I drove for at least an hour, stopping when I realized I was returning to the elevator. Of course, it was days away and I had no plan to ever visit again. Finally the headlights lit the entrance of a road off to the right. I turned on it and relaxed as it smoothed out considerably.
And that one decision became a massive mistake. A line of fire crossed the road directly in front of us. I slammed in the brakes, and started to back up, only to see a line of flames behind us too. Then we were surrounded by fire. The air inside the truck began to heat up so breathing became more difficult.
In front of us we saw two giants in what looked like steel suits walking to the truck. They passed through the flames without hesitation reaching the truck in seconds, lifting it as if it was weightless. When they dropped the vehicle, two windows shattered. One of the giants, or androids I believed, tossed a metal ball into the truck. It exploded. Seconds later, I was unconscious.
When I woke I found I had been stripped of my clothing except for underwear as had Margaret and we were in a small room built from stone blocks with a window high at the rear, a circular hole in the center of the roof and a door made from wood that looked both old and strong. It had no handle or latch, but did have a barred window.
Judging by the smell of smoke, I decided we were now prisoners inside the town we’d just fled.
Margaret was balled up in a corner, holding her arms wrapped around her knees, which were tight against her chest.
Helplessness was not a feeling I normally experienced. Right then I had maybe my first taste of it and I found it bitter and noxious.
I sat alongside Margaret, but she did not want to be touched or held. Her response was worse then the helplessness. I had failed us both with my anxious need to escape those who attacked us from within the towered and walled village. I should have driven under the tower and then once inside? What could I have done once surrounded by hundreds of their warriors? Nothing. And now? I’ll find a way out.
There was no sleep for me that night. Margaret’s only sound was her weeping.
As sunlight began to creep down the wall from the hole in the roof, I turned inward, meditated, and prepared.
A guard tossed black bread through the small window in the door along with two metal canteens of water. He slammed the window shut. That was breakfast and the knowledge that they didn’t want us dead, at least not yet.
I was first out. Two guards dressed in black uniforms trimmed with dark red piping and red epaulets, stood on either side of the door once it was opened. The taller of the two pointed at me and waved me to follow. With not other options, I obeyed. Although with bare feet it was painful stepping on a floor with shards of shattered stone pieces embedded throughout.
By the time we stopped walking outside a door painted white, and cleaner than anything around it, I knew my feet bled in several places. Infection would be a concern, if I lived that long.
The guards stood at both sides of the door, which then opened without being touched. I looked at the guard I felt was in charge. He nodded with a look in his eyes that made me hesitate a second. The man seemed to be trying to relay a message, and then he nodded just enough for me to see him but not enough for his partner to see.
I nodded as briefly and entered the room beyond the door. My instant first reaction was to bow or kneel or in some way express obeisance to a person who obvious felt themself to be royalty. Nothing like that existed in my time other than a token king of old England who was nothing but a symbol of past history.
The king I faced now seemed the exact opposite. He was very definitely in command and at least believed he was all-powerful. The assassin in me wanted to prove to him I would not be moved by pretension.
He was staring at me as I approached, so I bow from the waist, and said, “I do not know proper protocol. Forgive me if I fail to express respect as you expect.”
When I straightened I was almost startled to see he was smiling. Madness abounds, I thought but did not return the smile.
He stepped down form the platform his throne was mounted on and pointed to a pair of elaborate gold chairs on the side of the room with a window wall.
“We will talk there.” He waited for me to move first and followed giving me the feeling he was uncertain about his own future.
When I reached the chairs, I waited for him to sit and then sat too.
“How may I be of service?” I asked without allowing emotion to seep into the words.
“I have been informed of your history on our world. Most believe your death should be swift. I do not.” He stopped and adjusted the embroidered red and gold robe he wore. I took a second to examine it and saw scenes from places far too magical for the ring world I’d seen since entering the portal.
“I’m glad you see that way, sir.”
He smiled again. “I’ll cut to the chase. I need a bodyguard. A man who is afraid of nothing and willing and able to do whatever it takes to keep me alive. Might that be you?”
“It might be, sir. But I must ask that my companion is freed to live alongside me if I am to accept.”
He laughed lightly. “If you don’t accept, I’ll have you beheaded. However, if you accept she will be with you and safe as long as you do what I need.”
I thought about it for about fifteen seconds and nodded. “I am at your service, sir.”
“Good, very good.” He held out his hand and after a slight hesitation, I decided he was expecting me to shake his hand. I did and he seemed pleased. The practice in my time was forbidden. Too many warriors and others like me knew how to carry a needle poison between two fingers that penetrated instantly and killed as fast. Then there was passing disease that way.
“I consider your handshake a bond of commitment,” He said.
I agreed. “When do I start?”
“Now.” He leaned over and typed something into a hidden keypad. “The guards will show you to your quarters. You companion is on her way too.”
Suddenly I understood what the guard outside the door was telling me and I knew I already had one friend. In the back of my mind I began planning a strategy to escape. Time, I thought, it will take time.
The apartment arranged for me and Margaret was satisfactory, nothing elaborate. Margaret seemed to relax when I explained our situation. Since I’d known her she maintained a determination to be in control of her situation even though she acted, and at times may’ve been helpless.
Since teaming up with me, she’d become a reliable partner that I knew I might count on in most if not all circumstances. But she’d been badly abused based on her unwilling history when she was DNA altered into a shape-shifting warrior. I suspected the king I elected to work for knew of her abilities and considered them also an asset.
I watched as she adjusted the water pouring into a white stone bathtub. The tub, it seemed was cut from a single stone with gray grain lines making me think it was marble. She turned the water off and stripped with my assistance, and then lowered herself into the hot water. She moaned and leaned forward so I might wash her back, and then after I suggested I wash her hair too.
The water did show a pinkish color but that was not deep enough for me to believe the blood was fresh. Likely it oozed from the wounds I’d treated and the tiny slices in the flesh of her legs.
I felt a renewed sense of rage at how she was tortured and abused, but again smothered it knowing she was right that I could not do anything for revenge.
Finally she seemed drowsy leaning her head back eyes closed. I pulled the drain plug and helped her to her feet, dried her carefully, and with a large fluffy towel wrapped around her walked her to the bedroom.
There we discovered a huge bed with a soft mattress and piles of pillows along with three blankets. Everything was in shade of blue including the walls, and the floor tiles.
Two dressers stood against the opposite wall. One held clothing for her and one for me. I guessed I should’ve been surprised, but didn’t feel that way after learning everything was the correct size for us both.
When Margaret was wearing a long sleeping gown, she climbed into bed, pulled the sheet and blanket up to her chin and passed out without saying a word more than thanks.