Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 3 of 6

The travelers marched in, while the guards tried to pay attention, and ignore the invisible elf.  They may have temporarily looked like guards, but not by much.  Archelaus ignored them, preferring to be fed by the slut that sat next to him.  A sleazy looking man grinned at them, however, and walked around them like a man examining a prime cut of meat.  Then he raised his voice.

“Lord Archelaus, friend of Caesar, soon to be King of the Jews.”  The man announced.  “I bring you the Ruin of Damascus, the criminal gang wanted for murder and arson on a grand scale, burning down a full quarter of the city, and murdering the servants of my Lord.”

“You have us mistaken for someone else,” Lockhart began, but Archelaus yelled.

“Silence.”  Archelaus paused to frame his thoughts.  “My father heard from wise men that there is one born in the City of David who they call the King of the Jews.  I checked with my scholars, and they all agree.  I have contracted with servants who will kill the pretender and that will be the end of it.”  Archelaus turned red from anger.  “By Caesar, on the death of my Father, I will be the Ethnarch, the only King of the Jews. I will have no rival.  My servants will kill who they have to, and you will not stop them.”  He calmed as he began to point at the travelers.

Herod Archelaus was not a big man and did not appear too bright.  He put the harlot off and got up from his seat, counting the travelers as he came.  He had to start over several times, until at last, the sleazy man had to ask, “My lord?”

“I count only seven.  My servants said there were ten following them.  Where are the other…”  He paused to count on his fingers.  “Where are the other three?”

The sleazy man shrugged. The sergeant did not have that luxury.  “We got all that were at the inn,” the sergeant said, and then backed up to get lost in the crowd of guards.

“What?”  Archelaus did not sound happy.  One of the guards, one perhaps not so intelligent, stepped forward.

“This man said he had an invisible elf and two invisible companions.  Those three would make ten.”

“What?”  Archelaus shook his head in disbelief and went back to his seat.  “Put them in the waiting chamber.  I will decide what to do with them in the morning.”  The prostitute looked happy to see him and picked up an egg to feed the man.

“This way.”  The sergeant hustled them out, hoping that in the morning the Lord Archelaus might not remember which sergeant brought only seven out of ten travelers.

“Not yet,” Lockhart had to say it twice, to Decker and Lincoln, and once said, “Let Elder Stow work it out.”  They ended up in an underground room where they were thrown into two cells with tall iron bars on the front and solid brick the rest of the way around.

“Put your things on the table,” the sergeant said.  Rifles went there, but the travelers kept their gun belts.

“And the knives,” Boston said.  “I want all the knives you took on the table.”  Boston became visible in all her elfish glory and brushed back her red hair to show her pointed ears.  “Don’t make me chase you to get the knives back.  You would not like that.”  She went invisible again before the guards dared to move.

Knives clattered to the table, including two that did not belong to the travelers.  Two men screamed and ran away.  The sergeant tried to hold things together.  He ordered men to stay in the room and watch the prisoners, but to a man, they said they were not staying in a room with an invisible elf.  Boston laughed out loud when the door got shut, and she became visible again.

“I hope the horses are okay,” Katie said, not doubting for a second that they would break out.

“We have been good so far,” Lockhart said.  “I hope we don’t have to kill anyone on the way out.  Boston?”

“Okay,” she said, knowing what he wanted without him having to ask.  “You know, being invisible is still very draining.  I’ll check for the way out.  Be back in a minute.”  She went invisible again and opened the door.  After not finding any guards, even outside the door, she stepped into the hall, where she shouted, “Once more into the breach,” in the High Elf Roland had been teaching her.

Elder Stow and Sukki became visible as Elder Stow stepped to one cell while Sukki looked in the other.  Elder Stow thought about it.  Sukki did not think.  She grabbed the bars, saw that they were old and partially rusted, and yelled as she pulled them apart.  One bent outward.  The other popped out of the ceiling causing bits of brick to fall to the floor. Sukki easily pulled the bar the rest of the way from the floor and smiled.  Alexis, Lincoln, Tony, and Nanette came out of that cell.

“You could do that?” Lockhart asked Katie.

“I am not sure I can to that,” Elder Stow admitted.  He had them stand back while he pulled out his weapon and cut three bars at the bottom and the top.

“Strong as a man,” Katie said.  “You and I can wrestle.  But I am not nearly that strong.”

“Some holdover from her Neanderthal self?” Decker wondered.

“No,” Katie said.  “Probably one of the gifts of the goddesses.  We will have to wait and see what else she may be capable of.”

Elder Stow punched the three bars.  They made a tremendous clattering and clanking sound when they banged each other on the dirt floor of the cell, but Decker, Katie, and Lockhart easily stepped free.

People collected their things, including their knives, when Boston came back.  “Hush,” Boston said, and led them out of the building by a quick route that bothered no one.  The guard at that door was snoring.

###

The travelers decided not to split up at first, but they left Jerusalem right away.  Fortunately, the horses had been untouched as well as their bags of coins, surprisingly enough.  They counted all their equipment before they left to be sure nothing was missing.  By sunrise, they came into Bethlehem where they found people frightened and wailing for the dead.  The gunmen came into town and found out that a number of families ran away.  The gunman killed several people; but mostly killed babies and children, just in case it was the child they were after, or to threaten people for information, or just because they could.  They got the information they needed and rushed out of town again, but the families left a week earlier, so it would be a while to catch up.

Alexis and Nanette were drawn to heal some of the residents, and that got the people talking.  They got especially talkative when they found out the travelers planned to find the gunmen and stop them before they did any more damage.

By noon, rightly or wrongly, the travelers figured they were not being followed.  Elder Stow used his scanner to check the road for as far back towards Jerusalem as he could.  He reported no movement of any sort of group that might be soldiers in a hurry.  With that assurance, Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Elder Stow and Boston set out to chase the gunmen.  Alexis, Lincoln, Nanette, Sukki, and Tony would follow in the morning with the wagon.

Lincoln spent the afternoon reading from the database and reported over supper.  “The name of the Kairos is Shakheto.  Amanishakheto is what we would call Princess Shakheto of Meroe in Kush.  She is Kushite, or Nubian.  That is unclear.  She may be both.

Nanette perked up.  “She is Negroid?  Like me?”

“Yes,” Alexis said.  “But we say black African.  No one says Negro or colored in our day.”

“I understand,” Nanette said.  “Decker explained that to me, and I asked why I can’t be a Negro anymore.  He still hasn’t come up with a good answer.”

“That is just the way of it,” Lincoln said.  “Negro, and derivatives, suggest slavery.”

“Sometimes, we have to accept things on face value, even if we don’t understand the reasons for it,” Alexis added.  Nanette shrugged.

“Anyway,” Lincoln continued.  “Her mother became badly wounded before Shakheto turned seventeen, and war broke out with Roman Egypt.  It had to do with trade, grain mostly going to Rome and none to Kush.  All the kingdoms in Africa, from places we know as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, even Sheba across the Red Sea, all that trade goes through Meroe.  On the other end, it mostly filters through Egypt, and some through Libya, and from there, to Europe and the Middle East.  Kush is like the funnel.  All the ivory, iron ore and all go to Egypt, and mostly grain comes back, except now Rome is taking all the grain.”

“Hard to live with nothing to eat,” Tony understood.

“So, war.  Shakheto is sixteen.  Her mother, the queen, lost an eye among other things.  So, Shakheto has to lead the people in the war.  The war lasts on and off for about six years.  She kicks Roman butt pretty good, because, of course, she knows Roman ways.  In fact, she ends the war when she gets Bodanagus to sit down with Octavius, that is Caesar Augustus, and they come up with a favorable trade agreement.  Her mother lives about another twelve years, but during that time, Shakheto’s betrothed falls in love with her little sister.  It is a sad story, but Shakheto steps aside for Amanitore. Amanitore marries Natakamani, though he is a good bit older than her.

“That must have been hard for her,” Nanette said.

Lincoln agreed.  “So, in around ten or eleven BC, at thirty-three years of age, Shakheto becomes queen.  She rules for roughly four or five years and the country prospers mightily because of her agreement with the Romans.  Then, in five BC, she decides she has an errand.  It isn’t clear in the record, so I don’t know if ruling was too much, or her sister’s happiness became too much.  She makes her little sister queen and the husband king, and takes off, at the age of thirty-eight.”

“We know from history that Herod the Great died in four BC.,” Tony said.  “That hasn’t happened yet.  But Herod is sick and gone to Jericho where people believe he died, so we figure right now it is four years in the BC.”

“That makes Candace about forty.  That is her name, now.  The word for queen in Meroe is Kantake.  The Romans pronounced it Candace, in the Latin.  Candace has taken that as her name.  She says her sister is Kantake now, and she has gone back to being a princess.  Princess Candace is how she is known.”

“And it looks like she is taking the child to Egypt,” Alexis said.

“And the gunmen are looking for Joseph and Mary,” Lincoln said, as plainly as anyone had yet said it.

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

MONDAY

The race is on.  The gunmen must be stopped.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 2 of 6

The travelers reached Jerusalem without catching the gunmen.  They figured the gunmen rode about a day ahead of them, but at least they did not widen the gap.  Lockhart felt anxious, mostly because Alexis, Katie, Nanette, and Boston kept bugging him.  They feared what the gunmen might do, and who they might kill.

The travelers found an inn that evening.  They stabled the horses and Ghost and gathered inside to see what they might eat for supper.  They got two tables.  Lockhart, Katie and Boston sat on one side of the big table.  Decker, Elder Stow, and Sukki sat on the other side, and they discussed their options.  Alexis, Lincoln, Nanette and Tony had the smaller table and got into a conversation of their own.

“They are in town, here, somewhere,” Elder Stow insisted.  The metal used in the gun barrels is distinctive enough.  In the countryside, on the road, the thirty or so guns were easy to track on my scanner.  But in town, here, there is plenty of metal of the same or similar composition.  They are lost in the crowd.  All I can say is I have not picked up such a group leaving the city on the road to Bethlehem.”  Elder Stow finished his report and returned to his meal.

“Maybe Boston could ask her little ones to search the city,” Sukki suggested.  She smiled, a pretty smile on that young face.  Since becoming human, as she called it, she started to open up and make more effort to fit in with the group.  She tried not to be so shy, at least around her fellow travelers.  So, she made a suggestion.  People looked at her while they considered her suggestion, and it took several whole seconds before she turned red and looked away.  She was improving.

“No way,” Boston said.  “The little ones, or nature spirits, or earth spirits, or whatever you want to call us; we don’t live forever.  We have families, and children, and work to do in the earth as long as the earth abides.  And we do get old and die, even if some live as much as a thousand years.  But for the gods, the immortals, and that includes most of the greater spirits and lesser spirits; these are the days they go away.  Most of the little ones are afraid, watching, and waiting, and not inclined to get involved in human events.  Our work has always been in the natural world, not the human world, and for once, we are sticking to our assigned tasks and not getting involved.  But it is fear and uncertainty that is driving us.  We don’t know what the world will be like after the gods have gone.”

“So, there isn’t a fairy troop willing to fly around town and look for the gunmen,” Katie concluded.

“No way,” Boston repeated.  “Even if there was a troop nearby, they wouldn’t do it.”

“As long as the group is here in town, they aren’t on the road to Bethlehem,” Decker pointed out.  That suggested there was time before the gunmen rode off to fulfill their assignment and shoot whoever they planned to shoot.

“But they will be on the road soon enough,” Katie said.  “And being slowed by the wagon, we have not been able to catch them.”

“We need to split up again,” Lockhart came to his own conclusion, and looked at Katie which suggested they discussed this.

“Okay,” Katie readily agreed, and pulled out her prototype amulet and her handgun.

“No.” Lockhart let his frustration out.  “You need to guard the rear group.”

Katie just shook her head.  “Not this time,” she said.  “Alexis.”  She handed her the amulet.  Alexis put the chain over her head and promised not to take it off.  “Tony.”  She handed him her handgun.  He had already made a makeshift holster for the weapon.  “Lincoln can stay this time, with Alexis, Nanette, and Sukki.  Tony will drive the wagon, and the five of us can catch up with the gunmen, however many there are.”

“Why can’t I go?” Sukki protested.

“Because we don’t want you to get hurt,” Lockhart said.

Elder Stow echoed that sentiment.  “So you stay safe.”  He gently patted Sukki’s hand.

“Guns are still new to you,” Decker added.

“Someone has to ride out on the point to make sure the trail is safe,” Boston suggested the work she and Sukki had been doing for some time.

Katie reached for Sukki’s hand, and Sukki willingly gave her hand and paid attention as Katie spoke.  “Lincoln is your elder.  He will be in charge.  Alexis has the magic, the healing, and the vitamins to keep you healthy.  But they will be busy making decisions and Nanette and Tony are too new at this traveling business.  They could use someone with some experience to keep them on the right road.  You have your knife?”  Sukki nodded and smiled a little.  It was the best knife she ever imagined.  “We go with what we are best at.  The rest of us will take our weapons and confront the bad guys.  We are soldiers and field agents trained for this work.  Your best will be to help Lincoln and Alexis on the road and help Tony and Nanette for a time until they have enough experience on the road to know what they are doing.  Can you do this?”

Sukki nodded.  “I can do this.”

Lockhart looked at Decker and Boston, but neither of them were going to say having Katie along was a bad idea.  In fact, Lockhart got the impression they liked having the elect and her rifle around, no offence to Lincoln.  Though a good enough field agent, Lincoln honestly worked best behind a desk.  Lockhart nodded, even if he did not like the idea.

“We go with that plan,” he said, and Katie took his arm, happy that he was not happy putting her in harm’s way.

As it turned out, it would be a while before they could start.  They had some fine food and thought about rest when a big sergeant and a dozen soldiers came in and arrested them.

Boston felt the trouble just before the soldiers entered the room.  She went invisible, and nudged Elder Stow, so he went invisible, too.  Sukki, still having Elder Stow’s disc in her pocket, joined the invisible crew, but the rest got caught.  Katie felt the trouble the same time Boston felt it, but other than opening fire on the soldiers, there was not anything she could do.

“See what they want,” Lockhart said to Decker’s frown.  What they wanted was the travelers to go with them.  “It is not nice to come into man’s territory and not pay respects,” the sergeant said.

“We are going to see King Herod?” Katie asked.

“You go where I tell you,” the sergeant said, gruffly.

Lockhart and Decker stood and towered over the sergeant.  “We will go peacefully,” Lockhart said, calmly.

The sergeant looked up, took a step back, and waved his men forward.  “Take their knives,” he said.  The soldiers hesitated in the face of these giants, but the travelers handed over their knives without complaint.  They shouldered their rifles and followed, and the sergeant had nothing else to say.

Once they got out the door, they saw a man on horseback.  He appeared to have a rifle, but it had gotten dark so they could not be sure.  He rode off when they came out, no doubt to report to his fellow gunmen, and that former centurion.

“I wonder if Mylo and Phil-o-craties are around,” Lincoln said.

“Philocrates,” Alexis corrected him.

“No,” Lockhart said, as they walked.  “That would be four lifetimes.  The Kairos said three was enough.”

“Five was the limit,” Katie said.  “Before the mind started to slip.”

“One life would have to be in the far future where the Masters can pass on their instructions,” Lockhart said.

“So, for Philocrates, this would be the fifth life.”

“Unless the Kairos meant three or five lives not counting the one in the far future.”

Katie nodded.  “We will have to ask her about that when we see her.”

“Him?  Her?… Her.”  Lockhart had to remember.

Katie nodded again.

When they arrived at the palace, they got brought to a hall outside big double doors.  They had to wait.  The sergeant went into what looked like a banquet hall, while the guards relaxed.  It didn’t take long before one of the guards asked.  “Who are you people, anyway?”

“Strangers,” Lincoln said.

“Mysterious strangers,” Alexis said, and in a way that got Nanette to giggle.

“Seriously.” A second guard came to stand beside his fellow guard and stare at the travelers.  Most of the other guards ignored them.

Lockhart shrugged for Katie and said, “Lincoln,” as a kind of permission given.  He wondered how Lincoln might describe things, and if he might be tempted to say they were trying to get back to the future.

“We are people from more than two-thousand years in the future, and we have come back here to stop some men who have escaped from the future and are trying to ruin these days.”  Lockhart looked to see how Lincoln’s near-truth words might be received.

“We got Archelaus over us,” the guard said.  “Can’t get much worse.”

“King Herod is ill and has gone down to Jericho,” the other said.  “He isn’t much good either, but with him away, Archelaus figures he can take over, and he is worse.”

“His brother, Herod Antipas is not in town,” the first one added.

“You could maybe take Archelaus into the future with you?”  It came out as sort of a question.

Some of the guards overheard the conversation and looked worried, until one nudged the two speakers.  “He is pulling your spear.  People from the future, my arse.”

Several of the men began to laugh but stopped suddenly when they heard a voice out of nowhere.  “Are you calling my brother-in-law a liar?”

“Did we mention our invisible elf and her two invisible companions?” Decker said, with as straight a face as he could muster.

The wide-eyed guards might have said something in response, but they had to straighten up.  The sergeant returned with a word.  “Bring them in.”

Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 1 of 6

After 44 B.C. The Levant

Kairos 88: Candace, Nubian Princess

Recording …

“I said I heard gunfire,” Boston whispered.  Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker spied on the gun shop across the street using the binoculars and the scopes from the rifles.  Elder Stow had his own spyglass, so to speak, and Boston could see better than human with her elf eyes.  At that distance, in the daylight, she needed no assistance.

Nanette, Alexis, Sukki, and Tony who held Katie’s handgun just in case, kept the horses and the wagon.  Sukki wanted to talk to Alexis, who had once been an elf and became human to marry.  Sukki wanted to know everything there was to know about being human, now that she was one.  Though she had been told over and over there was no real difference between being Homo Sapien and Homo Neanderthal, Alexis did not mind mothering the girl a bit.  Sukki only turned twenty-one, after all.

Tony was older.  He had been born in 1884, and Nanette in 1887.  Tony turned twenty-one in 1905, Nanette was eighteen when they got sent through time to Rome in the time of Caesar.  After seven years in Rome, Tony turned twenty-eight, and Nanette was about to turn twenty-six.  Needless to say, they both knew about horses, mules, and wagons, from their upbringing, if not from Rome.  Tony regularly took a turn driving the wagon, and even helped some of the others learn how to do it properly.  Nanette often rode with him in the wagon, so they could talk about shared understandings from their youth, and about Rome, and the people they knew.  Nanette regularly prayed for Evan and Millie, though mostly that they be happy.  She sometimes wept for Professor Fleming, and Tony did what he could to comfort her.

“They have a rifle range in the back,” Decker said.  Lockhart shifted his binoculars, but he did not have the angle to see the back of the house.

“Someone is coming out the front,” Katie said.

The man came out carrying a rifle.  He looked like an Arab from some old black and white newsreel, or maybe from Lawrence of Arabia.  The rifle looked that primitive.  But instead of a camel, the man got up on a horse.  An old man came to the door and said something.  The man on horseback responded with something before he rushed off down the street.

Decker followed the man on horseback with his scope, and his rifle, until the man went out of sight.  Lockhart turned to Boston, who heard the conversation with her good elf ears.

“The old man asked, how will you find them?  The one on horseback said, my information says Bethlehem.  That was it, but I think the man on the horse looked like the centurion in the Roman gate.”

“Me, too,” Lincoln said, and Lockhart put down his binoculars and rubbed his eyes.  Katie rubbed his shoulder as a sign of support, having a good idea what he was thinking.

“We are not made to be judge, jury, and executioners, no matter how strong the evidence,” Lockhart said.  “My every police instinct objects.”

“I considered it,” Decker said.  “But marines are not trained assassins.  We don’t shoot unsuspecting people in the back outside of a time of war.”

“Major,” Katie said.  “I understand the hesitation, but I think we need to consider this a war against the Masters.  Some innocent bystanders may suffer.  That is always the risk in war.  But I think going forward, anyone with a gun in this day and age needs to be considered an enemy combatant and taken out.”

“I double that idea,” Lincoln said.

Decker slowly nodded.  “I can do that.”  He did not sound entirely convinced, but he was a marine, seal trained, and he would do his job.

“Elder Stow and Boston.”  Lockhart sat up.  “Elder Stow with your weapon and Boston with your wand.  You need to melt any guns and all the gun making equipment in the foundry at the back of the house.  We don’t just want the building burned down.  We want to put them out of business before we burn the building.  Katie, protect Boston.  Decker, go with Elder Stow.  Lincoln, you and I need to look for invoices, or whatever evidence we can find that might tell us how far spread this gun maker’s work may have gone.  We can’t follow up, but the Kairos might appreciate the information.”

“We need to get to Bethlehem,” Katie said, some worry in her voice.

“Are you thinking about a baby in a manger?” Boston asked.

Katie nodded.  “I checked with the innkeeper.  The census of Caesar Augustus was two years ago.”

Lockhart pulled out his revolver, walked the group across the street, and knocked on the front door.  When an old woman answered the door, the travelers pushed inside.  Katie and Boston went up to the living quarters, and checked the guest room, the upper room, and the loft.  Boston checked the roof, but it was empty.

Decker and Elder Stow went out the back door and into the foundry building.  Decker shot all three men working there, and then began to pile up the tools in the center of the room.  Elder Stow turned his weapon on the pile and turned it into a useless slag heap.  They made a point of utterly destroying any futuristic equipment they found, like the hand-turned lathe.

“Most of this is typical blacksmith material,” Elder Stow said.  Decker grunted as he tore down the furnace.

The old man and old woman sat quietly on the rug while the policeman Lockhart, and the former spook for the CIA, Lincoln, tore the room apart, looking for what they might find.  The downstairs appeared to be one big room, apart from something that might have been a closet room in the corner.  A thick piece of leather served as the door to the closet room, but they heard nothing back there.

Lockhart pulled his handgun and turned on the couple.  “Who has gotten the guns?  Where have you sent them?”  The old man shook his head.  Lockhart did not expect an answer, and he would not resort to torture even if he had the time and knew what to do.  Perhaps the couple knew that.

“We can’t water-board them,” Lincoln said, as he began to tap the walls, looking for a hidden chamber.  He used the English words for water-board, not having an equivalent term in the local tongue.

The old woman laughed.  “Water-boarding will get you in trouble,” she said, entirely in heavily accented English.

Katie and Boston heard as they headed down the stairs.  They also saw a young man pop through the curtain to the closet room, a handgun in his hand.  The young man pulled the trigger.  He had a one-shot, primitive sort of gun, so he had no second bullet, and the first went wide, between Lincoln and Lockhart, like at the last second, he could not decide which man to shoot.

Katie returned fire from the stairs, and the young man curled up and died.  Katie looked at Lockhart, but Lockhart did not want to think about it.  He shot the English-speaking old woman so she would not suffer and turned on the old man.  “Where have you sent your guns?”  He wanted an answer, but the old man could only wail and cry.

Katie and Boston went to the back where Elder Stow and Decker were working.  Decker said, “The barn.  Be careful.”

“Sir.”  Katie nearly saluted and spoke to Boston as they walked out back.  “You left the upper room on fire.”

“Mostly mud brick.  It will burn slowly,” Boston said.

“But we don’t want to attract a crowd until we are done and away from here.”

“Yeah.  Sorry,” Boston said, as she put her wand in her left hand and pulled out her Beretta.

The barn was not really a barn.  There were two oxen tied out back that Boston tried to scare away.  Otherwise, the building appeared to serve as a warehouse.  They found piles of ingredients to make gunpowder, and barrels of gunpowder already made.  They also found no one around, and Katie thought, Thank God.

Finding no real information about how far and wide the guns may have spread, and getting nothing out of the old man, Lockhart stepped to the street.  He looked for neighbors and such, but it seemed a very quiet street.

“Katie?” he spoke into his wristwatch communicator.

“The back building is full of cases of gunpowder,” she responded.  “I recommend Elder Stow’s sonic device from a distance.”

“Decker?”

“Mostly blacksmith stuff.  All melted.  Elder Stow suggests one blast of his weapon, and that will reduce the building to charcoal

“Alexis?”

“Here, boss.”

“Bring the horses and wagon to the front of the house.  We are done here.  The rest of you need to meet out front.”  Lockhart paused when he heard a gunshot from inside the house.  Lincoln came out, and Lockhart apologized.  “Sorry, Lincoln.  I didn’t mean to leave you with the old man.”  Lincoln nodded, but said nothing in return.

People arrived and went to their horses.  Tony and Nanette took the wagon, their horses already tied to the rear.  They moved a short way down the street.  Lockhart asked for Elder Stow’s sonic device.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  “I will do it.  Cover your ears.”  About twenty seconds of high-pitched squeal, and the building Decker called a barn exploded and sent a ball of flame and smoke a hundred feet in the air.

Boston looked sad, and when her ears stopped ringing, she said, “Fresh cooked oxen.”

Elder Stow went invisible and lifted out of his saddle.  He flew over the house and foundry, and turned his weapon to full strength, wide angle.  One shot, and both buildings burned, cracked, and crumbled like there were struck with a piece of the sun.

“We need to get to Bethlehem,” Katie reminded Lockhart.

“I’m not doing that again,” Lockhart said.  As he started down the street, I’m not doing that again seemed all he was willing to say.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 6 of 6

“The inland road is better maintained,” Bodanagus said, and surprisingly, everyone could hear him.  “But the coastal road is a bit shorter.  I recommend the coast.  I don’t know how long you will have, but at the very least, if I die before you get there, you may find the time gates shifted to some god-forsaken wilderness, and it may take you a year or more to get there.  So, please hurry.”

“Why are you so convinced you are going to die?” Lockhart asked.

“My age.  A feeling.  I have been through this before, you know.  And yes, it is the worst.  Dying is not something I recommend.”

“Any idea who you will be in your next life?” Boston asked.  Bodanagus stared at her and it made her feel uncomfortable.  Fortunately, it only lasted a second.

“I know Lincoln looked it up, despite my prohibition,” Bodanagus said.  “Bad as an elf.”

“I married one,” Lincoln said, and Alexis took his arm to snuggle.

“So I recall,” Bodanagus said.  “But honestly, Boston.  I never seem to know who I will be next life, but I think I may be born a woman.  That much may be true, strange as it seems to me in my present condition.  As a man, I cannot imagine what it might be like to be a woman.”  Bodanagus shrugged.  “I only hope I make a good woman.”

“No complaints so far,” Lockhart said, with a smile.

“The professor?” Nanette interrupted.  She had been softly crying.

“Bed ridden today,” Bodanagus said.  “He should have stayed in bed a week ago and not strained himself.  Alexis,” Bodanagus spoke to the nurse. “He should be in hospice already.”  Alexis nodded.  “He may be the first to go.  He might not last a week.  I am sorry, Nanette.  I understand the loss of a loved one.  Grief takes time.”

“Millie and Evan?” Sukki asked, and then turned a bit red when everyone looked at her.  She remained the same shy and unassuming girl she had been and becoming human did not change that.  All that changed was now they saw her red face, where before, the glamour hid that fact.

“Millie and Evan will be just fine.  You need not worry about them.  But you need to get going.  I have to walk across the whole city to get home now, and I would like to get there before dark.  Come to think of it, you might reach the time gate before I get home.  This long walk might be what kills me, old man that I am…” Bodanagus disappeared and the Princess came to take his place, his armor adjusting automatically to her.  “…Poor baby,” she said, with a Greek accent.  “I can do some walking and let Bodanagus practice being a woman.”

“Hey,” Boston shouted.  “You’re not pregnant.”

The Princess nodded.  “Back home, I may be giving birth right now.  Who knows?  But I never travel through time pregnant, or wounded, or whatever.  There’s a mystery for you.  Well, I should not say never.  But no, my abs are properly ripped, and I am ready for action, even if that consists of simply walking where old men do not want to tread.”

“Best abs in the business,” Lockhart said with a mighty grin.  Katie almost slapped his arm, but Lockhart thought to add, “After my wife, of course.”

“One question,” Katie spoke like a person getting used to people disappearing on her.  “Who was that man you were with back in the gate?”

“Gaius Julius Caesar,” the Princess said.  “I assumed you guessed.”

Katie nodded her head, like she did guess.  The Princess thought to use that knowledge to say something important.

“Well. at the risk of sounding like Bodanagus, a grumpy old king, listen up.”  She put command in her voice.  “Julius Caesar, someone that important to history, is exactly the kind of person you need to avoid at all costs.  Sometimes, that may not be possible.  Granted.  But at least, please don’t tell them anything about the future, or even hint that you know how things may turn out.  Even if the person is facing imminent death.  Please don’t say anything.  Am I getting through to you?”  People nodded in silence, and Boston had elf-wide eyes, and her jaw hanging, like the words hit her more in the gut than the head.

But Katie had something more to say.  “At least I don’t think Caesar’s political enemies will recognize you like that.”

The princess smiled again and almost said thanks, before she looked down at herself.  “My armor is too distinctive, unless Bodanagus and I have the same tailor, which we do.  Now, be off with you.”  She raised her beautiful smile to smile at them all.  “I got boots, and they were made for walking.”  She came down the steps and waved.  “See you later.”  She walked off without looking back.

“Go,” Lockhart said, and the travelers left Rome behind.

###

It took seven days to reach Pisa, and another three to the time gate in Genoa, but they encountered a problem in Genoa.  The time gate stood in the middle of a busy street.

“I don’t understand,” Tony admitted.

Lincoln explained.  “When we go through the time gate, the gate activates and stays active for a minute or so after the last of us goes through.  We have inadvertently had people follow us, and it is terrible watching them age forty or fifty years all at once, and we have not tested it to see if they return through the gate, whether or not they will get young again.”

“The danger is someone may follow us through,” Katie said, plainly.

“We might check with the magistrate and see if he can keep people back until the time gate deactivates again.”

“But, why don’t people… Why doesn’t everyone activate the time gates when they walk up to them?” Nanette asked.

Elder Stow and Boston shook their heads, and Boston explained this one.  “As near as we can figure, something needs to be out of time to activate the gate.  You came here from 1905.  You are out of sync with this time period.  You can activate a gate without effort, that is, without doing anything special.  It is like the gates are ready and waiting for you between here and where you belong.  Normal people are already where they belong in time, so the gate does not activate for them.”

“I see, sort of,” Nanette said.

“It makes sense,” Tony agreed.

“You have to get close to the gate, like right up to it to activate it, though,” Lincoln added.  “It isn’t going to open, generally, just because you are in the area.”

“Thank God,” Alexis said.  “I can only imagine leaving a trail of dead people through time.”

“My father and mother,” Elder Stow turned to Lockhart and Katie.  “I believe I can make a screen wall which will keep the people away from the gate while we go through, and if I go through last, I can bring the wall and set it flush against our side of the gate until the gate deactivates.”

“That might work,” Katie said, but she looked at Lockhart.

“The gate might not deactivate as long as your screen wall is up against it,” Lincoln offered the pessimistic point of view.

Lockhart slowly nodded all the same.  “We go with it, for now, and hope it works.  If not, we will need to consider other options.  Until now, the time gates have been mostly in wilderness areas, or at least mostly away from people.  We can’t count on that to continue.  I just pray we never find the time gate lodged in someone’s living room.”

The travelers went through in the morning, and Elder Stow’s screen device appeared to work.

###

Two days later, in Rome, Mark Anthony got delayed entering the Theater of Pompey.  Bodanagus, the Celtic outsider of no family, got waylaid the night before by a dozen men.  He killed six of them, including the centurion from the gate, before he fell.  By the time Evan and Millie confirmed the death of Bodanagus, and Millie cried, Caesar fell.

When Evan, the physician, and his nurse Millie arrived at the theater, the physicians Strabo and Pontus were already there.

“I count twenty-three stab wounds,” Strabo said.

“This one, do you think?” Millie pointed to Caesar’s chest.

“What?” Pontus asked.

“This second stab wound here in the chest is the one that killed him,” Evan said.

“How can you be certain?” Pontus asked.

“It pierced the heart,” Evan said.

“Once the heart stops pumping, that is pretty much it,” Millie explained.

Strabo nodded.  “You see?” he said to Pontus, and turned to Evan.  “I don’t know where you gained your medical knowledge, but I learn something from you every time.”

“Yes,” Pontus agreed, and looked closely at the stab to the heart.  “That is rather obvious, now to think of it.  I will be sure it is mentioned in the report.”

Mark Anthony came in leading Calpurnia, and the doctors quieted and took a step back.  Calpurnia went to Millie and cried on her.  “First your professor, a true soothsayer, who warned him to beware this evil time.  Now, my stubborn husband who would not even listen to me.  What are we going to do?”  Millie cried with her, and for many reasons.

“No,” Evan said at the same time.  “Even a whole fleet of Egyptians could not make him suitable for viewing.  I can only recommend cremation.”

“But one sight and the people will rise up and ruin the dogs who did this.”  Mark Anthony got hot.

Even with Bodanagus gone, Evan had learned enough not to tempt history.  He felt the indignity and anger and wanted to let the people see the work of the assassins.  He felt much like Anthony spoke, but he knew better, and said so.  “The sight of Caesar in this condition might cause people to despair.  Better he be taken up by the flames of righteousness, and better to let the memory of the people be shaped, not by sight, but by your words.”  He did not need to say anything else.  Anthony showed the light of understanding.  There would be a second Triumvirate.  There would be civil war.  Thousands would die, and Evan and Millie would weep as the Republic died.

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

MONDAY

It is a race from Syria to Bethlehem to stop the gunmen, only Candace has already taken the child and they are headed Down to Egypt.  Monday.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 5 of 6

In the morning, Decker and Lincoln went missing.  Once Alexis and Katie figured out what they were up to, everyone hurried.  Horses had to be readied and saddled.  Ghost had to be hitched to the wagon, and the equipment all had to be accounted for.  Lockhart and Katie told the others to stay at the house.  They rode off, but Boston followed them.

Near the city gate that led to the Appian Way, Lincoln and Decker waited, since the first wisps of light touched the horizon.  They had crawled up on a roof of a barn where they had a good view of both the gate and the street.  When they first arrived, they watched new guards replace the night guards, and since that time, they watched people enter the city in dribs and drabs.

“You realize, they could have entered the city yesterday afternoon, depending on how far behind they were.  They might already be lost in the city,” Lincoln said, but kept his binoculars turned on the gate.

Decker looked through his scope, and relaxed, having taken a prone position on the roof.  He had a little stand for the rifle that would steady the front end.  “If they are not here by noon, we will have to assume that and head back to the others.”

Lincoln also lay on his stomach.  He had his elbows on the roof and the binoculars held up to his eyes, like he did this sort of spying often with the CIA.  He knew how to get comfortable.  “You think the others won’t find us long before noon?”

Decker grunted, as the sound of Lockhart’s voice came over the wristwatch communicators.  “Lincoln.  Decker.  Where are you.  We are ready to go.”  It sounded loud.  Decker turned his off.  Lincoln turned his volume down as best he could and whispered.

“On a roof by the gate.  You know perfectly well where we are.”  Then he turned his communicator off as well.  Soldiers had come to the gate, ready to enter the city.  It was the third group already.  Lincoln examined every face he could through the binoculars, but none of them were Philocrates or Mylo.

Twenty minutes later, Lockhart, Katie, and Boston found Decker’s and Lincoln’s horses tied off in the alleyway beside the barn.  Katie pointed to the roof of the building across the street, but Lockhart shook his head.  “Boston,” he said.  “Since you insisted on coming, make yourself useful.  Go up there and tell Lincoln and Decker we are ready to travel.”

“I’m not a fairy,” Boston complained.  “I can’t just fly up there.”

Katie said nothing.  She got up on a box beside the barn and paused to gauge how far she had to jump to reach the opening for the hayloft.

“Oh, forget it,” Boston yelled, and virtually ran up the side of the building.  She was young and strong and could climb like a monkey when she was human.  Being an elf just made that sort of thing so much easier.  She came back down, and Lockhart and Katie were not sure how she did that.  “Decker said noon.  Lincoln said, maybe they came in yesterday, but they probably camped in the soldier’s field outside the city and planned to come in this morning.  We will see.”

Katie pointed across the street again, and Lockhart sighed and nodded.  He radioed their decision back to Elder Stow at the house.  They led their horses to the building across the street and found a place to tie them off.  While Katie retrieved her rifle, Lockhart took a couple of steps back and looked up, to see if they could get up on the roof without disturbing the residents.  No need.  They came.

Katie and Boston felt the disturbance, and both looked up at the soldiers in the gate, before Decker’s rifle sounded out across the way.  One of the soldiers fell, but one pulled out a handgun of some sort.  Two had primitive looking rifles, and they all returned fire as they got behind whatever cover they could find.  Katie raised her rifle and shot the one with the handgun, while Decker killed one that had a rifle.  That ended the killing, as fifty spit and polish soldiers stormed the gate.  The men there threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Bodanagus in his armor, and another old man dressed in senatorial robes stepped into the street and walked casually to the gate.  The centurion commanding the group in the gate, the only one on horseback, had been taken completely unprepared.  He got down, prodded as he was by the many spears around him.  He did not look happy at having his plans interrupted, but he fell to his knees, and at least faked a submissive attitude when he saw who approached.

Katie, Lockhart, and Boston caught up with Bodanagus and the senator.  The senator spoke, “And I can’t have any of these weapons?”

“Not on a bet,” Bodanagus said.  “They don’t belong here at all.  Not for another thousand plus years.”

“Too bad,” the man said.  “I can imagine some serious use for such weapons.”

They all stopped walking as a woman appeared in front of them.  The travelers recognized Minerva.  Katie and Boston felt something behind them and turned to see Artemis, that is, Diana following them.  Diana put a finger to her lips as if to say, don’t tell.

“Pretty sloppy,” Minerva said.  “You destroyed the rebuilt factory in Syria well enough after Tarsus, but your little ones missed some of the guns.”

“Pokra!” Bodanagus called, and even the strictly human man beside Bodanagus dropped his jaw when an imp appeared in the street.

“Lord.  They must have hidden some.  We got everyone we found.  We did just like you said.  It must have been Lingle’s fault.  We can double-check everywhere.  Triple-check.  It isn’t my fault…”

Bodanagus said nothing.  He just waved his hand and the imp vanished.  The old man beside Bodanagus laughed hard and loud.

“Sounded like Xitides all over again,” Katie whispered.

Minerva moved.  The primitive guns vanished as Minerva spoke.  “I will get your little ones to take whatever guns and such they find to Avalon for safe keeping.  At least my jurisdiction will be clean.  I can’t speak for others.”  She vanished, and the man beside Bodanagus laughed again.

“Not you,” Diana said quietly to Boston and put her hand on Boston’s shoulder.  Boston stopped wiggling.

“I just had a sudden, uncontrollable urge to go searching for guns and gunpowder and such and take it to Avalon.”

“You have a task, already set for you,” Diana told her.  “You need to finish your journey through time.”

Boston lowered her head and nodded.  She knew that.  What could she have been thinking?

The old man with Bodanagus spoke again when he finished his laugh.  “And I thought Roman politics and all the backstabbing that goes on in the Curia was complicated and strange.  I don’t envy you.  And these people, and the two coming down from the roof?”  He noticed, like a man who noticed everything.

“These good people, time travelers, from Avalon, have helped clean out some monsters and situations in history where there was danger of driving the human race off track.  The human race is on a journey, and like any journey, you want to arrive at the correct destination.  Ill winds and unexpected enemies or circumstances can drive you off course.  These people have helped right the ship more than once.  Now, I leave you to clean up this mess as you see fit.  Diana, if you don’t mind.”  Bodanagus knew she was there.  He turned his head and smiled for her.  Diana stuck her tongue out at the old man.

All of the travelers, including the ones from the house, found themselves instantly at the north gate where the road would take them to the next time gate.  Lincoln and Alexis had the wagon, their horses tied to the back.  Tony and Nanette rode side by side in front of them.  Boston and Sukki rode in the very front, but Lockhart and Katie, in front of Nanette and Tony, would actually lead the group when Boston and Sukki rode out on the point.  Decker and Elder Stow, of course, came in the rear as a kind of rear guard whenever they came through a town.

Bodanagus appeared with them, up on the steps that led to the wall above.  The guards in that gate stood and stared dumbly at the travelers who appeared out of nowhere.  The guards hardly dared to move.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 4 of 6

Bodanagus looked at Millie and Evan, while he thought about it, and everyone else looked at him.  “Here is the thing,” he finally said.  “When I pass on, this time zone may reset to the time of my birth.  You may find yourselves suddenly sixty years in the past, and maybe in Rome, or maybe among the Nervii, my people.  Then again, you may be automatically translated to wherever I am born next, and who knows when these travelers may show up, though that is the least likely scenario.  More likely, you will stay here, unmoved, and continue in this time, but if you change your mind, and even if you still have Minerva’s chestnuts, the time gates may be on the other side of the world, for all I know.  And Lincoln, don’t you dare look it up in the database.”

“We understand,” Evan said.  “We considered all these possibilities.  We have friends here.  We didn’t think that way when we set off to see how the Roman Republic got started, but now we know.  We have a good living and a good life here and can make a living wherever we end up.  We even met young Octavius on several occasions and helped him with his allergies.”

“Don’t tell me the future,” Bodanagus said gruffly, before he looked again at the couple.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Millie said out loud, and looked up at Evan, who nodded.

Bodanagus also nodded and went away when Doctor Mishka traded places with him through time.  She came to sit in his seat, her arms where his arms were, but with her own smile, and his armor, the armor of the Kairos, adjusted instantly and automatically to fit her shape and size, so she appeared properly dressed.

Tony jumped, though he had seen Bodanagus do that before.  Nanette let out a little peep, though she was also no stranger to that particular transformation.  She even got to know the good doctor.  Millie and Evan hardly moved, and the travelers did not look surprised at all.  The professor only moaned a little, like one tired of doctors and bad news.

Mishka spoke right away to the couple.  “I, also, do not know what will happen when Bodanagus dies, but I must also warn you of this.  Any children you have in this time zone will be time-locked in this time zone.  Also, I will not likely be around if there are complications in childbirth.  Here.”  She reached into the secret pocket of her armor and drew something out.  “I give you this pill.  Take it with water, not that bilge you Romans call beer.”

“Thank you,” Millie said, and looked again at Evan.  “She called us Romans.”

“I know,” Evan said, and smiled broadly, while he patted Millie’s shoulder.

“But what is it?” Millie asked.

“It will remove your birth control,” Mishka said.  “After this, you will be on your own.”

Millie took it right away.

Doctor Mishka smiled for the couple and went back into the future while Bodanagus returned to his own time and place.  “And that is that.”  He looked out the window.  “I suppose you should spend the night, but you must leave first thing in the morning.  You take Nanette and Tony.  They can take Millie and Evan’s horses, so that works out.  Now, I should be going.”  Bodanagus stood.

“But wait,” Lincoln said.  “There is a complication.”

Bodanagus sat back down.  He did not appear surprised.

“Philocrates and Mylo, from the days of the Princess, are Roman soldiers, and following us,” Katie said.

“I saw them in Capua,” Lincoln admitted.  “It took me four days to figure out who they were, but I am ninety-nine percent positive.”

“Ivory soap,” Lockhart quipped, and explained.  “Ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent sure.”

“Of course, you shot them,” Bodanagus said.

“No,” Decker said, with the impression that he wanted to do that very thing.

“General rule,” Bodanagus said.  “Any repeat people you are sure are repeats, if they are not the good guys, like Arias or Sophia, shoot them.  They are of the Masters and have no good intentions or plans.”

“Got it,” Decker said.  The others said nothing.

“This is their third term,” Bodanagus added, about Philocrates and Mylo.  “They were with Xitides around Athens and tried to make off with some of the guns.  They assassinated Mattathias, Judith’s grandfather in Jerusalem.  Luckily, Judith’s father got them first.  Now they are here, as Roman soldiers.  That means I have to find one in fifty thousand. The old needle in the haystack.”

“Two,” Lincoln said.  “Two in fifty thousand.”

Bodanagus said, “Two.  It gives me something to do in my old age, so I don’t die of boredom.”  He stood, and this time took one step toward the door before Sukki shouted, real loud.

“Wait.”

Everyone stared.  Sukki was such a shy and quiet girl.  Her shouting seemed unnatural.

“I have a request.  The Princess and Anath-Rama, the goddess, and Sekhmet all said the time of the gods is coming to an end.  I don’t know where else to turn, or who else to ask.  I think only the gods might do this.  I don’t know.  But Alexis said you made her change from an elf to a human so she could marry Lincoln.  And then you changed Boston from a human to an elf so she could marry Roland.  I don’t know if I have to get married, but I will if I have to…”  She stopped speaking, and the silence stretched out until Alexis kindly asked.

“What is it you want?”

“I want to be human,” Sukki said in her loud voice, and turned to Elder Stow who did not look surprised, like maybe they discussed it.  “I can still be your daughter,” she told Elder Stow, and turned again to the others.  “But I want to be human, a real girl.  I can’t go back to the past, before the flood.  I can’t go to the new home world.  There is too much science and technology I could never understand.  But I can be human, maybe.  I can like Beethoven and the Beatles, and learn about guns and cars, and learn to read the database, and history, I am already learning human history.  Please.  I want to be part of the family, the human family.  I don’t want to be an outsider anymore.”  She started to cry again.

Every heart in the room went out to the poor girl, and Bodanagus surprised a few when he said, “Believe it or not, I anticipated this.  If Elder Stow does not mind.”

Elder Stow said, “All we really want for our children, including adopted children, is that they be happy.  I don’t mind.”  It was a long way from the Gott-Druk who began the journey wanting to kill all the humans so his Neanderthal kind could retake the Earth.

Bodanagus turned toward the door.  “Minerv… Oh.”

“I heard,” Minerva said, as she appeared out of thin air.  “First the Nanette clone, and that did not work out too well.   And the chestnuts, and that was not easy.  And now this.  I think you ask too much.”

“Please,” Bodanagus said, and batted his eyelids in jest.

Minerva frowned.  She stepped forward and circled once around Sukki like an artist examining a piece of marble, wondering where to lay the chisel.  “I can’t,” she said.  “Like all of you travelers, she is hedged about by the gods.  I can’t by myself.  I would need others.”

Bodanagus nodded and stood still for a minute, communing internally.  Then he said, quietly, “Mother, I need you.”

“You are invited and welcome in this jurisdiction,” Minerva added, as if Bodanagus forgot that part, or it was not up to him to say that.

Doris of the sea, Amphitrite’s mother appeared first, like she was just off the coast awaiting the call.  Bast, mother of Danna, the Celtic goddess, came from Egypt, and Vrya, the Nameless god’s mother, came from Aesgard.  Bodanagus waited before he added, “And not my mother.”

Ishtar, Junior’s mother, arrived from the middle east with a word.  “Not my son.” she smiled and patted Bodanagus on the cheek before she joined the others.  The women appeared to be commiserating telepathically.  No one heard a word, until Athena began to explain.

“She does not need to change much at all internally, though some DNA adjustment would be good.  It is mostly just cosmetics and the outward structure.  We have agreed on the way she presently looks with the glamour she wears, only now it will not be a glamour.  Everyone wants to give her something to help her fit in better in the human world, but for the most part, you travelers will not notice a big difference.  Only now, she will not be able to take off the glamour.  She will no longer be Neanderthal underneath.  She will be fully human.  There.  It is done.”

All of the women vanished except Minerva.

Sukki opened her eyes.  No one noticed she had them closed.  “I don’t feel any different,” she said.

“Here,” Minerva said, and produced a floor length mirror out of thin air, and a good one at that.

Sukki stared, until Boston said, “Try to take off your glamour.”  Sukki tried.  Nothing happened.  She still looked the same.  She began to cry, but this time they felt like happy tears, not tears of desperation and despair.  “We still get to be sisters, right?”  Sukki spun and hugged Boston, and Boston said, “Ugh.  You are still as strong as before.”

Sukki laughed a little and wiped her nose.  She turned again to Elder Stow.  “Father?”

Elder Stow nodded.  “Daughter,” he said, and Sukki cried again.  No one noticed, but Minerva, her mirror, and Bodanagus were all gone.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 3 of 6

The following afternoon, the travelers came to the city gate.  Lockhart and Lincoln put on their best salesman smiles, but it turned out to not be necessary.  The guards knew Evan and Millie and welcomed them back to the city.

‘You’ve been in Capua these last two years?” one guard asked.

“With these friends of mine,” Evan said, not exactly lying.  “And how is the leg?”

“Fine.”  The man limped a little.  “I busted my leg, wide open…”

“Oh, here we go,” one of the other guards mumbled.

“The bone stuck out that far.  I’m not lying.  The Lord Evan fixed me right, he did.  I can walk and got no green.  Yes, sir.  I’m no good running on the watch, but I can hold the gate just fine.  I feared I would have to beg for my bread, but I got a real and proper job, and I can take care of my wife and children just fine.  A man doesn’t forget a thing like that.”

An old man chose that moment to march up, and the gate guards quickly straightened.  The old man ignored the guards but smiled for the travelers.  “Lockhart.  Good thing you got here.  You are almost out of time.”  He opened his arms to the red-headed streak.

“Gee,” Boston said.  “Last time I saw you, you were a cute little four-year-old girl.  Now, you are a big old man.”  The man just smiled for her.

“What do you mean out of time?” Lincoln had to ask.

“Come.  I’ll explain.”  He led them through the streets of Rome to the market where a pottery shop sat alongside a rather modern-looking house.  The house appeared to have been modified in several ways, like a new fireplace added; but it still had wires on the outside where the electric connected, and a metal pipe that once brought in the gas.

“We were lucky,” Evan said.  “It was not just the house, but the property that got sent through time.  That meant we got the back yard and the septic tank, thank God.  It took several years before we got connected to the public sewer system.”

“Professor,” Bodanagus knocked on the door.  A pretty, young black head emerged, before the girl shrieked and ran to hug Evan and Millie.  The shriek attracted a young man, one with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, not too tall, but a sparkling white smile.  He also had on an apron, and dried clay on his hands, like he might have just come from the potter’s wheel.

“Nanette, you know, sort of,” Katie whispered to Lockhart, but did not exclude Lincoln and Alexis, in case Alexis forgot.  “Anthony Carter’s mother came from Italy and still had family around Rome in 1905, which attracted Anthony to join the expedition.  The Professor is Professor Fleming, the academic head of the expedition that went in search of information regarding the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.  They got more than they bargained for when they got transported, house and all, to Rome in this time zone.”

“Ashtoreth,” Lockhart nodded and named the culprit.

The old man came last to the door, hacking and coughing along the way.  “Guests?” he said.  “You know I don’t like guests.”

Lockhart thought to step forward and introduce himself.  “Robert Lockhart, assistant director of the Men in Black organization, Washington, D. C., from the year 2010.  My wife, Captain Katherine Lockhart and Major Decker are both United States Marines.  Benjamin and Alexis Lincoln work for me…”

“Men in Black?”  The Professor interrupted.  “I have heard of such a thing, but they are a myth, like elves and fairies.”

“Like the Abominable Snowman?” Katie asked, with a big grin.

“Precisely,” the professor responded, with a second look at the blonde before him. “A woman marine captain, and a darkie major?  2010?  What has my nation come to?”

“We got smart,” Decker said.

“We grew up,” Katie added.

“Boston,” Lockhart hollered.  Boston started showing off for Nanette and Anthony.  “Mary Riley works for me, too, though most call her Boston.  She grew up in Massachusetts.  Elder Stow and Sukki are Gott-Druk, from a place you probably never heard of.”

“Somewhere in the east, like in Austria-Hungary?” the professor guessed.

“A bit further away than that,” Elder Stow said, kindly enough.

“Millie and Evan, you know,” Lockhart finished.  “We thought we would bring them home.”

The professor grunted and began to cough again.  He pulled up some phlegm and spit.

Meanwhile, Millie showed off her friends to Nanette and Tony.  “Boston is a real, live elf,” Millie said.  Tony raised an eyebrow to say he did not believe that, but Nanette shook Boston’s hand.

“I love your red hair.”

“Thanks,” Boston said.  “I used to have it short like yours, but I’m growing it out.”

“And this is my friend, Sukki,” Millie said.

Tony butted in front and reached for Sukki’s hand, much to Sukki’s delight.  “Japanese?” he asked.

“No,” Millie said.  “She isn’t even human.”  Sukki found some tears on hearing that.  She covered her face.

“She is human,” Elder Stow noticed, and went to comfort his daughter.  “She is just not Homo Sapien.”  Sukki began to cry and turned away from the group.

“Well, human or not, I suppose you better come inside,” the professor said.

The travelers found places to tie off their horses and trooped into the house.  Everything looked worn and used, but the living room had comfortable, cushioned chairs, a genuine couch, and what had been a plush carpet.  The dining room had a table to seat twelve, and fancy china in a glass-fronted hutch.  The kitchen had been completely rebuilt, but the travelers expected that.  The toilet paper felt as rough as sandpaper, either that, or they had a sponge to use, but the travelers could hardly wait to take their turn on a genuine toilet.

“So,” Lincoln started like a dog with a bone.  “What do you mean, almost out of time.”

Bodanagus nodded and took a deep breath.  “I am nearly sixty, if I am not sixty already.  I would guess Judith lived about sixty-four years, but that never happens, and women live longer.  Normally, for me, sixty years is the limit.”

“I don’t know why he talks that way,” Nanette scolded Bodanagus ever so sweetly.  “The Lord alone knows the measure of a man’s life, and he will not die a moment too soon.”

“Fine and well,” Bodanagus said.  “But the professor has warned Caesar about the ides of March, and we are at the end of February, 44 BC, by the Professor’s estimate.”  Bodanagus stalled the talk and questions with his hands.  “Don’t tell me what happens.  There is a reason I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, or for some years to come.  If I know the details in advance, I might be tempted to change it and thus screw up history forever.  So, hush!”  People hushed, and he continued.

“All I can say is I don’t expect to outlive Caesar.  In fact, I am surprised his political opponents haven’t tried to remove me already, and in this day and age, removing me normally means getting me out of the picture, permanently.  I have already sent young Octavius to Illyria, to a military school, in anticipation of trouble.”

“So, what you are saying is you have reached your age limit,” Lockhart summed it up.  “That means we need to move as fast as we can to the next gate, just to be safe.”

Bodanagus nodded, but Professor Fleming interrupted with a coughing fit and a word.  “Apparently, I have reached my age limit as well, at sixty-eight.”  This time he held up his hands to finish what he had to say.  “Doctor Mishka herself has diagnosed cancer, in the lungs and elsewhere.  She says I have limited time but won’t say how long.  I take it you are from the future and have some means of returning there.  Take Nanette.”

“No,” Nanette protested.

“Now, now,” the Professor said.  “You are no good to me in this condition.  My time is over, but you have a mother and family in the future who deserve to see you again, and a chance to get there.  You are going, and that is final.  No arguments.”  The professor sat heavily in his chair, all out of breath.

“Nanette,” Tony spoke up.  “I can go with you, to see my mother, too.  You don’t have to go alone.”

“Don’t worry, Nanette,” Millie said, as she came from the kitchen and sat on the arm of the Professor’s comfy chair.  Evan came with her and placed one hand on her shoulder for support.  “We will take the best care of the professor.  Evan and I have decided to stay here and have a family, if we can.”

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

MONDAY

Two men are preparing to die.  One couple is hoping to have children.  Nanette is being tossed from the nest like a baby bird, and Sukki is unhappy about something.  This is life, and they haven’t even told Bodanagus about the brigand/Roman soldiers on their tail.  Until next week, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 2 of 6

Evan and Millie took the travelers to the house of a friend.  The man, a senator, lived in a big house on the Via Appia, on the outskirts of the city; or what the travelers called the suburbs.  His little girl got terribly sick, and Evan, the Celtic physician, and his lovely wife, Millie, healed her.  The senator called it a miracle.  Evan confessed the girl had a flu-bug and they kept her in bed and fed her plenty of chicken broth.

When they arrived at the house, the girl, now eight, came running and threw herself into Millie’s arms.  Millie smiled and looked at Evan.  She did not have to say anything as Evan put his hands up in surrender.

“Okay,” he said.  “I want one, too.”

The travelers saw their horses stabled in the barn where the senator’s wife offered the horses sweet grain and a dry bed.  The senator was in town on business and would be gone for a few days.  Millie and Evan took their old room in the house, but the big house was not that big, to accommodate everyone.  Though the day stayed overcast and chilly, the travelers did not mind setting up camp in the back yard.  They had the cooking fires to gather around and keep warm.  And they all wore that marvelous material called fairy weave, which they could thicken with a word, or break into layers as might be needed.

Alexis, Millie, and Sukki helped the house cooks prepare more than enough food for everyone.  When the senator’s wife asked if Katie and Boston might like to help, Katie admitted she was not much of a cook, and Boston said, “You don’t want me to cook. Trust me.”

“I wonder if Arias cooks,” Millie said, offhandedly.  “Now that she is going to be a mother, I suppose she will have to learn.”  Clearly, children were on Millie’s mind.  The young girl in the house stayed by Millie’s side that whole time, and ignored her own mother, as some girls do.  The senator’s wife did not seem bothered by that.

“I wonder if the Princess cooks,” Sukki said.

“I am sure she has people who cook for her,” Alexis responded.  “I never saw her cook anything.”

“Sophia probably cooks,” Millie said.

“Yeah,” Boston groused.  “After the priest slaughters the beast on the altar, the priestess has to figure out how to cook it.  Probably gets scullery duty as well.”

“Did I mention?” Alexis said.  “The ones who don’t cook get to do the washing up.”

“What?” Boston sounded surprised.  “Katie,” she called for help, but Katie just laughed as she and the men came to join the women around the fire.

“To me,” Lockhart said, to enter the conversation.  “The interesting thing is the fact that Arias, Sophia, and Althea all lived a second time in the future.  I guess I read about that in the Men in Black records, but it did not register in my mind until I saw it in reality.”

“So, if Arias doesn’t cook, maybe Susan does,” Alexis said.

“English food is too bland, even for me.”  Lincoln shook his head.

“I thought the Kairos was unique,” Decker said.

“The Kairos is unique,” Boston insisted.

Lincoln tried to explain.  “The Kairos got created with enough genetic material to form a complete man and a complete woman, at the same time.  By maintaining a balance between male and female, sometimes living as a woman and sometimes living as a man, the Kairos has been able to live well over a hundred lifetimes back-to-back, without any time break in between lives.  Everyone else, as far as we know, is stuck being a man or a woman.  There isn’t the option of maintaining balance.  In that case, three times as the same sex is enough.  Five times is about the limit.  More than five, and the mind begins to slip.”

“I recall the Princess, or someone, said Rasputin was his seventh lifetime,” Alexis said.

“No argument there about the slipping mind,” Katie said.

“But wait,” Evan interrupted.  “Are you saying I could have another lifetime somewhere in time?”

“You mean where you might run into yourself?” Elder Stow grinned at the idea.

“I doubt it,” Lincoln said.  “And even if you did, you probably would not recognize yourself… or maybe cause the entire universe to implode.”

“But maybe a second life in the future, where we can’t go,” Sukki said.  She looked hopeful about something but did not explain what she hoped for.

“But wait.”  Evan tried again.  “I still don’t understand why the mysterious future friends of the Kairos gave a second life to Arias, Sophia, and Althea in the first place.”

Lockhart explained this one.  “As I understand it, the Seleucids were making guns in a factory in Syria.  The Princess needed the extra hands and certain skills to end that threat to history.  The girls needed to know what guns were and what they could do.  I don’t remember all the details, but apparently, there were several points in the story where those second lifetimes came in handy.”

“The Princess said over the next thousand years, the Masters try to introduce guns and gunpowder before they are due,” Decker said.

“Something to watch out for going forward,” Lockhart agreed.

“I remember something about Soviet operatives, from the old Soviet Union, so the Masters were able to give some of their people another lifetime as well,” Katie said.

“Masters?” Mille asked, only half-listening.

“The bad guys,” Boston said.

“But Wait,” Lincoln borrowed Evan’s term.  He looked excited, like a light just went off in his head.  “The Masters have a way of giving a second lifetime to their servants.  Those soldiers.  The ones by the side of the road when we picked up the Appian Way and left Capua.  I saw those Greeks, the brigands.  Mylo and Philo-crites.”

“Philocrates,” Alexis corrected her husband

“That’s it,” Katie said, nice and loud.  “I have had the feeling since Capua that we were being followed by soldiers.”  She waved her hands to keep everyone quiet.  “I know soldiers have been everywhere, but I mean like stalked-followed.  Philocrates and Mylo are behind us, and they know we are here.  They are not close enough to be watching, but they are not far behind us.”

“Now, that makes sense,” Boston agreed.

“What can we do?” Sukki asked.

“What are they up to?” Boston asked.

“Can’t be good,” Lincoln said.

People thought, and shared, but the only thing they felt safe doing was keeping their eyes open and finding Bodanagus right away and tell him.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 1 of 6

After 104 B.C. Rome, Italy

Kairos 87: Bodanagus, the King

Recording …

“We are somewhere just north of the toe of the boot of Italy, I would guess an easy fifty miles below Capua,” Lincoln said.  He stared at the database and never looked up.  “Via Popilia-something.  We should pick up the Appian Way in Capua.”

“That is interesting,” Evan said to the group.  “When we traveled into the past two years ago, the time gate was in Capua.  That was where Minerva gave us the chestnuts that we used to find the time gates.  Two years later, you are telling me the gate has moved a hundred miles south.  Maybe King Bodanagus is not in Rome.”

“No,” Boston said, as she pulled out her amulet.  It showed a significant map of the two time gates and the major towns and obstacles that lay between them.  “We went over this carefully.  As near as I can tell, the Kairos is in Rome, probably with Caesar.”

Katie glanced at her own prototype amulet.  “The next time gate appears to be around Genoa, well beyond Pisa.”  She thought to explain.  “If you recall, in Diana’s day, last time we were in Rome, the time gates were in Pisa and around Capua.”

“So, the gates are getting farther apart, as you guessed,” Lockhart concluded.

“Well,” Katie said.  “People are moving more and longer distances in this age.  Maybe just Bodanagus is moving more than the Kairos moved in the past.  He is Gallic, right?”

“From up around Belgium, maybe Holland,” Lincoln answered.

“He came to Rome.  That is a long way.  And then where?” Katie asked.

“He went to Spain,” Millie remembered.

“Let’s see,” Lincoln scanned the database.  “Spain, Illyria, Greece, Egypt, Tarsus, North Africa; and lots of trips to Italy in between.”

“So, you see?” Katie concluded.  “We are lucky the time gates are not in Arabia and Great Britain.”

Lockhart added it up in his head.  “But that leaves us ten days to two weeks to Rome, then ten days to two weeks to the next time gate.  If we rest five days or a week in Rome, that adds up to a whole month in this time zone.”

“How many more time zones do we have to travel to get home?” Decker wondered.

“Thirty-four,” Lincoln was quick on the answer.  He kept track.

“Just shy of three years counting a month per zone,” Lockhart said.

“Cuts it kind of close, Princess-wise,” Decker said.  “2007 to 2010 is three years.”

“Three years before the Storyteller gets lost in the Second Heavens and everything goes haywire,” Lincoln said, half to himself.

“See?”  Alexis said.  “Lincoln is worrying for me already.  Food is ready, and I am changing the subject.  I am calling my horse, Chestnut.  How about you?”

Boston frowned.  “Your horse is sorrel colored, not chestnut.”

“I always called that color chestnut,” Katie said.  “Mine is a bay.  I think I’ll call him… Bay.”

“As in, somebody bet on him?” Lockhart asked.  Katie nudged him.

“Mine is Strawberry,” Boston said.

“Well, yours is roan,” Alexis said.  “Not strawberry, exactly.”

“Are we going for colors?” Sukki asked.  “Mine and Elder Stow’s horses are brown, but that is not a good name, and he already picked the name Mudd.”

“Mud?” Katie and Alexis frowned, but Lockhart and Decker smiled.

“I can spell it with a double D,” Elder Stow said.  “His name is Mudd.”

“Works for me.”  Lockhart grinned.

“Well, I’m thinking of naming my horse Dumbo,” Lincoln said.

“Can’t,” Decker protested.  “The ears aren’t big enough.”

Boston also protested.  “Your horse’s color is dun, not dumb.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” Lincoln said.

Katie ignored them and turned to Lockhart.  “You got the gray one this time.  What are you thinking?”

“He is gray like the sea,” he said.  “I think Sea would work.”

“The letter C?  See as in vision?”  Katie thought a moment.  “Seahorse?”

Lockhart shrugged.  Decker chuckled.

“Maybe Dumbo is a good name,” Alexis said.

“Chestnut is a good name,” Lincoln said.  “But it is taken.”

Alexis shoved him a little.

“I haven’t decided,” Decker admitted.

“I didn’t know we were naming our horses,” Millie confessed.

“I’m going to have to think hard now,” Sukki said.  “There aren’t any good brown names.”

“How about Chocolate?” Alexis suggested, and everyone stopped to stare at her with their meanest stares.

“That was cruel,” Boston verbalized.

“What is Chocolate?” Sukki asked.

“A future delicacy of infinite delight,” Elder Stow answered. “I will be happy to introduce you to it when we get there.”

That ended the horse naming time.  After that, people spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the best deserts they ever had.

###

The travelers reached Capua in three days and figured they had another five, or more likely six to reach Rome.  It did not seem too bad, as long as they had good roads.  The trip would be longer if they had to travel through the rough.  In Capua, they shelled out a couple of their coins for rooms and to stable Ghost the mule and their horses.  Lincoln had his doubts about letting the horses out of their sight, but Lockhart convinced him that they had to get used to it.  They would be staying at more and more inns as they moved forward in time.  Of course, they took their guns to their rooms, and Decker had no intention of going anywhere without his rife.

In the morning, they got supplies for the trip, including plenty of vegetables and fruit.  Alexis, Sukki, and Elder Stow were happy about that, not being big meat eaters.  “I wouldn’t mind picking up fish on our way, from one of the villages on the coast,” Alexis suggested.

“I don’t know what to say about that.”  Boston scrunched up her face and looked conflicted.  “I like fruit and veggies well enough, but I grew up on meat and potatoes.”

“You’re young,” Alexis told her.  “Your metabolism is still racing.  But when you get older, keep in mind, too much meat will just make you fat.  No one wants a fat, old elf.”

“Santa,” Boston said, and grinned, but she would have to think about it.

On the way out of town, they filed past a group of soldiers sitting by the side of the road, waiting for something.  Lincoln noticed that two of the soldiers hid their faces when Boston rode by.  He looked closely.  He had a gift for facial recognition, and these two men looked familiar, even if he could not place them.  He paused.  Naturally, he could not place them, not having been in this time zone before.  He supposed if he looked hard enough, he could find plenty of familiar faces, similar to people he met or saw in the past.  Of course, they could not be the same people.  He shrugged it off.

For four days up the Appian Way, Katie felt anxious.  She said they were being followed by soldiers.  Boston felt it too but wondered how Katie could tell.  Elect senses were made to sniff out enemies on the horizon—whatever might pose a danger to family and home.  Boston also felt they were being followed, but she could not pinpoint the feelings to soldiers, necessarily.  She said the road was full of soldiers and groups of soldiers traveling; mostly headed to Rome as they were.

“No,” Katie said a few times.  “It feels like one group is following us, specifically.”

Boston did not disagree, but since neither had any reason to feel the way they did, and since no one else felt the discomfort, they let it go.  It came up on the last night before Rome.

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 6 of 6

“I am sorry,” Simeon said.  “I thought it best not to go through Jericho.  This is the road beneath the fortress of Dok.”  He pointed to the top of the cliff and the wall there.  “It will meet later with the Jerusalem road, but meanwhile, we are below the fort that the Syrians still hold.  I am sorry.  I did not think it would be a problem.  They have left us alone and we have left them alone, until now.”

“Major?”  Katie stood, waved and called from the little rise she staked out to hide the wagon and horses.

Decker veered his trajectory and came riding up, Boston and Sukki came right behind.  “About a hundred.  They will be on us, shortly.”  The riders got down and led their horses to the others where Millie and Sukki would do their best to keep the beasts calm.  At least the mule and the horses were no strangers to the sound of gunfire.  “They should come up from that dry riverbed,” Decker finished, as he climbed the rise and took up his position.

“The men sent to the city will be a while,” Simeon said.  “Even if they bring the gate guard and run all the way.  I am sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” Lockhart yelled, as he checked his shotgun and pulled his police special.

“My guess is one of the gods tipped them off,” Katie said.  “Even if the gods agreed, I bet someone doesn’t want to give up so easily.”

“Who do you figure?” Lockhart asked.

“Baal?  Asherah?” Katie was not sure.

“Maybe Moloch,” Evan suggested.  His voice sounded calm, but his hand sweated around Katie’s handgun.

“Ashtoreth,” Boston shouted from down the rise.  She got out a dozen arrows and she and Alexis prepared them for explosive flight.  They were the nearest thing the group had to an RPG.

“We may never know,” Katie admitted.

“Here they come,” Lincoln shouted over top.  He paid attention.

One of Simeon’s men panicked and let his arrow fly too soon.  Simeon only brought ten men to escort the bones.  Seven stood ready.  He sent three to fetch help from the city.  He left the other ten men in his company to watch the Syrians on the road.  He briefly wondered if he should have brought them all.  But he assured the travelers his men would turn out the whole army of Jericho, if necessary.

“Maybe we should have run for the city,” Simeon said.

“We could have doubled up on the horses, but we would have had to abandon the mule and the wagon,” Lockhart responded.

“Captain,” Decker yelled from the other side of the rise.  He and Katie opened fire on the oncoming enemy.  Men began to fall.

After a minute, Lockhart yelled, “Now.”  Evan, Lincoln and Lockhart added their handgun fire to the mix.  A moment later, Boston began to fire her arrows.  She did not have to hit anyone directly.  Even if her arrow hit the ground, it would explode, and the two or three nearest men, if not killed or injured, would at least be knocked over by the concussive blast.

Once the dozen arrows got sent, and that did not take long at all at elf speed, Boston got out her wand.  Alexis already had her wand blowing the dust and dirt from the road into the face of the oncoming men, with a near hurricane force wind.  Boston added a stream of fire in front of the men imitating something like a flame-thrower.

“There,” Elder Stow shouted.  “Decker’s wall.”  That was what he called a one-sided screen that Decker could shoot through.  Of course, by then the charge had nearly stopped, and it completely stopped when several men ran into the invisible wall and bounced back.  Everyone stopped firing, except Decker.  He got the three that got caught on the traveler side of the wall.

“Here.”  Elder Stow handed his screen device to Boston and pointed to the top of the hill.  “That is the fortress?” he asked.  Simeon nodded, and everyone looked up at the top of the hill where a wall had been built.  They assumed the fortress had wall all the way around, but they only saw this side.  “The screen is only several hundred human yards wide.  They may discover that and come around it,” Elder Stow said, as he rose up in the air.  He quickly went invisible, and no one noticed anything for a few minutes other than the surviving Syrians ran back to hide in the dry riverbed.

Simeon looked at his men.  Not one had fired an arrow, except that one when it did not count.  Katie shaded her eyes and looked up.  Soon they all looked up as Elder Stow fired his hand weapon at what must have been full strength.  The edge of the hillside began to give way.  Soon enough, whole boulders began to fall.  The Syrians in the riverbed scattered to keep from being crushed.  A few large stones rolled up to Decker’s wall, where they kindly stopped.  Then the fortress wall collapsed.  The zig-zag path that led up to the fortress would have to be reworked in spots, but unless the Syrians had a spare wall somewhere, their fortress was toast.  When the soldiers from Jericho arrived, the Syrians would be wise to surrender.

“Time to move out,” Lockhart said.  “Everyone, take one of Simeon’s men for a ride.”

Elder Stow returned and became visible again.  “My father?”

“Can you fly cover and keep the wall beside us and behind us?” Lockhart asked.

Elder Stow wanted to say no.  Everyone saw it on his face, but what he said was, “I can pivot the wall as we move until we are out of range.

Katie hollered.  “Evan.  Are you and Millie okay with the wagon.”

“Okay,” Evan waved them on.

Simeon got up behind Katie.  He looked uncomfortable but did not complain.  Three got behind Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker.  One got Elder Stow’s horse to himself, and the horse was reasonable to accommodate for a short distance.  The last two borrowed Millie and Evan’s horses while the couple drove the wagon.

Going at a good clip, it did not take long to reach the Jerusalem road.  Lincoln looked back a couple of times, but Evan seemed a capable wagon driver.  He got Ghost the mule to keep up fairly well.

“Walk them,” Lockhart yelled, and everyone got down to walk.  Lockhart’s and Lincoln’s riders tipped their hats and said thank you and excuse me.  Decker’s passenger seemed to want to kiss the ground.

###

The travelers and their escort reached the gates of Jerusalem on the following afternoon.  Simeon and his men went right in, but the travelers had to wait an hour before they were allowed in, and then they had to stay in the gate.  They had room to set their tents and build a fire, and men brought them food and fodder for the horses and mule, but they would not be allowed to visit the city.

“It is much bigger than the last time we were here,” Lincoln remarked.

“That was in Solomon’s day,” Alexis told Evan and Millie.

“We were being chased by a genie,” Elder Stow said.

“A big, bad genie,” Decker agreed.

“I wonder where he is now,” Katie said, not expecting the answer she got.

“Solomon had the jugs of Marid buried with him in his tomb,” a young woman said.  “As long as they are not disturbed, they should still be there.”

Lockhart and Katie looked at the woman, and Lockhart got up first to hug her.  “Daughter,” he said.

“You should not be here,” Katie almost frowned before she hugged Sekhmet.  “We should not be here.”

“Sekhmet,” Boston named the goddess for those who might not know.

“Actually, the Ptolomys have been in control and lost control of this area so many times in the last century, who can keep track?”  Sekhmet shrugged and changed the subject.  “I see you have added to the club.”

“Millie and Evan,” Alexis said.  “And you remember Sukki.”

“Of course.  I saw Sukki at the wedding.”  Sekhmet slipped between Katie and Lockhart and put one arm around each.  “It was nice of my mom and dad to finally actually marry and make Artie and me legal.”

“Wait,” Evan said.  “You don’t mean your real mom and dad.”

Sekhmet said, “As real as Sukki is really Elder Stow’s daughter.”  Sekhmet smiled and then confessed.  “I do try to keep up with your progress when I can, and nice to meet you Evan Cecil Emerson and Millie Ann Smith Emerson.  I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Nice to meet you,” Millie responded.

“Did I do that right?” Sekhmet asked Katie.

“Just about perfect,” Katie said, and they sat by the fire.

Near sundown, Simeon came back with two men, one who shared some family resemblance, and one who dressed like a priest.  The family man carried a four-year-old girl who wiggled to get down.  She ran to the group on her little legs and headed straight to Boston with her arms wide for a hug.  Boston picked her up and hugged her happily.

Lincoln grinned and said, “Judy, Judy, Judy.”

“He never said that.” Alexis set the record straight.

Little Judith stuck her tongue out at Lincoln, gave Boston a little kiss on the cheek, then stretched to hug Sukki.  Sukki did not know what to do, especially when Judith kissed her on the cheek as well and whispered in her ear.  “Take good care of that old man and your sister, Boston.”

“I will,” Sukki said, and put Judith down.  She looked at Elder Stow, and then at Boston, and began to cry.  Both went to her, but it was only a little cry.

“Daddy,” Judith called. “And Uncle Simeon.”  She held out her hands.  Simeon took one, and the one who was evidently his brother Judah, and Judith’s father took the other.

Simeon laughed.  “I should have known little Judith was in the middle of this.  She started it all, you know, sitting in the arms of our father Mattathias, here in the city to be dedicated.  The Seleucids wanted to sacrifice her to Zeus on the pagan altar they built.  Father killed the corrupted priest rather than give up his granddaughter.”

“I don’t think Zeus would have been happy with a human sacrifice,” Katie said, and Sekhmet shook her head for confirmation.

“Zeus-Amon,” she whispered, but Judith noticed and yelled.

“Sekhmet.  You are not supposed to be here.  You bad girl.”  She wagged her little finger and tried to look serious, but only looked cute.  All the same, Sekhmet hid more securely behind Lockhart’s broad shoulders.

Alexis stepped up and totally interrupted everything.  She carried the bag of three femur bones.  She held them out with instructions.  “The bones of Joseph, son of Jotham, the King, and his wife Tama, and daughter Aleah.  They are home to be properly buried in the sepulcher of the kings.”

“Priest,” Judah called, gruffly, and the priest took the bag, carefully.  “It will be done but tell me.  Did you destroy the fortress of Dok?”

“Yes,” Lockhart answered with a glance at Elder Stow.  “But as my wife has explained to me, we cannot help you with Acra.  We will have to leave in the morning.”

“Yes,” Judah said in much the same tone of voice.  “So my wife explains things to me all the time.”

“That is why we have them,” Lockhart said, and Katie slapped him on the shoulder, but gently.

Judah smiled a little.  “I think I like you, big man.”

“I’m getting the hill when Acra falls,” Judith interrupted.  “I am going to plant olive trees, and a garden there.  Isn’t that right, Uncle Simeon?”  She yawned a big yawn.

“Right by me,” Simeon said, as Judah picked up his little girl, and Judith smiled, closed her eyes, and laid her head down on her father’s shoulder.

“Priest,” Judah commanded, turned and walked away.  The priest and Simeon caught up.

Millie turned to Evan.  “I want one.”

When the morning came, Sekhmet transported the travelers instantly to Suez, and said, since she saved them a week of travel through the dusty desert, they should stay with her for a week, and she could be a good girl the whole time.  That was, at least, what the travelers did.

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

MONDAY

The travelers head for Rome and Caesar in Avalon 7.2 The Ides of March.  Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

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