“She keeps moving,” Boston groused. “She has been moving this whole time, and the time gate keep getting further and further away.”
“She is trying to get a precious cargo to safety in Egypt,” Katie said. “I’m surprised she stops.”
“Like us,” Lockhart said. “She has to stop every day, like it or not. Especially if she is escorting families with lots of small children.”
“This one is even known among the Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow said. “Most Gott-Druk sadly still reject anything connected to homo sapiens, but there are some believers among my people, too.”
“There are some few believers among the homo sapiens, too,” Decker said.
“Decker!” Boston scolded him.
“Okay. Ride.” Lockhart said, to cut off the commentary. They mounted and rode some more.
In the early morning, when the wagon left Bethlehem, the five riders out front got a guide and cut across country to Rafah. They arrived in two days and figured if the wagon stayed on the road to Ashkelon before picking up the coast road, that put them at least two days behind.
“More like we are two days ahead of the wagon at this point,” Katie said.
“The question is, by cutting across country, did we get in front of the gunmen?” Lockhart asked.
“No.” Elder Stow said, definitely. “I just picked them up on the scanner. It is the metal they use in the gun barrels. They are ten miles away, maybe half a day. We picked up a half day, I would say.”
“The Kairos is two days away, probably three by the time we get there since they are still moving. I figure they move about ten to fifteen miles a day, which is probably very good for a bunch of children.”
“Donkeys, camels, and wagons,” Katie suggested.
“We need to rest, and the horses need to rest,” Lockhart said. “Try to sleep. We leave at first light.”
The travelers got three miles closer on that first day. They picked up five more miles on the second day before they had to stop for the night. At that pace, they hoped to catch the gunmen by mid-afternoon on the following day. That was cutting it close. They expected to reach the camp of the Kairos later in the afternoon on the same day. This time, they left before the first light. The moon was up and the sky cloudless, so they had enough light. They still had the lanterns that came in very handy at times, but Lockhart felt reluctant to give themselves away.
Lunch on that day was brief. They came to a spot where the horses could graze a bit, and Lockhart deliberately made a fire and cooked something. Katie paced. Boston bit her nails. Elder Stow never looked up from his scanner. Decker spit.
“All right,” Lockhart said. “All right, Decker. You have been spitting since the Athol valley. What are you eating?”
“Dwarf beef jerky,” Decker said. “Guaranteed to last two hundred years, and right now we are at two hundred and two years. That’s okay. I only have a couple of pieces left.”
“Some dwarf told you it would last for two hundred years. And you believed him?”
“Princess approved. I checked.”
“That’s the longest expiration date I ever heard of,” Katie said, as she came to the fire. She squatted, stirred the fire, and got up to pace some more.
“Are we ready?” Lockhart asked. People checked their weapons. The fire got put out. People mounted. They generally nodded to each other, and set off down the road, slowly picking up their pace as they went. They did not have to go far before they heard gunfire in the distance. They stopped in the road.
Boston whipped out her amulet. “Not the camp yet,” she reported. “The Kairos is still a couple of miles away.”
“I got them,” Elder Stow said. He pulled up a holographic projection of the area. The projection looked clear, not being that far away. The road looked blocked at the edge of a wood. Trees were an unusual sight on the north coast of the Saini, but Katie pointed to a stream that meandered through the woods that might account for it.
“A wadi,” she called it. “Probably doesn’t have water in it half the year.”
“Enough to grow some trees,” Lockhart said, offhandedly. He kept staring at the enemy in the projection.
“The trees probably get some extra rain off the Mediterranean,” Boston suggested, as she also looked at the projection
A pocket of a dozen horsemen sat exposed, but behind a ridge from the trees, so out of sight from the roadblock. They looked ready to ride as soon as the roadblock got removed. A dozen men on foot had gotten close to the block in the road and appeared to be firing their rifles, trying to pick off the defenders. A few arrows came from the roadblock when the gunmen got too close, but generally, there seemed nothing else the defenders could do outside of keeping their heads down.
“The whole thing looks like it is moving in slow motion,” Decker said. “With those single shot, muzzle-loaded weapons, it could take them a couple of days to break through if they don’t come up with a better plan.”
“The road is barely a scratch through mostly desert,” Katie said in her curious voice. “Why don’t they ride around? A hundred yards to the left or the right should hardly matter.”
“Must be some reason,” Lockhart said, and looked at Elder Stow, who shrugged.
“Little ones to the left and right,” Boston said, and grinned. “The message I got is they will prevent the enemy from riding around, but otherwise, they don’t want to get involved. There are three dead men that tried to go around, and six dead horses, and, Ew! Gross. There are a couple of disgusting ogres who are happily eating the horses.”
“So, the road is the only way through,” Lockhart concluded.
“We got a group not looking in our direction,” Katie said. “Probably the main group led by our former centurion from the Roman gate. We can catch them from behind, but the land is so flat and empty, how do we get there without being seen, and without giving them enough time to take up defensive positions?”
“Elder Stow?” Lockhart asked, but Elder Stow shook his head.
“Not long ago, I would have been delighted with the chance to go invisible and kill some humans. But I am no more judge, jury and executioner than any of you. If we can get them to surrender, the people, or these Romans may decide on the death penalty, but that is not my job.”
“This is war,” Decker said. “Ambush and attack from the rear are acceptable.”
“Robert?” Katie looked up at Lockhart, who was thinking.
“Okay. We take the middle ground. Boston, will your friends let us circle around so we can get to the roadblock?”
“Yes. They know we are here, and know we are hedged by the gods. They will not interfere.”
“Good,” Lockhart said. “Then we just need a distraction.”
Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device. “I can do that. Their horses will not be able to follow you.”
“I’m staying with Elder Stow,” Boston said
“I was going to suggest Elder Stow fly over top, invisible, and meet us at the roadblock,” Lockhart said.
Elder Stow did not have a problem with Boston staying. “I carried this whole crew in a screen, once.”
“Yeah, and crashed us in the city,” Decker remembered.
“Too much weight,” Elder Stow admitted. “But it was no trouble lifting Boston and Alexis from the water and carrying them away from the eels and sea serpent. I think I can carry a skinny elf to the road.”
“I want to practice my invisibility,” Boston said. “I want to make a window so an invisible Elder Stow can still see me, even if no one else can.”
“This is not the time for experiments,” Katie said.
“You take Strawberry and Mudd with you,” Boston said, and went invisible.
Lockhart simply said, “Come on.” Boston had been hard-headed as a human. Now that she became an elf, she only got worse. Lockhart technically remained her boss, but Boston had a mind of her own and he could not force her to do anything. “Katie and Decker keep your binoculars handy. We need to keep an eye on the enemy while we ride outside human, visual range.”
“Not possible,” Decker said. “In a flat desert environment, people can see for miles.”
“And that is why we need a distraction.”