tagSci-Fi & FantasyWhat Feats He Did That Day Pt. 01

What Feats He Did That Day Pt. 01

byMarshAlien©

CHAPTER ONE

This dream stunk. It literally stunk. I couldn't recall ever smelling anything in a dream before, and I hoped to God this wasn't a permanent change. Or if it was, that my future dreams would be a lot more fragrant than this one.

I was striding through an encampment of soldiers who obviously hadn't bathed in the last two months. That alone, the act of walking -- feeling my legs stretching out, one after the other, hearing the crunch of stone and earth underneath my feet -- made the dream a pleasurable one, the smell notwithstanding

I was evidently among friends. Men were sitting with bows beside them checking their arrows. They nodded to me as I passed. The better-dressed men, who sat in smaller groups sharpening their swords, raised their hands in greeting. I was never that interested in history, but my guess, based simply on the movies that I had seen, was that I had put myself in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. I smiled and waved a salute.

It had evidently just stopped raining. Our camp was a field of mud, and the brown and gold leaves on the trees to the north and west of us were still heavy with water. It was evening, and it became clear as I walked that a number of us were headed to some sort of meeting. I was dressed slightly better than most of the men, in a light blue tunic underneath a gray cape of some sort. I had high leather boots that kept the mud from my feet. Ahead of me a large group had gathered, and, as I joined them, a man in a far more sumptuous tunic than mine had leapt atop a log to address us.

I could hear little of the speech at the start. The men around me were offering their own comments on it, drowning out the speaker.

"What good's a passport home with them out there?" one man scoffed. "Sittin' on the bloody way, ain't they?"

Although his friends roared in cynical approval, the crowd gradually grew quiet. It had become that this speech was worth listening to. The cynicism didn't stop, naturally. The first man suggested to his companions that he wouldn't mind being a gentleman in England now a-bed himself, while another added that he'd like to be holding his manhood while he was at it.

But the rest of the group paid them no attention at all. The speaker had them in the palm of his hand. He was brilliant, his speech a rhythmic incantation of patriotic fervor that was taking these few, these happy few, this band of brothers, and turning them into an army that would, if nothing else, die happily in his service when battle was joined tomorrow morning.

It wasn't until he reached the end, his voice lost in the prolonged cheering of every single man with whom I was standing, mine own among them, that I realized that he was a fraud. I nearly stumbled as I recalled that I had declaimed this speech myself, to my roommates back in college, like every other English major who thought himself the first to discover the power of Shakespeare's words.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon St. Crispin's Day.

This was King Henry V, goddamn it. And not the real King Henry V either. This was Kenneth Branagh, whose movie version of the play I had watched only a few years earlier.

I was dreaming about being in a movie. A movie I could smell. Huh.

The speech over, I returned to my own tent and fell asleep. I awoke in the dream the next morning, and watched the Battle of Agincourt unfold before me. Or not unfold, as the case turned out to be. Assisted by a young squire, I dressed in my armor and strode out to the field of battle, once again reveling in the act of walking. I stood to the rear, proper coward that I was, watching the king deploy his forces between the two woods that flanked the road. We waited there for four hours, doing absolutely nothing. I knew little of the battle itself. The other fellows in front of us would be French, I knew. And we were supposed to win, weren't we?

"My Lord Handley." A squire had come running back to me from the front. "The king requests that you attend him now. He seeks his council's wisdom 'fore the fray."

"The king?" I asked, looking around to see if there were perhaps some other Lord Handley he was looking for. "Wants to see me?"

It was a stupid question. I knew even in the dream that my name was Handley. My Lord Handley was a bit much, though. I was usually happy to answer to Rick. Or Hando, which is what some of my co-workers at the metro desk of the Charleston Messenger liked to call me.

"My Lord?" the squire asked.

"Lead on, MacDuff," I said, suppressing a grin. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me with astonishment as if I had somehow remembered his name from some previous meeting.

"Just go."

I waved him ahead of me.

"Handley," roared Branagh as I joined him under the pavilion at the center of the line of battle. "You see the problem that we face, my friend. The French would sit there, twid their thumbs, and laugh. We must perforce attack, yet few we are; and twenty thousand Frenchmen sit astride the road toward home."

"Uh, yeah. I do see that. Sire."

I looked out over the field. Compared with them, we looked like a couple of policeman trying to hold back a demonstration.

He roared again and clapped me on the back, sending me stumbling forward amid the laughter of his advisors.

"And I would have your counsel, too, my Lord," he said. "My Gloucester here says wait, while Exeter would have us charge their line and mow them down."

I pretended to study the field. There was something about Agincourt that was tugging at me, some half-remembered fact that made this battle stand out. I probably should have taken a few more history courses in college.

"So, to number our advantages here," I said, "we have, uh . . ."

We had large groups of longbowmen on the right and left of our line, behind pointed wooden stakes driven into the ground. Two smaller groups of archers divided three groups of footmen. The French, as I looked at them sitting there five hundred feet to our east, appeared to have, in addition to far more men, distinct groups of cavalry and crossbowmen.

"We have these bigger bows, for one thing."

"Quite so, my Lord," said one of the king's other advisers, "our reach exceeds theirs far."

That was it -- longbows.

"So maybe if we shoot 'em," I said, "and kill a couple of 'em, maybe they'll get pissed and attack you, right? I mean us."

"We are too far, my Lord." Exeter's voice matched the sneer on his face. "Three hundred feet."

"Yeah, well, go ahead and charge the line, then, pal," I retorted with more swagger than I felt. "No doubt they'll just step aside and let us through."

"Pissed!" exulted the king, who had paid no attention to our little spat. "Pissed is what we need, my valued friend. Raleigh, Prestwich: have the archers up stakes. And move them down the hill to find their range."

"But Sire," my debating partner objected, "the French will not stand idly by."

"We shall see, my Lord. At the least we move."

Raleigh and Prestwich dashed off to give their orders, and in a few moments all of the archers in the line turned as one and gave the king a look that suggested he was absolutely insane. But he was the king. They took heavy wooden mallets and pounded the six-foot stakes out of the ground. Our entire army moved toward the French and the archers dutifully pounded their stakes back into the ground. The French in fact did sit idly by, not even bothering to stand up as they watched. Apparently they were too busy with lunch, and paused only occasionally to shout insults that apparently called into question the chastity of our wives and mothers. They watched as the archers re-sharpened the points of their stakes and returned their attention to their bows.

At this point, Henry ordered the archers to loose a few flights of arrows. The French, very fortunately, were idiots. They reacted not by backing up a few feet, which would have allowed them a few more hours within which to insult us. Moreover, it would have resulted, in the long term, in our having to try to force them out of the way in order to prevent ourselves from starving. No, as I had "predicted," they just got angry. Those damn English are shooting arrows at us! Let's go teach them a lesson, shall we?

Over the course of the afternoon it turned into a slaughter. The French cavalry charged, ran headlong into the stakes, and turned to retreat. They promptly mowed down their own men, leaving my English colleagues little to do but knock the stunned French on their heads and take them prisoner. By nightfall, the field was ours, the French army having disintegrated and dissolved into the countryside.

I was feeling pretty good myself. My lords Gloucester, Bedford and Warwick feasted me as the architect of a great military strategy. My recollection was that my advice had been limited to "so just shoot 'em," but they seemed to feel that it was my psychological insight into the French response that had led to our success. That was fine with me. By the time I wandered drunkenly off to bed, I was on the point of suggesting that I was in fact the greatest military strategist since Napoleon. Very fortunately, I did not, as I would have then had to explain who Napoleon was. Or was going to be.

I woke the next day still in the dream, to yet another summons from the King. He was dressed now in rich purple robes, and smiled at me and kissed me on both cheeks as I was led to his room in a nearby castle.

"Katherine is mine, of course, but what for you?" he asked me.

"Beg pardon, sire?" I asked. "What what for me?"

He laughed heartily. "Her retinue is ours, my Lord. Your choice?"

He clapped his hands and a line of shy, beautiful young women entered the room. With the emphasis on young.

"They can't even be sixteen!" I objected. "Sire"

"Sixteen?" Henry said with a laugh. He strolled down the line, cupping a chin, stroking a cheek as the girls all giggled at him. "Nor fifteen yet unless I'm treated false. And each as wont to flower as the next."

They all blushed becomingly, but I was having none of it.

"Seriously? They're all fourteen years old? Thank you anyway, er, Sire. I must decline your, um, offer.

My rejection stunned him. It had surprised me too; I hadn't had a sex dream in several months now. A dream in which I both walked and had sex was almost too good to be true. But dreaming about sex with a fourteen-year-old girl was a little much even for someone as desperate as me.

"God's teeth, my Lord," he said calmly, although he still obviously thought I was nuts. "There is that older one. But she is not like these, all pure and white."

I nodded. I could live with that. "She's eighteen, right?"

"Bring forth the older maid," the King called toward the back room.

"And kill her not?" MacDuff asked, popping his head in from the other room.

The King shook his head. "Our hero has much stranger tastes than we."

MacDuff led out an absolutely gorgeous blonde girl. Kill her? Just because she was eighteen?

"Monsieur?" she said, blushing just as shyly as the others had despite her evident lack of "purity."

I smiled at her. The high school French I recalled consisted of "Comme ci, comme ca," and "allez au tableau-noir." "So-so" and "go to the blackboard," neither of them of much use in the sort of conversation that I was hoping to have.

It turned out that we needed no words. She took me by the hand and led me back to a sumptuous bedroom. I watched her disrobe, teasing me with one garment after another as I finally began to discern the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts. When the last garment finally fell to the floor, she pirouetted before me, enjoying my sharp intake of breath as she displayed her dove-white breasts, her puffy pubic mound, covered with hair so golden and sparse that her wet desire was already evident, and the perfectly rounded ass perched on those long, slender legs. I reached for her, and she reached for my breeches, her fingers expertly finding the belt and the buttons. Her heart-shaped face had a broad, knowing smile on it, her eyes twinkling as she brushed her fingers across my obvious erection.

And then I woke up. I was pissed. Had I woken up when I first encountered the unbelievable stench of that camp? No, I had not. Had I woken up when that one French charge had finally penetrated to the king's guard, and I found myself in hand to hand combat with someone who clearly knew how to handle a sword, and would likely have cleft me in half if he had not tripped on the body of a dead comrade, allowing me to poke him with my own sword? Had I woken up as the blood of my comrades and their enemies filled the air around me along with the screams of hundreds of the "happy few" I had stood with? No, I had not awakened then either. I had waited until I was about to have sex with a fifteenth-century nymphomaniac. And woken up then. Oh yeah, that was scary. Thank God I didn't have to dream about that.

"So what have you learned?"

I sat bolt upright in bed. I was able to make out a shadowy figure sitting in a chair at the end of the bed.

"Who are you?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from trembling.

He waved his hands and the room was bathed in pale light. I was not in my bedroom this time either, but in a laboratory of some sort. To my right was a bank of monitors, to my left a wall filled with illegible notations. The "bed" on which I was lying was a cold metal table. Apparently this was a set of nested dreams, one inside the other.

My new friend was a short man whose silver-grey robe that made him look like an extra from some science fiction movie. He inclined his head toward me and smiled with a sort of childish eagerness.

"I am Wizen," he said. "So what did you learn?"

"About what?" I asked.

"Your trip. The battle."

"That was your doing?" I asked. "You put me there?"

He nodded and smiled again.

"And what did you learn?"

"Asshole," I muttered. For a guy I'd dreamed up, he was an obnoxious little son of a bitch.

"I don't suppose you could put me back, Mr. Wizard? I haven't had a good sex dream in about three months now. Let alone any actual sex. So how 'bout you put me back there for a while, and then I'll come back when I'm done and tell you what I learned. How's that sound?"

He thought for a moment, and gave a quick nod. He waved a hand, and I was back in bed.

Her bed, to be precise. While I was gone she'd removed the rest of my clothing, but I hadn't missed anything else really good. I was there to experience the joy of seeing those two red lips surround my cock. I was there to feel that delightfully soft tongue travel up and down my shaft. I heard her squeal of pleasure when my finger moved between her thighs and caressed her slit. I tasted the heady perspiration that rested on the tip of her erect nipple.

And I smelled her arousal as she moved astride me, rubbing the tip of my cock against herself, the scent so strong and feminine that it acted on me like a drug. I thrust myself upward inside her and felt her muscles squeeze me. We rutted for what seemed like hours. I was on my back. She was on her back. I was behind her on the bed. I lay beside her and lifted her leg. She moaned her acquiescence to me. I groaned my surrender to her.

"All right, Mr. Wizard," I finally said into her hair as we lay together, completely sated. "Take me home."

"So what did you learn?" he asked.

"What I learned, Mr. Wizard," I said, smiling as I put my hands behind my head in the darkness, "is don't be an idiot."

"I beg your pardon?" he asked.

"Don't be an idiot. The French were stupid. They had poorer weapons, but there were enough of them to completely surround us if they'd had half a brain. Was that what you wanted to know?"

"Was that all you learned?" he asked. He wasn't being sarcastic; he appeared to sincerely want to know what I had learned.

"I guess. And that it's important to take advantage of mistakes."

He sat back with a satisfied expression on his face.

"Excellent."

"Why is it so important to you that I learn from this?"

"It proves my theory," he said, his voice rising with excitement. "That we have all the tools at our disposal to train our champion."

"Figures," I muttered. "Even in my dreams I'm a fucking guinea pig."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing, Mr. Wizard. I had a great time. Thanks for having me. Let's do it again some time."

"Yes, Rick," he said, a peaceful smile spreading over his face. "Let's do just that."

He waved his hands again.

This time I woke up to the sounds of the CBS Radio Network newscast. I looked over to see the clock radio beaming its always unwelcome "6:00" at me. Enough dreaming for you, Rick Handley. Time to get up and go to work.

I flipped the bedside switch that turned on the overhead light and reached for the rope that hung beside my bed. Both of them had been installed by my brother Phil when I had moved into this apartment three years ago. He knew that the accident hadn't been his fault, just as I knew that it hadn't been his fault. But he couldn't help blaming himself for it, just as I couldn't help resenting the fact that he had walked away pretty much unscathed.

With a hand on the armrest nearest the bed, I swung myself into my chair and started wheeling myself toward the shower. Another fucking day in the life of Rick Handley.

CHAPTER TWO

The motion-activated lights in the newsroom blinked to life as I pushed through the metal door and began to thread my way through the maze that led to my cubicle. As was often the case, I was the first employee to arrive. It had nothing to do with my devotion to journalism or my work ethic. Rather, it was my desire not to be navigating the sidewalks of downtown Charleston during rush hour.

I logged onto my computer and reviewed the wire service reports of who had died over the weekend. There was a one-hit wonder from the '60s whom I thought had been long dead. There was a retired Congressman from California and a man who had obtained the first patent for packaging pistachios. It was going to be a slow day.

When I had dreamed about being a newspaper reporter as a kid, it hadn't involved obituaries. Although the accident had left me unable to chase down the chief of police as he ducked through a back door in order to question him about the latest homicide, I had doggedly studied the craft in college and served two internships. At the time, it hadn't occurred to me that I might simply be a good-looking statistic.

After I had been hired, the fire chief had made it fairly clear that he didn't want me near a fire scene. And the courthouse was only now in the process of being made accessible to wheelchairs. So when Rachel had offered me the obit beat, I felt I had little choice.

It turned out, however, that I was pretty damn good at it. One of my first obits was about a guy who had rescued a little girl who had fallen down a well and spent the rest of his life trying to cope with the fame of that one incident: "Arthur Compton, whose moment in the sun started in total darkness before it withered in the harsh klieg lights of modern media coverage, died last week." My prose became a little less purple after that, but people loved it nonetheless. The paper's editors were stunned to get letters and e-mails about an obituary. I had found a place after all.

Today's obituaries were likely to be far more pedestrian unless I could find something to jazz them up. I turned to the Internet. Maybe there was a story in this pistachio thing.

"Hey, buddy!"

I looked up from my work. Alison Cole, the usual bright smile on her face, was striding down the aisle toward the cubicle next to mine.

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