I found the ring in the grass by the jogging path, in that overgrown area under the old railroad bridge. I have no idea how long it had lain there, waiting for just the right angle of sun to hit it at just the right moment and for just the right person to be passing by. When that moment came I happened to glance down and it was there, plain as day.
It wasn’t much to look at really, just a simple gold band with a pattern of bubbles around it. I figured I could sell it, maybe make a few bucks, which would come in handy just now. So I put it in my pocket and continued my run.
When I got home I took it out and examined it. It looked like a carefully-kept antique, a bit worn shiny and almost glowing. Under a magnifying glass it was even more detailed, each little gold bubble surrounded by even smaller bubbles as small as I could see. As I turned it in my fingers it was almost as though bubbles were forming and disappearing all the time, even though I never actually saw it change.
I couldn’t resist slipping it on to see how it looked. The ring seemed a bit large for the middle finger of my right hand, but when I slipped it on it fit perfectly. I was admiring it when everything went black.
* * *
I awoke to the smell of animals old leather; my head felt like I’d been clocked with a wrench and there was a knot in my back that all the chiropractors in the world couldn’t untie. When I tried to move my I realized I was bound hand and foot by some kind of straps.
I took stock of my surroundings: I was lying on a pile of animal skins inside a round-topped tent made of stitched-together animal hides on a rough wooden frame. The floor, where I could see it, was composed of sandy ground with bits of grass sticking up.
The tent-flap opened and a girl looked in. She was about twenty and vaguely oriental looking with tanned skin, dark eyes and rough uncombed black hair. She was wearing a tunic of animal hides with a fur fringe across her chest, just like they did in all those movies about primitive tribes.
She looked into my eyes for a moment, then ducked back out. A voice from near the tent, presumably hers, shouted “Mother! He’s awake!”
The tent flap opened again and two beefy-looking oriental women came in. They were dressed much like the first, but their bare arms were covered in fine scars and there were swords strapped to their backs. They each grabbed a shoulder and half-carried half-dragged me into the sunlight.
It was some kind of camp formed of round tents like the one I’d been in, but various sizes. There were horses everywhere and I could hear dogs barking somewhere out of sight. There were plenty of people as well, most going about various tasks but one group sitting by a campfire drinking from a leather bag that they were passing around and laughing.
And they were all women.
As I was puzzling that out the ground struck me in the face. I was unceremoniously hauled to my knees in front of a middle-aged oriental woman. She was dressed and disheveled like everyone else except she had a leather helmet-slash-cap on her head.
“Well, Man, why are you here?”
“I don’t know. I woke up here.”
She stepped up and kicked me, most of the brunt being taken between my legs.
“No stupid games! Why are you on Mongol land?”
“Mongol land? What are you talking about? Where the hell is this?”
“Are you stupid? You are in the lands of Vashir Khatun, where your kind are not welcome.”
“Corn-hairs. Your peoples’ lies and tricks are known through all the Nine Kingdoms. Be grateful the Khatun has demanded your kind be delivered to her intact or I would carve out your tongue.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?”
“No. Yesukai, bind his mouth and take him to the capital.”
The woman who had first checked put a thick leather strap in my mouth and tied it tightly behind my head, making an effective gag. It tasted a lot like horse and a little like shit. Then I was hoisted face-down over the saddle of a horse, which the woman then climbed up on. In moments we were riding, the horse’s saddle horn repeatedly punching me in the stomach.
A short time later I felt her hand tugging at the back of my neck. The gag came out of my mouth.
“Okay Buster, where are you from? Give me the city, state, and planet. Tell the truth and I just might be able to get you home in one piece. Bonus points if you can tell me who or what gave you the ring.”