The sandal maker’s house was not far. Just one door in, down a side street from the village square. Once again, Muhamed saw her enter right in, only this time he saw an old man rather than an old woman. He shrugged, and returned to the well. Two women had already come for water in the dim light of dawn.
“Allow me,” he said, though they had no way of understanding him. He took the bucket, lowered it, and hauled it back up by the rope. He slipped a small amount of elixir into the bucket before he poured the water into the waiting jugs. The women appeared to thank him, and went on their way. Muhamed smiled, and repeated that routine several times.
Muhamed got ready to move when the sun broke free of the horizon, and he saw several men come into the village square. He imagined the men might start asking questions. Besides, his elixir was almost gone. If he wanted to do anything at that point, it would have to be watch, and see what affect his diluted mixture might have on the local population. If the wooden bucket was any indication, it should do something. Even with limited exposure, the bucket had begun to sprout new twigs and leaves which he kept having to tear off.
He honestly felt too tired, having been up since before noon on the day before. The sandal maker’s house was right there. The young woman greeted him at the door, and said the sandal maker had business and would be gone all day, and into the night. She claimed to have made a feast, but it hardly amounted to more than bread and water, and a little vegetable broth with a taste of the dried meat. Muhamed only paused at the water, but he did not imagine any of the women fetched water for the old man. He figured it had to be water from before they arrived. He had been careful not to contaminate the actual well.
“Will you sleep with me?” she offered. “You can beat me, hard and wicked.”
Muhamed stared at her again. He imagined the woman had some serious psychological problems. Then it occurred to him that his elixir, given to a living person, might have corrupted her mind and sensibilities. He was not a doctor, but he thought she died at one point. Clearly, she did not, but he knew reduced oxygen to the brain could cause brain cells to die. He decided it would be safer to keep her at arm’s length. No telling what she might do with that cutting knife.
“I need sleep,” he said, and it was true enough. “I see, there, the sandal maker has a bed in a back room. You stay and sleep here in the front room, in case some local people come to see the sandal maker.” It sounded reasonable to Muhamed’s ears.
“I will,” she said, and Muhamed stepped into the back. He drew the curtain closed. The shutters were already closed, blocking out the sunlight. He quietly took a jug and several small items he found in the room, and stacked them against the curtain. He hoped, if anyone came into the room, the items would fall, and the noise would wake him. He fell asleep easily enough.
As the sun set, the travelers set up their campsite. Once again, there appeared to be men and armies all around, and plenty of them were on horseback. Fortunately, the ones in this time zone did not appear interested in travelers that included an old man and some women. Several looked twice at the women on horseback, but no one stopped them to question them.
“I wonder what the soldiers are all doing,” Lincoln said. “We have seen some different uniforms, if that is what they are, but they don’t seem to be attacking each other, or anyone else as far as I can tell.” Lincoln got the horse brush from Alexis’ saddlebag.
“Show of force,” Evan said. “I figure the year is 540 or 539. Cyrus is about to march into Babylon, or has just entered the city, and he has his army riding around the countryside between Assur and Ur, showing who is in charge and giving notice to all the cities that there is a new ruler in town.” Evan got the brush from Lincoln’s bag.
“Alexis?” Lincoln called, but she did not answer.
“Alexis and Millie went out to see what edibles they could find.” Evan said.
“I have the fire up, waiting for something to cook,” Elder Stow said, as he walked to help with the horses. “No idea where Boston and Sukki are, either.”
“They wanted to climb the rocky hill to see what they might see in the distance,” Decker said, as he set his rifle down for once and got out his own horse brush.
“Supper,” Lockhart yelled ahead. He and Katie rode into the camp. They bagged two deer, and Lockhart spoke. “The deer are skittish, and keeping a good distance. Too many soldiers wandering around the area. We never would have bagged them with a bow and arrow.”
Katie interrupted. “Fortunately, my rifle has a scope and a good range.”
“Let me help,” Decker said, pulling his knife. “Lockhart always butchers the job.”
“Isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing?” Lockhart joked.
They camped in a spot on the edge of a forest, beside a rocky hill. They believed it was the same place they camped on that first night after leaving the city in the last time zone. That meant they were only one day from Babylon. Boston, at first, pointed to the more northern city of Sippar, but she said in the last day, Xanthia must have moved to Babylon. The time gate appeared to move roughly the same distance south.
“I do not understand how my Labash, so clearly a man, the way he fell for Kishilani, and the woman, Xanthia, could be the same person. She doesn’t sound like a lady. More of a tramp. And you say she married three times, and all of her husbands died in battle?”
“That’s right,” Lincoln confirmed. He did not have to get out the database to check.
“She had five children,” Alexis nodded, before she said the thing most of the people, and Millie obviously questioned. “I wonder how many of her children were actually the offspring of her husbands, or someone else.”
“Who knows,” Lockhart said, as he slipped a protective arm around Katie. She smiled for him.
“Think of Diana and Bodanagus,” Evan suggested to his wife. “Now that I know, I can see some similar traits between the two. Bodanagus, and Athena encouraged us to move into the future, to go home as they said. Bodanagus said we would meet him many times along the way. I didn’t understand what he meant, except that we might meet good people like himself who would help us out. Now, I understand he meant actually him, or her.”
Millie shook her head. “I believe what you are telling me, but it must be so strange to be a man.”
“It is,” Decker said, before anyone else could say it.
“Hold up,” Boston interrupted. “Humans are coming. Soldiers, I think.”
“I sense them,” Katie agreed. “But I don’t sense that they are a danger.”
Decker nodded. Elder Stow got out his scanner, just to be safe, in case he had to throw up a particle screen against intruders. They watched a small cavalry troop ride up, no doubt like moths attracted to the light of their fire. The troop stopped several yards away, and Decker, at least, appreciated their military discipline, to hold their horses steady in formation.
“Hello, do not be afraid. We are on a mission of peace. Are you travelers?”
Lockhart stood. Both he and Decker, being over six feet tall, still appeared to some as giants, and would up through the middle ages. They saw the two speakers hesitate, but they got down when Lockhart spoke, and in the Persian he picked up from the first speaker. They all still remembered the Babylonian from the last time zone. Languages generally took several time zones before they faded and got replaced by new languages.
“We are travelers, and have come a long way in search of our friend Xanthia.”
“You are Lydian? Or from one of the Greek or Phoenician cities? You ride with a Nubian.”
“Is my Persian not good enough?” Lockhart asked, knowing he sounded like a native. “But, to be honest, we are from a land on the other side of the world. That is how far we have traveled to see our friend.”
“Do you bring her gifts? Do you have a message for her?” the man asked. The two were down and walked forward a few paces. Two others dismounted to hold the horses, but the other ten or twelve stayed up, and mostly kept their horses still and quiet.
“I need a hug,” Boston shouted from the back side of the fire. Everyone ignored her.
Katie stepped up beside Lockhart and took his arm. The men stared at her yellow hair, sure proof that these people came from far away. Lincoln and Alexis followed and Alexis invited the Persians to supper.
“We shot two deer this evening. We planned to smoke one for the journey, but you and your men are welcome to the second one.”
“Tell me, Xanthia only has normal friends,” Lincoln interjected. The sarcasm sounded obvious. He saw the man’s eyebrows rise and his shoulders shrug.
“You make a good point,” he said, and signaled for his men to dismount. They quickly made a second fire and were grateful for the second deer. “I am Lyscus, and my aid is Harpatha. We will join you, and escort you to the city in the morning.”
“Fine,” Alexis said, and introduced everyone around the fire, at the end of which Lyscus admitted that they had to come from very far away, and Harpatha, staring at Boston’s red hair, agreed.
The travelers will meet up with the necromancer and his farm wife, and it won’t be pretty.
Until Monday, Happy Reading