The anomaly closed without warning, leaving Connor staring at the now-empty space where it had previously been. He turned back to Becker, seeing his own horror reflected in the soldier’s usually calm face. It was unexpected; the anomaly had been open for ages but less than two minutes after they stepped through, it was gone.
“It’s going to reopen, right?”
Connor shook his head, scrubbing his hands over his face in frustration. “I don’t know. It might open again in ten minutes or ten years or it might never come back.” He sat down heavily on the fallen tree branch behind him. “Basically, we’re stuck.”
A noise in the distance made Becker hoist the machine gun he carried, his index finger going to rest on the trigger.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to be out here in the open,” he said. He whirled around at the sound of something moving in the undergrowth nearby, rifle cocked, braced on his shoulder.
Connor wholeheartedly agreed, especially since they still had no idea what kinds of creatures were around on this side of the anomaly. It had appeared in the middle of a deserted warehouse nearly twenty four hours ago but that was it. When there was no sign of anything making its way though, or even what time period the anomaly led to, Connor had persuaded the others to let him check it out. He hadn’t travelled nearly 130 miles to reach the anomaly just to turn around and leave without at least investigating first.
Lester had agreed on the condition that he take armed back-up with him, and Connor had quickly suggested Becker for the job. It had nothing to do with lack of faith in the others; he just wanted to share this with his boyfriend. He knew the man would have volunteered anyway, but he hadn’t wanted to take any chances.
Now, his desire to explore had got them stuck here and he was in two minds about whether he’d still have a boyfriend when, if, they got home again. He risked a glance at Becker and was relieved to see that there was no anger in his eyes, merely concern.
“Look, we’ve got the detector so we can tell if it comes back,” Connor pointed out. “And maybe we could leave some kind of a message here in case it reopens and the others come looking for us.”
Becker nodded. “OK. If we’re still on the same timings as back home, it should be around noon. I’d like to find somewhere we can use for shelter before nightfall.”
Connor searched his pockets for a piece of paper and came up empty. Becker shook his head, smiled fondly, and took a notebook from his pocket. Handing it over, he watched over Connor’s shoulder as he wrote.
“Don’t leave without us if you come to find us. We’ll meet you here.” He glanced at the younger man. “That’s what you’re going to leave?”
Connor frowned. “Yeah, what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing, love,” Becker laughed. He took the pen and added, ‘PS, we still have the detector’.
“I probably should have mentioned that, shouldn’t I?” Connor skewered the note with a stick and was preparing to jab it into the ground when Becker handed him a tube of superglue.
“Why on earth have you got glue in your pocket?”
Becker shrugged. “It might come in useful. It was originally developed for medical use during the Vietnam War, you know, for bonding soldiers’ wounds out in the field.”
He glued the note to the tree trunk that the branch had fallen from.
“How do you know stuff like that?” he asked, amused.
Becker raised a brow. “How do you know all you do about creatures that have been extinct for millions of years?” he retorted.
“It’s interesting,” Connor said defensively. “And besides, if I didn’t then I wouldn’t have been brought in when we discovered the anomalies.”
Becker smiled. “In that case, I’m glad you’re a geek.”
Connor smacked him on the arm. Hard. “Take that back. I’m not a geek.”
“OK, I’m sorry,” Becker laughed. “You’re damn cute when you’re mad, though.”
Connor took the kiss offered as an apology and they started walking, heading for the tree line at the edge of the clearing they currently stood in. It was so still; nothing was moving in the trees or grass and they hadn’t even seen a bird in the sky yet. He had been expecting something. If previous anomalies were anything to go by, something big and angry with long sharp teeth and a desire to make them into lunch. In some ways, the lack of hungry dinosaurs was a relief but the anticipation of what might be waiting to spring out on them was worse than actually seeing the creature running straight for them.
Becker kept the gun ready, finger still loosely over the trigger, as he walked. Walking beside him, Connor tried to keep a watchful eye out for danger, sticking close. In a strange world, the safest place to be was next to the guy with the gun.
As it happened, it wasn’t creatures they should have been looking for.
Connor turned in the direction of the voice at the same time as Becker whipped the gun around. He instinctively inched closer to Becker’s side.
Before them stood a man dressed in dark animal-hide clothing and, the most important thing in Connor’s opinion, a rather large bow and arrow.
“Drop your weapons or I shoot,” Becker ordered.
Maybe that worked in a world where people had seen a gun before and knew what it could do, but the man just looked him over and sneered.
“I do not think so.”
There was a rustling, a footstep hitting the dry leaves near them, and then Connor felt someone grab him.
The hand around his arm gripped tighter and he felt the sharp edge of a blade pressed against his throat, effectively cutting off any further calls for help. As hard as he tried, Connor couldn’t stop shaking. He couldn’t believe that after all he’d faced, from mammoths to sabre-tooth tigers, that it would be a man with a knife who ended it all. He saw Becker lower his gun and slowly raise his hands.
“Let him go.”
The man before them studied him and then Connor. “You expect us to just release you, to allow you to run back to the Sheriff?”
“Sheriff? I don’t know what you mean,” Becker told him calmly. “We don’t want any trouble. Just let Connor go.”
“If you claim not to be in the Sheriff’s employ, then who are you?”
“We are travellers, just passing through.”
The man smiled. “Then you will be able to afford a small donation.” He indicated with the tip of the arrow still aimed at Becker. “Your coin and any jewellery, if you please.”
Oh, this was not going well. They had left behind all metallic items such as coins, keys and jewellery due to the magnetic effect of the anomaly. Besides, losing your house keys a few million years in the past would just be a pain. The only things they had brought through were Becker’s gun and the knife Connor knew was concealed in his boot. It was a small relief when he noticed that no one had bothered to disarm Becker, not understanding the lethal capacity of the gun still on its strap over his shoulder.
He caught Becker’s eye, the barely perceptible nod, and steeled himself. The moment of truth, to see whether all of those self-defence lessons Becker had been giving him were actually paying off. In one move, he wrenched the hand holding the knife away from his throat and kicked backwards, catching the man in the knee. Connor twisted the man’s arm, locking the elbow, pulling him off balance. It wasn’t exactly the smooth body-flip that Becker had taught him, instead he and his attacker landed in a graceless heap in the grass. Luckily, Connor managed to pin the other man, snatching the knife off him.
It was only then that Connor realised what was so familiar about this whole situation. After all, Cutter had theorised that many of the creatures that had come through the anomaly in the past had been the basis for some of the myths about beasts and monsters. What if, it also worked in reverse? What if instead of bringing their world a legend, the anomaly had sent them to the legend? The moment he thought it, he knew how stupid it sounded but he had to try. After all, they were in Nottingham. He looked up at the guy with the bow and arrow.
“Are you Robin Hood?”
Becker looked at him as though he were crazy as the man turned on him, the look in his eyes confirming it even if he didn’t say anything.
“Oh my God! This is so cool,” he said.
It took some persuading, but they eventually managed to convince Robin that they were not here to kill or apprehend him on behalf of the Sheriff. The Sheriff of Nottingham! There was no way that Connor would ever get used to that, or the fact that he had just been held up by Robin Hood. OK, so that was a lot more exciting now that there was no longer a knife to his throat or an arrow pointed at Becker.
As soon as everyone put their weapons down, Becker had pulled him close, away from the other man. Who was introduced as Alan A Dale. Connor’s inner geek- not that he would admit to having one to Becker- was jumping around like a two year old after too much sugar by this point. He was actually meeting real life legends in the flesh. And he got to share it with Becker. How much better could this day get? Apart from the arrows and knives and getting stuck when the anomaly closed. Stupid rational thought had to throw a bucket of cold water over his excitement, didn’t it?
The two outlaws had cast a rather quizzical look at them as Becker drew Connor in to his side and leaned close to ask if he was OK. When Connor nodded, he didn’t let go, keeping a protective arm around Connor’s waist.
“You say you are travellers but I have never seen clothing such as yours,” Robin commented. “And you behave oddly. Where do you come from?”
Connor grinned. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Just then there was a noise in the trees and both outlaws tensed.
“Sheriff’s men,” Alan said.
When the two took off running, Becker and Connor were faced with a choice. If they stayed here, the incoming men would probably assume them to be outlaws and arrest or kill them and so their best option was to stick with Robin. Becker turned and saw the four chainmail-clad soldiers emerging from the shadows. He drew his gun.
“Don’t shoot anyone,” Connor warned. “It could alter the timeline.”
Becker nodded and aimed.
“Come on!” Robin called back to them. “We have to go; what are you doing?”
Ignoring him, Becker fired off a couple of shots in the direction of the soldiers. He missed them each time, but only by centimetres. A piece of tree bark splintered next to one’s head as a bullet tore through it, more exploding the ground at their feet, making the men think twice about following them. He turned and grabbed Connor’s hand, racing after Robin and Alan. They had no idea where they were going but followed anyway.
“I can’t see them any more,” Robin said ten minutes later, peering cautiously around the wide tree trunk.
“Good.” Connor sat, out of breath, in the grass, sheltered from sight by the undergrowth. “I’ve had enough of people pointing weapons at me.”
Becker crouched down next to him. “I was proud of you back there,” he said. “You did good.”
Connor smiled. “Guess I shouldn’t tell you I was terrified then, huh?”
Becker laughed and leaned in to brush a soft kiss over Connor’s lips. When he stood up, offering his hand to pull Connor to his feet, they saw that Robin was watching them.
“I suppose you’re about to tell us we’re going to hell or turn us over to the soldiers,” Connor asked as they began walking again, this time at a much more leisurely pace.
Robin shook his head. “I would not turn anyone over to them, though I have to admit that you confuse me. The way you act is so uninhibited.”
“It’s not a big deal where we’re from,” Connor pointed out. He glanced back to where Becker walked with Alan, keeping watch for anyone following them. “And it’s not exactly a secret. People know he’s my boyfriend and they’re fine with it.”
“I keep forgetting that your terminology is different. I mean that he and I are, well, you’d probably call it courting.”
Robin thought this over, casting a curious look over his shoulder to Becker, before turning back to Connor. “I see.” He stopped. “We’re near the camp,” he said, “but before we go any further…”
“Let me guess, you need to blindfold us?”
The look on Robin’s face was slightly confused at how Connor knew what he was going to say. He nodded.
“No way.” Both of them turned to Becker as he spoke.
“I will not be blindfolded, not in an unknown place,” he said. “I’m supposed to protect you, Connor, and I can’t do that if I can’t see.”
Connor sighed. “Sorry, mate,” he told Robin, “but he means it. I can’t say I’m too happy about it either. Look, what if we promise to keep our eyes on the ground? If we were going to turn you in we wouldn’t have helped you earlier, would we?”
Ignoring Alan’s protests, Robin relented, leading them on through the forest until they came to what appeared to be a dead end. The trees and bushes formed a solid wall about eight feet high. Robin reached around a branch and came up holding the end of a length of rope, pulling on it. A five foot square section began to swing outwards on a hinge at the top, revealing the camp beyond.
As they ducked through, Connor looked up at the ‘door’. It was made up of branches woven together, fixed to a bar at the top.
The door had not even closed before they were met by two others from inside the camp. A blonde woman was at the head of the duo, a short man with sandy hair at her heels.
“Who are they?” the blonde woman demanded.
Robin indicated for Connor and Becker to follow him, leading them to the circle of logs set around a campfire site. Further back, set around the perimeter of the camp, were wooden shelters, with beds and personal items, and one with rabbits and game birds hung up as kind of a makeshift larder.
Once they were all seated, he introduced the others.
“This is Kate and Much,” he said, indicating to each person in turn. “Connor and Becker helped us out with a few of the Sheriff’s men.”
“And so you brought them here?” Kate asked incredulously. “What makes you think they won’t just go running back to Gisborne or the Sheriff? They weren’t even blindfolded!”
Connor watched as the smaller man, Much, waded into the argument to defend Robin, all the while casting concerned glances her way as he tried not to offend her in the process.
“Look, we aren’t spies or anything like that,” Connor said eventually.
Robin nodded. “Kate, leave them alone. I am willing to vouch for them.”
There was silence around the circle until Kate eventually spoke.
“Very well; Robin’s word is good enough for me.”
Much nodded. “Me too.”
“So, have you heard from John or Tuck? They should be back by now…”
Leaving them to talk, Connor shuffled closer to Becker.
“Just wait until I tell Abby about this,” he said. “She’ll never believe that we actually met Robin Hood.”
Becker smiled. “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah. And I get to spend some time with you without the others around,” he said. “And with you in that incredibly sexy uniform too.”
“You know that all you had to do was ask and you could have me in the uniform at home, too,” Becker teased. “And we aren’t exactly alone,” he pointed out with a nod to the band of outlaws sitting at the opposite side of the camp.
Across the circle, Kate was observing their guests. “Have they spoken of how they came to be in the forest?” she asked. “Or where they are from?”
Robin shook his head. “No. Connor said that I would not believe him if he told me.”
Kate smiled thoughtfully. “I must admit that Becker is very handsome,” she mused.
“Sorry, Kate,” Robin chuckled. “He appears to be spoken for.”
At her questioning look, he pointed, just in time to see Connor touch his palm to Becker’s cheek before kissing him on the mouth. Kate glanced to Robin, raising her eyebrow as if to ask, really? He nodded.
Connor glanced over and then back to Becker. “I think you have an admirer,” he observed, noting the faint blush in the man’s cheeks. “Does this mean I’m going to have to fight for you?”
“Are you sure that would be such a good idea? I mean, I’ve seen you fight…”
He earned himself a scowl.
“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it then fine, she can have you!”
“Aww, come on, Conn.” He tried to keep the amusement off his face as Connor pouted. He could see that Connor wasn’t really annoyed but he was going to pay for the jibe at his fighting skills. “Like she- or anyone- could ever replace you.”
Connor smiled happily. “Glad to hear it.”
Before he could say any more, the gate to the camp swung open and a giant of a man came through. Connor guessed he had to stand at about six feet six, towering over the rest of them, his shaggy hair making him appear wild. He sat down as soon as the gate was safely closed behind him. Only then did he notice that they had company.
“Who are they?”
“Friends,” Robin told him, introducing them both. “Connor, Becker, this is Little John.” He turned back to the new arrival. “John, where is Tuck?”
“He stayed behind in Locksley,” John said. “When I left, he was regaling the young ones with fantastic stories.”
Robin smiled, mentioning that they would join him a little later.
“Things have calmed down of late,” he told their guests, “and so we help out in the villages where we can, even if it is just keeping the children occupied whilst their parents work.”
“D’you think we could come with you?” Connor asked, getting to his feet. “I’d love to see some more of this place, wouldn’t you?” he asked Becker.
“Well, we did come through to investigate,” he agreed. “I need somewhere safe to leave this, however.” He removed the gun from over his shoulder and released the magazine from the breech, slipping it into his pocket. “It’s dangerous; I need to know that no one will fool around with it,” he added with a pointed glance at the outlaws.
Leaving the gun behind was a matter of preserving the timeline. From what Connor knew of the legends, Robin Hood’s time was somewhere between 1100 and 1300. He knew that the first firearms came into use somewhere around the 1300’s but even if these people had seen or used guns, the machine gun would seriously disrupt the timelines if it got into the wrong hands or was used too much. Earlier it had been essential but they had to avoid any more exposure.
Robin nodded. “I may not be clear on how, but I saw the damage it inflicted when you directed it at the sheriff’s men earlier. I can assure you that it will be well concealed and that no one here will touch it.”
When the gun had been stashed, each of the outlaws collected weapons; knives, swords and bows and arrows were secured about their persons. It seemed a little overboard just to visit a village but, as with the ARC, they knew that a calm situation could turn to craziness at a moment’s notice. It was better to be prepared than surprised.
Emerging from the camp, keeping lookout for intruders, Robin showed them the path to the village. As the others made their way ahead, Robin fell into step with Connor and Becker.
“I know that you avoided the question earlier,” he said, “but I am still curious as to where you came from. You behave as though you have never seen anything of this country before yet you look to be English. You speak my language.” He smiled. “Well, most of the time. Some of the things you say have me confused, I must admit.”
Connor could see the curiosity in the man’s eyes, the desire to have an answer to a mystery. He didn’t see how it could affect the timelines and so he made a decision.
“OK, but I don’t know if you’ll believe it,” he said. “We’re from- What year is this, anyway? I should have asked that earlier.”
“The year of our lord 1191.”
“In that case,” Connor told him, “about 818 years into your future.”
Robin just stared at him in disbelief for a long moment.
“It’s true,” Connor continued. “There are these things called anomalies, kind of like gateways in time. We came though one but it closed behind us, trapping us, just before we ran into you.”
It took Robin a while to process what he had heard and then he said, “I should be calling you insane for such a tale but there are so many things that do not make sense about you two.” He studied Connor. “I see no hint of mockery in your face as you speak.”
Becker offered him a sympathetic smile. “I know how this must sound to you but I assure you, we are telling the truth.”
“So, if you are from the future, tell me about your world. Is it so very different to here?” Robin asked. He laughed softly and shook his head. “I cannot believe that we are talking about this.”
By the time they reached the village, Robin was laughing as Connor told him about Sid and Nancy, the two Diictodons that had got left behind after an anomaly from the Permian era.
“They’re really sweet,” Connor enthused.
“Try telling that to Abby next time they eat one of her books,” Becker interjected. He had been at the flat during that particular incident; Abby had not been happy.
Connor frowned. “They don’t eat things that often.”
They rounded the corner into the village and Connor looked around. It was not what he had expected; Connor’s imagination had already formulated an idea of what a twelfth century village would look like. He was pleasantly surprised.
The village was centred on a dirt-floored square, a well at the centre. To the east was a church, built from wood with a high spire. Around the outskirts of the square stood shops and buildings and, further back, the villagers’ houses. They were straw-roofed with what wooden walls, with a mud and straw mix plastered over the exterior. There were pens with chickens and goats in them near the buildings.
“Come with me,” Robin told them. “I can show you around.”
He led them between the buildings, greeting people he knew as he explained the various activities and chores that the people were carrying out. Connor knew that he was gawking like a tourist which was, essentially, what he and Becker were. It seemed that Robin believed their tale of where they had come from or at least that this world was completely alien to them. He talked of day to day life and how the villagers farmed the land around the village.
When they eventually reached the square again, Robin called to a dark-skinned man who was supervising a group of children as they played.
“Connor, Becker, I would like you to meet Tuck.”
“Friar Tuck?” Connor asked, thinking of the stories he had read.
“No, just Tuck. My time being referred to as Friar came to an end many years ago,” he told them.
The man shook their hands warmly, with none of the suspicion of Kate and Much when Robin had taken them to the camp.
“Connor and Becker are travellers,” Robin told him. “They helped me out with a few of the sheriff’s men in the forest.”
Tuck studied them, a faint frown forming. He glanced at Robin curiously and then back to the strangers.
“I have seen many countries and peoples but there is something about you two that is,” he thought for a moment, searching for the correct word, “strange. You do not belong here.”
Robin smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Tuck, my friend, you have no idea of how correct you are.”
By the time darkness fell, they were back in the outlaws’ camp. It had been interesting talking with the villagers; it was like history lessons at school, only interesting, Connor thought. Robin had persuaded him to tell the children that Tuck was taking care of a story, laughing along with them.
“I was expecting their lives to be full of fighting and, you know, like the stories and movies that have been made about Robin Hood,” Connor told Becker later.
Becker nodded, having been thinking the same thing himself. He was grateful in a way; if he and Connor were going to be stranded here for a while, he would rather life be peaceful and not filled with days of dodging arrows. Robin and the others had been good to them, insisting that they stay at the camp that night, feeding them and making them feel welcome. Here, they had relative safety since the camp was disguised giving them the opportunity to get some sleep. Not knowing what tomorrow would bring, being well-rested would be a good idea.
He bedded down, feeling the chill of sleeping outdoors. Pulling Connor closer toward him, he dragged the blanket over both of them.
“What if we really are stuck here?” Connor asked quietly, looking him in the eye.
“Then we deal with it,” Becker said. “You aren’t on your own, Conn.”
Connor smiled. “I know.” He leaned down for a kiss. “I love you.”
“’Love you too, Connor. Now get some sleep.”
Robin stood watching them as Much and Alan made breakfast. The two men were still asleep, Connor curled around Becker with his face buried against Becker’s neck. What was odd, however, was the strange sound that seemed to be coming from the small black box that lay next to them. He leaned over and shook Connor gently by the shoulder.
Robin smiled at the dazed look on the young man’s face, his hair sticking out and a crease down his cheek from where he had been asleep on Becker’s jacket collar.
“I apologise for waking you but that object you carry is making a peculiar sound.”
Suddenly, Connor was awake. He grabbed the anomaly detector and examined the display before grinning widely.
He woke Becker, quickly filling him in as he got up. “We’ve got to go soon,” he said to Becker. “I don’t know how long the anomaly will stay open for and this might be the last time it appears.”
Becker nodded, seeing the look of confusion on Robin’s face. “You remember the gateways we told you about? Well it just opened again. If we don’t get to it now, we could be stuck here forever.”
The others had now given up any pretence of keeping out of the conversation and were listening. Unlike Robin, however, they did not know how their visitors had got here.
“Come with us,” Connor told them as Becker retrieved his gun. They couldn’t risk it remaining here, in a time hundreds of years before it was meant to exist.
Robin frowned. “To your time?”
“No. We can’t take you through because we don’t know if you’d be able to get back again,” Connor said. “We can show you the anomaly, though.”
Less than ten minutes later, the outlaws and Connor and Becker were heading back to the glade where the anomaly had first opened. Alan was the first to reach the clearing, coming to a stop so suddenly that Kate ran into the back of him.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, stepping around him. “Oh.”
The sound of guns being cocked made Connor push past the two outlaws, placing himself in front of them. Becker moved to stand beside him.
“No. Stop. They’re friends.”
As the soldiers reluctantly lowered their weapons, Abby ran past them to envelope Connor in a tight hug.
“I was so worried when the anomaly closed,” she told him. She released him and paused for a moment before hugging Becker as well.
Danny stepped forward as well, the relieved look on his face telling them that Abby wasn’t the only one who had been concerned.
“Good to have you back,” he said.
He glanced at the outlaws, standing behind Connor and Becker, alternating their confused stares between the heavily armed soldiers and the glittering anomaly that hung in the air.
Connor introduced the two groups to each other. He could see Robin’s eyes flick over Abby’s clothing and he knew it must look odd to them. The black leggings and tiny tartan skirt, boots, and the fitted t-shirt she had on were unlike anything the women in this time wore. He stepped forward, smiling as he took her hand and raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss to it.
Abby’s eyes shone with interest. “Oh, I like you.”
Connor turned back to the outlaws. “We have to go,” he said, somewhat reluctantly.
“You are welcome here should you ever return,” Robin told them both, shaking Connor’s then Becker’s hands. He stood back and watched in surprise as they walked through the anomaly, hearing the gasp of surprise from Kate as they did so.
“Goodbye, and thank you,” Connor told them, Becker echoing the sentiment. Taking Becker’s hand, they stepped back into their own world, the anomaly slowly shrinking behind them until it closed completely.