The Princess got down on one knee and fired three arrows. She hit one eye, one throat and an open, roaring mouth. Telamon threw his javelin, but missed. Peleus and Laertes held on to theirs while Nestor and Telamon drew their swords. Heracles also threw his javelin and struck one giant in the leg, not that it slowed the giant much. Then Heracles picked up the giant spear that had been thrown at the four dice players. He was the only one who could lift it, effectively, and he got it turned toward the giants as the two sides met.
The men had their shields, with which they were able to ward off spears and big rocks. The giants had no such protection. They wore only leather-like loin cloths; and from the grunts and minimal noises they made, like a few words of some language, and the crude stone-tipped spears they carried, the Princess imagined they hardly even qualified for the term cave men.
“Double up,” the Princess called, not sure if the others would understand what she meant. She called to the shield of the Kairos, which appeared in her hand, and she pulled her sword, one she could stab with as well as slash. With that, she stood beside Heracles so he could get both hands on his giant spear. He poked with the spear, and gutted one giant while he cut two others. The Princess used her shield to protect them both, and slashed with her sword at any giant hand that got too close. She only glanced once at the others, but she figured they must have understood something. Telamon teamed up with his brother, and Nestor protected Laertes, whose shield had gotten cracked by a stone missile.
The men and giants looked to be in a standoff. The giants got down to face the men more eye to eye, and they scurried around on their eight hands and feet, looking for an opening. The men used their weapons like disciplined soldiers. The giants could not get at the men, but the men could not discourage the giants or force a withdrawal. And the men were slowly backing up toward the water, which would put them in a precarious position once the water got up to their knees.
Out at the ship, the men arrived and Iolaus helped Argus up the netting while Asclepius tied off the skiff. Even as Asclepius clambered up to the deck, Iolaus shrieked and pointed at the shore. Two of the giants broke from attacking the men and started to wade out into the water.
“Bows,” Asclepius shouted, knowing the young man needed direction to keep him from utter panic.
“Althea,” Argus called out, thinking she should be right beside him.
“The one on the right,” Asclepius said, as the other giant appeared to dip under the water. He added a soft whisper. “Father, I could use your help with this,” and he smiled, as he pictured the broad side of a barn which Althea said he could not hit.
“Althea.” Argus squinted at the shore, but his eyes could only make out the motion of the battle and his ears could only hear the yells and screams of the men and giants.
Asclepius and Iolaus each sank another arrow into the oncoming giant, and he belatedly remembered his six arms and might have fended them off. The giant tried to pull the arrows out, but they ripped his flesh open and he began to bleed, profusely. The giant made a sound somewhere between surprise and incomprehension, and it collapsed to float in the sea like a dead man.
Asclepius and Iolaus turned to see Argus bring an oar down on a giant head with enough force to snap the oar in two and leave jagged edges on the end. The giant that slipped under the water had sprung back out at the edge of the ship. He grabbed the netting and pulled his head up above the railing. When Argus smashed the oar over the monster’s head, the giant yelled and began to push and pull on the netting. The whole ship began to rock.
Argus stood there in uncertainty, trying to maintain his balance, holding on to the broken oar with the sharp end pointed at the giant. Iolaus came from behind and shoved on the end of the oar. The oar moved forward, helped by the motion of the ship, and the jagged end went through the giant’s eye, and that whole side of the giant face. The giant roared, but let go of the netting, and fell back into the water, arms flailing at the wood that would surely kill him.
Asclepius saw both giants floating on the surface of the bay, dead, and he raised his eyes to the battle on the shore. Heracles looked like he might have killed two more of the creatures, and Laertes looked like he might have gotten one, but lost his javelin in the process. Peleus was the only one who still had the long point to keep the giants at bay. The others had their shields and swords, with which they could only slash at hands and fingers while they had backed up, ankle deep in the water.
A half-dozen giants began to push the men harder, sensing if they got the men in the deep, they had the advantage. At that point, three things happened.
First, a dozen more giants appeared, pouring out of the woods at great speed. The men in the water gasped, but it turned out the giants were being chased.
Second, all the giants started screaming and running as eight people on enormous horses came out from the woods, with signs of great magic. The people on horseback had weapons that cracked as loud as frost broken tree branches. One big man had a weapon that blasted with the sound of thunder. The men felt the wind as one of the women raised her arms. The men covered their eyes from the blast, even while a red-headed woman shot flames from her hand like a dragon turned loose. Then, before the few living giants could get back under the cover of the trees, the short, old man pointed a little stick at the fleeing giants, and a stroke of light came from the stick to put a hole as big as a melon in three of them. It would be generous to suggest three or four of the giants made it back to the woods alive.
Third, Atalanta appeared, followed by Jason, Meleager and the rest of the crew. The Princess had already vanished by then and Althea returned, though she kept the armor, and the long knife across the small of her back, she let everything else return to Avalon, the place from whence it came. The armor and boots naturally adjusted instantly to her smaller and rather shapeless twelve-year-old size, but it made her look like a genuine little warrior. She smiled up at Heracles. He looked down at her and spoke.
“Friends of yours?”
Boston got down and raced to Althea open arms, and with a speed that made even Atalanta raise her eyebrows.
“Nice rifles,” Heracles said to Katie and Lockhart. They gave him strange looks until Althea explained.
“Heracles hangs out with the gods some, and Athena has a big mouth.”
Then Jason, Meleager and Atalanta came up, and Jason commented first, to Althea.
“I see you have your fairy armor on.” Althea merely nodded and smiled.
“We heard the great cracking noise coming from the beach,” Meleager explained. “We started back in case it was trouble, and as soon as we heard sounds of fighting, we ran.”
“No problem,” Althea shrugged it off. “Heracles already killed about half of them.”
The four men still standing in the water, laughed. It was not the first time they had seen the Princess in action, or seen one of the other lives of the Kairos, like Doctor Mishka. Curiously, they never said anything, or else they talked in such tiny whispers, no one heard. Althea’s father Argus, and most of the crew had no idea. At least they never mentioned it.
Althea got right to the introductions. “Lockhart and Katie, Lincoln and Alexis, Elder Stow and Sukki, both very special people, Major Decker, a true military man, and Boston, the elf of the party.”
“And my bestest friend,” Althea said, and that made Boston smile.
“You are so young this time.”
“I start out young every time,” Althea said, and went on to introduce some of her companions. “Heracles, Nestor, Laertes, Peleus, Telamon, Jason, Meleager, Atalanta…” She paused there to add a note. “Katie is an elect, too.”
“I know,” Atalanta said.
“I can tell,” Katie said, and the two women gave each other a slight nod.
“Heracles is my other best friend, oh, and Asclepius who is aboard ship with my father, Argus, and that cretin, Iolaus.” Althea stepped up, with a stern look on her face and wagged her finger at the travelers. “And Katie, Lincoln, and the rest of you, keep your mouths closed and your thoughts to yourself. We are going to move down the beach to get away from the dead bodies, and then we can have a celebratory feast and thank the gods for their good fortune and favor with bloody sacrifices and all that sort of thing. Then you can stay the night, but you must move on first thing in the morning. There is just too much chance for one of you to say the wrong thing.”
The four men that stepped back on dry land, laughed. Meleager mirrored Atalanta with his hands on his hips. Jason had his arms crossed.
“So, that is what we are doing?” Meleager asked, in a voice that wondered who put Althea in charge.
Althea simply nodded affirmatively, twice, and Heracles shouted. “You heard the Princess,” he made a joke. “We are going to celebrate our victory.” The men cheered and started upwind where the wind would blow the smell of the carcasses away from the camp, not that any of the men were strangers to the battlefield.