By the morning of the third day, Galatea got right up behind Petracles again, a very contented smile on her face. Apparently, everything went well in the night, though Petracles looked exhausted. The six soldiers Petracles brought with him to escort the group rode at the back and had the good sense to keep to their own camp in the night and keep their mouths shut.
Boston was not so sensible. She turned to Sukki, pointed at Galatea snuggling up to Petracles, and said, “See, that is how you do it.” She said it several times.
“What makes you think I want to do it?” Sukki responded, but turned her face away, and turned red.
They found a narrow wooden bridge across the Simeto River, and felt grateful to be able to cross without incident. It did not seem a very wide or deep river, but the travelers were glad not to have to go out of their way to find a ford.
Katie said, “Hopefully, things like roads and bridges will become more common from here on out.”
“That is Mount Etna?” Lockhart asked about the snow covered peak they headed toward. Katie nodded.
“That would be my guess.”
“I don’t see any smoke,” Lockhart pointed out.
“No,” Katie agreed. “Lincoln could probably read in the database about every eruption around this time, but all I know is, while the volcano erupts often in history, most of the time it is inactive. Like maybe a hundred years of quiet between eruptions. An eruption might last a month, several months, a year or two, but then the mountain gets quiet again for the next twenty years or maybe two hundred years. Who can say?”
“Like predicting earthquakes,” Lockhart suggested.
“Yes. Related,” Katie said. “I had a friend at the Pentagon who worked on that very thing… To predict earthquakes, not to trigger them.”
Lockhart nodded that he understood.
“Wait,” Katie said, and stopped, so the whole train of horses stopped. “We are being followed.
“Where?” Lockhart looked back.
“Since the river. A whole troop of men. They have cut us off from the bridge.” Katie looked at Lockhart. “I’m sorry. I got busy loving you and stopped paying attention.” Her head snapped toward the front, but then Boston and Sukki were galloping back from the point. A minute later, Decker and Elder Stow both raced in from the sides.
“There is a whole army out there,” Boston said it first, as Petracles with Galatea came along side.
“Yes,” Galatea said. “Men from Tauromeni and Catina. I was wondering when you were going to notice.”
“I smell the witch,” Lockhart said.
“I can put up my screens, but not for long. Then we will be out of power.”
“They may try a mass attack from all sides. Our weapons are good, but not against an army.”
“It would be like Custer’s last stand,” Boston suggested.
“We can’t draw the wagons in a circle. We only have the one,” Lockhart joked. “Why don’t we see what they want before we start shooting people.”
They moved forward, slowly in a group, and stopped a hundred yards from the phalanx of men. Lockhart and Katie then rode out to the fifty-yard line and stopped there, to wait. Petracles, and thus Galatea followed them, but the rest wisely stayed behind.
“Petracles wanted me to stay back,” Galatea said, with a true smile that made the others smile. “He wanted to protect me. Isn’t he the cutest thing.”
Petracles did not think he was cute, but he spoke, and tried to stay serious. “I represent Pyrrhus here. These Greeks have no business turning out soldiers against their king. The king has given you safe passage. In fact, he insisted.”
They did not have to wait long. Six men rode out from the other side. Galatea whispered, like it was a conspiracy. “They are under the spell of your witch. She is hiding. Shh. Don’t tell that I told you.”
“Hello friend,” Lockhart began, but Petracles interrupted.
“I am here as representative of Pyrrhus the king. These people have been given safe passage to their destination. How dare you bring an army out against your king.”
“These are not people,” one man spoke in a hypnotic monotone. “They are demons from beyond time. They must surrender all of their things. They must surrender themselves to be burned at the stake.”
“Friend,” Lockhart began again, but this time Katie interrupted.
“Galatea. Can you set these free from their hypnotic spell?”
“Oh,” Galatea shook her head. “I don’t know if I am allowed to do that.”
“Please,” Lockhart said.
“Just these six,” Katie explained. “I’m not asking you to set them all free, or anything big like that. Just a little thing. Just these few.”
Galatea’s smile returned, like she could not stay serious for very long. “Okay,” she said, and the six men covered their eyes, shook their heads, and looked confused before one of them spoke.
“What are we doing here?”
“Wait. I remember,” another said, and looked at Katie and Lockhart with an odd expression on his face.
“You don’t look like demons,” a third said.
“These good people are under the protection of the king,” Petracles spoke up again. “I am sure you don’t want to make King Pyrrhus mad at you.”
“Dear, no,” one man said.
“How did we get here?”
One figured it out. “It was the witch,”
The city elders awkwardly turned on their horses to face their own army. Only a moment later, they saw the witch come out from behind the men. “No,” she yelled. “That’s not fair. Attack. Attack.”
Decker had somehow managed to get the rest of the group to form a defensive circle around their one wagon. He made sure the Eporites had their bows ready, and made Boston and Alexis get out their bows, even if Alexis protested. Boston gave her Beretta to Sukki, and Decker gave his handgun to Evan. They did not have a spare for Wallace, but that turned out to be just as well. On sight of Nanette, Wallace rode his horse as fast as he could across the field, shouting.
“Nanette. I’m here for you. Nanette.”
No one could stop him, as the cavalry troop that cut them off from the bridge prepared to attack. At the same time, the phalanx of Greeks began to march forward.
“Hasty retreat,” Lockhart said. Katie had her rifle ready, but she agreed. Petracles rode in all seriousness, but Galatea got her grin back, like it was all too exciting. The six elders did not seem to know what to do. Two rode with the travelers. Two rode slowly back to their troops, knowing they could not stop them. The final two just stayed where they were, like men frozen in indecision.
Katie spoke when Wallace rode past them. “Let him go. Nothing we can do for him now.”
When the riders got to the wagon, Katie quickly gave Millie her handgun, having shown Millie how to use it whether Millie liked it or not. She pulled her rifle up to her sight, and Elder Stow let his sonic device squeal as loud as he could set it. Even the traveler’s horses protested. The oncoming horses stopped, bucked, stumbled, turned aside, or turned around and rode back the way they came regardless of their riders.
“Fine and well,” Decker said, “But that is not going to work on the foot soldiers. The men advanced, seven or eight feet of spear poking out of the front of the formation. “Captain.”
“Ready, sir,” Katie said in her crisp, military voice. The others stepped up around them with their bows and handguns. Bullets from handguns might not penetrate the shields with enough force to do damage to the man, but at least they would not bounce off, like arrows. Katie and Decker had the rifles, and Lockhart had his shotgun. Not much against five hundred or more men.
“Aim,” Decker said, and one of the Eporites yelled from behind.
“The cavalry have regained control and are preparing a charge from three sides.”
“I’ve got it,” Elder Stow countered. “Stay on the foot soldiers.”
The cavalry began yelling and started to ride. The foot soldiers got to where Decker prepared to yell fire. when the cavalry froze, horses and all in mid-stride, and a massive stroke of lightning came down in front of the Greek phalanx, knocking the whole front row off their feet, and some of the men following as well.