“Did he just say, ‘Take me to your leader’?” Corporal Arp asked.
“Secure that shit!” 1st Sgt. Pethoukis growled, softly.
Captain Lewis stepped forward and rendered a crisp salute. The wind from behind him started up some tiny dust devils on the road. Before him, he watched nineteen refugees from a big-budget Hollywood production and one slight, bedraggled Iraqi watch him intently. The faces of the knights, especially the big guy in the golden armor, were open, friendly. The priests and monks maybe less so, but certainly not unfriendly.
The Iraqi looked angry. But he looked like he was the kind that was always angry.
Prince Raimond looked on expectantly.
“Tell him I am Captain Thomas Lewis, of the United States Marine Corps.” There was some back and forth as the Iraqi explained things in Arabic to one of the monks, who translated that for the Prince.
The golden-armored knight rattled off some more of the French-sounding language, which again bounced from the monk to the Arab to Lewis.
“With the Prince are Odo, Duke Polinhac, Strategos.” The Iraqi translator pointed at the knight to the left of the Prince. An older man, grey in his beard, craggy face and rather grim looking behind his smile of greeting. The Iraqi gestured at the other knight, a younger man handsome and blond, “And Siegfried, Baron Vischennes and aide to the Prince.”
Behind the three knights, the two monks were Abbot-Bishop Thibaud and Priestmonk Pietr of the Order of St. Johanet. The Abbot was in his sixties, perhaps; kindly in appearance with a long beard still mostly auburn though streaked with grey. The younger monk, Pietr, was clean shaven, tonsured, with black hair and an open face.
The two priest-looking individuals were Archpriest Isadore and Archimandrite John. Both had long beards, like the priests Lewis remembered from Russia. They were of the same age, he guessed, about forty. They looked similar, too, with the same aquiline noses and blue eyes. Isadore had rich vestments with crosses embroidered in the fabric in a complicated, repeating pattern – like a floor done up in gold and green cruciform tiles. John’s vestments were not so rich, and colored in a dark burgundy with rather less gold. His vestments also had a cross pattern, but a different one with more complicated crosses. Looking at it too long started his eyes to hurting; it was much like looking at one of those computer fractal pictures.
The Arab pointed at himself, and smiled sourly. “And I am Burhan Mohammed Madhour”
The other knights didn’t seem to merit an introduction. Well, there seems to be a protocol here, Lewis thought. Lewis gestured at Pethoukis. “With me are my second in command, Sergeant Michael Pethoukis; and Corporals Evans and Arp.”
The Arab began again. This must be a canned speech as there wasn’t the same backing and filling as before.
“Captain Lewis, the Prince greets you and says, ‘For four centuries, the veil between worlds was closed. For centuries before that it was an inconstant and treacherous door'” the Arab paused. “‘Or gate.’ He concentrated.
“The Prince says, ‘Now that the veil is open once more those who fear God are in danger. Danger from the likes of those we fought this morning. Danger from greater and more powerful evils. I have been sent by my royal father to seek alliance with those we left behind; to offer aid and assistance and to ask the same. We looked to find the Kingdom of France, or England – but we are told'” the Arab interjected, “I told him.” He continued the translation, “That these are no longer or shadows of former greatness.”
“This man who speaks my words tells me that your United States is born of England and now the most powerful kingdom below Heaven. We wish to treat with your King.”
Holy crap, Lewis thought, I’m no ambassador. The Prince looked at him patiently. Well, here goes….
“Tell the Prince I am just a captain in my nation’s armed forces. I can’t negotiate treaties. I would be happy to take him to see the President. The only problem is that the President is on the other side of the planet and we’re in the middle of an invasion. And there’s God knows how many goblins between us and any way out.”
Lewis looked more closely at the knight. His armor was splendid. The lines of the armor were elegant and even though Lewis knew next to nothing about medieval armor, it had clearly been crafted by a master. Lewis was sure, though, that this wasn’t show armor. There were battle scars on that armor, and it had the look of long use. There were bloodstains on the prince’s surcoat – although likely not his own blood, seeing what happened that morning. The Prince was relaxed and at ease, in control.
The other knights had the same air of lethal competence. Normally, Lewis and his Marines habitually showed the same demeanor. But they had been rocked by events that for them had no precedent and they were reeling still from their unlikely salvation. It was obvious that these events did have precedent for this bunch.
Lewis tried to find solid ground. “I think that we’ll be needing friends just about now.” He told the Arab translator. “Tell the Prince, I’ll take him to the gulf where he can meet with my superiors. Or die trying.”
The message filtered its way to the Prince. The Prince nodded, and then smiled. Broad grins broke out on most of the Prince’s company. Hit a chord there, thought Lewis.
The Prince stepped forward and held out his hand. Lewis held out his automatically, and the Prince grasped his forearm and pulled him forward. Lewis felt a mighty clap on his shoulder. Christ, this guy is strong, he thought. The Prince released him and spoke.
“The Prince says, ‘Valiantly said. And an excellent beginning. We will be good friends, I trust. But there is much to be done, and much to be discussed. We must give thanks to God for our victory. The spoils of war must be divided. We must plan. And we must eat!'” The Prince looked around the small, dusty hamlet and the rude fortifications the Marines had erected.
“There is not much room here, I think. We will make use of the enemy’s encampment. Join us there.” The Prince had the command voice, no question.
Lewis paused. This guy seemed friendly. Hell, he was a dream come true. But still…. “Tell the Prince, ‘Thank you’ for the offer. But we must stay here in the village for now. We have wounded to attend to, and they would not be helped by moving. I will send a detail down to assist him with whatever he needs, and I will join him in the evening for dinner.”
The Prince looked very mildly annoyed; but both of the other fancy knights, Lewis noted, nodded sagely.
“Captain Lewis,” the Prince said through the interpreters, “Yes. Tend to your wounded. Send a dozen men with beasts of burden down to the valley, that we may share the spoils of battle. You and your officers may join us at sundown. Then, we will eat; and we will plan. Our presence here in this world can not have gone undetected, and we will have to move quickly.”
“Tell the Prince thank you, and we will.” Lewis said.
The Prince leapt into his saddle, and gave Lewis and his Marines a rough salute. His party remounted, and they rode back down the road.
“Christ, Evans, I don’t even know where to begin.” Lewis looked at his command group, assembled in the taverna’s dining room. Two of the posts were cut straight through and listed sadly, victims of Lewis’ first experiments with stolen goblin weapons. Lewis looked down at his new sword. Remarkable, he thought, it’s been only twelve hours since I strapped that on, and it feels part of me already. New enemies, new tools.
He stretched. He was sore; he felt like someone had been going at his back with a hammer, and his arms hurt in ways he didn’t think arms could hurt. The sword used him as much as he used it, and his body hadn’t been prepared.
“First things. We need to get ready to move. The threat board is clear, thanks to our new friends. We need to figure out how to get to our ticket home – and how to get these people there. When we go to dinner, we need to have a clue. They’re hell on wheels for fighting goblins, but we have to figure they don’t know the terrain.
“If what the Prince said is true, the last time they were here was what, 400 years ago? Things have changed around here in the last little while. Hell, they thought France was still a kingdom. Their intelligence is a bit stale.”
“France isn’t a kingdom?” Evans cracked.
“Not for a while, now, no.” Lewis replied with a tight smile.
“So. Pethoukis, you lead the detail. Take Arp and whomever else you need. Use the humvees, I don’t think anything else will make it down the road since we unpaved it. Oh, and take Gamez, he speaks Arabic. We need to have our own line of communication to the Prince. Make nice, do anything they ask as long as it’s reasonable. And then come back here as quick as you can. And obviously, keep your eyes and ears open.
“In other news, Simmons reported another group coming up behind. They didn’t look like knights – more like the baggage train. Horses, mules, and so on. Pethoukis, see what that’s all about.
“While you’re about that, we need to get ready up here. Evans, see what we need to do to get the wounded ready to go. Start packing the essentials: ammunition, water, food; in that order. And detail someone to get armor and weapons from the goblins on the road and wall. I want more of us in their armor, and we have to get some of this back to higher.
“Inquiring minds will want to know how all this…” He set his hand on his sword, “Works.”
“And before you go, Pethoukis, send Angelo and Coleman over to me. Dismissed.”
Lewis, Coleman, and Angelo stood on the battlements beside the battered road, watching the activity in the valley below. It was clear now that the second group was in fact the Prince’s baggage train. Labor parties from the second group were policing up the battlefield, stripping armor and weapons from the dead, and piling the corpses in neat little piles.
“Dirty work.” Angelo said. He was still wearing his goblin armor. Likely he’d never take it off again, Lewis thought. How many SCA knights had a suit of magic armor? Lewis snorted.
“I was just wondering how many SCA knights have a suit of magic armor.”
Angelo smiled. “Hopefully all of them, sir. We’ll need them.”
“True.” Lewis raised his binoculars. Over toward the ground where the knights routed the first regiment of goblins, Lewis saw Pethoukis and his team driving their six humvees toward one of the working parties making piles of looted weapons and armor. Pethoukis had already moved a couple dozen loads to a rough depot near the front of the north camp that the Prince had taken for his own. Nearby, more workers were erecting a large tent, a white pavilion striped in red and blue.
“The colors are encouraging.” Coleman said.
Lewis looked at his two subordinates. “I wanted to pick your brains. You two probably know more about medieval history than the rest of the company combined. What can we know or guess about Prince Raimond and his merry band? I think things went well enough this afternoon, and Pethoukis won’t likely screw the pooch helping out down in the valley. But tonight, we need to play our cards right. From what has trickled down from higher, and from what we heard from the BBC before it went down, we need help. Badly.
“Back home, there’s God knows how many of these goblins, dragons who knows what else. We know command’s pulling everything back. We don’t know how badly we’re getting reamed on the way out, and…” Lewis trailed off.
Angelo jumped in. “And this is the first sign that anything good has come through that…”
“Veil.” Coleman added.
“Right,” said Lewis. “One good thing out of a million horrors. We need to be damn sure that this turns out right for us. We saw what the Prince’s men did to those goblins. We need that on our side. Hopefully their mojo is better than the goblin’s. If these people understand what it is we’re up against, we need to get that knowledge.
“So we can fight back.” he concluded grimly.
“Yes, sir.” answered both Coleman and Angelo.
“So what can you tell me?”
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