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.

Anne Louise Bannon

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