Ruins from the past, menace to the future
Milo Morai, the Undying High Lord of the Horseclans, secure in the knowledge that peace had once again come to the Kindred clans, now journeyed with a select band to explore unknown territory. Perhaps in the days or weeks ahead, Milo would discover an untouched ruin of the Old Ones, a veritable treasure-trove of rare metals and trade goods to enrich the Horseclans.
More than dead ruins awaited Milo and his valiant band of hunters. For on the trail they now rode lurked nightmare creatures hungering for the blood of man. And at the end of the road waited heirs to a legacy of violence which might claim the men and women of the Horseclans as the final victims in a war that should have ended hundreds of years ago...
Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.
His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.
He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).
Still and unmoving as two statues, the men sat, waiting for one of the browsing, slowly shifting herbivores to wander within range of the short, powerful bows with which they were armed. The spring was now far enough advanced for the beasts to have begun to fatten, and so, even after they had been dressed out, two of them should provide food for all of the party for which the men were hunting this day. Slouched forward over the necks of their grazing horses, in constant telepathic contact with their mounts and with each other, the two ignored the flies that crawled upon them, the sweat that poured from them under the hot sun and the reek of the fresh deer dung with which they had liberally smeared their hands and faces to cover the smell of predatory man from their prey.
The herd they stalked was mixed—shaggy, feral cattle, shaggier bison, an assortment of deer and an even wider-ranging assortment of antelope, a few gazelles, a few wild horses and burros, even the occasional wild goat or two. The progenitors of the animals making up the herd had been natives of widely separated habitats on four continents, and a few hundred years before that spring day on the prairie of North America, no one of the billions of humans then living would ever have seen a like herd on any of those four. But those billions of humans died long ago, precious few of them living long enough to breed and leave descendants, and the species of mankind now was the rarest of creatures upon the grassy lands, moving only in small, scattered bands with his domestic herds among the tumbled, overgrown ruins of his brief hegemony, gathering and hunting for the bulk of his food, taking only milk and blood and fiber from his precious herds save in the direst of emergencies.
Heads well down, giving every appearance of doing nothing more than grazing the fetlock-high grasses, the brace of telepathically controlled hunting horses slowly moved closer to the mixed herd, drawing little if any attention from the wary, chary prey of the motionless hunters, who had steeled themselves to not even wince at the bites of the flies, for the meat that they sought here was of importance to those back in camp.
But although they made no slightest sound, still they conversed. “Gy,” beamed the elder to the younger, “what is the nearest animal to me? Can you see?”
“Yes, Uncle Milo,” beamed back the younger, who was a bit more slender than the elder, though seemingly as tall and strong-looking, with rolling muscles white, brown-faced ridged-horn... a big one, a buck. A few more yards and you’ll be at the right range. And me?”
The elder blinked the sweat away to clear his vision slightly and silently replied, “A yellow deer and two spotted ones, close together. The yellow one looks to be best; he’s young and seems a little fatter than the other two. No antlers, of course, but I’d bet that he’s a spike buck. You are within range of him already.”
At his rider’s unspoken urging, the stallion bearing the elder of the two men moved farther forward, closer to the fringes of the widely scattered aggregation of grazers and browsers. Obligingly, the antelope that was his quarry finished stripping the leaves and shoots from a tall weed and chose that moment to move toward another plant, this one even closer to the hunger.
“Now, Uncle Milo, now!” came the imperative message from the younger man’s mind to the elder’s. Within the bare space of a breath, the two men straightened, brought up the bows with the already-nocked arrows, drew, aimed and sent the shafts thudding into the two beasts. The shaft of the younger man sank into the eye of the deer and penetrated the brain, and the stricken beast dropped without so much as a sound or a movement. The loosing of the elder man went in behind the near shoulder of the whitish antelope and skewered lung and heart, yet the mortally wounded animal would have fled had not the man brought his horse close enough to lean from his saddle and take firm grip of one of the pair of sharp-tipped horns, lift the heavy beast almost clear of the ground and hold it against its struggles until it went limp.
Within the herd, pandemonium raged unchecked. Joining forces as they often did in the face of danger, the feral cattle and the bison drew into a tight formation, their vulnerable calves in the center, the wicked horns of the bulls and cows on the perimeter. But all around this defensive grouping, the smaller beasts fled madly in every direction, some of them in aggregations of their species, some as individuals.
Watching a band of graceful impala leap impossibly high in their flight to land and immediately leap again took the elder man’s mind racing backward over the intervening centuries to his days of soldiering in Africa. So, too, did the rapid departure of a group of fast if ungainly-looking wildebeests.
“All that’s missing,” he thought, “are the zebras and the lions.”
Not that both of those had not adapted over the years to life on portions of the vast, endless-seeming prairies and plains of the North American continent, but there were none of the stripped equines running with this particular portion of the great herds, and the lion prides did not hunt every day.
The two men, younger and elder, cooperated in roughly, hurriedly field-dressing the two slain beasts, then took the carcasses up in front of them on the withers of their mounts and set off for camp before the smell of fresh-spilled blood drew to the spot predators and scavengers too big or too numerous for them to handle. As they rode away with their booty, they left behind a section of prairie now host only to the close-packed formation of bison and long-horned cattle, all of the other beasts of the former mixed herd now having become but dots, some still moving, in the far distance.
Nearly two hours of easy-paced riding brought them within sight of their camp—four round felt yurts and as many high-wheeled carts, some threescore horses wandering, grazing around the edges of the campsite, standing belly-deep in the shallow lakelet near which the camp had been made or sipping water from the chuckling stream that issued from it.
As they approached the lakeside camp, the elder of the hunters—a man called Milo Morai or Uncle
Milo—tried to picture in his mind’s eye a memory of the map of this country as it had been so many long years in the past. He thought that they were probably in northern Oklahoma now, possibly southern Kansas, surely not far enough west to be in Texas still. They had wintered in Texas, camping, with Kindred Clans Staiklee and Gahdfree, and now they were headed northeastward.
Milo meant to strike farther east than usual in hopes of finding ruins from the world before this one that had not been so thoroughly picked over and picked through as had those along the central migration routes of the game herds and the Kindred clans. Usable metals and singular artifacts gleaned from such ruins were not only valuable in their own right, useful to the nomads of the clans, but they also could be bartered for other useful things with the wagon-borne eastern traders who ventured out upon the prairies each spring and summer from the more populous areas beyond the great waterway of the Mississippi River.
As the well-laden horses ambled nearer to the camp, a very pretty, very pregnant blond girl kneeling before one of the yurts looked up from her chore of grinding grain and awkwardly rose to her feet, shouting, “Myrah, Gy and Uncle Milo are back with two kills.”
A mindspeak answered her, beaming, “Aha! Two men, two kills, that should clyster some of the overweening pride out of that gaggle of silly Staiklee and Gahdfree boys, I should think. They were out all morning with their yapping spotted dogs and draggled in with nothing more than a half-dozen scrawny rabbits.”
“But they did find a ruin, Myrah, quite a large one, too. And you know how anxious Uncle Milo and Bard Herbuht have been to get to a ruin that has not been looted before. That should count for at least something,” the pregnant blonde beamed back. “The Staiklee and Gahdfree boys mean well, you know. You are too hard on them—you fault them too much for their high spirits and their tale-spinnings.”
“Meaning well never yet filled a stewpot,” was the silent reply. “Nor did bragging, out-and-out lying and the taking of stupid chances of the like of juggling sharp knives while standing on one’s head in the saddle of a galloping horse; little children sometimes do things like those, Karee, but remember these are supposed to be young, proven warriors, all blooded and ready to take their places in the warrior-councils of their clans after they have ridden out as guards with the traders for a season or two. My father, the Skaht of Skaht, would have—”
Karee Skaht Linsee had had enough, however. “Your father, Myrah, owns all of my respect as the good chief he has been, but every one of us clansfolk knows and has long known that where it concerned you, he had a large soft spot in his head. You are and have always been a spoiled brat. You’re dead certain that only your desires, only your beliefs, should have any value. You had better thank Sacred Sun that our Gy is a basically gentle man, for you’ve richly deserved a sound thrashing for months... and he still may tan your hide, if your intemperate beamings and outbursts continue to embarrass him and Uncle Milo and Bard Herbuht.
“Now, get your lazy, slugabed self out here and do some real work, for a change!”
But only Karee, Bard Herbuht’s two wives—the middle-aged Mai and the slightly younger Djinee—and his nine-winters-old daughter, Kai, were on hand when the two hunters led their horses into the flat area on which the yurts fronted. Gy frowned and sent a private beam, and presently his other wife, Myrah, stepped sullenly out of the yurt.
As she helped the elder hunter to untie the stiff carcass of the whitish antelope, Karee remarked, “Uncle
Milo, the young warriors have found a ruined place, a large one, they say. And although they all say they have hunted in this area before, they also say that none of them had ever come across this place or even suspected that one lay hereabouts. They didn’t get much game, though, only a few rabbits. And another of their spotted dogs disappeared last night, too.”
“Good.” He nodded. “Thank you for telling me of it, Karee. But where are my wives, Djoolya and
She waved an arm to indicate general direction. “Away over on the other side of the little lake, I think. They went out shortly after you and Gy rode off. They are looking for roots and greens. Two of the Staiklee warriors are with them, looking for any traces of the missing dogs.”
“What of the other Staiklees and the two Gahdfree boys, Karee?” inquired Milo .
She shrugged. “Downstream somewhere, with hopes of arrowing or spearing or catching fish or frogs, they said.” Then she wrinkled up her brows and said, “This is another of those peculiar deerlike things, Uncle Milo—what did you say the folk of ancient days called them? I’d never before seen any of this kind until we came into this country.”
“They were called addaks, Karee. And, no, they never seem to be found here anywhere north of southern Kansas, and they’re none too common even here, but they’re good eating and their hides make good leather. With this one and the big young buck that Gy dropped, all of the camp will eat well this night, at least, even the cats. Where are the cats, anyway?”
“Out guarding the horses, I suppose, Uncle Milo. None of them has come into camp today, all day long, although I’ve seen Snowbelly and Spotted One both drinking from the lake at various times, since the nooning.”
After a nod of thanks to the young woman, Milo sent a mindcall ranging out and was immediately rewarded by the answering beamings of all three of the cats. “The twoleg Gy and I both killed fourleg grasseaters,” he informed the felines. “So there will be offal for you all, shortly, as well as some odds and ends of rabbit and maybe fish and frogs.”
Pleased and pleasantly anticipatory beamings came from the two prairiecats, but the “tame” jaguar,
Spotted One, replied, “This cat killed and fed last night, twoleg cat friend Milo, so let the other two cats come in to eat—Spotted One will keep watch over the herd.”
Milo had had his doubts about just how well the wild-born and -bred jaguar was going to work out living with the Horseclans, for all that she had voluntarily joined with the prairiecat Crooktail in fighting off a pack of hyenas that had killed a mare, a foal and a boy farther north in the previous year, but the wild feline had laid his fears to rest; she had never once made to attack any horse, bovine, sheep or goat or their young. She usually kept a sizable physical distance from twolegs, which was understandable enough, though she was civil and very cooperative when mindspoken and, more important, she was carrying a litter sired by Snowbelly, which last meant to Milo that the singular race of prairiecats—the result of a succession of breeding experiments ended by the nuclear and biological warfare that had all but extirpated mankind worldwide—was more Leo than Felis. Now if the kittens she bore proved to be fertile, rather than mere sterile hybrids, there never again would be any need to subject the race to possibly deleterious inbreeding.
The skinning had been accomplished, the cleaning and butchering were underway, and the two prairiecats were crouched feeding on the tender, bloody offal before the four Kindred warriors rode up from the southwest, whooping exuberantly, bearing strings of assorted fish and a brace of sizable writhing, decapitated vipers.
A short time later, five horses, four of them with riders, were seen to crest the low rise of ground on the opposite side of the lake and head around the water toward the campsite. The led packhorse bore two bulging sacks and a huge caldron, discolored with thick verdigris and with bits of loam still adhering to it. As the party drew closer, it could be seen that, though clothed similarly, two were adult women and two, young warriors.
Arriving in the central space, the elder of the two women—an auburn-haired, green-eyed, stocky woman of between thirty-five and forty winters—slid easily from her saddle, strode back to the packhorse and began to loose the big caldron from its load, mindspeaking the while.
“Milo, love, this lovely pot came from a place about three miles northeast of here. It’s either copper or brass and so big, you could feed a whole clan out of it. And the pot’s not all, either—wait until you see what else Verah and I found.”
The next morning, while Bard Herbuht rode out for his day of hunting with Little Djahn Staiklee and Djim-Djoh Staiklee, Milo took Gy Linsee, the four remaining Teksikuhn Kindred warriors and a cart and they all followed his premier wife, Djoolya, to the place where she had found the large copper caldron. In addition to their normal, everyday weapons, they bore along spades, axes, a wooden maul and assortment of wedges, a wagon jack and some hardwood pry-poles, strong ropes and a hand-carved wooden pulley.
First sight of the place from the crest of a low hill was most disheartening, however. Although patterns of vegetative growth gave indications of where the edges of fields and pastures had been so long ago, nothing resembling a building remained. Up close, the clearing away of vines and brush and bushes revealed fire-blackened stones and crumbly concrete. Between the walls of what had once been a large, rambling structure, beneath several centuries’ worth of soil and decomposing vegetation, was a jumbled layer of cracked and shattered sheets of slate, and below that layer, ancient charcoal that had once been thick beams and joists.
Early on, they disturbed two rattlesnakes, but quick slashes of sabers took off the reptiles’ heads, and, tied together by the tails over a tree limb, the bodies were left to thrash and drain and later become part of the daily meal of the camp.
Bits and pieces of rusted iron and steel and corroded, discolored other metals were scattered all through the charcoal layer—nails, screws, hinges, doorknobs and locks, wire lengths, piping lengths, little solidified pools of copper and brass and lead. In one room they unearthed a sizable chunk of solid silver protruding out of which were several rusting, pointless knifeblades. This find and the other melted nonferrous metals went into the cart, along with the copper and brass and any hardware items not too rusty or deformed to be of further use. Another find that brought a smile to Milo’s face was a complete, relatively undamaged set of hearth tools of heavy, solid bronze. More treasures were dug out of a room close to the one wherein the chunk of melted silver had been found—more than a dozen pans and pots of copper with brass handles, some plates and utensils of brass and of pewter, including a magnificent pewter mug that looked to Milo as if it would hold at least two quarts of liquid. That these finds had not melted of the heat of the long-ago fire verged on the miraculous. Most of the steel cutlery had become only lengths of flaking rust, but a few blades still were found sound, along with a sharpening steel and a dozen tinned skewers, a large, two-tined fork and a copper ladle.
Apparently, not one item of glass or china or earthenware in that room had remained whole, and shards of them littered the subsurfaces. Such pieces of plastics and aluminum as turned up were brittle and useless.
A hump in the center of this space proved, upon clearance, to be a large, rust-flaking double-door refrigerator-freezer unit.
“We’ll take this apart,” said Milo, adding, “The amounts of copper tubing and wiring will make it worth the effort.”
It was when Milo, Gy and the two Staiklees raised the thing up from its centuries-old grave that they found what lay beneath it.
When Milo and the muscular Gy, between them, were able to get the trapdoor open, foul, musty air poured up from the utter darkness below. Turning to the Staiklees, he said, “We’re going to need some torches down there.”
And so they did, but only until Milo found and filled up and lit some gasoline lanterns that were in the cellar. He reflected that this cache would have been a true treasure trove two or three hundred years ago, but not now. True, there still was more than enough of value to him and to his people contained unspoiled in the sometime fallout shelter, but there was much else that now was utterly useless if not downright dangerous.
He had the seven bodies—two men, two women and three children—dragged into the room that had been the pantry, no pleasant task, as they had all begun to decompose as soon as the fresh, moist outer air got to them. That done, they began to load whatever looked usable or tradable onto the cart, and when it would hold no more, they sent Little Djahn Staiklee to drive it back to the campsite and bring back an empty one.
While searching for an easier way and possibly a wider opening to get their gleanings up to the surface, Milo found a short flight of steps leading up to an angled pair of doors, but they refused to budge a millimeter, even to the efforts of all three of the men, plus those of Djoolya.
Outside, the reason why was clear. Also clear was just why no one of them had seen the doors before: they were completely covered by a portion of the field-stone half-wall. When once the stones had been lifted and thrown off, the heavy, steel-sheathed doors opened with only a few minutes of straining and cursing and use of two of the pry-poles.
As they all squatted, panting, among the scattered stones, Milo beamed, “When first I saw them, I didn’t think those folks in the pantry there died of the plagues—none of them bore any of the easily recognizable signs of that kind of dying. No, I think they all got trapped down there and smothered to death. Of course, it was really the fire that did them in; with half a ton of stone blocking one exit and that humongous refrigerator on the other, no two men and two women could possibly have used either opening. Their air intakes must have gotten blocked then or soon after, and that was all she wrote for the lot of them. That’s why they didn’t start to rot until we went down there, too—there was no oxygen in the place, no breathable air.
“Let’s get them up here, out yonder somewhere, before they get any higher. The coyotes and foxes and buzzards will clean them up quickly if they can get at them.
“Since they didn’t die of the plagues, that means we can take all the bedding, too, and those are nice, thick, warm-looking blankets. Whenever Little Djahn gets back with an empty cart, we’ll load it with the best of the things down there and close up the place to keep animals out and come back tomorrow or the next day to finish stripping it. Whatever any of you do, though, leave the sealed metal containers and the glass jars and bottles alone until I’ve had the chance to check out their contents; old as they are, anyone who even tasted of them would likely be poisoning himself.”
“But Milo,” demanded Djoolya, “what of all those pretty jars? The traders exchange valuable things for even one of those jars that has not been broken or chipped at an edge and that still has its top. Surely we aren’t going to just leave them all here?”
He leaned toward her to pat her grubby, work-roughened hand. “Oh, no, honey, we won’t leave them here. No, tomorrow or the next day, we’ll come back, dump whatever is in them out, pack them in a cartload of dried grass as far as the lake, wash them out well and put them somewhere safe to drain and dry until we’re ready to move on. I really hate to dump out that much food, but it’s all just too old to take the chance that it might still be even edible. Lest some Kindred clan wander through here and find and foolishly or innocently try to open and eat of those ancient cans, before we leave, we’ll hump them all up here and axe them open—a few poisoned coyotes won’t be any great loss.”
Spitting out the grass stem he had been absently chewing, Djim-Bahb Gahdfree asked, “What of those two big handsome steel chests, Uncle Milo? We should at least open them, I think, even if they prove too heavy to take away from here.”
Milo nodded. “They’re not so heavy as they seem, Djim-Bahb. I believe they’re just bolted to the wall or the floor or both. We will indeed open them, though I’m pretty sure I know at least part of what we’ll find in them, and whenever two or three of you get back from your clan camp with another cart for us, we’ll load up those two steel chests and take them along with us. The traders should be overjoyed to get such artifacts still in such splendid condition, with built-in lockworks and the keys to fit them.”
Gy Linsee raised an eyebrow quizzically “Keys, Uncle Milo?”
Milo nodded. “You recall those rings of flat metal things I took off the belts of those two men’s bodies, Gy? Those were called keys, and I’m sure that at least two of them will open those metal chests.”
Before he and Gy left camp to hunt the next morning, Milo sent off Little Djahn and Djim-Bahb with spare mounts and a packhorse to seek out their clans’ camp and dicker for the purchase of the spare cart, now needed. He had them take back the now-reduced gaggle of spotted dogs, as well, for despite all precautions, one dog per night was regularly disappearing from the campsite, and protracted searches for any trace of them had been completely unavailing.
Less than an hour out of camp, Milo and Gy were lucky enough to find a young screwhorn bull—an earlier age would have called him an eland—grazing alone, a mile or more from the herd of herbivores. It was in an area of rough, broken ground over which Milo would have been hesitant to pursue the beast on horseback, but the bull elected to stand and fight and so was quickly killed with arrows from a safe distance. Then, while Milo guarded the fresh kill, Gy went back at the gallop to fetch a cart and more hands to help with the job of skinning, cleaning, butchering and transporting nearly a half-ton of meat, bone and hide. So fortunate a kill would keep the camp well supplied for several days.
Nor was food alone the value of the bull. The hide would be rendered into fine, strong leather and the hair into felt. Horn would become tools and implements; sinew, thread for sewing or making ropes.
When steel needles were not available, slivers of bone could be made to serve that purpose, and still other pieces of bone, after fire-hardening and sharpening, were often used to tip hunting arrows. Cleaned and soaked and carefully stretched, then dried, the bull’s stomach pouches would become the inner linings of water containers; so too would his bladder. Hooves might be and often were rendered with fish offal to produce glue for a plethora of purposes, or sections cut from hooves made fine scaleshirts when sewed onto leather backing for war armor.
With the women, the children and Bard Herbuht fully occupied in camp, Milo took the cart down to the lake and washed off the blood then he, Gy and two more of the Kindred warriors rode back to the ruin with the cart.
It was not yet noon when they arrived at their destination, but even so, the seven bodies dragged out and left upon the prairie on the afternoon before were already become only a few disjointed, widely scattered bones, all but invisible in the high grass.
As he had expected, the steel cabinets opened readily to two of the keys, and the contents were also about what he had been expecting, but more so.
The M-16s were there, three of them, but they were the selective-fire model, capable of full-automatic operation, which was unusual. There were four shotguns—two short pumps and two doubles—an
M-3A1 submachine gun, two scoped hunting rifles, three .22 caliber rifles and a dozen handguns of assorted calibers and sizes. There was enough ammunition to start a small-scale war and four hand-grenades. But one of the steel ammunition boxes proved to contain not cartridges or explosives but coins—rolls of silver dimes, quarters, halfs, dollars and Mexican five- and ten-peso pieces, plus a few other rolls of gold Kruger-rands, Mexican twenty- and fifty-peso pieces, and a few American gold pieces. This last box he took out and set aside.
All save one of the firearms he transferred to the larger of the steel cabinets, which was, he was glad to see, literally built into a corner of the room. After dropping the keys inside with the arms, munitions and grenades, he slammed the self-locking door upon the dangerous artifacts. There was no point in allowing any of the Horseclansmen to learn to use and depend upon weapons that they would find worse than useless after they had fired off all of the limited stocks of ammunition; bows and slings and darts had been sufficient to keep them fed and protected for nearly three hundred years now, and he had no intention of spoiling them with the incipiently deadly fruits of a long-dead technology.
The one pistol he retained was, he admitted to himself, partially a nostalgia trip. The .45 caliber M1A1
Government automatic was made mostly of stainless steel with a matte finish, but the heft and the feel were achingly familiar. He packed all of the .45 ammo he could turn up—five hundred plus rounds—the five magazines, the spare-parts kit, two holsters and a lanyard in a hinged, lockable 20mm ammo box, adding the .22 caliber conversion kit and a block of the small-caliber ammo for it, as well. The pistol would serve him as an emergency, last-ditch defensive weapon in its larger configuration and to take small game when traveling alone in its smaller. The time was quickly coming when he would be very glad that he had not locked away this weapon too.
Little Djahn Staiklee and Djim-Bahb Gahdfree came back into the camp in a little over a week—very good time for such a trip—both they and the two new young warriors who accompanied them back all whooping and chortling over their expertise at haggling. They had managed to convert the packhorse load of goods into not one but two carts, each of them complete with teams and harness, water barrels and spare parts and even kegs of grease for the axles and hubs, plus a twenty-pound sack of dried pinto beans and a fifty-pound sack of dry, shelled corn, both raided or traded from the Dirtmen by one or the other of the Kindred clans.
There were no spotted dogs with them when they returned, but in place of them were two big, wiry, tough-looking hounds of the sort that these southerly dog-clan folk called tooth-hounds—dogs bred and trained to hold dangerous game at bay and, if necessary, to close with and kill the beasts.Milo would have been happier if the young men had brought back no canines at all, but if they had to have dogs along, he agreed that these were the kind to have; any predator that chose to tangle with one or both of them would have its work cut out for it, no two ways about that matter.
During the afternoon and evening of the day of the return of Little Djahn Staiklee, everything but bare essentials was packed into the carts, and the next morning, the yurts were struck, folded and packed, the king stallion was requested to move the herd out and the party commenced a march to the environs of the large ruin that the young warriors had chanced across weeks before.
They moved like a migrating clan—Crooktail and Snowbelly ranging well out in front, zigzagging back and forth across the projected line of march, seeking out danger or game; next came the mounted warriors, riding well separated in a crescent that guarded both the van and the forward flanks; then came the six carts driven by the wives of Milo, Bard Herbuht and Gy Linsee; the horse herd followed, shepherded, kept moving, by the king stallion, Spotted One and Bard Herbuht’s children. At Milo’s order, the brace of tooth-hounds were led along on ropes tied to the tails of two of the carts, for the prairiecats did not like canines of any type or description and were big enough, strong enough and fast enough to quickly make a blood pudding of either of the dogs, if so inclined. Only the jaguar, Spotted One, seemed at all tolerant of the presence of the hounds on the march or in camp.
The ready bows and throwing-sticks and slings of the skirmish line of warriors garnered a goodly supply of rabbits and three small antelope of as many kinds during the day’s march, and Little Djahn Staiklee roped and strangled to death a large antelope, while the redoubtable Snowbelly came back as far as the line of horsemen dragging a large, fat, spotted sambar buck.
Although they moved like a clan, the small party moved much faster than a clan, lacking the slow, difficult job of herding the cattle, sheep and goats kept by clans for milk products and fiber. Therefore, they had covered more than half the distance to their objective by midafternoon and when they came upon an ideal campsite, Milo ordered a halt.
Although no one, not even the prairiecats, suspected it, however, they had been under observation throughout the day, and they still were as they settled into the night’s camp.