When Guy came to, he kept his eyes closed at first and reviewed reality. The memory of what had happened before he had fainted was vivid, if confusing. After another dreadful day, he had stood in his chamber preparing for bed and as he blew out the candle, an uncanny convulsion had seized him. He had felt as if his body and mind and all his senses were stretched in every direction, stretched to breaking point and then suddenly snapped back, like a bowstring released. He had wondered, briefly, whether it was at all connected with the Fenris cult. The shock of the sudden sensation had knocked the breath out of him and left him senseless. Now he tried to reassure himself that he was back to normal. He could feel all his limbs, and his breath was steady. He was lying down, on his own bed in Nottingham Castle, or so he liked to think, though it felt not quite as it should. The room was silent apart from a distant hum. He opened his eyes. Then he screamed.
In the darkened room behind the one-way mirror, Professor Michael Watford and his assistant watched the man leap up from the pallet bed and cast about with frantic eyes. He turned and turned, touching the walls, the window, the furniture, even the floor. He came up to the glass and peered at it with a perplexed expression. He stormed into the bathroom and out again, and rushed towards the outer door. Then he began to rattle the door handle and shortly afterwards to throw himself against the door, again and again.
"He needs a dampener," said the professor. "2 ml?"
"One point five?" suggested the assistant.
"Are you sure?"
"I'd prefer him alert."
"Suit yourself. I'll stand by to bail you out."
"I appreciate that."
The professor adjusted a dial and pressed a button, which opened a valve in the ceiling of the room behind the screen. Within a minute or so, the man's movements slowed down. Eventually, he stepped away from the door and sank into one of the two armchairs that stood at right angles to each other. His heartbeat, previously visible at his neck, calmed and his breathing evened out.
"He's all yours," said the professor. "Your big moment has come. Good luck."
"Thank you," replied the assistant and went through the door.
Guy, too dazed to panic anymore, watched as the door opened and someone came in. He assumed it was a woman, based on face and figure, though her attire was not the least feminine. She wore bluish breeches and a short, tight tunic which was of a fine black material and unadorned save for a slender silver necklace. Her honey-blonde hair barely reached her shoulders. She held out her hand.
"Good afternoon, Mr Gisburne," she said and smiled.
"My Lord of Gisburne to you!" he barked, but supressed the impulse to slap her across the face, since her voice had convinced him that she was indeed a woman and since her appearance, however outlandish, didn't mark her as a serf. Besides, he felt that all the strength had been sapped from his body.
The woman withdrew her hand but maintained her smile.
"Mr Gisburne," she repeated. "I am Dr Anna Sinclair. You are experiencing the effect of disorientation and physical shock, which is why we have administered a mild sedative."
Guy made no reply, primarily because he didn't understand what she was talking about.
"Welcome to the 21st century," she continued as she sat down in the second armchair. "You are at Chrysalis Beta, a private research facility that specialises in metascientific technologies. We have recently developed a method for extracting fictional characters from their home worlds without damaging the fabric of reality. It is an amazing break-through. You are our first subject. We chose you because we consider you evil yet redeemable."
If her first speech had been baffling, the second was even worse. He frowned and shook his head.
"Am I your prisoner?"
She sighed. "I had hoped this issue wouldn't come up straight away. For the time being, you have to stay here in the facility, yes. For safety reasons. Later, we will see."
"What do you want with me?"
"I'm afraid I expressed myself poorly earlier. We have pulled you out of your world because you are a very wicked man and we want to change that. We believe you could become good and that you would be happier that way."
"Really?" A cynical smile curled his lip. "You are a fool then. It is way too late for that. Nothing can save me. I am beyond help."
"Not at all. We reckon you are very saveable. You see, we wouldn't have extracted the Baron de Belleme or the king or even the sheriff. They are too contented. You, though – in you, we can see the suffering."
"You're absurd, woman!"
"You can call me Anna, if you like. And I'm not absurd. Unhappiness is simply radiating off you, anyone can see that. You are a walking, talking bundle of hurt."
"Nonsense! I am a knight and a soldier and I don't regret anything. Nothing! I'd do it all again! I'm a proud man, of noble birth, feared by the peasants, a trained swordsman, deputy to the sheriff of Nottingham."
He stopped for breath. The woman who called herself Dr Anna Sinclair regarded him with calm scrutiny. "And yet, Mr Gisburne," she replied, "you told me not two minutes ago that nothing can save you, that it's too late for you. That does not sound to me as if you are entirely satisfied with yourself."
Again he felt like slapping her, again he realised he didn't have the energy. Instead, he stared at her with contempt.
"Ah," she said, "your signature pout. It's very endearing, Mr Gisburne, but it's hardly an argument, is it?"
This was like something the sheriff might have said. He clenched his jaw. "You are trying to turn me into a better man by patronising me?"
"I am sorry, Mr Gisburne." She smiled. What was it with all this smiling? "What I said was uncalled for. Of course you are feeling upset and defiant. Hardly surprising under the circumstances."
Not like the sheriff, then.
"Let us try to be honest, though. Your alleged achievements give you little pleasure, isn't that so? Your service to Robert de Rainault isn't based on loyalty or respect, but on economic dependence. All your superiors abuse and humiliate you, or worse. The men under your command loathe and despise you. Your noble birth, well, we'll get to that later. As for being a knight, you must be painfully aware that you have failed to live up to the chivalric code in almost every respect. You have oppressed the weak and the helpless instead of defending them, you have assaulted women instead of showing them respect, you have been the tool of injustice when you ought to have been the champion of justice. If anything, you are an anti-knight. You have lied and cheated and broken every vow; you are a bully, a thief, a cold-blooded murderer –"
At this, Gisburne mustered the strength to jump up from the armchair. "How do you know such things about me?" he demanded.
"I know everything about you," she replied. "Did you not listen? You are a fictional character. In preparation for your extraction from your world, I have conducted a very thorough study of the source material. I know you hate what you are. I know your hatred of yourself leads you to cruel and despicable actions, and then you hate yourself even more. It is a vicious circle and you have no idea how to escape from it. But we do. We can help you, if you let us."
"How?" he sneered.
"With patience, goodwill and hard work. And a working knowledge of psychology." She rose from her seat and looked at him with earnest solicitude. "I'll leave you to yourself now. Think about what I have said; ask yourself if it is the truth. Someone will bring you something to eat and more comfortable clothes. Then you'd best go to sleep. I'll come again tomorrow to hear whether you are ready to embark on a process of healing."
"And what if I refuse?"
"Then we'll send you right back to where you came from. That's all for now. Good night."
She was through the door before he thought of forcing his way out beside her. He sank back on the chair.
"So, how did I do?"
Professor Watford rubbed his ear. "You were more confrontational than I expected. More confrontational than necessary, I would say. You got his back up against you."
"He needed to hear some home truths. It's not as if I made up any of it. He really is a beast. Makes my skin crawl to think of how he killed the miller. So much blood on his hands…"
"Still, it's not your role to crush him. Certain things are expected of you. Unconditional positive regard and all that, I'm sure you can remember your Carl Rogers. If you can't muster that, then I'm afraid you're not suitable for this project."
"You know the score, Anna. You want to be a counsellor, you can't be judgemental like that."
"I was just trying to get him to be honest with himself."
"You can't force him. I suggest you take your own advice and ask yourself honestly whether you're the right person for this task. If by tomorrow you can't get yourself to show some compassion for the man, I'll be forced to reconsider. Leanne is inexperienced, but I think she has the gentler touch that is needed here."
Anna wrung her hands. "I'll try to do better. Please, Michael, don't pull the plug on me. It was only my first attempt."
The professor took a heavy breath. He would have looked youthful, with his intense dark eyes and delicate features, had it not been for his hair, which had turned grey when he was in his early thirties. Anna knew that many of the women at Chrysalis Beta (and one or two of the men) considered Michael a dish and envied her for working so closely with him. She also suspected that Michael had chosen her as his assistant for reasons not exclusively professional, but she herself felt ambivalent on the subject.
"Right, right. I'll see how you do tomorrow."
"And something else: You shouldn't have lied to him."
"What do you mean?"
"You know we can't send him back."
The woman who brought him food was elderly and, just like Dr Anna Sinclair, dressed in a short tunic (though hers was green) and blueish breeches.
"Here you go, son, enjoy," she said as she set down a tray. "Steak and kidney pie, that'll put hair on your chest." Guy regarded her with perfect bafflement; it seemed a ludicrous thing for a serving wench to say. The woman, however, was oblivious to his bewilderment. She went into the strangely gleaming, windowless room he had seen earlier and bustled about there. "I've put out some towels and pyjamas for you," she called through the open door. "Play about with the taps and you'll find out how they work, but be careful of the hot water. If you need a wee, lift the lid on the seat and press the button afterwards."
She emerged from the strange room, tucking a grey lock behind her ear. "Eat up now, son. You must be hungry. I know you've had a rough day. Sleep well, don't let the big, bad bed bugs bite."
This time Guy had intended to storm out through the door as soon as it opened for her. However, when the moment came, he found he couldn't do it. Whether that was due to what Anna Sinclair had called "a mild sedative" or to her accusations of him assaulting women, he wasn't too sure, but the fact was that he sat and didn't move. He stared at the tray, which was carved out of some unfamiliar white material, and thought that the steaming food smelled rather good. Stewed meat in a thick sauce was half covered by a slab of golden pastry, with pieces of boiled carrots on the side. There were also roundish chunks of a pale yellow vegetable that he didn't know. He picked up one and sniffed it. Then he licked its velvety surface. It tasted bland but comforting. Certainly better than the rotting cabbage that the inmates of Nottingham Castle's dungeons could expect. If he was indeed a prisoner, he had drawn a better lot than most. He ate the whole meal, using a curiously lightweight spoon to scrape up the sauce, then wiped his fingers on what he assumed was a napkin, though it was oddly flimsy and tore apart in his hands. Water was provided in the strangest cup, fashioned out of a rose-coloured material that looked vaguely like frosted glass but was light and thin as fine leather. When he snipped his fingernail against it, it made only a hollow thud.
He set the cup back on the empty tray and decided to take a closer look at the other room. As soon as he entered, he jumped back in fright – radiant light suddenly flicked on, as if the Day of Judgement had come. When all remained still otherwise, he dared to look and saw that the light emanated from a glowing circle in the ceiling. He recalled that the light had also come on when the serving wench had gone into the room. The room itself was most peculiar. Walls and floor were covered with white, glazed pottery. On a ledge near the door lay the towels the serving wench had mentioned, and a garment made from a soft, dark blue fabric. The room contained three main features: a semi-circular white pottery bowl that clung to the wall and spouted curious metal adornments, a white pottery seat and, behind a frosted glass screen, an even more curious arrangement of metal objects suspended over a massive oval bowl on the floor. The towels suggested that the room was meant for washing and the wall-mounted bowl could certainly be used for that purpose, but who would bring him water? Besides, he didn't need to wash, he had made his ablutions just before…it…had happened. How long ago was that now? Just a few hours?
He returned to the first room, the one with the bed and the armchairs. Here a large window showed him the surroundings, but not much could be learned from the view: a swathe of grass and beyond that, a thicket of trees in autumn foliage. The sky had taken on the dullness of dusk.
With both fists, he hammered against the window pane. The glass did not break. "Let me out!" he roared. "Where am I? What is happening? LET…ME…OUT!"
A faint hiss seemed to come from the ceiling. Moments later, Sir Guy of Gisburne sank to the floor.
Somebody must have come in while he was senseless, because he awoke on the bed. Morning sunlight filled the room. That room. It was true then, not some bizarre dream. He felt petrified and closed his eyes again. Sometime today that disturbing woman would come and ask him if he was ready to become a better man. Which required him to agree that he was, at this time, a bad man. A thief, an oath-breaker, a murderer. A disgrace to knighthood. Curse her! He'd had reasons for the things he did. He'd do it all again. Not Ralph, perhaps, since that plan hadn't worked out after all, but other than that he didn't see why – he'd done things because those dirty Saxons had provoked him, or the sheriff had pushed him, or because…well, he'd had his reasons.
Nevertheless, he knew already that he would agree to her plan, even if it meant to humble himself before her, even if the 'hard work' she had spoken of was carrying stones in a quarry. Because in one respect he was glad about what had happened, whatever it might be. When he had been preparing for bed just before the Event, he had been dreading the following day. But then Anna Sinclair's mysterious 'method' had taken him away from the consequences of his latest adventure, from the question of how to explain to the sheriff that the cart which should have contained the corpse of Robert of Huntingdon contained instead nothing but a pile of crumbling clay, and from the small issue of how to escape the wrath of the king. At least his life did not seem in danger here. Furthermore, he was glad to put as much distance as possible between himself and any trace of the Sons of Fenris, and it seemed as if he was very, very far from home indeed.
"Welcome to the 21st century," the Sinclair woman had said. Which was ridiculous, given that the 13th century had only just begun. On the other hand, he had seen such wonders – the white pottery walls, the light that came on and went off as if by magic, the glass that was not glass, the strange vegetable, the incredibly clear mirror – that he might well believe to be not only in another land but in another time. Could it be seven hundred years? No, eight hundred? She had said she would send him straight back to where he had come from, and it dawned on him with terrifying clarity that he did not want to go back, not to what expected him there. If she could send him back the way she had brought him here, he was in her power. He would have to play along at least until he found a way to escape and see for himself what lay beyond those trees. He opened his eyes for the second time and sat up on the edge of the bed.
Someone had definitely been in the room. On a small table beside the bed he found a bundle of clothes. It was then that he realised that he had conducted his entire conversation with the Sinclair woman the day before in his night robe. Moreover, that his night robe was the only thing left to him from home. He felt reluctant to take it off, but didn't want to face the woman, or anyone else, in a state of undress again, so he unfolded the clothes. They had neither laces nor buckles nor any other means of fastening and he expected them to tear, but they simply stretched over his head and hips. The breeches were grey, the shirt and hooded tunic a light blue, and all smooth and soft to touch. There were shoes, after a fashion, and they at least had laces. He rolled up his night robe and placed it on the pillow. Then he looked under the bed for a chamber pot but there was none. Before this could become a more pressing problem, he remembered the words of the serving wench. He went to the white pottery room, lifted the lid on the seat and stared at the gaping white bowl. There was water at the bottom. Was it some kind of well? Was he supposed to foul it? Gingerly, he pressed the button the woman had mentioned, and jumped back when a cascade of water filled the bowl – and simply drained away. He considered the contraption for a moment, then he relieved himself into the bowl and pressed the button again. Right enough, his waste was carried away and the bowl left with only some clear water. "Ah," he said. Another miracle.
The door opened and the Sinclair woman came in.
"Good morning! I've brought you breakfast." She set down a tray on the table by the bed.
"Why didn't the serving wench bring it?"
"The serv–? Oh, you mean Fran. She doesn't start till eleven. Don't call her a serving wench. She's our dinner lady."
"She is a lady?"
The Sinclair woman sighed. "Never mind. There's a lot for you to learn, but not just now. Come on, have some breakfast. Be careful, the tea's hot."
So he ate bread as soft as snow and almost as devoid of taste, and slices of a yellow substance that she assured him was cheese, though it, too, lacked flavour. The beverage she had called tea tasted sweet and potent. Anna Sinclair lifted a curved yellow object from the tray. "This," she said, "is a banana, a fruit. It comes from far away countries. Africa and so. You eat it like this." And she pulled and stripped away the object's skin and held it out to him. "Try it, it's lovely. And good for you."
Warily, he bit into the pale fruit and had to admit that she was right. It was lovely indeed. How strange to eat a fruit that had come all the way from Africa.
"I've had my knuckles rapped by my boss," said the woman. He glanced at her hands, but they were whole and without blemish. "Professor Michael Watford, he runs this project. He says I was too confrontational with you. So we should start again today and assume that I didn't call you all those things yesterday. Anyway, did you sleep well?"
"I slept soundly." Why did she want to know that? Nobody had asked him anything like this ever before.
"And did you have a chance to think?"
"I have thought about what you said yesterday, my Lady Sinclair."
She snorted. "Your Lady Sinclair?"
Two perpendicular lines appeared between his eyebrows. "I am trying to be respectful, and you laugh at me?"
"I'm sorry. Look, times have changed and people are a lot less formal. Please call me Anna."
"Anna," he said slowly, as if tasting the name. Still frowning, he cast a wary glance at her. "And in return, you will call me Guy?"
"If you want."
"Is that the correct thing to do?"
"It would be the normal thing to do."
"Then call me Guy."
"Good choice!" She smiled. Her eyes were warm and honey-coloured, like her hair. "I interrupted you. You were saying you had thought about things."
"Yes. I am willing to go along with your plan. I don't understand, though, what it is. What are you proposing to do?"
"Get to the root of your anger and self-loathing. Examine your key experiences and your feelings about them, address any trauma and find ways to move on."
"How? How will you do that?"
"Well, I think we should begin with the most relevant issues in your current life, your regular relationships with people in your environment –"
"Oh." Now it was for her to frown and look puzzled. "By talking about it, of course."
"Talking?" He shook his head. "What good is talking going to be? I am a man of action!"
"And in your experience so far, have your actions achieved the desired results?"
"My actions have achieved –" Guy stopped and glared at Anna. "Is this how these talks are going to go?"
"Guy," she said softly, "I'm not trying to put you on the spot. But believe me that talking about things can really help you to understand yourself better. And if there are things that are hurting you, it can help heal them if you share them with someone. It can be painful to face these things, but whatever you tell me, I promise I won't use it against you. I can see your pain and I really want to help you. Do you think you can get yourself to trust me?"
He regarded her cagily, her calm composure, her coaxing smile. She frightened him, because he felt instinctively that there was no way he could frighten her.
"What choice do I have?"
"I won't let you down. Really, I promise. Now, can you tell me three things that make you angry?"