Defending the innocent often has consequences. The travelers cannot simply abandon the girls when they find the next time gate and move into the next time zone. They need to find a safe place for them to grow up. Fortunately, sometimes events can help.
Lincoln and Elder Stow had the morning shift, so they were the first to hear the horses in the distance. It did not take long to wake everyone, but then there was the problem deciding what to do.
“If it is Revelon and the men from the city, our live will be forfeit,” Chloe said. “I do not wish to cause any more deaths and there will be too many of them. If it is the women from the East, we will be safe, but I worry about your men.”
“It is the women,” Amira said. “But we should all be safe with two elect among us. Even the men should be safe.”
“We will be fine,” Lockhart said. “We will have elect to protect us.” He slipped is arm around Katie’s shoulder right in front of everyone. She did not mind, but she elbowed him softly. Neither knew what Amira meant when she talked about Katie being elected, so it was hard to take it seriously.
It did not take long to find out Amira was right about one thing. It was the women, though Lincoln thought they were more like young girls. He did not imagine any of them was over eighteen until they brought a horse up from the back where an old lady had been straggling at the rear of the pack. Lincoln suddenly remembered being that old. He imagined the woman did her best to keep up.
There were four large and mean looking women that surrounded the old lady. Two held the horses while two helped her down and walked on each side of her like Secret Service bodyguards. The Lady made an unwavering path to Katie where she surprised everyone, even her bodyguards. She got down on her knees at Katie’s feet. After a moment of hesitation and a few extra looks at Katie, the bodyguards joined her.
“Elect,” the woman intoned in her ancient voice.
Katie looked up at Lockhart, but he could only shrug. She bent down a little toward the lady. “Please get up,” and she would have helped if the bodyguards were not there. The old lady stood slowly, like she was crippled with arthritis, but with her head lowered, she made a straight path to Chloe where she did the same thing and said something that shocked everyone present, including the women still on horseback.
Chloe’s instinct was to look at her sister, but Amira was simply smiling at her own thoughts. At last Chloe echoed Katie. “Please get up,” and the old woman did with a nod and made a new path. This took her to Amira, and everyone prepared for her to repeat the same ritual; but again she surprised everyone. She wrapped Amira up in her arms and hugged the girl, and Amira hugged the old lady right back like she was hugging her favorite, long-lost grandmother. Then at last the old lady turned and spoke to them all.
“Respect these men. These two are older than I am in years, but by the grace of the gods they have returned to youth in their bodies. This one is of the elder races. Do not be afraid. He will not harm you. And this good elf and his betrothed are to be given all respect. For us, the sign of the little ones is always good fortune. Respect these men, and respect also these women, the elf wife, the elected one, the Sybil I hold in my arms who will follow after me and the future Queen. Now let us ride. The men of Revelon will be here when the sun breaks full above the horizon.”
“Pack’em up, people!” Lockhart yelled and the travelers jumped to action. “Chloe, you better ride with Katie. Amira, stick with Boston. She is rodeo trained and won’t let you slip from the saddle.”
One of the women in the pack dismounted quickly and ran up. “Male, who are you to decide such things?”
“One far older and wiser than you, Iris,” the old lady said before she began to reach for the words. “And one trained for this kind of operation. Did I say that correctly?” She looked at Katie who responded with a kind smile.
“I’ll keep to the rear and protect the old lady,” Lincoln volunteered.
Amira, Iris and Chloe spoke as one. “Sybil.”
“Exactly,” Lincoln said. He did not explain what he meant, but Lockhart imagined he wanted to ask what she knew about Alexis.
It took less than an hour to get ready and mounted. Lincoln lamented not having any explosives they could rig as a surprise for the men. Elder Stow agreed with him, but Boston scolded them both.
“Three are dead. We want to avoid killing any more if it can be helped.”
Lincoln understood, but Elder Stow shrugged like it did not matter to him since we were only talking about killing homo sapiens.
As the twenty women and the travelers rode out, they heard a much larger group of horses in the distance. Iris, who rode on Katie’s other side shouted when she heard the pursuit.
“If we can make the border we should be safe.”
The travelers discovered that these young women were riders. At every opportunity, they let the horses ride flat out. Fortunately for the travelers and in particular Elder Stow who was not so good on horseback, the women rode Black Sea ponies that they called horses. The travelers rode mustangs from the mid nineteenth century American West. They were real horses, the product of millennia of breeding, and as such were far larger, stronger and swifter than anything the women had ever seen.
They came at last to a broad plain that stretched out before the hills began that rose into mountains in the distance. Iris led the troop in an all out gallop to the other side. The men were close by then. The women came to a wide path up the rocky hillside that could not otherwise be climbed by horses. Iris paused there and Katie and Lockhart paused with her as the women began that climb.
“That cliff face,” Iris pointed. “It marks the boundary of Amazon territory. The men will not follow us there.”
“Good to know,” Lockhart said as he shouldered his shotgun and snatched Katie’s rifle right out of her saddle holster.
“What are you doing?” Katie yelled at him.
“You have responsibilities.” He nodded at Chloe and turned back to the bottom of the hill where he dismounted and got behind a boulder. Lincoln saw and joined him on the other side, and when Lockhart slapped his horse on the rump, his and Lincoln’s horses followed the herd of horses up the hill.”
“Quick volleys,” Lockhart yelled. Lincoln nodded and in a second the men were in range. They fired, rapid fire, and might have hit a few men, but certainly sent several horses to the dirt. It slowed things, not to mention the oncoming horses did not like the cracking thunder that echoed off the hill. Several more quick shots and the charge stalled.
Katie swore as she raced to the top of the hill, faster than Iris or any pony could keep up. As soon as she arrived, she let Chloe down. “Ride with Iris,” she ordered, and Chloe did not argue. Meanwhile, Boston handed Amira to Roland, who protested.
“You are not trained for this.” Boston was not going to argue either, but she added, “I would not trust Amira to anyone else.” Roland helped the girl up as Boston and Katie sprinted for the bottom of the hill.
“Lockhart!” Katie was the one who yelled as she brought her horse to a sharp halt. Lockhart tossed her the rifle, and she did not hesitate to use it. There were men dismounted and coming up on foot with bows. Lockhart did not watch. He simply got up behind.
Boston did it a bit differently. Lincoln saw her coming, leaning to the side with her hand down. He quickly shouldered his rifle, caught her hand and swung up behind her as she passed by. She turned her horse like going around a rodeo barrel and they started back up the hill.
Several belated arrows came in their direction once the two horses began to go back up the hill. They fell woefully short, but they were that close. At the top, Lockhart slid off and whistled. The horse he had named Dog came trotting right up. Lincoln also grabbed his steed and mounted.
Iris left a dozen of the women by the cliff, well hidden and well protected and also well armed. The rest of the party she led down the other side into Amazon country.