Chapter Twenty

science fiction, time travel, science fiction serialRoger growled and paced as the older woman next to him glared sourly at the screen in front of them.

“I told you that wasn’t a switch on,” she said. “Look at that arc there and how it sputters.”

“I never said I disagreed with you, Cricklan,” Roger replied testily.

Since there had been no way of knowing who had operated the timetron when it had apparently failed, Roger had insisted on going to London in the hope that he or some other time traveler would be the one abandoned. But Master Robin had insisted on leaving, he’d been told, and there was no question now that she’d used the machine last, presumably with Dean and Elizabeth in tow.

“I should have searched the candlemaker’s more thoroughly,” he grumbled.

“Roger, you know the folly of second-guessing yourself,” Cricklan said, her eyes never leaving the screen.

He flopped down on a chair next to her. “You’re right. Any chance of making out where and when they landed?”

Cricklan shook her head. “Possibly, but it all depends on how the coordinates were entered. And that’s assuming your Robin Parker was headed for her natal time. But there’s not enough of a power pull here for them to have gotten very far at all.”

Cricklan circled a point on the tip of the arc and enlarged the image. She was a woman of predominantly African descent, with still-smooth skin framed by coarse gray hair that had gone to dreadlocks, which balanced out the ball her body had become.

“She was headed for home,” Roger continued. “She left all her money with Master Chandler. Even if she were headed for another time, she would have kept some of the gold angels, at least. Those could be melted down. She was headed someplace where she knew she had money already, and where else would that be but home?”

“And what about Elizabeth?” Cricklan asked.

Roger shrugged. “I don’t know. We didn’t get that far. I had to track down Donald before he turned in the whole Catholic community.” Roger glanced at Cricklan. “I’m sorry about that.”

Cricklan imposed a vertical grid on the image. “You needn’t worry about my feelings. I’ve done my grieving where Donald is concerned.”

Roger shook his head. He still wasn’t sure what had caused the estrangement between Donald and Cricklan, but Cricklan had never been one to dwell on past mistakes.

“I find it interesting, however, that after all the work you did on the bring forward experiment, you are more focused on this Ms. Parker than you are on Elizabeth,” Cricklan observed.

Roger began pacing again, this time, he hoped, with a careless air. “Not really. I mean, I’ve only spent a couple hours total with the woman.”

“You did a DNA analysis on her.”

Roger laughed. “I know. I’ve got a good feeling about her. Not that I don’t like Elizabeth, and I’m certainly committed to her, if it comes to that.” He sighed. “We’ve just got to find them, first.”

Cricklan nodded. “I may have. Look here.” She enlarged another image again. “It’s right on the path of the earlier log line and the marker is right.”

“And hardly any power pull at all. No wonder we missed it.” Roger did a quick calculation. “And, shit. This is the first stop on Donald’s timetron’s log line after he went to the U.S.”

Cricklan nodded. “I had a feeling he had hooked into this station, and now I’ve got the proof.”

“You’ll have to bring this to the Board.”

“It’s about time I did, don’t you think?” Cricklan put her hand on Roger’s arm. “Why don’t you stay focused on getting Ms. Parker back to where she belongs? I’ll deal with Donald. I am his mother and he does sometimes listen to me.”

“Yes, well, it would appear I’ve got a little research to do.”

 

Robin had forgotten about the crushing, sucked in feeling as the machine worked.  She gasped as they landed. Catching her breath, she looked around. Something was very wrong.

“This isn’t Irvine,” Dean said nervously.

It wasn’t. They were in a wooded area overlooking a highway very similar to the one they had left. Robin looked down. A small stream of black smoke dissipated into the breeze and a small black splotch on the side of the machine revealed the smoke’s origin.

“Something is very wrong here,” Robin said.

“Where are we?” asked Dean, getting a little frantic.

“I’d say pretty much where we were,” Robin answered. “Probably a different time, though.”

“The right one?” Dean looked hopeful.

“Not likely, judging from that highway.”

As if to confirm it, they heard a soft rumbling. As it got closer, a soft jangling sound could be heard as well.

“There,” said Elizabeth. She pointed.

A small black coach, drawn by two brown horses, approached from where London would be if Robin were right. The man driving it was wearing knee-high boots, close-fitting knee pants, a long black coat with a wide tan lapel that ran the length of the front and very wide tan cuffs.

“A tri-cornered hat!” Robin groaned.

“Isn’t that from the American Revolution?” Dean asked.

“More or less.” Robin sighed. “We’re in the eighteenth century, at any rate.”

“I don’t quite understand,” said Elizabeth.

“We’ve only gone ahead about a hundred years,” Robin answered. “How far ahead, I don’t know. We’d better do something about our clothes. If we rag them up, we should be okay, except for you, Elizabeth. Your dress is far too big and loose. Waists are supposed to be tiny now.”

“Oh, no,” Elizabeth sighed. She glanced at Dean.

Robin didn’t notice. She looked around. The sky was a bright blue, with huge white clouds floating across. The patches of snow they had left back in the seventeenth century were replaced by wild flowers. A wet loamy smell filled her nostrils.

“Spring,” she muttered. She removed her doublet and tore up her pants.

“What did you say?” Dean asked, as he did the same to his clothes.

“It’s spring.” Robin repeated. “When we left it was winter.”

“Say, that’s right.” Dean pondered it a moment, then considered a far weightier matter. “Robin, if this is the eighteenth century, and we were trying to go home, does this mean we’re stuck?”

Robin caught her breath. “I don’t know. I was thinking that Roger had tracked us down by tracing us through the machine, but it wasn’t turned on in London, so when he found us there, I figured he has some other way to trace us. If that’s the case, then…”

“Uh, Robin.” Dean’s face had a seriously pained look on it. “The machine was turned on in London. I turned it on the day after Twelfth Day.”

“And Roger showed up two days later,” said Robin. She turned on Dean. “What the hell were you doing?”

“I don’t know!” Dean backed away, not sure what to say, but sure that he did not want to tell Robin about Elizabeth being pregnant at that moment in time. “I wanted to go home. I just did.”

“Fat lot of good that’s going to do us now,” Robin sighed. She took a deep breath. “All right. Maybe there’s something I can fix. Let’s try to stay positive and in the meantime, let’s get ourselves situated. Here, Elizabeth, take your apron and tie it as tight as you can above your bodice. That should make it look like it has more of a waist. Are we ready? Good. Let’s head down that road. Maybe we’ll find an inn that needs some help.”

They spent most of the day walking alongside the highway instead of on it. The road was thick, oozing mud, with deep ruts and numerous rocks. Coaches were not infrequent either, and the first one they encountered nearly ran them over.

Close to two o’clock in the afternoon they approached the end of a section hemmed in by trees. On the other side of the thicket, they heard shouts. Robin led the way cautiously, stopping at the edge of the trees to see what was going on.

A coach that had passed them barely minutes before was stopped on the road by two men with scarves on their faces. One dismounted from his horse, while the other, still on his, held a pistol on the driver of the coach.

“Looks like a hold up,” whispered Dean.

“No kidding,” Robin whispered back.

“We’d better hide,” Elizabeth hissed.

“Maybe not.” Robin grinned. “I don’t like the idea of bounty hunting, but we’re broke, and I’ll bet there’s a reward for those two.”

“Have you lost it?” Dean looked at her, aghast.

“Not really. Think about it, Dean. We’re easily as big as they are, and they don’t know we’re here.”

“But they’ve got guns!”

“They’ve got two shots. If we catch them from behind, they’ll never know what hit them.”

Dean looked at the men. A slightly rotund gentleman emerged from the coach, and a younger man who looked like a clerk.

“I’ll take the one on the horse,” he said and took off running.

“That’s not quite what I had in mind,” Robin grumbled as she took off herself.

Dean vaulted onto the back of the horse. The animal staggered. Dean got his forearm around the robber’s throat and reached for the pistol with his free hand. The man twisted, and the two fell to the ground and rolled.

Robin slammed into the other robber and tackled him. His pistol went flying. They rolled for a moment, then the man got on top. He raised his fist. Robin dodged and threw him off. They scrambled to their feet. The man whipped out his sword. Robin danced backwards and drew hers. The man’s blade was at least an inch wide. Robin’s wasn’t. She pressed the attack anyway. It startled her opponent. He dropped back and barely deflected her charge. Robin came in again, slashing fiercely. She overshot the man, as she’d intended, and brought her hilt crashing down onto the back of his neck. The man looked dazed for a second, then fell forward. Robin pounced on him and twisted his arm behind his back.

Dean and his opponent rolled in the mud. Both of Dean’s hands locked on the wrist with the gun. Dean squeezed and tried to stay on top of the smaller man. One vicious turn, and the pistol dropped. Dean scrambled after it. He grabbed it and turned to face his opponent’s knife. The man froze. Dean cocked the flintlock.

He chuckled. “Go ahead. Make my day!”

“Dean!” Robin groaned. She strong-armed her man to his feet, and looked around for something with which to bind him. “Couldn’t you be a little more original?”

Dean slowly got to his feet. “Okay, nice and easy now, drop the knife.”

The man did. Elizabeth emerged from the trees.

“We’ll need some rope.” she observed. She turned to the rotund gentleman. “Have you any, sir?”

“Piggot!” he called to the coachman.

“Yes, sir?”

“Fetch the young woman some rope.”

“Yes, sir.” Piggot reached behind him, then scrambled down from his post.

Robin and Elizabeth bound the two felons and sat them down next to the coach.

“Let’s see what we have here,” said Robin, as she searched them. “What’s this? A bag of silver? And here’s another. Are these yours, sir?”

“N-no.” The gentleman shook his head. “I was just about to hand it over.”

“Then I’ll take custody of these.” Smiling, Robin tied the sacks to her belt. “I’m not adverse to adding a little silver to my collection. Speaking of, I assume there’s a price on these fellows’ heads. Do you know how far it is to the nearest town where we can collect it?”

“Well, uh, yes, I —  Anthony?” Still in shock, the gentleman looked at the clerk.

“I don’t know, uncle.” the young man replied. “I rarely travel this road.”

“Robin, why don’t we just tie them up in the trees?” Dean suggested. “We’ve got money now.”

Robin nodded. “It’ll be easier than a forced march. All right.” She turned to the gentleman. “Well, good day to you, sir. Hope you don’t get robbed again.”

“But…” the man sputtered. “You’re not going to rob us?”

“Rob you?” Robin looked at him, confused, then laughed. “Not us. We’re honest folk. I know we look pretty grubby right now.” An idea began to form. “Unfortunately, we met with similar fellows earlier today. We were lucky we escaped with our weapons and our skins.”

“Indeed, yes.” The gentleman mopped his brow with a huge lace trimmed handkerchief. “Well, I owe you a great deal of thanks. To whom do I have the pleasure..?”

“Robin Parker, sir.” Robin nodded her head. “And this is my brother, Dean.”

“And the young woman?”

“I am Master Dean’s wife,” Elizabeth answered.

Robin started, as did Dean.

“Ah. Very good.” The gentleman wiped his brow again. “I am Sir James Culpepper, and this is my nephew and clerk, Anthony Morgan. And, eh, what brings you people out here?”

“We’re looking for a situation,” Robin answered. “We used to be innkeepers in the city, but fell on hard times.”

“Hm.” Sir James ran an appraising eye over Dean. “I shouldn’t think you would, but by any chance do you have your letters?”

“Letters?” asked Dean.

Robin nudged his ankle. “Yes, sir. We can read quite well. Our pastor taught us.”

“Indeed.” Sir James smiled. “And can you write?”

“Sure,” said Dean before Robin could nudge him again.

“Uncle, if I may be so bold,” Morgan began. “My aunt, your wife, did request that you not…”

“You may not be so bold, Anthony. I will bring whomever I please into my household. I brought you into my household. Come, you three. We’ll talk and see what you can do.”

Robin glanced at Dean, who shrugged. Elizabeth nodded.

“Well, thank you, sir.” Robin smiled. “We’ll do our best for you.”

Dean sat with Piggot on the box, as there wasn’t enough room inside the coach. There, Sir James looked Robin over more closely.

“An innkeeper, eh?” he said.

“At my father’s inn, sir.”

Sir James nodded. “Debtor’s prison, I assume.”

Robin nodded. “He made some poor speculations, I’m afraid. He died soon after.”

“I dare say. Poor speculations. Must have been dealing in trade from the colonies. Bad mistake, with all the trouble there now. At least they’ve stopped dumping tea in the harbor. Not that I think firing on the King’s Army is any better a thing to do mind you.”

Robin coughed back a laugh. “I, uh, heard something about that. When did it happen?”

“Let’s see. This is April. Was just about a year ago, then.”

“1776.” Robin muttered.

“No. Seventy-five it happened. This is seventy-six.” Sir James punctuated the thought with a walking stick he’d left in the coach and picked up as soon as they were under way.

“Oh. Right.”

“It’s a damned nuisance, is what it is. That Mr. Pitt has been nothing but a bloody old fool, hasn’t handled it at all well. The King’s more a fool for listening to him. I’m just glad I never got involved in that mess. The Orient. That’s where I do my business. India. Most profitable. I’ve done very well for myself, as you can see. I’ve got a small estate in Devonshire, a house in Town, and…” He shifted. “A house in Bath. That’s where I’m headed, at the moment. My wife and daughter are there, taking the waters. My wife has the gout. I’ve also got a son who’s an officer in the army. It was no small thing to buy him that commission. As a matter of fact, he’s stationed in the colonies, Philadelphia.”

Robin tried not to grin. “How interesting.”

“Oh, you know of Philadelphia.”

“I’ve… heard of it.”

Sir James lifted an eyebrow. “You seem very knowledgeable. Can you add at all?”

“Quite well. Except for his speculations, I kept all of my father’s accounts.”

“Indeed.” Sir James raised both his eyebrows. “What about your brother?”

“He’s good at adding, too.” Robin nodded vigorously.

“Indeed.”

They stopped in a small village just as darkness fell, and Sir James insisted on paying for a meal and a room for the three. After they had eaten and were about to settle in for the night, Elizabeth left to fetch some water. As soon as they were alone, Robin looked at Dean.

“Dean, do you know why Elizabeth suddenly wants to appear as your wife?”

Dean swallowed. “Well, I can guess.”

“You two have been fooling around, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. So?” Dean answered defensively.

“Why, Dean?” Robin groaned. “We came here to leave her. Is it really fair to start a relationship like that?”

“Well, we’re not going to leave her anyway, so what’s the big deal?”

Robin paused. She knew Dean had a point, but was so angry about everything else that she needed a target.

“That’s not the point,” she snarled, finally. “Didn’t you even think about Elizabeth’s feelings?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I thought a lot about them. Face it, Robin, Elizabeth and I both knew we couldn’t stay.”

“But, Dean, she doesn’t belong in the twentieth century!”

“She sure as hell didn’t belong where we were, any more than we did.”

“Okay. But what if she gets pregnant?”

“That. Well, um…” Dean smiled weakly.

Robin closed her eyes and turned away. “She isn’t.”

“Well, Robin…”

She turned on him. “You idiot! Why didn’t you think of that beforehand? Good lord, Dean, you know about birth control. Why didn’t you protect yourself?”

“I did!” Dean’s face was seriously pained. “We just forgot once. I swear it was only the one time.”

“Well, that was one time too many, wasn’t it? What are you going to do with a baby? How are you going to support it?”

“Isn’t this Culpepper guy going to give us a job?”

“But what if we’d made it to the twentieth century?”

Dean shrugged. “I figured we’d get an abortion.”

“It’s so easy to say that, isn’t it? But what about Elizabeth? It’s her baby, too. I swear, Dean, you are so irresponsible, you make me sick sometimes!”

“Irresponsible, huh?” Dean’s voice dripped with anger. “Well, fuck you. I’ve had it, Robin. Little goody two-shoes Robin taking care of baby brother. I’m not a baby. You want responsibility? Fine. We’re gonna keep that baby, and I’m going to support it, and Elizabeth, even if we do get home. I don’t know how, but I will.”

They froze as Elizabeth entered the room.

“Oh, dear,” she whispered.

Dean glared at Robin then turned. “Elizabeth, you and I are getting married just the minute we get home, do you understand?”

“Married?” she gasped, rejoicing and terrified all at the same time.

“Yeah.” Dean kissed her roughly, then strode out of the room.

Robin turned away and sighed.

“You know,” said Elizabeth.

“How far along are you?” Robin asked softly.

“A month or so.”

Robin swore. “I guess the first thing to do is to make sure you’re taken care of.”

“I’m not ill. Well, a little in the mornings.”

“But you have to eat the right things, get the right kind of exercise. Damn. You can’t trust the doctors here.”

“A doctor?” Elizabeth had to smile. “I’m only pregnant.”

Robin snorted. “Right.”

“It’s not entirely his fault, you know.”

Robin nodded. “True. Are you happy with him?”

“Very. I don’t understand why, but love seems to be very important in these matters to you and Dean. I do love him, and he loves me. He’s said so many times.”

“That seems a surprise, though I don’t know that it should be.” Robin sighed. “That overgrown lunkhead. I don’t know why he has all the luck. You’d better get some rest.”

“So had you.”

Robin nodded. “I hope he gets back soon.”

“He will be.”

Tired and miserable, Robin went to bed. The situation was unbearably grim. She hadn’t let on to Dean and Elizabeth, but she doubted that they’d ever get home.

Bonding Through Sewing

sewing, clothesmaking, sewing classes.

All the sewing stuff I’m working on

When Paul and Michelle each tried on their new pair of shorts, I was stoked and then some. You see, they’re my first sewing students.

I’m still not sure how my Repair Cafe team decided I could teach sewing, but they did. Paul wanted to learn and so did Michelle. Now, there aren’t pictures of them because I was so excited, the photos turned out all blurry. Argh.

But the best part of the sewing lessons is that the group, over the past year, has expanded and this is wonderful. For years, I was about the only person I knew who made her own clothes. Or wanted to sew with other people. A couple years ago, two other friends, Hilary and Elizabeth, thought it would be fun to get together to sew, and we managed about three days spread over a year or so. The problem was, we didn’t keep it up, nor did we set a regular time to meet.

Well, I made a point of doing that this time. Between my two students, I’ve got about five other ladies (I do wish we could get more guys interested), who regularly show up and we’re building some really good friendships. We’re meeting about once a month.

I’m sewing more, too, although not on meeting days. I’m too busy supervising. But on other weekends, I’m hitting the machine. That mess in the photo? I’ve started assembly-lining again – which is cutting out a boatload of projects and working on them all at the same time. More time may elapse between start to finish, but the time per item is remarkably reduced.

This is will never be a how-to blog. But I do like sharing what I’m currently working on. And right now, I’m working on teaching two people how to sew. Who knew?

Chapter Nineteen

time travel, science fiction, serial fiction, serial science fictionThe bells of nearby Saint Paul’s Cathedral were the only clue Robin, Dean, and Elizabeth had that dawn was upon them. Robin decided that she would go ahead and take a chance on hinting to their captors that she was in better shape than they thought by putting on her boots. It was more than likely the jailer had never noticed they’d been removed the night before. By wearing them, Robin was ready for action.

She got up and walked around the cell, stretching out. Then she laid back down in the position she’d been in. Her temples felt sore and had an almost clothlike feel to her touch. She could tell the area around her eyes was very swollen, yet it didn’t hurt at all.

As Saint Paul’s tolled eight o’clock, they heard the jailer come.

“It’s more than they deserve, sir,” he said to his companion. “But I admire you for trying.”

Tall and cloaked in darkness as before, Roger nodded as the jailer opened the cell door. There was silence until the jailer left.

“Here, I’ve brought food.” Roger opened the cloak and brought out cheese, bread and some fruit.

“Oh, wonderful!” gasped Elizabeth, who had been working very hard to hide her nausea. She ate greedily.

Robin and Dean also made short work of the supplies.

“I brought your weapons, too.” Roger tossed the two swords, the belt knife and the pistol to Dean and Robin. “I searched Master Chandler’s house last night. I didn’t find anything else.” He looked at Robin. Her face remained blank. “Things aren’t quite that grim. Fortunately, the inquisitor has other commitments today, so he won’t be ready for you, Dean, until tomorrow sometime. I’ve been able to arrange for some help around dusk. I’ll expect you to be ready. Basically, I’ll get the jailer to open the cell again. We’ll disarm him, and go from there.”

“Why can’t we just do that now?” asked Robin.

“We wouldn’t get past the front door,” Roger said. “The help I’ve arranged will be creating a distraction, and will help cover us as we leave.”

“I say you oughta just get your little machine and zap us home,” grumbled Dean.

“Dean, you dope!” groaned Robin. “There are a lot of things we’ve got to consider before we do that.”

“Your sister’s right,” Roger said. “We’ll take care of those later. I’d better leave. Robin, you continue resting. It’s a little risky pushing you this soon.”

“Well, the alternatives aren’t exactly the greatest,” Robin replied. “I’ll be fine.”

Roger smiled warmly. “Yes, I believe you will.”

With that, he left.

About the middle of the afternoon, someone approached.

“It’s Neddrick,” Dean hissed to Robin, who was again laying down.

The tall blonde man stood and leered at the door to the cell.

“Well,” he sneered. “I can’t tell you how satisfying I find this. Of course, Mistress Elizabeth, you’re the one I really want. You know, if you just go ahead and give yourself over, I might find a way to get the three of you out of this mess.”

“But I don’t know what you want from me,” Elizabeth said.

“I do,” growled Dean. “You ugly, sick… You make me want to puke!”

“So be it.” Neddrick nodded at Robin’s prone form. “You’re next, you know, unless I prevent it. I can. I’m very good friends with the inquisitor. I’ll have her, either way. You may as well spare yourself the pain.”

Dean swallowed but did not answer.

“So be it.” Neddrick turned and left.

As the time passed, Dean got antsy.

“When’s dusk?” he asked out loud.

“Probably around five of the clock,” said Elizabeth.

Even as she spoke, they heard the church bells toll the hour, and the sound of someone coming. But it was three guards who accompanied the jailer. Roger was not to be seen.

“The inquisitor wants you now.” The jailer nodded at Dean, as he opened the door.

“What?” Dean demanded. “But he wasn’t supposed to want me until tomorrow!”

“Who told you that?” snapped one of the guards.

“Um.” Dean squirmed. “The guy that was here just this afternoon.”

“He changed his mind,” replied the guard.

The three men advanced. Dean hedged backward into the cell. Unsuspecting, they bore down on him. Backed up against the wall, Dean slowly sank to a squat. His hand slipped into the straw underneath him. He waited until the three men were almost on top of him.

“Now!” he yelled.

Straw flew as he whipped his sword out and charged. Robin sprang to her feet. She whirled around, pistol in hand, and fired at the jailer before he slammed the cell door shut. He fell backward grabbing his shoulder.

One of the guards swung around and cuffed Robin. She stumbled. The pistol fell and, still hot, skidded and sparked on the stone floor into the straw. Regaining her balance, Robin swung around, and landed an elbow into the side of the guard’s neck. He bent in agony.

Elizabeth tripped a second guard. She had the belt knife and went after him. He got a good grip on her hands and forced it from her. She sank her teeth into his wrist. Yelping, he let go. She punched him in the crotch. After struggling to her feet, she kicked him in the shin for good measure.

Dean still slashed at the third guard. The man barely had time to draw his own sword. He beat back the blows, backing up as Dean pressed harder. He made it through the cell door, then tripped over the downed jailer. Dean burst out and danced around the jailer’s prone form.

“Fire!” yelled the guard.

Dean ignored him and bore down on the guard. The guard picked up and ran off down the corridor. Only then did Dean turn. The straw in the cell crackled in a burst of bright flames.

“How the hell did that start?” Dean cried.

“The pistol,” Robin yelped. “Get going!”

She grabbed Elizabeth by the hand and pulled her out of the cell.

“Dean, wait!” Robin stooped as Dean paused. From the floor she grabbed two hats that had fallen off of the guards. “Here, put this on. Maybe we won’t look as much like prisoners this way.”

“Good idea.”

They ran after the fleeing guard. Three minutes later, five men appeared before them, carrying buckets of water.

“You there!” one of them called.

Robin grabbed Elizabeth’s arm. “We’re moving this prisoner before she gets away. She’s one of those papists that started that fire.”

“Pass then, and hurry back.”

Once past the men, Dean let out a deep chuckle.

“We’re not out of this yet, knucklehead,” Robin growled. “We’ve still gotta get out of this joint. Do you remember how you got in?”

“I believe so,” Elizabeth sighed. “But I do fear we missed the right corridor.”

“How far back is it?” Robin glanced behind her.

Elizabeth grimaced as a group of guards came running through the crossing corridor.

“Too far,” she said.

“Terrific,” groaned Robin. “There’s got to be another way out of here.”

People ran about everywhere. No one took any notice of the threesome. Robin found a stairway and led the group down it after Elizabeth assured her they had come up a staircase when they were brought in.

“Maybe if I can find where I was,” Robin muttered.

“There you are!” exclaimed a familiar voice.

They whirled around. Dean defensively stepped forward, his sword drawn and ready.

“It’s me,” said Roger. He stepped out of the shadows. “What are you doing out of your cell.”

“The inquisitor changed his mind and decided he wanted to see Dean early,” snapped Robin. “We decided we didn’t want to stick around. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” Roger glanced back as another group of guards ran past. “I’ve been hoping you were behind this fire.”

“Well, it was an accident,” Robin conceded.

“A happy one.” Roger nodded. “Let’s take our leave. This way.”

Robin was forced to follow. On the street, men ran with buckets of water, while hordes of others came to sightsee. Roger pushed Dean and Elizabeth one way.

“You two go with them,” he directed, pointing into the crowd.

“Wait a minute,” began Dean.

Robin saw some familiar faces, men from Master Chandler’s congregation.

“Go ahead,” she hissed.

Dean and Elizabeth hurried away. Suddenly Robin felt lightheaded. She wavered. Roger had his arm around her in seconds.

“Make way!” he yelled. “This man is injured.”

They stumbled along until they were in an alley away from the action. Robin leaned against the wall of a house.

“I’ll be all right,” she gasped. “Just let me get my head down for a moment.”

She bent over. Roger checked her pulse at her wrist.

“Not good,” he said. “You shouldn’t be pushing it this hard.”

Robin winced. “Would you rather I was resting back in the cell?”

“I wasn’t discussing your options.” Roger’s voice was grim, but he couldn’t help smiling. “I’m merely concerned. It’s going to take most of the night to get to where we’re going, what with hiding and all. It won’t take that long to put out that fire, and they’ll start looking for you as soon as it is.”

“No kidding. Well, we’d better get hustling.” Robin straightened quickly.

Too quickly. The world went spinning and Robin sank. Roger caught her.

“Damn,” he muttered.

The rest house he planned on using was close by. He pulled Robin’s inert form over his shoulder and hurried on.

Dean and Elizabeth spent the better part of their evening underneath the hay of a market cart. They arrived at an inn on the other side of the Thames several hours later. Master Chandler was there and delighted to see them.

“Praise be to the Lord you’re safe!” he cried. “And where is Master Robin?”

“With that Roger clown,” Dean grumbled.

“Who?” asked Master Chandler.

“Reverend James took Master Robin with him,” said a man.

“Ah, yes.” Master Chandler nodded. “That was the plan. To be truthful, we didn’t expect any of you until dawn.”

“We found a cart,” said a young man. “Master Goodworth loaned it to us.”

“That was very kind of him,” Master Chandler said. “We must remember him in our prayers. As for you, Master Dean, Mistress Elizabeth, you must rest. We’ve beds for you. Come. You get some sleep and I’m sure Master Robin will be here quite soon.”

Dean was a little reluctant, but couldn’t think of anything else to do. Elizabeth asked if there was a bit of bread she could have. It was provided, and she fell asleep soon after eating it.

At sunrise someone woke Dean and Elizabeth.

“They’re coming!” said the young boy.

Dean was out of bed instantly. Elizabeth joined him in the best room. The early morning chill touched everything. Roger carried in what looked like a shrouded body.

“Where’s Robin?” Dean demanded.

“In here.” Roger indicated the shroud.

“What?” Dean lurched forward.

“Robin is completely alive,” Roger said. “He just passed out from the exertion. We couldn’t wake him, so we put him in here. It made it a lot easier to get him past the Roundheads looking for you three. Why don’t you help me get him upstairs and in bed?”

This was accomplished quickly. Robin stirred as they unwound the sheet. Roger shooed everyone out except Dean and Elizabeth. After getting rid of the sheet and Robin’s boots, Roger pulled his little flask from the depths of his cloak.

“Oh my…” Robin muttered. Her eyes slowly opened. “What happened?”

“I told you, you pushed it too hard.” Roger put the flask to her lips. “Drink this.”

“What is it?” Robin sniffed at skeptically.

“Phenyl-trichloroacenol.”

Her lip curled. “And what the hell is that?”

“A restorative. Now drink it.”

Robin sipped suspiciously. Roger turned to Dean and Elizabeth.

“There,” he said. “You can see she’s all right. Now could you please leave and let her get some sleep?”

“You guys okay?” Robin asked.

“Fine,” said Dean.

“Good.”

Dean and Elizabeth departed. Roger turned back to Robin.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to leave also,” he said. “I’ve got a couple things to look into and you really need to be sleeping to get your strength back. I want you to sleep for at least another three hours, then take it easy. You should be mostly back to normal by noon. I’ll be back by suppertime. After then we’ll talk.”

Robin looked away sadly.

“What’s wrong?”

“I suppose I should be grateful to you,” she said bitterly. “You did save our lives and I am thankful for that.”

“But..?”

“For what?” Robin asked. “What are you going to do to us? After all, we only wrecked your experiment. At least that’s what I’m assuming Elizabeth was.”

Roger chuckled. “Well, yes, she is, and it wasn’t wrecked. We’ll discuss that later, and I am very much looking forward to the discussion. Fear not, Robin. You haven’t escaped the frying pan for the fire. I’ll see you tonight.” He left.

Feeling oddly reassured, Robin settled back and went to sleep. When she awoke, Master Chandler was sitting by the bed.

“Oh, good,” she sighed. “You’re safe.”

“I was similarly concerned about you.” Master Chandler smiled.

She yawned. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“About four hours.” Master Chandler looked out the window. “The church clock struck ten not long ago.”

“Great.” Robin eased herself up and pulled her legs over the side of the bed. “I can get up now.”

“I thought you might be worried, so I went ahead and brought these up.” Master Chandler pointed to the three sacks.

“You got them!” Robin pounced on them. “You didn’t go back for them, did you?”

“I did.”

Robin glared at him briefly. “They weren’t that important. But I’m sure glad I’ve got them.” Robin smiled. The bags meant she wouldn’t have to depend on Roger anymore. Even if he didn’t seem angry at them, she didn’t quite trust him. “Well, this means we’ll be taking off right away.”

Master Chandler looked crestfallen. “Where to?”

Robin didn’t notice as she looked through the bags. “I’m not sure. Maybe the colonies. Who knows? London hasn’t worked out too well.”

“I can’t blame you.” Master Chandler sighed. “Come, my son. Let me give you my blessing.”

Robin bowed her head as he whispered the Latin words over her. He laid both hands on top of her head. He swallowed as he brought the hands to her cheeks and lifted her face to look at him.

“You have been so dear to me, my son,” he said.

Robin suddenly blinked back tears. “I can’t tell you what you’ve meant to me.” She pulled away. “Listen, take care of yourself, will you? This martyrdom crap may be great for your soul, but it’s pretty hard on the rest of us. Okay?”

Master Chandler nodded sadly. “I suppose it would be. You be careful also.”

“I will. Good bye, Father.”

“Good bye, Robin.”

Robin pulled on her boots and collected the sacks. With one long sigh, she looked at Master Chandler. She opened one of the sacks and pawed through it, making sure there was nothing in it but coins.

“You may as well take this,” she said handing it to him. “We won’t be able to use it where we’re going.”

“Are you sure?”

She strode out of the room, without answering and called Dean and Elizabeth.

“Come on,” she told them. “We’re leaving now.”

“What about Roger?” Dean asked, scrambling after her.

“Tough potatoes.”

“So where are we going?” Dean asked once they were on the street.

“Someplace where no one can see us, first,” Robin replied.

“Does this mean we’re going home?” Dean asked.

Robin turned on him. “Why do you have to keep on with that?”

“Perhaps it would be best,” said Elizabeth.

“But…” Robin turned to her. “Dean is talking about our home.”

“I know.”

“The place with all the magic you don’t like.”

Elizabeth swallowed. “I know. But it seems like everywhere we go here, we get arrested. I know it’s that Master Neddrick behind it.”

“I was going to take you to another time,” Robin said.

“Then why don’t we just go to your time?” Elizabeth asked. “I believe I can learn to like it. I understand a little better now.”

“I suppose,” Robin grumbled.

“You don’t want to go back, do you, Robin?” said Dean.

“Of course, I do,” she replied. “Well, maybe not just yet. I don’t know. I’m afraid if we go home, I won’t get to come back. This machine seems to be run on batteries, and I don’t know how much power we’ve got left. I’m pretty sure we’ve got enough to get home, but beyond that…”

Dean shrugged. “I guess I understand how you feel. But I’ve had enough history to last me a lifetime. Please, Robin, can we? We’re running out of places to go.”

“Not by a long shot,” Robin said. “But all right. Let’s get out on the road a ways before we do. I don’t think it would be very nice to let anyone see us disappear into thin air.”

Dusk fell as they came to the edge of the city. They spent the night at an inn, just for old time’s sake. The next morning, they took their time leaving. Close to noon, Robin called a halt. They left the road. Dean grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, then placed his other hand on Robin’s shoulder. Robin entered the coordinates into the machine. With a reluctant sigh, she hit RETURN.

Chapter Eighteen

Dean made up his mind. He was not going to panic. Never mind that Elizabeth’s news made it very difficult to enjoy the afternoon and evening. He briefly debated telling Robin and getting her advice. Very briefly. Dean took one good look at her and completely lost his nerve. Nonetheless, he refused to panic.

The next morning, he thought the whole matter over carefully. The important thing was to get Elizabeth home before she got too much further along. If an abortion was even possible in the seventeenth century, it could quite easily kill her.

Dean crept upstairs. Robin had made merry a little too late the night before and was still sound asleep. Elizabeth had shown Dean how to work the loose board some weeks before. Dean retrieved the dowel and went to work.

He found the time machine easily enough. Just in case, he left the secret loft and scurried out of the house. By this time he was familiar with the labyrinth. He slipped down two or three streets to a small courtyard. It was deserted, which wasn’t surprising when one considered that it was just barely after dawn, and very cold.

Dean turned over the machine in his hands nervously. He remembered Robin saying something about it being so user friendly even he could use it. That was no help. He pressed the button on the side. The keypad glowed. Dean wondered what to do next.

It was hopeless. Dean had a bad feeling that screwing up would only get him into worse trouble. He turned it off and hurried home.

Robin was still asleep when he got there. Elizabeth and Master Chandler were busy in the kitchen. Furtively, Dean hurried up the stairs and re-hid the machine.

It seemed the only thing left to do was to tell Robin the truth. But when she arrived downstairs, she was so surly and grouchy, Dean lost his nerve again. There was still a little time. Dean decided he would just have to wait for a good opportunity.

The next day was the Sabbath. The day after that, Master Chandler returned from one of his errands without his cloak and with a very guilty look on his face.

“Master Robin, you’ll have to help me,” he whispered very quietly to her in the best room. “Elizabeth is sure to be very angry with me.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Robin chuckled. “You barely lasted three days.”

“I didn’t give it away. I loaned it,” Master Chandler said earnestly. “The poor young man was freezing. He said something very curious about not checking the date before homing in. In any case, he promised to bring it back as soon as he got himself one.”

Robin grimaced. “I’ve got a bad feeling that’s the last we’ll see of your cloak.”

“Oh, no! He was very sincere. A good bright honest face.”

“Famous last words.” Robin took a deep breath. “Well, I’ll explain to Elizabeth. You may want to lay low for a little while.”

She left Master Chandler in the best room and went back to the kitchen, struggling for the right words.

Elizabeth was not very understanding.

“Why that..!” She groaned, too furious for words.

“Now, Elizabeth. He really did believe he’d get it back. He may just yet.” Robin sighed.

“He’s not that stupid.” She whirled away out of the room.

Robin shook her head as she heard Elizabeth calling for Master Chandler in the best room. There was no answer. Master Chandler must have taken Robin’s advice and gone out again.

Robin started as she heard Elizabeth pounding up the stairs. Master Chandler was rarely in his room during the day. Furthermore, Robin would have heard him answer Elizabeth’s call if he had been. Robin bolted upstairs.

Elizabeth stood in the doorway of Master Chandler’s room, gazing inside in shock.

“Elizabeth,” Robin said softly.

“What are these things?” she whispered, pointing at the small shrine and its candles. She turned on Robin. “You knew, didn’t you? I thought at first it might be. But then I thought, no. Robin wouldn’t support that. How could you!”

“How could I not?” Robin said with quiet anger. “Damn it, he saved Dean’s life!”

Elizabeth was shaking. “He’s still a filthy papist!”

“Yes, he is. He’s a priest, too.”

Elizabeth whirled away. “How could you have allowed such a thing?”

Robin exploded. “And how can you say that after all we’ve been through? After all the times someone’s wanted to hang us for no good reason besides hating us!”

“He’s in league with the Devil!” Elizabeth ignored her and paced in the hallway.

“He sure as hell doesn’t act like it! It seems pretty strange to me that someone working for Satan is gonna go around giving the food out of his mouth to anyone who needs it. Or risking his life out on the streets night after night to care for the sick.”

“Have you ever been to their services?”

“Yes. Have you?”

Elizabeth remained silent but had to stop pacing.

“Good lord, Elizabeth,” Robin continued. “How can you hate them without even trying to understand what they’re all about? That’s why there are witch trials, and all sorts of nonsense like that. That’s why we keep getting accused of witchcraft. People are so busy hating what they don’t understand, they refuse to take a chance on maybe finding something very good. It’s no wonder a little scratch can kill you around here.”

“But all I’ve ever known was that it was evil.” Elizabeth sniffed, suddenly very unsure.

“Elizabeth,” Robin sighed. “You know people to the very core of their being. I ask you. Is Master Chandler evil?”

“This is so hard.” Elizabeth sank down onto the floor and cried. “I know he isn’t. But must I deny everything I was ever taught?”

“I’m not saying you have to become a Catholic. I’m just saying that it’s a stupid reason to hate somebody. That’s all it really boils down to. You disagree, so you hate each other and try to kill each other. It doesn’t strike me as being terribly Christian.”

“It isn’t,” Elizabeth agreed. “So why does it happen?”

“I don’t know. Some of it’s a lack of education. But that’s not all of it. One of the worst bigots I ever knew had college degrees coming out his ears.” Robin slumped down next to Elizabeth and put her arms around her. “They’re still fighting it in my time. There are laws against discrimination, and people still hate.”

Elizabeth sniffed. “Maybe Master Chandler has the right way of it. He risked his life to take us in, and I’m sure not all who receive his charity are papists. He treats everyone the same. Oh, Robin. How am I ever going to understand?”

“I don’t understand a lot of things myself. But I think we’re both a lot closer to understanding now than we ever were.”

Elizabeth nodded, and laid her head on Robin’s shoulder.

The situation continued to perplex Elizabeth. She knew that Robin was right, as she was about many other things. But how could practically everyone else around them be so wrong? Perhaps it was not for Elizabeth to figure out.

The next day, Donald Long found himself carefully watching the candlemaker’s house from across the street. In Bath, Robin had actually found him before he’d found her. Or would. And Elizabeth had clearly been pregnant there. The question was when did he get her that way? At least, if he wasn’t successful in London, there was always whatever the next stop on the timetron showed – where the Parkers and Elizabeth had come from.

As another tall, thin man approached, Donald stiffened. Roger. Donald wondered how Roger had figured out the Parkers were at the candlemaker’s. The timetron’s log only showed a turn-on in the neighborhood.

Roger York smiled as he looked at the sign. This was where the man called Master Chandler had said. Roger patted the cloak in his arm. The candlemaker would be very surprised to see it back. He had tried to seem trusting. But Roger doubted the man was ignorant of basic human nature.

He knocked and entered. A young man dipping candles looked up and smiled casually.

“May I help you?” the young man asked.

Roger smiled back as he looked at the young man a little more carefully. There was something a little bit odd about him. He was taller than most men, about five nine, and slightly built. But that wasn’t what made Roger pause.

“I understand this is Master Chandler’s home,” Roger said finally.

“Yes, it is,” replied the young man. “What can I do for you?”

“I’ve come to return this cloak. Master Chandler loaned it to me yesterday.”

The young man laughed as he came over. “I don’t believe it, but great. I’ll see that he gets it. Thank you for returning it.”

“Please tell him how grateful I am.” Roger handed over the cloak, surreptitiously gazing at the young man.

“Certainly.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Well, good day, sir.” Roger said, and headed out.

“Good day.”

Outside on the street, Roger paused. That little oddity was coming. A moment or so more thought and he would have it. It did almost in a flash. The young man had had no beard. He wasn’t merely clean-shaven. Roger was sure there wasn’t any beard to shave.

A hormone imbalance could easily explain it, and that sort of thing wasn’t unheard of. That would also explain why the young man’s voice, although tenor in range, had an immature feel to it. Of course another explanation might be that the young man wasn’t a young man, which would make sense given what the surveillance disk in the castle had shown. And if what Roger had found among Donald’s research was accurate, Roger had found Robin Parker and very probably her brother and Elizabeth and the missing timetron.

The sound of someone slipping on the icy cobbles destroyed Roger’s chain of thought. Just on the edge of his peripheral vision, he saw a familiar form as it righted itself just in time to give Roger a glimpse of his face before he took off running. Donald, damn him. Roger hurried after.

“Well?” Robin asked Elizabeth as they looked out the upstairs window to the street below.

“He’s running off.” she replied. “I saw something in the shadows. I get the feeling he did, too, and that’s what he’s chasing.”

“But he is…”

“Roger? Oh, yes. I recognized his voice. It’s a good thing I did. I almost started to come down.”

Robin frowned. “He was looking at me strangely. It can’t be that he recognizes me. He’s never seen me that I know of.”

“Perhaps it’s because you do look a little like a woman,” Elizabeth said gently.

“No one else seems to think so.” Robin was surprised by the bitterness in her voice, then stopped. “Wait. Maybe he did recognize me. There had to be some sort of surveillance in that castle room. Great. I wonder how much he knows about us.”

Elizabeth shrugged. Dean burst into the house.

“Elizabeth! Robin!” he bellowed.

They ran down the stairs. Dean was breathing heavily and his face was flushed with exertion.

“What is it?” Elizabeth cried.

“You guys aren’t gonna believe who I almost ran into!” Dean gasped.

“Who?” asked Robin.

“That Master Neddrick dude.”

“Are you sure?” Elizabeth squeaked.

“Oh, damn!” Robin snapped at the same time.

“I’m positive it was him.” Dean answered.

“Did he see you?” Robin demanded.

“I couldn’t help it, Robin.” groaned Dean. “I didn’t know he was there. But then I got this really weird feeling that someone was following me. I turned around and there he was. That’s what took me so long to get back. I hauled it out of there and ditched him.”

“We’ll have to flee again.” Elizabeth wrung her hands.

“I hope not,” Robin sighed.

“But, Robin,” Elizabeth protested. “Roger was just here, and now Master Neddrick.”

“Roger?” Dean squeaked. “Aw, crap, Robin. How the hell did he find us?”

“How the hell would I know?” Robin fidgeted as she wandered aimlessly around the best room. “All right. For the moment, we’ll have to assume we put Roger off. And just because Neddrick’s seen Dean doesn’t mean he’ll be able to find us. We’re innkeepers. People just don’t change trades like we have. Neddrick’s probably not looking for candlemakers. We’d better sit tight for a while. If we take off running now, while they’re both so close, they might spot us again. Not to mention the fact that it’s the middle of winter. That’s no time to be hitting the road.”

“We could go home,” Dean suggested.

“Not with Roger this close on our heels,” Robin said, then sighed. “Look, we don’t want to go rushing into anything. Give me a day or two to figure how to get home without leading Roger to us.”

Both Dean and Elizabeth reluctantly agreed.

But Robin didn’t even get until that evening. She was grateful that Master Chandler was off on some errand when the men arrived. Dean and Elizabeth were in the kitchen. Robin worked in the best room.

They burst in, ten strong, without warning.

“We’ve come for the papists!” their leader announced.

“There are none here!” Robin yelped indignantly.

The men swarmed all over the place. Robin couldn’t stop them.

“What the hell’s going on here?” Dean demanded, bursting into the room.

“Bind the two of them!” the leader commanded.

Elizabeth slunk up the stairs. Three men pounced on Dean. He thrashed about, but the men knew their business and quickly had him face down on the floor and tied. Robin decided against struggling.

“And where do you think you’re going?” A man caught Elizabeth on the stairs and roughly dragged her down. “You whoring wretch!” He cuffed her, then tied her.

A minute later, there were sounds of cheering upstairs.

“Look what we’ve found!” two other men called as they ran down the stairs carrying Master Chandler’s vessels and crucifixes.

“They’re mine!” Robin cried out. “The others have nothing to do with it. Please, let them alone.”

The leader spat in her face. Robin flinched. The other men whooped with glee as they spilled the hosts onto the floor, then ground them into paste with their heels. Robin could hold it no longer. Her tears spilled down her cheeks, thinking of how sacred the small pieces of bread were to Master Chandler. He valued them above gold, even.

At the gaol the men took Robin away. Dean and Elizabeth were pushed into a cell filled with rotten straw. As the jailer stalked off, Dean wrinkled his nose at the stench. There were sounds of soft squeaking and scratching.

“Oh, no,” Elizabeth sighed, terrified.

“Terrific. Rats,” grumbled Dean. “It would sure be nice to have a cat around.”

“Don’t say that!” Elizabeth hissed.

Dean shrugged. “At least it’s not witchcraft this time.”

Elizabeth shuddered. Dean came over to her and wrapped his arms around her.

“Hey, we’ll get out of this. We have all the times before,” he told her.

“But there was always Robin before.”

“She’s gonna be okay. I know she is. She’s probably escaped already.”

“Dean…” Elizabeth’s voice broke.

“No. We’ve gotta keep our spirits up. We’ll get out of this. We will. We’ve just gotta believe that.”

Dean’s confidence faded completely late that night when they brought Robin to the cell. She was unconscious. Her eyes were puffy and bruising. Blood had dried underneath her nose, and along the corner of her mouth. From her temples rose a sickening stench, and they were bright red with dark circles around the patches.

“What the hell did you do!” Dean flung himself at the bars of the door, and yelled, swearing, after the jailer. “Can’t you face me? What did you do?”

“Dean!” Crying, Elizabeth pulled him back from the door. “Here, help me lay her out.”

Dean choked. “She’s dead?”

“No. Help me make her more comfortable. Come, Dean. Here’s some straw that isn’t so old. It’ll make a good pillow.”

Dean complied meekly. A few minutes later, they heard the clanking return of the jailer. Dean stiffened, but resolved not to lose it again.

“It’s good of you to come, your reverence,” the jailer was saying. “But I don’t see as how it’s worth it. I’ve dealt with these papists before. They’re as stubborn as they come. Worse than most.”

“And all the more needful of Our Lord’s mercy, my good sir,” replied the man with him. He was wearing black, and his face was shadowed over by the wide brim of his hat. Elizabeth gasped. “Would you take a chance on losing these poor souls to the Devil just because you lack faith in God’s power?”

“I ‘spect not, your reverence. Well, here we are. Just yell loudly if you need me. I’ll be just at the end of the corridor.”

“Thank you muchly, my good man.”

The jailer unlocked the door, admitted the tall, thin newcomer, then locked the door behind him. The man waited, standing perfectly still, until the jailer was well out of earshot. Then he shifted into action, bending over Robin’s still form and reaching for her pulse behind her jaw.

“Weak, but holding on well.” He shook his head. “The beasts.”

“Who the hell are you?” Dean demanded. Something was wrong with the newcomer’s actions, but Dean was at a loss to say what.

The man turned and removed his hat.

“Roger,” sighed Elizabeth.

“Oh, hell!” Dean approached menacingly. “You get away from her!”

Roger shook his head. “She needs treatment, and you are far too young to be qualified or capable of giving it to her.”

“I got basic emergency care.” But Dean stopped.

“I am a certified sub-medical, which trumps you several times over.” Roger bent over Robin once again. This time he probed with his fingers, searching for broken bones. “I appreciate your distrust. However, there is not time for it. Will you help me remove her boots?”

“I’ll help you..!” Dean advanced again.

“Dean!” Elizabeth yelped, stopping him. “Please. I know he’s after us, but I don’t think he’ll hurt her. Please, Dean. We need his help.”

Dean looked at Elizabeth, then sighed. “All right.”

“Good.” Roger shifted around. “You hold her leg stable while I remove the boot. There we are. Now, the next one.” He nodded as Dean did as he was asked. “You’ve got quite the touch.”

“It’s in the family,” Dean stammered. “My mom’s a doctor. Back home.”

Roger smiled over at Elizabeth, a little sheepishly, then turned back to examining Robin.

“I suppose I should have stayed in the castle,” Elizabeth said softly. “I’m sorry, Roger.”

Roger shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now. Although you should refer to me as Reverend James for the time being.” He looked over at Dean. “I’ve been talking to your neighbors. Let’s see. If you’re Dean, then this is Robin?”

“Yeah. She’s my sister. Well, she’s supposed to be my brother.” Dean shuffled again. “Robin Parker. I’m Dean Parker.”

“Yes. I got that.” Roger nodded as he finished his examination. He removed a small flask from somewhere inside his cloak. “Well, the good news is that she doesn’t seem to have any broken bones or internal bleeding.”

“What’s that?” Dean asked, nodding at the flask.

“Phenyl-trichloroacenol. Something I seriously doubt you’ve heard of.”

“That’s not surprising,” Dean shrugged.

Roger smiled. “It’s a powerful restorative, excellent for quickly healing contusions and other minor cuts. If your sister is to do any time traveling tomorrow, she’ll have to be in much better shape. Open wounds are very dangerous in the drop. Those burns on her temples worry me a little.”

Dean nodded. “I wonder how those happened.”

“Probably made with a poker. Very common for this era. I suspect she probably fainted from the pain. I have a salve that will hopefully hold through the drop. But first this.” He dropped some of the liquid from the flask onto his forefinger. Opening Robin’s lips with his other hand, he slid the forefinger between her teeth. “There you go. Now, start swallowing.” He massaged her neck. “It’s also good for anesthetic purposes. Let’s get some more down.” He repeated the performance.

Robin stirred. Roger set the flask down and removed a tube from his cloak. He applied some of the contents to the burns.

“Oh, good.” He smiled. “She’s accepting it already. There’s a good chance it won’t even scar.”

He replaced the tube in his cloak, then fed her some more liquid from the flask. Robin stirred again, this time waking.

“They didn’t know. I promise you,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “The candlemaker had no idea.”

“It’s all right,” Roger said. “I’m not an inquisitor. But do me a favor and drink some more of this.”

Robin sipped, then took another good swallow. Roger pushed for one more long drink. She took it. Her eyes fluttered open as he took her pulse.

“Who..? Oh. You’re the young man who returned the cloak.”

“Yes. Roger,” said Elizabeth softly.

“What!” Robin yelped weakly. She feebly struggled.

“Hold on! Hold on!” Roger pinned her. “You’re still too weak to try moving around. Rest now. Give the medicine a chance to work.”

She moaned softly. “Everything feels so funny, like my whole body’s gone to sleep.”

“That means it’s working.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, laying back on the straw again.

Roger smiled. “I’m supposedly trying to convert you three to the true faith, and hopefully they’ll just keep you jailed instead of hanging you.”

“They’ll never believe it,” Robin groaned.

“Why shouldn’t they?”

“Hey, I’ll convert,” Dean volunteered.

“It doesn’t matter,” Elizabeth said. “We’re already converted. Roger is just going to tell them that he converted us because they think we’re Catholics.”

“Precisely.” Roger nodded.

“They’ll never believe it,” Robin sighed.

“Why not?” asked Roger.

“Because I confessed.” Robin sniffed. “It was the only way I could think of to save Master Chandler. They’d heard there was a priest in the neighborhood. I knew they’d go after him, so I told them I was the priest. Threw some Latin at them. Domino vobiscum and a few plant names. That convinced them. I just hope Master Chandler doesn’t get the same idea to try and save us.”

“He already did,” Roger said. “Fortunately, I convinced him that I had a better plan that would allow him to escape and serve others. I’ve got some other members of his parish holding him down now just in case.”

“Thank God,” Robin whispered.

“It looks like my plan isn’t going to work though.” Roger sighed. “They’ll hang you for sure now, and probably torture Dean to find out if he’s a priest also.”

“Your reverence?” the jailer called.

“I’m quite well, sir,” Roger called back. “I’ll call for you shortly.” He stood and thought for a long moment. “There are other options.”

“Why don’t you just zap us out of here right now?” Dean suggested.

“Because I do not carry the timetron with me. Once I’ve made it through the drop, I hide it, so I can move about freely without detection by the locals. We’ll have to make the break, as it were, tomorrow. I seriously doubt they’ll carry out the execution right away, not with a civil disturbance on, but there’s no point in chancing it. I’ll have to try and find out their plans for you. That shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll be back tomorrow morning, in any case. Robin, you will be feeling a lot better in a couple hours. You’ll still be fairly weak for another eighteen hours, at minimum. But I would recommend appearing more like they would expect.”

“Yeah,” Robin whispered.

“I think I’ve got a plan coming.” Roger smiled. “Yes. It’s there. I’ll be spending my night refining it. You three rest up, and whatever happens, keep your heads. It’s your only chance.”

Roger called for the jailer, and a few moments later was gone.

 

Chapter Seventeen

Elizabeth kept her morning nausea and her secret to herself. By Christmas Eve, there was no doubt in her mind what her problem was. The only trouble was how was she going to break the news to Robin and Dean? She didn’t think either of them would be happy about it. Yet she feared Robin’s reaction more than Dean’s.

Dean, for his part, sensed that something was amiss, but figured it was probably the whole marriage thing again and decided to let Elizabeth tell him what was going on when she was ready.

Robin was simply too preoccupied to notice anything going on with anybody. She told herself she was concentrating on the candle trade and keeping Master Chandler safe out on the streets. But finally, on Christmas Eve, she had to face facts. She was falling fast and hard for Master Chandler.

They had slipped out just after the clock had struck eleven to a house in the neighborhood, where Master Chandler had said the solemn Midnight Mass. Afterwards, they only stayed long enough to greet everyone there, and then were sent off home.

“What a night,” Master Chandler sighed with deep satisfaction, as they stepped outside. He adjusted the cloak Dean had loaned him and chuckled, his breath making little clouds in the cold air. “It’s beautiful tonight. I do believe the clouds are clearing. Look, you can see a couple stars, and wait, there’s the moon. I can’t wait until tomorrow. I do hope Mistress Elizabeth will be pleased.”

“About what?” Robin asked.

Master Chandler smiled mysteriously. “I’ve arranged a little surprise for the three of you. You’ve all been working so hard.”

Robin shrugged. “I guess. I don’t mind. It can be pretty satisfying.”

“Working hard and well usually is.”

“It is.” Robin shivered a little in the chill, then looked away. “Do you ever get lonely, like for a woman?”

Master Chandler chuckled. “As in desiring a woman’s flesh, I take it. Is that what’s been troubling you, my son?”

“More or less.”

“You’re young and healthy. It’s no surprise. Even I occasionally feel the yearnings.” His smile grew utterly beatific. “But I think of Christ crucified, there’s no more glorious thought.”

Robin pressed on. “Don’t you ever regret giving all that up?”

“A family, you mean?”

“And, you know, relations with a woman.”

Master Chandler smiled and shook his head. “I’ve never regretted it. I’ve found such inexpressible joy in God’s service.”

Robin forced herself to smile. “I can see that.”

Master Chandler paused and looked at her. “Are you thinking of taking up the religious life?”

“Hardly.” Robin wanted to talk him out of it. “It’s too dangerous.”

“For the body, perhaps.” Master Chandler trudged on. “But far better for the soul. I can think of no greater pleasure than to look upon God’s face and offer Him boundless praises.” Master Chandler’s face all but glowed. “It’s the old Pauline dilemma, I’m afraid. I want so to continue here, serving His people, and yet to be with Our Lord is  such a far greater thing, I can’t help but long for it.” He chuckled. “But bound to earth I am. I’ll make the best of it. Well, here we are already.”

In the kitchen, Master Chandler stopped long enough to give Robin his blessing before they went upstairs.

Robin went to bed feeling vaguely annoyed, but less with Master Chandler than with herself. She remembered reading somewhere that women who continually fell for inaccessible men had some issue or other, and she couldn’t remember what it was. But it certainly seemed to be her pattern.

The next day, after church —Master Chandler made a habit of showing up like any other neighbor at the regular Church of England services and always with his new household in tow — Robin wearily made her way upstairs to her room. Dean followed her.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people coming over,” he told her.

“Yeah, I know.” Robin pulled off her boots. “I’m going to try to catch a few before they get here.”

Dean watched her for a moment. “You seem kinda depressed.”

Robin glared at her left boot. “I don’t know.”

“Elizabeth said you were.”

“Did she say what about?” Robin snarled.

“Hell, how’s she gonna know?” Dean’s voice got more defensive than he intended.

Robin backed down. “I guess she wouldn’t. I shouldn’t have snapped.”

Dean sat down next to her. “Is it Christmas?”

“What do you mean?”

Dean shrugged. “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas. There’s no tree, no presents, no carols, just an extra long church service.”

“Wait ‘til this afternoon.”

“Well, if it isn’t Christmas, what are you bugged about?”

Robin sighed. “I don’t know if you’d understand. You’ll probably think it’s silly.”

“Try me.”

Robin gazed out of the window. “I think I’m in love with Master Chandler.”

“So?”

She glared at him. “Dean, for starters, I’m a man, or supposed to be one.”

“So tell him the truth. He’d probably understand.”

“Like hell, he would.” Robin got up and started pacing. “And even if he did, there’s the whole time issue. I’m not staying here for the rest of my life, and bringing him with me is not going to happen.”

“You could work around that, maybe go back and forth a lot.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “It’s not that simple and even if it was…  Dean, it just wouldn’t work. He’s too absorbed in his candles and his charity work to be absorbed in me. It’s the same problem I always have. Inevitably, I fall for the guy whose first love is something else. “

“Or just plain not available.” Dean sniggered. “Who was it when you were in college? That married physics professor?”

“Let’s not go through the list.” Robin stopped. “How did you know about that?”

“Mom told me. She was a little worried. I mean, it sounds like fear of intimacy issues to me. You know, ‘cause of her and dad.”

Robin’s heart sank. “You know, that’s the part that really sucks about you becoming a shrink.”

“I suppose.” Dean shrugged. “It could be worse. I could do the whole analysis thing.”

Robin flopped back onto the bed. “It doesn’t matter. Sometimes I wish I really was a man.”

“Why?”

“Even in our liberated times, Dean, men are usually very threatened by women who are smarter than them.”

Dean laughed. “It’s not just the men. Why do you think I play so dumb all the time?”

Robin looked at him. “You may have a point. But guys can still get away with it more easily than women can.”

“In some ways.” Dean’s voice suddenly turned sour. “I haven’t had much luck.”

“You, Don Juan?”

“Do you see me staying with anyone? Sure I mess around with a lot of girls. But they’re all dumb bunnies, and they make a lot of stupid demands. All they want is sex, and I need more than that.”

“No kidding.” Robin sighed. “Why can’t people understand that?”

Dean shrugged. “I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, Robby, but I figure, if it’s beyond you, it’s gonna be beyond me. Maybe you’ll just get lucky someday.”

“Maybe.” But Robin wasn’t holding out much hope.

“Hey, Robby, remember when Mom and Dad broke up, and you used to take care of me?”

Robin shivered. “Boy, do I.”

“I used to think then that I had the greatest, best damned big sister a kid could ever have. I still do.”

Robin sniffed and turned to her brother. “Deanie, you are easily the most incredible, frustrating, aggravating creature I have ever met. But I love you more than anybody on this earth!”

They met in the middle of the room. Dean’s large arms almost smothered Robin as they hugged each other. Robin couldn’t hold back her tears any longer, and Dean caught himself sniffing also. Downstairs came the sound of knocking and merry singing.

“Hey, Merry Christmas, Robby.”

“Merry Christmas, Deanie.” Robin pulled away and wiped her eyes. “We’d better get downstairs.”

“Yeah. Say, Elizabeth told me they give presents out on twelfth day. You think we can get together some neat surprises for then?”

“I think we could. Why don’t we talk about it later? They’re calling us now.”

Downstairs they found not only a small crowd of neighbors, but a fully cooked feast of chicken, roasted vegetables, soup, bread, apples, tarts and cakes waiting for them. Elizabeth was in shock.

“Where did all of this food come from?” Robin asked, aghast.

“W-well,” Master Chandler stammered, flummoxed himself. “I had asked Mistress Saunders to provide a dinner for us, so Elizabeth wouldn’t have to cook. That was my surprise.”

Dean laughed. “Looks like they surprised you.”

“Indeed.” Master Chandler laughed, also. “Well, good neighbors, we can’t eat all this ourselves. Will you please join us? Oh, dear. I hope there’s enough porter.”

“We made an extra keg last week.” Elizabeth couldn’t hide her smile as she shook her head yet again at Master Chandler. “Robin, could you help me?”

“Hey, I can get it.” Dean cut in. “Come on, Robin.”

They headed to the cool room while Elizabeth helped the neighbors set up the food and the hot spiced wine. The revelry lasted late into the night. It was close to dawn before the last of the guests departed.

People continued to visit for the following twelve days. Many of them were people Master Chandler had helped during the year, coming to return the charity they had received. The tributes flowed in. Most of them went right back out again with other needy people.

In spite of all the visitors, Dean and Robin each got a chance to visit the local marketplace separately. Elizabeth had already run her errands, long after conferring with Robin as far as funding went. On each of the twelve days, Elizabeth served a piece of fruit or some other sweetmeat to everyone. She also smiled with yet another secret, this time a happy one.

The big day, of course, was Twelfth Day. Again, the neighbors were expected. But that morning was reserved for Master Chandler and his new household. Elizabeth produced a magnificent breakfast for the occasion. After they had eaten, all hurried away to their respective rooms to gather together all the secrets they had been so carefully guarding. They returned to the best room minutes later, tense with happy anticipation.

Elizabeth displayed her gifts first.

“Robin said I could have some money, and I was able to get some linen, and wool.” She displayed the two shirts and the cloak. “Here, Dean, this one is for you, and this shirt is for you, Robin. And, Master Chandler, you may have your cloak on one condition.”

“What is that, my daughter?” Master Chandler’s eyes glowed.

“That you not give it away. Do you promise? You must have something to keep you warm, or you’ll catch your death.”

Master Chandler laughed. “I must promise then, I will not give it away.” He took the cloak gladly. “Now, I must present my gifts. Master Robin, behold, your first mold, and the tools to carve it with. I have the same for you, Master Dean.”

“Thanks,” replied Dean, although his smile was a little indifferent.

“Thank you, sir,” Robin replied. She understood what the tools meant in terms of Master Chandler’s regard for her abilities.

“And for Mistress Elizabeth, I have this.” Master Chandler flourished his prize. “I am afraid you will have to cook it yourself.”

“A pheasant!” Elizabeth glowed. “Oh, how wonderful! I don’t mind cooking it at all. It’s been so long since I’ve had any, and I do love it. Thank you, sir.”

“I guess it’s my turn,” Robin began awkwardly. “I really didn’t know what to get, so I did my best. Here, Dean, I got you this Shakespeare book, the folio.”

Dean burst into laughter. “You would. Thanks, Robin.”

“And, Elizabeth, please don’t get mad. I got a real good deal on it. I just hope it fits.” Robin presented the dress. “It’s just a work dress, but yours is getting a little worn.”

“Indeed, it is.” Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing to herself. However masculine Robin might be at times, the woman in her had won out and found the one thing Elizabeth had been hoping for. “If it doesn’t fit, I can fix it.”

“Good.” Robin flashed a sheepish grin. “And for you, Master Chandler, I got this. It was the best one I could find.”

Master Chandler took the bottle of wine and looked at it.

“I shall relish this,” he said, when he at last found the words.

“Hey, it’s my turn!” Dean burst in. “Look at this, Master Chandler. Isn’t it cool? You can stick it in your boot and have an extra for when you’re wandering around at night.”

It was a knife, clearly meant to be a weapon as opposed to the belt knives worn by nearly everyone and used for eating. Master Chandler accepted it chuckling.

“I got one for you, too, Robin.” Dean handed it to her.

“Thanks, Dean.” Robin laughed, mostly because Dean had blown it yet again. She put the knife in her boot just to placate him.

“And I got this for you, Elizabeth,” Dean continued, blissfully ignorant. “Why don’t you close your eyes?”

“As you wish.” And Elizabeth did.

Dean slid the chain and pendant over her head. “Now, look.”

Elizabeth opened her eyes and felt the chain with her hand. She looked down at the pendant in wonder. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran upstairs crying.

“What?” Dean was flabbergasted.

Robin sighed. “Dean, that cost a fortune, didn’t it?”

“Only ten pounds.”

Master Chandler laughed out loud. “An entire year’s salary, young man? Still, I’ve seen other boys do even more foolish things. And I must say, Elizabeth does deserve it.”

The dimmer switch in Dean’s brain slowly slid on. “Maybe I’d better go talk to her.”

“Maybe I’d better,” said Robin.

“Nope.” Dean held her back. “I did it. I’ll talk to her.”

“All right.” The sudden display of responsibility surprised Robin, but she decided not to comment.

Dean found Elizabeth in her room. She sat on the bed crying.

“I guess I went a little overboard.” Dean said.

“Oh, Dean, it’s beautiful!” Elizabeth sniffed. “It’s just far too rich for me.”

“No, it isn’t.” Dean sat down next to her and cradled her in his arms. “Even Master Chandler said you deserved it.”

“But…”

“No, buts. Remember that contract? You’re supposed to get an allowance. So I spent it for you.”

“Ten pounds?” Elizabeth gaped. “Oh, Dean, so much! And that was for after we’re married. And we’re not, and…” She buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing.

Dean sighed. “Elizabeth, did you have to bring that up?”

“Pray forgive me, Dean, but I must now. It’s more important than ever.”

“Why? I mean…” It hit Dean. “You’re not trying to tell me you’re…”

Elizabeth sniffed and nodded. “I am. I’m certain now.”

Dean groaned his favorite obscenity.

“I’m sorry, Dean.” Elizabeth looked at him fearfully.

“But you can’t be. I mean, we’ve been using that—” Dean swallowed. “We didn’t that one time, did we?”

Elizabeth ducked her head. “I forgot. It’s my fault.”

“It is not. I’m just as responsible for remembering.”

“How are we going to tell Robin?”

“Don’t even.” Dean got up and started pacing. “She’d have my butt in a sling so fast.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “We can’t hide it forever.”

“You’re not too far along, are you? We’ll just have to go home. It’s no sweat. We can get an abortion. Hell, I’ll even pay for it.”

“You mean kill it!” Elizabeth was horrified.

Dean continued pacing. “Elizabeth, will you get a hold of yourself? It’s no big deal.”

“It is so!”

“All right, maybe it is. But it’s the only sensible choice. For crying out loud, we can’t support a kid right now.”

Elizabeth scrambled to her feet. “If you can buy me a necklace, we most certainly can.”

“Yeah, here. But it’s a whole different story back home, and that’s where we’re staying.”

“Yes, Dean.” Elizabeth bowed her head.

Dean sighed. “Damn it, Elizabeth. Don’t go all subservient on me.”

“That is my place.”

Dean heaved an even greater huge sigh. “One of these days you’ll learn. Look, it’s going to be all right. I’ll figure something out. Okay? Are you going to trust me?”

She sank back onto the bed, weeping once again. “I always have.”

It took Dean a moment to realize what she was really afraid of. He plopped down next to her and bundled her into his arms.

“Look, I’m not going to abandon you,” he told her softly. “Whatever happens, we’re going to do this together. And I’m not going back home without you. Honest, Elizabeth. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me and I love you and it’s going to be all right. I don’t know how yet, but it will. I promise.”

Elizabeth sobbed even harder. “Thank you, Dean.”

Dean held her tightly and rocked her, wondering what on earth he’d gotten himself into.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Cleaning Up Tips for the Holidays

cleaning up tipsLet’s be real. Cleaning up is the absolute worst part of cooking. And after a full-on holiday feast, the last thing you want to do is haul yourself up and wash a larger than normal pile of dishes, not to mention the icky, greasy pans.

The funny thing is, with all the holiday help tips out there, no one, but no one offers tips on how to clean up your kitchen after a big holiday meal or party. I suspect it’s because it is such a dreary chore that there really isn’t much that can be done to make it less so. But there are a few things you can do to make a little easier.

Cleaning up Tips

First, don’t make such a big mess in the first place. You can read my post here on how to do that. But the important part to remember is that if you don’t absolutely need that dish or pan, don’t use it! Clean as you go, too. If you’re waiting for the potatoes to boil, you can clean up the peelers and other dishes. There will be less to do later.

Make sure to de-glaze the roasting pan. That’s usually going to be your greasiest and ickiest. De-glazing is easy. You get the drippings and grease boiling, then add some broth, wine or other liquid, get it boiling again and as it does, you scrape all the stuck-on bits into the liquid and use it as a base for your gravy. If you’re not going to make gravy or some other sauce, either pour all that goo into a container and save it to make a sauce later, or feed it to the dog. Or, if you’re not going to make a gravy, squirt some dish soap into the pan and use that to boil and scrape everything up.

If someone else offers to help, accept. Now, I get that there are times when this isn’t feasible. But even if that surly relative is only asking to be polite, accept the help. Women have used clean up time for millennia as a chance to gossip about the rest of the relatives. You can, too.

Sometimes listening to a good comedy podcast or other show helps ease things a little. Sometimes the noise is just annoying.

Get all the plates scraped off as you stack them on the counter. Make sure any paper towels or other wrappers are in the trash, and any containers that you’re going to recycle are ready to be rinsed.

When you’re packing the leftovers, be sure you have the lid next to the container. I can’t tell you how many containers I’ve had to wash because I dumped the leftovers in, then couldn’t find a lid to fit.

Wipe down any counter or workspace that will serve as a landing area for clean dishes. You don’t want to go to all the trouble of washing something then have it pick up crumbs or globs of sauce dribbles. I like using a large towel over our worktable rather than the dish rack, which is always too small.

Wash the least dirty to the most dirty. In other words, if you wash your glassware first, it won’t pick up grease from the wash water and your suds will last longer. Nor will it pick up the tiny bits that were left on any plates and pans. Get everything loaded into the dishwasher that can go into it and don’t worry if you miss a fork or two. Those are easy to hand wash.

Let as many dishes air dry as you have room for. Your good glassware will probably need to be dried right away or it might get spots, and there may not be a lot of room in your kitchen to leave pans out. But whatever you can leave out, you may as well.

A nice glass of wine can help or it can increase the odds of something breaking.

Finally, once you get the plates scraped and the leftovers put away, you can come back to most of it in the morning. If any of your pans are crusted with something starchy, you may want to soak those in some cold water overnight. Greasy pans should get the soap treatment (see above) while they’re still hot. But unless you’re going to risk your drains by pouring the soapy grease down right away, along with lots of hot water, you’ll probably be better off wiping up the mess with some paper towels once they’re cold, and then washing them.

Hope this helps. And please, feel free to share any cleaning up tips you have. We could all use the help.

 

Chapter Sixteen

With Dean out of danger, Robin and Elizabeth were left with a little free time. Elizabeth found her place in Master Chandler’s kitchen, and set about putting it straight, grumbling all the while about the basically inept nature of men. Robin found herself in the shop, first watching Master Chandler at work, then helping out where she could.

“Master Robin, do you have a trade?” Master Chandler finally asked.

“As a tapster,” Robin replied. “My brother and I were running an inn before politics and a certain enemy forced us to leave the village.”

“You won’t find much of that work around here, I’m afraid,” Master Chandler said thoughtfully. “All the families that own inns have more than enough help.”

Robin sighed. “I’ll take whatever work I can find, then. I don’t intend to continue burdening you.”

Master Chandler laughed. “You’re no burden. I’m deeply in debt to Mistress Elizabeth for straightening out my kitchen. Many of my brothers seem to manage very well on their own. I don’t.” He sighed. “But enough of that. To continue, there really isn’t any work available. You might be able to get a laborer’s position, but those are very scarce.”

“I’m not adverse to learning something new,” Robin said.

“You’re a little old to apprentice. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one. I could do with the help, though. Hm. How do you feel about the candle trade?”

Robin smiled. “It’s as good as any. Better than most, I suspect.”

Master Chandler chuckled. “Who knows? I’ll take you on, then, and your brother, when he’s well enough. I dare say a man of his bulk can be quite useful for lifting things.” He breathed in deeply. “Just as long as Mistress Elizabeth stays. It’s been so long since I’ve had the smell of fresh bread coming from my kitchen.”

A week passed, then another. Dean remained bedridden, although it was mostly at Robin’s insistence. He was not a patient invalid, but he remained cheerful. He ran Elizabeth ragged with his demands. Robin was ready to strangle him. Elizabeth intervened, eventually convincing Robin that she (Elizabeth) was quite happy to do the running, as indeed she was.

Robin worked hard. Master Chandler was very gentle and patient in his instruction, but was also a demanding master. He expected nothing less than Robin’s best, and she was often very surprised to find she was capable of so much.

Elizabeth was equally fond of Master Chandler, but in an exasperated way. Master Chandler was an extremely charitable man. Beggars were frequent visitors, and none went away empty handed. Elizabeth quickly learned to make extra bread, cheese, soup, and ale to accommodate the hungry. Master Chandler never gave away more food than Robin, Elizabeth and Dean needed. But it was not unusual for him to skip a meal or two to make up for what he had given away.

It was this habit that exasperated Elizabeth the most. Master Chandler was already bone thin. His clothes were in tatters also. Yet the day after Elizabeth had mended his much-needed cloak, he came back without it. He had given it to a poor young man who had none. Master Chandler worked tirelessly all day. Then many evenings found him on the streets, visiting sick people and performing other good acts, or so Robin said. She went with him, to provide some defense against the many villains who came out after dark, as Master Chandler refused to carry a weapon.

One morning, toward the end of November, when the three had been with the candlemaker for almost three weeks, Elizabeth went upstairs to check on Dean. He was awake and waiting for her.

“At last!” he sighed. “Robin was just here, grumbling about what a baby I’ve been. Hell, she won’t let me out of bed.”

Elizabeth smiled. “You’re getting out this afternoon. Robin wants to change the bedding.”

“I know. My chamber pot’s full, and will you make sure there’s no one on the street before you dump it? I can’t believe the way you throw everything out of the window. You’re lucky there isn’t a Health Department around to bust you.”

Elizabeth just shrugged. It was the way one did things. But Dean never seemed to understand that.

“You seem bugged,” Dean observed.

Elizabeth shook her head. “Not really. I’m tired perhaps. I didn’t sleep last night.”

“A nightmare?”

“No. I just didn’t sleep.” Elizabeth hurried out of the room with the empty chamber pot. In the small yard just outside of the kitchen, she rinsed out the pot, another of Robin’s wishes. More weary than before, she climbed back up the stairs to Dean’s room.

“So what exciting things are going on?” Dean asked the moment she entered.

“Nothing, really.” Elizabeth busied herself tidying the room. “Master Chandler and Robin just got up. They were called away again last night. Robin said it was a sick neighbor.”

“There’s a lot of those around here.”

“About average, I expect. Anyway, Master Chandler is teaching her to dip candles. It should take most of the day. He’s so fussy.”

Dean chuckled. “No kidding. I hear he’s going to start in on me as soon as I’m up.”

Elizabeth smiled. “It’s a good trade. Master Chandler would be doing very well if he didn’t give everything away.” Taking a deep breath, she checked Dean’s bandage. The wound had scabbed over and looked strangely clean.

“Does that bug you?” Dean asked suddenly.

“It shouldn’t.” Elizabeth paused, then went back to retying the bandage. “It’s a great virtue to be charitable. I just fear for his health. He’s so busy thinking of everyone else, he forgets to take care of himself. I don’t know how he survived all those years alone.”

Dean chuckled.

“How are you feeling?” Elizabeth asked.

“Terrific. I’m just real bored, and…” Dean snickered.

“What?”

“I just realized it’s been one hell of a long time since we last made it.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip. That was also what was bugging her. It had been a few weeks, and she was missing it worse than she’d thought possible. “I don’t know if you’re well enough yet. Robin said even the slightest strain could start you bleeding again, and I’m not going to ask her about it.”

“I know.” Dean sighed out loud this time. “It’s mostly because of her that I kind of want to right now. You said she’ll be busy all day. It’s going to be easy for her to catch us any other time.”

Elizabeth carefully sat down next to him. Dean’s hand reached up and stroked her cheek.

“I don’t want to be pushy,” he said. “If you really don’t want to, that’s okay.”

Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “I always want to, Dean.” She bent and kissed his mouth. “That, I’m afraid, is my biggest problem at the moment.”

Downstairs, Robin and Master Chandler bent to the tasks at hand, oblivious to the proceedings above them. They were so absorbed, they didn’t notice that Elizabeth took over an hour to come back to the kitchen. Master Chandler scraped the seams off of some molded candles, while Robin dipped wicks into the vat of wax.

It was slow, monotonous work. It had to be done very carefully, or the wax would not be even over the entire surface. Nonetheless, Robin found herself able to let her mind wander.

She was nervous about the night before. Some men of Cromwell’s army had come across the pair as they hurried to the house of one of Master Chandler’s flock so he could hear confessions. The soldiers were more than a little curious about what two honest citizens were doing on the streets at that time of night. Robin made up a long song and dance about how Master Chandler was her stepmother’s brother, and how her stepmother was quite ill and had begged for Robin to fetch her beloved brother that she might see him one last time. The four roundheads seemed less than convinced, but they let the pair go on their way. Robin was pretty sure they hadn’t followed.

Still, Master Chandler’s true profession was pretty dangerous. It was true that Catholics were no longer being hanged or burned for their faith. But they remained convenient scapegoats for any and all trouble, and with the current turmoil, there were troubles aplenty.

There was no point in trying to tell Master Chandler to stop risking his neck. His entire life was centered on serving the tiny group of Catholics in the surrounding neighborhood. What Robin couldn’t understand was why she was willing to take such a silly risk with him, and furthermore, endanger Dean and Elizabeth as well.

Of course, the time machine provided a nice escape route. But what if the three were separated? And could Robin leave Master Chandler to end his days in some filthy, wretched prison, however willingly he might endure it?

On the other hand, bringing Master Chandler forward in time would only complicate things far worse than they were already. After all, the original objective was to bring Elizabeth back and get her established on her own. Or was it? The more difficulty they had in establishing Elizabeth, the more Robin was forced to examine her own motives for taking the trip backwards in time.

She was certain Elizabeth’s welfare was at the bottom of it. The girl couldn’t function in the twenty-first century, or could she? Whether or not she could was irrelevant. She belonged in her own time, and that was that. Still, there was that nagging fear that Robin was taking full advantage of the situation to satisfy her own curiosity.

Perhaps she was, but what was wrong with that? For one thing, Dean could have died as a result of it. Even with the alcohol, the smartest thing to do would have been to go back home, wait for the wound to heal, then try again. But how to explain the wound to their mother?

Even supposing they could explain the wound, and Elizabeth, there was always the possibility that whatever batteries there were that ran the machine would run down, and they couldn’t return Elizabeth. The machine had to be driven by an unknown, at least in her time, type of power. The amount of power it took to transcend time had to be formidable. But what it was outstripped even Robin’s ability to guess.

“Careful, Master Robin,” Master Chandler’s voice shattered Robin’s thoughts. “You have to keep watching. I know it’s boring, but in time you will have the skill enough to let your thoughts wander. In the meantime, concentrate on slowly, carefully and evenly.”

“Yes, sir.”

Master Chandler chuckled. “Be ever watching. Do not let the day of the Lord catch you sleeping, or your master, either.”

Robin smiled. Master Chandler was easily the happiest, sweetest, most giving man she had ever met. That night she woke with a start, realizing that she had been dreaming about him. Robin sighed, then laughed it off. It was ridiculous. She was a man, and Master Chandler had no interest in men that way, or in women either. His whole life was dedicated to the service of God, and His people. Robin rolled over in her bed and went back to sleep.

The next day, shortly after lunch, Robin was checking out Dean’s cut, when she heard someone knocked at the front door. Elizabeth answered it. Less than a minute later her voice rose upstairs, shrill and angry.

“That’s absurd!” she cried. “We’ve no Papists here! We’re all good members of the Church of England.”

“Damn!” Robin hissed, her heart in her throat.

“Yeah, she has been awful touchy the past two days.” Dean sighed.

“You idiot, they probably want to search the place.”

“Uh, oh. Did you hide our stuff?”

“Damn, that too.” Robin dove under the bed for the sacks. “Where’s Master Chandler?”

“How would I know? You won’t let me out of bed.”

Robin ignored him and ran out of the room with the sacks. She bumped into Master Chandler in the hall.

“What’s the noise?” he asked.

“Sh! They’re searching for Papists. You’d better get your stuff together. I wonder if there’s a place we can hide it upstairs.”

Master Chandler chuckled. “Of course, my son. You’ve things to hide, too, eh? Well, come along. Elizabeth seems to be holding them at bay, but she can’t much longer.”

Robin followed the priest into his room, where he quickly gathered together his stole, crucifixes, books and the small shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

“The candle, too!” Robin grabbed it and hurried after him out of the room and upstairs. “The wax is too warm. They’ll be sure to notice and wonder why you were burning a candle in the middle of the day.”

“Good thinking.” Master Chandler stopped at the head of the stairs and looked up. Above them was a board ceiling. Robin had never really noticed it. But it dawned on her that she had yet to see a ceiling that didn’t have rooms on top of it. The top floors in all of the buildings she’d seen all had just the roof between them and the sky. There was no access to this extra floor.

Master Chandler looked at her and chuckled. “There’s no way to get up there, is there? Well, that’s what I tell everyone when they ask. It used to be an apprentice’s loft that got sealed up many years ago, before I got here. Only I unsealed it for just this sort of emergency. That board, there, see it? It’s loose. If you’ll just give me a hand.”

“Never mind. I can get it more easily myself.” Robin pushed up the board easily. “Terrific. All they’ve got to do is touch that and we’re undone. I’ll just have to hold it down on top. You can hand everything up to me.”

Robin did take the precaution of taking the sack with the iPhone and time machine with her as she hoisted herself into the loft. Master Chandler chuckled as he handed up the sack with the money.

“Hiding from the tax collector, are you?” he said. “I would, too, if I had any to hide.”

“There’s not that much there,” Robin replied. “Well, maybe there is, but it won’t last forever.”

“Too true.”

“Get downstairs, quickly! I can hear them!”

Robin set the board in place, then sat down on it. After about ten minutes, she heard the voices coming up the stairs to the third floor.

“All this bloody work,” wheezed one voice loudly. “And for what? Nothing, I tell you. There’s no Papist here.”

“Master James, will you cease with your complaining?” said a second. “The sheriff said we were to check this house and we will. Those soldiers seemed damned certain those two on the street were priests, and this is where they said they came from.”

“That wench downstairs is not hiding anybody. I’ve never seen anyone so insulted in my life.”

“I wonder what’s up there?”

“Nothing. My cousin lived in this house before the candlemaker came. It’s an apprentice’s loft. My cousin had it sealed off to keep out rats.”

“It could have been unsealed.”

Robin held her breath and leaned on the board were it should have been nailed down. The jabs were ineffectual. The two men were probably fairly short and unable to put much pressure on the loose board.

“So much for that,” grumbled the second voice.

“See? I told you. Nothing. What an utter waste of time.”

“Come along.”

The two went off, the first complaining. Robin waited until Master Chandler called to her.

“They’re gone. It’s safe to come down.”

Robin cautiously lifted the board. Master Chandler smiled up at her.

“Whew!” she sighed as she slid down. “That’s not a very safe hiding place. What would you do if someone came searching when you weren’t here?”

Master Chandler thought it over. Robin got the feeling it was the first time he had ever considered the possibility.

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I do know a way to fix that,” Robin said. “Mind if I do it this afternoon?”

“Are you that concerned over your fortune?” Master Chandler asked with an amused grin.

Robin grimaced. “Not really. I’m more concerned about your neck, and Dean and Elizabeth’s also, and, if you don’t mind, mine. If you get caught, we’re in for it, too.”

“Perhaps you are right.” Master Chandler sighed. “Have at it, then.”

Robin’s device was fairly ingenious. It involved poking one of the knots in the wood up and out of the board, releasing the spring on top holding the board down. The knot was jammed in very tightly and required the use of an innocent looking dowel to poke it out. Robin showed both Master Chandler and Elizabeth how to work the device in case of emergency, and where she was keeping the dowel in her room. Master Chandler had explained to Elizabeth he had helped Robin hide their cache of money, but had not told her what he had hidden. Elizabeth suspected nothing, and remained peeved and out of temper for the rest of the day.

Her temper did not improve over the next couple weeks, and when she awoke one morning before sunrise feeling nauseous yet again, she sighed. It was more a nuisance than anything else, but it was the third day in a row. Elizabeth dressed in the dark and went downstairs.

There, a candle burned in the kitchen, a sure sign that Master Chandler had been called away during the night. Elizabeth thought it very wasteful, but if anyone could afford to waste candles, Master Chandler could. She went to the buttery, hoping to find some of the crusts from the evening before still there.

They were. Elizabeth nibbled on one gratefully. She wondered at the instinct that told her to seek out food when it was her stomach that was upset.

At that moment, the back door swung open and Master Chandler and Robin scurried in on a blast of cold outside air.

“So where have you been now?” Elizabeth asked.

“Sick neighbor,” replied Robin. “Whew! It’s cold out there. What are you doing up so early? It’s not even five yet.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Elizabeth said. “I’d better stoke up the fire. You two look frozen.”

“Not really,” said Master Chandler cheerfully. “I think I shall just hurry to bed. But thank you for your kindness.”

He scurried away upstairs as Elizabeth shrugged. Robin yawned.

“I probably should, too,” she grumbled and stretched. “Oh, before I do, Elizabeth, you got any of those clean rags around? I’ve got a feeling one of those days is coming up.”

“So soon? Oh no, it must be. It’s the ides of December.”

“That we are.” Robin looked at her quizzically. “Is something wrong? You don’t forget things like that.”

“No, I don’t. It must have been Dean’s injury. I’ve been so busy worrying about him, I haven’t thought of much else.”

Robin laughed. “You worry too much about him. He’s doing fine. He’s been lifting stuff without signs of strain. The wound has healed over. He doesn’t need to be spoiled.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, Robin.” A fierce glint flickered in Elizabeth’s eyes. “One thing I do very well is manage men.”

Robin rolled her eyes skyward. “Managing people is not the idea. At least not in my time. I’d hate to be a woman nowadays. I’m not kow-towing to some stupid jerk just because he’s a male. If a guy thinks he’s better or smarter than me, he’d better damn well prove it. Well, goodnight.”

Robin yawned again as she swaggered upstairs. Elizabeth rolled her eyes skyward, then returned to her crust. She paused. Robin’s “days” had always followed Elizabeth’s within hours. Robin wasn’t early, either.

Elizabeth swallowed her crust uneasily. She’d been feeling nauseous for three days, and only first thing in the morning. Then there was that strange instinct. Maybe she was just upset. She had been thrown off when Dean had first awakened her, and Robin had had the same problem when they first returned to England. It seemed plausible, but deep inside, Elizabeth knew the truth.

Chapter Fifteen

The journey to London was relatively uneventful, even though bad weather delayed the three for a couple days. Exactly one week after their departure from Charing Vale, Robin, Dean and Elizabeth found themselves facing the northern edge of the City of London. It was almost dark as they crossed the city limits.

“Well, here we are,” said Robin without enthusiasm.

“It sure smells,” Dean observed.

Elizabeth shrugged. The dense collection of houses, all of them tall and hanging over the street, left the threesome feeling rather overwhelmed. People crowded the streets, as well as the odd horseman or two. The shadows were deep, and the gathering dusk made them worse.

“I suppose we should try to find out where we are,” said Robin.

“Don’t you know?” asked Dean.

“Dean, the last time we were in London, it was a hell of a lot more modern, and most of the streets were actually marked, which is more than you can say for these streets.”

“So what do we do?”

“Find an inn, which we’d better do pretty quickly.” Robin looked around. “From what I remember, these streets at night aren’t exactly safe.”

“Can’t be that bad,” said Dean.

“They make South L.A. look like a picnic ground.”

Dean nodded. “Maybe we’d better find an inn.”

Taking a deep breath, Robin pushed the handcart before them into a gloomy side-street. Several houses had signs above the doors, but they were all tradesmen’s lodgings. As the dark settled, the street emptied of people and Robin was concerned.

“What’s this one?” Dean asked, looking at easily the thirtieth sign they’d seen.

“He makes candles.” Elizabeth sighed.

“That he does,” sneered a rough voice. “You need any?”

“No, we’re looking for an inn.” Dean turned to face a group of five very dirty, nasty looking men.

At that moment, the moon broke through the clouds. Robin saw something flash in the dim light.

“Dean, look out!” she screamed.

Swearing, Dean leaped back, just in time. The five men pounced. Robin pushed the handcart into them, as Dean drew his sword. But the five men almost overwhelmed them. One of them tried to take Elizabeth, but she struggled, kicking, scratching and biting for all she was worth. Robin kicked one man, then suddenly found herself facing off two others. Yelling, she charged them, sword out and thrusting.

The men turned tail, as suddenly as they had attacked. Breathing heavily, Robin looked around. Elizabeth picked herself up out of the muck, and wiped her hands off on her dress. Dean leaned against the candle-maker’s door, gasping and holding his right side.

“Sure scared them, didn’t we?” he remarked with strained cheerfulness.

“Dean, are you alright?” Robin went over to him.

“Just scratched, I think,” he replied. “Sure hurts like hell.”

His head wove for a moment, then, with a groan, he slumped forward into Robin’s arms.

“Dean!” Elizabeth screamed.

Robin struggled to stay upright under her brother’s considerable mass.

“Dean,” she whispered frantically. “Dean, please, no joking, this isn’t funny.”

“Is he dead?” Elizabeth asked, equally horrified.

Robin glared at her. “Damn it, help me, will you?”

“Hullo there!” called a voice at the end of the street. “Is there a problem?”

A man in his early forties ran up, accompanied by a boy in his early teens. Both were wrapped in long black flowing capes.

“It’s my brother,” Robin sniffed. “We were attacked. He’s been hurt.”

“He couldn’t have found a better place for it,” said the man. He picked up one of Dean’s arms and slid under it. “This here is my house. Come, Matthew, you help the lady get the handcart in the house, then show her to the front bedroom.”

“But, sir…” the boy began nervously.

“It wouldn’t be very Christian to leave the poor fellow here,” the man replied. “Remember the parable of The Good Samaritan.”

Together, the man and Robin struggled, dragging Dean’s unconscious form upstairs, and put him on a bed. The man lit a large candle and brought it to the bedside. Robin pulled away Dean’s shirt where he’d been holding his side, and swore. The cut was only about three inches long, but it oozed blood generously. Robin guessed it was fairly deep. At least it wasn’t spurting. She tore away some of Dean’s shirt and pressed it to the wound. Elizabeth entered.

“He’s still with us,” Robin told her.

“He’ll need bandages,” she said softly.

“Yeah, boil them first, in clean water.”

“But why?”

“Just do it, damn it!” Robin snapped.

“Come, my child,” said their host softly. He placed his hand around Elizabeth’s shoulders and led her out of the room. “There’s water and a fire in the kitchen. We’ll do as the master asks. I am Master Chandler.”

As soon as she was sure they were gone, Robin allowed herself to break down a little.

“Deanie, you big dope,” she sniffed, blinking back the tears. “Mom’s gonna kill me when she finds out I let something happen to you. You dumb cluck.”

Dean moaned.

“You’re gonna be okay. I’m right here. I’m gonna take care of you, just like when we were kids, okay? Come on, Deanie, you big doofus, don’t die on me, please?”

Someone approached. Robin dried her tears. Master Chandler walked into the room.

“Master Robin,” he said in his soft gentle voice. “I am only moderately knowledgeable about the healing arts. Perhaps if I sent for a surgeon.”

“He wouldn’t be able to do any more than I can,” Robin replied. She lifted the bandage. “Damn, he’s still bleeding. He should probably have stitches.”

“A surgeon could do that.”

“No!” Robin’s vehemence surprised her. She ducked her head, ashamed. “No, please don’t. It’ll cost too much, and I don’t trust surgeons.”

“Perhaps you are right.”

“Master Chandler, you’ve been extremely kind. I’m sorry I’ve been so rude.”

“It’s perfectly understandable. You are forgiven, my child.”

Elizabeth returned with a bowl full of dripping cloths.

“Here are the bandages,” she said.

“Are they wrung out?” Robin asked.

“No.”

“Why don’t you do that, then? We’ll need some of them to dry, but they must stay clean.”

“I’ve a rack we can use,” said Master Chandler, leaving the room.

Elizabeth listlessly took the bowl to the window, and wrung out a cloth over the street.

“Here, give me that,” Robin said. “Maybe the hot water will help cauterize the wound.”

Elizabeth glared at Robin as she snatched a cloth from the bowl. Robin sniffed.

“Oh, Elizabeth, I’m sorry. I’m so worried about him. I know you are, too. But damn it, I’m responsible for him.”

“I know.” Elizabeth blinked back tears.

“Oh, shavings. Anything happens, and you’re the first one we forget about. That’s not fair. I’m sorry.”

Elizabeth sadly shook her head. “Robin, I know you haven’t been yelling at me.”

“I— if you’ve got that cloth wrung out, I’m not that good at tying bandages. You think you could show me?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I’ll need help, anyway. It has to go under him, and I don’t think I can lift him.”

Robin smiled and nodded. It was Elizabeth’s idea to use three cloths for the bandage. One to soak up the blood, and whatever else the wound would give up, another cloth to hold that one in place, and the third, the part that actually went underneath Dean, to tie it all together.

“This way we won’t have to lift him all the time,” Elizabeth explained.

“You’ve certainly got a head on your shoulders,” Robin agreed.

The lifting process proved to be difficult. Dean was very heavy, and Robin was afraid to disturb the wound. But she managed it. Elizabeth’s hands slipped quickly under the gap left, smoothing as she went.

While they worked on the bandage, Master Chandler slipped in with the rack, and their luggage, minus the handcart. The rack was a round one. Its legs were covered with hardened wax, but the bars had been scraped clean. Robin helped Elizabeth spread out the remaining cloths on the rack as Master Chandler left the room.

“You see, Elizabeth,” Robin explained as they worked. “It’s not the loss of blood that’s putting Dean in so much danger. Well, it is still very dangerous, but, do you remember what I told you about germs?”

“Yes, a little. But I didn’t understand.”

“Okay. You know how moss and lichens in the forests grow on trees. Eventually, they kill the tree. Well, germs are sort of like that, except they don’t always kill you, and they’re so small, you can’t see them.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?”

“You’ve seen pieces of glass that make things look larger, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, using special glasses like that, that are very strong, somebody found out, or will, about germs. Anyway, boiling things kills these germs. If they get into Dean, they could very easily kill him, even more easily than the loss of blood.”

Elizabeth frowned as she struggled to understand. “And boiling the bandages will stop them?”

“Well, there are other things, but we don’t have them. What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of rubbing alcohol right now.”

“Rub…” Elizabeth stumbled over the word. “I wonder. Dean has a strange flask in his bag, and there are strange words on it. I’m afraid I can’t read very well, but it does seem like it could be…”

“Rubbing alcohol?” Robin dove for the bags. “Where did that overgrown idiot get the brains to pack that? Hell, I didn’t even think of it.” Elizabeth shrugged, as Robin pulled the clear plastic bottle from underneath the iPhone. “That’s the stuff, all right. Shavings. We’re going to have to untie those bandages. It’s just as well. We’ve got to keep them changed, anyhow. Don’t say anything about this, okay?”

“Of course not.”

“You’re right. You’d know better than any of us to keep your mouth shut. I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”

“It’s all right.” Elizabeth still felt hurt at being shut out by Robin’s concern, but she couldn’t help smiling at Robin’s awkward attempts to make up for it.

Robin untied the bandage. The first cloth, she discarded and replaced with one of the drying cloths. This last cloth, she poured the alcohol onto first. As Robin applied the cloth, Dean stirred and moaned.

“It’s hurting him!” gasped Elizabeth.

“It does sting like hell.” Robin watched her brother closely. “But it’s a good kind of hurt. You watch. He’ll be better for it.” She tied the cloths closed over the wound, and felt Dean’s forehead. “Damn. He’s feverish. We’d better get some water and a compress. If we can get him to wake up a little, we’ll have to start pushing fluids so he doesn’t dehydrate. In the meantime, we’ll let him rest. He needs that the most now.”

“Perhaps we should bleed him.”

Robin shook her head. “He’s already lost too much blood.”

“But that’s what’s done for a fever.”

“And how effective is it? Not too, I’m sure.” Robin realized she’d rolled her eyes and, embarrassed, shook her head again. “Okay, it probably works often enough to keep trying it, but it’s not a good idea.”

Elizabeth nodded sadly.

“Elizabeth, it’s not your fault.” Robin hurried over to her and took her hands. “Your people just don’t know these things. It’s going to be another two and a half centuries before medical science really begins to get on its feet. It takes time, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth nodded again. “It seems so awkward. I like my life here. Things are so frightening in your world, and so complicated. Is that automatically better?”

“I don’t know, Elizabeth,” Robin sighed. “You’re not the first to wonder that. Sometimes I do, too. Things have a direction here that my time just doesn’t have. Sometimes I really wonder if running water and flush toilets are worth it.” Dean stirred. Robin sat down next to him and took his hand. “I know medicine is. If we were at a hospital now, we wouldn’t have to worry that much. The dumb lunkhead. I know I shouldn’t call him that. He really is pretty smart. He just never had to use it. He was so cute as a kid. He won a beautiful baby contest when he was sixteen months. I was jealous for a week. Well, I was only nine. Then when he was three, he used to go out in the yard and pick flowers. And he always made sure he had a special bunch for everybody. He’d come waddling in, covered with dirt, and he’d say, ‘A bunch for Mommy, a bunch for Daddy, a bunch for Robby.’  He always called me Robby, cause he couldn’t say Robin. He did that until he was almost four. Then he started it up again when he was six. That’s when our folks got divorced. Mom went over and over it with him. But he was just too young to understand. It scared the hell out of him. I think that’s why he’s not as close as I am to our dad.” Robin looked at Elizabeth. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No.” Elizabeth shrugged and smiled. “But it doesn’t matter. I understand some. A child picking flowers is nothing mysterious. You were close to your brother as a child.”

“In some ways. I was always taking care of him. I resented it sometimes. He was always tagging along after me, and all my girlfriends, what few I had, thought it was terrific because he was so cute. Then when he turned twelve, he rebelled. All of a sudden, he didn’t want to have a thing to do with girls, me included. Come to think of it, he didn’t want to admit he had a family until he was seventeen. Of course by then I was already out of college and on my own working, so it didn’t bother me any.”

“It seems strange to be so close to one’s family,” Elizabeth said. “My brothers barely knew me.”

“How many kids did you have in your family?”

“Seven besides me. I had five brothers and two sisters. That’s not counting the ones that were stillborn, and the three that died before they were five. The others were all alive when I left. I was the oldest. I had to run the house and raise the others when my mother died.”

“And now you’re gone. It’s funny. We don’t think of life being so tenuous in our time, and yet it is.” Robin shrugged. “I’ll go ahead and watch first tonight. I’ll wake you when I’m tired.”

“If you wish,” Elizabeth replied.

Robin looked at her. She seemed so sad, but willing to do whatever Robin asked. Robin felt guilty.

“I think I will go down and get some water for him first,” she said suddenly and left.

While she was gone, Elizabeth picked up Dean’s hand and held it to her cheek. It was so warm. But Robin knew what she was doing. Elizabeth kissed Dean’s sleeping mouth. It did seem strange to be so close to someone. She kissed him one more time, then Robin returned.

It was a long night. Robin watched anxiously. She thought often of the time machine in the sack that she’d stashed under Dean’s bed. Dean needed antibiotics. He needed clean sutures. But then Robin would remember the terrible crushing sensation as the machine worked. As dangerous as Dean’s current condition was, Robin felt fairly certain that the trip ahead through time would kill him.

About four o’clock in the morning, Elizabeth insisted on taking a turn. Dean remained feverish throughout the next day and into the next night, but at least his belly remained flat and fairly soft. Robin took that as a sign that his colon hadn’t gotten punctured by the sword. But there was still that fever. Robin fretted. Dean couldn’t get any fluids into his system while he was unconscious. The few times he was awake, he was delirious.

“Come on, Deanie, just a little sip.” Robin held the tankard to his lips. It was around midnight of the second night. “For me.”

“Mom. I want Mommy,” he mumbled and tossed his head.

“Mom’s not here, Deanie. It’s Robby. Please take a little drink.”

“I want Kool-Aid.”

“Pretend it’s Kool-Aid. It’s grape Kool-Aid. You love grape.”

Dean took a sip, then another.

“That’s a good boy. Try another.”

Dean sipped again. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s working, Dean.”

“Why is he going away? Mommy says he’s not going to live with us anymore.”

Robin blinked back her tears. Why, of all the rotten times in their lives, did he have to bring back that one?

“That doesn’t mean we won’t see him,” she said, just as she had before. “We’ll see him lots of times. Mommy and Daddy just think it would be better for all of us if they lived apart.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I don’t either, but they know better than we do, okay?” Robin hadn’t been convinced then and was surprised to find that she still wasn’t. She reminded herself that she hadn’t been in her parents’ position, and so had no right to judge.

“Robby, are you going away, too?”

“No, Deanie. I’m right here. I’m not going to leave you. You take another drink and go to sleep.”

Robin did leave for a few minutes as soon as Dean was fast asleep again. She needed to use the chamber pot and refill the tankard. Dean seemed even warmer, if that were possible. At least the bleeding had stopped, and the wound showed no signs of infection.

When she returned to the door of the room, she stopped. She heard whispering, but it wasn’t in English. She looked inside. Master Chandler was kneeling by the bed. In the dim candlelight, he traced something on Dean’s forehead. She watched him continue whispering for a few minutes longer. Finally, he made the sign of the cross on himself. It was then that Robin noticed the purple satin stole around the man’s neck. She smiled as she realized what he’d been doing.

Master Chandler removed the stole, kissed it, then gathered together the little book, crucifix and tiny pot that he had been using. He turned, then froze as he saw Robin. She was surprised by his reaction, then she remembered.

“No, don’t be frightened,” she said. “Trust me. I won’t turn you in. I’m not like the others.”

“Are you one of us?” Master Chandler asked.

“No. I’m just better educated, and a hell of a lot more tolerant.”

“Pray forgive me.” Master Chandler nodded toward Dean. “The sacrament is not usually administered to those not of the faith, but Saint James admonishes us to pour healing oil on the sick.”

Robin smiled. “I don’t mind. At this point, I’ll take any help I can get.”

“Your faith is like that of the Good Centurion.” Master Chandler smiled. “I shall return to my chamber. God grant you a good night.”

Robin slipped into her place next to the bed. “Master Chandler, thank you, for everything. I know how dangerous it is for you to take us in like this. In fact, I would keep your secret from Elizabeth. She isn’t as tolerant as I am. And if Dean recovers, I’d keep it from him as well. He wouldn’t turn you in, but he doesn’t always watch what he says and he might give you away accidentally.”

“Thank you for warning me. These are dangerous times, and not only for those of my faith, I suspect, but for all England. Still, we are a church under persecution. I must be more cautious if I am to continue serving my people.”

This last was muttered as Master Chandler left the room, and it seemed as if he were warning himself more than anybody.

The next morning, Elizabeth entered the room somewhat irritated. Robin had failed to wake her yet again. But Elizabeth’s heart melted when she saw Robin fast asleep at the foot of the bed.

The morning sunlight streamed in through the window and onto Dean. His color looked a lot better, and he seemed to be breathing more easily. Elizabeth picked up his hand and held it to her cheek. It was cool to the touch, though not with that awful coldness. Her hand stroked his cheek, then lay on his forehead. The fever had broken. Almost in tears, Elizabeth bent and kissed his lips. He returned it. She pulled away as his eyelids fluttered open.

“You didn’t have to stop,” he said weakly.

“Oh, Dean!” Elizabeth whispered. She sat on the floor next to him. “How do you feel?”

“I don’t know. Weak, kinda tired. My side is sore. Geez, did I have one hell of a nightmare.”

“You’ve been hurt badly. We feared for your life.”

“Oh. Where’s Robin?”

“What the hell’s going on?” asked a sleepy voice from the foot of the bed. Robin shook the last of the sleep away, then bounced to her feet. “Dean?”

“Yeah. You okay?”

“Fine. You sound normal. Do you know where you are?”

“Uh, London, sixteen something or other.”

Robin felt his forehead. “I’ll be damned. The fever’s broken.”

Dean coughed weakly. “Have I been sick?”

“Yeah.” Robin grabbed the tankard and turned away. She tried not to choke over her words. “You were delirious a couple times. I’d better get you some water. You’re probably a little dehydrated.”

She hurried out before her joy could betray her.

Pauline Baird Jones Explains How a Duet Came to Be

Pauline Baird Jones has an unusual offer for us today: science fiction romance. Hers is one of two stories published as a duet with her friend Genie Davis. If you’ve ever wondered how an author comes up with ideas, well, this is an interesting twist on the process. You can find out more about Pauline here.

Like many of my ideas, Open With Care began with Genie, the other author in our duet, and I at lunch, talking.

“Why haven’t we written something together?” One of us asked. I don’t remember which one. It was a question because we’d been friends (online first and after some years, some face-to– face meetings) for a long time. So then and there, we decided to write “something” together.

Soon.

By the end of the year.

We did some kicking around of idea via Facebook Messenger and decided our “duet” would have these elements:
1. Wyoming
2. In the science fiction romance genre.
3. Holiday (Christmas)
4. Be triggered by an unusual gift.

So separately, we took these elements and started writing. Because you have to write holiday stories ahead of the holidays, I found myself working
on my story, “Up on the Rooftop,” in August. Luckily, I was also in Wyoming, but that didn’t help as much as you’d think it would. Because it was August.

My story idea was further refined by a couple of personal triggers:
1. That spring I was at the Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas and involved in the Intergalactic Bar & Grille party. We decorated with blow up, green aliens.
2. My real life experience with aging parents.

How I brought all of these elements together into a single short story, well, frankly, it puzzles me, too. Apparently, I poured them into my brain, turned on the brain blender, and out came a quirky tale of aliens on the rooftop, Men in Black in the yard, and a long shot chance to rekindle an old romance.

Genie’s story is quintessentially hers, too. It is evocative, a little dark, but ultimately a hopeful story about love and the power of Christmas. Hers has aliens, too, but not the little green men variety.

The Stories:

Gini knew Christmas in Wyoming would be challenging as she headed
over the frozen crick and through the woods to the family cabin. The lights
are going out in her mom’s attic, the guy who broke her heart is on the
porch…and there are aliens on the roof.
According to her mom, it’s going to be the best Christmas ever.
And then dive into a mesmerizing tale of interstellar time travel and
romance!

Jane MacKenzie, visiting her grandfather’s abandoned ranch,
discovers something in the snow. When she opens the ribbon-wrapped
box, it mysteriously returns Sam Harrington, who “disappeared” in an  1885
blizzard.
There’s nothing alien in this enduring tale of holiday homecomings and
the hope of a love that lasts a lifetime.

You can buy Open With Care at BarnesandNoble, Google Play, Kobo, Amazon, and iTunes, or just go to the link for Open With Care.

Chapter Fourteen

Robin and Edward arrived in the outskirts of Charing Vale late in the afternoon as the sun was just beginning to set. Robin had them hide until full darkness could cover their entry into the village. The day was bitter cold, and the night even colder. Edward was anxious, once the sun set, to hurry to her home. But Robin held her back.

“Too many people are abroad yet,” she said. “Look at how many houses there are lit up by candles.”

They waited three more hours. The night grew colder around them. Finally, Robin decided it was safe. Edward led them through the dark streets to her father’s house. The door was unbolted. Edward admitted Robin and shut the door silently.

“Wait here,” Edward whispered. “I’ll go fetch my parents.”

“Who’s there?” a voice coming from the stairs hissed.

“Father?” Edward asked.

“Bess, is that you?” answered the voice.

“Yes, sir.”

“Who’s with you?”

“Master Robin, Father.”

“She’s home!” a woman’s voice called out. “Put away that pike, Matthew!”

The light of a small candle appeared at the top of the stairs. It was carried by a large woman in a flowing gown, her hair loose and flying about her night cap. She hurried down the stairs, followed by her husband, who was similarly dressed.

“Oh, Bess, at last,” the woman crooned. She found another candle in the best room chest and lit it.

“Bess?” Robin asked Edward.

“It’s my real name,” Edward replied.

Her mother turned to Robin. “Oh, Master Robin, I want to thank you so much for bringing my child back. I’m sure you know why she couldn’t stay.”

“I do, Mistress.”

“It’s such a blessing it was you who brought her,” Mistress Skippington continued. “And that you arrived now, when you’re needed so badly.”

“What’s wrong?” Robin’s heart stopped.

“Today, your brother and cousin were arrested for witchcraft.”

“What?” Robin let loose a short string of obscenities, then turned on Mistress Skippington. “What did that idiot brother of mine do now?”

“We know them to be innocent,” Master Skippington said. “It’s more of Master Blount’s evil. He simply took advantage of a most unfortunate accident that resulted in some most peculiar actions by your brother.”

“But what happened?” Robin demanded.

“Master Fletcher’s youngest son somehow contrived to fall into the ocean this morning, near that part of the beach closest to the inn.” Master Skippington took a deep breath. “Your brother realized that to fetch a boat to rescue him would take far too long, so he dove into the waves and swam after the boy. As if that wasn’t peculiar enough, he remained in the water with the child for a full five minutes before returning to the beach.”

Robin knew exactly what had happened. She hadn’t been raised on a beach for nothing.

“They just floated in one place for five minutes,” Mistress Skippington cried. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Surely you’ve seen people swim before,” Robin said.

“Of course,” replied Mistress Skippington. “But staying in one place like that?”

Robin groaned. “It’s simple once you know how.”

“But why?” Mistress Skippington pressed. “It was frightfully cold out there.”

“He was probably tired and catching his breath before trying to swim in,” Robin explained, although she doubted that was the real answer. The truth would only frighten the others more. She hoped Dean had kept his mouth shut about that.

“That makes sense.” Master Skippington nodded. “The trouble is that while most of the townspeople believe they are innocent, they were frightened, and Master Blount surely has paid for enough witnesses to guarantee a hanging tomorrow.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Robin sighed. “Well, that settles it, we’re leaving town. We were planning on it anyway. I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay in the army.”

“And why not?” asked Master Skippington.

Edward giggled. Robin glared at her.

“Somebody has to take care of my dumb brother,” Robin said quickly. Edward giggled again. Robin turned on her. “You, come here for a second.”

Edward obeyed. Robin pushed her over into a corner, then checked to see that her parents couldn’t overhear.

“Don’t you dare say anything about me,” Robin said with quiet firmness. “If I’m leaving, I’ve got to stay in disguise. Besides, you know anyone else who can get those two out of wherever they are?”

“But they all know you’re quick witted,” Edward said.

“They know I’m quick witted as a man. Everything changes once they find out I’m a woman. Remember, Samuel wouldn’t listen to me after he found out.”

“And you’re smarter than he is. All right, I won’t say anything. You’re one lucky woman, you know that. I envy you.”

“Thanks.” Robin paused, then took the small purse they’d taken from the peddler and opened it. “Here’s your share of the booty.” She glanced over her shoulders to make sure Edward’s parents couldn’t see. She removed half of the coins and pressed them into Edward’s hand. “You earned it like a man, you keep it like one.”

Edward sniffed and embraced Robin.

“All right,” said Robin in her normal voice as she pulled away. “Do you know where Dean and Elizabeth are being held?”

“In the town gaol, next to the church,” said Master Skippington.

“That should be fairly easy to break them out of.” Robin thought. “Who’s guarding them?”

“No one,” Master Skippington said. “They’re locked in. There isn’t a locksmith in the town, and the nearest one wouldn’t dream of crossing Master Blount.”

“I don’t think we’ll need a locksmith. I’d better go get some things from the inn first. I do want to thank you for your kindness. I’ll be off now.” Robin turned for the door.

“Wait!” said Master Skippington. “I’ll go with you. I can help you carry what you need from the inn.”

“If I can’t carry it, I can’t take it,” said Robin.

“But your brother can. I’ll take his place until you are able to liberate him.”

Robin sighed. “Thank you, sir. Your help will be much appreciated.”

Master Skippington disappeared, then came back a few minutes later, fully dressed. Robin slipped out of the house with him following. As she approached the inn, she saw a dim light glowing in one of the upstairs windows. Master Skippington gasped.

“Ghosts?” he asked.

“Hardly,” Robin replied. “I’ve got a feeling someone thinks there’s more money in there than we’ve let on.” She pulled her pistol from her sash. “Come on. But be as silent as possible. We’ll want to surprise him.”

With Robin in the lead, the two stalked silently up to the inn. The street door was half open. Robin slid through without a sound, Master Skippington did likewise. Footsteps above approached the stairs. Robin scuttled underneath the stairs, with Master Skippington on her heels.

Though the intruder tried to move quietly, the stairs creaked softly as he came down. He turned into the best room and Robin recognized him: Master Neddrick. He carried a small candle with him, and he went straight to the chest and rifled through its contents. Robin turned to him and aimed.

“Evening, Master Neddrick,” she said.

Stunned, the tall man whirled around.

“I assure you,” Robin continued. “You are well within accurate range of this pistol. It’s amazing what one picks up in the army, isn’t it? Master Skippington, would you kindly tie and gag the gentleman? Isn’t it a funny coincidence that you show up, Master Neddrick, just as another manufactured witchcraft charge was brought against my brother and cousin?”

“You know this man?” Master Skippington asked, tying Neddrick’s wrists.

“We’ve run into him before,” replied Robin. “I don’t know what he’s got against us, except that he wants my cousin for some purpose. Odd how he just happened to have the ear of someone else who wanted to hang us for witchcraft. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t behind this charge and my conscription into the army. It makes sense. Get rid of the brains of the family, and then move in on the others. It had to be you, Master Neddrick. Master Blount just isn’t that smart, or that subtle.”

“Indeed not,” agreed Master Skippington.

Donald Long glared furiously at Robin, at a complete loss for words. It was impossible. If the information he’d gotten in London was correct – and there was no reason to doubt it – the Parkers and Elizabeth would be in London in a week or so. Perhaps he would catch them on the road. But, no. They’d recognized him in London. There had to be some way to get to Elizabeth. The DNA hadn’t lied. Or had it?

Skippington applied the gag with added viciousness. They seated Master Neddrick next to the wall so his feet could be bound. Robin went through his pockets, and only found a nasty looking knife. A quiet groan startled her.

“What?” She turned.

In the corner, Pastor Layton lay crumpled in a heap, and was slowly coming to.

“Oh, no!” Robin scurried over to him. “What happened to you?”

“Master Robin?” asked the pastor weakly.

“Yes, it’s me.” She gently turned him onto his back.

“Praise be to the Lord, you’ve returned. Have you heard?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m here.”

“It’s why I came. I came after dark, so I shouldn’t be found out. I wanted to fetch some blankets for them, and some food. I came in, and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Robin waved the candle in front of his eyes. They weren’t dilated.

“You’ve been hit on the head,” she said. “You should be okay. But you should go straight home and stay in bed for several days, at least.”

He struggled to a sitting position. “I can’t do that.”

“You could die if you don’t.” Robin glanced around. “Master Skippington, will you help the pastor home?”

“Wait!” Master Layton cried out. “Master Robin, don’t you understand? If there is to be any chance of them escaping conviction, I must present myself at the trial tomorrow and give evidence.”

“There’s not going to be a trial,” said Robin curtly. “We’re leaving permanently. I didn’t exactly get an honorable discharge.”

“But the inn…”

Robin sighed as she looked around the best room. “Boy, is Samuel going to be mad. Wait. Pastor, will you see to it that the deed is signed over to Samuel Shepwell when he returns? It’s here in this chest.” Robin ran over and got the piece of paper, plus some others. “Here it is. And here are Master Miller’s notes on how to brew the porter, and where to buy supplies.”

Pastor Layton smiled and nodded. Master Skippington came over to take the pastor. Robin slipped away and upstairs. Besides blankets and food, there were a few things she wanted that she didn’t want anyone else to see.

Neddrick had been through Master John’s bedroom. The hidden hole behind the bed was opened, and empty. Robin stuck her hand in and smiled. The false back she’d put in was still intact. She removed it and the three bags the remaining hole contained. In the bags were almost twenty pounds in various pieces of change: earnings from the inn, leftovers from Master John’s money, plus the loot from the thieves. There were also a keyboard console, a terry cloth towel, and an iPhone and its speaker dock. Robin hurried back downstairs. Master Skippington had been replaced by Master Shepwell.

“Master Skippington told me what happened here. We met as he was taking the pastor home,” Master Shepwell said. “I was on my way to the gaol, to see if I could bring anything to make Master Dean and Mistress Elizabeth more comfortable. Master Skippington said I should come here.”

“Oh. Thanks. I just want to get as much cheese and dried sausage as we have into these bags. And blankets, and a pot or two.”

“Master Skippington has already seen to that. I’ll help you carry them. What about your prisoner?”

“Leave him. There’s no way to carry him and everything else.”

“Yes, there is. You have a handcart.”

“Yeah. Hey, I’ve got an idea.” Robin chuckled. “Yeah. That’s perfect. Bring him along.”

Master Shepwell brought the handcart around, and dumped Neddrick into it. The two hurried along the quiet streets to the gaol. Robin was surprised to see that Dean and Elizabeth were still awake.

“We’ve enough food,” Dean hissed through the bars as he heard them approach.

“What food, you dope!” Robin hissed back.

“Robin!” Dean replied with delight. “Boy, am I glad to see you. See, Elizabeth, I told you.”

“I’ll bet you’re glad,” Robin returned. She looked at the lock and nodded. “You two get as far back from the door as you can.”

“Why?” asked Dean.

“Just do it.” Robin pulled her pistol from her sash once more.

With the barrel on top of the door lock, she squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Robin glared at the pistol, hit it with the heel of her hand and squeezed again. The heavy iron padlock danced against the bars of the door. Robin brought the butt of the pistol down onto the lock. It fell away easily. She swung the door open.

“Where did you get that gun?” Dean asked.

“Never mind,” said Robin as she re-loaded. “Just get your butts out of there.”

“Just a second, we got some stuff to collect.”

Robin nodded at Master Shepwell. As soon as Dean and Elizabeth emerged, Master Shepwell entered the gaol and dumped Neddrick in. Elizabeth gasped as she saw him.

“He was behind this,” she said.

“No kidding,” said Robin.

“Tis a pity,” said Master Shepwell, shutting the door. “I wish you didn’t have to leave. We’ve been looking forward to the wedding.”

“What wedding?” asked Robin.

“Master Dean and Mistress Elizabeth are betrothed,” replied Master Shepwell. Dean squirmed. “Surely you knew about that.”

“Oh, they are?” Robin glared at the pair. “No, I didn’t know. I’d sure like to know more, too.”

“It’s a long story,” said Dean quickly. “Let’s get out of here. Half the town probably heard that gun go off.”

“Half the town is helping us escape,” Robin pointed out. “Nonetheless, you’re right. Is everything loaded on the handcart?”

“Yeah,” Dean shook his head. “Sheesh, we’ve got enough food to last us a year.”

“Hopefully, we won’t need it for that long.” Robin turned. “Master Shepwell, please convey our sincerest thanks to everyone.”

“I will, Master Parker, Master Dean, Mistress Wynford, fare well, and God go with you.”

“And you too,” said Elizabeth.

They hurried off, slipping through the streets to the south road. Once out of sight of the town, Robin headed them off the road and across the fields to the London road. They traveled a couple more hours, then bedded down for the night.

The next morning, Robin had them up early and off again. But this time they stayed on the road because of the handcart. Dean and Elizabeth were silent. Robin saw they were waiting.

“All right,” she said about mid-morning. “What’s the long story, Dean?”

“It’s no big deal,” he replied. “We just had a marriage contract drawn up so Blount couldn’t do the same and get Elizabeth that way. Elizabeth knows we’re not really betrothed. It was just to protect her. That’s the only reason I went along with it.”

“That, and you knew it would be pretty hard to enforce a three-hundred-year-old contract,” Robin answered cynically. One look at Elizabeth told her there was a lot more involved, at least on the girl’s part.

“Hey, I didn’t think of that,” Dean said.

“I’m surprised,” said Robin. “I’ll bet this whole thing was Elizabeth’s idea.”

“And if it was?” Elizabeth said, defensively.

Robin sighed. “Elizabeth, surely you realize that Dean cannot stay in the Seventeenth Century. That’s going to make it very hard for you to marry him.”

Elizabeth shrugged.

“Hey, Robin, can we stop for lunch?” Dean asked.

“I guess.”

They pulled off the road into a little thicket. Elizabeth laid out a blanket and set out bread and cheese while Dean took Robin aside.

“Robin, will you please go easy on Elizabeth?” he asked. “The past few days have been really rough on her.”

“What do you mean?”

“You want to know the real reason she didn’t want to go back to her family?”

“All right.”

“She was convicted for witchcraft. Roger pulled her the night before she was supposed to be hanged. She’s really upset ‘cause she thinks she’s under some sort of curse that she’s going to get busted for witchcraft wherever she goes.”

Robin shook her head. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Maybe, but she really believes it.”

Robin sighed. “You really like her, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Do you want to marry her?”

“Aw, come off it, Robin.” Dean flushed.

Robin paused, suddenly sorry she’d asked. Dean wasn’t denying it and even a blind person could see he was just as hooked as Elizabeth was.

“You think it’s time to go home yet?” Dean asked.

“And what about Elizabeth?”

“Bring her with us. She’ll get along in our time. And people won’t be trying to hang bogus witchcraft charges on her.”

Robin frowned. “Maybe.”

She turned away. Clearly Dean had had enough of their adventure. But there was still Elizabeth. Robin found it hard to dismiss the memory of how frightened the girl had been in the future. It would be cruel to bring Elizabeth forward again. Yet how to resolve hers and Dean’s obvious affection for each other?

“Why don’t we try getting lost in the big city first?” Robin said finally.

“Huh?”

“London.” She turned back to the blanket where Elizabeth was waiting. “Hey, Elizabeth, how do you feel about settling down in London for a while?”

Elizabeth smiled happily. “Oh, that would be most interesting. I’ve always wanted to go to London.”

“Well, there you have it,” Robin said triumphantly.

She did not see Dean winking at Elizabeth as if to suggest that they two were just going along to indulge Robin. Which they were.

 

In the gaol in Charing Vale, Donald Long paced relentlessly. Guards were mounted as the prisoner made every attempt to escape. It wasn’t until after the January Assizes were held and he was bound and taken to Scotland that he fell into a sullen stupor, mumbling over and over that he couldn’t have failed. The DNA had matched his. He was the baby’s father. It was unquestionable. He was the baby’s father.