With thanks to all reviewers, especially Minnaloushe, for suggestions and comments - all are read and noted! And no, I'm not going to answer questions. You'll just have to keep reading...
1602 was a stand alone series of comics, the ultimate 'What If' story. What If our favourite Marvel heroes had been around in 1602? How would they have changed the course of history? The story centred on Sir Nicolas Fury, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I and featured (in no particular order) Dr Steven Strange, Peter Parquah, Matthew Murdoch, Sir Reed Richards and family, a certain gentleman named Banner (servant of King James of England), Count Otto Von Doom, and Carlos Javier. Thrown into this world is Virginia Dare, a genuine historical character who turns out to have some rather extraordinary abilities.
Those who we would call mutants are condemned as 'witchbreed', hunted and persecuted. Carlos Javier has gathered five such young people and trained them to use their gifts, striving for peace with humanity. Opposed to him is the Inquisitor, father of Wanda and Petros, who would wage war on humanity and any witchbreed who stand against him. In the political and military struggles of the time, these characters are all thrown against one another, fighting the authorities who would see them dead and fighting to save their world from being destroyed.
It is discovered that these strange things have happened because there is a rip in the fabric of time, caused by Rojhaz, apparently a native American who has been protecting the new colony at Roanoke Island. Rojhaz (say his name aloud and call him 'Captain' to figure out who he is!) was sent back in time and his presence is ripping the world of 1602 apart. In order to repair the damage, Fury throws himself and Rojhaz into the breach, sealing it up. Instead of being destroyed, the world of 1602 is preserved in a bubble by the Watcher, a higher being who has been overseeing human development, and who has become fond of this 'wrong' world. Thus for the past seven years, this parallel world has continued, similar but significantly different to our own and the Marvel Universe.
NB I am open to suggestions for characters people want to see featured. I've decided on the main ones, but cameo appearances are always possible!
The two men had been sparring for hours, neither gaining the upper hand, nor trying to. This was not a fight to the death nor a dual of honour. They were testing each other's range and skill, learning and adapting and teaching as they went. The small audience had changed since they began, one orange clad man replacing another as they went about their duties. Some only paused briefly, moving from one task to the next. Others stood and watched for ten or twenty minutes, only to move on and return later. No-one stayed for too long, all aware that this was a private matter and that their chores were necessary if dull. The younger members of the community stood for longer, trying to memorise every move and look that the combatants made, always trying to pick up something new. Their elders had taught these men much, but the skill and speed with which they moved took the basic instruction to new heights.
At a signal that no-one else had heard, the pair broke apart, bowed and left the dojo. They made an odd couple, one short and burly, covered in hair on his chest and the backs of his arms, not to mention the shaggy mop on his head and a truly impressive. In contrast his companion was tall and slim, broad shouldered and clean shaven except for a small goatee while his red gold hair was pulled back in a neat plait. They talked as they left, waving hands and arms to indicate moves and blocks, complimenting and insulting each other in easy measure. In all, they had spent three months in this place while the younger man recovered from a severe injury. Now, it seemed, the time had come to move on.
They paid their respects to the abbot the next morning before taking their leave. He nodded and smiled, encouraging them to return whenever they wished or needed. The journey was long and perilous, but there would always be a warm welcome here for them. They both thanked him with great respect and warmth and took possession of the cedar wood box they had entrusted to him upon their arrival. It was inlaid with oak, mahogany and ebony, a true masterpiece, made by an apprentice to show his master that he had learnt all the skills he needed to set up as his own master. The taller man wrapped it in its velvet cloth, then a thick fox skin before securing it to his back. He carried this alone, while his shorter friend carried the supplies they would need for the journey.
The whole monastery turned out to see them off, nodding and smiling, offering blessings and hands to be pressed as they passed by. At the first ridge, before disappearing from sight, the pair turned to wave to their friends.
No further comment was made or needed as they began the long descent back down to the rest of the world.
Sir Nicolas Fury looked up from the deep brown earth, eye scanning the horizon for what had caught his attention. There weren't so many wild animals about now, having learnt that the colonists knew how to use the weapons they had made or brought with them. The land was flat and vast here, stretching out as far as you could see North. To the south, there was the small valley holding the settlement of Roanoke, the land barely dipping before rising again to the high ridge where Sir Reed and his family had made their own dwelling. Nicolas knew that the principle reason for its high vantage point was that Ben Grimm preferred to be able to see the sea from wherever he was. It also kept them a safe distance from the townsfolk who considered the whole family nothing short of fantastic.
They felt the same way about Javier's brood, which was why the schoolmaster had set up his own estate a little way downstream from the main town. His pupils were welcomed to the town, albeit cautiously. Nicolas appreciated having someone of Javier's intelligence and sense around. He loved Reed like a brother, but found his ideas incomprehensible at times. There was no doubting that the scientist had made vast improvements in the lives of the colonists. It was just that Javier's interest was in people, which was more to Nicolas' liking and understanding than Reed's scientific prowess.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Nicolas saw a small pale figure coming through the fields and smiled. Virginia Dare had become a beautiful young woman, her hair still holding the luminous pale glow that it didn't seem she would ever grow out of. She was holding a basket which probably contained his lunch, if he was lucky. Last time, she had been so distracted that she had only brought enough food for one. Not that he blamed her. As he watched, his ward, Peter, made his way across the field to intercept her. They made a fine looking couple, very much in love and with their whole lives to look forward to. It had been hard going, out here in the new world, trying to scrape a living from the soil with no help from the outside world. Nicolas had watched them come through their share of troubles over the past seven years, and was pleased that they would have a future to look forward to. Personally, he'd never felt the need to marry, but watching the two of them coming hand and hand across the field, he actually felt a pang of regret. Pushing aside as a waste of time and energy, he stuck his hoe in the ground and went out to meet them.Prologue 3
It had been an unusually cold winter in Rome. Ice had been everywhere, making roads treacherous for carriages and feet alike. Even now, in early March, the wintery chill had not completely vanished and, despite being wrapped in soft white furs, Lady Emma Frost shivered. The room in which she was waiting held a single small stove for heating, its pathetic glow unable to do anything but prevent icicles from forming from the ceiling. She and her maid had been waiting two hours for their summons. It didn't appear that any was likely to be forthcoming.
They waited in silence for another twenty minutes, until a door opened and a large, swarthy man in purple emerged, followed by Cardinal Eitin, known to be close to the present Pope and, it was thought, with ambitions to the Papal throne itself.
"My dear Lady. Many apologies for keeping you waiting. Today has been very trying for His Holiness."
"I am at his and your service, Your Eminence." She kissed the ring on his extended hand. "How may I serve?"
"His Holiness has received a most disturbing report of events in the Indes. It is thought that the originators of these reports are now on their way to the New World, hoping to take refuge in that largely unknown country. His Holiness commands you to journey there yourself and send back a full report."
"The New World?" Lady Emma was thoughtful. "Is not that where the heretic Inquisitor traveled to?"
"Indeed." The Cardinal's voice was colder than the icy air. "This has been noted."
"I understand. I will leave as soon as arrangements can be made."
"Good." He turned to the silent presence behind him. "This is Bishop Lucas. He will accompany you. His talents extend beyond the saying of Mass and intercession for souls."
Emma looked the tall, imposing figure up and down. Then she nodded. "I understand." She said again. To Lucas she said, "If you will attend at my house at six tomorrow morning, I believe all will be in readiness."
"At your service, my Lady." His voice was the rumble of thunder and his brows were as dark as storm clouds. But his eyes were intelligent and keen, meeting hers with a calm stare.
"Until tomorrow then. Come Tessa. Your Eminence." She kissed the ring again and swept from the room, her black clad maid close on her heels.
"A fine looking woman." The Cardinal observed. "And an intelligent one."
"It is the maid whom we must watch." Lucas offered. "Her eyes see everything."
Eitin was pleasantly surprised. Despite his lumbering appearance, it seemed this Bishop was worthy of the trust given him by the Pope. "Indeed. She is her mistress's eyes and ears. It is said that she forgets nothing and tells nothing. If you can make her your ally, things will go much easier. You understand your orders."
"I do." The Bishop also kissed the Cardinal's ring before departing. As the door closed behind him, another opened. The man who came through this one was much smaller and more plainly dressed than the Bishop, wearing a simple monk's habit in black, denoting him as a Benedictine. It covered him from his feet to the top of his head, his cowl falling over his face and casting a deep, impenetrable shadow.
The silent figure nodded.
"Then you know what to do."
The monk bowed low to his master then left the way he had come. The Cardinal stood for a moment, considering his plan from every angle. It would work as long as he remained the only one with sight of the bigger picture. By the time the others discovered their roles in his game of political chess, it would be too late to do anything about it.
The Richards Tower, Roanake, Virginia, March 22nd 1609
Susan knew what the sound was before she looked up. Sighing, she put down her needlework and went over to the window.
Her husband, two floors down, put his head out of his own window.
"Sorry, my dear. An unexpected consequence of-"
"Yes I'm sure. Franklin is only just asleep."
"Oh. Sorry." He said again.
"Try to only have expected consequences, if you can? And make sure those are quiet ones."
"I will." He blew her a kiss before pulling his head back in.
Susan sighed again and returned to her sewing. Franklin was growing fast and seemed to constantly need more clothes. She sent down to the village for most of them, but there was something soothing and satisfying about doing some of it for herself. It was only a few minutes later when another sound, this time a knock at the door, roused her from her work.
"Come." She called.
"Wanda! Come in."
The young woman closed the door behind her. Wanda and her brother, Petros, had been left with the Roanoke colonists by the Inquisitor when he traveled north. Susan had done what she could to provide a stabilizing influence, particularly for Wanda. The siblings lived with Javier on his estate, learning better how to use the abilities that set them apart from the rest of mankind. Despite this family atmosphere, female company was rare here, and the two women had formed a close bond.
"How are you today, child?" Susan put down her sewing to look at her friend.
"A little better." The signs of sleeplessness were clear around Wanda's eyes and she carried herself with less than her usual grace. "The dreams are getting worse though."
Susan put her arm round the girl. The powers that made Wanda 'witchbreed' in the eyes of humanity were not fully understood, even by Carlos Javier. She could not only predict but also influence the outcome of events, increasing the likelihood that apparently unlikely things would happen. The direct application of these powers had not been immediately obvious and some of the rougher townsmen had tried to talk her into playing on their sides at cards. Over time, she had learnt to influence things in a certain direction, so that a falling object could be redirected or the growth of a plant improved. She and Javier had spent hours honing her abilities, not only to produce an unlikely occurrence but to sense it and between the two of them, they had ensured good harvests for the past three years.
The trouble had started eight months ago when Wanda began dreaming of things that would happen, as though all the world lay before her and she could see all the influences and fluctuations that acted on their lives. She had known where Thomas Thatcher had been hiding when the snows fell, or where Mary and Josiah Weaver's lost sheep had ended up. The intensity of the dreams rose and fell over time. It looked like this was going to be a bad week.
"What did you see?"
"The ships again. Riding through stormy seas. One bringing danger, the other light. It's been the same for the last week, except this time, there was something else, something chilled in the air." She shivered. "It was as though we were all being watched by another, casting a deep shadow across the sea."
"Did you see who was on the ships?" Susan was more than just inquisitive. Talking about her dreams helped Wanda, and the knowledge they contained could be useful.
"I saw," There was a pause as Wanda's eyes closed in concentration, "I saw a tall shadow, huge and imposing. Two animals, a fox and a wolf. All surrounded by a deep red glow." She shivered. "That's all."
Susan hugged her close, rubbing some warmth into her cold arms and shoulders.
"We'll get to the bottom of it, Wanda. Reed and Carlos between them will figure it out."
"I know." Wanda came back to herself and smiled wanly. "I just came to take my leave for a few weeks. Petros, Robert and I are going to go and do some surveying southwards."
They talked for a while, discussing the Javier's and Reed's hopes for what they might find. The island might be small, but there were hopes that one day the colony would fill it. They would need to know about the land they wanted to expand into and the survey was the best way of doing this.
Susan had her doubts about the wisdom of sending three young people out into the wilderness alone, however skilled they were. In her mind, she still thought of them as the children they had been, unwitting tools in the hands of their elders. Now all were full grown adults and deserved to be treated as such. Wanda was a good looking woman, privileged by birth so that she had been able to resist the convention that she should marry and start a family young. Susan herself had been a good ten years above average when she had carried Franklin. Still, she thought of them all as children, living as orphans under Javier's parental guidance even now. She also knew that he would maintain his airy contact with them no matter where they went and that the three of them were more than capable of looking after themselves.
"You make sure you take care of them, and yourself."
"I will." Wanda turned and pressed her head into the older woman's shoulder. "It scares me," she said, voice muffled, "and I don't know what else to do."
"You are already doing all you can." Susan soothed her. "Trust us. And come back safely."
"I promise." Wanda pulled away and brushed a hand across her face. Going over to the corner of the room, she bent and kissed Franklin's sleeping face. "Goodbye Franklin. Take good care of your mother." Putting her head on one side, she frowned, and then ran her eye round the room. "You need to move that table," she told Susan, "or he'll pull on the cloth and hit himself on the head with the vase of flowers."
"Thank you. Give my regards to your family. And tell Carlos that it is far too long since we saw him for dinner."
"Of course." Wanda kissed her again and was gone, red skirt flicking down the tower steps. Susan moved the table, checked on her son then went down into the kitchens to start seeing about dinner. If Reed's experiment was going well, he'd forget to eat, but there were John and Ben to think about. While pottering round the kitchen, she turned Wanda's vision over in her mind. People often featured in Wanda's dreams, coming and going in her mind as they came and went from the colony. The fox and the wolf must also be people, unless the girl's mind was wandering farther than usual. The question remained as to who they could be and what they would mean for Roanoke. Susan was fond of the place now, however unlike England it might be and she would protect it with her last breath, as would the rest of her family. She just had to hope it wouldn't come to that, for the sake of the colonists and the child sleeping peacefully in his cradle above her.
Roanake Forest, Virginia
Thoughts came back in a tangled mess as they always did. Memories reasserted themselves, forcing themselves into the conscious mind, demanding that he pay them attention. Then sensation returned, informing him of pain in his legs and back where he was lying against the uncomfortable bark of a tree. His clothes preserved only the minimum of dignity, their efforts counterbalanced by the matting of his hair and beard. He couldn't remember the last time he had shaved or washed. The beast had gone in the early hours of the morning, as it always did, leaving him weak and trembling with cold and shame. It all came rushing back now as he dragged himself towards the nearby brook, using the chill water to revive his mind and senses. Always it was like this. Always the disorientation, the shivers, the disgrace. The water sent needles of pain through his skin, bringing him to full awareness. Dragging himself upright, he staggered back into the refuge of the forest, seeking sanctuary from the monster within.
The Middle of the Atlantic Ocean
The ship had been thrown by a storm all night and, typically for this journey, was becalmed this morning. The sailors went about muttering of bad omens and ill fortune while their passengers skulked in their cabin. They were men of few words generally, and with the close confinement and continual bad luck, they spoke even less than usual. The smaller of the two was black of hair and eye, looking out at the world as though sizing it up for conquest. He did most of the talking, even when they were together, in voice and words that could charm the birds from the trees and the fish from the sea.
His companion towered over him, and everyone else they met. Even sitting on his narrow bunk, his head grazed the cabin ceiling. His hair was sandy brown, topping a face that was ruddy and worn. Despite his lumbering appearance, he could move fast when necessary and had an intelligence that you would not have expected from his looks. He also had a temper as red as his face, as several of the crew had had cause to learn and regret. After the last such incident, the Captain had asked, in a request that was definitely an order, that the passengers remain below decks as much as possible. The smaller man had complied, anxious to get himself and his friend across the sea as quickly as possible and attracting the least amount of attention possible.
The latter was all but impossible with his companion, who could attract attention just by standing still. This didn't prevent Thomas from trying to keep the other man out of trouble. His task was getting easier, however, by Cain's noticeable decline. It wasn't that he was shrinking exactly, more that each day he seemed to stoop a little lower and his head drooped more quickly even if he was still more than capable of ripping anyone on board apart with his bare hands. If they were unsuccessful in their search, Thomas feared his friend would be lost forever.
Three days later, the wind had picked up again and their pace quickened, pushing them ever closer to their goal. Under Thomas and the Captain's watchful eyes, Cain was standing on deck, head to the bow and gaze straining into the distance.
"You need to change heading." He said, in a voice that was the rumble of thunder.
"Don't tell me my business and I won't ask you yours." The Captain retorted. Without turning, Cain reached out a hand and pulled the struggling seaman closer.
"You need to change heading." He repeated. "That's where we need to go."
"I'd do as he says." Thomas offered. "Cain is never wrong about these things."
Pulling his jacket back into shape, the Captain made his way back along the deck, yelling instructions as he went.
Cain himself was still staring out to sea.
"We're losing them." He whispered, his voice whipped and lost on the wind.
"Don't worry." Thomas told him. "You'll find them again when we hit land."
"I will." Cain's hands gripped the rail, raising a creak from the timbers. "I have to."
"You will. Come on, it's time we had something to eat." They headed below, the big man's head turning occasionally to peer behind him, back to where land would appear on the horizon.
"I will find them." He promised.