“I remember the thousand and one nights,” Alexis finally admitted, softly. Nanette rode to her right and Lincoln to her left. Tony had the wagon, and Katie and Lockhart, with Baba behind him, rode out front in their own conversation. Schaibo ran ahead with Boston and Sukki where they presumably could not hear.
“What?” Lincoln asked.
“Ali, the middle son, won the archery contest and married Princess Nuronnihar. Hussain, the older son became a priest, like his father. Sasan was a priest before he took the Persian throne. Ahmed, the youngest son, secretly married a fairy—a Peri, Peribonou. She is, or was, a tulip fairy. When Ahmed’s father, King Sasan finds out, he starts making all sorts of unreasonable demands of his son. Sasan gets paranoid. He fears his son will dethrone him. Sadly, one of the demands is Ahmed should find an extra-small man with a beard longer than himself who carries an iron staff. Schaibo shows up, gets ridiculed, and uses his iron staff on the king and most of the court. He gives Ahmed and Peribonou the throne. Peribonou is his sister, I think.”
“Half-sister,” Nanette said. “Same fairy father, but fairy and dwarf mothers.”
“That may be why Schaibo is so short,” Lincoln suggested. “Fairy father,” he clarified.
Alexis nodded, but then shook her head. “Maybe. But no. The world of the little spirits of the earth usually doesn’t follow logically like that. But the point is, it has not happened yet. We can’t say anything. I get the feeling Ahmed’s father hasn’t found out yet about his marriage. I probably should not have told you. Benjamin, you can’t let on that you know anything.”
“Don’t worry,” Lincoln said. “I have read lots of things in the database and kept my mouth closed. They won’t hear it from me.”
“I won’t say anything,” Nanette said. She dropped her voce and her eyes.
“I almost wish you would,” Alexis told her. “Tony doesn’t say much, but neither do Lockhart, Decker, or Elder Stow. Most males are not talkers. You can’t judge men by my blabbermouth husband, Benjamin.”
“Witch,” Lincoln returned the compliment. Alexis gave him a hard look. “Of course, my lovely witch wife is smart. You should listen when she talks,” Lincoln added, and Alexis smiled for him.
“I won’t say anything about the thousand and one nights, but I understand what you are saying,” Nanette said. “I was a talker back home. I learned to talk around the Romans, once the Professor explained that being shy only made me more alluring to the powerful people there.”
“So, what is the problem with us?” Alexis asked. “Even Benjamin’s a likeable fellow.”
“And I underline, witch,” Lincoln said, and returned Alexis’ smile.
Nanette shook her head. She noticed the horses stopped moving, as Lockhart and Katie stopped. Boston and Sukki, with Schaibo were returning from the front, and people were dismounting to walk the horses for a while. Nanette got down, but Alexis was not going to let her go without a word.
“So, what is it?” Alexis asked.
Nanette found a tear in her eye but held it back. “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that you are all, mostly, white people, and I’m a black woman, but you treat me like an equal. I grew up in 1900. My grandmother was a slave. I’ve never been friends with real white people before. Even the professor and the others treated me more like a servant than a friend. They did not mean bad. It was just the way they thought—the way we thought. But now, I have seen how much you like and respect Decker, though he is a black man. You treat him like an accomplished soldier, like the military colonel he is, and without any hesitation.”
“More like family, as Elder Stow would say,” Lincoln interjected. “But don’t tell him I said that.” Nanette nodded, dropped a couple of tears, but then laughed as she thought about it. Alexis stepped up and hugged Nanette. Katie, Lockhart, and Baba watched, as Katie spoke her mind.
“We are from a hundred years after your day, but you see, we have learned a thing or two,” she said. “America is something the world has never seen before. We have struggled with the old way of doing things. The struggle against slavery got bloody. But free and equal is the way we are all trying to be, even from the beginning of America. There are some in our day that refuse to let go of the old way of thinking. They want to keep us divided by race, sex, religion, and money and success, and all that—what they call identity politics, though most realize outward things like skin color do not make a person…”
Lockhart nodded. “Some people think they are smarter than others, and deserve to run things, and that ordinary Americans are stupid.”
“We call them Democrats,” Lincoln interjected, and Alexis nudged his shoulder.
“…But most people just want to be good neighbors and don’t let race, color, creed, or social or economic circumstances and all that get in the way,” Katie finished.
Alexis added, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ, the apostle said.”
“I remember that quote,” Baba said, and smiled at some memory.
Boston ran up and hugged Nanette, clearly having heard some of the conversation. “Welcome to the family,” she said. “Now you can be sisters with me and Sukki. I never had sisters before. I grew up with a bunch of brothers.”
“An offer from an elf—” Alexis began.
“—You can’t turn that down,” Sukki interrupted.
Nanette nodded and kept back the tears as Lockhart shouted at the sky. “Lunch.”
“I’ll get the leftovers from the wagon,” Alexis said.
“I’ll help,” Sukki and Nanette said together, and smiled at each other, and looked at Boston.
“No. You don’t want her to help,” Alexis said, sounding like a mom.
Boston stuck her tongue out at Alexis, and said, “Fine. I’ll get the fire started.”
“We go with our strengths,” Decker said, as he rode up.
Katie turned to Lincoln. “And we need to check a couple of horseshoes. I think Robert’s horse picked up a stone.”
Lunch did not take long. They just ate up what they had.
“Not much of a lunch,” Schaibo described it after they finished, and tried hard not to complain about the meager repast.
“You’re a dwarf,” Boston teased. “Since when are you not hungry?”
Schaibo grinned at the thought. “I like you, too, Miss Boston. Even if you are an uppity elf.”
The others ignored them.
“My boss is a black woman,” Lockhart said, having finally thought of something to say.
“Wait,” Tony objected. “I thought you worked for the Men in Black, whoever they are. How can a woman be a Man in Black?”
“Good lawyer, too,” Alexis added.
“Well, obviously, she is not a man,” Lincoln said.
“A lawyer?” Nanette sounded surprised.
“But she is black,” Baba said, and smiled again at some more memories.
“Bobbi, er, Roberta,” Lockhart named her.
“We recruited her out of the FBI,” Lincoln said.
“Wait,” Tony started again. “FBI?”
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are like federal detectives.” Lockhart explained
“A woman detective?” Tony asked
“A black woman, who is a lawyer and an FBI detective?” Nanette shook her head in disbelief.
“Like I said earlier,” Katie spoke to Nanette. “We learned a few things in the hundred years since your day.”
Nanette would have to think about it all.
After lunch, Nanette tied her horse to the wagon, while the others packed to travel. She would ride with Tony to Lord Baba’s camp. She stepped out from the others to think about where they might be headed. They had a long way to go to reach the nineteenth, or rather the twentieth century.
Nanette stood in a field of yellow flowers under a blue sky, and decided it looked like the place she grew up. She tried to imagine being home. Her mother would wonder where she had been for the last seven—more like nine or ten years by the time she got home. She wondered if her mother would like Decker. She wondered how Venus imagined that would work since her experiences and his were separated by a hundred years. Where would they live? She could not imagine following him into the future.
Nanette shrugged off her worries. She would trust God to work things out. Besides, they might not survive the journey. None of her worries might matter. They had a road to travel, first. She looked in the direction they headed, held out her hands and closed her eyes to try and glimpse where they were headed. She screamed, over and over.
It took a few moments for the group to calm her down enough to get a word out of her. She looked at Decker.
“The Wolv. They found the camp. The big ship is coming.” She turned to Baba. “The Wolv think,” she said, and barely kept from screaming again.
Katie extended her elect senses in the right direction. “I sense something, but nothing clear. They are not a threat to us, yet.”
Boston looked with her elf senses, and caught the thoughts of Aemir, the chief little one in the camp. Aemir warned the people there, who immediately took up positions behind the makeshift Roman palisade.
Lockhart said, “Damn.”
Baba reacted. “Boston?”
“Aemir is warned,” Boston said.
“The scout-transport is still too far for details, but I am picking up an energy signature, like they are charging the engines for flight.”
Baba turned to the group. “Schaibo, stay with the wagon and guard the people. Lincoln, Alexis, Nanette, and Tony, bring the wagon, and Tony, let me borrow your horse. The rest of us need to ride. Elder Stow, bring the transmitter we have worked on.” He marched off to Tony’s horse, and the rest got ready as quickly as they could.
They had something like a road, so the ride was not too difficult, but they were still an hour away. Elder Stow tried to keep one eye on his scanner, but it bounced too much to see it well, not to mention he needed to watch where he went. They rode hard and fast.
Fifteen minutes from the camp, Elder Stow’s voice rang from the wristwatch communicators. “Stop.” People stopped, but some had to come back to hear. “The Wolv transport has reached the camp. The three in the scout ship that found the camp kept back to wait for the others, but they look like they will charge as soon as they form up.”
“Damn,” Baba said, in English. He called. “Jasmine and Cedar.” A young fairy couple appeared, and Baba took the Wolv transmitter from Elder Stow. “Cedar,” he said to the fairy. “Hold this carefully. Don’t drop it or break it. You need to fly this ahead to the camp and when you are between the Wolv ship and the Romans, Jasmine, you need to press this button. No! Not until you are in between the Wolv ship and the Romans. Now, fly. Fast as you can.”
“Lord,” Cedar said, but Jasmine hurried him. They flew out of sight in maybe a second.
“Good luck,” Decker said. The others were polite enough not to say anything as they started to ride.
The travelers rode hard for ten minutes, and extra hard when they saw the smoke in the distance. They stopped on a small incline where they could see the camp to their left and the metal edge of the scout-transport to their right, among the trees. The palisade that protected the castellum burned and sent billows of smoke from the treated wood high into the sky. A few trees on their right also smoldered, but Baba figured the transport main guns increased the size of the small meadow so they could land safely.