Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 4 of 4

Everyone found themselves in a living room kind of room, with comfortable chairs, tables, lamps with warm lights, and no more bugs.  They had a door that said bathroom in three languages just in case anyone did not get it.  They even had a big picture window, though presently all it showed was the dark, the stars, and the moon much closer than it should be.

Lincoln pointed.  “I can practically count the boulders in that crater.”

“The moon?”  Brianna, Father Aden, Jennifer, and Elsbeth all pressed up against the glass, which Katie at least assumed was not honestly glass.

“The moon,” Lockhart assured them.  Nanette pushed up to the glass as well, but the others were not so fascinated.  All but Katie had been in space before, and they all saw plenty of films and close-up pictures of the moon before.

A woman with long green hair appeared behind them, and the travelers responded.

“Thank you for taking us out of a bad situation” Katie said.

“I assume we are on a different ship,” Lincoln had to make sure.

“Did the Kairos send you?” Lockhart asked.  He temporarily blanked out on the name of the Kairos in that time period even if it had been said and told to him a billion times.

“The Kairos asked, time traveler,” Sheen said.  “But if you will excuse me.”  A spaceship came into view in the glass.  It exploded, and people saw the pieces fall toward the moon, including all that water.  “In the future, when your people go exploring, don’t blame me if you find water on the moon.”  The woman with the green hair smiled and vanished.

People blinked and the view of the moon from space became replaced with a view of the earth from space.  Only Brianna said, “It’s lovely.,” though Jennifer nodded in agreement.  Elsbeth never closed her mouth.

Another blink, and everyone found themselves back on the ground outside the manor house.  Margueritte came racing outside and hugged her mother.  She hugged Jennifer, and Elsbeth, and then her mother again, and she began to cry.

Lord Barth stood in the doorway, but Owien ran to Elsbeth.  They hugged before they awkwardly separated and looked at the ground and elsewhere.

Elder Stow grumbled about his scanner, though it was fixable.  Sukki and Tony followed Boston around while she hugged all of the travelers except Nanette, who ran to Decker as he ran to her.  They stopped and faced each other inches apart, not moving, like two statues.  They kissed, and at least Jennifer said, “Aww…”

Lord Barth and Father Aden got everyone to come inside.  They left the lovers kissing on the front lawn where no one disturbed them.

###

The next day, everyone arrived.  The travelers already had their tents up on the ground beside the chapel, the ground that Katie and Alexis agreed might one day be a small cemetery ground.  The Breton, including the king camped on the farm field that started just down the small hill from the barn and the triangle.  Sir Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard, brought Crown Prince Judon to the house right away.  Clearly, the bard was an old family friend.

Lord Charles and Sir Roland, the groom with several officers of the Franks set up their tents on the other side of the church.  Tomberlain, Margueritte’s older brother, shared his old room in the manor house with Owien.  The whole Frankish army camped down the hill from the church off what they called the Paris Road.  The long, flat field that sat on both sides of the road was more than big enough, and the woods beyond the field offered plenty of wood for the hundreds of cooking fires and hundreds of men camped there.  Most of the army went home after the action in Aquitaine and Vascony ended.  Even so, Lord Barth worried about having enough beef for everyone.

Sadly, Roland’s family lived on the Saxon March, all the way on the other side of Francia.  No way they could make such a long journey to attend the wedding.  Fortunately, he had plenty of support from Charles and the Franks, and Margueritte’s parents and family who apparently already accepted him as a son and brother.

The travelers stayed good.  They encouraged Margueritte when they saw her, but otherwise did not get into the middle of everything.  Margueritte had enough to worry about.  She fretted, cried, got deliriously happy, and cried some more, while her mother, Jennifer, and Elsbeth helped her with her dress, hair, make-up, and everything else, including the crying.

The local fairy troop supplied an abundance of flowers, Goldenrod right there in the midst of them.  Several gnomes, with Sir Thomas, took over the barn to practice the music.  Lolly, the dwarf cook enlisted several other dwarf wives to help cook for so many.  And between the two servants in the house, Marta fretted, and Maven snuck off to catch the occasional nap.  All felt right with the world, even if nothing went exactly right.

The following day, early in the morning, it turned bright and sunny.  People crowded into the church or stood outside, and Father Aden performed a wonderful ceremony.  They had a big mid-day meal on the outside table under the awning, and then Roland and Margueritte disappeared while everyone else celebrated with music and dancing into the night.

The following morning, the travelers went with Lord Charles and the Franks to Paris.  Roland and Margueritte with a small troop of men would follow in two weeks.  Roland had apartments in Paris, but Charles said they might not get much time.  He was not happy with the reports he got from the Bavarian-Burgundian border.

The time gate sat before the city, and just a bit south off the road to Orleans.  It was just a well Charles and his men did not see the travelers disappear.  Charles’ father, the Mayor of the Palace was not well and the political wrangling about who would succeed him did not bode well for the future.

“714,” Lincoln reported the year.  “Margueritte was born in 697, and she married at seventeen, so it must be 714.  Charles’ father will die this year, in December.  There will be civil war.”

Katie nodded.  “And I was so proud to have fine conversations with Charles all this week, and never once called him Charles Martel.”

“Tony did once, but I think if was by accident,” Lockhart said.

Katie waved it off.  “The two knight-captains that heard him simply laughed and nodded, like they thought maybe that was a good name for the man.”

“He is a hard man,” Lockhart admitted.  “A no nonsense kind of guy.”

“What are you looking at?” Lincoln interrupted the conversation to ask Alexis.  She kept looking back.  Sukki rode quietly beside Elder Stow.  Tony drove the wagon.  Nanette and Decker rode side by side in the rear, occasionally talked, but mostly Nanette smiled, and Decker looked stoic.

“I was thinking we might have our own wedding soon,” she said, and Katie grinned, but the men did not want to touch that topic.  Fortunately, Boston came back from the front.

“The time gate is just ahead of us, right beside the road,” Boston reported.  “It is eight in the morning. I vote we go through.”

They did.

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

MONDAY

Another Wedding.  This time, Mistress Genevieve in the days of Charlemagne will be given to the March Lord of Provence, an old man with an eight-year-old son.  Well, the aliens won’t interfere, though the Masters might.

*

Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 3 of 4

Martok did not take long adjusting Elder Stow’s communication device.  The device could reach a ship in orbit.  He just needed to extend the range a bit because he was not sure where his target might be.  Margueritte came back and spoke for herself.

“Imuit.  I invite you to earth, to come and see me.  The Trilobites in orbit have taken some friends and family, and I would like to get them back in one piece.  Please help.”  She turned it off and handed it back to Elder Stow without comment.

“So, what do we do?” Decker asked.

“What can we do?” Lord Barth asked.

“We wait,” Margueritte said.  “Right now, that is all we can do.”

“Okay,” Boston said.  “Trilobites I’ve heard of.  Who are the Imuit?”

“They are aquatic insects, maybe amphibious insects, arthropods.  You would probably see them as spiders.  They were the first multi-celled intelligent life produced naturally on this Genesis planet.  That was about 540 million years ago.”

“First multi-celled naturally produced?” Tony asked.

Margueritte had to listen to other lifetimes, including Lady Alice, before she could answer.  “Conscious life or sentient life has been on earth almost since the oceans were created.  It may have even floated around in the dust before the earth was created four and a half billion years ago.  Eventually, we got microbes and photosynthesis and oxygen in the atmosphere, and then actual cells—single cells like bacteria.  And sentience came with it all.”

“You mean intelligent life in microbes?” Boston asked.

Margueritte shrugged.  “But certainly, with single cell life.  One type lived in colonies and the consciousness combined through the colony.  At a certain size—I don’t know how many, billions, probably trillions of single cells in the colony, intelligence grew.  They invented the apple.  Do you remember the apple from Ali Baba’s Day?  The healing device that killed bad cells and promoted the growth of good cells?  Well, anyway it or they began to experiment on the Eukaryotic cells that eventually formed multi-celled life.  No, they did not invent multi-celled life.  They were not the reason for the Cambrian explosion.  But they experimented on the first Trilobites.  They wanted to replicate intelligent life as they understood it.”

“And they succeeded,” Elder Stow said, having paused in working on his scanner to listen.

“After a fashion.  Sort of.  The Trilobites are still animals on their own, but combined in a group, that is within a certain range of each other, they are telepathic, and the colony can imitate intelligence, sort of.  There were other intelligent life forms that came and went since the Achaean colony formed, but the Imuit was the first multi-celled intelligence God made in this world.  It makes more sense to say God made, or at least intelligently designed.”

“But now we have intelligent Trilobites in space that have captured Lockhart and the others,” Decker said.

“And my mother and sister,” Margueritte nodded.  “But the Trilobites are so slow to learn, rather than intelligent, it might be more correct to say they are not stupid.  Of course, not stupid after 550 million years can advance to space travel and teleportation.”

“Too bad,” Decker said.  “Not stupid means they can’t run for congress.”

“You too?” Tony smiled.

“It doesn’t get any better in a hundred years.”

“Ha-ha,” Margueritte did not laugh.

“So,” Elder Stow took back the conversation.  “We have had intelligent spiders on earth for 550 million years?”

“Not on earth,” Margueritte said.  “They began on earth, but like every intelligent species, at a certain point they got taken to an ordinary life-supporting planet where they could thrive.  You know, the climate has changed on earth over four and a half billion years.  Sometimes, that causes mass extinction events like the oxygen event.  I would guess the Imuit got taken off world during the extinction event at the end of the Paleozoic, when so much of the sea life died out, say, about 250 million years ago.   I don’t know what exactly happened then.  I was not around.  But all kinds of things can cause extinctions.  It is better to be elsewhere when that happens.”

“So, there are lots of intelligent species in the universe that began on earth?” Sukki said, but it was really a question.

“I wouldn’t say lots,” a woman said.  The image of a beautiful woman with long green hair appeared at the end of the table.  She caused the people to shuffle their chairs a bit before they settled down to stare.

“Sheen,” Margueritte apparently met the woman at some point in her life, or in another life.  “Don’t worry,” she told the others.  “She is just a projection.  She is not really here, and doesn’t really look like that, though I think the green hair is natural in a way.  Looks nice.”

“Kairos,” Sheen responded.  “And thanks.  But I was going to say there were plenty of intelligent species on this planet before the genus Homo got planted in a garden, and I don’t just mean Australopithecines.  Yours is a seed planet.  You germinate life forms.  Yours is one of only four in this arm of the galaxy, and one of those four is near the end of its useful life.  Their sun is about to go red giant.  Luckily, that is not my world.  This world I have watched for a long time, not interfering, but just watching.  You know it is not my place to interfere.”

“For how long?” Elder Stow asked.  He meant to ask how long she had been watching.

“I saw the Diplodocus forcibly removed sixty-five million years ago, though they were not ready.  I have seen the Trilobites return to this place time and again, to take a sampling of whatever intelligent species is in the ascendency.”

“But they cannot have these people,” Margueritte said.  “Half of them are people displaced in time.”

“I see that,” Sheen said.  “I am not sure how you did that since time travel is a dead end.  But I understand.  That is one reason I like you.  You know some things even I don’t know.  But what about the others?”

“They are my family.  If they are taken it will break my heart.”

Sheen almost smiled.  “Far be it from me to break anyone’s heart.  Now, for the future, your friends were selected because their technology is superior to the rest of the planet.  The Bites were not interested in the Gott-Druk, but they kind of missed the two by the wagon and picked up the four by the house.  Not very good aim.  You understand, I will have to remove the Trilobites completely or they will come right back and try to pick up your time friends again.  They really are not that smart.  Once gone, they will stay gone.  Their schedule is every hundred thousand years.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Margueritte said.

“You are welcome, my friend,” Sheen said and vanished.

###

Lockhart stayed on his feet and kept an eye on the bugs crawling in the other room.  At some point, he figured out the other room was full of water.  “Even if we break through the wall, we will either be drowned or maybe face the vacuum of space.” he concluded.  “We have to wait for the ones we left behind, and the Kairos to work things out.”

With that, Katie stayed on her feet, but the others sat down, until Lincoln got up to pace.  He said walking helped his stomach.  He also said he hoped they were not taken to fill Trilobite stomachs.  Nanette and Alexis both yelled at him for being insensitive.  Elsbeth shuddered at the idea.  Jennifer said she felt like throwing up again just thinking about it.

“They look creepy,” Brianna said at last.

“They are,” Lockhart agreed.  “Creeping across the floor and up the walls.”

Katie nudged him.  “How did you figure out they were in water?”

Lockhart pointed.  “They prefer to cling and use their legs like a centipede, but I have seen more than one push off and swim to another point.  I suppose there is a pattern of sorts.”

“Like a ballet,” Katie nodded.

“I was thinking more like a baseball game. Some hold their position while others look like they are going in circles, like running the bases.”

“Oh,” Lincoln sat down.  “We’re moving.”

“How can you tell?” Nanette asked him.

“I can tell,” Jennifer said.

“Vibrations,” Lincoln answered, and Nanette put her hand to the floor and let her magic feel for the movement.

“Where are we going?” Elsbeth asked.  “We are going to miss Margueritte’s wedding.”

“Can’t have a wedding with Father Aden here,” Brianna pointed out.

“That’s right,” Jennifer said, trying to get her mind off the movement.

“Don’t worry,” Father Aden sought to comfort Elsbeth.  “I am sure Margueritte will save us soon enough.”

“Ugh,” Elsbeth said.  “That would be terrible.  Margueritte gets all the credit for everything.  It isn’t fair.”

Brianna smiled and hugged her daughter, and blinked, and they were somewhere else.

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

Don’t forget TOMORROW, the end of the episode.  Monday will begin a new episode so you don’t want to miss tomorrow’s post.  Hopefully, people will make it home for the wedding.

*

Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 2 of 4

The vanished people ended up in a small room with no windows and no visible door.  Everyone felt sick.  Lincoln and Jennifer threw up.  Elsbeth did as well, but just a little and said she was fine.  Brianna and Father Aden were right there for Jennifer.  Alexis and Nanette helped Lincoln, while Katie and Lockhart looked for a way out.

“No door, no windows, no vents,” Lockhart said.

Katie put her hand to the wall and admitted, “I don’t even know what kind of material this is.”  She pressed her fingers into the wall and when she drew back her hand she saw where her fingers pushed into the wall, briefly making indents before the wall healed over and became flat and smooth again like nothing happened.

“Something like memory foam?” Lockhart suggested.

“But hard,” Katie responded.  “More like a padded cell.”

“Where are we?” Elsbeth asked as she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.  “Is this a dream?”

“Not a dream,” Alexis said, as she got Lincoln to sit with his back to the wall.  Father Aden thought that was a good idea, and he got Jennifer to sit against the opposite wall.

“It did not feel like when the gods moved us instantly from one place to another,” Lockhart said.

“But similar, in a way,” Katie countered.  “We have definitely been moved to another place, and no telling how far we have traveled.”

“How can we have traveled?” Brianna asked.  On seeing that Jennifer was all right, she stood and put her arm around Elsbeth, her daughter.

“Teleport,” Lincoln mumbled, coughed to clear his throat, and tried again.  “Like on T.V.”

“We could be in space,” Alexis added, speaking for her husband.  “On those shows, they usually transport to a ship in orbit.”

Lincoln nodded and pointed to his wife, adding, “It feels like space.  I got sick when I got taken to space by the Vordan, back in the real world.”

“When was that?” Nanette asked.

“A few years ago.  Before we found you.  About thirteen hundred years in the future,” Lockhart answered, and grinned.  That was the kind of thing the Kairos usually said.  “Back before we got stuck on this time trip.”

“Well,” Elsbeth spoke up.  “Wherever we are, I am sure Roland will get Charles to turn out the whole Frankish army to look for us, and then woe to whoever kidnapped us.”

“That might not be so easy if we are in outer space,” Nanette said.

Brianna looked at Lockhart and Katie.  “By space, you mean above the clouds, like out among the stars?”

“Hopefully not as far as the stars,” Katie answered.  “But outside the atmosphere, maybe between the earth and the moon.”

“That will make it hard for any army on horseback to find us,” Lockhart said.

“But you have experienced this sort of thing before?” Father Aden spoke up from where he doted on Jennifer.

“Not exactly,” Alexis answered, but Lincoln waved, like he wanted to say something.  People waited for him to swallow.

“I read about teleportation in the database after the first time the gods moved us from one location to another.  The television version is impossible.  There is no way to account for the infinite number of variables.  Finite creatures can’t do infinite.  There are ways around that.  I remember a temporary wormhole is one way.  I don’t remember the others.”

“You mean, you did not understand the others,” Alexis said with a smile for her husband.

“That too,” Lincoln admitted.

Elsbeth turned to her mother.  “Maybe you could call Doctor Pincher and he might know a way to get us out of here.”

“No, baby,” Brianna said.  “Margueritte might, but I’m not connected to the spiritual world in that way.”

“Little White Flower?” Elsbeth looked at Jennifer who sat with a hand on her stomach.

“No,” she said.  “I’m not connected anymore, either.”  She explained to the others.  “I used to be a fairy.  I became human to marry Aden.”

“Really?” Alexis spoke across the room.  “I used to be an elf and became human to marry Benjamin.”

Father Aden interrupted before the two women started comparing notes.  “It seems to me it is less important how we got here as why we are here.”

“Obviously someone brought us here for some reason,” Katie agreed with the father.

“And what do they want?” Brianna asked.

Lockhart punched the wall, but not too hard.  The wall stiffened on impact, so it showed no dent.  “I would guess we can’t shoot our way out of here.”

Nanette pushed her finger gently into the wall, and it showed a deep dent, but healed over as soon as Nanette withdrew her finger.  “I may be able to do something, now that I have my magic.”  She went to discuss it with Alexis even as one wall began to change.  Jennifer and Father Aden had to quickly move away from that side.  The wall turned transparent to where it appeared to vanish altogether.  Lockhart slapped his hand against it to show that it was still there, only now it was invisible and see through.

Elsbeth looked while Lockhart distracted everyone with his hand slap. Elsbeth screamed.  There were multi-legged insects of some sort, about the size of an average table chair, crawling all over the floor, walls, and ceiling of a much bigger room.  People backed away from the transparent wall, but Katie took a close look.

“My god,” she said.  “They look like Trilobites.”

###

Margueritte got the blacksmith and his helpers to take care of the horses.  Tony and Decker had ghost unhitched from the wagon, and Tony figured the mule would not wander off.  Margueritte took everyone inside and sat them at the table.  Father, Lord Barth, sat in his regular seat on the end.  Boston, Owien, Decker, and Tony sat on the side where Brianna, Jennifer, Margueritte, and Elsbeth usually sat.  Sukki, Margueritte, and Elder Stow sat on the opposite side, with Margueritte in the middle, where Margueritte’s big brother Tomberlain sat with Owien and often enough, Father Aden and Roland.

Margueritte put her hand out to Elder Stow and said, “Scanner.”

Elder Stow only hesitated for a second before he pulled out the device.  “You think some sort of matter transportation happened?”

Margueritte nodded.  She opened the device carefully.

“Couldn’t Danna do something?” Owien asked.

“Or maybe one of the gods,” Boston was thinking the same thing.

“The gods aren’t cooperating,” Margueritte said, and then added, “Father, don’t look.”

Lord Barth covered his eyes for a minute as Margueritte went away and Martok, the alien Bospori came to take her place.  Martok, a mathematical engineer, was a life that came from far enough in the future to understand all the technical specifications of the Gott-Druk device.  He went to work, and Lord Barth only let out a small peep when he uncovered his eyes.  Owien, Boston, and Decker all laughed.  Tony had another thought.

“We might know what was going on if we had the database.”

“I was just thinking that,” Sukki said, but Martok shook his head.

“Stow, explain,” Martok whispered, while he worked.

Elder Stow had to think for a minute, but thought he understood.  “We have basic matter transportation that we have been able to achieve in laboratory conditions.  The actual breakdown and restructuring of matter is considered untenable.  There are limitless variables and no way to account for them all.  There are ways to sidestep that limit, but we are just beginning to experiment in your twentieth century.”

Decker understood.  “So, whoever we are dealing with has a technology superior to the Gott-Druk, even a thousand years in the future.”

“Essentially, yes,” Elder Stow admitted and looked down at the table

Martok appeared to have finished and Margueritte came back to another peep from her father.  She said, “There are plenty of choices.  The question is which one—who are we dealing with?”  She pressed on the scanner and a holographic image of a ship appeared to hover over the table.  “Parked above us,” she said.  “Just on the edge of space.”  She studied the image and heard from other lifetimes and finally from Alice of Avalon herself.  “Damn,” she said, as the image began to waver and break up.  Something fizzed in the scanner, and the image vanished.  “Damn,” Margueritte said again, and glanced at her father because of her words, but he just looked serious.  Margueritte never swore.

Neither did Elder Stow, but he almost made an exception when he grabbed his scanner to check for damage.  He got out the eyepiece he used for the microcircuits and almost cursed again.

“But we need help,” Margueritte yelled at the ceiling.  By then both Boston and Sukki needed to know.

“What kind of ship was that?” Sukki asked.

“Who has a damn ship?” Boston asked at about the same time.

“Trilobites,” Margueritte said without explanation because Lady Alice made a suggestion.  She stuck her hand out to Elder Stow and said, “Communication device, please.”

Elder Stow looked at her and pulled his scanner out of reach, like a child might protect his toy from the one who broke it.

“Just to make a call,” Margueritte said.  “There should not be any feedback this time.”

Elder Stow detached the device from his belt and handed it over, reluctantly, and Margueritte went away so Martok could return and fiddle with the device.

Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 1 of 4

After 697 A.D. The Breton March

Kairos 101: Margueritte, the Bride

Recording …

A blonde, about thirteen, sat on her old mare like a young woman who spent plenty of time on horseback. She wore a fine-looking dress and had a silk scarf, which spoke of money, if not nobility.  Her old mare waited quietly, unlike the younger stallion beside her that pranced a little and did not seem to want to settle down in the face of the oncoming strangers.  The young man, maybe a year or two older than the girl, sat on the stallion and fidgeted a bit himself.  He did not appear alarmed, however, and had no weapons in any case other than the knife he wore on his belt.

Boston and Sukki drew near, but then stopped a few feet away from the young couple.  “Is this the road to the Breton March?” Boston asked.  “We are looking for Margueritte.”

The blonde rolled her eyes at the mention of Margueritte’s name, but before she could say anything, a fairy squirted out from her horse’s mane and flew up to face Boston.

“Hello Elf,” the fairy said.

Boston grinned and Sukki looked positively delighted.  “Hello fairy.  My name is Boston, and my sister’s name is Sukki.”

“My name is Goldenrod.  My best friend is Elsbeth, and Owien is her boyfriend.,” the fairy reported.

The boy and girl looked at each other, and Elsbeth raised her voice a little.  “Owien is not my boyfriend.”  She glanced at the boy.  Owien looked like he would be happy to be her boyfriend.  Sukki covered her smile.

“The rest of our group will be here in a minute,” Boston said.  Even as she spoke, Katie and Lockhart came around the bend in the road, followed by Tony and Nanette.  Lincoln and Alexis drove the wagon and Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear in the rear-guard position.  Everyone waited for them to catch up, then Boston introduced everyone, including Goldenrod.

“Are you going to the wedding?” Katie asked, kindly.  They heard all about it in the village where they spent the night.  The King and Queen of Brittany with their son Judon, who often went by the name of David would be going.  They felt, after all the trouble they caused it was the least they could do.  The village chief, Brian was looking forward to it, though he never did explain exactly what the trouble was.  They would all be following in the morning.  “I expect Margueritte will make a lovely bride,” Katie finished with an encouraging smile.

Elsbeth rolled her eyes again as she and Owien turned around to lead the group to the triangle, which is what they called the home of the Lord of the March.  Then she opened up and seemed to want to talk about it.

“Margueritte is my sister, and the Breton are coming because my mother is a Breton.  My father is Count Bartholomew, Marquis of the Breton March.  He is Frankish, so Margueritte and I are half and half.  Owien, son of Bedwin, is all Breton.”

“I am not,” Owien objected.  “I am page to Lord Bartholomew and have pledged to the King in Paris, so I am a Frank now.”

“Lord Charles and Roland have been fighting in Vascony,” Elsbeth continued after another eye roll.  “We got word that they will be here tomorrow, and the wedding will be the next day.  Then Margueritte and Roland will go away with the army and Mother and Lady Jennifer will cry and miss her.  Then she will have adventures while Owien and I will have Latin every Wednesday.”  She made a face.

“It’s not so bad,” Owien said, and they all continued for a time at a very leisurely pace, letting the horses walk as they will.  Owien eventually thought of a question.  “So, where are you from?”

“And how do you know my sister?” Elsbeth added, though she seemed to have an idea.

“We are from a land far in the west called America, not Amorica,” Katie said.  “And how we know Margueritte is kind of complicated.”

Elsbeth harumphed.  “It’s that Kairos thing, I bet.  I met Gerraint and Festuscato, and she has got about a hundred more people that she has been in the past and some in the future.  It must be hard to keep track of them all.”

“We met Gerraint and Festuscato,” Lockhart said.  “We haven’t actually met Margueritte yet, to be honest.”

“I figured that,” Elsbeth said.  “Otherwise, I would remember you, or at least heard of you.  You know, Little White Flower, that is who Lady Jennifer used to be, she and her father Lord Yellow Leaf, the fairies, they came from America when I was little.”

“Lady Jennifer used to be a fairy?” Nanette asked from behind.

Elsbeth nodded.  “Margueritte made her human so she could marry Father Aden.  They have a little girl.  Father Aden will be doing the ceremony.”

Katie spoke up.  “Alexis, the one driving the wagon with Lincoln, she used to be an elf and the Kairos made her human so she could marry Lincoln.”

“Boston used to be human,” Lockhart added.  “She went the other way.”

“I didn’t know she could do that,” Owien said, sounding interested in the subject, but Elsbeth turned her nose up at the idea of being an elf.

“You could be a fairy,” Goldenrod spoke from where she relaxed in the mare’s mane.  Elsbeth nodded slightly, like maybe that would not be too terrible.

It was not that long before the group rounded the bend and arrived in the triangle.  The big barn in one corner sat nearest the road and backed toward the fields which spread out, just down a small incline.  At the top of the triangle, a tall tower of stone sat like a castle keep, and in the third corner sat the manor house.  A great, old oak grew outside the house, and a bench sat beneath the tree where one could sit in the shade on a hot summer day.  The whole scene looked peaceful and quiet, but the sensitive members of the group felt the hurried tension in the air.  A table had been built outside, under an awning.  It looked like it might seat thirty, but the man who stepped over from the blacksmith area outside the tower looked at the table and all the new people in the triangle and wondered if the table would be big enough.

“Father,” Elsbeth called to the man while she got down and let Owien take her horse with his into the barn.  Two women and a man dressed like a priest came out of the house, smiling and anxious to greet their guests.   Elsbeth went to stand beside the older woman who Katie guessed was Brianna, the mother. Then a young woman with dark hair and green eyes came barreling out of the door, shouting for Boston, her arms already open in anticipation of her hug.  Boston happily obliged.  Then Margueritte, who the young woman was, went happily from traveler to traveler hugging them all.

Margueritte’s mother, Brianna, did not know what to make of it all, but she did not seem surprised that her daughter knew complete strangers.  Margueritte’s father, the one from the blacksmith area simply looked confused.

Margueritte ran to him to grab his hand, and as she did, his mouth opened to say something, but he paused as a clear blue light filled the triangle and half of the people vanished.  Sukki, and Elder Stow stayed, since it was their turn to care for the horses and they followed Owien into the barn.  Tony and Decker did not disappear since they got busy taking the wagon across the road where they could park it next to the church that stood there.  But Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, Alexis, and Nanette, all vanished, along with Elsbeth, Brianna, Jennifer, and Father Aden.  Boston stood there suddenly alone, until Goldenrod fluttered up to land gently on Boston’s shoulder and speak in Boston’s ear.

“What just happened?”

The people vanished, but the horses remained in the yard with Boston and Goldenrod the fairy who tugged on Boston’s hair to get comfortable.  She repeated herself.  “What just happened?”

“What?” Margueritte’s father, Sir Barth spouted, and Margueritte let go of his hand to run forward to get a closer look.  Owien came running out of the barn, followed by Elder Stow and Sukki.

“Where did everybody go?” Owien asked.

Decker and Tony left Ghost and the wagon to cross the road.  Decker spoke.  “Somehow I don’t think the Masters are involved in this one.”

“No,” Margueritte agreed.  “Even Elder Stow’s people do not have that level of technology, if I am reading it right.”

“What just happened?” Goldenrod asked again.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 6 of 6

“That is the building,” Elder Stow said and pointed.

“Doesn’t look like a gun factory,” Boston turned to Decker who shook his head.

“Just a warehouse,” he said.  “No idea where the factory is, and we don’t have the time to look for it.  We missed the evening tide.  Lockhart and the others will already have to spend the night on the docks without us.  We have to leave on the morning tide, or so the captain said.”

“And he better be telling the truth,” Sukki said softly, which was remarkable for the former Gott-Druk.  Gott-Druk were not known for keeping secrets.  They did not know how to whisper.  It was a cultural thing that everyone expected would cross over when Sukki became human.  But Sukki had come a long way in learning to be human, mostly.  True, the gods who made her human got a bit carried away.  They made her sort of a superhuman, but nothing anyone could do about that.

The most remarkable thing, though, was Sukki never said any threatening words like that.  She mostly trusted people and assumed the best.  Those kinds of under the breath comments were more Decker’s style, or maybe Lincoln when he expected bad things to happen.  Boston and Nanette both looked at Sukki, and she did look slightly embarrassed, but she did not take back her words.

“Ready?” Tony asked.  He held Katie’s military rifle.  Decker had long since showed him how to use it.

“Are we ready?” Decker turned to Nanette.

Nanette put on her determined face.  “I will do what needs to be done.  I can’t just sit idle while the rest of you do your duty.  I know my magic will come and go as we move through the years, but I can be part of the journey whether I have my magic or not.  So, let’s go.”  She brushed her hands in front, like she was telling Decker to go ahead of her.  Decker smiled.

“Ready,” Elder Stow said.  He touched the spot on his belt, and everyone turned invisible.  They could still see each other, including Boston.  They made her take a disc and would not let her go elf invisible.  Decker and Elder Stow agreed that they wanted to keep track of her to make sure she did not get out of control.

They had no trouble breaking in.  The door was unlocked.

Three armed men sat around a table drinking beer and talking about nothing in particular.  They had rifles within reach and knives on their belts.  They did not appear to be paying much attention to the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki watched the men for the first few minutes while Decker and Tony did a sweep of the building to make sure no other men were present.  Nanette went to the back wall, beyond the cannon, where she found all three gun belts and Alexis’ bag sitting lazily on another table.

“Lincoln’s knife is missing,” Nanette whispered.

Boston pointed to the back wall where the knife stuck about two inches into the plaster.  “I guess one of the thieves wanted to test the balance and sharpness.”

They gathered up the belts and bag, and tried the doors at the back, beginning with the big double doors on the far end.  It led to a back alley.  Boston found the latch and locked the door so no one from the outside could come in and disturb them in their work.

Behind door number two, as Boston called it, they found a lab room.  It held glass vials, like test tubes up on a table in the center of the room.  It had bowls, cups, and glass tubes of liquid which might have been tea but might have been a solution of the plague bacteria.  Boston did not want to take the chance.

Nanette touched Boston’s shoulder to draw on Boston’s magic, and surprised herself, that some of her own magic felt active.  “675,” she said, then clarified.  “Lincoln read in the database that the other earth would begin to come into conjunction with our earth and leak magic energy into our universe starting in 675.  We must be close to that time.”  She had no trouble causing everything in that room to pile up in the center and tried not to spill any of the liquid in the process.

“Tony said we arrived in 672.  Lockhart said that Bozo mentioned he had two years to make cannon before the Arabs came and laid siege to Constantinople.  That happened in 674, so Tony figured we were in 672.”  Boston got out her wand and took a turn drawing on what magic energy Nanette had.  Boston let the full fiery blast of her energy out.  It turned the wood table and chairs into a bonfire, boiled the liquids, cracked the clay and glass containers, and actually melted some of the items.  They left that room understanding that the whole warehouse would be on fire very soon.

Behind door number three, they found Kallinikos, and heard from Decker over Boston’s watch radio.  “We are ready here.  Where are you?”

“We found Kallinikos,” Boston responded.  “I just gave him a disc so he is invisible like us and can see us.  We are on our way.”

“Roger.  You need to go out front, wait outside and put some distance between yourselves and the building in case something explodes.”

Boston, Nanette, and Kallinikos walked past the others and tried not to look.  One of the men that sat around the table looked dead.  The other two looked wounded and sat, moaning, with their backs to the wall.  Boston figured the men did not cooperate.

Tony joined them in exiting the building.  Decker went to stand by the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki floated up beneath the fifteen-foot ceiling to where they could overlook the cannon on the floor.  Then Elder Stow with his weapon and Sukki with her goddess-given power melted every cannon and set on fire every carriage in the building, both ships cannon, the big wall busters, and a case of rifles they found in the front room where the powder and shot got stored.

With the deed done, Sukki exited the building to join the others, while Elder Stow, with his personal screen up tight against his person for protection, got out his sonic device.  He tuned it to the right frequency and let it rip.  It only took a few seconds for all the gunpowder in the building to explode.

“Lord Bozo is not going to be happy,” Boston grinned as they made their way back to the ship.

“But we don’t have time to go look for him,” Tony said gruffly.  He felt bad.  He had to shoot one of the men.

“The gun factory is something the Kairos will have to deal with,” Elder Stow said, in agreement with Tony.

“Not our job,” Decker said, and looked at Nanette.  She lowered her eyes but nodded, slightly.

###

The ship left on the morning tide before dawn.  The crossing did not take long, but the docks in Constantinople needed expanding.  They had to wait in line before they could pull up and unload.  They found Lockhart, Katie, Alexis, and Lincoln waiting patiently with several other men on the dock.  One of the men opened his arms and shouted for Boston, and she rushed into the hug.

“You don’t have a big white beard and a fat belly,” Boston almost complained.

“Not yet,” Nicholas said.  “I’m not that old.  But I do have some elves that help make the toys.  And something else.”  He called to an old man who just arrived and used a cane to walk.  He came close, curiosity on his face.  The man’s right arm also did not look too good, like he may have suffered something like a stroke.  “This is Arthur,” Nicholas introduced the man.  “He is old and worn out and ready to let go of this life, so Elder Stow, you are not allowed to fix him.  He is the last of the Anazi androids from long ago.  Arthur, let me introduce Katie and Lockhart, Artie’s parents.”

“An honor,” Arthur said, but paused when Katie stepped up and hugged the android.  She quickly got tears in her eyes.  Lockhart put out his hand to shake but ended up hugging the android as well.  The android also got tears in his eyes, being the last of his people and thinking about all those centuries, and all the losses.  Lockhart sniffed and Alexis, and Lincoln were not unmoved.  Boston wept.

“All life is precious,” Arthur said softly, and tried to smile.

“Centurion Rudolph says hi,” Sukki interrupted and got Nicholas’ attention.  Sukki remembered when the travelers found her.  Artie the android left the group at that time and charged Sukki to look after her mom and dad.  She was not sure she did that, and maybe felt a bit guilty, or maybe she wondered what it might be like to have Lockhart and Katie as her mom and dad.

Nicholas nodded to Sukki that he heard, but let things play out before he turned to Sukki and answered her.  “I sent Rudolph and his reindeer soldier to ferret out the gun factory.  We will see what we can do depending on what information they send back.  Not your job.  Meanwhile, thank you for rescuing the artificer.” Nicholas turned to the newly arrived stranger.  Alexis stood there checking on the man’s condition, and Nanette helped.

“Kallinikos,” the man introduced himself.

Nicholas introduced a member of the emperor’s staff and said he would go with them to meet with Constantine.  He had a bag of toys with him, ready for the children in the palace.  “Meanwhile,” he said.  “I’m working on a hand pump, like the ones firefighters used back in the early nineteenth century before they invented steam pumps.”

“For the Greek fire,” Tony said to any who might not know.

“Where do you want us?” Nanette asked.

“Alexis and Lincoln found my home,” Nicholas said.  “When you get unloaded, Arthur can show you the way, and I will be along in a while.”

“I can’t wait to play with the toys,” Boston said.

“What is this Greek fire?” Kallinikos asked

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

MONDAY through THURSDAY

A 4-part episode next week which will include a Thursday post to complete the episode in a single week.  Above and Beyond takes place in the border with Brittany, and in orbit.  Margueritte is getting married.  Don’t Miss It.  Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 5 of 6

After a second, Lockhart tried not to clink and clank his way across the room as he hustled for the keys.  Katie studied the hole in the wall.  The ship had been built with double thick walls.  The outer wall only had a small hole in it where the sea splashed in from the occasional wave.  By the time she decided it would take hours, if not days to sink the ship at the rate it was taking on water, Lockhart handed her the keys.  She quickly unlocked her shackles and handed the keys to Lincoln.

“Just checking.”  They heard a man’s voice on the steep ladder-stairs that led up to the upper deck.  “I thought I heard something.”  Lincoln quickly turned his back to the stairs so what he was doing would not be obvious.  He found the key for Alexis’ shackles.  Apparently, they did not all use the same key.  Lockhart and Katie each jumped to the sides and a bit behind the stepladder so the man would not see them at all unless he turned his head to the side.

Katie reached through the steps as the man descended.  She grabbed his feet, so he fell forward, face first.  Lockhart punched the man in the head as he went past.  It was not an affective punch, but he hit the man’s ear and it made the man dizzy for a second.  Then the man hit the lower deck with his face despite the effort to catch himself with his hands.  He may have broken a wrist.

Katie jumped on the man’s back, reached around and found an errant rag left from a former prisoner or slave.  Plenty littered the floor.  She wadded the rag and stuffed it in the man’s mouth before he could shout out.  Lockhart put his knee down hard on the man’s neck so he could not get up.  He tore the man’s shirt and tied it around the man’s mouth so he could be properly gagged, while Katie tied the man’s hand behind his back.  One shelf on the wall held plenty of rope and leather cut to just the right size for the job.  Katie guessed they sometimes tied the prisoners, or with the shackles, they might tie the feet together.  She decided that was a good idea, so while she tied the man’s feet together, Lockhart stripped the man’s knife, short sword, and took his pistol, which he looked at once and handed to Katie.

The man opened his eyes wide, but he did not say anything, even after Lockhart lifted his knee from the man’s neck.

Katie finished tying and grabbed the small bag of powder, wadding, and couple of poor excuses for bullets from the man’s belt.  She looked at the pistol while Lincoln finished getting free. To be honest, she felt afraid to fire the pistol, thinking it might blow up in her hand.  The wick looked good.  She thought she knew how to load and fire it, but she had to decide if it was worth the risk.  She half decided it might make a better club.

“Ready?” Lockhart asked.  He stood, one foot on the bottom rung of the stepladder, the short sword in his hand, a dirt streak on his cheek from rummaging around the floor.

“You look like a pirate,” Katie said, and smiled at some inner thought.

“Ready,” Lincoln said.  He had the knife.  Alexis had her wand.

Lockhart climbed and looked carefully.  Sailors were wandering the deck, pretending to look busy.  The ship’s captain, or an officer of sorts stood on the poop deck by the man who held the steering oar.  The doctor also stood there, talking with the captain, and watching as the ship slowly crossed the Bosporus.  Two men, Lockhart thought guards, stood lazily by the railing, taking about something and occasionally glancing at the hatch, probably waiting for their friend to come out.

Lockhart pulled his head back below the hatch before he got seen and reported what he saw.  Lincoln and Alexis agreed to keep the crew back.  Lockhart imagine that would be Alexis calling up her magic.  Katie and Lockhart argued over the two leaning on the railing.  Finally, Lincoln got the job so both Katie and Lockhart could invade the poop deck.  Alexis assured Lincoln that she would help, when Lockhart said, “Ready?”  With affirmations, he said “Go.”

Lockhart ran, but Katie outran him.  Alexis first pointed her wand at the two by the railing, and one went right over the side.  The other angrily grabbed his rifle, but the shot misfired because of the wind, and Lincoln got there before the man could change his mind and pull his knife or sword.  Lincoln poked his knife into the man’s belly, grabbed and pulled the sword and said, “Drop your knife and down on your knees, hands behind your head.”

Katie hit Stygria in the jaw with a staggering blow.  As an elect, she was as strong as a man and had the speed and reflexes better than most.  The man fell, like he had a glass jaw.  Lockhart crossed swords with the captain, and while the captain maybe had the experience on his side, he was old, fat, and small.  Lockhart, young and a bit of a giant at six feet tall, quickly overpowered the man.

The doctor, though older himself, nevertheless prepared for such eventualities.  He had a large knife and showed from his stance that he knew how to use it.  Katie, a marine trained in hand to hand, could have taken him down, probably without a cut, but she did not feel the need to risk it.  She had lit her wick off the lamp in the hold, so she squinted and fired point blank into the man’s chest.  The man dropped his knife and fell.  She grabbed the knife and turned to face Stygria who was getting up, one hand on his jaw.  She put her knife to the man’s throat and disarmed him.  Then she told him to get down on his knees and put his hands behind his head.  She saw Lincoln did the same thing with the man by the railing.

“Tell the crew to stand down,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln, bring that man up here,” he ordered.  “Alexis, can you raise the wind?”  She nodded, and immediately the sail filled, and the ship jerked forward.  “Katie, when Lincoln arrives, you need to go down into the cabin and find the doctor’s bag.”  He raised his voice.  “I assume dumping the stuff in the sea will end the bacteria threat.”

“That will do it,” Alexis shouted back.

Lockhart turned to the ship’s captain who also got on his knees.  “Take us safely to the dock and I will let you live and keep your ship.  You have been paid, and I have a few extra coins if you cooperate.”  Lincoln always carried some coins in a pocket on his person.

“A bargain,” the captain said.  Lockhart shook the man’s hand.  Stygria threatened murder, but Katie kicked him, and he quieted.

“Stygria,” Katie said.  “Order your men to come forward and lay down their guns by the mast.  I want them weaponless and face down in front of the poop deck, here.”  Stygria looked at her and she smiled.  “I could cut your throat.”  He believed she would.  He gave the order, and the guards came out from where they were hiding.  The weapons went by the mast and the men came forward.  One spoke.

“Chief.  Corben and Miletes are missing.

“One went overboard,” Lincoln said as he arrived with his prisoner.  “The other is tied up in the hold.”

“You are welcome to fetch him,” Lockhart said, as he stepped on the captain’s sword.  “Drop us safely in Constantinople and you can have all this for free.”  The captain shrugged, like maybe it was worth the attempt before he started doling out orders to the crew.

“One thing before I check the cabin,” Katie said.  She slipped the knife in her belt and picked up the body of the doctor.  She heaved him over the side from amid ships.  She saw Stygria nod and rub his jaw.  “He might have been carrying the plague on him,” she said and stared at the captain.  “You come with me and show me everything he brought on board, unless you don’t mind getting the plague.”  The captain went with her, but then he would not touch anything.  Katie figured that.

Lockhart and Lincoln looked at their prisoners while Alexis kept the wind in the sails.

“My wife is an amazon,” Lockhart said to Stygria and gave him a big grin.  “I’m surprised she did not knock your head clean off.”

“My wife is the witch, so you better behave,” Lincoln added.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 4 of 6

Alexis, Katie, and Lockhart got left alone, but Lincoln got shoved into the room.  Lincoln was not as intimidating.  Alexis immediately went to the man already in that room.  He looked like he had been beaten raw.  Her healing power might not work on diseases, but she could fix most injuries.  She laid her hands near the man, and they began to glow as she closed her eyes and concentrated.  Bruises and swelling went down, raw spots healed over.  Cuts pulled together and gashes stopped bleeding.  What is more, her work had an anesthetic quality to it.  The pain all but vanished wherever she touched.  As the healing glow worked down inside the man, several cracked and one broken finger bone knitted together, the lungs cleared so he could breathe, and the muscles that were strained all relaxed.  Very soon, the man began to talk.

“God’s blessing on you and your kindness.  Why would the cruel monster, Bozarius allow you to practice your healing ministry on me?  Does he want to abuse me again?  I will not tell him the secret.  I don’t care how badly he tortures me.”

“I don’t think he knows my wife is a healer,” Lincoln said.

“And a most lovely wife you have,” the man sounded utterly grateful.

Lockhart lifted his arm to talk through the wristwatch communicator that he, and honestly everyone, regularly forgot they had.  “Hope they are in range,” he said.

“Wait.”  Katie caused him to pause.  She turned to the man.  “I’m Katie, and my husband is Robert.  Alexis is your healer, and Benjamin is her husband.  Do you have a name?”

“Kallinikos, from Heliopolis.” he said.

“Heliopolis?” Lockhart asked, still paused with his wrist beside his mouth.

“In Syria,” Kallinikos answered.

“But wait,” Katie looked puzzled.  “Why do I know your name?”

“I am a simple artificer,” the man said.  “I can think of no reason you should know me.  Perhaps another Kallinikos?”   He smiled for Lockhart.  “Your wife is pretty, too.  I am sure she has other skills that you prize.  I had a wife, and a daughter, once.  They were slaughtered by the Arabs, and no one in our city resisted them.  We peacefully surrendered, and they came in and slaughtered so many.  I have seen many such places since.  Burning, looting, and killing.”

“It is what armies do,” Lockhart suggested.

Kallinikos sighed before he growled.  “But I, too, can burn.  I know the secret to set the sea itself on fire…”

“Greek Fire,” Katie’s face lit up.  “I knew that I knew your name.”

“What is Greek Fire?” Kallinikos asked.

“That is what it gets called—what it will be called.  But you should be giving your formula to the emperor, what’s his name…”

“Constantine IV,” Lincoln said, without having to look it up.

“My intention,” Kallinikos said.  “I intend to see the Arabs burned and killed, but the monster Bozarius found me.  He wants the formula, but I will not tell him. Strange, though.  I do not know how he knew I had a formula.”

“Why doesn’t he already know the formula?” Lockhart asked Katie, their expert in all things ancient and medieval in the technology department.

“Because it is kept a secret for centuries,” Katie answered.  “Most think it is tar or bitumen based, but the actual formula and what made it so effective is lost to history.”

“The Arabs should not have this.  I escaped the Arabs to give it to the Greek emperor.  I am sure Bozarius plans to give it or maybe sell it to the Arabs, but I will not let them have it.”

“We need to set him free.” Katie insisted.  “We need to see he gets safely to Constantinople.”

“So people can be burned or killed?” Alexis said, though she did not really protest.

Lincoln answered his wife.  “So history stays on track and isn’t changed.”

Lockhart agreed and got on his communicator, thinking hard about what he would say.  “Decker.  Elder Stow.  Are you there?  Can you hear me?  Over.”

“I hear you,” Elder Stow responded.  “We are waiting your return to the inn.  Tony, Nanette, Decker, and Boston have taken the horses and wagon to find a ship.  We had three men try to take our things from the wagon and we all agreed it was not safe to stay here.  Sukki and I are here at the inn…”

“Lockhart,” Decker interrupted.  “We have a ship.  The tide is in.  The wagon is on board, and we are ready to load the horses, but your horse is being a pain…”

“Breaker,” Lockhart said.

“Come in,” Decker Responded.

“The priest led us into a trap.  Our old friend, Lord Bobo is here, and we are his prisoners, again.  You know the man, the one Boston called Lord Bozo.”

“The Masters,” Elder Stow interrupted.

“Exactly.  He is building cannon for the expected Arab attack on Constantinople.  He is also working with a Doctor Theopholus, another agent of the Masters, who is tailoring the plague to set it off in Constantinople so he can reduce the population and the military in the city by half.”

“Germ warfare,” Decker interrupted.

“We also have a guy named Kallinikos here that Katie says is important to history.  Apparently, he invented something called Greek Fire.  Katie says it is imperative we get him safely to the Byzantines.  Do you copy all that?”

“Roger,” Decker said.

“Okay.  Here is what I am thinking.  You finish loading the ship.  Threaten the captain or do whatever you have to do to make sure he does not sail off without you.  Elder Stow.  Can you get our location on your scanner?”

“Yes, I’m just getting it up just as you said prisoners.” Elder Stow said.

“Okay. Then maybe Elder Stow can share some of his discs and you can come over here, invisible.  There are cannon to blow up and men with muskets to put out of commission.  But listen to this carefully.  If Bozarius—Lord Bobo is not here, you are not to go looking for him. We are not here to find the gun factory and put it out of commission.  For all we know, the factory could be in the city where we came into this time zone, ten days ago.  The Kairos has told us over and over it is his job.  We do what we can, and I am sure he is grateful, but our job is to get back to the twenty-first century, or twentieth century as the case may be.  Got it?”

“Roger that.”

“Okay.  We are scheduled to go with the doctor to Constantinople.  We might not be here when you get here.  But for one, we need to stick with the doctor to stop him. We need to make sure he does not release his disease in the city.  And two, save Kallinikos and bring him safely to Constantinople.”

“Three, be careful,” Katie added

“If we are not here when you arrive, we will meet you in Constantinople on the docks.  Over and out.”  Lockhart stared at his wrist before he put his arm down.  “There.  Did I leave anything out?”

Alexis looked up.  “Only that Kallinikos has been tortured.”

“Servants of the Masters,” Lincoln said.  “That should be a given.”

“You didn’t mention our gun belts,” Katie said.  “They were still on the table when we came in here.”

“Oh, shoot,” Lockhart said, and he called Decker again.

###

It took less than an hour for the Doctor to arrive and escort his prisoners to the ship.  The straight was only a couple miles wide, and they would only travel a few miles to the port at Constantinople, but it was way too far to swim, and like so many such trips, it took longer to get out of the port and dock on the other side than the trip across the Bosporus actually took.

This ship was a single masted merchant ship with a capacity of maybe one hundred tons.  They carried no cargo for this trip if the travelers were not considered cargo.  The ship was used to transport prisoners or unruly slaves.  It had a dozen wall mounted shackles down in the hold beneath the deck.   Katie got a good look at the nails in the ship’s wall before they locked her in.  The shackles had enough chain to let the prisoners sit, but not enough to let them lie down.

As soon as the prisoners were secured, their guards went up on deck to get some fresh air and to relax.  Katie began to pull on the chain held in by the rustiest nail.  Lockhart pulled on his own chains and one of the nails had some wiggle in it.  He looked at Alexis and Lincoln.  Lincoln shook his head.

“I’ll wait until one of you to gets the keys.”  Lincoln pointed to the wood beam where the keys hung on a nail.

“We can try yours together,” Katie suggested, and she grabbed Lockhart’s chain with him and said one—two—three.  They pulled the nail out of the wall easier than they imagined.  Lockhart immediately reached for the keys, but he could not quite reach them.

“Wait,” Katie said.  “Come on.  We can try the other side.”  Lockhart agreed.  He had to stand beside Katie so she could help, but it felt like an odd angle.  Katie had to stretch as far as her chains allowed so they could yank on the chain together.  This second nail did not come out nearly as easily as the first, but when it did, they heard a loud Crack! and a piece of the planking broke.  Everyone got still to listen in case the sound attracted someone’s attention.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 3 of 6

The doctor stopped his work and put on a pair of thin leather gloves.  He grabbed something like a magnifying glass and stepped over to examine the travelers.  He paused to look up at Lockhart, who stood quite tall.  Lockhart wanted to make a face, maybe a Decker face to intimidate the little man, but it was hard to get his face to cooperate when he had a gun poking him in the back.

“Yes, these will do quite nicely,” the doctor squeaked in a timid little voice.

“Aren’t you going to listen to our heart and lungs,” Alexis objected.  “Don’t you want to check our blood pressure, or maybe take a blood sample for analysis?”

The doctor stopped and stared at Alexis for a minute.  He seemed to need the words, and finally he came out with, “No.  None of that is necessary.  You are relatively healthy specimens who show no signs of infection.  That will do.”

“Are you ready to go?” Bozarius asked.

“The tide is not up yet,” one of the men said.

“About an hour,” the doctor said at about the same time.

Bozarius nodded.  “Stygria, you and your men keep the prisoners locked up until the doctor is ready to leave.  You need to escort the prisoners to the ship and see them fastened in.  Then you have your orders.”

“Sir.” the man, Stygria came to attention and acknowledged his leader like a military officer, only lacking the salute.

Bozarius thought to say something more to the travelers before he left.  “Doctor Theopholus has kept the plague alive since the death of the Prophet, and in a controlled way that has kept it away from the armies of Arabia.  That has been for more than thirty years.  How old are you now?”

“Sixty,” the doctor said.  He went back to work but half-listened.

“There is one more job before he can rest.  He will cut the population, including the military strength of Constantinople in half.  This plague outbreak will be the pneumonic kind?”  The doctor nodded but said nothing.  “He will infect you when you reach the city.  You will infect everyone else.  I believe that is what you call killing two fish with one stone.

“Birds,” Lockhart mumbled.

“But what happens when the Arabs get here?  Won’t they risk catching the infection?” Lincoln asked.

“It will burn out by the time the Arabs get here.  That is two years hence.  I have many more cannon to make in those two years.  Then we blast the vaunted walls to gravel and that will be that.”

The travelers got brought to the room where they heard the moaning and groaning, and they got locked in.

###

Elder Stow stopped working on his screen device long enough to eat.  He actually joined in the conversation around the table for a while.  People were talking about how similar they all were, black and white, men and women, from 1905 or 2010, and even between Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthals.

“Much of it, like touch, parental concern, and children exploring their environment is plain animal stuff, at least for mammals,” Elder Stow said.  “Though I have witnessed birds and others who show a remarkable concern to keep contact and stay close to their young.”

“Crocodile mothers,” Decker nodded.

“Most of the rest, as far as I can tell, and I never really thought of it before, seems to be based on social, cultural, and more than we realize on technological conditions.  Without automobiles, and I might say, trains and planes, people connect with people, mostly neighbors and in the community.  The limiting factor appears to be the ability to travel.  With cars, trains, and planes, people can travel, even to distant and interesting places, and I mean ordinary people, not just the rich.  Real friendships can develop between people who may live thousands of miles away when you have a telephone.”

“Then,” Boston interrupted.  “With the invention of the internet, people do not have to go anywhere.  You can travel the world from your own living room, and no one has to talk to anyone, if you don’t want to.  We are all isolated all over again, and this time, people don’t even know their neighbors.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow frowned.  “Not all advances are especially good ones.  And believe me, there are some advances on the human horizon that make bad matters worse.  You don’t want to know, but I will say, I have learned much in our journey, and one is that relationships, or what I imagine as real contact between real people, is something we should never lose sight of.  Hugs matter.  All hugs matter.”

Sukki smiled and gave Elder Stow a hug.

“Travel broadens the mind,” Decker said, and with a little grin for Nanette added, “Or so I have heard.”

Nanette returned his grin and patted his hand.  “In that case, 5000 years has not quite done the job.  You have a little more traveling to do.”

Decker picked up Nanette’s hand and kissed it right in front of everyone.  Boston dropped her jaw.  Sukki looked away and turned as red as Boston’s hair.  Elder Stow smiled and said, simply, “Family.”

Tony looked at his food and thought to change the subject.  “Once the world was full of Greeks and barbarians, but then the Romans came, and the world got bigger.  Some Greeks realized that some of the people outside the borders of Greece were maybe not so barbaric.”

“The Persians first.  Then the Romans.”  Nanette said.  “Alexander the Great really expanded the Greek world.”

“Then the medieval world went backwards for a bit.  Medieval people stayed pretty much in their villages and probably had no idea what the rest of the world was like.  Even the church focused on spiritual horizons, not worldly ones.”

“Or the mosque. Or the synagogue.” Nanette added, basically agreeing.

“But then the age of discovery arrived, and it was no longer me and my few and everyone else are strangers.  Now, the whole world seemed strange, but people got into exploring, learning, and getting to know everything that was new and different.”

“And where did that get us?” Boston asked.

“To world war or maybe world peace,” Decker said.  “If the human race can ever learn to live in peace.”

Elder Stow’s screen device alarm went off.  He turned it off quickly and checked his scanner.  “Someone has gotten into the wagon,” he said.

Decker jumped up and grabbed his rifle.  Elder Stow and Tony, with Katie’s rifle, followed.  The girls came behind because Sukki stopped to hug Nanette and encourage her with Decker, and Boston tried really hard not to tease the girl.

In the stable, they found three men that tried to rummage through their things.  They appeared to be trapped and unable to escape.  Elder Stow explained.  “I tuned a disc to the screen and gave it a twenty-foot radius around the wagon.  I set it carefully so it would not slice through any flesh and blood, or animals.  It was sort of a test, but I think it worked.  Walking around the wagon would not set it off, but as soon as the insides of the wagon or anything in it got touched, it automatically deployed.”

“Can I shoot them?” Decker asked as they stepped up to face the three men.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  “The screen is solid on both sides.  They can’t get out, and we can’t get in until I turn it off.”

“Hey,” one of the men shouted.  “We’re trapped in here and can’t get out.  Help.”

“What did you steal?” Decker asked as Tony and the girls caught up.

“Nothing.  I didn’t take nothing,” the man said.

“We were just looking,” Another man said.  “He was just showing us your stuff.  Honest.”

“I want you to lie face down, arms stretched out over your head while we take a look,” Decker said.  They did not move.  They looked at each other, uncertain.  “Now,” Decker shouted.  “Don’t make me kill you for just looking.”  All three men got slowly to the ground.  “Okay,” he said softly to Elder Stow and with more volume added, “Tony, do an inventory.”

“Hey, Decker,” Boston shouted from where she wandered into the back to check on the horses.  “Somebody let Ghost out of his stall.”

Decker turned on the men at his feet.  “Just looking?”

One man jumped up to run.  Decker kindly shot him in the leg.  He fell and grabbed his leg where the blood started to come out.  He shouted, stunned by the sound of the gun and in shock at seeing a bleeding hole in his leg.  It would start to hurt soon enough.

“Any other bright ideas?” Decker asked.

One man did not move at all.  The other shook his head, said, “No, no.” and tried not to cry from fear.

“A horseshoe and some nails,” Tony said.

“Do I have to search you?” Decker asked.

The man who said nothing that whole time pulled the horseshoe and small bag of nails from his shirt and placed it on the ground.  “Can we go?”

“Let’s see,” Decker said.  He shouted to the back.  “Horses okay?”

“A-okay,” Boston said.

“We need them saddled to take them to the dock,” Decker decided.

“All okay, blankets and everything.” Nanette shouted.  “Being saddled.”

“Your friend probably needs to see a physician,” Elder Stow said, and handed a few copper coins to the scared one thinking if he was scared enough, he might do the right thing.

“Get your stupid friend and go,” Decker said.  “And don’t come back.  I would rather not have to kill you.  It would spoil my supper.”

The two men helped their friend while he cried and tried to walk on one leg.

“Was that really necessary?” Elder Stow asked.

“The Kairos thinks so,” Decker answered.  “Bad as guns are, they cannot be easily duplicated.  Horseshoes, however, could change the course of history.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers need to escape to save the man who invents Greek Fire.  They need to get that invention to Constantinople and disrupt the plans of the Masters, in whatever way they can.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 2 of 6

It took six days to reach Nicomedia, having once again avoided Nicaea.  Soldiers met them some distance from Nicomedia to turn them away.

“There’s an outbreak of plague in the city.  Best not to go there.”

“Gee,” Boston complained.  “I wanted to see if that first mate, Pinto Beans was still hiding around the dock, hoping the authorities did not catch him.”

Decker snickered.  He remembered giving the man that name.

“A criminal?” the soldier looked up.

“Never mind,” Alexis told him.

“Last time we traveled by sea and skipped Chalcedon.  This time, Katie wants to see the city,” Lockhart said, and Katie nodded.

“No plague in Chalcedon, is there?” Nanette asked.

“Not that I know of,” the soldier answered.

It took a day to get to the coast road and most of another day to reach Chalcedon.  They stopped short of the city and stayed at a country inn.  The food was good, and even if the beds were not bug free, at least they were soft.

The following day, they spent finding a place to stay near the docks.  It was a busy port and they found plenty of places by the sea, but they filled up quickly.  They settled into one place, not the best, about three o’clock and had an early supper, or a very late lunch around four.  They found plenty of sailors in the room already washing away their sorrows with alcohol, but they managed a table for four and another one that sat eight where six of them could relax.  Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, and Alexis took the table for four.

“This time zone has been very quiet, considering all that has been going on around us,” Alexis started the conversation.

Lincoln frowned.  “Now, don’t jinx us.”

Katie and Lockhart smiled, and Lockhart responded.  “We paid for the rooms, such as they are, and the horses are settled in, but only if we can’t find a ship to leave this evening.”

“We might find a ship where we can spend the night and leave on the morning tide,” Katie said.

“That is the idea.”  Lockhart nodded as their food arrived.  The innkeeper paid special attention.  These people had money.

“You know,” Lincoln said.  “I’m getting used to sleeping with the bugs.”

Alexis smiled.  “Like the fleas from the rats that spread the plague.”

Lincoln looked temporarily horrified.  “Thanks a lot.  Now I won’t sleep a wink.”

“Keep it down,” Lockhart said.  “You’ll scare Nanette.” He pointed at the other table.

Katie grinned for Alexis.

Nanette sat at the other table between Decker and Tony, across from Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston.  Katie pointed once or twice as Decker touched Nanette’s hand, and once her shoulder.  Decker seemed happy, which was a rare thing.  Nanette seemed shy, which was the opposite of her evil twin, the one made, and in the end, unmade by Athena.  Alexis grinned a sly grin, and Lockhart had to ask.

“What are you two plotting?”

“Nothing,” Alexis said and broadened her grin.

“I’ll tell you later,” Katie said, and rubbed Lockhart’s shoulder.

“Probably Cupid,” Lincoln said in a very flat voice.  “It is a game that wives play to get other men trapped in the bonds of holy matrimony.”

Alexis hit him in the shoulder rather hard.

“Ouch,”

“You sound like Decker,” Lockhart quipped, but then looked at the other table and saw Decker and Nanette talking and touching hands.  He looked at Katie, his wife, but she just smiled.  He raised his brows, shrugged a little, and went back to his supper.

A priest came into the inn.  No one paid attention because there were priests and monks all over the city, but this one pushed through the drunken sailors and stepped up to the table where Katie sat and said, “Excuse me.  You are the traveler from Avalon with the yellow hair?”

Lockhart stopped eating and stared at the man, but Katie’s elect intuition did not sense any danger from this man.  She smiled and said, “How can I help you?”

“The doctor has asked to see you.  He needs your help.  That is all I know, but I can take you to him.”

“Doctor?” Alexis looked up.  The priest stood at her back.  Lincoln put down his spoon and looked as well.  “Maybe I can help,” Alexis said.

“Please.  The Kairos told him you know things and may help.”

Lockhart got suspicious, even if Katie did not.  “I thought you said that was all you knew.”

The priest smiled a friendly smile, or a nervous one, and nodded.  “Indeed.  But that was all I was told.  If you are having your supper, I can convey a message.”

“Doctor Mishka?” Lincoln spoke to the other table.  He saw Boston who was eavesdropping already had her amulet out.

“No,” Boston said.  “The Kairos is still on the other side of the water in Constantinople.”

“Is it an emergency?” Katie asked.

“I don’t do diseases, except nursing,” Alexis said, thinking about the plague.

The priest did not know.

Katie stood, so Lockhart stood.  “Is the doctor far from here?” she asked, and the priest shook his head.

“Please.”

“It might not hurt to take a look,” Alexis said and stood, so Lincoln stood.  Katie felt Lockhart’s suspicion.  Lockhart left his shotgun in the wagon, in the stables with the horses, but Katie started carrying her military rifle with her, like Decker.  She dropped her rifle with Tony. She wore her belt with her handgun and knife.  They all started wearing their belts and their handheld weapons since the Khyber Pass, except Alexis who still had an elf-slip where she kept her wand and otherwise carried her small first aid pack like a purse.  The pack held their vitamins and whatever first aid supplies they had plus a few elf bread crackers and a few coins in case Alexis got separated from the group.

Decker spoke before Lockhart could say anything.  “Tony and I can secure a ship to take us to the capitol, and we can get the horses and wagon loaded.”

“This port probably has regular ferries that cross over to the capitol,” Tony said.

“Getting a ship should not be hard if you spend a little money,” Nanette added.

“I may be able to help,” Elder Stow said, and he meant help with whatever this doctor wanted them for.  They all understood what he meant.  He had plenty of gadgets, as Lockhart called them.  He could be a remarkable help with injuries at times, and identifying various diseases, but Lockhart waved for him to stay seated.

“We don’t know what the trouble is.  You stay and work on your screen device.”

“Should we come?” Sukki asked, but Boston held her hand down.

“No,” Boston said emphatically.  “The adults are going off to do grown up things and leaving us children to have fun and tear the house up while they are gone.”  Boston grinned.  Nanette laughed.

Once outside, the priest led the couples toward the water and the docks.  They came to a warehouse, and the priest invited them in first.  Katie jumped as her elect radar went off, but she reacted too late.  A dozen men stepped from the shadows.  The travelers might have been able to fend off swords and spears, but there was nothing they could do about the rifles and primitive handguns the men carried.

“Damn.”  Lincoln said, as the men made them hand over their gun belts.  “Double damn,” he added when they saw the man who came out from the back of the big room.  “Lord Bozo.”

“Bobo,” the man said.  “And in this life, it is Bozarius.  But this time, you won’t catch me unaware.  The invisible ones are still at the inn with no idea anything is amiss.  By the time they figure that out, you will be on your way.”  He handed a small bag to the priest who bowed and smiled.

“Thirty pieces of silver?” Alexis asked.  The priest looked temporarily horrified before he pursed his lips, lowered his shaking head, and scurried away like a rat.

“So, what is it this time?” Katie asked, boldly.  Bozarius paused at the question but appeared to have no qualms about answering.  Like before, he did not mind talking when he felt he had the upper hand.  He led them toward the back of the warehouse where they saw several large cannons.  They looked of a size to break down city walls.

“I am still interested in your guns that never seem to run out of bullets.  Too bad you did not come with one of those rifles.  I would like another look at that.  But, you see, this time I am not interested in small arms.  I have made some for my crew, but I am focused on the big guns.  I have smaller, ship sized cannon to mount on the Muslim ships.”

Katie drew in her breath.  “You plan to beat down the Theodosian walls.  You want the Arabs to take Constantinople.”

Bozarius smiled.  “You found me out.  Yes, the Masters have decided that an Islamic Europe will be more conducive to the future.  But come, let me introduce you to Doctor Theopholus.  He will be taking you to Constantinople where I believe he will have a surprise for you.”

They found three doors at the back of the warehouse and figured the one on the end probably led to the outside, maybe a back alley.  They heard terrible moaning behind one door.  They went through the middle one and found a chemistry lab set up, not in the most sterile condition, and an old man in a kind of makeshift lab coat.  “Doctor,” Bozarius said.  “I have your subjects here.”

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 1 of 6

After 640 A.D. Byzantium

Kairos 100: Nicholas, not Saint Nicholas

Recording …

“Ankyra,” Lincoln guessed the name of the city that sat behind them on the road.  He had the database out and looked at the map it provided.  He also read some and reported to Alexis and whoever else might be listening.  “The Arabs are definitely knocking on the door, but we are well within Byzantine territory.”  He answered Alexis’ question, while Tony helped Lockhart drive Ghost and the wagon to the road.

“I’m surprised the Kairos is not on the leading edge of the Muslim advance,” Nanette said.  “He, or she is usually where all the action is.  Isn’t that so?”

“He, in this time zone,” Lincoln set that straight and looked at the database.  “Nicholas.  A toymaker and carpenter in Constantinople.”

“All right,” Boston raised her voice and let out an excited elf-worthy grin.  “I wonder if Nicholas has elves helping to make the toys.”

Alexis shook her head and spoke sensibly to Lincoln, Sukki, and Nanette.  “I imagine there are some things the Kairos needs to stay away from.  Maybe most things he has to let work out on their own.  He might not even dare get involved in certain things.  I believe he only gets in the middle of the mess when something threatens to throw history off track.”

Boston had not finished interrupting.  “I wonder if he lets the cobbler borrow his elves.” She grinned again.

“Good thing the time gate sat in an open field and did not let us out in the city.” Alexis changed the subject.  She looked back toward the city that fell away behind them as they started up the road. Boston and Sukki raced around the bend in the road to get a look ahead.  Decker moved off the highway to climb a small hill with the same thought in mind, to see where they were headed.  Alexis and Lincoln took the front, followed by Nanette and Tony.  Lockhart and Katie took a turn driving the wagon, since the Roman road was well kept.

“Probably good all the way to Constantinople,” Lincoln suggested.

“You take the afternoon,” Lockhart responded.  “Give Tony a rest.”

Elder Stow sat in the back of the wagon, working on his screen device and shaking his head.  That seemed about all he did for the last ten days.  “I have it set to the way it was made.  It can put a solid screen up around a certain area, like the camp, such as a ship’s officer might put around his crew.  But all the special programing I worked on over the last couple of years has collapsed.  I think you use the word crashed.  No more screen walls, much less one-sided walls where we can shoot out while they cannot shoot in.  I can still tune it to let in oxygen and keep out other, noxious gasses.  That is built in, but other than that…”  He never really finished that sentence.  He mumbled about starting from scratch and went back to work on the device.

Lockhart turned to Katie who sat beside him.  “So, tell me about the Arabs knocking on the door.”

Katie had a thought.  “Interesting, us being on the other side of the world when Muhammad was alive and working.  I think the Kairos, or someone worked that out on purpose.”

“The Kairos was also on the other side of the world,” Lockhart said.

Katie nodded.  “Muhammad died in 632, and they argued about who would take over.  He had pretty much united the Arabian Peninsula under his monotheism.  The Arabs were polytheists, but they had serious influence from the Jews and Nestorian Christians who made up significant minority populations.”

“Nestorian Christians?”

“They believed Jesus was not God made man.  They taught that Jesus was just a man, though God-inspired.”

“Ah,” Lockhart seemed to understand.  “Maybe where Muhammad got the idea.”

Katie shrugged.  “Anyway, there were four Caliphs, you know, rulers of the sect.  They were kind of both religious and secular rulers at the same time.  Not all the faithful agreed on who should rule, so there was a split in the faith right from the beginning.  But they made a big dent in the Byzantine Empire and almost completely killed the Sassanid Empire.  My personal opinion was they put off a civil war in the faith by focusing their armies on outside enemies.”

“Distraction.  But what happened to the Byzantines and Sassanids?”

“Well, they sort of fought each other to exhaustion.  Neither side had any strength left when the Arabs came.  The Byzantines lost Syria, the Levant and Egypt very quickly.  The Arabs fought some battles, but the Byzantines did not have any armies left to speak of, and the people were tired of the constant wars and heavy taxes to support the wars.  Some scholars have suggested the people practically gave themselves to the Arabs to get out from under the Byzantine yoke.  They did not all instantly convert to Islam.  That took generations.  Even in our day there are Christians, and even Zoroastrians in those lands.  But those areas fell fairly quickly.  The Byzantine leadership stayed together back home, so they held on to their core territory of basically Turkey and Thrace with Greece and a bit of Bulgaria, but the rest vanished in a blink.”

“What about the Sassanids?”

“They were in even worse shape.  They lost the last war against the Byzantines and had to give back all the territory they had taken.  Then they had something like their own civil war.  For all practical purposes, they broke up into a bunch of feudal kingdoms.  The last Sassanid ruler was a boy not in any condition to unite the people.  Again, the Arabs fought a few battles, but they honestly faced little resistance.  They took the Sassanid capitol, the Sassanid treasury, and technically took over the Sassanid empire.  They only had to snuff out the occasional, local rebellion in cities and such here and there.”

“Sounds like the Arabs timed things pretty well,” Lockhart concluded.

“Timing is everything,” Katie agreed.

Up front, Lincoln and Tony filled in Nanette and Alexis with much of the same information.

“Muhammad died in 632.  Nicholas was born in Constantinople in 640,” Lincoln said.  He did not like to read and ride at the same time, but he remembered that much.

“Eventually,” Tony said. “The Arabs got into their own civil war of sorts.  But they worked it out when the son of the fourth Caliph resigned in favor of a guy named Mu’awiyah.  That was about 661, about when the Kairos turned twenty-one.  Mu’awiyah started the Umayyad dynasty and ruled until about 680.”  He looked at Lincoln.

“I don’t remember the name,” Lincoln said.  “But the Kairos is reborn next in 697.  I remember the date.”

Tony nodded.  “Okay.  The Umayyads rule until 750, if I remember.  Let’s see.  The Sassanids fall about 651.”

“When the Kairos turned eleven.  Hardly old enough to do much about it.”

Tony nodded again.  “Caliph number three I can’t really remember his name.  I don’t think he did much except have unrest.  Ali became Caliph about five years later, when the third Caliph got assassinated.  That started the civil war.  So, unless the Kairos is a baby, we are probably riding through the days of number three or Ali or Mu’awiyah, or maybe one of the later Umayyads, if the Kairos is an old man.”

“All fine and well,” Nanette said.  “But if we are riding deeper into Byzantine territory, why does all that even matter?”

Lincoln and Tony looked at each other and shrugged, until Tony had a suggestion.  “Around 672, the Arabs under Mu’awiyah’s son Yazid, I think, take Chalcedon and the coast, where we are headed.  They put Constantinople under siege for five years, roughly from 674 to 678.  We could ride right into that.”

No one said anything more until Alexis asked the pertinent question.  “So, who is ruling in Byzantium right now?”

“Yes,” Tony had to think, and Lincoln could not look it up right away.  “Either Constans II, or probably Constantine IV.  I remember Constantine IV was the one who fought off the Muslim siege.  If the Kairos is old, maybe Justinian…the second, I believe.”

“You believe?”

“There was an earlier Justinian, the one associated with the plague.”

“Plague?” Nanette nearly shouted.

Tony nodded but tried to reassure her.  “That was a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty years ago.  There are reoccurrences up until the eighth century, but nothing to worry about, I hope.”

“Plague?”  Nanette said in a quieter voice.

“Bubonic,” Alexis said.  “I read about it in nursing school.  Elves don’t really get sick.  It was fascinating reading.”  She smiled for Nanette before her face turned sour.  “Of course, it was not so much fun being sick, even if all I ever got was colds and the flu a couple of times.”

Decker appeared on their flank.  Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front, and Boston shouted first.

“Soldiers on the road.”

They got Lockhart to pull the wagon to the side of the road, and the others waited.  It did not take long before the soldiers appeared.  The three in front rode.  The hundred or so behind marched four abreast.

The horsemen came up to the side of the road to talk with the travelers while the soldiers marched on.  “Where are you headed?” The Centurion asked.  People looked at Lincoln, expecting him to open his big mouth, but he actually looked at Lockhart for once.

“Constantinople,” Lockhart said.  “We are meeting a tradesman named Nicholas.  You probably don’t know him.”

“He is a carpenter and a toy maker,” Lincoln did say that much being unable to keep his mouth closed after all.

The centurion smiled.  “Actually, I know Nicholas very well.  He is also the most brilliant politician in the empire.”

“Really?” Alexis looked surprised.

“He usually stays out of politics, if he can help it,” Katie said.

The centurion’s smile broadened.  “I see you do know him, some.  And yes, he stays out of politics which is why in my book he is the most brilliant politician in Constantinople.”

“Where are you headed?” Lockhart asked to change the subject.  He gave it his friendliest smile.

“Caesarea, near where the Arabs are.  We are charged to keep them out of our territory, but I hope they do try us. They need a good thrashing.”

“Good luck,” Lincoln said.

The Centurion nodded.  “And to you.  Tell Nicholas Centurion Rudolph says hello, and my nose is not presently red.”  He waved his men to move on.  “At least we get to escape from that one will or two wills stupidity.  Sergeant.”  They road off to retake their men.

“Okay,” Lockhart said with a look at Katie.  “Now you have more explaining to do.”

“Tony?”  Nanette looked at him while they got the wagon back on the road and started moving again, and Boston rode off ahead of the crowd, singing about Dasher, Dancer, and the rest.