Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 4 of 6

Sir Bertulf and the night watch arrived at the same time as Decker, Elder Stow, Sukki and Boston.  The travelers did not appear to be fully awake, but Sir Bertulf and the men on the watch all gagged on seeing the shredded gate guards.  Giovanni arrived moments later with one of the old men that went with him to check out the farm.  The old man spoke first to Sir Bertulf.

“This is what we saw on the farm, though the family looked partly eaten.  We ran as fast as the horses could run when a dozen of these Wolv came out of the woods.”

“I count two Wolv,” Giovanni said, and he leaned back and shouted up to the top of the wall.  “Alexis.  How many did you get up there?”

Lockhart’s voice answered.  The man could not be well seen on the night shrouded walkway.  “Lincoln shot one.”

“That is three,” Giovanni said, seemingly satisfied.  He understood three-man—three-Wolv—three-person fighter/bomber craft became standard among space-faring people since the days of the Balok, some five thousand years earlier.  That three-man or three-Wolv thinking translated into all sort of other circumstances.  A three Wolv scout troop was what he expected.

“We saw at least a dozen at the farm,” the old man said, and added softly, “I didn’t stop to count them.”

Sir Bertulf stared at the Wolv by his feet when Giovanni said, “These were probably advanced scouts sent to check out the lay of the land.”

“There are more out there,” the old man said.

“You talk as if these Wolv think like an army.”  Sir Bertulf tore his eyes away from staring at the beast.

“They have first rate military minds,” Giovanni answered.  “Despite the fact that they look something like ordinary wolves, these Wolv are not dumb beasts.  They talk, are organized, and make excellent soldiers, which is why one group of people used them as front-line troops in their days of conquest.”

“How many do you figure?” Decker asked.

“At least a company of forty.  Maybe a whole brigade.  That would be six hundred.  Let us hope there are not more.  Oberon!” Giovanni called.

“Right here, Lord,” the dwarf answered.  He came out of the dark street followed by the half-ogre Sibelius and a very grumpy old woman named Madam Figiori.  Madam Figiori was a very old, full blood elf whose magic allowed her glimpses of hidden things, including rare glimpses of the future.  She ran the fortune teller’s booth, but at the moment, being a light elf, she wanted to be sleeping in the dark time.

Sibelius carried the stretcher Giovanni made with the hope they would never have to use it.  Sadly, circus people sometimes had accidents and needed to be carried to a place where they could rest and recover from their injuries.  In this case, Sibelius held up the stretcher with a question in his eyes.  Immediately, Alexis shouted down from overhead.

“Benjamin got clawed.  We need a way to get him back to the inn.”

“Come on, strongman,” Decker said and headed toward the stairs.

“I wondered why Madam Figiori said to bring this.”  Sibelius smiled as he held up the stretcher and followed.

Katie came down first and saw that there was nothing Alexis could do for the gate guards.  Sir Bertulf jumped when he saw Katie examining the men.  He began giving orders to the watch.  “Raise the city guard.  I want torches on the wall in the night so we can see them coming.  We have to man the whole wall.  They could come over at any point, and I’ll flog any man who falls asleep on the watch.”  He turned to Giovanni.  “Are they afraid of fire?”

“Not in the least,” Giovanni answered.  “You can’t think of them as dumb animals.  If we make the wall too costly for them, they may try to set the wall on fire, or burrow under, or build siege engines like an army of men.  They are ferocious, like berserkers, stronger and faster than ordinary men, but most of all they think.  They are not dumb beasts.”  Sir Bertulf nodded, even if the reality of that would take time to sink in.  Giovanni added another note.  “You need to consider manning the wall in shifts.  They may be here before morning, or it could be days or even weeks before they turn in our direction.”  A final nod from Sir Bertulf and he ran off followed by two watchmen.

Other watchmen started up the stairs as Decker and Sibelius brought Lincoln down as carefully as they could, with Alexis yelling at them to be careful.  Lockhart followed, coming down the stair where he and Katie joined Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston who had gathered around Giovanni.  Giovanni was speaking to the dwarf.

“No, Lord,” Oberon said.  “It looks like the six hundred you guessed.  There are some good dwarfs, some string beans, flutter-byes, and dark ones all volunteering to help defend the town, but not many of each.  Those Wolv are scarry just to look at.”

“Every bit helps, and I am sure your volunteers will do more than they should.  Thank them for me.” Giovanni turned to the travelers, but Madam Figiori interrupted his thoughts.

“No telling if I can see rightly in the dark.  It is unnatural to be awake and about at this time of the night.  But it looks like you have an elect, a member of the elder race, a girl who is simply cracking with powers—the gods must have been generous to you, girl—and the red head is a full blood elf, a princess I would guess from the look of her.”

“Boston,” Giovanni smiled.  “You need to visit with Madam Figiori while you are here.”  he turned to the old elf.  “Consider Boston like the daughter you never had.”

Madam Figiori harumphed and walked once around Boston like she needed to see the girl from all the angles.  Then she spoke.  “She is a fiery wild child.  Brilliant, but a disobedient, stubborn girl who can drive everyone crazy around her.”  Boston did not object, but she looked sad to think this elder elf did not like her.  Madam Figiori surprised her when she let out a little smile.  “She is exactly the kind of daughter I would have had if I had one.”  She turned again to Giovanni.  “Nothing I can see right now.  These Wolv are just exploring for the present and their minds are too wild to make sense.”  She shrugged.  “I will sleep on it.  Come, girl,” she said and walked off with Boston following.  “What kind of a name is Boston?  Well, you used to be human.”

“Ugh,” Boston protested.  “How did you know that?”

“I know too much.  Elves frown on soothsaying and fortune telling.  It got me kicked out of my woodland home, but that happened a long, long time ago…”

That was all the travelers heard before Lockhart turned to Giovanni and asked, “Where do you want us?”

“Available,” Giovanni said.  “I would prefer you on the road to the next time gate, but that would not be safe right now.  I guess for now you can stay around the main gate on the main road.  The south road gate is next to the Baron’s residence.  Hopefully the man is not a complete fool, or Sir Bertulf may double the guard there.  Later, maybe when everyone is up in the daytime, you might hang around with me by the town hall.  That is the center of town.  We can run from there to the wall, wherever we may be needed.  Elder Stow?”

Elder Stow took one more look at his scanner.  “I have expanded the alarm to a half-mile all around.  That takes in the town and should give us more advanced warning if there are Wolv in the area.”  He handed Giovanni a disc.  “Here.  It is tuned to the scanner and will relay the alarm, should it go off.”  Giovanni thanked him and put the disc in his pocket.

Giovanni said, “I suppose it won’t do any good to ask Decker to take his eagle totem in a fly around in the morning.  As I recall, he can’t see much under the trees.  Still, he might luck out and catch a glimpse of whatever ship brought the Wolv here.”

“Agreed,” Elder Stow said.  “But for now, we need to rest while we can.  It also won’t do any good being exhausted when the Wolv come in force.”

Everyone agreed with that and went their separate ways.  Lockhart and Kate climbed to the walkway up on the wall where they had a turn watching for the Wolv, while men came to man the gate and clean up the mess of bodies below.

###

Giovanni had a fine breakfast prepared in the town hall.  The travelers had already eaten at the inn, but they did not mind nibbling on the food.  Decker meditated and sent up his eagle totem.  He saw nothing to speak of under the forest canopy and could not confirm the glistening something he saw in the distance, well beyond his range.

“It might be a ship, a big ship, or two ships,” he said.  “It might be a refection off the next big town over.”

“Stuttgart,” Lincoln named it. “On the Necker River.”

Decker said, “It might be the river.”

Elder Stow added a note.  “I am seeing movement in the woods, but it could be a herd of deer or something.”  His uncertainty did not reassure anyone.  He picked up on that and defended himself.  “This is just a toy.  It is not a real scanner. I am doing my best.”

“I am sure you are,” Katie said and smiled for him.

“I can’t eat anything,” Sukki said.  “All I can picture is the Wolv eating the whole town.”

Nanette nudged her.  “Good thing you had a big breakfast before coming here.”

Sukki nodded.  “I wasn’t thinking about the Wolv then.”

Sir Bertulf and some of his men were there along with the two old men from the farm.  One of the other knights, Sir Radbod was also present.  He came around after he saw the bodies of the shredded gate guards.  No telling where Sir Aldabert and the Baron Fredrick stood at that point, but at least now Sir Bertulf did not need to watch both ends of the town at the same time.

Any number of circus people were present as well, including Oberon the dwarf, Sibelius the strongman, Titania, the bearded fat lady, and Leonora decked out in her harlequin costume, who complained that they had an adventure in the night without her.

“That is what Boston usually says,” Sukki told her when Boston and Madam Figiori came in laughing about something.  Boston took the madam to introduce her adopted sisters Sukki and Nanette.  Madam Figiori was just revealing the impression she got of both of them, impressions that were uncanny in their accuracy, when Elder Stow’s alarm went off.

“I guess that is not a herd of deer,” he said.

Oberon nodded.  “It looks like the full six hundred, and they are straight out in the woods from this point, about half-way between the north and south gates.

“God help us,” Sukki said, and even the disguised little ones present did not object to that idea.

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 3 of 6

Once again, Katie had to ask.  “Why were you worried about Giovanni getting a hug?”

Leonora looked at Katie like she might not want to reveal her secret.

Katie clarified her thoughts.  “I mean, it is obvious you love him, but I take it you two are not married.”

Leonora got teary eyed and spoke softly, like woman to woman.  “Giovanni dallied a lot in the past.  You know what I mean, dallied?”  Katie nodded and Leonora continued.  “He has been good since I joined the family—that is how circus people talk and think about each other.  Baklovani and Titania, and Constantine our tightrope walker, oh, and Madigan the musician have been with him the longest.  They were in the old circus before Giovanni’s father died.  Don Giovanni is Sir Vincenzo Giovanni the third.  His father was the second. His grandfather started the circus and got knighted by the Duke of Venezia…”

“You and Giovanni,” Katie reminded her, and Leonora sniffed before she continued.

“Anyway.  Giovanni dallied a lot when he was young, but he has not strayed since I came.  The ones who have known him since he was a child all say they never expected him to stop like that.  They privately talk about him becoming a monk or maybe getting ready to explode.  But he has a rule, and he is very strict.  He does not get involved in that way with circus people.  He does not get involved with family.  He says that would be like incest, or something.”  She let out a few tears.

Katie hugged the girl and Lockhart had a thought.  “Did you ever think of quitting the circus?”

Leonora wiped her eyes and nodded.  “But I have nowhere else to go,” she said.  “These good people have become my family, and I cannot go home. That would be like a death sentence.”

“And you got concerned when Giovanni said he wanted to get her hug?” Katie asked, still sounding sympathetic.

“Curious?” Leonora tried, but Katie shook her head.  “Okay, concerned.  But I know his much older and much more important rule is he will never get involved with any of his little ones.  He told me how the goddess Danna once made herself a fairy who did not remember that she was the goddess.  She tried to talk to the fairies on their level and tried to keep them from making a terrible mistake.  It sort of worked out, but in the meantime, she got involved with a fairy prince and had a son.  And Giovanni says for the last four thousand years, Taliesin has been nothing but a pain in the butt.”  Leonora smiled at her own mouth.

Boston came racing out of the inn when they reached the front door, and she hugged Leonora, much to her surprise.  And she spoke.  “Lockhart says I’m a pain in the butt sometimes, too.”  Then she added a note Leonora did not know how to interpret.  “I love you very much.”

Fortunately, Alexis followed Boston out the door and stepped up to Lincoln as she explained.  “Don Giovanni must love you very much.  You recognized Boston as an elf before anyone identified her as such.  And Boston feels the love for you, and no doubt would protect you in whatever way she has to, though she might not exactly do what you ask.”  Alexis gave her husband a peck on the lips.  Katie took Lockhart’s arm.  And Boston spoke again.

“That is exactly how I feel.  Don Giovanni must love you very much.”

“It is just Giovanni, I think,” Lockhart said and looked to Leonora for confirmation, but Leonora was busy crying.

“Let’s go see what kind of swill this place serves for food,” Lincoln interrupted.  “We kind of missed lunch.”

###

Giovanni came in the evening after supper.  He found the travelers with Leonora sitting around telling jokes.  Some of the jokes Leonora told were childish, like one might find in a riddle book for children, but they were fresh and new in that day and culture.  Some were rather bawdy, but Decker matched her there, much to Nanette’s red-faced embarrassment.

When Giovanni came in, Leonora jumped up first, threw herself into his arms and planted a kiss right on his lips.  He did not appear to object, but before he could say anything, she stepped aside and said, “Boston.”  Boston hugged Giovanni hard and whispered in his ear.

“You should marry her.”

Giovanni backed up and shook an accusing finger, first at Boston.  “You have been talking behind my back.”  Then he turned his shaking finger on Leonora.  “You planned this.”

Leonora grinned and leaned back until her hands touched the floor.  She slowly raised one leg at a time over her head until she landed in front of her chair.  She sat down and said, “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.  I still don’t know what that means.”

“From the future.” Katie grinned.

“The Kairos is usually careful about such things,” Lockhart said, and having everyone’s attention he added, “Standard watch tonight.”  He looked around to make sure there were no objections and added another thought.  “I think we need to get up on the wall around the main gate and keep our eyes open.  And go armed.”

“I was just going to say that.” Decker said.

Tony and Nanette got up.  They had the sundown watch, from six to nine.  When Nanette stood, she stared at Decker to let him know she was not entirely happy with his mouth.  But then she leaned over and gave him a kiss, which he seemed to appreciate.  She got Katie’s handgun and knife on the belt which she buckled around her hips like a gunslinger. She had her wand, but she was presently in a time zone where the other earth phased too far out of range to leak magic energy into our universe.  It would be 1275 before her magic returned to her.  Tony, of course, had his own M1911 handgun and trench knife.  Everyone figured he would need them when he got home just in time for the start of World War I.

Alexis and Lincoln stayed up for the present.  They had the nine to midnight shift and an hour nap before the shift always made Lincoln cranky.  Instead, they tended to sleep between midnight and eight in the morning and were occasionally the last ones up in the morning.  Nanette and Sukki took over the breakfast duty, and the travelers usually left the morning camp about nine.  They traveled about four hours, took a lunch between one and two, and traveled another three or four hours in the afternoon, stopping about five or six depending on the time of year and their location on the planet.

The goal was thirty miles per day or about three to four miles per hour, which they rarely made.  Even when the roads were good, twenty-five or so was about the best they could do.  They walked the horses almost as often as they rode, and Ghost the mule had his limits.

Lockhart and Katie took the hard shift between midnight and three in the morning.  They adjusted to a two- or three-hour nap before their shift and five or so hours after their shift.  They were most often the last ones up in the morning.

Decker got up and went to bed fairly soon after Giovanni arrived.  He imagined he would hear the details later.  Elder Stow followed Decker upstairs soon after.  He left his scanner on the table where an alarm would go off if it detected any Wolv within a hundred yards of the wall.  They had the dark of the night shift from three to six, and Elder Stow could be particularly difficult to awaken at three in the morning.

Sukki and Boston had the sunrise shift.  Out in the wilderness, Boston would start the fire and Sukki would get the breakfast going and the all-important tea-fake-coffee.  That normally happened after they watched the sunrise, and people began to stagger out of their tents.  The horses and Ghost got special attention in the morning before they started out.  But that night, they got interrupted well before the morning shift.

Katie and Lockhart got up and got their rifles ready.  Katie got her gun belt back.  Nanette left it outside her door when she went to bed.  Alexis and Lincoln were on duty and expecting Lockhart and Katie to walk down to the gate and relieve them when Elder Stow’s scanner alarm went off.  It was loud.  Lockhart called it loud enough to wake the dead.  Neither knew how to turn it off.  They figured, let it run until Elder Stow himself came downstairs and dealt with it.  They took off for the gate.

Above the gate, up on the walkway, Alexis let out a Sukki worthy scream. She turned around and came face to face with a Wolv that had clawed its way to the top of the wall.  Alexis dropped her wand, but she raised her hands and managed a great gust of wind which knocked the beast off the walkway and down into the street.

Lincoln ran when he heard the scream, but he did not dare shoot the beast for fear of hitting Alexis.  He stopped suddenly when a second Wolv clambered over the wall and landed in front of him.  He pulled the trigger several times, and the Wolv collapsed just before a third Wolv came up from behind and raked its claws across Lincoln’s back.  Lincoln had thickened his fairy weave shirt and made it as leather-like as he could.  All the same, the Wolv nails cut through and left three long streaks of blood.  The claw pushed Lincoln forward where he fell on his face and could not get up right away.

The wolf down below killed three of the four gate guards, even with a spear stuck in its side.  The fourth guard managed a spear thrust that cut something vital in the beast. The Wolv let out a howl, and Lincoln’s Wolv stopped drooling over Lincoln’s body and quickly jumped off the wall to land in the street below.

The fourth guard did not stand a chance, even as he picked up one of the fallen spears.  He screamed as he faced the Wolv and got a good look in the eyes of the beast. He tried to fend off the claws with his longer reaching weapon, but the Wolv proved too agile and quick.  It bit the man’s arm and yanked it off the man’s body as the man screamed again.  Katie arrived with her rifle set to automatic.  She riddled the Wolv with five rounds.  When Lockhart got there, he blasted the Wolv with his shotgun.  Then he blasted the other one just to be sure.

Lockhart and Katie ran up the gate stairs and looked hard over the ramparts to see if they could spy any more Wolv in the dark.  Lockhart found the one Lincoln shot.  It was not quite dead, so he blasted it as well.  Katie found Alexis leaning over Lincoln, practicing her healing arts on his back and crying.  Lincoln could only say ouch until the healing magic penetrated as deep as the cuts.

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

MONDAY

It looks like the Wolv are checking them out, and coming… Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 2 of 6

“I thought they all died,” Sukki said as she got down from her horse.  “There should not be any more Wolv.”

“Not a chance,” Boston said, as Nanette and Titania came up to join them.  “They just got stranded on whatever planet they were on when their Humanoid ships busted beyond what they could fix.”

Elder Stow came up staring at his scanner.  He ostensibly came to help the women move their horses off the road.  The circus people were still bringing in the wagon loads from where they parked in a field outside the town palisade.  The others all went to help.

“Actually,” Elder Stow spoke to the women.  “Even in my day, a thousand years in the future, there are a half-dozen or so worlds where packs of Wolv still roam around.  You see, on some worlds the people were made extinct before the Wolv returned to space.  Some fought off the invasion as Earth did a thousand years ago in the days of Ali Baba.  But eventually the Humanoid technology broke as Boston said, and the Wolv became trapped on that world.  Again, some local people defeated the Wolv, and if they were advanced enough to do it, they also got an introduction to Humanoid technology and space travel.  I suspect the Flesh Eaters, and maybe the Apes fall into that category.  But on some worlds, the Wolv won and now own at least a half-dozen worlds in my day.”

‘You mean, they might learn how to fix things and come back here at any time?”  Sukki worried.

“No, daughter.”  Elder Stow gave her a reassuring smile.  “The Wolv everywhere have reverted to their natural pack and tribal state; what modern people would call a Neolithic existence.  They can learn.  They can be taught, as the Humanoids taught them how to use their equipment, but it will be thousands of years before they learn enough to build their own spaceships, and it is possible that will never happen.”

“But they are here,” Nanette said, sounding nearly as nervous as Sukki.  “How did they get here?”

“Over here,” Alexis shouted.  She and Tony had the wagon in a side street, and Alexis had hers and Lincoln’s horses.  The others each grabbed the reigns of two horses that were otherwise just standing around, and they followed the wagon, while Elder Stow said one more thing.

“That is the question.  They had to be brought here.  Who brought them?”

Decker and Lincoln went to help pack and bring in the last of the circus wagons.  The town watch and soldiers were anxious to get the gate closed, though they had not yet seen a Wolv.  If they had, they might have slammed the gate already and let those outside the palisade fend for themselves.  Decker did not have the heart to tell the locals a wooden palisade wall would hardly be sufficient against the Wolv.  It would not keep out an army, but the town could surrender to an army.  If they surrendered to the Wolv, the Wolv would just eat them or tear them to shreds just for fun.  The palisade might keep out a company of men attached to a distant army.  It would at least make the company think twice before attacking, so Decker supposed it was not a totally useless wall.

Meanwhile, Lockhart and Katie met with Don Giovanni and Leonora, and two older men who went out to one of the outlying farms to see what the madman kept screaming about.  They tried to explain things to the local Baron, his three knights, and the four town elders.  At least one of the knights, Sir Bertulf seemed to understand what they were talking about, or maybe he believed them.  The others all wanted to deny reality or interpret it in a way that did not appear so threatening.

“So, a pack of wolves attacked the man’s farm,” the Baron said with a haughty laugh.  “Nothing a couple of good hunters can’t take care of.  It happens all the time.”  He walked off and two of his knights went with him, laughing about the panic.

“No.  You don’t understand,” Otto, one of the old men started to speak but paused when Giovanni put his hand out.

“He will believe it when he sees it,” Giovanni said.  “Let us hope it is not the last thing he sees.”

“How can we help?” Lockhart asked.

“Actually, for once you can stick around and get your rifles ready,” Giovanni answered as he turned to the town elders.    “Besides, it isn’t safe out there to be traveling right now.”  He spoke to the elders.  “Do you understand what is going on here?”

The head of the little group looked at his fellows before he answered.  “I am with the Baron.  A pack of wild wolves I understand.  I don’t know these Wolvs you speak of.”

“Just as long as you open the gates for the people to come behind the shelter of the wall.”

“We will not keep anyone out,” he responded, and they left.

“Sir Bertulf?” one of the older men asked, wondering what the last knight present thought.

Sir Bertulf pulled a little on his beard.  “You say and all agree these are not natural or normal wolves.  They think, are clever and cunning, and have a language all their own with which they communicate with each other even as we talk with one another.  Are they demons, then, who have taken the form of wolves?  I know their master goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  I do not doubt that his servants may take the form of wolves and be equally hungry.”

The old men looked at Don Giovanni as Lockhart began to speak.  “That is not exactly right.”

“But close enough,” Giovanni said.  “And if that line of thinking helps the people mount a reasonable defense, then let’s go with it.”

“We will spread the word among the people,” one of the old men said.

“And I will see to the soldiers and the night watch on the wall.” Sir Bertulf agreed.

As they left, Leonora grabbed Giovanni.  “Tell me about these friends of yours.  You never mentioned them.”

“I never think of them until they arrive, or mostly,” he said.

“They have an elf with them.”  Leonora smiled.

“And a member of the elder race, two witches, and Katie here is an elect.  We will meet them all later, but that is not important now.”  Giovanni turned at the door and looked to see the gate closing.  His circus wagons stretched the whole length of the street from the gate almost to the Baron’s residence at the far end.  The Baron lived in a mansion and had a strong stone tower as a fallback position.  He also had his own wall around his very big piece of property.  It was an improvement over the town wall because the bottom four feet or so was stone.

“I hope we don’t end up stuffing as many people as possible into the baron’s tower as a last resort.  That would not be good.”

Leonora tugged on Giovanni’s sleeve.  “So, where do these Wolvs come from?” she asked.

“Wolv,” he corrected her.  “It is like sheep.  Wolv covers the singular and the plural.”  The couple looked eye to eye in silence for a moment, and Katie smiled and nudged Lockhart who imagined he knew what she was nudging about.

“But where…”

Giovanni put an arm around Leonora’s shoulder.  She quieted and let out her smile.  He pointed to the sky and said, “You know in the night when all the stars come out?  Generally, in that direction.  You know, they are all suns very, very far away.  There is a world, like the earth, that goes around one of those suns.  They come from there, and how they got here is a question.”

Leonora sighed and laid her head against Giovanni’s shoulder.  Katie had to say something.

“Surely, the Humanoid ships are not still functioning.”

“No,” Giovanni said.  “And don’t call me Shirley.”  He smiled.  “But seriously, they had to have been brought here.  The question is by who and for what purpose.”

Lincoln called as he walked up to the town hall.  “Lockhart.  Katie.  We found an inn and got five rooms before they filled up with circus people.  The horses and wagon are in the barn.”  He stepped up and smiled for what he took to be two couples.  Giovanni quickly let go of Leonora and asked her a question.

“Would you mind going with the travelers to help them get settled in?  I need to settle the train and get the tents up in the street, I guess.  Tell Boston I haven’t forgotten.  I’ll be along later to get her hug.”  Leonora backed up and looked at him.  He explained.  “It is just tradition.  She is the elf.”

“Oh,” Leonora said and seemed to understand something. “Come on,” she waved to Katie and Lockhart as she and Lincoln led the way down the side street.  “The Frauenhaus,” she named the inn.  “Not the best in town, but acceptable.”

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 1 of 6

After 979 A.D. The Black Forest

Kairos 106: Don Giovanni, Ringmaster.

Recording …

“Sir Brutus!”  A man’s voice echoed through the woods.  Boston could not tell how far away that muffled voice might be in the thick evergreen forest they traveled through.

Sukki rode up beside Boston where she stopped on the road in the sunlight, and Sukki commented.  “These woods are dark and spooky.”

Boston nodded as both girls turned their heads to the sound.  “Sir Brutus.”

“You hear that?” Boston asked, and Sukki nodded.

They rode back toward the others, but they did not get very far.  A wolfman stepped out on to the road.  The man had the Lon Chaney Junior look from the old black and white movies, with his face and hands completely covered in fur, but he otherwise looked human enough. Sukki screamed, but Boston had seen an actual werewolf before, and besides, it was around noon on a bright and sunny day, even if the forest floor remained covered in darkness.

“Are you calling for the knight?” Boston asked, assuming Sir Brutus was a knight.

The wolfman smiled and pointed back into the trees.  “Sibelius and Severas are calling the bear.  Sir Brutus is a bear.  I thought it would be better to sneak up on him.”

“Sir Brutus is a bear?”  Boston asked.  “You are sneaking up on a bear?”

“Bear?” Sukki’s concern doubled as she looked all around.

“He is tame,” the wolfman said.  “A well-fed pushover, though he may be hungry.”

###

Nanette screamed.  The black bear surprised her and came right up to sniff her.  Decker came in from the flank, his rifle ready, but he hesitated for fear that Nanette might get hurt.  Lockhart grabbed his shotgun, but Katie shouted.

“Don’t shoot him.”  She bravely stepped forward.  “He has a collar.”

“He is probably hungry,” Alexis said.  “Especially if he is lost.”  She stepped to the back of the wagon and butted right in front of Tony who stood there petrified beside Nanette.  Alexis reached in the back of the wagon and pulled out a leftover leg from the deer they cooked the night before.  “Probably smelled the meat in the wagon.”  The bear stood up, a bit over six feet tall, and it growled softly as Alexis approached.

“It’s okay,” Alexis said softly, like a mom.  “No one is going to hurt you.”  She set the deer leg down on the edge of the road and backed away. The bear looked at her.  “Go on,” she said, smiled and waved her hands at the deer. The bear sniffed the deer leg once before it flopped down on its belly and began to nibble on it. The brute let out a grunt of satisfaction

“I think we need to keep walking,” Lockhart said as calmly as he could.  He put his shotgun back in its holster.  “We can wait on lunch.”

“I wonder who the bear belongs to,” Katie said as they began to move.  She looked back and saw Nanette and Tony in the rear gave the bear a wide berth.  The horses probably insisted.

Decker fit in behind the others as Elder Stow came in from the other side with a report.  “There is a town up ahead.”

“Baden-Baden,” Katie named the town.

“About an hour,” Elder Stow finished his thought.

“Maybe we should lunch there,” Lockhart said, as everyone stopped.  A seriously big man with a beard stepped out into the road.  It took a few seconds before the travelers realized it was a seriously big woman with a beard.

“Titania.  What did you find?”  A young woman’s voice came from the trees before the woman, a rather lanky, but remarkably beautiful woman in tights, stepped on to the road.

“I’m not sure,” the big woman said in the meekest, squeaky, high-pitched little voice.  “Come see.”

Even as the arm with enough blubber on it to make a walrus proud pointed, Boston rode up.  Sukki walked her horse and seemed to be talking to a wolfman.

“Now, this s getting strange,” Lockhart whispered to Katie who had the oddest grin on her face.

“Hello strangers,” the skinny young woman said.  “Have you come to see the Don Giovanni circus?  The greatest show on earth.”  Katie nodded.  She figured it out.

Decker, Nanette, and Tony came up from the back, where the wagon stopped. “The bear is following us,” Tony reported.

“Sir Brutus!”  The skinny woman shouted, did one cartwheel, a back handspring, flawlessly, and scampered down the road to fetch the bear.

“We have meat leftover in the back of the wagon,” Tony warned as she went by.

“I’m Katie, and this is my husband, Lockhart.”  Katie smiled.

“I’m Titania, the bearded fat lady, and Baklovani is the wolfman,” the fat lady said with a welcoming smile beneath all that beard.

“Do you sing?” Decker had to ask.  That confused Titania until her attention got retaken by Katie who went on to introduce the rest of the Travelers.  By then, Sukki and Baklovani arrived, and the wolf man added the last note.

“Leonora is our harlequin, and about the best one I’ve ever seen, but since she is not in her makeup, right now she is just Leonora.”

“Sir Brutus,” the shout came from one direction

“Over here,” Baklovani and Titania shouted together before everyone paused at the sound of a great howl of a wolf in the dark of the forest.

“The big, bad wolf,” Lockhart said with a grin at Katie.  Katie’s response surprised him.  She actually looked worried.  Boston also seemed to sense something wrong in that direction.  Elder Stow took note of the reaction of the women and got his scanner back out.

“We should keep moving,” Nanette said, and stared into the forest like a child afraid of the dark.  They did, but only to stop again a short way down the road. Three men came to the road, or at least one of them looked normal enough.  He went straight for the bear who was behaving badly, wanting more of that meat from the back of the wagon.  He scolded the bear and put on a muzzle with a lead to bring the bear home.  Leonora appeared glad to be relieved of that duty, and she climbed into the back of the wagon to watch events transpire.

“Halloo!” the short one yelled and waved, though they were not that far away. He looked to be under four-feet-tall, but there was something odd about the way he looked and moved.  He did not look like a typical little person. His near seven-foot-tall and terribly ugly friend did not look entirely human either.

“Halloo,” Katie returned the greeting.  Boston cleared up the mystery.

“A dwarf,” she said.  “A dwarf without a beard.”  She sounded amazed.  “I’m Boston.”

“I’m Oberon, and I’m supposed to look human, miss skinny-minny.  I must say though, with that glamour you look almost human yourself.”

“Almost.  Ha!”  Boston did not take it as the insult it was meant.  “Who is your big, ugly friend?  He looks ogrish to me.”

“Name’s Sibelius,” the big man spoke for himself and doffed his hat.  “Only half an ogre on my father’s side.  I do endeavor to mind my manners, especially around the womenfolk.”

They started out again, only to be interrupted once more by five men riding hard up from behind them.  “Don’t stop,” one of the men yelled when they arrived.

“My father,” Elder Stow interrupted as they started to walk again.  “Those are not wolves. They are Wolv.”  The locals could not hear the difference, but the travelers knew, and Sukki shrieked.

“I thought they all died.”

“Keep moving. Fast as you can.  We have to go and warn the village.”  Four of the men rode off at full speed.

One man stopped by the wagon and reached out a hand.  Leonora leapt up behind the rider and the rider said one more thing before he raced to catch up with the others.  “Lockhart.  Good timing or bad timing as usual.  Later Boston.  Hurry.”

Oberon went straight to the wagon, as did Elder Stow.  Oberon yelled at Lincoln and Alexis. “Let me drive the wagon. Get to your horses so they don’t drag behind.”  Lincoln hesitated, but Lockhart said to do it.

Sibelius got on the buckboard beside the dwarf.  Titania struggled to get her bulk in the rear, while Elder Stow attached two discs, front and back, and tuned them to his anti-gravitation device, to lighten the load for Ghost the mule.  Baklovani got up behind Sukki, and they set off at a run.  The horses hardly went all out.  Everyone was aware that they could only go as fast as Ghost and the bear could manage.  But they hurried.  Decker and Elder Stow dropped back behind the bear to guard the rear.  No one heard so much as a howl before they reached the village, but they did not have to, now that they knew what was out there.

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 6 of 6

Elder Stow stood outside the door to the Ape ship when Lincoln, Alexis, Nanette, and Tony arrived.  Tony went to the wagon where Ghost dutifully stood in the shadow of the ship munching on a small pile of oats Tony left at the back of the wagon.  He watered the mule while Lincoln and Nanette dug out four of the solar powered lanterns the travelers sometimes used in the night.  They would need them to light the halls and rooms in the ship if they did not want to go with the emergency lighting alone.

Alexis stepped up to the door but stopped when she saw Elder Stow alternately staring into the distance and staring at his scanner.  “What?” she asked as she turned her own eyes to the edge of the rise where all the Berbers and their horses got killed.  It was far enough away so she thankfully she did not have to see all the details.

“Six people.  Maybe seven,” Elder stow said.  “Seven horses.  They are coming this way.  And I am picking up thirty or more—what should I call them—disturbances that appear to be checking the Berbers like an opposing army might check the dead on a battlefield, to be sure the dead are actually dead.”

“Disturbances?”  Alexis thought for a second.  “Like little ones?”  Elder Stow nodded.  “Maybe it is Yasmina.”

Elder Stow appeared to relax. “That would explain it.”

“Alexis,” the cry came through the wristwatches.  Boston sounded anxious.

“Coming,” Alexis responded.  “The Kairos appears to be on the horizon and headed in our direction,” she added and stepped into the ship.  Nanette followed and made a path of three lanterns between the door and the central chamber where Sukki and Boston had Captain Argh down, lying flat on the floor.  Lincoln came with his gun drawn just in case there were more Apes around, or maybe a Flesh Eater that snuck in the open door.

When they arrived, Alexis took a deep breath and went to work on the Ape’s leg.  She put her hands near the wound and her hands began to glow.  Soon, the wounded area glowed as well, and the unconscious Ape appeared to sigh.

“I’m going to see Yasmina,” Boston announced and headed toward the door.  Sukki added a word for Lincoln before she followed.

“Boston and Elder Stow examined the main lines and concluded they are damaged beyond repair.  Even if Elder Stow could power up the ship, it would not be able to fly.  They might be able to send a distress call, but that is about it.”  She jogged to catch up to Boston.

“And you are?” Captain Argh opened his eyes and started to come around.

“Your doctor.  Hush,” Alexis said.  “Nanette is my apprentice, and Lincoln is my husband, now keep still.”

The captain seemed to nod and closed his eyes again.

Boston arrived outside in time to see a young woman introduce her companions to the travelers, who had arrived with their seven prisoners and seven extra horses.  “Muhammad al Rahim is my faithful friend,” she pointed to the old man who looked armored and carried plenty of weapons in the heat. “Aisha is my elf maid, or near as one gets to one in these parts.”  The maid appeared to genuflect to the travelers.  It looked like something between a bow and a curtsey.  “And this…” She pulled a young man forward.

“Hello,” the man said in a very unpretentious voice.  “These are my men.”  He pointed to the three men with him.

Yasmina continued with a big grin.  “This is Ala al Din.”  She waited.

It took a few seconds before Katie blurted out, “Aladdin?”  Yasmina nodded.

“We already did the genie bit.  At least, the first half of it.  Aladdin lost the lamp.”

“What is it with you” Lockhart said.  “Every time it gets stranger and harder to believe.”

“We met Ali Baba and the three sons of Sassan and their magical artifacts, including the magic carpet,” Katie said.

“And Sinbad,” Lockhart remembered.  “We fought skeleton-zombies.”

“And now Aladdin?  Hard to believe,” Katie finished.

“Stranger and stranger.” Lockhart shook his head again.

“Can’t argue with that,” Decker added under his breath.

“I’ve done all I can,” Alexis’ voice came from the wristwatches present.  “Captain Argh needs to stay off his leg as much as possible for the next week or so, but I believe it will heal from here without infection.  He might be able to travel if he had a place to go.”

Yasmina reached out and grabbed Katie’s wrist to answer.  “Tell the captain to be patient.  Elder Stow and I will be there shortly to see what we can work out.  I have just a couple of things to do first.”

“Roger,” Lincoln answered as Yasmina backed up and opened her arms.

“Boston.”  Boston ran into the hug, and it was hard to tell which young woman grinned the hardest.  Yasmina whispered. “Do I sound confident, like I know what I am doing?”

“You are doing a great job,” Boston whispered back.

“Thanks,” Yasmina squeezed the elf. “You know I am just making it up as I go along.”

“That works,” Boston said and took a step back.  “It is all we ever do.”  Yasmina looked down, humbly, but nodded.

One of the seven Berber prisoners took that moment to make a run for it. Al Rahim pulled his sword. Aladdin’s three men pulled their swords, like men who had learned to follow the lead of the old man.  Decker raised his rifle, but they all stopped when they saw two ogre-like monsters rise right up out of the sand.  While the man screamed, the monsters grabbed the man from each side and ripped him in half.  They sank back into the earth and took their prizes with them.

Al Rahim yelled at the remaining six Berbers.  “That was foolish.  Any of the rest of you want to try that?”

“No.  No, please.  Please, no.”  The Berbers looked frightened to the point of tears.

“You need to stay here, touch nothing, and keep quiet until the princess gives you permission to leave.  Is that understood?”

“Yes.  Yes, Lord.  Understood.  Yes.  Thank you.”

Al Rahim turned from the Berbers to see Yasmina had already gone inside the ship with Elder Stow, Boston, Sukki, and Aladdin in her trail.  Tony stepped up to the crew with a pointed question.

“Should I start to set up the camp for the night?”

Lockhart shrugged, but Katie and Al Rahim spoke at the same time.  “Might as well.”

###

Yasmina let the six Berbers go that evening.  Aladdin picked the best of the seven horses for his stables, he said.  The six men rode off on the six other horses.  Lockhart was surprised she just let them ride off.

“I thought that was better than killing them,” she explained.  “They won’t remember the guns, the aliens, or you, or anything.  They will head back to the capitol and by the time they get there, they will remember searching for me, but think they had to battle troops loyal to the Emir of Egypt and they won, but they alone survived the encounter.”

“Nice tall tale” Katie said.

Yasmina smiled and nodded.  “I am sure Creeper the imp will spice up the tale by the time they arrive.”

“This isn’t Fatimid territory?” Katie asked, and Tony said he was just wondering the same thing.

“Sallum is as far as certain Fatimid territory goes,” al Rahim answered for the princess who seemed more comfortable talking quietly with Aisha, Boston, Nanette, and Sukki.  “Between Sallum and El Alamein is territory no one fully owns.  After El Alamein, the land remains in Abbasid hands through the Emir of Egypt, but I will not count the Princess safe until we reach Alexandria.”

Yasmina interrupted.  “Except now I will spend the next ten days or more here cleaning up this mess.”  Clearly, while she spoke with the girls, she kept one ear open for the other conversation.  “Lockhart.  You will have ten days to get to the time gate.  Then we head for El Alamein, and that may help move the gate toward you, but be careful it doesn’t pass you by.”

Lockhart said he understood, but Decker changed the subject as he turned to Aladdin.  “So, what is your story?”

“Me?” Aladdin looked surprised that anyone would be interested in him.  “I lost the lamp and the Sharif sent me on a diplomatic mission to the Fatimids, maybe hoping I would get killed.  The Djin did not have to work hard for that. The Sharif’’s daughter and I were close.  The Imam who stole the lamp wanted her and wanted me out of the way.  You see, the Caliph told the Emir of Egypt to make peace. The Emir told the Sharif and the Sharif told me.  That was that.  Anyway, I had a minor post in the diplomatic mission, but the Isma’ili fanatics were not interested in peace.  Most of the mission got killed for heresy, but Princess Yasmina saved me and my men.  We owe her our lives.”

“And now you are going home?” Alexis asked.

Aladdin nodded.  “And I will marry the girl, if she will have me, even if her father is the Sharif.”

“Good luck,” Decker said, and glanced at Nanette.

In the morning, Yasmina said there was another one to send home. They got the Ape shuttle out of the main ship. Captain Argh complained that it was not capable of interstellar travel, and he certainly expected his few ships to be long gone, but Yasmina assured him it would do.  Elder Stow charged the ship, fully.  All Captain Argh had to do was pilot it toward deep space and he would be found.

“Sometimes you must trust others,” Eder Stow said.  “Even if they are not your species.”

“A good lesson,” Yasmina said.  They all said good-bye to Captain Argh and wished him well.  Yasmina also said good-bye to the travelers.  Then she complained. “Al Rahim!  It is going to take forever to clean up this mess.  Aladdin.  Don’t touch anything.”

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

MONDAY

Don Giovanni runs the Greatest Show on Earth (a bit of temporal tampering), but mostly they run through the Black Forest because the Big Bad Wolv have landed.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

 

 

 

 

*

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 5 of 6

The travelers with the Berbers rode to the Flesh Eater ship and shook their heads, thinking there was no way any Flesh Eaters survived the crash when Elder Stow’s message came through their wristwatch communicators.  There were Flesh Eaters around, or at least one.

Lincoln, Alexis, and Decker all turned the sound down on their watches.  Nanette and Tony heard but did not know what to do about the message.  Katie and Lockhart both got ready to respond, and Lockhart spoke.

“Roger that.”

They got down along with about half of the Berbers.  The head man stayed a bit in the saddle to use the height to look around.  “I see it would be pointless to try and separate some of you when you can send messages to each other over a distance,” the head man said.

“We have several surprises,” Lockhart responded, not spelling things out.  The travelers got their various weapons, handguns, and wands while the Berbers uncovered and pulled some primitive rifles from their own saddles.

“I guessed,” Decker said.

“I didn’t,” Lincoln said, and everyone stopped when they heard Boston’s voice over their watches.

“Alexis.  We need you.  Captain Argh, the Ape pirate captain has a hole in his leg that needs to be healed.”

“Emergency?” Alexis asked.

“No.  He says it happened yesterday.”

“A bit busy right now,” Alexis responded.  “Be there when I can.”

“Stay off the com,” Decker said.  “We are going in.”

They wanted quiet, now knowing at least one Flesh Eater awaited, maybe inside.  The Flesh Eater surprised them.  A weapon fired, a sickly green light, and one of the Berber riders and his horse collapsed.  Decker returned fire. even as the Berbers shouted, screamed, and threw their hands to their ears or collapsed to the ground in agony.  The travelers still carried the discs which protected them from the Vr energy.  Elder Stow insisted they keep them until the days of the Flesh Eaters passed.  Clearly, the Berbers had no such protection.

The head Berber, still on his horse with three of his men, turned and rode off at all speed.  Lockhart added a shotgun blast to the one Decker shot at, but Katie hesitated until she saw a different Flesh Eater carrying the Vr projector.  She remembered that they had personal screens of some sort that protected them from swords, knives, spears, arrows, and even bullets up to a point.  It might take a dozen bullets from her high-powered advanced military rifle to penetrate.  But the projector had no such protection as far as she was aware.  She pulled the trigger and on the third shot, the projector exploded, knocking the Flesh Eater to the ground, and cutting off the projection of Vr energy.

The Flesh Eater with the hand weapon that tried to keep its head down after shooting one of the Berbers eventually succumbed to rifle fire.  Fortunately, around the wreckage of the ship, there were plenty of places for the travelers to hide behind.  Decker and Lockhart rushed forward when the Vr projector exploded.  Decker finished the one with the handgun.  Lockhart pumped three shotgun slugs into the one stunned by the explosion of the projector.  He saw when the second slug burned out the personal screen and penetrated.  The third slug finished the Flesh Eater.

Lincoln, Tony, Alexis, and Nanette pushed carefully around the outside of the action.  They found three more Flesh Eaters in various stages of dead and dying.  They lay propped up against pieces of the hull that blew off the Flesh Eater ship and got partially buried in the sand.  One Flesh Eater already looked dead.  One appeared to be unconscious.  The third was missing an arm, but he otherwise stared at the travelers through malevolent eyes, his tongue darting out now and then to taste the blood in the air.  He spoke.  The only time the travelers heard a Flesh Eater speak.

“My world is destroyed.  The enemy world is destroyed.  My ship may have been the last.  The enemy ship may have been the last.  Your world is off limits to outsiders?”  It paused and coughed, or maybe laughed.  “No world is off limits to the people.  Your world should be eaten.”  It coughed or laughed again as Tony fired six bullets into the alien.  Alexis and Nanette both made a sound of protest, but neither outright objected nor said anything.  Lincoln shot the other two, the one that appeared unconscious and the one that seemed to be already dead, just to be safe.

Katie came out from inside that section of the ship that remained intact.  She commented to Lockhart and Decker who disarmed the recovering Berbers and got them to sit on the sand while they waited for another Flesh Eater to show up, if there were any more.  “It doesn’t smell as bad as the old Balok ships.”  Katie pulled up her hand and spoke into her wristwatch.  “Elder Stow.  We could use your scanner to see if there are any more Flesh Eaters around that we have not accounted for.”

“I apologize, my mother.  I was just thinking it is too bad I could not be in two places at once.”

“Boss,” Boston interrupted to report to Lockhart.  “Captain Argh can see the Berbers on his scanner monitor.  They appear to be preparing to charge the ships, and they got guns.  Captain Argh did not know better, but I can analyze the material and did the math.  Sukki confirmed.”

Katie turned to the men beside her.  “My feeling is they don’t want to lose us as prisoners.  They want to capture us again now that we have eliminated the Flesh Eaters.

“Or kill us if capture is not possible,” Decker suggested.

“I agree,” Lockhart said.

“I agree,” Lincoln echoed as he stepped up with the others from the back.

Decker spoke into his watch and got straight to the point.  “Any people in this age with guns are to be considered enemy combatants.  They need to be eliminated.”  He looked at Katie and she nodded.

“We are still a few hundred years before black powder shows up in Europe.” she said.  “And cannon before handguns.”

In the Ape ship, Sukki began to panic.  “What can we do about the Berbers?  There are so many of them.”

“We can intercept them before they reach the other ship,” Elder Stow said, and he pulled his weapon and his scanner.  He got on the com.  “My Father.  I can see from here.  The scan shows five Flesh Eaters, but none appear to be moving.  I believe you got them all.  We will attempt to cut off the Berbers as they pass us by.  Hopefully, you will be presented with a manageable number.”

“Don’t risk yourself or the girls,” Katie responded.

Boston got out her wand before she went invisible.  Captain Argh swiveled his chair to face a different monitor that came up from the floor.  He ran a finger along a bar on the console, adjusted one knob, and pressed a button.  He held his finger on the button while the lights in the command center flickered and went out.

Sukki, Elder Stow, and Boston, who became visible again, all watched on the monitor.  A wide blue light came from the Ape ship.  The Berbers and horses fell to the ground just before they began their charge.  A few at the back of the pack survived but turned to run off.  The monitor shut down and some kind of yellow emergency lighting became the only light in the room.

“You ended the Eaters.  My mission is complete, so I ended the threat to you.  It was the last bit of power from my fuel cells.”  He sighed, put one hand to his wounded leg, and appeared to pass out.

Boston got on her watch right away.  “Alexis.  Captain Argh needs help.  Please hurry.”

“As quick as I can,” Alexis said, and turned off her wristwatch communicator.  “I don’t know what she expects.  I have no idea what Ape anatomy might be like.”

“Do what you tell me,” Nanette said.  “Just do your best.”

Alexis nodded and mounted, and Lincoln, Tony, and Nanette rode with her to the Ape ship.  Lockhart, Katie, and Decker had seven Berber prisoners and seven Berber horses to deal with.

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 4 of 6

Once in the village, the travelers were told where to set their tents, but then they were mostly left alone.  Alexis and Nanette bought some of that fruit while Boston and Decker worked on getting the bones out of the fish.

“I don’t see any option,” Lincoln said, picking up where they left off in their conversation the night before.  “When we get to Al Baretoun, we will have to contract a ship to take us away from the coast and the Berbers.  We can have them drop us as close as possible to the next time gate and hopefully move on before more soldiers find us.”

“No,” Boston protested.  “I am not leaving this time zone without seeing Yasmina.  I have hugged and loved every lifetime of the Kairos, and I am not leaving this place without my hug.”

Alexis looked at Katie and Lockhart, and the rest of the crew as she spoke.  “We don’t know how to do that without giving her away.”

Lockhart nodded in response to the look and repeated what they figured out.  “These Berbers are hoping we will lead them to Yasmina.”

Katie spoke in her most reassuring voice.  “You want the Kairos to stay safe.  If we find her and reveal her, these Berbers will try to kill her, or at least arrest her and maybe torture her.”

“They will probably turn on us at that point as well,” Decker added.

“They have to have figured out who we are,” Tony agreed with Decker.  He repeated the feelings Katie picked up with her elect senses and Nanette confirmed with her magical senses.  Boston, as a sensitive elf, felt the same thing but she would not admit it for fear they would make her go around, as Lincoln suggested, and thus miss seeing Yasmina.

Boston pulled out her amulet to see.  She failed to tell the others that Yasmina was just over a day away, and still moving toward them.  If Yasmina did not find a ship in Al Baretoun to take her away, maybe to Byzantium, that is, if she stuck to the coastal road, they would run into her sometime in the early afternoon.  Of course, if she sailed off to Constantinople, there was no telling where the time gates might end up.  It might take them several months to get to the next time gate

“I don’t want to think about that,” Boston said, out loud.

“What?” Sukki asked.

“I am getting my hug,” she insisted.  “We just need to figure out how to do that.”

Sukki turned to the others.  “I agree with my sister,” she said, to offer her support.

“Me, too,” Nanette added, and Boston grinned at Alexis, Lincoln, Katie, and Lockhart.

“I never had sisters before,” Boston said.  “But mine are the best, ever.”

Decker shrugged for the others.  “We can think about it.  We still have time before we reach the port city.”

Lockhart shrugged with his eyebrows.  “We will see what we can come up with.”

“Hold,” Elder Stow interrupted. He stared at his scanner, and shortly, the head Berber and three of his men came to the traveler’s fire.

“We have a long day tomorrow,” the man said.  “You would be best to sleep while you can.”

Lockhart said, “Standard watch tonight.”

“That should not be necessary,” the man said.  “I will leave my men to watch.”

Lockhart looked at the man.  “You are a soldier.”  It was the first time anyone said that outright.  The man did not deny the accusation.  “We stick to the routine and keep in practice.  You and your men will not always be there to guard the camp.”

The man could only grunt.  “Get some sleep,” he said, and walked off, leaving his three men to stand around and listen to whatever the travelers might talk about.

Katie had to make some effort but pulled up the Norwegian they spoke in the last time zone.  “We could talk in this way,” she said.  Lockhart shook his head.

“Headache,” he said, and did not explain if doing that would give people a headache or he already had one.  “Tony and Nanette are up first.”  He took Katie’s hand to go to their tent.  Decker also went to his tent, but Nanette looked reluctant to let him leave.  Decker actually looked reluctant to leave her, which was an idea the other travelers were still trying to get used to.

###

Around lunchtime on the following day, the travelers and Berbers came across some ruins they did not expect.  An Ape warship, like the one they saw in Norway, had either crashed, or got shot down in that place.  It rested off the road and was partially covered by sand, so it was not easily seen from the road.  Elder Stow picked up the wreck on his scanner.

The travelers decided they needed to explore the wreck, especially when they saw a second ship, one they assumed was a Flesh Eater ship not far away.  The Flesh Eater ship looked like the back end of the ship exploded and scattered pieces all over the area.

“We must stick to the road,” the head Berber said, but the travelers insisted, so there was little the head man could do other than accompany them.  The travelers figured he was reluctant to reveal that he knew who the travelers were and feared if he arrested them and forced them to continue on the road, they might refuse to lead him to Yasmina.

“Definitely an Ape ship,” Lincoln said when they got close.

“I am picking up one Ape still inside,” Elder Stow said as they all dismounted by the door to the ship, which looked busted open.

Lockhart only glanced at the head Berber before he spoke.  “Elder Stow.  You and Boston need to go invisible and go inside to check it out.”

“I still have Father’s invisible disc,” Sukki said.  “I can join them.”

Lockhart nodded and glanced once again at the Berber who decided to speak.  “I will send three men with you.”  The man looked back where forty of his men waited patiently on the ridgetop.  He brought a dozen with him.

“Can they go invisible?” Lockhart asked.  Elder Stow and Sukki vanished, and after a second, Boston vanished as well.

“We will check out the other ship,” Katie suggested, and again Lockhart nodded, but only because the other ship looked to be destroyed.  It suggested there were not likely any survivors.

“We claim any weapons that are found,” the head man said abruptly.  “Better if you can get this ship to fly again.  The Caliph al-Qa’im would be very pleased with this gift.”

“So, you know who we are,” Tony said, and the head Berber acknowledged that fact.

“And you will take us to Yasmina, and we will have you all.”  He drew his sword.  His men followed his example.  He pointed at the rifle Decker carried, but Decker spoke sense.

“Better let us keep our weapons until we see if there are Flesh Eaters who survived the crash.  I doubt you want to face the Flesh Eaters with only a sharp knife.”

The head man paused a second before he nodded and said, “You lead the way.”

At the same time, inside the ship, it did not take long for Elder Stow to pinpoint the location of the Ape.  He sat in the command center central chair and looked at the screen in front of him.  Elder Stow, Sukki and Boston came into the room, invisible.  Boston finally figured out how to make what she called a window so Elder Stow and Sukki could see her while she remained invisible to the rest of the universe.  She got their attention and told them to stay and keep quiet.  Then she removed her glamour of humanity, saw Sukki’s eyebrows appropriately rise, and she spoke.

“Why are you here?  You do not belong here.”

The Ape pulled a handgun and pointed it at the sound, but Boston had moved.  “Show yourself,” the Ape insisted.

“When you put down your gun.  Do not be afraid.  I mean you no harm.”

The Ape put his gun down surprisingly quickly, and Boston appeared in full elf glory.  “The question remains.  Why are you here?  You don’t belong here.”

“I have already been told by one of your kind,” the Ape said.  “One like you, but small and with wings.  And a bunch of others with wings.  They flew all around and I asked them not to touch anything.  I have barely enough power for the scanner and long-range communication as it is.”

Boston smiled.  “My name is Boston.”

“Captain Argh,” the Ape said.  “My surviving crew got picked up, but I stayed.  There is at least one Eater remaining.  I have seen him, but I haven’t been able to end him.  He blasted the hull, and I got a piece in my leg.  I will find him and end him, then as long as my power source holds out, I will call and be picked up.”

“Lockhart.  My father,” Elder Stow’s voice rang out in the room.  “There is at least one Flesh Eater alive in the area.  Be warned.  Yellow alert.”  The echo in the voice cut off, and Elder Stow spoke more softly.  “Captain Argh.”  Elder Stow became visible to a very startled Ape.  “We may be able to help you with your power problem.”

“Gott-Druk,” the Ape recognized him right away, and Sukki, who put on her glamour to look like a Gott-Druk.  The captain bowed his head slightly as a sign of respect for the elder race.

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 3 of 6

The Berbers tried to get into the camp on both nights, though during the day they pretended like nothing happened.  On the second night they practically surrounded the camp looking for a way in.  They appeared angry and frustrated.  People were generally feeling better after two days of rest, so the travelers decided not to take any chances.  They got up at four in the morning and left the camp in the dark, heading up the shoreline until they got far enough beyond the village to cut inland to the road.

“I feel it is not so hot here on the coast,” Alexis said, trying to sound positive as she and Lincoln rode behind the wagon.

“Yes,” Lincoln agreed.  “But more humid, and sticky.”  He did not feel positive.

Tony drove the wagon and Nanette and Sukki moved in to encourage Ghost the mule when Decker and Elder Stow moved out on the wings.  Decker and Elder Stow had to use Decker’s rope and their horses to help Ghost pull the wagon through the sandy soil by the sea and then through the wilderness to the road.  Now that they reached the road, Decker and Elder Stow went back out on the wings, but dropped back a bit, concerned about whatever Berbers might decide to follow them.

Katie and Lockhart led the group in the dark, and Boston rode out front, as usual.  Boston yawned the whole time.  She was a light elf, not given to being up in the dark hours.  She perked up right away when the sun rose, which she rated a seven.  Sukki called the sunrise a six, whatever that meant.

At eight o’clock, Katie found a defensible place Decker approved of. They had some trees for cover, not to mention firewood, some grass for the animals, and some rocks on a small rise they could hide behind.  They had a fine brunch, fish of course, and did not rush in the heat.

“Nanette and I scrubbed the water barrel,” Alexis said.  “We filled it with water from the spring, not the cistern, so it should not be full of questionable bacteria.”

Most nodded.  That was good, but the conversation remained minimal.  The couples sat together, including Nanette and Decker, who seemed to have come to some understanding after El Alamein.  Boston, Sukki, and Tony sat mostly quiet, passing occasional comments about the weather, the land, and the people they saw in the village.  Elder Stow worked on his scanner, and after eating a bit, he worked on his screen device.  He said nothing.

Boston checked her amulet, though whether her comment was to Sukki and Tony or to the group in general was a question.  “Yasmina is only about four days away from us, maybe two if she keeps moving in our direction and we move to meet her.”

Again, most nodded, but they got busy packing up to move on.

Finally, Elder Stow said something that got more attention.  He looked at his scanner and walked up to Lockhart and Katie.  “There are Berbers on the road.  From the village.  They should be here in a few minutes.”

The travelers hurried.  Katie, Lockhart, Decker, Boston, and Elder Stow blocked the road while the others moved ahead with the wagon.  When the Berbers arrived, mostly on horseback like the travelers, they stopped a hundred yards off and three came forward to talk.  One was the man they met on the road three days earlier.

“You did not find El Alamein to your liking?” he asked.

“We discovered that Al Baretoun is the main port on this coast and thought to check it out,” Lockhart answered.  “I thought you were headed to Fustat.”

“You work for al-Mahdi?” Decker asked.  They settled who would say what before the meeting.

The man looked back at his men.  There may have been fifty.  “We serve al-Qa’im.”

“And al-Hakim?”  Katie pulled a Lincoln.  She just could not keep her mouth closed.  One of the three men looked down.  One turned his back on the travelers.  The head man remained cool, but they could hear the angst in his voice.

“Al-Hakim has been murdered.  We are searching for the murderer.”

“I’m sorry,” Katie said and tried to look surprised.  The others reacted similarly, though some did a better acting job than others.

Elder Stow asked, “Surely, you don’t think we had anything to do with it.”

The head man paused like a man considering his options, before he shook his head.  “We know the murderer.  We have been sent out to find them, but we have concluded that we got ahead of them. We are returning along the road to Mahdiyya.  They will be found.”

“Good luck,” Lockhart said.  “Murder is something our people condemn as well.  I hope you bring the murderers to justice.”

Katie spoke again.  “As the Byzantines say, go with God.”

The head man shook his head.  “I think we will escort you to Al Baretoun, since we are headed in the same direction.”  He smiled.  “To protect you from the bandits, as you say.”

“Thank you, but that is not necessary,” Lockhart said.  “We have a wagon and mule which probably doesn’t move as fast as you might want to go.”

“We have a wagon and two oxen.  It does not move fast, and we search on both sides of the road, and that is not fast work.”

“Really, we will be fine,” Lockhart said.

“The road is good and straight,” Decker added.

“We don’t want to be a burden to you,” Katie also added.

“I insist,” the man said.  “It is three days to Al Baretoun.  You never know what may happen in that time.”  He turned and yelled for his company to catch up.  The travelers mounted.  They had no choice.

###

The travelers moved through any number of fishing villages along the coast, surrounded by Berbers the whole way.  The Berbers did not crowd them, but some could always be seen, and some were always within shouting distance.  Surprisingly, the Berbers did not hurry them, but appeared content to move at whatever pace the travelers moved.

On the first night, the Berbers camped apart from the travelers.  They set their tents in an open field while the travelers moved in among some palms.  The travelers did not dare have Elder Stow set his screens.  That would have raised too many questions.  Instead, Lockhart insisted on double watch through the night, which is pretty much what they had been doing since the beginning, so no one complained. In fact, this night the watchers kept their eyes and ears especially open.  They were not bothered that night.

The second day, late in the afternoon, the head man with a dozen soldiers moved in on the travelers.  “You move as slow as you promised,” he said, not necessarily a compliment.  The travelers certainly did not push themselves.  Rather, they walked often, though the heat on the road was not so bad, and they tried to think of what they could do to get out from under the eye of their escort.

“There is a big village ahead,” the head man said.  “They grow fine fruit.  We may rest and refresh ourselves there if you don’t take forever to get there.”

Lockhart was driving the wagon, but Tony came to take it while Lockhart mounted to ride.  Sukki took Tony’s horse so the horse would not drag on the wagon and be that much more for Ghost to haul.  The travelers hurried.  They had to.

“It will be a long third day to reach Al Baretoun tomorrow,” the head man groused.  Then he led the way to the village while a dozen Berbers rode alongside the travelers to make sure they kept up.

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

MONDAY

The travelers are escorted by the Berber soldiers and don’t see how they can escape the close watch, but there is something on the horizon which changes everything.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 2 of 6

In the morning, Alexis and Sukki both mentioned their stomachs did not feel well.  Sukki wondered if it was the figs, but Alexis said they were getting whatever got the men.  They held it together well enough to get the men up and moving.  The men all put on a brave face, but no one doubted they were hurting.

When they got close to the town, Katie reminded the women to put up their veils. “And we will have to keep them up as long as we are around people,” she underlined.  All but Boston already had theirs up against the dust and kicked-up sand of the road.

El Alamein proved to be a large fishing village.  They had a dock, and a couple of ships in the dock beyond their fishing boats.  They looked like medieval belly boats, merchant transports of some kind, but had lateen sails to pick up the wind from almost any direction.  The village had a couple of inns by the docks, but they were full.  Fortunately, being on the coastal road, the village got plenty of visitors.  They had a large area set aside for tents and campfires.  They had a fountain of a sort, right near the cistern that collected water against the dry months.  And they had plenty of fodder for horses, mules, oxen, and camels, with separate areas and separate pens to keep the animals that did not always mix well.  Katie picked out a camp near the sea which she said would be easiest to defend or escape along the coast if necessary.  There were Berbers in the camp, and they appeared like more of the soldiers they met on the road.  Of course, the camp cost money as did the fodder for the horses.  There certainly was not much grass by the sea.

Boston, Nanette, and Katie went to the market to see what they could find that Nanette could cook.  Alexis, Sukki, and the men were not up for cooking, and maybe would not eat much either.  They got fish and some fresh fruit and vegetables but did not stick around for the people to ask too many questions.  Nanette, being black, fit right in, and the merchants talked to her like a native.  Katie and Boston, with their blonde and red hair stuck out in the crowd.

“The less questions the better,” Nanette understood.

After that day of rest, everyone actually got up for super, even if they did not eat much, as Katie guessed.  “Besides,” Lockhart said and stared at Boston.  “The fillet girl did not get out all the bones.”

Boston just returned his look with an elf-grin.

“Okay,” Lincoln thought to talk to everyone, and they settled down to listen.  Talking was Lincoln’s way to distract himself from the queasy feeling in his stomach.  “I read all day yesterday, which was stupid.  I should not read while I ride.  Makes me car sick.”

Alexis smiled at the allusion and snuggled into Lincoln’s arm.

“The Servant of God, the Wiseman in the Power of God.  That was her husband’s name.”  Lincoln coughed and tried the name.  “Abdallah al-Hakim bi-Quat Allah.”  He smiled at himself.  “Okay,” he put a hand up to forestall questions.  “Yasmina’s father was the Sharif of Mecca, though that was not an official title yet.  He smuggled her out, or she ran away, that is unclear.  The Qarmatians sacked the city in 930.  Yasmina was sixteen.  With her faithful retainer, Muhammad al-Rahim, that’s Muhammad the merciful, an old eunuch and military captain, she made her way to Egypt, and eventually to Libya and the newly established Fatimid court.

“The Fatimids eventually take Egypt,” Nanette remembered from all that time at the professor’s feet.

“Not yet,” Lincoln said.  “They tried twice around when Yasmina was a child but got beaten back.  So, Yasmina shows up in the Fatimid court.  The founder and Fatimid Caliph takes her as a godsend.  He wants to lay claim to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and takes the daughter of the Sharif as a gift.  He marries her to his grandson, al-Hakim.”

“A political pawn,” Boston said in her most sarcastic voice.

“But wait,” Lincoln said.  “Let’s back up a minute.  Al-Mahdi is the Caliph.  His son, al-Qa’im is the designated heir.  His grandson, al-Hakim, is slated to follow, but there is a twist—actually, two twists.  Al-Hakim is the second born.  He has an older brother by about six months.  Al-Mansur is the older brother, but he was born from a concubine whereas al-Hakim was born from al-Qa’im’s actual wife, young as she was.  The boys are actually Yasmina’s age of seventeen and are rivals in a way.”  Lincoln smiled.  “Yasmina is reported to be beautiful.  A true Arabian princess.  Imagine the teenage hormones.”

“What is the second twist?” Decker asked, as Nanette comforted him.  Decker seemed to be fighting some of his own hormones.

“Okay.  So, Yasmina is married, and confined to the palace for a bit less than three years.  No children, but apparently no complaints.  But then she finds out Hakim is working for the Masters.  He is making guns and gunpowder with which he plans to arm the soldiers of the Fatimids.  Yasmina kills her husband, several other servants of the Masters, and ends up killing al-Mahdi, or at least al-Mahdi dies, and she runs away again.”

“How does that work out?” Katie asked.

Lincoln nodded.  “The new Caliph, the son al-Qa’im never leaves the palace again.  It must have been something.  There is a revolution about fourteen years from now, and al-Qa’im dies before it is settled.  Al-Mansur, the eldest son who was al-Hakim’s rival takes over, puts down the rebellion, and rules from there.”

“No,” Boston said.  “How do things work out for Yasmina.”

Lincoln smiled for her.  “She escapes to Byzantium and eventually Italy where she fights off Muslim armies.  She marries a Christian knight, and I would like to say lives happily ever after, but you know the Kairos.”

“And you dare not tell her any of that when you meet her.”

Boston understood and pulled out her amulet.  “She is definitely headed toward us.  Maybe we could play like Norway and wait for her to get here.”

“No,” Lockhart said.  “But we will take tomorrow for another day of rest and head out early on the next day.”

“One more thing,” Lincoln spoke up and caused everyone to pause.  “Fatimid power is built on Berber soldiers, probably like some here and like the ones we saw on the road.”

“Keep your eyes open for any guns al-Hakim may have distributed before Yasmina ended his operation,” Katie said.  “We are still about three hundred or more years from guns being part of history, so they don’t belong here.”

Lockhart nodded, and Decker spoke.  “So, keep your eyes open and be careful what you say in close quarters.”

That evening, Decker woke up, maybe thinking about his hormones.  Either by magic or by some sixth sense, Nanette woke up as well and sat with him.

“You know,” he said.  “I never really loved my first wife.  It was all just sex—lust.  We married because we were in the corps and in the two-thousands they still frowned on people shacking up.”  He looked at Nanette and confessed.  “I got that lust thing down really good.”

She stared right back at him.  “I’m looking forward to it,” she said, before she turned red and turned her head.

“I won’t ever just lust with you,” he said.  “We will get properly married, and then we can have fun.”  He swallowed.  “But you know how I feel about you.”

She turned a bit redder but put one hand out to take his hand.  “I had Lincoln look up where we are going,” she said.

“Me too,” Decker said.  “We got Germany, Normandy, Japan, England, and China.  Sorry.  No telling when we might get back to Africa.”

“I don’t need to be married in Africa,” Nanette said.  “Especially by Mohmmedans.  As long as it is a Christian wedding, I don’t mind.”

Decker wondered.  “Why especially Mohammedans?”

“Nothing against them,” she said.  “But I’m not a Mohammedan.”

Decker understood.  “So, you are not Islamophobic.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

Decker looked down.  “I now understand what Lockhart was talking about with Katie.  You know he is sixty something, maybe seventy, even if he is thirty something right now.  Katie is a natural thirty, so their experiences are separated by forty years.”  He smiled for Nanette, and he did not look like a shark, a crocodile, or anything bad.  It looked like a nice smile.  “We are separated by a hundred years, but that just means we have some generational issues to work on. And they are Muslims, not Mohammedans.  And the religion is Islam.”

“Oh,” she said and turned her face down, but a smile also came to her lips because he smiled at her.

Decker heard something.  He grabbed a touch of cold ash swept earlier from the fire.  He quickly smudged his cheeks, forehead, and hands and told Nanette, “Wait here.”  He moved out of the light and saw four Berbers outside Elder Stow’s screens.  They were trying to get in, and they were armed with spears, swords and who knew how many knives.  Decker understood.  They were soldiers, not necessarily thieves.

“What is it?” Nanette came right up to his shoulder and asked.

Decker quickly turned, smudged her face and hands while she turned up her nose and lip until he explained.  “To take away the shine so you won’t be seen.”

“Oh,” she said.  “It is good to be black.”

Decker shook his head.  “We shine more.  White people blend in more.  Squint and don’t shine your teeth.”  He took her hand, to walk the perimeter.  Nanette let out a big smile, but she turned her head down as they walked so her teeth would not give her away.

Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 1 of 6

After 914 A.D. North Coast of Egypt

Kairos 105: Yasmina, Arabian Princess

Recording …

Lincoln came around the wagon.  Tony mumbled, “Old Roman Road.”  Lincoln had the database out and read for a moment before Lockhart interrupted.

“Where are we?”

“We might be in Arabia.  Yasmina was born in Mecca, daughter of… the ruler of Mecca under the Abbasids. Sorry, I can’t pronounce the names.  It doesn’t matter because she ran away at age sixteen and…”  He had to read for a moment.  “I would guess we are somewhere on the coast of North Africa.  That could be anywhere between Egypt and Morocco.  Maybe Tunisia?”

Lockhart managed a grin.  “That certainly clears that up.”  Lincoln shrugged.

“Smells like Egypt,” Boston said as she and Katie came up beside Lockhart.  Katie pointed in the direction they were to travel.

“Looks hot,” Lincoln said.

“What is the word?” Tony shouted ahead from the wagon.  Nanette got down and got her horse.  That would be a little less for the mule to carry in this heat.

“Sun at our back this morning.  Sun in our eyes this afternoon,” Boston returned the shout, though that did not really say much.  Tony turned the wagon to the old Roman road, and they moved out.  Alexis had a comment when Nanette joined her on horseback at the back of the wagon.

“After so many time zones, I figure I am just along for the ride.  Hard to believe I have actually learned to trust the men to get us where we need to go.  Now, if only I could get them to stop and ask for directions.” she shrugged and almost laughed.  Nanette did not exactly understand but she got the gist of it.  “So, we can bring up the rear and work on your magic lessons.  Lincoln says the other earth will be out of phase in the next time zone so you won’t be able to practice for the next three hundred years, however many time zones that may be.”

“All right,” Nanette agreed.  She reached for her wand and she and her horse lifted about three feet off the ground, much to the horse’s protest.  They settled down after a moment, and Nanette smiled, but Alexis shook her head.

“Telekinesis is too easy for you.  We need to work on other things.  I was thinking we could work on our glamours so the next time you are in China, you can make yourself look Chinese.”

Nanette agreed.

Meanwhile, up front, Katie had a thought.  “We may have to walk the horses more in this heat.  Maybe we should think about getting Decker’s rope and let the horses take turns helping Ghost pull the wagon.”

Lockhart nodded and looked back.  Ghost seemed to be doing fine.  “Maybe take a longer lunch and stop a bit earlier in the evening,” he said.  He glanced at Lincoln, but Lincoln had his nose in the database and hardly paid attention to where he was going.  Fortunately, his horse had learned to follow the others.

Decker rode in from the wing.  “Too many sand dunes on the wing.  I’ll take a fly around at lunch.”  He fit himself in beside Lincoln.

Elder Stow reported in.  “I am picking up a large settlement about twenty-eight miles away. We may get there by evening, or in the morning depending on how far we get in this heat.”

“Roger,” Lockhart responded through his wristwatch communicator, but he said no more as Sukki came riding back from the front.

“We have people ahead, on the road,” she said.  “Five or six armed men on camels.  Boston called them Bedouins, but it was just a guess.  She said maybe Berbers.”

 “Fine,” Katie said, and thumbed Sukki to ride behind.  Sukki fit in beside Decker while Lincoln dropped back to lead the wagon.

It did not take long to catch up to Boston.  Elder Stow came in to ride beside her as they pushed into the line in front of Decker and Sukki.  Lockhart looked back to be sure Lincoln was far enough away to not hear the conversation well.  Hopefully, he would not shout out unwise answers to whatever questions these Berbers asked.

“You have come from Fustat?” the chief Berber asked without introducing himself.  He talked like a soldier not interested in small talk.  “This is the road to Fustat.”

“We were last in Norway,” Lockhart said.  They all still had the fairy weave they wore shaped and colored like the Norwegians and Vikings they lived around for the last ten days, so it was an easy admission.  “A land far to the north.  We are looking for places where we may trade.”  Trade was his one lie, a concession to simplify things.

The Berbers stared at the red and yellow hair in the group and did not doubt they were from a place most never heard of.  The Berber chief heard of something.  “I have heard of the land of ice and snow where the cold is so strong, even the bears turn white.”

“They have polar bears,” Lockhart said in a friendly manner, not knowing for sure, but he added, “It is normally not that cold.”

“There is a town ahead?” Katie asked.

The chief stared at Katie and her yellow hair.  He did not answer her.  Instead, he moved up to look at Decker.  “You are their slave and guide?” he asked.

“I am their protector,” Decker responded with a scowl and cradled his rifle in his arms.  The Berber took a careful look at the weapon, like he tried to figure something out, but he came out with another statement.

“I see two who look like they are from the land of silk.”  He went again to the front of the column.  “Your mule and horses will not survive this day without much water.  They are not so good in this heat.  Be warned.  The Fatimid have great ships to drive away your longboats, and the people have no liking for Vikings, peaceful traders or not.”

“You ride like a military column,” one of the Berbers pointed out.

“Safer,” Lockhart said.  “There are thieves on the road.”

The chief grunted and gave a short nod.  “And you have many women.”

“Wives,” Katie said, just to be safe.

The man grunted again and gave a sharp retort which got his men up and moving.  They quickly moved out of sight around a bend and behind a small ridge.

“I did not get a good feeling about that,” Katie said as they began to move again.

“Me neither,” Boston spoke up from behind

“Like maybe they are some of the thieves on the road?” Lockhart asked

“They seemed especially interested in Decker’s rifle,” Elder Stow said.

“No.”  Katie considered her options and concluded.  “Like a Masters bad feeling.”

“Yes,” Boston agreed.

The travelers kicked up plenty of sand and dust on the road that hardly qualified for a scrape in the ground.  Lincoln drank all of his water and had to refill his canteen at lunchtime.  They had a small barrel of water tied to the side of the wagon, a concession to having been in desert environments before, but no one checked it before leaving Norway.  It was half empty and tasted stale.

“I know water is water,” Alexis said over lunch.  “But we need to find some water in this time zone to fill our water supply.  I think some of the water in our barrel has been sitting in that barrel since Canterbury, if not from Charlemagne’s day.”

“Ugh,” Lincoln said. Lockhart did not look too good, and neither did Decker.  No one said much over lunch.

In the afternoon, it did not get better, especially when they realized they would not make the city before sundown.  They came to an improved road—the coastal road, but the sign pointed up the road to Alexandria, and the way they were headed, to El Alamein.  The sign said ten miles.

“Is that nautical miles?” Decker asked, attempting a joke, and rubbing his stomach.

“I would almost rather be in Arabia,” Lockhart said.  “At least that was dry heat and not so humid.”

“Just stay covered, head to toe, and keep your hats on,” Alexis said.  “Let the Berbers be your example.”

“I’m not sure those Berbers were a good choice.” Katie responded.  “Something felt wrong about them.”

“Still bothered by them?” Alexis asked.

Katie nodded and Nanette spoke up.  “I felt it too.”

Sukki said, “I know what you mean.”  She rode out to join Boston on the point while Decker and Elder Stow rode back out on the wings.

When they found a place off the road where a few palm trees and a couple of fig trees grew, though it did not provide nearly enough shade, they stopped for the night.  Lincoln said he would not be reporting that night, and promptly threw-up.  Decker also threw-up.  Lockhart set up his tent and immediately went to bed.  Tony gave Ghost a good rub down, but then he also disappeared into his tent, without supper.  Katie managed to get Elder Stow to set his screens around the camp before he went to bed and left the women to sit around the campfire and fret.

“A combination of something like heat stroke and bad water,” Alexis shared her diagnosis.  “The men are bigger and need more water.  We should feel lucky the horses are not showing any signs of illness.”

Katie nodded.  “One-woman watch tonight.  Nanette, Alexis, Me, Sukki, and Boston.  We should probably leave at first light when it is not so hot and make El Alamein in the morning.”

“We may need to take a day for the men to rest before we move on,” Alexis added, and they ate figs and elf bread before some went to lie down.