Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 6 of 6

The following day, they rode extra hard.  Lockhart’s horse and Decker’s horse nearly gave out, having carried such big men for so long.  Sukki’s horse, Freedom, struggled.  Boston’s Honey and Elder Stow’s horse seemed fine, but Lockhart grew concerned.  Their journey through time was long enough and hard enough as it was.  The horses made it tolerable.  He could not imagine walking the rest of the way back to the twenty-first century, especially since the time gates began to get further and further apart as humans started traveling greater distances from home.

After lunch, they crossed a couple of rivers and moved into the foothills of Mount Othrys, leaving the coast behind them.  They knew they were getting close, and this time they would not stop at dark.  Even so, they had to get down and walk the horses now and then.  During one of those times, Arias told them about the Athol.

“It is an isolated valley nestled in the foothills of Mount Othrys.  The road bypasses the valley, running through a gap in those foothills.  The little Athol River is not much of a river.  In the dry season, you can wade across it in spots.  It runs into a small, but deep bay where there are great docks for merchant shipping.  The people of the Athol have a great reputation making weapons and branding the horses that run in the hills—some of the best horses in Greece.  They have a silver mine, a copper mine, and an iron mine in those hills with hamlets scattered here and there.”

“Weapons?” Lockhart asked.

“They made the bronze weapons used at Troy.  They made the iron weapons Alexander used against the Persians.  The city is barely a town.  It has a wall only part way around; never finished.  My husband Damon teaches the martial arts at the Athol Academy.  Sophia’s husband is the Princess’ older brother, Darien.  He is a Roman citizen, a tribune for the province, charged with keeping an eye on Phillip and his Macedonians.”

“And the Princess is married?” Boston asked.

“Yes, of course.  Her husband, Julius, is the son of a Roman Senator.  It is a long story.”

When they rode again, they did not get far before they saw another horse, struggling among the trees.  Arias sensed something and raised her shield before the arrow struck.  Lockhart pulled his handgun and fired at the tree. Decker fired three shots from his rifle.  Elder Stow did one better.  His handgun was on a low setting, but it still flashed bright in the afternoon and set the tree on fire.  The dead man that fell to the ground looked badly burned.

“Mylo,” Arias identified him.

Boston nodded to confirm Arias’ perception before she complained to Elder Stow.  “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

“Sorry young Boston,” Elder Stow apologized.  “It is at a low setting, but I see I need to lower it some more.”

Althea said, “Wow.”  Meriope and Aurora appeared to have trouble closing their mouths.  Sophia did not look pleased.

“I agree with the Princess,” she said.  “I hate the killing part.”

Barely an hour later, the group topped a rise and saw two large companies of men camped across the road from each other.  They were not fighting but looked ready to go at it at any moment.

Arias pointed when they stopped.  “On the left it looks like two or three hundred actual soldiers, Athol guards and maybe Damon and some fourth-year students from the Academy.  Not long ago, the Romans camped on Euboea, the army of the Aetolian League camped just below Thermopylae, and Phillip and the Macedonian army camped around Thebae.  They circled the little valley, all about a day away, and they stared hard at each other.  The Athol mustered four—less than five thousand men, and some women, for self-defense, and that just about emptied the valley.”

“It doesn’t sound like a very big place,” Lockhart said.

Arias agreed.  “It isn’t.  That is one of the reasons it has survived at peace for all these centuries.  It is isolated, of no strategic importance, and never had a population big enough to threaten anyone.” Arias turned her eyes.  “On the right, the collection of what may be a hundred and fifty or so men, is Xitides and his brigands.  They are the ones who look like three pirate ships emptied their dregs on the beach.”

“Why is he here?” Sophia pushed forward and asked.  “Thermopylae is only a long day away.  He could be half-way to the Peloponnesus by now.”

“Waiting for us,” Arias answered.  “He wants this settled and doesn’t want me chasing him all over Greece.”  She started her horse down the other side of the rise, and the others followed.

It did not take long to find the Princess.  Arias paused to kiss her husband, Damon, and while they clearly loved each other, neither appeared the type to go in for public shows of affection.  Sophia, by contrast, ran into the arms of her husband, Darien.  They adored each other and did not care who saw.  Boston ran into the Princess’ hug but hugged carefully around the baby.  The Princess smiled, before she put one hand on her belly.

“I remember you from the future,” Boston grinned as hard as she could.  “I saved that up all this time so I could see Lockhart shake his confused head, about remembering the future.”

“No,” Lockhart shook his head and disappointed Boston.  “At this point, I have that one figured out.”

“Pooh,” the Princess said.

“Oh, pooh,” Boston said at the same time.

“My husband, Julius,” the Princess said, as she let go of Boston and reached a hand behind her.  Julius came and took it and acknowledged Boston in the right way.

“Little One.”

“I used to be human,” Boston admitted.  “Alexis used to be an elf, so we kind of evened out.”

“Yes.”  The Princess looked around.  “Where are the others.”

“Katie and the others should be along tomorrow at about this time,” Lockhart said.

“We have to end this,” Arias interrupted.

“Elder Stow and Sukki.  Would you stay here?”  Lockhart continued.  “And Boston—”

“No way, boss.”

“—I know better than to ask you to stay with them.”

Arias spoke.  “Meriope and Aurora, stay with them.” The rest of the crew, including the Princess and various husbands, crossed the road.

Xitides had already come out.  He looked an imposing sight and had a dozen big and mean looking men to back him up.  He looked like he might snarl, but he also looked at the men behind him, like he wondered if he had enough.

Arias stepped forward, stopped several yards back from the brigands, and said one word.  “Explain.”

Xitides stepped right up to Arias’ face.  He looked as big as Lockhart and Decker, a bit over six feet tall, and was one man in Greece that could actually look down on Arias.  It didn’t help.  When he got close, he fell to his knees and whined, like a schoolyard bully caught in the act.

“I’m sorry.  We went around.  I respected Amazon land.  Philocrates took his company and did that all on his own.  When I found out, I threw him out right away.  You have to believe me.  I would never do such a thing.  It wasn’t me.  I didn’t do it.  I’m sorry.  You have to believe me.”

“Okay.  I accept your apology.  Where is Philocrates.”

Xitides got slowly to his feet.  He appeared to be thinking… but thought better of it.  He wiped one eye with his thumb which put a dirt streak across his cheek.  He waved, and Philocrates got brought out kicking and screaming through his gag.  He was tied, but it still took four men to carry him.  They threw him at Arias’ feet.

Philocrates got to his knees, barely raised his head, and did not get to plead, when Arias pulled her sword, fast as a gunslinger.  Philocrates head bounced in the dirt.  Then Philocrates’ body fell to join it.

“Amazons don’t suffer rapists to live,” Arias said, and turned her back on the whole mercenary army.  Xitides put his hand to his own throat and stared, and so did any number of his men.  Sophia hid her face.  Lockhart and Boston dropped their jaws a little.  Decker Spit, and Arias spoke to the Princess.  “You want this pirate for something?”

“Not me,” the Princess said.  “I can’t stand the smell of him.  He is stinking up my beautiful hills.”

Damon, Darien, and Julius all stayed with the little Athol army.  The brigands would move off for Thermopylae in the morning.  They got the men to bury Philocrates’ body beside the road.  After so many centuries, it was hardly the first such grave.  It would serve as a reminder, and mostly a warning to any thief, pirate, brigand, mercenary group, or army that might be tempted to see what silver or other goodies the Athol might have to offer.  The others, Amazons and Travelers, followed the Princess and her four guardsmen along the trail-road through the hills to her little city.

Two days later, Katie and the others arrived, and in the morning, the Princess and Julius took the travelers to one of the dozen stables around the field.  The stables got used when the people brought horses down from the hills and in from the surrounding plains for branding, training, and sale.

The stable she took them to had ten young mustangs, one mule, and a new wagon for the road.  “They are four or five, about the age of the horses you started with.  If you treat them well and give them regular rest as you have been doing, I hope they will last the two plus years you have left to travel.  Glen says hi, by the way, but I dare not bring him here to say hi himself.  Sophia mentioned that you started this journey three years later than I have access to his life.  It would not be good to have you tell him what he has to look forward to, not that he would remember.”

“But what about Honey,” Boston looked ready to cry.  She loved her horse, like a pet.

“I hope to send your horses and the cowboy horses back to Casidy, so he can recoup some of the money he spent.  I don’t know.  I needed Athena, Apollo, and Artemis all working together to get these horses here.  I don’t expect the same help to send yours back.  I may have to put them out to stud, which might be like a reward for a job well done.  The Athol already has a reputation for the best horses in Greece.  A few mustangs bred into the mix would cement that reputation forever.”

“And the mule?” Lincoln asked.

“As strong and hearty as they come.  I had a mule once.  We called him Stinky.  We made him bring up the rear.  You can imagine.”

“When was that?”

“About three hundred and fifty years in the future,” the Princess said, without so much as a grin.

Lockhart smiled for her.  “That’s my Kairos.”

The Princess went on.  “The horses are all tied to you, just like at first, though for Millie and Evan, the tie did not take as well.  I think I didn’t know Millie and Evan as well when I did that.  But they won’t wander.  You may notice the Roman saddles.  I cheated and gave you stirrups, and horseshoes, with extras in the wagon, but you can’t go back to western gear until about a thousand years from now; or about a year from now, travel time.  Your stinky mule may need replacing at that point, and maybe your wagon, but we will have to see what I can do without the help of the gods.”  The Princess shrugged and slipped into Julius’ arms for some hugging.  She had one more thing to say.  “Just don’t screw anything up that I can’t fix.  From here on, history is in the balance.”

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

MONDAY

Next time, the travelers find themselves in Galilee and pick up three very strange passengers.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

 

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 5 of 6

Less than a minute after the fighting stopped, the others showed up, with Leodis leading a hundred guardsmen.  Arias looked unhappy at missing it all, but Leodis looked glad that he did not have to fight.  Arias, Leodis, Lockhart, Katie, and Lincoln all came into the warehouse together.  Alexis and Sophia went around to the docks where they had three wounded Amazons to tend.  As the guards picked up their prisoners, Decker confessed.

“Five came riding out from the alley.  I was involved in containing the ones coming out the front door, but I got off one good shot.  The man’s horse followed the others, but I bet I got one of them.”

“So, maybe four escaped,” Lockhart concluded.

“There are still too many roads and gates in this city,” Arias complained.

“Let me,” Leodis said, and he sent guardsmen, two by two, to all the gates with a description of what to ask and what to look for.

“Elder Stow?” Katie asked without spelling it out.  Elder Stow shook his head.  “What about the horses, or their equipment?”

“Maybe,” he said and began to work on his scanner.  Althea inched up close to watch.  Elder Stow did not mind explaining some of what he did, but he would not let her touch the device.

Shortly, Alexis came back in from the docks.  She shook her head, sadly.  “The brigands are all dead,” she announced, and stared hard at Arias.  “Your Amazons laughed when I asked if any of the men had a chance to surrender.”

“It is not a laughing matter,” Arias said, firmly.  “But Amazons do not let rapists live.”

“Well,” Leodis said.  “On that happy note, let us return to the palace.  It will be dark in an hour or so, and as much as you would like to chase them tonight, I am sure, they will have to stop soon and let their horses rest and eat, or else risk losing their horses and end up on foot, which should make them easy to catch.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said, with a quick look around for possible objections.  Now that Evan, Millie, and the young girls were safe, no one felt in that much of a hurry.

“So, tell me,” Leodis continued as he walked back to the horses.  “Arias.  Who are these strange friends of yours?”

“They are friends of the Princess,” Arias said.

“Oh, that explains everything,” Leodis joked and chuckled.

“They come from the same land as the general,” Arias added.

Leodis stopped.  “Actually, that does explain a lot.”  He shook his head and began to walk again.

###

In the morning, the travelers divided.  The brigands appeared headed for Thermopylae, the place Arias first thought they might go.  She had a good hope of catching them before they escaped into the Greek mainland, but she knew they would have to ride hard and fast to do it.  The travelers were headed that way.  Lincoln, Boston, and Katie got together with the two amulets and Lincoln’s database and figured the next time gate would be somewhere on the far side of Corinth.

“Not fair,” Katie complained.  “We won’t be that far behind, even at the slower pace set by the mule and wagon.”

“Can’t be helped,” Lockhart said.  “You have the cowboy horses, but they are older and not in the best of shape already.  We have five young mustangs still tied to us, and they are the only horses that have the stamina and strength to keep up.  Arias, Sophia, and Althea, Meriope and Aurora did some horse trading, so they have fresh mounts.  We can’t do that, much as Leodis admires and might like the mustangs.  I think the selection of Decker, Elder Stow, Sukki, Boston, and myself has been made.”

“I wouldn’t count much on the stamina of the horses,” Katie said.  “We have rested them and cared for them as much as we could these last two-and-a-half years, but they are used up.  We already lost three horses, Cortez, Misty Gray, and my own Black Beauty.  Horses are not designed to be constantly ridden through the wilderness like that, even if we walk them as much as we ride them and rest them a week every ten to twenty days or so.  Two-and-a-half years is a long time.  Even if the Kairos and the gods put a hedge around them and gave them super-endurance, we know they won’t last forever.”

Lockhart was not going to argue, and he knew Katie was not arguing, she just protested, in general.  “You have the prototype amulet, so each group has the means to find the time gates.”

“Millie still has her chestnut.”

“Hardly better than a compass showing the direction to the past and future gates,” Lockhart said, and smiled.  The two lovers hugged each other.  “Besides, you have a half-dozen Amazons under Clarissa to help, but be honest, Lincoln, Alexis, Evan and Millie are not exactly military minded.  You need to be there to lead the group, with your military instincts, your advanced rifle, and your elect senses and intuition.  I thought the job of the elect was to defend the home and family.”

Katie sighed, and changed the subject.  “Millie wants to have children.  She wants to have a daughter.”

Lockhart did not jump nearly as much as he would have three years earlier when they began this journey.  He said, “Maybe when we get home, you and I can have one of those.”

Katie looked up at him and smiled.  They got lost in each other for a while.

When the five travelers and five Amazons raced out of the gate at dawn, Katie waved, so Millie waved.  Clarissa shouted, “Good luck.”  And they waited for the dust to settle before starting out.

On the second afternoon, the ten in front found one of the brigand horses, dead, by the side of the road.  It had been covered, but some predator had already uncovered part of it and began feasting.  Whatever it was, it hid when the people arrived.

Arias leapt down, and Boston, Sukki, and Aurora joined her.  Sukki, raised a hunter in the days before the flood, and Aurora, the Amazon hunter, both pointed off to the right where trees disguised the gentle rise of a hillside.  Boston, who hunted with her father and brothers in western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and once in Canada for bear, stood and stretched out her elf senses in that direction.

“Seven humans,” she said.

“Six,” Aurora countered, and pointed at the horse tracks in the dirt.  She forgot to count the dead horse.

“Hush.”  Arias appeared to sense something, but she said nothing as she got them mounted and led the group into the woods.  After a short way, she got everyone down.  Lockhart, Elder Stow, Meriope, an older Amazon, and Sophia, who was not inclined to blood and killing, stayed with the horses.  Arias, Althea, Aurora, Decker, Boston, and Sukki all moved in among the trees as quietly as they could.

Ahead of them, five men sat around a fire in a clearing.  One spoke.

“I tell you, Philocrates and Mylo rode on to Thebae.  Whatever Amazons are on our tail should follow them and skip right by us.”

“I still don’t like this,” one said.  “When the job in Pherae went bad, we should have headed off the road, to the coast.  I got friends in Demetrias where we could hold up.”

“We probably got people chasing us, too,” another said.

“Safety in numbers,” the first one responded, as an arrow stuck him dead center.

The men jumped up and drew their weapons, but the Amazons were wise enough to keep hidden.  Three more arrows quickly took down three more men.  Decker shot the last one while he tried to escape.  He shrugged when Arias looked at him.

“You don’t suffer rapists to live,” Decker said, and Arias nodded.

They heard the shotgun go off back where they left the horses, and they all ran.  They found two more dead men.

Sophia let out her stress in her words.  “Meriope got one.  Lockhart blasted the other with his shotgun.  Elder Stow got a cut in the arm.”  Sophia knelt beside the Gott-Druk and practiced her healing arts.

“Father?”  Sukki sounded upset.  Elder Stow had adopted the girl from the deep past, so they were family in the deepest Neanderthal sense.  Family was the root and fiber of Gott-Druk society and culture.

“I’m all right, daughter” Elder Stow assured the girl.  “I would not have been caught, but I think I got the brigands on the scanner, or two of them, anyway.  I was not paying attention.  Thank you, my father, for saving my life.”  Lockhart waved it off, but Decker spoke.

“We watch out for each other and take care of each other,” he said.  “Like Amazons, I suppose.”

Arias nodded to that description.

That evening, they had a quiet meal at the inn in Thebae, except for Althea, who went back to drooling over the equipment Elder Stow carried.  She couldn’t believe he called them mere toys.  The scanner alone seemed ages beyond anything she ever heard of, even in the year 2160.

Lockhart explained.  “Elder Stow can fly, invisible, protected by his personal screen, and with his heat-ray handgun burn the whole city.”

“It is not a heat-ray,” Elder Stow huffed.

“My wife says I call every ray-gun a heat-ray,” Lockhart confessed.

“It is not a ray-gun,” Elder Stow said.

“What else do you have?” Sophia got curious.

“He has a sonic device,” Boston said.  “Like a sonic screwdriver.”

Elder Stow pulled it out to show, but he had a question.  “What is a sonic screwdriver?”

“From a television show,” Boston answered

Decker shrugged, but Lockhart had a thought.  “Lincoln might know.  He goes in for all that science fiction mumbo-jumbo.”

“Not your cup of tea?” Arias asked, sounding very much like Susan from 1976.

“No,” Lockhart admitted.  “But Katie might know.”

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 3 of 6

“They are off the scanner,” Elder Stow admitted in the morning.  He gave the scanner a little shake, but it did not help.

“They must have moved in the night,” Lockhart said, what many thought.

“I should have anticipated this,” Arias scolded herself.

“With luck, they went into Larissa at first light,” Althea suggested, trying to sound positive.

“Not lucky,” Arias countered.  “Larissa is a real city, with a number of gates and a number of roads that lead off in every direction.”

“I wish the Princess was here,” Sophia said.

“Why is that?” Alexis asked.

“Hunting and tracking is what Princesses do best,” Sophia responded with a big grin.

“Gifted by Artemis,” Arias explained.

“Artemis would help,” Katie said.

“Can’t,” Arias said.  “The gods can’t interfere in that way, you know.”

The travelers and Amazons crossed the river bridge at Metropolis where they picked up some food for the journey.  Only Boston looked for the Daily Planet building.  When they actually stopped for lunch on the path they called a road, Elder Stow got excited.

“I got them.  They are in the city ahead of us.”

“Great.  Wonderful,” people said.

“They appear to be alive, as far as I can tell.”

“Thank God,” Alexis said.

“Have they stopped moving?” Lockhart wondered.

‘Let me bring this up,” Elder Stow said, and the scanner projected a three-dimensional map of light.  He zoomed into the city, but when he got to the street level, the map became fuzzy to look at.  Only two red dots stood out against the cityscape.  Arias and Sophia looked as carefully as they could and agreed.

“They are in the warehouse section by the river,” Arias said.  “We need to enter the city and bypass them to talk to Leodis first.”

“Rachel will help,” Sophia said.

“Leodis?” Alexis asked, and Lincoln got out the database to see what he could find out.

Arias nodded.  “Larissa is a democracy with a king.  The legislature is the city assembly, but the executive is the king.  That would be Leodis’ ancient father, but Leodis and his wife, Rachel, run most of the operations these days.”

Decker shared his thought.  “If they are in a river warehouse, they might be looking for riverboats to lose us on the water.”

Lockhart agreed.  “If we bypass them to go through channels, they might escape.”

“We can set some guards while the rest of us go to the palace,” Arias said, and they spent the rest of their lunchtime planning to do that.  The only interruption came when Arias asked Althea a question.  Althea did not answer the question.

“I’m drooling over that scanner.  We don’t have anything nearly so capable or sophisticated, even in 2160.”

“This toy?”  Elder Stow shook his head.  “This is only a little thing such as a ship’s officer might carry on his person to play with when he is bored.”

“Where on Earth did you get that?” Althea asked.

“Not on Earth.  It came from the Gott-Druk new home world.  My planet.”

“You are Gott-Druk?” Althea’s eyes widened.  “I—Erica me—has only heard rumors.  You are like legends.”

“Gott-Druk?” Sophia asked.

“Neanderthals,” Lockhart said and left it at that, but Katie thought she better explain.

“Elder Stow and Sukki’s people were taken into space at the time of the flood.  They were given a new home world where they could survive and prosper.”

“The flood?” Sophia asked, but quickly figured it out.  “Oh.  Noah.  The flood.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow huffed.  “And it has only taken us ten thousand years to figure out the new home world is a good place, and we were not cursed by being taken away from Earth.”

“And Sukki?” Sophia asked.  “They don’t look Neanderthal.”

“Thanks,” Sukki said.  “I was practicing being human.”

“And you do it well,” Alexis said.  “They wear a glamour.”

“And Boston?” Arias asked.

Everyone paused.  Boston also wore a glamour to make her appear human, but clearly, Arias noticed something.  Boston did not mind.

“I’m an elf.”  Boston lifted her glamour briefly to show her pointed ears and all, but put it back on after a few seconds.

“Little one,” Althea said in a reverential tone, and lowered her eyes.  “The little ones have always been a sign of good fortune for the Amazon nation.”

Boston grinned.

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “But now we need to figure out how to divide our forces and make sure the brigands don’t escape down the river.”

###

Inside the warehouse, Evan and Millie sat beside each other and nibbled on the bread Philocrates procured for their sustenance.  Chloe and Libra, ten and twelve-year-old girls, sat behind them for protection.  They did not talk much, but mostly they encouraged each other to hold on.  Have faith.  The others would find them.  Chloe and Libra insisted Queen Arias would save them.  Evan and Millie felt sure the travelers would find them, and Elder Stow might already have them on his scanner.

Mylo stared at Millie from across the room, but Philocrates slapped him in the arm.  “Hands off,” Philocrates said.  “You know used goods don’t fetch nearly so much in market.”

“If they catch us, we may never get to market,” Mylo countered.  “And I will have left a prime female untouched.”

“Chief,” one of the men spoke.  “Why are we dragging around the man?”

“He will fetch something at market,” Philocrates hedged.  “Besides, if they catch us, as Mylo suggests, we may need him for bargaining.”

“I don’t like hurting a servant of the gods,” a second man spoke, and several men nodded in agreement.  When Philocrates looked at him, the man explained.  “Where else would they get those Seleucid weapons? I heard after Athens, they all got rounded up and destroyed.”

“Gumbs,” one of the men tried to remember the name of the weapons.

“A quick strike to steal the temple gold and race out of town did not work too well,” Mylo teased a little, and Philocrates slapped his arm again.

“We had no idea those people would be there, or the Amazons.”

“Maybe that village was not such a good idea,” one man dared to say it.

“We had no idea it was an Amazon village,” Philocrates raised his voice.

“But now we got no money.”

“We are going to be caught,” one of the men said.

“Now, just hold on,” Philocrates raised his hands to calm the men.  “No one knows we are here.  And since Phillip V and the Romans made peace, the whole city has relaxed.  The prince of the city isn’t out looking for spies or enemies.  Larissa is a big place, with plenty of gates and roads.  We just need to keep quiet, and by the time they get done checking all the ways out of the city, it will be dusk, and we can steal a riverboat and be gone.  They don’t know we are here.  Just don’t be loud and stupid today, and we will get away in the dark.”

“Then what?” Mylo asked.

“Then…”  Philocrates had to think a minute.  “We take the road off the river and make our way to Herakleion, where we can sell our wares and get some new horses.  Then we just follow the coast road around to Chalkidiki.  I have some family there and we should be safe enough.”

The men grumbled, but no one objected to the plan.  As the men returned to their lookout duty, Philocrates slapped Mylo’s arm again.  “Hands off,” he said.

At that same time, Althea, Meriope, and some thirteen Amazons climbed on to boats and scrunched down behind ropes, barrels and boxes of merchandise on the dock where they could cut off the brigands from the riverboats.  Decker watched the front door, while Elder Stow kept one eye on his scanner. Boston and Sukki found a side door, where all the brigand horses had been tied up, out in the sun.

“We found the horses,” Boston spoke into her wristwatch communicator.

“Front door covered,” Decker said.  “Amazons have the river.”

“Good,” Lockhart responded through his wristwatch.  “Hopefully, we won’t be long.”

“Boston,” Alexis spoke into her own wristwatch.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and try to sneak in to see Evan and Millie.  You need to wait until we get there, or until we get the go ahead.”

“Oh, puts,” Boston said, but into her wristwatch she said. “Roger.  Out.”

They sat in silence for a minute before Sukki asked, “Are you going to do it anyway?”

“I’m thinking about it,” Boston answered.

At the palace, Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and Katie grabbed her rifle.  They did not expect trouble, but they did not want the palace guards playing with the equipment.  Lincoln carried the database, and Alexis carried her medical bag, and her own wand, if she needed it.  Arias and Sophia got down, and with an honor guard of six Amazons, they all marched into the palace.

A woman ran to Sophia and gave her a hug.  “Leodis was just asking about you.”  The woman appeared obviously pregnant.  Alexis and Katie wondered about Sophia, and Katie especially wondered about Arias, because Arias did not appear to be in the kind of perfect shape Katie expected from an elect.  Sophia could not keep her mouth closed.  She explained.

“Rachel is in her sixth month.  I’m just starting my second.  Arias is in her third.”

“The Princess is in her seventh month,” Arias said.  “She is ahead of us all.”

“No,” Sophia said.  “Rachel is ahead.  She has a three-year-old son.”

“Jacob.”  A man down the hall yelled for the three-year-old boy that escaped his hand and went running to his mother.  Rachel paused, and moaned while she picked up the boy who wanted to hide his face in his mother’s shoulder in front of all these strangers.

The man, Leodis, Prince of Larissa arrived, and Arias immediately began to explain their situation.

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

MONDAY

Millie and Evan appear to be safe, but the brigands have them prisoners in a warehouse, so nothing is for certain.

*

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 2 of 6

The priest passed out beside the altar.  Alexis could not wait.  She pulled the arm with the arrow away from the chest, so the arrowhead slipped out from the man’s side.  He still had an arrow through his arm, but Alexis felt one wound at a time.  The chest began to bleed, terribly.  Alexis pressed both hands against the wound and the whole area began to glow with a golden light.

The Priestess ran up.  She paused when she saw the magic glow around Alexis’ hands.  “Sophia.”  The priestess gave her name before she knelt beside Alexis to look at the man’s arm.

“Alexis.”

The priestess pushed the arrow further through the arm where she could snap off the arrowhead.  Alexis watched as Sophia carefully pulled the shaft from the arm.  The man moaned but did not wake.  Alexis almost said something.  She could not turn her magic on three wounds, and she dared not let go of the man’s chest until the wound closed up.

As the blood began to ooze from both sides of the man’s arm, Sophia covered both holes in the arm with her own hands.  A soft, white light surrounded the arm, and Alexis went back to concentrating on the chest wound.

Lincoln arrived by the altar and asked what he could do.  “Gauze and tape from my medical bag,” Alexis said.  “Better get me a couple of pain relievers.  Just give me the bottle.  The wounds will stay closed, but the pain relief magic will wear off fairly soon.”  Alexis saw Sophia nod.

The priest woke.  He spoke through his groggy state.  “Tell me again how you are simple travelers and not of the gods.”  The healing appeared pretty god-like to him.

Twenty warrior women came from the back of the temple to check on the enemy dead and wounded.  Three women came to the altar, not threatening, though they held long knives in their hands.  They appeared to want to be sure their priestess remained safe.  Lincoln grinned sheepishly for them and knelt closer to Alexis.

Three more warrior women jogged to the entrance even as Elder Stow and Sukki arrived.  Elder Stow carried his scanner and spoke to the travelers.  “I have Millie and Evan specified in the scanner.  We should be able to track them if they don’t get too far ahead of us.”

Althea perked right up.  “A real scanner?  Where did you get it?  It’s so small.  How can you specify two individuals?  Can I see it?”

Elder Stow looked at the woman, and looked willing, but Decker spoke.  “Probably not a good idea,”

“She is from about a hundred and fifty years in the future from us,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow pulled his hands back with a word that said he would trust Lockhart.

“My father.”

Althea looked disappointed but nodded and backed off while Katie and Arias sized each other up.

“Elect,” Arias identified Katie.  Arias was also an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, gifted with strength, agility, a sense when danger came near, and an ability to fight like a she-bear to protect the home and family. The ancient gods designed them that way.

“Second in all the world after Zoe,” Katie admitted.

Arias lowered her eyes briefly.  “I thought that might be the case.  The Princess would know.”

“Princess Cassandra?”  Katie asked, and Arias and Althea snickered.

“Just Princess,” Arias said.  “She hates her name, Cassandra.”

Althea added, “You call her Cassandra, and she will punch you in the arm, real hard.”

“I remember.  Princess, not Cassandra,” Lockhart said.  “From meeting her in the future,” he explained.

“Boss,” Boston interrupted.  “They all got horses.  How are we going to catch up with them when some of us are on foot?”

“Take their horses,” Arias shrugged at the obvious solution, but then the three warrior women could wait no longer.

“Majesty,” one of the women spoke.  “What are your orders?”

“I get to be the Amazon queen,” Arias whispered to Katie.

“Zoe says I’m not allowed to be an Amazon queen,” Katie responded in kind, as Arias turned to the women.

“Help the guardsmen clean up this mess, and then Meriope, you need to lead the women back to Amazon land.”  Meriope, an older woman, looked like she wanted to be stubborn.

“But Majesty, we haven’t caught the brigands yet.  There may be hundreds of them.  We don’t know how many.”

“Fair enough,” Arias said, not willing to argue.  “You can help us retrieve the ones kidnapped by this little breakaway group, but you must camp apart from these people, and after we save their friends, you must go back to Amazon land.  I will be traveling with these people to the Athol, and I don’t want to debate about it.”

Meriope looked like she might say something anyway, but all that came out was, “Yes, Majesty.”

###

Cleaning up took time.  Boston and Sukki got anxious, but there were seven dead and three badly wounded prisoners for the city guards to haul away.  Alexis said one of those prisoners would not last the night.  Sophia said good, but then she apologized.

Sophia also had another life in 1976, a young Lebanese woman named Lydia.  Lydia escaped Beirut in the early seventies to get away from the bloodshed.  She could not stand the bloodthirsty Greece Sophia lived in.  There were armies everywhere fighting each other, and everywhere in between, there were brigands, warlords, pirates, and you name it.  To be fair, Sophia had limited tolerance for bloodshed as well.

Arias later explained.  “That is why so many women, widows and children, have run away to the north where we made a small enclave of Amazon women.  We protect and defend each other from the madness all around us.  That doesn’t always work.  Some years ago, a half-Celtic, Macedonian general pushed a whole army through our land.  He had help from the Gallic people up by the Danube.  That was when the Emperor Phillip of Macedon was thinking of invading Epirus, and he wanted to clear the land to send through supplies.  Hundreds died.  Now, the warlord Xitides came through from Epirus.  God knows what he stole in Dodona.  But they burned, looted, and raped through one Amazon village.  I think Xitides knew better, but he could not stop the sex-starved men.  Now he is racing to Thermopylae, so he can get lost in central Greece and not have to worry about Phillip turning out the Macedonian army to chase him.”

“But he must have known you would chase him,” Katie said.

Arias nodded.  “But I know Xitides.  He will give me the ones responsible, or tell me where I can find them, and that will be that.”

Lockhart and Katie got a mule to pull the wagon, so Katie, Lincoln, and Alexis all got cowboy horses.  The twenty Amazons brought the warlord horses that used to belong to the dead and wounded men.  Two would be available for Millie and Evan, once Millie and Evan got rescued.

The travelers and Amazons left the temple and the city before noon.  They rode as hard as the mule could handle.  They got close, but finally had to stop before dark.  The horses needed to rest and eat, and so did the humans.  Arias assured them that they would catch up before the brigands reached the city of Larissa.  Elder Stow more or less confirmed that.

The Amazons set up their own camp in the wilderness as instructed.  Katie, Boston, and a curious Lincoln had questions, but they refrained when Sophia explained.

“The Princess says the less exposure to future things, the better.  Too much information in the hands of smart people could change history in unpredictable ways.”

“She says knowledge of the future can be as dangerous as guns,” Althea added.

Heads nodded as Arias changed the subject.  “Let me get this straight.  You say Lady Alice, the Kairos we know as the Princes, has a crystal on Avalon that is recording all of human history.  And you were able to travel through the crystal to a point deep in the past.”

“The Heart of Time,” Alexis named the crystal.

“The Tower of Babel,” Katie mentioned where they ended up.

Arias responded with a nod.  “Then you say something like a time zone surrounds the Kairos—whichever life she is living at the moment.”

“Or he,” Lincoln said, and got quiet.

“And you say bracketing the time zone are two of what you call time gates.  One gate, the one you came through on Mount Olympus, brought you from the previous time zone, in the past.  The other will shoot you to the next time zone, in the future, and that might be a year, or it might be more than sixty years into the future all at once.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “And we are trying to get home, one time gate at a time, but in every time zone we run into one snag or another.”

Sophia smiled about it.  “The Princess does tend to live in the eye of the hurricane, while everything dangerous swirls around her.”

“I hear that,” Decker said, and got up to cut another piece of lamb.

“Hey, I know,” Sophia continued.  “Why don’t you let the Princess send you back to Avalon?  Can’t you go back to the future through the crystal, the same way you came?”

“The Heart of Time only records what has happened up to the present,” Lincoln said.  “It doesn’t have a record of the future.”

“That hasn’t been written yet,” Arias understood.  “Even if it has been written in the future.”  It sounded confusing, but people grasped the concept well enough.

“No way back through the Heart,” Lincoln concluded.

“Actually,” Lockhart shared a thought.  “I believe the original plan was for Lady Alice in the future to reach back through the Heart and pull us out, sort of like she sent us into the past in the first place.  Unfortunately, the only way we could succeed in our task was for the Storyteller to leap into the void in the second heavens, back before history began.”

“The void?” Sophia asked.

“Sort of a swirling, pastel colored cloud of stickiness about the consistency of cotton candy,” Boston said.  “I didn’t taste it.  I should have tasted it.”

“Glen went missing?” Arias asked.  “But the Princess can still access him, you know, like make contact through time and even trade places with him through time.”

Althea interrupted.  “Her contact with him right now is to the year 2007.”  She turned to Katie.  “You said you came back into the past from the year 2010, and you have been traveling over three years so it is now 2013 for you, estimated.”  Althea paused to look at the others.  “My future life works records and such.  She is good with numbers and dates.”

“But that means the Princess is about three years behind,” Katie said, doing some figuring of her own.

“Six years,” Lockhart said.  “You say it is 2013 back home. From 2007, that is six years.”

“No,” Katie said.  “I meant three years behind 2010, the year the Storyteller disappeared into the void and everything got confused.”

Alexis had a thought.  “Maybe all of the persons of the Kairos are a little off time sync with each other.  That may be why Alice can’t bring us home the quick way.”  She explained for the others.  “That is why we have to get home the slow way, by way of the time gates.”

“But that gives us three years,” Lincoln said.  “And maybe more like two and a half years to get home before everything goes haywire and maybe everything shuts down, and we can’t get home at all.”

“What can we do?” Sukki asked, the fear and worry evident in her voice.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alexis said to comfort her.  “Two years from now I will let Benjamin worry about it.  He is a much better worrier than I am.”

“Thanks.”  Lincoln groused and Alexis kissed his cheek.