Less than a minute after the fighting stopped, the others showed up, with Leodis leading a hundred guardsmen. Arias looked unhappy at missing it all, but Leodis looked glad that he did not have to fight. Arias, Leodis, Lockhart, Katie, and Lincoln all came into the warehouse together. Alexis and Sophia went around to the docks where they had three wounded Amazons to tend. As the guards picked up their prisoners, Decker confessed.
“Five came riding out from the alley. I was involved in containing the ones coming out the front door, but I got off one good shot. The man’s horse followed the others, but I bet I got one of them.”
“So, maybe four escaped,” Lockhart concluded.
“There are still too many roads and gates in this city,” Arias complained.
“Let me,” Leodis said, and he sent guardsmen, two by two, to all the gates with a description of what to ask and what to look for.
“Elder Stow?” Katie asked without spelling it out. Elder Stow shook his head. “What about the horses, or their equipment?”
“Maybe,” he said and began to work on his scanner. Althea inched up close to watch. Elder Stow did not mind explaining some of what he did, but he would not let her touch the device.
Shortly, Alexis came back in from the docks. She shook her head, sadly. “The brigands are all dead,” she announced, and stared hard at Arias. “Your Amazons laughed when I asked if any of the men had a chance to surrender.”
“It is not a laughing matter,” Arias said, firmly. “But Amazons do not let rapists live.”
“Well,” Leodis said. “On that happy note, let us return to the palace. It will be dark in an hour or so, and as much as you would like to chase them tonight, I am sure, they will have to stop soon and let their horses rest and eat, or else risk losing their horses and end up on foot, which should make them easy to catch.”
“Fair enough,” Lockhart said, with a quick look around for possible objections. Now that Evan, Millie, and the young girls were safe, no one felt in that much of a hurry.
“So, tell me,” Leodis continued as he walked back to the horses. “Arias. Who are these strange friends of yours?”
“They are friends of the Princess,” Arias said.
“Oh, that explains everything,” Leodis joked and chuckled.
“They come from the same land as the general,” Arias added.
Leodis stopped. “Actually, that does explain a lot.” He shook his head and began to walk again.
In the morning, the travelers divided. The brigands appeared headed for Thermopylae, the place Arias first thought they might go. She had a good hope of catching them before they escaped into the Greek mainland, but she knew they would have to ride hard and fast to do it. The travelers were headed that way. Lincoln, Boston, and Katie got together with the two amulets and Lincoln’s database and figured the next time gate would be somewhere on the far side of Corinth.
“Not fair,” Katie complained. “We won’t be that far behind, even at the slower pace set by the mule and wagon.”
“Can’t be helped,” Lockhart said. “You have the cowboy horses, but they are older and not in the best of shape already. We have five young mustangs still tied to us, and they are the only horses that have the stamina and strength to keep up. Arias, Sophia, and Althea, Meriope and Aurora did some horse trading, so they have fresh mounts. We can’t do that, much as Leodis admires and might like the mustangs. I think the selection of Decker, Elder Stow, Sukki, Boston, and myself has been made.”
“I wouldn’t count much on the stamina of the horses,” Katie said. “We have rested them and cared for them as much as we could these last two-and-a-half years, but they are used up. We already lost three horses, Cortez, Misty Gray, and my own Black Beauty. Horses are not designed to be constantly ridden through the wilderness like that, even if we walk them as much as we ride them and rest them a week every ten to twenty days or so. Two-and-a-half years is a long time. Even if the Kairos and the gods put a hedge around them and gave them super-endurance, we know they won’t last forever.”
Lockhart was not going to argue, and he knew Katie was not arguing, she just protested, in general. “You have the prototype amulet, so each group has the means to find the time gates.”
“Millie still has her chestnut.”
“Hardly better than a compass showing the direction to the past and future gates,” Lockhart said, and smiled. The two lovers hugged each other. “Besides, you have a half-dozen Amazons under Clarissa to help, but be honest, Lincoln, Alexis, Evan and Millie are not exactly military minded. You need to be there to lead the group, with your military instincts, your advanced rifle, and your elect senses and intuition. I thought the job of the elect was to defend the home and family.”
Katie sighed, and changed the subject. “Millie wants to have children. She wants to have a daughter.”
Lockhart did not jump nearly as much as he would have three years earlier when they began this journey. He said, “Maybe when we get home, you and I can have one of those.”
Katie looked up at him and smiled. They got lost in each other for a while.
When the five travelers and five Amazons raced out of the gate at dawn, Katie waved, so Millie waved. Clarissa shouted, “Good luck.” And they waited for the dust to settle before starting out.
On the second afternoon, the ten in front found one of the brigand horses, dead, by the side of the road. It had been covered, but some predator had already uncovered part of it and began feasting. Whatever it was, it hid when the people arrived.
Arias leapt down, and Boston, Sukki, and Aurora joined her. Sukki, raised a hunter in the days before the flood, and Aurora, the Amazon hunter, both pointed off to the right where trees disguised the gentle rise of a hillside. Boston, who hunted with her father and brothers in western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and once in Canada for bear, stood and stretched out her elf senses in that direction.
“Seven humans,” she said.
“Six,” Aurora countered, and pointed at the horse tracks in the dirt. She forgot to count the dead horse.
“Hush.” Arias appeared to sense something, but she said nothing as she got them mounted and led the group into the woods. After a short way, she got everyone down. Lockhart, Elder Stow, Meriope, an older Amazon, and Sophia, who was not inclined to blood and killing, stayed with the horses. Arias, Althea, Aurora, Decker, Boston, and Sukki all moved in among the trees as quietly as they could.
Ahead of them, five men sat around a fire in a clearing. One spoke.
“I tell you, Philocrates and Mylo rode on to Thebae. Whatever Amazons are on our tail should follow them and skip right by us.”
“I still don’t like this,” one said. “When the job in Pherae went bad, we should have headed off the road, to the coast. I got friends in Demetrias where we could hold up.”
“We probably got people chasing us, too,” another said.
“Safety in numbers,” the first one responded, as an arrow stuck him dead center.
The men jumped up and drew their weapons, but the Amazons were wise enough to keep hidden. Three more arrows quickly took down three more men. Decker shot the last one while he tried to escape. He shrugged when Arias looked at him.
“You don’t suffer rapists to live,” Decker said, and Arias nodded.
They heard the shotgun go off back where they left the horses, and they all ran. They found two more dead men.
Sophia let out her stress in her words. “Meriope got one. Lockhart blasted the other with his shotgun. Elder Stow got a cut in the arm.” Sophia knelt beside the Gott-Druk and practiced her healing arts.
“Father?” Sukki sounded upset. Elder Stow had adopted the girl from the deep past, so they were family in the deepest Neanderthal sense. Family was the root and fiber of Gott-Druk society and culture.
“I’m all right, daughter” Elder Stow assured the girl. “I would not have been caught, but I think I got the brigands on the scanner, or two of them, anyway. I was not paying attention. Thank you, my father, for saving my life.” Lockhart waved it off, but Decker spoke.
“We watch out for each other and take care of each other,” he said. “Like Amazons, I suppose.”
Arias nodded to that description.
That evening, they had a quiet meal at the inn in Thebae, except for Althea, who went back to drooling over the equipment Elder Stow carried. She couldn’t believe he called them mere toys. The scanner alone seemed ages beyond anything she ever heard of, even in the year 2160.
Lockhart explained. “Elder Stow can fly, invisible, protected by his personal screen, and with his heat-ray handgun burn the whole city.”
“It is not a heat-ray,” Elder Stow huffed.
“My wife says I call every ray-gun a heat-ray,” Lockhart confessed.
“It is not a ray-gun,” Elder Stow said.
“What else do you have?” Sophia got curious.
“He has a sonic device,” Boston said. “Like a sonic screwdriver.”
Elder Stow pulled it out to show, but he had a question. “What is a sonic screwdriver?”
“From a television show,” Boston answered
Decker shrugged, but Lockhart had a thought. “Lincoln might know. He goes in for all that science fiction mumbo-jumbo.”
“Not your cup of tea?” Arias asked, sounding very much like Susan from 1976.
“No,” Lockhart admitted. “But Katie might know.”