Avalon 8.2 Trouble Big and Small, part 6 of 6

“That is the building,” Elder Stow said and pointed.

“Doesn’t look like a gun factory,” Boston turned to Decker who shook his head.

“Just a warehouse,” he said.  “No idea where the factory is, and we don’t have the time to look for it.  We missed the evening tide.  Lockhart and the others will already have to spend the night on the docks without us.  We have to leave on the morning tide, or so the captain said.”

“And he better be telling the truth,” Sukki said softly, which was remarkable for the former Gott-Druk.  Gott-Druk were not known for keeping secrets.  They did not know how to whisper.  It was a cultural thing that everyone expected would cross over when Sukki became human.  But Sukki had come a long way in learning to be human, mostly.  True, the gods who made her human got a bit carried away.  They made her sort of a superhuman, but nothing anyone could do about that.

The most remarkable thing, though, was Sukki never said any threatening words like that.  She mostly trusted people and assumed the best.  Those kinds of under the breath comments were more Decker’s style, or maybe Lincoln when he expected bad things to happen.  Boston and Nanette both looked at Sukki, and she did look slightly embarrassed, but she did not take back her words.

“Ready?” Tony asked.  He held Katie’s military rifle.  Decker had long since showed him how to use it.

“Are we ready?” Decker turned to Nanette.

Nanette put on her determined face.  “I will do what needs to be done.  I can’t just sit idle while the rest of you do your duty.  I know my magic will come and go as we move through the years, but I can be part of the journey whether I have my magic or not.  So, let’s go.”  She brushed her hands in front, like she was telling Decker to go ahead of her.  Decker smiled.

“Ready,” Elder Stow said.  He touched the spot on his belt, and everyone turned invisible.  They could still see each other, including Boston.  They made her take a disc and would not let her go elf invisible.  Decker and Elder Stow agreed that they wanted to keep track of her to make sure she did not get out of control.

They had no trouble breaking in.  The door was unlocked.

Three armed men sat around a table drinking beer and talking about nothing in particular.  They had rifles within reach and knives on their belts.  They did not appear to be paying much attention to the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki watched the men for the first few minutes while Decker and Tony did a sweep of the building to make sure no other men were present.  Nanette went to the back wall, beyond the cannon, where she found all three gun belts and Alexis’ bag sitting lazily on another table.

“Lincoln’s knife is missing,” Nanette whispered.

Boston pointed to the back wall where the knife stuck about two inches into the plaster.  “I guess one of the thieves wanted to test the balance and sharpness.”

They gathered up the belts and bag, and tried the doors at the back, beginning with the big double doors on the far end.  It led to a back alley.  Boston found the latch and locked the door so no one from the outside could come in and disturb them in their work.

Behind door number two, as Boston called it, they found a lab room.  It held glass vials, like test tubes up on a table in the center of the room.  It had bowls, cups, and glass tubes of liquid which might have been tea but might have been a solution of the plague bacteria.  Boston did not want to take the chance.

Nanette touched Boston’s shoulder to draw on Boston’s magic, and surprised herself, that some of her own magic felt active.  “675,” she said, then clarified.  “Lincoln read in the database that the other earth would begin to come into conjunction with our earth and leak magic energy into our universe starting in 675.  We must be close to that time.”  She had no trouble causing everything in that room to pile up in the center and tried not to spill any of the liquid in the process.

“Tony said we arrived in 672.  Lockhart said that Bozo mentioned he had two years to make cannon before the Arabs came and laid siege to Constantinople.  That happened in 674, so Tony figured we were in 672.”  Boston got out her wand and took a turn drawing on what magic energy Nanette had.  Boston let the full fiery blast of her energy out.  It turned the wood table and chairs into a bonfire, boiled the liquids, cracked the clay and glass containers, and actually melted some of the items.  They left that room understanding that the whole warehouse would be on fire very soon.

Behind door number three, they found Kallinikos, and heard from Decker over Boston’s watch radio.  “We are ready here.  Where are you?”

“We found Kallinikos,” Boston responded.  “I just gave him a disc so he is invisible like us and can see us.  We are on our way.”

“Roger.  You need to go out front, wait outside and put some distance between yourselves and the building in case something explodes.”

Boston, Nanette, and Kallinikos walked past the others and tried not to look.  One of the men that sat around the table looked dead.  The other two looked wounded and sat, moaning, with their backs to the wall.  Boston figured the men did not cooperate.

Tony joined them in exiting the building.  Decker went to stand by the door.  Elder Stow and Sukki floated up beneath the fifteen-foot ceiling to where they could overlook the cannon on the floor.  Then Elder Stow with his weapon and Sukki with her goddess-given power melted every cannon and set on fire every carriage in the building, both ships cannon, the big wall busters, and a case of rifles they found in the front room where the powder and shot got stored.

With the deed done, Sukki exited the building to join the others, while Elder Stow, with his personal screen up tight against his person for protection, got out his sonic device.  He tuned it to the right frequency and let it rip.  It only took a few seconds for all the gunpowder in the building to explode.

“Lord Bozo is not going to be happy,” Boston grinned as they made their way back to the ship.

“But we don’t have time to go look for him,” Tony said gruffly.  He felt bad.  He had to shoot one of the men.

“The gun factory is something the Kairos will have to deal with,” Elder Stow said, in agreement with Tony.

“Not our job,” Decker said, and looked at Nanette.  She lowered her eyes but nodded, slightly.

###

The ship left on the morning tide before dawn.  The crossing did not take long, but the docks in Constantinople needed expanding.  They had to wait in line before they could pull up and unload.  They found Lockhart, Katie, Alexis, and Lincoln waiting patiently with several other men on the dock.  One of the men opened his arms and shouted for Boston, and she rushed into the hug.

“You don’t have a big white beard and a fat belly,” Boston almost complained.

“Not yet,” Nicholas said.  “I’m not that old.  But I do have some elves that help make the toys.  And something else.”  He called to an old man who just arrived and used a cane to walk.  He came close, curiosity on his face.  The man’s right arm also did not look too good, like he may have suffered something like a stroke.  “This is Arthur,” Nicholas introduced the man.  “He is old and worn out and ready to let go of this life, so Elder Stow, you are not allowed to fix him.  He is the last of the Anazi androids from long ago.  Arthur, let me introduce Katie and Lockhart, Artie’s parents.”

“An honor,” Arthur said, but paused when Katie stepped up and hugged the android.  She quickly got tears in her eyes.  Lockhart put out his hand to shake but ended up hugging the android as well.  The android also got tears in his eyes, being the last of his people and thinking about all those centuries, and all the losses.  Lockhart sniffed and Alexis, and Lincoln were not unmoved.  Boston wept.

“All life is precious,” Arthur said softly, and tried to smile.

“Centurion Rudolph says hi,” Sukki interrupted and got Nicholas’ attention.  Sukki remembered when the travelers found her.  Artie the android left the group at that time and charged Sukki to look after her mom and dad.  She was not sure she did that, and maybe felt a bit guilty, or maybe she wondered what it might be like to have Lockhart and Katie as her mom and dad.

Nicholas nodded to Sukki that he heard, but let things play out before he turned to Sukki and answered her.  “I sent Rudolph and his reindeer soldier to ferret out the gun factory.  We will see what we can do depending on what information they send back.  Not your job.  Meanwhile, thank you for rescuing the artificer.” Nicholas turned to the newly arrived stranger.  Alexis stood there checking on the man’s condition, and Nanette helped.

“Kallinikos,” the man introduced himself.

Nicholas introduced a member of the emperor’s staff and said he would go with them to meet with Constantine.  He had a bag of toys with him, ready for the children in the palace.  “Meanwhile,” he said.  “I’m working on a hand pump, like the ones firefighters used back in the early nineteenth century before they invented steam pumps.”

“For the Greek fire,” Tony said to any who might not know.

“Where do you want us?” Nanette asked.

“Alexis and Lincoln found my home,” Nicholas said.  “When you get unloaded, Arthur can show you the way, and I will be along in a while.”

“I can’t wait to play with the toys,” Boston said.

“What is this Greek fire?” Kallinikos asked

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

MONDAY through THURSDAY

A 4-part episode next week which will include a Thursday post to complete the episode in a single week.  Above and Beyond takes place in the border with Brittany, and in orbit.  Margueritte is getting married.  Don’t Miss It.  Happy Reading.

*

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 3 of 6

The doctor stopped his work and put on a pair of thin leather gloves.  He grabbed something like a magnifying glass and stepped over to examine the travelers.  He paused to look up at Lockhart, who stood quite tall.  Lockhart wanted to make a face, maybe a Decker face to intimidate the little man, but it was hard to get his face to cooperate when he had a gun poking him in the back.

“Yes, these will do quite nicely,” the doctor squeaked in a timid little voice.

“Aren’t you going to listen to our heart and lungs,” Alexis objected.  “Don’t you want to check our blood pressure, or maybe take a blood sample for analysis?”

The doctor stopped and stared at Alexis for a minute.  He seemed to need the words, and finally he came out with, “No.  None of that is necessary.  You are relatively healthy specimens who show no signs of infection.  That will do.”

“Are you ready to go?” Bozarius asked.

“The tide is not up yet,” one of the men said.

“About an hour,” the doctor said at about the same time.

Bozarius nodded.  “Stygria, you and your men keep the prisoners locked up until the doctor is ready to leave.  You need to escort the prisoners to the ship and see them fastened in.  Then you have your orders.”

“Sir.” the man, Stygria came to attention and acknowledged his leader like a military officer, only lacking the salute.

Bozarius thought to say something more to the travelers before he left.  “Doctor Theopholus has kept the plague alive since the death of the Prophet, and in a controlled way that has kept it away from the armies of Arabia.  That has been for more than thirty years.  How old are you now?”

“Sixty,” the doctor said.  He went back to work but half-listened.

“There is one more job before he can rest.  He will cut the population, including the military strength of Constantinople in half.  This plague outbreak will be the pneumonic kind?”  The doctor nodded but said nothing.  “He will infect you when you reach the city.  You will infect everyone else.  I believe that is what you call killing two fish with one stone.

“Birds,” Lockhart mumbled.

“But what happens when the Arabs get here?  Won’t they risk catching the infection?” Lincoln asked.

“It will burn out by the time the Arabs get here.  That is two years hence.  I have many more cannon to make in those two years.  Then we blast the vaunted walls to gravel and that will be that.”

The travelers got brought to the room where they heard the moaning and groaning, and they got locked in.

###

Elder Stow stopped working on his screen device long enough to eat.  He actually joined in the conversation around the table for a while.  People were talking about how similar they all were, black and white, men and women, from 1905 or 2010, and even between Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthals.

“Much of it, like touch, parental concern, and children exploring their environment is plain animal stuff, at least for mammals,” Elder Stow said.  “Though I have witnessed birds and others who show a remarkable concern to keep contact and stay close to their young.”

“Crocodile mothers,” Decker nodded.

“Most of the rest, as far as I can tell, and I never really thought of it before, seems to be based on social, cultural, and more than we realize on technological conditions.  Without automobiles, and I might say, trains and planes, people connect with people, mostly neighbors and in the community.  The limiting factor appears to be the ability to travel.  With cars, trains, and planes, people can travel, even to distant and interesting places, and I mean ordinary people, not just the rich.  Real friendships can develop between people who may live thousands of miles away when you have a telephone.”

“Then,” Boston interrupted.  “With the invention of the internet, people do not have to go anywhere.  You can travel the world from your own living room, and no one has to talk to anyone, if you don’t want to.  We are all isolated all over again, and this time, people don’t even know their neighbors.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow frowned.  “Not all advances are especially good ones.  And believe me, there are some advances on the human horizon that make bad matters worse.  You don’t want to know, but I will say, I have learned much in our journey, and one is that relationships, or what I imagine as real contact between real people, is something we should never lose sight of.  Hugs matter.  All hugs matter.”

Sukki smiled and gave Elder Stow a hug.

“Travel broadens the mind,” Decker said, and with a little grin for Nanette added, “Or so I have heard.”

Nanette returned his grin and patted his hand.  “In that case, 5000 years has not quite done the job.  You have a little more traveling to do.”

Decker picked up Nanette’s hand and kissed it right in front of everyone.  Boston dropped her jaw.  Sukki looked away and turned as red as Boston’s hair.  Elder Stow smiled and said, simply, “Family.”

Tony looked at his food and thought to change the subject.  “Once the world was full of Greeks and barbarians, but then the Romans came, and the world got bigger.  Some Greeks realized that some of the people outside the borders of Greece were maybe not so barbaric.”

“The Persians first.  Then the Romans.”  Nanette said.  “Alexander the Great really expanded the Greek world.”

“Then the medieval world went backwards for a bit.  Medieval people stayed pretty much in their villages and probably had no idea what the rest of the world was like.  Even the church focused on spiritual horizons, not worldly ones.”

“Or the mosque. Or the synagogue.” Nanette added, basically agreeing.

“But then the age of discovery arrived, and it was no longer me and my few and everyone else are strangers.  Now, the whole world seemed strange, but people got into exploring, learning, and getting to know everything that was new and different.”

“And where did that get us?” Boston asked.

“To world war or maybe world peace,” Decker said.  “If the human race can ever learn to live in peace.”

Elder Stow’s screen device alarm went off.  He turned it off quickly and checked his scanner.  “Someone has gotten into the wagon,” he said.

Decker jumped up and grabbed his rifle.  Elder Stow and Tony, with Katie’s rifle, followed.  The girls came behind because Sukki stopped to hug Nanette and encourage her with Decker, and Boston tried really hard not to tease the girl.

In the stable, they found three men that tried to rummage through their things.  They appeared to be trapped and unable to escape.  Elder Stow explained.  “I tuned a disc to the screen and gave it a twenty-foot radius around the wagon.  I set it carefully so it would not slice through any flesh and blood, or animals.  It was sort of a test, but I think it worked.  Walking around the wagon would not set it off, but as soon as the insides of the wagon or anything in it got touched, it automatically deployed.”

“Can I shoot them?” Decker asked as they stepped up to face the three men.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  “The screen is solid on both sides.  They can’t get out, and we can’t get in until I turn it off.”

“Hey,” one of the men shouted.  “We’re trapped in here and can’t get out.  Help.”

“What did you steal?” Decker asked as Tony and the girls caught up.

“Nothing.  I didn’t take nothing,” the man said.

“We were just looking,” Another man said.  “He was just showing us your stuff.  Honest.”

“I want you to lie face down, arms stretched out over your head while we take a look,” Decker said.  They did not move.  They looked at each other, uncertain.  “Now,” Decker shouted.  “Don’t make me kill you for just looking.”  All three men got slowly to the ground.  “Okay,” he said softly to Elder Stow and with more volume added, “Tony, do an inventory.”

“Hey, Decker,” Boston shouted from where she wandered into the back to check on the horses.  “Somebody let Ghost out of his stall.”

Decker turned on the men at his feet.  “Just looking?”

One man jumped up to run.  Decker kindly shot him in the leg.  He fell and grabbed his leg where the blood started to come out.  He shouted, stunned by the sound of the gun and in shock at seeing a bleeding hole in his leg.  It would start to hurt soon enough.

“Any other bright ideas?” Decker asked.

One man did not move at all.  The other shook his head, said, “No, no.” and tried not to cry from fear.

“A horseshoe and some nails,” Tony said.

“Do I have to search you?” Decker asked.

The man who said nothing that whole time pulled the horseshoe and small bag of nails from his shirt and placed it on the ground.  “Can we go?”

“Let’s see,” Decker said.  He shouted to the back.  “Horses okay?”

“A-okay,” Boston said.

“We need them saddled to take them to the dock,” Decker decided.

“All okay, blankets and everything.” Nanette shouted.  “Being saddled.”

“Your friend probably needs to see a physician,” Elder Stow said, and handed a few copper coins to the scared one thinking if he was scared enough, he might do the right thing.

“Get your stupid friend and go,” Decker said.  “And don’t come back.  I would rather not have to kill you.  It would spoil my supper.”

The two men helped their friend while he cried and tried to walk on one leg.

“Was that really necessary?” Elder Stow asked.

“The Kairos thinks so,” Decker answered.  “Bad as guns are, they cannot be easily duplicated.  Horseshoes, however, could change the course of history.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers need to escape to save the man who invents Greek Fire.  They need to get that invention to Constantinople and disrupt the plans of the Masters, in whatever way they can.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

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.