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Fiction Fantasy


Kiran would have loved indexes.


It’s late, and he’s sitting alone at a long hardwood table, surrounded by hefty, half-open tomes, their pages fluttering like butterflies in the draught. Moonlight spills through the arched windows, washing the library silver-grey. The world is quiet, and peaceful, and the thought comes to him just as calmly and quietly and catches him completely off guard. 


And he’d been doing so well at not thinking about his past.


She would love indexes, is the thing. Each person, place and event relative to the book, listed alphabetically, written next to the numbers of every page that references said item entry. The peak of human efficiency. He can almost hear her voice, rhapsodising in that way she used to, whenever they had some down time and nothing better to do - half ironic, but half genuine, though she’d deny it if asked.


The world blurs, all of a sudden. He brings a hand to his face and finds it wet.


He just… He misses her. He misses them all. And maybe it’s dumb - here he is, a hundred years in the future, with all the wonderful technologies that entails, and it’s indexing, of all things, that has him tearing up. But here he is, a hundred years in the future, alone for the first time in decades, surrounded by accounts and retellings of all his heroic deeds and barely a mention of all the people he met along the way, who aided him and changed him and made his life that little bit better. Here he is, surrounded by towers of tomes dedicated to his life that somehow managed to overlook the most important parts. Alisdair ‘Artwright, hero that prophecy foretold, ‘s deeds are all present and accounted for; Alisdair the person is scarcely a footnote.


His sob echoes loudly throughout the room, unexpected for all that his eyes have been burning and his throat is tight. 


For the first time in the week since he woke up, Alisdair ‘Artwright, legend of old, man out of time, falls apart, pillowing his head on cold index pages, tears seeping into lists of names that ought to be familiar, but seem instead to paint his life as as friendless and lonely as he is right now.


****************************************************************************


Alisdair doesn’t remember dying.


He supposes that makes sense, given that he apparently didn’t die. 


The last thing he remembers is travelling North - part of the national tour Kiran and Jai had insisted he take, three years after the end of, what he supposes they’ve now dubbed the Ahyrian Crisis. Part political maneuver, part propaganda, it had kept him on the road for the better part of three months, with no end in sight.


He’d been on his own for much of it. Not alone, precisely, he’d had an entourage, but they had been fellow travellers, or aides, or politicians and protection details. No friends, no family, no fun.


He remembers wishing there would be some excitement, or failing that some excuse to escape the farce he had found himself trapped in.


And then he remembers the carriage swerving sideways, and screams, and a sudden sinking sensation that from working backwards he now realises must have been the coach falling over the mountain road edge. He remembers, just as his vision began to fade, thinking that maybe he had gotten his wish.





And then he woke up.





A hundred years too late.


****************************************************************************


No one really has any answers for him, when he tries to figure out how he got here. None that they’re willing to admit to, at least. 


He understands, to a degree. The Kiran that lives in his mind, voice equal parts comfort and heartbreaking, won’t let him play at obtuse. It plays into mythos, to maintain some mystery, and though he doubts there is any need for his legend in this new modern age, he’s learnt enough to know that he still has potential political power - they won’t want to shatter his image too soon.


But surely they can tell him? He already knows the truth of himself, he deserves the truth about his return.


Piecing things together from the broken records of the time, he suspects that his injuries from the fall had been more irreparable than life-ending. Some combination of the cold of the catacombs he awoke in, and he suspects some slightly illicit magicks, kept him suspended alive in dreamless sleep, until such a time as medicine could heal his broken limbs.


He is whole now, physically. If he has correctly surmised the plan, then he supposes it worked. But it leaves him here, stranded. A life left to live and no will left to live it.


****************************************************************************


A hundred years is a long time.


If learning his own story is difficult, discovering those of his family and friends is nigh on impossible.


It finds him here, wasting his nights and days in the library, searching for information he’s not sure exists. If time were to freeze around him again, he’s sure the scene could pass as an art piece. Narcissism in repose.


Names keep circling around his head. Kiran, Jai, Margaret. Anja, the innkeeper's daughter. Haru, who sheltered him for three long weeks in Sudya. Little Tommy, whose terracotta doll he had carried with him through the entire siege of Artak.


He isn’t expecting to find anyone still alive. He isn’t expecting to find everyone’s stories. Anja and Haru and Tommy will not be in the ballads - he’s aware of this. It makes it all the more important to him that he remembers them, when no one else will.


Kiran though, he looks for first. His counterpart, his narrative foil. She had revelled in subtlety, in pulling strings from behind the scenes, but in the few years of peace they’d had together she’d slowly made her way into the public eye. It is a shock to realise that there is next to no information on her.


She is mentioned, of course. They speak of her loyalty, her courage, her bravery and wit. They write of the two of them together, inseparable. They act as though her life is mere supplemental to his.


It is insulting. Enraging.


And if Kiran is rarely mentioned then Jai is simply not present. Two lines he finds, total, that reference her having a brother - only one of which indicates that he was older. No record of his gentle wit, his compassion, his defiance in remaining soft in a world that was hard. He finds lines of poetry he is sure are Jai's, dismissed as anonymous. He finds transcripts of speeches that Alasdair spoke but Jai wrote into existence, and it aches to know that he has been forgotten.


His expectations are low when he turns his attentions to Margaret. He foregoes looking at the history books at all - if Kiran's genuine military and strategic contributions can be overlooked, then he has no doubts that Meg's simple companionship and comfort will be too. He goes directly to old census records, but cannot find a single mention of Meg even there.


****************************************************************************

They treat him as though he is fragile, made of glass, and are careless enough to put him up on a pedestal anyway.


He thinks he killed someone today. Thinks not in the sense that he doesn't know whether his damage was lethal, but in the sense that he knows he acted to kill and is now simply hoping that medicine has come further these days.


September 18, 2021 02:49

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