After 187 A.D. Syria
Kairos 92: Xalazar, the Magi
“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.