I missed posting last Saturday, since it was our anniversary and I forgot to schedule the post but if you haven’t already caught up on my Fiction Press account, here is chapter two of Thread of Time. Enjoy!
Chapter Two: Aftershock
The first thing Maeve noticed was an earthy, musty smell, like the aroma of earth that has been wetted down and filled with moss. Her eyes refused to open right away, but she could smell everything. The dirt beneath her, the water that dripped somewhere in the vicinity, the puddles that people walked through outside. Wherever she was, it smelled of stone, worn in and kissed with cold age.
Rubbing her eyes to will away the pounding headache, she squinted one lid open and barely caught movement above her. The tendril of someone’s hair slid across her face, and fingers poked her cheek. Maeve grunted in response, her heart beginning to race. Had she been kidnapped? She barely remembered last night; the dancing and drinking and midnight kissing all blurred into one loud memory that she did not care to relive. But after that kiss… what had happened? She couldn’t remember.
If she hadn’t felt so much like throwing up, Maeve might have been a little more concerned about the figure tentatively prodding her body. But, the person did not seem to be after much of anything, and she was preoccupied with merely getting her vision back to care much. Something about the sounds coming from outside seemed odd to her, but she could not quite pin what it was.
Finally, both eyes cooperated and granted her vision — blurry, gritty vision that welcomed in stabbing pain with the light, but vision nonetheless. Above her was darkness; some sort of wooden beams beneath a floor, shrouded in shadows and cobwebs. To the left was a window; the sort of rectangular kind that basements have, which follows the line of the ground and does very little to allow a view in or out. It was barred, but then many basement windows were in the city.
To the right was a dark stone wall. It surprised her to see this; she had expected brick of some kind, but instead gray stones greeted her eyes, dripping with moisture of indeterminate beginnings. And, as she finally gathered the energy to push herself up to her elbows, at her feet was what appeared to be an old woman wrapped in a gray blanket, who was poking at her with a stick.
“Hey,” Maeve protested, immediately thinking of the delicacy of her dress before she realized it was utterly ruined by dirt and alcohol and one too many misstepping feet.
With a scream, the woman threw herself back against the wall, her eyes wide. Unintelligible words flew from her mouth, and she covered her face with her hands, muttering all the while.
Maeve raised an eyebrow. “Well. Hello…?”
At her utterance, the woman shrank even further into the corner. She clasped her hands before herself and raised them up, bowing her head into her elbows and crying out what sounded like a plea. Having some knowledge of languages, Maeve hazarded to guess she was speaking gaelic, or something very similar. Maeve had been obsessed with Ireland as a child, and decided to choose the language as an extracurricular activity. But, it proved harder to learn than her thirteen-year-old brain had predicted, and she dropped it after learning the most basic communication. She knew just enough to impress, but nothing more than greetings and queries about food and toilets.
Maeve sat up all the way, closing her eyes for a moment when a wave of nausea hit her, and then very slowly got onto her knees. Peering at the woman, she prodded the recesses of her brain. “Erm… dia dhuit..?” she tried, hoping this was the correct way to say hello.
The woman peeked at her for just a moment and then began muttering again. Maeve just barely caught the words “saol” and “bás”, or “life” and “death”. Did this woman think Maeve intended to kill her?
“Oh, heavens.” Maeve rubbed her face again and bit her lip. Stuttering, she introduced herself, “Is é mo… uh… ainm… Maeve.”
The woman showed no change. Face firmly averted, she continued to babble on about life and death and, if Maeve’s memory served, something about God. If only she had been persistent in her learning as a kid, she could have translated whatever this woman was saying. But, no matter. Nobody in Seattle spoke Gaelic — except for the woman in the room with her, apparently — so she wouldn’t have to sit wondering what was going on for long.
Tentatively, Maeve felt around on her person for her phone. She had specifically requested this dress be altered to have pockets, and to her surprise she found her cell tucked safely inside the right one. Pulling it out, she held it up and huffed. No service. Where were they? She could hear foot traffic and animals outside, so they had to be somewhere populated. But no service meant it was somewhere remote. And, apparently, behind on the times. There wasn’t even wifi.
Forcing herself to her feet, despite the voracious protestations of her stomach and the woman in the corner, she put the phone back in her pocket and walked unsteadily to the solid wood door, which had a small window in it like one might see in an old dungeon. This sparked both curiosity and confusion in the back of her mind, but she shook it off. She had more important things to worry about. Such as, escaping whatever this place was, reporting her abductors to the police, and picking up life after The Jilting.
Slamming her fist on the door, she yelled “whoever you are, you’d better let me out now! Everyone will be looking for me! I was supposed to get married yesterday!”
Something stirred outside the door, but after a few minutes of waiting, nobody came. Maeve slammed against the door again, this time with both fists. “Let me out! I am supposed to get freaking married and I do not want to deal with this crap too! I don’t care what you did to me last night, just let me out!”
The more she shouted, the worse her headache became and the more bile threatened to explode from her stomach. Her threats were weak, but she could tell someone had heard them, because footsteps now pounded across the floor above her and she could hear voices outside.
The small window in the door slid open and she saw two very surprised eyes peer in at her. They belonged to a male, so far as she could tell, and he stared at her with much confusion.
“Let. Me. Out.” Maeve said through gritted teeth.”Or I will scream so loud everyone outside will hear me and know some pervert has me stuck in his creepy basement.”
The man muttered something in Gaelic and slammed the window shut. His footsteps faded away in a hurried fashion.
“Oh… yeah.” Maeve clutched her stomach and stepped away from the door. She was definitely going to lose whatever she’d eaten last night, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Kidnapped or not, she needed to find a decent place to hurl, and fast.
Staggering to the corner opposite the praying woman, Maeve braced herself against the wall and briefly mourned the complete and utter ruin of her beautiful dress before everything she had consumed in the last six hours projected from her stomach and straight into the dirt. It wasn’t much, but it felt like her entire intestines were trying to force themselves up her throat. As she heaved, less liquid and more dry retching, she heard someone arrive at the door.
Great, she thought, this is a great way to threaten kidnappers, Maeve. Just. Barf on them.
But when she tried to stand, she found her knees gave way beneath her and her head began to float towards the ceiling. The combination of no food, too much alcohol, a hangover, and heaving had deprived her of all strength — including the will to stay conscious. She felt herself falling to the ground in slow motion, catching the movement of a large figure as it dove to keep her from hitting the dirt, and hearing more of the same nonsense spilling from the woman in the corner.
A deep, masculine voice barked some sort of order in the same language as the woman in the corner and suddenly she stopped.
As blackness threatened the edges of Maeve’s already compromised vision, she realized three things: one, she had never hit the ground toward which she had fallen in her current fit of fainting and she was, in fact, being firmly held up by two very strong arms. Two, the person who held her was also very fluent in Gaelic, and she could not help but mutter, “does everyone speak Irish now..?” in a slurred way, bemused by the fact. And three, the man into whose arms she had unwittingly fainted seemed altogether too familiar, while also being completely strange.
This last fact was the thing that lingered the longest, even after she closed her eyes and gave in to the bloodrush in her head, even when her ears filled with rushing, even into the dreams that followed the darkness. She knew him, and yet… she had never met him before in her life. In her dreams, he was Alex speaking foreign tongues, telling her he loved her and he had been waiting for her to return. In her dreams, she felt her heart break all over again as she asked him how he could possibly love her when he’d slept with her best friend. In her dreams, he assured her he would never let her go again. In her dreams, he wrapped her securely in his arms and kissed her until she had no more doubts.
And in her dreams, when she opened her eyes she saw not Alex, but a dark-haired man with laughing green eyes, whose lips rose tenderly at the corners, whose chin brushed hers with a delightful sort of roughness. She asked him who he was, and he caressed her face, held her hand, leaned forward into the tingling crease of her neck.
“Is mise mo chara, mo ghrá.” he whispered, “Agus is mian leatsa.”
In her dreams, Maeve understood him completely, and wondered at the words. They rolled around in her head like incessant and comforting waves, washing the shore anew each time with promise and loving caresses. “I am your beloved, my love. And you are mine.”
Maeve woke with a start, once again completely befuddled by her surroundings. She was on a bed so soft she wanted to sink into it forever. Her body was covered in a heavy, beautiful quilt and, on a clothing level, a thin white chemise embroidered with pretty green leaves at the neck. Warm and comfortable, she felt even more uneasy. At least in the basement — or dungeon, if it had been one — she knew she was captive. The fight-or-flight instinct had given her some form of comfort. But here, nestled in a welcoming bed, clothed in a soft garment, she was unsure whether she had been rescued, or whether she was being primed for something worse.
Despite the clean gown clothing her, she still felt grimy and dirty, and a quick pass of her hand over her hair confirmed that she was still covered in dirt and sweat. Whomever had changed her had done little to clear the filth from her body. She gingerly sat up, feeling sore and empty, and looked around herself. The room offered her no more answers than the dingy basement had. In fact, it only served to add to her confusion.
She seemed to be in the perfect replica of a castle bedroom. A large fire blazed in a stone fireplace in one wall, throwing heat into the room with vigor. Several fur pelts were strewn across the floor to offer warmth to the worn wooden floors, and the stone walls were covered in impressive tapestries. The bed in which she sat was a solidly carved mahogany bed with elaborate posts that rose up to the ceiling but were bare of any curtains on their high railings. A giant chest rested at the foot of the bed, and it too was intricately carved.
Nothing in the room was modern. It was lit by candelabras and the flame from the fireplace. There were no outlets in the walls, no fixtures for bulbs in the ceilings, no lamps, no phones, no television. Absolutely everything was perfectly created to mimic a medieval room, decorated in rich greens and blues, beautiful and so exact that Maeve could barely believe her eyes. In the corner stood a large wooden tub, decorated with what looked like herbs, and in which sat steaming water. Beside it was a small table holding a sponge and what looked to be a bar of soap, and a wooden chair upon which lay a pale blue dress and a long white chemise similar to the one upon her body.
Whomever had put her here expected her to wake sooner rather than later.
Nervously, Maeve scooted to the edge of the bed, debating her options. She could remain in the bed, warm and comfortable, and wait for whomever had brought her here. But there was no chance of defending herself if she stayed in the very spot where her abductor surely wanted her to be. She could get up, bathe, and get dressed in the garments laid out for her, as her own dress was nowhere to be seen. Yet again, being completely bare of all clothing was a risky choice, for it once more presented her as an easy target. Or, she could put the dress on without bathing, search the room for any way to defend herself, and try to escape.
Heart racing, she slid from the bed and walked to the window on bare feet. Everything felt odd here, as if she had been completely displaced from time. The level of authenticity in this room was incredible, and extremely disconcerting. Perhaps the window would offer some facet of normality, show her some minute modernity that would reassure her. She approached the opening, noting the wooden shutter that had been flung open to let in the light. There was no glass barrier between the room and the outside, and the window was narrow and short, serving more as a peep-hole to the outside world than a source of light to the room.
What she could see told her as much as the room had. A dirt courtyard was below her, and several people scurried about, carrying baskets or sparring with wooden swords. Everyone she could see was dressed in medieval garb; the women in flowing but practical gowns with wide sleeves, the men in short tunics with tight breeches. A few chickens lazily pecked at the ground, fluttering to one side or the other as people passed them, and some goats tore up a few weeds that grew from the cracks of the courtyard walls.
Maeve turned back to the bedroom and felt her body turn to jelly as her heart began to beat faster and faster. There had been no cars. No paved roads beyond the courtyard. No power lines. No city, no traffic sounds, no airplanes. As far as her eye could see, there was nothing but a rolling countryside leading up to high stone walls and a solid pair of doors, and people living a simple and somewhat antiquated lifestyle. No, who was she kidding, it was an extremely antiquated lifestyle.
Was she in some sort of roleplay village? One of those medieval reenactments? Pay twenty bucks to get through the gate into an authentic replication of what life was way back when? If this was the case, someone was bound to come along at some point to rescue her. Someone she could alert of her situation. Someone with a cell phone that had service, or so she hoped. Though she had not seen any signs of vehicular traffic out her window, that did not mean there was none. She could be in a room facing away from roads.
Pushing away from the wall, Maeve stared at the tub again, feeling all the more gritty and grimy at the sight. A whiff of her own body odor wafted up to her nose, and she made a face. She smelled of sweat and dirt and vomit. Captive or no, she needed a good scrubbing. A toothbrush would have been welcome, but she saw no signs of a way to clean her teeth on the table that held sponges and soaps and herbs. After a few more moments of consideration, she walked over to the door and attempted to open it. It creaked toward her with some effort, surprising her. She had expected it to be locked from the outside. Closing the door, she pressed her ear to it. She could hear no sounds of life outside, which seemed promising. Perhaps no-one was coming to the room for a while.
Still, she knew that it was an extremely stupid thing to divest all of her clothes in her situation without even attempting to block the door. Her eyes fell upon the chest at the end of the bed, and she walked towards it, hoping it would be heavy enough to serve as a blockade.
It took all of her strength to scoot the trunk across the floor, and she left some nasty gouges in the wood as she went. Never in her life had she worked so hard for such a simple thing as a bath, and yet, she found, never in her life had she wanted a bath more. Nor had she ever needed a bath more than she did now. The harder she worked to block the door, the more she could smell herself, a sour and acidic smell that nearly made her gag.
A bath was definitely in order.
Shoving her shoulder against the trunk to move it just an iota more, she wondered what could possibly be in the chest to make it so heavy. “Are they keeping rocks in here?” she muttered to herself. The top was not locked, and she looked around furtively. She was alone, of course, but still felt like a sneak poking around in a stranger’s room.
Disappointingly, when she lifted the lid she found only a plethora of garments within. At the top was a heavy wool dress, several white chemises, and a rich cloak lined with fur. Everything looked well made, and was embroidered with the same celtic-looking symbol. A crest, perhaps? A family marking? She closed the lid and realized the same embroidery was on her own chemise, around the sleeves and the neck, intertwined with the leaves she had noticed earlier. Whoever lived here was extremely dedicated to their craft.
Satisfied that the door was adequately blocked from casual intruders, Maeve crossed the floor to the bath and stripped. She would make this the quickest bath in the history of baths. Not only because she was naked and slightly afraid in a strange place, but also because the water had gone lukewarm, and it was no longer as inviting as it had been. Still, dipping into the large tub was refreshing, and as the grime washed away, her mind began to clear.
First of all, she was hungry. And no matter whether she had been captured, whether this was all a mistake, or whether it was something… other than those two options — which Maeve did not even want to consider at this point — she needed food to survive. She needed food to think, and, at this point, to be able to do anything at all. Her hands felt shaky, and scrubbing her long hair was a chore she did not quite feel up to. The scent of the soap, a faint jasmine, lingered on even after she had rinsed everything out of her hair.
The second problem she had to work out was what, exactly, had happened to her. Whether she had been drugged and kidnapped, whether she was being held for ransom, whether she had been dropped somewhere on the side of the road and taken in by whomever lived here, or any other possibility that flitted through her head. And why, of all things, did this person — or several people, from what she had seen out the window — live as if they were in the middle ages? Her best guess was that it was some sort of reenactment, and that this was all a setup.
Though December seemed like a very odd time to be reenacting anything.
Lathering up her body with the sponge, she scrubbed away the dirt from earlier, and pondered her third most pressing issue: escape. Her cell phone had no service and, from what she could see, had been confiscated along with her wedding dress. Even if she did have a phone, she had no way to call anyone, no wifi connection, no ability to text her parents or her friends. She had no shoes, no weapons, and, she realized with another look around the room, no undergarments.
The latter thought made her blush profusely. She had not yet considered how she’d been changed from her wedding garments to the white chemise on the floor beside the tub. Someone had removed her dress, her strapless bra, her white underwear with “bride” written across the bottom in sparkling rhinestones, her garter, and her shoes. Had that someone been the same someone who had caught her as she fell? The dark, mysterious stranger who spoke in a deep voice and cradled her as if she were the most precious gift in the world?
The flush running up Maeve’s neck crawled through her entire body, and she started to shake even more. She didn’t want to think about a strange man undressing her unconscious self. It made her skin crawl. What she needed to focus on was how to get food and how to get out. It was the only thing that she could do in her current circumstances.
Rising from the tub, she dried herself with the chemise she had been wearing, and slipped into the clothes on the chair. There was, she discovered, some sort of an undergarment after all; a pair of thin linen shorts similar to culottes, with a slit down the middle for, she surmised, relieving oneself in the chamber pot she had spotted near the bed. Over that went a chemise, then a pale blue dress and, she found, a heavier cloak-like dress that had slits instead of sleeves.
As the room was already quite warm, she decided to forego the overdress. The pale blue gown was beautifully made and softer than she had expected, with the family crest done around the neck and cuffs in white. It fit her perfectly, which surprised her. Her hair, she left tumbling down her back. It was heavy and still quite wet, and the curls needed a good conditioner and a detangling comb. As she dressed, she noticed a small bottle of unidentified content on the table beside the herbs, and curiosity go the better of her.
Opening it up, she took a cautious sniff. Roses. She could distinctly smell roses, and perhaps a few other aromas. Tipping a small amount onto her hand, she found it was some sort of oil, infused no doubt with rose petals and other flowers. Relief for dry skin? She abandoned caution and rubbed the oil all over her parched face, which was clean but sorely wanting of moisture after the harsh soap wash. Then, because her hair also needed something, she rubbed a small amount through her hair and detangled what she could with her fingers.
Now thoroughly clean and dressed, she decided to inspect every inch of the room for any possible weapon. Someone was bound to return and find her soon, and she was shocked she had not already been interrupted. The first place she looked was the fireplace, where she hoped a poker would have been left. But she was disappointed; nothing lay before the blaze but a warm pelt and a few split logs. Next, she inspected the bed; beneath the mattress, under the pillow, under the bed itself. She did not find much other than a few dust bunnies and a feather or two.
Standing, she surveyed the room and realized, altogether stupidly, that the trunk would be an obvious place to look. She rushed to the vessel and popped open the lid again, this time digging past the fur cloak and the chemises, tossing the dress to the side, and uncovering a few pairs of leather shoes and a few more, lighter dresses. There were several pairs of undergarments like the ones she was wearing, and a few more overdresses as well as several belts. Everything was beautifully made.
Just as she felt around the bottom beneath a rich green dress, she heard footsteps coming down what she presumed was a hallway outside the door. Heavy ones; probably male, by the sound of it. Maeve scrabbled around beneath the dress, her fingers brushing something leather and promising. Someone reached the door, and she heard the bar being raised from outside. Heart racing Maeve grasped a cold handle and jumped away from the door.
It was her lucky day. A short dagger was in her hand, sheathed in a leather belt that she ripped off the blade and threw to the floor.
The door hit against the trunk, gently. A deep and familiar-yet-strange voice called softly, “Maeve?”
With a start, she lowered the dagger only slightly. How did he know her name? Then she remembered, if they had her phone they could easily have one through her information.She had never set up a lock on the device.
The door hit the trunk a little harder, dislodging the furniture. “Maeve, tá mé. An bhfuil tú go maith? ”
Maeve backed away a little and raised the dagger again. “Who are you?” she asked, her voice wavering a little more than she would have liked. “What do you want?”
There was a small pause, and the man outside the door took a sharp breath. “Open the door,” he said sternly, though he did not sound angry. The heavy door shoved against the trunk again, this time enough to allow an arm to pass through.
“Why should I?” she shot back. “You kidnapped me, I am absolutely not going to open that door. You’ll have to break it down–” in the middle of her words, he shoved against the door again and the trunk was completely moved away. Maeve took another step back, stuttering, “… by yourself…”
Framed in the door and surveying her with a look she could not quite read was a man she would have described as bear-like, though not so much for his looks as his size. His white tunic emphasized the wild blackness of his hair, and despite herself Maeve was in awe of the muscle tone beneath the fitted breeches he wore. He surveyed her with sharp green eyes and secrets that lingered behind his almost-smiling lips. With a sharp pang of recognition, Maeve realized he looked exactly like the man in her dreams. This was the man who had taken her from the dungeon.
He took a step into the room, surveying Maeve, her dagger, her wet hair, and her fitted but modest dress. And then, with hands opened toward her in a sort of calming motion, he asked, “Where have you been?”