One of Alvarez’s captors, a broad-shouldered, grizzled fellow of about fifty, knelt over him, saying, “I arrest you for the murder of Clodius Eprius.” Alvarez spat at him; in return he got a buffet that loosened his teeth. “Eprius was a friend of mine,” the Roman said.
“You were right, Tero,” another trooper said. “They are human, after all.”
“I told you so, Afer. You owe me two aurei.” Tero turned to Kleandros and helped him to his feet. A dark bruise was forming under the doctor’s left eye, but he did not seem badly hurt.
The byplay went on without much attention from Alvarez. He was in pain and sunk deep in despair; the timer would automatically return to 2059 twenty-four hours after it recharged unless someone reset it, and it did not look as if he or Lou would have the chance. He was stuck here and now forever. No, revise that-his future here looked limited, too.
He realized Tero was saying something to him, but did not take the trouble to understand. Tero kicked him in the ribs, not unkindly, and repeated: “Tell me, barbarian, how many years lie between our time and yours?”
Alvarez felt his world coming apart. Somehow these savages had managed to seize him, and now they knew his secret as well. He strained wildly at his bonds, trying to break free, but one thing the Romans plainly knew was how to tie firm knots. “You are the barbarians!” he shouted.
Tero and Kleandros bent over him, faces intent. “It’s true, then?” the Greek whispered. “You do come from the future?”
Utterly beaten, Alvarez said, “Yes.”
“I thought so,” Tero breathed. “Quite by accident, it occurred to me how much more we know now than the heroes of the Trojan Wars. That set me thinking-how much more still would the men who come after us learn? Surely they would have powers we do not: terrible weapons, who knows what? Simpler things, too: the ability to make one coin just like another, for instance. How do you do that, anyway?”
“Molds,” Alvarez said dully.
“Ah? Interesting. It’s neither here nor there, though. Even after I got my notion, I still had to figure out why the men of the future would want anything from us in the first place. That stymied me for a long, long time. By my own logic, you had to have everything we do, and more besides. And then Eprius’ body servant found that one of his master’s books was missing, a rare one.”
“Rare?” Kleandros interjected. “If I had known Eprius had a copy of the Aleadai, I might have killed him myself.”
“You see?” Tero said. “It’s so easy for a book to be lost forever if few copies are made of it. Works like the Aleadai are valuable now-how much more would they be worth in some future time if between now and then they’d been lost altogether? A great deal, I have no doubt. Enough to steal for, enough to kill for? Once we knew the sort of thing you were after, it was easy enough to set a trap, and you walked right into it.”
Kleandros added, “My apologies for not using an authentic copy of Hieronymos of Kardia, but, you see, no one in town owns one.”
This was all a bad dream, Alvarez though. It could not be happening. To be caught was bad enough, but then to be lectured by these stupid barbarians…
He must have said that aloud, for Tero’s lips tightened. He realized the English phrase was close enough to the Latin from which it had come to let the Romans understand him.
“Us, barbarians?” Tero said. “On the contrary. What are the marks of the barbarian? Surely one is acting without thinking ahead to see what results might come of what you do. Did you do that when you used your thunder weapon? Hardly. And because we were ignorant of your device, did you think us dolts?
You were stupid to reveal it to us at all. No, man from another time, if either of us deserves to be called a barbarian, it is you.” He stood and turned to his men. “Take them away,” he said.
One of the most enjoyable games in science fiction is to imagine how history would have changed if one of its great figures had taken a different path: if Alexander the Great hadn’t died young, if Napoleon had; if Julius Caesar hadn’t been assassinated, if Franklin D. Roosevelt had. But secular leaders are not the only people who shape history. Here is an example of another sort of figure not performing as he did in the world we know.
The monks at Ir-Ruhaiyeh did not talk casually among themselves. They were not hermits; those who wanted to be pillar sitters like the two Saints Simeon went off into the Syrian Desert by themselves and did not join monastic communities. Still, the Rule of Saint Basil enjoined silence through much of the day.
Despite the Cappadocian Father’s Rule, though, a whispered word ran through the monastery regardless of the canonical hour: “The Persians. The Persians are marching toward Ir-Ruhaiyeh.”
The abbot, Isaac, heard the whispers, though the monks had to shout when they spoke to him. Isaac was past seventy, with a white beard that nearly reached his waist. But he had been abbot here for more than twenty years and had been a simple monk for thirty years before that. He knew what his charges thought almost before they thought it.
Isaac turned to the man he hoped would one day succeed him. “It will be very bad this time, John. I feel it.”
The prior shrugged.”It will be as God wills, Father Abbot.” He was half the abbot’s age, round-faced, and always smiling. What from other men might have seemed prophecy of doom came from his lips as a prediction of good fortune.
Isaac was not cheered, not this time. “I wonder if God does not mean this to be the end for us Christians.”
“The Persians have come to Ir-Ruhaiyeh before,” John said stoutly. “They raided, they moved on. When their campaigns were through, they went back to their homeland once more, and life resumed.”
“I was here,” Isaac agreed. “They came in the younger Justin’s reign, and Tiberius’, and Maurice’s. As you say, they left again soon enough or were driven off. But since this beast of a Phokas murdered his way to the throne of the Roman Empire-”
“Shh.” John looked around. Only one monk was nearby, on his hands and knees in the herb garden.”One never knows who may be listening.”
“I am too old to fear spies overmuch, John,” the abbot said, chuckling. At that moment the monk in the herb garden sat back on his haunches so he could wipe sweat from his strong, swarthy face with the sleeve of his robe. Isaac chuckled again. “And can you seriously imagine him betraying us?”
John laughed, too. “That one? No, you have me there. Ever since he came to us, he’s thought of nothing but his hymns.”
“Nor can I blame him, for they are a gift from God,” Isaac said. “Truly he must be inspired to sing the Lord’s praises so sweetly when he knew not a word of Greek before he fled his horrid paganism to become a Christian and a monk. Romanos the Melodist was a convert, too, they say-born a Jew.”
“Some of our brother’s hymns are a match for his, I think,” John said. “Perhaps they love Christ the more for first discovering Him with the full faculties of grown men.”
“It could be so,” Isaac said thoughtfully. Then, as the monk in the garden resumed his work, the abbot came back to his worries. “When I was younger, we all knew the Persians were harriers, not conquerors. Sooner or later our soldiers would drive them back. This time I think they are come to stay.”
John’s sunny face was not well adapted to showing concern, but it did now. “You may be right, Father Abbot. Since the general Narses rebelled against Phokas, since Germanos attacked Narses, since the Persians beat Germanos and Leontios-”
“Since Phokas broke his own brother’s pledge of safe conduct for Narses and burned him alive, since Germanos was forced to become a monk for losing to the Persians-” Isaac took up the melancholy tale of Roman troubles. “Our armies now are a rabble, those which have not fled. Who will, who can, make King Khosroes’ soldiers leave the empire now?”