A long way from home.
Christine untied her green sweater from around her waist and put it over her shoulders. It draped low, past her waistline and it was warm from the many hours spent tied around her stomach. She rubbed both arms and to no avail. She was still chilled to the bone. 'Oh, great, white fatness,' she thought. 'How I long for your warmth.'
Later on her thoughts were of ice cream and soda, chicken tender dinners, 6.95 at White City Pizza, the local donut shop. Anything to keep her mind off of the bitching cold winds and her bare neck. Her recent haircut was a great relief, it really was. No matter the conditioning treatment, she always felt ten pounds heavier with the mess of fur on her head. However, as she trekked across the open green, rocky plains of a coastal country, sticking moss around her neck and shoulders wasn't that bad of an idea. At least it would keep her warm. Fortunately there was a hood attached to her sweater. It didn't do much for the wind seeping through to her neck but it did provide some comfort, at least for the time being.
Several hours ago, the breeze was calm, soothing. Actually, it was a relief from the oppressive heat wave that just so happened to sneak around the corner of a quiet, little spring in New England. Christine stopped walking to take a breath and a look around. Night was falling as quickly as she blinked and without her glasses, she had the added disadvantage of blindness. There was a forest up ahead. This had been her destination since she had first landed here. Of course, 'landed' was not the best-fit word for her sort of predicament. After all, how does one explain falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of heavy, hot traffic to waking up in mystical, wintry tundra? The answer simply is: impossible.
At one point, she had considered she was still in a dreaming state but no matter how much she had desired some cool relief from the hell she was in, it was no match for her shock at actually getting what she wanted. The dreaming idea was plausible…for a brief second. When she started walking and tripped on a rock, tumbled down a small glen and 'landed' on a boulder jutting out of the ground, then it was a dream no longer.
The forest didn't seem so far away when she first saw it. Large and beautiful in summer green, the forest swayed in that gentle breeze and seeing that there was nothing else around, except of course for the enormous cliff that was behind her, leading into bitter icy water, which was slapping across the rock face, the forest was her best bet. Nature had always been something of a gift to her. She had seen it when she was a child and even into her later teens; however, the suburbs grew up around her and the forest in the back yard was reduced to a few trees and some shrubbery, nothing fancy. Everything was replaced with housing developments, stationary stores and (the worst of all) banks. That was the last thing her town needed and it seemed as though the commissioners of Shrewsbury were just begging for a whooping. Culture was dead enough without their help. Fortunately, she had escaped that fiasco and found some rapture in the natural Berkshires…until that, too, had been subject to building and developments. But even now, as night had settled, a familiar cold reminiscent of New England winter freezing her face rigid, there was a naïve fear of being alone yet it was the type of fear she had always been looking forward to. When the world would shut up. Wherever she was, it was ingenious. It was home.
Even if it meant camping out in the middle of a forest, she was just as invigorated as ever. Her fingers were solid blocks of ice but it didn't matter. Mud covered her hands and face as she searched around for thick pieces of dry wood. Not knowing much about camping except for what she had been taught as a child with her father, Christine found that the wood was relatively dry, which she concluded meant that it had not been raining…or snowing. Though it certainly felt as though it would at any moment. She panted after breaking a particularly hefty branch from a tree limb. It was dead anyhow but she still felt as though she was breaking apart of something else, something much more than what it seemed.
The logs were set up together, one lying on top of the other. Christine fished through her jean pockets and took out the pack of matches she always carried with her. Others thought her paranoid but she knew after years of watching MacGyver on T.V. reruns that anything could happen and she needed to be ready. Even so, Christine had always hoped that something like this would happen…and when it did, she felt some pride in knowing she had been right all along.
Christine searched for dry leaves and twigs and piled as much of it as she could in and around the logs. As soon as this was done, she lit a match. She had twelve left. Her lighter contained enough fluid to last her several months if she were to be ultra conservative with its use. But for now, that one little match started a spark, which ignited the dry leaves into a blazing inferno, one that Christine wished she could have been apart of. The fire grew steadily after several minutes and taking a last breath, Christine settled herself as close to the fire she could without burning her clothing and attempted to fall asleep.
To no avail.
Christine's eyes fluttered closed and snapped open as soon as there was a croak or a shuffling in the bushes. There was an occasional growling but whether it was a rapid animal or her stomach, Christine did not care to venture a guess. If she survived this night, apart from being torn to shreds by a hungry beast, kidnapped by some random men, freezing to death or having a panic attack so large it stops her heart from beating, it would be an accomplishment. And a challenge, both of which she had never really been successful with on the first attempt.
She shut her eyes and tried sleep again.
Until the crows started screeching.
Her watch told her she had at least fifteen minutes of undisturbed sleep the entire night through. But she had come through unscathed and one restless night was nothing to be worried about. It was only if she had gone through an entire week without sleep that she would have anxiety attacks. The seemingly useless trivia about R.E.M. sleep circled her mind as she started out from her makeshift campsite to venture further into the forest. Apparently she had only touched the skirts the day before. Now, her goal was to find a clearing of some kind or a hill, which would give her some view of where she was.
By noon that day, Christine found no clearing or hill and had stopped for a break. Her stomach rumbled. She rubbed it passionately in order to calm it down but her gut had gone through enough punishment for six months. 'A diet?' it had once said to her in her thoughts. 'A diet and exercise? But what about our fetish for food and laziness?'
She ignored her stomach rumbling and glanced around. The sun had been moving behind her for some time and she hoped that she was heading somewhere towards the east…although that hope was futile since she had no idea where she was to begin with. "Oh, what a quandary," she muttered. This brought back a memory of her friend Kaela, who would often say, "Hmm, this is most definitely a quandary, encased in a paradox and wrapped in an enigma of sorts." Christine smiled. Then, she laughed for it kept her awake. She broke into a torrent of giggles and felt more awake and focused, if only for a short while.
Two hours went by and after recuperating along the way she reached a trodden path, which she immediately broke down upon and began smearing with her kisses of relief. She bowed and said her thanks in a fit of more giggles and when her mirth had been fulfilled she stood, glancing in either direction. The path to her right led towards the west, where she had just come from, looking like miles of rocky terrain and overgrowth. To her left, the path was all hills and valleys, green and inviting. She sighed. Never one for making decisions, she took the path to her left, hoping that there would be some indication up ahead to direct her either backwards or onwards.
However, there was no indication, only more forest and one very long path. As she walked, she began humming songs. "Carry on you wayward son, they'll be peace when you are done…." It wasn't long before a wave of songs fulfilled the empty air and she was halfway through the second verse of a novelty theme song when all of a sudden she had an epiphany. Quickly, she ended that verse and felt her sense of innocence and laughter return when she hummed, "Mystic Knights…Tir Na Nog…." This continued for several minutes before she stopped singing all together. Weariness caught up to her and she sat on the side of the road, soaking up the last rays of the sun. Exhaustion won her over and she was sleeping within minutes, thinking of those Mystic Knights battling one of Maeve's pathetic attempts at a creature spawned from evil…and her dreams wandered her off to her subconscious, introducing her to nature in a very psychedelic way.
"Ow! What the f-" she stopped herself just as she realized her feet weren't touching the ground anymore. She looked around. Two arms gripped her by her waist and held her there in a very awkward position. Those arms were attached to a man no larger than a wooly mammoth and quite possibly twice as stupid. He wore armor and a helmet, which is why Christine couldn't see his face. It wouldn't have mattered anyhow if she were dead. "Hi," she said. Even in the worst of temperaments, she was willing to give this man some chance to explain himself. Also, she wanted to be on her feet before she did anything…rash.
"What are ye?" he growled, his voice distinctly Irish.
'Hm, interesting,' Christine thought. She mimicked his accent in the attempts to cover her American one. "A woman. Care to put me down?"
He looked her over. She could see just his eyes and they were dark but not menacing…just lusting. He growled a low chuckle. "That ye are. That ye are indeed." He nodded his head once and another soldier stepped forward. Christine noted they both bore the same emblem crests on their armor, though for the life of her she could not discern what it read in Gaelic.
The other soldier was about the same height but wider. His voice was very guttural, despite his Irish accent. "Where do ye hail from, woman?" asked this man.
He had that same lusting tone in his eyes and in his voice. "Why is it yer concern?" she asked.
The soldier stepped closer and fingered her sweater. "These cloths are foreign yet richly made. Either they are yers or…if worse comes to worse, they are stolen."
Christine raised her brow. "And what if they are stolen?"
"Oh…you do not want to know, milady. It would be better if you told us the truth."
The truth was she didn't stand a chance against them even if she was wild enough to try. Without their armor, she could knock them down flat. But she would cause more harm unto herself. She sighed, shaking her head and appearing to them to be breaking down. "Well, then, ya caught me."
"We did, did we?" asked the same soldier with a hint of menacing laughter in his tone.
She looked saddened. "Aye. Because the truth is, boys, I am…a refugee…from me home, which has been raided by soldiers such as yerselves."
The soldiers glanced at each other. The soldier holding her dropped her and she hit another rock as she landed. A tapestry of obscenities accumulated within her mind but she kept her mouth shut. The other soldier had unsheathed his dagger and held it to her throat. Christine held her breath. "Bitch, ye will tell us the truth or so help Mider we will skin ye alive."
She highly doubted they would do so before having their way with her. She knew six months of heavy duty training at the gym turned flab into fit and it was well worth a look; however, just as she had been wishing for that flab since yesterday when she had been freezing to the bone, she wished for it again if only to not attract them like moths to a roaring, hot flame. Besides that, he had called her bitch and that she was not. She had earned her figure and was going to use it, so help her by the beard of Zeus she was going to use it. "All right. I can understand ye are afraid of me because I am different. But ye will achieve nothin' if ye cut me alive here and now. And I don't suppose yer boss'll be pleased to have damaged goods if ye decide to murder me so we can handle this in one of two ways. You can take me to yer boss where I will be chained and locked in the dungeons of an enormous castle until I talk or…" she paused, dragging out the moment for dramatic sake. "I can fight fer me life, fair and square."
The soldier with the dagger considered this and then erupted into a guffaw. The other soldier followed suit and only stopped when his comrade replaced his dagger. "All right, you can have yer match. Yer a right fiery lass though I do not suppose that will help ye at all."
"I have one request," she said.
"And pray tell what is that?" he asked.
"No armor." The soldier placed to hands on his hip. "Now, now," she said, sitting up. "I have no weapons on me person, of that you can check if it pleases you; however, we fight equally. No blade. No armor. No nothing. Just bare hands and limbs…and we hit below the belt," she added.
The soldier agreed to her terms and as he removed his helmet, brown hair fell out and stuck to his head with the grease of weeks without bathing. He actually smelled worse when he removed his armor, if that was at all possible.
Christine turned her head to avoid the smell because it made her nauseous. "If I win," she said to him as he placed down his armor. "You must find yerself a pond and take a long, long bath."
The soldier sniffed himself. He shrugged. "The lady worries about me. How kind."
"It is for my sense of smell and not yer sake I say this, believe me," she said.
The soldier narrowed his eyes. "When I win, I will bed you before I clean yer mouth out with a bar of soap."
"I do not suppose you know what soap even is," she said, smiling. "But that is only fair."
The soldier grinned. "This should be enlightening."
Christine huffed. "I hope so."
However, just as they began to near each other, a bolt of fire whizzed by, hitting the soldier's armor and leaving it in ashes. The soldiers froze. They stared down the path at a figure aiming his sword; however, Christine did not see him, as she had been busy running off the path, up the small hill and into the forest. She heard shouting but ignored it, gunning her legs up and forward as fast as possible. And it was also at this point that she was grateful to have been wearing her Adidas that day. She jumped behind a large tree and glanced around the trunk. No one had followed her, until she saw the bobbing, curly-blond head of a man running towards her. She bolted and she kept glancing over her shoulder. Unfortunately, she came upon a wide river. No bridge was present. She panted. Her heart thumped in her chest as though it wanted to burst through. "I don't need this," she sighed.
Christine looked over her shoulder just as the figure came running towards her, sword in hand and shield across his shoulder. "Wait!" he shouted.
"Ha," she said. However, just as she was about to charge down the river, she recognized something about this soldier and knowing not what it was, she dared to see what it was, allowing him to come closer. She squinted and through the blurry vision, she saw that he wore a red shirt with gold ringlets chained together to create a unique form of mail across his chest. She had seen this before. Her eyes widened and her heart beat faster if it were all at possible. As he came closer, there was no doubt in her mind, even if her eyes were failing. She stood, frozen, unable to make connections within her brain.
He ran up to her and stopped just as he came to the river. "Wait," he breathed. "I mean no harm."
Christine paused, hesitant to speak or to move or to do anything wrong. This was a first impression after all. "I know," she said. "I'm sorry for running." She had dropped the accent, knowing full well that he would not harm her. The other soldiers would have. Of course they would have…because they were Temrans, soldiers of the castle of Temra, ruled by Queen Maeve, toughest broad in ancient Ireland. An enormous grin broke her face and she could stifle her giggles no longer. He was frowning and backed up slowly. "No, don't go," she said. "I…didn't mean to startle you," she said. "I'm just in shock. Do my eyes deceive me or am I standing in the midst of the warrior Draganta himself?"
His brow furrowed in confusion. "You recognize me?" he said.
"Of course I do!" she shouted. "You're Rohan, the Mystic Knight of Fire! Holy Dagda!" she laughed.
Slowly, Rohan relaxed though he still held his sword in front of him. "I'm sorry but how do you know who I am? Have we met?"
"No," she shook her head. "Name's Christine." She stuck out her hand. Rohan took it and shook briefly. "This is just as bizarre to you as it is to me but if you don't mind my asking, how far is the Kells village from here?"
"Kells village?" he asked as though he had never heard those words before. "Oh," he said, shaking his head. " 'Tis not far. 'Bout several miles, ne'er half days' walk."
"Good," she said. "I'm starved. And I'm sure you want an explanation."
He nodded. "That would help."
"Right," she said. "Well, the best remedy for a short temper is a long walk. But in this case, it's lack of information that needs remedying. Don't worry, Rohan. You'll get your information, even if it kills me to talk for the next few hours about the future."
Rohan's face dropped. "The future?"
She walked up to him. "Trust me, there's no one here as curious as me about this rather miraculous time traveling. Don't sweat it. I'll fill you in as much as I can and then perhaps we can grab a bite to eat, if you don't mind," she said.
He shook his head. "No, not at all."
She smiled. "You know, no matter how many times people have said this about actors, it's still true. You definitely look taller in real life."
He raised his brow and after that the explanations came flowing out of Christine.
Half of what she said rolled over Rohan as he didn't comprehend any of it. The future he understood was 'modernized,' or in the very least, different. There were no dragons, no faeries, no kings and queens, save for scattered royal families across the globe…but they apparently held no real form of power. There were poor families and rich families and then there were families who resided somewhere in the middle. That was where power could be attained. The middle-class caste could live in luxury and not be rich, could afford just the bare minimum and not be poor. But, she said with a brooding frown, the middle-class was slowly being depleted in the country she hailed from, called the United States of America. Even as she said her country's name, there was hint of acidity towards it. "How is feudalism going, by the way?" she asked.
"Uh, fine, I suppose," said Rohan. "Actually," he added, feeling a little less tense now that they had been on speaking terms. "It is more like you have described yer country. We have some form of middle-class but they are scattered around and only own the inns and mind the shops…or so the stories go."
"Let me guess, the nearest city you have is in England?"
"They're just stories," he said. "But even so, if it is happening in yer time, like ye say, than it must be happening elsewhere and that is where it must all beginning."
"Yes, all of our problems began with England but that changed as soon as America was created in 1776. By that time, there had been several generations worth of people living there who were not born in England and who had raided the natives' homelands, kicking them out and killing them in order to control more land. We're no land of innocence," she said. "No matter how the American government tries to sell us out to other countries in the world."
Rohan glanced sidelong at her. "Ye really have a disliking for yer home."
"Oh, trust me, there's something to like about a country you're born in. It's something you can't help." She looked down. "But just try to imagine Kells as a place run by hypocrites and idiots who believe them. Try having an opinion and then be scoffed at for being different or for expressing yourself in a way that's unique and original. I can tell you right now that you would definitely feel some resentment."
They paused and walked in silence for several minutes. Then, Rohan said, "You still have not told me about how you know me."
Christine let out a hollow laugh. "Yeah…I was getting around to that. In fact, as I was telling you about television and films, I was thinking about how I was going to go about this particular bit of information. And I can tell you, it won't be that easy for either one of us to understand."
"Why is that?" he asked.
"Because," she said, turning to look at him. "You're not real."
He stopped walking. "Excuse me?"
"Yeah, that was a bit harsh. But I'd rather jump into the pool rather than keep dipping my toes in, don't you? Anyway," she continued. "In my time, you were played by an actor in a television show. Surprisingly, you both are identical, which would logically seem impossible but who am I to judge what's impossible and what's not, right? After all, who's the only one here who did some time traveling to get here?"
"An actor portrays me in this television ye keep talking about," he said, formulating the words slowly. "Which means that I am not real. But how can that be if he is portraying me?"
"Well, that's the point I'm trying to make," she said. "You were a made up character. Oh sure, the creators of the show had some influence with Celtic legends. In fact, that's where they had got some of the biggest names: Chonchobar, Maeve, Kells. The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog is what they called the show in an attempt to sell it to young kids seeking thirty minutes of action-packed medieval kick-assiness. I was hooked," she said with a grin. "Oh, but don't look so glum. You were the main character."
"I was?" he said, straightening.
"Oh yea," she said. "In fact, the transformation scenes you had with your armor took the longest out of all the Mystic Knights. You had at least an extra minute devoted to your armor-changing-thing but if you really want to know my opinion on the subject matter, it really sucked. They kind of cheesed out on the graphics and everything just looked fake. So did the monsters you and your friends battled as well as the fire power your weapons produced. Oh, but when you scared off those Temrans back there, it was certainly real enough for me."
"Thank Dagda, I guess," he said.
Christine laughed. "You're funny."
"What else did they show on that television about me?"
Christine looked at him slyly. "Why? Are you embarrassed about something?"
"No," he said right away. "I'm just…curious. There were other actors, yes? Ones who portrayed my friends?"
"Yeah, of course," said Christine. "What are you trying to get at, Rohan? Spill it out."
He hesitated. "Well, you said you knew all of the Mystic Knights by name and weapon."
"Still do," she said.
"Uh," he sighed. "What did they have to say about…uh, never mind."
A small smile crept into the corners of Christine's mouth. "Rohan," she said.
"Yes," he said.
"You and Deidre."
"What about?" he said a little more sharply than he intended.
Christine sighed, knowing full well what he was fretting about. "Unfortunately, the producers of the show had to cancel because they went about a billion dollars over budget with the transformation scenes and special effects so the show only lasted one season, or fifty episodes. Almost all of those episodes hinted at you and Deidre but nothing really heated up until Garrett showed up. That's when the show got interesting."
"And why is that?" he snapped. She glanced up at him and then cast her glance down, ashamed. Feeling guilty, Rohan softened. "Sorry."
"No, don't be. It's certainly a tender subject…especially since I don't know what's happened since that last episode."
"Why?" he asked. "What happened?"
"Well, as I can remember far back into the recesses of my memory," she sighed. "You got hurt badly and Cathbad had to do some miracle work to revive you. Deidre had expressed some sincere concern for you and when you woke up she was all emotional like she had never been before over you…and then the show was cancelled and my jaw could be heard hitting the floor miles away." She laughed and Rohan lightened up. "I hate it when they do that." She shook her head.
Rohan smiled. "If it's any help, not much time has passed since that time and now. Maeve was banished but a month ago but there is still the threat of her sister Numaine and the beast Lugad looming in our future."
"So then you know Maeve is your mother," she stated.
He sighed. "Yes," he said softly.
"Hey," she perked up. "Is that a village I see up ahead?"
"Yes," he said. "We should be there within the hour."
"Yes," she hissed. A sudden jolt of energy ran through her body and her stomach did flips. She bit her lip, afraid to touch this next subject. "You know, you may have been the main character but the one Mystic Knight I fancied was your friend Angus."
"Angus?" he said laughing. "I never took ye fer a daft woman but for Lugh's sake why Angus?"
"Oh, it's not that I fancied him in that way," she said a little too quickly. "I just…well, it's kind of hard to explain really."
Rohan gave her a sly grin. "And just what are you trying to get at, Christine? Why don't you spill it out?"
She narrowed her eyes and punched his arm. "Using my words against me. How unfair."
"Well you brought it up," he said.
"Only because I didn't want you to think the world revolved around you," she said.
"Ouch," said Rohan.
They both laughed and entered the camp minutes later. "So you think I'll be getting a lot of stares?" she asked.
He glanced at her. "Oho, yes."
She smirked. "Thanks."
As she predicted, there were many stares in her direction but as soon as the villagers saw that she was walking beside Rohan, they eased up a little. Though they kept a watchful eye on her as she passed.
One eye was keen in watching her as she walked towards them and he nudged his friend in the shoulder.
"What, Ivar? I'm busy," said Angus. He turned around and immediately dropped the coin he had been examining. "Good Lugh have mercy," he breathed. "Who's that with Rohan?"
"I have no idea," said Ivar. "But I am sure he will tell us in due course."
Angus licked his lips. "I sure hope he does."
Upon catching his eye, Christine's entire body went rigid and she tensed, forcing her legs to walk calmly. She took several breaths and turned away from his glance to look at the other villagers, pretending to not know whom he was. She felt as though her heart would implode as soon as they were within several feet of them. Ivar stood and bowed his head. "Rohan…you have brought a stranger. I thought you said you were just out for a long walk and some time alone." His eyes were fiercely calm, a trait Christine had not picked up on in the show. He looked at her with those eyes and she smiled. "Milady, I am Prince Ivar."
"I know," she said.
Ivar raised an eyebrow. He glanced at Rohan. "You have informed her of me."
Rohan crossed his arms. "Nope. I found her on the main road with two Temran soldiers, no doubt acting upon their own orders. She ran but I caught up with her and…well, Christine seems to know more about us than we do."
Christine had not been paying attention, however. She had blocked out all conversation in order keep herself from passing out with the anxiety. She shook her head and continued smiling at Ivar. "Pardon me, Rohan," she said, "But all of this is too much excitement for me. Meeting you was extraordinary but to meet Prince Ivar and Angus…." She glanced down at Angus as she said this, "Is, for lack of a better word, heavenly."
Angus broke into a broad grin. "Well what d'ye know? She called us heavenly, Ivar." He cocked his head to the side to stare up at Ivar. Then, he stood up and held out his hand. "Milady."
Her hand was trembling as she shook his hand. She giggled as he lowered to gently kiss the back of her hand. "You are something else, Angus," she said.
Ivar rolled his eyes.
"Why don't you tell them how you came to know all of this?" asked Rohan.
Christine released her grip and reluctantly Angus let go. She turned to look at Rohan and said, "Would you minded if I had something to eat before I go into another deep discussion? No offense, but talking to you Rohan has made me famished. That and two days without sleep or food."
"We should take her to the castle," suggested Angus. "The kitchens are always open."
"To you they always were but to everyone else you're just a regular nuisance with a hole in your stomach," she said. When he stood taken aback by her sudden personal response, she giggled. "Sorry," she blushed. "I'm just nervous. Words kind of just...spill out unceremoniously when I'm all a jitter. Rohan's right. My stomach can wait. I think you all deserve to know who I am before we cancontinue any further."
"We should go up to the castle," said Rohan. "It would save you the extra conversation."
"Good thinking," said Angus, rubbing his hands together. "I could go fer some roast lamb."
Christine laughed. "Your appetite is even greater than what they showed on T.V."
"T.V.?" he asked. "What in hell's name is that?"
Sighing, Christine glanced at them all, giving a knowing look to Rohan, and said, "A box of stupidity wrapped in an enigma but I shall get to that later. First things first, though. My name is Christine Blake. And I'm from…well, the future," she shrugged.