By Art Bollman
Over the ages I became aware that there were others like me. There was a sense in which I was an "eternal savage, to quote my one of my biographer’s works. But there were others who were almost as eternal.
The most dangerous were a group of immortals with incredible regenerative abilities who played a "game" that consisted of cutting off each others heads. I had little desire to play their game. Although I was hesitant to become involved in organized religion, I was forced to found a cult-like secret society called the Watchers in order to track them. Through the Watchers, I was able to track them, as well as other immortals, like Casca, the wandering mercenary who had witnessed the crucifixion. The most dangerous of them all was called Kane, and he appeared to have his own group called the Illuminati. Kane and I kept clear of each other, and I had little desire to be involved with any of the other immortals. But I got reports of an immortal in England who seemed so familiar I could not ignore them. In curiosity, I went to the land that would become the land of my ancestors.
England was not as urban as it would be in my youth. I felt as close to home as I would be in any place besides the continent of my birth. The scattered villages were filled with miserable specimens, even more filthy and malnourished than most Europeans, but it was possible to spend days at a time in the vast forests without seeing a soul.
When I did meet people I attempted to blend it. For once, my pale skin was a help rather than a hindrance. I did not stand out as I did in my native Africa. However, my size was more of a disadvantage than usual. At 6’2" I towered above everyone I met. I grew a beard and wore the local clothing in an effort to seem less conspicuous.
The one I sought as almost as tall as me, and almost as old as me. After some searching I met him, in the forest of Sherwood. I was crossing a bridge with a quarterstaff when a man clad in Lincoln green began to cross from the other side. I looked at him and recognized the picture from the book in my father’s old cabin. This was indeed the outlaw of legend. But was he also my future ally?
I thought I recognized the hint of cold mischief in his grey eyes, but I wasn’t sure.
I stopped. "There is only room for one of us on the bridge," I said.
"Well, step aside," he said, gesturing towards the river. He appraised me with a glance, in the manner that warriors have always appraised one another.
"I would get wet," I replied.
He looked at his bow, and then at his sword, then looked at me. He saw I had neither blade nor bow. "Hold it a moment." He walked to his side of the river, took a knife, and tore a branch from an oak tree. He began to carve a quarterstaff from the branch.
I waited on the bridge. More than once in my life I have had the strange feeling of déjà vu, knowing that I was actually living an experience that would become a legend. I knew that I could turn and run, and thus change history, but I also knew that I would not. I stayed out of a sense of fate. I was also curious to see what the truth behind the legends would be like. I already knew that I would be staying in England for years, rather than months, and I knew the identity of at least one of the Merry Men.
Robin came back to the bridge, and we crossed staffs. As soon as the battle began I knew this was John Carter. His moves were not as polished as they would be when I first met him, but he still had the footwork and eye-hand coordination that would make him the greatest swordsman of two worlds.
Had we been using swords our battle would have been over quickly, and I would have lost. With staffs, however, I was able to hold my own. My superior sense of balance aided me on the narrow bridge.
As the battle went on, however, I began to wonder if I was actually going to beat him. Perhaps I had lost and the legend was wrong.
Suddenly, however, he lunged. I pulled back and his momentum propelled him off the bridge. I looked down at him and laughed as he spurted water. He laughed as well.
I reached down and pulled him up. We walked to his side of the river and had a lunch of soggy bread.
"What brings you to Sherwood?" he asked.
"I seek Robin Hood," I said.
"What for? Are you a bounty hunter?"
I laughed. "No. I enjoy living in the forest, fighting and hunting the King’s deer," I said.
"Then you have met the right man. I am Robin Hood."
"I was beginning to think that," I said.
"What are you called?"
"John Little," I replied. It was as if the words spoke themselves. I felt an odd sense of frisson, as I either altered history slightly, or else kept it on the proper track. To this day, I am not sure which I accomplished.
He laughed. "Then I shall call you Little John."
He was silent for a moment. "I feel as if we have met before," he finally said.
"No," I said. "This is our first meeting. But perhaps we were destined to meet. I see a long friendship ahead for us."
As we finished our lunch, I put thoughts of the past and the future out of my mind. His trip to Barsoom and my trip back in time were not relevant to the present. The trick of living in the present, which I had learned from the Mangani, was perhaps the only thing that kept me sane for ten thousand years.
Ó 2003 by Art Bollman
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