Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 4 of 6

When Muhamed woke, he found the young farm wife sitting beside him, watching him sleep.  His booby-trap by the curtain looked undisturbed.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Have I slept until dark?” he asked. “I had not planned on sleeping that long.”  He sat up and turned from her.  He felt the clay bottle with the last few drops of his elixir still in his vest pocket, and his knife still hidden in his cloak.

“The darkness fell a half-hour ago.”

“Good.  We need to go talk to people, to see if my work had any effect.”

“No need.  I have already talked to many,” the woman said.  “There are thirty of all ages ready to follow you to Babylon, to destroy your enemies.  Shall we go?” She seemed anxious.

Muhamed shook his head.  “You may have eaten, but I suspect it will take all night to walk to Babylon.”  He pushed his booby-trap aside and went into the other room.  The meat, bread, and broth looked untouched.  He shrugged.  These people did not exactly have a refrigerator.  He looked at the cup of water, and this time, he thought to skip it.  The woman noticed, but did not seem to care one way or the other.

“I will tell the others we will be ready, shortly,” she said, and stepped outside.

When Muhamed had eaten his fill, he questioned the broth.  But he checked again, and his few drops of elixir remained.  And besides, he told himself the vegetable broth, now cold, had not moved since supper.

He did not have to wait long.  The woman returned, and he rose to see what volunteers she managed to get him.  Outside, it looked like an ordinary enough crowd.  She was right.  They came in all ages and sizes.  One looked like a crippled old woman.  One little girl looked like a five-year-old.

“These are the result of your elixir. They suffered all day, but when the elixir expanded and came to rest in every part of their body, they came alive. They are ready now to kill whomever you wish.”  The woman smiled in such a way, Muhamed almost told her to stay in the village with the people until he sent for her.  He imagined moving on, alone, but he suspected they would follow and do who knew what.

“Does anyone know the best route and what gate we would best enter without causing suspicion?” he asked, as he considered losing the crowd once they got to the city.

“We have discussed this,” the young woman said.  “One man’s nephew oversees a small gate in the north.  We will go there.”

“Good.  Good,” Muhamed said.  “Lead the way,” he said, and two men and a woman went out front.  He followed, and decided he did not want to look closely at what damage and mayhem these people committed when they came alive, as the young farm wife called it.  He saw one old man, pale and lifeless, sitting against a wall.  He saw blood splattered on the wall, but he told himself it was just mud.  He told himself the man was sleeping, just sleeping.  He did not look up again until they left the village behind.

All night long, Muhamed felt more and more afraid.  The old ones did not complain.  The ones he considered children did not run and play, or do anything he expected from children.  They did not stop for food or rest, and he dared not make them stop.  He felt exhausted when about two hours before sunrise, they arrived at a copse of trees within sight of the city gate.  The farmer’s wife said they could rest there, and hide from whatever morning traffic might come to the gate.  They would go when the nephew came on duty in the late afternoon.  It sounded reasonable, but Muhamed put his back to a big tree when he sat, so he could keep his eyes on the others.  He feared to sleep, but he felt so worn, he could not imagine how he could keep himself awake.

Muhamed did wake, just before the sun came up.  Several men held him while they tied his arm and legs.  He saw the farm wife with his clay jar of elixir.  She held it up and smiled.  He tried to protest.

“It will do you no good.  You don’t know how to use it.  You haven’t the magic of Ashtoreth to make it work…” They gagged his mouth, and he fell silent.  Then the farm wife spoke.

“I will explain this in a way that you may understand.  This elixir has expanded into every cell in my body.  I can heal any wound.  You can cut me, puncture me, even my head or heart, and I can heal.  The only system not functioning correctly is the making of new blood cells.  It is like nature herself is fighting back against me.  We should be anemic, pale, weak, and as cold as death.  But we have found, if we drink the blood of the living, we can assimilate it into our systems.  You see?  You have made me virtually immortal.  And now that I have the elixir, I can bring more of us into flesh and blood. and we will at last be able to destroy all that is.

Muhamed’s eyes got big.  His mouth continued to protest, but all anyone could hear was muffled noises.  His modern mind told him such creatures did not exist.  It was not possible.  It was not real.  Thus, in the modern way, he denied the very reality that stared him in the face. Vampires did exist, and he created them.

“The farm wife smiled.  “It is so much more frightening and satisfying when the victim knows what is happening to him.”  One big man tilted Muhamed’s head to the side.  He screamed.  He yelled for help, a kind of automatic reflex word.  But no one was there to help him.  She bit his neck to puncture the carotid artery—the easiest, most blood-filled spot on the human body, and the blood dutifully began to flow.  She drank some, and some of the others had some, but she stopped the feast before Muhamed died.  She spit on the wound, and the wound closed up.

“Open it,” she said.  Two men grabbed him, and one removed the gag and forced his mouth open.  They did not need to do much forcing.  He felt so dizzy from lack of blood and oxygen to the brain, he almost passed out. The young farm wife leaned over and spit blood into his mouth.  He swallowed much of it, his own now tainted blood, though he gagged and could not swear some of it did not end up in his lungs.

The gag got replaced, and Muhamed felt the infection of blood and elixir filling his body.  He cried as the woman spoke.  “Now we wait until sundown.”  Muhamed died, and some unspeakable evil entered his body.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 6 of 6

Zombies came slowly up the stairs of the Ziggurat.  More than one lost its footing and rolled to the bottom, but all except one simply picked itself up and started the climb again.  That one lost its head, but there appeared to be plenty more where that one came from.  Behind the crowd of zombies, they saw people with torches.  That gave them enough light to see the zombie’s human shape, even if they could not see the faces.

The travelers pulled their handguns. It was all they had, and they figured they would not be much good against people who were already dead.  Decker, standing by the stairs and holding his military rifle, shot one zombie.  The zombie jerked when the bullet hit it, but it kept on coming.  He flipped his weapon to automatic and sprayer five shots into another darkened figure.  It jerked plenty.  It almost fell, but caught itself with its back foot and kept climbing.

“I see a crowd of them,” Elder Stow said, holding tight to his scanner.  “I mean living people.  They appear to have herded the zombies to the steps of the ziggurat.  I am guessing the zombies have enough presence of mind to know fire is a danger to them.”

“The people are feeding the zombies to the gods, hoping the gods will take care of the issue,” Lincoln guessed.

“Any suggestions?” Katie asked Lockhart.

“I’m wishing I had my shotgun,” he answered.

“I’m doing no good,” Decker admitted. “Who else wants a turn?”

“Let me try,” Boston butted up front and pulled her wand.  She looked down the steps.  “They are still pretty far away.  Alexis, give me your wind.”

“Might as well,” Alexis said. “These have flesh, not like the skeletons.  I could blow them off the steps, but they would just get back up again.”

Alexis put her hand on Boston’s shoulder. Boston tried to aim.  What came from her wand was something like a flame thrower.  She set the three out front on fire.  One fell and rolled down the steps like a ball of flame, but she commented.  “They are still pretty far off.  I’m afraid they might wander off into the vines and trees.”

“Let me,” Elder Stow said, and took Boston’s place as they heard Ninlil’s voice.

“Mary Riley!” she scolded Boston, who heard the words all the way to her gut.  “You will set the whole place on fire that way.”

“Sorry,” Boston said.  The scolding was not as bad for her as an elf than it would have been for a human.  Alexis lowered her head, but Ninlil patted her shoulder.

“That’s all right.  I know you were just trying to help.”

They turned and watched Elder Stow turn his weapon carefully on one after another. The zombies turned quickly to piles of dust and ash, but it looked like slow work, and there were so many of them.

“This will take forever,” Ninlil complained.

“I am trying to be careful,” Elder Stow said, even as he dusted a zombie and took a small chunk out of the step. “I am trying to preserve my power sources.  My batteries are running low again.”

“I’ll charge your batteries, but move. Otherwise, this will take all night.” She stepped up, and sounding very human, she rationalized her actions.  “This place is dedicated to the gods.  I claim my portion of ownership.  These dead ones are trespassing on my property without permission.” She blinked, and all the zombies down below turned to dust at once.  She also dusted the zombies still in the city, which was only nominally hers, but no one was going to quibble.

“The necromancer,” Lockhart said.

“I know,” Ninlil said, as she led everyone back to the fire.  “He is working for Ashtoreth, wicked girl.  She came to the city. I thought she was helping.  I should have known better.”

“The necromancer?” Lockhart asked this time.

“Ashtoreth whisked him off to the next time gate.  Hopefully, you will catch him soon and end his activities.”  Ninlil said, end his activities because she was too polite to say, “Kill him.”

Labash yawned and smiled.  “Well, now that the great and terrible zombie curse has been dealt with, I am going to sleep well.”

They pretty much all did.  Only Decker turned a little in his sleep, because not far away, Millie kept making sweet little noises.  He finally got up and slept by the fire.

###

Everyone got up with the sun.  The dwarf wives returned and began to cook a breakfast feast.  Labash looked up to the temple when a sound caught his attention.  He rushed up and caught the girl before she fell down the steps. She seemed groggy.

“Are you the gods?” she asked

“Sorry.  Just the gardener.  Labash. Do you have a name?”

“Kishilani,” she said, and then she smiled for him.  “You can’t be just a gardener.  You look like a god to me.”  They held on to each other as he brought her carefully down the steps and imagined she had a bit of a goddess look about her, too.  He had not been lying when he said the priests picked out the young and most beautiful girls they could find.  This one qualified on both counts; double qualified.

“What did you find?”  Ninlil asked, but she smiled when she spoke, like she knew a big secret.  It made Labash suspicious.

“Millie,” he called her over. “Meet Kishilani.  My teacher Ninlil and my fellow gardener, Millie.”

Kishilani nodded to each and added a word for Ninlil.  “Named after the goddess?”

“Yes,” Ninlil said.  “That is exactly right,” Ninlil said, as she went to sit and wait patiently for breakfast.

Labash and Kishilani still had one arm around each other as he took his free hand and introduced his friends.  It looked like he still held her up, though she looked perfectly capable of standing on her own by then.  She held on to him, and looked like she did not mind holding on to him.

“Lord,” they got interrupted.

“Oh,” Kishilani seemed startled by the dwarf and slipped into Labash’s arms for protection.  He happily accommodated her.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone.  What do you need.”

Missus Hearthstone rubbed the stubble on her chin and nodded, like she knew Ninlil’s secret.  “How do you want your eggs?”

Labash looked a smidgen down at Kishilani, and she looked up at him with her eyes wide and her mouth part way open. “Eggs?” he asked her.

“Scrambled?” she whispered.

“Two votes for scrambled,” he told Missus Hearthstone.  “And I’ll appreciate you keeping your thoughts to yourself.”

“Oh,” Kishilani said again.  “I’m supposed to be ravished by the god.” Like, she just remembered what she was there for.

“Well, you found him,” Missus Hearthstone said, simply unable to hold her tongue.  Millie who kept looking at the two, and grinning broadly, thought to look to Ninlil.  If she understood one thing it was the gods frowned on imitators.

“Close enough,” Ninlil said, and did not bat an eye.

Labash did not want to let go. Kishilani laid her head on his shoulder and smiled that smile again.  Labash felt it in his toes, and he thought he better let go before she started to purr.  “So, while we wait, let me show you Rome after Nero burnt it to the ground.”  They stepped to the edge, still holding each other.

They looked and he pointed, and Alexis leaned over toward Katie and whispered.  “We need to catch him in one of these time zones when he is getting married.”

Sukki might have heard.  Boston should have been too far away to hear, but her good elf ears did not miss much.

“Yes,” Boston shouted, and then in a smaller voice added, “Or her.”

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

MONDAY

The Necromancer is not finished.  Avalon 6.6: The Count begins on Monday.  Don’t miss it.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

 

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 5 of 6

“You were here,” Labash started, and looked around.  “Most of you were here with Ishtar when Babylon was founded.  Assur founded Assur—creative name—about two or three hundred years earlier, a small time in the life of the gods.  But you may recall Ishtar saying, in effect, that now that the boys each had their own place, they would have to take turns.  That was around 2000 BC.”

“I remember,” Boston said.

Assur raided southern Mesopotamia. Then Marduk raised up Hammurabi.”

“I remember Hammurabi,” Boston interrupted.  “What a dweeb.”

Labash smiled for her.  “Not to say they were the only players.  Hebat sort of cheated and her Hittites took two turns. But the Mitanni, the Hurrians, the Gutians, and others, all got a turn, all being supported and encouraged by various gods.  Enlil and Enki sort of supported the Elamites, who never went away until they got absorbed by the Medes and Persians.  Marduk did not mind.  He sort of held on to southern Mesopotamia and minded his own business.  Assur, though, got mad.  I think because he seemed closer to the front line, as Decker calls it.  About 1366 BC, he had enough.  He took a 300 year turn and shoved everyone back, taking on the Hurrians, Hittites, Mitanni, and the rest.  He messed with Babylon and southern Mesopotamia some, but not much.  Then it should have been Babylon’s turn, but Babylon had become occupied by Kassites.  You might call them the first Hippies.  Peace, man.”

“Far out.”  Lockhart couldn’t help himself.

“Groovy,” Lincoln countered.

“They were some serious vegetarians, well, meat got so expensive.  Marduk called it his mellow period.  They endured the pull and tug of Assyria and Elam, and for the most part lived quiet, peaceful lives.  Meanwhile, Assur went on a rampage, rearranging all his furniture.  The Assyrians again came out to play after a hundred and forty-some years of Babylonian do nothings.  This time, they overran everything in sight, including Egypt, but that is a different story.  Oh, I guess you met Tobaka.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “He was Nubian, and his family ruled Egypt, but he said the Assyrians came in and threw his family out.  Killed most of them.”

“He wanted revenge,” Labash nodded. “But he never made it further than the Levant.  So, Assur made a big mistake when he burned Babylon to the ground.  That was about seventy years ago.  He got rid of that king and made sure the next one rebuilt the city and apologized to Marduk, personally.  But from then on, they would not be in the same room together, and I think Marduk plotted.”

“So now, we have two brothers fighting for the Assyrian throne,” Evan said.  “And I imagine Assur is behind the one in Nineveh, and Marduk is ready to support the other.”

“I became a frog,” Labash reminded them. “But, yes.  Marduk appeared in his temple and yelled.  He caused a small earthquake in the city.  He demanded Nabopolasser get off his rump and take the army out to support Sinsharishkun.  He said he wanted to see some Assyrian butt-whooping”

Decker laughed softly.  Boston spoke up.  “I wonder where he heard that term.”

“Yes, well, you know Sinsharishkun killed his brother, and I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Marduk killed Assur at the same time.  By some trick, I am sure.  But the boys were pretty good at being able to read each other.  I don’t know, but the deed is done, and Marduk has suffered ever since.  I figure he will either come out of it, or in maybe fifty or less years, he will flip out entirely.  I dread dealing with a split personality, or worse, a multiple personality disorder.”

People waited while some especially loud screams reached their ears.  Several got up and stepped to the edge of the building to see how much of the city might be on fire.  Katie sort of regained their attention with her question.

“Nebuchadnezzar goes sort of loopy in his older years, do you think?”  She did not spell it out.

Labash frowned at her for talking about the future so flagrantly.  “Perhaps,” he said.  “But I don’t expect to be here by then.  In the new palace, I am building a wing for captive kings.  I said they can make it into a museum.  I have also built a great camp area for strays and captive people. Nabopolasser has already moved some Arameans and Suteans into the area.”  Labash appeared to enjoy shrugging.  “That is about all I can do; that and exert what influence I can on Nebuchadnezzar for the future.  I imagine I will be gone when Jerusalem falls. God, the source, seems content to let things work out that way.”

People nodded as they thought about it. Then Evan had another question.

“So, what is happening now?  How do things stand?”

Labash shrugged.  “Sinsharishkun is sitting on the Assyrian throne, but it is not exactly a safe seat.  Many of the provinces have rebelled during the civil war, and have thrown out or killed the Assyrian presence. They would need to be conquered all over again, but too many Assyrian officials see Sinsharishkun as a usurper, even if he is a son of the emperor.  And without Assur behind them, I think the Assyrian people are tired of war.” Labash shrugged again.

“Nabopolasser retook Nippur.  You know, the pro-Assyrian hotbed where Sinsharishkun planned his rebellion.  That did two things.  It put all the cities in southern Mesopotamia on notice that Babylon is back and ready to enforce the law, so they better cough up their tribute, and fighting men, and not be slow.  Babylon can just as soon flatten their cities as he did Nippur.  It also gave him a chance to throw the Assyrian army units out of his territory, which he did.

“So, now there is stalemate,” Katie suggested.

Labash shook his head this time. “Sinsharishkun fears the support of his generals is only lip service.  Right now, he doesn’t want to go there.  Nabopolasser honestly needs three to five years to build his forces before he can make a move.  Who will get there first?  Will Sinsharishkun find his courage, and his generals obey him, or will Nabopolasser have the time to build up his forces and take the war to the enemy with some chance of victory?  It’s exciting.  Like a three to five-year horse race, but that is about as exciting as it gets around here.”

“Lord,” one of the dwarf wives interrupted. She stepped up with a goblin in tow.  Labash and Boston recognized her as a female, but the others weren’t sure. She looked like a brute.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone?” Labash asked what she wanted.

“This is Miss Thrasher.  You got company.  Tell ’em if they get hungry in the night, we left some meat and bread by the fire, there.  You tell ’em just be asking and Miss Thrasher will be getting.  There’s some vegetables there, too, and she is passable to cook them up if you want.”

“Thank you very much, Missus Hearthstone,” Labash said.  “Miss Thrasher,” he acknowledged his goblin, and smiled for her, which made her turn away and turn a bit red under the gray. “I am sure we will be fine. Personally, I intend to have a good night’s sleep.”

“Not right a young man like you should spend so many nights alone.  If you wasn’t my god, I would do something about that.”

“I am sure you would,” Labash said, with a touch of fear on his face.

“Good night,” she said, and she and Thrasher walked off into the dark

“Good night,” several people said, only to be interrupted by Decker.

“Here they come.”  That was all he had to say.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 4 of 6

When the evening came, several dwarf wives appeared and cooked a wonderful meal.  A couple of goblins showed up, and Evan nearly screamed; but Millie calmed him with her words.

“It’s all right.  They are the night watch, and my friends.  They keep the fires burning through the night.” Evan looked at her with wonder, and Millie smiled.  “I screamed the whole first week,” she admitted.

Millie enjoyed the company, and made like hostess for everyone.  Ninlil stayed mostly quiet.  Alexis felt tired, but good in Lincoln’s arms.  Working in the garden all afternoon seemed something she might have done at home, on her day off.  She felt content, but a little homesick, though they still had a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.

“And we have mostly vegetables in the stew,” Alexis grinned for that. “And actual fruit.”

“Alexis gets tired of all the meat,” Lincoln admitted.  “Only eating what someone can shoot does get old.”

“I am thinking of going vegetarian when we got home,” Boston said.  “If Roland doesn’t mind.”  Boston looked sad for a minute.  That reminded Katie.

“Why was Marduk so sad?  He kept saying he was sorry,” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lockhart agreed.  “What was that all about?”

Labash frowned.  “Marduk killed his brother, Assur.  He hasn’t been the same since.  You know they were more deeply attached than just at the head when they were born.”

“You couldn’t do anything?” Boston asked.

Labash shook his head.  “I was a frog at the time.”

“Sounds like a story,” Lockhart said.

“A couple of good stories,” Lincoln agreed.

“What is that?” Evan stood.  Some others joined him.  They heard more screams coming up from down below.

Ninlil spoke up and caught everyone’s attention, and people settled back down to listen.  “I already apologized for the frog.  Building and working in this garden is penance.”

“But you said you loved working with the flowers,” Lincoln said.

“In neat rows, and pulling the weeds,” Sukki added.

“I do.  Penance does not have to be hard and difficult duty.  It requires commitment and a willing heart.  Besides, way back in the past, the Kairos Anenki suggested that someday he and I would make a garden, like I wanted.  Oh, how young I was.  I actually imagined the whole land domesticated, from the gulf right up through the land between the rivers to the Phoenician shore.  Clearly, not a realistic idea.  But on a scale of this artificial mountain, yes, and for the building Labash is building.  I am looking forward to it.”

“But what about the frog?” Boston asked, a worried sound in her sad voice.

“Yes, well…” Labash began.  “Nebuchadnezzar has an older sister, Kashshaya.  She is about twenty now, but back when she was sixteen and I was about twenty or twenty-one, she swore she cried every night for loving me.  I mean, she could be a sweet girl when she wanted to be, and fair to look at, but she got spoiled rotten.  I couldn’t stand to be around her for very long because of the constant demands she made.”

“I’ll tell this part,” Ninlil interrupted.  “I felt sorry for the girl.  Enlil and I just separated, and I knew she genuinely loved Labash, whoever he was. I blessed the girl, with the power to make things come out the way she wanted.  I only intended to help her with her love, and no, I did not know Labash was the Kairos.  Even the gods do not know unless he reveals himself.  It is part of what it means when they say the Kairos is counted among the gods.  It is one of the few things in this universe hidden from the gods.  Anyway, she went to him and professed her love, but he did not return her love, and the magic I gave her would have worked on any normal man, but she could not force the Kairos to love her.  So, she got mad and turned him into a frog.”

“I stayed that way for several months,” Labash interrupted.  “…Almost got eaten a couple of times…”

Ninlil continued.  “The heavens shook, and when I looked and saw Kishshaya abusing her blessing, I removed the gift and made her forget she ever had such a gift.  She showed no remorse over what she had done to Labash, so I noticed nothing about that.  I did not look close enough.  I felt embarrassed for having empowered the girl in the first place.  It was not until Marduk came to me, weeping in his sorrow, looking for the Kairos, that I found out what happened to him.”

“She kissed me, and I turned back into a gardener.  I apologized for not being a prince.”

Ninlil grinned, but only a little.

“So, where is Kishshaya now?” Boston asked.

“Happily making demands of her husband,” Labash answered.

“Forget Kishshaya,” Katie said. “What happened between Assur and Marduk?”

People paused again as they heard new screaming from down below.  They saw lines of torches, and there appeared to be a couple of buildings on fire down there.

“I must go,” Ninlil said.  “Marduk is in no condition to help.”

“With what?” Alexis asked.  She thought about hurt people and wondered if she might help as well.

“The recently dead have risen, or at least their demon infested bodies have risen.  You know, it is not the way of the gods to simply solve human problems, but I can help the living in their battle against the dead.”

She vanished, and Lockhart said, “The Necromancer.”  No one argued.  Millie said nothing, looking at Evan.  Evan looked afraid to ask.

“Marduk.”  Lincoln reminded everyone.  People settled to listen, but Elder Stow turned his scanner back on, and Decker slipped over to the stairs where he could keep his eyes open.

Decker’s one mumbled comment was, “Nice to not be in the front line for once.”

“When Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian emperor died, they had some infighting to claim the throne.  One Assyrian general tried to claim the throne while everyone was away.  The eldest son, Ashuretililani threw him out as soon as he got home.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian governor of Babylon got poisoned as soon as word came that the emperor was dead.  A second son, Sinsharishkun wanted the kingship but knew his brother would be difficult to dislodge from the throne.  So, he started by claiming the throne of Babylon.  Well, the Babylonians were tired of Assyrian control over their lives, so they revolted and threw Sinshariskun out. In the confusion, Nabopolasser seized the throne of Babylon, where he sits to this day.  Not deterred, Sinsharishkun moved his rebel headquarters to the old Sumerian city of Nippur, and after that, it became a fight between the two brothers.  Are you with me so far?”

“Mostly,” Boston said.

“Civil war, brother against brother,” Lincoln said.

Labash looked at the faces around the fire, and continued.  “The Assyrians were good administrators of their empire.  They divided it into provinces, ruled by governors out of the provincial capitals.  Sumer, that is southern Mesopotamia, got ruled out of Babylon.  All the cities, from Babylon to the gulf paid tribute to Babylon and sent men to fight for Babylon.  For this reason, Nabopolasser not only had claim over his own city, but some claim over the province as long as he sat on the Babylonian throne.  It did not mean much as long as Sinsharishkun sat in Nippur, one of Babylon’s chief cities.

Anyway, Sinsharishkun spent a couple of years building alliances, knowing he did not have the force to meet his brother and the whole, main Assyrian army.  He turned to the independent people who lived outside, on the edge of Mesopotamia.  I don’t know what lies he told them, or what he promised them, but he got a token of support from the Medes, Persians, Parthians, Scythians, and Cimmerians.  He also put pressure on the cities of southern Mesopotamia that would have normally been under Babylonian control.  They also sent token of help, but with all that, Sinsharishkun was not sure he had the strength to face down the main Assyrian army.  All the same, the die was cast.  Sinsharishkun’s brother had spent the time solidifying his position in Nineveh, and now he was coming.”

“Exciting,” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“That was when I became a frog.”

“Poor timing,” Decker said over his shoulder.  His eyes stayed on the crowds in the streets, and the torches, burning buildings, and regular screams that wafted up in his direction.

“I was going to say,” Elder Stow started to say something, but fell silent.  His eyes stayed glued to his scanner.

“Marduk and Assur,” Lockhart prompted.

Labash took a deep breath before he began again.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 2 of 6

When the travelers entered the Ishtar gate of Babylon, they discovered Nabopolasser sat on the throne.  Though still forced to pay lip service to Nineveh and the Assyrians, he had conquered Nippur in the last year.

“That makes it about 619 or 618 BC,” Katie said.

“Labash should be about twenty-four or twenty-five,” Lincoln said.

“Sinshariskun should be king in Assyria,” Katie added and fell silent.

Evan spoke up when the crowd in the streets offered a chance to be heard.  “That is very good.  I studied in the Greco-Roman world because I could never pronounce those Akkadian names. My Latin was good, and much better now, and my Greek was passable, but Akkadian and Ugaritic gave me nightmares, not to mention Egyptian.”

“Egyptian is easy,” Lockhart said, with a grin.  He explained when he had Evan and Katie’s attention.  “The little one gift of languages includes the written word. Even when I look at Hieroglyphs, my mind automatically reads it in English.”

“It covers the written word?”

“Yes,” Lincoln said.

“Writing a response in another language that the other person can read can be tricky,” Alexis admitted.  “But not impossible.”

The travelers had no trouble knowing where they were going in the city.  They saw Etemenank, the great ziggurat of Babylon from the city gate.  It looked like a giant hill in the city, covered with vines, fruit trees, flowers and flowering bushes.  The building rested underneath all that greenery, roughly twenty stories tall in a three to five story city.

After a short way, they came to a broad avenue that marched right up to the face of the ziggurat.  Katie looked back at one point and imagined the buildings that crowded the Ishtar gate would one day be cleared out so the view from the gate to the man-made mountain would be unobstructed, and people could walk straight from the gate to the place of the gods.  Lockhart kept his eyes forward.  They ran into soldiers, because absolutely no one was allowed to climb to the house of the gods.

“If you wish to offer sacrifice to Marduk, his temple, Esagila, is over there,” the chief soldier said, kindly enough, and pointed across the square between the ziggurat and an enormous building in its own right.  “The priests will be glad to help you.”

“Actually, we are looking for Labash, the gardener,” Lockhart said.  The soldier paused, but still pointed to the temple.

“Esagila.  Marduk,” he repeated.

“Fine,” Lockhart said.

“Just tell Labash his friends from the future came by, and we will wait for him,” Katie said.

“Esagila,” the chief soldier pointed.

The group turned toward the temple, and Lincoln spoke up.  “We haven’t seen Marduk since this city was first built.”

“That wall there only stood three feet high in places,” Decker remembered.

Lincoln nodded.  “The Ishtar gate was not even finished being built.”

“The time before that,” Boston raised he voice.  “Marduk and Assur were like teenagers.  I remember they wanted to be cowboys.”

“That was where you found me,” Alexis said.  People paused to dismount.  They would walk their horses across the square.  Lincoln hugged Alexis, as if to say he was glad they found her, but he did not say anything.  Her father, Mingus, had kidnapped her again, but then he got himself killed fighting against the ghouls, and no one wanted to remember that time.

“Eliyawe kept the boys in line,” Katie said.

“I had forgotten her name,” Lockhart confessed.

“She looked skinny as an elf,” Alexis said, with a look at Boston.  “And full of energy.”  Boston smiled at the description.

“When was that?” Sukki asked.

“Early” Elder Stow admitted.  “I was not with the group for very long.”

“Before 3300 BC,” Lincoln reported.

Evan’s eyes got big at the date, but his mouth had a question.  “What were the gods doing with the Kairos?”  He seems to have accepted the notion that the ancient gods were not just archetypes, and the Kairos tended to be in the middle of everything.”

Katie explained.  “Eliyawe, Marduk and Assur just killed Tiamut.  They recovered the body of Osiris and were returning it to Egypt.”

Evan swallowed.  His eyes got big and he looked at the dirt as they came to the temple and found a place to tie off their horses.  “The remarkable thing is, I believe you,” he mumbled, and Boston, with her good elf ears, heard, and gave him a pat on the back for reassurance, even as her mouth gave him pause.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Halt.”  The temple had their own guards.

“We have come to see Marduk,” Lockhart said.

“You carry weapons,” the guard pointed to the knives on their belts, things they had gotten so used to carrying, they forgot they had them on.  Fortunately, the Patton sabers stayed tied to their saddles, and the guns were not recognized as weapons; not even Decker’s rifle, which he rarely set down. “Weapons are not allowed in the place of the god.”

Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Lincoln and Sukki turned to leave their knives in their saddlebags.  Boston kept her knife in her personal slip, as they called the little interdimensional hole that followed her around.  She had her gun belt, her wand, and her bow and arrows in there, too, and she could pull them out at a moment’s notice.  Alexis had a knife, buried at the bottom of her pack, and rarely carried it.  Evan had no weapons, and Elder Stow had plenty of weapons, but no guard in ancient Babylon would ever recognize them as weapons.  They looked like little sticks and boxes attached to Elder Stow’s belt.

While the others slipped their knives in their saddle bags, Boston had a thought.  “Elder Stow.  My personal slip.  Do you think the fauns, in a similar way, slip their entire selves into their other dimension?”

Elder Stow nodded.  He did not respond with a bunch of technical data, even for Boston who had her PhD in electrical engineering.  She would not have understood the theoretical math. But he did say, “Something similar, like that,” and Boston nodded.

“We’re ready,” Lockhart said upon his return.

“But, where is your sacrifice? What did you bring to offer the god?” The guard got harsh, since he and the other guards he called to back him up appeared to have the only weapons.

“We bring good wishes for an old friend,” Katie said.

“I wonder if Ishtar is around,” Lincoln whispered.

“And thanks for saving me from the cave and the servants of the masters,” Alexis added.

“Maybe Hebat,” Lockhart returned the whisper and grinned at some memories.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a cowboy hat to give him,” Boston said.

The guards stood for a second, looking at each other, before the rude guard went back to the beginning.  “Where is your sacrifice?”

An older man came to the front of the temple.  He appeared to be shivering, and afraid, but he spoke up loud and clear.  “Let them pass.  Let them enter.”  They pushed past the guards and looked curiously at the old man, obviously a priest, if not the high priest.

The man shook and spoke softly as he walked and led the travelers into the temple.  “I have seen him twice in my lifetime.  I do not think my master ever saw him.  I have been twice graced, and I pray there is not a third time.  My heart would not survive that.”

“Who?” Lockhart had to ask.

“Marduk, the inexorable,” the old man said.  “Several years ago, the whole city shook from an earthquake.  The anger of the god.  He appeared in the temple, and told the Babylonian army to go in support of Sinsharishkun against his brother, Ashuretiliani, King of Assyria.  I fell to my face and remained unmoving for three days.  It scared me so.”

“He is here?”  Katie asked.

“He is crying,” the priest said. “That is almost worse, but he says he has to see you.”  The priest clearly did not understand, but he acted faithfully and dedicated himself to do what the god required.

They found Marduk, a much older looking Marduk, sitting heavily on a bench beside his own altar.  Something smoked in the sea.  The burnt offering smelled like lamb.  The travelers stopped just in front of the priests who mostly knelt with their eyes lowered, though some prostrated themselves.  They cried with their god.

“Why so sad?” Katie asked.

“Can we help?” Alexis wondered, even as the eyes of the travelers teared up.  When the god cried, everyone cried.  Finally, Marduk spoke.

“I am so sorry,” he said, which sounded so unusual.  The gods never apologized for anything.  “Ishtar is not talking to me.  I think Hebat hates me.  Ninlil is the only one who will talk to me, and she always has scolding in her voice.”

“But, we had some good times, defending the city,” Elder Stow said.

“And saving me,” Alexis added, and Lincoln had to step in because Alexis’ voice became shaky with tears.

“Eliyawe and her husband.  And you and Assur were having such a good time.”

Marduk wailed.  He began to weep and repeated, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry…”  Of course, when the god wept, everyone wept, until they heard a sound.

“Lockhart,” someone shouted, and Marduk vanished.

Avalon 4.11 part 7 of 8, Kairos Interruption

“What am I doing?” Artie asked, as Alexis and Katie sat on each side of her, and comforted her.  Boston’s eyes teared up in empathy.

“Crying is a good thing, sometimes,” Alexis said.

“Are you afraid for Andy and your people?” Katie asked.

Artie stopped crying and looked up into Katie’s face.  She nodded.

They got interrupted by the sound of horses.  Elder Stow groused as he turned his screens back on.

“I just turned them off to conserve the energy.”fire-campfire-1

The sun was up, and everyone was awake, but they stayed near the fire and looked warily toward the sound of hooves, unable to see through the trees, but curious to imagine who their visitors might be.  They relaxed when they heard a woman’s voice.

“Lockhart.”

“Ishtara?” Lincoln always had to be sure.

“Grumble, grumble,” Elder Stow said as he shut down his screens.  Decker laughed softly.

Two men with spears appeared, but stopped at the edge of the trees as a woman came into the camp.  She was dressed in the armor of the Kairos and sporting the full regalia of weapons.  They did not doubt who it was.

Ishtara’s walk was hard to describe.  It was sexy—desirable in a way that made the men open their eyes, wide, and made Alexis and Katie want to hold on to Lincoln and Lockhart.  But at the same time, there was something in her stride which said she knew perfectly well how to use every one of those weapons she carried.  She appeared unnaturally attractive and supernaturally dangerous at the same time.

“Boston,” Ishtara held out her arms.  Boston hesitated, and offered a small curtsey before she ran into that loving hug.  “You have a visitor,” Ishtara noticed.

ishtar-3“Artie, short for Arthur,” Lincoln said, wanting to gain some attention from the beauty.

“Stand up,” Ishtara said, like one used to giving commands.  Alexis and Katie did not hesitate to stand, so Artie stood with them.  “Let me look at you,” Ishtara said, and walked around Artie with a critical eye.  “She appears human enough to pass inspection, I think.  How does she act?”  Ishtara paused to hug Artie.  “Welcome to the free and living people of the universe,” she said.

“I am confused,” Artie said as she let go and turned to Alexis to explain.

“She is learning human,” Alexis said.  “We are working on feelings and emotions, something she did not know she had three days ago.”

“They were suppressed, I think, for fear excessive strong emotions like fear, hate, anger, maybe love would impair her in her work,” Katie interjected.  She looked to Mingus and Elder Stow, both of whom nodded.

“Now that Artie is free,” Alexis continued.  “We are learning, but something like a child for the time being.  I don’t mind.”

“We’re keeping her,” Boston blurted out.

“She is not a pet,” Ishtara said, and Boston held her tongue.  “Why are you confused?”  Ishtara sat, so everyone sat except the two spear-carrying servants who stood back from the fire.artie 4a

Artie paused to look down at the fire before she spoke.  “When I look at you, I feel many things.  I do not understand them.  You are very beautiful.  I am a little afraid.  I dare not look into your eyes.”

“Lincoln, have you been falling down on the job?”  Ishtara smiled, and the men melted to see her smile, except Lincoln who felt ashamed.

“No.  I haven’t had much time to read and inform the others about this time zone.”

“We have been rather busy,” Mingus added, almost like he was defending his son-in-law.

“Okay,” Ishtara said as she took a taste of what was cooking for lunch.  She did not care for it, and her dislike appeared on her face.  “The short-short version, and then you need to pack up.  I need you back at the city, and you can get some real food there.”  Ishtara gathered her thoughts before she began.

“I was eighteen, a slave, scrubbing the floor, singing some Disney tune, which I guess is my habit.  Ishtar appeared to me and said she had need of me.

“You are not my mother,” I said, but she smiled and said I was not her son.  Then she stepped inside of me.  I don’t know how to explain that, exactly.  It felt weird.  My whole body changed and shifted until I had Ishtar’s likeness.  I have no godly power whatsoever, but she gave me an abundant spark of her being.  I am filled with love and war, and I can’t help it, so there is no point in asking me to tone it down.

ham-1“A week later I stood in line with a dozen other girls.  The King, Muballit, was anointing his eight-year-old son to be king after him.  Three of us were chosen to become the future king’s wives, though I think Muballit wanted nannies.  Hammy was a wild one.”  Ishtara grinned.  “I didn’t help matters.”  She didn’t explain.  “Anyway, no one knew where I came from or who my parents were, or anything.  I, that is, Ishtara had always been a servant in the house since I was a child.”

“You don’t know your family?” Alexis sounded sad and Boston and Artie both picked up on that sentiment.

Ishtara shook her head.  “I am sure I looked different, but everyone says I always looked the way I do now.  I believe I had a different name, but I have no idea what it might have been.  Ishtara means something like ‘of Ishtar’.  It is an unknown name, so I can’t imagine I was always called that, for real.  I scolded Ishtar for her cruelty in taking me from my family, and she finally broke down and told me my parents died when I was very young, and that was how I came to be a servant in the house; really, a slave.”

“You were a slave?” Artie asked with some disbelief in her voice.

“Yes, but mostly that just means I had a job to do, and I did it as well as I could.  Human slaves still have their own will and still think and feel for themselves.  There can be consequences for disobedience, but no one can make a human slave do anything they don’t want.  I suppose, in that respect, it is like all of life.  There are consequences with everything we do, though the consequences tend to hit slaves immediately, and sometimes in an unkind and unfair way.”  Ishtara shrugged.

“God help us if someone invents obedience crystals for humans,” Lincoln was thinking the worst.

Ishtara gave him a hard look, but said nothing about that.ishtar-2

“So, at eighteen, I got married to an eight-year-old, and six months later, I gathered the men in the city and drove the Elamites from the gates.  We slaughtered them, or at least I did.  Muballit, who could not keep his eyes off me since he first saw me, wanted to annul my marriage to Hammy and take me for himself.  Ishtar showed up.  I’ve seen her a number of times in these past few years.  She said, “No.  She married already.”  And she dragged me from standing before the throne to Hammy’s side, and I kissed him smack on the lips, like a real lover’s kiss.  I couldn’t help it.  Ishtar made me do it.  But then, Muballit was not about to argue with the goddess.”

“So now you are a wife and a general?”  Katie wanted to get it straight.

Ishtara nodded and smiled again.  “Not-my-mother Ishtar says it is Marduk’s turn and Assur can just suck it.”  Ishtara stood.  “Pack it up.  A friend of yours is in the city, waiting to see you.”

“Wait,” Katie needed to know something.  “Hammy?”

babylon-gate-1“Hammurabi,” Ishtara said.  She went to get in her mule-drawn chariot-wagon to wait while the travelers, and Artie, packed the camp.

###

“Babylon,” Lincoln named the city.

“I see they finished the Ishtar gate,” Lockhart pointed over their heads.

“I see they cleaned up the slums,” Alexis said.  “They look like real row houses now, like permanent dwellings.”

“Busy place,” Elder Stow pointed out.

“See, now this is a city,” Decker agreed, though that was not what Elder Stow was pointing out.

Ishtara led them to the stables by the palace.  She let the fifty men at arms that trailed her go back to their families to rest and relax.  There were gnomes in the stables, and the human grooms were strictly instructed to listen to the gnomes concerning the care and feeding of the horses.  Then they stopped in the doorway and watched while three Anazi battle cruisers in the distance, headed off into space.alexis-t2

“Well,” Alexis said with a smile in her voice.  “None of the soldiers or stable boys said anything about Artie.  I think her human disguise is working.”

“But why were all the men and boys staring at me?” Artie asked.

“Boys and girls.  Girls and boys.”  Ishtara let out a sly grin.  “Lockhart?”

“I’m not going near that question,” he said, and several people laughed.  Katie, Alexis and Boston walked with Artie and tried to give her the quick scoop before they reached the throne room.

Avalon 4.4 part 5 of 6, Fire of the Gods

Boston stared out of the gate at the distant enemy.  “What are they waiting for?” she asked.  Alexis raised her hand to shade her eyes, and was sorry she did not have good elf eyes.  Elf eyes were far better than human eyes.

“Father?”

“What?” he responded in a surly voice.

“Can you see what they are doing?” Alexis asked, in her calming voice.

“Do I care what they are doing?”

Alexis stopped and turned on him.  “You sound like Elder Stow.”

Mingus frowned and walked away, while Boston spoke to Alexis.  “He is mad at you.  I’m sorry.  I Katie 3hope it wasn’t anything I did.”

Katie stepped up and lowered her binoculars for a minute.  “Lockhart has the wall,” she explained when the women turned to look at her.  When they continued to look at her, she said something more.  “Mingus claims he has one good daughter and one bad one.  Sorry.  Not my words.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s okay,” Alexis said.  “I thought it was something like that.”

“I’m sorry,” Boston got weepy.  “I would never want to get between you and your father.”

Alexis nodded and looked at her Father who was climbing to the top of the gate pillar.  He certainly heard what they were saying with his good elf ears.  “I understand, and Boston, it is not your fault if he wants to behave like a three-year-old.  We only have to work together to get home in one piece.  After that, he can take his fat body as far away from me as he wants.”  She reached out and hugged Boston because Boston looked ready to cry. In the way of young little ones, Boston’s mood switched in a blink.

“He does look like he is putting on weight,” she said with a grin.

“Elf metabolism slows with too much meat protein. Most elves don’t eat so much meat, but we have been on the deer, deer, elk, deer diet, Atkins gone wild, you know,” Alexis said.

Boston 3a“The Paleo diet, but without all the fruits and nuts,” Katie agreed.

“I hope I don’t start putting on weight,” Boston said.  “I just got elf skinny.”

“I wouldn’t worry.  You are young.  Your system can handle it.” Alexis said, and hugged Boston again, just to say she held no grudge against her.

“We got company,” Katie said and pointed to the gate.  Three dwarves came in the gate, and men backed up to make room for them.  They were armored after a fashion.  One even had some chain over his leather.  One dwarf had a sword and shield, one had a more traditional dwarf-like axe, and Pluckman, in front, carried a spear, but he had a shield on his back and a sword at his side.

Ulrik was right there to hear Pluckman speak.  “Reporting for duty, sir.”  Pluckman and the dwarves turned and offered a bow and words to Channa.  “And the lady is looking lovely today.”

Channa turned her head to Boston, Alexis and Katie.  “My Ulrik has the most interesting friends.”  She turned to the dwarf.  “Thank you Pluckman, you dear little thing.”

Alexis looked at Boston, and Boston spoke.  “I feel it too,” she said and stepped up to speak to Channa.  “You know; the little ones only pay that kind of attention to a person that their Lord has a special relationship with.  In this case, I would say Ulrik loves you.”kissing 1

Channa’s eyes got big and Boston almost caught a glimpse of the wedding dress in Channa’s mind as she grabbed Ulrik for a big, very sexy kiss.  When Ulrik could breathe again, he turned first on Boston. “I wasn’t going to tell her that,” he said, before he turned on Pluckman.  “You know what I said.  This is not your fight.”  He raised his voice, but by then a man appeared beside him, and the appearance of the man, more than Ulrik’s displeasure, made Boston humbly lower her head.

“No cheating,” the man said.

Men were still coming for Lincoln to direct.  Lockhart and Decker were on the walls.  Mingus was up the pillar, and Elder Stow was playing with some piece of equipment, but the women were right there, and it was Alexis who recognized the man first.

“Marduk.”

Katie spoke up.  “I didn’t recognize you without your other half.  Where is Assur?”

Etana warriorMarduk growled.  Katie and Alexis shrank back, and Boston let out a small shriek.

“I am not cheating,” Ulrik said.  “I was just about to yell at the dwarves, if you waited a minute.”  Marduk growled again, and Ulrik was afraid some of the men in the gate might die from fear.  Channa hid her face in Ulrik’s chest when Ulrik traded places through time.  He changed to Doctor Mishka and she clothed herself in the armor and weapons of the Kairos.  She had something more direct to say to Marduk.

“Sit.  Keep your thoughts to yourself, and tone down the awesome nature.  You are scaring the men.”  Marduk sat and quieted, and he did so without question.  Mishka went away so Ulrik could come back.  He kept the armor and weapons.  “Man that gate,” he yelled at the men, and the men turned away from him and toward the enemy, except for the three that ran away.

A light showed up on the other side of the field.  It was a fireball some six feet across, and it headed straight toward the gate.  People panicked.  There was no time to do anything.  But all at once, the fireball stopped.  It spread out and dissipated twenty yards out.  Elder Stow stepped up.

“Setting a single sided screen like a wall is difficult on equipment not designed for that purpose,” he said.

Boston had something else in mind.  “Dwarves, hold on.”  They grabbed each other and Pluckman grabbed Boston’s leg, and grinned, but stayed good.  “Alexis, I need your wind to get there.”  Alexis looked reluctant, but took Boston’s hand.  Boston’s other hand held her wand, and an equally large fireball started out across the field.  One small fireball came from Mingus up on the pillar and blended into the large fire that raced across the field.  The Gutians had no screen and were not prepared for return fire.  When the fireball reached their line, they were running away.  It struck and exploded, a far more devastating fire than just fire alone.

“Good,” a woman said.  No one knew where she came from, or who she was, but the travelers at least had the same sort of feeling they got when any of the gods showed up.  No telling what the men in the gate felt.ishtar 2

The woman stopped to bow briefly to Marduk.  “King,” she said.  She stepped to King Belusis and said, “Not my king.”  She moved on to Channa who appeared to be frozen, awe struck, and she took Channa by the chin and gave a good looking over.  “Princess,” she said, before she threw her hands up.  “My gate?”

“Everyone who comes in and out of the city will think of you,” Ulrik said, even as the travelers were figuring out that this was Ishtar.

The woman raced up and grabbed Ulrik by the chin.  She stared at him and into his eyes, which made him flinch.  It always did.  “Not my son,” she said, and let him go.

“Not my mother,” he responded, and the woman almost smiled.

“No,” she said before anyone else could say a thing.  “No temple.  No help.”

“Okay,” Ulrik threw his hands down, and Channa grabbed one hand.  She appeared to need the support.  “Yours will be the next temple built, I promise.”

ishtar 5“Okay,” she repeated the word, and threw something over her shoulder.  It was a fireball, but much larger than the first two, being a hundred feet in diameter.  When it hit, the explosion shook the ground.  The woman pointed at Channa and Ulrik, holding hands.  “You marry.  No more discussion.”  She pointed briefly at King Belusis before she finished.  “Make new temple, good one.  I tell witch, go to another city.  Not Nippur.  Maybe I send her.”  The woman vanished in front of everyone.  Only a few men made sounds of shock.

“Marduk,” Ulrik waved the god to come over, and he did.  “So you get to be king of the gods of Babylon, gateway of the gods.”

“I am not going to argue with Ishtar,” Marduk said.

“You mean not his mother,” Katie suggested.

“Does that mean there isn’t going to be a fight? Pluckman asked, and sounded sincerely unhappy.

Marduk smiled and looked down at the dwarf.  “I am so glad that is one burden that is not mine,” he said and vanished.  He let a little sound of thunder follow in his wake.Ulrik 2

Channa stared at Ulrik and thought wicked thoughts.  “We can marry tonight,” she said.

“No!” both Ulrik and King Belusis shouted at the same time.  The king stepped up.

“So, the next temple we build will be for Ishtar, goddess of love and war,” Ulrik said.

The king nodded.  “And without delay,” he agreed.

“Hold that thought,” Ulrik responded as another woman appeared.  This one pushed out of her dress in several places, and was not at all embarrassed by it.  She marched up to Urlik, butted between him and Channa, and locked her lips to his.  Ulrik pulled back as soon as he was able, but the woman did not let him go.

“Some of my Amonites are coming here,” she said in her low and sexy voice.  “I guess that means you need to build a temple for me, too.”

goddess Hebat 1Ulrik frowned.  “Turn around,” he said.  The woman raised an eyebrow, but Urlik insisted.  She turned, slowly, and looked back until she was completely turned.  He whacked her hard enough on her butt to leave a burn mark.  She squealed and spun quickly around, but by then Ulrik had Channa in his arms.

“Do that again,” the woman said with a mighty grin.

Ulrik rolled his eyes.  “Now, what would your husband say?” he asked.

“Oh, putz,” the woman said and vanished.

“Hebat,” the man in the strange clothes was there.  He named the goddess and he had a few tears.  He fell to his knees and declared, “Truly Babylon is the home of the gods and Belusis will be our king too.”

“So it is agreed,” the king said, not about to miss the opportunity, besides, Ulrik was busy kissing his wife-to-be.

Avalon 4.4 part 4 of 6, Enemies at the Gate

“I have so many questions,” Katie said as they left the king’s chamber.

“I thought you might.”

“Why are you a slave?” Lockhart interrupted as Channa came running to catch them.

“I am Aramean,” he said, before he added “oof,” as Channa ran into him and grabbed him.  They started walking again, and he explained.  “Channa is Akkadian, a grand niece or second or third cousin of Sargon himself.  When the Akkadians moved through the Levant to invade Mesopotamia, north in Assyria as well as south in Sumeria, by the way, they picked up slaves, some whole tribes, and brought them along.  My grandfather was a wandering Aramean.  My mother was a slave.”

“I am your slave,” Channa whispered in his ear.  He stopped to kiss her before continuing.Ulrik 5

“But in the Bible, the word is often translated servant, and that is not incorrect.  I don’t know any slaves that get the whipping and beating treatment you see on American television.  I’m not sure slaves in America got much of that kind of treatment.  Slaves cost money and are expensive.  They need to be taken care of if you expect to get any good work out of them.  True, slaves labor, but honestly, masters generally labor right alongside them, to plant, harvest, take care of the house and home.”

“Slaves can marry,” Channa said with a sheepish grin.  “And when they marry a free woman they often get their freedom.”

“So if you are an Aramean,” Katie took the conversation.  “Who was that man in the strange clothes?”

“Amorite.  The Amorites will take over Babylon in a hundred and fifty years or so, and a bunch of other cities by then also.  Hammurabi, you know.  But notice the difference.  The Gutians want to rule.  They come in fighting and they do take over some places for a while before they get thrown out.  The Amorites ask permission, migrate peacefully, and eventually take over, long term.”

“More farmers who can’t plant?  How can they promise to supply food for the people?” Lockhart asked.

“No, actually the Amorites are wandering herdsmen, and it is no wonder, as people settle down to start farming in the Levant, they want to drive the wanderers out.”

Katie stopped them before they collected their horses.  “One more question.  I heard the brief list of people the man mentioned, but I didn’t know one.  Kasidim?”  They started walking the horses and Ulrik talked to the group.

“Kasdim,” Ulrik said.  “I am not surprised a PhD in ancient and medieval cultures and technologies would not have much to do with the Bible these days, but they are mentioned in the Bible.  Usually pep Bedou campit is translated Chaldeans.  They are a mixed people in the Levant, with herds, but also some rudimentary agriculture.  The have a few towns in the west, mostly northern Syria.  But here, the Amorites are the first wanderers to settle down.  When they do, it does not take them long to learn the ways and advantages of agriculture.  The Chaldeans come last in line, and have to travel all the way to the Tigris and Euphrates delta to find land to settle on.  They build a sort-of civilization there for about five hundred years before they get absorbed into the native population.  But that won’t be for a thousand years in the future.  They get absorbed, or maybe assimilated just in time for the Medes and Persians to take over.”

“Hey.  I thought you weren’t supposed to talk about future things like that,” Katie protested.  “I have to keep my mouth shut wherever we go.”

Ulrik nodded.  “It is safer not to say anything, but right now, I want to know what has Mingus so agitated.”  Everyone turned to look at the elder elf.

“I’m­—“ Boston started to explain

“Young Boston is trying to tell me what a good person Alexis is,” Mingus interrupted.  “I know she is a good person.  That is not the point.  She has not been a good daughter, that’s all.”

“You don’t really mean that,” Katie said.

“But I do mean it,” Mingus insisted.  “I now have two daughters.  One good one and one bad one.”  He folded his arms and turned away from them all.

Ulrik said nothing, so Lockhart said nothing, not that they knew what to say.

“Boston,” Katie got her attention.  Boston went sadly with Katie to check the three horses which had been left there, seemingly abandoned.  Decker had ridden off somewhere, and Alexis, Lincoln and Elder Stow were presumably off helping the wounded warriors.Alexis t1

Alexis, in fact, was pushing the hair out of her eyes at that point.  The man who took them to the various tents of the wounded men turned out to have an arrow in his leg.  He limped, but they thought he was just bruised.  In fact, he broke off the arrow shaft near the skin and covered the spot with his pants.  The wound bled little, but the arrowhead was still in his leg.

“Why are you here?” Alexis asked the same question the Kairos asked when the Gott-Druk first turned up and joined the travelers.

Elder Stow frowned.  “You are family, such as you are, but these humans are not.  I will defend you because I hope to get home, but I see no need to waste my energy helping these strangers.”

“Where is you compassion?” Alexis asked.

“It is not our way to help those who are not our kind.”

“Bull,” Lincoln said.  “Homo Neanderthals are not so very different from Homo Sapiens.  You have compassion in your DNA just like anyone.”

Elder Stow looked like he was going to be stubborn, but Alexis reached out and touched his hand.  “Please.” Elder Stow grumbled as he got out his device.  The man was already lying down, and they watched as Elder Stow waved his device over the leg and the arrowhead slowly pulled itself from the leg.  It began to bleed, badly, but Alexis was right there to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing process.  After she was done, she looked exhausted.

Stow h1“I hope there aren’t any more,” she said, as Lincoln helped her to stand.

“I hope we are safe inside the city.  We are all in need of food and rest,” Lincoln said, and patted Elder Stow on the shoulder with the word, “Thank you.”  Elder Stow looked very unhappy before he spoke.

“Let us hope we can all get some rest.”  He could agree with that much.

As they walked back to the horses, they saw the others had arrived.  At the same time, they saw Decker ride up from the gate.  There were men running behind him, but Decker on horseback got there first.

“We have Gutians in the field,” Decker shouted.  Alexis, Lincoln and Elder Stow heard and tried to run, but it was a jog, hardly faster than walking.  Ulrik was talking when they arrived.

“Channa, please go back to your father.  If you get hurt, he will kill me.”

Channa stubbornly shook her head.  “I am not leaving your side again.”  She grabbed his arm.

Ulrik looked around at everyone standing there.  “Tegon-ibbi, go inform the king we have Gutians in the field outside the Ishtar gate, and then come back whatever he decides to do.  The rest of you, bring the horses.”

Lockhart yelled as they started toward the gate.  “In a city full of half-starved people, you left yourDecker 8 horses standing there, unprotected.  Why didn’t you put a sign on them, free food, come and get it?”

“My fault,” Decker admitted without hesitation.  “I heard, and went to make sure the Gutians were not coming in the gate.”  He paused, and as they saw, the Gutians were stopped several hundred yard out in what should have been fields of grain.

“They are just standing there,” Alexis said.

“Decker,” Ulrik spoke up because the crowd in the open gate where the doors were not yet attached was loud.  “Take some of these men and spread them part way down the wall. Katie, please do the same on the other side.”  He spoke up to whatever men in the gate stopped talking long enough to listen.  “I appreciate you not wanting them to get in through the gate, but it won’t do if they come over the wall.”  The wall in most places was only a few feet high, easy enough for a man to clamber over.

Decker knew what to do.  Katie also knew, but the men would not especially listen to a woman, so Lockhart helped.  It was hard for men in a five-foot world to argue with these six-foot giants, even if they had their spears and shields at the ready.

Men were still coming, and Lincoln directed them to the wall on the left or right, or to the gate as well as he could.  When Tegon-Ibbi returned from the king’s chamber, he quickly got the idea and helped.

channa 2Ulrik got the men to drag whatever they could in the way of stones and lumber to fill the gap in the gate in lieu of doors.  He made the men fetch their hunting bows and all the arrows they had.  It temporarily depopulated the wall, but the Gutians could not have known.  They were just out there, milling about, or standing and staring at the city.

“This is exciting,” Channa kept saying, while she held on and kept Ulrik’s arm pinned to his side.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said and gave her a quick kiss.  “But when the fighting starts, make sure you promise to keep your head down.”

“Yes, my general,” she said and grinned in lieu of a salute.

Avalon 4.4: part 3 of 6, Building Babylon

The caravan came into the city, and for once the strangers in their strange dress and with their big horses were ignored.  The people gravitated to the grain and began dancing in the streets.

“We aren’t exactly starving,” Ulrik said.  “But near enough.  We can’t hunt or gather much with roving bands of Gutians out there.”  Ulrik paused to make sure his lieutenant took the grain to the storehouse.  Alexis took that moment to speak.

“I can’t leave my patient until I get him home and in bed, and instruct his family how to care for him”

“That means I have to come,” Lincoln said.  The man was tied to Lincoln’s horse and floating along, held up by Elder Stow’s anti-gravity device.

“And I,” Elder stow said, and pointed.  “To get my device back.”pep Bedou camp

Lockhart made a command decision.  “Decker, would you go with them to keep an eye out.  Try not to kill anyone unless absolutely necessary.”

“Only if absolutely necessary,” Decker repeated, and rubbed his right eye.  “That witch has sharp fingernails.”

“Mingus, Boston, keep your glamours up.  I imagine we are going to see the king.”

“I should go with you?” Katie asked.  She felt Lockhart’s unhappiness with her for a while now, and knew it was because she was taking risks and not especially following orders, so she thought it safest to ask.

“You are with me, are you not?” Lockhart asked in return.  Katie smiled and stepped up beside him before he ruined it.  “We need one marine on each team to watch over us.”

“Ready?” Ulrik asked before Katie could respond.  He started to walk, and a man by the name of Amrabbi paced him.  The others fell in behind, the horses following after them, Boston and Mingus at the back.  When they got to what looked like the only finished building in the city where most of the people were still living in tents and squalor, Katie could not hold her tongue.

“Opulant,” she said.  “Don’t let Alexis see this, she will give us the lecture on the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”

Ulrik heard and responded.  “Actually, the poor here can’t get much poorer without being dead.  But we are beginning to build houses for the people, even as we work on the walls.”

“How many?” Lockhart asked.

“Between four and five thousand,” Ulrik shrugged.  “I have tried to get the king to order a census, but he sees no reason for it and calls it a waste of energy and time.”  They had to go up the steps to get inside, and Ulrik helped them find a place to tie off their horses.  He also found men to guard them, because in a city near starvation, it was not safe to leave unattended meat walking around.

“I suggest you camp outside of town and keep a careful watch on your horses in the night,” Ulrik said.

Ulrik 4“What I was thinking,” Lockhart agreed.

Katie wanted back on subject while they walked.  “Shemsu builders?”  She had looked carefully at the perfectly fitted stones in the growing walls.

“Some,” Ulrik said.  “They have become careful over the centuries not to reveal themselves, but some.  I don’t believe any city in this age would be possible without some Shemsu builders.”

They had to pause as a young woman ran and threw herself at Ulrik.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and kissed him all over his face.  Ulrik responded by going for her lips and her legs slowly slipped to the floor so she could be held by him and their two bodies could press together like true lovers.  Katie and Lockhart glanced at each other and turned red enough.  Boston had only one thing to say.

“I wish Roland was here.”  Mingus reached out and patted Boston’s hand like a doting father.

Ulrik pulled his head back from the kiss and said, “We have company.”

The woman turned her head briefly and looked like this was the first time she realized others were standing there.  “Hello,” she said, and her eyes and face zipped straight back to Ulrik.  Ulrik pulled back, but she grabbed his hand for dear life.

“Channa,” he named her.  “This is Lockhart, Katie, Father Mingus and Boston.”

“I love your red hair,” Channa said.  “How did you get it that color?”

“I was born this way,” Boston admitted.

“No?” Channa said and snuggled up to Ulrik’s shoulder.  “My Ulrik has the most interesting friends.”  She grinned a mighty grin.

“Channa is the king’s daughter,” Ulrik said.  “Amrabbi is the king’s spy and personal snitch.  And I Etana captivesam the kings slave and most obedient servant.”

“Slave?” Lockhart said.  He had not really caught that back when Lincoln was reading through the database.

“Yes,” Ulrik said as he got them walking.  “The Akadians came two centuries ahead of the Gutians, and more from the bottom of the Black Sea in Anatolia. They swept down through the Levant, basically Syria where they took many people as slaves.  They moved into Samaria, where they conquered many cities of the Sumer.  Sargon himself only died five years before I was born.  The high king is now Sargon’s son.  Meanwhile, a nephew, my king’s older brother, took and rebuilt Kazailu, and promptly threw out my king, the younger brother, so my king gathered what people he had and came here to build his own city the way Sargon, his uncle, built Akkad.”

“We are there,” Amrabbi said as they came to large double doors.

“Why here?” Katie wanted to ask her question before they entered.  Ulrik smiled, knowing what she was asking.

“There was the foundation for a city here.  This is Barak’s Urudu.  I am sorry you never got to see it.  Now, show respect,” Ulrik said, and they went in.

King Belusis sat on a throne at the end of the hall.  He had men around him, attendants of one sort or another, but one man beside him was dressed in different sort of clothes.  Katie guessed they were not Gutian clothes or they would have heard something in the gate.  She also figured Lockhart did not notice because men did not notice such things.

Ulrik 1Ulrik went to his knees.  Amrabbi bowed deeply.  Channa went to sit on a small stool, a few paces to the side and two steps down from the throne.  Lockhart and Katie stood as Americans, and Mingus and Boston moved up to stand beside them.  Belusis frowned at them.

“Do you not bow to your king?” he asked.

“No,” Lockhart answered.  “In our home, we believe that all men are created equal.”

“And where is this home?” one of the king’s attendants asked.

“It is a land so far away, we have been traveling for over a year and a half to get here, and we will travel almost three more years to get home,” Lockhart said.  He had been keeping track since Roland was taken from them.  Boston appreciated his concern, but she usually whined when he told her his calculations.

“Well, here we respect our king,” the attendant said, like he had not heard a word Lockhart told him.  He waved, and a big guard drew his sword and started toward the strangers.  Ulrik looked up and commented.

“Don’t kill him, if possible.”

Lockhart and Katie both drew their handguns, but Mingus stepped up.  “Allow me.”  They all saw the flame and wind that blew from his hands toward the guard.  The guard paused, not wanting to get burned, and then it seemed he could not move at all.  Ulrik had to move.  He could undo whatever his little ones could do, so he touched the guard and ordered him to return to his post.  He had a word for the attendant.

“You, I would let them kill.”  He turned to the king.  “My Lord, I have a report.  We brought grain from Kish, and I talked to a man from Erech, who suggested we contact him next time we are in need.”

“And how did you obtain this grain,” the obnoxious attendant asked.  “Did you have your strange creatures steal it for you?” he waved his hand generally in the direction of the travelers.

“No, actually.  I told the King of Kish if we ran out of foodstuffs, my people were instructed to suggest to the Gutians that Kish was a city overflowing with food and riches.”

Lockhart saw the king hide his grin as his attendant huffed.  “Very good for now,” the king tried to straighten up.

“And I see you picked up a visitor of your own,” Ulrik said.aramean

The man offered a strange bow and spoke in a strange accent.  “I am from Aram, a small kingdom with too many people.  There is much war where I live, Hittites, Hurrians, Kasdim, Suteans, so many, and all fighting over such small space.  I, and my brothers, have gone in search of a land where we may live in peace, and you have much land here, good, blessed by Hebat, fertile, and not used.”

Lockhart smiled.  “I remember Hebat,” he said, and Katie hit him in the arm, and not too softly.

The king spoke.  “He has promised to help us drive away the Gutians and bring us foodstuffs for a spot of land where they can live in peace.”

Ulrik turned to the man.  “How many?” he asked.

The man looked at the floor and pulled on his beard.  “Some tens of tens,” he said softly.

“A thousand, or a few thousand,” Ulrik told the travelers before he turned again to the man.  “Will you acknowledge Babylon as your home and Belusis as your king?”

There was a long drawn out pause.  “We hope for our own land.”

Ulrik nodded and turned to his king.  “I do not recommend it.  They might take the land across the Euphrates from where we are building, but it will only work if they accept Babylon as over all the land and accept you as their king.  The two people must become one or it won’t work.  Neighbors can be impossible, but family allows for things and works things out.”  He bowed to his king and turned to escort his friends from the chamber.  “Okay, Amrabbi,” he said as they left.  “Now you can tell him all the juicy bits.”

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

Monday

Avalon, episode 4.4 continues with the second half, post 4 of 6 is Enemies at the Gate…as you can imagine.  Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

a a happy reading 2

Avalon 4.4: part 2 of 6, Caravan

Decker pulled up at what he figured was out of bow range.  Katie stopped beside him, her rifle ready.  Lockhart came screeching to a halt beside her.

“Shoot the ones out front, but only until they retreat,” he ordered.

Katie nodded, but Decker just began to fire.  A moment later, Alexis rode right past them, Lincoln,Decker 2 Boston and Mingus on her trail.

“Damn,” Lockhart said, and he followed.

Elder Stow pulled up to the two shooters and stopped to watch, even as Katie started to follow Lockhart.  She tried to shoot from the back of her moving horse.  Decker stayed where he was as long as he had targets.  The majority of the enemy began to back off when they realized what was happening.  Their men were mysteriously falling to the ground and not getting back up again.

Alexis feared someone in the caravan might need her medical attention, but she was not a complete fool.  The caravan had backed up into a rock outcropping and were defending themselves with arrows from cover.  A small cluster of trees and bushes stood beside the rocks.  Several dozen heavily burdened donkeys were there.  Alexis went to hide her horse with the donkeys behind the trees, before she got down.

“Are you crazy?” Lincoln yelled at her when he pulled up beside her.  He had his pistol in one hand and his Patton saber in the other.  He had to shoot a man even as Alexis started up into the rocks.  Alexis found a wounded man right away.  He had managed to move down toward the trees to get out of the direct line of fighting.

“Quiet.  Lie still.  I am here to help,” Alexis said, and the man relaxed for a second, though he had little strength to do otherwise.  His eyes did get wide and he shrieked when the two elves passed by.  Alexis hushed him, and worked.

Lockhart came up a minute later and stood with Lincoln.  They caught sight of men trying to get to the trees to come up on the rocks through the bushes.  Lockhart and Lincoln got down behind cover.  Lincoln fired his pistol, but Lockhart let loose with several blasts of scatter shot from his shotgun.  Lockhart figured he did not kill any of the men, but he wounded a few, and the sound of thunder made the men withdraw and rethink their idea.

Caspian hils 1Mingus and Boston got into the middle of the fighting just when a group of men, maybe thirty, made a sudden charge on the position.  They all had short spears and wooden shields to hide behind.  The men in the caravan had spears and crude swords to fight them off.  Mingus tossed a couple of fire balls into the pack of men.  They exploded on contact.  Boston had her Berreta and fired at will.

Meanwhile, Decker looked stuck where he was.  “You could help,” he told Elder Stow, but the Elder just sat there on his horse and watched.  Suddenly, the men who had appeared to pull back, charged his position.  He flipped his rifle from semi-automatic to automatic and sprayed the enemy with five shot bursts.  Many went down, some might say too many before they wised up and pulled back.

“Thanks,” Decker said to the wind because he was not sure Elder Stow was even listening.

It was then that Pluckman and his dwarves caught up.  “We can take it from here,” Pluckman said, huffing and puffing from having to run.

Decker looked once more at the immobile Elder Stow before he spoke.  “I don’t think the Kairos would be happy having you involved.”

“Too late,” Pluckman said.  “Already involved.”  Decker was going to say something more, but Pluckman and his dwarves all had their bows out and their long knives ready.  They moved into the weeds and scrub grass of the meadow and virtually disappeared as they blended perfectly into the scenery.  Decker could only shrug.

Boston and Mingus kept a bunch of the attackers back with her bullets and his fireballs, but some got up on the rocks and caused havoc.  Boston spied a man in black leather chain mail, holding a sword no local smithy made.  He had two men in his face, trying to gat at him with their spears.  Boston screamed.Boston LF1

“No!” and her Beretta got replaced by her wand.  The attackers got fire in their faces, and when those two went down, she turned on the crowd, using her wand like a flame thrower.  That was too much.  The men ran from the rocks and from the trees at about the same time.  They ran from Decker, and had dwarves to make sure they kept running.

Boston turned to the man in the fancy armor and sword.  “Ulrik,” she cried and leapt into his arms for a hug. “I was so scared for you.”

“What makes you think I’m Ulrik?” he asked.  Her eyes got big, but he smiled.  “I am, but you didn’t give me a chance to say, “Boston!”

“I recognized the armor,” Boston said.  “And the sword.”

“Is she behaving?” Ulrik asked Mingus.

“For the most part, yes.” Mingus said, but he looked toward Alexis and frowned.

Alexis had moved on to other injured men.  Lincoln stayed right with her, and would not let her go down on the plain to see to the Gutians.  Ulrik agreed.

“The Gutians need to tend their own.  We need to get moving.”

“We do,” Lockhart said, as he backed away from kissing Katie.  She was grinning, and so was he, but the others were polite enough not to say anything.

stow e1“One man is injured too badly to be moved right away,” Alexis said.

Ulrik nodded.  “Elder Stow,” he called out.  “We need to borrow your graviton device.”

“Why?” Elder Stow sounded surly.

Ulrik did not respond to the tone of voice.  He said straight out, “We have a wounded man to move.”  Elder Stow reluctantly got out his equipment.

Katie stepped up to Ulrik and whispered.  “Elder Stow has been acting unhappy for a while now.  He won’t talk about it.”  Ulrik nodded that he heard, but he had a caravan to get moving.

Lincoln and Lockhart helped by making a stretcher they could pull behind a horse.  The end could be held up by Elder Stow’s device so it would not drag on the ground.  Lincoln volunteered his horse, Cortez, to do the pulling and soon enough the overburdened donkeys were rounded up.  Decker looked to be sleeping, but the others knew he was meditating, using his gift of the eagle’s eye to try to locate the enemy.

“Ouch,” Decker shouted and put a hand to his eyes.  His eyes watered for a bit.  “Your enemies are a few miles north of here.  Look like a couple of thousand, but I did not have time to count them because something rose up from the camp and poked me in the eye.”

“General Zod has a witch in the camp.  I should have warned you,” Ulrik said as he got everyone up and moving.  They walked to the northwest and soon found a wide river off to their left hand.

“General Zod, you mean like Superman’s General Zod?” Lockhart asked.donkey load

Ulrik smiled that someone finally caught the reference.  Of course, living four thousand years before Superman was created made it kind of hard to expect anyone to know what he was talking about.  “His name is Zodh, but I have been calling him General Zod for some time, just because.”

“I take it he is the evil military leader,” Lincoln said.

“Yes, and his Gutians want the city we are building, and I won’t let him have it.”

“Gutians?” Lockhart asked.

“A mixed race people from around Lake Van, up by the Caspian Sea,” Katie said.

“Actually closer to the Black Sea, and from the mountains below Georgia, but well above Assyria.  They are more related to the Hatti than the Scythians, Cimmerians, or Medes around the Caspian.  They have been pushed down to Lake Van by the early Hurrians and the Hittites that came through from the steppes further north.  They are not one people, as Katie says.  They are many different tribal groups that history has lumped together under the name Gutians, but they are fierce in their own way.

“Mitani people?” Katie asked.

Ulrik nodded.  “Mixed in there eventually, I guess.”

“So, what is in the bags?” Lincoln asked.  He was thinking of the bags carried by the caravan in Lin’s day, but they were like satchels that hung over the back of the donkeys.  These burdens looked like someone took a sheet, filled it with something almost to the breaking point and tied it to the back of the donkeys, which was almost more than the beasts could bear.

“Grain, our daily bread,” Ulrik answered.  “Our fields were burned out by General Zod, and we haven’t done a winter planting.  No point as long as there is a Gutian army hovering over our shoulders.”

“Winter planting?” Boston questioned.  “You mean it isn’t August?  I’m sweating.”

“Late September, early October,” Ulrik answered.  “We are in a hot, dry time and have been for a couple of centuries.  Drought conditions have helped move people into the great river valleys, and the hot and dry is helping to make this part of the world more like you are used to imagining it, with sandy, scrubby soil and plants in many places, well spaced across the fields.  Call it early global warming,” Ulrik laughed to himself.babylon 1

“What is that?” Alexis finally verbalized what everyone saw.  They had been coming up on some great edifice.  Now that they were closer, they could distinguish the beginning of walls from the buildings behind.  It looked like an enormous settlement.

 

“My city,” Ulrik said.  “And I am glad to see it still standing after my absence.”

“What city?” Katie asked.

Mingus stole the thunder and said the name.  “Babylon.”