Luag screamed. Why was Katherine on the battlefield? He lunged, grabbing her waist where she knelt between him and their enemy. He was trying to pull her away to safety even as she clung to something.
But as soon as he touched her, Luag forgot about whatever lay on the ground.
He could hear Katherine's thoughts!
"I’ve had enough and want to go home!" she pled in her mind while picturing the strangest place. It had large beaches but was a city of metal and glass. A pier jutted out into the ocean, and on it were brightly lit monstrosities that moved! The sign read Santa Monica Pier. Did she live in Spain, then?
Her home itself sat above an oddly bright and cheery tavern that shared walls with two shops which were themselves squished into a row of shops in one enormous long building that faced another such building across a huge stone walkway. She couldn’t see the ocean from her home, but she could smell it.
The world did flips around Luag, as if he were swimming on the seashore, being churned by the waves. Someone grabbed his back, and he lurched to get the man off him even as he held onto Katherine and pulled her away toward safety.
Abruptly, he no longer heard her mind inside his. No longer saw what she imagined. He didn’t need to. He and Katherine were there, in the place she had imagined.
The ocean air was pleasantly balmy, but everything else made him uncomfortable.
He didn’t understand anything he saw except the hundreds of people walking by, so for a few moments he focused on them. They were all in such a rush! And they were rude.
“Watch where you’re going!”
“Get out of the way!”
“Wrong way, buddy.”
“Go back to the Renaissance Faire!”
Luag would have said something back, only his jaw hung open. They were all wearing so little clothing! Nothing was left to his imagination. The women wore even less than the men, less than undergarments. Only the briefest parts of their bodies were covered up, and he could see more skin than anything else.
None of them seemed at all bothered by it. Well, a few of the men were looking at the women, but appreciatively, not in any sort of panic that the women had lost their clothing.
These people set him on edge, and so he looked away from them.
The surface they walked on — for it could not be called the ground — was hard like stone, but flat and smooth like an earthenware plate. Everyone was walking around on it without comment, so it must’ve been normal for them, but it was not normal for Luag. The surface was light gray, and now that he looked closer it was marked with a series of lines that criss-crossed each other. The more he looked at it, the more aggravated he grew, overcome with the urge to bend over and scrape it away so he could see the ground.
Battle fever raged in him, preparing him to survive this encounter with the unknown. On reflex, he reached over his shoulder for his sword, Throatfinder, cursing as he remembered taking it off to accompany Alasdair Stewart with the white flag. But there was no one to fight, no beast to kill, just too many new sounds, sights, scents, and sensations all at once.
He shifted his attention over to the right, where wheeled things moved by with startling speed on a black surface just as flat but not as smooth. Of course, the things that moved by were far more interesting than the surface. They were beautiful, made of all the colors of the precious jewels, of different metals and glass, more metal and glass than he’d seen in his whole life or ever hoped to see. What were they? Where were they going? How did they move without horses to pull them? Why did they make so much noise? Were those people he saw inside them?
He was so frustrated at not understanding what he was seeing and not knowing what things were!
And there was no place he could rest his eyes. When he glanced away from the people and the strange jeweled objects, there were only brief patches of flowers to look at before his eyes landed on one of the hundreds of buildings that loomed up all around him, blocking the view of the mountains that must surely lie beyond. Every last one of these buildings was ten times as big as Ualraig’s castle. How many people must there be here in order to need so many buildings? Where was the person in charge of them? Surely he should be seeing to it they weren’t so rude!
And the noise! His ears were full of hundreds of noises he didn’t recognize or understand. Loud sudden noises and jarring long noises. Sound that resembled music but wasn’t made of any instrument he ever heard before. The infernal noise was pervasive, and he didn’t understand how everyone was ignoring it.
The place smelled bad too. The most noxious smoke ever lingered in the air, and it stung his eyes.
If all that wasn’t enough, then the sight of the oddest trees imaginable pushed Luag over the edge. These trees shot up fifty feet in the air before they had any branches. Their branches were all bunched together in a ball at the top of the tree. They looked like huge skinny one-legged giants with big heads.
The only familiar thing that saved him from insanity was he was still with Katherine. And she looked calm, happy even. Obviously, she had seen all these things before and didn’t consider them unusual in the least.
“I need to get back home right away,” he told her, surprising himself by speaking fluent English. “This place is extremely unpleasant.”
Upon hearing him and noticing he was there, she scowled and groaned. ”Aw, I finally get home and now I’m stuck with you? Why did you have to come with me?”
He took another look around just to assure himself it really was as odd as he had thought. “Och, this is your home? No wonder you traveled back in time.” With all this change, it pleased him that some of the words he said at least were still familiar. Apparently, whatever magic had allowed the lasses to speak Gaelic in his time was also allowing him to speak English in hers, but it left his accent and a few colorful words in his speech, and he appreciated that.
Katherine groaned again, and this time it was more like a growl. “What am I going to do with you?” Startling him, she grabbed his waist and pulled him into the shade of a tree.
"What are you—"
"My pest of a neighbor's looking out her window. I don't want her to ask where I've been. Trust me, it's better that way. Besides, I don't have any men’s clothes for you. Come on."
Unaccustomed to women touching him —as were all unmarried men of his time— he lurched with shock as she grabbed him by the hand and tugged him along the odd wide walkway. She took him through a door made entirely of glass into a shop full of the scant clothing everyone wore.
"You aren't going to wear this clothing, Katherine!"
Laughing at him, she grabbed the first few things she saw amid all this decadent plenty and dragged him to the back wall where three doors stood. "Try this on for size and show me how it fits.”
Rather amused by bossy Katherine but trying his best not to show it, he did as he was told. The room was no more than a closet, but it had a convenient bench where Luag put his leather tunic, linen shirt, and woolen knee breeches. It also had an exquisite mirror, clear as water. He had never seen himself so well before and couldn’t help staring. Unlike all the other people around here, his skin was scarred in dozens of places from the hundreds of small skirmishes he'd been in throughout his 25 years.
Katherine's voice came impatiently under the gap beneath the door. "Get out here so I can see you!"
"I'm working on it. It's just I have never seen clothing like this before." He stood staring at the strange fastening on the scandalously short pants. Shrugging, he tried brute force — and was surprised when it worked. With a sound as if he had snapped his thumb across his middle finger, the odd trousers opened.
A few minutes later he opened the door and stepped out of the little room, certain he would find her red-faced with embarrassment at his state of undress.
“Ye asked for it, lass.”
She scoffed, handing him one of two brightly colored rucksacks. “Here, I’m sure you'll need your other clothes when you go back home, and I'll sell mine. Lauren says handmade historical costuming like this costs a small fortune."
But the clothing she wore had belonged to a dear friend's mother. He wouldn’t allow her to sell it. Out loud, he only said "thank you" as he took the rucksack she handed him and put his things in it.
"Come on over here,” she said, standing in front of a wall filled with those useless strappy shoes everyone wore here. “While I get changed, you find some sandals that fit."
Dutifully, Luag looked at the holey shoes. How would he sheath his sgian-dubh in one of those? No. He’d keep his boots on. His sgian-dubh was the only weapon he had with him.
He glanced around and was drawn to an exquisite glass case in the center of the shop. Inside were many items he didn't understand, but something called a Swiss Army Knife grabbed his attention and wouldn't let go.
"Would you like to see it up close?" Asked a man his age behind the case.
Smiling, the man placed the Swiss Army Knife down on the top of the glass case. "It has all the normal attachments," he said matter-of-factly, and then he swiveled each attachment out as he spoke of it. "Large blade, small blade, scissors, tweezers, screwdriver, corkscrew, nail file.” And then he got an excited tone in his voice. "But it has some new things as well. Thumb drive most importantly, but also there's this handy solar charger."
Luag was salivating. He had no idea what those last two special things were, but scissors! Corkscrew! Tweezers! This was an amazing piece of equipment. "I want it. Now we only need tae do the bargaining."
The other men laughed.
Remembering what Katherine had said, Luag pulled his clothing out of the rucksack and told the man, "All this can be yours for only the price of that Swiss Army knife." He smiled and waited for the man to readily agree.
But the man laughed again. "Nice try, but I'm not into that Renaissance Faire stuff. The only way you're getting this," he scooped the knife up and clutched it in his fist, but held it up so Luag could see it, "is if you pay me the ninety-nine ninety-nine it says clearly on the price tag."
Luag made himself laugh the way the other man had. "For a moment there, I thought you meant 99 gold, but obviously you just mean 99 silver."
Luag was digging around in his bag for his money when that odd music came from the man's trousers
The man took out a small glass box, looked at it, shrugged, tapped it, and put it to his ear! And then he spoke into it. "No, I’m not really busy. Just helping some gaming nerd. Wants to buy a Swiss Army Knife but talks about giving me gold for it." He rolled his eyes!
Normally, Luag didn't do business with shopkeepers who were so rude. But he wanted that knife. Finally having dug out one of the 10 gold coins he possessed, he plopped it on the counter. "Ninety-nine silver. Sold." He held out his hand for the knife.
The shopkeeper’s rude apprentice groaned. "We don't take foreign currency. You’ll have to go the bank and exchange it." He gave Luag a hopeful look. "Unless you have a Visa or MasterCard?"
Luag pondered this. Did they have servant cards as well? What did these cards do, if little glass boxes could make them communicate with people?
Katherine's voice came up beside him, and she was wearing a perfume now that was exquisite, making him inhale deeply with bliss. "Is there a problem?" She asked the apprentice, of all people.
"This your friend?" the man asked Katherine. When he got a good look at her, he put his glass box away so he could pay her more attention.
She looked at Luag with mischief, her eyes saying, "See how much you depend on me?” But she told the man, "I wouldn’t call him a friend, more like a pesky relative, but yeah, he’s staying with me, and no, he's not from around here."
The apprentice never took his eyes off Katherine, and he fidgeted with the Swiss Army Knife while he blathered on with a foolish smile on his face. "Well tell him he can’t use foreign currency here. Better yet, help him sign up for a credit card. He's going to need one if he does any shopping at all, or eats at a restaurant, or even takes a cab. Well, you know. How long is he staying?"
Luag thought of an excuse for them to leave. "Let’s go” he said to her. “I'm in need of some food."
Giving Luag an odd little smile, she handed the shopkeeper a card and then grabbed a tiny scrap of parchment attached to Luag’s odd new tight-fitting tunic and reached it out to the man, who waved over it something that chirped like a bird.
“All these clothes,” she said to the shopkeeper, “the sandals that came in this box, and throw in that knife, too.” She said the part about the knife with a shrug, throwing Luag a superior smile that said, ‘You owe me now.’