Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 1 of 5

After 1583 BC Syria, by the Euphrates.  Kairos 61: Notere of the Hittites


“Carchemish,” Lincoln announced the name of the town. before he added, “I’m pretty sure.”

“Good to know,” Lockhart said, as he guided the group down a steep path and up to the gate.

Katie rolled her eyes, but Artie spoke.  “Carchemish.”  She got her horse over a rough spot, and continued.  “That reminds me.  I had the strangest dream last night.”  Katie showed she was listening.  “I dreamed I was flying, without a ship or parachute, like a fairy, but without the wings.  Then I started to fall, and it got frightening.  I woke up.”

“I had a flying dream once,” Lincoln said.  “No idea why.”

“Do you know what it means?” Artie looked to Katie, who shook her head.

“Ask the nurse,” she said, and pointed behind her.

Artie turned to face Alexis, but Alexis spoke first while Artie remembered that Alexis had become an elf again, for a time.  She looked the same, but different.

“When I took my nursing courses, I had not been human very long,” Alexis said.  “I thought it was not right for me to be analyzing humans, since my father told me they are all crazy.  I still think he was right, sometimes.”

“I hear that,” Decker mumbled from the back where he and Elder Stow had pulled in to join the column.

“I like flying dreams,” Boston said, and Artie nodded.

“But not the falling part.”

They came to the gate and had to stop.  The gate guards were checking everyone, for something.

“Got anything to declare?” Lockhart whispered, as he got down.  The guards looked up at him, so he added, “How can I help you?”

“Stick out your hands,” the man ordered.  Lockhart did, and the man turned one hand palm up, pressed on the ball of the thumb and watched it push back into place.  He turned the hand over and rubbed the back to see what came off.  Then he looked hard into Lockhart’s eyes to make sure someone was home.  Three other guards checked Lincoln, Katie and Artie.

“You see?” Artie said.  “I’m human.  I have human hands.”  She sounded so happy, but then the young man checking her reached out to squeeze her breast.  He had a big grin, but Artie shouted.  “Hey!”

“Hey,” Katie shouted the same, and Lockhart turned, grabbed the man by the shoulder and threw him to the ground.

“What is this all about?” Lockhart demanded.  The travelers looked angry, and the guards hesitated, not prepared to start a fight in the gate.

The chief guard gave his young man a hard look before answering.  “We have had dead people getting up and walking around.”  He said that with a straight face.  “I saw one.  There is nothing behind the eyes, and they fall apart in the hands and feet.  I’m not likely to make you take your shoes off.”

“Zombies,” Alexis said.

The walking dead,” Boston corrected her.

“Lelwani is angry,” one of the guards said, and nodded.

The chief guard looked at the four not checked, the two women, who wore glamours to appear like ordinary humans, the Gott-Druk, who also disguised himself with an illusion, and the big African who looked ready to growl.  The chief guard could not see through the illusion, but he saw something.

“These are clean,” he announced, and the other guards backed off.  “So, what is your business in Allepo?”

“Darn,” Lincoln interrupted.  “I was close,” he insisted.

“Trade,” Lockhart said.  “And a chance to sleep the night out of the wilderness.  We will see how good your hospitality is.”

The guard nodded.  They were on the main trade route.  “Go down this way to the square and ask for a man named Huyak.  He will know where you can room, or set your tents if you would rather.”

“Thank you,” Lockhart said, and the travelers walked their horses into the city to the sound of Artie’s voice.

“How can dead people walk around?”

“Very powerful magic,” Alexis said.  “Or in this age, a cathartic god with an agenda, or one that is being lazy.”

“She,” Katie said.  “Lelwani is a goddess of the dead.”

“I wonder if she is friends with Anath-Rama,” Boston asked.  They did not know, but Artie smiled at the mention of her own, personal goddess.

Huyak turned out to be an old man who solved one riddle right away.  “My eldest son sent you from the gate,” he said.  He took them to an open field beside the river and beside his own house where they could pitch their tents and light a fire.  The place for the fire was already marked out with a circle of big stones.  “You are here to trade, but you have no wagons or camels and donkeys to carry your goods.”  He sounded curious.

“Decker,” Lockhart said, but Decker had already started to unwrap the deer tied to the back of his horse.  The man stroked his beard and called for two others.  The travelers guessed he had more sons.

“And in return?”

“A chance to stay here for a couple of nights, undisturbed.”  They would likely move on in the morning, but it was better to have some wiggle room, and not specify exactly what a couple of nights amounted to.

“And some vegetables,” Alexis spoke up.  “And not all onions.”  She turned to Boston.  “I would kill for some greens.”

“I believe we have a bargain,” Huyak said, and he waved to the boys to pick up the beast.  They had a wagon handy, and hauled it off to disappear down the street.  “You camp, and I will be back with things to eat, and my own brew.  It is very good.”

“Good thing,” Katie said.  “I am beginning to mistrust the water.”

As soon as Huyak got out of sight, Decker and Elder Stow got the other deer down from the back of Elder Stow’s horse.  They took a moment to set their tents in a circle around the fireplace; not that they needed the fire for warmth, but it was safer to watch each other and not spread out too far.  That did not take long.  The tents were balls of fairy weave that set themselves up on voice command.  Alexis set up a tent for her and Boston, without having to speak out loud to get it to take shape.  She began to teach Boston how to do that.

They had wood in satchels on other horses, and Boston started the fire.  Her magic was fire based, so it was easy for her.  Then they tended the horses and let them wander down to the river, to drink.  By the time Huyak returned, Alexis and Katie had deer roasting and hot water ready for tea.  They used a little hot water for bread crackers, which became loaves of bread.  They shared some with Huyak and his sons when they returned from the market, and eventually with Huyak’s whole household, and Huyak kept them well supplied in fruits and vegetables, such as he had, and beer that Lincoln said was not terrible.

As the sun set, a ghostly wail came up from the river.  “They are out tonight,” Huyak said, and his eyes went to the rickety wooden footbridge someone had built across the slow-moving water.  “They stay on the other side around the place where the ground stinks of garlic.  They appear to avoid the water.”

“That would make them decay and fall apart faster,” Alexis said, and Artie looked at her with questions on her face.  “Zombies, sweetheart.”  Artie shivered, as did Boston and Lincoln.

“So, we should be safe in this side of the river.” Lincoln said, but it was honestly a question.

“I didn’t say that,” Huyak said, as his wife, two sons and two daughters came from the house to hear what stories these strangers might have to tell.  Storytelling was once the height of the entertainment business.  Sadly, like getting an important phone call during the last few minutes of a television movie, sometimes life got in the way.

They heard gunfire, and the locals jumped. Decker had pulled the trigger.  They heard a body plop back into the river.  “I wouldn’t have shot, but his left arm was nothing but bone.”

“Oh,” Lockhart said.  “Watch tonight.  Katie and Artie first.  Elder Stow, you are with me.  Decker, you get Lincoln…”

“Boston and I will take sunrise,” Alexis agreed, and then squinted because it appeared Huyak now had three daughters instead of two.

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