Petracles took the travelers straight to the king, though they had to wait a few minutes to see him. The king had to confer with his generals first. When he finally came from the tent to meet them, he paused to watch his generals scurry off to their assignments. The generals all but bowed, though bowing to superiors was not a natural Greek trait. Pyrrhus looked like a hardened general himself, more than a king. He had an aura of a man that had advisors, but rarely listened to them.
“So, these are the merchants? Did you save any of your wares? I’m sorry for your losses.” Pyrrhus made a lot of assumptions in his words.
Lockhart answered straight, and Pyrrhus paused at having to look up at the big man. “We are travelers, not merchants, and thanks to the intervention of the gods, we all survived.”
“Travelers?” Pyrrhus frowned, but he had something in mind. “And you suffered no losses?”
“We lost two horses,” Katie said, and watched Pyrrhus’ face turn sour.
“Over here,” one of the young soldiers waved to the travelers. “We found your horses.”
Pyrrhus looked mad, but paused to watch.
“Honey,” Boston yelled, and ran faster than humanly possible—faster than the horse ran to her. She hugged her horse and the horse responded.
Lockhart merely called. “Dog.”
The horse broke free of the soldier holding it and trotted up, exactly like a faithful dog. It might have licked Lockhart, but Katie grabbed and kissed Dog’s nose. “Where did you find them?” she asked.
“Porus found them.” Pyrrhus waved at the young soldier who spoke.
“They wandered right up to the camp. I figured they came to shore and came inland to escape the storm.” He smiled for the group.
Pyrrhus frowned, but admitted the truth. “Obviously, your horses. I might buy them. Your horses are bigger than my own, and they seem steady and strong. I could get some good stock out of those horses.”
“Sorry,” Lockhart said. “They are a gift from the gods for our journey.”
“Hera’s Butt,” Pyrrhus swore. “Why does everyone credit or blame the gods for everything? We have to make our own way in this world, and damn hard it is, too. But we win or lose by our own hand, not because of some mystical gods.”
“I beg your pardon,” Galatea spoke nice and loud and stepped forward. Boston, Sukki and Millie all wanted to say something, but decided it would be safer not to get in her way. “I’ll have you know these travelers are friends with all of the gods.”
“Not all,” Lincoln mumbled, and Galatea heard, and nodded.
“Well, most of them, anyway. They are my friends, and they are honest and good people. I’ve been following their travels for nearly four-thousand years, and maybe the gods get too much credit and too much blame for life, but that doesn’t mean they just sit around doing nothing.” Galatea snapped her fingers in Pyrrhus’ face and floated up three feet in the air. Her legs got replaced by her mermaid tail. “Now I am hot and bothered. I need a swim. I need to get my tail wet. Good-bye. See you later, Boston.” She snapped her finger again and disappeared, leaving a splash of sea water in her place.
“See ya later,” Boston shouted.
“I guessed, you know,” Petracles said. “No mortal woman could be that beautiful.”
“Careful,” Alexis said. “Sukki mentioned that Galatea thought you were cute.”
“That could be really good,” Petracles said, but as he thought about it, he added, “And really dangerous.”
“Pyrrhus.” A woman in the distance shouted as she came up with several men. “Did you forget we had an appointment this morning?”
“What? No.” Pyrrhus said. “I’ve been busy. We had a storm, in case you failed to notice. There was a shipwreck.”
The woman got close and opened her arms. She shouted, “Boston.” Boston raced into the hug, again, faster than humanly possible.
“The red-head gets singled out a lot,” Petracles noted.
“She is an elf,” Lincoln said, and left it at that.
“So…” the woman stepped up, nodding to Lincoln who named her as Umma. “What did you have to offer?” she asked Pyrrhus.
Pyrrhus looked around at his generals, her generals, the travelers and their horses. He closed his eyes, raised his head and hands, shook his hands and said a very loud, “No,” like he tried to make it all go away.
Umma took the moment to speak to the side. “Lockhart. As usual, good or bad timing, depending. I don’t know where the witch is.”
“No, no,” Pyrrhus yelled.
Umma turned to the young soldier, Porus. “Hello son. Thank you for saving the horses. Your mother loves you.”
“Mother…” Porus objected at being singled out. He walked behind the tent and no doubt disappeared.
“Proteus,” Katie whispered in Lockhart’s ear.
“Yes, thanks,” Lockhart whispered to the wind.
“No,” Pyrrhus seemed to get hold of himself, and he turned on Umma. “You need to open the gate and let me come in.”
“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Umma responded.
Pyrrhus’ face turned deadpan. “You are a woman. You don’t have hair on your chin.”
“That can be worked out,” she responded.
“Diogenes?” Millie whispered, not really having had a chance to talk to the young man.
“No,” Evan told her. “Alexander made his soldiers stay clean shaven. Now, having met them, I think it is because Alexander could not grow a good beard.”
Millie nodded, while Umma spoke, sharply. “I thought you said you had something to offer to end the siege.”
“I tried negotiating with your people, but you are all as stupid and stubborn as the Greeks; but the Greeks want Carthage gone. So, once again, I am stuck choosing between bad and worse. I should just break your walls and crush your city.”
Umma nodded, and spoke sweetly. “You have had several victories since coming to Italy, and lost most of your men, and your best men. I figure one more such victory and you won’t have any army left.”
“So then, offer something realistic so we can make peace.”
Pyrrhus paused to look down on the woman, remembering how he felt when he had to look up at Lockhart. “I don’t like negotiating with a stupid and stubborn woman.”
“I beg your pardon,” Umma said, sounding very much like Galatea. “My family is keeping the city fed and happy. My ships, my food, my city. I’m what you get. Besides, the city elders decided if you get really stupid, my life is expendable. I told them even you are not that stupid.”
“So, what good is talking to you? Your city elders will make the decision.”
“My city, remember? They do what they are told. Besides, I was not about to let you talk directly to them. They would negotiate away the whole city and get nothing in return. City idiots, I call them.”
“She does call them that,” one of the generals with Umma sat beside the travelers who had already taken seats to watch the fireworks show. The older general sat beside him, and two of Pyrrhus’ generals sat on the other side.
Pyrrhus and Umma spent the morning yelling at each other, until Umma held up her hand and said, “Lunch break.”
Pyrrhus watched the sailors stack wood, some of it still wet, in the place set aside for a fire. He stared when Boston pulled out her wand and started the fire with a little flamethrower action. Two soldiers cooked some onions and leeks, while others brought over a whole pig that had been cooking all morning. The soldiers brought some fruit, and it made a very fine meal, and the conversation around the fire was both cordial and warm. Though, mostly that was because Pyrrhus spent most of his time in his tent planning for the afternoon argument.
Pyrrhus started the conversation with, “You are the most formidable enemy I have ever faced. You give no ground, and keep trying to sneak up on my flanks where you think I am unprepared.”
“Nice lunch,” Umma said. “Did you get enough to eat?”
The afternoon ended with Pyrrhus yelling. “I will get my own ships and block your port and sink your ships.”
Umma said something like the Carthaginian version of “Nyah-nyah,” and added the fingers wiggling on her nose and in her ears, and the butt wiggle besides. She marched her generals back to the city, and Pyrrhus threw things for a while. Fortunately, Porus came back by then and moved the travelers out on to the open field where the horses contentedly grazed. They set their camp near some soldiers, and did not have to deal with Pyrrhus until the morning.
When the morning came, Petracles spoke for his king. “Pyrrhus wants you off his land as soon as possible. He is lending you enough horses so you can all ride, to speed the journey. He will get his horses back when you take ship in Messana.”
“Boston,” Lockhart yelled, though she was not far away.
“The time gate is around Mount Etna. Lincoln and I checked it in the database,” Boston shouted back, just to be even.
“That is closer than Messana,” Katie said. “We can get out of the king’s land sooner than expected.”
“Somehow, I believe you,” Petracles said, as Galatea showed up.
“Do I get a horse?”
“Please,” Petracles said without blinking. “Take mine.”
Galatea smiled and stepped right up to the man. “We could ride together,” she said, and placed on gentle hand against the man’s cheek while she stood within a hair’s breadth of him.
Petracles swallowed. “You know how to ride?”
“Only on a seahorse, or in a chariot, but it can’t be hard.”
Petracles nodded. “Can you hold on?”
“I would love to,” she said, and Petracles swallowed again. Of them all, maybe Decker laughed the loudest.
Galatea turned to the women in the group. “When my sister rides in her husband’s chariot, she always scrunches down in the back and covers her eyes. I hope I don’t have to cover my eyes.”
“Mostly road between here and Etna,” Petracles said, as he reached down to help Galatea up behind him. “We might make it in two days, maybe morning of the third.” He spoke over his shoulder. “Sister?”
“Trite,” Galatea said. “I do have ninety-nine sisters.”
“Amphitrite,” Lockhart said. “Her husband, Poseidon. I guess Neptune in this part of the world.”
Petracles laughed, nervously. Galatea did not help when she held him around the middle, snuggled up tight against his back, sighed, and put her head gently against the back of his shoulder.