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April 3, 2012
By Paula Paul
I’m not even supposed to be here. I knew that within minutes of landing face-down in that duck pond. Problem is I don’t know how to get back home. Worse, I’m afraid to go home because I know I’ll be killed if I do.
It’s my brother’s fault. You see, I was supposed to go to Amorika in the eleventh century, but because of him, I ended up in a place I never heard of—America in the twenty-first century.
When I knew I had to run for my life, I chose to go to Amorika because I’ve heard it’s beautiful with high cliffs of pink granite overlooking the sea. It’s in Gaul, which by now I’ve learned you call France. Amorika was particularly interesting to me because it was part of something called a continent, not an island as Britain was. I mean is. At least I hope there’s still a Britain now in the twenty-first century.
I first heard about Amorika from a young knight who came from there. His name is Tredwal, and he came to Britain because he heard that Arthur would be king someday, and he wanted to be one of Arthur’s knights when he ascended to the throne. Tredwal is quite handsome, and I’m a little in love with him.
All right, I admit, I’m a lot in love with him.
It’s embarrassing that he hardly knows I exist, and that if he thinks of me at all it’s as Merlin’s little sister. At fifteen, I am hardly a little sister. Most girls my age are married and have children of their own.
Tredwal is nineteen, which makes him the same age as Arthur, and I know for certain Arthur doesn’t think of me as someone’s little sister, since he flirts with me every time I see him and even hints that he’d like to make me his queen if he ever becomes king. Arthur’s all right, it’s just that I grew up with him, and it’s hard for me not to think of him as a brother. Maybe he’ll find someone else while I’m gone.
Come to think of it, by now Arthur and Tredwal are one-thousand-five-hundred and nineteen years old, and Merlin is one-thousand-five-hundred and seventeen. Or maybe not. After all, I’m still fifteen even though I’m now in the twenty-first century.
When it became obvious that I had to get out of Avalon, Merlin said the eleventh century would be a good choice because there would probably be interesting things happening in about 500 years. He promised to send Tredwal to the same time and place so I wouldn’t be completely alone. Since he’s not here in America with me, I have to assume he’s in Amorika in the eleventh century. However, given Merlin’s problems with forward-projecting calculations, he could be anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, my brother’s a pretty good wizard, but everyone has their weak points, and forward-projecting calculations happen to be his. I wish he’d listened to me when I told him he was making a mistake if he didn’t cut the number of words in the spell in half and use the bladderwrack instead of liquid amber. Maybe I’d be with Tredwal now if he had. But since when do big brothers listen to their sisters? All he did was sneer at me and tell me that, unlike me, he knew what he was doing.
In spite of his insinuation that I don’t know much, I have to say I’m not too bad at wizardry myself. I’ll admit I make mistakes, but it’s only because I couldn’t practice every day for an hour they way you’re supposed to. In fact, I couldn’t practice at all, at least not openly. That’s part of the reason I had to get out of Avalon, but I’ll explain more about that later.
Merlin, for all of his faults, really did want to help me escape, and I know he didn’t make that mistake on purpose. But there I was, all of a sudden face down in a pond with ducks swimming all around. The water wasn’t terribly deep. It only came to my knees when I finally managed to pull my soaked and dripping body upright. There were people wearing strange clothing and walking around carrying books. Some had big bags strapped to their backs, and all of them were speaking a strange language. I now know they were speaking twenty-first-century American English and that they were probably telling me I wasn’t supposed to be in the pond. It appeared no one actually saw me land in the pond—that was part of Merlin’s magic--but I can tell you I certainly felt the landing because I scraped my nose on the bottom. The ponds I’m familiar with have muddy bottoms.
So now I was dripping wet and really angry. I was saying some things about Merlin and his stubborn refusal to listen to my suggestions, and, I might add, using some words considered inappropriate for a fifteen year-old-girl to use. Or anybody of any age for that matter.
That’s when I noticed a boy gliding toward the pond on an odd looking contraption—a flat board with wheels on it. As I watched him, I was trying to keep my footing on the slippery bottom long enough to get out on dry ground.
He was younger than the other people I’d seen walking around with their books. My guess was that he was close to my age, while the other people looked to be in their late teens, or maybe even in their twenties. The boy spoke to me, but I couldn’t understand him, and when I tried to speak to him, it was obvious he couldn’t understand me either. There is a magic way to make other languages understandable, but it’s really hard and requires so much concentration that a person has to be perfectly calm to do it—not upset, not overjoyed, not distracted. That’s because it involves casting a spell on yourself, not on another person. There was so much going on in my head at that moment that there was no way I could do it.
The boy, who had blue eyes and short light brown reddish hair, picked up the rolling board and stuck it under his right arm then reached his left hand toward me. At least I understood that. He was offering to help me out of the water. He was a nice enough looking boy, although not as handsome as Tredwal and certainly not as old. He led me toward a building, me with water dripping from my hair and my dress, and all the time he was speaking to me in that foreign language. I told him I didn’t understand him, but of course he didn’t understand what I said either.
When we reached the building, I thought it might be a castle because it looked so large. There were no walls surrounding it, however, and no spaces for bowmen to stand and defend it.
Once we were inside, we turned a corner into a long narrow room that looked like a dungeon. There were lights with no flame burning in the ceiling, and I knew by that we were inside an enchanted castle. The boy led me to an odd looking door where he did something with his hand on the wall, and the door opened on its own! I followed him inside because I was afraid there might be dragons in that dungeon. The boy made the door close, and we began to move. I thought the castle was levitating, and I cried out, trying to steady myself against the wall. The boy gave me a puzzled look. It was clear I was in the presence of a powerful magician.
He led me through another dungeon with flameless lights to another door where he knocked lightly then opened it without waiting for an answer. Inside the room was an adult man sitting at a table using a peculiar looking stylus to make marks on papers. There were books everywhere—more than even Merlin has. I heard a confusing noise in the background—a kind of muffled roar and now and then a squawk.
The man smiled when we came in and said something to both of us. He stood up after the boy responded, and I could see that he had on loose-fitting leggings and a rumpled tunic of some sort that was open in the front to show a white garment that was also rumpled, and there was something colorful and striped tied around his neck and hanging down the front of his chest. I thought at the time someone had tried to hang him with that striped thing. He spoke directly to me.
“I don’t understand you,” I said. “And I don’t know where I am.”
“So Ryan is right, you’re speaking Brethon! Or do you prefer to call it Britton?” He was addressing me in my own language!
“The dialect is what?” he continued. “Late sixth century? Certainly before the eighth century when Germanic influence was stronger. You speak it quite well, so you must be one of my students, although you look a little too young for that. What’s your name, my dear?”
“My name is Meghan, but I’m not one of your students,” I said. “What century is this?”
“What century? Twenty-first, of course.” He was giving me an odd look. “Are you all right?”
“Twenty-first? You mean it’s not the eleventh century? And where’s Tredwal?”
Instead of answering him, I went back to saying unpleasant things about Merlin.
The man raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
I felt ashamed of myself. I don’t like foul language, and I only use it in extreme circumstances.
“Forgive me,” I said, still speaking my native tongue. “It’s just that I didn’t expect to be here. And, if you don’t mind telling me, where, exactly, am I?”
“Why you’re on the university campus, of course. My son brought you to me because he recognized you were speaking a language I would understand.”
“What’s a university? And why isn’t this Amorika?”
“You mean America.”
“No, I mean Amorika. In Gaul.”
“Oh no, you can’t mean Amorika. That ceased to exist several hundred years. . . Don’t you think you’re carrying this game a little too far? Although I will admit you’re clever. Most of my students don’t speak any of the ancient languages that well. But still, it must be a game. Are you from one of those organizations that does those Medieval Fairs in the park with all those jousting tournaments and. . . You’re crying. I think we should take you to the infirmary.”
I was crying because I was frightened. I didn’t know traveling into the future could be so disorienting. If I ever do it again, I’m going to insist on no more than fifty years forward. A hundred at the most.
By now the man who was obviously a teacher of some sort had me by the arm, but I jerked it free. “I don’t know what an infirmary is, but I don’t want to go there. I just want to go home. I don’t care if they do kill me.”
“Kill you? You’re exaggerating, of course. Who would want to kill a nice girl like you?”
I saw the boy out of the corner of my eye looking very puzzled. He asked the man a question in that language I didn’t understand, but the man only shook his head.
I wiped my tears away and forced myself to stop crying. “Who wants to kill me? Morgan le Fey to start with,” I said, “and if you think Arthur could stop her, you’re crazy. Even Merlin couldn’t stop her. That’s why he sent me here. Merlin’s my brother, and he’s a wizard, just like I am.”
“Morgan le Fey? Arthur? Merlin?” Those are all fictitious characters,” the professor said. He was frowning at me and looking very puzzled.
“You think they’re not real?”
“Of course they’re not real, my dear.” He said that in a way that made me think he thought I was stupid. “It’s all a legend. There may have been a real king in history that the mythical Arthur was patterned after, but all the legends about the Holy Grail, the sword in the stone, and of course a magician called Merlin are all made up stories. Not real at all.” He said the last with a little laugh.
“I can’t wait to tell Merlin he’s not real,” I said and shivered because my damp gown was making me cold.
He said something in the strange language again and tried to take my arm, but I stood firm.
“I can’t understand you,” I said. “Please speak to me in my language.”
He gave me another puzzled look then said in Brython, “I’m afraid you’re having a chill, and you could catch cold. We need to get you in some dry clothes.”
I didn’t know what he meant by “catch a cold,” but he was right, I was chilled.
He paused a moment. “Let me see, where did my sister put that sweater she picked up from the cleaners?” he said. “Ah yes, in the closet.” He opened a door to a very small room and began rummaging around. “By the way, I’m Professor Benton Kingsolver. I teach linguistics and ancient languages here at the university. This is my son, Ryan, who spends his time skateboarding all summer when the high school is closed.” He said that last sentence as if he disapproved of skateboarding, what ever that is. “Now where is that sweater?” he added and went back to rummaging in the small room and muttering to himself.
While he did that, I walked to a window, curious to see what might be causing the odd sounds. The boy he called Ryan followed me. What I saw frightened me more than anything I’d ever seen in my life.
There were monsters down there! Black ones, red ones, silvery grey ones, and they were moving back and forth along a roadway, all of them grumbling and roaring constantly. Now and then there was that squawking noise coming from some of them, as if they were angry. Some of them were belching smoke from their backsides. Rude! I didn’t dwell on that thought long, however. That’s because they all stopped moving suddenly, and I swear they were all looking up at me with big, glassy eyes that grew all around their bodies. They were going to attack!
I screamed and backed away from the window. Ryan grabbed me and held me with both his arms around me as if he wanted to protect me from the monsters.
“What! What’s wrong?” the professor asked, rushing toward me. He had a tunic draped over his arm. “Are you all right?”
I couldn’t speak at first. I could only point to the window. The professor peered out the window then looked back at me. “I don’t see anything,” he said, sounding puzzled. Ryan was speaking at the same time.
Maybe the monsters were gone, I thought, as I moved cautiously to the window. I sucked in my breath audibly when I saw they were still there, and they were moving again. “Monsters,” I managed to say and backed away from the window so they wouldn’t stare at me again with those awful big eyes.
“Monsters?” The professor looked down at the roadway again. “Are you talking about the cars?” he asked, glancing back at me as his puzzled frown became even more pronounced. “Are you serious about this sixth century Britain talk? You’ve never actually seen any automobiles?”
I didn’t understand all of the words he used, even though he was still speaking my language. All I could do was back away even more because by now there was a loud and strange sounding scream coming from the roadway, as if one of the monsters was in great pain. Ryan kept his arms around me and backed up with me. The scream grew louder and louder and then faded away as if the screamer was running away. The professor didn’t seem to hear it, making me think screaming monsters were so common in this future world that people routinely ignored them.
The professor was shaking his head as he moved toward the big table, but he stopped before he reached it and turned back to me. “Here,” he said, tossing the tunic at me. “This is all I have, but it should fit you like a dress. You can change in there.” He pointed toward another door and sat down in the chair behind the table.
By this time I was more than ready to get out of my wet gown. I was shaking even harder from the cold by now. I caught the tunic the professor tossed to me and started toward the door he had indicated. I stopped when I saw him pull a small black object from his outer tunic. It resembled a block of cheese that had turned dark with mold. He was using the same finger magic on it Ryan had used in the levitating room. I stared, fascinated, wondering if he was going to make the room we were in levitate.
Nothing moved. He put the strange black thing up to his ear and began speaking that language. At first, I thought it was the words to a spell, but then I realized he was actually speaking to the black thing. It must have spoken back to him because I saw him pause then speak again. The black thing was whispering messages to him. That’s why he was holding it close to his ear. He was a magician just like Ryan. Maybe that black block of molded cheese was telling him how to get rid of those monsters.
I tried to take comfort in that thought and hurried into the small room to change out of my wet gown. I was in for another surprise. The room had two white objects in it. One had water in it, and the other was simply a bowl about waist high. Afraid to touch either one of them, I quickly took off my wet clothing and slipped the tunic the professor had given me over my head, but not before I transferred my wand from my dripping gown to a pocket in the tunic. I can carry my wand in my pocket because it only takes the most rudimentary magic to collapse it to pocket size.
The fabric of the professor’s tunic I wore was wonderfully soft and the color of rich brown earth. It didn’t cover my legs, though. Instead it only came to mid thigh, not quite to my knees. My first thought was that it would be improper for me to be seen in such a state of partial dress, but I remembered that some of the girls I’d seen walking near the duck pond wore garments even skimpier. After a bit, I finally got up the courage to open the door just a crack, and then a little more, and at last to step out into the room.
The professor showed no sign that I was dressed strangely. “Come along,” he said, standing. “I just spoke with my sister, and she says we are to bring you home before we decide what to do about you.”
I looked around the room, but no one else was in the room except Ryan, who was staring at me with great curiosity. How could Professor Kingsolver have spoken to his sister? Through magic, of course. Merlin does that to me sometimes. He just stares at his crystal ball until he sees me there, then he speaks to me. I’ve only had a chance to use his crystal ball once. I found him and spoke to him, but was he ever mad! He told me not to use his crystal again because I might break it. I hate it when he treats me like a baby when the truth is I’m more mature than he is because as everyone knows, girls mature earlier than boys.
“You’ll probably get along just fine with my sister,” the professor said as we walked down the long dungeon toward the levitating room. “She’s one of those New Age types who’s always talking about magic and crystals and spirits.”
I wanted to ask him what New Age means, but by now we had reached the levitating room, and I was intent on trying to figure out how the finger magic worked and why this time we went down instead of up, so I forgot about asking any questions. Before I had anything at all figured out, we were out of the levitating room, outside the castle, and the professor was leading me and Ryan toward a yard full of monsters. They all seemed to be sleeping, and neither the boy nor the professor appeared worried, so I tried to calm myself.
I reached my limit, though, when we stopped next to one of the sleeping beasts, and the professor literally pulled out the side of it. It looked kind of like a gaping mouth.
“Get in,” the professor said.
Get in? Did he think I was crazy? He wanted me to get inside the belly of that thing? I refused to move. Finally, the professor rolled his eyes and sighed then he and Ryan got in with Ryan seated in the back.
“Get in,” the professor said again.
Somehow, I got up the courage to do as he asked. I sat next to him in the front and closed the opening just as he had. I immediately wished I hadn’t done it because the monster growled and started moving. I glanced at the professor, too scared to speak. He appeared calm, however, and he kept turning a wheel in front of him. I finally figured out that he was guiding the monster with that wheel. He kept up a steady stream of talk as we moved along, but I have no idea what he said. I was too occupied with music coming from invisible musicians inside the monster. Besides that, the scenery seemed to fly by so fast it made me dizzy. I had to close my eyes. I kept them closed for what seemed forever until we came to a stop in front of a small castle.
The woman who met us at the front door was dressed in a long, flowing colorful gown with strings of brightly colored beads around her neck and a turban on her head. She greeted us with a flood of words in the same strange language the professor used.
“Speak to her in Brethon,” the professor said, using my language. “She claims she’s from the sixth century, and she’s the sister of Merlin.”
“Really?” the woman said. “Is this Ganeida?”
“No, I’m Meghan,” I said. “Ganeida’s the baby.”
“I never knew Merlin had two sisters,” she said.
All I did was shrug. Nobody ever remembers me. They know Merlin because he’s the clever oldest sibling, and they know Ganeida because she’s the pretty little youngest child. I’m the middle child. Who ever notices a middle child?
“My name’s Alicia,” the woman said. “If you’re Merlin’s sister, you must be a witch, like me.”
“Wizard,” I said.
“Wizard, witch, whatever. Did you bring your wand?”
I was stunned. She was asking about my wand! She must know the truth about me. The same truth Morgan le Fey knew, the same truth that could get me killed.