It was not long before they came to the edge of the jungle. A broad field of sweet green grass spread out in front them and for a good stretch before it came to some distant rock covered hills. The trail split there. It ran along the tree line in both directions. It was an odd sight. It looked like the jungle simply stopped and the trees stood like soldiers at attention. The line was fairly straight and made a sharp demarcation between tree land and the grassy plains.
“Way?” Lockhart asked, knowing they had followed the trail and not strictly the amulet. They might have gotten turned around.
“This way,” Boston pointed to their right. Roland stared to their left.
“Smoke, I think,” he said. “Probably cooking fires. Maybe a village.”
Mingus squinted but saw nothing so he took a great whiff of air instead. He shook his head. “Wind is not from that direction.”
“We follow the green arrow,” Lockhart decided. No one argued, and it was another hour, about an hour before sunset when they found the sheep. They smelled them first before they saw them. As they came up close, a woman stood from the shadow of the trees.
“Hello,” she said, and stepped into the light. She was young, about Boston’s current age of around twenty-three. She had a three or four-year-old that clung shyly to the back of her dress and she looked pregnant besides. “Are you hungry and thirsty? Please, you must come stay the night with us.” The petite young woman glanced at the sun. “It is not safe right now to be out in the dark. Please.
“Yes, thank you very much,” Alexis said it because Lockhart merely took his own glance at the sun before he nodded.
“Oh, wonderful.” The woman looked pleased. “Come Gana.” She pulled the boy from behind. “Say hello.” The boy merely stared at the strangers. “My husband will be very happy to have visitors. He only has me to listen to most of the time and he says that is all he needs, but I know he will be happy to have a change in conversation. He knows so much, but he has no one to talk to. Sometimes it keeps him awake at night and sometimes it gives him a headache. Do you know what I mean, headache?”
“That can’t be good.” Katie Harper had stepped up to take the point with Boston.
“Oh,” The woman said with the biggest smile seen in a long time. “I know how to cure a headache.” She patted her stomach. Alexis and Katie smiled.
“I wouldn’t know about that, “ Boston said, but she found her eyes wander over to look at Roland. The elf looked at the sheep.
“Children!” The woman called and several sheep bleated and began to follow as she walked. “My name is Dayni,” she said. Several people stopped so the rest stopped. It was Lincoln who said it.
“So, of course. Your husband is Vanu.”
Roland had another thought. “You’re the one those two fools on the trail were afraid of?”
Dayni did not seem to hear. She shouted at her stray. “You, too, lumpy. You better come if you don’t want to be supper.” The sheep let out a loud Baa of protest, but it came from the edge of the trees and rejoined the herd on the path.
Dayni led them all down the grasslands path for a short way before she turned on to a side path and reentered the jungle. The jungle was not as thick in that place and the path was good as well, worn down by years of sheep. The clearing where the house was located was barely inside the trees, like a border house between two lands. And that was what it was. Dayni was of the jungle people. Vanu was born in the village on the grasslands and their marriage brought those two tribes into peaceful relations, but neither Dayni nor Vanu wanted to live with his or her people.
“Just as well,” Dayni said as she closed the gate to the pen where they kept the sheep in the night. She shook her head sadly at the mention of Vanu’s people and turned her nose up at her own.
“Lockhart!” The word came before they saw the young man. Dayni ran to him for a big hug and kiss. Gana was a little slower, but he was looking to be picked up, and Vanu did just that as he carried the boy to the door of his house.
“A front porch on a log house,” Katie Harper noted. “Aren’t you playing a little with history here?”
“A little,” Vanu admitted sheepishly. He, above all was not supposed to do that. “But wait until you taste my bar-b-q sauce.”
“I could go for some of that,” Captain Decker admitted.
Vanu nodded. “No tomatoes, of course, but a pretty good recipe. I’ll invent it about a hundred years from now.”
“That’s my Kairos.” Lockhart smiled.
It was well after dark by the time they were all fed and ready to call it a night. Some lounged on the porch. Some sat down below on the grass. Gana sat in his mother’s lap and struggled to keep his eyes open. The stars were out by then, bright in the sky. The moon was also up, and full. “Actually, it is the third and last night of the full moon,” Vanu said.
“What do you mean the last night?” Boston asked.
“I mean the last night with the moon full enough. You see, every time the moon goes full it is not just a one night deal. There are three nights where there is enough power to make the wolf.”
“Werewolf?” Lincoln asked.
“No,” Mingus objected. “It is way too early in history for a werewolf. The Were people are still present and haven’t mated with humans enough to pass on the genetic anomaly. And there is no record of the virus this far back.”
Vanu shook his head. “It is the only explanation. Ashteroth must have thrown the poor man back this far to see if it was possible.”
“Were people?” Katie Harper had a different question.
Lincoln got out the database, but Mingus answered first. “Shape shifters. They were among the many people the gods brought from other worlds to fill the dead spaces. You humans were all bunched up around Ararat and the Plains of Shinar if you recall.”
“But the amulet is gone. Varuna protect us,” Dayni spoke and looked up into the night sky.
“Ah, the amulet,” Alexis said. The topic had not come up. Vanu took Alexis’ words like a question.
“The amulet of peace and prosperity. My bloodstone ruby fashioned by the dwarfs in the mountains and endowed with the powers of peace and prosperity. It seemed to hold the beast at bay on the first two nights.”
“But you lost one sheep,” Roland said.
Vanu nodded but raised an eyebrow. “Dayni was bringing the flock home just after dark. The wolf caught the straggler. I am just happy it did not catch Dayni.” He reached for her hand and she squeezed his.
“Let us hope the wolf is far away tonight,” Dayni said. It was not. As they were thinking and preparing to end the night, they heard it close. Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper armed themselves. Lockhart got out his shotgun. Then it was there on the other side of the clearing, drooling and snarling and looking like it was trying to decide which human to kill first.