Avalon 6.7 Yeti, part 4 of 4

“The witch and her outlaws came through here about three months ago,” Rajish explained.  “It was winter, but the storms were not nearly as bad as yesterday. Clearly, she set some traps for you.”

“Don’t play with that,” Lincoln interrupted.  Alexis wanted to touch the bandage around her head.  “Let it heal.”

Alexis put her hand down, reluctantly. “So, we are in a period when the other earth is near and leaking creative and variable energy into our universe?” Alexis asked, to distract her mind.

“Yes,” Rajish said.  “And we are at the beginning of the period, so that will continue for the next three hundred years or so, which will be five or six time zones.”

“Understood,” Lockhart said, as he, and Boston came in from a visit to the stables.

Elder Stow and Sukki quickly followed, coming from places unknown.

Decker and Katie came in sweating. They had been in the work room where they worked out with the monks, and showed them a few martial arts moves the monks did not know.

Since Millie and Evan were already present, Rajish clapped his hands and people brought in food.  Then Rajish spoke.

“Since everyone is here, awake, and alert, let me answer Katie’s question from yesterday—two questions actually.  The second is, I helped save civilization. We gathered the armies of the Ganges and stopped Darius at the Indus—an idea that may be repeated in a couple of hundred years when Alexander comes to call…though I seem to recall that things go differently for Diogenes.”  Rajish shrugged.  “To answer the first question, I am here hiding.”

People looked at each other. Boston spoke.  “What are you hiding from?”

“Well, let’s see.  Zoroaster caught the ear of Cyrus the Great, and now his grandsons and the Magi have taken the ear of Darius and have helped build and direct the Persian Empire.  I best stay out of that.  Then back home, in the Ganges, the Buddha is ready to start teaching, and all that he does, and Mahariva is establishing Jainism, and I really need to not interfere. I talked to Gautama when he was young, but all it did was make me realize I need to keep my mouth shut.  When I came here to deal with the Skudsku, I thought China might work; but then it occurred to me that Laozi is just finishing the Tao Te Ching, Confucius is about half-way through his epic works, and Sunzi is about ready to start writing his book.”

“What did Sunzi write?” Lockhart asked Katie, but Katie, Decker, and Lincoln all answered.

“The Art of War.”

“The point is,” Rajish continued. “These are transitional years in human history, and in human thinking.  I don’t know why it all bunches up like that, but from about six hundred BC to about three hundred, From Homer to after Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, everything changes.  I would say it fits nicely with the influx of creative and variable energy—magic energy from the Other Earth, but…  We won’t have another time like this until the enlightenment, and that fits mostly in years when the Other Earth is out of range.  I would give it another three hundred years then, from about 1650-1950. The age of reason and science, in art and music, and all those revolutions, including the industrial and technological kind.  I may feel different when I get there, but this time around, unless something comes to my attention, I think this hermitage is safe enough.”

“So, you are teaching the monks the martial arts?” Katie asked.  “How is that not interfering?”

“Yeah, well…”  Rajish shrugged.  “My contribution.  The Persians are very good.  They are not Spartans, but good.  And the many, constantly warring states in my homeland, in India, have developed many techniques.  The warring states in China won’t really start for another twenty to forty years. I am sure they will benefit greatly from the monks from here, and all the new monasteries that will be built. These people are Taoists, you know, given to folk religion.  So, will the Shaolin monastery be founded by Taoists or Buddhists?”  Rajish shrugged again.

“You don’t mind if I teach a few things?” Decker asked.

“Local weapons only.  No Patton sabers.  Hand-to-hand is okay, but use your judgment.  No anatomy lessons.”

“Understood,” Decker responded.

With that word, Alexis yawned. Rajish imagined she and Lincoln could use the extra rest.  There were only two more things he felt important to say while everyone sat present.

“Lincoln,” he said and waited for Lincoln’s full attention.  “I’m sorry, but Cortez is finished.”  He waited for Lincoln to nod.  “I have to figure out how to send the horse back to the 1870s so Casidy can get some trade-in value.  Probably not much.  But that leaves you three horses short, and there isn’t anything I can do about that right now with the Storyteller still missing and all.”

“That’s okay,” Katie spoke up.

“We talked about that earlier while Lincoln and Alexis were still in recovery,” Lockhart said.  He looked at Evan, and Evan and Millie both nodded.

“It should work,” Evan said.

Katie explained.  “Alexis can take back Misty Gray, and she and Lincoln can ride him.  Evan and Millie can ride on my horse, Black Beauty.  I will ride with Lockhart on Dog, even if it is a ridiculous name for a horse.”

Lockhart smiled.  The name worked for him.  He spoke.  “It isn’t an ideal solution.  We will have to walk the horses even more than we have.  And we may be in trouble if we need to get away in a hurry.”

“Build that bridge when we come to it,” Decker said.

“Not to mention the wear and tear the extra weight will put on those poor horses,” Katie said.  “I worry about the horses.  We have been riding them a long time.”

Rajish held up his hand.  “I understand.  I am trying to send some fresh mounts into the past, but that is not so easy.”

Lincoln interrupted.  “I think part of what happened to Cortez was he just got exhausted.”  Alexis nodded, pointed at Lincoln, and yawned at the same time.

Boston spoke up.  “Sukki and I will take Lincoln’s saddle and equipment.”

“Yes,” Sukki said, and almost closed her mouth when every eye turned to her.  She pulled up her courage.  “But what can we do about the traps of the witch?”  She turned her eyes to the floor.  Millie stepped in to help.

“From what all you say, it will take more than normal time to get to the next time gate, and we won’t be able to hurry up.  So, how can we do that, safely?”

You still have your chestnut?” Rajish asked.  He held out his hand, and Millie pulled it from a pocket she had in her dress.  She did not hesitate to hand it to the man. Rajish looked at it carefully, and continued his thoughts.  “I have three masters of the mystical arts.  Individually, they cannot match the witch, but combined, they should be able to sniff out whatever traps the witch may have set.”

“I assume we cannot continue to count on help from the Yeti,” Lockhart said.

“No,” Rajish shook his head.  “When the witch came through, my memory got jogged. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I remembered you, and that you would follow fairly soon, but I had no idea when that might be.  I let it be known to the Yeti and… whoever, to please help you.  I assumed the witch did not have your best interests in mind. The three stood against her, so she did not come here, but…”

“But look,” Evan interrupted.  “I knew Nanette.  She was a fine, kind, and lovely woman.  What happened to her?”

“Power corrupts, absolutely,” Lincoln suggested.

“That isn’t it,” Rajish said.  “The Nanette you know is still with Professor Fleming, I believe.  It was her concern for you traveling into the past that inspired her to beg Minerva for some way to help and protect you.  The goddess agreed, and before I could stop her, she made a duplicate Nanette, like a twin.”  Rajish shook his head.  “It was as I feared.  In the spiritual world, identical twins, same gender, are rare and special.  When they are like fraternal twins, like Apollo and Artemis, they are fine, but identical twins are often a problem.  It is mostly a human myth, but in the spiritual world, it is often true enough that there is one good twin and one bad twin.  I feared this would happen.  The fact that Nanette has proved to be a very capable witch is a complication.”

“I’ll say…” Alexis yawned again and laid the non-bandaged side of her head against Lincoln’s shoulder.  She appeared to be ready to sleep.

Rajish stood.  “You need to stay here a few days.  Alexis, being a healer, will heal faster than most.  Still, I wouldn’t recommend moving her for a few days.”

###

When the time came, the three mystics helped the travelers avoid a flash flood in a valley as they headed toward the foothills.  They avoided a tiger attack one morning as they climbed up into those hills, and on one evening, they drove off an attack from a pack of about fifteen dholes. Lockhart thought they were jackals, but Elder Stow said they were more like hyenas.

Elder Stow and Decker each took one of the mystics to ride with them.  Sukki and Boston doubled up on Boston’s horse, Honey, so the one mystic who knew how to ride a horse could ride Sukki’s horse, Freedom, and lead the way.

Decker and Elder Stow still moved out on the wings from time to time, but the mystics said that was where they wanted to be.  The third one often rode out front.  They said that their senses could stretch out and pick up the lay of the land in front and around the travelers.  They could also sense that the witch had come through the area, but they admitted that they did not know if the flood and predators was something the witch did, or just natural phenomena.  The dhole and the tiger might have just seen the horses as large prey after a long, hard winter.

“Getting close to humans might have been a calculated risk, not having experience with your weapons,” one said.

To be honest, they did not ride much. They walked most of the way, in part because of the burden on the horses, and in part because of the uncertainty of the terrain under the snow.  Lincoln did not want another overburdened horse to slip and twist a leg, and Alexis still touched her head, though she had healed well.

On the eighth day, the mystic who rode out front looked at the chestnut he had been given.  He affirmed Boston’s prediction that they would reach the time gate by sundown.  A short time later, they all began to hear howling and screeching in the wilderness.

“Yeti?” Lockhart asked.

“Snow leopards,” one mystic said.

“They are often blamed for the myth of the Yeti…” Katie began, thought about what she said, and added.  “Of course, now we know otherwise…”

They came to the edge of a woods and another steep hill, like the hill of the mudslide, except this one looked covered in snow.  At once, like the last time, the ground began to tremble.  The distant yowling increased.  The snow gave way.

“Avalanche,” Lincoln yelled, and this time, they had no time to mount and ride away.  Fortunately, Elder Stow flipped a switch on his screen device, which he wisely set up ahead of time, for once.  The snow, rocks and uprooted trees stopped and piled up at the edge of the screen, or slid over top.  Elder Stow had to get his weapon out to burn a short tunnel away from the hill.  They made it out from beneath the mess without too much difficulty, and when they reached the camp beside the next time gate, the mystics had something to say.

“It seems to me you have the resources to counter about anything the witch might attack you with.”

“That depends on what she throws at us,” Decker said, as the only negative comment.

“Still,” the man continued.  “Don’t worry about us.  We are adjusted to this environment and have some resources of our own. We should be home in about four days, five at the outside.  It took longer coming here because we needed to find a route safe for the horses and we had obstacles to avoid.”

People nodded.  On the return trip, the mystics did not have anyone trying to kill them.

The travelers stepped through the time gate first thing in the morning.  When Boston and Sukki got relegated to the rear again, they shared their thoughts.

“I hope the witch thinks we got killed by one of her traps,” Boston said.

Sukki only said one thing.  “I’m scared.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers look for Ophelia, a Spartan princess just after a war with Athens, and they run into Wolv, one thing to make Spartans and Athenians join forces.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.7 Yeti, part 3 of 4

That day, the clouds closed in. They left by dawn, traveled under occasional snow flurries, and did not stop until sundown, riding as much as possible, and only walking the horses now and then to give them a rest.  That night it began to snow in earnest, and by morning, they entered blizzard conditions.  The snow came thick, and a mist came up from the ground and limited vision to a few feet.  Elder Stow’s promise that they should reach the monastery by the end of the day was the one thing that kept them going.

The travelers lined up, single file, to keep the horse in front in view.  Alexis convinced Boston to ride out front and extend her elf senses to find the best route to travel.  Boston knew she had some such skill, but she never tried it before, except that one time when the volcano went off.

Boston imagined fairies who might supply some fairy lights to help them navigate the snow.  What she heard was a distant hoop, hoop.  She smiled.

“We got hoopers,” she yelled to the others.

“Great,” Decker said, giving it his sarcastic best.  He rode a bit out on the flank, but never far enough to lose the train.

Boston led.  She could make a fairy light of sorts if it got dark enough. She also had the fire in her fingertips, if needed.  Sukki followed her at the head of the actual line when Boston rode ahead to check with her hooper friends.  Elder Stow came next.  He kept one eye on the scanner to keep them from deviating too far from the path to the monastery.  He also had a light, and the only one strong enough to penetrate the terrible storm.

“Good thing I’m up front,” Boston shouted to Sukki.  “Last time we went through a storm like this, I followed Elder Stow.  He left the line without telling anyone, and went invisible. I ended up lost as all get out.”

“Really?”  Sukki looked back at Elder Stow.

“No worry here,” Elder Stow spoke up. “No sign of any Gott-Druk around to tempt me.”

Katie and Lockhart followed Elder Stow, watching carefully in case the wolves or something like a snow leopard might get their scent in the wind.  Somehow, every hour brought colder and colder air.

“This storm doesn’t feel natural,” Katie tried to whisper.

“Careful.  You’ll scare Lincoln.”  Lockhart looked back, and then grinned at Katie, even if she could not quite see it in the snow.  After a moment, he added, “I agree.”  This felt like no spring storm, even if it was really early spring.

Evan and Millie came after Lockhart. Millie got out her blanket, and riding behind her husband, she tried to keep the two of them covered.  It limited their vision except straight ahead, but it helped some against the increasingly frigid wind.

Lincoln and Alexis came last on Lincoln’s horse, Cortez.  Alexis could turn her magic wind against anything following that might get too close. She could hold about anything at bay, until Lincoln got his handgun out.  She prayed that would not be needed.

“My hands are going to freeze to the reins,” Lincoln said.

“Fairy weave can only do so much,” Alexis responded in his ear.  “The poor horses must really be suffering.”

“Good thing these tents are adaptable,” Lincoln agreed.  “At least their legs are covered with long, medieval-like blankets.”

“I think they are called saddle pads,” Alexis said.  “It was well before my time.”

“No pads in the 1770s?”  Lincoln teased.

“Not since gunpowder took over,” Alexis smiled and slapped him gently on the shoulder.

They rode across a big open field where the wind blasted them and made each step colder than the one before. Cortez kept his head down.  At least the wind whipped across the field and he did not have to head straight into it.

“Trees ahead.”  They heard Boston, far away as she was in the storm.  As an elf, she could make herself heard when needed.

“Good thing,” Lincoln said.

Alexis nodded, even if Lincoln could not see her.  “Give the horses a break from the wind.”

“Give me a break,” Lincoln shivered.

Two hoopers bounced alongside Boston. Sukki marveled at the creatures, or strange people.  She remembered that the travelers always called others, people, even if they were not human people, or in her case, Gott-Druk people.  She glanced back at her adopted Gott-Druk father.  Elder Stow turned on his spotlight as he went among the trees to give some illumination in the dark.  It had been dark all day, but among the trees it got especially dark.

Decker slipped in behind Elder Stow, and Katie and Lockhart hurried to get out of the wind.  Millie pulled her blanket up over her and Evan’s heads against whatever snow might slip off the branches.  Cortez stepped on a slippery rock and fell to his knees, spilling Lincoln and Alexis.  Alexis hit her head on that same rock.  Lincoln got deposited in a snow bank by the trees.

Lincoln dug himself out of the snow as Cortez got to his feet.  The horse appeared to be limping, but Lincoln could not be concerned about that yet. “Alexis,” he called. She did not answer, so he crawled to where he saw her, lying still.  “Alexis,” he said more softly when he reached her, then he added, “Oh crap.”  As he turned her head to face him, he saw a big gash just above her temple.  She was unconscious.

“Crap,” he said again, and got up to grab Cortez’s reins.  He needed the medical pack Alexis carried.  Cortez favored one leg, but it did not appear broken.  Lincoln thought to shout as he got what he needed. “Hey!  Stop!  Help! Hey, stop!”

The only ones close enough were Evan and Millie, but between the trees and the blanket pulled over their heads, they heard nothing.  Even Boston, with her good elf ears, did not hear.  Her mind focused on what was ahead and did not worry about those behind her.

“Alexis,” Lincoln called her again as he held the gauze against her head to stop the bleeding.

“Benjamin,” she responded softly, but did not come out of her faint.

“Damn,” Lincoln said.  He had plenty of snow to clean the wound, and the cold probably helped more than he knew, but he did not know if he could move her. He had to.  His hands were frostbitten and his nose and ears, right through his hat and scarf, felt like they were going to fall off.

With great effort, he got a bandaged Alexis up in Cortez’s saddle, where he took what rope they had and tied her down. He draped her arms around Cortez’s neck, and would walk beside her to make sure she did not slip off.  Cortez definitely limped, but the horse was a trooper and did not argue.

Lincoln walked them carefully into the woods.  He thought he might be able to make out the trail.  Seven horses ahead of them, walking in more or less single file, might not be too hard to follow.  The trees helped with the wind, but it felt colder in the stillness of the trees.

Very quickly, Lincoln knew he would not be able to follow for very long.  They had to be way ahead of them by then.  The snow would not let up.  And while he could still see the trail under the trees, it would be well covered by the time he got to the next open field.  They already moved right to get down one hill, and far to the left to get up another.  No guarantee they moved in a straight line from this point, and he had no idea how far away the monastery might be.

Sure enough, they came to a wide-open field.  Lincoln stopped at the edge of the trees and tried to think what he could do.  He could keep walking, he decided.  Or he could die of hypothermia in this weather. He considered stopping and starting a fire, but he did not know if he could do that.  He did not have fire in his fingertips the way Boston did.

Lincoln squinted.  He imagined a light in the distance.  He convinced himself it was Elder Stow’s spotlight, though the back of his head said he was imagining things.  He walked.  Cortez limped beside him.  Alexis became conscious enough to hang on.  And he walked, until they got well out into the field.  He knew he was not thinking straight, but he could not do anything about that.

“Boston…” he tried one last call, but it sounded weak and would not carry in the storm.  Then Cortez stumbled again, and Lincoln, in a sense, surrendered. He got Alexis free, and they slipped to the snow where they leaned against the horse, and he held her to share what body warmth he had left.  The thought of getting their blankets did not occur to him.  He felt too close to unconsciousness himself.  His only hope was the others would notice their absence and Elder Stow might pick them up with his scanner.

Something in the back of his mind said wrist watch communicator, but his thoughts felt frozen.  He could not figure out what that might be.

It felt like an hour.  It might have only been a minute.  Lincoln became vaguely aware of a man standing over them. The man picked up Alexis like a baby and put her to his shoulder.  Lincoln let her go, thinking she would get the help she needed.  The man somehow got Cortez to stand, and then reached for Lincoln. He picked up Lincoln like a sack of potatoes, under his arm, with his head pointing back toward the horse.

“Cortez,” Lincoln whispered, and the horse, relieved of the burden of Alexis, followed.

They walked slowly so the horse could keep up.  Lincoln lost all sense of time, but it was not long before they came over a rise and found the monastery straight ahead.  There were people on horseback in the gate, but they didn’t ride out until the man set down Lincoln.  He gently placed Alexis in Lincoln’s arms, and backed away.  The last thing Lincoln remembered was the horrendous smell of the man. He felt like throwing up, but he did not have the strength.

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TOMORROW.  Don’t forget, 4 posts this week, so come back for the conclusion…

*

Avalon 6.7 Yeti, part 2 of 4

The following morning, the clouds closed in again, and by noon, it started raining, a cold, soaking kind of rain; the kind to put everyone out of sorts.  Elder Stow and Decker stayed in close, given the rough terrain, and even Boston and Sukki did not straggle far behind.

By noon, everyone felt miserable; but Evan reminded them of the monastery up ahead, and when Elder Stow claimed the small dot on his scanner might indicate human habitation, they all felt a little better.  They hurried lunch, but would have hurried it in the rain in any case.

Around two that afternoon, the rain turned into a deep mist-like fog that limited their visibility.  Decker and Elder Stow moved in closer on the flanks. Ears opened, and talk came in whispers, until Boston shouted, “Hush.”  She stopped moving, and Sukki stopped with her.  Lockhart clearly did not want to stop in the open, out in the rain, but he did.  Elder Stow and Decker came all the way from the flanks.  “Hush,” Boston repeated.  She pointed to the woods up ahead, but off the line they traveled, to their right, and down a gentle hill.

Everyone heard.  It sounded faint, in the distance.  A barely audible, Boom, Boom.

“Sounds like someone has a big club,” Lincoln said.

“What are they hitting?  Drums?” Evan asked.

“Trees, I think,” Alexis answered.

Katie closed her eyes for a second, and stretched her hand out toward the sound.  “I sense no danger to us from that direction.”

“Your Yeti?” Sukki quietly asked Boston, who shrugged.

Decker spoke sensibly.  “I’m not picking up a pattern.  If it is a message, it may not be for us.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Which way?”

Boston pulled out her amulet and pointed the way they were heading.  Lockhart started them moving again.  As they pushed slowly into the woods, the Boom, Boombecame louder and began to pick up speed.

Very quickly, they came to a stream among the trees.  “Winter runoff,” Lincoln called it.

“Rain melted snow from further uphill,” Alexis agreed.

“Woah,” Lockhart shouted and stopped. A hill, hidden by the fog, rose up before them.  It looked almost steep enough to be a cliff.

Boom-boom-boom-boom... The drumming became very fast, like someone banging between two trees. Katie closed her eyes again and faced the sound.  Lockhart got ready to cross the stream, but waited for Katie.  He watched as her eyes sprang open.

“It’s a warning,” she said.  “Back to the meadow,” she yelled and swung her horse around.  “Hurry,” she added, as the ground began to tremble. The others started more slowly, but sped up by the time they heard the rumbling on the hill.  The hillside gave way.  Hugh chunks of mud and boulders rushed to the forest below.  Bushes were crushed, and saplings snapped.  Big, old trees cracked and fell over.  The stream got blocked and had to find a new path. Horses and riders burst from the woods as the rumbling stopped.  The mudslide stopped at the edge of the forest.

“Everyone here?” Lockhart yelled over the din of voices.  Everyone was, though they all looked rather shaken.  “Which way?” Lockhart asked again, wanting to get out of that area, just to be safe.

Katie and Boston both pointed toward the Boom, Boom, which had once again slowed and sounded more distant.

“Warning?” Lincoln asked, having heard that word.  Katie nodded.

“We would have had to go around that hill in any case,” Lockhart said.

“I would go the opposite way,” Decker said, softly.

“I think we are outvoted,” Elder Stow said more loudly, but only because Gott-Druk are not good at whispering.

The travelers gave the hill a wide berth, and came down into a valley where a small river ran, no doubt made up of many small streams.  The rain stopped and the mist cleared off about the time they found an acceptable campsite.

The booming had long since stopped, but this time no one jumped when Boston said, “Yeti,” and pointed up river. Some eyes turned in that direction, though of course, they did not see anything.

“Thank you.”  Alexis thought to shout that out, just before Boston said, “Gone.”

“Do you think they could be like the fauns, slipping into another universe?” Decker asked.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  He sat frowning and shaking his head at his scanner. “I have adjusted the scanner to pick up any such thing, like movement out of the world altogether, like a hole in the world to another dimension, or something.  No.  I’m catching glimpses, but having trouble picking up the Yeti, or whatever it is, even when it is there.  I have no way of knowing where it goes.”

“Time distortion,” Lincoln said, reading from the database.  “There is very little in here about the Bigfoot or Yeti.  That may be on purpose.  There may be some things the Kairos does not want known, for some reason. But anyway, as near as I can figure, the Yeti lives a few seconds in the future.  It can phase into our time stream when it wants, but mostly it moves ahead of us, in time, I mean.  I think when your equipment tries to focus in on it, it has already moved on.  That probably doesn’t make much sense.”

“No.  That is helpful,” Elder Stow said.  “I am not sure what I can do about that.  The scanner does not have a temporal adjustment.  But it is helpful to know.”

“The elusive bigfoot,” Lockhart said.

“It will never be seen unless it wants to be seen,” Katie added, agreeing with Lockhart.

People sat quietly for a minute. They tried to get warm by the fire, grateful that the fairy weave clothing was self-cleaning and self-drying.  All that frigid rain did not stick to them, or to their fairy weave blankets and tents.  Sadly, the horses were not self-drying, but the travelers did the best they could.  At least, by the river, the horses had some snow and ice-free grass to eat.  Then Evan had a thought.

“It seems to me, the question is, why is the Yeti following us.”

“And warning us,” Millie added.

No one had an answer, and soon, people went off to bed, keeping their watch in the night.

All remained quiet—cold, but quiet, until the shift change at four in the morning.  At that time of year, in that part of the world, the sun set around five-thirty in the evening, and rose again around six-thirty in the morning. Millie asked about the time.  She said she did not notice when they walked, but now that they had watches, surely, they were several hours, or time zones east of Babylon.  Why didn’t they have to reset the watches for each time zone?

Katie answered.  “I asked at the very beginning.  Lincoln looked it up and explained that the time zones automatically adjusted a few hours one way or the other.  He could not explain how, exactly.  But the result is, when it is noon here, it is noon in all the time zones.”

“A blessing,” Alexis said.  “We would be utterly frazzled by now if we had to adjust our internal clocks every time we came into a new time zone.”

“Some things you just have to take by faith,” Boston added.

“I see,” Millie said.  “But then, I have seen plenty of things that I used to dismiss as fantasies of the mind.”

“Like magic?” Sukki asked, as Boston magically started the campfire despite the soaking wet wood.

“Like elves,” Millie answered, and reached out to touch Boston’s pointed ears.

Boston grinned.  “I was not born this way, you know.  But it feels so right.  I can’t explain it.  I just hope my parents and brothers can deal with it.”

That began a long conversation about what to expect when they got home.  Of course, they all paused to hug Sukki and say she would be welcome to make a home with them.  Sukki only cried a little, and that got Elder Stow’s attention. Soon the men joined the conversation, though realistically, they could only imagine what might have happened back home after five years of travel.

Boston still wondered about that when she and Sukki got up for the early morning shift.  Decker looked ready for a two-hour nap, and Elder Stow looked already asleep, when Boston shouted.

“Yeti!”

“Wolves!” Sukki shouted as well, even as she punched one that made a leap for her.  She moved fast, and given her natural Neanderthal strength, she knocked the wolf into a tree and undoubtedly broke its jaw.  She whipped out the knife Boston gave her, as Boston pulled her wand to lay down a line of flames between them and the wolves.  Decker grabbed his rifle, but paused to watch the Yeti.

The Yeti made a sound like Chewbacca on a bad day.  One by one, it caught three wolves by the scruff of the neck and tossed them, seemingly without much effort, into the half-frozen river.  It turned and roared at the rest of the pack, flailing its arms for any wolves that might not already be running for their lives.  Then in a few steps it disappeared among the trees.

Elder Stow switched on his screens just before three lynx came at them from the other direction.  One slammed into the screens and appeared dizzy. Decker shot one, since Elder Stow had long since adjusted things so he could shoot out and nothing could get in. The third lynx ran, but by then the others were up, and Alexis offered a thought.

“There is something more than accident going on here.  Lynx are solitary hunters.  They don’t hunt in packs like wolves.”

“Not to mention wolves and lynx attacking at the same time can’t be coincidence,” Lincoln added.

Lockhart and Katie came back from helping Boston and Sukki put out the line of bushes still smoldering from Boston’s fire.  “Maybe we need to hurry and get to that monastery before the next mudslide,” Lockhart said.

“Good thing everything is still wet,” Katie had a different thought.  “Boston might have set the whole forest on fire.”

“Nuh-uh,” Boston said, but no one said anything more.

Avalon 6.7 Yeti, part 1 of 4

Don’t forget.  4 posts this week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Don’t miss it.

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After 529 BC, The Himalayas. Kairos lifetime 79: Rajish the Defender

Recording …

The travelers came out of the time gate and landed in a snow storm.  They stopped and thickened their fairy weave clothing to imitate the best winter coats, scarves, hats and boots.  The fairy weave tents got repurposed to cover the horses against the cold.  Then they walked and rode very little over the rough ground, looking for shelter against the storm.  They found a rock overhang where they and the horses could at least stay out of the wort of it.

By lunchtime, it did not look like they would make much progress on that day.  They huddled around the fire, watched the deer cook, and talked quietly against the silent, falling snow.

“I’m not picking up any signs of human habitation,” Elder stow said, with a shake of his scanner device.

“I couldn’t find anything either in this storm,” Decker agreed.  “Only the mountains in the distance, and we appear to be heading that way.”

“But, where is this place?” Evan asked. He looked at Millie, who shrugged. “We came this way, well, reverse, mostly through a storm, stronger than this one.  There is a monastery up the mountainside, about a week from here. Chinese, I think, though not exactly. They saved our lives, let me tell you.”

“Something to look forward to,” Lockhart said.  Katie shivered and pulled the blanket up as she snuggled closer to him.

“Let’s see,” Lincoln said, as he pulled out the database.  Alexis imitated Katie, pulling her blanket up and hugging Lincoln, but without the obvious shivering.  “Rajish. He is from the Ganges river area. My guess would be we are somewhere in the Himalayas, and it appears our path is uphill.”

“In winter?” Millie dreaded the idea.

“Spring.”  Boston took a big whiff of air.  “Really early spring.”

“But, he is from India?” Lockhart interjected.

Lincoln nodded.  “He went up into the mountains on rumors of Skudsu in the snow.” He paused when he saw curious faces, so he reminded everyone.  “You remember Lakshme, and her faithful elf companion, Libra.”  People smiled and nodded.

“Lucky girl…” Boston whispered.

Lincoln finished his thought. “Apparently, one piece of the stuff landed this far north, and froze.  It stayed dormant until a human found it. Of course, we don’t know if that has happened yet,” Lincoln added.  “We have to assume it has not, but at least we know he made it into the mountains, or we would be on the Ganges, or the Indus in the heat.”

“And he has been here for a while,” Millie said.

“We came this way before,” Evan repeated, and nodded.  “I imagine he has dealt with any rumors by now.  So, what is Skudsku?”

“An alien plant,” Lockhart said.

“Intelligent,” Katie added.

“Spreads like wildfire,” Alexis said, and Lincoln cleared his throat.

“Kills everything in its path.” Lincoln shivered, and not from the cold.

After a moment of silence, Evan said, “Sorry I asked.”

“Hush,” Boston said, sharply.  She looked behind her.  Katie sat up and looked in the same direction.  Decker’s head followed a moment later.

“What is it?” Millie asked.

“Shh!” Boston insisted.

“Something out there,” Decker said.  Sukki moved to the other side of the fire.  Elder Stow started up his scanner, but it would take a moment to change it from wide range to short range.

“Not a bear, or tiger, or whatnot,” Boston said.

“I’m not picking up danger,” Katie agreed.

“Gone,” Boston said.

“I’m not seeing anything,” Elder Stow admitted.

“Maybe just a squirrel or something,” Lincoln suggested.  Lockhart frowned at him, but no one contradicted him.

The snow stopped falling by four, but the gray clouds never went away.  They were not going anywhere that day, so they settled in for the night, giving the horses some extra attention since the horses had so little to eat.

The standard watch in the night became Evan and Millie from eight to ten, with Lincoln and Alexis from ten to midnight. The leaders of the expedition, Lockhart and Katie, took the middle of the night when they should have been sleeping. Decker with his rifle and Elder Stow with his scanner took the dark of night, between two and four in the morning. They woke the elf, Boston, so she could rise with the sun, and Sukki got up with her.  In this case, the watchers not only needed to watch over the camp, they had to keep a special eye on the horses, and keep the fire burning bright, and as warm as possible.  Though it stopped snowing, and the sky cleared around midnight, that just made the cold wind feel worse.

All that day, and the next, they traveled under mostly gray skies.  It felt warmer than hard winter, but not by much.  On the second day, they found some green patches in the snow.  They stopped in one large patch of green and let the horses nibble on what they could find.  The horses did not appear picky, and several nibbled on the trees, crunchy as the bark might be.

“I’m getting concerned about the horses,” Katie mentioned privately to Lockhart.

“How so?”  He had his own thoughts, but wanted to hear what she had to say.

“These horses have carried us through sixty time zones, according to Lincoln.  That is about two-and-a-half years, as Lincoln figures.  Decker, who has been counting the days, more or less agrees.”

“How do you figure?”

Katie paused a minute.  “It is ten days to two weeks between time gates, on average.  It was less when we began, but the time between gates has grown, so I am counting the average.  We sometimes stop and rest with the Kairos in the center for a few days, but sometimes we get hurried up by the gods or Tobaka’s Android ship, or some such thing. Altogether, that makes a rough two week per time zone average.  That puts us somewhere in the sixteenth week of the third year since we got the horses. Decker figures we are forty-five days’ shy of three full years, though he counts it from when we arrived on the plains of Shinar, before we got the horses.  Putting it together, I would guess we are a hundred and sixty-four days into our third year with the horses.”

“One-sixty-four sounds pretty accurate for an estimate,” Lockhart said, and smiled.

Katie returned the smile.  “I try,” she said.

“But I figure we got them when they were six or seven, so fully mature, and well trained to the saddle.  At age nine or ten, they aren’t even middle-aged yet,” Lockhart said, doing some figuring of his own.

“But we have worked them pretty hard these three years.”

Lockhart nodded.  “But we walk them as much as ride them.  We stop by six or sooner, and leave at six or later. Figure a two-hour lunch, and that is only a nine or ten-hour work day.  Plus, we do take three or four days of rest about every two weeks.”

“I understand,” Katie agreed.  “But I would guess we have another two to three years to travel to get home.  When we get into landscapes like this where there is so little for them, beneath the snow and all… I don’t know.  I worry about them.  This is some rough duty, day after day.”

“Rough for all of us.  Aren’t you afraid I will wear out?”

Katie reached for his hand.  “Poor baby.”

He stopped to kiss her.

When they got to the end of the third day, Boston shouted from the rear.  “He’s here again.”  As soon as she shouted, Katie looked in the right direction.  For three days, on each day near the evening, they heard and sensed something.  Elder Stow, who did not wander out far on the wing, given the conditions, and the fact that there did not appear to be any people in the immediate area, quickly got out his scanner.

“No, nothing,” he said.  “I am not picking up anything.  Wait… No.”

Decker came in from the other side. “I saw something big moving through the woods.”

“Dragon big?” Lockhart asked.

“No.”

“No,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “The scanner is set for dragon.  Can’t hide such a thing.”

“So, some life form the scanner does not recognize?” Boston asked.  Elder Stow nodded.

“How big?” Lockhart got back to his question.

“Seven or eight feet, maybe nine. Bi-pedal.  It moved among the trees where I could not actually see it.” Decker checked his rifle.

People stood quietly thinking before Lincoln blurted out, “Bigfoot?”

“Yeti,” Alexis corrected him.  “In this part of the world, it would be the yeti. I know that much.”

“Just a myth,” Lockhart said, and everyone looked at him like he lost a screw. “Okay. Forget I said that.”

Katie helped him out.  “I don’t sense any hostile intent.”

Lockhart looked around.  They stood in a large field where some grass tried to poke through the snow.  They seemed surrounded by forest, but some distance away on all sides.  The wind was down.  Lockhart did not think for long.

“We camp here, in the middle of the field.  Be careful gathering wood.  Let the horses loose and build the fire nice and big.  Maybe we won’t be disturbed in the night, but at least we should see something approach.”

People looked up, but the clouds did not appear threatening, so they got busy making camp.  Meanwhile, Boston had to explain to Sukki what she meant when she said, “Bumbles bounce.”

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 6 of 6

Xanthia brought everyone into a large room and had seats brought in, arranged like a big living room.  They had a table that looked to seat twenty on one side of the room, and that triggered Lincoln’s mouth.

“We haven’t had supper.”

Alexis nudged him.  “We imagined finding an inn or something.”  She did not want to put Xanthia on the spot, but Xanthia clapped her hands and gave instructions to her women.

She finished with, “And I want meat. Kill the fatted calf.”

“Not on my account,” Alexis said, and smiled.

“I know,” Xanthia commiserated. “But Major Decker needs to keep up his strength.”

Decker shrugged and looked at Lyscus and Harpatha who stayed with them.  He also looked at the half-dozen guards spaced around the outside of the room, by the doors. Xanthia noticed.

“Come to the table,” she said, and went to sit at the head of the table.  She thought, and pointed.  “Katie and Lockhart to my left.  Alexis and Lincoln, and Major Decker.  Captain, your officer can sit beside Decker and discuss military things.”

“An honor, your highness,” Harpatha said, with a bow, though he did not appear entirely comfortable sitting next to the giant black man.

“On my right,” Xanthia continued. “Let’s put Boston and Sukki, with Elder Stow.  Millie and Evan can sit next beside the captain, and Captain, I apologize.  Evan is a scholar not given to military thinking.”

“Quite all right,” Lyscus said, and bowed like Harpatha.

Xanthia clasped her hands and smiled at the arrangement.  She sat, so everyone else sat, and almost immediately, some young men and women came in with trays of cut vegetables and fruit, plates, knives, and goblets for the pitchers of rough beer or even rougher wine.  Elder Stow avoided the alcohol, since he had no capacity to keep from getting drunk.

Cyrus came in with the food, followed by four counselors, and everyone stood again to pay their respects.  They expected the counselors to be military men, but were surprised to find them the city administrator, the administrator of the grain warehouses with the chief tax collector and a governor of one of the cities in Southern Mesopotamia.  Cyrus rubbed his head, like all the administrative work might be giving him a headache.

Xanthia’s introduction of the travelers was interesting. She began with Evan, disguised nothing about them being from the future, and said straight out that Elder Stow and Sukki were human but not human.  She said Boston was an elf, and Cyrus raised one eyebrow, like he expected as much from his sister.  Katie was an elect.  Lockhart started as a policeman—captain of a city watch.  Alexis got introduced as a woman of magic.”

“Wind, and healing,” Alexis interjected.

“Lincoln keeps the historical record, including a record of future history, so no questions allowed about that. Major Decker is a true military man.” He was right then checking to see that the guards around the room stood up straighter and looked more alert as soon as the king entered the room.  “And, of course, you know Captain Lyscus and his first officer Harpatha.”

Lyscus bowed.  “Majesty.” Harpatha joined in the bow after a moment, though he had yet to swallow the food he stuffed in his mouth when the king entered the room.

Cyrus gave Lyscus a hard, practiced look. “Captain, is it?”

Lyscus looked unfazed.  “Her highness is generous,” he said.

Cyrus let out a wicked little grin that the travelers appreciated but seemed to unnerve the administrators. “Sit. Eat,” Cyrus said, as the servants brought in more food.  Cyrus sat, so everyone sat, except Xanthia.

Xanthia proposed a toast.  “To my big brother and the taking of Babylon without a fight.”

Cyrus frowned and explained better. “We fought a couple of battles before the city.”

“But not in the city,” Xanthia interrupted

Cyrus raised his eyebrows.  “Near enough, little sister.”

“All right,” Xanthia lowered her eyes before she rephrased her toast.  “So, for entering the city and taking over without spilling buckets of blood.”

“She can’t stand the sight of blood,” Cyrus said, with a slight grin as he sipped his drink.

“Especially my own, as the Storyteller says,” Xanthia agreed.  “I don’t know how Doctor Mishka does it.”

“Well enough,” Cyrus said, and reached for a shoulder where the people guessed he had been wounded, and Mishka healed him.

Xanthia spoke again as she sat. “By the way, I got the same gnomes as last time to care for your horses and things, so you should have no worries there.”

“I wish I had known,” Katie said. “I would have left my rifle with the horse.”  It presently sat in a chair near to hand.  She paused, before she stood and grabbed her rifle.  “Enemies.”

Boston stood.  “People.  Dead People.”

Decker got up next.  The door crashed open.  Decker fired his rifle without a breath, then Katie joined him.

Two dozen men and women had to crash through the chairs in the living-room area to get at the table. Most had knives and swords. Several took down the two guards by that door.  Necks got sliced, and the people paused to revel in the blood.

“Vampires,” Alexis said, dredging up the knowledge from somewhere in her past.

Xanthia, Sukki, Lincoln, Harpatha, and two of the four administrators screamed against the sound of gunfire. Then things got really confusing.

Vampires stood again as the bullets Decker and Katie shot got pushed out of their bodies.

People shouted.  “Go for the head… Bullets don’t work… We need stakes…”

Lockhart’ shotgun boomed in the face of two vampires.  Boston shot fireballs from her fingertips and Alexis raised a wind that kept the vampires from overwhelming them.

“Go for the head… We need wood weapons… Stake the heart…”

Lyscus came with two administrators and Cyrus to stand with Harpatha.  They were all armed, but the four guards remaining in the room tried to get in front of them.  Decker, Katie, Sukki, Lincoln, and Lockhart all pulled their knives.

“You have to take the head… Metal swords won’t work… It’s the necromancer…”  Someone noticed the man watching from the doorway.

One vampire head plopped to the floor, but the four guards did not last long.  Elder Stow shot at the two who tried to sneak around to the side of the room. They collapsed when large sections of their bodies burned away.  There was no guarantee, though, that those bodies would not regrow.

Twenty vampires with knives and swords paused and faced ten defenders plus two women of magic—eleven defenders, as Xanthia went away and Diogenes came to stand in her place.  The necromancer shouted.

“Rush them.”

“No.”  The word sounded like thunder.  Marduk appeared, looking like a wrinkled, crippled old man.  “These are my friends.”  He waved his hand, and all of the vampires, apart from the necromancer turned to dust.  Marduk added a word for the man, as Muhamed watched the farm wife crumble.  “You don’t belong here.”  Marduk waved again, and Muhamed joined the woman on the ground, returned to dust.  Marduk threw his hands to cover his face and vanished.

“He didn’t look good,” Boston breathed.

“N-no,” Diogenes said, and went away so Junior could fill his boots.  As the son of Ishtar, Junior had some authority in that part of the world.  He reached out with his thoughts and found the two left in the gate with the nephew.  They were all dust, and he brought that dust to the palace.  He found the others inside the palace, and they were all dust, and no one else had been infected.  He gathered all the dust from the gate, the palace, and the room, and filled a large clay jar. He broke off a wooden chair leg and planted it in the jug.  It immediately sprouted.  Then he spoke.

“I have removed Ashtoreth’s power from the dust, but there is some residue in the formula to burn off.  This will be a cedar by the front gate as a reminder.”  He sent the jug away where it became buried outside the gate.  “The tree will grow, but live a normal life and die when it is of age.  For the record.  That is why wood, some living substance is needed to pierce the heart of a vampire. Metal won’t work.  Wood will absorb the elixir and prevent the heart from healing.”  He went away, and Xanthia came back and invited everyone to return to the table.

Alexis spoke as she sat.  “Father told me vampires first came from Babylon. It gave me nightmares as a child.”

“Suddenly, I’m not so hungry,” Lincoln said, as servants and soldiers came to remove the dead.  Everyone laughed, but it sounded like nervous laughter.

###

A young woman came to the pool of water in the morning before dawn, when the light first began to touch the horizon. She heard yelling down by the gate, but ignored it as none of her business.  She filled her jug with water but paused when she saw something in the pool. She set down her jug and fished out a clay flask.  Two older women came up beside her, talking away.

“Yes, my distant cousin is come all the way from Damascus,” one said.

The young woman ignored them as well, and tried to take the lid off the flask, wondering if it might be some perfume. It would not come.  It took a second to figure out it screwed off.  She lifted it to her nose and one of the older women bumped her elbow.  A couple of drops of liquid spilled into her water jug and the rest went into the pool as she dropped the flask.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said.  The young woman said nothing.  She pulled the flask out of the pool and hurried away, while the two older women quickly filled their own jugs from the water in that spot.

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

MONDAY

Avalon season 6, episode 7, Yeti begins, where the travelers arrive in the Himalayas in the very early spring, in search of Rajish, the defender.  The episode will be posted in only 4 parts over a single week.  That means there will be posts Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

 

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 5 of 6

The travelers entered Babylon with their escort, and marveled at how the people went about their normal and ordinary business.  It felt hard to believe they were a conquered city.  Cyrus and his Persians only came into the city two days ago.

Lyscus and his second in command led the way.  Katie and Lockhart followed.  Evan, on Cortez, with Millie holding him, and Alexis on Misty Gray, with Lincoln behind her came next in line, and kept up a fine conversation.  They pointed out any number of things they remembered from Labash’s day, and several things that appeared changed.

“So, you have been here before,” Lyscus commented to Lockhart, who heard the suspicion creep back into Lyscus’ words.

“Seventy-five years ago,” Lockhart responded.  Lincoln figured it out.  At twenty-five, Labash had another thirty-five years to live the Kairos’ typical sixty. Then, if Xanthia was forty, added to the thirty-five, meant they jumped seventy-five years coming through the time gate.

Harpatha turned his head, and with big eyes he said, “I almost believe you.”

Katie offered a bit more information. “They are just talking about what is the same and what has been changed over the last, seventy-five years?”  She looked at Lockhart.  He nodded.

“Lincoln’s estimate,” he said.  “Of course, it is hard to tell.  We spent most of our time here up on the Ziggurat. The hanging gardens were just drawings and not built yet.”

“I wonder if Ninlil is around,” Katie said, softly.  “I wonder if she and Enlil ever reconciled.”

“I wonder if Marduk is still around,” Lockhart responded.  “He did not look too good last time we came through.”

“I miss my friend Enki, and his glasses,” Boston shouted up from behind Alexis and Lincoln’s horse, where she and Sukki were not allowed to dawdle, being followed by Major Decker and Elder Stow, and a dozen of Persia’s finest horsemen.

Alexis scolded Boston for eavesdropping as they came to the palace and stopped.  Lyscus got down from his horse with a word.  “Stay here.  I will announce you and see what the king says.”

Lockhart also got a word out before Lyscus ran up the steps between the guards.  “Tell Xanthia it’s Lockhart and Boston needs a hug.” Lockhart figured he better add that before Boston shouted it and got into deeper trouble with Alexis.

They did not wait long before a woman with light brown hair and only a little gray came running out of the palace, followed by several other women and several more guards.  She stopped at the top of the steps and threw her arms open.

“Boston.”

Boston leapt down from her horse and ran, zig-zagging between the guards before they even knew what was happening. She flew into Xanthia’s arms.

“You are mom age this time,” Boston said.

“Are you kidding?”  Xanthia laughed.  “My youngest is ten, but my eldest has a child of her own.  I’m grandma age.”

“Still pretty, though,” Boston said.

Xanthia laughed again and invited everyone inside.  The travelers took their weapons with them, along with whatever things they did not want the Persian soldiers and servants to lose or break.

###

When the sun set, Muhamed watched while the man went to the gate and lied to the man’s nephew.  “There is violence in the village,” he said, with just the right amount of fear and trepidation in his voice.  “We thought to find help and food behind the city walls.  We are hungry, having walked twelve hours.  You see, we have children and crippled old ones.”

He told a masterful lie.  If they sent one to the village to check, they would find plenty of signs of violence; dead bodies and blood splattered about. The guards could help by letting the people into the city, and could help further by becoming blood-food for the people, who were indeed hungry.  The people did walk twelve hours as well, even if it was at night and they rested all day.  Pointing out the children and crippled old lady just iced the cake, as people in the future say.

The gate opened.

“Of course.  Old man.  Uncle, come in.”

Within an hour, the guards all died; drained of blood, the shriveled corpses left where they lay.  There would be no alarm until the morning soldiers came on duty.  Only the nephew survived, temporarily.  He would join them.  He would eventually die, but only so a demon could take the immortalized flesh.

The young woman, who managed the crowd, looked to Muhamed to make the decision.  They were strong, now.  They did not need to drink the blood often.  Their bodies would ordinarily be nourished by regular food, like any other flesh.  But the blood was necessary, since their bodies could no longer make new cells. It was necessary to keep the elixir of life circulating to every cell in their bodies.

Muhamed did not take long deciding. “We go with the original plan. The people from the future are the only ones who pose a threat to us.”

The young farm wife pulled the flask of elixir from a pocket in her dress.  “We don’t need this, now,” she said, and tossed it into the pool where the excess water from the cistern collected before it dribbled down into the canal.  Muhamed looked at her like he had a contrary thought.

“We need to turn a few Persians,” he said.

She nodded.  “But now that the elixir has gotten into our systems and infects the blood as soon as we ingest it, we can turn Persians without the need for more elixir.”

Muhamed shrugged.  “This body remembers the formula.  It needs a spark of magic to make it work, but that should not be too hard to obtain.  We can make more, if necessary.  Come here.”

She stepped up and smiled.  “Do you want to have sex?”

He hit her hard enough to knock her to the ground and crack her jaw.  She shook her head against the dizziness.  Her jaw healed itself instantly, while she continued to smile up at him.  It appeared an idiot’s smile, like she wanted to egg him to more violence, to hurt her again. He yelled at her.

“You don’t do the deciding,” he said, and gave her a look of deadly anger, which made her smile all the more. He glanced at the pool.  Most of the lazy women filled their water jugs from the pool rather than using the bucket to bring up fresh water from down below. Fresher water, he scoffed.  The whole system seemed ripe to spread all sorts of diseases.

“We may find a place to rest when the day returns,” the woman said, and lowered her eyes as she stood.  She accepted her place in the hierarchy.

“Send two of the lesser ones when the nephew becomes one of us.  He will know of a place.”  He looked at her submissive position and thought how Muhamed had such a wonderful, twisted, wicked view of women.  Women were less than second-class creatures, to be used and abused at will.  “Gather the rest of the lesser ones.  We will find the palace.  If the enemies from the future are not there, the guards will know where they have gone.”

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 4 of 6

When Muhamed woke, he found the young farm wife sitting beside him, watching him sleep.  His booby-trap by the curtain looked undisturbed.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Have I slept until dark?” he asked. “I had not planned on sleeping that long.”  He sat up and turned from her.  He felt the clay bottle with the last few drops of his elixir still in his vest pocket, and his knife still hidden in his cloak.

“The darkness fell a half-hour ago.”

“Good.  We need to go talk to people, to see if my work had any effect.”

“No need.  I have already talked to many,” the woman said.  “There are thirty of all ages ready to follow you to Babylon, to destroy your enemies.  Shall we go?” She seemed anxious.

Muhamed shook his head.  “You may have eaten, but I suspect it will take all night to walk to Babylon.”  He pushed his booby-trap aside and went into the other room.  The meat, bread, and broth looked untouched.  He shrugged.  These people did not exactly have a refrigerator.  He looked at the cup of water, and this time, he thought to skip it.  The woman noticed, but did not seem to care one way or the other.

“I will tell the others we will be ready, shortly,” she said, and stepped outside.

When Muhamed had eaten his fill, he questioned the broth.  But he checked again, and his few drops of elixir remained.  And besides, he told himself the vegetable broth, now cold, had not moved since supper.

He did not have to wait long.  The woman returned, and he rose to see what volunteers she managed to get him.  Outside, it looked like an ordinary enough crowd.  She was right.  They came in all ages and sizes.  One looked like a crippled old woman.  One little girl looked like a five-year-old.

“These are the result of your elixir. They suffered all day, but when the elixir expanded and came to rest in every part of their body, they came alive. They are ready now to kill whomever you wish.”  The woman smiled in such a way, Muhamed almost told her to stay in the village with the people until he sent for her.  He imagined moving on, alone, but he suspected they would follow and do who knew what.

“Does anyone know the best route and what gate we would best enter without causing suspicion?” he asked, as he considered losing the crowd once they got to the city.

“We have discussed this,” the young woman said.  “One man’s nephew oversees a small gate in the north.  We will go there.”

“Good.  Good,” Muhamed said.  “Lead the way,” he said, and two men and a woman went out front.  He followed, and decided he did not want to look closely at what damage and mayhem these people committed when they came alive, as the young farm wife called it.  He saw one old man, pale and lifeless, sitting against a wall.  He saw blood splattered on the wall, but he told himself it was just mud.  He told himself the man was sleeping, just sleeping.  He did not look up again until they left the village behind.

All night long, Muhamed felt more and more afraid.  The old ones did not complain.  The ones he considered children did not run and play, or do anything he expected from children.  They did not stop for food or rest, and he dared not make them stop.  He felt exhausted when about two hours before sunrise, they arrived at a copse of trees within sight of the city gate.  The farmer’s wife said they could rest there, and hide from whatever morning traffic might come to the gate.  They would go when the nephew came on duty in the late afternoon.  It sounded reasonable, but Muhamed put his back to a big tree when he sat, so he could keep his eyes on the others.  He feared to sleep, but he felt so worn, he could not imagine how he could keep himself awake.

Muhamed did wake, just before the sun came up.  Several men held him while they tied his arm and legs.  He saw the farm wife with his clay jar of elixir.  She held it up and smiled.  He tried to protest.

“It will do you no good.  You don’t know how to use it.  You haven’t the magic of Ashtoreth to make it work…” They gagged his mouth, and he fell silent.  Then the farm wife spoke.

“I will explain this in a way that you may understand.  This elixir has expanded into every cell in my body.  I can heal any wound.  You can cut me, puncture me, even my head or heart, and I can heal.  The only system not functioning correctly is the making of new blood cells.  It is like nature herself is fighting back against me.  We should be anemic, pale, weak, and as cold as death.  But we have found, if we drink the blood of the living, we can assimilate it into our systems.  You see?  You have made me virtually immortal.  And now that I have the elixir, I can bring more of us into flesh and blood. and we will at last be able to destroy all that is.

Muhamed’s eyes got big.  His mouth continued to protest, but all anyone could hear was muffled noises.  His modern mind told him such creatures did not exist.  It was not possible.  It was not real.  Thus, in the modern way, he denied the very reality that stared him in the face. Vampires did exist, and he created them.

“The farm wife smiled.  “It is so much more frightening and satisfying when the victim knows what is happening to him.”  One big man tilted Muhamed’s head to the side.  He screamed.  He yelled for help, a kind of automatic reflex word.  But no one was there to help him.  She bit his neck to puncture the carotid artery—the easiest, most blood-filled spot on the human body, and the blood dutifully began to flow.  She drank some, and some of the others had some, but she stopped the feast before Muhamed died.  She spit on the wound, and the wound closed up.

“Open it,” she said.  Two men grabbed him, and one removed the gag and forced his mouth open.  They did not need to do much forcing.  He felt so dizzy from lack of blood and oxygen to the brain, he almost passed out. The young farm wife leaned over and spit blood into his mouth.  He swallowed much of it, his own now tainted blood, though he gagged and could not swear some of it did not end up in his lungs.

The gag got replaced, and Muhamed felt the infection of blood and elixir filling his body.  He cried as the woman spoke.  “Now we wait until sundown.”  Muhamed died, and some unspeakable evil entered his body.

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 3 of 6

The sandal maker’s house was not far. Just one door in, down a side street from the village square.  Once again, Muhamed saw her enter right in, only this time he saw an old man rather than an old woman.  He shrugged, and returned to the well.  Two women had already come for water in the dim light of dawn.

“Allow me,” he said, though they had no way of understanding him.  He took the bucket, lowered it, and hauled it back up by the rope.  He slipped a small amount of elixir into the bucket before he poured the water into the waiting jugs.  The women appeared to thank him, and went on their way.  Muhamed smiled, and repeated that routine several times.

Muhamed got ready to move when the sun broke free of the horizon, and he saw several men come into the village square. He imagined the men might start asking questions.  Besides, his elixir was almost gone.  If he wanted to do anything at that point, it would have to be watch, and see what affect his diluted mixture might have on the local population.  If the wooden bucket was any indication, it should do something.  Even with limited exposure, the bucket had begun to sprout new twigs and leaves which he kept having to tear off.

He honestly felt too tired, having been up since before noon on the day before.  The sandal maker’s house was right there.  The young woman greeted him at the door, and said the sandal maker had business and would be gone all day, and into the night.  She claimed to have made a feast, but it hardly amounted to more than bread and water, and a little vegetable broth with a taste of the dried meat.  Muhamed only paused at the water, but he did not imagine any of the women fetched water for the old man.  He figured it had to be water from before they arrived.  He had been careful not to contaminate the actual well.

“Will you sleep with me?” she offered. “You can beat me, hard and wicked.”

Muhamed stared at her again.  He imagined the woman had some serious psychological problems.  Then it occurred to him that his elixir, given to a living person, might have corrupted her mind and sensibilities.  He was not a doctor, but he thought she died at one point.  Clearly, she did not, but he knew reduced oxygen to the brain could cause brain cells to die.  He decided it would be safer to keep her at arm’s length.  No telling what she might do with that cutting knife.

“I need sleep,” he said, and it was true enough.  “I see, there, the sandal maker has a bed in a back room.  You stay and sleep here in the front room, in case some local people come to see the sandal maker.”  It sounded reasonable to Muhamed’s ears.

“I will,” she said, and Muhamed stepped into the back.  He drew the curtain closed.  The shutters were already closed, blocking out the sunlight.  He quietly took a jug and several small items he found in the room, and stacked them against the curtain.  He hoped, if anyone came into the room, the items would fall, and the noise would wake him.  He fell asleep easily enough.

###

As the sun set, the travelers set up their campsite.  Once again, there appeared to be men and armies all around, and plenty of them were on horseback.  Fortunately, the ones in this time zone did not appear interested in travelers that included an old man and some women.  Several looked twice at the women on horseback, but no one stopped them to question them.

“I wonder what the soldiers are all doing,” Lincoln said.  “We have seen some different uniforms, if that is what they are, but they don’t seem to be attacking each other, or anyone else as far as I can tell.” Lincoln got the horse brush from Alexis’ saddlebag.

“Show of force,” Evan said.  “I figure the year is 540 or 539.  Cyrus is about to march into Babylon, or has just entered the city, and he has his army riding around the countryside between Assur and Ur, showing who is in charge and giving notice to all the cities that there is a new ruler in town.”  Evan got the brush from Lincoln’s bag.

“Alexis?” Lincoln called, but she did not answer.

“Alexis and Millie went out to see what edibles they could find.” Evan said.

“I have the fire up, waiting for something to cook,” Elder Stow said, as he walked to help with the horses.  “No idea where Boston and Sukki are, either.”

“They wanted to climb the rocky hill to see what they might see in the distance,” Decker said, as he set his rifle down for once and got out his own horse brush.

“Supper,” Lockhart yelled ahead.  He and Katie rode into the camp.  They bagged two deer, and Lockhart spoke.  “The deer are skittish, and keeping a good distance.  Too many soldiers wandering around the area.  We never would have bagged them with a bow and arrow.”

Katie interrupted.  “Fortunately, my rifle has a scope and a good range.”

“Let me help,” Decker said, pulling his knife.  “Lockhart always butchers the job.”

“Isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing?” Lockhart joked.

They camped in a spot on the edge of a forest, beside a rocky hill.  They believed it was the same place they camped on that first night after leaving the city in the last time zone.  That meant they were only one day from Babylon.  Boston, at first, pointed to the more northern city of Sippar, but she said in the last day, Xanthia must have moved to Babylon.  The time gate appeared to move roughly the same distance south.

While they camped, and one deer started cooking while the other smoked, they talked, mostly about the Kairos. Millie had questions.

“I do not understand how my Labash, so clearly a man, the way he fell for Kishilani, and the woman, Xanthia, could be the same person.  She doesn’t sound like a lady.  More of a tramp.  And you say she married three times, and all of her husbands died in battle?”

“That’s right,” Lincoln confirmed. He did not have to get out the database to check.

“She had five children,” Alexis nodded, before she said the thing most of the people, and Millie obviously questioned. “I wonder how many of her children were actually the offspring of her husbands, or someone else.”

“Who knows,” Lockhart said, as he slipped a protective arm around Katie.  She smiled for him.

“Think of Diana and Bodanagus,” Evan suggested to his wife.  “Now that I know, I can see some similar traits between the two.  Bodanagus, and Athena encouraged us to move into the future, to go home as they said.  Bodanagus said we would meet him many times along the way. I didn’t understand what he meant, except that we might meet good people like himself who would help us out. Now, I understand he meant actually him, or her.”

Millie shook her head.  “I believe what you are telling me, but it must be so strange to be a man.”

“It is,” Decker said, before anyone else could say it.

“Hold up,” Boston interrupted. “Humans are coming.  Soldiers, I think.”

“I sense them,” Katie agreed.  “But I don’t sense that they are a danger.”

Decker nodded. Elder Stow got out his scanner, just to be safe, in case he had to throw up a particle screen against intruders.  They watched a small cavalry troop ride up, no doubt like moths attracted to the light of their fire.  The troop stopped several yards away, and Decker, at least, appreciated their military discipline, to hold their horses steady in formation.

“Hello,” a man said from horseback. “You are travelers?  We mean you no harm.”  He spoke in Persian, and the man beside him translated into Babylonian.

“Hello, do not be afraid.  We are on a mission of peace.  Are you travelers?”

Lockhart stood.  Both he and Decker, being over six feet tall, still appeared to some as giants, and would up through the middle ages.  They saw the two speakers hesitate, but they got down when Lockhart spoke, and in the Persian he picked up from the first speaker. They all still remembered the Babylonian from the last time zone.  Languages generally took several time zones before they faded and got replaced by new languages.

“We are travelers, and have come a long way in search of our friend Xanthia.”

“You are Lydian?  Or from one of the Greek or Phoenician cities?  You ride with a Nubian.”

“Is my Persian not good enough?” Lockhart asked, knowing he sounded like a native.  “But, to be honest, we are from a land on the other side of the world. That is how far we have traveled to see our friend.”

“Do you bring her gifts?  Do you have a message for her?” the man asked. The two were down and walked forward a few paces.  Two others dismounted to hold the horses, but the other ten or twelve stayed up, and mostly kept their horses still and quiet.

“I need a hug,” Boston shouted from the back side of the fire.  Everyone ignored her.

Katie stepped up beside Lockhart and took his arm.  The men stared at her yellow hair, sure proof that these people came from far away.  Lincoln and Alexis followed and Alexis invited the Persians to supper.

“We shot two deer this evening.  We planned to smoke one for the journey, but you and your men are welcome to the second one.”

“Tell me, Xanthia only has normal friends,” Lincoln interjected.  The sarcasm sounded obvious.  He saw the man’s eyebrows rise and his shoulders shrug.

“You make a good point,” he said, and signaled for his men to dismount.  They quickly made a second fire and were grateful for the second deer. “I am Lyscus, and my aid is Harpatha. We will join you, and escort you to the city in the morning.”

“Fine,” Alexis said, and introduced everyone around the fire, at the end of which Lyscus admitted that they had to come from very far away, and Harpatha, staring at Boston’s red hair, agreed.

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

MONDAY

The travelers will meet up with the necromancer and his farm wife, and it won’t be pretty.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 2 of 6

Muhamed was not a doctor.  He could only guess at what chemical reactions might be taking place within the woman’s living human body.  His elixir of life had been made to bring the dead back to life, not bring life to living tissues.  The woman developed a high fever.  He knew that much, even if he was not a doctor.

When the woman stiffened, he imagined the elixir killed her.  He thought, double life might be death.  She felt cold to his touch, and lay unmoving.  He checked outside.  He hardly noticed the dead body of the man by the door.  The sun began to set.  It appeared bright outside the window beside the bed.

Muhamed sat again at the table.  He had waited and watched all afternoon, and now it became time for supper.  He thought he might finish what little food the couple had, then he resolved to go.  He decided it would be a waste of his precious elixir to try another drop on the woman’s possibly dead body.

Earlier, when the sun began to drop in the afternoon sky, Muhamed spied the glint of sunlight off the walls and domes of a distant city.  Of course, he could not be sure because he did not cross the Assyrian wilderness on his way out of the last time zone.  An angry Ashtoreth brought him to the time gate, instantly, and yelled at him. Muhamed chose not to think about that, lest it make him angry again.  He thought instead that the city in the distance might be the same city from the last time zone, where he brought the zombies to life.

While he sat, and watched the woman, and nibbled on the bread, he wondered how the time zones worked.  He figured he jumped fifty or more years into the future when he passed through the time gate.  This city, if it was the same city, would be fifty or more years later. He guessed it was Babylon.  He had been educated.  He did college before pharmacy school.  He knew something about ancient Mesopotamia.  He knew enough to recognize Assyria, even if he guessed. The Tigris and Euphrates sort of gave it away.

“The distant city must be Babylon,” he said to himself, out loud, before he held his tongue.

The woman moved.  She stretched, and Muhamed heard the clicking sound of bones falling into place. He thought he might have dislocated a few, and maybe cracked a rib or two.  The woman sat up.  Her eyes popped open to stare at him.  He stopped still, a piece of bread half-way to his mouth.  He returned her stare.  Her bruised and bleeding face healed itself, piece by piece, until she appeared perfect, beautiful, and quite possibly younger than before.

Muhamed swallowed when the woman put a hand up to block the light of the setting sun.  She swung her legs to the floor, stood, and closed the shutters. Then she surprised Muhamed when she spoke, and in perfect Arabic.

“The bright sun always gives me a headache.”  She turned and appeared to smile.  At least Muhamed thought it might be a smile.  In his uncertainty, he moved to the chair on the other side of the table, and pushed the bread toward her.

“Are you hungry? he asked.

She sat in the chair Muhamed vacated, and nodded.  “Yes, but bread will do for now.”  She ate some, and Muhamed watched until he thought of what to ask.

“How is it you speak modern Arabic?”

“I seem to know a lot of things now.”

“How do you feel?”

“I think you made me immortal.  I feel wonderful.  Strong.  Alive. Hungry.”

Muhamed slipped his hand to the pommel of his knife.  “I hope you have no desire to get revenge on me.”

The woman laughed.  “Why should I do that?  You destroyed a good woman.  You killed a good man.  And I have a feeling you have more that you wish to kill and destroy.  I think I will help you.”

“Good, good.”

“Besides,” she said, and stared at him so intently he had to look away.  “You have the elixir of life, and know how to use it.”

“Good,” Muhamed said.  He let go of the knife, but kept his hand from going to his inner vest pocket where he kept the elixir.  That would have given its location away, and that would not have been wise.  He thought instead to explain.

“They began five days away, but they are on horseback, so slowly catching up.  By now they may be three or even two days away.  We will go to the city where we can get lost in the crowd, and wait for them.  Since they will eventually catch up, we might as well let them find us in a place where they cannot find us.”

She smiled at the thought, and said, “You have a way with words.  I appreciate confusion.”  Muhamed knew what he meant, so he continued.

“Once they arrive, and I will point them out to you, you can help me kill them all.”

The woman seemed to appreciate the idea of killing.  Muhamed wondered what kind of psychotic the man in the doorway married.  But he shrugged it off, thinking the madness of unbelievers was beyond his understanding.  He took no classes in psychology, or theology. He became a simple pharmacist.

“We will leave when it is dark,” the woman said.  “It will be safer to travel in the night.”

Muhamed shrugged.  He had gotten used to traveling in the dark, and knew it would be safer.  Homes, villages, and wilderness campfires, in particular army campfires, were much easier to avoid in the dark.  He stood and walked to the door to look.  He felt glad the sun had nearly set.  The woman behind him started giving him the creeps.

###

“Let me go in alone,” the woman insisted. “The widow who lives here knows me and will raise no alarm.”

“Why don’t we just go into the village?” Muhamed asked.  “The sun will be up soon enough, and we are less conspicuous, being a man and a woman traveling together.  We should be able to beg bread easily enough.”

The woman shook her head.  “I won’t be long,” she said, and walked to the front door of the house.  She knocked. Muhamed watched closely and fingered his knife.  It appeared as if the old woman of the house did know her.  She got invited in, so Muhamed relaxed.

Muhamed heard the scream.  He stood, but hesitated in indecision. Which woman screamed?  Surely the old woman, but why?  He had a feeling he knew why, but he did not want to think about that.  Shortly, the young woman came back, a bag over her shoulder.  In it, she had bread, some vegetables and a bit of smoked meat. Muhamed did not complain, or ask what the scream was about, as they walked the rest of the way to the village. He did not want to know.  He imagined the young woman had to hurt, or maybe kill the older one.  He did not see the young woman lick the blood off her lips.

When they got into town, the young woman took him to the well in the village square.  “I know a shopkeeper,” she said.  “He is a lonely sandal maker, very poor, but he will make a room where we can sleep today.”

Muhamed used his hands to cup some water out of the bucket meant for the well, and he stared at the woman.  He asked, “Why are you helping me?”

“Your wish is my command. Honestly,” she said.  “Farm life is terrible, hard, and boring.  You saved me from all that.  And you have such wonderful plans—to kill people and destroy so much.  It is exciting.  I can’t wait.”

“Good,” Muhamed nodded, but decided the only safe thing would be to lose her as soon as the deed was done.  He would hurry into the future, where she could not follow.

She touched his arm.  Her hand felt cold.  “But, wouldn’t it be better if there were others to help?” she asked.

Muhamed had already considered that, but her encouragement helped.  “You find the sandal maker.  I will stay here by the well for a while.  In the cool of the morning, people will come to fetch their water.”

“No,” she said, quickly.  “Come and see the place, so you know where to go. Then come back here, and I will prepare food for us.  I will not bother you in your work, and you can stay by the well and come when you are ready.”

Muhamed stood.  He did not argue.  He figured that was one way to do it, and if the woman wanted him to watch her make contact, and be there in case something went wrong, he thought he could do that.  He fingered the pommel of his knife.  She was only a woman, after all.

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 1 of 6

After 588 BC Babylon. Xanthia lifetime 78: Sister of Cyrus the Great

Recording …

Muhamed groused the whole way through Assyria.  Nothing appeared to work or go his way.  The diseased natives died anyway.  They came back to life, but the local gods ended that quick enough.  He honestly dared not stick around to see.  There had been one god in that place.  He tried to explain his mission, but the pig-headed fool rushed him to the time gate and kicked him out of his world.

Muhamed groused and stopped walking.

He saw a farm house up ahead.  He imagined he was being generous to call the slat and mud brick shack a house.  No doubt a farmer and his wife lived there—a farmer who would die young from too much heavy labor.  He would see if the wife had any bread.  He might use the wife if she proved good looking.  Not like marriage meant anything to unbelievers.

He walked and thought again.

After his failure with the Native-Americans, he got stymied.  India proved far too dangerous.  He whipped up some insect repellant, but got out of there as quickly as he could.  The next three, count them, three time zones were filled with space alien monsters.  In the first, he brought those horrible skeletons to life, but before he could do anything with them, he got caught by his enemies.  Then he found the aliens, and they had real weapons of mass destruction.  He escaped and got out of there.  The third alien time zone looked like all-out war any minute, and he almost got eaten. The middle one, Rome, might have worked. The space aliens were quiet, and the thought of ruining Rome might have made it worthwhile; but nothing was there, yet. He remembered how early in time he traveled.  Mohammed had not come yet, but neither had those Christians, thank god.

Muhamed stopped walking to check on something.

He thought he might kill a Jew if he found one.  He pulled out his big steel knife, the one he took from the black-haired witch. “Hello,” he called to the house. They would not understand him, and he would not understand them, but he could make his wishes known well enough. He hid the knife in the folds of his clothes.  “Hello,” he called again.

He got his feet moving again, and let his complaints finish.

Finally, in this last time zone, he thought he had them.  The city appeared quiet.  The walls would give the dead nowhere to wander.  They had many graves within the city.  He found a whole catacomb full of the dead, and had to move swiftly to drop on them all on his way out.  He could not claim to have gotten them all, but he got most.

Muhamed stopped. A man came to the door of the farmhouse.  “Hello,” he called, smiled, and waved at the man.  The man might have been thirty, but he already looked fifty.  Muhamed got a good grip on the knife hidden in his clothes and walked.  He considered what went wrong, last time.

Muhamed imagined zombies would work much better than skeletons, but if some of the dead were virtual skeletons, he would not mind.  The enemy all sat up on the ziggurat, a pagan, ungodly artifice that should be torn down and turned to rubble.  All he had to do was convince enough zombies to go up the steps and attack his enemies. It sounded simple enough.

“Do you have any bread?” Muhamed asked, and pointed to his mouth, like he was eating.

The man smiled for him and the man’s wife came to the door.  She appeared quite young and good looking, like the years of toil had not yet had its way with her.  Muhamed came close, and shoved the knife into the man’s heart.  He might not be a doctor, but he had to know his anatomy from pharmacy school.  The man did not live long enough to struggle or fight back.

He pulled out the knife and went for the woman.  They conveniently had a bed in the one room hut.  He enjoyed himself, even if she screamed, but in the back of his mind, he kept thinking about what went wrong last time.

The zombie brains were too rotten to follow even simple commands.  He had to get a torch to defend himself.  Then he hit upon an idea, as other people decided torches were a good option.  He got the people to corral the zombies. Apparently, their brains were not too rotten.  They still recognized fire as a threat, and backed away.  He did not come up with the idea, and some of the zombies got driven into the river, but plenty of them got driven toward the ziggurat.  He felt elated.  Surely, the people built the monstrosity for their dead gods.  He guessed they were hoping their gods would deal with the living dead.

He saw when the enemies up top reacted to the zombie attack.  He saw that man with his weapon of incredible power reduce his zombies to piles of dust. He gagged, when suddenly all of his zombies became dust, all at once.

He hit the farmer’s wife as he remembered in this ancient world, there were some people who masqueraded as gods. Ashtoreth was one.  She found him.  She rushed him to the next time gate.  She yelled and threatened him, again.

He hit the farmer’s wife again.  He thought Ashtoreth had to be a very powerful sorceress.  He knew he dared not make her cross. He knew he needed to succeed in his mission if he ever hoped to get home again.  But he did not have to be happy about it.  He could be angry.  He could hate Ashtoreth in his heart.

He beat the woman beneath him until she was raw.

The farmer’s wife stopped crying and probably passed out for a while.  He did not kill her.  He would use her again after he calmed down, and he might actually enjoy her.  He sat at the table, found what food the house had to offer, and he watched the woman.  His mind kept thinking about the living dead.  Then it hit him.  He found a cup and some water.  He put two drops of his elixir of life in the water, and gave it to her to drink.  It never occurred to him to see what his elixir would do to a person who was not dead, or diseased and about to die.  He figured the woman might have a couple of broken bones, and her face and arms were badly bruised and cut, but she would live. He made her drink the water.  Then he went back to the table, ate what he wanted, and watched and waited.

###

“Xanthia, female.  588-529 BC,” Lincoln reported.  “The database calls her Cyrus the Great’s crazy baby sister.”

“Cyrus the Great?” Katie and Evan spouted at the same time.

“Yeah, that guy,” Lincoln said, before Katie and Evan took turns spouting information about who “that guy” was. Alexis and Millie might have followed some of it.  Millie in particular spent five years sitting in on Professor Fleming’s lectures, which to be fair, covered a fair amount of history up to the time of Julius Caesar, where they thought they were trapped.  Certainly, when they talked about the Roman Empire to come, they could hardly say the word empire without mentioning Cyrus the Great and the founding of the Persian Empire.  That was about all Lockhart and Lincoln got; that the man started the Persian Empire, though to be fair, it registered that he would be a rather important person to history, in the grand scheme of things.

When Katie and Evan wound down, Lincoln got back to reading.

“Xanthia’s father, Cambyses, married her off to some general when she turned eighteen.  He got killed in battle, so he married her again, at twenty-four, to another general.  That was in 564.  Cambyses had a stroke in 559, and Cyrus took over running the kingdom, under the Median king, of course, who was also Cyrus’ grandfather.  But then, Xanthia’s second husband died in battle.  Despite his stroke, Cambyses tried to marry her one more time, and this time to a noble administrator in Ecbatana, Media, when she was thirty.  He figured the man had no interest in war.  That was actually in 557.  Cambyses died in 551, and Xanthia’s third husband died in battle the same year.”

“Poor girl,” Alexis said, and Millie agreed.

Lincoln raised his eyebrows. “Let’s just say, she did not want for affection.”  He thought it best not to explain that comment.  “But in 550, the year after Cambyses died, Cyrus overthrew his grandfather, took the Median throne along with the Persian throne, and without much trouble, apparently, since he was the king’s own grandson.  That began the Persian Empire.  But anyway, Xanthia begged Cyrus to let her follow him around like she did when she was four and he was sixteen.  He couldn’t say no.”

“Did she have any children?” Alexis asked.

“One son, but he died young.  Four daughters.  Three lived to adulthood, but by 550, she turned thirty-eight, and her youngest daughter, Roxane, turned nine.  The girl stays mostly with Cyrus’ wife, Cassandane, while Cyrus and Xanthia went off conquering the world.”

“Enough,” Lockhart said.  “Too many names.  I’ll never remember them all.  Xanthia and Cyrus the Great is about my limit, though I suppose he isn’t great yet.”