Children can get underfoot, but they can also vanish when they want to avoid something unpleasant. Disappearing is not hard when you have a tree house so high up in the trees it is completely hidden by branches and leaves. All the children had to do was wait until the minions of Set went back to their boats. Then they could climb down and see if any of their parents survived.
It was not a long time before Usersi spied the three enemy boats shove off into the Nile for a trip downriver. There were a half-dozen villages before Abydos. Emotep had no idea the lowlanders had come as far upriver to take Abydos, the burial place of the kings – the burial place of Osiris. Set had to be stopped, but apparently the king in Hierakon was doing nothing.
Neferet was anxious for her parents and Ankara was inclined to agree with his sister. But even as the boats moved downriver, a strange sight came from upriver. Ka saw great beasts lumbering along, and people appeared to be sitting on top of the beasts. He called everyone to look, but only Emotep caught a glimpse before the beasts and people went behind a rise in the landscape.
“You are imagining things,” Aha-Aa said. “You have been up here and trembling in fear for too long.” He went down first because he was the eldest. After a moment he gave the all clear signal and the others scurried down the rope. By then Ka had thought of a comeback.
“I was not afraid.”
“You were too,” Aha gave the expected response.
They tied off the rope where it would not be obvious and went up to the village to see who was still alive To be honest, they were all as worried about their parents as their parents were worried in return. .
Mother Beset came running as soon as she saw them. She hugged Aha and almost hugged Emotep before she picked up Ka, seven years old and all. She cried on Kora as Father Meni came up. Aha just looked at Father and Meni spoke.
“They have taken all the youngest. They took Nidjauamun.”
“What do you mean they took Nidjau?”
Father wiped the water from his eyes. “We count fifteen, all under six or seven years. We are not sure. Some of the parents are dead.”
“We have to get them back,” Aha shouted. “The minions of Set can’t win.”
“I wonder what they want with the young ones.” Emotep said.
“To eat them.” Ka got down from his mother’s arms and ran to the group. “They are going to eat Nidjau.”
“They are not going to eat Nidjau,” Aha scoffed, but Father put a hand to the boy’s shoulder and looked like he was not too sure.
“How many villages are there downriver between here and Abydos?” Emotep asked.
“Three or four?” Father shrugged, looked at Emotep and wondered what crazy scheme he was concocting. Emotep just nodded as the travelers rode into the village. Some people screamed and moved away from the center of the village, certain that this was another terrible trial sent by the gods. Some just stared in bewilderment, never having seen such a thing before. The two in the rear got down an stepped forward.
“Is everything alright?” The woman spoke. “We saw the smoke.”
“Can we help?” The man asked.
“Yes,” Emotep said as he dragged his father forward and his friends and brothers followed in his wake. “But I am not sure how, yet.”
“Son?” Father was reluctant to get too close.
“Elder Stow,” Emotep shouted to the Gott-Druk who was deliberately keeping back, out of sight. He could go invisible, but he could not put up a glamour to pretend to be human like Roland the elf. “Did you see the boats downriver as you came along?”
“We saw them,” the woman out front spoke while the man nodded.
“Good. Elder Stow, get a scanner wave on them and track them. I need to know if they stop at any of the other villages before they reach Abydos. Father, this is Lockhart and Katie. This is my Father Meni, my elder brother Aha, my younger brother Kamun, my friends Usersi and Ankaret and his little sister, Neferet.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Lockhart forgot himself and stuck out his hand. Father Meni put his hand up slowly and Lockhart grabbed him by the wrist, gave a hearty shake and let go. “Now, what happened here?” The rest of the crew dismounted as he spoke, except Captain Decker who remained in the saddle.
“The minions of Set,” Usersi yelled before Meni could speak.
“They are going to eat Nidjau,” Ka added.
Father Meni shook his head. “Men came. They killed some, they burned some houses, they took all the young children, I don’t know what for.”
“Boston!” Emotep yelled and ran forward to give Boston a hug. Roland just smiled. “Alexis! Good to have you back. I know Lincoln is happy. And you are welcome to tend the wounded.” Alexis was already headed in that direction. “She is a great healer.” Emotep shouted to the crowd.
“Emotep?” Lincoln always had to ask to be sure. Emotep nodded.
“Lord,” Elder Stow stepped up, and though he was staring at some instrument in his hand, he gave everyone a new start, never having seen or even imagined a Neanderthal. “I have their position, roughly. It is not a clear picture because I was not able to scope their parameters, but they have indeed stopped in the village just below this one.”
“Probably devastating it and stealing their children too,” Ankara suggested. Emotep nodded again.
“Decker,” he called. “Are you going to join us, and put down that gun.”
“I do not understand, my son,” Meni stepped closer to Emotep.
“Lockhart.” Emotep pointed at his father. “Don’t you want to meet my mother?”
“Of course,” Lockhart and Katie spoke together and turned toward the waiting crowd where Alexis was already at work.
“Lincoln, I need you and Roland to assess the damage and see what can be fixed and what must be replaced. Boston, who is your passenger?”
Boston wrinkled her brow as if she had to think to remember. “Sakhmet,” she said. They watched Captain Decker help the girl down from the back of his horse where she had been holding on. “She said her mother is gone and she is escaping from a horrible, mean man who won’t let her do anything. A stepdad, I assume. She said she is trying to reach her real father. He is all the way downriver in Memphis.”
“A runaway.” Emotep tapped his foot. The girl looked to be about ten or eleven, at least no older than twelve. As the girl came close, Aha stepped up and shoved Emotep behind him.
“Sakhmet. I am Aha-Aa, the eldest. Welcome to our village.” He gave a little bow and she smiled but walked passed him to put her hand gently against Emotep’s cheek. A most curious expression crossed the girl’s face before she turned and picked up Neferet.
“Yes, he seems very nice,” she said to Neferet. “But I don’t really know him.”
Usersi stopped grinning as Sakhment and Neferet walked off to see what the adults were doing. He nudged Aha, who frowned. Ankara spoke.
“Nice moves, he teased.
Avalon 2.11: Joining the Club … Next Time