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17 June 2018 @ 10:04 am
_Gates of Hel_ part 2  

***

The looters hadn't had the nerve to move in right away.

Adrasos thanked the first one for harnessing the horses, and handed him the clock he'd loaded. "We'll have no use for this. Take it and good fortune to you." The pictures followed.

He switched the four glossy chestnut mares to the carriage, and harnessed the two heavier, plainer, horses to the wagon. And set to, to fill them both.

His grandfather staggered in and was put to work packing the library. Peep headed for the women's quarters, to pack clothing.

Adrasos first stripped the armory, then the kitchen. Grain for the animals. He tied the milk cow onto the wagon, gave the calf and the yearling heifer to neighbors. Saddled up Gennadios' high spirited mare and the guard's horses. His own was stabled at the barracks, he'd stop by on the way to the Gate. He grabbed Peep's bags, and Peep and Grandfather and the crates of scrolls and books. One of each; they were not a family known for their scholarship. The big crock of wheat flour from the kitchen.

One of the neighbors returned with a cage of chickens. “The wife says they’re good layers,” he muttered, not quite daring to wish them well.

A hasty grab of all the oiled cloths and hides around in case they needed tents, or to cover the wagon, and then he climbed to the driver's bench of the carriage, with Peep beside him and sent the impatient horses up the street. His Grandfather followed with the wagon. Yainni was barely able to stumble to the carriage. He was snoring as Adrasos stopped at the market and spent all his ready cash.

Halfway to the barracks, his Deka met him, a golden palomino in tow, a double set of packs across her back. "Some how she got out with Heliodoros' bay stallion just now. Good luck." He leaned to tie the mare to the back of the carriage.

"Thank you sir." Adrasos swallowed, unable to say more. He shook up the reins and turned down hill.

It was a long three hours through the hills to the Gates of Hel.

A narrow plaza encircled the Gates. The thin spot between worlds. As befit something in between realities it was awkwardly placed. Neither high nor low, a narrow path, off the road to somewhere definite, a fork into the unknown. There were twelve other Worlds, according to the best analyses of the Priests and Scholars. Which one the Gate would open to between day and night, was unknown and unknowable. They'd caught tiny glimpses in the Great Overlap, little slices of congruence . . .

The prisoners were there, waiting.

Yainni was removed from the carriage and added to the loaded wagon. Adrasos whispered a anti-hangover and healing spell and touched his head. The women crammed into and onto the carriage. Two of the hired guards were in good enough shape to mount their horses. The other was boosted up into the wagon. Gennadios met Adrasos' glare, and slunk to the wagon, not insisting on riding with the women. Peep abandoned Adrasos for her mother and sister. The cook and maid joined them inside the carriage, the three other women crowded onto the rear facing bench.

The sun touched the horizon, and touched the circle at the center of the space with gold. A faint dust, or possibly fog rose from the ground, glowing in the sideways light.

The three Scholars observing the circle stepped back. Gestured.

Adrasos released the brake and eased the reins. The impatient horses trotted forward. The chilly fog blew past them. Cleared. Adrasos steered the horses right as he saw the ground dropping away steeply ahead and to the left. In the twilight he could see that they were on the slope of a sharp ridge. To his left a silver gleam of water in the depths of a steep walled valley. To the right, the crest of the ridge, perhaps twenty feet higher. Steering along the slope, the carriage rocked a bit, his passengers yelping in alarm, and crying. They've had a very bad day. He turned the horses toward a flatish spot in front of a grove of large oaks and pulled them to a stop. His grandfather pulled the wagon up beside them.

"So, what great plan do you have now, Turncoat?" Gennadios climbed down unsteadily.

One horseman rode up, then the other, clutching a bleeding arm. Idiot must have tried to run. Well, can't blame him, considering the worst that might have been here.

"No swamp, and oak trees, so I think we've gotten one of the better worlds. No sign of dinosaurs, at any rate." Adrasos looked at the horsemen. Time to establish a few things. "Chol, Krid, ride up to the top of the ridge and take a look around."

Krid turned his horse. Chol, the one with the wounded arm looked at Gennadios, who scowled and nodded.

No immediate challenge to my authority. Good. Maybe they will notice that I've got the only weapon to hand. So I won't have to use it.

Adrasos frowned suddenly, looking at the heavily laden wagon.

One small keg of ale, a dozen bottles of wine. Not a drop of water, nor anything to carry it in. Good planning, boy. That had better be water, down there.

The men on the ridge were pointing things out to each other, didn't seem excited.

The carriage door thumped open. "What's going on out there?" His mother's voice was querulous. Adrasteia had not been a shrinking violet as a young woman when she'd seduced a God, and she wasn't getting any less forward after three marriages.

No wonder Xenocrates didn't marry her . . . quite apart from the wife he already had.

"I have the men taking a look around. We'll find a safe spot to camp and scout out the area, decide what we're going to do." Adrasos frowned. The twilight seemed to be getting lighter, not darker. Was that dawn rather than dusk lightening the sky to the left? The riders returned, their horses sitting back on their haunches on the steep part of the hill.

"There's campfires, I think, beyond the next ridge. And maybe a village, or what used to be a village. No roofs left on any of the walls I could see. It's pretty dark over there, though." Chol was trying to look like he was in command of the pair of them. Ambitious. Adrasos filed the information away. A bright spec of sun gleamed between mountains. "It's morning, here. A good time to scout around. Chol, you stay, get your arm bandaged. Leave the horses harnessed, in case we need to move in a hurry. Gotu?" He eye the man still in the wagon. "Are you well enough to drive?"

The man perked up. "Yes, Pente."

The stepfather jerked around and frowned at the title. Commander of five. Heh. Only if you counted the stepfather. He winced. I'll probably never see the Imperial Guard again.

"Good. Come up here, and be ready. Mother, keep your eyes open for anything dangerous." Keep her thinking she could be in danger and she might do a few less things stupidly. He took a quick look at Gotu's leg. Nasty cut into the thigh. "Lucky it missed the big arteries on the inside." It was well wrapped. He waved a healing spell on it, and another to dull the pain. Gotu relaxed in relief, and he helped him get up to the driver's bench without tearing the wound open.

Yainni moaned himself awake, and climbed down from the wagon.

“Want to take a little run?”