Ready for battle, Medieval English knight, Stephen Palmer, charges into the French enemy’s cavalry line. Heeding a warning given months before, he hesitates as he comes face-to-face with the knight in the warning. Struck down in the year 1356, he finds himself landing in the year 2013. Grievously wounded, he’s taken to a nearby hospital. Confused by the new world surrounding him, he attempts to convince the staff he’s from another time, only to find they think him mad.
Rescued by friends, who, to his surprise, have also come through time, he must find a way to function in this odd modern England. He is quickly enchanted by the kind Esme Crippen, the young woman hired to tutor him. She too is enchanted by him. Tempted to deepen the relationship, she hesitates thinking him adorable, but mad. He must discover the means for getting her to believe the truth, all the while, unknown to him, he didn’t come forward in time alone. The enemy knight has also traveled to 2013.
French noble, Roger Marchand, doesn’t question why the English knight who charged him hesitated. That fraction of a pause gave him the advantage needed and he brought his sword down upon the Englishman’s helmet hard, unhorsing the knight. He moved to finish the Englishman off when the world changed in a rush of sensations as he is ripped through time.
Seeking a reason for the terrible event, he enters a nearby chapel. There, thinking God has chosen him for a quest to turn French defeat that day in 1356 to victory, he sets out to find the English knight. The man he is convinced holds the key to time. If he returns to the day of the battle, he can warn his king of mistakes that snatched victory from them.
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Stephen was singing, not along with the Righteous Brothers or other group but along with himself. Esme doubted he’d hear her knock and just came in.
“Oh, I love that song,” she said and set her laptop, purse, and store bag onto the dining table.
“Unchained Melody is one of the songs Lady Shakira taught me,” Stephen told her. “She also taught me, The Way You Look Tonight. You know about Tusk.”
“Which one? Unchained Melody?”
“All of them.”
He clicked back to the first cut on a CD in the player.
She sat at the table as he began with The Way You Look Tonight. If she didn’t know he was blind, she’d never think that from the way he moved and gestured. A step here and there, the slight sway, the beckoning with his hands, he acted so comfortable with the words and music. He exuded a confidence in his performance she hadn’t expected. After he finished the three songs Shakira taught him, he sang the songs from Phantom of the Opera. What talent. Esme could listen to his rich tenor voice all day.
“Those are what I learned so far.”
“Where did you record this?”
“Alex and Shakira converted their second bedroom into a small music studio.”
Esme stood and went over to him. “When will you make the CD for me?”
“I must learn a few more songs to fill up the leftover time on the disc.”
“I can’t wait. Speaking of time, we’d better get started on your lessons. I don’t want to get into trouble.”
“You won’t. I pay you now.”
The new situation put her in an awkward position. The time they spent together away from her tutoring lessons was precious. She looked forward to their rides. Except for the sensory overload problem in the pub, both enjoyed the trip to Cheltenham. He might be daffy, but his old world craziness had a charming element. But if he’s the one employing her, it seemed rather tawdry to let herself be too charmed.
“Why the change?” she asked.
“I don’t want you to worry anymore about losing your job.”
“But where did you—“
“I made a profitable trade.”
He put his hand up. “No more talk of money.”
It took a moment for the penny to drop. When it did, it landed in a flurry of mixed emotions. The only time she mentioned losing her job was after he tried to kiss her. Did he intend to come on to her and this was his way of removing a major stumbling block? Or, did he and Alex have a previously agreed to arrangement for him to take over the financial details when possible all along?
Never good at sussing out the hidden meaning behind people’s actions, the last option meant he had limited interest in her, which kind of bummed her out. Part of her liked the idea he went to this trouble to pave the way for another kiss. On the other hand, if he was interested in her, she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. The ‘be a better person’ part of her knew his disability shouldn’t matter. In truth, another part of her, maybe even a bigger part, questioned if his blindness was something she wanted to handle on a more personal level and daily. The idea of someone being that dependent on her...
She refused to worry about it and let the thought fall away. She didn’t have to decide right now. Wait and see what transpired.
“Do you want to know some other songs I like?” she asked, wanting to think about something less mentally taxing.
“For another CD, yes. For this first one, I prefer to surprise you.”
“I trust I’ll love them all. While we are on the subject of trust, do you trust me?”
His chest rose as he sucked in a gulp of air, which she didn’t see him let out. “It’s never good when a woman asks this.”
He exhaled. “I’ll speak slower. It’s—”
“You don’t need to speak slower. You need to explain the comment.”
“I’ve been asked this a handful of times in my life. Whenever it was asked by a woman, things did not work out well for me. Women either do not recognize trouble on sight or pretend they don’t. Whichever, the result rarely comes in the form of good fortune.”
“Listen to yourself. You’re such a chauvinist and you complain about Tony honking for me.”
“Cows and sheep, milady.”
“What the deuce do cows and sheep have to do with this conversation?”
“It’s an expression we have. Although they are both livestock, they are not comparable. My observations about the judgment of women and that Tony person aren’t comparable either.”
She tried to piece together his logic and gave up. “Back to my question. Do you trust me?”
“What do you plan?”
“You have great hair, very lustrous.” She ran her hand down the side of his head. “How silky it is and I like the smell of the tea tree oil shampoo.” She lifted a large lock. “But the ends are tattered and you’re looking a bit shaggy. I’d like to trim it.”
His shoulders relaxed noticeably and he smiled a smile, not of pleasure but one of relief. “You may. I’ll sit at the table.”
“Let me get a towel.” She returned and wrapped the towel around his neck, dug the scissors from her bag and began snipping.
“Do you normally wear your hair to your shoulders because I’d like to shorten it at least an inch or two.”
After a moment of hesitation, he said, “All right.”
As she combed his hair, she had second thoughts about whether or not she should ask the questions that arose from her research.
The day Stephen talked about his friend, Simon Harrow, she decided not to wait for the weekend to go to the British Museum Library. She’d researched the library online and found one book that listed Baron Guy Guiscard in relation to the Battle of Poitiers. Like Stephen had told her, Baron Guiscard was killed in the battle. The book stated he’d gone on the campaign with a large company of knights who served him. Unfortunately, the book didn’t list the men by name. It did reference the fact the baron fought at Crecy ten years earlier. Stephen said he fought alongside Simon and was himself made a knight following that battle. After an exhaustive search, Esme found a book which listed all the men the Black Prince raised up to knighthood at Crecy. A Stephen Palmer was listed. Research was one of her strengths and the obscure reference took her forever to find. How had Stephen managed to not only discover the entry but know what it said? He didn’t read.
Too curious not to hear his answer, she broached the subject of the past he believed he came from. “Stephen, did you know that in addition to the chronicles of the Black Prince’s 1356 campaign, events of the 1346 campaign were chronicled too?”
“No,” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t move your head. You’re mentioned by name in the first chronicle as having received your knighthood.”
“Makes sense. Although I’m a landless knight, the title does grant me a few privileges. A record of those entitled is required.”
In her head, she planned to go slow and lead up to the question she really wanted to hear him answer. Patience—that particular virtue skipped over her and she blurted, “How is it, Guy’s death is listed, Simon is buried in what was the family cemetery but you are here?”
He turned toward her just as she slid the scissors around a sizeable chunk of hair. Before she could stop, four inches of hair fell onto the floor.
“Oops? I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I told you to sit still.”
Stephen ran a quick palm down the back of his head. “Trust me, you said. Do you remember me saying it rarely works out well when a woman asks me that?” He ran his hand over the damage a few more times, groaning with each pass.
“Have you considered you might look better with much shorter hair?”
“It matters not what I consider now. The choice has been made for me.”
“I really am sorry.”
He waved away her apology. “Cut the rest.”
“Are you sure? I don’t know if I’ll be any good at shaping it. My plan was simply trim the ends.”
“As was my plan when I sat down.”
She started cutting small sections but feared the outcome.
“Back to my question,” Esme said. “How are you here?” Perhaps if he saw how impossible it was for him to be the knight Stephen Palmer, a flicker of his true memory might return. No doubt the Lancasters along with Miranda and Ian asked him the same question, brought up the same logic of impossibility. If he heard from enough people, the psychotic break would heal. Not that she knew anything about psychology, but didn’t think it would hurt for her to try.
“Before the campaign, Guy warned me about a French knight I’d face. He told me of the man’s heraldic symbol. On the battlefield, I encountered this knight. I hesitated, recognizing him for who he was. The hesitation cost me my sight. A blow from his sword penetrated my helm, the damage blinded me.”
Stephen reached up and found her hand, stopping her from continuing to trim his hair. He held her wrist and brought her around so she stood in front of him.
“I have told you the truth about me from the first. I am telling you the truth now when I say, I don’t know how, but I have come through time.”
She gave a silent thank you that he didn’t see her mouth fall open with the bizarre revelation.
“You’ve gone quiet,” he said.
“Stephen you are not a time traveler. I don’t know the medical or psychological reasons behind your belief that you’re Stephen Palmer, medieval knight. I’m sure it stems from the trauma of your injury. But I’m telling you the truth when I say you didn’t come forward in time.”
“Do you think I wish this on myself? Wish to be a man out of time and away from all I know of life? My friends died hundreds of years past. I’ve lost my beloved Arthur, who I trained from the time he was a yearling.”
“You have Alex and Shakira.”
“Yes, but their lives are centered on each other, as it should be, as it was in my time. I’m talking about my friends in the barracks. Men I drank with and laughed with and suffered with in battle.”
The insistence in his words, the unrelenting belief in his delusion tore at her heart. In a way, she wished she could share in the delusion just so he wouldn’t feel so alone and adrift. He spoke like a career soldier with no love interest. Odd for a nice looking man.
“You didn’t name a special woman. Was there one?”
“I was rather fond of a milkmaid. She was the cook’s daughter.”
No way did he read about a lowly milkmaid in any book Esme could think of. Curious how he’d answer she said, “Tell me about her.”
A stolen glance as he looked away revealed a wistful smile that touched his lips and disappeared.
“Her name was Rosamond,” he said, turning back to Esme. “Both her hands fit into my palm. She hummed music she heard in her head to the animals as she milked.”
“Was she pretty?”
“She had a pretty smile and a kind heart.”
“Did you court her?”
“I...we...” He shook his head. “We...flirted. I was talking to her on the stairs, when Al...Guy warned me about the enemy knight whose symbol was a panther on a sea of orange.”
“Why’d you only flirt?” she asked, relieved for some reason.
“How could I court her? I had nothing to offer. Even if I’d been given a parcel of land by Guy, I know nothing of farming. I have no trade. I can’t mill grain, cobble on shoes, or thatch a roof. My training was as a warrior. My trade was killing the enemies of the king.”
“What did you mean when you spoke of Alex and Shakira’s lives are centered on each other, ‘as it should be, as it was in my time’?”
“Their business is their own. You should put your question before them.”
Stephen phrased his answer so it sounded like they’d gone back in time at some point, which was impossible, of course. But no way was she going to question the Lancasters or even mention what he said. As his friends, they might take offense to any comment from her. A bad word from them or Miranda and her chances of any future job at the History Channel would vaporize.
“If you have come forward, then why hasn’t Alex or Shakira said something? They’d know the truth.”
“Perhaps they choose not to speak rather than hear the disbelief in other voices like that I hear in yours.”
Esme tried a different approach instead of a blanket denial. “Stephen, what’s the last thing you remember after receiving the blow to your helm?”
“I was unhorsed, crawled on the ground thinking to escape my attacker. When I thought I knocked at death’s door, I called to Arthur.”
“When do you believe the time change happened?”
“Right after that. The next thing I knew, a Frenchman who denied we were at war tried to reassure me. Wails from hell blared, strange men came and took me to the hospital, where I awoke to learn I was in a different time.”
“I want you to think about what you just said. If you time-traveled, then why did no one else come forward too? Guy died. Simon lived to die in England years later. Wouldn’t your horse have come? Wasn’t he next to you while you were on the ground?”
“Then why didn’t he come forward? What happened to the French knight? Stephen, you have to see how...how...” Esme searched for a non-offense word. “How improbable your story is.”
He straightened. Chest out, spine rigid, his blind eyes, clear and pale blue didn’t quite fix on her. “I have been instructed to let people think I am mad as the truth is unacceptable to them. I am not mad. I told you the truth. I grow weary of living this lie, especially where you are concerned.”
“Thank you, I think.” The declaration flummoxed her. As usual, any hidden meaning was lost on her. She removed the towel from his shoulders. “Come on, I’ll take you to a barber in the town. He can finish cutting your hair. I don’t want to make a worse mess of it.”
“Ah, now you admit to being a mess maker. Handy information I could’ve used earlier.”
“It’s hair. It will grow back so stop grumbling. While you’re at the barber’s, I’m running to the library.”
“Gloucester has the best library in the shire. I need a book on French heraldic symbols. I’m going to look for your French knight.”