“Generations!” I exclaimed loudly. “Are you kidding me? Is this a joke? Are you honestly telling me that these people have been trapped here long enough to have grandkids?”
“Maybe,” Tam replied. “I haven’t done a census of them. I don’t know how many of them have had grandkids, or great-grandkids, or great-great…”
“Great,-great?” I asked, hoping, praying, that they were just teasing now.
“I don’t know, Frank. That’s what I’m telling you. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. We need to keep moving because we have a job to do.”
“It doesn’t matter!” I snapped back. “Of course it matters! These people have been stuck here for generations! They were waiting for us to take them home and its been forever! We owe them to fix this! We have to!”
“How, Frank? You want to travel back in time?”
“Yes! Maybe we should. We could save these people the hardships that we brought for no other crime than being in a place that I happen to have gotten transported to.”
“I was kidding, Frank. We’re not going to do that.”
“No? Why not?”
“Because A) it’s never a good idea to screw around with your own timeline, B) we’re in another dimension and we have no idea how time travel works here, and C) we came to this dimension to get away from the Time Police, now you want to alert them?”
“But we could help these people.”
“Is bringing their existence to the Time Police really helping them?”
I had to admit. They weren’t wrong. “Then what are we supposed to do? Just leave them here?”
“Sure. They’ve been doing fine without us. Why disrupt them?”
“Why disrupt them?” I echoed, still amazed that Tam could act so coldly. “Why? Because…”
“Frank?” came a voice from behind me. “Frank, is that you?”
I turned toward the village to see that a bunch of trolls had gathered there and in the front was the Sheriff. I was a bit relieved to see he didn’t look much older. Of course, I had no idea what the lifespan of his variety of trolls were, or how they aged, so that still left a few questions up in the air. But at least he was alive and well. He, for his part, seemed relieved to see me.
“What happened?” the Sheriff asked as he came toward me. “Where have you been? I thought you were right behind me. Did the Lowardians get you again? And what’s going on here? These people say they’ve been here for lifetimes. They talk about us like we’re myths and stories.”
“We came in right after you,” I told him. “Only this dimension moves quicker than the one we were just in. Seconds pass like hours here.”
“Gnomenasher is dead,” the Sheriff said. “I guess that makes sense now. They said he died years ago. But before he died he had puppies.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry, Sheriff.”
“I think it’s time we sent you home,” Tam jumped in.
The Sheriff nodded. “I think that’s a good idea. But what about them?” He pointed at the villagers. “They’re our people, but…”
“I think they want to stay here,” Toleuk said, coming out of the crowd. “And so do I.”
“You want to stay?” The Sheriff seemed shaken by this. I was more than a little caught off guard, too. Why would anyone want to stay here? Food and water had to be a constant struggle. They were far away from anyone or anything they knew. But it wasn’t my place to say, I didn’t think, so I said nothing.
“Yes, Sir. If it’s all right.”
The Sheriff slowly nodded. “If you want to stay, then you can stay. I…” the Sheriff turned to Tam and me. “I just want to go home.”
I nodded. “We can take you home.”
“Yes,” Tam added eagerly. “We can get you home right away. Just follow me.” Tam led the way and pointed him to the portal home.
As the Sheriff was about to step through the portal, he paused, “Will this remain open? In case they want to come home or… need to.”
Tam shrugged. “We can leave it open if you want. That’s no scale off my back, but you do remember time will flow differently between your worlds.”
“Though my people are wary of magic, and I can see problems that could arise, I think it would be good for my people back home and the people here if we could keep a doorway open, make certain neither forgets the other.”
“Fine by me, Sheriff. I’ll leave that doorway open, but I’m going to close the one to the ocean world. And then I’ll close the other two as we go through them.”
“Close them all. I’ve had my fill of magic and adventure.”
“Good-bye, Sheriff,” I said. And then he left.
to be continued…