M3 Gerraint: Epilogue

Gerraint, and all of the people with him, took the last ship from Avalon of the Apples.  They made a turn toward a stable harbor on Avalon proper.  Water sprites danced on the sea as they approached.  Mermaids and mermen made fast the ship at the docks.  Elves helped them disembark and dwarfs gave the ship the once over, Luckless waving to one of them like an old friend.  An ogre stood guard at the door and in the shadows, a goblin waited to record the names of all the visitors.  But despite all of these wonders, every eye looked up the cliff face to the castle of the Kairos, the palace of limitless spires and towers where the great kings and queens of all the little ones lived and rested from their labors.

“Castle Perilous,” Lancelot called it.

“Castle Turning,” Arthur said.

“Lunch,” Luckless had a different name.

“That’s not what we’re here for,” Gerraint said.

“I’ve heard it said the castle turns to always present a different face to the enemy,” Bedivere said.

Gerraint shook his head.  “Alice realigns things now and then, but that is really like rearranging the furniture.”

“And why shouldn’t she?”  Enid came up with Guimier who was delightedly pointing out everyone, including the ogre.

Gwynyvar could not look at the ogre, or the dark elf behind the book.  “And why have we come?” she asked.

“I have to speak with Guimier’s brother of a sort,” Gerraint said, and he took them to a comfortable room where they could have some privacy.  Then he called, and he put plenty of emphasis in it to be sure he got obeyed.  “Talesin.” The fairy who had just enough blood of the goddess in him to be immortal and to not be uncomfortable being big for long periods of time, appeared in a corner.

“Were those your hands that carried the cauldron across the round table?”  Gerraint started right in and did not make nice first.

“Maybe,” Talesin said.

“Was this search for the cauldron your idea, or did some other put you up to it?” Gerraint asked.

“My idea, some, maybe.  Maybe not, no, not alone,” Talesin hedged.  He started sweating.  Gerraint turned toward the others in the room.

“Has the search for the Graal been a good thing for the kingdom, or not?” he asked the others.

“Mostly,” Gwynyvar said.

“It has given the young ones some taste of adventure and kept them off our backs for a time,” Lancelot spoke straight.

“It has given the headaches to the church for a change and left my meager bits of a treasury alone,” Arthur admitted.

“Overall,” Uwaine said.  “Though we’ve been through a bit to keep it from going the wrong way.”

“Very true,” Trevor said.  Gwillim stayed quiet, still trying to swallow all that he saw and had seen.

Gerraint nodded and turned again to Talesin.   “Come here.”  Talesin swallowed like Gwillim but came like one who had been through this often.  He even turned around and presented himself.  Gerraint gave him one whack on the rump, but it was a good one.  They could see it on Talesin’s face and several winced when they heard the slap.  “Get thee to a,” and Gerraint had to pause.  “Monastery,” he said, and added, “Now we go home.”

“That’s it?”  Talesin protested.  “Aren’t you going to do any more than that?  I sweated all this time and that’s it?”

“Anticipation son.  It is the worst.”  Arthur gave some hard-earned advice.

Talesin walked out, red with embarrassment.

“Monastery,” Gerraint shouted after him.  Then he made two archways appear in the room, or Alice did.  It felt hard to say, exactly.

“Two ways?”  Bedivere asked.

“Luckless and Lolly.”  Gerraint nodded and pointed to one.  “A way back to the Continent.  “You have things to do ahead that don’t involve lying about with Rhiannon and her court.”

“Lord?”  Lolly wondered, but Luckless took her hand.

“I’ll explain it to you when we get there.”  Luckless said, and they vanished with the door.

“This other door?”  Gwillim wondered.  He finally, honestly, questioned everything.

“Cadbury Castle,” Gerraint said.  “I think Arthur owes us one good meal before we go home.”

“And a hot bath,” Enid added.  Gerraint nodded, but Guimier turned up her nose.

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Tomorrow:  In anticipation, a sneak peak at The Kairos Medieval, book 3 (M3), A Light in the Dark Ages, the story of Margueritte: The Old Way has Gone.  It is the story of a young girl growing up in the middle ages, the dark ages, and… Well… Wait and see.  Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 4 of 4

The door shut and the two sides drew swords and went at it, Gwillim kept himself and Trevor in reserve, to step in where they might be needed.  Certainly, Gwillim knew Trevor was no soldier.

Peredur and Bedivere together disarmed Pelenor and Ederyn soon enough.  The hearts of the old men were not in it.  Uwaine and Lancelot dispatched the two men at arms, wounding them, one grievously.  Arthur disarmed the druid. who clearly had little practice with his sword.  Gerraint noticed Mesalwig when Mesalwig looked ready to stab Arthur in the back, but he got too busy with Urien to do anything other than shout.  Fortunately, Macreedy caught Mesalwig first, before he could strike a blow and before Arthur knew what was happening.  Mesalwig would not get up again.  Arthur seemed surprised, but not surprised, and chided himself for not recognizing the traitorous signs ahead of time.

Gerraint stopped.  Urien stopped.  They were the last, and Gerraint apologized.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I swore.”  Gerraint went into the time stream and Danna took his place.  Urien did not even have time to scream before his flesh simply turned to dust.  Danna began to cry.  Uwaine stood right there to throw his arms around her and let her cry on his shoulder.  Manannan also appeared, and after a moment he took his mother to a seat.  She patted his hand.  He was a quiet boy, stoic and stubborn, but a good grandson.  Llyr and Pendaron’s son, she remembered.  Manannan nodded and vanished before Gwyn and Pwyll came back in with the others.  Gerraint returned, but he felt very heavy.  He stayed seated.

“That didn’t take long,” Gwyn almost complained.

“And I missed it all,” Luckless did complain.

“Lucky for them,” Lolly said as she took his arm.  They could almost see his head visibly swell.

Gwyn had Guimier and went back to trying to explain that her name was his in the feminine form.  Guimier didn’t care about that, but she liked his yellow beard.

“So you see.”  Pwyll explained to the ladies.  “I am bored beyond words.”

Enid spoke in response.  “When Gerraint first mentioned you, I was frightened, just a little, but now I see you are really a very nice man.”

“Indeed.”  Gwynyvar agreed and the ladies each took one arm.

“How about you, druid?”  Pwyll looked up.  Bedivere was currently tying up the man with the ropes that had once held Enid.  The druid looked over, but he looked scared almost to death, now knowing who he was looking at.  “Perhaps you should go with me.”  Pwyll lowered his gaze just a little and the druid let out a little whimper.

“But why?”  Peredur sat at the table with his old friend.

“I am old,” Pelenor said.  They were seated.  “How could I resist a chance at the Cauldron of Life?  I would give anything not to get old.”  Ederyn nodded slightly, but it was clear that he came mostly to support his friend.

“But it is not so bad to get old,” Arthur said.

“It is the way of things,” Trevor said.

“You don’t know.”  Pelenor’s voice rose.  He put out his hand and they watched it shake.  “But someday you will understand.  Someday.”

“Even dying is not so hard,” Gerraint said.

“How would you know?”  Pelenor shot at him.

“Because I have done it nearly a hundred times,” he said.  “Besides, it is the way of things, as Trevor said.”

“And for us all, apparently,” Pwyll said as he seated the ladies.  Everyone looked at him, so he continued.  “I have grown tired of beating Gwyn at chess.”

“What?  Never.”  Gwyn protested, but it was kindly spoken.

“I have decided it is time to make the journey over to the other side.  I would be honored if you would join me.”  He spoke this last to Pelenor.

Pelenor looked up.

“It would be a great adventure,” Macreedy said.  Some looked his way, as he clearly had something in mind.

“It might not be so bad,” Ederyn said.

“I could go with you,” Peredur suggested, and his hand went once more, unbidden to his lips.

Pelenor looked around the room, and at last nodded.  “Perhaps it is a cure,” he said.  “Even if not, I could use the much-needed rest.”  Then his whole countenance fell.  “I am tired.”  He spent his last word on Gerraint.  “God, son, how can you stand it more than once?”  He stood.

Peredur stood as well, and after a moment, Ederyn joined them.  “We’re ready,” Peredur said.

“And me,” Macreedy walked over to stand beside them.

“Macreedy, don’t be daft.”  Gwillim spoke loud and clear, and Trevor nodded, but the druid also spoke.

“They’re all mad,” he said.

Pwyll shook Gerraint’s hand for them all.  “It’s been great, but as I explained to the Ladies, I’ve been terribly bored since my livelihood was taken.”  Gerraint traded places with Danna once more and gave Pwyll a great hug.

“Gwyn?”  Danna looked at the other.

“Not just yet, mother,” Gwyn said.  “I think I’ll watch over Macreedy’s daughters for a time.”

“Bridgid has been sent on,” Danna said.  “And I have told her I will be closing the door.”

“Aye, but there are ways,” Gwyn said with a smile.  He turned to go.

“Ahem!”  Enid held her hands out.  Gwyn pretended embarrassment and handed her Guimier.  To be honest, he would have been happy to have the little girl accompany him back to Tara.  He paused at the door.

Pwyll put his arms around Pelenor and Peredur.  Ederyn and Macreedy followed behind as they turned their backs on the world and walked into the hall.  They began to fade.  None, except perhaps Lolly with her good ears could quite hear what Pwyll said as they faded from sight.  Everyone caught a glimpse of light and smelled something like Hyacinth.  Then they were gone, and Danna went to tears again.

Gwyn left quietly and headed toward the boat.

“Pardon.  His job?”  Bedivere had to ask.

Danna and the druid answered together.  “God of the dead.”

“And you are?”  The druid asked in a very surly voice.  Danna said nothing.  She just looked at the man.  She said nothing until all at once when his eyes got big as he realized who he was looking at.

“I am Gerraint, son of Erbin,” she said.  “And a Christian, though my wife claims I have never been especially devout.”  Danna looked at Enid, smiled and went home.  Gerraint returned without pause, but the smile never left his lips.

One of Urien’s men died.  The other, with the use of one arm, brought the druid.

“Time to go home,” Arthur said, and they all felt the same.

“One child, two ladies, two dwarfs, two prisoners, and seven men survivors.”  Bedivere counted again.

“Not bad, considering we stormed the gates of Heaven,” Lancelot said, and he put a friendly hand on the young man’s shoulder.

M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 3 of 4

Gerraint came around when the sun returned, but this time it came as a more normal sunrise.  Granted, the sun reached near noon in only a couple of hours, but it appeared relatively normal all the same.

“Land!”  Lolly was the first to shout.

“Land!”  Trevor echoed from the helm.

“Make ready to come ashore,” Macreedy shouted.  “Lower the sail, and be quick.”  Everyone helped, and not especially quick, but from the way the land grew in their sight, it seemed as if they were in a speed boat.  Before then, no one knew how fast they were really going.

“We’re going to crash.”  Gwynyvar hid her face in her hands.

“Keep her dead on.”  Macreedy ordered.  Trevor did not argue, but he closed his eyes.  Gwillim already started praying.  Arthur and Lancelot had Gwynyvar between them in case they were needed to cushion her fall when they crashed.  Uwaine came up to stand in the bow beside Gerraint.  Bedivere and old Peredur followed.  Gerraint, however, turned and got Luckless’ attention.

“Keep watch over your charge,” he said and made sure that Lolly also heard.  Arthur and Lancelot were both hard in battle, but they were fish out of water themselves, and could hardly be counted on to protect the Lady.

“Lord,” Luckless acknowledged the reminder.

The dock came up fast.  Uwaine and Peredur involuntarily squinted, expecting a terrible crash.  Bedivere had to look to the side, but as it turned out, they missed the dock and it now looked as if they were going to crash right up on the shore.  Everyone held on to whatever they could grab, but the ship came to an instant and absolute stop, their momentum and inertia rose up in something like a bubble and rushed into the sky, while not one of them so much as leaned forward at the stop.

“You missed the dock.”  Gerraint pointed out that they landed nearly a foot away.

Macreedy and Gerraint went to throw ropes around the posts and heave the boat closer to the planks.  “Amateur at the rudder,” Macreedy said.  “And don’t rub it in.”

Gerraint laughed, while the others came up to help, and soon enough they were up on the dock and headed toward the shore.

“Keep together and watch your back.”  Arthur gave some general instructions as they began to walk down the dock.  They stopped a few feet before the end.  Two men waited there.  One looked blond, middle aged and dressed like a king.  The other looked dark, dressed in black, and as old as Peredur.  No one knew them until Gerraint squinted.

“Gwyn?”  He guessed at the younger one.

“And Pwyll.”  The older man gave his name.  Gerraint would have never guessed since he had aged so much.

“Enid?”  Gerraint asked

“At the house.”  Gwyn smiled.  “Safe enough.”  He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.

“The treasures?”  Arthur asked.

“Safe,” Pwyll answered.

“That Formor wanna-be, Abraxas left when he knew you were coming,” Gwyn said, and he added a word.  “Coward.”

“And Talesin has gone into hiding,” Pwyll said, but he smiled.

“The ghostly hands and cauldron.”  Uwaine put two and two together.  Arthur and Lancelot looked up, stern anger on their faces.  But Pwyll and Gwyn laughed.

“Fat lotta good it will do him,” Gerraint said.  He began to walk up toward the house and everyone followed.

“How many are there?”  Bedivere asked.  Lancelot looked.  He should have thought to ask that question.

“Well young squire,” Gwyn said, affably.  “I should say eight, but I suppose you mean six.  There is old Pelenor and his friend Ederyn, the Raven and his druid, and two men at arms who follow the Raven.”

“Nine on six is not bad,” Arthur said.

“Eleven,” Macreedy corrected him.

“Ten,” Luckless said without explanation, but he and Lolly were side by side with Gwynyvar, and Luckless fingered his ax.

The house appeared a simple thatched cottage from the outside.  It seemed an idyllic scene, like the home of a gentle fisherman and his wife, set out to overlook the sea.  There were even flowers in the garden.  Gerraint knew better.  He opened the door without knocking, and they stepped into a vast hall where they saw row after row of great oak tables and a vast, distant fire burning in a great stone fireplace in the center of the room.

Enid looked tied to a chair at a nearby table, and gagged.  Guimier was allowed to play at her mother’s feet.  Four men sat around the table on all four sides, like men arguing four different propositions, which they were.  The two men at arms held back, but kept an eye on the mother and child.

As the company entered, Pelenor looked up, but his eyes looked defeated already.  Ederyn smiled, briefly.  The druid stood suddenly, having been seated across from the lady. His chair fell back and clattered to the floor while the druid fingered his sword, but he did not draw it.  Urien quickly drew his knife and placed it at Enid’s throat.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Urien said through his teeth.

Arthur and his men spread out.  Luckless and Lolly kept Gwynyvar by the door.  Her impulse had been to run to her friend, but of course, that would have been foolish.

Gwyn and Pwyll stepped up beside Gerraint.  “Cannot interfere, you know,” Gwyn whispered in Gerraint’s ear.

“I would like a visit with this lovely child, though,” Pwyll said.  Guimier began to rise from the floor.  The men at arms looked at each other, but did not know what to do.  Gummier giggled and floated into Pwyll’s arms.  Everyone stared, but Guimier shouted.

“Daddy!”  Gerraint touched his daughter and smiled.

“Thank you Pwyll,” Gerraint said, and Pwyll nodded, tickled Guimier in the stomach and looked on her like a grandfather might look on a favorite grandchild.

“Now tell me about this doll of yours,” Pwyll said, as the stepped back outside.

“Yes,” Gwyn said, eyeing his brother god.  “Now that he mentions it, I would like a little talk with this woman of yours.”  He winked at Gerraint.  “Maybe she can tell me how to blunt a mother’s anger.”

Urien grabbed Enid by the hair and pressed his knife close to the throat, but it did no good.  Enid simply vanished out of his hand and appeared beside the blonde God.  He whispered in Enid’s ear, and Enid giggled with a look at Gerraint.  Then they walked out, Enid and Gwynyvar hugging, and Luckless and Lolly following.  Luckless alone glanced back once.  He was going to miss it.

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MONDAY

Don’t you miss it.  The end of the story… Until Then, Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 2 of 4

Gerraint led them through a door and they came to a Grotto carved out from beneath the rocks with only a cave that led out into a gentle bay.  There were several ships tied to a dock there, but none of them looked big enough to carry them all.

“Gobinu’s work,” Macreedy said.

“And we helped,” Luckless interjected.

“One will do,” Macreedy finished.

“For this great company?”  Arthur began, but then decided not to doubt.

“Will you be joining us?”  Gerraint asked the elf.

“Aye,” Macreedy said.  “But not the ladies.  They have decided to keep Tara for a time, with their Lord’s permission.”  Gerraint nodded slightly, but said nothing.

“Oh.”  Peredur sounded sad.  He had yet to let go of his elf maiden’s hand.  The other maidens backed to the door, but Peredur’s maid paused to kiss him as a lovely granddaughter might kiss her kindly grandfather.  Then she seemed to think about it, and planted one right on his lips.

Most smiled, and a couple of the men ooed and awed before the maiden finally let go and went to join the others.  Peredur could hardly shake himself free.

“Another kiss like that could kill this old man.”  Peredur mumbled and Macreedy grinned.

“So here we are,” Bedivere spoke at last.  “One Lady.  One elf, two dwarfs and nine men to invade Avalon.”

“Not much of a force at arms,” Lancelot said.  Like Bedivere, he was thinking in military terms.

“D-day, certainly,” Gerraint quipped, and invited them all aboard the first ship.  It had appeared no bigger than a lifeboat from the dock, but once aboard it was found to be spacious, with a central mast as big as an oak, and even a below deck to store their things.  They shoved off, and under Macreedy’s direction, the sailors, Trevor and Gwillim set the sail, with the help of Luckless who had sailed in the days of Festuscato.  The men said there was no purpose in raising the sail inside the cave.  All the same, the wind came and nudged them out into the bay.

“Well I’ll be,” Trevor said.  Only the sailors were surprised.  The others either knew what to expect or did not really understand that a normal sail would have been useless until they got out in the open where it could catch the wind.

“I feel sick.”  Bedivere complained almost immediately.  Gwynyvar looked green and Arthur and Lancelot appeared about to join her.  Uwaine laughed, because for once he did not feel the least bit sick.

“We have passed out of the world altogether.  Welcome to the endless sea in the second heavens.”  Gerraint held up his hand to forestall questions.  “It is that divide between the first heaven that covers the Earth like a blanket and the Third Heaven wherein is the throne of God.”  He pointed behind and all heads turned.  The hills, perhaps cliffs if not the cave that they expected to see were nowhere in evidence.  All they could see was the dark waters of the sea, stretching off to the horizon in every direction.

“Are we dead?”  Gwillim asked as the feeling caught up with him.

“Hardly,” Macreedy said as he checked the sail.  “But we may die if we lose the current.  This sea is boundless.  It has no shoreline, though there are shorelines everywhere.”  Macreedy went to stand with Trevor at the rudder.

“But say, that doesn’t make any sense.  Either there is a shoreline or not.”  Gwillim objected and tried to come out of the feeling of having died.

“There is and is not,” Gerraint said.  “Normal rules don’t apply here.  The place folds in and back on itself and even turns inside-out.  It is utterly unstable.”

“Apart from Lady Alice,” Macreedy spoke up from the helm.

Gerraint nodded.  “She tries to keep Avalon and the seven isles and the innumerable isles beyond in a more stable condition, but it is like living in the eye of a hurricane.”

“Olympus?”  Arthur said the word, but made it a question.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Aesgard, Vanheim, the Mountain Fastness and all.  All once found in the Second Heavens.  All gone now,” he said.

“All but Avalon,” Mesalwig said.  Gerraint looked at the man.  Mesalwig had been silent almost since arriving in Tara.  It was impossible to tell what the man might be thinking.

“Avalon of the Apples,” Bedivere corrected Mesalwig.  He started feeling better.

“Give it up.”  Uwaine teased Peredur who still stared at nothing in particular and touched his lips.  “She is undoubtedly too old for you.  May be five hundred years too old.”

Gerraint shook his head for a change.  “Only three hundred,” he said, and Gwynyvar giggled.

Gerraint went to stand at the bow.  It was not that his eyes could see any better than the others, though they could, but he was really getting anxious and trying hard not to show it.  He did not know if Rhiannon’s aura of protection around Enid and Guimier would hold up in the Second Heavens.  He did not know what Urien and Pelenor might have found on the island, nor where that Abraxas might be, nor where that most disobedient of all of his children, Talesin might be.  He tried not to think of these things, but he could not help it.  His stomach churned from worry.

“They will be all right,” Gwynyvar said.  She had come up alongside him and offered him a cup of water and a bit of bread and cheese.  Gerraint thanked her for the water, but turned down the solid food.  He did not think his stomach could handle it.  He turned and they looked together.  Arthur paced the deck.  Lancelot sat with his back to the mast and watched Arthur pace.  Peredur leaned on the railing to look out over the water, and Bedivere stood beside him.  Their conversation was quiet.

Gwynyvar nudged him.  Uwaine finally leaned over the opposite rail, responding to the sea in his accustomed manner.  Gwillim appeared to be supervising and offering his supposed cures.  Mesalwig sat apart.  Gerraint wondered about the man again, but again Gwynyvar nudged him and pointed to the stern.  Trevor appeared to be having a hard time keeping the rudder in the current and not touch the elf at the same time.  Macreedy enjoyed teasing the man.

“How long is the journey?”  Gwynyvar asked.

“Long as a wolf takes to finish howling at the moon.”  Luckless said as he came up alongside them.  They spied Lolly trying to get some flavor out of the bread and cheese.  Gwynyvar thought for a moment.

“But how does a wolf know when it is finished?”  She asked.

“When it stops howling,” Luckless said.

Gwynyvar turned a very confused face toward Gerraint.

“An instant, a week, a month?”  Gerraint shrugged and turned his eyes ahead.

“Then again,” Luckless said.  “We might have arrived ten minutes ago, only we haven’t realized it yet.”

It got dark.  They had no sundown, no dusk, and no chance for their eyes to adjust.  One minute it was light and the next it was dark apart from the infinite stars and a perfect full moon that appeared fully risen in the sky, directly ahead.  The moon seemed exceptionally large, like it rose a bit close to the earth.

“How lovely,” Gwynyvar said, once she got over the sudden change in the time of day.  She looked confused again when Gerraint pointed to the stern where a half moon followed them.  She shook her head and went back to Lancelot and Arthur.  Arthur needed to stop pacing.

“Better go see to bedding down,” Luckless said.  “It has been a tiring day today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, whichever it was or is.”  He wandered off and began to turn people toward sleep.

Gerraint could not sleep.  He knew it was foolish.  He would need to be well rested and more than likely he would need all of his strength and wits to deal with whatever they might find, but he could not sleep, no matter what.

Soon enough the others were dozing.  Luckless took a turn at the rudder and promised to wake Macreedy before long.  Gerraint was the only other one awake when an image appeared beside him.

“The woman is fine.  And the child,” the image said.

Gerraint paused before he spoke.  “Thank you.”

“I imagined you might want to rest after the Tor,” the image spoke again.

“I don’t think I can,” Gerraint answered honestly.  “I was thinking about having to kill Urien.  Such thoughts always twist my insides.”

The image manifested.  The god of the sea.  “Not your promise,” Manannan said.

“’Twas,” Gerraint insisted.  “Even if the words came from your Mother’s lips.”

Manannan nodded, slowly, and then the two just stood there for hours feeling the wind and the spray and watching the waves.  Gerraint could not be sure, but he suspected that under the hypnotic swells in the water, he may have slept for a while standing up.

Kairos Medieval 3: Light in the Dark Ages

Beginning Monday, June 22, 2020

Having read some of the Avalon stories that have appeared on this blog, I thought it only fair that you get a look at several of the actual Kairos stories in their full form.  If you have not read any of the Avalon stories that have appeared on this website, that’s okay.  The stories here are self-contained with one exception:

The books (not presently available) weave the partner stories like a fine tapestry.  For this blog, however, I have pulled the stories apart so you can read a whole Festuscato story, for example, without having to flip back and forth to Gerraint and Margueritte.  Hopefully, that will work well.  You can just ignore the rare references to what is happening in those other stories, knowing that, like the Kairos, you will get there, eventually.

The Kairos Medieval, book 3, Light in the Dark Ages, and book 4, Saving the West, will be posted in their entirety.  All weeks will have posts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday = 3 individual, easily and quickly read posts per week at 8AM, EST, to carry the story forward.  A good way to start the day.

M3) Festuscato: The Halls of Hrothgar   8 weeks of posts

After leaving Britain to the Pendragon, Festuscato, the last Senator of Rome, is shipwrecked on the Danish shore.  With his strange crew in tow, he finds his way to the Halls of Hrothgar where a beast called the Grendal has come like a plague on the mighty.  Festuscato leaves nothing to chance.  He sends for Beowulf, but he has to tread lightly to keep history on track.  He knows things will turn strange as the Grendal, the creature of Abraxas, cannot be harmed by any weapon forged by man.

M3) Gerraint: The Holy Graal   13 weeks of posts

Gerraint, son of Erbin feels his days of struggle should be behind him.  All he wants is to retire to Cornwall with Enid, his love.  But when ghostly hands carry a cauldron across the round table, he knows he has to act.  Arthur deftly turns all talk to the Holy Graal, but Gerraint knows he has to stop the older men from recovering the ancient treasures of the Celts and dredging up the past.  Christendom is only a thin veneer and if Abraxas is allowed to strip that away, history might be irrevocably changed.

M3) Margueritte: The Old Way Has Gone   18 weeks of posts

In the early days of Charles Martel, Margueritte experiences everything a Medieval girl might want: fairies, ogres, a unicorn, dragons, knights to love and daring rescues.  But it is Curdwallah the hag, the devotee of Abraxas, that haunts her dreams in the dark.

 

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MONDAY

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck.

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Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 5 of 5

People stopped firing.  Any soldiers who survived, did so by running away. The roof across the street looked empty of archers.  Li Si, the king’s chancellor stood in the alleyway, but his eyes looked wide and his mouth seemed stuck open.

“Done,” Elder Stow said.  “I have put up a screen wall between the house and the street.”  He looked at the others, saw enough through the window to see the bodies, and he complained.  “The equipment is not designed to make a wall screen, much less a single sided screen. It takes time, focus, and serious reprogramming.  I worked as fast as I could.”

“That’s all right,” Lockhart said.

Decker spit.  “No problem.”

“Are we finished?” a voice asked. Everyone turned and saw Tien Shang-Di, king of the Chinese pantheon, standing there, looking older and wiser than the last time they saw him.

“Lockhart and Katie.”  Meng Shi decided.  “You need to come and collect the outlaw horses, and all of their equipment, and take it with you.  The rest of you need to get the horses and wagon out of the back yard and get ready to ride.”  He walked out of the house, Tien beside him.  Katie and Lockhart followed without a word.

Alexis hurried to the back, concerned about Millie watching all those horses by herself.  Others, especially Boston followed more slowly.

Katie and Lockhart proceeded with the grizzly task of stripping the outlaws of everything, including their pants and shirts.  Lockhart drew the line at the underwear.  Then they collected the guns and horses.

Meng Shi and Tien walked up to Li Si, who still had not closed his mouth.  “Removing the memory of the gunpowder and how to make it is easy.  I would think some memory of explosive magic powder should not be a problem.  Memory of the outlaws will be trickier.”

“Strangers with big horses and magic weapons might work,” Meng Shi responded.  “It fits with the magic powder idea.  The travelers are moving through time on big horses with saddles and magic weapons, and there is not much I can do about that in most times and places.”

Tien nodded.  “So, what do we do with this one?”  He looked at Li Si, who even then had not closed his mouth.

“A day would be helpful,” Meng Shi said. “Maybe twenty-four hours, like lunchtime tomorrow.”

“Lord Meng?”  Li Si did not appear certain what he was seeing.

“Are you planning on running away?” Tien asked, being unable to read Meng Shi’s mind.

“My family,” Meng Shi said.  “I need the travelers to get them to safety, to Xiang’s family around Shu, before I confront the servant of the Masters.”

“I can’t help you with the servant of the Masters,” Tien said, and paused to look closer.  He grasped something, reading minds or not.  “You believe you might not survive that confrontation.”

“I might not,” Meng Shi said, honestly.

“Don’t worry,” Tien said.  “I will watch over your wife and children.”

“I appreciate that,” Meng Shi said.

“Lord Meng?” Li Si asked again, as he, and Tien, and Li Si’s horse disappeared from the street.

Meng Shi turned around. The street appeared full of people carrying water for the fire.  He heard plenty of talking, shouting, and noise, but he caught sight of Katie and Lockhart in the alley.  They had mounted the outlaw horses, and he nodded at their wisdom.  Leading the horses through the crowd might have been difficult, but people would step aside for mounted warriors or dignitaries.

Meng Shi had little trouble getting back to the house where he found his own horse saddled and waiting.  He noticed several of the local houses were on fire.  He felt bad about that, but also felt there was nothing he could do about it.

They started out slowly, but it did not take them long to reach Meng Shi’s house.  They immediately began packing the home and family for a long journey.

Meng Shi’s wife, Lilei, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Aiting, packed their silks, and everything of value around the house, down to cooking utensils.  The women helped, but Lilei felt reluctant to pack her jewelry and the family gems in front of these strangers, until she found out Boston was an elf.  Boston found out something, too.  Later, she tried to explain it to the others.

“I felt the love Lilei had for Meng Shi, and how much he loves her.  And the children, too.  All I wanted to do was help and protect Lilei, and do whatever she asked.  You know, I was a free spirit, inclined to do my own thing, and good at being passive-aggressive, even when I was human. Becoming an elf did not change that much.  I might not have done exactly what she asked, but the urge felt strong to treat her almost like a goddess.  I don’t think I can explain it better.”

“The little ones have always treated the beloved spouse of the Kairos as special,” Alexis said.  “And the children like princes and princesses.  Even close, special family members, family servants and trusted retainers, and close, personal friends have been treated well. It is really self-defense.  Things would not go well for the hobgoblin that played a nasty trick on the beloved spouse of the Kairos, as you may imagine.”

Meng Shi took the men and his two boys, fifteen-year-old Pi and nine-year-old She, to the barn and stables. Meng Shi’s trusted retainer, Ba, showed them the oxen, the two big wagons, and the horses they needed to get ready to travel.  Meng Shi found some shovels and got Lockhart and Decker to take the boys out, to dig up several bronze pots filed with gold and silver.  Elder Stow said he was not much good with oxen, but he had just the right tool for making holes in the ground.  He used the same tool Alexis used to pull the bullet from Boston’s shoulder.

“She, I understand,” Lockhart told the boys.  “Like Meng Shi Junior.”

“Father calls She Junior, sometimes,” Pi said.  “His real name is Shu.  That means third son.”

“Our brother died when he was one,” She added.

“Even though Father sometimes calls me Shu.  It is complicated.”

“Pi?” Lockhart said the name like a question, but Pi understood what he was asking.

“I am Meng-Meng, the first son.  Shu means three.  Father calls me that sometimes, because he says I made a family of two into a family of three.”

“Point one four one five nine, father says,” She nudged his big brother.

“Pi,” Decker said, and snorted.

Once everything got packed, it became too late in the evening to move.  They would relax and leave about two hours before sunrise.

Meng Shi called his children close and instructed them that for the next month, or until he caught up with them, they were not to call themselves by the Meng name. They would take their mother’s name, Xiang.  He explained to Lilei that he had dangerous work to do, and he explained to the travelers that he would hide and watch for three weeks, maybe twenty-five days if he could manage it.  Probably not a full thirty days if he had to act.  He wanted to plan his move where he had the best chance for success, by which he meant survival.  The travelers understood that they had to be gone in that time in case Meng Shi died and the whole time zone reset.

Meng Shi and Lilei went off to spend what time they had together.  Millie and Alexis got to put the children to bed, and Millie confessed that she really wanted to have children.  Alexis said she understood.

Four in the morning, the caravan headed out from Meng Shi’s house.  Meng Shi stayed, and showed himself to his neighbors in the daylight with the hope that they would think whatever travelers headed off in the night, they had nothing to do with his family.  He prayed that by the time his neighbors figured it out, his family might be well on their way, and difficult to catch.

Lilei cried most of the first day, and Aiting cried with her.  Pi kept a stiff upper lip, but She ignored them all and kept running ahead.  Boston finally put the boy up behind Sukki, and the three of them got along great after that.

Ba, and five servants, including one man for each ox-drawn wagon, went with them to watch over the family. Ba got a third ox to carry the traveler’s wagon, which they loaded with all the silver, gold, and jewels, and which also carried all of the cowboy equipment.

Lockhart rode Dog at the front of the line, and Katie rode the horse that had been Reynard’s.  Alexis, Lincoln, Evan and Millie shared the other two cowboy horses, and two horses they brought from Ji, but mostly they walked, since the caravan could not move any faster than the lazy oxen.

Decker and Elder Stow took the wings, but in this case, they kept their eyes open for whatever might be following them, or catching up.  They also watched the dozen horses that got tied to the wagons, including the rest of the ones the travelers rode all the way from Ji.  It would make the beginning of a nice herd once Lilei reached the city of Shu.

Shu proved twenty days down the road, and Boston got nervous.  That had been the limit of Meng Shi’s promise, and the time gate looked to be a few days beyond the city.  They saw Lilei and the children warmly accepted by her family, and heard the family promise to keep the secret of the Meng name.  Lilei’s mother delighted in calling her grandchildren Xiang Pi, Xiang Aiting, and Xiang She.

Three days later, Boston and Sukki stayed out front, and Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings. They all had their own horses.  Lockhart rode Dog, sometimes, and Katie rode Reynard’s horse, though she switched it out to use her own saddle.  Billy and Tom Porter’s horses took turns as draft horses to pull the wagon.  They were not sure how long they could keep the wagon, but the paths were becoming roads, and the roads were improving, so they might do well if they did not end up in the middle of a jungle.

Katie and Lockhart often walked with the others.  In a pinch, Katie could double up with Lockhart on Dog.  Lincoln and Alexis could double on one cowboy horse, and Evan and Millie could ride another, which would leave the third cowboy horse to drag the wagon, possibly for miles.  That would not be a good way to go under normal circumstances.  It would be too hard on the horses.

“So that leaves us with walking most of the time,” Lockhart concluded.  The morning sun just touched the horizon, and people started packing to go.

“Have you noticed,” Katie said, and paused.  “Maybe it is just me, but it seems the time between gates is getting longer.  That is not a good thing if we are reduced to a walking speed.”

“How do you figure?”

“Twenty-three days from Meng Shi to the gate.  Xianyang to Shu was four hundred miles, according to Lincoln.”

As Lockhart considered her observation, Tien Shang-Di showed up.  Alexis noticed and figured it out.

“Meng Shi died.”

Tien dropped his eyes.  “I can hold the time gate here for a bit, but I would appreciate it if you hurry.”

“Boston?”

“Heading out, Boss.”

People moved quickly.  Things got thrown into the back of the wagon, and Evan pulled the cowboy horse forward, through the gate.  Finally, Lockhart and Katie, both mounted, were the last.

“Thank you,” Katie said to Tien, who waved.

“Come on,” Lockhart told her.  “We have a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.”

END

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TOMMOROW

A brief introduction of what s to come.  We return to familiar faces and one new face in the Kairos Medieval, Book 3 Light in the Dark Ages  (M3) where Festuscato, last Senator of Rome sails to Danish lands and the Halls of Hrothgar (8 weeks of posts).  Then we return to Gerraint in the days of King Arthur and the search for The Holy Graal.  (13 weeks of posts).  And finally, The Old Way has Gone, where Margueritte, grows up on the border of Brittany and Francia, and gets into all kinds of medieval trouble. (18 weeks of posts).  Tune in tomorrow for the preview.

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Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 4 of 5

When they reached Anyi, Meng Shi checked with his nephew Meng Yi, the one he left in charge of the city.  No more wagons or barrels of magic powder went up the road on the way to the army in Handan.  That was good, so Meng Shi spent a day interviewing Yi, and others, concerning the condition of the city.  He found things calm and the people far more settled and at peace with Qin rule than he expected.  He told the others that his nephew was a natural.  They headed out for Xianyang, the capitol of the Qin state.  That would be a five or six-day journey.

On one of those nights, they sat around an inn within Qin territory, and the subject of the servant of the Masters and his attempt to develop a plague came up.

“But here is the thing.  This scientist of the Masters has talked about being alive in the far future.  He has the king thinking about immortality, but in the way the gods are immortal, and I have not heard any suggestion that perhaps that is not the case.  The king is superstitious, you know.  He has decided that there must be some kind of magic formula.  He is going to be the spark that sets off two thousand years of Chinese alchemy in the search for immortality.  True, there are some good things discovered in that time; but mostly, what a waste of human skill and ingenuity, and too many good people will die, testing the potions, and in other related ways.”

“But that isn’t what made the people turn against him, is it?” Millie asked.  She had been wondering about that, and did not get a satisfactory answer from Evan, who admitted he knew little about Chinese history, or from Katie, or Lincoln.

Meng Shi admitted.  “I can only read the writing on the wall, so to speak. I have no definitive answer, either; but I would say he will centralize everything, like some two-bit fascist, socialist dictator. He will massively raise taxes, which will crash the economy.  He will redistribute the wealth, mostly to his own pocket, and to his friends, which are those who suck up to him.  He will begin massive government work projects, digging canals, making roads, building the Great Wall of China.  More than a million people will die from overwork and malnutrition.  The people will be miserable, and hate him.”

“What about the nobility?” Katie asked.

“That much is certain,” Meng Shi said. “He is convinced the hereditary nobility is what caused the Zhou Dynasty to fall.  He plans to replace the nobles with an elite class of bureaucrats.  You know how graft and bribery work.  Worse, at least the nobles had a vested interest in what happened to their land, and the workers on their land.  You can’t get rice from a dead man.  National bureaucrats can make the most inhumane, insane rules and could care less what happens to local people, as long as the people keep the rules.  That is all that matters to bureaucrats.”

Alexis complained.  “Bureaucrats are just people, like any others.  They are good people, mostly.”

Several people scoffed, and Lockhart quipped, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Meng Shi said, “You should find the time gate down around Shu, in Qin territory.  Let me say, if you go through the city and stop in the market, I hope you don’t have to sneeze.”

“Why?” Decker asked.

Meng Shi grinned.  “About five years ago, a man in the market sneezed in front of a petty bureaucrat.  The bureaucrat complained that the man made the pomegranates wet.  He went home and wrote a rule that said you were not allowed to sneeze within twenty-feet of a market stall.  He had the man arrested.  He wanted the death penalty, and the judge said his hands were tied, because it was the rule.  I had to intervene.  I took them all to the market, got a feather, and tickled the bureaucrat’s nose until he sneezed.  Then I told the judge to pass the sentence.  Both cases were dropped, but the law is still on the books, so to speak.  So, if you go to the market in Shu, try not to sneeze.”

###

When they arrived in Xianyang, they quickly found the factory and warehouse where they were making the magic powder.  Meng Shi had the authority, being of the king’s court, to commandeer the house next door. Alexis, Lincoln, Millie, and Evan all protested, but Meng Shi already had his purse out.  He later mentioned that he gave the homeowner enough money to buy a new house, if that became necessary.

Elder Stow asked if he should get out his sonic device, but the day was on.  The sun got ready to set, and the factory appeared empty.  Meng Shi said he did not necessarily want to kill the workers, but they had to be sure the cowboys were there.  Lockhart added that this might be their one chance to capture the cowboys and put them out of business, permanently.  So, they waited.  They cooked what food they found, and had with them, and settled in for the night, sleeping on the floor, and watching out the windows.

When the dawn arrived, they watched the workers file into the buildings.  Decker imagined they were making a new batch of gunpowder for the wars ahead.  Katie voiced her reservations.

“I understand we have to catch the cowboys, but if we set off the black powder now, won’t we be killing mostly innocent workers?”

“I have asked Tien, my son, to protect the innocent,” Meng Shi responded.  “I have also asked him to search the minds of the people to see where the knowledge of making the gunpowder may have spread among the people.”

“Will he have to kill those people, too?” Katie asked.

“No, he can clean the memory, but you must understand.”  Meng Shi stepped over to the back door and called.  “Alexis, Sukki, and Lincoln,” he called, and they came in from the cooking fire in the back yard, to listen, so they all would hear and have no excuse. “We won’t always have the luxury of the gods to clean up the mess.  In situations like this, very often the innocent and guilty will die together. It can’t be helped. To delete the work of the masters, or whatever cowboys happen to wander through the field, sometimes the innocent will suffer.  Better you make peace with that thought now.  Alexis, better you get your tears and complaints out now and over with. Going forward, I may need all of you to do what must be done, regardless of who suffers.”

“Understood,” Decker said.

“Understood,” Lockhart agreed.

No one else said anything, except Boston, who raised her voice.  “We got company.”

People rushed to the widows.  They saw the two cowboys and a third man ride into an alleyway as soldiers began to fill the street.  The third man wore fancy silks, and Meng Shi named him.

“Li Si.  He is the king’s counselor.  He should not die.  For the rest of them, you need to defend the house.”

Decker shot out the window.  The soldier that appeared to be in charge and getting the little army ready to charge the house, collapsed.

“The homeowner turned us in,” Lockhart surmised.

“Probably figured to double his money,” Katie agreed.  Katie got her rifle, and Lockhart, his shotgun, and they took up the position to the right side of the door, opposite Decker.  Evan got Katie’s handgun and went to the door, beside Lincoln.  Li Si stood up in the alleyway and yelled at the soldiers.  One of the cowboys pulled him back down behind a box.

“Get ready,” Decker yelled, as Sukki stepped up beside him, holding Boston’s handgun.  Decker switched his rifle to automatic fire.  Katie had already done that.

The soldiers across the street appeared to take a deep breath, and prepared to attack, when Boston, holding Alexis’ hand and dragging her behind, stepped between Evan and Lincoln, and out the front door. She had her wand out, and used it like a flame thrower.  She laid down a line of fire in front of the soldiers, and burned many, including some in the face. The soldiers scattered. Some ran for their lives, but many backed up into the houses across the way.

Several arrows came from the archers on the roof across the street.  They struck the front of the house, but did not come near Boston.  One of the cowboys, however, fired his Winchester. Boston took a bullet in her shoulder and staggered back into the house, as Alexis pulled her to safety.

“Damn,” Boston griped as Alexis got to work.  She had Elder Stow’s device, which she ran over the wound.  The bullet pulled out and clattered on the floor.  Alexis laid hands on the wound, and a golden glow surrounded her hands and Boston’s shoulder.  Right away, the bleeding stopped and the wound began to close up.

“Get ready.”  Katie yelled it this time.  Sukki went back to stand behind Decker, after checking on Boston. Lockhart traded places with Evan. He made Evan back-up Katie with his pistol, while he held the shotgun by the door, ready for the charge.

“That feels better,” Boston said to Alexis.  She grabbed Alexis with her good hand and tried to catch Alexis’ eyes.  “You have to fire the explosive arrows.  You need to get the guys on the roof.”

“Shut-up,” Alexis told her.  “You need to relax to heal.”

“Puts.”

“What are they waiting for?” Evan asked.

Evan got the question out before he threw his hands to his ears.  Everyone covered their ears, and opened their mouths, Katie, Alexis, and Lockhart making a sound of surprise and pain at the same time.  Meng Shi stood by the window at the side of the house and held the sonic device.  He stuck it out the window, but turned it up all the way.

For a few seconds, only the sonic scream could be heard, before it got overshadowed with the sound of a massive explosion.  The warehouse blew up and became splinters, while the roof broke apart high in the sky. Shortly, the workhouse blew up. The buildings, what remained of them, burned in a great conflagration—an inferno that destroyed everything.  A couple of workers staggered out from the fire, but they were on fire, themselves, and quickly collapsed.

Meng Shi turned off the sonic device and handed it back to Elder Stow.  He had a tear in his eye, and Elder Stow accepted the device without a word.

As soon as the warehouse roof fell to the ground, to be consumed by the fire, and the screaming sonic device got turned off, the soldiers across the street vented their anger and fear with screams of hate.  They charged the house.  Guns blazed. Soldiers fell in the street by ones and in groups.  Two made it to the front door, only to be blown back by Lockhart’s shotgun.

The cowboys, Juan Reynard and Tom Porter used their Winchester repeaters sparingly.  They tried to keep back the travelers in the windows and door. Finally, Reynard stood to get a clear shot, and either Katie or Decker got him with three bullets, dead center. Reynard collapsed, and the outlaw, Porter, stood, red anger in his eyes, and emptied his Winchester.  He pulled his six-shooter, but took three bullets of his own, spun, and fell face down in the street.

Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 3 of 5

Things did not go quite as smoothly as Meng Shi presented it to the captain.  Wang Jian refused to see him and sent word that if he discovered Meng Shi was in any way responsible for the ruin of the magic powder, Meng Shi’s life would be forfeit.

Meng Shi slowly led the travelers down the line, and found the body of young Billy Porter.  Boston cried.  She said she liked Billy.  Millie offered her thought.

“He was not just young, and innocent in a way. He was simple.  The kind of young man that might have benefited from some institutional help.”

No one said a hundred years after Millie lived, they got rid of those kinds of institutions.  Society no longer liked institutionalizing people, not to mention the expense.  Sadly, the result was such people, instead of being helped, they got discarded—basically, thrown away.  They often ended up homeless and living on the street.

They buried Billy right away, just before Alexis found one last barrel of unexploded gunpowder.  The soldiers driving the wagon became surprised when a giant gust of localized wind knocked that heavy barrel right off the wagon. It hit a rock and split wide open. It dumped more powder after the travelers got finished examining the evidence.  Then it seemed to set itself on fire.  No one could explain that.  It was not even near a campfire.  People ran away. but this time, it did not goBoom. It made something like a big Poof, and that was it.

Meng Wu only saw Meng Shi because they were related, but he said plainly that Meng Shi had to have something to do with the disaster.

“The famine is not an answer,” Meng Wu said, once he stopped yelling.  “Tell King Zheng he will have to do something better to break this stalemate.”

Meng Shi nodded.  “I will send word. Right now, I have to get back to Meng Yi in Anyi.  That is a stubborn, reluctant city, and your son Yi is still young and inexperienced.”

“I have every confidence in my boys,” Meng Wu said, and lifted his hand to the shoulder of his elder son, Tien. Tien at least had the kindness to wave good-bye.

###

Meng Shi and the travelers moved quickly from the Qin camp before Wang Jian changed his mind and the questions became too pointed.  They took Billy Porter’s horse, saddle, and guns.  Nothing from the future got left behind in the Qin camp.  It took a week from there to reach the city of Anyi, even traveling mostly on roads of a sort.  Meng Shi stayed quiet most of the way, but he did tell the travelers a couple of things.

“King Zheng will eventually conquer all of the other warring states and establish the Qin dynasty as the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang-Di.”

“I’ve seen it mostly written Qin Shi Huang,” Katie said.  “Without the Di.”

“That is because he styled himself as a god-like king.  That is not a god-king, like in the Middle East or among some of the crazier Roman emperors.  He isn’t looking for the people to worship him, necessarily.  But he wants to be honored and revered, and his name to carry weight even in distant lands.  And he will not permit his decisions to be questioned.  The thing is, the people that come after him do not venerate him in that way.  His rule is rather harsh and cruel.  So mostly, they drop the god-connection.”

“Just as well,” Decker said.

“But he will succeed?” Millie said, like a question.

Meng Shi nodded.  “I have seen that level of intense, single-minded ambition a few times over my many lifetimes.  Alexander was that way.  Caesar, though he isn’t born yet.  Patton, mostly.  The thing is, King Zheng doesn’t need gunpowder added to the mix.”

“Gunpowder was a Chinese invention,” Evan pointed out.

“Yes, but not for another thousand years,” Meng Shi countered.

###

The next day, Katie woke up with a serious thought.  “I’m confused.  The way it was explained to me, you always have one or more future lives you remember, for example, you remember the twenty-first century where we come from. But the immediate future is unknown to you., or so you claim.  I have heard you say, the next hundred years are a mystery, because they are just now in the process of being written.”

“Your question?”

Katie took a moment to frame the question, and the people around the fire waited patiently.  “Qin Shi Huang will conquer the warring states, as you say.  If I did not know the history, exactly, I could read it in Lincoln’s database.  But that will happen in the next ten years or so, which is far less than the hundred years you say is a mystery to you.  How is it you know this?”

Meng Shi understood.  “Two reasons,” he said, and then framed his own thoughts. “First, I think by the grace of God, I always seem to know what does not belong in the time I am living, like gunpowder. Such things stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, and I get the overwhelming urge to do something about it.  Normally, I understand I am the only one who can do something about it.”

“Like, knowing us when we show up?” Boston said, putting it together in her own mind. “You always know us right away, because we don’t belong in this time period.”

Meng Shi agreed.  “Like knowing you.”  He smiled for Boston, and she returned the same.  “At whatever point in my life you find me, I remember who you are and what you are attempting to do.  I remember the time gates around this time zone; things I normally don’t know about, or at least have no reason to think about.  I remember some of your past journey, and some of your future, which I am not at liberty to talk about, and I remember the twentieth and twenty-first centuries which is your home.  Of course, after you leave, it becomes like real memory.  I remember you being here, and whatever time I spent with you, but I believe the deep past and future memories mostly fade, unless there is some reason to remember.”

“Okay,” Katie said.  “But that does not explain how you know about Qin Shi Huang. As I understand it, he does not take that name until after he finishes his conquests, ten years from now.”

Meng Shi sighed, like he did not really want to talk about it.  “Well, first, when something odd, like gunpowder shows up, I generally get glimpses of the broader picture surrounding the issue.  Maybe the best way I can explain it is I get like two competing visions of the immediate future.  I see one that feels right, even if King Zheng would not have been my pick to win the battle of the states.  Then, I see a vision with gunpowder, and eventually guns, and that feels terribly wrong. That is why I know I have to do something about the gunpowder, for example.”

“And the second reason?”  Katie asked.  “You said there were two reasons.”

Meng Shi frowned and stood.  “Sometimes, when I near the end of the life I am living, I glimpse some of the future, both of the life I am currently living, when work is unfinished, and some inkling of the life to come.”  He stepped away from the fire and toward his horse, and mumbled. “I feel I may be a woman next time. I will have to ask my wife about that.”

###

No one dared ask Meng Shi what he meant about the end of his life until two days later at supper.  Lincoln said Meng Shi could not be over forty. “Thirty-eight or so.  I read the years in the database and did the math.

“Forty is plenty old for this day and age,” Meng Shi countered.  “But I know what you mean.  Still, I am not immune from diseases or accidents.”

“Maybe you will die in battle,” Decker said.

Meng Shi appeared to think about it, but ended up shaking his head, no.  “Not battle, but I sense violence.”

Lockhart added what had been on his mind. “You said even without gunpowder, your king will conquer the other kingdoms in this land.  Some connection to all that fighting would be a reasonable guess.”

“Stop being morbid,” Alexis complained. “You are talking about the man’s death.”

“I am certain King Zheng will find a way to win,” Meng Shi said.  “But I won’t be there to see it.”

“Why do you feel that way?” Alexis asked for his opinion, and people sat up to pay close attention.

“It is complicated.  There is a servant of the masters in the capitol. He is introducing germ warfare. He is growing bacteria—some disease.”

“Any idea what?” Alexis the nurse asked.

“Plague of some kind, you can be sure. But what is worse, he has captured the ear of the king with talk about being alive two thousand years in the future. Now, you know, like me, he will die and be reborn in the future… This is complicated.”

“Who are the Masters?” Millie asked.

“Demons from Hell,” Meng Shi answered, but he grinned.  “No.  Mostly I refer to them as the enemy from the future. I assume some people in the far future don’t like the way things turned out and are determined to change history. Somehow, they know about my many lifetimes, and figured out a way to give a future life to various people scattered throughout history.  These servants of the Masters then train and teach the future life, to give the skill necessary to accomplish certain tasks in the past life, as the two lives link in time and information gets shared between the two lifetimes.”

“Like what?” Millie asked.

“Like assassination, or developing some plague.  Early gunpowder, guns, and weapons of mass destruction is something that the Masters are usually involved with.  And it is all for the purpose of changing history, to make it turn out more the way they want.”

“So, there are people who have another life in history after all,” Katie said.

“And not all servants of the Masters. My own friends in the future, as I sometimes call them, have similarly given a second life, or even a third life to some people who have been a tremendous help at certain critical points in history.  There is, however, a limit on how many times a person can be reborn in that way.  I manage almost a hundred and fifty lifetimes, because there are no great gaps between lives.  At least, I don’t think so.  Also, when I was made, I had all the genetic material for a man and a woman, but all jumbled up in one person, me.  The ancient god, Cronos, figured out how to make that work, so I could be born.  Fortunately, my friends in the future that took over the work decided it would work better if I took turns, more or less, between male and female. I think being both makes me more of a complete person, like the first Adam before the woman and man became separated.  As long as I stay more or less balanced between male and female, like the two sides of the same coin, I might be reborn forever.  God, I hope not.  But for most one-sided people, too many times in a row as the same sex, and a person becomes mentally unhinged, among other things.”

“That would not be good,” Boston said.

Meng Shi shook his head.  “I think Rasputin was his seventh rebirth, and he was loony as a dodo.

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MONDAY

The gunpowder factory needs to be shut down, and the cowboy-outlaws need to be stopped.  Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 2 of 5

Alexis asked one question in the morning. “When was the last time we were in China?”

Lincoln looked it up and rattled off the answer.  “We were in Tibet about three hundred years ago.  But Rajish came from India, so that might not count.  China proper, at least on the Wei River, we found Shang Feyan in the days when the Zhou overthrew the Shang.  That was more than seven hundred years ago.  Before that was Yu Huang in the sacred mountain, after the Shang took over from the Hsia. Then Lin—Chin Shao Lin, founder of the Hsia Dynasty, and before that, Nuwa.”  He stopped.

“How long ago was Nuwa?” Katie wondered.

“About twenty-five hundred and maybe forty years ago.  Call it twenty-five fifty.”

“I remember the hoopers,” Lockhart said.

Decker let out a small, “Haw”.

“Nuwa is my friend,” Boston said. “The dragon, I mean.  I love my goddess.”

Jing Ke swallowed his breakfast and got that old look on his face.  “You know Nuwa?”

“We met,” Katie said.  “She traveled with us for a few days, but she was very busy.  The sky fell, you know.”

“She certainly knows us,” Lockhart added, and felt the nudge which he was learning was wife-speak for shut-up.

Jing Ke looked at the woods and the horses.  “There is a mountain,” he said. “It is not far from Handan.  They say it is the place where Nuwa fixed the sky.”

“She made the Pendratti and Sevarese go away in their space ships and reestablished Earth as a no-fly zone,” Lincoln told Evan and Millie, and he supposed Sukki, too.  Jing Ke shook his head, like maybe Lincoln said that in French, for all he understood.

“Pack it up.  Get the horses.  Time to move.”  Lockhart got up and changed the subject.

Boston had one thing to add before she rode out ahead.  “You know, we’ve been in this time zone ten whole days, and nobody has yet tried to kill us, or anything.”

“Boston!”  Alexis yelled at her, but it was too late.  Sure enough, they did not get out of the woods before they became surrounded by a hundred soldiers.

The travelers had to get down and walk their horses, under escort, with soldiers on both sides.  When they came out of the woods, they saw a great wall and two forts, one near and one barely discernable in the distance.  It was not a great wall of China wall, but it looked like a serious obstacle for any opposing army that carried only swords and spears.  That opposing army appeared spread out in tents that stretched to the horizon.  The Zhao army had their own tents behind the wall, where the travelers walked.  Jing Ke dared to speak to Lockhart, and Katie while they walked.

“Li Mu took the year of the earthquake and the year of famine to build his fortifications.  I understand he used every natural resource in the landscape he could, like rivers, mountains, and forests.  He did not dare spread his men too thin, but patrols, like this one, keep a watch on all ways.”

Lockhart understood, but Katie added her own thought.  “Thermopylae is a natural choke point.  Three hundred Spartans can hold it, as long as the enemy does not discover the secret path over the mountains.”

An hour later, they entered the fort and left their horses on the ground. Decker had his binoculars and the scope for his rifle.  Lockhart grabbed the other pair of binoculars and Katie got her scope, and they climbed up to the wall, now seriously guarded.  They left all their knives with the horses, but they took the handguns, plus Decker and Katie carried their rifles.  Lockhart slipped the shotgun on his shoulder, and they climbed the stairs.

The travelers got stopped not far down the wall, as the captain stepped forward.  He whispered to one of the middle-aged men, and stood back.  An older man stood there leaning on a cane, not due to his age, but seemingly from a wound that appeared mostly healed.  A third man, maybe forty or so, continued to look out on the enemy, but the first two turned on the travelers.  The middle-aged man spoke.

“If you are spies sent by the Qin to test our defenses, speak plainly.  You have been caught.  You will be locked away, but at least you will not be tortured.”  He paused, and took a closer look at the group.  “You are strange looking people.  What are they growing in Qin?”

“We are not spies,” Lockhart responded calmly.  “We are not native to any of the lands here.  We are travelers who have come a long way and still have a long way to go.”

The middle-aged man prepared to speak again, but Jing Ke stepped forward and interrupted.  “I am Jing Ke, servant of King Xi of Yan.  We left Yan ten days ago to come to you.  Yan has no army to send at this time, but I have been instructed to see if there may be other ways we may provide for your relief.  I was told to speak to Guo Kai, to see if there is some way, in my king’s name, I can help find a path to peace.”

The old man laughed, and the middle-aged one growled.  “Twice, now, in the same day I have been presented with words impossible to verify. This one speaks of a magic powder in the hands of the Qin that will make holes in our wall.  And now, you say you have been sent from Yan to speak of peace. Are all of you from Yan?  I have never seen yellow hair before.”

“Not much of a spy,” Alexis said softly to Jing Ke.  He responded, like it did not matter.

“I have watched you in these past ten days and heard you speak openly and honestly about things no one on this earth could possibly know.  But I believe you, and I have learned that sometimes honesty can get more of the truth of the matter than subterfuge will ever know.  My king can do little right now, but he genuinely wants to help.  It may be for selfish reasons, to put off the invasion of his own land for as long as possible, but what difference does that make if I can help.  Maybe I can find that elusive path to peace.  Who can say?”

“Wait.  There is more.  Let me show you,” The third man said as he turned at last to face the group.  “Lockhart, lend me the binoculars,” he said, before he opened his arms and said, “Boston.”

Boston had a man holding her arm and holding a sword by her side.  Boston slipped from the arm and raced into the hug before that man could otherwise move. The man who spoke, clearly, the Kairos Meng Shi, removed Boston’s glamour so she stood there in all her elfish glory.

“Now I feel kinda naked,” she said.

“Hush,” Meng Shi said.  “Tell me what you see.  I am looking for barrels of black powder.  I followed one of the outlaws, and a whole troop of wagons to this place, but lost them in the camp.  I am sure they have brought them to Wang Jian and my cousin, Meng Wu.  I am sure it is only a matter of time before they bring them forward and boom, no more wall.”

The old man laughed again on seeing the elf, but the middle-aged man found his voice after his initial shock. “That would be a disaster.  They have twice our number.  We are barely able to hold this strong defensive position.”

Meng Shi introduced the other two men. “Li Mu, general in charge, and my laughing friend is his assistant, general Sima Shang.  Sima Shang has the defense against the south and came up here for a strategy session.”

Katie and Decker already started looking through their scopes.  Elder Stow also got his goggles, and the soldiers backed off a little, but stayed ready.

“Li Mu.  I am honored,” Jing Ke said, and made an appropriate bow.  “These travelers have been sent by the gods. You have heard the demon guardian from the burning court of Diyu speak.  They have all been empowered by the gods to find the three evil ones making the magic powder, and stop them, by sending them back to the land of torment.”

On the mention of the Chinese hell, the guards took another step back.  One looked ready to run, but his fellow guards held him in place.

Lockhart handed Meng Shi the glasses and spoke on the strategy meeting.  “If they break through the wall, no strategy meeting will help much. You will mostly have screaming and panic.”

“There,” Lincoln shouted and pointed. “One of the cowboys.”

Meng Shi tried to look where Lincoln looked.  He said, “Elder Stow.  Can you scan the line there and see where they may have brought up the barrels of powder?”

“Of course,” he said, and removed his goggles to give them to Evan.  He pulled out his scanner, and shortly projected a holographic image of the line, with yellow dots indicating where the gunpowder barrels stood, several together, in several locations down the line.

“I would say they are preparing to move,” Decker said.

“Definitely,” Katie confirmed his assessment.

“Quick,” Meng Shi moved down the wall toward the travelers.  “Elder Stow, your sonic device.”  He held out his hand and Elder Stow handed over the device before he thought about it. Meng Shi turned up the device to full power, and pointed it at the line.  It would drain fast, but he hoped it would do the trick.  “Hold your ears,” he said, and let it rip.  People shouted, screamed, and threw their hands up to cover their ears.  A few fell to roll on the ground in agony.  One by one, the stacks of powder exploded, as Meng Shi turned the device to point at each stack that showed on Elder Stow’s projection.  Even with the naked eye, they saw men, animals, tents, campfires, and everything else, including bushes and trees get tossed and broken.  They heard the thunder and saw the tremendous plumes of fire and smoke rise up into the sky.

Then the screeching whine stopped as suddenly as it started, and Meng Shi said, “We need to get down there and make sure they all got destroyed.”

Li Mu, who grabbed the edge of the wall and left his mouth hanging open, turned quickly and said, “Wait.”

Meng Shi responded before the general could form a clear thought.  “What? Are you going to go there and make sure they all got destroyed?  You going to send your army?”

Li Mu took a step back and waved him off. “No.  I understand.”

“You’re welcome,” Meng Shi said, and guided the others to the stairs

“Take my horse,” Jing Ke shouted.

“No,” Meng Shi shouted back.  “Your horse blanket proves you are from Yen. Li Mu has horses below, including the one I came on.  If I can’t find mine, I’ll take one of his.  Call it an even exchange.”

Li Mu nodded and waved for the Captain to get Meng Shi a horse.

When the captain caught up, he said, “But aren’t you afraid they will kill you for destroying their surprise and killing so many?”

“I did what?”  Meng Shi smiled while men prepared his horse and the travelers got ready to ride.  “Li Mu turned down my proposal, that since the famine last year, his food stores must be running low, so Wang Jian would graciously accept an honorable surrender.”

“But no,” the captain said.  “The spring crops were good and the summer harvest looks to be bountiful.”

“Do, you see?  I got turned down and I prepared to leave, when I found my friends, here, captured by a hundred of Zhao’s finest.  Suddenly, everything began to blow up, and we raced to safety in all the confusion.”

Meng Shi mounted and the captain hurried them out the gate.

Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 1 of 5

After 267 BC, Qin. Kairos lifetime 84: Meng Shi and the First Emperor.

Recording …

Lockhart and Katie led the travelers away from the oppressive heat of the forges under Mount Etna, and into a pleasant garden of flowers and flowering trees.  Several buildings, haphazardly placed here and there around the garden, looked oriental in the extreme.  Katie chided herself for not remembering.  Katie’s blonde locks and Major Decker’s African appearance aside, at least Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow could adjust the glamours they wore to appear more oriental.  Alexis could produce a glamour for herself as well.

As they stepped into the wonderfully fragrant garden, they startled many young women, who screamed and ran to the buildings.  Men screamed as well, but Katie imagined they were the eunuchs that watched over the concubines of whatever great house they invaded.  Katie at least got a good look at the clothing of these women, and changed her fairy weave clothes into a more modest replica of what she saw.  She nudged Lockhart, but he seemed too busy staring.

“It was bound to happen, eventually,” he said, quietly.  “We can’t expect the time gate to always be hidden behind a tree.”

Katie nodded, and as the others came through, she made sure they made the proper adjustments in their appearance.

Boston and Sukki led their horses, Honey and Freedom.  Boston helped Sukki adjust her glamour.  Alexis, Lincoln, Millie, and Evan came together, and Alexis immediately helped the others do what they could with their clothing.  Dog followed them, bringing the wagon behind.

Decker and Elder Stow came last, leading their horses.  Elder Stow made quick adjustments in his look, but Decker made the rest of the people in that garden scream louder and cover their faces.  Decker thought it a good idea to check his rifle, but he had no interest in changing out of his camouflage fatigues.

The travelers did not have to wait long. Three men came to greet them. One, middle aged, stared, open jawed. He winced on seeing Decker, and mumbled something about demons of the gods.  The elderly one got down on his face and prostrated himself.  The young one in the middle spoke, kindly, though carefully.

“Welcome to Ji and the court of King Xi, my father.  I am Prince Dan of Yan.”  He bowed slightly before he continued.  “The one beside me is Jing Ke, one who works for my father in many special ways.  The old man at your feet is Ju Wu, my father’s most trusted counselor.”  He paused before he apologized.  “I am sorry my father is not here to greet you himself.”

“Quite all right,” Lockhart said. “We are pleased to meet you. Please tell Wu Ju to stand.  We are not gods.”

“Ju Wu,” Katie corrected, and added, “But we are friends with many of the gods, and would like to be your friends, too.” She gave it her friendliest smile.

Lockhart looked at her, but did not question her sixth sense about such things.  “I am Lockhart, and my wife is Katie.”  Lockhart tried to match Katie’s smile, but Prince Dan looked up at the giant in front of him and swallowed.  He repeated Lockhart’s name with no problem, but turned Katie’s name into two names, Kay-Di, which made Katie sigh before she shrugged.  Di would indicate a clear connection to the gods, like their friend, Tien Shang-Di, the high god of the heavens.

Ju Wu did stand, though he trembled a bit, as Lockhart introduced the rest of the group.  When he got to Boston, she appeared to be focused on conferring with Lincoln.  She had out her amulet, and Lincoln had out the database.  Lockhart tried not to yell.  “Boston, your horse is eating the flowers.”

“Honey!”  Boston did yell, and went to fetch her animal.  “Sorry, boss.”

“We have a long journey ahead of us,” Katie said, to continue the conversation.  “But we thought it only right to pay our respects to the king of the land we are traveling through.”

Katie had no idea what might have gone through Prince Dan’s head, but he suddenly returned their smile and confessed, quietly.  “Right now, my father is hiding with the women.”

“I don’t blame him,” Katie said.  “It must have been shocking to see us appear out of thin air like that.”

“Indeed,” Ju Wu found his voice. “And where have you come from?”

“Most recently, from a land of fire under a mountain,” Lockhart said, honestly.

“I felt the heat,” Prince Dan said, softly, and Lockhart turned his head.  The time gate opened when they went through, and the heat radiated into this place. But now that they were not moving through the gate, it seemed to have closed up, or deactivated, or whatever it did to keep ordinary time-locked folks from stumbling through.

Katie took up the telling.  “We came from more than four thousand years ago, and have more than two thousand years still to travel, helped by the gods, as you saw.”

“Boston?”  Lockhart spoke only her name.

“We checked against the map in the database.  The Kairos appears to be outside a city.  Anyi, we think.  He may have a home there, but my guess is he is moving toward us.  Lincoln guessed we will meet him in Handan.  That looks like Zhao territory.”

“Your friend?” Prince Dan asked.

“The Kairos, one counted among the gods,” Katie said.  Katie felt the need to play up the god hand as a way to insure their safety.  Her instincts proved accurate when the third man, Jing Ke, spoke loud and clear.

“You carry weapons and ride horses like the three evil ones who came here two months ago.  They killed my friend, Li Ao, and now, have you come to finish the job?”

The travelers looked surprised and did not know what to say until Decker spoke up.  “They are outlaws.  We have come to find them and stop them.”

“The gods will judge,” Prince Dan spoke to Jing Ke.

Ju Wu had another thought, and he sounded very surprised.  “Your demon guardian speaks?”

Lockhart looked back.  “Demon guardian?”  He grinned.

Decker shrugged.  “I can live with that.”

Evan stepped up.  “We have several assignments, and things the gods have asked of us. But, you know about special assignments for the king, don’t you Jing Ke?” Jing Ke appeared to understand very well, and as he considered it, Evan turned to Katie.  “Lincoln let me read some about this time period from the database.”

Katie nodded.

When they finally got to meet the king, the minister Ju Wu told a fanciful tale to introduce them.  They were sent by the gods to capture the outlaws and drag them back to Diyu, the Chinese Hell, where they belong.  In fact, the travelers just came from the burning court of Diyu, where they picked up their demon guardian, and now are on the hunt. The king was pleased to know the three evil ones would get their just reward, but he became more afraid than ever. The travelers spent the night, but in the morning, they all got horses with the hope that they would be out of Yan territory as soon as possible.

Prince Dan went with them three days, to the edge of Zhao territory, where he added some silver to the purse they carried.  Jing Ke accompanied them ten days, all the way to Handan, the capitol of Zhao, which appeared to be under siege by the armies of Qin.

“I have been charged to spy on the generals Sima Shang and Li Mu of Zhao,” Jing Ke said, frankly.  Jing Ke seemed an affable fellow, once he got to know the travelers a little.

“Slick as a used car salesman,” Lincoln described him.

Jing Ke, now more relaxed in the presence of the travelers, finally told more of the real story of the outlaws, as they sat around the evening fire, in a small clearing in the woods.

“Two of them came through just outside the city almost three months ago.  They killed Li Ao with their magic weapons, their “gunds”, and fled to the south, where I hear they joined with King Zheng of the Qin and promised to make some magic powder.  The third came to just south of Ji about a month ago.  The king sent a troop of soldiers to catch him, but his horse proved too fast and strong to catch.”

“So, the three are together,” Lockhart concluded.

Jing Ke nodded, and added some thoughts. “King Xi has sent me to check on the Zhao.  The Qin have already conquered Hann.  If Zhao falls, the king fears Yan may be next.  I know Li Mu, the Zhao general, has built and strengthened the great wall, and built fortifications to hold off the Qin, but will it be enough?”

“He won’t fight?” Lockhart asked.

Jing Ke shifted in his seat.  “Li Mu beat the Qin in battle once.  He is about the only general to do so, but his losses were so great, he believes he only has enough army left to defend the capitol.  Two years ago, the ground shook in Zhao.  We felt it in Yan, 1000 li from Handan.  Smaller shakes in the earth followed, and many died, as houses and whole villages collapsed. People rebuilt, but then in this last year, floods came where there had been no floods, and the earth dried in places where rivers and streams used to run.  The crops were not many.  More people died of hunger.”

“Sounds like the general has limited resources,” Decker said.

Jing Ke agreed.  “The Qin sent two armies, not just one.  They came, one from the north and one from the south. The Zhao, under Li Mu have fortified the ways, and the Qin have become frustrated, unable to break through.  Whether they are frustrated enough to turn around and go home, who can say?  The ministers are talking.  I believe ministers are born talking.  It does not necessarily mean anything.  I suppose they may find a path to peace, but I believe King Zheng of Qin does not want peace.”

“It sounds like you already understand the situation very well,” Katie said.

Jing Ke agreed again.  “But I will look and report to my king what I find.  Li Mu may make the taking of Zhao too expensive, so the Qin may reconsider and go elsewhere for a while.  Like to Wei or Chu.  That may give Yan time to make alliances and build our own formidable army. Who can say?  That is the future.”

Things wound down, and people got plenty of sleep that night.  When they got up the next morning, they stayed mostly quiet.  They had some very strong morning tea, and Lockhart said thank you before he mumbled, “It still isn’t coffee.”