It took three days for the little ones of the Kairos to locate the Marzalotipan ship and get them to land just out from the city gate. They set down on the fallow fields between the city and the Jebusite army. Mebdred arrived by then, but despite his urging, the Jebusite army took a giant step back from the unknown.
The travelers saddled up, and Yadinel and Paghat pledged to walk down the hill with them. A dozen city guards and Pluckman with a dozen dwarfs insisted on joining them. Alexis made Yadinel ride her horse while she walked the beast. Lincoln and Lockhart walked to either side of them where they could keep their eyes open. Decker and Elder Stow went to the flanks where they could watch for Jebusites or whoever else might interfere. Mingus rode out front, ostensibly for the same purpose, but honestly, he was not about to ride at the rear where Pluckman and his people were jabbering away and acting like they were headed for a picnic among the flowers. Paghat walked between Boston and Katie—one who lost her husband and one who had not yet gotten a husband. They talked quietly.
“Do you love him?” Boston needed to know. Paghat nodded without hesitation.
“He is big and strong, a true leader. And he is smart, and not afraid.” Paghat smiled. “And he makes me laugh.”
“But does he love you?” Katie asked with a glance back at Lockhart. “That is the important question.”
Paghat held up her hand. “Do you see this finger? I only have to wiggle it and he comes with his hat in his hands.”
Boston and Katie eyed each other. Katie was the one who spoke. “I’m not sure that qualifies for love.”
“Oh, don’t worry. He loves me well enough.” Paghat smiled again before she confessed. “I’m going to have his baby. I think I am pregnant.”
Katie just got her hand over Boston’s mouth before Boston shouted out the happy news. “Are you sure?” Katie asked.
Paghat shook her head. “But I think so. I feel it, if you know what I mean, and we have certainly tried well enough.” It looked like she could not stop grinning at that thought. “Besides,” she settled her mind. “I can’t exactly ask Doctor Mishka to examine me. Father would never forgive me. He and Mebdred’s father, Chief Mibdrus are the worst of enemies and have forbidden us from seeing each other. I’m afraid this may break father’s heart.”
“You won’t know unless you tell him,” Boston added, with one look back at Yadinel and Alexis. “I am sure it won’t be any more difficult than when Alexis told Father Mingus she was going to become human to marry Lincoln.”
Paghat nodded. “I will tell him if it proves true. I will have to tell him when I start to show. But I am afraid for him all the same. I will put it off as long as possible, so please don’t say anything.”
“Don’t worry. We are getting used to not saying everything we know,” Katie said, with a glance at Boston. “Some of us are even learning to tell little white lies, isn’t that right, Boston?”
“What? You mean me?” Boston sounded offended, but the offence was obviously fake.
Noodlegluk, Screek, Shloop and his mate Clack-Clack were all standing on the ramp, waiting patiently, but nervous. They had some wares out on display, in particular those items Mebdred and the travelers seemed interested in. Elder Stow was always in the market for something he could adapt to charge up his equipment. Alexis mentioned Dilodian silk. Mebdred had his eye on weapons, but that was expected.
Lockhart made sure everyone knew the rules going in. Mingus would translate for Yadinel and otherwise everyone else was to shut up. Elder Stow took Shloop aside to see what they could find. Alexis stepped off with Clack-Clack, and Katie, Paghat and Boston followed. Decker watched the weapons and imagined one big gun looked like a Blueblood weapon. It had a wide angle and stun setting, but he wasn’t exactly sure how it worked. Lincoln and Lockhart stayed back while Mingus and Yadinel stepped forward.
The conversation between Yadinel and Noodlgluk was brief, and Noodlgluk cried. Yadinel traded places briefly with Amun Junior and did something by divine fiat, but Yadinel came back in time for Mibdrus, his elders, and two dozen soldiers to appear on the edge of the woods. They were coming to see about this strange, giant ball that floated on air.
“Company,” Pluckman shouted out what everyone saw. The city guards looked ready, but relaxed. Pluckman’s dwarfs pulled their arrows and axes, set up a defensive line, and growled. Katie looked, but not at Mibdrus, and Decker, Father Mingus and Boston all looked a moment later.
Mebdred and some twenty men came from the trees off to the left, and it looked like they were charging, an enemy ready to do battle. People were going to get hurt, but Decker snatched up the Blueblood weapon and sprayed the group. They all fell, unconscious, he hoped.
Junior came back for a second to check before Yadinel returned and relaxed. Paghat ran into the field and began to wail, supposing Mebdred to be dead. In fact, he sat up by the time she arrived and began to fawn all over him. He looked like a man who might soak his injuries for all they were worth.
Yadinel sighed for the travelers as he hobbled to the end of the Marzalotipan ramp and hollered. “Paghat, get away from him. He may be poison or something.”
The travelers looked up at Mebdrus, who was certainly close enough to hear what Yadinel yelled. “Yes,” he also yelled, but he grinned the whole time like a bad actor. “Mebdred, leave that girl alone. She may have a hidden knife or something.”
The young people, which in this case was about twenty-seven and thirty-years-old, ignored their fathers and even pecked at the lips before they separated. Mebdrus arrived, and spoke. “What was that great flash of light to knock over my son and his friends?”
“Blueblood cannon, updated, I assume,” Decker admitted.
“And a very dangerous choice if you read the settings wrong,” Lincoln pointed out.
“Sorry,” Decker apologized to Yadinel. “Automatic reflex, but I figured it was better than bullets.”
Yadinel frowned, but only slightly. “The Marzalotipan will be leaving, and not coming back. Junior slipped the coordinates into the navigation system for a small Marzalotipan colony way out on the galactic rim.” He held up a hand to prevent people from speaking. “I mean further out on the rim than we are right here.”
“Bird people,” Mibdrus said, astonished as soon as he got a good look. “Good to know my son has not gone mad.”
“Mad is a relative concept,” Mingus said with a quick glance at Alexis.
“Yes,” Alexis caught the look. “Father is an expert on the subject.”
“We dare not suggest such a thing yet. Too soon may ruin everything. We have our three-day feast and meeting without the young ones present, and I suspect by this time next year I may be called to move on to a new assignment, whatever that may be.”
“Called by your one god,” Mibdrus nodded. Everyone knew they were talking about Yadinel’s death. “But now I have brought only three hundred young men. I will take the five hundred home, so you see my army at the gate is getting smaller in anticipation.”
Yadinel nodded. “Good. The less men, the less chance blood gets spilled.” He turned to the travelers. “Mibdrus does not entirely trust me to keep the bargain, but as I tell him, it is Mebdred and Paghat who will keep the bargain.