Now that she had the crystal, finding a sword, a battle sword, not the regulation fencing swords, became her main concern. And she could not share this with Julian. Ironically, the only person she trusted wholeheartedly with everything in her, was, perversely, the person she could not trust with this knowledge. She knew that if she said something, and he laughed, or stared in disbelief, she’d die.
And, of course, it wasn’t just her secret. She’d have to first consult Leman about it.
The internet had yielded literally thousands of swordsmiths and sites where all kinds of swords were offered, some as low in price as forty dollars. But would that be a sword to use in a real battle? And there were the requirements to be met of white hilt and silvery metal. She’d have to see the sword, hold it, swing it, check it’s balance before buying it. And there was really only one person whose help she could enlist in this – Neil. He seemed to know about the martial arts and he’d be able to advise her.
But would he help? Their last meeting had not been very cordial, and she had not seen him since then. Was he even still around?
To appease her mother’s fears, she and Julian saw each other mainly over weekends, and with the holidays drawing to a close, she knew that would also be curtailed as she entered the final year of high school. And she couldn’t count on seeing Neil at school again, except for the brief period before graduation. Hardly long enough to apologise and enlist his help.
She’d have to try and find him, but never having had either an address or phone number for him, she hardly knew where to start other than calling directory services to find the number for a Neil Juvay.
And, lo and behold, it actually worked. She was given a number that was local, and when she dialed it, he answered.
“Hi Neil, it’s Tracy.”
“Of course it is.” His tone was brusque. “What do you want?”
“I’d like to see you and talk to you, and apologise for the last time we spoke.”
“What happened, did your big romance fizzle out and now you’re ready to play the rescuer again?”
“Please, I don’t want to argue over the phone, could we please meet somewhere?”
“So that you can argue with me in person? Hardly an incentive, is it?”
“Look, no, listen, I really need your help and I want to apologise, not argue, either on the phone or in person. Could you please meet me? At the school?”
There was a long silence, and then he sighed.
“Okay, I guess I owe you that much. Meet me behind the gym at three.”
Before she could say thanks, he’d hung up. Okay, so maybe she deserved it, but he’d hardly given her a chance to explain about the feeling she had when she was close to Julian, or even the feelings she had when she just thought of him. But could she explain it? Even to herself, this constant refrain that ran through her mind, Julian holding her, Julian kissing her, Julian losing himself in her as he lost himself in his music, was bordering on obsession. Oh hell, who was she kidding, it was obsession.
And even though she knew he desired her, he was also distant. Except for the weekends, she knew almost nothing about where he lived, what he was doing, who his family had been. He was still a mystery.
Was it always like this to be a hero? She could hardly remember the time when her biggest worry was to turn in a homework assignment on time, and yet that was a scant two months ago. When life was normal, and she was a normal girl. Well, as normal as an only child of a single parent could be, even in this modern age.
It was so different when you read a book where the hero tackled monsters and defeated them with a blast from his gun, or a wave of his wand. You never really thought about the problems of getting the gun, or the wand – it was just there.
She sighed, then picked up her foil and practiced lunges for half an hour, before showering and going off to meet Neil.
He was waiting for her, impatience showing in every line of his body and face.
“Okay, so let’s hear this apology of yours.”
“You really don’t sound very friendly, Neil. After all, I got pitched into all this by you, without a by your leave or a choice in the matter. And I am sorry I dismissed your concerns about the situation with Leman and the others. I try not to think of them being persecuted and killed…′
“Exactly! There is a world looking to you for salvation and you don’t think of them. It’s like people eating at a restaurant and never thinking of those who are dying of hunger.”
“Hey, that’s unfair! I’ve been training really hard at my fencing, and I now realize you were right, I need some other combat training too. But will it help to get that here? I need training in the skills of the other world, in their fighting styles. And that can be given to me over there – I learn fast, I’m fit, and I’ve got great co-ordination. But please,” and she moved closer to him, laid her hand on his arm, “I meant it when I said I don’t want to argue – either on the phone or here in person. I need your help to find a sword, a sword with a white hilt and made of a silvery metal, before I can go back. Please help me. I trust you and I need your help.”
His face had relaxed by the end of her speech, and now he grinned ruefully.
“You’re right too, you didn’t ask for this. And I did send you across without asking you. And I’m sorry too, I was a bit jealous of you being so in love with someone else.”
“What do you mean, Neil? You have a crush on me?”
He coughed. “Yeah, right, I’ve got a little crush for you that you didn’t seem to notice at all, and I really thought that the more time we spent together the more you’d realize I think you are just extraordinarily beautiful, brave and marvelous. But then Julian got there before me. So I guess I lost my temper with you about that as well as about the worries I have that we don’t really know if the time passing here means more suffering for Leman and the others, or if we’ll arrive back at the exact same time we left.”
“I’m so sorry, I just didn’t think of you in that way.”
“Yeah, I guess it is overwhelming the first time you get involved. I had the advantage that I went across when I was still very young, so I didn’t have as much disbelief to get over. I suppose kids adapt more readily to changes than we do when we are older.”
Tracy frowned. “Yes, I suppose so, although these days there’s a lot of psychology that’s based on how kids never really get over trauma. But maybe if I did go across when I was six or seven, when you tend to fantasize about other worlds, other people, it’s maybe less traumatic to see it become reality. Anyway, right now I need your help with that sword. Any ideas?”
“As it happens, yes. I know where we should go and look for it. Can you come with me on Saturday?”
“Yes, I’ll make time. When exactly?”
“Meet me here at eleven.”
“OK – I’ll see you then. And, thanks.”
Neil smiled wryly and turned away, almost running down the slope. Tracy thought about the revelation of his feelings. Why do we always fall in love with people who don’t love us back? She and Julian were exceptions in a way. Julian. His name was a sigh of pleasure, and in her mind she wondered how she would ever be able to leave him to go to the unknown land. The only thing that made it possible was the thought that she would be returning even before he knew she’d gone.