“The witch and her outlaws came through here about three months ago,” Rajish explained. “It was winter, but the storms were not nearly as bad as yesterday. Clearly, she set some traps for you.”
“Don’t play with that,” Lincoln interrupted. Alexis wanted to touch the bandage around her head. “Let it heal.”
Alexis put her hand down, reluctantly. “So, we are in a period when the other earth is near and leaking creative and variable energy into our universe?” Alexis asked, to distract her mind.
“Yes,” Rajish said. “And we are at the beginning of the period, so that will continue for the next three hundred years or so, which will be five or six time zones.”
“Understood,” Lockhart said, as he, and Boston came in from a visit to the stables.
Elder Stow and Sukki quickly followed, coming from places unknown.
Decker and Katie came in sweating. They had been in the work room where they worked out with the monks, and showed them a few martial arts moves the monks did not know.
Since Millie and Evan were already present, Rajish clapped his hands and people brought in food. Then Rajish spoke.
“Since everyone is here, awake, and alert, let me answer Katie’s question from yesterday—two questions actually. The second is, I helped save civilization. We gathered the armies of the Ganges and stopped Darius at the Indus—an idea that may be repeated in a couple of hundred years when Alexander comes to call…though I seem to recall that things go differently for Diogenes.” Rajish shrugged. “To answer the first question, I am here hiding.”
People looked at each other. Boston spoke. “What are you hiding from?”
“Well, let’s see. Zoroaster caught the ear of Cyrus the Great, and now his grandsons and the Magi have taken the ear of Darius and have helped build and direct the Persian Empire. I best stay out of that. Then back home, in the Ganges, the Buddha is ready to start teaching, and all that he does, and Mahariva is establishing Jainism, and I really need to not interfere. I talked to Gautama when he was young, but all it did was make me realize I need to keep my mouth shut. When I came here to deal with the Skudsku, I thought China might work; but then it occurred to me that Laozi is just finishing the Tao Te Ching, Confucius is about half-way through his epic works, and Sunzi is about ready to start writing his book.”
“What did Sunzi write?” Lockhart asked Katie, but Katie, Decker, and Lincoln all answered.
“The Art of War.”
“The point is,” Rajish continued. “These are transitional years in human history, and in human thinking. I don’t know why it all bunches up like that, but from about six hundred BC to about three hundred, From Homer to after Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, everything changes. I would say it fits nicely with the influx of creative and variable energy—magic energy from the Other Earth, but… We won’t have another time like this until the enlightenment, and that fits mostly in years when the Other Earth is out of range. I would give it another three hundred years then, from about 1650-1950. The age of reason and science, in art and music, and all those revolutions, including the industrial and technological kind. I may feel different when I get there, but this time around, unless something comes to my attention, I think this hermitage is safe enough.”
“So, you are teaching the monks the martial arts?” Katie asked. “How is that not interfering?”
“Yeah, well…” Rajish shrugged. “My contribution. The Persians are very good. They are not Spartans, but good. And the many, constantly warring states in my homeland, in India, have developed many techniques. The warring states in China won’t really start for another twenty to forty years. I am sure they will benefit greatly from the monks from here, and all the new monasteries that will be built. These people are Taoists, you know, given to folk religion. So, will the Shaolin monastery be founded by Taoists or Buddhists?” Rajish shrugged again.
“You don’t mind if I teach a few things?” Decker asked.
“Local weapons only. No Patton sabers. Hand-to-hand is okay, but use your judgment. No anatomy lessons.”
“Understood,” Decker responded.
With that word, Alexis yawned. Rajish imagined she and Lincoln could use the extra rest. There were only two more things he felt important to say while everyone sat present.
“Lincoln,” he said and waited for Lincoln’s full attention. “I’m sorry, but Cortez is finished.” He waited for Lincoln to nod. “I have to figure out how to send the horse back to the 1870s so Casidy can get some trade-in value. Probably not much. But that leaves you three horses short, and there isn’t anything I can do about that right now with the Storyteller still missing and all.”
“That’s okay,” Katie spoke up.
“We talked about that earlier while Lincoln and Alexis were still in recovery,” Lockhart said. He looked at Evan, and Evan and Millie both nodded.
“It should work,” Evan said.
Katie explained. “Alexis can take back Misty Gray, and she and Lincoln can ride him. Evan and Millie can ride on my horse, Black Beauty. I will ride with Lockhart on Dog, even if it is a ridiculous name for a horse.”
Lockhart smiled. The name worked for him. He spoke. “It isn’t an ideal solution. We will have to walk the horses even more than we have. And we may be in trouble if we need to get away in a hurry.”
“Build that bridge when we come to it,” Decker said.
“Not to mention the wear and tear the extra weight will put on those poor horses,” Katie said. “I worry about the horses. We have been riding them a long time.”
Rajish held up his hand. “I understand. I am trying to send some fresh mounts into the past, but that is not so easy.”
Lincoln interrupted. “I think part of what happened to Cortez was he just got exhausted.” Alexis nodded, pointed at Lincoln, and yawned at the same time.
Boston spoke up. “Sukki and I will take Lincoln’s saddle and equipment.”
“Yes,” Sukki said, and almost closed her mouth when every eye turned to her. She pulled up her courage. “But what can we do about the traps of the witch?” She turned her eyes to the floor. Millie stepped in to help.
“From what all you say, it will take more than normal time to get to the next time gate, and we won’t be able to hurry up. So, how can we do that, safely?”
You still have your chestnut?” Rajish asked. He held out his hand, and Millie pulled it from a pocket she had in her dress. She did not hesitate to hand it to the man. Rajish looked at it carefully, and continued his thoughts. “I have three masters of the mystical arts. Individually, they cannot match the witch, but combined, they should be able to sniff out whatever traps the witch may have set.”
“I assume we cannot continue to count on help from the Yeti,” Lockhart said.
“No,” Rajish shook his head. “When the witch came through, my memory got jogged. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I remembered you, and that you would follow fairly soon, but I had no idea when that might be. I let it be known to the Yeti and… whoever, to please help you. I assumed the witch did not have your best interests in mind. The three stood against her, so she did not come here, but…”
“But look,” Evan interrupted. “I knew Nanette. She was a fine, kind, and lovely woman. What happened to her?”
“Power corrupts, absolutely,” Lincoln suggested.
“That isn’t it,” Rajish said. “The Nanette you know is still with Professor Fleming, I believe. It was her concern for you traveling into the past that inspired her to beg Minerva for some way to help and protect you. The goddess agreed, and before I could stop her, she made a duplicate Nanette, like a twin.” Rajish shook his head. “It was as I feared. In the spiritual world, identical twins, same gender, are rare and special. When they are like fraternal twins, like Apollo and Artemis, they are fine, but identical twins are often a problem. It is mostly a human myth, but in the spiritual world, it is often true enough that there is one good twin and one bad twin. I feared this would happen. The fact that Nanette has proved to be a very capable witch is a complication.”
“I’ll say…” Alexis yawned again and laid the non-bandaged side of her head against Lincoln’s shoulder. She appeared to be ready to sleep.
Rajish stood. “You need to stay here a few days. Alexis, being a healer, will heal faster than most. Still, I wouldn’t recommend moving her for a few days.”
When the time came, the three mystics helped the travelers avoid a flash flood in a valley as they headed toward the foothills. They avoided a tiger attack one morning as they climbed up into those hills, and on one evening, they drove off an attack from a pack of about fifteen dholes. Lockhart thought they were jackals, but Elder Stow said they were more like hyenas.
Elder Stow and Decker each took one of the mystics to ride with them. Sukki and Boston doubled up on Boston’s horse, Honey, so the one mystic who knew how to ride a horse could ride Sukki’s horse, Freedom, and lead the way.
Decker and Elder Stow still moved out on the wings from time to time, but the mystics said that was where they wanted to be. The third one often rode out front. They said that their senses could stretch out and pick up the lay of the land in front and around the travelers. They could also sense that the witch had come through the area, but they admitted that they did not know if the flood and predators was something the witch did, or just natural phenomena. The dhole and the tiger might have just seen the horses as large prey after a long, hard winter.
“Getting close to humans might have been a calculated risk, not having experience with your weapons,” one said.
To be honest, they did not ride much. They walked most of the way, in part because of the burden on the horses, and in part because of the uncertainty of the terrain under the snow. Lincoln did not want another overburdened horse to slip and twist a leg, and Alexis still touched her head, though she had healed well.
On the eighth day, the mystic who rode out front looked at the chestnut he had been given. He affirmed Boston’s prediction that they would reach the time gate by sundown. A short time later, they all began to hear howling and screeching in the wilderness.
“Yeti?” Lockhart asked.
“Snow leopards,” one mystic said.
“They are often blamed for the myth of the Yeti…” Katie began, thought about what she said, and added. “Of course, now we know otherwise…”
They came to the edge of a woods and another steep hill, like the hill of the mudslide, except this one looked covered in snow. At once, like the last time, the ground began to tremble. The distant yowling increased. The snow gave way.
“Avalanche,” Lincoln yelled, and this time, they had no time to mount and ride away. Fortunately, Elder Stow flipped a switch on his screen device, which he wisely set up ahead of time, for once. The snow, rocks and uprooted trees stopped and piled up at the edge of the screen, or slid over top. Elder Stow had to get his weapon out to burn a short tunnel away from the hill. They made it out from beneath the mess without too much difficulty, and when they reached the camp beside the next time gate, the mystics had something to say.
“It seems to me you have the resources to counter about anything the witch might attack you with.”
“That depends on what she throws at us,” Decker said, as the only negative comment.
“Still,” the man continued. “Don’t worry about us. We are adjusted to this environment and have some resources of our own. We should be home in about four days, five at the outside. It took longer coming here because we needed to find a route safe for the horses and we had obstacles to avoid.”
People nodded. On the return trip, the mystics did not have anyone trying to kill them.
The travelers stepped through the time gate first thing in the morning. When Boston and Sukki got relegated to the rear again, they shared their thoughts.
“I hope the witch thinks we got killed by one of her traps,” Boston said.
Sukki only said one thing. “I’m scared.”
The travelers look for Ophelia, a Spartan princess just after a war with Athens, and they run into Wolv, one thing to make Spartans and Athenians join forces. Until then, Happy Reading