Once again, Artie decided she had to just say it, and he would deal with it, or not. She could not control his reaction, and inside she realized she did not want to control him. That was the very reason she fought the Anazi. People, all people, deserved freedom to make their own decisions and make their own choices. The choices might be good or bad, but they at least should be their own. Trying to control others was the nature of evil itself, in her mind.
“The horse, saddle, saddlebags, pots, pans and knife are all from the future; many hundreds of years in the future. I was not there at the beginning of this journey, but apparently, the Kairos knew the travelers would need certain things if they hoped to reach the end of the journey, alive. The Kairos provided the horses and tied them to the travelers, like with a magical string. That is why Freedom stays with me, and I love my horse, too.”
Freedom snorted and nodded, and Naman laughed.
She pulled out her big knife, the one Decker said was like a Bowie knife, and she handed it to Naman, who took it carefully. “It is a carbon-iron alloy called steel, and it is much harder and stronger than bronze, though Decker says it is only as good as the person who uses it.”
Naman held up the knife to see the reflection of the sunlight before he handed it back. “Decker is another companion?”
Artie nodded. “He is what you might call a Nubian. Then there is Alexis and Boston, the elves I told you about, and Lincoln, who is Alexis’ human husband. and Elder Stow. He is a strange one.”
“Why?” Naman asked.
“Because he is human, they say, but he is an old human…” Artie honestly did not know how to explain this one. She tried. “The Kairos says this earth is a genesis planet. That is what he calls it. Humans are the only people presently on the earth, but in ages past, other people began here. Some were like humans. Some were early versions of humans. Some were not at all like humans. They were very different. But they all learned to walk and talk, to think and feel, and be real people, even if they were not human people.
Naman rubbed his chin. “Like lions walking around on their back feet, talking about the weather, and coming over for a visit.”
“Probably not lions, but you get the idea. And since this is a genesis planet, the Kairos has made it like a sanctuary, but mostly off limits to people from the stars. I came here because of the war. I never would have come here if I had any say over the matter.”
“So, this companion?”
“Elder Stow,” Artie nodded. “He is from the people who were an early version of humans. He looks and thinks just a little bit different from us. As I understand it, in the time of the great flood, his people were saved by being taken off this world and given a new world out among the stars. Ages later, he returned with some others, when, by an illegal act by one of the gods, he got thrown back through time and landed in the deep past. He is trying to get back to the future. How the humans ended up in the past is a long story, but the thing is, this is not a journey like going to your cousin’s house and going home again. Ours is a journey through time.” She paused to let him grasp the concept. “Those magical gates we travel through are time gates. They are impossible to find, unless you have the right equipment, but by going through the gates, we travel fifty or sixty years into the future, each time.”
“A journey through time.”
Artie knew it was a hard concept to grasp. “These future things are from the time we are trying to return to. I said I was in Egypt last night and came here through a gateway. But the Egypt I was in was fifty years ago. Tutankamon was Pharoah. Horemheb was just a soldier. And I don’t think Ramesses was even born yet.” She was stretching to explain. She thought she remembered hearing about Ramesses, but she was not sure.
“I heard of Ramesses. He fought the Hittites around Kadesh, and lost, badly.”
“Mother Katie said it was probably a draw.”
Naman shook his head. “The Hittites still own Kadesh, don’t they?”
Artie shrugged. “I don’t really know. Lincoln has the database. He reads about it and can explain it to us as we go along.”
Naman got quiet for a while. He looked like he was thinking deep thoughts, no doubt about time travel and what that might be like. Artie imagined he had a lot of wrong ideas, but she kept quiet and waited, until he spoke again.
“So, you have two elves, one from a near human race, one Nubian and one husband of an elf.” He paused on that one, and looked put off thinking about it. “That makes five. Who are the other two?” he asked.
“My mom and dad,” Artie said, happily. “My adopted mom and dad. Katie and Lockhart are their names, though actually, Lockhart is his last name. His first name is Robert. Robert Lockhart.”
“A man with two names,” Naman said. “He must be an important man.”
Artie shook her head before she changed her mind and nodded. “He is. And my mom has two names as well. Katherine Harper is her actual name, but everyone calls her Katie. That is short for Katherine.”
“Like Artie is short for Arthur.” Naman said. “Maybe I should be Na.”
“Man,” Artie laughed, but he stopped talking a minute and looked at her.
“What?” she had to ask.
“So now you are completely human, just like me?”
“Not just like you,” Artie said, and watched him back up a little. “I’m a girl and you’re a boy.” That made him smile again, which Artie liked to see.
“Okay,” he said. “You can be my girlfriend.”
Artie’s grin broadened to where she feared she might hurt her face, but her finger went tap her temple. “But, am I ready for a boyfriend?” she asked.
Naman stopped, so the both had to stop. “I thought that was what you wanted.” He threw his hands up in exasperation.
“Kiya… Where I was in Egypt… Fifty years ago, Sotek proposed to Kiya, and she said, I can’t know how to answer that. You haven’t even kissed me yet.”
Naman’s grin returned with a little sly mixed in. He stepped up and they grabbed each other and kissed, and again and again. Finally, while holding each other so close not even air could get between them, Artie tilted her head back and said, “Wow.” Naman said nothing. He could not stop grinning.
Freedom stepped up, gave them a big nudge with his nose, and knocked them right over. The horse let out a sound which sounded remarkably like laughter. And Artie and Naman laughed as they let go and got back to their feet.
“Well,” they heard a voice. “Did you decide on a time and day?”
“What?” Artie and Naman both looked up with dazed looks on their faces.
“For the wedding,” Abinidab said, and the young people jumped.
“Abinidab.” Artie looked over the saddle. “Over here. People get up and down from horses on the left side.” Naman joined her, and Artie loosened the blanket-straight jacket they had the man in. They got him down with minimal yelling.
“Be careful. It is really high up. Don’t drop me, I’ll bang my head again. Okay. Okay. I’m down.” And he sat down on the ground, right where he was, and put his hand to his head and moaned.
“How are you feeling?” Artie asked, and checked the bandage. It was soaked through, but appeared to have begun to crust over.
“Like I got hit in the head with a rock,” he said.
“Naman?” Artie looked up.
“I figured he would be okay,” Naman said. “His head is harder than any rock.”
“Ha-ha,” Abinidab did not laugh.
“Hush,” she shushed them both and hugged the old man. “What say we lunch here? It won’t make us too late getting home, and I haven’t seen any sign that we are being followed.”
Naman quickly looked back the way they had come, like he had not thought of that.
“Home?” Abinidab looked up and questioned the word on Artie’s lips.
Artie looked at both of them with big, tear filled eyes. “Please,” she said. “I haven’t anywhere else to go. I would feel safe with you, until my friends find me.” She looked back and forth between the two of them.
“Of course you will come home with us,” Naman said. “Mother and the girls will love her, and we can’t throw a woman out to the wolves…”
“And bears,” Artie said.
“She is not your cousin’s daughter, Birka.” Abinidab protested and looked like he might get stubborn. “What was wrong with Birka.”
“Nothing other than she was stupid and ugly,” Naman said.
“Poor girl,” Artie felt sorry for her.
“Don’t misunderstand,” Naman said. “There are plenty of men who also fit that description. Let her marry one of them, and I am sure she will live a happy life.”
“Live happily ever after,” Artie smiled again.
“I don’t know,” Abinidab started thinking too hard.
“You will love my sisters, Doma and Anat” Naman said holding out his hands to her to help her to her feet. She gladly took them and stood, but then she did not want to let go. “Anat is nine and a scamp. She likes to run and hide. Doma is thirteen, and Mother keeps her busy learning how to sew and cook, and all the things Mother says she need to know to get a good husband.”
“Thirteen?” Artie shook her head. “She is much too young to be thinking about husbands. I’m sixteen, and I am not ready for anything like marriage.”
“Sixteen?” Abinidab looked up. “Why aren’t you married already? My son is nineteen and should be married already as well.”
Artie and Naman looked at each other and shook their heads. Neither of them was ready for that, or at least that was what Artie thought. Abinidab must have seen something else.
“On second thought,” he said. “We would be glad to welcome Artie to the family.”
Artie smiled and still looked at Naman. “I get to be the big sister?”
Naman nodded, and dropped one hand so he could step close and gently pat her other hand. “Of course, my brother is fifteen, and he will probably follow you around. Watch out for him.”
“And a little brother, too,” Artie said, happily before she put on her serious face. “Oh, I’ll watch out. I’ll be very careful.” Her smile came back. She couldn’t help it.
MONDAY (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Artie hardly has a chance to fit into a real family before she is overwhelmed by one trouble or another. Someone is not going to make it easy for her. There is a reason she got separated from the others.
Don’t miss it. Until then, Happy reading.