Alexis and Lincoln took the first watch, though people stayed up and talked until about nine, and there was not much need to watch with Elder Stows screens running. Decker said they were better to keep to the pattern, regardless, and Katie reminded everyone about the djin.
“Though I don’t suppose he would dare show his face to the Olympian gods after he set that volcano off in the last zone.”
“I don’t know,” Diomedes hedged. “What we have here is a family squabble among the gods. The Greeks and Trojans are just playing out the reflection of that, not like mindless pawns on a chessboard, but with willing hearts, shall we say.”
“So, Helen?” Katie did not know what to say in front of Nestor, even if he appeared to be already sleeping.
“The last straw,” Diomedes explained. “You see the Dorians, for want of a better name, came down into Greece from the north and conquered the cities and the land, all the Aetolians. Achaeans, Mycenaeans, Corinthians, Eubouians, Boeotians, and so on. The Dorians became like a ruling class over the rest of the people. I was involved in the final work, when we overran Thebes, so it was that recent. Well, plenty of people did not like being ruled and having their independence taken away. They rebelled, mostly by escaping to Asia, that is the coast of Turkey in your day. Troy opened her gates to the rebels and became like the central city of the rebellion. Helen, one of the original Achaeans, got forced into marriage to Menelaus, brother of the high king, Agamemnon.
“High king?” Katie asked.
“Yes. Right now, under Dorian rule, Greece is as close to being a united nation as it gets up until the twentieth century. Even under occupation by the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Turks, the various cities hold on to as much independent power as they can. The idea of a Greek nation has to be ground into them over a couple of thousand years.”
“Sounds painful,” Lockhart said.
“Yes. But when Paris convinced Helen to join the rebellion, and she ran away with him to Troy, that became the last straw. I’m not discounting Aphrodite’s work in the mess, but this war is really a political thing, mostly. It is like most wars, I guess. It is trying to decide who is going to rule and be in charge here, if you know what I mean.”
“I get it,” Katie said. “There is more at stake for the Hellenes than meets the eye, or the history books.”
“No, actually…” Diomedes had to pause to think what he could say. “The Hellene are another people group altogether; one that is more of a loose confederation of tribes, like brigands, like the Huns, or Mongols. They kill with abandon. Shortly, after the Dorian Lords get home, for those who get home, the Hellene invade the land, and they have something that the Greeks don’t have.”
“What is that?” Lockhart asked, while Lincoln pulled out the database.
“Iron,” Diomedes said with a sour look. “And a thirst for blood. You see, after we took Thebes, I was fifteen, and got married off to the princess of Argo. I ruled for only a couple of years before raising the army again to come on this adventure. Who would have guessed ten years of war? I just turned twenty-eight. I look older, I know. It’s the stress. But I don’t know. My wife—even having a wife at fifteen was weird. We kind of bonded, but not really, since she was older and way more mature. I don’t know. With the Hellene coming, I may go to Italy.”
“The iron age begins?” Katie was surprised at the early date.
“Not exactly,” Diomedes said. “With the arrival of the Hellene, the country eventually takes the name of Hellas, as a general idea or description, but otherwise, they plunge into two or three hundred years of dark ages, and don’t emerge until Homer writes about this mess we are in right now—and really not until Socrates in the five-hundreds.” Diomedes lay down, and said, “Good-night. I wonder if Italy gets snowy cold in winter. Maybe the southern coast.” He went to sleep.
Alexis and Lincoln got up and went into their tent. They were like newlyweds, now that Alexis turned human again. Katie and Lockhart were actual newlyweds and did not do much watching between nine and midnight. The others were glad that Elder Stow had his screens up.
Elder Stow and Decker had the wee hours, and Boston and Sukki agree to take sunrise. When Elder Stow woke Sukki for her turn, she surprised him with a question. “You don’t want to marry me?”
Elder Stow’s eyes got big. I have three wives and plenty of children. I already have a big family group. And I am old, I’m thinking too old to be a father again, he thought, but he said. “You don’t want to be my daughter?”
Sukki considered it, and nodded. “I can, but I won’t always be a good girl,” she said.
“Expected,” he agreed and gave her a small kiss on the cheek to seal the agreement.
Sukki sat happily with Boston, and opened-up about many things. She found it hard to talk to the humans, but the crazy elf seemed easy to talk to. She was just explaining how children spoke to their parents, when Boston told her to be quiet. She got quiet for a second before she started again.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Listen real close,” Boston stood and walked to the edge of the campsite. They waited a long time before Sukki finally spoke.
“A baby?” It sounded so far away, she could not be sure.
“I have to wake the others.” She started with Diomedes. “I hear a baby crying.” She woke everyone, Nestor last, and he commented.
“Many babies are crying in the night now that their fathers have been lost to them.”
“It is the djin that has been following you,” Athena said, quickly. “He is not in this time zone, but I believe he contracted with one of the gods to bring the night creatures here. There appear to be nine of them.”
Diomedes stepped close and gave her a soft kiss. “Clever girl to slip through Elder Stow’s screens like that.” On seeing the others did not understand, he briefly explained. “Particle, energy, and radiation screens function in the realm of matter and energy, the same that the gods manipulate by divine fiat. Flesh and blood, even godly flesh and blood, have limits that have to be figured out to get around. I’m not explaining it well.” He turned to Athena. “No, no. Some things mortals just have to take on faith. I am sure Athena could explain it, but that is not why she is here.”
“Quite right,” Athena said. “Someone is protecting them, so I can’t just wipe them out of existence. I don’t know if they can follow you through the time gate, though, so I figure if I send you to the next gate, you can at least have a three to five-day head start.”
“No, no.” Diomedes made Boston put her amulet away. “Athena keeps track of where the time gates are. She is the most-clever person, ever.”
“See?” Athena said, without explaining what they were supposed to see, and she returned Diomedes’ kiss.
“They know,” Athena said, and the icy stares that shot between the girls nearly put the fire out. Diomedes bravely stepped between them.
“Girls, girls. You are sisters. Sibling rivalry is fine, but please remember deep down you care about each other. We have guests right now who need our help. You can fight later.”
“You cut me,” Aphrodite yelled at Athena.
“You made me fall in love with the most annoying person in… in… history,” Athena shout back.
“And I love you, too,” Diomedes said to Athena, who backed off a little. “And I am sorry I cut you. I was just trying to do my job.” He changed to Diogenes, Alexander the Great’s cousin, and focused on Aphrodite. “Show me,” he said.
Aphrodite looked up at him and pouted, but lowered her sleeve to show a small scar in her shoulder. The other men nearly lost it to see just her shoulder, not to mention her pouty face, but Diogenes leaned over and kissed it.
“There,” he said. “Now it will get all better.”
Aphrodite huffed a little, but tried not to smile. Diogenes smiled for her and changed back to Diomedes and he slipped his arm around Athena’s waist. Athena responded by grabbing on to him like a possessive woman saying, this one is mine, you get your own.
Aphrodite smiled then and turned to point at Decker. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten you.”
Artemis removed the grin from her face and spoke. “I got my Amazons.”
“That leaves me with the travelers,” Aphrodite said.
“Thrace. Across the Dardanelles,” Athena told her.
“Ah.” Aphrodite’s face lit up. “I know just the place.”
And everyone vanished.
Diomedes and Nestor appeared beside Odysseus and a dozen other men who had evidently spent the night mapping out the extent of Elder Stow’s screens, as Diomedes guessed they would. “So, did you leave me any beef?” Diomedes asked.
Sthenelus came running up. “Diomedes. come on. We saved you some of the cut-up rump.”
Odysseus shrugged. “You have loyal men. After ten years of following your orders, it is a wonder.”
“You missed Althea and Diogenes,” Nestor tattled.
“You didn’t let Diogenes do your fighting for you again?”
“One time. I borrowed him one time,” Diomedes shouted. “They never let you forget.”
“Time gate dead ahead,” Boston reported.
“Come eat your breakfast first,” Alexis and Sukki insisted. Aphrodite transported everyone and everything as is, including the campfire, still cooking away.
Aphrodite spoke once more before she left them. “This is the land of the Hellene. I suggest you go through this morning and not wait until tomorrow. They are a bloody lot. Ares likes them. Better they don’t find you here.” She disappeared.
“Thank you,” Katie said. Everyone said, “Thank you,” to the air, assuming Aphrodite would hear.
“Eat first,” Alexis added.
The travelers find themselves in China just before the end of the Shang dynasty, and the rise of the Zhou. But they hardly have time to examine the evidence. They need to reach the Kairos as fast as possible, because the night creatures of the djin follow them through the time gate…