When I woke, there was a woman in the room. She was slender, tall, with pale blue eyes that seemed like crystals in her narrow face. Her hair was hidden under a veil, bound about her forehead with a twist of cord, but I could see peeks of it where the fabric folded; it was the same ethereal pale blonde as the man from before. I wondered if they were related. She wore a heavy wool dress, dyed weak green, laced at the sides with ties to draw it against her skin. There was a cream underdress, buttoned tight at the wrist. An amount of fabric sat in her lap and she had clearly been sewing. Her eyes flitted to my face for a moment and then back to her work, the tiny brass needle flashing as she frowned, making fast, careless stitches.
"I was almost done," she said irritably, "Give me a moment more."
I started to sit up, kicking at the covers to disentangle myself, and I found that I was no longer wearing the clothing I had been. They'd dressed me in a tunic that would fall barely below my hips. I kept the covers where they were, sitting up carefully to rest against the wall, as there was no headboard.
"My clothing?" I asked, suddenly disturbed at the thought that I'd been undressed by strangers while I slept. I felt vulnerable.
"Again, please. In our language."
I had to pause and then I repeated myself as she watched and listened expectantly.
"Soaked through," she said in response to my question, "We had to get you dry and Eiklend needs to see the skin he is healing."
It took a moment for the meaning of that to sink in. I looked away, at the fire that was still burning in the hearth. I noticed how uneven the stones were and how the mortar that held them together was chipping away in pieces. Then my dreams had not entirely been dreams. They'd held me down, then, as I cried out in pain at his touch.
"Who is Eiklend?"
"The mage that found you in the forest. He felt the ripple from the void and tracked it, and found you and brought you back."
"There was another man with him."
"Jerain, one of my men."
She bent her head to her task, her brow furrowing in concentration. I stared at my hands, folded on the blanket. I did not know the position of women in a feudal society, I had only a vague impression that they had little power or self-determination, but here she spoke as if Jerain belonged to her. Yet she also sat there, sewing, for what I assumed was going to be something for me to wear. I wondered what they had done with my work clothing and how long I had been asleep.
"You called Eiklend a mage," I said slowly. Of all the things I wanted to know, this was the one that came first to my mind. "Then, is it really... magic?"
"Of course." She did not look up from her work.
"We don't have magic where I come from."
A pause. Then she resumed again, this time drawing the thread all the way through and cutting it with a small knife from her belt. The thread wasn't nearly as fine as what I would have bought in a store, back in my own world. I wondered just how long these tiny discrepancies would jar me, if I'd be continually surprised at the things that I had taken for granted.
"Eiklend tells me that all worlds have magic, but some have no mages. Your world has magic, else how would you be here?"
How indeed? The woman stood, holding up what she had been working on. It was a wool tunic, rust red, and I saw that she'd been taking up the sleeve length. Behind her, on the back of the chair, rested a pair of pants with cord to draw the waist tight. There were strips of cloth as well, dull yellow, and I wasn't certain what those were for.
"There," she said approvingly, "I've taken in all the seams, it should fit better now. One of the boys has recently grown quite a bit and was willing to give this up. We assumed from your previous dress that you'd prefer a tunic over a dress."
"I'd wear either... but thank you."
I eased myself out from under the covers, shivering at the sudden cold. The blankets had been warmer than I'd thought. The woman didn't seem inclined to leave, so I hastily shed the thin linen tunic and pulled the wool one over, as she turned and then handed me the pants. I dressed, grateful I at least still had panties on, and as I finished tying the waist I found her holding out the strips of fabric. They were long, matched pairs, and I stared blankly at her for a moment.
"Oh," she said, realizing my confusion, "Here. Sit."
I did so on the edge of the bed and she knelt, deftly wrapping them around my ankles and up my calf before tucking it in to stay. She did the same with the other leg.
"Keeps the loose fabric tight," she explained, "And it looks better."
I concentrated on lacing the ties at my wrists as she finished, drawing the fabric tight. That seemed to be the trend, loose enough around the body, tight at the ankles and wrists. The woman drew some boots out from underneath the chair and I tentatively stepped into them. They were leather, loose-fitting, and I found them somehow awkward in a way I couldn't quite place. They laced and I did this, looking at them intently as I did so, wondering what it was that seemed... off, about them. It took a moment, but I realized that there was no differentiation between the two, that they would fit the right foot the same as the left. It would take some time to get used to this, I thought, if I ever did.
"Come. Eiklend wanted to see you when you were awake."
The woman's name was Mirai and she was the lady of the keep, or at least, the was the best translation I could approximate. Her position was appointed rather than inherited, but it was still a noble title and I didn't know what else to call it. There was not a direct correlation between words and so I had to assign a meaning myself, after a bit more explanation on Mirai's part. Eikland's memories did not provide context, only meaning, and I was finding that concepts specific to the culture I was finding myself in would not translate without some effort on my part. Similarly, if I was not knowledgeable in the subject, I could not find the words in the memories. It was bewildering and made conversation difficult, but Mirai was patient and she walked slowly through the halls. I suspected this was on part due to my condition, for I found myself still quite weak and by the time we reached Eikland's rooms I was short of breath and my legs were trembling.
Lady Mirai led me into the room with barely a knock. Clearly, her position conveyed some sort of authority that she could simply barge in without a thought. The room beyond was narrow with a desk at one end and a fireplace across from it. A handful of chairs were scattered about and there were bookcases against the far wall, crowding an open doorway. There was a teapot sitting on the hearth of the fire, close enough to the flames to absorb the heat and keep warm. Mirai waited a moment in the middle of the room and Eikland soon appeared in the far doorway. He remained there a moment, one hand on the frame, looking past Mirai at myself. I could not hold his gaze. He seemed even leaner now, his face pale and drawn. He was a very tall man, I realized. I would only reach his shoulder and Mirai also had to look up at him.
"It's almost supper," Mirai said to the mage, "Shall I have it sent up?"
"Yes please," he replied, his tone deferential, "I'm not prepared to deal with the questions yet."
"We're a remote outpost," she explained, turning to address me, "There's little excitement this far north, so a newcomer – especially an off-worlder – is going to attract a lot of attention."
Eikland was pulling the kettle off the hearth and pouring two mugs full of tea. Mirai waited a moment more to see if there was anything more, but the mage remained silent and she excused herself and vanished back into the hallway. Eikland nodded at me, indicating that I should sit, and handed me one of the mugs when I did. It was green, wide, and there was a mustached face shaped into the clay. The mouth was twisted up into a half-smile.
"Keep the mug for yourself," Eikland said, pulling a chair over to seat himself opposite me, comfortably close to the fire, "We have a potter that makes them. They're all the same color, but the faces are different, so memorize your face, otherwise it'll be easy to confuse yours with someone else."
"How... bad was I? In the woods."
He leaned back, staring up at the arched ceiling for a moment.
"If you're asking if I saved your life," he finally said, "Yes, I did. You were unconscious for most of the ride back to the keep, but I kept you alive until I could work a more careful healing."
The mage was silent a moment and sipped at his tea. I tried my own and found it bitter with almost a sour taste to it. Eikland noticed my reaction and smiled wryly.
"It's anivisterum," he said, "It's a kind of root. We use it for medicine. I need it because I'm exhausted from both healing you and giving you memory of language. I'm not specialized in either discipline, so it was very difficult for me. This will keep my magic subdued until I've recovered. And you need it because, well, because of everything you've been through. Drink the entire mug."
That explained his haggard appearance. I obliged, forcing myself to drink more of the bitter tea, taking large swallows to make it go faster. It scalded the back of my throat.
"Some things you need to be aware of," Eikland said evenly, "You are – technically – a prisoner of Tria. Both myself and Mirai are agents of the King and so you are in our custody, or more specifically, mine. As soon as it is possible, I will be escorting you south."
"To the King."
"If he decides he wants to take an interest in this." The mage shrugged lightly and looked away at the fire. "I imagine he will. We've not had contact with any world called America yet."
"What will happen to me?"
I was starting to be frightened now. Eikland did not seem concerned, but his situation was not mine. I was the one whose fate was being decided by others and for the first time in my life, I felt powerless, that I had no say in this. There had been no assurance that I had any rights whatsoever as a foreigner in this world.
"You will not be mistreated, if that is your concern."
"Our definitions of mistreatment could be very different and that didn't really answer my question. All you've told me is that I'm a prisoner."
"Do you feel like one?" He was regarding me carefully now, the firelight casting shadows against the sharp angles of his face. I looked down at my tea, nervous under his scrutiny, and traced the rim of my mug with one finger.
"No," I finally said, "But I've done nothing wrong."
"That is true. Regardless, you are an unknown, and because of that we have to take your freedom. You have no reason to be afraid. But, to actually answer you; I will take you south to the nearest city. From there, the guard will take over and decide if this needs to go before King Rhys. If it does – and it's likely to – it will be up to him and Captain Tiriyvus as to what happens."
There were a handful of words in there that I could not translate fully. The guard seemed to have special significance, I did not think it was something so simple as a police force, nor did it seem to match up to any of my military knowledge. The same was for Tiriyvus's title – I simply did not have enough experience to know how military ranks were organized and so I heard what was, in my mind, a generic term for someone of rank.
"You said you wouldn't be able to find my home world. Could they?"
"Possibly. They will not send you home, however."
It was like a blow to the stomach and I huddled in on myself at the impact of his words. I stared at the mug with its wry smile, blinking rapidly, willing myself not to cry openly and failing dismally. I heard a creak of wood as Eikland shifted in his chair.
"I'm sorry," he said and I could tell it was a hollow apology, "It's best if you accept that now, though, instead of building up hope. They will want to keep you here."
"You can't-!" I stood, setting my tea down on the chair and walking away from him, pacing the length of the narrow room. "You have no right!"
"Oh?" Eikland's voice had turned cold. "I know nothing of how your world operates, but you are in Tria now. The only rights you have are the ones we grant you, and right now, I determine what those are."
"But why?" I whispered. I still could not bring myself to look in his direction again and I scrubbed at my eyes with the back of my hand, trying to banish the tears that simply would not seem to stop. I was not sobbing, not yet – that would come later – but I was crying with a sort of wrung-out feeling, an emptiness that was so sharp I couldn't do anything but cry numbly, mutely.
"There are... many reasons," he replied carefully, "The simplest explanation is that we've had our difficulties with other worlds in the past and we've no desire to open relations with yet another world when we're not prepared."
"But we have no magic."
"All worlds have magic." His voice was sharp. "It only differs in form. Some day your world will be able to cross the river and it won't matter whether you call it magic, mysticism, religion, or science."
He seemed on the verge of saying more, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. I turned away, putting my back to the door so that whoever had come would not see my blotchy and tear-stained face, and Eikland brushed past me to answer. There were words exchanged in an undertone and then the visitor was gone and I was alone with the mage again. He was carrying two wood platters, upon each was a bowl of some thin soup, bread, and some cheese. I was in no mood to eat, but the smell reminded me of how desperately tired I was and how much hunger factored into this. Reluctantly, I returned to my chair and set the platter on my lap, tearing off a hunk of bread and dipping it into the soup. There was some sort of stringy meat and I was surprised to see vegetables I recognized.
"So – what is this?" I asked tentatively, pointing at the food.
"Rabbit stew. You have rabbits?"
"We do." I was surprised, but Eikland merely nodded as if he expected this.
"There is a theory that one point, humanity existed only on one world," he said, "Then something happened and we were scattered across many worlds, taking with us the flora and fauna of our origin. On some worlds, you find one subset of species, and on another you find an entirely different subset. Then there's animals that are common to every world. It's the same with ethnicity. On Tria, you'll find that almost everyone is fair-haired and pale, save for those that have off-worlder descent. You can tell which worlds were closer to the disaster that scattered us by how diverse they are. Worlds like Tria were likely settled by only a few survivors."
"Is there... a stigma against off-worlders?"
"Depends entirely on what world you're from. There's no stigma against being of off-world descent for the most part. There used to be, but one of our regents a few generations back went and married an off-worlder and put an end to that."
I was finding that, despite what he had told me of my future, I did enjoy listening to Eikland talk. It was a distraction, if nothing else. I could not place what sort of person the mage was, however, as he seemed to slip between different roles with ease. At moments I thought him military in nature, but then he seemed to serve a political role and now, listening to him explain the biological makeup of Tria, I could not help but think of him as a scholar. Perhaps he was all three, in addition to being a mage. I let him talk and remained quiet, eating quickly. The food was somewhat bland, but it was hot and filling and I couldn't ask for much more. It was difficult to place just what was missing but halfway through I realized it was the salt. There was no salt in the food, or if there was, it was a very small amount. This, too, would take some getting used to.
"I think you'd best turn in for the night," the mage finally said with a sigh when he had finished, setting his own platter down on the ground beside him, "It's still early, but forced healing will take its toll. Tomorrow you can start learning our language."
"The memories I gave you won't last. They're not yours so they will fade quite rapidly. You'll need to replace them with actual knowledge."
He stood and indicated that I should follow. We walked in silence down the hallway, himself leading me back to the room I had been in earlier. I wouldn't have been able to find my way myself. We met only one other person, a woman, who passed us in the hallway and watched me with blatant curiosity as we passed. Eiklend remained by the door as I entered, looking about, and I realized that I really was quite tired.
"You'll not be locked in," the mage said quietly, "Your prisoner status is only a technicality, after all. I suggest you not go wandering, however. Mirai or myself will find you in the morning."
He paused, on the verge of saying more, and after a moment of debate he decided to speak what was on his mind.
"It's going to be all right," he said, and his voice was soft, "We'll help you get through this."
I sat down, quickly, and squeezed my eyes shut. There was a click as Eiklend shut the door behind him, and only then did I start crying.