The man followed Glen’s example and looked around before he nodded. “Right you are. This is not like earth. Some call this place the Second Heavens. That is the space squeezed between the first heavens that circle above the earth and the Third Heaven wherein is the throne of God. It may be. Some imagine it is purgatory, though I don’t believe that is correct. I have my own name for it.” Glen raised his brows and leaned forward in expectation. “I said it was my own name.” That ended that discussion.
After a time of silence while Glen watched the man pull some ground spice out of a pouch and rub it into the pigeon, he spoke again. “Tough luck on any people living down below if the sea should break through this little ridge we are on.”
“Eh?” the man looked up and grinned as he stood. “I heard it did once. The Middle Ones had the devil’s own time getting the Endless Sea back in its place. But that is just what I heard.”
Glen was not sure he understood. “Middle Ones? Endless Sea?” He mumbled the questions, but by then the man was up and tending to his horse, so he held his tongue. He did not know what to think. He did not know what to say. It came to him that he was not even sure who he was, and with that he decided his best course would be to watch his tongue or not say anything at all.
When the pigeon was ready, Glen ate but thought about chicken just as hard as he could. He ate because he did not want to offend the man, and the tubers were actually quite good. But after a while, he spoke again to distract his attention from the food.
“So how long have you been here?” Glen felt that was a safe conversation since he had already volunteered that he had not been there long.
The man stopped short in the midst of licking his fingers. “Congratulations,” he said and looked up at the last bit of red and deepening purple in the western sky. “It only took you about three hours to ask that question. The last man I met took all day before he asked, and the man before that never did ask.” He squinted hard at Glen. “There must be something female about you.”
The man nodded and looked around at the trees before he looked again at Glen. “Women are less concerned with this place and more with the person. They usually ask that question in the first five minutes.”
Glen sat quietly and looked at his hands. The man – this knight was not inclined to be free with information. Glen waited, and while he waited, he wondered if the cloth in his pack might provide some warmth in the night. He pulled it out and saw that it was folded very tight. There was no telling just from looking at it how big it might actually be. But now that the sun was down, he suspected it might cool off. Glen looked again at the man who was still looking at him.
The man laughed. “Once upon a time, I was headed for Jerusalem, but I got lost.” He sighed wistfully before he continued. “I found myself in this place in the Year of our Lord, 1192.” Glen must have looked shocked because the man laughed again before he spoke. “Yes. I had a small troop out from Ascalon. Richard sent us to spy out the Mohammedans, but my head tells me they found us first. My head says I died in an ambush, yet here I am. I hardly feel like a ghost. I’ve just shared a nice pigeon and I am ready to take a good rest. So you see, my body says I am hardly dead. Besides, I am not inclined to do any of the things ghosts do. I can’t walk through walls. I tried.” He paused to make a show by rubbing his nose.
The man nodded again. “Yes,” he said before he squinted at Glen again. “I’ve spent the last several years trying to find my way back.” He squinted double hard.
“Several centuries,” Glen corrected before he became unbearably uncomfortable under his scrutiny. “What?”
The man shook his head. “You don’t seem to be all here. I was wondering if maybe you are the ghost.”
“Me?” Glen had not expected that. “I’m not a ghost. I have no ghostly inclinations, and I can assure you I can’t walk through walls either, and I don’t have to test my nose to prove it.”
“I’m not even dead, at least as far as I know in my head.”
“Hmm.” The man paused to think about that. “There’s a different wrinkle. All the same, you are not entirely here. It is like you are in two places, I guess. I suppose if you are not dead, you may be back on earth asleep or something, do you think?”
Glen looked around, though by then it was too dark to see anything. “I don’t know what to think. I don’t know where I am. I barely feel I know who I am. And it is not every day I meet someone who is over eight hundred years old and still looking to go home.”
The man gave Glen a stern look. “You’re not going to start on me now with that business about how you can’t go home again, are you?”
“No, please.” Glen shook his head. “That man was an idiot. I think one of the main drives, the point of life is to find our way home, to our heavenly home, our real home.” The man grinned again. “No, I don’t know which heaven. Maybe the seventh heaven.” Glen just threw that last thought to the wind.
“Mohammedan talk,” the man said. “There are only three heavens, but this second heaven is confusing and might be mistaken for seven or more all by itself. You see, it is like a fine bit of pastry with many, many ultra thin layers stacked on top of each other and leaking into each other. You will find that time here is flexible.”
“Relative,” Glen suggested.
“Yes. That Einstein fellow. I heard about him.”
“What about space?” Glen asked.
The man shrugged. “Hard to tell. One man called it unstable. He said it bent and folded and was never the same twice. I told him he could spend an eternity walking the place and never cross the same path twice.”
“Bent and folded.” Glen made a statement but the man took it as a question.
“Yes, in the morning you could start down into that lush river valley and find yourself in a desert with no way of telling how you got there.”
“It is.” The man nodded once again before he raised his voice. “Sleep,” he announced and immediately laid down on his side of the fire. When Glen did not move, the man explained. “Whenever I get confused in the dark, I opt for sleep. Things often look clearer in the morning.”
“Oh.” Glen got it and found a slot in his thin blanket where he could get in it like a sleeping bag. As he settled, the man spoke again.
“Of course, it is not always safe to sleep in the dark.” That was all he said, and Glen thought, thanks. Now he was sure to have a nightmare.
Actually, Glen slept well and woke rested only to find the man already up, packed and ready to leave. Glen hurried to fold his cloth which all but folded itself. “Hey,” he said to attract the man’s attention. “What’s your name?”
The man grinned. “You were a bit slow on that one. Maybe there is only a little female in you.” He looked ready to stop speaking, but Glen stared at him until he gave it up. “Duncan will do.”
“Glen.” Glen gave the name to suggest some Scottish connection.
“Ah, yes. A name I will remember. I knew I would like you.” Sir Duncan mounted his horse in a swift, fluid motion. “You will have to walk down from here, and maybe get a bit of your youth back in the process.” He was ready to go.
“Hey.” Glen made him pause again. “If your head says you are dead and your body says you are alive, what does your heart say?” This time Glen felt he got a genuine smile out of the man.
“There’s the rub, and a good woman’s question.” He squinted again. “No, definitely not all here.” And as he turned and rode off, he sang some ancient tune which Glen surmised was probably a drinking song.
But that is the problem, Glen thought. I’ve spent my whole life not quite being here. Glen picked up his pack and made sure the fire was out. He found a bit of bread left by the knight, and thanked the air in lieu of thanking the man. Then he looked up and saw the sun rising over the sea in the very same place it had set the evening before. He shook his head. Wherever he was, it was not earth.
A Crusader for Christ? Glen paused to think about that. He thought he could do that, as long as he did not have to hurt anybody.
After that, he began to walk down hill toward the river and as he walked he could feel himself getting younger. Somehow, he felt he had done that before, and he imagined in this place, a person’s age was more flexible than on earth. He wondered how young he might get. It seemed to him last time he got young enough to be born again.