Haakon escapes to Iowa
Approximately 2600 words.
11 September 1066
Scarborough, Earldom of Northumbria
Kingdom of England
Haakon huddled in the shadow of Gunnar's hut and stroked his dented Timepiece. When a holographic map of Scarborough jiggled into existence above the device, he breathed a sigh of relief. At least it still worked. He squinted to make out the details on the image. Smoke burned his eyes and his chest throbbed where the Viking's lance had struck him. He tried to ignore the villagers' cries and Gunnar's blood on the path, instead concentrating on the route to the parsonage. It wasn't like Scarborough was a city. It was just a cluster of huts centered on the village green and the church.
With a flick of his fingers, he expanded the map, and a whispered "Aha" escaped his lips. The display showed a system of caves on the beach below the headland, along with a footpath twisting down the side of the bluff. That could serve as an escape route and hideout for Ralf, if they could get there.
His Timepiece grew hot in the palm of his hand. He closed the display and let it drop back against his chest, where it warmed his skin through his flaxen tunic. The lance must have done something to it to make it overheat. No time to worry about that now. He snatched up Gunnar's axe and scuttled into the mist.
He trotted down the crooked lanes. Surreal scenes coalesced out of the swirling mists and then faded to oblivion behind him. The thatched roof of a hut blazed, sending harsh fumes into the air. Farther along, a man's nearly beheaded body lay in a twisted heap across the path. A mongrel dog stood guard and snarled as Haakon approached. Around a bend, pigs squealed inside a split-rail enclosure, their eyes gleaming red in the flames.
At the next bend, a Viking straddled a bloodied woman, raping her.
Haakon swung the flat of his axe against the man's skull, and he fell to one side. The woman moaned and rolled glassy eyes at him. No time to help her. "Run, woman. To the hills!"
He sprinted on.
Outside the wood-framed church, a child--a girl--wailed over the body of a dead priest.
Haakon grunted and knelt next to the waif. "Baby, it's going to be all right. You need to come with me."
She shuddered away from him, hiding her filthy, ashen face behind trembling hands.
He stroked her tangled, raven-colored hair. "I won't hurt you, darlin'. Promise."
She peeked at him from between her fingers. "The bad man killed the Holy Father."
"I know, sweetheart." He kept his voice soft. From somewhere in the haze, a man screamed and a battle horse neighed. "I'll protect you." He held his arms open for her.
She collapsed against him in a burst of sobs. He clutched at her frail body and stood, holding his axe in one fist while his free arm enclosed her. The parsonage must be nearby. "Darlin', can you tell me where the Holy Father lived?"
She pushed her hair back from her face. "In his home."
"I know that, darlin'. Which way to his home?"
Her chin trembled, and red rimmed her eyes, but she pointed. "There."
He nodded and raced in front of the church toward the opposite side of the building.
A shout thundered from the broken doors to the sanctuary. "Release the child, you devil."
Haakon peered through the murk. He knew that voice and that hulking, muscular profile. The man, battle scarred but still in his prime, stood at the ready in the shadows of the sanctuary. The double doors hung open, one slanted askew, fastened by a single leather hinge. "Brother Ralf? Is that you?"
The man advanced and circled him in a warrior's crouch. He carried the Rector's staff as if it were a sword, ready to parry any attack. A gap-toothed grimace opened a hole in his scraggly beard. "Release the child, I say."
"Ralf, it's me. Lord Haakon." He shifted the girl in his arms and thrust his face forward. "I'm returned from my mission to Iceland, only to find evil has fallen on this land."
Ralf's eyes widened. "Lord Haakon? It is you. What in the name of all that's holy are ye doing here?"
"I had business with the village chandler, but we woke this morning to this." He hefted the child to a more comfortable position and rolled his gaze over the village. Screams and the thud of horses' hooves sounded nearby, shrouded by smoke and fog. "We've no time, my friend. We must quit this place."
Some of the tension went out of Ralf's pose and he gestured to the church. "The sanctuary should be safe, at least for a while."
Haakon followed him to the dank interior. Except for being large enough to hold perhaps sixty parishioners, it wasn't much different from the villagers' hovels: plank floor and thatched roof. The only chair was a wooden, throne-like affair at the front, near the altar. Two slit windows on the left and right walls let ruddy light from nearby fires flicker through. A woman hunkered near the altar.
Ralf stood over her and turned defiant eyes on Haakon. "This is the good woman Catherine Corbett, late of the court of the Queen of Montes. King Edward found a place here for her and that child you hold, Charlotte. I undertook a commission on the King's behalf to protect them."
Haakon strode forward and handed the waif off the woman, who opened her arms in a caress. "A commission on the King's behalf, you say? They must have pleased him mightily to merit royal attention."
"Indeed, my lord."
Haakon mentally shrugged. So his inference was correct, and the waif had royal parentage, maybe even from the late King Edward of holy memory. It scarcely mattered, as the bloodlines of Anglo-Saxon nobility would soon be less than meaningless.
The important thing was getting away from the Viking berserkers. He turned to Ralf. "I have a plan of sorts. There are caves at the base of the headland, near the beach, and a trail leading down the bluff. If we can make our way there, we can hide. The Vikings will leave once they're done plundering, and then you can return to Jorvik and the safety of the Abbey."
"Caves? Aye, that could work. And once we be back in Jorvik, the Abbess will see to the women and her child. 'Tis a bold plan, Lord Haakon, and full of risk. But 'tis better than staying here and waiting to be stuck like a pig." Ralf spat on the dirt floor. "Hardrada might claim to follow Christ, but his men still be pagans. They have no mercy in their hearts."
Haakon doubted that followers of Christ would show any more mercy than pagans, but held his peace. "For true, they killed the priest. The child," he nodded to the black-haired tot who regarded him with somber eyes, "was with him when I found her."
"Aye." Ralf's face darkened. "The priest had a fair heart. He was the younger son of Lord Morcar. That dark one, Lord Tostig, was here with these heathen Vikings. I saw him. He's plotting no good against his brother, good King Harold, and doubtless would murder the poor child if he knew of her history."
Haakon caught his breath. If only Ralf knew the turmoil that awaited this land. "So Tostig killed Lord Morcar's kin? He must be scheming to sit again as Earl of Northumbria."
"Could be, my Lord. Forsooth, he was in league with Hardrada's thane, the one with the gleaming battle helmet and the black stallion."
Whatever was behind this Deviation had penetrated all the way to Tostig's camp, and therefore to Hardrada's, too. That couldn't be good. This was exactly the intelligence Haakon needed to complete his report to Control.
A scream, plaintive and agonizing, shrieked from the distance before dwindling to silence. Time to get out of here. Haakon's heart thudded and his hands jittered with the need to act. "We've no time to discuss politics. That's for the high born. Do you have a weapon with you?"
Ralf spread his hands. "Ye knows I've taken vows, my Lord." His gaze fell on the axe in Haakon's fist and his eyes narrowed. "Still, Christ will forgive me if I'm protecting His followers."
Haakon hesitated but then handed the weapon to Ralf. "You'll do better with this than I, my friend." Besides, if things got tough he could use his Timepiece to escape. Speaking of which, he should pre-set his destination. Every second could count, and he couldn't afford to be caught the way Gunnar had been. "Before we take our leave, I need a moment." He knelt before the altar, held his cross in his hands, and bowed his head.
Ralf harrumphed, but kept his voice hushed as he gathered the woman and the child and led them to the front of the church.
Haakon stroked his Timepiece and set the coordinates for Chicago Control. The display flickered, and reset to a space-time locus he didn't recognize. He frowned, and re-input the settings, getting the same results.
Ralf called from the door, "Hurry, Lord. We have little time."
Haakon pressed the info button next to the coordinates of the unknown locus and a little balloon of light filled with text bubbled up. Rune Cave, Middleton, Iowa, 22 September 2018. Level three station. Caution: use not recommended after 1880 CE due to proximity of temporal settlements. For security purposes, arrival coordinates offset by 3.2km.
"God's navel, a level three in Iowa?" he muttered.
Sounds of a scuffle filled the chapel, followed by a meaty thunk. Ralf called out, "Now, my Lord."
Haakon glanced over his shoulder to where Ralf stood over the body of a Viking, pulling the axe out of the man's skull. Iowa would have to do. He could figure out what was wrong with his Timepiece there, when there weren't Vikings trying to skewer him. Better yet, he'd just use the level three station to get back to Chicago Control.
He accepted the setting, set it as the destination, and scrambled to his feet. "Head north, Brother. There's a footpath that leads to the beach and the caves."
Whether God, or Odin, or just blind luck was with them, Haakon couldn't say, but they managed to run through the narrow pathways of Scarborough and avoid further warriors. Pungent soot clogged the air, but the sun was beginning to burn off the morning fog. Haakon led them through the shocks of a wheat field. The air at last cleared when they reached the bluff that overlooked the sea, thirty or forty meters below. Haakon slowed his pace and watched the brambles for an opening. "There." He pointed.
Ralf stopped and cast a doubtful eye at the narrow trail that descended into the dense growth. "Are you sure, my Lord? It looks like a game trail, not something suited for human feet."
The woman--what was her name? Catherine something. Corbett? She'd been carrying the waif, Charlotte. The woman's chest heaved and her face was flushed from the effort.
Haakon pointed at the trail. "I'm positive. It fishtails around, but goes all the way to the beach. A land-yard north you'll find the entrance to the caves, behind a boulder." At least, that's what the display on his Timepiece had shown. "Go. I'll follow you down."
Ralf studied his features for a moment. "All right then. On your feet, child. Let's go!" He swatted Catherine on her behind and the woman staggered wearily onto the path. He followed, and the shadows of the dense growth swallowed him.
Before Haakon could join them, a clatter made him turn back toward the village. "Merde." The warrior, the one with the Harley-Davidson helmet, sat astride his mount, staring at him. Haakon glanced back to where Ralf's eyes peered at him from the thicket. "Go! Hurry. I'll distract him."
"My Lord, I can't let you--"
"Go, I say. Remember your oath to your King and your duty to the woman and child. I can take care of myself."
"Godspeed, then, my friend." Ralf gave him a quick nod, and pushed down the path.
Haakon turned back to the warrior. A motley array of foot soldiers had gathered around him, along with two hounds tugging on chains and howling for the chase.
This was going to be tight. Good thing he'd pre-set his Timepiece.
Haakon ran at a trot away from the bluff and toward the forest. The first thing to do was divert the Vikings away from the refugees headed toward the beach.
The mounted warrior shouted something in the Dansk Tunga that he couldn't make out. With a yell, four of the warriors set out after him, their dogs tugging at their chains. The warrior's mount reared on its hindquarters, and he whirled back toward the village. So far, so good.
Wait. The mounted warrior was back, but with two bowmen. That wasn't good at all. Haakon doubled his pace. Fifty meters to the forest. Once under cover, he could trigger his timepiece and give them the slip.
Thirty meters. An arrow whizzed by and thudded into the dirt to his left. Fifteen meters. Another zipped by so close the rush of wind tousled the dreadlocks hanging over his right ear. Five meters. Two arrows in quick succession quivered from trees in front of him.
Shadows closed in and he was in the gnarled blackthorn that bordered the forest. He changed to a weaving trot, taking advantage of the cover provided by the undergrowth. The dogs howled. Another set of arrows thudded into trees on his right. Time to go.
He lurched to a stop and placed an ancient hickory tree between himself and his pursuers. When he activated his Timepiece, the familiar colors of the space-time twistors swirled about him. The device whined with the momentary high-pitched tones of transit and then fell silent as the field collapsed at his destination.
He swallowed sour bile and shook off dizziness from jump jeebies. No time for that now. He reached for his Timepiece to check the map of his location.
"Serd!" The blasted thing was too hot to touch. He let it slap against his chest and winced at the heat. For sure, it was screwed up. Still, he'd escaped. He heaved a sigh of relief, and the odors of twenty-first century pollution fouled his nostrils. Even so, an urban park in Iowa was better than facing down Vikings. Next stop, Chicago Control.
Clouds roiled overhead, and thunder rumbled in the distance. A real boom-banger seemed to be in the offing. At least his floppy merchant's hat would give him some protection. A gravel trail curved to his left, lit by electric street lamps. The joys of civilization.
He really needed to look at a map. He gripped his Timepiece using his shirt as a make-shift hot pad and brought up a display of the local environs. The Timekeeper station was 3.2 kilometers away, just like the info balloon had said, mostly along the pedestrian path on his left. An easy walk, even in a downpour. If he hurried, he might get lucky and beat the storm.
He set out, slogging down the trail. In less than a minute, lightning flashed and high-pitched sonics keened through the darkness. A chill gripped his guts as he recognized the distinctive sounds. It was another Timepiece, and from the pitch and duration, it was straining to transport three or more travelers, not just one. Hounds howled, and war cries in the Dansk Tunga echoed through the night.
Shock sent cold fingers scampering down his spine.
Somehow, his Viking pursuers must have gotten access to a Timepiece and used it to follow him to 2018 Iowa. It must be the work of the same gang who provided the Harley-Davidson helmet to that warrior. First the events in 1066 were off kilter, and now there were Vikings in Iowa. This Deviation was getting out of control.
Cold determination gripped him. He had to survive to report in. The level three station would have shields to protect him, and that would also prevent the Vikings from tracing his next jump.
He took off at a run.