"It's a revolution, I suppose. We're painted red to fit right in. […] I'm waking up—I feel it in my bones, enough to make my system blow. Welcome to the new age." –Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive"
"Wake up! Hey, get up!" Someone almost shouted in her ear.
Jacqueline lashed out and knew she'd slapped her rude awakener. If it was Georges' idea of a joke to sneak into her room and wake her up, she didn't find it very funny. But some base instinct told her she was not in her bed, and she quickly sat up. She was hanging in some hammock-like apparatus. Around her, in the treetops, more of these hung like odd fruits. On the ground below, wooden buildings were clustered close together and dark-clothed figures moved between them like shadows.
"Ow! That hurt."
"Where am I?" She unsteadily gripped the edges of her "bed".
"What kind of question is that? We're in the Market. Like we always are?" Georges was sitting on a tree branch next to her. He phrased his last statement condescendingly.
Jacqueline tried to think of something to say and failed. Unlike normal people, she was being woken at night. It was then that she noticed that she was wearing the same kind of black clothing as Georges normally did—a folded hood and cowl rested next to her in the hammock.
"How did I get here?"
Georges put a finger to his lips as though thinking hard. "Hmm! I think I remember coming home, eating some food, and then going to bed and watching you do the same. But that's just my interpretation." He tossed her an apple. "Get up. Time to go."
"Go where?" She put the apple in her mouth and pulled on her hood, leaving the mask down so she could eat. Georges took a rope and swung out of the tree, landing at the bottom. Jacqueline climbed down instead.
"Are you drunk? We're going hunting."
She registered that they were speaking French. "Why…don't we speak English anymore?"
"Why bother? You know everyone in the Market is fluent."
"Why are we hunting at night?"
"Darkness makes it a lot harder for Georgie's men to see us. It was your idea."
Georges turned to raise an eyebrow at her. "You must have hit your head pretty hard, huh?"
"Just tell me."
"King Washington? King George Washington? He went mad with power a few years ago? Has been killing on a rampage ever since?" He waved his hands. "Sparking any memories?"
Jacqueline shook her head. "George Washington isn't a king. He retired, he was done leading the people after the war."
He laughed, actually laughed in her face. "Keep on dreaming, little fox. Now let's go, I'm going to get hungry soon."
Seeing no other viable option, she followed him. The forest looked the same as it always did, and she felt the same as she always did. Her leg was still stiff, her ribs still sore. What was so different? Something felt very wrong in the air. Perhaps that was just the smell of gunpowder, for she heard cannon fire in the distance. Even so, she knew that something was amiss.
Georges held up a hand. "Wait."
The moment dragged on for an uncomfortably long time, but she could hear it too. Mumbled talking, shifting in the grass, clinking of weapons. Someone was waiting.
"This way." He gestured to a tree and climbed up like a spider. She followed him at a slower pace, forced her healing knee to cooperate. They crept through the branches and saw bluecoats crouched down below, all watching generally the same area.
"What are they waiting for?" Jacqueline whispered, pulling up her mask to muffle her voice.
"It's an ambush." Georges' eyes narrowed. "Probably for that native woman."
"This woman, she tried to steal Washington's scepter. I bet he's got ten more places like this around the frontier, waiting for her to stumble in."
"What scepter? I'm so confused. None of this is right." She held up her gloved hand to tick fingers off. "Washington isn't a king. I'm not a Market trader."
"You've been part of us ever since we got to the Colonies just before the war." Georges shook his head. "You poor, delusional girl. I suppose Washington's influence affects all of us."
"Let's wait. I have some questions for this woman."
So they sat on the bough of the tree, feet dangling, watching the sky. The moon was huge and almost light blue, a perfect circle in the star-speckled night. Towering pines blocked some of the view, their fresh scent mixing with that of faraway gunpowder and ash. Jacqueline wondered where that was coming from. An ominous glow on the horizon signaled fire, but she wanted to remain and question this mysterious woman.
Before long, the whisper of grass being run through hushed into the silence. Hoofbeats pounded down on the damp earth. The bluecoats quieted and began to aim. Two shadowed figures on horses galloped past them, underneath the pair in the tree. The firing line sounded off a little early, mercifully missing them just as Jacqueline and Georges jumped down.
Fighting broke out in seconds. They were joined by more tribesmen, painted faces and earrings glinting in the pale light. The two horses added their high-pitched screams to the racket. The air was filled with thin, choking smoke. It felt good to fight again. Jacqueline found a stiletto at her belt and used it well, swinging and nearly dancing through the chaos. When she fell she sliced ankles and when she jumped it felt close to flight. Her stiff leg was pushed to the back of her mind and for the first time in months she was back to her old self.
The Zen was ruined when she tripped into someone and raised her knife to attack, at the same time a tomahawk was silhouetted against the moon when the other did the same. She hesitated, and suddenly recognised the square jaw and chestnut skin she had seen so many times.
"Connor?" She asked incredulously.
He seemed just as shocked to see her. "Jacqueline!"
Jacqueline grinned and embraced him tightly, and then reached up to hold his cheeks and peck kisses across his face. Connor didn't protest, but seemed embarrassed and gently pulled her away. "What's happening? Where are we?" She asked him breathlessly.
"I don't know." Connor mumbled. "Washington is—"
"King, I know. What's going on?"
"That is what we need to find out." He looked up to the woman with him, who was fair and freckled with sharp cheeks and sharper eyes. "Jacqueline, this is…my mother."
She looked up at him in surprise. "But you said…"
"I know." Connor cast her a look that she read as, "Don't question it."
"Who is this woman, Ratonhnhaké:ton?" His mother asked not unkindly.
"My name is Jacqueline. I'm, ah…" Jacqueline struggled for an acceptable answer. "A friend?"
"Looked a bit more than friends to me." Georges held a match up to a small pipe and exhaled out his nose, smirking. Perhaps it was her imagination, but he seemed to have multiple shadows. Then she saw that there were in fact Market cohorts behind him, lurking under the trees. She wondered if he was always being followed.
"Is this true, Ratonhnhaké:ton?" His mother stepped closer, head cocked as her eyes flicked between the two.
"Is this really the time for this?" Jacqueline asked.
"Yes." The answer was not directed to her, but rather the proud-statured woman across from them. Connor held his chin up when he spoke to her, but did not look at Jacqueline.
His mother regarded them, but didn't seem overly distressed. The next part of her speech she directed to Jacqueline. "I am Kantiehtí:io. Can you lend us your blade?"
"Of course." She sheathed her stiletto with exaggerated purpose. "As can my friend and any men he has at his disposal."
"Wait, what?" Georges straightened. "Hold on, I never agreed to that."
"What does he say?" Kantiehtí:io demanded. "Is he our ally?"
Georges was speaking French, and hence could not be understood by anyone but Jacqueline. He understood English, of course, but chose not to speak it. "I need your help in this, Georges." Jacqueline muttered to him. "We cannot fight alone."
Her friend grumbled, gnawing on his pipe. "Yeah, I suppose I can help. The folks back at the Market are getting restless, anyway. Trade's mostly stopped since Georgie's come to power."
She nodded and walked back to Connor. "He's with us, along with a small village worth of skilled fighters."
"Good." Kantiehtí:io turned to the other two native warriors who had joined them. "Mad King George is on a warpath and intends to destroy our village. We need every able body to protect it. Come with us."
"We know." One of the men answered after a pause. His head was shaved back into a ponytail, and black paint was across his mouth in a handprint. "Oiá:ner sent us to collect the boughs of the Great Willow. She means for us to defend our people."
Kantiehtí:io stepped forward in disbelief. "To make the tea? Has she lost her senses?! The tea's pitfalls overshadow its power. You must not do it."
The two warriors glanced at each other. "You have seen what it can do? Is it dangerous?"
"I have seen it." Kantiehtí:io snapped. "It is worse than dangerous; it is a promise of madness, even death for those who lack the constitution."
"We cannot disobey the Clan Mother." The second warrior stepped in now, his face painted with thin lines down the left side of his face.
"Believe me, the tea of the Great Willow is folly. Come with us."
There was a tense pause while the warriors frowned at each other, and then Handprint spoke again. "We will fulfill the Clan Mother's request. We will collect the boughs. Speak to Oiá:ner and if you can convince her, we will burn them."
"I intend to." Kantiehtí:io turned away sharply, and the two warriors jogged away to fade into the forest. Sensing their exit, Jacqueline turned back to Georges.
"You can, ah, stay at the Market for now." She assured him. "I'll let you know when we need help."
"Very well. Be safe, little fox." He ruffled her hair and rejoined his lurking Market members, until his shadow and the red coal of his pipe was all that was left of him, and then even that was gone.
"Come, Ratonhnhaké:ton." Kantiehtí:io gestured to a black horse beside her, where she was perched on her own. They looked commandeered—she suspected that they would not normally ride horses with stern saddles and bridles.
Connor swiftly unclipped the saddle from the poor beast and swung up to sit in the curve of its back, the beaded hood that hung over his bare chest rattling. Jacqueline hopped up in front of him, and Kantiehtí:io spurred her horse on ahead. The wind was wild and smelled of ash and fire. The long mane of the horse whipped at Jacqueline's hands as they rode along. The ride was a little rougher without the saddle, but allowed for more room with both of them. Connor had to lean forward further to steer, and Jacqueline ran her gloved fingers along the inside of his arm. She chuckled when goosebumps textured his skin.
"You are enjoying this too much." He muttered.
"You do look awfully handsome in those clothes." She looked back and saw a small, self-satisfied smile on his face. "Anyway, this is serious. We need to figure out how to get back to our world."
"You think this is a different world?" He sounded curious.
"What else is it? Unless it's some kind of hallucination." Jacqueline rubbed her chin, thinking. "We seem to be the only ones aware that we're not where we should be, leading me to believe it's rather some alternate world we have been thrust into."
"I am not sure what to think of that." Connor mused. "Other worlds…" He raised his voice to speak to his mother. "What is the tea of the Great Willow?"
"Something our people should never have discovered. It is the tea brewed of the Great Willow's virgin boughs and consumed by our warriors. It grants certain…strengths, Ratonhnhaké:ton, but for every physical boon it gives, it robs a piece of the mind. It must never be made."
"Did you drink it?"
"Never. But I have seen what happens to those who do. You are the son of a man of violence. It would affect you far more than anyone else. I will not allow you to drink it."
"Curious." Jacqueline frowned, thinking about this odd tea. The trees led them like a path to the walls of a village, made of tall logs with spiked tops. It was hardly a fortress, but it wouldn't be easy to enter if the sole entrance was guarded.
"Thank the maker we're not too late." Kantiehtí:io sighed in relief and jumped off her horse before it stopped trotting.
The other two also dismounted. Jacqueline looked up at the towering walls, more than slightly intimidated. A feeling similar to the one she experienced before entering a church came over her, the feeling that she should not enter, or that it was some forbidden and sacred place.
Despite herself, she whispered to Connor, "Should I stay out here?"
"That may be best. You will likely not gain us any favour." Kantiehtí:io volunteered, having overheard. "Come, Ratonhnhaké:ton." And she swept away with him in tow.
"You are truly your mother's son, Connor." Jacqueline sighed and sat against a tree outside the village, crossed her legs, and waited.