“Haven”: a Time and Fevers outtake

Actually, I can’t really call it an outtake, since it was never intended to be in, as any Tolkien fan will be able to tell from the last line. But I remember really needing to write this when I got to the end of TAF, and I rediscovered it recently and thought I’d share. Spoilers, natch.

***

Haven

Bernt van Oosten limped homeward through the drizzle of early morning rain, the pain in his hip eclipsing that in his heart. A fortunate accident, that: the beggar had been heavy to lift the first time, and when the shock of Olivia and George’s vanishing had sent the man gibbering into his arms again, something had given way. The ache in his knees and elbows in wet weather had become routine, but arthritis of the hip would be more worrying. He hoped this was only a strained muscle.

It had taken some time to quiet the beggar, and by the end of that effort Bernt was in possession of another unappetizing morsel of life story and poorer by nearly two guilders. But he was grateful to the man nonetheless, not only for the distraction of the pain, but because it was not an hour to be alone. The calmness he’d maintained for Olivia’s sake had disappeared with her, and it was possible he’d done a little gibbering of his own. He hadn’t realized until she was gone how much missing her would hurt; it was different to be the one left behind. Though at least he could see in his mind’s eye the path she would follow next: the TTI laboratory which had been his own last sight of the twenty-second century; the dressing room down the hall; the office; the house. But soon enough the trail would fork, and his imaginings would no longer be valid. She would sell the house and move elsewhere; she would have lovers and perhaps marry again; she would take jumps to places he’d never been, and there was the chance she’d be trapped in a time breach, centuries away from him or in the same decade but in a parallel universe. She might die in the past. In any case she would die someday, and he would never know.

Never tolled like a bell in his head. He believed in eternity, but didn’t envision it as the heavenly version of a country house full of ghostly souls in overstuffed armchairs, looking up from their drinks to greet the new arrivals: ah, good old Fred, I used to work with him; there’s that grocer who was so generous with his credit; look there, Olivia Lake, I married her once. It would be different from any state of being he’d known on earth, and he didn’t expect to recognize faces. He would never see Olivia again. Never. Because she would not come back, even if he didn’t make it impossible for her. And in all honesty he didn’t want her to; he had come too close to the edge already.

Pushing Olivia from the forefront of his mind—he would return to thoughts of her for months and years to come—he began to consider again what to do about Pieter. Should he seek out the Avontuurlijk and tell the captain he had a stowaway aboard, drag Pieter home to his mother’s relieved arms and the requisite beating? Or should he pretend to Margriet that it was too late, that the ship had already sailed and Pieter was gone for good? He hated inflicting physical punishment; perhaps he’d gone too easy on Pieter before and come across as a weakling, or perhaps the boy resented everything he’d got—and, in most cases, had richly deserved.

He wasn’t a bad boy, not compared with many, but inside him was a tight hot core of outrage that could not be burned away. Pieter had no idea how much of the responsibility for his father’s death actually did lie in Bernt’s hands, but he blamed him for it nonetheless, or at least for the offense of marrying his mother afterwards. Hamlet syndrome, thought Bernt, and laughed to himself. Olivia would have had a quote handy, but he could not bring one to mind. Perhaps he’d buy a copy of the play from Maarten, and read it again. Though not to Margriet.

Maarten’s acquaintance was something to value out of this experience, and perhaps Catharina’s; and he was surprisingly relieved to have the friendship of Gerrit and Lena. They would be a haven for him in the years to come, a place to go when he could not help but remember what home had been like. Though he would think of it as home less and less as time went by. He wondered which of the three of them would live the longest, which would be left alone with no one else who knew the truth.

The pain in his hip had settled into a rhythm, pulling and releasing, raw but not deep-set; it seemed to be a torn muscle, nothing worse. Without conscious awareness of his direction, he’d limped as far as Dam Square, and as it opened before him and his eyes ran down the Damrak toward the harbor, he could see the earliest sunlit glimmerings on the water among the press of shipping. The rain had stopped. Somewhere in all those masts was the Avontuurlijk and Pieter, and it was nearly dawn. There was not much time to make his choice. When he’d told George that he would decide what to do after they’d left, he’d had in mind to return home, present the situation to Margriet, and let her choose. But between convincing the beggar he’d seen a vision of angels, not mere humans disappearing inexplicably in a work of the Devil, and his slow progress across town, the opportunity no longer existed.

And in any case he knew what Margriet would want. Like Olivia, asserting that if she had the choice he would be Bernard and she would take him home, his new wife would opt for the status quo, for the continued presence of the son she’d borne and raised. Nor would he be able to deny that to her. He thought it likely they would be a happier family without Pieter, but Pieter would no doubt say the same about him. In fact, he had. Perhaps he should offer to take Pieter’s place: not that the sailors would appreciate a stowaway with rheumatic land-legs. No, that was foolish. Margriet wanted him; he had no false modesty about that. Margriet wanted too much, perhaps. Expected too much. He was no saint, and he had no idea how to play stepfather to Pieter. He would only make things worse.

I think, in the end, I will trust George, that this is what Pieter wanted. And if I feel weak in my decision, I can always blame George, as he invited me to. Only my own conscience will suffer. I hope Margriet won’t be too upset. I hope Pieter will live and prosper. I hope Olivia and George can be happy.

He turned his steps away from the Square and into the darkened tunnels of the streets once more, his mind full of the white wings of sailing ships leaving the safety of harbor and venturing to shores unknown. For him, home was calling. It would be far from an easy homecoming, but he had been away too much of late. He had so much to explain to Margriet: Pieter, George, Catharina… Olivia. It would be a mixture of truth and lies, like everything else he’d told her.

All at once the lingering shadows sucked him into a swamp of regret. He should have gone back with Olivia. At least there he could have been, for the first time in years, free of lies. Speaking with her, he’d been congratulating himself on each forthright remark, calling attention to it with a marker: frankly, to be absolutely honest, to tell the truth. It was such unaccustomed exercise; perhaps he’d strained a truth muscle, for now it hurt. He wanted to go home, babble of his adventures and his deceptions and his prevarications, write his memoirs, tell anyone who would listen what he had been and done, bore them all to death with candor.

And to what purpose? To make me feel better. Nothing else.

Damn it, Bernt. You have a life. It’s a life of lies, but you chose that, and other people depend on you now. Go live your life, and make it a good one. And be thankful you didn’t lie to Olivia, and that she will remember you as the man you truly are.

He straightened his shoulders, shook off the last vestiges of longing for another world, and strode forward into the Canal Belt, fighting the limp as best he could. Amsterdam was a lovely city in the early morning light, and there was less fog than he’d expected, just a mist scattering the sun into dewpoints, like an Impressionist painting. Thoughtless appreciation of beauty carried him through the next set of streets, and he forgot his troubles until he reached his own front door, whereupon he wished he’d spent the time planning what to say. Perhaps—an unlikely circumstance—it would just come to him.

It would certainly come better with a glass of genever. There was a bottle in a cupboard near the dining area of the voorhuis, and it seemed to be calling his name. Dutch courage. He smiled, rather foolishly he expected. It had been a very long night.

Opening the door as quietly as he could, he stepped into his house, and was caught short by the sight of his wife, sitting in a chair with her feet up, Saskia nursing. Margriet looked up as he swung off his cloak, and raised a finger to her lips.

“She is just asleep again,” she whispered. “It has been a difficult night.” She detached the baby and lifted her very slowly toward him. “Please take her, and then you sit down, and I will get you a drink.”

Reaching for the child, he was rewarded by a glimpse of his wife’s naked breast; she caught his eye before covering herself, and her mouth twitched just slightly. Perhaps it was a promise. He was getting just a bit tired of medically enforced celibacy. But there was the Pieter business to get through first, and the rest of it; Margriet might not want him after that.

Cuddling Saskia with all the expertise that three weeks of fatherhood had given him, he settled down carefully in the chair when Margriet had vacated it, his knees and hip protesting. He drew a deep breath, and looked up at his wife.

“Well,” he said, “I’m back.”

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