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.

*

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.

*

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.

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

MONDAY

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

*

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.”

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 6 of 6

The ground trembled under the Greek soldiers, and those who were not knocked down by the lightning stroke, fell from the earthquake.  It seemed a curious earthquake, because the travelers did not feel it at all.  All that happened was the Greeks lost their footing, and a hole opened up in the side of a very small ridge.

Everyone stared at the figure in the field.  The helmeted figure of a woman looked like the avenging angel of Almighty God.  The sword she held looked impossibly big and unquestionably sharp.  It seemed the very scythe of the angel of death, the reaper come to harvest souls. The Greeks wailed and tried to hide themselves in the ground they felt surely they would be buried in.

“Athena,” Galatea said, and clapped.  “I mean, Minerva.”

The Eporites did not hear, being too busy prostrating themselves.  The travelers vaguely heard, as the struggled to shut their mouths.  Minerva roared.

“Tramp!”  Nanette appeared in front of the goddess, and trembled.    “I don’t need Apollo to laugh and point at me.  And I don’t need the Kairos to tell me this is not how it is supposed to go.  I made you, and this is what you have done with your life?”

“It’s not fair,” the witch complained. “Why are the gods on their side? They have the weapons and the power. They have everything.  It isn’t fair.  I should have it.  I should have it all.  I want it now.  Give it to me.”  The witch may have put every ounce of compulsion and magic into that demand, but in the face of a goddess, that would have been like a drop of water trying to put out the sun.  Not only is that nonsensical in terms of size and strength, but the sun is not even the kind of fire that water can affect.

“Your other half does not feel this way,” Minerva said, silencing the girl to interrupt her.  “Don’t ask me how I know, but clearly you were corrupt from the beginning.  I will find the source of that corruption.”

“No.” Nanette shrieked.  “We serve that one.  She is my source.”

“Of whom do you speak?  Who is your source?”

“No,” Nanette, the witch screamed and instantly caught fire.  She continued to scream for a few seconds before she entirely burned up, leaving only a small pile of ashes on the dirt.

Minerva reached out to put her hand over the ashes before they blew away on the wind.  The ashes came up to Minerva’s hand, and they saw a small clay jar in that hand.  Somehow, the ashes squeezed into the jar so not one escaped, and Minerva put a stopper in the top of the jar.  “And there they will stay until the opportune time.”

“Is that it?” Lockhart whispered.

“I don’t honestly know,” Katie answered in the same soft voice as Minerva looked at the travelers.

“Go home,” Minerva said, not only did the cavalry troop vanish, and the soldiers on the ground, but Petracles and the Eporites, and all of their horses vanished as well.   Only the travelers remained, and Galatea, who suddenly looked miffed.  Minerva ignored the girl as she talked to the travelers.

“I did not look close at this one. She is no more. She will neither bother you nor hinder you any longer.”  Minerva waved, and Katie vanished to reappear beside Minerva, well out of ear shot.  “I went and saw her.  My daughter.  She is beautiful.”  She began to cry.  “She is so smart.  She reminds me of him.  I love her so much.”  She began to weep, and Katie held her and offered what comfort she had.  Minerva did not have it in her to cry for long, and shortly, she pulled back.  “Don’t tell. Please.  Keep this our secret.”

“Your secret is safe.  You just love that beautiful girl.”

Minerva nodded and nearly smiled. “And you and Lockhart should have a girl.”

Katie looked in the direction where the others stood.  “I hope. Someday.”

Minerva nodded again, and disappeared.

As Katie slipped back down the little ridge, she found the others excitedly talking to someone.  She could not see him until she practically stood on top of him.  “Bogramus,” she said.  It was the dwarf from the last time zone, and after sixty years, he only had a touch of gray.

“Well you see, Miss Boston, it was like this,” Bogramus spoke like a grown man to a young child.  “Hephaestus, er, Vulcan said he wanted some minerals dug out of the Nebrodes Mountains, and since I had a whole crew of bored fellas, we said we could do that.  We are dwarves, you know.  Digging for gold is our specialty, but we take work where we can.”

“So, we go this way?” Lincoln asked, and pointed into the cave.

“Yep.”

“But wait,” Katie said, trying to catch up in the conversation.  “Where is the time gate?”

“This way,” Lincoln said, pointing again.

“But it would not be right to come all this way and not say hello to Vulcan,” Millie added.  “You said he invited us.”

Katie agreed before she said, “Wait. Where is Wallace?”

No one wanted to say it.  Alexis stepped up.  “He didn’t make it.  He waded into the soldiers and Nanette screamed and pointed right at him, so they killed him first.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Katie said, especially to Millie and Evan. Evan nodded and Millie sniffed and nodded with him.

Katie returned the nod and started toward Lockhart and the entrance to the cave, but this time Galatea said, “Wait.” She hugged all the women and shook hands with all the men, including Bogramus. “I don’t do underground stuff. Well, I do grottos and sea caves, but with water and high tide.  Smokey, hot underground? No, no.”  Galatea waved and vanished with the words, “See you next time.”

Then they began to walk into the cave and found it well-lit with torches.  “So how many dwarves are working here?”

“Seven,” Bogramus said with a straight face.  “And all bachelors.  Ah, this is the life.  No females to make us miserable, and no children running around getting in the way. Ah.  Mind you, I wouldn’t mind if you knew where some unattached females were hanging around, bored, maybe.”

“Do you whistle while you work?” Lockhart had to ask.

“No, not especially.  Ragtide likes to sing, but we gag him as quick as we can. He is what they call stone deaf.”

“Tone deaf,”

“That too.”

Within an hour, they came to a big open cave, well ventilated, but full of iron works and coal fed boilers and furnaces.  It got hot in there, but Vulcan stood by a forge, waiting patiently.

“Elder Stow,” he called, and the Elder went to the god, meekly, wondering.  “Put your equipment on the table here.  Put it all down, and don’t leave anything out.”

Elder Stow looked briefly at Lockhart and Katie, who both nodded and encouraged him.  He had misgivings, but did as instructed, and stepped back with a word.  “It would probably be best if even you did not get a good look at the inner workings of some of my equipment.”

Vulcan laughed.  “Your secrets are safe.  It is your power source I am concerned about.  Apollo says the time of disillusion is drawing near, and I am thinking the gods might not be around to charge up your equipment next time you need it. There.  Everything is charged except your scanner.  Now here.  This is a new piece for you to carry.  It is a charger.  It should build up a full charge in a few minutes under a light source.  Let us say there are a few things you don’t need to know, either.  Then you touch it to the power source point and it should charge whatever piece of equipment you have in seconds.”

Elder Stow took it and tried it on the scanner.  “Thank you.” It worked perfectly, and did not overcharge the scanner.

“Sure, sure.  You can have your people take it apart to see how it works if you haven’t already come up with something similar by the time you get home. Meanwhile, I might copy that material, your substitute metal there, for a couple of swords I have in mind.  Probably my last gifts to the Kairos before I go away.”

“Hey Boss,” Boston shouted.  The time gate is right in front of us.”

“Yes,” Vulcan laughed.  “Didn’t you wonder why it was only two days’ distance? I thought it would be better to keep it on shore.  Otherwise, the time gate would have been across the sea, half-way to Epirus.”

“It is noon,” Katie said.  “We could go now.”

“You are welcome to stay here and leave in the morning.”  Vulcan said, and smiled, knowing how hot it was for the humans.

They all said thank you and hurried before they melted.

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

MONDAY

Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead is the final chapter in Avalon, season six.  The travelers from Avalon confront the three outlaw-cowboys who are giving the First Emperor of China some unnatural help. Don’t miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 5 of 6

By the morning of the third day, Galatea got right up behind Petracles again, a very contented smile on her face. Apparently, everything went well in the night, though Petracles looked exhausted.  The six soldiers Petracles brought with him to escort the group rode at the back and had the good sense to keep to their own camp in the night and keep their mouths shut.

Boston was not so sensible.  She turned to Sukki, pointed at Galatea snuggling up to Petracles, and said, “See, that is how you do it.”  She said it several times.

“What makes you think I want to do it?” Sukki responded, but turned her face away, and turned red.

They found a narrow wooden bridge across the Simeto River, and felt grateful to be able to cross without incident. It did not seem a very wide or deep river, but the travelers were glad not to have to go out of their way to find a ford.

Katie said, “Hopefully, things like roads and bridges will become more common from here on out.”

“That is Mount Etna?” Lockhart asked about the snow covered peak they headed toward. Katie nodded.

“That would be my guess.”

“I don’t see any smoke,” Lockhart pointed out.

“No,” Katie agreed.  “Lincoln could probably read in the database about every eruption around this time, but all I know is, while the volcano erupts often in history, most of the time it is inactive.  Like maybe a hundred years of quiet between eruptions.  An eruption might last a month, several months, a year or two, but then the mountain gets quiet again for the next twenty years or maybe two hundred years.  Who can say?”

“Like predicting earthquakes,” Lockhart suggested.

“Yes.  Related,” Katie said.  “I had a friend at the Pentagon who worked on that very thing… To predict earthquakes, not to trigger them.”

Lockhart nodded that he understood.

“Wait,” Katie said, and stopped, so the whole train of horses stopped.  “We are being followed.

“Where?”  Lockhart looked back.

“Since the river.  A whole troop of men.  They have cut us off from the bridge.”  Katie looked at Lockhart.  “I’m sorry. I got busy loving you and stopped paying attention.”  Her head snapped toward the front, but then Boston and Sukki were galloping back from the point.  A minute later, Decker and Elder Stow both raced in from the sides.

“There is a whole army out there,” Boston said it first, as Petracles with Galatea came along side.

“Yes,” Galatea said.  “Men from Tauromeni and Catina.  I was wondering when you were going to notice.”

“I smell the witch,” Lockhart said.

“I hear that,” Decker agreed.

“I can put up my screens, but not for long.  Then we will be out of power.”

“They may try a mass attack from all sides.  Our weapons are good, but not against an army.”

“It would be like Custer’s last stand,” Boston suggested.

“We can’t draw the wagons in a circle. We only have the one,” Lockhart joked. “Why don’t we see what they want before we start shooting people.”

They moved forward, slowly in a group, and stopped a hundred yards from the phalanx of men.  Lockhart and Katie then rode out to the fifty-yard line and stopped there, to wait.  Petracles, and thus Galatea followed them, but the rest wisely stayed behind.

“Petracles wanted me to stay back,” Galatea said, with a true smile that made the others smile.  “He wanted to protect me.  Isn’t he the cutest thing.”

Petracles did not think he was cute, but he spoke, and tried to stay serious.  “I represent Pyrrhus here.  These Greeks have no business turning out soldiers against their king.  The king has given you safe passage.  In fact, he insisted.”

They did not have to wait long. Six men rode out from the other side. Galatea whispered, like it was a conspiracy.  “They are under the spell of your witch.  She is hiding.  Shh. Don’t tell that I told you.”

“Hello friend,” Lockhart began, but Petracles interrupted.

“I am here as representative of Pyrrhus the king.  These people have been given safe passage to their destination. How dare you bring an army out against your king.”

“These are not people,” one man spoke in a hypnotic monotone.  “They are demons from beyond time.  They must surrender all of their things.  They must surrender themselves to be burned at the stake.”

“Friend,” Lockhart began again, but this time Katie interrupted.

“Galatea.  Can you set these free from their hypnotic spell?”

“Oh,” Galatea shook her head.  “I don’t know if I am allowed to do that.”

“Please,” Lockhart said.

“Just these six,” Katie explained. “I’m not asking you to set them all free, or anything big like that.  Just a little thing.  Just these few.”

Galatea’s smile returned, like she could not stay serious for very long.  “Okay,” she said, and the six men covered their eyes, shook their heads, and looked confused before one of them spoke.

“What are we doing here?”

“Wait.  I remember,” another said, and looked at Katie and Lockhart with an odd expression on his face.

“You don’t look like demons,” a third said.

“These good people are under the protection of the king,” Petracles spoke up again.  “I am sure you don’t want to make King Pyrrhus mad at you.”

“Dear, no,” one man said.

“How did we get here?”

One figured it out.  “It was the witch,”

The city elders awkwardly turned on their horses to face their own army.  Only a moment later, they saw the witch come out from behind the men. “No,” she yelled.  “That’s not fair.  Attack.  Attack.”

Decker had somehow managed to get the rest of the group to form a defensive circle around their one wagon. He made sure the Eporites had their bows ready, and made Boston and Alexis get out their bows, even if Alexis protested.  Boston gave her Beretta to Sukki, and Decker gave his handgun to Evan.  They did not have a spare for Wallace, but that turned out to be just as well.  On sight of Nanette, Wallace rode his horse as fast as he could across the field, shouting.

“Nanette.  I’m here for you.  Nanette.”

No one could stop him, as the cavalry troop that cut them off from the bridge prepared to attack.  At the same time, the phalanx of Greeks began to march forward.

“Hasty retreat,” Lockhart said. Katie had her rifle ready, but she agreed.  Petracles rode in all seriousness, but Galatea got her grin back, like it was all too exciting.  The six elders did not seem to know what to do.  Two rode with the travelers.  Two rode slowly back to their troops, knowing they could not stop them.  The final two just stayed where they were, like men frozen in indecision.

Katie spoke when Wallace rode past them. “Let him go.  Nothing we can do for him now.”

When the riders got to the wagon, Katie quickly gave Millie her handgun, having shown Millie how to use it whether Millie liked it or not.  She pulled her rifle up to her sight, and Elder Stow let his sonic device squeal as loud as he could set it.  Even the traveler’s horses protested.  The oncoming horses stopped, bucked, stumbled, turned aside, or turned around and rode back the way they came regardless of their riders.

“Fine and well,” Decker said, “But that is not going to work on the foot soldiers.  The men advanced, seven or eight feet of spear poking out of the front of the formation.  “Captain.”

“Ready, sir,” Katie said in her crisp, military voice.  The others stepped up around them with their bows and handguns.  Bullets from handguns might not penetrate the shields with enough force to do damage to the man, but at least they would not bounce off, like arrows.  Katie and Decker had the rifles, and Lockhart had his shotgun.  Not much against five hundred or more men.

“Aim,” Decker said, and one of the Eporites yelled from behind.

“The cavalry have regained control and are preparing a charge from three sides.”

“I’ve got it,” Elder Stow countered. “Stay on the foot soldiers.”

The cavalry began yelling and started to ride.  The foot soldiers got to where Decker prepared to yell fire. when the cavalry froze, horses and all in mid-stride, and a massive stroke of lightning came down in front of the Greek phalanx, knocking the whole front row off their feet, and some of the men following as well.

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 4 of 6

Petracles took the travelers straight to the king, though they had to wait a few minutes to see him.  The king had to confer with his generals first. When he finally came from the tent to meet them, he paused to watch his generals scurry off to their assignments. The generals all but bowed, though bowing to superiors was not a natural Greek trait.  Pyrrhus looked like a hardened general himself, more than a king. He had an aura of a man that had advisors, but rarely listened to them.

“So, these are the merchants?  Did you save any of your wares?  I’m sorry for your losses.”  Pyrrhus made a lot of assumptions in his words.

Lockhart answered straight, and Pyrrhus paused at having to look up at the big man.  “We are travelers, not merchants, and thanks to the intervention of the gods, we all survived.”

“Travelers?”  Pyrrhus frowned, but he had something in mind.  “And you suffered no losses?”

“We lost two horses,” Katie said, and watched Pyrrhus’ face turn sour.

“Over here,” one of the young soldiers waved to the travelers.  “We found your horses.”

Pyrrhus looked mad, but paused to watch.

“Honey,” Boston yelled, and ran faster than humanly possible—faster than the horse ran to her.  She hugged her horse and the horse responded.

Lockhart merely called.  “Dog.”

The horse broke free of the soldier holding it and trotted up, exactly like a faithful dog.  It might have licked Lockhart, but Katie grabbed and kissed Dog’s nose.  “Where did you find them?” she asked.

“Porus found them.”  Pyrrhus waved at the young soldier who spoke.

“They wandered right up to the camp. I figured they came to shore and came inland to escape the storm.”  He smiled for the group.

Pyrrhus frowned, but admitted the truth. “Obviously, your horses.  I might buy them.  Your horses are bigger than my own, and they seem steady and strong.  I could get some good stock out of those horses.”

“Sorry,” Lockhart said.  “They are a gift from the gods for our journey.”

“Hera’s Butt,” Pyrrhus swore.  “Why does everyone credit or blame the gods for everything?  We have to make our own way in this world, and damn hard it is, too.  But we win or lose by our own hand, not because of some mystical gods.”

“I beg your pardon,” Galatea spoke nice and loud and stepped forward.  Boston, Sukki and Millie all wanted to say something, but decided it would be safer not to get in her way.  “I’ll have you know these travelers are friends with all of the gods.”

“Not all,” Lincoln mumbled, and Galatea heard, and nodded.

“Well, most of them, anyway.  They are my friends, and they are honest and good people.  I’ve been following their travels for nearly four-thousand years, and maybe the gods get too much credit and too much blame for life, but that doesn’t mean they just sit around doing nothing.”  Galatea snapped her fingers in Pyrrhus’ face and floated up three feet in the air.  Her legs got replaced by her mermaid tail. “Now I am hot and bothered.  I need a swim.  I need to get my tail wet.  Good-bye.  See you later, Boston.”  She snapped her finger again and disappeared, leaving a splash of sea water in her place.

“See ya later,” Boston shouted.

“I guessed, you know,” Petracles said. “No mortal woman could be that beautiful.”

“Careful,” Alexis said.  “Sukki mentioned that Galatea thought you were cute.”

“That could be really good,” Petracles said, but as he thought about it, he added, “And really dangerous.”

“Pyrrhus.”  A woman in the distance shouted as she came up with several men. “Did you forget we had an appointment this morning?”

“What?  No.” Pyrrhus said.  “I’ve been busy.  We had a storm, in case you failed to notice.  There was a shipwreck.”

The woman got close and opened her arms. She shouted, “Boston.”  Boston raced into the hug, again, faster than humanly possible.

“The red-head gets singled out a lot,” Petracles noted.

“She is an elf,” Lincoln said, and left it at that.

“So…” the woman stepped up, nodding to Lincoln who named her as Umma.  “What did you have to offer?” she asked Pyrrhus.

Pyrrhus looked around at his generals, her generals, the travelers and their horses.  He closed his eyes, raised his head and hands, shook his hands and said a very loud, “No,” like he tried to make it all go away.

Umma took the moment to speak to the side.  “Lockhart. As usual, good or bad timing, depending. I don’t know where the witch is.”

“No, no,” Pyrrhus yelled.

Umma turned to the young soldier, Porus. “Hello son.  Thank you for saving the horses.  Your mother loves you.”

“Mother…” Porus objected at being singled out.  He walked behind the tent and no doubt disappeared.

“Proteus,” Katie whispered in Lockhart’s ear.

“Yes, thanks,” Lockhart whispered to the wind.

“No,” Pyrrhus seemed to get hold of himself, and he turned on Umma.  “You need to open the gate and let me come in.”

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Umma responded.

Pyrrhus’ face turned deadpan.  “You are a woman.  You don’t have hair on your chin.”

“That can be worked out,” she responded.

“Diogenes?” Millie whispered, not really having had a chance to talk to the young man.

“No,” Evan told her.  “Alexander made his soldiers stay clean shaven. Now, having met them, I think it is because Alexander could not grow a good beard.”

Millie nodded, while Umma spoke, sharply. “I thought you said you had something to offer to end the siege.”

“I tried negotiating with your people, but you are all as stupid and stubborn as the Greeks; but the Greeks want Carthage gone.  So, once again, I am stuck choosing between bad and worse.  I should just break your walls and crush your city.”

Umma nodded, and spoke sweetly. “You have had several victories since coming to Italy, and lost most of your men, and your best men.  I figure one more such victory and you won’t have any army left.”

“Not funny.”

“So then, offer something realistic so we can make peace.”

Pyrrhus paused to look down on the woman, remembering how he felt when he had to look up at Lockhart.  “I don’t like negotiating with a stupid and stubborn woman.”

“I beg your pardon,” Umma said, sounding very much like Galatea.  “My family is keeping the city fed and happy.  My ships, my food, my city.  I’m what you get.  Besides, the city elders decided if you get really stupid, my life is expendable.  I told them even you are not that stupid.”

“So, what good is talking to you? Your city elders will make the decision.”

“My city, remember?  They do what they are told.  Besides, I was not about to let you talk directly to them.  They would negotiate away the whole city and get nothing in return.  City idiots, I call them.”

“She does call them that,” one of the generals with Umma sat beside the travelers who had already taken seats to watch the fireworks show.  The older general sat beside him, and two of Pyrrhus’ generals sat on the other side.

Pyrrhus and Umma spent the morning yelling at each other, until Umma held up her hand and said, “Lunch break.”

Pyrrhus watched the sailors stack wood, some of it still wet, in the place set aside for a fire.  He stared when Boston pulled out her wand and started the fire with a little flamethrower action.  Two soldiers cooked some onions and leeks, while others brought over a whole pig that had been cooking all morning.  The soldiers brought some fruit, and it made a very fine meal, and the conversation around the fire was both cordial and warm.  Though, mostly that was because Pyrrhus spent most of his time in his tent planning for the afternoon argument.

Pyrrhus started the conversation with, “You are the most formidable enemy I have ever faced.  You give no ground, and keep trying to sneak up on my flanks where you think I am unprepared.”

“Nice lunch,” Umma said.  “Did you get enough to eat?”

The afternoon ended with Pyrrhus yelling. “I will get my own ships and block your port and sink your ships.”

Umma said something like the Carthaginian version of “Nyah-nyah,” and added the fingers wiggling on her nose and in her ears, and the butt wiggle besides.  She marched her generals back to the city, and Pyrrhus threw things for a while.  Fortunately, Porus came back by then and moved the travelers out on to the open field where the horses contentedly grazed.  They set their camp near some soldiers, and did not have to deal with Pyrrhus until the morning.

###

When the morning came, Petracles spoke for his king. “Pyrrhus wants you off his land as soon as possible.  He is lending you enough horses so you can all ride, to speed the journey.  He will get his horses back when you take ship in Messana.”

“Boston,” Lockhart yelled, though she was not far away.

“The time gate is around Mount Etna. Lincoln and I checked it in the database,” Boston shouted back, just to be even.

“That is closer than Messana,” Katie said.  “We can get out of the king’s land sooner than expected.”

“Somehow, I believe you,” Petracles said, as Galatea showed up.

“Do I get a horse?”

“Please,” Petracles said without blinking.  “Take mine.”

Galatea smiled and stepped right up to the man.  “We could ride together,” she said, and placed on gentle hand against the man’s cheek while she stood within a hair’s breadth of him.

Petracles swallowed.  “You know how to ride?”

“Only on a seahorse, or in a chariot, but it can’t be hard.”

Petracles nodded.  “Can you hold on?”

“I would love to,” she said, and Petracles swallowed again.  Of them all, maybe Decker laughed the loudest.

Galatea turned to the women in the group. “When my sister rides in her husband’s chariot, she always scrunches down in the back and covers her eyes.  I hope I don’t have to cover my eyes.”

“Mostly road between here and Etna,” Petracles said, as he reached down to help Galatea up behind him.  “We might make it in two days, maybe morning of the third.”  He spoke over his shoulder. “Sister?”

“Trite,” Galatea said.  “I do have ninety-nine sisters.”

“Trite?”

“Amphitrite,” Lockhart said.  “Her husband, Poseidon.  I guess Neptune in this part of the world.”

Petracles laughed, nervously. Galatea did not help when she held him around the middle, snuggled up tight against his back, sighed, and put her head gently against the back of his shoulder.

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 3 of 6

Once everyone hit the sand and pebble shoreline, the men rushed back into the ship to retrieve what they could. The wagon had been well made and would survive the soaking.  The blankets and tents, being made of fairy weave, rejected the water and felt dry. The saddles, however, would dry, but probably squeeze out water for the next month or so every time someone sat in them.

Boston, Sukki, and Millie gathered whatever wood they could find.  Lockhart and Even broke off some pieces of the ship to burn, knowing that Boston could get a fire going no matter how soaking wet the wood might be.  Lincoln and Elder Stow checked their equipment, while Decker checked the area, and Alexis and Katie looked over the horses. They paused on finding only three horses.

“Dog…” Katie called out to Lockhart’s horse that sometimes behaved more like a loyal dog than a horse.

Alexis got Katie’s attention.  “Dog and Honey fell into the sea when the rocks tore a hole in the side of the boat.”

“Damn…” Katie whispered.

Boston cried for her horse.

“She is an elf,” Alexis explained. “Her love and attachments are strong.”

“I think Boston would have cried even if she was still human,” Lockhart said, looking plenty unhappy about the loss of his own horse.

“It is midnight,” Lincoln interrupted. “The tents and blankets are dry. We should think about getting some sleep.”

“Robert and I have the first watch,” Katie said.  “Major, and Elder Stow, do you mind a two-hour nap before the middle watch?”

“Don’t worry about us,” Major Decker said.

“If I can sleep at all,” Elder Stow said. “I am worried about my equipment. It is all safe and working, but the power sources are severely depleted.  I don’t know how much use they will be from here on unless I can find a way to charge them up.”

“Rest while you can,” Major Decker said, and Elder Stow nodded.

Sukki spoke up.  “Boston and I will take the morning, as usual.”

“Everyone get some rest,” Alexis agreed, even as Katie put another plank from the ship on the fire.  The ship did not burn well, but they were limited on what they could find in the dark, in the way of wood.  At least they found enough food stores to fix a meal.

Boston still sniffed in the morning when she saw the Greek soldiers in the distance.  When the sun cracked the horizon and the world became bathed in light, Sukki saw them too.  They appeared a long way off, so the women cleaned up the camp in the light, brought the fire to life, and made whatever they had that might substitute for coffee. Lockhart and Lincoln still complained now and then about not having real coffee in the morning, but they were the only ones.

Katie got up first.  Being an elect, she had a natural sensitivity to enemies and potential enemies approaching.  She looked, and then agreed with Boston.  They would make the soldiers welcome and hope they did not turn hostile.

Elder Stow got up shortly, after only an extra hour of rest.  He worked on his equipment and ignored whatever the women talked about.  Wallace got up, and Lockhart stumbled out of his tent and sat quietly drinking what he often called witch’s brew.  That opened Wallace’s mouth.

“Do you think Nanette is near?” he asked.

“I am sure she is not far,” Katie answered, but by then, the soldiers started to get close enough to where they decided to wake the rest of the crew.  Evan and Millie tumbled out of their tent and sat with Lockhart, sipping their morning drink and rubbing their eyes.

Lincoln and Alexis came awake more quickly.  After a couple of years of rising at sunrise in the wilderness, they had gotten used to the early hour.  They went to the horses first before they joined the group around the fire.

Major Decker grabbed his rifle and scope, and immediately checked out their visitors.  He came back to confirm the impression of the others.  “They do not appear hostile.  Just a patrol sent out to check on their visitors.  Probably saw the fire in the night.  Probably think we are a beached merchant ship.”

The sea turned completely calm by morning, and only a few fluffy white clouds scurried across the sky.  The surf splashed against the sand and pebble beach. It did not roar or thunder.  Sukki clearly enjoyed the sea, and watched the waves as she helped pack and store the tents and blankets in their little wagon. She let out a little peep when she saw Galatea rise up and walk across the top of the water.

Boston did not blink.  “Galatea,” she shouted.  “Just in time for breakfast.”  Alexis and Katie found a few fish left behind in pools after the storm. They did their best to clean and cook them.

“Eating my fishies, I see,” Galatea said, when she arrived.  Everyone stopped what they were doing, and some held their breath.  Upsetting a goddess would not have been a good thing. Galatea looked at the faces and took a second to figure it out.  “Oh, it’s all right.  I have fishies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I’ve had cow and bird, and oinker, but they are not as good as my fishies.”

“You are welcome to join us,” Alexis said.

Galatea counted, and then appeared to be counting something else that no one could see.  She pointed to the fire and there appeared twice as many fish as they found.  “That should be enough,” she said.  “Though I don’t know.  Some men are really big eaters.”  She disappeared and reappeared on top of the rocks Katie and Decker used to hide and keep an eye on the approaching soldiers.  Galatea smiled and waved.  “Hurry up,” she shouted. “Breakfast is ready.”

One look at that beautiful goddess, and the soldiers hurried their feet.  Boston laughed.  So much for hiding.  Decker shrugged and got down from the rocks.  He took his rifle over by the wagon where he could sit and watch the soldiers invade the camp.  Katie came into the camp, and Lockhart said to her how glad he was to hear Boston laugh. Katie agreed.

When the soldiers clambered over the rocks, Lockhart introduced himself, and his wife, Katie.  The sergeant responded with only his own name. “Petracles.”

“Greek,” Katie surmised.  “Not Carthaginian or Roman.”

Petracles nodded, and looked again at Galatea who sat between Sukki and Millie.  Galatea talked to Sukki about how she loved the sea, too.

“Breakfast is ready,” Alexis spoke up, and Lincoln waved for the soldiers to help themselves.

Boston leaned over to Galatea. “You are pretty good at appearing human,” she complimented her.

“Says the elf who appears human,” Millie interjected.

“Yes, but Sukki and I just wear glamours,” Boston nodded.  “It is a bit more complicated for a goddess.”

“Yes,” Galatea agreed.  “My sister, Amphitrite, taught me to tone down my awesome nature ages and ages ago.  You know, it is no fun when everyone screams and runs away or falls to their faces in terror.  Triton is okay at it, but my nephew, Proteus is the best.  He is so good at it, he can sometimes even fool the gods, though he says he can never fool his mother.”  Galatea let out that grin.

Lincoln came over, having found enough plates for everyone.  “Fish. Fish.  Fish.  Fish,” he said, and handed a plate to each of the girls.  “I remember Cat saying that once.  He was talented.”  He went back to the fire without explaining.

“I like the tail,” Galatea said, and traded plates with Sukki.

“Galatea,” Boston got her attention again.  “I think you are much smarter than you pretend.”

Galatea smiled and tried to think of how to respond to that, but got interrupted by a couple of soldiers that went to check out the remains of the ship.

“The ship might be salvaged in pieces,” one spoke.  “But with that hole in the side, it is probably not worth fixing.”

The other added, “It is a wonder you made it to shore with such a hole.  What did you hit?”

“Rocks.  A small island.”  Lockhart pointed.  “We banged right into it.  We are a Greek ship, headed for Lilybae, and the god, Yam, wanted to sink us.”

The Greeks paused in their breakfast to stare, some being afraid of the gods, and some not sure who Yam might be.  Alexis had to say, “Finish your fishies.”

Petracles spoke.  “I know the place, I think.  It is a long way from here.  How did you get to shore with such a big hole in the side?”

Lockhart sat up and looked briefly at Lincoln, Elder Stow, and Katie, with a glance at Evan.  Seeing no objections, he spoke.  “About five days ago, we had good sailing, but when it became apparent we were headed for Lilybae, the Phoenician god of the sea decided to sink us.  You saw the storm.  Fortunately, Nereus, the elder sea god, sent one of his daughters to check on us, which she very kindly did.  Then we got hit by the storm, and our rudder broke off when the waves pushed us on a collision course with the rocks.  Thanks to Elder Stow’s quick thinking, we stayed afloat despite the gaping hole in our side; but we were at the mercy of the storm.  Then Triton arrived.  He kindly picked up the whole ship and flew it here, where it keeled over, as you see it. I understand Triton’s grandfather…” He looked at Galatea, who nodded. “Nereus talked to Yam, or at least kept him busy until we safely reached the shore. You may note, Triton did not take us to the city docks, but I guess Yam was willing to let us land here, in Greek controlled territory.”

“A fanciful tale,” Petracles said, though he did not scoff.

Boston appeared a bit miffed at the unbeliever, and whispered.  “We could call him Rockhead.”

“Hush,” Galatea said.  “I think he is cute.”

Sukki snapped her mouth shut, turned a little red and looked away.  Clearly Sukki thought he was cute, too.

“This is Greek controlled territory, is it not?” Katie asked.

Petracles nodded.  “King Pyrrhus has had the city under siege for two months, to no avail.  He is talking to the city leaders, but has come to realize he will need ships to block the port if his siege is ever going to be effective.”

“How do you think that will work?” Lincoln asked.

Petracles shrugged.  “The Greek cities don’t mind having Pyrrhus as their king. They appreciate the strong arm of protection he offers.  They sent him some of their second-rate soldiers as a sign of support, though I believe some of them got dredged up from their city streets, like the losers and petty criminals the city wanted to get rid of.  They might also like the island to be Carthaginian free, but I think they will balk when the king starts asking for money and ships.  They don’t mind giving lip service, as long as it doesn’t actually cost them anything.”

“Not a recipe for success,” Lockhart said, and got everyone to start packing to leave.  They would follow the soldiers back to the main Greek camp.

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MONDAY

The travelers find Umma, arguing with Pyrrhus the Great about the city.  Nothing is resolved, but the travelers can’t stick around.  The time gate is all the way on the  other side of the island, around Mount Etna.  Enjoy, and Happy Reading.

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