PROFESSOR STAFFORD COLLAPSED, CRASHING HEAD FIRST ONTO THE
control panel. I caught a glimpse of the accelerator lever pushing forward
under his weight. In horror I heard rather than saw the computer whirl into
action. I saw Neil’s younger brother Nelson trying to pull the Professor from
the machine. He was one of us five researchers and the lucky one. The rest
of us froze on the platform as the world started to stretch around us. The
elongation of the room stretched us and our lab into impossible shapes
and suddenly our world disappeared. We scientists, Beth, Neil, Sarah and I,
stared into total darkness as we found ourselves floating in the air without
the platform or any point of reference other than one another.
It felt as if we drifted in this void for an eternity. I peered at my illuminated
wristwatch; to my surprise, the hands were spinning backwards at an
incredible speed. Sarah, the smartest and youngest, grasped my arm and
held me closer as she had done the night before. She thrust her wrist in front
of my face showing me her digital chronometer; the brightly lit numbers
also sped backwards. In her clipped New York accent, she whispered in my
ear, “Jonathan. It’s all wrong. We should be going forward not backwards in
time.” Her athletic body firm and strong tensed next to mine as she added,
“What did that old fool Stafford do to us?”
My eyes adjusted to the dark, and I glanced over to my right. Beth, our
couch potato, stood outlined against the nothingness. Her facial features
reflected a silhouette of awe and joy.
Neil, the fourth member of our team, was a statue frozen in terror, grasping
Beth’s hand as if it were his lifeline from this horror. I thought Neil was
afraid, but Sarah, Beth and I were ecstatic. We had become involved in time
travel research in hopes that one day we would have it.
If I could redo the accident would I still have stood on the contraption,
and time traveled with my friends? I don’t know. How much have I changed?
How many have died? How many more will die? All these deaths happened
as a result of Stafford’s mild heart attack, and my foolishness.
As fast as we entered the void, we returned to the real world. The smell
hit me first, pungent and earthy. I now lay on the floor of a stable, or to be
precise in the tack room. The four of us lay where we were before the blackout.
Except now the building no longer functioned as a research facility. The
millions of dollars of scientific equipment no longer lined the walls. Straw
was everywhere. We were in a horse stable.
I couldn’t articulate a word; only uncoordinated syllables escaped my
vocal cords. Sarah regained her equilibrium first and asked, “When are we?
This looks like the 19th century. This building hasn’t been a stable for over a
hundred years or more.” Then her violet-blue Liz Taylor eyes sparkled as she
said, “We did it.”
Beth struggled to her feet and ventured to the door. She peeked out.
“Quiet, there are some grooms out there. We don’t want them to know we’re
here. Well, not yet anyway. We need to know what’s going on out there.
There’s never been a report of time travelers in history. We don’t want to be
I timidly cleared my voice to speak when Neil expressed my thoughts
in a shaky almost nervous stutter. “The accelerator screwed up. We’ve traveled
back in time more than a few years. How do you explain a century
or more Jonathan? How do you explain it?” His last few words sounded
Beth put her arm around him. “It’s all right Neil. We’ll work it out.” I could
tell he didn’t believe her but said nothing.
We glanced at each other shaking our heads. Sarah pointed at me and
whispered, “You’re the theorist, and you designed this experiment. Explain
it to us.”
I looked at them with a blank expression on my face. “I can’t explain it. It’s
all wrong. No, not wrong, impossible. We can’t be here.”
Neil grabbed my arm, with both terror and anger in his voice, “It may be
impossible, but we are here, wake up and smell the coffee.”
I didn’t like violence, and I felt threatened by Neil. I turned red and knew
I should do something but instead just shrugged my shoulders and said,
“Sorry” in the soft pathetic voice I used when I felt intimidated.
“Quiet you two. We have to get out of here and find a way home.” Beth
squeezed her eyes closed to keep from crying. Her false bravado had cracked.
She started to shake. Neil’s anger had calmed down; he took her hand and
gently wrapped his arm around her as he stroked her hair. They had been
lovers since Neil joined the team five months earlier.
Sarah sneered at Beth and Neil. “Beth, the only way home is to live
another hundred or so years. We’re trapped in the past. Sure, if we had all
that crap we left back in the lab we might after ten or twenty years devise a
way to travel forward in time. Well, if we’re lucky,” she wriggled her nose at
us. “But we don’t have that. We only have the clothes on our backs.”
Beth asked through her tears, “What can we do?”
How were we to return to our time? How were we going to survive?
We’d lived in an academic environment all our lives. We didn’t know how to
survive outside our own world.
“Adapt. Look, listen and learn,” was Sarah’s simple reply. “But first, we
have to get out of here.”
Blinking the tears away, Beth still looked panicked but peeked out the
door again. “Okay, the grooms have left the barn.”
She gingerly opened the door and crept out of the tack room. We followed,
just like in a prison break movie. We skulked our way out into the
courtyard. The buildings looked like the Oxford we left, but just a bit different.
There was a block of classrooms across the courtyard from the stables
and we watched students heading off to their various classes.
We dressed as did our generation at university of our time. It was difficult
to say from what era the students we saw belonged. They wore a mishmash of
clothing. Some wore scholarly garb; black robes with funny hats and others
wore bucolic dress. However, many others wore a gaudy assortment of robes
in various colors from red, green, orange and even white. We assumed it was
a special day at Oxford calling for outlandish dress.
After seeing the students and the familiar campus, Beth regained some of
her bravery. “Follow me. If this place has the same layout, I know a place we
can go. Come on.”
We hurried out into the mid afternoon sunshine like all the students.
The weather gave me the impression that whatever year we arrived it still
was May. We tried to be inconspicuous as we entered the fray of students.
Our modern dress should have told everyone we didn’t belong in that
time. However, the preoccupied students gave us the once-over stare, but
none ventured to ask any questions as they rushed off to their classes. We
marched across the square and entered the classroom building kitty corner
from the stable.
Once inside the building, we mingled with the students. Beth pushed her
way to the front, and we followed her up a flight of stairs. We went down a
hall where she stopped in front of an impressive mahogany door larger than
any other we had seen in the building. Beth yanked at the door turning the
knob with all her strength, yet it didn’t move. She rummaged around in her
knapsack and extracted an old skeleton key, and inserted it into the lock. To
our surprise, the door swung open. She rushed us into the room. The room
had large windows, and bright light streamed across the floor and onto
the office furniture. I observed all the trappings of an ecclesiastical monk.
Luckily, no one was sitting behind the desk. Beth ran over to the wall behind
the desk. Solid blocks of stone formed the partition. She gently pushed on a
stone, a second later pushed on another rock and a secret door opened. We
I almost yelled. This was too much, a secret room at Oxford. This
wasn’t Windsor Castle or some phony scary movie set but a real college. I
Beth read my mind and answered my silent question. “I had this office
for three years when I did my PhD here. I found this place during my first
year. They constructed this room when they erected the building, but I
checked the plans, and it never was recorded. From what I could discover,
the purpose of the room was to hide priests during Henry the VIII’s time.
Now we have a safe place.”
A high window allowed light into the room. The dust almost a centimeter
thick gave credence to Beth’s next statement, “The room may be sparse, but
no one has been in here for years. We should be safe.” The twenty by twentyfoot
room had two chairs and a cot. Six tapers stood in a candleholder, and a
yellow piece of parchment lay on a small desk, but no writing appeared on it.
I shivered all over. This hiding didn’t suit the way I thought time travel
could be. I wanted to meet the people from the past. I pulled at Beth’s sleeve,
“Why don’t we just ask someone about this place?”
Beth shook her head. “Jonathan, are you stupid? We don’t know anything
about this time or these people. Who knows what they might do?”
I frowned and looked at my friends. “Which one of you is a history buff?
No one answered, “If this is no earlier than 17th century we should make out
OK. That is if my memory is correct.”
Sarah piped up. “No, I agree with Beth. Until we know what’s happening,
we’ll stay hidden.” She thought a second then added, “We need to inventory
our resources. To see what we have, so we can survive in this time.”
“Right, everyone turn out your pockets and see what we have,” suggested
We examined the contents of our pockets. We had our cell phones. We
had money. We had pens and paper. Beth had her knapsack with a can
of hair spray, a couple of Mars bars, a bottle of water and her laptop. Our
knowledge of history and science should enable us to survive in this time. If
only we could put a date to our present time.
I picked up Beth’s knapsack. “Beth, is this new? What is it made of, it’s a
very strange material.”
She grabbed the bag from me and started stuffing her belongs back into
it. “I told you this morning my mom gave it to me when I visited her last
weekend. Her father gave her about five meters of this material. He told her
that it fell off a back of a lorry during the war. It’s supposed to be fabric from
the blimps they flew over London during the Blitz.”
As we talked, we heard the door to the office open and someone came
in. Dead silence fell over our hideaway. Beth whispered, “This room is nearly
soundproof but whoever designed it constructed it so we can hear what’s
happening in the other room. Put your ear to the wall and listen.”
Our ears glued themselves to the cold stone blocks and listened to the
person in the office. We heard a deep voice singing a medieval chant. It
didn’t sound Latin or English, but a bastardization of each. At first, I could
barely make out the words but with perseverance I understood what the
male voice said. He ordered lunch; a salad, chicken noodle soup and a roast
We looked at one another and scratched our heads. “Was he talking into
a telephone?” I asked.
Sarah shook her head, “I didn’t see one in the room as we passed through
it. Anyway, it didn’t sound like how you speak into a telephone.”
Someone knocked at the office door as we discussed the merits of the
telephone or possibly a cell phone. I heard another male voice as someone
entered the room delivering the ordered meal. The servant had no time to
prepare the meal, maybe twenty or thirty seconds had elapsed before he
entered the office with the food. I wondered how that could be possible.
Moments later, I could hear the occupant of the room leisurely consume his
lunch. Eventually, he left merrily singing a dirge of some sort.
I shook my head and whispered to the others, ‘This guy is either a happy
undertaker or very disturbed”
We waited a few minutes and entered the office. This time we searched it.
The room contained books, papers, cabinets and shelves with jars of herbs
and other dried plant material, but no phone or any mechanical devices, not
even a clock.
Beth and Neil sat at the desk trying to decipher documents stacked in a
basket. I studied a wall hanging, and Sarah took a book off a bookshelf and
started reading. We examined everything in the room trying to discover
facts about our new world. I jumped three feet when the door sprung open
and a surprised servant stood mouth agape, eyes wide with astonishment
and then horror as he stared at the four of us.
I SURPRISED MYSELF AND AT THE SAME TIME HORRIFIED MYSELF. I
grabbed the intruder by the folds of his robe and dragged him into the room.
My heart sounded like a jackhammer in my chest. I had never used physical
force against anyone before in my life. I played sports but nothing with
violence, no hockey or football or even basketball.
Still out of breath I whispered, “Close the door, Sarah.” She closed the
door before any eyes strolling down the hall could see my act of aggression.
I wrestled the stranger into an overstuffed chair that faced the large oak
desk in the room.
Our captive stood about five-foot-six, no match for my six-foot-two
frame, yet I could feel large muscles under his black robes. His red hair was
tied into a long ponytail. He looked to be in his forties.
After my first attempt to question him, Beth took over and ordered him
to speak. “Who’re you and what’s your job around here?”
In a strong highland accent, he said, “Canna hardly understand ya lassie.
You’re not from around here, are ye?” Then he added, “The question is who
are ye and what are you dooin here?”
Sarah asked the next question, “What year is it?”
“Lassie, from your tongue you aren’t from anywhere I know, and I’ve been
throughout the land.” Sarah’s New York surliness showed as she sneered
Then her expression changed and a grin crossed her face, as she said, “Sir,
you’re good at misdirecting our questions, but now it’s time to answer them.”
He laughed. “I’ll be answering yours, if you be answering mine. I’m Angus
Paterson, and I’m a captive slave of the Order of the Red Master. Young
woman with the harsh tongue, it is as we reckon it twenty years past the
We looked at him as if he had donkey ears and tulips sprouting from his
head. “What are you saying? You’re a captive slave of the Red Master, and the
year is 2020? That’s impossible, that’s the year we left,” gasped Sarah.
“You’re crazy man!” was Neil’s eloquent reply. Neil still looked sick and
ready to vomit at any moment. Time travel didn’t suit him.
Angus studied all of our reactions, nodding his head up and down and
said, “Aye sir, you four are wanderers. It is true ye aren’t from aroun’ here
or even from Great Britain as some call it. Nay, ye are a strange breed from
your clothes and talk and your lack of knowledge. Wha’ are ye and where are
Before we could answer, we heard a noise in the hall. Angus became
frightened. He picked up the plates on the desk. Beth went over to the concealed
door and opened it; we pushed Angus into the hidden room with us.
Beth shut the door as the office door opened.
Angus turned to us. “Wha’ are ye people? Whit are ye doin’ here?” He
whispered so whoever entered the other room wouldn’t hear him.
Sarah looked into his eyes. “You tell us first, and we’ll tell you what you
want to know. Tell us about this place and your world. As you have surmised,
we are strangers in your land, and we know nothing about what is going on
here. Please tell us and we’ll tell you everything we can about us.”
He looked at her long and hard. It was obvious he was assessing her, and
in turns us. Finally, his face broke out into a smile. “Ye are all so young and
serious. I’m close to twice your age and have seen all of this world and what
it has tae offer, but the likes o’ ye I’ve never seen. I trust in your ignorance
and your will to know.”
He looked at us standing there, “Ye foor look like I’m speaking in a strange
toongue. I know the Master’s English’s well as my native dialectic.” He smiled
again, “I was a prisoner at this school for many years and know how to
talk that dry tongue the educated speak. From now on I’ll put on my best
English.” Humor was evident in his voice.
“There are six realms to this land of Great Britain. My realm, the Highlands
is in the North, what the others call Scotland. The other five are Northumbria
to the south of my land, Mercia in the center, Wales to the west, Ireland the
land across the western sea and Wessex, where we are. This is Oxford, the
center of learning for all the realms. In the war of ‘09 a Brigade of Wessex’s
Winchester Lancers under the command of the Red Master captured me as
I commanded my army in the invasion of York. The room we just left is the
Lord of the Wessex’s or as the world knows him, the Red Master. His office
when he visits Oxford is where you surprised me.” Angus stopped talking,
and looked perplexed, “It’s strange he doesn’t know you hid in his office and
are now only a few feet from him. He knows everything. He can read minds.
He has powers beyond anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve tried to escape six times,
each time he knew and tortured me with mind control. He’s the most powerful
Wizard in our lands. I’ve heard he talks with the Ancient Ones.”
Beth looked at him with a glint of humor in her eyes, “Your army, what
did you mean by that?”
Angus had the same glint in his eye, “Well lassie, you caught that did
yea? The Thane of the Highlands they called me. It’s a family responsibility,
my father and his father and as far back as the Masters have recorded
history a Paterson has sat on the throne of the land. The MacDonald’s and
the Wallace’s and even the Stuarts have ruled their fiefdoms, but for a millennium
my ancestors ruled and suppressed rebellion in Scotland. That’s
why the bloody Red Master keeps me here so one of his puppets can rule in
my place. My son is still too young to rule. The Red Master has appointed a
Fraser to rule my land. I’m afraid before my boy reaches the age of twentyone
the Red Master will assassinate him. If my son Ian leaves no heir, the
realm will fall into the Red Master’s hands.” Angus fell silent, brooding over
what he just had told us. No one spoke. We also brooded over his fate and
ours. Finally, he looked up at us, “Who might you young lads and lassies be?”
“We are travelers from far away, but from this exact place. I’m Jonathan
Jackson. This is Sarah Cunningham. That’s Neil Bjornsen next to you, and
Beth Clarke is standing on the other side of you. We are all scientists working
on a project at this University, but not this University. It’s hard to explain.
Anyway, we worked on a machine that would allow us to travel forward in
time. It wasn’t ready for humans to travel in it, but an accident happened,
which brought us here. We thought we had traveled back to the late 1880’s
or 1890’s, but this is nothing like that time in our history. Where are we? We
don’t know unless—” I was recalculating everything in my head, putting the
pieces back into a logical order and consequently reshuffling them. “Christ,
we didn’t time travel. We traveled dimensionally. We’re not in our world. This
world is like ours yet not quite right. It’s just… different.”
My colleagues all groaned. Beth asked, “Can we get back?”
I asked Angus, “Do you have any scientists or equipment for electrical
He looked at me if I were talking Greek, “The Masters banned science in
all the realms a millennium ago. The use of science destroyed the lands over
the sea to the East. Legend tells us that happened more than a thousand
years ago; according to the tea caravans, the land is a vast sterile desert that
takes months to circumnavigate by camel. The Wizards tell us no one who
goes into the barren land ever comes back.”
He paused to think and finally he said with awe, “The Prophecy.” He
stopped talking and for a longtime he seemed to drift away. He refocused
and looked at us in a new way. “In Berwick in Northumbria the Orange
Wizard’s land, it was prophesied travelers from another dimension would
come to our world, which would change our lives forever. The Archbishop
of Canterbury has preached there are many worlds that use the same space
and time to live out their lives. The Prophecy tells about worlds like ours
and others much different and that on occasion these worlds collide. When
that happens, calamities befall both worlds. The Orange Master knows more
about this Prophecy than anyone. I asked him about such crossings to the
otherworld, he spoke of the calamities that could destroy both worlds. He
told me that is why the council of Grand Wizards banned science those
many centuries ago.” In further explanation he said, “A scientist in Ireland
crossed over the line to another world. That world turned to powder and the
winds of time blew it into the unknown. The Irishman returned barely alive.
His last words “Our world will suffer …” He died and his body turned to dust
before the Orange Master. The lands far to the west disappeared; the black
seas filled the void that was the land of promise. The Orange Master told me
the scribes of the White Wizard Blalock wrote in the Berwick Chronicles all
the scientists’ notes of how to cross to the other worlds.”
Neil asked the question on our lips, “Angus, can you guide us to where the
Berwick Chronicles are located?”
Angus looked sad, “I’m bound here by a spell. I can’t walk off the grounds.
If I do I fall into an unconscious state. Only the Red Master can bring me
back to life. Even if I escaped out of Wessex, it is a dangerous journey
through hostile territory. The shire at Berwick is far away. We would need
an army to fight our way to the Berwick castle. That’s where they guard the
Chronicles. Brownies guard the road to Berwick, they are fierce and deadly.
The Brownie army
is the most vicious of the Fairy tribes. Even the Leprechauns are no
match for them. I saw them take on the White Wizard’s army when he
attacked Northumbria, he had gnomes but the Brownies killed them all.
They ate them after the battle, it was horrible. It sickened my troops to see it;
we always kept our distance from the carrion that they are.”
“When you fall unconscious, is it long-term or does the Red Master bring
you back right away?”
“Well, it’s usually a few hours before he brings me back.”
“Have you ever seen him bring back anyone else from unconsciousness
who has tried to escape?” asked Beth.
Angus thought a minute, “Yes, once another slave ran away. He gave her a
drink of— some green liquid. Yes of course, he kept it in the study. Right you
are.” His voice took on a jovial note. “It happened during my first month in
Oxford. The Red Master ordered me to polish his boots. They brought in this
young woman who appeared dead. I overheard the guard inform the Master
she had tried to escape. The Master laughed and went to a locked cabinet
and pulled out a bottle of green liquid. He glanced at me and ordered me out
of his study, but I saw him put the bottle to her mouth. Five or six hours later
I saw her in the kitchen peeling potatoes, as if nothing had happened.”
Wide-eyed I listened to his story then Sarah broke the spell. “Can you find
some clothes for us so we don’t look so conspicuous? We need to leave this
place. Do you have any money we can have?”
A wry look came across Angus’s face, “Nay, I’m a slave; they don’t let me
have such glittery things as gold and silver. Aye, I can get us some traveling
clothes, but alas, as I said I’m just a poor slave. If you feel you have a little
larceny in you, I can show you the treasury; we can take a few bags of sovereigns
Plans took form; we decided to leave after midnight when the town would
be asleep. Angus explained the Red Master didn’t live at Oxford but in his
Castle at Windsor; he traveled every month to Oxford for special meetings of
the Supreme Red Council at the University and would stay for another two
days. The Red Master permanently assigned Angus to the University to be
his personal servant.
“Now my lads and lassies, you’ve gotta be clear, if the Red Master catches
us it will be torture for me, but for the likes of you it will be much worse.”
Sarah looked at the floor and finally into Angus’ eyes, “The plan is good.
We must attempt to return to our world.” Her piercing violet eyes searched
his soul and she continued, “We are trusting you. We may be peace loving
academics, but if you turn on us we have nowhere to hide and like cornered
animals we’ll fight tenaciously to survive.” I looked at my friends and couldn’t
envision them fighting their way through the lunch lines at McDonald’s.
After Angus left our hideout, we waited with anticipation as he purloined
clothing for us. He arrived back just before six with clothes and food. He also
brought a book of the history of the lands and maps of each realm.
Beth, a native of England, looked amazed. “I’m gobsmacked, the map of
my village is identical with what I remember. I lived there all my life and it
has never changed. Yet in this upside down world it’s identical.” Then she
read some of the history, “Holy crap, the history is all ass backwards. It talks
about the early invasions but there is no War of the Roses or even Henry VIII
or Elizabeth. It’s all magic stuff from the arrival of the Vikings.”
We looked at the maps, read short parts of the history, and shook our
heads. Beth was right. It was insane.
Angus looked on us with amazement. “Your world sounds boring beyond
compare to mine, no wars, no magic, no intrigue. Oh well, let’s get out
of this place. I back to my kingdom and you to your world of science and
“I have planned this escape for almost seven years. It will take all of us
to get to the gold in the treasury. You will also have to help me in the Red
Master’s suite. We need to take a few of his precious trinkets with us and
that bottle of green liquid. We’ll make a stop at the armory as well. In this
land, one does not go by land or sea without personal protection or a bodyguard,
not man, not wizard, or beast. You’ll learn why when we pass through
Nottingham or even Warwick.”
At midnight, he had us dressed in the native garb, full of native food and
ready to steal what we needed to escape this land. I had butterflies fluttering
in my stomach. I’d never stolen anything in my life. Well, I didn’t count the
Three Musketeers bar the Safeway employee caught me with. I didn’t know
you had to pay for them. As an adult it didn’t fit into my moral attitude or
Angus led us off to the armory. We were scientists and none of us had
military training in weaponry or self-defense. This was going to be our
induction into violence and crime.
Neil looked excited and in a stage whisper said to me, “I never thought I’d
be stealing gold. I’ve always dreamed of being a pirate, but I never thought
I’d be in a land where it could come true.”
Angus brought us down to the dungeons in the building. The roughly
hewn stone walls dripped with moisture. There was a set of iron bars in front
of us and a hulking large soldier dressed in chainmail with a halberd in his
hand. His dark foreboding eyes pierced into my soul. He stood tall and his
well-trimmed black beard made it impossible to gauge his age. He was mean
looking and did not look friendly at all when he saw Angus.
“It’s past curfew, what the hell are you servants doing here? If you don’t
return to your quarters I’ll call the sergeant of the guard and you’ll all be in
irons before the crow sounds.”
Angus moved a few feet closer and reached into his pocket for a box. The
guard looked confused, “Move along.” He lowered his weapon and now the
spear end was pointing at us. Angus tossed the guard the brightly decorated
gold box. He grabbed for it and a cloud of blue mist wafted out of the box
and encircled the soldier’s head. The guard instantly dropped to his knees
coughing, and in the next instant passed out.
“What the—” was all Neil could say.
Angus answered the unasked question. “When I’m not busy, I look in on
the wizard classes. I’ve watched this one about ten times over the last few
years. The wizard teaching the class calls that potion, ‘Blue mist at night,
soldier is out like a light.’ Works every time, I practiced on the scullery maids.”
He searched the guard, finding only a concealed dagger and the key to
the barred off area leading to the armory. He turned to Neil. “You’re about
the same size as the guard. Remove his clothes and put them on, you are to
take his place until we return. Remember, no one goes in no matter what.
You have orders from the Red Master himself, you’re from— let’s see—, yes,
you’re from London, you just arrived this morning.”
Neil looked at the guard and then down at himself, “Angus, this guy’s
huge, I’ll swim in his uniform, let Jonathan.”
Angus looked stern, “No, I need him with me, just tighten the belt and
you’ll look fine.” Then he smiled, “I have faith in you laddie, you can do it. Just
Once Neil was standing guard, we continued. There was another guard
down the corridor. This one was guarding a large wooden door studded with
iron spikes. If possible, this guard was meaner and nastier looking than the
first. He commanded that we halt a good twenty feet away from him as he
pulled out his sword. Earlier Angus chose Sarah as the temptress to his plan
and provided her with a sultry dress the local young women had a liking
to wear. She enhanced this by applying makeup and pulling at the clothes
in strategic places. She walked just a little closer to the guard ostensibly to
show him orders from the commandant. As she showed the paper to the
guard, Angus started muttering. The chant sounded the same as we heard
from the Red Master.
The guard looked confused and laid down his sword and started to
remove his armor. Within seconds, he was no longer a disciplined soldier,
but a boy being shy and awkward around an attractive young woman. As
we came past the guard, Angus bumped into him and grabbed him behind
the neck, pinched a nerve and dropped him unconscious to the ground. We
looked to Angus.
“It was simple. Sarah pleasantly distracted him and I therefore could
manipulate his undisciplined mind. I told him remove your armor and, get
rid of the sword. Think good thoughts about the young woman. You’re just
fourteen and she is your first girlfriend. With all that on his mind, I could
then walk up to him and render him unconscious. It’s a trick I learned from
the wizards. The wizards misdirect weak minds like this all the time. Get his
keys and weapons.”
When the weapons and the keys belonged to us Angus opened the door
and we marched into the inner sanctum of the armory. “Right it be. You
my recruits need weapons to suit your body.” He looked at Sarah and said,
“A delicate flower like you should only carry a dagger. You will always be
“You sexist pig,” she scoffed
With dexterity he had never seen in his world she had him on the ground
with her foot on his neck. “I’m not just a pretty flower. In my world, a girl has
to take care of herself. I took classes in martial arts. In high school I was the
state’s archery champion and in my under graduate years I was on UCLA’s
fencing team when we won the NCAA title. I’ll choose my weapons and
never again think of me as a temptress. I’ll fight if we have to and tempt who
I want.” She batted her Liz Taylor eyes at him as she pulled Angus from the
I had never seen this side of Sarah. I knew she enjoyed outdoors and
ran with me for exercise, but martial arts and fencing didn’t seem like her.
I thought I knew her yet she never told me about her extracurricular activities.
What else didn’t I know about her?
Like me Angus looked dazed, and finally chuckled, “There’s plenty this
Highland oaf needs to learn about my new friends. Lassie, if we have to fight
I want you on my right, I saw that look in your eye. You have killer eyes.” Then
he winked at her.
The armory had swords, pikes, bows and arrows and every other weapon
in abundance. Searching the armory thoroughly we chose the weapons we
would need. We left loaded down.
Angus put me in shoulder to knee light chain mail armor with a helmet
and added a sword, a dagger, and a bow and arrows for good measure. I
could hardly walk, especially now that I wore the red pants and shirt of the
Red Master’s army. I also wore the blue cape and jacket of an officer. He
decked each of us out in similar fashion. With his new respect for the women
folk of our time, he also dressed Beth and Sarah as officers. The femininity of
both of them was hidden beneath the uniform and armor of the Red Master.
Angus said, “We have six hours before changing of the guards and their
check of the armory.” Unfortunately, that night they changed the guards
every four hours. An officer and four guards met us as we climbed the stairs
to the main floor.
“Angus, do you have any more of that Harry Potter magic in your cloak?
Those four don’t look too happy.” I looked like a warrior in my blue tunic and
red pants, but I felt like a circus clown. I couldn’t wield a sword or shoot an
arrow if my life depended on it yet at any moment it probably did.
One of the soldiers marched down the hall right to us. Angus whispered
behind us, “I know the sergeant who is trooping his men to their posts in the
armory. If he sees me, we’ll be done for.”
Neil stood as tall as he could in his oversized uniform, and marched in his
best military imitation. “You men, stop. My officers are here inspecting your
command. The men in the armory are good for another hour. I need you to
prepare transport for us; we leave for London on the hour.”
The sergeant stared at Neil, “You’re not from Oxford are you?”
Neil took on a haughty attitude, “Of course I’m not you idiot. If I were, you
would know who I am. I’m from London.”
The sergeant was no fool. “I didn’t hear about this. Show me
I pushed forward, “Sergeant, you don’t know because it’s a secret inspection.
You have done well. Send two of your men back to fetch your captain.
We need to evaluate his soldiers’ performance.” As the words escaped my
mouth I could hear the unbelievable lies catch in my throat. Lying and stealing
didn’t suit me. I could feel myself blush.
The sergeant looked confused. “Yes sir. Jones and Roberts go and see if
Lieutenant Thomas is available to chat with these officers from London.”
I reckoned with two of his men gone, we had a better chance of fighting.
Visions of swords clashing and men dying filled my head. My stomach tried
to crawl up my throat, and my bowels pushed their way out of my rectum. As
soon as the two disappeared out of earshot, I returned to reality and felt the
sword my hand now grasped. I shook so hard the pummel wouldn’t stay in
my hand; my first medieval sword fight awaited me.
Beth dressed approached two of the soldiers and to my astonishment
showed them the can of hairspray from her knapsack. She sprayed some of
the mist, and they became intrigued with the aerosol and the smell of the
droplets. She sprayed more this time into their faces and ignited it with her
lighter. The act of violence shocked me as much as it did the three soldiers.
Before I realized what had happened, Sarah had taken the sergeant to the
ground, and karate chopped his windpipe. Angus and Neil subdued the
other two with singed hair.
“You are a surprising band of travelers,” Angus said hurrying us along.
“Take them back to the armory and we’ll tie them up. Let’s be quick about it.
We don’t have much time.” “Acquiring our traveling money in a land of slaves
is not an easy task, but you have Angus to show you the way.” He exploded
with a hearty laugh. “How many gold coins will your pockets hold? I bet
more than you think.”
OUR NEXT STOP WAS TO THE TREASURY IN ANOTHER BASEMENT ROOM
with walls a foot thick on all sides and ten guards at the twelve-inch solid
iron door. Not even the Red Master had authority to enter without permission
of the Council of Seven and co-signed by the head Coin Counter or the
Count as Angus told us the academics called him.
“Angus, we’re not bank robbers and as thieves we are a poor substitute for
the Great Train Robbers. How are we going to do this?” Beth whined.
Angus no longer had a smile on his face. He looked the image of the
warrior king his ancestors bred him to be, yet a moment later a childish grin
started at the upper corners of his lips and spread across his face. “Follow
me and I’ll tell you.”
We crept down one of the halls on the teaching floor. We stopped in a
room with a big padlock on the door. Angus slipped a long piece of metal out
of his pocket and jabbed it into the keyhole of the lock, after a few seconds
of twisting the metal the lock snapped open. “They use cheap locks in this
place. One of my father’s court jesters taught me that trick. After I told my
father, he had a locksmith replace all the locks with some from a village in
Northumbria called Yale.”
The room looked like a science lab but none I’d ever seen before. Lazy
students had strewn the wooden lab desks with odd objects that resembled
ancient apothecary tools like pestles and mortars as well as instruments
that looked foreign to me. Strange charts covered the walls showing versions
of the periodic table with elements that I couldn’t identify. However, to any
university student the layout was similar to science labs in which they had
studied. Once in the classroom, Angus took us to the back of the room to
another locked door. He performed the same prestidigitation with the small
steel rod, and we slinked into a room full of bottles; each held about a gallon
of a clear liquid.
“Be extremely careful with this magic fluid, it destroys whatever it
touches. This is the advanced alchemy class. Every Wizard student must
make two pure gallons of this stuff before they go on to their next level
Neil gingerly picked up one of the gallon bottles when the door from the
classroom swung open. He stumbled, and the bottle started to slip through
his fingers. Angus yelled a highland scream that had to wake up his dead
ancestors. Neil caught the glass bottle inches from crashing to the floor.
The door caught him on the side of the head as it finished its swing and to
everyone’s surprise, a woman entered the storage room. She looked even
more frightened than us. “My stars Angus, what are you about? Who are
these pretend soldiers you have with you and what are they doing with the
corrosive potion bottles?”
Angus was speechless for a few seconds. “I’m escaping tonight and these
four are dimension travelers, like in the Berwick Chronicles. Don’t try to stop
us.” His hand went to his sword, and a growl escaped from his throat. “We
have passed the point of caring. We’ll do anything to escape the Red Master.
We have no choice but to continue.”
I watched her with eyes that I drank in her every movement. She was
exotic; no, more than exotic, she was original and erotic. From that first
moment she opened the door. I wanted her, not just once physically, but I
wanted her for all times and as an equal, as a soul mate, as a lover and as my
partner for life. Sarah, my companion and lover, was just a dim memory; this
woman was real and overpowering. I heard her in my mind speaking to me. I
could smell her sweet and stimulating breath even though she stood ten feet
away from me.
It was like time had stopped and only the two of us occupied the room.
Her voice told me she wanted to come with me wherever I traveled. She
whispered in my mind as lovers do. After that I heard her voice, “Angus, you
know I’m a prisoner here like you. Furthermore, like you, I’m of royal blood.
My father will give you whatever you want, if you help me escape.” She could
see him waver, “If you take me, I will be your most valuable weapon, remember
I’m a Welsh Black Witch.”
Her stare was fierce, “I will go with you. I won’t indulge in further discussion.”
Finally, she looked directly at me. “There is one in your group that
draws me to him. One that I sense is going to destroy our world as we see it
today and bring us into a world unimaginable to us. I will follow you to help
him fulfill his destiny and mine. I will be his Seer. I will be his magician and
his teacher. Jonathan, I will lead you from the dark into the light. My black
arts will take you farther than the stars.”
Everyone looked at me, no one with more penetrating eyes than Sarah.
“What shit is this Jon? How did she know your name? What’s going on?”
Sarah said angrily, “What the hell is happening? Jonathan? Speak to me,
you look like you’re a thousand miles away.”
Angus broke into Sarah’s anger, “Robina, I think he’s spoken for. Yeah,
canna take him as your own. He’s not one of us, he’s an outsider.”
Robina’s eyes transmuted from soft blue to flaming red, “He’s mine, heart,
body and soul. I don’t give a gold coin for his past or to whom he’s betrothed,
it’s our future I can see, and I’m entwined with him forever.” She looked at
Sarah. “I see your future too. You are wise and you are dangerous. If we are
to be enemies, I’d have picked none less worthy than you. As allies, we can
make the Prophecy come true. The Berwick Chronicles predict the two
witches and the man with the heart of a lion are destined to go where no
wizard has gone before. If you believe that, we are to be together as well. Let
me have him, you shall have a Master of this world for your own and the four
of us will change the universe.”
Angus put his arms around Sarah. “Oh my God, I’m such an idiot. I should
have seen it. It’s your eyes, the most violet of eyes. The Chronicles foretell you
and your Lord, with the Black Witch and the Emperor, will rule this world
and many others. It’s the Prophecy.” Suddenly he stopped dead; his face took
on the look of terror. “The rest of the Prophecy is not good. Not good at all.”
Beth shook her head, “This is straight from Macbeth. Get real people,
we’re scientists. The sexy Professor has the hots for Jonathan and Sarah’s
jealous. I would be too if she made moves on Neil. So she makes up this big
story to weird us out. It’s crap.”
I stood there in the middle of this debate watching the ball going back
and forth over the net. I could still feel the lust for this Robina creature,
thinking this is my life they are talking about. Robina continued to talk to
me in my mind, enticing me with her words. The others had no idea what
she told me and how she affected me. They blathered back and forth but I
listened only to Robina. Then I heard Angus break into the maelstrom.
“Like I said before, you’re not from around here. There is a Prophecy and
some witches and wizards can read the future. In our world anyway, so take
heed.” He took a deep breath. “If the Prophecy comes true all our lives are in
danger, not only from the Red Master but also from more than I can say. The
Black Witch is right, we must act as allies. If we fight among ourselves we
will all die.”
Sarah looked confused, “I don’t like what everyone is saying. If this
world works on different principles than ours, we have to learn them.” She
glared at Robina with lightning in her eyes. “I’ll fight you for Jon, take that
as a given. I’m not sure I want him forever, but he’s all I’ve got here and he’s
a good friend. However, if what you say is true, we need you to teach us how
to survive in this world of yours and how to use magic.” Finally in a voice
that sounded like thinking aloud, she said softly, “Can I trust you? Can I trust
a Black Witch? Can I trust a woman who is stealing my lover? Can I trust
anybody in this strange land?”
Robina spoke, “I like you Sarah, I could put a spell on you and you would
forget Jonathan. I could give you a love potion and you would fall in love
with someone else or I could just kill you. All are possible without leaving
this room. Remember that, but also remember I’m your friend. We’ll have to
learn to trust each other. The Prophecy described us as sisters or so close to
sisters we are siblings of heart and soul.”
Angus broke the magic of the moment, “We have to go; the soldiers will
soon be looking for us. Robina, we are going to expropriate the gold the Red
Master took from us and our families. The Red Master’s treasury will pay us
back before we leave. Are you with us?”
She laughed, “I’ve been with you as soon as I saw my Jonathan.”
I couldn’t stay quiet any longer, “Now we’re six, let’s get the money and
leave this place.” As I walked out of the room, I took Robina’s hand in mine.
Angus said, “Not so quick, we need the bottles.”
I looked at all the glass bottles and determined that each was full of
hydrochloric acid. Angus was taking one from the rack. It alarmed me; if the
bottle dropped, he would suffer serious injuries, permanent scars or even
worse. It would create a big hole in the floor and probably splash on all of us.
Before I could voice my concerns, Beth responded to his actions. “Be careful,
it’s called hydrochloric acid, it’s deadly. What you say about it is truer than
Robina nodded, “Angus is the only one that I allow to move the bottles
when the class has prepared them.”
He smiled at Robina, “A smart lass, very smart lass, we need a cart to
carry the bottles. Robina, is the one in your office big enough to carry
She laughed, “Yes my magic cart can do that.” Less than a minute later we
were loading the bottles into a cart like contraption that moved on its own.
We started on our way to the treasure.
The six of us hurried down the hall with the cart following us. Angus
led us on a march through the building, upstairs and downstairs, until on
the main floor we came to a nondescript room. “Ah, here we are. This is the
slaves’ waiting room. When our master is busy, we either come here or go to
our allotted workplace. If he requires us to stay close to him we come here
and relax with the other servants. Then our master summons us by sending
a servant here and we go do his bidding. The other remarkable quality that’s
noteworthy about this room is that it’s right over the treasure-house of the
Red Master’s Order. Well, not the complete treasure-house, but the most
sacred part. See that circle on the floor? It’s a bit faded now. I put it there
seven years ago when I first realized what sat directly below this room. I
painted the circle and drilled a ring into the floor. Finally I set up a block and
tackle.” He pointed to the ceiling and the wall next to the door. “I worked at it
for two years to develop the plan and another five years to prepare the room.
Tonight we’ll see if it works.”
Robina looked around the room and gave a squeal of excitement, “You
old rascal, you’ve painted the floor with a red circle. Is that where we are
going to use that class project of mine?”
He pointed to a tall stepladder in one corner and a rope attached to the
wall. “We’ll need them both to go down the hole and back up again.” He
hooked the rope from the block and tackle through the eyebolt in the floor.
“Now I’ll uncork one of the bottles and start the proceedings.”
He was true to his word; he opened a bottle of the deadly liquid and
started to pour it around the faded red circle. The acid bubbled and crackled
as it hit the floor and ate through the stone. The first bottle ate away a
ring in the floor three inches deep and two inches wide over the outline of
the circle. The floor now showed another layer of unknown depth made
of copper. The second bottle ate through that, bubbling off a foul odor. We
watched as Angus repeated the process many times until he stopped and
asked for our help.
“Lads and lassies, I need you to hold on to the other end of the rope that’s
through the block and tackle. When I break through I don’t want this whole
floor to fall into the vault below.”
During all this Robina stood by the door with a smirk on her face as she
watched Angus work up a sweat. Her attitude seemed strange to me, but I
was in a strange land. Robina was the most exotic and strangest of all the
inhabitants I’d met. I loved her.
After another fifteen bottles of hydrochloric acid, the floor was floating in
the air. All of us pulled on the rope until the remaining ring of the floor was
ten feet off the ground. Angus tied off the rope to a shackle on the wall. The
rest of us watched as Neil and Angus lowered the big ladder into the hole.
I had never been a criminal let alone a bank robber before, yet the excitement
of the breaking through the floor caused my heart to jump in my chest
like a kangaroo. I felt giddy. Robina handed me a candle and told me it would
never burn out and purred, “Magic, you know, has its practical uses.”
I took the everlasting candle from her and looked into the vault. The
light sparkled, reflecting off the wealth contained in the room. I saw boxes
of coins full to the brim. There were gold pieces, some as big as sand dollars,
filled chests big enough to bury a horse. In one box lay a life-sized golden
stallion. In many boxes I could see silver bars and coins which showed no
tarnish. They glistened so brightly in the artificial light. Directly below me
I smelled the exotic aroma of incense such as the Kings of the East brought
to baby Jesus on that first Christmas long ago. Barrels of rubies, emeralds
and diamonds caught my eye. Just seeing such wealth thrilled me, and the
thought of taking it overwhelmed me. I didn’t feel like a crook, yet I knew I
couldn’t justify my actions. I didn’t care as I saw other precious stones that
I could not name sparkle in my eyes. Just one or two in my pocket would be
enough for me. Then I thought a few more to fill a knapsack on my back. I
could not resist.
“Jonathan, you’re blocking the way, get down the ladder.” Angus pushed
me down. Once all six of us stood among the treasure trove, I noticed several
other containers full of jewelry and silver and gold utensils. On the far wall
opposite the door stood several crated paintings, all of them of exquisite
quality reminiscent of the 16th and 17th centuries of my world. They reminded
me of many of the pictures I saw at the National Gallery. There must have
been other treasures, but we didn’t have time to explore. Angus bid us to
take all the coins and gems we could carry and leave everything else.
Robina laughed at seeing the treasure. “I’ll take five times what he stole
from me; no ten times. The Red Master is a brute and deserves the wages of
his sins. The Order when it hears of what we have taken will deal with him.
What magic have you arranged to carry this out of the coin room and eventually
out of Oxford?”
Angus showered us with gunnysacks reinforced with pillow cases, “Fill
them up, I’ve hundreds of them. I’ve had them hidden up here for years.”
Robina shook her head and smiled, “Angus, I forgot you’re a practical
man, hard work and cunning are your skills. I would have used magic to pull
off this caper. I won’t interfere, you have this well in hand. Your use of the
acid was clever, but I would have used a spell.”
Angus laughed, “And the Red Master would have you in his prison waiting
for the executioner. This is a dead zone. No magic works in or around the
vault. You can’t use magic in this room. If you did an alarm would sound and
the guards would surround us in a minute. Come on, let’s get the treasure
loaded up and get on the road.”
I stuffed the bags I took with hundreds of gold coins; all the coins with
strange faces on them, with dates and names written in a strange form of
Anglicized Latin. My arms ached from lifting the bags of coins. Robina never
left my side but had her hands in the barrels of jewels and her bags bulged
with beautiful stones but none as gorgeous as she.
“That’s enough for now. Start handing them up to me.” Angus had
climbed back up the ladder and knelt on the floor above. We formed a line
and passed each bag up the ladder to Angus. Then we filled more bags to
their brims and passed them up to the room above.
Robina passed me a ring she had found in one of the other strong boxes
in the room. “Jonathan, put this enchanted ring on and don’t take it off. The
ring binds us as one.”
“Robina, I don’t know.”
She snuggled up close to me and kissed me with passion. I tried to
protest but her lips tasted like honey and fresh strawberries. As I became
aroused, she whispered into my ear, “That ring belonged to the Black Master,
my great-grandfather. Lord Geoffrey of the Red Order tricked him and used
special magic to remove the ring and afterwards sliced my ancestor’s head
off. It is powerful, never take it off, it will protect you.” She winked at me and
continued “As long as I’m by your side it will protect me as well”
Sarah pushed Robina away from me, “You’re a bitch. What are you trying
to do, fuck him right here with all the gold and diamonds surrounding you?
Is that how you get your kicks? Get back to work. We have another fifty bags
to haul up the ladder.”
Robina kissed me again and nonchalantly picked up a dagger from an
open chest. Cradling it as if the weapon needed tender loving care like a
newborn child, she handed it to Sarah. In a sweet loving voice she said, “In
time we’ll be the best of friends. Until then carry this dagger, it will protect
you always when you’re in danger.” The dagger had a black handle and a
vicious looking black blade: an assassin’s knife. “If you choose to use it on
me so be it, but I’d rather you use it on our enemies. Once we leave this vault,
we’ll have every member of the Red Order after us until we’re dead or escape
We left the coin room and removed the ladder. Angus lowered the floor
section back in place. He looked serious, “Now we had to transport the booty
out of the building and into the stables.” Angus laughs, “Now for my magic
trick. Neil and Beth, come with me.” The three left us in the slaves’ room and
about five minutes later returned. “Strip,” Angus ordered, “you are now going
to be slaves. Put on these rags but bring your uniforms too. We’ll pretend
we’re taking the laundry to the washing area; we’re going to the stables.”
Neil and Beth pushed in six large wicker baskets on wheels. “It’s going to
be tight but divide the bags into six piles and load the baskets. Each of you
will push one out to the stables. We’ll load them on the two wagons I stole.
That’s our transport to freedom and back to the Highlands.”
Robina gave Angus a sad look, “Keep your memories of the Highlands
Angus. It’ll be a long time before any of us sees Urquhart Castle or Isle of
Skye. I fear we have many misfortunes and tests to try us before any of us
Angus shook his head, “Robina, you’re a professor of potions, not foretelling.
You’re full of it; let’s get the wagons loaded. We have still to get the green
potion from the Red Master’s room.”
The rest of us looked at Robina with fear in our eyes for we believed her.
We whispered among ourselves.
Neil pushed his basket, “This mobile basket weighs a ton. How are we to
push it to the stable?”
Huffing and puffing Beth piped up, “It’s impossible. I don’t know how we
can push them. None of us are that strong.”
Robina overheard us and winked, “The wizard in charge of the laundry
enchanted the baskets, once we leave the room you’ll only be pushing about
fifty pounds of gold, the rest is traveling by basket motion. That’s how this
world moves, magic instead of machines.”
We passed two security patrols with our work of drudgery; they didn’t
even poke the baskets but only ogled Robina and Sarah as they hurried by.
We returned to the scene of our entry into this crazy world as we stepped
into the stable, which fifteen hours before had been our lab. I almost cried
with feelings of homesickness. I so wished it could have been a dream, and I
would wake in my bed in Wheatley, just east of Oxford.
We stowed the treasure in the wagons and covered them with straw and
heavy canvas tarps. “Neil, you and Beth stay here and guard the wagons. Put
your uniforms back on and stand guard like soldiers. If anyone asks, you’re
waiting for four members of the Red sub-council that are going to London
for secret talks on machine destruction in Wales,” ordered Angus in his
Scottish Lord’s voice.
Beth and Neil looked at each other. Finally Neil spoke, “What crap
“Don’t worry, any guard that hears you say that will walk away, they don’t
want any problems with any council members, sub–council or not.”
Angus and Robina stayed in their slave garb. Sarah and I returned to our
red pants and blue tunics of the Red Master’s officer’s dress in compliance
with Angus’ orders. We marched in front of the two slaves who moped along
behind us. Up to the third floor we marched, heading for the private sleeping
chambers of the Red Master. In this most protected of rooms in Oxford, the
Red Master kept the potion Angus desperately needed to make his escape.
The elixir sat sealed in the Master’s most guarded locked cabinet. I shook
all over. I knew this was where our plan was likely to fail. I imagined myself
on the scaffold with a man dressed in black holding an axe in his huge arms
ready to chop my head clean off. I turned green.
“Stop you four.” a gruff voice from behind us commanded. All four of us
stopped and turned. Two vicious soldiers dressed like Sarah and I advanced
down the hall towards us. One had his hand on his sword the other carried
a large mace. Robina moved forward into me and melded her body against
mine. I could feel she sought my protection.
The bigger of the two said to the other soldier, “They’re the four we’re