“Oh, mighty Genii.” The soldier with a brain looked up and spoke plenty loud. “Great Marid of the Djin. These people brought an earthquake and terrible sandstorm where many innocent people became injured and died. We have come to take them to Taif for judgment. Their lives are forfeit.” He bowed and waited for the floating face of sand to make a decision.
The floating face appeared to ponder the situation before it spoke. “Normally, I would be happy to see that. I enjoy watching silly human plays. But my mistress has asked that these people come to her, unharmed. Besides, the way my mistress explained things, I don’t believe your thirty men will be near enough to take these people prisoner. I can still see the hedge of the gods around them, so I dare not do anything myself.”
“Bahati sent you?” Katie put two and two together.
“Indeed,” the genii said.
“Do you have a name?” Lockhart asked.
The face of sand smiled. “Not one you could pronounce, even with the gift of the little ones that allows you to understand and be understood, no matter what language is spoken. You may call me Djin. That is what my mistress calls me.”
“Excuse me,” The soldier interrupted.
“These people are not for you,” Djin said. “Your troubles were caused by a great explosion in the middle quarter. Ubar is no more. You Thaqif of the Hawazan must return to your place. Soon, my mistress will come upon you, and you must surrender your place to her and to her people. Now, Go.” He emphasized the Go! and the soldiers did not argue.
“Thank you,” Katie looked up, and others echoed the sentiment.
“Glad we did not have to kill them all,” Decker said, and spit. Nanette slapped his arm, and she did not hit him lightly, but Decker just grinned.
“I know,” Djin said, and matched the grin. “I would have liked to have seen that.”
“So, can you take us to Bahati?” Lincoln asked, before Djin changed his mind about telling the soldiers to go home.
“I dare not,” Djin said. “The hedge of the gods,” he reminded them. “But I am sure you will find her, and I will watch from afar. The wraith or other spirits will not bother you.” He grinned again and vanished, letting the sand fall where it would.
“That is nice of him to protect us from spiritual things,” Sukki said, showing some trepidation, but remaining positive. Lincoln had to ruin it.
“What other spirits? And he did not say anything about wild creatures, natural disasters, earthquake, famine, pestilence, heat stroke, dehydration, or anything like that.”
“Hush,” Alexis told him. “Everyone. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and stay covered if we come to another sandy area.”
“Elder Stow?” Katie looked at the Gott-Druk. He had a laser tool in one hand, the screen device in the other, but he paused and pushed up his goggles to answer.
“I thought I had it just about fixed, but here, I’m going to have to rebuild an entire board, and I don’t know if I have the elements to do that. It depends on where the fault is.”
“Maybe the Kairos can help with that,” Lockhart said, and added, “Mount up.” They were already packed, so he decided they might as well move.
They moved—another five days, and Boston explained. “We are only traveling at most twenty miles per day in this climate, depending on if we get to a green section or a more arid section.”
“Hot and dry in either case,” Lincoln said, and splashed water in his face.
“No,” Alexis contradicted him. “The green areas are a bit more humid.”
“What?” Decker interjected. “Five percent to six percent humidity?”
“Anyway,” Boston interrupted, and then copied Lincoln. “Sweny Way. We aren’t traveling the thirty to forty miles per day we travel in better climates. It’s those naps. But it was not so bad when the Kairos was moving in our direction. After eight days, we did not even cover two hundred miles. More like one-seventy. Even so, we are close now, but for some reason the Kairos stopped moving. I have no idea why. But we can probably reach her tomorrow night if we push a little. Maybe then we can find out.”
People paused in silence until Katie spoke. “I recommend we stop short tomorrow and some ride ahead to check it out. Maybe it is nothing, but knowing the Kairos, we could be headed into who knows what?”
Lockhart looked around. No one objected, and Decker even said, “Good plan.” They would do that.
“Sweny Way,” Alexis took the conversation. “Even with as hot, tired, and slow as we get in this climate, at least we have found some food worth eating; dates, figs, grapes, potatoes, and onions.”
“Game has been a bit slim,” Nanette pointed out.
“That one farmer was not too happy when he caught you picking his dates,” Boston reminded everyone, and gave it her best elf grin.
The group stopped by the date palms and Sukki, Nanette, Decker, Lincoln, and Alexis went to see what they could find. Boston stayed out front, her elf senses flared, on alert. Katie and Lockhart remained mounted and armed, just in case. They stayed by the front of the wagon where Tony wet down Ghost the mule. Tony figured he was as close as the group had to a muleskinner, so he took it upon himself to drive the wagon through that time zone. He knew best how to avoid the ruts, potholes, and rocks on that camel trail. The last thing they needed in that heat was a broken wheel, or worse, a broken axel. They had spares in the wagon, but no one wanted to do such a job. Tony figured that was why the locals stuck with camels and did not have much in the way of wheeled vehicles.
Elder Stow, of course, took the spare minutes to examine his work on the screen device. The group did not stop and pick much, though, before a man, and probably his son showed up, and yelled.
Lincoln quickly pulled the pouch from his belt. It was not hard pulling out two gold coins, one Persian and one Roman. “Here,” he told the man, and put the coins in the man’s hand. “Let me add a couple of silver coins to that.” He again took a moment to pull out one Persian and one Roman, not knowing what the value of the coins might be, but knowing the gold and silver had to have some value, regardless. In fact, Lincoln surmised he handed the man an entire year’s wages.
“Don’t watch,” he said. “Look at the coins in your hand, or maybe close your eyes until we leave.” It was only a suggestion.
The man watched his hand for a while, before he closed his eyes. He hardly moved that whole time. The son sat down and watched the travelers work, until Sukki decided to fly up and check the taller palms. Then the boy stifled a shriek and closed his eyes, too. The travelers did not stay long, and hardly picked all the crop. The farmer still had most of his crop and the coins as well, so he did not complain.
The next day, the travelers did push themselves. Boston said they were a day away from the Kairos. She might as well have said they were a day away from a five-star bed and breakfast. When they got close, they found a campsite and Lockhart, Boston the elf, the marines Katie and Decker, and Lincoln, the former spy, rode ahead and looked for a hill and some rocks they could hide behind, and watch. They wanted to gauge the events before just stumbling in.
Lockhart and Lincoln got the binoculars. Katie and Decker used the scopes from their rifles, and of course, Boston did not need the help, having elf eyes that could see a fly on the back of a horse at a hundred paces. It looked like a madhouse in the valley below, until Lincoln clarified the sight.
“Refugees. And apparently from a number of different groups, maybe tribes that are not exactly on a friendly basis with each other.”
“Agreed,” Decker confirmed that thought. “Refugee camps sometimes have families from both sides of a conflict plus people from innocent groups that happen to be caught up in the conflict, even if they haven’t taken sides.”
Lockhart looked at Katie. She shrugged.
“We don’t get first-hand experience in the Pentagon.”
“There is an army camp down there,” Boston pointed out.
“Several hundred soldiers,” Decker said.
“Probably where Bahati is,” Lincoln said. “And maybe General Semka, and Ouazebas.”
“Whoever they are,” Lockhart shrugged.
“Not really an army,” Katie objected.
“More like a big company, or small battalion,” Decker agreed. “I wonder where the rest of the army is.”
Katie explained. “A Roman legion has between three to five thousand men. Any conquering army would have some one thousand soldiers or more, even in this environment. They would probably have, maybe, five hundred to a thousand others; what the Romans called auxiliary and logistics troops.”
“I count five hundred, tops,” Decker agreed. “Probably closer to three hundred actual soldiers and auxiliaries.”
Lockhart raised the binoculars for another look. “I wonder where the rest of the army is.”
Boston spoke up. “I would guestimate around two thousand refugees, or more. Can’t see inside all the tents.”
“Definitely different groups that don’t appear friendly to each other,” Lincoln added.
“Excellent deductive reasoning,” a middle-aged man said, as he appeared beside the group and pretended to hide with them. “Excellent. Let me see the binoculars.”
“Djin,” Boston named the man.
Lockhart handed them over, reluctantly. “Don’t run off with them,” he said.
“Please,” Djin frowned. “I am not a dragon to run off with bright, shiny objects.” He added, “Wow,” when he looked through them. “I have to get me a pair of these.”
“That’s what Tiamat said about Lockhart’s shotgun.”
“Fortunately, I remember when she got killed,” Katie said. “We ran into Eliyawe, Marduk and Assur, and the nymphs were carrying the body of Osiris back to Egypt.”
Djin backed up a bit and looked at the travelers. “Yes,” he said. “I must remember you are not from around here.”