“Now, this is a city,” Decker said. “Note the walls.”
“It is called Gibal,” Lincoln said. “It might be Kedem or Byblos in some other languages. I think it is the Egyptian Byblos, and probably gets lot of trade traffic from there.”
“Yes, but compared to the last place,” Decker generally waved his hand around in the air. There appeared to be people everywhere.
“Stinks,” Lockhart said.
“They throw their waste into the street,” Elder Stow complained.
“They need a good rain to wash the streets clean,” Lincoln spoke up from behind.
Alexis perked up. “Maybe that is where that whole notion came from that it always smells fresh and clean after the rain.” Lincoln nodded his agreement.
“Major,” Katie said. “I appreciate you joining the conversation, but keep in mind, we are not supposed to talk about the last city we were in unless the Kairos brings it up.”
“Personally,” Elder Stow butted in. “I don’t like being stared at.” Plenty of staring was going on. “Doesn’t this city seem a bit crowded to you?” Decker shook his head.
“At least we are dressed properly this time,” Alexis said, as Decker and Elder Stow fell in behind Lincoln and Alexis so they could ride two abreast. Mingus and Boston pulled up the rear, as usual.
“Hey Lincoln,” Lockhart spoke up. “Pull out the database. I need you to check and make sure we got reservations for the Holiday Inn. Given the crowd I expect they will book up.”
“Very funny,” Katie said. “The field set aside for caravans should be up ahead, unless the guard in the gate was lying to us.”
“I don’t see any field,” Alexis said, as she stood in her stirrups and looked around Lockhart.
Lockhart called a halt to the procession as children ran in front of them, chasing each other, or being chased. “Stay in the saddle,” Lockhart said. “Come on Katie,” but she was already dismounting.
“I think there is some grass under there,” Katie said. “It is kind of hard to tell with so many tents covering it.”
Lockhart wrinkled his nose. “Too many camels.”
“Donkeys, mostly.” Katie said.
“I don’t like the idea of taking the horses in there for the night,” Lockhart said as he craned his neck. “Even if there was a place to set a camp, which there isn’t.”
“Hey, what passes for currency around here?” Decker asked from two horses back.
“Gold, silver, jewels,” Alexis turned her head. “Whatever people want. It is all trade.”
“I would trade Beast,” Elder Stow said about his horse.
“You are naming your horse Beast?” Boston heard and spoke from the rear.
“Yes. A beast not to be trifled with, and preferably not ridden.”
“That’s what you get for having short legs,” Decker said.
“Hey, hush,” Lincoln interrupted. “Some little guy is talking to Katie and Lockhart. Let’s see what happens.”
The little man spoke. “My master sent me to bring you to a safe place for your animals, your Orses.”
“Horses,” Lockhart responded. “But we are looking for…” He could not remember the name.
“Sinuhe,” Katie said. “He’s Egyptian.”
“He is my master,” the little man nodded. “Come. He is presently occupied, but will come this evening to visit you, or perhaps in the morning.”
Lockhart glanced at the overflowing field of tents and humanity and made the obvious choice. “Walk them,” he shouted, and in a softer voice spoke to the little man. “Lead the way.”
“Why is Sinuhe busy?” Katie was curious. The little man turned his head as he walked. He smirked.
“He is presently sleeping with the king’s daughter,” he said, and waited a long time before he added, “His wife.”
“Married another princess, did he?” Lockhart remarked.
The little man turned his head to glance back, questions on his face.
“Robert,” Katie said. “I already scolded Decker for that very thing.”
The travelers walked uphill until they passed through a gate to a courtyard surrounded by a two-story house with plenty of balconies on the second floor. A stack of wood sat to the left side, with some already in a stone ring and burning. The fire just needed to be built up. On the right, there stood a pen, like a reasonably sized fenced in area for the horses. The unmistakable smell of camel and donkey suggested that the household was accustomed to having visitors and their beasts.
“All the comforts of home,” Lockhart declared.
“Honey is hungry,” Boston countered, as she got down to pat her horse’s nose.
The little man suggested oats, and they all said that would be fine. Then he fetched the servants to bring several large jugs of water, a bowl of mixed fruits, though mostly dates and apricots, and a second bowl of mixed vegetables, which was mostly onion. Two men brought a side of lamb that Alexis declared almost cooked. And they were left alone to cook, set their tents and tend their horses as they pleased.
“The house fire and kitchen is probably out back,” Mingus said, as he pulled up a seat beside the fire.
“We came under the gate to what I guess is the front of the house,” Lockhart agreed.
Katie suddenly looked up, and her face lit up. “Now I understand.” She turned to the group and spoke with some excitement. “All of the ancient texts talk about men sitting in the gate, and all this time I kept thinking like the city gate, and I wondered what they were doing there, looking for enemies on the horizon?”
“Checking out the next caravan that won’t find room in the field,” Lincoln suggested.
“No, but you see? They were sitting in the gate like to the ruler’s house; like us spending the night in front of Sinuhe’s house. We are literally sitting in the gate. And when it says the king, or whoever, went out to the gate to question so and so, it meant he stepped out his front door.”
“Why would men hang out in front of the king’s house?” Lockhart asked.
“It’s where all the power is,” Alexis answered him.
“Exactly,” Katie said. “They gather and talk politics and business and such things, watch and talk to supplicants and ambassadors as they go in and out of the house. I don’t know why I never realized that before.”
“Never sat in the gate before,” Decker suggested.
“Of course, by the middle ages, the court all moved inside. But originally, the courtiers all waited outside in the actual courtyard of the gate. What do you know.” Katie looked very pleased with herself.
“Father, you don’t need the meat. You are getting pudgy,” Alexis spoiled the moment.
“I’ll eat what I like,” he responded sharply. “This lamb cooked up very well.”
“Garlic and flour,” Boston admitted.
“And a fine job you did. Besides, it is not venison.”
Alexis nodded. “I’ll give you that.”
“Hello?” They were all interrupted by a woman whose big nose, hollow cheeks and dark eyes made her appear older than she probably was. “Red hair and yellow hair,” were the next words out of her mouth, though it was hard to tell that by firelight.
“Join us,” Katie said, feeling very magnanimous.
“Is it safe?” she asked as she sat by the fire. “Sinuhe says you are people of power and he is glad you have come.”
“Is he around?” Lockhart asked.
The woman started to point toward a balcony on the second floor before she realized what he was asking. “Oh, no. He has not slept in three days. I would not expect to see him before morning.”
“I’m Alexis,” Alexis said, and she went around the circle introducing everyone. She concluded with, “and you are?”
“I am Hellel, his wife. I am only a poor woman, but I try to get him to rest when I can.” She smiled and did not even bat an eye at stretching the truth. “But tell me, because my husband was so tired, he could not tell me much before he fell asleep. He says you are old and dear friends, but you do not look Egyptian to me.”
“We are not Egyptian,” Lockhart said, and to Katie’s sharp look, he smiled. “We are originally from a land so far away, neither ships nor caravans can reach there. We have been traveling for over a year, nearly two, and by my estimate, we have at least three more years to go.”
“Your special powers must help a great deal, though I confess my husband just mentioned them without actually telling me about them.”
“And rightly so, young lady,” Mingus spoke up. “Some things are best left alone. Some things are not to be talked about.” He also gave Lockhart a hard look, but he stuck out his hands like he was trying to warm them. He caused the fire to flame up. Hellel opened her dark eyes wide, but said nothing about it.
“You really should ask your husband in the morning,” Katie suggested.
Hellel shook her head. “He has so much on his mind, what with the plague and all.”
“Plague?” Lincoln sat up straight.
“Yes. He is looking for a cure—oh, he said one of you is a healer.”
“I don’t do plague,” Alexis said. “I do wounds and some broken bones, but I don’t do disease.”
“I’m sorry,” Hellel said, sincerely enough. She looked at everyone, but no one was going to offer any more information, so she stood. “I should leave you. I also need to sleep and I am sure I will see you tomorrow.”
“When we go to see the king,” Katie said. “I am sure he will have his daughter beside him.”
Hellel stopped, opened and shut her mouth twice, then waved to the shadows where her two guards came out to escort her home. Mingus spoke when she left.
“If she is Sinuhe’s wife, why did she not notice that Boston and I are elves?”
“I’m guessing there is not much love there,” Boston said, sadly.
“Maybe she did notice,” Alexis said. “Maybe she just could not believe someone so fat could be an elf.”