Brigit’s Flame Entry – Week 4 June
Word Count: 4,478
Genre: Science Fiction
“Keller here,” barked a voice from the car speakers.
Daniel thumbed the volume down as he replied wryly, “Keller here, too. How ‘bout that?”
“I’m in the middle of something, Danny. Call me back in an hour,” Caleb grumbled. The connection beeped off.
“Unbelievable,” Daniel muttered. “Un-frakkin-believable.” He fished his mobile from the niche below the car’s hands-free system and angrily fired off a text to Caleb. After he reread and reworded the text twice, Daniel hit send and dropped the phone into the passenger seat with a finger-flick for punctuation.
Three minutes later the car announced an incoming call.
Daniel pressed the button to accept. “Ladies and Gentlemen, my brother the Neandertal!”.
“Why do you have to say it like that?” Caleb sighed.
“Because, Big Brother, you laid down this epic directive that if we were going to meet at the tailor’s during your lunch break, I had better be on time and not leave you sitting here alone. Then when I call to see where you are you grunt something into the phone and hang up on me. I’ve earned the right to be sarcastic. Get over it.”
“No,” Caleb rumbled. “I meant ‘neander-tall’ without the ‘h’?”
Daniel exhaled loudly, “Because that is how the failed version of primitive man is referred to in scientific circles.”
Caleb audibly sucked his incisor, “Yeah, but you’re not a scientist so it just makes you sound like an asshole.”
Daniel closed his eyes and dropped his head back on the head-rest. “I actually am a…Never mind. How long until you get here?”
“About an hour. Maybe an hour and ten now that we’ve had our little chat.”
“Excellent. I’ll go in and hang out with the showgirls while you — ?”
“Interrogate a man about a murder,” Caleb replied nonchalantly.
“It’s always a murder with you,” Daniel sighed and hung up.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The Keller brothers pushed through the replica saloon doors belonging to master costumier Jean-Paul Beauchene, arms weighted down with two wardrobe bags each and stacks of twine strapped boxes.
“He’s an odd one,” Caleb remarked with a smirk.
Daniel shot his brother an annoyed look. “Can we at least get through the exterior door before you start insulting our next client?” The younger Keller used his butt to push the shopfront’s security door open and backed out onto the sidewalk. He stretched his foot out at the last second to catch and hold the door for his brother. From the corner of his eye Daniel thought he saw something falling towards him. He flinched and threw his arms up to protect his head. The boxes he’d been carrying bounced away from the curb as they fell to the ground.
“Geez, Danny!” Caleb wheezed. “Pull it together. It’s just the damn sign.”
The entrepreneurial Beauchene operated his tailoring and costume business out of his theatrical club, the ‘Moulin Rouge’. Like its namesake the Milwaukee version of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ had a windmill affixed to the building complete with slowly rotating blades.
Daniel, flushed with embarrassment, scrambled to pick up the boxes that had popped out of their twine. “At least you didn't pull your gun on it,” he muttered.
“Yeah,” the older Keller agreed, “I've finally gotten used to you overreacting to stupid shit.”
Daniel gritted his teeth and opted for dribbling the boxes back to the car footballer style. Caleb opened the rear gate of Daniel’s SUV, dropped his packages in the trunk and flopped his wardrobe bags over the rear seat. Then he relieved Daniel of his packages so the other Keller could pick the rest of his purchases up off the ground.
“Those are some expensive soccer balls you’re kickin’ around like that,” Caleb remarked.
“I’m aware.” Daniel snapped at him. “I guess I’ll be carting your clothes back to the cabin?”
“Relax, kid,” Caleb grumbled. “I know for a fact that I didn't piss in your cornflakes this morning so lose the tone.” Daniel opened his mouth to argue, but Caleb held up a hand and glared at his little brother in an unspoken warning. Caleb was not above getting physical when it came to Daniel. The brothers had traded bruises and busted knuckles on numerous occasions.
They stared at each other for a few beats as one decided if he was angry enough to push, and the other waited him out.
Daniel shifted his attention to re-organizing the boxes in the back of his car and checking on the contents of the box that appeared the most dented.
“I’ll be out to the cabin in the morning for our uh…expedition,” Caleb said casually. “Since I have to go back to work now, in the department vehicle,” he added with emphasis, “I’d appreciate it if you could take my clothes home with you?” Caleb didn't phrase it like a question, but he had the decency to imply a question mark at the end.
“That’s fine,” Daniel replied shortly. “Which expedition do you want to head out for tomorrow? The one in Perth or the sinking ship?”
Caleb made a scoffing noise. “We’re not executing that nutjob’s request without extensive research first.”
“If we don’t take his…,” Daniel growled then stopped himself, clenching his fist. “Caleb, we cannot afford the work he did for us, that’s why we are bartering with him.”
“Pretty convenient, don’tcha think?” Caleb commented with a sneer. “Guy tells us this stuff is thousands of dollars, AFTER he makes it, then comes up with this scheme to get us to go loot some sinking ship instead of having to lay out the cash. I don’t trust him. He wears eyeliner for chrissakes.”
“You are not that shallow!” Daniel exploded, his barely contained irritation boiling over. “I hate it when you try to play this bad-ass mo-fo…guy. Jean-Paul was a friend of Dad’s. They did stuff like this together all the time. And he hand wove sixteen yards of fabric for those kilts. Do you have any idea how much work that is?”
“No. Because I don’t play dress-up and flit around in costumes, lifting my skirts.”
“I’m leaving,” Daniel barked. “Go be a Neandertal with your detective buddies. I’ll do Jean-Paul’s job on my own.”
“You will not,” Caleb growled, catching Daniel by the arm roughly. He let go just as he noticed a woman pushing a stroller stop to stare at them. “I didn't say we wouldn't do the job. I just said I don’t trust the guy’s research. Just because he says he was like Dad’s business partner doesn't make it true. People lie, Danny.”
“I’m going on Ford Keller’s word here,’ Daniel insisted. “Dad wrote about Jean-Paul all the time in his journal. They've been working together since the guy first learned his trade — back when we were kids. Before Jean-Paul there was another man Dad worked with, another costumier. Jean-Paul was his apprentice. Our family has always relied on relationships like these.”
Caleb checked his watch and pulled his mobile out of his pocket. “I gotta get back to work, Danny. Just wait for me before you go anywhere. Oh,” he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and handed Danny a small slip of paper from it. “This guy texted me that our order is in. Can you swing by and pick it up on your way back up to the cabin. He’s right off the highway, exit 41.”
“Why am I your errand boy?” Danny asked the sky.
“Just get there before he closes will ya? We need that stuff for the expedition. And you’ll probably want to figure out how it all works and get extra batteries.” Caleb said this last as he closed his car door and started a conversation with someone via cell phone.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Caleb consulted a map inked on a piece of leather while Daniel tried to arrange stones as a parking marker that would not be noticed by anyone but a Keller. The time-travel machine could disguise itself as many things to keep it safe from theft or tampering (or notice) during a time jaunt. Given the heavily wooded area they landed in, Daniel chose the weathered boulder camouflage option and then worried they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it later from the other boulders.
The date was 30, September 1396; the place, Perth, Scotland. It was early in the morning on the historic day of the Battle of North Inch.
“I think I hear someone coming, Caleb. We need to get moving.”
“I can see the river, so I think that way is east.” Caleb pointed, then looked hopelessly at the dense trees all around them. “There should be a road in that direction,” he said with more confidence than he felt.
“I never checked if there were Highwaymen in this time,” Daniel nattered nervously.
Caleb chuckled. “Can you imagine if we got mugged in the middle of Sherwood Forest? Dad would be laughing at us from his grave.”
Daniel gave Caleb’s back a scolding look. “Or cursing us. I still can’t believe I let you talk me into bringing modern tech with us. Do you not understand the concept of an anachronism?”
“Kid,” Caleb said in a warning tone, “I understand far more things than you give me credit for. Quit talking down to me or we’ll be the ones on the battlefield.”
The brothers moved through the woods in silence and in the general direction Caleb suspected was correct. After a time, Daniel noticed aloud that the trees seemed to be thinning out and the underbrush was more manageable. In less than thirty feet they came to the edge of a cart trail. The brothers looked down the trail in opposite directions.
“I miss satellites already,” Daniel mumbled in amusement. “Which way to Perth?”
“Well, the river was going this way,” Caleb gestured with his arm, “and the battlefield was here,” he pointed to a spot on his wrist. “I couldn’t actually see the battlefield from where we parked, but I did see a piece of the bridge which is here,” Caleb pointed to his elbow. “So if the road is heading towards the village which is by the river (and we haven’t walked in a circle),” he made a right angle of his arms to demonstrate. “Then I think we should go that way.”
“This is not my beautiful wife,” sang Daniel.
Caleb furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to say something, then promptly shut it. A loud crack sounded up the road; it seemed to be just around a curve in the cart trail, opposite the direction Caleb had decided was the right way. Frozen with indecision, neither brother made a move to or away from the sound. They heard an animal groan and then possibly whinny, followed by the distinct sound of a man cursing.
“I think that man needs help,” Daniel whispered.
“We’re not supposed to help,” Caleb whispered back.
“I bet he knows where the village is,” Daniel suggested.
Caleb took one more look down the road to where he thought they should go. “Yeah, let’s see if we can get directions without creating a paradox.” The brothers moved toward the ongoing sounds of irritation.
“Do you know there are some quantum theorists who believe it is impossible to actually create a paradox?”
“Shut up, Egbert,” Caleb chided. “You’ll accidentally enlighten Robin Hood.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
It took an hour to help the little man they found with his splintered axle. By the time he was travel-ready, both brothers had mud squelching through their period shoes and caked over various places on their $10,000 each kilt ensembles. The man who introduced himself as Henry, had remarked on their strange accents, but seemed to accepted Daniel’s story of growing up in the Orkneys and relocating for a marriage into a local clan.
“The wheel is serviceable,” Daniel said awkwardly, hyper-aware of the centuries of difference in their languages. “We must be on our way. I am afraid we became turned around on the road. Can you direct us to the village of Perth?” Henry looked at Daniel with something that seemed like pity and pointed up the road. It took both brothers a moment to reorient and realize it was opposite the direction Caleb had calculated.
Caleb nervously took a stab at talking to the local. “So you were on the road leaving the village? Did you not want to see the battle today?”
His reply sounded much like, “I kenny don. Iva promise to a mane in creef.” Henry pointed to the box Caleb had just loaded back on the cart after fixing the wheel.
“Crieff?” Daniel repeated. Henry corrected the pronunciation and Daniel repeated it.
After the third try Henry just said, “Aye.” and waved his hand.
“Henry,” Daniel started, “Are you the smith in Perth?”
“Aye.” Henry nodded.
“Is there another smith named Henry in the village?”
“Naan.” Henry shook his head.
“Are you sometimes called Hal o’ the Wynd?” Daniel asked.
“Aye!” Henry snapped and went off on a small tirade that neither brother could understand.
Caleb flinched at the vehemence in the small man’s response. “What are you getting at Danny?” Caleb muttered. “I think you just pissed him off.”
“He’s supposed to be there today,” Daniel said softly. “He’s part of the history. A vital part.”
Henry the Smith shook his crop at the Keller brothers and climbed up to the seat on his cart. Caleb and Daniel stepped back from the road as Hal o’ the Wynd followed his horse out of town.
“Shit,” exclaimed Caleb. “All we did was help a stranded traveler and now we've ruined history.”
“How the hell was our family able to do this for so long without creating an ocean of red journals?” Daniel wondered aloud.
“Do we still go to the battle?” Caleb asked Daniel.
“Should we chase him down and force him back to the village?” Daniel asked Caleb.
Neither answered the other, they stood beside the road and pondered the severity of possible repercussions and how much effort they had put into getting to this moment. The wrong moment. A broken piece of history.
“Okay,” Daniel said with confidence, nodding briskly. “We still go to the battle. We record what happens — for our first red journal entry — and then we go back home, figure out what changed. If the impact seems like a tiny ripple, we leave it alone. If the changes are significant, we come back to this moment and set up some kind of road block or trap or whatever — further down the road — for Henry Smith that will force him to turn around and head back to Perth.”
Caleb nodded his approval for the plan and the two headed towards the village to bear witness to the Battle of North Inch.
After what felt like a mile walked in slurping shoes they could see a small wooden bridge crossing a creek. Caleb jogged to the side of the bridge and unlaced his shoes to swish them around in the water. Daniel followed suit, then took his socks off to crouch on a stone at the water’s edge and hold them in the current.
Caleb called out to Daniel what sounded like a warning, coincidentally Daniel felt something slick and sinewy slide over his hand. He screamed and fell backwards into the brush.
A moment later Caleb was grinning down at him from above. “Did ya break anything?” he asked.
“What the hell was that?” Daniel asked tensely.
“Did it feel like an eel might?” Caleb countered.
Daniel thought about it and nodded.
“Then it was probably an eel. I saw a net full of them hung under the bridge,” Caleb informed his brother with a smile.
“Those things can take a finger off,” Daniel exclaimed as Caleb helped him up and pulled his kilt around to adjust it. “I saw them on this fishing show one time where the adventure fisherman guy was trying to determine if they could have dragged a little girl into the river and drown her.”
“I know the show you mean,” Caleb interrupted, “but this might not be the best place to talk about television.”
“O,” Daniel said softly. “What did you say to me before I fell?”
“Don’t get the equipment wet.”
Daniel felt around for the video recording equipment disguised as Highland embellishments. Then he shifted around to feel under his many layers of clothes to check that all of the wires were still connected, the battery packs were intact, and the mini hard drive was still humming inaudibly as it stored all of the audio and video the Keller brothers were collecting.
“You scream like a girl, you know?” Caleb chuckled as he laced his shoes on and set out for the bridge.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The makeshift stands around the battlefield were filling up fast. There were already two clusters of armed men standing in the field; the colors of their battle dress the only indication that they were not all brothers-in-arms. Caleb had drawn the long straw before they left home, so he was nearer the stands and the King. Daniel was meant to film the more gruesome aspects of the day. He made his way along the top of the wall to find a seat with the best view.
Their clients had two goals in today’s time jump:
1.To determine the parties involved in the battle; a long disputed nugget of history that had never been settled.
2.To observe the battle strategy of Clan Chattan, the King’s demeanor, and the crowd’s reaction.
Question one had already been answered by listening to the crowd. Based on the research Daniel had done beforehand, there were some historians and history buffs who would be disappointed. What they knew — the Battle of North Inch had been arranged by the King to settle a dispute between clans or families who were not satisfied with a jurisdictional ruling. They requested a trial by combat.
For decades Clan Cameron or Clan Kay as they were also called, had been creeping into lands that belonged to Clan Chattan. That clan was formed by the family ties of two natural brothers and their sister’s husband — The MacIntosh, The MacPherson, and The Davidson. Following a battle that went wonky almost 20 years prior, the Davidson factor had been more than decimated. This caused The MacIntosh and The MacPherson to take into fostership their natural niece and nephew from the Davidson union and adopt management of the struggling factor.
What they didn’t know — in those 20 years, the children grew up, as did the children of the other Davidsons who lived. They sought to reclaim their birthright and resume governance of their own lands. The MacIntosh was not inclined to relinquish control as, his nephew, the man who stood to become The Davidson [family chief] had been known to dally with the daughter of The Cameron. It was his fear that the couple would wed, tying Clan Chattan to their sworn enemies. For years the families had sought a reasonable resolution, but the living son of David had his sense poisoned by the old Cameron – father of his beloved.
When the young man made his plea to the King that his uncle was trying to steal his lands. The King, Robert III agreed to the extreme resolution of a trial by combat. The Battle of North Inch was a feud among clan chiefs that had bled into the next generation to divide the clan over land and the right to love.
The men waiting to kill each other were a mix of all of the families involved. There was the main Davidson, joined by some of his kinsman, a handful of Camerons, a MacGillivray, and The MacPherson’s youngest son. On the other side, were the older men of Clan Chattan who’d fought in the campaigns against the Cameron’s and alongside the original Davidson. They were joined by their sons and while they were ready for the battle to come, they were disheartened by the prospect of fighting their own.
Daniel had not considered before leaving Wisconsin that he might feel for these ancient people. It was meant to be a replay of history; inevitable events they could not change. Yet by helping a dwarfish man with a wheel on a cart, the victory was no longer guaranteed. It was anyone’s win. Who should it be? Would the outcome be more significant for the old soldiers in their wisdom or the young warrior in his passion?
Settled in an excellent perch on a wall in Perth, Daniel Keller discreetly checked again to verify his equipment seemed in working order. He adjusted all of the little spy cams he was wearing to make sure they were unobstructed. The moment came when the side fighting for Clan Chattan called to the crowd for a volunteer to make up their one missing man. For the briefest insanity of a second, Daniel thought he should throw up a hand to pay his debt to the Chattan’s for helping their erstwhile hero leave town. Then he heard the crowd cheer as a small man clambered over the wall and threw in his lot.
It was Henry the Smith — Hal o’ the Wynd — the Gow Chrom himself. Daniel tingled with the realization that they had already come back to right their mistake and turn the day’s savior back towards the battle he was meant to win.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
“Caleb,” Daniel exclaimed in an excited whisper shortly after the brothers had crossed the small creek on their way to the time machine, “do you realize what happened out there?”
“Forty-eight men died over some brat’s lack of respect for his dead father?”
“Oh, I…” Daniel fumbled his words. He hadn’t really thought much about the ramifications of the battle once it looked like history had been set back on the right path. “I was talking about Henry showing up.”
“Yeah. That was weird. I wonder why he turned around and came back to the village? He seemed like a man on a mission when we saw him this morning.”
“Obviously he went back because he had to. We planned to come back if it was necessary and block his way to Crieff, so it would seem that we did.”
Caleb stopped a moment in the road and looked thoughtfully at Daniel. “Maybe you could be right, but that doesn’t feel right. We hadn’t decided to do it. We had discussed doing it if history was too distorted by the outcome of the battle without him. I don’t know, Danny.” He started walking again. “This shit’s just too complex and my brain’s not right after watching all those people get their heads cut off. I feel queasy and…after today I don’t know if I can do this time travel stuff. Maybe Dad was right to keep us out of it.”
“You’re kidding right?” Daniel jogged a few steps to catch up to Caleb. “You’re a homicide detective. I have not had a day in your company for the last year when the word ‘murder’ hasn’t come up.”
“I solve murders, Danny, or try to. I don’t watch them committed. Were you watching any of what went down on the battlefield?”
“It was pretty chaotic. I closed my eyes a lot.”
“You know what little brother,” Caleb growled, turning on Danny with a suddenness that stopped the younger Keller in his tracks, “there are days that I really don’t like you, as a person. Forty-eight men died horribly at the hands of their once-sworn brothers and you’re being glib. Life matters, Danny. The force that animates us and the choices we make, both of those things matter. It’s not something to be studied remotely, it should be respected.”
“You don’t like me? Caleb, I can’t remember the last time I thought of you as someone I’d like to hang with. And while you’re up on that high horse, cast back to last night and this morning when I made a similar argument against recording these events for the historian who hired us. I told you it wasn’t something to be ogled at and rewound for parsing, but all you wanted was the fat paycheck they had promised so we could put off doing any work for Jean-Paul.”
“Shut up!” Caleb said abruptly.
“What the f –?” Daniel started to say but Caleb roughly covered his mouth and struck a listening pose.
There was a sound coming from their left where the trees became more dense. Silently they brothers stalked the sound. A familiar cart had been forced back into the woods with such power a tree was leaning precariously and one whole plank had been sheared from the vehicle. A few minutes of careful walking took them to a pair of horses, still yoked, nibbling at some autumn berries.
Daniel opened his mouth to wonder aloud at the presence of the cart and horses, but Caleb held up a hand to stop him. There was still that other sound, out passed the horses. As they trudged along in silence, Daniel felt a thrum from the key fob that controlled the camouflage on the time machine. They were almost to the place where it was parked. Daniel felt his stomach drop as it occurred to him the sound and the proximity of their ride might be related.
Less than twenty feet from the boulder the brothers recognized as the time machine, they found Henry the Smith gagged and bound to a tree. The man was crying but did not seem injured. It took Daniel a second to realize that there was a piece of duct tape over Henry’s mouth.
He inhaled sharply and looked at Caleb. “Could we have done this?”
Caleb helped the man to his feet. Henry seemed grateful not angry, which relieved Daniel for the moment that they had not tied him up. Then, after a long confusing conversation, the brothers came to understand that the horses ran the cart into the trees and then broke the pin in their fever to escape. A strange and terrible noise and light had spooked them. Henry had been thrown from the cart when it stuck in the trees. He didn’t know anything after that until the moment he woke up tied to the tree, far from his cart.
The brothers spent two hours helping him get back on the road, noting that this time he headed toward Perth and not Crieff. Then they slogged, exhausted back to their time travel boulder to head home.
When Daniel clicked the button to turn off the camouflage, a strange grey square remained. Leaning in to the square the Keller brothers recognized it as duct tape, with the a note scribbled on it in an unfamiliar hand.