The Queen's Belt

Vicky is an ordinary 16-year-old girl from Edinburg. Accidentally, she comes into possession of a stone, which leads her to a time portal. Vicky becomes involved in the search for a stolen ancient artifact. Not fully in control of her time travel ability, she takes a chance and travels to a prehistoric world. There she lives with a female Amazon tribe and learns horse riding and archery. But will she find the stolen relic and be able to come back home?

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2. Chapter 2: The Stone Speaks Again

~~The next day started in its usual manner with Vicky’s dad hidden behind the morning paper while Vicky and her mom were having breakfast. Then Vicky got dressed and went for a quick morning walk with Lumpy.
After the adventure with the “talking stone” Vicky had much on her mind. She was mystified about why she, an ordinary Scottish girl of sixteen, found the stone, what the woman from her vision meant by what she had said, and whether what she had said had anything to do with Vicky at all. She also remembered grandpa’s file and the drawings in it.
After the walk with Lumpy, Vicky took her things and got into mom’s car. She took out her phone to check the updates on Facebook, as she usually did.  As the car was driving in the direction of Vicky’s school, Vicky looked away from the phone’s screen once in a while, so as to register how close to the school they were. Mom had just stopped the car at an intersection waiting for the green light. In the middle of liking her friends’ picture updates, Vicky lifted her head and was about to look down at the screen again when on the corner of one of the streets she noticed a building with a sign “Cypress Café”. There was a high cypress tree painted on one of the walls of the building. She remembered that one of the things the woman in her vision had said was something about finding a cypress.
“It is worth a try,” thought Vicky determined to get a cup of tea there after school. “Funny, I haven’t noticed this café before.”       

***

Vicky liked school, liked learning new things and had never before had problems concentrating during the lessons. Yet today the school hours seemed like eternity. The only thing she could think of was whether the visit to Cypress Café would mean a continuation of her recent adventure.
Once in a while her friend Amanda poked her or whispered to her when Vicky in her daydream ignored the teachers’ questions. Fortunately for Vicky, her teachers did not make fuss about this strange behavior on the girl’s part: after all the girl could still be grieving her recent loss or could simply be coming down with something.
Yet Amanda knew her friend much better.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked during one of the breaks. “Oh, I know, it’s Edward, isn’t it?”
“No, no,” said Vicky and then regretted it: she should have agreed that it was Edward and should have made up some nonsense or other about being unhappy that he was ignoring her. It was just the excuse she needed in order to avoid Amanda asking any questions. Fortunately, Amanda liked to think that she was excellent at reading Vicky’s mind, so she insisted.
“Oh, go on convincing yourself that you are over him. Right, like I can’t see that you are not yourself today.”
Vicky decided to play along.
“Well, alright, you are right. But it’s also the whole riding thing. I am so bad at it. I am afraid of horses, and horses get nervous around me too. I don’t even understand why parents so insist on me going there. I have no potential. Everybody knows that. And worst of all, unless I improve soon, I will never have a chance with Edward: he only notices girls who are good at riding.”
“Oh, so that’s what he’s like,” Amanda concluded.
“No, I don’t mean it that way. I just think that the only reason why he is dating Elsie is because she is brilliant at riding. It is the only interest they have in common. Otherwise they are so different,” Vicky explained.
“I know,” confirmed Amanda.
She knew the story: Edward and Elsie were a couple. Vicky met them at her riding school and, to her misfortune, fell in love with Edward. Edward was handsome: a tall, dark-haired boy with blue eyes. He was fearless on a horse, yet considering all that he was, he treated others with dignity and respect. Elsie was a good-looking blond who handled horses perfectly, which could not be said about her treating people. She was often boastful about her own success yet she ignored the efforts and potential of other pupils at the school. Edward and Elsie looked gorgeous together, and Vicky had to admit that she had no chance of winning over the beautiful Elsie, no matter how unpleasant she might have been otherwise.  
“Maybe,” Amanda suggested, “all your problems are because of your low self-esteem. Look at yourself: there are still two days till your riding lesson yet you are already worrying about it.”
The last school bell rang. Vicky grabbed her already ready-packed backpack, quickly said bye to Amanda and ran out of the classroom. She grabbed her jacket and ran towards the main exit out of the school building. She almost collided with a teacher and a couple of fellow-pupils on her way out.
She ran all the way to the Cypress Café. She was glad to find out that it was a pleasant and clean place. Vicky chose one of the tables near a window, took off her jacket and sat down on a chair waiting for the waitress.
She started to study the café’s interior in hope to find answers to the questions about which she had been speculating since the previous day. From the looks of it, it was a very ordinary place where there was absolutely nothing unusual or suggesting the continuation of her earlier adventures: usual furniture for a café, a bar area with equipment for making coffee and tea, a display of quite decent cakes, baskets with fresh fruit and a whole wall decorated with liquor bottles. There were a couple of landscapes decorating the beige walls, but they did not bear resemblance to anything Vicky had seen in grandpa’s file.
“Worst of all,” thought Vicky feeling the stone in her pocket, “the stone is cold.”
The waitress approached Vicky’s table. She took Vicky’s order of tea and a chocolate cake and went quickly away.
“Maybe I am supposed to meet someone here”, it dawned on Vicky.
She carefully studied the few customers in the café. There was an elderly couple sipping their tea at a table nearby and a man reading a book at one of the tables behind her. Vicky knew he was reading a book because she noticed it when she came in. Now that she was seated, she could not quite turn around to look at him, but she noticed nothing unusual about the man at her arrival.
“Besides”, she thought, “even if I see someone intriguing, I can’t just get up, walk over to the person and start talking. What will I be saying?”
The waitress came with Vicky’s order, and Vicky decided to relax and let the events take their course.
“After all”, decided Vicky, “I didn’t make any real effort to find the stone. I didn’t even know it existed. I rather think that the stone found me.”
Vicky calmed down and was enjoying her cake, which tasted just as decent as it looked. She was halfway through the cake when she glanced outside through the window and froze in surprise: just across the street from the café she saw a huge picture of a horsewoman very alike the drawings from grandpa’s file. It was an advertisement board inviting to visit an exhibition of something the ad called “Women Warriors of Scythia: Amazon Myth Revisited”. The exhibition was supposed to be in National Museum of Scotland. Fortunately, it was on for several months yet. She knew where the museum was: grandpa and parents took Vicky there a couple of times.
Vicky looked at her watch: it was a quarter past three. She spent another couple of minutes with her phone, checking the museum’s website for opening hours. She found out that the museum would be open at least until 5 p.m., that the admission was free and that the exhibition was arranged in a gallery on the third floor.
“Great, I just need to drop by home, walk Lumpy,” she thought, “oh, and call mom and tell her that I am caught up with the school project at Amanda’s.”
As Vicky could not see the waitress from where she was sitting, she decided that she will probably find her at the bar where, more unobserved, she would be hiding from the attention of the customers. Vicky paid at the bar and hurried out of the café.
In about half an hour Vicky was already on the bus going in the direction of Chambers Street. On arrival at the museum, Vicky went straight for the Entrance Hall. She dropped her backpack in the cloakroom and went towards the information desk. The woman at the information desk directed Vicky to the elevators which would get her to the level 3 where the exhibition was arranged.
As the elevator was moving upwards, Vicky felt warmth increasing in the pocket where she kept the stone. The stone’s temperature was evidently reacting to something in the direction in which Vicky was moving. Few minutes later, Vicky entered the exhibition hall.
The exhibition was arranged in an unconventional way, with the digital touch screens for detailed text descriptions arranged in between areas with the displays of artifacts. The gallery was lit only by the light from these digital screens as well as the brightly lit displays with objects. As soon as the visitor entered the gallery, a touch screen offered various descriptions of the exhibits in terms of their practical usage, the information on the geographical location where they were found and the historical periods they covered.
Vicky pressed different options offered by the screen learning that the exhibits she was going to see were found in the graves of the warriors, or so-called mounds,  on the territory of what in ancient times was known as Scythia and corresponded to the territories of modern Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia and such like. The exhibits covered the period from 600 to 300 BC, and consisted of articles of clothing, jewellery, arms, horse bridles and so forth. The description finally claimed that these artifacts suggested that what earlier was considered a myth about women warriors, the so-called Amazons, proved to be true after all as the warrior attire and other objects on display were buried and then found together with skeletons of females. 
Much of what Vicky read was not new to her as she learned most of this when she saw her grandfather’s file. It was nice nevertheless to connect what she saw in the file with some idea of time and space. What still remained a mystery to Vicky was why grandpa was gathering the information about some women who between 600 and 300 BC or thereabouts, lived somewhere in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Vicky decided to move on towards the interesting part: the very exhibits which she came here for. She recognized some of the objects from the drawings in grandpa’s file: the pieces of clothing with ornamental fringes, peculiar pieces of horse bridles and decorations for the horses, altar stones and many more. 
Vicky was slowly moving from display to display in the direction, which the designers of the exhibition suggested by means of the arrow signs on the walls, in order for any guest to get the most out of their visit. As Vicky was moving, she noticed that the stone in her pocket was gradually becoming warmer and warmer. It was as if the stone was playing the hot-and-cold game with her: whenever she was getting closer to something of importance or whenever it had something to “say”, the stone seemed to become warmer, just as it did in grandpa’s study.
Vicky was approaching a circular arrangement of tall displays with jewellery. In particular, Vicky caught sight of what seemed a large round piece, which could be a pendant. She proceeded in that direction, while the stone in her pocket was still getting warmer. Just as she approached the displays with the jewellery, in between of two displays, Vicky noticed a door.
Due to the subdued lighting and because it was hidden from sight by the high displays on each side, the door was almost invisible. It seemed as if there was some sort of happening going on behind it: the door was unlocked and slightly open, just enough to hear strange noises and seeing some movement inside. As the stone was confirming that Vicky was moving in the right direction, she decided that there must be something relevant going on behind the door. From the sounds she was hearing she concluded that there was a kind of an event arranged by the museum which was supposed to give the visitors a slight taste of the epoch which the exhibition was about. Vicky thought of those museums which at times hire actors to wear clothes appropriate for, say, the Tudor period. The actors would then speak Elizabethan to give the visitors a taste of what it had been like back then. 
Vicky noticed that besides herself nobody seemed to be interested in the door. There had been an old couple who ignored it, and then there was a girl of about ten going right past the door, followed by her parents, none of them showing the slightest interest in the sounds coming from inside. When Vicky stood right before the door, the stone in her pocket was almost unbearably hot. Vicky saw that the door had no handle, yet it opened before her as if by itself. Vicky decided that it must have been one of the visitors standing inside and watching the performance of the actors who noticed her intention to enter and opened the door for her. When she went through the door however, she did not see any museum visitors. There were only the actresses dressed in the manner which she had seen in grandpa’s file or just a moment ago on the exhibition stands.
What the actresses seemed to convey by their performance was a kind of a ritual or perhaps a worship of some deity whom these Scythian women could have worshiped in their time. Vicky approached a semicircle of some twelve women dressed as warriors who had their eyes closed as if they were praying. There were two women in the center facing each other while kneeling in front of an altar stone, very alike one which Vicky had just seen amongst the objects on display.
One of the women in the center was older than the rest. Her clothes were also different from the others in the semicircle: she wore some longer and more ornamentally adorned clothes. Due to its length her dress was obviously not suitable for war activities but must have had some ritual significance instead. A large round amulet was hanging off her neck.  From where Vicky was standing it was impossible to see any details on this accessory, but the amulet was the woman’s prominent adornment. It was made of a yellow metal which looked like gold and was almost glowing as it reflected the light. Some large bird feathers were braided into the woman’s gorgeous long red hair.
Although the older woman also wore a belt with a scabbard for a short sword or a dagger attached to it, her weapon seemed to play only a ritual role in the performance as it was placed on the altar stone. From what Vicky had just learned from the exhibition, this actress was probably playing a spiritual leader or the so-called Shamaness of the supposed Amazon tribe.
The other actress sitting in front of the altar stone had her face so low down that one could barely see it. She wore more jewellery than the women in the semicircle. On the sides of her head, covering the temples, she had an adornment of golden and colored beads, hanging down to her shoulders. Vicky thought that she probably had the part of a leader of some kind, or perhaps their queen.
The actress playing the Shamaness was mumbling something while the rest of the actresses kept quiet.  Then she started to say things louder. Once again Vicky heard a language, which she did not recognize, yet just like it had been in grandpa’s study, the meaning of the words emerged in Vicky’s mind.
“The oracle is near”, said the actress. Then she stood up, opened her eyes and turning her head in Vicky’s direction uttered: “She is … ” in this moment the woman looked directly at Vicky and raising her hand pointed at Vicky and said: “here.”
The first thing Vicky’s brain registered at this moment was her unwillingness to be a part of the performance. Vicky disliked the illusionists or other entertainers who would engage their audience in their performances, especially when this happened not on a voluntary basis.
The rest of the women in the semicircle opened their eyes and turned to look at Vicky. So did the woman opposite the Shamaness. As she lifted her head, Vicky recognized her to be the same woman to whom Vicky had talked yesterday through the stone in grandpa’s study.
A second later Vicky realized that so far this performance had seemed slightly too authentic. Only now it occurred to her to look down and see that she was standing on the actual earth and that behind the semicircle of women there were no walls but an open horizon. She saw that the light reflected from the Shamaness’s amulet was the light from the setting sun. Most of all she was struck by the mixture of smells: these were no smells of a museum; nor were they the smells of theatre costumes and decorations. They were smells of the wild, of human sweat, of ceremonial herbs mixed with the smell of dust disturbed in the wind. They were new, strange and unsettling smells.
All these observations and sensations filled Vicky with terror as she realized that this was no performance: Vicky with her own two feet was standing on the earth of somewhere between 600 and 300 BC. The stone was burning in her pocket.
Terrified, Vicky took a step back and with a relief felt the hard museum floor under her foot. She quickly moved her other foot back as well and found herself back within the museum walls, at the very spot where she had been standing just before she entered the door. She turned her head from side to side to see whether other visitors of the exhibition or members of the staff were staring at her. Fortunately, nobody seemed to have noticed anything.
Still in shock, Vicky decided to go home right away. She went out of the exhibition hall, went back to the cloakroom to get her backpack and jacket and was soon on her way to the bus stop.
Vicky came home in time for dinner. She felt unusually happy to see her mom cooking in the kitchen. Somehow Vicky felt as if she had been away from home for a month or so. She decided not to scare mom with an outburst of sudden emotions and tried to act as normal as possible.
Lumpy jumped all over Vicky, as he usually did whenever she came home from school, but on this occasion the dog was intensely sniffing Vicky in between the jumps of joy. It was obvious that Lumpy knew much more about her adventures than anybody else. His innocent dog curiosity could nevertheless give Vicky away. Yesterday she noticed that Lumpy was particularly interested in sniffing the pocket where she kept the talking stone. Today he also did a slight whining noise whenever he pressed his nose against the pocket.
“Down, boy, down”, said Vicky softly so that mom would not hear it or notice anything unusual.
Fortunately, mom was busy preparing dinner and did not seem to notice Lumpy’s behavior. She only said:
“Why, somebody is happy to see you! How is the science project going, dear?”
Vicky mumbled the usual answer a parent would have wanted to hear and followed by Lumpy went upstairs to her room till the dinner was ready. She decided not to think about what had happened today.
“At least not until I’ve eaten”, she thought.
After the dinner Vicky finally allowed herself to reflect on what had happened. She desperately needed some logical explanation to the fantastic events which she had been led to by the talking stone. The stone offered Vicky physical experiences and produced supernatural effects which she was neither able to understand nor explain. 
She hurried to turn on her computer and went online. She decided to google what she had experienced, and it was nothing less than time travel. She printed the words into the search machine and waited for the search results to appear. The results lead her to physicists’ definitions of time, views on the possibility of time travel, discussions of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, even quantum physics was mentioned.  As a school girl with physics as a part of the curriculum, she heard of course about the relativity theory and some of Einstein’s thoughts on time, which Mr. Greenway, her physics teacher, quoted from time to time. None of this, however, helped her explain what had happened with her at the museum.
Sitting at her table, Vicky suddenly straightened up and looked pensive as if trying to remember something. Then she stood up, stirring Lumpy, who felt obliged to lift his head to check whether there would be any requests from his owner. A couple of seconds later Lumpy put his head back down onto his front paws realizing that Vicky was planning on just standing there.
“I remember reading it somewhere…” Vicky said to herself, “but where was it? Maybe…” She moved towards her bookshelf where she found a shabby edition of Ray Cummings’s “The Girl in the Golden Atom.” It was one of the books which grandpa had lent her ages ago. Vicky opened the book around its middle and skimmed the page.
“No, that’s too far…” she said turning the pages again.
Vicky skimmed and turned the pages several times until she triumphantly exclaimed:
“Here! “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once”!”
She stood quietly reflecting on what she had just read.
“Now this, on the other hand, makes perfect sense,” she finally said looking at Lumpy who played along by lifting his head and faithfully pretending to be interested every time Vicky said something out loud.
Vicky went back to her computer and continued her search. Amongst the incomprehensible attempts of explaining time in terms of physics, Vicky succeeded in finding a couple of websites and YouTube videos which made at least some sense to a sixteen-year-old girl. Vicky understood them to be some new interpretations and elaborations on Einstein’s theory of relativity. These theories confirmed that time travel indeed was possible, yet only into the future. At the same time they all rejected the idea of time travel into the past.
“No, these are of no use”, concluded Vicky.
Despite what physics seemed to claim about time, Vicky’s own experiences suggested that time was not linear but was somehow organized into parallel realities happening or existing simultaneously. With this assumption in mind, Vicky was ready to form her own theory.
“Listen to this,” she said enthusiastically to Lumpy, who by now had fallen asleep. “Time travel,” she claimed, “is only possible into the future unless a person is in possession of an object able to lead her to a location in space (or a physical spot) where the parallel layers of time overlap, thereby making it possible to walk in and out of these parallel time layers. Under such circumstances time travel into the past is also possible. And I have just the object, Lumpy,” said Vicky in a conspiratorial voice.
The dog did not wake up on hearing Vicky’s excited speech, and Vicky was so absorbed by her own discovery that she did not notice that Lumpy was not listening anymore.
“Or perhaps,” she continued walking back and forth like a Greek philosopher, “time is like strings of pearls – pearls being the individual events – and whenever these strings cross each other and the pearls overlap, a portal connecting two separate historical times opens up”.
Once Vicky had established that the logical explanation was possible, she was ready for the next step: now she could decide what she wanted to do.
“There must be a reason why I found the talking stone and why it “insists” on leading me to these women,” thought Vicky, “I only wish I knew what this reason was.”

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