he was the only man she had ever met who did not treat women as inferiors, as possessions. He had told her that there would come a time when she would not have to resort to her deception to live life on her terms. That time would not come for many hundreds of years, but he could take her there. He had told her of the life he led, the times and places he had been to, and she had been both awed and frightened. She would not have believed him, would have thought him mad, had he not demonstrated the power of his science. He said that he saw in her a kindred spirit, a person out of time. He had offered her an equal partnership, on her own terms.
She had lost her brother to a traitor's sword and Hunter had helped her to avenge his death. Once that was done, there had no longer been a reason for her to remain in England or in the year 1194. She had joined Hunter and left England and her time behind. She became part of the underground.
Antoinette de la Croix was not her real name, either. She felt less comfortable with it than with her masculine alias. They had only just arrived in the 17th century and it had taken Hunter some time to purchase what he called "necessities." These included their clothes, their horses, their carriage, and the services of liveried footmen. They were on their way to Paris and they had stopped for the night at a small roadhouse.
Andre had undressed to her undergarments. She didn't like them, but at least they were more comfortable worn alone than with her outer clothing. The silks and ruffles, the lace and the dainty shoes were all impractical and, worse, uncomfortable. She recalled that armor had never been comfortable to wear, but at least it had a function. She could see no purpose to her ornate apparel and she had remarked to Hunter that in this time, at least, the role of women seemed not to have changed at all. They were still dressed as dolls for men to play with, only now they had to dress up more. She had gone along with the clothing, but she had refused to have her hair "arranged." Instead, she had worn a wig that Hunter had bought for her, a wig of tight blonde curls whose color matched her own somewhat shorter, straighter hair. She had ripped it off upon entering their rooms and now she paced back and forth like a caged animal, scratching her head irritably. She much preferred the apparel of the men, though even that seemed senselessly foppish to her.
She thought that Hunter looked amusing in his scarlet doublet, ornately worked baldrick, and long cloak of dark burgundy velvet. Somehow, she thought he looked more natural in the magician's robe he had been wearing when they met, back in Sherwood Forest. His high boots seemed practical for horseback riding, but the lace collar, cuffs and boot tops seemed out of place, as did the wide black sash he wore around his waist. What puzzled her the most was Hunter's rapier.
He had laid it down upon the bed when they came into the room and now she picked it up, hefting it experimentally.
is a sword?" she said, dubiously. She had been curious about it all that day, but she had not wanted to overburden Hunter with too many questions.
"It's called a rapier," Hunter said, "and yes, it is a sword."
She swung it once or twice, holding it awkwardly, as though uncertain of its sturdiness.
"There is no weight to it," she said. "And the blade is far too narrow. It would never penetrate armor and a single stroke with a good sword would break it in an instant." She threw it back down onto the bed disdainfully.
Hunter picked it up. "To begin with, it isn't meant for use against an armored knight. And no one uses broadswords here. In this period, things are done a little differently. I suppose you'd say that this was a more genteel weapon."
He made a few passes with the rapier, showing her the wrist action, a beat and riposte against an imaginary opponent, and a lunge.
"It's used primarily for thrusting, but you can also slash," said Hunter. "It's called fencing."
She frowned. "So is the enclosure used to keep in goats. I see no connection."
"There isn't one."
"So why is it called fencing?"
why it's called fencing. It just is, that's all."
"It's foolish. These clothes are foolish. This is a foolish time. I do not like it. This is nothing like what you told me."
"Give it a chance, Andre. You've only been here for one day."
"I see no reason why we have to wear these foolish clothes. I saw other people on the road who did not dress this way."
"They were peasants," Hunter said. "This is how people who are reasonably well off dress in this time period. We're going to have to stay here for a while, until I can contact my friend in the underground. I explained all that to you. If we're going to travel to the time I spoke of, you're going to need an implant and not just any implant, but one that can't be traced. It's the only way for you to learn things that would otherwise take you a lifetime of education. You're going to need that knowledge in order to survive. It's a very complicated procedure."
"Why can we not go directly to the time you came from to get this implant?"
"Because it would be too dangerous. Besides, it has to be surgically implanted and—"
"It has to be what?"
"Implanted. The implant must be implanted."
"I do not understand. I thought it was a device."
"Then what does 'implanted' mean?"
"It's an action. You must implant an implant."
"How can it be a device and an action at the same time? And what does this word
"It's too difficult to explain right now," said Hunter. He knew only too well how her 12th-century mind would react to the idea of minor brain surgery. "What matters is that I have to get in touch with a certain person who has the skills to accomplish this and that person chooses to reside in Paris, in this time period. Our mission will go easier for us if we assume the character of people of a certain social class."
"Why can I not wear man's clothing?" she said. "It certainly appears to be more comfortable than this dress and these absurd undergarments."
"It probably is," said Hunter, "but that's not the point. The point is that you're a woman and you've never had a chance to learn to act like one. You never know, the knack might come in handy someday."
"I see no advantage in learning how to flirt and simper and use my sex to advance myself."
"I think there's a little more to being a woman than that," said Hunter.
"If there is, then I have not observed it."
"Well, even if there wasn't," Hunter said, "the simple fact is that using your sex to advance yourself, as you put it, works on occasion, and I believe that one should use anything that works."
"Then why use that child's plaything of a sword?"
"Child's plaything, is it?" Hunter tossed her his rapier, then unwrapped a spare one from its cloth covering. He tossed both cloth covering and scabbard onto the bed. "Let's see just how much of a plaything this is," he said. "Attack me."
She swung the sword, awkwardly. Hunter parried easily, using the Florentine style—rapier in one hand, dagger in the other. He had little difficulty in blocking her crude strokes. The weapon was strange to her and she was uncomfortable with it.
"It's not a broadsword," Hunter said. "It's meant for speed. Watch."
This time he went on the offensive and she redoubled her efforts, taking her cue from him but still parrying clumsily. In seconds, he had disarmed her of the rapier, tapping her wrist lightly with the flat of the blade after hooking her sword, showing how a slash there would have caused her to drop her weapon and sustain a wound at the same time.
She looked down at the floor, then picked up the rapier he had disarmed her of so easily. She stood silently for a moment, studying it.
"I have misjudged this weapon," she said. "That was unwise of me. Clearly, there is a skill to using it correctly. I will learn it."
"Fencing isn't exactly something one picks up overnight," said Hunter. "You're not exactly a beginner, but—"
"No, I am far from a beginner. I have lived by the sword most of my life," she said. "This is a different blade, but it is still a sword. It will not take me long to learn. Teach me."
"There's really not much point to it," said Hunter.
"Because women in Paris don't carry rapiers," he said. "Sometimes they carry daggers, but mostly they carry fans and handkerchiefs." He grinned.
"Truly potent weapons," she said, sarcastically.
"It all depends on how you use them. Well, all right. I'll teach you. It may not take you very long to learn, at that. You're already a demon with a broadsword. You're strong and you've got terrific reflexes.
You just lack the correct technique. I think it will probably be tougher to teach you how to use a fan."
"I see. You imply that you are qualified to teach me how to be a woman, is that it?" she said.
"Not me," said Hunter. "You're already more woman than any man I know can handle. The trick is not to let men know that. That shouldn't be too hard. Most of us aren't very smart when it comes to women."
"And you are one of the smart ones, I suppose."
"No, unfortunately, I'm one of the stupid ones," said Hunter. "But I've learned a lot because of that."
"Very well," said Andre. "I owe you much. I will learn to act the part of a fine lady if you think it will prove helpful."
"Just call me Professor Higgins."
"Who is Professor Higgins?"
"He was another stupid man," said Hunter. "But never mind. For a start, let's see what we can do about that walk of yours. You can dress the part of a woman, but you still swagger like a soldier. Now, take this book...."
Charlotte Backson, the Countess de la Fere, Milady de Winter, had seduced more men than she could count. She had never before met a man who could resist her. Now she had. The man called Taylor was totally immune.
"You can turn it off, Milady," he had said, the first time she tried to work her charm on him. "You've got nothing that I want."
"Are you quite certain?" she had said, trying a different tack. She put just the right amount of throaty submissiveness into her voice. "After all, I am your prisoner. Your men have taken me against my will.
You've killed my coachman and my footmen, brought me here with my eyes blindfolded, there must be something that you wanted from me. I assume it's ransom that you're after. Rest assured, you will be paid. But I do fear for my own safety. I am entirely in your power. I would do anything if it would insure my survival through this ordeal." She paused for just a second, her gaze meeting his directly. "Anything,"
she said softly.
The man called Taylor had laughed. "I'm afraid you're wasting your time, Milady. I'll be quite blunt.
I'm not interested in women. You understand?"
"Oh. Yes, I'm afraid I do."
"You see, someone who doesn't share my sexual preferences would doubtless be extremely susceptible to you, which is why I'll be the only one to come into contact with you during your stay with us." Taylor had smiled. "Your reputation precedes you, Milady. We're fully aware of the kind of person that you are."
"I'm afraid you have the advantage of me, sir," she had said, stiffening slightly. "I do not know what you mean when you speak of my reputation. Doubtless, you have heard some malicious gossip from—"
"Don't be coy," said Taylor. "Here's what I mean." He reached out quickly and ripped her dress away from her shoulder with a suddenness that caught her unprepared. Quickly, she clapped her hand to her shoulder.
"There's no use in hiding it," said Taylor. "If you ask me, it's your best feature. The brand of the harlot. The fleur-de-lis. I've known women like you all my life. You're a slut, my dear."
"Who are you?" she said, angrily. "What is it you want from me?"
"Why, just your companionship, Milady. Nothing more."
"What is the ransom for my safe return? How much do you want to release me?"
Taylor raised his eyebrows. "Why, we're not asking anything for you, Milady. All we want is the privilege of entertaining you for a short while. A week, perhaps, no more."
"And then you won't be seeing us again," said Taylor.
Now a week had passed. It had been a maddening week. Each day, the man called Taylor came to her. He brought her all her meals and he would stay a while to talk with her. They would talk about the most meaningless of things, the weather, what fashions were popular at court, what her favorite foods were, what she liked, what she disliked, whom she had had affairs with....
Taylor seemed to know almost as much about her as she knew herself. That frightened her. How could he know such intimate details of her private life? How could he know that she had once been a nun and that she had seduced a priest at the convent of the Benedictines of Templemar? How had he known about the fleur-de-lis, with which the executioner of Lille had branded her? Who was this man, who seemed to know her almost as well as she knew herself?
She could get nothing out of him. On several occasions, he had come with a slightly older man, another stranger to her. This man would gaze at her strangely, then approach her. He would study her intently. Sometimes, he would touch her face, running his hands along her jawbone, touching her nose, the corners of her eyes, her lips. Once, when he had done so, she had softly kissed his finger, licking it lightly with her tongue. His hands shook slightly after that.
"Think you can do it, Doctor?" Taylor had said at one such time.
"I-I can do it."
"You'd damn well better be sure," said Taylor.