Decker pulled up at what he figured was out of bow range. Katie stopped beside him, her rifle ready. Lockhart came screeching to a halt beside her.
“Shoot the ones out front, but only until they retreat,” he ordered.
“Damn,” Lockhart said, and he followed.
Elder Stow pulled up to the two shooters and stopped to watch, even as Katie started to follow Lockhart. She tried to shoot from the back of her moving horse. Decker stayed where he was as long as he had targets. The majority of the enemy began to back off when they realized what was happening. Their men were mysteriously falling to the ground and not getting back up again.
Alexis feared someone in the caravan might need her medical attention, but she was not a complete fool. The caravan had backed up into a rock outcropping and were defending themselves with arrows from cover. A small cluster of trees and bushes stood beside the rocks. Several dozen heavily burdened donkeys were there. Alexis went to hide her horse with the donkeys behind the trees, before she got down.
“Are you crazy?” Lincoln yelled at her when he pulled up beside her. He had his pistol in one hand and his Patton saber in the other. He had to shoot a man even as Alexis started up into the rocks. Alexis found a wounded man right away. He had managed to move down toward the trees to get out of the direct line of fighting.
“Quiet. Lie still. I am here to help,” Alexis said, and the man relaxed for a second, though he had little strength to do otherwise. His eyes did get wide and he shrieked when the two elves passed by. Alexis hushed him, and worked.
Lockhart came up a minute later and stood with Lincoln. They caught sight of men trying to get to the trees to come up on the rocks through the bushes. Lockhart and Lincoln got down behind cover. Lincoln fired his pistol, but Lockhart let loose with several blasts of scatter shot from his shotgun. Lockhart figured he did not kill any of the men, but he wounded a few, and the sound of thunder made the men withdraw and rethink their idea.
Mingus and Boston got into the middle of the fighting just when a group of men, maybe thirty, made a sudden charge on the position. They all had short spears and wooden shields to hide behind. The men in the caravan had spears and crude swords to fight them off. Mingus tossed a couple of fire balls into the pack of men. They exploded on contact. Boston had her Berreta and fired at will.
Meanwhile, Decker looked stuck where he was. “You could help,” he told Elder Stow, but the Elder just sat there on his horse and watched. Suddenly, the men who had appeared to pull back, charged his position. He flipped his rifle from semi-automatic to automatic and sprayed the enemy with five shot bursts. Many went down, some might say too many before they wised up and pulled back.
“Thanks,” Decker said to the wind because he was not sure Elder Stow was even listening.
It was then that Pluckman and his dwarves caught up. “We can take it from here,” Pluckman said, huffing and puffing from having to run.
Decker looked once more at the immobile Elder Stow before he spoke. “I don’t think the Kairos would be happy having you involved.”
“Too late,” Pluckman said. “Already involved.” Decker was going to say something more, but Pluckman and his dwarves all had their bows out and their long knives ready. They moved into the weeds and scrub grass of the meadow and virtually disappeared as they blended perfectly into the scenery. Decker could only shrug.
Boston and Mingus kept a bunch of the attackers back with her bullets and his fireballs, but some got up on the rocks and caused havoc. Boston spied a man in black leather chain mail, holding a sword no local smithy made. He had two men in his face, trying to gat at him with their spears. Boston screamed.
“No!” and her Beretta got replaced by her wand. The attackers got fire in their faces, and when those two went down, she turned on the crowd, using her wand like a flame thrower. That was too much. The men ran from the rocks and from the trees at about the same time. They ran from Decker, and had dwarves to make sure they kept running.
Boston turned to the man in the fancy armor and sword. “Ulrik,” she cried and leapt into his arms for a hug. “I was so scared for you.”
“What makes you think I’m Ulrik?” he asked. Her eyes got big, but he smiled. “I am, but you didn’t give me a chance to say, “Boston!”
“I recognized the armor,” Boston said. “And the sword.”
“Is she behaving?” Ulrik asked Mingus.
“For the most part, yes.” Mingus said, but he looked toward Alexis and frowned.
Alexis had moved on to other injured men. Lincoln stayed right with her, and would not let her go down on the plain to see to the Gutians. Ulrik agreed.
“The Gutians need to tend their own. We need to get moving.”
“We do,” Lockhart said, as he backed away from kissing Katie. She was grinning, and so was he, but the others were polite enough not to say anything.
Ulrik nodded. “Elder Stow,” he called out. “We need to borrow your graviton device.”
“Why?” Elder Stow sounded surly.
Ulrik did not respond to the tone of voice. He said straight out, “We have a wounded man to move.” Elder Stow reluctantly got out his equipment.
Katie stepped up to Ulrik and whispered. “Elder Stow has been acting unhappy for a while now. He won’t talk about it.” Ulrik nodded that he heard, but he had a caravan to get moving.
Lincoln and Lockhart helped by making a stretcher they could pull behind a horse. The end could be held up by Elder Stow’s device so it would not drag on the ground. Lincoln volunteered his horse, Cortez, to do the pulling and soon enough the overburdened donkeys were rounded up. Decker looked to be sleeping, but the others knew he was meditating, using his gift of the eagle’s eye to try to locate the enemy.
“Ouch,” Decker shouted and put a hand to his eyes. His eyes watered for a bit. “Your enemies are a few miles north of here. Look like a couple of thousand, but I did not have time to count them because something rose up from the camp and poked me in the eye.”
“General Zod has a witch in the camp. I should have warned you,” Ulrik said as he got everyone up and moving. They walked to the northwest and soon found a wide river off to their left hand.
Ulrik smiled that someone finally caught the reference. Of course, living four thousand years before Superman was created made it kind of hard to expect anyone to know what he was talking about. “His name is Zodh, but I have been calling him General Zod for some time, just because.”
“I take it he is the evil military leader,” Lincoln said.
“Yes, and his Gutians want the city we are building, and I won’t let him have it.”
“Gutians?” Lockhart asked.
“A mixed race people from around Lake Van, up by the Caspian Sea,” Katie said.
“Actually closer to the Black Sea, and from the mountains below Georgia, but well above Assyria. They are more related to the Hatti than the Scythians, Cimmerians, or Medes around the Caspian. They have been pushed down to Lake Van by the early Hurrians and the Hittites that came through from the steppes further north. They are not one people, as Katie says. They are many different tribal groups that history has lumped together under the name Gutians, but they are fierce in their own way.
“Mitani people?” Katie asked.
Ulrik nodded. “Mixed in there eventually, I guess.”
“So, what is in the bags?” Lincoln asked. He was thinking of the bags carried by the caravan in Lin’s day, but they were like satchels that hung over the back of the donkeys. These burdens looked like someone took a sheet, filled it with something almost to the breaking point and tied it to the back of the donkeys, which was almost more than the beasts could bear.
“Grain, our daily bread,” Ulrik answered. “Our fields were burned out by General Zod, and we haven’t done a winter planting. No point as long as there is a Gutian army hovering over our shoulders.”
“Winter planting?” Boston questioned. “You mean it isn’t August? I’m sweating.”
“Late September, early October,” Ulrik answered. “We are in a hot, dry time and have been for a couple of centuries. Drought conditions have helped move people into the great river valleys, and the hot and dry is helping to make this part of the world more like you are used to imagining it, with sandy, scrubby soil and plants in many places, well spaced across the fields. Call it early global warming,” Ulrik laughed to himself.
“What is that?” Alexis finally verbalized what everyone saw. They had been coming up on some great edifice. Now that they were closer, they could distinguish the beginning of walls from the buildings behind. It looked like an enormous settlement.
“My city,” Ulrik said. “And I am glad to see it still standing after my absence.”
“What city?” Katie asked.
Mingus stole the thunder and said the name. “Babylon.”