The next day, Lincoln made everyone gather around. He said they would have to go by Kabul and Hadda to reach the Khyber Pass, the only viable way through to India. “The thing is, after further reading, I think the capital of the Alchon Huns is north of the line, and the capital of the Nezak Huns is south of the line, and those two Huna groups at some point fight for dominance. We need to squeeze between the two to reach the pass.”
“In other words,” Lockhart summarized. “We are probably entering a war zone, so we need to keep our eyes and ears wide open.”
“Kind of like World War One,” Decker interjected. “We need to sneak down no-man’s land between the German and allied trenches.”
People looked at Decker and turned their eyes to Tony. They had been careful not to talk about what Tony might face when he got home. Lincoln calculated that Tony left the future in 1905, but given his time living in the past, and now counting the expected travel time, he would probably get home in 1914, just in time for the war. And they certainly did not want to name the war as number one. But Tony just waved off their concerns.
“That’s okay,” he said. “The Kairos told me. I already have my Colt M1911, and a good trench knife. I already figured the time gate will be near enough to the Kairos to be in the middle of something. A world war is no surprise, and the fact that it is number one is honestly no surprise, either. I used to read the newspapers back in 1905. Europe is a mess.” He shrugged.
The travelers breathed, and headed out, thinking, there were still plenty of things Tony and Nanette did not need to know about their future.
Shortly after they gave Kabul a wide berth, they returned to the road in time for Decker to come racing in from the wing. “Boston. Sukki. Report.” Decker spoke into his wristwatch communicator as he reigned to a stop. Elder Stow saw and pulled in close to hear. The others had already stopped to wait.
“There is a whole army in a valley a half mile out,” he pointed. “About two thousand horsemen. No way they will chase us, but they might send a company, a hundred, or at least have scouts out watching the road. They may have already seen us.”
“No,” Elder Stow said, as he joined the group from the other wing. “I have the scanner set for our immediate area. No one has been near to see us. I did not pick up the army, however. I can see I will have to expand the scan radius to at least half a mile.” He looked at his scanner and turned his head in surprise. Boston and Sukki came racing back from the point. They looked like something was following them. Suddenly, Boston stopped and leapt off her horse. She pulled her wand and laid down a line of fire across the road. The flames reached as high as her head, and the travelers saw a troop of Huns come screeching to a halt behind the fire.
Lockhart and Katie moved forward before they got down and walked ahead of the others. Lincoln and Alexis moved up enough to hold the horses, but Sukki stopped right there, so she held Katie’s horse. Boston came back and stopped at the front group, next to Alexis, while Nanette marched forward from the rear. That left Decker and Elder Stow to guard Tony and the wagon.
One of the Huns stepped forward from his group. He looked like a shaman. He raised his hands, and while Boston’s fire already began to burn itself out, he appeared to lower his hands, and the fire quickly went out. That got the attention of Alexis and Boston who stepped up behind Lockhart and Katie. Nanette squeezed between the two women and whispered.
“If I had my power, I could remove them from the road.” Nanette seemed unhappy about something and seemed to want to take it out on the Huns.
Lockhart quickly spoke over top. “We are simple travelers. We are headed for distant lands and have no interest in your troubles. We will not interfere. We will respect your land, and we will be gone, shortly.”
“I think you are not such simple travelers,” one big man spoke from horseback.
“You have a witch…” the shaman added.
“No,” Katie interrupted, and stepped to the side as she spoke, pointing behind herself. “She is an elf. These other two are witches.” Katie smiled. The Huns did not smile, and the shaman began to move his hands like he got ready to employ a spell.
“Here,” Alexis said to Nanette, as she touched Nanette’s shoulder. Boston touched the other shoulder but said nothing. Nanette felt filled with power, more than she ever imagined. She had the ability, but when the other earth was out of phase, and thus not leaking magic energy into our universe, she could do nothing. She never imagined borrowing the power of others, and between Alexis and Boston, she had twice what she needed.
Nanette pulled her wand, and before the shaman could finish his incantation, he, and all of his Huns, got caught up in a whirlwind. The wind became merciless. It picked them up, horses and all, and flew them a quarter mile away, where it deposited them in an open field. Some got down quickly. Some got thrown when their horses bucked. Some got stepped on when the horses panicked. The Huns also panicked. The shaman, and a number of others felt so dizzy, they threw up. None of them were in any condition to follow the travelers, or even report back to the army.
The travelers knew none of this. All they saw was Nanette’s smile and all they heard was Lockhart’s words.
“Let’s move on while we can.”
The next day, near the same time, just shy of Hadda, Elder Stow reported an army on a hillside. “About two thousand horsemen,” he said into his communicator, so everyone heard.
“Move in close,” Lockhart ordered. “Decker. Move in but keep your eyes open. Boston, stay within sight.” The road appeared flanked by meadows. The only trees were up ahead, to the right of the road. Elder Stow said the Huns were in the trees, so no one looked surprised when several men rode out of the trees and stopped near the road. No one doubted there were many more still hidden among the trees. Lockhart and Katie nudged their horses forward, but this time, they did not dismount.
“We are simple travelers.” Lockhart spoke up. “We are headed for a distant land. We have no quarrel with you. We will respect your land and soon be gone.” He tried to smile.
One of the Huns answered. “You do not look like simple travelers. Give us your gold and silver. We will search your wagon and take your horses. Then you can leave.”
Katie imagined Elder Stow got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Without asking permission, which felt very uncharacteristic, he floated out of his saddle. Sukki floated up beside him and would not let him do whatever stupid thing he had in mind alone.
Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and plugged it into his communication device. It amplified his voice and added a nice echoing touch. “You were asked nicely. Now, you get one warning shot. Leave the road and leave us alone or suffer the consequences.” He pulled out his weapon. Sukki noticed and raised her hands. Elder Stow fired, and Sukki let her power flow from her hands. They sliced off the tops of the nearest trees and set the trees on fire. First Elder Stow, and then Sukki, fired into the ground in front of the trees and the ground exploded.
“That is your warning. Leave us alone or next time we will aim at you.” Elder Stow returned to his horse and Sukki returned to hers. The Huns turned away without a word, and tried to walk their horses, but in fact trotted, and nearly galloped back to the trees, to disappear in the woods.
Elder Stow apologized to Lockhart and Katie when he rejoined the group. “My mother and father, please forgive me if I overstepped my bounds. I take full responsibility for my actions and those of my adopted daughter. I overreacted and humbly apologize.”
“Try not to let it happen again,” Katie said, smiled, and let Lockhart speak.
“But in this instance, don’t worry about it. No harm done.” He turned to ride down the road and said no more about it.
The following morning, the caravan road they followed appeared to be in good shape. Lincoln took a turn driving the wagon. Alexis rode with him. They crossed a plain that appeared wide open and plenty dusty, but in the distance up ahead, the travelers could see the mountains closing in. They figured the famous Khyber Pass would be something like a gorge between two of those mountains, where the mountains did not quite meet.
The sun beat down, hot, but the travelers relaxed, believing if they got well into the pass on that day, they might find the Kairos around noon the next day. Boston called it late spring, or early summer. Alexis pointed out the flowers she saw. When Lockhart called for everyone to get down and walk the horses, Sukki and Nanette paused to pick some flowers. Tony paused with them to watch over them. Those three first saw the dust stirred up in the distance. Decker reported as much just moments later.
It looked like one of those armies they passed might be heading right toward them. Lockhart did not panic, even when Elder Stow noted the dust storm on the other side of the road. Lockhart told everyone to mount up. He said they could walk and rest the horses once they got fully into the pass. He felt a little afraid that these armies decided to fight over control of the pass, and they might follow them into the pass.
“We need to hurry,” Kate said, as the leading elements of the armies came within visual range.
“I don’t think Ghost can pull the wagon much faster in this sun, especially when we start heading up into the pass itself.”
Lockhart talked into his communicator, though he might have simply yelled back. “Try to hurry Ghost along as well as you can.”
Decker and Elder Stow pulled in to flank the travelers in close order, while Boston dropped back to lead the procession. The leading elements of the armies stopped a hundred feet back from the road on either side.
“Are they waiting for the rest of the army to catch up?” Nanette asked.
Decker shook his head. “I don’t know what they are doing.”
As the travelers pushed forward along the road, right between the two enemies, the rest of those armies slowly caught up. But still they waited.
Two Hun armies will meet on the road to the Khyber pass, right where the travelers are desperately trying to get out of the way. Until Monday, Happy Reading.