An intense flash of light blinded me and sent everything spinning out of control. Panic took my breath away until I felt Griffin’s touch. Like a puzzle ring, his fingers intertwined with mine and centered me, restoring my sense of reason. The sensation of moving at break-neck speed, confusion, and dizziness had all happened before. It would pass.
My feet touched ground, and my vision cleared. Above, the sun hung from a brilliant blue sky and warmed the freshly plowed field beneath our feet. Not far away, a river made its way downstream. The structure looming in the distance took on a familiar shape, and I placed my hand over my heart as if to still its racing. We stood in a cornfield not far from a grand castle rising stark and tall against the clouds. The one haunting my dreams.
Griffin squeezed my hand and smiled. His eyes shone like quicksilver. “Welcome home, Erin.” My future seemed filled with nothing but unbridled happiness. If only the feeling could have lasted.
We followed the road leading to the castle on the horizon, passed through the gate into the courtyard, and made our way to the stables. My cheap medieval-style costume, chosen to keep me from appearing too out of place when we arrived, seemed to have done the trick.
Little or nothing had changed since my previous visit. All around us, everyone busied themselves with everyday tasks. Sparks flew into the air as the blacksmith hammered metal on his anvil. Local craftsmen worked in their shops with diligence, and knights and squires clashed swords at practice. We skirted the edges of the crowd and made our way to Griffin’s quarters, a small structure against the wall and on the other side of the stables, without attracting anyone’s attention.
Once inside the memories exploded, flooding my consciousness. “You cannot imagine the times I’ve dreamed of all this.” A breathless turn brought me full-circle in the middle of the room. “And now it’s actually happening.”
Griffin pulled me close. “Aye, it is real, Erin, and neither one of us is dreaming.”
Our hearts seemed to beat together in perfect harmony. Wrapped in the warmth of his arms, the fabric of his tunic rough against my cheek, I felt certain my decision to return had been the right one.
His breath as uneven as mine, Griffin lifted my chin until our gaze met, and leaned close. The moment our lips touched, the latch on the heavy, wooden door rattled. It flew open and slammed back against the wall.
Sunlight poured in from behind the silhouette of a man. He stepped into the room and closed the door. Something about his wiry build and dark hair seemed vaguely familiar.
“Saints be praised, Sir Griffin. At long last ye have returned. I feared…” When the young man realized he’d interrupted our moment, his face flushed bright red and his gaze zigzagged from one of us to the other before dropping to the area around our feet as though wishing it would open up and swallow him. “My apologies. I did not mean…”
Griffin released me and pulled away. “Is there something amiss, Iain?”
Ahh…hearing his name jogged my memory. He was the intense young squire I’d observed on my first trip the castle.
He continued to study the floor. “Aye, my lord. In a manner of speaking, there is. Although I am never quite certain how much of a problem it might be.”
“Can ye not tell me in a straightforward way and be done with it?” Griffin’s shoulders sagged, and his voice was edged with weariness. “I have gone far too many days without sleep to be solving riddles.”
“Beg pardon.” Iain twisted his face into a grimace as though it pained him to say the words. “It is only when it comes to my lady, things are rarely so simple.”
“What has this to do with Lady Isobeil?”
“She has been in a terrible humor for more than a fortnight and grows more peevish by the day.” Iain shifted on his feet. “This morning she gave strict orders to make sure ye come to her chambers the minute ye set foot on castle grounds.”
“Those were her words?” Griffin’s tone was sharp.
“Aye. By mere chance I happened by the gate and overheard the porter telling one of the guards ye had arrived. So I made haste.” Judging by his breathlessness, Iain must have run all the way.
Griffin yawned. “I am bone tired. Can my conversation with Lady Isobeil not wait until the morrow?”
Iain’s expression turned into one of alarm. “Surely ye jest. There is no telling what might happen if my lady thinks I have failed to follow her wishes. Of late, those who displease her have been known to disappear into thin air, never to be seen again.”
People feared Isobeil because of her strange ways, certain she practiced the dark arts, but I knew the truth. She didn’t belong in this world, either. Like me, she came from another time.
Griffin’s jaw tightened. “Very well. Go to Lady Isobeil’s chambers straightaway. Tell her I have arrived and will report to her shortly.”
The squire hesitated, his face a portrait of reluctance.
Griffin pushed him toward the door. “Do as I say.”
As soon as Iain left, Griffin gathered me in his arms again and held me close, but all the joy had gone out of our embrace. Nothing could dispel the icy chill gathering in the pit of my stomach, knowing Griffin would be facing Isobeil with the news he’d returned with me in tow.
“Do you have to go?”
“I am obliged to the woman. If not for her...”
I pressed my fingers against his mouth, certain of what he was about to say. If not for Lady Isobeil, our chances of finding each other again would have been unlikely. My throat tightened at the thought.