Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 5 of 6

By the morning of the third day, Galatea got right up behind Petracles again, a very contented smile on her face. Apparently, everything went well in the night, though Petracles looked exhausted.  The six soldiers Petracles brought with him to escort the group rode at the back and had the good sense to keep to their own camp in the night and keep their mouths shut.

Boston was not so sensible.  She turned to Sukki, pointed at Galatea snuggling up to Petracles, and said, “See, that is how you do it.”  She said it several times.

“What makes you think I want to do it?” Sukki responded, but turned her face away, and turned red.

They found a narrow wooden bridge across the Simeto River, and felt grateful to be able to cross without incident. It did not seem a very wide or deep river, but the travelers were glad not to have to go out of their way to find a ford.

Katie said, “Hopefully, things like roads and bridges will become more common from here on out.”

“That is Mount Etna?” Lockhart asked about the snow covered peak they headed toward. Katie nodded.

“That would be my guess.”

“I don’t see any smoke,” Lockhart pointed out.

“No,” Katie agreed.  “Lincoln could probably read in the database about every eruption around this time, but all I know is, while the volcano erupts often in history, most of the time it is inactive.  Like maybe a hundred years of quiet between eruptions.  An eruption might last a month, several months, a year or two, but then the mountain gets quiet again for the next twenty years or maybe two hundred years.  Who can say?”

“Like predicting earthquakes,” Lockhart suggested.

“Yes.  Related,” Katie said.  “I had a friend at the Pentagon who worked on that very thing… To predict earthquakes, not to trigger them.”

Lockhart nodded that he understood.

“Wait,” Katie said, and stopped, so the whole train of horses stopped.  “We are being followed.

“Where?”  Lockhart looked back.

“Since the river.  A whole troop of men.  They have cut us off from the bridge.”  Katie looked at Lockhart.  “I’m sorry. I got busy loving you and stopped paying attention.”  Her head snapped toward the front, but then Boston and Sukki were galloping back from the point.  A minute later, Decker and Elder Stow both raced in from the sides.

“There is a whole army out there,” Boston said it first, as Petracles with Galatea came along side.

“Yes,” Galatea said.  “Men from Tauromeni and Catina.  I was wondering when you were going to notice.”

“I smell the witch,” Lockhart said.

“I hear that,” Decker agreed.

“I can put up my screens, but not for long.  Then we will be out of power.”

“They may try a mass attack from all sides.  Our weapons are good, but not against an army.”

“It would be like Custer’s last stand,” Boston suggested.

“We can’t draw the wagons in a circle. We only have the one,” Lockhart joked. “Why don’t we see what they want before we start shooting people.”

They moved forward, slowly in a group, and stopped a hundred yards from the phalanx of men.  Lockhart and Katie then rode out to the fifty-yard line and stopped there, to wait.  Petracles, and thus Galatea followed them, but the rest wisely stayed behind.

“Petracles wanted me to stay back,” Galatea said, with a true smile that made the others smile.  “He wanted to protect me.  Isn’t he the cutest thing.”

Petracles did not think he was cute, but he spoke, and tried to stay serious.  “I represent Pyrrhus here.  These Greeks have no business turning out soldiers against their king.  The king has given you safe passage.  In fact, he insisted.”

They did not have to wait long. Six men rode out from the other side. Galatea whispered, like it was a conspiracy.  “They are under the spell of your witch.  She is hiding.  Shh. Don’t tell that I told you.”

“Hello friend,” Lockhart began, but Petracles interrupted.

“I am here as representative of Pyrrhus the king.  These people have been given safe passage to their destination. How dare you bring an army out against your king.”

“These are not people,” one man spoke in a hypnotic monotone.  “They are demons from beyond time.  They must surrender all of their things.  They must surrender themselves to be burned at the stake.”

“Friend,” Lockhart began again, but this time Katie interrupted.

“Galatea.  Can you set these free from their hypnotic spell?”

“Oh,” Galatea shook her head.  “I don’t know if I am allowed to do that.”

“Please,” Lockhart said.

“Just these six,” Katie explained. “I’m not asking you to set them all free, or anything big like that.  Just a little thing.  Just these few.”

Galatea’s smile returned, like she could not stay serious for very long.  “Okay,” she said, and the six men covered their eyes, shook their heads, and looked confused before one of them spoke.

“What are we doing here?”

“Wait.  I remember,” another said, and looked at Katie and Lockhart with an odd expression on his face.

“You don’t look like demons,” a third said.

“These good people are under the protection of the king,” Petracles spoke up again.  “I am sure you don’t want to make King Pyrrhus mad at you.”

“Dear, no,” one man said.

“How did we get here?”

One figured it out.  “It was the witch,”

The city elders awkwardly turned on their horses to face their own army.  Only a moment later, they saw the witch come out from behind the men. “No,” she yelled.  “That’s not fair.  Attack.  Attack.”

Decker had somehow managed to get the rest of the group to form a defensive circle around their one wagon. He made sure the Eporites had their bows ready, and made Boston and Alexis get out their bows, even if Alexis protested.  Boston gave her Beretta to Sukki, and Decker gave his handgun to Evan.  They did not have a spare for Wallace, but that turned out to be just as well.  On sight of Nanette, Wallace rode his horse as fast as he could across the field, shouting.

“Nanette.  I’m here for you.  Nanette.”

No one could stop him, as the cavalry troop that cut them off from the bridge prepared to attack.  At the same time, the phalanx of Greeks began to march forward.

“Hasty retreat,” Lockhart said. Katie had her rifle ready, but she agreed.  Petracles rode in all seriousness, but Galatea got her grin back, like it was all too exciting.  The six elders did not seem to know what to do.  Two rode with the travelers.  Two rode slowly back to their troops, knowing they could not stop them.  The final two just stayed where they were, like men frozen in indecision.

Katie spoke when Wallace rode past them. “Let him go.  Nothing we can do for him now.”

When the riders got to the wagon, Katie quickly gave Millie her handgun, having shown Millie how to use it whether Millie liked it or not.  She pulled her rifle up to her sight, and Elder Stow let his sonic device squeal as loud as he could set it.  Even the traveler’s horses protested.  The oncoming horses stopped, bucked, stumbled, turned aside, or turned around and rode back the way they came regardless of their riders.

“Fine and well,” Decker said, “But that is not going to work on the foot soldiers.  The men advanced, seven or eight feet of spear poking out of the front of the formation.  “Captain.”

“Ready, sir,” Katie said in her crisp, military voice.  The others stepped up around them with their bows and handguns.  Bullets from handguns might not penetrate the shields with enough force to do damage to the man, but at least they would not bounce off, like arrows.  Katie and Decker had the rifles, and Lockhart had his shotgun.  Not much against five hundred or more men.

“Aim,” Decker said, and one of the Eporites yelled from behind.

“The cavalry have regained control and are preparing a charge from three sides.”

“I’ve got it,” Elder Stow countered. “Stay on the foot soldiers.”

The cavalry began yelling and started to ride.  The foot soldiers got to where Decker prepared to yell fire. when the cavalry froze, horses and all in mid-stride, and a massive stroke of lightning came down in front of the Greek phalanx, knocking the whole front row off their feet, and some of the men following as well.

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 4 of 6

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.”

“Not funny.”

“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.”

“Trite?”

“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.