Authors: Susan Sizemore
Tags: #General, #Romance, #Women Physicians, #Middle Ages, #Historical, #Fiction, #Time Travel
Wings of the Storm
By Susan Sizemore
"Step into my time machine,"said the drunken boy. He wasn't joking.
David Wolfe had Jane cornered in the back of his private lab, and it was obvious he wasn't going to let her out of the door. There was a tall blue booth behind her. He kept trying to herd her into it.
He was smiling stupidly, an expression ill-suited to his unfinished-looking face. Normally, he wore a furi-ous scowl. It went well with his fashionably shaved head and the gold hoop earring in his right ear.
"It'll be fun," he told her, taking a step closer. "You want to go. I know you do. You have to. It'll only be for five years."
"No, I don't." She tried to be reasonable. "Dr. Wolfe, you're not yourself."
"You know too much. You said you saw five years into the future. Can't allow you to know about the future. You want to know about the past."
Jane Florian wished she hadn't stayed late in her lab at the Feynman Institute's Time Search Project.
She'd remained long after the rest of the Time Search Staff left, partly because she didn't want to drive home in a bad spring thunderstorm, partly because she found her work more interesting than what she had to drive home to,
She'd even declined an invitation to party with the particle physicists down by the accelerator ring. It seemed a new quark had just gotten discovered and it had been declared an occasion for champagne.
She wished she'd gone. If she had, she wouldn't have been by the screen when the lightning caused the power surge and the impossible happened. She'd ended up seeing into the future instead of the past. The time monitor was only supposed to scan back-ward, not forward.
The whole thing had lasted for no more than five seconds. In those five seconds she'd seen previews of five years' worth of upcoming events—wars, celebrity weddings, earthquakes. Wolfe had come in just as the screen faded to black. He hadn't seemed his usual serious self, but she'd been too upset to notice at first. She'd told the young physicist what happened.
He hadn't wanted to know what she'd seen. He'd said it was best if no one knew. He wasn't really interested in listening to her at all. It had become obvious to her that he'd been partying down in the quark lab. A rare occurrence for the reclusive young genius.
"This is the perfect opportunity. You've got to come to my lab," he'd said, smirking. "I've got some-thing better than quarks."
In his lab he'd shown her the blue booth and told her what it was. Apparently the little twerp had actu-ally gone and invented a time machine. He wanted to use it on her.
If anyone could do it, Jane supposed, it was David Wolfe. Actually, he wasn't little or exactly a boy. He was only twenty, but he was well over six feet tall. This egotistical twenty-year-old was in charge of Time Search, the Feynman Institute's most presti-gious research program.
He backed her another step toward the machine. He was not small, and he was not giving her any chance to duck past him and out of the room. "You have to go," he said. "You'll destroy the future."
Another step. She backed up. "I know the perfect place in the twelfth century. In 1168, to be precise,"
he went on. "At that big convent in the south ofFrance. Font..."
"Fontrevault? It's not in the—"
"Right. You'll be safe and out of the wa—"
"I don't want to be a nun!"
"Can you think of anywhere safer in the Middle
"Nothing was safe. Nowhere was safe. Not from fighting or disease or famine. This is murder."
"You'll be fine. I'll see you in five years."
She started to protest, but as she took another backward step she tripped over something. She fell into the booth. The walls were made of blue glass. Before she could get up, Wolfe quickly tossed the bags she'd tripped over in on top of her. He hurried to a control console on the side of the room.
The glass room disappeared. She teetered forward; the world rushed up to slam in her face. She fell through the blue tiled floor. The blueness rippled and changed; it was like water, then like the sky, then like
being dragged through an undertow in an ocean
blue paint. As she fell out of the paint she saw the round stone tower rushing up to meet her. She slid, screaming, but insubstantial as smoke, through the rotting boards of the roof to land—
Jane sat up with a spine-wrenching jolt, her eyes wide with terror. She saw a stone wall in front of her.
When she reached out tentatively her hands encoun-tered hard stone beneath her.
She blinked. Stone? Closing her eyes, she waited for her ragged breathing to return to normal. She tried to think. Stone. Cold. "Where am I?" She opened her eyes.
What she saw was far from promising. She was in a circular stone room with no door, just a narrow arched opening letting in watery light and a damp breeze. There was windblown bracken lodged in the crevices, and a fuzzy patch of moss was growing up the wall opposite the doorway, splotching the gray,
pitted sur-face a dark green. A rotting timber staircase circled up to a second story.
The damp cold penetrated her skin. She was shiv-ering as she got slowly to her feet. She noticed the short skirt and knit top she'd been wearing were now little more than tattered rags. She'd been left unin-jured by the long, impossible fall, but her clothing was so badly torn and singed she thought it might fall off if she moved. She hugged herself to try to stop the shivering, and the right sleeve of her sweater slid from her shoulder to dangle like a knit bracelet from her wrist.
Jane wondered what she was going to do. Then she noticed a trio of large canvas bags. She remembered tripping over them. She remembered them landing on top of her before she was engulfed in suffocating blue. She quickly went to investigate whatever it was David Wolfe had sent into the past with her.
The first thing she found was a bundle of clothing wrapped in a green wool cloak. There were three long, simply cut dresses. She recognized the style of the clothing, and knew how it was supposed to be worn.
Her clothes were falling off, and she was cold.
She quickly stripped off her modern clothing and dressed in the triple layers of linen, silk, and wool. She found a belt, shoes, and head veils. She put them all on. Medieval clothing was one of her hobbies; she'd made and worn many costumes when she'd been involved with a medievalist club for years. This was not a costume she'd made herself, though the rich colors suited her tawny complexion perfectly.
So where was she? Had Wolfe's crazy experiment with the time machine really worked? No. She must be dreaming.
But the tight knot of fear in her stomach and the all-too-vivid memories told her this was no dream.
Dr. Wolfe had been planning this little trip all along, she thought, remembering the speculative look he had given her when he'd asked her to recommend a reading list a few weeks ago. She had thought the boy genius was getting interested in the fun part of the Time Search Project. He had been planning a lit-tle excursion instead. Planning on sending the resi-dent historian where no one had gone before.
She shook her head. The egomaniac had actually expected her to volunteer. The accident had just been a convenient excuse.
Jane dashed her tears away and tried to shake off the memory of David Wolfe's face and glittering gold-green eyes. He didn't care. He had a mission to use
his time machine. She'd ended up doing exactly what he planned.
But where was she? she wondered, making herself accept the present, whenever this present was. Did it work? Was she near Fontrevault Abbey? Or was this Oz? Or a ruined silo just up the road from Feynman? Her head ached and she was hungry and chilly despite the heavy clothes.
She dragged the canvas bags into the patch of sun-light coming through the doorway. Sitting down, she pulled the nearest bag to her, untying the leather string holding it closed. Out tumbled several more dresses, yards and yards of brightly colored silk fab-ric, and many skeins of embroidery thread. She rev-eled in color for a few minutes, realizing Wolfe had sent it along as trade goods. How nice, she
thought sourly, refolding and stuffing the material away in the bag. It looked like the man had raided a fabric store in search of items he thought a medieval lady might find handy.
"I'd rather have five years' worth of M and M's," Jane complained, and went on to the two smaller bags.
In them she found other rare items such as semiprecious stones and Chinese lacquer boxes filled with heady incense, foodstuffs, spices, and dried fruit. Expensive delicacies, she acknowledged as she ate a few apricots. She'd have preferred some camp-ing equipment and a large supply of toilet paper, though.
"A few good paperbacks," she added aloud. "An old cassette player, batteries, tapes. A flashlight.
Aspirin. An Uzi. Yeah"—she rubbed her hands together—"something in a semiautomatic with a large supply of ammo would do nicely."
At the bottom of the last bag she found a change of clothes. There was also a silver-hilted dagger in a brown leather sheath and a pouch containing small squares of gold and silver bars tucked inside one of a pair of cloth shoes.
She repacked everything, then stood and fastened the dagger and pouch to her belt. Time to inspect the premises, she told herself, knowing she couldn't hide in the stone tower forever. She took a deep breath, squared her broad shoulders, and stepped through the doorway. Before her stretched an overgrown clearing; beyond that were dark woods. A narrow but steep-banked stream snaked past the tower and into the trees. She could barely make out the rutted line of an unused path. The ground underfoot was damp and muddy, but there were traces of snow still in the with-ered undergrowth. What time of year was it? she wondered. It was spring at home. Late winter, per-haps? She sniffed the air. It smelled of moss and rain-water and, faintly, of pig.
For someone who'd spent her life in downstateIlli-nois, this earthy aroma was almost reassuring. It meant there was a farm nearby. People. Civilization. But was that necessarily a good thing? Jane's full lips pressed firmly together as she balled her hands into fists.
She concentrated on being angry rather than afraid. Angry at fate, at herself for not finding a way out of the situation, at David Wolfe. She concentrat-ed on coping because panic never helped anybody survive.
Damn Wolfe, anyway!
Stop thinking about him, she commanded her-self—the shaved-head little geek! Six foot one was not little. Fine. He wasn't little. He was still a scrawny geek, and she was still stuck in the twelfth century.
"What a wonderful opportunity for a historian," she mocked, her rich contralto voice dripping venom.
She turned her attention to the ruins in the middle of the clearing. The round tower was only two stories high, with narrow windows cut in the thick stone of the second story. The defensive tower of a manor house, she guessed. Jane crossed her arms beneath her cloak and walked around the clearing, trying carefully to avoid ice-glazed puddles, afraid of what would happen if the flimsy leather shoes she wore got soaked. It didn't take her long to find evidence of tumbledown outbuildings. The wattle-and-daub structures would have been flimsy to begin with; a few seasons left to the weather and they'd molder back into the earth. The place looked to have been abandoned for quite a while.
Of course, the question wasn't so much what the ruins were, but where and when. She was
to have arrived inFrance, near the abbey of Fontrevault, inAnjou. Jane rubbed her upper arms briskly, not so much from cold as from nerves.
"Well, it isn'tKansas," she said to a crow perched on a fallen branch. "And I bet it isn't evenFrance." The crow gave a scoffing cry and flew away.
Jane watched black wings beating the air until the bird disappeared into the trees. As she turned to fol-low its flight, she heard something crashing through the undergrowth, followed by a loud snuffling noise. Her gaze shifted from the sky to the ground, coming to rest on a humped-backed creature with short, brindled fur and a great tusked head with small, evil eyes. She jumped, gasping with alarm as the cloven-hoofed animal barreled forward, followed by a half dozen large beasts just like it. She ran, mindless of puddles now, until she was inside the vague shelter of the tower.
She peeped out the doorway, watching as the snorting and squealing animals fanned out across the clearing, blunt noses pushing hungrily at the wet bracken. Their stench reached her and she began to laugh, the sound fueled by the adrenaline that was still coursing through her.
"Pigs," she said, wiping her hand across her veiled brow. "Just pigs." She stepped back to the center of the doorway—just as the swineherd came into view. He was a boy of no more than ten, muddy and dressed in ragged homespun, butter-yellow hair hang-ing in braids. He leaped nimbly across the narrow stream. Jane started to retreat into the shadows, but the lad had seen her. He hurried forward, a pair of his pigs following like puppies on his heels. He called to her. Jane didn't recognize the language.
He stopped in front of her, questioning her in a guttural chatter. She listened carefully but couldn't make out a word of it. It sounded sort of like Ger-man, sort of like Dutch, and seemed as though it should be familiar. Jane read Latin, and two types of medieval French, the everyday langue d'oil and the langue d'oc, language of the troubadours. She had a feeling what she was hearing was English, of a sort. Not the recognizable language of Chaucer's time, but an earlier dialect. Perhaps she had landed in the right time after all. But if this was English, she certainly wasn't in the right place.