The next day they traveled in a slow but a steady pace. The horses walked, and sometimes they walked the horses. Boston commented that it looked to her like the Kairos was moving south because they were getting closer to the gate faster then she calculated they should.
Mingus said nothing that day. He stole occasional glances at Alexis who rode contentedly beside Lincoln, and Roland, especially when he nudged forward to ride beside Boston. Lockhart noticed, but he was quiet as well. In fact, since Captain Decker had taken the mantle of occasional quips, he found he had little to say. He did not mind the conversation when Katie rode beside him, but otherwise he was as quiet as Mingus and so he did not think much about it.
For lunch, they sheltered in a hollow full of trees. The horses were let to wander for the first time, but they needed the grazing time and at some point they had to trust their instincts. They knew they were each tied to their horse. The horses would not wander off on their own, and since all around the hollow there was good pasturage and open fields so no predator could sneak up on them, they let them lunch as well.
“I’m only sorry we don’t have something more scrumptious, like oats for them to munch on.” Katie felt like talking, though she directed most of it toward Lockhart.
“Apples would be nice,” Boston suggested.
“Or a sugar cube,” Lincoln decided. “I could really go for a chocolate bar right now. Alexis?”
“I think you’re mean even bringing up chocolate. I’m trying to break the habit.”
“Well, I think I’ve decided,” Captain Decker said. When they all looked at him, he spoke again. “I think I’m going to call my horse Weber.” Everyone understood that was commentary on the man, but Mingus spoke first.
“You are naming your horse?”
“Why not? The women have all named theirs.”
“Misty,” Alexis said of her gray.
“Beauty,” Katie said. “I liked Black Beauty when I was a child.”
“Honey,” Boston said. “Because he’s sweet.”
The women looked at Lincoln. “Cortez,” Lincoln mumbled the name before he spoke up. “It was the name of a horse I once rode.”
“Valiant,” Roland said with a look in Boston’s direction. Mingus erupted.
“Elves don’t name their horses.” He stood. “What is wrong with us? Alexis, what is wrong with you, and Roland, too. We are elves, not stinking mortals. What are we doing here, hanging out with humans? We are becoming just like them, foolish, stubborn and stupid. I studied them and their history for centuries, and sure, some of them had to rub off on me. Not to my betterment, mind you. But I never expected it to pass on to my children. Okay, so everything I studied was wrong –“
“Not wrong, father,” Alexis interrupted.
Mingus raised his hands. “Okay, but terribly incomplete. Most of what I learned is in the database there that pinhead is carrying.”
“He was a pinhead when you married him. I don’t see any great changes since then.”
“Oh, Alexis. Someone needs to wake you up.” He threw his hands down and stomped off.
“Roland,” Alexis spoke sharply and Roland hesitated half-way through standing up. “He just has some steam to blow off. Leave him alone. It will pass.” Roland sat down, and they were all quiet until Katie nudged Lockhart.
“So, what are you naming yours?”
“Dog,” Lockhart said.
Boston laughed. “You can’t name a horse dog.”
Lockhart whistled and Dog came trotting right up to him. “Any questions? Time to go.”
That afternoon, they paused at a distant sound, and Lockhart thought they had better play it safe. “Cover,” he said, and they made for a stand of trees. They dismounted and walked their horses into the stand and waited, eyes on the sky. After a moment, they were not disappointed. A shuttle of some kind passed overhead.
“A step up from the one we saw in Odelion’s time,” Lincoln whispered, though he hardly had to whisper considering the whine the shuttle was making.
“What do you think?” Lockhart turned to the marine Captain with something else on his mind.
“Definitely landing. It is coming down somewhere ahead of us.”
“Probably intend to cut us off and catch us just before dark,” Katie added.
“So they have made us,” Lincoln said and stepped out from among the trees.
“I would guess, yes.” Lockhart said as he followed and mounted.
“So Roland and I need to take the point to try and find them before they find us,” Lincoln finished his thought, and added another. “I’ve done this kind of work before.”
Lockhart looked at Captain Decker, but the Captain shook his head.
“I would be no help on horseback,” he admitted.
Lincoln nodded, leaned over and gave Alexis a fat kiss on the lips and started out. Roland stared back at Boston, but waited for Lincoln. “The man is full of hidden talents,” Alexis said with a grin. Mingus looked like he was not finished steaming yet.
Lincoln came galloping back after only two hours. There were still a couple of hours before dark, but he had a report. “They are up ahead at the end of a long, open space. At this end is a small hill and a great boulder. Roland and I figure we can camp there, on this side of the hill. We can tie off the horses with their backs to the boulder to protect them better in the night, and the hill should hide our camp and campfire. Maybe we can meet them in the morning.”
“Maybe when we don’t show up, they will come out to find us,” Captain Decker suggested.
“And maybe they will leave because it isn’t us they are looking for anyway,” Lockhart countered. “It’s a good plan, as far as it goes.” So that is what they did.
Of course, Lincoln had to have the final say for the night. “You know I won’t sleep a wink knowing that they are there.”
Alexis just pulled him down to the blanket, pulled her blanket on top of them, curled up half on top of him and said, “Good night,” thereby getting in the actual final words.