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.



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 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.