“Thalia,” Alesandros called from the entrance to the temple.
“Here,” a woman called back from the front of the great room, though no one could see her.
“We have company,” Alesandros said, and led the travelers toward the front.
Though it may have been as big, the temple hardly looked like some cathedral on the inside, since the inside was filed with regularly spaced roof support posts, that Katie called “Aeolian Columns.” She said, “It is the only way to build such a big open space, though it makes the space appear not so big and open.”
When they got to the front, they found a woman of about thirty-five years or so, who was just beginning to become plump as some women did when they got older. Age was hard for the twenty-first century people to judge, because before the twentieth century, people aged more rapidly, and showed it. The woman welcomed them, as Alesandros stepped up and gave her a quick kiss.
“I found these people in the village. They are not like any I have ever seen or heard of, but they seem to know the lady, and I get the impression they may even be friends with her.”
The travelers were busy taking in the view. The cathedral had a sacristy, set apart by a railing. Most of the space was taken by a long table filled with bread, fish and flowers. They could smell the fish. Off to the left was a stone statue which Katie claimed was remarkable for the time-period. The statue was of a most beautiful and noble woman who appeared to be walking on the sea. Her right hand was lowered to pet the head of a rising dolphin. In her left arm, she held a baby, wrapped in a blanket and close to her breast. Over her left shoulder, a fairy fluttered, with a look on her face that said, ‘this is fun’.
Lincoln was especially taken by what he saw behind the altar. It appeared a narrow opening that covered the whole back wall, like the biggest picture window, except without glass. Obviously, a roof overhang protected the temple floor from the rain, but the window without glass showed the rain in all its fury. Great strokes of lightning flashed over the sea and across the sky to light up the night.
“Nice view,” he mumbled.
“Yes,” Thalia responded, as Alesandros went to pull the curtains. He helped the travelers set out places to sleep while Thalia continued. “It is a small way down to the cliffs that overlook the bay and the sea. On a clear day, I can see for miles. I sometimes come and sit here, and look out on the sea for hours and hours. I never knew the beauty and wonder of it all until I became friends with Amphitrite.”
“Thalia and Amphitrite are best friends, since they were young.” Alesandros said.
“On Akalantas,” Lincoln said, and Thalia stared at him.
“Yes, how did you know?”
Alexis answered. “My husband keeps the database and reads it when we are not looking.”
“Lovely table,” Boston interrupted. She felt something warm to look at it, knowing that all these gifts were offered to the Kairos, in a sense, and now that she had become an elf, that was her goddess, too.
“Altar,” Katie corrected her.
“Of course,” Thalia acted like she was forgetting her manners. “If you are hungry, please take what you wish. Some of the bread is very good. Our lady would not wish any to go hungry.”
“We ate in the meeting house,” Alesandros said, giving Thalia another quick kiss.
“Don’t people object to taking the food offered to the goddess?” Katie asked.
“Not here,” Thalia said, with a big smile. “We do not waste the offerings. In the morning, the mothers will come and give thanks, and the food will go to feed the children. Besides, after too long, the fish starts to stink, so it all works out well. A few people collect and bring offerings every day. We gather the village here about every fifteen days, and some come from other villages to join us. We get people here from the cities up the coast every season, and we have seasonal celebrations…”
“And we get to share the love of our great lady,” Alesandros added, and this time, she kissed him.
“Too bad the children can’t eat the flowers,” Artie said, wistfully.
“Yes, well, some are not suited for hunting or fishing, or for baking bread,” Thalia knitted her brows for one minute before she called. “Lilac, come here and meet our friends.”
“Yes, Lady,” the travelers heard a sweet voice before they saw a beautiful young woman of about eighteen years at most, step out from a dark corner where apparently, no one looked. At least Alexis felt that was what they were supposed to think. Alexis felt suspicious, and it got confirmed when Boston stepped up and spoke.
“Hello elf,” the young girl responded.
“My name is Lilac.”
“You can get little if you want. My friends won’t hurt you,” Boston said, and removed her glamour to show herself, pointed ears and all. “See?”
Lilac glanced at Thalia who closed her mouth and gave a slight nod. Lilac immediately returned to fairy size, and fluttering her wings, came right up to Boston to commiserate on nothing in particular.
“I see you have your own little one to worry about,” Thalia said with a look on her face that said she was not unhappy about it. “Mine keeps me young and is my heart.”
Elder Stow interrupted before anyone else could respond. “My mother. My father. I have worn my glamour faithfully for a long time. It is as you said, I mostly forget it is even there. But it would be a great kindness to me if I could take it off, just for this night.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Katie said, and with a brief look at Thalia, and Alesandros, who came up to slip his arm over his wife’s shoulders, she looked at Lockhart.
Lockhart looked unsure.
Elder Stow said, “I am sure I would sleep better, and maybe not snore so much.”
Katie shrugged and Lockhart nodded. “Only if Thalia and Alesandros don’t object. If they are uncomfortable, you must put it right back on.”
Elder Stow nodded, and to their credit, only Thalia made any noise, and it was a little gasp.
“He is not an elf or dark one or any spiritual creature I have seen.”
“He is an old one.” Katie said. “One of the ancient races that lived in this land before the flood
“I really am a very nice fellow,” Elder Stow said. “That is what young Boston says.”
“I’m only about a hundred and ten, elf years old,” Boston admitted.
“Miss Lilac is just over a hundred herself,” Thalia said.
“I just barely qualify to be called Miss Lilac,” Lilac said, sounding more like a ten-year-old than one who looked eighteen in her big size. Lilac settled down to sit on Thalia’s shoulder, a place she was obviously accustomed to.
“One elf and one old one makes me wonder what other wonders you have to share,” Alesandros said. He smiled, like he was enjoying the show.
Alexis shook her head, but Boston spoke. “Just one. Elder Stow, we have to give Artie a check in all this rain.” Artie looked up, but she had been quiet all through supper, on the road to the orphanage, and now in the temple, where normally she would have been in the midst of it all, asking questions. She did not appear to have the gumption to protest as Elder Stow nodded and rummaged through his pack.
“I don’t feel well,” Artie said. “Is that the right way to say it? I don’t feel well.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Alexis said, as Katie sat down beside the android. Alexis looked like she wished there was something she could do. Her healing magic worked fine for wounds and broken bones. She could pull poison and infection right out of the body, but she was not as effective on illnesses, and in Artie’s case, Alexis felt powerless. She could not heal wiring.
Elder Stow sat and placed a disc against Artie’s head. Artie voluntarily closed her eyes, but when Elder Stow tuned the disc, Artie stiffened like a corpse. Thalia let out a little gasp again, but Alesandros held on to her, so she stayed quiet. Boston slipped into Katie’s place. When she reached down to open Artie’s middle, Thalia muted her gasp in Alesandros’ chest so she would not have to watch. Alesandros watched, fascinated, and eventually Thalia also turned to see.
“She is a machine,” Elder Stow said. “But most of her insides imitate human insides.” He spoke to Boston. “Find something to sponge that water.” Boston got her fairy weave blanket.
“A machine?” Alesandros got close. “I thought… she seemed a fine young woman.”
“I suspect the moisture seeped in all day around her middle joints,” Elder Stow said to Alexis and Katie. “She is rust proof, and her flesh, like human flesh, is designed to repel water, but when she bends, even like sitting, the flesh bunches up and makes a miniscule gap. Human flesh is stretchier and tugs against the muscles so we can only bend so far and can’t make gaps. After an all-day rain, sitting on her horse and all, enough moisture got in to her insides to begin to cause problems.”
“Can you fix her?” Katie asked, obviously concerned.
“Not without covering her in an entirely different kind of flesh, for which I do not have the equipment. Very sophisticated equipment. Magic might do it, I don’t know, but science can only offer a sealer, like a glue stop. I can give Alexis a list of ingredients to look for. Artie may find the glue uncomfortable, and in any case, it will only work as a stop-gap until a more permanent solution can be found.”
Boston finished wiping out Artie’s insides, and Elder Stow closed her up. He paused on waking her when Katie said, “Wait. Let’s not tell her just yet. Let’s wait until we see the Kairos. She has resources and knows thing that we cannot imagine. Maybe she will have a solution.”
“You don’t want her to worry in the meantime,” Lockhart said, and everyone agreed, though some might have thought keeping secrets from her was not a good idea.
“Not keeping secrets,” Alexis told Lincoln. “Just not confirming the diagnosis until we get a second opinion.” Alexis was a nurse.
“Okay?” Elder Stow asked. No one objected, so he removed his disc and Artie came around quickly.
“Am I going to be okay?” Artie asked first thing.
“How do you feel?” Alexis asked.
Artie thought first. “Better.”
Katie helped Artie to stand. “You are going to be fine. We just need some rest.” She escorted her to where they had laid out their blankets.
“No watch tonight,” Lockhart decided. “Everybody get some good sleep.”
“Good,” Decker said from where he was already lying down.
Well,” Alesandros said. “I knew you people were special, but I had no idea how special.”
“Don’t worry,” Alexis said. “The rest of us are plain ordinary humans.”
Lincoln shook his head. “Actually, Alexis used to be an elf, but became a human when we married.”
“No,” Thalia voiced disbelief.
“True,” Alexis said. “I am Boston’s sister. She was human and became an elf to marry my brother…who has moved on ahead of us toward our destination.”
“How can humans become elves and elves become human?” Alesandros asked.
“The Kairos,” Alexis answered. “Amphitrite. What can the gods not do?”
“Of course.” Thalia and Alesandros understood when she put it that way.
Alexis looked at Boston, who chose to sleep by the altar. Lilac, apparently, slept on the altar. “And I am feeling terribly guilty about it, oh, not guilty about becoming human. But I feel guilty not being with Boston, at least for a while. She has so much still to learn about being an elf and about magic and everything. She is such a young elf. Right now, there is no one else, and though I cannot show her things like I could if I was an elf, I should at least be sharing with her those things I can describe and things I remember from growing up elf.”
Alesandros went around, putting out candles, and Lincoln took Alexis by the arm. “Come along. I want to be asleep before Elder Stow starts snoring.”
From out of the dark, they heard what sounded like a Neanderthal giggle.
It stopped raining by two in the morning, and the world slept well until after four, when things got strange.