Time’s Bending Sickle, by Edward Doughtie

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

9. Time’s Tyranny

“I would have picked you up if you had called,” said Jean, rising and giving me a cool, domestic kiss. She sat back down on the sofa and tucked her feet under her denim skirt.
“I ran into Mike at the airport and he gave me a ride. Howell.”
Howell picked up a glass holding what looked like icewater, raised it in a toasting gesture, and sat in a chair. He was wearing shorts, sweatshirt, and running shoes. “I was jogging in the neighborhood, thought I’d see if you were back. Our Pacific consultant can’t make it. Think we can do Tokyo and Hong Kong without him?”
I shed my suit coat and plopped down beside Jean. “How about taking Hiro?”
“Hiro Watanabe. In programming. He went to Cal Tech, speaks Japanese. He would do better than some translator out of the book.”
“I’ll think about it. Send him by tomorrow. Did you enjoy your London break?”
“Yeah, I straightened out the bank, and I got some music in.”
“Well, I got in eighteen holes yesterday. Enough R and R for you? I’m ready to go on the attack again, score some bread.”
“I’d like to get reacquainted with Jean first.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then.” He rose and chugged his water. I saw him out. Jean waved.
“That’s a long jog for him,” I said, returning to Jean.
“I think he’s training for a marathon.”
I snuggled up. “I missed you.”
“Hmp. I’ll bet.” She sipped her wine.
“Are you pissed that I took two days in London?”
She shrugged. “I guess so. A bit.”
“I spared you the trials of my recovery. I slept, played some music, and got my batteries recharged; aside from a bit of jet lag, I’m at your service, no longer a zombie pushing stock.”
She gave a small smile, but didn’t relax.
“Was there any problem? Is your mother OK?”
She sighed and looked at me. “No. Howell just hinted–nothing more–that you have a girlfriend there.”
“What?” I was truly surprised. “No such luck.”
Jean didn’t respond to my light answer. She just kept looking at me, waiting for more.
“I have some musical acquaintences. A couple are women. I have no interest in other women. I haven’t even flirted with another woman, much less touched one. What’s the matter with Howell?” I was getting angry.
“He was just joking around. I don’t think he takes that sort of thing seriously.”
“Well, I do.”
“I guess I’ll have to trust you.”
“As I trust you.”
Jean leaned on me. “Just don’t stay away so long again.”
I put my arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “I’ll have to go to Tokyo and Hong Kong; but I won’t enjoy it, if that’ll help.”
We both relaxed into a familiar warmth. Then Jean asked, out of the blue: “What was your father like?”
“My father? It’s hard to remember. I was pretty young when he died. I remember he wore a hat, a fedora. He worked for the railroad, and would go off to work every day in his hat. I thought when you got to be a man, you had to wear a hat.”
“But what was he like? Would he play with you?”
“He didn’t wrestle with me or play catch. He was older. But he would read to me–I learned to read by watching over his shoulder while he read me the funny papers. And he would play checkers with me.”
“But was he nice to you? Did he spank you or anything?”
“Yeah, he was nice. I remember that even when he looked worried while he read the paper, he would smile when he looked at me; and he would bring me little trinkets from town–plastic cars, you know. I remember he spanked me once, for taking some firecrackers he was saving for the fourth, shooting them off with the neighbor boys, and then lying about it.”
“Were you sorry when he died?”
“Oh yeah. I cried a lot.” I said this before remembering that Jean had not cried, not that I know of. She didn’t ask any more questions, so I didn’t say anything else. I just kissed her. She returned my kiss, but remained sad and quiet as she pulled my hand and led me off to bed.

Still waiting for my biological clock to catch up with my travels, I lay awake a long time after Jean fell asleep. Toby appeared to me among a mob of soldiers. He was with the army at what I assumed, from Prothero’s words, to be Tilbury, on the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the Armada to invade. The camp was on top of a low hill with very steep sides overlooking the river valley. A number of men were at work reinforcing an older earthwork at the edge of the hill. On the river in the distance, I could see men at work on a bridge of boats. Captain Hall’s company, now about one hundred and thirty strong, was drilling in an open area among the tents on the northern edge of the camp. Almost all now seemed to have a weapon of some sort. Many had similar coats, but none could be said to be in uniform. Nor was drill like that of a modern military unit; it was more like a bad high school band. The main maneuver seemed to be getting the company to move into a tight circle around the captain, who was yelling and waving his sword, his nose bright red.
“God’s tiny earlobes! How are you going to hear me if you can’t get closer? And make less noise! Now attend the drum!” He signaled to the drummer, who started beating a pattern. The men scrambled to get into a kind of formation, which eventually had a group of men with calivers and muskets in front of a group with pikes, then the ensign bearer and the drummer surrounded by men with the shorter halberds and bills, followed by another band of pikemen and another group with firearms. There were some tangles and collisions in the process, and one of the billmen tried one side of the ensign, then the other, finally returning sheepishly to the first side. Captain Hall watched, shaking his head and muttering.
Other companies assembled on the field also drilled, and some were practiced and snappy; but other groups of men lay on the grass, cooked over small fires in front of the tents, knelt over dice, or milled about. There was some grumbling about poor food and lack of pay, there was singing and laughing, there were fights. Some went to a clump of trees to relieve themselves, but others peed where they stood. There may have been twelve or thirteen thousand all told. There were many tents, but there were more crude shelters of green branches, and it was clear that many men had been sleeping in the open. The ground seemed dry. I noticed at one end of the field some men digging. Then I saw three bodies laid out for burial.
From the far north end of the field a murmur arose, a stir surrounding an approaching company. In the general motliness, this company was a brilliant sight. Two hundred horsemen and around sixty musketeers on foot, all in tangerine-colored cloaks and white breeches, moved in good order to a spot marked by an ensign in the same colors. A tall young man riding at the head of the troop was clearly the leader, and an aristocrat. One of Toby’s company, one of the young farm boys, asked Ancient Prothero who they might be.
The ancient gave him a look of pity, and said, “That, my lad, is the Earl of Essex and his men. Which is to say, look you, that some men is born to wear better clothes than others. The earl promises to be a right valiant commander, for all that. He fought most gallantly in the Low Countries, in that skirmish wherein Sir Philip Sidney got his mortal wound.”
Captain Hall then ordered the pikemen and musketeers to separate and work on arms drill. He and the lieutenant took the gunners, for their drill was more complex. Prothero took the pikemen, and had them do several exercises to make them more confident in handling this weapon, which was nearly nineteen feet long. They had to take several stances, holding the pike in the same position using different hands. Toby seemed at ease tossing his pike around, always seeming to find the right balance. Prothero called out, “Charge your pike!” and the men on the front rank pointed their pikes stright out, holding the ends in their extended right hands, guiding them with their left, bracing their left elbows against their sides. “Order your pike!” Then, “Charge your pike against your foot and draw your sword!” This time they braced the butts of the pikes against their right feet, holding the shafts with their left hands, and reaching across with their right hands to draw their swords. This was the stance taken against horsemen. The other ranks had been standing with the butts of their pikes in the palms of their right hands; when Toby’s rank moved to the rear, the next rank went through the movements.
All this time Captain Hall could be heard shouting at the calivers and muskets. “Steaton! God’s holy netherstocks, man! If you don’t blow your pan clean, you will set off your touchbox and blow off your hand. Now once more, after you fire: uncock your match, put it betwixt your fingers, blow your pan, prime your pan, close your pan.” In a moment he groaned, “Nooo! God’s buskins, Trewman, blow off your pan cover, or your match will set off your piece and kill neighbor Tyttensore instead of the Spaniard!”
As these exercises were going on, a group of men who seemed to be officers rode by Toby’s company. Ancient Prothero saluted them, and one, beaming in recognition, reached down to grasp his hand. He was a compact, weathered, dark man of about fifty, with an intelligent and determined look.
“Dai Prothero, bless my soul, are you not yet hanged?”
“Nay, Sir Roger, I would not be so bold as to precede you; I know my place.”
“And who commands this fine-looking company?”
“Captain Hall, Sir Roger.”
“They will surely frighten off the Spanish. I must go, but I hope to see you again before we die.”
“Farewell, Sir Roger.”
The group of officers rode on, and Ancient Prothero turned to Toby, who happened to be nearby, and said, “That is the one officer I would follow into hell.”
“Pray, sir,” asked Toby, “who is he?”
“Why, Marshal of the Horse, Sir Roger Williams. I fought with him in the Low Countries.” He scratched his patchy chin. “I remember when we assaulted Doesburg, we were under fire in our trenches, and much distressed. Sir Roger was wearing a gilt morion with a great plume of feathers, and was running up and down the trench putting heart in the men, daring the Spaniard to shoot him.” He smiled grimly. “They did hit him in the arm. But as you see, he saved the arm. Any other man would have been hit so that his morion would have been fit for a colander.” Suddenly Prothero saw Hall looking at him quizzically, and turned to the pikemen. “Next rank! Order your pikes!”
Rumors seemed to be as plentiful as soldiers. Any scrap of news was gulped eagerly. The Spanish fleet had destroyed the English. No, the English had destroyed the Spanish. No, there was still fighting off the coast; indeed, one could sometimes hear the cannon fire like distant thunder. But nothing was definite.
During what must have been the middle of August the rumors and excitement seemed especially evident. The news from the fleet was still uncertain, but the Queen was coming. Two of the most expert companies drilled with particular fervor. Captain Hall was heard grumbling to the young lieutenant about being stuck with raw recruits and being disadvantaged from obtaining the Queen’s notice.
Then one morning from the side of the camp near the Thames came the sound of cannon, then the sound of drums and fifes followed by a ripple of cheering, and a group on horseback bearing flags and banners gradually came into view. Elegantly dressed men with red sashes over their left shoulders surrounded three ladies. One of these rode a white horse; she wore a silver breastplate over her ornate white velvet dress, and carried a commander’s truncheon. Her hair, or rather the wig in her elaborate hairdo, was auburn. The Queen. They stopped on the edge of the camp, and after some discussion among them, the Queen and a much smaller party began making their way through the army. As they came closer, I could see a man on foot bearing a large, ornate sword, followed by two boys, then the Queen on her big white horse between two other riders. One of these was the Earl of Essex in his tangerine cloak, the other a stout, graybearded man with a red face I learned was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. A man on foot brought up the rear. As the Queen and her company rode through the army, the men cheered and knelt in waves, dipping their ensigns; it was as if she were reaping a field of grain.
The next morning the companies formed and waited while the two expert companies performed a mock battle before the Queen as she sat on her horse, holding her truncheon. Then they all marched past her in review. Toby marched smartly, his face rapt. I could see the Queen’s face as he passed, an unnatural blend of pale and rosy makeup drying in the sun and breeze. All available banners and colors, all the most presentable clothes, and the shiniest weapons were on view.
After the review, the Queen, the Earl of Leicester, and a few other officers, rode around the army, eventually halting in a central elevated spot. Toby’s company was nearby, so he was one of the few hundred close enough to hear some of the words the Queen delivered.
“My loving people,” she began, “we have been warned by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we present ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. . . . I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear–” Here a horse shook its head, jingling its harness and drowning out the words. “I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that the minions of the king of Spain, or any prince of Europe should dare to invade. . . .” The wind blew away some words. “I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.”
She finished, and those around her began a cheer that spread through the crowd. Several of Toby’s fellow soldiers called out, “God save your majesty!” Toby fervently shouted “Amen!”
The lieutenant turned to Prothero, saying, “Fine words, and wise, too. Let the Spaniard beware.”
“Aye, indeed. Very wise to promise pay for the soldiers. Words is cheap and coins is dear, so let the captains look to it.”
In another day the news became widespread that the Armada had been effectively defeated the previous week. Although some cautious souls worried about the Spanish troops on the continent, others argued that without the fleet, they could not cross the channel without being destroyed. The mood of the soldiers became increasingly more celebratory. But the camp smelled a lot stronger than it had at first, and the number of graves on the edge of the field had multiplied.
The next day it was raining heavily, but Captain Hall assembled the company. “Our company has been dismissed,” he began; “we are ordered to return home.”
Several soldiers cheered. A few murmured, “When are we to be paid?”
The captain continued. “You have deported yourselves like true and valiant Englishmen. I regret that we had no opportunity to show the Spanish your mettle. In time I doubt not that you could have been made wise and well-taught soldiers. But for now, we are free to return to our homes. The company will march back to Lincolnshire together. I have money to pay you lendings now, and I expect to have your full pay when we reach home.”
This news brought more murmurings, and a concealed raspberry.
The captain reddened. “God’s holy nosehairs! I would pay you had I the money. I am in debt myself for your victual, and have taken none of my own lawful pay. Other captains have cheated their troops I know, but I will defend my honor. Dares any man here give me the lie?” He put his hand on his sword. The troops were silent.
“Well, then. If perchance your pay is not forthcoming when we reach home, I shall plead your cause to the Lord Treasurer myself. The Queen has pledged her word, and I for one do not doubt of her. When your pay arrives, I shall post a notice on the door of the parish church, and the clerk will be there to read it to you. Are you satisfied?”
“Yea.” The answer was half-hearted and not universal. One soldier muttered to Toby, “I’ll be paid–I’ll sell my musket.”
“Stand at your ease,” said Hall. “Hume!” Toby started and looked up. “A word with you.”
The others went about their business. Toby stood before the captain, and Prothero approached. The captain looked on Toby sternly, but not unkindly. Rain dripped off his hat.
“Hume, you must know that if you return home you return to jail.” Toby winced. “Now, I know somewhat of your situation, and I think that such a fate would be a waste of a promising young man who could do the queen some service. Ancient Prothero tells me there is something that likes him in the way you handle your pike. Will you be ruled by us, or will you return to jail?”
Toby clearly experienced conflicting emotions. “Sirs both, I am grateful for your good opinion, and shall study to deserve it. What would you have me do?”
Hall nodded to Prothero, who said, “Do you recall meeting Sir Roger Williams? Aye? I might be able to prefer you to him if you vow to serve him well.”
“I should think it an honor. I have heard him praised by many since he spoke to you. But sirs–” Toby looked around desperately and spoke with intense appeal in his expression, “I have strong reasons for returning home, if only for a short time.”
Hall and Prothero looked at one another. The captain spoke. “It cannot be. Sir James is very potent, and will not be crossed.”
Prothero smiled tightly and said, “No doubt one in the company can be found to be your messenger if you wish to send letters.”
“I should be in his debt and yours,” Toby said, looking relieved.
“Well, we are agreed, then.” Captain Hall clapped Toby on the shoulder. “Ready your letters for tomorrow, and we shall bring you to Sir Roger. Perhaps we may see you again in Sir Roger’s company before the year is out.”
Toby borrowed some paper and ink from Prothero, and sat scribbling in a corner of his tent as the rain continued to fall. One letter was to Jane.

I must not hope that you can forgive me, and I doe not flatter myself that you will believe my protestations of Love when my actes have proved my infidelitie. I cannot defend or excuse what I myself doe not understand in my hart or in my deedes. But I must say what I feel to be true, that I loved, and still love you entirelie. I am forced to be joined to another, and I have vowed before God and man to do my duty and be faithfull to that union. But though my Soule be in peril for it, I cannot do other than love you. Believe, pray believe, that I never wished you harme or suffering but only happiness. That I have caused you unhappiness is my daylie punishment, worse than the bodilie imprisonment I endured. I now goe with the army, perhaps to fight over the seas. If I live, I may yet do you some good service and earn a crumb of your pardon. Any news of you will help keep my Soule from despayringe utterlie; word sent to Sir Roger Williams will reach me. For the rest of my unworthie Life, I remain yours to command.
Tobias Hume

The other letter was to his wife Joan, which was rather different in tone and substance:

Dear Wife, I hope you are well. To my regret, I may not return and give you the support and comfort that are your due. Rather than goe back to prison, I am to serve under Sir Roger Williams, I know not where, perhaps over the seas. But my libertie gives me hope of one daie returning to you and performing the duties of a good and faithfull husband. With this letter I send all the Monie I have. And if the parish clerk posts a bill on the door of the Church saying that Captain Hall has the rest of our pay, show him this letter under my hand and demand my pay for yourself as my lawfull Wife. If I should be so fortunate as to come by any more monie, you shall have it. I hartilie miss the sweet comforts we had of one another, but that is my punishment for the suffering I have inflicted on you. Yet be of good cheer, dear Wife, for I live and am in health, and may finde a means to provide for my familie as I ought. God’s blessings on you. From your loving Husband,
Tobias Hume

Toby carefully sealed up the few pitiful coins he had with this letter, no doubt hoping that the messenger would be honest.
It was still raining the next day. Toby met Prothero, who asked if he had any preference for the messenger. Toby mentioned one of the farm lads who, he said, was honest and good-natured, though not clever. Prothero went with Toby to lend authority to his instructions to the messenger, who was trussing up his gear for the march home. Rafe was a sturdy man of Toby’s age, with only a light brown fuzz on his chin, and empty blue eyes.
“Rafe, I shall be most in your debt for this service. These letters are for Joan, whom you know.” He handed over a small wax-covered packet. “She will be living at her mother’s, in the cottage by the miller’s farm. These letters are for Mistress Jane, my former pupil, at the manor. Now you must take care to give this packet to no one but her. You may need to devise some secret shift–you may put it in the bottom of a basket of apples or somewhat.” Rafe grinned, and Toby looked embarrassed. “Both will reward you according to their abilities and means. God protect you on your journey.” Rafe tucked the letters into his bundle, while Toby watched with some anxiety. They shook hands, and Toby followed Prothero to his meeting with Sir Roger Williams and the unknown.

The trip to Tokyo and Hong Kong did not appeal to me. I was angry with Howell for gossiping about me, and did not look forward to spending more time in his company. Nor did I look forward to the crowds and business types I expected in those cities. We decided to take Hiro, and spent many of the hours crossing the Pacific bringing him up to speed. He, in turn, gave us some good tips on cultural differences, without which one of us whitebread boys would surely have caused offense.
Hiro turned out to be a bright spot: he was smart, quick, and funny. When we got to Tokyo and finished our meetings for the day, he suggested we leave the heavy hitters to their Scotch and CNN in the hotel. He took me under his wing and showed me some of the sights I might have missed otherwise, and talked about them in a way that gave them meaning. I would almost have enjoyed the expedition if it hadn’t been for the incredible noise and crowding. One especially memorable novelty for me was a shop full of netsuke, the whimsical, imaginative little carvings that helped secure the pouches Japanese men used to wear with their kimonos. One of the traditional themes for these carvings was a pumpkin full of rats. There was a modern variation that amused me; it was a little computer full of mice and bugs. It was clearly not an antique, and was reasonably priced, so I bought it.
It felt odd to observe an alien culture that had so many familiar elements in it, yet one which felt stranger in some ways than the one I had been observing in my visions which was three hundred years older.
Hong Kong was worse than Tokyo; it was as noisy and crowded, and Hiro was almost as foreign there as I. At least there was more English about, so I didn’t feel quite so crippled linguistically. And we ate some great Chinese food. But I was more than ready to get home, and glad to agree with the decision not to continue to Sydney. During the long plane trip back I kept to myself, and worried a good bit about my future, my job, my marriage, my sanity. The noise and altitude irritated my ears. With the familiar mixture of curiosity and unease, I allowed myself to have some especially long visions of Toby and his adventures. I must confess that I may have merely dreamed some details.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: