Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 3 of 6

The sandal maker’s house was not far. Just one door in, down a side street from the village square.  Once again, Muhamed saw her enter right in, only this time he saw an old man rather than an old woman.  He shrugged, and returned to the well.  Two women had already come for water in the dim light of dawn.

“Allow me,” he said, though they had no way of understanding him.  He took the bucket, lowered it, and hauled it back up by the rope.  He slipped a small amount of elixir into the bucket before he poured the water into the waiting jugs.  The women appeared to thank him, and went on their way.  Muhamed smiled, and repeated that routine several times.

Muhamed got ready to move when the sun broke free of the horizon, and he saw several men come into the village square. He imagined the men might start asking questions.  Besides, his elixir was almost gone.  If he wanted to do anything at that point, it would have to be watch, and see what affect his diluted mixture might have on the local population.  If the wooden bucket was any indication, it should do something.  Even with limited exposure, the bucket had begun to sprout new twigs and leaves which he kept having to tear off.

He honestly felt too tired, having been up since before noon on the day before.  The sandal maker’s house was right there.  The young woman greeted him at the door, and said the sandal maker had business and would be gone all day, and into the night.  She claimed to have made a feast, but it hardly amounted to more than bread and water, and a little vegetable broth with a taste of the dried meat.  Muhamed only paused at the water, but he did not imagine any of the women fetched water for the old man.  He figured it had to be water from before they arrived.  He had been careful not to contaminate the actual well.

“Will you sleep with me?” she offered. “You can beat me, hard and wicked.”

Muhamed stared at her again.  He imagined the woman had some serious psychological problems.  Then it occurred to him that his elixir, given to a living person, might have corrupted her mind and sensibilities.  He was not a doctor, but he thought she died at one point.  Clearly, she did not, but he knew reduced oxygen to the brain could cause brain cells to die.  He decided it would be safer to keep her at arm’s length.  No telling what she might do with that cutting knife.

“I need sleep,” he said, and it was true enough.  “I see, there, the sandal maker has a bed in a back room.  You stay and sleep here in the front room, in case some local people come to see the sandal maker.”  It sounded reasonable to Muhamed’s ears.

“I will,” she said, and Muhamed stepped into the back.  He drew the curtain closed.  The shutters were already closed, blocking out the sunlight.  He quietly took a jug and several small items he found in the room, and stacked them against the curtain.  He hoped, if anyone came into the room, the items would fall, and the noise would wake him.  He fell asleep easily enough.

###

As the sun set, the travelers set up their campsite.  Once again, there appeared to be men and armies all around, and plenty of them were on horseback.  Fortunately, the ones in this time zone did not appear interested in travelers that included an old man and some women.  Several looked twice at the women on horseback, but no one stopped them to question them.

“I wonder what the soldiers are all doing,” Lincoln said.  “We have seen some different uniforms, if that is what they are, but they don’t seem to be attacking each other, or anyone else as far as I can tell.” Lincoln got the horse brush from Alexis’ saddlebag.

“Show of force,” Evan said.  “I figure the year is 540 or 539.  Cyrus is about to march into Babylon, or has just entered the city, and he has his army riding around the countryside between Assur and Ur, showing who is in charge and giving notice to all the cities that there is a new ruler in town.”  Evan got the brush from Lincoln’s bag.

“Alexis?” Lincoln called, but she did not answer.

“Alexis and Millie went out to see what edibles they could find.” Evan said.

“I have the fire up, waiting for something to cook,” Elder Stow said, as he walked to help with the horses.  “No idea where Boston and Sukki are, either.”

“They wanted to climb the rocky hill to see what they might see in the distance,” Decker said, as he set his rifle down for once and got out his own horse brush.

“Supper,” Lockhart yelled ahead.  He and Katie rode into the camp.  They bagged two deer, and Lockhart spoke.  “The deer are skittish, and keeping a good distance.  Too many soldiers wandering around the area.  We never would have bagged them with a bow and arrow.”

Katie interrupted.  “Fortunately, my rifle has a scope and a good range.”

“Let me help,” Decker said, pulling his knife.  “Lockhart always butchers the job.”

“Isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing?” Lockhart joked.

They camped in a spot on the edge of a forest, beside a rocky hill.  They believed it was the same place they camped on that first night after leaving the city in the last time zone.  That meant they were only one day from Babylon.  Boston, at first, pointed to the more northern city of Sippar, but she said in the last day, Xanthia must have moved to Babylon.  The time gate appeared to move roughly the same distance south.

While they camped, and one deer started cooking while the other smoked, they talked, mostly about the Kairos. Millie had questions.

“I do not understand how my Labash, so clearly a man, the way he fell for Kishilani, and the woman, Xanthia, could be the same person.  She doesn’t sound like a lady.  More of a tramp.  And you say she married three times, and all of her husbands died in battle?”

“That’s right,” Lincoln confirmed. He did not have to get out the database to check.

“She had five children,” Alexis nodded, before she said the thing most of the people, and Millie obviously questioned. “I wonder how many of her children were actually the offspring of her husbands, or someone else.”

“Who knows,” Lockhart said, as he slipped a protective arm around Katie.  She smiled for him.

“Think of Diana and Bodanagus,” Evan suggested to his wife.  “Now that I know, I can see some similar traits between the two.  Bodanagus, and Athena encouraged us to move into the future, to go home as they said.  Bodanagus said we would meet him many times along the way. I didn’t understand what he meant, except that we might meet good people like himself who would help us out. Now, I understand he meant actually him, or her.”

Millie shook her head.  “I believe what you are telling me, but it must be so strange to be a man.”

“It is,” Decker said, before anyone else could say it.

“Hold up,” Boston interrupted. “Humans are coming.  Soldiers, I think.”

“I sense them,” Katie agreed.  “But I don’t sense that they are a danger.”

Decker nodded. Elder Stow got out his scanner, just to be safe, in case he had to throw up a particle screen against intruders.  They watched a small cavalry troop ride up, no doubt like moths attracted to the light of their fire.  The troop stopped several yards away, and Decker, at least, appreciated their military discipline, to hold their horses steady in formation.

“Hello,” a man said from horseback. “You are travelers?  We mean you no harm.”  He spoke in Persian, and the man beside him translated into Babylonian.

“Hello, do not be afraid.  We are on a mission of peace.  Are you travelers?”

Lockhart stood.  Both he and Decker, being over six feet tall, still appeared to some as giants, and would up through the middle ages.  They saw the two speakers hesitate, but they got down when Lockhart spoke, and in the Persian he picked up from the first speaker. They all still remembered the Babylonian from the last time zone.  Languages generally took several time zones before they faded and got replaced by new languages.

“We are travelers, and have come a long way in search of our friend Xanthia.”

“You are Lydian?  Or from one of the Greek or Phoenician cities?  You ride with a Nubian.”

“Is my Persian not good enough?” Lockhart asked, knowing he sounded like a native.  “But, to be honest, we are from a land on the other side of the world. That is how far we have traveled to see our friend.”

“Do you bring her gifts?  Do you have a message for her?” the man asked. The two were down and walked forward a few paces.  Two others dismounted to hold the horses, but the other ten or twelve stayed up, and mostly kept their horses still and quiet.

“I need a hug,” Boston shouted from the back side of the fire.  Everyone ignored her.

Katie stepped up beside Lockhart and took his arm.  The men stared at her yellow hair, sure proof that these people came from far away.  Lincoln and Alexis followed and Alexis invited the Persians to supper.

“We shot two deer this evening.  We planned to smoke one for the journey, but you and your men are welcome to the second one.”

“Tell me, Xanthia only has normal friends,” Lincoln interjected.  The sarcasm sounded obvious.  He saw the man’s eyebrows rise and his shoulders shrug.

“You make a good point,” he said, and signaled for his men to dismount.  They quickly made a second fire and were grateful for the second deer. “I am Lyscus, and my aid is Harpatha. We will join you, and escort you to the city in the morning.”

“Fine,” Alexis said, and introduced everyone around the fire, at the end of which Lyscus admitted that they had to come from very far away, and Harpatha, staring at Boston’s red hair, agreed.

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

MONDAY

The travelers will meet up with the necromancer and his farm wife, and it won’t be pretty.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 1 of 6

After 588 BC Babylon. Xanthia lifetime 78: Sister of Cyrus the Great

Recording …

Muhamed groused the whole way through Assyria.  Nothing appeared to work or go his way.  The diseased natives died anyway.  They came back to life, but the local gods ended that quick enough.  He honestly dared not stick around to see.  There had been one god in that place.  He tried to explain his mission, but the pig-headed fool rushed him to the time gate and kicked him out of his world.

Muhamed groused and stopped walking.

He saw a farm house up ahead.  He imagined he was being generous to call the slat and mud brick shack a house.  No doubt a farmer and his wife lived there—a farmer who would die young from too much heavy labor.  He would see if the wife had any bread.  He might use the wife if she proved good looking.  Not like marriage meant anything to unbelievers.

He walked and thought again.

After his failure with the Native-Americans, he got stymied.  India proved far too dangerous.  He whipped up some insect repellant, but got out of there as quickly as he could.  The next three, count them, three time zones were filled with space alien monsters.  In the first, he brought those horrible skeletons to life, but before he could do anything with them, he got caught by his enemies.  Then he found the aliens, and they had real weapons of mass destruction.  He escaped and got out of there.  The third alien time zone looked like all-out war any minute, and he almost got eaten. The middle one, Rome, might have worked. The space aliens were quiet, and the thought of ruining Rome might have made it worthwhile; but nothing was there, yet. He remembered how early in time he traveled.  Mohammed had not come yet, but neither had those Christians, thank god.

Muhamed stopped walking to check on something.

He thought he might kill a Jew if he found one.  He pulled out his big steel knife, the one he took from the black-haired witch. “Hello,” he called to the house. They would not understand him, and he would not understand them, but he could make his wishes known well enough. He hid the knife in the folds of his clothes.  “Hello,” he called again.

He got his feet moving again, and let his complaints finish.

Finally, in this last time zone, he thought he had them.  The city appeared quiet.  The walls would give the dead nowhere to wander.  They had many graves within the city.  He found a whole catacomb full of the dead, and had to move swiftly to drop on them all on his way out.  He could not claim to have gotten them all, but he got most.

Muhamed stopped. A man came to the door of the farmhouse.  “Hello,” he called, smiled, and waved at the man.  The man might have been thirty, but he already looked fifty.  Muhamed got a good grip on the knife hidden in his clothes and walked.  He considered what went wrong, last time.

Muhamed imagined zombies would work much better than skeletons, but if some of the dead were virtual skeletons, he would not mind.  The enemy all sat up on the ziggurat, a pagan, ungodly artifice that should be torn down and turned to rubble.  All he had to do was convince enough zombies to go up the steps and attack his enemies. It sounded simple enough.

“Do you have any bread?” Muhamed asked, and pointed to his mouth, like he was eating.

The man smiled for him and the man’s wife came to the door.  She appeared quite young and good looking, like the years of toil had not yet had its way with her.  Muhamed came close, and shoved the knife into the man’s heart.  He might not be a doctor, but he had to know his anatomy from pharmacy school.  The man did not live long enough to struggle or fight back.

He pulled out the knife and went for the woman.  They conveniently had a bed in the one room hut.  He enjoyed himself, even if she screamed, but in the back of his mind, he kept thinking about what went wrong last time.

The zombie brains were too rotten to follow even simple commands.  He had to get a torch to defend himself.  Then he hit upon an idea, as other people decided torches were a good option.  He got the people to corral the zombies. Apparently, their brains were not too rotten.  They still recognized fire as a threat, and backed away.  He did not come up with the idea, and some of the zombies got driven into the river, but plenty of them got driven toward the ziggurat.  He felt elated.  Surely, the people built the monstrosity for their dead gods.  He guessed they were hoping their gods would deal with the living dead.

He saw when the enemies up top reacted to the zombie attack.  He saw that man with his weapon of incredible power reduce his zombies to piles of dust. He gagged, when suddenly all of his zombies became dust, all at once.

He hit the farmer’s wife as he remembered in this ancient world, there were some people who masqueraded as gods. Ashtoreth was one.  She found him.  She rushed him to the next time gate.  She yelled and threatened him, again.

He hit the farmer’s wife again.  He thought Ashtoreth had to be a very powerful sorceress.  He knew he dared not make her cross. He knew he needed to succeed in his mission if he ever hoped to get home again.  But he did not have to be happy about it.  He could be angry.  He could hate Ashtoreth in his heart.

He beat the woman beneath him until she was raw.

The farmer’s wife stopped crying and probably passed out for a while.  He did not kill her.  He would use her again after he calmed down, and he might actually enjoy her.  He sat at the table, found what food the house had to offer, and he watched the woman.  His mind kept thinking about the living dead.  Then it hit him.  He found a cup and some water.  He put two drops of his elixir of life in the water, and gave it to her to drink.  It never occurred to him to see what his elixir would do to a person who was not dead, or diseased and about to die.  He figured the woman might have a couple of broken bones, and her face and arms were badly bruised and cut, but she would live. He made her drink the water.  Then he went back to the table, ate what he wanted, and watched and waited.

###

“Xanthia, female.  588-529 BC,” Lincoln reported.  “The database calls her Cyrus the Great’s crazy baby sister.”

“Cyrus the Great?” Katie and Evan spouted at the same time.

“Yeah, that guy,” Lincoln said, before Katie and Evan took turns spouting information about who “that guy” was. Alexis and Millie might have followed some of it.  Millie in particular spent five years sitting in on Professor Fleming’s lectures, which to be fair, covered a fair amount of history up to the time of Julius Caesar, where they thought they were trapped.  Certainly, when they talked about the Roman Empire to come, they could hardly say the word empire without mentioning Cyrus the Great and the founding of the Persian Empire.  That was about all Lockhart and Lincoln got; that the man started the Persian Empire, though to be fair, it registered that he would be a rather important person to history, in the grand scheme of things.

When Katie and Evan wound down, Lincoln got back to reading.

“Xanthia’s father, Cambyses, married her off to some general when she turned eighteen.  He got killed in battle, so he married her again, at twenty-four, to another general.  That was in 564.  Cambyses had a stroke in 559, and Cyrus took over running the kingdom, under the Median king, of course, who was also Cyrus’ grandfather.  But then, Xanthia’s second husband died in battle.  Despite his stroke, Cambyses tried to marry her one more time, and this time to a noble administrator in Ecbatana, Media, when she was thirty.  He figured the man had no interest in war.  That was actually in 557.  Cambyses died in 551, and Xanthia’s third husband died in battle the same year.”

“Poor girl,” Alexis said, and Millie agreed.

Lincoln raised his eyebrows. “Let’s just say, she did not want for affection.”  He thought it best not to explain that comment.  “But in 550, the year after Cambyses died, Cyrus overthrew his grandfather, took the Median throne along with the Persian throne, and without much trouble, apparently, since he was the king’s own grandson.  That began the Persian Empire.  But anyway, Xanthia begged Cyrus to let her follow him around like she did when she was four and he was sixteen.  He couldn’t say no.”

“Did she have any children?” Alexis asked.

“One son, but he died young.  Four daughters.  Three lived to adulthood, but by 550, she turned thirty-eight, and her youngest daughter, Roxane, turned nine.  The girl stays mostly with Cyrus’ wife, Cassandane, while Cyrus and Xanthia went off conquering the world.”

“Enough,” Lockhart said.  “Too many names.  I’ll never remember them all.  Xanthia and Cyrus the Great is about my limit, though I suppose he isn’t great yet.”