April 30, 1918
The mission’s objective was clear: find a time and location for the Beauchamp family headquarters to be established.
Eighteen year old Henry Beauchamp mentally went down the list of prerequisites; it needed to be somewhere semi-remote, even as the centuries passed and the European countryside became more and more developed. The location needed to be somewhere on the Island of Great Britain, as most of their work centered there. Easy access to major seaports and... air-ports —Henry rolled the term over in his mind. He knew about airplanes, but they would only grow in efficiency and popularity as time went by, and time traveling did not actually help when you needed to get to a different location. So proximity to air-ports would be a necessity.
And, most importantly of all: the location must have a circle of stones.
Henry’s uncle, Robert Beauchamp, was the current head of the family’s time traveling operation. The necessity to find a central location with better resources had been on their radar for some time, and this scouting mission was the first of many to come before they established their new headquarters.
It was also Henry’s first solo mission. He had been chosen, along with six of his cousins, to scout a predetermined area and come back with a detailed report on his findings. Tomorrow was Beltane. The time portal was widening even now, making travel easier than at other times of the year, and he had until the summer equinox, just six weeks away, to compile his data. Six weeks of independence from the rigid dictates of Uncle Rob and the family. Henry nearly vibrated with excitement.
“Settle down, brother.”
Henry cast a snide look to his older brother. Lamb was 21 and had already established himself with Uncle Rob as an irreplaceable asset in research. His dark eyes narrowed at the road ahead, carefully steering his prized possession—a 1914 Vauxhall 16-20 automobile with a steel blue finish—toward the town of Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
They had been driving for two days, making the 500 kilometer journey from Kendal where the Beauchamp’s owned property that currently served as their base of operations. It was a temporary situation, as World War I had forced them out of London and it was becoming more and more difficult to conduct their business in secrecy; the need to move to a time with more technological advancement was pressing.
There were dozens of stone circles in Aberdeenshire, and Henry had been assigned a dozen of them to scout in the western half of the county. His cousins Ralph and Thomas had been traveling with them and were carefully dropped off at their respective scouting locations.
“We’re nearly there,” Lamb stated unnecessarily. “I’ll see you through and then take a room in Peterhead until the equinox.” He glanced across the open cab at Henry. “If you don’t come back, I’m coming after you. So be careful.”
“It will be fine. I’m not a child.” Henry retorted, feeling a very childish indignation in the moment.
“Do you have the gemstones?”
He rolled his eyes, but dug in his pocket for the pouch containing two emeralds the size of his fingernail. He showed the pouch to Lamb and tucked it back away when his brother nodded.
“And you remember the year?”
“Yes. 2007.” Saying it out loud sent a thrill of anticipation down Henry’s spine. Their father, David Beauchamp had gone as a scout into the 21st century to bring back intel on the best time period to send the group of cousins on their first solo mission. The early 2000s was the consensus and they had spent a week being briefed on major inventions of the time.
Something called the internet was the prime resource prompting their move this far into the future. Henry didn’t understand half of his father’s report, but the advances in technology and industry sounded unbelievable. He was eager for his own turn to explore.
“Alright, then. Here we go.” The sun was dropping slowly across the western sky as he pulled the automobile off to the side of the road. “We’ll have to hike it from here.”
The brothers took off up the rolling hill of the Scottish countryside, feeling the road fall away behind them as they made their way to the treeline at the top of the hill. At first, they picked out the jagged upright stone tops and then--at last--the large recumbent stone of the Aikey Brae circle came into view.
Henry felt the buzzing power in his blood. He gripped the leather strap of his pack and pulled out the little pouch to pour one emerald into his palm. There were three tall standing stones across the back of the circle by the trees and the center stone was the one calling him in. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned toward Lamb.
They embraced strongly, and when they pulled back Lamb pushed his glasses up his nose and cleared his throat.
“Be safe, brother.”
Henry’s mouth tweaked up at the familiar words.
“Be smart, brother,” he replied. They shared a warm smile, and then Henry Beauchamp stepped into the standing stone and vanished from sight.
May 1, 2087
The mechanical beep of the iPhone alarm jolted Julia Moriston out of a deep sleep. The grey light of approaching dawn filtered through the evergreens above her hammock and she swiped open the phone to check her notifications.
Reluctantly, she left her pocket of warmth and pulled on jeans, hiking boots, and a puffy jacket over the layers of thermal and flannel she had worn to bed. She pulled the solar-powered self-heating thermos from her backpack— thank god for dad’s love of random techy Christmas gifts —and filled it to the brim with cold brew coffee. The warming indicator light flicked on with a switch and she slung her camera bag over her shoulder. It was still about ten minutes till sunrise, and she meant to capture Aikey Brae in all its glory.
Julia made her way through the trees to the stone circle, misty and mysterious on its high hill above the moors of Aberdeenshire. She loved standing stones. They had been a passion of hers since 8th grade when she had chosen to do a research project on pagan traditions in the UK, and her fascination had only grown since then.
This trip was actually a school project. The Moriston family had homeschooled their kids since kindergarten, and for her senior year, Julia had asked if she could backpack through Scotland and photograph stone circles to make a calendar or a coffee table book. Her mom had been thrilled with the idea. That was when her dad had decided on the solar thermos too.
Aikey Brae was her third shoot on the trip. She already had great photos of the Berrybrae and Strichen circles, and she’d be headed southeast to the Picardy stone this afternoon.
Julia climbed up on the huge stone that rested on its side, enjoying the still magic of the moments before dawn. Some of the more popular stone circles still had groups of druids that would go dance to call down the sun on Beltane, but Aikey Brae was remote enough that a visit from the Highland ladies in their bedsheets wasn’t likely. Though, those photos would be majestic.
Her coffee thermos still blinked with the warming light, not getting enough sun yet to heat, and Julia rubbed her hands together to ward off the chill. Maybe she’d ask for a battery-powered one next Christmas.
There was an energy about this place. She studied the stones shrewdly, plotting out in her mind where she would stand to get the best shot. The zipper on her camera bag stuck, and Julia yanked firmly to get it loose, then pulled the camera into her hands. Just a few more moments now. The air seemed charged with electricity, and then suddenly the tallest standing stone shrieked at her, the sound slicing through her chest and freezing her in place.
If she hadn’t been looking at the stone she would have thought he came from the woods. But she watched the boy appear as if he stepped out of the stone itself. He was tall and lanky, blinking into the sun as it peeked over the edge of the sky. His big hand came up to shade his eyes.
The moment he saw her, his whole body stiffened.
“How did you do that?”
It was a ridiculous question, and as it left her mouth she wished she could take it back. His eyes were a beautiful piercing pale blue and they studied her warily. He didn’t come closer, but his mouth stretched into a friendly smile that transformed his lean face.
“My name is Henry,” the boy pushed his hands into his pockets and nodded to her politely.
“Julia,” she returned. He didn’t seem dangerous, despite the miraculous method of his arrival. She had studied enough about standing stones to have heard legends about disappearances, chalked up to everything from fairies to ghosts.
He shifted on his feet as if to walk away and Julia felt her heart lurch toward him.
“Wait!” She tensed, ready to jump up and chase him if he wouldn’t stop. But he did. A tremor in his throat told her he was a little afraid of her, as well. Julia sat back on the stone and laid her camera beside her. The shoot was a wash now anyway, she’d have to wait till tomorrow morning to get the photo she wanted.
Glancing at the boy again, she smiled and held her hand out.
“Will you come sit with me?”
“I… yes. Thank you.”
His eyes flashed, but he came forward and perched on the edge of the recumbent stone. He looked like a wrong move could send him running, so Julia didn’t ask him any questions. She started talking, not even stopping to think about what she was saying. She told him all about her trip, from her interest in pagan traditions to what she had in her backpack. It was rambling, and she felt like an idiot, but listening to her talk seemed to calm him down. His body relaxed and his arms rested across his raised knees, rolling a stalk of meadow grass between his fingers.
When she ran out of words at last, they sat in silence, warmed in the bright morning sunlight that filled the stone circle and sparkled on the dew-damp grass of the moor.
In a tangle of long arms and legs, Henry tumbled over the edge of the stone.
Julia gasped and glanced toward the noise. The solar thermos had finished warming and now a green light shone indicating the coffee was hot. She leaned over to look at him, sprawled on the meadow grass and flushed with embarrassment.
“Sorry about that. Would you like some coffee?”
There was a moment that could have been awkward, but then a smile pulled at his lips and Julia choked back a giggle. His head fell back against the ground and he groaned, covering his grinning face with his hands.
“I apologize for that, please do forgive me.”
He unfolded his lanky body and climbed back up on the stone, settling in a little more firmly than before. She passed him the coffee and he chuckled as he took a sip. Then his chest rose with a great breath and he looked at her straight on.
“So, you saw me come through?”
He really was afraid. His body was relaxed, but Julia could see the caution in his eyes and the lines around his mouth. Well, of course he was afraid. Whatever it was that he came through, it had been relegated to legends and ballads for centuries. He didn’t know anything about her.
“I would never tell anyone. Please, believe me.” She had reached out to him again, unconsciously, and grasped his hand. He held on tightly, pulling her small fingers in between his two large palms. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it again.
“Thank you,” he said simply after a moment.
His skin was so warm, and Julia’s other hand found its way to where they touched, gently tracing his knuckles.
“You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.” She spoke the words aloud but internally she was aching to know--not just about the stones, but about him. In all of her years spent reading and researching the stone legends, it had never occurred to her that she might actually meet someone who had experienced the phenomenon first-hand. But even that paled in comparison to knowing the boy in front of her. Where had he come through from? Where was he going?
His wide mouth twitched up at the corners. “I am finding that I do want to tell you, though I could not say why.” His hands tightened around hers, and she waited, not wanting to push him one way or the other.
“The stones are a portal,” he hesitated for a breath, then continued, “through time.”
Julia blinked, stunned. Of course, time travel was part of the old stories. She had half expected him to say it. But the words coming from the mouth of a boy she had just watched step through solid stone turned her world on its ear. The reality of time travel hit differently than the theory.
Her grip was so tight on his hands that her knuckles turned white. But his eyes held her secure as the wave of emotions passed.
“I came from 1918,” Henry spoke in a low calm voice that put her at ease. “I’m here on a research mission. I need to gather information about the area.”
“169 years,” she calculated quickly in her head.
“What?” He paled, blue eyes searching her face. “That’s… no, it should be… what year is it?”
“It’s 2087,” Julia felt panic rising in her chest at his expression. “What’s wrong?”
Henry took a deep steadying breath. “I meant to travel to 2007. The stones pulled me eighty years past my target. This is further than any of my family have traveled into the future before.”
The fact settled over them heavily, and Julia felt a chill pass through her despite the warm spring sunshine. Suddenly, the stones felt dangerous instead of welcoming, and she slid down keeping a tight hold on Henry’s hand.
“Come on, let’s have breakfast. I always think better when I’m full.” She led him through the treeline and down toward her campsite. They didn’t speak much. Henry rebuilt the fire and Julia pulled out packets of instant oatmeal and her canteen. She was running low on food, but she dug out the last tin of sausages to heat up. It wasn’t much. She’d have to hike into Old Deer to restock her supplies. But it would do for this morning.
Henry watched with open curiosity as Julia heated water for the oatmeal in her lightweight travel pan and speared the little sausages on a long stick, turning them slowly over the open flames. He reached for the coffee thermos and took a long drink, marveling at the fact that it was still piping hot after so many minutes had passed.
As the food cooked, he wandered around the camp touching her things. It could have been intrusive, but as Julia watched it felt almost reverent. His fingers slid across the material of her hammock and sleeping bag, feeling it between his fingers and examining the fastenings and design. He checked out her mess kit, lanterns, first aid kit, and cell phone. When the screen lit up he flinched, but, otherwise, his face remained serious.
After circling the camp, Henry lowered himself to sit beside her on a fallen log. His pants were made of thick quality wool and his linen shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, revealing long tan forearms. Julia leaned forward to rotate the sausages, feeling the warmth of him through her thermal undershirt.
It was disconcerting and thrilling to be sharing her breakfast with a guy. All of her male friends were into technology, spending hours in front of their screens writing code and playing games. Even last year when she had a boyfriend for six solid months, she couldn’t convince him to go camping with her. Henry looked completely comfortable here on this log in the middle of the woods.
“What’s it like in 1918?”
He smiled at her, making her stomach flutter which surprised her enough that she dropped her eyes. The oatmeal was done, so she busied herself stirring in brown sugar and dried cranberries.
“I actually don’t know much about what the world is like in 1918, or at least… I do in theory. But I’ve spent the last five years in the 1950s. My family relocated all of the children before World War I. So, I had just turned 18 and gotten back to my time when I was given this mission.”
He talked about the war, how his family had planned years in advance to keep as many of their able-bodied men from the fight as possible. They were conscientious objectors, but that often didn’t make a difference. Only the men that chose to fight or serve as medics or clergy in the war stayed behind. The rest traveled to different time periods or moved to an estate in Kendal to avoid the bombings in London.
They ate their breakfast together, talking about their families and lives. Julia was charmed by his easy wit and listened with fascination as he described his mission to scout the stone circles for the new headquarters.
“You could come with me,” she blurted out. “I mean, I’m going to all the same stones you are. And we could travel together. If you want to.” She tried to adopt an air of nonchalance, but her heart pounded as Henry considered her request.
“It wouldn’t be very appropriate for us to travel alone…” her heart sank between her boots, but he kept talking, “...at least, in my time.”
Their eyes met, both seeking reassurance from the other. Julia smiled and her heart warmed in her chest as his lips pulled up to match. Whatever it was between them, he felt it too. She was sure of it.
“In 2087, no one would even blink at us traveling alone together.” Her food was forgotten in her hands as she waited for his answer.
“Well then… Julia,” Henry reached and took her fingers in his own, squeezing them gently. “I would be delighted to travel with you.”
“To the next six weeks,” she raised the thermos and took a long sip, then handed it over to her new hiking companion.
“May we find everything we are looking for.” His blue eyes dropped to her mouth before he drank to his cryptic toast.