Precautions are good, but to be sure, as wary as the gnomes are of these strange horse riding travelers, so the travelers are of the many tribal campsites scattered across the grassland. They want to find the Kairos, but are careful to enter that mass of humanity armed, just in case.
The first camp the travelers came to had an old man waiting for them. They had been seen, though they did nothing to hide. As they marched down the hill, they took a good look around at what they could see of the camp and were surprised and not surprised. The camp was full of people in many family groups to be sure, but also full of animals. There were oxen with the wagons which looked full of grain, sheep and plenty of goats running around in small groups, birds in wooden cages that might one day be called pigeons and chickens and a few strange looking cows in the midst of the domesticated donkeys. There were also children everywhere which were also running around in small groups. It looked like sheer chaos, but the travelers imagined there was some sense to it.
“I can see the way they came,” Katie said and pointed to the distance before they got too far down the hill. There was a wide swath of the grassland that had been crushed and torn and eaten by the animals all along the way.
“Hamites,” Lincoln pointed in another direction to where a different camp appeared to be filled with black Africans.
Katie whipped her head around to look and Lockhart could not resist a comment. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“My doctorate was in ancient cultures and technologies. Walking into one of these early, massive migrations is a bit like walking into a candy shop.”
“Just don’t let it distract you,” Boston said. She had on her determined face.
“Ah, the other Doctor heard from,” Lincoln mumbled.
Boston let her frown come to her face. “My doctorate in engineering, specifically electrical engineering is not going to be much help here. When we get back, I might want a better look at Elder Stow’s screen maker, but for now I am focusing on my redneck.”
“Massachusetts redneck.” Lockhart pointed out.
“Hey, we have rednecks in Massachusetts too, and rodeos.”
“You know the last words of the redneck just before he committed accidental suicide?” Lockhart asked.
“What?” Boston looked at the man, her frown still showed.
“Hey! Watch this!”
Katie and Lincoln found it funny, but then they arrived where the old man was waiting, leaning heavily on his staff. Several younger men also began to gather from the other side, and they carried spears and at least one had a copper knife.
“Arameans?” Lockhart said the word like a question.
The old man turned his head so they could not see his face, but the young men behind saw. He turned back and began to point toward various other camps as he spoke. “Jakonites, Amorites, Sabateans,” He was listing the nearby camps like he was thinking about it and maybe not sure where the Arameans were, or even if they existed.
“Beltain.” Katie cut him off.
The old man looked at her before he lowered his eyes and waved his hand behind him. The young men that gathered began to go back to whatever they had been doing, and the old man lifted his eyes and pointed near and then pointed further as if to suggest the Aramean camp was two camps away.
“Beltain sleeps in the distance and watches over us all.” The old man said and turned and walked away. The travelers walked around the outskirts of the camp to avoid any incidents. They skirted the next camp over as well, though there were plenty of armed young men who watched them. When they arrived at what they hoped was Beltain’s people, they stepped just inside the camp perimeter where Lockhart made them stop and wait.
A young man as big as Lockhart came rushing up, with several other young men who hustled up behind. Older men, women and children also appeared to stop what they were doing to watch.
“Beltain?” Lockhart tried again.
“You have not been called to see her,” the young man growled. The threat in his voice was clear. “This is not your place. Go back to your own kind.”
“We need to see Beltain,” Lockhart was not put off. “We are old friends and only wish to say hello.”
“No one calls the lady. She calls you as she pleases.”
An older man stepped up next to the big man and spoke. “The game is not plentiful in this area, but you will get your fair share with the rest.”
“Now, go.” The big man spoke again. “Or I will be forced to make you go.”
“Boston.” Katie moved quickly. She handed Boston her rifle and tied down the pistol at her side. She stepped forward, but Lockhart grabbed her arm to stop her. Katie spoke in English so the locals would not understand. “Look, if he beats me it is no shame since he only beat a woman. But if I beat him, we may get to see Beltain without anyone getting killed.”
“I can live with that,” Boston said and stepped in front of Lockhart so he could not interfere.
“Besides,” Katie finished her thought as she extracted her arm. “Being one of the elect has to count for something.” She turned to the big man who was watching the exchange with a dumb expression worthy of an ogre. Katie returned to speaking the local tongue. “So make me leave,” she said. “If you can, we will all leave in peace. If you cannot, you will take us to Beltain.” She put her hands to her hips and waited.
The man thought for a moment before he jumped, his fist hooked through the air in what he imagined was a sucker punch. Katie easily leaned back, caught the man’s arm and shoved, and added only her left foot to the man’s rump at the last. The man flew several feet and landed on his face. The young men started to shout, but it was like teenagers shouting “Fight! Fight!” They made no move to interfere.
The big man got up, roared and rushed at Katie with both hands outstretched. Katie started to roll to her back. The big man’s arms went over her head as she grabbed the man’s tunic. She threw her foot into the man’s crotch, and when she reached her back she threw the man over her head. Again, he flew several feet,, but this time he landed with a thump and a cloud of dust on his back. He did not get up as quickly this time.
When he did, he saw Katie standing again, unfazed, with her hands again on her hips, waiting. The man was wary. He moved just out of reach to her side so she had to turn to continue to face him. When the man made nearly a complete circle, he stepped in and jabbed with his left hand while his right came from below in an uppercut.
Katie avoided the jab and caught the man’s uppercut in her hand. That completely stopped the man in mid punch, and since he was not pulling his punches, he had to have strained his muscles badly. But clearly she was the stronger, and as she squeezed the man’s hand he moaned and went to his knees. She easily punched him on the jaw with her free hand as she let go of his hand and he fell to the dirt too dizzy to get up again.
That was when a fat, middle-aged woman came barreling in, yelling at everyone to get back. The people all complied and the travelers wondered if this could be Beltain. That illusion was dispelled when the woman went to her knees in front of Katie.
“Elect,” the woman said.
Katie hesitated and put her hand out to the woman as if sensing something. “Sybil,” she said at last. “Please stand up. I am no Amazon Queen.”
“But you are,” the Sybil insisted. “Though you have no tribe except the child of magic, you are. Zoe herself has spoken.” The woman drew in her breath. “You have seen Zoe. You have been with her.” The woman began to cry, but the travelers knew they were tears of surprise, amazement and joy at the sight of Katie and Zoe together.
“But why were you so late in coming?” Boston stepped up.
“It is the terrible power that is coming to fall upon us all. It has been that I can hardly see anything else.”
Avalon 2.7: Mind Your Matters … Next Time