Chapter 20b




Far over the fields a swarm of motorcycle engines could be heard coming into the village.  There was a moment of lull.  Then they appeared on the trail from which the four had first seen the mound.  The motorcycles breached the fence and spread out across the field.  Then they started to converge of the mound.


"Pity," said Ivan.  "Our friends are just arriving and we have to go."


Ivan told them to lie down in the ditch, and then he was off and running.  He went down the back of the hill, cut through a grove of ash trees and found what he had scented on the morning air.  It was a horse.  But what a horse!


The shire is a big draft horse, biggest of any breed, easily recognized by the trademark cuff of white hair just above each hoof.  It has been used time out of mind for its strength in plowing.  And it was used as a charger by armored knights in centuries gone by.  As a war horse it had the advantage of towering over any other horse.  This was important in days when one's best military move was bashing an opponent over the head.  It had the strength to carry a heavily armored man and an arsenal of weapons into battle.  And this one was available.


Ivan jumped the fence and approached the horse.  The creature had a halter but neither bridle nor saddle.  It had probably never been ridden.  This would require some diplomacy, and the sound of the approaching motorcycles did not promise much time.  Ivan began talking quietly with the horse.


Meanwhile the others lay in the ditch listening to the motorcycles sweep up from the village.  There was a pause as the men lifted their machines over a fencerow and then resumed.  There was the sound of machines sweeping the field below, spreading wide and encircling the mound.  Then a man and motorcycle appeared silhouetted against the sky.  It was a light off-road machine.  The man made a gesture and the ring tightened.  In another moment they could see that they were surrounded.


Suddenly behind the men on machines loomed the immense figure of Ivan riding the horse bareback.  With a quick jab of a heel he caught one rider on the helmet and sent him tumbling into the ditch.  Ivan paid the same compliment to the rider on his other side.  The others spurted away to regroup on the field below. 


Even with two of them down, they numbered more than a dozen.  They exchanged gestures and then charged as a mass toward Ivan.


Ivan reached behind his back and produced his Cossack saber.  He urged the horse straight into the thickest of the machinery.  The nearest driver veered to avoid the blow, which could have taken his head off, and put his foot peg into the spokes of another machine.  The two went tumbling.


And then Ivan was among them.  The sword rose and fell with blinding speed.  He shattered face masks, cleaved helmets and hacked through control cables.  One driver managed to come up on his blind side and reached for an ankle, but the horse was ready for that; he delivered a tooth jarring body check, and rider and machine went down.  The others fell back to regroup again and make a plan.  Ivan galloped up the mound and into the ditch.  He directed the others to move up slope and climb on.  As he helped them he said, "Hug each other tight.  The horse can balance us if we stay together."  And they were away.


They reached the woods only yards ahead of the motorcycles, but there the machines were no match for the horse.  The horse turned and darted among the trees, leading them where they could not go.  Ivan would make suggestions by swinging his left for forward and right foot back when he thought the horse should turn right and reversing the signal to turn left.  Sometimes the horse agreed and sometimes not.  Mostly Ivan left it to the horse to decide. 


Wheels spun out.  Handlebars fouled bushes.  Low branches swept men from their saddles.  And then the horse and its burden were across a field.  The four climbed a fence, and the horse jumped it and waited for them to remount.  The first motorcycles had arrived as they plunged again into forest.


Had it been summer, they could easily have hidden.  But even the thick woods in autumn leaflessness afforded too much visibility.  Balancing that, it let Ivan work out another strategy. 


He worked downhill, keeping to cover as much as possible.  At last he found a stream.  The stream was only about four feet deep.  It was nothing for the horse to ford, but the riders behind would have to try to carry their machines overhead.  They thought better of that and were splitting into groups to go upstream and down as the horse vanished into the woods. 


Breaking into the clear, Ivan galloped the horse a half mile down the stream before crossing again and stopping to listen.  The riders had already gone farther, so he had the horse bolt across another field.  Soon they reached a farm road that led to a major road back into the village.


They thundered into the inn yard, the earth shaking under the mighty hooves, white cuffs flashing, and climbed off onto the roof of the car.  A young man stood nearby.  He was watching with the timeless curiosity and composure of a country boy.  Ivan shoved some money into the boy's hands and shouted as he leapt behind the wheel. 


"Walk him 'til he cools off.  Then let him go.  He knows his way home."


"I know," said the boy.  "He's my horse."


While the four were avoiding capture at Avebury, Ali Kami was touring the province of Calabria.  Italy looks like a boot, and Calabria is the toe.  The straight between Sicily and Italy is named Messina.  It is above these waters that the mirage called Fata Morgana is traditionally seen.  The mirage looks like the encastled wall of a great city, with misty towers and gray curtain walls.  By tradition the sight fills the viewer with almost unbearable nostalgia for a time and a life that cannot be remembered.


Frequently great whales are seen navigating the straights, and it was here that Ulysses claimed to have seen Scilla and Charibdis, two monsters he had to sail between.  He had to choose between losing a few of his men to one monster or take a chance of losing all to the other.  He took the hard headed choice.  The straight now presents yet another dimension of constriction; the great power line that brings electricity from Italy down to Sicily passes high overhead.  It is little threat to any but the rare tall sailing ship. 


Tides cause whirlpools visible to this day. 


Calabria now supports the raising of grapes, figs and olives.  But it was once the center of a highly innovative civilization.  Along these shores the Greeks established a series of towns the Romans were to call Magna Graecia.  Greek art was always a favorite of the Romans.  It was here in the Italian towns of Greece that the Romans first encountered the classical art that was to become their own norm and thus the very definition of “classical art” for the West.


Ali was touring the small museums that held ancient Greek treasures.  There was a cult statue of Zeus, looking for all the world like the Mesopotamian gods from which he may have descended.  Later statues of him looked like Europeans. 


There was a small relief carving of the winged angel of dawn, a young woman collecting the soul of a child who had died in the night.  It was the first known and possible the best representation of the angelic form the West would produce.  Ali kept a firm grip on his disapproval of idolatry. 


The museums are small and widely separated.  So it is only the dedicated traveler who takes the time to see more than a small fraction of the art.  Yet here was the home of Pythagoras, who invented or popularized the understanding of the relationship between the sides of a right triangle.  There was also much of mysticism, of ethics and of secrecy in his philosophy.  This was also the home of the Eleatic school of philosophy that held that all Being was universal and continuous, indivisible in its essence.  It was here that logic was established as the principle tool of philosophy. 


As Ali drove among the pleasant fields, searching out museum after museum, he was forced to wonder at the great change.  It was all so peaceful now.  Yet the people who had lived here once shook the world to its soul.  What had happened to them?  Why had they apparently vanished?  At least the people who remained were excellent custodians of the mysterious and potent past. 


At last Ali encountered an excellent statue of Apollo.  The handsome face was everything one expected of classical grace, beauty and strength.


"Hellenistic," said the guide disparagingly.  "It is very late.  It is from long after our glory had passed."


"It looks Greek to me," said Ali.


"But it is not classical.  See, the features are of Alexander the Great.  After Alexander they started to make statues of Apollo look like their favorite king.  Alexander once conquered ..."


"Yes, I know," said Ali.  There was no need to discuss the burned libraries, the stolen treasures or thousands of years of history of social growth laid waste.  The guide would not be sympathetic.


"The worship of Apollo was so popular, that the Byzantine artists used the same image for the face of Christ," the guide went on.


"More shameless idolatry," thought Ali.  "A naturalistic picture of God, indeed."  Those pictures had always seemed too sentimental and too European.  Well if they really were images of Alexander, that would explain a lot.  Somewhat thinner, though.  He thought of Alexander as being rather fat.


"Why are there holes bored around the head?" asked Ali.


"That was the symbol of Apollo as sun god.  They put spikes in it to represent the rays of the sun.” 


Ali considered the blindingly bright mental image.  Yes, that would be right.  But there was more.  He confronted the ancient statue.  He had seen that place somewhere before.  He had seen it, spikes and all.  A strong face, a glorious figure of light holding...


Ali had not spent much time looking at representational images.  It was frowned on in Mecca.  But with a son who had studied in the United States, he had seen far more than most Muslims, and the key ones had made an impression for reason of little distraction.


And then he saw it.  It was the statue of liberty.  She was holding aloft a light as of the sun and cradling a book, a book, the record, the ever receding, flickering, tantalizing record.  She?  It was the shade of Alexander, reaching from beyond the grave.  He stretched forth his mighty hand and strove once again to claim the world as all his own.  No wonder so many Muslims mistrusted Americans.  They recognized without knowing it the face of their old enemy armed now not with the energy of a few warriors from Macedon, but with all the might and resources of the United States. 


Ali smiled inwardly at the thought of how the next American he met would react to learn that his favorite idol was a man in a dress.  Then he thought, "He would probably point out that I am wearing a dress myself."  How strange it was.  The manly Scots and the virile Muslims wearing women's clothing.  The bulk of the degenerate West, including their virilized women, insisting on trousers. 


Pattern.  Paradox.  No answers.


Ali made his way to a little open air cafe and awaited a call from his son.  He must tell Aden the truth.  Ali had been sworn to secrecy, but would make an exception here.  It would not do to let his son enter battle in ignorance of the issues.


The phone rang, and they exchanged blessings and inquired about each others’ health.


Then Ali told him.


"I find that hard to believe," said Aden in shock.


"Yet, that is the word on the Street.  I have promised not to reveal it, because revenge might find its way back to my source.  If the Street knows, then soon the world will know.  Then you may speak freely."


"Even for Americans, this is unthinkable," said Aden.


"You must stop them.  Capture them if you can.  Kill them if you must.  But these are evil people.  We simply cannot let them proceed if it is in our power to prevent it."


"What will we do when we capture them?"


"The woman can be safely sold on the slave market.  The men must be rendered, how should I say this, harmless."


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