“So,” Tien began his tale. “I confessed to Mai-Lyn, the one who acts like Mother Lin’s right arm, that the caravan was not far away, but under attack from the people of the hills. She ran to the empress and they grabbed their horses, which by some miracle were already saddled and ready to go.” Tien paused to smile. “They grabbed the thirty horsemen who were practicing sitting on a horse and stabbing a target with a spear at the same time, not that they were any good at it. Together, we all rode out to the caravan, but like you folks had things in hand, the two elves and the witch had already driven off the hill people.”
“Witch is a good thing in this day and age,” Tien said. “But in any case, when we arrived, Lin and Mai-Lyn dismounted right away. Poor Boston was stymied. She knew the Kairos was a woman, but she could not tell which one.”
“You see, young Mary,” Mingus spoke kindly. “When the Kairos is a human it isn’t always easy to tell her from the other humans around her.”
“But I should know,” Boston objected. “I should always know.”
“But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the Kairos does not want to be known by us.”
“Sometimes it is a mystery,” Alexis added.
“But—“ Boston began, when Lin interrupted her.
“Boston. Where are Lockhart and the others?”
“Lin turned to me. “Tien? Those ghouls have to go,” she said, as she opened her arms so Boston could run into them. It was heart warming to see a god lavish such love on her charge, and very instructive.”
“Not a bad way to go about business,” Lockhart suggested, but quieted as they came to the camp and Boston ran straight into Lockhart’s arms for another hug. Then he added a thought. “Hugs also work for friends.”
Alexis and Lincoln also hugged, but said nothing as Lin and Mai-Lyn approached with five men. Lockhart guessed one of the men was Gingsu, lord of the far western lands of the empire and defender of the border. One was Shanjo.
“Elect,” Mai-Lyn spoke first and directly at Katie.
“Second in all the world, after Zoe,” Lin nodded, and Mai-Lyn got down on her knees and looked ready to prostrate herself before Katie, but Katie caught her arm and lifted her back to her feet.
“We don’t do that,” Katie insisted. “We need to be more like sisters.”
“Good choice,” Katie responded as Lin got to introducing her commanders. Gingsu they had heard of. Yuan, the elf of the desert was there with a hundred unseen warriors, and Bogda was the dwarf king from the mountains. He had the base of the foothills littered with his people, all prepared for war.
“And Captain Sushang has sixty men on horse, but I expect to lose fifty of them as soon as I send Shanjo and the opium to safety.” Then Lin felt the need to justify herself. “Try to understand. What passes for medical treatment in this age is a joke. The wounded rarely recover. At least with the opiates, they should not have to suffer in their last hours.” Lin looked ready to cry and everyone there offered all the comfort and sympathy they could. Then she turned on her captain. “That is why you must defend the opium to the last grain and get it safely to the capital, and for god’s sake, keep it out of the hands of the Shang.”
“Yes, Lady,” Captain Sushang bowed to her in a way that was almost worshipful, and well beyond respect.
Tien sighed and slipped his arms around Katie and Mai-Lyn. “Would that I commanded such devotion,” he whispered. Katie was uncomfortable under the arm of the god, but Mai-Lyn looked like she and Tien shared some other moments. “Two elect in the same place and time. It is a wonder the earth doesn’t explode. Strong as any man, expert with or without weapons, hard to injure and quick to heal. Made to protect all the women and children left behind when the men went off hunting or to war, but here you both are getting ready for war.
“No,” Katie said. “I suspect we will be leaving with the caravan. The Kairos usually won’t let us stick around and get involved with local, temporal problems.”
Tien nodded and vanished, but Katie and Mai-Lyn both read the look on his face. Both concluded that the travelers might not have time to get away before things started. They went to tell Lin, but she had taken Boston and Alexis down by the water.
“I named it lake Boston,” Lin said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, as long as I don’t have to die to have it named after me,” Boston said with a grin.
“Lady—” Mai-Lyn started to speak but Lin hushed her. She looked at Katie and went away from that time and place so Doctor Mishka could fill her place. All of the women had seen the Kairos trade places through time, as she called it, and become what appeared to be a completely different person. They knew it was actually another lifetime the Kairos would live somewhere in history. In this case, they all knew the good doctor, but even so, Boston and Katie gasped, while Alexis and Mai-Lyn briefly lowered their eyes, like a visual bow, in acknowledgement of one who was counted among the gods even when her life was completely human and mortal.
“Alexis, please open your medical bag,” Mishka said. Alexis had taken to carrying her medical bag like a purse, like she first carried it before they got the horses. She said she was carrying it to counter the men who carried their weapons everywhere.
“Oh, but I don’t think—“
“Hush,” Doctor Mishka hushed her, just like Lin hushed Mai-Lyn, a strong suggestion that Mishka and Lin were indeed the same person on the inside even if they outwardly appeared like two different persons. “You will find in there three small packages, one for you, one for Boston, and one for Katie. They each contain a small pill tailored to your unique chemistries. I have made it so Boston’s will still work despite her becoming an elf.” Mai-Lyn raised an eyebrow on that revelation, but did not doubt that Boston was an elf.
“But what is it?” Boston was the curious one.
“Birth control,” Mishka said. “Barak in the last time zone said he was not going to get into it with the three of you. He said that was a woman’s job, so Lin got the call. I am just here to make sure you have no adverse reactions.”
“One pill?” Katie wondered.
“Magic?” Alexis asked.
“Science,” Mishka answered. “It is actually a contraceptive implant taken the easy way. It will insert itself where it needs to go and be near one hundred percent effective for three years or until I give you what you might call the cure. But magically guaranteed to keep you from becoming pregnant. Please take them.”
Alexis did, but Boston complained. “Roland is not here, and I have no interest in doing that with anyone else.”
“But you have been nearly raped a couple of times so far,” Alexis reminded her, and Boston took her pill.
“But I’m not sleeping with anyone right now,” Katie said, and everyone, even Mai-Lyn gave her looks which said they all knew better. They watched her head turn to look at Lockhart. Katie took her pill. “If we were home, I would never have imagined spending time with him. But I have gotten to know him, the real him. I think he is my heart.” She used that fairy expression, and all four women took turns giving her hugs.
“Everything appears normal,” Doctor Mishka smiled. She had a stethoscope of some kind in her hands. No one saw where it came from, but she was able to use it to check their hearts and pulse. “I should probably check your blood pressure as well, but this early in the time stream I haven’t had the equipment built yet. Everything seems normal, but I will be around.” Doctor Mishka and her stethoscope vanished and Lin came home to her own time and place.
Lin shook her head. “There should not be any since they are tailored to each of you, individually.” She hugged Alexis, Katie and Boston. “I missed the hugging part,” she added as she started them walking back toward the camp.
Alexis and Katie said nothing. They appeared to be thinking very hard as they walked. But Boston had something to say, even if it was quietly mumbled. “Now I really wish Roland was here.”
“Okay,” Lin yelled as the women walked up on the main counsel where the men were arguing about the best deployment of the various groups of soldiers “Captain Sushang. Shanjo. You better get moving right now. You can make it half way to the end of the lake by nightfall, and hopefully that will be far enough to prevent you being followed.” Shanjo and Sushang looked at each other. “Now. Go. Get moving.” Lin shooed them off.
“We should go too,” Lincoln said, and Mingus nodded, though he was not about to be caught agreeing with Lincoln out loud.
“The time gate should be in the same direction the caravan will be traveling,” Boston said, with a quick check of her amulet.
“I don’t think we are going to have time for that,” Katie said, and Mai-Lyn nodded vigorously, and pointed. There were men coming down the hill, about five hundred of them.