Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 1 of 4

After 697 A.D. The Breton March

Kairos 101: Margueritte, the Bride

Recording …

A blonde, about thirteen, sat on her old mare like a young woman who spent plenty of time on horseback. She wore a fine-looking dress and had a silk scarf, which spoke of money, if not nobility.  Her old mare waited quietly, unlike the younger stallion beside her that pranced a little and did not seem to want to settle down in the face of the oncoming strangers.  The young man, maybe a year or two older than the girl, sat on the stallion and fidgeted a bit himself.  He did not appear alarmed, however, and had no weapons in any case other than the knife he wore on his belt.

Boston and Sukki drew near, but then stopped a few feet away from the young couple.  “Is this the road to the Breton March?” Boston asked.  “We are looking for Margueritte.”

The blonde rolled her eyes at the mention of Margueritte’s name, but before she could say anything, a fairy squirted out from her horse’s mane and flew up to face Boston.

“Hello Elf,” the fairy said.

Boston grinned and Sukki looked positively delighted.  “Hello fairy.  My name is Boston, and my sister’s name is Sukki.”

“My name is Goldenrod.  My best friend is Elsbeth, and Owien is her boyfriend.,” the fairy reported.

The boy and girl looked at each other, and Elsbeth raised her voice a little.  “Owien is not my boyfriend.”  She glanced at the boy.  Owien looked like he would be happy to be her boyfriend.  Sukki covered her smile.

“The rest of our group will be here in a minute,” Boston said.  Even as she spoke, Katie and Lockhart came around the bend in the road, followed by Tony and Nanette.  Lincoln and Alexis drove the wagon and Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear in the rear-guard position.  Everyone waited for them to catch up, then Boston introduced everyone, including Goldenrod.

“Are you going to the wedding?” Katie asked, kindly.  They heard all about it in the village where they spent the night.  The King and Queen of Brittany with their son Judon, who often went by the name of David would be going.  They felt, after all the trouble they caused it was the least they could do.  The village chief, Brian was looking forward to it, though he never did explain exactly what the trouble was.  They would all be following in the morning.  “I expect Margueritte will make a lovely bride,” Katie finished with an encouraging smile.

Elsbeth rolled her eyes again as she and Owien turned around to lead the group to the triangle, which is what they called the home of the Lord of the March.  Then she opened up and seemed to want to talk about it.

“Margueritte is my sister, and the Breton are coming because my mother is a Breton.  My father is Count Bartholomew, Marquis of the Breton March.  He is Frankish, so Margueritte and I are half and half.  Owien, son of Bedwin, is all Breton.”

“I am not,” Owien objected.  “I am page to Lord Bartholomew and have pledged to the King in Paris, so I am a Frank now.”

“Lord Charles and Roland have been fighting in Vascony,” Elsbeth continued after another eye roll.  “We got word that they will be here tomorrow, and the wedding will be the next day.  Then Margueritte and Roland will go away with the army and Mother and Lady Jennifer will cry and miss her.  Then she will have adventures while Owien and I will have Latin every Wednesday.”  She made a face.

“It’s not so bad,” Owien said, and they all continued for a time at a very leisurely pace, letting the horses walk as they will.  Owien eventually thought of a question.  “So, where are you from?”

“And how do you know my sister?” Elsbeth added, though she seemed to have an idea.

“We are from a land far in the west called America, not Amorica,” Katie said.  “And how we know Margueritte is kind of complicated.”

Elsbeth harumphed.  “It’s that Kairos thing, I bet.  I met Gerraint and Festuscato, and she has got about a hundred more people that she has been in the past and some in the future.  It must be hard to keep track of them all.”

“We met Gerraint and Festuscato,” Lockhart said.  “We haven’t actually met Margueritte yet, to be honest.”

“I figured that,” Elsbeth said.  “Otherwise, I would remember you, or at least heard of you.  You know, Little White Flower, that is who Lady Jennifer used to be, she and her father Lord Yellow Leaf, the fairies, they came from America when I was little.”

“Lady Jennifer used to be a fairy?” Nanette asked from behind.

Elsbeth nodded.  “Margueritte made her human so she could marry Father Aden.  They have a little girl.  Father Aden will be doing the ceremony.”

Katie spoke up.  “Alexis, the one driving the wagon with Lincoln, she used to be an elf and the Kairos made her human so she could marry Lincoln.”

“Boston used to be human,” Lockhart added.  “She went the other way.”

“I didn’t know she could do that,” Owien said, sounding interested in the subject, but Elsbeth turned her nose up at the idea of being an elf.

“You could be a fairy,” Goldenrod spoke from where she relaxed in the mare’s mane.  Elsbeth nodded slightly, like maybe that would not be too terrible.

It was not that long before the group rounded the bend and arrived in the triangle.  The big barn in one corner sat nearest the road and backed toward the fields which spread out, just down a small incline.  At the top of the triangle, a tall tower of stone sat like a castle keep, and in the third corner sat the manor house.  A great, old oak grew outside the house, and a bench sat beneath the tree where one could sit in the shade on a hot summer day.  The whole scene looked peaceful and quiet, but the sensitive members of the group felt the hurried tension in the air.  A table had been built outside, under an awning.  It looked like it might seat thirty, but the man who stepped over from the blacksmith area outside the tower looked at the table and all the new people in the triangle and wondered if the table would be big enough.

“Father,” Elsbeth called to the man while she got down and let Owien take her horse with his into the barn.  Two women and a man dressed like a priest came out of the house, smiling and anxious to greet their guests.   Elsbeth went to stand beside the older woman who Katie guessed was Brianna, the mother. Then a young woman with dark hair and green eyes came barreling out of the door, shouting for Boston, her arms already open in anticipation of her hug.  Boston happily obliged.  Then Margueritte, who the young woman was, went happily from traveler to traveler hugging them all.

Margueritte’s mother, Brianna, did not know what to make of it all, but she did not seem surprised that her daughter knew complete strangers.  Margueritte’s father, the one from the blacksmith area simply looked confused.

Margueritte ran to him to grab his hand, and as she did, his mouth opened to say something, but he paused as a clear blue light filled the triangle and half of the people vanished.  Sukki, and Elder Stow stayed, since it was their turn to care for the horses and they followed Owien into the barn.  Tony and Decker did not disappear since they got busy taking the wagon across the road where they could park it next to the church that stood there.  But Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, Alexis, and Nanette, all vanished, along with Elsbeth, Brianna, Jennifer, and Father Aden.  Boston stood there suddenly alone, until Goldenrod fluttered up to land gently on Boston’s shoulder and speak in Boston’s ear.

“What just happened?”

The people vanished, but the horses remained in the yard with Boston and Goldenrod the fairy who tugged on Boston’s hair to get comfortable.  She repeated herself.  “What just happened?”

“What?” Margueritte’s father, Sir Barth spouted, and Margueritte let go of his hand to run forward to get a closer look.  Owien came running out of the barn, followed by Elder Stow and Sukki.

“Where did everybody go?” Owien asked.

Decker and Tony left Ghost and the wagon to cross the road.  Decker spoke.  “Somehow I don’t think the Masters are involved in this one.”

“No,” Margueritte agreed.  “Even Elder Stow’s people do not have that level of technology, if I am reading it right.”

“What just happened?” Goldenrod asked again.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 6 of 6

“That is the building,” Elder Stow said and pointed.

“Doesn’t look like a gun factory,” Boston turned to Decker who shook his head.

“Just a warehouse,” he said.  “No idea where the factory is, and we don’t have the time to look for it.  We missed the evening tide.  Lockhart and the others will already have to spend the night on the docks without us.  We have to leave on the morning tide, or so the captain said.”

“And he better be telling the truth,” Sukki said softly, which was remarkable for the former Gott-Druk.  Gott-Druk were not known for keeping secrets.  They did not know how to whisper.  It was a cultural thing that everyone expected would cross over when Sukki became human.  But Sukki had come a long way in learning to be human, mostly.  True, the gods who made her human got a bit carried away.  They made her sort of a superhuman, but nothing anyone could do about that.

The most remarkable thing, though, was Sukki never said any threatening words like that.  She mostly trusted people and assumed the best.  Those kinds of under the breath comments were more Decker’s style, or maybe Lincoln when he expected bad things to happen.  Boston and Nanette both looked at Sukki, and she did look slightly embarrassed, but she did not take back her words.

“Ready?” Tony asked.  He held Katie’s military rifle.  Decker had long since showed him how to use it.

“Are we ready?” Decker turned to Nanette.

Nanette put on her determined face.  “I will do what needs to be done.  I can’t just sit idle while the rest of you do your duty.  I know my magic will come and go as we move through the years, but I can be part of the journey whether I have my magic or not.  So, let’s go.”  She brushed her hands in front, like she was telling Decker to go ahead of her.  Decker smiled.

“Ready,” Elder Stow said.  He touched the spot on his belt, and everyone turned invisible.  They could still see each other, including Boston.  They made her take a disc and would not let her go elf invisible.  Decker and Elder Stow agreed that they wanted to keep track of her to make sure she did not get out of control.

They had no trouble breaking in.  The door was unlocked.

Three armed men sat around a table drinking beer and talking about nothing in particular.  They had rifles within reach and knives on their belts.  They did not appear to be paying much attention to the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki watched the men for the first few minutes while Decker and Tony did a sweep of the building to make sure no other men were present.  Nanette went to the back wall, beyond the cannon, where she found all three gun belts and Alexis’ bag sitting lazily on another table.

“Lincoln’s knife is missing,” Nanette whispered.

Boston pointed to the back wall where the knife stuck about two inches into the plaster.  “I guess one of the thieves wanted to test the balance and sharpness.”

They gathered up the belts and bag, and tried the doors at the back, beginning with the big double doors on the far end.  It led to a back alley.  Boston found the latch and locked the door so no one from the outside could come in and disturb them in their work.

Behind door number two, as Boston called it, they found a lab room.  It held glass vials, like test tubes up on a table in the center of the room.  It had bowls, cups, and glass tubes of liquid which might have been tea but might have been a solution of the plague bacteria.  Boston did not want to take the chance.

Nanette touched Boston’s shoulder to draw on Boston’s magic, and surprised herself, that some of her own magic felt active.  “675,” she said, then clarified.  “Lincoln read in the database that the other earth would begin to come into conjunction with our earth and leak magic energy into our universe starting in 675.  We must be close to that time.”  She had no trouble causing everything in that room to pile up in the center and tried not to spill any of the liquid in the process.

“Tony said we arrived in 672.  Lockhart said that Bozo mentioned he had two years to make cannon before the Arabs came and laid siege to Constantinople.  That happened in 674, so Tony figured we were in 672.”  Boston got out her wand and took a turn drawing on what magic energy Nanette had.  Boston let the full fiery blast of her energy out.  It turned the wood table and chairs into a bonfire, boiled the liquids, cracked the clay and glass containers, and actually melted some of the items.  They left that room understanding that the whole warehouse would be on fire very soon.

Behind door number three, they found Kallinikos, and heard from Decker over Boston’s watch radio.  “We are ready here.  Where are you?”

“We found Kallinikos,” Boston responded.  “I just gave him a disc so he is invisible like us and can see us.  We are on our way.”

“Roger.  You need to go out front, wait outside and put some distance between yourselves and the building in case something explodes.”

Boston, Nanette, and Kallinikos walked past the others and tried not to look.  One of the men that sat around the table looked dead.  The other two looked wounded and sat, moaning, with their backs to the wall.  Boston figured the men did not cooperate.

Tony joined them in exiting the building.  Decker went to stand by the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki floated up beneath the fifteen-foot ceiling to where they could overlook the cannon on the floor.  Then Elder Stow with his weapon and Sukki with her goddess-given power melted every cannon and set on fire every carriage in the building, both ships cannon, the big wall busters, and a case of rifles they found in the front room where the powder and shot got stored.

With the deed done, Sukki exited the building to join the others, while Elder Stow, with his personal screen up tight against his person for protection, got out his sonic device.  He tuned it to the right frequency and let it rip.  It only took a few seconds for all the gunpowder in the building to explode.

“Lord Bozo is not going to be happy,” Boston grinned as they made their way back to the ship.

“But we don’t have time to go look for him,” Tony said gruffly.  He felt bad.  He had to shoot one of the men.

“The gun factory is something the Kairos will have to deal with,” Elder Stow said, in agreement with Tony.

“Not our job,” Decker said, and looked at Nanette.  She lowered her eyes but nodded, slightly.

###

The ship left on the morning tide before dawn.  The crossing did not take long, but the docks in Constantinople needed expanding.  They had to wait in line before they could pull up and unload.  They found Lockhart, Katie, Alexis, and Lincoln waiting patiently with several other men on the dock.  One of the men opened his arms and shouted for Boston, and she rushed into the hug.

“You don’t have a big white beard and a fat belly,” Boston almost complained.

“Not yet,” Nicholas said.  “I’m not that old.  But I do have some elves that help make the toys.  And something else.”  He called to an old man who just arrived and used a cane to walk.  He came close, curiosity on his face.  The man’s right arm also did not look too good, like he may have suffered something like a stroke.  “This is Arthur,” Nicholas introduced the man.  “He is old and worn out and ready to let go of this life, so Elder Stow, you are not allowed to fix him.  He is the last of the Anazi androids from long ago.  Arthur, let me introduce Katie and Lockhart, Artie’s parents.”

“An honor,” Arthur said, but paused when Katie stepped up and hugged the android.  She quickly got tears in her eyes.  Lockhart put out his hand to shake but ended up hugging the android as well.  The android also got tears in his eyes, being the last of his people and thinking about all those centuries, and all the losses.  Lockhart sniffed and Alexis, and Lincoln were not unmoved.  Boston wept.

“All life is precious,” Arthur said softly, and tried to smile.

“Centurion Rudolph says hi,” Sukki interrupted and got Nicholas’ attention.  Sukki remembered when the travelers found her.  Artie the android left the group at that time and charged Sukki to look after her mom and dad.  She was not sure she did that, and maybe felt a bit guilty, or maybe she wondered what it might be like to have Lockhart and Katie as her mom and dad.

Nicholas nodded to Sukki that he heard, but let things play out before he turned to Sukki and answered her.  “I sent Rudolph and his reindeer soldier to ferret out the gun factory.  We will see what we can do depending on what information they send back.  Not your job.  Meanwhile, thank you for rescuing the artificer.” Nicholas turned to the newly arrived stranger.  Alexis stood there checking on the man’s condition, and Nanette helped.

“Kallinikos,” the man introduced himself.

Nicholas introduced a member of the emperor’s staff and said he would go with them to meet with Constantine.  He had a bag of toys with him, ready for the children in the palace.  “Meanwhile,” he said.  “I’m working on a hand pump, like the ones firefighters used back in the early nineteenth century before they invented steam pumps.”

“For the Greek fire,” Tony said to any who might not know.

“Where do you want us?” Nanette asked.

“Alexis and Lincoln found my home,” Nicholas said.  “When you get unloaded, Arthur can show you the way, and I will be along in a while.”

“I can’t wait to play with the toys,” Boston said.

“What is this Greek fire?” Kallinikos asked

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

MONDAY through THURSDAY

A 4-part episode next week which will include a Thursday post to complete the episode in a single week.  Above and Beyond takes place in the border with Brittany, and in orbit.  Margueritte is getting married.  Don’t Miss It.  Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 5 of 6

After a second, Lockhart tried not to clink and clank his way across the room as he hustled for the keys.  Katie studied the hole in the wall.  The ship had been built with double thick walls.  The outer wall only had a small hole in it where the sea splashed in from the occasional wave.  By the time she decided it would take hours, if not days to sink the ship at the rate it was taking on water, Lockhart handed her the keys.  She quickly unlocked her shackles and handed the keys to Lincoln.

“Just checking.”  They heard a man’s voice on the steep ladder-stairs that led up to the upper deck.  “I thought I heard something.”  Lincoln quickly turned his back to the stairs so what he was doing would not be obvious.  He found the key for Alexis’ shackles.  Apparently, they did not all use the same key.  Lockhart and Katie each jumped to the sides and a bit behind the stepladder so the man would not see them at all unless he turned his head to the side.

Katie reached through the steps as the man descended.  She grabbed his feet, so he fell forward, face first.  Lockhart punched the man in the head as he went past.  It was not an affective punch, but he hit the man’s ear and it made the man dizzy for a second.  Then the man hit the lower deck with his face despite the effort to catch himself with his hands.  He may have broken a wrist.

Katie jumped on the man’s back, reached around and found an errant rag left from a former prisoner or slave.  Plenty littered the floor.  She wadded the rag and stuffed it in the man’s mouth before he could shout out.  Lockhart put his knee down hard on the man’s neck so he could not get up.  He tore the man’s shirt and tied it around the man’s mouth so he could be properly gagged, while Katie tied the man’s hand behind his back.  One shelf on the wall held plenty of rope and leather cut to just the right size for the job.  Katie guessed they sometimes tied the prisoners, or with the shackles, they might tie the feet together.  She decided that was a good idea, so while she tied the man’s feet together, Lockhart stripped the man’s knife, short sword, and took his pistol, which he looked at once and handed to Katie.

The man opened his eyes wide, but he did not say anything, even after Lockhart lifted his knee from the man’s neck.

Katie finished tying and grabbed the small bag of powder, wadding, and couple of poor excuses for bullets from the man’s belt.  She looked at the pistol while Lincoln finished getting free. To be honest, she felt afraid to fire the pistol, thinking it might blow up in her hand.  The wick looked good.  She thought she knew how to load and fire it, but she had to decide if it was worth the risk.  She half decided it might make a better club.

“Ready?” Lockhart asked.  He stood, one foot on the bottom rung of the stepladder, the short sword in his hand, a dirt streak on his cheek from rummaging around the floor.

“You look like a pirate,” Katie said, and smiled at some inner thought.

“Ready,” Lincoln said.  He had the knife.  Alexis had her wand.

Lockhart climbed and looked carefully.  Sailors were wandering the deck, pretending to look busy.  The ship’s captain, or an officer of sorts stood on the poop deck by the man who held the steering oar.  The doctor also stood there, talking with the captain, and watching as the ship slowly crossed the Bosporus.  Two men, Lockhart thought guards, stood lazily by the railing, taking about something and occasionally glancing at the hatch, probably waiting for their friend to come out.

Lockhart pulled his head back below the hatch before he got seen and reported what he saw.  Lincoln and Alexis agreed to keep the crew back.  Lockhart imagine that would be Alexis calling up her magic.  Katie and Lockhart argued over the two leaning on the railing.  Finally, Lincoln got the job so both Katie and Lockhart could invade the poop deck.  Alexis assured Lincoln that she would help, when Lockhart said, “Ready?”  With affirmations, he said “Go.”

Lockhart ran, but Katie outran him.  Alexis first pointed her wand at the two by the railing, and one went right over the side.  The other angrily grabbed his rifle, but the shot misfired because of the wind, and Lincoln got there before the man could change his mind and pull his knife or sword.  Lincoln poked his knife into the man’s belly, grabbed and pulled the sword and said, “Drop your knife and down on your knees, hands behind your head.”

Katie hit Stygria in the jaw with a staggering blow.  As an elect, she was as strong as a man and had the speed and reflexes better than most.  The man fell, like he had a glass jaw.  Lockhart crossed swords with the captain, and while the captain maybe had the experience on his side, he was old, fat, and small.  Lockhart, young and a bit of a giant at six feet tall, quickly overpowered the man.

The doctor, though older himself, nevertheless prepared for such eventualities.  He had a large knife and showed from his stance that he knew how to use it.  Katie, a marine trained in hand to hand, could have taken him down, probably without a cut, but she did not feel the need to risk it.  She had lit her wick off the lamp in the hold, so she squinted and fired point blank into the man’s chest.  The man dropped his knife and fell.  She grabbed the knife and turned to face Stygria who was getting up, one hand on his jaw.  She put her knife to the man’s throat and disarmed him.  Then she told him to get down on his knees and put his hands behind his head.  She saw Lincoln did the same thing with the man by the railing.

“Tell the crew to stand down,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln, bring that man up here,” he ordered.  “Alexis, can you raise the wind?”  She nodded, and immediately the sail filled, and the ship jerked forward.  “Katie, when Lincoln arrives, you need to go down into the cabin and find the doctor’s bag.”  He raised his voice.  “I assume dumping the stuff in the sea will end the bacteria threat.”

“That will do it,” Alexis shouted back.

Lockhart turned to the ship’s captain who also got on his knees.  “Take us safely to the dock and I will let you live and keep your ship.  You have been paid, and I have a few extra coins if you cooperate.”  Lincoln always carried some coins in a pocket on his person.

“A bargain,” the captain said.  Lockhart shook the man’s hand.  Stygria threatened murder, but Katie kicked him, and he quieted.

“Stygria,” Katie said.  “Order your men to come forward and lay down their guns by the mast.  I want them weaponless and face down in front of the poop deck, here.”  Stygria looked at her and she smiled.  “I could cut your throat.”  He believed she would.  He gave the order, and the guards came out from where they were hiding.  The weapons went by the mast and the men came forward.  One spoke.

“Chief.  Corben and Miletes are missing.

“One went overboard,” Lincoln said as he arrived with his prisoner.  “The other is tied up in the hold.”

“You are welcome to fetch him,” Lockhart said, as he stepped on the captain’s sword.  “Drop us safely in Constantinople and you can have all this for free.”  The captain shrugged, like maybe it was worth the attempt before he started doling out orders to the crew.

“One thing before I check the cabin,” Katie said.  She slipped the knife in her belt and picked up the body of the doctor.  She heaved him over the side from amid ships.  She saw Stygria nod and rub his jaw.  “He might have been carrying the plague on him,” she said and stared at the captain.  “You come with me and show me everything he brought on board, unless you don’t mind getting the plague.”  The captain went with her, but then he would not touch anything.  Katie figured that.

Lockhart and Lincoln looked at their prisoners while Alexis kept the wind in the sails.

“My wife is an amazon,” Lockhart said to Stygria and gave him a big grin.  “I’m surprised she did not knock your head clean off.”

“My wife is the witch, so you better behave,” Lincoln added.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 4 of 6

Alexis, Katie, and Lockhart got left alone, but Lincoln got shoved into the room.  Lincoln was not as intimidating.  Alexis immediately went to the man already in that room.  He looked like he had been beaten raw.  Her healing power might not work on diseases, but she could fix most injuries.  She laid her hands near the man, and they began to glow as she closed her eyes and concentrated.  Bruises and swelling went down, raw spots healed over.  Cuts pulled together and gashes stopped bleeding.  What is more, her work had an anesthetic quality to it.  The pain all but vanished wherever she touched.  As the healing glow worked down inside the man, several cracked and one broken finger bone knitted together, the lungs cleared so he could breathe, and the muscles that were strained all relaxed.  Very soon, the man began to talk.

“God’s blessing on you and your kindness.  Why would the cruel monster, Bozarius allow you to practice your healing ministry on me?  Does he want to abuse me again?  I will not tell him the secret.  I don’t care how badly he tortures me.”

“I don’t think he knows my wife is a healer,” Lincoln said.

“And a most lovely wife you have,” the man sounded utterly grateful.

Lockhart lifted his arm to talk through the wristwatch communicator that he, and honestly everyone, regularly forgot they had.  “Hope they are in range,” he said.

“Wait.”  Katie caused him to pause.  She turned to the man.  “I’m Katie, and my husband is Robert.  Alexis is your healer, and Benjamin is her husband.  Do you have a name?”

“Kallinikos, from Heliopolis.” he said.

“Heliopolis?” Lockhart asked, still paused with his wrist beside his mouth.

“In Syria,” Kallinikos answered.

“But wait,” Katie looked puzzled.  “Why do I know your name?”

“I am a simple artificer,” the man said.  “I can think of no reason you should know me.  Perhaps another Kallinikos?”   He smiled for Lockhart.  “Your wife is pretty, too.  I am sure she has other skills that you prize.  I had a wife, and a daughter, once.  They were slaughtered by the Arabs, and no one in our city resisted them.  We peacefully surrendered, and they came in and slaughtered so many.  I have seen many such places since.  Burning, looting, and killing.”

“It is what armies do,” Lockhart suggested.

Kallinikos sighed before he growled.  “But I, too, can burn.  I know the secret to set the sea itself on fire…”

“Greek Fire,” Katie’s face lit up.  “I knew that I knew your name.”

“What is Greek Fire?” Kallinikos asked.

“That is what it gets called—what it will be called.  But you should be giving your formula to the emperor, what’s his name…”

“Constantine IV,” Lincoln said, without having to look it up.

“My intention,” Kallinikos said.  “I intend to see the Arabs burned and killed, but the monster Bozarius found me.  He wants the formula, but I will not tell him. Strange, though.  I do not know how he knew I had a formula.”

“Why doesn’t he already know the formula?” Lockhart asked Katie, their expert in all things ancient and medieval in the technology department.

“Because it is kept a secret for centuries,” Katie answered.  “Most think it is tar or bitumen based, but the actual formula and what made it so effective is lost to history.”

“The Arabs should not have this.  I escaped the Arabs to give it to the Greek emperor.  I am sure Bozarius plans to give it or maybe sell it to the Arabs, but I will not let them have it.”

“We need to set him free.” Katie insisted.  “We need to see he gets safely to Constantinople.”

“So people can be burned or killed?” Alexis said, though she did not really protest.

Lincoln answered his wife.  “So history stays on track and isn’t changed.”

Lockhart agreed and got on his communicator, thinking hard about what he would say.  “Decker.  Elder Stow.  Are you there?  Can you hear me?  Over.”

“I hear you,” Elder Stow responded.  “We are waiting your return to the inn.  Tony, Nanette, Decker, and Boston have taken the horses and wagon to find a ship.  We had three men try to take our things from the wagon and we all agreed it was not safe to stay here.  Sukki and I are here at the inn…”

“Lockhart,” Decker interrupted.  “We have a ship.  The tide is in.  The wagon is on board, and we are ready to load the horses, but your horse is being a pain…”

“Breaker,” Lockhart said.

“Come in,” Decker Responded.

“The priest led us into a trap.  Our old friend, Lord Bobo is here, and we are his prisoners, again.  You know the man, the one Boston called Lord Bozo.”

“The Masters,” Elder Stow interrupted.

“Exactly.  He is building cannon for the expected Arab attack on Constantinople.  He is also working with a Doctor Theopholus, another agent of the Masters, who is tailoring the plague to set it off in Constantinople so he can reduce the population and the military in the city by half.”

“Germ warfare,” Decker interrupted.

“We also have a guy named Kallinikos here that Katie says is important to history.  Apparently, he invented something called Greek Fire.  Katie says it is imperative we get him safely to the Byzantines.  Do you copy all that?”

“Roger,” Decker said.

“Okay.  Here is what I am thinking.  You finish loading the ship.  Threaten the captain or do whatever you have to do to make sure he does not sail off without you.  Elder Stow.  Can you get our location on your scanner?”

“Yes, I’m just getting it up just as you said prisoners.” Elder Stow said.

“Okay. Then maybe Elder Stow can share some of his discs and you can come over here, invisible.  There are cannon to blow up and men with muskets to put out of commission.  But listen to this carefully.  If Bozarius—Lord Bobo is not here, you are not to go looking for him. We are not here to find the gun factory and put it out of commission.  For all we know, the factory could be in the city where we came into this time zone, ten days ago.  The Kairos has told us over and over it is his job.  We do what we can, and I am sure he is grateful, but our job is to get back to the twenty-first century, or twentieth century as the case may be.  Got it?”

“Roger that.”

“Okay.  We are scheduled to go with the doctor to Constantinople.  We might not be here when you get here.  But for one, we need to stick with the doctor to stop him. We need to make sure he does not release his disease in the city.  And two, save Kallinikos and bring him safely to Constantinople.”

“Three, be careful,” Katie added

“If we are not here when you arrive, we will meet you in Constantinople on the docks.  Over and out.”  Lockhart stared at his wrist before he put his arm down.  “There.  Did I leave anything out?”

Alexis looked up.  “Only that Kallinikos has been tortured.”

“Servants of the Masters,” Lincoln said.  “That should be a given.”

“You didn’t mention our gun belts,” Katie said.  “They were still on the table when we came in here.”

“Oh, shoot,” Lockhart said, and he called Decker again.

###

It took less than an hour for the Doctor to arrive and escort his prisoners to the ship.  The straight was only a couple miles wide, and they would only travel a few miles to the port at Constantinople, but it was way too far to swim, and like so many such trips, it took longer to get out of the port and dock on the other side than the trip across the Bosporus actually took.

This ship was a single masted merchant ship with a capacity of maybe one hundred tons.  They carried no cargo for this trip if the travelers were not considered cargo.  The ship was used to transport prisoners or unruly slaves.  It had a dozen wall mounted shackles down in the hold beneath the deck.   Katie got a good look at the nails in the ship’s wall before they locked her in.  The shackles had enough chain to let the prisoners sit, but not enough to let them lie down.

As soon as the prisoners were secured, their guards went up on deck to get some fresh air and to relax.  Katie began to pull on the chain held in by the rustiest nail.  Lockhart pulled on his own chains and one of the nails had some wiggle in it.  He looked at Alexis and Lincoln.  Lincoln shook his head.

“I’ll wait until one of you to gets the keys.”  Lincoln pointed to the wood beam where the keys hung on a nail.

“We can try yours together,” Katie suggested, and she grabbed Lockhart’s chain with him and said one—two—three.  They pulled the nail out of the wall easier than they imagined.  Lockhart immediately reached for the keys, but he could not quite reach them.

“Wait,” Katie said.  “Come on.  We can try the other side.”  Lockhart agreed.  He had to stand beside Katie so she could help, but it felt like an odd angle.  Katie had to stretch as far as her chains allowed so they could yank on the chain together.  This second nail did not come out nearly as easily as the first, but when it did, they heard a loud Crack! and a piece of the planking broke.  Everyone got still to listen in case the sound attracted someone’s attention.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 3 of 6

The doctor stopped his work and put on a pair of thin leather gloves.  He grabbed something like a magnifying glass and stepped over to examine the travelers.  He paused to look up at Lockhart, who stood quite tall.  Lockhart wanted to make a face, maybe a Decker face to intimidate the little man, but it was hard to get his face to cooperate when he had a gun poking him in the back.

“Yes, these will do quite nicely,” the doctor squeaked in a timid little voice.

“Aren’t you going to listen to our heart and lungs,” Alexis objected.  “Don’t you want to check our blood pressure, or maybe take a blood sample for analysis?”

The doctor stopped and stared at Alexis for a minute.  He seemed to need the words, and finally he came out with, “No.  None of that is necessary.  You are relatively healthy specimens who show no signs of infection.  That will do.”

“Are you ready to go?” Bozarius asked.

“The tide is not up yet,” one of the men said.

“About an hour,” the doctor said at about the same time.

Bozarius nodded.  “Stygria, you and your men keep the prisoners locked up until the doctor is ready to leave.  You need to escort the prisoners to the ship and see them fastened in.  Then you have your orders.”

“Sir.” the man, Stygria came to attention and acknowledged his leader like a military officer, only lacking the salute.

Bozarius thought to say something more to the travelers before he left.  “Doctor Theopholus has kept the plague alive since the death of the Prophet, and in a controlled way that has kept it away from the armies of Arabia.  That has been for more than thirty years.  How old are you now?”

“Sixty,” the doctor said.  He went back to work but half-listened.

“There is one more job before he can rest.  He will cut the population, including the military strength of Constantinople in half.  This plague outbreak will be the pneumonic kind?”  The doctor nodded but said nothing.  “He will infect you when you reach the city.  You will infect everyone else.  I believe that is what you call killing two fish with one stone.

“Birds,” Lockhart mumbled.

“But what happens when the Arabs get here?  Won’t they risk catching the infection?” Lincoln asked.

“It will burn out by the time the Arabs get here.  That is two years hence.  I have many more cannon to make in those two years.  Then we blast the vaunted walls to gravel and that will be that.”

The travelers got brought to the room where they heard the moaning and groaning, and they got locked in.

###

Elder Stow stopped working on his screen device long enough to eat.  He actually joined in the conversation around the table for a while.  People were talking about how similar they all were, black and white, men and women, from 1905 or 2010, and even between Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthals.

“Much of it, like touch, parental concern, and children exploring their environment is plain animal stuff, at least for mammals,” Elder Stow said.  “Though I have witnessed birds and others who show a remarkable concern to keep contact and stay close to their young.”

“Crocodile mothers,” Decker nodded.

“Most of the rest, as far as I can tell, and I never really thought of it before, seems to be based on social, cultural, and more than we realize on technological conditions.  Without automobiles, and I might say, trains and planes, people connect with people, mostly neighbors and in the community.  The limiting factor appears to be the ability to travel.  With cars, trains, and planes, people can travel, even to distant and interesting places, and I mean ordinary people, not just the rich.  Real friendships can develop between people who may live thousands of miles away when you have a telephone.”

“Then,” Boston interrupted.  “With the invention of the internet, people do not have to go anywhere.  You can travel the world from your own living room, and no one has to talk to anyone, if you don’t want to.  We are all isolated all over again, and this time, people don’t even know their neighbors.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow frowned.  “Not all advances are especially good ones.  And believe me, there are some advances on the human horizon that make bad matters worse.  You don’t want to know, but I will say, I have learned much in our journey, and one is that relationships, or what I imagine as real contact between real people, is something we should never lose sight of.  Hugs matter.  All hugs matter.”

Sukki smiled and gave Elder Stow a hug.

“Travel broadens the mind,” Decker said, and with a little grin for Nanette added, “Or so I have heard.”

Nanette returned his grin and patted his hand.  “In that case, 5000 years has not quite done the job.  You have a little more traveling to do.”

Decker picked up Nanette’s hand and kissed it right in front of everyone.  Boston dropped her jaw.  Sukki looked away and turned as red as Boston’s hair.  Elder Stow smiled and said, simply, “Family.”

Tony looked at his food and thought to change the subject.  “Once the world was full of Greeks and barbarians, but then the Romans came, and the world got bigger.  Some Greeks realized that some of the people outside the borders of Greece were maybe not so barbaric.”

“The Persians first.  Then the Romans.”  Nanette said.  “Alexander the Great really expanded the Greek world.”

“Then the medieval world went backwards for a bit.  Medieval people stayed pretty much in their villages and probably had no idea what the rest of the world was like.  Even the church focused on spiritual horizons, not worldly ones.”

“Or the mosque. Or the synagogue.” Nanette added, basically agreeing.

“But then the age of discovery arrived, and it was no longer me and my few and everyone else are strangers.  Now, the whole world seemed strange, but people got into exploring, learning, and getting to know everything that was new and different.”

“And where did that get us?” Boston asked.

“To world war or maybe world peace,” Decker said.  “If the human race can ever learn to live in peace.”

Elder Stow’s screen device alarm went off.  He turned it off quickly and checked his scanner.  “Someone has gotten into the wagon,” he said.

Decker jumped up and grabbed his rifle.  Elder Stow and Tony, with Katie’s rifle, followed.  The girls came behind because Sukki stopped to hug Nanette and encourage her with Decker, and Boston tried really hard not to tease the girl.

In the stable, they found three men that tried to rummage through their things.  They appeared to be trapped and unable to escape.  Elder Stow explained.  “I tuned a disc to the screen and gave it a twenty-foot radius around the wagon.  I set it carefully so it would not slice through any flesh and blood, or animals.  It was sort of a test, but I think it worked.  Walking around the wagon would not set it off, but as soon as the insides of the wagon or anything in it got touched, it automatically deployed.”

“Can I shoot them?” Decker asked as they stepped up to face the three men.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  “The screen is solid on both sides.  They can’t get out, and we can’t get in until I turn it off.”

“Hey,” one of the men shouted.  “We’re trapped in here and can’t get out.  Help.”

“What did you steal?” Decker asked as Tony and the girls caught up.

“Nothing.  I didn’t take nothing,” the man said.

“We were just looking,” Another man said.  “He was just showing us your stuff.  Honest.”

“I want you to lie face down, arms stretched out over your head while we take a look,” Decker said.  They did not move.  They looked at each other, uncertain.  “Now,” Decker shouted.  “Don’t make me kill you for just looking.”  All three men got slowly to the ground.  “Okay,” he said softly to Elder Stow and with more volume added, “Tony, do an inventory.”

“Hey, Decker,” Boston shouted from where she wandered into the back to check on the horses.  “Somebody let Ghost out of his stall.”

Decker turned on the men at his feet.  “Just looking?”

One man jumped up to run.  Decker kindly shot him in the leg.  He fell and grabbed his leg where the blood started to come out.  He shouted, stunned by the sound of the gun and in shock at seeing a bleeding hole in his leg.  It would start to hurt soon enough.

“Any other bright ideas?” Decker asked.

One man did not move at all.  The other shook his head, said, “No, no.” and tried not to cry from fear.

“A horseshoe and some nails,” Tony said.

“Do I have to search you?” Decker asked.

The man who said nothing that whole time pulled the horseshoe and small bag of nails from his shirt and placed it on the ground.  “Can we go?”

“Let’s see,” Decker said.  He shouted to the back.  “Horses okay?”

“A-okay,” Boston said.

“We need them saddled to take them to the dock,” Decker decided.

“All okay, blankets and everything.” Nanette shouted.  “Being saddled.”

“Your friend probably needs to see a physician,” Elder Stow said, and handed a few copper coins to the scared one thinking if he was scared enough, he might do the right thing.

“Get your stupid friend and go,” Decker said.  “And don’t come back.  I would rather not have to kill you.  It would spoil my supper.”

The two men helped their friend while he cried and tried to walk on one leg.

“Was that really necessary?” Elder Stow asked.

“The Kairos thinks so,” Decker answered.  “Bad as guns are, they cannot be easily duplicated.  Horseshoes, however, could change the course of history.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers need to escape to save the man who invents Greek Fire.  They need to get that invention to Constantinople and disrupt the plans of the Masters, in whatever way they can.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 2 of 6

It took six days to reach Nicomedia, having once again avoided Nicaea.  Soldiers met them some distance from Nicomedia to turn them away.

“There’s an outbreak of plague in the city.  Best not to go there.”

“Gee,” Boston complained.  “I wanted to see if that first mate, Pinto Beans was still hiding around the dock, hoping the authorities did not catch him.”

Decker snickered.  He remembered giving the man that name.

“A criminal?” the soldier looked up.

“Never mind,” Alexis told him.

“Last time we traveled by sea and skipped Chalcedon.  This time, Katie wants to see the city,” Lockhart said, and Katie nodded.

“No plague in Chalcedon, is there?” Nanette asked.

“Not that I know of,” the soldier answered.

It took a day to get to the coast road and most of another day to reach Chalcedon.  They stopped short of the city and stayed at a country inn.  The food was good, and even if the beds were not bug free, at least they were soft.

The following day, they spent finding a place to stay near the docks.  It was a busy port and they found plenty of places by the sea, but they filled up quickly.  They settled into one place, not the best, about three o’clock and had an early supper, or a very late lunch around four.  They found plenty of sailors in the room already washing away their sorrows with alcohol, but they managed a table for four and another one that sat eight where six of them could relax.  Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, and Alexis took the table for four.

“This time zone has been very quiet, considering all that has been going on around us,” Alexis started the conversation.

Lincoln frowned.  “Now, don’t jinx us.”

Katie and Lockhart smiled, and Lockhart responded.  “We paid for the rooms, such as they are, and the horses are settled in, but only if we can’t find a ship to leave this evening.”

“We might find a ship where we can spend the night and leave on the morning tide,” Katie said.

“That is the idea.”  Lockhart nodded as their food arrived.  The innkeeper paid special attention.  These people had money.

“You know,” Lincoln said.  “I’m getting used to sleeping with the bugs.”

Alexis smiled.  “Like the fleas from the rats that spread the plague.”

Lincoln looked temporarily horrified.  “Thanks a lot.  Now I won’t sleep a wink.”

“Keep it down,” Lockhart said.  “You’ll scare Nanette.” He pointed at the other table.

Katie grinned for Alexis.

Nanette sat at the other table between Decker and Tony, across from Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston.  Katie pointed once or twice as Decker touched Nanette’s hand, and once her shoulder.  Decker seemed happy, which was a rare thing.  Nanette seemed shy, which was the opposite of her evil twin, the one made, and in the end, unmade by Athena.  Alexis grinned a sly grin, and Lockhart had to ask.

“What are you two plotting?”

“Nothing,” Alexis said and broadened her grin.

“I’ll tell you later,” Katie said, and rubbed Lockhart’s shoulder.

“Probably Cupid,” Lincoln said in a very flat voice.  “It is a game that wives play to get other men trapped in the bonds of holy matrimony.”

Alexis hit him in the shoulder rather hard.

“Ouch,”

“You sound like Decker,” Lockhart quipped, but then looked at the other table and saw Decker and Nanette talking and touching hands.  He looked at Katie, his wife, but she just smiled.  He raised his brows, shrugged a little, and went back to his supper.

A priest came into the inn.  No one paid attention because there were priests and monks all over the city, but this one pushed through the drunken sailors and stepped up to the table where Katie sat and said, “Excuse me.  You are the traveler from Avalon with the yellow hair?”

Lockhart stopped eating and stared at the man, but Katie’s elect intuition did not sense any danger from this man.  She smiled and said, “How can I help you?”

“The doctor has asked to see you.  He needs your help.  That is all I know, but I can take you to him.”

“Doctor?” Alexis looked up.  The priest stood at her back.  Lincoln put down his spoon and looked as well.  “Maybe I can help,” Alexis said.

“Please.  The Kairos told him you know things and may help.”

Lockhart got suspicious, even if Katie did not.  “I thought you said that was all you knew.”

The priest smiled a friendly smile, or a nervous one, and nodded.  “Indeed.  But that was all I was told.  If you are having your supper, I can convey a message.”

“Doctor Mishka?” Lincoln spoke to the other table.  He saw Boston who was eavesdropping already had her amulet out.

“No,” Boston said.  “The Kairos is still on the other side of the water in Constantinople.”

“Is it an emergency?” Katie asked.

“I don’t do diseases, except nursing,” Alexis said, thinking about the plague.

The priest did not know.

Katie stood, so Lockhart stood.  “Is the doctor far from here?” she asked, and the priest shook his head.

“Please.”

“It might not hurt to take a look,” Alexis said and stood, so Lincoln stood.  Katie felt Lockhart’s suspicion.  Lockhart left his shotgun in the wagon, in the stables with the horses, but Katie started carrying her military rifle with her, like Decker.  She dropped her rifle with Tony. She wore her belt with her handgun and knife.  They all started wearing their belts and their handheld weapons since the Khyber Pass, except Alexis who still had an elf-slip where she kept her wand and otherwise carried her small first aid pack like a purse.  The pack held their vitamins and whatever first aid supplies they had plus a few elf bread crackers and a few coins in case Alexis got separated from the group.

Decker spoke before Lockhart could say anything.  “Tony and I can secure a ship to take us to the capitol, and we can get the horses and wagon loaded.”

“This port probably has regular ferries that cross over to the capitol,” Tony said.

“Getting a ship should not be hard if you spend a little money,” Nanette added.

“I may be able to help,” Elder Stow said, and he meant help with whatever this doctor wanted them for.  They all understood what he meant.  He had plenty of gadgets, as Lockhart called them.  He could be a remarkable help with injuries at times, and identifying various diseases, but Lockhart waved for him to stay seated.

“We don’t know what the trouble is.  You stay and work on your screen device.”

“Should we come?” Sukki asked, but Boston held her hand down.

“No,” Boston said emphatically.  “The adults are going off to do grown up things and leaving us children to have fun and tear the house up while they are gone.”  Boston grinned.  Nanette laughed.

Once outside, the priest led the couples toward the water and the docks.  They came to a warehouse, and the priest invited them in first.  Katie jumped as her elect radar went off, but she reacted too late.  A dozen men stepped from the shadows.  The travelers might have been able to fend off swords and spears, but there was nothing they could do about the rifles and primitive handguns the men carried.

“Damn.”  Lincoln said, as the men made them hand over their gun belts.  “Double damn,” he added when they saw the man who came out from the back of the big room.  “Lord Bozo.”

“Bobo,” the man said.  “And in this life, it is Bozarius.  But this time, you won’t catch me unaware.  The invisible ones are still at the inn with no idea anything is amiss.  By the time they figure that out, you will be on your way.”  He handed a small bag to the priest who bowed and smiled.

“Thirty pieces of silver?” Alexis asked.  The priest looked temporarily horrified before he pursed his lips, lowered his shaking head, and scurried away like a rat.

“So, what is it this time?” Katie asked, boldly.  Bozarius paused at the question but appeared to have no qualms about answering.  Like before, he did not mind talking when he felt he had the upper hand.  He led them toward the back of the warehouse where they saw several large cannons.  They looked of a size to break down city walls.

“I am still interested in your guns that never seem to run out of bullets.  Too bad you did not come with one of those rifles.  I would like another look at that.  But, you see, this time I am not interested in small arms.  I have made some for my crew, but I am focused on the big guns.  I have smaller, ship sized cannon to mount on the Muslim ships.”

Katie drew in her breath.  “You plan to beat down the Theodosian walls.  You want the Arabs to take Constantinople.”

Bozarius smiled.  “You found me out.  Yes, the Masters have decided that an Islamic Europe will be more conducive to the future.  But come, let me introduce you to Doctor Theopholus.  He will be taking you to Constantinople where I believe he will have a surprise for you.”

They found three doors at the back of the warehouse and figured the one on the end probably led to the outside, maybe a back alley.  They heard terrible moaning behind one door.  They went through the middle one and found a chemistry lab set up, not in the most sterile condition, and an old man in a kind of makeshift lab coat.  “Doctor,” Bozarius said.  “I have your subjects here.”

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 1 of 6

After 640 A.D. Byzantium

Kairos 100: Nicholas, not Saint Nicholas

Recording …

“Ankyra,” Lincoln guessed the name of the city that sat behind them on the road.  He had the database out and looked at the map it provided.  He also read some and reported to Alexis and whoever else might be listening.  “The Arabs are definitely knocking on the door, but we are well within Byzantine territory.”  He answered Alexis’ question, while Tony helped Lockhart drive Ghost and the wagon to the road.

“I’m surprised the Kairos is not on the leading edge of the Muslim advance,” Nanette said.  “He, or she is usually where all the action is.  Isn’t that so?”

“He, in this time zone,” Lincoln set that straight and looked at the database.  “Nicholas.  A toymaker and carpenter in Constantinople.”

“All right,” Boston raised her voice and let out an excited elf-worthy grin.  “I wonder if Nicholas has elves helping to make the toys.”

Alexis shook her head and spoke sensibly to Lincoln, Sukki, and Nanette.  “I imagine there are some things the Kairos needs to stay away from.  Maybe most things he has to let work out on their own.  He might not even dare get involved in certain things.  I believe he only gets in the middle of the mess when something threatens to throw history off track.”

Boston had not finished interrupting.  “I wonder if he lets the cobbler borrow his elves.” She grinned again.

“Good thing the time gate sat in an open field and did not let us out in the city.” Alexis changed the subject.  She looked back toward the city that fell away behind them as they started up the road. Boston and Sukki raced around the bend in the road to get a look ahead.  Decker moved off the highway to climb a small hill with the same thought in mind, to see where they were headed.  Alexis and Lincoln took the front, followed by Nanette and Tony.  Lockhart and Katie took a turn driving the wagon, since the Roman road was well kept.

“Probably good all the way to Constantinople,” Lincoln suggested.

“You take the afternoon,” Lockhart responded.  “Give Tony a rest.”

Elder Stow sat in the back of the wagon, working on his screen device and shaking his head.  That seemed about all he did for the last ten days.  “I have it set to the way it was made.  It can put a solid screen up around a certain area, like the camp, such as a ship’s officer might put around his crew.  But all the special programing I worked on over the last couple of years has collapsed.  I think you use the word crashed.  No more screen walls, much less one-sided walls where we can shoot out while they cannot shoot in.  I can still tune it to let in oxygen and keep out other, noxious gasses.  That is built in, but other than that…”  He never really finished that sentence.  He mumbled about starting from scratch and went back to work on the device.

Lockhart turned to Katie who sat beside him.  “So, tell me about the Arabs knocking on the door.”

Katie had a thought.  “Interesting, us being on the other side of the world when Muhammad was alive and working.  I think the Kairos, or someone worked that out on purpose.”

“The Kairos was also on the other side of the world,” Lockhart said.

Katie nodded.  “Muhammad died in 632, and they argued about who would take over.  He had pretty much united the Arabian Peninsula under his monotheism.  The Arabs were polytheists, but they had serious influence from the Jews and Nestorian Christians who made up significant minority populations.”

“Nestorian Christians?”

“They believed Jesus was not God made man.  They taught that Jesus was just a man, though God-inspired.”

“Ah,” Lockhart seemed to understand.  “Maybe where Muhammad got the idea.”

Katie shrugged.  “Anyway, there were four Caliphs, you know, rulers of the sect.  They were kind of both religious and secular rulers at the same time.  Not all the faithful agreed on who should rule, so there was a split in the faith right from the beginning.  But they made a big dent in the Byzantine Empire and almost completely killed the Sassanid Empire.  My personal opinion was they put off a civil war in the faith by focusing their armies on outside enemies.”

“Distraction.  But what happened to the Byzantines and Sassanids?”

“Well, they sort of fought each other to exhaustion.  Neither side had any strength left when the Arabs came.  The Byzantines lost Syria, the Levant and Egypt very quickly.  The Arabs fought some battles, but the Byzantines did not have any armies left to speak of, and the people were tired of the constant wars and heavy taxes to support the wars.  Some scholars have suggested the people practically gave themselves to the Arabs to get out from under the Byzantine yoke.  They did not all instantly convert to Islam.  That took generations.  Even in our day there are Christians, and even Zoroastrians in those lands.  But those areas fell fairly quickly.  The Byzantine leadership stayed together back home, so they held on to their core territory of basically Turkey and Thrace with Greece and a bit of Bulgaria, but the rest vanished in a blink.”

“What about the Sassanids?”

“They were in even worse shape.  They lost the last war against the Byzantines and had to give back all the territory they had taken.  Then they had something like their own civil war.  For all practical purposes, they broke up into a bunch of feudal kingdoms.  The last Sassanid ruler was a boy not in any condition to unite the people.  Again, the Arabs fought a few battles, but they honestly faced little resistance.  They took the Sassanid capitol, the Sassanid treasury, and technically took over the Sassanid empire.  They only had to snuff out the occasional, local rebellion in cities and such here and there.”

“Sounds like the Arabs timed things pretty well,” Lockhart concluded.

“Timing is everything,” Katie agreed.

Up front, Lincoln and Tony filled in Nanette and Alexis with much of the same information.

“Muhammad died in 632.  Nicholas was born in Constantinople in 640,” Lincoln said.  He did not like to read and ride at the same time, but he remembered that much.

“Eventually,” Tony said. “The Arabs got into their own civil war of sorts.  But they worked it out when the son of the fourth Caliph resigned in favor of a guy named Mu’awiyah.  That was about 661, about when the Kairos turned twenty-one.  Mu’awiyah started the Umayyad dynasty and ruled until about 680.”  He looked at Lincoln.

“I don’t remember the name,” Lincoln said.  “But the Kairos is reborn next in 697.  I remember the date.”

Tony nodded.  “Okay.  The Umayyads rule until 750, if I remember.  Let’s see.  The Sassanids fall about 651.”

“When the Kairos turned eleven.  Hardly old enough to do much about it.”

Tony nodded again.  “Caliph number three I can’t really remember his name.  I don’t think he did much except have unrest.  Ali became Caliph about five years later, when the third Caliph got assassinated.  That started the civil war.  So, unless the Kairos is a baby, we are probably riding through the days of number three or Ali or Mu’awiyah, or maybe one of the later Umayyads, if the Kairos is an old man.”

“All fine and well,” Nanette said.  “But if we are riding deeper into Byzantine territory, why does all that even matter?”

Lincoln and Tony looked at each other and shrugged, until Tony had a suggestion.  “Around 672, the Arabs under Mu’awiyah’s son Yazid, I think, take Chalcedon and the coast, where we are headed.  They put Constantinople under siege for five years, roughly from 674 to 678.  We could ride right into that.”

No one said anything more until Alexis asked the pertinent question.  “So, who is ruling in Byzantium right now?”

“Yes,” Tony had to think, and Lincoln could not look it up right away.  “Either Constans II, or probably Constantine IV.  I remember Constantine IV was the one who fought off the Muslim siege.  If the Kairos is old, maybe Justinian…the second, I believe.”

“You believe?”

“There was an earlier Justinian, the one associated with the plague.”

“Plague?” Nanette nearly shouted.

Tony nodded but tried to reassure her.  “That was a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty years ago.  There are reoccurrences up until the eighth century, but nothing to worry about, I hope.”

“Plague?”  Nanette said in a quieter voice.

“Bubonic,” Alexis said.  “I read about it in nursing school.  Elves don’t really get sick.  It was fascinating reading.”  She smiled for Nanette before her face turned sour.  “Of course, it was not so much fun being sick, even if all I ever got was colds and the flu a couple of times.”

Decker appeared on their flank.  Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front, and Boston shouted first.

“Soldiers on the road.”

They got Lockhart to pull the wagon to the side of the road, and the others waited.  It did not take long before the soldiers appeared.  The three in front rode.  The hundred or so behind marched four abreast.

The horsemen came up to the side of the road to talk with the travelers while the soldiers marched on.  “Where are you headed?” The Centurion asked.  People looked at Lincoln, expecting him to open his big mouth, but he actually looked at Lockhart for once.

“Constantinople,” Lockhart said.  “We are meeting a tradesman named Nicholas.  You probably don’t know him.”

“He is a carpenter and a toy maker,” Lincoln did say that much being unable to keep his mouth closed after all.

The centurion smiled.  “Actually, I know Nicholas very well.  He is also the most brilliant politician in the empire.”

“Really?” Alexis looked surprised.

“He usually stays out of politics, if he can help it,” Katie said.

The centurion’s smile broadened.  “I see you do know him, some.  And yes, he stays out of politics which is why in my book he is the most brilliant politician in Constantinople.”

“Where are you headed?” Lockhart asked to change the subject.  He gave it his friendliest smile.

“Caesarea, near where the Arabs are.  We are charged to keep them out of our territory, but I hope they do try us. They need a good thrashing.”

“Good luck,” Lincoln said.

The Centurion nodded.  “And to you.  Tell Nicholas Centurion Rudolph says hello, and my nose is not presently red.”  He waved his men to move on.  “At least we get to escape from that one will or two wills stupidity.  Sergeant.”  They road off to retake their men.

“Okay,” Lockhart said with a look at Katie.  “Now you have more explaining to do.”

“Tony?”  Nanette looked at him while they got the wagon back on the road and started moving again, and Boston rode off ahead of the crowd, singing about Dasher, Dancer, and the rest.

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 6 of 6

“The city finally got abandoned when some dry years killed the crops and the constant wars made continuing impossible.  Some got carted off by enemy armies to populate other cities.  Gluga and I found a few people here.  More have come.  Mostly artists and workers tired of all the fighting and killing.  We have tried to keep the settlement small, so the armies won’t bother us. We have a small group of Shemsu here.  Imagine, after all these centuries, some Shemsu have remained apart and not entirely blended into the larger population.  We hide them, mostly.  You know, they are in big demand to build and maintain things in the cities.”

“I can imagine,” Katie said as they stood and watched the people bring a whole deer to the open porch in front of a very large building.  The men bowed and backed away, quickly. Gluga stuck her head out and grabbed the deer.  They saw the light of the flames as Gluga ate.

“The building has no roof on it, so Gluga does not feel confined,” Yamaya explained what she already explained.  “She can come and go as she pleases.  I think it was a funeral building.  There are dead bones, broken shields and weapons, and lots of shards of old pottery.  There are even some gold, silver, and jade things there.  I would think it would be very uncomfortable to sleep in, but Gluga loves it.  She has marked it all as her nest.”

“And woe to anyone who imagines stealing something from the nest,” Lockhart said.

“No one is that stupid,” Yamaya said.

After three days of rest, the travelers with Yamaya and Gluga headed off toward the northern lowlands.  Boston complained, but Alexis explained to her that Yamaya would bring them to the place where the time gate showed.  It was for their own safety.

“But the gate will just move further away, the closer Yamaya gets,”

“Yes, but then Yamaya and Gluga will fly back to Mirador.  It should take a couple of days, and the gate will come back to the place it is now.”

“Oh,” Boston understood.  “That should work.”

On the road, Yamaya said little outside of lovely, pleasant conversation.  She admitted early on that she was honestly not very smart in this life.  “I don’t know.  I think all the brains got saved for other lifetimes.  I got no education.  Gluga probably has as much brains as I do.  Maybe that is why we get along so well.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “Gluga seems to have a very big vocabulary.”

Yamaya paused and looked serious for a minute, a look which did not fit on her face at all.  “Gluga is still an animal, not a person, I think.  After being in a cage for five hundred years and hearing all the talk around her, she learned an amazing number of words.  She has a much bigger vocabulary than a dog or a chimp.  She understands complete sentences and can even respond in sentences when her tongue and lips cooperate.  But my lifetimes say she is still an animal, and not a person.  I don’t get how that works.  Anyway, she adopted me.  Much better than a watchdog.  She is the mother, and I am the baby.  I don’t mind.”

Later in the evening, Boston, who in the end bonded a bit with the dragon, at least more than any of the others, went to talk to the beast.  She scratched a little behind the dragon’s ears and then leaned on the snout.

“So, you adopted Yamaya,” Boston said.  She had to wait for the answer.

“Yamaya is baby.  I protect baby.”

Boston nodded but had a more serious question.  “You love her?”

“Yes,” the dragon responded rather quickly.  “Saved me.  Fly again.  Love.”

Boston nodded.  “I love her too,” she admitted.

“I know,” the dragon said, snorted, and appeared to smile, just a little.

Boston returned the smile and in a moment of madness leaned over and kissed the dragon’s nose.  The dragon rumbled a minute, which someone might have thought of as the dragon’s way of preparing to let out some fire, but Boston understood it was something more like the purr of a cat.

On another occasion, Tony asked how Yamaya came to be in Tikal and slated to be sacrificed.  Nanette shook her head, as if to say that might not be a good subject to bring up, but Yamaya did not mind, and Tony explained.  “Nanette and I are both students of history, though mostly Greek and Roman history.  What is more, we are from 1905, when not much was known about the Mayan world.  Katie, from 2010 knows more than I know.  Professor Fleming never said much if anything about the Maya.  I am curious.”

“I don’t mind,” Yamaya said and smiled for Tony.  She sat for a long time and people stayed patient and quiet.  Finally, she spoke.

“My father was a great man.  Lincoln said our city was…”  She could not remember.

“Palenque,” Lincoln prompted.

Yamaya nodded.  “My father was a great man in the city.  Jonab Pakal.  Maybe you heard of him?  No, I guess not.”  Yamaya sighed.  “He got killed when the army of Calakmul came.  I was very young.  I hid.  King Chan of Calakmul found me anyway.  His brother, the evil K’ahk wanted to sacrifice me to the gods, but Chan had another idea.  He betrothed me to his eldest son, Cauac.  Cauac was about fourteen.  I was about half that age, maybe six or seven.  Cauac was not the greatest thinker.  He was showing no interest in girls, or in the idea of marriage.  But we got thrown together, and we became best friends.”  Yamaya paused to sniffle a bit.  “His younger brother Chan, now King Chan II, was mean and ambitious.  You know what I mean ambitious?”  They all did.  Sukki had to interrupt.

“You did not get married at age seven, did you?”

Yamaya shook her head, said, “No,” and laughed at the thought.  “I was fifteen.  Cauac was twenty-three.  But we were happy.  We loved each other.”  Yamaya kept trying to smile.  “Well, when old King Chan died, Cauac got named king.  I got to be queen.  I did not expect that.  It was different.  People who did not care for me at all, suddenly became nice to me.  I was happy for a minute, but then Uncle K’ahk took over.  He ran things and made all the decisions in Cauac’s name, and had his name written in the city.  I don’t know that.  I can’t read.  But Cauac and I were kept like prisoners for almost eight years.”

“That must have been hard,” Alexis said.

“I did not mind so much,” Yamaya said.  “I was not sure about this queen business, anyway.  And I stayed with my best friend.  We had a son.  But he died.” Yamaya sniffled again.  “I had a sister when I was young, an older sister, but my sister died when King Chan came.  That was a sad time, but I was very young.  Well, the city that just got taken by Caracol…” she could not remember the name.

“Naranjo,” Lincoln said.  Yamaya wrinkled her brows to question the name, but Lincoln gave her an answer.  “That is what the city is called in the database.”  Yamaya shrugged.

“We, I mean Calakmul took Naranjo away from Tikal, but they rebelled, and Uncle K’ahk died trying to get it back.  Cauac got to be king, for real.  He listened to his brother, Chan, and they took back Naran… that city.  I got to be queen for six whole years.  After being in prison for eight years, like Gluga.  I understand being in prison and understand how it hurts.  So Cauac and I were happy, but the kings in this world have to fight.  They fight to protect the trade, and to make new trade and trade places, and to keep some cities small and make their city big.  Kill, killing, fighting, sacrifices for the gods, and more killing.  The kings do not know what peace is.”  Yamaya almost looked mad, though Boston said later she was not sure if Yamaya knew what anger was.

“You were queen for six years?” Katie prompted in case Yamaya lost her place in the story.

“Oh, yes.  Then Cauac got killed fighting in another city.  The evil Chan became king, and I got driven into the wilderness of Tikal.”

“They did not try to sacrifice you?” Lockhart asked.

Yamaya shook her head.  “Chan was afraid,” Yamaya said.  “He doesn’t seem afraid of anything, but he seemed afraid.”  She paused and looked down at her hands.  “I have little ones who follow me around.  I told them I was not Huyana.  I did not need to see them.  I said I would call them if I needed them, but they are very protective.  I know they are there.”  She lowered her voice to a whisper.  “I think they threatened Chan.”

“All right,” Boston shouted into the wilderness.  When the others looked at her, she admitted.  “I know they are there, and I agree with them.  If anyone wanted to hurt Yamaya, I would threaten them, too.  How about you, Gluga.”

“Yes,” everyone heard, and some were startled.  They did not realize the dragon was sitting there the whole time, in the dark beyond the firelight, listening.

“But I don’t want anyone to be hurt,” Yamaya said.

“Why didn’t you tell us there were others around?” Nanette asked Boston.

“You could have told me,” Sukki said.

Boston shrugged as Alexis spoke up.  “No reason to tell.  You must assume they are somewhere around wherever we go.”

“Okay, but what happened?”

Yamaya tried to pick up the story.  “I escaped… I mean, I got caught… Cadmael and men from Tikal caught me in the woods.  The king of Tikal was going to cut my heart out.  He said cutting out the heart of the Queen of Calakmul was like cutting out the heart of the enemy city.  But the little ones helped me escape, and I helped Gluga escape.  We went to the wilderness of Uaxactun for a while.  Poor Gluga was so skinny, and her wings were all but dead.  She is better now.  Of course, the people of Tikal and Calakmul have not bothered us.  I did see Cadmael and told him he would not be bothered if he moved south.  I guess he did.  He seemed like a nice man.  Anyway, after a while we moved to the old city, and we are happy there.”

Everyone smiled for her, and she said, “I think I will go to sleep now.”

A few days later they arrived at Chichen Itza.  They found Shemsu there who were wary of strangers, but nice once the travelers got to know them.  Thus far, they only had the ground floor of the famous pyramid built, but it would not take too long to finish once they got to it.

In the meanwhile, everyone got distracted as a giant globe of an alien ship moved slowly overhead.  The travelers all recognized the ship, and Yamaya borrowed Elder Stow’s communication device, tuning it quickly to the right frequency.

“Agdaline.  You are welcome here, but you must follow me and my andasmagoria to a place where you can safely set down.  Send word to your fleet.  I am the one in this place designated by the gods to help you.  Please cooperate.”

Yamaya shrugged as she handed Elder Stow his equipment.  “The Agdaline think too highly of themselves.  I can never tell what they will do.”

“Will you be all right?” Katie asked.

Yamaya nodded.  “Not your problem.  Martok and the others are already volunteering to help.”  She smiled a great big smile, and Katie could not resist hugging her.

Everyone said good-bye to Yamaya and Gluga.  Yamaya explained that it would take them two days to get home because Gluga’s wings were not one hundred percent, and probably never would be.  The dragon could not fly all day and all night.  They would have to stop about half-way and rest.

Everyone said that would be fine, and they all smiled for her.  After she left, Lincoln got sulky quiet.

“What?” Alexis finally asked around the campfire

Lincoln opened up.  “Yamaya only lives another three or four years.”

“What?”

Decker asked.  “What does she die of?”

“Monkey Brain Fever.  A different strain.  Highly contagious but not as deadly.”

“Still,” Alexis said with a shake of her head.

“No, Boston,” Lockhart spoke right up.  “You cannot go back and warn her.”

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

MONDAY

The Byzantines are barely able to hold the line in Anatolia against the arabs, but the Masters have plans to help bring the Byzantines down.  The travelers fall into the middle of it all in Trouble Big and Small.  Monday.  Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 5 of 6

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

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

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

“Spooky,” Nanette agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Boston,” the woman said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 4 of 6

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

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

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

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

“Every city for itself,” Lincoln corrected.

“Land a Goshen,” Decker said.

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How far away?” Lockhart asked.

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

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

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

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

“I agree,” Tony said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged her superior officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I counted slowly,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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