He directs us toward the rectory building, or at least what we find out will become the rectory at some point. We learn this because there is absolutely nothing built on this side of town yet.
“What?” Griff shrugs. “How was I supposed to know it wasn’t built yet?” He jumps out of the wagon and begins stomping around on the ground.
“Are ya lookin’ for da ol’ ale hold?” Noll asks.
“There’s an ale hold?” My heart leaps in my chest.
“Oh yeah.” He walks off into the distance toward an open field. We follow him for about fifty yards before he stops in front of a large rock. He lifts the rock with ease and disappears into the ground.
I run to the spot and see a deep hole under where the rock had stood. I take a brief glance to the sky to ensure it isn’t filled with a swarm of flying Robo-Mes, before climbing down a rickety ladder into the hole. Noll is lighting a torch when I arrive. Griff and Tenney join us shortly after.
The room is little more than a long narrow tunnel which stretches off into darkness. The damp air smells of old earth, but also has a sweet scent to it.
“What’s that smell?” Griff asks happily.
“Ale,” Noll answers. “I told yas dis was da ale hold.”
Griff notices the large barrels lining the walls and his eyes light up. “Are you trying to tell me these are all filled with beer?”
“Yup,” Noll smiles. “I fink it should be about a year’s worth for da whole town.”
“I know where I’m living out the rest of my days,” Griff says, approaching the nearest barrel to inspect it. “How the heck do you get one of these things open?”
Noll pulls an awl from behind the very barrel Griff had been looking at. Griff grabs it greedily and begins crafting a hole in the top of the wooden barrel.
I look at Tenney, realizing he’s been silent since we entered. He looks like he’s in a state of shock.
“So, you guys been down here before?” I ask.
“Forget the small talk, kid,” Griff says, still working with the awl to little success. “Let’s talk about how crazy that was out there.”
“Yes, dat was quite da monster to have appear wif-in da cassle,” Noll says.
“Not that, old chum,” Griff says to Noll. “I’m talking about the even larger item at hand.”
“If you’re talking about the idea of a robot appearing in the Middle Ages, I’d hardly say that’s much weirder than how we’re time travelers,” I argue.
“Still not that,” Griff says.
“Time travelers?” Tenney asks silently.
“Watchoo fink is weird?” Noll asks Griff.
“That my girl Chelle here took out a rocket with her shoe. Who knew she had that kind of aim?”
I find myself blushing lightly. “Yeah, that was a bit of good luck, wasn’t it?”
“A bit?” Griff says, finally throwing down the awl in frustration. Noll comes to his side and picks it up. “It was the throw of the year!”
“Time travelers?” Tenney repeats.
“’Ere ya go,” Noll says, pulling the awl out of the barrel. “Dare should be a ladle around ‘ere somewhere.”
“Thank you, my good man.” Griff grin gets bigger. “Time to celebrate.”
“Not so fast,” I reply. “Shouldn’t we work on figuring out what to do next?”
“Jeez, Tenney, yeah, we’re time travelers, okay?” I yell at him.
Tenney looks at me blankly.
“I think you might’ve broken his brain, kid,” Griff says, digging around on the ground under the barrel Noll opened. “Oh, here it is!” he cheers, holding a ladle above his head as though it were some prized treasure.
“You’re from the future?” Tenney says weakly. “Like, from the time after now?”
“I don’t fink it’s too hard to unnerstan’,” Noll reprimands. “’Ow else you fink a monster like dat fake queen would come about?”
Griff puts the ladle in the barrel, using great flourish as he excitedly pulls out the brown liquid from within.
“I think Chelle deserves the first sip, considering her amazing shoe work.”
“I gratefully accept,” I say, walking to Griff’s side and allowing him to tip the ladle into my mouth.
It tastes amazing. It’s cool, unlike the stuff I had at Agnes’. It takes like apple, with a heavy bread flavor. I slurp the liquid.
“Good work, kid,” Griff cheers me on. “Who’s up for the second round?”
He places the ladle back into the barrel, scooping it in deeply. As he does so, a faint clink can be heard from within.
“What was that?” Griff asks, looking at Noll.
“I made dis ale myself. Should just be barrel and liquid.”
“Weird. What do you think could have gotten into a barrel of ale?”
“I think it might be cider,” I correct him. “It definitely tastes like apple.”
“Cider?” Noll says. He looks at me curiously. “We ain’t got no apples ‘round here. I wooden ‘ave bin able to make cider if I’s wanted to.”
“You don’t think—“ Tenney begins.
“Don’t think what?” Griff asks him.
“Maybe you two left yourself a message? From the future, or the past, or whatever?”
“Chelle?” Griff looks at me. “Is that possible?”
“There’s definitely a chance we decided to leave ourselves a note, although I’m not sure why.”
“What do you think, Noll old boy?” Griff asks. “I’d hate to waste a whole barrel of ale if we don’t need to.”
Noll inspects the barrel and gives a shout of surprise. “’Ey, look at dis picter up here. My barrels ain’t got dis picter on it. Eiver of yous seen it b’fore?”
I climb behind the barrel with him to look and see the image of Saint Christopher. It looks just like the one on my pendant. I stand and look at Griff with an air of certainty. “It’s ours.”
“Noll, you wanna crack this sucker open?”
“Ya’lls mind if’n I do dis da easy way?”
“Chelle?” Griff asks.
“Go for it.”
“Yous might’n wants to step back.”
We all give him a wide berth, lining the opposite wall as Noll lifts the barrel above his head and slams it against the ground, causing it to splinter and sending a surge of sweet amber liquid all across the dirt floor.
Griff runs to Noll’s side and digs through the wreckage, finding a glass bottle which is somehow still intact, corked, and looking as though it might hold something special within.
“Anyone got a corkscrew?” Griff asks.
“Let me handle this one,” Tenney says, ripping the bottle from Griff’s hands and wrenching on the partially exposed cork until he pulls it out. Griff steals the bottle back, tips it upside-down, and shakes it roughly.
“Mind if I give it a try?” I ask.
Griff looks at me in surprise before handing it over. I fling it at the opposite wall. It shatters loudly.
“Well,” Griff recovers, “I was thinking the bottle itself might be a clue and didn’t want to—“
“Right,” I say, cutting him off. “Let’s pretend that’s the reason.”
I walk cautiously over the broken glass to the sheet of paper which settled on the floor amid the wreckage. Picking it up, I recognize the handwriting.
“The robot’s on your side,
Go to Chapter Forty-Four