Alright, I should have suspected trouble the minute I heard the thunder. The storm was a long way off, but I knew it was coming. A late summer storm, and it was already September. I just got back from a photo session at the museum-- we were doing Steampunk shots at the time, so I guess my masculine attire of vintage vest, boots-- you know the whole romantic Byronic hero look-- might have had something to do with setting the stage.
Unknown to me at the moment, I was about to take one of those unexpected time trips that had become part of my life ever since that unfortunate 12th century episode. Well, not so unfortunate-- one of my nastier ancestors, a sheriff of Nottingham no less, had conspired with demonic forces to entrap an unsuspecting descendant-- oh, its complicated. Something about making him immortal and some such crap. But on the plus side, I did come home with Guy of Gisbourne, who is still adjusting to his 21st century life.
But on this particular night, I was only moderately apprehensive about the storm. What a dork, you'd think Id know by now. So, I went upstairs to close the windows and then ZAP! A bolt of lightning and crash of thunder just as I stood at the open window-- BAM! I was on the floor, a nasty electric smell in the air and a buzzing in my ears.
"Oh shit, that stings!!"
I was knocked senseless for the moment-- well, more senseless than usual-- and tried to get up. It was dark, and it was pouring. On me, as I lay in the dirt. Now my housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired, but we do not have dirt floors in my house.
"Oh no. Not again!"
I rolled over and pushed myself up to a sitting position. I was in the middle of some courtyard, surrounded by stone walls--- and I realized I had made a time-jump again. TOTO!! Obviously, I wasnt in Kansas anymore. Which wasn't too strange since I started off in NJ
Why could I not just end up in a lovely garden on a sunny day? Why not a Roman villa, or French castle? Or relaxing in a boat on the Rhine?? Why was it always something dramatic??? The Joan of Arc episode, Gilles de Rais notwithstanding, came to mind. The rain came down in torrents, I was soaked and the dirt was rapidly turning to mud. However, there was no fire, smoke, screaming, signs of disaster-- outside of the lousy weather, at least it was quiet and I was alone.
"Well, you can sit here in the mud like a moron, or you can find your way back." There was a muted flash of lightning and after a few seconds a rumble. I turned my eyes skyward, squinting against the rain. "Come on! Hit me already and get me home! Fun is fun, God-- but this isn't it!!"
Trying to stand up in that slop felt like slapstick, since my feet were sliding and the mud was oozing all over. I managed to get to my feet and stood for a moment, hoping some of the slog on my clothes would wash off. Another dim flash of light, and I repeated my request for a quick exit.
In the back of my mind I couldnt figure what had made the launch-- what had caused a simple lethal bolt of gazillion volt lightning to hurl me off to parts unknown, when technically I ought to be home on the second floor landing, a nice little pile of charred cinders. Usually, some artifact from the past was the culprit-- a sword, a mirror, a piece of jewelry-- all I could imagine was that the vintage vest I was wearing might be responsible. Great, now I had to give up vintage clothing.
I thought I heard voices over the beat of the rain, and I looked around at my surroundings again. Big courtyard, high stone walls, steps, faint lights from the high windows, huge mucking portcullis-- closed-- and for a fleeting moment I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was back in Nottingham. No, I remembered that castle. This was different, but apparently a castle none the less. And then, like an idiot, I called out.
Voices again, and then, out of the murky wet night two men in uniforms came rushing at me. Despite my unpleasant situation, I smiled like an idiot. I am a fan of Napoleonic history and these men were definitely French soldiers.
"Oh, now this is cool!" I exclaimed. Who does not dream of visiting a favorite historical past? The bayonets leveled at me were a bit disconcerting, but I raised hands slightly in assurance that I was friendly-- or at least unarmed. Now what? I couldnt speak French, and so, naturally, I spoke English loudly-- some bizarre concept as yet unexplained-- as if a foreign language can be understood if shouted. "Hello, I'm friendly. See? No weapons."
"Who are you? What are you doing here? And why are you shouting?"
Wait. That was distinctly English. The realization hit me and I smacked my forehead with a muddy palm. Dunce! Same thing had happened in 1400-whatever. The same bizarre-ness that can rocket one through time and space also over-comes the language barrier. Lucky for me, but I never said I understood how any of this works,
"It was an accident." I assured them. "I came here by mistake-- uh, where am I?"
"The prison, imbecile! Now move!"
I obliged in making for the portcullis in the hopes I could squeeze through the grate. Well, a few sizes and several dozen milk shakes ago, maybe--
"Not that way!" One of the soldiers grabbed my arm and tugged me off balance. Thanks to wet clothes and another flash of lightning, a few feminine features were evident.
"It's a woman!" the second gasped.
"Surprise." I smirked. "Can we get out of the rain? Its ruining my vest."
My gender having been discovered, I was gently pushed in the direction of a door. In a few moments I found myself in the comparatively dry and warm confines of a guard room and the subject of much speculation between my escorts and three more uniformed men.
"What's this?" was probably one of the kinder remarks.
"Gentlemen." I nodded as politely as possible. Having been through previous dislocations in time, I had learned a few things, First, never tell them about being from the future or how you got there-- you'll be labeled a lunatic and locked up, if not immediately torched at the stake. Secondly-- never argue. I had learn this ages ago whenever I was pulled over for driving too fast. Arguments with the police guarantee a ticket, agreement and pleasant conversations usually got you out of one. Thirdly, bide your time. Sooner or later-- which is a weird thing to say regarding time-tripping-- youll get back home. And last and most important, stay alive. "I am afraid there has been a mistake. I ended up in the courtyard of your, uh-- fort? ..by accident. I would be more than happy to be on my way if you could let me out."
This generated some laughter, and then I remembered one of the guards had said this place was a prison. Sure, who doesnt ask to be let out?
"I'm sure you realize I am not an inmate here. Do I look familiar?" Bite your tongue, idiot-- in the rain, muddy and soaked, maybe you do.
"I dont recognize the accent." another man spoke up. "Are you English?"
"Technically, no. Im from New--" oh like they know where New Jersey is! "America."
"Why are you dressed like that? Trying to help someone escape?"
"Of course not-- alright, I know this is a prison-- where? What prison?"
"Toulon." another grumbled.
I was dumbstruck-- images of Napoleon at Toulon came to mind.
"No shit! I mean, is Napoleon here? General Bonaparte? Wait-- when is here?" I still lacked the exact date, and hoped perhaps I hadnt missed the chance of meeting one of my heroes. When they looked at me blankly, I repeated myself.
"The time. What time is it?"
"No, I mean, what year!"
The fellows muttered amongst themselves of what to do. Thankfully, I was not appealing enough physically at the moment to make the snogging finals, and so they skipped through a roster of options and came to a mutual conclusion.
"Marbot, tell the Captain we have a visitor." someone suggested, and then said Marbot was on his way. "I think he'll be very interested in meeting you."
"Alright." I agreed happily enough. Now we were getting somewhere. I helped myself to a seat and shook out my sleeves. "I dont suppose any of you have a towel?"