Lucius Falerna Felix,” the goddess Diana spoke to the officer in charge, the same officer the travelers met in the gate the day before. “The spiders are all gone. But the family in this house are also gone. You need to send the night watch to collect the bodies and prepare them for their funeral.”
Felix, the name the travelers latched onto the day before, nodded, and got his men moving. He would have gone with them, but Lockhart waved for him to join them, and the goddess also urged him in the spirit to come. He came, but he would not lift his eyes to so much as look at the Diana, and he felt in awe of the travelers who appeared to be on very familiar ground with the goddess.
“Speak,” Diana said, and Felix spoke.
“I thought these people were strange enough to keep an eye on. I gathered some of the night watch. I wondered if they might have something to do with the ghosts in town, though when I mentioned it to them, they pretended like they did not know about the ghosts. We saw the first giant spiders at sundown, and I called up the gate guards and got the full night watch to surround the house, to keep the creatures contained. It would have been a disaster to have giant spiders all over the city.”
Diana interrupted. “The ghosts, as you call them, were wraiths in the night. I have sent them back to the place from whence they came. There is one that is out of time placement that I am not authorized to touch. She is with the witch, but she has been partially subdued. There will be no more ghosts in the town. Continue.” Felix continued.
“We fought in every quarter. The spiders seemed everywhere. I saw two of the strangers come out of the gate, their arms loaded down with equipment of some kind; but I was too busy to stop them and ask them what they were doing. Fortunately, they left the gate unlatched.”
Diana interrupted again. “Evan and Millie were enchanted by the witch. She called it hypnosis. She could not make Evan and Millie harm you in any way, but stealing your weapons was an easy thing. Continue.”
“Well, at last there seemed a break in the spiders climbing over the wall. I gathered my men and broke into the house through the unlatched gate. I found these people fighting against the same spiders in the court, which suggests the strangers were not responsible for the spider swarm.”
“I assume that the witch made the spiders get big,” Lockhart spoke, and Felix nodded. Diana said nothing.
“That is really it,” Felix finished. “With the last spider killed, I saw the most glorious sight I ever thought to see…” He began to weep softly, tears of joy and fear.
“Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah,” Diana said, and turned to the travelers. “My brother says the time of the gods is coming-to-a-close. Just as well. After thousands of years of being worshiped, it gets kind of tiresome. Now listen. I am breaching etiquette a bit, but Evan and Millie are alive, disenchanted, but prisoners of the witch. You will have to save them… or not. And before you ask, there is nothing I can do about the witch. She is the creation of Minerva. That will be your headache.”
“Can’t you ask Minerva to fix it?” Katie asked.
“Minerva?” Lockhart was not sure who that was.
“I can ask, again,” Diana said. “She knows full well in the spiritual world, identical twins often produce one good and one bad, like the two faces of Janus, who some say should have been born twins. But you know Minerva. She can’t ever admit she made a mistake.” Diana shrugged, and vanished.
Katie stepped over to hug Felix. He looked grateful, until he thought about who was hugging him. These travelers seemed human enough, but who knew the truth of it? They were on a first name basis with the gods, or at least one goddess, and that made him wonder just how human these people really were. He did not feel entirely surprised when Boston came in looking like the elf she was.
Boston saw the stares and quickly restored her glamour of humanity. “I was the only one who could wiggle out of Elder Stow’s screens,” she said.
“Oh, I am sorry,” Elder Stow apologized. “I should have left some discs for the rest of you to come and go. I didn’t think of it.”
“That’s okay,” Lockhart told him. “We were kind of in a hurry.”
“And preoccupied,” Decker added.
“Boston,” Katie saw something. “What is that look on your face? You look upset.”
Boston took a big breath. “Honey and Freedom are fine, and so is Sukki. Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse were bitten, or stung, but Alexis got the poison out in time and they will heal.” Boston found some tears. “Black Beauty and Misty Gray are gone.” She did not have to say anything else.
Katie found some tears, but Lockhart hugged her and helped her walk toward the back door. Decker and Elder Stow followed. Felix shouted to the men in hearing distance, and the two from the road that first met the travelers, the ones Lockhart called two-headed chicken and two-headed snake, followed after Felix and the travelers. No one paid attention, the travelers thinking of the horses as they were, but it came as a bit of a shock when they locals walked smack into Elder Stow’s screen. Two-headed snake yelped, and two-headed chicken landed on his rump, where he rubbed his bruised nose.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Elder Stow said. He gave the men discs and invited them in. They came carefully. He took all the discs back when he turned off his screen device. Everyone got too busy being in tears or comforting the others to notice.
The travelers stayed the rest of the night and into the next day, to give the horses as much time as possible to heal. Then, they planned to walk them the ten miles to Rome, but Felix and his two soldiers offered to go with them, and Felix felt sure he could scrounge up some horses for the journey. No guarantee that they would be good horses.
Alexis and Lincoln were especially worried about Evan and Millie, but Boston and Katie rode out in the morning on Honey and Freedom and both got the impression that for the time being, they were fine. They appeared to be walking to Rome themselves, and on horseback, the others thought they might catch the couple.
Elder Stow said he could not pick out, on his scanner, which travelers they might be. He would have to work on being able to do that. Meanwhile, the road between Rome and Veii had become well used since the city of Veii fell to the Romans. Decker, on the other hand, looked for them with his totem eagle. He felt sure he saw them in the distance, beyond the range of his eagle flight, but two, walking beside a wagon filled with shiny objects of some sort. That had to be their weapons.
Finally, around noon, the travelers left their horses in a new barn and stable; the place they found the horses they borrowed, or actually rented. Felix charged his two soldiers to watch the travelers’ horses under threat of crucifixion if anything happened to them, then the travelers and Felix headed out on the south road toward Rome.
Lockhart, Katie, and Felix kept the group to a reasonable pace. Boston, Decker, and Lincoln especially wanted to ride ahead and catch the wagon before the witch made it to the city, to get lost in the city streets. Felix assured them that if the thieves walked all night and all morning, they were likely in the city already. They would get there, and Lockhart had to repeat the phrase. “We will find them.”
Felix did not say much. He seemed shy in front of these people who were friends with the gods. Lockhart and Katie, and sometimes Sukki and Alexis included him in their conversation, but mostly he asked questions, even if he did not ask some questions for fear of the answers. He did ask where they were from and felt disturbed enough by that answer.
“We come from roughly twenty-five hundred years in the future,” Katie said. “But we started this journey about four thousand years in the past.”
“We have been on the road for about three, going on four years,” Lockhart agreed. “We have about two or three more years to travel to get home.”
“That is a very rough estimate,” Katie said.
Felix nodded before he shook his head. He did not understand. The words made sense, but his mind could not grasp the concept.
“Maybe a story would help,” Alexis butted in.
Lockhart told the story about being in Troy during the war. He told about meeting Diomedes, and old man Nestor. “We met the Amazons bringing cattle to the relief of Troy. You know, my wife is an honorary Amazon queen.” Lockhart grinned at Katie who did not deny it.
“We did not get to stay long, though,” Katie said. “Aphrodite, the one you call Venus, moved us along before we had a chance to see the city or any of the war.”
“We were being chased by monsters at that time,” Lockhart concluded.
“Somehow,” Felix mused. “You and monsters I can understand.”
Lockhart nodded, but Katie continued. “Diomedes and Athena, that is, Minerva, seemed to be in love. I wonder if they ever had children.”
“The virgin goddess?” Felix looked shocked by the idea.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Lockhart quipped.
Felix shook his head again. “They say Diomedes was one of the only Greeks that got home safe from the war. But soon, he abandoned Greece and came here, to the Apulia region in the south. They say he left his weapons as an offering in the temple of Minerva Achaea there.” Felix could not imagine it. “But what you suggest, that the virgin goddess might have had a child. It makes no sense.”
Sukki overheard the end of the conversation, and quite uncharacteristic, she offered a thought. “I met Hercules.” Felix looked up at the girl in a way where she had to tell the story of Jason, and all the Argonauts. She did a credible job, especially when she told about the volcano. Gott-Druk, living in the small family groups, particularly in the dead of winter, developed very strong storytelling skills. Sukki got a little carried away, praising her friend Boston for saving their lives. She finished the story and rode out front, where Boston had ridden ahead to scout the land. Sukki remained a very shy girl, but she started adjusting to having a family, even if most of it was not a Gott-Druk family.
“The spirit of the day?” Felix asked, to clarify who Boston was.
“The red head,” Katie nodded, and Alexis moved up again, and interrupted.
Felix gave the woman a strange look. He watched when the red-headed elf put her glamour of humanity back on.
Lockhart saw the look of slight disgust, and chuckled. It seemed the same way he still felt sometimes when he came face to face with the ones the Kairos called little ones. Especially goblins.
“Don’t worry. She is human, like us,” Katie said of Alexis.
Felix squinted at Alexis and twisted his brow. “I don’t know about us, but I will take your word for it.”