Rhian landed as light as a feather on her feet. The ease with which she landed, belied more than just her age of thirty-eight years. Her repeated travels to this place had made her an expert in soft landings. The rough landings she experienced with her first few arrivals through the portal were now nothing but distant memories.
Rhian closed the book in her hands. She slid a bookmark out from between the book’s pages and the portal through which she had come, closed abruptly. She was always fascinated by the sight of the portal closing and the “pop” that followed.
Placing the book in the bag she carried with her, she looked around her at the place which was by now, as familiar as home. Before her, a lake of rainbow colors stretched away as far as she could see. Rhian had been told that it was pointless to try and walk around the lake. For mortals its shore was endless.
Content to simply sit at the edge of the lake and enjoy the solitude of this place, she would lose herself in her thoughts for hours as she watched the birds and walked on the grass under the trees, or between the flowers while she listened to the birds sing.
Every time she came here she swam in the lake. Andy, her husband, had told her it had healing powers. She could feel how rejuvenated and energized she was every time she swam in the lake and knew there had to be truth in what he had told her. After all, he had created the lake and this whole world just for her.
He had first brought her here on her birthday just over a year ago. He had blindfolded her in his study and they had stepped through the portal together. Andy had anticipated she might stumble and had cushioned her fall as best he could. When he removed the blindfold she was confused but her confusion gave way to surprise when she saw the beauty of the place. She had fallen in love with it immediately.
Since then she had visited frequently, finding more of an attraction to this place than being home on earth in many respects. She wished that a place such as this existed on earth but, in a way, she was thankful that it did not. Perhaps selfishly so.
If a place like this existed on earth it would be overrun by people, many of whom would have no respect for it and pollute it in some way or another. On the other hand, she knew many people would benefit from its healing powers just as she did, but there was no way to keep this secret if others found out about it.
Lost in thought, Rhian did not hear the scrape of a boot on stone, the snap of a twig, the rustle of clothes, or feel the disturbance of the air immediately behind her as someone approached from behind. Only when a hand wrapped itself around Rhian’s mouth from behind did she realize she was not alone. Rhian jumped and tried to stand. Her opponent was much stronger though and had the element of surprise, which enabled him to hold her down and prevent her from standing to fight him off.
“Nice to see you again,” her captor spoke. A man. His voice was low and commanding.
His hand was gloved in well-worn leather that smelled of animal and sweat. The man spoke again without malice but with authority that made it clear he did not expect to be challenged.
“Do not try to struggle or escape. It is useless and you will only do yourself harm.”
Rhian was unable to speak anyway but paused her struggling against her unseen opponent to listen.
“Get on your knees and put your hands behind your back.”
Realizing what would follow, Rhian thought of struggling again but her captor’s hold tightened in anticipation. She nodded and relaxed giving him an indication of her surrender. His grip relaxed a little and Rhian knelt, her arms behind her back. Her captor promptly bound her hands and then helped her sit on the tree stump where she had been sitting. She tested the bonds and found they were too tight for her to free herself. Her captor stepped around from behind to face her.
His eyes were a piercing blue but they were cold and emotionless. His face was devoid of emotion too. Stoic. He looked at Rhian for a while saying nothing and Rhian glared at him. She held his gaze as long as she could before finally looking away. His gaze was unnerving. He was cold. He seemed to be able to look right through her and deflect her gaze.
“I have watched you for longer than you know, my lady. I have fought my desire to claim you for a long time but I have been prevented by my fear.”
He paused and Rhian asked, “What fear do you have?”
“Fear, that to believe I could ever control a woman of your beauty and power, would be an illusion. An illusion that would ultimately be the cause of my downfall. Yet the powers that you control have unfortunately outweighed my fear and desire to enjoy your beauty from afar. Circumstances beyond my control require that I take the risk and face my fear of controlling you to access your powers.”
Her captor leaned down and stroked her face gently. Rhian pulled away but he pulled her close again and stroked her face again. “I must believe though that the gods have truly blessed me for now I not only serve such beauty but I possess it too. For such beauty to exist exactly the same in two people is surely ordained by the gods.”
Rhian listened. She believed that she understood some of what he said. But her brow furrowed with confusion. What did he mean by “beauty to exist exactly the same in two people?”
She gazed intently at him, concentrating, making sure she missed nothing. As she tried to push her confusion aside, she told herself this man was an idiot. A dangerous one, but an idiot nonetheless. Her fear of what he would do to her had been replaced by another fear. She wondered if this fool knew that she came and went from this world at will. Her fear was answered as she replayed his words in her mind. She realized that his reference to her “powers” were an indication that he knew.
As if reading her thoughts he bent over and picked up her bag. He opened it and took out the book, a broad smile splitting his face. He flipped through the pages and then closed it holding out his hand.
“The marker? Where is it?” His eyes remained cold despite his smile.
Rhian knew he referred to the bookmark. He had been watching her for some time. If he knew of the bookmark he had seen her arrive and leave this place at least once.
“In my pocket.” Rhian knew there was nothing she could do. The fact that this man was asking for the bookmark made it clear he knew it worked with the book.
He stepped forward and reached into the left pocket of her trousers and extracted the bookmark. He inspected it briefly and then opened the book. He placed the bookmark on a page and with a “pop” a portal opened before them.
Rhian had been holding her breath, fearing that he would place the bookmark at the point in the book where the portal would open to earth. She released her breath when she realized that the portal did not go to her home. Her captor did not seem to care but smiled at the ease with which he had been able to open a portal.
“Who are you?” Rhian asked.
Her captor removed the bookmark and closed the book and the portal along with it.
“Forgive my rudeness, lady. My name is Algwad but those who know me call me Alg. I am advisor to the king’s betrothed. The lady who will soon be queen.” He said the last sentence as if he did not believe it then added, “I think she will be most grateful that I have caught a treacherous sorceress who would seek to mislead the king and all in the kingdom. Perhaps though, the more important question is who is the sorceress I see before me?”
“I am no sorceress.”
Alg held up the book. “I beg to disagree. You hold powers such as this,” he waved the book, “and you impersonate the king’s betrothed in more than just looks I believe. But given time, I have no doubt the reasons for your impersonation will become clear.”
He smiled again and Rhian studied him closely. His jaw was strong, his nose prominent but crooked, suggesting it had been broken at least once. His smile appeared to be disarming but after speaking with him for the short time she had, she felt that it was a smile of a man who was used to getting his way. His smile showed arrogance and confidence yet was also the mouth of a predator ready to strike at any moment, to change the course of events in his direction.
His hair was long and uneven and he had to brush it from his eyes repeatedly. He was well built and Rhian had no doubt that he could hold his own against most opponents. He was muscular but not muscle-bound. His movements were almost catlike suggesting speed and flexibility. His skin was leathery and dark from exposure to the sun. His face lacked wrinkles but Rhian judged him to be in his forties.
“I have no idea what you are rambling about,” she defended angrily. “If I were a sorceress do you think I would be standing here with my hands behind my back?”
“The fact that your power is within an object separate from you, such as this book, does not mean that you are not a sorceress. There will always be a connection between you and this book which, if maintained, makes you dangerous. I believe I now control that connection and I will think of giving you your freedom back once I have achieved my objectives.”
Algwad smiled. “I do not care to share my objectives with you. It is getting late and we should get to shelter.”
He stepped forward then, and taking hold of Rhian’s arms, guided her towards his horse. He helped her onto the horse then mounted behind her.
Algwad said little as they rode. Rhian tried but eventually stopped trying to glean information from him and lapsed into silence. The sun set as they rode and the moon rose shortly after.
Rhian had no idea where she was any more. She doubted she would be able to find her way back to the lake on her own if she escaped. There was no need to though. She simply needed to get the book and the bookmark and she could be gone from this place never to return. Rhian wondered how long it would be before Andy decided to come looking for her and another fear crossed her mind. Had her captor thought of that too? Would he be lying in wait when Andy arrived to look for her? She hoped not. Rhian doubted he had ever seen Andy. Andy had only ever been to the lake once when he had first shown it to her. As far as Rhian knew, he had never returned. She thought of their daughter, Shay, and wondered how Shay would react to her disappearance. Would Andy tell her about this world that they could access? They both knew how Shay loved fantasy novels but they had never told her about their access to this fantasy world.
Shay was very close to Rhian and she was sure her disappearance would hit Shay hard. As mother and daughter they were close but it was more than that. They were best friends and shared everything. They had no secrets from each other. At least Shay had no secrets from Rhian. And this secret which now had Rhian imprisoned, was Rhian’s only secret from Shay.
Rhian felt a tug at her heart as she thought of not being able to return to Andy and Shay and suddenly tears welled up and spilled from her eyes as she felt suddenly, incredibly lost, distant and alone.
She felt as if Andy and Shay had been torn away from her and there was nothing she could do about it. She felt as if she had watched them being taken away and diminishing as the distance between them became farther and farther. The tug was less for Andy. Not because she loved him less but because she knew he would come looking for her and perhaps succeed in finding her. But Shay would have no idea. She thought of the pain Shay would go through. What would she think? Would Andy break down and tell Shay the truth?
They rode late into the night and entered a forest. Moonlight wrestled with the canopy of the forest above them and little light reached the ground. Even so, Algwad still seemed to know where they were headed.
They eventually arrived at a cabin. Rhian could barely discern the outline in the dark. She was relieved when he helped her off the horse. Not being used to riding, she nearly collapsed as the toll of the horse ride on her muscles took effect. She had not ridden a horse for a long time and her body had not been prepared for the journey.
Algwad supported her and helped her into the cabin. Once inside he lit an oil lamp. Rhian blinked as her eyes protested briefly against the light that suddenly pierced the dark.
Algwad helped Rhian sit on a long bench with cushions. She imagined it was his equivalent of a sofa. He dug around in some cupboards and pulled out some bread and biscuits and poured water from a beaker for her to drink.
“That will have to do,” he said sitting down opposite her. “Tomorrow we can speak more.”
He appeared to be tired but was friendlier than when he had captured her.
“You can sleep there,” he motioned to the bench where she sat and lapsed into silence staring at her. Shay felt uncomfortable under his gaze and tried to ignore him. She felt his stare was more than just watching her. His eyes roamed over her like a spider from top to bottom taking in her curves. She tried making herself smaller so there was less for him to appreciate. She had asked about being untied but he had firmly denied her that luxury. He did however agree to retie her hands in front of her after which he tied them to the bench. He chained the door of the cabin making sure no-one could enter or leave.
When Rhian had finished her meal of stale bread and biscuits and drunk the water, Algwad extinguished the lamp and settled on a bed in the corner. Rhian knew he was asleep soon after by the sound of his snoring and she fell asleep too a little while later despite the thoughts that ran through her mind.