Prudenza watched Tedesca and Bellaflore march into the village inn while Carlo and old man Benedictus led the ox drawn wagon to the barn out back. Her daughter Sancta wanted to stay by her side, but Prudenza told her to go with her aunt Tedesca and great-aunt Bellaflore to see what might be available for supper. Sancta huffed but nodded and hurried to catch up to the others. Prudenza found a bench under an awning that jutted out from the roof of the inn. She sat heavily and pulled out the letter.
My dearest sister, Prudenza,
I do not know how long it may take for this letter to reach you, but in August, anno domini 1346, the French faced invading English forces near the village of Crecy. It was a disaster for the French. The English dug into their well defended lines and the French wasted themselves in charge after charge with no success.
Being bowmen, we moved up first to soften the enemy and make little holes in their lines that the French cavalry could take advantage of, but being hurried, we had no shields. They were still in the baggage train, so we had to use whatever natural cover we could find and hurry close enough to be affective. The English archers remained strong. They fired five or six powerful arrows in the time it took us to fire two. The mud hampered our ability to reload, and I am not sure all of the company even got in a second shot. We would have been hopelessly slaughtered to no help for the French, so the call went out to withdraw.
It was in the pulling back that the French began their first charge. They were not happy with our failure and some of the knights made their displeasure known on our person. It is now that I must give you the sad news. Your husband, Anthonio, was struck with a blunt instrument, possibly a mace. He died within an hour. I do not know what kind of a husband he was. You said he became like a sour lemon in your mouth, but he was a good captain to the men in his company, and his leadership will be missed.
In the meanwhile, let me assure you your son, Iacobo, my nephew is alive and well, while I have only a scrape from an English arrow which the doctor says will not even leave a scar.
It was a disaster for the French. I don’t know what the king may do. I don’t know if we will be paid. I must confess. The adventure of it all has left me and sometimes in the night I think I may give it all up. I will grab your son, and we will come home to father and to you, and to my little sisters, Nina and Tedesca. I pray all are well. Since mother died and father became crippled, I fear there is no man to watch over you, to care for you and keep you all safe. I know my namesake, Uncle Bertolo can only do so much, and he is away at sea so much of the time. Now that Anthonio is gone, I do not know what will happen or what I may do.
Do not worry yourself. Things will work out, and I will watch over your son and bring him home to see you one day soon. Until then, God keep you and I pray all are well.
Your devoted best and only brother, Bartolino
Prudenza crumpled the letter. Then she smoothed it out and carefully folded it to put it back in her pocket. She cried. No one in Genoa was well. The pestilence came. Uncle Bertolo brought it into the port and died from it. Father died. Nina and her young son both died. Somehow, she knew the plague would reach Pisa and from there kill so many in Italy. She knew it would reach Marseille and France would fall. She cried like someone in prison with no way to escape. But then, Sancta came back out looking for her. Prudenza quickly wiped her eyes and put on a smile as Sancta spoke.
“When are we going home?”
Prudenza reached out and hugged her daughter. “Come now. Paris is a long way from here. It has only been three days. We have a long way to go to find your big brother and your uncle Bartolino. Courage. We will get there.”
While the travelers waited for supper to be served and all sat around the table together, being the only customers at that time in the downstairs room, Lockhart told everyone what Nanette sensed when they arrived. Nanette confirmed everything and concluded with, “I don’t know what the man intends, but it won’t be good whatever it is.”
“I remember being arrested by soldiers in Jerusalem,” Tony said. That was the first time zone he and Nanette went through after they joined the group. The whole experience felt traumatic at the time. He thought the others took the whole affair with a light heart, like it was no big deal. It bothered him. It felt serious, but he since learned that being arrested was mild compared to most of the troubles the travelers faced.
“That was about twenty time zones ago,” Lincoln pointed out. He had the database out but did not look at it.
“Doesn’t mean it can’t happen again,” Decker insisted.
“But for what reason?” Elder Stow asked. “We blew up a gun factory in Damascus back then if you recall. But we have not done anything in this time zone to bring attention to ourselves and certainly nothing for which we should be arrested.”
“Why should people need a reason?” Sukki asked.
“We are well into the Middle Ages,” Katie said and nodded to Sukki. “Just being strangers is enough reason for some people to be suspicious. We are on a main trade route, so we should not stand out too badly, but you can be sure, any stranger in town will be watched.”
Lockhart interrupted. “Katie and I discussed this.” He glanced at Katie, and she nodded again. “Now that we have lost the wagon, we cannot really pretend to be merchants. For the duration, if anyone asks, we are pilgrims.” Katie interrupted to explain.
“Being on a pilgrimage is something common people understand in the middle and late medieval period. We have a long way to travel. At least eleven more time zones, so it is not exactly a lie.”
“In this case, we are headed toward Rome,” Lockhart finished.
“Wait,” Lincoln said. “We won’t get as far as Rome. The time gate may be around Milan when we get there.”
People rolled their eyes. “No one said we would arrive in Rome,” Katie explained. “But Rome is one of the main places pilgrims go. In this case, that is the direction we are going.”
“We are headed toward Rome,” Lockhart said flatly.
“Oh,” Lincoln said softly. He got it.
Tony had another thought and practiced his sarcasm. “So, when the soldiers arrest us, we should just say we are pilgrims headed to Rome and they will let us go?”
“I doubt that.” Lincoln agreed with Tony.
“There,” Elder Stow spoke up. “I have set my device and Sukki still has a disc so if the soldiers come, Sukki and I can go invisible like last time and break the rest of you out of whatever jail they throw you in.”
People frowned but did not get to say anything as Decker grabbed their attention. “There is another possibility.”
He looked around the table and ended with a kind look at his wife, Nanette. “We discussed it.” He smiled for Nanette, and it was a nice smile. “Without the wagon to hide our equipment under tarps, we agreed to keep our rifles and such in hand. They stand out no matter how we dress to blend in with the locals. I imagine since we have finally moved into the days where there are guns of a sort, they will be recognized as weapons and hopefully ignored. But they do stand out, and any servant of the Masters will recognize them for what they are. If that man was a servant of the Masters, he may have recognized us and set us up—accused us of some crime or something to get us out of the way.”
“And God knows for what reason,” Lockhart said. “No doubt the man has something nefarious in mind.”
People understood. They would have to look out for that going forward, but right then the food came, and an old man walked in to take a small table over by the fireplace. The old man did not look familiar, though both Katie and Nanette took an extra look. They saw the maid at the inn bring a mug of beer to the table without asking first, so they figured he had to be a regular.