Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 6 of 6

They untied the three men and Lockhart was the one who named the wounded one.  “Engelbroad,” he called the man.

The man coughed and spit.  He would not live long.  “Engel,” he said.  “Engel Bronson, king’s man.  I fixed their tank after they crashed. Ungrateful…”  He began to cough up some blood.  “I strengthened their screens and enhanced their photon canon.  I warned them about you, but I see I did not enhance their weapon nearly enough.”  He had to stop talking.  He moaned and seemed unable to stop the bleeding.  “A mistake I will not make again,” he said, and it was the last thing he said.

Meanwhile, the Ape commander asked Kerga what he would do with the Eater bodies.  “Bury them, like the Christians,” Kerga said.  “They do not deserve the flames.  We will give them a good Christian burial, and as they say, may God have mercy on their souls.”

“Hey!” Decker shouted.  One of the freed men started to scream and ran off.  Nanette pulled her wand to stop the man, but Decker lowered Nanette’s hand.  “Let him go.  I don’t know if we can help him.”

Harrold came to look.  “He is Vanlil,” Harrold said.  “A man of the mountains.  We fought them when I was young.  He has no welcome here.”

“Come,” Kerga shouted generally to everyone.  “We must celebrate.”

The Ape commander shook his head.  “We are under strict instructions not to mingle.  Though I do not understand why the Gott-Druk is here.”  He stared at Elder Stow.

Lockhart answered.  “The Gott-Druk and the Elenar are native to this planet tens of thousands of years ago.  They are allowed to visit if they do not draw attention to themselves.  I don’t know if that explains it.  Lincoln has the database.  He could explain it better.”

“This is the world where my people began,” Elder Stow said.

“And another reason why this world is supposed to be off limits to outsiders.  The Gott-Druk, The Elenar, the Imuit all began here and keep an eye on this world.”

The Ape commander understood something, anyway.  He took his crew back to his ship.  They would probably be a while before they lifted off.

The travelers went through their camp and picked up Lincoln, Alexis, Eric and Astrid, and from there they went to the big house to celebrate.  That consisted mostly of the men drinking, bragging, and showing how strong, or as Alexis called it, how stupid they could be.  The travelers did not stay long.  Katie only asked one question to Captain Jarl.

“Where did that third man go?”

“He said nothing the whole time,” Nanette agreed.

“He said he had to take the king’s ship out that evening,” Jarl said.  “You might still catch a glimpse of the sail, but he said he had to get back and report to the king.  Now that Engel died, it fell on him to bring the bad news.”

“Come on,” A man interrupted.  “They are sending Engel off in old man Knute’s ship.  The old man will have to make another ship for when he dies, if he ever dies.”

Katie insisted on witnessing a real Viking funeral.  Tony and Nanette went with her, but Lockhart took the others back to the camp.

###

Kirstie arrived the very next morning.  She started out happy to see her friends.  She hugged her son, Soren, and added a hug for his friend Hodur.  She hugged Inga and introduced her husband Wilam to the group.  “Wilam is from Danelaw.”  Boston stood the whole time turning her toe in the dirt and trying to be patient.  But at last, Kirstie opened her arms wide and yelled, “Boston,” though Boston was only a few feet away.

Boston grinned a true elf grin, and Wilam came close to matching it on his human face.  “I started to think you forgot me,” Boston said.

“Never,” Kirstie responded and gave an extra squeeze before she let go.  “So, what have you all been doing while waiting for me?” she asked.  “Inga’s note talked about, murders?  It was rather vague.”

“Flesh Eaters,” Lockhart got her complete attention and he told her the story, beginning with their arrival, and ending with Engel’s funeral.  Kirstie’s face turned more and more sour as he talked.   “The Ape warship moved out a few hours ago,” he said.  Then he told her in the end that Engel, the king’s man was Engelbroad, physicist and servant of the Masters in Genevieve’s Day, and Kirstie let out a war cry.

“That is it.  My life is over.  Bieger?” she asked Inga who nodded.  “He will report to the king quick enough. They have been looking for me, for the Kairos since I was a teenager.  Now they will know who I am and where I am and have proof.”

“We can move to Northumbria,” Wilam suggested.  “They will never find you.”

Kirstie shook her head.  “Can’t.  Not yet.  I have to get all the pieces of a crashed ship, and a tank, and all the bodies and weapons to the Avalon isles and off this earth.  I have to help these people move on in their journey.  It is a good thing you stayed here.  Much of the inland road you would have to follow is hardly suitable for horses, much less a wagon.  I have to think about that.  Then I have to scour the mountainsides for Flesh Eater survivors and get rid of them.  They can be worse than Bluebloods, and they breed like rabbits.  God, I sound like Genevieve.”

“How can we help?” Inga and Katie asked more or less at the same time.

Kirstie put a hand to her head.  “Alexis, got any aspirin?”

###

The following morning, first thing in the morning, Kirstie made the travelers get up and saddle up, prepared to move.  The sky turned overcast, but the rain had the kindness to stay away.  Besides Wilam, Inga, Eric, and Astrid, Kirstie’s son Soren, his friend Hodur, and Hilde, who was both Hodur’s and Eric’s mother was there.  She was always kind enough to be like a mother to Soren when Kirstie was away.  Kirstie instructed them all, sternly.

“The gate will stay active for a bit after the travelers go through. Do not follow them under any circumstances, and do not let anyone else follow them.  The travelers belong in the future, and they are trying to get home, but anyone else who goes through the time gate will age as many years as they advance through time.  That could be fifty or more years all at once.  Soren, you would become a wrinkled old man of sixty without having lived any of the years in-between.  All of your friends would be lost to you, and who know where you might end up.  Probably in the desert where it never rains.

Kirstie looked up.  The sky began to produce a wet mist. It would surely begin to rain shortly.

“But how are you going to move the time gate to us?” Sukki asked.

“Amphitrite has agreed to help this one time,” Kirstie said.  “Pardon me Wilam.”

“All right,” Wilam smiled, and he smiled for Boston who he knew to be an elf.  Boston returned the smile.

“Amphitrite?” Astrid asked.  She did not understand what Kirstie was talking about.

“The goddess,” Eric told her and lowered his eyes out of respect.

“But… where is she?” Astrid asked, even as Kirstie went away so Amphitrite could take her place.  Kirstie wore her armor—the armor of the Kairos which automatically adjusted to Amphitrite’s size and shape.  Astrid’s eyes got big, and she quickly dropped her face as she shut her eyes, tight.  Hilde gave a knowing look to Hodur and Soren.  She glanced at Eric and Inga, who apparently knew all about it, and lowered her eyes as well.

“Lockhart,” Amphitrite spoke.  “I will go out to sea to the point where the time gate should appear in this place.  It is early morning if not first thing.  Please go through quickly.  Kirstie has a lot to do before she and Wilam can go anywhere.  I cannot say she will get it all done before she is found.  You know, I cannot say… Lincoln, don’t you dare look it up.  Wilam, please make sure no one follows the travelers.”  With that, Amphitrite vanished, leaving a small misty spray in her place, but one that smelled of salt water and the sea.

“Boston and Sukki,” Lockhart said.  The time gate appeared literally in front of their faces.  Boston and Sukki had taken to going through first.  When they did, Soren and Hodur jumped up and shouted.

“Good-bye.  Bye.”  Inga grabbed Soren and Hilde grabbed Hodur, just to be sure.

As Lockhart and Katie went through, Katie remarked.  “Funny to mention the Elenar.  We haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Elder Stow, who came behind them said, “Please no,” nice and loud.  Then he appeared to think about it and said, “Sorry.  What you call a knee-jerk reaction.”  Decker laughed.

Tony drove the wagon and Nanette sat beside him on the buckboard.  Nanette waved and spoke.  “Lovely to meet you all.”

Lincoln and Alexis came last.  Lincoln had out the database but waited to say anything.  What he actually said when he went through was, “It is hot.”  Then he talked to Alexis, Nanette, and Tony while Boston and Katie compared directions on their amulets. Elder Stow, Decker, and Sukki fanned out to get the lay of the land, and Lockhart wondered where they ended up.

“Kirstie does not make it,” Lincoln said.  “She dies that year, near as I can tell.”

“She is still quite young,” Nanette objected.

“Thirty-one,” Lincoln agreed.  “Don’t tell Boston.  She will want to go back and warn her.”  He stopped thinking about it when he heard Lockhart shout.

“Lincoln.  Where are we?”

************************

MONDAY

The travelers find themselves in North Africa where Yasmina, the Arabian princess is trying to get away from the soldiers who have accused her of murder.  Monday, 8.7 Escaping  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

 

*

Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 5 of 6

Elder Stow waited while the Flesh Eater tank blasted through the last few trees that stood between them and the camp of the travelers.  Lincoln and Boston had Elder Stow’s screens on full power, though Elder Stow said half power might be enough.  Boston was not taking any chances.

The military meeting took place outside the camp, so the ape men, Vikings, Decker, Katie, and Lockhart were not protected by the screens, but as the travelers figured out, the Flesh Eater tank came first for the travelers.  They knew the ape warship was there but figured the ape main weapon on full power would take a long time to break through their screens.  They had to deal with the unknown element of the travelers first, then they guessed they would have time to take care of the warship.

Boston shouted when she saw the tank.  “It looks like the Kargill weapon we decompressed back at the Men in Black headquarters when the Vordan attacked us.”  The others looked at Boston with curious faces.  “Lockhart would know.”

The screens skipped through red and orange and settled on a light yellowish tint that hardly showed any green, much less blue or purple.  At the same time, the screens around the tank showed two places where they went immediately to a sharp, deep purple glow and appeared to strain against burning out altogether. It did not take long for two holes to appear in the Flesh Eater screens.  The screens around the tank fizzed, popped, and went out altogether.

The tank exploded in several small explosions.  Sukki backed up temporarily, but the explosions were not big enough to put her in danger.  Elder Stow, protect by his personal screens, used his handheld weapon to fry the engine and power source.  Sukki returned quick enough to melt the canon in the front of the now dead tank.

Sukki also fried a couple of Flesh Eaters she found out in the open and did not feel nearly the gilt or sorrow she felt when she fried the Vikings in the last time zone.  She knew that was not right.  As horrifying as the Flesh Eaters might be, they were still people, and should be treated as such. She understood what the others and the Kairos taught her, that people came in all kinds of shapes and sizes, the good and the bad living side by side.  There might be millions of species in the universe.  She did not know how many.  But they were still people and should be respected as such, or as Boston told her, people were people no matter how small.

Sukki backed off as she lectured herself.  She still did not feel bad about frying a couple of Flesh Eaters, but maybe she hoped the rest would stay hidden in the trees where she could not get at them easily.  Besides, she was tired.  That took a lot out of her.  She flew back to the military meeting.

When Elder Stow joined her, the two became visible again.  Elder Stow reached for his scanner and took a moment to study and report the results.  “There are a half-dozen in the woods, still alive.  They have three humans that appear to be prisoners.  Wait a moment.”  Elder Stow touched a spot on his scanner. People waited, though nothing appeared to happen until all heads turned toward the popping sound in the forest.  It sounded a bit like firecrackers.  “I have remotely burned out the Flesh Eater personal screens, which were not very good in any case.”  To the Ape men he said, “Now, when you find them, your weapons will be affective on their unprotected flesh.”

“You flew…” the Ape commander said.  “Invisible… and now burned-out Eater personal screens, remotely, using something only the size of your hand…”  The awe in the Ape commander’s voice could easily be heard, even by the humans, a different species.

Elder Stow turned to explain to Lockhart and Katie.  “I analyzed the Flesh Eater screens in the last time zone and allowed for fifty years of improvements.  My scanner has been working on the necessary alignment frequencies to burn them out.  The scanner does not have much range, you know.  If there are some still in the hills, or maybe in a lead or iron lined cave, they will likely still have functioning screens.”

“Wolv all over again,” Lockhart said.

“Not far from true,” Elder Stow said.  “The Humanoids had very primitive personal screens which the Wolv spread all over this edge of the galaxy.  These Flesh Eater screens appear to be built using the same technology and principles, so they must have come across the Wolv at some point.”

“And we missed it?” Decker said with a straight face.  “It must have been a battle, seeing Wolv and Flesh Eaters go toe to toe.”

“Colonel,” Katie spoke up.  “The Humanoids ate flesh raw as well.”

“Yes,” Lockhart said.  “I had forgotten.”

“Can we go help those people?” Sukki interrupted.  “They have prisoners.”

The others nodded and Elder Stow asked.  “You still have your discs to protect you from ambient Vr energy?”  People nodded again as they headed toward the woods.  The Apes had big helmets that did the same thing.  The Vikings had no such protection, but at least Lockhart imagined any attack on the Viking minds would simply enrage them and send them, at least temporarily, into berserker mode.

They found Boston, Nanette, and Tony on the edge of the woods awaiting their arrival.  Boston turned off Elder Stow’s screens, left the device with Lincoln, and left Lincoln and Alexis with Astrid and Eric to defend the camp.

“You don’t have to do this,” Decker told Nanette.

“Neither do you,” she responded, a bit snippy, and pulled her wand.

“You are going to make my job a lot harder,” he said.

“Good.”  She would not let him go off and get killed on his own.  He stared at her.   She reddened a bit but did not care about that.

“Come on,” Boston urged. “I can smell them.”

Lockhart looked at Tony who had his M1911 handgun in his hand.  Tony answered the look.  “I was not going to let the women go alone.”

“Fair enough,” Decker said as he pulled his eyes from Nanette.

“They are about thirty yards straight in,” Elder said and pointed.

Kerga pointed left and right.  Jarl and Harrold took men left and right to circle around.  The Ape commander sent one Ape with each group of Vikings.  They waited a minute while Boston bit her tongue before she spouted again.

“Come on.”

“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Lockhart said as he stepped forward.

Three Flesh eaters opened fire as soon as the group got close enough to show clear targets.  One Viking got a hole in his chest.  One Ape soldier got hit in the arm.  Decker anticipated the ambush and went to the ground. The shot went over his head while he and Katie both returned fire and put that Flesh Eater down.  At the same time, Nanette raised her wand and the Flesh Eater weapons got yanked from their hands and floated ten feet up in the air.  Jarl, Harrold, and their men charged from the sides and the other two Flesh Eaters got run through by multiple spears and swords.

Boston raced passed the flesh eaters at elf speed.  Sukki followed, almost as fast.  They found the three humans tied beside a big tree.  One screamed. One would not look at them.  The third looked barely alive.  He had a piece of shrapnel in his chest, probably from when the tank exploded.

They found five Flesh Eaters on the ground in various degrees of life.  If not caught in the tank explosion, they probably got wounded when their personal screens blew.  One held a Vr projector, and he grinned as his tongue shot out and in, like he was tasting the smell of their blood.  He turned on the projector, and the Vikings shouted and put their hands to their heads, but Elder Stow ended that problem.  With his hand weapon, he fried the projector.  Then he fried the head of the Flesh Eater.

The Vikings, enraged, as Lockhart imagined they would be, did not let the remaining Flesh Eaters live, though most of them would have died soon in any case.  No Ape needed to draw his weapon.

Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 4 of 6

The apes lost two drones that day but gathered the information they needed.  They counted ten Flesh Eaters in the woods, and they appeared to be burning a path ahead of them to bring in something like a tank.  They did not bring the main gun from their crashed ship, which would have been useless without the energy source of the ship’s engines, but this portable weapon was not far down the power scale from the ship.  The ape warship was screened, of course, a necessity for space travel, but they feared their screens might not stand up to the power of the tank.

“We may have to abandon you, temporarily, to bring in our main battleship.  The Eaters surprised us with such weapons on another world.  We lost the battle for that world.”

“Your missiles were ineffective?” Decker asked. He came to this meeting on the sixth day as they met over primarily military matters.  Captain Jarl Hagenson came to represent the village, and Inga came with him to explain if she could.  Jarl was younger than Kerga and the others on the council.  It was hoped he might better understand these strangers.

The ape commander shook his head.  “Whatever their power source, the tanks, as you call them, are shielded against our normal weapons.  This is why we may need to bring in the battleship, and even it alone might not be enough.”

“These Flesh Eaters appear to be very good at discerning energy sources and converting them to use,” Elder Stow said.

“They had handheld Vr projectors some fifty years ago.  What you call Vorcan energy,” Lockhart said.

“What is Vorcan energy?” Jarl asked.

“It is a by-product of faster than light travel,” the ape commander began, but paused when Elder Stow held up his hand.  Elder Stow tried to simplify the explanation.

“When a ship—a people learn to travel at the speed of light, which is very, very fast, they discover several side things that come with breaking the light speed.  One is Vr or Vorcan energy.  It can kill people.  Eventually, the people learn to screen out or block that energy so they can fly very fast, safely.  These Eaters have figured out how to recreate that energy in a box they can carry.  It is no good against people who are normally screened, like the big invisible screen we have around our camp at night, you know?”

“Yes,” Jarl said.

“But these Eaters see no reason why they should not use it on people who have not learned the secret to protect themselves.  In that case, it is a powerful weapon that can cause madness, seeing and hearing things that are not there, and eventually making people unable to move before the heart stops and they die.  Do you understand?”

Jarl nodded but did not look too certain.  Inga spoke for him.  “It is like a spear that can be thrust into a woman who has no armor and no shield to fend off the blow.”

“Something like that,” Katie said, and Jarl appeared to understand better.

“But what is the energy source for this tank, and can we disrupt it?” Decker asked.

The ape commander looked like the question did not occur to him, but Elder Stow spoke again.

“My analysis suggests photon energy, though it may be some early form of anti-matter.”

“Photon?” Katie spoke up.  “But even we have lasers.”

“That is the beginning of the circle,” Elder Stow responded, and looked once at Jarl and Inga.  “People begin with natural sources such as wind, water, and animal power.  Fire is a great step.  Then steam and fossil fuels are exploited—still natural fuels.  Eventually atomic energy is discovered, fission, plasma drive, and fusion power.  Following that come experiments on gravity and magnetism—gravometrics, graviton bombs a hundred times more powerful than an atomic explosion, but without the ambient radiation.  If the people survive those days, they eventually find anti-gravity.  This leads directly to faster than light travel, but there are other obstacles to overcome.  One brings people back to the wave-particle nature of light itself.  Here, the circle is completed, and photon energy is a powerful source of energy for a long time before anti-matter, and eventually, anti-photon or dark energy.”  Elder Stow looked at the crew from the ape ship and shook his head.  “But that is as far as I need to go.  Maybe too far.  Let me just say, it appears to be photon energy driving the tank.”

“I understood the basic thrust of that,” Inga said, even as Jarl went back to head shaking.

“I got most of that,” Katie said.  “I’m sure Boston and Sukki would have understood better.”

“I understood well enough,” the ape commander admitted.  “But I have no idea what photon energy is or how to counteract it.  We were using plasma drive and learning about fusion energy when the Eaters first came to our planet.  We thought to learn from them and advance ourselves.  We nearly lost the planet as they ate through the population.  We gained knowledge from them and now fight them wherever we find them.  We help protect primitives where we can, but the Eaters remain about two steps ahead of us.”

“Can we pull down the shade, somehow, and cut off their energy source?” Decker asked, but Elder Stow shook his head.

‘I read about your Superman, being powered by your yellow sun.  But Superman does not become incapacitated every time he steps into the shade.  Photon energy is not exactly light energy—not exactly.  I’ll say no more.”

“So, what can we do?” Katie asked.

Elder Stow thought a long time, and everyone waited as patiently as they could.  He spoke at last.  “Every space civilization has benefited more or less from those that came before them.  The Anazi gained faster than light travel from the Sevarese and Bluebloods.  The Humanoids learned advanced robotics and artificial intelligence from the Anazi.  The Wolv stole the improved screen technology from the Humanoids, so they rampaged through the galaxy with primitive, but personal screens for protection.”

“We have a legend about Wolvs,” the ape commander said.  “That was a thousand years ago.  Most call it a myth. The stories from that time inspired us to fight the Eaters…”  He paused before he added, “They are not a myth, are they?”

Heads shook as Elder Stow spoke.  “They were real.  They ruined most civilizations in this part of the galaxy.  Fortunately, those elder races, such as we who had no interest in conquering anyone, survived and increased in knowledge, if not understanding.  Now, I see that these people and the Flesh Eaters have gained from the Pendratti, Anazi, Humanoids, and such before them.  They have faster than light travel, highly advanced computer driven equipment, and personal screens of a sort.  The Flesh Eaters may be a step or two ahead, but I cannot help you catch up.  One thing all elder races agree on is people have to learn things for themselves.  There have been several incidents where people have been artificially advanced, but the consequences, as far as I know, have always been disastrous.”

“So, you can’t help us,” the ape commander concluded.

“I did not say that.”  Elder Stow put up one hand.  “I have already told you and your young friend there much more than I should.  I will not go further by introducing you to photon technology.  But I will remove the tank for you.  After that, you will have to fight your own battles, as I heard Gerraint, and King Arthur once say.”

Elder Stow turned to Sukki and Sukki stood right up.  “Ready, father.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Elder Stow told her.

“We already covered this, many times,” Sukki responded generally to everyone before she focused on Elder Stow.  “I am not going to let you go off and do something stupid without me.”

Elder Stow merely nodded as the two of them lifted from the ground.  The ape men shouted their surprise.  When the two became invisible, the shouting increased in volume, and Jarl joined them, before people got quiet.

“You did not seem surprised,” Katie turned to Inga.

“I think I have used up my quota of surprise for this life,” she responded.

Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 3 of 6

“A medium sized warship,” Elder Stow reported what his scanner and his private database told him.  When the ship fully landed and pointed its weapons at the woods, Elder Stow lowered the screens and walked out with Katie and Lockhart to contact the ship.  Boston and Sukki insisted on tagging along, and Eric ran up to walk with them.  Elder Stow had to show Lincoln how to turn on the screens, if necessary.

Three ape-like people exited the craft to meet with the humans.  They wore pants, but no shirts.  They had straps from shoulder to hip and devices of some sort attached to the straps.  The travelers did not doubt that some of those devices were weapons. The apes also wore helmets which looked odd around those ape faces—looking almost like American football helmets.

“How can we help you,” Lockhart asked in the local tongue they had been speaking over the last several days.

One ape man stepped forward, no doubt the one in charge.  “We mean you no harm,” he said, before he looked down and patted one of the devices on his chest strap.  It took a couple of seconds before the device spoke in the tongue of the locals.  “We mean you no harm.”

Lockhart thought he might try the ape language.  The gift of the Kairos had been to understand and be understood whatever language got spoken.  The travelers heard everything in English and spoke English as far as they were consciously aware.  They normally did not think about what language they were speaking, but they sometimes noticed when presented with more than one option.  Besides, alien languages often had odd noises and very odd pronunciations that were hard for the human tongue to get around.  Fortunately, this ape language sounded fairly normal.  Lockhart later said it sounded Greek.  Katie countered that it sounded more Aramaic, and Lockhart could not stop himself.  “It is all Greek to me.”

Lockhart turned to the ape man.  “We also mean you no harm, so that is good.  But I must ask, what are you doing here?  You must know that this world is off limits to space travelers.”

The ape man looked at his companions.  Katie judged it a look of surprise before the ape man spoke again in his own tongue.  “We are hunting Eaters and tracked one of their ships to this world.  The Eaters care nothing for the rules.  We found the ship crashed and ruined some distance from here, but my mate says there may have been survivors.”

Katie spoke for the first time.  “This village has had three casualties of the Flesh Eaters in the last thirty days.  Two were eaten to the bones.  The third victim had the blood drained, but the Flesh Eater got scared off before it could feast.  I would guess one survived, though it may be weak.  There may be more.”

The ape looked unmistakably like he had to think about that, when one of the others nudged him and said, “scan right.”  Whatever that meant.

The ape man took another device from his strap and turned it on Katie.  It only took a second, before he said, “You are female?”  Katie heard something unkind in the way he said that, though with aliens it was hard to tell.

“Last I checked,” Katie responded, but the ape man had already moved on to scan Elder Stow.  The scanner flashed red, and the ape’s eyes got big.  Elder Stow thought it only fair to remove his glamour and stand there in his full Neanderthal glory.

“Gott-Druk,” the ape said with some trepidation in the edges of his voice.  “Now it makes sense.”

“What?” Lockhart asked.

“We scanned and scoured this whole planet, and it led us to the one sign of technology beyond the rest of this world.  We found the crashed Eater ship.  But then we picked up a new signal, five of your days ago.  It was like… energy sources… so much we did not understand.  But the refined metal we understood.  My commander sent me and my ship to see what we might be dealing with.”

“We are travelers,” Lockhart said, taking back the conversation.  “The Gott-Druk are originally native to this world and have permission to visit here.  You should not be here.”

The ape man nodded, though the others did not know what that meant.  He spoke to the question.  “The one called Kairos said we could watch for Eaters and come if we remove the Eaters from this world and do not interact with the native peoples of this world.”

“The Kairos will be here in a few days,” Katie said.  “She is also a female.”

“So it has been recorded that the Kairos sometimes takes the female form.”

Boston interrupted from behind.  “There is so much wrong with that sentence, I don’t know what to correct first.”

“What?” Katie turned her head.

“Boss, we got company,” Boston added.  They all looked.  Inga and Kerga were leading about two-dozen warriors from the village.  Tony and Astrid came out from the traveler’s camp, and Boston and Eric also went to try and stop the crowd, or at least keep them from getting too close.  Kerga appeared to agree with whatever they said.  The warriors stopped, but then he and Inga followed Boston and Eric to the meeting.

“Welcome to our village,” Inga said quickly before the village chief said something stupid, and Katie tried to explain to Kerga.

“These good people are also looking for the ones who murdered and ate your people.  When they find them, they will stop them and punish them, and take them away.”

“We may kill them if we find them first,” Kerga said.  It came out like a statement, but was a question, not asking for permission, but stated to see if there were any objections.

It took a second for the translated words to reach the ape man’s ear and he responded.  The translation device working quicker this time, now having heard and pieced together some of the local tongue.  “Be careful.  The Eaters still have Vorcan energy to cause the madness and paralyze those who are not protected.”  He tapped his helmet, and the travelers nodded, now understanding the reason for them.  Elder Stow spoke.

“My people are protected.  The locals are not.  We have warned them, but they are angry.”

The ape looked sad. “I have seen such anger in others.  I have not seen good come from it.  Only weeping and gnashing of the teeth.”

“Yes,” Katie agreed, and Lockhart looked at her, Inga, and Kerga before he spoke again, this time in the local tongue.

“This land belongs to the village, but with their permission, you might park your ship here while you hunt for the Flesh Eaters.”  He looked at Kerga.

“It is not exactly a trading ship in the dock, but we are not against travelers and strangers, strange as they may be,” Kerga said.  “You may come to the meeting hall when you are ready.”

Katie smiled for Kerga since he had such a hard time smiling.  “I was just going to ask if they wanted to join us around our fire.”

“No, please,” the ape man said.  He may have meant to say no thank you, but then he explained.  “You are omnivorous.  You are selective in what you eat and do not normally eat people, but you do eat meat.  We find that offensive and disturbing.  We are well supplied on our ship and may rest comfortably there.”

“Understood,” Lockhart said.

“One more warning,” the ape man added.  “You must not let the Eaters gain a foothold on your world.  Even a few is all they need.  They came to our world in the old days, and it took all of our effort to drive them out.  We are still fighting them after these hundred and fifty of your years, as you count time.  We can help you find them and end them, but we must keep apart.  We have agreed to keep apart.”

“Also understood,” Lockhart said, as Katie turned to explain to Kerga.

“The agreement with the Kairos is they may come and remove the flesh Eaters from this world, but they are not to interact with the people of this world.”

“Wise,” Inga said, and after a moment, Kerga agreed.

“But I am curious,” Katie continued and returned to face the ape man as she spoke.  “How much of your aversion to meat eaters is because of your struggle against the Flesh Eaters who seem to prefer people meat?”

“Some,” one of the ape men with the commander spoke for the first time.  “We have discussed this.  Probably some.  Most species eat of the animal bounty of their worlds.  We do not.”

“Fruits and vegetables,” they heard Inga explaining to Kerga.

Something on Elder Stow’s belt let out a brief beeping sound.  He picked up the device, his scanner, and glanced at the trees which were not too far away.  “Movement in the woods, about five miles off.  I’m picking up refined metals.  They appear to have come from behind an iron ladened ridge, or there may be a cave there that blocked my scanner.”

The ape man, a young one who had not yet spoken, looked very interested.  “You can see such details at a distance with a mere box you hold in your hand.  May I see that?”

“Certainly not,” Elder Stow said, gruffly.  “My equipment, though they may be like toys, they are off limits to primitives.”

The head ape appeared to bow his head while the other pulled back his hand, like one scolded.  Then the apes got busy hearing something through their helmets.  “Confirmed,” the ape commander said.  “Our ship has detected the same metal traces.  We will send an unoccupied flyer to look.”

“A drone,” Katie translated for Lockhart.

“Still,” the young ape expressed some awe.  “It takes our whole ship and all our energy to do what you can do with a simple box in your hand.”

Everyone could see that Elder Stow really wanted to show off, but he did not dare.  He said, “I have learned on this journey that even a small thing can throw all of history off track.  You best leave my equipment alone.”

“Wise,” Inga repeated herself, and they all paused to watch as an airplane-like drone exited the warship and headed out over the treetops.

************************

MONDAY

The flesh eaters are on their way, and the apes, travelers, and vikings combined have to stop them, if they can.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 2 of 6

Lockhart and Katie faced the elder council together while the rest of the travelers, with the help of many locals, rubbed down Ghost and the horses from their ice water bath.  Kerga, the village chief, stood flanked by two ship captains, Jarl and Harrold.  They appeared to be the ones who would make any decisions that had to be made.  Old man Kerga did not seem to have a problem talking to the big blonde woman as an equal, unlike so many elders in so many other cultures, but it made more sense when Boston came up with Inga and spoke.

“This is Kirstie’s home village.  She was born here and sailed from here several times on raids,” Boston said.

Inga interjected.  “She went from here with the king’s men to a place she calls Oslo to join the Swedes in their fight against the Geats.”

“But she is on her way home,” Boston said.  “She should be here in about a week.  I vote we stay here and wait for her.”

“That should not be a problem,” Inga said with a look at Kerga.  Kerga made no objection.  “Only one thing,” Inga began, and Boston interrupted.

“They got Flesh Eaters in the woods.  Two eaten down to the bones, and the third drained of all her blood.”

“Damn.”  They heard Lincoln.  He kept rubbing his horse but listened in.

“You know what plagues us?” Captain Jarl asked.

“You can do something about it?” Captain Harrold asked at about the same time.

“We will do what we can, but I am not sure what we can do,” Lockhart said.

“Kirstie may have an idea when she arrives,” Katie said, and saw some heads nod.

“That is why we sent for her,” Inga said.

“Yes,” Kerga spoke and looked around.  “The king sent a man, Engel Bronson, to see what the king might do about our problem.  I sent for him.  Where is he?”

No one had an answer, until Jarl had a suggestion.  “He may be exploring the woods again.”

Kerga nodded.  “Come,” he started to say and changed the word to “Eric.”  A young man arrived, anxious to help.  “When they are warmed and ready, bring these people to the big house.  They can make temporary shelters in the long meadow.”  He walked off with a final word.  “Inga.”  She followed him.

Eric grinned and looked overwhelmed with questions while a young woman skipped up and took his hand.  She grinned the same kind of grin Eric had, and she spoke up right away.

“I am Astrid.  I am Eric’s wife of three whole months.  I am going to have a baby.”

“Good for you,” Katie barely got the words out as she and Lockhart went to see to their horses.

“You have hair the color of Kirstie,” Eric said, though plenty of people in the village appeared to be blond.  “Are you a shield maiden like her?”

“Yes,” Lockhart spoke right up, and explained to Katie.  “I figure that is the Viking equivalent of a Rhine maiden.”  Katie did not argue.

“So, where is this long meadow?” she asked.

“Ah,” Eric said.  “I will show you.  It runs right along the edge of the forest, so be careful if there are enemies in the woods.”

Lockhart understood.  Kerga was positioning them to act as a wall between the Flesh Eaters and the village.  Later, when they arrived at the long meadow, Elder Stow stepped up with a word.

“My father.  I can set the screen around the meadow and our camp, but it will not stretch far enough to cover the whole village.  I can also retune the discs for the family to carry.  They will relay the fourth screen and filter out any Vr energy the Flesh Eaters may have.”

“Can you scan the forest?” Lockhart asked.  “To see if there is a Flesh Eater ship parked somewhere in the woods.”

“I can,” Elder Stow said.  “But the range is not what it was.  I had increased the range and details before the Kairos broke it.  Now, it is at factory specs, like the screens, which I am still working on.”

“So, if you don’t pick up anything in the immediate area, that would suggest they are not within range.”

“Yes, it would,” Elder Stow said, and stepped off to see what he could do.

###

On the morning of the fifth day, Sukki and Boston sat out to watch the sunrise.  The others were up, mostly puttering around the fire or seeing to the horses.  Lockhart sat and stared at the fire, sipping on this time zone’s version of morning tea, and thinking about coffee.  Alexis stretched whatever food they had left to come up with some kind of breakfast.

The travelers ate in the big house, the village meeting hall on the first day, but said they did not mean to put a strain on the village resources and should take care of their own meals.  The village elders were more relieved and grateful than offended, which was good.

On the second day, Decker, Katie, and Tony explored down the road that headed south, and took Eric to guide them.  They found it wholly unacceptable for the wagon, which meant they were stuck waiting for Kirstie.  Decker and Katie found a herd of deer, wary of the humans, but not out of rifle range.  Eric shouted at the sound of the rifles, and that may have helped scare the deer, so they scooted back into the woods.  Still, they bagged three in the end and contributed two to the village larder.  Old man Kerga almost smiled.  Inga thought to say thank you.

Inga introduced the travelers to Soren, who was Kirstie’s thirteen-year-old son, and his friend in trouble, Hodur, who was Eric’s baby brother.  She also introduced them to Eric’s and Hodur’s mother, Hilde, who was a widow often left with the troublemakers, Hodur and Soren to watch.

“I honestly don’t mind,” Hilde said.  “It is better than letting them run wild through the village, though they eat more than anyone I have ever seen.”  She smiled, but Eric had a different take on the subject.

“I’ve been escaping being stuck with those two brats for as long as I can remember.”

 Back on the third day, Lincoln asked about contracting the king’s ship that sat at the dock.  Captain Harrold said that would not be possible.  Some of the king’s men stayed on the ship.  Some went with the king’s representative, Engel Bronson, into the woods.  Curiously, the man had been back to the village twice, but he never asked about the strangers, so the travelers never met him.  Meanwhile, Lincoln started getting antsy, and maybe thought too much about possible Flesh Eaters in the woods.  Lockhart teased him.

“Whatever happened to my desk jockey who would rather sleep at his desk than be a field agent?”

“It’s this trip,” he admitted.  “I can’t seem to sit still anymore.”  He thought about it and amended his statement.  “I just want to get home so I can get back to my quiet, peaceful desk.”

Lockhart understood and Alexis smiled.

On the fourth day, Tony, Nanette, and Sukki found a farmer willing to sell a cow.  It had not calved in three years and so it had no milk.  The man thought with the right price, he might get a younger cow to replace it.  Tony and Nanette were not about to pay him enough for an old cow so he could buy a new, young one, but they gave more than the cow was worth, so he got a good start on raising the funds for a new one.  He threw in two big baskets of fruits and garden vegetables, so it felt worth the price.

Then, on that fifth morning, as the sun rose, Boston jumped up and looked away from the sun.  “Visitors?” Sukki asked.  Elder Stow had his screens set around the camp all night, and the villagers had learned the hard way, through stubbed toes and noses, that the screens needed to be lowered to let people in and out.

“No,” Boston responded.  “In the sky.  There.”  she pointed.

Sukki stood and saw what Boston pointed at.  Lockhart stood.  Decker grabbed his rifle.  Elder Stow touched his screen device and the screens appeared tinted slightly yellow but still completely see through.  The alien ship pulled up from its intended landing site and landed on the long meadow a hundred yards beyond the screens.

“Flesh Eaters?” Lincoln asked.

“Apes, I think,” Katie said.  She recognized the markings on the outside of the ship.

Avalon 8.6 Standing Still, part 1 of 6

After 883 A.D. Norway

Kairos 104: Kirstie, Shield Maiden

Recording …

The time gate sat just off the shore beyond Bristol.  Lincoln complained.  “If Elgar stayed in Winchester, the time gate might have been in the swamps of Somerset, or maybe in Devon, but on land.

“It might not be so bad.” Sukki stayed positive as she and Boston got ready to test the gate.

“Yeah,” Boston agreed.  “Kirstie is a Viking.  She might be sailing across the Atlantic.  Too bad we had to kill so many of the local Vikings.”

“Boston,” Sukki objected.  She did not need the reminder.  She did some of the killing and found it a traumatic experience.

“Sorry,” Boston said.  “Sorry.”

“Just see where the water gate leads and come right back,” Kate told them.  “No playing around.”

“I understand,” Sukki said, and Boston nodded while she walked her horse out to where the water came up to her horse’s withers.  Her saddle got soaked, and the water felt cold on her legs, but Boston had the fairy weave she wore as thick and waterproof as she could make it.

They came out in a bay—a skinny bay surrounded by high mountains and cliffs, near a dock where people worked.  A Viking longboat sat alongside the dock, and the men and women who worked on the boat took a minute to notice.  The water was calm, but deep, so the horses had to swim, and it felt very cold, almost ice cold.

One man shouted as Boston, Sukki, and their horses struggled to swim to shore.  Another man shouted.  A woman said something and pointed.  Several men raced down the shore from the dock to indicate where the horses might find some footing.  Several people ran into the village.

Boston had to turn her heading.  Sukki already had Cocoa moving in that direction.  They quickly reached a spot where the shivering horses could climb out of the water, even as men came up with blankets.  The men went straight to the horses, to rub them down and warm them.  The few women covered Boston and Sukki in blankets and told them to walk it off.

“Keep walking until your legs don’t feel like they are about to fall off,” one woman said., but it was not so bad.  The fairy weave naturally pulled the wet and cold from their legs and expelled it.  Fairy weave was a marvel.

“We have to fetch the others,” Boston told the woman beside her.

“More?” the woman asked, not really questioning the idea that there were more.  She looked at the old man who came over to question the strange women but seemed get some sort of message.  He backed off and gathered a half-dozen more men to stand on the shore and wait for the others.  Boston ignored that whole exchange, having the others on her mind.

“Sukki, are you ready to fly?” Boston asked and Sukki nodded.  Besides the fairy weave, Doris, the sea goddess, one of the goddesses who changed Sukki from a Gott-Druk—a neanderthal—to homo sapiens, gifted Sukki with pressurized skin where the cold water did not affect her nearly as much as a normal human.  She could also hold her breath much longer than anyone else and go into the deepest parts of the ocean without being crushed.  She could also fly, but that was thanks to one of the other goddesses.

“I hope we won’t be long,” Sukki said and lifted into the air while the men and women on the shore gawked and some shouted.  She went to where the time gate still stood activated and flew closer to the sea than necessary, but just to make sure she got through.

“Inga.”  The woman who stood beside Boston introduced herself.

“Boston.”  Boston reciprocated, and sat on the shore staring at the time gate

 “Kirstie is not here,” Inga said, flatly, and sat down beside Boston.

“I know,” Boston responded.  She looked at the woman and had to ask.  “Why did you think to mention her/”

“Two reasons.  First, you appeared out of nowhere and plopped into the fjord.  Only Kirstie would know someone who can appear out of nowhere.  Besides, your friend can fly.  Second, I feel there is something different about you.  I have been to Avalon, you know.”

Boston understood.  She could not deny herself.  “I’m an elf,” she admitted, and Inga merely nodded that she understood.  “My friends are all human, mostly.  Elder Stow is an ancient one.  Sukki used to be an ancient one, but she got turned into a human several hundred years ago by a handful of goddesses.  They made her human but got a little carried away.  They gifted her with all kinds of abilities, like the ability to fly.”

“I see,” Inga said.  “But you said hundreds of years ago?  Where are you from?”

“The future,” Boston said.  “I probably shouldn’t talk about it.”

Inga looked confused, so Boston explained a little more.  “We started on Avalon eleven or twelve hundred years in the future.  We traveled into the past through a thing called the Heart of Time.”

Inga’s eyes got big.  “I saw the great crystal.  Kirstie said it remembered all of the past, but I did not know it had such magic.”

Boston shook her head.  “Not magic.  Like magic, but I think it is more a natural device, in a way.  Certain crystals have the capacity for massive memory storage…”  Boston stopped.  “Sorry.  I’m an electrical engineer.  You don’t need the specifications, which you probably would not understand anyway.  Besides, as an elf, my inclination is to say, yes, it is deep and mysterious magic, and make a spooky face, and grin.”  Boston grinned.

Inga laughed.  “I believe I understand just fine.”

“Oh,” Boston pointed.  Elder Stow and Sukki came through the time gate.  They appeared to be carrying the wagon, but Boston knew they were merely directing it to the shore.  Elder Stow had it floating along above the water, lifted by a half-dozen discs tuned to his flotation device.

Elder Stow collected the discs and flew back through the time gate before he could be introduced.  Sukki simply said, “Be right back,” and she followed Elder Stow through the air and vanished over the water.  Inga watched.  She squinted but could not say how the magic was done, or perhaps more accurately, where the people went.  Boston took a second to look at the five men and two women who stood on the shore.  They seemed to be patiently waiting for something.  She wondered if maybe they were some sort of elder council.  The rest of the crowd stood a few feet behind the council.

“Kirstie is on her way back to the village,” Inga said.  “I expect her in a week or two.”

“That should be interesting,” Boston said.  “Maybe we can stay here for a week or two and wait for her.  That would beat having to chase her all over the roads.  You do have roads?”

Inga said they did.  “But they are not especially good for a big wagon like yours.  Our road is mostly the sea.”

“So, would you mind if we stay here for a while?” Boston asked.

“That depends on how much you eat,” Inga smiled.  She did not have the lips for a good elf grin.

“Like an elf,” Boston answered with a straight face before the two laughed softly.

“There is one thing,” Inga said, and lowered her voice in a way that got all of Boston’s attention.  “There have been three unexpected deaths this season.  All three were found in the wilderness, outside the village itself, where no one else was around.  We found the bones, twice.  The third time, men rushed into the woods on the hill and must have scared away whatever it was.  We found Earika, a young wife and mother.  She had not been eaten like the others, but all of the blood had been drained from her body.”

“Flesh Eaters.”  Boston voiced her suspicion just before the others began to come through the time gate.

Avalon 8.5 Hiding from Them, part 6 of 6

Tony reacted first, though Nanette followed immediately with a scream.  The travelers who once struggled against ghouls projecting frightening images into their minds resisted longer.  Decker and Katie were able to grab their rifles.  Alexis got her wand.  Lincoln and Lockhart pulled their handguns, but they were unable to use the weapons as the Vr energy invaded their minds.  The Flesh Eaters carried a handheld Vr projector that bathed the travelers in hypnotic hallucinations.

Boston, who did not appear to be affected by the energy, whipped out her wand and laid down a line of fire in front of the aliens.  The Flesh Eaters paused.  The Vikings with them kept back.  But Boston feared for her friends.  Then, Elder Stow managed to touch the spot on his scanner that activated the discs they all still carried.  Suddenly, The Vr energy got blocked and people came quickly back to their senses.

The Flesh Eaters were honestly frightening enough to look at.  They did not need the hallucinations to be scarry.  They stood tall, maybe six or seven feet, but skinny as an elf.  They had extra-long legs and arms, and heads too big for their necks.  The eyes, ears, and nose looked normal enough, though the nose pointed up a bit, but the mouth looked too big for the head.  They had rows of teeth, all sharp for tearing meat off a carcass, like the mouth of a shark or maybe an ogre.  And the tongue darted in and out of the mouth like a snake’s tongue, like they could smell the blood ahead of them and were becoming excited to drink it all.

Decker shot the one out front.  It had a personal screen of some sort, but not a very strong one.  Decker’s fifth bullet penetrated, and the Flesh Eater collapsed.

The Vikings charged.  Alexis called up a hurricane force wind that slowed them but did not stop them.  Nanette threw out a telekinetic wall that they had to force their way through.  Boston laid down another line of fire, but they were not hampered by that.  They simply ran through the fire.  Sukki stepped up and stared at her hands, not sure what she could do.

Lockhart, Tony, and Lincoln used their handguns and blasted away with Decker, but there seemed no way they would avoid hand to hand fighting.  Tony feared that some of the travelers might get killed, but a troop of fairies arrived and got big.  At once, there were arrows flying into the midst of the Vikings with deadly accuracy.

Katie concentrated on the Flesh Eaters.  She put one down but imagined the other might reach them.  Elder Stow solved that problem with one shot of his weapon, and when the Flesh Eater fell, the few surviving Vikings all collapsed, unconscious.

“Sukki?” Boston wondered if Sukki did that.

“Not me,” Sukki admitted.  She thought about turning her power on the Vikings to knock them out but decided she did not have enough control.  She did not want to burn them all.

Elder Stow made sure all three Flesh Eaters were dead before he pulled out a device to examine one of the Vikings.  “A mind control implant,” he reported.  “Like the Blueblood implants we once ran into around the Caspian Sea.  Improved.  Smaller.  But affective.”

Alexis and Nanette made sure the Farm family and William were in one piece.  William pointed at them and grinned.  “You are witches,” he said, but for the most part he stared at the fairies, most of whom had reverted to their small size.

Alexis shook her head for William.  “I used to be an elf.  Boston is an elf.”

“I can be a witch,” Nanette said, and Alexis agreed before she warned her.

“Yes, but not something to brag about.  The church goes through periods of no tolerance.  They say all witchcraft is evil and don’t distinguish between a good witch and a bad witch.”

“They burned Glinda the good witch of the north at the stake,” Boston said and tried to keep a serious face.

“I read that book,” Nanette said.

“You should see the movie,” Lincoln said as the fairies zeroed in on Lockhart and Katie.

“I am May, you met my husband Pinewood about three hundred years ago, in the days of Gerraint?” She was not sure but both Katie and Lockhart nodded.  “We were sent to find you and bring you to the battlefield.”

“Battlefield?” Lincoln interrupted.  Boston, Decker, and Tony all heard.

May said, “It is not far from Kingston.  We should move from here.  We will have to stop for the night before we arrive, but we should be there early in the morning.  And, your grace,” she turned to William who walked up.  “The king will be there as well.”

William closed his mouth and nodded.  “That is who I need to see.”

###

On the morning of the battle, about ten that morning, the Saxon line struck the Vikings in the corner, as planned, and they stopped.  After a few awkward seconds, the Viking line began to move forward to engage the Saxons head-to-head.  It was intended to disrupt the Viking line they so perfectly formed.  A jagged line is not nearly as effective.  Unfortunately, when the Vikings moved, the Saxon line also moved, equally disrupting their own line.  They met about halfway, and as a result, the Vikings only half turned their backs to the forest.

The Viking commander saw an opportunity right away.  He had about sixty horsemen that he held back with his reserves.  As the Viking line turned and the Saxons came up, there was a gap made between the men and the bend in the river.  He hurried his horsemen to hit the Saxons in the flank, and maybe get around them to strike them in the rear if possible.

“Damn,” Elgar said, and hurried his forty horsemen to counterstrike.  The horsemen squeezed through the gap and met one another.  The Saxons took the worst of it, but they did enough damage to the Viking horsemen to drive them back and keep them from hitting the line of men on foot.

“Deerrunner.  Pinewood.” Elgar shouted.  No human would have ever heard the call over the roar of fighting men, but the elf and fairy heard clearly.  They had to come out from the forest and thus exposed themselves, but they were arrow ready, and very quickly Vikings began to fall at the back of the Viking line.

At the same time, Elgar moved his reserved men to reinforce the end of the line by the riverbend where the fighting started.  They began to push the Vikings back on that end.

The poor Viking commander couldn’t decide what to do.  He finally saw the archers from the woods were taking the worst toll on his men and ordered his reserves to attack the woods.  The elves and fairies raced back into the woods.  Elgar knew Between Bogus, Piebald and their dwarfs, with some very brave goblins who risked the light as long as they stayed in the shadow of the trees, very few in the Viking reserve would come back out alive.

The Viking commander gathered his horsemen.  They no doubt planned to follow through on the plan to strike the Saxon flank, or they at least hoped to press forward and keep the Viking line from crumbling.  Even as they got ready to move, Elgar heard the sound of rifle fire.  The Viking horses went down, and sometimes the men got knocked out of their saddles.  Elder Stow, Sukki and May’s small fairy troop landed behind the Viking line, even as a giant wave came down the river and swept the Viking escape boats into the deep or shot them downriver where they would be no use to any escaping Vikings. By the time the half-dozen pyromaniac dwarfs arrived in a boat of their own, there were very few Viking boats for them to burn.  They complained, of course.

When Boston shot her explosive arrows into the last of the horsemen, Nanette having stepped up to make sure they reached that far, Katie and Decker just about stopped firing.  Lockhart let loose scattershot from his shotgun at the Vikings who began to escape the line and headed toward the bend in the river.

Then Elder Stow said to Sukki, “It will save lives in the long run,” and Sukki reluctantly agreed.  With Elder Stow starting on one end and Sukki on the other they fried the back of the line of remaining Vikings with all the power available to them.  Then Sukki cried.

The surviving Vikings surrendered immediately.  They recognized there was no escape.  Many good Saxons, Celts, and mixed bloods died that day, but the king could not help himself.

“That was almost too easy.”

“Let’s hope the Vikings think that and stay out of Wessex,” Elgar said.

“I said you got the better of the deal,” Osric pointed out to the king as Ethelbald rode up shouting.

“That was the greatest slaughter of a heathen-raiding army there has ever been.”

“Can I quote you?” Elgar said, and shouted, “Boston.”  A red-headed streak ran faster than a human could run and jumped right up into Elgar’s saddle, facing him and hugging him.  “Yes, I love you, too,” Elgar said.  “But be a good girl and get down.”

Boston looked at him and the king beside him.  She stood up on the saddle horn and spoke.  “Well, I will get down.”  She flipped to the ground.

“Elgar,” Lincoln waved.

“Lincoln.  Get Alexis and Nanette.  They are not allowed to help.  Lockhart.  Katie.”  He waved so they came over, escorting a monk.

“We will be taking our prisoners to Kingston where we will stay for at least a week, maybe two, while we arrange to return the prisoners with pledges from the Vikings to leave Wessex alone.  You will have about ten days to get to the next time gate, so don’t dawdle.  And who is your friend?”

“Nice to know what I am doing,” King Ethelwulf quipped.

“Cheeky, but worth it,” Osric tossed in.

“This is Wilimbro the monk, alias William the Lesser, alias Ceolnoth, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  We escorted him here.  He needs to see the king.”

“Here I am,” Ethelwulf dismounted for the archbishop.  “Your grace.”

“Your majesty.”

Elgar motioned to Lockhart and Katie.  “You need to go and not stick around.  Take Pinewood and Deerrunner and their people.  You remember Deerrunner?” Elgar asked.  Katie nodded, but Boston interrupted before Katie could speak.

“Piebald around?”

Elgar assured her.  “With Bogus, off chasing the remnant of the Viking reserve company.”

Everyone shivered at the thought of what some wild dwarfs might do to those poor men, but then they paused.  An alien ship lifted off the ground across the river.  It looked big, like the ship the shuttle came from, and Elgar commented.

“Flesh Eaters.  They battle the Apes on and off for about two hundred and fifty years or so.  Remember the Ape ship in the Alps?  These are the ones they were hiding from.”

************************

MONDAY

The travelers need to stand still and let the Kairos come to them.  Meanwhile, there have been murders in the village, and for once the travelers are not being blamed, though they will be used.  Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.5 Hiding from Them, part 5 of 6

“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.”

“Roger… Ready.”

“One-two-three-go.”

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.”

“But…”

“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.

Avalon 8.5 Hiding from Them, part 4 of 6

The Vikings moved out from their woods.  About twenty horses came into view and prepared to ride to where the wagon turned off the road.  Decker opened fire first.  Katie shot the horses and later said it was too bad.  She had come to appreciate how important and helpful a good horse can be.

“With our cars and trucks, we have no real way to understand that in our day,” she said.

Lockhart agreed.  “I remember the Kairos once saying that the dog might be man’s best friend, but the horse was always man’s best help, or something like that.”

In this case, only a few horses made it back behind the trees.  A few more men ran to safety, but the three on the hill completely busted whatever idea the Vikings had of following the travelers on horseback.

Decker got up and moved to another spot where he could see a long way up the road.  He snapped his scope on to the rifle and got in sniper position.  “They might go up the road and try to cross over on foot in what they think is out of range.”

“We just need to hold them for a while to make sure the wagon gets a good head start.”

Katie understood but spoke, so Decker did not have to say anything.  “But on foot, they can go across country, which the wagon really cannot do, and they might easily catch up.”

Lockhart did not really have an objection to Decker sniping the Vikings, especially if he could keep them from crossing the road.  He just wanted to remind them that they were charged to kill as few people as possible, and only in self-defense.  This counted, but it was close to the line.  They might have all gone with the wagon and dealt with the Vikings if and when they showed up.

They waited a good twenty minutes before Decker opened fire.  It took another five minutes before Vikings came across the field in front of them, yelling murder and screaming obscenities.  Katie opened fire, and after a minute, they came to the outside of shotgun range.  Lockhart added his fire to the mix.  The thunder of the shotgun caused a couple of Vikings to almost pause, berserkers though they might be.

A dozen arrows came from the grass on the other side of the road.  They fell short, but they were likely intended to make the travelers duck and give that much more time for the berserkers to arrive.  The ploy did not work.

“Longbow has not been invented yet,” Katie mumbled to herself before she called.  “Decker.”  Decker turned and added his fire to the attackers.  He flipped his rifle to automatic and began to fire three shot bursts.  Katie did the same.

Lockhart shot the last man just below their position.  “Time to ride,” he said, like he always said when they were on the road and spent a time walking and resting their horses.  The horses stayed good, waiting in the field behind the sharpshooters.  They reached the horses just in time as the Flesh Eater shuttle came over their position.  It only paused a moment, maybe just long enough to scan them before it headed out after the crew with the wagon.

“Damn,” Decker said.  Katie got on her watch communicator as Lockhart mounted and they rode off in the direction the wagon had gone.

###

Elgar rode at the head of his column of men which came in the middle of the line.  His men were disciplined enough to keep up in their companies and not string out all over the road.  He could not say the same for the King’s men or for Osric’s men from Dorset, but at least they kept up.   It was either keep up or be trampled by the men from Somerset.  He could not say the same about the men from Wiltunscir and Bearrocscir who strung out behind him for miles, like a bad tail on a kite.  Some of those men would be lucky to arrive in Guildford by midnight.

“Lord,” Deerrunner rode up behind Elgar, young Marsham with him.

“Deerrunner,” Pinewood, who rode beside Elgar, acknowledged the Elder Elf.

Deerrunner and Marsham fit themselves in behind Elgar and Pinewood, Osfirth and Gwyn holding back to make room, and Deerrunner got straight to the point, a sure sign that he was getting older.

“The Vikings have crossed the Thames as reported, and they are resting and waiting for Ethelwulf to tire his men out trying to get there.  They have set up in the field cut along the river from the old oak forest and put their right flank against the trees that remain, with their left flank against a natural bend in the river.  They have boats on the riverbank they can use to cross back over the river if things go badly, but I expect the Danes imagine things will go well.  They imagine they are safe from being outflanked by horsemen, like they were in Somerset.  And the Vikings also imagine that face to face they can beat you Saxons like they beat Beorhtwulf of Mercia.”

“And well they might if we are not careful,” Elgar said.

Gwyn said something from the rear, and Deerrunner repeated it.  “He says footmen are not hampered going through the woods.  We can still hit their flank, just not with horses.”

Elgar shook his head.  “Deerrunner, and Marsham.  You can take your people into the woods and get bow ready.  Lord Pinewood, too, maybe up in the trees.  Tell Bogus that he and Piebald and whatever dwarfs are with them, and maybe Dumfries and whatever night people, can take the forest floor.  Only two things.  First, no arrow fire unless I give the word.  Second, you can take whatever enemy Vikings go into the woods, but you are not allowed to come out of the woods unless I tell you to.  Understood?”

“Yes Lord,” the two elves and the fairy said.

“We better go set up,” Deerrunner said.  “No need to hurry, though, given the speed of your army.”  He smiled.  Elgar was not above giving the elf a snooty look.

Deerrunner and Marshman rushed off.  Pinewood vanished.  He had been floating along gently beside Elgar and simple presented a glamour of himself being big and riding on a horse.  When he left, the illusion disappeared, and the fairy flew off faster than the men could see.

“Where are they going?” Osfirth asked.  “Hey! What happened to Pinewood.”

“He had to go,” Elgar said.  “I told him he should have thought of that before he left.”  Elgar shrugged.

“No, really,” Osfirth turned to Gwyn.  Gwyn, who knew some of the old Celtic stories told in the land, and who suspected, just shook his head.

“You don’t want to know.”

Most of the way down the front line, where the wagons of the women and children moved along well protected, and where the king rode, the king noticed the men ride up to Elgar and then ride away again.  He turned to Osric and asked what that was all about.  Osric, who had some small experience with Elgar’s strange friends, looked, squinted, stared, and finally answered.

“You don’t want to know.”

###

Boston stopped by the farmhouse and shouted, “Hello.”  As she got down from her horse, she sensed the people there, and the fear they felt toward the Vikings they knew were roaming the area around the Thames.  They were afraid, though they were miles from the river.

“We want no trouble,” a man said, as he came to the door, a spear clutched tightly in his hand.  A woman holding a baby came to the door.  A three or four-year-old boy held tightly to the woman’s dress.

“Good,” Boston said.  “We don’t want any trouble either.  There are Vikings blocking the road to Rochester.  We are trying to get to the Winchester Road by cutting across country.  Sorry about crossing your land, but we could sure use a guide who knows what farm trails to take.  We have a wagon and need a good trail, you see?”

The man visibly relaxed when Sukki rode up.  He lowered his weapon and stepped more into the light.  “You are nuns?  Why are women traveling the road alone?  I think that would be very dangerous.”

“Not alone,” Boston said and pointed back to where the wagon came into view.  “We would pay for a good guide,” she added.

William and Elder Stow hurried forward, leaving Lincoln, Alexis, Tony, and Nanette to bring the wagon.  “Is there something wrong?” Elder Stow asked.

“No, Father,” Sukki said.  “Boston is asking the man if he can guide us to the road.”

“Bishop Ceolnoth,” The farmer’s wife spouted and genuflected.  She came out of the house to take and kiss the man’s hand.

“Please, woman.  I am not the Pope,” William said and made her stand.

“And this is one of your priests?” the farmer guessed and pointed at Elder Stow.

“No such thing,” Elder Stow said.  “I am the girl’s father.”

“Oh…” the Farmer did not know what to say.

“Bishop?” Alexis asked as she arrived.

“Yes,” William said.  “But I have found I can get around easier as a simple monk.  Wilimbro was my name, and men did call me William the Lesser for years before I got shoved into the role of Archbishop of Canterbury.  I chose the name Ceolnoth.  I needed a more Saxon sounding name for the role, but between us, I hope things don’t change.”

“Fair enough,” Lincoln said.  He shook the man’s hand as if for the first time.

Tony came up with the wagon and got down to visit with the farmers.  Nanette tied her horse to the back of the wagon and came forward.  Lincoln shouted to them.  ‘Turns out William is the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

“Okay,” the man said in an unhappy voice.  “We were doing well.  I would rather things not change, and you call me William for now.”

Boston looked at the man and said, “But you should understand, around us, things constantly change, and usually that means trouble.”  In the timing of the little ones, the watch communicators went off and Katie began to shout about the Flesh Eater shuttle being on its way.

“I understand,” Elder Stow said, touching a spot on his belt.  He had the screen device handy and turned it on.  Everyone was well inside the screens.  He set them for instant activation when he got the word, but he also made them permeable to radio waves, so they remained able to communicate.  “Careful when you get nearby.  The particle screen is up.  It will take some time to lower the particle screen and still protect us from the Vr energy.”

“Roger, out,” Katie said even as the ship appeared over the farm.

Avalon 8.5 Hiding from Them, part 3 of 6

Decker shouted.  He started to sway and could not seem to open his eyes.

“Decker,” Nanette shouted at him, and Boston and Sukki ran up to see what the problem was.  Sukki arrived in time to see Nanette slap Decker, and yell.  “Open your eyes. Come back to me.”  The shock of the slap got Decker to pop his eyes open, but then he groaned and fell over.

“I’m all right,” Decker breathed.

“What happened?” Sukki asked, but no one was in a position to answer.  Decker sat up when Alexis arrived and knelt beside him to examine him.

“I’m okay.” Decker waved her off.  “I got hit with some kind of hypnotic, hallucinogenic ray of some kind.  I don’t know what that was.”

“I didn’t think anything could touch you when you were with your totem,” Nanette said.

“He got poked in the eye once by a witch,” Boston said.  “Outside Babylon, remember?”

“Thanks,” Decker said, and shook his head.  “I had forgotten that.”

“I think the eagle eye is more like a gift,” Alexis said.  “Like a power”.

“When he first got the gift, he dropped hand grenades on the alien Balok,” Lincoln said.

“Something physical goes with him when he takes to the air,” Alexis remembered the hand grenades.  “There is a real connection to his physical being that stays on earth.”

Decker understood something, anyway.  He got to his feet but had to lean on Nanette for a minute to stay upright.  People waited to hear what he saw.

“About a hundred Vikings as near as I could see.  They only have half a dozen horses, though there may be more horses in the woods.  That was hard to tell with them all staying hidden, but in any case, they are mostly on foot, so if we can get past that point, it is unlikely they will be able to follow us.”

“And did you spy the spaceship?” Elder Stow asked with another glance at his scanner.

Decker did.  “Maybe it saw me and moved fast.  That got my attention.  It came from hovering over that city in the distance and fired some kind of mind-numbing weapon when it got close.  I saw a brilliant flash of colors, felt terrible anxiety—fear, I suppose.  I got dizzy and wanted to throw up.”

“No,” Elder Stow said with some surprise in his voice.  He pulled out his Gott-Druk version of a database and carefully searched.  “Vishantu.”  He read to himself, and Lincoln got out their database and read out loud.

“Vishantu or Flesh Eaters.  Carnivores.  They begin on their victims by drinking the blood and have a tongue specially adapted for that purpose, like a straw.  They can also use their adaptation to suck the marrow from the bones after the flesh is consumed.  Otherwise, they appear near human enough, slightly distorted, mouths too big and gray skin, but humanish.”

Elder Stow interrupted.  “Must be Vr energy.  A very narrow band of what you might call dark energy.  It is a barely discernable by-product of faster than light travel.  It is not something I would have expected these Flesh Eaters even to know about, given the level of technology available to them.”  He waved off the questions and focused on the important point.  “It affects the nervous system and the natural electrical functions of the brain.  It causes a hypnotic state, illusions, or what you call hallucinations, fear, anxiety, pain, paralysis, and death depending on the length of exposure.  Colonel Decker, you must believe me.  The Gott-Druk have outlawed any concentrated use of this energy source.  Most intelligent species that know of it have.  We would never use such a thing, not even on Homo Sapiens.”

“Well, I have the headache,” Decker said.  “Should I look forward to Paralysis and death?”

“There is no lasting trauma,” Elder Stow assured him.  “Good thing you escaped the direct beam.  Your headache should clear up in an hour or so and you should be none the worse.”

“Good to know,” Decker said.  “Meanwhile, I’ll just take these two pain relievers, if you don’t mind.”

“Elder Stow.” Once he knew Decker would be all right, Lockhart changed the subject.  “Let us look at the map you have of the area and see if we can chart the best course to evade the Vikings on the road.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said.

“Tony.  Join us since you are driving the wagon.  And Elder Stow, you need to get your screen device ready in case that alien ship finds us.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said again.  “The fourth screen includes a block for Vrocan energy.  Given enough time, I might be able to block just that energy and we could still move, but the whole normal screen will stick us in place until I can devise a workaround.  In that case, the Vikings may catch us.

“It does appear as if the Vikings and these Vish…Flesh Eaters are working together,” Katie said, and Lockhart agreed.

###

“Ethelwulf,” A woman called.  The king paused to turn to her with some annoyance in his expression.  The command tent could only hold so many.  And she should have stayed in Winchester.  She would stay in Guildford whether she liked it or not.  He changed his expression to a smile.

“Osburh.  What is it?  Can’t you see I am in a strategy session before we leave?  We are ready to leave?”  He looked around and everyone agreed.  The Vikings were seen preparing in a field just west of Kingston, in Surry, two long days away.

The woman came into the room carrying a two-year-old on her hip.  “It is the baby.  He won’t eat.”  She looked distressed.

Elgar smiled and tapped Ethelbald to follow.  “So, this is Alfred the Great,” Elgar said.  The two-year-old gave him a funny look and turned his shy head into his mother’s shoulder.  “Go on.”  Elgar poked Ethelbald.  “You’re the big brother.  Encourage him to eat.”

Ethelbald also gave Elgar the same funny look before he turned to the boy and said, sternly.  “Boy, you must eat your food to get big.”

“No.” Elgar said.  “You are not his father.  Sound like you are a big brother who loves his little brother.  Like this.”  He put his hand gently on the boy’s back and spoke kindly.  “You know, those fruits and vegetables keep you healthy.  A good night’s sleep helps too.  Why if you were to get sick it would just break my heart.  So have some fruits and vegetables…”

“And meat,” Ethelbald interrupted.  “It will make you strong.”

“Fish is good,” Elgar said.

Ethelbald made a face.  “I don’t like fish.”

“I do,” Osburh, the queen said.  “What do you think?”  She leaned back and spoke to her child.  The boy nodded, just little.  “Never mind, Ethelwulf.  I think we will be all right now.”  They left and the king turned to Elgar.

“Is that how you speak to your daughters?”

“I try, but what daughter ever listens to her father?  Mostly, my girls do all the talking, and my wife is right in there with them, talking all the time.  I don’t know if they ever say anything.   I swear, though, they would all keep talking in their sleep if they could figure out how.  I’m looking forward to the battlefield where I can have some peace and quiet.”

The king smiled.  Osric rolled his eyes.  Ethelbald laughed after a minute.

###

Elder Stow directed the group down the paths, keeping an eye on what his scanner showed him.  William rode beside him to add his two cents.  He knew the terrain, if not the actual way they had to go.  Boston stayed out front, her senses searching for people, and her eyes open for dips, potholes, and blockages in the path that Elder Stow’s scanner might not pick up. Sukki rode between Boston and the group where she could relay information back to the wagon.  The Gott-Druk might not be good at whispering, but Sukki could shout plenty loud.

Tony drove the wagon while Lincoln and Alexis rode on either side of the mule.  Decker’s rope had already been tied to the wagon and to their horses in case the horses were needed to help drag the wagon up a steep incline or slow it on the downhill side.  Nanette followed the train where her telekinetic magic might help the rear of the wagon over the rocks and rough spots.  It was all they could do.  The cutoff across the open land between Watling Street and the road to Winchester would be slow going.

Lockhart led the rest of the group to a small rise full of Rocks where they first pulled off Watling Street.  They had to move beyond a swampy area before they could move off the road, and that put them within sight of the Vikings blocking the turnoff road to Rochester.  Lockhart revised his thinking about being followed.  Men on horseback would catch them, easily, but even on foot, the Vikings might catch them depending on how slow the wagon had to go in order to arrive in one piece on the Winchester Road.

Lockhart carried his shotgun and had his police special on his hip. The marines, Lieutenant Colonel Decker and Major Katherine Harper-Lockhart had their top-of-the-line military rifles ready.  Katie said the Vikings might be posted in that place to protect the road to Rochester and keep any enterprising locals from interfering with the siege, or whatever was going on around Rochester.  If they saw a group of people pull off the road and turn away from Rochester, the Vikings might be inclined to let them go.

“On the other hand,” Decker countered.  “A dozen people in horseback seen from a distance might suggest the locals are gathering to attack them, and they might follow in force looking to nip that notion in the bud.”

“Nip it in the bud?” Lockhart asked.

“Prevent that from happening.”

“I know what it means.  You don’t usually speak in cliché expressions.”

“Comes from Hanging out with Nanette,” Decker said with a straight face and focused his eyes on the Vikings in the distance.

“Yes, about that…” Lockhart started, but Katie nudged him to get his attention.

“Don’t go there,” she said.

After a moment of silence, Decker responded.  “It’s good.  I’m good.  Now, I see some movement among the Vikings.”

Katie looked back and saw the wagon just pulling off the road.

“We don’t need to kill them all,” Lockhart said, turning his eyes to focus on the task.  “Just discourage them from following.”  They all concentrated until Lockhart added.  “Nip that notion in the bud.”

************************

MONDAY

Vikings and aliens.  Events are heading toward a showdown.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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