“I am sorry,” Simeon said. “I thought it best not to go through Jericho. This is the road beneath the fortress of Dok.” He pointed to the top of the cliff and the wall there. “It will meet later with the Jerusalem road, but meanwhile, we are below the fort that the Syrians still hold. I am sorry. I did not think it would be a problem. They have left us alone and we have left them alone, until now.”
“Major?” Katie stood, waved and called from the little rise she staked out to hide the wagon and horses.
Decker veered his trajectory and came riding up, Boston and Sukki came right behind. “About a hundred. They will be on us, shortly.” The riders got down and led their horses to the others where Millie and Sukki would do their best to keep the beasts calm. At least the mule and the horses were no strangers to the sound of gunfire. “They should come up from that dry riverbed,” Decker finished, as he climbed the rise and took up his position.
“The men sent to the city will be a while,” Simeon said. “Even if they bring the gate guard and run all the way. I am sorry.”
“Stop apologizing,” Lockhart yelled, as he checked his shotgun and pulled his police special.
“My guess is one of the gods tipped them off,” Katie said. “Even if the gods agreed, I bet someone doesn’t want to give up so easily.”
“Who do you figure?” Lockhart asked.
“Baal? Asherah?” Katie was not sure.
“Maybe Moloch,” Evan suggested. His voice sounded calm, but his hand sweated around Katie’s handgun.
“Ashtoreth,” Boston shouted from down the rise. She got out a dozen arrows and she and Alexis prepared them for explosive flight. They were the nearest thing the group had to an RPG.
“We may never know,” Katie admitted.
“Here they come,” Lincoln shouted over top. He paid attention.
One of Simeon’s men panicked and let his arrow fly too soon. Simeon only brought ten men to escort the bones. Seven stood ready. He sent three to fetch help from the city. He left the other ten men in his company to watch the Syrians on the road. He briefly wondered if he should have brought them all. But he assured the travelers his men would turn out the whole army of Jericho, if necessary.
“Maybe we should have run for the city,” Simeon said.
“We could have doubled up on the horses, but we would have had to abandon the mule and the wagon,” Lockhart responded.
“Captain,” Decker yelled from the other side of the rise. He and Katie opened fire on the oncoming enemy. Men began to fall.
After a minute, Lockhart yelled, “Now.” Evan, Lincoln and Lockhart added their handgun fire to the mix. A moment later, Boston began to fire her arrows. She did not have to hit anyone directly. Even if her arrow hit the ground, it would explode, and the two or three nearest men, if not killed or injured, would at least be knocked over by the concussive blast.
Once the dozen arrows got sent, and that did not take long at all at elf speed, Boston got out her wand. Alexis already had her wand blowing the dust and dirt from the road into the face of the oncoming men, with a near hurricane force wind. Boston added a stream of fire in front of the men imitating something like a flame-thrower.
“There,” Elder Stow shouted. “Decker’s wall.” That was what he called a one-sided screen that Decker could shoot through. Of course, by then the charge had nearly stopped, and it completely stopped when several men ran into the invisible wall and bounced back. Everyone stopped firing, except Decker. He got the three that got caught on the traveler side of the wall.
“Here.” Elder Stow handed his screen device to Boston and pointed to the top of the hill. “That is the fortress?” he asked. Simeon nodded, and everyone looked up at the top of the hill where a wall had been built. They assumed the fortress had wall all the way around, but they only saw this side. “The screen is only several hundred human yards wide. They may discover that and come around it,” Elder Stow said, as he rose up in the air. He quickly went invisible, and no one noticed anything for a few minutes other than the surviving Syrians ran back to hide in the dry riverbed.
Simeon looked at his men. Not one had fired an arrow, except that one when it did not count. Katie shaded her eyes and looked up. Soon they all looked up as Elder Stow fired his hand weapon at what must have been full strength. The edge of the hillside began to give way. Soon enough, whole boulders began to fall. The Syrians in the riverbed scattered to keep from being crushed. A few large stones rolled up to Decker’s wall, where they kindly stopped. Then the fortress wall collapsed. The zig-zag path that led up to the fortress would have to be reworked in spots, but unless the Syrians had a spare wall somewhere, their fortress was toast. When the soldiers from Jericho arrived, the Syrians would be wise to surrender.
“Time to move out,” Lockhart said. “Everyone, take one of Simeon’s men for a ride.”
Elder Stow returned and became visible again. “My father?”
“Can you fly cover and keep the wall beside us and behind us?” Lockhart asked.
Elder Stow wanted to say no. Everyone saw it on his face, but what he said was, “I can pivot the wall as we move until we are out of range.
Katie hollered. “Evan. Are you and Millie okay with the wagon.”
“Okay,” Evan waved them on.
Simeon got up behind Katie. He looked uncomfortable but did not complain. Three got behind Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker. One got Elder Stow’s horse to himself, and the horse was reasonable to accommodate for a short distance. The last two borrowed Millie and Evan’s horses while the couple drove the wagon.
Going at a good clip, it did not take long to reach the Jerusalem road. Lincoln looked back a couple of times, but Evan seemed a capable wagon driver. He got Ghost the mule to keep up fairly well.
“Walk them,” Lockhart yelled, and everyone got down to walk. Lockhart’s and Lincoln’s riders tipped their hats and said thank you and excuse me. Decker’s passenger seemed to want to kiss the ground.
The travelers and their escort reached the gates of Jerusalem on the following afternoon. Simeon and his men went right in, but the travelers had to wait an hour before they were allowed in, and then they had to stay in the gate. They had room to set their tents and build a fire, and men brought them food and fodder for the horses and mule, but they would not be allowed to visit the city.
“It is much bigger than the last time we were here,” Lincoln remarked.
“That was in Solomon’s day,” Alexis told Evan and Millie.
“We were being chased by a genie,” Elder Stow said.
“A big, bad genie,” Decker agreed.
“I wonder where he is now,” Katie said, not expecting the answer she got.
“Solomon had the jugs of Marid buried with him in his tomb,” a young woman said. “As long as they are not disturbed, they should still be there.”
Lockhart and Katie looked at the woman, and Lockhart got up first to hug her. “Daughter,” he said.
“You should not be here,” Katie almost frowned before she hugged Sekhmet. “We should not be here.”
“Sekhmet,” Boston named the goddess for those who might not know.
“Actually, the Ptolomys have been in control and lost control of this area so many times in the last century, who can keep track?” Sekhmet shrugged and changed the subject. “I see you have added to the club.”
“Millie and Evan,” Alexis said. “And you remember Sukki.”
“Of course. I saw Sukki at the wedding.” Sekhmet slipped between Katie and Lockhart and put one arm around each. “It was nice of my mom and dad to finally actually marry and make Artie and me legal.”
“Wait,” Evan said. “You don’t mean your real mom and dad.”
Sekhmet said, “As real as Sukki is really Elder Stow’s daughter.” Sekhmet smiled and then confessed. “I do try to keep up with your progress when I can, and nice to meet you Evan Cecil Emerson and Millie Ann Smith Emerson. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Nice to meet you,” Millie responded.
“Did I do that right?” Sekhmet asked Katie.
“Just about perfect,” Katie said, and they sat by the fire.
Near sundown, Simeon came back with two men, one who shared some family resemblance, and one who dressed like a priest. The family man carried a four-year-old girl who wiggled to get down. She ran to the group on her little legs and headed straight to Boston with her arms wide for a hug. Boston picked her up and hugged her happily.
Lincoln grinned and said, “Judy, Judy, Judy.”
“He never said that.” Alexis set the record straight.
Little Judith stuck her tongue out at Lincoln, gave Boston a little kiss on the cheek, then stretched to hug Sukki. Sukki did not know what to do, especially when Judith kissed her on the cheek as well and whispered in her ear. “Take good care of that old man and your sister, Boston.”
“I will,” Sukki said, and put Judith down. She looked at Elder Stow, and then at Boston, and began to cry. Both went to her, but it was only a little cry.
“Daddy,” Judith called. “And Uncle Simeon.” She held out her hands. Simeon took one, and the one who was evidently his brother Judah, and Judith’s father took the other.
Simeon laughed. “I should have known little Judith was in the middle of this. She started it all, you know, sitting in the arms of our father Mattathias, here in the city to be dedicated. The Seleucids wanted to sacrifice her to Zeus on the pagan altar they built. Father killed the corrupted priest rather than give up his granddaughter.”
“I don’t think Zeus would have been happy with a human sacrifice,” Katie said, and Sekhmet shook her head for confirmation.
“Zeus-Amon,” she whispered, but Judith noticed and yelled.
“Sekhmet. You are not supposed to be here. You bad girl.” She wagged her little finger and tried to look serious, but only looked cute. All the same, Sekhmet hid more securely behind Lockhart’s broad shoulders.
Alexis stepped up and totally interrupted everything. She carried the bag of three femur bones. She held them out with instructions. “The bones of Joseph, son of Jotham, the King, and his wife Tama, and daughter Aleah. They are home to be properly buried in the sepulcher of the kings.”
“Priest,” Judah called, gruffly, and the priest took the bag, carefully. “It will be done but tell me. Did you destroy the fortress of Dok?”
“Yes,” Lockhart answered with a glance at Elder Stow. “But as my wife has explained to me, we cannot help you with Acra. We will have to leave in the morning.”
“Yes,” Judah said in much the same tone of voice. “So my wife explains things to me all the time.”
“That is why we have them,” Lockhart said, and Katie slapped him on the shoulder, but gently.
Judah smiled a little. “I think I like you, big man.”
“I’m getting the hill when Acra falls,” Judith interrupted. “I am going to plant olive trees, and a garden there. Isn’t that right, Uncle Simeon?” She yawned a big yawn.
“Right by me,” Simeon said, as Judah picked up his little girl, and Judith smiled, closed her eyes, and laid her head down on her father’s shoulder.
“Priest,” Judah commanded, turned and walked away. The priest and Simeon caught up.
Millie turned to Evan. “I want one.”
When the morning came, Sekhmet transported the travelers instantly to Suez, and said, since she saved them a week of travel through the dusty desert, they should stay with her for a week, and she could be a good girl the whole time. That was, at least, what the travelers did.
The travelers head for Rome and Caesar in Avalon 7.2 The Ides of March. Don’t miss it. Until then, Happy Reading