The interior was deemed too difficult and dangerous, so the travelers moved along the coastline, just in from the mangrove swamps. The trees and bushes that made up the mangroves fed off the tides and sea. Plenty of roots stuck out in the air, a tangled snake-like mess that only got submerged at high tide. Plenty of fish, crabs and other crustaceans, loved the environment, but for horses, it would mean broken legs for sure.
Inland, the rainforest posed a different problem. The undergrowth was so thick; the horses could hardly move. Hacking and chopping their way through would have ruined their sabers. Pushing through would have posed a different danger. They might push through to the edge of a cliff and tumble off without ever seeing it.
Fortunately, between the mangrove and the rain forest, a grassy area between several yards and a hundred yards wide gave relatively easy passage. Katie suggested it was a transition place that might flood when the high tides coincided with bad storms. The air smelled salty and underfoot it was squishy in most places.
“Too much salt for the rainforest, but not enough wet for the mangroves,” she said. “But I am just guessing.”
“Well, whatever,” Lockhart responded. “The main thing is we have something like a road in most places. I was afraid if we had to cut our way through the woods it would take us a month to get to Feilo’s village.”
“Kolonia,” Lincoln reported over supper. “That’s the city in our day, I think where the village we avoided was.” They had avoided several small villages built where the shore and sand poked through the mangrove to reach the sea, but no one asked which one he was talking about. “We moved down and around a great inlet of the sea where several rivers come down from the mountains and join together. See; the database has a twenty-first century map that shows the contours of land and a road in modern times that goes around the edge of the island. There is also an ancient map that gives topography, but it doesn’t detail much. I think we can follow the line where they will build the road one day. We can keep an eye on the ancient map to see where we need to move further inland. The mangrove swamps seem much more extensive in the ancient times.” He showed the maps and toggled between the two so they could all see.
“Looks like tomorrow we will have to really hug the coast all day to go around the high country. The contours suggest steep rises, maybe cliffs, but certainly too difficult to climb with horses,” Decker knew how those maps worked.
“Yes,” Alexis agreed.
“Looks like at least three villages in that area that we probably won’t be able to avoid,” Katie added.
“I wonder if they are friendly,” Boston said. Lincoln shrugged.
“No, Gilligan,” Lockhart responded with a grin. “They are probably head hunters.”
Boston returned the grin, having watched plenty of reruns when she was young, but Katie asked, “Gilligan who?”
Alexis and Lincoln gave her a curious look. Lockhart explained, as he slipped his arm around Katie’s shoulder. “We are still working on generational issues.”
“I imagine it will be a good road when it gets built four thousand years from now,” Elder Stow said. That was as positive as they could be in the face of a very frustrating day.
They followed the modern road to cut off a peninsula that looked like nothing but mangrove with a steep, rocky hill jutting out of the middle. It was not as easy as it looked on the screen, but eventually they came down on a river delta and the first village they could not avoid.
“Everyone smile,” Lockhart said. They had discussed it. They did not plan to stop if they did not have to. The people in the village stared, as Lincoln named it.
“Alamoar on the modern map,” he said. “Of course, I might not be pronouncing it correctly.”
The entire village turned out, mostly naked men, women and children. They stared, some shouted, but they made no move to get in front of those people—beast—creatures, or whatever they were. Boston waved as she and Mingus brought up the rear; and then they had a relatively clear path to where a second, smaller river came down from the heights.
“Cross the river,” Lockhart said, but there they stopped for lunch.
While Boston was lighting the fire, she raised her head. Katie looked over from where she was unpacking her horse. Decker grabbed his rifle when Mingus spoke. “Humans,” he said, and pointed back across the river toward the trees.
“I don’t sense hostility,” Katie said. “Just curiosity.”
“I don’t know,” Boston looked up. “I felt the hair go up on the back of my neck.”
“They appear to be headed upriver, into the heights,” Decker reported.
“It’s their island,” Alexis said as she found some ripe coconuts on the ground. “They must know where they are going.” Alexis looked up and found some bananas, or plantains, or whatever they should be called.
After lunch, they hugged the coast as the mountain almost pushed them into the swamps and sea. After they turned south, the narrow way eased, and by two-thirty they came to the second village. Lincoln called it Nanpei, or Lukopoas, or Keimwin Kiti; “if that is how you pronounce it.”
“Kiti,” Boston liked that name.
Cultivated fields sat back from the village where it appeared the villagers grew yams, certain root crops and fruit trees, citrus, plantains and what looked like avocados. The travelers tried to avoid stepping on the crops, but they were not interested in getting too close to the people, either. These men fetched their spears, and put on their grimmest looks as the travelers passed by.
“Skipper,” Boston yelled from the back of the line. She spurred her horse to catch up, and Mingus went with her, which was a good thing because someone threw a spear. It landed in the dirt behind them. Mingus looked back and let loose a fireball. It engulfed the spear in flames and the people scattered for their homes.
“Skipper,” Boston got everyone’s attention. “They are head hunters. I saw skulls hanging from some of the houses.”
“Probably enemies, like war prizes,” Katie said. “I am sure humans are not a regular part of their diet.” She wanted to assure everyone, but she thought she might have phrased it better.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Alexis mumbled, and was shocked when Mingus supported her.
“On an island where there are no pigs or deer, meat is hard to come by,” he said. “They can live on fish and maybe some foul or lizards, but meat would be a real treat.”
No one said anything more until Boston said, “Hey, you made a rhyme.”
The flat land grew wider after Kiti, and the ground appeared firm enough to ride a bit. The mangrove widened and pushed them inland, but they figured between the protection of the mangrove and the small island they saw off the coast of Kiti, the worst of the storms and seas got blunted. Even so, they let the horses trot, but stayed reluctant to let them run. There was no telling when the ground might return to its soggy form.
In a little over an hour, they came to the third village in that corner of the island; the biggest they had seen thus far. Lincoln named it Maramosok. The village men turned out with their spears, and this time they blocked the way. Lockhart and Katie stopped, so everyone stopped and gathered around them.