After 2335 BC, Sanctuary on the Silk Road. Kairos 48: Devya, First Daughter of the Indus.
The travelers came into the time zone under a heavy cloud. It was a rough and rocky place. The hills were strewn with stones and patches of tall scrub grass turned dry and yellow in the late summer. There appeared to be a grassy path that pointed in the direction they were headed, and more than one of them remarked how like a road it was. They pointed to places here and there where others traveled that road and left signs of their passage.
“The only thing we are missing is the occasional road sign,” Lincoln joked.
“I don’t like the looks of that cloud,” Alexis spoke up. Her eyes were not down on the grass. The cloud was very dark and low in an otherwise bright, blue sky. It looked suspicious, if clouds can look suspicious. Lincoln studied it, but said nothing. Lockhart and Katie looked, having overheard. They were not talking to each other much at that point, so they were happy to have the interruption.
“It appears to be moving off, same direction, but much faster than us,” Lockhart said. He turned to consider the sun and concluded they were headed southwest. They would spend the afternoon riding into the sun.
“No telling the wind speed at that elevation,” Katie said. “Maybe it is hurrying to catch up with the rest of the storm before unloading. It looks heavy with rain.”
“I doubt the cloud thinks,” Lockhart said. He did not mean for it to sound as disagreeable as it sounded.
“I don’t know,” Katie hedged. “I used to believe the world was full of what Lady Alice described as dead, empty matter and energy, the way moderns think of it, but since coming on this mission, I have come to realize that what Alice said is true. The whole universe is more or less alive in one way or another, and we humans are just too thick and stupid to perceive it.”
“More or less,” Alexis butted into the conversation, since Lincoln went back to read in the database. “It is unlikely that cloud, or any given cloud is sentient, but it has enough life to respond to a word of power, like a creative word of the gods or magic, you know. After all, this whole universe was created out of nothing by the Word of God.”
Lockhart and Katie gave Alexis a funny look, and Katie responded.
“You were born and raised an elf. I would not have expected that from you. Boston maybe, but not you.”
“Since I became human, I’ve become a good Methodist. I don’t know. Boston is right. I am a serious liberal about most things, but when you realize the universe is alive and growing and changing everywhere, the idea of a creator makes a lot more sense than everything happening by freak accident. Besides, we have met some of the gods, and everything leads me to believe even they will have to answer some day to someone or something greater than them.”
“Very well said,” a woman responded, but it went in and out of the traveler’s ears like a thought so they made no effort to look around to locate that woman.
“The silk road,” Lincoln raised his voice and distracted everyone. “This is not the Indus Valley. Obviously there are no Harappan villages around here. I might have to revise that if we run into any stray Dravidians, but I would guess we are probably somewhere between Merv and Smarkand.
“Samarkand. There is a name of legend,” Katie grinned.
“For the record,” Lockhart said. “I didn’t like the looks of that cloud either.” Lockhart stopped, so the rest stopped.
Father Mingus and Boston came up from the rear. “Time to walk the horses?” Mingus asked.
“Lunch,” Lockhart announced. He got down and spoke more softly for whoever was listening. “There is some good grass here for the horses, and we have a good trail for as far as I can see, so let the horses rest and then we can ride until the trail peters out.”
“It is a good trail,” Katie said, as she watched Decker and Elder Stow come in from the flanks to join them. She was listening. She also looked at Lockhart with an expression that said she was sorry for whatever she did. Lockhart got busy getting out the remains of breakfast.
Mingus and Boston were in charge of the fire. They could both start a fire by magic, even in the worst conditions. In this place, they had to be careful not to set the dry grasses on fire, but they found a good location, and soon the fire was roaring.
Lincoln and Alexis were in charge of checking the area for any edibles to enhance their meal. Alexis had the vitamins that everyone took in the morning, so there was no danger of scurvy or any other such sickness, but Alexis had her limits on a diet of deer, deer, elk and deer, as she called it. She and Lincoln usually found tubers or berries or something, and Alexis normally did not have to resort to her magic to help.
Decker and Lockhart took over the hunting duties after Roland was taken from them. Elder Stow with his scanner and Katie with her military rifle took guard duty. Katie complained at first, saying she could take a turn on the hunt, but Lockhart reminded her of her duty.
“You are an elect, strong, tough, gifted to fight with or without weapons, able to sense danger and when an enemy is near. I thought since Neolithic times it was the job of the elect to defend the home and guard the women and children when the men went out to hunt.”
“Yes, but,” Katie hedged. “We don’t have any children.” As she said that, Boston came running into the camp at about 50 miles per hour, testing her elf speed, and whooping like a teenager on the last day of school. “Point taken,” Katie said. So she and Elder Stow defended the camp while Lockhart and Decker hunted.
On that afternoon, no one needed to hunt. They had leftovers, and Alexis found some berries and some greens she could boil. The berries tasted sweet while the greens had a bit of a bitter taste, but Alexis said the greens were like spinach, full of iron, so everyone ate some.
“You do that very well,” Katie told him. Lockhart made no response. He slipped his arms around her and kissed her hard, and she kissed him right back. The words between them were not spoken out loud, but they did not have to be.
It was less than an hour after lunch when the travelers came across three things. The first was a very small village, actually only a few huts close together in a valley just below their position. The village was nestled up to a hillside and the planted fields, now fallow after the harvest, spread in every direction from there, but for the road. From their viewpoint, the travelers could see where the road continued to the west-southwest beyond the village. It stood out like a clear border between the fields.
Second, Boston shook her amulet and rode to the front to report. “I have never seen this happen before,” she said. “We were headed perfectly on the road, but suddenly the target turned to the south-southeast, almost like we are supposed to turn left in the village there.”
“Maybe one of the gods took…Devya?” Alexis began, and Lincoln nodded to the name. “Maybe one of the gods took Devya on a ride, you know, instant teleport.”
“I don’t think so, maybe,” Boston said as she continued to tap her amulet, and Katie got hers out to confirm the direction.
“I can see where a new road covers that direction,” Decker said as he joined the group. He pointed. “There, where that barn-like building sits on the edge of the village, by the fields.” Several saw.
“But how can it just change direction like that?” Katie asked.
“I did that,” they heard a woman say. “You would have struggled to get over the mountains. I thought it would be easier to go around the mountains on my road.”
“Who is speaking? Where are you?” Alexis asked.
“Right here,” the voice said. “Devya calls me the Great Silk Worm.” A great, wingless dragon, a true worm still sporting feathers like a young one, appeared beside the travelers, bigger than any imagined a dragon should be. It was Smaug sized, and looked able to swallow a horse and rider in a single gulp.
The people all gasped. Elder Stow let out one expletive and checked his scanner since the dragon appeared on his flank. But the horses did not show any concern, and the dragon explained., without moving her lips to match her words, Lincoln noticed
“No, the horses cannot perceive me, and neither can the village people.”
“Just as well,” Lockhart tried to pull himself together. “The Y. M. C. A. hasn’t been invented yet.”
Decker let out a rare grin. Katie spoke, accusing. “You’ve been saving that one. How long have you been saving that one?” Everyone smiled a little and tried to relax, but then the dragon got it and let out a laugh which was probably not as frightening as a roar, but close enough.