Chapter Five - In a Land of Myth
"An entertainment group?" Regulus hissed.
I shrugged, although he couldn't see. "What? They bought it, and it worked out."
'Worked out' meaning that we had been escorted to the citadel, 'reunited' with the troupe outside the castle walls, and I'd used a little Legilimency to convince the troupe leader that we were his new hires. Now we were in a tent, separated by a privacy screen as I changed into a brightly colored dress. I was silently grateful we weren't stuck in a time were corsets were in fashion.
"We are not here to entertain some King! We have our own times of which we need to return!"
"This is not just any King, this is the legendary Arthur with his knights of the round table! Do you realize what that could mean?" Where had those shoes got to?
"If you're talking about Merlin-"
"-of course I am. Maybe he can help us fix the hourglass."
"For the last time, it doesn't need fixing, Crow will-" I stepped out from the divider and he faltered in his argument.
"Crow will send us back on his terms, not before," he finished, after clearing his throat and looking away. Then he added, "You look ridiculous."
"Of course I do, these types of entertainers were marked by how much they stood out. If I wasn't wearing at least four different colors I may as well stand in the back." I moved to look at myself in the mirror. The sleeves were wide and puffy, the stitching around the torso and chest came in tightly, flowing into a long skirt that was comprised of nearly too much fabric, perfect for swishing and twirling. The neck was a little wider than I liked, and I was tempted to alter it with my wand, but sewing magic wasn't my forte, and what if one of the others noticed the dress had changed in a matter of minutes? I was an eyesore of red, purple, gold, and brown. I looked like half of a rainbow, but it wasn't my first time in performance attire. Just my first time in one from the early 900s.
"What exactly are they expecting you to do?" Regulus asked, his arms folded across his chest as he glowered at my reflection over my shoulder. I noticed his use of the word you and knew he planned on not entertaining anyone ever, least of all today.
His eyebrows contracted at that. "You should exercise caution."
I turned to glare at him. "Excuse me?"
"You just broke your ankles."
"That was yesterday and I fixed them."
"That was earlier today, and what if you land on them wrong?"
It occurred to me that he didn't think I had rhythm at all, which made me wonder whether my twin brother had turned out to be tone-deaf or something. Or maybe he was basing the theory off of the fact that I'd tumbled down a mountainside with little to no grace. "It was earlier this millennia, and I'll be fine. Look, if you're so worried about getting back home, why don't you go out there and look for Merlin? Should be an old man-Dumbledore-Esque-dude."
Regulus opened his mouth, probably to insist that only 'Crow' could take us back home, but seemed to realize it was a pointless argument and left the tent. He was gone ten seconds before other performers came inside and began to apply their face-paint. I finished as quickly as I could, smirking at the thought of what Pansy would say if she knew I had applied make-up willingly.
While Regulus seemed unable to grasp the point of joining the troupe, I was looking at the big picture. Least now we had a reason to exist, rather than be hunted as thieves or magic-users. This was a cover that would shield us until the time-turner was ready to work again. The idea that we might get a glimpse at the famous Merlin, well…that was merely a bonus. With or without the powerful wizard's help I did not doubt that we would get back home. I blamed the lack of response on the lengthy jumps we'd just achieved. To go from '97, to '75, '79, to who knows when or where that mountain was, to around 900 A.D. or so… I'd need a moment to recalibrate, anything would.
I snapped out of my thoughts to look into the mind of one of the other dancers to get a brief rundown of the way these things usually went. The dancer in question didn't speak English so her thoughts were harder to navigate than normal but I still managed to get a gist of what I'd signed up for. Only a few dancers performed alone, while the rest of them had practiced a big group number. That was fine by me, so long as the knights that had brought us here saw and knew I hadn't lied.
I took a peek out of the tent to see if Regulus had merely selected a nearby wall to sulk against, but he was nowhere to be found. I did spot the troupe leader running his hand through what little hair remained on his head as he paced back and forth a few yards away. Curious, I looked into his mind, just the topmost thoughts. He was worried about the night's entertainment, because…the lead had fallen ill. No…fallen asleep, and no matter how much they all shook her she would not wake. I withdrew with a soft groan. This had a certain sulking Slytherin written all over it. I hiked up the long skirt and made my way over to him, clearing my throat.
"Wot?" he snapped, then blinked as he took in my appearance. "You…Seraphina, was it? How would you like to be a star?"
I smiled sweetly, despite wanting to gag. "What would you have me do?"
Regulus was a little alarmed by how easily he was allowed to move inside the castle. Though many of the acrobats were flipping through the halls or walking on their hands, and other various tricks, he was only walking with his hood up and avoiding eye contact. He didn't believe Merlin would dwell in a castle full of muggles, but Julianne had one thing right and that was that the names Merlin and King Arthur almost always went hand in hand when it came to the legends of old. Tonight there was to be a feast in honor of the anniversary of the King's birth, with the entertainment troupe to boot. And while his time-traveling companion might be content to stick her head in the sand, as it were, he refused to waste his precious time stuck in the Dark Ages. If Merlin did live here, maybe he kept a book of spells here as well, and maybe there was something in there that could knock some sense into Julianne. Maybe instead of appealing to the masses, she could take a second to focus on contacting Crow. Regulus could only imagine what it must be like to have a deity in your head, but he knew it was the only way forward. Roman didn't start his journeys through time without first talking to…no that wasn't true. His first interaction with the hourglass had been when Julianne first appeared in their time, the strange girl who had come and gone without a trace. Roman had explained how she told him to go back in time and he'd taken the hourglass and saved her past self.
Wonderful, now I have a headache. He shook his head and nearly stumbled into a maid. His reflexes allowed him to sidestep around her, bowing his head in apology. "Sorry, marm," he said, intending to keep exploring the castle.
"Wait a moment," Regulus hid a grimace, feeling that his explorations were about to come to an end. "You're not a member of the castle staff, who are you?"
He straightened and pushed his hood back in a gesture of respect. Now that he got a proper look at her, he felt foolish for thinking she was a maid. She stood with poise and confidence, her garments made of a deep red trimmed with gold. Her hair was combed, a rare thing in this age, tied back from her face so that it fell in dark ringlets. All this, coupled with the fact that she was staring straight at him without wavering, told him that she was a woman of power. The crown was just the cherry-queen on top.
"Forgive me, your majesty," he began politely. Maybe if he was lucky she wouldn't have him drawn and quartered for nearly running her over. "I did not see you."
"This much I was able to sort out on my own," she said primly, though her dark eyes held amusement. "I will not ask again, who are you and what are you doing in this castle?"
"My name is…John," he said, hating the false name but knew it would be imbecilic to change it now. What if those knights from before were a part of her guard later? "My sister is a member of the caravan." The queen nodded, her eyes telling him to continue. "And I'm in this castle because…she sprained her ankles earlier and I don't think she ought to perform on them. Could you point me in the direction of the…court physician, she'll listen to a professional." Reg gave the queen a sheepish expression. Please believe the seeds of truth in that I really can't get burned alive today. That would be entirely inconvenient.
"Ah," the queen nodded. "Stubborn, is she?"
"Like you wouldn't believe. She played chicken with wildfire and won."
She chuckled as if she knew the type well. "I see. Well, allow me to guide you-you're on the wrong side of the castle. The physician's quarters are this way." She began to walk past him in the opposite direction at a brisk pace, her heels clicking against the stone under her gown. Just when Regulus entertained the idea of ditching her, she called, "Come along, if you want to help your sister we must make haste."
Muttering Salazar-related curses under his breath he followed after the Queen of Camelot. Rather than walk in silence, like he'd have preferred, the queen decided to engage in conversation. "So, as a member of the caravan, you and your sister must have traveled all over the world."
Regulus gave a non-committal grunt as a reply, but when she raised her eyebrow at him he said, "Yes, your majesty."
"What has been your favorite place to perform thus far?"
Recognizing that he wouldn't be allowed to play the mute observer with this one, he replied, "I cannot say any one location has gained my favor over another."
"I see. And what is it you do? A juggler? Knife-thrower?"
"I am not a performer, majesty."
"What about your sister?"
"She…dances." Regulus could only imagine she'd try to bring whatever wild American gyrating that passed for dancing in her time, and that was exactly why he'd had to put a stop to the evening's entertainment. These back-minded people would declare her a witch on sight and burn her alive.
"You don't sound very supportive of her if you don't mind my saying so," the queen declared, pausing before a wooden door Regulus probably wouldn't have noticed had he passed by on his own. "Here we are." She knocked politely, drumming her knuckles against the heavy oak before pushing it inward. As Regulus took notice of her hands he realized why he'd thought she was only a maid earlier. She had working hands; callouses and tiny scars here and there. They were not soft like he'd expect someone of royal blood to be. When he'd sidestepped her initially all he'd seen was her hands. Queen or not, she wasn't someone to be underestimated. He wondered briefly all the things she'd done to gain such hands. "Gaius? Merlin?"
Regulus snapped his gaze around the room, which rather looked like a combination of Professor Sprout and Professor Slughorn's offices. Plants and herbs hanging here and there, jars and concoctions lining the tables and shelves, partnered with mountains of books. Amidst it all, an old man with a disagreeable face and white hair falling in curtains about it looked up from his desk. He had no beard but maybe he'd shaved recently or it had yet to grow… Regulus studied him from head to toe, trying to convince himself that he was about to meet the famous, most powerful wizard of all time, the great-
"Gaius, this is John-he's with the entertainment troupe camped outside our walls and needs your help," the queen said smoothly, gesturing for 'John' to speak.
Regulus relaxed a smidge. Of course, this man wasn't Merlin, he had to be the apprentice or something. Gaius looked him over with a kind eye but his mouth was still set in a frown. "How may I be of assistance?"
He cleared his throat. "My sister is a dancer and she's planning to perform on recently injured ankles. I was hoping you could inspect her properly and see whether she's at risk of further damage…" Tell her she's got the plague for Salazar's sake, just make her see sense!
"How was she injured?" Gaius asked, opening a book on the human anatomy and scanning a few pages thoughtfully.
Vivid images of Julianne's top-speed slide down a snowy mountain flashed across his mind's eye as he tried to find the right words. "She, err, fell."
"Is there any swelling? Bruises?"
There was… "I think so. She wrapped them up before I could get a proper look and insisted I not worry but I have a bad feeling, sir."
"I'll see what I can do, if anything," he'd shouldered a leather case and looked at him expectantly. "Lead on, boy."
Wondering why he let himself get into this mess in the first place, Regulus led the way back to the campsite, but only got as far as the castle gate when the whole troupe came marching in, juggling and cartwheeling and whatnot. Regulus cursed inwardly, trying to spot Julianne but amidst the swishing skirts and painted faces. He couldn't, even though she was the only one with blonde hair in the entire march. Gaius watched his face as he scanned the entertainers before he decided to comment. "I'd say we're a bit late for any diagnosis. Best I can do is be there if her ankles decide to give out on her."
Which of course meant that Regulus was expected to enter the court where the festivities would take place. He would rather grab Julianne and bolt from the castle but as she was probably in the middle of the troupe it was in his best interest to follow the old man. Within moments they had slipped inside a great hall of sorts, the walls lined with long tables, filled with men and ladies of the court. At the back of the hall was the legendary round table, where sat the King, his Queen, and all the knights. The tables were filled with roasted meats, potatoes, pies, candied fruits, and other such wonders to emphasize the celebratory air. The troupe's jugglers were spaced out across the hall, the dancers in the center, swishing their long skirts and matching the drumbeat expertly. Acrobats soared high overhead, some hanging upside-down from the chandeliers, aiding the rest in their improbable feats. Regulus hovered near one of the columns between the long table to the east and the round table to the north. The audience was smiling and cheering for the performers, while he kept an eye out for Julianne. As of yet, he hadn't spotted her. He tried to remember which colors had been on her dress as he earned yet another headache watching the dancers sway this way and that. He took a glass of wine from a passing cupbearer and downed it in two swigs. When he'd finished that, he saw that the acrobats were actively dousing the candles, both in the chandelier and the ones lining the hall whether in brackets or on sticks. The torches were extinguished as well, and just as the crowd began to whisper in wonder, curiosity, or fear, it happened.
With one candle left alight in the center of the round table, a hooded figure appeared in the center of the room. People gasped and a few women screamed. The figure moved towards the round table, but the motion was so smooth, they seemed to glide rather than walk. Without breaking, hesitating, or showing any sign of struggle, the figure ascended the round table and claimed the candle in their hand. Balanced in their palm, they held the little flame out for the King to observe, his face highlighted by the flickering orange light. Then, the figure brought the light to their cowl and seemed to swallow it whole. For a moment, the entire hall was pitch black.
Then… just as the drums began to pound through the darkness…
The hood was pushed back as the figure seemed to exhale fire upwards, igniting the candles high above in the chandelier. In the dim light, Regulus saw the figure hold two rods in an X to the flame seemingly shooting from their mouth, and the rods set ablaze as well. The figure back-flipped from the round table, turning completely to land on their feet rather than their hands, and flipped again and again till they stood in the center of the room. A swish of the flaming rods and a painted face was illuminated for a brief moment. A swish again and the audience saw the dress painted like fire. The fire-dancer twirled, amazing and frightening the on-lookers all at once. They used the rods like swords at first, capturing the eye of every knight for a hint of skill. Then the rods began to spin like wheels, lighting up the dancer once again.
Regulus was grateful for the dark in his vantage point. It would hide the shocked expression on his face as he recognized the blonde hair, tied up in a knot to prevent any accidents. Julianne!? He shook his head as she danced, wielding fire like it was an extension of herself. She was only supposed to wield the time-turner in his mind. How could she even…how did she know how to do any of this? This was not a skill she could've picked up in the hour since they'd last crossed paths. By the time she'd finished her dance, she'd lit all the candles and torches again, before extinguishing her rods in a barrel of water. The steam provided her with enough cover to disappear behind the dancers and jugglers that raced back to the floor amidst the crowd's cheers and whistles. Regulus dropped his goblet and followed after her, out of the hall.
I left the hall and supported myself against the nearest window sill, staring out into the castle courtyard without truly seeing it. I hadn't performed like that in over two years, but it was like riding a broom. Muscle memory took over. And while I hadn't danced with fire before, a few times practice and remember to not burn myself and it was pretty straight-forward after that. I had danced with ribbons and flags before, not to mention I had twirling my wand down to a science. (It also helped that I'd peeked into the original flame-dancer's mind while she took her catnap.) Still, my arms and legs felt like they were boneless and I was sweating from head to toe. I needed to get back on my training, I hadn't been this weak in years.
"What in the name of Salazar's chamber were you doing?" I sighed heavily, Regulus hushed but scolding voice descending on my ears once again.
I turned around in the window to face him, only to find that he was inches from invading my personal space. I didn't like that, so I pushed him away. "It's called dancing, Black, ever heard of it?" What was his problem? I'd just sold the lie I'd given the knights earlier today. And hopefully, the hourglass would be working again in the morning.
"You've just wasted a few hours lying to anyone who'll listen and gaining unfettered attention from strangers-how is that going to help us get home?!" I opened my mouth to argue but found no words at the ready to fire back. He did. "If I didn't know any better I'd say you'd rather just stay in the past then face whatever is waiting for you in your present!"
"Shut up!" I snapped, my ears ringing as blood rushed to my face. "You don't know anything about me!"
"What's not to know?" Regulus replied. "It's obvious to anyone paying attention that you're a selfish, stubborn, little girl who's used to getting her way and is unprepared to admit when she's wrong."
"I'm not wrong about the time-turner, Reg-"
"-Yes. You are." He grasped the chain from around my neck and snapped it off. "And you're welcome to stay here in the dark ages with all your new fans who will turn on you the second they see you for what you truly are. I'm going home."
He turned and began to stalk towards the great double doors of the castle. I clenched my fists and took a deep steadying breath before I charged. I wasn't wearing shoes, so my feet made little to no noise on the stone floor before I grabbed him from behind. To anyone else, and likely to Regulus himself it would appear that I was hugging him. That was far from the truth. I pulled his hips back against mine and kicked the outside of his knee with the inside of mine. In a matter of seconds, he was flat on the ground while I stood over him. His silver eyes were wide in shock as he stared up at me, my right foot on his stomach as I rested my prosthetic-though admittedly glamour-charmed-steel arm on my knee. He grunted in protest but made no move to fight back.
"If you could get it to work by yourself you would've done so by now," I said calmly. It was a calm that hid a storm. What I wanted to say included a medley of words I'd learned using the No-Maj public transport system. "You know you need me."
"I need someone I can trust, who is willing to take great leaps of faith; not some spoiled brat who can't see past her own nose."
I went to kick him in the face but he'd been waiting for that because he caught my ankle and threw me off balance. I rolled to my feet, fists raised to fight or defend, but he had his wand trained on me. "Brawling the muggle way is such a barbaric-"
"Sorcery!" A man had just left the great hall and stumbled upon us, his gasp just loud enough to remind me that we were in a bad place to have an all-out wizard's duel. I took Regulus's wand, reaching into the man's mind with my own to make him remember this whole thing differently. About three seconds later I'd hidden Regulus's wand with my own-you don't want to know where, and the man was staring blankly at the two of us.
"What did you do to him?" Regulus whispered, staring at the man with concern.
"I made him forget."
"How much?" He frowned between myself and the man. "He looks like he hasn't got a single thought left."
"It was just a modification, he's fine…I think." I shook my head. "We'd better clear out now while we've got a chance. No one will remember us."
"Only if you change back into your old clothes first, otherwise the entire country will remember us."
I rolled my eyes. "My things are back in the tent."
"Then let's be off." We headed down the steps towards the entrance, leaving the man staring blankly ahead. I hoped he'd be okay, I had only meant to make him forget the last minute. Once we were out in the courtyard, Regulus broke off and began to disappear into the dark. "Go on back to the campsite-I'll meet you there in ten minutes."
My argument died on my lips when I remembered I still had his wand and the hourglass on my person. If he didn't come back it would be at his peril. I tread carefully in the dark, not wanting to accidentally step in something. Once back at the tents I found the one I'd changed in and swapped clothes quickly. The funny thing was they weren't even my clothes-I'd just borrowed them from 1975. Still, the cast-offs from students at Hogwarts felt more comfortable than any garment from this era. I was cleaning my face of paint when I heard Regulus calling for me outside. No one had called me 'Julianne' in over seven years now, (unless I counted Roman doing so before he'd recognized me,) but I still had no inclination to correct him. Maybe he, like nearly everyone else in my life, would shorten it to whatever felt natural in time. Or maybe he, like myself, didn't know or feel comfortable calling me anything other than his given name. How would one shorten 'Regulus' anyway? Reggie?
Striding outside into the moonlight I saw Regulus had commandeered a horse, complete with saddle and bridle. He offered me his hand, indicating that I was expected to hold on for dear life as he rode us away. I simply quirked an eyebrow at him. "You know we can apparate, right?"
"Can we?" he challenged. "Try it."
I turned on the spot, thinking of Long Island Beach, but felt nothing in the way of apparition. No getting sucked through a PBC pipe sensation whatsoever. I opened my eyes and looked up at him in a slight panic. "Anti-apparition jinx?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't think they've been invented yet. Can't you feel the difference?"
I tilted mine to the side. "What difference?"
"Magic is different here. It's difficult to describe. The point is, we need to get away before anyone else can accuse us of sorcery and horseback is the fastest way overland."
"Can you even ride?" I asked skeptically.
"Can you even dance?" he replied with a hint of sarcasm. I frowned at his offered hand but took it all the same. In one movement he'd helped me up and in another, we were off into the growing night.
It wasn't until the following morning that we learned of our big mistake.