The island sun is warm on my skin as I gaze up at the sun from my spot on the grass beneath an old oak tree. The grass tickles my neck as I lay there, Elias next to me, sound asleep. My arm touches his as he sleeps and I am keenly aware of the contact. Despite all of our adventures, I never tire of seeing the world and all its time with him.
Although the others assured me that this time was more accepting of our kind of relationship, I can’t help but retain old habits like subtle touches and lingering eyes. Of all the times I’ve been to, this would by far be the freest of times and yet, I remain reserved.
My mind wanders, drifting to the past as I thumb my pocket watch with my other hand. I ponder over a time when neither of us had been a long-lived Guardian – before I knew Elias even existed. It wasn’t a pleasant time, life was bleak then. I distinctly recall my detest for life and all its hardships. All I wanted was for it to end…
I scratch at my stubbly chin in frustration. The lord of the house is not pleased… again. He’s never pleased. No matter how much work we put in, he yells that it’s never good enough. We are but slaves in his court, mules for hard labour. I hate it here.
I listen, silent as he rants and raves, spittle flying from his plump lips as he curses profanities at the others. It seems to go on forever, and my mind drifts as I let myself remember the recent jump I had to a place called Norland. I watch absently, not paying attention to his words. Then he turns on me and I feel the blood in my veins freeze.
“AND YOU!” he booms. I stare, scared stiff. He’s never spoken directly to me before. “WHERE have YOU been for the last week? Think you can just trot off and leave your work for the others and then show back up like nothing’s the matter?” he yells, closing the gap between us and standing before me, nose to nose.
We stand about the same height, now that I’m twenty-five. I had a last minute growth spurt last year and that didn’t make him happy either. For as long as I can remember, our Lord has always been angry, taking out his frustrations on us. I stare into his eyes, not wanting to break contact with him, lest he chooses me for the beating.
I hate his guts. He treats us like dirt. Maiming us for petty mistakes and blaming us for all his hardships. How did I end up here, of all mud pits? I didn’t get a choice. It wasn’t even something I did. I’d grown up here, abandoned by my good for nothing parents, not that I ever knew them. My life is pathetic.
My efforts are futile as he taps the hilt of his sword with his hand. He reaches for my wrist and pulls me before all the other working slaves, gripping me hard in his iron grasp. He yanks me forward and throws me to the ground. Despite my size, he can push me around easily. He picks up his slave whip and turns to the others.
“For your insolence, you will be punished. I expect better service than this. I WILL NOT tolerate any more of your insufferable behaviour!” he shouts.
My eyes grow wide as the whip rips across my back with a sharp and precise slap. A ripple of pain radiates from the contact. I cry out, unable to hold it back as my lord whips me again and again. I lose count as I squeeze my eyes shut against the pain, the tears leaking through.
I’m unaware of when he stops his relentless beating. He leaves me laying there, back raw and bleeding as he tromps back to his holdings in the castle, calling for the rest of the slaves to get back to work. I hear the other servants disperse, leaving me to lay there alone, consumed by the pain.
I can’t bring myself to move. Even breathing hurts. I take shallow breaths, trying to gain my composure enough to look up. It feels like forever until I feel someone’s hand gingerly touch my shoulder. I flinch at the touch, even if they are making an effort to avoid the lashings on my back.
“Hey Ceph, it’s gonna be alright, see. I got this bucket here. I’m gonna clean ya up and then ya can rest in the stable with me and Fren. Ok?”
Emer and Fren are the twin stable hands who care for our lord’s horses. They’ve only just turned seventeen this Spring. Fren had lost a finger to the Lord’s fury a week after his birthday when his favourite horse hadn’t been ready for his daily ride. Now the others call him Four-Fingered-Fren.
I swallow back the pain and nod slightly. Each time the cloth touches my back I flinch with a cry. I won’t be able to work for weeks… I wish this would just end. I beg silently but to no avail.
Emer apologizes each time he touches my back like he can help it or something. Every moment passes with agonizing pain and I am filled with a nauseous sympathy, for I’ve seen this all before. Not that long ago I had jumped to the past. A past where people were whipped for unspeakable crimes and even petty ones like theft, or looking at another man’s woman. Or even believing in Jesus Christ.
I wish I could just jump away now and leave this pain behind like I do the people around me, but I can’t. I used it all up this week, the very reason I got chosen for this punishment today. It wasn’t even because of my own failure to perform my task, but for being absent without a just reason. It’s not like I can help it. I don’t necessarily choose to leave, it still just sort of happens. I have managed to suppress it a handful of times, but if I do, I get this horrible pounding headache that won’t go away until I let go and jump.
It’s taken years to understand my mysterious ability. I’m convinced my parents were wizards or something, maybe druids, for who else could have this kind of ability, to see other times? And who else could leave their child behind to be raised by such a cruel lord?
I guess I passed out from the pain at some point because when my thoughts come back around I find myself laying on my stomach on a bed of straw in the empty stall of the lord’s stables. I feel like everything’s on fire, my back and my skin. I’m drenched in sweat and I feel a gentle weight on my back. Perhaps Emer has put cool clothes on my back to help staunch the bleeding. I can’t tell, because I can’t move.
The next few days slip by in a blurry delirious daze as I fight off fever and infection. People and horses come and go, but I pay them no head as I slip in and out of feverish dreams. My dreams are as tormenting as the waking world. They’re filled with war and strife, bloodshed, torture, and pain. I dream of a mother tossing her baby into the Nile. I dream of the Vikings raiding and plundering the English townships with their bloody axes and swords. I dream of families being torn apart and forever separated.
They morph from one to the next in a never-ending cycle of heartache and death and I have to watch it all. I hate my life. Twenty years of jumping back and forth and not once have I seen anything worth treasuring in this world. Humans are cruel and evil.
My thoughts are interrupted as I hear a familiar voice, it’s either Emer of Four-Fingered-Fren.
“-old enough, he should just get himself a wife and move away,” one of them says.
“The Lord would still be furious,” the other replies.
“But then he wouldn’t have to worry anymore. Maybe he could marry one of the kitchen gals. Camila is sweet and young.”
“Wish I could marry and get out of this pig slop. I hate the lord’s guts too.”
“I’d marry anyone to get out of here. But then, I would be without you. I can’t leave you here.”
“Then we’ll both marry!”
The strange conversation is followed by snickering before I lose focus again and dwell on my own pain.
Get married? To who? I’ve never been interested in marrying. I don’t know if that’s because I never thought it would happen, or if I doubted any good would come of it. Besides… who would want to marry a slave? I’m a good for nothing orphan with no family and no heritage. I have no last name and I have no future. I let myself imagine dying in this wretched place.
I wish the fever would take me, but it seems to linger without enough heat to kill me, but just enough to leave me grinding my teeth to sleep.
I actually manage to lose track of time. I never thought this was possible, but as I lay here for some uncountable amount of time with no hint as to the time of day, my ability to know the time begins to fade.
Emer has changed the bandages on my back countless times and Fren tells me meaningless stories of the others to put me to sleep. Apparently, I wake them up either vomiting or screaming in the middle of the night, disturbing the horses. Our Lord has threatened if I don’t get better soon and stop my whimpering he’ll put me out of my misery.
All I can think is good riddance. Please kill me now.
Another few days or so go by before I have the strength to sit up and eat for myself. My back is still sensitive to sudden movements and anything that touches it. I try not to move unless I have to. Luckily, my magic has built up since I’ve been laying around in anguish, so I think I can try a variation of a trick I learned once. There’s a thing like, reversing time. I don’t want to reopen the wounds because then the pain would just come back, but maybe I can move it forward instead.
I don’t know if it will work, so I wait until Emer and Fren aren’t around. No one else can know I have this magic. People don’t trust magic in my time. You get killed if you are suspected of having magic… maybe I should wait then so I can end this, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to reveal it.
Midday comes and the two boys are out with the horses, grooming them for our Lord. I find something with enough integrity to break the skin and make a small slice on my arm, where I can see it clearly. A small drop of blood drips down my arm. I hover my hand over the wound and imagine the time, not reversed but sped up, moving forward.
I feel the energy inside me drain as I enhance the time. I hazard a glance and see a small pink line where the open skin and drop of blood once were. I smile with pride. I still have the strength to maybe do a bit of healing each day so as not to draw attention to my speedy recovery. With what little energy I have left, I attempt it on my back.
Though I cannot see it, I can feel it, so I concentrate on the sorest spots and release my magic. I feel an overwhelming itchiness and I arch my back in protest, gritting my teeth. I can barely manage a full minute before I release the spell and collapse, grasping onto the straw. Oh God, please… help me.
By Kayla West