Will Stanton was, for once, behaving like an ordinary twelve-year-old boy and relishing his last week of summer vacation. He lay on the grass near the banks of the river Thames, close to the place where he, Stephen, and James had seen the mink earlier that season, half-dozing contentedly as he languished in the sleepy heat of the afternoon sun. None of his many siblings were nearby, to his relief, and the only sounds were the whisper of a breeze and the buzzing of several frantic bees. He sat up, stretching, and leaned against a fallen log.
And then he saw the dog.
It was a black labrador, all luscious dark fur that looked silky to the touch, and at first there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about it. That perception vanished instantly when Will saw the eyes. A deep, soulful brown, they were ageless and penetrating, very much like the eyes of an Old One and yet quite different.
What -who- was this dog? It was not of the Dark, that much was certain. As an Old One and as the Watchman, he knew when the Dark was near, and the Light, though it was impossible for either of them to be here, now, in this time. And yet, there was a feeling around the animal, if animal it was, as though it had been touched by the High Magic...
A boy, about Will's seeming age, though also carrying that odd faint taste of High Magic, came chasing after the dog, who had now settled down near the log in a relaxed position, bright pink tongue lolling.
"Okay, Ned, what's caught your attention this time?" This was said in fond exasperation, but also in a way that showed he expected an answer.
Nothing in particular, replied the dog, catching Will off guard. Obviously your eyes aren't functioning properly, though, or you would have seen that!
Will stared - that dog was using the mind-speech of the Old Ones! - and then shook himself, carefully putting back on a pretense of ordinariness. He hadn't thought his time as Watchman would start so very soon. Luckily, neither the strange dog nor boy noticed his odd reaction, as they were fully engaged in a game of playful teasing.
Me, bad eyes?, said the boy in the same silent-speech. I would like to remind you of just who exactly found the exit to that abominable maze in 1904!
That was luck! retorted the dog, whom Will had deduced was named Ned. And that's just one incident! I would like it if you remembered, Ben, just who got us out of the doorway before we were discovered spying on the Constitutional Convention in Baltimore, who warned you of the approaching Nazis when we were helping that Jewish family escape during World War Two, who-
By the Light, what are these creatures? wondered Will. Even the Book of Gramarye hadn't mentioned anything like them, not a human and an animal who had obviously traveled through the centuries.
The boy, seemingly Ben, cut Ned off. Those did not require eyesight! You used your scent of smell and your hearing, which, I will openly admit, are better when it comes to dogs. My sight is much better than yours. And you think sheep are dumb! Before his dog could make further complaint, he introduced himself aloud.
"Hello, I'm Ben. Sorry about Ned, the rascal likes disturbing people."
At Ben's words, Will turned away from his intent study of Ned (I am not a rascal! And I'm certainly not dumb!) and looked properly at the boy for the first time. His shaggy, straw-colored hair tumbled about his face, which held the most ocean-colored eyes Will had ever seen. They were as strange, in their own way, as Bran's tawny owl eyes, with the misty blue-gray of a cloudy sea superimposed over a background of ageless hard-earned wisdom and experience. They drew him in and he had to make a conscious effort to avoid falling into them and invading the privacy of this mysterious human's mind, however much he wanted to.
"Oh, no, it's fine. I'm Will. Will Stanton. I live in the village," he answered slowly, still recovering.
"You do? Would you mind showing us around? We're wanderers and we really don't know the area."
Well, I suppose that's one way to put it, muttered Ned.
"Wanderers, you say? One doesn't find many in this day and age. The last one I saw was a bedraggled old man more than a year ago." The Walker. Poor, bright, fallen Hawkin. He left unspoken that he had very vivid memories of the days in which such travelers were a common sight.
"No, I suppose not," answered Ben with a tinge of sadness.
Once, though, the dog added in the same reminiscent tone.
The trio sat in seeming silence for a short while, and Will, unashamedly curious about the strange pair, eavesdropped on their conversation. Not surprisingly, they were talking about him.
Ned, did you see his eyes? They're old, older than ours, but then they seem normal again. And they're- ugh, I can't explain that properly.
Ned seemed to catch his drift, though, because he commented, I get it. But still, why do you think we're here, of all places? The last time we were in a sleepy village like this was Chapelvale, and that was almost a century ago now!
I wonder how all our friends there are doing... Well, they're probably all dead now, but... D'you think Amy ever got married?
I don't know, I don't know... But still, why d'you think we're here? Or is your brain too small to figure it out?
Dunno. I suppose the angel always has a reason. And my brain is not-
An angel? wondered Will. However, he apparently wondered too loud, as Ben and Ned had comically identical shocked expressions on their faces moment afterwards, and both appeared speechless.
Ned burst the quivering bubble of silence with a somewhat nervous, if mostly bewildered, question. What in the world are you?
I was going to ask the same of you, Will answered. I think we both have stories to tell. Who shall begin?
I wonder, Ben began, but he was cut off by a raucous burst of silent laughter from the dog. What is it this time, you empty-headed hound?
Just think, Ned burst into irrepressible laughter again and the two boys waited for him to calm down, which he did with difficulty. Just think about how odd we'd look to anyone passing by! We're all just staring at each other- He fell into laughing again, and this time Ben and Will couldn't help but join in, seeing the hilarious picture as well.
When they'd all recovered, Ben turned to the labrador. Ned, should we tell our piece first? I think, over the centuries, we've gotten rather good at storytelling, though we never did get to tell this one!
Well, the very beginning is yours, anyways. And you never listen to my sage advice even when I do object, so it's no use protesting.
Is for horses.
-Anyways, and he directed his gaze back to Will, who was waiting with all the patience of an immortal Old One, it all began in the year of 1620 -at least I think it was 1620, right, Ned?- on the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark...
And with that promising beginning, the Eternals plunged into their shared tale, with the Watchman of the Light as their captive audience.
… And so, a few nights ago, we had another dream of the angel. I can't remember the message exactl-
I can, cut in Ben, though usually you have a better memory than that. Going senile?
Not for the world! You're older than me, anyways.
Barely. So anyways, the angel said, 'You must find the Watchman of the Light, and tell him your tale, so that he may understand the choice of the Light and once again have companions'. Cryptic as usual, I'm afraid, but-
He stopped, seeing the look of mixed comprehension and sorrow and loneliness and hope that Will let enter his gaze. I'm to have companions on my Watch?
Wait, so you're the Watchman of the Light the angel was talking about? sputtered Ned.
I am indeed. Once you have heard my story, perhaps, you'll better understand. The great Tale of the Wars of the Light and the Dark has its beginnings before Time, but own part in the epic starts but a few years ago, on Midwinter's Day, my eleventh birthday, or perhaps even the day before, as the first whispers of the Dark rippled across the land, preparing for their twelve-day Rising...
And this time the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman sat silent, marveling, as the Sign-Seeker spun his story with all the skill of a bard of old.
…When I came home, half of my family was immediately pestering me with questions about Wales, and it hurt, more than I care to admit, to hear them asking about Bran. Sitting out here by the river is the only peace I can get, sometimes. I'm already feeling lonely, so lonely, and it has only just begun. At least I still have my family, I suppose, yet they don't -they can't- know about all that has come to pass. But you two are touched by the High Magic -your angel, I would presume- and so-
Wanting to alleviate the suddenly dreary mood, Ned turned to Ben and asked cheerily, So, which of you two do you think is actually older? Will's technically been around since the beginning of Time, whenever that was, but he hasn't really experienced those years, and he can slip between times like a fish anyways, though I can't fathom how. Meanwhile, we were only born in the 1600s, but we've experienced every single one of the following years. Opinion?
Let me think about it.
You, think? Are you sure you still can? You only do it once every century or so.
What did I do? I'm just concerned with your well-being.
Concerned my foot! When have you ever, in the past two hundred years, been concerned about my well-being?
Why, plenty of times! There was that cave in the Appalachians, don't you remember, and when we almost drowned every fifty-three million times, and when we were on a pirate ship being chased by other pirates, and-
Oh, you know what, I yield. This argument isn't worth my time.
What's so bad about arguing with old friends?
Well, you might consider the fact that we have a new friend who is sitting there looking mildly amused with more patience than either of us could ever muster listening to us?
Oh, right. Sorry, Will. But if you are going to be going anywhere with us, you'll have to get used to this.
Will smiled wryly. Believe me, I already am. Don't forget that I'm the youngest of nine siblings; one gets used to bickering in my position. He glanced up at the sun, which was beginning to set, then spoke aloud for the first time in hours. "But now that all these matters have been concluded, do you want to come to my house for supper? A couple of hungry travelers are never unwelcome at my mother's table, and if you're anything, you're hungry."