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.”
“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 a dive bar in a Navy town look like a tea shop.”
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.
“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 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.”
“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 fucking 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.”
“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.
“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 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 dangerous, but do you remember what I told you about germs?”
“Yes, a little. 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?”
“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. Suddenly, 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 stepmother 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 remembered the terrible crushing sensation as the machine worked. As dangerous as Dean’s current condition was, Robin was afraid 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 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 on 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.