Avalon 1.6: Down the Mountain

            The morning was gray and overcast and the travelers were not in the best of spirits.  Alexis spent much of the morning arguing with her father.

            “I’m telling you it was a man on horseback, and horses have not been tamed yet or I am sure Shengi god would have given us some.”

            “So one man got ahead of the game.  That proves nothing.”

            “But he was in armor.”

            “But it was dark.”

            “The moon was close enough to full, and he had a lance besides.”

            “Maybe it was a spear that just looked like a lance.  All I am saying is the Knights of the Lance arrived mysteriously on Avalon and the innumerable isles when Lydia brought in that legion of demons.  God bless her, she could not help it.  But there has not been a sighting of a Knight of the Lance for a thousand years.  You have never seen one.  I have never seen one.  I’m just saying you might be mistaken,” Mingus was firm and tried to end the conversation there.

            “You are just saying you don’t believe me.”  Alexis was not going to let him get in the last word.

            By the time they all stopped for lunch, no one was much in the mood for speaking.  Even so, the matter between Mingus and Alexis was heated and only settled a bit when Boston overheard the argument.

            “I saw a knight, too,” she said.  “It was on the ridge of the Ophir, by Ranear’s village three time zones back.”

            “Why didn’t you say anything?”  Lockhart asked.

            “Because when I looked a second time, it wasn’t there.  I thought I was imagining things.”

            Lieutenant Harper inched closer at that point and spoke up softly.  “I saw it.”  Every eye turned to her.  “All the way back on the first day when we were looking down on Shinar and the tower.  I caught the glint of light in my binoculars.  When I looked close, it was clearly a knight in armor on horseback.  He rode away over the tower hill.”  Lockhart just stared at her.  “Like Boston,” she defended herself.  “I thought I just imagined it.”

            Captain Decker jumped and raised his rifle.  He was holding it tight and sweating.  “Did you hear that?”

            “I’ve been seeing things out of the corner of my eyes all morning,” Roland admitted.

            “Me, too.  Seeing and hearing things.”  Lincoln looked around but there was nothing to see.

            “Now that you mention it,” Mingus looked up.  “The atmosphere here is a bit like standing on the edge of the land of the dead.”

            Lincoln looked at the elder elf and frowned.  “I wish you hadn’t mentioned it.”  The silence came after that and they packed up lunch early.

            Doctor Procter lead them to the edge of a cliff and said they had to climb down.  Lockhart had everyone spread out along the ledge to look for an easier way down.  He was certain someone would get hurt in the climb.  Boston thought to go back the way they had come and circle around.  Sure enough, she found an easy way to the bottom.

            “Hey!”  She hollered back up to the top.

            “Where the Hell did you go?”  Lockhart yelled back.  “We thought you were hurt somewhere or who knows what?”  He was being very parental, worried about a child.  He was happy to see her safe but quick to scold.

            Boston explained how to get down and Lockhart took a good look at Doctor Procter.  The half-elf looked disappointed.  Lockhart said nothing.

            After that, Doctor Procter lead them to a stream, swollen by the rain to a small river.  It rushed down the mountainside.  It was not so wide or deep, but it was rapid and the rocks looked wet and slick.  Lockhart could only imagine a twisted ankle if not a broken leg.      

            Everyone spread out again to look for a better way across.  Roland followed Boston’s lead this time and went beyond the allotted time and distance.  They found where the river turned one hundred and eighty degrees and saw they could continue on their path down the mountain without having to cross the water at all.  When they reported back, Roland spoke innocently.

            “If we had crossed the stream here we would have had to cross it again a few thousand yards down the mountain.”  This time Lockhart disguised nothing in his stare at Doctor Procter.  The doctor spoke amiably.

            “I was only following the direction on the amulet.  It doesn’t have a setting to help us avoid obstacles.”  All the same, Lockhart caught the sense of cursing that came to Doctor Procter’s lips.  It was beginning to look to Lockhart that the good doctor wanted them injured for some reason, or worse.

            It was an hour later, about three hours before sundown, as if they would recognize sundown when it came, when the whole atmosphere around them turned from dark and gloomy to seriously oppressive.  They were all jumpy by then and hearing noises and catching things from the corners of their vision.  Nothing happened, though, until something fluttered up and said “Hi.”  Decker’s gun went off and the fluttering thing vanished.

            “Wait.  Fairy.  Miss fairy.”  Boston called out.  “We won’t harm you.”  She whipped around on Captain Decker and let lose her anger.  “If you harmed her you will pay for it.”  The look on Captain Decker’s face said he was sorry, that he could not help it, but the words were beyond him.  Another half-hour down the path and they heard the words before they saw a thing.

            “Hello.  Is it safe?  Xiang sent me to fetch you, but I don’t want more bang-bang scary noises.  It is scary enough as it is.”

            Several voices answered, but Boston’s voice carried above the others.  “It’s safe, miss fairy.  No one will hurt you.  My name is Boston.”  The fairy flew up to Boston’s face and hovered for a moment to examine the girl.

            “My name is Blossom,” she said before she fluttered up to examine the others.  She gave the elder elf a bow, smiled for Roland, did not appear to even acknowledge Doctor Procter and returned to Boston again at the end.

            “You can sit on my shoulder while we walk if you like,” Boston suggested.

            Blossom wrinkled her nose.  “You have done this before,” she said.

            “Twice,” Boston admitted, and the fairy settled down for a visit.  With that, they had good guidance and everyone felt their spirits lift a little in the presence of the fairy except perhaps Doctor Procter who slipped to the rear to walk beside Captain Decker.  The captain was feeling guilty about firing at the poor fairy.  He did not know that the chances of hitting a fairy were astronomically slim even for a marksman.

            It was yet another half-hour before they came upon four men in a clearing.  One of the men looked up.  “Ah, there you are,” he said before he turned to one of the others.  “Go tell the people to hurry up.  This is a good place for the night and now that my friends have arrived, we can start making camp.”  While two of the men trotted off, the travelers simply stared at this familiar face before Alexis got it.

            “Keng?”

            Captain Decker looked at Alexis with great curiosity.  “He can’t still be alive, can he?”

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