Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 6 of 6

Xanthia brought everyone into a large room and had seats brought in, arranged like a big living room.  They had a table that looked to seat twenty on one side of the room, and that triggered Lincoln’s mouth.

“We haven’t had supper.”

Alexis nudged him.  “We imagined finding an inn or something.”  She did not want to put Xanthia on the spot, but Xanthia clapped her hands and gave instructions to her women.

She finished with, “And I want meat. Kill the fatted calf.”

“Not on my account,” Alexis said, and smiled.

“I know,” Xanthia commiserated. “But Major Decker needs to keep up his strength.”

Decker shrugged and looked at Lyscus and Harpatha who stayed with them.  He also looked at the half-dozen guards spaced around the outside of the room, by the doors. Xanthia noticed.

“Come to the table,” she said, and went to sit at the head of the table.  She thought, and pointed.  “Katie and Lockhart to my left.  Alexis and Lincoln, and Major Decker.  Captain, your officer can sit beside Decker and discuss military things.”

“An honor, your highness,” Harpatha said, with a bow, though he did not appear entirely comfortable sitting next to the giant black man.

“On my right,” Xanthia continued. “Let’s put Boston and Sukki, with Elder Stow.  Millie and Evan can sit next beside the captain, and Captain, I apologize.  Evan is a scholar not given to military thinking.”

“Quite all right,” Lyscus said, and bowed like Harpatha.

Xanthia clasped her hands and smiled at the arrangement.  She sat, so everyone else sat, and almost immediately, some young men and women came in with trays of cut vegetables and fruit, plates, knives, and goblets for the pitchers of rough beer or even rougher wine.  Elder Stow avoided the alcohol, since he had no capacity to keep from getting drunk.

Cyrus came in with the food, followed by four counselors, and everyone stood again to pay their respects.  They expected the counselors to be military men, but were surprised to find them the city administrator, the administrator of the grain warehouses with the chief tax collector and a governor of one of the cities in Southern Mesopotamia.  Cyrus rubbed his head, like all the administrative work might be giving him a headache.

Xanthia’s introduction of the travelers was interesting. She began with Evan, disguised nothing about them being from the future, and said straight out that Elder Stow and Sukki were human but not human.  She said Boston was an elf, and Cyrus raised one eyebrow, like he expected as much from his sister.  Katie was an elect.  Lockhart started as a policeman—captain of a city watch.  Alexis got introduced as a woman of magic.”

“Wind, and healing,” Alexis interjected.

“Lincoln keeps the historical record, including a record of future history, so no questions allowed about that. Major Decker is a true military man.” He was right then checking to see that the guards around the room stood up straighter and looked more alert as soon as the king entered the room.  “And, of course, you know Captain Lyscus and his first officer Harpatha.”

Lyscus bowed.  “Majesty.” Harpatha joined in the bow after a moment, though he had yet to swallow the food he stuffed in his mouth when the king entered the room.

Cyrus gave Lyscus a hard, practiced look. “Captain, is it?”

Lyscus looked unfazed.  “Her highness is generous,” he said.

Cyrus let out a wicked little grin that the travelers appreciated but seemed to unnerve the administrators. “Sit. Eat,” Cyrus said, as the servants brought in more food.  Cyrus sat, so everyone sat, except Xanthia.

Xanthia proposed a toast.  “To my big brother and the taking of Babylon without a fight.”

Cyrus frowned and explained better. “We fought a couple of battles before the city.”

“But not in the city,” Xanthia interrupted

Cyrus raised his eyebrows.  “Near enough, little sister.”

“All right,” Xanthia lowered her eyes before she rephrased her toast.  “So, for entering the city and taking over without spilling buckets of blood.”

“She can’t stand the sight of blood,” Cyrus said, with a slight grin as he sipped his drink.

“Especially my own, as the Storyteller says,” Xanthia agreed.  “I don’t know how Doctor Mishka does it.”

“Well enough,” Cyrus said, and reached for a shoulder where the people guessed he had been wounded, and Mishka healed him.

Xanthia spoke again as she sat. “By the way, I got the same gnomes as last time to care for your horses and things, so you should have no worries there.”

“I wish I had known,” Katie said. “I would have left my rifle with the horse.”  It presently sat in a chair near to hand.  She paused, before she stood and grabbed her rifle.  “Enemies.”

Boston stood.  “People.  Dead People.”

Decker got up next.  The door crashed open.  Decker fired his rifle without a breath, then Katie joined him.

Two dozen men and women had to crash through the chairs in the living-room area to get at the table. Most had knives and swords. Several took down the two guards by that door.  Necks got sliced, and the people paused to revel in the blood.

“Vampires,” Alexis said, dredging up the knowledge from somewhere in her past.

Xanthia, Sukki, Lincoln, Harpatha, and two of the four administrators screamed against the sound of gunfire. Then things got really confusing.

Vampires stood again as the bullets Decker and Katie shot got pushed out of their bodies.

People shouted.  “Go for the head… Bullets don’t work… We need stakes…”

Lockhart’ shotgun boomed in the face of two vampires.  Boston shot fireballs from her fingertips and Alexis raised a wind that kept the vampires from overwhelming them.

“Go for the head… We need wood weapons… Stake the heart…”

Lyscus came with two administrators and Cyrus to stand with Harpatha.  They were all armed, but the four guards remaining in the room tried to get in front of them.  Decker, Katie, Sukki, Lincoln, and Lockhart all pulled their knives.

“You have to take the head… Metal swords won’t work… It’s the necromancer…”  Someone noticed the man watching from the doorway.

One vampire head plopped to the floor, but the four guards did not last long.  Elder Stow shot at the two who tried to sneak around to the side of the room. They collapsed when large sections of their bodies burned away.  There was no guarantee, though, that those bodies would not regrow.

Twenty vampires with knives and swords paused and faced ten defenders plus two women of magic—eleven defenders, as Xanthia went away and Diogenes came to stand in her place.  The necromancer shouted.

“Rush them.”

“No.”  The word sounded like thunder.  Marduk appeared, looking like a wrinkled, crippled old man.  “These are my friends.”  He waved his hand, and all of the vampires, apart from the necromancer turned to dust.  Marduk added a word for the man, as Muhamed watched the farm wife crumble.  “You don’t belong here.”  Marduk waved again, and Muhamed joined the woman on the ground, returned to dust.  Marduk threw his hands to cover his face and vanished.

“He didn’t look good,” Boston breathed.

“N-no,” Diogenes said, and went away so Junior could fill his boots.  As the son of Ishtar, Junior had some authority in that part of the world.  He reached out with his thoughts and found the two left in the gate with the nephew.  They were all dust, and he brought that dust to the palace.  He found the others inside the palace, and they were all dust, and no one else had been infected.  He gathered all the dust from the gate, the palace, and the room, and filled a large clay jar. He broke off a wooden chair leg and planted it in the jug.  It immediately sprouted.  Then he spoke.

“I have removed Ashtoreth’s power from the dust, but there is some residue in the formula to burn off.  This will be a cedar by the front gate as a reminder.”  He sent the jug away where it became buried outside the gate.  “The tree will grow, but live a normal life and die when it is of age.  For the record.  That is why wood, some living substance is needed to pierce the heart of a vampire. Metal won’t work.  Wood will absorb the elixir and prevent the heart from healing.”  He went away, and Xanthia came back and invited everyone to return to the table.

Alexis spoke as she sat.  “Father told me vampires first came from Babylon. It gave me nightmares as a child.”

“Suddenly, I’m not so hungry,” Lincoln said, as servants and soldiers came to remove the dead.  Everyone laughed, but it sounded like nervous laughter.

###

A young woman came to the pool of water in the morning before dawn, when the light first began to touch the horizon. She heard yelling down by the gate, but ignored it as none of her business.  She filled her jug with water but paused when she saw something in the pool. She set down her jug and fished out a clay flask.  Two older women came up beside her, talking away.

“Yes, my distant cousin is come all the way from Damascus,” one said.

The young woman ignored them as well, and tried to take the lid off the flask, wondering if it might be some perfume. It would not come.  It took a second to figure out it screwed off.  She lifted it to her nose and one of the older women bumped her elbow.  A couple of drops of liquid spilled into her water jug and the rest went into the pool as she dropped the flask.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said.  The young woman said nothing.  She pulled the flask out of the pool and hurried away, while the two older women quickly filled their own jugs from the water in that spot.

************************

MONDAY

Avalon season 6, episode 7, Yeti begins, where the travelers arrive in the Himalayas in the very early spring, in search of Rajish, the defender.  The episode will be posted in only 4 parts over a single week.  That means there will be posts Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

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