Yesterday, we met up with Author Mary Ann Bernal. She kindly talked to us about The Briton and the Dane: Timeline, her latest release. Click here to read about her and the book. She has kindly shared the beginning of her book which will be covered in this post as well as the one that will be posted tomorrow. (April 14,2014)
It was a crisp autumn day in the year of our Lord 2066. The sun was obscured by swollen storm clouds as wind gusts scattered leaves across the empty courtyard, scraping tree branches against office windows.
Inside the stone building, oblivious to the impending storm, students went about their daily tasks like automatons, cataloging fragile remnants of antiquated history. Their enthusiasm had been lost over time, vanquished by archaic rules and lack of funding, drowning in an apathetic sea.
The door opened just as heavy rain began to pummel the earth. Lightning flashed perilously close to the portico, the building shaken by crackling rolls of thunder. Dr. Malcolm Knýtlinga, department head, scoured the room, nodding to his worker drones as he headed towards the stairwell. He ran down the stairs, deeper into the bowels of the ancient edifice, slowing his gait once he reached the basement. Malcolm peered into the open doorways where artifacts were stored, priceless relics forgotten by a society no longer curious about the past.
The lights flickered briefly as the tempest enveloped the city. He walked the length of the corridor and stopped once he reached the last office, knocking on the doorframe before entering.
“One minute,” Gwyneth said, her eyes upon the monitor, her nimble fingers flying across the outdated keyboard.
While Dr. Franger had mastered every aspect of computer technology available at the present time, she preferred typing her words rather than speaking them aloud. She even had a typewriter that still worked, which was proudly displayed in her office at home. She was considered eccentric by her peers, but the student body praised her for her defiance, and her classes were always filled to capacity.
Malcolm shook his head as he sat in his favorite chair, his eyes transfixed on the portrait hanging above his protégé’s desk. An alleged likeness of Lord Erik, the last descendant of Gwyneth and Erik of Wareham, and painted years after his death by an unknown medieval artist. Legend described him as a mighty warrior, proficient not only with the sword but with the pen, a man of letters who had served his king well. Songs attesting to Lord Erik’s prowess on the battlefield had even been sung by the troubadours, only to be lost with the passage of time. Yet time simply enhanced the mystique of this Saxon of Danish descent whose untimely death was suspect, implying treachery and betrayal in a violent age.
Malcolm tolerated Gwyneth’s obsession with a man who had died centuries ago, but he was not sure why. Gwyneth and Erik started the dynasty, and maybe Dr. Gwyneth Franger was the reincarnation of the first Gwyneth if one believed in the transmigration of souls.
“You are doing it again,” Malcolm thought. “Why not just admit you love the woman and be done with it?”
Glancing about the room, Malcolm counted the numerous awards Dr. Gwyneth Franger had received over the past two years. He was proud of her accomplishments, her diligence, her commitment to the truth, even though the forces driving her were not rational. Science demanded validity, not emotional conjecture, but Gwyneth concealed her motives well, at least to everyone but himself. He had seen through the charade but remained silent. Yes, he was patronizing, but subtly. She was caught up in the premise, too closely attached to a dream, a forsaken love never to be realized.
“How could a person be in love with someone who lived hundreds of years ago? Especially someone whose intellect surpasses most of the tenured professors at the University,” Malcolm thought, shaking his head. “If it were anyone else, you would have had her seen by a psychiatrist; it is not normal, and if you did not know any better, you would swear she was possessed.”
Malcolm’s stoicism did not betray his thoughts as the sound of deft fingers hitting the keyboard brought him out of his reverie. He glanced at his wristwatch as he shifted in the chair, his patience wearing thin. Gwyneth failed to notice his impatience as she ended her communication and gazed in Malcolm’s direction.
“It’s done, I leave for Wareham at the end of the week. Another reenactment, Alfred the Great and the Danish Vikings, when Lord Richard commanded the citadel!” Gwyneth exclaimed.
“I didn’t think there were any of those reenactment groups left.”
“There are a few, but finding these reenactors was quite by accident. I still can’t believe it’s happening.”
“How long will you be away?” Malcolm asked, calendar in hand.
“Just the weekend; I’ll be back early Sunday afternoon. I haven’t forgotten about the reception and convincing Viscount Beaumont to fund another year excavating the ruins; that is, unless you could speak to him?”
“Just how long is this event?”
Malcolm watched Gwyneth intently, but their eyes locked for a brief moment, when the truth of unspoken feelings was revealed, acknowledged, then veiled within the recesses of two souls. Gwyneth averted his gaze as she stood up from her desk, the flickering lights creating eerie shadows. The seconds were a welcome respite from facing the inevitable.
Gwyneth fumbled through the drawers, searching for a flashlight, her shaking hands barely discernible as she groped for the familiar torch. She wrapped her fingers around the precious light source and was relieved when the ceiling lights finally stopped fluttering.
Malcolm was also unnerved, his vulnerability exposed for a split second. He coughed, his eyes upon the floor while waiting for the moment to pass. He concentrated on his work, his profession, and the reason for his visit.
“Take the two weeks,” Malcolm said. “I’ll deal with Beaumont.”
“Oh, Malcolm, really? Thank you. I will make this up to you, I promise,” Gwyneth beamed, hugging him briefly before stepping back, somewhat embarrassed. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
“Gwyneth, I don’t mind, really, but now that this matter is resolved, I would discuss the reason for my visit. I am pleased to inform you that you are now officially tenured, and I will be putting your name forward as head of the department.”
“That is your job; are you leaving?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Malcolm, stop being so secretive. Tell me, I cannot bear the suspense.”
“You are talking to the deputy vice chancellor, but you must not say a word until the appointment has been announced.”
In her excitement, Gwyneth embraced Malcolm, kissing him on his cheek, but this time he held her tightly, kissing her lips as the lights flickered unsteadily, plunging them into darkness.