Because it was most definitely *not* 1626.
|“Uh,” I began, my chuckles turning a tad anxious. “Springtime of sixteen hundred and twenty-six? Haha, very funny.”
Frowning, Bleddyn searched my eyes. “I made no jest, Karthik of Nayar.”
That’s what I was afraid of. . . . “Yeah, right. You’re telling me it’s 1626?” I snorted. “Maybe on you guys’ calendar.”
Bleddyn blinked. “By the new Gregorian calendar, used now throughout Christendom, I swear that the year is as I have said . . . do you use a different calendar in this United States of America from whence you come?”
“We must,” I muttered, thinking I was pretty sure America and most of the world went by the Gregorian calendar . . . or was it the Julian? Either way, however, I was certain if a different calendar was used in Wales, or even by just Bleddyn’s sect, that that calendar wouldn’t be off by four hundred years.
And if it was, what date were they counting from? I’d assumed Bleddyn’s sect were religious in nature, at least partly. And the presence of Christian art and icons gracing the castle bore that assumption out. If not counting from the birth of Christ, what date would a Christian sect be counting from?
Because it was most definitely not 1626.
But suddenly I was thinking of the boulder in the forest . . . strangely unbroken and not white with centuries’ worth of bird shit. I was thinking of the unpaved road that I was certain was the road where we’d left the rental before making our way into the forest.
I was thinking of that creepy, thick fog I’d walked through, and how strangely fast it’d come on, then disappeared. I was thinking—
No. That’s impossible, I told myself, unwilling to even entertain what my brain was trying to posit.
“You seem troubled, Karthik,” Bleddyn said, his concern cutting into my thoughts. I tried to smile, but I don’t think I fooled him.
“Bleddyn, I know you guys don’t use any technology here, but tell me: you do know what it is, right? That beyond this place there are telephones and airplanes and cities and indoor plumbing . . . all manner of things the rest of the world enjoys? You know what these things are, right?”
Bleddyn shook his head no and I was about to ask him how he didn’t know, for surely he’d looked up and seen an airplane, or had other lost people turn up on the baronet’s doorstep, bearing their cellphones and iPods and other tech.
How could they not have? At least once in a while?
Because most people don’t get lost and wind up in 1626, my brain whispered, and I shook my head to free it of such a crazy thought. It was not 1626. I had not traveled back in time. That only happened in books, television shows, and movies.
But in real life, people didn’t get lost in 2014, straggle through some fog, and wind up in 1626.
“Bleddyn, I—” I started to say shakily, suddenly very cold, to the point of shivering. “Do you . . . do you think—I mean, do you believe that . . . time travel is possible?”
“I do not know what you mean by ‘time travel,’” he said simply, then put his arm around me, pulling me close against him. He felt warm and solid. “But I do know that you have gone quite pale and are shivering despite the warmth of the room. Speak, and tell me what troubles you, Karthik.”
This near to Bleddyn, I felt both safe and surprisingly comfortable. Safe enough and comfortable enough to say whatever came to my mind. “Do you think it’s possible to start out your day in one year, and by day’s end, be back nearly four hundred years before you were born?”
Bleddyn’s dark eyes widened. “You mean . . . as if by spell or curse, to have been thrust back into a time that is not one’s own?”
“I guess. Because where I come from, by our calendar, the year is 2014. That is, two thousand and fourteen. I was born in nineteen hundred and ninety-two.” I watched Bleddyn’s face change as I said this, from concerned and puzzled, to concerned and awed.
“Speak you truly?” he asked almost breathlessly, and I nodded once. He searched my eyes again then smiled. “T’is a most wondrous thing, this . . . time travel, of which you speak, to bring you so far from your own time, and to mine!”
I could only gape. “You . . . you don’t think I’m crazy?”
Bleddyn’s dark brows raised. “Of course not. You are no madman.”
I laughed, burying my face in my hands. “You don’t know me. For all you know, I could’ve escaped from a psych-ward.”
“A mad-house, Bleddyn.” Then I laughed once more, at the thought of a man who’d surely lost his mind explaining the concept of a psych-ward to another man who was probably even crazier. “I must’ve gone mad or hit my head, or something. All I know is, this can’t be real. It just can’t be. I’m lying in a ditch in the woods, bleeding from a gash in my head and imagining all this. Or maybe I had a psychotic break in Heathrow. Who knows? But this can’t be happening.”
Bleddyn’s calloused hands closed on my wrists and he gently pried my hands away from my face. It wasn’t until air hit my skin that I realized there were tears on my face. Bleddyn wiped them away with his thumb and smiled solemnly.
“If, by the Grace of God, you have been brought to this time, from your own, then it is by that same Grace that you will find your way back. And as long as I have breath in me, I pledge myself to aiding you in that pursuit,” he said softly. “Ever will I protect and guide you, as best I may.”
More tears ran down my face and I looked away. “You don’t have to say that, Bleddyn. Don’t have to act like you believe me. How could you possibly believe what I say?”
Bleddyn turned my face back toward his. “I have seen with my own eyes, Karthik of Nayar, how differently you speak and act. The strangeness of your dress. You are as familiar with the ways of my time as I expect I would be with yours, which is to say not at all. You are a true stranger, having little in common with the ways of this age. Ignorance is not the same as madness. And if you are merely ignorant of this time and not mad, then what you say must be true.”
“Oh, jeez, Bleddyn.” I laughed through my tears, which he again wiped away. “How can you believe me when I don’t believe me? Time travel is impossible!”
“Anything is possible, through our Lord, Karthik.”
I snorted. “And what if it wasn’t God who sent me back in time?”
Bleddyn’s eyes widened once more. “You speak of the Adversary?”
“I dunno who I speak of, only that I’m scared and confused and I just can’t believe that I’m in 1626!”
“Believe it,” Bleddyn said grimly. “For you are. And every minute spent here must convince you of that.”
He was right about that. Yet even as I was convinced, my doubts intensified. Which was more likely, after all? That I was crazy, or that I was a time traveler?
But then, what would be better? Continuing to live like I was trapped in a nightmare or delusion, and continuing on in what could be dangerous denial . . . or behaving as if I genuinely was in a different time, and thus maybe find a way of getting back?
Hadn’t I lived most of my life since my father died as if I was waiting to wake up? And look where it’d gotten me.
I sighed and hung my head. “I don’t know what to think Bleddyn. Or what to do.”
His arm around me tightened. “As I’ve said, Karthik, I will look after you while you are here. You are my charge. As such, will you follow my guidance until such a time as you are prepared to navigate this time more adroitly?”
I nodded. “Yes, Bleddyn.”
“Will you trust me?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I will.”
“Then,” Bleddyn said quietly. “Do not speak of this . . . time travel . . . with anyone else, for I fear that you may be taken for a witch or a madmen if you speak of such things to anyone.”
My own eyes were the ones to widen, this time. “A witch? But . . . didn’t witches used to get burned at the stake back in the 1600s?”
Bleddyn nodded. “It is not so bad as it once was. And certainly not here. His lordship does not hold with superstition, nor with burning the unpopular and accused as if they were heathen sacrifices,” he said proudly. Then he sighed. “However I fear he might think you mad, and if he were to think that . . . I do not know that he would not send you to a mad-house.”
I shuddered. The idea of being placed in a 17th century madhouse was horrifying. “Don’t let them do that to me, Bleddyn,” I begged and Bleddyn shook his head.
“Never, Karthik. But you must follow my instruction and tell no one else of your time of origin.”
“Believe me, I can barely tell myself any of this stuff, so telling other people? Not even on my radar.” Off Bleddyn’s blank look, I found myself smiling just a little. “You have my word I’ll keep my mouth shut about when I come from.”
Bleddyn returned the smile, clearly relieved. “That is well, then.” And with that, he let go of me and stood up hesitantly, turning beet-red again. “I shall leave you to your rest, for on the morrow, we begin the search for your companions. Though in truth, we shall be searching for a way back to your time.”
I sighed again, daunted by even the prospect of what lay ahead. “Yes.”
“Do not look so downcast, Karthik, for I believe that we will find the way home for you,” Bleddyn said, reaching out and tilting my face up. He was smiling again, and I couldn’t help but smile back, for in that moment I believed him, even though I didn’t believe—not really—that I had traveled back in time. But I would.
I didn’t think I’d be capable of falling asleep after . . . everything. But I was wrong, as was proven when I was startled out of sleep by a gentle knock on the door.
For a few moments, I thought I was back in the hostel in Cardiff, and that John or Dierdre was knocking. “Come in!” I called, rolling over on a firm, but unexpectedly pokey mattress. I squinted open my eyes to total darkness that was suddenly pierced by lamplight as the door opened, then shut.
And that’s when everything came rushing back to me.
“Oh . . . oh, my God,” I groaned, sitting up and burying my face in my hands as the light grew closer and someone sat on the edge of my narrow bed. The lamp got placed on the night table, and strong arms wound around me and held me as I wept, all the fear and feelings of being trapped returning even though I’d had a full night’s sleep that’d featured no dreams.
“Hush, Karthik,” Bleddyn’s now familiar voice said. And: “I will look after you.”
One of his hands cradled the back of my head and the other swept soothingly up and down my bare back. At first I was comforted, and then . . . not so much. My fear and anxiety gave way to other feelings entirely with each pass of Belddyn’s rough hand, and I began to shiver.
Then a moan slipped out, one that Bleddyn could not possibly take for anything other than what it was.
And indeed, he didn’t. His hand paused at the small of my back and he sat back, looking into my eyes, his own wide with incredulity.
“Karthik,” he said lowly, and the way he said my name sent such a thrill through me that I moaned again, and Bleddyn looked away, blushing. “You gaze at me as if. . . .”
“As if I want you to kiss me?” I asked without thinking, then blushed myself. But, feeling greatly daring, I reached up and turned his face back toward mine. He still wouldn’t meet my eyes. “There’s something between us, Bleddyn. Maybe I’m the only one who feels it, but . . . every time you touch me, I—”
“This is wrong,” Bleddyn said firmly—or perhaps it would have sounded firm if not for the quaver in his deep voice. “You are . . . but a lad. You know not what you court by your actions and speech.”
“Actually, I do,” I said, smiling and brushing my thumb across his sharp cheekbone. His eyes fluttered shut for a few moments before he turned his face away once more.
“I’m not a lad. I’m a grown man. I know what I want and I know what I need.”
Bleddyn’s eyes darted to mine for a moment before darting away just as quickly. “It is . . . an abomination for a man to lie with another man as he lay with a woman.”
“Not where I come from.”
Another glance, this one startled. “Truly, you say?”
“Truly. Two men or two women can even marry where I’m from.”
Now, Bleddyn looked doubtful and disbelieving. “Even if that is so, you are not where you come from. You are here.”
“So you keep reminding me.” I let my hand fall away from his face, but before I could turn away, Bleddyn caught my hand and pulled it up to his lips, kissing it lingeringly.
“I swore to protect and guide you, Karthik of Nayar,” he murmured on my palm. “I would not break such a promise at all, let alone mere hours after swearing it. I would not ravish you as if you were some catamite whore when your innocence shines forth from you like a beacon of loveliness and light. I would not sully what I find most beautiful about you with base carnalities.”
Turning so red I had no doubt it showed up even on my complexion, I cupped Bleddyn’s face in my hands.
“Bleddyn . . . what if I want you to be basely carnal with me?” I asked him and he sighed. “No, I’m being serious. It’s not as if I’ve never had a lover before.”
Bleddyn frowned, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear he looked . . . jealous.
“You . . . have lain with another?”
“Of course I have! I’m twenty-two!” I exclaimed, laughing, letting go of his face to push back the heavy coverlet and sheet. I was naked and not especially ashamed of that fact. And it did my heart a world of good to see Bleddyn’s eyes widen as they traveled up and down my body, lingering at groin-level every time.
Then he closed his eyes tight and stood up, pacing to the door, where he paused, his hand on the knob.
“You tempt me,” he said, his voice soft, but tight. “I came only to waken you, and you tempt me most unmercifully. Karthik.”
I swung my legs off of the pokey, straw-mattress bed and stood up, crossing the small room to place my hands on Bleddyn’s grey-shirted back. He was the one to shiver, this time.
Feeling greatly daring once more, I leaned in and lightly kissed the nape of his neck, brushing his dark curls aside to do so.
Bleddyn shivered again, but didn’t pull away. Not even when I slid my hands around to his chest, then down it, till I was grasping the hem of his shirt and pulling it up to get to the waistband of his trousers.
“We should not be doing this,” Bleddyn breathed shakily as I unbuttoned his fly. He wasn’t wearing the 17th century’s equivalent of underwear, so the first thing I felt after a solid six-pack, was a hot, damp, hard handful of cock. Bleddyn let out a low moan as I began to stroke him, nibbling my way to his ear. “Karthik, we should not.”
“God says!” Bleddyn hissed, then hissed again when I ran my thumb across the head of his cock. “He did not send you here for this.”
“How do you know he didn’t?”
Bleddyn had no answer for that. At least not for most of the next minute, during which his trousers became a puddle at his feet and I’d stopped stroking him off in favor of trying to remove his shirt.
“Is not here.”
“If he were to catch us like this—” Bleddyn shuddered and it wasn’t from pleasure. “He has already caught me so, once, and I have found that once was quite enough for my lifetime.”
“Your—your dad caught you fucking another guy?” I asked, horrified. My father had died when I was fourteen, and as far as my mother knew, I was still a virgin. A gay virgin. And until I got married, that was the way it was going to stay. “Holy shit, that’s—that’s awful!”
Bleddyn turned to face me and I stopped tugging on his shirt to wrap my arms around his neck and lean our foreheads together.
“We were barely old enough to grow hair where it counted, William and I,” Bleddyn whispered with a sad smile I could just make out. “My father beat us both most soundly, and sent William to be fostered in another county. And that was the last I saw or heard of him until news came to us of his . . . death.”
“Oh, Bleddyn . . . I’m so sorry,” I whispered back, hugging him tight, then leaning back to kiss him. He gasped in surprise . . . then kissed me back hungrily, intently, his hands settling on my waist. Then they slid around to my ass and he pulled me flush against him, till his cock was nestled against mine and we both moaned.
I don’t know which of us began backing toward the bed, only that suddenly we were laying on it, Bleddyn on top of me, driving his hips down into mine hard and fast. I spread my legs till I could wrap them around his thighs, like my arms were around his neck. He kept groaning my name between panting kisses, his hands still squeezing my ass. Then his fingers brushed between my cheeks, at first tentatively fingering me, then rather less tentatively, till I arched up against him and came, biting down on his sinewy shoulder to keep from waking the whole castle with my shouts.
Then I was a limp, sated pile of time traveler, letting my body be used for another’s pleasure. Bleddyn grunted and groaned his way to a climax that seemed almost to pain him, for the look on his face before he buried it in the hollow place between my neck and shoulder.
He slipped and slid against me in come and sweat, till with a low groan he finally came, too, hot and a lot, all over my stomach.
Then he, too, was collapsing into a heavy pile—on top of me. But his weight felt good and right on me, so I didn’t mind.
When we’d caught our breath, Bleddyn made to lever his body off my own, but I held onto him and waited for him to meet my eyes. When he did, I smiled.
Bleddyn smiled back hopefully, and leaned down to kiss me good-morning.