Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 6 of 6

Xanthia brought everyone into a large room and had seats brought in, arranged like a big living room.  They had a table that looked to seat twenty on one side of the room, and that triggered Lincoln’s mouth.

“We haven’t had supper.”

Alexis nudged him.  “We imagined finding an inn or something.”  She did not want to put Xanthia on the spot, but Xanthia clapped her hands and gave instructions to her women.

She finished with, “And I want meat. Kill the fatted calf.”

“Not on my account,” Alexis said, and smiled.

“I know,” Xanthia commiserated. “But Major Decker needs to keep up his strength.”

Decker shrugged and looked at Lyscus and Harpatha who stayed with them.  He also looked at the half-dozen guards spaced around the outside of the room, by the doors. Xanthia noticed.

“Come to the table,” she said, and went to sit at the head of the table.  She thought, and pointed.  “Katie and Lockhart to my left.  Alexis and Lincoln, and Major Decker.  Captain, your officer can sit beside Decker and discuss military things.”

“An honor, your highness,” Harpatha said, with a bow, though he did not appear entirely comfortable sitting next to the giant black man.

“On my right,” Xanthia continued. “Let’s put Boston and Sukki, with Elder Stow.  Millie and Evan can sit next beside the captain, and Captain, I apologize.  Evan is a scholar not given to military thinking.”

“Quite all right,” Lyscus said, and bowed like Harpatha.

Xanthia clasped her hands and smiled at the arrangement.  She sat, so everyone else sat, and almost immediately, some young men and women came in with trays of cut vegetables and fruit, plates, knives, and goblets for the pitchers of rough beer or even rougher wine.  Elder Stow avoided the alcohol, since he had no capacity to keep from getting drunk.

Cyrus came in with the food, followed by four counselors, and everyone stood again to pay their respects.  They expected the counselors to be military men, but were surprised to find them the city administrator, the administrator of the grain warehouses with the chief tax collector and a governor of one of the cities in Southern Mesopotamia.  Cyrus rubbed his head, like all the administrative work might be giving him a headache.

Xanthia’s introduction of the travelers was interesting. She began with Evan, disguised nothing about them being from the future, and said straight out that Elder Stow and Sukki were human but not human.  She said Boston was an elf, and Cyrus raised one eyebrow, like he expected as much from his sister.  Katie was an elect.  Lockhart started as a policeman—captain of a city watch.  Alexis got introduced as a woman of magic.”

“Wind, and healing,” Alexis interjected.

“Lincoln keeps the historical record, including a record of future history, so no questions allowed about that. Major Decker is a true military man.” He was right then checking to see that the guards around the room stood up straighter and looked more alert as soon as the king entered the room.  “And, of course, you know Captain Lyscus and his first officer Harpatha.”

Lyscus bowed.  “Majesty.” Harpatha joined in the bow after a moment, though he had yet to swallow the food he stuffed in his mouth when the king entered the room.

Cyrus gave Lyscus a hard, practiced look. “Captain, is it?”

Lyscus looked unfazed.  “Her highness is generous,” he said.

Cyrus let out a wicked little grin that the travelers appreciated but seemed to unnerve the administrators. “Sit. Eat,” Cyrus said, as the servants brought in more food.  Cyrus sat, so everyone sat, except Xanthia.

Xanthia proposed a toast.  “To my big brother and the taking of Babylon without a fight.”

Cyrus frowned and explained better. “We fought a couple of battles before the city.”

“But not in the city,” Xanthia interrupted

Cyrus raised his eyebrows.  “Near enough, little sister.”

“All right,” Xanthia lowered her eyes before she rephrased her toast.  “So, for entering the city and taking over without spilling buckets of blood.”

“She can’t stand the sight of blood,” Cyrus said, with a slight grin as he sipped his drink.

“Especially my own, as the Storyteller says,” Xanthia agreed.  “I don’t know how Doctor Mishka does it.”

“Well enough,” Cyrus said, and reached for a shoulder where the people guessed he had been wounded, and Mishka healed him.

Xanthia spoke again as she sat. “By the way, I got the same gnomes as last time to care for your horses and things, so you should have no worries there.”

“I wish I had known,” Katie said. “I would have left my rifle with the horse.”  It presently sat in a chair near to hand.  She paused, before she stood and grabbed her rifle.  “Enemies.”

Boston stood.  “People.  Dead People.”

Decker got up next.  The door crashed open.  Decker fired his rifle without a breath, then Katie joined him.

Two dozen men and women had to crash through the chairs in the living-room area to get at the table. Most had knives and swords. Several took down the two guards by that door.  Necks got sliced, and the people paused to revel in the blood.

“Vampires,” Alexis said, dredging up the knowledge from somewhere in her past.

Xanthia, Sukki, Lincoln, Harpatha, and two of the four administrators screamed against the sound of gunfire. Then things got really confusing.

Vampires stood again as the bullets Decker and Katie shot got pushed out of their bodies.

People shouted.  “Go for the head… Bullets don’t work… We need stakes…”

Lockhart’ shotgun boomed in the face of two vampires.  Boston shot fireballs from her fingertips and Alexis raised a wind that kept the vampires from overwhelming them.

“Go for the head… We need wood weapons… Stake the heart…”

Lyscus came with two administrators and Cyrus to stand with Harpatha.  They were all armed, but the four guards remaining in the room tried to get in front of them.  Decker, Katie, Sukki, Lincoln, and Lockhart all pulled their knives.

“You have to take the head… Metal swords won’t work… It’s the necromancer…”  Someone noticed the man watching from the doorway.

One vampire head plopped to the floor, but the four guards did not last long.  Elder Stow shot at the two who tried to sneak around to the side of the room. They collapsed when large sections of their bodies burned away.  There was no guarantee, though, that those bodies would not regrow.

Twenty vampires with knives and swords paused and faced ten defenders plus two women of magic—eleven defenders, as Xanthia went away and Diogenes came to stand in her place.  The necromancer shouted.

“Rush them.”

“No.”  The word sounded like thunder.  Marduk appeared, looking like a wrinkled, crippled old man.  “These are my friends.”  He waved his hand, and all of the vampires, apart from the necromancer turned to dust.  Marduk added a word for the man, as Muhamed watched the farm wife crumble.  “You don’t belong here.”  Marduk waved again, and Muhamed joined the woman on the ground, returned to dust.  Marduk threw his hands to cover his face and vanished.

“He didn’t look good,” Boston breathed.

“N-no,” Diogenes said, and went away so Junior could fill his boots.  As the son of Ishtar, Junior had some authority in that part of the world.  He reached out with his thoughts and found the two left in the gate with the nephew.  They were all dust, and he brought that dust to the palace.  He found the others inside the palace, and they were all dust, and no one else had been infected.  He gathered all the dust from the gate, the palace, and the room, and filled a large clay jar. He broke off a wooden chair leg and planted it in the jug.  It immediately sprouted.  Then he spoke.

“I have removed Ashtoreth’s power from the dust, but there is some residue in the formula to burn off.  This will be a cedar by the front gate as a reminder.”  He sent the jug away where it became buried outside the gate.  “The tree will grow, but live a normal life and die when it is of age.  For the record.  That is why wood, some living substance is needed to pierce the heart of a vampire. Metal won’t work.  Wood will absorb the elixir and prevent the heart from healing.”  He went away, and Xanthia came back and invited everyone to return to the table.

Alexis spoke as she sat.  “Father told me vampires first came from Babylon. It gave me nightmares as a child.”

“Suddenly, I’m not so hungry,” Lincoln said, as servants and soldiers came to remove the dead.  Everyone laughed, but it sounded like nervous laughter.

###

A young woman came to the pool of water in the morning before dawn, when the light first began to touch the horizon. She heard yelling down by the gate, but ignored it as none of her business.  She filled her jug with water but paused when she saw something in the pool. She set down her jug and fished out a clay flask.  Two older women came up beside her, talking away.

“Yes, my distant cousin is come all the way from Damascus,” one said.

The young woman ignored them as well, and tried to take the lid off the flask, wondering if it might be some perfume. It would not come.  It took a second to figure out it screwed off.  She lifted it to her nose and one of the older women bumped her elbow.  A couple of drops of liquid spilled into her water jug and the rest went into the pool as she dropped the flask.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said.  The young woman said nothing.  She pulled the flask out of the pool and hurried away, while the two older women quickly filled their own jugs from the water in that spot.

************************

MONDAY

Avalon season 6, episode 7, Yeti begins, where the travelers arrive in the Himalayas in the very early spring, in search of Rajish, the defender.  The episode will be posted in only 4 parts over a single week.  That means there will be posts Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

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Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 5 of 6

The travelers entered Babylon with their escort, and marveled at how the people went about their normal and ordinary business.  It felt hard to believe they were a conquered city.  Cyrus and his Persians only came into the city two days ago.

Lyscus and his second in command led the way.  Katie and Lockhart followed.  Evan, on Cortez, with Millie holding him, and Alexis on Misty Gray, with Lincoln behind her came next in line, and kept up a fine conversation.  They pointed out any number of things they remembered from Labash’s day, and several things that appeared changed.

“So, you have been here before,” Lyscus commented to Lockhart, who heard the suspicion creep back into Lyscus’ words.

“Seventy-five years ago,” Lockhart responded.  Lincoln figured it out.  At twenty-five, Labash had another thirty-five years to live the Kairos’ typical sixty. Then, if Xanthia was forty, added to the thirty-five, meant they jumped seventy-five years coming through the time gate.

Harpatha turned his head, and with big eyes he said, “I almost believe you.”

Katie offered a bit more information. “They are just talking about what is the same and what has been changed over the last, seventy-five years?”  She looked at Lockhart.  He nodded.

“Lincoln’s estimate,” he said.  “Of course, it is hard to tell.  We spent most of our time here up on the Ziggurat. The hanging gardens were just drawings and not built yet.”

“I wonder if Ninlil is around,” Katie said, softly.  “I wonder if she and Enlil ever reconciled.”

“I wonder if Marduk is still around,” Lockhart responded.  “He did not look too good last time we came through.”

“I miss my friend Enki, and his glasses,” Boston shouted up from behind Alexis and Lincoln’s horse, where she and Sukki were not allowed to dawdle, being followed by Major Decker and Elder Stow, and a dozen of Persia’s finest horsemen.

Alexis scolded Boston for eavesdropping as they came to the palace and stopped.  Lyscus got down from his horse with a word.  “Stay here.  I will announce you and see what the king says.”

Lockhart also got a word out before Lyscus ran up the steps between the guards.  “Tell Xanthia it’s Lockhart and Boston needs a hug.” Lockhart figured he better add that before Boston shouted it and got into deeper trouble with Alexis.

They did not wait long before a woman with light brown hair and only a little gray came running out of the palace, followed by several other women and several more guards.  She stopped at the top of the steps and threw her arms open.

“Boston.”

Boston leapt down from her horse and ran, zig-zagging between the guards before they even knew what was happening. She flew into Xanthia’s arms.

“You are mom age this time,” Boston said.

“Are you kidding?”  Xanthia laughed.  “My youngest is ten, but my eldest has a child of her own.  I’m grandma age.”

“Still pretty, though,” Boston said.

Xanthia laughed again and invited everyone inside.  The travelers took their weapons with them, along with whatever things they did not want the Persian soldiers and servants to lose or break.

###

When the sun set, Muhamed watched while the man went to the gate and lied to the man’s nephew.  “There is violence in the village,” he said, with just the right amount of fear and trepidation in his voice.  “We thought to find help and food behind the city walls.  We are hungry, having walked twelve hours.  You see, we have children and crippled old ones.”

He told a masterful lie.  If they sent one to the village to check, they would find plenty of signs of violence; dead bodies and blood splattered about. The guards could help by letting the people into the city, and could help further by becoming blood-food for the people, who were indeed hungry.  The people did walk twelve hours as well, even if it was at night and they rested all day.  Pointing out the children and crippled old lady just iced the cake, as people in the future say.

The gate opened.

“Of course.  Old man.  Uncle, come in.”

Within an hour, the guards all died; drained of blood, the shriveled corpses left where they lay.  There would be no alarm until the morning soldiers came on duty.  Only the nephew survived, temporarily.  He would join them.  He would eventually die, but only so a demon could take the immortalized flesh.

The young woman, who managed the crowd, looked to Muhamed to make the decision.  They were strong, now.  They did not need to drink the blood often.  Their bodies would ordinarily be nourished by regular food, like any other flesh.  But the blood was necessary, since their bodies could no longer make new cells. It was necessary to keep the elixir of life circulating to every cell in their bodies.

Muhamed did not take long deciding. “We go with the original plan. The people from the future are the only ones who pose a threat to us.”

The young farm wife pulled the flask of elixir from a pocket in her dress.  “We don’t need this, now,” she said, and tossed it into the pool where the excess water from the cistern collected before it dribbled down into the canal.  Muhamed looked at her like he had a contrary thought.

“We need to turn a few Persians,” he said.

She nodded.  “But now that the elixir has gotten into our systems and infects the blood as soon as we ingest it, we can turn Persians without the need for more elixir.”

Muhamed shrugged.  “This body remembers the formula.  It needs a spark of magic to make it work, but that should not be too hard to obtain.  We can make more, if necessary.  Come here.”

She stepped up and smiled.  “Do you want to have sex?”

He hit her hard enough to knock her to the ground and crack her jaw.  She shook her head against the dizziness.  Her jaw healed itself instantly, while she continued to smile up at him.  It appeared an idiot’s smile, like she wanted to egg him to more violence, to hurt her again. He yelled at her.

“You don’t do the deciding,” he said, and gave her a look of deadly anger, which made her smile all the more. He glanced at the pool.  Most of the lazy women filled their water jugs from the pool rather than using the bucket to bring up fresh water from down below. Fresher water, he scoffed.  The whole system seemed ripe to spread all sorts of diseases.

“We may find a place to rest when the day returns,” the woman said, and lowered her eyes as she stood.  She accepted her place in the hierarchy.

“Send two of the lesser ones when the nephew becomes one of us.  He will know of a place.”  He looked at her submissive position and thought how Muhamed had such a wonderful, twisted, wicked view of women.  Women were less than second-class creatures, to be used and abused at will.  “Gather the rest of the lesser ones.  We will find the palace.  If the enemies from the future are not there, the guards will know where they have gone.”

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 4 of 6

When Muhamed woke, he found the young farm wife sitting beside him, watching him sleep.  His booby-trap by the curtain looked undisturbed.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Have I slept until dark?” he asked. “I had not planned on sleeping that long.”  He sat up and turned from her.  He felt the clay bottle with the last few drops of his elixir still in his vest pocket, and his knife still hidden in his cloak.

“The darkness fell a half-hour ago.”

“Good.  We need to go talk to people, to see if my work had any effect.”

“No need.  I have already talked to many,” the woman said.  “There are thirty of all ages ready to follow you to Babylon, to destroy your enemies.  Shall we go?” She seemed anxious.

Muhamed shook his head.  “You may have eaten, but I suspect it will take all night to walk to Babylon.”  He pushed his booby-trap aside and went into the other room.  The meat, bread, and broth looked untouched.  He shrugged.  These people did not exactly have a refrigerator.  He looked at the cup of water, and this time, he thought to skip it.  The woman noticed, but did not seem to care one way or the other.

“I will tell the others we will be ready, shortly,” she said, and stepped outside.

When Muhamed had eaten his fill, he questioned the broth.  But he checked again, and his few drops of elixir remained.  And besides, he told himself the vegetable broth, now cold, had not moved since supper.

He did not have to wait long.  The woman returned, and he rose to see what volunteers she managed to get him.  Outside, it looked like an ordinary enough crowd.  She was right.  They came in all ages and sizes.  One looked like a crippled old woman.  One little girl looked like a five-year-old.

“These are the result of your elixir. They suffered all day, but when the elixir expanded and came to rest in every part of their body, they came alive. They are ready now to kill whomever you wish.”  The woman smiled in such a way, Muhamed almost told her to stay in the village with the people until he sent for her.  He imagined moving on, alone, but he suspected they would follow and do who knew what.

“Does anyone know the best route and what gate we would best enter without causing suspicion?” he asked, as he considered losing the crowd once they got to the city.

“We have discussed this,” the young woman said.  “One man’s nephew oversees a small gate in the north.  We will go there.”

“Good.  Good,” Muhamed said.  “Lead the way,” he said, and two men and a woman went out front.  He followed, and decided he did not want to look closely at what damage and mayhem these people committed when they came alive, as the young farm wife called it.  He saw one old man, pale and lifeless, sitting against a wall.  He saw blood splattered on the wall, but he told himself it was just mud.  He told himself the man was sleeping, just sleeping.  He did not look up again until they left the village behind.

All night long, Muhamed felt more and more afraid.  The old ones did not complain.  The ones he considered children did not run and play, or do anything he expected from children.  They did not stop for food or rest, and he dared not make them stop.  He felt exhausted when about two hours before sunrise, they arrived at a copse of trees within sight of the city gate.  The farmer’s wife said they could rest there, and hide from whatever morning traffic might come to the gate.  They would go when the nephew came on duty in the late afternoon.  It sounded reasonable, but Muhamed put his back to a big tree when he sat, so he could keep his eyes on the others.  He feared to sleep, but he felt so worn, he could not imagine how he could keep himself awake.

Muhamed did wake, just before the sun came up.  Several men held him while they tied his arm and legs.  He saw the farm wife with his clay jar of elixir.  She held it up and smiled.  He tried to protest.

“It will do you no good.  You don’t know how to use it.  You haven’t the magic of Ashtoreth to make it work…” They gagged his mouth, and he fell silent.  Then the farm wife spoke.

“I will explain this in a way that you may understand.  This elixir has expanded into every cell in my body.  I can heal any wound.  You can cut me, puncture me, even my head or heart, and I can heal.  The only system not functioning correctly is the making of new blood cells.  It is like nature herself is fighting back against me.  We should be anemic, pale, weak, and as cold as death.  But we have found, if we drink the blood of the living, we can assimilate it into our systems.  You see?  You have made me virtually immortal.  And now that I have the elixir, I can bring more of us into flesh and blood. and we will at last be able to destroy all that is.

Muhamed’s eyes got big.  His mouth continued to protest, but all anyone could hear was muffled noises.  His modern mind told him such creatures did not exist.  It was not possible.  It was not real.  Thus, in the modern way, he denied the very reality that stared him in the face. Vampires did exist, and he created them.

“The farm wife smiled.  “It is so much more frightening and satisfying when the victim knows what is happening to him.”  One big man tilted Muhamed’s head to the side.  He screamed.  He yelled for help, a kind of automatic reflex word.  But no one was there to help him.  She bit his neck to puncture the carotid artery—the easiest, most blood-filled spot on the human body, and the blood dutifully began to flow.  She drank some, and some of the others had some, but she stopped the feast before Muhamed died.  She spit on the wound, and the wound closed up.

“Open it,” she said.  Two men grabbed him, and one removed the gag and forced his mouth open.  They did not need to do much forcing.  He felt so dizzy from lack of blood and oxygen to the brain, he almost passed out. The young farm wife leaned over and spit blood into his mouth.  He swallowed much of it, his own now tainted blood, though he gagged and could not swear some of it did not end up in his lungs.

The gag got replaced, and Muhamed felt the infection of blood and elixir filling his body.  He cried as the woman spoke.  “Now we wait until sundown.”  Muhamed died, and some unspeakable evil entered his body.

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*

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 3 of 6

The sandal maker’s house was not far. Just one door in, down a side street from the village square.  Once again, Muhamed saw her enter right in, only this time he saw an old man rather than an old woman.  He shrugged, and returned to the well.  Two women had already come for water in the dim light of dawn.

“Allow me,” he said, though they had no way of understanding him.  He took the bucket, lowered it, and hauled it back up by the rope.  He slipped a small amount of elixir into the bucket before he poured the water into the waiting jugs.  The women appeared to thank him, and went on their way.  Muhamed smiled, and repeated that routine several times.

Muhamed got ready to move when the sun broke free of the horizon, and he saw several men come into the village square. He imagined the men might start asking questions.  Besides, his elixir was almost gone.  If he wanted to do anything at that point, it would have to be watch, and see what affect his diluted mixture might have on the local population.  If the wooden bucket was any indication, it should do something.  Even with limited exposure, the bucket had begun to sprout new twigs and leaves which he kept having to tear off.

He honestly felt too tired, having been up since before noon on the day before.  The sandal maker’s house was right there.  The young woman greeted him at the door, and said the sandal maker had business and would be gone all day, and into the night.  She claimed to have made a feast, but it hardly amounted to more than bread and water, and a little vegetable broth with a taste of the dried meat.  Muhamed only paused at the water, but he did not imagine any of the women fetched water for the old man.  He figured it had to be water from before they arrived.  He had been careful not to contaminate the actual well.

“Will you sleep with me?” she offered. “You can beat me, hard and wicked.”

Muhamed stared at her again.  He imagined the woman had some serious psychological problems.  Then it occurred to him that his elixir, given to a living person, might have corrupted her mind and sensibilities.  He was not a doctor, but he thought she died at one point.  Clearly, she did not, but he knew reduced oxygen to the brain could cause brain cells to die.  He decided it would be safer to keep her at arm’s length.  No telling what she might do with that cutting knife.

“I need sleep,” he said, and it was true enough.  “I see, there, the sandal maker has a bed in a back room.  You stay and sleep here in the front room, in case some local people come to see the sandal maker.”  It sounded reasonable to Muhamed’s ears.

“I will,” she said, and Muhamed stepped into the back.  He drew the curtain closed.  The shutters were already closed, blocking out the sunlight.  He quietly took a jug and several small items he found in the room, and stacked them against the curtain.  He hoped, if anyone came into the room, the items would fall, and the noise would wake him.  He fell asleep easily enough.

###

As the sun set, the travelers set up their campsite.  Once again, there appeared to be men and armies all around, and plenty of them were on horseback.  Fortunately, the ones in this time zone did not appear interested in travelers that included an old man and some women.  Several looked twice at the women on horseback, but no one stopped them to question them.

“I wonder what the soldiers are all doing,” Lincoln said.  “We have seen some different uniforms, if that is what they are, but they don’t seem to be attacking each other, or anyone else as far as I can tell.” Lincoln got the horse brush from Alexis’ saddlebag.

“Show of force,” Evan said.  “I figure the year is 540 or 539.  Cyrus is about to march into Babylon, or has just entered the city, and he has his army riding around the countryside between Assur and Ur, showing who is in charge and giving notice to all the cities that there is a new ruler in town.”  Evan got the brush from Lincoln’s bag.

“Alexis?” Lincoln called, but she did not answer.

“Alexis and Millie went out to see what edibles they could find.” Evan said.

“I have the fire up, waiting for something to cook,” Elder Stow said, as he walked to help with the horses.  “No idea where Boston and Sukki are, either.”

“They wanted to climb the rocky hill to see what they might see in the distance,” Decker said, as he set his rifle down for once and got out his own horse brush.

“Supper,” Lockhart yelled ahead.  He and Katie rode into the camp.  They bagged two deer, and Lockhart spoke.  “The deer are skittish, and keeping a good distance.  Too many soldiers wandering around the area.  We never would have bagged them with a bow and arrow.”

Katie interrupted.  “Fortunately, my rifle has a scope and a good range.”

“Let me help,” Decker said, pulling his knife.  “Lockhart always butchers the job.”

“Isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing?” Lockhart joked.

They camped in a spot on the edge of a forest, beside a rocky hill.  They believed it was the same place they camped on that first night after leaving the city in the last time zone.  That meant they were only one day from Babylon.  Boston, at first, pointed to the more northern city of Sippar, but she said in the last day, Xanthia must have moved to Babylon.  The time gate appeared to move roughly the same distance south.

While they camped, and one deer started cooking while the other smoked, they talked, mostly about the Kairos. Millie had questions.

“I do not understand how my Labash, so clearly a man, the way he fell for Kishilani, and the woman, Xanthia, could be the same person.  She doesn’t sound like a lady.  More of a tramp.  And you say she married three times, and all of her husbands died in battle?”

“That’s right,” Lincoln confirmed. He did not have to get out the database to check.

“She had five children,” Alexis nodded, before she said the thing most of the people, and Millie obviously questioned. “I wonder how many of her children were actually the offspring of her husbands, or someone else.”

“Who knows,” Lockhart said, as he slipped a protective arm around Katie.  She smiled for him.

“Think of Diana and Bodanagus,” Evan suggested to his wife.  “Now that I know, I can see some similar traits between the two.  Bodanagus, and Athena encouraged us to move into the future, to go home as they said.  Bodanagus said we would meet him many times along the way. I didn’t understand what he meant, except that we might meet good people like himself who would help us out. Now, I understand he meant actually him, or her.”

Millie shook her head.  “I believe what you are telling me, but it must be so strange to be a man.”

“It is,” Decker said, before anyone else could say it.

“Hold up,” Boston interrupted. “Humans are coming.  Soldiers, I think.”

“I sense them,” Katie agreed.  “But I don’t sense that they are a danger.”

Decker nodded. Elder Stow got out his scanner, just to be safe, in case he had to throw up a particle screen against intruders.  They watched a small cavalry troop ride up, no doubt like moths attracted to the light of their fire.  The troop stopped several yards away, and Decker, at least, appreciated their military discipline, to hold their horses steady in formation.

“Hello,” a man said from horseback. “You are travelers?  We mean you no harm.”  He spoke in Persian, and the man beside him translated into Babylonian.

“Hello, do not be afraid.  We are on a mission of peace.  Are you travelers?”

Lockhart stood.  Both he and Decker, being over six feet tall, still appeared to some as giants, and would up through the middle ages.  They saw the two speakers hesitate, but they got down when Lockhart spoke, and in the Persian he picked up from the first speaker. They all still remembered the Babylonian from the last time zone.  Languages generally took several time zones before they faded and got replaced by new languages.

“We are travelers, and have come a long way in search of our friend Xanthia.”

“You are Lydian?  Or from one of the Greek or Phoenician cities?  You ride with a Nubian.”

“Is my Persian not good enough?” Lockhart asked, knowing he sounded like a native.  “But, to be honest, we are from a land on the other side of the world. That is how far we have traveled to see our friend.”

“Do you bring her gifts?  Do you have a message for her?” the man asked. The two were down and walked forward a few paces.  Two others dismounted to hold the horses, but the other ten or twelve stayed up, and mostly kept their horses still and quiet.

“I need a hug,” Boston shouted from the back side of the fire.  Everyone ignored her.

Katie stepped up beside Lockhart and took his arm.  The men stared at her yellow hair, sure proof that these people came from far away.  Lincoln and Alexis followed and Alexis invited the Persians to supper.

“We shot two deer this evening.  We planned to smoke one for the journey, but you and your men are welcome to the second one.”

“Tell me, Xanthia only has normal friends,” Lincoln interjected.  The sarcasm sounded obvious.  He saw the man’s eyebrows rise and his shoulders shrug.

“You make a good point,” he said, and signaled for his men to dismount.  They quickly made a second fire and were grateful for the second deer. “I am Lyscus, and my aid is Harpatha. We will join you, and escort you to the city in the morning.”

“Fine,” Alexis said, and introduced everyone around the fire, at the end of which Lyscus admitted that they had to come from very far away, and Harpatha, staring at Boston’s red hair, agreed.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers will meet up with the necromancer and his farm wife, and it won’t be pretty.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 2 of 6

Muhamed was not a doctor.  He could only guess at what chemical reactions might be taking place within the woman’s living human body.  His elixir of life had been made to bring the dead back to life, not bring life to living tissues.  The woman developed a high fever.  He knew that much, even if he was not a doctor.

When the woman stiffened, he imagined the elixir killed her.  He thought, double life might be death.  She felt cold to his touch, and lay unmoving.  He checked outside.  He hardly noticed the dead body of the man by the door.  The sun began to set.  It appeared bright outside the window beside the bed.

Muhamed sat again at the table.  He had waited and watched all afternoon, and now it became time for supper.  He thought he might finish what little food the couple had, then he resolved to go.  He decided it would be a waste of his precious elixir to try another drop on the woman’s possibly dead body.

Earlier, when the sun began to drop in the afternoon sky, Muhamed spied the glint of sunlight off the walls and domes of a distant city.  Of course, he could not be sure because he did not cross the Assyrian wilderness on his way out of the last time zone.  An angry Ashtoreth brought him to the time gate, instantly, and yelled at him. Muhamed chose not to think about that, lest it make him angry again.  He thought instead that the city in the distance might be the same city from the last time zone, where he brought the zombies to life.

While he sat, and watched the woman, and nibbled on the bread, he wondered how the time zones worked.  He figured he jumped fifty or more years into the future when he passed through the time gate.  This city, if it was the same city, would be fifty or more years later. He guessed it was Babylon.  He had been educated.  He did college before pharmacy school.  He knew something about ancient Mesopotamia.  He knew enough to recognize Assyria, even if he guessed. The Tigris and Euphrates sort of gave it away.

“The distant city must be Babylon,” he said to himself, out loud, before he held his tongue.

The woman moved.  She stretched, and Muhamed heard the clicking sound of bones falling into place. He thought he might have dislocated a few, and maybe cracked a rib or two.  The woman sat up.  Her eyes popped open to stare at him.  He stopped still, a piece of bread half-way to his mouth.  He returned her stare.  Her bruised and bleeding face healed itself, piece by piece, until she appeared perfect, beautiful, and quite possibly younger than before.

Muhamed swallowed when the woman put a hand up to block the light of the setting sun.  She swung her legs to the floor, stood, and closed the shutters. Then she surprised Muhamed when she spoke, and in perfect Arabic.

“The bright sun always gives me a headache.”  She turned and appeared to smile.  At least Muhamed thought it might be a smile.  In his uncertainty, he moved to the chair on the other side of the table, and pushed the bread toward her.

“Are you hungry? he asked.

She sat in the chair Muhamed vacated, and nodded.  “Yes, but bread will do for now.”  She ate some, and Muhamed watched until he thought of what to ask.

“How is it you speak modern Arabic?”

“I seem to know a lot of things now.”

“How do you feel?”

“I think you made me immortal.  I feel wonderful.  Strong.  Alive. Hungry.”

Muhamed slipped his hand to the pommel of his knife.  “I hope you have no desire to get revenge on me.”

The woman laughed.  “Why should I do that?  You destroyed a good woman.  You killed a good man.  And I have a feeling you have more that you wish to kill and destroy.  I think I will help you.”

“Good, good.”

“Besides,” she said, and stared at him so intently he had to look away.  “You have the elixir of life, and know how to use it.”

“Good,” Muhamed said.  He let go of the knife, but kept his hand from going to his inner vest pocket where he kept the elixir.  That would have given its location away, and that would not have been wise.  He thought instead to explain.

“They began five days away, but they are on horseback, so slowly catching up.  By now they may be three or even two days away.  We will go to the city where we can get lost in the crowd, and wait for them.  Since they will eventually catch up, we might as well let them find us in a place where they cannot find us.”

She smiled at the thought, and said, “You have a way with words.  I appreciate confusion.”  Muhamed knew what he meant, so he continued.

“Once they arrive, and I will point them out to you, you can help me kill them all.”

The woman seemed to appreciate the idea of killing.  Muhamed wondered what kind of psychotic the man in the doorway married.  But he shrugged it off, thinking the madness of unbelievers was beyond his understanding.  He took no classes in psychology, or theology. He became a simple pharmacist.

“We will leave when it is dark,” the woman said.  “It will be safer to travel in the night.”

Muhamed shrugged.  He had gotten used to traveling in the dark, and knew it would be safer.  Homes, villages, and wilderness campfires, in particular army campfires, were much easier to avoid in the dark.  He stood and walked to the door to look.  He felt glad the sun had nearly set.  The woman behind him started giving him the creeps.

###

“Let me go in alone,” the woman insisted. “The widow who lives here knows me and will raise no alarm.”

“Why don’t we just go into the village?” Muhamed asked.  “The sun will be up soon enough, and we are less conspicuous, being a man and a woman traveling together.  We should be able to beg bread easily enough.”

The woman shook her head.  “I won’t be long,” she said, and walked to the front door of the house.  She knocked. Muhamed watched closely and fingered his knife.  It appeared as if the old woman of the house did know her.  She got invited in, so Muhamed relaxed.

Muhamed heard the scream.  He stood, but hesitated in indecision. Which woman screamed?  Surely the old woman, but why?  He had a feeling he knew why, but he did not want to think about that.  Shortly, the young woman came back, a bag over her shoulder.  In it, she had bread, some vegetables and a bit of smoked meat. Muhamed did not complain, or ask what the scream was about, as they walked the rest of the way to the village. He did not want to know.  He imagined the young woman had to hurt, or maybe kill the older one.  He did not see the young woman lick the blood off her lips.

When they got into town, the young woman took him to the well in the village square.  “I know a shopkeeper,” she said.  “He is a lonely sandal maker, very poor, but he will make a room where we can sleep today.”

Muhamed used his hands to cup some water out of the bucket meant for the well, and he stared at the woman.  He asked, “Why are you helping me?”

“Your wish is my command. Honestly,” she said.  “Farm life is terrible, hard, and boring.  You saved me from all that.  And you have such wonderful plans—to kill people and destroy so much.  It is exciting.  I can’t wait.”

“Good,” Muhamed nodded, but decided the only safe thing would be to lose her as soon as the deed was done.  He would hurry into the future, where she could not follow.

She touched his arm.  Her hand felt cold.  “But, wouldn’t it be better if there were others to help?” she asked.

Muhamed had already considered that, but her encouragement helped.  “You find the sandal maker.  I will stay here by the well for a while.  In the cool of the morning, people will come to fetch their water.”

“No,” she said, quickly.  “Come and see the place, so you know where to go. Then come back here, and I will prepare food for us.  I will not bother you in your work, and you can stay by the well and come when you are ready.”

Muhamed stood.  He did not argue.  He figured that was one way to do it, and if the woman wanted him to watch her make contact, and be there in case something went wrong, he thought he could do that.  He fingered the pommel of his knife.  She was only a woman, after all.

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 1 of 6

After 588 BC Babylon. Xanthia lifetime 78: Sister of Cyrus the Great

Recording …

Muhamed groused the whole way through Assyria.  Nothing appeared to work or go his way.  The diseased natives died anyway.  They came back to life, but the local gods ended that quick enough.  He honestly dared not stick around to see.  There had been one god in that place.  He tried to explain his mission, but the pig-headed fool rushed him to the time gate and kicked him out of his world.

Muhamed groused and stopped walking.

He saw a farm house up ahead.  He imagined he was being generous to call the slat and mud brick shack a house.  No doubt a farmer and his wife lived there—a farmer who would die young from too much heavy labor.  He would see if the wife had any bread.  He might use the wife if she proved good looking.  Not like marriage meant anything to unbelievers.

He walked and thought again.

After his failure with the Native-Americans, he got stymied.  India proved far too dangerous.  He whipped up some insect repellant, but got out of there as quickly as he could.  The next three, count them, three time zones were filled with space alien monsters.  In the first, he brought those horrible skeletons to life, but before he could do anything with them, he got caught by his enemies.  Then he found the aliens, and they had real weapons of mass destruction.  He escaped and got out of there.  The third alien time zone looked like all-out war any minute, and he almost got eaten. The middle one, Rome, might have worked. The space aliens were quiet, and the thought of ruining Rome might have made it worthwhile; but nothing was there, yet. He remembered how early in time he traveled.  Mohammed had not come yet, but neither had those Christians, thank god.

Muhamed stopped walking to check on something.

He thought he might kill a Jew if he found one.  He pulled out his big steel knife, the one he took from the black-haired witch. “Hello,” he called to the house. They would not understand him, and he would not understand them, but he could make his wishes known well enough. He hid the knife in the folds of his clothes.  “Hello,” he called again.

He got his feet moving again, and let his complaints finish.

Finally, in this last time zone, he thought he had them.  The city appeared quiet.  The walls would give the dead nowhere to wander.  They had many graves within the city.  He found a whole catacomb full of the dead, and had to move swiftly to drop on them all on his way out.  He could not claim to have gotten them all, but he got most.

Muhamed stopped. A man came to the door of the farmhouse.  “Hello,” he called, smiled, and waved at the man.  The man might have been thirty, but he already looked fifty.  Muhamed got a good grip on the knife hidden in his clothes and walked.  He considered what went wrong, last time.

Muhamed imagined zombies would work much better than skeletons, but if some of the dead were virtual skeletons, he would not mind.  The enemy all sat up on the ziggurat, a pagan, ungodly artifice that should be torn down and turned to rubble.  All he had to do was convince enough zombies to go up the steps and attack his enemies. It sounded simple enough.

“Do you have any bread?” Muhamed asked, and pointed to his mouth, like he was eating.

The man smiled for him and the man’s wife came to the door.  She appeared quite young and good looking, like the years of toil had not yet had its way with her.  Muhamed came close, and shoved the knife into the man’s heart.  He might not be a doctor, but he had to know his anatomy from pharmacy school.  The man did not live long enough to struggle or fight back.

He pulled out the knife and went for the woman.  They conveniently had a bed in the one room hut.  He enjoyed himself, even if she screamed, but in the back of his mind, he kept thinking about what went wrong last time.

The zombie brains were too rotten to follow even simple commands.  He had to get a torch to defend himself.  Then he hit upon an idea, as other people decided torches were a good option.  He got the people to corral the zombies. Apparently, their brains were not too rotten.  They still recognized fire as a threat, and backed away.  He did not come up with the idea, and some of the zombies got driven into the river, but plenty of them got driven toward the ziggurat.  He felt elated.  Surely, the people built the monstrosity for their dead gods.  He guessed they were hoping their gods would deal with the living dead.

He saw when the enemies up top reacted to the zombie attack.  He saw that man with his weapon of incredible power reduce his zombies to piles of dust. He gagged, when suddenly all of his zombies became dust, all at once.

He hit the farmer’s wife as he remembered in this ancient world, there were some people who masqueraded as gods. Ashtoreth was one.  She found him.  She rushed him to the next time gate.  She yelled and threatened him, again.

He hit the farmer’s wife again.  He thought Ashtoreth had to be a very powerful sorceress.  He knew he dared not make her cross. He knew he needed to succeed in his mission if he ever hoped to get home again.  But he did not have to be happy about it.  He could be angry.  He could hate Ashtoreth in his heart.

He beat the woman beneath him until she was raw.

The farmer’s wife stopped crying and probably passed out for a while.  He did not kill her.  He would use her again after he calmed down, and he might actually enjoy her.  He sat at the table, found what food the house had to offer, and he watched the woman.  His mind kept thinking about the living dead.  Then it hit him.  He found a cup and some water.  He put two drops of his elixir of life in the water, and gave it to her to drink.  It never occurred to him to see what his elixir would do to a person who was not dead, or diseased and about to die.  He figured the woman might have a couple of broken bones, and her face and arms were badly bruised and cut, but she would live. He made her drink the water.  Then he went back to the table, ate what he wanted, and watched and waited.

###

“Xanthia, female.  588-529 BC,” Lincoln reported.  “The database calls her Cyrus the Great’s crazy baby sister.”

“Cyrus the Great?” Katie and Evan spouted at the same time.

“Yeah, that guy,” Lincoln said, before Katie and Evan took turns spouting information about who “that guy” was. Alexis and Millie might have followed some of it.  Millie in particular spent five years sitting in on Professor Fleming’s lectures, which to be fair, covered a fair amount of history up to the time of Julius Caesar, where they thought they were trapped.  Certainly, when they talked about the Roman Empire to come, they could hardly say the word empire without mentioning Cyrus the Great and the founding of the Persian Empire.  That was about all Lockhart and Lincoln got; that the man started the Persian Empire, though to be fair, it registered that he would be a rather important person to history, in the grand scheme of things.

When Katie and Evan wound down, Lincoln got back to reading.

“Xanthia’s father, Cambyses, married her off to some general when she turned eighteen.  He got killed in battle, so he married her again, at twenty-four, to another general.  That was in 564.  Cambyses had a stroke in 559, and Cyrus took over running the kingdom, under the Median king, of course, who was also Cyrus’ grandfather.  But then, Xanthia’s second husband died in battle.  Despite his stroke, Cambyses tried to marry her one more time, and this time to a noble administrator in Ecbatana, Media, when she was thirty.  He figured the man had no interest in war.  That was actually in 557.  Cambyses died in 551, and Xanthia’s third husband died in battle the same year.”

“Poor girl,” Alexis said, and Millie agreed.

Lincoln raised his eyebrows. “Let’s just say, she did not want for affection.”  He thought it best not to explain that comment.  “But in 550, the year after Cambyses died, Cyrus overthrew his grandfather, took the Median throne along with the Persian throne, and without much trouble, apparently, since he was the king’s own grandson.  That began the Persian Empire.  But anyway, Xanthia begged Cyrus to let her follow him around like she did when she was four and he was sixteen.  He couldn’t say no.”

“Did she have any children?” Alexis asked.

“One son, but he died young.  Four daughters.  Three lived to adulthood, but by 550, she turned thirty-eight, and her youngest daughter, Roxane, turned nine.  The girl stays mostly with Cyrus’ wife, Cassandane, while Cyrus and Xanthia went off conquering the world.”

“Enough,” Lockhart said.  “Too many names.  I’ll never remember them all.  Xanthia and Cyrus the Great is about my limit, though I suppose he isn’t great yet.”

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 6 of 6

Zombies came slowly up the stairs of the Ziggurat.  More than one lost its footing and rolled to the bottom, but all except one simply picked itself up and started the climb again.  That one lost its head, but there appeared to be plenty more where that one came from.  Behind the crowd of zombies, they saw people with torches.  That gave them enough light to see the zombie’s human shape, even if they could not see the faces.

The travelers pulled their handguns. It was all they had, and they figured they would not be much good against people who were already dead.  Decker, standing by the stairs and holding his military rifle, shot one zombie.  The zombie jerked when the bullet hit it, but it kept on coming.  He flipped his weapon to automatic and sprayer five shots into another darkened figure.  It jerked plenty.  It almost fell, but caught itself with its back foot and kept climbing.

“I see a crowd of them,” Elder Stow said, holding tight to his scanner.  “I mean living people.  They appear to have herded the zombies to the steps of the ziggurat.  I am guessing the zombies have enough presence of mind to know fire is a danger to them.”

“The people are feeding the zombies to the gods, hoping the gods will take care of the issue,” Lincoln guessed.

“Any suggestions?” Katie asked Lockhart.

“I’m wishing I had my shotgun,” he answered.

“I’m doing no good,” Decker admitted. “Who else wants a turn?”

“Let me try,” Boston butted up front and pulled her wand.  She looked down the steps.  “They are still pretty far away.  Alexis, give me your wind.”

“Might as well,” Alexis said. “These have flesh, not like the skeletons.  I could blow them off the steps, but they would just get back up again.”

Alexis put her hand on Boston’s shoulder. Boston tried to aim.  What came from her wand was something like a flame thrower.  She set the three out front on fire.  One fell and rolled down the steps like a ball of flame, but she commented.  “They are still pretty far off.  I’m afraid they might wander off into the vines and trees.”

“Let me,” Elder Stow said, and took Boston’s place as they heard Ninlil’s voice.

“Mary Riley!” she scolded Boston, who heard the words all the way to her gut.  “You will set the whole place on fire that way.”

“Sorry,” Boston said.  The scolding was not as bad for her as an elf than it would have been for a human.  Alexis lowered her head, but Ninlil patted her shoulder.

“That’s all right.  I know you were just trying to help.”

They turned and watched Elder Stow turn his weapon carefully on one after another. The zombies turned quickly to piles of dust and ash, but it looked like slow work, and there were so many of them.

“This will take forever,” Ninlil complained.

“I am trying to be careful,” Elder Stow said, even as he dusted a zombie and took a small chunk out of the step. “I am trying to preserve my power sources.  My batteries are running low again.”

“I’ll charge your batteries, but move. Otherwise, this will take all night.” She stepped up, and sounding very human, she rationalized her actions.  “This place is dedicated to the gods.  I claim my portion of ownership.  These dead ones are trespassing on my property without permission.” She blinked, and all the zombies down below turned to dust at once.  She also dusted the zombies still in the city, which was only nominally hers, but no one was going to quibble.

“The necromancer,” Lockhart said.

“I know,” Ninlil said, as she led everyone back to the fire.  “He is working for Ashtoreth, wicked girl.  She came to the city. I thought she was helping.  I should have known better.”

“The necromancer?” Lockhart asked this time.

“Ashtoreth whisked him off to the next time gate.  Hopefully, you will catch him soon and end his activities.”  Ninlil said, end his activities because she was too polite to say, “Kill him.”

Labash yawned and smiled.  “Well, now that the great and terrible zombie curse has been dealt with, I am going to sleep well.”

They pretty much all did.  Only Decker turned a little in his sleep, because not far away, Millie kept making sweet little noises.  He finally got up and slept by the fire.

###

Everyone got up with the sun.  The dwarf wives returned and began to cook a breakfast feast.  Labash looked up to the temple when a sound caught his attention.  He rushed up and caught the girl before she fell down the steps. She seemed groggy.

“Are you the gods?” she asked

“Sorry.  Just the gardener.  Labash. Do you have a name?”

“Kishilani,” she said, and then she smiled for him.  “You can’t be just a gardener.  You look like a god to me.”  They held on to each other as he brought her carefully down the steps and imagined she had a bit of a goddess look about her, too.  He had not been lying when he said the priests picked out the young and most beautiful girls they could find.  This one qualified on both counts; double qualified.

“What did you find?”  Ninlil asked, but she smiled when she spoke, like she knew a big secret.  It made Labash suspicious.

“Millie,” he called her over. “Meet Kishilani.  My teacher Ninlil and my fellow gardener, Millie.”

Kishilani nodded to each and added a word for Ninlil.  “Named after the goddess?”

“Yes,” Ninlil said.  “That is exactly right,” Ninlil said, as she went to sit and wait patiently for breakfast.

Labash and Kishilani still had one arm around each other as he took his free hand and introduced his friends.  It looked like he still held her up, though she looked perfectly capable of standing on her own by then.  She held on to him, and looked like she did not mind holding on to him.

“Lord,” they got interrupted.

“Oh,” Kishilani seemed startled by the dwarf and slipped into Labash’s arms for protection.  He happily accommodated her.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone.  What do you need.”

Missus Hearthstone rubbed the stubble on her chin and nodded, like she knew Ninlil’s secret.  “How do you want your eggs?”

Labash looked a smidgen down at Kishilani, and she looked up at him with her eyes wide and her mouth part way open. “Eggs?” he asked her.

“Scrambled?” she whispered.

“Two votes for scrambled,” he told Missus Hearthstone.  “And I’ll appreciate you keeping your thoughts to yourself.”

“Oh,” Kishilani said again.  “I’m supposed to be ravished by the god.” Like, she just remembered what she was there for.

“Well, you found him,” Missus Hearthstone said, simply unable to hold her tongue.  Millie who kept looking at the two, and grinning broadly, thought to look to Ninlil.  If she understood one thing it was the gods frowned on imitators.

“Close enough,” Ninlil said, and did not bat an eye.

Labash did not want to let go. Kishilani laid her head on his shoulder and smiled that smile again.  Labash felt it in his toes, and he thought he better let go before she started to purr.  “So, while we wait, let me show you Rome after Nero burnt it to the ground.”  They stepped to the edge, still holding each other.

They looked and he pointed, and Alexis leaned over toward Katie and whispered.  “We need to catch him in one of these time zones when he is getting married.”

Sukki might have heard.  Boston should have been too far away to hear, but her good elf ears did not miss much.

“Yes,” Boston shouted, and then in a smaller voice added, “Or her.”

************************

MONDAY

The Necromancer is not finished.  Avalon 6.6: The Count begins on Monday.  Don’t miss it.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

 

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 5 of 6

“You were here,” Labash started, and looked around.  “Most of you were here with Ishtar when Babylon was founded.  Assur founded Assur—creative name—about two or three hundred years earlier, a small time in the life of the gods.  But you may recall Ishtar saying, in effect, that now that the boys each had their own place, they would have to take turns.  That was around 2000 BC.”

“I remember,” Boston said.

Assur raided southern Mesopotamia. Then Marduk raised up Hammurabi.”

“I remember Hammurabi,” Boston interrupted.  “What a dweeb.”

Labash smiled for her.  “Not to say they were the only players.  Hebat sort of cheated and her Hittites took two turns. But the Mitanni, the Hurrians, the Gutians, and others, all got a turn, all being supported and encouraged by various gods.  Enlil and Enki sort of supported the Elamites, who never went away until they got absorbed by the Medes and Persians.  Marduk did not mind.  He sort of held on to southern Mesopotamia and minded his own business.  Assur, though, got mad.  I think because he seemed closer to the front line, as Decker calls it.  About 1366 BC, he had enough.  He took a 300 year turn and shoved everyone back, taking on the Hurrians, Hittites, Mitanni, and the rest.  He messed with Babylon and southern Mesopotamia some, but not much.  Then it should have been Babylon’s turn, but Babylon had become occupied by Kassites.  You might call them the first Hippies.  Peace, man.”

“Far out.”  Lockhart couldn’t help himself.

“Groovy,” Lincoln countered.

“They were some serious vegetarians, well, meat got so expensive.  Marduk called it his mellow period.  They endured the pull and tug of Assyria and Elam, and for the most part lived quiet, peaceful lives.  Meanwhile, Assur went on a rampage, rearranging all his furniture.  The Assyrians again came out to play after a hundred and forty-some years of Babylonian do nothings.  This time, they overran everything in sight, including Egypt, but that is a different story.  Oh, I guess you met Tobaka.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “He was Nubian, and his family ruled Egypt, but he said the Assyrians came in and threw his family out.  Killed most of them.”

“He wanted revenge,” Labash nodded. “But he never made it further than the Levant.  So, Assur made a big mistake when he burned Babylon to the ground.  That was about seventy years ago.  He got rid of that king and made sure the next one rebuilt the city and apologized to Marduk, personally.  But from then on, they would not be in the same room together, and I think Marduk plotted.”

“So now, we have two brothers fighting for the Assyrian throne,” Evan said.  “And I imagine Assur is behind the one in Nineveh, and Marduk is ready to support the other.”

“I became a frog,” Labash reminded them. “But, yes.  Marduk appeared in his temple and yelled.  He caused a small earthquake in the city.  He demanded Nabopolasser get off his rump and take the army out to support Sinsharishkun.  He said he wanted to see some Assyrian butt-whooping”

Decker laughed softly.  Boston spoke up.  “I wonder where he heard that term.”

“Yes, well, you know Sinsharishkun killed his brother, and I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Marduk killed Assur at the same time.  By some trick, I am sure.  But the boys were pretty good at being able to read each other.  I don’t know, but the deed is done, and Marduk has suffered ever since.  I figure he will either come out of it, or in maybe fifty or less years, he will flip out entirely.  I dread dealing with a split personality, or worse, a multiple personality disorder.”

People waited while some especially loud screams reached their ears.  Several got up and stepped to the edge of the building to see how much of the city might be on fire.  Katie sort of regained their attention with her question.

“Nebuchadnezzar goes sort of loopy in his older years, do you think?”  She did not spell it out.

Labash frowned at her for talking about the future so flagrantly.  “Perhaps,” he said.  “But I don’t expect to be here by then.  In the new palace, I am building a wing for captive kings.  I said they can make it into a museum.  I have also built a great camp area for strays and captive people. Nabopolasser has already moved some Arameans and Suteans into the area.”  Labash appeared to enjoy shrugging.  “That is about all I can do; that and exert what influence I can on Nebuchadnezzar for the future.  I imagine I will be gone when Jerusalem falls. God, the source, seems content to let things work out that way.”

People nodded as they thought about it. Then Evan had another question.

“So, what is happening now?  How do things stand?”

Labash shrugged.  “Sinsharishkun is sitting on the Assyrian throne, but it is not exactly a safe seat.  Many of the provinces have rebelled during the civil war, and have thrown out or killed the Assyrian presence. They would need to be conquered all over again, but too many Assyrian officials see Sinsharishkun as a usurper, even if he is a son of the emperor.  And without Assur behind them, I think the Assyrian people are tired of war.” Labash shrugged again.

“Nabopolasser retook Nippur.  You know, the pro-Assyrian hotbed where Sinsharishkun planned his rebellion.  That did two things.  It put all the cities in southern Mesopotamia on notice that Babylon is back and ready to enforce the law, so they better cough up their tribute, and fighting men, and not be slow.  Babylon can just as soon flatten their cities as he did Nippur.  It also gave him a chance to throw the Assyrian army units out of his territory, which he did.

“So, now there is stalemate,” Katie suggested.

Labash shook his head this time. “Sinsharishkun fears the support of his generals is only lip service.  Right now, he doesn’t want to go there.  Nabopolasser honestly needs three to five years to build his forces before he can make a move.  Who will get there first?  Will Sinsharishkun find his courage, and his generals obey him, or will Nabopolasser have the time to build up his forces and take the war to the enemy with some chance of victory?  It’s exciting.  Like a three to five-year horse race, but that is about as exciting as it gets around here.”

“Lord,” one of the dwarf wives interrupted. She stepped up with a goblin in tow.  Labash and Boston recognized her as a female, but the others weren’t sure. She looked like a brute.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone?” Labash asked what she wanted.

“This is Miss Thrasher.  You got company.  Tell ’em if they get hungry in the night, we left some meat and bread by the fire, there.  You tell ’em just be asking and Miss Thrasher will be getting.  There’s some vegetables there, too, and she is passable to cook them up if you want.”

“Thank you very much, Missus Hearthstone,” Labash said.  “Miss Thrasher,” he acknowledged his goblin, and smiled for her, which made her turn away and turn a bit red under the gray. “I am sure we will be fine. Personally, I intend to have a good night’s sleep.”

“Not right a young man like you should spend so many nights alone.  If you wasn’t my god, I would do something about that.”

“I am sure you would,” Labash said, with a touch of fear on his face.

“Good night,” she said, and she and Thrasher walked off into the dark

“Good night,” several people said, only to be interrupted by Decker.

“Here they come.”  That was all he had to say.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 4 of 6

When the evening came, several dwarf wives appeared and cooked a wonderful meal.  A couple of goblins showed up, and Evan nearly screamed; but Millie calmed him with her words.

“It’s all right.  They are the night watch, and my friends.  They keep the fires burning through the night.” Evan looked at her with wonder, and Millie smiled.  “I screamed the whole first week,” she admitted.

Millie enjoyed the company, and made like hostess for everyone.  Ninlil stayed mostly quiet.  Alexis felt tired, but good in Lincoln’s arms.  Working in the garden all afternoon seemed something she might have done at home, on her day off.  She felt content, but a little homesick, though they still had a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.

“And we have mostly vegetables in the stew,” Alexis grinned for that. “And actual fruit.”

“Alexis gets tired of all the meat,” Lincoln admitted.  “Only eating what someone can shoot does get old.”

“I am thinking of going vegetarian when we got home,” Boston said.  “If Roland doesn’t mind.”  Boston looked sad for a minute.  That reminded Katie.

“Why was Marduk so sad?  He kept saying he was sorry,” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lockhart agreed.  “What was that all about?”

Labash frowned.  “Marduk killed his brother, Assur.  He hasn’t been the same since.  You know they were more deeply attached than just at the head when they were born.”

“You couldn’t do anything?” Boston asked.

Labash shook his head.  “I was a frog at the time.”

“Sounds like a story,” Lockhart said.

“A couple of good stories,” Lincoln agreed.

“What is that?” Evan stood.  Some others joined him.  They heard more screams coming up from down below.

Ninlil spoke up and caught everyone’s attention, and people settled back down to listen.  “I already apologized for the frog.  Building and working in this garden is penance.”

“But you said you loved working with the flowers,” Lincoln said.

“In neat rows, and pulling the weeds,” Sukki added.

“I do.  Penance does not have to be hard and difficult duty.  It requires commitment and a willing heart.  Besides, way back in the past, the Kairos Anenki suggested that someday he and I would make a garden, like I wanted.  Oh, how young I was.  I actually imagined the whole land domesticated, from the gulf right up through the land between the rivers to the Phoenician shore.  Clearly, not a realistic idea.  But on a scale of this artificial mountain, yes, and for the building Labash is building.  I am looking forward to it.”

“But what about the frog?” Boston asked, a worried sound in her sad voice.

“Yes, well…” Labash began.  “Nebuchadnezzar has an older sister, Kashshaya.  She is about twenty now, but back when she was sixteen and I was about twenty or twenty-one, she swore she cried every night for loving me.  I mean, she could be a sweet girl when she wanted to be, and fair to look at, but she got spoiled rotten.  I couldn’t stand to be around her for very long because of the constant demands she made.”

“I’ll tell this part,” Ninlil interrupted.  “I felt sorry for the girl.  Enlil and I just separated, and I knew she genuinely loved Labash, whoever he was. I blessed the girl, with the power to make things come out the way she wanted.  I only intended to help her with her love, and no, I did not know Labash was the Kairos.  Even the gods do not know unless he reveals himself.  It is part of what it means when they say the Kairos is counted among the gods.  It is one of the few things in this universe hidden from the gods.  Anyway, she went to him and professed her love, but he did not return her love, and the magic I gave her would have worked on any normal man, but she could not force the Kairos to love her.  So, she got mad and turned him into a frog.”

“I stayed that way for several months,” Labash interrupted.  “…Almost got eaten a couple of times…”

Ninlil continued.  “The heavens shook, and when I looked and saw Kishshaya abusing her blessing, I removed the gift and made her forget she ever had such a gift.  She showed no remorse over what she had done to Labash, so I noticed nothing about that.  I did not look close enough.  I felt embarrassed for having empowered the girl in the first place.  It was not until Marduk came to me, weeping in his sorrow, looking for the Kairos, that I found out what happened to him.”

“She kissed me, and I turned back into a gardener.  I apologized for not being a prince.”

Ninlil grinned, but only a little.

“So, where is Kishshaya now?” Boston asked.

“Happily making demands of her husband,” Labash answered.

“Forget Kishshaya,” Katie said. “What happened between Assur and Marduk?”

People paused again as they heard new screaming from down below.  They saw lines of torches, and there appeared to be a couple of buildings on fire down there.

“I must go,” Ninlil said.  “Marduk is in no condition to help.”

“With what?” Alexis asked.  She thought about hurt people and wondered if she might help as well.

“The recently dead have risen, or at least their demon infested bodies have risen.  You know, it is not the way of the gods to simply solve human problems, but I can help the living in their battle against the dead.”

She vanished, and Lockhart said, “The Necromancer.”  No one argued.  Millie said nothing, looking at Evan.  Evan looked afraid to ask.

“Marduk.”  Lincoln reminded everyone.  People settled to listen, but Elder Stow turned his scanner back on, and Decker slipped over to the stairs where he could keep his eyes open.

Decker’s one mumbled comment was, “Nice to not be in the front line for once.”

“When Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian emperor died, they had some infighting to claim the throne.  One Assyrian general tried to claim the throne while everyone was away.  The eldest son, Ashuretililani threw him out as soon as he got home.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian governor of Babylon got poisoned as soon as word came that the emperor was dead.  A second son, Sinsharishkun wanted the kingship but knew his brother would be difficult to dislodge from the throne.  So, he started by claiming the throne of Babylon.  Well, the Babylonians were tired of Assyrian control over their lives, so they revolted and threw Sinshariskun out. In the confusion, Nabopolasser seized the throne of Babylon, where he sits to this day.  Not deterred, Sinsharishkun moved his rebel headquarters to the old Sumerian city of Nippur, and after that, it became a fight between the two brothers.  Are you with me so far?”

“Mostly,” Boston said.

“Civil war, brother against brother,” Lincoln said.

Labash looked at the faces around the fire, and continued.  “The Assyrians were good administrators of their empire.  They divided it into provinces, ruled by governors out of the provincial capitals.  Sumer, that is southern Mesopotamia, got ruled out of Babylon.  All the cities, from Babylon to the gulf paid tribute to Babylon and sent men to fight for Babylon.  For this reason, Nabopolasser not only had claim over his own city, but some claim over the province as long as he sat on the Babylonian throne.  It did not mean much as long as Sinsharishkun sat in Nippur, one of Babylon’s chief cities.

Anyway, Sinsharishkun spent a couple of years building alliances, knowing he did not have the force to meet his brother and the whole, main Assyrian army.  He turned to the independent people who lived outside, on the edge of Mesopotamia.  I don’t know what lies he told them, or what he promised them, but he got a token of support from the Medes, Persians, Parthians, Scythians, and Cimmerians.  He also put pressure on the cities of southern Mesopotamia that would have normally been under Babylonian control.  They also sent token of help, but with all that, Sinsharishkun was not sure he had the strength to face down the main Assyrian army.  All the same, the die was cast.  Sinsharishkun’s brother had spent the time solidifying his position in Nineveh, and now he was coming.”

“Exciting,” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“That was when I became a frog.”

“Poor timing,” Decker said over his shoulder.  His eyes stayed on the crowds in the streets, and the torches, burning buildings, and regular screams that wafted up in his direction.

“I was going to say,” Elder Stow started to say something, but fell silent.  His eyes stayed glued to his scanner.

“Marduk and Assur,” Lockhart prompted.

Labash took a deep breath before he began again.