The first time I saw Gwen, I thought I was looking into a mirror. At a prettier version of myself.
She didn’t wear the glasses that I usually wear for nearsightedness. Her hair was longer and curlier than mine. And she had cute freckles on her nose. I suppose I would have looked like her if I’d never written term papers on a computer or blow-dried my hair, and had spend my childhood riding horses and running around in the forest instead of going to school.
She was sitting at the table. When we came in, she rose and said, “I made soup and some sandwiches.” She looked at me as intently as I was looking at her.
“Gwen, this is Thea Graves,” said the Lady of the Lake. “Thea, Guinevere of Cameliard.”
Gwen looked at the Lady of the Lake and said, “Is it safe?”
“I don’t see any time ruptures, do you?” said the Lady of the Lake, smiling.
“All right then,” said Gwen, smiling back. She came forward and kissed me on both cheeks. “Welcome, Thea. This is like meeting my twin sister, in a way.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why do Gwen and I look so much alike? And why was everyone worried about a time rupture?” Although to be honest, even then I saw at least part of the truth. But what a strange truth it was.
“Because you’re me,” she said. She had a nicer smile than I did, I suppose because she was more used to smiling. She looked happier. Her voice was more interesting than mine, too, with an accent in it, one I’d never heard before. I was starting to get jealous. As soon as I had seen her, I had realized who she must be: that Gwen.
“Yes, that’s why we were worried,” said the Lady of the Lake. “You’re the same person, with the same soul, from two different times. But Emily thought it would be all right, here, in the Castle. And she was right.”
“Thank goodness,” said Hyacinth. “I was worried, you know. She seemed pretty sure, but still –”
“So, you’re me,” I said. Could I be jealous of myself from another time? It seemed like a contradiction, yet there it was. And she was dressed better than I was, too. She had on some sort of gauze shirt and a swingy brown skirt that swirled around when she moved. Even when she walked, she looked like she was dancing.
“Yes, she’s you,” said Morgan, coming through one of the doors. “Rather than repeating that again, can someone tell me what’s for lunch?” We were in a sort of hall, with hangings on the walls. It looked medieval, like almost everything else in the castle. There were iron candelabras, a round wooden table with chairs, a chest or two along the walls. Morgan looked exactly the same as the last time I’d seen her: long black hair, dark blue robe embroidered with stars. Like a younger version of Mother Night.
“I made cock-a-leekie soup and cheese sandwiches,” said Gwen. “Tell me what you think.”
We all sat down at the – suddenly I realized what it was. The hole in the center was a pretty good indication.
“This is the round table, isn’t it?” I said.
“It is,” said the Lady of the Lake. “Much smaller than it was at Arthur’s court, of course. It’s magical, as you might have expected. It grows to fit the company. We don’t need it to be large today, but it can fill a great hall.”
I was eating cock-a-leekie soup for the first time in my life on Arthur’s round table in the Castle in the Lake. I remembered when I had wished my life to be ordinary, and was very glad that at that moment it was anything but. The soup was good, and the cheese sandwich made me realize how hungry I had been. It was something sharp, like stilton, with chutney on it.
The Lady of the Lake and Morgan talked. Hyacinth joined in once in a while. They were talking about things I barely understood, places and times I’d never been, people I’d never met. Gwen and I sat across the table from each other, so we couldn’t carry on a conversation, but every once in a while I caught her looking at me as curiously as I was looking at her.
“All right, my dears,” said the Lady of the Lake when we were finished. “Morgan, Hyacinth, and I should discuss this situation. Gwen, why don’t you show Thea around the castle? As as long as you stay inside the castle itself, you shouldn’t explode.”
“Explode?” I said as Gwen rose and motioned for me to follow her.
“Yes, what did you think would cause a time rupture?” asked Morgan. “The two of you in the same place and time would cause an explosion in the timestream.”
“But we would explode,” I said.
“Yup,” said Gwen. “Come on, I’ll show you around and we’ll try not to. Explode, I mean.”
I looked at the Lady of the Lake, Morgan, and Hyacinth in earnest discussion around the round table, then followed Gwen from the room. I suppose the possibility of exploding is one of the prices I pay for not living an ordinary life.