Nicholas Rasputin is a low-level history professor at Oxford University. He's also the son of Andre Rasputin, Britain's last great wizard/spy and one-time leader of MI-6's Special Section, and he's the great-grandson of Grigori Rasputin, perhaps the most powerful and infamous evil wizard in all history. However, none of that explains why two American Army officers have come to Nick's classroom to try to strong-arm him into giving them Durandel, the legendary Sword of Kings.
I’d finally reached the train station and was on the escalator to the platform when a memory hit me so hard that it nearly knocked me over. I was on the football pitch and had gotten into it with another boy. I was twelve, the son of an aggressive man, and not naturally inclined to give ground when challenged. The other boy and I had tussled several times already, though nothing serious, until I’d finally put my shoulder into his chest and knocked him down. And then it had been on, all fists and elbows and bony knees. When they’d finally pulled us apart, the other boy had a yellow-card, and I somehow had a free kick. It wasn’t justice; it was football.
So there I sat, ball on the ground, just outside the Penalty Box, a solid wall of the opposing team’s green jerseys lined up in front of the goal. Sure, I could have tried to pass, but what self-respecting twelve-year-old boy is going to do that? Besides, I’d always had a bit of a leg. So I stepped back, ran at the ball, planted my foot, and drilled it. It was the kick I wanted, too—a high, lobbing shot that floated over the opposing defenders, hit the top of its arc and dropped at speed towards the goal, too high for the keeper. It looked like it was going to go... until it didn’t. The referee’s whistle blew. My ball had sailed three inches high of the upper post. Goal kick.
Play resumed. I don’t remember who won, and it didn’t matter. What mattered was that after the game, my father found me and pulled me aside. I thought that maybe he was going to warn me against fighting, but I should have known better. Old Dad didn’t mind a fight when you won.
So we stood there, and he looked me in the eyes. He said, “Son, that was a good kick today, even though you missed. And today, it’s okay that you missed. You’re only twelve, after all. But you need to keep practicing! Someday, you’re going to be a Platoon Leader in the Regiments, and when that day comes, you can’t afford to miss. You can’t miss! Lives will depend on you.
“So keep practicing, son. Keep practicing.”
The warm reverie of memory carried me unthinking across the Outbound Platform, onto a car, and then out the other side. A few minutes later, I was out on the street, headed towards a familiar apartment building. I’d been standing in front of it, fumbling with my keys for nearly a minute before I realized that it was the wrong building.
I’d come to Amy’s place out of sheer force of habit.
And maybe, I admitted to myself, for a few other reasons, too.