Once past the old door, Nigel resumed the lead. He moved with uncharacteristic assurance, stepping around obstacles before they were even visible in the thin beams from their flashlights. It's as though heís been here before, Sydney realized.
It was odd, following Nigel, rather than the other way around. She wasnít sure how to react to the new, confident version of her normally timid teaching assistant.
For just a moment, something flashed at the periphery of her mind, a tantalizing glimpse of an unfamiliar moment, a place and time far removed from this moment in the dusty bowels of New York. She reached automatically to smooth the homespun skirt she wasnít wearing, straightening an apron that didnít exist.
Memories spun through time and space, plucking at the outer fringes of her mind and heart. Just for an instant, she was drawn into a dachau, huddled into the corner, watching through frightened eyes as the rough hands of German soldiers reached for her. One kind pair of eyes peered at her from beneath one of the hated helmets. Her mind moved forward without clarity or reason, and she dimly recalled a dangerous escape that granted her precious freedom, while her German savior was shot for his troubles. The face was at once familiar and unfamiliar, but the soul was clear and pure. Nigelís soul resided in the body of the would-be conqueror, tied into the body of a German warrior. His soul was kindness imprisoned in a hopeless fight against fate. In that lifetime, he chose death rather than the evil purpose designated by a fate not of his own choosing.
And a fleeting breath later, another life sprung forward, and again the players were familiar. Her modern rival Avery Ko was an emperor, regal and poised and in complete command. He beckoned to a young slave girl with blue-green eyes, and the child turned her somber, frightened eyes to Sydney in a silent plea for help. Again the soul was Nigelís, only in this world he was born female. Sydney was born a man in this time, a soldier in the Roman army.
That frame, too, faded from her, and she was gripped by a moment in the middle ages. She wore a rose gown, and she stared rapt at the much older face of her lover. There were wrinkles and he both hair and beard long and white, but the same sweet, familiar soul peered from behind the rheumy eyes. Her lips curved up at a memory that wasnít her own, and she reached outÖ
"Sydney, watch it!"
Sydney froze, horrified to realize that she in fact reached for Nigel. Only where she reached up to circle his neck in the psychological vignette from the middle ages, here she effectively blacked his eye. "Nigel! Iím sorry." She felt her face got hot, and she bit her lip to bury confusion. How could she do such a thing? He was her colleague and friend. "I guess I was daydreaming." It was a pathetic excuse, but it was safer than telling him what she had really been thinking! Besides, how else could she describe it?
"Well, you called me by name just before you conked me. I donít know what I did in your daydream, but you seemed positively thrilled to hit me." His hand was mashed against his injured eye. "Could we please go on? I want to get the damned journal and get out."
"Right," she agreed hastily, chagrined. "The journal."
The passage ended abruptly, opening into a larger venue. Here, dark pillars of indeterminate composition held up the ceiling. A faint breeze seeped in from the shadows opposite (another tunnel?), and oil lamps hung at intervals around the curved wall, crude pottery mechanisms unlike any Sydney had seen in the US.
She dug into her vest pocket and retrieved a lighter, flicking it to set one of the lamps ablaze, moving from one to the next, skipping where the lamps were broken. The old fibers of the homemade wicks caught fire instantly, and for a moment, Sydney felt a stab of regret. Who knew what she might be destroying? Were those bits of homespun created by European settlers from the fifteenth century, or were they evidence of technology among natives from an even earlier time?
Then again, she realized that this was the intent of the builders. Doubtless the lamps had been used before. Her nose picked up the distinctive scent. Not oil lamps, she corrected. The fuel was animal fat, of a much earlier vintage than any oil. And the lamps aren't Dutch in designÖ
Nigel made the same connection at the same time. "The decoration on the pottery is Saxon." Excitement crept into his voice. "Early Saxon, circa 600 AD, perhaps even earlier. This is incredible, Sydney. This is proof positive that European settlers arrived in the New World long before Columbus, even before Leif Eriksson!"
Go to Part Nineteen.