The travelers got to the gate by lunchtime, having successfully avoided the five-hundred-man army that was camped just far enough away to be out of sight from the city. Abandoned farm fields stood between the army and the city on the hill. The city itself appeared to have a good, solid wall. While the wall offered no protection for the people to work those fields, the city would not be easily overrun. The travelers supposed without the use of those fields, the people might be starved into submission, but it would not be easily taken.
Lockhart and Katie got down to stand in front of the gate. Lockhart banged on the big wooden door while Katie shaded her eyes and looked up at the battlements above. Lincoln shouted from his horse.
“Yadinel. We have come to see Yadinel.”
A man’s voice answered from above. “Lord Danel is in seclusion. He sees no one.”
A woman’s voice interrupted. “Why do you wish to see Yadinel?”
“We are old friends,” Alexis shouted, as they heard an all too familiar voice in response.
“Get that gate open,” the voice ordered. “Hop to it. Hurry,” the voice continued as the big gate slowly opened wide enough to get two horses in abreast.
“Pluckman,” Katie named the dwarf, and actually smiled while Lockhart turned to tell the others.
“It’s Pluckman and his gang.”
“I wonder how many stooges they have by now,” Decker mumbled.
“Sixty?” Elder Stow suggested.
“Maybe eighty by now,” Alexis suggested with a grin. “Those women folk keep pushing out the young ‘uns, you know.”
“Pluckman,” Boston ran up front and left her horse, Honey, for Father Mingus to bring inside. Boston paused before she bent down to hug the dwarf. He showed some signs of age, his hair graying, and his beard long, almost to the ground. Boston glanced at the woman, just shy of thirty, who stood a bit to the side and stared at the travelers, but Boston spoke to Pluckman. “How old are you now?”
Pluckman smiled broadly, not the least for being hugged by the pretty red-head, even if she was an elf. “I’m four-hundred-years old, but I still got plenty to go,” he said, nice and loud. “My great uncle Donner lived to be nearly eight hundred years, he did.”
“I thought Donner was one of Santa’s reindeer,” Lincoln said as he passed by.
“No surprise there,” Decker mumbled, without explaining.
Pluckman led the travelers to a big barn where they could stable their horses. There appeared to be dwarfs everywhere, but also some gnomes who knew all about the care and feeding of horses.
“This is the threshing floor,” Pluckman explained. “You can see there isn’t much grain here at the moment. Lord Danel lets us go out and glean the Jebusite fields after they get harvested, and I am not saying we steal Jebusite grain, mind you, but there’s plenty that has to eat here in old Salem town.”
“It is a wonder the Jebusites don’t starve,” Mingus suggested quietly to the group.
Once the horses were in good hands, the woman who followed them from the gate spoke one word. “Come.” She turned to walk, evidently used to being obeyed. Boston started to follow without question, but then stopped suddenly as a question came to her face. She turned to ask Mingus, but Pluckman answered.
Father Mingus explained to Boston. “The children of the Kairos are to us like children of the king. We have used the terms prince and princess from the beginning, even though most human people do not yet know the terms. They have a special relationship and some authority over all the little ones, even to the third generation, that is, the grandchildren of the Kairos. We all feel the obligation to protect and defend them, and listen to them, even if we do not always do what they ask.”
Boston understood. When Paghat told her to come, she felt a compulsion that was by no means irresistible. Still, the travelers followed the woman and soon found a large home with a beautiful garden, not far from the main spring that gave water to the whole city. They found Yadinel, an old man, tending the flowers.
“Lockhart, good to see you with these old eyes,” Yadinel said. He turned and opened his arms for Boston. She hugged him carefully, since hugging the elderly seemed to be the theme for the day. “Katie, are you and Lockhart working things out?”
Katie glanced at Lockhart who preferred to stand, statue-like. “I am honestly trying,” she said. She did not explain what she was trying and she did not speak for Lockhart.
“Good, good,” Yadinel accepted whatever she was willing to offer in answer. “Father Mingus.” He turned to the elder elf. “Are you loving your daughters?”
Mingus dropped his head and echoed Katie’s words. “I am trying.” Lincoln hushed Alexis before she could say anything about just how trying he was.
“Father,” Paghat protested with her voice, but stepped up and kissed Yadinel’s cheek before she turned again to look at the travelers. “You are welcome to Salem and welcome to share whatever we have.”
“Yes, yes,” Yadinel said, and spoke to Paghat. “You best go tell Missus Rondel and the ladies that we have guests, I hope for the next several days at least. That means eight more at meal time, not that the dwarf ladies don’t already cook for an army.”
“Yes, Father. But more Jebusites are coming to the army camp. I saw from the top of the wall.”
Pluckman spoke up. “My guess is Mibdrus himself. That makes some eight-hundred men at arms, almost as many as we got men, women and children inside the city.”
“Paghat, go on and tell the ladies,” Yadinel said, and Paghat nodded and left so he had to shout after her. “And stay away from those Jebusites, especially that Mebdred fellow.”
“We met Mebdred,” Lincoln said.
“Don’t tell me, she and Mebdred…” Lockhart did not finish his thought. Yadinel let out a wry smile.
“Did you ever see The Fantastiks? The play in New York was performed for, I don’t know, twenty years or more.” A few heads nodded. “Well, Mebdred’s father Mibdrus and I have an agreement, to avoid as much bloodshed as possible. You see the wall. You must always keep the wall. But I don’t have long to live, then Paghat and Mebdred will be together and the city will become a Jebusite city. I can only pray that the Elohim will survive.”
Yadinel began to walk, slowly, almost staggering in his old age. He shook his head. “You must understand that history often repeats itself. Lord Melchizedek’s father was like Saul, the King. He turned the people to worship the Most-High god, but he stumbled, often. Lord Melchizedek was himself like King David. He was not perfect, but God approved, you might say. I play the part of Solomon, though my failure has not been infidelity. In my case, my son and wife have both been taken from me, and my daughter will marry the enemy, and the gods of infidelity will once again move into the city.”
“How old are you?” Boston got weepy, watching him struggle.
“I am fifty-seven,” he said, and quickly added, “You can’t judge with twenty-first century eyes. Fifty-seven is a good, long life in this day and age. For me especially. I don’t think I live more than sixty years right up through the middle ages. There may be a couple after Y1K, but honestly Doctor Mishka in the twentieth century is about the first to begin living longer than sixty years.”
“There are historical crisis points where the Kairos is needed,” Mingus explained. “He can’t age gracefully here if he is needed in ten or twenty years in China, Africa, or the Americas.”
“Even when I am young and healthy,” Yadinel nodded. “I will die when it is time to move on, sad as that may be. I am like everyone else in that respect. I have no control over when I die, and it can come at any time.”
People walked in silence for a while, not unlike a funeral procession, Boston imagined. Eventually, they got back to the threshing floor building, which turned out to be much bigger from the outside. There were any number of oversized rooms, all attached. The horses were in one room. The noise, like a raucous celebration, was coming from another great room, and Lincoln thought he better say something before his words got swallowed up by the noise.
“We ran into a Marzilotipan on the way here.”
Lockhart took up the story. “She said the Anazi have overrun her home world and she escaped. She is here seeking refuge and apparently she will trade any sort of advanced technology for some land.”
“A foolish idea,” Yadinel said. “Property and ownership is a fluid concept for the human race. Humans give land, and then change their minds.” They went in to lunch. The dwarfs were celebrating extra hard, and extra loud and wild for the arrival of their friends.