Leaving the gardens, I knew I didn’t have much of a chance of getting anywhere without getting lost again, but I was outside. I was still within the walls, but I had left the decadence of the royal and noble areas behind. Surely there would be less people out here than in the castle?
No such luck.
Apparently, just outside the castle was where every servant, cook, and child roamed. I knew I was conspicuous, but no one approached me. At least I had that luck. I have to get away from all of these people, I thought. Find somewhere I can think and try to figure out what to do. Briefly, I considered just running for it.
But I didn’t know anything about this land or this time, and the castle would definitely send soldiers after a lost princess. I’d already seen dogs running around; they must have hunting dogs. They’d find me in an instant, and then I’d have to explain myself. No, better to stay here and try to figure out what to do. Besides--the answer to how I got here and hopefully how to get back would lie here, the place where I was transported to.
I made my way away from the palace proper and the people who would surely know Emeline. Passing through a large gate that could only be the palace walls, I wandered through narrow cobble streets of varying diversity and wealth. It was amazing how quickly the extravagance of the castle merged into the varying levels of prosperity among the townsfolk. No one here had the kind of luxury I saw in the royal chambers, but they had their own sort of wealth out here.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of color. I whirled around to see Borin huffing as he tried to keep up with me. My heart sped up in fear. If he cared enough to follow my trail from the gardens, the odds were very low I’d be happy with his intentions. Spinning on my heel, I ran down a random alley.
Get away, but don’t leave the crowds. Don’t get cornered. I knew that I was thinking in terms of if you have an attacker, and a lord wouldn’t assault a princess, but I had no assurances of anything. I thought of a book I’d read in my own time, where men and women coupled in public regularly. Although I knew the fact that he’d given me a gown to gain my favor suggested that he couldn’t outright take me, I still felt that until I knew more about this world, I was better off preparing for the worst. Assuming he would get what he was looking for and I would get no help from the crowd would be my safest option.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed my arm from an alley. Before I could scream, the other one went over my mouth. “Shh, Princess. I’m an ally.” The hand loosened, and I whirled to see a boy about my age, dressed in a simple tunic and pants, with worn leather boots on his feet standing behind me. Electric blue eyes peered at me with curiosity. He was tanned from the sun, with raven-dark hair that was the exact opposite of Ayden’s pale blonde.
I sputtered at him in surprise for a few moments before remembering I was supposed to be a princess. “Unhand me!” I said, as loudly as I could without attracting attention. I didn’t want to go back to the palace yet, which would happen if I was recognized. “Do you know who I am?” I cringed internally, but it was all I could think of.
His face morphed into surprise. “Of course. I’m no simpleton.” Too late I realized he’d addressed me as “princess” when he’d grabbed me. Slimy dread gripped me. I hadn’t expected to mess up this quickly. The boy studied my face and posture carefully. “Something is wrong…” he muttered to himself. I felt my heart jerk as adrenaline slammed it. I tried to step back, but I tripped over the hem of my gown and would have fallen if the mystery boy hadn’t grabbed my arms to steady me.
“Let go of me,” I tried to sound firm, but my voice trembled. A sliver of hurt joined his confusion and what I now saw was worry.
“Why are you afraid of me?” He asked, taking a step closer but releasing my arms.
“Maybe because some urchin grabbed me off the street!” I felt proud of myself for remembering the word urchin. However, my pride evaporated when the worry on his face disappeared, replaced by a bitter anger.
“Princess, an urchin would have no idea who you were. Had I been a vagabond, you’d be robbed and alone by now. But clearly you can’t recognize that. Or me.” He said, tight-lipped. Dread washed over me. He must know her. Rapidly I tried to backpedal.
“No, no! Of course I know you! I… just… didn’t recognize you at first! Forgive me.” I stammered out, wincing when I remembered a princess was not likely to apologize to someone on the street. I may not know much about this time period, but some things don’t change; ragged clothing means poor wherever you are.
The boy cocked an eyebrow. “Really.” He said, disbelieving. Suddenly understanding washed over him. “Of course! How did I not realize right away?” he muttered to himself before turning on me. “Where is the princess? Who are you? What have you done with her soul?” I could feel… something rising in the air around us. My inability to identify it only heightened my fear.
“Wh..what are you talking about? I am the princess!” I knew almost right away at his reaction that playing dumb wouldn’t work. Fearing my life was in danger, I tried to turn and run, but I tripped over the gown. Unable to lift my arms in time because of my ornate sleeves, I fell painfully to the floor. I could taste blood in my mouth as I turned over to see the boy’s angry face looming over me.
“Please…” I realized I was trembling. From start to finish, this day had been a roller coaster that was decidedly unpleasant, and now it looked like I might die. I couldn’t take it anymore. The boy’s face turned to shock and I realized I was crying. “Please don’t kill me. I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t even know where I am, who I am here… I just want to go home.” Embarrassed, I hid my head in my hands and let myself cry.
“I...it’s ok…” the boy awkwardly attempted to comfort me, placing his hand on my shoulder. Despite the fact that I had been afraid he was going to kill me seconds earlier, I found myself leaning into his touch. I had no one here.
When I had finished crying, he helped me up. “Who are you?” he asked again, but kindly. I sighed.
“You’re not going to believe my theory.” I said. How many medieval men would believe in a time travelling reincarnation?
“Try me.” he said with a raised eyebrow.
“Alright then. My name is Emma. I have an ancestor named Emeline who was a Scottish princess. I went to bed last night in the year 2016, and I woke up this morning in a castle. This body,” I gestured to myself, “looks identical to my own. Almost everyone I’ve met so far has a similar name and identical face to people I know in my life. I can only assume that somehow, I am in the body of my ancestor, who I am a reincarnation of, and that everyone around me in my time is also a reincarnation of someone here in the past.” By the time I finished, his eyes were wide. “See? I knew you wouldn’t believe me.” I started to walk away.
“Wait!” the boy grabbed my arm again. “I do believe you.”
“Wait, what? You do?” I asked, startled. “Why? It’s a pretty crazy story for my time, let alone the past. Well, present for you.” He grinned.
“You’d be surprised. Seeing as my father and I are both wizards, I believe most impossible things.” I took a step back.
“Wait a minute, now there’s magic here, too?”
“What do you think brought you here?”
“Well, yeah, I figured it was magic, but i didn’t think that would mean people here actually practiced it… I thought you were normal. Like me.” The boy laughed.
“To me, I am normal. Magic is a part of me. It’s actually how I knew you weren’t the princess. Your soul doesn’t fit in that body; it’s restless. It wants to go home, but it can’t find your true body.”
“Wait, but I thought reincarnation meant that we shared a soul; wouldn’t that mean that my soul would fit in Emeline’s body?” I asked.
“Sort of. You share the same basic soul, the one you were both born with. So had this exchange happened at your birth, you’d be right, and your soul would fit perfectly in her body. There would be absolutely no difference between you. But our souls aren’t just what we are at our birth. What we experience informs our souls as well. For example, if something in your life turned you bitter, that would go down to your soul. So while you and Princess Emeline have the same basic architecture, there are slight differences in your souls. That is what’s causing your soul to rebel and try to seek out your own body. I can sense the resulting disturbance in the universal balance every time this happens.” The boy rubbed the back of his neck as if embarrassed.
“So what happened to Emeline’s soul?” I asked. The boy shrugged.
“This is the first time I’ve encountered anything like this. I’d have to do some reading, but if I must hazard a guess, I would say her soul has either disappeared or is being held somewhere with dark magic, or her soul has switched places with yours.” He thought for a moment. “If her soul was destroyed or is being held, that could possibly draw your soul into this time period, since her body was not destroyed.”
“Why would it do that?” I asked. This whole thing was confusing, but the boy had already cleared up a lot of what I had been wondering.
“You remember how I mentioned universal balance earlier, right?” I nodded. “Well, the universe tends to try to stay in balance. When it goes out of balance, terrible things happen until that balance can be restored. That is why monarchs tend to hire wizards like my father and I; we can sense the state of the balance, and sometimes, with training and spells, we can determine what caused the imbalance and how to fix it.”
“So what does that have to do with my soul?”
“Patience, I’m getting there.” The boy said with a slight grin. “The universe transcends time. And a body with no soul causes more of a disturbance than a soul in the wrong body. So, if Princess Emeline’s soul was somehow being held outside of her body, the universe’s natural tendency to restore balance could have pulled your soul out of your body and time period back to this one to try and maintain some balance.” I nodded slowly, processing the information. “We should hope for this.” He added with a frown.
“Why? What would it mean if her soul wasn’t being held?” I asked, suddenly anxious.
“Well, if the Princess’s soul is captive, then all we would have to do would be to find and release it. If it disappeared, then we would simply have to send your soul home and destroy the Princess’s body quickly enough after so the universe couldn’t pull you back here again. If her soul is gone, she is already dead, so destroying the body would be a kindness. But if not, then a spell involving both of your souls is at play. We would have to determine what spell that is, which by itself is nearly impossible; purely taking into account the number of spells in existence would make the task arduous at best. And that’s before we factor in the level of difficulty in accessing some of those spells. Then we would have to find who cast the spell and how to reverse it. It could take years, if we could do it at all.” The boy rubbed his again, but apologetically this time.
My brain seized on something he had said earlier. “Wait a minute. If Emeline’s soul isn’t in her body and the universe grabbed mine to fill the gap, then wouldn’t my body just create another gap to be filled?” I asked.
“Like I said, the universe transcends time and trends towards balance. If her soul is simply displaced, there has to be a reason the universe would pull your soul at this time in your life. Something must have happened to your body just after your soul came here that makes it not urgently require a soul.” His words made my blood run cold.
Had I died?