That night, it rained, a steady, drenching rain. Fortunately, there was only one guest that evening, and he was able to go into the one room that didn’t have a leak in the roof. Robin found pans for the other leaks.
But when the next day dawned clear and bright, Mistress Ford insisted that Robin and Dean finally repair the roof.
Robin had been putting off the job simply because she had no idea how to do it, and she didn’t want to ask anyone. After all, everybody had roof leaks, so the odds were good that it was a common task.
Dean settled the matter with his usual ignorant grace. He asked Mistress Ford. She was amused but expected such a reaction from Dean. Robin smiled and listened.
The job took all the morning and lasted well into the afternoon. They had just finished repairing the last leak when they heard the shouting. From the rooftop Robin saw the men gathering near the church. They carried swords as well as clubs and other tools.
“What on earth?” Robin muttered and hurried down the ladder.
Mistress Ford and Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen with worried frowns.
“What’s all the shouting about?” Mistress Ford asked.
“I don’t know,” Robin replied.
“I don’t know if I wanna find out,” said Dean, who had come down the ladder behind his sister. “Those guys look like they’re gonna start busting something up.”
Robin explained about the men.
“Dean, fetch your sword. You, too, Robin,” said Mistress Ford. “We’ll pray they don’t come down here, but we’d best be prepared. Lock up the stable. Elizabeth, you and I had better get plenty of water ready from the well. There could be a fire.”
The two guests at the inn were not happy about the approaching riot, but neither felt inclined to do any more traveling that day. They did ask Dean to see that their horses were saddled in the event a quick departure was necessary. Dean obliged.
Mistress Ford forbade Dean and Robin to get involved unless the inn was attacked, although they’d already assured her they had no intention of doing so.
Several of the women slowly made their way to the inn, along with the smallest children. It was almost as if they knew the men were going to stay on the far end of the village.
“Master Leaton died,” said Mistress Loomis, although Robin had no idea which of the two Loomis brothers she was married to.
“Is anyone attending Mistress Leaton?” Mistress Ford asked.
“Mistress Blethen,” replied Mistress Southwood. “And her daughters.”
None of the women, however, were quite sure how the fighting began, just that it had.
The hours eased past slowly. The fighting remained on the far side of the village. Even with all the weapons, there were few injuries. The fight burned itself out late that night when Master Greenfield, at last, made himself heard over the noise.
Even with the night’s unrest, Master Leaton’s funeral was still held the next morning and most of the village attended, uneasily at peace with each other for the moment. Pastor Middleton had the decency not to bring up the political issues that had been at the center of the riot. Robin could see he didn’t want another one.
That Sunday, Robin had to give Pastor Middleton credit for finding a topic for his sermon that would unite the villagers. The only problem was the topic he chose: witchcraft. Later that afternoon, Dean scoffed. But Robin was worried. The pastor’s eyes had focused on her during some of the more accusatory parts.
Robin spent the next day completely on edge, just waiting for the townspeople to rise up and arrest her. Or even hang her straight out. But when nothing had happened by Tuesday afternoon, Robin began to relax.
Which was probably why Master Ford’s bizarre behavior caught her so completely off guard. The man had never moved quickly. The times he had wandered off and gotten lost, he had gotten away because no one was watching him, not because he could move with any speed.
Robin was weeding in the garden when the howling began. It came from behind the stable, but by the time Robin was on her feet, Master Ford was tearing into the center of the village, his doublet and boots flying as he went.
“Dean!” Robin called as she chased after. “Bring a blanket!”
Dean had already seen the old drunk’s shirt flying and ducked back into the stable, grabbed the first blanket he could get a hand on and hurried out after Robin.
They caught up with Master Ford near the town well. He’d lost his breeches and was just about to take off his drawers.
“Maggots!” Master Ford screamed, trying to tear the invisible bugs off him. “Maggots! Get them off me! Get them off me!”
Robin approached slowly. “Master Ford, it’s okay. We’ll get them off. Just hold still.”
“No!” Master Ford’s eyes widened in terror as he saw Robin. “Get away from me, demon. Get away!”
“There’s no demon here, Master Ford,” said Dean, with an oddly jovial lilt to his voice. He walked casually up to the terrified man. “Honest. It’s just me and Robin.”
“Maggots,” Master Ford whimpered.
“Nah,” said Dean. “We’ll take care of it. Here, get this blanket on and we’ll get you home. You’ll be fine.”
Master Ford let Dean wrap him in the blanket. Dean picked him up and cradled him as he and Robin walked back to the inn, with Robin picking up Master Ford’s clothing as she went.
The street was empty, but Robin’s skin prickled with the frightened stares of the villagers.
Dean bedded Master Ford down in one of the guest rooms.
“Shit, that was lousy timing for a case of the DT’s,” Robin grumbled as she brought in Master Ford’s clothes.
“Those weren’t the DT’s.” Dean frowned as he looked down at the now sleeping drunk.
“Then what the hell were they?”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t know. But the DT’s happen when you’re in withdrawal, and I saw Master Ford drinking up from one of the cellar casks not an hour ago.”
Robin dropped Master Ford’s boots next to the bed. “Something weird is going on here.”
“I’ll say.” Dean frowned again. “You know, I thought I heard someone talking to Master Ford behind the stable right before it happened.”
“Hm.” Robin turned and went out to the back side of the stable, with Dean ambling along behind.
Sure enough, it was clear that Master Ford had not been the only person back there.
“Look at these two sets of tracks.” Robin pointed them out. “And there’s been something of a struggle here. But where do the hallucinations come into it? Could somebody have doped him, you think?”
“How would I know?” grumbled Dean.
“It would have had to act awfully quickly. You know of anything that acts really quickly?”
“Why are you asking me?” Dean groaned. “I don’t do that shit.”
Robin rolled her eyes. “You volunteered at that rehab place, you said?”
“Oh.” Dean thought, then shrugged. “I don’t know, Robin. I mean, IV works fast, but hallucinations? I don’t know. I mean, they don’t have LSD here, do they?”
“I doubt that.” Robin went back around to the inn’s yard. “But I seem to remember something about some kind of rye mold that caused hallucinations or some kind of craziness. But no one’s growing rye around here. Besides, it would be affecting more people than just Master Ford.” She shook her head. “It just doesn’t make sense, unless someone’s looking for a good excuse to get us in trouble.”
It was Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh, don’t get started on that witchcraft thing again. Even Mistress Ford says the only people that get accused are poor old women with no one to take care of them.”
Robin sighed. “You’re probably right.”
Still, an uneasy feeling grabbed hold of her gut and wouldn’t let go.
Fortunately, the inn remained empty of guests. Mistress Ford shrugged and sent Dean and Robin to the stable just as it grew dark. Neither of the two were sleepy.
“So now what?” Dean asked, flopping back onto the hay.
“We twiddle our thumbs, I guess,” replied Robin. “There’s not much else we can do in the dark.”
“You know, I don’t think I’ll ever take an electric light bulb for granted again.”
Robin started. “What’s that?”
Dean was about to tease her when the sound reached his ears.
“It’s someone running,” he said. “Sounds like he’s headed this way.”
“Uh, oh.” Robin sat up. “You hear that rumbling? It sounds like that riot’s about to break out again.”
Dean swung himself down from the loft and looked out the hole in the stable’s back wall toward the village.
“There’s a whole bunch of torches gathered down by the church,” he said.
“Terrific,” grumbled Robin, swinging down to the ground herself. “More trouble.”
Mistress Ford appeared at the other door with Elizabeth, their hair down and flying.
“Robin, Dean, hurry!” Mistress Ford hissed. “You three must flee.”
“What’s going on?” asked Dean.
“You’ve been accused of witchcraft!” Mistress Ford replied. “The men are gathering to arrest you.”
“We’re not witches!” Dean protested.
“That doesn’t mean a damn thing!” snapped Robin. She turned on Mistress Ford. “Are you sure that’s what’s going on? How do you know?”
“Young Master Loomis,” Mistress Ford said quickly. “He just came running.” She stopped and sniffed. “There have been rumors, but most paid them no mind. Then Sabbath past, Pastor Middleton, and then today when my good husband called you demon. Master Loomis said most think it’s nonsense, but the pastor is insisting.”
Robin scurried up the ladder to the loft and gathered hers and Dean’s belongings.
“Well, I’m not doing time,” Dean grumbled.
“They’ll hang you, idiot!” Robin growled, lowering the two sacks into Elizabeth’s arms.
Dean swore loudly.
“I agree.” Robin swung herself down from the loft. “But we’d better keep quiet. Mistress Ford, are you sure they won’t accuse you?”
She shook her head. “They won’t. Trust me. But you must hurry. You can take the road toward the coast to the fork, then take the road heading northeast. I’ve a cousin in a town called Charing Vale. It’s on the coast. He runs the inn there, The White Bear. His name is Master John Miller. Tell him I sent you. He’ll take you in and give you work. Here’s bread and cheese and some other things for the journey, and your wages.”
“Thanks,” Robin’s voice suddenly choked.
She reached out and held the matron and kissed her cheek. Dean quickly did the same. Elizabeth was held a minute longer. There was a soft rustle from the back side of the stable outside, and on top of that, the rumble of angry yelling.
“I hear the men!” Mistress Ford started and released Elizabeth. “Quickly!”
“Right,” whispered Robin as she grabbed Elizabeth’s hand.
They ran across the yard and ducked behind the trees on the other side of the garden. Robin had them all lay flat on their stomachs.
“They’re too close, they’ll see us leave,” she whispered to the other two.
They heard Mistress Ford wailing in the yard.
“Such horrors I’ve seen!” she cried out as the men came up. “Most terrible wonders! They were witches. They heard you coming, and I saw them all mount their ravens, and they flew away before my very eyes!”
“Which way?” demanded Pastor Middleton.
“To the north, I think, but only for a moment,” Mistress Ford sobbed. “To London! They flew that way! Perhaps they went to meet their master there.”
“Perhaps they set down somewhere near here,” called out a voice.
“We’ll search the village,” said Pastor Middleton. “Everyone to the inn’s common room so we can decide who searches where and with whom.”
The men trooped into the inn. Robin watched, vaguely aware that somebody was missing from the group. But there was no time to figure out whom. She waited a minute longer, then motioned to the others to get up.
“No running,” she cautioned. “We’ll concentrate on being quiet. Come on.”
Robin led them toward the center of the village, although behind the houses.
Dean paused. “We’re going the wrong way. We’re supposed to go to the coast. This way’s towards London.”
“I know,” Robin said. “We’ll make tracks that way, then double back along the stream. Hopefully, that will put them off our trail. Now, be quiet.”
They made good progress to the other end of the village, but as they left the last house behind for the road to London, they heard the pounding of a single man running. Robin pressed herself and Elizabeth into the shadow of a roadside tree. Carefully, she eased around to see who had run up.
“Damn,” the newcomer muttered.
It was Master Neddrick, and Robin realized he had been the man missing from the group that had come to arrest her and the others. Dean shifted and a twig snapped. Master Neddrick’s eyes fastened on the tree.
“You’re lucky I need Elizabeth,” he said, chuckling softly. “Otherwise, I would sound the alarm.”
“You’ll have to sound it, then,” said Robin, slightly amazed at how confident she sounded. “What makes you think we’d give Elizabeth up?”
“This.” He pulled something from his belt.
At that moment, the moon broke through the clouds and Robin rolled around the trunk of the tree. She made out the barrel of a pistol in Neddrick’s hands.
“You got another one of those?” she asked.
Neddrick’s breath caught, but then he chuckled. “You’ll just have to guess.”
There wasn’t time for guessing. Dean crashed out from his hiding place and tackled Neddrick from the side. The two rolled and Neddrick banged at Dean’s back with the pistol butt, but Dean had his arms almost pinned and Neddrick couldn’t hit him hard. Dean got one hand on Neddrick’s face, then he reared back, and rabbit punched Neddrick in the side of the head. Neddrick was just stunned enough. Dean kneed him in the breadbasket, then rabbit punched him again to make sure he was knocked out.
Robin and Elizabeth were already running toward London. They had gone almost a quarter mile when Dean finally caught up. Robin looked back toward the village. Small flecks of light – torches – bounced up and down in the distance. They seemed massed at the edge of the village and certainly weren’t fanning out.
“Okay,” Robin gasped. “Let’s get off the road.”
“Yeah,” Dean gasped. “Elizabeth, you okay?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Did you get the pistol?” Robin asked Dean.
“Damn. Neddrick had a pistol. We could have used it.”
“I thought you didn’t like guns,” Dean said.
Robin shushed him in reply.
It was a long night. Robin led them across the stream, and they followed it back the way they had come to the inn’s side of the village. It was slow going because Robin did not want to make any noise. Nor did she let them stop until they were several miles away. Even then, she watched while Dean and Elizabeth slept, until the first flush of dawn touched the eastern sky. Then she finally nodded off.
Elizabeth had been so tired when they finally stopped that she hadn’t really noticed where they were. She awoke as the sun cleared the horizon and sleepily noted that the three had tucked themselves into the corner of someone’s pasture, up against the hedgerow. Standing on tiptoe, she could just barely see over the wall of ivy-covered stones. There was another narrow field and then the road. Not far away, and well into the pasture, a stream rippled past. Elizabeth couldn’t quite see it, but she heard it and guessed that it was beyond the small rise that shielded them from the rest of the pasture.
Dean awoke just in time to see Elizabeth walk softly off toward the stream. He yawned, then noted that Robin was still fast asleep. So, he followed Elizabeth.
He found her next to the stream, weeping.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, plopping down next to her.
“What do you mean, ‘What’s wrong?’ Isn’t it obvious?” Elizabeth pursed her lips and tried to dry her eyes.
“Well, yeah.” Dean shrugged. “It was pretty scary getting run out of town like that, but we’re okay.”
“We spent last night in a field. And even if we find Mistress Ford’s cousin, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a decent, kind man. He could be horrible and cruel.”
Dean put his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Aw, we’ll be okay. If this cousin is a jerk, then we move on. It’s no big deal.”
“But we were accused of witchcraft!” Elizabeth wailed softly.
“So? We’re not witches.”
Dean shook his head. “So, what’s the big deal about it?”
“It’s witchcraft. Making pacts with the Devil.”
“But we’re not.” Dean shifted around and gently took Elizabeth’s chin. “Look, Elizabeth, it doesn’t matter what they say about us. Well, except that they wanted to hang us for it. Which I think is pretty stupid. I mean, back in my time, we don’t care about who you make deals with, and we’re not going to hang you because of some stupid superstition. Heck, we don’t hang people anymore, anyway.”
Elizabeth looked surprised. “You behead even the common criminals?”
“No! We only kill murderers, and usually by giving them a poison that just puts them to sleep.”
“What do you do with the witches, then?”
“What witches? There’s no such thing as witches, at least, not like the evil spell magic kind. There are some people who call themselves witches, but that’s just a pagan religion thing. Seriously, Elizabeth, people just don’t care about that.”
“This time, which is in the future.” Elizabeth began thinking carefully.
“Yeah.” Dean gave her a quick little squeeze. “So, you see, it’s no big deal.”
“It is here.”
“Well, yeah, but we dodged that rap. We’re okay.”
Elizabeth nodded. She liked the feeling of Dean’s arm around her shoulders, and she leaned her head against him.
“I feel better,” she said softly.
“Cool.” Dean grinned, then suddenly shifted. “Yeah, well, we’d better not get too cuddly.”
“And why not?”
“Cause, well…” Dean grimaced and stood up. “I can’t talk about it.”
Elizabeth stood also but was not to be put off. “You said you could talk to me about anything.”
Dean squirmed. “I know. It’s just about how guys are and all.”
“You mean what passes between man and wife,” Elizabeth smirked.
“Well, yeah. And what do you know about all that stuff? I thought you weren’t supposed to find out until the night before your wedding or something.”
“What?” Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing. “Where on this earth did you learn that? Of course, I know what happens in the conjugal bed. And I know about guys and all. I’ve had to fend off more than one, thank you.”
“Well, you won’t be fending me off.” Dean folded his arms and stood resolutely. “I mean, you are a virgin, aren’t you?”
Elizabeth gasped. “That’s a fine thing to ask me! I am a maid, indeed. That you should even ask!”
Dean caught her as she stomped off.
“Look, Elizabeth, in my time, it’s not unusual for a girl to have sex by your age. Sometimes, it’s more unusual when they wait. I mean, it’s no big deal. I don’t care. It’s just I figured if you knew the facts of life, then maybe you weren’t, which was dumb, I know, but…”
Elizabeth melted under the gaze of his puppy-dog eyes. “I just don’t understand, Dean. I mean, it’s noble that you don’t want to trespass upon my virtue, but to treat me as if I’m an infant in understanding, it’s uncomfortable.”
Dean sighed. “I guess I just don’t know how guys in your time… You know, what they do when they like a girl if they want to date or something.”
“Date?” Elizabeth frowned. “What is that?”
“Well, in my time, if a guy likes a girl, he asks her out to do stuff together, like eat dinner or go to a movie. Oh wait, you wouldn’t know what that is. It’s like going to a play. And if they get to like each other more and more, and fall in love, then they move in together and maybe get married and all that. And sometimes even the girl will ask the guy. And a lot of times, it doesn’t work out, so you go out with someone else until you find just the right person. Anyway, that’s how we do it and I was wondering how you do it.”
“We don’t.” Elizabeth looked out over the stream. “If I was still with my father, then he’d be finding me a husband. There were a couple boys that I had my eye on, and my father was a kind man and would have considered them. But he would choose the man and I must needs obey his wishes.”
“But what about falling in love?”
Elizabeth shook her head and chuckled. “What about it? That’s all nice for fairy tales and other such nonsense, but a good wife learns to love the husband her father finds for her. Falling in love is rash and dangerous and not much good is likely to come of it.” She paused. “Although the mistress I served before I left my village, she and her husband had fallen in love, and it was quite a happy union.”
“Well, I’m not thinking about getting married yet,” Dean said.
“I didn’t think so.” Elizabeth turned to him, her eyes warm and full in the early morning light. “Some young men do go and court their mistresses to try to win their hearts.”
“I’d like to try this courtship thing,” said Dean softly. “I don’t want to make any promises, Elizabeth. I can’t. I gotta go back to my time sooner or later, and we did come here to bring you back.” He looked away and swallowed. “I just don’t see how I’m going to want to leave you.”
Elizabeth nodded sadly. “You can’t stay here?”
“I don’t know. I could, I guess. But there’s lots of things about my time that knock socks off this one. Like not dying just ‘cause you got your arm sliced open. We got drugs that stop that from happening. We got more food. You get to keep your teeth.”
“That would be nice.” Elizabeth softly touched Dean’s arm. “I could try again. In your world. I mean, your time. There’s much I don’t understand, but Robin has been telling me a little about it and it doesn’t seem so fearful when she explains it.”
Dean grinned. “Nah. It’s just confusing. I mean, when she goes on about her computer and stuff, it’s like she’s talking another language.” He laid his hand on Elizabeth’s cheek. “I still can’t make any promises. About us, I mean. Heck, you could decide you don’t want me.”
“I very much doubt that.”
Dean bent and they softly kissed.
“How about this,” he said when they finally parted. “We’ll hang out here in your time until we’re sure about each other, and in the meantime, we’ll keep this between ourselves. I don’t want to go flipping Robin out until we have to.”
Elizabeth looked back at the corner of the pasture where they’d slept. “Poor thing. She is very lonely.”
Nonetheless, she kissed Dean again, with considerably more heat this time. Dean pulled back, gasping.
Elizabeth looked down in shame. “I am too forward.”
“Yes and no.” Dean looked away and back at her. “How long do you want to stay a maid?”
She laughed in response. “Until I am your wife and not a minute sooner. Good heavens, Dean, if I should get with child and you were to leave, it would be my undoing and that of the child’s. I am amazed that the girls of your time don’t fear for it.”
“Well, they do sometimes. But we have ways of keeping pregnancy from happening.”
“You do?” Elizabeth mulled that one over, and Dean could see her mentally chalking up another point in favor of his time.