Roger M. Wilcox

Copyright © 2022 by Roger M. Wilcox. All rights reserved.

chapter 1 | chapter 2 | chapter 3 | chapter 4
chapter 5 | chapter 6 | chapter 7 | chapter 8

— Chapter five: SAIL —

Building the hang glider cost more time and money than I thought it would. There was stitching work that needed to be done, glue that had to dry, hinges that had to be bought and installed . . . I realized early on that I'd need to make the glider able to fold up, just so that I'd have enough room to work on it indoors. At least this would have the added benefit of making it compact enough to carry.

I had to send Windboy off to the marketplace or blacksmith's shop with the coin pouch more than once. ("A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle, that's the way the money goes . . .") He assured me that a 10-year-old boy going to market alone wouldn't look out-of-place in medieval England. He also seemed pretty enthusiastic with each excuse to go back out. I'm guessing he was also using the time to make some new friends. Meanwhile, I tried to work in quarters too cramped to spread the whole airframe out at once. With all the extra construction steps I had to improvise, the whole next day was shot. And the day after that.

Making the glider foldable was tricky enough, but the hardest part was making it strong enough to hold my weight. All the load-bearing happened at one point in the middle of the frame; both the triangular handle bars and the attachment point for all the ropes supporting my weight were affixed there. Were this the 20th century, I could've made the frame out of aluminum, but in the 12th century? Elemental aluminum wouldn't even be discovered until the 1700s. Wood was my only option.

Fortunately, the kites I had built as a kid had all been wooden. I hoped the principles would scale up.

Finally, two mornings after — day 4 of the time-warp hurricane's 17-day countdown — it was time to try it out. We needed somewhere far away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk, and with enough open space that I could stay low to the ground. I didn't want to risk any altitude until I was sure my frame wouldn't break on me. A meadow a mile outside of town looked safe to the both of us.

In the center of the meadow, I unfolded my new creation, spreading its wings to their full 20 foot span. Even though it was longer from front-to-back than I was tall, at only 20 feed wide I knew this glider didn't have enough surface area to hold me aloft. At least, not in normal air. I was counting on Windboy to supply the extra air currents. If he could generate a wind strong enough to keep my relatively tiny human body in the air, he could easily hold up this giant triangular wing. I wrapped the support ropes around my groin in a manner I hoped wouldn't constrict me, then gripped the handlebars. "All right," I said, "Give me a nice gentle vertical breeze."

At Windboy's subtle gesture, an updraft filled the canvas wing like a sail, making it bulge upward. The glider would have jerked out of my grip then and there, but the support ropes pulled me up along with it. My feet dangled a foot off the ground. "Holy cats," I said, "I think it's working! I'm gonna try and tilt forward now."

As soon as I did, my glider took a nosedive into the ground. Thankfully, it didn't hit hard enough to damage the struts. Sigh . . . another learning curve. I propped it back up above my head and said, "Lift the glider up again."

Once more, the conjured wind pulled me up off the ground about a foot or two. This time, I tried tilting forward ever-so-gently. I felt myself slide forward on the breeze, and made it about five yards before my feet touched the ground and I jogged myself to a halt. That worked a lot better.

Before long, I was flying alongside Windboy high in the sky again. Only now, I wasn't balancing on a miniature hurricane. I was sailing through the air, steering and climbing and descending at my own easy whim. Oh, it wasn't perfect. The glider tended to bank to the left slightly, and I had to lean slightly to the right to correct for this. There was probably something I could adjust to fix it, after I was back on the ground. But even with this flaw, flying with the glider was far and away superior to how I'd been flying before.

And thanks to the wings, Windboy's updrafts didn't need to be nearly as strong as before. I felt hardly any wind chill any more. It'd probably also mean a lot less windburn, too.

"So," I said to my airborne companion, "Let's go somewhere where they might sell copper wire."

"London's not too far from here," Windboy said. He pointed south-east-ish, and I leaned to the right, banking my wings in that direction. He didn't even have to change the winds for me this time. I would have dreaded such a trip without my new glider.

As with the last town, we landed about a mile away and walked the rest of the way so as not to arouse suspicion. My coin pouch still jingled, though it was noticeably lighter than it had been when we first found it. I also felt a bit awkward walking with the glider's support ropes still around my hips. I reached down to untie them, but Windboy said, "You probably want to keep yourself tied to your glider. It'll make it harder to steal, and, well, there's always the chance we'll need to fly away at an instant's notice."

We passed a couple of farm fields along the road, both of which were full of wheat ready for harvesting. Or maybe it was barley. I never could tell grain crops apart. The city limits were pretty conspicuous; there was a stone wall barring entrance to anyone not following the main road. A guardsman stood watch there, carrying some kind of long-handled weapon. He let us pass into the city without a word, but he eyed both of us warily.

The skyline of this medieval London was nothing like the pictures I'd seen growing up. No Big Ben, no Buckingham Palace, no London Bridge; although I did spot what I'm pretty sure was the Tower of London. My biggest concern was just how big this city was. There could be 10 or 20 shops here that all sold copper wire, and I might never be able to find them. I saw a well-dressed gent walking close by, so I walked up to him. He reeked of perfume. I asked: "'Scuse me, sir, do you happen to know where there's a jeweler's shop in town?"

The man looked down his nose at me with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. "You speak Norman French. I thought you peasants only knew how to speak that piggish Saxony."

It took me a moment to realize that Windboy's magic wind-translating power was turning my words into this man's native Medieval French, instead of the Medieval English I'd been speaking before. It took me another moment to remember the Norman Conquest of 1066, which installed French noblemen in the English monarchy. By then the man had decided I wasn't worth his time and walked away.

Windboy took my cue and enthusiastically started asking other passersby about a jeweler's shop. A few of them took a liking to the boy, which seemed to brighten his mood immensely. He beckoned me over to a passing baker peddling his wares.

"Jason, this is my new friend, Ragnar," Windboy said, introducing me to the baker.

"Um, hi," I said, a bit uncomfortably.

"Ragnar is willing to tell us where the jeweler's shop is," Windboy continued, "If we'll buy one of his delicious roundloaves for a ha'penny."

"Oh, oh, sure," I said, reaching into my coin pouch. "I'm a little peckish myself." I handed the man one of the many pence-cut-in-half from the pouch, and we walked away with a small bread disc. Windboy tore it in half — much like the coin I'd paid Ragnar with had been — and we munched on gritty bread as we made our way from one twisting, turning, unpaved street to another.

Ragnar's instructions were a bit bewildering to me. The streets weren't orthogonal and labelled, like I was used to in a 20th century city. Fortunately, Windboy had visited Medieval London before, and knew more-or-less how the avenues and paths were laid out. We soon saw the sign we were looking for: a picture of a ring or a necklace and a squiggly symbol, but no words. It was out in front of a shop with one of those Dutch doors that opens on the top and bottom separately. The top half of the door was open. Inside, we saw a balding man hunched over a table, manipulating some tiny tools.

Windboy knocked on the doorframe. "Good day, sir! You must be Peter the jeweler."

The man looked up, and squinted briefly at the two of us. "I've never seen anybody dressed like either of you. You're not tax collectors, are ya?"

"No no," I said, waving a "no" with my hand. "We're here because, uh, we need a jeweler."

"In that case," the man replied, "Yes, I'm Peter the jeweler!" He walked up to the far side of the door. "What're you interesed in?"

"I need copper wire," I said. "A lot of it."

Peter frowned. "Hmmm. I only have a little that I use for my own purposes. Tell you what. If you want to buy copper wire in bulk, you could probably get it from Tim. That's the coopersmith that supplies me with wire. His shop is over in the more industrial part o' town."

Before we could ask for directions, Peter leaned over the closed bottom half of his front door, and glared at the ropes around my groin. "What is that contraption you're tied to? A tent?"

I couldn't tell him its real purpose, of course, so I lied. "Uh, yeah, it's a tent." Windboy's head whipped around and he glared at me. He seemed a bit alarmed. I continued, "We were camping out last night."

Peter scowled and seemed to be cleaning out his left ear with his finger. "What'd you say, there? I thought I heard English, but it was like someone else was talking gibberish at the same time."

Windboy directed a focused beam of air at my ear. He moved his lips so subtly that if I hadn't heard him, I never would have known he was talking. "Careful," I heard his voice say. "The wind translates meaning, not just words. It doesn't work very well if you're trying to be deceptive."

Uh oh. I'd better play this carefully. "Sorry," I said to Peter, "I told you some things I wasn't supposed to. This isn't a tent, it's . . ." How could I describe the glider, without telling him I use it to fly? ". . . It's a kite. A big kite. It can catch the wind and get pulled aloft. That's why I'm tied to it, so that it won't get away from me."

Peter raised his eyebrows. "Never heard of a kite before."

Oh, great. I'd just introduced another anachronism. Kites were an Asian invention; they probably hadn't been introduced to Europe yet. "Well, I'd love to talk about it more, but we really have to get that copper wire. We've got a pretty tight deadline we need to meet. Can you tell us how to get to Tim's shop?"

Thankfully, that got us out of the jam. Peter gave us instructions, and we headed on our merry way.

Tim the coopersmith's shop was a lot bigger than Peter's had been. And so was its front door; I was able to walk right in carrying my folded glider with me with no problems. Three people were spread throughout the wide room, pounding away noisily on anvils. They had plenty of space between them. The two younger ones were probably Tim's apprentices. The smelting furnace was on the opposite side of the shop, but I could feel the heat even while standing in the doorway.

I tried to get the attention of the eldest person there, over the noise. "Uh, 'scuse me, sir? 'Scuse me?" I waved my hand in the air. He finally noticed us out of the corner of his eye, and walked up to us. "Hi," I continued, "Uh, Are you Tim the coopersmith? We're looking for copper wire."

He studied our clothing briefly, then shook his head. "We get all types here in London. I can tell you're not local. But yeah, I've got wire to sell. You want thin, or thick?"

"Could I see both types?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. He walked to one wall and fetched two fist-sized spools, then came back and held up each. "Thin," he said, presenting the one in his left hand, "And thick," indicating the one in his right. The thick wire looked rugged enough to handcuff somebody with. Even the "thin" wire had to have been at least 20 gauge, more than thick enough for any conceivable use in a low-power circuit. I could also tell that both wires got thinner and thicker randomly along their lengths, probably as an artifact of making them by hand.

"The thin one should do," I said.

Tim started unspooling the thin wire until he'd unraveled a piece that was about the length of his arm. "How much do you want?"

I said, "I'm going to need a lot of it. How much do you have?"

Tim chuckled. "Don't worry. I've got four spools of it as big as this one."

"I'll buy all of them," I said.

Tim's eyes popped wide open. "You're serious? All four spools?"


"Phew," Tim breathed. "Well, I need to hold onto one of them. I've got local jewelers coming by this evening for their weekly pickup. But I can let you have the other three for thirty pence."

Thirty. That was a lot of silver. I thought I had enough left in my coin pouch, but I couldn't be sure. I opened it and started counting. After I got to fifteen, I was sure I had enough. A penny was a wide coin, but a thin one. If you included all the ha'pence and farthings, I had to have at least twice as many pence as he was asking for, probably more. By the time I was done counting out 30 of them, I needed both hands to hold all the coins. "Here you go," I said.

He smirked as he took the coins. "Not even gonna haggle, eh? You must want this wire pretty badly." He put the coins in a dark wooden cash box — locking, of course — then brought three rolls of his sort-of-thin copper wire over to me. "Here you go!"

I took them all into my hands, and quickly realized how awkward it was to hold all three of them at once. "Do you have something I could carry these in?"

Tim shook his head derisively. "You came over here to buy four spools of wire, and you didn't even bring a sack to carry them in? I thought that contraption you're tied to was your sack, 'cause of the canvas! Tell you what. I keep a supply of extra burlap sacks around for my own needs. I'll let you have one for a penny."

"Thanks," I said. I tried to reach down for my coin pouch again, then realized my hands were full. I turned to Windboy. "Uh, could you get a penny out for him?"

"Sure," the boy replied. He opened my coin pouch and pulled out two half coins. Close enough. Tim gladly took them and handed us a burlap sack about a foot-and-a-half high. I gratefully dumped the three spools of copper wire into it, said "Thanks, Tim! We'll be on our way now," and headed out the door with my folded glider in one hand and my new sack full of wire in the other.

"You really need that much wire?" Windboy asked as we stepped out into the street.

"Maybe," I said. "I won't know how much I'll need until I actually start building the circuit. Better to have too much than too little. Plus, to get a decent signal, we're going to need a big anten—"

I stumbled on a small rock in the road, then discovered that neither of us had closed the coin pouch after the last transaction. Nine or ten coins spilled out from the bag at my hip and tumbled toward the dusty street.

But they never hit the ground. Windboy made a spinning gesture with one finger, and caught them all in a tiny tornado. The mini-tornado lifted the coins up and over until they were right above my open coin pouch, then funnelled them back into the pouch in a jingling stream.

I yanked the pouch shut as the jingling abated, then realized that all the street noises had ceased too. It was dead quiet. I looked around, and everyone nearby had stopped in their tracks and was staring right at us.

"Oops," I heard Windboy whisper.

Oops was right. Windboy had just used his powers right where every one of these superstitious folks could see it. I had to think fast. "That was a neat trick!" I said as loudly as I could. "Making it look like those coins were whirling in the air, when they really weren't! You'll have to show me how you did that with ordinary sleight-of-hand, or did you use tiny wires?"

Windboy glared at me, and furiously shook his head. He mouthed "No, no, no!"

Then I remembered what he'd said about the wind being bad at translating deception, and I held my breath in shock. The sounds coming out of me would have sounded like a —

"Demon!" one of the people shouted.

Windboy barked "Glider, now!" I didn't hesitate. I unfolded my hang glider in two swift motions, and spread its wings full wide. Thank goodness the crowd was still frozen in fear. The moment the glider was completely deployed, Windboy sent a gale-force updraft straight into the canvas. My glider yanked me over a hundred feet into the air in a few seconds.

I grasped the triangular handle bars to steady myself, and looked down. Half the crowd was running away, but the other half had begun to converge on Windboy. Some had fists raised, and others brandished makeshift clubs. I heard Windboy declare, firmly, "No." At once, a cylindrical wall of wind surrounded him, keeping the now-terrified onlookers at bay. A moment later, he launched himself skyward on the most powerful updraft I'd ever seen, and surged up to match my altitude.

We flew away at nearly hurricane speed. As London receded into the distance behind us, over the roar of his wind, I could hear Windboy cursing "Damn it. Damn it."

Windboy is continued in chapter 6.
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