Drustan stood by the window for a long time, taking slow, deep breaths and trying to regain a measure of calm. He rarely suffered nightmares and preferred to forget this one, for the dream reeked of madness. He firmly corralled it in a deep, dark place in his mind, burying it where it would never see the light of day.
The storm died as suddenly as it had arisen, and the Highland night fell still and silent again.
Think think think, Gwen berated herself. You’re supposed to be so brainy, use it. But her brain felt numb and clumsy. After the day she’d just had—the incredible passion, the bizarre storm, the fuzziness of her mind from nicotine withdrawal—she was in no condition to be brilliant. She was hardly in any condition to manage average.
Pacing gingerly upon the melting hail, she tallied the tangible facts, because the intangible ones, at the moment, scared the bejeezus out of her. She was desperate to find some factual, logical conclusion to explain away the illogic of her whereabouts.
She shivered, eyeing the castle. The prospect of confronting what it held both fascinated and terrified her.
But there was something she had to do first. Not that she was the disbelieving type, no way, not her. But she did prefer to view hard evidence with her own two eyes.
Drawing a bracing breath, she plunged into the darkness beyond the circle and sped away from the castle. When she reached the estate wall, she flung herself up on a pile of casks, pressed her cheek to a narrow slit in the wall, and peered out into the valley at the city of Alborath.
It wasn’t there. Suspicion confirmed.
Her shoulders slumped. She hadn’t expected it to be, but its absence was shocking nonetheless.
I went back too far.
In other words, she mused, sorting through what she knew about the theories of time travel, he’d probably tried to go back to shortly after he’d been abducted, but had gotten the symbols wrong. He’d returned to a time when the past him was there in the castle, and common theory held that if time travel were possible, the fabric of the universe would not suffer two identical selves in a single moment. The future him had somehow been canceled out.
Time travel! the scientist shouted in her head. Analyze!
We have to save him. Analyze that. We’ll contemplate the ramifications of multiverses later.
If the future him had been canceled out, that meant the Drustan she’d fallen in love with no longer existed, but she would find him in the castle, pre-enchantment, and with no knowledge of her whatsoever.
That thought made her heart hurt. She was in no rush to look into his silvery eyes, which had gazed at her so intimately but an hour ago, and see an utter lack of recognition.
Promise me you will not fear me.
Fear him? Why would she have feared him? Because he could manipulate time? Sheesh, that only increased her fascination with him!
Save my clan.
She would not fail him.
Squaring her shoulders, she hurried back through the stones, toward the castle, and flew up the stairs. Fisting her hand, she knocked on an enormous door that made her feel like a shrunken Alice in a hostile Wonderland. Once, twice, and again. “Halloo, halloo!” she cried. She flung her small frame at it, pounding with her shoulder.
There was no answer. No convenient doorbell either. Her mind duly noted more tangible evidence that what she was knocking on was not a twenty-first-century door. She would contemplate the medieval door later. From the inside. At the moment, she was feeling as if she might faint at any moment. The strangeness of it all left her feeling utterly overwhelmed. And so what if she was a physicist, supposedly capable of heightened comprehension—she was totally freaked out.
“Oh, puh-lease!” she cried, turning around and using her bottom as a battering ram on the thick door. Thump-thump, thump-thump. It hurt her more than it hurt the door, and made about as much noise as a downy pillow. She’d be damned if she was getting sent back to save him, only to be denied entrance.
She stepped back and eyed the windows. Perhaps she could toss something through the glass?
Not exactly a wise way to petition shelter from strangers, she decided. Someone might shoot at her. Arrows, or something equally archaic. Perhaps toss boiling oil down the walls.
She cast a glance about and spied a pile of chopped wood. She scurried over to it, freed a wedge, and slammed one end against the door. “Please, open up,” she called.
“I’m coming,” a sleepy voice replied. “I heard ye the first time. Impatient, aren’t ye?” There was the sound of metal sliding against wood, and the door was finally, blessedly opened. Gwen sank to her knees with relief.
A buxom fortyish woman clad in a long gown and lacy cap stood in the doorway, blinking sleep from her eyes. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight huddling on the doorstep, nearly naked.