The next morning, Maggie woke early and made her way to Kalen's room. Today was going to be long and exhausting, so she figured sticking with Kalen for support would be better than facing their own worries alone.
"Get dressed. We leave in an hour." Maggie said, throwing a shirt at the half-awake Kalen. His room was similar to Maggies, apart from the mess.
"Morning." He mumbled whilst rubbing his eyes.
Maggie was leaning against the wall when Kalen walked out of his room. When he gave her a smile, her muscles relaxed a little more. She had spent all night tossing and turning, thinking about her friends in that brutal camp, and Kalen, whom she had spent the past few days arguing with.
They weren't mad at each other, but she couldn't help but feel guilty. She knew he was upset, mostly at the not knowing, but also that they were separated.
Kalen had always been relaxed and carefree, she'd never seen him distressed before, and did not like it one bit. It made Maggie want her friends reunited that much more.
By the time they reached the courtyard, the horses were ready.
"I hope you don't mind the company." The Queen said from atop a white horse, her elegant blue dress ruffling in the cold wind.
"Are you sure you'll be safe?" Kalen asked, mounting a nicely groomed brown horse.
"I'm the Queen of England. I'm perfectly capable and besides, my emissary says it's to be a peaceful exchange."
Maggie wanted to believe her, but the doubled amount of Saxon guards on horses said otherwise. She just nodded and climbed onto a horse of her own. She didn't know how to ride very well but since cars aren't a thing yet, a bumpy horse ride would have to do.
It took a day by horse to reach the border of Northumbria. They set up camp for the night by a creak. The leaves sighed in the breeze as the fire began to burn low in the overhanging twilight.
"You know the light from the stars takes years to get here."
Maggie said as she laid on a fur blanket next to Kalen. The moon shone brightly above their heads. "So, technically, some of these stars could already be dead and we're just looking at the last of their light before it fades... forever."
"That's pretty sad" Kalen added.
"Yeah, but it's beautiful."
"Do you think they're looking up at the same stars right about now?" He asked, hope lingering in his voice.
There was a beat of silence between them as they lingered on the thought of their friends.
"They'll be fine, Kalen. They have to be. Now get some sleep, we'll need it."
Without another word, Maggie turned onto her side and pulled a blanket over them.
Sleep, for Maggie, was a hurdle that she could never properly jump. She always had something on her mind, even more so now.
When morning came and animals began to stir in the surrounding woodlands, horses were mounted and ridden. It took all day and only shortstops, but they finally found the Viking camp.
It didn't look as Maggie remembered it. No, for she had pictured death everywhere; a small settlement of bloodthirsty warriors upon the muddy, blood-drenched ground.
Instead, one glance at that camp and all she saw where cheerful, broad men and women, some practising sword fighting, others sat around drinking and laughing.
The sun shone harshly down upon them as Emma's emissary rode down the dirt track towards the Viking village.
A man passed the emissary, he too on a horse. A swap.
"It's been a while, ragnon." The Queen addressed the Viking like an old friend.
"Not long enough, it would seem." He responded, his voice was deep and harsh but Emma was hardly threatened.
"Come now, don't be like that when we've known each other for so long. Besides I have been meaning to visit."
"It's been three years, Emma. Life goes on. What do you want?"
She sighed but only held her head higher.
"You have something I want. Of course, I will trade for it if you so wish."
"And that is...?"
"The three young women you captured, they work for me. I'm close friends with their father, a very powerful man. I want them back, unharmed."
"It's not like the Queen of England, to get frightened by a man."
"Oh, believe me, I am not frightened. I simply hate unnecessary attention and I'd so love to keep my allies exactly as they are, allies."
The man stared at a nearby tree as if the answers were etched into the bark.
"What will you give us in return? They have been of great use to us."
Kalen clenched the reign he was holding tighter.
"Livestock. It looks like you need it. Surely your family is more important to you than three slaves." She glanced passed Ragnon's shoulder, towards the camp.
He thought for a moment, weighing his options.
"Very well." He finally said. "I want enough for the village."
"I wouldn't expect anything less." She responded.
He grunted and headed back.
A few minutes later, two horses were sent out. On top of those horses, where Charlie, Thalia and Nikita, followed by the emissary Emma had sent in.
They looked haggard and dirty.
Kalen and Maggie both dismounted their horses in a hurry to reach them.
She ran to the horse in which Niki, half-sat, half-layed, on top of. Kalen, after seeing Maggie was handling Niki, ran to Lia and Charlie.
Maggie looked up at Nikita. She didn't seem like she was doing great.
"Niki, oh my stars! Are you alright?" She was frantic, sharp. Niki had a cut on her forehead and bags under her eyes and her hair was all matted.
"...I don't know." Was all she said.
Maggie glanced to Kalen who was helping Lia and Charlie down off the horse. Lia had a lot more injuries but was more coherent than the other two. Charlie was completely gone. She'd zoned out, probably shock.
"Here, drink something." Kalen said handing Lia a bottle of water.
They were far enough from the camp now that Emma and her guards stopped in the woods as they did their best to tend to their friends.
"Help me down, would you?" Niki asked. She practically fell off the saddle into Maggie's arms.
She leaned against a tree, with a blanket wrapped around her and a bit of bread in her hand that a guard had given her.
Kalen was offering Charlie some food, but all she did was stir into space, wave him off dismissively, and said she was fine.
"I wish this was vodka or something stronger than water." Niki murmured sipping from the leather bottle.
"So do I." Was all Maggie could think of saying. She didn't want to ask about it, not yet, just as much as she guessed the others didn't want to talk about it.
"I'm fine, you can go check on the others."
"Honestly, I'm not going to turn to ash."
After a pause she hugged Niki, careful not to squeeze too tight, and headed around the horses to Lia and Charlie.
Upon seeing Maggie next to him, Kalen left for Niki.
"Hey." Whispered Thalia. Her eyes were red and her cheek was purple.
Maggie just hugged her, relieved they were alive.
"I'm so sorry. If I knew–"
"Kalen already explained, you were smart about it. If it wasn't for you, we'd all still be stuck in there."
Maggie nodded, that tense, twisting feeling in her stomach eased a bit.
"Hey, check it out." Maggie sat next to Thalia and glanced towards Emma.
"You see that woman over there?"
"That's Emma of Normandy."
"Kalen said she was the Queen, but I have no idea who Emma was."
"Only one of the best female monarchs of the Saxon age."
Maggie put her head to Thalias shoulder and sighed.
"I'll find a way to get us all home. Promise."
"Don't make promises you don't know if you can keep." Thalia responded, but not in a harsh way, she knew, as well as Maggie, that they may never see 2021 ever again.
After a silent ride across the border and back into the fields of Mercia, they came to a stop for the night.
Maggie thought a conversation with the Queen was well overdue.
"Your grace, I'd just like to say thank you, you have no idea how much this means to me."
"I would have done it for anyone. However, it has come to my attention, that you're not in fact who you say you are. Honestly, Milritha– if that is your name, how oblivious do you think me to be?"
"You're right, I'm sorry, truly I am. I–we, never meant to deceive you or your court. And I know that's no excuse, but it's all I can say."
The Queen observed Maggie for a long minute, then moved her eyes to the teenagers sat by the fire.
"Alright. I don't know why you came straight to me and not the Earl in which you work under–if you even have one. But I do believe your intentions pure. I can't say I wouldn't have done the same, or worse if I was in your situation."
A wave of relief washed over Maggie.
"What will you do now?" The Queen asked, glancing towards Charlie, who was still sat still, staring into a far off place.
"Same as before, keep on moving forward."
"Well, I wish you luck, girl."
"Just a suggestion..." Maggie began again. "Maybe you should start working with the Vikings again, more closely. You never know, you might find a place you belong."
The Queen pondered at the thought for a silent second, glancing up at the stars.
"Perhaps you're right, a change would be nice."
They smiled at each other before a mass of light surrounded them all, and Maggie was gone.
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