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A Time to Gather Stones

A member-written collaborative effort. Feel free to join in and see where it goes!
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

A Time to Gather Stones

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat July 4th, 2009, 1:00 am

Chapter One: the Shift

“I’m slipping!” Ella grabbed frantically at the bare granite in front of her, but her fingers found no purchase on the gritty rock.

“Hold on!” Jon yelled, as though she needed the advice.

She began to pick up speed as the surface became steeper. The huge boulder curved into a vertical drop, and with a shriek she tumbled off the edge into space.

Half a second later, a branch of manzanita whipped by her face, and Ella snatched at it with her outstretched hand, made contact, held, and felt her downward rush arrested.

About her own body-length below her swinging boots, Ella caught a glimpse of a shelf wide enough to support her, five feet to the west.

Hardy though it was from decades of growing out of the narrow fissure in the granite, the strain was too much for the shrubby stem. Ella felt the branch begin to bend, then crack. Just before it broke, she swung her body to the left.

She landed on the small promontory with a wrench that brought a shock to her ankle. Instinctively, she reached for whatever her fingers could grip and pulled her weight onto the shelf.

“Are you all right?” Jon’s voice came distantly from above. She looked up. His head was a small thing against the sky thirty feet over her head.

Her ankle made its presence known. Ella sucked in her breath as the pain intensified.

“No, I’m not all right!” She screamed back, finding release in the noise. “I’m half-way down a stinking cliff, and my ankle is broken!”

“Stay calm. I’ve got some rope in my pack. But I’ll have to scout out the best route to get you off of there.”

“Make it fast!” She knew she was being petulant, but her ankle was agonizing. What was she doing on this stupid cliff, on this stupid trip, and with this stupid guy with his weird accent, that she didn’t even know? She should be back in her room at Berkeley, researching her Master’s thesis on the spread of the Celts across Europe.

It was Melissa’s fault. “All work and no play,” her roommate had teased. “Come on, you’ll love Yosemite. Have you ever been?”

Why did she let Melissa talk her into these things? Honestly, she was twenty-eight! She should be able to make up her own mind. Which was why, she thought wryly, she was now working on her fifth Master’s thesis in History. She simply could not decide which period she wanted to specialize in.

And it was easier to keep accruing student debt than to face the prospect of finishing, and having to start paying all those loans off. But jobs for advanced history degrees were scarce. And they didn’t pay well. Ten years of higher education made her suited to waitress work.

Her ankle throbbed again, and Ella indulged in a morbid fantasy of throwing herself off as a solution to the pain, along with $120,000 in education debt.

A faint call floated down. “Ella!”

“I’m here!”

“There isn’t any way to help you up, but I think I can get to you from below. Just give me twenty minutes, Okay?”

“Where are the others?” Melissa and the guy Jon was hiking with – Ella couldn’t remember his name, only that her roommate thought he looked like Brad Pitt – had ditched them hours ago, leaving her with this person she met only last night – if you could call a grunt through the wall of the tent a meeting — who gave her the creeps. And now her life depended on him.

But whoever he was, Jon seemed like the competent sort. Ella gritted her teeth against the pain and looked for a distraction. If she were only wearing her backpack, she could have pulled out a book and done a little more research. Plus she had a paperback copy of Katherine in there for light reading.

But her daypack was back at camp. Even the jacket she had on was a loaner. It was rather gentlemanly of Jon to offer it to her, when the sky clouded over and the wind came up.

Except for the exasperated tone in his oddly accented voice when he said, “You should not hike in wilderness without a jacket, you know?”

Of course Ella knew that. She had been places all over the world. Probably places he’d never even heard of. But her jacket was back at camp. It had been hot and humid this morning.

She jammed her scraped hands into the pockets, and felt a square package. Hoping for a candy bar, or at least a hand-warming pack, she drew it out and upended the waterproof nylon wallet.

A black rock fell out, no bigger than her thumb. All the surfaces but one had been worked into a uniform shape, like the top of a deck of cards. The bottom edge was jagged, as though it had broken off a larger piece. There were indistinct scratches on both sides. Ella held it up to her eye to examine it, but her shaking fingers dropped the thing. To her annoyance, it fell into the neckline of her tank-top.

Good thing she was alone. She was about to fish the stone out, when her eye fell on the other thing that was in the packet.

A British passport.

Okay, this was one answer to the mystery. To hell with privacy rights, if she was stuck in the boondocks with this bearded stranger, she wanted to know something about him. She turned to the first page and looked at the picture.

He didn’t look so bad without all the wild hair and the two-weeks growth of beard. The face-front mug shot hid his very prominent nose, too.

Melissa insisted on labeling everyone according to what celebrity they most resembled. She had jumped on Jon’s most prominent feature at once. “Liam Neeson! No, not quite right. He looks like Ben somebody from an Oscar-winning movie out of the eighties.”

“Ben Kingsley?” Gandhi was the only movie from the eighties that Ella could think of. She didn’t watch movies much and found her friend’s habit annoying. But if Melissa was humored, she’d finish her analysis sooner.

“No, he doesn’t look like Kingsley! Um—Ben Cross, that’s it. Chariots of Fire. About Olympic runners way back when.”

“Never heard of him.” But when she met him next morning, there had been something oddly familiar about Jon’s face, something which Ella could not quite put her finger on.
She read the name below the picture. Jonathan Marcelonis.

Ella felt a shock of recognition. She had seen this photo, with this name, just last week in her father’s office.

Dad was retired now, but he still did some ‘consulting work’ for the State Department. The paper with Jon’s picture was on his desk, and Ella had fiddled with it during their conversation. She hated having to ask Dad for money.

Not that he ever refused. It was just that it made her feel she was frozen in childhood, still dependent on her parents. Which was only partly true.

“You should marry somebody who can afford you, Ella. Then you can keep on going to school forever.” Dad tapped the paper on his desk while he wrote a check. “Like this guy. He’s loaded.”
Ella had been furious at the very idea. “Dad!”

“I’m joking. Anyway, you don’t want to be around him. He’s a running target.”

Ella had an excellent memory for anything printed. Her eyes stopped at the top of the list of aliases: Jonathan Marcelonis. “What did he do?”

“Don’t know, but he’s ex-Mossad, and they want to find him. Badly.”

Ella leafed through the pages of the passport, her apprehension growing. Jonathan whatever-his-real-name-was had been around.

Great. Now she was stuck on a stinking cliff, with a broken ankle, in the company of some international criminal or something.

“Ella?” The voice was coming from below her now. “There’s a way to move to the west, just a few feet below where you are, can you see it?”

Ella leaned out, trying not to look down. A thousand feet below her, the serene blue surface of Huckleberry lake nestled among the bright green of meadows and the darker green spikes of pines. A line of huckleberry bushes filled a slanting diagonal just beyond her little shelf. “Yes.”

“Well, if you can inch along it, there’s a better place about fifteen feet from you. I think I can reach you there.”

If she waited, she would get frozen with fear. “I’m going there!”

The bushes were spiny and her ankle punished her every time she used it, but after several agonizing minutes Ella was on a wider shelf. Behind her was a crack that deepened into almost cave-like proportions.

A scraping sound announced Jon’s arrival, and shortly two hands appeared at the edge of the shelf. Ella wanted to help, but Jon swung himself up with ease. He rested against the rock face, panting.

Ella eyed him warily. She had not put the passport back in its wrapper; he would know she had looked at it. She tried to sound normal. “Now what?”

“Now I look at your ankle. Then we use the rope to get you down. The slope is more manageable a little lower.”

A crack of thunder echoed from ridge to ridge. “But first, I think we had better get back into that fissure if we don’t want to be drenched. Don’t worry, Sierra thunderstorms don’t last long.”

The last thing Ella wanted was to be jammed in an insufficient space with a man who might be an international criminal. And who probably hadn’t bathed since the trailhead. But she nodded and scootched over to give him room. After all, she was the one wearing his jacket.

The heavens opened and rain pelted down. Soon it turned to hail. Ella leaned out to see how big the hailstones were, when a gust of wind blew a medium-sized grey bird into their rocky crevice.
“It’s a parrot!” Ella exclaimed. “What is a parrot doing in Yosemite?”

Jon held the bird in both hands, warming it. “Probably somebody’s pet from the campgrounds. Imagine bringing a bird on vacation!”

The little parrot ruffled its feathers, then looked straight at Jon. “Too close!” it squawked. “Dimitri is too close!”

“What did it say?”

“Just sounded like random bird-noises to me,” Jon shrugged.

But the little parrot jumped up and down, fluttering its hail-battered wings for attention. “Too close, too close, too close!” it screamed. “Dimitri, Dimitri, Dimitri!”

From the look on Jon’s face, Ella was sure that he knew what the bird was telling him. But then something funny happened to her eyes. The rock on her left became bricks.

She gave an involuntary cry. “We’re in a room!”

Jon’s voice sounded as though it were far away. “Ella? What do you mean?”

Where the empty space had been beyond the shelf, Ella could now see the dirt of a courtyard. It was full of people, speaking a language that was unknown, and yet she understood every word. They were afraid of attack by somebody.

“I’m going crazy,” she whispered. “Too many history books.”

Jonathan’s voice had become very serious. “Ella, did you touch the stone in my jacket pocket?”

“Yes.” She could hardly hear him over the shouting in the courtyard.

His fading voice took another tack. “I’m going to ask you if you have been to some places. Just nod, if you can.”

She nodded. But it was very difficult. It felt as though her body was miles away from her brain. The voice drilled her relentlessly.

Rome? Nod. Stonehenge? Nod. Macchu Picchu? Nod. The list went on. How odd Jon was listing all those places her father had taken the family to. Every holy place in every country they had ever been stationed in. It was a part of the global culture, Dad said.

The voice was fading now, as was Huckleberry Lake, the cliff, and thankfully, the pain in her ankle. She looked down at her feet to find they were bare, sticking out beneath a loose cream-colored shift like a nightgown. In fact, she was in bed.

Long dark hair tumbled around her shoulders. But Ella’s hair was blond, and she had just cut it short for this trip! What was happening?

From far away, she heard Jon’s voice. “I’ll get you out of this! Look for someone who speaks English! And the bird will know me. Can you hear?”

Like a puppet on a thousand-foot string, she made her head nod.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Sat July 4th, 2009, 1:12 am, edited 2 times in total.

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robinbird79
Avid Reader
Location: Georgia

Postby robinbird79 » Sun August 23rd, 2009, 2:51 pm

She heard the unmistakable sounds of battle somewhere beyond the building she now found herself. It didn't sound like the combatants were going to burst into the room right that second so she took a few moments to look around her in an attempt to figure out where she was. The building seemed very large and apparently someone rather wealthy lived there based on the quality of the furniture she saw around her. As she sat there an older woman came running into the room and began talking to her frantically in ... French! Ella wasn't fluent in the language but for some reason she could understand every word and she knew that the woman was telling her to hurry and dress and grab what she could because the English soldiers were coming. She moved based on the urgency she heard in the woman's voice and picked up the garment that was tossed to her. She stared at it in amazement. What in the world had happened to her? The dress was cut from an obviously expensive fabric but there was no doubt about the style. She had seen these many times while researching about the 15th century.
Last edited by robinbird79 on Sun August 23rd, 2009, 2:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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