Asgard, Faery - call it what you will. Our forefathers had as many names for it as they had languages. The occupants of this mythical land call it "Yed", which might sound funny to someone raised on Earth. On the other hand, "Earthling" was always a funny word to Yeddings, before Earth passed into Yeddish myth. Today, to humans on Earth, Yed is only a place of myth, a place that never really existed, except in a storyteller's tale. But truth be known, this other dimension is very real. Long ago, the Yeddish dimension passed close to Earth, at least on an ethereal scale. So close actually, that for almost a century Yed overlapped Earth, making travel between the two a relatively easy matter. So easy, that an ill-fated dragon would blunder onto Earth, and into English legend forever, after being slain by St. George. But it is easy for humans to dismiss a single dragon as a mere story, told to children at bedtime. Stories of Merlin, of Elves and of Goblins are quickly disregarded as nothing but pure fantasy. Forgotten, even by those whose ancestors met the inhabitants of Yed, and returned to tell the first stories of it.
"Bye mom! I'll be back in time for dinner" Clara called into the kitchen. She lifted a small daypack with water, a jacket and some granola bars onto her shoulder.
"What about your English paper? Were you able to find enough on Irish myths, or are you going to need time for the campus library?" came her mother's reply from somewhere in the kitchen.
Clara sighed. She hadn't gotten anything but A's on her progress reports during her first semester as a sophomore in High School, but for some reason her parents seemed to think she was going to slack off. Times like these, she wished she could go some place where no one had ever heard of High School.
"No, with Dad's books, I've got enough I think." She cringed. She shouldn't have given her mother an in with 'I think', but she caught her mistake too late. Luckily, her mother didn't seem to be jumping on the opportunity.
"All right, don't be late. Whose going hiking with you?"
Ack! The kiss of death - she didn't have a hiking partner. All her friends had been busy, and this was the first nice Saturday in weeks. She'd had to beg to get off from work, too. "Umm... I was just going by myself today." She knew it wasn't going to fly, but she had to try!
"Clara, you know I don't like you out alone. What if the boogie man grabs you?" Her mother appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, wearing a worried look.
"Moommm...the 'boogie man'? Get real! " Clara fell back into the wall, letting the back of her head hit it with a thump. She knew the sound always made her mother jump.
"You know what I mean. I don't like you out and about by yourself. What if a bear ate you, or something?"
"A bear..." she repeated, sarcastically. "Lions and Tigers and Bears!" Clara let her blue eyes get huge in mock fear, as she turned to look at her mother.
"Oh all right. Just don't be late" the minute she said 'all right', Clara lunged for the door. "I'll worry every minute until you get home!" she called out after the quickly fleeing figure of her daughter.
"Right mom!" Clara dashed quickly out the door. She didn't want to give her mother any more time to think up excuses to keep her at home. After all, she'd turned 16 this summer, and was sure she could handle any curve that life threw at her.
She drove about a half-hour up the canyon above Boulder, to her favorite trailhead. It was just past noon as she began hiking up the steep trail. She was planning to stop, rest, and have something to eat at a point of rock that was near the halfway point. After the initial climb, the trail leveled off, and she found she could walk at a brisk pace through pine forests. Her red hair shone in the sun as she entered a clearing, which opened into a small valley. She smiled brightly, as she took in the scenery. Pausing, she sat down on a large boulder, and leaned back with her eyes closed. Her mind flitted to her still unwritten paper for a moment. Her English class had been studying mythology, and they had been assigned to write a research paper about the myths of any culture they found interesting. She had chosen Ireland partially because her father's family were all Irish, and partially because it meant she wouldn't have to do as much research in the first place. Her father had a small collection of books on the subject, some of which she had already read.
She was daydreaming about fairies and goblins and trolls and elves, when something strange happened. A few feet in front of her, a small dust devil kicked up. She leaned forward a bit, to get a closer look. With a flash the storm disappeared, and Clara with it! Nothing remained in the valley except a few footprints to show that Clara had ever been there.
"I'm telling you Tim, you're using too much arrowroot. You always wind up in the next county if you're lucky, and the next country if'n you're not, when you use too much arrowroot!" said the squat, green, goblin mage to his associate, shaking a pudgy green finger at him.
"No, no, you don't understand Azbrak. I've changed the rest of the formula; don't you see? It should take half the energy of a normal casting" replied Tim. Tim was human, much taller, with graying hair and beard. He had been attempting to modify his teleport spell for weeks, and was ready to test it. He was wearing his "traveling" robe, the one covered with stars and moons, to impress the locals when they arrived.
"Have you tested this new formula? I'm not fond of dosing my own robes, or fighting off unwanted "visitors" you know." Azbrak was all too familiar with the consequences of magical backfires. Magic was fickle, and modifying a transportation spell could be especially dangerous. If it failed, it had a higher than normal chance of summing something from another dimension. While that 'something' might be a creature like an Air Elemental that didn't really mind, chances were that it would be something much less friendly.
"Of course I have" Tim replied haughtily, "Just the other day." In reality, he had tested something similar, but neglected to tell Azbrak that he had further modified the formula. 'After all, he's a mage. He of all creatures should realize that magical backfires are a part of the trade' he thought to himself. Tim had been experimenting with ways of lessening the power required to cast a teleport spell for some time, and thought he had figured it out. He had offered to teleport Azbrak and himself from Caer Aryal were they lived to Teraviz, the capital of the kingdom of Hanoran. He and Azbrak were planning on lunch at a restaurant that Tim had once frequented, years ago in Teraviz. Tim poured the carefully mixed ingredients into a small brazier. As it began to smoke, he flicked his fingers wide in front of him. Azbrak stood watching, his arms crossed over his chest, and a skeptical look on his goblin face. "Ready, my friend?" Tim inquired, with a slight smile.
Azbrak stepped up beside Tim, "As ready as I'm going to get, I suppose. Cast it!"
In a strong voice, with a curl of smoke rising in front of him from the brazier, Tim spoke the ancient words of the teleport spell. "Paqua, fella coron Daroon!" There was a flash and explosion in the workroom, and the strong stench of brimstone. Every candle in the room was instantly blown out. Azbrak sat up where he'd been thrown, quietly patting out a small fire on his working robe. Tim lay flat on his back, blinking from the flash, his face slightly blackened, but not badly hurt.
"I told you not to use so much arrowroot" admonished Azbrak from the nearby darkness.
"Oh hush" was the only reply, as Tim extinguished a burning ember in his beard.
The dust devil reappeared in the middle of herdsman land, just past the border of Hanoran. With a slight flash and stench of brimstone the anomaly deposited something, or more to the point, someone, then vanished. Clara sat, with huge startled blue eyes, in the middle of a grassy plain. She looked exactly like someone whose chair had been pulled from under them as they were sitting down. To say that she looked confused would be an understatement. 'Where am I?' she thought, as she sat blinking under a noonday sun. For long minutes she just sat. Her stomach growled, and she glanced down at her tummy with a dumb look. Not knowing what else to do, she pulled her small daypack off, and began to rummage in it for a granola bar. Clara was half way through her granola when she stopped, dropping the rest back into her pack. Her mouth hung open for a moment, as she searched for words to sum up her situation.
"What the he..." the words died on Clara's lips as she looked around her once again. She thought over what had happened. One minute, she was in a forest of pine trees, sitting on a rock during a hike in the mountains near her home. A strange looking dust devil had kicked up near her, which she had thought odd at the time as the wind conditions didn't seem to justify it. The next moment, she had hit the ground, flat on her tush. Now when she looked about, all she could see was grassland, with small rolling hills.
"OK...maybe I got hit by lightning or something, and this is all just a dream. Which means at any moment, either I should be meeting St. Peter, or waking up in a hospital somewhere." Cautiously, she stood up, her slight frame waving slightly as a moment of dizziness swept over her. She felt wobbly, but unbroken. She experimentally felt around on top of her head, expecting to find some kind of burnt spot. But everything seemed all right, with the exception of the ribbon coming untied from the end of the thick braid of red hair. She retied the bow reflexively.
"Mom's going to kill me if I come home late, or don't get my English paper written. Great; here I am, hallucinating, and I'm worried about mom getting mad at me. Or I'm dreaming... OK, it's time to wake up. I'll close my eyes for a second, and wake up in my bed, with half a deluxe pizza lying around somewhere." She squeezed both eyes shut, the freckles on her face rippling as she scrunched up her cheeks and nose.
"Naaah!" She froze at the sound, then carefully opened her eyes a little bit, letting just her eyes look left then right. Walking out of a slight ravine to her right, was a baby goat. "Naah!" It swished its stub of tail, then toddled over to her. It circled around her a bit, looked up at her expectantly, then "Naahed" at her again. She stood there, blinked, and stared down at the small creature.
"Goats. Other people get goblins or tigers in their nightmares, I get goats," she said, matter-of-factly, as she stared in disbelief.
"Naah!" bleated the kid, seemingly in response, then moved its head slightly, looking at her.
Clara was still staring at the kid, when a voice in a strange language startled her half out of her skin. She whirled around, again facing the ravine, her pigtail spinning off her back, and coming to rest draped over her shoulder. A boy stood half in the ravine staring at her, as she stood staring at him. She asked, "Who are you?" just as he said something that sounded like gibberish to her.
The boy, in fact, had been asking Clara exactly the same question. To him, what Clara said sounded like gibberish. His name was Mohammed, though he had no easy way of communicating this. He stared wide-eyed at the girl before him. She was dressed unlike anything he had ever seen, wearing only a skimpy top, and her legs were mostly bare. She was much thinner than he was, but slightly taller. Her build reminded him of a half-elven street dancer he had seen on a trip into the city with his father once. But even the half-elf had worn more clothing.
Clara sized up the boy quickly. He was dressed in a loose, light brown robe, with an attached hood hanging down his back. To Clara, he looked rather strange, but she'd seen worse on the mall. His dress, dark hair and complexion reminded her of an article she had seen on Kurds in a magazine. Under one arm, he carried another kid, which "Naahed" slightly while they looked each other over.
"Sweet Allah, what on Yed have I found?" Mohammed exclaimed. The flame-haired girl before him blinked and stared, obviously not comprehending a word he said. The kid he had been seeking wandered from behind her to the edge of the ravine, and plaintively "naahed" at him. Without taking his eyes off the girl, he responded to the goat in Arabic, "Now really isn't a convenient time to be thinking of your stomach, my little friend." Silently, he thought to himself 'If she were a Djinn, surely she would speak my tongue. And were she a Djinn, she most likely wouldn't have let me live this long.' He slowly bent and tucked the kid under his other arm.
'OK, all right, he doesn't seem to have a gun...' Clara thought, as she took a slow, cautious step backward away from the dark-haired boy. "And he doesn't seem to understand a word I'm saying..." she said, watching for a reaction. By mutual consent, they both turned and sprinted in opposite directions, Clara's red braid flying behind her while Mohammed's robe fluttered in his wake.
Clara crouched down in a small ravine, panting. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I'm in the middle of Iran or something." She looked down at herself. She was wearing a blue sports top, cutoff jeans and a brand new pair of white tennis shoes. She'd read just enough about Muslim countries to be terrified. She was sure that they'd throw her in jail, or worse, just for how she was dressed. "It's a dream, it has got to be a dream. Except that I never think that a dream is a dream while I'm dreaming. I think." She stopped talking long enough to turn that thought over in her head for a few seconds. "OK, if I'm not really dreaming, then... what am I doing? Maybe, maybe one of my friends put some kind of drug into... no if someone had drugged my lunch as a joke, I would have been tripping yesterday, right? Oh damn." For a brief moment, she heartily wished that she'd taken the time to experiment with drugs last year while she was a freshman. Her shoulders sagged and her chin dropped to her chest as she tried to find a logical explanation for a totally illogical situation. "OK, maybe the government really has some kind of transporter, just like 'Star Trek', which means I could be in Iran if they somehow screwed up. If I am in Iran, or something, I need to find an airport, and get out of here, like, now!" She stepped up out of her hiding place, and started jogging at a slow pace. Even though she'd been training with the high school cross-country team, she somehow doubted she'd make it all the way to the nearest airport at a dead run. She thought about which way the boy had run, glancing at the sun. "East, I think..." She then headed what she figured to be West.
Mohammed ran the short distance to his goatherd. He stopped, and then put the two kids he was carrying down. Then he braced his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath and decide what to do next. "All right, she's not a Djinn. I think. But she's not one of us either, that's for sure." He bit his lip while he tried to decide what to do. Tending the herd was his responsibility, his father had made that quite clear. 'If anything happens to any of the goats, father will take the balance from my hide', he thought. But what of the strange girl? He had heard elder Rashiq talk that he was worried that the knights of Hanoran would begin raiding the border. Then again, father didn't seem to put much weight in it. He came to his decision, and turning his back on his precious herd, started running at top speed due West for his village.
About ten minutes later, Mohammed topped a short hill, and stumbled down into his village. His village consisted of a large cluster of tents, with a few permanent pens for horses and various livestock. It lay in a slight valley, to protect it partially from the wind. His people would live here for awhile, then move on to prevent over-grazing. The first adult he saw was the blacksmith, hard at work at an anvil and portable forge. He raced up to him, and after panting for a few seconds to catch his breath, he began to chatter in a fast stream.
"I saw a girl, a girl unlike any you've seen! She had red hair, and she was dressed like a dancing girl, except that she wasn't really!"
The smith stopped his hammering, and listened to the boy's story for a moment with a slight frown. "Slow down, my friend; what girl? Where?"
"Out there!" the boy pointed in the direction from where he had come. "She was going to steal my goat, I found her with it, but then she ran!"
"You had best not be telling me a story. If you are, I'll have your father..." then the smith stopped, staring past Mohammed up the hill. "By the prophet!" Mohammed turned to see what the smith was staring at. Standing on top of the hill stood Clara. She had drawn up short, after almost stumbling down the hill. Now she stood, looking down at the village she had blundered onto. After a moment, she spotted the boy she had seen minutes earlier. About the same time, he began shouting something, and pointing at her.
"It's her! You see? It's her! The flame-haired girl! I told you!"
"Oh oh" Clara didn't take the time to think, she simply turned and started running blindly back the way she had come. She was quite sure she didn't want to find out what the villagers wanted. As she ran, she could hear shouts fading into the distance behind her.
"Get the Elder, and your father!" instructed the smith. "Horses! We need horses saddled, quickly!" he yelled. In moments, saddles had been hastily thrown on the three closest horses. Mohammed returned with his father, and Elder Rashiq, just as the smith and his assistant were finishing with the cinch on the third saddle.
"What is this nonsense about a girl?" Rashiq asked angrily. He had been praying, as he often was now, and didn't like to be interrupted. A few of the adults of the village had begun to quietly question whether Rashiq was fit to lead them. His actions had become hasty and more questionable of late. While Rashiq seemed to fear an intrusion from Hanoran, no one else in the village had seen any signs of it, or heard anything from other nearby villages. None of the scouts that they posted along the border had seen anything. Several nights past, Mohammed's father, Naziim, had openly questioned Rashiq about his predicted invasion, and the lack of worry in other villages. "They're fools! I see with Allah's eyes. We must prepare, or they will sweep across the border, and kill us all!" Taken aback by his furious tirade, no one, not even Naziim, had dared to question him further. Crazy or not, many in the village would follow his instructions as coming straight from Allah.
"She ran back that way," said the smith, turning his head to nod in the direction of Clara's retreat. "I saw her with my own eyes, as the boy says."
Rashiq raised an eyebrow, listening, "Then we must find her, and see what mischief she is here to cause." With that, Rashiq mounted the nearest horse. Naziim and the smith quickly mounted on the other two horses. Naziim had noted that Rashiq had stuck a scimitar through this belt, and the smith had grabbed a short bow and quiver of arrows.
'I'd best go along, a calm voice may be better this day than a swift sword,' Naziim thought, as he mounted the last horse. 'It would be our luck that she's some run-away fosterling of a noble in Hanoran, and Rashiq will really have his war by killing her.'
"Father, I wish to go too!" Mohammed quickly chimed in. Naziim looked down at his son for a brief moment, as the other two riders spurred their horses away. He reached down a hand, and Mohammed quickly swung up behind his father. Father and son then rode off in pursuit of Rashiq and the smith.
Clara began to slow her pace, her heart racing from her sprint away from the village and the adrenaline in her system. She looked around frantically, but the territory provided no obvious hiding spots for her. She slowed to a jog, looking all about her. Then she saw something ahead. It looked like a dirt trail, with ruts in it. She frowned as she considered. 'All right, West seems to have been a poor choice, but this seems to lead sort of Easterly'. She began to run down the dirt rut, holding, as fast a pace as her body would permit. She had been running about 20 minutes, when she heard something. She looked back, and saw men on horses, closing in on her fast. She turned off of the trail, and broke into a dead run.
"The spy!" Rashiq yelled over his shoulder, as he spurred his horse to a gallop. He began to draw his sword, when Naziim called back.
"She's alone, and appears unarmed. Perhaps we should question her, instead of riding her down. There may be another explanation" responded Naziim. Naziim noted that she had suddenly become a 'spy'. He was hoping to keep Rashiq from killing her without at least talking to her first.
"And if she's a Djinn?" Rashiq sneered.
"Then we would already be dead, or worse. Why would a Djinn run? Why not use her magic to simply disappear, or kill us before we could get close?" Naziim replied evenly. "But best to keep sword and bow ready. She could be a decoy." He hoped to pacify Rashiq that he was on his side. Besides, caution was always better than an early grave.
Rashiq snorted, but lowered his now-drawn scimitar slightly. In seconds, they were upon their quarry, riding on either side of her. Clara looked up at them with obvious fear in her eyes. Naziim reined his horse to a stop, turning him sideways in front of her to block her path. Clara stopped, her chest heaving from exhaustion, and coughing slightly at the dust kicked up by the horses.
"Who are you!" Rashiq screamed at her. "Tell me now, or I'll cut you down where you stand!" As he said this he raised the scimitar threateningly.
"Please, don't hurt me!" Clara held up her hands protectively in front of her and cowered backward from Rashiq, running into the smith's horse. She squealed as the smith grabbed her wrist, wrenching it painfully. "Let go of me!" she yelled, as she hit his leg with her small fist.
"What do you want to do with her?" the smith asked Rashiq, keeping a vice-like grip on Clara's wrist while she struggled next to his horse.
Rashiq began to sheath his scimitar. "We'll take her back, and question her." He seemed convinced that she was not an immediate threat. "Bind her hands, and bring her along. We'll know soon enough everything about her."