“Back?” interrupted the flabbergasted Brandon.
“Yes, yes. Back. Only you wouldn’t remember of course, because, oh, never mind.” The old man’s voice trailed off as he spoke.
“Wait a second,” Brandon put his hands up in full-stop motion. “Wait just one second. I’m here in some strange place with some strange person who clearly knows more about this place then I do. You can not expect me to be content with you batting around the corners or only giving half-answers, and talking mysteriously. I was a novel reader once, in my time, and have read enough to know to ask questions and make people answer them.” He stopped to make sure the old man was following him. A small grin was spreading on the stranger’s face. “Now, why don’t I remember being here before, if I was?”
“You are every bit the way I remember you,” said the old man, grinning now from ear to ear. “Only quite a bit younger, yes, much younger. You came back here, you see, in your future and my past. You were really quite old when you came here first. In fact, I modeled this white beard of mine after the one you were growing back then.” He patted his beard proudly. “I was just a wee lad… not even able to grow stubble on my chin when you were here last.”
“Alright,” said Brandon, “I come here, wherever here is, sometime in my future.” He didn’t really believe what he was saying, but, well, why not play along?
“Yes, that’s right.”
“So why am I here now?”
“Well, because we need you. There have been some problems in your absence and, well, frankly, we’re all agreed that you are the only one who can set them right.”
“Me? But you’re forgetting… as far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been here before. I know nothing about you, or this place, or its problems!”
“Don’t worry. We all know that you are quite capable.”
“And who is ‘we’?” Brandon asked, remembering that this was the time for questions and the time for getting upset would come after. Now he had to know everything there was to know.
“Well, there’s me, and Roary here,” he patted the head of the big dog at his feet.
The creature looked up at Brandon, nodded slowly and said, “Hmm-mm. I’m always here.”
Brandon stared at the dog in shock and only barely kept his wits about him enough to keep from exclaiming, “it talks!” or some other idiotic thing.
The dog kept looking at him with his deep brown eyes. “You need to exercise, human. You were a lot more fit the last time you were here.”
Brandon had no idea what to say to that, so he just replied the way he would have if he had been asked the question by someone normal and under normal circumstances.
“Yeah, I now, but with work, and life… I just don’t have the time.” This was, of course, rather false—he did have the time, but he chose to use it in other ways.
“Then there is Jaina,” the old man went on with their previous conversation, ignoring Roary’s input. “You never did get along with her very well. And Senny, and, well the list is rather long. It’s just about morning now, I might as well just introduce you to everybody. But the important thing is that your kingdom needs you. And well, all of Igladia needs—”
“My what!?” Now it was time to react.