Wendel Carter stepped out in the early morning light, his briefcase and laptop securely in one hand and a travel mug of blessed coffee in the other. Not a week ago it was still dark in the morning when he left the house, but the spring was on, and another school year would be over before he knew it. He made for the car, but some motion down by the brook caught his eye. At first he thought the Wallabys let their dogs loose again. Browning was a small town, but there were leash laws in the town limits, even if the Wallabys did not like it. Then he heard the arguing. A man and woman were into it. He did not understand a word of what they were saying. It did not sound like English or Spanish, but he knew an argument when he heard one. “Sounds like the school board.” He mumbled to himself. He paused when he got a good look, and the man and woman paused as well when they saw him. Then Wendel nearly dropped his coffee.
The woman was dressed in a long gown of green, which set off her brilliant green eyes and rich earth colored hair that fell from the hood of her open, scarlet cloak. The hood surrounded a very young and pretty face and her hair fell almost to her waist, which was much longer than he was used to seeing. She hardly looked twenty to judge by her face and hands, but she seemed much older since she was not dressed in the kind of skanky clothes so typical of most twenty-year-old girls. She also looked older, he decided, because she had a firm grasp on the hand of what looked like a three or four-year-old; a girl who was also dressed in a gown of sorts. Indeed, they looked like they were on their way to church, and Wendel settled on some such though before he took a closer look at the man.
The man was about Wendel’s age, but like the girl, he also looked much older in certain ways. His face was ugly, to put it mildly, with a big wart on his nose and beady little eyes under very bushy, almost Neanderthal brows. He was not terribly tall, not nearly as tall as the woman, and, in Wendel’s estimation, this made him look more like a dwarf or troll, rather than a man. The man pulled a long blade, something like a Roman style short sword. Wendel took a step back while the man waved it at him and let loose some equally sharp words from his thick lips and near toothless mouth.
The young woman frowned and with her free hand she forced the blade down. She placed the little girl in the ogre’s hands to keep him occupied, which was a very brave thing to do in Wendel’s estimation, given the man’s appearance, and she stepped forward, speaking soothing words in some unknown tongue. She held out her hand, and Wendel automatically set down his briefcase and laptop and raised his own hand to shake; but she grabbed the hand, and there was a white flash of light, and Wendel got very, very dizzy. He needed to sit down to avoid falling down. The woman also needed to sit down, and she did so, facing him.
“Master of Library Science.” The woman said. “Most wonderful, Superintendent of Schools.” It was like she was testing the words to see how they fit in her mouth and on her tongue and lips.
“What hit me?” Wendel asked, sipping his coffee, which he had miraculously kept upright in his hand. The miracle liquid helped a little.
“I am sorry.” The woman said. “But I have encountered many strange things in your world. Ordinarily, I would have only exchanged my language and yours, but in this place I felt I needed some real knowledge of life – in America.” She sounded so apologetic; Wendel was speechless. Then he understood something incredible.
“You mean you picked up English just by touching my hand? Good God!” He was speechless again.
“I am sorry.” The woman repeated her apology. “I should not have invaded the privacy of your mind, but Library Science was there, seemingly unused, and I believe it may be enough to help me adjust in short order.”
Wendel checked quickly. Library Science was still in his mind as well, so she duplicated the knowledge and did not simply take it. He had a Masters in Library Science, and it was where he was headed to get out of the classroom before he had an opportunity for School Administration. He had been Principal of the Middle School while he worked on his Doctorate in Administration. Then the opportunity came up for the Superintendent’s position, and he jumped at it, fool that he was. “Quite all right.” He said at last and he held out his hand a second time. “Wendel Carter.”
The young woman nodded as if she already knew this; but she shook his hand properly this time. “Arosa. Princess of Nova and Queen of Truscas.”
Wendel paused in mid shake. He knew who she was as well, and he also knew something of her story. Apparently she had willingly shared some of herself with him. So she isn’t a thief or a whack-o, he assured himself. But then, he knew that, and he knew one more thing which maybe Arosa did not yet realize. “We need to get you inside.” He said firmly, looking at the three strangers with new eyes. “You must be exhausted.”
“But you will be late for work.” Arosa protested a little as if ready to apologize for a third time.
“Nonsense.” Wendel countered. “I’m the boss. I’ll yell at myself later.” They stood and Arosa turned to Barten-Cur and Lila.
“Come.” She said. “Now is the time to trust in good fortune.” It was spoken in a language Wendel Carter never learned, but he understood every word.
“Remarkable.” He said in the same language as he helped the young woman up the porch steps. The old retainer and the little girl followed.