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Time Is A Relative Concept

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Alistair Wells, time traveller, doyen of the Time Society and (he would be first to admit) a stickler for adhering to rules and regulations, leans back against the side of the old ship, smiles lazily at his new apprentice and takes a sip of his wine.

It had been an easy assignment – correcting a time paradox of the sort that the Society comes across all too often these days. And he really should have righted it and returned as soon as possible. But it’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself the luxury of a day off, and in any case the afore-mentioned new apprentice has never seen the ancient Aegean Sea before.

That is, the apprentice doesn’t think so. But then it’s always difficult to tell.

-o0o-

Six months ago he’d found her on Shanghai dock, screaming abuse at the pirates who were trying to abduct her. And of course he should have left her there: one of the most sacred rules of the Time Society is that you never interfere with history: you merely correct the anomalies.

But the bundle of rags that had turned out to be a young woman had a broad Scottish accent, and that was definitely an anomaly in fifteenth century Shanghai.

And so Alistair had taken a deep breath, downed the first pirate with a round-house punch, grabbed the urchin’s arm and shouted “Run!”

What happened next astounded him.

It had been just as well he was still holding onto her as they dashed into the alleyway, because she’d suddenly stepped to the right. There had been a familiar flash of light and then suddenly they were – where? They’d time travelled, no doubt about it, but to where – and indeed how – Alistair had no idea.

He’d had no time to ponder the matter – he’d been too busy trying to stop the urchin from trying to claw his eyes out (no doubt she’d – understandably – thought that whatever Alistair had in mind for her was a fate equal to that which the pirates had decided upon) whilst simultaneously returning the two of them to a time and place that he was familiar with.

Any time and place.

The first time and place that came to mind.

Unfortunately, in his confusion, that had been the garden of Time Manor, where he and the shrieking urchin had managed to interrupt a seemingly intimate tete-a-tete between Eleanor Purlieu and Richard Wakefield.

After a lengthy explanation, Eleanor had unwillingly taken the ragamuffin indoors, and after much washing and scrubbing there had emerged a rather pretty young woman who had no idea of her age, the time from which she originated or indeed her name. What she did have was an amazing repertoire of ninth century Scottish obscenities and an ability to time travel through alleyways, which she could only describe as “When ye need tae, there’s always a gate, ye ken? An’ ye just step through it. An’-“ (pointing at Richard) “I’d be much appeased if yon great streak o horse piss’d stop staring a’ ma bosoms!”

Alistair would have given a great deal of his not inconsiderable fortune for a photographic portrait of Richard’s expression at that moment.

And so, because no one had the faintest idea when she originated from, she couldn’t be returned to her own timeline, and she had become Alistair’s apprentice while the Time Society tried to discover how she time travelled.

Six months later they had made absolutely no progress. She could only tell them that when she was frightened a gateway appeared.
From what little she did know, it seemed to Alistair that she’d spent most of her life running scared.

And how long has that been, little one? he wondered. You seem to be – what, about seventeen? But quite how many centuries have you been running back and forth through Time, terrified of who knows what?

She’d picked her name from a list. Alistair had opened a book of old Scottish names- for heaven's sake, he had to call her something -and she’d pointed at one and said curiously “What does tha’ say?”

It was at that moment that he’d realised that she could neither read nor write. But then where could she have learnt?

He’d said gently “Aeschine. An unusual name, but a very pretty one.” and she’d nodded and said “Aye, that would do.”

And so at least she had a name, and Alistair began the long task of teaching her both her letters and her manners.

-o0o-

Aeschine smiles back at him.

“Bonny, here. Fine.”

“A day of rest for both of us, my dear.”

“Ye’ve nae brought the chapbook, then?”

Whoever or whatever Aeschine may be, she has a lengthy vocabulary of archaeic words.

Alistair stretches.

“No lessons today. You’ve done well this morning – as well as anyone could – and for the rest of the day we shall do nothing but relax.”

She relapses into silence and Alistair returns to his consideration of her.

There’s a sudden movement in the air, a creak as if of the wings of some gigantic swan, and Aeschine starts.

“Oh!”

Is she frightened? He reaches across to her, puts his hand on her shoulder to reassure her.

“No need to be afraid. It’s only Pegasus.”

She stares at the magnificent beast as it flies over the boat, stretching its enormous feathered wings in the hot sun of an Aegean afternoon.

“Pegasus? I thought he was just a tale tae amuse the bairns!”

And where and how would you have heard of him, I wonder?

But before he can ask, she turns to him, her face full of wonder and delight, and before he can stop himself he pulls her towards him and kisses her.

She doesn’t respond.

He moves back – Dear Lord, what was I thinking of? - and starts to apologise.

“Aeschine, I – “

“Alistair, I’m sae sorry.”

“There’s no need for you to apologise. I’m the one who ought–“

She interrupts him again.

“Ye’ll have tae teach me.”

“What?”

“I said ye’ll have tae teach me. I – I -”

She blushes.

“I’ve never been wi’ a man before. Sae ye’ll need tae teach me.”

Oh dear Lord, and I’m old enough to be her father. And if we were on dry land, no doubt she’d run away from me, through one of her damn gates, and I’d never find her again.

“Alistair?”

“Aeschine, I shouldn’t have done that.”

She looks at him, her brow as puzzled as when she’s trying to read.

“Did ye no’ want tae kiss me, then?”

My dear child, I’ve wanted to kiss you from the moment you stepped back out onto the lawn of Time Manor and I realised how very lovely you are.

“Because I’ve long wanted ye tae, Alistair. But ye’ll have tae teach me, for I’ve nae been kissed before.”

If that old roué Richard Wakefield knew that, you wouldn’t be safe for a moment.

“Alistair?”

And what havoc it will raise with the upper eschelons of the Time Society.

But she is so very lovely.

“Aeschine? It’s not that I don’t want to, my dear, but there is a considerable age difference you know. I’m in my forties, and you a lass of about seventeen –“

“And you a staid Victorian gentleman of the nineteenth century and me from at least a thousand years earlier? Which way round are ye worried about the age difference, Alistair Wells?”

“Well, if you put it like that…”

“Aye, and I do. Wasn’t it ye who told me all about the old man Einstein an’ how he taught ye how time is only relative?”

He starts to laugh.

“Aeschine, I swear to you that I had no idea that before the day was out you’d be asking me to seduce you!”

“Don’t be getting the wrong idea, man, for I’m not asking ye tae do that.”

“You’re not?”

This time it’s Aeschine who pulls him forward. And just before he kisses her again she whispers “I’m beggin’ ye tae.”