“Gentlemen, and Boston,” Alice spoke in hushed tones. She did not have to speak very loud to be heard through the utter silence of that tremendous room. “This is the Heart of Time.” She pointed at the crystal that throbbed with light like it was a beating heart, but she did not touch it. “This has recorded all of human history since before the days the human race became scattered across the face of the earth. In here, you will find Shakespeare’s London, Caesar’s Rome, Alexander’s Babylon and all the way back to the Tower of Shinar.
Boston stepped up for a closer look, but Alice was not yet finished explaining. “There are time zones represented here. They are centered around my person, but allow access between one of my lifetimes and the next. They have always been off limits until a few years ago when Avalon was overrun by a demon, a goddess. She discovered the time zones. She was stopped and can’t have done more than a few experiments, but still…”
“My wife?” Lincoln could not contain himself but closed his mouth immediately after speaking. He looked around to be sure he did not disturb anything or anyone, though they were alone in that room.
Alice nodded grimly. “Alexis was taken by her father Mingus. We could follow their progress through the Heart. She was carried back to the end of the eighteenth century, to the days of her birth with the hope that the memory of her happy childhood might convince her to give up her life as a human and become an elf again. He fears to see her age. He fears he will lose her too soon and he cannot bear that thought.”
“Uh?” Lincoln did not want to interrupt again.
“Do not worry. She has steadfastly refused and has tried to escape on several occasions. But once it became known that the Storyteller – that Glen was awake from his memory loss and long slumber, Mingus panicked. He has taken Alexis into the deep past. But there is only so far he can go.”
“Why don’t you just zap them back here?” Lockhart was respectful, but not afraid to speak.
“I could fetch Mingus easily enough through the Heart, but Alexis is human. I have no such power over her and I would not dare leave her alone in history.” Alice paused to collect her thoughts before she spoke again. “As I said, each time zone centers around a life I once lived. But I stand at the center of each time zone and the center moves with me. If they came to the center I could do something, but as long as Mingus skirts around the edges and moves from zone to zone, I can do nothing.”
“What do you mean the Heart of Time has recorded history?” Boston asked. She was thinking hard. “Do you mean it is like a computer program, but one you can walk into so it seems real?”
Alice smiled. “This merely records the truth. Where you walk will be utterly real. The thing is, the reason the time zones are strictly off limits to my little ones – to everyone is because no one has been able to determine for certain how to prevent a change in the events in the zones of time and how that may affect actual history on Earth.”
“So you can’t reach them as long as they stay out of the center of the time zones.” Lockhart went back to the original proposition.
“I cannot.” Alice shook her head. “But you can reach them. I can both send you from here and retrieve you as well as long as you stay together. And don’t worry, Lincoln. There is only so far Doctor Mingus can go.”
“That sounds risky,” Boston said. “What if we change things by accident? What if we change real history?”
“It is a risk, but it is not that simple. Most changes and minor changes do not seem to matter. Yet even with interlopers there seems to be some correlation with actual events. That is why the time zones have remained off limits for all these millennia. But to ask about the correlation between the events in the zones and actual history as it occurred is really a chicken or egg question.”
“Like do the interlopers have a bearing on history that we don’t quite see or are even their actions somehow directed by the program?” Boston was thoughtful and Alice merely nodded.
“Your pardon.” Lockhart spoke up again. “But why are you afraid to leave her alone in history?” His instincts were acting up again.
Alice looked at the man but she could say nothing less than the truth. “Because most of my lives are surrounded by danger. And if you die in the past, you will remain dead forever. And then there is this.” Alice swallowed. “Several years ago, though Ashtoreth was defeated as I said, she sent ghouls and bogeys, terrible giants and dragons and things too terrible to name into the zones. There are still some unsavories there that have evaded my reach. Presently, the time zones are not a safe place to be.”
“But you can send us to Alexis and bring us right back, right?” Lincoln needed confirmation.
“I will.” Alice affirmed. “And I have gotten this help for you since there is no telling how Mingus will respond when he is caught.” Alice snapped her fingers and two more people appeared in that tremendous room. She pointed to the first who looked human enough. “Doctor Procter is half human and has been Doctor Mingus’ partner in the history department for three hundred years. If anyone can speak sense to the elder elf I have every hope that Doctor Procter can.” Doctor Procter looked older than either of the men present, and he had the great white beard to prove it, but he tipped his hat and his smile looked genuine enough.
“Gentlemen, and young Boston, it will be a pleasure and honor traveling with you. I must say—“
“A-hem,” Alice interrupted and pointed at the other person. He was as tall as Lockhart, but a bit skinny and utterly elf in the way Boston always imagined an elf should be. He did not look at all like Mirowen – a virtual human with pointed ears. This one still belonged on the reservation, but he was cute, Boston thought, and young.
“This is Roland, Mingus’ son. He has volunteered to represent the family in this matter. He is a bit young, but I trust you will keep him in line.”
“Lady, I am fully grown. I turned one hundred and twenty-six last Yuletide.”
Alice made no comment on the elf’s age but simply added, “He has no trouble with his sister’s choice to live a human life and disagrees strongly with what his father has done.”
“The important thing is she be happy, don’t you think?” The young elf looked at Lincoln.
“Oh, I think it,” Lincoln said. “I just did not know anyone in her family thought it.”
“And I think it, too,” Alice said with a smile. “And I think there is time for a good feast and a good night’s rest before your journey. Come.” And she lead them away from the Heart of Time and to a proper medieval banquet complete with acrobats, minstrels, storytellers and all sorts of magical entertainments, with real magic. Everyone was happy until the middle of the night.