Ethan heard the shouts, and the laughter. They surprised a young couple out in the woods, doing what young couples do. “Paul Bear and Mary Margaret.” Peter Alexander knew them and named them, and he gave them his best elder stare.
“Chief Peter.” The young man also knew his elder, and the young couple hurriedly pulled themselves together. “We did not hear you coming. We thought no one was around here.” The young woman hushed the young man so he held his tongue. Ali Pasha and Manomar kept their composure, but Jill, Ethan and Colonel deMartin had to turn away to keep their laughter to a minimum. Lars did not bother turning away. He could not help the guffaw that escaped his lips.
Peter Alexander kept a stern face. “You need to fetch your fathers and the village council. I will be along in a minute.” The young couple stood and stared at the Chief. “Hurry!” Alexander shooed them off, and they ran, holding hands, like two deer running from a hunter.
Ali Pasha sighed. “I see some things remain true, no matter the world.”
“Even across worlds.” Ethan said with a grin, his eyes on Jill. The men grinned with him, but Jill turned a little red. “Oof!” Jill pushed the briefcase into Ethan’s solar plexus.
“Here.” Then she grinned at him.
“But they are married, yes?” Ali Pasha turned to Alexander and pointed at the couple still visible in the distance.
“Not yet.” Peter Alexander responded in a gruff tone that suggested they might as well be.
“But then this is not good.” Ali Pasha looked up. “Don’t you think, Manomar?”
Manomar paused and glanced at Lars before he spoke. “I think since the Doctor was good enough to heal my, er, condition, I think the whole idea is very interesting.”
Lars guffawed again.
Ali Pasha puffed. “Then I will get you a wife, and maybe several wives, and then you will think differently.” Ali Pasha threatened the poor man.
“This way.” Alexander interrupted, and the Colonel stepped up beside him as they started to walk.
“Quite right.” DeMartin confided to the chief. “Some conversations are best left alone.”
When they reached the village, some of the elders had yet to arrive. Peter Alexander spent the time catching up on the actions of the other chiefs since his mysterious disappearance after the parlay with the Holy Romans. There were a couple of unfortunate incidents during the withdrawal, and that suggested they were still a long way from real and lasting peace. Colonel deMartin vowed he would reprimand the offending soldiers, but Alexander stayed the colonel’s anger.
“Our work must cut deeper than that,” he said, and the colonel agreed. He could not reprimand every overly zealous soldier in the Empire.
The actual council meeting was brief. As far as anyone knew, Lela’s ship was still in the garden of the governor’s house, but no one knew for sure. Jill accepted that it was still there. She knew no one in that world had the means to budge it an inch. She told the Cherokee Elders that they needed a distraction to get her crew into that garden without being stopped. That was not going to be easy, but Chief Peter had some ideas, and he, Colonel deMartin, and Lars stayed to discuss those ideas with the willing volunteers while the others got taken to rooms in the inn down the street.
As they walked, Ethan remarked that the village was not what he expected. There were neat little row houses all along the street, with thatched roofs and gardens lush enough to make an Englishman proud. There were several larger buildings in the town as well, including the Council Chamber and the Inn of the Green Crow where they were going to stay, and there was also a market square they traveled through, complete with an outdoor fountain topped with a statue of a warrior on horseback. It was the kind of market square where goods were sold in the open as well as in the shops.
“Somehow, I imagined tents, deerskin clothing and infants squalling from papooses—Papoosi?”
“That is so Hollywood,” Jill said with a small laugh. “But I think in this world, the Native Nations have learned from the Europeans rather than being overwhelmed by them.”
Jill also imagined that was sadly true. “But with immunization and early antibiotics, the Natives might not be devastated by foreign diseases in the same way they were in your world. If this Earth parallels your Earth in that respect, then the Americas are far more populated than you might think.”
“Vespuccians.” Ethan said.
“You know. Amerigo Vespucci. God bless Vespucciland.”
“Stop.” Jill giggled and reached for his arm.
Ethan slipped his arm over Jill’s shoulder. “Kind of makes me want to come back some day and see what happens.” Jill took his hand as she agreed. Meanwhile, she was not going to let his arm escape.
“Outrageous!” Ali Pasha complained when they finally reached the Inn. “Nine gold coins for three small rooms. Why, that is three coins per room for a single night. Outrageous!”
“There has been inflation since your age.” Ethan suggested with a grin.
“I should have introduced myself as Peter’s Cherokee Princess.” Jill apologized. “Maybe a little Cherokee blood would have gotten us a discount.”
“Never mind,” Ali Pasha said with a smile. “It is not that important.” He was honestly willing to shrug it off until Manomar spoke.
“It is only the money my Master borrowed,” he said this with a straight face.
Ali Pasha put his hand to his head and looked sick. “No reminding me.” He reverted to his old way of speaking. Jill and Ethan laughed; but then they all settled down to a hot meal that did not come out of a vending machine.
Alexander, deMartin and Lars came in shortly, and the first thing Alexander did was get Ali Pasha’s gold back. “I told the innkeeper to charge it to the army, and if the army did not pay his price, he could send a bill to my wife.” Alexander laughed loudly.
“Eh?” Ethan and Manomar looked up.
Alexander laughed again. “We own the Cherokee Trading Post in Champagua.” He pulled out a map of the Eastern United States that he had gotten to show deMartin. Ethan saw no states, of course, only tribal territories whose boundaries looked rather fluid. Alexander pointed to his city and Ethan, having recognized the outer banks, realized he was pointing to Charlotte, North Carolina. “Our central city, what you might call the capitol. We sell a little of everything at the Trading Post and cheaper than anyone else.”
“Wal-Mart,” Jill joked, as she took Ethan’s arm and leaned forward for a look at the map.
“But the innkeeper groaned when I said bill my wife. She is a well known miser.” Alexander laughed again.
“Mine, too, keeps a tight fist on her money,” Lars said, seriously.
“My former wife was only good for spending money, I think,” Colonel deMartin said.
They looked at Ali Pasha who threw his hands at them. “You don’t even want to know.”
Ethan sat back and placed his hands behind his head. “I have no money. It simplifies things.” They all looked, but Jill shook her head and paraphrased deMartin’s earlier comment.
“Some conversations are best left alone.”
Everyone laughed and ate while Alexander explained what they had in mind.