When he reached the surface, he found the warrior seated alongside a fire on which she was preparing a meal. Minerva was wrapped in blankets sleeping.
“Sorry I was gone so long.” He told her. He went to his gear and slid the sword behind the harness.
“Dinner is fixed. You should eat. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
He sat near her and filled a plate with savory meat, gravy, and brown bread. Then after helping clean up, he slept better than he’d done in what felt like years.
Sunlight greeted him, burning through his eyelids. He was on his back now staring at the blue sky dotted with small clouds drifting to the east. He sat and saw Minerva carefully eating with her fingers. Not sure if he should help her or tell her how to do it differently, he did neither.
The warrior was fastening her saddle and gear. She looked at him and nodded to the child without speaking.
He imagined she’d become tired of telling him to eat, which made him smile.
After he assisted his daughter on her horse, and discovered there was a strap that went across her hips to help her stay in the saddle.
“Not tight,” she said in her small voice.
“Tell me if it is,” he said and gave it a tug.
Finishing, he arranged his gear and mounted the horse. They returned to the plank road as it wound past the mound of earth. He thought briefly of the woman underground, realized he’d not asked her name and shrugged it off.
Julia, floated in his mind and then he knew that was she. Safe travel, Stanton.
Ego vinces omnes, he replied and felt the sensation of her smile. Dein regressus.
By early afternoon, they reached to entrance to the village they selected on the map before starting out. The wall around the town was flat fieldstone built to a height of about ten feet. He did not see any sentry towers so felt the people within would prove less aggressive and hopefully more welcoming. The warrior rode first in to the town. No one seemed to be bothered by her presence. Minerva and he followed closely behind and the reaction they received was vastly different.
“You have returned.” He heard a male shout and turned in the saddle to locate the speaker. “Stanton I’m here.”
Stanton saw a man raise both arms hands out fingers spread and he knew him. He stood Stanton’s height and was narrow shouldered with a small what people on earth often called beer belly. He needed a shave, had thick dark eyebrows and a handlebar mustache.
“Pedro,” he greeted his friend. “I suspect it has been years since I last saw you.”
The warrior had stopped and watched the exchange. Her eyes didn’t show concern as Pedro strode over and stuck out both hands for Stanton to grasp.
Stanton jumped down and grabbed his friend in an embrace.
“Where did they send you this time?” Pedro asked not really sounding like it mattered or that he cared.
“Such a long story,” Stanton began, and took the reins of Minerva’s horse walking it and his horse towards a stable he was familiar with. Stanton knew that before his time with Julia that he’d not have recognized Pedro. Now everything felt familiar.
Where have I been, he thought. Why can I not recall any details other than time spent in the village together with Blythe. Was all that a lie? It doesn’t feel unreal. The pain I suffered watching her die and the guilt I still feel because I’m an immune who was unwilling to sacrifice his own life in a feeble attempt to save others. Most of them in the end wouldn’t have been saved. Am I immune because I’m allegedly immortal? What is the reason for either if I cannot help others? I’m missing something.
Julia, he continued hoping she’d respond. What is my purpose? Do I only travel through time witnessing the horrors and joys of a species no longer evolving? Is the ring world where I was born or did I travel here through a time portal from earth and had been born there?
Is the purpose of the ring world to gather remnants of humanity and collect what items that could be hauled here to preserve samples of what humans were capable of doing good and bad?
He heard Julia laugh and could picture her shaking her head at his dismay. Too many questions for now. We will be together again and then we can travel through the winding paths that dominate your thinking. Know this, you are gifted in more ways than just immortality. The answers you seek have been given to you before. Now you must reach the destination you established when you left the green cabin.