After lunch on the same day that Hans and company started off down the road to Augsburg, the travelers stopped on the river road outside the city gate to Ulm. Katie had a bad feeling about the city. Nanette said she smelled Ingrid the witch, almost sounding like a dwarf. Decker supported her, though he did not exactly encourage the others.
“The witch may have taken a boat downriver and passed us in the night.”
Lincoln took it a step further. “Maybe the witch met up with Blondy and Big Ugly. Maybe they have a whole troop of soldiers just inside the gate waiting for us.”
“Elder Stow,” Lockhart called the man. “Where is the nearest city gate off this road?”
Elder Stow got out his scanner. “There is a gate away from the river. A road goes from there off to the northwest, maybe to Stuttgart.”
“We will take it,” Lockhart said. “Better safe than sorry,” he added for Katie, who nodded in agreement with that idea.
“We will have to cross some farm fields,” Elder Stow pointed out. “I will try to keep us to the local farm roads.”
“Can’t we go around the city and avoid the trouble altogether?” Nanette asked.
“Wait,” Sukki interrupted. She had her amulet out and stared at it while she spoke. “It looks like the Kairos left the river. He must be headed toward Awkward-burg.”
“Augsburg,” Lincoln corrected. “You sound like Boston.” That made Sukki smile.
“We need to find a bridge,” Katie said. “Augsburg is south, on the other side of the river.”
Lockhart hardly had to think about it. “Unexpected gate. Straight to the nearest bridge, and then find the road to Augsburg. Hopefully we will escape in an unexpected direction. With luck, we will find the Kairos before they find us.”
Everyone agreed, but first thing they stopped where a farmer refused to let them cross his land. They had to go around, only to run into another farmer who refused to let them through. Fortunately, they could pay for passage. They also paid the third farmer. Then, somehow, word went out ahead of them and every farmer in Ulm came out demanding money, or so it seemed.
“This way,” Elder Stow said, and he led them to a farm road that appeared to go between two properties. They almost got to the northwest road before a man stepped out in front of them.
“You are traveling on my road,” he said. “You have to pay the toll.” He held up a box and rattled it to show that there were coins inside.
Nanette grabbed her wand, pulled the box from the man’s hand, and floated it up about ten feet in the air. Lockhart pulled out his shotgun and blasted the box to pieces. Little metal shards, not coins, rained down on the man.
The man just stared until Decker came up. He rode beside Nanette. “Next person that tries to extort money will get shot,” he said to the man.
Lincoln rode in the back beside Tony and the mule. He tossed the man an old Roman silver coin as he spoke. “This should cover the toll and get you a new box.”
It took an hour to reach the road to Stuttgart, and they arrived about an hour from the city gate. By the time they arrived at the gate, they found a new problem.
“Gate tax,” The soldier said. “It is based on the estimated value of the goods you are bringing into the city.” The man tried to sound firm about that, but other people were going in and out of the gate without being stopped, much less paying a tax.
“We are not bringing any goods into the city,” Lockhart said. “We are just pilgrims passing through.”
“We would appreciate you giving us directions to the bridge,” Katie said.
“And the road to Augsburg,” Lincoln shouted up from the rear. He quieted when Tony, Nanette, and Decker all gave him hard looks. “What?” he defended himself. “He is just a gate guard.”
“And city guards never talk,” Tony said, with a good bit of sarcasm.
“Lincoln,” Lockhart called him up front. His voice did not sound kind. Lincoln pulled a few coins from his vest pocket. He put a couple in the outstretched hand of the soldier. The soldier wiggled his fingers like he wanted more, but Lincoln objected.
“I need the rest to pay for the river crossing.”
The man smiled and said, “My brother guards the river bridge.” He looked out and counted. “You have nine horses to mess up our beautiful streets.” He wiggled his fingers again.
“Eight horses and a mule,” Lincoln corrected the man.
“Oh. Mules cost double.” He wiggled his fingers again as Katie and Lockhart frowned. Lincoln handed over a couple more coins and then shrugged as if to say that was all he had. The soldier still hesitated a moment before he closed his fist around the coins and Katie began to push through the gate. Lockhart, Sukki, Elder Stow and the rest followed. They did not give the gate guards a chance to block their way.
Once in the city, the travelers hurried to cross over to the river. They only stopped briefly in a market area to pick up some summer fruit and vegetables to go with whatever animal they could buy or shoot down the road, assuming they would camp in the night. They got to the bridge without a problem, except the bridge appeared to be a problem.
Ulm only had the one bridge across the Danube, though it looked like they started building a second bridge on the other end of the city. Unfortunately, the bridge swarmed with soldiers. The travelers had no doubt who the soldiers were waiting for.
“Boats,” Katie said. “It will cost more, but a ferry can work as well as a bridge.”
It took a while to find a boatman who had his own little dock and did not use the main city river docks. Those river docks were also swarming with soldiers, as were all the gates. Katie wondered what Ingrid the witch told the city council to get them to turn out the troops.
Lincoln made a fist sized bag full of every copper coin they picked up thus far in their trip through southeastern France and the Black Forest. They offered it to the man as they were invited inside the big house.
“Here is the deal. Your boat is big enough to carry us one at a time over the river. That will probably take all night. We have fruit and vegetables to eat this evening, and your wife is welcome to keep whatever remains when we leave. We also have this bag of coins which is payment for passage. It is probably a year’s wages or more. There is one condition. You tell no one. Say nothing to anyone, not even family and good friends until after we leave.”
The man looked them over, carefully. “I am guessing you are the people who killed Father Martin Luther. I see the two Africans.”
“Are you Lutheran or Catholic?” Lockhart asked.
“Lutherite?” the man thought before he nodded. “Lutheran.”
“Martin Luther is alive,” Katie said. “He just went into hiding. I don’t blame him.”
“I don’t blame him either,” the man said, confidentially. “Anyway, I’m Jewish. This is why we had to build our own dock here, separate from the city docks. We may be able to help you. Come. Let me show you.”
“Wait,” an old woman shouted from the street. A young woman, like a granddaughter helped the old one walk. “Let me get a look at them.” She looked at the horses in the street that Decker and Tony guarded. Then she examined the other six faces closely. “You have not aged a day,” she said. “I was sixteen and sat with my father when we met you, after we escaped from the Portuguese Inquisition. You were a great encouragement to us. After a long journey, my father brought us here.” She paused and looked again at Katie.
“I remember you,” Sukki said.
The old woman smiled for her. “But you have not aged, and I have gotten old over all those years. Only now, I understand. The stories you told about Solomon and the Maccabees were real stories you lived, not just invented to entertain us.”
“They were,” Katie admitted.
The old woman grabbed her granddaughter and yelled at the man. “Jacob. You will give these travelers safe passage over the river and will not betray them no matter how much money the city offers.” She started back up the street while the man mumbled.
“God bless you,” Nanette said to the woman.
“Oh, I hope so,” the woman responded.