Hadj’s first wife, Ishitak stood beside a woman, a stranger, and the only suggestion as to who it might be was Ishitak’s downturned eyes. She suggested a pose of reverence. The woman spoke first.
“You must be Hadj. Hadj of the three wives. Traveler in Time. Watcher over history. Kairos of the earth, and I see you have your hands full.”
Hadj paused and rubbed his chin before he felt a sudden urge, stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek. The goddess’ eyes got big. It may have been the first time she was surprised in her whole life. She lost a touch of control for a moment and let out a smidgen of her awesome nature. Sokar gasped, fell to his knees, and covered his eyes with his hands. Ibin el-Wadi joined him and then thought it better to go to his face. Lockhart bowed as well as a twenty-first century American can bow, and Hadj stepped back to rub his chin again.
“Don’t tell me,” Hadj said. “Your face is familiar, like family, but I can’t place the name.”
“Kirisha, your sister,” Kirisha stomped her foot in a playful manner, but she put her hand to her cheek where he kissed her and smiled.
“But I thought you were twins,” Hadj said. “I heard you had a sister.”
“Pinikir has the north here, and Susiana, but she says she doesn’t want it. She says it is too much responsibility, but then she has really played with the queen of Susiana. Poor Sokar is so in love with the queen, sometimes I’m afraid he is going to blow up like that flying air thing.”
“She is very beautiful,” Hadj admitted.
“Pinikir stepped inside the woman and shaped the queen’s body and features to match her own,” Kirisha tattled.
“I see,” Hadj said, while Alexis, Lincoln, Roland, Boston and Mingus all came close to see what was delaying Hadj. Lincoln stood beside Lockhart. Roland and Mingus bowed to the goddess. Alexis and Boston curtsied as well as they could, neither as gracefully as a true elf since Alexis was now human, and Boston had just become an elf and was still learning.
“And may I ask who your mother might be?” Alexis asked with her eyes downcast. She felt the goddesses mother would be the telling connection.
“Mother Ishtar,” Kirisha said with a broad smile, “And yes, Lincoln, my grandmother was Innan,” Kirisha lost some of her smile and everyone felt the heartbreak.
“But I should consider my manners,” Hadj said, with a glance at Ishitak who nodded without ever looking up. Hadj went away and Junior came to stand in his place. “You might give your actual brother a hug,” he said, and held out his arms.
“Amun,” the goddess shrieked her joy and raced into his arms for a real hug. “Pinikir is going to be so jealous,” Kirisha said as she returned the kiss to Junior’s cheek. Kirisha stepped back and said something the others hardly expected. “Oh, I almost forgot. You missed one.” She raised her hand and a ghoul appeared beside her. “Do you want this one?”
“I didn’t think so.” Kirisha snapped her fingers and the ghoul collapsed and melted until he was no more than a green and purple smudge on the grass.
Amun nodded and spoke to the goddess as he took her hand. “Don’t go away. I want to hear all about this place you have, and your husband and the others, but first I have to attend to business. Alexis,” he said, and commanded her attention. Even so, it took a moment to remember what she had to say.
“Commander Slurpee died in the night. I’m sorry. I did everything I could.”
“Cody, are you satisfied?”
“I do not understand why these humans should help the Pendratti, but I begin to understand why this planet is off limits.”
Roland spoke right up. “The Sevarese commander killed his companion during the ghoul attack.” The Sevarese commander was weeping. “There is one left in the transport, but the transport engines are ruined, and the communicator as well, so they cannot contact their ship.”
“That should be along walk,” Mingus guessed.
“Boston?” Junior smiled for her.
Botson, who was on her knees, shuffled forward to hug Junior’s knees. “Oh, Great Lord, I love you so much, and I am willing to do whatever you ask of me even if I may not do it, but please, can I marry Roland now?” She looked up at him with eyes full of pleading and hope.
“Not just yet,” Junior said. “You need Mingus’ permission first,” He tried to look stern, but found it impossible.
“Yes, Lord. Thank you Lord,” Boston said, and she shuffled over to Mingus, gave his knees one good hug, and then sat back on her heels without ever lifting her eyes.
“One more thing,” Amun said, and he called, “Reglala and Ouklee.” the Marzaotipan couple vanished from where they were hiding inside their ship and appeared in front of Junior. “Do you understand that this planet is off limits?”
“Oh yes, very much. Indeed. We do. Oh yes.”
Junior quieted them. “You got a little closer to the fighting than is normal for your kind,” Junior pointed out. “Now you have several destroyed Sevarese fighters and Pendratti fighters from yesterday. You also have a Pendratti and Sevarese transport to salvage, if you dare. But then I expect you to leave this system and not come back. It is for your own safety.”
“Oh yes, indeed. We will. Yes, we will.”
“So everyone listen,” Junior commanded everyone’s attention, and Kirisha squeezed his hand, attracted to the exercise of power. “Hadj will be taking a detour, to take the Pendratti back to his ship. He will send the Pendratti back into space, immediately. You surviving Sevarese will have to walk back to your ship, and that is a long way, so you will have to hurry. The Pendratti will have a reasonable head start.”
Junior looked at Sokar who refused to lift his head. “Sokar,” he said, and made sure the man’s ears were open. “You will take your men back to Susa where you will no doubt continue to worship your queen. But if you are good, and stop doing the queen’s evil, maybe, and I am saying only maybe, mind you, you will find something in your stocking at Christmas … “ Junior shook his hea. “Frosty the Snowman,” he said. “I mean, maybe Kirisha will find you a woman that you can truly love and who will also love you.”
“I am not my sister. I make no promises,” Kirisha caught the reference to Frosty the Snowman and laughed, and everyone smiled at the sound of pure joy. Junior coughed like he was clearing his throat.
“Reglala and Ouklee will take two goats for whatever Elder Stow needs to charge up his equipment, and then they will take their leave and you can leave this world. And Lockhart, by the way, you might stay here for a day or so. I think the time gate will get closer to you as we go toward the Pendratti ship.”
“Good. Ibin el-Wadi. Everyone needs breakfast, and then we need to be packed to leave at dawn.” Ibin el-Wadi dared not speak as Junior and Kirisha vanished.
An hour later, Hadj walked across the field where it looked like some kind of battle took place, even if the ghouls were no more than purple and green smudge spots on the ground, and the trees set on fire by the fighter crash had burned down to hot, red ash. The sun was coming up, and the bodies of the Elamites and the Sevarese made a spectacle.
Anashk and Leahn, Hadj’s second and third wives came running to hug him and grab his arms to carry him back to the camp. They were grinning, and having been so close to a love goddess, and then seeing Hadj become a god who reflected the same love, Hadj had no doubt they had something specific in mind. Ishitak, his first wife, merely stood and was quiet, wiling to wait, but Hadj could see the calculating in her face. Hadj thought he had enough children, but then again, he was only human.
Starting Monday, as we approach the end of season three, be sure to catch Avalon, episode 3.11 Festival of Marriage. It is about time Boston and Roland settle things …