“‘…if I begin to lose my memory again.’ Balderdash! Sheer, undiluted tommyrot!” Professor Challenger snorted. “This is some twisted joke on Jones’ part; he always did have a queer sense of humor, that one. Do you know what he named his ruddy dog, Nelson?”
“Please, Professor Challenger,” Nelson entreated. “Do read on. It’s — interesting.”
“Hmph,” Challenger snorted derisively, but began anew.
As I lay on the sleeping pallet, gazing up at the stars through the small window of my chamber, I wondered if I would ever see my friends again. As I did so, I realized that my hold on my precious memory was growing more unsteady by the minute; I had to think hard to summon up the names of the friends I had been separated from. Even now I am not sure if I remember their names correctly, for I did not write them down earlier. Green Arrow? Vigilant One? Star-Spangled Kid? Striped Man? Can these be correct?
I dozed off in a fretful slumber, my sleep plagued with strange, disturbing dreams. A young man in a costume similar to mine but predominantly yellow, screaming my name, dying in agony. Who was he? What was he to me? Why did his death fill me with such horror? Did this explain my loss of memory? Did I forget, simply to spare myself the pain of remembering?
Before dawn, I was awakened by someone gently nudging my shoulder. I awoke and found myself staring up into the face of the vizier (I never did learn his actual title, but that is what I called him). He communicated with me by hand gestures, as I had with the guards; he bade me to come with him. Why not? What else did I have to do? I got to my feet and followed him. I brought my glowing rock with me; somehow I could not bear to be apart from it. The vizier led me through a dimly lit hallway, the entrance of which was so small and dark I almost missed it in the larger hall of the palace. We walked for what seemed a while through dark, winding passageways. Finally, the vizier stopped and turned to face me. He was smiling; or was it a leer?
The vizier grinned at me a moment, then picked something up from a rock shelf and handed it to me. It was a brightly colored feathered headdress, remarkably similar to the one I had seen the king wearing. With hand gestures, the vizier told me to place it on my head. I did so, for I had no reason not to. He then bowed low before me, touching his head to the dirt floor of the passageway. He rose to his feet, opened a door before him; light spilled into our dark chamber. He walked through the doorway, bade me follow him. I did so and found myself in the king’s throne room as before. The vizier led me to the throne and motioned for me to sit upon it — the throne of the kingdom. I climbed the steps to it and sat down upon it, and gazed out over the throne room. The vizier made hand gestures to tell me to stay where I was, and he left the room.
As I waited for the vizier to return, I passed the glowing rock from hand to hand and thought. These people believed I was a god. And how did I know they were not right? I had dim memories of a land I came from, a land of flying machines and men speaking to each other across great distances; were these things not godly? And I remembered others like myself I had known there, others who flew without machines, who lifted great weights with the power of their arms and ran swifter than the wind. Indeed, I must have come from a land of gods. And I must be a god myself.
When the vizier returned, it was with several important-looking men who all bowed before me. The vizier spoke to them and accented his speech with gestures of his hands; from these gestures I figured out what he was saying to them. He was telling them of the death of their king, how he was taken from them in the night. How the great sun god had been sent down from the heavens to lead them in the absence of their king. How only he, the wise man and right hand of the king, could interpret the sun god’s wishes, for the god speaks a tongue no mortal man can understand. How the sun god is mighty and will smite those who oppose him.
One of the vizier’s audience didn’t seem to take this suggestion well. He grumbled angrily and voiced his displeasure to the vizier. The vizier tried to calm him, but the fellow burst from the lineup and charged at the throne, apparently intending to remove me from it bodily. I flung out my hand and ordered him to stop. A blast of crimson power leapt from my hand and struck the man, hurling him backward. He rose awkwardly to his feet, dazed and shaken but not seriously hurt. Then he bowed before me, touching his head to the floor. The others in the vizier’s audience did the same, and the vizier stood there grinning at the spectacle.
I settled in quickly to my godly task of ruling these, my loyal subjects. From the day’s first light until the vanishing of the sun beyond the mountains, I would sit in judgment upon my throne. The subjects would bring their cases to be heard before me. My vizier would listen to them and communicate to me in hand gestures what was required. I would give him my answer, which he would then communicate to my people. It was well.
I look now at the first words I carved upon coming to the land of my people, and I see that my mind had been addled by my godly form taking human flesh. What strange words I wrote! But they are behind me now, and the task of leading my people is before me. It is a task I will perform to the greatest of my godly abilities.
On the fifth day of my rule I saw no subjects, heard no cases. The vizier admitted no one, none but a single man — a powerful man clothed in a jaguar-skin cloak and a helmet made from the jaws of said beast. They stood in my throne room before me, but with their backs to me. How dare they turn their back upon a god! I craned my neck to see what they were doing. They had a clay tablet on a table in front of them, and there were little carved figures on the tablet. As they spoke in their own language, they moved the clay figures about. Were they playing some kind of game? I watched intently.
Slowly, and with dawning horror, I realized the game they were playing at — war. My vizier and this man, who must be the leader of the king’s guard, were planning to invade a neighboring village, to conquer and enslave it. This brought great rage in me. My memories of my godly life before coming to this land were dim at best, but a vague stirring went through me at the idea of war. I must have experienced war in the land of the gods and found it distasteful. I would not allow this. I must not.
I stood at my throne and called to the vizier. He looked at me, not comprehending my words but reading my tone well enough. He came to me and tried to calm me with soothing tones and placating gestures. I told him, as best I could, that I would not tolerate war. He let me rant, then when I sank back down on my throne, returned to the general and their plans. I heard the general ask him a question, obviously about what I had said. When his answer did not interrupt their plans, I knew the vizier had lied about my disapproval. This was bad. As the sun god, I had absolute dominion over my people. But how to communicate my desires if only the vizier could understand me?
That night I brooded in my royal chamber, passing my glowing stone from hand to hand, thinking. I had to solve this problem. But how?
A noise made me look up. The servant girl who brought me food every night was there, bringing delectables on a wooden tray. She set it down before me, touched her head to the floor, and turned to go. I called for her to stay. She could not have understood my words, but my tone was very clear. She held her ground.
I picked up a pomegranate from the tray. I held it up for her to see and lifted my eyebrows in an unspoken question. She said something, a single word. It must be the name of the fruit in their language. Slowly, uncertainly, I repeated the word. The servant girl repeated it, and I spoke it again, more sure of myself.
I held up the golden goblet that held my wine. The servant spoke another word. I repeated it.
Thus began my education.
Two days later, I told the vizier I would not receive any subjects that morning. I still used my own language and hand gestures to communicate to him. I ordered the servant girl brought to me and the people massed outside the royal palace. The vizier agreed, still thinking himself in control and catering to the occasional whim of the god who would win his war for him.
An hour later, when my people were standing patiently outside in the blazing sun, I climbed to the roof of the palace, the servant girl (whose name was Otomi) at my side. I lifted my arms and began to speak to my people — in their own language. It was a beautiful sight, the vizier’s face when he heard me speak in his own tongue. I spoke slowly, haltingly, with Otomi coaching me at intervals when a word or phrase became difficult. But I held my glowing stone in my left hand all the while, and it gave me strength and clarity.
I told the people that the sun was the father of all living things, his benevolent rays made all things to grow and thrive. War was ugly, a thing the sun did not shine brightly upon but cast apart from it in disgust. I told of the vizier’s plans for war, to invade our neighbors to the south. This, I said, was not of the sun. The vizier was an evil man, and the sun god would tolerate his presence no longer. My people cheered at my goodness. They would have torn the vizier to pieces had I not stopped them. I told them that the sun god would not be pleased with his people if they murdered in his sight. The vizier was instead banished from my kingdom, never to return.
I installed Otomi, my teacher, as my new vizier. Through her I will lead my people to a golden era of peace and prosperity, the like of which never before seen in this land. These are the last words I will carve on this wood; I shall give my writings to Otomi to hide in a safe place should I ever want them again. My glowing rock shall remain ever at my side, its brilliance a constant reminder that I am indeed Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun.
“‘…god of the sun.’ Outrageous!” Challenger roared. “Incredible! How dare that ridiculous Jones try to make a fool of me, passing off this unbelievable work of scientific fiction as an archaeological find? I’ll have him up before a board of inquiry for this!”
“P-professor Challenger,” Nelson stammered, “don’t you think… well, that is, isn’t it… could it actually be… possible, sir?”
“Possible?!” Challenger repeated, scandalized. “Possible? This claptrap? That blighter Wells writes more believable stuff! Time travel! Bolts of energy! Sun god! Ha! Why, the damned fool couldn’t even make up a plausible phony name for his fictional hero!”
“The name, sir?” Nelson asked.
“Certainly!” Challenger bellowed. “Leland Travis, indeed! Don’t you read the papers, Nelson? There’s an American millionaire by that name, made his money in steel or coal or some such. His son, Rodney, is here at Oxford, I believe. Crimson Avenger! Penny dreadful tommyrot, is what!” Challenger slammed the last of the wooden sheets down onto the stack with contempt. “If it weren’t for my own good sense of humour, I’d have Jones charged for this prank!”
“Still,” Nelson said, touching one of the wooden sheets with his fingertip, “if only there were some way, some test that could be done, to determine the age of the sheets. Then we’d know–”
“Don’t you start in, Nelson!” Challenger shouted. “This is a schoolboy prank, nothing more, and I’ll hear no more about it! Now take these deuced slabs of wood out and burn them! Do you hear? Burn them!”
“Yes, Professor Challenger, sir,” Nelson said, gathering up the wooden sheets. He carried them out of George Edward Challenger’s office, shut the door, and headed toward the incinerator. He stopped, however, at his own meager desk. Setting the carved wooden sheets down, Sven Nelson took out a block of paper and a piece of charcoal.
To Be Continued in The Shining Knight: Times Past, 1948: Winged Vanguard of War