Where was it?
This collection of scenes was originally in place of the much shorter version where Eric is describing some of his past to Tamara. It was interspersed with her comments, much like the final version is. I enjoyed writing these because they gave me a deeper insight into Eric’s character and the experiences that helped to form him. But this was just too long and slowed down the pacing too much.
Hourglass sand four inches deep
Eric was frustrated. A year on Earth and no movement of the sand in the hourglass at all. He thought their restraint for an entire year would have been enough to prove they didn’t mean to hurt the fool humans. For certain it had taken a great deal of restraint. Superstitious, ignorant, and often just plain foul, the humans were a sore trial to be around. So he came here to remind himself of what he wanted for his people. Standing on the docks, he stared at the sea, careful to avoid looking too closely near the dock itself where refuse was thrown, allowing the movement of the waves to calm him. The deep, clean blue soothed him as nothing else on Earth. The Great Sea surrounding Abaddon was tinged with red like the rest of the realm and the waters churned with constant storms and the sea-dwelling banished races. He much preferred the cool, calm waters before him now.
As he stood staring at the undulating waves, a beggar approached him.
“Please, my lord. A bit of change?”
He scowled at the man before looking back to the sea. Didn’t the beggar have some sort of task he could go do for coin? Smelly, obnoxious beings, humans. Less able to take care of themselves than the youngest Abaddonite. He felt no need to hurt them as the Maker had feared. They were barely worthy of his notice at all. Even his Guard Captain, the first one he had chosen to join him in this farce, didn’t bother to intercept the beggar. The human was hardly a threat. And evidently was unaware of what a bath was. No Abaddonite would let themselves get so rank. Their senses of smell were entirely too keen. As were their enemy’s.
“Please, my lord? A spare coin? I’ve none to buy food and cannot work.” The filthy man gestured to his foot.
Looking down, Eric noticed the man stood on one foot and one stump. His right foot was missing at the ankle. Perhaps the man could not work, after all, Eric supposed. And apparently Eric would get no peace until the man got what he wanted. “Fine.” Pulling out a gold coin, Eric tossed it into the man’s cup. “Now go away.”
The man moved away, bowing and scraping, “Thank you, my lord. Oh, thank you , kind sir.” Over and over again he muttered the phrases as he backed away.
Eric was no longer paying attention to him, because something astonishing had happened. The sand in the hourglass finally began to fall. He could feel it. Had that simple donation started the sand flowing? He glanced over to where the beggar still shuffled backwards, repeating his overly effusive litany of gratitude. Was the task, in truth, greater than ’cause no harm’? Must they actually assist people? Give to the poor?
Well, they could do that. It was simple enough to hand out coins.
Leaving the docks, he strode off to tell the others, the beggar forgotten.
Hourglass sand four inches deep, minus a little
“The city will fall soon,” Eric told the others. “Our gifts to the poor have kept the sand flowing steadily. If helping others is what the Maker needs from us, then I shall help an enormous number all at once and perhaps we can finish up this quest. I need each of you to carry a spell anchor to a corner of the city. I will take the fourth corner. Once the anchors are in place, I shall construct a magic barrier between them to cover the city and keep it from falling in the attack. That should help everyone in it.”
The four Abaddonites jumped at the sound of a loud cracking sound splitting the air. Spinning around, they saw with horror that a line had formed at the top of the hourglass and was snaking its way down the entire length of the top chamber.
“Perhaps, my lord,” one of the others said shakily, “it would not be wise to use your magic to change the course of human events.”
The expansion of the crack stopped.
“That appears to be the case,” Eric agreed, watching the hourglass warily. “I shall, of course, reconsider my earlier remark in light of this new information. Let us instead continue to help the poor and needy as we have been doing and let the humans determine their own course through history.”
Slowly, the crack reversed itself, the glass reverting to its pristine clearness.
Hourglass sand one half inch lower
Eric looked around at the poor souls he had dragged with him into this Earth place and wondered again if it was worth the effort. Fifty years in this place and the humans were still dirty, ignorant and superstitious. They warred almost as much as Abaddonites. Some days it seemed as if they had never left Abaddon, except Earth was greener, the seas bluer.
“I called you all here because the hourglass stopped flowing,” he said with no preliminaries. “Are you all continuing to give large amounts of money to the poor?”
“Of course,” his Guard Captain, Colin was the first to respond, but it was unnecessary. The griffon was the only one of his Guard he had invited to come to Earth with him and, as such, he never left Eric’s side, considering it his ordained duty to protect his king.
“I gave much, then journeyed back to Abaddon and retrieved more gold to distribute,” Brenden said next. The púca managed the financials for the kingdom and was the second one Eric had thought to bring. Colin and Brenden had proven trustworthy so far in the centuries of his reign, and he knew he’d need both a fighter and money to spend. Trustworthiness and usefulness were the Abaddon equivalent of friends.
Regenia Bashore was the last of their merry band. A banshee healer, Eric had added her to the group on pure instinct. As far as Eric could tell, she was not loyal to him at all, but she was loyal to the well-being of the people of Abaddon—and right now the two were related. He had ultimately determined that as long as he didn’t turn into a murderous dictator like King Marco before him, he was safe enough from her. Regenia had therefore been a court asset for centuries. Eric sent her into warring clans to provide what medical care she could. While she patched people up in the name of the crown, Eric gained the well-wishes of his people and more fell into peace. She may not be convinced she liked Eric himself, but she was an able ambassador. A healer and an ambassador made an excellent asset for this venture.
Now Regenia answered in the affirmative also. “I also act as we agreed, giving to the poor whenever I come across them.”
Eric sighed. “No more sand flowing since nigh on a full year now. It must be something we are doing differently or wrong.”
Regenia cocked her head. “Are you quite certain? Perhaps it is not that we are doing wrong, but simply that we are not doing enough.”
“We should give more, then?” Eric asked. “We can get more gold from Abaddon.”
“Nay. I meant other. We are as children in this world of altruism the Maker tasked us to learn. One never tasks a child with a complex task all at once. One must teach them step by step.”
Brenden was the first to understand her point. “You believe the Maker determined we have been taught the lesson of giving and therefore presents another?”
Eric sighed. “A logical thought,” he said. “Which leaves us yet another puzzle to solve. However, I must ask. Are we certain that we wish to continue on this path? These humans are smelly and ignorant and almost as intemperate as our own fellows. Is there benefit to continuing this quest? Or should we graciously thank the Maker for the opportunity, but decline to remain?”
“We should stay,” Brenden said firmly. “Smelly and ignorant they may be, but also innovative in a way that Abaddon is not. Today, I heard word of a remarkable device created by one of these ignorant humans. He took numerous small ink stamps, each of a single letter, and devised a machine in which one can align the letters just so and make copies of an entire page of words within mere moments. Imagine being able to send the exact same letter to many people without fear of wasting parchment on sloppy handwriting or misspelled words. Even in their intemperance, they find the resolve to create.”
Eric’s brows rose. “That is indeed a remarkable invention. I will need to study how it works and bring the knowledge back to Abaddon. Howbeit, for now, Brenden would like to stay. How say you two?”
Regenia bowed her head. “I also would prefer to stay and benefit from the innovation of the humans. They make remarkable strides in surgery and the use of medicinal plants. Many transplanted well into Abaddon to be of use there, as well.”
Colin was the last to respond. “I also would advise that we remain. The people of Abaddon are aware of your efforts here. If you surrender without success, you will be seen as weak and challengers will arise faster than even you could subdue them. It is best that we remain and finish our task.”
“Then remain we shall,” Eric conceded with a sigh. “Now we must needs discover what new puzzle the Maker left us.”
“I have discovered that, although the humans do greatly enjoy when we give them money, they seem much more appreciative when I repair their wounds,” Regenia said. “Perchance, we must offer our service as well as our gold?”
Hourglass sand one and a half inches lower
Eric looked around to see Helmut waving at him from the side of the camp, a brace of rabbits hanging from his fist. He grinned at the man in his ragged clothing. “Well done, Helmut! The cooks will be that glad of some meat for the pots.”
“Ja, mein freund. I make myself useful. You…you able to write down our Twelve Articles for us, but lousy shot. No matter. Helmut is here to keep you fed.”
Eric laughed, declining to mention he was an excellent shot—with magic. Arrows, however, seemed to develop minds of their own in his hands. “Ja, you keep me fed well indeed, mein freund. Come, sit. We will speak of what you will do when the Twelve Articles are passed.”
“Ah, mein freund. I will go back to my farm. The Articles make it so I will not starve there on my farm from sending the tithes, ja? They say that I can catch game on my land,” he held up the rabbits. “That all the game does not belong instead to my lord. It will be a good life then on my farm. You will come visit, ja?”
“I will come visit.” Eric clapped a hand on Helmut’s back.
Just then, Colin approached at a quick pace. “We need to go, Eric. Now.”
Trusting his Guard Captain, Eric turned to Helmut. “Enjoy your rabbits, Helmut. My friend needs me, but I will look forward to visiting you on your farm.”
“Ja! We will feast!” Helmut said as he waved them off.
“What happened?” Eric asked as Colin led him away.
“The peasants have lost. The Twelve Articles are gone. Troops are on their way. We must remove ourselves before we are caught in the slaughter. There is nothing more we can do for them.”
“We must depend on the Maker’s understanding that we are not as He is, able to perform miracles. We tried, but there is nothing else within our power to be done except to avoid being killed ourselves.” When Eric started to turn back, Colin physically restrained him. “You cannot help them, my lord. And Abaddon needs you alive!” The Guard Captain, now friend, pushed and pulled his king, manhandling him into a hidden spot just inside the woods where Brenden and Regenia already waited.
As soon as the first peasant was struck down, Colin tackled his king to the ground as Eric tried to head out to lend aid.
“You shield us, Your Majesty. You stay here and you shield, dammit! You cannot help them!”
Straining against the gryphon, Eric almost managed to rise, only to fall again as Brenden and Regenia added their weight to keep him down.
“Shield!” Colin insisted.
Thwarted, and grudgingly admitting to himself that Colin was right, Eric cursed and cast a shield of protection and camouflage over those in the hollow. Thus protected and hidden by a lich-magic shield, they watched in horror as the peasants they had attempted to aid in their rebellion against injustice were cut down in front of them. One after the other, the proved no match at all for the armed knights sent by the nobles.
When it was over, thousands lay dead in the field. Walking among them, Eric reached down again and again to close the sightless eyes of the men he had worked beside for the past year. The rabbits still remained in Helmut’s slack hands, but he would never taste them.
Hourglass two inches lower and gently falling
Regenia stumbled into Eric as she walked in the darkening evening, tripping over refuse in the street. He automatically shifted his weight to compensate, but lacked the energy to do ought else. Even Brenden, trudging along with Colin right behind them, was fatigued enough to let comment pass. The house was familiar by now. They had been visiting regularly for months during better times, collecting discarded clothing and other items to be passed on to the needy in the city.
Today, the house was eerily quiet like much of the city. These days, anyone left in the city was needy. The rich and the lucky had already left for the country. The Abaddonites knew better by now than to expect an answer to a knock and walked right in, then split up out of the mindless habit formed over the past weeks of hell.
Colin and Brenden went to the kitchens, made sure the fire was stoked and broth simmered on the hearth. Regenia checked the servant bedrooms, ministering to the sick as she came upon them. As late as yesterday, there had been a couple of footmen still on their feet in this house. Today there were none. Eric searched out the children of the household, comforting them where he could, distracting them from the plight of their parents and other adults dying around them. This house had only the one, so he went directly to the cook’s quarters.
Regenia finished her rounds of the adult rooms. Colin and Brenden carried broth to all those able to sip it down. But Eric had not reappeared to help as had been his habit. When all else was done, they found him. He sat in the cook’s bedroom, the cook laying dead on her bed beside him. In his arms lay the tiny, plague-ravaged body of the cook’s young daughter, scarcely more than a toddler, that he rocked compulsively back and forth. He looked up as they entered the room and tears drenched his cheeks.
“The cook has been gone for hours. Suzy was all alone. I don’t think anyone else has been up here all day. She was all alone. She said my name just before she died. She only learned to say it just last month. Still couldn’t quite pronounce it. But she called to me today. Then she left me. I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t fix her.”
1665, Just outside of London
Hourglass two and a half inches lower
The four sooty Abaddonites stood watching the smoldering remains of the once-great city. First the plague. Now fire to cleanse it. So many dead.
“I cannot do this any more,” Eric said painfully. “They all die so quickly. Brief flickers of life, snuffed out in an instant. I cannot continue to bring Suzys into my life only to lose them.”
“Then do not, my lord,” Regenia said softly from beside him. “There are other ways to help people. You do not need to befriend them as well. Surely the Maker does not intend that you should destroy yourself in your efforts.”
“The greatest good is served by keeping yourself whole, my lord,” Colin said in agreement. “Abaddon needs you, well and sane. The Maker will understand. We shall continue to help, but from a distance.”
“Yes,” Eric echoed. “From a distance.” A safe distance. A distance that would not ravage him with grief when another firefly life flickered out. Distance was good. Distance would be his refuge.
Hourglass sand three inches lower
“The idea is that we create a company and commit the entire company to doing good works instead of only the four of us,” Brenden said. “Between us, we can each give to charity and offer help where we can, but we are still only four. If we create a company, we can hire people to do more, multiplying the good we can do. It also keeps us in one place, which will allow us to get information more easily. When we keep travelling, news takes time to reach us. How may times has it been too late to act once we received word of something we could have helped with?”
“I like the idea,” Eric said. “But what kind of company were you considering?”
“I’m not sure. What would help out the most people?”
“There is a universal need for food,” Regenia offered. “I overhear many families as they come to my apothecary before heading west. Many of the small towns appearing in the western territories have no grocery, only traders that come when they can. Otherwise, the residents must produce or hunt their own food.”
“So you’re thinking a grocery or general store?” Colin asked.
“Yes,” Regenia said. “Every town needs one. Once they are established, they are a reliable place to gather the gossip of the town, because everyone eventually comes in. A line of general stores would help us hear of areas where we should go to help.”
“If we plan well, we can make each store a stop for the underground railroad,” Colin added. “Our efforts there could be more effective, providing more places for the escaping slaves to hide.”
“All right,” Eric said. “So we will locate grocers within all the remote towns we can find, all under the same company name. A sort of East India Company for America. What shall we call them? West America Company?”
Brenden grinned. “We can do better than that. We are Abaddon trying to be good. I say we call ourselves Agoodon, to remind us.”