Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 5 of 6

Katie whistled for her horse, and he came right away.  The other horses followed, except Lockhart’s horse, Seahorse, and Boston’s Strawberry.  They were not finished munching on flowers for breakfast, and Seahorse even stamped his hooves like the unruly child he was.

“Strawberry,” Boston called, and the horse came.  Seahorse still resisted but did not want to be the only one left standing in the field.

While the horses got saddled, Sukki asked what the opposing army was doing.  “They are just standing there being quiet.  It feels creepy.”

“Spooky,” Nanette agreed.

Decker lifted Tony’s hands.  Tony held his handgun at the ready, but he pointed the gun too low, anticipating the recoil.  “No recoil until after you fire,” Decker said.

“I can’t think of anything we can do to send them away.  This looks like a stalemate,” Lockhart said.

Lincoln walked up, having just put Ghost in the harness.  “Don’t look at me,” he said.

Cadmael offered a thought.  “It looks like the whole army from Caracol.”

“Maybe we could talk to them and see what they want?” Gabor suggested.

“Major, ever do any sharpshooting?” Decker asked.  “Six hundred meters is not that far.”

“Yes Colonel,” Katie answered.  “But I don’t think we are starting with sharpshooting.”

“We see if we can talk,” Lockhart agreed.  He started forward.  Katie, Cadmael, and Gabor went with him.  They got about a hundred yards toward the forest when they heard someone in the army line shout a command.  Lockhart could not tell what was said, but at once, the whole enemy line rushed forward.  More than five hundred, and maybe a thousand Caracol warriors hit Elder Stow’s screens at once.  They bounced off, but he heard Elder Stow shout, “No, no.  No.”

Lockhart quickly turned and brought everyone back while the Caracol warriors tried again and again.

“No,” Elder shouted once more, and the screen disappeared.  Three thousand Caracol warriors crossed the line, screaming murder.  Decker and Katie opened fire with the rifles set to automatic.  Lincoln, Lockhart, and Tony added their handguns to the mix.  At that distance, given the way they were all bunched up, they would hit something.

Boston gave her handgun to Nanette who bravely walked up beside Decker and pulled the trigger.  Boston did not have time to make explosive arrows, but she had her wand.  Alexis was already calling up a wind strong enough to blow dozens off their feet.  Boston made her flamethrower which at least slowed the charge.

Sukki rose up, seeing that Elder Stow was busy with the screen device.  At twenty feet in the air, Sukki could see the whole Caracol army.  She looked at her own hands.  She could not control her power well enough yet.  She did not practice.  She still scared herself.  She could not just stun them to put the whole Caracol army unconscious. She could fry many of them and leave charcoal bits on the ground that used to be human beings, but she could not bring herself to do that.  She made up her mind that she had to do that when something intruded through the air.

A dragon flew between the travelers and the army of Caracol, spewing fire on the army the whole way.  That fire, far more powerful than Boston’s little flame thrower, turned the whole front of that line into a burning, screaming mass of humanity.  The ones behind, or who were not disabled by the fire, turned and ran for their lives.  Decker, and after a minute Katie mercifully shot the men who were burning and screaming in pain.  After another moment, Tony joined them.  Then Lockhart pulled his shotgun and finished some of the last.  It felt like a horrible thing to have to do, but no one talked about it, ever.

Cadmael stood like a stoic and watched flanked by young Xipetec and old man Kaax.  Gabor and most of his escort crew were on their knees, and a few were crying.  A few more screamed and shrieked when the dragon turned in the sky and came in for a landing.  Lockhart stood out front and yelled at the top of his lungs.

“No fire.  Do no harm.  Friends.  Friends.”  He repeated the phrase in the Agdaline tongue that all dragons were bred to obey.  “No fire.  Friends.”  Of course, whether they obeyed when they got big and went wild was always a question, but there was nothing else they could do.  They stood in an open field without so much as a rock or tree to hide behind.  “Friends.”

The travelers gathered behind Lockhart.  The Mayan kept their distance, and many stayed on their knees.  The horses kept their distance as well, but they did not run off, being magically tied to their riders.  They shuffled away from the beast but stayed within reach.

The dragon landed and raised its head high in the sky.  It burped a small burst of flame into the sky and repeated Lockhart’s words in the Mayan tongue.  “No fire.”  People looked up and saw someone on the neck of the dragon, riding the dragon, like they once saw Ixchel, daughter of Maya, the corn woman goddess, who rode a different dragon a long time ago.

Lincoln whispered to Alexis.  “This is a different breed.  It still has all its feathers, like a baby.”

Alexis nodded and answered.  “And it looks more like an actual worm than most, with hardly any claws front and back.”  She pointed.  “The folded wings are hardly noticeable, the way they blend into the body.  It is a wonder it doesn’t set itself on fire with those feathers.”

Lincoln clarified.  “I read about that.  They are leathery and fireproof, a strong protection that is more flexible, though not as strong as scales.  Most dragons, especially the more dinosaur-looking type, shed their feathers at a certain age when their scales begin to harden. But a few of the more obvious worm-like breeds, the kind that slither but don’t really walk, wear their feathers their whole life.”

Alexis nodded, as the dragon said another word.  “Friends,” and Lockhart noticed the dragon spoke in the Mayan language, not the Agdaline.  He was about to say something when they heard the person overhead riding on the Dragon’s neck.

“Boston,” the woman said.

Boston shouted back.  “No way.  I’m not climbing on a dragon back to get my hug.”

The woman, obviously Yamaya, laughed.  They heard it as the dragon lowered its head to the ground and let a little puff of smoke out from its nostrils.  Yamaya slipped down and opened her arms.  She grinned, but Boston remained wary, being so close to the big dragon’s head.  At last, though, she could not help herself and ran into the hug.  Everyone smiled, though most looked at the dragon to see if it reacted.  It watched but stayed quiet.

Yamaya went around to hug all of the travelers.  It felt a bit like she was sending the dragon a message that these people were okay, and the dragon should not hurt them.  Then she introduced her dragon and stepped over to scratch behind the dragon’s ear.

“This is my friend, Gluga,” she said.  “She is my protector, though she says she is more like my mother, and I am like her baby.  She never had any babies.”  Gluga snorted and shot out her tongue, briefly, like a snake might taste the air.

“Glugh?” Lockhart said as he tried to grasp the Agdaline word.  “Injury?”

“Hurting,” Yamaya said.  “Gluga was a prisoner in a stone-built cage in Tikal for five hundred years.  She cried and told me how much being a prisoner hurt her.  We figured out how to set her free and we escaped to the wilderness around Uaxactun, but that is a long story.”  Yamaya looked up and saw a face she recognized.  “Cadmael,” she said.  “How dare you return here.”

Cadmael fell to one knee and lowered his head.  “These people appeared to belong to you.  They said as much.  I do not understand most of what they say or how they can do what they can do, but if they are not of the gods, as they claim, then they certainly must belong to you.  I felt it only fair to guide them and give them as safe a passage as I could.  I still owe you my life.”

Yamaya looked like she could not stay mad.  The smile came back with force.  “Thank you, but you and your friends can go back south if you do not want the Lords of Tikal to find you.”

“Yes, please.  Thank you,” Cadmael looked relieved that he was not going to be eaten.

“And these men from Tayasal?” Yamaya asked, not sure what to ask, exactly.

Somehow, Gabor found the courage to answer.  “My Lords said to take these people to Tikal and offer them for the sacrifice, to prove that Tayasal is still loyal to the great city and not willing to submit to the advances of King K’an of Caracol.  I see now that was a wrong-headed and foolish idea.  My few men could not take these people anywhere they did not want to go.  Please, mighty Queen of the Serpent.  May we live?”

Yamaya shook her head and sighed.  “Go ahead.  Take your men and leave.  Be content to live beside the lake of plenty and do not come here again.”

Gabor bowed his head and did not have to yell to get his men to hurry back the way they came.  Cadmael, Xipetec, and old man Kaax also bowed, and with more reverence and less desperation.  Then they turned and followed the men of Tayasal.

“They planned to give us to Tikal to have our hearts cut out?” Tony said, and people looked at Yamaya.

“It is what we do,” she said.  “But honestly, I don’t understand all the politics involved.  All I know is the people are divided, like polar opposites mostly on stupid little stuff that should not matter.  It is like the hundred year’s war with Catholics and Protestants killing each other over stupid stuff.  It isn’t like your Civil War where a couple of big issues divided the people and needed to be decided.  It is more like your twenty-first century where progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans can’t even talk to each other.  Only here, the cities fight each other all the time, and have for years.  And why?  Mostly over stupid stuff.  They just can’t agree.  I don’t understand politics.  Why can’t people just be nice to each other and live in peace?”

Gluga lifted her head a little and nudged Yamaya gently.  Yamaya’s smile returned, and she nodded.  “Come on,” she said.  Gluga will lead the way.  We cross a few fallow farm fields and get to an old causeway that will take us to the old city where we are living.  Come.  Get your horses and come on.”

Yamaya started walking, and Gluga slithered out front, making a nice indent in the field.  It took a bit to gather the horses.  Ghost, for some reason, did not appear bothered by the dragon.  So soon they headed out across the field, following the woman and the serpent.

The travelers stayed one night in the Wilderness of Uaxactun before they went on to Yamaya’s old city which Lincoln identified as Mirador.

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 4 of 6

It took them three days to reach Seibal and another day to reach Tayasal.  Cadmael told them this was the most dangerous area and showed them all the roads that went to Caracol.  “Lord Kan II of Caracol turned his army many times against Naranjo, a city in league with the Great Tikal.  Finally, in the last year, he has taken Naranjo away from Tikal and all the cities fear he will now turn on them.”

“The people in Seibal and Tayasal seemed nice, but nervous,” Katie said.  But the smaller towns and villages we came through seemed unafraid.”

Cadmael agreed, and Kaax spoke.  “When the king goes hunting, the monkey laughs but the deer scatter.”

Decker gave it a guess.  “When a city goes on the warpath, they don’t bother with the small towns and villages. They go after the cities that own and control those towns.  But for the bigger cities it is like every man for himself.”

“Every city for itself,” Lincoln corrected.

“Land a Goshen,” Decker said.

Lincoln looked at Lockhart’s face and kept his mouth closed.

###

The following morning, the travelers left Tayasal under escort.  A man named Gabor led twenty men who pledged to take them safely to Tikal.  He and Cadmael did not know each other, but they soon got on friendly, speaking terms.

“And you believe these are messengers of the gods?” Gabor asked.

“If not, they should be,” Cadmael answered.  “I have seen thing and they know things, even future things that should not be spoken.  They told us about the hurricane the day before it arrived.”

Gabor closed his mouth and shook his head.  “It was a bad storm,” he admitted.

When they stopped for lunch, Elder Stow took a long look ahead on his scanner.  He saw a village about an hour away, but something did not look right.  He could not decide what bothered him, so he asked Decker to spy with his eagle totem.  Decker slipped out of the group where he could meditate in relative quiet.  His eagle totem took him almost to the clouds, and when he dove down to the village to give his eagle eyes a good look and he understood what bothered Elder Stow.

Decker opened his eyes and returned to the group with a word.  “The village ahead is full of soldiers—warriors.  They have the residents rounded up and surrounded in an open area, and they appear to be ransacking the village.  I think gathering foodstuffs.”

“How far away?” Lockhart asked.

“About an hour, if I judge correctly,” Elder Stow said.

“Any way to spy out the village and not be seen?” Lockhart asked.

“A few trees left along the causeway,” Decker answered.  “But mostly flat, open farm fields.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln interrupted.  “I expected this whole area to be deep dark jungle.”

“I agree,” Tony said.

Katie shook her head.  “Most of the jungle has been cut down for slash and burn agriculture.  And they probably have cut two or three times what they plant in a year.  They rotate fields because jungle soil plays out fairly quickly and needs time to renew.”

“Okay,” Lockhart raised his voice to regain everyone’s attention.  “We will get as close as we can and let Elder Stow pull up that hologram thing so we can look before we leap.”

An hour later, Elder Stow brought up an image from his scanner.  It showed Gabor, Cadmael, and the Mayan warriors in red, the travelers and their horses in blue, the residents in the village ahead in green, all bunched up in an open area, and the invading warriors in yellow.  For once, Elder Stow did not say yellow is for danger.

Cadmael pointed to the image and spoke.  “Tikal would not send armed men to a village.  They depend on grain from the village to feed their people.”

Gabor swallowed and said, “Caracol.”  He blinked at the image and explained himself.  “This place belongs to Yaxha, not Tikal.  The army of Caracol may be after Yaxha after Naranjo.”

Or they may be attacking Tikal itself and wanting to secure the land behind them and gather food to feed their army,” Decker suggested.

“Maybe Tikal is attacking Yaxha as a counter to Caracol taking Naranjo,” Katie said.

“Tikal owns Yaxha,” Gabor said.  “But Yaxha may be tempted to switch to Caracol after the taking of their sister city, and that might be enough to bring out Tikal’s men.”

“I would say that is least likely,” Decker countered.

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged her superior officer.

“Most likely, Caracol,” Cadmael said, and they planned what to do.

The travelers mounted up and rode their horses into the village.  Their Mayan guides and escort bunched up behind them.  Nanette and Alexis walked in the rear and led Ghost and the wagon.  Elder Stow payed close attention to his screen device and fiddled with the controls.

The warriors, and they were about three dozen from Caracol, made a line between the travelers and the village residents.  The line of armed men said stop where you are and go no further without anyone having to say anything.

Lockhart waited until Elder Stow said, “Done.  Ready.”  Then he got down and stepped up in front of his horse.  This time, Katie stayed mounted.  She had her rifle out and ready.

“You have a leader?”  Lockhart, looking like a giant to these men, had to wait while the men of Caracol whispered among themselves.  Finally, one stepped forward and Boston yelled.

“That is not the leader.  That is the one the leader designated to face the giant.”  Of course, her good elf ears heard exactly what the men had been whispering.

The man looked back, and a different man stepped out.  He looked determined and walked up to Lockhart.  Lockhart held his hand up as if to signal that was close enough, but the man kept walking until he bumped his toe and then his face and hands into Elder Stow’s screen and fell back on his rump.  The man rubbed his toe as Lockhart shrugged.

“I am giving you thirty seconds to collect your things and leave this place and leave these people alone.  After that time, I cannot guarantee you will survive.”

A Caracol warrior stepped up from behind the line and threw his spear at Lockhart while Lockhart said slowly, “One—two—three.”  The spear did not fare any better than the Caracol leader.  It bounced off Elder Stow’s screen and they all heard it crack.  Lockhart simply said, “Four—five—six.”

The leader jumped up and started to yell at his people to grab everything they could and go.  Several started toward the villagers, and Lockhart shot off his shotgun.  The thunderous roar and spray of buckshot, mostly that tore up the ground, got everyone’s attention.  A couple of Caracol warriors got pinprick holes in their legs that started bleeding. Several warriors screamed.  Many of the people screamed.  Lockhart was not sure if maybe some of the escort warriors from Tayasal screamed.  But then all went silent, and eyes turned to Lockhart.  He spoke into the silence.

“The people and their food are not your things.  I said collect your things and leave.  “Eleven—twelve—thirteen.”

The warriors from Caracol went off down the road and disappeared by the time Lockhart got to twenty-five.  Elder Stow turned off his screens.  Everyone came up into the village.  Nanette and Alexis went straight to the people to see if any were hurt.  Katie shouldered her rifle and got down to give Lockhart a kiss on the cheek.

“I counted slowly,” he said.

“I’m glad we did not have to kill anyone,” she said.

“Me too,” Decker said, but then answered the surprise on the faces around him by adding, “Believe it or not.”  He reigned back to join Tony in securing the wagon.

Cadmael and the men from Tayasal all wanted to spend the night in the village.  It turned four o’clock which meant they only had a few of hour of daylight left, but the travelers insisted they push on, not that they had any expectation of making it to Tikal before dark, but, as Katie explained, “By morning, the men of Caracol might be able to set up an ambush and we might walk right into it.”

The Mayan dragged their feet, but the travelers did not stop, until around six.  They came to a field left fallow, and they thought it might be a good place to camp.  They had plenty of open space behind them and stopped about six hundred yards short of a jungle area, so they had plenty of space ahead of them as well.  They had no interest in being surprised.  After they all got settled, Elder Stow set his screens around the camp so their night would be undisturbed.  The horses got set free for the night since Elder Stow finally figured out how to set the screen so they could shoot through it if they had to, but the horses and people could not accidentally walk through it and find themselves on the outside.  Of course, nothing but air and most birds could penetrate from the outside.  Boston, Sukki, and Nanette complained that the insects could also penetrate the screens.

Elder Stow shook his head.  “The insects are already inside,” he insisted.

Come the morning, the travelers woke to a surprise.  On the edge of the trees, six hundred yards off, and totally blocking the causeway to Tikal, there stood hundreds, or more likely thousands of Caracol warriors, ready for a fight.

Lincoln complained.  “You try to be nice.  You count nice and slow and let the men go, and they come back with an army.”

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 3 of 6

The Avenue ended in front of an adobe mountain beside what Katie called ball courts.

“Basketball?” Lockhart joked.  He knew better.

“Similar,” Katie said.  “Except the ring the ball needs to go through is twenty feet up and turned sideways, and no hands or feet allowed.”  To Lockhart’s curious look, she added, “Head shoulders, elbows, chest and knees only.”

At the end of the Avenue, roughly thirty men, looking like warriors but mostly older men, stood on a three-foot platform to stand above the crowd, a place where they could talk down to the people.  Aapo, Yochi, and Eme bowed deeply.  The people crowded around to hear what the rulers might say.  The soldiers waited, patiently, and kept the crowd from coming too close.  Katie and Lockhart stepped forward, followed by Lincoln and Alexis.  The horses, not having any grass to nibble, and wary of the crowd around them, also waited patiently for their riders.

“We are…” Lincoln started to speak but found Alexis’ hand over his mouth.  He meant to speak to Lockhart and Katie, but no doubt other ears would hear.

Aapo went into a long and fanciful tale about the travelers appearing out of nowhere, and coming from the west, which seemed important.  He told about the horses being poisonous, but how they were good servants to the gods.  He named Gukumatz, and the others that he knew.  He talked about how they flew over the narrow ledge on the mountain and embellished everything to make the tale almost unrecognizable.  He finished.  He waited like a man waiting for judgment.

Cadmael stepped up, bowed briefly, and added one word, militarily short and to the point.  “I see no trouble from these people.”

Silence followed as Elder Stow shuffled up from behind, his eyes glued to his scanner.

Katie and Lockhart took a step forward, and Katie spoke.  “We come in peace and pray that peace may extend to all of your people.”

“My father,” Elder Stow spoke to Lockhart as quietly as he could, but Gott-Druk are not good at whispering.  “I am picking up a storm over the water in the northwest.”  He stopped talking and stared at the group of elders.  Katie sensed what was coming.

One of the elders pushed to the front of the group.  He held a spear which he threw at Katie.  Katie stepped aside in time, but the spear struck Elder Stow, who fortunately had turned on his personal screen as soon as they got surrounded by the crowd.  The spear bounced off and Katie caught it.  She growled.

“That was not smart.” Lockhart spoke softly into the hush that followed.  Katie snapped the spear in two.  She threw the pieces to the ground.  Boston pulled her wand and shot a stream of fire which burned the weapon.

The elder who threw the spear screamed something unintelligible and reached for a second spear.  Decker fired his rifle.  The man spun around, fell to the ground, and died.  Two other men in the elders group quickly dropped their own spears.

“That was foolish,” Katie yelled, while Lockhart turned to Elder Stow.  Elder Stow pulled himself together enough to finish his thought.

“At its rate of travel, the hurricane should be here by tomorrow afternoon.  It will probably be a tropical storm by then, the way you folks judge things, but still destructive.”

Katie kept yelling.  “We came in peace.  We are not your prisoners.  We are not your sacrifices.  We are not your enemies, and you do not want to make us your enemies.”

“Cadmael,” Lockhart interrupted and looked at the man.  Cadmael had his hands up which somehow indicated to his warriors that they should not interfere.  “Is that the way to the main city?”  He could not remember the name.  He reached for Katie’s hand.

“Tikal,” Lincoln escaped Alexis’ hand and filled in the name.

Cadmael nodded, then shook his head.  “It is beyond the temple.”  He pointed to the pyramid.

“Take us,” Lockhart said before he turned to the elders.

“You should be kind to the strangers in your midst,” Katie finished yelling.  The elders looked unmoved.

Lockhart raised his voice.  “A hurricane is coming.  You will face the storm after mid-day tomorrow.  Consider this your warning.”  He waved Cadmael to move on, and the man did not argue, but Alexis spoke up.

“We need grain for the horses.”  Alexis reminded them all of what they talked about earlier, and she turned to give Aapo a hug.  She hugged Yochi and Eme and thanked them for their help.  Boston and Sukki joined in the hugs.  Lincoln suggested they go straight home and prepare their families for the coming storm, and they did, appearing anxious to get away from there.

“I would not expect any grain from these people,” Katie said, not quite out of steam.

“I can help with that,” Cadmael said.  He bowed to the unmoving and silent elders on the platform and waved to his warriors.  The warriors formed up and the crowd parted for them.  The travelers soon got behind the pyramid.

“This is the causeway to Tikal,” Cadmael explained.  “It is five days journey.  There are turns, crossways, places to stop and shelter, and places to avoid.  I will go with you.”  Before any of the travelers could object, Lincoln interrupted.  He had the database and talked with Boston, who checked her amulet.

“Six days if we stop and shelter from the storm,” he said.  “Yamaya should be another day beyond Tikal.”

Cadmael sent most of the men home to prepare for the storm.  He did not doubt the warning the travelers gave.  Some came back temporarily with bags and clay pots full of grain and food for the road.  Tony directed them to fill the wagon.  The causeway looked like a reasonable road, at least in the city.  No telling how bad it might get in the wilderness.  One good thing, though, was the land was not solid jungle, like it got in the future.  In fact, much of it was cleared for farm fields, so Tony figured if the road got too rough in a country not made for wheels, he might do better driving across the relatively flat farm fields.

Cadmael returned with two men to speak to Lockhart and Katie.  He introduced them.  “The young one is Xipetec.  He is not married and has brothers and sisters to take care of the home.  The old man is Kaax”

“Itzenkaax,” the man said.  “But they call me Kaax, and I’m not that old.”

Cadmael nodded.  “His wife died three years ago from the sickness, and his son left with the others to prepare his family for the storm.”

“The three of you will show us the way to Tikal?” Lockhart asked, wanting to be sure what the arrangement was.

“The magic number,” Kaax said, and pointed up.  “Like the three stars that stand side by side in the heavens.”

“Orion’s belt,” Katie said.  “I smell some Shemsu in that.  Boston,” she called.

“I only smell human beans,” Boston responded, and no one corrected her, though Alexis rolled her eyes and imagined she had been hanging out with too many imps and dwarfs.

“No, actually,” Cadmael shook his head.  “These are the only ones courageous enough to travel with you.”

“Good.”  Decker butted up to the front.  “Three wisemen.  Now, can we get moving before those elders think of some way to attack us.”

“Right,” Lockhart heard.  Boston and Sukki rode off a short way down the road.  The rest walked their horses and followed on foot.

The causeway proved good, about twenty feet wide and relatively flat, though mostly it wound around the hills.  “Good to not have to climb over the hills,” Decker remarked.

“But not good winding like a lazy river,” Tony responded.  “Give me Roman roads every time.  Straight as an arrow.”

“And the Romans built bridges,” Nanette added.  They arrived at a riverbank.  The river did not appear to be too wide or deep, but it guarded a small city on the other side, one that did not appear too friendly.  Thirty men stood on the opposite bank, and they were armed.

Cadmael stepped out front and shouted across the river.  One older man shouted back, but eventually the travelers would be allowed to cross.  Cadmael turned to explain to Lockhart.  Lincoln, Alexis, and Boston all listened in.  “They will let you pass, but you must go around and not come into the city.  I know a way where you can bring your wagon.”

“We are not that scary,” Lockhart protested.

Cadmael shook his head.  “You are strange and different.  That is enough for some.  And these people are afraid of Caracol.  They are not bad people.  There is much jade here along the river.  They dig what Copan does not take, and they trade well, but now, they are afraid.”

“El Porton,” Lincoln named the place.  “That is what it is called on my map.”  He showed Alexis.

“My father,” Elder Stow walked up with Katie.  “I have set four discs on the wagon, front, back, and both sides.  Sukki and I can float it across without getting it wet.  Tony will bring the mule.  Decker will bring Mudd.  Nanette will bring Sukki’s horse, Cocoa.”

“Better let me take Cocoa,” Boston interrupted.  “Cocoa and Strawberry go together.”

“But, my father,” Elder Stow continued, and looked up at the drizzling rain that started again an hour ago.  Everyone glanced up, following Elder Stow’s lead.  “The storm has sped up.  It will arrive tonight.  I recommend high ground in case the river overflows.  We need somewhere the horses can graze.  I can set my screens around a large enough area to keep out the worst of it.”

“We need somewhere that won’t become a mud slide,” Katie said

Two hours later, as the sky darkened beneath the clouds, they arrived in a meadow just north and up the hill from El Porton.  “I told them the storm is coming,” Cadmael said.  “But I cannot say they will listen.”

“The telling is the important thing,” Katie said.  “You have no control over what they hear and believe.”

Elder Stow threw the switch and young Xipetec stood and let out a shout.  “What happened to the rain?”

“Magic,” Boston blurted out, the second time Boston tried that line.  Alexis gave her a hard, motherly stare.

“Come,” Alexis said.  “I will show you.”  She led the young man to the edge of the meadow and showed him where the screen stopped, and the rain began to pour.

Lincoln turned to the old man, Kaax.  “You’re not curious?”

Kaax shook his head.  “But I am looking forward to a piece of deer that isn’t drowned.”

Cadmael just laughed.

The storm had plenty of lightning and thunder, but Elder Stow tweaked his screens to shade them from the great flashes of light and deaden the sound of the rumbling thunder.  They stayed most of the next day.  Finally, Lockhart made them move two hours north where they found a new campsite.  He was not about to let them go back to El Porton and see what they could do to help the people and with whatever damage might have occurred.  That might have delayed them for a week, but he only told Katie that was what he was doing.

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

MONDAY

The travelers run into big problems on the way to find Yamaya.  A whole army blocks the path, and a dragon intervenes.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 2 of 6

Aapo led the way with his son Yochi and his daughter-in-law Eme.  Eme stayed with the old man and helped him over some rough spots in the path.  Yochi kept a firm grip on his spear and kept his eyes open.  Lockhart looked around as well, wondering if there might be jaguars, puma, or other dangerous or wild animals in the area, but eventually Lockhart figured Yochi mostly kept an eye on them, like he did not entirely trust them.  No doubt Yochi questioned their being messengers of the gods and wondered if Lockhart was actually Gukumatz.  He did keep his distance from Decker, probably to be safe in case Decker turned out to be the god of darkness.

The path narrowed in spots, but nothing that ghost and the wagon could not handle.  Tony got down and led the mule from the front, and Ghost responded well to the gentle hand.  The path also got steep in a couple of places and Decker had to get out his rope.  He tied one end to a corner of the wagon and the other end to his saddle so Ghost and Decker’s horse could pull the wagon up the steep places together.

The sun felt hot that day, but the travelers imagined it was better than a rainstorm.  Mud would have made the journey unnecessarily hard.  Eventually, they came to the top of the mountain and a place the wagon could not cross.  The path became a narrow ledge, barely as wide as the wagon.  A rocky hill went up one side and a thirty or forty-foot cliff fell off on the other.  The travelers had to stop and think, so Aapo, Yochi, and Eme stopped to watch.  Yochi smiled a little wondering what these so-called messengers of the gods would do with their so-called wagon.  Yochi nearly choked when Elder Stow volunteered to fly over to the other side to see how far the ledge went.

“I better go with him,” Sukki said.  She knew her adopted father tended to focus on one thing at a time.  He might fly right into trouble and never see it until it was too late.  So, the two of them flew around the bend in the path while the rest of the travelers got out their blankets to cover their horse’s eyes.

“Better for the horses not to see the cliff and get nervous,” Katie explained to Aapo, even as Elder Stow and Sukki returned.

“About a hundred of your meters or yards and it turns into a meadow,” Elder Stow reported.  “The path looks improved and begins to go downhill.”

“Yes,” Aapo agreed.  “Downhill to the city and the road.”

“It’s all downhill from here,” Boston said, and giggled.

Elder Stow took a few minutes tuning his discs and handing two to half of the travelers.  “We will have to go in two shifts,” he said.  “One disc for the horse and one for the person.  You won’t be able to fly, but if you slip off the ledge, you should float long enough to be pulled back to the path.”

“Wait,” Alexis interrupted and took the disc back from Boston.  “She is an elf.  She can dance safely on the head of a pin” Alexis explained.  “You are just tempting her to deliberately step off the ledge just to see what floating feels like.”

Boston gave the disc back without arguing, but grinned a true elf grin, almost too big for her face, and nodded vigorously, while Decker explained quietly to Nanette.  “She might have done that if she was still human.  Becoming an elf did not change her much as far as I can tell.”

“Hard to believe,” Nanette said with a shake of her head, but she sounded like she believed it.

Sukki grinned with Boston as she helped Elder Stow attach two discs to the wagon, front and back.  Then she and Elder Stow lifted the wagon right off the ground and flew it to the meadow on the other side.  Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, Alexis and eventually Sukki led their horses while Tony led Ghost across the ledge.  Lincoln was the only one who said anything.

“I wouldn’t mind a blanket over my eyes.”  He tried hard not to look down.

Yochi and Eme held two ends of Yochi’s spear so the old man would be trapped on the inside of the ledge while they walked.  When they reached the other side, Sukki flew back with the discs so Decker, Nanette, and Boston could cross.  Sukki brought Tony’s horse.

Once safely on the other side, they began the decent to the city.  This time, Decker had to use his rope and horse to slow the wagon on the steep parts.

“Don’t worry,” Katie explained.  From Kaminaljuyu north, the road will likely follow the rivers right out of the highlands.  Most of the Mayan homeland in the north is on the relative flatlands of the Yucatan.”

“Good thing,” Lockhart responded.  “Obviously these people did not build their roads with wheeled vehicles in mind.”

“No horses or oxen to speak of,” Katie answered.  “They invented the wheel, but without big domestic animals to carry the load, they never bothered with things like wagons.”

On the way down, the sky clouded over, and it started to drizzle.  Fortunately, they got to the valley area before the ground got too slippery with mud.  As they approached the city, they saw the path, now nearly a road, along a causeway that had been built up like a man-made ridge, three to five feet above the rest of the ground.  Most of that ground outside the road looked like swamp or marsh.

“Like a moat,” Katie suggested.  “Any enemy army would pretty much have to stick to the road to prevent snake-bite and who knows what.”

Lockhart nodded, but he had a question and turned to look back.  “Lincoln.  When was the last time we were in this place?”

“I remember Otapec and Maya, and their children,” Katie said, while Lincoln got out the database to look it up.

“She called him Opi,” Lockhart nodded that he remembered.  “Decker said, like the Andy Griffith Show.  And the children were Chac, Kuican and, I can’t ever remember the girl’s name.”

“Ixchel,” Katie reminded him.  We met her all grown up, not that long ago.”  She also looked at Lincoln.

“About a year and a half ago, travel time.  That was twenty-eight time zones back.  About fifteen hundred years, normal time,” Lincoln said, without ever lifting his eyes from the database.  “Ozma—Ozmatlan.  La Venta Island when the Olmec civilization fell apart due to Monkey Brain Fever.”  Lincoln paused to shiver at the memory.

“About fifteen hundred years ago?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes,” Lincoln confirmed.  “We left the time zone about where Yamaya is located in this zone, between Tikal and Calakmul if Boston is right and if I am reading my maps correctly.”

“Between Tikal and Calakmul, you mean between Athens and Sparta like in a war zone?”

Lincoln shook his head.  He read some, and everyone stayed quiet to listen.  “Tikal got beaten down about sixty years before Yamaya was born.  They pull it together enough just before Yamaya became queen of Calakmul to build a new trade city in the north, but that goes sour.  Tikal doesn’t really get it back together until about forty years after Yamaya dies.”

“Passes on to her next life,” Boston interrupted.  Lincoln nodded.

“So, maybe the war isn’t going on at the moment,” Lockhart concluded.

“I would guess,” Lincoln agreed.  “But the database reports that Ch’en II, the Calakmul ruler after Yamaya’s husband dies is a warlord who always appears to be fighting someone, and he rules for about fifty years.”

“Enough,” Katie said.  “We have unauthorized ears listening.”  She nodded at Yochi, whose eyes looked really big, and Eme, who seemed to have a hard time blinking.  Aapo, walking between the two, kept smiling and looked like he might start whistling any moment.

People quieted just in time for some forty warriors to rise up out of the muck on either side of the causeway.  A dozen more came from the trees to block the path to the city.  One stepped forward.

“Aapo,” the warrior said, apparently knowing the old man.  “I see no baskets of grain for the Holy Lords of the city.  What do you bring as an offering?”

Aapo smiled.  “I bring messengers of the gods,” he said.  “Gukumatz and his consort, the yellow haired daughter of the sun.  I’ic’ ajaw, who you can plainly see, and his woman.  The girl who carries fire on her head, and the animals that serve them.  Does the king of Kaminaljuyu not wish to see them?”

“And these others?”

“I have feared to ask their names,” Aapo admitted.  “But they claim they have come to see the Serpent Queen.  I thought it right to bring them here first.”

“I saw the old man and his daughter fly through the air like the serpent itself,” Yochi shouted and Eme nodded.

“And these animals?”

Katie spoke up.  “They serve us and are filled with poison lest you be tempted to try and eat them.”

“And this box.  How does it move?”

“Magic,” Boston lied like an elf and let the fire come up into her hand.  She tossed the fireball into the swamp where it sizzled and steamed, and the men in the swamp all took a step back.

“We have a long way to travel,” Lockhart said.  “But we have been told to acknowledge the king of whatever cities we pass through.”

“Only right,” Alexis agreed.  “The Kairos has mentioned that often enough.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln agreed.  “When he has not been telling us to keep away from kings and things.”

The poor man looked stymied, before he sighed and waved for his soldiers to lower their weapons.  “At least you are not warriors from Caracol.”

“You were expecting soldiers from Caracol?” Katie asked.

The man nodded.  “They defeated Naranjo this last year, and the king fears they may seek to extend their territory.”

“Good thing to keep watch,” Decker said.  The soldier looked at him like he was surprised the Lord of Darkness would speak.

As the travelers walked slowly down the central avenue of Kaminaljuyu, Tony suggested that the city had seen better days.

“Adobe bricks.”  Katie pointed to a couple of structures that appeared to be crumbling.  The people did not seem to be concerned about fixing the structures.  “Further north, in the Mayan lowlands, the structures and pyramids are made mostly of limestone blocks, if I recall.”

“They must not have many Shemsu around to cut and lift the blocks, and keep things repaired,” Lincoln spoke up from behind.

Aapo led the procession like a conquering hero, though Yochi and Eme looked wary.  As soon as they reached the outskirts, the head warrior, Cadmael, sent runners ahead with the news.  He had his men line up on both sides of the travelers as soon as there was room.  Lincoln thought it made them look like prisoners.  Nanette, in the back with Tony, Elder Stow and Decker, called it an honor guard.  Alexis, in the middle, countered the two of them by saying that might be the same thing.  In fact, they discovered when they reached the broad central avenue, that the main function of the soldiers was to keep back the crowd.  People gathered to see, maybe a thousand on each side of the avenue.

Boston and Sukki walked up front, just behind Aapo and his family.  She turned to Sukki and grinned.  “And you’ll find all sort of toys at Macy’s.”  She giggled, though of course Sukki had no idea what Boston was talking about.

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 1 of 6

After 606 A.D. Yucatan

Kairos 99: Yamaya, the Serpent Queen

Recording …

The old man and old woman stepped in front of the villagers and bowed to the strangers.  They looked uncertain, and some of the villagers behind them looked afraid.  Lockhart and Katie tried to smile, and Lockhart thought it was a good thing Decker stayed busy trying to get the wagon through the time gate.  Decker’s smile had something of a shark-look to it, or maybe like the way a crocodile smiled right before it ate you.

“We mean you no harm,” Katie said.

“We are just passing through and will go as soon as we are all gathered,” Lockhart tried.  He noticed Sukki sat calmly on her horse and the horse stayed still beneath her. Boston’s horse kept wiggling, like he wanted to get moving already.  Boston paid little attention as her eyes focused on the amulet that pointed to the next time gate.

Lockhart glanced in the other direction behind him.  Elder Stow had his scanner out, searching the farm fields that snaked up the mountainside, and the deep forest ahead of them, in case something ahead might present a danger to them.  Lincoln assured them that the Maya had no standing armies, and only raised men to fight when they went to war.  Several people said that was fine, but they did not want to walk into a war.

“What is the hold up?” Lincoln asked.  Alexis looked content to wait, but Lincoln, and sometimes Decker, could be as impatient as Boston’s horse.  Lockhart shrugged and turned his attention back to the older couple.  The old woman let out one very soft shriek and looked down at her feet while the old man took one more step forward and spoke.

“I am Aapo.”  He bowed.  “My wife is Akna.”  He bowed again.  “This village is our children, mostly, they are our children.” He bowed for a third time.  “The great city of Kaminaljuyu, is in that direction.”  He pointed off toward a mountain to the right and a little behind the travelers.  “How may we serve you?”

“No,” Boston spoke up, and when Lockhart and Katie looked, she pointed north, in the direction they faced.  Before Lockhart could respond, the man lifted his brows, almost smiled, and spoke again.

“That way is the great city of Tikal where the feathered dragon king rules over all the cities and the people.  Certainly, the messengers of the gods would be most welcome there.”

Decker pushed up from the rear to report. The old man shouted, “I’ic’ ajaw,” and fell to his knees.  The old woman let out a little shriek again, and joined him on his knees, though it looked like her old knees did not want to cooperate.

Decker ignored the couple and reported.  “We are ready to go, but Tony says the wagon probably won’t make it if we have to drag it through the jungle.”

“What?” Lockhart asked.  “Not you,” he said to Decker.  He wanted to know what the man said and wondered why his mind did not automatically translate the words into English.  That one gift of the Kairos made this journey possible: to understand and be understood no matter the language spoken.

Katie frowned.  “I think I’ic’ is the word for black and ajaw is lord, I think.  Like a name.  Some names don’t translate well.  Maybe black lord, or ruler of the blacks or blackness.  Maybe Lord of the darkness.  Then again, it may be a reference to Africa, like Lord of Africa or something.”

“We get the idea,” Lockhart said, and Decker nodded slowly as he thought about accepting that designation.  Katie’s blonde locks and Boston’s red head got plenty of notice from time to time, but mostly Decker, and now Nanette, stood out in some places as something different because of their dark skin.

“Tell him we are looking for Yamaya,” Lincoln shouted from behind.

The woman Akna let out her full shriek and fell to her face.  The people behind her also gasped and shrieked, fell to their knees to join their parents, and quite a few of them scanned the skies for something unnamed.

Aapo swallowed before he spoke.  “The Serpent Queen.  The enemy of Tikal.  The thief from Ox Te Tuun, who stole the feathered dragon for Chiik Naab, to burn the great cities of Tikal.  Even the Yaknoom, ruler of the enemy city Calakmul of the three stones fears her…” Old man Aapo’s words petered off as he fell silent and got down on his face beside the old woman.

Lockhart frowned and turned to Katie.  “Translate?”

Katie shook her head.  “My knowledge of Mayan and Mesoamerican languages in general is very limited, but my guess would be mostly names.  Ox Te Tuun is probably a city name.  Chiik Naab might be a region, or maybe the area that city controls.”  She shrugged.

“Lincoln?”  Lockhart raised his voice without turning around.

Lincoln got out the database to be sure, but he already read about it, so he related what he remembered.  “Tikal and Calakmul are two great cities in the classical Mayan period.  They are competitors.  Think Athens and Sparta.  And like Athens and Sparta, they have different cultures and worldviews.  Tikal may have been conquered by a pre-Aztec people in the pre-classical era.  That may be the source of the feathered serpent or feathered dragon image.  They have a king.  Women are merely wives and concubines.  Very patriarchal.  Calakmul is more classic Mayan, some think.  They are the city of the snake—the Kan is the snake symbol.  The nobles are even called the divine lords of the snake.  I know.  The snake versus the serpent can be confusing.  Anyway, kings and queens tend to joint rule in Calakmul, though sometimes they have just a king, but women are more equal, and some even fight on the battlefield.”

“Get to the point,” Decker said.

“Mayan cities are independent city-states more or less like the Greeks used to be.  Tikal and Calakmul have a network of allied cities that they minimally control, for trade and military purposes.  Sometimes, cities switch sides.  It’s complicated.  But Calakmul and Tikal are the Athens and Sparta—the big players.  Yamaya was born in Palenque.  Her city got conquered by Calakmul when she was six.  She got forced married to the son of the king of Calakmul.  She actually became queen of Calakmul for about six years before her husband Cauak died in battle trying to take another city.  The younger brother, Chen took the crown, and drove Yamaya into the wilderness of Tikal.  The king of Tikal planned to cut her heart out—they all practice human sacrifice here—but she somehow set the feathered serpent of Tikal free from its cage, and they escaped back to the wilderness between the cities, ending up in a smaller city called Uaxactun, if I said that right.  Now, both the Athens and Sparta cities are afraid of her because she has some control over the serpent, that is, the dragon.”

Lockhart shook his head.  “This isn’t helping,” he said, and looked again at Katie who smiled.

“Quetzalcoatl,” she said, calling him by that name.  “Looks like the Kairos found a dragon, and she has both main cities scared of her.”  Katie smiled and noticed Aapo looked up and looked curious at the name.  Katie tried another name and pointed at Lockhart.  “Kukulkan.”

“Gukumatz,” Aapo said, nice and loud, and he almost smiled.  Most of the village looked up, and looked pleased, though the old woman shook her head, kept her face pointed toward the dirt, and continued to look scared.

Lockhart still frowned as Decker whispered, “I’m content with Lord of Africa.”  He went back to check on the wagon crew.

Lockhart sighed.  “Stand up, Aapo.  No one is going to eat you.”  Even as he spoke, the early morning sun broke free of the hills to bathe the travelers in the light.

Aapo stood slowly.  He watched, as Elder Stow pushed up on one side, and Boston, who finally got her horse to settle down, pushed up next to Katie.  Boston and Katie pulled out their amulets to compare.  They looked like pieces of driftwood, or maybe seashells, shaped like miniature conch shells of some sort.  Elder Stow spoke.

“My father.  I checked when our friend here mentioned a city on the other side of that mountain.  There appears to be a narrow path between here and the city, and from the city, something like a road appears to head north, the way we are headed.”  He looked over at Katie, and she nodded and pointed north.

“The highway,” Aapo pointed to the mountain.  It is the safe way between Kaminaljuyu and Tikal.”  Lockhart nodded as Sukki got down.  She found Alexis already headed toward the people.  They both ended up beside a nervous Aapo and reached down for the wife.

“Stand up, Akna,” Alexis said.  She and Sukki each took one arm of the old woman and lifted her to her feet.  The woman still would not look up, and backed up, bowing, until she got surrounded by her children, most of whom were standing again and watching.

“You can take us to Kaminaljuyu?” Katie asked.

“Show us the way?” Lockhart clarified.

“As the gods command,” Aapo said and bowed deeply.  Lockhart frowned again, but Lincoln spoke up from behind.

“Good.  We can start moving.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 6 of 6

Elder Stow arrived at about the same time as the lead dwarf reached the group.  Elder Stow got right up on Mudd.

“Welcome travelers,” the dwarf said.  “Sanyas has been informed of your presence. Chief Pavhara is talking to the Princess, there.”  He pointed toward Boston.  “I think Sanyas wants us to escort you to her, but first, you should come inside for the night.  The grub-diggers won’t find you in the underground.”

“Grub-diggers?” Lockhart asked.

“Humans,” Alexis said.

“You got a name?” Katie asked.

“Yu Me,” a second dwarf said.  “His family is all immigrants, but Yu know how immigration works.  Get it?  Yu knows?”

“Got it,” Katie said, and managed a smile.

“Can I give it back?” Decker asked.

“Underground?” Lincoln complained, but it was not so bad.  The dwarfs had a big cavern, well lit by fires and plenty of torchlight.  They also had plenty of food, as might have been expected.  Best of all, they had a long tunnel, big enough for the horses and wagon, that led to the far end of the pass and the hills of Gandhara.  The Swat River was not far.  There, on the first hilltop, they found Sanyas and her camp.  She had roughly three hundred soldiers hidden among the trees.

The travelers moved slowly into the camp.  Soldiers saw them, but also saw the dwarfs, so they waited for orders from higher up to make a move.  When it appeared that the dwarfs were leading these strange people straight toward the command tents, a large number of soldiers got in their way.

A woman in her fifties pushed through the line of soldiers and yelled that these were old friends, and the soldiers should go back to whatever they were doing.  The soldiers parted, without question, and more than a few bowed as they walked off.  The travelers figured this had to be Sanyas.

“Boston,” Sanyas said, with a happy smile, as the red head jumped into her grandmotherly embrace.

“Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi?” Lincoln carefully pronounced the name.  He had to ask, just to be sure.

Sanyas frowned.  “Roughly translated, that name means I renounce being ruler or goddess.  As for Ruler, my older sister Yasomati is queen, and her husband is king, and that is as close as I want to get to running things.  As for goddess, I cannot deny the sprites of the earth, air, fire, and water, but I will never be counted as a goddess over people.  Never over people.  The gods have gone and what is done is done.”  Sanyas smiled.

“And yet, here you are with several hundred soldiers who obviously take your orders,” Lockhart pointed out.

Sanyas frowned again.  “My husband, Brahmagupta is supposed to be in charge, but he has no military heart or mind.  I love him for that, but someone has to be in charge.  Come, I will show you.”  She yelled and men hurried to collect the horses, the mule and wagon, so all the travelers could follow her.  Several soldiers also followed, old friends or not.

They came to a ledge and a fifty-foot drop that gave a view clear of trees.  To their right, they saw a camp in the valley, and men on horses.  When they got the binoculars out, way in the distance on their left, they saw what looked like a city.

“Peschawar,” Sanyas named the city.  “The valley is made by the river from the Khyber.  It joins the Swat not too far from here.  The Alchon Huns still rule in Gandhara, though they have pulled back from the Punjab.”

“We saw Huns fighting on the other side of the Khyber,” Katie said.

Sanyas nodded.  “I managed to get the Nezak and Alchon to fight each other, but after the Alchon from the Punjab returned to their capital in Kabul, the Afridi moved back into the pass and now the Alchon that are still here on this side of the pass are cut off from their home.”

“We got held prisoner by the people in the pass for a while,” Lincoln said.

“Tell me,” Sanyas turned to Lincoln, and he gave a fair telling of the story.  Lockhart interrupted to tell the important part.

“The chief worked for the Masters.  He wanted our guns, not necessarily us.  I shot him.”

“You were right to kill him,” Sanyas said, even as she looked down, and would not look in Lockhart’s eyes.  “There is no telling what damage he might have done if he lived, and if he lived and had your weapons…”  She did not finish the sentence.

“Huns in the valley?” Katie asked.

“Yes,” Sanyas said.  “I had hoped trouble in Kabul might have encouraged them to abandon this side of the pass altogether and go home.  They are cruel and intolerant toward the people.  They make great demands and show neither grace nor mercy.  Now, if I can’t get them to abandon Gandhara because the pass is blocked, I don’t know what I can do.  They might not even know there is trouble in Kabul if the messengers can’t get through.”

Lockhart noticed again and pointed before he stared through the binoculars.  That same alien ship they had seen a few days earlier rose into the sky not far from the city.  Lincoln had the other pair of binoculars while Katie and Decker used the scopes for their rifles.  The ship quickly entered the clouds and disappeared from sight.

“Not your concern,” Sanyas said.  “They have been told and will leave this world alone.”

As she finished speaking, a troop of roughly thirty men rode up.  One of them turned out to be a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy, who came running to Sanyas to meet the strangers.  One of whom looked Sanays’ age, or maybe sixty.  He walked.

“The Huna are leaving their camp and going back to the city,” the boy reported in an excited voice, as he hugged Sanyas and took in the travelers from the safety of her arms.

“The thing is,” Sanyas finished her thought.  “With the Huna fighting each other, if I can get these last ones to go back through the pass, I might be able to help the local Afridi people close down the pass to all but merchant caravans.  Then we can have peace.”

“Peace is a good thing,” Alexis said, and looked at the young man.

Sanyas introduced him.  “This is my nephew, Harsha.”

“Good to meet you,” Lockhart said, as the older man arrived.

“My husband, Brahmagupta,” Sanyas introduced the man.

“They are headed back to the city,” Brahmagupta said.  “The way should be clear tomorrow.  We should be able to leave in the morning.”

“Lockhart.  I need you and the travelers to escort my husband, my nephew, and thirty assigned men as far as you are going.  They are going to Magadha.”

“Must I go?” Harsha asked.

“You must learn more than just military matters.  Yes,” Sanyas said.

Boston pulled out her amulet to take a look and offered a thought.  “But, if you go with us, that will just push the time gate further and further away.”

“I will not be joining you.  Brahmagupta wishes to see his family and where he grew up one last time before he dies.  Harsha has many things to learn, and Brahmagupta can teach him, if he will listen.  And I will stay here and deal with the Huna.”  She looked once again at the sky.  “But there is time before the morning.  Let us eat and rest and tell stories until then.”

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

MONDAY

8.1 Rain and Fire The travelers find themselves in the Yucatán and among the Mayan people, all of whom seem to want to cut their hearts out.  Until next time.  Happy Reading

 

*

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 5 of 6

“We all set?” Lockhart interrupted.  “Everybody clear on their assignments?”

People nodded, and Elder Stow touched the spot on his belt that made everyone invisible.  They could still see each other, but no one else would be able see them.  They all stood back and waited while Sukki went to the gate that had them locked in.  The gate got tied on the outside with a rope around a nail.  A simple but effective barrier.

Sukki stepped up and thought a minute.  She put her palms out to face the gate, and flat-handed the right and left sides.  The rope on her right puled the nail from the rock with it.  The hinge on the left busted completely, and the gate fell flat to the ground.  People silently indicated what a good job she did and how proud they were of her as they exited the cave.  The guards came in, wondering what happened, but they saw no one.

Elder Stow, Alexis, and Nanette walked to the horses, just outside the cave.  Boston, Sukki, and Tony ran ahead of them.  The horses stood in a small fenced off area, still saddled and ready to ride, with the bags and equipment still tied up.  Next to that area, a larger fenced in field easily held a hundred horses.  Twenty more horses, still ready to ride, got tied to the outside of the big fence, up near the hut.  Elder Stow figured they probably belonged to the men who rode into the camp with Chief Bobo—the servant of the Masters.

Boston, Sukki, and Tony found their own horses, and only startled them a little by being invisible.  Fortunately, the horses responded to the familiar voices, and did not mind the riders, as the three got right up and got ready to ride.

Elder Stow offered a thought when the other three got to the gate.  “The horses look untouched.  The locals probably got instructed not to touch anything until the chief showed up.”

“Either that, or they were afraid,” Nanette said.  “Who knows what they were told.”

“Or maybe the horses would not cooperate,” Alexis suggested.  “I imagine Chestnut would be wary of being touched by strangers.”

When the three at the gate opened up, Boston, Sukki, and Tony slipped an invisibility disc under the front of the saddle, and the horses disappeared.  Fortunately, the horses stayed calm, now being able to see their riders, who rode them through the gate, which Elder Stow and Nanette quickly closed.

Men ran around the camp.  They shouted and made an atmosphere of near panic.  Most looked for the travelers, but a group of five men came up to the fenced in area, and seeing horses still there, they relaxed.  They did not count the horses, and that made the travelers relax.  Elder Stow got the gate closed in time, before the five locals came to make sure it was still secure.

“Decker said, when they don’t find us in the camp, they will organize searches in the wilderness,” Nanette worried.  “They will especially search the road.”

“I am sure they will,” Alexis whispered back.  Elder Stow busied himself with his weapon.

Tony, Sukki, and Boston found the wagon off to the side of the fence.  Like the horses, it looked untouched, though Ghost had been taken from the harness.  The mule stayed by the wagon, a familiar anchor in a sea of strange men.  It quietly chewed on the grass and tried to ignore everyone.  Tony gave the wagon the once-over and checked the saddles and equipment in the back to be sure everything was there before he hitched up Ghost.  Ghost moved to the sound of Tony’s voice, who talked softly to him the whole time as he put him back in the harness.  Once secure, he attached a disc to the leather by Ghost’s shoulders.  Ghost went invisible.  The other two discs he carried got attached to the front and back end of the wagon to make it invisible as well.

Boston took the reins of Tony’s horse and started carefully down the hill.  Sukki pulled up alongside Ghost to help guide the animal, while Tony got up on the buckboard.  They wanted to get as far as they could before the locals discovered the wagon was missing.  They wanted to get off the direct line to the road in case some men grabbed the waiting horses and rushed to the road, searching for them.  Being invisible was a good thing, but it would not do to have horses slam into the back end of the invisible wagon.  Besides, they could still be heard.  The wagon was not exactly silent moving across the rough ground.

Boston led the way but stopped a second when she heard gunfire come from above.  They all looked.

Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, and Decker went to find their weapons.  They rightly guessed the weapons got stored in the hut, away from the wind and rain.  They fully expected to find the chief of the Masters and his local leaders there, and imagined him to be examining the weapons and maybe describing the basics to his lieutenants.

The hut appeared quiet, even as the men in the camp began to run around and shout, but they did not burst in the front door.  They did not want to give themselves away, even being invisible.  They walked once around the hut to check for windows.  They found one window open out back by the cooking fires where women had a cow quartered and roasting.  Some of the women stirred cauldrons and others made flatbread.

“Okay,” Decker whispered.  “Now I’m hungry.”

The others looked inside.  The chief sat with four other men, examining the weapons that they laid out on a big table.  None of them touched the weapons except the chief, who turned a few over and mumbled.  The Travelers understood that the servant of the Masters had another lifetime in the far future, where the masters lived and instructed him.  There was no telling, however, how far in the future that lifetime might be.  He might not be familiar with something as primitive as guns—projectile weapons from the early twenty-first century.  He might have to examine them closely first, to understand how they worked and what they were capable of.

Lockhart spoke softly.  “Katie and Lincoln.  See if you can get inside by the window.  Decker and I will go back around to the front door.  I can see from here; the door has a simple rope latch.  It should not be too difficult to kick in.  Give me a peep on the watch when you are inside.”

They paused as the Chief spoke up.  “Go and see what all that noise is about,” he said, and sent one of the men out of the hut.

Katie nodded, and hurried, when Lincoln pointed, as if to say, ladies first.  Decker and Lockhart also hurried by the far side of the house, where the local horses were tied off.  They saw Alexis and Nanette walk up to start untying one horse after another.  They opted not to stop and ask what they had in mind.  Alexis waved.

“When I bust the door,” Decker said, quickly, volunteering to do the deed.  “You go right, and I’ll go left.”

Lockhart shrugged.  “Okay.”  He did this kind of thing plenty of times back when he served as military police, and then after he joined that Michigan police force.

Lincoln’s voice came through the watch communicator.  “Peep.”  He sounded like an electronic timer just went off.  Lockhart breathed not aware he had been holding his breath.  He worried they might make too much noise climbing through the window and be found out.  Lockhart saw men coming to the hut, but he did not have to say, hurry.  Decker did not give himself much of a running start.  The door gave little resistance.

Everyone inside the hut shouted at once.  Katie grabbed one man’s knife and stabbed him right in the middle.  Lincoln grabbed another man’s knife, but the man turned into the touch, so Lincoln stabbed the man’s arm.  The man fell but might survive.  The third man in the room jumped up.  Decker did not have time to look for weapons.  He grabbed the man from behind, slipped his arm around the man’s neck, and used his other hand to grab the man’s chin.  He snapped the man’s neck.

Lockhart went straight to the table.  He grabbed the closest handgun which went invisible as soon as he picked it up.  The Chief man grabbed a different handgun and began to look around.  He saw no assailants as he fired three random shots around the room.  Lockhart put three bullets in the man’s chest.

“Everyone okay?”  Lockhart asked.

“My shoulder,” Lincoln said.  “Just a scratch, but I think the man beside me is dead.”

“Should-a ducked,” Decker said, as he put on his gun belt and picked up his rifle.  He turned to the door while the others grabbed their things.  Men started running toward the hut.  Decker flipped his rifle to automatic and sprayed the crowd with bullets.  He put five on the ground, and the others scattered.

Lincoln grabbed Tony’s gun belt and Sukki’s belt that had only a knife, and they exited the hut as quickly as they could.  They caught up with Alexis and Nanette, who finished untying the local horses.  Elder Stow, floating about ten feet in the air, let his sonic device squeal.  The travelers tried not to object.  The local horses, already skittish because of the wild activity in the camp, scattered.  Elder Stow floated closer and got them into a good run.

When the others reached the pen that their horses were in, they found five men by the gate.  The men all lay on the ground, probably unconscious.  No one saw any burn holes in the men, so they assumed Elder Stow turned his weapon to the stun setting.

“Take Mudd.  I’ll catch up.”  Elder Stow spoke through his communication device.

Nanette, Alexis, and Katie used the last three invisibility discs on their horses. Lockhart’s, Lincoln’s, Decker’s, and Eder Stow’s horses would have to remain visible.  They did not wait, as Nanette took Mudd’s reins so the others could have their hands free for their weapons, and Alexis could pull her wand if needed.

The travelers stopped when they got down to the road.  There were men on the road, but they were all on foot.  The wagon had not been moved much further along.  Lockhart imagined the wagon being half-way to the exit of the pass, but Tony opted to pull the wagon off the road and a short way across the grass where it would not be heard moving, and not be seen as long as it remained invisible.

Katie looked back at the red and orange of the sunset.  The day was done.  It would be dark soon enough.  She thought, if they could get past the men walking the road, they might get away completely.  Decker spoiled that as he pulled up his rifle and single-shot one of the men.  Katie almost yelled, but they saw a sudden opening in the side of the hill, and some twenty dwarfs came pouring from the hill, axes swinging.  Men screamed.  About half of them got chopped up, but half ran right past the travelers, and did not look like they would stop running any time soon.

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 4 of 6

Lockhart studied the two armies as the travelers hurried to get out from between them.  “I can’t see any difference between the two groups,” he admitted.  “How do they know who to fight?”

“There are subtle differences,” Katie said.  “But they are both Huns.”  After a minute, she added, “I think the one on Elder Stow’s side is the bigger army.  Of course, that may not matter.  I haven’t seen this kind of battle, and the scholars describe how they think it worked but they really don’t know how it worked.  I can only guess.  The scholars mostly just report the winners and losers.”

After another minute, Boston said a bit too loud.  “What are they waiting for?”

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said, “But we better hurry and get out of the way.”  He hardly had to urge people to hurry.  Even Ghost, the mule, moved as quick as he could, the tension in the air being as thick as it was.

Finally, the travelers squirted out from between the two armies.  Still the armies waited, until the travelers were beyond harm’s way.  Then, all at once, with no discernable sign given, both armies charged each other across the road.  The travelers paused to watch.  It soon looked like a killing free-for-all.

“How do they decide who wins?” Lockhart asked the rhetorical question.

Decker shrugged.  “They will fight for a while, but they can’t keep it up at that level of intensity for long.  Shortly, one side will signal a withdraw, and the other side will also pull back.  They will rest for an hour, or maybe several hours before they form up and go at it again.  They will do this until sundown.  No one fights after dark.  Then one might sneak away in the dark, if they have lost too many men, or feel they are losing the battle.  If both still feel they can win, they will be right back at it at sunrise.”

“The thing is,” Katie said.  “If one side starts to withdraw, because maybe they are losing too many men and they need to regroup, if the other side is not ready to break, or maybe feel they are winning, the withdraw can become a full retreat, and in these days, retreat risks becoming a route, where it’s every man for himself.  In that case, the winning side will give chase, and they usually end up slaughtering the retreating army.”

Decker grunted.  “Unless the losing side escapes in the night under the cover of darkness, they will end up being slaughtered, retreat or no retreat.  Some commanders don’t know when to quit.  That can be a good thing, or really stupid, depending.”

“We need to move on,” Lockhart said.  They rode a little up into the pass before Lockhart called for them to get down and walk the horses.  That was when Katie shared a thought.

“I bet the two armies waited for us to get out of the way because the three witches on one side, and Elder Stow and Sukki on the other side put a real fear of God into them.  They waited until we were far enough away so we would not be caught up in the battle.”

Lockhart looked back at his group.  “I suppose that is very possible.”

###

In the afternoon, the travelers came to a narrow way in the pass.  Shale mountain cliffs pushed in, and the road narrowed.  They discussed stopping and building a camp before entering that strip.  Elder Stow had put away his scanner, but Lincoln had the relevant information in the database.

“The narrow spot is not that long.  It should open up again on the other side and we should be able to find a place to stop where we can watch, but not block the road.”

People went with Lincoln’s suggestion.  Ghost appeared to make it up to the high point without too much trouble, and as the saying suggested, it was all downhill from there.  The rest got down from their horses and planned to walk through, in case they came to a spot that got exceptionally narrow.

They got about half-way into the narrow place before men stood up and came out from behind the rocks.  The travelers found men in front and behind.  They became surrounded with spears.

“Don’t resist,” Lockhart ordered.

“Do they want us to pay the toll?” Lincoln asked. He read about that and may have mentioned it to the others a day ago.  He picked up a leather pouch in one of the villages they passed through and filled it with what he imagined was a generous number of coins.

The men said nothing.  They immediately began to strip the travelers of their weapons, including their gun belts. Decker was reluctant to let go of his rife, but he honestly had no choice.  When the men tried to grab the reigns of the horses, Alexis’ horse, Chestnut, and Boston’s horse, Strawberry, balked.  It took a minute to get them settled down.  Ghost refused to move at all.  Tony had to lead the mule by the nose, and he explained to the mule.

“We have to cooperate, or these men might make you into mule stew.”

They went to the end of the narrow place and got taken to a hut on the hillside near a shallow cave.  The travelers got pushed into the cave and a simple door got closed across the entrance.  Clearly, the cave had been used for sheep.  Katie pointed to the dry water trough, but the general smell of the place gave it away.

“I hope they take care of Cocoa,” Sukki said of her horse.

“I still have my things,” Elder Stow said.  “But what to do is the question.  There are about eight guards outside the door.”

“I have my wand and stuff in my slip,” Boston said.  “I haven’t done it much, but I could try going insubstantial enough to slip through the door and maybe check on the horses.”

“No,” Alexis said, firmly.

“Sukki could use some of her strength and break the door open,” Nanette was thinking.

“But then what?” Decker asked, and people quieted to think.

Katie finally asked, “Elder Stow, how many of those discs do you have where you can make us all invisible?”

“I have a whole pocket full of multi-purpose discs,” he answered.  “I just have to tune them to the invisible spectrum.”

“Do you have enough for all of us, our horses, Ghost and the wagon?” Alexis asked.

After a moment to calculate, Elder Stow shook his head, “No.”

“Maybe we should see what they want first,” Lockhart said, and people sat down to wait.  They waited for an hour while the sun started toward the horizon.

At last, they peered out between the gate railings and saw a small troop of something like soldiers arrive.  One man got down right away and marched with a swagger to the door.  The guards opened up, and he came inside with two rough looking men with swords drawn flanking him.

“So, these are the travelers,” he said.

“Are you charging a toll to let us move on?” Lincoln asked, and the man laughed in his face.

“Do you use money on Avalon?” he said.  “I never would have imagined that.”  He laughed again at his own thoughts.  “Besides, I have all your money, and everything else already, including all of your guns.”  He shook a finger at them.

“The Masters,” Katie said to identify the man.

“You have been noticed and interfered once too often.  I decided, instead of making more guns and powder for you to come along and blow up, I would just steal your guns.  After using you for target practice, we will make our guns, and model them after the ones you so graciously provided.”

“What do you hope to gain?” Katie asked.

The man paused to look over the travelers.  He did not seem to care if he told them or not.  “We sit at the center of the world between east and west.  The Alchon Huna already did me a favor by tearing down the Gupta in what you call India.  Now, after the Alchon Huna and the Nezak Huna beat themselves to exhaustion. we will move in.  I have men working on the Turks further north.  I expect they will join us for the riches they can gain.  We will invade Sassanid lands to break the back of the New Persians and reestablish the Kushan Empire.  Then we will cross the so-called Persian Gulf to Yemen and drive up the Hejaz to burn Mecca.  After that, only Constantinople far in the west and the Sui Dynasty far in the east will remain to pose a threat.”  He stopped talking and smiled.  “You get the idea.”

“Lord Bobo,” someone called from outside.

The swaggering man and his two guards left, and the gate got tied shut again.  Lockhart frowned and stuck his hand out.

“Elder Stow get out your discs,” he said.

“Boston.  You need to go invisible using one of Elder Stow’s discs, like the rest of us,” Alexis insisted.  “If you go elf invisible, we won’t be able to see you, and we will all need to keep in touch without having to talk.”

“That’s okay,” Boston said.  “Being elf invisible, as you call it, is still very draining.”

Alexis smiled for the girl.  “You’ll get used to it.  You know, being invisible and insubstantial at the same time is how the little spirits of the earth get around and do most of their work in the world.  You will get the hang of it.  Soon enough, it will become the most natural way to be.  Manifesting into a visible, physical form will feel awkward.”

“Not awkward,” Boston said.  “But like a second choice.  That’s what Roland told me.”  She flipped her emotions, as fairies and young elves do, from happy to sad in a blink.  “Roland said being physical still feels natural, and takes no effort, even if it is second choice.”  Boston let a tear fall.  “I miss Roland.”

Alexis gave her a hug.  “I miss my brother, too.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 3 of 6

The next day, Lincoln made everyone gather around.  He said they would have to go by Kabul and Hadda to reach the Khyber Pass, the only viable way through to India.  “The thing is, after further reading, I think the capital of the Alchon Huns is north of the line, and the capital of the Nezak Huns is south of the line, and those two Huna groups at some point fight for dominance.  We need to squeeze between the two to reach the pass.”

“In other words,” Lockhart summarized.  “We are probably entering a war zone, so we need to keep our eyes and ears wide open.”

“Kind of like World War One,” Decker interjected.  “We need to sneak down no-man’s land between the German and allied trenches.”

People looked at Decker and turned their eyes to Tony.  They had been careful not to talk about what Tony might face when he got home.  Lincoln calculated that Tony left the future in 1905, but given his time living in the past, and now counting the expected travel time, he would probably get home in 1914, just in time for the war.  And they certainly did not want to name the war as number one.  But Tony just waved off their concerns.

“That’s okay,” he said.  “The Kairos told me.  I already have my Colt M1911, and a good trench knife.  I already figured the time gate will be near enough to the Kairos to be in the middle of something.  A world war is no surprise, and the fact that it is number one is honestly no surprise, either.  I used to read the newspapers back in 1905.  Europe is a mess.”  He shrugged.

The travelers breathed, and headed out, thinking, there were still plenty of things Tony and Nanette did not need to know about their future.

###

Shortly after they gave Kabul a wide berth, they returned to the road in time for Decker to come racing in from the wing.  “Boston.  Sukki.  Report.” Decker spoke into his wristwatch communicator as he reigned to a stop.  Elder Stow saw and pulled in close to hear.  The others had already stopped to wait.

“There is a whole army in a valley a half mile out,” he pointed.  “About two thousand horsemen.  No way they will chase us, but they might send a company, a hundred, or at least have scouts out watching the road.  They may have already seen us.”

“No,” Elder Stow said, as he joined the group from the other wing.  “I have the scanner set for our immediate area.  No one has been near to see us.  I did not pick up the army, however.  I can see I will have to expand the scan radius to at least half a mile.”  He looked at his scanner and turned his head in surprise.  Boston and Sukki came racing back from the point.  They looked like something was following them.  Suddenly, Boston stopped and leapt off her horse.  She pulled her wand and laid down a line of fire across the road.  The flames reached as high as her head, and the travelers saw a troop of Huns come screeching to a halt behind the fire.

Lockhart and Katie moved forward before they got down and walked ahead of the others.  Lincoln and Alexis moved up enough to hold the horses, but Sukki stopped right there, so she held Katie’s horse.  Boston came back and stopped at the front group, next to Alexis, while Nanette marched forward from the rear.  That left Decker and Elder Stow to guard Tony and the wagon.

One of the Huns stepped forward from his group.  He looked like a shaman.  He raised his hands, and while Boston’s fire already began to burn itself out, he appeared to lower his hands, and the fire quickly went out.  That got the attention of Alexis and Boston who stepped up behind Lockhart and Katie.  Nanette squeezed between the two women and whispered.

“If I had my power, I could remove them from the road.”  Nanette seemed unhappy about something and seemed to want to take it out on the Huns.

Lockhart quickly spoke over top.  “We are simple travelers.  We are headed for distant lands and have no interest in your troubles.  We will not interfere.  We will respect your land, and we will be gone, shortly.”

“I think you are not such simple travelers,” one big man spoke from horseback.

“You have a witch…” the shaman added.

“No,” Katie interrupted, and stepped to the side as she spoke, pointing behind herself.  “She is an elf.  These other two are witches.” Katie smiled.  The Huns did not smile, and the shaman began to move his hands like he got ready to employ a spell.

“Here,” Alexis said to Nanette, as she touched Nanette’s shoulder.  Boston touched the other shoulder but said nothing.  Nanette felt filled with power, more than she ever imagined.  She had the ability, but when the other earth was out of phase, and thus not leaking magic energy into our universe, she could do nothing.  She never imagined borrowing the power of others, and between Alexis and Boston, she had twice what she needed.

Nanette pulled her wand, and before the shaman could finish his incantation, he, and all of his Huns, got caught up in a whirlwind.  The wind became merciless.  It picked them up, horses and all, and flew them a quarter mile away, where it deposited them in an open field. Some got down quickly.  Some got thrown when their horses bucked.  Some got stepped on when the horses panicked.  The Huns also panicked.  The shaman, and a number of others felt so dizzy, they threw up.  None of them were in any condition to follow the travelers, or even report back to the army.

The travelers knew none of this.  All they saw was Nanette’s smile and all they heard was Lockhart’s words.

“Let’s move on while we can.”

###

The next day, near the same time, just shy of Hadda, Elder Stow reported an army on a hillside.  “About two thousand horsemen,” he said into his communicator, so everyone heard.

“Move in close,” Lockhart ordered.  “Decker.  Move in but keep your eyes open.  Boston, stay within sight.”  The road appeared flanked by meadows.  The only trees were up ahead, to the right of the road.  Elder Stow said the Huns were in the trees, so no one looked surprised when several men rode out of the trees and stopped near the road.  No one doubted there were many more still hidden among the trees.  Lockhart and Katie nudged their horses forward, but this time, they did not dismount.

“We are simple travelers.”  Lockhart spoke up.  “We are headed for a distant land.  We have no quarrel with you.  We will respect your land and soon be gone.”  He tried to smile.

One of the Huns answered.  “You do not look like simple travelers.  Give us your gold and silver.  We will search your wagon and take your horses.  Then you can leave.”

Katie imagined Elder Stow got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.  Without asking permission, which felt very uncharacteristic, he floated out of his saddle.  Sukki floated up beside him and would not let him do whatever stupid thing he had in mind alone.

Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and plugged it into his communication device.  It amplified his voice and added a nice echoing touch.  “You were asked nicely.  Now, you get one warning shot.  Leave the road and leave us alone or suffer the consequences.”  He pulled out his weapon.  Sukki noticed and raised her hands.  Elder Stow fired, and Sukki let her power flow from her hands.  They sliced off the tops of the nearest trees and set the trees on fire.  First Elder Stow, and then Sukki, fired into the ground in front of the trees and the ground exploded.

“That is your warning.  Leave us alone or next time we will aim at you.”  Elder Stow returned to his horse and Sukki returned to hers.  The Huns turned away without a word, and tried to walk their horses, but in fact trotted, and nearly galloped back to the trees, to disappear in the woods.

Elder Stow apologized to Lockhart and Katie when he rejoined the group.  “My mother and father, please forgive me if I overstepped my bounds.  I take full responsibility for my actions and those of my adopted daughter.  I overreacted and humbly apologize.”

“Try not to let it happen again,” Katie said, smiled, and let Lockhart speak.

“But in this instance, don’t worry about it.  No harm done.”  He turned to ride down the road and said no more about it.

###

The following morning, the caravan road they followed appeared to be in good shape.  Lincoln took a turn driving the wagon.  Alexis rode with him.  They crossed a plain that appeared wide open and plenty dusty, but in the distance up ahead, the travelers could see the mountains closing in.  They figured the famous Khyber Pass would be something like a gorge between two of those mountains, where the mountains did not quite meet.

The sun beat down, hot, but the travelers relaxed, believing if they got well into the pass on that day, they might find the Kairos around noon the next day.  Boston called it late spring, or early summer.  Alexis pointed out the flowers she saw.  When Lockhart called for everyone to get down and walk the horses, Sukki and Nanette paused to pick some flowers.  Tony paused with them to watch over them.  Those three first saw the dust stirred up in the distance.  Decker reported as much just moments later.

It looked like one of those armies they passed might be heading right toward them.  Lockhart did not panic, even when Elder Stow noted the dust storm on the other side of the road.  Lockhart told everyone to mount up.  He said they could walk and rest the horses once they got fully into the pass.  He felt a little afraid that these armies decided to fight over control of the pass, and they might follow them into the pass.

“We need to hurry,” Kate said, as the leading elements of the armies came within visual range.

“I don’t think Ghost can pull the wagon much faster in this sun, especially when we start heading up into the pass itself.”

Lockhart talked into his communicator, though he might have simply yelled back.  “Try to hurry Ghost along as well as you can.”

Decker and Elder Stow pulled in to flank the travelers in close order, while Boston dropped back to lead the procession.  The leading elements of the armies stopped a hundred feet back from the road on either side.

“Are they waiting for the rest of the army to catch up?” Nanette asked.

Decker shook his head.  “I don’t know what they are doing.”

As the travelers pushed forward along the road, right between the two enemies, the rest of those armies slowly caught up.  But still they waited.

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

MONDAY

Two Hun armies will meet on the road to the Khyber pass, right where the travelers are desperately trying to get out of the way.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 2 of 6

Two men rode across the stream to confront the two travelers standing by the wagon.  They did not know one of the two by the wagon was a woman until they got close.  It got hard to see distance well in the failing light.  When they got down from their mounts and approached, they appeared surprised.  The man looked like a giant, and the woman, which they then noticed was a woman, looked as tall as them, and she had yellow hair.  Not what they expected.

“Hello friends,” Lockhart said, giving it his friendliest voice.  “This is a good place to rest if you plan to spend the night.  The water is fresh and clean, the grass is soft, and it does not look like rain tonight.”

The two made no response, so Katie added a thought.

“We would invite you to supper, but we only have one sheep, which is not nearly enough for your whole company.”

One man spoke.  “You are from Sogdiana?  You are Scythian?” he guessed.

The other man interrupted.  “You are merchants?”

“We are simple travelers from far away in the west,” Lockhart began.

“Beyond Persia.  Beyond Rome.” Katie added.

“I have herd of this Rome,” the first man admitted.

“You are Huna?” Katie asked.

“We are not Xwn scum.”  The man spat like Decker.  “My great-grandfather left the Kaghanate to seek out new pastures for our many people.  He crushed the Wusun and overran Sogdiana.  He fought the numberless Scythians before my father followed the Hephthalites into this land.  We drove many ahead of us and destroyed the last of the Great Yuezhi.  This land is good, but our people are many, so we seek to extend our pastures.  The Xionite people that came here ahead of us will serve us, and our name will be great in all the earth.”

“Turkic people, perhaps Shahi,” Katie identified the speaker.  “Tony will be glad to know that the Turks are already on the move at this early date.”

Elder Stow turned on his lantern, much stronger than the human lanterns that the travelers had and mostly left in their luggage.  It caught some twenty horsemen ready to cross the stream, down some distance where they no doubt thought they would not be seen.  Decker’s voice came through the watch communicators.

“We got enemy trying to circle around and get on our flank.  I would hate to have to kill them all.”

“Hopefully, they will have the good sense to return to their own camp now that they are seen.  Wait for instructions.  Out.” Lockhart responded.

“Did we mention the sorcerer in our camp?” Kate said, kindly.

“Who?” Lockhart asked.

“Elder Stow,” Katie answered, sharply.  “His gadgets are near enough to sorcery in this age.”

“Oh,” Lockhart got it.  “And the two witches.”

“What about Boston?” Katie asked.

“She is an elf,” Lockhart explained.  “That is different.  But what do we call Sukki?”

Katie huffed.  “I swear, Vrya and Ishtar made her practically a demi-god.”

Lockhart looked up.  The two Turks had mounted and were riding back to their camp without asking any more questions.  When Lockhart and Katie rejoined the group, Elder Stow spoke.

“My mother and father,” he said, referring to Katie and Lockhart as the mother and father of the group.  “I cannot set the screens against intruders tonight, but I have scanned the visitors and have their signatures.  I can set an alarm in the night in case any are tempted to come to our camp in the dark, even as I did back when my batteries needed charging, back before the god Vulcan made a cell charger for my equipment.”

“That would be good, but standard watch as well.”  No one complained.  It was their routine.  Tony and Nanette, new to this traveling business, watched from six, about sundown, to nine.  Lincoln and Alexis took the nine to midnight shift.  Lockhart and Katie watched in the middle, from midnight to three in the morning.  Decker, the no nonsense marine, and Elder Stow with his scanner took the dark of the night between three and six in the morning.  And Boston with Sukki watched from six through sunrise, until about nine, when everyone was up for the day and ready to travel.

Normally, the travelers did not expect visitors in the night.  People never used to travel in the dark, especially in the wilderness.  It was too dangerous.  But that night, around three in the morning, three Turks tried to climb over the rocks that sheltered the horses.  Elder Stow happened to be up when his scanner beeped.  He cut the sound right away, and while Decker woke the others, Elder Stow watched the men carefully with his scanner.

Lockhart, Decker, Lincoln, and Katie got their Patton sabers and waited.  They figured the Turks would not know what guns were so they would not be a good choice.  When the three would-be thieves dropped to the ground, they got surrounded.  Sukki held her knife, while Boston and Alexis held their wands.  One thief tried to move, and Alexis raised a wind that slammed all three back into the rock.  One hit rather hard and fell to his knees.

“Not smart,” Lockhart said.

One man, fast as a gunslinger, threw a knife at Elder Stow who just happened to walk up at that moment.  No doubt he thought the older man had to be the one in charge.  The knife bounced off Elder Stows personal screens, the one built into his belt that conformed to his body and moved with him but could not be expanded to cover more than one person.  Sukki momentarily looked afraid, before she got mad.  She grabbed the knife, bent it until it cracked.  She handed it back.

“You dropped this.”

The Turks made no more moves, and the two still standing decided to fall to their knees to join their companion.  Regret showed on at least two of those three faces.

“Get naked,” Lockhart said.  The Turks did not move.  “You heard me.  Get undressed.”  The Turks stood and slowly stripped down to their under things.  “I meant all of it,” Lockhart commanded.  He tapped one on the shoulder with the flat of his sword.  “Or I could cut it off you, but I can’t guarantee I won’t cut your flesh with it.”  The men finished undressing.  “Lincoln and Alexis, will you stack these things over on the rock at the end of the horse rope?  Yes, there.  You three, move.”

The three naked men walked to where the wagon was parked.  “Okay,” Katie said, having figured it out.  “You can walk back to your camp and give a message to your chief.”

“What message?” one found the courage to ask.

“You are the message,” Lockhart said.

“Git,” Boston raised her voice and waved her wand.  Three sparks, like electricity, zapped three naked butts.  All three men hopped and shrieked in surprise.  They hurried, but soon enough slowed down to a walk, while Elder Stow walked up holding his scanner.

“I will watch them,” he said.  “You all can go back to bed.”

Decker turned to Lockhart before Lockhart walked off.  “Better idea than what I had in mind,” he said, but he never did explain what he had in mind.

At five in the morning, about thirty minutes before sunrise, the Turks headed back up the stream from whence they came.  When the travelers got up and had their typical leftover breakfast, they packed up and started out.  They left the Turkic clothes and weapons on the rock, in case three naked men wanted to come back for their stuff.

###

The next day, the travelers avoided a few villages.  They stayed on track for the Khyber Pass which they knew was the way into India. The trail, which Katie imagined was what remained of the Silk Road, seemed good in some places, but not so good in others.  Tony, being from 1905 where he grew up driving mules and wagons, drove most of the way, and said he did not mind.  Sometimes Nanette or Sukki rode with him in the wagon.

Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings as they traveled.  They reported no problems and no more dusty columns in the distance.  Boston stayed out front, her elf senses on alert just in case.

That night, Lincoln got to read some about Sanyas, the ninety-eighth lifetime of the Kairos, the one who lived in this time zone.  “It says she got engaged at age three.  Her father, Yashodharman, if I said that right, was king of Malwa.  Aulikara Dynasty.  He died when she turned three, but he managed to engage her to Brahmagupta, a son of the King of Magadha’s younger brother.  They married when Sanyas came of age, which… it doesn’t say.  We can assume when she turned sixteen or so.”

“Wait,” Boston interrupted, which was good because she did not always pay attention.  “I thought we figured the time gate would be round Malwa.  They can’t be living there.”

“No.  And they are not living in Magadha, either.  They got sent to the frontier to defend against the Huns—the Alchon Huns that previously overran most of northeast India.  They got driven out before Sanyas was born, but they continue to raid.  So, the couple got sent to help defend the border, so to speak.  Sanyas’ older half-sister is Yashomati.  She is queen of Thanesar, married to King Prabhakaravardhana… That does it.  I can’t pronounce all these names.”

Alexis laughed.  “It does sound a bit like a poorly written piece of science fiction.”

Lincoln nodded, but Lockhart said, “I wouldn’t know about that.  I don’t read science fiction.”

“The thing is,” Lincoln continued.  “Thanesar is closer to Melwas, considering where we came into this time zone.  That means, she must presently be closer to us, doing what?  I have no idea.”

“Sanyas,” Sukki repeated the name.

“Actually,” Lincoln said, “Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi is what she is sometimes called.”

“I miss Devi,” Boston said.  “Our friend in India,” she explained to Nanette and Tony.  “And Varuna was very nice, too.”

“Devi is the word for goddess,” Katie said.  “The Kairos sometimes gets pegged by that sort of thing.”

“Really?” Lockhart joked, before he said, “No surprise there.”