Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Jeremiah 1:5 NRSV
Grenoble, France, Maritime Alps, 2018
Nicholas Turner and Sean Doran did their best to instruct Wade Connolly in the art of swordplay, but the young man, although athletic, just could not seem to master wielding a sword—or a bow, for that matter. Both Nicholas and Sean had been peregrinating for years and had experience training new Peregrines in the skills needed to survive this way of life. But the newcomer just couldn’t seem to grasp the skills needed to fight. Wade had been with them for a total of four months and still had not picked up the necessary skill sets. Nicholas was beginning to wonder if he was really meant to be a Peregrine. Perhaps the young man was meant to be a Dragoman instead? He would have to speak with his mentor, Prisca, about it when they returned to the river camp at Barrier’s Edge where her safe house was located.
Prisca Delacroix was a Dragoman and very French. She had been Nicholas’s mentor since he first peregrinated eleven years ago. When Sean Doran joined them six years later, Prisca paired them together for time-jumping since Peregrines weren’t allowed to go on missions alone anymore. Many years ago several Peregrines went missing, never to be seen or heard from again. Since that time everyone had to have at least one partner. Now, thanks to Ryan Halloran’s new chip technology, they had a way to track the Peregrines and Dragoman alike.
“I’m sorry, Nick, I just don’t understand why I can’t get what you’re trying to teach me,” Wade said, frustration lacing his words and body language. “In high school I was a football player, good enough that my parents had hoped I’d be accepted into college football. You’d think I could do this stuff!” The young man ran his hands through his thick, short, sandy brown hair in aggravation.
“Don’t concern yourself about it, Wade. We’ll get it figured out. I’ll speak with Prisca when we get back to camp. She’ll know what to do.” Nick patted the young man on the back to reassure him and decided to call training done for the day. They had been at it since midmorning, and it was now three in the afternoon. Wade was a strong young man of nineteen, but his coordination was lacking. He seemed to be a very simpleminded fellow, with a heart as big as anyone Nick had ever known, and he had been around a lot of different people in his lifetime.
Nicholas had been a high school teacher before his peregrination years, so he knew that Wade’s intelligence wasn’t up to the normal standards. He wasn’t ignorant, just simple, perhaps having had one too many concussions due to his, or his parents, sport of choice.
Nick noticed the young man’s sensitivity to the pain and suffering of animals shortly after Wade arrived. He and Sean had taken Wade hunting for food when they spotted a deer. Upon Sean shooting the animal, Wade’s eyes filled with tears when he saw the dead doe. He tried to play it off as dirt blowing into his face, but Nick knew better. Being a teacher he had spent most of his time around kids of all ages. He knew how to spot emotions that most people tended to overlook. Especially since he had suffered more than his fair share of heartaches.
Yes, Nick’s personal demons went way back. He was drafted into the Vietnam War as a young man fresh out of high school. He had been overseas only a year when he lost his right leg above the knee. After a lengthy hospital stay, Nick lived with his parents until he could learn to handle getting around with one leg. He then decided to go to the local community college close to his parents’ home to earn his teaching degree. While there, he met and fell in love with Jenny Owens. They dated for a year and then married. After only a few short months, Jenny became pregnant, but Cassie, their only child, passed away at the age of eight.
Cassie had been diagnosed with a very rare disease that was a result of a genetic disorder caused by a deformity on the father’s side. There was no cure at the time, and Cassie’s death left Nicholas hollow and angry. He withdrew from everyone including his wife, and she eventually left him. He then threw himself into his work as a high school science teacher, drank too much, and wanted nothing at all to do with God. But God called him into peregrination and marked him with the symbol for Gad as one of “The Twelve.” With everything he had witnessed while time-jumping, Nicholas couldn’t deny the existence of God. He may not be happy about it yet, still angry over the cards he had been dealt all his life, but this existence was much better than the one he had left behind. Plus, he had a state-of-the-art prosthetic made specifically for him by Ryan Halloran, which was almost as good as his real leg. Ryan was an amazing designer when it came to technology, and Nick was very grateful for it.
When he first peregrinated no one could really understand why God would call a one-legged man into battle. But Prisca had told him that they must trust God. He knew what He was doing; He was God after all. Fortunately, when Prisca found Nick, she had had the good sense to call on Ryan immediately for help. By the time Nick came out of PS and had the time to absorb what had happened to him and the strength to begin training, Ryan had a prosthetic made and delivered. The first prosthetic wasn’t perfect, but after a few tries, Ryan was able to develop one that was comfortable and would allow Nick to train like anyone else. The finished product was far superior to anything that Nick had ever seen or could ever imagine.
Nick and Sean, being the two oldest Peregrines under Prisca’s mentorship, travel with others due to the status and untrained abilities of the other Peregrines. They are also the only two from Prisca’s group that have a mark of “The Twelve.” Wade is the newest addition to the group, but Dina Adams, who is Nick’s new partner, and Kristen Wright, who is Sean’s new partner, have both been peregrinating about a year. Prisca paired them based on age, stating that they would probably have an easier time getting along with someone closer to their own ages. Dina, who is thirty-four, is closer to Nick’s age of forty-three. Sean and Kristen are both in their early twenties. Wade hasn’t been allowed to peregrinate on missions yet due to his lack of skills.
All the Peregrines had recently returned from an all-out manhunt through Dover, England, in the years 1540-1590, looking for a new Peregrine who the Dragoman believed to be one of the final Twelve. The unknown person was dubbed “Eleven” by the Peregrines since no one knew of her existence at that time, only her peregrination order.
Prisca had just received word from Simon Lane that one of his groups had located a young woman they thought was Eleven but she had disappeared through a portal during a storm. They had been successful only in finding out her name, which was Bridget Burke, and that she traveled with another woman, whom the locals in Dover had identified as the girl’s aunt. They had no description of the woman or information about her other than her relationship to Eleven.
Now the Peregrines awaited new information from Safra Driscoll to tell them where Eleven and her aunt may have time-jumped to. So until then, with no other missions to go on or artifacts to find, the Peregrines would spend their time close to the Dragoman safe house, training and gathering food and supplies to see them through the winter.
Prisca’s safe house, like the safe houses of most Dragoman, sits on Barrier’s Edge. It happens to be in the mountains surrounded by nature. Prisca is a true nature buff and loves the seasons that living in the mountains brings with it. Her home, like the others, is in the fourth dimension, just outside a third-dimension location where supplies can be easily accessed when the need arises. Prisca enjoys the technology that comes with living in a later time period, and so her place is just outside the modern city of Grenoble, in the Maritime Alps, where France and Italy border, in the year 2018. Her home stands at an elevation of approximately seven hundred feet and borders the Isere River, allowing her all the amenities that nature has to offer.
“You’re back from training already?” Prisca asked in her thick French accent as the five Peregrines walked into camp. She had been outside tending to her flowers.
“Yes, we decided to call it a day.” Nicholas stopped in front of Prisca and, keeping his voice low so the others wouldn’t hear him, said, “When you get time there is a matter that I wish to discuss with you in private.” He didn’t want to give poor Wade a bigger complex than he already had, and there was no reason for him— or anyone else for that matter—to know that he would be the topic of their discussion.
“All right, how about after dinner? Meet me on the fourth-floor conservatory deck, say around seven?” Prisca said in reply.
“That will be fine. Right now I think I’ll hit the shower and wash off some of this sweat and grime,” Nick said with a slight grin. He then turned and went into the four story, six-thousand-square-foot home that was Prisca’s safe house.
Prisca’s home was a combination of a log cabin and a modern style dwelling with a glass conservatory serving as the fourth floor. A large stone fireplace ran the height of the house and sat in the direct center of the home, with special duct work to carry warmth between each floor and into every room of the large dwelling.
Each floor was set apart for certain things and consisted of fifteen hundred square feet of living space.
On the bottom floor were the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, an office, two full bathrooms, and rooms for archives, artifacts, mapping, and bedrooms to accommodate the help.
The second floor was a recreation area with a pool table, a foosball table, an air hockey table, board games, a chess board, darts, a theater, and a bar. Since no one really drank alcohol here, the bar held water, juices, and sodas, with a few bottles of wine that Prisca enjoyed on occasion. This floor also had two bathrooms.
The third floor had eight bedrooms with their own bathrooms and, in the center, a commons room, which offered several couches and comfortable, roomy chairs, a coffee table, a few end tables, and several bookcases loaded with all manner of books for leisure reading or learning. The bedrooms were on the outside perimeter of the floor, and in each, one wall was a huge window with a sliding glass door opening to the third floor balcony. Each bedroom also had a skylight with a staircase that extended upward to the fourth-floor conservatory’s open deck, also surrounded by a balcony with a handrail.
The conservatory was where Prisca grew her own organic vegetables and fruits, as well as some of her favorite flowers and herbs for medicinal purposes. She also had two telescopes, one on each of two corners of the deck, for viewing and recording the stars and any unusual activity in space. Because her home was so large, a few retired Peregrines and Dragoman also stayed on to help her with the chores. There was a housekeeper, a cook, and a groundskeeper, all people Prisca once mentored or who had themselves mentored others years before.
Nick showered, changed, and headed up the staircase through the glass skylight door onto the conservatory deck to meet with Prisca. She held a bottle of her favorite Italian burgundy-blend wine and poured them both a glass.
“So, what is this important conversation about that we needed to have in private?” Prisca asked, handing Nicholas the glass of wine and taking a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs scattered about the conservatory deck.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the glass. “It concerns Wade. We have been diligent in his training since he arrived four months back, unless we were out on missions. But the kid just can’t seem to get it. Maybe he was meant to be a Dragoman instead?”
“Yes, I have noticed his struggles with the training. I’ve never encountered this problem before. Usually when people first peregrinate, they don’t have issues learning what God called them to. He has always equipped them with the abilities and training that they need. I would think if he were to be a Dragoman, he would have some gift or skill set in that area, but I have not seen anything that would lead me to believe that either. I have noticed his propensity toward nature and that when he is out in the woods, the forest creatures do not fear him. They just stand and watch him as if he belongs there. Perhaps I need to search the archives to see if they say anything about the untrainable.” Prisca paused, her brow furrowed in concentration.
“I will send a grid message to the other Dragoman and inquire of them about the subject as well. Simon and Nuncio have been at this a bit longer than I have, so if anyone knows anything about it, they would. You know, come to think of it, he didn’t seem to be affected by the Peregrine Sickness like the rest of you either. That struck me as strange then, but I just brushed it off as his being fortunate. Now, with further thought, there could be something to it.”
“Perhaps? It does seem strange that he wasn’t afflicted with PS at all. Like you, I just assumed he was lucky as well. I’m really curious to hear what Simon and Nuncio have to say on the matter myself. What do you say we send them a grid message soon?” Nick said, leaning against the railing. He watched Prisca as he took a sip from the glass of wine.
“I agree. The sooner we get some information on this the better. He has already been here for four months and has not taken to training of any kind. We need to know what we are supposed to train this kid for.” Prisca stood and drained her glass of wine. “I think I will go write that inquiry right now. I’ll speak with you about it more once I have a reply.”
Prisca and Nick walked to the main stairwell that wove its way through the top three floors from the balconies, which allowed easy access to the levels without the necessity of using a doorway to enter and exit them. There were separate, offset entries to the main house with steps to every level, but the balcony stairwell made access and navigating quick and easy.
Entering the second story, Prisca continued down to her office on the first level to compose the message, while Nick stayed on the second floor where the rest of the group were hanging out, currently enthralled by one of Sean’s far-fetched stories and playing a game of pool.
“Sean, what tall tale are you telling this time?” Nick asked, a sly smile gracing his lips as he approached the group.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean, sir,” Sean protested, smiling broadly as he leaned over the table to take a shot into a corner pocket.
“Right, I’m sure you’ve been completely truthful about all of our adventures so far,” Nick added, grinning knowingly at his young friend as he took a seat in one of the overly large chairs. Sean was a great kid who just liked to enhance their peregrination adventure stories for fun. He was a gifted storyteller, very well spoken and very charismatic. People just seemed to be drawn to him. The addition of his Scottish accent tended to help as well. Not to mention he was a very good-looking young man and he knew it, which seemed to get him into trouble with young women a little too often. Sometimes it was a chore keeping him on this side of the barrier.
Nick had noticed that there was one young woman in particular, however, who seemed to see through all of Sean’s charms quite well right from the beginning. Kristen appeared to be put off by Sean almost as soon as she arrived. She was always agitated by him and his unique personality, which made their paired status a bit tough for both of them. Sean’s cockiness and her attitude toward him made for some rough missions in the past. For one thing, Kristen had a hard time following orders from Sean, which had caused quite a few mishaps on missions. It’s as though she barely tolerates him, Nick thought. He tried to keep a close eye on their relationship to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. But he could only do so much since he wasn’t on missions with them. Besides, they are both adults and need to learn to work out their differences on their own. Maybe that’s why Prisca paired them together, Nick speculated. She must have sensed the tension right from the start and decided to make them work it out from the get-go.
Nick watched Kristen’s facial expressions as she sat and read a book, trying to ignore Sean as he continued telling the others the rest of his story. Kristen’s body was rigid, and she looked uncomfortable. No one could mistake the look of irritation on her face as she rolled her eyes at his exuberant anecdotes of peregrinations past.
Nick also noticed that Sean would glance over at Kristen and smile ever so slightly at her obvious discomfort. Nick believed that Sean truly enjoyed ruffling her feathers. These two hardheaded kids were in for a rude awakening one day. If they didn’t learn to get along soon, there was no telling what kind of trouble their attitudes were going to get them into.
He and Dina, on the other hand, got along fine and worked together very well. They had quickly bonded as partners and anticipated each other’s actions well when on missions. Nick looked on her as a sister. He had a feeling that she was interested in more than a friendship with him, but Nick wasn’t looking for a relationship; not to mention he just didn’t feel that way about her. His last relationship hadn’t worked out so well, and he had no intention of ever falling in love or marrying again. Besides, he was too broken mentally and emotionally to be of any use to anyone. His failed marriage had taught him that.
No, he didn’t need any more heartache. He still thought of, and missed, his little Cassie more than words could say. She would have been nineteen years old by now. He would not allow himself to feel that much again.
“You look serious. What’s on your mind?” Dina asked. She had strolled across the room and perched in one of the large chairs next to him. Lost in his memories, he hadn’t heard or seen her sit down.
“Nothing,” he said, shaking off the dark thoughts, “just lost in the past.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve only been at this for a year compared to your eleven, and I still have trouble. I guess that means the past still haunts you no matter how long you do this peregrinating thing,” Dina said, sinking back into the chair and tucking her feet up underneath her.
Nick didn’t correct her thinking when it came to what haunted his past. He had never shared his life story with anyone. Everyone of course asked about his leg; that was unavoidable. But he offered nothing about his past other than that he had been a high school science teacher before peregrinating. He wasn’t ready to talk about his divorce or daughter with anyone.
“Hey, Nick, you want to play the next round?” Sean yelled across the room to his friend.
Nick looked up at him and replied, “No thanks, Sean. It’s been a long day, and I think I’m going to retire to my room.” Nick stood and stretched a bit. “Good night, everyone. I’ll see you all tomorrow morning.”
Everyone chimed in with a “good night,” and Nick headed to his room. His prosthetic provided an amazing and comfortable fit, but his leg needed a breather every once in a while, and he was ready to take the thing off for the night. He had spent so many years just using a crutch or wheelchair that it had taken his leg a good while to get used to the prosthetic. He couldn’t afford one when he returned home from the war and made do with what was available to him. When he was on missions, he had to leave it on all the time. Here at Prisca’s safe house, he was able to relax and could remove it without fear of attack. It slid on easily, but it did take a minute or so to get it into the correct position.
Nick sat on his bed and removed the prosthetic, then put it against the wall next to the pair of forearm crutches he kept available for when he wasn’t wearing it so he could still get around if needed. After changing into his night clothes, he leaned back into the thick, soft feather pillows that each room contained and gazed out the large glass window that formed the wall along the right side of his bed. As he lay there looking up into the night sky, watching the stars twinkle in the heavens, Nick thought about creation and God. He knew God was real, but he just didn’t feel like talking to him. God never seemed to care about him much in his earlier years, and since God hadn’t had time for him then, Nick didn’t much feel like giving God his time now. The way Nick saw it, he was doing plenty for God as it was. Lying there quietly, he soon drifted off into a troubled sleep.