It seemed a pleasant afternoon among the birds and trees. The late afternoon sun warmed them nicely. They hardly noticed it back when thy had to look through all the cooking smoke and haze in New Ark. Jill felt content to hold Ethan’s hand and Ethan thought life could not get any better. He was happy; until they stepped around a bend in the road and came face to face with a native dressed out in war paint. The warrior sported a rifle with a full cartridge belt strapped hip to shoulder and the company of travelers were obliged to stop and stare. The warrior stared back with hardly a blink. When the warrior finally spoke, Ethan did not quite catch what the man said, but Jill immediately knew the tongue. She responded in kind, and there was a rapid exchange of words before the warrior stepped off the road and vanished again into the woods.
“I am one quarter Cherokee,” Jill reminded everyone. “Now we must hurry.” She spoke, as she went into the lead and picked up the pace. “The Cherokee have come up from the south and driven out the Delaware from this immediate area. Quite a few farms have been burned. They promised the Byzantines that they would lay siege to Fort Elizabeth, but it must be done before the Algonquin arrive to retaliate.”
“Byzantines?” Ethan asked. Jill nodded.
“Elizabethtown is Holy Roman,” she said. “But the Cherokee are gathering around Mountainside and will be at the city gates by dawn. This one came out to scout.”
“They are gathering near Hill Town.” Ethan explained to Lars. “Close to your farm.”
“Trailside.” Lars nodded. “It is a small village with a general store, a Lutheran Church and not much else. I would not call it a mountain side.”
After a short way, they paused. There was a terrible racket coming up from behind them and Manomar pulled the wicked looking knife he had hidden in his robe. Lars noticed and unstrapped his six-shooter in case he needed to draw it rapidly. Ali Pasha wailed, but softly.
“Is it a monster?” he asked.
“No,” Jill and Ethan responded together. They both recognized the sound.
A moment later, a horseless carriage came chugging around the corner and ground to a halt about twenty feet away. Ethan was surprised that it held together with the pounding it got on that rough, two-rutted road, though he admitted that the road was better than Lars’ farm road. Most were.
“What are you doing here?” The man in the passenger seat stood. The top of the convertible was down, or missing. He shouted at them in an English with strong French overtones. “Where did you come from? I thought we had all of the farms accounted for three days ago!” His words were difficult, but not impossible to understand. These were apparently soldiers from Fort Elizabeth, a Sergeant, his driver and a rifleman in the back. They were out doing some scouting of their own, though Ethan could not imagine how they expected to see anything when their vehicle, limited as it was to whatever road they could find, announced their presence miles in advance of their position.
“Everyone hush.” Jill spoke quickly to Ali Pasha and Manomar in Arabic, and then to Lars in Swedish. “We must pretend to be native to this world,” she insisted. “I will tell them that our farm is in the far west and we barely escaped with our lives when we were burned out. I hope Iberia and Scandinavia are part of the Holy Roman lands; but in any case, it is better to say nothing than say the wrong thing.” She shook her finger sternly at them and did not spare Ethan from her determined look.
“My tongue is held,” Ali Pasha responded. Lars and Manomar simply nodded.
“I am learning to trust my wife,” Ethan said with a grin of surrender, which encouraged Jill to slip her arm around his waist. She softened her look, and then she spoke to the soldiers as the man in the passenger seat and the rifleman, who sported a rifle like the one carried by the Cherokee warrior, came up to face them. The driver stayed behind the wheel.
Jill told her sad tale of their farm, embellishing very little, leaving the men to make assumptions on their own, and only adding that they did not come in earlier because they thought they were far enough away to not be caught up in the fighting.
“I found your shirt,” the man from the auto said. “I expected to find you a bloody mess.”
“The shirt was shredded in the barn while we were escaping. It was a miracle that my husband’s back was not shredded as well,” Jill said.
“Backed into the bailer,” the soldier with the rifle suggested and laughed. Most likely a farmer himself, who got drafted for the emergency, if not the duration.
“Something like that,” Ethan agreed. He engaged his sheepish disguise.
“Praise God and Mother Mary for their tender mercies,” the rifleman concluded.
“Well, you better hop on,” the Sergeant interrupted with a frown, not fully satisfied with the explanation of their appearance. They did hop on; but then they had to hold on for dear life as the vehicle chugged, bounded and bounced its’ way along at the remarkable speed of about ten miles an hour. When they arrived at Elizabethtown, everyone was bruised, and this time Ethan did not hold his tongue. The Sergeant merely laughed and pointed across the square where Napoleonic looking cavalry were trooping across the road.
“You may be able to find some rooms at one of the inns in town, but I doubt it. Otherwise, the convent of Santa Theresa or the Dominicans may be able to find you lodging. The walls around this town are non-existent, and even the fort is only half stone, not much good against artillery. We clear the streets after dark, though, so you only have a couple of hours to find shelter.”
“Thank you kindly,” Jill said. “I feel much safer now.”
The man looked up from his passenger seat and frowned once more. He waved his arm forward, and the auto lurched off across the cobblestone streets.
Ali Pasha had another thought. “Can we be riding on one of those machines again? That was most wonderful.”
Everyone, including Manomar, looked at Ali Pasha like he had a loose screw.