Naked and sliding in snow head first was not what Max had envisioned when he’d signed up for being an intern. The fluffy snow wasn’t too abrasive, but he was soon becoming numb. He scanned the dusky horizon and where he was heading. He aimed his descent towards a structure farther down the rock-studded slope he was on. By the time his head-long descent had curved around and begun to aim him at it, he could see that it was a stone fortress of some kind. The tall crenelations along the walls held funny drifts of snow like gnomes with white hats. The inner keep, however, had steeply pitched roof lines that held no white on their green copper plates or even their fat dormers that peeked out randomly from the roof at all heights. A few towers set in a circular pattern around its perimeter suggested a curving courtyard and an inner wall. A hundred meters from the castle, Max found himself in a valley of sorts that seemed like it was about to curve away into an even steeper descent. Max rolled to stay on the more level ground towards the castle. He slowed down enough to imagine he might stop.
Then he dropped over an edge. His sight of the castle tumbled around him. A fat snow drift caught him, but also buried him alive. As soon as he could stand up, another pile of snow his descent has loosened caught up with him and reburied him. This time he went horizontal to escape the pile. He found himself in the weird empty spot between the rocky cliff he’d fallen from and the drift he’d fallen into. He circled the drift and caught sight of the drawbridge being shoveled off.
“Put your backs into it, Men!”
“Aye, Aye, Captain!”
The cone-helmeted captain swaggered around a bit in his padded leather, but then turned back to the two men in his command. “We want to have this bridge up by night fall! Keep at it.”
Max sure hoped he would be pulled from this time stream before any hypothermia set in, but he was pretty sure Dr. Floyd had picked a cold location to reward him for what had happened to Felix. It was not too likely it would be a short stay. Max rubbed his hands to warm them while he scanned for options. The soldiers shoveling were finishing with the side he was on. Max watched them with hopes they would turn their backs on him and let him streak past. His hopes were a long time in coming. His feet were leaden with a frozen numbness by the time they did. He waited another few minutes for their captain to follow suit. The moment he shifted and turned away, Max was in motion. His steps away from the rock proved treacherous. He immediately was up past his waist in the snow. He slogged on in a half crouch, trying to move the snow with his hands instead of with the rest of his body. Just as he got within a stone’s throw of the men, the captain shifted and turned his way. Max dove into the snow.
A voice spoke out, “Captain, we a five minute break.”
“Don’t just stand around! Keep your backs in it. You’ve got over half of this cleared.”
Max could hear a shovel resume its Latin beat clash with the other one’s steady rhythmic push. When the captain moved away from him, Max scooted fast on numb bare feet. He stayed on the balls of his feet across the bridge, glad for the freshly cleared path. Just inside the gate, an empty chamber with a fire for the guards tempted him. He could see a ladder built into the wall. He took the tempting offer. When he finally heard the shoveling stop and foot thumps coming his way, his feet had been standing on nice warm fireplace bricks. He made short work of the ladder and found himself in a dark upper room full of uniforms. The fat floor beams promised quiet squeak-free treading around above their heads. The expected voices took up the room below him. The scrape of chairs on stone and the creak of them taking on weight promised a long wait until things would change. A clanking of chains sounded in the upper parts of the wall.
“Good work, Alfred. Tim, not too shabby, but maybe do without the need for so many breaks. Be glad you lot are excused from the winch crew today.”
“My cousin did that work for a few years at a trade castle. He kind of liked all the off time.”
A thinner soft voice spoke up, “This isn’t a trade castle.”
The scramble of boots and scrape of chairs pricked Max’s curiosity. What that voice one he recognized?
“Begging your pardon, milady! We had no idea you would be gracing us with your company.”
Max peered over the edge. The men with metal helmets had them off and were bowing deeply to a broad brimmed hat that held a long purplish feather pointing up at him.
“Relax boys. I’m almost the one who should be apologizing to you. If it weren’t for my improprieties of late, none of us would be secreted away in this remote outpost.”
Max smiled in recognition of the voice.