There was barely a flush in the eastern sky when Dean felt Robin prodding him awake the next morning. He grumbled, but it was quickly clear that his sister was in no mood to put up with his complaints. Not sure what was bugging her, he followed her out of the barn and on to their first task of the day, setting the rabbit traps along the nearby stream that flowed between the fields and a small glade of trees.
Robin kept muttering about the time, and sure enough, the King’s messenger and Master Black were already awake and waiting by the time Dean and Robin got back. But it didn’t take long to set up the table for their breakfast. In the meantime, Master Black took some bread and his horse and left quickly.
Robin and Dean joined Mistress Ford and Elizabeth in the kitchen to eat the porridge that Elizabeth had prepared. Then Dean was sent to bring out the King’s messenger’s horse, Elizabeth to tend to the now empty rooms, and Robin to take down the table in the common room. Mistress Ford went to milk the cow, which apparently refused to milk for anyone else.
Dean had the horse saddled and ready by the time the messenger had eaten but got no thanks as the man mounted and rode off. Mistress Ford had also told Dean to clean the stables once the messenger was gone, and so Dean turned to his task.
The mess that was the stable overwhelmed him as he stood in the doorway. His stomach grumbled with hunger and he grumbled about how miserable it all was. He was still grumbling when Elizabeth came out to the stable, looking for an extra broom.
“Doesn’t anybody, like, rest or something around here?” he said, tossing straws from the bench he was reclining on.
Elizabeth pursed her lips and avoided looking at him.
“And I’m really hungry here,” Dean continued, oblivious. “If you want to keep me working, you got to feed me. I mean, I need fuel.”
Finally, Elizabeth could bear no more.
“By the rood, you are the most spoilt, obnoxious, ridiculous person I’ve ever run across!” she snapped. She whirled around and fixed her blazing eyes on him. “You do nothing but complain. Poor Robin had to find all the information she wanted to be sure we could come here safely. You just complained that it was boring. You complained that you didn’t want to come here. And now that we’re here, you complain that the work is too hard and that there’s not enough food. There is more than enough food. Mistress Ford is marvelous generous. As for work, you should be apprenticed to my old master. Even his journeyman was up before dawn. And the work, it was heavy, carrying huge pots of dye day in and day out, and look that you don’t spill a drop or the master would beat you. If you didn’t move fast enough or mixed the dyes wrong, or whatever you did wrong, he’d beat you. Sometimes he beat his apprentices just because he felt like it. A delicate beast like you, you’d never be able to survive it. You can’t even survive this! I should be ashamed of myself if I were you.”
Dean slid backward on the bench as Elizabeth bore down on him.
“I can’t believe that a great big man like you is such a weakling!” she continued relentlessly. “If I were you, I’d be on my knees every night praying to our Good Lord to relieve me of the grievous sin of sloth. I’ve never met anyone as lazy as you. You are just appalling!”
“Are you done?” Dean squeaked out.
Elizabeth glared at him. “Yes.”
“Am I that bad?” Dean squeaked again.
“Oh.” Dean swallowed. Even as his chest caved in on itself and his ears burned red, he realized that he was feeling ashamed of himself for perhaps the first time in his life. Even the chewing out he’d gotten in first grade for turning over his filled juice cup hadn’t felt this bad.
Elizabeth still glared. Dean got up and grabbed a rake.
“I’m not really that lazy,” he said, grasping for a defensive posture.
“Then show me,” Elizabeth snarled. She picked up her broom, spun on her heal, and trounced out of the barn.
Behind her, she could hear a flurry of raking, but the satisfaction she should have felt was drowned in worry. She should never have spoken to Dean as she had. Once more, her quick tongue had gotten her into trouble. She glanced back at the barn. Dean, by rights, could have beaten her for her harsh speech. Instead, he was acting like one of her old master’s apprentices caught misbehaving.
She frowned. Dean was so very odd. Robin, she could almost understand. But Dean didn’t act much like the men Elizabeth had known. Elizabeth shrugged and returned to the house.
She decided not to say anything to Robin, who had just finished in the common room and was headed to the small garden. Robin seemed very unsure of herself, something that also puzzled Elizabeth.
It was no puzzle to Robin. She had spent most of the morning with her stomach knotted into a tight ball and there seemed to be no sign of it loosening. Making sure Dean didn’t do anything stupid was bad enough. Robin was just as worried about fitting in and not doing something stupid and felt horribly out of place, herself.
It had taken far too long to set the traps that morning. She had managed most of the other work, and, fortunately, working in the kitchen garden seemed pretty straightforward. It was late enough in the spring that most of the cabbages, beets, turnips, and carrots had grown enough that Robin was able to tell them apart from the weeds. But there were a couple rows that were newly seeded. Robin decided not to worry about them just yet.
Just as the sun reached the zenith, clouds started rolling in. The rain started as almost a mist just as Dean and Robin headed into the kitchen for lunch. By the time they had started working on the ale, the rain was a steady downpour.
The rain didn’t stop a small group of village men from showing up for their evening’s tankard and chat. It was a quiet evening. Even Master Ford seemed to go to sleep much sooner than usual. The work had gone well. Mistress Ford was pleased enough to say so, and as she did, Robin felt herself relax for the first time.
The next day was much the same, but the day after that was Sunday.
Robin was mildly puzzled. It seemed as though the machine had dropped them three days later than she’d entered. She’d figured it might drop them earlier, but later? It didn’t matter in the long run.
In England, in the Seventeenth Century, Sunday meant Church. The service was long and highly ritualized. Dean did not enjoy the church service. Neither did Robin. As she looked around her, she didn’t think anyone else found it interesting. The pastor didn’t seem to be very popular. Every so often, Robin heard someone whisper “idolator”, “papist” or “Laudian.” Dean was aware that something was wrong but couldn’t understand what it was. Elizabeth explained that the pastor was too much like a Catholic for the strongly Protestant Englishmen.
Sunday did have one advantage, especially as far as Dean was concerned. It was a day of rest. After all the necessary work and church services were done, Mistress Ford let her three workers do as they liked. Which would have been many different things, but for the rain. The first two Sundays in Downleigh were spent relaxing in the kitchen next to the fire, listening to Mistress Ford recite the psalms while Master Ford snored in his corner.
But two and a half weeks after the three had arrived, sunshine took over. Three whole days had passed without even a mist, and that Sunday, after services and lunch, Robin announced that she was going to spend her day of rest enjoying the warm weather. Dean was about to say he wanted to catch some rays, but caught himself in time and instead merely agreed that a walk was in order. Elizabeth quietly agreed also. Mistress Ford smiled but declined to join her workers.
As it turned out, Dean found a grassy slope facing the afternoon sun and decided to take a nap there. Robin and Elizabeth both rolled their eyes, but went on, following the stream for a bit before turning back.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Robin said with a yawn, “but I think Dean’s got the right idea.”
“If we don’t get too brown from the sun,” Elizabeth replied. She stretched and wriggled her shoulders. “But the sun does feel good.”
They headed up the slope to where Dean was stretched out on the grass. Robin froze as she saw the bright white wires coming from his ears.
“Dean, you jackass!” Robin snarled softly as she ran up.
“Huh?” Dean looked at her.
Robin yanked the earbuds from his head. In the still, the faint sounds of Green Day rippled out.
“Why, in heaven’s name, did you bring you bring that damned iPhone!” she growled, glancing around and praying she wouldn’t be overheard. “Do you have any idea of the trouble we could get into if someone saw you with this?”
Dean shrugged. “What about that machine that got us here?”
“Do you see me pulling it out in the middle of the day?”
“Well, what about your towel?”
Robin blushed. Her reasons for bringing the small towel were even sillier than Dean bringing the iPhone. That Dean had found the towel was bad enough. Robin wasn’t about to tell him why she had it. That didn’t stop Dean from needling her about it whenever he got the chance.
“That I can explain,” she said quickly. “But an iPhone is completely beyond the comprehension of anyone in this time period.” Robin sighed as Dean shrugged and put the phone away in his sack. “Honestly, Dean, after all that witchcraft talk last night, you’d think you’d have more sense.”
“Aw, come on, Robin. There’s no such thing as witches.”
“Of course, there are,” said Elizabeth. “I know you two to be friendly sorcerers. But there are many who aren’t.”
“She’s not the only one who thinks so either,” added Robin.
“I heard Farmer Lynley say last night that his last keg of ale went sour the other day for no reason at all,” Elizabeth said.
“With the weather turning warm, that’s not surprising,” said Robin.
“It hasn’t been hot,” said Dean. “Hasn’t been more than seventy-five.”
“That’s hot for ale, lunkhead,” Robin replied, still irritated with him. “That’s why we have to be so careful.”
“Mistress Teaseley’s cow wouldn’t give milk yesterday morning,” Elizabeth continued. “They say that Mistress Barkett is nearing her time. If there is a witch in the village, the delivery may not go well.”
“If there’s a problem,” said Robin. “It won’t be because of a witch. But that won’t stop people from thinking it. We’d better watch our steps for the next month or so.”
She glared at Dean, who got up and stretched. The slope they were on overlooked fields on one side and the inn and the road on the other. Dean twisted his head to stretch his neck muscles and paused.
“Huh,” he said.
“What?” asked Robin.
“That.” Dean pointed to the far edge of the road from the village. “Somebody’s kicking up a lot of dust.”
There was, indeed, a good-sized cloud of dust rolling toward the inn. But through the cloud, Robin could make out about three riders, one of whom was carrying a red and gold banner on a pole.
“Soldiers,” gasped Elizabeth.
“Is that something bad?” Dean asked.
Elizabeth frowned. “It could be. Perhaps they are looking to billet a troop, perhaps they are messengers. Hopefully, they aren’t mercenaries. They are the worst.” She started off down the hill. “We’d best warn Mistress Ford.”
Dean and Robin followed behind.
“You think there’s going to be any fighting?” Dean asked Robin softly.
Robin shrugged, her stomach going back to its tight position. “Who knows? There was nothing in any of the stuff I read to suggest it, but maybe there were smaller skirmishes here and there that didn’t get recorded.”
“So what do we do if there is?” Dean tried desperately to sound casual.
“Try to stay out of it.”
Dean nodded. “I can do that.”
The riders galloped past the inn just as Dean and Robin approached the yard and Elizabeth and Mistress Ford were coming out of the kitchen. Mistress Ford sighed as the riders reigned in near the church.
“They’ll be wanting billeting for sure,” she grumbled. “Let’s just pray they don’t have a whole troop behind them.”
Mistress Ford wandered up the road toward the church house, followed by Robin, Dean and Elizabeth and other gathering villagers. Robin noticed several boys running off toward the outlying houses. The news of the soldiers’ arrival was grim enough to quell any lightness of spirit over a chance to run and be free on a day devoted to rest.
For some reason, the soldiers preferred the church house to the inn. Fortunately, they were alone, although word had it there were others like them looking for the Earl of Essex’s militia. What they were doing riding about on the Sabbath was anybody’s guess, but the general conclusion was that these were not the godliest of men and certainly worthy of deep suspicion.
Still, it being the Sabbath, it was deemed unseemly to do anything about it until the morrow. The next day, there was work to be done, and if the three riders had had any plans to move on, they certainly did not seem particularly inclined to do so. Masters Lightwick, Pelder, and Surrey spent much of their time in the village square eyeing the young girls of the village.
The inn was busy that night. Grumbling restless men filled the common room. Elizabeth served quickly, enlisting Robin’s aid at the request of the alderman, a shrewd, older fellow named Greenfield. He was the richest man in the village by virtue of the fact that he owned his tiny farm. The rest were tenants on the land of the local earl.
As Robin served the last few tankards, Alderman Greenfield rose and shouted for quiet. The dull rumble slowly faded.
“Before we begin, I want all of you to be sure of your bill,” the older man told the crowd. “I think it only fair not to cheat Mistress Ford since she has been kind enough to let us use her common room for our meeting.”
“Where else could we meet?” said Master Whitby, a slightly stooped man with a pox-scarred chin. “We can’t use the church with that papist there.”
The crowd rumbled in agreement.
“Enough!” shouted the alderman. “We are not gathered here to complain about our pastor. Laudian or not, he is still a churchman of the Church of England. Besides, even if he would have let us use the church, we couldn’t have because of why we’re gathered here in the first place.”
The men shifted on their benches and grumbled. A few cast wary eyes on Robin, Dean, and Elizabeth.
“The pastor says they were directed here to wait for others of the Earl’s army,” said William Smith, who called himself a tinker, although Robin noted that he was more of a general metal worker and certainly supported himself and his large family far better than tinkers traditionally did.
“Aye,” sighed Master Greenfield. “And they are all younger sons of some quality, which is why they are staying at the church house. Our good inn is too far beneath their stature.”
“And just how great is their quality?” sniffed another farmer whose name Robin couldn’t remember. “We’ve had knights and a couple viscounts who have stayed at our inn before.”
“More likely they just don’t want to pay for their lodgings,” said someone else.
“That may be,” said Master Greenfield. “But the point is that they are likely to stay until whatever other comrades join them.”
“Are we to let them live among us?” whined Master Southwood, another farmer. “Must we risk our children, our beasts, and our wives? They are not godly men and who knows what depravity they will visit upon us. Have you seen how they’ve looked upon the maidens of this town?”
“We’ll risk nothing,” Master Greenfield said. “But we must take adequate precautions. It’s simple common sense. Keep anything of value locked up. Do not let your children or your wives go into the village unaccompanied. Keep your distance from them. Do not let your beasts run loose. Do not speak first to them. If one speaks to you, be civil, but no more. This isn’t the first time we’ve had soldiers come among us.”
Reluctant agreement rippled through the crowd.
“As for these soldiers,” Master Greenfield continued, “I dare say if we don’t give them any trouble, we’ll have none from them.”
“Alderman, what about the Parliament’s militia?” called out Robert Loomis, one of the town’s three weavers. “I’ve heard they’ve called men out across the shire.”
The tension in the crowd thickened threefold.
“I’ve heard they’re rooting out all the papists,” said Charles Loomis, Robert’s brother and fellow weaver. “They’ve burned several homes already.”
“Why are you worried?” asked the alderman. “We’ve no papists here.”
“What about our pastor?” demanded Farmer Whitby.
“We can’t be worried about him,” returned Alderman Greenfield. “He is no papist, in any case.”
“But what shall we do if we are called to arms?” called out Robert Loomis.
The crowd began shouting again. Clearly divided, the majority shouted against answering Parliament’s summons. But it was a small majority, and the opposing minority was very vocal. Just as it seemed things were going to get completely out of
hand, the alderman screamed for silence. He waited until the crowd quieted.
“Obviously this is not a matter in which we are all in accord,” he said. “I think it a disgrace upon our village that we should be prepared to take up arms against our neighbors, people we’ve lived with all our lives. If we are called to take up military service, each man shall have to answer to his own conscience. I recommend that we stop fussing over something that has not touched us yet and continue as good Christian neighbors should. Wench! Tapster! See to it that each man’s tankard is full. I’ll buy this round. After that let each man drink as much as his purse and his head can handle!”
Loud cheering burst out. Robin and Elizabeth scrambled to act out the alderman’s request. Once the drinking started, Robin and Elizabeth had little rest. The riot had been quelled before it started. The men talked and sang together in spite of the slight undercurrent of tension. There were no fights that night. Dean continued the spirit of good comradeship and gently escorted the drunks out instead of pitching them into the street.
It was late when he and Robin collapsed into the hay loft.
“I don’t get it,” said Dean, peeling off his doublet. “What’s all this taking up arms and militia nonsense? And why is everyone so down on papists?”
“Papists are Catholics, Dean,” Robin explained, with a yawn. “You remember that Henry the Eighth split from the Catholic Church, right?”
“That caused a lot of turmoil in the country. Then Edward, Henry’s son, came to the throne and turned England really Protestant. But there was even more turmoil when Mary, Henry’s daughter, made the country go back to being Catholic. She killed a lot of Protestants during her reign, that’s why she’s called Bloody Mary.”
“Wasn’t she Mary, Queen of Scots?”
“That’s another Mary. Anyway, when Elizabeth I became queen she returned the country to Protestantism. She also instituted a lot of reforms in the church. But a lot of people felt she didn’t go far enough. But being the good politician she was, she was able to keep a compromise during her years on the throne. Then James I came to the throne. He did the same things as Elizabeth, but not as well and those people who had been quiet under Elizabeth got mad again and caused trouble. Then Charles I ascended the throne. He got these people even more upset. They are the people that we know as Puritans. Right now it’s kind of derogatory nickname and not very prevalent, so I wouldn’t call anybody that. Anyway, there are a lot of Puritans in Parliament right now, and they are insisting that the Parliament has a right to raise its own army, which they are doing. The people in this village who don’t want to mobilize are the royalists, they support the king. The people who want to mobilize are in favor of the Parliament, and the best thing for us to do is to try and stay out of the whole bleeding mess.”
“You think?” grumbled Dean. “Are you sure there’s not going to be any fighting?”
Robin clenched her teeth. “I never said there wouldn’t be any. I just said that according to what I read, there didn’t seem to be any in this part of the country. Not every little thing that happened got written down. In fact, the vast majority of what goes on day to day, even in our own time never gets written down.”
Robin punched her pillow into shape, while Dean flopped down onto the hay pile he used as his mattress. Robin paused, her head twisting as she suddenly strained to listen.
“What?” asked Dean.
Robin shushed him quickly. Then Dean heard it, too. The soft nickering of horses outside the stable and the rattle of the bits and reins. The two crept across the loft and down the ladder. Outside, they could hear the soft hiss of boots on dirt.
Robin led the way to the stable door and eased it open. Three men closed in on the kitchen door.
“Elizabeth,” Dean whispered so softly even Robin couldn’t be sure what he said.
Robin looked over the expanse of yard between the stable and the kitchen. The trouble was that even though it was only ten-odd yards across, there was absolutely no cover. A horse snorted from the other side of the stable. Robin motioned at Dean to follow her as she retreated inside and to the back.
There she found the hole in the wall that she’d been meaning to fix. Dean was confused but somehow knew that Robin had a plan. She softly pulled away the boards that had been covering the hole and scrambled through with Dean close behind.
The three horses that the soldiers had ridden into town on stamped quietly and snorted. Their reins had been left dangling in front of them, something Robin vaguely remembered reading was a trick cowboys in the Nineteenth Century had used to stop their horses if they fell off. It appeared that it was an even older trick than that.
She picked up the reins of the first horse, threw them around its neck, and swatted its hindquarters. Dean caught on and did the same with the second horse, and then swatted the flank of the third horse as Robin tossed its reins.
Robin winced at the loud neighing and thundering as the horses galloped back into the village. Dean nodded back at the hole, and the two slipped quickly through and back to the front of the stable. This time, Dean got to the stable door first, but after a quick peek, he threw the door open and charged into the yard.
One of the young gentlemen had already hurried around to where the horses had been left. The other two were occupied with dragging along a struggling Elizabeth. She was still in her nightdress and her hair flowed loose and wild but still didn’t hide the gag covering her mouth.
Dean charged into the pair with a loud yell. Robin followed, with a quick glance to see whether their companion was coming back.
Surprise and his larger size were Dean’s only advantages. The two let go of Elizabeth, who just fell back and watched. Dean concentrated on getting the one young man’s shirt front in one fist and repeatedly punching him with the other.
Robin was a little more hesitant. All her self-defense training had been geared toward fending off someone attacking her. The second man was about to pounce on Dean when Robin ran full tilt into his side.
He staggered away as Robin bounced back. She gasped as he came at her, but years of seminars and practices and classes took over. She dodged at the last second and the man tripped. But the man who had been going after the horses got his arm around her throat. Robin slammed her knuckles into his upper arms. Yelping, he let go, but not before Robin whirled around and landed her elbow in his nose.
His companion, still on the ground, got a hold of Robin’s one ankle. She turned and stomped on his wrist. Howling, he let go and Robin kicked him in the groin.
Dean hadn’t fared as well. He’d gotten the shirt front, but the other man punched him first, and Dean staggered back. The two prowled around each other for a moment. Dean gasped, but he could feel the adrenaline kicking in. It had been a few years since he’d last gotten into a fight, but he was ready.
The man feinted. Dean backed off a little, taking the measure of his opponent. The man feinted again, but this time, Dean drove the attack with a powerful blow to the side of the man’s head. Dean sent his next fist into the man’s midsection. As the man doubled over, Dean knocked him backward onto his seat.
The man scrambled up, but instead of going after Dean, he fled back into the village, with his companions staggering after him. Gasping, Dean looked back at Robin and then over at Elizabeth.
“You okay?” he asked them.
Elizabeth fumbled at the rag binding her mouth. Robin went over and helped her release it.
“I’m fine,” Robin gasped as the rag fell from Elizabeth’s mouth.
“I am well, also,” sniffed Elizabeth. “But I was so afraid.”
Mistress Ford appeared from the kitchen door. “What has happened here?”
Dean checked his teeth with his tongue and spat blood into the dirt.
Robin swallowed. “Those so-called younger sons of quality tried to kidnap Elizabeth.”
“What?” Clutching a cloak around her nightgowned ample figure, Mistress Ford cast a worried look into the village.
“We heard the horses behind the stable,” Dean explained. “When we came around front, they had gagged Elizabeth and were taking her with them.”
Mistress Ford looked first at Elizabeth, then at Dean and Robin. “Do you know these men?”
Robin shook her head. “I’ve never seen them before.”
“Nor I,” said Elizabeth quickly. “I have no idea why they singled me out. I was asleep and woke when they pulled me from my bed.”
“Did they say anything?” asked Robin.
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. They just put the gag on and as we left the kitchen, we heard the horses running off.”
“But why?” Mistress Ford asked.
Robin shrugged. “They’re new in town. Given their attitude toward the inn, maybe they assumed that Elizabeth wouldn’t have much of a character to ruin. She’s really plenty virtuous, but how would they know?”
“No, they wouldn’t,” sighed Mistress Ford. “I’ll grant you, the three of you haven’t been here that long, but I’ve seen no sign of ill behavior in her. Her face is as fair as they come.” She looked gently at Elizabeth. “Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”
“No,” said Elizabeth softly. “I was just frightened.”
Mistress Ford looked up at Robin and Dean. “You boys sleep in the kitchen this night. I’ll bring Elizabeth to bed with me.”
“What about Master Ford?” Robin asked.
“He’s asleep next to the cellar as it is.” It was hard to tell whether Mistress Ford was more disgusted or bored with the state of her errant spouse. “Let him lie.”
Robin returned to the loft to get the pillows and blankets. When she got to the kitchen, she was a little surprised to see that Dean had already made a bed for himself on the floor.
“You take Elizabeth’s bed,” he told her.
“Thanks.” Robin debated asking him why he was being so nice, then took a deep breath. “You really laid into that guy. I didn’t know you could fight like that.”
Dean chuckled. “I used to belong to a fight club in high school.” He stopped suddenly. “You won’t tell Mom, will you? She’d kill me if she knew.”
“Before tonight, I think I would have killed you, too.”
Dean laughed. “You didn’t do too bad with the street tactics.”
“Lots of self-defense classes.” Suddenly weary, Robin sank onto the bed. “The scary thing is, it was almost fun.”
“It can be.” Dean shrugged. “But that gets old real fast. That’s why I stopped.”
“Oh. Well, goodnight.”
Robin sank back into the silence, pondering the events of the evening. But before she could make sense of them, she was asleep.
Outside, Donald Long leaned against the stable and mulled over his next move. The young soldiers would have to be on their way before dawn, assuming they could still move, Donald thought sourly. As easy as they had been to manipulate, the townsfolk were already suspicious of them. If word of this evening’s engagement spread, the three idiots might easily lead the townsfolk to him. Donald sighed. That wouldn’t make getting the girl any easier. Not that it mattered. Since he had missed Elizabeth in London, it had to be here in Downleigh where he’d caught her.
He’d have to find a way to get the townspeople on his side, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be that visible. Donald slipped quietly back to his hiding place in the cellar of the church. It was an ideal spot, long forgotten, but close enough to the center of the village that he could observe and hear just about everything that was going on. He decided to wait it out a few more days to perhaps pick up something he might be able to use.
Roger had always chided him for his impatience. Donald sniffed and smiled to himself. That self-important prick couldn’t chide this time.