September-December, Year 9 A.E.
"My lord king Agamemnon!" William Walker said, his voice loud and full of concern. "I will offer a hectacomb of white oxen to Zeus the Father in thanks that you live!"
The throne room of Mycenae was less bright than usual, despite the mirrors and lamps that Walker had installed for his hegemon years ago. Many had been shattered by the same grenade fragments that had flecked the walls. Blasts had scaled off a lot of the painted plaster, and blood was splashed across much of what was left of the magnificent murals of lions and griffons and Minoan-style sea creatures that sprawled in multicolored splendor around the great room.
The smell of burnt pork came not from a feast but from the body of the guardsman who'd fallen backward into the great circular marble-rimmed hearth, half-drowning the fire with his blood. Parties of Walker's guard regiment were at work carting out the bodies. He gestured to make sure one got the corpse in the hearth before the fire there went out-that would be extremely bad mojo, to the wogs' way of thinking. The hearthfire was the luck of the house and kin.
Not that I have to pay as much attention to that now, he thought. Still, no reason not to when it didn't cost anything.
"But the traitors around you have been found out and defeated," Walker went on, still in a loud public voice. "What a loss for all the lands of the Achaeans if you had been killed in the fighting!"
What a monumental pain in the ass for me, he added to himself. Right now he could enforce a claim to being the power behind the throne and make it stick at gunpoint, but he couldn't sit on the sacred seat himself. Not yet. Too many of the Achaean nobles would fight to the death if an outlander's low-bred fundament actually touched it. He needed them.
Agamemnon's face was still sagging with shock. A lot grayer than when I arrived here, Walker thought. Lot fatter, too. It made him pleasantly conscious of his own trim physique. The suit of articulated plate made for him back on Nantucket a few months after the Event still fit. So did the belt he'd won at eighteen in the Colorado state rodeo.
He looked up. Every Mycenaean palace-except his-had a four-pillar arrangement around the central hearth, with a gallery where the second story could look down into the great hall. Alice Hong was there, in Mycenaean robes but still looking as alien as the Beretta in her hand. She gave him the high sign and pulled a younger woman away, leading her by the hand.
"How…"Agamemnon began, then cleared his throat. His glance took in the ranks of musketeers along the walls, their bayonets bright-or in some cases, still sticky-red. "How did you know?"
"How did I know that evil councilors-surely men in the pay of the Hittites!-had attempted to turn your mind against me, King of Men? Had tried to persuade you to turn on me? Ah. Well, you see… you Achaeans are fine people, but you have your blind spots."
"Blind spots?" the lord of Mycenae asked, bewildered.
"Sorry. Literal translations don't always work." And he didn't always realize he was translating, since he thought in Achaean much of the time now. "Blind spot means things you don't see even though they're there. Like women. Just a second."
Ohotolarix saluted and bowed his head. "Lord," he said, dropping back into Iraiina for security's sake, "we have the building in our fist. All the men you named are dead or in our hands."
"Good," Walker answered in the same tongue. "Now make sure none of their families get away either." These people were blood-feudists, and nits made lice.
"Women?" Agamemnon said again.
Dude's beginning to sound like a broken record, Walker thought.
Hong came into the hall, still leading the girl by the hand. There was a strong family resemblance between her and the middle-aged woman who trailed behind, strong straight noses and snapping black eyes. The rich fabric of their layered dresses rustled as they walked, with a hissing like snakes.
"Yeah, women. You see, the women in a palace hear everything- but you nobles, you act like they were doorposts or something."
Hong spoke: "And the Dark Sisterhood of Hekate is everywhere!"
Walker spared her a cold glance. "Yeah, well, secret societies, they're sort of more useful when they're secret, right, babe?"
"Well, sorry about that, Mr. Montana Maniac at King Agamemnon's Court."
His eyes flared like distant heat-lightning. "Not now, Alice!"
She didn't look sorry; she looked like she was lit up, a major glow on. Hell, I feel like I've just snorted half an ounce myself, Walker thought. As if he could fight lions bare-handed and ball the whole cheerleading squad into squealing ecstasy and still run the Ironman triathlon. But I keep it under control, and dear Alice had better do likewise.
"My wife?" the Greek croaked. "My daughter!"
"My lord king should remember that he was publicly considering sacrificing her for good luck in the coming war," Walker said.
"But that was for the good of the realm!" he protested. "The priests-"
And my lord king should have known, but didn't, that I was the one who bribed the augurs to say that we couldn't win unless you did. Of course, the idea wasn't completely mine; Alice sort of suggested it indirectly, when she got that hissy fit about fate. And she got it from Homer.
Now the augurs would explain that the king was "sacrificing" his daughter by marrying her to the new commander-in-chief. It was perfect, if he did say so himself.
There was an exchange of sign and countersign at the entrance to the hall. Odikweos of Ithaka came through with his hand on his sword hilt and a group of his officers behind him.
"Rejoice, shield-brother," he said to Walker, after a perfunctory bow to Agamemnon.
Even now the Achaean monarch started to swell with indignation at the discourtesy and opened his mouth to reprove it, but another glance at the armed men around his throne dissuaded him.
"The lower city is under control," Odiweos went on. "There was a little fighting at the barracks, but not much."
Walker nodded. "Sometimes you can shoot men more effectively with gold and silver bullets than with lead," he said. Particularly if you see to it that they lose more than they can afford to well-trained dice, he added to himself.
The Ithakan went on: "I have field guns commanding all the open spaces and patrols bringing in all the men on the list."
A figure in a long robe waited a pace to the vassal king's rear. "Enkhelyawon?" Walker prompted.
His chief of correspondence cleared his throat. "My lord, the scribes of the palace are in order and the telegraph office has been secured." He risked a glance at Agamemnon, but the high king was still staring in dazed horror at his wife and daughter. "The printed account of your crushing of the conspiracy and the list of proscribed families is already going out to Tiryns, Argos, Athens, Pylos, and the other citadels."
"Good. Carry on-see that normal message traffic continues until we have guard troops in place everywhere."
He turned back to the high king. "And we need some privacy, O King of Men, to decide how to safeguard you from future conspiracies."
Like, you marry me to your daughter and declare me lawagetas- general in chief-of all the Achaeans, for starters. And you don't so much as piss against a wall without my permission from now on. You'll probably die of natural causes before you stop being useful, though, so don't sweat it too much, dude.
"Treason," Agamemnon whispered, when the onlookers were gone.
"Not at all," Walker said with a charming, boyish grin.
"How not?" the Greek said with a certain haggard dignity. "Although at least you have not slain me who took you in when you were a fugitive and suppliant."
"Oh, I'd never have you killed. You're far too useful alive," Walker said. "As for the treason… well, among my birth-people we have an old saying: Why is it that treason never prospers?"
Agamemnon's head went back. "Because the curse of Zeus the Avenger of Right and the wrath of the Kindly Ones pursues the oath-breaking man who turns on his lord!" he said, his voice firm once more.
Behind Walker, Odikweos winced slightly. The American went on cheerfully: "Not exactly, Oh High King," he said. "We say that it never prospers, because if it prospers… why, none dare call it treason."
The Greeks stared in appalled silence as his laughter echoed through the great blood-spattered hall of the House of Atreus.
Prince Kashtiliash lowered his binoculars. "Their walls are open," he said eagerly. "As open as-" he coughed; speaking to Major Kathryn Hollard it might not be tactful to say a woman's legs. "-as the door of an unguarded house."
Asshur lay on the west bank of the Tigris. That meant something more definite here in northern Mesopotamia, away from the alluvial plains of Kar-Duniash. Here the land was higher, rolling steppe with copses of scrub oak in the ravines. Dust smoked off stubble fields, and sunsei was throwing Prussian blue on the outliers of the Zagros mountains over the river. Ahead, the high stone wall of the Assyrian capital was black against the first stars on that horizon, with the triangular crenellations of the wall cutting the sky like jagged teeth.
More jagged than they were when we started, Kathryn Hollard thought.
She looked over from the little hillock where she and the Babylonian commander stood. The two rifled siege guns were further forward, on a hill their local allies had fortified with earthworks under Islander direction; a couple of the field guns were emplaced there too, and a brace of mortars to command any dead ground where the Assyrians might mass for an attack. The position was two thousand yards from the wall, nearly ten times the range of any weapon the defenders had. As she watched, a long jet of reddish fire shot out from the muzzle of one of the big guns. In the gathering darkness the shell was a red dot arching through a long curve of night. Another vicious red snap marked the spot where it drove into a section of wall still standing.
The deep boooom of the siege gun merged into the sharper sound the forged-steel projectile made when it struck stone. Half a second later fifteen pounds of gunpowder exploded within the mortared limestone of the wall, and a section of it collapsed outward with a roar like Niagara. A man came down too, falling outward in a trajectory that ended on hard, unforgiving ground. She was too far away to hear his scream, but the cheering from the battery came clearly, thin with distance.
Asshur was a lopsided triangle, with a long, curved wall cutting across the base and a sharp bend of the Tigris around the other two sides. Three hundred yards of the middle of the wall were down now, making a rough ramp that filled the moat and stretched out from the wall like a fan. Assault troops wouldn't need ladders to walk into Asshur now, only sandals and a good sense of balance. Fires were burning here and there within the walls, and a confused murmur of sound told of crowds in the streets.
The walls themselves were dark; if the sentries were still there, they'd learned better than to highlight themselves for bored riflemen. Lamps and bronze baskets of lightwood burned on the two higher hills over toward the riverside edge of the city. The bulky outlines of ziggurat and palace showed there; probably where King Tukulti-Ninurta took counsel with his noblemen and priests, although Intelligence hadn't been able to locate him since the Battle of the Diyala.
As if to seek him, a red spark rose into sight from the river; the flat, distant thud came a second later, and then the crash of impact. That would be one of the shallow-draft steamers patrolling under the river walls.
If Tukulti's there, probably nobody has a good word to say to him, she thought happily. And I feel pretty good about that.
In her opinion, Kenneth was a little soft on the enemy. Nobody who'd seen what Assyrians did to prisoners should waste much sympathy on them. From what she'd heard, they certainly didn't when they were top dog.
Kashtiliash's thoughts seemed to be echoing hers, with a more personal note.
"I don't think Tukulti-Ninurta will press my neck beneath his foot like a galtappu-stool" he said happily.
Kathryn chuckled. "No, I think he has better uses for his feet right now," she said.
Kashtiliash's smile grew into a laugh. "Yes-he runs with them, very quickly."
Glad he's got a sense of humor, she thought, enjoying the prince's wide white smile. They'd been working very closely since her brother took off after the western remnant of the Assyrian field army.
"That was a good idea of yours, sending flying columns out to seize the royal granaries," she went on. "A lot less strain on our supply lines."
He nodded. "A thing one can never remember too often: an army fights rarely but eats every day. Besides that, with more grain than we need we can give some out to those displaced by the fighting-thus they are less likely to turn bandit. Thus also, we have more troops for real fighting and need detach fewer to hold down the countryside."
Even more glad he's smart, she thought. This divided command could have gotten extremely dicey if Kashtiliash hadn't been both intelligent and flexible. Snaps up military tidbits like dry sand does water, too. He'd been agitating for a copy of Sun Tzu, after she read him a few passages.
Besides, she mused, Kash here is just fun to campaign with. The filth, fatigue, and general disgustingness of life in the field were a lot easier if the company was good.
She looked over her shoulder; the siege camp was lighting up there. Not as many campfires as there might have been, only about ten thousand of Kashtiliash's Babylonians and four hundred Islanders-most of the rest were strung out of garrison duty, or over west of the river with Ken making sure the Assyrians up the Euphrates toward Carchemish kept running long and hard.
He noticed the direction of her gaze. "Without your guns, I would not lay siege with so few troops," he said. "With them, the Assyrians dare not sortie-they must sit and be pounded."
She turned back, nodding.
As she did, something went vvveeeewtp through the air her neck had occupied the instant before. Reflex sent her diving to the rocky ground, and a hand around an ankle brought the Babylonian prince down right after her; he didn't have the instinct to hug the dirt as a soldier trained to firearms did.
Nothing wrong with his reflexes, though. He hit the ground on his forearms and crouched for an instant. Another flight of arrows went through the spot where he'd been, and then a dozen shadowy forms were rushing up from the ravine below the hill. The last fading sunlight glittered on the bronze of their weapons.
"Assur!" they cried.
"Tukulti-Ninurta!" using the name of their king for a war shout.
Kashtiliash bounced back to his feet with a springy grace despite forty pounds of armor, his sword flashing red in the firelight as he drew.
"To me!" he shouted. "Marduk conquers! To me, men of Kar-Duniash!"
The bodyguards on the rear slope of the hill had been squatting, or leaning on their spears. They wasted no time running up toward their charges, but the Assyrians were closer.
Far too close. Kathryn stayed on one knee as she drew her pistol and cocked the hammers by pushing it against her belt. Dim light, but you could make out the center of mass. Pistol out with left hand under right in the regulation firing position-
Crack. The recoil hammered at her wrists despite the leather bracers she wore. Crack. A man dropped abruptly; another spun and clutched at himself, screaming his agony to the night. Not bad shooting in this light, even at ten feet. The enemy weren't wearing armor, had probably shed it for silence and speed.
She came erect and drew the katana, turning to put her back to Kashtiliash's. Must have been a souterrain exit, she thought-a tunnel under the wall, intended for sieges. Someone saw the figure in fancy armor, realized they could get within reach, and took the chance. Just the sort of initiative you wanted officers on your own side to show.
A man came scrambling up the rocky hill, a narrow bronze sword in his hand, teeth gleaming in a face darkened by lampblack. He drew back to chop at her legs; she kicked him in the face, hard. The crunch ran back up her leg and clicked her own teeth together, and she felt the unpleasant sensation of crumbling bone. The Assyrian flipped backward and slid down into darkness. A spear probed at her. She beat it aside with the katana, let the shaft slide up along the sword's circular guard, then slashed at the wielder's hands. A scream, and something salt and wet hit her in the face, blinding her for a second.
Kathryn tossed her head frantically to clear her eyes. There was a bang! of metal on metal, and when she could see again Kashtiliash had reached around with his shield to give her an instant's cover, exposing himself in the process.
"Thanks!" she gasped, heaving the suddenly heavy sword up into jodan, the overhand position.
The prince's guard arrived, finally. There was a brief, ugly scrimmage in the darkness, and then nobody was left but the Babylonians.
"Are you well, Prince of the House of Succession?" the commander asked anxiously, falling to his knees and pressing his forehead to the ground. "Dismiss me, have me flogged or beheaded, son of Shagarakti-Shuriash! I have failed in my duty!"
"Nonsense. I commanded you to stay at the bottom of the hill. Get up, get up-take torches, search about."
He turned to his companion. "Are you well, Lady Kat'rin-Hollard?" he said.
"Blood's not mine," she said, wiping at her face; it was turning sticky. "Thanks, by the way."
The fear hit her then, as it always did-during the action you didn't have time for it. The thought of sharp metal sliding into your belly, the feeling of a hamstring being cut, a sword blinding you with a stroke across the eyes… She swallowed and ignored the cold ripple that turned her skin to goose bumps.
"Thank you," he said in English, startling her a little. Then he dropped back into Akkadian. "Now we have fought side by side."
The words were innocent enough, but something crackled between them. Kathryn's eyes narrowed slightly. Jesus… she thought, conscious of a tightening below her rib cage. Jesus… not the first time I've thought about… oh, hell and damnation, why not?
"Yes. I'm for a bath, though. Fighting's messy work… perhaps we could talk more later."
His smile was wide and white in the darkness. "That would be a good thing."
Am I being a fool? Kashtiliash asked himself.
He wore a hooded cloak, and it had taken all his authority to make his guard stay behind while he walked thus in the darkened camp.
Am I being a fool? Women I have in plenty. Even a couple along on this campaign, perfectly satisfactory ones. But none who put Ishtar's fire in my belly and loins so that I cannot sleep even when sated. Or who tease at my mind even more than my groin.
The Nantukhtar camp was a little apart from the much larger and more sprawling Babylonian one, set up with the obsessive neatness that the People of the Eagle brought to all they did. Approaching it in the darkness, he suddenly appreciated how exposed the cleared field of fire around its perimeter made him.
"Halt!" called the guards there, bringing up their rifles. From somewhere out in the darkness he heard the sound of another being cocked, and his blood cooled a little.
"Who goes?" came the challenge.
"A friend," he answered, conscious of the heavy accent that rode his few words of English.
"Advance and be recognized."
Recognition wasn't what he wanted, but he came close enough to speak quietly. "The countersign is Gettysburg," he said.
Even then, he looked around him as he walked through the camp; it was his first choice to see it without the pomp and attention that an official visit brought. Some things were the same as he had seen before, of course. The orderly layout of streets, always placed the same so that each camp was like a seal-cylinder stamping of the last, and the absence of stink and ordure-the Nantukhtar insisted that that caused disease, and certainly they suffered less from it than their allies, however much the priests and ashipur sputtered. There were smells of cooking fires, a whiff of livestock. Rows of small khaki-colored tents, some larger ones-officers' quarters, on the other side of a small central square, the infirmary-the picket lines for their transport animals off to one wall. A little donkey-powered mill grinding grain; oh, that would save on effort-one reason why the Nantukhtar didn't need camp-followers.
None were allowed in the Nantukhtar camp, although he'd heard that some of their troops sought out harlots among the Babylonians- there were more men than women in their ranks. He'd heard that Nantukhtar women were utterly without shame, and glimpses through the tent flaps showed that to be true enough. So did his passage past the bathing-place; that also made him glad he'd scrubbed with extra care and anointed himself.
Randy camp rumor also said that Nantukhtar women were as skilled as night-demons in the arts of the bedchamber, enough to drive a man to madness or death from sheer pleasure. He swallowed thickly. Rumor also said, with considerably more evidence, that a man who approached a Nantukhtar woman wrongly and gave offense was likely to be beaten within an inch of his life or beyond, by her and any of her countryfolk near to hand.
That made him pause for half a step. Perhaps I mistook Kat'rin's intent? he thought. That froze his blood entirely; he felt himself wilt. But… I am the prince! Surely nobody could beat-
I am not sure of that. The Nantukhtar were insanely oblivious to rank sometimes.
He nearly turned on his heel. No, he thought, gritting his teeth. No. Kashtiliash son of Shagarakti-Shuriash does not scuttle in fear. If he had been wrong, it would become obvious soon enough. She had asked him to come and speak to her. At worst, they would simply speak.
He passed more soldiers lying in front of their tents, some working on leather gear or sharpening blades, others throwing dice or drinking wine and talking. That was almost homelike; in some ways the Nantukhtar were indeed men like other men.
Around another fire some sat in a circle, playing on flutes and stringed instruments while a woman danced with a motion like reeds in the wind, her face rapt. The music set the small hairs along his spine to rippling again. It was the slower, quieter type of Islander melody; some of their music was of a hard, snarly sort like the pounding of their fire-steam machines, but this was even more alien. He strained his limited English and caught words:
Who'll dance with the Moon through the shady groves
To summon the Shadows there?
And tie a ribbon on their sheltering arms…
Beautiful in its way, with a plangent sadness. It brought to mind what little he knew of the Nantukhtar homeland-a green land of chill rain, fugitive sun, great forests without end, islands set in icy seas, mystery within mystery.
The commander's tent was larger than any others, set in some open ground of its own. Lamplight glowed through the canvas, and two sentries stood before the entrance, which was shaded by an extended flap that ran to two poles and made an awning.
"Gettysburg," he said to their challenge. And "Bayonet Chamberlain."
The rifles lowered, and the guards looked at each other. A voice came from within.
"That's all right, Corporal. Dismissed."
Another exchanged look, a salute, and the slap of hands on metal as the two sentries brought their rifles to slope arms-Kashtiliash had learned the Nantukhtar words of command well, at least-and marched smartly off.
Kashtiliash swallowed again; his mouth was dry, and the pulse beat in his neck until he could feel it against the edge of his tunic. He pushed through and let the flap of the tent fall closed behind him.
Kathryn was standing by a table that bore papers and documents in the strange flowing foreign script. From the rest of the lamplit gloom his eyes picked out a pallet on the groundsheet of the tent, hooks on the central pole of the tent for clothing and weapons, a chest with her name and rank stenciled on it in the blockier form of Nantukhtar writing. That was all in an instant, before his eyes fixed on her. She was standing grinning at him, dressed in what the Nantukhtar called a bath-robe of white fabric, her short, sun-faded hair still damp from washing. Her hands went to the cloth tie and unfastened it, letting the robe fall to the floor.
Ishtar, he thought. In Her aspect as the warrior who harried hell to fetch back Tammuz from the realm of the dead. Her skin was pale as new milk where the sun had not touched it, her breasts full and pink-nippled, and the hair of her body had been shaved-only a dusting of yellow fuzz across her mound. And in her eyes, something he'd never seen in a woman's before-a combination of friendship, a lust to match his own, and a total lack of fear.
She set hands on her hips and spoke:
"Well, what are you waiting for, Kash? Let's see what you've got."
Enkhelyawon looked around his office with satisfaction. He had a swivel chair behind a desk, almost like a king's throne, and glass windows behind him gave light; a trio of coal-oil lamps hung from the ceiling to cast their glow in the dark days of winter. Filing cabinets around the walls held summaries and reports. There were trays and slots for correspondence on the desk and an abacus set up for the new decimal arithmetic, although he seldom needed to touch it himself these days-he could hear the clicking of many more from the central hall where clerks sat in rows.
The Achaean ex-scribe nodded to himself. Here was recorded every estate, its fields and workers, how much it yielded, what its taxes were, who held it, and on what tenure of service. Here were marked and listed the roads and bridges and ports-those built and those building and those planned-the mines and mills and factories, the forests and the flocks and the herds. A census told of how many men and women and children dwelt in every province of the Great Realm, of what class they were and what property they held, from the Wolf People lords in their mansions to the rawest barbarian slave.
"Let any lord or commoner try to evade his duty to the Lawagetas now," he said softly, with a deep satisfaction. All his earlier life he had scurried to the commands of telestai and ekwetai; now they moved to his, and his kin's.
A knock at the door, and his cousin's niece came in with a stack of files, each bound with a colored ribbon. She bent the knee and put them on the polished olive wood of his desk, standing to await his commands.
Enkhelyawon frowned slightly. He wasn't altogether sure that a woman working so was seemly… but what the king says is seemly is so, he reminded himself.
There was another saying abroad in the land, that Walker had a captive Titan in his dungeons, a being with a thousand eyes that could see all things and tell its master their secrets. Enkhelyawon's thin lips quirked, twitching the pointed salt-and-pepper beard beneath his chin.
I am the Titan, he thought. It was as well that the ignorant believed so, though. It made his work easier.
The top file was bound with a red ribbon. He opened that first- death sentences, sent to the palace for approval by Walker himself and returned. Those would be for men of some consequence. Twoscore names, and mostly stamped with a C for "crucify him." A few marked R for "hold for review." A lesser number still marked P for "pardon."
"These to the Ministry of Order, Section One," he said, and she curtsied again and hurried away.
The next was a report on the explosion at the new gunpowder mill in Pylos. He frowned and dipped his goosefeather pen in the inkwell, making a marginal note. The manager had a thousand excuses for failure, but the smell of incompetence wafted up from the page like stale onions from a slave's dinner pot.
The Achaean drew a fresh sheet of paper. To the King's Eye Hippalos, he began. You are directed to investigate…
There would be another C stamped by a name soon enough, he decided as he sealed the document with a blob of wax and a brisk thump from his personal sigil. Or if His Majesty was angry enough-and he might be, given the loss of skilled workers and machines-perhaps the manager would be turned over to the witch-girls in the black-leather masks, the Sisters in whose hands were the gifts of life and of death-of healing and of agony beyond all mortal knowledge. Then at least his blood and pain would serve some purpose, appeasing the Dark Goddess and Her servant, the Lady of Pain.
Enkhelyawon shuddered slightly, paused until his hand was steady again, and wrote.
"Why do you like the woods so much, Pete?" Sue Chau asked.
"Why?" Peter Girenas said. "Hmmm… sort of hard to say, Sue."
Choonk. Choonk. The gasping breath of the little steamer echoed back from the forest that walled the river, with a multiply receding slapping sound. It was a cool, bright day, with a fresh breeze out of the north that made his skin tingle, like fingers caressing his face through the short, dense new beard. Waterfowl lifted thunderously as the steamer's whistle tooted, and an eagle darted down to take one in a thunderclap cloud of feathers.
They were a fair ways up the Hudson, Long Island and its farms and Fogarty's Cove long behind them. Even the little fueling station on Manhattan was a fading memory. The floodplain of the river here was fairly narrow, swamp reeds were clamorous with ducks and geese. A passenger pigeon flock was flying by, just the tail end of it, like black clouds drifting past against the sun. The trees along the river were a blush of new green, the leaves looking sharp-cut against the twisted black and brown and gray of the bark. They were also huge, bigger than any he'd seen around Providence Base, or even on Long Island, some near two hundred feet. Beyond them hills rose, dark and silent-silent save for the bellow of an elk or the call of a wolf pack. A bear stood with its legs in the water; it raised its head as the sound of the boat grew louder, lips wrinkling around a huge flopping fish in its jaws.
Girenas looked forward. The side-wheeler was pushing its load of two barges, making a single articulated craft with the steamer at the rear. On the one ahead, Eddie was working with their horses, checking feet, joking with Henry Miller as he crafted a new bow. In the front barge the rest of their party were napping, or working on their equipment, or just sitting and watching the trees go by.
"Why do I like the forest?" he said at last. "Because… because it's clean."