“What magic is this?” the farmer asked. “The voice of an angel?”
William opened his mouth, but Boston spoke first. “Naw, just Katie. But I will tell her you said that.”
“Not magic,” William said. “Just one of the fantastical gizmos these people have. I have seen Elder Stow’s scanner at work. I have no idea how it works, but I have seen the gizmo.”
Elder Stow ignored everyone and walked to the end of the wagon where he could sit and work on his screen device. Sukki thought it only right to follow. Everyone else looked up and saw what they imagined was the shuttle craft get frustrated if an alien spaceship could be called frustrated.
“We might as well go inside,” Alexis suggested. “It may be a while before we can safely move from here.”
“But I must get to King Ethelwulf” William said. “He is pledged to help and defend the coast of Kent and the poor people of Canterbury.”
“I am sure that is true, and I am sure he will, but we have to deal with the Flesh Eaters first,” Tony said.
“I hate that name,” Nanette said.
“Accurate,” Boston countered.
“That is why I hate that name.” she said as they looked up.
The shuttle stopped trying to get at them with Vr energy and struck them with whatever main weapon it had. The beam of sickly yellow light bounced off Elder Stow’s screen and slid down the side to strike the ground outside the screen.
“Gonna make a nice circular ditch in the ground,” Boston said, and grinned about it.
In less than an hour, they heard a call from Lockhart. They had reached the barrier.
“Hold on, hold on,” Elder Stow said. “Line up in a row, not in a column, and face the screens. I will say go. I am going to turn the screens off for a second, so you need to move fast.”
All three got inside the screens, and Elder Stow got them back on before the ship overhead could react. The Flesh Eater Weapon came, but they just added to the circle ditch around the farm. The Flesh Eaters tried some air to surface missiles. They did not fare any better than the other options.
“An atomic weapon would not penetrate,” Elder Stow admitted. “But I would hate to see that used. It would devastate the countryside for miles around.”
The travelers understood and went to meet everyone in the small farmhouse and around the cooking fires out back where Alexis, Nanette, Sukki, and the farmer’s wife were trying to cook enough food for everyone. The farmer gave up a cow but admitted he could buy six cows for the six old Roman gold pieces Lincoln shared with him. “And maybe some sheep and a pig or two as well.” He had no complaints.
People pitched their tents in the field, and as far as anyone knew, Elder Stow worked on his screen device all night.
Elgar sat at the King’s Inn in Guildford. The food was bland, but filling. Osric and the King debated some wild scheme to double march the men to arrive before dark and attack right away instead of settling into a camp as expected. Ethelbald just listened.
“Daft,” Elgar borrowed Gwyn’s very apt Celtic word.
“You have a better idea?” Osric asked.
“Men who are exhausted and hungry do not fight well. Hurrying them to strike before nightfall is asking for a disaster. We won’t surprise them. They probably have their own men out spying on us this very moment. You can be sure they know where we are, how many we are, and will not be fooled.”
“So, what do you recommend?” the king asked.
Elgar nodded and took a moment to set a scene on the table, using what utensils and plates he had available, as he spoke. “Stop the men about two miles away, or about an hour’s distance. Set a watch in the night and dare the Vikings to travel an hour through unfamiliar territory to get at us in the dark if they want. Let the men rest and eat well in the morning. We can travel the hour or two and should arrive by the fourth hour. For one, the men will be rested and well fed, and ready to fight. For two, it is not far enough where the army strings out for miles behind. It is a short enough walk where the whole army should arrive more or less together and intact.”
“Then what?” Osric asked, but by then Elgar had the table set, and explained.
“The Vikings are here, backs to the river. On one side they have a natural bend in the river meant to prevent our pitiful few horsemen from riding around and hitting them in the flank. On the other side, there are trees meant to do the same thing, to prevent our use of horsemen.
“I admit,” Osric said. “Getting our horsemen to hit them in the side was affective, but it looks like we won’t be able to do that this time.”
Elgar nodded. “But trees are no barrier to men on foot. I already have men infiltrating the woods and some are prepared to burn the boats the Vikings have on the river, so they won’t be able to easily escape. “
“But if they line up as you suggest, only one small part of the line will be subject to your men in the forest,” The king said, thinking about it.
“So, we turn the line,” Elgar said. “Attack at an angle and make them march forward so their backs are to the trees. I will press in with the reserves right away.”
“Won’t that be you blinking first?” Osric asked.
Elgar shook his head. “It should be enough to push the Vikings closer to the woods, and then my archers rarely miss—they are hunters, all. Once the Vikings begin to take arrows in the back, I expect they will begin to break. The Viking commander will have a dilemma. to strengthen the line with his reserves and have them subject to the same deadly arrow fire or send the reserves into the woods to try and rout out the archers. I don’t expect many of those men will make it back out of the woods, but you have to trust me on that.”
“And the boats? How do you propose to burn them behind their backs?
“The river is in our favor. I have men who can come down the river and catch the Vikings napping.”
“Yes,” the king said. “You appear to have a whole army that I am not aware of. How do you explain that one?”
“They are on our side,” Elgar said. “Trust me. I am not holding anything from you, but they don’t mingle well with humans.”
“What do you mean… humans?”
Osric shook his head. “You really don’t want to know.”
“But maybe I do want to know,” the king huffed. “Maybe there is a better use for those men.”
“I want to see them and know what you have. I insist.”
Elgar shrugged and called, “Pinewood.” The fairy came to the table, full sized and dressed in hunter green.
“Lord. Your Majesty. Lord Osric.” Pinewood bowed to all three. “The men are in the woods preparing for the morning after tomorrow. Piebald and Bogus are looking forward to the greatest slaughter of the heathen that has ever been seen.”
Elgar shook his head. “The king wants to see what he is working with. Please get small.”
With a look at Osric, Pinewood got small and fluttered to the table. The king’s jaw dropped. Ethelbald screamed, but the king grabbed his arm so he could not escape. Osric asked if he reacted that way when he first met Pinewood. “Worse. Like you had seen a ghost,” Elgar said, and then thanked Pinewood who got big again and kindly left by way of the door.
The king took a second to frame his thoughts. “But can they be trusted?”
“More than most men,” Elgar said. “But they don’t like their loyalty questioned, so let’s keep those questions between you and me.”
The king nodded and Ethelbald spoke to Osric. “I see what you mean, you don’t want to know.”
In the morning, Elder Stow said he was ready. He got out his handgun and got Sukki to stand beside him. He tuned one disc for everyone to filter out the Vr energy but said they were not screens. They would not protect them from whatever other Flesh Eater weapons they used.
Everyone got down behind a great pile of rocks that the farmer’s family had pulled from the fields over the generations. A few trees grew there to offer some protection, but it was the best they could do.
Elder Stow instructed Sukki on where best to strike the engine. He took the energy weapons and missile ports for himself, having mapped them with his scanner. When the two of them rose up in the air, the farmer’s wife shrieked and looked at the ground. The farmer just stared. William laughed and nodded.
“Keep your heads down,” Lockhart insisted.
“Now,” the word came over the watches.
Two beams of power struck the Flesh Eater shuttle at the same time. The front end of the shuttle exploded when the weapons and missiles exploded. The back end began to smoke, and the shuttle spun and crashed, where it exploded again. With all that, Elder Stow came back to the group with a report.
“There may be survivors. We need to move on. Also, I saw the hundred Vikings camped just outside where the screens set. I suspect they will be after us as well.”
“No point in staying here,” the farmer explained to Tony. “I have some family in Guildford. We can go there.” He helped his wife and the baby up into his two-wheeled wagon. The ox was ready to go, and Tony would lead Ghost and their wagon one step behind.
Decker and Sukki took the wings, Sukki filling in for Elder Stow who stayed with the group and kept one eye on his scanner. Boston, who reported that the Kairos was moving toward them, stayed out front and kept her senses wide open. The farmer led the group with Alexis and Lincoln. Katie and Lockhart brought up the rear so they could keep one eye behind looking for Vikings or any Flesh Eaters that might have survived the crash and might be following them.
The morning stayed quiet, and so much so that the travelers thought to stop for a late lunch when they reached the Winchester Road. Decker and Katie picked a reasonably defensive spot, but by then the travelers had lost the urgent sense of caution. They relaxed and enjoyed their lunch, which is why both the Flesh Eaters and the Vikings got inside the limit of where Elder Stow had set his screens, if he needed to deploy them.