Gnomes in ancient times were not the garden variety. They tended the vast herds of many breeds that roamed the ancient grasslands, worldwide. And they would have set the traveler’s horses free if they were not gifts of the Kairos. So maybe they will watch the travelers and see exactly what kinds of friends of the Kairos they really are.
By the time the travelers arrived, the thousands of people migrating east were settling down for the night in a number of clearly separated camps. “Different tribal groups,” Katie suggested. Lockhart simply nodded and thought it was wise to keep their camp separate as well. They backed up a hill about a quarter mile to pitch their tents.
“Especially for the sake of the horses,” he said. “Some of these people might see the horse flesh as an easy supper.”
“I was thinking the same,” Elder Stow spoke up. “But I may have a solution.” He handed everyone a small disc taken from a little pack on his belt. He gave Lockhart and Katie three extra discs with the word, “For the Kairos and whomever she might want to bring.” Then he set the main device from that little pouch in the center of the camp and turned it on. It showed by a little red light that it was activated. “A simple screen will isolate this area. The horses will not be able to wander off and no person without a disc will be able to enter in.”
“Like a dome of force?” Boston asked. “How big?”
“A sphere,” Elder Stow said. “On some planets things come from below. But above the surface, for practical purposes, it will be like a dome. I have set it to short of a quarter mile, and that will give the horses plenty of grazing room without endangering them.”
“Electric fence.” Lincoln nodded. “Like for dogs.”
“But two-way,” Boston said. “Also keeping things out.”
“What of our supper?” Roland asked, and Elder Stow gave a second disc to Roland.
“To tag the meat if necessary. Plants and dead animals will not be a problem, and to be honest, I don’t know how the screen will affect your kind. You, and those like the gnomes may be able to pass in and out without trouble.”
Roland spoke honestly enough. “In this life and in this world we have physical form just like humans. Magic might make a temporary hole in your screen easily enough but it would require magic. The disc simplifies things.”
“The magic works easily enough.” They all heard the voice and looked every way for the speaker. “Even the little witch might manage it.” A gnome appeared in their midst and introduced himself. “Oktapi has decided to keep an eye on you for a time to better judge your intentions and see to your horses. My name is Gnumma.” Gnumma sat on the grass, and might have disappeared altogether if his wheat colored hair and beard did not have some gray in it. “I have dealt with creatures of mud and blood before, so I was chosen to watch. I felt your concern to keep the horses safe and that encouraged me to show myself. Also, I brought this lame one to sustain you.” He looked at Roland. “No need to hunt,” he said. “You will forgive me if I do not watch you butcher it.”
“Mud and blood?” Boston asked.
“We are dust, and to dust we will return,” Lincoln answered. “And the life is in the blood.”
Boston looked at Roland, but he shook his head. “Even we who are the littlest spirits of the earth are spiritual creatures. The bodies we wear, though completely real, are more like clothing than an essential part of our nature.”
“And can you change your clothing?” Boston wondered.
“No. Yes. Maybe. It is very hard to do and a glamour is easy and works as well. Some lesser spirits and certainly the greater spirits can change their form easily enough. Of course, the gods can appear any way they choose, but all of them tend to find an agreeable form and settle in.”
“They all have a natural form given at their making and that is the form to which they return time and again.” Gnumma nodded.
Lockhart also nodded and determined this gnome posed no threat. “Horses first,” he said, and the group got busy setting the horses free to graze while the sun was still up. The tents went up after that, and the fire got built, such as they could. There was not much wood. There was no wooded areas in sight and even the bushes, though some were big and thick, were not numerous. Fortunately, there were acceptable rocks around and Elder Stow was able to use his sonic device to heat a big one to cooking temperature.
“Forgive me,” Roland apologized to the gnome who nodded his forgiveness before Roland went to kill and cut up the poor donkey with the broken leg.
Gnumma looked up at Lockhart who was cradling his shotgun. “I have had dealings with your kind before, and once it was agreeable. After all, as I told my chief, our goddess in this life is a mortal female.”
“And it is time for us to find her,” Lockhart told the gnome. “Roland, you and Elder Stow need to stay here and fix supper. Stow, I will see if there are any fruits and vegetables among the migrants.”
Elder Stow gave Lockhart a funny look, like he was continually surprised by these humans. “Thank you,” he said.
Katie and Lincoln walked up with their rifles ready. Boston shouted. “Wait a minute!” She jumped up, took a brief look at Roland, eyed the Gott-Druk and the gnome and came to a decision. “I’m coming.” She ran to fetch her belt which she put together in the last time zone where there was a war going on. She had her Beretta on one hip and her big hunting knife on her other hip. She made her fairy weave running shoes into something more like Katie’s army boots. She left her shorts alone since it was so hot and Katie was still in shorts, but she made her T-top a bit larger so as not to show her shape quite so well. When she ran back out of the tent, she found the others patiently waiting, but they turned when they saw her and started toward the nearest camp.
Lincoln had the database out when they came to a place where they could look down on the camps. “Aramean,” he said to identify Beltain’s tribe. Then he put the database away to get a good grip on his rifle, just in case.
Avalon 2.7: The Way of the Migrants … Next Time