The sun shone down on Danilo. He lay on cold stone, but the Archbishop’s robe covered his nakedness. He’d awakened with an urgent pressure in his stomach, and now he gave in to it, turning to one side and vomiting water onto the stone.
“Thank God,” Luc’s voice said.
Danilo turned, his eyes still blurry from the river water, and there was the otter, kneeling next to him. “I thought you might be dead,” he said, and his voice fluttered with panic. “You weren’t breathing, and I got some water out of you, but there was more and more…”
He leaned over and buried Danilo in a tight hug, which Danilo tried feebly to raise his arms to return. “Ow,” he said.
“Jesus, I’m sorry.” Luc pulled back and looked down. “Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere.” And then it filtered in to him. “You jumped in after me.”
“Well, yes. You’d have drowned otherwise.”
Danilo groaned and closed his eyes. “Fool,” he said. “They’ll be here any minute. We tried so hard to save you…”
“They?” Luc’s worried tone got sharper. “Who’s ‘they’? And why were you trying to save me?”
With enormous effort, Danilo reached up to rub his eyes. “The Church,” he said. “They’re coming…”
“Church?” Luc laughed. “I thought you were running from Cobb and Georg. No, the only people coming are the SAMU. I called 112, they should be here soon. What happened to your clothes?”
112, the emergency number? Cobb? Georg? Danilo’s paws fell away, and he looked beyond Luc for the first time.
There above the river bank rose buildings of blue glass and sandy-blond stone, skyscrapers and tall brick edifices. In the other direction, bridges lay across the river like shackles, five hundred years of stone and metal and bone and life dropped on top of Tigue in a heartbeat. “Oh, God,” he breathed. “Oh, God.”
“Hey,” Luc said as Danilo started to sob, his whole body shaking. “Hey, you’re going to be okay. No harm done. Danilo, come on, what’s the matter?”
Luc and Théodore had slipped away, the church still chasing them. The Archbishop lay in his bed, perhaps never to answer for his crimes. The Bishop weighed Danilo’s evidence. Seline and Marie cleaned up at the inn; Bertrand perhaps sat in prison; Anita cleaned St. Nizier’s after Lauds and tended to its people. No; they had been dust for almost five hundred years. Had they ever truly existed? The glass and brick, the airplane that crawled across the sky overhead, those were real, those were solid, those were part of Danilo’s world. And yet his wounds ached, the urgency of his flight still pounded in his blood, the underlying ghost of 1508 Tigue would not be banished. “I’m back.” Danilo spoke English, without magic, without the words being translated by some other entity. Of course, that couldn’t happen, could it? Not really? Longing and relief battled in his chest, wracked him, brought his paws to his face again. “I’m home. I…”
He’d stopped hoping for it, had almost forgotten that he’d lived in another time. He’d watched people die, had killed one himself, and now he was lying on the bank of the Saone in 2008 and the sun stroked his fur and the breeze ruffled his ears, and now he could smell the sweet scent of automobile exhaust, the ground damp with recently-passed rain, the blanket covering him (not the Archbishop’s robe) smelling of modern laundry soap, the otter above him—
“Wait. Who are you?”
The otter laughed, full of relief and affection. “Me? You knew my name a minute ago. Just settle down. The ambulance is coming—listen, you can hear the siren already.”
And he could, along with the traffic noise and the murmurs of millions, not thousands, of people, the buzzing background noise of the world, his world. He shook his head and focused on the otter. “You’re Luc.”
“That’s right.” The otter smiled.
“How—” His mind was blank. “How did you get here?”
“Well. Anita told me you’d had some trouble, and when you didn’t show up to class, I skipped out to go looking for you. Taye would’ve come, but he had a test and he couldn’t skip out, and, well,” the otter shrugged. “My classes can fuck themselves. Good thing I did. I thought you might go down to the river, and I saw you jump in. Then some asshole with a skidoo came along…”
Luc glanced down Danilo’s body. “It beat you up pretty bad. Must’ve torn off your boxers, I guess, and, uh…before the medics come, I just want to say…” He took a breath. Danilo waited.
The otter fidgeted, then got it all out in a rush. “You were naked, and bleeding from, uh, a couple places, but…from your balls, and…I think you might’ve lost one.” He put a paw on Danilo’s shoulder. “Don’t have a panic about it. Look, I haven’t even told Taye this, but…I lost one myself. I had cancer, can you believe that? They had to operate. The doctor told me I’d be like that biker, maybe I could win the Tour de Gallia. Ha.” He smiled briefly, then squeezed Danilo’s shoulder. “I’m trying to say, don’t worry. You can have a happy life. And we’ll be like the one-ball brothers, eh?”
“Halfies,” Danilo murmured. His groin did ache, and the weight of his sac on his legs only promised one testicle. So the other was lost in 1508, or…at the bottom of the Saone?
“That doesn’t sound as nice,” Luc said.
“It isn’t.” He lifted his head, or tried to, and Luc pushed it back down. “But how do you know me?”
The otter frowned. “We met a few weeks ago. When you came to see Taye?” When Danilo didn’t respond, Luc said, “The fellow on the other bed? We went to dinner, to that Moroccan place, and I laughed at you for burning your fingers?”
“Right,” Danilo said. “You…live with Taye?”
“Are you and he…?”
Luc frowned. “Why don’t you rest?” he said. “There’s the medics.”
Danilo gripped his arm. “You’re not, though…are you?”
Luc’s laugh sounded forced. “No, dear. Taye and I fooled around last year, but we’re better roommates than boyfriends. I think you two work well together, though. Or would, if you’d give it a chance.”
And then a pair of foxes in red-crossed uniforms were bending over him, lifting the cloth from his body and talking to each other in rapid Gallic. Danilo caught “testicle” and “poor bastard,” and then Luc gripped his paw. “I’ll ride with you to hospital,” he said. “I’m not going to leave you.”
I was afraid I’d left you, Danilo wanted to say, but all he could do was squeeze the otter’s paw as the medics loaded him onto a stretcher.
The thing of it was, he was sure Taye didn’t have a roommate. Positive. He’d been in the mouse’s room, which had only one bed; he’d met Taye’s close friends, and none of them was an otter. Danilo’s roommate Orwin was an otter, but he hadn’t figured into Danilo’s…adventure…at all.
And what had that adventure meant? Danilo had the scar on his side, the fresh wound on his throat, and of course, his missing testicle to testify to the reality of it. But had that all happened while he was in the water? Had he gotten the scar in his side without noticing it a couple days ago? Had his subconscious mind manufactured the fantasy to account for his injuries?
If it had, that would mean that it had also suppressed his memories of Luc in 2008. But why? There was no reason to add that dimension to a dream, except perhaps to make him doubt that it was a dream. Everyone else remembered Luc—Orwin said they had gone to some otter thing together and Anita reminded Danilo that Luc had helped him with his homework, and Taye, once he’d properly hugged Danilo, said that of course, he’d known Luc forever it seemed like, and perhaps Danilo had bumped his head.
He had, undeniably. Taye stayed with him overnight at the hospital, while the doctors checked him for concussion and other neurological damage. Danilo hoped, perversely, that they would find something, a lump or a mark that would have the doctors asking, Did you have any hallucinations? Imagine you went back in time perhaps? Ah, yes, with this kind of injury that is quite common. But the scan came back clean, and they held him the next day only long enough to make sure that his orchiectomy (the removal of a testicle) was not infected.
“You had this done before the incident, yes?” the doctor said. “Is this your Anglia medical care? These stitches look like something from the Dark Ages.”
“Yes,” Danilo said, suppressing giggles.
“For all that,” the doctor said grudgingly, “it is not bad work. I will close it up properly. It appears you have no infection.”
Taye was not present for that conversation, and Danilo chose not to relay it to him, so Taye and Luc continued to believe that Danilo had lost a testicle from the fall in the river, and promised not to tell anyone else about it. Danilo did not want to have to answer questions from them about when the procedure had been done (“a long time ago,” he imagined himself saying), because that, he thought as he left the hospital, proved his adventure had been real.
And yet, by the time he arrived at his dorm, he was thrown back into doubt. If his mind had forgotten Luc, maybe it had forgotten the trauma of having a ball removed. Certainly stranger things had happened. In fact, he theorized as he opened the door to the dorm, perhaps Luc had been involved somehow, and his memory had blocked it all out, and this fall in the water had given him an elaborate scenario by which it could all have happened.
Because what was the alternative? That he had been yanked back into the past by a saint, that he had saved Luc—a gay otter—and somehow ensured the future existence of a descendant of his? The improbability of a trick of memory paled in comparison.
He did not want it to be simply a trick of memory. He had been brave in 1508, he had stood up for friends and found friends who stood up for him. As much as he loved being back in his own time, part of his heart ached for Luc and Théodore, for the friendships they’d formed under the pressure of the church’s tyranny, the conditions of the day. He could understand a little better why Luc would have risked his life to continue sleeping with the males he encountered. He’d known Taye a few weeks longer than Théodore, but with Théodore he had been through more in 1508 than he was likely to share with anyone in this time for the rest of his life, unless he was drafted in a war perhaps.
Then again, he thought, settling back into his own bed, looking around at his computer and books, reaching down to feel the modern medical bandages on his wounds, 2008 had a lot to offer. He no longer itched with fleas, his fur felt clean for the first time in a week, and he was sleeping on comfortable fabric and a mattress that anyone five hundred years ago would have killed for—perhaps literally—and which here was the subject of grousing in the hallways, demands that the school buy new mattresses because of students’ back issues. He almost laughed—back issues!
No, given the choice, he would stay in 2008 in a heartbeat. But he wished he could bring his friends here as well.
He worked on his classes, made up the reading and assignments for the days he’d missed, and tried to throw himself into his schoolwork. But he found his attention wandering during lectures, writing down the names of Seline and Marie, Bertrand and Culliver, or drawing the kitchen he’d worked in or the seminary, or practicing an illustrated letter the way he’d spent a single afternoon learning. The words and drawings lurked in the margins of his notes, on scraps of paper he saved in a growing pile in his messenger bag without really understanding why. In case he forgot? But how could he forget? The reminders were etched as deeply into his mind as into his body.
But it had been a dream, a hallucination.
Or it had been real.
He searched for Archbishop Argile and found nothing but a name on the web. In his school’s library, after days of research, he found little more. There had been an Archbishop of Tigue named Argile who had died in 1508. He had been represented by a stag, but personages high in the Church, Archbishops and Popes, were represented by an aspect of Jesus, not their actual species. This particular Archbishop had not been of a noble Gallic house and so little had been written about him. The cause of his death was not described anywhere, nor were his views on homosexuality. What little Danilo found about the practices of the Catholic Church at that time jibed with what he’d experienced, but they were not attributed to any one person. About a “Bishop Lukin,” he found nothing save for one wolf in 1800s Moskva.
Taye, and sometimes Luc, tried their best to spend time with him, but they had none of the same classes. Anita fussed over him and helped him catch up with his schoolwork. A week ago he would have basked in her attentions; now he found resentment creeping in when she stayed too long and prevented him from remembering his adventure. Paradoxically, when he was alone, the memories overwhelmed him, the need to know what had happened and whether or not it mattered, whether any of it was real, and he sought out company or plugged in his music player when the questions became too much. In the shower, he lathered his groin, feeling the space in his scrotum where his testicle had been, and wondered where it was now. At the bottom of the Saone? In a medical waste bin somewhere in Anglia or Gallia? Consumed by five hundred years of decay? Did it matter? It wasn’t with him any longer.
Much as it had in 1508, it took a few days for the strange dichotomy of worlds to fade. With Taye and Luc, it remained the strongest, which became a problem. They were the ones who understood him best, but their presence brought all his worries to the forefront. Orwin, his roommate, proved the perfect companion in these few days, because he didn’t talk much, and Danilo had not met any 1508 version of him.
And then, of course, there were Cobb and Georg.
The school announced a seminar on bullying to take place in a month, and though Danilo’s name was not used, everyone knew it was about the white tiger who’d been harassed and then jumped in the river. On some of the Internet message boards, Danilo saw comments that white tigers often did crazy shit and why did the whole school have to suffer through this seminar because of one incident? He hadn’t asked for the seminar and didn’t want to go to it, but he didn’t think saying that would be of any use. There were also messages of support, Christian messages of mercy and understanding, but he stopped reading the boards anyway. He didn’t want to be an object of pity any more than an object of scorn.
Cobb, if anything, seemed to take pride in having inspired the seminar. On the bulletin board next to the announcement, he tacked up the newspaper with the picture of Danilo’s gay cousin. Orwin urged Danilo to take it down, but the tiger just shrugged. “It’s news,” he said, “and I’m proud of him.” He had asked his sister to relay that sentiment to Devlin’s parents; the football star himself was swamped with the media attention over his coming-out.
Still, Cobb left Danilo alone for the first day or two after his adventure. For Danilo, Cobb’s bullying in the student hall was so remote as to be nearly forgotten; the first few times he saw the elk, he remembered more clearly the large bed, the silk white sheets, the stag’s cruel smile as he’d condemned Luc to death. He’d avoided Cobb as much as Cobb had avoided him. So when the big elk happened to pass him in the hallway and bumped his shoulder hard, Danilo did not connect it at first to that incident. He had been lost in thought and Cobb’s presence and antlers reminded him much more of the Archbishop, which is what had been in his mind when the elk’s shoulder slammed into his.
“Sorry,” Cobb said, and laughed.
Danilo almost kept walking and then paused. One of the many things weighing on his mind was the fate of the Archbishop, whether he’d been made to answer for his crimes. The insulting bump on the shoulder was petty and small, but added to his worries, it sparked a fire in his chest. Here, among their fellow students, Cobb was still carrying on the bullying of his spiritual predecessor? Danilo turned as Cobb continued down the hall. “Hey,” he said.
Cobb turned, nostrils flared. He narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“I never answered your question.” People in the hall paused, not wanting to get between them.
“What question?” The elk balled his hands into fists.
“Well,” Danilo said, “You asked if I wanted to suck your dick. I didn’t answer the question.”
“Hey,” Cobb started, and lifted a hand to point at Danilo. “Look, I—”
“The answer is no.” What did this bully think he could do to Danilo? He wasn’t the white stag. He had no real power. Danilo’s rage ebbed as soon as it had come, almost giving way to pity. Almost. “I don’t want to suck your dick. You’ll have to find some other guy to do that.”
The hallway fell silent. Cobb’s ears went back as though slammed by a violent wind, and he took a step forward, then looked at all the people watching. “Well, your cousin sure wants to,” he said.
“That’s between you and him. I might want to suck someone’s dick,” he said, waving as he turned. The people around them started to mutter. “But it sure as hell won’t be yours.”
It was probably ill-advised to say in public, and in fact, he was rebuked for his language later (though the fossa in charge of his dorm floor, who had heard the complaint, made the rebuke gentle, starting with, “I know you have been through a great crisis”). But Cobb stayed away from him after that, and the newspaper disappeared from the bulletin board that night.
Georg was more problematic. He was with Cobb much of the time Danilo saw him, and followed the elk’s lead in leaving Danilo alone. But as with Cobb, Danilo saw over Georg the shadow of Bishop Lukin, who had forced Danilo to watch a person burn to death. Who had helped arrest Luc. Who had sympathized with Danilo after his mutilation, who had listened to him and believed him—maybe—when he reported the Archbishop’s crimes. In all of his obsessive replaying of his adventure in the days after his return, he came to believe that the Bishop was a harsh, misguided person who truly wanted to cleanse the world of evil. And he thought that perhaps, in this modern day, he might convince Georg that evil was not what he had assumed it was.
He might have been wrong. But when he looked at Georg in that light, he saw someone who’d come under the sway of Cobb’s powerful personality, who found it easy to go along and generally aligned with the same ideas. So when he happened upon Georg alone in the lounge on his floor, ears down and grimacing at the math textbook in his lap, Danilo sat near him and cleared his throat.
The wolf flicked an ear, but didn’t look over. Danilo tried a Siberian greeting. “Kak dela?”
Without looking up, Georg rattled off a sentence in fluid, sharp barks that Danilo recognized as Siberian but did not understand at all. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I want to learn Siberian but I only know how to say ‘Are you feeling well’ and ‘Thank you.’ My grandmother taught me a bit.”
“I said, I am not to be talking to you.”
“Really? Who told you that?”
The wolf shrugged. “Is up on bulletin board.”
Danilo exhaled and leaned back. “As long as you don’t ask me about your ‘big Siberian dick,’ I think you can talk to me.”
He’d hoped that humor would work, but Georg just flicked his ears forward and turned the page of his math book. The tiger cleared his throat and tried again. “You played great in the football game.”
“I know,” Georg said, still without looking up.
This wasn’t Bishop Lukin. This was Georg Lukin, Siberian student who had come to Tigue to study science and history, and who played footie with the foreign student team. Danilo leaned back. “My roommate’s good at math, if you want some help.”
Georg looked up then, fixing Danilo with his eyes. “I do not need help,” he said, then closed his math book, stood, and walked away.
Two weeks after his fall into the Saone—or, rather, two weeks after he’d re-emerged from it—Danilo failed a history test. He had been doing well in the class, and his teacher, a middle-aged wolf, asked to see him during office hours.
Father Lafontaine’s office, on the second floor of the history building, reminded Danilo of his seminary room. On the wall beside the window hung a picture of Jesus in his Dog incarnation, here looking very wolfish, below a simple wooden cross. The teacher himself had a short grey muzzle and had always been very serious in class; when he greeted Danilo and asked him to be seated, Danilo was reminded of the priest at the seminary in 1508.
“I understand the material,” Danilo said, in response to the teacher’s initial question. “I’m just having trouble studying. I had a…a thing a couple weeks ago.”
“When you missed class.”
“Yes.” Danilo extended and retracted his claws.
“This…thing, it is preventing you from studying?”
“I can’t stop thinking about it.” Because it was unseemly to rub his groin in public, he had taken to tracing the scar on his side. His paw drifted there now.
The wolf leaned forward on his desk. “There are counseling resources available at the university.”
His eyes, wise and steady, calmed Danilo. “I know. But I don’t know if they can help me.”
Father Lafontaine nodded. “So say many troubled young people. I would counter that there is no harm in trying, no?”
“It’s not really a question of being troubled. I mean, it is, but it’s not…it’s not about me. It’s about how the world works.”
“Ah.” The wolf smiled. “A question of faith. I believe there may be a few qualified people here to discuss that with you.”
“Actually,” Danilo cleared his throat. “It’s kind of a question of history.”
Father Lafontaine’s eyebrows shot up, and his ears perked. “Well,” he said. “I must say it is not often I hear a student consumed by a problem of history. I must assume that it is a period other than the expansion of the Roman Empire.”
Danilo relaxed still further. “Father,” he said, “what do you know about miracles?”
He talked to Father Lafontaine for the better part of an hour, and though he hadn’t gone so far as to reveal his entire adventure, he had confessed to having a hallucination, or a vision, while he’d been in the water of the Saone. Father Lafontaine repeated very nearly the same thing Bishop Lukin had told him about miracles, and when Danilo asked for evidence of miracles in the present day, the wolf laughed. “We live in an age where people want desperately to see miracles, and so they manufacture them out of the slightest evidence. The face of our Saviour appearing in bread, a rock face that resembles the Blessed Virgin and weeps tears…these may be miracles indeed. Who can say?”
“But what is the purpose of the miracles?” Danilo felt he was participating in the conversation as an equal, and that the teacher understood him without judging him crazy. “Why a face in a piece of toast?”
“To bolster faith?” Father Lafontaine spread his paws. “Perhaps there are other motives it is not given to us to know.”
“But they’re definitely miracles.”
“To the people who witnessed them, they are.”
Danilo scrunched his eyebrows. “Wait. If it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle, right? I mean, if I get healed or something, then everyone can see that. That means it’s a real miracle.”
“A ‘real’ miracle.” The wolf shook his head. “I feel we should call Father Bolle to join this conversation. Danilo, the validity of miracles is something discussed and debated within the Church for years, decades. Miracles are declared after the fact, revoked after years of perusal. But.” He held up a paw as Danilo began to respond. “You are asking me, and I will give you my answer, which is also the product of years of thought. There have been many miracles throughout history, far too numerous to count, from the grandiose and well-documented to the nearly unknown. The only thing they have in common is this: the person witnessing each one believed it to be a miracle. And so I believe that anything you believe to be a miracle is one. God does not make His plan known to all; perhaps He wishes only to show His son’s face to a certain number of people. Others who are not meant to see it will see nothing but a piece of bread.”
“But to the people who see it,” Danilo persisted, “what is it supposed to mean?”
“Ah, well.” The wolf brushed his whiskers back. “Along with the privilege of witnessing, perhaps, a personal miracle, we must assume the duty of deciding what the meaning is. If God is speaking to us and us alone, as He has been known to do, whether directly or through servants, then we must assume that the message has been sent in a way we can understand, and do our best to find meaning in it.” He smiled and reached forward to pat Danilo’s paw, which lay on his desk. “God is not going to send you an e-mail telling you what the meaning of your vision, or your life, is. It may require years of study, both of the world and of yourself.”
Years. Danilo groaned inwardly. “I worry I’ll keep failing tests.”
“To my mind,” Father Lafontaine said, “if the vision works upon your mind with such strength, it must have some kind of personal significance to you, and is therefore well worth the effort to study.”
“But I don’t know how to start studying it!” Danilo snapped his mouth shut. “I mean—do you know anyone who might be able to help?”
“Well, if I might make a suggestion: you could take an independent study class in history. If your vision has piqued your interest in—when was it, about fifteen-hundred?” Danilo nodded, and Father Lafontaine went on. “That was quite an interesting time in Tigue. The Cathédrale Saint-Jean had recently been completed.”
“I know,” Danilo said. “On the site where Saint Épipode was buried.”
“Ah, you’ve already begun your research. Yes, one of Tigue’s more venerable saints.”
“He was an otter.”
The wolf frowned. “That is one favored theory, but sadly, no images of him have survived.”
Danilo saw again the painting in the stairwell, and remained silent. After a moment, Father Lafontaine continued. “In any case, it is a time well worth studying. It is the last century of Tigue’s status as a truly great city; in fact, around that time there was great correspondence with Etrusca and many political figures and works of art traveled back and forth.”
“Da Vinci,” Danilo murmured.
Father Lafontaine stopped, his eyes piercing Danilo’s. “Yes, some of his works, although again, none that survive to the present. Not in Tigue, at any rate.”
The image of Saint Jean de Baptiste Danilo had seen in the Bishop’s office was documented online, but no records existed of it being sent to Tigue. So it was best not to mention it. He smiled and nodded. “I would be happy to do an independent study,” he said.
“Good.” Father Lafontaine beamed. “Now, you’ll have to select a topic. You can’t just study ‘Tigue in 1500.’ It could be about the decline in political power here, or the role of the Church in politics, or the imminent Reformation and why conditions were right for the Hugenots to gather…”
“I want to study the Church’s treatment of homosexuals,” Danilo said.
The wolf’s good humor evaporated; his smile disappeared and the eyes fixed on Danilo’s grew serious. “This is not a confessional,” he said evenly.
Silence settled over the office while Danilo absorbed the impact of those words. “I am not confessing to anything,” he said, finally. “But I can understand why you would think my choice of subject has something to do with my preoccupation. And you are correct,” he said, meeting the priest’s gaze.
He watched for any change in expression, but the wolf remained neutral. “Making this known will make your career here harder,” he said. “I expect you will encounter serious pressure to explore another topic.”
“If you will not do the study with me, then I will find someone who will.” What would they do to him? Burn him? Take his other testicle? The worst that would happen would be expulsion, and he found that he was not afraid of that, not enough to hide his nature.
One of the wolf’s ears twitched. “I will do the study with you. I just want to warn you. You have two months before you will need to declare a topic.”
Danilo sat up straighter in the chair. “Father, I have made my choice. I will bear the consequences.”
Father Lafontaine inclined his head. “We may continue to meet. In the meantime, please do spare at least a little time for the Roman Empire. Otherwise you will have to take this class again next term instead of an independent study.”
If he’d been going to out himself to anyone, Danilo thought as his feet trod the neatly-manicured grass, he would have chosen his Psychology professor, a vixen with a sharp sense of humor who reminded him a little of Anita. But Father Lafontaine had been accepting, if not approving, and in this Catholic university, that was perhaps the best he could hope for. Others would make their feelings known, he was certain.
He rounded a corner of the History building into the sun and stood for a moment, placing his white paw on the warm red brick and closing his eyes.
“Deep in thought?” Taye’s voice came to him out of the haze of sun and memory. Danilo blinked, but the vision of Théodore lasted only a fraction of a second.
“I had a meeting with Lafontaine,” Danilo said. “About my test. It went fine.”
Taye nodded. “You look very—artistic? White fur against the red brick. I saw you all the way across the lawn.”
Danilo smiled and stretched. “The sun feels good.” He reached out and held Taye’s shoulders, pulling the mouse against his sun-warm clothes.
“Careful.” Taye allowed the hug and then pulled back, looking around.
“Let them see.” Danilo laughed and joined the mouse in a slow stroll along the grassy path. The air here in the enclave of the university’s buildings was sweet and clear, almost free of automobile exhaust. If he pretended, he could tell himself that it was the smoke of fires rather than exhaust, but whatever he thought, it was the smell of people, of life going on. “What are they going to do? Talk about us?”
Taye shook his head. “Perhaps worse.”
“Let them. Father Lafontaine doesn’t think I’ll be expelled.”
“Expelled?” Taye’s grey muzzle wrinkled, and then his eyes widened in alarm. “Danilo, you didn’t—?”
“I rather almost did.” He told Taye about their conversation, and the mouse remained silent throughout. “He’s a nice chap. I’d never talked to him.”
“It’s dangerous,” Taye said.
“No more so than for my cousin.” Danilo and Taye passed a group of rugby players, but Cobb and Georg were not among them. “Maybe I’ll call him.”
They walked back to Danilo’s dorm, and as they entered, Taye said, “This vision you mentioned, it must have been quite remarkable.”
“It was.” Danilo followed Taye up the stairs. “I’m still trying to figure it out, but at least I have someplace to start now.”
“I would like to hear about it sometime.”
And when they came into the open lounge on his floor, they saw an otter and black wolf sitting together. Danilo recognized Orwin immediately, but even though there were no other large, muscular black wolves in their class, it wasn’t until Georg raised his head and fixed Danilo with yellow-green eyes that recognition dawned. “Dobryj dyen’,” the wolf said.
“Good afternoon,” Danilo replied.
“Oh, hi,” Orwin said, looking up. “Just working on some math.”
Danilo met Georg’s eyes and smiled. The wolf’s ears flicked, and briefly his lips curved upwards in response. Then he bent back to his math homework.
The conversation with Father Lafontaine did not ease Danilo’s stress, but it helped. He applied himself to history and to his other classes, and kept his worrying about his adventure to his spare time—mostly. He collected notes and drawings in a folder and scanned them on the scanner in the school lab, and during evenings when he wasn’t studying, sometimes he would take them out and flip through them.
The memories of his adventure never faded the way a dream would; they stayed solidly in his consciousness, slowly being covered by other memories, but still visible in daydreams and bursts of recollection. Danilo took to seeking out these recollections, wandering around Tigue on weekends, sometimes with Taye, sometimes with Luc, sometimes alone. On the site of the Repos du Saint, an office building stood, the back yard and well covered by a receptionist’s lobby and restroom. Danilo turned on the faucet and washed his paws, leaving them under the water for several seconds and watching the flow through his fur, the water coming so easily.
The site of the seminary was harder to locate; the roads must have been rearranged at some point in the intervening years. But then he found a historical marker commemorating one of the first educational institutions in Tigue two blocks away, and he supposed he was in the right place, or the marker was not.
The Cathédrale Saint-Jean was familiar, of course, although diminished amid the larger, modern buildings. The interior had changed little below the decorations: wires and lights ran discreetly inside, carpet covered the cold stone, signs warned tourists to refrain from using their mobile phones. The altar area where he’d stood with the Bishop, below which St. Épipode supposedly rested, was roped off. Velvet ropes surrounded the astronomical clock, too, enforcing the respect that alone in 1508 had kept people from touching it. He stood with Taye on a cool Saturday afternoon with the cloud-filtered sunlight brightening the windows and watched the clock strike two. It seemed as much a marvel to him now as it had then, perhaps even more so because the people around him did not grasp how extraordinary the clockwork creation had been to the people of the 1500s, starved for miracles in their world. The people of 2008 snapped pictures, talked to each other while the clock was striking and all the marvelous clockwork spun and danced and played hymns just as it had five hundred years prior. Danilo felt very much alone in the crowd and had to hurry to an alcove rubbing at his eyes, overwhelmed and unable to explain to Taye the flash of wonder, the sense of the immenseness of the world that the clock had inspired in him, as if it and he alone had traveled safely to this land, as if the hymns were a song that had followed him from the past, had survived five hundred years to bring him a message, and yet he could not tell what that message was.
Services were still held at the cathedral, but Danilo did not stay for them. He and Taye passed the building that had housed the Bishop’s offices, now an ecclesiastical museum off limits to the public (though the doorway where Danilo remembered standing with his paws to the stone while LeSevre threatened him was still there, and he put his paws to the wall and closed his eyes). Taye held his paw as they walked along the Rue St. Bartholème, where to his relief, he found the prison gone. The small cemetery remained, although it had been repurposed as a military graveyard for the dead from two world wars. The haphazard-seeming stone markers were gone, replaced by clean crosses of stone and traditional rectangular gravestones. None of the graves dated from the fifteen-hundreds.
“What are you looking for, Tiguey?” Taye asked him.
Danilo shook his head and squinted up at the brightest part of the sky, where the sun was pressing to break through the cloud cover. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s here.”
Without Taye, two weekends later, he walked down to St. Nizier’s, which, like the Cathédrale, still stood mostly recognizable. It had gained a high steeple that he didn’t remember, and the Lion Christ over the entrance was gone. The corners and lines of the building were softened, but its weight remained unchanged. As in 1508, a small plaza opened up in front of the church, but now it housed only trees and a statue. The chatter of the marketplace had given way to the crunching of fallen leaves, the murmurs of phone conversations, hundreds of people barely glancing at the church or the trees or the buildings. Perhaps because it was smaller in scale, St. Nizier’s retained more dignity and elegance in her age than the Cathédrale had.
Inside, Danilo recognized the layout, but the windows had been replaced, the pews were fresh, polished wood, and new paintings and gold artifacts lined the walls. It was the same, and yet not the same, and again he felt familiarity without understanding his place in it. An old fox in a priest’s robe took his donation and thanked him, and allowed him to walk up and down the church, breathing in the scent. As at the cathedral, the air felt different here, but not so different that Danilo couldn’t close his eyes and stand before what had been Anita’s office, feel the solemn stone rising around him, and imagine that Sister Colquez herself might touch his shoulder and ask how she could help.
And then he opened his eyes and the reliefs were covered in plastic, the shrines roped off, the floor worn and polished by five centuries of feet. But here more so than the cathedral, he felt comfortable. Fewer tourists crowded the space, for one thing, and for another, it had been here that he’d rested and prayed, here that aid had come to him.
He wanted to pray to St. Épipode, but here there was only a modern crucifix bearing the Lion Jesus looking upward, arms and legs covered in blood, His head shaven of its mane and bleeding as well. The golden halo stood in for a mane, brighter than the golden fur beneath the white robes. This crucifix was more elaborate than any he’d seen on the campus of the university, the robes and fur intricately detailed, so realistic that Danilo found his gaze wandering down to the Lion’s midriff, wondering if the Romans had taken one of His testicles as well.
That was probably blasphemous or heretical or whatever. He dropped his eyes and crossed himself, and walked out.
In front of the church, he waited for a city bus to pass, glancing idly at the destination on the front marquee: “Padrenard.” The bus chugged past him; he frowned and stood on the street while people shouldered past him, reading the name over in his head.
Across the plaza, he spotted a small bookstore, and there in the front they had a map of Tigue. He hurried into the shop, grabbed the map, and scanned it. One claw followed the Rhône south from its junction with the Saone, and there it was, about fifteen km south of the city. Padrenard. Pas de Renard.
Nobody he knew had a car, so it would be the bus, an hour to the end of the line, time to look at whatever Danilo wanted, and an hour back. He talked Luc into going with him. Taye was studying for a test, and didn’t have time to spare for a long trip. Anyway, truth be told, Danilo preferred Luc for this trip.
Not that he liked Luc better than Taye. He’d worried about that, soon after his return, when Taye and Luc had both been friendly, but Luc was carefully deferential to their relationship. Danilo had preferred 1508 Luc to Théodore, but the mouse had grown on him those last few days, and their fight against LeSevre was something he wished he could relive with someone. As horrible as plunging the knife into the wolf had been—even Cobb was not someone Danilo wanted to kill—he had felt a glorious sense of triumph while fleeing along the river. At the time, it had been overwhelmed by the need to get to the barge and the fear of the people pursuing them. In retrospect, he and Théodore had overwhelmed a superior opponent, and having Taye nearby had made Danilo want to say, “Hey, that time we fought LeSevre together was brilliant,” on more than one occasion. And Luc, though friendly, never became as affectionate as his five-hundred-year-ago counterpart had. So in the end, Danilo was comfortable exploring his relationship with Taye, and having Luc as a friend.
For this trip, the level of their relationship had nothing to do with it. Taye was Romany, and though his ancestors might have lived in Gallia, he was unlikely to know their names or where they were buried. Luc, though, was Gallic, and Danilo thought that maybe he would have relatives in Tigue somewhere.
“No,” Luc said when Danilo asked, as the bus pulled away from the station in Presqu’ile. “My family is from Lutèce. Many generations of otters, on the Seine upstream of the city.”
“How many generations?”
“Oh.” Luc waved a paw. “Who can count? My grandmother said her grandmother was a cub on the Seine and she remembered the great Exhibition Universelle and the unveiling of the Tour Koechlin.”
That had been in 1889, nearly four hundred years later than Danilo was interested in. He stared morosely out the window at the cityscape passing by. Most of the buildings, even the oldest, were different than he remembered, with the obvious exceptions of the churches. There was little chance that he would stumble across something he had affected enough for the memory to be solid. He was wasting his time and Luc’s.
But halfway through the ride, the otter’s genial manner broke through Danilo’s moodiness. Luc pointed out an otter housing block on the river, like a great stone behemoth that had half-fallen into the river and remained there. “Must be outside the city limits,” he said, leaning across Danilo with a whiskered grin. “I should pay them a visit sometime.”
Luc in 1508 had been estranged from his family, had never talked about going down to the otter-house Danilo had seen on the Saone. “Can you just walk in like that?”
“For sure. Otters, we are all like a family. Until we get to know each other and start fighting.” Luc grinned at him. “That’s why I stay with Taye. With a mouse, there is no trouble.”
“Otter and mouse,” Danilo said softly.
“Ouais. It worked well last year.”
This otter leaning across him to look out, this brown fur and white whiskers like narrow sunbeams radiating from it, this was a miracle, a tangible, solid miracle, and it killed Danilo that everyone saw it and nobody understood how miraculous it was. Or else it was not a miracle and nobody else appreciated Luc because he was normal, just like Danilo himself, and Danilo was driving himself crazy, wasting time digging through layers of Tigue in the hope of finding one thing that would speak to him and tell him whether his experience had been real, what it had meant.
If it had been real, then he had been sent back for a reason. But in all the stories similar to his—the fictional ones—the hero had been sent back after his mission had been completely resolved, not dragged back in the middle of a chase. Had he accomplished his goal? Or had he been dragged back simply because he’d fallen into the water at that moment? If he’d jumped off the bridge any of the times he’d thought about it, would he have emerged back in 2008? Had it really been that easy?
The surface of the river sparkled, hiding whatever lay beneath. Danilo watched the patterns caper and dance, and remembered the water closing over him. If he dove in again, would he wake up in 1508? Or maybe 1008? That would probably be less fun: in the middle of the actual Dark Ages, Tigue would be unrecognizable, a collection of moldering Roman buildings and wood, brick, and stone houses. Maybe he’d come up in 2508, and all the sleek blue-glass civilization would be just another layer beneath another five hundred years, and there would be jet cars and floating cities and space shuttles and white tigers would be as common as mice and otters.
He smiled at that, and asked Luc what it was like in an otter house, and they conversed the rest of the way down to Padrenard.
The bus let them out at a small bus stop on a square. As they stood blinking in the sunlight, the bus rumbled forward, around the square, and back the way it had come. “Well,” Luc said, “we’re here. What did you want to see?”
“I don’t know. The Old Town maybe. Is there one?”
“I’ll ask.” He checked signs first, then asked a passing rat, who pointed him down one of the streets. Danilo followed him in that direction, looking around as they walked. Padrenard was a suburb like many others, like all the ones the bus had taken them through: neighborhoods of small houses as alike and different as the people who lived in them, blocks of apartments with grids of balconies, commercial sectors of faded awnings and cheerful crowds. From the balconies of taller buildings, Danilo spotted a bat hanging laundry over the railing and a squirrel smoking as he watched the city go by below him. At a small boulangerie, he bought a baguette and shared it with Luc, and as they were tearing apart the warm, crunchy bread (just like in 1508), they turned a corner and found themselves facing a church.
His pulse quickened. It had been the churches that connected him most closely to the past, and here was a steeple and a cross. But he knew directly that this was not a church that was going to help. The steeple gleamed, the sides shone, and the style screamed nineteenth century. Most likely it dated from when Padrenard had made the transition from farming community to suburb of Tigue.
They entered the church anyway, a lovely small affair that was definitely no more than two hundred years old, if that. Danilo sniffed at the wood reliefs on the walls, examined the fresh-looking stained glass, and walked outside again after one circuit through the church.
Luc emerged some five minutes later with an excited priest in tow. The priest, a squirrel, was jabbering in Gallic, and his eyes lit up when he saw Danilo. “He says,” Luc told Danilo as the squirrel nodded vigorously, “that we should go see an old church called ‘Lamerci’?”
“Oui, oui! Lamerci!” The squirrel pointed at Danilo and rattled off more Gallic.
“He says it’s really old.” Luc thanked the priest, and Danilo did as well. The old squirrel beamed and waited, watching them. “Well? You game?”
“Sure.” Something really old; that was promising. The priest walked with them for the first block and then pointed up the street and chittered some more directions. Luc assured him they understood, and they walked on.
The houses did get older as they walked up the hill, but nothing like as old as Danilo was hoping for. Sprinkled among the nineteenth and twentieth century houses were some old stone farmhouses, and though he scanned every wall for the words “Belle Soleil” or a sunburst, he saw nothing that connected to his adventure.
And then they followed a sign that read ‘Eglise,’ turned a corner and Danilo’s heart quickened. Facing them on a small square, a weathered stone church sat with quiet dignity amid the houses and shops. It rose only one story and the cross atop its slightly gabled roof was simple stone. Below that, a large, welcoming arch framed two wooden doors, one of which was open.
“Impressive,” Luc said.
“It’s called ‘Lamerci’?” Danilo’s eyes fixed on a robed figure standing above the arch. Its head was missing—in the Religious Wars, many saints had been disfigured—but the thick tail looked like an otter’s. It could have been a fox’s, or a wolf’s, or even a weasel’s, but Danilo didn’t think it was any of those. “Is that, like, ‘thank you’?”
“In churches, it usually means ‘mercy,’” Luc said. He, too, studied the church. “Otter, you think?”
“Yeah.” Danilo smiled, though his heart beat faster than ever. “Saint Épipode, I bet.”
Luc gave him a strange look. “Did you hear the priest say that?”
“No. Did he?”
“He said Épipode is rumored to have performed a miracle at this church. But I thought you were outside when he said that.”
“I guess I was just outside the door.” Danilo forced a smile. “My Gallic must be getting better.”
“Uh-huh. Well, good.” Luc’s expression cleared; he never stayed troubled for long. “Let’s see what’s inside.”
Inside was the closest thing Danilo had found to a church from 1508. No velvet ropes, no plastic shielding, not even a sign asking that cell phones be turned off. There were only pews, dark and pitted with age, hymnals brown and worn, and a simple altar above which hung a white crucifix of the Lion Jesus, softly gleaming in the afternoon light.
Danilo stepped forward slowly, taking in the smell of old stone and wood, of thousands of knees, scents laid down atop one another for hundreds of years until they blended into a community, a family of people passing through this church. He rested a paw on one of the pews. The crucifix drew his attention; though there were designs on and around the windows, this had been placed to catch the light, so striking against the grey stone that it seemed a miraculous vision. Danilo could almost believe that it had simply appeared, pure and unadorned, and the church been built around it.
Behind him, he heard paper rustling, crinkling in Luc’s paw. “There’s a flyer,” the otter said, and then padded after Danilo.
The crucifix, so simple, was not pure white, Danilo could see now. Veins of natural black ran through the marble, like—like tiger stripes. The head of the Lion looked downward at the congregation, rather than beseechingly upward, and a plain circle in the marble denoted the halo behind it, free of gold leaf.
Danilo had rarely seen an image of Jesus—of any species—made of marble. He took another step closer, and then heard Luc chuckle behind him. “Ah, mystery solved. Here is why the priest wanted us to come up. Listen: ‘The Marble Lion Christ of Lamerci is a unique artifact. Most Christ figures in marble are pure white, but the Christ of Lamerci bears black veins throughout it, which some say resemble the stripes of a tiger.’ Hah, you see?” He went on: “‘This has never been explained. Perhaps lower-quality marble was all this community could afford, but the detail on the Christ is beautiful and appears to be the work of a well-regarded sculptor. Most sculptors in the Renaissance would not work with veined marble when the pure variant was so readily available.’” Luc drew level with Danilo and put an arm around his side. “There, you see? The one and only White Tiger Jesus.”
A curious sensation made its way from Danilo’s chest outward, expanding with each breath, with each beat of his heart, like the feeling he’d had watching the clock strike, like the feeling he’d had emerging from the Saone in the twentieth century. Here, too, was another traveler from the sixteenth century; here was his nearly-abandoned hope fulfilled. For unlike the clock, the Christ of Lamerci had a message for him: Théodore and Luc had lived on here, had prospered long enough to commission this statue in his memory. He could hear the mouse’s sharp tone saying, yes, you heard correctly, we want the marble with black veins. His adventure, his friends, had at the very least been that real.
The church and the bright crucifix blurred; he reached up a paw to rub his eyes clear. Luc stood by his side; for a moment, breathing in the scent of the otter unsullied by modernity, he imagined himself in the early 1500s, walking through the church with the Luc of that time, Théodore close behind them. He saw their smiles and felt the peace of their existence thrum through him like morning breaking over a still lake. The feeling was so overwhelming that when he did open his eyes, he thought for a moment that he was back in time again. Then he took in Luc’s collared shirt, the piece of paper with printed information on it, the age and wear on the stones.
He had been so obsessed with finding evidence for his adventure that he’d forgotten how real it had been when he’d lived it. Its scars had shaped him into a different person from the one who’d fallen into the Saone, one who was no longer content to fade into the background. He could sit before a priest and calmly confess his sexuality; he would not tolerate Cobb and Georg; he could encourage Taye to be more open as the mouse had once encouraged him. The crucifix before him at once proved his adventure real and made its reality irrelevant. Who was to say that this church was any more or less real than the St. Nizier’s of 1508? He shared its reality because he stood here now, and when he and Luc walked out, it would remain real because he would remember it.
“Lamerci,” indeed. “La Merci de St. Épipode,” he thought it might have originally been called. To him, the name held a dual meaning; it could mean that the church had been erected in honor of the mercy of St. Épipode, a thank-you from those whose lives he had helped via Danilo’s actions. And it could mean “the thanks of St. Épipode,” the church a thank-you from the saint to those who had followed his guidance. To Théodore and Luc. To Danilo.
He took Luc’s paw in his own. The otter’s fingers gripped his, solid, warm, and real in that moment, and gratitude filled him. “Merci,” Danilo whispered, bowed his head, and smiled.