Roland nosed his mount forward, wary, eyes wide open. He came to a clearing. There were a few trees there, but several had been crushed and Roland guessed this was where the Elenar ship landed. “Hello!” he called. He got the expected answer, but it was from behind a tree.
“Are you friend or foe?”
Roland instantly recognized the voice. “Alexis.”
Alexis walked her horse into the open and mounted. “How do you know my name?”
“You don’t know me?” Roland had to be sure. If she was enchanted, sudden information contrary to what she had been told might be as dangerous as waking a sleep-walker.
“I have never seen you before,” Alexis confirmed his fear. “But I see you are an elf, like my father, and a wise one to have up a glamour to make you appear human in this place. Perhaps you know my father. Mingus is his name.”
“Yes, I know your father. We have been close all of my life. Is he near?”
“No,” Alexis said. “He is in the camp and probably being very cross right now for my sneaking away. The geis of the Kairos came upon him as it fell on all of the little spirits who were near. They took the alien ship behind the forbidden wall so it might be fixed. I snuck away because I was curious to see it, but I see it has already been taken behind the wall and the geis has been removed. That is why I said my father is likely cross with me, for sneaking off.”
“Alexis, can you take me to your father?”
Alexis paused. “I like your face,” she said. “You remind me of someone I love very much, only I cannot think of who.”
“It will come to you. Remember my face whenever you wonder where your father is taking you. Whenever something does not feel right, think of me and it will come to you.”
“What a strange suggestion.”
“So can you take me to your father?”
“I think not. You see, we are escaping from the terrible thing that is following us. Father will not explain it, but he says it wants to take my life and I am much too young to be destroyed in that way. You see, that was why I asked if you were friend or foe. I believe you are friend, but I feel for safety sake it is best not to take any chances.” With that word, a mist came up from the ground and enveloped Alexis. It spread out and would have enveloped Roland, too, if he did not turn around and move away quickly. He knew there was no way he could follow his sister or even find her when she did not want to be followed or found, so he thought it best to report back to the others. Unfortunately, the others were just then returning to Cophu’s house.
“I was afraid this would happen,” Cophu spoke calmly but they could all see his frustration beneath the surface. “The wall makes you turn back the way you came and won’t let you leave.”
Ranna smiled since it seemed impossible for her husband to do so. “Well, I am glad to have you back. I enjoy the company, and so do the children, but where is Roland?” She looked up at Boston
Boston turned her head to look back while Lincoln spoke. “He probably made it through the wall.”
“Chaos said she had no use for the elf,” Katie added.
Ranna walked up to Boston as Boston dismounted and she helped the woman walk to the house. “I am sure he will come back,” she said. Boston said nothing and managed not to cry.
“People!” There was a sound of thunder which startled the horses badly but certainly got their attention. It was Tiamut and she had two people with her that caused them all to stare. “These do not belong here. I assume they are yours,” Tiamut said. “And I trust you had a pleasant journey.” The goddess vanished but let her laughter linger. Clearly she thought it was funny.
One of the men was naked, filthy, bruised, cut in any number of places and showed only fear and distrust in his eyes. “The werewolf,” Katie said as she stepped up beside Lockhart.
The other, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, eyed a pile of equipment Tiamut left half-way between him and the travelers. He was the Gott-Druk from the future that followed them since the days of Odelion. He rushed for his things, but Lockhart drew his police pistol and shouted.
“Don’t you dare.” The Gott-Druk stopped, his hand outstretched but still too far from his things to touch. Lockhart noticed Katie drew her pistol a smidgen faster than he did. He nodded to her, and she stepped up and used her foot to move everything a bit further from the spaceman.
“Careful,” it was Cophu who shouted as he came trotting up with a shoulder bag. “I made this for when my Shemsu people left this place to travel to the young cities along the Tigris and Euphrates. Now, you see, Tiamut has us trapped and will not let us leave.” He handed a bit of bread to Katie without explanation before he bent down and carefully examined everything in the pile. He put it piece by piece into the bag.
“Yes,” Lincoln stepped up having finally calmed his and Captain Decker’s and Boston’s horses. “And she won’t let us leave either.”
“Ahhh!” The Gott-Druk reacted when Cophu touched a particular piece. Cophu had made sure it was shut down, but with that reaction he looked more closely.
“No need to go invisible now,” he said.
“It has other properties,” the Gott-Druk said.
“Yes, of course.” Cophu turned it on and considered the readout. He held it up to Lincoln and then waved it past Lockhart and Harper. “I see. Good little scanner.” He shut it off again and put it in the bag. The Gott-Druk responded by tossing his hands in the air and grunting. “No doubt how he followed your trail through the various gates,” Cophu added.
“Neanderthal, got a name?” Katie asked and Lincoln and Lockhart spoke at the same time.
“Elder Stow,” the Gott-Druk responded.
“Katie Harper, Robert Lockhart, Benjamin Lincoln, and Cophu,” Katie made the introductions. “Boston is the redhead that went inside with Cophu’s wife, Ranna.”
“Elder?” Lockhart interrupted with a question.
“Yes,” Cophu answered for the Gott-Druk. “They travel in small groups and their ships are designed that way. The Captain and first mate are called “Father and Mother,” the officers are “Elders and Youngers,” and the crew are their children, at least in name. It is all very familial.”
“Actually, Father and Mother share equal duties in captaining a ship,” Elder Stow said.
“Indeed,” Cophu went back to his last few pieces.
There was an awkward moment of silence until Cophu finished, stood and spoke again.
“Elder Stow, why are you here?”
“You are the one they call the Watcher? You are the one who sometimes becomes other people in time?”
“I have watched you.”
“I have watched you watching me, even when you thought you were invisible.”
The Gott-Druk considered this before he dipped his head in a small bow and spoke. “It was some years ago when my children and I found ourselves in a whirlwind that picked us up from our place and deposited us in the deep past. At first I feared we landed before the flood, but I soon came to see the land was dominated by humans. We avoided them. We lived apart until one of my children discovered a door to another time. We moved then, not knowing if we were going forward or backward in time until we came at last to the island world where we found ancient people – our people. We set ourselves to help them become masters of that world, but you intervened and my children were killed. After that, I followed you having scanned and isolated your being. At first I was seeking a way to destroy you, but then you helped my people against the ghoulish ones and I became very confused.”
“Their job is to find their way home,” Cophu said. “And not interfere with history if they can help it.”
“So I have perceived,” Elder Stow said. “You are seeking to return to the future where I also belong. I would rather go with you than follow you.” He looked at Lockhart. “You are the father of your tribe. May I be as one of your children.” He bowed his head and waited. Everyone turned to look at Lockhart. Based on the encounter he had with the Gott-Druk in the future, Lockhart did not trust this one. Add to that the fact that they killed Stow’s crew and it was not advisable. But then, it might be better to know where this one was and stranding him in the past was out of the question.
“Human parents in my day have a saying for their children,” Lockhart said. “We’ll see.” He was not going to commit to a yes or no since as far as he knew the matter was moot. They could not escape Jericho anymore than Cohpu or his Shemsu people could escape.
“Fair enough for now,” Cophu said, and he looked up as Boston came tumbling back out of the house and Katie used the bread and tried to coax the wolfman to move toward the house at the same time. The wolfman stepped back again when Boston yelled out.
“Roland!” Roland was still some distance away, but coming on.