June 28, 1926 - Florence, Italy - Morning
Sir Jonathan Thomas York sat in an iron wrought chair on a café patio located along the bank of the Arno River. A cup of steaming tea and a hot buttered roll lay beside a leather satchel that looked as old as he. The professor idly stared at the river, letting the morning breeze cool his wrinkled face.
Beyond the sporadic call of a pair of gulls, the waterfront-street was exceptionally quiet. It was a surreal solitude that the aging scholar had come to relish. It was the time of morning before the bustle of the ancient city would grow into crowded and noisy proportions. Reaching for the cup, he noted a figure appear from a side street. A moment's pause and the man strode purposely toward him.
Sir Jonathan set down the cup, his hand drifting protectively toward the satchel. The man stopped before him and paused. He was in his late forties, a gentle face with a balding head flanked by an unruly mass of premature white hair. Under a thick mustache expressive lips curled into a friendly smile. A hand extended.
"Good morning, Sir Jonathan. You look well." The German accent was unmistakable.
The Englishman stood and took the hand in a firm grip. "Albert. I am so glad you took the time from your busy schedule to come sit with me." He waved to an empty chair. "Have a seat. You'll find the tea is excellent here."
The German eased his body into the chair, sighed in relaxation. "Beautiful morning, Sir Jonathan." He paused as a waiter stopped by, then continued. "I must admit that your letter was - most curious."
Sir Jonathan glanced at the satchel. "Yes, yes. But first, I must congratulate you in person for winning the Nobel, Albert. Incredible work, incredible. Beyond me, I must confess."
Albert smiled warmly. "It is beyond most, I fear, and still largely disputed. Even Planck is not totally convinced." He shrugged. "But, they will come around. The evidence is irrefutable."
"Yes. Quantum theory is about to enter a new era. In fact, I've reviewed a most impressive paper from Satyendra Bose. I made sure it was published. And right now I'm working on a paper that I've titled 'Theory of Brownian Movement'." He stopped at Sir Jonathan's look of consternation. "I apologize. I can get a little - carried away, at times."
The scholar smiled. "No need to apologize, my friend. At times I've been accused of being rather fervent, too."
"So, what is it you wish to show me?"
Sir Jonathan nodded, and reached into the satchel, producing a leather-bound book of some indeterminate age. "This is one of a series, Albert. They were discovered in the basement at the University of Florence. They are hundreds of years old."
The German sat back. "And you wave it around like it's a newspaper?"
Sir Jonathan looked sheepish. "I'm in the process of having them copied. But, you're quite right. I should be more careful."
The aging professor handed over the book. "It's in old English. I doubt you can read it."
"It sure smells old." Albert looked it over and gave it back. "So, what is so special about it?"
"Well, it's a chronicle of historical events. In fact, they're a series of annals about a mercenary group who sprung into existence in the 1400's and survived in one form or another for several hundred years."
"I see. A remarkable find?"
"Extremely. It gives us insights into history that I would have never expected."
"Well, for one thing, Constantinople fell in 1439..."
"Ah. Sir Jonathan, my history may not be my strong suit, but didn't that city fall to the Turks in 1453?"
Sir Jonathan sat back and sighed. "Indeed, it did. And that's the quandary, my dear man. You see, history is subtly, and in some cases, not so subtly, different than how we know it today."
Albert pointed. "Based on those books of yours?"
"Based on these books of mine."
"Well then, they have to be fabrications - a hoax."
"That would be my assessment, too. However, I've had the paper and ink analysed. They are consistent with the age of the recorded events. Furthermore, the English is too consistent with that time period for anyone other than a small handful of people in the world to duplicate consistently. And I count myself as one of those few."
"I see. So, Sir Jonathan, what do you expect from me? I am no authority on history."
Sir Jonathan Thomas York paused while he lit his pipe. He spread his arms. "I need an explanation, Albert. No matter how bizarre."
The conversation lapsed into long moments of reflective silence. Albert stroked his mustache. Finally, he looked up. "My friend, have you ever considered the concept of alternate universes?"
The scholar leaned forward, his eyes inquisitive. "Not at all, Mr. Einstein, but please, go on..."
* * *
June 28, 1926 - Florence, Italy - Evening
Evening found Sir Jonathan in his plush chair, single-malt on the side-table and book in his lap. The day had passed quickly, and much had been discussed. The elderly professor found his mind in a whirl with the possibilities, even though most of the conjecture had been beyond his mind to absorb.
Still, the basic concept could explain much.
But, the question remained - how did the Annals come to be in the basement of the University?
With no answer at hand, Sir Jonathan opened the latest book. His eyes quickly adjusted to the old English script, and he began to read...
The Book of Constance - For Whom the Bells Toll - being the further adventures of the Free Company, in the year of our Lord 1442...