*~*~* Chapter 1: Arrival *~*~*
It had been just another chilly day that January. Nothing special happened on that day; there had even been another argument that seemed to repeat itself every few months between Eva and her husband. She no longer cried over these arguments – she no longer cared and was simply bating her time until they could both go their separate ways without strain.
She tucked the kids into bed, gave them hugs and kisses and told them goodnight. The rheumatoid arthritis that had started just a few months prior was in a flare that night so Eva took some pain medication on top of the arthritis medication the doctor had given her.
As she lay down and tried to find a comfortable position for sleep, her mind whirled with thoughts of things that needed to be done both at work and at home that week. She finally got the nagging thoughts to stop as the medication began to kick in and managed to drift off to sleep.
A falling sensation pulled Eva from her sleep. 'Why is it so cold? Why does it feel like I'm-' she thought as she sat up, still groggy. "Ahhhhhh!" She screamed when she realized she was laying outside on the ground, "Where am I? How? What?" Her mind raced, trying to piece together how she ended up where she was instead of her bed. "This must be a dream! But everything hurts too much for a dream…" Eva tried to rationalize the situation.
After several minutes of sitting in the cold, rambling to herself about what was going on, Eva slowly stood up, using a nearby tree to support her as her joints protested. "I can't just sit here and do nothing. Might as well start walking and see if I can find water or a road or something!"
Looking around, Eva saw that she appeared to be in the middle of a forest. Trees reached in all directions as far as she could see. Above, the bare arms of the trees reached and swayed in a slight breeze. The sun peaked through clouds and the branches, not able to provide any meaningful warmth. The ground was covered in dead leaves, and the only sound was birds far away chirping angrily at each other.
With nothing to help her determine which direction would be best, she picked up the blanket that had managed to come with her to just start walking. When Eva picked up the blanket though, something hard dropped to the ground. Reaching towards the fallen item, she realized it was her cell phone. Excited, she picked it up and tried to make a call. Unfortunately, there was no signal for the phone to pick up. With a sigh, Eva tucked the phone in the pocket of her sweat pants and started walking. She soon found that her socks were not enough protection for her feet against the cold ground and quickly found a vine that she was able to break off a few lengths of and used it to tie the bottom of the blanket around her feet as she held the top of it around her shoulders.
Continuing on through the day, Eva started to fear that she wouldn't find anything when she stumbled out onto a road cut through the trees. Though the road was hard packed dirt, it was possible to make out footprints from horses as well as people. A wave of relief swept over Eva and she began to make her way along the road. She only made it a few steps along the road, however, before she collapsed in the middle and the dark of unconsciousness enveloped her.
"We should have waited until tomorrow, Sirah. I don't want to be stuck out here in the dark with it also snowing!" A young man grumbled to the woman sitting next to him on the bench of the cart, looking at the dark storm clouds moving in.
"Oh, hush it, Alik. Lord Edan said he wanted us to return today." Sirah responded, snapping the reins all the same to get the horse to pick up his speed just a bit. "It's not that much long-"
A figure suddenly stumbled into the open several meters ahead, took a few steps, and then collapsed. Though the horse was unfazed by this intruder on its route, both passengers were startled and Sirah pulled the reins back, signaling the horse to stop.
"What do you think it is?" Sirah whispered.
"Not sure, but I'll check it out." Alik jumped off the cart, found a long branch and walked over to the collapsed figure. He prodded it with the branch, moving the blanket enough to see that it was a person under a blanket. Moving in closer and pulling the blanket back, he called to Sirah, "it is a girl! And, if she isn't dead, she is close to it!"
"Bring her here and put her in the cart, we can't just leave her here!" Sirah said as she jumped into the back of the cart, moving things around to make space for the girl.
Alik picked up the unconscious girl and placed her in the cart. Sirah sat in the back with the girl as Alik climbed back on the bench and urged the horse to start moving once more.
"Just a little longer, child" Sirah whispered to the girl, "Then we can thaw you out."
The girl's lips were blue and her face was frighteningly pale; the only sign that she hadn't died when she collapsed was the small puffs of fog that escaped from her mouth as her breath met the cold air. Sirah pulled the blanket over the girls face to block the wind from their movement as they hurried along. Pushing the horse to move as quickly as it safely could, they arrived at their destination about half an hour later, just as the last of the sun dipped below the horizon and the first flakes of snow began to blow in.
Alik stopped the cart by the door to the kitchen and he and Sirah carefully unloaded the unconscious girl and took her inside. Placing her gently on the floor near the fireplace, Siarh called to the others in the room, "Mila, find Lord Edan and bring him and a blanket! Radin, I need warm water and cloth scraps!"
A girl in her teens darted out of the room, in search of the Lord and a blanket while the older man she had been sitting next to just sat there for a moment in total surprise. As he overcame the shock, he scooped some water from a large barrel into a pot and placed it over to the fire to warm up. As the water warmed, he left the room, returning with several scraps of clean cloth.
Sirah carefully cut the vines the girl had used to tie the blanket to her feet and peeled away the thin socks to see the beginning of frostbite taking hold of the girl's toes. She dropped the pieces of cloth into the pot of water and began placing them over the girl's hands and feet. Mila returned with the warmest blanket she was able to find, trailed by a well-dressed man.
"Sirah, Mila told me you brought someone in. What happened?" The well-dressed man hurried over and knelt down by Sirah.
"My Lord!" Sirah responded, "She popped out of the woods onto the road and collapsed. The poor dear is nearly frozen."
As she began to warm back up, the girl began to regain normal color. Her feet and hands turned red under the warm cloths as Sirah swapped them out to keep up the warmth and her breathing and heartbeat became stronger.
"Sirah, Radin, Mila, please unload the cart so Alik can put it away and take care of Ruby. I will take care of her." Sitting on the floor, Lord Edan gently picked up the girl's hand and held it between both of his. He closed his eyes and a soft glow began to spread across the girl, starting from the hand he held and making its way to fully envelop her. Moments later, the glow began to fade and Lord Edan opened his eyes to find the girl staring at him with wide open eyes. He smiled, "Hello."
"Hi." She replied. "Who? Where?" She struggled to sit up.
Lord Edan helped her into a sitting position, "I am Edan, and this is my estate. What is your name?"
"Evailia. Please call me Eva."
"Can you tell me where you are from, Eva?"
"Avon, Virginia. Where are we?" Eva asked, looking around. To her right, was a lively fire crackling in a large fireplace. A table surrounded by several stools stood behind the strangely dressed man to her left. Beyond that, Eva could see others working in the doorway, but couldn't discern much detail.
"Hmmm, Vir-gin-ya." Edan pronounced the unfamiliar word slowly, "I have never heard of that kingdom. We are currently in the kingdom of Yarrat. You must have traveled far."
"Virginia. It's a state in the United States…a country in North America." Eva tried to get him to understand, "it's not a kingdom. And I've been walking all day, I think, but not far enough to be out of the state!" Panic started to overcome her.
"Shhhh. It's ok. Calm down." Edan grabbed Eva by the shoulders and twisted her so she was looking directly at him. "We are speaking the same language, but you are using words and names I have never heard. Maybe you hit-"
"But my kids! Work! I need to get back to them!" She interrupted.
"You will. But first, you must calm down."
Edan's hands on her shoulders began to feel warm and the panic Eva felt trying to take over suddenly fell away and she was able to think clearly. "My phone! Maybe I can get signal now!" She pulled her phone out of the pocket it had been in and turned the screen back on. "Damnit! Still nothing!" Looking at Edan, desperation in her eyes and voice, "do you have a phone I can use? I can call home and figure out how to get back there!"
Confusion written across his face, Edan simply shook his head.
"But-" Eva began to cry.
Not wanting to make the girl uncomfortable, Edan waved Sirah over. Sirah sat down next to Eva and held her tight and allowed her to just cry. Once the tears stopped, Eva took a few deep breaths, reining in her emotions.
"Thank you." Eva looked at the useless phone in her hands. "I'm not sure how I can repay you, but would it be ok-"
"Of course you can stay here tonight! We can sort things out after you've had a proper night's rest." Sirah helped Eva up and led her to a small room with a simple bed.
Before Sirah had even finished placing the blanket over her, Eva had fallen into a deep sleep, her phone still clenched desperately in her hands.
Returning to the kitchen, Sirah found Lord Edan sitting on a stool, staring at the dancing flames in the fireplace. Mila had left the room, presumably to find her own sleep. Radin was putting the last of the supplies away and Sirah could see Alik and her husband finishing up in the stable through the window.
"It was a good thing you insisted we return tonight instead of waiting until the morning, My Lord." Sirah said as she began to pick up everything that had been left on the floor. "She wouldn't have survived the night," she prompted when Lord Edan remained silent.
"Yes." Edan replied absently, his gaze focused on the flames, his thoughts elsewhere.