Augustus Braithwaite woke to the screams of children. Happy, playground screams, not tortured ones that set him on a panicked struggle to achieve wakefulness.
He had no idea how long he had slept, but felt as if it had been a long time, years, perhaps even centuries. He pushed himself up from the rough, straw-filled mattress, unsteady on his legs, as if after years of idleness they no longer had the strength to bear the weight of his body. He remained motionless, ready to guide his collapse, should it happen, toward the mattress rather than the hard timber boards of the floor.
Eventually he managed a single, tentative step. His balance held. Satisfied he could trust his legs to keep him upright, he allowed his concentration to focus on his surroundings.
The small, wood-floored room contained no furniture other than the cot from which he had risen. A doorless opening to his right provided the only exit. Opposite this, a small, square, unglazed window let in the room’s only light along with the cries of the children. No ornamentation or decoration interrupted the smooth white plaster on the walls and ceiling. The room looked anything but lived in—a cell perhaps, except missing bars on the window and a door.
He strode to the window. The thick walls of the building forced him to lean into the opening in order to see out. The window overlooked a walled courtyard. Twenty feet below, a dozen or so children ran back and forth across its cobbled surface chasing balls of red and blue. Intent on their game, none looked up toward his vantage point. He studied their clothing. Both the boys and the girls, there seemed to be an equal number of each, wore tan-coloured smocks and loose leggings, which looked more mediaeval than modern.
Augustus smiled, infected by the innocent enthusiasm of the game. Slowly the curl of his lips disappeared, and his brow furrowed. He had no idea where he was or why he was here.