The villagers filled the town square within minutes, their faces turned expectantly toward the far edge of the village where the road led to London. Even the one guest at the inn had come along with Robin, Dean, Elizabeth and Mistress Ford to take in the festivities.
Mistress Blethen joined the group from the inn, regal and complaining, as usual.
“It’s good that Mistress St. John was able to go back to her family,” said Mistress Ford about the former pastor’s widow.
“But she left the house in such a state,” replied Mistress Blethen. “I’ve been cleaning it all week. I’d just got done yester evening, and thanks be for that. When I came this morning, I found the new pastor’s clerk rooting about.”
Mistress Ford looked shocked. “A clerk?”
“It’s extravagance, I say,” Mistress Blethen replied. “But who are we to judge? I’m surprised that he hasn’t come out to greet his reverence.”
“I’ll send Master Robin to fetch him,” said Mistress Ford.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Robin, who went straight to the pastor’s house.
She found the clerk sitting by the kitchen fire, bent over something.
“Sir?” Robin asked.
The man jumped. He was a little taller than Robin, but not by much. His hair was yellow and his teeth remarkably white. There was something else about his features, something Robin couldn’t quite put her finger on, as if his face could have been one of a thousand different faces, and his skin had a darkish cast to it.
“You’re the new pastor’s clerk?” Robin asked.
“Then you should come outside. The new pastor is just now coming down the road and should be here any minute.”
The man brushed off his hands. “Uh, yes. That probably would be a good idea. It’s going to be interesting.”
The man smiled and there was something indiscriminate about it. “I’m not sure he knows I’m here. He may not have gotten the letter, you see.”
Robin shrugged. “We’ll see, I guess. I’m Master Robin Parker.”
She held out her hand to the clerk, who took it with a very odd look on his face, indeed.
“Uh, Master Robert Neddrick.”
“Welcome to Downleigh. I guess we’d better get outside.”
Master Neddrick seemed somewhat anxious to hide what he was doing, so Robin left the kitchen first, but waited to be sure the clerk would follow.
The crowd had just begun its welcoming cheer as Robin and Master Neddrick came into the square. The hurrahs diminished slightly as the four men on horses came slowly up the road. Pastor James Middleton was the easiest to spot – he was the one severely dressed in black, a plump man with a haughty, sour look on his face. The three men riding with him, presumably as an escort to protect the minister out on roads filled with bandits, were wearing military dress, but without any of the King’s colors or emblems. Nor did they wear the badge of the city of London. And one carried the flag of the Parliament.
Robin, at first, did not get the distinction. But the rest of the village did, and from there, Robin was able to piece together what was wrong.
Pastor Middleton, for his part, acknowledged the crowd but with the kind of disdain that suggested he tolerated their behavior but did not condone it. He got off his horse, then turned to the villagers.
“Greetings, my fellow sinners,” he announced. “Today, I come before you humbly, as God’s servant, to be your guide and counselor. Let us pray.”
And he began a very long and very pious prayer, thanking God for seeing him safely to the village, and for the villagers, and for a great many things that had nothing to do with anything, as far as Robin could see. She was longing to see what would happen when he came face to face with Master Neddrick, but that young man waited in the doorway to the house until the pastor had greeted Master Greenfield and the other aldermen. As soon as the pastor made ready to go inside, Master Neddrick slipped to Master Middleton’s side and whispered in his ear. The pastor nodded, and the two went inside, followed by the horsemen, who brought in Master Middleton’s luggage.
And that was that. The villagers dispersed, almost in silence, but Robin could almost feel the buzz of comment from behind every house wall.
Like the rest of the village, Mistress Ford kept her comments to herself until they reached the inn and the guest went upstairs.
“Hmph!” Mistress Ford snorted. “I won’t say our last pastor was perfect, but this new fellow does not seem to be much of an improvement.”
Robin shook her heard. “I’d have never believed it, but I honestly think that whoever decides these things actually found the one choice that’s worse than what we had.”
“If I may, I agree,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve known his kind before. They are the sourest Christians that ever trod the earth.”
“Anybody want to put up some money we’ll be getting some hellfire and brimstone preaching this Sunday?” Robin asked.
“Or it will be wives, be subordinate to your husbands,” Mistress Ford sighed, with a glance toward the common room where Master Ford snored peacefully away. “Well, we’d best be ready for this evening. The men will want to talk over the new pastor, and I’d be very surprised if after Sunday, we’ll be having anyone in for the evening.”
That evening the inn was busy, with practically every man in the village there to talk over the new pastor. The consensus was that he was an improvement over the old Laudian, but how much depended on where one stood politically. The tension was almost suffocating, but the men were reluctant to leave. About the only thing they could agree on was that Pastor Middleton was not likely to approve of taking a pint or two at the local inn.
Later, up in their loft, Dean wondered aloud why everyone knew they were going to have to give up visiting the inn at night.
“I mean if everybody disagrees with the guy, why would they bother listening to him?”
Robin sighed. “Dean, have you ever noticed anybody to miss church around here?”
“They disagreed with the other pastor, right?”
“But they still paid attention to his sermons and did what he said.”
“Well, I guess so, but…” His voice trailed off.
“Dean, religion and government are very closely linked here. The pastor is a very influential man because of his position.”
“And they think this new guy won’t like drinking.”
“Not exactly. Just social drinking, going to the local tavern for the evening. He’s probably like… Well, remember cousin Janet?”
“Remember when she got converted into that super conservative Christian group?”
“Boy, do I. They wouldn’t let her dance even.”
“That sounds like this guy.”
Dean’s eyes widened. “Oh, wow. Folks around here aren’t going to like being told they shouldn’t go visit the inn.”
“Do they like it back home? Face it, Dean, people haven’t changed all that much over the centuries. Like I said, we’re in for some hellfire and brimstone Sunday.”
Dean groaned as Robin rolled over to go to sleep.
As Robin predicted, the hellfire and brimstone overflowed from the pulpit. The entire service had undergone some radical changes. The altar was now the communion table and in the middle of the church instead of the front. Pastor Middleton wore no vestments. There was almost no ritual. If anything, the service consisted mostly of Middleton’s incredibly long sermon.
It was not an easy sermon to listen to, nor could one sleep through it. Pastor Middleton, had a very full, loud and grating voice. And he was the only thing that could have been worse than the previous pastor.
He preached from Revelations, showing how the signs were right for the return of Christ. He reminded Robin a little of a preacher she had heard down near Costa Mesa. It seemed both were certain the big event was due within their lifetimes. At least Robin knew Pastor Middleton was wrong.
Still, the man unsettled her and the other parishioners. Part of it was the way Middleton condemned the King. According to him, Charles I was one of the twelve heads of the Beast, if not the Anti-Christ himself. The really unnerving thing about Middleton’s attitude was that he had a good case for it. Only Robin’s historical perspective kept her from squirming with the rest of the congregation, Dean included.
“You think maybe Pastor Middleton could be right about the king?” he asked in a concerned voice as they sat on the hill that afternoon.
“Dean, when we left the twenty-first century had Christ shown up yet?” Robin replied, irritated with the way her own fears were surfacing.
“No. I guess Middleton’s wrong.”
“My father never did hold with people who preached that the Judgment Day was upon us,” said Elizabeth. “He said men have been saying that since Christ first left, and all of them have said the predictions in Revelations were coming true. Perhaps some are. All I know is that one should be as a good a Christian as possible, then Judgment Day can come at any time it wants and it makes no difference.”
“I had a friend in high school who used to say that,” Robin replied. “Or something like that. It certainly makes more sense than scaring people into behaving.”
Dean just shrugged.
For the moment, it appeared that Pastor Middleton was not going to condemn the nightly gatherings at the inn, and so the men came out again the following evening.
But any friendliness was forced, at best. The men quickly broke down into cliques. Tension again made its presence felt. Dean prowled the walls. Robin filled the tankards with one eye on the patrons.
It started with an argument. Master Leaton and Master Dimsdale were certainly loud enough, but even though it concerned the conflict between the King and the Parliament, loud arguments were common and no cause for alarm. Then the two men jumped up and Leaton grabbed Dimsdale by the throat.
Dean happened to be on the other side of the room at the time. He hurried over, but not before Dimsdale’s friend came to his aid. Then Leaton’s friend joined in.
The whole thing snowballed in seconds. Everyone was fighting. Dean and Robin frantically tried to push the combatants into the street before they tore the inn down. Then Elizabeth screamed. Weapons remained outside or Mistress Ford guarded them in the kitchen. Still someone had brought in a hunting knife. The knife’s victim, Master Leaton, sagged to the ground clutching his arm as the crowd pulled back. The errant knife was on the floor and no one claimed it. Dean drew his sword.
“All right!” he bellowed. “I don’t care what side you’re on, get out before I use this!”
The common room emptied out within minutes. Elizabeth and Mistress Ford tended to the wounded man. It wasn’t a serious cut as cuts went. But Robin fretted. The conditions weren’t exactly sanitary, and no one knew that was even an issue. Worse yet, saying so could get her, Dean and Elizabeth into trouble.
“We’ll need bandages,” said Mistress Ford.
“I’ll prepare them,” Robin volunteered and hurried into the kitchen.
Elizabeth appeared a moment later.
“We need boiling water,” Robin told her.
“Don’t be silly,” said Elizabeth. “We just need some cloth strips to wrap it with. Boiling water will only scald the man.”
She picked up a cloth used for covering rising bread and returned to the common room. Robin shook her head, but there was nothing that could be done.
Across the road from the inn, Donald Long watched the exodus from the inn. He’d heard the yelling and had debated going in, but decided against it. It would be unseemly for the pastor’s clerk to be seen in such a sinful place, and Donald didn’t like being seen in the first place.
If only that Blethen bitch hadn’t caught him in the pastor’s house. He’d managed to stay hidden easily enough to help that other old fart to his eternal reward, and to recover the bottle before anyone had noticed it, even with half the village there to see. Still, he was in an excellent position with the most powerful man in the village.
Donald faded quickly into the blackness as the door to the inn opened. He watched as Mistress Ford, Dean Parker and the girl brought out an injured man. Donald sniffed. It was that hot-head Leaton, probably had gotten what he’d long deserved. On the other hand, Donald found himself musing, if there was some way he could blame the innkeeper’s servants, maybe that would force the trio onto the road where there was less cover and easier access to Elizabeth.
And even if he couldn’t get the village riled up over Leaton, there was his old favorite stand-by, the witchcraft charge. Not that it was easy getting people riled up about a young woman. Fortunately, Elizabeth was just a little too intelligent for her own good. It had been a stretch convincing her previous pastor that she had taught herself to read the Psalms by the power of the devil. Donald couldn’t help savoring that little triumph once again.
But now Elizabeth was a stranger, and there were the Parkers to deal with as well. He watched as Robin Parker came outside and emptied a bucket. As clever as that woman was, she never seemed to notice when he was watching her. He’d watched her arrive from the drop outside that B&B in Windsor. And she never saw him in London. But this time, she didn’t know who he was, let alone that he was watching her. Donald grimaced. Travelling backwards along her timetron’s path did make the continuity a little confusing.
Robin returned inside. She and her brother were fitting in among the villagers rather well. Master Robin had even caught the eye of the town’s prettiest maid.
Donald paused and smiled. Although others also considered Mistress Smith far too froward to be a worthy wife, “Master” Robin had far better reason to avoid marriage. But would simply exposing Robin for the woman she was get him Elizabeth? After all, more than one woman of the seventeenth century had taken refuge in the guise of a man. No, better to cast suspicion on all three, get Elizabeth long enough to get the job done, and save his ultimate revenge on Robin and Dean for the future.
The next day, Robin could almost smell the gloom as she walked through the village to the pastor’s house with one of Mistress Ford’s best cheeses for the clergyman.
Robin stopped first at Master Leaton’s house to inquire after him. Sure enough, he had taken sick from his wound. Robin could see that his fever was quite high. His arm was swollen and Robin didn’t want to think about what it looked like underneath the bandages. She wished the family well, and sighing heavily, left the cottage.
Master Neddrick opened the door at the pastor’s house and seemed strangely pleased to see Robin. He ushered her into the common room where the pastor was reading a pamphlet.
“Good morning, sir. Mistress Ford, from the inn…” Robin began.
“You are Master Robin Parker, are you not?” Pastor Middleton interrupted.
Robin shifted under the older man’s odd scrutiny.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“Good sir, I’d like to talk to you.”
“Yes, sir?” Robin noticed that the pastor was gazing at her chin. She fought the urge to hide it.
“I’m told you are not interested in wooing Mistress Mary Smith.”
“No, sir. And I’m not the only one.”
“But you’re the only one without a beard.” Middleton’s eyebrow lifted.
Robin nodded. “I know, and I suspect you’re wondering about that. There was an accident when I was a babe, and I lost my, uh, testes.”
Middleton nodded and Robin hoped that he was not going to pants her.
“You are too big to be a woman,” Middleton noted, looking up at her. “But not fully a man. You have been cursed, you know. But should you repent of your evil, you might be able to find favor again with God.”
“Serving ale to drunken fools. You are the tapster, are you not?”
“Yes, sir. But I don’t serve to drunks. We escort them out if they get too much.”
Middleton shook his head. “It is an evil practice, drinking ale at an alehouse at night.”
“We are an inn.” Robin fought to contain her temper. “Surely you stayed in one on your way here. The highways are full of bandits. We are a necessary service.”
“But to tempt your fellow villagers with the evils of too much ale in rude company, that is sinful.” Middleton prowled around Robin.
“Then we won’t anymore,” Robin said. “Mistress Ford was saying this morning that it would be better to not serve after supper. The inn has been a meeting place for the village, especially since we couldn’t use the church. But the men can meet elsewhere when needs be. Mistress Ford said that. She is a godly woman.”
“Who rules her husband?” snarled the pastor.
“He’s incapacitated. And she still takes good care of him.”
“He is the prime example of what happens to a man who succumbs to the evil of strong drink, no doubt driven to it by his wife.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Robin snapped.
Middleton stepped back. “Shall I have you flogged for insolence?”
“No, sir.” Robin stepped back. “In any case, Mistress Ford sent you one of her best cheeses, here.”
“Take it back. I’ll not take the offering of a sinner.”
Robin glared. “You don’t even know her. I assure you, if someone is sick in this village, or ready for childbirth, she is the first one there after Mistress Blethen. If there is anyone who wants for anything here, they go to her and do not go away empty handed. When beggars come, they stop at her door. They don’t waste time going elsewhere because they will be turned away. How does that make Mistress Ford a sinner?”
“I know who is a sinner and who isn’t,” Middleton snapped, pulling himself up to his full height.
Robin dropped the basket with the cheese at his feet. “Then it should be easy to find Mistress Ford’s tithe this Sunday and return it to her. And I assure you it will be in the collection basket. You can’t miss it. It’s the most generous one.”
Middleton glared at her. “I suppose it is commendable that you show such loyalty to your mistress. But take care, Master Parker, that you do not end up following her into the gates of Hell.”
Robin turned walked out of the house, not daring to say another word.
Back at the inn, she tried to avoid telling Mistress Ford what had happened, but Mistress Ford took one look at her and knew.
“So, what has gained me the pastor’s ire?” Mistress Ford asked philosophically. “That I serve ale to the men of the village or that I rule my husband?”
“Both,” grumbled Robin. “I’m sorry.”
Mistress Ford shrugged. “I’ve friends enough in the village, and I shan’t be serving after supper. It will take time, I suppose, but I’ll prove myself the godly woman I am.” She smiled at Elizabeth, Dean and Robin. “I just hope you three won’t look for a riper situation. I’m afraid I won’t be able to be as generous with the wages.”
“As long as I have food to eat and a roof over my head, I’m staying,” said Elizabeth.
“And you boys?” Mistress Ford asked.
Dean looked at Robin, as did Mistress Ford and Elizabeth. Robin nodded reluctantly.
That was another problem. She and Dean couldn’t promise to stay. They had to go home before they aged too much. It would be too awkward trying to explain completely the faded tans, wrinkles or gray hair that would be sure to occur if they waited around for Elizabeth to die of old age. Robin had no intention of remaining in the seventeenth century for the rest of her natural lifetime.
That afternoon, as the barley roasted for the ale, Robin stood just outside the kitchen in the yard, kicking at the small stones on the ground. Elizabeth appeared at her side.
“You are sad,” the younger girl observed. “Your errand to the pastor?”
“No kidding.” Robin grumbled. “I swear that son of a bitch is more conservative than Jerry Falwell.”
“And who is Jerry Falwell?”
“A pastor in my century that is very moralistic, just like Pastor Middleton.” Robin let out a soft rueful laugh. “It’s amazing how little people change. Yeah, I know there’s a lot that has changed, and we do look at some things differently, but the basic human personalities sure as hell haven’t changed one iota.”
“Robin, in your land,” she asked slowly, “is there an England?”
“In the U.S., where Dean and I live, there’s a New England. That’s what we call what you call the Colonies.”
“Is it the same land as the Colonies?”
“Yes.” Robin looked puzzled.
“I’m trying to understand,” Elizabeth explained. “You keep talking about centuries and time, and it seems strange that you should identify a place by a name that also means time.”
Robin suddenly understood Elizabeth’s confusion.
“Where’s Dean?” Robin asked.
“Watching the barley.”
“Maybe we’d better wait and go keep an eye on him.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I wouldn’t worry. Dean likes his ale too much to let the barley burn.”
“You’re right,” Robin smiled. “Come on. Let’s go to the stable. We won’t be overheard there. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re witches.”
Elizabeth shuddered, but Robin didn’t notice.
In the stable, Robin sat down on a bundle of hay.
“Elizabeth,” she said slowly. “Do you remember in the castle where we found you how you said you’d been sleeping?”
“Yes, and while I did, Roger moved the chamber.”
“You also said you’d changed lands. But that wasn’t quite right. You were still in the same land. Have you heard the story of the Sleeping Beauty? She was put to sleep for a hundred years?”
“Yes, I know it.” Elizabeth nodded eagerly.
Robing took a deep breath. “That’s what happened to you, only it wasn’t magic, in the sense that it wasn’t a spell. It was science. You see, a hundred years from now, a man named Ben Franklin is going to find out that lightening can be collected, that it’s power can be transmitted, can be directed to a specific spot. A hundred years after that, a man named Thomas Edison will discover that this collected power, which is something called electricity, can be stored and used to make light, and to make wheels turn and a lot of other things. It’s part of what I call technology, and you call magic.”
“But how do you know these things will happen?”
“Because five hundred years from now, your Roger will find a way to make someone sleep for hundreds of years without dying or growing older. I know because that’s what happened to you. You were sleeping for over three hundred years, Elizabeth. Do you understand that?”
She frowned. “I believe so. But why am I back in England as it was when I left?”
“Because Roger found a way to travel not only across land, but across years and days. He found a way to travel backwards and forward in time. He is from my future, as I am from your future.”
“How long was I asleep?”
“Somewhere between three hundred and sixty, three hundred seventy years.”
Elizabeth did the math. “That’s impossible, and yet, it can’t be, for I know it happened. This is so hard to understand.”
“I know, Elizabeth.” Robin put her hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Most of the knowledge that makes Dean’s iPhone possible hasn’t been discovered yet.”
“But how can one change time?”
Robin shrugged. “I don’t know. As I said, Roger is not from my time. He is from my future, which is even further ahead. In that time, they will know. It was an accident that Dean and I were able to find you and the time machine. All I know is how to work the thing.”
Elizabeth nodded. “It’s still not completely clear, but it’s better. Come. Dean will need help with the mash.” She stopped at the door to the stable. “And, Robin, please don’t be too angry with the pastor. He means well, even if all he does is cause trouble. We do have to live with him.”
“Yeah.” Robin smiled. “That’s the nice thing about you, Elizabeth. You’re at least willing to try something new.”
“It doesn’t seem like it,” she sighed.
“You did fine,” Robin said. “You’d have never made it as far as you did in the twenty-first century if you were as narrow as old Middleton. You should be proud of yourself.”
Elizabeth smiled. “You are so kind, Robin. I want so much to like your magic, or whatever you call it, because you do.”
“I understand. I’m so used to it, I don’t even think about it. I forget how frightening it must be to you.”
Elizabeth nodded. Together, the two women left the stable.