“My mistress has the nicest, but strangest friends,” Varina said, and she stepped up to hug Boston and Sukki with her own arms.
“I don’t know,” Sukki said. “Ever since I became human, I really like hugs.”
“You were human before,” Alexis said, gruffly. “And touch for every animal is very important.”
“You might say, the Gott-Druk lost touch with that truth,” Decker said.
“Ha, ha,” Elder Stow said, not laughing, but he added, “That may be why so many Gott-Druk get so grumpy.”
That evening, Lydia and Varina sat around the campfire with the travelers. Gan Ao came, because Zhang She would expect a full report. Presently, Zhang She, Captain Ban, and the merchant chiefs with him, and Djo-Djo, who kept begging for information about the layout of the western lands, were all in conference. Valerion, David-Marcus, Aritides, Shehan and others were also meeting.
“I suspect they will be at least a few days, negotiating. Then again, the local king might well get involved, and then it may be a week to ten days. The Emperor Claudius and the Emperor Guangwu both have representatives here, though I doubt Zhang She knew this was going to happen. But then, after the exchange of goods and the writing of letters of mutual friendship and all that stuff, I suspect we will turn and head back the way we came.”
“Zhang She will also return, I suspect, to get this news delivered as soon and safely as possible,” Gan Ao said.
“Besides,” Varina said to Lydia. “The king’s porch has the only three rocking chairs in the world. I am sure they will all enjoy them.”
“How would you know that?” Alexis asked, vaguely remembering their first time in Bactra back in the days of Devya and commenting on the rocking chairs she had made.
Varina looked at Gan Ao, who nodded. They both closed their eyes and appeared to meditate, the way Decker meditated to release his eagle totem. Both people appeared to go into a trance, and two spirits stepped free from their bodies. The goddess Varina, daughter of the god Varuna of the Indus, and wife of the Kairos Amon Junior, came from Varina. The god Tien Shang-Di, son of the Kairos, the Nameless god, came from Gan Ao. They smiled for the travelers, having met them several times before in the past.
“I knew it,” Boston said, though no one was quite sure exactly what she knew. The gods sat beside the humans they borrowed for this time, and took turns explaining themselves.
“I will be here for a time,” Tien said. “Those possessed by the evil one will not interfere in this place.” Tien slowly turned to a mist and somehow fit himself back into Gan Ao, who appeared to blink and come awake.
“Most of my family has gone over to the other side, and most of the Shang as well,” Tien said. “As Captain of the ship, I will be the last. I will travel with Gan Ao by the northern route from Kashgar until Dunhuang, which is safely in Han territory, then I will return to the Tian Shan for the last of my days.”
Lydia said, “My son. You did well. I am proud of you.” People understood that was not Lydia talking.
Varina said, “Sadly, I must leave my mistress, who is also my husband. From here, I will follow the caravan trail to Kashmir and the waters of my birth. If my father and mother will be there or not, I cannot say. But there I will end my days.” Varina sniffed, like one about to cry. “But listen, my friends. Since the days are short and the one eternal and most high may soon return, the demons have come rushing out of the pit to torment and lie to the people. In these last days, those who steal, kill, and destroy will not be restrained by the gods as in the ancient days. I do not know what will happen to the human race. I do not know.”
“What did I miss?” Gan Ao said, before he saw the goddess and appropriately trembled.
“I am being called,” Varina said. “I must go.” Lydia stood and gave the goddess her best hug. The goddess did cry, but just a little, before she bent down and kissed the maiden’s cheek. As Varina the goddess slowly vanished, Varina the maiden came awake.
Varina the maid looked around at everyone. She looked at Lydia and said, “Mistress?” She began to cry, and Lydia hugged her and hushed her saying everything would be all right.
The travelers got up early, before dawn, and got ready to travel. They stopped two nights earlier, just a few miles from the time gate. They hoped they would have at least one day to relax. They got up early enough, as was their habit, but found the time gate moved away from them on that day, and it took them most of the day to catch up to it.
“Lydia did guess ten days,” Katie reminded everyone. “Yesterday was day eleven.”
“They must be moving in our direction,” Boston said, as she got out her amulet to check the time gate location. “The Romans appear to be going home, having barely gotten to the half-way point.”
“Not even,” Lockhart said. “I was told Kashgar would have been half-way.”
“Fortunately, the Romans don’t leave first thing in the morning, unless they are on a forced march,” Tony said, and people looked at him, because he had not said much up until then.
“What do you think will come from that meeting?” Nanette asked.
“Not much,” Lincoln spoke up. “According to the database, it will be fifty-five years before the Han, around the year ninety-seven, send someone to try and reach the Roman Empire. He gets about as far as the Persian Gulf. Then another sixty-five or so years, around one sixty-six, before the Romans, by the sea route, try to reach China. They get as far as North Vietnam. That is in the time of Marcus Aurelius.”
“I wonder who tells Marcus Aurelius about the land of silk and how to get there?” Alexis asked as a joke, but then added, “Unless one of us has a big mouth.”
“Don’t go there,” Decker said, and mounted to ride.
“My horse is definitely Cocoa,” Sukki said. “I’ve never had any, but I can’t wait to try it.”
“Cocoa and Strawberry,” Boston said. “Works for me.” Boston and Sukki were the first to go through the time gate.
The travelers run into guns before their time, the wonders of Arabia, and Wolv beginning their invasion of the earth. Don’t Miss Ali Baba and the 40 Guns beginning on Monday. Until then, Happy Reading