Avalon 5.4 The Mystery of the Madness, part 5 of 6

The following evening, the travelers entered the city of Memphis, and immediately exited the city again near the Nile where the shacks of the poor huddled close together.  Lincoln and Lockhart wondered how they would ever find one Rachel in the unwashed masses, especially since Rachel appeared to be a common enough name among the Semites.  Fortunately, Sakhmet found them first.

“Come on,” she said.  “Rachel has her detectives over for brainstorming.  I don’t know what brainstorming is, but it sounds like an interesting concept.”

They arrived at the house, and were expected.  Apparently, Sakhmet informed Rachel in advance, so they had plenty of food prepared.  Alexis did get to offer bread, but otherwise, everyone ate what the locals had to offer.  And it was more than plenty, and afterwards, Rachel’s parents and family went to visit aunts and uncles so Rachel and her friends could have the house.  After squeezing in and some shuffling of seats, Rachel introduced her detective club.

“This is Surti.  She is one of the chief cooks in the governor’s house and came here to help mother prepare this feast.”  Everyone said it tasted very good.  “Surti is the smart one, like Velma.  Meme is more like Daphne, you know, beautiful, but not much going on upstairs.”  Rachel tapped her temple.

“I would rather be beautiful than smart,” Meme said.

“Sadly, too many women feel that way,” Alexis responded.

“Hotep,” Rachel continued.  “He gets to be Fred.  While David, and his friend Joseph get to be Shaggy and Scooby.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.”  David and Joseph were still nibbling on supper, and the bread Alexis made.

“And what does that make you?”  Boston asked.  “You are young again, by the way.  Almost the youngest I have seen you.”

“As young as me,” Artie said.

“And you have Daphne looks and Velma brains,” Katie said.

“No,” Rachel said.  “I’m the director and Sakhmetet, my friend, is the producer in charge of special effects.”

“That means I get to be in charge of all the money, whatever money is.” Sakhmet, alias Sakhmetet said.

Lockhart, Lincoln, Artie, and Elder Stow had no idea who Rachel was alluding to, but they did not worry about it, except Lockhart who nudged Katie.  “It’s a generational thing,” Katie said.  “I’ll explain it to you later.”

Decker harumphed and stepped outside.  He understood the show and the characters, but he would not admit it.  He came back in with two of the lanterns the travelers sometimes used in the dark.  It lit the inside of the shack like day, and he settled back into his seat.  That little shack was full.  They did not have any extra room to move around.

When Rachel turned to introduce her friends from the future, she mentioned things the travelers rarely paid attention to.

“Captain Katie Harper and Major Decker are soldiers, like captains of the host, or maybe Decker is more like a general.  Decker is especially trained in covert operations; that is, dealing with secret work being done by one person or a group, and figuring out how to shut them down.  He might be able to recognize something that is not right, or normal.  Likewise, Lincoln used to work for the CIA.  He is trained to gather secret information, and whoever is cursing the men, he is doing a remarkable job of keeping his hand secret and hidden.”

“That kind of work takes time,” Decker countered.  “Digging up secrets is not an overnight job.”

Lincoln agreed.  “It usually takes months, sometimes years.”

“All the same,’ Rachel said.  “We might only need a set of trained, fresh, outside eyes to see what we might be missing.”  Decker and Lincoln did not disagree with that idea, so she continued.  “Artie and Elder Stow have the most outside eyes.  Artie’s problem is she has not been in normal, human life for very long and might not recognize something that is out of the ordinary.”

“But my sister is smart,” Sakhmetet interrupted.  “She sees more than you think.  She just has to learn to mention it and share what she sees, like not be slow to ask questions.”

“Seems to me she asks plenty of questions,” Katie spoke up.

“All the same,” Rachel said.  “Ask, and Elder Stow has special equipment that might pick up a stray energy source, for example, that might be out there, and help pinpoint things if the Masters are behind this.”

“I will get to work on that right away,” Elder Stow volunteered.

Rachel nodded by way of thanks.  “Now, Alexis, Boston and Sakhmetet all have special abilities and contacts I am not at liberty to talk about.”

“I’m not getting involved on that level,” Sakhmetet objected.

Rachel nodded, but did not respond directly.  “If this is the result of bad magic or spiritual forces, like maybe with the blessing of one of the gods, these are the ones who can figure that out.”  Rachel looked at Sakhmetet, and Sakhmetet raised no further objection to the idea that one of the gods might be behind it all.  As they thought about it, that even seemed likely.

“And the big fellow?” Hotep asked.

One chair, the eighth, remained empty at the table where Rachel, Hotep, Surti, Meme, David, Joseph, and Sakhmetet sat, staring at Lockhart.  The travelers mostly sat where they could around the room and on the floor, but they also looked in Lockhart’s direction as Rachel spoke.  “Lockhart needs a seat at the table.  He was a police officer and knows all about the law, hard clues, permissible evidence, and real detective work.”  Rachel patted the empty chair beside her, and Lockhart got up to sit.

“So, what have we got?” he asked.  “You have suspects?”

Rachel nodded, and heard no objection to sharing the list.

“You need to determine if they have means, which is to say, are they capable of doing the crime.  Motive, that is, do they have something to gain by doing the crime.  And Opportunity, which is, were they alone and in the neighborhood when the crime occurred, or do they have some alibi that suggests they could not have committed the crime.”  Lockhart turned and smiled at Katie.  “Police work, 101.  Means, motive and opportunity.”

“That is very good,” Surti said, and at least Hotep nodded.  “I will have to remember that.”

“So, here is what we got,” Rachel said.  “And my people can object if I explain it wrong, or put in information if I forget anything.”

“You mean us?” David asked.

“No, the wallboard,” Meme shot at him, and stared as they both turned toward Joseph.  Joseph had his mouth stuffed with bread at the moment, so he could only smile and wave at them.

“This is getting exciting,” Hotep said, and he slipped his hand over Rachel’s hand, and she did not object to that, but the travelers all snickered a little.  They knew the Kairos usually came surrounded by monsters, and they often arrived in the middle of a fight.  Normally there was not time to sit down to a pleasant meal and think about it.

“Top of the list is Sokar, the weasel.  He is a foreigner, a Hyksos, but he styles himself as an Egyptian.  He has the position of assigning the daily tasks to the Semite groups, and if you cross him, you will get the manure work.”

“I assume, in this day and age, that would be literal manure work,” Decker said.

Rachel answered with a nod.  “Sokar has a fine house in the city, and some servants.  He knows all the right people, and even has the ear of the governor.”

“Means, motive, opportunity,” Lockhart said.  “What makes him a suspect?”

“He wants to kill off the Jews,” she looked at David.  “The children of Abraham,” she explained, and added, “My friends know what I mean by Jews.”

David interjected.  “We have been reduced to making bricks and working in the clay pits and mines.  It is the most grueling and short lived of lives, usually reserved for criminals.”

“Is that a sufficient motive?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes, for the masters.  They, and the demons, would love nothing better than to eliminate the Jews at this point in history—before they ever get to the promised land.”

“It is true,” Hotep said.  “We overheard Sokar talking to my father, the governor, and accusing Rachel’s people of cursing the Egyptians and causing the madness.”

Lockhart nodded, and Rachel continued.  “The rest are further down the list.  Amonre is the chief of the night watch.  He is an ass, but that doesn’t mean he is guilty of anything.  The main evidence is circumstantial.  Thus far, he has managed to be in the right place at the right time, seven times now, to stop the madmen before they could do much damage.”

“He is either doing his job very well or he is very lucky,” Surti suggested.

“Or he is in on it and has inside information,” Lockhart said.  “One to watch.”

Rachel nodded again.  “Then there is old Haman.  He is a kindly old man, and I should have no reason to suspect him but for his clichés.”

David interrupted.  “You mean the royal gardener?  Our old man Haman?”

Rachel nodded again, and Hotep smiled at her, and watched her long brown hair bob up and down.  In fact, most of that time, he could hardly take his eyes off her.  Rachel ignored Hotep and spoke.

“It is the most circumstantial, but he speaks in clichés such as you know, and always gets them in the right context and everything.  Things like, there is safety in numbers, and, better safe than sorry.  This morning he said, when the demon-man showed up he was frightened out of his wits.  When I asked if they might catch the person responsible, he said, time will tell, and it is only a matter of time.”

“Purely circumstantial,” Lockhart agreed.  “But again, oddly coincidental.”

“Don’t forget Miriam the Healer,” David said, and Meme nodded strongly.

“The Healer?”  Alexis asked.

“A first-class witch,” Rachel said.  “An Ammonite, I believe.”

“Who?” Hotep asked Rachel, having missed earlier discussions of her.

“You remember,” Rachel said, as they unconsciously took a better hold of each other’s hands, and she explained for Hotep and the travelers.  “You got sick when you were about ten.  He had the measles, a good Anazi disease, thank you very much.  Your father called in the woman when the Egyptian physicians proved powerless.  She healed you.”

“I remember you stayed with me the whole time.”

“I did.  Someone had to defend you from the quacks.”

Hotep smiled for the group.  “She calls Egyptian physicians quacks, but won’t explain.”

“They wanted to bleed him with leeches,” Rachel and Hotep were both smiling broadly, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes.

“So, Sotek, Amonre, Haman, and Miriam, the ammonite witch, who sounds like the only one who might have the means to do the work of infesting people with demons,” Katie spoke up from the floor.

“Powerful, like the Witch of Endor,” Rachel said, and turned her eyes back to the conversation.  “But Miriam has only done good, as far as I know.”

“The fifth suspect could be someone completely unknown to you that you have not even thought of,” Lockhart added.  The people all agreed that that was a possibility.

Avalon 5.4 The Mystery of the Madness, part 4 of 6

“Land of Goshen,” Lincoln said.  He put a piece of wood on the fire before he sat down.

“Land a Goshen,” Decker said, in his best southern accent.  “Y’all don’t say it right.”

Quiet settled around the campfire before Lincoln interrupted.

“Land of Goshen”

Decker echoed with, “Land a Goshen.”  He laid back against a log and smiled.

“How long are you two going to keep this up,” Alexis asked, in her most annoyed voice.

“Land of Goshen,” Boston said, and tried not to giggle.

“Who is this Goshen, anyway?” Elder Stow asked.

“I don’t know,” Decker admitted in a fake-serious voice.  “But this is his land.”

“It’s Land of Goshen,” Lincoln said.

“Land a Goshen,” Decker echoed.

Alexis stuck her fingers in her ears.

“I remember Bubastis when it was just a little village,” Katie said, trying to keep up a normal human conversation.

“If they were androids, I would send them to get repaired,” Artie said, with a look at the men.

“Bubastis is all grown up now,” Lockhart said.  “It has big temples and everything.”

Katie nodded and put her arm around Artie.  “I wonder if our other girl is around somewhere.”

“Sakhmet?  I would imagine she is,” Lockhart said.

“Land of Goshen.”

“I would imagine she is all grown up now,” Katie said.

“Oh, probably for centuries now,” Lockhart agreed

“Land a Goshen.”

“She usually shows up when we are in town,” Katie said.  “Maybe she has forgotten us.”

Lockhart shook his head.  “But she is probably occupied with her own responsibilities these days.  We can’t expect her to show up just because we are here.”

Decker and Lincoln spoke at the same time in their surprise.  “Land of a Goshen.”

Sakhmet appeared, grinned, and rushed to squeeze between Katie and Lockhart only to find another girl there.  Katie quickly introduced them.

“Sakhmet, this is your little sister, Artie.  Artie, this is your big sister, Sakhmet.”

“Oh yes,” Artie said.  “You told me about her.”

“You mentioned me?” Sakhmet sounded surprised.  “You thought of me when you weren’t in Egypt?”  Sakhmet began to cry.  “And you got me a little sister.  I always wanted a little sister.”

“I have a big sister?” Artie said.  “I want a big sister, so I have someone to teach me, and I can ask questions.” Artie started to cry.  “Why am I crying?  I’m happy.  I don’t understand why I’m crying.”  She hugged Sakhmet, who hugged her right back.  Katie got up and hugged them both at once.  The rest of the travelers looked at Lockhart, who looked a little uncomfortable, but got up to hug everyone.

“Girls.  Girls.  I’m glad you’re happy, but no need to cry.”

Sakhmet stopped crying suddenly, so everyone stopped crying.  Sakhmet had a question.

“When are you two going to get married?”

Lockhart looked at Katie.  “Soon, I think.  Ask your mother.”

Sakhmet and Artie both swiveled their heads to Katie.

“Soon,” Katie said.  “Your father knows.  We haven’t set a date.”

“It won’t be without you,” Lockhart said, mostly for Sakhmet’s benefit, and Sakhmet smiled a mischievous smile.

“Come, sister,” Sakhmet took Artie to the side and sat facing her.  She whispered so Katie and Lockhart could not hear.  “They will never get married as long as you sit between them.  They have to be touching, until they need to do more than just touching.”

Artie grinned a big grin and turned her head to look at Katie and Lockhart, but her ears were all Sakhmet’s.  They talked for an hour, while the others followed their lead and whispered, until Lincoln and Decker got up to get in their tents.  They had the midnight to three in the morning watch and needed some sleep before then.

“Land of Goshen,” Lincoln said, and waved as he went into his tent.

“Land a Goshen,” Decker echoed and went to bed.

“Thank goodness for a few hours of peace,” Elder Stow said.

Alexis agreed.  “Time for bed,” she told Boston.  She went into their tent, and Boston followed, but she looked like she was having a hard time keeping her tongue from saying, “Land of Goshen.”

After the hour, Lockhart and Katie were side by side, staring at the girls, no doubt wondering what they were talking about.

“I have to go,” Sakhmet said.  “I’ll catch up with you in Memphis.  That is where Rachel is, but right now there is trouble.  Someone is infesting men with demons, and it is not my place to track down who.  At the same time, I can’t let demonized men run around chopping up the ordinary folks.  For now, the seven so far are in jail cells where they can’t hurt themselves or each other, or any innocent people.  But they are running out of cells, and I think if the demonized men die, they may come back as vampires.” Sakhmet shrugged and vanished.

Artie opened her mouth.  “What are vampires?”

Katie said, “You don’t want to know.”  She leaned over and kissed Lockhart.  Then she got right up and said.  “Come on Artie, time for bed.”

“Wait a minute,” Lockhart interrupted.  “What did you girls talk about?”

Artie shook her head and grinned.  “Sakhmet says sisters can have secrets.”

Katie added, “Dad is always the last to know.” and she escorted Artie into the tent.

After a few minutes of staring at his scanner, Elder Stow announced, “No crocodiles present.  Lincoln said they don’t move around much when the sun is not out to warm them.”

Lockhart said nothing.  He just stared at the fire.

“Vampires,” Elder Stow said.  “That does not sound good.”

Lockhart said, “Land of Goshen.”

Avalon 5.4 The Mystery of the Madness, part 3 of 6

Rachel went out to the kitchen where Surti was cooking a fine meal.  She got her cloak and said good-bye to Surti and Meme, and said she would see them in the morning.  About a third of the servants in the house were Egyptians who stayed in the house overnight, to care for the family and whatever guests there might be, and to meet any needs that might come up in the dark.  A good two-thirds of the servants were Semites, and some were children of Abraham.  The latter waited for her at the gate, because she was late.  They normally walked home at sundown.

The guards, who were all Egyptians, smiled and waved her through, and old Haman spoke right up.  “It wouldn’t be safe to walk home alone in the dark these days with madmen roaming the streets.  Things go bump in the night.  I made everyone wait for you.”

“Thank you,” Rachel said, genuinely grateful, though she had not seen any madmen yet.  She had only heard about them, but what she heard scared her to no end.  They did not sound like madmen.  They sounded like demonized men who went out into the streets to steal, kill and destroy, which was all demons knew how to do, other than lie.  They were said to have great and terrible strength, to punch through walls, and kill an ordinary mortal with one punch.  They were said to cut themselves when they could, like men trying to kill themselves, though some said they were unnaturally attracted to blood.

“Never you worry,” Haman said.  “We are family, and I know there is safety in numbers.”  Haman said things like bump in the night or safety in numbers once in a while, and that made Rachel raise her eyebrows.  Mostly, they were common sense things, but as often as not, they were expressions that became clichés in the future.  It meant nothing, necessarily, but it did make Rachel wonder if the outwardly nice old man, Haman, might be one to watch.

Rachel decided then and there if her people were being accused of bringing the madness on the people, the only way to save her people would be to find the real culprits.  Rachel would have to become detective Rachel, but then she grinned.  “One old man.  One beardless boy.  And three women, one of whom is my mother’s age, and one of whom is as old as you.”

“I’m the eldest,” one of the women spoke up.

“I got fuzz on my chin,” the boy protested.

“But you are right,” She smiled for the old man.  “We are safer together.”

Old Haman nodded, but then stopped, and the whole group stopped with him.  There was a man in the street.  He held a bloody ax and chased after a young couple.  The young girl and boy were both screaming, the boy maybe one pitch higher.

The ax man stopped suddenly and turned to stare at Rachel’s group.  He yelled, though it was hard to make out what he actually said.  It sounded like, “The Kairos and the Jews.  Kill them now.  Kill them now.”

The women, except Rachel, screamed.  The boy ran.  Haman stood still in his panic as the ax man approached, or maybe he knew he was safe.  Rachel asked Amun Junior to come and step into her shoes.  It felt like a prayer, but from somewhere in the deep past, Junior agreed.  Rachel vanished and Junior appeared, and he came dressed in the armor of the Kairos.  He had a great sword at his back, and a long knife across the small of his back, if they were needed.

Junior raised his hand, and the ax man froze in place, though clearly the ax man resisted with all his might.  It made no difference.  Amun Junior lived as one of the gods of Egypt for the sake of Amun, his father.  That meant he was not only a god, but in his own jurisdiction.  His will was absolute, limited only by the actions of other Egyptian gods or the Most-High God.

The ax man did manage a slight roar, but a much louder and deeper echoing roar came from down the street.  As Junior examined the demon filled man, a lion appeared.  The women behind him, and Haman stared, and even the boy came back to stare and gasp as the lion turned suddenly into a beautiful woman.  She ran up to Junior and threw her arms around him.

“Wait, sister,” Junior told her, and she waited while the night watch arrived.  The head of the night watch, Amonre, seemed a gruff and cruel man.  Rachel did not like him.  Worse, Rachel did not trust him, but he did seem to be getting the madmen before they did too much damage.  Rachel thought it might be a bit too convenient how he knew where to find them.  The watch took the ax and bound and gagged the man so he could not escape, though he could struggle and swear through the gag.

“Thoroughly demonized,” Junior said, and gave a gentle brotherly kiss to his sister, Sakhmet.

Sakhmet returned the familial kiss with a word.  “Not a vampire type demon, though they may become that if they are killed.  I don’t know.  Demons are not my strong point.”

“They should not be anyone’s strong point.  They aren’t allowed to inhabit flesh and blood,” he said.

“Tell them that.”

“As defender of Upper Egypt, I imagined you would be in Thebes.”

“I came to Memphis to visit my father Ptah when this whole thing started.”

“And any word from mother, or I should say, not-my-mother Ishtar?”

Skhmet grinned at her half-brother and shook her head.  “Not lately.  She stays pretty much in Mesopotamia these days, and I have my work here.”

Junior nodded.  “And where is Wadjt, defender of lower Egypt.  This is her city.”

Sakhmet made a face.  “She is on the outs since she let the Hyksos in a couple of hundred years ago, and she encouraged them.  I think she is still sulking.”

Junior nodded again.  “I was with the Hyksos, you know.  I did my best to spare Memphis.  Wadjt said she did not care if the city got burned to the ground.”

“Unhappy love affair,” Sakhmet explained.  “The girl died young, and Osiris would not let her come back.  Wadjt told Horus to screw himself with his own glasses and went off to sulk.”

“She was very sulky back then.”

“So, who are you this time?” Sakhmet asked, as Amonre and the watch dragged off the demonized man.  Junior made the two of them invisible, and hoped Haman did not see.

“Rachel,” he said, and traded places with Rachel so she could hug Sakhmet herself and say, “Thank you for watching over us.”

Sakhmet frowned and said, “Tell my brother I’ve been a full-grown woman for some time now.  He doesn’t have to do things for me or think for me anymore.”

“Sorry” Rachel said.  “But I need you to make me visible again as soon as I figure out how to not make the others notice.  I’m working undercover.”

“The demon noticed you, and who you were.” Sakhmet said.  “But you seem like a sweet girl.”

Haman called.  “Rachel.”

“Here I am,” Rachel called back from down the street where she found herself.

“Tell him you got scared and ran off. Oh.” Sakhmet, still invisible to the rest of the world, paced her, but appeared to get excited.  She clapped her hands rapidly, like a six-year-old, and shouted.  “They’re here.  My adopted mom and dad.  Talk to you later.” She vanished altogether.

Rachel mumbled.  “All grown up and mature.”  She laughed a little while Haman spoke.

“I got worried when I didn’t see you.  I thought maybe you vanished into thin air”

Rachel squinted at the man.  “Yes, but I realized it would not have been right to run off and leave you to the madman.  So here I am, safe and sound.”  She squinted again when she said safe and sound, but he betrayed nothing.

“The watch came and got him, and just in time.  And there was a lion, but I don’t understand that part.”

“The lion of Judah?” Rachel suggested, and the boy perked up as they continued on the journey home.

“I didn’t know Judah had a lion.”

“It’s an old story,” the old women said.  “Older than me.”  She smiled at herself and told the boy the story.

Avalon 5.4 The Mystery of the Madness, part 2 of 6

Rachel started to come inside, and Lord Horemheb shouted down again.  “Mementep.  Don’t you have work you should be attending to?”

Meme’s eyes got unaccountably big.  “Yes, Lord,” she said, and hiked up her dress to run as fast as she could to get out of sight.

Rachel stepped into the upper room and saw Horemheb sitting at the table, reading the scroll.  She got down on her knees and sat with her eyes downcast, waiting to be spoken to.  She did not wait long.

“Rachel.  Child.  You may stand.”  His voice sounded kind, so Rachel took the invitation to heart.  She got up and stood by the table, opposite the man.  “You are an Abramite.”  It was a statement that was also a question.

“My fathers were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  So were my parent’s fathers, and their parents before them.”  That was important to say, because there were the inevitable mixed marriages.

“And I have been told, a-hem,” he cleared his throat and glanced at the closet curtain.  “I have been told that the Abramites may be responsible for the madness that has come upon some of the people.”  By people, he meant certain Egyptians.  Only Egyptians qualified as people.  The rest were Semites, or Hyksos, which meant foreigners, as a general term.

“That cannot be,” Rachel said, firmly.  “That would go against everything we believe.”

“The precepts of your one god.”

“Indeed.  We do not steal and do not kill.  We live honestly and faithfully.  We keep our word.  Our pledges are sacred to us.  We do good and avoid evil.  We do good for our neighbors, because after this life, we will come before the judgment seat of God to account for our lives.  You Egyptians believe much the same thing.  It is appointed to a man once to die, and after that the judgment.”

“I understand.  But who is you neighbor?”

“Why, you are.  The Semites, Hyksos, and the Egyptians.  You are all our neighbors.  The children of Abraham are counted in tribes, clans and households, but all of us are like family.  And you are our neighbors.  It is not in our teaching or our custom or culture to do such evil as has come upon some people.  Why, to do such a thing would go contrary to everything we are.  It would betray our very souls.”

Horemheb sat quietly for a minute and looked out the window.  The sun was going down, and he had much to think about.  Rachel stood patiently until he voiced another thought.  “I suppose you know nothing about your people wanting their own land.”

“Yes, I do.”  She surprised him.  “It has been told from the time Joseph came down into Egypt and saved the two lands from starvation, that one day a man would come, a savior, who would lead the people out of hardship and into a promised land, a rich land flowing with milk and honey.  I cannot say where that land may be, but I can say assuredly, that land is no part of Egypt.”

“Yes.  Prophecy.  Fantasy.”  He rubbed his hands together, like a chill had come upon him as the sun set.  “No, that is not fair.  It is a good hope, and better than no hope at all.  I might even hope with you that it comes true, only, please, not while I am governor of the delta region.”

“I fear it will be no time soon.”  Rachel waited to hear what else he had to say before she asked.  “Is there anything else?”

“Yes,” he said.  “About my son.”  Rachel dropped her eyes to the table and shut her mouth.  “I want to know if he ever mistreats you.  If he ever takes advantage of you, or forces himself upon you, or touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you must tell me right away.  He is my son.  He is not too old for a whipping.”

“Oh, no, sir.  It’s not like that,” Rachel said, and she showed a warm smile on her face and in her eyes.  “We are just best friends, like we have been since we were children, when my mother served in this house, and I came with her.  You remember.”  Horemheb smiled at his memories, and nodded.

“And will you two marry?”  He had to ask.  He almost looked disappointed when she shook her head.

“I do not expect that will happen,” she said.  “I expect I will end up married to David, a very ordinary kinsman of mine.  And I am sure you have a fine young girl from a good house already picked out for Hotep.  That is what I expect to happen.”  Rachel sounded resigned, but not entirely happy about that prospect.  “I am sure the woman you have chosen will give your son many sons to follow in your wise and wonderful steps.”

“I understand,” Horemheb said, without explaining what he understood.

“There is one thing…” Rachel had the affront to speak outside of answering the lord’s questions.  It was an impropriety, and she let her voice and eyes fall to the table.

“What is it?  You are free to speak.”

Rachel just came out with it.  “I pray my lord will not be unhappy if Hotep and I remain the closest of friend for all of our days.”

Horemheb smiled.  “I would be honored to have you as my son’s best friend.  I have not told you, but I know you have had a deep and lasting influence on him.  Young as he is, he is a finer man and a finer son than I ever hoped to have.  I thank you, personally, and now we will speak of it no more.  You are dismissed.”

“My Lord Horemheb,” Rachel said, and bowed before she left the room.  The first thing that crossed her mind was it was a good thing she did not serve in the Pharaoh’s household.  She would have to walk backwards out of his presence, and she would surely trip over something or other, daily.

Avalon 5.4 The Mystery of the Madness, part 1 of 6

After 1468 BC, Memphis, land of Goshen.  Kairos 63: Rachel, Household Servant

Recording…

“Hotep, get your hands off me.”  Rachel whispered in her loudest whisper.  Hotep had his hands on her waist and hips from behind while she bent over.  Rachel wiggled her butt to try and wriggle free, but that just made Hotep smile.  He bent over her shoulder to peek out the side of the curtain.  “Hold your breath,” Rachel whispered.  He breathed in her ear.  “You reek of onions,” she said.

“Hush,” Hotep responded, but Rachel heard the excitement in his voice.  They were being naughty.

“Meme.  Tell Hotep to let me go.”  Meme got squished into the back of the closet.

“I’m not doing anything.  I’m minding my own business.”  Meme had her eyes shut, and her hands over her eyes.

“Big help…oh, hush.”

‘Hush,” Hotep breathed on Rachel

“Hush.” Rachel gently shoved Hotep’s face.

“Lord Horemheb,” A man spoke as Lord Horemheb walked into the room followed by a bowing Sokar, the weasel.  Horemheb put a papyrus scroll down on the table and turned to listen.

“You have evidence?”

Sokar stroked his beard.  “No hard evidence, but I do not doubt my sources.  They are all honest, hard-working men.  They say the curse that has fallen here and there on the people is the work of the Abramites.  Most of the Semites settled in Goshen and the delta are good people, content with their place.  But I have sources that say the Abramites dream of a land of their own.  If they can drive the true people of Egypt back, as the Hyksos once did, they may get it.”

Horemheb shook his head.  “The Abramites I know are all, as you say, honest, hard-working people.  They are builders, building ships and homes, and they work in the fields, bringing in the food that feeds us all.”

“They are mere servants of Egypt,” Sokar countered. “They have no standing here, and they know it.  That is why they want to take the land, so they can be the rulers.”

“And yet, I have not heard one complain about the work, or about being here.  They have homes as well, and families to care for.  You would have me believe a whole people are nothing but strange alien monsters.”

“My sources do not lie.”

“But you have no meat on your bone.  Bring me evidence.  Bring me the names of those responsible.  Put some meat on the bone, and I will bite.  Right now, all you have is rumors and hearsay.”

Sokar looked pensive for a moment before he let out his best and smarmiest smile.  “As you say, my lord.  We would not want to accuse the innocent.”

Rachel, behind the curtain, let out a small growl.  Hotep slapped her butt softly to keep her quiet.

“Come,” Horemheb said with what might have been a small glance at the closet curtain.  “I will walk you to the door.”  They left the room together and Rachel immediately got to her hands and knees to crawl to the window.  Hotep and Meme followed her lead.

“We would not want to accuse the innocent.  Ha,” Rachel mumbled.  “That is exactly what Sokar wants to do.”  She stopped at the window ledge to look down.  The room was on the second floor.

Hotep grabbed Rachel’s foot, pulled off her slipper, licked her toes, and sucked on her big toe.  Rachel yanked her foot free, spun around and grabbed her slipper.  “You need help,” she said.

“I was just checking to see if you have meat on your bones.  Yes, very nice.”  He licked his lips.

“Sick bird,” Rachel said, as she looked down again.  She slipped herself over the edge and slowly lowered herself until she stretched out, holding on only with her fingers.  She let go and found it not very far at all.  She whispered back up in her loudest whisper.  “Come on, Meme, before the lord returns.”

Meme looked scared, but Hotep moved her over the edge until she got committed.  Meme looked down and around, and pushed a little so she would come down in a bush.  She got scratched and would have shrieked, but Rachel was right there to slap a hand over her mouth.  The shriek bounced up to her eyes which got extra big.

“Look out below,” Hotep said, much too loud, and he made faces as he dropped to the ground.  The three got out of the garden to the walkway, and Hotep spoke.

“That was fun.”  He turned on Rachel.  “You are the best.”  He leaned down to give her a kiss on the lips, but Rachel got her hand in his face to hold him back.

“I am a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a household servant.  You are an Egyptian of rank, and the heir in the house.”

Hotep tried to push his puckered lips between her fingers.  Rachel had to put up her other hand.

“Are you proposing?”  It was the biggest turn off for boys she could think of, but Hotep was slick.

“Not yet,” he said as he pulled his face back. “I have to have a kiss first to see what I will do.”

“No chance.  I know how this works.  You want to dally with the serving girl, and once I am used up, you toss me away and go off to marry some snooty, Egyptian bitch.”  Rachel dropped her hands to her hips and walked back and forth with an exaggerated wiggle.  “Oh Hotep, dahling.  Come and kiss my feet.”

Hotep got mad, before he laughed and nodded, and then shook his head vigorously.  “Gods I hope not.  Anubis take my senseless soul if I fall for a woman like that.”

“You shouldn’t kid about the gods,” Rachel said.  “Trust me on that.”

“What?  I thought you Abramites only believed in one god.  I thought you said the other gods were all pretenders.”

“That is not something we should be talking about.”

“But I’m serious,” Hotep said, and he put on his serious face.  “I would never betray you.  If I fall for a woman like that, you have my permission to strike me dead.”

Rachel nodded.  “We could call it a mercy killing.”  She put her hand gently against his cheek, stepped up to within a hand’s breadth, and let her lips brush against his before she turned her back on him.  “There may be hope for you yet,” she said, and could not prevent the smile that came to her lips when he shouted something like, “Yahoo!”  In fact, he ran off down the walkway, shouting the same sentiment over and over.

Rachel let out the smallest laugh when Meme touched her arm to get her attention.  “I think you really like him,” she said.

“I do,” Rachel admitted before she pulled back.  “But if you tell him that, I will never speak to you again.”  She shook her finger at the girl.

“My lips are sealed tight as a tomb.  Your words are hidden in the secret reaches of the pyramid in my heart.”  Meme said what was expected.  It did not mean she would not tell Surti and the others at the first opportunity.

“Rachel.  Girl.  Would you come up here.  I have something to ask you.”  Lord Horemheb spoke down to them from the window they just dropped from.  Rachel swallowed and Meme’s eyes got big again.  Who knew how long the man had been standing there, watching.

“Yes, Lord,” Rachel said, while Meme whispered in her ear.

“You are in trouble.”

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 6 of 6

When the travelers packed, and the sun just touched the horizon, and a mist crept out of the forest and came up off the river, Vishnu and Varuna came to visit.  Varuna went straight to the travelers, shook their hands and hugged Boston.  “There will be peace,” he said. and they all said how happy they were for him.

Vishnu stayed aloof.  He had met the travelers, in Zisudra’s day, but he had not had an occasion to get to know them properly, much less grow close to them.  The travelers did not mind, and Padrama, who stopped long enough to say good-bye, had Mohini on his mind.  Vishnu said he only came to see the woman.  He said he liked the name Mohini, so she had one point in her favor already.  He asked about her appearance.  Pardama did not answer the god directly.  Instead, he asked the travelers if they knew what the Kama Sutra was.  When Katie said, surely it had not been written yet, Padrama declared that he was going to write it, with Mohini’s guidance.

“You’re nineteen, aren’t you?” Katie asked.  When Padrama said yes, she said, “That explains it.”  But she did not explain anything.

Padrama told them he did not plan on going anywhere for at least a week, so the time gate should remain in place for all that time.  The travelers moved toward the setting sun, and for two days, they passed through villages and hamlets where they found the people warm and friendly.  The locals were not at all like the crazy people they saw before the gods settled things.

“This is a wonderful land of mystery,” Katie said, pulling in deep breaths of fresh air.

“As long as we don’t get too close to the forest by the mountains,” Artie said.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Boston spoke up, and Artie looked back at her and laughed, nervously.

Decker rode up, and the group stopped.  “Trouble up ahead,” he reported.  “I would guess the Aryans have broken out from the Indus, but some don’t seem to have gotten the word that this is a migration, not an invasion.”

They rode up close and spied from behind some trees.  A group of thirty or forty men, looking like soldiers, were in the village, driving people into the streets, killing some at random, and burning the houses. Six men in three chariots kept back and watched.  It looked like they did not want to get their hands dirty.

“We should do something,” Alexis insisted.

“Dare not,” Lockhart responded.

Boston noticed the symbol painted on the side of one chariot.  She voiced her surprise.  “It looks like the Nazis were Aryans after all.”  She pointed.  “A swastika.”

“Look again,” Katie said.  “The swastika shows a man running to his right.  That man is running to his left.”

“Man?” Boston said, and tilted her head to say, “Oh.”

Katie continued.  “Hitler stole the symbol and the whole Aryan notion, but the photograph he saw printed it backwards, like a mirror image.”  Katie shrugged.

“Trouble,” Decker said, as soon as they were seen.  The chariots turned to face them and started toward them.  Lockhart knew they could outride any infantry pursuit, but he was not sure about chariots.  Some ground would be harder on wheels, but they might catch up on flat, level ground.  He decided to talk first, but he pulled his shotgun while Katie pulled her rifle and the rest armed up.  Decker, of course, never holstered his rifle.

“Hello friends,” Lockhart shouted.  He had some lame idea about saying that he noticed they were busy and he did not mean to intrude, so they would just ride on, but before he said anything, a mean looking man with blue skin appeared between them and said, “No.  I know what those weapons can do.”

The blue man glowed with his holy presence, and the travelers trembled.  They had forgotten how awesome the gods could be.  Most of the gods toned themselves down to almost nothing when they came around the travelers, but that was no guarantee they all would be so kind.

The chariots appeared back where they had been, like nothing happened, and the man said, “Go.”  The travelers found themselves transported to a small clearing in some unknown woods.  They startled a tiger.  It roared.  It found an arrow in its side.  It fell, and would not be getting up again.

“Who did that?” Lockhart asked.

“Endangered species,” Alexis complained more softly.

A woman stepped out from the trees and smiled.  She carried the bow, so everyone assumed she fired the arrow.  “I am Mother Devi,” she said.  “I wanted to meet you before you left.”

“Thank you for saving us from the tiger,” Boston spoke up, plenty loud, having been scared first by Shiva and then by a tiger.

“Yes, thanks,” Artie echoed.

“You are more than welcome little elf, or should I say, Little Fire.  And you, too, ART with numbers.  I feel for your people who only wish to be free.  Curious.  I cannot read what is on your minds very well at all.”

“The hedge of the gods,” Lincoln said.  “Brahma and Varuna were among those who first set that up, I think.”

Devi nodded.  She waved her hand over the tiger and a perfectly skinned tiger disappeared, while the skin floated in the air.  “I think I will give this to Shiva for his disappointment in not having his great war.  Call it compensation.”

“A consolation prize,” Decker joked.  Devi laughed, but just a little.

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said.  “He seemed pretty set on destroying something if you ask me.”

Devi smiled again.  He makes at little plays, but it will not last.  Soon enough he will be back to his meditation, and I understand he plans to teach his new son how to meditate.  That should be interesting.”

“Hey!” Boston interrupted.  “The time gate is right in front of us.”

Lockhart looked at Boston before he looked again at the beautiful goddess.  “It is our habit to enter the next time zone first thing in the morning.”

Devi looked at the sky to judge the time.  “Excellent.  I wanted some time to talk to you women.  I understand in the future you are liberated.  Is that the right word?”

“Uh-oh,” Lincoln said quietly.  In that moment, the sky opened-up, like the monsoon finally caught up to them.  All the same, Lockhart said for everyone to get down and set up camp.  He had the feeling it was going to be a long night.

Luckily, Devi sensed their distress and put up a dome of protection that stopped the rain from reaching them.  Elder Stow, who had gotten out his screen device, put it away, and shrugged.  Devi was still speaking.

“Thanks to Padrama, that brilliant young boy, I have been included in the first rank in this new place.  It is a great and exciting privilege, but I have begun to think it is also a great responsibility.  We need to talk.”

“There will be some things about the future we cannot tell you,” Alexis said.

“Agreed.  There may be some things I also cannot tell you,” Devi said.

Katie stepped up and looked directly at Devi, before she followed her instinct and hugged the woman.  “Congratulations, and welcome to the club.”  She stepped back to see a small tear in Devi’s eye.  Artie, who stayed on Katie’s elbow had a question.

“Do you know Anath-Rama?  She is my goddess, and for my people.”

“I am sure she is a wonderful woman,” Devi said, with a genuine smile returned despite the speck in her eye.  “She must be special to be goddess for such a lovely young woman.”  That made Artie return the smile, and they were friends from that moment on.

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

Monday

The travelers find themselves in the Land of Goshen, which is to say, Egypt, where the mysteries run deep, and the daughters multiply.  Enjoy the warmth in an otherwise cold December.

Happy Reading

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 5 of 6

The travelers sat around the campfire, talking and laughing about things. most of which Raja could not follow.  When he could, he responded wisely, so he was not left out altogether.  Katie got the man into a serious conversation earlier in the afternoon.  She had so many questions about the Indo-Aryan invasion of the sub-continent, and here was a person she could ask.  He knew much, being a servant in one of the main Aryan noble houses, but there were plenty of questions he could not answer, and could only guess.

“But your guess is probably closer to the truth than any guess I could make,” Katie said, several times.

When night fell, they had a deer roasting and a pot full of vegetables, though they did not know it was Mithra’s pot.  They hobbled the horses to keep them close, and tried to relax.  They were worried about what Padrama’s absence might mean.  Decker was the one who reminded them that nothing was assured when they were in the middle of it all.

“Pan yelled at me right at the beginning.  He said we should not interfere any more than necessary because everything was in flux.  The future wasn’t finished being written until it became the past.”

“We could still accidentally change the future,” Katie understood.

“We did not exactly do a good job in the last time zone,” Lockhart said.

“I should have remembered the lesson,” Decker said.

“We all should have known better,” Elder Stow agreed.

“Notere decided there was no harm done,” Katie responded, brightly.  “But we might have messed things up badly, acting like we did.”  Lockhart nodded and moved closer to Katie, who smiled for him.  Artie also smiled to see them loving, and side by side.  She got up and squeezed between them, and they grinned at one another before they put their arms around the girl.

“Like a family,” Elder Stow said, with a great big grin that hardly looked human.

The travelers, and Raja did not stay up late in the wilderness.  Lincoln sometimes read until nine, and Lockhart stayed up with Katie and Artie, since Lincoln and Lockhart had the nine to midnight shift, but the rest tended to go to bed.  Unfortunately, just after six, Padrama showed up in the dark.  He appeared out of nowhere, which fortunately, for Raja, was hard to see in the firelight.

Padrama saw the travelers and immediately felt prompted to comment.  “I can’t come back.  I don’t know how it works.”

“We already covered that movie,” Lockhart said, as Boston ran into the hug.

“You are young again,” she commented.

“Twenty, almost,” he said.  “And how is my Artie?”

“Good,” Artie said, as he hugged her, and she looked back at Katie and Lockhart with unspoken questions in her heart and mind.

“How did it go?” Alexis asked what the travelers all wondered, and Katie was dying to ask.

“Where did you go?” Raja shouted over everybody.  “That stranger showed up from nowhere.  I heard him say you were needed.  I did not hear the conversation, which is strange, because I try to hear everything, even when, like with these people, I do not understand what they are talking about.  Then, suddenly you said you would be right back.  And you vanished.  The air was still there, but you were not.  Where did you go?”

“Easy, Raja.  I just got taken to see some old friends and some frenemies, but I think we got all the bases covered.  Sit.” he ordered, and they all sat while he explained what he could.  The travelers had various comments and questions after the fact.

“So, that small giant Indra gets to be king,” Decker said.

“He seemed to me to be a bit of a lunk-head, not the smartest,” Lockhart added.

Padrama shook his head.  “He is smarter than he appears, but more importantly, he is one god who takes his responsibilities seriously.  Any of the old gods in this jurisdiction that get out of line, he will deal with them, and that will keep the Brahman offspring happy.”

“I seem to recall some such incidents,” Katie said.  “Twelve, if I remember.”

“Yes.  Hush,” Padrama put his finger to his lips.  “But they will essentially be one bad apple at a time, a far cry from open war between two houses of gods.  The Vedas will be written to reflect the new divine reality, reflect mind you, not create or explain; but they will give guidance and bring order to the chaos of putting two or more people groups together into one culture.  Vishnu will do his incarnation thing, and the few unhappy gods, the so-called demons, will be overcome in the next five hundred to a thousand years.  Overall, I feel it went as well as could be expected.”

“Varuna feared a war among the gods,” Lockhart said.

“And Brahma.  They were the right choice for negotiation since both would be determined to make peace at any cost.”

“Not fair, though,” Boston complained.  “Varuna not only gave up being King, but he had to give up the sky and go into the sea.”

“And his daughter, my Amun Junior’s wife Varuni went with him,” Padrama said.  “I am sure Shiva thought it was the lowest, most humiliating position he could think of, but don’t forget, I lived as Amphitrite not that long ago.  The sea is a constantly changing and fascinating place, and there is real power in the storms and monsoons that come off the ocean.”

“And Shiva and his wife adopted Ganesh?” Alexis sounded impressed.  “How did you pull that off?”

“Parvati wanted children, and you know Ganesh is so loveable.”  Padrama smiled at some ancient memory.  “Shiva, the ascetic, is not likely to give her any children anytime soon, so adoption was the option.  Besides, it was part of the deal for Varuna to step down in favor of Indra and for going into the oceans.”

“And Devi,” Katie said, with some astonishment.

“I had to get one girl up there in the top rank.  Varuni would have been seen as pandering to my former wife, and Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva’s wives would not do, though Brahma’s wife, Saraswati, is quite clever.  Devi was the right choice, even if that keeps most of the top rank with the newcomers and might make some of the old gods unhappy.”

“She gets good mention in the Vedas,” Katie said.

“Which are not written yet.  I suggested birch bark to write on, or papyrus if they can get trade going over the sea.  Varuna would have to help with that.”  Padrama smiled.  “Anyway, I could not exactly invent paper.”

“This database works pretty good,” Lincoln joked.

“To bed,” Padrama decided.  “You all have to leave early in the morning.  They are ironing out some final details, but I expect to have some morning visitors.”

“But what about Mohini?” Artie asked, concerned about love.

Padrama smiled for her.  “Vishnu has assured me that Ravager and his people have stopped where the forest darkens.  They will still be camped there in the morning, and Mohini has been untouched.  Shiva, the ascetic, kindly put a geis around her so anyone who touched her with lustful intentions would be burned to ashes.  She is probably the most wantable woman in the world right now, but several of Ravager’s men learned the hard way.”

“Nice of Shiva,” Lockhart said.

“Nothing of the kind.  He did not want Mohini gang raped and maybe killed in the process.  His plan was to kidnap her and entice me with getting close again and again to keep me hunting her instead of interfering with the negotiations.  Shiva wanted war among the gods.  He covered several angles, and keeping me busy was just one of them.”

“But why did Ravager stop before the dark of the forest?” Alexis got curious.

Padrama took a deep breath.   It had been a long day, but he spoke.  “Where the forest turns dark, like with a jungle canopy, like covered in perpetual twilight even in the noontide of day, and the trees begin to climb the mountains, and turn to fir a pine; that place is called Himavanta.  Himavanta exists somewhere between this world and another.  All of the usual suspects live there, elves light and dark, and the dwarfs in between, but also others, and some monsters.  Chimera, hippogriff, basilisk and so on.  Centaurs and giants live there, and the Kinnara, who are half human and half bird.  Also, some who are half human and half snake. Wraiths haunt the place.  The forest holds Preta and Bhuta, ghosts of people who died by violence, and Vetala, spirits who live in corpses and sometimes animate them like vampires.  The Pisachas gather there.  It is not a place to go.”

People sat quietly in the dark, and Padrama spoke again.

“To bed.  And try not to have any nightmares.  We are quite safe out here under the watchful eye of man-eating Bengal tigers.”

Katie scolded Padrama in the morning. Poor Artie took hours to get to sleep.

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 4 of 6

“Not fair,” Boston yelled.

“What?” Artie asked, and Alexis and Lincoln looked at her with the same question in mind.

“He disappeared.  It took me about thirty time zones to figure out the Kairos was represented by a little dot in the wilderness.  We moved off the direct line to the next time gate to catch him, but now he disappeared.”

“What do you mean, disappeared?” Katie asked, and pulled out her amulet.

“I mean, he vanished from my map and took the time gates with him.”

“Off the grid?” Lockhart asked.

“Wait, wait,” Katie said, touching her controls.  “Boston, set it to maximum distance.  I still see the gates.” she showed Lockhart, and he nodded.  Artie wanted to look.

“I know.  I know.”  Boston said, grumpily, and increased the size of her map until the two time gates reappeared.  At that distance, the dot pinpointing the Kairos was too small even for her elf eyes to see, but she could reasonably assume he was half-way between the gates.  She showed Alexis and Lincoln.

“How did he get all the way over there?” Artie asked, and added, “Where is there?”

Katie pointed in the general direction.  “Probably one of the gods took him there,” she answered Artie.

Boston spoke.  “My guess is somewhere over on the eastern end of the jurisdiction, practically in the next jurisdiction over.”

“It would take us weeks to get there,” Alexis said.

“That is a long way for people who don’t want to get involved with the local people or entangled in local affairs,” Lincoln spoke to Lockhart.  “Especially if there is an invasion going on.”

“If he got taken for some emergency, he could get back here in the same way,” Alexis said.

Katie looked at Lockhart again.  “If we head out for the new location, we may have to turn around and come right back two days later.”

“Wasted trip,” Artie summarized.

Elder Stow interrupted.  “Well, I can’t even see the time gates.”  He stared at his scanning device and adjusted everything he could.  “He is completely off my grid.  If I were on my own, I might get stuck in this time zone for a long time, looking.”  He looked up.  They all knew he had some way of locating the time gates, but this was the first time he admitted it.  “You know I only have small hand-held devices such as an elder carries,” by which the rest understood ‘such as a military officer carries’.

Lockhart turned to Boston with a question.  “Can you lead us to the Kairos’ last location, where he was before he disappeared?”

“Wait a minute.”  Boston fiddled with her amulet before she nodded.  “There is no clear point, but I can get us close, anyway.”

“Baseball rule?” Decker suggested, and Lockhart nodded.

“Three strikes, he’s out.  We give him three days, in case the gods send him back to where he was.  After that, or if you can tell on that thing that he has begun to move slowly, like the gods are not helping him, then we move toward him and maybe meet him half-way.”

People agreed and set about packing their things.

After only a few hours, they came to a hill beside a river.  A man called down to them.  “Who are you?  What do you want?”

“We are looking for a man named Padrama,” Lincoln shouted the answer.  Katie and Lockhart looked through the binoculars, and Decker took a good look through the scope from his rifle.  They saw the chariot and horses, the fire, and a man kneeling, holding tight to a shield and a spear.  They did not see much else, and no other people.

“What do you want with Lord Padrama?  He is not here.  I don’t know where he has gone.”

“Maybe we can join you and wait for him,” Lockhart shouted.

“I have no gold or anything of value.  I have little food, so I cannot help you if you are hungry.”

“We are friends of Padrama,” Katie tried.

“Not true.  I have served Lord Padrama since he was a child, and I do not know you.”

Alexis tried something else.  “We have known the Kairos for a very long time.”  She felt the hesitation on the part of the man.  After a moment, he asked a question.

“Do you know the Princess?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Alexis answered.  “And Doctor Mishka, and others.”

The man set down his spear and put the shield back into the chariot wagon.  “You might as well come up.  I am sorry I have little food if you are hungry.”

The travelers climbed the hill, and immediately set about caring for their horses while the man sat by the fire and introduced himself.  “I am Raja.  Rajasimpli.  I serve Lord Padrama’s family, and my job is to make a man of him.  Of late, he has threatened to make a man of me.”

Lockhart introduced the travelers, and asked, “What brought you here so far into the wilderness?”

“My young lord met a young woman, Mohini, and she got abducted by Ravager, the servant of the god Shiva.  We have followed, though we left our people far behind.”

“Wait a minute.”  Lincoln got out the database and began to read.  “Mohini in this life is the fifth incarnation of a woman… She lived as Sasha, her third incarnation.  She married Mikos way back when.  We met Mikos.”  People did not remember until he said.  “Bluebloods and Sevarese, seals on the beach.  Mikos was the son of Ares.”

“Oh, yes,” Boston said.  “I remember.”  Lockhart looked at Katie who also seemed to be remembering.  Ares grabbed her and kissed her, passionately, and she did not appear to resist very hard.

“So, he sees Mohini like a soul mate, of sorts,” Alexis concluded.

“He has called her Sasha, and I have heard her call to him, Mikos,” Raja admitted.

“So, you are a long way from the invasion,” Decker concluded as he sat by the fire.

Raja appeared to think a minute.  “The valley of the great river has been overrun, but mostly we are moving in and filling the empty spaces.  We have no need to war on the people when there is plenty of room, unless we have to.”

“Mixed invasion and migration, as most reasonable scholars imagine,” Katie said, to distract Lockhart from thinking about Ares.

“Here’s the thing,” Lincoln paused in his reading.  “It says normally humans are not designed to live over and over.  They are male or female, and after a few lives in a row as the same sex, it gets strange.  The Kairos lived as a woman once three times in a row at the beginning, and had to balance it with three male lives in a row.  The Kairos almost got ruined by the experience.  Since then, the Kairos has kept things in balance by, more or less, taking turns between male and female.  But remember, the Kairos was originally designed with all the genetic material to be both, and was supposed to be born both, with one consciousness divided between two bodies.”

“I still say that would have been strange,” Lockhart shook his head as he tried to imagine it.

“I can’t imagine how that would work,” Katie did not disagree.

“We saw Amri and Zadok when we first began this journey home,” Boston remembered.

“They were still attached at the hands, like one being, but everything else was separate,” Alexis also remembered, and Boston nodded.

“Amri liked to talk and Zadok liked to listen, so it worked out well.”

“Anyway,” Lincoln took back the conversation.  “Normal people are only one or the other.  Apparently, the Kairos gets less than two percent added from his actual birth parents for each birth, and that is mostly cosmetics, like hair, or eye, or skin color.  A person changing from male to female would normally require too much alternate genetic material.  It would not be the same person.”

“So, we are women forever,” Artie said, trying to understand.

Lincoln nodded.  “But here is the thing.  For normal humans, the attractiveness increases.  I read that as sex, as in the person becomes more masculine or more feminine with each rebirth.  But at the same time, the mind starts to slip.  After about the fourth birth, insanity begins to also creep in.  It says, five is about the limit.  Rasputin was the seventh, irresistibly attractive to the noble women in Russia, and madder than the hatter.”  He went back to his reading, and Raja offered a comment.

“You are the strangest people I have ever met.  Are you Yaksha?  I should be more afraid, but after the Yaksha that visited us last night, you seem tame.”

“Visitors?” Alexis asked.

“Lord Padrama called them dwarfs.”

Lockhart nodded and pointed as Katie spoke.  “Alexis and Boston are Yaksha.  They are light elves, but the rest of us are human.”

“Me, too,” Artie said, proudly.

Raja nodded as Decker spoke up.  “Come on, Lincoln.  It is our turn to hunt.”

“Come on Boston,” Alexis said.  “Let us see what we can gather in the way of greens to cut the deer, deer, elk and deer diet.”

“Be careful in the wilderness.  There are snakes, some are very big, and some are very poisonous.,” Raja said, and turned to the women.  “And be careful to watch for the crocodiles in the river.”

“This river?” Lockhart said, thinking they were a long way from a salty delta, where he imagined all crocodiles lived.  Then he remembered crocodiles lived all the way up the Nile.

Raja nodded, as he got up to find more wood.  He did not want the fire to go out.  “The villagers we spoke with called it the Ramganga River, and said it was full of crocodiles, and snakes, Pythons and Cobra.  Personally, I am more worried about the bears in the woods.”

“And Lions?” Katie asked.  She once shot a lion that attacked Alexis.

“Not lions.  Tigers.”

“And bears,” Artie said.

“Oh my,” Lockhart could not help himself.

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 3 of 6

The volume felt unbearable.  Padrama regretted inviting the dwarf family to dinner, even if he felt he had no choice. The only good thing was it guaranteed no tiger would come within a hundred miles of that noise.  Bobo and Rinna argued and complained about the deer, and the cooking, and whatever else crossed their minds.  The boys sang.  At least Padrama imagined it was supposed to be singing.  Their volume was probably intended to drown out the sound of their parents fighting.  Poor little Rita sat quietly and rubbed the stubble on her chin, not counting the half-dozen times she mentioned that her mama told her that one day she would have a beard down to her knees.

“Good for you,” Padrama always responded, and Rita grinned with pride and went back to rubbing her stubble.

Raja sat close to Padrama at first, and eyed these spirits that he called Yaksha.  He said they were known to practice strange and powerful magic.  But Padrama assured his servant that these would not be any trouble, and after about an hour of the boys singing, the little girl rubbing, and the parents arguing, Raja threw his hands up with a comment.

“They might as well be human.”

Somehow, Bobo managed to slip something into the tea to make it alcoholic.  Padrama was surprised for all of a second, before he shrugged and decided it was just as well.  Maybe the group would eventually pass out in a drunken stupor.

Padrama did not imagine how bad it could get until he saw them eat.  They hardly chewed, but showed everything when they talked, and they all talked at the same time through the meal.  They stuffed more in before they swallowed, and more than once, one or the other of the boy had to lean over, gag, and throw something up.  One time it was a rib bone.  And the boy picked up the bone to chew on.

They ate through a whole deer, and half of the second one, leaving half for the morning, which for himself and Raja would have been breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It would be just a slim breakfast if the dwarf did not go home by first light.

Raja had a hard time holding his hands over his ears and eating anything at all.  Padrama finally had to secretly compel the dwarfs a little, to quiet them down after the meal.  He thought to get their attention with a story, and he made them listen and not interrupt.  Unfortunately, the only story that came to mind was the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well.  It was a well-worn story with hysterical twists and turns throughout.  Padrama knew Bobo and Rinna had heard it before.  He knew they once told the story to the boys.  Little Rita was the only one who had not heard it, but Padrama imagined he could get away with a few laughs and a good night’s sleep.

He glanced at Raja.  Of course, Raja had not heard the story.  It was not the kind of story one shared with humans.  He imagined it would be all right.  Raja was a serious-minded soul and did not have much of a sense of humor.  So he told the story, and later regretted it.  Little Rita giggled all night long.  That was punctuated with Raja’s snorting laugh, which sounded worse than his snoring.  That was drowned out now and then by great guffaws from one boy or the other, not to mention the occasional snicker from Rinna.  Only Bobo appeared to be immune, but suffice to say, Padrama did not get much rest.

Padrama heard them get up in the morning, before dawn.  He heard them trying to be quiet, though they sounded like buffalos in a coffee shop.  They also laughed now and then, especially Bobo, who seemed to have saved up his laughter for the morning.  They left.

When Padrama opened his eyes, he saw that the half of the deer was gone.  He expected that.  Beside him, Raja’s voice whispered.

“Are they gone?”

“They are gone,” Padrama said, and he got up to make sure they did not tinker with the chariot, and the horses were okay.  He found a small stack of wood beside the fire and assumed it was their way of making payment for the half a deer.  He knew by morning they would all conveniently forget that he was the Kairos, their own personal god, given to the little ones by the gods in the most ancient times.  He would not remind them.  He would look out across the way and think about where he was proposing to go.

“Nothing left to cook,” Raja said.  “I’m glad to still have my skin.”

Padrama laughed.  He prepared himself to hunt, but a pot appeared on the miraculously built up fire, and a man appeared, sitting, and staring into the fire.  Raja leapt up and ran several steps from the fire.  Padrama squinted and then sat.

“Mita.  Why are you here?”  Padrama deliberately used a name for the god that Raja did not know.  He did not want his servant freaking out more than necessary.

“Several reasons,” Mita responded.  “Breakfast is a good one.”

It was rabbit and actual vegetables in the stew, and Raja quickly retrieved their bowls and spoons from his backpack.  “Sorry,” he said.  “We only carry the two.”

“Quite all right,” Mita said.  He lifted his hand that had been hidden by the pot and held a bowl in it, with a spoon in the bowl.  “Here,” he said and reached out.  Raja gave him the two bowls and he filled them.  It smelled wonderful, and from the sounds Raja made, Padrama was sure it would taste wonderful, too.  Unfortunately, he had sudden, serious concerns on his mind.

“You know you are needed,” Mita said.

Padrama glanced at Raja, and Mita, who was, in fact, Mithras, did something so Raja could not hear and thought of nothing but his breakfast.  Padrama spoke.  “Are Brahma and Varuna having trouble?”

Mita shrugged.  “Things have gone well up to this point, but they appear to have reached an impasse.  Varuna has only been king…well for some time, since Dayus stepped down, but it is asking a lot to give that up.  At least, I think so.”

“I didn’t think being king was that important to Varuna.”

“It isn’t.  He is prepared to give up the kingship, but who will take the responsibility?  Brahma seems a reasonably stable and good person, but as chief negotiator for the other side, he can’t exactly negotiate himself into the position.  Shiva wants it.  Vishnu won’t let him take it.  Indra suggested Vishnu might take it, but Vishnu is like Varuna in that respect and wants no part of it.”  Mita shrugged.

“How about Devi?”  Padrama said.  “She would be a great king.”

“She’s a woman.”

“So why can’t a woman be king?”

Mita just shook his head.  “You have to go there.  Both Brahma and Varuna would listen to you, if you don’t offer stupid suggestions.”

Padrama thought about it.  He knew the history and the way things supposedly worked out, but he would have to be careful how he presented it.”  Then something Mita said caught up with him.  “What do you mean, I have to go there?  Don’t you mean we have to go there?”

Mita shook his head.  “I suppose I will have to take you, but you will have to get back on your own.  I’m getting while the getting is good.  You know I have worked with Scythians, and the people all around Bactra for centuries.  It was Varuna’s idea to stall the invasion.  I am known by the people of this land, but I also have a connection to the Aryans.”

“Who are now also in this land.”

“Not all,” Mita said.  “Some Asuras, or I should say, Ahuras will cross the divide and move down with the people into the mostly empty no-man’s land, what you call Iran.  We will be gods for the Iranians, the Avestan Magi.”

“Medes and Persians, and I suppose you will still play with the Scythians, too.”  Mita shrugged, but Padrama had another thought.  “Tough luck on your brother, you running out on him and all.”

Mita shrugged again.  “You know I am not a fighter, and I am a glutton.  I would not do well around ascetics.”

Padrama looked across the river where Mohini had gone.  “You know I have only one desire in this life.  My soul mate is in the hands of a demon and I will save her.”

“Very noble, but if you don’t come, there may be nothing left to save.”

Padrama nodded very sadly.  “Raja,” he said.  “Raja.”  He got the man’s attention.  “You need to stay here and watch our things.  I have to run an errand, and I will be back as soon as possible.”

Raja nodded slightly, and when Padrama and the stranger both disappeared, he swallowed.

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Be sure to chew with your mouth closed and swallow.

And Happy Reading.

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 2 of 6

Earlier that same morning, Boston yelled.  “Keep still.”

“What?” Alexis asked, and tried to peek.  Boston had her amulet out to check on directions.

“There is a little red dot up ahead.  Probably a village.  The Kairos appeared to stop there for the night, and I thought we might catch him.  But now he has taken off from that place, and he is moving kind of fast.  Maybe on horseback?”

“Like chasing someone, or being chased,” Alexis suggested.

“Probably not horseback,” Katie spoke back to them.  “It is too early for that.  He might be driving a chariot, though.  Like Balor had back with the Hyksos.”

“I wouldn’t think a chariot would be much good over open country,” Alexis responded.

Katie shrugged.  “All I know is my prototype amulet can find the next time gate, but once the Kairos moved off the straight line between the gates, I lost track of where he might be.”

“Boston,” Lockhart shouted back.

“There should be a village about an hour from here, but the Kairos is moving again, away from us.”

“You don’t think we should just go on to the next gate, after screwing up the last place,” Lincoln said.

“Not smart,” Lockhart responded.  “We find him first, and try not to screw anything up between here and there.”  He got on his wristwatch communicator, being unable to see Decker.  “Look for a village, about an hour out, Boston says.”

“Roger.”  “Will do,” the responses came from Decker and Elder Stow, who also waved.

When the hour had passed, they indeed came to a village, but a strange looking village it was.  Cows and goats ruled the streets.  People rushed to the river to fill water jugs, and rushed home to hide behind their doors.  Lockhart imagined if he blinked, he would miss the whole thing.  The village was that small.  Then again, he felt glad to see the river, likely a tributary of the Ganges.  The horses needed to water.

“Hold up,” Lockhart said, and watched the only group of people in the street.  Seven men were walking in a tight circle, mumbling, or maybe chanting.  Seven women, he guessed their wives, were circling outside the men, going in the opposite direction.  Every time the wives and husbands met, the women reached out to touch the men, like trying to get their attention.  The men shrugged the women off and just kept walking and mumbling.

“I’m getting dizzy,” Decker said.

“To the river,” Lockhart said.  “At least the horses can take a break.”

While the horses watered, and rested, Alexis and Boston managed to catch one of the women.  She wanted to run away, but paused to face Artie.  Artie looked like a normal young woman of sixteen years.  She had normal enough dark brown hair and eyes, and her natural skin tone looked darker than the others, though she had European looking features.  She might have passed for a local under other circumstances.  So, the woman talked to Artie, and when the first woman talked, some of the other women came to join her.  They opened-up, though the stories they told were strange.

“The gods are fighting,” the first woman said, three times, and added, “What can we do?”

“We’ve been invaded,” another woman wailed numerous times.  “It isn’t safe out.”

A third woman cried a little, but made more sense.  “If the gods come to blows, it will be the end of the world.  New people have moved into the land and brought their gods with them, but the old gods are resisting.”  she paused in her tears to see who she was talking to.  “You are new people,” she screamed.  Several others screamed, and they all ran back to their homes.

“Indo-Aryans,” Katie suggested the obvious answer.  “The Aryans have come into the land.  Everything, right down to the structure of the language itself, is different.  These people are Dravidian connected, I would bet.”

“Not entirely,” Alexis countered.  “Tara’s mixed Shemsu and Sumarian people, and Zisudra’s Elamite and Jiroft people came at least as far as the Indus valley.”  She remembered, and Katie smiled for her.

“Glad someone listens.  But the Indo-Aryans are whitish, non-semetic types from up around the Caspian and Aral Seas in Siberia.  In the west, they become the Celts, Germanic people, the Italo-Greeks, the Slavs, and the Hittites, just to keep it all in the family.  Here, in the south and east of the seas, they become the Medes and Persians, and what we call Indians.”

“They are not all the same, are they?” Lincoln interrupted.

“All the same root, from the same stock people,” Katie said.

“I remember,” Boston shouted.  “Back when we were with Devya in the city of Sanctuary.  She said people would be moving down off the steppes and into the fertile land along the silk road.  She said, eventually some would invade India…the Brahmins.  Others would invade Iran, the invested people.”

“Avestan,” Katie said.

“I know, the Magi, the wise men at Christmas.”

“Christmas is not for a long time from now,” Alexis said.

“Still…” Boston thought about Christmas and smiled.

“Anyway,” Katie got the conversation back.  “We appear to be right on the cusp of the Indo-Aryan arrival in northern India, and things appear to be up in the air, even for the gods.”

Lincoln said, “I remember Varuna saying he was trying to prevent a war between the gods.”

“Looks like that may happen, unless someone can do something about that,” Katie said.

“Hey,” Boston followed her train of thought to its conclusion.  “Maybe those men walking in circles are Brahmins.”

“No,” Lockhart joined them.  “They are just crazy old coots.”  People looked at him, so he continued.  “We need to move several hours upriver, and away from people in this place.  This is one argument we don’t want to get involved in.”

When the travelers finally stopped for the night, Decker brought in a deer and they cooked in the quiet of the night until Lockhart sat down beside Katie and that appeared to open her mouth.

“They must find a way to make peace,” she said.  “India did not sink into the radioactive ocean fifteen-hundred-years before Christ.”

“I’ve been thinking, too.” Alexis said.  “I am sure the Kairos will have to get involved at some point.  As I recall, this very kind of circumstance is why Chronos worked so hard to get the Kairos born in the first place.”

“Hardly seems fair to him,” Lockhart said.

“He is only human in this life,” Lincoln said.  “Padrama, that is, Lord Pad of the Aryan people.  He is a noble, warrior class, not a Brahmin, but only human.”

“Lord Walker,” Katie tried a rough translation of the name, Padrama.  “Maybe King of the Road.”

“Hardly fair to him,” Boston agreed.

“But peace is what everyone wants, isn’t it?” Artie asked.

“Every right-thinking human,” Decker said, as he sat on the grass and put his feet toward the fire.  “The problem is most humans don’t think right, or have moments of temporary insanity.”  He looked at Elder Stow, but Elder stow waved him off.

“That is true of any kind of human,” he said.  “I will not argue that point.”

“Well, I want peace, only the Anazi won’t let my people be free.”  She got quiet as she realized the dilemma with her own people did not lend itself to an easy, peaceful solution.

“Hush,” Katie said, and she patted Artie on her hands.  Lockhart put his arm around Katie, and she smiled and enjoyed the quiet, looking up at the stars and the moon above the crackling fire.  At least they had peace and quiet.