Bradley H. Sinor
I hadnít walked more than a half-dozen steps into the
convenience store before the clerk noticed me. Of course
noticing customers was part of her job, but this time it
was something special, watching her head turn around
quickly, her eyes large with surprise.
To be perfectly honest, I would have been a little
bit disappointed if she hadnít been startled. After all,
how often, even in a university town the size of Norman,
Oklahoma, do you see a guy dressed in medieval garb,
hooded cape, fur-lined leather vest and chain mail, come
walking out of a cold January night?
Not that the girl, who looked to be about 20 and was
wearing a blue smock with the storeís name on it, had
anything to say about looking unusual. The pink and
green dyed hair and nose ring were probably not listed
in the storeís employee manual. If this little
mom-and-pop place had one.
"Something I can help you with?" she asked.
"No thanks, "I said.
The store wasnít that big. I could find what I needed
without a problem. I mean, how difficult is it to hide
the chips and the French bread? I grabbed what I needed,
along with a six-pack of Pepsi. There would probably be
plenty of the things I liked to drink at the party, but
I didnít want to take a chance.
As I turned to head towards the counter, I heard the
buzz that announced the front door opening. That sound
could easily get very annoying, though I imagined that
after awhile you learned to screen it out. The new
customer was a lean man, dressed in an overcoat, a scarf
wrapped around his neck, and a pipe emitting smoke from
cherry tobacco, held between tightly clenched teeth.
"So, arenít you a little late or are you just really,
really getting a jump on things?" the girl asked when I
set my stuff down.
"No, I donít think Iím late," I said, with a quick
glance at the big Coors clock behind the counter. My
watch was in the belt pouch hanging around my waist and
a bit hard to get to. It was only a quarter past nine.
The party would just be getting started.
"Well, if youíre dressed like that for Halloween,
then I would say that youíre about a couple of months
late. If itís for that Medieval Fair, itís not supposed
to roll around until April, and the last time I looked
it was still January," she said.
"January sixth, to be precise," said the man with the
pipe, putting a loaf of bread down in front of him and
gathering up a newspaper from the nearby rack.
I waited until he was heading out the door, to the
accompaniment of the same annoying buzzing that had
announced his entrance, before I said, "Who was that
"Was he really here at all? Or did we just imagine
him," the girl chimed in. "So whatís so special about
"Itís called Twelfth Night. Have you ever heard that
old song ĎThe 12 Days of Christmasí"?
"Yeah, my grandmother used to love to sing it at the
holidays. All about turtledoves, peacocks and a bunch of
dorky lords a leaping and stuff like that, isnít it?"
"Sort of," I said. "In medieval times they actually
stretched out the celebration of Christmas over 12 days,
starting on December 25 and ending on January 6. Thatís
where the name Twelfth Night came from. It was the night
of the biggest celebration.
"I belong to a local medieval reenactment group.
Every year we hold a big blowout party on or as close as
we can get to the sixth of January. This year itís on a
weekend so we actually get to celebrate it on the right
"Wild, man. So do all the women come and run around
like tavern wenches or damsels in distress?" asked the
girl. She began putting my purchases into a big brown
paper sack "Thatíll be eight fifty."
I laid a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. "As for
the women in our group, they come as whatever they want,
and party with the best of them. By the way, my name is
Conner, Conner McManus. Whatís your name?"
She arched her head slightly, as if giving me the
once over. "Nikita. Before you ask, no Iím not Russian.
I just like the name, and yes, I picked it."
"Works for me," I said. In the medieval group we all
picked out medieval- sounding names and went by them.
"Think maybe you would like to go to the Twelfth night
party with me? I can come get you when you get off.
Itíll be going on all night."
"Donít bother coming back to get me," said Nikita, a
note of finality in her voice. I had expected her to say
"no". This girl didnít strike me as being too interested
in things medieval. Hey, it wasnít the first time I had
been turned down for a date, and it certainly wouldnít
be the last. "Well, maybe another time."
Nikita pulled her smock off and tossed it on the
floor. She twisted the key in the lock of the register,
then pulled it out and dropped it down a small slot in
the back of the counter. Grabbing an army surplus field
jacket from a peg on the wall, she slipped it on.
"Why come back later since Iím going with you now?"
# # #
"I didnít really like that place anyway," Nikita
said. "Iíd been planning on quitting on Monday. It was
boring. The guy who owns the place was such a grouch;
besides, I think he wanted to screw me."
Nikita spat on the floor as she talked about the
storeowner, which didnít bother me a bit. I knew that
guy, and her description pretty well summed things up.
Besides, it was her floor, in her apartment, and she
could do anything she wanted.
The Twelfth Night party was set in a converted church
a few blocks from the convenience store. I knew from
past experience that there was virtually no parking in
front of the place, so I had left my van in a lot behind
one of the University Administration buildings just a
couple of blocks away.
Nikita had been insistent that we stop by her
apartment so she could change clothes. Since it was only
a block or so out of the way, I didnít see any need in
retrieving my van.
"It wonít take that long. Not to mention that you
said yourself the party was going to go on all night."
"Well, Mílady," I said, "Far be it from me to deny
you the chance to get all gussied up."
"Look, if you Ďre going to start sounding like Lord
Billy-Bob Clampett I may just have to kick you where the
chain mail donít shine," she said.
"Actually," I mused, "the place youíre talking about
probably gets pretty shiny. You know, all that rubbing
against a saddle and what not."
Nikita didnít say a word, just produced a key and
opened the door. Her apartment was the top half of a
two-story house. From the mailboxes, it looked like the
bottom floor had been cut up into two apartments.
Not that the three rooms -- kitchen, living room and
bathroom -- were all that big. A large mattress filled
one end of the living room. The only other furniture was
a table, some scrounged kitchen chairs and a bookcase
made from bricks and boards.
Nikita murmured something before she disappeared into
the bathroom, which apparently doubled as a closet,
since I could see some clothes hanging from the wall.
I walked over to her bookcase and scanned the titles.
Most were fantasy, Tolkien, Howard, de Camp, and Drake,
with a few horror titles thrown in, as well. I felt a
sense of relief when it occurred to me that there wasnít
a romance title in the bunch. Not that I had a problem
with a girl who read romances, mind you.
Peeking out from a small niche between the bricks and
the wall was another book.
It crossed my mind that this might be her diary. I
considered for a moment just leaving it and respecting
her privacy, but prurient curiosity won and I pulled the
slim volume out where I could see it.
It was the size of a paperback book and was bound in
worn leather. I flipped through a couple of pages. The
paper felt like old, old parchment. There was neat,
precise writing inside, broken up every couple of pages
by drawings done in such fine detail that it was scary
to think they had come from a human hand.
Iím not sure when it occurred to me that it wasnít
written in English, but rather Latin. It had been a half
dozen years since my last Latin class, the result of an
attempt at a Catholic education by my parents, so I had
forgotten most of it. But here and there I did recognize
a few words. There was something about hounds, and it
looked like the word "hunt" reoccurred a number of
"Curious and curiouser," I muttered.
"So is there more to this Twelfth Night thing than
just a last-night-of-Christmas party?" asked Nikita.
I shoved the book back into its hiding place.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. There are some cultures
that considered the time between Samhain, thatís
Halloween, and the end of Christmas to be a Season of
Misrule, where everything got flipped on its head. The
peasants could be kings, and the rich act as servants.
That sort of thing."
"Cool," she said, stepping out of the bathroom.
Nikita had replaced her jeans and tee shirt with a long,
black sheath dress, a chain mail belt and dagger riding
on her hip.
"So, will I fit in with your medieval crowd?" she
Okay, so the pink and green hair wasnít exactly what
you would have seen on the dance floor in the halls of
Richard the Lionhearted, but everything else worked for
me. She walked up to the edge of the bed, just in front
of me. "Well?" she asked.
I bowed, took her hand and kissed the back of it.
"I ought to let you know that there are a few of the
people I usually hang with who would say that gesture
alone would suggest you were gay and would want to beat
the crap out of you."
"Thatís their problem." Three years army special
forces and ten years of martial arts training were
enough to let me know I could handle most anything. "As
for my sexual orientation, thatís none of their
"We can discuss that part in more detail later." She
touched the edge of the bed with her foot. "But right
now, mílord. I believe you promised to take me to a
"Indeed I did."
The roar of a motorcycle just below the apartment
window seemed to shake the very foundations of the
building. A moment later the sound was gone and replaced
by the baying of a dog.
Nikita went stiff, the color draining out of her
face, her grip on my arm tightening to the point of
cutting off circulation.
"Whatís the matter?" I said.
"That,Ö that dog. I donít like dogs. I never have."
I went over to the window and looked around. There
was nothing there, just a couple of trash cans, an empty
packing crate and signs left over from a garage sale. I
wasnít sure just what I had been expecting, the vicious
glowing specter of the Hound of the Baskervilles or
"Itís okay," I said, gently. "If you want, we donít
have to walk to the party. I can go get my van and come
get you here."
"No, no. ItÖit was nothing," she said. "Just put it
down to my being frightened by a Chihuahua with an
attitude when I was a little girl."
"If youíre sure."
"Trust me; the last place I want to be tonight is by
# # #
Anyone who happened to drive past the old church that
night, or any other night, for that matter, would have
not paid much attention to it. All they would have seen
would have been a red brick building, bracketed by heavy
bushes, with a huge, round stained glass window above
The place hadnít actually been a church for over ten
years. Five years ago friends of mine, Al and Kathy
Jennings, had bought it and begun to convert it into
their dream home. The results had been spectacular
enough to merit an appearance on a national television
series devoted to unusual homes.
As we walked in, I recognized most of the people who
were already there and had a pretty good idea of who
would come drifting in over the next few hours. Some
were friends of long standing, others people who I knew
by name but had barely even spoken to.
The place was not huge, but it felt like it. There
was a single downstairs room with kitchen in the back,
while an upstairs balcony wrapped around the second
floor, hiding the familyís private quarters. Everywhere
there hung banners carrying household and personal
badges, vines that wrapped around the stained glass
windows, and an assortment of weapons and musical
instruments on the walls.
Nikita and I deposited the items I had bought on the
buffet table near the kitchen door. There was food of
all sorts, from what passed for traditional medieval
dishes to things that had the distinct look of having
come from local fast food places.
"Your friends here sure know how to lay out a
spread," said Nikita.
"Oh, yes. There are some very, very good cooks here
tonight. You will not go home hungry," I said. "But just
be glad that one cook didnít bring anything."
"Just who would that be?"
"And just why is that a good thing, then, that you
didnít cook?" she asked.
"Less chance of fatalities," I laughed. "Iím honest
enough to admit that Iím not a very good cook."
I filled up two pewter mugs with hot apple cider and
passed one to Nikita. She sniffed it, and then took a
"Donít worry; I didnít spike it with anything.
Although there is a whole selection of much stronger
drinks available, should you desire one."
"Donít worry, mílord, you donít have to get me drunk
to have your way with me. If I choose to let
you," Nikita said.
"Iíll remember that."
Just then two men with lutes, a woman with a harp and
a couple of drummers who had set up in one corner of the
room began to play.
It occurred to me that if two hours ago someone had
told Nikita she would be listening to Celtic music, and
hopefully enjoying it, she would have likely not
believed it. After three songs I noticed her mouthing
the words, almost in sync with the musicians.
Several couples had moved out into the center of the
room, clearing away a couch and a couple of chairs, and
begun to organize a group dance. I touched Nikita on the
"Would d you care to dance?"
"Iím not sure," she hesitated. "This is a bit far
from a rave or a mosh pit. I think I can pick up the
steps if I watch for a few minutes. Then, if youíre
"I stand ready for you, mílady."
I heard my name called from the back of the room.
Standing in the door to the kitchen was the owner of the
house, Al Jennings, or, as he was known in the group,
Jon de Vitte. I knew him for three years by that name,
and when I learned his real name, it just never seemed
to fit him, at least in my mind.
"Jon! How come you let them keep conning you into
hosting this little shindig year after year?"
"Hey, you know me, Iím an easy mark. Kathy just
smiles sweetly and I give in, despite my best
intentions. Look, can you give me a hand? I need some
help to bring in a table from the garage. Iím seriously
thinking that we are going to need it."
The garage was a separate building, about thirty feet
from the main house, as solidly built out of heavy red
brick as the church itself. The whole back yard was
wrapped in the same sort of bushes that wound around the
front. There were several leafless trees whose bare
limbs hung like specters in the moonlight, marking the
path to the garage.
Normally, the porch and backyard would have been full
of people indulging in a tribute to the nicotine demon.
This time there were just Jon and me, along with the
cold and the full moon.
We had just swung the garage door closed when the
sound of dogs howling filled the night, echoing off the
building and the trees. It seemed to come from
everywhere and nowhere at once. I had an eerie feeling
of dťjŗ vu, times a hundred.
The same way it had happened at Nikitaís apartment,
the sound was suddenly gone, leaving a loud silence in
its wake. Jon and I just looked at each other, neither
of us seeming to want to say anything.
Finally a grin rolled across his face and Jon said,
"So who let the dogs out?"
"Or who chased them back in?" I asked. "I think the
technical term for that little bit wasÖjust plain
"I love it when you talk dirty," laughed Jon.
I was about to grab my end of the table when I looked
back toward the alley gate. Someone stood there, a tall
man, dressed in leather jacket and black leather riding
chaps. I thought I caught a glimpse of a motorcycle
behind him. I couldnít see his face; it was too dark.
I assumed it was just someone arriving late and
coming in the back way. No doubt he had his change of
clothing in saddlebags on the cycle. I couldnít have
turned my head for more than a second, but when I looked
back, he was gone.
The roaring of motorcycles filled the backyard for a
few seconds and then faded in the distance.
"What was that term you used earlier? Just plain
weird?" said Jon. "I donít know if that qualifies, but
"Yeah," I grabbed up my end of the table, and we
headed back inside.
# # #
Finding Nikita wasnít too hard. The house wasnít that
big, no matter what it felt like. She had moved away
from the area where the dancing was going on to talk to
another woman whom it took me a second or two to
recognize. This was an old friend, Lady Serina de Lyman,
who in the real world answered to the name Serina Smith.
She wore a long, crimson Italian Renaissance dress that
looked like it had been designed for her.
"Lady Serina? I might have known. It looks like I
came back just in time. I suspect t that you two ladies
have been plotting and planning."
"Of course we have, Conner," laughed Serina. "And you
are to be the victim of all our plans. I would suggest
that you be on your best behavior. Iíve been telling
Nikita all about you, every nasty little detail."
"Oh, boy, Iím in deep trouble," I said. Actually,
Serina could tell her a lot about me, things I would
prefer didnít get around. Our families had been friends
for years, and we had known each other since sixth
grade. "As I suspected, Lady Serina, you are being a
very bad influence on this innocent newcomer to our
"Mílord," she said with a sly smile. "I do my best to
be a bad influence, wherever I can. Now, if you will
excuse me. I must go forth to spread chaos and terror in
"It was nice meeting you, Serina," said Nikita.
Turning to me she said, "Serina told me that I was a
very lucky girl. That you are one of the nicest, most
considerate men she has ever known."
"Well, Serina doesnít get around much," I laughed.
"No. Iím beginning to get the idea, Conner Ryan
McMannus, and she told me that that is your real name,
that you are a man of many facets. I wish I had the time
to explore them all. I have a feeling that your walking
into the store tonight was one of the better things to
happen to me lately.
"Weíll see." I leaned forward and put my hands on
Nikitaís shoulders, drawing her closer to me. I could
feel a momentís resistance, as if she were unsure. Then
as our lips met it was as if she were trying to push
herself closer and closer to me, her arms wrapping tight
around me. Iíve been kissed before, but nothing like
In the back of my mind a little voice as saying,
"Man, hold onto this woman."
For a long time the only thing I could feel was the
pressure of her lips against mine, and every inch of her
body, breasts, legs, hips pressing hard against mine,
our hands digging into each other. I could imagine the
sort of show that we were putting on for everyone around
us. Frankly, right then I didnít give a ratís ass.
Naturally, thatís when everything went wrong, very,
The front door to the church blew open, slamming so
hard against the wall that it nearly ripped itself free
from the metal hinges that were anchored in the brick.
There was no way a natural wind would do that. A couple
that was standing close to the door barely got out of
the way in time.
Two of the largest dogs that I had ever seen, like
some mutated crossbreed of a wolfhound and an elephant,
stood just inside the doorway. Other dogs surged around
them into the church, growling as they went, herding the
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jon come out of the
kitchen, a very large battleaxe in his hand. Around the
room, I didnít have to see to know that swords were
being unsheathed and daggers drawn, weapons appearing in
the hands of not only men, but women, as well. I had a
hunch that more than one person in the room were
weighing their chances of reaching their cars where more
lethal weapons might be found.
I still had my arm around Nikita. I could feel her
muscles tightening with every passing second. "Just
wait," I whispered, trying to give her a reassuring
squeeze. "There may be a way out of here without anyone
"There isnít," her voice was husky and far away.
The dogs had cleared a corridor into the center of
the room. From outside walked a man; dressed in the same
black motorcycle leathers as the man I had seen standing
at the garden gate. Another half dozen figures followed
behind, clad in leather, their faces masked by scarves,
goggles and protective helmets. Behind them I caught a
glimpse of a line of motorcycles, silently awaiting
their ridersí return.
The man came into the center of the room and turned
toward Nikita and me. He raised his arm and pointed at
"No!" I said pushing her behind me. From all sides
armed people took a step forward, ready to fight at my
"Conner!" I looked toward the balcony. Someone threw
a sword to me. I have no memory of catching it or
unsheathing the blade. I just knew that it was in my
hand, ready to use.
"Now, I admit that was quite an entrance," I told the
man. "But somehow I donít think that you and your
friends are welcome at this party."
The stranger stood, unmoving. Then, with slow,
precise movements, slipped off the helmet, holding it
under his arm, and took off the scarf and goggles. His
face was young, not more than thirty, but there was a
haunted look in his piercing eyes.
"A brave man," he said. "Willing to fight, to defend
this woman, even though he doesnít know what he might be
"I suppose youíre prepared to tell me."
The manís gaze shifted to Nikita. That same sad smile
I had seen earlier was on her face now. "I am not the
one who should do the telling."
"I think, I would prefer to hear it from you," I
said. "Are you suggesting you have a claim on her?"
One of the dogs picked that moment to growl and
charge me. I swung at it, intended to put my sword as
deep into its body as I could. But the dog was just a
bit too fast. Instead of connecting with the blade, I
had to slam my hand, wrapped around the sword hilt, into
the side of the dogís head to keep it from sinking its
fangs into me. To say this was like hitting solid steel,
and freezing cold steel, at that, would be a pretty good
description of how much it hurt.
The dog yowled and was about to wrap his teeth around
my arm when the man in front of me spoke a single word.
The sound was soft and direct, literally pulling the
"You are brave," he said. "Through the years few have
been willing to raise a blade to one of our hounds.
Usually they simply throw their arms up and hope to die
quickly. Yet you fight."
"A man fights when he has to," I said.
"Perhaps you will understand more about us, and the
woman, if you saw my brethren and myself in our
traditional forms," he said.
With that, he made a gesture with his hand and
everything changed. Neither he nor his companions wore
the motorcycle leathers that they had a moment before.
Now all were dressed in various forms of medieval
clothing, breeches, boots, and capes, their helmets
adorned with stag horns, with swords and other weapons
hanging at their sides. They pretty well seemed to fit
in with the rest of us. Where there had been motorcycles
now stood horses.
"Do you know me?" he asked.
"No, but thatís one hell of a trick," I said. "Iíd
say The Force is definitely with you."
"I am Ö."
"Prince Wilhelm Vladimir Dagget-Eletsky," said
Nikita. "Once the ruler of a province in the Balkans.
Now, cursed to ride forth as the Hunt Master for the
I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach,
remembering that book I had found in her apartment. I
looked over at Nikita, knowing that I would find her
changed. Her black dress was gone, replaced by leather
breeches, a tunic, vest and cape. All adorned with chain
mail so fine that it was hard to tell the individual
links. The green and pink hair was gone, replaced by a
whitish-blonde braid that hung down her back.
"This night the Hunt rides forth for one reason
alone," he intoned. "We have come to reclaim one of our
Nikita placed her hand on my cheek. "Conner, each of
the Huntsmen is cursed to ride with the Hunt, instead of
moving on to wherever souls go to find peace. I have
been a part of this group for more than five hundred
"Do you remember how you said earlier that Twelfth
Night was the last night of the season of misrule, where
the peasants could be kings and everything was reversed?
Also during this season the barrier between the worlds
is stretched thin, and one of the Hunt can walk among
humans again, to taste what it is we are cursed to be
reminded of -- all that we have lost."
"This year it was Nikitaís turn," said the Hunt
"No," I said. "Take me instead. Let her live out the
time that would have been mine. I will ride at your side
for however many eternities is the price to free her
The Hunt Master chuckled. "That cannot be."
Tears rolled down Nikitaís cheeks. "Conner, soon not
even you will remember me. It will be as if I was never
here. No one at the convenience store, even the grumpy
owner, will recall I worked there. If you go to my
apartment you will find a couple living there who know
nothing of me. That is the price each of the Hunt pays
for these few brief days where we walk as human again,
the knowledge that no one will remember our time among
them. I knew this was the last night of the season that
I was free. I did not want to hurt you, but I did not
want to recall what was going to happen."
I kissed her again, pulling her to me as tightly as
before. When she finally stepped away, I felt like part
of my heart had been ripped out.
"If I recall the legends of the Hunt correctly,
within limits your magic is strong." I said to the Hunt
"Then grant me a simple request. Let my memories of
Nikita remain mine. Let her ride with you, but know that
someone remembers her," I said.
"You are a brave man," he said. He drew his sword,
the hounds growling around him, and then touched it
against my blade. Very gently he laid a gloved finger
against my forehead. "It shall be as you wish. I hope in
the years to come you will not regret your choice.
Remember Nikita, remember us all, my friend."
I watched as the Hunt left our hall and mounted their
horses. One had been brought for Nikita. Then they all
disappeared into the night, the hounds running beside
I stood on the porch for a long time after they were
gone, not really sure what to do.
ĎThere you are," said Serina, handing me a glass of
wine. "Donít look so long faced. This is a party. Youíre
supposed to be having fun."
"Iím doing my best. I guess Iím not in a party mood
"Maybe I can get you in a better mood, later," she
said. "Come on back inside."
"Can I ask you something, Conner?"
"Did something weird happen tonight?"
"No weirder than normal, I would say," I laughed.
"Thatís a relief."