Everyone had plenty to eat and plenty of beef as things got back to normal, except Risah sat with the children for the rest of the evening which was unheard of. There was even some beef left over from the tables which the cooks promptly worked to preserve for lunch on the following day, but Dantu would not let Risah get up and help.
At the head table, the travelers were fascinated by the entertainment. Anenki sat between Bashte and Gagrena and had a hard time staying straight in the middle. He wanted to lean in Bashte’s direction and away from the woman who would not leave him alone.
Gagrena focused all her attention on Anenki. She spoke cold and civil words to Lili, clearly despised Niudim and ignored Nanna because Nanna was not hers. The rest might as well have been invisible. The woman fawned on Anenki. She kept touching him, his hand, his arm, like they were lovers of old. Everyone figured she wanted the best deal she could get for her city, Uruk, and she was using her looks and sex to get it.
Anenki tried to be polite but he could not always help himself. Gagrena’s ego appeared boundless, so perhaps she did not notice that whenever she touched him, Anenki turned up his nose. When asked, Gagrena admitted she had not dedicated her city to any particular god. She was a woman who believed that the purpose of everyone in the world was to serve her so after that it did not really matter. Boston was surprised she had not built a temple to herself and later regretted that she put the idea in the woman’s mind.
“Nanna.” Bashte finally spoke into the void. Nanna was yawning again. “Let’s go check and see that the children are in bed.” Anenki grabbed Bashte’s hand, but Bashte simply said, “You will be fine,” and she let go. Everyone paused to watch them go and then Gagrena spoke.
“We finally got rid of the nursemaid.”
“Not at all,” Anenki responded. He had just about reached his limit of politeness. “She is my good wife, my living wife as opposed to my dead one.” Back when Gagrena first left Anenki, he counted her as dead. He had not mentioned it in many years but just then he could not help himself. Gagrena was not put off.
“Anenki, I worry about you. You are not as strong as you think. You need a woman beside you, a real woman.”
“I have one, thank you.”
Gagrena frowned ever so slightly as she took his hand and tried to catch his eyes. “I just wanted you to know that I am here for you, just like we were meant to be from the beginning. I would hate to see you all alone, I mean if something should ever happen to young Bashte.”
Lincoln, Lockhart, Katie and Mingus all sat up straight. Anenki looked at them, looked at Gagrena and jumped out of his chair. “Bashte!” He ran for the stairs. The others followed. Lockhart pulled the pistol he wore at his side. Captain Decker brought the rifle that was never out of his reach. Lincoln grabbed the wicked looking knife with which he had cut the big servings of beef. Roland pulled his sword as they ran.
The children were huddled in one bed, crying. Gagrena’s little army of seven men were all there in the big room. Bashte was there too, down on the floor. She was not bleeding or unconscious, but her hand went to the back of her head where she was struck. Nanna had her hands up, and that made a small shield against the men. She could easily deflect a spear, but she had no confidence of holding the men if they decided to rush her all at once. No one said, wait or what are you doing, or let’s talk about this. Lockhart and Captain Decker simply fired. Lincoln threw his knife and put his man down, It was a talent no one knew he had. Roland also put his man down easily with the sword. The other five went down just as fast. Captain Decker got three to Lockhart’s two.
The children screamed at the noise. Nanna dropped her hands and her jaw. Doctor Mishka spoke up from the floor because Anenki had gone away and the good Doctor had taken his place to make sure Bashte did not have a concussion.
“Men and guns. How sick I am of such things,” Mishka said. “Nanna, help your Mama to walk over to the children.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Nanna said to what was obviously a familiar face. She helped Bashte stand as the rest of the crew piled into the room which suddenly did not seem so big. Doctor Mishka immediately took Alexis to see which of the men might be saved. She instructed Boston and Katie to staunch the bleeding on the two who only looked wounded while she quickly checked the two who were clearly dead. They saved the other five, though the one with the shattered knee would never walk well again.
“Anenki?” Gagrena straggled in at the end of the line. It took her a moment to realize what happened.
“Here,” Mishka said. She did not have time to play games.
“Where?” Gagrena wondered, before she looked twice at the Doctor. This was not the first time she had seen Anenki become a different person and not even the first time she saw him become a woman. “I am glad you are alright.”
“Bull.” Mishka got in her face. “Anenki is too polite. Let me tell you something. On your own, you are a danger to yourself and to others. You know, in the Soviet days we lock up people like you for your own protection and for ours.”
“What if she had someone to watch over her?” A voice spoke up near the bed where the children were quieted in Bashte and Nanna’s arms. It was a woman’s voice that spoke, one that could only be described as perfect, and it turned every head in the room. Most that could, including the travelers went straight to their knees at this vision of holy beauty. Gagrena became terribly frightened and fell to her face.
“Inmama.” Little Nippur called and reached out, and Innan picked up the child, kissed her, and held her for a moment on her hip.
“Someone to watch over her might work,” Mishka said. “It would be a headache though.” She went straight back to work on the wounded. It was what she was there for.
Innan appeared to shrug. She raised her free hand and the bullets all extracted themselves. “I believe these are yours,” she said, as the bullets set themselves in front of Lockhart and Captain Decker.
“Yes, er, thank you.”
“That was remarkable to watch.” Innan looked over the dead and wounded and clicked her tongue.
“Yes,” Mishka poked her head up once more. “You can tell Enki and Enlil that in the future, the human race becomes very efficient at war and killing. That should help them since they have now been given oversight for war. And you. But it is too early in the game for a rogue city and maybe a war. Let us get closer to a dozen cities, get trade going and all that first, I think.”
“Wise as always,” Innan said. She handed Nippur back to her Mama, gave Bashte a sisterly kiss on the cheek and stepped up to Gagrena who was trembling and dared not look up from the floor. Mishka noticed before she went back to work. It was sometimes hard for the Kairos to remember just what the fear of the gods could do to a person. It could transform them, though she doubted anything would transform Gagrena in the long term.
“I will take your city of Uruk,” Innan said. “I am sure Anenki will help us get things on the right foot. Meanwhile, a temple would be nice. Enlil and Enki both say there is nothing like it.” Innan put her finger to her cheek to think. “And now I have to ask.” She stepped up to Lockhart. “Why are you here? You don’t belong here.”
Lockhart’s tongue refused to work in the presence of the goddess of desire. Fortunately, Mingus and Roland were most respectful, but being spiritual creatures themselves, they were not affected by the goddess in the same way as the humans.
“We are travelers through time,” Roland offered a more thorough description than Lockhart usually offered. “We will be moving on in a day or two.”
“And this one?” Innan snapped her finger and a ghoul appeared beside her. The ghoul’s face was expressionless. It looked unable to move or speak. “He also does not belong. I don’t suppose this is one of yours.”
“Not ours, Lady” Mingus answered. “But I believe he may have been the source of the poison, earlier.”
Innan smiled which just about caused several people to faint from her beauty. “The elder elf is wise. I think we need not retain this one.” She waved in the ghoul’s direction and the ghoul skipped the dying part. He turned straight to a misty green smoke and left only a green smudge on the floor. “And now, my children.” Innan clapped her hands and she, Gagrena and the seven dead and wounded from the floor all vanished.
“Hey!” Only Doctor Mishka protested. “I wasn’t finished with that one yet.”
“A ghoul scout.” Mingus shook his head. “That means there are nine more out there.”
“Eighty-nine,” Boston corrected.