REALIZATIONS OF TIME
Julie spent the night in Robert's room. There was a recliner there that was made to fold down nearly flat so someone could sleep in it and since everyone believed she was his wife, there had been no problem with her staying. She woke early, quite starved, realizing she hadn't eaten since early the day before, and so went out in search of the cafeteria.
Robert's mind was slowly swimming toward the shore of awareness. He had no idea, though, of where he was or why he was there. His eyes still closed, he lay there listening to the annoying beep of something just to his left. Moving his left hand, he discovered it had some sort of thing clamped over one finger. Using his thumb and another finger, he pushed it off. Now, where was he? His side didn't hurt from the arrow. What did hurt was his chest and throat when he breathed. That's when he became aware of the thing over his mouth and nose. That, too, ended up lying on the bed beside the finger thing. What had people been doing to him that he was not aware of? He tried to think, lying there, lids shut, trying to figure all this out.
The cot in Richard's tent. He had to be there. The last he remembered was Richard carrying him there. He'd tried to protest that it wasn't fitting for the king to be carrying him, but Richard had simply scooped him up in his long arms and walked off the battlefield. He well recalled the pain of the deeply embedded arrow and the increase of that with the jostling involved in being carried. Richard had had to make his way over crumbled walls, fallen bodies, around dead horses. He remembered the doctor pressing his palm against his ribs while he pulled the arrow's shaft with his other hand. Then pain so excruciating that a bottomless pit of it opened up beneath him, swallowing him whole.
How much time had passed since then? He seemed to have lost all track of it. But Richard was all right. He knew that much. He'd seen him, spoken with him...hadn't he? Something wasn't right. Richard had looked different, sounded different...but yet. What? It had to have been Richard. No one else had such a commanding presence, spoke with such authority. He'd been fighting off the Saracen whose curving blade was seeking his throat. Yes, that much was sure. Then he'd fallen, the arrow piercing his side, and Richard had said it was time to stop fighting. That must be when the king had carried him here. Something about it all just didn't make sense, though.
He moved his hand high on his chest. No wound had been given him there. Why did it hurt so? Then he began to cough and that made it hurt more. His throat felt raw. He must have gotten ill while he was recovering from his wound. When the coughing stopped, he lay quietly again, listening to the sounds around him.
Julie arrived back in the room at the same time as a nurse. "Good morning, Mrs. Loxley," the nurse greeted. "Did you sleep all right in the chair?"
Mrs. Loxley? Robert stiffened, more confused than ever. Marian? Was Marian here somehow in Jaffa? No, that couldn't be right.
"Well enough," a female voice replied. "I do hope Robert gets discharged today, though."
Robert peeked out under his lashes, seeing a woman with long golden hair standing just inside a door. She looked familiar but was certainly not Marian. He hadn't thought Marian was in Jaffa anyway.
"Just let me check your husband's vitals, Mrs. Loxley, then I'll be on my way. He should be waking up any time now."
The nurse turned toward the bed and gasped. "Oh! He's taken off his oxygen mask." Quickly she leaned across him, retrieved it, and was about to clamp it on him again when his eyes opened and a hand gripped her arm.
"Mr. Loxley!" she exclaimed, startled. "Please, just let me get this back in place."
"Why?" he asked, frowning at her.
"You need the oxygen, Mr. Loxley, after the fire and all."
"Fire? What fire?"
"Oh, Robert, don't you remember the fire at the mill? You saved the Glen's pastor." Julie was getting concerned again.
He did remember a fire. The Saracen had set some of the army's tents aflame in the night. Peter from Wessex had been trapped in one. "There was no priest in the tent," he growled.
"Not a tent, Robert, the mill...the mill at the Glen."
"The Glen?" He'd heard that term before. "Where is this place?"
"It's where we live, Robert, the Glen."
"Not that. THIS place! Where is this place?"
"The hospital? You mean the hospital? It's in Coffs Harbor, Robert. I drove you here yesterday after you collapsed on the lawn."
"Coffs? Australia? This is Australia?"
"Of course it's Australia, Robert. Where did you think you were?"
"I...I saw...Richard," he almost moaned, leaning his head back, closing his eyes again. Oh, God...Australia. Of course he was in Australia. It had been his choice to come here. But he had seen Richard. He knew he had!
"Richard? Oh, yes, Robert! Yesterday in the ER you called General Meridius by that name."
He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. "Can you both just leave me alone?"
He turned his head away from them. Julie and the nurse exchanged looks. "His oxygen...," the nurse murmured.
"Check with his doctor, ok?" Julie suggested. "He doesn't seem to like the mask."
She went up right beside the bed, laying a hand lightly on his right shoulder. "I'll be just down the hall in the waiting room. I'll...." She didn't know what else to say.
When they had gone, he lay flat again, his left hand encountering the two objects that lay beside him on the cover. He swatted them off onto the floor. It was 2009. Richard had been dead since 1199. How could he so easily find 800 years ago more real, more present than now?
Ah, yes, the mill. He'd paused at the edge of the woods, enjoying its simple Englishness. Then there had been a woman opening the door, and black smoke. That was why his throat hurt, that breathing was still somewhat of an effort. He'd gone into the smoke. After that, everything rather blurred together. Julie. Julie said she'd driven him to Coffs. That he did not remember at all. There were fleeting images, sounds. Why had he thought Richard had been there? "I must have wanted it so," he said aloud.
"And what is it you wanted so, Robert of Loxley," a deep male voice asked from the doorway.
"Who...?" Robert looked toward the source of the words, startled by the 'of' put between Robert and Loxley.
"General Maximus Decimus Meridius," the man said, stepping into the room. Maximus deliberately used the title. He and Joimus had spent the night at a hotel near the hospital and had come back this morning. Joimus was still in the ICU talking with Ahnna.
"General?" Julie had mentioned a general had been in the ER, that he had thought the general had been Richard. "We...we have met?"
Maximus inclined his head. "In a small cubicle yesterday."
"You were there?"
"I was nearby in the waiting room. You pulled my friend from the fire and my wife and I were awaiting news of his condition. I heard sounds of, shall we say, battle and that attracted my attention."
"Yes, you were being attacked."
"In the ER?"
"Battles may take place, I find, in the most unusual locations." Maximus smiled.
"Saracens," Robert whispered.
"There were three of them, all coming at me. I...I...saw Richard...you? I saw you?"
Maximus inclined his head again. "It had to be stopped. There was danger of injury."
"More likely to the three Saracen," Maximus replied with a small laugh.
Robert stared up at the imposing man. "Your...your name is...Roman?"
"And yours is Saxon, true?"
Robert nodded, his mind racing beyond his ability to keep up with it, to separate into any reasonableness the thoughts flashing through it almost painfully. "You...you are a Roman general?"
"I was. Now I am a farmer. I raise wheat and horses in the Glen."
"You live in the Glen?"
"Not far from the mill where you saved my friend. Your wife says you also live near there?"
"My wife?" He'd almost forgotten! The nurse had referred to Julie as Mrs. Loxley. He pressed his hands to his face. Was there more he did not recall? Something as big as having a wife?
"Are you all right, Robert?"
"I...I think I'm still confused. There seems to be a lot I don't have straight yet."
"It will come. I have spoken with the doctors about the smoke. It seems to have been particularly toxic."
Robert stared again at Maximus. "How can you be a Roman General?"
"Not easily, I assure you. It took many years, much experience."
"I know what you meant, Robert. I am a Roman General in the same way you are a Saxon."
"No one, not ever...."
"It is a difficult concept, I know," Maximus smiled. "But you are not alone."
Julie had come back down the hall, had been standing just outside the door after she'd seen Maximus enter. She'd meant to announce herself, but when the two men had begun talking, she found herself glued to where she stood, her hand braced against the wall, a slow trembling beginning deep inside her, growing by the minute.
Robert was...a Saxon?
Turning, she leaned her back against the wall, her knees feeling weak, closing her eyes as she continued listening to them.
"Mrs. Loxley?" It was the nurse, returning with a canula for Robert instead of the mask. "Are you faint? Come back into the room and sit down." She took Julie's arm, pulling her through the doorway.
"Mr. Loxley, I'm afraid your wife is feeling faint."
Robert and Maximus both looked quickly at the two women. Julie croaked, "Saxon," and keeled over, neatly caught by Maximus before she hit the floor.