There was a bit of a brawl near the Wellington public house in the Balls Pond Road one sultry Saturday evening in August.
Actually, it was more like a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, but without the muskets. The Metropolitan Police (mounted branch) supplied the horses. None of the interested bystanders, who were staying well clear of the action, knew for sure who were playing the French - or the English for that matter.
Now, it so happened that similar conflicts had broken out at roughly the same location in precisely the right number of aligned universes for a small tear to open up in the space-time continuum. It was a very tiny tear on the cosmological scale of things - nothing of any great consequence. Apparently.
The Kyrioi were on it almost immediately nevertheless, and repaired the damage promptly. They just made two small, but ultimately highly significant, errors:
one - there was a minuscule miscalculation in the time co-ordinates and
"What's going on, Sally?" asked her sister Nancy, disturbed by the racket outside.
"Probably just the usual difference of opinions on style between the local chavs and goths," Miss Kellaway responded with worldly cynicism.
She looked out of the window of her second floor flat in the Balls Pond Road. She didn't really need to look. The sweltering August heat didn't seem to let up until well gone midnight these days, if then. In the evenings, tinder-dry tempers flared like forest fires. And some people were still in denial about global warming.
"Why don't you sell up and come back to Yorkshire. We don't get this sort of thing in Shipley, you know."
"No, I know you don't," Sally said, trying not to let her annoyance show, "but I like it here. Mostly My word! Must be getting really out of hand. They've brought in mounted police!"
"See! It's not safe here," Nancy insisted, feeling vindicated. "You'll be retiring in three years. At least think about coming home then."
"And miss all the summer shows and the Proms? Not likely!" Sally returned her gaze to the street. " Goodness gracious, is that...? It is! What's she doing here, I wonder? I thought she'd gone to Cornwall."
"Daisy Tradescant. She was in my Latin class ten years ago. Never could get her interested in history though. Went on to Exeter University to read botany then went to work for the Eden Project. Seems to have turned into a Goth!"
Sally kept watching, mesmerized, until Daisy, who had been looking round uncertainly, seemed to have come to a decision. "Oh no! If she isn't careful she's going to "
"Sally! Where are you going?" Nancy struggled to her feet, but Sally was already off down the stairs.
Outside, Sally looked around for her quondam pupil. It took few moments as she'd moved from where Sally last saw her. Then she glimpsed her in the throng, hanging on to the bridle of the hugest black horse Sally had ever seen.
"Go home, young lady, before you get trampled on," came the rich Jamaican voice of his rider.
"No, I've got find my " Daisy began.
Sally caught her elbow - tried to drag her away. "Come on, Daisy," she began.
There was a sudden slight shiver and the sensation of falling, then silence.
"Um, what just happened?" Daisy asked in a small voice.
"You are not going, and that's final."
"Dad, I'm twenty years old. I'm not a child any more. Get over it!"
"Rhia, it not safe over there."
"It isn't what you'd call safe anywhere. I'm used to it so get a grip will you."
Gavin Hughes sighed. He should have known better, he really should. Rhiannon might be twenty but in one respect she'd changed very little from when she was two. If ever he told her to do something - or worse, not to do something - it was guaranteed that she'd do the opposite. Unless, of course, he or her mother got cute and told her not to do something that they actually wanted her to do, in which case she would do exactly what she'd been told. Just couldn't win with her. Might as well wave the white flag of surrender right now and get it over with.
"All right, but at least take Gwilym with you."
"I don't need baby brother riding shotgun, thanks, Dad. He's got something planned with Joel and the gang anyway. Besides, I'm armed and dangerous too, don't forget, plus it'll be getting dark soon - shadows to hide in."
Gavin wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a bear hug. "I know, darling, but you're so precious to me, and I promised your mother..."
They held the hug for long moments, both remembering that awful day eleven years ago when Olwen had died in Gavin's arms.
"I know, Da. I'll be careful, I promise."
"Yes, I'm sure you will. It's the other idiots I worry about."
"Other idiots? Well, thanks a bunch!" They both laughed. "Gotta go, Da. Sooner I'm off, sooner I'll be back."
Gavin wasn't going to sit at 'home' and worry though. Rhia might be carrying a number of blades, but those weapons required that you got up close and personal. It was too risky, he thought. Okay, she was over five foot eight tall, extremely fit, and had street smarts, but against a big guy...? He wasn't going to take that risk, and anyway, his Celtic sixth sense just knew she was walking into trouble.
Quickly, he fished the old 9mm Beretta from its hiding place. None of the rest of the group knew he had it, and that was the way he wanted it to stay. He slipped on the shoulder holster, slid the Beretta into it then donned his heavy leather jacket, checked there was a spare clip in the pocket, and left the residence.
He needed all his twenty-odd years of experience since things had turned bad on earth to keep up with her, and without her noticing that he was tailing her. Before she'd reached the temporary trading centre, it was clear that there was indeed trouble ahead.
The sounds of conflict indicated that something big was going on around that part of the old capital where the Wellington restaurant and bar had once stood. Apparently he wasn't the only one with a gun either.
Rhia was crouched behind the remains of an old chapel on the corner of Kingsbury Road and the Balls Pond Road. She seemed to be weighing her chances of making it to the basement in the ruins of the Wellington where trade took place.
Gavin willed her to think better of it. Naturally, she didn't.
Seeing her chance, she crept cautiously around the wall and ran, ducking and weaving, in the direction of the Wellington. It was a matter of seconds before Gavin reached his daughter's refuge.
Looking around the wall, he could see that the pitched battle was being fought immediately between himself and the Wellington. To carry on was suicidal but he went anyway, pulling the Beretta from its holster. It gave him an edge, he thought, then went ducking and weaving after her. They'd nearly reached safety when there was a dull boom. Someone had a cannon?
Father and daughter were blown forward. There was a brilliant, blinding flash, then silence. The pair waited for their eyes to recover.
"Rhia? Are you there? Are you all right?"
"Da? You followed me?" was the indignant response.
"Good thing I did!" came an exasperated exclamation. "Where are we anyway?"
"The Wellington, of course!"
"Then why is it so dark?" Gavin asked, moving towards his daughter's voice. It felt strangely as if he was floating, his movements like treading water. He bent down to touch the ground. And got a shock. There was nothing under his feet.
August 15th 1941 was a fine evening. Mr. Hitler had pretty much given up his 'Blitzkrieg' idea by the end of May of that year. The British people had spines of steel that were not so easily bowed. They would never surrender - not with Winnie in charge. It didn't stop the sorrow that affected so many Londoners though.
Squadron Leader Charles 'Ozzy' Oscroft and his cousin, Flight Lieutenant Peter Blackwood, had been staying in the city for a couple of days. Oscroft was on compassionate leave to attend her funeral after his mother had died. Blackwood had been on medical leave, having been shot down over northern France and, injured, had made a fairly hair-raising escape back across the Channel. Now they had headed for the Wellington for a final tipple before rejoining to their squadrons.
It was a good name for a pub, the Wellington, they thought. Mr. Hitler clearly hadn't studied British history. Unconquered since 1066. What made him think it would change now? And Winnie was a descendent of John Churchill, victor of the battles of Blenheim, Ramilles, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, becoming first Duke of Marlborough as a result.
They were about to enter the premises - each had a foot on the worn stone doorstep - when there was an almighty explosion. Had Mr. Hitler changed his mind about Blitzkrieg tactics?
Then they were falling. Apparently.
"Peter? Are you okay?" Oscroft asked a few seconds later, feeling no pain.
"Yes. Yes, I think so. At least, I feel fine."
He ran his hands down his body to his toes and found no parts missing. He suddenly realized that where there should be rubble or something under his feet, there was nothing.
"Ah, Ozzy, I don't want to sound unduly alarmist, but I don't seem to be standing on anything."
"You sure you didn't crack the old noggin when you were shot down?" Oscroft asked with a chuckle.
He bent down and discovered that his cousin was correct. "By Jove! Well, here's a strange how-d'ye-do!"
"Um, Ozzy. D'you think we're... Er, that we're... You know, dead?"
"Don't feel dead, Peter." Oscroft chuckled. "Maybe we just got blown into the middle of next week."
It was early evening on the fourth of August, 1593 - over a century before Britain 'lost' its eleven days. Two gentlemen were heading north away from the Thames on foot. They had recently arrived back in the capital from France.
"I still think this is a bad idea," Rob Wishart complained to his companion.
"Worry not, sweet Rob. 'Tis not even a nine days' wonder, since it is nigh on nine weeks since Ingram murdered me. I hope Tom has been able to procure a pardon for him. As regards anyone recognizing me, my visage is somewhat altered. Perchance thou thinkst I should have padded my doublet with a pillow?"
Rob gave an amused snort. "And 'Monsieur Le Doux?' Thou wert never meek, Kit!"
"For which I know thou'rt very grateful..."
Rob did laugh then. "True, very true. How well thou knowst me!"
"Thou also knowst that I promised Will certain of my books. I know he needs Cinthio's Hecatommithi for the story of Disdemona and the Moor. I must collect that one at least. And while we are at Scadbury, perchance I may complete Hero and Leander."
"You are certain we shall find a welcome there? The two of us?"
Kit stopped short then.
"Tom Walsingham is not a jealous man, but thou'rt right. I should not risk putting my precious Rob in danger. We will repair to my old home in Norton Folgate, and I will go on alone. Come on." So saying, he turned his steps towards Islington. Rob shrugged and fell in beside him.
As they were passing the Olde Oak Tree tavern, a group of some half dozen ruffians bearing cudgels, closed in on them.
"I see we have a couple of pigeons just ripe for the plucking. I vow we shall dine well tonight me lads. Now hand over yer pretties, gentlemen and we'll let you live..."
This wasn't the first time they'd been caught up in a sticky situation during their adventures on the continent. When it came to sword play, Kit had been taught by the best, and had passed on his expertise to his lover. Their swords weren't just stylish adornments carried for show either. They'd been made by a master sword smith in Toledo.
Rob and Kit exchanged glances. Nodded. Drew their swords. Turned back to back. The fight was short and messy. The intended victims were just getting the upper hand when the air seemed to shimmer like a mirage. The surrounding building and people rippled and faded into black.
"Kit, where are we?"
"Methinks we must be dead."
"Yet this doesn't feel like either heaven or hell."
"Well then, we must be in limbo."
"At least, sweet Rob, the Good Lord in His bounteous mercy hath seen fit to keep us together..."
Titus Cornelius Callidus, primus pilus of the elite first cohort of Legio XX Valeria Victrix, was marching south down the via strata iter VI. This paved road was later known as Ermine Street. He was accompanied by his nephew, a mere miles gregarius, (but promising) also of the elite first cohort of Legio XX, Quintus Cornelius Ultor.
With a little help from Legio XIV Gemina, they had recently defeated Boudicca, the mad Queen of the Iceni. Now, they were bearing despatches proclaiming the victory, from the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus back to the Emperor Nero in Roma.
"Ero laetus ex terra miseranda Britunculorum abire!" Titus commented dourly.
"Futuenda terra, futendis Britunculis, futendus frigus, futenda pluvia!" Quintus growled. "Non futenda femina..."
"Cum ore illo?" Titus grinned.
Quintus scowled. "Miles sum!" he snapped, and stalked off ahead.
"Et quo vadis?" his uncle called after him, part annoyed, part amused. The answer was straight into an ambush.
Clearly a handful of Britons hadn't yet got the news that their faction had lost. Quintus seemed to be doing fine on his own, gladius slashing and slicing. But... Titus' sister Iulia would have a great deal to say if her beloved boy came home with just so much as a scratch.
He joined in the melée. So did several more britunculi who'd loitering on the side lines. Just as things seemed to be taking a turn for the worse - or better from the Britons' point of view - a bolt of lightning hit a nearby tree. The mighty oak was cleft down the middle right down to the ground.
The accompanying thunderclap knocked the Britons off their feet. The two Romans, closest to the tree, felt themselves falling, tumbling, falling tumbling into darkness.
All the above events occurred simultaneously,