The Ophir were camped in a secluded spot on the ridge across a wilderness valley where a running stream greened the fields. The camp location was obviously chosen to minimize the presence of people and make the valley inviting to the wildlife. The hunting would be good for some time, and there would be plenty to gather in that fertile place as well. Eventually, the animals would grow wise and wary and the fertility of the place would run dry. The stream itself might dry up in another season, but that would not be for a while.
Boston picked a yellow flower by the stream. She went to show Lockhart, but he hushed her. He was being careful after the ambush.
“Here!” Roland called and Lockhart breathed. He was glad Captain Decker did not flush them out with a bullet. “Just one man. Probably a hunter.”
“Where?” Roland pointed and after a moment they saw the man climbing the far ridge with all speed. Boston paused when she saw something else. It looked like a medieval knight up on that ridge and it appeared to be staring down at them. Boston turned to say something but her heart said that could not be right. When she turned back to double check before speaking, the knight was gone. She held her tongue.
“I hope the natives are friendly.” Lockhart shrugged and stole another glance behind them. He was more concerned about what might be following them than what might be up ahead.
Lincoln and Alexis came up from downstream while Mingus and Lieutenant Harper reported from upstream.
“All clear, Robert.” Lieutenant Harper said.
“Thank you, Katie,” Lockhart responded and he lead the team up the ridge. There was a reception committee of elders by the time they arrived. Curiously, the one young man in the group broke ranks and stepped down to them.
“Boston. Lockhart. Good to see you all.”
“Ranear?” Boston tested and the young man nodded. “But didn’t you know we were coming?” Ranear shook his head.
“But Pan knew.” Lieutenant Harper remembered. She was trying to understand.
Ranear shook his head again. “A little Bluebell told him. That fee used to get around.”
“So what is the trouble?” Lincoln asked as he got out his notebook. He assumed they would land in the midst of some difficult situation.
“None, I hope. We set off tomorrow.” Ranear turned to the patient elders. “These are friends. Do not be afraid.”
“Angel said that,” Alexis reminded everyone.
“It does come in handy,” Ranear whispered as one of the elderly men turned and addressed the others.
“If the shaman speaks on behalf of these people, we will welcome them. Make preparations.” The men wandered off and the travelers came into the village.
“Uzen. He is the high chief.” Ranear introduced the old man just before a young woman tackled him. Ranear landed on his back and she landed on top of him. She kissed him, heartily and then scolded him.
“Don’t I get to meet your friends?”
“My wife, Azilla.” Ranear introduced the young woman and then he introduced his friends.
Azilla looked at Lieutenant Harper. “You are very white, with yellow hair. And Boston, you are even whiter and you have freckles.” Ranear, Azilla and their people were dark Mediterranean. “And Captian Decker, you look like a Hivite, but you are not. The Hivites don’t wear fairy weave. I don’t know how I know that. And Mingus, you are an elf. I know that too, somehow. You are an elder elf.”
“Yes, Mam.” Mingus had his hat in his hand.
“Hello, Roland the elf. You are Mingus’ son. I don’t know how I know that, either. And you,” she turned to Doctor Procter and paused as if studying the man. “You have more beard than face, and you wear covers over your hands. Are you in there?”
“Yes. They are gloves” Doctor Procter raised his hands and spoke softly. “I am trying to protect myself as well as I can. This old body of mine bruises very easily.” That was what he told the others.
“But you are an odd one.” Azilla wrinkled her nose. Ranear thought it was very becoming. He tapped Azilla on the shoulder.
“He is half human,” Boston said.
“Half human, half elf,” Azilla said and her face brightened. She tried to ignore Ranear so he had to cough for her attention.
She looked at him sprawled out beneath her. “How can I know these things?”
“You are my beloved wife,” Ranear answered. “Now, can I get up?”
Azilla smiled. “But I was just getting comfortable,” She said and shifted her position a little to lay more squarely on his chest. He rolled her over with a kiss.
One of the old men who had returned, sighed. “My son.”
“And they have been like this for two whole seasons,” a second man said.
“Two whole seasons,” the third man echoed with a click of his tongue.
“Come,” Ranear’s father spoke to the group. “A place has been made for you near the circle.”
The circle was the middle of the tent village where they would have neighbors on either side. There was room for the travelers to pitch their tents near the wood they were piling in the center. They would make a bonfire and have a feast after their fashion. Lieutenant Harper was very interested in the proceedings since she had never been to a late Neolithic feast before. Lincoln had his notebook out. Everyone was ready when Mingus made his offer.
“Would my Lord like me to start the fire?”
Ranear looked at the elder elf and smiled. “No thank you, Lord Mingus. Tomorrow we are going north to form a treaty with the Hivites.”
“The Hivites we came across did not seem very interested in peace,” Lockhart said with only a brief touch of his thigh.
“We will make sacrifices for peace between us. As shaman, I will have to participate in the ceremony. I have been practicing to get ready.”
“My husband is very powerful,” Azilla said. She looked at Alexis.
“My husband is good at other things,” Alexis smiled.
“Alexis is the witch in our family,” Lincoln said, but he was busy writing in his journal so not really paying attention.
“Really?” Azilla’s eyes were wide with curiosity, but Ranear interrupted her question.
“Watch.” Ranear stretched his hands toward the fire and it was very different. With Mingus, it was like magic. He mumbled and sprinkled some dust on the logs and the fire appeared to rise up to meet the falling dust. For Ranear, the fire came from his hands and reached the final distance to touch and catch the wood. Ranear tired far more than Mingus from the effort, besides. It was like the fire was in him in some way, like it was inside the bogy beast. Now that it was depleted, it would need to be recharged.
“That was very well done,” Mingus praised him.
“That was the easy part,” Ranear responded. “Poor Azilla now has to cook something edible.”
“Not me alone. Would you like to help?” She asked Alexis no doubt wanting to hear all about her magic. Alexis nodded, and Boston spoke up.
“I can help.” With a look at Captain Decker and then Lockhart, Katie Harper went with them as well.
That night, the travelers were restless. No one slept well except maybe Doctor Procter. Whatever it was, it was still out there. Fortunately, it seemed reluctant to get too close to the village. But it was waiting. That was how Boston described the feeling.
In the morning, Ranear and his troop were ready to head north almost as quickly as the travelers who only had to tell their tents to compress and stick them in their backpacks.
“You are headed to the south,” Ranear spoke and Doctor Procter nodded. “Of course, I can’t be certain, but I suspect you will find the gate somewhere near the mountain. If that is the case, you should find where we often camp there. If you do, climb the mountain a bit. There is a path, and you will find a cave. It is good for keeping out of the rain and sun and should be big enough to shelter you all for the night.”
“Ranear and I spent our wedding night there,” Azilla said with the sound of fond memories in her voice.
“Good luck to you in your mission,” Lockhart responded.
“Mountain?” Boston asked.
“Sinai.” Ranear and Mingus spoke together.
“Mount Sinai.” Lieutenant Harper whistled and watched Lincoln write in his notebook.