“It appears to be an amulet.”
“Let me see.” Mingus held out his hand, but Roland only held up the amulet. He caught Boston’s eye, but she looked at Alexis so he handed it to his sister.
“You better hang on to this.”
Mingus followed with his eyes. “There is great power in that amulet,” Mingus announced. “Of course I have never seen it, but that might be the amulet of peace and prosperity. Made by the same wee folk who made Thor’s Hammer and eventually the armor and blades of the Kairos.”
“Peace and prosperity?” Lockhart asked. Mingus nodded, but Captain Decker scoffed. The Captain was getting a handle on this Kairos business, but magic still seemed like so much nonsense to him.
“At least there is a clear path here through this jungle,” he said.
“Boston?” Lockhart asked.
“This is more or less the right direction.” Boston pointed. Without being asked, Roland and Decker trotted down the path and out of sight to scout.
“The amulet of Peace and Prosperity,” Lincoln read from the database. “Made from a stone found by the Kairos and blah, blah. Ah! The greater spirits of Peace and Prosperity willingly filled the stone with a reflection of their own being. Even the gods are restrained from causing disasters and hardship against the owners and their people.” Lincoln looked up at Alexis who was gently fingering the stone that hung from her neck. “Sounds very powerful.”
“I can feel it,” Alexis admitted.
“It belongs to the Kairos?”
“Yes.” Lincoln looked again at the database. “In a thousand or so years it will go north with the Kairos, Devya and become the centerpiece of the city of Sanctuary that she will build on the silk road.”
“The sun god, Dayus.” Lieutenant Harper remembered and looked at Lockhart. Lockhart nodded and thought like a policeman.
“Dayus was the one who hated Dallah so much he created the Thar desert to get rid of her. Now Vanu is within his grasp again, but he is frustrated by the power of the amulet. So he gets two locals to steal the amulet for him so he can make a desert in the Kashmir to get rid of Vanu.”
“Dayni,” Boston remembered what she heard. “I bet the amulet belongs to him.”
“Her,” Lincoln corrected. “The Traveler’s wife.”
“I read that book,” Lockhart smiled as Roland and Decker reappeared with a man between them. The man looked ragged, cut and bruised everywhere. He was stark naked and he also looked like he was not in his right mind.
“We found this one sleeping beside the path,” Captain Decker explained.
“Oh, but he needs help,” Alexis hurried forward to meet the man. The man took one look at her and shrieked. He tried to back up, to get away from her but the Captain and Roland each had an arm and they were not going to let go. “Lay him down and hold him,” Alexis ordered, and the men complied.
She stepped up then and the man struggled, but he could not escape. Alexis laid her hands a few inches from the man’s chest. A warm glow of golden light covered her hands and then covered the man. The cuts began to close and heal and the bruises lightened in color and became less pronounced. With that, the man relaxed, and as Alexis worked, the man’s hand bent up at the elbow. Roland noticed and almost slapped the man’s hand down again, but the man was not reaching for Alexis. He reached for the amulet, cupped it gently in his hand and for the only time, smiled, his eyes only on the stone, and he said one word, “Pretty.” It was the only word he ever spoke.
Mingus stepped up as Alexis finished. He had a bit of fairy weave and made a loincloth grow around the man’s private parts. Lockhart had another thought.
“We don’t have a straight jacket. We don’t even have handcuffs.”
“Lockhart?” Several sets of eyes turned to him and wondered why he was thinking such things. Obviously the man had been mistreated and driven mad anyway.
“My thoughts, exactly.” Captain Decker had no trouble understanding what Lockhart was thinking. He produced some rope from his own backpack, and since the man was on his stomach so Alexis could heal his back, he took advantage of that and grabbed the man’s hands. He tied them securely and lifted the man to his feet. The man made noises at him. He growled and whimpered at having his hands tied, but no one set him free.
“Move out,” Lockhart said, and they found they had to drag the man with them at first to get him to move at all.
It was a couple of hours on the path through the jungle before they found a clearing large enough to stop for a late lunch. Man, as they were calling him, got good after a while. He stumbled along with the pack and only turned his head at sounds. He paused now and then to sniff at the air. He drooled now and then, but there was never any sign of comprehension in his eyes. Estimates got revised. Man was entirely mad. Obviously he could not have been born mad or he would have never survived his childhood. Something must have happened, and all anyone could think was it must have been horrendous.
By lunchtime, Man was taking some simple orders. Lockhart told him to sit and man sat. Lockhart was inclined to treat Man more like a dog than a human. Alexis, Boston and Lincoln all imagined he was more like a three-year-old, albeit one that was not yet verbal. Captain Decker was just glad Man was willing to take orders.
After lunch, Alexis excused herself. Outside of the general comment about not wandering far, Lockhart imagined no immediate danger. Lincoln added, “Watch out for snakes,” but that was becoming his mantra and no one paid much attention except to be a bit more careful.
Back in the trees, Alexis paused and fingered the amulet. She held it and studied it as deeply as she could with all of her senses. It looked and felt ordinary enough. No human would give it a second thought apart from the size and beauty of the precious stone. It was a blood red ruby, she was sure of it, and the size of her fist. When she looked with her magical senses on full alert, though, she felt the power. It was way beyond anything she could comprehend, much less duplicate. She was not surprised the gods themselves could be stymied by the thing.
“Alexis!” Lincoln called from the camp.
“I’m fine. I’ll be right back,” she shouted. She smiled to think he worried about her. He spent two years looking for her after she vanished. He really did love her. She decided that if he was having trouble adjusting to the two of them being young again, she could wait, however long it took.
Alexis took the amulet off and laid it out carefully beside her. She was loathe to get it dirty. When she squatted, she got a surprise. Man came racing through the bushes. Somehow, he freed his hands. Alexis was sure she saw the rope burns and would not have been surprised if he scraped off strips of skin to get free. He snatched up the amulet before Alexis could catch her breath and disappeared into the jungle.
Alexis hurriedly pulled herself together as the others came running. “He went that way,” she shouted and pointed. “And he stole the amulet.”
“What?” Mingus turned on her. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
Alexis frowned. “I was not exactly in a position to stop anyone.”
Lockhart had no recriminations. He simply pointed to Roland and Captain Decker. The Captain jumped through the brush in one direction, and Roland picked a slightly altered course. Then there was nothing to do but wait. Boston, Mingus and Lockhart spread out in case Man doubled back. Alexis set a magical barrier at some distance down the path on either side so she would be alerted if anyone came their way. They waited, and about two hours later Captain Decker and Roland returned together with a negative report.
“There is a river some distance from here. He could have easily run the whole way and jumped in. After that, there would be no way to follow him.” Captain Decker shook his head.
“There is a way,” Roland disagreed, respectfully. “But I found no evidence of that.”
“Get your stuff,” Lockhart said. “Let’s find out where this trail takes us, hopefully before dark.”