Angelo looked at Coleman.
Coleman said, “Well sir, Angelo and Arp and I were hashing this out some. The Prince said they left Earth maybe eight, nine hundred years ago, right? They crossed the veil then same as they did last week along with a fuck-load of goblins, only going the other way. Eight hundred years ago was Crusading time around here, which matches what we’re seeing. Knights in armor wander off into never-never land, learn magic somehow, and come up with armor like out of Starship Troopers and a strong hate on goblins.”
“If there’s Princes and Medieval armor and weapons, sir, we have to guess that they’ve still got a feudal culture. Feudal cultures around the world tend to be kinda the same, big picture; but there’s bound to be tons of differences at the micro level. Feudal Japan with the Samurai, feudal Europe with the knight – well, sir, it’s hard to say based just on watching you talk to one through a couple translators for five minutes.”
Lewis smiled. “I understand. Tell me what you guess.”
“Sir, off the top of my head I’d imagine that they’re big on honor. Maybe it’s best they met Marines. It might have gone bad if they’d run into the Air Force. They’ll likely be big into personal bravery, martial prowess, that sort of thing. Sir, you do your normal stoic thing, it’ll likely play as well as anything.”
“Thank you for that, Coleman.” Lewis looked thoughtful. “The older knight, Odo. Burhan called him ‘Strategos.’ That’s Greek, not a title from France or England.”
Coleman furrowed his brow. “Captain, in Ender’s Game that’s what they called the generals. I think it is Greek. And you said the priests looked like the Orthodox priests you saw when you were stationed at the embassy in Russia. But the Greeks are Orthodox, too, right? So there’s some sort of Byzantine influence. They were a power around here, in the Crusades.”
Angelo chimed in, “That’s probably what got Burhan’s panties in a bunch. Locals are always calling us crusaders, and here he gets dragooned by the real thing.”
Lewis straightened. “That’s probably enough to be getting along with. Coleman, go over the maps again and put together a presentation for tonight with the possible routes we discussed. Angelo, check with Evans and see if he needs anything. I’ll check with you both before we head down.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Lewis resumed his study of the activities in the valley.
Private Rodriguez ran up to the Captain and saluted. “Sir, Doc says you need to see him soonest. The prisoner’s awake.”
Lewis turned. “Evans, with me.” He nodded to the private and said, “Thanks, Rodriguez.”
Three doors down Fagan, their Navy corpsman, had set up shop in an abandoned residence. “Captain.”
“Doc. Where are we?”
Corpsman 1/C Fagan started to speak, stopped, opened his mouth and closed it once more.
“Start with our wounded,” Lewis instructed.
“Sir. I’ve released most of our wounded to limited duty. Avery and Singer are in bad shape; they need real doctors. Unless we can get Avery to a hospital, he’s … well, he’s in a bad way. Taylor and Post are hurting, but they just need time to heal. Those goblin choppers, sir, they’re better for wounds than an AK. Clean cuts are nowhere near as bad as the tissue damage from shell fragments and bullets. If it doesn’t kill you outright….”
“Doc, we’re not getting any medevac. Do what you can for them and I’ll check in on them later tonight. What’s the situation with our guest?”
“Captain, he’s awake and conscious. I’ve given him food and water but he’s barely touched it. He’s still restrained, obviously. If it were one of us who took a hit to the head like that he’d probably still be nauseated, still have a murderous headache. From what I see, I think that’s exactly what he’s feeling. His nose is swollen up pretty bad and probably broken. Not much I can do past just bandaging.”
Fagan paused, his mousy features screwed up in a frown. “Sir, he’s no alien.”
Lewis waited. “Would you like to expand on that, Doc?”
“Sir, I don’t have a lab here. No x-rays, no CAT scans, nothing. But while he was out, I looked him over pretty good. He looks like he fell out of the ugly tree; but he’s not, he’s not… alien. His hands have the same bones that we have. All the parts are in the right places. He’s too much like us. If he really came from another world, he’d look like the aliens from Alien, not like the aliens from Star Trek.”
“Doc, those knights we met told us they were originally from here. They went away through the veil, and that’s how they got back.”
“What, you mean maybe the goblins are from here, too?” the Corpsman asked.
“I’m sure I don’t know. But if crusaders could find a home… elsewhere… couldn’t some Cro-Magnon man, or Neanderthal? Maybe they’ve just been somewhere else for a long time. A very long time.”
Lewis watched Fagan’s face. Surprise, yes, but he could see the confirmation. This fit with what Fagan had learned from his own examination.
“Ah, yeah. I guess it stands to reason, Captain. I mean, look at say, a Pygmy from Africa and a Norwegian or something. Skin color, height, facial features; all different. But still human. But they didn’t get that way on Earth. How long ago did this guy’s ancestors last see ours? Ten thousand years ago? A hundred?”
“We don’t know. Probably won’t, ever. Not that it will stop Angelo and Coleman from arguing about it 24/7. What else have you figured out?”
“He speaks. Not any language I’ve ever heard. Not even really anything that sounds remotely like any language I’ve ever heard. He’s getting more alert as he recovers, but since I can’t talk to him or him to me, that doesn’t do us much good.”
“Then let’s take a look at him,” Lewis said.
Fagan led the captain into the back room of the house, past an armed sentry and through a blanket that pretended to be a door into a small bedroom. The room had been cleared of all furnishings save the bed, and on it sat their prisoner with his wrists and ankles securely zip-tied.
Lewis had been too busy to even look in on their prisoner, but it still wasn’t even a day since they’d taken him. His first good look at a goblin was rather… interesting. Up until now, all he’d seen were snapshot glimpses of snarling faces, half or more hidden by armor. Seeing eyes shadowed by helmets across the sights of his rifle or at the end of the sword didn’t give you much of a clear picture, he thought. And most of the dead ones had had their faces severely remodeled, seeing as the only way they’d been able to kill most of them was with a head shot.
The face of this goblin was less feral, less savage at repose. His nose was a nightmare, swollen and misshapen thanks to the butt of Arp’s M4. His skin was dark, but not like any shade he’d ever seen before. Taylor had had deep black skin, as dark as you ever see on an African-American, but the goblin’s skin was odd, somehow. The black had an almost grayish undertone, like it was a black and white picture of Taylor, instead of the real thing.
His face was ugly, even discounting the broken nose. He had a brow ridge. Maybe the Neanderthals did get out of Europe before homo sap did for them. And maybe our ancestors should have been more thorough, Lewis thought. The goblin’s features were coarse and broad. He didn’t look African, Asian, or European. Just completely different in every detail while still being recognizably human. Fagan was right, Lewis thought. He’s a Star Trek alien. A Klingon.
Evans piped up. “Does the Geneva convention apply to Goblins from another dimension?”
The goblin looked up. His eyes were grey and a little bloodshot.
“I don’t think they’ve signed the Geneva Accords. Are they people? Legally? Don’t know that either. Don’t care. He’s a prisoner, and we have procedures for dealing with prisoners. We’ll wrap him up in a bow and pass him up the chain. How can we interrogate him anyway if we don’t have a common language?”
“I’m sure the Pentagon has interrogators who know the dark speech of Mordor, Captain.”
“Well, if they do then it’s still their problem. I don’t think we’re going to learn anything more by staring at him.” He turned to Fagan. “Keep him comfortable. Make sure he has water and food. Make arrangements with Pethoukis when he gets back. He’ll need a place in the convoy.”
Lewis turned as he left the room. “And see if you can figure out what his name is.”
Private Haulk stepped into the dining room. “Sir, the Sergeant’s coming back up the road.”
“Thank you, private. I’ll be out directly.”
The sun was westering as Lewis exited the restaurant. The wind was picking up again and the temperature was dropping a bit. He strode down the village’s single forlorn street toward the barricade where the road met the town, such as it was. The Marines had cleared a path through their impromptu wall, and Pethoukis and his detail drove their humvees through the narrow gap.
Pethoukis hung out the passenger side of the lead humvee and dropped to the ground as the small column pulled to a stop. Each of the six humvees was loaded to the gills.
“Sir, what’s the regulations on war booty? Because I’ve got a metric shitload of it.”
Pethoukis’ detail began unloading the humvees, stacking burlap sacks in the open area in front of the gas station. Pethoukis walked over to a sack and pulled it open. “Captain, we’ve got armor and weapons for everyone. The Prince insisted on loading us down. We’ve got more than we can use by a fair margin.”
“And there’s a ton more down at the camp. Food, random supplies, more armor and weapons. And gold.” Pethoukis grinned.
He reached into the bag and started pulling out armor pieces. “Gamez translated for that monk who spoke Arabic. Father Pietr. You were right, Captain, that group that came up behind was the support staff. We counted about 400 or so. Lots of them were worker bees; servants, I guess. But there were more church types and another small bunch armed like the knights. The monk said they were the Temple Guards, knights of the Church.”
“Knights Templar?” Lewis asked.
“Not sure if they’re the same bunch. Might could be.”
“The Prince had his people cleaning up the battlefield. I suggested that we’d be most use hauling the booty back for sorting. We must have hauled a hundred loads of armor back from the first battlefield. You can see the pile from here.” Pethoukis waved at the still growing pile of gear stripped from the goblins down in the valley outside the north camp.
“Some of the church types, the ones in the fancy red robes, they started into sorting it all out. The Prince had them put the good stuff in a pile for us. And he told us a story.”
“The Prince said that when they first crossed the Veil, they were like us. They didn’t have magic swords and armor and shit. Gamez doesn’t speak as good Arabic as shifty speaks English; but as near as we can figure it, there was about 2000 or so crusaders marching north from Jerusalem. They stumbled across the Veil, and they ran right into the backside of a goblin army besieging a group of locals who sound like they were Romans. The crusaders caught the goblins by surprise, corncobbed them, and lifted the siege.”
“Back then, the Romans did for them what the Prince wants to do for us: give us weapons. So we can kill goblins.”
Lewis looked down toward the valley. “I have my own reasons to kill goblins. But are they the Prince’s?”
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Continue on to Part Eleven