I managed to make my way around the castle without running into anyone. It took me a while to find the corridor with the door that led out of the inner palace, but I was beginning to get my bearings. It was marked with a large iron door that I almost couldn’t open and sloped upwards. Uncertain of which statue Ashren had meant, since none of the features on any of the statues I’d seen in the castle seemed distinguishable to me, I chose to pull on the swords of every statue I passed.
My mind wandered as I walked. I wondered for the millionth time why I was here. I worried about fooling everyone that I was the princess. What would happen to me if they found out I wasn’t her? I walked past the first statue without realizing and had to back up to it. I tugged on the sword at the figure’s hip in several directions, but nothing budged. Shrugging, I moved on.
I wondered what Ashren might have found in his books. I couldn’t believe that anyone could understand what was happening to me. I still couldn’t really understand it. A part of me still believed I’d wake up soon in my bed at home, the whole thing just a dream. A crazy, stressful dream. I passed another statue, but it depicted a dragon who did not have a sword.
I wondered about the life Emeline led. How different were she and I? How different was everyone else? Would I slip into easy conversations with everyone I encountered, like I had with Ayden, or would I constantly have to remind myself that these were different people? I came across the third statue in the hallway; an unidentifiable man wielding a sword aggressively outward.
Confident this was the right statue, I tugged downwards on the sword, hard, and the man swung outward, revealing a hole in the wall. Well that didn’t take long, I thought as I stepped into the hole in the wall that had opened up. The passage closed behind me, leaving me with only the light of my torch. I shivered and hoped that Ashren could tell me how to open it from the inside, or how to get back from wherever the passage led.
Keeping Ashren’s directions in mind, which were luckily simple enough that my stressed out brain had retained them, I started down the passage. Go right, then go down. The torch only offered a few feet of light ahead of me, and I came across the first fork almost without realizing. I followed the right path and shivered as a draft breezed past my shoulders. I walked for nearly 10 minutes before reaching the second fork. I expected there to be some sort of ladder or stairway, but I couldn’t find any way to travel down. The only thing surrounding me was cold stone, dripping with water.
Alright, you can figure this out. I tried to keep myself calm. Meticulously, I began to inspect the walls around the fork. I was looking for a lever or button of some sort, but all I saw was smooth stone. Deciding the light of the torch was too weak to tell properly, I ran my hands against the wall. I was surprised when instead of a lever, my hand went from stone to cold air suddenly. I bent down slightly and found a downward sloping tunnel at the bottom of the passage.
I smiled in relief at finally finding the tunnel and crouched down to examine the size of the hole and figure out a safe way down. Suddenly my foot slipped on the water on the floor, and I tumbled into the tunnel feet first. I had only been falling for a few seconds when, without warning, the tunnel disappeared from under me and I was no longer sliding, but falling. My fear intensified, and my heart was in my throat when I felt a pair of strong arms around me.
Unfortunately, I was moving too fast to be stopped. The person and I both tumbled to the ground, their body cushioning my fall. “Easy, there Princess. Are you alright?” I heard Ashren’s pained voice. Looking down, I saw he’d tried to catch me, and ended up underneath me in a tangle of limbs and clothes. Blushing madly, I tried to struggle off of him.
“Yes, I’m fine. Are you alright? You broke my fall.” I asked, still trying to disentangle myself. Stupid medieval clothes that make no sense. He chuckled softly before taking charge, clearing his limbs from my skirts quickly.
“I’m alright. Nothing a quick spell can’t fix later.” He stood and brushed the dust off his clothes before offering me a hand. Still embarrassed, I took it and stood, before fidgeting with my hands nervously. “First things first. A princess doesn’t do that,” he said, pointing at my hands. “You must always be confident, even when you don’t feel it. The people look up to you to be a strong leader.” Ashren stepped forward and pulled my hands apart gently.
“Well, that’s going to be a problem, because I have the confidence of a mouse,” I snorted. I resisted the urge to put my hands back together, choosing instead of dust the dirt off of myself and smooth my skirt.
“We can add that to the list of things to work on, then,” his tone reassuring. “For now, however, if you must fidget, fix your hair or clothing. Tis still not ideal, but it is better than wringing your hands.” List? What list? He circled me slowly before speaking again. “Your posture could use some work, but that’s minor. The first issue is how you carry yourself. You must believe you are the princess and act accordingly.”
“But I don’t have any idea how a princess acts.” I frowned. Maybe Ashren wasn’t going to be as useful as I’d hoped.
“We’ll get to that in a moment, don’t worry,” He reached down and picked up a bag off of the floor. “I looked through Father’s old collection, and I did find some more information that could be useful for us.” Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he started walking. “Come on. I’ll take you to the old scriptorium. It’ll be easier to go over the books there.”
I was still confused and a little doubtful, but Ashren was still my best bet, and I was too curious about everything-including what a scriptorium was-to argue. I fell in step beside him as well as I could. The tunnel wasn’t even and my dress was cumbersome, and I soon lost track of how many times I stumbled into Ashren’s side. Soon, the passage floor smoothed out somewhat, and not long after that we came across a doorway with a half-rotted door barely clinging to the hinges.
“I know it looks decrepit, but it is surprisingly cozy inside.” Ashren said as he pushed open the plank of wood trying to pass as a door. As I stepped in, I realized he was right. The room had a high ceiling with a small tunnel off to the side. Dim, flickering light was coming from the tunnel. Two large bowls stood on short platforms to one side of the room, one slightly higher than the other. The walls were lined with books and scrolls in varying stages of decay, and a cluster of large desks, each paired with a cushioned stool, stood in the center of the room. A pillar rose from the center of the room with an unlit lamp placed on top of it. The entire room was covered in some sort of polished metal.
Ashren grabbed a strange rod off of the wall as he entered, and removed two bags from his pack. After placing his pack and one of the bags on one of the desks, he walked towards the pillar in the center of the room. Using the rod, he hooked the top of the lamp and brought it down to the nearest desk. He uncorked one of the bags and poured a thick liquid into the lamp. He placed his torch to the liquid, which I assumed was oil of some sort, and it ignited. Using the rod he placed the lamp back on top of the pillar, and the light from the lamp reflected off of the walls and ceiling, strengthening the light from the tunnel.
With the strengthened light, I could see that the desks had little depressions in the upper right corner, and some of the desks had inkwells placed in their depression. All of the desks were covered in documents, some half finished, and I realized this room must have been where the librarians copied old documents to preserve them. Which would make these ancient writing desks, I thought.
Ashren then grabbed his second bag and poured the contents into the higher of the two basins in the corner. Immediately it started to trickle out of a hole in the bottom, landing in the lower basin. Curious, I walked over to see what he’d poured into the bowl. As I got closer, I could see carved lines going from the lip of the bowl to just above the bottom. The substance within was clear. “Water?” I guessed, surprised at the innocuous liquid filling the basin.
Ashren nodded. “By the time the lower basin fills, four hours have passed. You can tell by the notches in the bowls. Each one marks a half hour’s passage. Eight notches full means four hours.” He pointed to evenly spaced lines carved into the inside of the bowl.
“So it’s like an hourglass,” I replied. Ashren’s brow furrowed and I sighed. “I’m guessing the word “hourglass” isn’t used in this time period?” I asked, resigned.
“I’m afraid not. What is an hourglass, if I may ask?” Ashren tilted his head curiously.
“It’s a container filled with sand. The top and bottom of the container are wide, and the middle is thin, so when you turn the hourglass over, the sand takes a certain amount of time to drop to the bottom.” I explained.
“That is remarkably similar to how the waterclock works. But how do you alter the time elapsed?”
“You don’t. You need a completely new hourglass to measure different intervals of time.”
“Well, then I think our waterclock is superior.” Ashren said with a slight smirk.
“Sand is lighter.” I argued. “Can you take that huge thing anywhere?” Ashren opened his mouth, then shut it again and pouted slightly. I hid my smile behind my hand. I guess dorks exist in any time period.
“Anyways, the point is that the word “hourglass” does not exist in this era,” Ashren said, hastily changing the subject. “And I suspect there are many other words you are accustomed to using that do not exist yet. We’ll have to add vocabulary to the list.” He moved away from the waterclock, and began pulling books off of shelves and out of his bag.
“You keep mentioning a list. What list?” I asked.
“We’ll get to that in a moment. First I wanted to tell you what I found in my father’s library about your situation.” He replied, gesturing to the pile of books. I nodded after a moment of contemplating. Whatever this list was, finding out what had happened to me was more important.
“Ok, so what did you find?” I sat down beside Ashren and peered over his shoulder at the books.
“Well, first, I’ve eliminated the possibility of a distortion in the timestream. I found a simple detection spell, and as far as I can detect, the timeline hasn’t been linked,” Ashren spoke as he arranged the volumes and began flipping through one.
“I…don’t know what any of that means,” I said bluntly.
“Essentially, a distortion in the timestream, or a timeslip, is when two souls switch their places in the timeline. This distortion causes those two points in time to become linked, and start moving parallel to one another. They’ll continue at the same rate until the souls have returned to their proper times.”
“So, if a timeslip had happened, it would’ve meant that for as long as I was in this body, Emeline would’ve been walking around in my body?” I asked hesitantly. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing.
“Yes, precisely. Luckily, that sort of link is easy to detect. It was the first thing I was able to rule out.”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing that Emeline isn’t running around the 21st century in my body. I hadn’t even thought about it, but it would be very bad if she was.” I trailed off, and suddenly, my mind flashed to how my friends and family would react to an entitled and very confused princess. Oh, god, I’d be grounded for years! I grimaced. “Very. Bad.”
Ashren chuckled slightly. “Well, don’t get too excited just yet. Since there wasn’t a swap, it means that something definitely happened to your body, and something definitely happened to the princess’s soul. And there’s also this,” he pointed to a passage in one of the volumes on the desk, and I leaned forward to try and read the cramped words sprawling across the page in an unfamiliar script.
“Whilom to-liggen ysue of solde, taken hede, for þa a-eðe-lich chaunge con wreken pieryng an þa auncel of þa universite. A-stiȝen al cautele, auenture eu anientise þa fleten of tid.” I read out loud, stumbling across the strange words. “What is this?” I asked, turning to Ashren.
His brow furrowed. “You cannot read?” He asked. “I had assumed the royal family would retain its wealth, or at least its prominence in the community, up until your time. This will make things much more difficult.”
He began to read the passage again. Slightly offended, I cut him off before he could. “Of course I can read! Everyone knows how to read in my time.”
“Ah, then it is the dialect. Admittedly, the grammar is somewhat archaic, but I can paraphrase.” I shook my head.
“It’s not the grammar or the dialect. The language itself makes no sense.” I pointed to one of the symbols on the page for an example. “Like, in the word here, just after “for”, what is that first letter?”
He glanced at what I was pointing to. “You mean the thorn?” His brow furrowed even more. “How can you not know a letter you have been speaking this whole time?” He asked.
I shook my head again. “I’ve never seen that letter in my life. There’s no way I’ve been saying it.”
“You just did.” He responded. “The word you pointed out is “the”. You’ve said it dozens of times just in the last 10 minutes.”
“What? No, “the” is spelled “t-h-e”. It’s one of the easiest words ever.”
“No, it’s spelled “thorn-a”. And this text is written in the language we’ve been speaking.”
“That’s not possible. There’s no way that is English.” I said firmly.
“It is, Emma. Although I think I know what is going on. Speaking is one of the first things a child learns. As such, it would likely be the first place where you and the princess differ in the progression of your souls. Emeline learned to speak what we are speaking now, and you learned to speak modern English. However, a child does not learn to read until much later. By the time you and Emeline learned to read, many more differences had accumulated; differences you would not even remember or be aware of. I believe that the longer you stay in this body, the more its memories and experiences begin to merge with yours.”
“So you’re saying that because Emeline knows how to speak this language, and my soul is in her body, my soul learned how to speak it too? And that the longer I stay here, the more my soul will learn about Emeline’s life?” I asked slowly. Ashren nodded. “What will happen to my memories?” I wondered, slightly panicked.
“Sadly, I’ve no idea. You and Emeline could merge to become one soul with the skills of two lifetimes, or Emeline could completely override your soul. And who knows what your memories will do.”
“I don’t want to lose my memories!” I cried. “How long will it take before this merge or wipe is finished?”
“Well, currently, you’ve been in this body approximately a day and have merged to the point of anywhere between 6 months and 7 years. Assuming the change happens at the same rate and does not speed up, we can expect to see anywhere between 1-6 years of merge a day.”
“I need to sit down.” I collapsed onto the bench and leaned my body against Ashren. “I never asked for this! What am I supposed to do?” I could feel the stress starting to swallow me.
Ashren grabbed my arms and forced me to look at his face. “First, you calm down. We don’t know anything for certain. It could be that her skills merge into yours, or replace yours, it could be that her memories merge into yours, or replace yours, or it could be that both her skills and memories merge into yours, or replace yours. That’s 6 vastly different outcomes. And right now, each of them is just as likely as any other.”
“So what do we do?” I asked weakly.
“We learn. We investigate. We record everything we notice and try to determine the facts. That is how wizards do things.” Ashren flashed a grin and I began to feel better.
“Alright. So, what did that passage say, anyways?” I asked, taking a deep breath.
Ashren hesitated slightly before speaking “It reads “When pertaining to matters of the soul, take care, for the slightest change can wreak havoc on the balance of the universe. Proceed with caution, lest thee destroy the flow of time.” Essentially, it is a warning not to act drastically.”
I flopped my head back. “Great. Another thing to worry about, on top of trying to fit in as a princess who I know nothing about.”
Ashren smirked and placed his hand on my shoulders again. “You don’t have to worry about fitting in.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t I? Not everyone is going to be as accepting as you. Even I know that.” I scoffed.
“No, I mean, you don’t have to worry about fitting in, because I’m going to teach you.”
I sat up straight. “Wait, what?” Ashren smiled again.
“Emma, I’m going to teach you how to be a princess.”
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