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.”
“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.”
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.