I find myself alone in this strange stone bedroom. It’s cold. I pull the top half of my nightgown back over my shoulders and tug the covers up. Pieces of a strange dream run through my mind. It was dark, and my hands turned into fire like they had in the cell with Logan. Was it just a dream about that? I feel like it was different, but I can’t remember enough detail.
Four young women let themselves into my room, and the dream is quickly pushed to the back of my mind. One is carrying a bundle of dark blue fabric, another has an armful of hair brushes and pins, and a third has several small pots and thin brushes. The three of them place their bundles by a vanity next to the other side of the bed. The fourth comes up to the edge of the bed and curtsies.
“My lady. May I help you to the vanity?” She asks, keeping her head down. I am way out of my element here…
“Um… Yes, please.” My voice cracks. She holds my arm as I slowly sit up. My body aches faintly, and my legs feel unsteady as I stand up. The floor is unbearably cold. The servant woman is very patient as we walk around the bed, and I sit in a chair they bring over in front of the mirror. “Um, do you think I could get some water or something to drink?” My voice is hoarse and I wonder if she can hear me.
“Of course, my lady. I will bring you some right away.” She curtsies again and rushes out of the room.
“May I brush your hair, my lady?” Another of the girls asks. She has a round face, and freckles across her nose. Strawberry blonde hair falls in curls from under her white bandana.
“Oh, um… okay.” I gulp. She picks up a brush and starts at the bottom. She is very gentle, and it’s surprisingly relaxing.
The one with long, slick black hair stands in front of me, “May I apply some make up?” She asks, a little more authoritatively.
“I guess so,” I reply reluctantly. What kind of makeup did they wear back then? She picks up a bowl of white powder and I lean back. I remember now. “Um, actually, no thanks. I think I’m good.”
“Perhaps just some rouge?” She holds up a little vial of red powder.
I want to refuse, but the look in her dark brown eyes is intimidating. “O-okay.” She applies the powder to my cheeks and lips. It tastes horrible.
I’m relieved when the first one returns with a glass of water. I drink almost the entire glass. They share a look among themselves. The dark haired girl gathers her items up and leaves. I let out a sigh of relief. The others wait silently as the blonde continues to brush my hair.
“So… What are your names?” I ask, hoping to feel less awkward.
“I’m Alice.” The blonde chirps eagerly.
“I am Lucile.” The one who brought the water answers timidly. She has short brown hair and dimples in her cheeks.
The other one, who stands by the blue dress draped over the other chair by the fire, answers last. Her voice is softer, “I’m Sarah.” Her chocolate coloured hair is tied into a tight bun under the bandana that seems to be part of a uniform.
“It’s nice to meet you. Please, call me Kaitlyn. You don’t need to be so formal.” I try to assure them. The brunettes don’t look convinced.
Alice smiles as she puts the brush down, and picks up a thin comb. She separates strands of my hair above my ears and starts to braid. I watch her hands weave with impressive speed in the mirror. In just a couple minutes, she’s got a fairly elaborate braid on either side of my head, meeting at the back. She combines the two and ties it off at the end.
“Finished, my lady.” She curtsies as she steps back. I flinch. I wish they wouldn’t call me that. I’m no lady.
“If you could stand, my lady, so we can dress you,” Sarah asks, gesturing to the dress.
I get up and step away from the chair. I still feel weak, but I think the water made a difference. Sarah and Lucile stand on either side of me and pull the nightgown down from my shoulders. I shiver as my naked body is exposed to the frigid air of the castle. They quickly replace it with a thin linen slip that fits snugly over my figure. Then comes the thicker, silken blue dress. I’m grateful for the warmth.
The sleeves pinch at the elbow and then bloom into long open pieces that hang almost to the floor. The front has two thin strips of gold fabric, and over my stomach is corset-like lacing. They start to tug at the laces, tightening the waist until it forms an hourglass shape. It’s not as bad as I imagine a real corset to be like. I can still breathe easily. Sarah places a pair of fancy looking flats on the floor and I step into them.
A knock on the door draws our attention. Alice rushes over to open it. “Are you almost done in there? The king is waiting.” As the women are distracted, I feel tiny claws climbing up the side of the dress, coming to a rest on my shoulder.
“Yes, sir. She’s ready.” Alice bows, pulling the door all the way open. Merlin and Andrei stand in the hall beyond. Andrei wears a white undershirt, with a decorative dark blue tunic over top. It’s the same shade as my dress. A belt keeps the tunic in place, and a sword hangs at his side. I walk across the stone floor, nervous that I’ll step on the edge of the dress and fall.
Merlin smiles and bows slightly. “You look lovely, Kaitlyn.”
I feel myself blush, “Thank you.”
Andrei stares at me with his mouth hanging slightly open. “Wow. You look stunning.”
I bite the inside of my cheek, “You look quite impressive yourself.”
“Alright, enough of that. Let’s get moving.” Merlin rolls his eyes. Andrei offers his arm and I gratefully take it. I hold onto him with both hands, and we walk slowly behind Merlin. To my relief, we don’t have to go up too many steps to reach the throne room at the center of the castle. The whole building is crawling with guards, servants, and nobles going about their day. Many of them look at us with curiosity, but not fear. I guess they must trust the old mage.
At the large double doors, Merlin doesn’t wait for the guards to open it. I catch the one on the left roll his eyes. Inside a group of men stand at the base of the dais, where a pair of empty thrones rest. The men fall silent and watch intently as we approach. I clutch Andrei’s sleeve. I can’t believe we’re about to meet the most famous king in history. I never believed the stories.
“Arthur! There you are.” Merlin calls out cheerfully.
“Merlin.” One of the men speaks, his voice a little strained. “You’re late.” He stands with his arms crossed, one hand resting on his stubbly chin. His golden hair is a little long, but neatly trimmed. His skin is tanned, and I can see at least a few scars on his face and hands. He’s definitely seen quite a bit of battle. He looks maybe in his late thirties, but it’s hard to tell.
“I brought the Guardians, as you requested. They will be visiting for a few days.” Merlin steps aside and waves to us.
Andrei pulls his arm out of my grasp and steps forward, crossing his right arm over his chest and dropping to one knee. He bows his head, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, your highness. My name is Andrei Hanganu, and my lady is Kaitlyn Smith. We thank you for your gracious hospitality.” I gulp, and quickly drop onto my knee, staring at the floor. Good job, Kat. Off to a great start.
The sound of footsteps on stone approach until a pair of boots come into view. A rugged hand appears. I follow the arm up to the face of the king. His bright blue eyes seem to pierce right through me. I place a trembling hand in his, worried he might be offended if I didn’t. He pulls me back to my feet and lifts my hand to place a kiss on the back of it. I feel like a deer in headlights or a fly in a spider web.
“Kaitlyn. A fitting name, for one as fair as you.” He beams, eyes twinkling.
Oh no. No no. Please just be a mannerism, and not flirting.
“T-thank you.” I stutter.
The king steps back, “Rise.” He says casually. Andrei stands slowly, his jaw clenched and back stiff. “I am very interested to hear how you came to Camelot. Merlin tells me you are from far away.” He tips his head, with a smile. “You must join me for dinner, and tell me your story.” As he talks, his eyes remain locked with mine.
I risk a glance at Andrei, but I can’t see his expression. “N-no, we couldn’t. You have already been so generous. I’m sure you have more important things to-”
“Nonsense.” Arthur scoffs, “I insist.”
Well… Crap. “Oh…” I mumble.
“It would be our pleasure, Sire,” Andrei replies stiffly.
“Excellent. I will have the servants call you when it’s ready. Please make yourselves at home until then.” He bows and turns away. He pauses to look back over his shoulder once.
Merlin herds us back out the double doors. I cross the hall to lean against the windowsill. I feel dizzy and nauseous all of a sudden. I really hope dinner won’t be like that. I don’t know if I can handle that much tension. The crude, blue-tinted glass of the window shutters, catching my attention for just a moment.
“Hey, are you okay?” Andrei asks quietly, placing his hand on the small of my back, “You look pale… Maybe we should go lay down.”
I nod, “I think that’s a good idea.” I take his arm again.
Merlin sighs, “Follow me.”
At the stairs, I lean heavily on Andrei. I hate feeling so helpless and being a burden. “Sorry,” I mumble as he holds me up.
“Don’t be. I hardly expected you to be moving, let alone meeting the king. You should be taking it easy.” Andrei reassures me.
“Who knew talking for a couple minutes could be so exhausting?” I laugh bitterly.
“Well… That wasn’t entirely your fault. He was presumptuous.” Andrei’s expression darkens.
Merlin opens the door of the room for us and stands in the hall. “Rest for now. I will bring you something to eat soon. Dinner will be served in the evening.” The door closes behind us.
Andrei leads me across the room to the edge of the bed. I sit, and look up curiously, “What do you mean, presumptuous?”
“Well, now I don’t have to use fancy words. He was flirting, Kat! He couldn’t stop looking at you. I’m sure you felt it.” He crosses his arms, leaning against the wall.
I look away, “I was kind of hoping it was just… I don’t know, normal? Manners, or etiquette. That sort of thing.”
“He only talked to you. He spoke directly to you, not us. We came in together. Normally he should have us both rise and speak to me. This is a patriarchal time,” he scoffs. “The nerve of him.”
I hang my head. “What am I supposed to do? He’s letting us stay here, and everything. I don’t want to be the person who upsets King Arthur. I mean… This whole kingdom is his. It’s not like we’ll be able to leave anytime soon.”
“It sucks, I know. I didn’t know it’d take so much magic to jump two people at once.” His voice drops, “I can’t hear the ticking anymore.” I frown. That’s worse than I thought. “We’ll have to be more careful, that’s all. I mean, the man’s married. I doubt he’s the kind of man to cheat on his wife. Maybe it was just flirting.”
I raise an eyebrow. “I take it you haven’t read the legends of King Arthur, have you?”
“What? I’ve read some. Why?”
I shuffle further onto the bed. Rhoan slips out from his usual spot under my hair and jumps onto the bed. “Maybe it really is nothing. I thought the stories were all made up anyway, so who knows what’s fact or fiction.”
“What did you read?” His brows rise, “What aren’t you telling me?”
I fluff the pillows, avoiding his gaze. “It’s just… He was known for his bravery, not… fidelity.” I mumble the last part.
He throws his hands in the air, “okay, that settles it then. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
I flinch, “But, Andrei, what about what Merlin said? Who knows how long we’ll be here for. We shouldn’t cause too much trouble, right?”
“I don’t care what Merlin says. You saw how he broke the rules in there, walking in late, going through the doors unannounced. If he can break the rules, why can’t I? We’re from a ‘distant land’.” He makes air quotes with his fingers, “Perhaps we have different customs too. Like staying with your girlfriend twenty-four-seven.”
My heart jumps a little at his casual use of the word girlfriend. I smile despite myself. “Andrei, I think you’re being a little dramatic. He might be interested, but that doesn’t mean I am.”
“All I’m saying is we should keep our eyes open for anything funny. I didn’t see it coming in Japan. At least here, we can be wary.” He shrugs.
I smirk, “Wary, or paranoid?”
“Both; you be wary, I’ll be paranoid.”
I can’t help but laugh. “You’re a little ridiculous, you know that?” I shake my head, “well if you’re going to break the rules anyway, come and lay with me.”
“Gladly.” He grins, slinking over to the bed and crawling in next to me.
I lay my arm over his chest and rest my head on his shoulder. He wraps his arm around my back. “Tell me about your favourite jump to the past,” I ask.
“My favourite? Well…” He hums, “There was this time I jumped to the time of the Vikings. I met a famous Viking known as Erik the Red.” He begins, “It was just before I quit high school…” I close my eyes, listening to him recite his adventures, and the steady beat of his heart. I don’t remember much past the first few minutes.
Andrei wakes me up a little while later when Merlin brings lunch for us. He gave Andrei a look when he came in, but didn’t say anything more. We spend the afternoon in the room. I fell asleep again for a couple hours. I just can’t seem to stay awake for very long. Though, true to his word, Andrei is there when I wake up again. I remember a couple more details of the dream. Somewhere in the darkness, I saw a woman. She wore a long red cloak, with the hood up, obscuring her face. I don’t remember anyone else being in the cell with us…
Merlin comes to collect us when it’s time to go to dinner. I check in the mirror to see if I messed up the servants’ work, but it hardly looks like I was sleeping all day. Rhoan burrows under the collar of my dress, and I take Andrei’s arm again. Merlin waits in the hall.
“Oh, wait, before we go,” I stop. Andrei looks down curiously. I tug on his arm to make him lean closer, and stand up on my toes. I kiss his lips hard, leaving him stunned. “Whatever happens… Just remember that. Okay?”
“What do you expect to happen while I’m there?” He asks, bewildered. He touches his hand to his lips, almost in disbelief.
I raise an eyebrow, “More blatant flirting, probably. So, I just thought I would give you a reminder before we go.” I wink playfully.
“More like a tease.” He smirks, “Try not to flirt back.”
I blink with feigned innocence, “A lady doesn’t flirt with a married man. Besides, I wouldn’t know how.”
He narrows his eyes, “I doubt that.”
We head out and follow Merlin through the vast stone halls. I wonder if this place is bigger or smaller than the Guild. It’s hard to tell since we’ve seen so little of it. The guards up ahead see us coming and move to open the doors, announcing our arrival to those inside. Merlin doesn’t wait for them to finish as he strolls into the dining hall.
“If you get nervous,” Andrei whispers in my ear, “Just pretend we’re alone in the room.” I nod. I’m already nervous.
Inside the room is a large table, at least ten feet long. There are five place settings, one on either end, two on the side closest to us, and one in the middle on the other side. I recognize the king, standing at the end near a roaring fireplace. Across the table at the other end is a statue of a woman, golden hair falling in perfect ringlets, a tiny upturned nose, sparkling emerald eyes. She smiles warmly at us as we approach the table.
“We are so happy to have new faces joining us tonight. Please, sit.” The woman, whom I can only assume is Queen Guinevere, says. Arthur moves over to the chair nearest to him and pulls it out. He looks at me, expectantly. I feel a lump in my throat. Seriously, in front of his wife?!
That is until Merlin steps up. “Why thank you.” He plops down in the chair. Arthur’s expression turns grim. I bite my lips together. Don’t laugh in the king’s face… Merlin glances back at me and gestures to the seat between him and the queen. I guess Andrei isn’t the only one concerned.
Andrei steps up and pulls out the chair next to Merlin, gesturing for me to sit. I do, and he pushes it in closer to the table. He then walks around behind the queen to sit across from me. Almost immediately, servants bring out plates of food and cups of dark liquid. I sniff the liquid – wine. I guess I should have expected as much. I’ll have to be careful.
“So, Merlin tells me you’re from far away. Where exactly is that?” The king asks casually. I make the mistake of looking at him, only to find him staring back, though trying not to be obvious. Is he asking me??
Andrei clears his throat, “Yes, actually, very far. You probably don’t know the name of our country.”
Arthur raises an eyebrow, finally turning to look at Andrei instead. I breathe a sigh of relief, “Enlighten me then. It can’t be that far if you’ve come all the way here. As the king, it’s my duty to know these sorts of things.”
“Well,” Andrei glances at Merlin, “I’m from over the seas. I mean, of water and of time.” He pauses, watching the old mage. “My lady, Kaitlyn, and I have come far to learn about your kingdom. It’s familiar to us, in a way.”
Arthur’s eyes narrow, “What sort of way?”
“Well,” He hesitates, “Much of your history was not properly recorded. So many of the tales are, what would you say, Kaitlyn? Made up? Falsified? Legend?”
“Exaggerated.” I answer simply. “There are many conflicting accounts as well. I honestly believed it was all… well, fiction.”
“Which is partly why we came here to meet you. We wanted to record a more accurate truth of your legend.” Andrei grins. Well, at least he’s a better liar than I am.
“Merlin said you were injured when he found you.” Arthur muses, “Were you attacked on your way?” His blue eyes shift back to me, “Tell me who attacked you and I will have my knights hunt them down.”
“Yes. We had an unfortunate setback on our journey; a complication. But it’s not of this time, so you have nothing to worry about in your kingdom, I assure you.” Andrei states confidently.
The king nods. “I see. Well, that is a relief. I hope Merlin has treated you well and seen to any wounds? He is the best healer in all the nearby kingdoms.” He seems to be asking me directly again.
“Yes,” I reply quietly, “He has been very kind, and very thorough.”
“He is a marvelous healer! You are very lucky to have him! I wish we had the likes where we are from.” Andrei praises. He seems much more relaxed now.
“Andrei, was it? That is an interesting name. Is it common in your country?” Queen Guinevere asks. She leans her chin on her palm, sparkling emerald eyes tracing over his form.
“No, not really. My family moved there after a war, so my name is from a different country.” Andrei replies, oblivious.
“How terrible that must have been for you. You must tell me more.” She says sympathetically, though she glances at me from the corner of her eye, the edge of her perfect lips twisting up. I stare at her in disbelief and feel like I’ve just been punched in the stomach.
“Perhaps later.” He suggests. I clench my fist on my lap. The queen leans back in her seat, seemingly satisfied with herself. Her gaze locks with mine, and she smiles sweetly. I’m filled with anger, and I have to look away. Why am I so mad all of a sudden? I take a swig of wine and a deep breath.
The conversation dies out for a while as we each focus on eating. I remind myself to eat slowly, even though I realize I’m starving. When was the last time I ate? I study the way the queen holds herself, and how she eats, and try to mimic her. It’s almost pointless; she is literal perfection. How does Arthur ever look at anything else?
“So, how long will you be staying with us?” Arthur asks as the servants collect plates. I can feel his gaze, but I look to Andrei instead.
“Well, we were hoping at least a few days. We wouldn’t want to overstay our welcome.” Andrei replied humbly.
“Nonsense!” Arthur laughs, “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. In fact, we should celebrate. It’s not often that we receive visitors from another time. I would be honored to show you everything that Camelot has to offer.” The king grins, and winks at me, “For your records, of course.” I drop my gaze quickly.
The queen pipes up again, her attention focused on Andrei. “Life here must be very different from your own time. Perhaps you’d like to compare what you do to our time? What sorts of things do you do?”
“Well, it’s sort of complicated to explain…” Andrei trails off, looking to Merlin.
The queen leans closer, fluttering her eyes, “Nonsense, we will understand. Please, enlighten us.”
Andrei visibly gulps, “We study, we work in offices and travel a lot. People do many sorts of things.”
“What do you do?” The queen stresses the ‘you’.
I resist the urge to respond ‘me’. Instead, I force a smile, “Andrei and I study magic together.”
“That’s right. Studying.” Andrei confirms quickly. The queen’s eyes cut through me without even turning her head. I feel a chill run down my spine.
Arthur clears his throat, “So you’ve come to study Camelot? We must be quite popular in the future.”
Andrei raises an eyebrow. “Yes, it is. Quite a popular topic for debate. You mentioned though, you’ve had visitors from other times before? I wasn’t aware that others could travel through time.”
“Once or twice.” Merlin shrugs.
“That’s not surprising.” I muse under my breath.
“Why do you think so?” Arthur asks quickly.
I blush, “Um… Well, the tales of Camelot are somewhat romanticized, with different authors putting their own spin on it every few decades.”
The corner of his mouth twists up, in an uneven devilish smirk. “It is quite a romantic time.”
“T-that’s not what I…” I stutter.
Arthur waves his hand as if to dismiss the topic. “I think I will hold a tournament, in honor of you as my guests. You are welcome to join in the festivities or observe from the royal platform. It will take about a week to prepare. I hope that you will stay.”
I gawk at him. A week? A tournament? Seriously? On one hand, I’m thrilled to see a real medieval tournament, but… Spending a whole week here? I glance over to try and read Andrei’s expression.
His face lights up, “Really? A tournament! Well, I’ve always wanted a chance to properly learn the sword. You wouldn’t mind if I took part?”
“Not at all.” Arthur grins.
“I would very much like to see you compete,” The queen says wantingly.
Merlin raises an eyebrow, then turns to look at me, “I understand Kaitlyn here is also quite a skilled warrior. Perhaps she should also partake?”
“Is that befitting in this time? We wouldn’t want to overstep your customs.” Andrei retorts. Oh, now he’s worried about customs? I narrow my eyes.
Arthur chuckles, “The tournament will draw knights from all corners of the kingdom, as well as young men looking for glory. I couldn’t allow such a delicate maiden to take part in that. You would be much more comfortable observing from the dais, Kaitlyn.” His voice is sweet, but his words irk me.
My eye twitches, but I force myself to smile, “As you wish, your highness.”
The king stands up, and the queen follows suit. “Well, it’s late. I will retire for the night. I hope you will join us for breakfast.” The royal pair leave, arm in arm.
I slouch in my chair and pout. “Watching? God, that’s so boring. I bet I could take on any of those so-called knights.”
“With the shape you’re in now, I doubt you could take on a goldfish.” Merlin chuckles as he stands up.
I glare up at the wizard, “Is that a challenge, old man?”
“Not at all,” He shakes his head. “I’m not a goldfish.”
By Krystyna Yates