Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 5 of 6

After a second, Lockhart tried not to clink and clank his way across the room as he hustled for the keys.  Katie studied the hole in the wall.  The ship had been built with double thick walls.  The outer wall only had a small hole in it where the sea splashed in from the occasional wave.  By the time she decided it would take hours, if not days to sink the ship at the rate it was taking on water, Lockhart handed her the keys.  She quickly unlocked her shackles and handed the keys to Lincoln.

“Just checking.”  They heard a man’s voice on the steep ladder-stairs that led up to the upper deck.  “I thought I heard something.”  Lincoln quickly turned his back to the stairs so what he was doing would not be obvious.  He found the key for Alexis’ shackles.  Apparently, they did not all use the same key.  Lockhart and Katie each jumped to the sides and a bit behind the stepladder so the man would not see them at all unless he turned his head to the side.

Katie reached through the steps as the man descended.  She grabbed his feet, so he fell forward, face first.  Lockhart punched the man in the head as he went past.  It was not an affective punch, but he hit the man’s ear and it made the man dizzy for a second.  Then the man hit the lower deck with his face despite the effort to catch himself with his hands.  He may have broken a wrist.

Katie jumped on the man’s back, reached around and found an errant rag left from a former prisoner or slave.  Plenty littered the floor.  She wadded the rag and stuffed it in the man’s mouth before he could shout out.  Lockhart put his knee down hard on the man’s neck so he could not get up.  He tore the man’s shirt and tied it around the man’s mouth so he could be properly gagged, while Katie tied the man’s hand behind his back.  One shelf on the wall held plenty of rope and leather cut to just the right size for the job.  Katie guessed they sometimes tied the prisoners, or with the shackles, they might tie the feet together.  She decided that was a good idea, so while she tied the man’s feet together, Lockhart stripped the man’s knife, short sword, and took his pistol, which he looked at once and handed to Katie.

The man opened his eyes wide, but he did not say anything, even after Lockhart lifted his knee from the man’s neck.

Katie finished tying and grabbed the small bag of powder, wadding, and couple of poor excuses for bullets from the man’s belt.  She looked at the pistol while Lincoln finished getting free. To be honest, she felt afraid to fire the pistol, thinking it might blow up in her hand.  The wick looked good.  She thought she knew how to load and fire it, but she had to decide if it was worth the risk.  She half decided it might make a better club.

“Ready?” Lockhart asked.  He stood, one foot on the bottom rung of the stepladder, the short sword in his hand, a dirt streak on his cheek from rummaging around the floor.

“You look like a pirate,” Katie said, and smiled at some inner thought.

“Ready,” Lincoln said.  He had the knife.  Alexis had her wand.

Lockhart climbed and looked carefully.  Sailors were wandering the deck, pretending to look busy.  The ship’s captain, or an officer of sorts stood on the poop deck by the man who held the steering oar.  The doctor also stood there, talking with the captain, and watching as the ship slowly crossed the Bosporus.  Two men, Lockhart thought guards, stood lazily by the railing, taking about something and occasionally glancing at the hatch, probably waiting for their friend to come out.

Lockhart pulled his head back below the hatch before he got seen and reported what he saw.  Lincoln and Alexis agreed to keep the crew back.  Lockhart imagine that would be Alexis calling up her magic.  Katie and Lockhart argued over the two leaning on the railing.  Finally, Lincoln got the job so both Katie and Lockhart could invade the poop deck.  Alexis assured Lincoln that she would help, when Lockhart said, “Ready?”  With affirmations, he said “Go.”

Lockhart ran, but Katie outran him.  Alexis first pointed her wand at the two by the railing, and one went right over the side.  The other angrily grabbed his rifle, but the shot misfired because of the wind, and Lincoln got there before the man could change his mind and pull his knife or sword.  Lincoln poked his knife into the man’s belly, grabbed and pulled the sword and said, “Drop your knife and down on your knees, hands behind your head.”

Katie hit Stygria in the jaw with a staggering blow.  As an elect, she was as strong as a man and had the speed and reflexes better than most.  The man fell, like he had a glass jaw.  Lockhart crossed swords with the captain, and while the captain maybe had the experience on his side, he was old, fat, and small.  Lockhart, young and a bit of a giant at six feet tall, quickly overpowered the man.

The doctor, though older himself, nevertheless prepared for such eventualities.  He had a large knife and showed from his stance that he knew how to use it.  Katie, a marine trained in hand to hand, could have taken him down, probably without a cut, but she did not feel the need to risk it.  She had lit her wick off the lamp in the hold, so she squinted and fired point blank into the man’s chest.  The man dropped his knife and fell.  She grabbed the knife and turned to face Stygria who was getting up, one hand on his jaw.  She put her knife to the man’s throat and disarmed him.  Then she told him to get down on his knees and put his hands behind his head.  She saw Lincoln did the same thing with the man by the railing.

“Tell the crew to stand down,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln, bring that man up here,” he ordered.  “Alexis, can you raise the wind?”  She nodded, and immediately the sail filled, and the ship jerked forward.  “Katie, when Lincoln arrives, you need to go down into the cabin and find the doctor’s bag.”  He raised his voice.  “I assume dumping the stuff in the sea will end the bacteria threat.”

“That will do it,” Alexis shouted back.

Lockhart turned to the ship’s captain who also got on his knees.  “Take us safely to the dock and I will let you live and keep your ship.  You have been paid, and I have a few extra coins if you cooperate.”  Lincoln always carried some coins in a pocket on his person.

“A bargain,” the captain said.  Lockhart shook the man’s hand.  Stygria threatened murder, but Katie kicked him, and he quieted.

“Stygria,” Katie said.  “Order your men to come forward and lay down their guns by the mast.  I want them weaponless and face down in front of the poop deck, here.”  Stygria looked at her and she smiled.  “I could cut your throat.”  He believed she would.  He gave the order, and the guards came out from where they were hiding.  The weapons went by the mast and the men came forward.  One spoke.

“Chief.  Corben and Miletes are missing.

“One went overboard,” Lincoln said as he arrived with his prisoner.  “The other is tied up in the hold.”

“You are welcome to fetch him,” Lockhart said, as he stepped on the captain’s sword.  “Drop us safely in Constantinople and you can have all this for free.”  The captain shrugged, like maybe it was worth the attempt before he started doling out orders to the crew.

“One thing before I check the cabin,” Katie said.  She slipped the knife in her belt and picked up the body of the doctor.  She heaved him over the side from amid ships.  She saw Stygria nod and rub his jaw.  “He might have been carrying the plague on him,” she said and stared at the captain.  “You come with me and show me everything he brought on board, unless you don’t mind getting the plague.”  The captain went with her, but then he would not touch anything.  Katie figured that.

Lockhart and Lincoln looked at their prisoners while Alexis kept the wind in the sails.

“My wife is an amazon,” Lockhart said to Stygria and gave him a big grin.  “I’m surprised she did not knock your head clean off.”

“My wife is the witch, so you better behave,” Lincoln added.

Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 1 of 6

After 640 A.D. Byzantium

Kairos 100: Nicholas, not Saint Nicholas

Recording …

“Ankyra,” Lincoln guessed the name of the city that sat behind them on the road.  He had the database out and looked at the map it provided.  He also read some and reported to Alexis and whoever else might be listening.  “The Arabs are definitely knocking on the door, but we are well within Byzantine territory.”  He answered Alexis’ question, while Tony helped Lockhart drive Ghost and the wagon to the road.

“I’m surprised the Kairos is not on the leading edge of the Muslim advance,” Nanette said.  “He, or she is usually where all the action is.  Isn’t that so?”

“He, in this time zone,” Lincoln set that straight and looked at the database.  “Nicholas.  A toymaker and carpenter in Constantinople.”

“All right,” Boston raised her voice and let out an excited elf-worthy grin.  “I wonder if Nicholas has elves helping to make the toys.”

Alexis shook her head and spoke sensibly to Lincoln, Sukki, and Nanette.  “I imagine there are some things the Kairos needs to stay away from.  Maybe most things he has to let work out on their own.  He might not even dare get involved in certain things.  I believe he only gets in the middle of the mess when something threatens to throw history off track.”

Boston had not finished interrupting.  “I wonder if he lets the cobbler borrow his elves.” She grinned again.

“Good thing the time gate sat in an open field and did not let us out in the city.” Alexis changed the subject.  She looked back toward the city that fell away behind them as they started up the road. Boston and Sukki raced around the bend in the road to get a look ahead.  Decker moved off the highway to climb a small hill with the same thought in mind, to see where they were headed.  Alexis and Lincoln took the front, followed by Nanette and Tony.  Lockhart and Katie took a turn driving the wagon, since the Roman road was well kept.

“Probably good all the way to Constantinople,” Lincoln suggested.

“You take the afternoon,” Lockhart responded.  “Give Tony a rest.”

Elder Stow sat in the back of the wagon, working on his screen device and shaking his head.  That seemed about all he did for the last ten days.  “I have it set to the way it was made.  It can put a solid screen up around a certain area, like the camp, such as a ship’s officer might put around his crew.  But all the special programing I worked on over the last couple of years has collapsed.  I think you use the word crashed.  No more screen walls, much less one-sided walls where we can shoot out while they cannot shoot in.  I can still tune it to let in oxygen and keep out other, noxious gasses.  That is built in, but other than that…”  He never really finished that sentence.  He mumbled about starting from scratch and went back to work on the device.

Lockhart turned to Katie who sat beside him.  “So, tell me about the Arabs knocking on the door.”

Katie had a thought.  “Interesting, us being on the other side of the world when Muhammad was alive and working.  I think the Kairos, or someone worked that out on purpose.”

“The Kairos was also on the other side of the world,” Lockhart said.

Katie nodded.  “Muhammad died in 632, and they argued about who would take over.  He had pretty much united the Arabian Peninsula under his monotheism.  The Arabs were polytheists, but they had serious influence from the Jews and Nestorian Christians who made up significant minority populations.”

“Nestorian Christians?”

“They believed Jesus was not God made man.  They taught that Jesus was just a man, though God-inspired.”

“Ah,” Lockhart seemed to understand.  “Maybe where Muhammad got the idea.”

Katie shrugged.  “Anyway, there were four Caliphs, you know, rulers of the sect.  They were kind of both religious and secular rulers at the same time.  Not all the faithful agreed on who should rule, so there was a split in the faith right from the beginning.  But they made a big dent in the Byzantine Empire and almost completely killed the Sassanid Empire.  My personal opinion was they put off a civil war in the faith by focusing their armies on outside enemies.”

“Distraction.  But what happened to the Byzantines and Sassanids?”

“Well, they sort of fought each other to exhaustion.  Neither side had any strength left when the Arabs came.  The Byzantines lost Syria, the Levant and Egypt very quickly.  The Arabs fought some battles, but the Byzantines did not have any armies left to speak of, and the people were tired of the constant wars and heavy taxes to support the wars.  Some scholars have suggested the people practically gave themselves to the Arabs to get out from under the Byzantine yoke.  They did not all instantly convert to Islam.  That took generations.  Even in our day there are Christians, and even Zoroastrians in those lands.  But those areas fell fairly quickly.  The Byzantine leadership stayed together back home, so they held on to their core territory of basically Turkey and Thrace with Greece and a bit of Bulgaria, but the rest vanished in a blink.”

“What about the Sassanids?”

“They were in even worse shape.  They lost the last war against the Byzantines and had to give back all the territory they had taken.  Then they had something like their own civil war.  For all practical purposes, they broke up into a bunch of feudal kingdoms.  The last Sassanid ruler was a boy not in any condition to unite the people.  Again, the Arabs fought a few battles, but they honestly faced little resistance.  They took the Sassanid capitol, the Sassanid treasury, and technically took over the Sassanid empire.  They only had to snuff out the occasional, local rebellion in cities and such here and there.”

“Sounds like the Arabs timed things pretty well,” Lockhart concluded.

“Timing is everything,” Katie agreed.

Up front, Lincoln and Tony filled in Nanette and Alexis with much of the same information.

“Muhammad died in 632.  Nicholas was born in Constantinople in 640,” Lincoln said.  He did not like to read and ride at the same time, but he remembered that much.

“Eventually,” Tony said. “The Arabs got into their own civil war of sorts.  But they worked it out when the son of the fourth Caliph resigned in favor of a guy named Mu’awiyah.  That was about 661, about when the Kairos turned twenty-one.  Mu’awiyah started the Umayyad dynasty and ruled until about 680.”  He looked at Lincoln.

“I don’t remember the name,” Lincoln said.  “But the Kairos is reborn next in 697.  I remember the date.”

Tony nodded.  “Okay.  The Umayyads rule until 750, if I remember.  Let’s see.  The Sassanids fall about 651.”

“When the Kairos turned eleven.  Hardly old enough to do much about it.”

Tony nodded again.  “Caliph number three I can’t really remember his name.  I don’t think he did much except have unrest.  Ali became Caliph about five years later, when the third Caliph got assassinated.  That started the civil war.  So, unless the Kairos is a baby, we are probably riding through the days of number three or Ali or Mu’awiyah, or maybe one of the later Umayyads, if the Kairos is an old man.”

“All fine and well,” Nanette said.  “But if we are riding deeper into Byzantine territory, why does all that even matter?”

Lincoln and Tony looked at each other and shrugged, until Tony had a suggestion.  “Around 672, the Arabs under Mu’awiyah’s son Yazid, I think, take Chalcedon and the coast, where we are headed.  They put Constantinople under siege for five years, roughly from 674 to 678.  We could ride right into that.”

No one said anything more until Alexis asked the pertinent question.  “So, who is ruling in Byzantium right now?”

“Yes,” Tony had to think, and Lincoln could not look it up right away.  “Either Constans II, or probably Constantine IV.  I remember Constantine IV was the one who fought off the Muslim siege.  If the Kairos is old, maybe Justinian…the second, I believe.”

“You believe?”

“There was an earlier Justinian, the one associated with the plague.”

“Plague?” Nanette nearly shouted.

Tony nodded but tried to reassure her.  “That was a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty years ago.  There are reoccurrences up until the eighth century, but nothing to worry about, I hope.”

“Plague?”  Nanette said in a quieter voice.

“Bubonic,” Alexis said.  “I read about it in nursing school.  Elves don’t really get sick.  It was fascinating reading.”  She smiled for Nanette before her face turned sour.  “Of course, it was not so much fun being sick, even if all I ever got was colds and the flu a couple of times.”

Decker appeared on their flank.  Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front, and Boston shouted first.

“Soldiers on the road.”

They got Lockhart to pull the wagon to the side of the road, and the others waited.  It did not take long before the soldiers appeared.  The three in front rode.  The hundred or so behind marched four abreast.

The horsemen came up to the side of the road to talk with the travelers while the soldiers marched on.  “Where are you headed?” The Centurion asked.  People looked at Lincoln, expecting him to open his big mouth, but he actually looked at Lockhart for once.

“Constantinople,” Lockhart said.  “We are meeting a tradesman named Nicholas.  You probably don’t know him.”

“He is a carpenter and a toy maker,” Lincoln did say that much being unable to keep his mouth closed after all.

The centurion smiled.  “Actually, I know Nicholas very well.  He is also the most brilliant politician in the empire.”

“Really?” Alexis looked surprised.

“He usually stays out of politics, if he can help it,” Katie said.

The centurion’s smile broadened.  “I see you do know him, some.  And yes, he stays out of politics which is why in my book he is the most brilliant politician in Constantinople.”

“Where are you headed?” Lockhart asked to change the subject.  He gave it his friendliest smile.

“Caesarea, near where the Arabs are.  We are charged to keep them out of our territory, but I hope they do try us. They need a good thrashing.”

“Good luck,” Lincoln said.

The Centurion nodded.  “And to you.  Tell Nicholas Centurion Rudolph says hello, and my nose is not presently red.”  He waved his men to move on.  “At least we get to escape from that one will or two wills stupidity.  Sergeant.”  They road off to retake their men.

“Okay,” Lockhart said with a look at Katie.  “Now you have more explaining to do.”

“Tony?”  Nanette looked at him while they got the wagon back on the road and started moving again, and Boston rode off ahead of the crowd, singing about Dasher, Dancer, and the rest.