October 13, 1842
The journey back to England was excruciating. Charles had to be led to do even the most basic of things and Daniel was insensate from laudanum. It fell to Henry to guide Charles to eat, bathe, even use the privy when he needed to. If there were any gods bored enough to guide the fate of men, they certainly had a taste for irony.
Henry worried about Daniel's heavy reliance on laudanum now that they were outside timeless Irem. When he tried to limit Daniel's intake of the medicine, Daniel flew into wild rages or hysterical fits, however. He let the boy have as much as he needed, unable to care for Charles and keep Daniel's madness in check. Daniel caught fever during the final leg of the voyage home, vomiting constantly and hardly able to eat. The weight he had only put on that year (two years ago for the world, but only that same year for them) melted off. By the time they arrived in England, Daniel was as thin and harrowed as he had been upon returning from Brennenburg. It tore Henry's heart apart to see him so wrecked.
Daniel insisted upon going to the Mandus Estate the moment they set foot on English soil. He would not hear of stopping for food or rest. Someone, likely Professor Gedney, must have written on ahead because Charles Ledford's friends and relatives were waiting at the docks for him. Henry only had a moment to glimpse their bittersweet tears before Daniel tugged his arm impatiently. They flagged down a hansom and were off.
Daniel's hands were shaking. He kept shouting out the window for the driver to go faster. He shook Henry off every time he tried to touch him. Henry could not even muster any anger, he was too depressed. If there was any feeling he hated, it was helplessness. He had tried to get Daniel to write ahead to Mandus but Daniel had not. Henry suspected he had not dared read the truth from a lifeless piece of paper.
Daniel was bouncing with manic energy as the carriage clattered up to the Mandus mansion. He jumped out before it had even stopped and ran to the doors. Henry told the driver to leave their luggage on the steps. Daniel was shouting and pounding on the doors incessantly. It was a rainy autumn day, the air smelling of rot, damp, and death. Henry trudged up the mansion's steps, his heart thumping heavily in his chest.
Daniel pushed aside the servant that opened the door and burst into the mansion. Henry followed, apologizing and helping the poor woman to her feet. Daniel ran through the foyer and into one hallway, then the next, screaming for Mandus. Henry knew Daniel was too frightened to call for his sister directly.
"MANDUUUSS! Where are you?!" he cried. "MANDUS!"
Xavier Mandus came running from one of the hallways and met them in the dining room. Daniel turned on him with such burning intensity that Xavier took a step back from him. A deathly silence fell on the room as Daniel stood, fists clenched, torn between the need to know and the fear of knowledge. Whatever Xavier said would define him. With a word, Xavier could break the young man's mind once and for all. Henry's mouth was dry and he could not move.
"Daniel?" Xavier breathed. "I had word from the Ledfords but I can scarcely believe it. You're alive? My God, you are alive!"
"Ha—Hazel," was all Daniel could manage.
"Why, let me go fetch her!" Xavier beamed. "I cannot believe it! She actually knew it! She never wavered, not a single moment. She knew you were alive, no matter what anyone said. She wouldn't hear of a funeral, not even after they held one for poor Charles. Oh, she will be so pleased!"
The unsuspecting Xavier Mandus hurried from the dining room. They were left with only the patter of the rain and the ticking of a grandfather clock for company. Then Daniel gave a choked cry between a gasp and an exhalation. He put his hand over his mouth, shaking violently. Henry exhaled slowly, trying to ease the tension from his body. Impatient, Daniel ran from the dining room, Henry at his heels.
They met Hazel just as she was being helped down the stairs by Xavier. Daniel threw his arms around her the moment she reached the bottom, embracing her so tightly Henry feared she would break. But the girl only laughed and hugged him back. Tears spilled from the siblings as they kissed each other on the cheek, held onto the warm reality of their shared survival. Henry had to dab moisture from the corners of his own eyes. For the first time since Irem, the mundane world felt normal again.
"I never lost faith in you, dear brother," Hazel told him. "I prayed every day. I prayed and I prayed, but I never lost faith. Just like last time, Daniel. You came back to me, just like last time. My darling, darling brother!"
"I was worried sick!" Daniel cried. "I'll never leave you again, Hazel! I promise you that! I will never leave your side again! I'm so sorry! God, I'm so, so sorry!"
"Oh my dear, you look unwell," Hazel fretted. "Come to the parlor. Xavier, have us brought some tea, please."
"I think brandy may be in order, as well," Xavier said. "Do go on and help yourselves. I can't imagine what you've been through."
Daniel released Hazel. As he stepped back and finally got a look at her, his expression wavered. She was wearing a dress that was not cinched at the waist yet the formerly petite woman filled it out. At first Daniel thought she had put on weight and he was pleased she was so much healthier. But as she turned to lead them to the parlor, a hand protectively flew to her belly. Daniel's smile trembled and he swallowed the knot in his throat.
Henry stifled a groan. He took Hazel's arm politely to get a better look at her. The pearly luster of her skin, her shining hair, the soft look in her eyes, and the large bulge of her midsection left no doubt: she was with child.
"It would appear that you greet us with even happier news, madame," Henry said. He hoped to make light of the situation before Daniel imploded with emotion. "Should I congratulate you and Mr. Mandus?"
"Oh, yes," Hazel beamed. She turned to her brother. "Daniel, you're to be an uncle! I knew you would return to see the child born! God has answered all my prayers this day!"
Daniel was drying his face with his handkerchief. He hid his mouth with it for a moment, only his eyes were visible above it, staring roundly at his sister. Whatever he was feeling, he had plastered on a smile by the time he lowered the handkerchief.
"I am happy for you, dear sister," he said softly. "I must—Er, excuse me. I think I'll ask Xavier to have us brought some … something to eat. I'm famished."
Daniel rushed from them. Henry walked Hazel to the parlor. The woman sat herself down with a delicate sigh, resting her hand atop her belly.
"You should go after him," she told Henry. "I can see that you want to."
"Thank you. Excuse me, madame."
Henry went after his lover at a swift pace. He found Daniel confronting Mandus in the foyer. He arrived just in time to watch Daniel slam the taller man against the wall. Xavier was stunned and baffled. He struggled but could not break Daniel's hold on him.
"How dare you!" Daniel hissed. Despite his rage, he kept his voice low to keep Hazel from hearing. "You know! You know how fragile my sister's health is! We spoke about this! You promised that you would never risk her health! And now you've sentenced her to childbirth?"
"D-Daniel, I—It isn't your business, I never said I wouldn't—Ah!"
Xavier gasped as Daniel pulled a knife from his jacket and held it to his neck. Henry aborted his attempt to drag Daniel off Mandus. Where the hell had he gotten that dagger from? Had he been planning to kill Mandus if Hazel were dead? Had that been his plan all along? Henry scowled in anger. Daniel had only pretended to be empty-headed. Even with all the laudanum, he was shrewd enough to prepare for this.
"I could kill you," Daniel said, matter-of-fact. "Do you know that? I've killed so many men. So many. I should kill you, Mandus. I should cut your throat right here."
"Daniel!" Henry snapped. "Don't be a fool. Think of your sister. Like it or not, this is the father of her child."
"The child that could kill her!" Daniel pressed the knife harder and smelled blood. "Mandus, you bastard. I trusted you! I trusted you with her health! How could you?"
"Daniel, on my life, I swear that I … I did not mean for this to happen," Xavier whispered. "God forgive me, but if you must know, I tried to avoid this. It was only one night that I, that we—It was an accident, I was drunk—Don't make me speak so vulgarly of my wife, damn you."
Daniel did not relinquish the knife. A thin red line trickled blood from Xavier's neck. He looked at Henry for help but Henry did not dare intervene. He knew Daniel too well to doubt he would cut the man's throat at the slightest provocation.
"I've been gentle with her," Xavier whispered. "You must believe that. If you must know, damn it, I never finished within her. I did all that I could to prevent it, no matter how much she pleaded with me to give her a child. But I was drunk one night. She knew what she was doing, I swear to you, she must have. She said it was all right. She let me … It was only that one night, I swear. She wanted this. She pined miserably for a child. Even when you disappeared, she kept saying that you would return to be its uncle. She never let go of that dream. And now you repay her good faith with this?! Get off me, man!"
Xavier thrust Daniel off, getting a deeper gash in his neck for the effort. Henry took the opportunity to snatch the knife from Daniel's hand. Daniel shot him a look of betrayal which was promptly slapped off by Xavier. Xavier straightened his jacket and shirt. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his bleeding neck.
"Get ahold of yourself, Daniel," Xavier said harshly. "I will not stand for this in my own home, not with my wife in such a delicate state. I am sorry for you and sorry for what you've suffered. But you are not the only one frightened to death for Hazel. I have been the one by her side these two years. I have been the man to comfort her when she cried for you, to pray with her for your safety. I have been the one to see her through carrying this child. I never wanted anything more than her. I should die if harm comes to her from bearing it. I blame myself, yes, believe me, no one blames me more than I blame myself. But I have swallowed all my fears and all my doubts to make her happy, and if you cannot do the same then you can leave my house at once!"
Henry raised his eyebrows. He would not have expected the bookish poet Xavier to be capable of administering such a tongue-lashing. Daniel was still angry, holding his cheek sullenly, but he was at least mildly chastened.
"I will not leave my sister," Daniel sulked. "I've only just gotten her back. I won't go."
"Then you will conduct yourself properly," Xavier said. "You are her brother but I am her husband. It is my sworn duty to protect her and I will protect her, even from you if necessary. If you need me to be sorry, well there is no one sorrier than I. But Hazel is happy so we will all of us be happy with her, be happy for her. Is that clear?"
Henry nodded. Daniel continued glaring at Mandus. Henry eschewed all decency and gave his bottom a hefty slap. Defeated, Daniel threw up his hands.
"Fine!" Daniel exclaimed. "Fine. I shan't kill you, not while Hazel still lives. I won't upset her. You should know that I would never say anything to hurt her."
"To be blunt, I do not think you are capable of restraining yourself currently," Xavier said. "But you must, if you wish to spend time with her. I warn you, be nothing but happy for her. I refuse to see her shed any more tears over you."
"I won't make her cry," Daniel said. "I would never make her cry."
"Oh but you have," Xavier said. "You certainly have, these past two years. But enough. What is done, is done. I will speak no more of past things. I must go clean up now thanks to you. Mr. Bedloe, I leave Daniel in your charge."
"Now you're treating me as a child too?" scoffed Daniel. "Damn you, Mandus."
"I'll keep him in hand," Henry promised.
"See that you do."
Xavier stormed off. Daniel crossed his arms, fuming.
"Why would you take his side?" he asked. "You must understand why I'm so worried! Why would you betray me like that?"
"I stopped you from making your precious sister a widow," Henry said calmly. "Do you really think she would survive that? Being a pregnant widow?"
Daniel shook his head. Henry kissed him and held him in his arms. Daniel withered without his fury, burying his face in Henry's shirt. When he pulled away, his expression was abashed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was about to ruin everything again, wasn't I?"
"Thank you for stopping me," Daniel said. "This is not how I wanted to return. Perhaps I should leave here now. I'm poison, I … I spoil everything I touch."
"You are feverish and still half-mad from losing two years in two days," Henry told him. "But you are in control of yourself now, aren't you?"
"Then let us rejoin your sister."
Daniel nodded. They returned to the parlor. Daniel was flushed from exertion so Hazel did not notice the faint red spot on his cheek. He excused his color as a symptom of fever, and his sister had the servants ply him with tea when it came. Hearing his sister speak so joyously soothed him. Even when Xavier joined them, his neck hidden by a fresh ascot, Daniel's temper did not return.
Still, Henry recognized Daniel's expression. It was the same look of resignation when he was accepting a particularly painful spanking. Every time he noticed Hazel's belly his eyes lit with fear and sorrow.
Poor Daniel, Henry thought sincerely. How change frightens him, how he clings to the familiar. He belongs in timeless Irem. I should like to take all of us back to that eternal city, protect all our love forever. But this is the life we were born to. I cannot see Hazel nor Mandus living in that city, they are pure, plain-hearted people. They are happy with their lives in this realm of time. I suppose paying the debt of time is worth it to them. For now, we must also pay that toll, Daniel and I.
They were offered a guestroom for the night but declined. They took a carriage to Henry's apartments. Daniel had been humbled by Hazel's gushing over motherhood. He sat contritely, hands folded on one knee. The rain had done him no good, he was sniffling and sneezing throughout the ride. Henry kept an arm around him, murmuring nothing words of comfort and kissing his head.
Given their long absence, Henry was worried that his apartments had been claimed or sold off. He was relieved when they were shown in by his old butler. The aged man explained that Winslow Paternoster had ensured the apartments remained intact. Henry hated Paternoster but for this he was thankful. Daniel was ready to collapse.
Henry helped Daniel undress and get into bed. He sat by his side while Daniel drank a bowl of soup and plenty of water. The feverish warmth had given way to chills. After emptying his bladder, Daniel returned to bed. He curled up in a fetal position, his eyes haunted. Henry undressed and joined him.
"She is happy," Henry reassured Daniel. "Your sister has lived two years being loved and cared for by her husband. Now she will fulfill her dream of motherhood. I know the time you lost by her side pains you, but she has been happy. She had faith that you would return and she had the hope of being a mother. She had Mandus, who I have no doubt loves her very much."
"I know," Daniel said. "I know all that and it is a comfort. But I should have been here for those two years. We don't know how much time she has left, not with this pregnancy. That time was stolen from me and I will never get it back!"
"Stolen?" Henry asked. "You chose to go on the journey, Daniel."
"Yes, but I didn't know it would cost me two years!" Daniel rolled over. "No one told me the ship would be destroyed, that Charles would return mindless, that I would lose two entire years of my sister's life!"
Daniel sat up, agitated. He coughed and Henry patted his back.
"I don't blame Irem or Rasim, none of them," Daniel said. "They've forgotten this realm, forgotten time itself. It was up to me to ask them about it but it never crossed my mind, either. There is only one person who must have known of that possibility and what it would mean for us."
"Yes, Winslow Octavio Paternoster—Octavius Lurius of Ancient Rome," Daniel said darkly. "You heard Crispino, he lived there. He has gone in and out of Irem, he has to know that time doesn't always wait for people to come back. He knew, I'm sure of it. He knew and he told me nothing. He used me. He fucking used me!"
Daniel pounded a fist on the mattress. He coughed again. Henry tried to get him to lie back down but Daniel was too excited.
"You were right all along," Daniel said hoarsely. "You should have stripped the skin off my back and locked me up in here instead of letting me join the Sol Invictus Mithras."
"I happen to like the skin on your back."
"I'm not blaming you, it's my fault for being so damned stubborn," Daniel said. "I should have listened to you. You warned me that Paternoster would only use me the same way Alexander did. You told me not to join the group. I should have listened."
"What will you do now?" Henry asked. "Leave the group?"
"I … I don't know." Daniel rubbed his forehead. "I don't know! How horrible is that? But if I do leave, everything I've lost, everything I've sacrificed, all of it will have been for nothing! I can't accept that. I won't."
"I'll carry on for now," Daniel said. "I'll give Paternoster what he bartered for. I will be his apprentice. I'll learn all that I can from him and that damned group. But I won't forget what he did to me. I will never trust him again, and I will never forgive him."
"Just be careful, Daniel," Henry warned. "Be careful and please, for God's sake, don't keep any more secrets from me. You said that you wanted me to guide you, so let me guide you. Please."
"Yes. Yes, I will," Daniel said. "I promise."
Henry kissed him. Daniel broke it off with a cough that turned into a fit. Henry forcefully lay him down and did not allow him to speak again. He wrapped Daniel in blankets and held him until he fell asleep. Too distracted to sleep, Henry went to his desk and lit a candle. He took out his journal and opened it to the last entry. To see the year 1840 scrawled at the top gave him pause. He first dated his new entry 1840, then scratched it out and replaced it with 1842.
Time is not precious, Henry wrote. Time is nothing more than a slave driver herding us all towards death. I never thought that I would feel so constricted by time until I was freed from it. Now the yolk of the past and the burden of the future are crushing us both. I've been so unlike myself since Irem … If Daniel still had that Orb, I would think he was controlling me. But it isn't him, it's me. I found myself in Irem. But now that I know who I am … I don't know what to do with myself.
Worse of all, I no longer know how to handle Daniel. His mind is a fractured mess that will never be pieced back together, I see that now. I could smooth the rough spots, glaze over the cracks, with time I could love him back to peace. But this world continues to rupture his psyche. I know that he is not blameless. Perhaps he deserves all he gets. I do not care. I love him and I want him to be happy. I want him to at least be sane! I spent my life studying how to heal the mind but I am at a loss to heal Daniel. I do not even know where or how to begin. I wasted so much time trying to tame my bestial urges, trying to reshape myself in the image of all these gentlemen around me. Why? To have their power? Their respect? So much effort spent for such worthless ambitions. But what else did I have? That was all before I found true love.
Psychiatry has failed me. It is too soon for Daniel to return to Irem, I suspect. I must put aside my regrets. I must forget my disappointments. The future may be difficult but I must face it. We must face it, Daniel and I, together. I will shelter him from whatever storms may come. I only hope that he lets me. Time will tell. Accursed time alone will tell.
Henry set his pen down and went to his luggage. The caftan he had kept from Irem still smelled of sand and incense. Wrapped in its sleeve was an old Roman coin, a token of Crispino's friendship. He had given it to him at the Heretic's Arena while they discussed beasts from beyond time and space. Henry returned to his journal and placed the coin beside it. He took up his pen again and ended the entry with the coin's inscription:
Tempus Edax Rerum
Time, Devourer of All Things