The travelers marched in, while the guards tried to pay attention, and ignore the invisible elf. They may have temporarily looked like guards, but not by much. Archelaus ignored them, preferring to be fed by the slut that sat next to him. A sleazy looking man grinned at them, however, and walked around them like a man examining a prime cut of meat. Then he raised his voice.
“Lord Archelaus, friend of Caesar, soon to be King of the Jews.” The man announced. “I bring you the Ruin of Damascus, the criminal gang wanted for murder and arson on a grand scale, burning down a full quarter of the city, and murdering the servants of my Lord.”
“You have us mistaken for someone else,” Lockhart began, but Archelaus yelled.
“Silence.” Archelaus paused to frame his thoughts. “My father heard from wise men that there is one born in the City of David who they call the King of the Jews. I checked with my scholars, and they all agree. I have contracted with servants who will kill the pretender and that will be the end of it.” Archelaus turned red from anger. “By Caesar, on the death of my Father, I will be the Ethnarch, the only King of the Jews. I will have no rival. My servants will kill who they have to, and you will not stop them.” He calmed as he began to point at the travelers.
Herod Archelaus was not a big man and did not appear too bright. He put the harlot off and got up from his seat, counting the travelers as he came. He had to start over several times, until at last, the sleazy man had to ask, “My lord?”
“I count only seven. My servants said there were ten following them. Where are the other…” He paused to count on his fingers. “Where are the other three?”
The sleazy man shrugged. The sergeant did not have that luxury. “We got all that were at the inn,” the sergeant said, and then backed up to get lost in the crowd of guards.
“What?” Archelaus did not sound happy. One of the guards, one perhaps not so intelligent, stepped forward.
“This man said he had an invisible elf and two invisible companions. Those three would make ten.”
“What?” Archelaus shook his head in disbelief and went back to his seat. “Put them in the waiting chamber. I will decide what to do with them in the morning.” The prostitute looked happy to see him and picked up an egg to feed the man.
“This way.” The sergeant hustled them out, hoping that in the morning the Lord Archelaus might not remember which sergeant brought only seven out of ten travelers.
“Not yet,” Lockhart had to say it twice, to Decker and Lincoln, and once said, “Let Elder Stow work it out.” They ended up in an underground room where they were thrown into two cells with tall iron bars on the front and solid brick the rest of the way around.
“Put your things on the table,” the sergeant said. Rifles went there, but the travelers kept their gun belts.
“And the knives,” Boston said. “I want all the knives you took on the table.” Boston became visible in all her elfish glory and brushed back her red hair to show her pointed ears. “Don’t make me chase you to get the knives back. You would not like that.” She went invisible again before the guards dared to move.
Knives clattered to the table, including two that did not belong to the travelers. Two men screamed and ran away. The sergeant tried to hold things together. He ordered men to stay in the room and watch the prisoners, but to a man, they said they were not staying in a room with an invisible elf. Boston laughed out loud when the door got shut, and she became visible again.
“I hope the horses are okay,” Katie said, not doubting for a second that they would break out.
“We have been good so far,” Lockhart said. “I hope we don’t have to kill anyone on the way out. Boston?”
“Okay,” she said, knowing what he wanted without him having to ask. “You know, being invisible is still very draining. I’ll check for the way out. Be back in a minute.” She went invisible again and opened the door. After not finding any guards, even outside the door, she stepped into the hall, where she shouted, “Once more into the breach,” in the High Elf Roland had been teaching her.
Elder Stow and Sukki became visible as Elder Stow stepped to one cell while Sukki looked in the other. Elder Stow thought about it. Sukki did not think. She grabbed the bars, saw that they were old and partially rusted, and yelled as she pulled them apart. One bent outward. The other popped out of the ceiling causing bits of brick to fall to the floor. Sukki easily pulled the bar the rest of the way from the floor and smiled. Alexis, Lincoln, Tony, and Nanette came out of that cell.
“You could do that?” Lockhart asked Katie.
“I am not sure I can to that,” Elder Stow admitted. He had them stand back while he pulled out his weapon and cut three bars at the bottom and the top.
“Strong as a man,” Katie said. “You and I can wrestle. But I am not nearly that strong.”
“Some holdover from her Neanderthal self?” Decker wondered.
“No,” Katie said. “Probably one of the gifts of the goddesses. We will have to wait and see what else she may be capable of.”
Elder Stow punched the three bars. They made a tremendous clattering and clanking sound when they banged each other on the dirt floor of the cell, but Decker, Katie, and Lockhart easily stepped free.
People collected their things, including their knives, when Boston came back. “Hush,” Boston said, and led them out of the building by a quick route that bothered no one. The guard at that door was snoring.
The travelers decided not to split up at first, but they left Jerusalem right away. Fortunately, the horses had been untouched as well as their bags of coins, surprisingly enough. They counted all their equipment before they left to be sure nothing was missing. By sunrise, they came into Bethlehem where they found people frightened and wailing for the dead. The gunmen came into town and found out that a number of families ran away. The gunman killed several people; but mostly killed babies and children, just in case it was the child they were after, or to threaten people for information, or just because they could. They got the information they needed and rushed out of town again, but the families left a week earlier, so it would be a while to catch up.
Alexis and Nanette were drawn to heal some of the residents, and that got the people talking. They got especially talkative when they found out the travelers planned to find the gunmen and stop them before they did any more damage.
By noon, rightly or wrongly, the travelers figured they were not being followed. Elder Stow used his scanner to check the road for as far back towards Jerusalem as he could. He reported no movement of any sort of group that might be soldiers in a hurry. With that assurance, Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Elder Stow and Boston set out to chase the gunmen. Alexis, Lincoln, Nanette, Sukki, and Tony would follow in the morning with the wagon.
Lincoln spent the afternoon reading from the database and reported over supper. “The name of the Kairos is Shakheto. Amanishakheto is what we would call Princess Shakheto of Meroe in Kush. She is Kushite, or Nubian. That is unclear. She may be both.
Nanette perked up. “She is Negroid? Like me?”
“Yes,” Alexis said. “But we say black African. No one says Negro or colored in our day.”
“I understand,” Nanette said. “Decker explained that to me, and I asked why I can’t be a Negro anymore. He still hasn’t come up with a good answer.”
“That is just the way of it,” Lincoln said. “Negro, and derivatives, suggest slavery.”
“Sometimes, we have to accept things on face value, even if we don’t understand the reasons for it,” Alexis added. Nanette shrugged.
“Anyway,” Lincoln continued. “Her mother became badly wounded before Shakheto turned seventeen, and war broke out with Roman Egypt. It had to do with trade, grain mostly going to Rome and none to Kush. All the kingdoms in Africa, from places we know as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, even Sheba across the Red Sea, all that trade goes through Meroe. On the other end, it mostly filters through Egypt, and some through Libya, and from there, to Europe and the Middle East. Kush is like the funnel. All the ivory, iron ore and all go to Egypt, and mostly grain comes back, except now Rome is taking all the grain.”
“Hard to live with nothing to eat,” Tony understood.
“So, war. Shakheto is sixteen. Her mother, the queen, lost an eye among other things. So, Shakheto has to lead the people in the war. The war lasts on and off for about six years. She kicks Roman butt pretty good, because, of course, she knows Roman ways. In fact, she ends the war when she gets Bodanagus to sit down with Octavius, that is Caesar Augustus, and they come up with a favorable trade agreement. Her mother lives about another twelve years, but during that time, Shakheto’s betrothed falls in love with her little sister. It is a sad story, but Shakheto steps aside for Amanitore. Amanitore marries Natakamani, though he is a good bit older than her.
“That must have been hard for her,” Nanette said.
Lincoln agreed. “So, in around ten or eleven BC, at thirty-three years of age, Shakheto becomes queen. She rules for roughly four or five years and the country prospers mightily because of her agreement with the Romans. Then, in five BC, she decides she has an errand. It isn’t clear in the record, so I don’t know if ruling was too much, or her sister’s happiness became too much. She makes her little sister queen and the husband king, and takes off, at the age of thirty-eight.”
“We know from history that Herod the Great died in four BC.,” Tony said. “That hasn’t happened yet. But Herod is sick and gone to Jericho where people believe he died, so we figure right now it is four years in the BC.”
“That makes Candace about forty. That is her name, now. The word for queen in Meroe is Kantake. The Romans pronounced it Candace, in the Latin. Candace has taken that as her name. She says her sister is Kantake now, and she has gone back to being a princess. Princess Candace is how she is known.”
“And it looks like she is taking the child to Egypt,” Alexis said.
“And the gunmen are looking for Joseph and Mary,” Lincoln said, as plainly as anyone had yet said it.
The race is on. The gunmen must be stopped. Until Monday, Happy Reading.