The women giggled and pointed. William studiously ignored them. Like the others, they had strange attire and even more bizarre behavior. He thought of his own clothing and was sure that he looked out of place. But this was his home village! Or, rather, town, as it had grown since he had left.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t find any records.” The man smiled at William.
“Are you sure? My family was here when William’s men came through, counting heads, well on five centuries back!”
“Are you talking The Conqueror and the Domesday Book?” The man frowned.
“I know nothing about a book. My grandfather made a claim and it was proved by good King William, thus the name stayed in the family.”
“Well, your history is wrong, then. The survey was well over nine centuries ago.”
“I’ve been away less than a decade, not half a millennia! There has to be something in your box. The name is Grote. My father was also William, William Grote. Check again.”
“Is that ‘G-R-O-T-E’ or ‘G-R-O-A-T’?”
“How should I know? Just look, please.”
The man spent some time working with the odd contraption before looking up at William again.
“I am sorry, sir. There are entries for ‘Grote’, but nothing newer than 1604. No mention of a ‘William Grote’, neither junior nor senior, just the name ‘Grote’. I’m sorry sir.” He smiled again.
“Fine. Thank you.”
William spun and left the town office. He could hear the giggles as the door closed.
They had told him not to return, but he missed his family. His father would be an old man, perhaps not even alive. His sister all grown up, perhaps married. And his poor mother…
He thought back at Adlain’s words. “You can go back, but you cannot return, for you were forgotten the minute you passed the gate. All has changed.” He watched William for a moment and then sighed. “If you must see for yourself, go, but hurry back. More than a day and you will not be able to return to our land.”
William didn’t understand. He could always use the gate, couldn’t he?
Lishell, standing next to her father, watched him, her startling blue eyes filling with tears. “Please hurry back, my betrothed.”
Even though he knew exactly where it was, William had a hard time finding the wall that contained the gate. How could such a large thing be missed? It was huge, a major landmark, though he had never known about it until he chanced uppon it one day.
After more searching he saw a shadow that could only be it. As he drew closer the shadow began to resolve. Yes! It had to be it, the wall!
When he reached it, he studied the wall, as he had when, as a ten year old, he had last stood looking at it.
Back then the ornate wall was well maintained. It sparkled. Now it was decrepit. Plants grew from great cracks. He could see beyond the crumbling walls to a land that was not his current home.
Could he get back? Was he too late?
He ran the length, looking desperately for the hidden door.
And then he felt it.
He stopped and turned. What was once blank now held the gate.
The door of the gate looked fresh and new, contrasting with the ancient wall. He found the hidden key in its forgotten niche and unlocked the gate.
Golden light streamed out.
He took a step forward.
“Welcome back,” Adlain said.
He fell into Lishell’s arms, forgotten no more.