“People.” Roland reigned back to the others and everyone came to a halt. The trail was not much of a trail. It was more of a bank along a stream tributary of the Nile with a few broken branches and trampled ferns. There were no wagons yet to speak of, and hardly the cattle and oxen to keep a clear path between villages, much less out to the outlying farms. These were still stick farmers, punching holes in the silt deposited after the regular floods and gently planting their seed.
Lockhart moved up to the front and Katie came up alongside Boston. The walkers were two men and a woman in between. The woman waved to the travelers, but Lockhart held his tongue. It was Lincoln who spoke.
“Phoenix?” he shouted.
The woman nodded and when they were near enough, the old man yelled out, “Patmas!”
“Thomen!” One of the men waved and yelled back and named the elderly man who was barely on his horse.
“You’re going the wrong way,” Phoenix said as she stopped in front of the group.
“No, you are,” Lockhart responded. “As near as we can figure, the night creatures are on the way to your house.”
Somehow, Thomen had gotten down from Captain Decker’s horse and run to his old friend. “Patmas, did you see me up on that great beast?”
“How do you figure?” Phoenix asked, and Roland explained what they saw in Thomen’s house.
“Katie thinks Set may be involved,” Boston shouted from behind.
“He wouldn’t dare,” Phoenix said with a sideways look at the young man beside her. Then she added an unexpected word in English. “Shit!” She grabbed the young man’s hand, got up on the back of Captain Decker’s horse and dragged the young man up behind her. He did not look too happy, but he clearly trusted Phoenix completely.
“Lincoln and Lockhart,” Phoenix started giving orders. “Get the old men up behind you. We have to ride.” Phoenix did not look too steady in the saddle, but she knew how it worked. And once the old men were up and holding on, she brought her animal to a quick trot. The others easily kept up having ridden by then for a number of days.
Half-way to their destination they passed the charred corpse of a night creature. It was burnt so badly, it was almost unrecognizable. “Yesterday.” Phoenix shouted over her shoulder but said no more as she had to pay attention to stay in the saddle. Patmas picked up the story and whispered in Lockhart’s ear.
“We were headed back to the village, and though it was just dark, the moon made good light. The creature surprised us. Phoenix used the fires of Aton such as I have never seen. The side of my face is red and I still see spots.” Lockhart nodded. Sunburn did not surprise him given the charred condition of the creature. “But she collapsed,” Patmas said. “We might have lost her if that kind woman and that elf had not stopped to help.”
“Elf and kind woman?” Lockhart glanced at Lincoln, but Lincoln was preoccupied trying to keep Thomen from falling. The man was leaning precipitously.
“Yes,” Patmas concluded. “But they left before Phoenix could wake up and thank them.”
Lockhart just nodded again and glanced once more in Lincoln’s direction. Lincoln had not heard.
When they arrived at the farm house, Phoenix got straight down and ran into the house. The sun was setting. By the time she came out with children in tow, Thomen and Patmas were back on firm ground, Lincoln and Boston lead the horses to tie them off in the trees where they hoped they would not become night creature appetizers. Phoenix put the children in the hands of the old men.
“Take them to Soteri’s,” she said, glanced at the sun and added, “Run.” She turned then at last and introduced her young man. “My husband, Baran.”
“Good to meet you,” Katie responded for them all. Lockhart and Roland were already trying to figure some way to set up a barricade at the front of the house. They had no illusions that any barricade would stop a night creature, but they hoped to slow them enough to get off a good shot.
“Here you go,” Lincoln and Boston came up with arms full of wood from the wood pile. It was around the back, carefully quartered so it stacked well. They just had to move it to the front. With boxes, barrels and most of the furniture from the inside, they built something of a fort outside the front door. Then, with the windows and doors open in case the creatures broke into the house to get at them from the rear, they were as ready as they could be.
Roland hovered over Boston, but she had her pistol out and her eyes and ears open against the encroaching dark. Lincoln, with Captain Decker’s rifle took the middle with Phoenix and Baran, who clutched his hunting spear. Lincoln wanted to hear about this woman and her elf.
Lockhart was inclined to pace. Katie tried to get him to sit still, but gave up after a while. “How long will we keep watch?” she wondered.
“All of us. All night if necessary,” he responded.
The night passed slowly. The sounds of the Nile delta made more than one of them uncomfortable, but they had to stay awake and aware and they had to depend on their ears in the dark. They had built several small fires out away from their fort, but the light from them was not great, and they tended to burn down quickly. Roland was swift enough to keep the fires fed. He was not fairy fast, but far faster than any human or presumed night creature. Still, the waiting by contrast felt extra slow. Everyone’s nerves began to tighten, and more than once Lincoln rubbed that tightening out of his stress stiff neck.
Katie was never so aware that she was a complete stranger in this world, and utterly alone apart from her traveling companions. Lincoln and Lockhart may have had some experience with these sorts of things in the past. Certainly the Kairos knew them well enough. And Boston, sweet girl that she was, probably dreamed about having such an adventure. But Roland was an elf. A month ago, if anyone said elves were real, she would have had them committed. And more important than that, she was six thousand years from home. She looked again at Lockhart and was glad he was there. For the first time she also truly missed Decker. With that thought, she put the rifle to her shoulder and strained her eyes and ears in the dark.
A distant roar made them all jump. Baran said it was a lion. Phoenix stayed quiet. She was worried about the children.
“I wish they would just get here,” Boston whispered.
“I don’t,” Roland was honest about it.