Colonel Patrick James O'Rourke (Republic of Nantucket Marine Corps) threw up his hand to halt the column and reined in his horse. The little dapple-gray tossed its head and snorted; he soothed it with a hand down the neck.
"Steady there, Fancy," he said, bringing out his binoculars.
The horse was one of the Oriental chariot-ponies they'd bought
locally and broken to the saddle
"There they are," he went on, pointing to the smoke of cookfires.
The little outpost below stood in the middle of a valley flanked on
either side by rough hills
The air was hot and buzzed with the sound of cicadas; sweat trickled down his flanks under the khaki uniform jacket as he scanned the bright openness of the great landscape. There was a strong smell of rosemary and thyme crushed under the hooves of the animals. There were two dozen of those; his staff gallopers, trumpeter, a radio tech with her equipment on pack-mules, and two sections of mounted rifles.
The Nantucketers and their allies were camped around a larger building on a slight rise, a bigger version of the huts; he could see where the poles that held the thick earth-and-brushwood roof poked through the peeling brown mud-plaster of the wall. A few tall poplars near it hinted at a water-source; a row of wagons and herd of oxen with a few hobbled horses grazing nearby marked the transport they'd brought with them. Another rectangular building stood some distance away, a storehouse by the look of it, and there were a couple of rough stone paddocks.
O'Rourke's eyes caught a flickering brightness on one of the high hills to the south of the valley. Heliograph, he thought. Good that they're keeping on their toes.
He chopped his hand forward again. The group rocked into motion, a column of twos threading its way downward at a trot. The wind was from the east, blowing their own hot dust onto their backs; even at the head of the column O'Rourke could feel it seeping gritty down his collar and swirling around between his teeth. There were a lot of birds in the sky. This was the season Northern Europe's flocks left for their winter quarters, crossing over from Thrace via the Dardanelles; eagles, herons, storks, in clumps and drifts and singly.
For a moment he wished they'd bring some of their weather with them, then crossed himself to avert the omen. The fall rains would start soon enough. Dust was bad. Mud was worse when you had to move, especially if you had to move in a hurry. Nobody in this part of the world built all-weather roads. Nobody except William Walker...
A line of Marines covered the eastern approach to the Nantucketer base, waiting with their rifles ready behind low sangars of stone. O'Rourke nodded approval. Beyond that the little base was bustling; several Conestoga wagons and native two-wheel ox-carts, pyramids of boxed supplies, of barley in sacks and wicker baskets and big pottery storage pithoi. Working-parties bustled about, Marines in khaki trousers and boots and t-shirts, Hittite auxiliaries in kilts and callused bare feet.
A wiry twentysomething woman with a brown crewcut came up and
saluted; he'd have thought her indecently young for the rank, if he
hadn't rocketed up from captain to colonel in about two years himself.
Between the breakneck expansion of the Corps in the last couple of
years, casualties, and officers getting syphoned off for everything from
training local allied troops to running crude-oil stills promotions were
rapid if you had what it took. He was a little short of thirty himself,
and Brigadier Hollard only a few years his senior, and this baby captain
wouldn't have been twelve when the Event hit
"Captain Cecilie Barnes, Colonel. First Combat Engineers," she said; the bare skin of arms and neck glistened with sweat, her cotton t-shirt stuck to what it covered and she was as dirt-streaked as her command. "Is the battalion close behind? We're about ready to start on the bridge, the river's nearly breast-deep already, and once the rains get going..."
He returned the salute, then swung down from the saddle and stripped off his gloves. A Marine from the escort came up to take the bridle; before the man lead the horse away O'Rourke stroked Fancy's nose and fed him a couple of candied dates to keep him out of a snapping-and-kicking mood.
"There'll be no battalion, Captain," he said. "And no bridge."
"Sir, we were told to get ready for
"I know. The enemy got frisky a little north of here, and we had
to put the battalion in to stop them
Barns frowned. "Sir?" she said hopefully. "We've seen the Emancipator taking in equipment for Troy..."
"Only a few tons at a time, and we can't risk it any more
The heliograph blinked from the hillside again. O'Rourke could read the message as well as any... enemy force in sight, numbers several hundred.
The garrison in Troy was supposed to be buying time for the 1st Marines; the 1st was in the westlands to buy time for the expeditionary force as a whole. He hoped the people back home were doing something valuable with it. The price was high.
"Heather! Lucy!" Chief Executive Officer Jared Cofflin yelled. "Marian! Junior! Jenny! Sam!"
You had to be specific; just 'kids' didn't get their attention. The children had burst in to the Chief's House, home from school and in the middle of some game that involved dashing around, thundering up and down stairs and whooping like a Zarthani war-party doing a scalp dance, with a couple of barking Irish setters in attendance. Cold autumnal wind blew through the opened door, along with a flutter of yellow-gold leaves and a smell of damp earth, damp dog, woodsmoke and sea-salt.
"Quiet, I said!" he bellowed, and snagged one setter by the collar. It wagged its tail and looked sheepish, trying to turn and lick his hand, hitting his elbow instead, putting a wet muddy paw on his leg. "You too, you fool dog."
"Yes, Uncle Jared?" Lucy asked sweetly.
She looked like a picture of innocence carved from milk chocolate,
dressed in jeans and indigo-dyed sweater, twisting a lock of her
loose-curled black hair around a finger as she rubbed a foot on the calf
of the other leg. Her sister Heather stopped beside her with an
identical angelic expression, red-hair-and-freckles version. They were
both adopted from Alba, of course. Heather's parents had been villagers
killed by one of Walker's raiding parties
Both brought their school satchels around and hugged the strapped-together books and lunchbox and wood-rimmed slateboards with studied nonchalance, a gesture aimed at his subconscious where the memory of their excellent marks presumably hid ready to float up and restrain his temper.
Might have fooled me, he thought, trying to school his face into something formidable. Fooled me back before the Event. Back then he'd been a widower, and childless. Here he was married and father of four, two of them also adopted from Alba. Ten years of experience with his own kids had helped a lot. I should be insulted. They don't try this act on Marian or 'dapa, much.
"What did I say about running around inside the house?" Cofflin asked.
Usually sternness came naturally to him; he had the dour lumpy Yankee visage common among the descendants of the seventeenth-century migrations that had settled Nantucket, bleak blue eyes, long face on a long skull, thinning sandy-blond hair streaked with gray. But it was hard to look po-faced at a ten-year-old having fun, especially with a close friend's daughter who'd been in and out of your house all her life.
"Sorry, Uncle Jared," they said together; and yes, they'd
seen the twinkle he'd tried to bury. "Sorry, Dad," his own
added, in antiphonal chorus
Good kids, he thought, and made his voice gruff for: "Well you should be sorry." Marian Alston-Kurlelo was a good parent, but stricter than he was. With these two hellions, she needed to be. "You especially, Lucy and Heather. You don't get to run wild because your mothers are away."
"Can we go over to Guard House and play 'till dinner?"
Cridzywelfa, the Alston-Kurlelo's housekeeper, was looking after it while Marian and Swindapa were off with the expeditionary force. Which was fine, but...
"All right, as long as you don't try and wheedle too big a snack out of her and spoil your supper. Be warned!"
Cridzywelfa had been a slave among the Iraiina, back before the Alban War. Many of the newly freed had moved to Nantucket, after the founding of the Alliance and compulsory emancipation; entry-level jobs here looked good to people from that background, without kin or land. She'd learned English and settled in well, and she spoiled her employers' kids rotten, but wasn't what you'd call self-assertive.
On the other hand, her own two, they might as well be American teenagers. Or Nantucketers, to be more accurate, the younger generation are... different. The melting-pot was bubbling away merrily around here, of which he heartily approved, but not all the seasoning came from the local shelves.
The pack of them took off, his four together with the two honorary nieces boarding here while their mothers were away at war, with the dogs bouncing around them. The door banged shut, and the sound of children's feet and voices faded down the brick sidewalk.
"Sorry," he said to his two guests as he led them down the hallway.
Sam Macy grinned and shook his head. "Heck, I've got five of my own, Jared."
Emma Carson smiled politely
Being Chief of Police was a lot simpler than being Chief Executive Officer of the Republic of Nantucket, he thought, something that had occurred to him just about every day since the Event landed him with the latter position. By default at the first near-hysterical Town Meeting after the Event, but he liked to think he'd done a reasonable job.
The meeting room had a fireplace with brass andirons and screen; he took a section of split oak from the basket and flipped it onto the coals. For the rest, it sported the usual décor that antique-happy Nantucket had had back when it was a tourist town; oval mahogany table and chairs, sideboy and amoire, mirrors, flowered Victorian wallpaper, pictures of whaling ships. He felt a small glow of pride at the thought that by now anything here could be replaced from the Island's own workshops, at need; and there were souvenirs dropped off by Marian and a dozen other Islander skippers. A wooden sword edged with shark teeth, a three-legged Iberian idol, a boar's-tusk helmet plumed with a horse's mane dyed scarlet...
One of the paintings was post-Event, of him signing the Treaty of Alliance with Stonehenge in the background.
Not Stonehenge. The Great Wisdom. That was a better name, for
a temple still whole and living. And O'Hallahan left out the rain
halfway through the ceremony, and all the umbrellas. And the
Grandmothers looked a lot more scruffy than that
People needed legends. Nations were built on them. As much as on plowland and factories, or gunpowder and ships.
The oil lanterns over the mantlepiece were quite functional now too,
and he lit one with a pine splinter from the fire before joining the
others at the table. Martha came in with a tray bearing cookies, a
silver pot of hot chocolate and cups. She set it down and sat, opening
her files; she was General Secretary of the Executive Council, and one
of the Oceanic University directors, as well as his wife since the Year
One. She'd been a librarian at the Athenaeum before the Event, back when
he was Police Chief
Odd, he thought happily. Beer-and-hamburger vs. wine-and-quiche. It had turned out to be a good match. She was still rail-thin despite bearing two children and helping raise four, a few more wrinkles and more gray in the seal-brown hair, a long slightly horse-like face on the same model as his own. And we make a good team.
The necessary greetings went around, few and spare as local custom dictated. "Ayup, business," Cofflin said.
God damn all political wheedling, he thought, with a touch of anger he kept strictly off his own lumpy features. You'd think with a war on and good men and women dying, everyone would pull together.
He knew how Martha would react to that; a snort, and a sharp word or
two on the subject of his being too smart
"Well, they're not wasting time," Patrick O'Rourke said.
He watched the impact-footprints of the mortar shells walking up the broad valley towards his position, each a brief air-borne scuplture the shape of an Italian cypress made from pulverized dirt and rock. It hadn't been more than half an hour since he'd arrived to give Captain Barnes the bad news and gotten caught in it himself.
Whoever was on the other end of that mortar wasn't very good at it, but they'd get the shells here eventually...
His staff gave him an occasional glance, as if to wonder when he was going to notice the approaching explosions. Time to take pity on them, he thought, and went on aloud:
The base's garrison were already in their slit trenches. Everyone else dived for a hole once he'd given the signal, and he hopped in to his after them, with a whistling in the sky above to speed him on his way.
The explosion was close enough to drive dirt into his clenched teeth. He sneezed at the dusty-musty smell and taste of it and grinned. There's one thing to be said for a war; it teaches you things about yourself, it does. One thing he'd learned was that physical danger didn't disturb him much; some, yes, but not nearly with the gut-wrenching anxiety that, say, being afraid of screwing up and giving the wrong commands could do.
In fact, sometimes it was exciting, like rock-climbing or a steeplechase on a wet raw day. Whether that said something good or bad about his own character he didn't know.
Or much care, he thought. Horses screamed in terror in the pen
beyond the field hospital. That was one thing he did regret about
being back here; the poor beasts were still caught up in the quarrels of
men. There were human screams too, fear mostly
One of those shells could land in here with me, he thought. Of course, if we're to be playing that game, I could have stayed in Ireland the year of the Event.
A safe, sane year in the last decade of the 20th century. PC's, parties, Guiness on tap, girls, cars, trips to England or Italy, himself an up-and-coming young prospective law student in an affluent family. Nothing to bother him but boredom and a nagging doubt he really wanted to follow the law for the rest of his life.
One more year I'll work the summer on Nantucket, said I.
He'd done it the first year for the money and travel, and the second for fun; it was a wild young crowd on the island during the summer back then, one long party. When you were nineteen, working three jobs and sleeping in a garage could be classified as fun.
Just for old time's sake, to be sure. Then I'll stay in bloody Dublin and study for the final exams. We don't have to export people any more, says I; we're the fookin' Celtic Tiger, aren't we, then? Envy of Europe, sure. One more year can't hurt, though, and the next thing I know I'm back in the fookin' Bronze Age with no prospects except farming potatoes, the which my grandfather moved to Dublin to avoid.
"Or goin' fer a soldier, which ye've doon, at that, ye iijit", he muttered under his breath, mimicking his grandfather's brogue before dropping back into his natural mid-Atlantic-with-a-lilt. " Maybe the English are right, and we're so stupid we don't even know how to fuck without arrows sayin' this way tatooed on the girl's thighs..."
On the other hand, not even the English ever claimed that the Irish weren't hell in a fight. It was just a bit of irony that nearly half the soldiers under his command were some sort of Alban proto-Celts from the dawn of time, who'd been in the process of conquering England when the Nantucketers arrived. Ireland itself was still populated by tatooed Moon-worshipping gits not yet up to the chariot-and-tomahawk stage. Even the Fiernan Boholugi who made up most of the rest of the 1st Marine Regiment thought they were backward.
"Oh, well, at least Newgrange is there the now," he muttered, shivering a little inwardly. The great tomb-temple by the Boyne river was already millenia old in this predawn age, as old now as Caesar's Rome had been to the age in which he was born.
He levered himself back up and looked about, shaking clods off his
cloth-covered coal-scuttle helmet
"No surprise there," one of his aides said sourly. "Here we are, outnumbered twenty to one and our allies are running like hell."
"It's a typical Marine Corps situation, to be sure, Sally," he answered, replacing the helmet and dusting off his uniform instead. "Don't be too hard on the locals, though; it's a bit alarming, the first time under fire." Joy, joy. Probably they wouldn't stop this side of Hattusas.
O'Rourke unsnapped the case at his waist and levelled the binoculars westward; clouds piled high in the sky there, hiding a sun just past noon. There had been rain a few days ago, and might be more soon.
He heard a sergeant's familiar rasp: "Nobody said stop working!"
The khaki-clad Marines went back to building the wall the company commander had laid out, using mud brick and stones from a livestock enclosure nearby, and sacks of grain and boxes of supplies. More manned the parapet, but the enemy were just beyond effective rifle range.
The mortar stayed silent; probably the crew had just noticed that it could only reach the Islanders at extreme range, which was wasteful. He watched the men who crewed it lifting it bodily, baseplate and all, into a chariot fitted with floor-clamps to receive it. These weren't Walker's uniformed troops; instead they wore plaid-check trousers and wraparound upper garment, their hair and mustaches long, and some of them were blond or red-thatched. Auxiliaries then, that migrant horde from the Hungarian plains Walker had enlisted, the Ringapi they were called. He scanned back and forth. Five or six hundred of them. A few firearms, amid more spears and bows, axes and swords and gaudily-painted shields. Flintlock shotguns, and some rifles. Impossible to be sure at this distance, but he thought that the rifles were muzzle-loaders, probably kept in store after the Achaeans learned to make better and then handed out to allies...
"We'll risk it," he said.
"Sir?" Cecilie Barnes said.
"Can't let them set that mortar up just as they please, Captain," he said. Because never a piece of artillery have we here, yet. "Let them get into range, position it in a nice piece of dead ground and they'd hammer us to flinders with it. Sergeant! Saddle up the gatling. And someone get my horse from the pen."
"Ah, sir, I should
"Stay here and hold the fort, Captain."
He swung easily into the saddle; Fancy sidled restlessly under him and tossing its head, still nervous from the explosions. His nostrils were wide and red, like a scaled-down Barb or Arab. The gatling-gun crew were mounted as well, on the horses that drew it or the ammunition limber. As machine-guns went the six-barreled weapon was big and heavy, but it had the supreme virtue of simplicity and ruggedness.
O'Rourke drew his revolver, and checked that the katana over his shoulder was loose in the scabbard. He was playing platoon commander, but he was young yet, not thirty years, and willfulness was a perogative of command.
Besides, it's my fault they're in this trouble here. Or my responsibility, or whatever.
He'd sent them here. He had to plug the exits from the coast inland
towards the Hittite heartlands, and he didn't have enough troops to do
"Let's go!" he shouted, and gave the horse some leg. "Come on, Fancy."
Bouncing and rattling on its field-gun carriage, the machine-gun and
its crew followed. The boiling knot of Ringapi tribesmen grew closer
with frightening speed. A couple of them fired their shotguns at him; he
could hear the flat thump, see the double spurt of smoke from
firing-pan and barrel. The balls threw up more dust and a scatter of
small birds from grass and brush halfway between them and the Islander
party, but they might as well have been firing at the moon that hung
pale over the peaks to the east. A few knelt and took careful aim with
long weapons... yes, the distinctive crack of rifled arms, and
the nasty whickering ptwissssk! of bullets overhead. Firing high
- not estimating the range right or adjusting their sights, the idle
bastards. There they went, biting open cartridges, priming the pans,
pouring the rest down the barrel and ramming the bullet on top;
muzzle-loaders for sure. Miniè rifles, much like those of the
American Civil War, except that they were flintlocks. That would make
the extreme range about a thousand yards, which meant they were just
getting into dangerous territory
"There!" he cried, pointing. Then: "Halt!"
His mount reared and thrashed the air with its forehooves. The gatling crew reined to a stop as well, wheeling as they did to bring the business end of their weapon around to face the enemy, leaping down and unfastening the hitch that connected trail to draught-pole, catching hold and running the weapon forward to the edge of the olive grove. One private held the team; the sergeant stepped into the bicycle-style seat on the trail, bending to look through the sights.
More of the tribesmen were firing, and more of the big lead slugs kicked up spurts of dirt around O'Rourke's horse. His stomach tightened, breath coming a little quicker as cut twigs from the twisted olive trees fell on his helmet and the shoulders of his uniform. Odd, he thought. More like excitement than fear. Or perhaps you didn't have time to perceive it that way. The odd drab-green olive joined the twigs, brought down a little unripe.
"Got it," the sergeant in charge of the gatling said. His hand worked the crank on its right side, back half a turn and then forward...
Smoke poured from the muzzles as each rotated up to the six o'clock position and fired, a dirty gray-white cloud pouring backwards with the light afternoon breeze. Glittering brass dropped out of the slot at the bottom as each passed the extractor, like the metallic excrement of death. O'Rourke raised his binoculars again. Men were down, scythed off their feet by the heavy .40 bullets, bone shattered, skulls spattered, some screaming and writhing like broken-backed snakes.
Brave enough, he thought: the Ringapi were clustering, coming together for the comfort of a comrade's shoulder, clashing weapons on their shields and shouting defiance. Doing exactly the wrong thing, poor fools. Perfectly sensible with the muscle-powered weapons they'd grown up with, sure death now.
"Whatever modern training they've had is pretty sketchy, then," he murmured to himself. One of their bullets went ptank-whirrrr off the gun-shield of the gatling and wickered past him, a lethal frisbee of flattened lead.
On the mortar and the other chariot, the one with the ammunition," he said aloud.
"Yessir," the sergeant on the gatling said tightly, his
hands adjusting the elevating screw. "Here goes
Braaaaaappp. This time horses went down, kicking and screaming, louder and more piteous than the wounded men. O'Rourke winced slightly; the beasts had no idea of the point of politics they'd been killed over. Braaaaaaap. Hits on the other chariot, the one with the ammuntion. Sparks flew as rounds slammed off metal, the barrel and baseplate of the mortar, the iron bands around a box of finned bombs.
Some of the Ringapi knew enough to run, because any second now...
BADDAMP. A globe of red fire for an instant, dirt gouting up, with bits of men and horses and chariot mixed in, raining down for scores of yards around. O'Rourke whooped with glee as he controlled his mount's plunging alarm.
"See 'em off!" he shouted, and the sergeant swung the muzzle of the gatling back and forth, cranking with a will and stopping only for his crew to slap another drum-shaped magazine onto the top of the weapon.
More Ringapi fell, the armored chiefs in their gaudy trappings and the bare-chested madmen sworn to the death-gods in the front row. The rest were farmers in drab wool, and took to their heels... except for a few with rifles who settled behind rocks or trees, and sent unpleasant reminders cracking overhead. The gatling-gun crew waited for the shots, then sent a burst at each puff of smoke. O'Rourke let them have their fun for a few moments, then waved a hand.
"Cease fire." We're not that well-supplied with ammunition, he thought but did not add. "Back to base."
The crew ran the gatling back, clipped the trail to the harness of the four-horse team and mounted up. O'Rourke backed his horse a few paces and looked around. His breath went out in an ooof, as if he'd been punched in the gut. More of the Ringapi were swarming out from the stone walls and brush-tangles all about, running down the hillsides... many of them east of him, between here and the fortlet. The westering sun flashed off their metal, and the hillsides echoed with their wolf-howls.
Either they're smarter than I thought, and set this as an ambush, or more stubborn, and just hid until the Gatling stopped instead of running away. Bad news either way, to be sure.
"Too many!" he shouted, as the Gatling squad went for their
rifles. "Get moving
They heeled their horses into a gallop. The Islander officer felt his lips skin back from his teeth; this was going to be too God-damned close for comfort. He went after them, keeping the horse in hand and well below its best pace; horses in harness pulling loads could never equal a rider's pace. Instead he turned a little aside at an easy trot. He felt an odd calmness, somehow hot rather than cool. His eyes darted about, methodical and quick.
"You first, boyo!" he snarled.
A man hurdled a stone wall, screeching. His body was naked except for the glittering ring of twisted gold about his neck, and he carried a big round-cornered shield painted with a black raven on red; a long leaf-shaped bronze sword swung in his other hand, blurring as he loped forward. His face was twisted into a gorgon mask of fury, a white rim of foam around his lips, penis erect and waggling as he leapt, lime-dyed hair standing out in waving spikes around his head.
O'Rourke waited until he could see the mad blue eyes, white showing all around them, before he brought the pistol down. Kerak, and a jolt at his wrist. A puff of smell and the stink of rotten eggs that came with burnt sulfur. The Ringapi had enough experience of firearms to bring the shield up as O'Rourke aimed at him. The barbarian was close enough for the Islander to see a tiny dark fleck appear on the red leather of the shield and the man went down, screaming what might be curses or possibly incoherent bellows of rage as he clutched at a broken thighbone; even a berserker couldn't move with a major bone gone to flinders. Blood jetted from around the clutching fingers.
Something went through the air far too close to O'Rourke's head with an upleasant swissssh. He turned in the saddle, fired three times, saw another Ringapi double over and fall as the egg-shaped basalt stone in his sling flew wild. Damn. A good slinger had almost as much range as a pistol, more accuracy too when the pistoleer was on a horse's moving back. Two more shots sent another ducking behind a wall.
"Faster!" he shouted to the gatling crew.
Unfortunately, if they went much faster the weapon or the ammunition cart were likely to overturn. He had a sudden, vivid memory of a childhood nightmare in which he'd been menaced by monsters and yet couldn't run, moving in slow-motion like someone trapped in honey. Another sling-bullet went through the air close behind his horse's rump, striking a stone near its left rear. The animal bounded forward and then went crabwise, trying to crane its head around to see what had stung it.
"Watch where you're goin', Fancy," he said, with a taut grin.
The leap had put him close behind the gatling; some of the crew had their personal weapons out, but you might as well spit at someone as try to hit him with a rifle from a jouncing gun-carriage. He took a moment to let the reins fall on his saddlebow, opening his pistol and letting the spent brass spill. Two crescent-shaped speedloaders and the cylinder snapped back in.
"Keep going, sergeant," he called to the head of the gatling crew. What he had to do was quite clear. Quite insane as well, but that was war for you. He turned his horse back towards the enemy and clapped heels to its flanks with a yell.
Not really suicidal, he thought. There wouldn't be more
than a dozen or so scattered foemen he'd have to knock back on their
Brave and obedient, Fancy bounded forward with jackrabbit acceleration. The clump of Ringapi pelting up right behind the Islanders gaped for a second; they'd been focused on pursuing someone who ran. Their war-howls turned to yells of surprise as he bore down on them, their heads swelling from dots to the faces of men with rushing speed. Chariots didn't teach you how nimble a single horseman could be, with a well-trained mount... and he'd spent some time teaching Fancy a few gymnkhana tricks.
The first two warriors pivoted on their left heels, shields swinging
out to balance the javelins they threw with their right. O'Rourke judged
the trajectory, then ducked down and brought his face against Fancy's
mane. The sweet musky smell of horse filled his nostrils, and the
whetted bronze heads of the spears whipped through the space he'd
occupied a second before. As he'd guessed
Kerack. The Ringapi's head snapped back as if he'd been kicked in the face by a horse. A round blue hole appeared over the bridge of his nose, and the back of his head flew off in a spatter of bone fragments and pink-gray brain. The horse staggered beneath O'Rourke. Something had landed on its rump, and an arm went around his throat, jerking him back upright in the saddle. He could sense the laurel-leaf dagger rising. His right hand moved, pointing the heavy pistol back under his own left armpit, jamming the muzzle into the other man's torso before he jerked the trigger twice. The hot flare scorched him through the linsey-woolsey of his uniform jacket, and the weight fell away behind. Something had hurt Fancy as well, and the stallion bugled out his own battle-cry, rearing and milling with his forehooves. They came down on the face and shoulder of a Ringapi who was trying to aim a bow, and he fell with an ugly crunching sound. Fancy danced over him, stamping, then lashed out at another with his hind hooves. They hit a shield; O'Rourke could hear the wooden frame break, and probably the arm behind it.
"Quiet, ye git!" he snarled
Fancy quieted somewhat, less at his voice than at the familiar feel of thighs and the hand on his reins, and spun nimbly about. A barbarian was getting up, a scrape raw and bleeding across one cheek, blood dripping from his nose and his long droopy mustaches and his stubbly-shaven chin. The spear he drew back to throw didn't look to be made for javelin work; it was six feet long and had a broad flame-shaped bronze head. It didn't have to be a purpose-made throwing spear, with the thick-muscled arm of the northern savage behind it and only ten feet between them. O'Rourke fired the last three rounds in the revolver as fast as he could squeeze the trigger and bring the muzzle back down. The hammer clicked at last on an empty chamber, but the Ringapi did not throw. Instead he sank down to his knees, looking puzzled, blood welling from nose and mouth. Then he pitched foreward on his face, spear dropping in the dust.
O'Rourke was already wheeling his horse, slapping the pistol back
into its holster and his heels into Fancy's flanks. No time to
reload, he thought, as the stallion sprang forward again, glad to be
allowed to gallop at last. He was familiar with the rubber duration of
He'd moved fast enough to distract the barbarians. The Gatling crew
were safely past them, bouncing back up the dusty, rutted track towards
the Nantucketer outpost. Most of the enemy were behind him, too... but
there was one standing in the roadway between him and safety
The man ahead looked a little out of the ordinary run of savage. He
wore a bowl-shaped rimmed helmet of polished bronze with a tall
scarlet-dyed horsehair plume and hinged cheek-guards; there were crossed
gilt thunderbolts on the face of his black round-cornered rectangular
shield, and gold rings around his arms and his neck. The chain-mail
shirt above his flapping checked trousers was from a workshop in
Meizon Akhaia, and so was the bright silver-glittering steel of
the long spearhead. He held the shield up and slammed the butt of his
spear into the ground, bracing his right foot against it for further
strength and slanting the point forward
"Damn," O'Rourke muttered. This lad's been to school, he has. A slinger and archer were running flat-out to join him, too, and they'd be there far too soon.
The Nantucketer reached back over his left shoulder and drew the
katana as the rocking speed of the gallop increased. The
sharkskin wrapping of the hilt was rough against his hand as he raised
the sword; he'd likely get one and only one chance at this, and the
enemy was also likely to be far more experienced with cold steel
"Lamh Laidir Abu!" he shrieked, and braced his feet in the stirrups, rising slightly.
He could see the Ringapi chief's barred teeth now, and the spearpoint
pivoted to follow him
Everything fell away, except the spearpoint and the fearless blue
eyes behind the helmet-brim. Now, he's used to chariots, which can't
shift all that fast, so
A press of his right leg, and Fancy crawfished at the last instant. The steel head of the spear flashed by, close enough to strike the stirrup-iron that held O'Rourke's right boot with a tooth-grating skrrriinng. The katana came down, and he felt the edge jar into meat. He ripped it upwards with a banshee shriek, upwards like a polo mallet and into the jaw of the slinger taking aim five yards behind the fallen chief. The man beyond him was drawling a long yew bow, but wasn't quite fast enough. He threw himself down with a yell, and Fancy gathered himself and took to the air in a soaring leap that would have cleared a six-bar fence.
O'Rourke whooped as he came up the slight slope to the base, drops of blood flinging back from the sword as he pulled the horse back to a canter and then to a walk. The Marines stationed on the wall cheered and waved their rifles in the air, the ones who weren't taking long-range shots at any Ringapi unwise enough to show themselves. He was still grinning as Captain Barnes came up and snapped a salute.
"Sir, that was the most amazing thing I've ever seen!"
"Ah, wasn't it, though?" O'Rourke said with a laugh, returning the gesture. "Fruits of a misspent life aping the gentry."
"And it was about the dumbest thing I've ever seen, too
"No, no, just Irish," he chuckled, then nodded to the man beside her as he cleaned and sheathed the sword.
Hantilis son of Tiwataparas was a Hittite; his title translated roughly as Overseer of One Thousand, or Colonel, in English; a short heavy-boned muscular man, big-nosed and hairy and stocky and swarthy, with dark eyes under heavy eyebrows. The shortsword at his side was steel, a diplomatic gift, as was the razor that kept the blue-black stubble on his chin closer than bronze had ever done; most Hittites of the upper classes were clean-shaven, in vivid contrast to Babylonia. He wore a bronze helmet with a crest that trailed down his back like a pigtail, a belted tunic and a kilt, with calf-boots that had upturned toes, standard military dress for his people.
"Bravely done," he said, in slow accented English; King Tudhaliyas had set a number of his officer-nobility to learning the Nantucketer language, as well as a corps of scribes. "Like... how say, old stories."
He mimed plucking a stringed instrument, the sort of thing a bard would accompany an epic with. O'Rourke nodded a little smugly; it had been a little like something out of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, or at least the opposition had. He smiled to himself: as far as the Intelligence people and Nantucket's little band of scholars could tell, the Ringapi were some sort of proto-Celt themselves, or else close cousins to the earliest Celts, if distinctions like that had any meaning this far back. They came from what would have become Hungary and Austria in the original history, lured by Walker's promises of southland loot and help against predatory neighbors; warriors and women and children and household goods in wagons and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Volkerwanderung like that were common enough, and getting more so; this was an age of chaos and wars and wanderings, even before the Event.
"What is... Irish?" the Hittite went on
"Ah..." Christ, how to answer that in words of one syllable. "A different... tribe," he said. "Not important."
The Hittite scowled and glanced eastward, where the mercenaries he'd been commanding had gone.
He dropped into Akkadian to do it, which he spoke far better than he did English; O'Rourke had a fair grasp on that ancient Semitic language as well, from the year he'd spent in Babylonia. It was the universal second language of the educated here and of diplomacy as well, like Latin in medieval Europe, and so doubly useful.
"I bow in apology," the Hittite went on, and did so.
O'Rourke shrugged; they'd probably have fought well enough, against the weapons they understood.
He looked around the enclosure. Walls were being built up to six feet with sacks and baskets of barley, with a fighting platform on the inside for the troops to stand on.
"How many effectives?" he asked.
"Sir," Brand said. "Lieutenant Hussey and eighty-seven enlisted personnel in my engineering company; another ten from the clinic personnel. About thirty-five sick and wounded from various units that've been operating around here; mostly they're down with the squirts of one sort or another. Plus the sixteen rifles you brought."
He nodded; dysentry happened, no matter how careful you were about clean water and food. Then he dictated a message for reinforcements... and as a wish rather than a hope, a request for air support to Hattusas HQ. The ultralights were overstretched as it was.
"Sir, should you be staying here?" Barnes asked. "We may be cut off."
"It's where the action is," O'Rourke said absently, looking around again. "Hmmm... Captain, how are we fixed for these barley sacks?"
"Tons of it, sir. This is a foreward supply collection center. The storehouse is full of boxed dog-biscuit, too."
He looked around, scowling. The hospital's got to be inside the
perimeter. That leaves us with this goddamned east-west rectangle of
wall to hold
"Then run another breastwork, here
"And the gatling, sir? There?"
"No, plunging fire isn't very effective against a massed
attack," O'Rourke said, shaking his head. "We'll use it to
cover the largest field in front of the gate here and shift the rifles
After he'd finished, he noted Hantilis staring at what the Marines had accomplished, working on the field entrenchments. It was fairly impressive; they'd turned an enclosure that might have done a good job on keeping goats out into something resembling a miniature fort.
"How they work!" the Hittite said, in a mixture of English and Babylonian, amazement clear in his tone. "I have never seen even slaves beneath the overseer's lash toil so!"
"And you won't," O'Rourke said dryly. "A slave
Hantilis frowned, something his heavy-boned face made easy; the Islander could see him turning the thought over in his head. Then he shook it aside for now.
"Can we stop the enemy here?" he asked. "My king prepares for war, but he must have time."
"We're buying time," O'Rourke said. "That's what expendable means, boyo."
"Sam, we needed that ship," Jared Cofflin said. "Sorry, but there is a war on."
Emma Carson stayed quiet. Quiet as a snake, Jared thought. Heard a snake bit her once. The snake died. A little off-balance here in the Chief's House, though; she wasn't a frequent guest.
Sam Macy nodded unwillingly. "Wish you could have taken
something besides the Merrimac, Jared," he said. "Or
given me some warning. The Republic's paying fair compensation, but I
had a buyer lined up
Macy was a short thick-bodied man of Jared's age, most of it muscle despite an incipient pot. His gray-shot black hair was still thick, though, and he'd added a short spade-shaped beard back when shaving got difficult, and kept it after hot water, soap and straight-edge razors became available again. Before the Event he'd been a house-building contractor; since then he'd become something of a timber baron in the limitless forests over on the mainland, that leading his firm naturally to interests in shipyards and ships, and occasionally to operating ships until the right price was offered. Nantucket ran on wood; warmth and cooking, fuel for the factories and workshops, for the hulls of her fishing and whaling and trading vessels, not to mention the Coast Guard's explorer-warships. Even the wood ash was useful, raw material for chemical work and fertilizer for the thin sandy soil.
"It was there, and the less warning, the less likely word is to get to the enemy," Jared said. "The Arnsteins are pretty sure they've still got some eyes here. We can move information more quickly, Tartessos doesn't have radios, thank God. Yet. But there are ways for them to communicate."
Macy nodded. "Well, if you let the Inquirer & Mirror have the story eventually, so everyone knows it was.. what's the word..."
"Force majeur," Martha supplied helpfully.
"Mmmmn-hmm," Cofflin said, nodding an affirmative.
"What the hell did you want her for, anyway?" Macy said.
"She's a good ship, weatherly and fast
"State secret," Cofflin said. "We need her; leave it at that."
It made him a little uneasy to use phrases like that, but it worked. The abortive Tartessian invasion this spring past had frightened and enraged the entire population. It was also a pity he had to put a spoke in the wheel of those plans for trade with the Shang kingdom, Bronze Age China. Policy was to encourage private enterprise, whereever possible. He'd detested the period of absolute emergency right after the event when he and the Council had to run everything, handing out rations and assigning work. Each step towards normalacy since had been a relief, and his greatest ambition as head of government had been to become as irrelevant as he could to as many people as possible. He didn't like the way the war was making them lose ground..
"Filthy war," Macy said, as if echoing his thought, and everyone nodded.
Emma Carson cleared her throat. "Now, Chief, I'm on the board of Chapman, Charnes & Co.," she said.
Jared nodded noncomittally. The Carsons were Chapman and Charnes nowadays; they'd bought in with profits made in the mainland trade and managed the firm shrewdly. Those initial profits hadn't been too scrupulously made, and there had been trouble with the Indians over their habit of including free firewater as a bargaining tool; the mainlanders were fully capable of realizing they'd been diddled when they sobered up. The Carsons had loudly demanded that the Republic's military enforce those debts; he'd refused and got the Meeting to back him. Neither of them had enjoyed the clashes over that.
Carson went on carefully: "We were the buyers for Sam's ship
Macy snorted. "Emma, you wanted to take possession in Westhaven because you could sign up a crew cheaper there than you could here in Nantucket Town or the outports," he said. He looked back at Jared. "Chief, I still say we should have a law saying that the crews of Nantucket-flagged vessels have to be citizens. Registered immigrants, at least."
"Sam Macy," Carson said, exasperation showing in her tone
Jared and Martha caught each other's eyes and nodded slightly. "Let's save that for the Town Meeting," Martha said dryly.
Carson's reply was equally pawky-cynical: "Ms. Cofflin, you know as well as I do that if all four of us agree on something, we can get it through the Meeting. I presume that's why we're all here now."
"Mebbe. Do we agree on a wartime compromise on the immigration laws and the income-tax rate?" Jared Cofflin said, leaning back; the delicate cup and saucer looked absurdly small in his big gnarled fisherman's hands. I suppose it was inevitable we'd get political parties.
The unity they'd had right after the Event was lifeboat politics. That didn't keep him from being nostalgic about it. He'd been a small-town boy too long to imagine that Nantucket would ever be without its share of home-grown guillible idiots and nosy-parkers. Or smart bastards like the Carsons untroubled by excessive ethics and ready to manipulate both types of natural-born damned fools.
Carson shrugged. "We all want the war won," she said. "That needs money, and trade's how we get it. Now, we were buying the Merrimac for the China trade. There's a big market there for furs and ginseng, as well as the usual tools and trinkets, and they've got jade and silk and tea. Plus it would be an alternate source for raw cotton, now we've given them the seeds. Hemp, too, maybe metals... well, never mind."
"All of which," Martha said, "would be nice replacements for your pre-war trade to Tartessos."
"Well, yes," Carson said. "But all that needs ships, ships need crews, and the shipyards need workers to make the ships. Not to mention the cost of improvements like the new piers and wharves, which take tax money, which means taxes would be lower if we had more hands."
"I thought we'd get back to the immigration quotas,"
Macy said, and his fist hit the table. "Yes, taxes might be
lower... but so would wages. That's fine for you and me, Carson
"Any citizen can claim a land-grant," Carson said piously. "We've got the whole of Long Island to settle, and more besides."
"Sure! But how about staying alive until enough's cleared to live off? And not everyone wants to be a farmer; I sure as hell wouldn't. Or knows how to go about it."
"Well, I'm not so sure it would be a bad deal for our citizens if labor were cheaper," Carson said. "Think about it, Macy. We've got far too many people with priceless pre-Event skills hauling nets, hunting seal, hoeing potatoes and chopping down trees. With more labor, a lot more of them could move up, become employers themselves. Those who couldn't are the sort who couldn't find their own butt-cheeks with both hands anyway."
"And I can see damned well where that would end, too, Carson - with Walker's setup. I don't want my children growing up in a slave state."
"Wait a minute, you son of a bitch, you can't accuse me of
"People!" Martha Cofflin's voice cut through the rising anger. "Quietly, please. We're supposed to be the center of civilization, here."
"The present quota's not enough," Carson said, more calmly. "A thousand a year is far too few for what we need." An arm waved towards the windows. "There's a whole world out there waiting for the Republic!"
"If you were thinking about the Republic, you'd have adopted
some orphans," Macy said. "No quota there. Tina and I have
Carson closed her mouth with a snap. In the long run adoption was the perfect form of immigration, producing more people who might as well be native-born, and it had become something of a tradition.
"Dick and I have put in an application for some kids," Emma Carson huffed. "It's pending right now."
Ayup, Cofflin thought. Now that you're rich and want to get into politics to make it easier to get even richer, you want to look like a model of civic virtue. Get the Meeting to forget how many times you've been rapped over the knuckles.
The latest had been quite a scandal; turned out Chapman and Charnes
had 'accidentally' dropped shiploads of horses and cattle in South Texas
and the Argentine pampas several years back
Or I may be doing you too much credit, Emma
"Let's not rehash that stuff," he said aloud. He'd deal with the Carsons, because he had to, but one important reason he let himself be talked into staying with this lousy job was keeping people like them away from the levers of power. "We've chewed all the chicklet off that gum a long time ago. Let's concentrate on wartime needs."
Martha took up the argument: "Now, Sam, you know that generally
we - Jared and I
Carson ground her teeth behind a bland smile. She hadn't enjoyed it when the Cofflins split Leaton off from her block. Executive Council seats weren't elective, either; they were appointed by the Chief. Leaton was on the Council; she wasn't, and wouldn't be while Jared Cofflin was in office.
"Yeah," Macy said. "And OK, I agreed that we should keep granting ex-Marines citizenship, and the ones who enlist in the Guard. Doesn't that satsify you, Carson?"
"No," Carson said bluntly. "We need the extra labor now, not after the end of the war or six years from now or whatever. There's a war to win; and our own people are already pulling as heavy a load as they can."
"We're on the horns of a dilemma," Martha said. "Yes,
we need more people; but we also need them to pick up our ways
"Oh, not necessarily drastically bad," Carson said thoughtfully.
Ayup, Emma would see that. She wasn't the nicest person in the Republic, but she was nobody's fool. Albans didn't understand representative government, much, but they did comprehend patron-and-client relationships, right down in their bones. Which is perfect for someone who wants to build up a Tammany-Hall style political machine.
"God damn Walker," Jared sighed. "If it weren't for him, and this war he's forced on us, we could take everything more slowly. But... needs must when the devil drives."
"All right, Jared, what do you want?"
"An equality of dissatisfaction, Sam. You let us raise the quota a bit more and recruit a bit more. Ms. Carson, you go along, even though it's not nearly as much as you want. You both agree to our building up overseas capacity the way Ron Leaton wants, but not as much as he wants."
Macy checked himself with a visible effort and knotted his brows in thought. Emma Carson glanced lynx-eyed at him, then at the Cofflins, then steepled her fingers and waited.
The bargaining went on for hours. And the worst of it is, Jared Cofflin thought, as darkness fell, I'll have to invite Emma to dinner along with Sam. I'd a hell of a lot rather it was Ian, say. Even if he did beat me like a drum at chess after the plates were washed.
With an effort of will he pushed worry for his friend away; Ian Arnstein was in Troy, and Troy was under siege from Walker's men. Instead he murmured to Martha as they left for the dining room:
"What was that thing you told me
Martha closed her eyes in thought for a moment, then quoted in the same low tone: "I do not like wars. Their outcomes are never certain."
She'd once remarked that "Bright Beth" or "Smart Lizzie" would have been a much better nickname than Gloriana.
Jared sighed. Marian, win this damned war, and win it quick. I don't like the feeling I'm getting of things spinning out of control.
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