A father and a time mage return from the dead.
A Sip of Grundy Wine
Wynne watches her father as he peers downward, an eager smile on his face, that she can see in the glow of the campfires below. She doesn’t know whether Matheus Marine is dead or alive, even though he hovers beside her in the chill desert night air, but she is glad to see him, even if it is through the veil of death.
“I met a friend of yours,” he tells her. His wiry silver hair floats like wind-whipped clouds. Rakishly handsome still, is Matheus, she thinks, remembering her mother’s bitterness about her husband’s straying. “He asked for you. He’s in pretty bad shape.”
Dante. It has to be Dante. He somehow survived and was able to return to the Weald.
And who’s army, here of all places?
“Where is he?” Wynne shifts to face him, sees him shake his head.
“Do your orders require you to befriend a time mage? Pretty disgusting work if you ask me.” He spits, then watches the tiny golden glob of spittle descend into the army camp below.
She doesn’t bother to answer. She doesn’t answer to him any more, hasn’t for fifteen or more years. Turning, she bolts away, making for the Weald, for by now she has understood where she is, if not the time she is.
Winging through the black night, leaving the scorched, unwashed smells of the troops behind, she rises over the canyon wall, down into the narrow wash where she woke up, and then up, up to the barbed sandstone wall she remembers. She can see itin the non-light, shedding here from nothing, as if the presence of the time mage illuminates the passing seconds.
Drifting down into Dante’s fore-yard, she is greeted by the huge dog again, who sniffs her carefully and wags her tail. Behind her comes the wispy sound of Matheus landing on the sand.
“So you have been here before,” he mutters. “To the mage’s home. To his bed, too?”
Wynne’s throat tightens, but she doesn’t answer. The door swings wide to admit them, and Wynne feels a stab of concern that Leo isn’t here to ensure Dante recovers. Light grows in the tiled room, seeming to emanate from the atrium beyond. A movement, and a breathless cough, comes from Wynne’s left. Turning, she sees the tall figure of Dante Mandragora standing in the doorway of his study, leaning heavily against the door jamb.
“Ah, Wynne. Thank you, Matheus, for bringing her here to me.”
Wynne glances over her shoulder where her father chuckles behind her. She snaps, “Working for the time mage? Sharing his bed?”
Matheus chuckles on as Wynne approaches Dante. He gazes down at her from behind his blue-lensed spectacles. A shadow falls across his face, but she senses that he is in pain, and weary beyond bearing. Without a word she slides her arm around him, making him turn back, and guides him to his narrow bed.
Sighing, Dante falls onto it and rests his head in his hands. Wynne sits beside him. Matheus watches from the doorway.
“The Mer. They saved you?” Wynne keeps her voice slow and subtle.
Dante nods. “I knew, or perhaps, hoped they would. Carrying me would have got you killed.” Looking up at her, he shrugs and gives her a small grin. “So I made a decision to let go, thinking I had at least a fifty-fifty chance of surviving, and thus giving you a 100 percent chance of surviving.”
Wynne exhales a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Her grief washed away, she rose and stepped back. Odd how I worried for him, a bedamned time mage.
Dante shifted back and leaned against the wall. “Just a bit of pneumonia. Came back here to recover.” He coughed wetly. “One good thing happened while I was with the Mer, though. Sit down, Wynne, and hear my story.”
How many months have gone by in Dante’s time stream, compared to mine?
Matheus sat on the floor beside her. Taking a flask from his pocket, he offered the first drink to Wynne. The grundy wine was sharp, acid and reviving. After her second swallow, she handed it back to her father, and prepared to listen.