HUNTED IN A PRIMITIVE PAST!
Thrown back through the centuries to a war-torn Britain and America, Bass Foster and his fellow castaways control kings and countries by wielding weapons from a highly advanced civilization.
But the unsuspecting time travelers have attracted the attention of mysterious, awesomely powerful beings who might bring the world tremendous benefit--or destroy it with terrifying force.
Bass steels himself for yet another battle on Irish soil while his American friends fight Spanish invaders to save American Indians. But hidden enemies are already tracking their every move, scheming unspeakable dangers to lay in their path…
Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.
His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.
He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).
Wind howled and wailed about the stone walls and lofty spires of ancient Eboracum—once called Jorvik, now called York. The day preceding had been as bright and sunny and balmy as a summer’s day might be, but in the night this toothed storm had blown in from Thule by way of the North Sea, temperatures in the environs of the episcopal city had dropped precipitately, and so much water had been dumped, that the streets had begun, by wan daybreak, to run as swiftly if not as deep as the current of the river.
Within the complex of buildings which constituted Yorkminster, in a sizable chamber which still seemed cramped and cluttered due to the high shelves packed with jars, caskets, boxes, amphorae, vials, flasks, bowls, trays, kettles, small caldrons, bags and cases of a plethora of sizes, shapes and descriptions, a cowled and robed man sat before a heavy, slate-topped table. Deep in thought, he occasionally roused himself sufficiently to scribble notes and reminders to himself with a quill on a sheet of fine vellum.
Wool clothing lined with silk, old-fashioned trunkhose, and ankle-high shoon of quilted doeskin were not enough to keep the chill from his old bones this dank, dismal day, so he had had a fire laid and lit on the hearth and also had fired a small brass brazier nearby on the tabletop over which to warm his hands from time to time.
And old his bones truly were, this man now called His Grace Harold, Archbishop of York. A new-come stranger, knowing nothing of him, would have seen the high-ranking churchman and probably have guessed his age to be about late sixties or early seventies—venerable enough for these times in which most men, even those of noble and exalted rank, considered themselves fortunate, lucky, and blessed by God to see fifty winters—and that stranger would have been wrong, very, very wrong. In the natural, the expected order of things, creatures are born in their present and live on into a future until their demise; this old man, however, was come into this world he presently occupied not only full-grown but more than a half-century old—although, due to an artificially produced longevity drug he had, he then looked no more than thirty to forty years of age.
Born in A.D. 1968, Harold Kenmore had been employed as a research scientist in a government-sponsored and -operated project in a facility called Gamebird by the middle of the third decade of the twenty-first century. More than a decade earlier, he had been one of the members of the team of scientists which had at last developed a means to retard the effects of aging of the human body. Therefore he ranked quite high in his profession and even owned the grudging respect and regard of the military bureaucrats in charge of the Gamebird Facility.
Part of the work of the Gamebird Project was the attempt to find or develop a means of time travel; previous generations had so far depleted that world of fuels and raw materials that even the vast expenses of the possibly impossible would be considered justified if said expenditures would only result in an avenue whereby the virgin resources of past times might be plundered to the benefit of the impoverished present.
A decade and a half of work resulted in a device that, while expending horrendous amounts of precious energy, would project inanimate objects somewhere out of sight and retrieve most of them undamaged. However, living animals all seemed to come back dead, many of them terribly mutilated and/or decomposing as well. Even so, so critical were the needs for fossil fuels and certain ores become that the government brought inexorable pressure to bear on the project directors so that, against their better and more informed judgment, a series of human experiments were then commenced.
The first man projected was dead when retrieved, but thorough examination of his corpse and clothing established that he had been in thirteenth-century France or, possibly, Savoy. Therefore, the second human volunteer had been steeped in mediaeval Romance languages, garbed in recreated thirteenth-century European attire, and projected. His body, hideously maimed and dead, had been near-naked when retrieved, with a piece of parchment nailed to its forehead with a legend stating in Low Latin, “I am a dead spy.”
For all that a tight lid of secrecy had existed from the very beginning and had been screwed down even more tightly as the human experiments had progressed, still word of the disasters had gotten out somehow, and volunteers of the proper calibers had become virtually nonexistent. But the governmental pressure had not slacked off at all, and so, when one of the most promising of the younger scientists, Dr. Lenny Vincenzo, had volunteered to be the third projectee, the project directors had felt that they had to accept him, had to use him, had to make the sacrifice and send him to his virtually certain death.
A real prodigy, holding, despite his youth, several advanced degrees, Dr. Vincenzo had not required as much preliminary hypnoeducation as had either of his ill-fated predecessors, which fact had allowed them to move faster—though not nearly so fast as the impatient government might have wished.
After a retrieval device had been surgically implanted under the skin of one thigh, Vincenzo had been, at his request, dressed in late-fifteenth-century clothing, provided with reproductions of period coins in copper, brass, silver, and gold, then projected. He had never been retrieved. A rotting cadaver, the retrieval nodule properly placed under the sloughing skin of one thigh, had indeed arrived back at Gamebird, lacking head, hands, feet, and external sexual organs... but it had not been the body of Dr. Lenny Vincenzo; the blood type and a host of other tests had proved that. And since, without the nodule on which the equipment in the lab could home in, there was no way of trying again to retrieve the young man, he was completely lost somewhere in past time.
The project director, still under unbearable pressure from the increasingly threatening government, realizing the young man’s irretrievable loss and suffering deep pangs of guilt over his part in so dooming him, had suicided, publicly and very messily. He had been replaced by a Dr. Jane Stone, who, in addition to holding scientific degrees commensurate to the position, was a lieutenant colonel in the government security service.
Within his own lifetime, Dr. Harold Kenmore had seen his country of birth change from a republic ruled over by popularly elected representatives to a dictatorship in all but name—tightly regimented, savagely policed; even the most intimate aspects of every citizen’s life were spied upon, lest the unhappy, deprived, and brutally downtrodden people rise in revolt against the family dynasty which had stolen away their freedoms and the country. Therefore, despite his relatively privileged status, Ken-more was not at all happy with his present life, there and then... nor had he been the only such man on the project.
Dr. Emmett O’Malley had been another such. Younger than Kenmore and so not really remembering the United States of America that once had been, he still knew of the experiences of friends and even relatives who had suffered cruelly at the callous hands of the dictatorship’s minions and therefore had become willing to risk as much as his life to escape.
A third of this water had been Dr. Lenny Vincenzo, and no matter what others in the project or the government might wonder or guess or suppose or suspect, Kenmore and O’Malley knew. Their true, though short-term, friend and colleague Leonard David Vincenzo had not only escaped, he had used the Gamebird Project and the dwindling energy supplies of the hellish government itself to speed him on his way to freedom. Even thinking of what the brave, desperate young scientist had done was a heady experience for Kenmore and O’Malley.
However, subsequent to the loss of Vincenzo and the suicide of the responsible director, his successor had suspended human-type projections, though still sporadically experimenting with certain attempts to reverse the activity of the equipment and bring things from past to present, skipping from year to year, century to century, geographical location to geographical location; the success of her experiments had been spotty at best.
But hope springs eternal in the human breast. Desperately certain that somehow, someway, sometime they could and would find or make a way to gain access to the locked and guarded facility, learn how to operate the requisite devices, and thus project themselves to a somewhere, sometime that they could not imagine could possibly be worse than life under the existing regime, the two conspirators took up the study of history. After some time, they at length agreed upon northwestern Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century. This done, they began studying books, tapes, and period maps and began to use the easily available hypnostudy system to acquire languages and skills of various archaic sorts, passing off their interests and courses of study as just harmless hobbies.
Meanwhile, being very careful, fully realizing the deadly danger of it all, Dr. Emmett O’Malley—young-looking (the longevity process having more or less frozen his age at mid-twenties), handsome, with a well-developed gift of the blarney—entered into a sexual liaison with Colonel Dr. Jane Stone, thereby eventually gaining access to the projection labs and knowledge of the equipment therein contained.
In addition to using his own lab to surreptitiously compound longevity booster capsules disguised as headache remedy and taken a few at the time back to his quarters, there to be hidden away, Harold Ken-more had hypnotrained himself in antique jewelry-making methods, signed out on loan a quantity of bulk gold, silver, and copper, and set up a small workshop in a corner of his bedroom. There he actually had made some jewelry, and those who saw it had praised his skills, but he had also cast the precious metals into coin shapes and into plain finger rings of varying weights. He also had hypnoed a course in costume design and had fabricated complete sets of clothing to his and Emmett’s measures in fashions of the times they were contemplating.
One of Emmett’s degrees was in the field of ferrous metallurgy, and to this he added hypnocourses in depth and breadth, seeking and at last developing a way to fabricate superior steel from crude pig iron and certain common elements under very primitive conditions. He had proved this theory by fashioning two broadswords and a brace of daggers, plus several smaller knives.
From the very outset of the preparations for their private scheme, their forlorn hope of escape from the hateful, hate-filled madhouse of their world, the two men had seemingly become fanatics in the category of physical exercises of all sorts, and so few if any of their peers and keepers considered it odd that they at last took up fencing, too, proceeding-aided, of course, by hypnostudy—from footwork to foil, then épée, then saber. At length, they began to fence with the broadswords; in the beginning of this, they used these weapons alone, and as they became more adept at handling the heavy, ill-balanced blades, they began to try fencing Florentine, with a dagger in the left hand.
All these disciplines, manufactures, and studies took time, of course, sandwiched in as they perforce were between the necessities of work, the Gamebird routines of endless meetings, conferences, evaluations, and the like, not to mention the time necessarily consumed by Emmett’s torrid affair with Colonel Dr. Jane Stone. It took time, years passed, but then Harold and Emmett had the time, for their longevity-treated bodies aged only minutes while those not so treated aged days and weeks. Lenny Vincenzo had been gone from their world for almost five years before the two men decided that the time at last was ripe for their escape to they knew not what.
Over the years of increasingly harsh and regimented dictatorship, most once-honored holidays of all natures had been abolished and the average worker labored six-day, seventy-two-hour weeks, week after week, for twelve months of every year, paid less and ever less real income, the purchasing power of which at the best proved never enough to buy the needed amounts of the increasingly scarce and dear necessities of life. Not even the slightest surcease was available. Use of tobacco was illegal. Though rigorously discouraged and under constant surveillance, religious practice was allowed on one day each work week. Uses of alcohol, hallucinogen-ics, or narcotics invariably brought lengthy stays in government labor and reeducation camps if used other than under a physician’s orders or, preferably, his direct supervision. Those adjudged insane or unable to work due to injury or physical impairment were killed. Only the elite—bureaucrats, military, higher echelons of police and overlapping internal intelligence departments, valued people sequestered away in certain government research projects such as Gamebird, or a very few others—were allowed to lead lives of anything save endless drudgery, mal-nourishment if not outright starvation, hopelessness, and unceasing terror.
However, within a five-day period—the last two days of an outgoing year and the first three days of the incoming one—designated the President’s Birthday Celebration, most if not all strictures were eased nationwide. Government outlets gave away not only free foodstuffs to all comers, but tobacco, spirits of many sorts, items of footwear and clothing, and even supplies of hallucinogens. During these wild Days, public appearances in chemically altered states not only went unpunished but were aggressively encouraged. Travel, normally very much restricted, not only was eased during these Days but was free to those with proof of family elsewhere in the country if the round trip could be accomplished before the Days had ended. Many, drunk or spacey, went forth and about in odd attire or none at all, unnoticed and unremarked by any. There were always some killings and other violence during the Days, but usually the then-short-handed police ignored the smaller instances of violence—though they were always quick to put down mobs by deadly methods. The bodies, however slain, were just collected and delivered to the nearest rendering plant.
At the Gamebird Project, on the banks of the Potomac River, as at all the other projects run by the government, the resident workers were, though comparatively lavishly provided for and kept in luxury, sequestered, not allowed to leave the complex and grounds save in supervised groups for very necessary field trips or visits to their superiors elsewhere. Their families, if they had them, were supported and housed, but their only contacts with them through the year long were in the forms of letters (always and thoroughly censored, incoming and outgoing), videotapes (ditto) and the exceedingly rare vision-phone call. The Days represented the only chance available to the sequestered men and women for physical contact with their loved ones, and those with families invariably took advantage of the opportunity, knowing that their transportation would be assured and first-class. For this reason, the population of Gamebird during the Days dropped drastically, and for most who did stay on at the Project, there was no work and almost unlimited license. Travel about the various sectors of the vast complex, usually strictly forbidden without necessity and authorization from some lofty source, was permitted, while obvious drunkenness and odd behavior was expected.
For these many reasons, Harold Kenmore and Emmett O’Malley had felt that their best, indeed their only decent, chance to carry out their escape scheme would be upon one of the Days. Over their shirts and trunkhose, they had donned the coveralls issued them for outside work in cold or wet weather, filling the cargo pockets of these with precious metals, longevity-booster capsules, food concentrates, and other small items. Their parka pockets were likewise crammed full, then they slung on their baldrics, buckled their dagger-belts and slung their cloaks over all. They slipped their sheathed broadswords into place in the baldrics, rinsed out their mouths with grain alcohol, and splashed the rest of the stuff over their clothing before setting out from their quarters—arm in arm, singing a lewd song, and clutching a half-empty liquor bottle.
Descending to the lowest level of their part of the complex, they found the guard cubicle completely untenanted, so they just boarded one of the small electric rail cars and let it take them through the tunnel under the width of the river and into the lowest level of the southern segment of the Gamebird Project, wherein was located the experimental time-travel facility.
In the southern terminal, the guard cubicle was tenanted, but all three of the guards therein were snoring—one in a chair, two on the floor. Bottles in various stages of emptiness were scattered about the cubicle, and a pungent smell of burning rope hung thickly in the air. Emmett casually helped himself to the key to the lift, and the two scientists ascended swiftly to the level they sought, a little shocked at the ease of it all.
But that had all ended at the door to the facility itself. The guard on duty there had not been asleep or drunk or other than fully awake and alert. However, he had known Emmett by sight, had been aware of the man’s relationship with the director, and had stayed unsuspicious long enough for Emmett to get in sufficiently close to deprive him quietly of consciousness.
Using the entry card his high-ranking sometime lover had given him, Emmett had let them into the huge room and, after positioning Harold on a silvery, circular plate set in the floor, he had raced about the room, going from one bulky device to the next one, pushing buttons, pulling levers, turning dials, and scrutinizing displays. At length, he had wheeled over a metal-covered console about four feet high by two feet or so square, centered it on the silvery disk, and begun to plug its thick cable into a larger device nearby, while Harold gazed blankly at the jungle of dials, knobs, buttons, gauges, and small levers of varying colors and sizes which covered the top surface.
Dr. Emmett O’Malley returned to stand beside Kenmore on the disk, and his big, freckled hands moved quickly and surely over the controls. A deep hum that seemed to come from everywhere and from nowhere had begun sometime while O’Malley had been back among the banks of devices and was increasing swiftly in loudness, even as a blue-green glow that did not seem to have a visible source became brighter and greener all about the chamber.
At almost the last moment in that world, Col. Dr. Jane Stone had appeared from out of the shadows, leveling at them a sonic weapon which could have been their deaths save that Emmett had preset the device to project them immediately, sufficient power had been achieved, and they had winked out of the furious woman’s world even as her finger had tightened on the trigger.
The two escapees had arrived not in the past of their own world but in that of a parallel one, or so Harold Kenmore had come to believe after much study and the passing of many years. They had come to earth literally, arriving on the packed-earth floor of the lowest level of a stone defensive tower near to the bloody border between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. They had come early in the reign of
King Henry VII Tudor, A.D. 1486 or 1487, in winter as in their own world, and soon after a party of Lowland Scot rievers had captured the first floor of that tower. A party of these ruffians were even at the moment of the scientists’ coming in the process of brutally torturing and maiming an already wounded man in hopes that his screams of agony would bring down the remainder of the garrison from the floors above.
Infuriated by what they witnessed being done to the captive by the savage captors, Harold and Ken-more had used twenty-first-century weapons—heat-stunners, projectors which made use of sonics to cause conflagration or bring unconsciousness, depending entirely on the setting—to not only eliminate the torturers, but send the entire force of rievers spurring hard back toward Scotland, screaming mindlessly or praying, terrified at the sight of the two green-glowing man-shaped demons who had appeared from nowhere.
The tortured man, who had been lord of this place called Whyffler Hall—then an old-fashioned motte-and-bailey residence-fortification, though with a stone tower and a stockaded bailey—had died under his torture, and his widow, heirs, and retainers had assumed the two fortuitously arrived newcomers to be at least gentlemen due to the richness of their attire and the fine swords they bore and could use so well. And in those times it was well to have the strong arms and sharp blades of any fighters available, for the Lowlands to the north were all aboil and the border was all aflame from end to end.
In some hidden glen of the Highlands, a dark religion had been born, and had grown horrifically among the wild clansmen. Although its practitioners presumably had once been good, decent Christian folk and, indeed, still carried some of the hallmarks of the Faith—most notably, the Celtic Cross—their new and savage beliefs bore no relation to the worship of Christ or to that of any of the old pagan gods, either; for all that they called themselves Balderites, they did not reverence that pagan Norse deity, but rather a One who was female, had no name, and was referred to as Mother of All or, simply, the Mother.
And a singularly bloodthirsty mother she was, demanding of her followers no less than every drop of the blood of every man, woman, and child who did not immediately rush to join her minions when first they heard of her. In her name, declared her priests and her priestesses, all previous allegiances, all oaths and bonds of service and fealty were declared void; not even ties of kinship were or could be stronger than obedience to her murderous dictates. In her name, not even matricide, parricide, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, mariticide, or other murders of near and distant kindred were wrong so long as these victims did not revere her.
Worse, the gory, lunatic religion had spread like wildfire even among the close-knit, interrelated Highland clans, tearing many apart and almost exterminating others in the fierce internecine fighting. Though many a Highland chief was slain, few of them or their immediate families became Balderites, but a few did, and under their wily, war-wise leadership, the hordes of blood-mad, ill-armed, but murderously determined men and women of the new religion swept over the hills and through the glens, killing, killing, ceaselessly killing. They slew the low and the high, male and female, withered ancients and suckling babes. The terrifying word of them flew before them, and the strong and able either fled or took to their keeps or mottes or fortified steadings with all their retainers, kindred, and kine, while the weak and helpless rushed to join immediately they came in proximity to the red-handed worshipers of the Mother.
Despite their numbers, few of these Highland Balderites were in any way well armed, and they lacked cannon or even more primitive siege-engines of any description, so if any keep, hold, motte, or steading could withstand their initial attack, could beat back the horde with casualties, the Balderites were as likely as not to move on in search of more helpless prey. Those Highland folk who survived their furious rush southward did so in one of three ways: by being swift, by being strong and determined, or by joining them. All others died, their lifeblood going to soak the ground and help to appease the insatiable bloodthirst of the Mother of All.
By then in their thousands, the horde of fanatics swept against, lapped about the walls of Edinburgh itself, but fewer left than had arrived, so they did not long remain. However, their numbers were swelled in the Lowlands. The Chief of Grant brought all his kin and clansfolk to become Balderites; so too did the chiefs of Kerr, Hay, MacAdam, Kennedy, and not a few smaller clans and septs.
From behind the stout walls of Edinburgh, the King of Scotland called upon his earls to raise an army, sent words of warning to the English border lords, and prayed speedy assistance against this heathen menace from everyone of whom he and his council could think—King Henry of England and Wales, Ard-Righ Brian VI of Ireland and all the other righs of that island, the Regulus of the Isles (which domain was just then in one of its phases of not being an actual part of the Kingdom of Scotland), the King of France, the King of Burgundy, the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of Aragon and Leon, the Caliph of Granada, the Grand Duke of Portugal, and the King of Denmark and Norway. He even dispatched a letter to Rome beseeching that a Crusade be preached against the Balderites. Then he hunkered down to await developments and troops.
While he crouched there, powerless to do aught but hold the walled capital without the aid of the earls and other magnates of the feudal kingdom, the Kennedy Clan and its septs, all fiery with the zeal of new converts, not only sent boatloads of slavering Balderites to carry the message of the Mother to the folk of Northern Ireland, but made so bold as to launch seaborne attacks against the islands and coastal lands held by the Clan MacLean and the Regulus of the Isles and that virtual if unnamed king’s many dependent clans.
In the Irish Kingdom of Ulaid, already racked by civil war, the Balderites were able to establish at least a foothold, but the grim Northern Ui Neills to the west of them lined their rocky coastline with poles bearing Balderite heads, stakes on which rotted impaled Balderite bodies, and frames whereon were stretched flayed skins of Balderites.
The Regulus, Iain, already in cold fury against the Balderites because of the losses they had cost him in his mainland holdings, especially in the Inverness country, called upon his vassals at Lewis, Skye, and Uist for their famous, infamous, dreaded Scots-Dane axemen—those professional mankillers known in Ireland as galloglaiches—and remorselessly held his own at Islay against the Kennedys and the rest while he awaited the arrival of enough force to counterattack.
Meanwhile, guided by veteran rievers of Clans Grant, Armstrong, Kerr, and Hay, mobs of Balderites were religiously butchering both across the length and width of the Scottish Lowlands and pressing over the border into England. It had been one such group, that one just then being led by the very Chief of Grant, which had been sent off in shrieking terror by Drs. Harold Kenmore and Emmett O’Malley.
That had not been the first Balderite incursion against Whyffler Hall, nor was it the last. Occasionally reinforced by trickles of harried survivors of other Balderite raids, the two twenty-first-century men and the Whyffler family and their retainers continued to hold the hall and its nearer environs for almost two more years before the new king, Henry VII Tudor, led his host north to the beleaguered border lands, scoured them clean of the Celtic hordes, then crossed the border to join with the combined forces of the Scottish earls near Edinburgh.
The pleas of the King of Scotland had been heeded. In Rome, the then-Pope had sent word to his bishops to preach a holy crusade against these savage pagans in Scotland, and even as King Henry’s English-Welsh-Norman-Breton-Angevin host marched toward Edinburgh, ships were landing parties of crusaders along the east coast—descendants of Vikings from the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, Goths from Sweden, Frisians and Flemings, Burgundians, French, Leonese, Portuguese, Granadans, fighting men representing most of the small states that made up the Holy Roman Empire, a few Switzers, some Italians of various kinds, Castilians, Navarrese, Moors, and even a few scarred, black-skinned noble knights of the Kingdom of Ghana.
For all the awesome forces at their command, nonetheless, the two royal allies did not anticipate either a quick or an easily won victory, for they now faced an aggregation of fanatics who, while they might retreat before superior force, had never been known to yield or surrender under even pain of instant death for themselves or loved ones. By that point in time, the survivors of the rampage down from the Highlands—birthplace of the murderous heresy—now were not only well armed but were become veteran warriors—younger and elder, men and women. They were well supplied in all save gunpowder and the priests’ powder necessary to its fabrication, and, thanks principally to the conversions of some of the Lowlander chiefs, they now held some castles and strongpoints around which they could rally in the face of attack.
When the king sent word galloping through all England and Wales, through too all his royal possessions on the continent, for more men, more supplies and sinews of warfare, the Widow of Why filer Hall designated her stalwarts, her two most trusted and provenly courageous gentlemen, to lead her small contingent to answer the summons of her sovereign; and so did Harold Kenmore and Emmett O’Malley find themselves riding at the head of a force of some sixty-odd men—fourteen lances, as the folk figured in those days—all of them wearing white surplices over their clothing, to join the royal crusading armies gathering just southwest of Edinburgh.