CHAPTER TWENTY

June – July, Year 2 A.E.

“Here’s the title deed,” Cofflin said, “Place is yours.”

“Thanks, Chief,” the Kayles said.

The crowd cheered. Sixty-four acres of sand and scrub, Cofflin thought. The young couple looked eager enough, though; and if you were going to do farming work anyway, you might as well do it on your own property. There would be loans from the Town to pay off, of course. The plank-and-beam barn that stood not far from the house had been financed by the vote of the Meeting, along with the pigs and poultry and miniature herd of three yearling calves brought back by the Eagle.

There was a patter of applause as he handed over the title deeds, and now he had to make a goddam speech. About land titles and banking, of all goddam things.

The mild spring air cuffed at his hair; Martha put a hand up to her broad hat, the baby neatly balanced in the crook of her other arm. Jared Cofflin looked out over the grain-field, still spotted with an occasional haggled brush stump. That might make it awkward for the reapers, come harvest. So much to do… and so few sets of hands to do it. Harder than ever with so many strong young backs over in Britain. God damn Walker to hell. The air smelled intensely fresh, with a tinge of salt and a hint of cooking from the open-pit barbecue that was getting lunch ready.

Martha turned and smiled at him, a wry quirk of the corner of her mouth, and he felt a decision jell in his mind. “All right, people. I was supposed to sit up here and bray some stuff about the state of our economy, forsooth.” A rippling laugh went across the people sitting in folding chairs. Joseph Starbuck winced. “And these poor folks would have had to stand and listen while their party was on hold.”

The Kayles and their friends clapped enthusiastically. Cofflin went on: “I’ll sort of condense it. We’re going to be handing out more of these farms, a hundred and twenty or so. No room for more; it isn’t a big island, and we can’t take too much of the ground cover off or we’ll have all sorts of problems with erosion and so on. Angelica tells me we can build up the soil fertility and we’ll have more livestock soon. You all know we’ll have another four big schooners by the end of summer, and some more tugs. There’s more. Tom Ervine has his paper mill working-” another patter of applause; paper was so damned useful-“and the First Pacific Bank is reopening.”

Boos and hisses at that. “I know, I know. But it’s sure convenient to have money again, isn’t it?” He put a hand into his pants pocket and held up a crisp ten-dollar note, the island’s new issue. “Believe me, it’s a big load off my shoulders. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to go buy their own goddam dinner instead of figuring out rations!”

He threw his jacket across the chair behind him. Nobody, thank God, was wearing a necktie anymore, except a few fossils like Starbuck. “And I could go on and on. Ayup. What it amounts to is we’re getting on our feet again, pretty well-better than any of us expected. So I’ll move on to what we’re all anxious about, how things are going over in England.”

A stir and rustle of interest. “News just came through. That piece of…” Martha tugged at his leg. “… scum Walker has been making himself a kingdom over there. He’s already got an army and he’s making them iron weapons, and raiding and killing and taking slaves.” A growl of anger rose from before him. “What’s more, he and his Tartessian friend have built a ship, at least one, that Captain Alston says could easily carry a hundred men to Nantucket. There’s some evidence he’s made gunpowder; we’ve just now gotten our first small load of sulfur from the Caribbean, but there are sources in Britain, so he’s ahead of us there.”

Complete silence now, intent and focused. “If we’d left him another year, he’d have had cannon and a dozen ships ready to attack us. Captain Alston and the expeditionary force have already fought a battle with the savages he’s got working for him.” He paused, feeling the tension beating on him like heat. “The captain reports that the savages were completely defeated, with over a hundred dead, many more wounded, and the rest fleeing for their lives.”

The crowd rose, cheering madly; men thumped each other on the back, women hugged. Cofflin raised a hand. “It wasn’t cost-free. Six of our people were killed.” The families had received first notification, of course, but otherwise he was ahead of the rumors.

Silence again, broken by a low murmur. Cofflin nodded. “This is serious business. I think we should have a moment of silence.”

They waited with bowed heads. “And,” he went on when it was over, “Captain Alston asks that we all remember them in our prayers.”

Walker looked around the little natural amphitheater with disgust. It was dark now; attendants had lit torches on poles all around, and they still weren’t an inch closer to deciding what to do. The ten chiefs and their principal retainers were making enough noise for a Red Sox game all by themselves. The sound died down a little as he stood and stepped forward to stand beside Daurthunnicar’s chair-the others were on stools, to mark the Iraiina chief’s status as High Rahax. Noise sank further when he slammed the iron butt cap of his spear against a rock; the steel sparked on the flint-rich lump of hardened chalk. When he had full silence, he leaned on the spear and spoke:

“Are you chieftains?” he asked rhetorically. “Are you even warriors of Sky Father’s people?”

That brought their anger around on him. Good enough, he thought, meeting the glares. Most of these men had enough experience to control their tempers at least a little. If he could get them acting together, he could probably turn things around. Not if they went on quarreling with one another, though. Those hatreds were too old and well set.

“You promised us victory!” a chief shouted, the necklace of wolf teeth and gold bouncing on his barrel chest as he waved his fists in the air. “Instead the fighting men of a whole tribe are dead, and enemies raid our steadings!”

“I promised you victory if you followed my redes,” he said coldly. “The Zarthani chose to flout them, going off on their own to raid without my-without our High Rahax’s word.”

Daurthunnicar stirred slightly; Walker cursed the stumble. His father-in-law was no fool; pig-ignorant and superstitious as a horse, but no fool.

“The Zarthani fell on their own deeds. If in battle one of your warriors turned from the fight to lie with a woman or drive off a cow without your let, while the arrows still flew and axes beat on shields, how would you do with him?”

He could feel the anger checked, coiled back. Bearded faces nodded. They’d hang such a man up by the ankle in a sacred grove and run a spear through him, and their whole tribes would cheer.

“And then the Zarthani had no better sense than to charge at the first foe they met, like a bull at a gate-none of you would have been so foolish, I’m sure.” I’m sure most of you would have done exactly the same thing, he went on silently, watching their solemn nods. “So they let themselves be beaten by women,” he concluded.

More nods. Daurthunnicar had been magnificently angry when he was finally convinced that Alston was a woman, and the other chiefs were horror-struck at the thought of the shame they’d bear if they were thrashed by one.

“I came here because you of Sky Father’s tribes live as men should,” he went on. They’ll believe that. Vanity springs eternal. “But that doesn’t mean that the Eagle People don’t have strong knowledge of war. You’re wearing it right now.”

All the chiefs had mail hauberks and swords turned out in Walkerburg or brought as part of the Fare’s cargo. Hands tightened on those swords as he spoke.

“And they have strong magic-thunder-death. I have the knowledge and the magic, together with the battle-luck of my rahax, to throw these woman-ruled foreigners back into the sea, dead. But you must move in better order, and obedient to the High Rahax’s will, if we are to conquer now. As my handfast men threw back the Kayaltwar who raided us while our war host was away, so we will crush the Earth Folk and their allies-if you obey.”

“And if we don’t?” one chief said truculently, leaning forward. The firelight caught the ruddy bronze of the rings that held his braided hair and a black beard twisted into another braid that fell down his chest.

“Then the Iraiina will leave you to them,” Walker said.

Daurthunnicar’s hands clenched on the carved oak of his chair. It had taken a long day of argument, wheedling, and blunt threats of desertion to get him to go along with that.

“We came to the White Isle only last year,” Walker went on, stretching the “we.”

“With the weapons and arts we have now, we can push back the Keruthinii on the mainland. Anywhere away from the ocean, the Eagle People can’t touch us.” And I hope it doesn’t occur to you that they could intercept us crossing the Channel, so my threat is empty. Aloud, he went on:

“But they can stamp you flat. You’ll, be beaten by women, ruled by them… and you’ll lose your lands and cattle and homes.”

More uproar, gradually dying down. “You can beat these Eagle People?” one said at last.

“I believe we can-with Sky Father’s help, and by striking hard and fast and skillfully, before they have a chance to teach the Earth Folk how to fight. It isn’t courage the Earth Folk men lack; you know that.” A few unwilling nods. “It’s skill and leadership they want for. With it, and with their numbers…”

The tribal chiefs weren’t very foresighted men. By the standards of the twentieth, they were insanely impulsive. They were perfectly capable of grasping a fact thrust under their noses, though; many of them looked as if he’d not only thrust a horse turd of fact under their noses but down their throats.

“The Zarthani threw away our chance for a quick victory. We’ll have to keep some men here, skirmishing and raiding, until the harvest. Then we’ll muster the full levy again. Yes, it’s a delay, but that gives us a chance to…”

When the talking was finished, Daurthunnicar rose from his high seat beneath the stars. “Now we will make the Great Sacrifice,” he said. Horse, hound, and man, offered in the grove. “Tomorrow you will hearten the warriors. And we shall conquer.”

“Jesus,” someone said softly.

Doreen Arnstein whistled softly herself. A small part of her mind was glad to be able to do that, to do anything, without the top of her head feeling as if it were about to pop off. Getting whacked hard enough to knock you out meant headaches, blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, all serious business and lasting for days.

What she saw ahead of her was serious too. She’d seen pictures of Stonehenge, of course. Those sunken, shattered, diminished remnants had nothing to do with the Great Wisdom, whole and living in the bright spring sunshine. The circle of more than twoscore standing stones loomed complete, each fifty tons in weight and topped by their rectangular lintels, making a perfect unbroken circle. Within stood the taller horseshoe shape, five great double uprights with capstones, and the scores of smaller bluestones. Without were concentric rings of earthwork, ditch and bank, and three circles of tall wooden posts wrapped in cords like maypoles.

Not maypoles, she thought. Although children were dancing around several, weaving in and out and chanting in high sweet voices-almost all of them girls. They were observation poles. They varied in height, from twelve feet to thirty; each one would mark the prime position of a star at a given time-or rather, dozens of stars, for each cord could be used at a different angle to give a tangent to…

“My God,” she murmured. “Keeping all that straight.” She felt an unfamiliar pain in her chest. So much knowledge, so many centuries. The Great Wisdom itself was eight hundred years old, in roughly its present form; as old as the Gothic cathedrals had been to her. More impressive still was the huge structure of knowledge, myth, song, ritual that surrounded it, a feat of memory and persistence almost beyond belief. She lost herself in it, forgetting the movement of the saddle between her thighs, the crowd around her, her very self. She’d been an astronomer-in-training all her adult life, and the passion that had raised these stones was close kin to hers.

“So Thorn and Hawkins were right after all,” Ian murmured beside her, jarring. “And I always thought they were cranks.”

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” Doreen said, equally quiet. “I did too, but they didn’t get the half of it. Swindapa’s mother, Dhinwarn, what really won her over was that list of lunar eclipses I ran off the computer back on the island. You know, they have a complete series for more than a thousand years back? And predictions for several centuries-that’s one thing they use that ring of fifty-six holes for, besides those sighting posts.”

Ian grinned. “Remember when you said how useless an astronomer in the Bronze Age was? You’re our damned passport to these people!”

“Let’s hope I’m as persuasive to all the Grandmothers as I was to Dhinwarn. She had a personal reason to like us. I get the impression that a lot of the others are pretty xenophobic.”

The horses turned away from the monument itself, toward one of the big half-timbered roundhouses. Another chorus of girls sang and danced an intricate measure around them. Waiting to meet them were a clump of older women, wrapped in cloaks and silent dignity.

“End-of-semester exams,” Doreen muttered, feeling her stomach clench.

“What’s that sound?” Miskelefol said, craning his neck.

There was a full moon tonight, but it was hidden by high scudding cloud. Nothing showed on the water, only an occasional gleam of white as an oar stroked the calm surface of the bay. They dared not show lights, and only the loom of the land to his right kept them from being completely lost, that and the instincts of a life spent at sea.

Isketerol cocked his head to one side, lifting the helmet. “Sort of a buzzing sound, isn’t it?” he said. “I don’t know, some sort of insect?” The life here was still fairly strange to him. “At least it isn’t raining much.”

“Hurrah, the first time in months,” Miskelefol said dolorously.

They snared a quiet chuckle, and then their craft swung apart. There were five of them in all, long low things like miniature galleys, each with ten oars to a side. The Yare and Sea Wolf had towed them here, but stayed well off to sea now. The night breeze was directly out of the west, and it would pin any ship at anchor into its port. Even with the Yare’s ability to beat to windward he wouldn’t like to have to claw off this coast right now, particularly with the shallow water and shifting sandbars common through here. He risked a brief flash of lamplight to check the compass strapped to his left wrist. Marvelous things, he thought again.

“Take a turn around the canoes,” he whispered to the helmsman.

The seaman leaned against the tiller. Rudders were wonderful too, so fast. The crew bent to the oars with only a whisper of noise, sculling in perfect unison. Isketerol gripped the lead stay that kept the pole in the bows upright. Not to hold sails; it was topped by a barrel, and a long cord ran back along the pole. Loose here, and the pole would fall until the barrel submerged twenty feet ahead of the bows. Pull on this cord, and a flint-and-steel inside the barrel would spark… and the load of gunpowder would ignite. They’d tested it against rafts; the results were spectacular enough to make hardened sailors soil their loincloths. The effect on a ship’s hull, underwater… The Tartessian smiled and licked his lips.

He frowned as they approached the canoes and coracles. The Sun tribes weren’t seamen at the best of times, and in the dark they blundered in continuous near-panic, just as they had ever since they climbed down the sides of the ships and into these smaller craft. He hissed warnings and threats and shaming insults across the water as his larger boat coasted by, bringing a little more quiet. I wish they weren’t along at all. They might be useful to ram victory home, but they endangered it beforehand.

“This heading,” he said quietly to the man at the tiller. “Slow, all, now.”

Around a headland and there was the target, backlit by the fires ashore. Tall masts raking for the sky, the Eagle. On either side of it were the smaller shapes of the Tubman and Douglass, all three ships anchored at stern and bow with about a hundred yards in between. Pinned down and helpless, he thought. Arucuttag of the Sea had delivered them into his hands, and in the silence of his head he promised the Hungry One good feeding. There were fires and lanterns in the fortified camp a few hundred yards farther upstream, but they could do nothing. Will reported that better than three hundred of the Amurrukan were marching inland, far from their base. That left only a score or so per ship, and as many in the fort ashore.

The five boats with the spar torpedoes swung into line, quick flashes of shuttered lanterns guiding them as they’d practiced. The men at the tiller were all well trained, and they’d worked out a simple code to direct them to their targets.

“Forward!” he shouted.

The oarsmen bent to their work, the ashwood shafts flexing in their hands.

“Take your eyes off the Swedish Bikini Team, will you?” Doreen said. “This is serious.”

With something of an effort, Ian Arnstein obeyed. The two girls who’d been washing his feet were both about Swindapa’s age and looked a good deal like her. They were also wearing nothing but their string skirts, and he thought he understood the glances and smiles. Unfortunately, so did his wife.

He sighed, belched slightly from an excellent if unfamiliar meal, and put his mind back to business.

These Fiernan houses seemed to be much of a muchness, varying only in style and size. This one was huge, and circular like all the bigger ones. The walls were a framework of oak timbers carefully mortised and pegged together; the intervals were filled with rammed clay, chalk, and flints, covered thickly with lime plaster. Carved pillars made of whole tree trunks stood in three rings inside, and two huge freestanding gateposts like Abstract Expressionist totem poles marked the southeastern door. There were doors at the four quarters of the building, man-tall and made of pegged oak boards, but they were merely fitted into slots, not hung from hinges. When they were opened, as now, the dwellers simply lifted them out and leaned them against the wall. That let in some light, and more of the fresh spring air, along with a little of the fresh British spring drizzle. More of that came down the big central smokehole at the top of the roof, but not too much-there was a little conical cap over it, leaving a rim all around for smoke to escape through. The fire there flickered in a stone-lined depression in the earth that caught the heat and radiated it back out. Such of the smoke as evaded the hole in the roof drifted blue among the rafters and pillars above, joining that from ordinary family hearths spaced around the big building and gradually filtering out through the thatch.

“Not as squalid as I’d have expected,” Ian said to his wife.

She nodded. The interior of the greathouse was cut up by partitions of wicker and split plank, marking out the notional space of family groups smaller than the great interrelated cousinage that shared this dwelling, each with its own fire. The Fiernans didn’t suffer from shyness; they stared, chattered, pointed, asked question after question, held children up at the back of the crowd to get a look. They also pressed things on the visitors, bits of honeycomb, cups of mead flavored with flowers and herbs, pieces of dried fruit.

“And there’s the Archaeologist’s Nightmare,” he said, nodding to a pillar.

Doreen raised a brow, and he went on: “See how the post’s resting on a stone block?”

“That’s bad for archaeology?”

“Very. I asked, and these people used to set their posts right into the ground for big buildings like this. Post holes like that leave traces-you can dig them up thousands of years later, if the conditions are right. Then they switched over to resting the uprights on stone blocks so they wouldn’t rot… and that doesn’t leave any trace, if someone takes the block away later. The stones-and-bones crowd were as puzzled as hell, wondering why the locals suddenly stopped building big round houses… Oh-oh, look out.”

Silence spread out through the folk like a ripple through water. Like a wave they sank down on their haunches, leaving a path clear. More of the Grandmothers came to sit by the edge of the fire. Two more walked on either side of a still older woman; the helpers were in their sixties, unambiguously old, white-haired and wrinkled, but hale. If you ran the gauntlet of childhood diseases and made it to adulthood, you had some hope of seeing the Biblical threescore and ten here, about one chance in five. The Kurlelo were what passed for an upper class among the Earth Folk, too, partly supported by the gifts of the pious, and so not quite as likely to be prematurely aged by a Bronze Age peasant’s endless toil.

The woman the junior Grandmothers were helping along was far older than threescore and ten; older than God, from her looks. Thin white hair bound by a headband carrying a silver moon; sunken cheeks, lips fallen in over a mouth where most teeth were gone; back bent forever. The attendants fussed around her as she sank painfully onto cushions and a wicker backrest, tucking her star-embroidered blue cloak around her and putting a closed clay dish full of embers beneath her feet for warmth. She shooed them aside impatiently and leaned forward a little, long gnarled spotted hands leaning on a stick whose end was carved into a bird’s head-an owl, here as in later ages the symbol of the moon.

Her pouched and faded eyes traveled across the assembly. Ian Arnstein felt a distinct slight chill as they met his. The mind that rested behind them was not in the least enfeebled. This was the one who’d received the reports of the Grandmothers who interviewed the Americans, day after day.

“Swin… dapa,” the old woman said, her voice hoarse but feather-soft. It carried clearly; there were no other sounds in the greathouse, save for the crackling of fires and a quickly hushed baby, and the breathing of sixscore.

The young Fiernan came forward and crouched at the ancient woman’s feet. Great-grandmother? Ian wondered. Great-great?

The knotted fingers raised Swindapa’s face, and the ancient leaned forward to kiss her on the brow. They exchanged murmurs, too quiet to carry, and Swindapa turned and sat cross-legged at her feet.

“I will give you the Grandmother’s words,” she said.

The old woman paused for a long moment, lips moving slightly, hands gripped on the owl-headed staff.

Uhot’na,” she said at last. “InHOja, inyete, abal’na.”

Her hand shaped the air as she spoke; after a moment her age-cracked voice merged with Swindapa’s clear soprano, and Ian forgot he was listening to a translation.

“A good star shine on this meeting. Moon Woman gather it to her breast. Long ago-” Swindapa hesitated, translating from her people’s lunar calendar. “Thousands of years ago, the Grandmothers of the Grandmothers came here to the White Isle. They came bearing gifts; the gift of planting and sowing, of weaving and the making of pots, the herding of cattle and sheep, many good things. The Old Ones, the hunters, came and learned these things, and their lives became better, and they became us, and we became them.”

The old woman’s hand rose skyward. “awHUMna inye-tewan dama’uhot’nawakwa-“

“Best of all, they brought knowledge of Moon Woman and Her children the stars, Her sisters of the woods and earth-knowledge of foretelling and understanding. In those days Her messengers traveled from the Hot Lands to the Ice-and-Fog Place, and everywhere they brought Her wisdom, and the knowledge of the building of the Wisdoms and the studying of the stars.”

Another long pause; her eyelids drifted downward, covering the faded brilliance for a while. Is she asleep? Ian wondered. Then they flickered open:

atTOwak em’dayaus’arsi immlHEyet-“

“Then the Sun People came from the eastlands where the morning is born, fierce and greedy like little boys grown tall without learning a man’s manners, and the great-” Swindapa paused, obviously hunting for a word. “-great harmony-in-changing-time-again-and-again was… made to not turn as it should, and as we had thought it would through all the changings of the world.”

A pause, and the old woman spoke very softly. “soSHo’t’euho’nis kwas dazya’ll-“

“And since then, the Grandmothers have looked into the future and seen only a darkness without stars before the feet of the Earth Folk.”

A slight shocked murmur went through the crowd. The old woman sighed, and went on. Swindapa’s voice translated:

“Every turning, the Moon Woman grows old and comes again. So too for all things. Our moon is past full, we wane, perhaps these strangers bring a new one.”

Swindapa’s face lit as she spoke, a grin breaking through her solemnity. “These Eagle People also study the stars, although not in our way. Already they have shown us things of great worth-the three rules that govern the movement of the planets, and the law of squares of distances that explains them.”

Ian squeezed Doreen’s hand. She’d thrown the cat among the pigeons well and truly, with that dose of Keppler, seasoned with a smidgin of Newton and soupcon of Laplace. For a while they’d been afraid the Grandmothers would start tearing out clumps of each other’s hair over the implications.

ShahShar’it yewehkey’a-“

“They are the only strangers who tread that path, and they have dealt well with us. The Grandmothers will tell the Council of the Sacred Truce to listen to their words, and follow them if they find them good.”

Captain Alston bowed where she sat. Ian felt Doreen jab an elbow in his ribs. They looked at each other in the nickering firelight; she was grinning like a cat. Solemnly, they shook hands.

Commander Sandy Rapczewicz smiled as she slipped down the night-sight goggles. Wouldn’t the skipper be livid that she wasn’t here, although she’d anticipated this might happen. It was the logical move, after all, and Walker had a high opinion of logic. I hope you’re out there tonight, you son of a bitch, she thought vindictively. Break my jaw, will you? It still ached in cold wet weather. Hell of a thing for a sailor.

“Ready,” she said aloud, and into the microphone.

“Ready,” the earphones answered back.

The goggles turned everything greenish and flat. She could see an occasional whitecap out on the water, and the giant rowboats heading for the Nantucket flotilla, with the canoes following. More than enough to shatter the hulls and swarm over the Nantucketers left behind when the main expeditionary force moved inland, as the enemy’s scouts had surely reported to Walker.

“Only we weren’t idle over the winter either, Will-me-lad,” she muttered. Louder: “Fire!”

The fruits of the ROATS program stood along the rail. Crews made their final adjustments, turning aiming screws. Then the master gunner stepped back from each and jerked the lanyard.

TUNNNGG. They were compact little engines, the throwing arms powered by a mass of coil springs from heavy trucks caught on the island by the Event. They were also more accurate than any counterweight system like a trebuchet, or catapults powered by twisted sinew. Four balls of fire soared out through the night from the Eagle , two from each of the schooners. Where they struck they splashed on the water, burning with a hot red ferocity. Searchlights stabbed out, actinic blue-white through the cloud-dark night.

“Fire at will!” Rapczewicz shouted.

“Reach Out and Touch Someone-fire!” a crew chief shouted.

Hands pumped at levers. Back on shore, within the earth walls of the Nantucketer fort, came a heavy chuff… chuff… sound. It built to a faster chufchufchufchuf and then into a racketing snarl.

“Demons!” Miskelefol screamed.

“Shut up!” Isketerol shouted, clouting him savagely across the side of his helmeted head.

More of the fireballs arched across the night. The whale oil burning on the surface of the water gave a ghastly semblance of daylight. One of them splashed onto the galley next to his. It was close enough to hear the glass shatter and the men scream as oil splashed them. Seconds later it caught with a whump, a sound somehow soft and large at the same time, like a giant catching his breath. Or a dragon. Men screamed again, louder, as flame ran down the length of the boat. They cast themselves overboard, diving if they could. Others thrashed in mindless agony, and the oars drooped limp into the water. After an instant, the Tartessian realized what was going to happen when the flames reached the barrel at the prow of the little galley.

“Right!” he screamed to the man at the tiller. “Hard right, Arucuttag eat you, quickly!”

The oars kept moving. Isketerol crouched down behind the scant shelter of the tiller and helmsman, counting the seconds and trying to control the pounding of his heart.

“Four… five…”

CRACK. A hot breath passed over his back, and the helmsman cried out. Isketerol grabbed the helm as the man collapsed, pawing at a wound in his neck. He braced his feet and clamped the timber between arm and ribs, struggling to keep the galley on course as a wave lifted its hull. Bits of burning timber scattered across the waters; a quick glance rearward showed nothing left of the stricken galley but fragments, and another sinking beyond it.

“Over to the canoes,” he said, and called to his signaler. “Sound retreat and rally to me,” he barked.

The man began swinging his lanterns; the signals had been Will’s. The tribesmen in the canoes were sitting motionless, staring open-mouthed.

“Cowards!” Isketerol called through a speaking trumpet.

“You flee, southron!” one of them cried in response.

They looked over their shoulders, fearfully conscious of the fact that nothing waited out there but the River Ocean and ships under the Tartessian’s command-unlikely to help them home if they defied him. If they beached their canoes away from the Eagle People fort, they’d still be in the middle of enemy country, and hunted like hares as they tried to run east to their homes.

“These rowing boats are too big-the Eagle People can pick them out.” Isketerol said. “Your canoes and hide boats are small and many. Paddle in quickly, and most of you will get through-you can swarm over them, while we follow close behind. Are you warriors, or little girls who weep with fear?”

A few canoes broke away from the pack and headed for the land that bulked dark to the south. The rest stayed, as the men shouted among themselves. Then they fanned out, heading for the firelit shapes of the Eagle People ships.

His own remaining craft gathered around them. “Hang back,” he said to them in his own tongue. “Let the savages clear the path for us. If they can put those catapults out of action or occupy their crews, we can attack behind them.”

One of the boat captains looked puzzled. “But most of the tribesmen will die, if we attack with our torpedoes”– the word was English-“while they are trying to board.”

“So?” Isketerol grinned. “Should I weep for them? Are they kindred, townsmen of ours?”

“It’ll be dangerous,” the man warned.

“A man lives as long as he lives, and not a day more,” Isketerol said-a saying Will had told him, and a good one. “If I’d known you were a woman, Dekendol, we could have gotten more use out of you this last winter.”

The crews laughed at that; it was a little ragged, but he judged their spirit was still unbroken. “Spread out again,” he said. “Lie on your oars just outside of catapult range”- the farthest those balls of fire had gone was about a quarter mile-“and then dash in if the barbarians make headway.”

They turned, their formation opening like a fan, and stroked carefully to the edge of safety. “Wait for it!” he called. “Wait, and then put out all your strength!”

“On the word of command,” Sandy Rapczewicz said. Fuck it. Someone got clever out there.

There were dozens of the canoes, scores of them. Impossible to hit that many, and they were nimble enough to dodge most of the fireballs. Here and there one was struck, but even then the others could dart in and rescue most of their crews from the water. The others came steadily on to a wild pounding chant of voices.

“Here’s where we could use a couple of cannon, loaded with grapeshot,” she muttered to herself.

That wouldn’t be possible for another year or so. Evidently Walker had found the raw materials for gunpowder in greater abundance; those spar-torpedo boats waiting off at the edge of sight showed how he’d used the sulfur and saltpeter and charcoal. They were silent, in contrast to the barbarian warriors in the canoes. Closer, closer…

“Now!” she shouted.

A crewman at the rail swung a long thin barrel, crouching behind it with hands on the grips. Behind him two more pumped frantically, a dark glistening stream arching out from it. Another stretched out a burning wad of rags on the end of a long pole, and the stream of whale oil caught. Whooosh-WHUMP, and it was a long arch of dripping flame, scything back and forth through the night. Men screamed as they turned to blazing torches and threw themselves into water that had turned to a lake of flame. The edges of it lapped up against Eagle’s steel hull, and the canoes that had approached her were billows in the fiery sea. The air filled with the heavy nutty scent of burning whale oil, and the stink of burned flesh as well.

Rapczewicz whipped her head back and forth. The two wooden schooners couldn’t use such a weapon, not without destroying themselves; they’d anchored well away, too. They did each have hundreds of Fiernan Spear Chosen packed below their decks. As the Sun People warriors scrambled up the sides, the Earth Folk fighters came screaming up the companionways. They boiled to the sides, stabbing with spears, slamming clubs down on Sun People heads and arms and fingers.

A cry behind her. “Boarders!”

Some of the canoes had circled around and were approaching from the landward side. The Eagle’s skeleton crew dashed to meet them, drawing weapons or snatching javelins from racks along the rail. Wrought-iron grapnels came upward at the ends of knotted ropes, and the warriors behind them. Armored Americans stabbed and shoved and tried to cut the grapnels free, but the ropes were wound with metal wire for several feet down from the loops that held them to the iron hooks.

Rapczewicz drew the radio with her left hand. “Rapczewicz to Pentagon Base,” she said. “Report status.”

“Base One here. Status is go, ma’am.”

“Do it. Rapczewicz out.”

Her right hand drew the Colt and thumbed back the hammer. A bearded warrior in a kilt tried to force his way through a gap. She fired at two yards’ distance, and a round blue hole appeared in the man’s forehead. The back of his head blew away, and he toppled backward to land on a canoe and overturn it. She blinked to let the muzzle flash that strobed across her vision die away, then aimed at another point-blank target.

Isketerol of Tartessos flung up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the flame, keeping his other braced against the gunwale. The raw wood was rough and splintery under his palm, reminding him unpleasantly of how fast it could burn.

“Dragon’s breath!” his cousin said, his voice trembling.

“Dragon’s shit,” Isketerol said, and spat over the side. “Remember the pump?”

Miskelefol turned to him, his eyes wide and tinted red by the light. “The pump!” he said incredulously.

Walker had rigged up a piston-style pump for the Tartessian encampment, sucking through a cast-iron pipe from a deep well.

“Well, think, cousin. That’s a pump there, only it’s spurting out oil-fish oil, whale oil. Then they set it alight.”

The terror of the supernatural faded out of the other Tartessian’s eyes. “That’s clever,” he said. “But using it on a ship-“

“On a ship of steel,” Isketerol said, peering through his binoculars. “Wait… the savages are heading around to the other side of Eagle. And they’re closing in on the schooners, by the Crone. More balls than sense.”

Miskelefol tensed. “If they can carry them-“

“No.” Isketerol spat again, peering through the dark. “Too many fighters-more on board than I thought they could have, hidden belowdecks. May the Crone’s knife cut the fatherless sheep-sucking bitch, she’s clever.”

As clever as you? Isketerol thought uneasily. As clever as Will?

“Still, they’re heavily engaged. We may be able to run-“

He was about to raise his voice in a shouted order to close in when the chuffchuffchuff sound from the Amurru-kan camp rose in pitch and speed. A high shrill whistle clove the air; he recognized it, a steam whistle from one of the hot-water-engines the Amurrukan used on Nantucket. Then it changed to a hard quick rapping sound, as of a stick dragged quickly down a set of iron rods.

The air whistled, a different note. One of the rowers pitched sideways, threshing. Isketerol could see the fletching on the short heavy dart that stood three-quarters buried in the man’s temple. Another two quivered in the timbers of the galley, sunk almost as deep. The water whickered to his right as a spray of the same missiles hit it. The full force had struck the galley to his left, and half the rowers were down. His eyes widened. That’s over two thousand paces away! his mind protested. Then it leaped quickly, to the big spinning wheels the steam engines had… flywheels, that was the word. If you could somehow make a flywheel grab and throw arrows-

“Back to the ships! Retreat! Retreat!” he bellowed through the megaphone.

The galley leaped in the water as it turned. Isketerol forced himself not to crouch or cringe. “What next!” he screamed, shaking his fist backward at the taunting reach of Eagle’s masts. It wasn’t fair. “You’ll pay for this!”

The buzzing noise overhead was back, and louder.

The radio beeped. Swindapa murmured in her sleep and then stirred, waked from her doze as much by her companion slipping out from under the blankets as by the noise. Low words followed, lost before she was fully conscious of them.

Marian was smiling as she came back toward the bed; Swindapa could feel it, if not see it, but the smile was not, a happy one. Reeds crackled and rustled under her feet, but she was invisible with only the faint reddish ghost-glow reflected from the beams and thatch above.

“What happened?” Swindapa asked drowsily.

The wicker partitions gave them privacy from sight, but none from sound. It wasn’t very noisy; a dog stirring now and then, a baby crying, a couple making love, the low crackle of the central hearth. Swindapa found the noises broke her rest more than she’d expected. That’s strange. This is home. How can it be hard to sleep, when I slept here all my life? Without the woven walls, either-those were for elders. She was glad of the flea powder Marian had sprinkled on their bedding, too. I’ve become fussy. Her relatives had stared as she ate with a fork and wiped her lips with a cloth.

“What happened?” Marian repeated. Her voice had a growling undertone. “The ships back at Pentagon Base were attacked-the Tartessians, we think, with local allies.”

Swindapa stiffened and gripped her as she slid beneath the blankets. “What happened!”

Marian gave a whispering wolf-chuckle. “Let’s put it this way-the flamethrowers worked.”

“Oh.” A bad death, she thought. On the shadow side, they deserved it. If they want to live long, let them stay at home. “Good.”

The black woman sighed after a moment. “I was worried,” she admitted, her voice soft against Swindapa’s shoulder. “Damn worried. Complex plan. Too many things that could have gone wrong. And I couldn’t be there.”

The Fiernan smiled in the darkness, holding her close and stroking her back, feeling the tension in the muscles. So many worries, she thought. Only me to hear them. Marian bore a weight heavier than the Grandmother of Grandmothers knew. For everyone else she must always be strong.

“It did work,” the Fiernan said. Lips met in darkness. “Now forget that, and pay attention to me. And this.”

“Sugar, I’m a little tired-mmmm!”

“You’re not tired, you’re tense. And you’re pretty… so pretty.”

Some time later Marian was quivering again. “If you only knew how fine that feels,” she sighed.

“I know exactly how it feels,” Swindapa purred. “But maybe this will feel even better.”

Marian made a choked sound, turned her head aside and bit into the coarse wool of the blanket, then relaxed with a long sigh.

“You’re not tense anymore,” Swindapa chuckled, raising herself on her elbows and peering up toward the other’s face.

A hand ran fingers through her hair. “Any less tense and I may just flow away like watah. Why don’t you move up here a little?”

Later a cry mounted up from belly to throat, escaping like the swans that bore souls to the moon.

Afterward, a fierce whisper in her ear with unwilling laughter underneath it. “Did you have to yell like that, ‘dapa?”

Swindapa stretched, blinking and wiggling her toes in pure contentment. “Of course I did, my love,” she said. “I had to think of your… your reputation, you’d say.” She turned and snuggled closer. “Now everyone will think I’m selfish, but they’ll know you aren’t.”

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