He loved this endless forest like any other man in these Celtic lands, but sometimes it seemed too much. He felt he was suffocating and had to go out of this darkness, to find a clearing and to feel the sun beams falling benevolently on him.
The journey through the forests of Cumbria required serious skill these days, especially when you were a lonely traveler like Alairn. In the past, he had to be careful not to cross path with tribes he didn't want to deal with. And more recently, he had to beware of the Romans who frequently patrolled through here going to their camp at Tonometum. They had even cut a serious path through the forest marked from place to place with those totems of theirs. It was said that the road led to Londinium, the capital of the Roman province of Britain. But he had not been curious to see where the Roman road really led.
Now Alairn was heading for the valley where the forest was naturally giving way to the green plain. And it was like that since ancient times, because there was a strange construction in that valley. It was a cromleh called Caerns' Teeth.
Twelve stones at least as tall as two vigorous men sitting on top of each other, arranged in a circle at equal distances. The passing of time sharpened their tips, that's why they were called teeth. In the middle of the circle of the teeth there was another stone, not vertical but fallen to the ground. On that white limestone slab, Alairn liked to lie down and soak up in the sun's warmth. The Druids taught him that the Sun was a benevolent god, and for him it really was. In the winter months, when the sun's touch was weakened by the goddess of the cold season, he seemed to no longer feel alive. He had a terrible slowness in his bones. Maybe he needed to hibernate like bears, too.
The trees were thinning as a sign that the Caerns Valley was near. As soon as he reached the edge of the forest, he glanced at the cromleh and gaped. On the central slab of the ancient temple was the naked body of a young woman.
He approached fearfully, looking everywhere for the Druids. Only one of their ceremonies could justify the presence of that body thrown there on the white rock. But there was no one else in the entire valley. When he was just a few yards from the teeth, the beauty of that woman's body amazed him. She had perfectly white skin, uninterrupted not even by the usual patch of hair below her belly. Shiny black hair that passed over her shoulders framed the woman's face. Her eyes were closed. She wore a gold necklace (torque) and also gold bracelets on both wrists.
Did the druids have finished their business with her and left her here? Alairn wondered.
He was trying not to feel that regret for another life lost in an useless ritual, as he thought. That is why he had left the Druids; because he did not feel comfortable with the ceremonial through which they tried to connect with the Hereafter by sacrificing people who would be a bridge to these lands that only intertwined in certain places and times with the world of the mortals. And those visions of the Hereafter could only be interpreted by the eyes and minds of the initiates.
But the perfect body of the woman on the ceremonial slab seemed untouched. She was not stained with blood and her chest was not open to remove her heart or entrails. Looking for traces of that ceremonial wound, he couldn't help but notice the woman's perfect breasts. They were round and firm; although she sat on her back, her bright pink nipples rose in the June's sun. He approached the center of the teeth in small, silent steps, and just as he reached the slab with the woman's body, she opened her eyes. Blue eyes that reflected the cloudless sky of that day.
“You're blocking the sun!” she said in a strange accent.
Frightened, Alairn stepped back. He was amazed but also relieved at the same time that this beautiful woman was not dead.
“I'm sorry, milady. I thought the druids did their number on you.”
“I have seen no druids around here. Are you one of them?”
The woman's words made sense if you considered Alairn's appearance. His shoulder-length blond hair was a ruffled pile, and blue runes were tattooed on his temples. His brown eyes brought a gentle note to his rough face that had seen a lot in his life.
“I'm not a druid anymore,” he said.
“How so? I didn't know you could go back from this. Isn't that a divine calling?”
The young woman asked these questions as she got up from the slab and picked up a purple-painted dress from its base. She then put it on, running it over her head. She adjusted that dress over the perfect roundness of her hips with a leather belt that had precious stones added from place to place. Next, she put on her shoulders a cape of a slightly thicker fabric that had a rabbit fur collar.
What the hell is a noble woman doing here alone? Alairn wondered.
And especially since he now realized that a noble woman could not have been chosen as a sacrifice for the Hereafter. So he had to ask.
“I thought the Druids brought you here for their rituals. But now I see you are a noble woman. They wouldn't have dared to touch you, unless your father had given you to them as an offering. So, if I am not overstepping, can you tell me what you're doing here on your own?”
The woman gazed at him for a few moments, weighing if this man, clearly of modest origin, deserved an answer.
“I am from Gaul and I came here with a small escort to be presented to a Parisian chieftain. I left Londinium a week ago with a Roman military convoy going to Tonometum. But, a few days later, through this endless dark forest, a larger Celtic horde attacked us. They were clearly driven by their hatred for the Romans but also by their desire to rob us."
“I'm not surprised if you show off those ornaments,” Alairn admitted, pointing to her necklace.
“Well, I didn't wait to see them get their hands on me and take me into slavery or even worse, so I slipped away from the battlefield when it was in full swing and our attackers were about to win without doubt. I've been wandering through this forest ever since."
Alairn looked at her in disbelief. She looked too clean for a distressed lady. Even her hair fell in shiny waves to her shoulders and was not at all ruffled by walking through the thick forest.
Damn it! the woman said to herself. He caught me on the wrong foot! I should’ve get dirty somehow. I might be of noble birth, but I can swear that women are not so clean here.
“That doesn't explain why you were sitting naked on this slab,” Alairn insisted.
“The cold had entered my bones while walking through the forest and when I came out of it to this valley, I wanted to take a sunbath. It is a common practice in Gaul.”
By all gods! I've never been to Gaul, but that's something I do too.
Alairn had long noticed that exposure to the sun, without his clothes getting in the way, filled him with an energy that clearly came from the god of light.
“I hope you've warmed up enough,” the man said. “It's Alairn, my name.”
“I'm Anda, Antixus' daughter. My father is an important leader in Gaul, even though he is now at the mercy of the Romans."
She no longer had to tell him what life was like for the Celts under Roman oppression. Nearly a decade after the revolt of Queen Boudica of the Icenians, the Romans had tightened the screw, and the Celts had seldom popped their heads out of hiding. And only to harass Roman forces. As had probably happened with the attack on that convoy of which the noble woman in front of him was a part.
“Let’s move forward then,” said Alairn. “I will take you to the nearest village. There you can get a proper escort.”
“But I don’t want to leave this clearing! I am not going into that dark, misty forest again,” she said with conviction.
„You cannot stay here forever also,” Alairn retorted. „Be reasonable and follow me.”
And he turned overtly toward the forest, preparing to march again into the darkness. The woman followed him and put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Alairn turned again to her and to his surprise (a pleasant one) the woman caught him in a tight hug.
She lifted slightly her head since she was tall enough and kissed him. Surprised and aroused at the same time, Alairn responded feverishly.
By gods and hereafter, this woman is a sorcerer, thought Alairn when he saw their tight embrace became enclosed in a bright light. She must be a creature of light, and that’s why she is afraid of the dark forest.
But he didn’t have time to launch more hypotheses about the wonderful woman in his arms because the light was dissipating and they were not in Caerns Valley anymore.
They were in a palace with shining white walls and floors. Large windows let the sunlight to enter generously.
“Where are we? What have you done, sorceress?” asked Alairn with fright in his voice.
“Welcome to your future,” she said, smiling. “I brought you almost three thousand years into the future.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because you see, in this era men are almost an extinct breed because of a terrible disease, and we need fresh blood. So, I chose you,” she said with a joking smile.
“Didn’t you even bother to ask me if I want that?” he asked with hurt in his eyes.
“Would you have come? You have to admit that you were alone and miserable there. I think I read you pretty well," she said with a certainty in her voice that silenced Alairn.
Because she was right on all accounts. Maybe this will turn to be a good life for him, after all. One question was still bogging him.
“Because you are a nobody. Your disappearance from the first century will not affect the timeline. It was all precisely calculated.”
“Then our encounter at Caerns' Teeth wasn’t by chance?” he had to ask.
“Of course not! I was there for you. The plan was to spend more time with you, to evaluate you. But I saw right away that you are a good man. Don’t you feel special now?”
“And why were you naked?”
“I was recharging my powers from the sun for the trip back to my time. By the way, Anda, is indeed my name.”
And she took his hand and led him into that time with a promise of bright, warm light.