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Authors: Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (18 page)

BOOK: Into the Dim
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At a stall selling braided whips, I felt a tiny twinge of satisfaction when I saw our fearless leader had stopped to ask for directions.

He waved us over. “I have it. Let's get moving.”

“Coll,” Phoebe wheedled. “Can't we at least grab a bite first? I'm starving.”

Collum rubbed the back of his neck. “All right. But make it quick and don't go far.” He dug into the leather bag at his belt and handed each of us a few copper coins that resembled squashed, miniature pennies.

Phoebe grinned and gestured for me to follow. “Let's go before he changes his mind. I'm getting some of that meat. Oh, it smells amazing. I just hope it's not goat. I hate goat. Tough as a boot.”

At a cooking stand, a man in a filthy apron carved hunks of bloody flesh from a swinging carcass. He threaded strips onto metal skewers, barely letting the flames lick, before sliding them off into the gloved hands of waiting customers.

“No way,” I said. “I am not touching that. I'm going to see what else they have.”

I edged away, grateful for some space in which to process all this. A heavenly whiff of cinnamon drifted across my path. I followed it to a booth manned by a stout kerchiefed woman who slid a wooden paddle into a round clay oven, then dumped a load of lumpy pastries on the counter.

“Apple tarts here! Get them while they're hot.”

In moments, I had one of the steaming pastries in hand. It was sticky with honey, and as I took a huge bite, the dough flaked on my lips. Bitter, scalding juice ran down my chin. I gasped and glanced around for the napkin dispenser.

That's when it really hit me.

No napkins.

No napkins, 'cause there's no paper. There's parchment, scrubbed and scraped animal hide. But even that's for scribes, priests, and the very rich. No newspapers. No Post-it notes. No magazines or notebooks.

Oh God. No toilet paper.

I had a sudden, horrifying realization of what it meant to be “on the rag.” Bits of pastry flew from my lips as a hysterical bark of laughter popped out. My gaze lit on a tiny girl who crouched nearby, staring at me through a tangle of filthy blond curls. Raw sores pocked her thin mouth. She shivered in tattered, stained clothes.

Her crusty eyes were fixed on the food in my hand.

“Here.” I forced down the bite in my mouth and held the rest out to her. “You can have it.”

She hesitated, her wild eyes roving all around before she snatched the pastry and bolted. Without a word, she crammed half of the steaming thing in her mouth. Shivers danced across my skin as I saw a gang of rough little boys skim through the crowd after her as she raced away. Suddenly, I didn't want to be alone anymore.

“Phoebe?” My voice sounded screechy.

I turned and scanned the crowd for my friends. People with dirty hair, pitted faces, and brown teeth blurred around me as I tracked back the way I thought I'd come. The jumbled market looked the same in all directions. I began to shove through the crush of reeking strangers, stumbling over my long skirts.

“Collum.” Terror rose in me, hot and fast. “Phoebe!”

I froze, immobile. My friends were gone.

Chapter 19

L
OST
. A
LONE
. A
ND WALLED IN BY A MASS OF PEOPLE WHO
were long dead, I nearly lost it. What I
wanted
to do was shut down, curl into a tiny ball, and start rocking back and forth in the mud.

Get ahold of yourself, Walton. You're okay. They probably went to the house. That's it, just keep walking. You'll be fine.

Gritting my teeth, I moved out to the street. A quick glance at the smoggy sky didn't help. I
thought
my path had taken me east of the market, but I couldn't be sure.

The houses in this area loomed larger than those near Westminster. The streets were wider, cleaner. Here and there, solid-looking three-story buildings had been constructed of new stone, instead of straw-infused mud and wood. A squeak of ropes came from overhead, and I looked up to see a servant hauling in laundry from lines strung across the road, between upper floors.

“Hello,” I shouted. “Please? Can you help—”

A crack ricocheted through the empty street as the shutter slammed.

“. . . me.” I whispered to the empty air.

Loneliness crashed over me, and suddenly all I wanted was to go home. Not some rented hovel in this godforsaken place. Not my aunt's spook-house of a manor.
Home
home.

Really?
The voice inside me sneered.
And what would you do there, huh? Stay with Mother Bea? Bow down and just take all her abuse until your dad and Stella come home? Then what? Could you face it? Waking up every morning of every day for the rest of your life knowing you could've saved your mom if you hadn't been such a coward?

I knew there was only one answer to that question.

Straightening, I inhaled, filling my lungs with smoke-tinged air. My eyes closed instinctively as every map of medieval London I'd ever seen began to reel out from the files in my mind. My fingertips twitched as I discarded one after the other until the one Collum had been studying appeared. I blinked, the map now layered across my vision like a translucent film.

Mabray House.
I pivoted to the left.
That way.
Steadier, I marched off down the muddy street. Then I heard the scream.

“I assume,” Lucinda had said over cups of strong, sugared tea. “That you've heard of the Grandfather Paradox? The theory which posits that a man traveling through time cannot affect major events of the past, even if he tries to do so?”

She took a sip of the steaming liquid. “Ah. Good. Well, as you now know from Jonathan's journals, there are limits to that theory. But allow me to reiterate anyway. If a man wished to go back in time to kill his own grandfather, it would not be possible. Nature would find a way to prevent such a deed, since if he killed his ancestor, the man would not exist to travel back in the first place. Do you see? Now, when it comes to the native people, we are very careful what we do . . . And even more cautious with what we do not do. By the tenets of the Grandfather Paradox, if you are foolish enough to interfere with the course of events, it means you were destined to do so. Do you take my meaning?”

As my aunt's spoon clinked in her cup, I'd tried to process this new information. If someone was supposed to interfere with past events, did that mean they were destined to be in that place and time? My brain twinged, trying to wrap itself around the implications.

“When Celia was with us,” Lucinda went on, “she claimed the Timeslippers were trying to push the boundaries of the Grandfather Paradox. Fortunately, the Dim limits them as well. Like us, they cannot force it open to a specific time or place. However, with Tesla's designs, if they locate the Nonius Stone, that could change.

“It's why we must find it before—” She gave a sudden, violent yawn. When it passed, my aunt had peered at me through watering eyes. “Forgive me. I seem to be a bit fatigued.”

“That's okay, Aunt Lucinda,” I said. “You don't have to—”

“But I do,” she said. “So let these words be your guide, Hope. No matter what you see or hear. No matter how badly you may wish it. Do not interfere with—or interject yourself into—any situation that is not of your direct concern.”

As she rose to unsteady feet, I'd brushed off her warning. “Don't worry about me, Aunt Lucinda. Danger . . . it's not really my thing.”

I let my head roll back on my shoulders until I was staring up at the smoky London sky. Blowing out a breath, I marched over and pounded on the nearest door. “Hello? Help! I think someone needs help out here!”

Nothing.

The cry came again. Louder. More insistent.

“Crap.” I groaned. “Crap, crap, crap.”

The image of the map faded as I headed toward the sound. At the mouth of the next alley, I crouched behind a pile of straw-lined crates. The sounds of a struggle came from the far end, in the deep shadows cast between two houses.

What am I doing? This is none of my business.

Splintery wood dug into my cheek as I peered around the stack. At first, all I could see were the backs of two men in the black and silver livery of the city guard. Under the control of the London constable, the guard were
supposed
to watch over the citizens, keeping them safe.

Dark cloaks whipped back and forth in the wind that swirled down the passage, bringing the aromas of manure and filthy snow. I couldn't see her. The girl. The men had her pinned against the dead-end wall. Though she sounded calm, she was obviously in a bad spot.

“Please,” she said, “just let me go. I do not wish for trouble.”

The larger man bent toward her until his head was low enough that I could see the pale part in her brown hair. “Oh, but we like trouble, don't we Charles?”

“Aye, Eustace,” he replied. “Trouble sounds just about right.”

My jaw clenched. My blood turned to slush.

“Eustace Clarkson”—the girl's voice was louder, though still steady—“my grandfather sent me to deliver this medicament to our new lady queen. I'm sure Her Grace would not wish you to tamper with her servant. If you release me, I shall make no mention of this to her. Or to Captain Lucie.”

The boy turned to his friend, and I saw his profile. Bulky. Cropped platinum hair, so light his pink scalp peeked through. A murky pale-gray eye narrowed.

I should run. I should just run away right now.

“You dare threaten me?”

I flinched as Eustace slammed a palm onto the wooden boards next to the girl's face. “It sickens me that our king would allow a Jew to even enter his palace, much less tend his queen.”

The muscles stiffened across my back. A burn of anger began to edge out fear as I saw him flash a cruel grin.

Charles cleared his throat nervously. “Eustace, oughten we get back to our duties? We do not wish to be at odds with Captain Lucie. He could have us dismissed from the city guard. Or worse.”

“William Lucie.”
Eustace spat at the girl's feet. “That piece of shite. Thinks he's better than me because he's the son of the Castellan? He's only a bastard Richard Lucie got off some serving whore. We'll say we were trying to control the crowd. They'll never know we left to chase this one down.”

Charles spoke haltingly. “Aye, but Sir Richard claims him as his son, and William is good with a sword. If she tells him—”

“Shut up!” Eustace roared. “Rachel here knows better than to open her pretty Jew mouth, don't you Rachel?”

“Master Eustace.” Rachel's voice was so magnificently composed, I found myself rooting for her to spit on him or kick him right where it counted. “If you leave me be, I shall say nothing to Captain Lucie. But let me pass, for Queen Eleanor will not appreciate being made to wait for her draught.”

I tensed, ready to back away. If they didn't let the girl go, I'd just beat on doors until someone came and make
them
help her. It was the smart thing to do.

Snarling, Eustace reached down and rucked Rachel's russet skirts up to the waist, baring white legs. She flailed at him, but Charles—apparently forgetting his fear of this Captain Lucie—snatched hold of her thrashing fists and pinned them above her head.

“You know,” Eustace purred, “I always wondered what a Jewess had between her legs.”

Oh, that's it.

I scrambled to my feet. “Stop it! Leave her alone!”

As they whipped around, my hand slapped over my mouth. I wanted to rip the words from the air, stuff them back down my throat, and scuttle away like a scared rabbit.

Oh sweet Moses, what have I done?

Eustace Clarkson's sword pinged against the stone wall as he ripped it from its hilt. I fumbled for the dagger in my boot, slicing through my skirts as I withdrew it. Eustace advanced down the alley toward me. I backed up as his gaze raked down my body.

BOOK: Into the Dim
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ads

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