The travelers sat around the campfire, talking and laughing about things. most of which Raja could not follow. When he could, he responded wisely, so he was not left out altogether. Katie got the man into a serious conversation earlier in the afternoon. She had so many questions about the Indo-Aryan invasion of the sub-continent, and here was a person she could ask. He knew much, being a servant in one of the main Aryan noble houses, but there were plenty of questions he could not answer, and could only guess.
“But your guess is probably closer to the truth than any guess I could make,” Katie said, several times.
When night fell, they had a deer roasting and a pot full of vegetables, though they did not know it was Mithra’s pot. They hobbled the horses to keep them close, and tried to relax. They were worried about what Padrama’s absence might mean. Decker was the one who reminded them that nothing was assured when they were in the middle of it all.
“Pan yelled at me right at the beginning. He said we should not interfere any more than necessary because everything was in flux. The future wasn’t finished being written until it became the past.”
“We could still accidentally change the future,” Katie understood.
“We did not exactly do a good job in the last time zone,” Lockhart said.
“I should have remembered the lesson,” Decker said.
“We all should have known better,” Elder Stow agreed.
“Notere decided there was no harm done,” Katie responded, brightly. “But we might have messed things up badly, acting like we did.” Lockhart nodded and moved closer to Katie, who smiled for him. Artie also smiled to see them loving, and side by side. She got up and squeezed between them, and they grinned at one another before they put their arms around the girl.
“Like a family,” Elder Stow said, with a great big grin that hardly looked human.
The travelers, and Raja did not stay up late in the wilderness. Lincoln sometimes read until nine, and Lockhart stayed up with Katie and Artie, since Lincoln and Lockhart had the nine to midnight shift, but the rest tended to go to bed. Unfortunately, just after six, Padrama showed up in the dark. He appeared out of nowhere, which fortunately, for Raja, was hard to see in the firelight.
Padrama saw the travelers and immediately felt prompted to comment. “I can’t come back. I don’t know how it works.”
“We already covered that movie,” Lockhart said, as Boston ran into the hug.
“You are young again,” she commented.
“Twenty, almost,” he said. “And how is my Artie?”
“Good,” Artie said, as he hugged her, and she looked back at Katie and Lockhart with unspoken questions in her heart and mind.
“How did it go?” Alexis asked what the travelers all wondered, and Katie was dying to ask.
“Where did you go?” Raja shouted over everybody. “That stranger showed up from nowhere. I heard him say you were needed. I did not hear the conversation, which is strange, because I try to hear everything, even when, like with these people, I do not understand what they are talking about. Then, suddenly you said you would be right back. And you vanished. The air was still there, but you were not. Where did you go?”
“Easy, Raja. I just got taken to see some old friends and some frenemies, but I think we got all the bases covered. Sit.” he ordered, and they all sat while he explained what he could. The travelers had various comments and questions after the fact.
“He seemed to me to be a bit of a lunk-head, not the smartest,” Lockhart added.
Padrama shook his head. “He is smarter than he appears, but more importantly, he is one god who takes his responsibilities seriously. Any of the old gods in this jurisdiction that get out of line, he will deal with them, and that will keep the Brahman offspring happy.”
“I seem to recall some such incidents,” Katie said. “Twelve, if I remember.”
“Yes. Hush,” Padrama put his finger to his lips. “But they will essentially be one bad apple at a time, a far cry from open war between two houses of gods. The Vedas will be written to reflect the new divine reality, reflect mind you, not create or explain; but they will give guidance and bring order to the chaos of putting two or more people groups together into one culture. Vishnu will do his incarnation thing, and the few unhappy gods, the so-called demons, will be overcome in the next five hundred to a thousand years. Overall, I feel it went as well as could be expected.”
“Varuna feared a war among the gods,” Lockhart said.
“And Brahma. They were the right choice for negotiation since both would be determined to make peace at any cost.”
“Not fair, though,” Boston complained. “Varuna not only gave up being King, but he had to give up the sky and go into the sea.”
“And his daughter, my Amun Junior’s wife Varuni went with him,” Padrama said. “I am sure Shiva thought it was the lowest, most humiliating position he could think of, but don’t forget, I lived as Amphitrite not that long ago. The sea is a constantly changing and fascinating place, and there is real power in the storms and monsoons that come off the ocean.”
“Parvati wanted children, and you know Ganesh is so loveable.” Padrama smiled at some ancient memory. “Shiva, the ascetic, is not likely to give her any children anytime soon, so adoption was the option. Besides, it was part of the deal for Varuna to step down in favor of Indra and for going into the oceans.”
“And Devi,” Katie said, with some astonishment.
“I had to get one girl up there in the top rank. Varuni would have been seen as pandering to my former wife, and Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva’s wives would not do, though Brahma’s wife, Saraswati, is quite clever. Devi was the right choice, even if that keeps most of the top rank with the newcomers and might make some of the old gods unhappy.”
“She gets good mention in the Vedas,” Katie said.
“Which are not written yet. I suggested birch bark to write on, or papyrus if they can get trade going over the sea. Varuna would have to help with that.” Padrama smiled. “Anyway, I could not exactly invent paper.”
“This database works pretty good,” Lincoln joked.
“To bed,” Padrama decided. “You all have to leave early in the morning. They are ironing out some final details, but I expect to have some morning visitors.”
“But what about Mohini?” Artie asked, concerned about love.
Padrama smiled for her. “Vishnu has assured me that Ravager and his people have stopped where the forest darkens. They will still be camped there in the morning, and Mohini has been untouched. Shiva, the ascetic, kindly put a geis around her so anyone who touched her with lustful intentions would be burned to ashes. She is probably the most wantable woman in the world right now, but several of Ravager’s men learned the hard way.”
“Nice of Shiva,” Lockhart said.
“Nothing of the kind. He did not want Mohini gang raped and maybe killed in the process. His plan was to kidnap her and entice me with getting close again and again to keep me hunting her instead of interfering with the negotiations. Shiva wanted war among the gods. He covered several angles, and keeping me busy was just one of them.”
“But why did Ravager stop before the dark of the forest?” Alexis got curious.
Padrama took a deep breath. It had been a long day, but he spoke. “Where the forest turns dark, like with a jungle canopy, like covered in perpetual twilight even in the noontide of day, and the trees begin to climb the mountains, and turn to fir a pine; that place is called Himavanta. Himavanta exists somewhere between this world and another. All of the usual suspects live there, elves light and dark, and the dwarfs in between, but also others, and some monsters. Chimera, hippogriff, basilisk and so on. Centaurs and giants live there, and the Kinnara, who are half human and half bird. Also, some who are half human and half snake. Wraiths haunt the place. The forest holds Preta and Bhuta, ghosts of people who died by violence, and Vetala, spirits who live in corpses and sometimes animate them like vampires. The Pisachas gather there. It is not a place to go.”
People sat quietly in the dark, and Padrama spoke again.
“To bed. And try not to have any nightmares. We are quite safe out here under the watchful eye of man-eating Bengal tigers.”
Katie scolded Padrama in the morning. Poor Artie took hours to get to sleep.