Two men rode across the stream to confront the two travelers standing by the wagon. They did not know one of the two by the wagon was a woman until they got close. It got hard to see distance well in the failing light. When they got down from their mounts and approached, they appeared surprised. The man looked like a giant, and the woman, which they then noticed was a woman, looked as tall as them, and she had yellow hair. Not what they expected.
“Hello friends,” Lockhart said, giving it his friendliest voice. “This is a good place to rest if you plan to spend the night. The water is fresh and clean, the grass is soft, and it does not look like rain tonight.”
The two made no response, so Katie added a thought.
“We would invite you to supper, but we only have one sheep, which is not nearly enough for your whole company.”
One man spoke. “You are from Sogdiana? You are Scythian?” he guessed.
The other man interrupted. “You are merchants?”
“We are simple travelers from far away in the west,” Lockhart began.
“Beyond Persia. Beyond Rome.” Katie added.
“I have herd of this Rome,” the first man admitted.
“You are Huna?” Katie asked.
“We are not Xwn scum.” The man spat like Decker. “My great-grandfather left the Kaghanate to seek out new pastures for our many people. He crushed the Wusun and overran Sogdiana. He fought the numberless Scythians before my father followed the Hephthalites into this land. We drove many ahead of us and destroyed the last of the Great Yuezhi. This land is good, but our people are many, so we seek to extend our pastures. The Xionite people that came here ahead of us will serve us, and our name will be great in all the earth.”
“Turkic people, perhaps Shahi,” Katie identified the speaker. “Tony will be glad to know that the Turks are already on the move at this early date.”
Elder Stow turned on his lantern, much stronger than the human lanterns that the travelers had and mostly left in their luggage. It caught some twenty horsemen ready to cross the stream, down some distance where they no doubt thought they would not be seen. Decker’s voice came through the watch communicators.
“We got enemy trying to circle around and get on our flank. I would hate to have to kill them all.”
“Hopefully, they will have the good sense to return to their own camp now that they are seen. Wait for instructions. Out.” Lockhart responded.
“Did we mention the sorcerer in our camp?” Kate said, kindly.
“Who?” Lockhart asked.
“Elder Stow,” Katie answered, sharply. “His gadgets are near enough to sorcery in this age.”
“Oh,” Lockhart got it. “And the two witches.”
“What about Boston?” Katie asked.
“She is an elf,” Lockhart explained. “That is different. But what do we call Sukki?”
Katie huffed. “I swear, Vrya and Ishtar made her practically a demi-god.”
Lockhart looked up. The two Turks had mounted and were riding back to their camp without asking any more questions. When Lockhart and Katie rejoined the group, Elder Stow spoke.
“My mother and father,” he said, referring to Katie and Lockhart as the mother and father of the group. “I cannot set the screens against intruders tonight, but I have scanned the visitors and have their signatures. I can set an alarm in the night in case any are tempted to come to our camp in the dark, even as I did back when my batteries needed charging, back before the god Vulcan made a cell charger for my equipment.”
“That would be good, but standard watch as well.” No one complained. It was their routine. Tony and Nanette, new to this traveling business, watched from six, about sundown, to nine. Lincoln and Alexis took the nine to midnight shift. Lockhart and Katie watched in the middle, from midnight to three in the morning. Decker, the no nonsense marine, and Elder Stow with his scanner took the dark of the night between three and six in the morning. And Boston with Sukki watched from six through sunrise, until about nine, when everyone was up for the day and ready to travel.
Normally, the travelers did not expect visitors in the night. People never used to travel in the dark, especially in the wilderness. It was too dangerous. But that night, around three in the morning, three Turks tried to climb over the rocks that sheltered the horses. Elder Stow happened to be up when his scanner beeped. He cut the sound right away, and while Decker woke the others, Elder Stow watched the men carefully with his scanner.
Lockhart, Decker, Lincoln, and Katie got their Patton sabers and waited. They figured the Turks would not know what guns were so they would not be a good choice. When the three would-be thieves dropped to the ground, they got surrounded. Sukki held her knife, while Boston and Alexis held their wands. One thief tried to move, and Alexis raised a wind that slammed all three back into the rock. One hit rather hard and fell to his knees.
“Not smart,” Lockhart said.
One man, fast as a gunslinger, threw a knife at Elder Stow who just happened to walk up at that moment. No doubt he thought the older man had to be the one in charge. The knife bounced off Elder Stows personal screens, the one built into his belt that conformed to his body and moved with him but could not be expanded to cover more than one person. Sukki momentarily looked afraid, before she got mad. She grabbed the knife, bent it until it cracked. She handed it back.
“You dropped this.”
The Turks made no more moves, and the two still standing decided to fall to their knees to join their companion. Regret showed on at least two of those three faces.
“Get naked,” Lockhart said. The Turks did not move. “You heard me. Get undressed.” The Turks stood and slowly stripped down to their under things. “I meant all of it,” Lockhart commanded. He tapped one on the shoulder with the flat of his sword. “Or I could cut it off you, but I can’t guarantee I won’t cut your flesh with it.” The men finished undressing. “Lincoln and Alexis, will you stack these things over on the rock at the end of the horse rope? Yes, there. You three, move.”
The three naked men walked to where the wagon was parked. “Okay,” Katie said, having figured it out. “You can walk back to your camp and give a message to your chief.”
“What message?” one found the courage to ask.
“You are the message,” Lockhart said.
“Git,” Boston raised her voice and waved her wand. Three sparks, like electricity, zapped three naked butts. All three men hopped and shrieked in surprise. They hurried, but soon enough slowed down to a walk, while Elder Stow walked up holding his scanner.
“I will watch them,” he said. “You all can go back to bed.”
Decker turned to Lockhart before Lockhart walked off. “Better idea than what I had in mind,” he said, but he never did explain what he had in mind.
At five in the morning, about thirty minutes before sunrise, the Turks headed back up the stream from whence they came. When the travelers got up and had their typical leftover breakfast, they packed up and started out. They left the Turkic clothes and weapons on the rock, in case three naked men wanted to come back for their stuff.
The next day, the travelers avoided a few villages. They stayed on track for the Khyber Pass which they knew was the way into India. The trail, which Katie imagined was what remained of the Silk Road, seemed good in some places, but not so good in others. Tony, being from 1905 where he grew up driving mules and wagons, drove most of the way, and said he did not mind. Sometimes Nanette or Sukki rode with him in the wagon.
Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings as they traveled. They reported no problems and no more dusty columns in the distance. Boston stayed out front, her elf senses on alert just in case.
That night, Lincoln got to read some about Sanyas, the ninety-eighth lifetime of the Kairos, the one who lived in this time zone. “It says she got engaged at age three. Her father, Yashodharman, if I said that right, was king of Malwa. Aulikara Dynasty. He died when she turned three, but he managed to engage her to Brahmagupta, a son of the King of Magadha’s younger brother. They married when Sanyas came of age, which… it doesn’t say. We can assume when she turned sixteen or so.”
“Wait,” Boston interrupted, which was good because she did not always pay attention. “I thought we figured the time gate would be round Malwa. They can’t be living there.”
“No. And they are not living in Magadha, either. They got sent to the frontier to defend against the Huns—the Alchon Huns that previously overran most of northeast India. They got driven out before Sanyas was born, but they continue to raid. So, the couple got sent to help defend the border, so to speak. Sanyas’ older half-sister is Yashomati. She is queen of Thanesar, married to King Prabhakaravardhana… That does it. I can’t pronounce all these names.”
Alexis laughed. “It does sound a bit like a poorly written piece of science fiction.”
Lincoln nodded, but Lockhart said, “I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t read science fiction.”
“The thing is,” Lincoln continued. “Thanesar is closer to Melwas, considering where we came into this time zone. That means, she must presently be closer to us, doing what? I have no idea.”
“Sanyas,” Sukki repeated the name.
“Actually,” Lincoln said, “Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi is what she is sometimes called.”
“I miss Devi,” Boston said. “Our friend in India,” she explained to Nanette and Tony. “And Varuna was very nice, too.”
“Devi is the word for goddess,” Katie said. “The Kairos sometimes gets pegged by that sort of thing.”
“Really?” Lockhart joked, before he said, “No surprise there.”