1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 06

“And if the complicated mechanism breaks at speed?” Leebrick might have the first stirrings of gadget-happiness, but he knew what a coach crash could do, having seen the king he was supposed to be guarding nearly die in one. His queen actually did die in it. And come right to it, he was a career soldier, a man who knew exactly what excessive complication did under pressure.

“I’ll have to check it carefully, but I think I can arrange it so the axle fails back into the mountings it’s in now. Won’t be perfect, but it’ll stay driveable, and still have all the advantages of the stuff Harry did. If we’re going a long way, we’ll have a chance to test it.”

Gayle nudged Vicky. “Cute, when he talks dirty, ain’t he?”

Vicky grinned. “Very.” She’d made her way over and hugged his arm.

Darryl decided he could take a lot of mockery for the sake of that. “Keep it up, ladies, I’m on the way to a sensitive artistic disposition as it is.”

“Keep it up by all means,” Cromwell butted in. “The humility will do him good, but let us keep it up on the journey. Fifty miles at least to Cambridge, and we need to find shelter before dark.”

“Now that is the Cromwell I learned about at my momma’s knee. Malicious.” Darryl grinned. He genuinely couldn’t take it amiss. He’d got his girl on his arm, he’d just done an interesting nearly-an-auto-and-as-close-as-it-got-hereabouts job, and there was a possibility of tinkering with a vehicle to make it go faster in the near future. There were ways for life to get better, but mostly they involved huge amounts of cash, unlimited free beer, and Vicky turning out to have a frisky twin sister.

That night, they stopped at a barn they’d paid a small handful of farthings for the use of, along with some firewood and a basket of what the farmhouse had to spare by way of food. Darryl took an early watch since he wanted the last of the daylight to make sure he was up to speed on maintaining his guns. It was hardly comfortable working on a spread of cloth while he sat cross-legged on his coat, but an armful of hay helped. He hadn’t fired anything since the last time he’d cleaned them, but a long ride in a wooden box in a grubby wagon would probably have gunked up the oil some. And care was more important now than ever. Replacing these was getting more and more possible as down-time metalwork caught up to twentieth century standards, but it’d be decades before it ever got as cheap as it’d been. He’d stripped his collection down to a basic rifle, shotgun and pistol when the call went out for stuff for the army. Back up-time they’d been his old reliables, all stuff he could keep and maintain on a young miner’s pay and for a pretty long time if he ever got laid off. Cheap, plain-vanilla stuff but in the seventeenth century, this was high-end work for a skilled gunsmith who’d charge a premium to cover the loans on the modern tooling he’d’ve bought to do this kind of work.

Set against that, oil and pull-throughs and a little time and effort were pretty damned cheap.

“I do like to see you working with your hands like that,” Vicky said, sitting beside him and resting her chin on his shoulder so she could watch him work.

“I noticed you seem to like that kinda stuff,” Darryl said, feeling no more than a mild moment of panic. He’d almost started to appreciate Hamilton’s approval at a gut level, and anyway they were out in the evening sun in full view of everyone. Whatever the down-timers might say about approving of a betrothed “coming through the window” to get in ahead of the wedding, up-time that sort of thing was a big deal. And, well, scratch a hillbilly and you’ll find a bred-in-the-bone conservative-with-a-small-c.

“I talked with Miz Melissa about that,” Vicky said, “and she said it was probably growing up surrounded by Yeomen Warders that did it. All of the decent men I’ve ever known have been men of their hands, both ways a body can mean that. So when I took a shine to you, it was so nice to see you could use your hands too. Proper manly, it is.”

As she spoke, she was using her own hands, running one up the back of his shirt and rubbing his spine. “Heh,” he said, “keep doing that and I’m gonna start purring like a cat, see how manly that is. And didn’t Miz Mailey have somethin’ to say about liking what’s manly?”

“A little. We talked about it a lot, actually. I quite like doing a lot of the woman’s work stuff, and don’t mind it so long as the man’s doing the man’s work. Fair, you see? She said she could see that, so long as it was me doing the choosing. And she said I’d been spoilt, what with most of the men in my family being hard workers, plenty of women didn’t get the choice, and to see how they’d like it if I’d wanted to follow a man’s trade. Well, I told her about my second cousin, Annabel, she’s quite a bit older than me, and she’s a journeyman wheelwright over by Cripplegate, and nobody much minds. Pays her livery dues and everything.”

“That so? Well, whatever suits, long as its fair, I’m fine with it. You ever do any shooting?” He picked up his deer rifle and slipped the bolt he’d got nicely clean back into place. “Couldn’t rightly practise now while we’re guests and I reckon those kids in the farmhouse’ll be going to bed soon, but we could go over the care and feeding of these here.”

“Maybe another time. I’ve fired muskets a time or two, and I’ve been along fowling with my dad on Hackney Marsh. For now, can we just sit and watch the sun go down? We’ve been scheming for weeks, running since the morning, and we’re probably going to be doing some hard travelling for a while yet, finding Master Cromwell’s children, poor man, and getting to Scotland. This might be the last comfy time we get, hey?”

“Might at that,” Darryl said, putting the rifle back down, and packing away the oil bottles and tools into the wooden box he transported them in. “I guess there’s a time to relax, and if this ain’t it I don’t know when is.”

Vicky answered with another nuzzle against his shoulder. “Until we can get a room of our own at some inn, hey?”

Darryl chuckled. “Hope you looked around for Stephen before you said that, honey.”

She scratched between his shoulder blades. “He likes you, silly. And it’s not like we can’t marry whenever we please. We don’t even have to do it in secret unless you’ve got people who’d object.”

“Don’t we have to stop somewhere, marriage banns or something?” Darryl had a vague memory of hearing, probably in some old movie watched through the deadening fug of a hangover, about couples from England running away to Scotland to get married. A town just over the border, something Green, but he’d never taken the trouble to remember it. Girl stuff, basically.

“Rita thought that too, when she had a little chat with me about you. Me and mum set her straight. Don’t need a church at all, there’s some as says marriage isn’t even a sacrament. Of course, if we was to marry with just Stephen as a witness for the family I’d never hear the end of it. Although mum did say if we couldn’t wait until everyone was together for the celebration, she’d understand. Not that I’m going to take her word for it, she’s got a mouth on her if she’s annoyed.”

Darryl called up his mental file on Vicky’s mother Isobel and decided that he, too, would verge on the side of caution. The scary thing was, the woman didn’t look or act like a ravening monster most of the time, but Darryl had watched from the Tower’s inner walls one time while she took a couple of mercenary privates to task for disregarding the hygiene regulations Rita Simpson had drawn up. None of the Yeoman Warders had missed on them by so much as a thousandth of an inch — professionals all, with good reason to take Rita’s word for medical matters — but the mercenaries King Charles had dumped on them toward the end of their stay in the tower had been a different story.

The resulting explosion — no, detonation! brisance! — of furious denunciation had had more than one sergeant within earshot taking notes. Yeah, pissing off Vicky’s mum was a bad idea. Especially since it was such a reasonable request. He’d spent time taking his ease with those folks, seen them with cause to celebrate, and there was every reason to think that Vicky’s nuptials would be the kind of party that could be seen from space.

“Yeah. I’d love to just marry you quiet-like.” Darryl noted that the internal critic that’d recoiled in horror at the thought of marriage now just sat in the corner muttering fine, not like I care whether you listen to me anyway. “But it’d be a shame to disappoint your folks.”

She gave his arm a squeeze. “That’s why I want a private room at an inn. One with a window for you to come in through. Tradition’s important, y’see.”

Darryl squeezed back. “Tradition be damned,” he growled, “if there ain’t no window, I got dynamite that’ll tend to that little detail right quick.”

“I love it when you talk dirty, Darryl.”