Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 1 of 4

After 187 A.D. Syria

Kairos 92: Xalazar, the Magi

Recording …

“Gaugamela,” Katie said, a big grin stretched across her face.  “This is the wide-open field where Alexander the Great defeated Darius for the final time and conquered the Persian Empire.”  She looked down at the shepherd who named the place.

Lockhart looked around.  He saw plenty of grass, but plenty of trees and bushes as well, scattered all across the area.  It did not look much like a wide-open field to him.

“That is the legend,” the shepherd said.  “The great Alexander set us free of our Persian masters.  The Arsacid rulers who followed have been tolerable, but rumor says the Persians are once again coming out of their place, and many fear they may return to power.”

Katie nodded and turned to Lockhart.  “The Parthians have been fighting a civil war.  Two brothers claim the throne.  One of them also had to fight off the Romans.  By the time they settle things, they don’t have much of an army left.  The King of Pars takes advantage of that.  The Sassanids take over.”

Lockhart nodded, but only partly listened.  His eyes stayed on Tony where Nanette and Sukki rode beside him and kept telling him it was not his fault.  Lincoln drove the wagon through the time gate this time and on to the relatively flat and relatively open field.  Alexis stayed with him.

“Boss,” Boston yelled as she rode up from scouting out ahead.  She pointed off to the southwest.  “There is a village that way, and Elder Stow says maybe a road that goes in the right direction.”  Decker and Elder Stow remained out of sight, exploring the wings against unexpected surprises.  

“The road to Palmyra,” the shepherd nodded.  He paused to yell at two young men who were paying too much attention to the strangers on their big horses, and one wild redhead in particular who could ride like the wind.  The two did not pay any attention to the sheep.  “Boys,” the shepherd shouted and waved his staff at a small group of sheep about to wander in among some trees.

“Palmyra?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes.  In the village,” The shepherd got back on topic, apparently, the sort of person who liked showing off what he knew.  “The road from Media and from further east that comes around the Zagros passes through Gaugamela and meets the way up the Tigris and the road from Arbela in Nineveh.  From there, it crosses Mesopotamia at Hatra and arrives on the Euphrates at Dura-Europa.  Beyond that, you reach the Syrian desert and Palmyra, the one safe oasis between Mesopotamia and the coast of the great sea.”

“The Mediterranean,” Katie said, softly, and Lockhart nodded.

“Many merchants go through Palmyra.  From there, many travel down the Levant, some all the way to Egypt.  Many more cross to the Orontes River where they come to the great port city of Antioch.  From there, I hear some merchants sail all the way to Rome itself.”

“You seem well informed for a shepherd,” Katie said, with only a small touch of suspicion in her voice.

The shepherd nodded and grinned, few teeth as he had.  “My grandfather was a merchant.  I went three times to Palmyra on that very road in my youth, and once all the way to Antioch.”

“How did you end up tending sheep?” Lockhart got curious.

The shepherd shrugged.  “My wife’s family are all shepherds.”  Lockhart nodded.  Katie shrugged, slightly.  “It has been worth it,” the shepherd continued.  “I have sons.”  He turned and yelled again at the two young men in the distance.  “Though, sometimes I wonder,” he mumbled, and walked off, yelling extra loud.

Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon up.  Poor Ghost had to work extra hard to pull the prairie wagon across the open field and seemed to appreciate the chance to stop.

“Makes me wonder how the early settlers ever made it to Oregon,” Lincoln said.  “Not to mention, over the Rockies.”  Alexis said nothing.  She just smiled and took Lincoln’s arm.

“There is a road in the village,” Boston pointed.  “The village is Gag-me-Ella, and the road goes to Ninny-vah, Hat-trick and Do-a-your-rope-a on the way to Pal-of-mine.”  Boston gave it her best elf grin.  Lincoln put the brake on the wagon so he could get out the database and find out what the place names really were.

Decker and Elder Stow took that time to ride up and declare everything seemed peaceful.  “Bucolic,” Elder Stow called it, as he watched Nanette, Tony, and Sukki ride up from the rear.

“Any sign of the wraith?” Decker asked, and everyone frowned.  They were all trying not to think about that.

###

Once the travelers made it to the road, they passed themselves off as a group of traders, though granted, they made a strange looking caravan.  In this way, they made it to Nineveh and easily entered the town, if they could call it a town.  It did not even have a wall.

Boston reported that the Kairos appeared to be moving toward them, more or less.  She imagined they might run into him after three or four days rather than the end of the week they had come to expect.

Nineveh looked like a big, old village and not at all like the city they expected—like merely a place for caravans to rest before crossing the river.  Even some of the newer structures appeared to be crumbling and dilapidated.  A large chunk of the old city, maybe the ruins of the actual city, rested upriver, outside the present town, and had been abandoned, possibly centuries earlier.  Still, the town had some bustle of activity.  Caravans from the Caucuses, the Caspian Sea, and the northern trail of the silk road found Nineveh a convenient place to cross the Tigris.  Nineveh had a sturdy bridge.

“This place has seen better days,” Lockhart said, as they passed by what he imagined was the first Christian church they had seen.

“The Assyrian Empire was a long time ago,” Katie responded.  “The city got destroyed maybe six hundred BC.  That would be eight hundred years ago.  They have seen Babylonian, Median and Persian, Alexander and Seleucid, and Parthian rulers since then, and nobody bothered to rebuild the place.  I would bet Ashur, downriver, gets most of the traffic.  The only reason there is a big village here is because it is an easy way across the river.”

Lockhart thought about it.  “I imagine some caravans cross here to avoid paying the taxes the main crossing probably costs.”

“Probably so,” Katie said.  “But we may have to pay something to cross in the morning.”

“Probably so,” Lockhart agreed.

Greta had shared some Roman coins with them.  Before her, Ali loaded them up with Parthian coins.  Lincoln still held on to some Chinese coins he picked up in Bactra.  They came well prepared to pay.  Unfortunately, the chief guard on the bridge would not settle for less than one of the traveler’s big horses.

Decker’s answer was to pull up to the guard and point.  “What is that?”  Lockhart, Katie, Boston, the guard, and the two blocking the bridge with their spears all looked while Decker snapped his scope onto his rifle.  Some big birds rested in a tree beside the river.

“It is called an Ibis,” the guard said.  “I hear they got them in Egypt, too.”  He assumed Decker was Egyptian.

“They edible?” Decker asked.  He raised his rifle, and with three shots, sent three of the birds to the ground at the edge of the river.  The rest of the flock flew off.  He lowered his rifle and stared at the chief guard.

“Decker!” several people yelled, but Nanette sounded the loudest.

The chief guard swallowed.  He looked like a man who wanted to run away but got determined and became stubborn instead.

Decker did not get a chance to threaten the guard more directly as a water sprite leapt out of the river beside Boston.  Boston shouted.  “Water baby.”   She barely kept her arms from reaching out for a big hug.  The baby looked like a gray-green one-foot-tall gingerbread man.

The two guards on the bridge abandoned their post to run.

“Princess,” the water sprite said in his baby-like voice.  “The wraith is pressuring us to flood the bridge when you cross.  We won’t do it.  We won’t.  But you better hurry.”

“Lockhart,” Lincoln called from near the back of the line.  He had a small bag he got from the village in anticipation of this eventuality.  It held a mix of Roman and Parthian coins that he carefully counted out.  He tossed the bag to Lockhart, who caught it and handed it down to the chief guard.

“Buy your own horse,” Lockhart said, and he hurried everyone up and over the bridge before the river waters began to boil.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 3 of 6

Lockhart introduced the travelers, and Alexander spent the whole time staring up, and a bit to the left. Lockhart stood a bit over six feet tall. Alexander stood a bit over five feet tall, but not much over.  He did not look intimidated, however.  Probably because he spent his whole life around people that were taller than him. The ones with him were in the five-five to five-seven range.  The old man might have stood about five feet, three inches.  Diogenes was five-eleven, but that was as unusual in his day as it was for Alexander to be around five feet tall.  In fact, Diogenes’ height may have been the more unusual of the two options.

Lockhart stopped when he came to the two women; the one with Katie beside Boston, and the one occupied by Diogenes. Katie offered the names, Artemis and Aphrodite, and Lockhart repeated the names.

Alexander reciprocated with his companions, and a little more information.  “Father didn’t come.  He thought you were the gods, and maybe even Zeus.  But Diogenes explained who you were enough to make it intriguing.”  He looked like he had some real question.  “Father sent Aristander, his soothsayer, to intercede on his behalf with whatever gods might be present.  I am sure he is feeling relieved to find only you folks here, from the future though you might be.  The soldier is Parmenion, my father’s strategos.

“Strategos?”

“General, chief of staff,” Katie explained, and looked at Decker for confirmation, but he seemed busy trying to hide from Aphrodite.  Lockhart nodded that he understood.

“I think Parmenion came to negotiate if you are potential allies.”  He nodded at Parmenion, who gave a slight nod in return.  “This fine young fellow, and my good friend, is Hephaestion.  And the kind looking one is Hephaestion’s and my tutor, Aristotle, though you should not let his looks fool you.  He is a hard taskmaster.  I take it you know my cousin, Diogenes.”

“The Melossian,” Hephaestion said, as an insult, though it was not said unkindly.

Alexander took a seat on Lockhart’s invitation, and continued his conversation.  “My teacher doesn’t believe in the gods.”  He glanced at the priest and gave Hephaestion a grin.

“I never thaid that.” Aristotle spoke with a lisp.

“But then,” Alexander continued. “He doesn’t believe you are from the future, either.”

“That is a little hard to thwallow,” Aristotle agreed.

“And what do you believe?” Alexis had to ask Alexander, because the rest of the travelers seemed to be tongue-tied at the company.

“I trust my cousin, the fatherless, the stutterer, the Melossian, or whatever description Hephaestion wants to give him.  Diogenes is my eyes.  He sees things the others can’t see.  Like, he saw the gap in the enemy line today.”

“I saw it too,” Hephaestion protested.

“Let us say, we all saw it together. But Diogenes and his Thessalians were the first through.  We followed with the Companions and hit the Three Hundred in the flank.  The Thebans broke and we pushed them into the river. It was brilliant.”

Parmenion spoke up.  “It worked, because your father feinted and got the inexperienced Athenians to follow him to where he could turn on the high ground.”

“True enough,” Diogenes said as he came up for air.

“Hey,” Boston spoke up.  “How about you join the party.”  Alexis and Sukki began to cut slices of meat and spoon vegetables into the bowls, including the six extra bowls that had mysteriously appeared.

“I can’t,” Aphrodite said.  “I’m in hiding, far in the east, on the other side of the Persian Empire.  I got special permission.”

“Who are you hiding from?” Katie asked.

“Athena,” Artemis said, with a roll of her eyes.

“She hasn’t forgiven me for Troy,” Aphrodite admitted.

“But Troy was a long time ago,” Lincoln said.

“But she is the virgin goddess,” Diogenes reminded Lincoln, and Lockhart had what in some times and places they call a brain fart.

“But wait,” he said.  “We just met her daughter in Rome, last time zone.”

“Minerva’s daughter,” Katie tried to cover the faux pas.

“Same thing.  Minerva, Athena.”  Lockhart started thinking too hard.  “Justitia seemed such a nice girl.”  Katie softly covered Lockhart’s mouth with her hand.  Lockhart’s mind cleared when he saw all the Macedonians and travelers staring at him with their mouths open.  Only Elder Stow spoke.

“Justitia’s birth mother.  Makes sense. But she should spend time with the girl. Family is important, you know.”

“There is one thing,” Lockhart interrupted, turned to the goddesses, and freed his mouth, but Katie’s hand stayed poised in case it was needed. “One of you needs to talk to you-know-who about Nanette.  She needs to take responsibility to do something about the witch.”

“Not me,” Aphrodite said, quickly. “I’m in hiding, far in the east.” She gave Diogenes one more peck of his lips, and almost grabbed him for round two, but restrained herself.  “Come find me,” she said, and vanished.

Artemis laughed.  That sound brought smiles and a touch of laughter to everyone around the fire.  “Good thing you are hedged around by the gods.  Athena did not hear any of this conversation, and she won’t be able to read your minds about it, either,” she said, and turned to Katie and Lockhart. “I’ll talk to Athena about the witch. Be good.”  She returned Katie’s hug and pointed at Boston.  “Be good, Little Fire.”  She pointed at Decker, laughed again, and vanished, and the reality of what they saw caught up with the Macedonians.

The old soothsayer began to weep, softly. Parmenion and Hephaestion stared with their mouths open.  Aristotle offered a thought.

“You are connected to the gods in thome fashion, I thee.”

Diogenes got some food and sat to eat, while Alexander accepted, at face value, all that he saw and experienced, and like Elder Stow’s “heat-ray”, he shot straight to the next point.

“So, tell me about the future.”

The travelers held their tongues as well as they could.

###

After three days, Phillip let the Athenian and Theban prisoners go home, and sent envoys to those two cities with an offer for peace.  He planned to move his army down to Corinth, where he intended to send messengers to all the main cities in Greece.  He expected no resistance to his proposal, except maybe from the Spartans.  He already started drawing up plans to ravage the land of Laconia, assuming a negative response from the Spartans.  He also got busy deciding which cities needed a Macedonian garrison to help maintain the peace.  Phillip wanted the Greeks to support him when he went up against the Persian Empire.

Phillip wrote a letter of safe passage for the travelers, and assigned Alexander’s crippled friend, Harpalus, and a troop of three men to escort them to the next time gate.  He also gave them some horses, so for the moment, they all rode. He honestly wanted to horse trade, and might have just taken the traveler’s big mustangs, which stood a good hand taller than his own horses, but he hesitated when Aristander said the horses were clearly a gift from the gods.  Phillip examined the horses, saw how they responded to their riders, and backed off.

“I’m sorry you can’t go with us,” Boston told Diogenes, as she gave him a hug good-bye.  “For the first time, I really would like to spend more time with you.” Diogenes knew that some of her feelings were the result of his relationship with Aphrodite.  Boston could not help it, but Diogenes definitely did not want to go there.

“That w-would not w-work well,” Diogenes said, and smiled for her.  “The t-time gate would just move further and further away.”  Diogenes smiled, in part because he did not stutter so much around people with whom he was familiar.

“I’m sorry we did not get here ten years in the future,” Katie said.  “I would have liked to see Alexander work.”

“I don’t work,” Alexander said.  “I have others to do the work for me while I play.”

“You call being in battle play?” Alexis asked.

“That is the most fun of all.” Alexander grinned.  “I like your women, cousin.”  He turned to Diogenes as they walked off.  “They are tall, though.”  The boys had a Mutt and Jeff look to them.

“Most women are as tall or taller than you,” Diogenes said.

“Don’t get me wrong.  I like them tall,” Alexander said.

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

MONDAY

The travelers run into a road block in the pass of Thermopylae.  The witch and her cowboys have been busy.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 2 of 6

The travelers settled on the hill for the night.  Wallace and Lincoln thought if they did not build a fire, perhaps the soldiers down below would leave them alone.

“They already know we are here,” Lockhart said, giving Decker, Elder Stow, and Katie hard looks.

Katie had another thought.  “Elder Stow.  If that was the witch in the Athenian camp, and if you missed, you need to set your screens around us to keep her out.  Your screens are the only things I know that stymies her.”

Elder Stow shook his head.  “I can do that, but keep in mind, I only have small handheld devices for temporary duty.  They are not designed or powered for long-term use.  The power source, what you call batteries, are running low.”

Lockhart also had a thought.  “It would be good if you could project your scanners beyond the screens so we could get some advanced warning when someone approaches.”

Elder Stow shook his head again. “That is tricky, but I can do it tonight, but not for many nights.  When my power source is empty, that will be it.”

“Understood,” Lockhart said.

Boston laid her hand over the wood, and the campfire sprang to life.  Decker brought in the big deer he shot earlier that day.  He had cut it well outside the camp, and now had it ready to cook. Sukki had the big pot, and helped Alexis gather some greens along their journey.  Alexis thought to say something.

“Dinner in two or three hours, and there will be plenty for our visitors.”

“Understood,” Lockhart repeated himself and looked up at the position of the sun.  No one doubted they would have visitors.  The only question was how long would it take the Macedonians to put together an envoy to see who the powerful people on the hill might be—the ones who helped them at a crucial moment.  Katie, and some others, feared the Macedonians might think they were gods, or representatives of the gods, at least.  Given Elder Stows weapon, though only fired once, it might be hard for the soldiers on the field to think otherwise.

“You folks think and act like a military expedition,” Wallace said.

Millie and Evan nodded, slightly. Lincoln continued to read from the database, while Millie spoke.  “I questioned it at first, myself.  But now I understand that we almost have to.”

“Major Decker and Captain Harper-Lockhart are military,” Evan said.  “They are Marines.  Elder Stow, too, after a fashion.  He is a ship’s officer.  Lockhart trained as a police officer, like a detective, and he is the assistant director of a super-secret organization in the future that’s kind of like a military organization.  Even Lincoln is a spy, and worked often with the military.  Have I got it right?”

Lincoln paused in his reading and looked at Wallace.  “It is safer that way.  We can still be surprised, but we do try to cover every contingency as much as we can. We are trying to get back to the future while interfering with history as little as possible.”

“But, Elder Stow, Decker and Katie,” Evan said.

Lincoln nodded.  “They are in big trouble.  They should not have interfered with the normal course of events.”

“Why is that important?” Wallace asked. He clearly did not understand.

Lincoln sat up a little straighter as he answered.  “It is like, if you kill your grandfather, or great-great-great-grandfather, you would probably disappear, like you never got born in the first place.”

Boston took a seat beside Millie, and Sukki joined her, while Boston interrupted.  “Then again, the Kairos suggested that whatever we do in our journey may already be part of the historical record.  So, while we think we are acting on free will, it is already part of the historical record.”

“Then again,” Lincoln said.  “Maybe the historical record changes to reflect what we do, only we would never know it.  I can’t tell from the database.  It has some very detailed information about many things, but seems deliberately vague in some ways.  On purpose, I am sure.”

“Then again,” Boston countered. “If we do something outrageous, like maybe kill Hitler… Oh, yeah.  You don’t know who Hitler is.  So, say we kill Caesar before he reaches the ides of March, maybe we will be shunted off into a parallel universe and never get back to our own time in our own universe.”

Alexis interrupted.  “Or a half-dozen other theories.  The only safe thing is to slip through the time zones, interfering as little as possible, and trying not to change history.”

“But, Elder Stow and the Marines,” Millie objected.

“They are in big trouble,” Lincoln repeated, and went back to his reading.

Roughly two hours later, when supper got ready, the travelers spotted six men coming up the hill.  Binoculars and scopes came out, and people commented.

“No glamours,” Boston announced. “It isn’t the witch in disguise.”

“And no sign of transfiguration,” Alexis added.  With Boston, her elf magic came naturally, and she could spot the effects of magic a mile away; but Alexis, though human, had two hundred years of experience on Boston. She could look for the subtler signs. “Of course, the witch has proved a capable hypnotist, and that doesn’t leave magical traces.”

“We can hope Elder Stow…” Lockhart started, and looked at Wallace.  “We can hope Elder Stow scared her off.”  He did not want to say, killed the witch, though he thought it, and everyone else thought it as well.

“They look like three young men out front, two middle aged men following, and an old geezer,” Lincoln reported.

“Elder Stow,” Katie called, and the elder pushed his goggles up on his forehead and pulled out a handful of discs that allowed passage through the screens.  They agreed to not turn off the screens to let in their visitors, in case the witch had a way of fooling Elder Stow’s scanning equipment.  Sukki imagined the witch could be right up to the edge of the screens without anyone knowing, and if they turned them off, she might slip inside the barrier.  Lincoln agreed with her, though Elder Stow suggested that would be impossible.

Lockhart remembered how the fauns fooled Elder Stow’s scanner, so they went with the discs.

When the visitors arrived, the short, young one hurried ahead of the others and banged his nose into the screen. He fell back on his rump, and the other two young ones rolled their eyes and picked up the klutz.

Elder Stow stepped through the screen and handed out the discs, two at a time.  “One for you and one for your horse, and I expect to get the discs back, so don’t lose them,” he said, gruffly.  One of the young men explained.

“Slip one under the saddle to hold it in p-place.”  He showed what he meant.  “Hold the other one in your hand.”  He stepped through the screen, and the others followed, bringing their horses with them.

“Diogenes?” Katie asked.  She assumed only the Kairos would know how the discs worked.  He did not answer, exactly.  He hugged her.

“L-l-l-Lockhart,” he shouted, and opened his arms for the red-headed streak of light that jumped into his arms.

Katie ignored the shorter young man, who stepped forward this time with his hand outstretched, just in case, to protect his nose.  She found two beautiful young women sitting beside Sukki and Alexis, warming themselves by the fire.  They stood as the visitors came to the group.  Katie was not sure about the one that appeared so strikingly attractive it almost felt painful, but the other she knew.

“Artemis,” she said, and hugged the goddess before she thought too hard about what she was doing.

“Your witch has fled up toward the time gate,” Artemis said.  “I cannot say she will rush to the next time zone, but she should not bother you for the next couple of days.”

“Good thing,” Elder Stow said, as he walked past them.  “I can save my battery life for when it is needed.”

“Excuse me,” Diogenes brushed past the two and wrapped the most gorgeous creature on two feet in his arms.  He went for the lip lock, and she did not resist. Lockhart and Alexis stepped into the gap.

“Come in.  Take a seat,” Alexis said.  “Food is about ready.”

“Lockhart,” he smiled and stuck out his hand.  The short one took it.

“Alexander,” he said.