"Gomawrn!" Helge-Dag blinks at the sharp light. He just went to bed, didn't he? Where does that bright light come from? And why do those voices sound familiar and yet make no sense at all?
He lifts his head, and memories fall into place. The two girls are Xarya and Theelene, who rescued him from the dungeons on some improbable planet and took him to a village on some other improbable planet. Where he is not a prisoner, and yet cannot go where he wants. He wants to go home, but it seems to be further away than the Andromeda galaxy. And the cheerful babbling makes no sense because he cannot understand the local language ... not without a stone and brass pendant, which lies beside his bed. The bed, like all things here, is slightly unusual. It does not really have a mattress, but heaps of pillows. Well, they are not exactly pillows as he remember them, but fulfill roughly the same function ... and other functions, such as mattress and bedcover. The whole bed is filled with a mosaic of pillows in various sizes, shapes and textures.
Hanging the pendant around his neck again, he is able to understand the girls once more. "Rise and shine, prettyboy!" exhorts Xarya. "The sun is already up, and we must get ready to go!" "Already?" "We do not want to attract too much attention to this village by hanging around. And it will take us long enough to get where we are going. We must traverse the length of the River of Tyme before next nightfall, remember?"
He vaguely remembers. There were debates last night, when he was already half asleep, about where to go and when. The two trolls would accompany them for a while at least, to their own world. But first they would have to go up the River of Tyme which runs through the Unknown Jungle. Exactly where that was, he did not get, nor was he overly interested. His only interest at the time was sleeping. In fact, he cannot even remember going to bed. But clearly he has, because here he is. Most of his clothes even hang neatly on a set of slender stands that presumably are there for just that purpose. He is glad he hadn't just dumped the clothes on the floor, as he tends to do at home. And even more glad because he has kept his boxers on, at least. The girls seem in no hurry to get away until he is up.
He is very careful to keep his back to the girls as he gets up. It is morning, after all. Luckily the nervousness helps him concentrate while he dresses, and despite whispers and giggles behind him he thinks he may still have some shreds of dignity left as he sets off for the bathroom.
Both the girls and Birni the werebear put the "fast" back in breakfast: Despite the rich and varied meal, there is little time to enjoy it. They seem eager to be off. The trolls are waiting outside. Whether they have slept at all is anybody's guess. Certainly Helge-Dag is no expert on troll sleep patterns. But unlike the mythological trolls of his homeland, these are clearly not turning to stone in sunlight. They seem utterly unaffected by the bright morning sun. Many of the villagers are out and about. You would expect them to have their own chores to do; but evidently every day is a public holiday as long as their heroes are here. They accompany the small group out of the village, cheering and calling down blessings and good luck.
The sage Entandil remains behind; it is the four young ones who leave, and the two trolls. Actually, the big male troll picks up the only half as big female troll (which is still half again as tall and massive as Birni) and carries her on her arm like a child. Once again, this seems to happen without any exchange of word or even any overt sign between them, as if they always do this. She certainly seems quite relaxed on that perch, as they trot out to the stone circle.
The villagers keep a safe distance while Theelene touches patterns on the standing stones. Then she takes Helge-Dag's hand. Her own hand is quite soft and slightly warmer than his, though he is not sure how long that will last. The heat has started in his ears and is spreading to the face all too quickly. Then all thoughts of hands and girls are broken cleanly off, as the fog surrounds them and they start to fall down into nothingness.
Helge-Dag finds himself shivering and standing on his knees in another stone circle, this one old and partly broken. Theelene also seems slightly shaky, but she politely refuses Birni's hand. "I used his magic" she says, glancing at Helge-Dag. "I am just a bit light-headed is all. I can stand quite fine." "Even with the Rakshasa?" "Even with the Rakshasa. You have no idea how powerful he is." "Hey, HD, are you OK?" "Yeah, just not used to this world jumping thing." "Actually we only jumped to the other side of our own world" informs Theelene. "Still, I would have been wobbly at best without your power. Probably completely drained for a while, with our big friends here."
"Teleport is the hardest transport magic" explains Xarya casually, as she noticed Helge-Dag's confusion. "After a world jump, she often faints and Birni has to carry her for a while. That's where those broad shoulders come in really useful." Helge-Dag blinks. His thoughts jump back to his own rather un-dignified start on the journey to Satyaloka, and he has this sudden mental image of the curvaceous transport magess in the same place. He pushes the image away as best he can, realizing that it will do no good for his own mobility. "I take it that this won't be necessary now that you have a magic furnace with you." "Well, those Rakshasa are truly massive. But you would have to ask Theelene about that. I have as much talent for magic as a stone chair, as she will remind me every few hours." "She is as talented with magic as I am with swords" smiles the dress-wearing girl. "Now, let us line up for the magic path to Tyme's End."
The path on the ground westward from the circle is barely visible. It is much less obvious than the sand road they traveled yesterday. There are spots of bare brown earth making a broken line in the grass, but that is pretty much it. The landscape is fairly flat, grassy meadows with some gently rolling hills and scattered bushes. It is a bit warmer, and the sun is almost directly overhead. "Hey!" notices Helge-Dag. "If we jumped to the other side of the world, why is it still day? Wouldn't it be night?" "Why?" asks Theelene puzzled. "Well, in my world it is always day on one side when it is night on the other. My world spins around its axis, and the sun ..." "Oh, that. That is east and west, not north and south." "Huh?" "We jumped from the cool temperate zone on the southern hemisphere to the cool temperate zone on the northern hemisphere, and a few hours to the east too. Not quite the opposite side of the world, but definitely the other side." "Oh!" He feels thoroughly stupid. He had not thought of that. He keeps making a fool of himself in front of the girls. Somehow his hair is falling down in front of his face, and he realizes he is staring at the ground. And there, the sparks are back.
Now that he knows Theelene is a transport magess, he knows that this is her work. Evidently she has the power to enchant paths – not all of the path, but the part they are on – so that space is compressed somehow. Every step they take bring them perhaps as far as a minute's walking, when they are going full speed. When the path is steep or winding, they go a bit slower. These paths are clearly meant to be enchanted, going very straight and across the least hilly parts of the country. Perhaps this is the local equivalent of railroads. Not quite as relaxing perhaps, but just as fast. As they are walking briskly, the landscape whizzes past. There is no way anything near the road would be able to even react before they were past, so it is probably a quite safe way of traveling.
"Will we be walking like this all day?" asks Helge-Dag after barely an hour. It is not that he is tired yet, but he will be if they are going to walk until nightfall. In fact, at the speed they are keeping, they are almost keeping up with the sun going west, so nightfall may be very far off indeed. "We will be walking all day, but not on this grass. We should arrive at Tyme's End in a few hundred heartbeats." Helge-Dag has no idea what Tyme's End is supposed to mean, but it surely cannot mean what it sounds like. Not wishing to further display his ignorance, he just shuts up. The terrain rises slightly. And then suddenly they stop.
They are on a ridge; behind them is the gently sloping plain, in front of them is a much steeper descent into a broad valley. The valley is narrower to their right, that would be north, and broadens to the left. In fact, the whole valley more or less dissolves into a broad desert of yellow sand to the south, reaching as far as they can see and probably much further. But the most spectacular sight is not the desert, or the valley itself, or the small stone-house village between them and the bottom of the valley. No, the most remarkable is the river. It is huge by Scandinavian standards, though it is certainly not a Nile or a Mississippi. It is flowing slowly towards the desert. And, unless his eyes are deceiving him, it is not made of water at all, but of dust and fine sand. A river of sand, coming out from the wild green jungle that covers the sides of the valley to the north. The River of Tyme – the sands of Tyme.
Index of chapters.