PROLOGUE

Belgravia, London,

3 July 1912

“THAT’S GOING to leave a nasty scar,” said the doctor, without looking up.

Paul managed a wry smile. “Well, better than the amputation Mrs. Worry-guts here was predicting, anyway.”

“Very funny!” Lucy snapped. “I am not a worry-guts, and as for you … Mr. Thoughtless Idiot, don’t go joking about it! You know how quickly wounds can get infected, and then you’d be lucky to survive at all at this date. No antibiotics, and all the doctors are ignorant and useless.”

“Thank you very much,” said the doctor, spreading a brownish paste on the wound he had just stitched up. It burned like hell, and Paul had difficulty in suppressing a grimace. He only hoped he hadn’t left bloodstains on Lady Tilney’s elegant chaise longue.

“Not that they can help it, of course.” Lucy was making an effort to sound friendlier. She even tried a smile. Rather a grim smile, but it’s the thought that counts. “I’m sure you’re doing your best,” she told the doctor.

“Dr. Harrison is the best,” Lady Tilney assured her.

“And the only one available,” murmured Paul. Suddenly he felt incredibly tired. There must have been a sedative in the sweetish stuff that the doctor had given him to drink.

“The most discreet, anyway,” said Dr. Harrison. He put a snow-white bandage on Paul’s arm. “And to be honest, I can’t imagine that the treatment of cuts and stab wounds will be so very different in eighty years’ time.”

Lucy took a deep breath, and Paul guessed what was coming. A lock of hair had strayed from the ringlets pinned up on top of her head, and she put it back behind her ear with a look of spirited defiance. “Well, maybe not as a general rule, but if bacteria … er, those are single-celled organisms that—”

“Drop it, Luce!” Paul interrupted her. “Dr. Harrison knows perfectly well what bacteria are!” The wound was still burning horribly, and at the same time he felt so exhausted that he wanted to close his eyes and drift away into sleep. But that would only upset Lucy even more. Although her blue eyes were sparkling furiously, he knew her anger only hid her concern for him, and—even worse—her fears. For her sake, he mustn’t show either his poor physical state or his own desperation. So he went on talking. “After all, we’re not in the Middle Ages; we’re in the twentieth century. It’s a time of trailblazing medical advances. The first ECG device is already yesterday’s news, and for the last few years, they’ve known the cause of syphilis and how to cure it.”

“Someone was paying attention like a good boy in his study of the mysteries!” Lucy looked as if she might explode any minute now. “How nice for you!”

Dr. Harrison made his own contribution. “And last year that Frenchwoman Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.”

“So what did she invent? The nuclear bomb?”

“Sometimes you’re shockingly uneducated, Lucy. Marie Curie invented radio—”

“Oh, do shut up!” Lucy had crossed her arms and was staring angrily at Paul, ignoring Lady Tilney’s reproachful glance. “You can keep your lectures to yourself right now! You! Could! Have! Been! Dead! So will you kindly tell me how I was supposed to avert the disaster ahead of us without you?” At this point, her voice shook. “Or how I could go on living without you at all?”

“I’m sorry, Princess.” She had no idea just how sorry he was.

“Huh!” said Lucy. “You can leave out that remorseful doggy expression.”

“There’s no point in thinking about what might have happened, my dear child,” said Lady Tilney, shaking her head as she helped Dr. Harrison to pack his instruments back in his medical bag. “It all turned out for the best. Paul was unlucky, but lucky as well.”

“Well, yes, it could have ended much worse, but that doesn’t mean it was all for the best!” cried Lucy. “Nothing turned out for the best, nothing at all!” Her eyes filled with tears, and the sight almost broke Paul’s heart. “We’ve been here for nearly three months, and we haven’t done any of the things we planned to do, just the opposite—we’ve only made matters worse! We finally had those wretched papers in our hands, and then Paul simply gave them away!”

“Maybe I was a little too hasty.” He let his head drop back on the pillow. “But at that moment, I felt it was the right thing to do.” Because at that moment, I felt horribly close to death. Lord Alastair’s sword could easily have finished him off. However, he mustn’t let Lucy know that. “If we have Gideon on our side, there’s still a chance. As soon as he’s read those papers, he’ll understand what we’re doing and why.” Or let’s hope so, he thought.

“But we don’t know exactly what’s in the papers ourselves. They could all be in code, or … oh, you don’t even know just what you handed to Gideon,” said Lucy. “Lord Alastair could have palmed anything off on you—old bills, love letters, blank sheets of paper.…”

This idea had occurred to Paul himself some time ago, but what was done was done. “Sometimes you just have to trust things will be all right,” he murmured, wishing that applied to himself. The thought that he might have handed Gideon a bundle of worthless documents was bad enough; even worse was the chance that the boy might take them straight off to Count Saint-Germain. That would mean they’d thrown away their only trump card. But Gideon had said he loved Gwyneth, and the way he said it had been … well, convincing.

“He promised me,” Paul tried to say, but it came out as an inaudible whisper. It would have been a lie, anyway. He hadn’t had time to hear Gideon’s answer.

“Trying to work with the Florentine Alliance was a stupid idea,” he heard Lucy say. His eyes had closed. Whatever Dr. Harrison had given him, it worked fast.

“And yes, I know, I know,” Lucy went on. “We ought to have dealt with the situation ourselves.”

“But you’re not murderers, my child,” said Lady Tilney.

“What’s the difference between committing a murder and getting someone else to do it?” Lucy heaved a deep sigh, and although Lady Tilney contradicted her vigorously (“My dear, don’t say such things! You didn’t ask anyone to commit murder, you only handed over a little information!”), she suddenly sounded inconsolable. “We’ve got everything wrong that we could get wrong, Paul. All we’ve done in three months is to waste any amount of time and Margaret’s money, and we’ve involved far too many other people.”

“It’s Lord Tilney’s money,” Lady Tilney corrected her, “and you’d be astonished to hear what he usually wastes it on. Horse races and dancing girls are the least of it. He won’t even notice the small sums I’ve abstracted for our own purposes. And if he ever does, I trust he’ll be enough of a gentleman to say nothing about it.”

“Speaking for myself, I can’t feel at all sorry to be involved,” Dr. Harrison assured them, smiling. “I’d just begun to find life rather boring. But it isn’t every day of the week you meet time travelers from the future who know your own job better than you do. And between ourselves, the high-and-mighty manner of the de Villiers and Pinkerton-Smythe gentlemen among the Guardians here is quite enough to make anyone feel a little rebellious in secret.”

“How true,” said Lady Tilney. “That self-satisfied Jonathan de Villiers threatened to lock his wife in her room if she didn’t stop sympathizing with the suffragettes.” She imitated a grumpy male voice. “What will it be next, I wonder? Votes for dogs?”

“Ah, so that’s why you threatened to slap his face,” said Dr. Harrison. “Now that was one tea party when I was not bored!”

“It wasn’t quite like that. I only said I couldn’t guarantee what my right hand might not do next if he went on making such remarks.”

“‘If he went on talking such utter balderdash’ … those were your precise words,” Dr. Harrison set her right. “I remember because they impressed me deeply.”

Lady Tilney laughed, and offered the doctor her arm. “I’ll show you to the door, Dr. Harrison.”

Paul tried to open his eyes and sit up to thank the doctor. He didn’t manage to do either of those things. “Mmph … nks,” he mumbled with the last of his strength.

“What on earth was in that stuff you gave him, doctor?” Lucy called after Dr. Harrison.

He turned in the doorway. “Only a few drops of tincture of morphine. Perfectly harmless!”

But Paul was past hearing Lucy’s screech of outrage.

As according to our Secret Service sources, London may expect air raids by German squadrons in the next few days, we have decided to proceed at once to Stage One of the security protocol. The chronograph will be deposited for an unknown period of time in the documents room, from which location Lady Tilney, my brother Jonathan, and I will elapse, thus limiting the time spent elapsing to three hours a day. Traveling to the nineteenth century from the documents room ought not to present any problems; there was seldom anyone there by night, and there is no mention in the Annals of visitors from the future, so it is to be presumed that our presence was never noticed.

As was to be expected, Lady Tilney objected to this departure from her usual routine, and according to herself “could see no kind of logic in our arguments,” but in the end, she had to accept the decision of our Grand Master. Times of war call for special measures.

Elapsing this afternoon to the year 1851 went surprisingly smoothly, perhaps because my dear wife had given us some of her wonderful teacakes to take with us and because, remembering heated debates on other occasions, we avoided such subjects as women’s suffrage. Lady Tilney greatly regretted being unable to visit the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, but as we shared her feelings in that respect, the conversation did not degenerate into argument. She did, however, give further evidence of her eccentricity in proposing that from now on we should pass the time by playing poker.

Weather today: fine drizzling rain, temperature a springlike 50° Fahrenheit

FROM THE ANNALS OF THE GUARDIANS

30 MARCH 1916

REPORT: TIMOTHY DE VILLIERS, INNER CIRCLE

“Potius sero quam nunquam” (Livy)

ONE

THE END OF THE SWORD was pointing straight at my heart, and my murderer’s eyes were like black holes threatening to swallow up everything that came too close to them. I knew I couldn’t get away. With difficulty, I stumbled a few steps back.

The man followed me. “I will wipe that which is displeasing to God off the face of the earth!” he boomed. “The ground will soak up your blood!”

I had at least two smart retorts to these sinister words on the tip of my tongue. (Soak up my blood? Oh, come off it, this is a tiled floor.) But I was in such a panic that I couldn’t get a word out. The man didn’t look as if he’d appreciate my little joke at this moment anyway. In fact, he didn’t look as if he had a sense of humor at all.