“Katie,” Alexis called. Katie looked back, but did not move. Lincoln spoke softly.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep my eyes open and let you know as soon as I spot them.”
Katie turned from the front window and went back through the curtain, reluctantly. Cassandra followed her to watch.
“Sleep may help,” Cassandra said, with a child’s optimistic voice and a look up at Katie.
Hysphagia stood to dump the water in her pan and wring out the cloth she used to wipe Artie’s forehead and hands. “I know nothing about sickness,” she admitted.
“You have done well, and learned fast,” Alexis encouraged her. “There isn’t any more anyone can do now. We have to just wait and hope.”
Hysphagia smiled and spoke, like she hated to sound contrary. “The gods can do more than we can imagine. I will pray that Artie may be healed, and see if my Artemis will protect us all from this plague. I do not know what Artemis will do, but I know she can do it, so I will pray and ask her. That at least I can do.”
Hysphagia stepped out into the sanctuary room where she sat on a bench facing the front table, lowered her eyes, and spoke from her heart.
Katie turned back to Alexis. “Why did you call?”
Alexis nodded, like she just remembered. “Hysphagia said they just finished the last of their food yesterday. They haven’t eaten all day, and we only have bread crackers, and lucky at that since I keep some in my medical bag. They are desperately trying to keep the sheep for shearing so they have wool for clothes and blankets. They had an old mule to pull their wagon, but they had to kill it a week ago.”
“I still have my bow and arrows,” Cassandra spoke up. “I would hate to disturb Hysphagia, but I am sure she would not mind if you used hers. That should get us some good hunting.”
“We would like to get some good food,” Katie corrected the girl and put a motherly hand to the girl’s head again. “We do the hunting. Alexis?”
“I’ll stay here,” Alexis said. “I wouldn’t even mention it, normally. We could all survive on bread crackers for a day, or even two. But when Artie wakes up, I would like to get something substantial in her.”
Katie understood and turned to Cassandra, and asked, “So where are these bows?”
Cassandra shook her head. “I’m not telling until you promise to take me with you. You have to promise.”
Katie did imagine telling Cassandra to stay at the shrine, but if she bundled against the rain, she did not imagine there would be any harm in her coming. Katie honestly thought their chances of finding anything were slim, and getting anything with their bows and arrows even slimmer. “I’ll also look for plants to gather, such as you’ve shown me.”
Alexis said, “I may ask Lincoln to come here and watch while I take a look around outside, myself.”
That settled things. Cassandra got the two bows and two quivers, each with a few arrows, and Katie made sure the scarf got tied extra snug around Cassandra’s head so it would not blow away in the wind and rain.
“I know a place where we can keep the horses safe while we search for the thieves,” Meriope said, and no one had a better idea, so they followed her to a barn and stables beside a large fenced in area within the city. This was the first time the travelers had seen stables, a place designed and built for horses. Boston and Lockhart imagined they were trained to pull plows and wagons, but Decker thought chariots may have made their way to Greece by then, and indeed, they found two primitive looking chariots left out in the rain.
“Does this place have somewhere we can eat and rest?” Lockhart asked the practical question.
“Yes, if that is wise,” Meriope said. She watched a young boy run to the house as soon as he saw them in the yard. “The inn is not big, but there are rooms. I imagine the innkeeper is coming even now.”
“What is this place?” Elder Stow spoke before Boston could ask the same thing.
“A holding place,’ Meriope called it. “When men drive herds into the city, they bring them here until they arrange the sale, if it has not been agreed in advance. Usually, the innkeeper gets a portion of the fruit, grain and meat from the transaction as the price for keeping the animals fed and housed.”
“Meriope,” an elderly man hollered, smiled, and held out his arms like he was looking for a hug as he waddled toward them. The young boy and a big young man came beside him.
“Philoletes,” Meriope responded, but she did not smile and she certainly was not going to hug the man. He got the message and turned toward the horses.
“Such big and strong beasts. They are a wonder. And you ride upon them? Malichron mentioned that. He said the sadlees were made to go around the horses somehow, if we can figure out how…”
Decker did not need to hear any more, and Lockhart and Boston were right behind him. They burst into the stables, and Black Beauty and Misty Gray both made their presence known. Lockhart gave beauty a good look. Boston kept trying to hold Misty’s nose while the horse kept nodding to acknowledge her. Decker went to Cortez and commented.
“Lincoln’s horse is always cranky in the rain.”
“What are you doing?” the fat man objected.
“The saddles and satchels are here,” Elder Stow counted them. “Most of the equipment, I think, but the guns are missing.”
“These are my things,” the man yelled. “And my horses. I made a deal.” The young man tried to get between Boston and Misty Gray, but he backed off when Misty tried to bite him.
Lockhart turned on the fat man. “Where I come from, we call this dealing in stolen goods, and it carries the same penalties as the thieves who stole the goods in the first place.”
“Now Meriope,” Philoletes tried to calm the woman. “All that was settled a long time ago.”
“You still owe me,” Meriope said, but the fat man turned to the more immediate concern.
“You claim these horses, but can you prove this?”
Lockhart whistled and his horse came trotting up. He took the fat man and showed him the brand. “Double bars,” he called it. “And you will find the same brand on the three horses in your stable.”
“What is a brand?” the boy asked.
“It is a symbol, burned into the animal by a hot iron, er, hot metal rod,” Boston said.
“That must hurt.”
“But only for a little bit,” Boston agreed.
“Neoman, fetch the men,” the young man spoke to a man that came into the yard
“Do I need to show you on the horses?” Lockhart pressed. Philoletes thought about it.
“No need,” he said. “My men cannot get near those horses, and from the way they respond to you, I believe you.” He looked like he only lost round one. “But since they are yours, and these others I assume, you will have to pay for keeping them and feeding them for however long you are here.”
“We won’t be here long,” Lockhart said.
“Overnight,” Boston said.
“It should not cost them anything,” Meriope said. “You still owe me.”
A half-dozen men showed up at the door, but waited and did not interfere.
“I suppose we could go to the king and tell him you are dealing with thieves,” Lockhart said.
“Does this town have a king?” Boston asked Meriope and she nodded as Philoletes erupted.
“But I didn’t know they were stolen.”
“No excuse,” Lockhart said. “You should have checked.”
“Maybe the king will take this place away from him and give it to another,” Boston added.
“Better yet,” Decker said. “We could let people know all over this land that Philoletes is a thief and not to come here.”
“Then you would starve and get no payments,” Boston grinned. Meriope wanted to grin as well.
“Only tonight,” Philoletes said.
“And food and a room for the women, and we will say no more about it.” Lockhart insisted.
“And we will show your men how to properly care for horses,” Boston added. “So you will get something out of the deal.” She pointed at the men gathered in the doorway.
“Most of your things are present, including these,” he found the horse brushes and the horse blankets were obvious. “Most of my things are still missing, with your guns. They have my scanner with the screen device, and my sonic device. I would guess someone wants a closer look.”
“Your sonic screwdriver?” Boston asked, and Elder Stow nodded. “Man! Come on, everyone.” Boston, Lockhart and Decker brought in the other horses and got them into stalls, and then with Elder Stow’s help, they gave four horses some tender care, and then moved on to the other four.