The chariots could not move as fast as the horses alone, even on open and relatively flat ground, but there seemed no doubt who they were after. Lincoln figured they could track the horses, even in the woods, so their only hope was to keep their distance, or find back-up. Alexis looked back when they came to the edge of the woods on the other side of the open field. The chariots had fallen behind, and the men were well off, but jogging dutifully along.
“They will have to slow way down when they reach the forest,” Evan said, with a look back.
“So will we,” Alexis said, as they started in among the trees.
“What happened?” Lincoln asked.
“They must have had the chariots already hitched up and the soldiers ready to move out for some reason.”
Lincoln grunted, as an arrow whizzed past him and stuck in a tree. “Damn,” he said. As Alexis pushed out front, Lincoln pulled his handgun and fired twice in the direction of the archer.
“Help,” Evan yelled. “We are not far now,” he told Lincoln. “Help!” He pointed for Lincoln. “It is more over to the right, I believe. Help!”
Alexis and Lincoln angled in the way he pointed, and probably hurried the horses more than they should. Evan tried one more “Help”, before Lincoln hushed him.
“Trees are a great way to get hidden. quickly. But it loses the point if you keep giving away our position.”
“Yes, of course,” Evan said, but he did not look too embarrassed.
They very quickly came to a clearing filled with horses. On closer examination, they realized half the horses were centaurs. On a grassy ledge beside a cave and some rocks, a wolf with black hair filled with red streaks growled, not at them, but at something else. When they got up to the others, they turned and saw a path through the woods that Evan either did not know about or forgot about. The three chariots were coming up the path in single file.
“There are a couple of dozen soldiers coming along behind the chariots,” Lincoln reported. Poor Evan stared at the centaurs, like they were something he never imagined before.
The chariot in front stopped and a man shouted. “I see you have friends. Cecil.” He pointed. “I suppose these people have also come from the future.”
“Yes,” Lincoln shouted back. “And Cecil is going with us.” Lincoln took courage being back among the travelers.
The man scoffed. “You are welcome to him. He has proved useless, and in some cases, dangerous. Good luck.”
“Lord Tarquin. I told you that you needed horse riders, not just chariots,” Evan responded, as he got down from behind Lincoln. He went up toward the ledge to be protected by the wolf.
Tarquin paid no attention, as he already moved on to the centaurs. “Colon,” he said. “Don’t tell me she has forgiven you.”
“I forgave you,” the wolf seemed to say.
“We are working it out,” Colon answered at the same time, as the wolf changed into Valencia. She took a moment to brush back her long red hair before she rose up about ten feet where she could hover and look down on everyone.
“Tarquin,” she said, a sharpness in her voice. “You have no business here.”
Tarquin got mad. “People come onto my land. It is my business to know who they are and what they want.” The foot soldiers came up to stand alongside the chariots. Some had spears, but some had bows and arrows ready. “The seven hills are filling up. There are new homes, hamlets, even growing villages crowding one another. Soon, a man will not be able to walk and know where one village ends and the next begins.”
“There is time before that happens, but the King in Alba Longa got old, and he stopped paying attention. Latium is falling apart, the tribes are fighting one another, and the brothers quarreled. The usurper has the rightful king locked away, but he does not care about Latium. People are coming to the seven hills by the hundreds to escape the fighting and find peace. Maybe you need to talk to all the people, to make the seven hills like one big city, for mutual protection, if nothing else.”
Tarquin shook his head. “I will not share the crown with what you call representatives from the other hills and villages. Why do you not understand? That would only lead to chaos.”
“Tarquin. Some things are beyond your understanding, but some things you already know. Have you made a decision about your daughter and my boys?”
“I heard they got adopted by the chief shepherd and his wife.”
“I suckled and weaned them. I still claim them.”
“Wolf’s milk,” the driver of Tarquin’s chariot mumbled plenty loud.
“My daughter is only six,” Tarquin protested.
“And the boys are twelve. What’s your point?”
“Maybe I will have a son to follow after me.” Tarquin grinned, but it looked like the grin of a man who had little hope.
“Make up your mind soon, before Acca Longia begins looking for potential mates.”
“Faustulus can be bought.”
Valencia appeared to roll her eyes, but they got interrupted by a voice on the wristwatches worn by the travelers. They heard Elder Stow’s voice.
“Things are wrapped up here. The humanoids are locked away, and the Gott-Druk Father…er, Captain has agreed they do not belong here. They only came here as a last resort. I only have one last thing to do, and then we will be ready to ride.”
“Roger,” Lockhart responded and looked up at Valencia. Valencia appeared to be talking to someone that no one else could see.
“Yes, lover. Everyone, please.”
Everyone in the conversation, travelers, chariots, soldiers, and centaurs all vanished and reappeared on the island in front of the Gott-Druk freighter. Most of the men and centaurs shouted in fear and surprise. The travelers hardly blink, having traveled that way on plenty of occasions.
Valencia arrived, still in the air, but she came down to earth and hustled to the boys, Romulus and Remus, who arrived with a dozen sheep. A big man stood there as well, his back to everyone, shaking his finger at the boys.
“Tell your father these are the sheep I claim for the blessing of his flock. It is spring, and he will more than make up for these with new lambs.”
“You brought these for me?” Valencia asked. “The Gott-Druk don’t eat much meat.”
“No,” the man said. “But those others do. You said it is still a long way to the new Gott-Druk world.”
Valencia nodded and stood on her toes to kiss the man’s cheek. He turned, wrapped her up in his arms, and planted his kiss right on her lips. Then he vanished. Valencia turned to the nearest Gott-Druk, still smiling, a silly smile, but serious in her tone of voice.
“Fresh water and sweet grass to keep them alive until you feed them to the humanoid prisoners.” She turned on the boys. “Drive the sheep to the cargo hold where this man tells you, then come right back, and don’t you dare touch anything, do you understand?”
The boys nodded, and one of them said, “Yes, Mama.”
Valencia returned the nod and turned to Tarquin and Colon, who somehow managed to end up next to each other. Tarquin spoke. “That was?”
“Saturn,” Valencia said, plainly. She did not give it another thought, but several of Tarquin’s soldiers and a couple of centaurs backed up a bit.
Finally, Valencia turned to the travelers, and specifically the two on foot, Elder Stow and Sukki. “So?” she asked without spelling anything out.
“She is being stubborn,” Elder Stow said. “Here, she has a chance of joining a crew of nine on a ship that needs twenty. She has a free ride back to the new world where she can live a happy and safe life, away from all the dangers of the road. She refuses.”
“Father!” Sukki got unexpectedly verbal. “You agreed to be my father and I agreed to be your daughter.”
“Exactly,” Elder Stow raised his voice a bit. “A daughter should obey her father. You are grown, and not a child, but now it is a father’s job to make sure his daughter will be cared for and safe.”
“But I have a whole family.” By which she meant tribe, in the Neanderthal sense. “I have Katie and Lockhart, who are the best Mother and Father. And Lincoln and Alexis take good care of us all. And Major Decker makes me laugh, sometimes. Laughing feels good. Our people don’t laugh enough. And Boston is my best friend, ever. I don’t want to leave.”
“But it is dangerous,” Elder Stow tried once more. “There is no telling what we will run into on the road. I would never forgive myself if you got hurt.”
“Or if you got hurt,” Sukki responded.
They stared at each other. They hugged. They turned to their waiting horses and got right up. Sukki went to ride beside Boston, and just to make the point, she put her glamour back on so she looked human, albeit, a big, strong looking girl.
Elder Stow turned to Lockhart with a word. “Ready to ride.”
They had to cross the river the hard way. Tarquin had to abandon his chariots. He said he would have to fetch them when he sent men with rafts. Evan crossed, holding on to Lincoln, and that prompted Lincoln to ask.
“Do you know how to ride?”
“Of course,” Evan said. “I ride horses like this all the time, when I am not driving the wagon. My family cannot exactly afford one of those automobiles. They are a rich man’s toys.”
Lincoln and Alexis got busy figuring out the horse business, but Katie overheard and asked. “When, exactly, did you leave the future and find yourself stuck in the past?”
“October twenty-first, 1905. Why? Isn’t that where you are from?”
“Figure that out later,” Valencia said. “You are going to want to watch this.” She stood between the boys who were already almost as tall as herself. She put one hand on each of the boy’s shoulders, soaking wet as the boys were, and she nodded across the river. The big Gott-Druk freighter rose slowly in the sky, and when it got high enough, it rapidly increased speed until it disappeared in the clouds.
“Tarquin,” Valencia said. “As I said, some things are beyond your understanding. But your daughter needs a husband.”
Tarquin turned quickly from awe at the Gott-Druk ship to sneering at Valencia. “We shall see about that.” He turned, and his people turned with him and marched back toward the village.
Colon bowed to Valencia and whispered, “Forgive me,” like he just figured something out, and it frightened him. He rode off with his company and made a point of shoving one centaur. No telling what that was about.
“Evan will ride Misty Gray,” Alexis announced. “He is a good horse and will give no trouble.”
“Alexis will double with me on Cortez,” Lincoln said, and helped her up.
Lockhart looked around. “We are all here. Soaking wet, but all here.” He noticed Valencia and the boys walked off, but he guessed the boys were already bugging her on wanting their own horses to ride.
“Boston and Sukki, keep up. No straggling,” Katie said.
“Yes, Mother,” Sukki responded. Boston had to go one better.
Lincoln, who rode beside Evan asked, “So, you came from the future back here to the past. Any idea what we will find in the next time zone?”
“Oh,” Evan said. “That will be very dangerous.”
The travelers enter a war zone…Episode 6.4, Stories, will post in only 4 parts, so there will be a post next THURSDAY and it will post in a single week… Don’t miss it.
So, until MONDAY, Happy Reading