1 – Flatmates
Whiteside, Leister County, Angland, 2012 AD
“By the Eternal One!” Anne screamed, throwing herself to the ground. “We’re being attacked!”
Ash stopped in the middle of her phone call, turning to stare at the girl now lying on the lounge room carpet. The little redhead looked like an escapee from a period drama in her green velvet gown with its wide skirts, and with her (usually) snooty attitude. But then she’d go and do something like this, and would remind Ash that she wasn’t an actress and had been born almost five hundred years earlier. “I told you it’s just an aeroplane, Anne. We’re on the flight path from Harthrow airport.”
“Death comes from above,” Anne moaned. “And ’tis Lady Anne to you.”
Ash moved to another room with a sigh. “Sorry, Natalie,” she said to the person on the other end of the line. “One of my visitors was just having an episode.”
“Are they mentally ill?” her boss asked suspiciously. “I don’t know how I feel about you taking time off to deal with that kind of baggage-”
“They’re not mentally ill,” Ash cut in, although really that was debatable. Her two uninvited houseguests were so out of place here that they might well be thought insane. But how could she explain to the very staid Smith, Smith and Barton accountants that she was currently sharing a room with two time travellers, and she’d just come back from her own kidnapping? She couldn’t, and even bringing the other two in to work in full period dress wouldn’t do her any good. At the moment one of them was watching the TV, enthralled by a toothpaste ad, and the other was whimpering on the floor of the living room, terrified of the giant thunder dragon. “As I said, they’re just very, very sudden visitors. Hopefully they won’t be staying long, but I can’t leave them here alone until I’ve got them settled in. Two days, that’s all I’ll need.”
Natalie sighed heavily. “Fine, Ashlea. You may have today and tomorrow off – but I don’t want to see these visitors interfering with your attendance at work again, understood?”
Natalie was one of the few people who called Ash by her full name, but she put up with it, since she needed the job to pay her bills. Ash thanked her profusely for the time off, then hung up the phone with a sigh, scrubbing one hand over her tired face and wishing that she didn’t have to go back to work ever. The secretarial job had paid her bills for the last six months she’d been staying in Angland, but while it was incredibly dull and she’d give it up in a heartbeat, there was nothing to replace it. Her savings barely topped the thousand-pound mark, and she’d always planned to take that home to the Southern Isles so it would double in value. If she left the job, all of that would be quickly eaten up by the high cost of living here. Imagine if she went back in a year’s time after all this trouble, with nothing to show for it!
After the dreaded phone call was over, Lady Anne of Covington looked up from the television. She’d clearly recovered from her aeroplane fear enough to get stuck on the TV along with the other ‘visitor’. The ad had changed from whitening toothpaste (which, without wanting to be unkind, wouldn’t have done either of them any harm) to dog food, and quite frankly, the small redhead looked baffled. “What is this creature supposed to be?” she asked imperiously. “’Tis more like a rat than a dog.”
“It’s a Chihuahua,” Ash answered shortly, barely glancing at the TV. “It’s a purebred.”
Lady Anne (she wouldn’t accept anything else from Ash the Peasant) scoffed. “As if the people of your time would know anything about purity. Forsooth, they walk about unclothed half the time. Do they not grow chilled?”
“It’s just TV,” Ash said dully. “You can’t take it that seriously.” Oh, Deias. What was she going to do? It was bad enough that she’d had to take these two home with her (not their fault, nor hers, but they were seriously uninvited guests) and now she had only two days to settle them into this century and find some way to provide for all of them on her income…unless Amaranthus came through with his promise to return them home. Yet that was seeming less and less like a promise, and more like an offhand comment never to be fulfilled.
Just then the other uninvited guest looked up from the TV. He was a little older than her age of nineteen and a little taller than her height of 5’8, with curly blond hair, a wardrobe straight off Pride and Precipitation, and at the moment, a seriously grim expression on his otherwise handsome face. The Honourable Mister George Seymour (as that was what the younger brother of a viscount was called, Ash had discovered) cocked his head to the side and studied her face. As if reading her mind he said, “Amaranthus did promise to take us home, you know. I have to believe that he will follow through.”
Yes, because if they didn’t believe that, then they’d have to accept that they were staying here in Ash’s time rather than going home to 1556 Tudar Angland for Anne, and 1818 in the Regency period for George. And they wouldn’t be staying here in the height of modern luxury, either. Ash could only afford the basics, because Angland was expensive. And that was a ticket straight to depression for the lot of them.
Ash smiled tightly, resisting the urge to rub at her temples. “Yeah. Sure he will.”
Anne knew not how long she had sat on the thin rug, watching the fascinating tee-vee screen with its flickering pictures and many promises. Who knew there were so many different goods that could be bought? Odd-looking foods, machines intended for one’s kitchen that made dreadful noises and turned food into puree, food for animals, animals that were food…forsooth, so much food. There were also goods such as clothing, furniture, beauty aids-
Suddenly the tee-vee screen turned black, and Ash stood beside it. She held the little black bar that controlled the tee-vee’s movements, and ’twas clear she had somehow managed to remove all the images.
“You killed it!” Anne exclaimed in outrage. “I would watch longer, girl. Revive the screen at once.”
Ash just folded her arms. “You’ve been watching infomercials for seven hours, Anne. It’s almost one in the morning, and George wants to sleep.”
Anne looked guiltily to where he lay on the couch, covered by a thin blanket. He was snoring. “He is already asleep, so it harms him not.”
“You should be asleep,” Ash began, then seemed to realise that Anne did not appreciate being ordered about like a child – especially by a commoner – and stopped. She tried again in a gentler tone. “I’ve made up a bed in the spare room. There are books in there and a lamp if you want to read.”
“Books?” Anne brightened. At home in 1556 each book had to be carefully written by hand, and ’twas rare that she had even touched one, let alone been given the chance to read it – although her position as a noblewoman did afford her a few advantages. “What kind of books?”
The spare room was indeed very small. ’Twas lit by another of those glowing glass globes in the flat white ceiling above their heads, and Ash had cleared space for a low, narrow pallet bed against one wall. Next to the bed was a small wooden chest with three drawers, and a stack of the aforementioned books. Anne gravitated to the latter with enthusiasm, picking up the nearest. These were unfamiliar-looking; large and thin with very slender spines. Their luridly coloured covers showed thin, barely clad women with big, pouty pink lips and dramatic poses, and she flicked through their pages in growing dismay, her curiosity fading into distaste as she realised what lay before her.
“Ash,” Anne said carefully, “I am aware that we have become friends of a sort in these last few, trying days. But surely you understand that I cannot and will not expose myself to these…these manuals for harlotry!”
The older girl just stood there, now wearing some kind of odd, patterned breeches and jerkin that she’d called ‘pee-jays’, and with her dark eyebrows raised. “Harlotry? What are you talking about?”
“This!” Anne pointed at one of the images with righteous indignation, trying not to look at it herself, but failing. “This woman’s garb is suitable for only a harlot, and the way she presents herself is as though she would-”
“Be a harlot?” Ash cut in, a smile curving her lips. “Anne, it’s an ad selling tennis shoes, and the model’s got all the important bits covered. But maybe you shouldn’t look at the magazines after all. How about this instead?”
She snatched away the brightly coloured harlot-books, handing over a smaller but much fatter book. This one had a plain green leather cover, and crinkled in an odd manner as Anne handled it. “What is this thing?”
“Photo album. Only family pics, but I promise they’re all PG.”
Anne didn’t understand the last part of the statement, nor did she know what an ‘add’ was, but suddenly she wilted. It had been the longest day, following on from a couple more very long days in the strangest surroundings, and once removed from the tee-vee’s alluring influence she was tired enough to sleep…but not in this gown.
She turned her back to Ash. “Undo my laces.” The girl didn’t respond for a while, and Anne added belatedly, “Please. I shall sleep in my undergarments.”
Ash helped her remove the heavy outer gown, then held out what appeared to be a rough, short shift-dress. “You don’t want to wear one of my t-shirts instead?”
“Of course not,” Anne replied sensibly, once she realised what the item was. “’Twould show my legs, would it not?”
“Of course.” There was a long pause. “I’ll leave you to sleep then. Don’t forget to turn off the lamp when you’re done.” And Ash showed how a little switch on the wall brought instant darkness, then light again. “See?”
“I do understand light switches,” Anne said snootily. “You showed us when we arrived, do you not recall?”
Ash let out an unreasonably heavy sigh. “Great. Goodnight, Anne.”
’Twas on the tip of Anne’s tongue to correct the girl’s speech – call me Lady Anne, if you will – but for some reason she didn’t say it. Mayhap because it brought to mind the wicked Nobles, who insisted on being treated like gods and given titles they didn’t deserve, but Anne made a decision. Surely for a few days Anne might allow the commoner to call her by her Churchian name only…but in private, of course. In public, all the proprieties must be observed.