Robin held her breath as she and Dean stood in the doorway to the castle. She glanced over at Elizabeth, who looked more curious than frightened at the moment. Dean was putting on his best “bluff ’em out” look.
“The seventeenth-century group is meeting in York this weekend,” the matron continued. “I do hope you haven’t been terribly inconvenienced.”
“No,” said Robin with a quick grin. “As a matter of fact, we’re just on our way there. Thought we’d drop in and see the castle first.”
“Oh, good.” The matron smiled in relief. “It really doesn’t do to say so, but some of your colleagues are rather disorganized. I was quite afraid I was going to be bombarded with Cavaliers and their ladies.” She smiled again at Elizabeth. “Lovely job, dear, but I do believe ties at the neck are not quite period.”
Elizabeth looked puzzled, but before she could say anything, Robin gently took her arm and turned her toward the parking lot.
“Well, who knows,” Robin told the matron as she pushed Elizabeth past. “Not a lot of portrait evidence among the lower classes, you know.”
“Huh?” asked Dean, following close behind.
Robin glanced behind them. “We’ve got an explanation for Elizabeth for the moment.”
“Explanation?” Elizabeth asked.
“I don’t get it,” Dean said.
Robin stopped to catch her breath. “Historical re-enactors, Dean. You know, like the Renaissance Faire back home? There are clubs all over the place that dress up in historical costumes and make like they live in the past. They’ve got them for all different time periods. That woman just thought we were dressed up for a seventeenth-century group.”
“This is my best dress,” Elizabeth said. “But what did she mean about my ties?”
“Long story,” Robin said quickly.
“Oh, I got you,” Dean said. “Like that group you were hanging around with when you were dating Steve.”
“Steve is gay, Dean,” Robin said through her teeth. The two had spent a lot of time in each other’s company that year, together nursing their latest wounds in the dating wars and were still good friends and business partners. Steve was finally in a solid, committed relationship. “Anyway, we’ve got other things to worry about.” She glanced around. “I don’t see any sign of this Roger character, but that doesn’t mean he’s not monitoring us. We’d better make tracks. We’ll get Elizabeth back to the hotel and then figure out what we’re going to do.”
A car whizzed past and Elizabeth yelped. “That’s the strangest animal I’ve ever seen! It’s huge! It looked so small from the window.”
“Oh, great,” sighed Robin.
Dean shrugged. “It’s just a car, Elizabeth. Oh, wait. You wouldn’t know what that is.”
“It’s a like a carriage,” Robin explained, leading Elizabeth into the parking lot. “Only it has an engine. We give it fuel and it goes.”
Elizabeth looked at a couple leaving one car and another small family getting into one. Near her, an engine roared to life. She started.
“It’s noisy,” she said, then gasped as the automobile slowly backed out of its parking spot. “There are people inside. But how does it go? There are no horses. It must be the most powerful kind of magic.”
“Something like that,” Robin grumbled, fumbling for the keys to the rental car.
The dark sedan, unfortunately, looked like all the other dark sedans in the lot. People were staring at Elizabeth, a few smiling as if they were in on the same joke. Robin couldn’t help thinking if only those living history fans knew what an opportunity they were missing.
Dean found the car first and went straight to the right side. Robin pushed him away.
“Other side, Dean,” she said, unlocking the door. “We’re in England, remember?”
“Duh. Hey, Robin, I don’t think Elizabeth is going to fit in that back seat.”
Robin looked at Elizabeth’s full dress and the tiny space in the back. “Dean, why don’t you get in the back?”
Dean got in without complaining, for once. Elizabeth balked. Robin walked around to the passenger side.
“Elizabeth, it’s okay, I promise,” she said. She thought fast. “I know this seems really magical to you, but it’s normal stuff for me and Dean. Unless you want us to take you back to the room.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “No. I wish to see this magical land. I will see it.”
Robin stuffed the girl and the dress into the sedan, then slid on the seat belt. She ran around to her side of the car and slid in behind the wheel, stopping only to gently place the black box she still carried on the dash.
As the car finally rolled into traffic, Elizabeth stiffened once again.
“It’s so fast,” she gasped.
“This is nothing,” Dean chortled.
“Easy, Dean,” Robin said, checking the speedometer. “About the fastest Elizabeth has ever traveled in her life was maybe 15 miles an hour, assuming she got on a really fast horse.”
“Roger took me on one before he put me in the room.” Elizabeth’s brow furrowed, but she said nothing more.
Robin sensed it was better to let the girl be and let her own thoughts drift far beyond the immediate situation.
It had been a rough year, spent with a man who had repeatedly shown her why he was not the man of her dreams as she had thought. Robin winced. She used to be better at getting out of bad relationships. But as her friend Steve had gently suggested to her that year they’d palled around, it was possible she was expecting too much from her men and not giving her relationships the chance to mature. So she’d stuck it out with Rick, forgiving him again and again, until the night she caught him surfing for Internet porn and realized he was more interested in his laptop than in her.
In some ways, Rick was not unlike her father or her mother. Her dad, a top NASA scientist, had always been more comfortable withdrawn into himself while poring over code or formulas. Her mom was more outgoing, but it was a professional necessity. A surgeon with a specialty in gynecology, she had one of the largest and most respected practices in Orange County.
Although both her parents were devoted to their children, parenting and careers left little time for each other and neither really had the inclination to leave their respective worlds. They had drifted apart, divorcing when Robin was thirteen.
Robin wondered, not for the first time, if her parents’ indifference to each other was why she never managed to stay interested enough to keep a relationship going for any length of time. With her thirtieth birthday coming up the next summer, it was a puzzle she wanted to solve soon.
“Hey, Robin,” Dean said, suddenly leaning forward. “I got some classical on my iPhone.”
He had jammed the unit into the new speaker dock he’d brought with him and had all but shoved it into Robin’s ear.
“Not a good time, Dean,” Robin growled, nodding at Elizabeth, who jumped at the music coming from the small speakers.
“Never mind.” Dean slumped back in his seat.
Robin glanced in her rearview mirror back at Dean, who had taken his iPhone off the speaker dock, hooked up the earbuds, and was now lost in his music as he watched the countryside whiz by. Nothing much phased Dean. He spent his life sliding along, never really having to work hard at anything he tried, which may have been why he seemed so incredibly stupid at times.
On the other hand, he was about to start his first year of graduate school, having whipped through his undergrad work as a psych major. But then Dean had always been like that, acing his classes, but not retaining much unless it happened to interest him. And not much besides girls and good times did.
Robin didn’t like to admit it, but she was jealous of her little brother, although she was no less accomplished. Female computer scientists were still considered an oddity, and every day, almost, was a struggle for respect among her colleagues and subordinates. With hundreds of high tech start ups out there, it was no big deal to be senior vice president of engineering, especially at age 29. That the company she’d founded after college was not only still around, but profitable, said a lot. She’d worked hard and she’d earned it.
And she’d been looking forward to a month in England, a trip she’d planned for herself and Rick. Except that that had fizzled, and her mother had pressured her into taking Dean instead. Stuck babysitting again. Robin glared briefly into the rearview mirror at Dean, then noticed Elizabeth.
She was very tense but determined to accept whatever came her way. Pretty gutsy, Robin thought.
“I’m wondering,” Robin said aloud, finally. “Why are we running from Roger?”
“Oh, come on, Robin,” snapped Dean, whipping off his earbuds. “He locked her up and put her to sleep. Who knows what else he did to her?”
“Roger was very kind to me,” Elizabeth insisted.
“So why are we running from him?” Robin asked, looking at her.
Elizabeth thought. The odd thing, Robin noticed, was that Elizabeth was not struggling to understand something, but was instead calculating.
“He took me from my town,” she said finally. “I cannot say I was unwilling. But perhaps he put a spell on me to make me go.” Tears, real ones, filled her eyes. “I don’t truly fear Roger, but I do believe he is a danger to me.”
That much rang true, Robin decided. And she had to admit, Dean had a point about this locking up business. But why hadn’t the girl been discovered sooner? Robin glanced at the black box. Perhaps it would have some answers.
They got to the little bed and breakfast inn just outside of Windsor in under an hour. As they parked the car down the narrow street, Robin could see Elizabeth clenching her teeth, bracing herself against more magic, probably.
Robin tried to think ahead a few minutes. What was coming and what would Elizabeth find magical? The inn was at least Georgian, but certainly no older than that. It wouldn’t be dark for several hours yet, so there would be time to explain electricity. What about toilets and running water?
Robin took a deep breath and led Elizabeth and Dean into the inn. In their room, Robin made a point of doing the latch and putting a chair under the door knob. Dean drew the curtains, putting the room in semi-darkness. The summer afternoon sun slipped through the cracks. Robin held off turning on the lights.
Elizabeth looked around in awe. She started when she saw her reflection in the mirror.
“Who could that be?” she gasped.
“That’s you, Elizabeth,” said Dean. “That’s a mirror.”
“Why, it is. But it’s so clear!”
Robin gently set the keyboard from the castle on the night table. “Okay, gang. We’ve got to do some thinking here. We’ve kind of decided that Elizabeth is not going back to the room and Roger, right?”
“Yeah,” Dean said forcefully.
“Elizabeth?” Robin asked.
“I do not want to go back there,” she said firmly.
“Okay. So now what do we do?” Robin asked. “We have someone, who for all intents and purposes is a non-person, to bring up to speed on over three-hundred years of human advancement, and some yahoo from the future probably looking for us. Probably the smartest thing to do would be to send Elizabeth back to her own time, but how to do that…” Robin shrugged.
Elizabeth, for her part, was struggling with something again.
“Robin,” she began, then paused. “What is the name of this land?”
“We are in England,” Robin replied slowly. “Do you know the story of the princess who slept for a hundred years until she was awakened by a prince?”
“Roger found a way to make you sleep for over four hundred years,” Robin continued. “A lot has changed since then. That’s why everything is so different and seems so magical to you. The human race has learned a lot in four hundred years. How to make carriages go without horses. How to make mirrors perfectly clear. How to talk to people through wires and through airwaves. All sorts of things, Elizabeth.”
“Will you be able to take me back to my time?” Elizabeth asked in a very small voice.
“I don’t know yet,” Robin said softly. “That box I brought with me. It could be a hand-held time machine, and if it is, I have to figure out how to use it, and I may not be able to. It’s possible you may be stuck here.”
Elizabeth, looking very small and frightened, nodded slowly. “Then I must learn how to be in this land.”
It was a long and difficult evening. Robin, against her better judgment, let Dean convince her to take Elizabeth shopping and then to dinner. But everything frightened the poor girl. She balked at passing through the automatic door at the clothing shop. She was mortified by the skimpy little shifts on display and insisted on wearing several layers of skirts and blouses at once. Dean told the clerks an outrageous story about Elizabeth’s luggage being lost at a living history event while Robin tried to convince Elizabeth to give up her stays.
Things were a little better at dinner at the nearby pub. Elizabeth was shocked by the array of dishes but pleased by the grilled half chicken she was served. The television over the bar caught her eye, but she started crying when the bartender switched the channels, convinced that he had killed the elves she’d seen.
Because electric lights were already on in the shop and the pub, Elizabeth didn’t really notice them, until they returned to the room and Dean thoughtlessly flipped them on. Elizabeth yelped, then panicked when Robin showed her how to work the switch and the lights went out.
The noise of the toilet flushing terrified her and she did not want to use it until Robin insisted. Then there was the bath. Elizabeth resisted, so Robin undressed to help her along. It didn’t help when Elizabeth was surprised that Robin really was a woman.
Dean insisted on standing guard that night while Robin and Elizabeth slept, just in case Roger came to get Elizabeth. Elizabeth went to bed obediently. Robin decided to stay up to look at the box.
The clock on the room’s bureau was chiming two a.m. when Robin glanced over at Dean. He’d been sound asleep in an easy chair for at least an hour. From Elizabeth’s bed came the soft sound of weeping. Robin went over to her.
“You okay?” she asked, gently sitting next to the crying girl.
“This place is so magical,” she whispered. “I’m so frightened. I know you think it good.”
Robin sighed. “Not all the time. And I understand how it would be pretty scary for you. Look, Elizabeth, I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do everything I can. I figured out how to turn this thing on, and it’s responding to me. There’s some sort of language processor in here, which is why we can still understand each other even though language has changed a lot in the past four hundred years.”
Elizabeth sniffled and smiled weakly. “I don’t want you to think that I don’t like it here. You and Dean have been more than kind.”
“We do our best. Listen, why don’t you get some sleep? We’ll tackle the world tomorrow. Okay?”
Elizabeth nodded and rolled over.
Robin waited until she heard Elizabeth’s even breathing, then turned the machine on.
The next morning, Dean woke up stiff as a board and to loud knocking on the room door. Stretching, he lumbered over.
“Who is it?” he called.
Elizabeth was sitting up in bed, looking worried.
“It’s Robin,” she hissed from the other side of the door. “Get that chair out from under the door knob now!”
Dean pulled it away.
“Did you know she’d left?” Elizabeth asked.
“Uh-uh.” Dean yawned as he opened the door.
“I didn’t leave through the door,” Robin said darkly as she slipped in and replaced the chair under the door knob.
“What?” Dean shook the last of the sleep from his head.
Robin held up the box. “I got it to work. I sent myself back to 1920s New York, then here. Only I got here two days ago. I’ve been hanging out in Bath so I didn’t run into myself.”
“You what?” Dean gasped.
“The time machine, Dean. I figured it out. It’s actually pretty easy. Geez, these guys in the future have human interface down to a hey nonny.”
Elizabeth cried out happily. “Does this mean I can go back to my place?”
“Yeah,” said Robin. “Actually, it may take us a few days to get the stuff together that Dean and I will need to go back with you, but we can get you back to King’s Church on whatever it is.”
“No.” Elizabeth paled. “Please, let’s not go there.”
“Wait a minute,” Dean said nervously. “You want me to go back, too?”
“Dean, it’s the chance of a lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want to go?”
“I like living!”
“It’s not dangerous. And, Elizabeth, why don’t you want to go home? Oh, wait. Roger, of course. He found you there once. I guess we’ll have to find a way to re-establish you someplace else. We can do some research at the British Museum. But, speaking of Roger, we’ve got to get out of here. Now.”
“He’s here?” gasped Elizabeth.
“Somewhere around here,” Robin said. “At least, I think so. I didn’t see him, but the desk clerk said that he was asking about a girl in a seventeenth-century dress yesterday morning and if the clerk had noticed some lights flashing. Well, somebody named Donald did, and I’m assuming that’s what Roger’s calling himself now. Who else would be asking that kind of question? We’re just lucky the desk clerk wasn’t on yesterday afternoon when we came back with Elizabeth because she’s really wigged-out about this guy. Anyway, we’ve got to get out of here before Roger or whatever he’s calling himself comes back. And I don’t want that clerk to see Elizabeth.”
The three packed quickly. Dean took over checking out while Robin and Elizabeth slipped out behind him. They went first to London, where Robin insisted on checking into a hotel known for catering to business travelers.
“We stick out like sore thumbs,” Dean protested, looking at all the people in business wear milling about the lobby.
“Come on, there’re plenty of tourists here,” Robin grumbled, although she had to admit to herself that she didn’t see any. “Besides, they have the ‘Net access I need. I’ve got major research to do.”
Once in their room, Dean paced nervously as Elizabeth sat on the bed, again looking small and scared. Robin tried not to notice as she pulled her laptop from its bag and turned it on.
“It’s like we’re gonna have to stay in this room the whole time,” Dean fumed. “That Roger guy is going to spot us in nothing flat around all these suits.”
“I know,” Robin finally conceded. “But, Dean, we can’t just go back in time without knowing about where we’re headed. We don’t know any more about Elizabeth’s world than she knows about ours. We’ve got to get the right clothes, learn new habits, figure out where to go. All that.”
“Can you get that on the Internet?”
“A lot of it.” Robin fumed as the computer booted up. Suddenly, compared to the time machine, it seemed ridiculously slow. She whisked her finger across the mouse pad and clicked. It was noisy, too, compared to the time machine. “We’ll have to check in with the British Museum and a whole bunch of other stuff. I’m just hoping there’s a re-enactor group around that can get us clothes that are reasonably close to the period.”
“Maybe we ought to see if we can get Elizabeth a passport and stay here.” Dean folded his arms belligerently.
Robin glanced back at the girl. “I don’t think she’s up to it, Dean.”
“Well, maybe we ought to ask her.” He turned. “Elizabeth, don’t you really want to stay here with us?”
A pained frown creased Elizabeth’s face.
“Dean, don’t put pressure on her like that,” Robin said, still focused on her computer. “Wait.” Bolting out of her chair, she turned on the girl. “We should be asking you, Elizabeth. You were there. Geez, talk about a primary source.”
“Huh?” Dean asked.
Elizabeth shrank back even further. Robin stopped and gently sat down next to her.
“Elizabeth, we just need your help so that Dean and I can fit in in your world,” Robin said softly. “There’s tons of stuff out there that’s been written on life in historic England, but you were there. You know what’s accurate and what isn’t.”
Elizabeth began to cry. “It’s so hard. Dean wants me to stay here, and I would like to please him. But I do want to go home, Robin. And I don’t know how to get there, and you’re saying that I will know.”
Dean settled down next to Elizabeth and held her while tossing a glare at Robin.
“And you came down on me for pressuring her,” he growled triumphantly.
Robin sighed. “Elizabeth, I do know how to get you home. Or close enough to it, if you don’t want Roger to catch you again. I just want to know what it’s like there. That way Dean and I can come and stay with you for a while. That is, if you’d like us to.”
“I would.” Elizabeth nodded eagerly. “It wouldn’t be good to let people know you’re sorcerers, though. But we can say you’re my cousins. That you’ve taken me in. We could say that a greedy baron has taken my father’s holding and that you’ve taken me on your travels so that I might find a situation. Two brothers traveling with their cousin wouldn’t be thought strange. We’ve had a baron take a few holdings in our town.”
Dean started laughing. “Two brothers, huh?”
Robin glared at him. Elizabeth grimaced as she realized her mistake.
“I am very sorry,” she said softly.
“Don’t be,” Robin sighed. “Compared to women in your time, I probably am pretty manly. I don’t know. It would be safer, two guys and a girl traveling together instead of two girls and a guy. But I am a little lacking in the beard department.” Robin stroked her chin. “Someone would be bound to notice.”
“I’ve seen it before,” said Elizabeth. “His voice was quite high, too. They said he had not his jewels.”
“Elizabeth!” Dean gasped. “You’re not supposed to know about that stuff.”
“Get real, Dean,” Robin retorted and got up. “You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’m sure birth defects like missing scrotum were even more common then than they are now.”
“Yeah, but people probably died from them sooner,” Dean said, mildly disgusted. “Robin, you’re out of your mind. We can’t go back in time. We’d be spotted in a minute.”
“Not if we do the research first,” Robin said. “And we’ve got Elizabeth to help us. Of course, if you don’t want to go. I suppose I could leave you here by yourself, and if Roger shows up, you could handle it.”
Dean swallowed, then made his decision. “Not that I couldn’t take him. But I’ll go with you.”
“Oh, I’m so happy,” Elizabeth said.
Robin could see that Dean still wasn’t happy about the adventure, but she decided not to press the point. She, too, had her misgivings about fitting into seventeenth-century English society and felt guilty about manipulating Dean into the trip. But she needed his brawn. For all she knew, she was rushing into far greater danger than even a furious Roger might be. But a time machine. How could she let that go without exploring every when she had ever wanted to see?