Avalon 9.0 Pestilence, part 4 of 6

The travelers bought the young nobleman wine, explained about being pilgrims headed toward Rome, and said they would be leaving in the morning.  They basically lied their way out of being arrested.  They said the man must have mistaken them for someone else.

“Are you English?” the young man asked.  “Are you Celtic, from Bretagne? Your French is very good.”

“German,” Lockhart said quickly.  “From around Basel.”  It was the only thing he could think to say.

“And Scandinavian,” Katie said, and clarified.  “Mostly Swedish.”

“I have some French in me,” Lincoln said.  “On my mother’s side.”

“Italian,” Tony raised his hand.  “From south of Rome.”

“Africa,” Decker said.  “Not Muslim.”  He gave Nanette a small kiss.  “We find Europe fascinating and different than expected.”

Everyone looked at Elder Stow, but he was prepared.  “My daughter and I are from far in the east.  It is a good land with plenty of snow.”

“Slavic?” the man asked, and Elder Stow nodded.  Slavic was close enough, though he really wanted to say he lived thousands of light years not miles away.

“We found Elder Stow in Jericho,” Lincoln remembered.  “He and his daughter were separated, but we found her all the way over on the coast, in Gaza.  We rescued her.  She might have been killed.”

“So, you have been to the holy land.”  The young man nodded and spoke in English.  “The man said you were English.”

Elder Stow, Sukki, Nanette, and Tony all recognized the change in the language, but Nanette and Tony in particular, were not as practiced in switching their tongues when confronted with two languages, so they kept silent.  Lincoln looked at Lockhart and said nothing for a change.  Decker kept silent and nibbled on the remains of his supper.  Lockhart looked at Katie and dredged up a few words in German from all the way back in Genevive’s day.  “What words are these?”  He did not do the best acting job.

“English,” Katie told Lockhart in English like she was explaining.  She turned back to the man and answered him in French, the local tongue, which in that time zone came most naturally to the travelers.  “Our understanding of English is limited since we have had no reason to learn it.”

“I see,” the young noble said and finally sipped his wine.  He made a face, like it was not the best wine he tasted.  “The man must have been mistaken.”  He stood.  “All the same, if you are leaving first thing in the morning, that would be best.”  He gave a slight bow, turned, and marched out, his soldiers following.  The travelers all breathed and sat quietly for a time.

Four days later, having made good progress in the French countryside, the travelers began to climb into the foothills of the alps.  The road stayed good, and they found villages all along the way where they could stop for the night.  No one bothered them, though Katie swore they were being followed.  Nanette closed her eyes, held out her hand, and tried to focus back on the trail.  She did that several times over those days but could not bring anything into her mind for sure.  She could only confirm Katie’s feeling that they were being followed, and shrug.

When they moved up into the foothills, they came across their first way station.  All along the main ways through the alps there were stations roughly every fifteen to twenty miles.  Many were built by the Romans as places where travelers could stop and get a meal and a bed for the night.  They were Hauses, Hostels, or Hospitals, as in hospitality places.  Some were Toll Hauses, though the taking of tolls from the merchants who mostly traveled the roads was frowned upon.  At the first one the travelers came to they found an old man looking for help over the mountains.

“There are thieves in the mountains, and in a month the snows will come and make the passes impossible for travelers.  Please.  I heard there is a great sickness in Genoa, and it has spread to Pisa.  I am worried about my family.  Please.  I left my train some days ago.  They will make the trip to the low countries and return in the spring, hopefully with a profit, but I must see to the safety of my family.”

“We are not inclined to travel with strangers,” Katie said.  She looked at Nanette and Lincoln, both of whom thought the man looked like the old man who sat alone by the fireplace in Lyon, but the others did not see it.

“Do you have a name?” Lockhart asked.

“Dagnanus,” the man said.  “I am a simple merchant from Pisa where the grapes grow thick.  I bring Tuscan wine to the world, and even to the French who only think they know how to make wine.  Ha…”  He scoffed.  “But please.  I have been over the mountains many times.  I know the way, and the ways to avoid, but I will not make it alone, and the weather is turning.  I must go to save my family, but I need help.”

Lockhart stared at Lincoln and Nanette who he later told they had to keep one eye on the man, but he spoke.  “Dagnanus.  We leave in the morning right after breakfast. Be up and ready if you want to go with us.”

“I will.  I will go and pack my few things right now.  Thank you.  Thank you.” The man hurried up the stairs.

“He is spritely for an old man,” Katie remarked.

“Dagnabit,” Decker said through whatever he was chewing on.  He looked like he wanted to spit, but he held it back while Nanette smiled.

Two days later, well up into the mountains, some friends of Dagnanus blocked the road and surrounded the travelers.  Everyone stopped moving, but only Lincoln said anything.

“I knew it.”

Dagnanus moved ahead and got down from his horse next to the leader of the group.  His appearance changed as he moved, like the man wore a glamour that whole time, which told the others he had magic of some sort at his fingertips.  He proved to be the man Nanette saw in the street, and she almost echoed Lincoln’s I knew it comment.  Then Dagnanus said something that surprised everyone, and at the same time, did not surprise anyone.

“The Travelers from Avalon, as promised.”

“Good,” the brigand leader grunted.  “Malore and her old lady Babara have the Kairos in sight.  If we can kill her at an inopportune time and stop her rebirths, then all we need to do is remove these annoyances traveling through time and the future can be shaped the way the Masters want.”

“I am to serve,” Dagnanus said, but Elder Stow spoke at the same time.

“There.  I have put up Decker Screens all around us.  You may fire when ready.”

“Good,” Decker said.  He pulled his rifle and began to shoot the ones that might have ended up inside the screens.  The others reacted more slowly, except Nanette, who got mad.  She whipped out her wand and caught Dagnanus and the brigand leader in her own magic.  She lifted them two feet off the ground so they could not run away, and she growled at them.  She studied the face of the brigand leader even as Lincoln shot the man.  When they turned to Dagnanus, however, they saw that he escaped somehow.

The confrontation did not take long.  The brigands quickly hurried away.  Several arrows came in their direction and bounced off Elder Stows screens, but then everything went quiet.

“We have to hurry,” Lockhart said.  “Ready?  Is Ghost ready?”

“Ready,” Tony said, and he pulled the mule in close.

“Okay, Elder Stow.  Cut the screens.  Everybody ride.”

They hurried as well as they could.  It was all uphill, so a strain for the horses, but no more arrows came in their direction, and they soon got out of range.  They left ten dead men behind them, including the brigand leader.  There were still ten or more out there in the woods, and Dagnanus.  Nanette refused to curse to think of it, so Lincoln cursed for her.

“He may have taken us off the main road without us realizing it,” Katie said, as soon as they got about a mile away and slowed to let the horses catch their breath in the cold.  They saw some early snow in the area.

“My mother,” Elder Stow responded to Katie’s concern as he pushed forward.  “I was thinking the same thing, but I see in my scanner that this path soon returns to the main path.  I can hardly call it a road.”

“Good thing we ditched the wagon,” Lincoln said.

Lockhart nodded.  “Decker and Elder Stow, stay in close.  Sukki, you have the point.”

“Yes boss,” Sukki said, echoing the response Boston would have given, and she pushed her horse, Cocoa, out ahead of the others to scout the area.

That evening, the travelers might have frozen if not for their fairy weave clothes, which they made as thick as possible, and their fairy weave tents, which they also thickened and made waterproof.  It began to snow.  Fortunately, they had plenty of fairy weave blankets which they draped over Ghost and the horses and shaped to imitate real medieval blankets that fell to the ground.

“At least the horses won’t freeze,” Sukki said.

That night, Elder Stow surrounded the camp with a screen no normal thing could break through, though they understood Dagnanus might contrive some magical way to get inside the screens.  With that in mind, Nanette and Katie kept their senses on high alert and worried in the night.  Elder Stow set the alarm on his scanner so if anything bigger than a marmot or an owl came into the area and got through the screens, they would be alerted.  The big predators, like lynx and wolves could be kept out by the screens, along with people.  The return of the brigands would be bad, but they also did not need a bear stumbling into the camp.

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