This story was written first, but came second in The Eros Chronicles.
“Look what my father left me for my birthday!” Laura exclaimed. She hated shouting over the blaring music at the Masquerade Ball to Dr. Harris, her friend, mentor, and college counselor.
Laura pulled a long gold chain from inside her black shawl. Dr. Harris, dressed as Long John Silver, grinned, showing charcoal blackened teeth, motioned toward the patio doors where they could speak more freely. The gold caught the light as it spun from its chain. The red and green petals flickered like the traffic lights after ten at night when traffic light rules were relaxed.
“It looks like it has some history. Do you remember The War of the Roses?”
“Yes, it’s connected to the House of Lancaster, I think,” Laura sounded hoarse. “We studied the English Kings in my Western Civilization class last year. King Henry VIII represented the Tudor line.”
“Did your father leave any information about its history?”
“Whatever he knew, he took to his grave. Mom hoped it might help stop these nightmares I’ve been having. The Will stated that I receive this when I turn 21, honoring his last wish.”
Laura suppressed a yawn placing the medallion back inside her shawl. The loud rap music wasn’t helping her throbbing head. People started wandering out onto the terrace, staring at her jewelry.
“I know a more private place where we can talk. There’s a small conference room to the left of the bathrooms next to the buffet tables,” he said, motioning her to follow. Her legs felt like lead and her eyes stung from the smoke drifting in from the open windows form the cigarette smokers.
He closed the door to the tiny sitting room, lowering his voice. “Tell me about these nightmares,” he said, motioning her to sit on one of the flowered couches.
“I see a castle under siege. The left tower is blown away, and then I hear a baby crying. Everyone is dressed in black. I wake up before I see who’s in the coffin in front of me being lowered into the ground, which has the same rose on this medallion. I must have seen this long ago.”
Dr. Harris nodded, acknowledging what Laura said, adjusting the black patch over his left eye before sipping his glass of punch.
“Anything from the Schubert Home for Girls?” he asked, handing back the medallion.
Laura sighed, rubbing her eyes and shifting her feet. She whispered, “Any records of my adoption were destroyed in the fire. The surviving staff won’t say anything or vanish after talking to me.”
Dr. Harris thought for a moment. “Be careful, Laura. Did you tell anyone about these
“My mother knows. She thinks they’re stress induced. Midterms are coming up.”
He rose. Document everything, but keep it in a safe place.”
Laura nodded to the large back of the retreating, bowlegged pirate. For a man in his early fifties, he moved fast. Dr. Harris was a man of few words, but she trusted him as her mentor, teacher, and advisor. Why had he left so quickly? Her throat felt scratchy, like cotton. She drank three full glasses of red punch, mixed with Canada Dry before it felt good to swallow again.
Laura jumped at a tap on her shoulder. “Want to dance, Morticia?”
“Move it, Blackbeard.” The excess liquid hit her bladder like a tsunami. She looked around for a bathroom, sighing when she spied a restroom sign near the buffet tables along the wall. Laura rubbed her throbbing temples, longing for a night of uninterrupted sleep. Her eyes burned, and she headed for the restroom to splash cold water on her face. What sounded like a body slamming against the bathroom door convinced her she was not in a party mood. She waited for the commotion to stop before stepping into the hall. Hands grabbed her from behind and yanked her into the shadows.
“If you want to stay alive, keep silent.”
“Who is this person? Why are those men dressed in black?” she thought, to herself frantically. To her shock, the deep male voice, using a sinister tone, whispered in her ear. Her body stiffened. Her heart hammered against her ribcage.
“See those men dressed in black? They’re Cleaners. They ‘clean up’ messes you know– kill.”
“I’m ex — ” she started.
“Lower your voice! Do you want them to hear you?” His tone left no doubt what the Cleaners would do if they heard her.
“Who are you? Where are you taking me? I’m exhausted. I have no time for games!” She whispered back, unsure of whether to be frightened or not. She saw a man’s thin, long fingers as he kissed her left hand, putting his cape around her shoulders.
“Trust me. This is NO game, Princess. I have to get you to a safe place,” he said.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t know you! Put me down!”
“Sorry, Princess Laura, you’re coming with me,” he said, placing a white handkerchief with chloroform over her mouth and nose. He scooped her limp body into his arms, carrying her into the shadows.
“Laura, Wake up! Dr. Harris is on the phone. It’s urgent.”
The foggy memory of Friday evening’s events returned. How did she get here? She sat up noticing she was still in her costume.
She rubbed her eyes. “What day is it?”
“Sunday evening,” her mother said, smiling. Laura took the phone. What happened to Saturday?
“Could you come to my office? I have some information on your medallion.”
“I need a shower and some food first. I’m starving. I’ve been asleep for the last two
“Get here as fast as you can.”
“I’ll do my best.” Laura shifted on the bed, catching the white card that fell to the brown rug. She showered and checked to make sure she still wore the medallion. What had happened to Saturday? Who was this James Manning?
“Took you long enough. Did anything happen after I left the party?”
Dr. Harris looked different in Levis and a red t-shirt with Oklahoma in white capital letters. He unlocked his office door and held it open for her to enter.
“A man assaulted me outside the bathrooms. I think.”
She sat in a brown leather chair next to the oak bookcase. Four stacks of yellow paper stood chest high on the large matching desk. But somehow, everything seemed changed.
“Do you know about Cleaners?”
Dr. Harris turned around, face pale, brown eyes wide. “Who told you?”
“James. I think. That was the name left on paper in my hand when I woke up.”
“The medallion, where is it?”
“In the safe at home.”
The color in her professor’s face returned.
“You have some information about my adoption?”
“I can help with that.” Laura’s eyes widened as she recognized the voice from Friday evening in the shadows. Her breath caught in her throat as James approached. He had the clearest olive colored skin she had ever seen. James, also wearing jeans and a blue shirt, stepped inside, closing the door.
“You won’t find any details because you weren’t born on Earth, but a parallel universe,
Laura jumped up, fists clenched. “You’re lying! I don’t believe you! Prove it!”
“Laura, please calm down,” Dr. Harris said, in his soothing voice. Hesitating, she looked at him. She shuddered when he shot her a warning look meaning he was serious.
Laura stiffened, unclenched her fists, and sat back down. James’s six-foot frame knelt in front of her, kissing her left hand. Laura noticed his brown eyes, curly chestnut hair, and athletic limbs for the first time and those long, thin fingers. He placed her hand on the side of his face.
“I have those same memories. Let me show you, Princess.”
Laura slumped over, exhausted from the flood of memories. Her mouth felt like cotton.
“Can I have some water, please?” she whimpered, being weak from their minds merging.
Dr. Harris, a type 2 diabetic, always kept water and juice handy. He reached to his left, pulling bottled water from the little oak fridge, handing it to James.
“Your nurse uncovered a plot to have you killed after your birth. She moved you to the
second tower. Your mother, Queen Amber, and father, King Philip, were killed in the explosion you see in your nightmares. Dr. Harris, the youngest of Philip’s brothers, found a way to travel using a time key, the medallion.”
Only one thing made sense to Laura. “You’re my cousin, right?” James nodded.
“You must return to Eros to fight my brother, King Edmund, and reclaim your birthright,” said Dr. Harris.
“I can’t leave. I finish my Master’s in English next May. I manage The Pantry. Who will replace me? What about Mother? Won’t my leaving like this make everyone suspicious?”
James placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder. “Say nothing to your mother.”
“I can pull some strings to withdraw you and get a replacement at The Pantry. I’ll say you are vacationing in Europe while you study for your orals.”
Laura slammed her right fist on the arm of the oak chair. “I didn’t want this. I know nothing of being a princess or defending a planet full of people from some dark prince.”
“You’ll learn. We must make sacrifices, Princess. It’s your duty to defend Eros and its people. I ‘ll miss my prize student.”
“You’re not coming? Why?”
“Edmund has sworn to kill me if I return to Eros. There weren’t to be any heirs to claim the throne.”
“Were those Cleaners responsible for killing my father?”
Neither man spoke for at least five minutes. Dr. Harris sighed, then smiled. “Thankfully, no. By putting the medallion in a painted box and in a vault at the bank, your identity was safe until the Halloween party last Friday.”
“They might know your identity if you had your student I.D. card at the party,” James said, still kneeling by the chair, still holding her hand.
“I only had the invitation.” Laura let go of his hand, avoiding his penetrating gaze.
Dr. Harris fumbled with his keys and stood up. I need to get home before my wife gets suspicious. She hates it when I’m late for dinner. I don’t like reheated spaghetti.” James stood.
“You need to make it look like you left for Europe yesterday.”
“Be careful who you speak to. And don’t mention the medallion. Good luck.”
James sighed. “I’m glad you’re not a packrat.”
Laura put the last pile of clothes in a box. The full measure of the last few hours hit her. She may never come home. She looked around the small room with its dark oak furniture. Now that most of her things were in storage, the room looked bare.
“That’s the last of it, except for the bed, dresser, computer desk, and TV. This is the only home I’ve known since aged ten.”
James patted her left shoulder. “I’ll drop these boxes at the Salvation Army later. Get some rest. We leave tomorrow evening.”
Laura nodded, close to tears. For the first time, the torment Laura felt surfaced as she saw her pale face in the faded light of the mirror. A lump lodged in her throat when she saw the three brown envelopes on the dresser sealed with the royal insignia. Her lip quivered as she looked at James. Unable to look away, she held her arms out as James reached for her, kissing the top of her head. They continued to gaze at one another for what seemed like an eternity. She gasped as his left hand came in contact with her cheek to brush away a tear. He held her tighter, stroking the back of her head as she wept softly.
“I’d better go. The Salvation Army closes at seven,” he said hoarsely, as he kissed her forehead, backing away. “I’ll be back tomorrow at sunset.”
After he left, she sat down on the bed with a knot in her stomach. Her head throbbed. This was the longest she went without food. She wiped tears away as she walked to the kitchen past her mother’s room.
“Dr. Harris has withdrawn me. I have something to do.” Laura suppressed a yawn.
“Are you okay? You look awful.”
“Have a seat.”
“What is it? Who are you?” Mom adjusted her pink robe. A trembling hand raked her salt and pepper hair as she stared at the strange man in the kitchen.
Laura made introductions. “Mom, This is James Manning, my . . . traveling companion. James, this is my mother.”
“How do you do, Madam?” he said, kissing her hand with a slight bow. “I’ll wait for you outside, Laura.”
After pulling out black dining table chairs, both sat down. There was a long pause before Laura spoke. Her voice cracked. “This envelope explains everything. Open it after I’m gone, read it, and destroy it. Give the second envelope to Dr. Harris. He’ll know what to do. This last envelope has my will in it. If I don’t return in a year, open it.” Laura fought tears, as she sipped her iced coffee.
“We have to leave. It’ll be dark soon,” James pathed.
“I have to go. I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too. Will you be coming back?”
“If I succeed, I will.”
“Take the medallion,” her mother said, opening the black lacquered box.
Laura put the medallion around her neck. She hugged her mother a long time, kissing
her warm cheeks.
Her mother started crying. “I wish you didn’t have to leave.”
Laura cried too. “I have to. You know that.”
“Take care of yourself.”
She wiped her face with the back of her left hand. “I will. I promise.”
“We have to leave, Princess. I can’t block the Cleaners for long.”
“I’m coming, James.”
Laura pried her mother’s arms loose. Stepping back, she looked at her a long time, not moving. She wanted her mother’s face to remain in her memory.
Laura twitched as James pathed, “Come on, Laura. We must go, now.”
“I’m coming.” She turned and ran out the back door, bumping into James.
“I’ve been elevated from commoner to queen in less than 24 hours. I’m returning to a planet and people I have no memory of, against a dark prince with evil powers and you ask how I feel?”
James patted her shoulder and sighed. “We better find that gate.”
He was right. Fretting over the past was useless. It was more important to reestablish the House of Lancaster to the throne of Eros by defeating her Uncle Edmund, but will her new subjects accept an outworlder from Earth as their queen? Whistling arrows broke Laura’s reverie.
“We’ve been discovered! I forgot to cover the medallion.”
“I know a faster route to the gate,” James said, motioning toward the shadows.
“My leg! I’ve been hit!”
A gray mist surrounded them. The only light came from their glowing medallions. Laura shivered from the chill. She felt James pick her up as he did before, placing his cape around her shoulders.
“Where are we, James?”
“On Eros. Look.”
Laura gazed in awe as the mists cleared. “It’s exactly as I saw it in my vision.”
Laura inhaled the fresh air, sighing as she recognized her surroundings. Even in its battle-scared state, Castle Serenity stood regal in the light of dawn. As the first sun rose, it glistened like crystal.
“Once the castle is cleaned up and the tower rebuilt, it’ll look even better, Laura.”
Laura noticed her black Converse sneakers were missing and the maroon cape around her shoulders too. “Why are my feet bare? And what happened to your cape?”
“I tossed them into the mist to throw the Cleaners off track.”
“Does Edmund know we’re here?”
“He thinks we’re dead. We have to clean that wound, Laura.” James walked into the woods, entering a secluded cabin hidden by redwood trees behind the castle. Laura forgot the growing wound on her lower left leg, purple and oozing. She yawned, figuring the fatigue of time travel caught up with her.
She looked around the two-room cabin with its rustic wooden furniture. “I can’t wait to take a nap. I’m so sleepy.”
“You have to stay awake, at least till Elise cleans your wound. That purple on your leg is advancing poison.” James said, putting Laura on the soft feather bed by the window.
Elise was as quiet as a cat. She spoke, startling both of them. “James, how good to see you, my friend. Who is the lady you bought with you?”
“This is Laura O’Reilly, of the planet Earth. Laura, may I present Lady Elise, the apothecary.” Elise curtsied, not out of respect, but duty. Unkempt from living in the woods, Elise had platinum blonde hair and expressive brown eyes. Underneath the spattered mud on her pink rose print tunic, were an hourglass figure and muscular legs.
Properly washed and gowned, she would make a wonderful addition to Court at Serenity. Laura nodded, pretending not to notice her scowl as the word Earth was mentioned.Convincing those on Eros that their queen has returned would not be easy.
“Laura was hit by a poison arrow,” James said, showing Elise her leg.
“I have some medicine prepared. We must clean that wound first. Give her this to bite on. There will be pain.” Elise poured water into a porcelain basin on the washstand by the bed. She walked to the other room and took a jar of green goo off the shelf over the black kettle in the fireplace, spooning some onto a white cake-sized plate. She lit a match to heat the goo, holding it over a flame. Laura opened her mouth to speak, but a warning look from James made her close it.
“Why didn’t you introduce me as Queen of Eros? That woman is treating me no better than a peasant.”
James placed the piece of wood between her teeth. “All in due time, my lady. There may be ears in these walls.”
Nothing prepared Laura for the pain she felt when her wound was cleaned. She screamed as green goo met purple ooze, fizzed like soda, and burned like acid. James gave Laura a bear hug, tenderly stroking the back of her head. As Elise swiped the leg a second time, Laura howled louder.
“That should do it. All done, Laura,” Elise smiled, trying to sound sorry for causing her
pain. Elise rose from the floor, turning her back to leave the cabin, but James’ abrupt manner stopped her.
“Get a switch,” he said, standing and grabbing Elise’s arm.
Elise stared in disbelief, unsure of what she heard.
“Obey me at once, Elise,” James repeated. ” Go!”
“All right,” she said, meekly. Elise moved quietly to the door. She pulled a switch from the nearby tree across from the window. Before she came back inside, she removed the leaves from the long, thin vine. Elise’s hand shook as she handed the switch to James, then went to sit in a corner by the bed, staring out the window, face pale.
“Wh-What are you going to do?” Laura asked, sniveling. James put the switch on the washstand. He embraced Laura again, ignoring her question, as he pulled a leather pouch from his pocket.
“Drink this,” he soothed, putting the milk bladder to her lips.
Laura knew, from her readings of the Arthurian legends, what he held before her was a milk bladder filled with sleeping herbs. She wasn’t fooled by his manner. He wanted her knocked out so he could flog Elise. She pushed his hand away. “I don’t want that thing.”
James’s voice softened, as if he spoke to a stubborn child. “I made this just for you, Laura, my sweet. You’d hurt my feelings if you didn’t drink it. It’ll fill your empty tummy and make you feel better. It’s been twelve hours since you were fed,” he coaxed, lifting her to his lap.
She found herself unable to stop the next sentence as she continued gazing into James’s eyes. “W-Will you stay with me, until I fall asleep?”
“Of course,” he said, smiling, as he rubbed the nipple against her bottom lip. Laura willingly accepted the offering. “Good girl.”
Her sucking slowed as the potion in the warm, sweet liquid took hold. Laura jumped as Elise tripped over her feet, falling with a loud bang on the wooden floor as she tried to escape.
“Sit, girl!” She landed on the hard wooden stool by the window with a thud, sniveling from the pain on impact. Laura squirmed on James’s lap trying to fight the affects of the potion, but her limbs were like lead. She blinked, but had difficulty keeping her eyes open.
“I — want — my — mother!” Laura wailed.
“It’s all right, love. I’m here. Sleep. I’ve got you.” James’s face softened as he moved Laura’s head to his left shoulder after she emptied the milk bladder. Holding her tighter, he rocked, stroking her auburn hair, rubbing her back, and clicking his tongue. He kissed her forehead as her eyelids drooped. Darkness engulfed her as her vision blurred and faded.
Laura raised her head off the pillow, still groggy from the potion. From the long shadows in the cabin, the second sun would set soon. How long had she slept, eight hours? If she added Earth time, it would be at least sixteen. She couldn’t remember the last time she used the bathroom.
Every cabin she knew had an outhouse somewhere or a chamber pot under the bed. The way her bladder felt, she wouldn’t make it outside. Laura let out grateful sigh as she found the porcelain pot under the bed. Someone was kind enough to place a screen within reaching distance of her arm. It had pictures of Grimm’s Fairytales on it. Was it Elise?
“You’re awake. How does your leg feel?” James asked, through the screen. When he heard what she was doing, he chuckled. Laura giggled too. She always kept Wet Ones packets in her jeans pocket. She used that in the place of paper and put the lid on the pot when she finished. Pulling up her pants, she rinsed her hands in the bowl of water on the washstand by the bed.
“To answer your question, I can walk on it,” she said, adjusting her shirt as she stepped from behind the screen, holding the lidded pot.
“There’s a trench just beyond those trees in the back.”
Laura didn’t mind walking around the back of the cabin to the trench. She found a tiny vegetable garden, which grew peas, carrots, and tomatoes on the opposite side of the cabin’s front door. Under the bedroom window, herbs grew. Laura knew the herbs were the same as her mother’s garden by the shape of the leaves: mint, basil, oregano, and cilantro. Some she didn’t recognize were off to the side. These were probably used for medical ailments. She picked some wild mint to use for later. The meadow held an abundant array of wild flowers, stretching to the nearby village of tiny stone cottages. Houses in the shadows had lights inside and smoke rising from the chimney. Laura picked a colorful bouquet of blue bonnets, daisies wild pink roses as a peace offering to Elise. She saw the woman with a brown shawl around her shoulders getting water by the stream. No doubt, she was hiding the scars from her flogging. Laura put the empty brass pot back under the bed and went to look for aloe on the mantle by the fireplace. Clipping a large leaf, she wrapped it in her handkerchief and walked to the stream.
“These are for you, Elise,” said Laura, handing Elise the bouquet. “I wanted to thank you for your hospitality and to apologize.”
“You know what happened, then.” Laura nodded.
“I can stop those cuts from hurting.”
“I deserved what I got. It’s the law on Eros, Lady.”
“If I weren’t doped up, I would have stopped him.”
“I didn’t know who you were, Lady. I would have gotten it worse if I had and still mistreated you.”
“Hold still. The water will sting.” Lady Elise winced as Laura applied cold water to clean the dried blood from her back with the spare handkerchief. She yelped as Laura used a few Wet Ones packets to clear out any foreign objects from the cuts.
“Now I know how you felt,” Elise said, through gritted teeth.
“This aloe I found should inhibit scarring.”
“That feels better. Thank you, m’lady.”
Laura wished she had packed a few extra sandwiches before going through the gate to Eros. The warm milk she drank was gone. She wondered what food would taste like in this place. It had been a while since she ate anything cooked over an open fire, or on the outdoor grill at home. Laura’s thoughts drifted to her mother. Would she have the will to carry out the instructions in that first envelope or cry for two days?
“This is ridiculous,” she thought, to herself, “if Mom can handle Dad’s death, she can certainly handle my absence. God, I miss her though.”
James smiled as he came up on them. Something was up, though. Laura sensed it the moment her gaze met his.
“There you are. Laura, we must get inside the castle before dark.”
“You’re not staying for dinner then? I made rabbit stew.”
“I’m sorry, no. Laura, we must leave now.”
Laura knew better than to argue. Her safety came above all else now that she was queen. She quickly wrapped the aloe, putting it back in her left front pocket, doing the same with the damp cloth, putting it in the left back pocket.
“I’m ready. Elise, thanks for everything. I won’t forget your kindness.”