Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 3 of 4

Sukki used her goddess-given powers and Nanette used her magic to float up to the roof where they found Decker.  He lay at the edge of the crumbling roof where the wall would help to hold him up.  He had his rifle tucked into his shoulder and his eye in the scope.

“How many,” Nanette asked, without spelling it out.

Decker knew what she was asking.  “Four riflemen and one regular soldier after the riflemen disappeared from the wall.”

Nanette curled her lip at all that killing, but she sat beside Decker and even laid a hand gently on his back.  It was something she would just have to get used to.  He was a soldier after all.

Sukki watched the archers climb up on to the roof next door, just outside Elder Stow’s screens.  “Arman’s men,” she called them for Decker.  “Katie said if we draw men to the street, they can get the enemy in a crossfire, whatever that is.”

Decker paused to look across the street where he saw other men crawling up on top of the ruins.  “Good plan,” he said, flatly, and returned his eye to the scope.

Down below, Elder Stow said Boston was ready.  Boston complained, but Elder Stow would not trust his screen device with anyone other than her, or Sukki, but Sukki was needed to go up and inform Decker what was being planned.

Katie, Lockhart, Arman, Prenner, and the boys moved the rubble around to make the front end of the collapsed building into more of a fort.  Alexis, wand in hand, kept back with Aleah and the young ones.  Aleah did not know what to expect, but she knew it would be dangerous.

When everyone got as ready as they could be, Lockhart spoke into his wristwatch communicator.  “Okay, Boston.”  Everyone heard, and Boston responded.

“Turning off the screens, now.”

One of the three Sassanid soldiers sent to examine the invisible wall, suddenly put his hand through that space.  He stepped through and one of the three immediately ran back to the Battalion commander to report.  A company of Sassanids started up the street to take out the enemies in their rear.  They moved cover to cover, wary of the rifle fire from this unknown enemy.  Clearly, they knew about rifle fire.

“Wait,” Decker said through his communicator.  “Hold your fire.  Wait until they get into position.”  People waited for what felt like a long time, and the enemy got close, some felt too close, before Decker said, “Fire.”

Guns blasted.  Arrows came from the roofs beside Decker, and then the roofs and buildings from the other side.  Sukki and Nanette were reluctant to kill anyone, but Sukki, with her heat-ray hands, and Nanette, with her telekinetic magic, were able to take away the enemy’s cover and drive them into the street where they could be targets for others.

The company did not last long.  The few survivors raced back down the street, and Decker got ready to tell Boston to turn the screens back on, but Katie made him pause.

“Wait until they bring up the cavalry.”

“The screen device is well anchored,” Elder Stow said.  “Even a dozen horses crashing into the screens should not move them.”

Lockhart nodded.  They saw the horses moving up.  They saw something happening across the street among the archers hidden in and on the buildings, but they could not focus on it as they heard Boston’s panic.

“The wraith.  She broke the screen device before I could stop her.  Help.”

Elder Stow, in a moment of quick thinking, handed Lincoln his sonic device and ran with Lockhart just ahead of him.  Alexis kept Aleah and the children in their place and made them put their heads down.  Katie, Lincoln, and Tony had to hold the front.  Sukki took the time to float down to join them while Decker and Nanette stayed over their heads.  Sukki handed Decker’s handgun to Prenner.  She briefly instructed him to point and pull the trigger, but she could not tell him exactly how it worked.  Arman helped.  He had Katie’s handgun, and had also learned how to use it.

Lockhart arrived in time to see the wraith up by the roof.  Boston had her wand in her left hand and her Beretta in her right.  Boston fired her handgun once and burned a couple of spots on the ceiling.

“You must all die,” the wraith said in her chilling voice.

“Why?  What did we do to you?” Boston asked, and the wraith paused to consider her answer, even as Lockhart pulled the trigger on his shotgun.  The wraith screamed and got slammed back into the ceiling.  She appeared to start bleeding.  Elder Stow pointed his weapon at her, and she screamed again and flew out a hole in the roof.  Elder Stow put his weapon away.

“Let me see,” he said, and Boston backed up, but kept her eyes on the roof, just in case.  “I think I can fix it,” Elder Stow said.  “But it will take time.”

“I thought you had the scanner tuned to give warning if the wraith showed up,” Boston protested.

“Only in physical form,” Elder Stow responded.  “Apparently, she can still elude us if she is invisible and insubstantial.”

“Boston.  I hear gunfire up front.”  Lockhart waved her to follow, and they ran to the front, leaving Elder Stow to work.

While the cavalry got ready to charge, Decker picked two more off the city wall in the distance.  He paused to wipe the sweat from his eyes.

“I think I hate the killing,” Nanette said, as she rubbed Decker’s soaking wet back.

“It is not my favorite thing in the world,” Decker said, and Nanette nodded, like she could accept that. 

“The archers across the way have abandoned their post,” Katie said over the communicators.  “Cavalry ready to charge.”  Three hundred horses and men with spears, like Samartian lances, made neat lines in the street, about six across in the front.  The rest of the battalion of foot soldiers looked ready to follow the horsemen.  “Get ready.”

Katie stood, her rifle and scope ready.  She fired two quick bursts of five bullets on automatic fire.  Three of the horses in the front of the line went down, and a fourth lost its rider.  All the same, some Sassanid gave the order. and though the horses had to start by going around or over the fallen horses, they quickly charged.

Overhead, Nanette stood and pointed her wand at the street.  Decker hardly had time to tell her to get down, before a bullet came from a building across the street.  Nanette concentrated.  She made an invisible screen of her own in the street, and the front horses slammed into the screen, got tangled up, and broke legs and backs as they fell to the ground.  Decker had to grab Nanette as the sudden push of the horses against her invisible wall almost sent her flying.

“Equal and opposite reaction,” Decker said.

Nanette held tight to her wand, seemed to have no idea what Decker might be referring to, and collapsed in his arms, a mini ball in her hip.

“Alexis,” Decker yelled, as he carried a fainting Nanette behind a chimney.  He remembered and spoke into his wristwatch.  “Alexis.  Nanette’s been shot.”

Down below, the horses began again once Nanette’s invisible wall vanished.  A few pushed around the pile-up and the rest followed.

“Determined,” Tony said, but by then, he, Lincoln, Prenner, and Katie were returning fire to the building across the way.  Arman kept an eye on the horsemen.   Apparently, the riflemen abandoned the wall to take on the unknown guns that were devastating them from behind.  They managed to overwhelm the archers across the way, and now used their cover to fire on the travelers across the street.

Alexis stepped up to raise a great wind in the street.  All the dust, dirt, small pebbles, and less pleasant things got swept up into the face of the oncoming horsemen.  That stalled them again, but after only a moment, Sukki grabbed Alexis around the middle and lifted her with herself, up to the roof where Decker held Nanette.

Alexis did not argue.  Sukki was worried about her sister.  But Alexis shooed Sukki and Decker away with a word that Sukki should not go far.  Alexis feared someone down below might end up also needing her healing skills.

Decker grabbed his rifle and sprayed the oncoming horses with several bursts of automatic fire.  Men shouted and fell out of the saddles.  Horses stumbled, making yet another block against a charge.  Some of the horsemen at the back began to peel away, but most of them continued to come on, despite all the obstacles.  The battalion of infantry stalled every time the cavalry faced a new obstacle, but most of them kept coming.  Only a few began to back away as they saw what they were facing.  Both the cavalry and infantry commanders of the Sassanids counted on their own riflemen to rout out the travelers.  But the travelers had built a good fort, and those single shot matchlocks were not very accurate at a distance, even if the barrels were rifled, which Katie imagined they were not.

“They are massing for a final push,” Arman shouted, even as Boston came.

“Prenner,” Boston shouted.  “Watch Aleah and the children and keep their heads down.”

Prenner groused.  “Yes Princess,” he said, and turned invisible to walk back to the family.  Boston had not thought of that, so she turned herself invisible before she stepped up and pulled out her now invisible bow and arrows.  She did not have much time to treat the arrows, the way Roland and Father Mingus taught her, but they would do.  She also had not practiced much with her bow, but the horsemen were less than a hundred yards off, not too far, and she only had to get close to them.

The arrow became visible the minute it left her bow, and she moved.  She figured some smart enemy rifleman might figure out where she was shooting them.  The arrow landed a little short of the front horses, right before they got ready for their last effort to charge.  It exploded, like a rocket propelled grenade.  This will work, Boston said.  She fired one more, moved, and fired the third at the buildings across the street.  She moved again and pulled out three more arrows to treat.

“Nice RPGs,” Katie said.  “But it doesn’t appear to have stopped them.  It looks like you just made them mad.”

“Like a hornet’s nest,” Lincoln said, as he ducked, and a mini ball careened off the stonework he hid behind.

Boston got mad and grabbed her wand.  She sent a fireball toward horses.  She did not move, and sure enough a stray bullet scraped her hip.  Boston screamed and shot a second fireball at the ruins across the street.  It appeared her biggest and strongest response.  A couple of explosions suggested she caught some of the enemy gunpowder, but then Boston’s leg collapsed and took her to the ground.  She shouted into her wristwatch, “Alexis,” even as the cavalry began to charge.

************************

Tomorrow

Remember,Avalon 7.8 is a four-part episode. Part 4 will post tomorrow, on Thursday. See how it turns out…

*

Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 2 of 4

Lockhart, with Tony’s help, moved the wagon through the time gate, and then through the hole in the wall and into what looked like stables.  Boston directed them with hand signals toward the back of the building where she said the roof supports remained solid.  She could not vouch for the front of the building.

“This is the exact same place” Alexis whispered, as she and Lincoln came next.  “We moved forward in time from a vibrant city to ruins but stayed in the exact same place as far as I can tell.”  They immediately dismounted and began to gather the horses while Tony set Ghost, the mule, free of the wagon.

“Some years later,” Lincoln responded with a nod.

Lockhart looked around at the condition of the building.  “I would guess the Romans lost the city to the Persians.”

“Sassanids,” Lincoln corrected him.

“Must have been some battle,” Boston said.

“Where’s Katie?” Lockhart asked, as Sukki and Nanette came in.  Elder Stow had to stay in the shadow of the hole in the wall to keep the particle screen in the time gate in order to keep them from being followed.  They had seen time-locked men try to step into the future and age fifty years in a matter of seconds.  It was not pretty.

“Keep to the back of the building,” Boston told her sisters, and added, “Come on.”  She led Lockhart to the front, one eye on the ceiling, until they came to a rubble-filed front end where the ceiling had collapsed.  Katie hid in the rubble and watched the activity in the street.

The buildings across the street were almost entirely rubble.  They looked like they had been burned down at some point, and after some years, now appeared as mere ruins.  Without those buildings blocking her way, Katie could see to the city wall, and the holes someone made in that wall.

Lockhart and Boston snuck up carefully, and Lockhart asked, “Where’s Decker?”  Katie pointed up, as if to say he somehow crawled up on the roof.  She handed Lockhart her binoculars and got out the scope for her rifle.  He took a look.

A whole battalion of soldiers sat in the street down toward the city wall.  He guessed they were supposed to be hidden, ready to repel invaders when called.  On the crumbling wall itself, he saw defenders with spears, probably bows, and he definitely saw some rifles, which were utterly out of place in that time period.  He imagined they were single shot, muzzle loaded matchlocks, like they ran into before.  Individually, they would not be much more effective than bows and arrows—less effective when he considered the time it took to reload.  But they had stopping power arrows did not have. Bullets could punch right through enemy shields and armor.  If they massed a volley, or managed several volleys against a marching army, they might turn them away.  They also had better range.  Much better than a shower of arrows.

“Where did they get the rifles?” Lockhart asked.

“Ramin Lajani,” Boston said.  “He was the young merchant boss that survived when Xalazar got killed.”

“I think I see where the cavalry is located,” Katie spoke, without taking her eye from her scope.  “They must have cleared a road down by the wall, near that gate there.”

“Someone is walking into a trap,” Lockhart concluded, even as they heard trumpets in the distance.  All eyes, including Boston’s elf eyes tried to see through the spaces in the wall.  Word came down from Decker over the wristwatch communicators.

“There is a Roman army marching in the distance.  They will probably send spies, or a small troop to check out the city before getting too close.  At least, I would.  But they probably won’t have any idea how big an ambush they are walking into.”

“Why come here?” Lockhart asked.

“The city looks abandoned,” Katie answered.  “And if they are crossing into Sassanid territory, this place still has bridges across the Euphrates.”

They heard the crack of a rifle overhead.  Lockhart and Katie got on their wristwatches to admonish Decker, but Boston looked with her good elf eyes.  She saw a soldier with a rife fall off the wall.  She softly mouthed her own Wilhelm scream

“Decker,” Lockhart said, as Tony came to join them.  Tony had a message but had to wait.

“People with guns are enemy combatants,” Decker responded.

“It’s all right,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “I have managed a full Decker screen around the stables.  Young Boston is correct.  The front-end load bearing pillars are weak, probably from years of weathering.  To compensate, I had to enlarge it enough to take in the alley and the houses on both sides.  It is stretched, but manageable.”

“People?” Katie asked, without spelling out the question.

“There are seven life signs in the house across the alley,” Elder Stow responded.  “And a half-dozen below the house, like in the basement, perhaps.  Alexis and Lincoln have gone to check it out.”

Decker fired again, and another man with a rifle fell off the distant wall.

“Decker,” Lockhart yelled into his wristwatch this time, even as Alexis and Lincoln exited the hole in the stable wall.  They saw a woman, maybe in her late thirties, in the door of the house across the way—a house which surprisingly still looked in good shape.  The woman gasped on sight of Lincoln and Alexis and fell to her knees.

A young girl, maybe six, and a boy about ten came to stand behind their mother.  “What is it?” the young girl asked.

“It must be the gods,” the woman said.

A man in his early forties and a dwarf came to the door, and the man smiled and spoke first.  “No, dear.  It is Lincoln and Alexis.  I remember.  Where is the rest of the crew?”

“Where is that red-headed elf?” the dwarf asked, recognizing the travelers for who they were.  Having their home caught inside Elder Stow’s particle screens sort of gave it away.

“It’s not Zenobia,” Lincoln whispered and put his arm out to prevent Alexis from running forward.  But Alexis had already paused.  She squinted at the man before she came out with her thought.

“Arman?”

The man nodded and helped his wife up from her knees.  “I have aged.  You haven’t.  I was wondering how this time travel thing you talked about worked.”

“But I remember you,” Arman’s wife spouted, and pointed at Alexis.

“My wife, Aleah.  My younger son, Loran, and my younger daughter Leah,” Arman introduced them.

“Prenner,” the dwarf introduced himself.

Arman nodded.  “My older boy is down in the dwarf house with the dwarf boys.”

“Messing up the place, no doubt,” Prenner said.

“My older daughter is with Bitsies making super.”

“Bitsies?” Alexis asked.

“My wife,” Prenner answered.

“Lockhart,” Lincoln got on his wristwatch communicator.  ‘We got Arman living next door, right where we left him.”

“Arman,” Katie answered.

“Keep him there,” Lockhart responded.  “It isn’t safe out here.”

Three soldiers from the battalion came up the street to see what was making that noise.  Decker ignored them.  They carried nothing more than spears, or javelins, and he figured they would stop at whatever point the edge of Elder Stow’s screens reached.  He fired once more, and another gun toting man peeled off the distant wall.  The men there began to seek cover, so he would not likely get another clean shot.

Katie arrived at the hole in the wall the same time as Sukki.  Sukki spoke softly.  “Nanette and father have the horses, but they wanted to be sure Arman and his family were safe.”

“So far,” Katie responded.  “But not if Decker keeps shooting enemy riflemen.”

“What?” Lincoln needed to know, and Katie told him.

“The Sassanids have an ambush planned in the city.  A Roman legion is marching right into it, and the Sassanids have riflemen on the city walls.  Probably matchlocks, but effective enough.”

“Sergeant,” Arman yelled.  “Sergeant Vespavian.”

A grizzled old man limped around the corner and stood at the end of the alley.  He put his hand up to feel for the edge of Elder Stow’s screen, like he was familiar with the concept.  “So, your friends came back,” the sergeant said.  “You know, the governor wants to see you, twenty years ago.”  He laughed.

“You heard?” Arman said.

“I heard,” the sergeant answered.  “The problem is, the enemy has every exit from the city covered.  There is no way my few men can ride out and warn the legion.  As for attacking them, even from the rear, even by surprise, even if we had bunches of Prenner’s people with us… why, that would be just plain mad.”

Katie did not hesitate.  “Can you get your men up on the roofs?”  She pointed at the top of the house and a building across the street that still stood.  “You will need a way of escape if your position is about to be overrun, but in the meanwhile, if we draw some of the soldiers to attack us, you can catch them in a crossfire.”

“But what if they send the whole army after us?” Lincoln objected.

“They won’t,” Katie said, confidently.  “Their first concern is the oncoming Roman army, but we may be able to help by drawing off some of their troops and sting them from the rear with our guns.  Plus, the sound of our guns may alert the oncoming Romans to the pending ambush.”

The men paused to think it through, until Arman said, “Vespavian?”

The old sergeant nodded.  “That might work for a couple of volleys in the right circumstances.  If they bring up a whole troop, though, we may have to run quickly.”

“Do it,” Lincoln said.  He was not sure how that would work, exactly, but he had learned to trust Katie’s military instincts.

“Do it,” Arman echoed.

The old soldier nodded slightly, and still thinking about it, he disappeared around the corner.  A moment later, they heard him yelling.

Katie turned, and Sukki mumbled that she would be up front as soon as she and Nanette secured the horses.  Lincoln followed, but Alexis paused to say, “Stay here, in your home, where you are safe.”

Arman turned to his wife, Aleah.  “Stay here.” 

Aleah turned to Prenner the dwarf.  “Keep the children here and safe,” she said, even as the little girl took hold of her dress, and the boy ran ahead.

Prenner turned in time to see his two boys and Aleah’s fifteen-year-old boy come tumbling out of the side door and follow the others.  He paused.  Whatever his wife, her mother, and Aleah’s daughter were cooking sure smelled good, but he turned to follow the others and only mumbled about how he might starve to death if this took too long.

Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 1 of 4

After 236 A.D. Syria

Kairos 93: Zenobia, the Queen

Recording …

The travelers arrived at the time gate in the late afternoon.  They found it in the town of Dura-Europa, on the Euphrates River.  Fortunately, the time gate rested down an alleyway and not inside a building.

“Should we find rooms for caravans and travelers, or go through the gate now while we can?” Katie asked from where she rode in the wagon.  Lockhart drove the wagon and thought about it.  Though not their first thing in the morning routine, the time gate temporarily vanishing had them all spooked.

“Go now,” Boston said, as she came back from the front and steadied her horse.

“Go now,” Decker echoed, as he pushed up from the rear, followed by Nanette, who pulled Sukki’s horse with her.  “The guards in the gate had a seriously suspicious look about them.”

“This is a military town.  The Romans here hold it almost like a fort, to protect the trade routes,” Lincoln spoke up from behind the wagon where he read from the database while Alexis temporarily held the reigns of both Katie’s and Lockhart’s horses.  “But mostly to protect against Sassanid armies.”

“We came from Sassanid territory,” Alexis said.  “We might look like spies for some reason.”

“Soldiers coming,” Tony shouted from the rear.

“Father?” Sukki wondered what Elder Stow was doing with his screen device in his hands.

“Just working on it,” Elder Stow said, and glanced up at the others.  They all looked at him.  “I need to set a screen wall in the time gate behind us, so some innocent person does not stumble through before the time gate deactivates.”

“Of course,” Alexis agreed.

“Soldiers definitely coming here,” Tony shouted.

“Can you set the wall at the end of the alley first?” Katie asked.  “Maybe pull it into the alleyway behind us.”

“Everyone; move into the alleyway,” Lockhart said, not waiting for an answer from Elder Stow.  “Decker and Boston.  Scout out the other side of the time gate.”

“One minute,” Elder Stow said.

“Come on, Sukki.  Let’s get our horses,” Katie leapt from the wagon and mounted.  Sukki followed and thanked Nanette for bringing her horse to that point.

“They’re here,” Tony yelled as he pulled his horse’s tail into the alley alongside Lockhart’s horse which was tied to the back of the wagon.  Lincoln and Alexis scooted over to make room.

“Friends,” a young man shouted for the traveler’s attention.  He appeared in a great flash of light that made the soldiers in the street cover their eyes and take several steps back.  He called to them.  “Friends.”  A great clap of thunder followed the light.  The horses hardly flinched, but several soldiers fell to their knees, two ran and at least one wailed.

Nanette recognized the man who appeared right away.  “Arman.”  He was the young Magi that followed Xalazar to Hatra.

“Arman.”  Several others named the young man.

“Quick.  Into the alley” Katie yelled back, and Arman came up alongside Tony and Elder Stow.

“There,” Elder Stow said, as he turned on his screen device that set a virtual wall at the end of the alleyway.  The soldiers would be blocked out for the moment.

“Lockhart, Xalazar got stabbed” Arman said, as he walked up past Katie, and Alexis to reach the wagon.  He repeated himself, nice and loud.  “Xalazar got stabbed.”  He looked at the concerned faces of the travelers and reported the story as quick as he could.  “Sarkis, the Armenian betrayed us.  He led us into a trap, and Ramin Lajani, the gun merchant, stabbed Xalazar.  Marona, the Assyrian, is dead.  Junior Amun, the god, says Xalazar should be dead, but he traded places with Xalazar at the last minute.  Do you know what I mean, traded places?”

Lockhart nodded.  “The Kairos tends to borrow a lifetime from the past or future as needed, yes, we know.  He actually, temporarily becomes another person as near as anyone can tell, though inside, he is the same person, still the Kairos.”

“Junior.  Amun Junior,” Lincoln said.  “Son of the god Amun and the goddess Ishtar.”

“It must be important,” Alexis added.  “The gods don’t normally interfere in life and death circumstances unless there is some cosmic significance.”

Arman also nodded and picked up the story.  “Junior Amun saved my life, and he sent me with an urgent message.  He said he cannot come and tell you himself because the time gate will move as he moves.  He said he can hold the gate stable for now, but he cannot hold it for long.  Xalazar must die so his spirit can move on to his next life.  He said you must move on now and not wait until morning…”

Three things happened at once.

“You need a place to hide,” Alexis said.  “You can’t go through the time gate with us because you will age as many years as the time difference, maybe fifty or more years.”

Her words got overshadowed by yelling from the soldiers who came up to Elder Stow’s screen and could go no further.  “You people come out of there!  The governor would like a word with you.”

For the third thing, Boston came back through the time gate to report.  “It’s full of soldiers, like an ambush.  The city is destroyed, whatever city it is, and there are soldiers camped all around the place, and Decker says some of them got guns.”

“Is there room for the wagon?” Lockhart asked.  “Can we go without drawing attention to ourselves?”  Lockhart had to wave at Boston to get her attention.  She was staring around the alley, like she saw it for the first time.

“Huh?  Yeah.  It looks mostly—exactly like this alleyway, except that wall is missing.  You can pull the wagon right in there.  I think it is a stable of some kind.”  Boston’s engineering brain kicked in.  “I didn’t give the structure a stress test.  The load bearing logs look sturdy, but they might not hold the roof up if they get disturbed.  I’ll check it out.”

“Wait,” Lockhart interrupted.  “Katie.  Tony, go with her.  Katie, check the perimeter and see if it is safe to come through.  Send Tony back when the wagon can come, but don’t take too long.”  He waved them off and turned his attention to Arman.  “Lincoln and Alexis, find a safe place for Arman to go.  Elder Stow get ready.  Nanette and Sukki, watch out for Elder Stow.”  That seemed to cover everyone.

Lincoln turned to the door in the wall that would still be there in the future, if he heard correctly.  He could not imagine an exit time gate and an entrance time gate being in the same place, but it had happened once before.  He jiggled the door, but it was locked.

“Alexis, see if you can blow the door down.”

“Wait.”  Arman butted up front.  He closed his eyes and placed both hands on the door.  They heard a scraping sound of wood on wood, like a bar being lifted from its place.  They heard a clunk as the bar fell to the floor.  Arman pushed the door slowly.  They saw an older couple and a young woman, obviously their daughter, standing back, staring at them.  This had to be their home.  The young woman, about sixteen or seventeen, had the Roman Empire equivalent of a rolling pin in her hand, and looked prepared to defend her home, whatever the cost.

“May we come in?” Arman asked, politely, before Alexis and Lincoln butted in front of him.  Alexis raised her hands like a true witch, and the wind rose up inside the shelter of the house.  It shoved the young woman and the elderly couple back a couple of steps and blew everything off the table.  Lincoln spoke up.

“This man needs food and a place to rest.  He is a good man.  You need to protect him and do not let the soldiers get him.”

“Don’t make me come back here,” Alexis said.  “He is a good man,” she underlined that point.  “He deserves your help, and I will be very cross if I have to come back here.”

“The wagon is moving,” Lincoln interrupted.  “We need to go.”

Alexis hugged Arman before she and Lincoln went back out to get up on their horses.  Arman turned in the door to watch.  He said, “You might want to see this.”  The young woman stepped right up to look around his shoulder.  Eventually, the mother and father also came to see, and the old man mumbled.

“Horses of the gods.”  They were not surprised to see Alexis and Lincoln slowly vanish as they stepped through the shimmering hole in the air.  The last thing they saw was a swipe of the horse’s tail before Nanette, Sukki, and Elder Stow came last in line.

Someone banged on the front door.  The family quickly closed the side door to the alleyway as three soldiers forced their way inside the front.  The young woman still held the rolling pin, and Arman pulled a small knife he had hidden in his cloak.  They stood side by side to protect the house, but the old man pushed to the front and spoke right up.

“Sergeant Vespavian.  What is happening in the street?”

The sergeant stopped, so the soldiers with him stopped.  “Who is this?”

“My son in law,” the old man said without blinking.  “Come all the way from Palmyra.  He could not wait until we came to fetch him in the fall.”

“Aleah?” the sergeant looked at the young woman, like he had an interest in the girl.  Aleah looked at the ugly soldier, glanced at Arman, smiled, and took Arman’s arm while Arman put away his little knife.  The sergeant growled, and with his soldiers, he threw open the side door.  The rest of his soldiers were already in the alley, with his centurion unable to push his hand through the shimmering hole in the air.  That shimmering hole in the air quickly disappeared, leaving only alleyway and soldiers milling about.

The sergeant growled again, and he and his two men left the door open.  The old woman closed it carefully as the old man turned to the couple where his daughter still held on to Arman.  The old man smiled as he spoke.  “Well, priest,” he said, having recognized Arman as a Magi.  “I guess you will just have to marry my daughter and make it legal.”

Aleah glanced again at Arman before she looked away and turned slightly red.  She did not let go of him, so it seemed as if she would not mind.

Arman did not know what to say.

Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 4 of 4

In the dark of night, the wraith got frustrated by Elder Stows screens.  She bounced off and could find no way around them—even by going underground.  They seemed to make a complete bubble around the people, to protect them.  If she had a brain, she might have realized they had to let air and such inside the screens, and being a lesser spirit, she could shape herself like the wind.  In fact, Boston, only being a little spirit, could phase through the screens.  Certainly, the wraith could do the same, if she could figure out how.  To be clear, sophisticated screen technology, in manipulating natural forces, made even the gods pause, and some never did master it.  But in this case, the wraith got frustrated, so she flew off to the next time gate, thinking, if she got a few days ahead of the travelers, she might set something up.

Not long after the wraith left, a lone gunman, the sole survivor, slammed his foot into the screens and fell forward on to the screens.  He planned to get one of the horses and go hide in Hatra, but there seemed to be an invisible wall between himself and the horses.  He paused to think about what he was doing.

The gun makers in Damascus were long put out of business.  He and his group had to be one of the last gun groups.  He could not be certain.  There might still be others.  He vaguely recalled his captain saying something about the gun merchants meeting up with Master Lajani in Hatra.  In any case, his captain insisted on tracking and killing the one responsible for destroying the gun factory.  That did not work out too well.  The man figured he had some shot left, and a rifle, for all the good it did him.  He frankly ran out of range and hid when the others got killed by the strangers with real guns.

“Guns to put my rifle to shame,” he mumbled, as his hands felt out the invisible wall he ran into.  He figured it went all the way around the enemy camp, and maybe underground, too, for all he knew.  He decided he would not be getting a horse, so he turned and began to walk.  With luck, he might be half-way to Hatra by morning.

###

When the morning came, Elder Stow got up early to check his screen device.  No one came down the road in the night.  That felt understandable.  In that day and age, only armies moved at night, and only if they were headed to a battle.  Elder Stow said good morning to Boston and Sukki, who had taken the early morning watch so they could rate the sunrise.  That morning got a seven, whatever that meant.

“Shouldn’t you be building up the fire and setting the water to boil for Lockhart’s fake coffee, as he calls it?” he asked.

“Yes, father,” Sukki responded.

Boston asked, “Why are you up so early?  What are you doing?”  She looked over Elder Stow’s shoulder.

“I was curious to see why we didn’t have any night visitors, but it seems we did.  Both appeared to stay away from the road, which is why the watchers did not see them.  Here.  See?  One came in about twenty feet above ground.  Checked around to the back and underground.  It must have been the wraith.”

“Can you track her?”  

“Yes, I believe I can.”  He fiddled with the settings on his scanner.  “See?  The signature plays out about a half-mile away, but I believe I can set the scanner to give us warning when she gets within range.”

Boston’s big elf eyes got extra big.  “Oh, she is not going to like that surprise.”

Elder Stow nodded.  “There is another, a human.  He did not stay long and headed off towards that city we came through.”

“Hatra,” Boston said, and when she explained it a couple of hours later, Xalazar responded.

“No, you can’t come with us. This is one situation I have to deal with myself.”

“I don’t understand,” Tony said.  “How is it we keep running into people with guns.  They should not be invented yet, should they?”

“Damascus,” Xalazar said, and nodded.  “They tried twice before Jesus was born—the obvious target if you intend to change all of history, and for the worse.  Bodanagus destroyed one factory and wouldn’t let Caesar have any guns.  You destroyed the factory and got the gun maker in Candace’s day.  They have tried twice since.  They gave Trajan guns, and that almost ruined everything.  Fortunately, in Ali’s day, the last of the guns got used to help fight off an invasion of Wolv, as you know.  Now, this time, they are trying a new tactic.  Instead of making weapons for the purposes of murder and assassination, or giving them to one power, like the Romans or Sassanids, who have taken over the old Parthian empire, they seem to be giving them randomly to merchants and traders on both sides.  It is like they are deliberately spreading them out to cause as much chaos as possible.  It is a headache.”

“We have been up and down the Tigris and the Euphrates,” young Arman said, with some excitement in his voice.  “We’ve been as far away as Antioch.”

“We barely stopped a shipment from going to Rome,” Sarkis, the Armenian said, and Marona, the old Assyrian soldier, nodded his agreement and lifted his eyebrows; like that was a story worth telling.

“The point…” Xalazar took the conversation back.  “We have narrowed it down to three merchants, three Magi still living, that I happen to know, personally.   They are meeting up in Hatra.  The thing is, the leader of the group is a young magus named Ramin Lajani, and I am ninety percent sure he is working for the Masters.  In which case, he has a life in the future, and if I can’t stop him, he may start to make more guns.”

The travelers all reacted, but Lockhart held up his hand and responded for them all.  “We saw Lajani in Hatra, last night, at the inn.  Katie and I were both bothered just to look at the man.  Now, what you say makes sense.”

Xalazar nodded.  “Good to have that confirmed by human eyes.  We will head that way.”

“We sent the caravan on ahead when we tried to ambush the group that was following us,” Sarkis said.

“That did not go too well,” Marona, the old soldier, admitted.

“Lucky you folks came along,” Sarkis agreed.

“The point is…” Xalazar tried again, and gave his companions hard looks to be sure they had finished interrupting.  “The point is, we sent the caravan ahead.  We will disguise ourselves and sneak into the town.  Hopefully, we will be able to find the guns, the merchants, and Lajani secretly, before they realize we are on to them.  You folks would probably put the magi on high alert.  They might all slip out of town and go who knows where, and we would be back to square one.”

The travelers understood well enough.  Even doing all they could to disguise themselves, like using Roman-style saddles and shaping their fairy weave clothes to imitate the local dress, they were a strange crew wherever they went.  Boston could cover her red hair with a glamour, but Katie’s blonde locks stood out in most places.  Decker and Nanette’s dark skin often stood out as well.  Decker and Lockhart were intimidatingly big.  Their horses were also bigger than normal and would be until the Middle Ages when people started breeding horses for size and strength—to carry those medieval knights.  Most of all, with six or seven on horseback, and one little wagon, they did not appear much like a merchant caravan, no matter how much they claimed to be.

 “Our job is to get home in one piece,” Lockhart responded to Xalazar, and no one objected.

###

Five days later, in the morning, less than a day from the time gate, Boston squawked.  “It moved!  The whole gate moved, right off my screen.”

“What?”  Lincoln shouted.  He whipped out the database for a quick look to see where it might have moved to.

“Let me see,” Katie said, and pulled out her proto-type amulet as they heard from Elder Stow.

“The time gate has disappeared from my scanner.  Have we lost it?”  He rode in from the wing.

“Setting it to maximum range,” Boston said.  “Wait.  Zeroing in.  It is back where it was.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow said when he arrived.  “It has reappeared.”

“I wonder what could have happened,” Katie said.

“It blinked,” Boston said.

“Keep moving,” Lockhart decided.  “Before it blinks again.”

************************

MONDAY SPECIAL

Avalon 7.8 will again be a four part episode and be posted in a single week. Yes. Again there will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers go through the time gate and come out in the same place, except 20-25 years later. Perhaps at the end of episode 7.7 I should have said To Be Continued… Avalon7.8 Ambush begins on Monday. Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 3 of 4

Katie crouched behind a tree, and Lockhart leaned against his tree, a hand on his own shoulder.  “Not broken,” he said.  They surprised three gunmen in the trees.  Katie shot two of them before they could move, but the third one spun and used his primitive rifle like a club.  He gave Lockhart a glancing blow on his shoulder even as Lockhart pulled the trigger on his shotgun and blasted the man back about five feet.  That man would not be moving again, but meanwhile, Lockhart rubbed his shoulder.

“Later,” Katie said.  “I sense two more up ahead.”

Lockhart nodded, only squinted a little as he carefully shouldered his shotgun and pulled his police special 38.  He nodded to say he was ready, and the couple inched forward through the trees.  After a dozen yards, Katie shouted.

“Down,” and she shoved Lockhart behind a tree.  Two of those primitive rifles fired at more or less the same time.  Katie scraped her leg, either by a bullet or fallen branch from the tree.  The men had swords and charged, screaming murder.  Katie, from her seat, and Lockhart from behind the tree quickly put the men down.

“A one-shot, muzzle-load rifle isn’t much good after you take your shot and miss,” Katie said.

“Good thing they didn’t invent the bayonet,” Lockhart agreed and held out his good arm.  She took his hand, and he helped her to her feet.

###

Boston and Sukki imagined they had the easy job.  They were invisible, and all they had to do was make sure none of the gunmen tried to escape on horseback.  They went to where the enemy horses had been tied off, and sat, and talked.  Of course, four of the gunmen quickly realized the men in the rocks were protected from their bullets, and some unknown enemy had gotten behind them.  They ran to the horses.

Two of the gunmen got up on horses before Boston and Sukki could react.  Boston reached in her slip, went right over her wand, and pulled her Beretta.  She shot one of the men, and he peeled off the back of the horse and fell to the ground.  Sukki did not know what to do.  She had a big knife, the best she ever saw, but she did not have a gun.  She raised her hand.  She tried to lessen the power of her heat-ray, as Lockhart called it, but all she did was spread it out.  A great white light came from her whole hand.  The man and his horse fried, and two other horses, one on either side of the man, got burnt.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean it,” Sukki shouted to the horses, and she clenched her hand into a fist, once again afraid of the power within her.

One of the other gunmen pulled up his rifle and fired at the source point of the white light.  He figured it out, and Sukki, though invisible, shrieked and fell.  Boston whipped around but had to shoot the one man that got too close to her and the horses.  Someone else fired a handgun.  Three bullets took out the gunman that shot Sukki.

Boston looked.  “Lincoln, hurry.  Sukki’s been shot.”

Lincoln ran to Boston’s voice, but he could not see anyone.  “Where is she?” he asked, even as Boston became visible.

“Here,” Boston yelled before she spoke in her normal voice.  “Over here,”

Sukki sat up and grimaced.  She held her side where a few drops of blood pushed from the hole to redden her fingers and drip on the ground.  Sukki appeared out of nowhere and commented.  “Elder stow must be watching on his scanner,” she said.  “There must not be any more gunmen around.”

“Good thing Alexis sent me to check on you two,” Lincoln said, as he and Boston got Sukki to her feet.  “We need to get her to Alexis.  Sorry we don’t have Elder Stow’s device handy to pull the bullet out cleanly.”

“Here.  It fell out.”  Sukki handed the bullet to Boston.  “It did not penetrate very far, but, oh, it hurts.”

Boston grinned.  “Pressurized fish skin,” she said.  “Thank you, Mama Doris.”

“She can’t hear you,” Sukki said, as they began the walk to where Alexis could practice her healing arts.  “The gods have all gone over to the other side.”

“Still,” Boston grinned some more.  “They made you like Supergirl before they left.”

“Hush,” Lincoln said.  “You are still bleeding.  We have to get you to Alexis.”  He helped her walk for a minute before he added, “Besides, bullets bounce off Supergirl.”

A few minutes later, Alexis got Sukki up in the back of the wagon and laid her hands on Sukki’s wound.  They heard from the others.  Katie called.

“Boston.  Report.  Alexis, what is your condition?”

Boston shouted into her wristwatch communicator.  “Sukki got shot.”

“What?”  They heard Elder Stow.

“It is minor,” Lincoln interrupted.  “The bullet hardly penetrated her skin and fell out. There was a little bleeding, but Alexis has stopped that. What?”  After a slight pause, he continued.  “She would rather not move Sukki and the wagon across country.  She says you should come up here, and we can camp by the road tonight.”

“Boston.  What about the enemy horses?”   Katie spoke, but they heard others speaking in the background.

“We left them there,” Boston admitted.  “My sister got shot, and Nanette and I have been crying.”

“Stay where you are,” Katie said.  “We will pick the horses up on the way.  Out.”

Nanette looked miffed.  “You didn’t have to tell them I was crying.”

“Yes, she did,” Alexis said.  “She is an elf, and a blabbermouth.”

Boston ignored them both and stared at Sukki.  “But Sukki.  What are you crying for?  Does it hurt?”

“No,” Sukki said.  “I just never had sisters before.  I love having sisters.”

“Nanette’s the eldest,” Boston said, happily.  “We have to listen to her, sometimes.”

“I’m the youngest,” Sukki said.  “There is still so much I have to learn about being human.”

Nanette smiled and placed a hand on Boston’s shoulder.  “So, sister blabbermouth and I need to get a fire started and see what there is to cook for supper.”

Boston nodded and stepped off to gather some wood.  She said, “Blabber, blabber, blabber,” and added a couple of “Hoop, hoops,” just for old time’s sake.

###

“My companions, yes,” Xalazar took a stick and stirred the fire as the sun began to set.  All of the travelers looked at him, and his companions stayed silent, wondering what he might say.  “Sarkis, here, is Armenian.  A trader in fine cloth, and a fine negotiator.  He is also a Christian, and not a thief, despite what you may have heard about Armenians, in general.  He is definitely not a thief.”

Sarkis lowered his eyes and sighed.  Most of the others laughed, softly.

“Marona,” Xalazar put a hand on the old man’s shoulder.  “He is Assyrian, an old soldier who doesn’t like the Parthians.”

“Not too fond of the Romans either,” Marona said.

Xalazar nodded in agreement.  “I believe he is looking for one last hurrah—one last adventure before his age catches up with him.  I am just sorry hanging out with me might get boring.”

Marona laughed.  In fact, most of the people laughed and snickered, as if the life of the Kairos could ever be boring.

“Arman,” Xalazar pointed to the young man.  “He is Persian, or Sasanian as they are being called these days, and a Magi, a priest in training you might say.  He follows me around, waiting for words of wisdom to drop from my lips.  He may have to wait a long time for that to happen.”

This time, people simply smiled as Arman spoke.  “Your words are wiser and more real than anything I ever heard from my teachers.”

Xalazar raised an eyebrow.  “Arman is also a magician.  I am technically a Magi, but there is little magic in my bones.  Just so you know, Arman; Nanette, Alexis, and Boston also have magic in their blood.  Maybe they could teach you something useful.”

Arman reached his hands out, and the fire log lifted from the fire to float a good foot above the rest.  He smiled, like he was showing off.

“Put it down,” Marona said, gruffly.  “You are going to mess up our supper.”

“I can do that,” Nanette interrupted, and returned Arman’s smile before she concentrated.  A second log slowly rose from the fire, but it didn’t look too steady.  Boston shot a short stream of flame from her hand to the fire.  It startled the two magicians, and the logs fell back into the campfire.  Alexis and Katie quickly kept the logs contained, so they did not roll out from the circle of rocks.

“Cut it,” Boston said. “Alexis and Lincoln are working hard on supper, and I’m hungry.”

“Of course, Boston is not exactly human,” Xalazar said.

Sarkis and Arman paused to stare once more at Boston and her red hair.  Marona did not sound surprised.  “One of yours?” he said, casually to Xalazar, and both men nodded at the same time.

Something in the darkening wilderness howled.

“Not to worry,” Elder Stow spoke right up.  “I have the screens set around us, with enough room for the horses to graze, but not get lost.  It blocks the road, though.  We will have to watch in case some travelers come along in the night.”

“Standard watch,” Lockhart said.

“But that reminds me,” Lincoln said.  “Ever since the goddess took away the wraith’s ability to make giant predators, we haven’t heard from her.”

“The bridge at Nineveh,” Alexis countered.

“Yeah,” Boston blurted out in an excited voice.  “She tried to make the water babies flood the bridge while we were on it.”

“And I missed it?” Xalazar responded, in the same tone.

“I know,” Boston said, and turned to Xalazar’s companions.  “The water babies are so cute.”  People felt warm on the word, cute, but Xalazar had to answer.

“Basically,” he began, and paused to think a moment.  “Basically, the gods are gone.  The wraith was right about that.  But she has no real power to harm you, directly, at least that I can think of.  And since she cannot get into your heads anymore, all she can do is set the circumstances to try and frighten you to death.  I imagine that would be very hard to do.  You can defeat her with courage, plenty of magic, or maybe Elder Stow’s weapon.  Mostly, I would say, stick together.  Where is Tony?”

“Right here,” Tony said from the other side of the fire. “Last time I checked on Ghost by myself, she caught me and turned me into a giant, with no will of my own.”

“I’ll check on the mule and horses with you,” Decker volunteered.  “I’m getting hungry and would rather do something to distract my attention.”

“I’ll come,” Marona said, as the old soldier stood with them.

************************

Tomorrow

Don’t forget Avalon 7.7 is a four-part episode. Part 4 of 4 will post tomorrow, on Thursday. Enjoy

*

Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 2 of 4

The travelers crossed Mesopotamia to near the mid-point, spent one dull night in Hatra, and left Hatra on the morning of the fourth day since entering that time zone.  Apart from that one incident at the bridge in Nineveh, the journey had been quiet and peaceful, and maybe overall dull.  They had no trouble getting in and out of the city, strange looking caravan though they were.  Boston, Alexis, and with help, Nanette, all wore glamours that made them look like young, beardless men.  Decker and Nanette rode side by side and claimed to be Egyptian, which no one doubted.

Lockhart and Tony took turns driving the wagon through the towns, while the undisguised women, Katie and Sukki, rode in the wagon, like any women would in that day and place.  They agreed and disguised their movement through populated areas to reduce the number of questions they got from strangers and soldier on the way.  Of course, having an elect and a super powered cave woman guarding their things was not a bad idea in a place like Hatra, a city big enough to have thieves.  Besides their supplies, the wagon carried their spare horseshoes and nails, and mostly the western saddles they were not allowed to use for another thousand years.  These were things covered with a tarp and best not shown, much less closely examined by a thief, or for that matter, a soldier with a brain.

Lockhart drove the wagon into the city of Hatra.  They found a place to stay for the night, and for the first time, Lockhart got Elder Stow to put a disc alarm on their things.  If anyone disturbed them or even touched them in the night, the travelers would know.  Katie put her rifle in the wagon but kept her sidearm.  Lockhart added his shotgun to the pile, now that they did not have to worry about giant rats.

Supper was quiet.  Most watched the three men that sat in the corner.  Two looked middle-aged, like in their late thirties.  One looked considerably younger, like in his mid-twenties, but he seemed to be the one in charge.  Men came in and out of the inn several times during the meal.  They all appeared to report to the men at the table, and the young one gave them instructions and sent them back out.  

“Wonder what that is all about,” Lockhart said, quietly.

“Nosey?” Boston asked.

Lockhart shook his head.  The young man gave him uncomfortable feelings, like maybe his police instincts were acting up.

“I feel it too,” Katie admitted.  “Something is not right there.”  Katie’s elect instincts were highly refined but made to recognize dangers to home and family.  Home was presently mobile, but all of the travelers were like her family.  She shook her head, not quite understanding the message she was getting.  They looked at Boston.

Boston squinted.  “I feel something wrong with them, but I’m not sure you can trust my feelings right now.  I’m starting to find most human beings creepy.  I wish Roland was here.”

The men got up and left the inn.

Tony leaned over from the other table. Apparently, they noticed, too, though it would have been hard not to notice as the men kept staring back at the travelers.  “The young one is Ramin Lajani, if that name means anything to you.  Alexis asked the innkeeper.”

People shook their heads.  The name Ramin Lajani did not ring any bells, so thy let it go.  

The beds were full of bugs, and Katie pointed out that they would probably be full of bugs right up until the twentieth century.  Lockhart only nodded and tried not to snore.

In the morning, Tony had another turn with Ghost, and everything went well, until they got about three hours out of town.  They heard gunfire.

Decker, Boston and Sukki all raced to the others.  Elder Stow came more slowly, glancing at his scanner as he rode.  Everyone waited until he arrived and spoke.

“There are four people trapped against a rock.”  Elder Stow pulled up a holographic image of the area.  “There are four red dots here, people trapped against this rock, with rocks and trees for cover.  About a dozen men with primitive rifles have them surrounded.  You see the yellow dots.  Yellow is for danger.”

Lockhart understood, and his immediate concern became the people trapped beside the rock.  “Elder Stow, can you fly invisible to the red dot people and throw a screen around them to protect them from the bullets?”

“They may freak out when I appear out of nowhere,” Elder Stow said, and added, “Did I use the right expression?  Freak out?”

People nodded.  Boston grinned deeply and patted the Gott-Druk on the shoulder while Lockhart spoke.  “Stay invisible if you feel that is necessary.  We have our wristwatch communicators. Let us know what you find.”

“It may be the Kairos,” Boston said, flipping instantly in her attitude, the way fairies and young elves do.  She changed from pride in Elder Stow to deep concern in her voice.

“I could go with you,” Sukki caught Boston’s concern and volunteered for Elder Stow.

“Can you go invisible?” Katie asked.

“I don’t think so,” Sukki answered.  “But I still have the disc father gave me.”

Lockhart nodded and pointed at the holographic projection.  “Go invisible with Boston.  Their horses are here on the right, at the edge of the trees.  You two need to prevent the gunmen from escaping, and Boston, if they resist you, you do have permission this time to end their resistance.  The Kairos was clear about that. Any artifacts or people out of time need to be dealt with.  End of story, only, try not to set the woods on fire, you two.”

“The Kairos said anyone with a gun before guns are invented should be considered an enemy combatant,” Katie added her assurance.

“He said they should be eliminated,” Decker spoke more to the point.  “I’ll come in from the left.”  He looked at Nanette.  “Do you want to come?”

“Yes…no,” she decided.

“I’ll take Tony,” Decker said.

“Lincoln and Alexis?” Lockhart raised his voice.

“We have the wagon,” Lincoln responded.

Katie turned to Nanette.  “Better you stay and help Lincoln and Alexis guard the wagon and our horses.”  Nanette nodded her agreement.

“Why take me?” Tony asked, and pulled his revolver to stare at it with uncertainty on his face.  Decker put a hand on Tony’s shoulder and turned him to start walking.

“I looked at the timeline Lincoln calculated. You better start learning now.  You are going to need it when you get home.”  Decker did not say, because Tony would land somewhere at the start of a world war.  He definitely did not say World War I.

“Best go,” Elder Stow said.  He put his scanner away and went invisible, which made Sukki invisible as well.  Boston, who could still see the invisible Sukki walked with her before she also went invisible, as elves do.

Lockhart and Katie took a minute to help Nanette and Alexis secure the horses to the wagon, while Decker turned his fairy-weave clothing to camouflage fatigues and got Tony to do the same.  As those two walked off, Decker looked like he wished he had something to chew on.  Tony still looked uncertain.

“You know, a couple of months ago I was happily sculpting things in clay and playing with my potter’s wheel,” Tony said, a bit loud, and sounding nervous.

“Shut-up,” Decker responded, even as Katie and Lockhart started down the middle, rifle and shotgun at the ready.

Elder Stow arrived first at the four men in the rocks.  “Xalazar,” he shouted to the men who were busy keeping their heads down.  They all had bows and arrows, and a variety of knives, spears, and swords ready when needed, but then, they all looked the same.  The Kairos was not wearing his easy to identify armor.

“Over here,” one of the older men said, and Elder Stow set down next to the man while he fiddled with his screen device.

“Should I become visible?” Elder Stow asked.

“Please,” the man said.  “Good, or bad timing as usual, depending on how you look at it.”

Elder Stow turned on the screen device with an apology.  “It was done in haste.”  They heard several trees snap in half, and a few rocks got sliced with a razor clean cut.  They watched one tree hit the screen bubble and slide slowly to the ground.  “I did not trap any of the gunmen inside the screens,” he added, as he adjusted his invisibility device.  He became visible, but he wanted Sukki to stay invisible until she finished her task.

“Decker screens?” Xalazar asked.

Elder Stow shook his head.  “That will take a bit more work in this case.  Personal screens are not made to cover a whole area, much less to deploy one-sided, so we can shoot out and they cannot shoot in.  Arrows won’t make it out through the screen in any case.  It has to do with force, speed and mass…” he paused in the explanation.  “Well, Boston and Sukki would understand the math.”

As the four men and Elder Stow stood, a half-dozen guns fired from the trees.  Of course, the bullets bounced off the screen, even as Elder Stow and Xalazar heard a different gun fire in the distance.

###

Decker found a boulder outside the line of trees.  He climbed up and saw three gunmen sneaking around behind the trees, clearly trying to get to where they could come up on the flank, or maybe get behind the men in the rocks.  

“Keep your head down,” Decker said, as he snapped his scope on to the rifle.  He shot the man in the middle in the shoulder, which caused all three men to turn and face the sound.  Decker fired three shots in rapid succession, hitting all three men in the chest.  They went down.  Whether they were dead or would soon be dead did not matter.  They would not be sneaking up on anyone.

Tony fired his pistol, twice.  A fourth gunman tried to sneak up on them.  He had shouldered his primitive rifle and held a long knife in his hand.  Tony fired twice, thinking he may have missed with his first shot.  He got startled by the man, but the man did not get close enough to use that knife.

“Don’t dwell,” Decker said, as Tony stared at the man and at his pistol.  He got Tony moving as they heard more rifle fire in the distance, and Lockhart’s big blast of a shotgun.

Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 1 of 4

After 187 A.D. Syria

Kairos 92: Xalazar, the Magi

Recording …

“Gaugamela,” Katie said, a big grin stretched across her face.  “This is the wide-open field where Alexander the Great defeated Darius for the final time and conquered the Persian Empire.”  She looked down at the shepherd who named the place.

Lockhart looked around.  He saw plenty of grass, but plenty of trees and bushes as well, scattered all across the area.  It did not look much like a wide-open field to him.

“That is the legend,” the shepherd said.  “The great Alexander set us free of our Persian masters.  The Arsacid rulers who followed have been tolerable, but rumor says the Persians are once again coming out of their place, and many fear they may return to power.”

Katie nodded and turned to Lockhart.  “The Parthians have been fighting a civil war.  Two brothers claim the throne.  One of them also had to fight off the Romans.  By the time they settle things, they don’t have much of an army left.  The King of Pars takes advantage of that.  The Sassanids take over.”

Lockhart nodded, but only partly listened.  His eyes stayed on Tony where Nanette and Sukki rode beside him and kept telling him it was not his fault.  Lincoln drove the wagon through the time gate this time and on to the relatively flat and relatively open field.  Alexis stayed with him.

“Boss,” Boston yelled as she rode up from scouting out ahead.  She pointed off to the southwest.  “There is a village that way, and Elder Stow says maybe a road that goes in the right direction.”  Decker and Elder Stow remained out of sight, exploring the wings against unexpected surprises.  

“The road to Palmyra,” the shepherd nodded.  He paused to yell at two young men who were paying too much attention to the strangers on their big horses, and one wild redhead in particular who could ride like the wind.  The two did not pay any attention to the sheep.  “Boys,” the shepherd shouted and waved his staff at a small group of sheep about to wander in among some trees.

“Palmyra?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes.  In the village,” The shepherd got back on topic, apparently, the sort of person who liked showing off what he knew.  “The road from Media and from further east that comes around the Zagros passes through Gaugamela and meets the way up the Tigris and the road from Arbela in Nineveh.  From there, it crosses Mesopotamia at Hatra and arrives on the Euphrates at Dura-Europa.  Beyond that, you reach the Syrian desert and Palmyra, the one safe oasis between Mesopotamia and the coast of the great sea.”

“The Mediterranean,” Katie said, softly, and Lockhart nodded.

“Many merchants go through Palmyra.  From there, many travel down the Levant, some all the way to Egypt.  Many more cross to the Orontes River where they come to the great port city of Antioch.  From there, I hear some merchants sail all the way to Rome itself.”

“You seem well informed for a shepherd,” Katie said, with only a small touch of suspicion in her voice.

The shepherd nodded and grinned, few teeth as he had.  “My grandfather was a merchant.  I went three times to Palmyra on that very road in my youth, and once all the way to Antioch.”

“How did you end up tending sheep?” Lockhart got curious.

The shepherd shrugged.  “My wife’s family are all shepherds.”  Lockhart nodded.  Katie shrugged, slightly.  “It has been worth it,” the shepherd continued.  “I have sons.”  He turned and yelled again at the two young men in the distance.  “Though, sometimes I wonder,” he mumbled, and walked off, yelling extra loud.

Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon up.  Poor Ghost had to work extra hard to pull the prairie wagon across the open field and seemed to appreciate the chance to stop.

“Makes me wonder how the early settlers ever made it to Oregon,” Lincoln said.  “Not to mention, over the Rockies.”  Alexis said nothing.  She just smiled and took Lincoln’s arm.

“There is a road in the village,” Boston pointed.  “The village is Gag-me-Ella, and the road goes to Ninny-vah, Hat-trick and Do-a-your-rope-a on the way to Pal-of-mine.”  Boston gave it her best elf grin.  Lincoln put the brake on the wagon so he could get out the database and find out what the place names really were.

Decker and Elder Stow took that time to ride up and declare everything seemed peaceful.  “Bucolic,” Elder Stow called it, as he watched Nanette, Tony, and Sukki ride up from the rear.

“Any sign of the wraith?” Decker asked, and everyone frowned.  They were all trying not to think about that.

###

Once the travelers made it to the road, they passed themselves off as a group of traders, though granted, they made a strange looking caravan.  In this way, they made it to Nineveh and easily entered the town, if they could call it a town.  It did not even have a wall.

Boston reported that the Kairos appeared to be moving toward them, more or less.  She imagined they might run into him after three or four days rather than the end of the week they had come to expect.

Nineveh looked like a big, old village and not at all like the city they expected—like merely a place for caravans to rest before crossing the river.  Even some of the newer structures appeared to be crumbling and dilapidated.  A large chunk of the old city, maybe the ruins of the actual city, rested upriver, outside the present town, and had been abandoned, possibly centuries earlier.  Still, the town had some bustle of activity.  Caravans from the Caucuses, the Caspian Sea, and the northern trail of the silk road found Nineveh a convenient place to cross the Tigris.  Nineveh had a sturdy bridge.

“This place has seen better days,” Lockhart said, as they passed by what he imagined was the first Christian church they had seen.

“The Assyrian Empire was a long time ago,” Katie responded.  “The city got destroyed maybe six hundred BC.  That would be eight hundred years ago.  They have seen Babylonian, Median and Persian, Alexander and Seleucid, and Parthian rulers since then, and nobody bothered to rebuild the place.  I would bet Ashur, downriver, gets most of the traffic.  The only reason there is a big village here is because it is an easy way across the river.”

Lockhart thought about it.  “I imagine some caravans cross here to avoid paying the taxes the main crossing probably costs.”

“Probably so,” Katie said.  “But we may have to pay something to cross in the morning.”

“Probably so,” Lockhart agreed.

Greta had shared some Roman coins with them.  Before her, Ali loaded them up with Parthian coins.  Lincoln still held on to some Chinese coins he picked up in Bactra.  They came well prepared to pay.  Unfortunately, the chief guard on the bridge would not settle for less than one of the traveler’s big horses.

Decker’s answer was to pull up to the guard and point.  “What is that?”  Lockhart, Katie, Boston, the guard, and the two blocking the bridge with their spears all looked while Decker snapped his scope onto his rifle.  Some big birds rested in a tree beside the river.

“It is called an Ibis,” the guard said.  “I hear they got them in Egypt, too.”  He assumed Decker was Egyptian.

“They edible?” Decker asked.  He raised his rifle, and with three shots, sent three of the birds to the ground at the edge of the river.  The rest of the flock flew off.  He lowered his rifle and stared at the chief guard.

“Decker!” several people yelled, but Nanette sounded the loudest.

The chief guard swallowed.  He looked like a man who wanted to run away but got determined and became stubborn instead.

Decker did not get a chance to threaten the guard more directly as a water sprite leapt out of the river beside Boston.  Boston shouted.  “Water baby.”   She barely kept her arms from reaching out for a big hug.  The baby looked like a gray-green one-foot-tall gingerbread man.

The two guards on the bridge abandoned their post to run.

“Princess,” the water sprite said in his baby-like voice.  “The wraith is pressuring us to flood the bridge when you cross.  We won’t do it.  We won’t.  But you better hurry.”

“Lockhart,” Lincoln called from near the back of the line.  He had a small bag he got from the village in anticipation of this eventuality.  It held a mix of Roman and Parthian coins that he carefully counted out.  He tossed the bag to Lockhart, who caught it and handed it down to the chief guard.

“Buy your own horse,” Lockhart said, and he hurried everyone up and over the bridge before the river waters began to boil.

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 6 of 6

Once in Potaissa, the sergeant of the little group of soldiers said he knew a place they could go and be safe.  “The old legion fort.  Five, Macedonian.  They built this place back when Trajan took the province.  I heard after the trouble on the border those few years ago, the emperor is thinking about bringing them back.  Meanwhile, we got stout walls, a place to stay, stables, and at no cost.”

The travelers did not argue.  Lockhart spoke when they came to a halt by the stables. “Decker and Elder Stow, stay here and get the horses settled.”  Decker pointed to the wagon and draft horse already in the barn.  Lockhart nodded.  “Katie, Lincoln, Alexis, and I will see who might be around.”

“Sukki, come with us,” Alexis said.  “Boston, you might help Berry and Lavinia with the boys.”

“Hans and I got the wagons,” Tony said, and he started to take Ghost out of the harness.

“I can help,” Nanette added, and glanced at Decker.

Lockhart nodded and pulled his shotgun as Katie got her rifle.  Katie whispered, “No telling what we will find.”

“Wait,” the sergeant said.  He assigned three of the soldiers to go with the explorers, and Lockhart did not say no.

The group of explorers walked toward the main building, quickly turned a corner and got out of sight.  The others began to strip the horses when Boston spoke up.

“I hear something scurrying around the ceiling.”

“I hear it too,” Lavinia said.  “And slithering”

“No, no!” Tony yelled.  “I won’t, I won’t.”  Tony screamed and began to grow.  He tried to look at the others, but his eyes did not appear to focus.  He ran, away from the group in the direction the others went.

“Rats,” Boston yelled.  They looked the size of Saint Bernard’s.

“And snakes,” Lavinia added.  They appeared twenty feet long, and hungry.

Decker put holes in two serpents that got close.

Nanette threw her hands out and a half-dozen giant rats flew fifty yards back across the courtyard.

Boston laid down a line of flames across the cobblestones, which appeared to cause the rats and snakes to hesitate.

Elder Stow threw the switch on his screen device which he left primed, and the stables became encased in a particle screen the rats and snakes could not penetrate.  Decker continued to blast the ones that tried.  After a minute, Elder stow added fire from his weapon, and Boston fired her Beretta.

The soldiers, Berry, Hans, and Lavinia grabbed Javelins and bows with arrows, but Nanette stopped them.  She was not sure and explained that their hand thrown spears and bowshot might not be strong enough to get through the screen.  They might bounce back in their faces. She was not sure, but the people relaxed when they saw the rats and snakes stopped at the invisible barrier and could not get at them.

###

The others found an extended family group huddled around a small fire in the central square of the fort, beneath the overhang in front of the officer’s quarters.  The people did not panic on being confronted, but the man got up right away and began to make excuses to the soldiers for their presence in the fort.  

Alexis said the family would be welcome to join them for supper.

“If you don’t mind my cooking,” Sukki said, with a smile for the women and the children.

Katie yelled.  “Danger!”  She grabbed Lockhart and Sukki. They rushed inside and came right back with whatever furniture they could find to throw down to make a makeshift mini fort around the fire.  Lincoln shot a giant rat, which made the women in the family group scream, and the men cower in fear.  Alexis caused the wind to pick up a slithering snake and whip it against two more rats and another serpent.

The soldiers corralled the family in the doorway of the house, thinking they might have to fall back into the building, but at the same time they kept one eye on what they could see inside, in case some giant rats and snakes already got inside.

Katie and Lockhart added their fire to Lincoln’s, and Lockhart felt glad he brought his shotgun, though he could not say why he thought he needed it.  Alexis continued to raise the wind, which kept most of the creatures at bay until they could be put down.  Sukki pulled her big knife, thinking she would act if any got too close.  Then she remembered her gifts.

Sukki rose up a few feet so she could see better around the central square.  She seriously concentrated on her finger.  She wanted to stop the rats and snakes—especially the snakes.  She hated snakes and had a phobia about them.  But she did not want to cook the creatures.  She imagined the smell.  She pointed at a snake and put a hole in the snake head.  She smiled at herself before she gagged.  The snake body kept whipping around, like the snake died, but the body kept involuntarily moving.

Sukki shut her eyes for a moment and swallowed the bile.  When she opened them again, determined to act, a twenty-foot-tall Tony came rushing around the corner, screaming, “No, no, no.”

Sukki flew out to meet him, yelling “No, Tony.”

Tony raised his foot and pushed Sukki to the ground, like he intended to squish her.  But Sukki had pressure resistant skin, and inhuman strength.  She shoved on his sandaled foot, and the giant Tony tipped over and fell on his back, several yards away.

A viper lunged at her, but Katie’s bullets spoiled the viper’s aim.  Lockhart’s shotgun turned the viper head to mush as Sukki got up and, with Katie and Lockhart, rushed back to the mini fort.

“That is one step too far.”  Everyone heard the words in their bellies.  Two soldiers and several family members shook their heads and stared.  The rats and serpents stopped where they were, returned to normal size, and while the rats scurried away to their holes, the vipers vanished altogether. Tony shrank to his normal size and moaned, not like anything broke, but like a man bruised everywhere.

A beautiful goddess appeared in the central square, her back to the travelers.  The wraith appeared facing the woman, and the wraith looked like she had no choice.  She seemed unable to move.

“You are no longer permitted to have the food of the gods, or any such thing,” the woman shouted, a fire in her voice.  She waved a hand before she placed her hands on her hips.  

The travelers could only later say that the wraith appeared to shrink or become less in some way.  They could also only imagine the expression on the face of the goddess, but they felt glad it did not point at them.

The wraith wailed, a bone chilling sound.  “It is not fair.  I waited and moved into the days to come, almost four thousand years, until the day that the gods went away.  You should not be here.  You should be gone.”  She wailed again.

“Enough,” the goddess in the square said, waved her hand again as the wraith vanished.

“Rhiannon,” another goddess appeared in the square, but she sounded more annoyed than angry.  “Where have you been?”

“Mother?”  The goddess Rhiannon turned to face the newcomer.  She also turned in her attitude from avenging goddess to humble daughter who feared she might be scolded for doing something wrong.

“I have been calling you.”

“I heard,” Rhiannon said, humbly.  “But I thought it best to keep an eye on your friends.”

“And what have you done?”

“I nudged them a little, to get them to pay better attention.  …No, I have taken away the wraith’s ability to have even a little sway over them.  And I took away her gift of the gods to make the animals unnaturally big.”

“But you did not stop her.”

Rhiannon looked at the ground.  “I sent her to the next time gate.  I wasn’t authorized to send her over to the other side.”

The mother goddess stepped up and kissed her daughter on the cheek.  “Next time,” she said, and turned to the travelers.  She went away, and Greta came to stand in her place, so the travelers knew it was the Kairos.

“Yes, Lincoln,” she said before he could ask.  “Boston,” she opened her arms, and Boston, who had been coming up the road with Nanette and Decker, raced into the hug.

When the evening came and people settle down, Darius, Mavis and their escort arrived.  The extended family got to complain to the former governor of the province about how a Roman threw them out of their house and stole their land.  Darius said he would look into it.

Boston sat with Mavis and Lavinia and saw how they appeared perfectly comfortable around humans. She decided her discomfort had been Rhiannon’s fault, warning her, and Boston had been too preoccupied with herself to understand the message.

Alexis, Sukki, and Nanette had their first disagreement about how to cook the roast, and Berry got right in there with them.  She just said, “As long as Mother Greta doesn’t start making suggestions.  She can’t cook.”

“Or Boston,” Alexis nodded.  “Or Katie.”

“Decker is getting better at it,” Nanette said, and only turned a little red.

“Lincoln and Lockhart don’t do too bad a job,” Sukki agreed.

“The men take a turn cooking?” Berry sounded surprised.

“Yes,” Alexis said.  “But not often.  I like to eat something worth eating.”

“And with some flavor,” Sukki agreed.

After supper, everyone pulled up what they had to sleep, and curled up around the fire.  Greta whispered, “Watch out for the rats in the night.”

“Ha, ha,” Boston heard, and said it out loud, without laughing.

************************

MONDAY SPECIAL

Episode 7.7, a four part episode, will be posted in a single week. Yes. There will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers return to Syria and find Guns Between the Rivers. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 5 of 6

Even with the giant snake in the grass, for some reason the travelers and soldiers kept their Sunday afternoon picnic attitude.  Alexis figured it out when she felt a nudge, and she convinced Lincoln as they rode toward Napoca.

“It is the wraith,” she said.  “It gives people a false sense of security, almost lulling them to sleep.  Then, when she moves in for the kill, the terror is that much more absolute.”

“Absolute terror.”  Lincoln shook his head, not to disagree, but to clear his head of the wraith’s influence.

“That is how she feeds,” Alexis explained, dredging up the information from her childhood nightmares.  “She feeds on fear, fright, and feelings of hopelessness and despair, and she sucks on the soul until the body is utterly drained and collapses, an empty, shriveled husk.”

“Something to look forward to,” Lincoln responded.

Alexis and Lincoln spent the morning trying to convince the others that they were in grave danger, but they only got blank stares in return.  People shared stories and laughs around the lunch campfire when Lincoln and Alexis looked up.  They heard howls in the distance.

“Wolv?” Lincoln wondered.

Alexis shook her head.  “Just ordinary wolves.”

“Giant ordinary wolves,” Lincoln corrected her, and he got the people packing up to travel.

The wolves followed them through the afternoon.  Some of the howls sounded loud enough and close enough to get at least the temporary attention of the soldiers and travelers.  They got to about a half-hour from Napoca when the wolves circled in for the kill.  That woke people up.  Boston and Sukki raced back from the point.  Decker rode hard to reach the group from where he wandered off to the side.  Even the soldiers following hustled to catch up.

Elder Stow watched carefully, and when everyone came inside the circle, he turned on his screen device.  He stared at the device and wondered why he had not reset it and turned it off in the morning.  Running all day in ready mode used up ten percent of his charge.  It did not matter much, now that he had the charging unit supplied by the god Hephaestus, but still…  He could be a bit obsessive-compulsive about his equipment and leaving it in ready mode all day did not feel right.

Elder Stow got out his weapon.  Five giant wolves came roaring in from all four compass points.  They ran into the screen, and the travelers got out their guns like it was routine.  They put down three of the giant beasts before the other two ran off.

“Rather anticlimactic,” Lincoln said, as he spied a very frustrated looking wraith in the late afternoon sun.  He fired at her, but she shrieked and vanished.

“Good thing Elder Stow had his screen device set to deploy,” Boston said, and Nanette and Sukki agreed with her.

“But that is just it,” Elder Stow said.  “My Mother and Father, I should have turned it off and put it away this morning, but I never thought of it.  It was only by chance accident that I was able to place a screen around us with such speed.”

“Thank you, all the same,” Lockhart said. 

“But you don’t understand,” Elder Stow tried again.  “I left it running all day, but I would never do that.  I believe something has gotten into our thoughts.”

“The wraith,” Alexis said.

“Maybe someone is watching over us,” Katie suggested.

“That may be also,” Elder Stow said.

“Like a competing power that will not show themselves,” Alexis wondered.

“Maybe the Kairos,” Boston imagined.

“No,” Hans and Berry came up while Lavinia had the boys. “My sister has no such natural power.”

“Maybe one of her god or goddess lifetimes,” Berry wondered.

Hans shook his head.  “She would show herself.  She would not stay hidden.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Okay.  We have the wraith trying to get at us with giant predators, and someone might be helping us that doesn’t want to be known.  We need to get to Napoca as quick as we can.”

“Before the wolves come back with more friends,” Decker agreed.

“An inn in town might, make a good defensive place, depending on what the wraith throws at us,” Katie said, quietly.

“The inn and stables,” Lockhart nodded.  “If Elder Stow wouldn’t mind, maybe we could get a screen around both tonight.”

Elder Stow glanced at the sun.  “That might work.  I should have enough time to charge the equipment before sunset.  We will have to see how big an area my little hand-held toy will have to cover.”

That night, the inn got attacked by bats the size of cars.  Thanks to Elder Stow, the people, and the horses in the stables, slept safe.  Elder Stow’s screens apparently stymied, and no doubt frustrated the wraith.

In the morning, around the breakfast table, they warned each other that when Elder Stow turned off his screens, they would be once again subject to the mental manipulations of the wraith.  They promised each other to stay vigilant, and not fall back into the same careless attitude of the day before.  Alexis suggested a more realistic approach.

“Potaissa, where we planned to meet the Kairos, is a short day from here.  Why don’t we pledge to get there as quickly as possible?”

###

When Greta, Darius, Mavis, and their troop of soldiers finally got out of Apulum, Greta pushed them to ride as hard as they could.  They got about half-way to the salt mines at Salinae, which meant they would have a full day yet to travel.  Greta made them camp in the wilderness and decided it was just as well they did not make it to the fort at Salinae.  The soldiers there would have only slowed them down.

Greta said they would leave at first light and not stop until they got to Potaissa.  She ate little.  She tried to sleep.  She remembered how glad she was that Marcus Italicus dallied in Romula-Malva, nowhere near their area.  She wondered where Rhiannon had gone.  She felt reluctant to ask Danna to trade places with her and call her child.  She was not sure Danna would do that based only on some uncomfortable feelings Greta had.

Greta pecked at Darius’ lips and turned on her side to face the fire.  Darius turned to spoon with her.  Good.  She needed to be held.

###

The travelers stopped for lunch two hours shy of Potaissa.  Despite warning each other over and over, they got sloppy again.  Elder Stow noticed.  No one watched the perimeter.  Elder Stow at least kept his eye on the scanner.  Decker also noticed, and tried to keep his eyes and ears open, but Nanette kept saying they were almost there.  “In the home stretch, “Lincoln kept repeating, as if arrival in Potaissa would magically fix everything.

Boston sat with Katie and Lockhart and watched Sukki and Alexis cook.  She glanced at Nanette, but the girl appeared focused on Decker and Boston did not feel like interrupting.  She glanced at Lincoln and Elder Stow, but Lincoln looked absorbed in reading in the database, and Elder Stow fiddled with his equipment.  He did that lots lately.  Boston wondered if he started feeling uncomfortable now that Sukki chose to become human.  He said he felt happy for her, but everyone knows, what a person says and actually feels might be two different things.

Tony screamed.

Everyone looked up.

Boston ran faster than the rest.

“No, it’s all right.  It’s all right,” Tony repeated.  “I came to check on Ghost, and it was just a squirrel, or bird, or something—normal size.  It just startled me.”

“Too much stress,” Boston said, and looked at the others to see if anyone disagreed.

“I have been worried and anxious of late,” Tony said, softly, and he lowered and shook his head.

People went back to lunch looking a bit more sober, but Elder Stow and Decker noticed they did not hurry lunch, or hurry to get into town after lunch.  Boston resumed her seat and wondered if her uneasiness might be because she finally started feeling like a true elf and got stuck, now, around so many clunky, mortal, humans.

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 4 of 6

The travelers left as early in the morning as they could, which meant when Berry and her two boys were ready.  Hans proved a patient young man, expecting first thing in the morning to be a relative phrase, even with Lavinia, Boston, Sukki, Nanette, and Alexis all helping.  Nanette and Sukki eventually went out to help with the horses.  Too many moms just added to the confusion and provided too many distractions.

Hans hitched up his family wagon, and checked the harness on his ox three times, just to be sure.  He talked casually with Lincoln and Lockhart about life in Dacia.  He talked with Katie and Tony about the Roman Empire, while Tony imitated Hans by checking the hitch on Ghost three times.  Decker and Elder Stow did their best to sit on the front porch and watch the people in the street.  They made little commentary.  Decker mostly chewed on some local version of jerky.  Elder Stow mostly fiddled with his equipment.

Bragi came back from checking on the bird when the group finally got ready to pull out.  He stood with Karina and the girls on the front porch and waved.  Boston especially returned the wave and shouted good-bye but moved to the front before Lockhart or Katie yelled at her.

Once out of town, Boston and Sukki took their regular position out front, and pushed ahead now and then, even if they only planned to follow the road.  Decker and Elder Stow did not wander far out on the wings, being in what they considered friendly territory.  Two soldiers rode at the very front where Lincoln, Alexis, Tony, and Nanette grouped up at the head of the line.  They talked and laughed most of the way, though the soldiers probably did not understand most of what they talked about.

Hans and his family wagon came next, trailing two horses he and Lavinia could ride, if needed, while Berry moved the boys and the wagon off the road.  Berry, Lavinia, and the boys presently rode in the wagon with plenty of blankets and cushions against the rock bumps and potholes in the dirt road.  Hans had the Latin equivalent of Haw and Gee down pretty well, but he did not have to say much.  The ox seemed content to follow the contours of the road.  Hans did not have to use the goad stick very often either, as long as the ox kept moving and kept up.

Katie and Lockhart took a turn driving the traveler’s wagon. Ghost the mule did not mind the slow pace, being able to go only as fast as the ox in front; and the ox only went as fast as Hans walking.  The fairies Willow and Reed traveled with the couple, and those four were the only ones who talked about giant trouble and which lesser spirit might be responsible.  It felt like something kept their minds focused and on track.

Lockhart finally decided it had to be the wraith.

“But no god would endow such a wicked creature with such power,” Willow protested.

Lockhart shook his head.  “Ashtoreth, Moloch, Asherah, Baal, or any number of others might have done it before going over to the other side, as you say, in reference to the death of the gods.”

“Not all of the gods cared for us,” Katie slowly came to agree with the idea.  “In this jurisdiction, maybe Eris or Hecate.”

“Maybe Loki?” Reed suggested, but Katie shook her head and Lockhart spoke.

“No.  Loki did not seem to me to be stupid enough to empower a wraith.  He did not strike me as the vindictive type.”

“Baldur,” Katie whispered, but Willow spoke over top.

“He could be vindictive, but he always liked to stick around and see how his wicked schemes worked out.”

“True,” the others agreed, and Lockhart took a moment to look back.

They were being followed by six more soldiers, an honor guard for the brother of Mother Greta, wife of the former governor of the province.  They did not expect trouble from the locals, though the people did not seem happy with the current Roman governor, Marcus Italicus.  But sometimes, outsider Dacians or Scythians of one sort or another snuck over the border in small raiding parties to see what they might steal, and the way the travelers headed would skirt the gold and silver fields in the province, the place where the raiders mostly turned up.

Lunch, with plenty of fruits and vegetables to make Alexis, Sukki, and Elder Stow happy, seemed more like a three-hour picnic beside the road than the typically efficient, mostly game-shot lunch of the travelers.  For some reason, neither the travelers nor the soldiers seemed worried about giant beasts in the wilderness, which would have been very odd if any of them had the presence of mind to think about it.

After lunch, Lincoln and Alexis took a turn with the wagon, and Reed stayed with them to talk.  Willow rode in Katie’s horse’s mane.  She said, the idea of an elf turned human to marry a human made her uncomfortable.  Lockhart laughed.

###

Greta pushed her group.  They got past Aquae that first evening, and Greta found a bath to luxuriate in.  On the first day the travelers moved, Greta wanted to reach Apulum, home of the legion fort.  It would be another two days after that, over and around the hills, to reach Potassia.   She hoped without dragging a wagon, they might make it to Potassia in a day and a half.  She wanted to get there before or at least at the same time as the travelers.

They made it to Apulum that day, but after dark.  They tried to sneak into an inn, unnoticed.  Greta forgot.  It turned out to be the inn where she saved the life of a girl raped by Roman soldiers.  The girl had since grown and married.  The soldiers lost their heads.  But Greta forgot, and now there would be no hiding.  The whole town would probably turn out in the morning.

As for Darius, he hardly got in the door when he got noticed by several legionnaires.  He stayed up most of the night drinking and talking with most of the legion commanders who either privately complained about the new procurator, Marcus Italicus, or reminisced about how much better things were when Darius took temporary command of the legion and the governorship in the province.

Greta had to hold audience in the morning, as she suspected.  They only escaped for the road in the end after she said she rode on an errand of mercy and had to get going.  They escaped around noon, a whole half a day late, and Darius, who napped in the morning, was in no condition to ride hard and make up the lost time.

Greta spent most of that afternoon calling to the goddess Rhiannon in her heart, and sometimes with her mouth, but for some reason, Rhiannon did not answer her.

###

The travelers stopped for the night about half-way to Napoca and settled into a continuation of their picnic lunch.  They had good conversations and plenty of laughter.  Only Lockhart appeared to remain worried about the wraith and what giant predators might be lurking about in the wilderness.  Something nagged at him, and he could not help the way he felt.  The rest of the travelers seemed content to let the soldiers take the night watch, but Lockhart insisted on the regular watch for everyone.  No one honestly complained.  It had become their routine.  But only Elder Stow caught some sense of Lockhart’s concern.  He promised to set his screen device for quick deployment if that should prove necessary.

The following morning, the same morning that Greta left Aquae for the legion fort at Apulum, Boston and Sukki, sat on a log to watch the sunrise.  They talked knowingly about the way Decker and Nanette appeared to be hitting it off.

“You know,” Boston said.  “Since Nanette is our sister now, it is our duty to tease her, only not too much because she is a sensitive girl.”

Sukki felt a slight nudge in her spirit.  “Wait,” she said, and her eyes felt drawn to the grass.  “Wait,” she repeated, stood up, and kept rising until she floated twenty feet in the air.  Boston gasped.  Sukki pushed the power she had been given out of her hands.  She felt it and did it deliberately this time.  The result was a big smoldering spot in the tall grass, and Sukki floated back to the ground without actually realizing she flew.

Lavinia, who had gotten up to get breakfast started, and both soldiers came running over.  They found thirty feet of serpent in the grass, now missing its head.  It looked big enough to easily swallow a couple of people.

“A viper of some kind,” Lavinia decided.  “Very poisonous.”

“But they don’t get this big,” one soldier protested.

“I once saw a Black Sea Snake that size,” the other soldier whispered.

“Way to go Sukki,” Boston praised her sister, even as Sukki realized she flew and got excited.