THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY

Chapter Nine

 

Elizabeth Coates eyes flew open.  Panic gripped her.  Her chest felt like someone was sitting on it.  She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t draw a breath, couldn’t

“Miss Coates, you are safe,” a calm voice broke into her hysteria.  Gentle hands firmly held her down as she continued to struggle.  “There is no need to be afraid.”

A violent fit of coughing seized her.  One of the man’s hands moved to her head, cradling it and offering support.  She turned her face away from him toward the ground, retching, as brackish water was expelled from her lungs.  The man’s silent support anchored her.  Even though every breath was an agony, she fought to take each one; fighting to draw clean air into her lungs.  After a moment, it became easier.  The agony paled into a dull ache that throbbed through her prone form, leaving her exhausted. 

“Thank you,” she said, her voice less than the brush of a leaf on stone.

The hand returned to her forehead, as if checking it for fever.  Then it descended to the cloth covering her upper torso and tucked the thick fabric about her shivering frame.  “I regret I cannot do more,” the even voice replied.  “The night is chill and, as we are both soaked through, a fire would be most advantageous – unfortunately, it is also quite inadvisable.”

Elizabeth blinked.  Her shaking fingers prowled the edge of the covering.  It was a man’s coat.  She shifted so she could look at the one who spoke.  He immediately rose and moved out of her field of vision.

“Master Spock?” she asked, beginning to remember.

“I apologize for our most hasty and reckless mode of escape.  I could see no other alternative.  The unfortunate circumstance of the bullet striking your forehead engendered consequences I had not foreseen.”

Elizabeth raised her hand to find her head had been bandaged.  “I was shot?” she asked, incredulous.

“Grazed.  The wound is not deep, nor is it threatening.”  She almost heard a sigh.  “Unfortunately, the concussive effect drove you deep into the water and, as my aquatic skills leave much to be desired, it was some time before I was able to extricate you.”

The brown haired woman couldn’t help it.  In spite of everything, she smiled.  Aquatic skills?”

“I do not swim well,” he admitted.  “Where I come from there is little need for it.”

“Where do you…come from?” she asked languidly.  Now that she was over the shock of waking, Elizabeth found she was extremely tired.

His booted feet moved past her.  “Far away.”

As best she could, Elizabeth followed Spock’s long, lean form with her eyes.  The morning light was breaking and she could just make him out against a background of trees.  He was dressed only in his shirt, breeches, and boots now, having lent his coat to her.  He had to be freezing.  It was only early September in Pennsylvania, but so far the autumn held the promise of a hard, cold winter to come.  As Spock turned to look back at her, she noticed something was different.  It took her a moment, and then she knew what it was.  His wig was gone.  Unlike most men who wore them, his head was not shaved.  A gentle fringe of black hair fell across his forehead now; the length of it barely brushing the nape of his neck.

When he realized she was watching, Spock stepped into the shadows.  “You should get some sleep, Miss Coates,” he said.

“Elizabeth,” she corrected.

She felt more than saw the nod.  “Elizabeth.”

The brown haired woman closed her eyes and, for a moment, thought she could do as he asked.  But the sense of barely having escaped death kept sleep at bay.  “Where are we?” she asked him a moment later.

“I would calculate some one half mile downstream.”

“Toward Marcus Hook?”

Spock’s voice spoke from the shadows.  “I would not know.  Is that a town?  Would it prove a wise course to make for there?”

“It’s a couple of miles away, and the redcoats patrol the roads in and out of Chester.  If they are…looking for you, no, it wouldn’t be smart.”

He hesitated.  “But would there be someone there who could look after you?”

“Are you tired of me already?” she asked, only a little exasperated.  And mostly at her own weakness.

“I beg your pardon?”  Spock seemed genuinely confused. 

She laughed.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just that, when a man asks if there is someone else who can look after a woman, it usually means he’s weary of being with her.”

“There is no need to apologize.”  The man in the shadows paused.  “My…culture is somewhat different.  We say what we mean.”

“And mean what you say?”

“Indeed.”

Elizabeth laid her head back and closed her eyes.  “Then you must be from far away.”

Again there was a pause.  “Elizabeth, do you feel well enough to travel?”

She listened to the blood pounding through her wounded head for a moment and then sighed.  “No, but I know that we must.”

“Can you walk?”

She frowned.  There was an odd edge to Spock’s voice.  Was it…fear?  No.  More apprehension.  “I don’t know.  I think so.  Why?”

“I did not escape our prison break unscathed.  I have the strength to carry you, but such a course might prove inexpedient.  The projectile lodged in my shoulder could move at any time; the results of which might leave me incapable of rendering you further assistance.”

He said it so calmly that, for a moment, she didn’t realize what he meant. 

“You’ve been shot!” she exclaimed.

“Elizabeth, it would be efficacious to speak with a reduced level of volume.”

She sat up and stared at him.  Maddeningly, he was still a pale shadow backed by black trees.  “Why didn’t you say something earlier?  I’ve treated gunshot wounds.”  She began to toss off his coat.  “Let me help.”

“Remain where you are.”  Spock’s voice carried the tone of command.  “I would not want you to be frightened.”

Frightened?

 “Of you?” she asked.  “How could I be frightened of you?  You saved my life.”

“There are certain things spoken of in the philosophy of the time – witches, warlocks, demons and such.  What is your view on their existence?”

Startled by the change of subject, she hesitated.  “The church says they are real,” she answered at last.

“And what do you say?”

“I don’t believe in them.”  Elizabeth drew a breath.  “Why do you ask?”

“Suppose these creatures are not fictitious, but merely something other than what you know.  Not evil or belonging to your mythical Devil, but a different reality.”  He paused.  “Can you accept this concept?”

“You mean, from another place?”

Spock moved slightly closer.  His voice was deep, low, and in earnest.  “I mean from another world.”

“Like the one some men think is within this one?” she asked, her voice hushed.

There was a second or two of silence.  “Ah, the Hollow Earth theory.  Yes, like that.”

Henry had explained it to her one day when rain had been pouring and they had had nothing else to do.  Over one hundred years before, Edmund Halley had put forth the idea of the Earth consisting of a hollow shell about five hundred miles thick, with two inner concentric shells and an innermost core, about the diameters of the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury.  Very learned men subscribed to Halley’s theory.  Even Henry did not dismiss it entirely.

Elizabeth licked her lips.  “So you are saying you are from this inner world?”

“I am saying, I am not from your world.”

 She had begun to tremble.  She didn’t for one moment believe what Spock was saying, but she wondered now if his wound – and their near drowning – hadn’t left him a bit touched.  Maybe if she called his bluff.

“All right.  Prove it then.”

This time he did sigh.  “Very well.  Please take a moment to prepare yourself.”

“I’m all right,” she snapped.  “You act like I am some unweaned – ”

Elizabeth stopped.  She gasped, and fell silent.

The man standing before her was not a man at all.  The dawning light lent a hellish cast to features taken straight from the pages of her Bible primer.  She had noted before the curious upward cast of Spock’s eyebrows, but had dismissed it, telling herself that a difference that didn’t make a difference was unimportant.  Now she understood.  The ink black slashes echoed the shape of his ears, which were pointed as Lucifer’s.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  For the first time she could see clearly the trail of blood that ran down his left cheek, spilling onto his linen shirt that was stained with even more of the stuff.

The dark emerald green stuff.

After a moment he asked, his voice filled with genuine concern.  “Miss Coates, are you all right?”

Some children filled their waking hours with dreams of such creatures, with faeries and hobgoblins, brownies and sprites.  The Irish spoke of the little people, who were sometimes cruel, and other times very generous beings about four feet tall.  And there were those who believed in ghosts; in spirits returned from the dead.  She wasn’t one of them.  Her feet had always been firmly planted on the ground.

Until now.

“Y-yes,” she lied.

Spock hesitated.  He approached and knelt at her side, allowing her to take a good look before speaking.  “Am I not the same man I was ten minutes ago?” he asked quietly.  With a glance at the green stains on his shirt sleeve, he asked, “To paraphrase Shakespeare, if you prick me do I not bleed?”

She frowned.  “But it’s…green.”

“Yes.  My blood is based on a different element from yours.  But it is still blood.  If I lose enough of it, I will die just like you.  In many ways, I am just like you.”  Spock’s lips pursed and he shook his head.  “I would have spared you this, but in the absence of a disguise or alternative clothes, there was no way to do so.”

“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice hushed.

“To prevent a miscarriage of justice.  A man from…my world has come here to cause harm.  I and my friends have come to take him back.”

“Does he look like you?” she asked in wonder.

“No.  He is human.”

“There are humans in the center of the Earth?”

Spock rose to his feet.  “There are humans everywhere.  Miss Coates, may I assist you to your feet?”

She noticed he had returned to addressing her formally, as if his revelation had rescinded her permission to be familiar with her.

“Elizabeth,” she repeated.

His near black eyes shone with something akin to gratititude.  “Elizabeth,” he said.  Then he extended his hand.

She steeled herself to take it and was moderately surprised when his flesh failed to feel even slightly alien.  The only thing she noted was that he was hot to the touch, like someone who was fevered.  And maybe he was.

“How do you feel?” she asked as he steadied her.

“I am functional.”

“That is not an answer.”

Spock seemed to think about it.  “I am able to continue.  That is the only answer I can give you.”

“I see men are still men wherever you come from,” she replied as she took her first hesitant step.  She was pleasantly surprised to find she did not fall down.

“How is that?” Spock asked.

“You are all stubborn as mules.” 

Spock’s face remained impassive, but his dark eyes sparkled with something close to amusement.  “My mother has been known, on occasion, to embrace the same philosophy.”

Elizabeth stared at him.  He had a mother.  And, no doubt, a father too.  Spock was the man she had rescued from the Beagle.  He was the one who had risked his life to pull her from the water.  This curious creature had friends who were worried about him and those who would mourn his death, just as she did.

What did it matter the color of his blood or the shape of his ears?

Gripping his hand, she stooped and caught his coat from the ground.  “Here.  You’d best put this on and cover that shirt.  You can wash your face, and a bandage will cover both the wound and the tips of your ears.”  She grinned at his expression.  “Then you will look quite presentable.”

As he accepted the coat, Spock said softly, “Elizabeth, may I say that you are a remarkable young woman.”

His words brought a blush to her cheeks.  “No, really….”

“Yes.  Really.  I will not allow you to denegrate yourself concerning your ability to accept and adapt to untested and completely unexpected conditions.  For someone of your era…area, it is truly remarkable.”

Elizabeth noted as he struggled into the coat, that Spock could not completely conceal the pain he was in.  She gripped one side of the garment and held it as he worked his injured shoulder into it.  Then she assisted him in tying a bandage about his head.  The wound on his temple was still bleeding, so it wouldn’t be long before there was something else to hide, but for now it would do.  Maybe by then they could find him a new hat or wig.

“Now, as I said, we should be on our way….”  Spock’s voice trailed off and his dark eyes took on a distant look.

“What?  What is it?”

“We are being watched,” he told her.

“Watched?”

“Yes.  There are men.”  His gaze shifted to the bank of darkness cast by the trees lining the river.  “There.  A half dozen or so.”

“Redcoats?” she gasped.

“Unknown, but likely.”  Spock gripped her arm.  “Come, perhaps we can – ”

“Halt!  Take one more step and you’re a dead man,” a strident voice proclaimed even as a young man emerged from the cover of the trees.  He was dressed as a frontiersman and was gazing down the barrel of a very long, very deadly looking rifle.  “That goes for you as well, miss, though I don’t hold with shooting no woman.”

“Let her go then,” Spock said instantly.

Elizabeth frowned at him.  “Let us both go, or tell us what we have done!”

The man continued forward.  He was young – perhaps twenty at most.  “Maybe nothing, miss.  Maybe a lot.  Can’t take no chances these days.  You two just stay right where you are until the sergeant gets here.”

The soldier didn’t sound English.  Still, she couldn’t be certain whose side he was on.  There were plenty of Loyalists in the Chester area fiercely tied to the king.  If this was one of them, and he and his sergeant took them hostage….  Her gaze moved to Spock.  He stood at ease at her side, his angular face impassive.  There were many who would not be as tolerant as she.  Some who, if they knew what he was, would kill him on sight. 

They had to get away.

Elizabeth placed a hand to her head, touching the place where it was bandaged.  She allowed a little moan to escape her lips.  “Please,” she whispered, “tell me what this is about.  I don’t feel at all well.”

“Are you all right, miss?”

“She has been shot,” Spock replied.  “It is doubtful she will be able to keep her feet.”

Elizabeth hid her smile.  He caught on fast.

She swayed and then pretended her knees were giving way.  “Oh,” she moaned as she started her descent to the ground.  As Spock kelt beside her, the young man frowned.  The soldier blew out air and screwed up his mouth.  The flintlock rifle wavered and then he lowered it to the ground.  A second later he was at her side, offering to help her up.  Elizabeth felt guilty deceiving him, but there was little choice.  As she watched, Spock reached out and caught the young man’s shoulder between his fingers as she had seen him do before, and applied pressure – and then gently lowered the unconscious youth to the ground.

Spock nodded to her and then reached for the soldier’s gun.  A loud report and a ball cutting into the earth scant inches from his fingers stopped him. 

They both looked up to find a sandy-haired man in a frontiersman’s fringed leather jacket staring at them.  He was backed by a half-dozen men in uniform.

Continental uniforms.

“I’m Sergeant Daniel Boggs,” the man reported gruffly.  “Who in the blazes are you?”