Avalon 7.10 Guarding the Future, part 3 of 6

The day started out hot as ever, but they soon came to a green place in the wilderness.  No one would ever call the area lush with greenery, but there were trees, and in the distance, it looked like a field of grain.  Elder Stow rode in when they stopped.  He checked his scanner and said there was a town in that direction.  Lincoln looked it up and called it Taif.

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said.  “The path we are on looks like it avoids the town.”  He waited to hear from the others.

Katie shook her head.  “Remember Italy, where we found Evan.  All the local Latin tribes were fighting each other?”

“Where they treated strangers like shoot first and ask questions later?” Lockhart clarified.

Katie nodded.  “That is the feeling I get about this place, like all the tribes are fighting each other.  No telling how they treat the caravans.”

Lincoln spoke up.  “I’m not comfortable in this place, but I figured it was just the heat.”

Alexis spoke for the other side.  “But the town might have fruit, maybe cold melons, or at least dates.”

Decker rode up from the other wing.  “The city looks like an armed camp.  They have soldiers all along the walls.  I recommend we avoid going there.”

“Boss,” Boston rode back from the point.  She had her amulet out and shook her head.  “I was checking the direction.  It looked like we were going to have to veer to our left and go over the mountains.  I was hoping we could avoid doing that.  But all of a sudden, the Kairos moved, like when the gods used to move us in an instant.  She is almost due south, now, well, south-southwest.  The time gate shifted, too.  Hopefully, we won’t have to go to sea, but look.”  She held out her amulet for Lockhart to look, but he did not have elf eyes to read such a small map.

Katie got out her prototype amulet and confirmed Boston’s words.

“Town or no town?” Tony asked, wanting to get back on topic.  He was not sure what Boston meant when she said the Kairos moved in an instant, like when the gods used to move them.

“We go around,” Lockhart said, just before the travelers, their horses and even the wagon and trees felt a massive pull toward the southeast.  The wagon lifted on two wheels before it settled down again.  Nanette, who just dismounted, and Lincoln both fell to the ground in that southeast direction.  Several tree branches snapped off and flew a short way to the southeast, as if a great tornado-like wind came crashing in from the northwest, but they felt no wind at first.  The air moved, as people and horses struggled to keep to their feet.  Then the air seemed to change its mind as it came rushing back from the southeast at almost hurricane speed.  It was not long before they heard the sound of rolling thunder.  The earth beneath their feet began to shift and tremble.  Lincoln looked, but no great flash of light came, and no mushroom cloud rose over the horizon.

“Sand,” Alexis and Katie both yelled at the same time.

“Turn the horses.”

“Turn your back.”

People expected the worst, but Elder Stow clicked a button, even as the sand came.  The screens held the full seven minutes of the horrendous sandstorm.  The people watched it tear up the trees outside the screen area.  They saw it rip through the distant fields of grain before the sand built up on the outside of the screens and obscured their vision.

“As good a time as any to test the screens,” Elder Stow said.  “I can see fluctuation in the stabilizers.  I still have to work on it, but hopefully, they will stay up until the sandstorm stops.”

“Seven minutes,” Lincoln said, having timed the event.

“The legend says when Ubar sank into the sand, the sandstorm lasted for seven days,” Tony said.

The wind shifted and began to blow back in the direction from which it had been driven.  The ground finally settled down, but the returning wind blew hard enough at first to knock down a couple of those broken trees.  Soon enough, the wind became a simple breeze.  Boston said she could smell the Red Sea in the distance, but the others only smelled the heat.

“So, anyway,” Lincoln said, even if it sounded like a street name, “Sweny Way.”  He said, “No town.”

“No,” Lockhart said.  “And no, Alexis.  You can’t go there and heal everyone hurt by that storm, or whatever it was.”

Alexis looked unhappy but nodded.  Nanette gave her a hug before they all mounted and started.  Alexis did have a suggestion.  “We should stop and have lunch before we leave the trees.”

Lockhart agreed with that, so that was what they tried to do.  They found a troop of baboons clambering around the rocks and in the trees.  The baboons spent lunchtime yelling at the travelers and occasionally throwing pebbles and twigs at them.  Nanette countered with an offer of elf bread.  They all watched the big male as he checked it out and tested it.  He screeched, and the travelers put out a dozen loaves which the baboons collected before they ran back to their rocks and trees.  As far as Boston could tell, about a third of the bread got eaten.  The rest got played with, which mostly meant squished.

While they rested in the heat of the afternoon, Decker meditated and let his eagle totem up into the sky.  He looked to the southeast, over the mountains, but saw nothing to indicate the reason for their seven-minute sandstorm.  He figured it had to be too far away to see.  He also figured it had to be a massive explosion, and if it was too far away to see, Lincoln had been right to look for a mushroom cloud.

Elder Stow suggested a dual-concussive gravitron bomb.  He explained that it sucked everything in and squished things close enough, almost like a miniature black hole.  Then, after the initial action, it exploded back outward, more powerful than a simple atomic explosion.  He said a big enough bomb might affect an area of a thousand miles around, or more.  “An old fashioned, but powerful device,” he called it.  No wonder Decker could see no sign of it, even from the limits of his eagle flight.

Decker wheeled his eagle to the south.  He saw scrub grass, and hills broken by sections that looked like good grass and even trees.  He saw some towns and villages in that direction.  He figured the land they were moving through still had plenty of good grazing land, which accounted for the herd animals they saw in the night.  Hot as it was, their journey should not be too difficult if they did not push it.

Finally, Decker wheeled around and examined the city they avoided.  The city wall crumbled in a few places in the direction of the explosion.  He saw plenty of people out in the fields, no doubt trying to save whatever crops they could. Then he saw some thirty soldiers headed straight toward their camp.  He circled around.  He saw the wraith leading the soldiers and knew it would be trouble.  Fortunately, the wraith did not see him.

Decker let go of his totem and stood.  “Everybody up,” he yelled.  “We got trouble coming.  About thirty soldiers from the city, and they look to be led by the wraith.”

“Pack it up,” Lockhart yelled.

“They will be here in about five minutes,” Decker added, knowing there was no way they could get everything packed and they could move in time.  Decker did not exactly adjust the time from as the eagle flies to travel on the ground.  It took more like ten minutes, and the travelers did get everything packed, more or less, but the soldiers surrounded them, so there was nowhere they could go. Fortunately, Elder Stow got his screens up again so the soldiers could not get at them.  It sliced through a couple of rocks and trees, but it held.

“I don’t know how long they will hold, though,” he said.  “I’m still seeing serious fluctuations in the stabilizers.  They could collapse any time.”

Two soldiers walked up and cracked their toes against the screens.  One fell forward and slid down the front.  Two soldiers in the rear fired arrows at the travelers—maybe warning shots intended to get them to not put up a fight.  One arrow snapped in half and fell harmlessly to the ground.  The other bounced off at an angle and nearly skewered one of the other soldiers.

The wraith, who had been hiding in the back, rushed forward to point a boney finger at the travelers.  “These are the ones,” she shrieked.  “These made the earthquake and sandstorm.  They killed your people.  They must pay with their lives.  Kill them.  Kill them!”

One soldier who appeared to have a brain, set his hand against the screen, and asked, “How do we get at them?  They seem to be protected by the gods in some way.”  At the suggestion that the gods might be protecting the travelers, several soldiers backed away.

“It is not the gods,” The wraith yelled.  “The gods have all gone over to the other side, you fool.  Just kill them.”

A sudden hot breeze smelling of sand got the attention of soldiers and travelers alike.  A face of sand hovered over them all, looking down on them.  The first thing the face said was, “Hello Meg.”

The wraith looked up and screamed.  She raced off as fast as she could, south, toward the next time gate.  The face appeared to shrug as a hand of sand formed next to it.

“Meg is the wraith’s name?” Katie asked.

“Wraiths have names?” Lockhart mumbled.

The hand pointed one finger and touched the top of the screens.  They popped like soap bubble, and Elder Stow protested.

“No, no, no.”

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

MONDAY

The Djin proves friendly and will take the travelers to the Kairos, they hope.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.10 Guarding the Future, part 2 of 6

The travelers did not get very far in the morning.  It quickly became too hot to travel.  They sheltered the afternoon under a rock cliff that provided a little shade.  The horses did not mind the rough grasses, but the people had nothing to eat other than elf bread crackers.  Boston heated a cup of water in her hands in order to turn the crackers into bread.  Lockhart asked Elder Stow about his sonic device and maybe heating up one of the rocks so they could cook something, if they found anything to cook; but Elder Stow nixed that idea.

“It is all volcanic rock of some sort and gets hot enough in this climate.  The sonic device might heat them enough to make them pop or explode.  Not a good idea.”

“How goes the screen device?” Alexis asked, changing the subject.

Elder Stow shook his head.  “It is about ready for testing, but in this sandy environment, I have to be very careful.”

Mostly, people did not have much to say in the heat.  Decker, Tony, and Lincoln all took siestas.  The women passed some small talk and worried about the horses.  Sukki and Nanette gave Ghost the mule some extra attention.  The poor mule appeared to be suffering in the heat, though Katie suggested it was just a ploy to get attention.  Lockhart worried about getting everyone safely back to the future and wondered how much longer this trip was going to take.  Then the sun headed toward the horizon, and Lockhart got everyone up and moving.  They traveled into the night, but only managed about twenty miles on that day.

The following morning, Decker saw a group of mountain goats and shot one.  He feared he might have to climb the mountain to fetch it, but Elder Stow volunteered to fly up, and with an anti-gravity disc, he brought it down to be butchered.  Alexis complained about no greens, and this time, Nanette joined her, but the meat at least gave them something to supplement the bread crackers.  They could be sustained for a long time on just elf bread, but it did get boring.

After their long afternoon naps, Elder Stow used his scanning device to direct them to some surface water, which was a very small oasis not far off the caravan path they were following.  They camped for the night in that place, having only moved roughly another twenty miles, but they felt drained from traveling through such intense dry heat.  People were tempted to strip down to as little clothing as possible, but Alexis vetoed that idea.  She got out the sunscreen and made sure that everyone got covered.  Then she insisted on long pants and long sleeves, or something like long sleeve dresses with head coverings and face masks.

“You don’t see the Arabs riding around on their camels in short-shorts and tank tops,” she explained.  “Besides, you will do better if you wear something to absorb the sweat.  This is like being at sea and having the sun glare off the water, and the salt in the air drying you out.  True, the desert has no salt, but the sand glares just as bad as the water, and the sand and heat will dry you out just as much, so don’t dress stupid.”  That last, she told to Lincoln, but everyone got the message.

Several were surprised at how cold it got in the night.  They did not feel it as much that first night when they were still moving through most of it.  It did not get frost cold, but it got down close to it.  Lockhart insisted on the regular watch, and the watchers huddled for warmth.

They camped a little way back from the water, where the land flattened out, and it looked like where others had camped.  They found plenty of good grass there, being water fed.  It appeared a bit camel chewed but seemed like gold for the horses.  The travelers had a bit of the meat that had not yet turned in the heat, and mostly bread crackers.  Boring.  Then, in the night, the travelers got surprised by how many visitors came to the water.

They saw a couple of spotted animals, one of which was probably a leopard, but whatever they were, they kept their distance from the humans.  At least two herds of grazing animals came.  One looked like gazelles.  The other looked a bit like cows, but with very long, straight spikes for horns.  Lincoln was not awake at the time to identify them in the database.  They saw what looked like cats and dogs, though the dogs may have been small wolves.  Katie thought they were probably foxes.  They also saw a white tailed something that looked especially small.  They might have missed it, but it went for a swim.

The only trouble they faced, came when Decker and Elder Stow watched during the wee hours of the morning.  Nanette got up, thirsty.  They were all thirsty.  She walked down to the water and ran into a half-dozen hyenas.  The beasts were trying to sneak up on the horses.  Nanette screamed.  She tried to use her magic to make the hyenas back off, but nothing happened.  She screamed louder as the gang of Hyenas growled at her and appeared to change their mind about the horses.  This human seemed an easy meal.

Decker came running.  He wounded one beast in the dark and killed one.  Elder Stow turned on his light that could be seen for miles.  The hyenas ran, including the one that had a bullet in its side.  It ran dripping blood.  The dead one went nowhere.

Decker grabbed his rope and looped it several times around the dead animal.  He dragged it as far from the water and the camp as he could, guided by Elder Stow’s light, and then dropped it, retrieving his rope.  When he got back to the camp, pretty much everyone was up.  He had to pause, while Nanette threw herself into his arms and cried.  All Decker could do was look at Lockhart and Lincoln and say, “Shut up.”

Eventually, he got to ask why Nanette did not use her magic to keep the hyenas away or escape herself.

“I tried,” she said, and turned to Alexis.  “I honestly tried, but it is like I never had any magic—like it was all an illusion.”

Lincoln looked it up, since he would not be able to sleep any time soon.  “The other earth went out of phase in 375 AD.  That would have been when Bahati turned twenty.  The record says she came to Arabia in her late twenties, so the magic energy, or I should call it, the creative and variable energy that leaks into this world from the other earth is currently diminished below the useable point for most people.  You probably won’t get your magic back for another three hundred years.”

“What am I going to do?” Nanette fretted.

“Be our sister,” Boston said, and nudged Sukki, who nodded.

“Just be yourself,” Alexis said, and smiled.

“Be happy.  You are safe among friends,” Tony said.

“Family,” Elder Stow corrected the word friends.

“Stick with Decker,” Lockhart said, and tried not to grin.  “He will take care of you.”  He had to turn and walk to his tent so Decker could only see his back.  Katie took his arm to go with him, but she slapped that arm softly on the way.

Avalon 7.10 Guarding the Future, part 1 of 6

After 355 A.D. Arabia

Kairos 95: Bahati, King’s Consort of Aksum

Recording …

“Boss.”  Boston called Lockhart.  She had her amulet out and worried about where they had to go.  “Boss.”  She checked the sun and looked at her watch.  Eight o’clock in the morning.  They planned to go through the gate that morning, but this one might be tricky.

“What?” Sukki asked.  She held the horses, but looked over Boston’s shoulder, while Lockhart and Katie came to the front of the line of travelers, dismounted, and asked the same question.

“What?”

“The time gate is ten yards or so out in the lake,” Boston answered.  “You know when we enter a gate in water, we exit a gate in water on the other side.  According to Lincoln, that might put us in the middle of the Red Sea.”

“Lincoln,” Lockhart called.

Lincoln already had the database out and summarized what he read.  “Bahati.  She is Kenyan, a Bantu immigrant tribe that pushed into the Cushite area.  Her tribe bordered Ethiopia, ruled by Ezana, King of Aksum.  Ezana threatened to invade, all the way down the Swahili coast.  For the sake of peace, the chief gave Ezana his five-year-old daughter, Bahati.  Ezana died that year, and his son, Mehedys took over.  Bahati became pledged to Mehedys as sort of his fourth wife, though they did not consummate anything until she turned fifteen.  Mehedys was near fifty.”

“Married at five?” Katie couldn’t believe it.

“I hate that,” Alexis agreed.

“Okay,” Lincoln continued and held up his hand for quiet.  “Bahati proved to have a first-rate military mind.  Apparently, the Kushites, ruled by Aksum, the Etheops and tribes generally around the horn of Africa do not have a problem with women warriors, or even women generals.”

“Is there a point you are getting to?” Lockhart asked.  “The issue is a water gate.”

“Coming to that,” Lincoln said.  “At age late twenty-something, she went with Mehedys’ son, Ouazebas, and Ouazebas’ friend, General Semka—all about the same age—and an army to what we call Yemen.  The kingdoms there, mainly Sheba and Himyar are already tributary to Aksum.  The army was sent to conquer the trade competition, a place called Wabar or Ubar.”

“Ubar,” Katie spouted, and both she, and Tony with her, got that far-away look, as if Ubar might be something extraordinary.

Lockhart did not know about that.  “The point?”

“The point is, depending on when we arrive in Bahati’s life, the water might be a lake or tributary of the White Nile, or it might be something serious, between Aksum and Yemen, like the Red Sea, or maybe the Erythraean Sea.”

“Eryth…?” Lockhart started to speak, but Lincoln interrupted.

“That is off the actual horn of Africa, off Somalia, connected to the Arabian Sea.”

“I volunteer,” Boston said, quickly.  “Let me go through without my horse, Strawberry.  I can check it out and come right back.”

“Why you?” Alexis asked, just before Sukki asked the same thing.

“I’m an elf.  I do invisible.  I can check the amulet and look for land if I end up in deep water.  I can do insubstantial if there are sharks in the water.  You can tie Decker’s rope to me and pull me back after ten minutes if I don’t come back sooner.”  She grinned, thinking she covered all the angles.

People looked one to another, and it got settled when Lockhart shrugged.  Twenty minutes later, they had Boston tied to the rope.  The time gate sat in shallow water, not more than up to the knees, but Boston had to “Yip-yip!” and run across the top of the water to the gate, saying she did not want to get her knees wet.

Boston came out in a very small stream.  She saw a little pond behind her, no doubt fed by some spring, and she saw where the stream petered out ahead of her—where it either dried up in the overly hot sun or soaked into the sand so it could continue to run underground.  She also found the water hole surrounded by men and their camels.  The camels appeared startled.  The men shouted and cursed, and back up a bit from the edge.  Of course, Boston forgot to go invisible.

“Just as well,” she said, before she raised her voice.  “Hey, you men need to back up and move your camels back.  I’ve got a bunch of people on horses, and a wagon coming through here.”  The men stared but did not move.  “I mean it. Back up,” she said, and let a small stream of fire shoot from her fingertips, up into the sky.  “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.  You can get your water after we come through.”  With that, she turned around and vanished back through the time gate.

“Hey!” Boston shouted.  She forgot the water was knee deep and sank in it.

Katie asked, “What did you find?”  Decker reeled in his rope.

“A spring pool and little stream that doesn’t last long in the sand and heat.  There are mountains a bit to the left of where we need to go, and maybe the sea is to the right.  I think I smelled salt, but it might just be the stinky men and their camels.”

“Men and Camels?” Lincoln asked, always the first to be concerned about potential danger.

“Harmless.  Surprised to see me, but I think just merchants of some kind.  The camels have packs of stuff.”

“An oasis?” Alexis asked

“Yeah, an oasis, but only a couple of stunted trees and bad grassy bushes by the pool.  The land looks covered in a poor scrub grass.  Not much else to see except sand and rocks.  Maybe we should fill our water skins here, before we go.”

They did that very thing.  Then Boston and Sukki went first on Strawberry and Cocoa.  They found the men and camels well back from the water, but still staring like men in shock.

When Lockhart and Katie came through, they went to talk to the men, some of whom bowed to them, and a couple of whom got down and prostrated themselves.  Lincoln and Alexis followed, then Nanette, who paused to help Ghost.  Tony drove the wagon, carefully.  They had no road to follow, just a well-worn camel trail through the grass and dirt. Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear where they could make sure everyone got safely through before they left the last time zone.

“So, where are you headed?” Lockhart asked in his friendliest voice.

One of the merchants merely pointed.  Another said, “Makkah.”

“Boston,” Lockhart called.

“Opposite,” she said, and pointed opposite to the way the man pointed.

“Mecca,” Katie said, with a longing look at Lockhart.  She clearly wanted to go there, but after a moment of thought, Lockhart shook his head.

“If it is something in history that even I know about, it is probably too dangerous and something we should avoid at all costs.”

“But Muhammad won’t be born for another three hundred years,” Katie argued, but Lockhart just shook his head.

“We need to go in the other direction.  It is best we avoid maybe messing something up.”  Katie nodded, sadly, and turned back toward her horse.  Lockhart thought to add, “Maybe we will find your Ubar.”

“Ubar,” one of the merchants said in recognition of the name.  He pointed in the general direction the travelers would be going, though a bit to the left, like maybe beyond the mountains.

Katie at least smiled for that.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 6 of 6

“Hold it right there,” the gate guard stepped forward, three men behind him to back him up.  “You can see all the people waiting to go into the city, but no one is going in there right now.”

“I have papers.  I am Father Flavius.  Deacon Galarius and I are approved attendants of Bishop Veritas.”

“Let me see…” The man took the papers and stared at them for a time, only moving his lips a little as he turned the pages.  Lockhart, Lincoln, and Alexis waited patiently, but Katie imagined it was safe to ask a question to the other guards.

“What is happening in the city?”

One guard answered with a question.  “Are you Arian or anti-Arian?”

“You mean, Orthodox?” Alexis butted in.

Another guard spoke.  “The Arians are demonstrating for their belief.”

“More like a riot,” the chief guard interrupted and handed back the papers.  “Your papers are in order.  I can’t let your friends in right now, and I don’t have the men to send that can escort you safely to the bishop.  You will have to wait until things quiet down.  Gods know when that may be.”

Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, and Alexis went back to explain things to the others.  The travelers might have been allowed in under normal circumstances, since they declared their intention to visit and move on, but the Monks of Barke were not allowed.  Every bishop could bring only two priests, three deacons, and a body servant, which already put the attendance at the council over two thousand.  If every man, woman, and child who wanted to come entered the city, the city would be overwhelmed.  There would be nowhere to house them and no way to feed them all.

“Understood,” Decker said.  “Maybe we need to bypass the city and head straight to the next time gate.”

“No way,” Boston shouted.  “I’m not going without my hug.”  Sukki agreed with her sister, so Elder Stow kindly offered a suggestion.

“Perhaps if Father Flavius or Deacon Galarius know where he is located in the city, I may fly with one of them on my back to give directions and find him.  Then we may be able to work out some way to make it safely back to the gate.”

“No, wait,” Boston said.  “Let me try something first.  I have never tried this before, so I don’t know if it will work, but give me a chance first.”  Without explaining, she stepped off the road to where she could sit and have some quiet.  Everyone else looked at Alexis, the former elf, to explain.

“All of nature, and the spirits of nature are connected, in a way.  She can try to reach her god, or her guiding light in this world, as we should call the Kairos these days, and she may be able to message him.  Hopefully, she will get a message back as to what we can do.”

People sat down to wait.

###

Bishop Veritas heard a knock on his door.  He sat in a time of prayer and meditation since the streets quieted down for the moment.  He did not want to lose the time of quiet.  The knock came again, and he shouted.  “Portos, please answer the door.”

A large Roman Sergeant came into the room and nodded.  He sat behind his lord so he would not pose a distraction and removed his glamour of humanity.  Underneath the disguise, he looked part imp, part elf, with maybe a bit of troll thrown in which accounted for his large size.  It did not take long to make contact.  He spoke when his bishop moved a little.

“It is a young red-headed elf maid.  She says she and her friends, horses and all, are being kept out of the city because of the unrest.  She wants to know how they can see you.”

The bishop sighed and stood.  “Tell her we will come there,” he said and opened the wooden trunk he kept at the end of the bed, where he kept his old legionnaire insignia of rank in Constantine’s personal guard.

“It is quiet, but still not safe out there,” Portos said.

Bishop Veritas just nodded as he reached out to the second heavens and called the armor of the Kairos to clothe himself, and the weapons of the Kairos, which were needed all too often.  “Gather a dozen of my friends from the legion camp, and we will make the march to the gate.  Thus far, the Arians have known better than to interfere with army business.  We should be safe enough in a large enough group.”

“Lord,” Portos saluted, the Roman way, replaced his glamour of humanity, and stepped out to fetch the required men.

“Be there shortly,” Veritas thought, before he shut down the communication with Boston.  Talking long distance in that way tended to give him a headache.

###

The travelers waited for an hour.  The sun headed toward the horizon by the time Bishop, that is, Centurion Veritas reached the gate.  Before he did anything else, he called for the captain of the gate.

“Constantine is in Nicomedia.  He will probably be here, probably this gate, late tomorrow afternoon with a thousand cavalry.  I suggest you show your best face when he arrives.”  He dismissed the captain and called for his bishop’s robe, which instantly replaced the armor he wore.  Then he opened his arms to hug the red-headed elf that waited so patiently.  Then he spoke to the travelers.

“You can’t come in.  Just as well.”

Katie protested.  “Tony and I were hoping to sit in on the council meeting.”

Veritas shook his head.  “Bishops only, and besides, there is too much risk you might inadvertently say something.  I have a hard-enough time keeping my own mouth closed.  Listen, right now the Arians have taken to the streets.  The emperor is away, and they have taken advantage of that, to demonstrate, not entirely peacefully.  History says when some of the more radical ideas of Arius are read aloud in the council, even his ardent supporters, but two, have a change of heart.  The truth is simpler, and has nothing to do with policy, or in this case, theology.”

“What is that?” Nanette asked, and Veritas smiled for her curiosity, and the fact that she asked before anyone else.

“The followers of Arius have behaved in a rude and disorderly way.  Too many bishops won’t even consider the theological question.  They will simply vote against rude behavior.  How human of them.”

“I don’t get it,” Lockhart admitted.

“Consider your American presidents.  Think about it.  Most have been mediocre, like Roman emperors, I suppose.  But a few have been rude and crude, and some have been fine, upstanding gentlemen.  Generally, the rude ones have done great things for the nation and the people, but the people at the time have ended up hating them because they are rude.  The gentlemen, on the other hand, have tended to do horrible things for the country and the people, but everyone likes them because they are nice.  Go figure.”

“That is not always the case,” Alexis said.

“No.  Not always.  It is not one hundred percent.  Some rude ones, like maybe Andy Jackson, almost bankrupted the country.  Some gentlemen, like say, Calvin Coolidge, mostly just kept the government out of people’s business and everyday life.  But for the most part, people don’t pay attention to what the president is doing, whether good or bad.  They mostly just look at the person—the personality and vote accordingly.  Stupid as that is, it is very human.  The depth of policy is too much to think about.  Basically, if they are polite, and seem to be a nice person, one who seems to care, that is all that matters.  People vote for that, even if the person is a total tyrant who destroys the country and enslaves the people.”  Veritas shrugged.  “Watch out for the smooth-talkers.”

“What is Constantine?” Lincoln asked.

“A first rate general and mediocre emperor,” Veritas said, and went around hugging and shaking hands with all the travelers.  “I’ll take Father Flavius and Deacon Galarius with me.”  He called again to his armor, still decked out with the signs of his rank and position.  “You take the Monks of Barke to keep the wraith at bay. We will go back to boring—super boring.  You will need to go around the city and head to the next time gate.  Any idea where it might be?”

“Somewhere before lake Tuz, or whatever it is called in this day,” Boston said, and admitted, “Lincoln and I figured it out while we were waiting for you.”

Veritas nodded.  “A long walk, but probably less boring than I have to deal with.  See you next time.”  He turned, and walked off, without looking back.

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

MONDAY

A journey to Arabia where a princess of Aksum is ending one age and guarding the future. Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 5 of 6

The travelers arrived in the bay after dark.  The tide had already gone out, so they had to wait until the early morning hours to dock and unload the horses.  Lockhart set Pinto’s hands free, thinking the man could not do anything, and he needed to be able to feed himself.  Besides, he wanted his handcuffs back.  All the same, people slept on the deck with their weapons handy.  Boston slept with one ear on the horses below, and Lincoln slept with their money bag nestled securely between himself and Alexis.  Alexis complained, but she felt tired enough to sleep no matter what.

Sure enough, in the early hours, a couple of crew members joined Pinto in stealing the long boat.  They rowed to shore where they could get lost in the crowd and not have to answer any questions the harbor master and his legionnaires might ask.  Captain Ardacles said good riddance, and a mate is no good if you can’t trust him.  The travelers did not believe him.  Several suspected that after they got unloaded, Pinto and his friends would be back on board to continue their thieving ways.

Once free of the dock, all the papers signed in duplicate, they found the dozen monks of Barke, waiting patiently for them.  Deacon Galarius introduced them all, but only Alexis, and maybe Nanette and Katie would remember all those names.  Lincoln was quick to thank them for helping the ship get safely through the storm.  They nodded, smiled, and said don’t mention it.

“We will walk with you on the road to Nicaea,” Deacon Galarius said, and several monks nodded.  “That way, we can keep the wraith away, not to mention the thieves.  The road is full of thieves looking for an isolated priest or bishop with a bag of gold.”

Lockhart looked around at the group and did not argue, even if it meant walking the whole way.  They all began to walk, together, and brought the wagon along, slowly.

“What has that creature got against you folks, anyway?” Father Flavius opened the conversation.

“Not sure,” Lockhart answered.

“If it is the same one,” Lincoln said.  “And not everyone agrees that it is.”  He paused to start again.  “If it is the same one, it followed us through a time gate about three thousand years ago and stayed mostly hidden until after the time of dissolution.”

“What is that?” Deacon Galarius asked.  “The time of dissolution?”

“It is when the old gods gave up their flesh and blood and went back to being forces of nature.”  Lockhart offered what he understood.

“It is when the holding places for the spirits of the dead, like Hades, gave up their dead,” Katie added.

“The advent of our Lord,” Father Flavius suggested with a nod.

“Basically,” Alexis agreed.

“Anyway,” Lincoln continued.  “This wraith somehow got the idea that she is supposed to have our souls, and so far, we have not been able to stop her or talk her out of that idea.”

“I see,” Father Flavius said, though he did not explain exactly what he saw.

In the afternoon, they began the slow climb into the hills and Deacon Galarius came up front to warn the travelers.  “The thieves are mostly here in the high country.  The legion patrols the valleys, but apparently, they don’t get paid enough to climb into the hills.  Besides, the hills are filled with off-road trails where a few men can scurry away to hide among the trees and rocks.”

“Welcome to Sherwood,” Lockhart said.

After a moment, Katie guessed, “Robin Hood?”

The group camped in a field where they had a fair view all around.  They did not find much game, but the monks brought food stuffs for the journey.  It included plenty of vegetables so Alexis, Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow were happy.  They also brought some beer, which helped everyone relax as they settled in for a night of careful watch.  The thieves stayed away, but one visitor did show up in the early hours when Boston and Sukki awaited the sunrise.

“What?” Boston said, much too loud.  “What do you want?”

The wraith hovered over the grass, just outside Elder Stow’s screen.  The slight breeze that blew her ragged dress around, showed no feet to stand on beneath the dress.  She looked old, a bit like a wrinkled and rotten fruit, but her many teeth looked clean and plenty sharp.  Her voice sounded like the creak in the shutters of an old barn.

“I don’t want you, little spirit.  You are no longer of any consequence,” she said, with a grin that showed all those teeth, but suggested she might change her mind.  “And I have no interest in the elder ones, either the girl beside you that used to be an elder, nor the elder man that continues to travel with you.  Nor do I have a claim on the new ones, neither the man, nor Nanette, who has proved a great disappointment.  But the other five…”  The wraith held up her hand.  The fingers appeared wispy and seemed to have a hard time solidifying and coming into focus, but it was enough to count.  “Yes, five.  You must give them to me.  I am charged by Domnu herself to feast upon their fear and drag their souls to the land of the dead where they will live in eternal torment.”

“The land of the dead has been emptied,” Deacon Galarius said as he stepped up behind Boston and Sukki.

“Yeah,” Boston spouted.  “When was the last time you went there and checked?”

The wraith grew suddenly angry.  The people took one step back in the face of that fury, but all the wraith could do was pound on Elder Stow’s screen and yell, “You lie.  Give me the mortals.  Give them to me.”

By then, the two monks on the watch stepped forward, and with Deacon Galarius, they appeared to pray.  A mist, barely discernable, came from the monks and slipped right through the screens.  It caught the wraith in mid-curse and pushed her further and further from the camp, until she disappeared behind a far hill.  The yelling and cursing could be heard until the end.

Decker came running up, rifle in his hand.  Nanette followed him, only a couple of paces behind.  “Damn,” Decker said.  He fired once in the general direction before Nanette caught him and took his arm.

“Next time,” Nanette said.  Decker did not answer.

As the travelers and their escort followed the river down into the valley, toward the lake and the city of Nicaea, Alexis asked a serious question.  “I thought the church frowned on sorcery.”

Father Flavius nodded as Deacon Galarius explained.  “The church frowns on the misuse of power and the ungodly misuse of whatever talents or position the Lord gives.  To violate a person’s conscience is the temptation—because with every gift there is temptation.”

“The Lords and rulers in this age, instead of leading and guiding people, they have most often sought to control people,” Father Flavius said.  “They tried to make people think, act, and talk a certain way, and for years, threatened torture and death if, for example, the people were unwilling to sacrifice to the emperor.  The government is not to be worshiped.”

“People need to make their own decision how they will act, think, and talk.  People must come to Christ in their own heart, and neither threats nor magical trickery will do,” Deacon Galarius said.  “The monks of Barke understand this and do everything that they do with prayer and supplication, being most careful not to violate others in their work.”

“It is for salvations sake,” Father Flavius agreed.  “All gifts and talents are given for the building up of the body of Christ.  Magic is a most rare, and honestly, most dangerous gift to be treated with the utmost care and oversight.  But when it is misused in order to force or control others, or make things come out the way the magic user wishes, then it is sorcery, and the church does frown on that.”

“So, what you are saying.” Lincoln wanted to get it straight.  “Nothing is evil of itself.  It all depends on what people do with what they have been given.”

“God created all things and called them good,” Father Flavius said.  “Without Christ, nothing was made that was made.  Magic was made.”

“The rich man and the poor man lived side by side, and when they died, the rich man went to torment and the poor man went to paradise.”  Deacon Galarius tried to explain.  “When the rich man complained, he was told he had every good thing in life, and he did nothing to relieve the suffering of the poor man.  Now, in death, the poor man has every good thing, and the rich man gets to suffer.”

“That is not exactly the story,” Father Flavius said.  “But the rich young ruler was told to sell all that he had and give to the poor and come and follow Jesus.  The rich man went away sad, because he had many things.”

Alexis offered her thought.  “Back home, some think the rich should be forced to give up their money so it can be given to the poor.”

“No, no,” Father Flavius said.  “Conscience, remember?  The rich have been given a great gift, but they must find it in their hearts to give and help those in need.  That is when it means something, has value, and God will bless.  To take, by which I assume you mean steal, will accomplish only evil.”

“There are many talents and gifts with which the Lord gifts his people,” Deacon Galarius said.  “Don’t make the gift of magic more than it is.  Personally, I believe the most gifted person in the monastery of Barke is the cook.  Without any magic whatsoever, he can take the most meagre rations and produce a feast worthy of the name.”

“Now, I’m hungry,” Father Flavius said.

Lockhart overheard and called, “Lunch.”

They stopped on the last small rise before the lake and the city, both of which they could see perfectly well down the hill.  Elder Stow did not need his scanner.  Decker did not need to meditate and let his eagle totem show him the countryside.  Decker did, however, get out his binoculars.  He sensed something wrong.  All of the monks and the travelers that were sensitive to such things felt the same.

“Fire in the city,” Decker said, and handed his binoculars to Lincoln so he could have a look.  Katie got out the scope for her rifle while Lockhart got her binoculars, which he handed around so some of the others could take a look.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 4 of 6

Captain Ardocles sat that whole time with his mouth and eyes as open as they could be. He said nothing until they began moving rapidly against the prevailing winds.  The he said, “Ten points to port if you are headed back to the Gulf of Astacus.”

“Ten points to port,” Lincoln echoed, nice and loud, and the men on the rudder followed orders.  Tony, Boston, and Katie went below to check on the horses.

Pinto sat that whole time with his eyes shut tight, like a man who did not want to see what was happening.  When Lockhart removed the gag, the man began to weep, and spoke like a man half-mad.  “I didn’t know.  You have silver and real gold.  And horses worth the treasure of Midas himself.  I should have known you were of the gods.  I was blinded by my greed.  Gods forgive me.  I sent messengers on the morning tide while we waited the day.  I didn’t know.”

Boston came up from down below, having heard the gist of the man’s confession.  She removed her glamour to reveal her true elf self.  Pinto saw her and screamed.  He wet himself, as Katie scolded Boston.

Lockhart stepped up to Captain Ardocles and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.  “We don’t normally get a full confession like that without persuasion.”  Of course, the travelers would never deliberately hurt anyone other than in self-defense, and they certainly would never torture anyone, but Lockhart thought it safe to let Captain Ardocles think what he will.

The captain widened his eyes and pointed at his mate.  “Pinto was in the nest and reported storm clouds in the gulf.  I turned south toward Apamea for your own safety.  I didn’t know he had pirates waiting.”

“It was his idea,” Pinto shrieked.

Captain Ardocles shook his head.  “Poor fellow.  Wanting to cast the blame rather than face up to his own misdeeds.”

“Maybe,” Lockhart said, but he let the captain go about the business of getting them safely to Nicomedia.

Nanette gave out first, so the bow of the ship splashed again into the water, but Alexis could not sustain the wind much longer.  By then, they reached the mouth of the gulf and found a wind they could use, so Alexis let it go and imagined she would sleep well that night.

 

When they entered fully into the gulf, they found storm clouds had indeed settled over the water.  “Very unusual for this time of year,” Captain Ardacles said.  He looked up at the darkening sky and sounded sincere.

“It doesn’t feel natural,” Boston admitted.  She turned her head to the side and tried to figure out what, exactly, it did feel like.  Decker stayed with an exhausted Nanette.  Lincoln stayed with Alexis.  Tony kept watch on the rudder, while Lockhart and Katie kept the captain and his crew in sight.  Father Flavius prayed for Deacon Galarius, who got seasick, again.  Sukki stayed faithfully with Elder Stow who thought he might be at the point in his repairs where he could test the device.

That all left Boston free to fret about the storm overhead.  The wind came from the north.  The crew had to be careful to keep the ship from being pushed toward the southern shore.  The captain said they would soon reach the place where the gulf narrowed, considerably.  That would not give them much room to maneuver.

The storm started with the wind and the sea, as the waves grew, and the boat began to bounce along.  It bounced.  It did not cut through the waves.  The sky began to drizzle, a wet to match the spray of the sea, when Boston caught sight of the shoreline, north and south.  It looked like the woods, grasslands, and hills all moved closer, to hem the ship in.   It began to rain in earnest, but as soon as it started, it stopped.

“Hey!” Boston shouted, before she noticed the rain did not stop.  It simply shifted to outside the ship, while no rain at all fell on the ship.  She overheard Elder Stow explaining to Lockhart and Katie.

“It is a Decker wall, which I have set as the default.  Right now, I have it overhead where it can act as an umbrella for the ship.”

“Decker wall?” Tony asked, not remembering the term.

Elder Stow nodded.  “It is set so things with sufficient mass and speed, like bullets, can go out through the screens, but nothing can come in.”

Tony nodded, even as a big stroke of lightning struck directly overhead.  Elder Stow’s screens flashed a brilliant yellow light and went out.

“No, no,” Elder Stow shouted, and grabbed the screen device, and replaced the eyepiece with which he worked on the device.  “No,” he said again, as the rain returned to pelt the ship.

“Lightning is a big electro-magnetic pulse,” Sukki said, and looked to the sky for fear of another strike.

Boston finally shouted and got everyone’s attention.  “It is the wraith.”

A second lightning strike came, but it missed the ship by several yards and discharged harmlessly in the sea.  The wind picked up and turned contrary to their motion.  Alexis had to stand and fight back with a wind of her own, though she already felt exhausted.

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker all armed up, but they had little hope of shooting the wraith, unless she was foolish enough to manifest within range.  They scanned the sky, as Nanette closed her eyes and stretched out her senses with her hand.

“I can’t seem to pinpoint the wraith’s location,” she said.  “Maybe I’m not doing it right.”

“You are doing it just fine,” Decker said, without taking his eyes off the sky.

 

“I can’t get a fix on her location either,” Katie shouted through the rain.

“She is up there,” Boston said, and scanned the sky from horizon to horizon.

“The wraith won’t manifest,” Elder Stow said, and stopped his repair work to see what he could pick up on his scanner.  

Sukki wanted to fly up there for a closer look, but Boston and Nanette kept the girl’s feet glued to the deck.  Then the wraith showed herself in a place no one expected.  The travelers and crew all looked north, where the storm came from, and where the cold, north wind came that tried to push the ship to crash on the southern shore.  The wraith appeared over the southern shore and laughed loud enough to draw everyone’s attention.  True, the travelers were not nearly as afraid as the crew, but the wraith seemed to relish the idea of the travelers dying so she could feast on their souls.

Decker fired first, though Katie came a close second.  The target appeared pretty far away, but their military-style weapons would reach that far.

Boston took a second to grab her wand and grab Alexis by the shoulder so she could draw on Alexis’ wind magic.  Boston sent a fireball in the wraith’s direction, but that was all Alexis had left in her.  She collapsed to the deck.  Lincoln caught her, and gave Boston a hard look, but Boston pretended not to notice.

With the fire-ball half-way across the sea, and blocking the Wraith’s view, Elder Stow pulled his weapon.  He fired his energy weapon at the wraith, and Sukki followed with the heat-ray she had in her own hands.

The wraith shrieked, and vanished, but the travelers felt sure something struck home and wounded the creature.  Like all spiritual beings, when they took on physical form, they become subject to physical things, like bullets and alien heat-rays.  They certainly heard the wraith up in the rainclouds, screaming like one in pain.

Another stroke of lightning came down, but it missed the ship by a good bit.  Lincoln had a thought which he shared.  “I guess the wraith can trigger the lightning, but she can’t control it very well.”  Another stroke came, but landed on the other side of the ship, even as Captain Ardacles said they were being pushed too close to the southern shore.  He looked at Alexis for help, but Lincoln shook his head.  “She is finished for the day.”

“I may help,” Father Flavius interrupted everyone.  He pointed, as the ship appeared to enter a tunnel of favorable winds, calm seas, and no rain.  The dark rain continued all around but stayed outside the tunnel. The lightning came again and again, like an expression of the wraith’s frustration.  It did not enter the tunnel, but rather slid harmlessly off the roof of the tunnel and discharged harmlessly into the sea.

People looked at Elder Stow, but he shook his head, like he did not do it.  They looked again at Father Flavius and noticed Deacon Galarius was not throwing up for a change.  He seemed to be meditating, and Father Flavius explained.

“Deacon Galarius is a monk from Barke, where his order practices strange and unusual—some would say unnatural talents.  There are a dozen monks in Nicomedia, awaiting our arrival.  Once we got close enough, Deacon Galarius was able to reach out to his fellow monks, and together, they have made this safe way to port.  The storm, and any demons that would hinder our progress will be held at bay until we arrive,” he whispered to Katie and Lockhart, and Boston heard with her elf ears.  “Provided the connection with Galarius is not broken by sea sickness.”

“Alexis says, it is hard to concentrate on two things at once,” Nanette overheard and understood.

“Hard for Boston to focus on one thing at a time,” Lockhart teased.

“Boss!” Boston protested, but not too loud, as Lockhart and Katie both reached out and hugged the elf.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 3 of 6

Boston noticed around ten in the morning.  She got her amulet out to check the direction and had to ask Lockhart and Katie.  “I don’t get it,” she said.  “I checked against the maps Lincoln has in the database.  If we are in the gulf, or bay of Nicomedia, or whatever, the Kairos in Nicaea should be off to our right, inching to due right.  But the amulet shows him off to the left, like we missed the bay and headed down the coast.”

Katie pulled out her prototype amulet to check.  “Mine is not that sophisticated, but I see the next time gate shifted further east, rather than east-southeast.  I supposed, in Nicomedia, it would have shifted more to the south, not more to the east.  I assume the Kairos is still in Nicaea.”

“Elder Stow,” Boston called.

Elder Stow frowned at having to pause his repair work but got out his scanner to check.  He looked first and described what he saw.  “We missed the bay or gulf or whatever you call the body of water headed toward Nicomedia.  We are headed down the coast of Anatolia, instead…  Anatolia?”  He asked about the name.

“That’s right,” Tony said.  He and Sukki were keeping the old man company.

Lincoln and Alexis stepped up to see what was happening, but Lockhart and Katie turned to find the captain.  “Captain Ardocles,” Katie called.  “We appear to have missed the Gulf of Nicomedia.”

“Gulf of Astacus,” the captain called it.  “Storms.”  That seemed all he intended to say, but Lockhart, the former policeman, noticed the quivering mouth and shifty eyes of a liar.  He would not look them in their eyes.

“Wait a minute.  Explain.”

Captain Ardacles looked up at the big man, as most in that age did, and thought to give a further explanation.  He enhanced the lie.  “The Gulf of Astacus is very narrow.  To be caught in a storm there is very dangerous.  A ship can be driven up against the rocks.  We will sail down to Apamea, instead.  You can take the road from there to Nicaea easily enough, and it won’t have nearly the traffic as between Nicomedia and Nicaea.  The road between Nicomedia and Nicaea is dangerous with thieves these days, what with all the rich priests on the road, and all.”  He turned to Katie and condescended to the woman.  “Don’t worry.  I know this coast very well.  I grew up in Cyzicus.”

“Liar,” Boston said to the captain’s face.

“We got three ships on the horizon,” Decker interrupted, as he and Nanette stepped away from the railing.  Decker held his binoculars.  Nanette wore a frown.  Lockhart borrowed the binoculars.  They looked like warships the way Katie described them.  They had their oars out and came on fast.

“Probably just the Roman patrol ships,” Captain Ardacles lied, quickly, and squinted in the direction Decker pointed, but the ships were beyond the sight of his naked eye.

“Arm up,” Lockhart ordered, and no one argued.  “Just to be safe,” he told the captain as he handed back Decker’s binoculars.

Nanette turned to Alexis and Sukki while people went below to fetch their weapons.  “Rich priest should be an oxymoron.  No reason a priest should not live comfortably well, but anything over his living should be shared with those who have no comforts.  Priests have no business stockpiling riches for themselves.”

Again, no one argued.

They waited.  They kept their weapons at hand, and watched the warships draw closer.  Elder Stow went back to work on his screen device, though it did not take long for the ships to approach, as their own ship headed straight for them.  The ships came in a line which Decker called war formation.  Only the ship in front presented a face to the enemy.  The ones behind remained hidden, and their distance was hard to judge.

Pinto came out from hiding to stand behind the captain and watch.  Nanette and Alexis joined Sukki in watching over Elder Stow.  Then the ship in front tipped their hand, or as the others said, made a mistake.  They sent a small boulder from a catapult, like a warning shot to get their ship to lower the sails and surrender.

“Idiots.  They are risking damage to the horses,” Pinto mumbled, and Boston heard with her good elf ears.

The rock sailed toward the deck, near where Elder Stow worked and tried to ignore everyone.  Nanette caught it with her telekinetic magic and shoved it into the sea.  It hit the water, and unfortunately, the splash hit the deck.  Elder Stow let out an angry shout.

“I will never get this fixed with all these interruptions.”  He slipped the device in the appropriate pocket of his belt and took to the sky.  Sukki followed him into the air, concerned for his safety.  The others watched, closely, through rifle scopes and binoculars, and Boston’s elf eyes.

“Kick their butts,” Boston shouted.

Elder Stow pulled his weapon and burned the mast down to cinders, burning a hole all the way through the hull to the sea.  Sukki thought to take out their ability to move.  She used her own goddess-given heat ray to slice through both sets of oars that drove the bireme, on both sides of the ship.

That did not satisfy Elder Stow.  He turned his weapon on the length of the ship just below the water line.  He made a great deal of steam but cut open the whole length of the hull.  The ship went down quickly, and men had to swim for their lives.

“Maybe the ships in the rear will stop and pick up their fellows,” Elder Stow said.

Meanwhile, Tony, Lincoln, and Alexis, convinced the men on the rudder to turn the ship around.  The captain said they could not outrun the warships, that the wind would be against them, and their only real option was to lower the sail and surrender; but he got overruled.  Lockhart, the former police officer, got out the handcuffs he carried all the way from the twenty-first century.

Pinto began to yell to the crew to take the sails down and prepare to surrender.  Nanette threw a shield of telekinetic force around the sails as they turned, so the crew could not touch them.  Lockhart hit the mate in the face and knocked him down.  He cuffed and gagged the man, and tied the man’s legs together, so he could not go anywhere.  He left Captain Ardacles free, to help, as long as Father Flavius and Deacon Galarius kept an eye on him, and as long as he helped.  Then he got ready to repel boarders.

The second ship in the line went around while Elder Stow and Sukki attacked the first ship.  They got close but could not exactly come alongside while the ship was turning around in a wide arc.  They settled for close enough and fired three grappling hooks with ropes from three ballistae they had on their deck.  The one out front splashed in the sea, but the other two struck.

The one in the middle hit the main mast, bounced off, and scurried across the deck.  Crewmen leapt out of the way for fear the hook might grab them and knock them overboard.  It finally caught on the railing, and the rope. which reached to the warship. got pulled taught by a dozen men who began to pull the two ships closer together.

The grappling hook in the rear busted through the aftercastle wall and caught on something.  The men on the other end of that rope began to pull as well.  Soon enough, the two ships would be close enough to lay down planks and cross over, and the warship appeared to have two dozen mean looking men ready to do that very thing.

“Open fire,” Lockhart shouted.

Katie, Decker, and Boston, all found some cover against the archers on the warship’s aftercastle.  Lockhart and Lincoln, with their handguns, went after those archers while the others opened up on the enemy.  Katie took one group on a rope.  Decker took the other group, and Boston fired on the men that planned to cross over and board their ship.  She had treated three arrows so they would explode on contact.

Boston’s first shot fell a bit short.  She hit just below the railing.  She blew a hole in the railing and the deck and side of the ship.  She may have caught a few men with splinters, but that was about it.  She growled and let her second arrow fly.  She over compensated.  She would have sent her arrow over the far side of the warship if she had not scraped the mast.  The explosion cracked the mast, but the men ducked, and Boston really growled.  Her third arrow finally hit the deck, but by this time, the men backed away.  She blew a gaping hole in the deck, and several enemy men fell, either injured or knocked silly from the explosion, but it did not have the affect Boston wanted.  She got really mad.  She grabbed her wand and sent a giant fireball across the gap.  It cleared the deck of men who ran for their lives and set the enemy sails on fire.

By then, Katie, Decker, Lincoln, and Lockhart were picking off any enemy who stuck his head up or dared show himself.  Elder Stow and Sukki returned from sinking their ship.  Elder Stow settled down by Tony and the men at the rudder, mumbling that now he might get some work done.  Sukki burned through the ropes attached to the other ship from overhead, which set their ship free.  She also sliced through the oars on one side, in case they were foolish enough to follow, before she landed on the deck beside Boston.

Alexis shouted to the rudder.  “Hold it steady.”  She shouted to Nanette.  “Can you raise the front end of the ship a bit, so it doesn’t drag so much?”  Nanette had to think about it, but nodded, that she would try.  Alexis raised the wind and the ship jerked forward before it settled into a steady pace, far faster than the ship had ever flown.

They soon left the third bireme behind, and saw it turn around, probably to pick up survivors from the other two warships.

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

MONDAY

Having escaped the pirates, the travelers move to the gulf where there is a storm brewing, but not a natural one.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

*

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 2 of 6

Captain Ardacles seemed a rough man, but gregarious in his way.  He liked to talk and laugh, though usually he laughed at the expense of others.  His mate, Pinto, was more the skinny and slick type who kept all his thoughts and feelings to himself and maintained the outward appearance of a stoic.  Boston did not like the mate, but she said it might be a personality thing and not necessarily that he was a bad man.

Captain Ardacles sailed what people in the Middle Ages would call a belly boat.  It appeared roundish, with a big hold where they could squeeze in all those horses.  When loaded, it sat low in the water, so it was not very fast.  It had oars, but mostly moved dependent on the wind in the sails, and to that end, it had a lateen sail in the bow to catch whatever wind might be blowing.

When the tide came in, the ship rose beside the dock until the door to the hold ended up in line with the dock.  The horses could walk straight into the ship, only a little downhill to the hold where they could be safely tied for the voyage.  They had food and plenty of water for the animals, so that would not be a problem for the couple of days they expected to be aboard the ship.

Lockhart and Katie got up a couple of hours before dawn to supervise the loading of their horses, Ghost the mule, and their wagon.  Tony and Boston helped. Tony, from 1905, grew up in a world of horses, and probably had more practical experience with them than any of the other travelers.  Boston, being an elf, proved invaluable.  The horses listened to her.  Besides, she rode in several rodeos in her youth and teen years.  She was probably the second most experienced horse person in the group.

“Come on, Cocoa,” Boston yelled at Sukki’s horse.  “Strawberry is already on board, so it won’t be so bad.”  Strawberry was Boston’s horse, and the two horses often rode side by side.

Lockhart followed.  “Elder Stow’s horse, Mudd?”  He was not sure, but Boston and Katie nodded.  “You would think he is the stubborn mule.”

“Use the carrot, not the stick,” Tony suggested.  He got some fodder to entice the hungry horse, and in that way, led Mudd to the trough.

Later, when the sun came up, Katie remarked on how many merchant ships were in the port, and how many Roman warships were also present.

“How can you tell which is which?” Lockhart asked.

Katie pointed.  “The long ships, like there, and there.  They are the warships, and fast oared ships, triremes and biremes.  They don’t depend on the sails so much.  Besides, they have mounted ballistae and catapults that you can see.”

“I thought catapults were medieval, or maybe for cities.”

“The ram, the big tree that sticks out in front of the ship, just below the water line, is still the main weapon.  It makes the ship like a manned spear.  It is connected to the spine of the ship, so when you ram another ship, the impact is spread more or less evenly throughout your whole ship.  Hopefully, the other ship sinks when your oars pull your ship back.”

“Must be hard to hit a moving ship at sea with a catapult,” Lockhart guessed.

“Not much harder than hitting a ship with an eight-pounder such as they used on the Spanish Main,” Katie responded.  “A good naval artillery man knows how to mentally adjust for speed, pitch, and the rest, to know just when to fire for the most likely hit.  It takes practice.  Not all artillery masters are good at it.”

Lockhart nodded, while Lincoln and Alexis came aboard with Decker and Nanette.  They would take the day watch, not that they distrusted Captain Ardacles and his crew, but they did not want to let the horses and equipment that far out of their sight.  Once Boston, Tony, Katie and Lockhart went ashore, Pinto and the crew moved the ship out into the deeper waters of the port so another vessel could pull up to the docks.

Father Flavius and Deacon Galarius came aboard after morning devotions.  The deacon promptly took a nap.  Decker and Nanette stood apart, by the rail, whispering.  That left Father Flavius, Lincoln, and Alexis to carry on a lively conversation.  They talked mostly about history and current events, and the peace that Constantine finally brought on the empire.  They talked about how the day seemed to be dragging on.

Finally, around mid-day, Lockhart, Katie, Boston, and Tony returned in the long boat which brought very little in the way of supplies that day.  Katie and Lockhart brought lunch, and food they could have for their supper, not imagining the ship’s cook could wring much worth eating out of the larder.

“Where are Sukki and Elder Stow?” Alexis asked.

“Elder Stow says he is at a critical point in his repairs,” Katie responded.  “He says it has been hard enough trying to make repairs while we are moving all the time.  He has not had that much free time to work on his device, but if the makeshift part works, we may have our screens back.”

“And if it doesn’t work?” Lincoln asked.

“Back to the drawing board.”  Katie shook her head.

“Sukki is staying with her adopted father to keep him company, and make sure he is not disturbed in his work,” Boston said.  “They will be along later this afternoon.  Meanwhile, I have to go pick on my sister Nanette.  She is getting too comfortable with Decker.”

The others knew enough to leave Decker and Nanette alone to work out whatever they worked out.  “But try telling an elf to mind her own business,” Alexis said with a laugh at the thought.

The afternoon dragged on.  Captain Ardacles showed up around four, but went straight into his cabin, to check the charts, he said.  The little castle in the back of the boat held the cabin that belonged to the captain.    The forecastle cabin held the larder and the kitchen.  It also had something of a bathroom, right next to the food.  The travelers tried not to think about contamination.  The crew quarters were below, squeezed extra tight because of the horses taking so much room.  The passengers were expected to sleep on the deck and hope it did not rain.

Six o’clock, the captain came barreling out of his cabin shouting orders.  “Get that sail up.  We have a favorable wind,” he yelled at Pinto.  “The tide is beginning to go out and we can ride it straight to the Bosporus.”

“Wait.”  All of the travelers yelled.  “Elder Stow.  Sukki.  Wait.”

“We have to go now,” Pinto told the group.  “Otherwise, we have to wait until the morning.”

“Elder Stow,” Katie spoke into her wristwatch communicator.  “The ship is pulling out into the straight.  You need to try and catch us.”

“I just talked to the long boat people at the dock,” Sukki interrupted.  “They said it is too late to catch the ship.”

“It is okay,” Elder Stow responded.  “We can fly out to the ship.”

“What?  Wait,” Lockhart said, but he did not say it into his communicator.

Elder Stow hooked his screen device to the other devices he carried on his belt—the belt Boston called the Batman belt.  “Are we ready?” Elder Stow asked, and held out his hand.

Sukki shook her head.  “I would like to try it on my own.  The goddesses gave me a Lockhart heat-ray power, super strength, pressurized skin, and one gave me the gift of flight, though I am not sure which one did that.  But I haven’t had much chance to practice.”  She lifted herself about five feet above the dock and smiled at the feeling of being weightless and being able to control it.

The long boat men ran off, except one who appeared frozen and staring.  One screamed as Elder Stow touched his anti-gravity device and rose up to join her.  In only a moment, they headed out over the water and would reach the boat in a few minutes.  When they got near, they found Nanette had risen up to join them in their landing.  All three flew, but in different ways.  Sukki had been gifted, and Elder Stow had a device.  Nanette had her magic, which was rooted in a telekinetic ability to move objects with her mind, like a Shemsu, Katie said before she changed her mind.  The Shemsu lifted things in a fourth way, because their genes had been manipulated to give them that ability in the ancient days.

They landed on the ship, Sukki still smiling and happy, but tired.  She had not been gifted to fly long distances.  “Me neither,” Nanette confessed.  

“I can’t fly at all,” Boston grumped.

“But you are speedy girl,” Sukki said, and Nanette nodded.

“Only with Roland,” Boston answered, and both the true cave woman, Sukki, and Nanette from 1905 covered their mouths and looked embarrassed, while Boston grinned her best elf grin.

Elder Stow ignored the girls and went back to work on his screen device, while he still had some daylight. Alexis stepped up and made a comment.

“I think you scared Pinto half to death.  He escaped to the kitchen and may hide down in the crew quarters.”

Lincoln, who never let Alexis get too far away, added, “Captain Ardacles looks pretty pale, too.”

Lockhart, Decker, and Katie all looked at the captain and wondered what he might be thinking.  Father Flavius explained to Deacon Galarius.

“These folks are from a future full of wonders.  Be glad they are friends with his grace.”

Deacon Galarius tried to smile and swallowed.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 1 of 6

After 293 A.D. Nicaea

Kairos 94: Bishop Veritas

Recording …

“Over here,” the man said.  “Follow me.”

Lockhart looked at the man who dressed in a simple brown robe with only a rope for a belt.  The man wore sandals that appeared to be falling apart, and the travelers would have ignored him as one of the uncountable number of poor and destitute people they had seen through their journey, except for two things.   For one, he wore a leather necklace, which held a hand-sized iron cross, and which bounced off his ample belly as he walked.  Rather than a Greek or Thracian from the Roman Empire, it made him look more like a medieval monk—at least the Hollywood version.  For two, and more to the point, when they saw him, he first said to them, “Welcome, friends from the future.”  The man waited while Lockhart considered what to do.  The man spoke again after a moment.

“I know an inn where you, your horses, and equipment can all be safe in the night.  And I know a Ship Captain that will sail all of us to Asia for a reasonable price,” the man said, and he went back to waiting.

“I sense no evil intent in him,” Katie tried to whisper as she held her horse steady.

“I think he is one of the good guys,” Boston spoke up from the rear, making herself heard and directing her voice to Lockhart’s ears only.

Lincoln pushed his horse forward to speak to the man.  “We are looking for Bishop Veritas.  Do you know him?”

“I do, indeed,” the man said, and smiled.  “He is the one who told me about you and asked me to keep watch for you while I worked here in Byzantium.  He said, after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, when the emperor had a vision and the cross appeared on the hill in Constantine’s face—and you did not come then—this is probably the worst time for you to arrive.  He said to expect you any day, and here you are.”

“And where is the bishop?” Alexis asked.  She had followed Lincoln to the front where their four horses presently blocked most of the street.

“He is in Nicaea, where all the bishops argue day and night in front of the Emperor, Constantine.  They gave me a headache, so his grace kindly sent me to Byzantium to see to the construction of the church of God’s Peace.”  The man shook his head.  “It will be ten years in the building, but it will be worth it.  Constantine has brought peace on the whole empire, and in God’s name, it is only right to celebrate that.”

“I see,” Katie said.

“And do you have a name?” Lockhart asked.

“I am Father Flavius of Apollonia.  My companion, whom you will meet, is Galarius, Deacon of Barke.”

Before anyone could introduce the travelers, they got interrupted by a group of soldiers.  “Hey.  Move on.  You can’t park here.  You are blocking traffic.”

“Follow me,” Father Flavius said, and with one more glance at his fellow travelers, Lockhart, with Katie, followed, and the rest of the group trailed behind.

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When the horses were well stabled, the wagon put up for the night, and the travelers settled into the inn beside the port, Father Flavius, Deacon Galarius, Captain Ardocles and his mate, a skinny fellow named Pinto, that Decker called Beans, ate their fill.  They all enjoyed a fish supper that the priest, his deacon, and the sailors gladly did not have to pay for.  Lincoln had become treasurer for the group, and he had plenty of gold and silver, a gift from Odaenathus and Zenobia.  The coins held the likeness of the Emperor Gallienus, so they were fifty years out of date, but gold and silver held their value no matter whose likeness they had.

“You can’t park here,” Boston repeated the phrase, and giggled.  It was what the Kairos Sophia said to a group of aliens several years earlier, near the beginning of their journey.  Katie and Lockhart both grinned at the memory.  Tony had not been there.  He ate his supper.  Those four sat across the table from the four locals.  The other travelers sat at the other table.

“Sophia,” Deacon Galarius responded in the Latin they all spoke.  “It means wisdom in the Greek.  Was your Sophia a wise woman?”

Those who remembered looked embarrassed.  Sophia had been a whore, but Boston spoke up and said, “Yes.  Very wise,” and that was certainly true enough, so no one argued.

“Yes,” Father Flavius spoke up.  “I argued for Hagia Sophia, the Church of God’s Wisdom.  Galarius, here, argued for Hagia Dynamis, the Church of God’s Power.  But the bishop overruled us.”

“Dynamis?” Lockhart asked.

“Think dynamic, dynamo, or maybe dynamite,” Katie whispered.

“Maybe those other churches will be built one day,” Tony said, and looked carefully at the others, especially Katie, in the hope that he did not speak out of turn.

“But maybe one at a time,” Katie said.  “Hagia Eirene, the Church of God’s Peace seems a good place to start.”

“That is exactly what Bishop Veritas said,” Deacon Galerius exclaimed.  “One at a time.”

Father Flavius nodded, knowingly.  “I don’t know what future you are from, but clearly you know some things we can only guess.  I got that impression that his Grace is connected to the future, too, somehow.  He can quote the holy books word for word, even the Hebrew scriptures.”

“He says the Storyteller reads it to him,” Deacon Galarius interrupted.  “He says he has the hard part translating it all back into Latin and Greek.  Don’t know what language he hears it in.  He has never said who the Storyteller is.”  The man shrugged.

“How did he become a bishop, anyway?” Lockhart asked, with a glance at Lincoln.  That is the sort of question Lincoln usually looked up in the database.  “He usually does not insert himself into local positions like that.”

Lincoln took that moment to put a few coins in his pocket and dump his bag of coins back into his saddlebag, with considerable clinking sounds, and an “Ugh,” as he lifted the heavy saddle bags from the bench to the floor.  Everyone looked.  No one paid attention except Captain Ardocles, who glanced at his mate.  Pinto stayed stone faced.

Lincoln did not notice the others.  He stayed too busy keeping up a lively conversation with Alexis.  They sat across from Decker and Nanette, who sat next to each other, but looked at their plates and scrupulously did not touch each other, or say much of anything beyond yes, no, and I don’t know.  Sukki sat next to Lincoln, across from Elder Stow who ate little and mumbled as he worked on his screen device.  After three days, he did not appear any closer to fixing the device than he was when the wraith busted it.

“So, at the battle of Adrianople,” Father Flavius said.  “Constantine marched under the Labarum, the banner of Christ, and Licinius fought with the pagans, and even hired some pagan goths.  Licinius thought to counter Constantine’s Labarum by putting known Christians in the front of his lines, including a couple of bishops.”

“My old pagan bowing, statue worshiping bishop of Cyrene was there,” Deacon Galarius said, with some disgust in his voice.  “He said paying homage to the gods and making sacrifice to the emperor was the only way he could keep his position and property during the persecutions, but honestly, no telling what he actually believed.”

“Now,” Father Flavius took the conversation back.  “Veritas was a soldier, a young centurion who served in Constantine’s inner circle.  They say he killed the old pagan bishop with his own hand.  The emperor had an idea—always a dangerous thing.  He decided to make Veritas the new bishop of Cyrene.  Veritas swore he was a soldier, and what did he know about being a leader in the church?  Constantine countered that he was also a soldier, and what did he know about being emperor?  He said they would learn as they went along.  The bishop responded with the word, “crap,” though later he said it was the word “carp.”  I don’t know what language that was in, but he explained that a carp was a fish particularly hard to catch, and he got caught.”

“Oh, crap,” a grinning Boston could not resist repeating the word.  Lockhart and Katie grinned with her.  Tony looked more stoic, but none explained the meaning of the word, as Captain Ardocles and Pinto interrupted by standing.

“Lovely stories,” Captain Ardocles said.  “But we have high tide before sunrise.  Me and my mate need to get some rest, so we can load your horses, mule, and wagon straight from the dock when the tide is up.  We will stock the ship during the day and be ready to sail when the tide returns in the late afternoon.”

“Mighty fine-looking horses you got,” Pinto said, as they left.

Tony scooted around the table so everyone could have more room.  “Probably uncomfortable with the talk about the bishop.  They are Christians?” he asked in a casual tone.

Father Flavius paused before he answered.  “Yes, of course.”

“No telling these days,” Deacon Galarius said more honestly.  “Since Constantine’s victory last September, it seems everyone claims to be Christian.  Who knows how much of it is real?”

Father Flavius nodded.  “Bishop Veritas says the church will have to teach every day and twice on Sunday, and maybe the great-grandchildren will actually be people of faith.”  He looked again at the door with some uncertainty on his face.

Deacon Galarius added, “Right now, we are just digging up the hard, crumbly soil and planting seeds.  We are gentle persuasion, prayer, and hard work.  God will bring a harvest in his good time.  We can wait and pray for it, but it will probably come after our time.”

Katie nodded.  “It will be centuries before Europe can be called anything like Christendom.”

Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 4 of 4

“Boston!”  Sukki’s voice echoed down from overhead.  A line of laser-like heat and light, reminiscent of Elder Stow’s weapon, came from overhead, and turned the front few rows of horses and men to charcoal.  Lincoln chose that time to set off Elder Stow’s sonic device, and the horses behind had enough.  They did not seem to care what their riders said.

The cavalry ran off.  The battalion of foot soldiers followed them.  Decker shot one more man off the city wall in the distance before the wall got deserted.  People wanted to cheer, but they still had to contend with the forty or so men across the street that continued to pelt them with rifle fire.

“Elder Stow,” Lockhart shouted into his wristwatch, as Katie grabbed a now visible Boston and dragged her behind the makeshift fort.

“No time soon,” Elder Stow responded.  “The wraith busted the device, a pretty thorough job.”

“Why is it always me?” Boston complained.

“Move,” Katie commanded Boston’s fairy weave clothes, and the fairy weave moved aside to expose the wound.  Aleah snuck up as Prenner and the boys came with their bows and arrows.  Prenner still had Decker’s handgun and looked determined not to miss the fight.  Aleah tore a strip off her dress and folded it carefully to hold against Boston’s bleeding side.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch,” Boston said, as Katie turned her rifle back on the enemy.

Word came from Decker, overhead.  “They appear to be gathering.  Probably going to charge.  I think they have bayonets.”

Just then, Sergeant Vespavian, the old Roman soldier that somehow survived and stayed in town after the fall of the city, came up with his local men.  They spread out behind the makeshift fort, bows ready, and with sword and knives if needed to repel the attack.

“Get ready,” Katie shouted, as a great flash of light and a clap of thunder made everyone pause.

A man appeared in the street.  No one recognized him at first because he had his back turned to the fort.  He lifted his arm and every enemy matchlock, all the powder and shot appeared in a pile beside him

“Amun,” Arman identified the man first.  Amun Junior, usually just called Junior, was the son of Amun and Ishtar, and also the Kairos from long, long ago.  Arman turned to his wife.  “Yes, Aleah,” he said.  “This is one of the gods.”

She mouthed, “Oh,” and went to her knees.

Amun waved his hand again and every weapon and item in the hands of the enemy that did not belong in that time period vanished, while all of the enemy riflemen appeared.  The men looked frozen in whatever position they had been in.  A few looked like they were trying to run away.

One man faced Amun, standing in front of all the others.  That man’s eyes got big, and his jaw dropped, which told everyone that he was not completely frozen.  “You should not be here,” the man protested, and he closed his eyes, like he dared not watch.

Amun waved his hand one more time, and all of the riflemen disappeared.  Katie and Lockhart vanished and reappeared on either side of the god.  Katie figured out who the man was that faced them, though he had aged, significantly.

“Ramin Lajani,” Katie said, as Arman walked up to stand beside her.

“He did not age well,” Lockhart said.  “Arman aged well.”  He acknowledged the man.  “But Ramin Lajani looks like the stress caught up with him about ten years ago.”

Ramin Lajani opened his eyes to see who talked about him.  He recognized the couple.  He tried to scream.  His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Amun waved his hand once more and Ramin Lajani went away, but another, similar-looking man stood in his place.

“No,” the man shouted.  “You should not be here.  The gods have all gone away.”

Amun said nothing.  He simply pushed his two fingers together, and the man curled up into a ball about the size of a soccer ball.  Then Amun spoke.  “Ramin Lajani’s future lifetime, the one in contact with the Masters.  Now, Ramin Lajani will be cut off from future information and not be able to make any more guns, or anything else from the future… What?”  Amun paused, before he said, “Xalazar says it must be handled in the right way.”

The god waved his hand once more, and the ball that used to be a human being went away and Ramin Lajani stood in that spot again facing his accusers once again.  Amun himself went away so Xalazar could return from the past and take Amun’s place.  Xalazar stood in the armor of the Kairos and held tight to his sword.  Ramin Lajani did not know who this relatively young man was at first, but when his eyes adjusted for the age difference, his eyes got very big.

“No,” he shouted, sounding like an imitation of his future self.  “You should not be here.  I killed you.”

“Yes, you did,” Xalazar said, and thrust with his sword, right into Ramin Lajani’s middle.  Xalazar yanked the sword back out, and Ramin Lajani collapsed.  He would not live long.

“But you killed my future self.  I am cut off from the future,” Ramin Lajani said and coughed.  “I killed you.  You are dead.  How are you here?”  Ramin Lajani gasped and died.

“That is actually a very good question,” Arman said.

Xalazar nodded and said what the others supposed was safe to say.  “I regenerated my body, and mostly sleep in a kind of cryogenic suspension when I am not going somewhere into the past or future.  See?  I am young again.”

Arman looked at Katie and Lockhart.  “Did he say that in your tongue?  I didn’t understand much.”

Katie and Lockhart smiled and Xalazar continued.  “It is remarkable how my mind—thoughts, emotions, knowledge, memories, personality—and body things like skills and abilities are all connected, like one package, like one person.  Only my spirit, my Kairos spirit moves on from life to life.  But here, I should let the one who is alive in this lifetime explain, only, don’t say anything about her future, or whatever.  Stern warning, Katie.  And tell Lincoln, Tony, and Nanette to keep their mouths shut as well.  Got it?”

Katie nodded, and Lockhart wondered what they might say.  Xalazar shook his finger at them and disappeared, while a beautiful woman, roughly in her mid-twenties, appeared, still wagging the finger.  She stood about five feet-seven, and had long brown hair, and startling green eyes which looked very alive.  She put her hand down, with only a curious glance at her finger, and said, “Hi, Lockhart and Katie.  Don’t think I am going to let my new husband go off to war without me.  Hello Lincoln,” she shouted.  “It’s me, Zenobia.  Where’s Boston.”

A sad little voice came from behind the stones.  “I’m here.  I’m hurting.  I got a big ouch.”

“I’m coming,” Zenobia shouted back, and started toward the voice.  The others followed.

“But what about the Sassanid army in town?” Lincoln interrupted her walk.  She stopped and turned her head away from the city wall.

“They left.  They will probably burn the bridges across the river.  I am sure they will meet up with the rest of the Sassanid army on the other side of the Euphrates and prepare for a big battle.  But Odaenathus should not meet any resistance crossing the river, thanks to you guys.”  Zenobia finished her walk to where Alexis had Boston standing on one foot.  Zenobia hugged the elf and added, “I don’t know why you are the one who keeps getting wounded.”

“I know,” Boston, now a happy elf responded.  “That is what I keep asking.”

“Bringing Nanette down,” they heard Sukki say over the wristwatch communicators.   She landed with Nanette carried easily in her arms.  Alexis went there to check on her work.  Zenobia dropped Boston to go coo over the girl.  Boston would have fallen from her own wound, but fortunately, Arman’s wife, Aleah was there to catch her.

Decker clambered down the outside of the wall and came around through the hole in the collapsed front of the building, where Tony sat with Prenner and the boys, watching everything.  Old Sergeant Vespavian and his men stood around, not quite certain what to do, when Zenobia threw her hands up in the air and raised her voice to get everyone’s attention.

“I know.  Let’s have a party right here in the street.  Let’s have a street party.  We need to celebrate driving out a whole Sassanid army before my husband even arrived.  Prenner, get the dwarf wives cooking up a storm.”

“Odaenathus is your husband?” Katie wanted to be sure.

Zenobia nodded, as Lockhart spoke up.  “I see smoke rising in the distance.  I guess the Sassanids are burning those bridges.”  Zenobia nodded for him, too, as Elder Stow walked up.

“I will be able to fix it,” he said, about his screen device.  “But it will take serious time.  I will have to test all the miniature circuits and pray none are broken.”

Four hours later, a centurion, the Roman spy, went meekly into his general’s tent to report.  “Lord Odaenathus.  We entered the city, as you commanded, and found the streets deserted, but signs of Sassanid military occupation all over the place.  We hurried to the other side of the city and caught the rear guard of the Sassanids crossing the river and preparing to burn the bridge.  Most of the men remain there, holding the bridge for your arrival.  Meanwhile, a few of the men followed me to one street where the people were having a celebration.”  He cleared his throat before he continued.

“A strange young woman grabbed me, and said, “Tell Odaenathus my friends broke the Sassanid ambush and drove off the enemy.  Now, you will have no resistance in crossing the Euphrates.  Tell him to hurry so he can meet my friends before they have to move on and remind him, he is not allowed to go off adventuring without me.”  She let me go.  The food was really good.  She said the dwarf wives outdid themselves.  I don’t know what that means.  I felt very confused with some of the things the people said.  Lord, it seemed such a strange encounter, I hurried here to report with the hope that you might make sense of it.”

Odaenathus stared at the city, called for his horse, his guard, and his second in command, before he turned to the centurion and offered what explanation he had.  “My wife, who I left back in Palmyra.  She is the definition of strange encounter.”

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MONDAY

Back to the regular 3 posts per week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) and 6 posts (two weeks) per episode.  Next week the travelers arrive in Constantinople where there is peace in the empire if not in the church.  Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs.  Happy Reading

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