Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Jimmy Forrester was on a horse again, pretending to be confident and competent about it. Vicki was behind him, daintily perched in a decorous side saddle position. It was she who was really doing the riding, using the reins by telekinetic manipulation. He was just holding on.

Beside them Earl and Sukie rode their own horses. Sukie, elegantly dressed in a riding habit she’d had made for her by a tailor in early seventeenth century Preston, was too independent to ride pillion, but she was riding side-saddle, too. It was the only way a young woman could be expected to sit upon a horse in Stuart England.

“Not long, now, Jimmy,” Earl assured the uncomfortable young man. “There’s Lancaster below us, now.”

They had travelled a little over fifteen miles across the high moorland called the Forest of Bowland after leaving the TARDIS concealed under sackcloth in the stable of the wayside inn where they had eaten lunch and acquired the horses. The idea was to look like an ordinary group of people arriving in the town and seeking out lodgings. It wasn’t a bad idea in principle, but even those more comfortable in the saddle were getting a little weary of this means of travel. It was August and too hot for the layers of clothing the contemporary fashions required. A cool tavern room and tankards of ale were starting to tempt even those who didn’t ordinarily like ale.

“That must be the River Lune,” Sukie noted, looking downhill towards the silvery ribbon of water that curled around the grey-roofed town.

Vicki looked at the river, then her gaze swept around and back up the hill. She screamed in horror as she spotted a wide gallows on a grassy rise. There were several ragged bodies hanging from it like a ghastly row of washing on a line. They were too far away to see the faces, but her imagination filled in the details of bulging eyes and swollen tongues from slow strangulation.

Jimmy spotted the gruesome exhibition at the same time as she did but appreciated the way she pressed close hiding her face against his back more than he probably should.

“Oh,” Earl remarked just a bit too casually. “I didn’t really think we’d actually see that. I mean… maybe I should have realised…. It is only two days since….”

“Since what?” Sukie asked him accusingly. “You told me late summer, sixteen-twelve. You didn’t say there was anything… anything BAD about that time.” She looked back at the gallows and her lips moved as she counted the bodies hanging there. “Nine… mostly women. Are those….”

“Don’t talk about it here,” Vicki pleaded. “Let’s get down into the town away from… from THAT.”

Sukie glared at Earl who felt as if her eyes were boring right into his mind. He was beginning to regret not explaining his interest in this particular historical time fully.

“Come on, then,” he said. “Jimmy, just hang on in there.”

He led the way down into the small town of mostly small grey brick buildings nestled below a sprawling Norman castle that served as a darkly infamous prison. There were several inns among the narrow streets, but his research had led him to one such establishment in particular.

He almost changed his mind and headed for another public house with less history. He knew Sukie would be sharp about it when she heard the whole story. But, then again, she was already being sharp. In for a penny, he reasoned.

The Red Lion was nestled against Castle Hill itself with the great, glowering walls high above. It was the third drinking establishment to be built on that site since 1400 and there would be at least three more and several changes of name, but for now the heraldic symbol of a lion rampant in crimson was displayed outside for the benefit of illiterate drinkers.

The well-dressed foursome entered the inn and were immediately greeted by the innkeeper who recognised the potential for generous tipping. Earl demanded two of the best chambers to be ready and meantime a private room where they might partake of refreshments. They were quickly conducted to a quiet annex next to the place where the general crowd of yeoman and merchants were enjoying late afternoon drinks. They sat on benches at a long wooden table and waited for a young woman with scrubbed arms and face to bring ale and a platter of meat and bread.

“Here,” Sukie said, handing around small yellow pills. “Davie suggested these. They are anti-bacterial agents in case the food isn’t quite up to our standards of freshness, and also they dissolve the ‘active ingredients’ in any alcohol. We can all drink the ale, which is safer than water or milk, without any unsuitable effects. They also combat the bloatiness from drinking that sort of stuff so we won’t be uncomfortable in our corsets.”

Vicki took a pill gratefully and washed it down with a sip of ale. Jimmy did, too. He detested drunkenness and was glad to avoid its effects on his own mind and body.

“My corsets are fine,” Earl told her. “And I can deal with the alcohol, too. I’ve learnt how to expel noxious substances from my body with the power of my mind.”

“Oh, stop bragging and take the pill,” Sukie replied. “And then explain what you think you’re up to.”

“Nothing,” he assured her again. “It’s just that I’ve read so much about it all and I wondered what things were really like when it was all going down.”

“When what was all going down?” Jimmy asked. “For the benefit of those of us who skipped history classes a bit too often.”

“The Pendle Witch Trials,” Sukie told him, emphasising the words so that the capital letters hung in the air. “About a dozen or so people were accused of witchcraft in east Lancashire. They were brought here to Lancaster and tried at the Castle for two days before ten of them were found guilty. One of them, Elizabeth Southern, died of fever in the dungeons. The rest - Alizon, Elizabeth and James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John and Jane Bulcock – were hanged at Gallows Hill on August the Twentieth, 1612. Today is August the Twenty-Second. Those bodies have been hanging there for two days and nights.”

Vicki put down the bread she was eating and looked away sickly. It was bad enough remembering that horrible sight without knowing the names of the dead. It made it personal in a way she didn’t want it to be.

“They were guilty, though, I suppose?” Jimmy suggested. “They weren’t… you know... wrongly accused?”

“They were accused of things like sending out their spirits to sit upon their victims and crush them to death,” Earl explained. “I’m not sure how that would go down in a court in our time. And some of the witnesses were dodgy... people with personal grudges. The evidence against one of them, Alice Nutter, was entirely circumstantial….”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sukie snapped, cutting him off. “The whole thing is a fixed point in time. We can’t interfere.”

“We’re not interfering,” Earl insisted. “The trial is over. The witches are dead. I just wanted to listen in on local chatter, see what people thought. Are they glad about it? Is there any doubt about their guilt, that sort of thing. I’m sorry about coming past the gallows. I hadn’t thought about that. If we’d chosen a different direction to travel, we wouldn’t have seen it. Really, Vicki, I didn’t mean to upset you. But we’ve been around this era loads of times. You knew that they punished prisoners publicly in this time. We even saw those two drunks in the stocks at Preston market that time.”

“The stocks aren’t the same thing at all,” Sukie pointed out. “Actual hanging bodies are something else.”

“Look, don’t worry,” Vicki said, trying to put an end to the argument. “It was just a bit nasty seeing them like that. Leaving the bodies to rot is horrible. I wish they’d have cut them down and buried them or burnt them or something.”

She ate a little more food and drank some ale and recovered a little colour in her face. Sukie was still cross but accepted that Earl wasn’t involving them in any historical paradoxes. After everyone had eaten and the serving girl had brought fresh rounds of ale Jimmy felt safe to indulge his curiosity about the infamous events.

“This pub is a part of the history,” Earl told him enthusiastically. “Stories tell that there’s a passage from the Castle to the cellars here that condemned prisoners were brought through. They were given one last drink before being taken by cart through the town to… well, you know where. We ought to visit in the nineteenth century, some time. There’s a nice Victorian park there and the whole ghastly history is forgotten.”

“The secret passage thing sounds like nonsense,” Sukie commented. “A bit of fiction to get tourists to come to the pub. The sort of people who like ghost stories and haunted houses.”

“No, it goes back a lot further than that,” Earl insisted. Sukie remained sceptical. When the serving girl returned with the speciality of Lancashire cooking in this time, warm, spiced apple pies, he asked her about it. The girl shuddered and looked as sickly about it as Vicki had been.

“Yes, sir, the passage comes into the bottom cellar, and it’s true that ale is given to prisoners. But in the case of those vile women, Master Hodgson would not have them in this place for any length of time. He made them sit in the waiting cart before he brought them ale. And it was small ale, at that, from a barrel that had been opened long before. He said his best October was not for them. There had to be guards all around to stop anyone getting near them during the time… and through the town, too.”

“In case of a rescue attempt?” Jimmy asked.

“In case any man should kill them and cheat the hangman, sir,” the girl replied. “The things they did… killing babies and using their fat to make potions…. Four of the witches have the same names as me… Anne-Elizabeth I was baptised. I always thought I had been given goodly, Christian names, but those fiends made me ashamed of it.”

“No need for that,” Earl promised her. “The good air of this county will blow away the memory of these terrible times and you shall be proud of your name, again, Anne-Elizabeth.”

“I pray it is so, sir,” she answered. “But, ‘tis a pity you good gentlemen and ladies have come to these parts at such a dark time. We have better welcomes usually.”

“We have no complaints, you may be sure,” Earl told her. The girl smiled at him. Sukie poked his ankle with the toe of her well-made shoe, hinting that his innocent inquiry might spill over into flirting which would incur her further wrath.

Anne-Elizabeth had told them all she could possibly know about how Lancastrians felt in the wake of the trials, anyway. He was on the point of dismissing her when there was a sudden rise in the noise from the public bar. The girl shrank back from the door. Jimmy rose and went to see what was going on.

“It’s her,” Anne-Elizabeth whispered.

“Her, who?” Sukie asked, but the girl didn’t want to answer. The voice raised outside had silenced all others. From the half-open door, they could all see her. She was in her mid-forties, tall and slender with sharp feature, dressed in black satin with white lace at collar and cuffs. The black in these times denoted a widow, the satin a widow of substance. The lace perhaps suggested that she wasn’t especially grieving for her late husband.

She was having a discussion with Master Hodgson. She had, apparently, made him an offer to buy the inn. He had refused and was still refusing, even though she had brought a stout man with a face that told of a hundred bare knuckle fights to help with the negotiation.

“Who is she?” Sukie asked.

“Mistress Sarah Baldwin,” Anne-Elizabeth answered. “A woman of substance, though the tittle-tattle in the streets has it that she started much lower, marrying two good men of property in succession. Twice a widow and profiting both times. She owns a good sized farm near Galgate, four sturdy houses in New Lane, the Mill, and three of the five inns within the town limits. The fourth, the Anchor, she has brought down by having her lackeys fool its landlord into gambling debts. It will be hers soon enough. The Red Lion will be her next target.”

It looks like she’s going to be thwarted, here,” Earl commented. Indeed, the argument was not going her way, at all. Master Hodgson was ordering her out of his Inn. When her lackey looked as if he might do something nasty, two stout labourers stood from their drinking table and took up positions.

“Come, Boyer,” Mistress Baldwin said as she turned and left the bar. Her lackey followed obediently.

Vicki was the only one looking out of the window as the Widow stepped into the street. She was the only one who saw a young man pick up a sod of earth and throw it towards her head.

She was the only one of their group who saw the sod explode harmlessly a foot away from her.

Jimmy, however, clearly heard a remark that drifted in from the public bar.

“Not all the witches in these parts are up at Gallows Hill.”

“I’ve tasks to be doing,” Anne-Elizabeth said once she was sure the Widow Baldwin was gone. She left them to their apple pies. They were very good pies at that. But the mood was spoiled and even Vicki, who liked apple pies, didn’t finish her portion.

“Let’s get some fresh air,” she suggested. “Down by the river, maybe?”

That seemed like a good idea to everyone. They went to their chambers long enough to wash hands and faces in the water provided then left by a side door that avoided the main bar. They walked downhill, certain to hit the riverside no matter how many small, narrow streets they went through. The houses were of that typical Tudor style with upper floors jutting out making the strip of sky above even smaller, and there was a rivulet of polluted water running down the middle way. Their frequent visits to this century had prepared them for that. The girls had perfumed pomades that they sniffed instead of the fetid air.

The riverside required some use of the pomades, too. There was a fishing industry that unloaded its catch there. Further upriver, around a gentle curve, it was more fragrant and much quieter. They all sat at the edge of a meadow watching the ebb tide.

One topic was foremost in their minds.

“Mistress Sarah Baldwin… witch or… something that rhymes with witch?” Jimmy asked.

“Witch,” Vicki said quietly. “Or an alien with a personal shield around her.” She related what she had seen. “The sod just stopped in mid-air and exploded. It wasn’t just a bad throw.”

“That definitely sounds sinister,” Sukie agreed. “But who would exhibit powers like that in this town in this week when everyone has seen what happens to witches?”

“Somebody who is powerful enough to think she’s above all that?” Jimmy suggested. “Big farm, three pubs, four houses or whatever it was… two dead husbands. Anyone thinking of being number three would be a brave man. But she’s obviously a woman with money of her own.”

“So was Alice Nutter,” Earl pointed out. “She looks just the same as the paupers up there on the gallows.”

The point hit home. Everyone shivered a little despite the heat.

“Even if she is, it’s none of our business,” Sukie pointed out. “We shouldn’t get involved... even if there is something to be involved in.”

“We’re not involved,” Earl said. “We’re just gossiping, just like everyone else in town. The Widow Baldwin is buying up businesses using a certain amount of underhand pressure. I expect a lot of people are talking about her. I doubt they are saying anything good, though.”

“She is a witch, though,” Vicki insisted. “Or something just as bad.”

“Speak of the devil...” Jimmy warned quietly. The girls looked around as a large, fierce looking dog of indeterminate breed appeared, followed by the Widow Baldwin. Earl stood first, reaching to lift Sukie to her feet. Jimmy followed suit holding Vicki’s arm. The two men made courteous bows, the girls bobbed curtseys that were reciprocated elegantly by the widow in black satin. It was the appropriate greeting.

“You must be new in town,” said the Lady after Earl introduced them. “I had not heard of your coming.”

“We came from London to visit these northern parts,” Sukie answered. “We are continuing on to Carlisle in a few days, but thought to take in the Lancastrian air on the way.”

“And why should you not,” Mistress Sarah Baldwin replied. “But there are few people of quality here. Might I extend an invitation to visit my town house on New Street before you leave us. I can assure you of a good welcome.”

Vicki was mouthing ‘no’, but Earl nodded imperceptibly and Sukie graciously accepted the offer.

“I shall await your visit,” she answered. “Meanwhile, good day to you.”

With that she was on her way, her dog following a few paces behind. Sukie looked satisfied. Vicki was troubled.

“I don’t want to go to the house of a witch,” she said.

“Nothing is proved on that score,” Earl reminded her. “Besides, there was no polite answer but acceptance. We needn’t act on it. We can easily leave town any time we’re ready without finding time for that visit.”

“She has a cheek, anyway,” Sukie pointed out. “At best she’s of the yeoman class, property owning but without any family pedigree. She must have seen from our clothes that we’re higher born than her.”

“Currying favour with us to advance herself,” Earl agreed. “Well, she will be disappointed.”

“That dog was odd,” Vicki said. “I didn’t like it at all. It reminded me of something or someone I didn’t like, though I don’t know what.”

“Another good reason not to take up her invitation,” Sukie pointed out. “I’m sure Lancaster is big enough to avoid her company. Let’s go and see the church. That’s a proper thing for people of our class to do, and if she is a witch, she won’t be seen there.”

The church was the other side of Castle Hill. It meant walking past those dour walls with their sinister secrets. Vicki suppressed her objections before the others decided that she was a cry baby.

As it was, they never got that far. When they reached the fishing quays they found a crowd gathered in front of a building. The throng parted as a man in the black clothes of a church minister entered.

“Look at the sign,” Jimmy said. “It’s the Anchor, the pub Widow Baldwin wanted.”

“The landlord is dead,” Vicki whispered. “I can feel people thinking about it all around us.”

“You mean you’ve heard them talking,” Sukie corrected her. “Reading people’s thoughts is not encouraged in these days.”

Presently the vicar came back out. He stopped at the doorway and raised his hand to silence the crowd. He confirmed that the landlord, Peter Meeks, was dead, probably of a failure of the heart. He bid the crowds go to their homes and remember the dead man in their prayers.

“Convenient for the Widow, though,” Earl remarked as they walked on. “The landlord dying like that. She’ll probably get the place for a song, now.”

“Too convenient,” Jimmy agreed. “But is there any way she could have been involved? We know she wasn’t there when it happened. She was all the way upriver where we met her when the man died.”

“And we don’t believe in ‘spirit sitting’ and that sort of thing,” Sukie added. “You can’t kill a man remotely.”

“She could have sent that man of hers” Vicki suggested. “He wasn’t with her. Though I think I know why the dog looked familiar. It reminds me of her servant or whatever he is. Both really ugly and surly.”

“He was nowhere near the Anchor, either, though,” Earl pointed out. “Besides, the vicar said heart attack. It’s not exactly a coroner’s verdict, but he’d see plenty of dead men in his work. I’d say he’s right. Granted, the Widow’s man is an ugly character but he can’t make people have heart attacks.”

“I don’t know. He’d scare me to death,” Jimmy countered. “Listen, why don’t we just go back to the Red Lion? It’s too hot for uphill walking just to look at an old church. Do we need another of those pills before ordering more ale?”

Sukie assured him that the effects would last at least until breakfast tomorrow, and that settled the matter. It was back to the Red Lion for them. Anne-Elizabeth brought them refreshments in the private room. They sat there and watched the sun go down over the town. The streets outside quietened as work ended but the bar got busy.

“If we have an early night, will you boys promise not to get into any bar brawls?” Sukie asked after Vicki stifled several yawns.

“I have never been in a bar brawl,” Earl replied. “I don’t intend to start now. Nor does Jimmy. We’re just going to indulge in a bit of gossip. I expect there will be plenty of salacious and probably inaccurate details of how the landlord of the Anchor met his end.”

The girls said goodnight and left them to it. They didn’t mean to sleep, yet, but the cool, quiet of the bedchamber with the window open wide for night air was pleasant. They put on cotton night kirtles and brushed each other’s hair while avoiding the subject of witches in any form at all.

It was after midnight when their men came up from the emptying bar. They checked that the girls were decent before coming into the room that adjoined the one they would be sleeping in.

“Do you want to hear the gossip?” Earl asked.

“I suppose we might as well,” Sukie replied.

“Well, there’s absolutely no evidence of malice in his death. The man was over fifty and so fat he had to turn sideways to get down to the cellar. He’s a prime candidate for a heart attack.”

“Even so, one or two people pointed fingers at the Widow Baldwin,” Jimmy added.

“Really?” Sukie raised an eyebrow in interest.

“I wouldn’t say ‘pointed fingers’,” Earl corrected his friend. “A few people mouthed off under the influence of drink. I doubt they’d say it sober, and not to her face, let alone to a King’s Justice who would put them under oath to tell the truth. Even those that brought the Pendle Witches to trial couldn’t make a case from a few drunken fools speaking out of turn. On the face of it, the Widow is a sharp businesswoman who bullied the dead man, but not a witch.”

“So there’s nothing in it,” Sukie concluded.

“Good, so let’s stop talking about her,” Vicki said. “If I have nightmares I’m blaming you all. Now push off, you two. I’m getting into bed.”

Earl and Jimmy went into the other room. Vicki got into bed near the window. Sukie blew out the candles before settling down. There were still some noises in the streets, mostly noisy drunks taking their time going home, a dog barking, the sound of a night bird hunting along the river.

Vicki drifted with those sounds, but she didn’t properly sleep. Of them all she was the only one who really did think, despite the lack of real evidence, that the Widow Baldwin WAS a witch. The sod of earth that failed to hit her was the only clue she had, but she was sticking to it. Besides. Wasn’t there a thing about witches having animals that did their bidding… familiars. That dog….”

She sat up with a start. Something outside had disturbed her. Sukie was breathing quietly in the dark room, undisturbed by anything but dreams about racing cars. Vicki rose and went to the window overlooking Bridge Lane and looked out.

Two things were missing in this time. The first was street lighting, still hundreds of years away. The other was policemen patrolling in the night. The very word, police, didn’t exist, yet. The best they had was a volunteer watch made up of labourers and yeoman that might be roused from their beds and assembled in case of a real emergency.

It was very dark outside, but a sliver of moonlight punctuated the blackness. She could make out movement in the shadows, and recognised The Widow Baldwin and her dog coming close to the front of the Red Lion.

Then something happened that almost made her shout out in surprise. When she was over her initial shock she shook Sukie awake and then ran into the other room to wake the men.

“I’ve just seen Widow Baldwin’s dog turn into her henchman and start climbing up the wall,” she said.

Nobody wasted time telling her she was dreaming. Jimmy was the first out of bed and pulling on his boots, Earl a close second.

“You two went to bed fully clothed?” Sukie queried before going to find her own shoes.

“Who want to get ‘hose’ on in a hurry,” Jimmy replied. “Where do you think he went?”

Vicki didn’t need to answer. A piercing scream came from the attic room above.

“That was Anne-Elizabeth,” Earl said. He and Jimmy grabbed the swords they both wore at their sides when riding through rough country like the Forest of Borland and dashed out of the room telling the girls to stay put.

“Not likely,” Sukie responded. Vicki echoed the sentiment, grabbing a poker from the fireplace on her way out after the boys.

There was a very narrow stairway to the attic. They were all going up in single file when Anne-Elizabeth screamed again and ran from her room pursued by the curiously interchangeable dog. Earl reached the landing in time to grab her and push her down to the floor. The dog leapt straight over them and lunged at Jimmy, but he ducked just in time. Sukie flattened herself against the wall and half leaping, half falling, the dog passed her, too. Vicki swung the poker and hit it hard at the side of the head. She hated to do it. She liked dogs, even ugly, fierce ones that doubled as henchmen for witches. She hated the howl it gave as it fell past her onto the landing. She had acted out of instinct and self-preservation without letting sentiment stay her hand.

There was no time to dwell on the issue of animal cruelty. Now another cry rang out from above. It was Master Hodgson in his room. Earl let Sukie look after Anne-Elizabeth while he and Jimmy ran to the landlord’s aid.

What they saw confirmed once and for all the question Jimmy had posed earlier. The Widow Baldwin was most certainly exhibiting witch-like qualities. She was by the open window, floating a whole foot from the floor. Her left arm was outstretched pointing at Master Hodgson who was choking as if hands were actually squeezing his neck.

“Get off him,” Earl called out, putting himself between the witch and her victim, sword drawn. “Back, damned daughter of Satan. I abjure thee in the name of all that is good in this world.”

“Crikey!” Jimmy exclaimed at Earl’s colourful language. He ran to assist the breathless and fainting man as the witch’s concentration was broken. She had turned her attention on Earl, but he was less easy to affect with her craft. His spare hand was held out like a shield that, against all odds stopped her from strangling him, too. But how long Earl could keep up that defence? Jimmy had heard from Vicki how her father, a powerful and experienced Time Lord, had fought mental duels to the death on many occasion. But Earl was young and inexperienced and the Widow Baldwin had at least three known victims under her belt already.

But while she was concentrating on Earl she was vulnerable to ordinary cold steel. Jimmy laid the still gasping Master Hodgson on his bed and turned, raising his sword. He was no swordsman. Fencing was taught to seniors at his school, but he had skipped sports as well as history a lot of the time. All the same, he had spent quite some time in Tudor and Stuart times by now and seen swordsmanship practiced.

At least he knew where the pointed end was meant to go. Without thinking about anything else, least of all chivalry towards a woman – he ran at the Widow and pierced her side with a full six or seven inches of blade.

The Widow turned her gaze on him, her eyes burning bright green in the gloom. Jimmy gave a choked cry as she attacked him with her mind. He felt his neck being crushed, his breath stopped in his throat.

But now Earl was free and he HAD learnt fencing. He raised his sword high and swung it at the Widow’s neck. The green eyes dimmed as the head was separated from the body. Smoke poured from both parts and a fiery glow illuminated the corpse as it burnt up from within leaving nothing but two strange piles of ash on the floor.

“I don’t think that’s how witches usually die,” Jimmy observed. Earl had wiped his sword and sheathed it. He copied him, noting that the ‘blood’ on his blade was a curious blackish purple.

“She’s gone?” Master Hodgson asked, sitting on the edge of his bed and watching in the light of a pair of candles as even the ash melted away to nothing. “The witch is gone?”

“She is,” Earl observed. “Master Hodgson, we should have brought you into our confidence before this. We were sent by His Majesty himself to ensure that the blight of witchery was gone from this County. Our suspicions were drawn to the Widow Baldwin, but had we known she meant harm to yourself we should have warned you. As it is the evil woman is dealt with. I think you should keep tonight’s events to yourself, though. The appearance of a witch in your be chamber is not a thing to talk about with your customers. It might be whispered that you invited her in. Let the disappearance of the Widow Baldwin become a mystery for the gossips to speculate upon but one that does not cast aspersions on your own good name.”

Master Hodgson may not have known what an aspersion was, but he didn’t want them casting upon him. He agreed readily to keep quiet about the affair.

Anne-Elizabeth had no desire to talk about the matter. She was just glad that the witch was gone.

“Jimmy, Earl…” Sukie said. “You need to talk to Vicki. She’s bothered about the dog.”

“Isn’t it dead?” Earl asked. “She gave it a good whack.”

“It’s still alive. I think she just knocked it out.”

Vicki was kneeling at the bottom of the stairs beside the dog. Her hands were buried in its matted fur. Jimmy quietly went to her side.

“Are you a man she turned into a dog?” she was asking the animal. “Or a dog she forced to become a man when it suited her?”

She looked around to see Sukie and Earl, as well as Anne-Elizabeth coming down the stairs. They heard her question, too.

“Boyer… the man… never spoke,” Anne-Elizabeth said in a startled voice. “Everyone assumed he was a mute. Did she really… bewitch an animal to be….”

The girl whispered the Lord’s Prayer, emphasising ‘deliver us from evil’. Whether that had anything to do with the casting off of the ‘spell’ was debateable. It may have had a little more to do with Vicki’s natural abilities as a Healer that she was disguising as sympathetic caressing of the animal. Either way, before the prayer was ended the dog had changed before their eyes. The nasty wound Vicki had inflicted on it melted away and so did the dirt and matted fur that made it look so unpleasant. A dog with soft golden fur and appealing eyes got to its feet and walked towards Anne-Elizabeth as she whispered ‘amen’. The girl reached out and stroked the dog.

“I think he likes you,” Sukie told her.

“I think a girl like you living in a place like this could use a guard dog,” Earl added. “Take him up to your room and sleep safely, now. In the morning, the sun will shine and all this will be a bad dream.”

“Yes, sir,” Anne-Elizabeth said and did as he told her. The dog followed her dutifully.

“She’ll need to give it a new name,” Vicki said as she and her friends went to their rooms. “Boyer might ring a few too many bells.”

“I put the idea of ‘Roger’ in her head as she passed me by,” Sukie answered. “Call it my tribute to recent events in this town. The chief prosecutor of the Pendle Witches was called Roger Nowell.”

“Good enough,” Earl agreed.

The next morning as they ate breakfast and discussed what sort of alien being with the power of telekinetic strangulation and a body that rendered itself into atoms after death the Widow Baldwin actually was, Anne-Elizabeth came into the room with a fresh platter of bacon and some news. The newly re-christened Roger was at her heels looking for meaty treats.

“While we slept, there was excitement in New Street,” she said. “The Widow Baldwin’s house burnt to the ground. The talk is that she and her henchman perished.” Anne-Elizabeth smiled, then frowned. “It is not a Christian thing to be glad of a death, but whichever way it is thought to have taken place, I feel a weight is gone along with that woman.”

Master Hodgson called and she ran to do his bidding. Everyone looked at each other and pondered this new development.

“Something alien kept in her house that self-destructed with her demise?” Earl suggested. “In any case, a ‘self-cleaner’ that lets Master Hodgson and Anne-Elizabeth off the hook from being asked about anything. Good news all round. Meanwhile, I believe it is market day and there are bound to be some promising dress lengths to haggle over, and I fancy a new pair of leather riding gloves for when we visit these parts again. Anything you’d like as a souvenir of our trip to Lancaster, Jimmy?”

“Not really,” Jimmy answered. “When we’re back home, though, I think I ought to see about riding and fencing lessons. It’s time I caught up with those things seeing as we spend so much time doing this sort of stuff.”