After 1294 BC Kadesh. Kairos 66: Utumari, the Hittite
The travelers tried never to go through a time gate in the dark, but the events in the last time zone necessitated some quick action. Artie went through first and found herself in a whirlwind that took her up into the sky. She tried to yell for help but the wind blew too strong and blinded her with dust. She had to keep her head down, and how she held on to her horse, Freedom, she never knew.
Artie came down in a glade on a hill overlooking a wide river valley. Freedom, stiff legged, staggered for a minute while she stroked his neck and said soothing words. Eventually, he seemed to come out of his trance and snorted, twice. She got down, but held tight to the reins for fear of losing him.
“Freedom,” she spoke out loud. “Do you know where we are? I don’t see the others anywhere. Hello.” she called out as loud as she could. “Hello.” the trees seemed to block her sound. “Hello. Katie. Alexis. Boston. Lockhart, daddy. I’m scared.”
Freedom nudged her shoulder and she patted his nose. “I think we’re lost,” she said. “I better check the supplies.” Her things were packed by her sister, Sekhmet, and the goddess may have mixed some things up in the rush, she imagined. Her one saddle bag had her collapsed fairy weave tent and blanket, with Freedom’s brush, her brush and some other necessities. The other saddle bag had her small pot, pan, cup, plate, and silverware, with some bread crackers Mother Katie gave her for emergency, as well as some medical things and supplies such as everyone had.
“It looks all right to me,” Artie said. “We may get tired of eating bread crackers.” She thought she remembered some plants Alexis showed her that were good to eat, but she did not know if she was in any place where those plants might grow. She had her handgun, of course, and Elder Stow just charged it, so it was fully charged for the time being. She did not imagine she could use it to hunt, though. She had a good knife in with her brushes, but she did not know if she could skin and cut up an animal. She felt sure she could cook it if someone else cut it up. Alexis and Katie taught her a bunch about that, and she wanted to learn because since she became human, she found she got hungry a lot more often than she used to.
“I don’t know,” Artie told Freedom. “I know we should be sleeping, but I’m trying not to think about sleeping, all alone in the wilderness. We could go down to the river, I suppose. Then at least we could have some fresh water.” She mounted and started down the gentle slope, and after a moment, she called out again. “Lincoln. Decker. Elder Stow. Mom and Dad. Hello?” No one answered, so she stopped yelling. She did not want to attract the wrong sort of creatures or people.
The moon came up, a half moon, but she saw it out over the river when she started, so she knew if she headed toward the moon, eventually she would come to the water. That seemed easy enough.
Artie scolded herself. She did not listen when Lincoln read about the place they were going. She should not have been daydreaming. Oh, but that wedding and the love. All that love in one place. She never imagined life could be like that. She wondered why her life couldn’t be like that.
“Because I have responsibilities,” she answered herself. “I have duties, as Decker would say. I am pledged to set my people free, and that is what I am going to do.” She paused and sighed. “Oh, but it would be so very nice.” She turned her mind from such fantasies as Freedom stepped over a bubbling brook.
She thought about when she had been an android. She was a soldier, and a dominant at that. She had military training, not the kind that could skin and cut up animals, but the kind that might help her think through troubles and situations if she ever faced troubles and situations. She hoped she did not have to face such things.
“At least this world does not have banthafars,” she said to herself, and felt a chill that made her look all the way around her as she rode. “No,” she said. “This world has lions, or tigers, and bears, oh my.” She remembered Lockhart adding the ‘oh my’, even if she did not know why.
“Lockhart,” she called, not too loud. “Robert Lockhart, I’m calling you. I’m scared. I’m trying to be brave, but I’m scared and all alone… Daddy.” She was not going to cry. She refused to cry. She was going to be brave and not cry.
A half-hour later, she stopped crying suddenly when she saw a campfire in the distance. She hustled Freedom, but slowed down when she got close. There was no reason to believe it was her family. It might be an enemy, or thieves, or something worse. She stopped in the dark and peered in toward the fire.
“They are camped on the riverbank,” she said to Freedom, and patted his neck to keep him quiet. “Good eating for you, and maybe I could share some bread for some other food.” She had to think about that. She inched closer. She saw a young man, feeding the fire and staring here and there into the wilderness, though how he expected to see anything in the dark when his eyes were fire blinded, she did not know.
Suddenly, a figure loomed up in front of her and Freedom bucked. Artie held on and yelled. “Hey! That’s not nice.” Freedom ran, but she got him under control in a moment and after an agonizing moment to think, she turned around and went back to the fire.
“Hello,” she called out of the dark. “I’m not going to hurt you.” A young man stood up and an older man had appeared to join him. “How many are you?” she asked. She decided if they were a big group, she would ride on.
“Hello,” the young man shouted back. The older man hushed him.
“Young lady,” the older man said in a voice that didn’t sound sincere. “We are just two, and we won’t harm you. We have some meat on the fire if you are hungry, and we promise not to disturb you if you are tired and wish to sleep. Um…how many are you?”
“Just me,” Artie said as Freedom poked his nose into the firelight followed by her. She got down and immediately began to take off Freedom’s saddle. She took out her pot and handed it to the young man with instructions to fill it with water. Then she finished dressing down her horse and let him trot to the river for a drink. She honestly should have checked first for crocodiles or snakes, but she felt so tired, she did not think straight. She put her bundle of a tent on the ground and said, “Tent.” The tent expanded, and she would get in it in a little bit.
The old man said, “Oh my,” and sat down, astounded by her magic. After a minute, he added a thought. “That is some horse you have. I have seen horses, of course. The Hittite lords use them to drive their chariots. But I have never seen one ridden quite like the way you ride your horse.”
Artie watched the old man and nodded at what he said while she got out her big knife and strapped it to her belt on which she also had her handgun. It was the only thing she wore which was not fairy weave. She took it off when she slept, of course, but even in the tent with Katie, she kept her weapon close to her hand, just to be safe.
“I’m looking for seven friends who also ride such horses,” Artie said. “I came into this place from another world, and I seem to have lost them.”
Artie nodded. “I was in Egypt an hour ago. About three days’ ride from Bubastis. I came through… a magical gate, but I am not sure where I have arrived. You mentioned the Hittites. Is this Hittite land?”
“The edge of it, yes,” he said. “But we are not on the trade route or a city, so they mostly ignore us.”
Artie nodded. These men did not live in any place of military importance. The young man returned with her pot, and she said, “Thank you.” And put it on the fire to warm the water. The young man smiled.
“You are very welcome.” He sat down by the old man and Artie caught herself glancing at him and his smile again. “Sorry if Father startled you. He thought you were a bear.”
Artie stopped what she was doing. “Bear?” She did not sound too thrilled by the idea. “Are there bears around here?”
“Not many,” the old man said. “Some up in the hills where not many people live. Many have been hunted out, but it is something to be careful about, when you camp near the water and have meat cooking.”
Artie’s stomach grumbled at the thought of cooking meat. “I’ll remember that,” she said.
“My son should remember that,” the old man said.
“So, you have heard some of my story. Tell me, why are you wandering in the wilderness, just the two of you?”
The young man looked at his father before he spoke. “We went to visit a cousin, a two-day walk. His wife’s family has a girl…”
“And what was wrong with Minlah?” the father asked. He did not look happy. Instead of talking, the young man tried to show by making faces and in mime, but Artie did not get much out of the show other than the impression that the girl was rather large. For some reason she wanted to laugh. She did a little, but covered her mouth and sat. She stared at the fire. She felt so tired. Finally, the young man did say something.
“I’m Naman. My father is Abinidab. Do you have a name?”
“Artie,” she said. “That’s short for Arthur.” She had a bread cracker out, and though the water hardly felt warm in such a short time, she felt famished. She made a loaf of bread, and she broke it and shared it.
Naman and Abinidab stared at the magic, open jawed, before the old man got up. “Where are my manners,” he said. He cut her a generous slice of whatever meat they had cooking and handed it to her, before he cut a slice for himself. He let his son, Naman cut his own. It was chewy and full of gristle, but it warmed her, and she chewed as much as she could.
“Thank you,” she said the word again before she went back to staring at the fire. Finally, she felt too tired to do anything other than sleep. She stood. Both sets of eyes lifted to her and stared at her, but she had no more conversation in her. She called. “Freedom,” and the horse came close to the fire. “Don’t wander off tonight,’ she said, and added, “Goodnight.” She went in her tent and fell into her bed.