The Leviathan of Time

– The Leviathan of Time –

By John C. Wright

*** *** ***

Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years,
Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe
Are brackish with the salt of human tears!
Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow
Claspest the limits of mortality!

And sick of prey, yet howling on for more,
Vomitest thy wrecks on its inhospitable shore;
Treacherous in calm, and terrible in storm,
Who shall put forth on thee,
Unfathomable Sea?

— Percy Bysshe Shelley
British Century,
Age of Reason,
Christian Era,
Abrahamic Timeline)

Table of Contents so far

*** *** ***

Dates Unknowable, Revised, or Nullified

Chapter One: At Mount Terror


It should have been Lynch.

Prince George woke. His Highness was lying face down in the red snow, groaning. He was at the top of the snowdrift, looking down at the aftermath of the disaster. His breathing mask had fallen off when he fell, and the cold was like knives in his lungs. His white parka was stained with the blood of his men.

The nearest cindercone of Mount Terror was upslope. Black fumes from the cone of Mount Erebus in the distance were climbing skyward. The blue snow and black rock of Ross Island was below. Beyond was the Antarctic Ocean.

His first thought, God help him, was of how hard it would be to write to the widows. Hand-written letters, each one, sealed with the royal seal of the crown prince. It had to be done alone, with no secretary, because it was unfitting that anyone see royalty weep. The Royal Family was the soul of the nation.

His next thought was: why was I spared?

George reached out with a furry white mitten, and grunted, and turned over the body nearest him.

It was Lynch, dead. The blood of a brain hemorrhage had frozen in his ears and nose. The body was still warm. The eyes were open, empty, the pupils pinpoints, staring up into the pale sky.

Sir Richard Lightfoot Lynch had the training, the youth, the drive. He even looked the part: dark-haired and broad-shouldered and square-chinned. This mission was his.

Lynch was supposed to enter the lair. Not the prince. Lynch.

Prince George slid his mitten under the man’s goggles to shut the eyes, muttering a curt prayer.

Why was I spared, O Lord? If any man should have been left alive after the Leviathan’s dire gaze swept over them, if any of the company should have been protected by Providence to carry through the mission, it should have been Lynch.


Prince George had to cut fastenings of the dead man’s backpack with his parachutist knife, as they were frozen solid with blood. The ropes and pitons and carabineers, lamps and oxygen bottles and so on, George took.

He stared in wonder at the bright green box on the man’s webbelt, hidden under his parka. Blasting caps. Radio triggers. And bricks of plastic explosive: enough to collapse a building. Or a mineshaft.

His eyes narrowed. Nothing about this had been mentioned in the mission briefing. George put his hand into the plastic envelope sewn into Lynch’s parka lining.

It was empty. His orders had been removed.


Still prone, George turned his head.

The dozen men of the King’s Own Royal Virginia Regiment were strewn along the snow, their white camouflage in tatters. The suicides had skulls that looked like shattered red melons. Others, limbs shaking and eyes bleeding under the Leviathan’s gaze, had turned weapons on each other. Six of the men were bleeding heaps, moaning, too wounded to fire further. A third group stood still, their faces blank, motionless, their breathing masks filling with drool.

George raised his binoculars. Smoke was pouring up from the wreckage of the first column about a mile distant. Tracked vehicles and the armored hovercraft were motionless. The main gun of the overturned hovercraft was twisted into a half-circle.

He focused the binoculars, bringing the view close. A dead man lay across the hatch of the hovercraft, the torn blue circle-of-stars banner wrapped about his body, his rifle still in hand, smoking. Dracomen in lizard-masks and black cloaks, humans in service to the Leviathan, about a two dozen of them, were pulling the corpses of troopers from damaged machines and heaping them in the snow. Steam rose from the bloody wounds of the dead.

One of the bodies twitched, raising hands in a plea for mercy. A blackcloak bayoneted him, not wasting a bullet.

A vast sound made George wince. He turned the binoculars downslope. Far below, looking like toys in the distance, were the men and vehicles of the second column. They had been approaching from Terror Glacier, from the south. Fog Bay was beyond, and white clouds were blowing in from Windless Bight, obscuring the view. The dracomen in their black cloaks were Dalmatian spots against the pallid landscape. The armored hovercraft in the column would have been able to cut the blackcloak footsoldiers into bits, had the gun crews been sane. Only one armored warcar, from the Maryland Lord Baltimore Fusilier’s, was continuing to rake the dracomen with antipersonnel fire. The main gun was roaring, but it was firing on the Leviathan.

The clouds of fog parted. He saw it. Fortunately, its head was facing away, so George did not see the deadly eyes. He could see the deerlike antlers and lionlike mane, and the glittering rubies and emeralds embedded in its armor. Dangling from braids in its mane were the flags, banners, and ensigns of countries, warships, and battalions that had surrendered and begged for chains.

The entity was a segmented wormlike monster over two hundred and fifty feet in length, ten feet in diameter. It rolled across the snow like a metal river, and its head was held fifty feet high, and clouds of poison rolled from its maw and nostrils. Dozens of retractable claws were folded into armored slots along its sides. Its armor was scarlet, rose-red, carmine, cerise, magenta and copper in hue, made of alloys unknown on Earth, thicker than a bank vault door. Gold taken from vaults in Uruguay and Argentina had been gilded by the Leviathan’s human slaves in feathery patterns across all the armored layers and scales.

In certain cells embedded in its heaving sides, like flies in amber, were prisoners taken alive, and kings and queens too proud to surrender. The nude bodies were twisted in grotesque postures, kept awake but paralyzed below the neck. How the glassy substance sustained them without food or water was unknown. Others cells held corpses, as wrinkled as dried apples, for the preservative also prevented bacterial decay.

George saw the glint of a ricochet as some sharpshooter hidden beneath a white cloak drove a bullet into the monster’s eye. The Leviathan’s lidless eyes were circled with rings of bone and coated with some clear armor harder than diamond. Similar bone ridges curved about the corners of its maw, nor had it any lips to close over the giant, steel-shod incisors. The boney visage, with its bugged eyes and never-closing mouth, always held a look of rage.

The bullet bounced. The monster roared, and glittering pale light issued in twin beams from the eye lenses and swept across the column. George was nowhere near the beams this time, but merely seeing them at a distance, he still felt the pressure in his head which had driven him unconscious a moment ago.

Where the beams passed, men slew themselves or watched in horror as their jerking limbs turned their weapons on each other, and some simply died, their brains ruptured.

The main gun of the Maryland armored car roared again. The vast, snakelike being writhed and lowered its head, and a stream of white-hot liquid fire gushed from the ghastly maw, coating the car in flames.

The howling winds closed the gaps in the fog. The scene was lost to view. George could see no more than the glow of fire through the clouds, and hear the sound of the big guns, and the gleeful roaring of the Leviathan.

*** *** ***

Chapter Two: Patron Saint of Witches


Prince George was sickened at his own helplessness. He looked at the wounded and the dazed. There was no cure for the gaze of the Leviathan. A mercy bullet would be heard by the enemy. There was no time to slit all their throats. As for retreat, medics, shelter: these were as beyond his reach as the moon. There was no one to radio for help. Those empty-eyed men who were standing with their parkas ripped or unlaced would simply freeze. Not a tent was standing. Not a vehicle was whole.

How could such an evil have come to the world? Whence had it come?

He reached into his own plastic pocket, and reviewed his orders. In case of heavy losses, it said, he was to retreat and attempt to reach a position of safety at McMurdo Station to await the icebreaker. With his older brother missing in action, it was entirely possible George, not Richard, was the crown prince and heir presumptive.

He looked down. Sir Abernathy, who had been his companion, friend, and bodyguard since his days as a cadet stared back at him. He was dead. Already the wind was driving cold particles of ice to smother the shattered, blood-soaked face.

George raised his eyes and saw the mouth of the lair. It was built into the side of a stone ridge protruding from the glacier, a nunatak, less than fifty yards above him. Someone, presumably human slaves, had driven the great square doors and the slit windows of the bunker into the living stone of the rock outcropping.

But the great portal was open. It was fifty yards away.

As was their habit, the undisciplined fighting slaves had left the doors open, to run in the trail of their invulnerable master, vaunting and whooping and shooting into the air.

The blackcloaks had capered in the snow amid the supine, voiceless, and twitching victims of the Leviathan’s gaze. Men who had once been the proudest soldiers of the Empire were stabbed, or molested, robbed of trinkets, or ignored. Prince George, unseen in his white parka, one motionless body among dozens, had been in a faint as the blackcloaks passed by.

Fifty yards.

If the clouds parted, if the Leviathan turned its head, the chance would vanish.

Fifty yards. One hundred fifty feet. The belly of the Leviathan had shattered ice and compacted the snow to a hard surface. He guessed he could cross the distance in ten seconds. Lynch could have crossed it in four.

George opened his fingers. The wind of Antarctica snatched his orders from his hand and tossed them into the white sky.

It should have been Lynch, yes. Lynch had been given the secret orders by George’s father, the King, to which even George was not privy. And, with Richard missing, royal duty, as well as clear, written orders, said he must retreat.

But there was no retreat. He did not know why he alone had been spared.

But he knew that, sometimes, the prince is the soul of the nation. What other chance did the nation have of survival? Or the human race?

He made it in nine seconds.




His last confession had been a month ago, and illegal.

He had been in Richmond, in warmth that had seemed cold at the time. Those innocent days were so long ago! It was too dangerous to meet with Father Flanagan openly, and so George had made arrangements to visit the local cathouse.

Sir Abernathy and his other guards were left to wait in the parlor of the house of ill repute stoically. George gave the giggling trollop, starry-eyed at being the paid paramour of a prince, a handsome tip worth a dozen nights of work, and a chaste kiss on the ear. She proceeded to dance on the bed, to bang it convincingly on the floorboards. George let himself out the window and down the drainpipe.

While he waited, he prodded the priest’s hearthfire with a poker to urge it to a cheery blaze. He looked at the books arranged on the mantelpiece. In addition to the expected works of theology, canon law, and ecclesiastic history, handsomely leather bound with gilt-edged pages, was an unexpected group of books printed on pulp and bound between garish covers: A Stone for a Pillow by R. Anson Heinlein, Leaves from the Notions Club Papers by John Tolkien, Down from Deep Heaven by Clive S. Lewis, The Rainbow’s Daughter in Oz by Lyman F. Baum.

Father Flanagan came bustling in. He was a stout, weather-burned and balding man. His eyebrows were like two furry caterpillars that reared and writhed across the ruddy, bare dome of his forehead with each twitch of expression.

“You fear no scandal, Highness?” were Flanagan’s first words.

“You are the one who rents rooms down the street from a whorehouse, Father.”

“I go where the sinners are. They know they need help.”

George grimaced. “War rots moral fiber. I daresay I will rise in the esteem of my unit, if they think I have been playing tomcat.”

“And Her Royal Highness, Isabella of Spain?”

“She picked the cathouse I should use to come here. How many bridegrooms can boast that? I am the only man among all my kin who loves the wife selected for him. Scandal I do not fear. But if it were whispered that I have turned Papist — well, God help me! The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids that a Catholic monarch shall ascend the throne of the Americas. That is one of the things weighing on my conscience. Also, I break an oath of secrecy about my mission by coming here. That is a second.”

The priest nodded. “To Antarctica. You are seeking the lair of the Leviathan. You hope to discover its origin and nature.”

George looked startled. Perhaps what they said about Jesuits was true. “You are remarkably well informed!”

“Lord Baltimore, like you, is still of the old faith. Some Marylanders going with the expedition are in my flock, and wished a blessing. They said nothing but what they were allowed, be assured! But the preparations of His Majesty’s warships in Virginia Beach for arctic conditions, and the recent war news from Japan, make the matter not difficult to guess. I myself, as have all men, wondered how the Beast entered our world.”

“You do not believe it was stirred up out of a primordial sea-cavern by the test firing of an atomic bomb? Or that it descended from Mars in a cannon shell?” He pointed at the space adventure fiction books. “It seems you have been studying the field. My Nurse never let me read such works. She called them escapist.”

Flanagan smiled. “At least one of those authors, Professor Tolkien, would say that escape is the duty of prisoners of war.”

“War with my Nurse? Nanny Waggle would be shocked!” George said wryly.

“I speak of the war all Christians wage against the principalities and powers of the air, the rulers of the darkness of the world. Nothing against the good woman who raised you, sire, but if her imagination was captured by the worldly spirit of this present age, she would not see how the imagination can be a potent weapon of the angels, fallen and unfallen alike.”

George raised an eyebrow. “Odd talk! You think these fairy-stories and tall tales about Men from Mars aids the world in its struggle?”

“Aids the soul! Fairy tales can, at times, wash the grit of untruth from the eye, highness.” The old priest looked at the line of humble, dogeared books on his shelf. “I wonder at the wisdom of the Creator in giving Man the gift of poetry. It can be so easily misused. But we are made in His image, I suppose, and must make worlds of our own.”

George stared narrowly at the old man. “I think you know where the Beast is from. What it is.”

“Everyone knows.” The priest said, “It is a dragon.”

It was a word that, for various reasons, the royal family and officers of His Majesty’s government were loathe to use. It had crept into the yellow press and Whig broadsheets, however.

George sniffed. “Nonsense! The Royal Society of Science in Philadelphia says it is an extraterrestrial.”

“Do they? I wonder who told them to say so.”

“Because of its great strength, they conclude it is from a world larger than our own, Jupiter or Saturn, or perhaps some unknown orb altogether.”

Flanagan grinned shyly. “Is the one theory really more reasonable than the other, highness? Fairies are facetious, but flying saucer men are feasible?”

George was not sure how to answer that, so he said, “The Royal Society is held in great esteem.”

“Not by fairies.” Flanagan said, “I often wonder what fashion of tale the Great Author of the world decided to write, when the quill of time was taken up in the almighty hand. If we are in a scientifiction romance, like those of Herbert Wells or Edward Smith, it would be only sensible to say the dragon was from outer space. No doubt a star in Draco or Serpens. I have a book by John Vance on just that theme, and another by Anne Inez McCAffrey.”

He pulled a slender volume from the shelf. The cover painting showed a brightly-scaled wide-winged lizard whose laughter was fire and whose rider was a wind-tossed blonde. Dragonmistress of Perun was written in a half circle above.

“Mr. Lewis, in one of his tales, says that in other worlds, creatures that here are myths, there are real.” The father shook his head, and put the volume back. “No one would write so charming a book as Mistress McCaffrey these days, now that dragons are real. And no tales about the future, now that we have none.”

George said, “Dragons are not real. A stout lance in the hands of a brave knight could kill a mere dragon. This Leviathan survived an H-bomb. Buenos Aires will be radioactive for centuries. But the creature slid into Rio de La Plata, unharmed.”

“I will point out that, highness, if we are in a fairy story, no weapon of man will mar the Beast. And if we are in a tale by Poe or Lovecraft …” The old man shuddered.

“Do I need to find a magic sword to slay the Leviathan? They are in short supply. But if one of your elfs popped out of your books and offered one to me, I would sell my soul for it.”

Father Flanagan said, “Do not jest! Christians may not use occult magic to slay their foes, however dreadful, or call on dark powers to see the future.”

George said, “If not even magic would save us, perhaps we are in a Poe story indeed. I feel like the man being bricked up in the wall, prematurely buried. Except the whole world is being buried alive with me. The Emperor of China just swore fealty to the monster. The Military Government of Japan refused, and slew the Leviathan’s ambassadors. In retaliation, Tokyo and Nagasaki have been destroyed. You don’t look surprised. We have asked the newspapers not to report it, for fear of mass panic on the West Coast. How did you know?”

“The archbishop’s main cathedral is in Nagasaki, Highness. Was. With the attacks on Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, it is pretty clear what the dragon’s pattern is, and why it is so lax in attacking German, English and American lands.”

George looked grim. “What is clear is that, with China lost, we can expect no more help from the East. Brick by brick, we are being walled in.”

“I have faith that the Great Author inclines to happy endings, albeit always some great price is exacted.”

George looked grim. “In this case, it is my own ending I fear. I don’t want my daughters to be orphans.”

Flanagan turned toward him. “And now we come to it. The third matter weighing on your conscience…? Speak up, my son.”

“If this mission is suicide, it is sin.”

“You know the difference between a suicide and a martyr? Both foresee their deaths to come, both welcome death unafraid. But there is a difference as great as the gap between heaven and hell.”

George said, “Then I am neither, for I am sore afraid.”

Flanagan had him kneel, and he heard him, and shrived him.

Afterward he gave him the greatest treasure the old priest owned: a necklace with a silver crucifix pendant. In the hollow of the crucifix was a relic, the fingerbone of Saint Cipriano.

George uttered an embarrassed laugh. “My father calls all the pomp and gimcracks of Romanish worship a benighted superstition. He would think it ill becomes one of my position.” But he allowed Flanagan to persuade him to take it.

*** *** ***

Chapter Three: The Voice of Leviathan


When George passed through the portal and entered the lair, his eye fell upon the design of the great bald eagle of America stamped into the stone. The circle of stars was about it. In one claw the royal eagle held the cross, in the other, a sheaf of arrows. A new disquiet, above his grief and horror, now crept into his soul. The blackcloaks had not built this stronghold. That information from the briefing was a lie.

Heedless of who or what might see, George switched on his electric torch.

The lair of the leviathan consisted of a garage entrance where wrecked vehicles were kept. The circle of stars was upon their doors and plates. Above the arched gates leading deeper into the facility was a plaque. Despite the scars and marring, the words were still visible.


Mount Terror Facility

Ultramundane Research Initiative

His father’s personal seal was emblazoned on the wall below. George shivered, and not just from the subzero cold.

In he went.

The Leviathan’s chamber itself was a vast space where three floors of the original facility had been. To one side was what had been officer’s quarters, now a treasure chamber. The walls and furnishings had been smashed. Gold from Fort Knox was there, carefully stacked, as well as treasures of paintings, books, and statues from Constantinople and Rome. George was astonished at the efforts taken by the Leviathan, and his slaves, to preserve and store the artworks. The cases were kept in order, the lighting was indirect, and a small diesel generator regulated the temperature and humidity. To one side was a nest in which all the diamonds from the New York, London and Paris exchanges had been piled, and gems from the Smithsonian collection.

George picked up the Hope Diamond in his white mitten. The stone glittered like a live thing. He shrugged, and thrust it into a fur lined pocket of his parka.

Deeper he went.

The quarters of the blackcloaks were lit with an eerie cloud of luminous gas that also provided warmth. A motion on a nearby cot startled George. A blackcloak, perhaps left behind due to illness, now sat up, and scrambled for the gun at the foot of his cot. He was not wearing his mask and looked human. George shot him once in the head and twice in the chest.

Footfalls sounded. George pushed a grenade beneath the dead man, removed the pin, and retreated to a position behind a half-open door. An unarmed blackcloak, carrying, oddly enough, a tin coffee pot, ran around the corner. He pushed the mask up on his brow, and looked around warily. He was no older than fifteen, half George’s age. He saw nothing, put down the coffee pot. He knelt and turned over his dead comrade. He saw the grenade just as the spoon popped. He threw himself backward, but shrapnel still caught him. He fell to the concrete floor, groaning.

“Risenworm! Lichttraeger! Bitte!!”

George called out, “How many of you are there?”

The boy writhed and flopped on the ground. His eyes turned glassy and motionless, like the eyes of a corpse, and now a rictus like the grin of a skull seized his jaws. “We are legion, O prince. None can count our number. Remove the crucifix you wear about your neck. It is an emblem of a benighted and silly superstition, and ill becomes one of your stature.”

George said, “Who is speaking?” His voice was dry with horror.

“All of us. It is a joy to be consumed alive, and endure forever, in utmost pain, unable to utter a sound. All of your men are with us, within us. Bow to me! All the kingdoms of the earth are mine to bestow.”

Military intelligence had said the survivor’s tales of such freakish dialogue were hysteria, not real. But here it was, undeniable. The Leviathan was speaking remotely through the mouth of a possessed man.

George shot him twice in the chest, once in the head.




The next level further down was all one chamber. The hundred-foot-wide space was also lit by a spherical cloud. Here were great curving electromagnets, set one next to another, like ribs of a dead giant, forming a tunnel that sloped downward. The stone to either side was scarred and blackened as if unearthly energies had escaped. Gathered before the mouth of the tunnel were remnants of chairs and control boards, mainframe computers toppled like dominos. Midmost was a sunken pond with control rods poised over a drowned lead-hued box: An atomic pile.

All the control rods were lowered, dampening the pile. It was a reminder that the Beast was freakishly intelligent, maybe moreso than Man. George came closer, knowing and dreading what he would see. The equipment had the hallmark of Westinghouse on it. Built in America.

What had happened was clear, too clear. But George clung blindly to the hope that he was wrong, that the obvious was untrue.

There was a large steel desk opposite the tunnel mouth at the far end of the chamber, behind a glass partition. It was adorned with the seal reserved for royal observers and inspectors. The desk had been overturned, but was undamaged. George rifled through the drawers. The papers were written in a cipher, but it was a royal cipher, one he could read by sight.

…therefore the mission of the Ultramundane Research Initiative shall not be abridged. Said mission is to open an inter-domain threshold for the Power the Duke University parapsychology experimental subjects claim to have contacted, and allow it ingress. The designs for the equipment operation are clearly beyond the scientific knowledge of the subjects, many of whom were sold by their families to the scientific team at Duke...

He flipped pages. His eye caught another passage.

The Power clearly has the ability to overcome the Chinese without triggering a global thermonuclear war. Indeed, our only hope of survival, not of the nation merely but of mankind, at this point, is conquest...

With a shock, George remembered the days before the Leviathan. He had been a young man then, newly married, and the alliance with Spain untested. They called it a Cold War, but the fighting against the Imperial Chinese had been global: In Turkistan, in the Sioux Territories, in Indochina. Endless proxy wars were fought. Always impending was the fear of the Bomb.

It seemed so long ago, another life.

The price asked is dreadful, but it would ill behoove one of our station and position to deny to our subjects the peace and freedom which alone justify the occupation of this noble throne by our dynasty. Ever since the first of our line accepted the crown acclaimed to him by a grateful peoples, our duty has been clear …

George found his eyes were too hot with tears and his mittened hands too unsteady with rage to continue. He recognized the favorite words and turns of phrase, the way he spoke when no speechwriter gave him better. These were his father’s words.

The King had invited the Leviathan into the world.




From the architecture, it was clear where the tunnel had once been meant to end. But it did not end: the cloud chamber was blasted as if from a bomb. Beyond the last of the riblike electromagnets the stones of the wall had been fused and taken on an odd, glassy shine like old amber. From there downward into the volcano cone, the tunnel was smooth. It curved down and dropped out of sight. It was the same diameter as the Leviathan: it seemed the monster had bored through solid volcanic obsidian like a worm in an apple.

George could not piece together in his mind what had happened, or how. If this atomic powered equipment was somehow meant to receive a broadcast, a broadcast of matter, from another world, why was there a physical tunnel bored into the wall? Or did this tunnel only seem to reach into the core of Mount Terror, but instead it reached … elsewhere? To one of those make-believe worlds in Father Flanagan’s cheap books?

He realized he was laughing hysterically. It was no good trying to figure this out now. He could keep himself sane by concentrating only on the next few minutes. The Leviathan knew he was here. How long would it take to polish off the survivors of the second column, and to crawl back up the slope? Or to fly?

George wished Lynch were still alive to tell him how much explosive to use at each point, or where to position it for the blast to have maximum effect. But George could make an educated guess. He raised the cadmium control rods and placed charges on the lead housing, so that the rubble would be bathed in deadly radiation.

The transistorized radio triggers were no bigger than a thimble. George did not need to festoon electric wiring all across the vast chamber.

He placed other charges at the foot of the load bearing members. He had neither the time nor the tools to bore into the stone, and he was afraid any charges resting on the stone would not collapse the tunnel. He hammered in a piton, for the tunnel was a steep slope, and lowered himself further and further into the darkness.

He found a crevasse, a deep as his arm, in the wall. Good. A charge placed there would not simply toss all its kinetic energy into the air. Then he found another a few yards farther down, then a third. They were regularly spaced: George realized these must be footholds the monster drove into the rock as its climbed. Its bare claw could do in an instant what took a jackhammer minutes to do.

At one point, George had to take off his mitten to work the charge into position. His bare flesh brushed the obsidian stone. The cold stabbed him like a knife, and the sweat of his hand formed an instant seal pining his hand to the rock. With his other hand, he took out a chemical heating pack, shook it, and warmed his hand until he could pry it from the rock. Inside this black tunnel, he had forgotten this was still Antarctic air.

The tunnel dipped further. Now he was in a chimney. He drove in another piton, made fast a line, lowered himself. The bobbing circle of his electric torch showed him another indent in the stone. It was at an awkward angle, so he shoved the charge into place with his boot.

A voice spoke above him. “Suicide is mortal sin, mortal man.”

It was not a human voice. It was as if the lowest notes of a brass pipe organ were given a tongue of clanging, red-hot metal to speak with.

George looked up, as he should not have.

The head and the first few yards of the armored and gem-studded neck were peering over the brink above him. Seen close, the internal fires of the creature could be glimpsed reflected against the back of its throat and roof of its mouth. The eyes were coals from the lowest floor of hell, pits of pure and immortal malice. The pale light shining from the crystal lenses over the eyes sent a sensation into George as if a railroad spike had been pounded into his skull and struck the top of his spine. George could hear the screaming of the naked prisoners the Leviathan wore like vest pocket fobs along its flanks.

He had seen the grainy photographs taken by long range cameras. Seeing with his eyes was worse, infinitely worse. His mind could not accept the sight: his vision kept blurring and fading. Each prisoner was wrapped in some sort of glass cocoon or blister affixed amid the gems running along the wormlike segments of the foot-thick armor plates. How they were kept alive was unknown. All were frozen in contorted postures some missing arm or leg or eyes or face. It was mostly men, but women, children, and old men, were scattered among them. Loud screams and wails mingled with sobs and hiccoughs.

He heard the voice of his brother, Richard. He saw his brother’s body, nude and twisted almost in two, and saw his screaming face and lunatic, empty eyes.

The voice of the Leviathan now was like the rushing of flood waters, like the noise of many voices crying out the same words in unison.

“Thy sole escape is to bow, and adore, and serve me.”

George did not remember making a decision. It was simply done.

With one hand he drew a parachutist knife and cut the rope holding him. With the other he thumbed open the safety on the radio plunger and depressed the trigger.

He had no memory of the fall, of the shockwave, of the deafening sound, of the blinding light, or of the cave-in. Nor did he recall how the bones in his leg below the knee were shattered like glass. Perhaps his foot had been caught as he fell in the last hole where he had been setting a charge.

Down and down his weightless body plunged.

*** *** ***

Chapter Four: Ghost of Days to Come



Isabella woke, realized there was someone in her bedchamber, and put her hand under her pillow. It was a large-bore revolver, crafted and adorned in Spain, and she was proud of it. But as her hand touched it, she could see the movement of shadows beyond the bedcurtains, against the light from the French doors. She had left them open to admit the fresh Eastertide night air. The stranger was standing, arms behind his back, staring out at the moonlit lawn. Some sign too subtle to be conscious, some hint of scent, or rhythm of breathing told her who it was.

She sat up. In the gloom, she saw an angular shadow which meant the special panel of the bookshelf was open: behind was the secret passage to the illegal chapel she had had constructed. The number of people who knew the secret was tiny.

“Jorj?” (So she pronounced his name, with a trill in the back of her throat almost like a cat’s purr) “What is it you here doing? You are to be in California. How — ”

The wind blew, stirring the drapes, and a swath of moonlight passed over the man. His hair was long, with a streak of gray at the temples that fell like a ribbon to his shoulder. His cheek was dark with a few days growth, an unsightliness Prince George would never permit. And, protruding from his knee pants, was a wand of ivory. A peg-leg.

He turned. But it was he. Battered, grizzled, haunted, grimy; but he.

She shrieked, and then put both hands across her mouth, and stared at the door. A moment later, she was up. Her bare feet were slapping on the polished floorboards, her nightgown was like a cloud in the moonlight. She embraced him, put her head against his chest.

Very slowly, tentatively, he raised his calloused and unwashed hands and guided them about her, clasping her precious warmth to him tightly.

She looked again at the door. “I scream, and Alphonse does not come! He is napping. Why do I have guards? Am I not of royal blood in a heretic land? Is no one trying to assassinate me? Am I not important enough to assassinate? He will be sent packing back to Barcelona.”

He said, very softly, “Alphonse is alive…”

She stepped back. “Who are you? Some twin Jorj kept in iron mask for twenty years? I will scream!”

“Go get that hand cannon you always carry in your purse. You keep it under your pillow, even though one day it might go off and blow out your brains.”

“Oh! So stupid a man! Revolvers are safe! If there is no pull trigger, the bullet, he cannot fire! The chamber I keep unloaded. So…”

“So squeeze the trigger twice. I know. All the well-bred princesses of Spain keep revolvers because revolvers are safe. Shush. I know.”

“How can you know? Who are you? You are he but not he.” She stepped forward into the moonlight shed by the window. The beams caught her silhouette and made the nightgown momentarily translucent, so she seemed to be clothed in fairy moonshine.

He drew in a breath like a sob in reverse. “Sweet Jesus in heaven! How I forgot what you looked like when you were young! Hair like midnight, limbs as pale and fair as a linden tree… you put on weight after Maria is born.”


“Our daughter. She was five when I saw her last.”

“I have no daughter. The doctors say…”

“The doctors are wrong. We have four children and counting, all girls. You don’t need to worry about that. And the thing in California … what year is this? … that works out, too. Spain sells the United States the territory, and we supply your Uncle with arms and equipment to fight the Chinese in South Africa. It is all … all going to work out …”

She pulled him toward her. He bent his lips to kiss her, thinking this was what she meant, but she stepped back. She had maneuvered him into the beam of moonlight to inspect his face.

“You are a ghost,” she said. “Jorj as he will be years from now. How can you be a ghost? Jorj is alive.”

“I am from the future. Twenty years since I saw you last. Maybe more.”

“Why are you haunting me?”




The one-legged man turned from her, and stepped over to the bureau. He reached out without looking and put his hand on the chair that, in the dark, could not be seen there, and pulled it under him. He sat. As he did so, he drew his hand past his left hip in an automatic gesture, even though there was no dress saber hanging there to move aside.

It was also, she noticed, his favorite chair, the one he always picked when he sat in this room of the palace.

He sighed. His head hung, and the long hair swayed and hid his face.

She did something she never would have done in public. She knelt at his feet, hips above her heels and hands folded in her lap. Her eyes were anxious as she peered up. From this angle, she could see his expression.

“I know it is you,” she said.

“I thought you would not believe me,” he said. “How can you know I am me? I hardly know myself.”

“A wife knows these things. Why do you come to haunt me?”

“This year is early in the career of the dragon, isn’t it? If I remember, no one believed any story at first.”

“You mean the story from Cape Horn? The sea serpent preys on shipping, especially the gold fleets from Argentina. Everyone believes it. The only people who do not believe it are you Yankees, who say Spain is trying to drive shipping through the Panama Canal we just cut.”

“Well, I did not believe it at first.”

“Because you think you know everything God made in the world, and under the world, and above! But who has looked? Who has been in all places?”

He drew a breath. “Let me tell you what will happen.”

“No, do not.”

“What? Why not?”

“A gypsy one told the fortune of my little brother, Phillip. She calls the devil into the cards to show the future. She says he will marry the fairest maiden he can embrace, and that he will have as many children as he can count on his fingers.”

She paused and crossed herself.

“A hunting accident, and the rifle explodes in his hands. He is very far from help, and no doctor is near. By the time he is found, all his wounds are gangrene, and both arms must be amputated. He can embrace no one. He has no fingers. To this day he is in a monastery, praying with no hands to clasp in prayer. It is not right to look at the future. Tell me not mine!” She crossed herself again.

*** *** ***

Chapter Five: The Cavern of Time



He leaned back in the chair. “Then may I tell you my past? Because I came upon the future. No gypsies were involved.”

“You came to tell me, did you not?”

“Only that the dragon is real. Our long war with China is over, and will be forgotten in five years, or less. We will combine our might against a common foe, and then lose every battle and engagement.”

“Against one serpent?”

“It talks. It is wise. No one can look at its eyes and live. No shell can pierce its armor. It flies faster than a military jet, but it has no wings. Men flock to it. It grants its slaves strange powers. Dark powers. It promises those who hunger for revenge terrible victories over whomever they hate. It promises wealth to the greedy, power to the ambitious, and nubile wives and concubines to the lustful, as many as they choose. It promises the secrets of the universe to the curious, the how to drink the blood of children and gain the gift of unending, deathless existence. All this and more. Above all, it promises an end to all wars, and all men to submit to its reign and rule, all property abolished, all religions dismissed, and nothing left to kill for or die for. And I saw it conquer.”

“Saw what?”

“I saw the years after it subjugated the world. It grows. It grew more heads, six more, from its neck. The monster grows longer and greater as it ages. I saw the last age of the world, the final time of man. All books are burned. They have no notions of past or future. The men of that day serve the dragon to have power over other men.

“The men of the last days are very few, and very wretched, except for their sorcerer kings, who could fly like hawks and walk through walls like ghosts and drink from cups that never failed. The Sorcerer Ximeng, Lord of Siberia, was one of them. He gave me this horn of abundance. He said he was human, but under his cloak, when I stabbed him, I saw he was scaly in some parts, feathery in others. He had sold bits of himself. He had replaced his heart with a demon’s heart.”

It was slung about his neck on a baldric. The horn was pale white, made of a substance harder and finer than ivory, and carved with images of writhing worms she was glad she could not see clearly.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Magic,” he said. “A bribe for me. Ximeng wanted me to burn a pinch of incense the dragon. He said I could serve my god also, but only needed to burn one pinch, the smallest pinch. That was all. The horn can produce milk and honey, wine and gruel, fruits and greens and fish and fowl and venison. You have to feed your own blood into it.”

She jerked her hand away fastidiously. “So it is black magic.”

“He said it was something else. A molecular engine. He said it needed something from the blood to work, but I now know he was lying. Normal food tastes bad to me now. I am not sure I can eat human food any more.”

“You said he bribed you?”

“And showed me things. Ximeng took me up to a high mountain overlooking the sea. The dragon was wrapped around the world like a belt, all the way around the equator. It was a mountain range of scales and gems and skeletons set into its armor. It looked like a bloodstained wall running from horizon to horizon. It placed its heads, one on each continent, and all the kings of the earth were its slaves, and its voice spoke from their mouths. The smoke of its breath rose up forever, and the skies of those days are no longer blue, but gray and black, and the sun is red as blood. The heat from its body kills one third of the fish in the sea, and overturned two thirds of the ships. The crops die, and the waters are poisoned, and the people die, and they sing its praises and worship the monster like a god as they are dying, and cut out their children’s hearts in sacrifice, to beg the monster to breathe on other lands than their own.”

“How did you escape?”

“I told Ximeng I could show him the time maze, and it would grant him endless power. I needed him, you see, to carry me on his back in flight across the mountains and deserts. I stabbed him with a Bowie knife. Even though he did not have a heart, the iron hurt him, and he fell down the cliff-side into a sea of blood. The creatures that tormented men in those days look like horses in armor, but they have stings like scorpions. They rose to the surface, and pulled him down, stinging him many times while he screamed.”

“A horrible vision!”

“No vision. I saw it with my eye.”

She said, “You walked into years not yet born?”

“Climbed. In the dark. Months of climbing.”





“There is a cave in Ross Island, where the Leviathan was invited to enter our world.” He hissed in pain and wiped his eyes. “I fell into the cave tunnels. They go down and down.” He slapped the knee above his pegleg. “I had morphine, lots of it. Enough to saw my leg off with an ice saw, and bind the flaps of skin, and sew and suture it. All in the dark, by touch. I had enough provisions to last, almost. Very proud of my work. Saved my life. I let nothing go to waste. I let no meat go to waste. Well, never mind that. I thought about you. You kept me alive. I talked to you, but never heard an answer. And eventually I climbed and climbed, and found a spot where the rock felt like glass. I knew I was near an opening. I came out. But I was in a jungle. In Mexico. I made my way to the coast, and found a royal Spanish colony. They had flintlocks, and clipper-rigged ships. You understand? It was two hundred fifty years ago.”

He sighed again.

“I could have stayed there. But the thought of you drove me. I worked for a wage, a common laborer. Me, a prince! But then I saw the newspapers. I knew the history of all the battles from this year that were raging back in Europe. If there is one thing my tutors made sure I knew, it was military history. So I wagered with a grandee. Once, twice, lost on purpose once, then won big. Enough to mount an expedition. I remembered each painful step. I found the cave again.

“And I thought I found a solution! I need only return to a point just before the dragon entered my time, my year, and stop the Initiative. A single hand grenade in the atomic pile should do it. Or a single bullet in my father’s brain.”

She said, “But the dragon has been sighted. Now, this year. You landed in the wrong spot.”

He nodded heavily. “The cave exit for this year is in Tibet. It is the closest I have been able to find. It took me a month to get out of the Himalayas, and find an American consulate, and a phone. But even if I had found a jet plane waiting outside the cave mouth, it still could have been months too late.”

“And you say the cave has other openings?”

“Yes. It is a labyrinth of time. There are branches and forks, so there may be other histories as real as ours, but not ours. It goes down beyond sounding. It also goes up. Some places, straight up, and I have to chimney climb. Others, there is a bit of a slope. There is one main channel, though, and I have been to the upmost top.”

“What is there?”

*** *** ***

Chapter Six: Oedipus and Jonah



“The cave comes out in a plateau of ice, but the stars are not any ones I recognize. There are far fewer stars in that sky. The dragon is orbiting the earth, a ring like Saturn’s rings. Our world is too small for it. The heads reach in all directions in the black and barren heaven. It was fighting the sun.”

“The what?”

“The sun. That is what it looked like. When sunrise came, I saw great arms of fire reaching like rivers out the sun, and smiting the dragon. Darkness came out of the many mouths of the many heads and cast a shadow on the sun. The scales and blood as the dragon was cut turned into falling stars, and fell like a hailstone storm of fire. And there was someone there, something like a face, in the middle of the sun. Crowned with blinding flame and robed in blinding light. I could not see it. Not with my eyes. But I knew it. It frightened me more than the dragon did. I retreated into the cave, and dropped down the line I had left, knowing that years and years were between me and it, the farther into the past I fell.”

Both were silent for a time.

Eventually she said softly, “What of your father? You spoke of him.”

“He is to blame.”


“The Chinese were winning the Cold War. An atomic world war was coming. He saw no other way.”

“You cannot kill your father.”




He sighed and said, “I know. This is the only opening I can find. The one the dragon originally entered through, I blasted shut. The explosion did not kill it. I might have killed my brother.”

She shook her head. “No. You are caught in a dream. A dream of darkness. You are sick. You cannot kill your father.”

He blinked, only now realizing what she meant. “Isabella, I have found a maze through time. I can make things unhappen.”

“That is no word in English. You always do that to me! Is not funny!”

“Sorry. I will only use realisterrific words from now on. I am not trying to confundle you.”

She said something angrily in Spanish, sounding both melodic as songbird and as fierce as a falcon as she did, and then, just as suddenly, she started giggling, and had to put her hand before her mouth to hide it.

George said, “Dear lord, how pretty you were when you were young! Not that you were not good looking later on, mind you. You grow into a striking and fine woman …and…”

She said, “I turn into a widow.”

“I am not dead.”

“You closed the way back to your year. And if you stayed here and waited for me to be widowed … do not tell me the year! … the difference of our ages is still what it is, yes? You are twice my age. But you said you came from Tibet. You came all this way. Why? To tell me the future?”

“Tell my brother Richard not to go fight the dragon.”

“I will. But he will obey orders, and go anyway. Should I tell you to stay? I will say your ghost visited me and prophesied. Do you think you will stay?”

He shook his head. “I daresay I, this year of me, he would not disobey orders either. I get to live as prince, as most men dream. This means I pay the price. I cannot live for myself.”

“Then why come all this way?”

“To say goodbye. I had to see you again. To say I love you. To say I cherish you more than my own heart, which I gave to you with my whole soul. I would kiss you, but it would be like kissing an old man.”

She stood, and sat in his lap, winding her white and warm arms sinuously about his neck. He really had forgotten how lithe and curvaceous she was at this age, how light on his knee, and how her eyes flashed like fire. In later years, she would be too big to sit on his lap.

“Shut your mouth closed,” she said, “Talking is not kissing.”

“But I am so ugly!”

“So? All American kings are ugly. Look at the faces on your money. But they have that look in the eye. You have. You are the same. Stop with the talking.”




Later, she whispered, “Now what? How can my prince slay the dragon?”

“If this were a fairy tale, my fairy godmother would help me. But there is no magic sword, not for my hands. If it were a scientific romance — do you know the kind of book I mean? — I could slay the dragon with science. But the future has no weapons that can harm him. The dragon removes all atomic power from mankind. And I cannot reach into the past to undo the events before they start. Here is too late. Two hundred fifty years ago is too early. There are other openings in the First Century, the Second, The Fifth, the Seventh, the Tenth, and the Thirteenth, and then a large cluster near the Sixteenth Century, a period I have visited five times now, and I thoroughly hate it, everything about it.”

She kissed him on the neck. She made a small noise of surprise, and pulled on the beads of his necklace with her teeth. “Wass—iss—diss—?” she said without moving her teeth.

“A relic. Saint someone or other. Father Flanagan —— I guess you have not met him yet—”

Her whole body wiggled with surprise. He decided her had to kiss her again.

Then he said, “You talk me into changing my denomination.”

“No, my uncle told me that would be bad. Might cause a war. Not to open my mouth.”

“Well, I am your husband, and he is now just an inlaw, and I am telling you that you talk me into it. We want the kids to be in the same faith.”

He could not see her expression in the dark. “Is this changing the past, how will it work? Is it like Oedipus Rex; whatever you do is already part of the mosaic, and there is no escape? You tell me to disobey my Uncle the King of Spain, and talk you first time around into joining the Church, even though it makes great trouble for you, and then you get old, go into cave, come out, and tell me, and it starts all over again? Or —— ”

“Or what?”

“Or is it like Jonah?”

“Jonah? You mean, it time travel is like being caught by a whale?”

“No. I mean the end.”

“All I remember is the part about the whale.”

“The Nineveh people. Enemies of the Hebrews. Cruel and proud. Jonah is a prophet and says God will destroy the city with fire from heaven. All burn to ground. You remember? But it does not do this. The evil king, he repents in sackcloth and ashes. Orders all men and woman to do like this. Beasts too. Everyone weeps for his sins. And the future is changed. Jonah is so angry at God for changing the future, he wants to die.”

“Are you sure that is in there? I don’t remember that part of the story at all. Maybe the Bible is different in different times.”

“Maybe my handsome husband is half a fool in all times.”

“I think the Oedipus method is how it works. Nothing I have done so far has made changes I can see. But the entrances are so scattered, it is hard to say.”

She shook her head. “Cannot be! Cannot be Oedipus!”

“Why not?”

“If you decide it is not that way, it is not. Just don’t do whatever you did last time. Could God the Father even make a world so? Where a man is damned, and sees his future is hellfire, and he cannot change, not ever?”

“That is what they believe in the East. Kismet. Fate. Karma. Whatever Allah wills is written.”

“The West has the light.” She said, “You said you were like a man trapped in a story.”

“I did not exactly say that.”

“But you did not know if it was a Brothers Grimm story or a Jules Verne story.”

“Or a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

“Stop making up words in English! My English is perfectly perfect, and you are mocking the fun out of me!”

“I am not!”

“Signifyawning is not a word! But I know what you must do. To find out what kind of tale the traveling in time allows, you must find the time traveler. The time maker. The time master.”

“What do you mean? Who do you mean?”

“The cave maze you said. It is not natural. It was made. Bored.” She made a boring gesture with her fingers she probably did not realize was obscene.

“The maze was made by the dragon, or so I assume.”

She snorted in derision. “Dragons do not make! The rob and horde. Do you read no fairy tales?”

“My Nanny did not approve of…”

“So sick of hearing of your Nanny, I am! Our children will not be served so!”

“I did not realize my younger self talked about her so much.”

“You are tied to her apron strings. That is a saying we have in Spain. No, you have told me what to do, to break my Uncle’s hold, and I will obey, as I promised. But now you must cherish me, and know my wisdom, and be tied to my strings. Besides, you have no idea. So the Virgin leads you to me, to hear my word. Yes?”

“Yes, I suppose.”


“I vow it. What would you have me to do, my princess? I am your true prince, and my sword and my heart are at your service. How do I slay the dragon, the immortal, invulnerable, impossible dragon?”

“Go to the root of the labyrinth. The beginning. Whoever made the cavern of time must be at the beginning of the time where the cave is, must he not? The year the cave was made must be the first year the cave can reach, must it not?”

*** *** ***

Chapter Seven: Elf Fare is Unfit for Man



The prince and princess were together. The next morning, before dawn, they discussed the practical matters of money, a private plane to Tibet, spelunking gear, and so on.

The birds were singing but the sky was darkest gray. “I feel like an adulterer,” he said.

“We are married. You are just easily winded. Alphonse does not come, even though I scream and scream!” She giggled again.

He got up to leave. “I don’t want you to see me by daylight. I am older than you think. And I have been in many bad lands in many bad years. And it shows.”

“You are my Cupid, to leave in the dark like this. But I will be your Psyche, and seek you in earth and heaven, and you will be found again.”

He kissed her. He was sad and certain in his heart, despite her brave words, that this would be the last time, the last kiss.




The passage of time in the cavern of time was impossible to estimate. His hair was longer. He had lost count after one thousand of how many times he had slept in total darkness and arose in total darkness. That count had started only after, one by one, his every lamp and lantern and chemical glow packet had failed. So it was at least three years he had been underground.

He staggered out of a small hole, so narrow he had to strip all his gear and send it through first, so narrow that only after he was cut and bleeding did his blood give him the lubrication he needed to squeeze himself free.

He landed on the softest, warmest, greenest grass he had ever felt. Above was a bright sun, dazzling and warm as a kiss. He rolled for sheer joy, and fell into a rosebush. He pulled himself upright, blinking in wonder. The stems of the roses were soft and plaint, and there was not a single thorn anywhere. Nor saw he see the stubs of clipped thorns: this was a rose of a new type.

“Or an old one,” he said. He looked back. He saw the low, white outcropping of rock and the mussed grass of the opening. But of his clothing, gear, his weapons, his ropes and pitons, and the all-important Horn of Abundance, there was no sign at all.



Before a day had passed, it was clear to him that there were servants waiting on him, but unseen, inaudible, sly.

For example, when he went to catch a fish in a pond, a branch of just the proper size and flexibility to be a fishspear would protrude out of the brush were he was searching, and tap him on the knee.

When he went to start a fire, an oval of rainwater would just so happen to be caught in a transparent leaf of a snow-white tree, just at the right angle to catch the sunlight in a magnifying lens. And, of course, just beneath was some dry grass and kindling.

And when he went to scale and bone the fish, a flint stone, remarkably shaped just to fit into his hand yet sharp as a knife along the business end, would be pushed into his hand while his head was turned.

The first time he ate hale food again, he threw it up. And the second. By the third time, mostly from an effort of will, he kept it down. Stomach pains lashed and burned his guts for hours after that, and the next day.

But he persevered.

After the first night, he no longer wept and called and screamed and begged for the Horn of Abundance. By the end of the week, he could nibble the luscious fruit, bright as gems, which all the trees poured forth, or suck the yolk from a sapphire bird’s egg. After two weeks, he ate with a hearty appetite, and the salmon and the rabbits practically fell into his lap, as if eagerly volunteering to help him return to a normal diet.

In his memory, the sweet food from the Horn changed over time: he began to realize how it had smelled of blood and corruption, no matter what its form had been.

When he slept, shivering on the cool grass, two deerlike creatures but long of neck, graceful and dark eyed, stepped out of the woods and lay themselves couchant to either side of him, and their fur was as long and soft as the fur of a chinchilla. They bent their sinuous necks to breathe warm breath on him.

He missed those half-deer half-giraffe beasts the next night, when it was a clowder of cats who nestled up to him, purring and humming. He was awake half the night, terrified that a cat would sit on his face and smother him to death.

After that, the nights were warmer, and beech trees bent over him and covered him over with leaves to keep him snug.

Time passed until time came to be of no account.




A day came when a loaf of baked bread, scented with honey, and a cup made from a curling leaf, filled with clear wine, stood on a white rock at the pond shore. Hanging on a treebranch close at hand was a long tunic, woven of spider and worm and caterpillar silks together. It shined silvery-white. It was seamless, woven from top to bottom in one piece, and soft as a moth wing. It looked as frail as dandelion fluff, but his hands could not tear it. He put it on the new, white garment.

He gave thanks, and ate, and drank. The bread was so soft it was a cloud from the sky, yet filling as no food of earth could be. The colorless wine was liquid lightning. It jolted his thoughts clear of fog like a plunge in a mountain stream.

By now he was unsurprised when a tree branch moved and handed him a fillet to tie back his hair.

When he looked up, there was an old man seated on the stone across the pond opposite him.

*** *** ***

Chapter Eight: Watchman of the World Tree



The old man was leaning on a staff of white wood, and had a red gem on his brow. His snow white hair fell past his shoulders, and his beard to his waist. There were tiny whips of black hair still around his mouth and nostrils, and in amid his eyebrows, just enough to give his face an expression, halfway between solemn and merry.

The man’s reflection in the pool was younger than the man, with black hair rather than white, and a shorter beard. The man’s robe was cut like the one the trees had bestowed on George, but the robe fell to his feet, and the sleeves were voluminous like wings.

Finally, the prince said, “You are the time traveler? The master of time?”

The other said, “I am the watchman and warden of the forest of time, or one of us, but not its master. It is my task to prune branches or graft them to the main stem, so that the whole does not fail. The tender shoots of the future are eaten by a carrion bird; the branches of alternates and better days are nibbled by four winter harts; the roots are gnawed by a dragon-worm. He is called Nithhogg, but you have heard him called Lichttraeger, the bearer of enlightenment.”

“Your servants have seen to my comfort. Though I have not seen them.”

“That is a witty saying.”

“I have had month to think it up.”

“You have been here more than a month.”

George thought that was disturbing, or, rather, he thought he should have been disturbed, but the bread and wine had wiped all anxiety clean from his soul, so he laughed.

The old man’s eyes twinkled, as if pleased to see the other laugh. “I am called Master Ask, which means Ashtree, and is propitious name in your language. You are called Tillerman, which is also a good name, for in you the soil has been prepared for a rich harvest.”

“My name is George.”

Master Ask nodded. “It is the same name. Speak your questions.”

“I had them a month ago. Months ago.”

“You wonder why I made you wait? I wonder why you made me wait! The sickness of darkness was in you, and so you could not see nor hear me. Now you are closer to what a hale man should be, as Adam before the fall, and your eyes are no longer held, and your ears are open.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Ah. Your ears are not completely open, then.”

“Are you an angel?”

The old man smiled. “Are you groveling in fear? Or struck mute? There was but one maiden who was so pure that her eyes could look on an undisguised angel unafraid. You are more impure than she. You stabbed the Sorcerer-king who had bestowed on you hospitality, and granted you gifts, and gave you escort to your exit. You smiled as he was impaled by the many scorpion-steeds.”

“So? He was evil.”

“As are you. You left many friends and comrades to come to miserable deaths in the snow, or bleeding by wounds not bound up, and killed your elder brother, and killed your father, and ate of unclean foods.”

“I did not kill my brother!”

“Richard died in your explosion. You ignited it for hate’s sake against a creature you knew it would not hurt.”

The accusation seemed so unfair. How was he to know the worm’s armor would not protect its captives? And he had shut off the gate, at least, even if the monster was alive. But another objection leaped from his lips: “I did not kill my father!”

“In your heart, you hate him. It suffices. Hell is waiting.”

“The men — there was nothing I could do! The mission had to be completed! Sometimes we have to do things that seem wrong, in order to make things turn out right in the end. That is hard necessity!”

“Necessity is a tyrant’s plea. What crime can it not excuse? You are your father.”

He wanted to speak, to rebuke that unfair and absurd recrimination, but he found himself bawling like a baby instead. His one good leg lost its strength. He slumped. He curled on the ground, hugging himself, shaking with sob upon sob.

The moon rose, and he was still huddled on the ground.



The next day, the honeyed bread and clear wine were set before him, and a new robe. He ate and drank, and again the old man, Master Ask, was visible, wand in hand and ruby on brow, seated on the stone on the other side of the pool.

The man’s robes were brighter and finer, and the gem on his head was like a torch.

“You look different.”

“Your eyes are more open, Tillerman.”

“What must I do?”

“Admit the evil you have done. Vow to do it no more. Ask your maker for forgiveness, for only the maker can remake. When you break the vow, ask again.”

“I have been praying and asking and vowing all night.”

“Hence your sight is clearer. Do you see yet what you must do?”

“To slay the dragon? No.”

“The dragon cannot be slain by you. You saw his death at the spear of the prince of the heavenly hosts, the archangel who is chief of all the warrior angels.”

“I thought it was the sun. If I cannot slay the dragon, why am I here? What sort of foolish story is this? I had a magic horn, and it poisoned me. So this is not a fairy tale. I found a way to pass through time, but I cannot reach any year where I can undo the evil before it happens. So this is not a scientific romance. My hands are too weak to slay a monster which even the fires of the sun can barely hurt. Is this a horror story after all? A tale where evil triumphs? Then why is there a garden at the dawn of time?”

The old man laughed. “You think this Eden? It is merely a vestry, meant as a place to refresh and remind. Here my brothers don human forms before entering the labyrinth of time. I am not of Adam’s race. The blood of the unicorn is mine, albeit I walk the earth in man’s form, for earth is still your dominion. This world is a story, but it is a love story. The cosmos was made for love.”

“If this were a love story, I would see my wife again. I miss her.”

“There is a greater love than romantic love. Uncloud your eyes. Who is your foe? Is he an extraterrestrial monster from another star? Is he some evil elf or bad magician from a fairy kingdom?”

“A dragon.”

*** *** ***

Chapter Nine: Crown and Sword Renounced



For a moment, it seemed the old man had not heard him. George repeated himself. “The leviathan is a dragon.”

“Is he the were-worm Beowulf slew, perhaps, or Siegfried? Is it Python, whom Apollo’s dart destroyed? Is it Ormgandr, who is doomed to slay and be slain by the stormlord Donner?”

George took another sip of wine, then a second, and then he threw back his head, and drained it to the lees. The leaf in his hand that formed the cup turned golden, and fell into tatters in his fingers, leaving behind a scent like spring wind.

His eyes were bright. “It is the Devil himself. I have been fighting the Devil, the great red dragon that deceives the whole word. Old Nick. I thought he was a story.”

“His story was made gentle. The truth would petrify. He is greater and darker than all other dragons. Even what you saw was merely a phantasm, a seeming, a thing made of solidified and colored air. The real dark angel is a purely intellectual being, unhindered by any physical stuff, timeless and without location. He is spirit.”

“Then this is a story of failure. He cannot be killed.”

“Not by your hand. By Michael’s. Your task is humbler.”

“What task?”

“You read once of when the devils were driven out of a madman, and into a herd of swine. In grief and pride, because they had no other way to hurt man or beast or any created thing, they ran themselves from the cliff and drowned in the sea. They tasted the pain of death, even if they cannot die, and my brother says they are trapped there until the end of that time branch, bound in the bones of the pigs they slew, blind, rotting and aching at the bottom of the sea. How do you undo what your father’s fear and despair wrought?”

“How was my father wrong? The Chinese…”

“The Chinese are not your God. Him alone fear. Hellfire is hotter than atomic flame. If He wished, He could brush aside intercontinental missiles as a mother brushes a fly from her sleeping child’s face, so gently as never to wake him, or make an evil empire collapse without a shot fired. What then did your father fear? Death? All men outside the shadow of Christ’s mercy die and within, none. The death of his nation? What? Is American greater than Nineveh and Tyre? Nations are mortal. Your soul is eternal.”

George scowled in thought. “If my father summoned the devil, I can cast it out. Is that what you are saying?”

“Your hearing is sharper still. I will ask again, what sort of story is this?”

“I hope it is a tale of redemption. Tell me. How does time travel work?”

“The change you make in the past will bless or curse the present, but does not effect it directly. If you go to the Tibetan cave, and emerge in the year when your wife was young, you may convince your younger self to lead the nation into forty days of prayer, fasting and repentance, and forty days again, until the power of the dragon is no more. Then only can your weapons kill his seeming. Meanwhile, in your history, your past will be unaltered, but by what seems coincidence or sudden miracle, or perhaps by slow and gradual changes, your current nation will come to be as much as it can be like it would have been had the changes in the first history been done. Like attracts to like.”

“So if I shoot my father before I was born?”

“You curse yourself. The father you remember will remain in your memory. An accident will kill you, perhaps a meteorite smaller than a musketball flies through your head. The people who recall you will die or get amnesia, or perhaps merely cease to speak of you. The hospital where your birth records are stored will burn down. The curse will hunt down evidence of you, as much as it can. It is not perfect. Little strange anachronisms will still exist, or things too large to cover over. We call them Fortean Events. But by the same token, you can bless your branch of time, even if you can never reenter it.”

George said. “How?”

“After you are done with the Tibetan gate, return to the gate in Mexico.”

“That is two hundred fifty years in the past! It is long, long before the dragon came. You — you are not expecting me to kill my first ancestor! The first king!”

“No. A more noble task is yours. Convince him to turn down the crown.”

“George Washington the First turn down the crown? That is impossible! No man who headed a victorious army, not in the history of the world, ever turned down a crown.”

“It is a near thing. His men will offer it. They will use all your father’s excuses, and speak of necessity, and the reality of politics, and of how the ends justify the means. He will step out of the hot tent and go for a short walk. There you will meet him.”

“I have no tongue to persuade the greatest king history has ever known, the wisest monarch and best who ever donned a crown, to put it aside! What will he do? Return to farming?”

George laughed at the absurdity of the thought, but the old man looked stern.

George said desperately, “Without his example, what becomes of Monarchy? It was already tottering in France. The American example, the brilliance of our Constitution, put the spine in the Bourbon kings to crush the rebels. The Czar as well, when the fever of republicanism spread there!”

“You see not clearly, yet. Think. What did your father sell to the devil to make that fallen archangel visible and physical to your people? His own soul? That would not have been enough.”

Prince George found his mouth too dry to speak. For a moment, he spat and swallowed until his voice returned. “The soul of the king is the soul of the nation. Without a king, there is no one person who can sell a nation to the devil.”

The old man nodded. “The new world that will spring from your act will, of course, be plagued by the devil in another way. The whole body of the people can still sell the soul of their nation to the devil, but the process is harder. If there are even forty good men among them, the nation will be spared. As for you…”

He threw a bright object across the pond. George caught it. It was his necklace, the one given him by Father Flanagan. The crucifix containing the relic of Saint Cipriano gleamed in the sun.

“This is why I was spared, wasn’t it? The holy relic around my neck somehow protected me, when the dragon’s gaze slew all men in my company, or drove them mad.”

The old man said, “Your faith saved you. Now it must save your nation. With your brother dead and your father excommunicated — his being the head of the established church of the Americas will not spare him, a Satanist, from the archbishops when you testify — you are sovereign in your time and hour. When you speak to your ancestor, the first George for whom you are named, the soul of your nation will be in your words. For this reason, you are chosen.”

“When I testify…? Do you mean I am to I return to my own time?”

“A way will be opened once your first ancestor exalts the republic before himself.”

“But I am not sure I can — what will I say? How do you ask history’s greatest king to spurn a crown? I will be cursing my own timeline, won’t I? All the glorious things Imperial America did! Spreading the Flag all the way to Wisconsin! Driving the French from Louisiana! The California Purchase! It will all be gone. You spoke of the curse. My family would be reduced to the same stature as if we had never been kings, as if no one had ever been … Is that the terrible price I must pay? The time line is cursed, and I can never go home again?”

“The Republic of America will spread the flag to the Moon. You will be allowed the free exercise and practice of your religion.”

“But Isabella would not have married me in that new time! Why would a princess of Spain wed a commoner from Virginia?”

“If this is a love story, you will find the answer to that.”

George turned to go, but hesitated.

The old man said, “Yes?”

“Is there no easier way to pass through the maze of caves and tunnels? I cannot climb for three years in the dark. And I don’t have the horn of abundance.”

“I will send my servants before you. A light will light your way. Each watch of the endless night, ravens will bring you meat, and water will spring up from the stones themselves when you smite it with my staff, which I shall give you. You shall walk and not be weary, and you shall leap as lightly as the springbuck. You will shed your weariness and renew your strength as an eagle. You smile? You laugh?”

“It is a laugh of joy, Master Ask,” said George. “I finally see what kind of story this shall be. Many hardships will plague me, and wounds for which there is no cure, and this task will be years of thankless labor. Getting whole nations to repent? Or the task will be impossible. Asking great men to cast crowns away? And the devil will foreknow and send his servants to seek my life. I go as a man who is a prince no longer to smite without a sword against the dragon who cannot die. But I laugh because this is a story with a happy ending! It may be far away, and many troubles between this act and the finale. But the end will be happy. To her I am still a prince forever. I will find my Isabella again.”



The time warden threw his staff. A hawk caught it, carried it over the pond and put in into the hand of the prince.

It was remarkably easy to enter the cave entrance of time. A warm spring wind picked him up, and he dove into the opening, which was now, somehow, wide enough to admit him. Fireflies by the thousands rose from the grass and swept into the opening after, to grant him light.

The wind carried him upward many leagues, before he ever began to grasp the rock and climb, and even after that, so much strength and joy was in his hands, his body so light, that the climb did not tire.

Tiny lights like stars crowned his head and swept the upward path before him.

Up he rose.



So comes to an finish the stories gathered in this collection from aeons near or far

Watch this space as the year turns for a new tale.