On the mist-shrouded hilltop of Glastonbury Tor, I stood inside the circle of gaunt standing stones, trapped in limbo between two worlds and two men: Nathan, in the twenty-first century, and Arthur in the fifth.
Fear wrapped me in its icy shroud. Thoughts flashed through my mind in flickering, cinematic images. Of Nathan, left behind when I’d tumbled back in time eight weeks ago. Had he climbed the Tor to search for me when I didn’t return? Then stood alone in the ruined church tower on top of the Tor with my abandoned backpack clutched in his hands? Had the wintry wind played with his sandy hair, oblivious to the anguish distorting his tear-streaked face?
Separated by the yawning gulf of fifteen hundred years, was Arthur, king of Dumnonia, my husband of a brief six weeks, waiting for me beyond the mist? Or did he think I’d returned to my old world, leaving him for another man?
Like the first lightning strike of a storm, came the realization that my own indecision had led me here, to the point where losing both of them was a real possibility.
I wanted Arthur, not Nathan.
“Arthur!” My eyes frantically searched the smothering mist as I called his name, my voice small and feeble, and full of desperate longing.
Only now it might be too late.
I tried to run toward where I thought he was, disoriented by the mist that grasped my feet like strands of seaweed. A high, musical note throbbed in my head to the rhythm of my pounding heart, as all around me the magic swelled and grew. The ragged hole in the mist, my unwanted doorway back to the twenty-first century, ate its way ever closer, pulling me back to where I no longer belonged. Through the hole, the stone walls of the old church tower, and the slate grey sky on the Tor were fading, like a half-forgotten dream.
I called again – “Arthur!” – as I struggled against the supernatural forces dragging me back to my old life. A life no longer important to me.
More images flashed with startling speed. My little semi-detached house in the nondescript town outside Nottingham, and the library where I worked, with Glynis behind the front desk talking to an old lady about a book she’d ordered. Nathan again, his smart blue fleece and chinos showing his rugby player’s physique as he stood in front of our empty house, bereft. My treacherous mind was forcing on me all the reasons why I had to return.
I’d loved Nathan once, and thought I’d loved him still. However, two months in the fifth century had changed me forever. It was Arthur I wanted now. Arthur, with his hard, warrior’s body and his hilltop fortress, and the promise of a world filled with excitement and danger. A world where men died in battle, not in their beds, and a threatened doom hung over our future like a black cloud.
My true identity came upon me like a thunderclap. I wasn’t just ordinary Gwen Fry, librarian. I was, and always had been, the real Queen Guinevere. Merlin had been right. Only one person could have married King Arthur. Me. It was my destiny. In his wisdom, my father had named me after myself, and my whole life had been leading to this.
“Arthur!” In desperation, I cried his name again, and the mist thinned in response. About my feet the snaring tendrils loosened. I staggered like a drunkard as I groped for the standing stones, the only tangible link between present and past. The air swirled, thick and hard to breathe, so moisture-laden it felt as though I were under water. My heart pounded and my breath came in little gasps. My hands and legs trembled. Arthur must be somewhere out there. He must. I couldn’t lose him.
Beneath my feet, the ground shook, and in fear, I twisted to look over my shoulder. The sides of the hole slid together, sparks flashing about the ragged join as the door to the modern world closed with a clap of frightening finality. The damp mist swirled, shrouding the scar it left, leaving me alone and lost in its dense grey veil. Tears sprang to my eyes; this was the final straw. I stretched out my arms and wailed.
“I didn’t mean it! Take me back to Arthur!”
Out of the mist, a strong, warm hand grabbed my cold one in an iron grip.
I hung on tight.
For what felt like an eternity, I gripped that hand, feeling the rough calluses, welcoming the touch I knew so well. It wasn’t too late. He was here to save me. Hot relief coursed through my body. Then his other hand grabbed my forearm and wrenched me, blinking and dazed, out of the mist and into the raw light of a fifth century winter’s day.
I fell forward, limp as a stringless puppet, into Arthur’s arms, and together we tumbled to the damp ground, rolling over in a tangle of limbs.
We came to a halt, him holding me tight, his body trembling as much as mine, hot tears on my skin. They were his.
Putting my arms around him, I held him close. My nostrils filled with the scent of horses, leather and sweat, mixed with the faint aroma of the lavender his clothes were stored in.
“I couldn’t leave you.” My voice grated roughly in my throat. “I couldn’t.” Dry sobs racked my body. “It’s you I love, not him. You I want to be with.”
He lifted my chin and kissed me on the lips, a salty, wet kiss that I wished would last forever.
I clung on. The thought I could have lost him, terrifying.
My cheeks were wet. I, too, was crying.
“I love you,” I said when he released my mouth, louder this time, because I wanted to hear the words. “I love you, Arthur Pendragon.”
He kissed me again, and I pulled him closer, as though I could meld our bodies into one being. When our lips parted, I nestled in close against the warmth of his chest, the feeling of belonging overwhelming.
“I love you too,” he whispered against my hair.