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.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 4 of 6

Lucius Falerna Felix,” the goddess Diana spoke to the officer in charge, the same officer the travelers met in the gate the day before.  “The spiders are all gone.  But the family in this house are also gone.  You need to send the night watch to collect the bodies and prepare them for their funeral.”

Felix, the name the travelers latched onto the day before, nodded, and got his men moving.  He would have gone with them, but Lockhart waved for him to join them, and the goddess also urged him in the spirit to come.  He came, but he would not lift his eyes to so much as look at the Diana, and he felt in awe of the travelers who appeared to be on very familiar ground with the goddess.

“Speak,” Diana said, and Felix spoke.

“I thought these people were strange enough to keep an eye on.  I gathered some of the night watch.  I wondered if they might have something to do with the ghosts in town, though when I mentioned it to them, they pretended like they did not know about the ghosts. We saw the first giant spiders at sundown, and I called up the gate guards and got the full night watch to surround the house, to keep the creatures contained.  It would have been a disaster to have giant spiders all over the city.”

Diana interrupted.  “The ghosts, as you call them, were wraiths in the night. I have sent them back to the place from whence they came.  There is one that is out of time placement that I am not authorized to touch.  She is with the witch, but she has been partially subdued.  There will be no more ghosts in the town.  Continue.”  Felix continued.

“We fought in every quarter.  The spiders seemed everywhere.  I saw two of the strangers come out of the gate, their arms loaded down with equipment of some kind; but I was too busy to stop them and ask them what they were doing.  Fortunately, they left the gate unlatched.”

Diana interrupted again.  “Evan and Millie were enchanted by the witch.  She called it hypnosis.  She could not make Evan and Millie harm you in any way, but stealing your weapons was an easy thing.  Continue.”

“Well, at last there seemed a break in the spiders climbing over the wall.  I gathered my men and broke into the house through the unlatched gate.  I found these people fighting against the same spiders in the court, which suggests the strangers were not responsible for the spider swarm.”

“I assume that the witch made the spiders get big,” Lockhart spoke, and Felix nodded.  Diana said nothing.

“That is really it,” Felix finished. “With the last spider killed, I saw the most glorious sight I ever thought to see…”  He began to weep softly, tears of joy and fear.

“Yeah, yeah.  Blah, blah,” Diana said, and turned to the travelers.  “My brother says the time of the gods is coming-to-a-close.  Just as well. After thousands of years of being worshiped, it gets kind of tiresome.  Now listen.  I am breaching etiquette a bit, but Evan and Millie are alive, disenchanted, but prisoners of the witch.  You will have to save them… or not.  And before you ask, there is nothing I can do about the witch.  She is the creation of Minerva.  That will be your headache.”

“Can’t you ask Minerva to fix it?” Katie asked.

“Minerva?” Lockhart was not sure who that was.

“Athena,” Katie told him, as he remembered.

“I can ask, again,” Diana said.  “She knows full well in the spiritual world, identical twins often produce one good and one bad, like the two faces of Janus, who some say should have been born twins.  But you know Minerva.  She can’t ever admit she made a mistake.”  Diana shrugged, and vanished.

Katie stepped over to hug Felix. He looked grateful, until he thought about who was hugging him.  These travelers seemed human enough, but who knew the truth of it?  They were on a first name basis with the gods, or at least one goddess, and that made him wonder just how human these people really were. He did not feel entirely surprised when Boston came in looking like the elf she was.

Boston saw the stares and quickly restored her glamour of humanity.  “I was the only one who could wiggle out of Elder Stow’s screens,” she said.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Elder Stow apologized. “I should have left some discs for the rest of you to come and go.  I didn’t think of it.”

“That’s okay,” Lockhart told him. “We were kind of in a hurry.”

“And preoccupied,” Decker added.

“Boston,” Katie saw something. “What is that look on your face? You look upset.”

Boston took a big breath.  “Honey and Freedom are fine, and so is Sukki. Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse were bitten, or stung, but Alexis got the poison out in time and they will heal.” Boston found some tears.  “Black Beauty and Misty Gray are gone.”  She did not have to say anything else.

Katie found some tears, but Lockhart hugged her and helped her walk toward the back door.  Decker and Elder Stow followed.  Felix shouted to the men in hearing distance, and the two from the road that first met the travelers, the ones Lockhart called two-headed chicken and two-headed snake, followed after Felix and the travelers.  No one paid attention, the travelers thinking of the horses as they were, but it came as a bit of a shock when they locals walked smack into Elder Stow’s screen.  Two-headed snake yelped, and two-headed chicken landed on his rump, where he rubbed his bruised nose.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Elder Stow said. He gave the men discs and invited them in.  They came carefully.  He took all the discs back when he turned off his screen device.  Everyone got too busy being in tears or comforting the others to notice.

###

The travelers stayed the rest of the night and into the next day, to give the horses as much time as possible to heal. Then, they planned to walk them the ten miles to Rome, but Felix and his two soldiers offered to go with them, and Felix felt sure he could scrounge up some horses for the journey.  No guarantee that they would be good horses.

Alexis and Lincoln were especially worried about Evan and Millie, but Boston and Katie rode out in the morning on Honey and Freedom and both got the impression that for the time being, they were fine.  They appeared to be walking to Rome themselves, and on horseback, the others thought they might catch the couple.

Elder Stow said he could not pick out, on his scanner, which travelers they might be.  He would have to work on being able to do that.  Meanwhile, the road between Rome and Veii had become well used since the city of Veii fell to the Romans.  Decker, on the other hand, looked for them with his totem eagle.  He felt sure he saw them in the distance, beyond the range of his eagle flight, but two, walking beside a wagon filled with shiny objects of some sort.  That had to be their weapons.

Finally, around noon, the travelers left their horses in a new barn and stable; the place they found the horses they borrowed, or actually rented.  Felix charged his two soldiers to watch the travelers’ horses under threat of crucifixion if anything happened to them, then the travelers and Felix headed out on the south road toward Rome.

Lockhart, Katie, and Felix kept the group to a reasonable pace.  Boston, Decker, and Lincoln especially wanted to ride ahead and catch the wagon before the witch made it to the city, to get lost in the city streets.  Felix assured them that if the thieves walked all night and all morning, they were likely in the city already.  They would get there, and Lockhart had to repeat the phrase. “We will find them.”

Felix did not say much.  He seemed shy in front of these people who were friends with the gods.  Lockhart and Katie, and sometimes Sukki and Alexis included him in their conversation, but mostly he asked questions, even if he did not ask some questions for fear of the answers.  He did ask where they were from and felt disturbed enough by that answer.

“We come from roughly twenty-five hundred years in the future,” Katie said.  “But we started this journey about four thousand years in the past.”

“We have been on the road for about three, going on four years,” Lockhart agreed.  “We have about two or three more years to travel to get home.”

“That is a very rough estimate,” Katie said.

Felix nodded before he shook his head.  He did not understand.  The words made sense, but his mind could not grasp the concept.

“Maybe a story would help,” Alexis butted in.

Lockhart told the story about being in Troy during the war.  He told about meeting Diomedes, and old man Nestor.  “We met the Amazons bringing cattle to the relief of Troy.  You know, my wife is an honorary Amazon queen.” Lockhart grinned at Katie who did not deny it.

“We did not get to stay long, though,” Katie said.  “Aphrodite, the one you call Venus, moved us along before we had a chance to see the city or any of the war.”

“We were being chased by monsters at that time,” Lockhart concluded.

“Somehow,” Felix mused.  “You and monsters I can understand.”

Lockhart nodded, but Katie continued. “Diomedes and Athena, that is, Minerva, seemed to be in love.  I wonder if they ever had children.”

“The virgin goddess?”  Felix looked shocked by the idea.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Lockhart quipped.

Felix shook his head again.  “They say Diomedes was one of the only Greeks that got home safe from the war.  But soon, he abandoned Greece and came here, to the Apulia region in the south.  They say he left his weapons as an offering in the temple of Minerva Achaea there.”  Felix could not imagine it.  “But what you suggest, that the virgin goddess might have had a child.  It makes no sense.”

Sukki overheard the end of the conversation, and quite uncharacteristic, she offered a thought.  “I met Hercules.”  Felix looked up at the girl in a way where she had to tell the story of Jason, and all the Argonauts.  She did a credible job, especially when she told about the volcano.  Gott-Druk, living in the small family groups, particularly in the dead of winter, developed very strong storytelling skills.  Sukki got a little carried away, praising her friend Boston for saving their lives. She finished the story and rode out front, where Boston had ridden ahead to scout the land.  Sukki remained a very shy girl, but she started adjusting to having a family, even if most of it was not a Gott-Druk family.

“The spirit of the day?” Felix asked, to clarify who Boston was.

“The red head,” Katie nodded, and Alexis moved up again, and interrupted.

“My sister.”

Felix gave the woman a strange look. He watched when the red-headed elf put her glamour of humanity back on.

Lockhart saw the look of slight disgust, and chuckled.  It seemed the same way he still felt sometimes when he came face to face with the ones the Kairos called little ones.  Especially goblins.

“Don’t worry.  She is human, like us,” Katie said of Alexis.

Felix squinted at Alexis and twisted his brow.  “I don’t know about us, but I will take your word for it.”

Avalon 5.10 Family Feud, part 2 of 4

“Howdy folks.  You got room at your fire for a cattle rustler and an old man?”

“Diomedes?” Lockhart asked.  Diomedes nodded, as Nestor interrupted.

“Who was that woman?”

“Athena,” Diomedes said to the side, before he spoke up.  “And you remember Nestor from Jason and the Argonauts.  The old man is eighty or so years old now.  You remember these people?”

Nestor looked around, caught sight of the horses, the tents, and the faces before he let out his surprise.  “Why, you have not aged one speck since the last time I saw you.  You swore you were not gods.”

“We aren’t,” Alexis said right away.  “We are time travelers.  The last time we saw you was hardly ten days ago for us.”

“I don’t understand.  I understand Diomedes, as the Kairos, he travels, as he says, through time.  He borrows a person from the past who shares his soul, so in this way time is not disturbed.  I know Althea did the same thing in her day, but…”  He did not know what to say.

“We move through the Heart of Time.  As far as we know, there is only one in all existence.”  Katie looked at Diomedes.

“On this genesis planet,” he said, then paused, as Boston raced into his arms.

Boston paused.  “You are Diomedes, aren’t you?”

Diomedes looked at Nestor.  “Yes, he is,” Nestor said.  “Though I would not mind a hug from a pretty young woman.  It has been a long time since I have seen my daughters, I should say, my granddaughters, if not my great-granddaughters.”

Boston obliged him with a hug and then stepped back.  “I remember you.  You used to make Iolaus jokes.”

“I was young and brash,” Nestor admitted.

“All right.”  Diomedes rubbed his hands together as Decker and Lincoln came into the light.  “Katie, Alexis, Boston, and Sukki.  You get to go with me to fetch what we can of the cow Decker shot.”  He traded places with Althea all grown up and continued speaking without an interruption.  “You men get to stay here.  You are not permitted to talk about the events at Troy or after Troy, but you can talk to your heart’s content about Jason and the Argonauts.  And Katie, you can ask all you want about Heracles, later.  Right now, we have a job.”

“Right,” Katie got up, with a quick kiss for Lockhart, and she was ready.

“Wow,” Boston said to Althea.  “You aged,”

“Hey, I’m not that old.  I’m just twenty-something, I think.  Anyway, I aged the normal way.  Want to know when I died?”

“You know that?” Alexis asked.

“Yes.  From this point in history, it has already happened.  I know how, why, when, and too many details like it is happening now.  I would rather not talk about it—oh look, we just came out of the trees and the herd of cattle is still there.”

“Sukki?” Boston asked what was the matter.  Sukki looked stressed.

“Why did you want me to come along?” she asked.

Althea stopped, so everyone stopped.  Althea faced the girl, put her hands on her very large shoulders that supported muscular arms, and spoke softly.  “Because this is now your family, and all the girls in the family are invited.”  Althea smiled.  Sukki looked at the ground.  “Do you understand?  You are part of the team.”  Sukki nodded, but did not look up, so Alexis and Katie got on either side of her and hugged her.  She started to cry, softly, and Boston started to cry softly with her, empathic elf that she was.

Althea turned.  “Penthesileia,” she called, and made herself heard.

Three women trudged down from the edge of the herd, as Althea and the travelers made their way up the small rise.  They met on level ground and one of the Amazons spoke.

“We did not expect to find women here,” she said as the others raised their spears to not be threatening.  “I am Alcibie.  My sisters are Antandre and Bremusa.”

“I am Althea from long ago, come with friends to apologize for shooting one of your aurochs.  They did not know you were herding the wild cattle and thought they were part of a wild herd.  They are ten hungry people, but a single aurochs is more than they can consume.  I am sure they will be glad to share it with the Amazons.”

“How can you be Althea from long ago?” Bremusa interrupted to ask.

Althea smiled for her.  “I visited your people in the last days of Otrera, when I was young aboard the Argo, and I yelled at Ares because he is supposed to stay away from my Amazons.”

Alcibie and Bremusa ducked and looked up for fear that such sacrilege might bring the wrath of Ares on them in an instant.  Althea continued.

“I came again with Heracles when Hippolyta gave her girdle to Heracles.”

“That was stolen,” Antandre said, sharply.

“The story changes over time, but I was there.”

“We have a right to our kill according to Amazon law,” Katie said.  “Even if it was accidentally shot from a herd of wild beasts.”

“Who are you to tell us what is Amazon law?” Alcibie demanded an answer.

“I am Katie.  The second elect in all the world after Zoe.”  Alcibie backed off, noticeably.  “If my friend Artemis was here, she would vouch for me.”

Alcibie and the others looked down in something like a head bow, and Alcibie spoke.  “I should have recognized you by your golden hair.”

“Company,” Boston reported.  People looked in the light of the newly risen moon.  Two women came, side by side, and a half-dozen more followed, keeping well back from the couple.  One of the women was in tears.  That was Penthesileia, the queen.  The other woman was Artemis, and she spoke as they arrived.

“And I do vouch for you, Katie.  And Little Fire, and Alexis, my friend.  And I see you have added a new friend to the family.

“This is Sukki,” Alexis said through her smile.  Being called a friend by a goddess is a powerful aphrodisiac.

“I think we can dispense with the glamours for now,” Artemis decided, and raised her hand to reveal Boston, the elf, and Sukki, the neanderthal.  Antandre and Bremusa shivered at the sight of the Gott-Druk, and at the sight of a little one, but in the presence of their goddess, they almost did not notice as they fell to their knees and covered their eyes.  The women who followed their queen from the camp were also on their knees in the mud, and Artemis spoke loud and clear.  “I think sharing the aurochs is a wonderful idea.  Boston, would you do the honors?”

Boston nodded.  “I could use help.  The women might want some of the innards that we normally waste.”

“Alcibie can help,” Artemis said, since the Amazon was the last one on her feet, with her mouth and eyes wide open, staring.  Boston turned her from the sight of Artemis, and accepted Katie’s knife, which she offered for Alcibie to use.  They went to work on the beast, and Althea finally spoke.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?”

Artemis looked at Althea for a long minute before she spoke.  “I don’t think I could be mad at my best friend forever, no matter what.  I don’t think I could hate you no matter what form you took.  I’m sorry you got stuck with Athena, and I think it is terrible what Aphrodite did to you.  I know you cut her, but I know you denied Athena and refused to finish her.  Dite is not mad at you, I think.  Anyway, it was the result of her own meddling.”

“You’re rambling.”

“I feel awkward.  I don’t do awkward.”

“I love you, no matter who I am.”

Artemis nodded.  “Even when you are a male.  I know.  It took me a while to figure that out.  I love you, too.  Without you, I would have no real friends at all.”

“Me too.  Not forever friends.  And you have always been so good to me.”

“You, that is, Nameless, warned me not to pay attention to any golden apples that had writing on them.  I am so glad I believed and trusted you.”

“Me too.  I’m sorry this time we are on opposite sides.”

“Me too.  But this won’t go on forever.”

Althea started to cry, and Artemis and Althea hugged like long-lost, broken-hearted friends.  Then Artemis said one more thing.  “I better go.  I feel like I am going to cry, too, and it would not be good for mortals to see a goddess cry.”  Althea nodded, and sniffed; and Artemis vanished.

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 6 of 6

The sanctuary shook, but it did not fall down.  Hysphagia’s prayers sometimes became verbal.  Every time the big bad wolf huffed and puffed, Alexis caused the wind to blow back, away from the house.  Thus the house stood, but Alexis knew she could not keep it up for long.

“I figured it had to be the Djin.  He hides in the clouds and rain, but I wonder why the gods permit him to do his thing.”

“What?” Artie asked and blinked as Alexis gave her some water.

“The big bad genie that has been following us through time,” Alexis said.  “It is the same one that invaded Yu-Huang’s mountain with Iblis, Ifrit, and Ghouls.”

Artie nodded and laid her head back down.  She listened to the thunder and did not know the Djin was trying to knock down the whole building.

Katie and Cassandra came to the edge of the woods and saw whole trees bending, and the shrine tottering and ready to fall.

“No,” Cassandra yelled, and something happened.  Katie was not sure, but she heard a shriek out of the wind and it stopped, suddenly.  They sky began to clear.

“This is a big animal for us four women and Lincoln,” she said.

“The others will be back,” Cassandra assured her, and Katie did not doubt it.

###

“Okay, cloud.”  Malichron, the chief thief stood outside the temple of Apollo and shouted at the sky.  “We have done all that you asked, now pay up.”  The rest of the gang stood lazily in the doorway to the temple where they could stay dry.

“Here,” Meriope drew in the mud.  “The temple is laid out in this manner, and here, in the back, is the quarters for the priests and workers.”

“Simple enough,” Lockhart said.

“I could take them all out with one shot,” Elder Stow suggested.

“We would like to get our weapons back, if you don’t mind,” Decker said as he aimed carefully at the head of the man on the temple steps that had a rifle.  Malichron had the other rifle, but he figured to take him out second since he would be running back into the temple.  Decker had Artie’s Anazi gun and pulled the trigger.  The weapon made a straight line of bright white energy before it cut off.  The man’s head exploded, and he fell.

The thieves panicked and rushed inside, leaving the rifle on the temple steps.  Malichron saw where the shot came from and turned to rush back inside.  Decker aimed, but Meriope stood on her tip-toes, right in front of him, to see.

“Get down,” Decker yelled.  She did, as she realized she blocked his shot, but by then Malichron made it, and they had to assault the temple.

“Arm up,” Lockhart said, and they went in the back way Meriope knew.  They caught the thieves unprepared.  It did not last long except for Malichron, who got behind a column with the rifle.

Decker had the other rifle, and his own column, but he was afraid to use Artie’s weapon for fear it might put a hole in the wood columns, or set them on fire, and bring down the ceiling.  Elder Stow did bring down the ceiling in a back section of the temple.  Fortunately, it only came down on the thieves.

Lockhart had Katie’s handgun, but no better angle than Decker.  The only one with a good angle was Meriope with her bow and arrows, but she got busy.  Her father found her, and she kept trying to get him to keep his head down.  To be sure, Malichron was no marksman.  Meriope’s father got hit by a stray bullet.  He died mercifully fast, and Meriope’s anger became nearly palpable.  A young priest came up behind her as she took aim.  He put his hand on her shoulder.  Her arrow was no accident, and Malichron did not die nearly as swiftly as Meriope’s father.

Decker retrieved his rifle as Lockhart bent down to the dying man.  The man spoke.  “But the cloud man said we would be rewarded with riches if we killed all the healers in the temple.”  He did not understand what happened when he died.

“Excuse me,” the young priest said, and he stepped outside as Boston and Elder Stow came in from the back rooms.

“All of my equipment is safe and sound,” Elder Stow reported.

“All the guns except my Baretta that got melted by Elder Stow,” Boston whined.  “Why is it always me and mine?”  She complained, until, like a fairy, she completely flipped her conversation.  “That’s okay.  I need to learn to use my bow and arrows.  Great shot, Meriope.”

“I had help,” Meriope admitted, as she stepped up to Decker and let him hold her while she cried.  They heard thunder, and it suddenly stopped raining.  The young priest came back in, and Boston said he looked remarkably like the boy from Philoletes’ place.

“I’m inclined to let Philoletes wonder, and sweat.  He could lose some weight.”  The young priest looked around at the devastation to the temple.  “Needs stone columns,” he said and waved his hand.  The travelers with Meriope, all the horses and all the equipment appeared outside the shrine in the wilderness.  Katie and Cassandra were still standing there, but at least it stopped raining.

“Hello sis.  Lose something?”

Cassandra hushed her brother.  “I’m undercover.”

Artie, Alexis, Lincoln and Hysphagia came to the door and stepped out into the sunshine.  Artie said she was feeling much better.

The priest of Apollo, who everyone knew was Apollo, stepped to the door.  He put his hand on Artie’s forehead and stepped back.  “She should not be bothered with diseases again,” he said.  “It was not the lack of immunization, though.  It was the hedge of the gods is not around her.  That is why the Djin could still affect her.”

“Exactly,” a man said, as he appeared out of nowhere.  He was a big man with a full, gray beard and hair, and no one doubted that this was Zeus himself.  “And by myself, I cannot hedge her for other lands, but she will be safe in the lands of Olympus, and others may add to my work which may become a hedge.”  He smiled.  “Children.”

“Father,” Apollo said.

“Daddy, I’m undercover.”

“Cassandra?” Zeus raised an eyebrow at the name.

“She is only my very best friend in the whole wide world, forever.” Cassandra said, like a real ten-year-old, but then she sighed and instantly grew into a beautiful, fully grown woman, and people gasped at the appearance of brother and sister.  They were male and female, but they looked like identical twins.

“Thank goodness,” Katie said and shrugged the stag off her shoulders.

“You guessed,” Artimis wondered.

“I would never tell,” Katie said, and Artemis hugged her for her many kindnesses to a poor orphan girl.

“What about the Djin?” Alexis asked, though she thought it wise to get down on her knees next to Boston.

“Well,” Zeus said.  “I was not authorized to end his life, but I see some have been reducing him, slowly.  Still, you will have to deal with him again, I imagine. I assume he will serve some greater purpose at some point in the future.  So I let him go.”  He looked at Boston.  “But I burned his butt pretty good on the way out the door.”  Zeus smiled as Boston giggled.  He looked at Artemis and added, “I like the little girl.  The old woman, not so much,” and he vanished.

“Up everyone,” Apollo insisted, and everyone stood before they realized that was what they were doing.  “I came here because father wanted to know why it was raining so much.  This is not the rainy season.  But now that the mystery is all cleared up, I have a bone to pick with Uncle Hades.  He is trying to tell me the thieves cannot be held fully responsible because they were under the influence of the Djin.  I think they should burn in the deepest pits for what they did, and just to be clear, I don’t hold any of you in any way responsible for the damage to my temple.”  He smiled, and everyone felt the sunshine. “Merioipe, sorry about your father,” he said, and he vanished.

“I better go too,” Artemis said, but first she stepped over to hug the weeping Hysphagia and Meriope.  She paused at Alexis and Boston.  “Healer,” she said.  “And Little Fire.  Now that Alexis is with you, I expect you to learn everything, and the next time I see you, I want to see a perfect little nymph.”  She hugged Katie once more and whispered, “I’ll look for my wedding invitation in the mail.”  She stood tall.  “Gentlemen,” and she vanished, just in time for a chariot to appear on the path with two dozen soldiers, following.

The man who got down from the chariot looked like a gruff older man with the same kind of gray beard Zeus had.  He also wore armor—the armor of the Kairos, which at least the travelers all recognized.

“I’m Sinon, if you were looking for me,” he said, and opened his arms to give Boston a hug.  “I’m headed for Mycenae.  I’m raising an army to invade Akos, that’s Crete for the scholars.”  He pointed and winked at Katie.  “With any luck, you might find the exit gate somewhere around my home in Megara…” He looked around at the piles of equipment, the wandering horses, the weeping women, the quiet travelers who looked like they had been through hell, and he said, “What did I miss?”

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

MONDAY

A New Year’s Greeting, and the first of 6 posts where the travelers return to Egypt.

In Avalon, episode 5.6, Notes from the Underworld, they run into Kiya, the queen forgotten… Also ghosts, the lions of Egypt, poltergeist, the serpents of the deep, and love… you know, typical Kairos stuff.

Happy Reading

 

*

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 5 of 6

Meriope still grinned when she watched Decker work.  “Brilliant,” she said.  “Philoletes is a very hard man to bargain with.  No one talks him out of payment.”  Decker returned a smile, and for once, it was not a frightening thing to see.

The old man, as Elder Stow appeared, had a couple of watchers.  Lockhart had three, including the young man that first met them, and the man he called Neoman.  Boston had seven all crowding around.  Not only was she pretty in her slacks and loose fitting top, but she had fascinating red hair.

Of them all, only the young boy helped.

“I’ve had Dog here since…” Lockhart had to think.  “Lincoln would know.  At a guess, I would say about two thousand, five hundred years, give or take.  He is faithful like a dog, and brave.  I will give him that.”

“No,” Neoman said.  “That can’t be.  You’re my age.”

“It’s true,” Elder Stow said, as he walked to Dog’s stall where Lockhart worked.  He limped a little, having done the worst riding bareback because of his short legs.  Decker and Meriope followed, walking side by side, Meriope still smiling and looking hard at her feet.

“Boston,” Lockhart spoke over to the next stall.  “Do you know how long we have had these horses?”

“Twenty-five hundred years sounds about right.  As you said, Lincoln would know.”

“How can you have had your horse for so long?” The young man who first met them protested.  “Horses did not even exist that long ago.  Poseidon just brought them out of the sea, not three hundred years ago.”

“You’re just telling stories,” a third man said, and Lockhart suppressed his smile.

“You’re lying,” Neoman said, and it was said to provoke something.  Lockhart, the former policeman, had been well trained at not being provoked.  Decker and Elder Stow had comparable training somewhere in their background.  But Boston was wet, tired and stressed about everything at the moment.  She jumped, burst out of her stall, and confronted Neoman to his face.

“Are you calling my boss a liar?” she yelled.

He turned to face her, and nodded, and the look on his face appeared so smarmy, she said later she could not help it.  She pulled her wand from her slip and dropped her glamour of humanity.  She got in his face, an unmistakable elf; and he looked terrified.

“You should not talk about things you know nothing about.”  She growled at him, and he ran.  In fact, most of the men ran, and some of them screamed besides.  Meriope caught the young boy and calmed him.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said.  “She really is a very nice person.”

“Mary Riley,” Lockhart scolded her with her real name.  Boston put her wand back and resumed her glamour of humanity.

“Sorry,” she said to Lockhart, and the men still standing there, shocked senseless.  “Sorry,” she told Decker and Elder Stow.  Decker snickered and Elder Stow hid his lips behind his hand.  “Sorry,” she said to Meriope and hugged her right around the young boy.  “I think you are very nice, too.”

The boy, having had time to think about it said, “Do it again.”

Boston rubbed his head while Elder Stow had a suggestion.  “What say we find out what our fat friend is offering to eat.”

“And what swill he has that he calls beer,” Decker added.

###

Katie and Cassandra spied the stag under the failing light of the sun.  Cassandra picked up the trail almost from the beginning, and tracked it for well over an hour.  Katie said nothing, but took more than one look at this ten-year-old who appeared to be able to track animals in the wilderness like the Princess.  Katie thought Cassandra was the Princess’ real name, too, though she had been strictly warned not to call her that.  The Princess hated her name.

“You shoot it,” Cassandra whispered.

“You should try,” Katie said.  “You found it and tracked it.  You should get the credit.”

Cassandra smiled a lovely, somehow knowing smile, and said, “No, you.  I’m not watching.  See?”  She turned away and covered her eyes with her hand.  Katie frowned and smiled at the same time, such as only a mom can do.  She lifted her bow, having learned long since on the journey, where the arrow needed to strike to bring the beast down.  Then she almost lost it as she felt something nudge her on the inside; but she fired, and it made a near perfect shot.  The stag took two wobbly steps before it fell over.

“Wow.  That was great,” Cassandra shouted and ran out before Katie could stop her.  She got up to the stag and screeched to a halt, staring at something in the trees.  She yelled.  “This is mine.  You have to go find your own.”

Katie heard the growl as she caught up to Cassandra.  Katie slipped a protective arm around the girl.  It was a gray wolf.  Cassandra pointed.

“Her mate is over there,” Cassandra said, and Katie saw, but the wolves decided not to argue.  They turned and bounded back into the dark beneath the trees.  Cassandra framed an odd question as she looked up into Katie’s face.  “Was that scary?”

Katie nodded.  “That was scary.”  She wondered why Cassandra would ask such a thing instead of just being scared, but Cassandra moved the conversation before Katie thought about it too hard.

“How are we going to get this beast home?” she asked, genuine concern in her face.  Katie smiled and touched that face with the palm of her hand.

Katie squatted down, slipped the stag over her shoulders, and used her legs to lift it.  She figured as an elect, being strong as a man had to count for something.  “Which way?” Katie asked.  She felt certain she could find her way back, but Cassandra had done well so far, and it turned out she was glad she asked.  Cassandra said they were much closer than Katie imagined because they circled around a bunch of times in the hunt.

“Good,” Katie said.  The Stag was heavy.  And I think you did a great job hunting.  I bet Artemis herself would be proud of you.”

Cassandra looked back at Katie and got a big smile on her face.  “Meriope says I’m a natural.”

Katie returned the smile, but said nothing, wanting to conserve her strength.

###

“You can’t come in,” Hysphagia said.  “Men are not allowed in here.  This sanctuary is dedicated to Artemis, the chaste.”

The man in the doorway laughed.  “You have a sick one, and you have no power to keep me out.  Soon, I may make all of you sick.”  The man shrugged, like it was no concern to him.

Alexis rushed out from behind the curtain.  She had her wand in her hand, and waved it at the doorway, but the man just laughed.

“Little elf, you missed,” the man said with another shrug.  “You have no magic strong enough to touch me.”

“I wasn’t aiming at you,” Alexis said.  “My husband figured you out.”

The man laughed and tried to step into the sanctuary, but something like an invisible wall kept him out.  The man started to roar, but Alexis whipped her wand, and the door slammed shut in the man’s face, cutting off the sound.

“Keep praying,” Alexis told Hysphagia.  “Your prayers are working a far stronger magic than I have.”  She turned to catch Artie.  Lincoln brought her into the sanctuary, and they laid her down on one of the benches, and covered her again with blankets.  Alexis stepped into the other room for Artie’s pillow, and when she put it under Artie’s head, she waved her wand again, this time at the curtain.  The curtain stiffened and became like a door.

Artie spoke in her fevered delirium.  “Mom, I don’t feel well…”

###

“So, what do you have?” Lockhart asked.  He felt frustrated, thinking about it.  Corinth was not that big, being hardly more than a big village, despite having stunted walls of a sort and a couple of gates.  But searching it might take days.  Lockhart felt they did not have days.

Elder Stow burped before he pulled a few small things out of his pocket.  “All they left was a weather ring.  It is raining with a chance of rain.  A simple chronometer with a section for notes, if anything is worth writing down.  Another key hole video camera, as you would call it.  I have a health monitor, which warns of any dangerous radiation in the area, a must for space travel.”  He put them all in his hand.  “Hardly trinkets,”

“Wait.”  Boston faced Meriope, but something grabbed her attention.  “Does that health monitor have a way of tuning in on that radiation to tell you what kind and where the source is?”

“Yes,” Elder Stow nodded.  “Better to avoid the area.  It maps the whole irradiated area.  Why?”

“So, does your equipment, like the scanner and screen device, or maybe the batteries—do they give off energy signals like radiation?”

“Oh yes, I see,” Elder Stow tapped his chin and thought.  “The batteries decay at a certain rate, but it is negligible.  Then again, it might work, even if the equipment is not turned on.  I will try,” he said, and got right to work.

“What language was that you were speaking?” Meriope asked.

“Mixed,” Boston answered honestly.  “But local words for most of it.”  Meriope sipped her drink and it became Boston’s turn to ask a question. “So, you did not seem surprised when you saw me.”

“I think I figured it out,” Meriope said.  “Your eyes and ears were too good for an ordinary person, and you are too graceful, besides.”

“Graceful?”  Boston let out a small laugh.  “My brothers should hear that.  I grew up with a bunch of brothers.  That is why I am the way I am.”

Meriope sighed.  “I had no siblings.  I was an only child.”

“My sympathy,” Elder Stow paused to express his condolences.

Lockhart said, “Most people don’t see being an only child as a bad thing.”

“But family is so important,” Elder Stow countered.  “I was born in a great litter of children.”

“I had a brother and a sister,” Lockhart said, as he pointed, and Elder Stow got back to work.  “My brother died in Vietnam.  My sister is in some swinging retirement home in Florida, not that far from my ex-wife.  Don’t tell Katie I said that.”

“Decker?”  Boston had to ask.

Decker took a sip from his cup and said, “This brew really stinks.”

Boston and Lockhart laughed, and Meriope picked up her cup to take a big whiff.

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 4 of 6

“Katie,” Alexis called.  Katie looked back, but did not move.  Lincoln spoke softly.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll keep my eyes open and let you know as soon as I spot them.”

Katie turned from the front window and went back through the curtain, reluctantly.  Cassandra followed her to watch.

“She is sleeping,” Alexis said.  “But I am worried about her.  The fever is not going down.”

“Sleep may help,” Cassandra said, with a child’s optimistic voice and a look up at Katie.

Hysphagia stood to dump the water in her pan and wring out the cloth she used to wipe Artie’s forehead and hands.  “I know nothing about sickness,” she admitted.

“You have done well, and learned fast,” Alexis encouraged her.  “There isn’t any more anyone can do now.  We have to just wait and hope.”

Hysphagia smiled and spoke, like she hated to sound contrary.  “The gods can do more than we can imagine.  I will pray that Artie may be healed, and see if my Artemis will protect us all from this plague.  I do not know what Artemis will do, but I know she can do it, so I will pray and ask her.  That at least I can do.”

Hysphagia stepped out into the sanctuary room where she sat on a bench facing the front table, lowered her eyes, and spoke from her heart.

Katie turned back to Alexis.  “Why did you call?”

Alexis nodded, like she just remembered.  “Hysphagia said they just finished the last of their food yesterday.  They haven’t eaten all day, and we only have bread crackers, and lucky at that since I keep some in my medical bag.  They are desperately trying to keep the sheep for shearing so they have wool for clothes and blankets.  They had an old mule to pull their wagon, but they had to kill it a week ago.”

“I get the picture,” Katie responded.  “A hunt would be especially appropriate here, but we have no weapons.”

“I still have my bow and arrows,” Cassandra spoke up.  “I would hate to disturb Hysphagia, but I am sure she would not mind if you used hers.  That should get us some good hunting.”

“We would like to get some good food,” Katie corrected the girl and put a motherly hand to the girl’s head again.  “We do the hunting.  Alexis?”

“I’ll stay here,” Alexis said.  “I wouldn’t even mention it, normally.  We could all survive on bread crackers for a day, or even two.  But when Artie wakes up, I would like to get something substantial in her.”

Katie understood and turned to Cassandra, and asked, “So where are these bows?”

Cassandra shook her head.  “I’m not telling until you promise to take me with you.  You have to promise.”

Katie did imagine telling Cassandra to stay at the shrine, but if she bundled against the rain, she did not imagine there would be any harm in her coming.  Katie honestly thought their chances of finding anything were slim, and getting anything with their bows and arrows even slimmer.  “I’ll also look for plants to gather, such as you’ve shown me.”

Alexis said, “I may ask Lincoln to come here and watch while I take a look around outside, myself.”

That settled things.  Cassandra got the two bows and two quivers, each with a few arrows, and Katie made sure the scarf got tied extra snug around Cassandra’s head so it would not blow away in the wind and rain.

###

“I know a place where we can keep the horses safe while we search for the thieves,” Meriope said, and no one had a better idea, so they followed her to a barn and stables beside a large fenced in area within the city.  This was the first time the travelers had seen stables, a place designed and built for horses.  Boston and Lockhart imagined they were trained to pull plows and wagons, but Decker thought chariots may have made their way to Greece by then, and indeed, they found two primitive looking chariots left out in the rain.

“Does this place have somewhere we can eat and rest?” Lockhart asked the practical question.

“Yes, if that is wise,” Meriope said.  She watched a young boy run to the house as soon as he saw them in the yard.  “The inn is not big, but there are rooms.  I imagine the innkeeper is coming even now.”

“What is this place?” Elder Stow spoke before Boston could ask the same thing.

“A holding place,’ Meriope called it.  “When men drive herds into the city, they bring them here until they arrange the sale, if it has not been agreed in advance.  Usually, the innkeeper gets a portion of the fruit, grain and meat from the transaction as the price for keeping the animals fed and housed.”

“Meriope,” an elderly man hollered, smiled, and held out his arms like he was looking for a hug as he waddled toward them.  The young boy and a big young man came beside him.

“Philoletes,” Meriope responded, but she did not smile and she certainly was not going to hug the man.  He got the message and turned toward the horses.

“Such big and strong beasts.  They are a wonder.  And you ride upon them?  Malichron mentioned that.  He said the sadlees were made to go around the horses somehow, if we can figure out how…”

Decker did not need to hear any more, and Lockhart and Boston were right behind him.  They burst into the stables, and Black Beauty and Misty Gray both made their presence known.  Lockhart gave beauty a good look.  Boston kept trying to hold Misty’s nose while the horse kept nodding to acknowledge her.  Decker went to Cortez and commented.

“Lincoln’s horse is always cranky in the rain.”

“What are you doing?” the fat man objected.

“The saddles and satchels are here,” Elder Stow counted them.  “Most of the equipment, I think, but the guns are missing.”

“These are my things,” the man yelled.  “And my horses.  I made a deal.”  The young man tried to get between Boston and Misty Gray, but he backed off when Misty tried to bite him.

Lockhart turned on the fat man.  “Where I come from, we call this dealing in stolen goods, and it carries the same penalties as the thieves who stole the goods in the first place.”

“What?”

Meriope spoke, and her voice did not sound kind.  “These horses and all of these things were stolen, just like you stole my father’s cattle.”

“Now Meriope,” Philoletes tried to calm the woman.  “All that was settled a long time ago.”

“You still owe me,” Meriope said, but the fat man turned to the more immediate concern.

“You claim these horses, but can you prove this?”

Lockhart whistled and his horse came trotting up. He took the fat man and showed him the brand.  “Double bars,” he called it.  “And you will find the same brand on the three horses in your stable.”

“What is a brand?” the boy asked.

“It is a symbol, burned into the animal by a hot iron, er, hot metal rod,” Boston said.

“That must hurt.”

“But only for a little bit,” Boston agreed.

“Neoman, fetch the men,” the young man spoke to a man that came into the yard

“Do I need to show you on the horses?” Lockhart pressed.  Philoletes thought about it.

“No need,” he said.  “My men cannot get near those horses, and from the way they respond to you, I believe you.”  He looked like he only lost round one.  “But since they are yours, and these others I assume, you will have to pay for keeping them and feeding them for however long you are here.”

“We won’t be here long,” Lockhart said.

“Overnight,” Boston said.

“And one room for the women,” Lockhart added.

“It should not cost them anything,” Meriope said.  “You still owe me.”

A half-dozen men showed up at the door, but waited and did not interfere.

“I suppose we could go to the king and tell him you are dealing with thieves,” Lockhart said.

“Does this town have a king?” Boston asked Meriope and she nodded as Philoletes erupted.

“But I didn’t know they were stolen.”

“No excuse,” Lockhart said.  “You should have checked.”

“Maybe the king will take this place away from him and give it to another,” Boston added.

“Better yet,” Decker said.  “We could let people know all over this land that Philoletes is a thief and not to come here.”

“Then you would starve and get no payments,” Boston grinned.  Meriope wanted to grin as well.

“Only tonight,” Philoletes said.

“And food and a room for the women, and we will say no more about it.”  Lockhart insisted.

“And we will show your men how to properly care for horses,” Boston added.  “So you will get something out of the deal.”  She pointed at the men gathered in the doorway.

Philoletes turned without a word and waddled back up to the inn as Elder Stow came from where their equipment had been stacked.  He came shaking his head, which got people’s attention.

“Most of your things are present, including these,” he found the horse brushes and the horse blankets were obvious.  “Most of my things are still missing, with your guns.  They have my scanner with the screen device, and my sonic device.  I would guess someone wants a closer look.”

“Your sonic screwdriver?” Boston asked, and Elder Stow nodded.  “Man!  Come on, everyone.”  Boston, Lockhart and Decker brought in the other horses and got them into stalls, and then with Elder Stow’s help, they gave four horses some tender care, and then moved on to the other four.

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 3 of 6

Boston and Meriope rode out front.  Meriope kept a watchful eye on the trail, while Boston watched everything else.  As an elf, her sense concerning humans, especially potentially dangerous humans, had been greatly enhanced.  Her eyes, in daylight, could pick out a hummingbird a half mile away, and if she tuned her ears in that direction, she could hear the little buzz of the wings.

The trail ran right down the road, as Lockhart surmised, and it looked clear enough, even in the drizzling rain, that Lockhart could have followed it himself.  But after a while, he complained.

“They can’t have gotten that much of a head start.”

Lockhart, Decker, and Elder Stow brought up the rear, but rode better on bareback than they thought they could.  Elder Stow slid around a little with his shorter legs, but with the fairy weave they wore, they were able to compensate some for the lack of saddles.  Boston showed them how to separate a piece and have it reach around the horse’s belly, and form into something like a seat.  Elder Stow even managed to make something like stirrups, after he learned how.

“I don’t think we should try to gallop,” Decker said.

“Certainly not,” Elder Stow agreed

“Should not have to,” Lockhart said.  “That wagon has to be pretty slow moving.”

Around two o’clock, the rain slackened off, though the clouds never went away.  Boston shouted, and Meriope looked up at the top of the next hill.  Boston saw a bunch of men, clearly, and the mule drawn wagon stuffed with all their things.  Even Meriope saw the man turn and wave to them. Then the man lifted something.

“Get down,” Boston shouted, just before a bullet creased the trunk of a tree.  People scurried to get themselves and their horses under cover.  The man let off five rounds of automatic fire that tore up the ground and a couple of bushes.  Then Boston saw him wave again and walk off, dipping below the horizon of the hill.

“I don’t understand,” Meriope said.  Decker let out a string of curse words and she said she was not asking about that part.

Lockhart pulled out Katie’s pistol to show.  “They have most of our guns,” he said.  “They work like a compact, all-in-one version of your bow and arrows.  They fire a projectile, like an arrowhead.”  He put a bullet in a tree, and Meriope jumped at the Crack! though her horse remained steady.  “They are very deadly.”

“And they have our two rifles,” Decker added.  “They are much bigger guns and can fire a long distance.”

“How did he figure out how to use it so quickly?” Elder Stow asked.

“The Masters?” Boston suggested.  “I mean, they might work for the Masters.”

“That would be my guess,” Decker said.

“Or help,” Lockhart countered, and pointed toward the sky.  “But I can’t honestly think of any gods in this jurisdiction that we might have pissed off.”

“Come,” Meriope said, lest they talk away their advantage.  “They are not far.  We have a chance to catch them.”

The group rushed as much as they could down the hill they were on and up the gradual incline to where the wagon had been at the top of the next rise.  They stopped when they got there, and stared.  Twice the distance they just traveled, and up at the top of a small ridge, they saw the same wagon and the same man, laughing and waving.  At least, Boston could see them and described them to the group.  She saw the man raise something and she shouted.

“Back down.  Behind the hill.”

No one argued.  They did not see or hear the bullets, but they felt certain some got fired.  They talked while Boston got down and snuck up behind a bush to spy on the enemy.  With a glance at Meriope, she went invisible, but also let the bush hide her for fear the thieves had help, and her being invisible might do her no good at all.

“Help from an outsider I would say,” Elder Stow cast the tie vote.  “But I also cannot think of any gods in this place that we have angered.”

“Well,” Decker said with a look at Meriope.  “They can’t have traveled twice our distance on foot, with a heavy wagon pulled by one mule, without help.”

Meriope nodded for Decker, then looked down.  “I am praying for Artemis to come and guide us to victory in our hunt.”

“And it has been raining for two days now?”  Boston asked as she scooted back down the hill and leapt up on Honey’s back.

“This is the third day without the sun,” Meriope said.

“Boy,’ Boston said, when Honey settled down.  “Apollo has to be unhappy.”

“Why?” Lockhart asked.  “I thought Katie said he was the god of healing?”

“And music and poetry, truth and prophecy, and other things,” Meriope said.

“His chief job is god of the sun,” Boston said.

“No.  Light and warmth, but Helios drives the sun,” Meriope corrected her.  “Every day, Helios drive the golden chariot of the gods across the sky.  Over the ocean, they say the dwarfs of the mountains dig out the gold.  The nymphs in the dark fashion it to make the chariot.  The nymphs of light make the harness and the reins.  And every day, Helios hitches up his fiery horses and rises in a new chariot.”

“The day comes up fresh and new every morning,” Decker encouraged her, and Meriope smiled and looked again at the ground.

“We should move before we lose the trail,” she said.

“Right,” Boston agreed, but Lockhart teased her, having guessed at something.

“Everyone, follow the nymph.”

“Not funny,” Boston groused.

The trail remained easy, and after some thought, Boston asked how Meriope knew so much about the gods, and in particular, Apollo.  She confessed.

“When I was young, my father brought us out of Thessaly and into this land.  We were pushed out from our land by new people, great horsemen in their own way.  My mother died when we came to Corinth.  Father brought her to the temple of Apollo, seeking help, but the healers could do nothing for her.  My father stayed in the temple to pray, and when he was done, he dedicated his life to the god.”

“You were orphaned?”

“No,” Meriope laughed at the thought.  “But I was raised in the temple, and around the priests, and the few priestesses who served in the alcove dedicated to Apollo’s sister, Artemis.”  Meriope shrugged.  “I suppose it was my destiny to serve Artemis, but I don’t mind.”

“So, how did you end up living in the wilderness?”  Boston asked.

“I was driven.  I was young.  But I kissed my father and left without anyone the wiser.  I walked on the road to see where it would take me, and as the day was coming to an end, I found myself outside the shrine.  One old woman was the last, and she told me the story before she died.”

“Good,” Boston said.  Since entering into a world with no television, no internet, and not even any printed books, she had come to appreciate a good story.

“Out behind the sanctuary, there is a spring that makes a small pool before it becomes a stream and runs down the hills to join the river and flow to the sea.  One day, Artemis came to that spot and thought to refresh and relax herself after her hunt.  She stripped naked and entered the clean water, and her nymphs attended her.  Shortly, a hunter came, following his hunting dogs.  The dogs were attracted to the goddess, as all such dogs are.  The hunter spied on Artemis in all her beauty and decided he would rape her.  She kindly put out his eyes and charged his dogs to take him home where he would live out the rest of his days a blind man, whose last sight was that of the goddess, Artemis, in all her glory.”

“I heard she turned him into a stag and his own dogs did not recognize him and tore him apart,” Boston said.

Meriope shook her head.  “That is not the story I was told by the old woman who claimed to have seen Artemis herself in that place.”

Boston shrugged and asked the question she really wanted to ask.  “So, tell me about the nymphs.  What are they like?  What do they look like?”

“How can you not know?” Meriope sounded surprised.  “The people in the villages and small homes in the wilderness all pay homage to the nymphs of the wild.  They seek their protection and help in time of trouble, and leave regular offerings so the nymphs do not turn against them.  Some are tall as men, but thin, like they have little substance.  They have sharp eyes and sharp ears, even such as yours…” Meriope paused, and Boston had to prompt her

“Go on, or is that all you know?”

“No.  There are small ones, too.  No longer than my forearm, and they dance in the air on gossamer wings, or wings like the butterfly.  They all have great magic, and play tricks on poor mortals when they get cross.”

“Go on.  You mentioned dark ones, and dwarfs.”

“Yes, dwarfs.  They are said to stand no taller than half human height, but they are strong like stone, and they are all covered in long fur, though many believe it is hair…”  Meriope paused again, but this time she appeared to be thinking.  “The dark ones I cannot say.  They are great craftsmen, but I have heard they can be frightening to look at.  I would rather not meet one, if it is all the same to you.”

“I thought so,” Boston said, without explaining.  “But the ones of the light would not be so bad.”

“Indeed,” Meriope replied.  “It must be wonderful to be so close to the gods, to serve them day and night.”

“Sometimes being that close to the gods is not a safe place to be,” Boston said, softly, and Meriope stopped her horse half-way up the ridge.  “Tell me what you know of the gods,” Boston asked.  “I know Artemis is a wonderful person.  Most of them are good, but do you know any that are maybe not so good, or inclined to do some not so good things?”

Meriope shook her head.  “Even if I knew of one or two, I am afraid even to think of them, and I will never say their names out loud.”

Boston nodded and kicked her horse to make the top of the ridge.  She looked ahead, but saw no wagon this time.  She saw Corinth instead, and after judging the sun, she shouted behind her.  The city is up ahead.  I bet that is where they have gone.  We should be able to make it before the sun sets.”

Elder Stow straggled up from the back to stop with Deker and Lockhart where Meriope stopped.  “What is up ahead?” he asked.

“Corinth,” Meriope said.

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

Monday, Christmas Day, Only a Merry Christmas post.

The second half of Avalon, episode 5.5, Artemis Home will post on Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday.  Don’t forget Thursday this coming week to read the conclusion of the episode.

Meanwhile:

A bit late, but like Christmas, it’s the thought that counts…

*

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 2 of 6

The sanctuary for Artemis looked small, much smaller than the temple of Amphitrite they had seen.  It had a center aisle between several plain wooden benches, and they faced a table at the other end that held some flowers and wood carvings of animals associated with the goddess.  The bear looked prominent, but also the wolf, the stag, and the boar.  A bow and arrows hung on the wall over the table, and Meriope explained about the bow and arrows, like she recited a worship lesson.

“The bow, she chose for her husband.  The arrows, she chose for her sons.”

Lockhart nodded, but led the others straight to the back, covering the distance between the door and the back curtain in seven long steps.  “How is she?” he asked, as Lincoln scooted around him with Alexis’ bag.

“She is burning up with fever,” Katie looked up.  They had Artie on a straw covered cot, covered with plenty of blankets, and Katie sat on one side, while Alexis sat on the other.

Alexis got out her stethoscope and listened to Artie’s heart and breathing.  She made Artie sit up and face her, and Katie got up to help the men go back out into the main room.  Alexis had Artie pull up her fairy weave top to listen better to her breathing.

Katie spoke quietly to them all, but mostly to Lockhart.  “Bronchitis, definitely.  Maybe Pneumonia.  We may be here for a few days.”

“This was sudden,” Lockhart said.

“All day yesterday in the rain, and again today,” Katie said.  “It may have been something she caught in Egypt and it just showed up after we got here.”

Lockhart nodded.  The housing area by the Nile, the one that Rachel called the slums, was filled with substandard housing and filth, and ripe with coughing, hacking, and people laid up with colds, and the flu, and some worse diseases.  “We should have kept her away from the slums,” he said.

Katie shook her head.  “Alexis said she was not too worried, and from here forward we should be all right, because we all had our immunizations.  She said a tetanus booster would not hurt, and some diseases we should avoid, but generally we should have a good resistance to most things.  It occurred to me, Artie never had any baby shots.”

“An oversight on Amphitrite’s part?”

“No, I don’t think so.  With the Storyteller still missing, I think the Kairos’ connection to the future is tenuous.  It maybe comes and goes.”

“So, what can we do?”

Katie shook her head again.  “Nothing.  Alexis believes she can stabilize her, and after some chicken soup, and a few days of warmth and rest, she should throw it off herself.  That is what we hope.”

“Hey guys,” Boston interrupted.  Everyone looked up, including Meriope, who had been sitting beside Decker and listening intently.  “Meet the rest of the crew, Hysphagia and Cassandra.”  Boston grinned as Cassandra marveled at Boston’s red hair.

Hysphagia looked like she might be twenty, the eldest, but she was also as blonde as Katie, and came across like she might model for blonde jokes.  Cassandra seemed smart, and looked like a normal enough, brown hair, brown-eyed Greek, but she had to be ten, twelve at the most.

“Hysphagia says we should take Artie to Artemis’ brother’s temple in Corinth.  That’s Apollo.  He is the healer in Greece,” Boston said.

“In this age, yes,” Katie said.  “I imagine Asclepius is not born yet.”

“Corinth is another hour, a bit less,” Lincoln reminded everyone.

They heard Artie coughing from behind the curtain, and Katie spoke.  “I don’t think we should move her right now.  Her fever is high and she seems pretty weak.”

“We can pray,” Cassandra suggested, and looked up at Katie like it was a question.

“And that would be a wonderful thing to do,” Katie said.  She smiled, looked down, and brushed Cassandra’s hair back where it had fallen in her face.  Lockhart thought, we already have two adopted daughters.  Let’s not get another.

“Oh, what am I thinking,” Elder Stow interrupted with some volume.  “I should fetch my scanner.  We can get all her readings and maybe even pinpoint the virus to make an anti-virus.  I’ll just be a minute.”  He stepped to the door, and only hesitated a second before he stepped out into the rain.

“Lovely place you have here,” Decker said to Meriope.  With the clouds and rain, the whole place had a dark and gloomy look.

Meriope, who sat on the bench where Decker placed his foot, looked up at him and almost smiled, but again, she had no chance to respond as Elder Stow came charging back inside.

“It’s gone.  Everything is gone.”

“What?”

“It has been stolen, again,” Elder Stow showed some anger.  “Right from under our faces.”

“Noses,” Lincoln absentmindedly corrected the Gott-Druk, while he tried to think of what to do.  They all thought while Lockhart, Katie, and Decker moved.  As soon as they got outside, Lockhart whistled for the horse he named Dog.  Dog came trotting up, and Lockhart was glad to see that this time he still had his reins.  Other horses followed Dog, but Katie’s Black Beauty, Lincoln’s Cortez, and Alexis’ Misty Gray seemed to be missing.

“Beauty,” Katie called.  “Beauty.”  The horse did not come.

“We have to get our stuff back,” Decker said to Meriope, who came out with the travelers.  “Some of our things are very dangerous, and would be terrible in the wrong hands.”

“We should ride after them,” Meriope said, like the obvious solution.

“No saddles,” Elder Stow pointed out.  It came as a slim protest.  He knew they would ride, anyway.

“What about Artie?” Katie asked.

Lockhart did not hesitate to make a decision.  “It seems like that dilemma is already solved.  You, Alexis and Lincoln are without transportation.  You need to be here for Artie, and to defend the home and all, if necessary.  I hope it isn’t necessary.”

“How will you track them?” Katie asked the practical question.  “You are not a hunter.”

“I am,” Boston shouted.

Katie frowned.  “We are not hunting bears in Canada.”

“Listen,” Lockhart said.  “They have to have a wagon to carry everything.  They should stick to the road.  It should not be hard to find them.”

“Road is becoming roads, the further into the future we go,” Katie said.  “And this is their home.  What if they go off-road?”

Lockhart was not going to argue.  “You keep Artie’s horse, Freedom.”

Meriope interrupted as she stormed out of the sanctuary, the bow and arrows from the back wall in her hands.  “I am coming.  I am from Thessaly.  I know how to ride, and I am a hunter.”  Decker helped her get up on Freedom, as he helped Elder Stow mount his horse.  Katie and Lockhart held their breath for a second, but Freedom did not seem to mind the replacement rider.  From her height, Meriope got a good look at the ground.  “I see two wagons.  Odd, I cannot tell where they came from, but they are headed to the main road.”  She pointed down the path.

“Wait,” Alexis’ voice came from the door, and she stepped out with Artie’s Anazi handgun.  She walked up to Decker.  “Artie says she showed you how to use this.”  She handed him the weapon, holstered, on the belt.

“I got my bow and my wand,” Boston said to Alexis, who waved to her.

“Use them wisely,” Alexis instructed before she went back inside.

Lincoln passed her in the doorway as he came out.  “Do you want to take the database?”

“Here,” Katie handed Lockhart her gun belt.

“Don’t risk it,” Lockhart said as he spoke softly to Katie.  “You might need this if they come back,” he said, but he began to lengthen the belt.

“We will be all right.  They have the rifles and the other guns, and if they figure out how to use them, you will need something.”  Katie looked at Elder Stow.  The Elder turned slightly red.

“I forgot I had my weapon in my pocket.”  He shrugged.

“Lincoln,” Lockhart got Lincoln’s attention.  “You may need the database if something should happen.  Katie has the back-up amulet so you can find the next time gate.”

“Come on,” Boston shouted, impatient.  Lockhart kissed Katie before he climbed up on Dog’s back and they headed out.

Avalon 5.5 Artemis Home, part 1 of 6

After 1410 BC, Megara, Greece.  Kairos 64: Sinon, The General.

Recording…

No one minded the rain, at first, as long as it did not become another thunder storm sweeping off the ocean.  Notere’s Syria had been dry.  Padrama’s India was dry, apart from the monsoon rain that broke at the end, which they did not feel because Devi protected them.  Then Rachel’s Egypt had been extra dry.  Lockhart could not swear he saw a cloud the whole time they were there.

“Definitely Greece,” Lincoln decided.  “It looks like the last time we were here, in Amphitrite’s day.”

“I could have guessed that,” Decker mumbled, as they came out from some trees and he pulled away to ride out on the wing.

“Same rain,” Elder Stow said, before he rode out to guard the other wing.

“Amphitrite’s time zone was what?” Katie wondered.  “A hundred and fifty years ago?”

“And it has been raining for a hundred and fifty years,” Boston teased.

“About one-fifty,” Lincoln answered Katie.

“The road has improved,” Lockhart said, just to insert a positive thought.

Artie began to cough.  It sounded like a sinus-drip gurgling kind of cough.  Katie got out the fairy weave handkerchief she had made and handed it to Artie to blow her nose.  She did, but complained at the same time.

“Why does it have to be so wet?  We should go back and visit my sister some more so we can dry out.”

“Now, we are all cranky from the weather, but we try to make the best of it.”  Katie sounded like a mom.

Artie looked up and shouted at the sky.  “I hate the rain.  Are we there yet?”

Lockhart stifled his laugh, and after a moment’s hard stare at the man, Katie turned her smile away, so Artie and Lockhart would not see.  Artie started coughing again, and Katie whipped her head back to look at the girl.  This time her face showed concern.

“That does not sound good,” Alexis, the trained nurse spoke up from behind.  “We should get her to some shelter.”

“Boston pulled out her amulet and said, “Corinth should be just up ahead.”  She raised her voice and repeated the word for Lockhart.

“Robert,” Katie nudged her horse up between Lincoln and Lockhart.  “We need to get Artie under shelter, and soon.  She doesn’t sound good.”

Lockhart nodded and looked at Lincoln.  He pulled out the database and looked for the relevant map.  After a minute, he shook his head.

“I don’t see anything ahead but Corinth.  Boston?”

“About an hour, gestimate,” Boston shouted.

Alexis took Katie’s movement to the front to move up beside Artie.  She stretched out to take Artie’s hand.  It felt warm, and she announced as much.

Lockhart remembered the wristwatch radio.  “Elder Stow.  Do you see any buildings before the city?  Artie may be coming down with something, and Katie and Alexis want to get her out of the rain.”

“Up ahead, on my side of the road,” Decker’s voice came through the wristwatch.  “A small country church sized building.”

“Probably a shrine,” Katie suggested.

“Nothing here,” Elder Stow reported.

“We go with it,” Lockhart said into the wristwatch and switched it off.  “Hope the god of the shrine is friendly.”

“Are they friendly spirits?  Just listen,” Lincoln said.  They were not amused.  Artie coughed up some phlegm, and there was a touch of blood in it.

“I am bleeding again,” Artie said.  “Only this time from my mouth.”

“This isn’t the good kind,” Katie said.

###

Decker rode ahead so he arrived at the shrine first.  He wanted to check it out and be sure it was safe.  A small, but solid sheltered area looked pushed back among the trees.  He saw a few sheep in a pen, and a two-wheeled wagon with no ox or mule to pull it.  It will do for the horses, he thought.  “Needs a steeple,” he said out loud at the building he still imagined as a country chapel.  He approached the shrine, warily.  He sensed people about, but after seeing and hearing nothing, he holstered his rifle.  He tried not to appear threatening.  He had a sick girl.  As soon as he got down from his horse, he jumped, though his horse remained steady.  An arrow came from the front window and planted itself two feet away.

“Nubian,” a woman yelled from the window.  “Men are not welcome here.”  Decker heard some sharply spoken words inside the building, though he could not tell what they were saying.  He unsnapped his holster, made sure the handgun would come easily to hand, and waited.  A pretty, dark haired young woman came out the front door and gave a sour look to the sky.  She stayed under the roof overhang to stay dry.

“I have never seen a Nubian before,” she said.

“I have never been here before,” Decker said.  “What is this place?”

“This is the place of Artemis.  We are the three who keep this place and honor the goddess in all things.  I am Meriope.  My sisters are Hysphagia and Cassandra.  What brings you to our door?”

Decker wondered if any of the women were older.  This one looked about eighteen.  “We have a sick girl.  We need to get her to shelter and out of the rain.  Artemis has been kind to us in the past.  Will you help the needy stranger?”

The door opened, and Meriope leaned back into the opening.  Decker heard some more of those sharply whispered words, before Meriope faced front again, and the door closed.  She did not have time to respond.  The travelers came up the path from the main road, Katie and Alexis leading Artie.  They had gotten Artie down from her horse and bracketed her.  They practically carried the girl inside without so much as an ‘excuse me’.

Decker waited for the others to come up with the horses.  He led them to the shelter, and Meriope braved the rain to follow.

“What do you think you are doing?” Meriope asked.

“Taking care of the horses,” Decker said.  “Does Artemis not like horses?”

“She likes all animals,” Meriope said, not expecting that question.  “And she hunts them in the wild.”

“We’re animals,” Lockhart said, with a small grin.

“Is Artemis here?” Boston said.  “I like her, a lot.  She came to the battlefield when Zoe, the Amazon Queen went with Katie and Chloe to fight what’s-his-name.  I didn’t meet her, exactly, but the Amazons gave me the name Little Fire.”  She rambled like a fairy, flitting from one thought to the next without a breath between.

Meriope’s eyes got big.  “You rode with the Amazons when they came to Athens?”  The travelers paused.  It seemed an odd question.

“No,” Boston said.  “We met Zoe a long time ago.”

“She was the first Amazon queen way back when,” Lincoln said.

“Katie is the second elect in the whole world,” Lockhart added, and smiled at some private thought.

“I saw Artemis,” Decker said.  “When we were on the mountain, in the snow and ice, before we went over and found that boy who had learned how to make bronze.”

Lincoln shook his head.  He did not remember that time.

“Where that ghost kept following me around,” Decker said, to jog their memories

“And we found his body down the crevasse, and took it home so he could be properly buried,” Elder Stow said.

“Oh, yeah.” Boston’s eyes got big.

“I don’t remember hearing about Artemis.”  Lockhart looked at Decker, and Decker looked sorry he brought it up.  Now he had to tell the story.

“You were all asleep when I heard something in the camp.  I looked out my tent and saw a bear, which stood up and put another log on the fire.  I remember the bear said Little Fire is not doing her job,”

“Hey…” Boston protested.

“So then a woman showed up, and the bear changed into a woman.  The bear-woman seemed very nice.  The other woman scared me pretty bad, before they both disappeared.”  Decker closed his mouth, but Boston and Lincoln were not satisfied with the story.

“Hey,” Boston said it again, but Lincoln asked an inspired question.

“Who was the other woman?”

“Aphrodite,” Decker admitted.  “She pointed right at me, though I was hidden behind my tent flap, and she said I was on her list.”  Decker shivered.  “Artemis laughed when she vanished.”

“That’s the same thing she said when we visited Amphitrite,” Boston pointed out before they got interrupted.

“Benjamin.”  Alexis stuck her head out of the door and hollered.  “Bring me my purse.”

“Right,” Lincoln returned the shout.  He waved to her and picked up her pack, but then stopped when Meriope spoke.

“Wait.”

Meriope had managed to find a seat on a log when the men worked with the horses and talked.  She spent most of her time staring, her mouth open, not believing what she heard.  But she did not doubt that these people were the strangest strangers she had ever seen, and reconciled in her head that they must be servants to the gods, the way they talked about them, and the way they implied that they had lived so long.

“Wait.”  Something clicked in Meriope’s head and she appeared to come back to reality.  “You can come in and see your friend, but you must leave all your weapons and equipment here, and you will have to make a place out here to sleep.  Weapons are not allowed in the sanctuary.”

Lincoln lifted Alexis’ purse.  “Alexis is a physician,” he said.  “These are her medical things.”

Lockhart unsnapped his belt, which held his big knife and handgun.  He looked at the others.  They followed his lead, but Decker especially did not like the idea.  Elder Stow merely packed his things neatly away in his saddle bags.  Lincoln kept the database in his pocket, figuring it was not a weapon.  Boston had access to her invisible slip, as they called it, where she had her bow and arrows, and her wand, if needed.

They trudged up to the sanctuary, and Boston confirmed Decker’s thoughts without any prompting.  “It looks like an old country chapel,” she said.