When they entered the throne room, a young man of about seventeen years came running up to greet them. The soldiers stationed around the room kept their place when Ishtara assured them with her hand motions that these strangers were allowed and posed no threat.
“Father has taken to his bed. He doesn’t feel well.” The news was quickly spoken, so the young man could get to what really mattered. “Did you see the Anazi? Did you see them zoom into the sky? They looked magnificent. I wish I could fly.”
“Yes, hello,” the young man said. “And some very lovely women I see.” He looked them over like a man looking for a prize horse. Ishtara stood at his shoulder and walked down the line with him. “This one is a lovely bronze color,” he said.
“Oh.” The young man looked disappointed. “But now this one. Red hair.” He turned to Ishtara. “You have some redish in your hair, but not red like this. It looks like fire.”
“This one has blue eyes, like Shemsu eyes. They are beautiful.”
“Two-hundred-something-years-old and married. She only became human to marry.”
“An elect, who knows more ways to kill than you can count.”
“I can count pretty high,” the young man said somewhere between disappointment and lust.
“Besides, she is taken.” Lockhart stepped up and slipped his arm over Katie’s shoulder. The young man looked up at the giant and decided to turn to Ishtara.
“It doesn’t matter. You are all I want and all I dream about.”
Ishtara kissed the young man’s cheek and spoke. “Tell you what. You go see your father and tell him that you love him, and I will come naked to your bed tomorrow night and stay until you can’t see straight or walk.”
“Promise? That’s a promise. I heard a promise. You heard it,” he checked with the soldiers that stood around the room. They wisely nodded. “I have witnesses, enough to satisfy your law makers. Ha, ha.”
“Go on,” Ishtara touched her lips to his, and looked like she did not mind that at all. He looked like one brief kiss already made him not see straight or walk. “Go on. I will see you tomorrow night. These people need to visit their friend.”
The young man sobered up and pointed to a door. “You mean? I’m sorry.” He turned to the group. “Good to meet you. I have to go see my father, and then I have to do my exercises to get ready for tomorrow.” He turned, and laughed as he went out.
Ishtara nodded as she watched the young man go. “I am sorry. He is usually not this wild and crazy acting. He is nervous. He is going to be king soon, and he says he isn’t ready.”
The travelers turned toward the door. “So who is this surprise friend of ours?” Lincoln asked, not being one who liked surprises.
“In there. Artie, you are with me,” Ishtara said. Artie looked uncertain, but with Alexis’ assurance, she followed Ishtara. “Artie cannot go with you the way she is. She would age fifty or sixty years every time you pass through a time gate, and her systems would wear out too soon. The only way is for me to take her to Avalon. Maybe I can jump her forward one time zone. Then she can be displaced in time and, like you, she will only age however many days she lives and passing through the time gates should not matter.”
“Maybe?” Boston wondered.
“We will try if she is willing. Meanwhile, your way is through there.” Ishtara took Artie’s hand and they walked to the wall where they vanished through the paint. The words floated back. “I hope Larsa’s army doesn’t show up while I am gone.”
The guards in the room gasped and fell to their knees.
“This way,” Lockhart said, and they opened the door to a hall and followed the sound of noise to a room. Not that they doubted who their old friend might be. What they did not expect was to find him gray haired and in bed with plenty of dwarfs around him, weeping.
Three days later, Pluckman’s number one son, Ulrik, the one they called Pluckman Junior, stood in the dwarf enhanced cavern where Pluckman was laid to rest. “Six-hundred and seventy-three-years is not a bad life,” Ulrik said with a sigh.
“And what will you do now?” Lockhart asked.
Ulrik, who was himself over four-hundred-years old wiped his eyes as he spoke. “Probably go back to the Timna Valley at the base of Canaanite lands as Elder Mingus suggested long ago. We scouted it after dropping you off in the Saini. It has the copper he suggested and is untouched. Of course, first we have a time of celebration for the life of my father. We plan to give him a glorious sendoff, you might say. And then we have no intention of abandoning Ishtara for as long as she may need us.”
“You see how lucky I am?” Ishtara said to the group, and they laughed.
“I think Hammurabi is the lucky one,” Decker said.
“I am,” Hammurabi nodded vigorously. “I truly am.”
Three more days later, Alexis was still on her high horse, even as they moved on horseback across a wide open plain. “I can’t believe she wouldn’t tell us about Artie.”
“She knows what she’s doing.” Boston always said that.
“She is only human, despite the blessing of Ishtar evident in her,” Mingus always said that, to imply they should not expect a human to be perfect.
“We all asked,” Katie said. “She would not even tell Robert.”
“Nope,” Lockhart said.
“Maybe she doesn’t know, exactly what happened,” Lincoln suggested.
“Bite your tongue,” Boston yelled.
“That is possible,” Mingus admitted.
“I thought of that,” Alexis said. “But why didn’t she at least tell us that much?”
“Enlil,” Katie recognized the god.
“Enki!” Boston shouted in joy. Enki wiggled his glasses and smiled for her. Boston and Enki were friends from way back.
“Haven’t seen you boys in a long time,” Lockhart said. He did not say, what is wrong? Why have you shown up now? But being gods, Enlil and Enki caught the thought.
“You are about to run into the army of Larsa,” Enlil said.
“Decker and Elder Stow are here to tell you that very thing,” Enki added with a smile for the outriders. Decker frowned. Elder Stow put his scanner away.
“But that is a good thing, isn’t it?” Lockhart said, and he glanced at Katie as he leaned back to look at Lincoln. Lincoln had the database out while Katie spoke.
“Ishtara is expecting the army from Larsa. Aren’t they allied in the war against the Elamites?”
Enlil and Enki both hedged and shrugged. “At least the Assyrians are staying out of it,” Enlil said.
“Some from Larsa will keep their word, but not many,” Enki said.
“Riding into an army is not a good idea in any case,” Decker said.
Enlil and Enki looked at each other. “As we thought,” Enlil said.
They all vanished from that place and appeared thirty miles further on.
“This is a one-time thing, I hope,” Enki said.
“Thank you,” Alexis said, and while the others echoed their thanks, Enlil and Enki vanished.
“It is almost mid-day,” Alexis said.
Lockhart agreed, but said, “I don’t think we should make camp and wait until morning. I got the impression we should move on.”
“But wait,” Mingus said. “I have a bad feeling about this one. I don’t like going in blind.”
“Agreed,” Lincoln said, and everyone seconded it and pulled their weapons, except Boston, who thirded the motion, and Alexis who looked back and said something else.
“I hope Artie is all right.”