Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 1 of 6

After 755 A.D. Provence

Kairos 102: Mistress Genevieve

Recording …

The travelers came out in the mountains. Tony drove the wagon.  Nanette and Sukki helped guide the wagon through the roughest spots until Tony brought it down to a dirt and gravel road that ran alongside a river.  Boston and Katie compared amulets but decided the road by the river was the best they could do.  The valley was not wide in most places, but the mountains looked impossible.

“Somewhere in the Alps,” Lincoln concluded.  “Genevieve should be toward the southwest, maybe west from here.”

“North,” Boston corrected his thinking.

“Almost due north,” Katie said.

“But Provence should be that way from the Alps,” Lincoln protested.  “Unless we are all the way over in the Pyrenees.”

“Definitely the Alps,” Alexis said and pointed to the ground.  “I recognize the edelweiss.”

Elder Stow stared at his scanner, shook it a few times to be sure it was working but reported nothing.  Lockhart looked around for Decker.  Colonel Decker disappeared in the forest that lined the road and the river as soon as they came through.  Lockhart debated calling the man but imagined Decker might have run into something and did not need a blast of sound from his watch-radio.  Decker could call them if he got in trouble.

Decker, at that moment, stopped and stared through the trees.  It looked like a gorilla.  A couple of gorillas, or big apes of some kind.  It felt too cold for tropical apes, like gorillas.  One of them moved, and he saw the gorilla wearing pants.  Aliens, he thought.  Gorilla aliens.  He wanted to flee, but wisely planted himself where he was, and his horse cooperated and stayed quiet.  They had not seen him yet.  He imagined if he moved, they would spot him and then who knew what might happen.  He felt certain they had weapons of some sort.  They would not be out here in the wilderness on a strange planet without protection.

He did not have to wait long before the aliens moved further back among the trees.  They must have finished whatever they were doing, like taking samples of something.  Decker quickly turned around and headed back toward the others, and his watch radio went off.

Katie called.  “Decker, where are you.  We are all waiting.”

“We got gorilla aliens in the woods,” Decker’s voice came before he appeared fifty yards down the road.  The rest caught up and he reported his encounter.

Katie shrugged.  “I’m not picking up any hostility,” Katie told Lockhart.

“Me neither,” Boston confirmed.

“Nothing here,” Nanette agreed.

“Alexis?” Lincoln turned toward her and grinned.

Alexis frowned.  “You know I don’t do that hypersensitive-intuition thing.  They could be looking over my shoulder and I would not know it.”

Lincoln smiled.  “I just wanted to make sure all the witches got heard from.”

She hit him.  He laughed and reassured everyone.

“The Apes—that is the only name for them given in the database—they are essentially peaceful and nonviolent.  It says they land somewhere in the Jura Mountains on the other side of the Swiss Plateau.  I’m surprised we saw some here.”

Lockhart nodded, ignored the couple as Alexis nudged Lincoln again, and started them down the road just when they saw a small craft lift above the trees and head off to the northeast.

“Going our way?”  Katie said.  “Something to look forward to.”  She quoted Lockhart from a few time zones earlier.

###

It took the travelers all day to get out of the mountains and to the lake, even following the road that ran through the river valley.  By the time they arrived and set their camp by the lake, Lincoln identified it as Lake Geneva, and said he had to do more reading.  He said he expected to land somewhere in Provence, southern France, or if Genevieve was really young, like under eighteen, maybe somewhere on the Rhine River, not the Rhone up in the mountains, near the glacier.  He explained over supper.

“Genevieve of Breisach, an old Roman fort town on the Rhine, was daughter of the Frankish chief of the town and an Alemanni mother.  Her mother died after giving birth to Genevieve’s baby brother, who also died at age two.  That left Genevieve as the sole child and heir. After that, the story reads like a remake of Cinderella.  When Genevieve turned six, her father remarried a widow from Habsburg who had two daughters of her own, one a year older and one two years younger than Genevieve, then her father died fighting for King Pepin of Francia.  Genevieve was twelve.  The stepmother was cruel, and Genevieve got reduced to a virtual servant in the house, though it was technically her house.  Then the prince came to town, or in this case, Charlemagne, though he wasn’t called the great yet, so maybe just Charles.”

“Charlemagne,” Boston interrupted.  “I heard of him.”

“Hush,” Alexis quieted her.

“Charles’ wife, Hildegard, age fifteen by the way, was busy giving birth to their first son, Charles the Younger.  Charles was frustrated…for many reasons.  The stepmother offered her two daughters to relieve his tension.  Charles picked Genevieve, also for many reasons, and Genevieve got pregnant, which would not do since Charles was married to someone else.  Besides, Charles and Genevieve ended up in a love-hate relationship.  It says they argued a lot.”

“One question,” Katie interrupted.  “What was Charles doing in Alemanni land?”

“Technically in Swabia, but on the corner of Swabia, Burgundy, and Alemanni land.  He was raising an army to invade Italy, that is, the Lombard kingdom.  The pope appealed to him to get back the papal lands now claimed by the Lombard king.”

“So, we are talking around 773,” Katie concluded, and Lincoln nodded to say that would be his guess.

“So, Genevieve is pregnant,” Boston grinned.  “We saw Margueritte get married and now we have Genevieve pregnant.  Good timing.”

“She is seventeen or eighteen,” Lincoln picked up the story.  “Anyway, Charles getting someone pregnant when he is married, and not married that long, and doesn’t want to upset his new wife who is busy giving birth is not a good thing.  His solution is to marry Genevieve off to Otto of Provence and blame the pregnancy on Otto”

“Otto of Provence?” Tony asked.

“Okay, Otto.  He was related to Pepin in some way, a cousin or something, and he fought for Pepin when Pepin was mayor and when Pepin became king of the Franks.  He gave good service, and when he was crippled so he walks with a cane, Pepin gave him the watch over Provence, made it a march so he could keep an eye on the Lombards in Italy and keep the Saracens—the Muslim Arabs out of southern Francia.  He is a Marquis or Margrave, depending on the language, which means march lord, kind of like Margueritte’s father.  He arrived around Breisach with a small contingent, leaving most of his troops at home ready to fall on Genoa or wherever Charles wanted them.  Charles would take the men, but said Otto still had Saracen pirates all along the coast and was needed in Provence.”

“He was not going to take the crippled old man on campaign in Italy,” Decker concluded.

Lincoln nodded.  “Genevieve was compensation.  Otto had an eight-year-old son, Leibulf, whose mother died in childbirth.  Apparently, that happened plenty in these days, but the man had been without a wife for the last eight years.”

“Wait a minute,” Boston interrupted.  “Genevieve is seventeen and she gets stuck with a fifty-year-old cripple with an eight-year-old son?  That is hardly fair or nice.”

“It was the way things were done,” Katie said, but Nanette shook her head at the idea.

“Doesn’t make it right,” Sukki agreed with Boston, but Alexis shrugged.

Lincoln nodded for Katie.  He was not going to argue.  “The bishop in Basel performs the ceremony.  I would guess that is where they are right now.”

“I wonder if Charlemagne is there,” Katie said.

“When is it, I mean the time of year?” Tony asked.

“Mid-spring,” Boston answered, being an elf and tuned into the seasons.  “About the end of April or early May.”

Tony shook his head.  “Spring planting is over.  He has probably gathered whatever auxiliary troops he is going to get and is on his way to Italy by now.”

“Well, I hope Otto is nice,” Nanette said, and smiled for Decker.  He tried hard to maintain a serious face.

“Feeling protective of the Kairos?” Alexis asked, and after the briefest moment, Nanette said that she did.

“I don’t blame you,” Katie agreed.

Lockhart stirred the fire.  “I remember back in the real world, the Men in Black headquarters got temporarily overrun with marines.  Fyodor, the pilot, had been with us about ten or maybe more years at that point and had seen the Kairos in action. I remember Alice, a newbie in the legal department followed the Kairos to a shed where Fyodor waited.  She took it upon herself to introduce everyone.  She said the big marine sergeant had assigned himself to be the Kairos’ bodyguard for the duration of the trouble.  I never saw Fyodor laugh so hard.  Like the Kairos, of all people, needs a bodyguard.  I swear, for the next hour Fyodor could not look at the big marine without laughing, just thinking about the Kairos needing a bodyguard.”

Boston giggled.  “I remember that…But all the same, I agree with Nanette.  This Otto better be nice.”

Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 2 of 4

The vanished people ended up in a small room with no windows and no visible door.  Everyone felt sick.  Lincoln and Jennifer threw up.  Elsbeth did as well, but just a little and said she was fine.  Brianna and Father Aden were right there for Jennifer.  Alexis and Nanette helped Lincoln, while Katie and Lockhart looked for a way out.

“No door, no windows, no vents,” Lockhart said.

Katie put her hand to the wall and admitted, “I don’t even know what kind of material this is.”  She pressed her fingers into the wall and when she drew back her hand she saw where her fingers pushed into the wall, briefly making indents before the wall healed over and became flat and smooth again like nothing happened.

“Something like memory foam?” Lockhart suggested.

“But hard,” Katie responded.  “More like a padded cell.”

“Where are we?” Elsbeth asked as she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.  “Is this a dream?”

“Not a dream,” Alexis said, as she got Lincoln to sit with his back to the wall.  Father Aden thought that was a good idea, and he got Jennifer to sit against the opposite wall.

“It did not feel like when the gods moved us instantly from one place to another,” Lockhart said.

“But similar, in a way,” Katie countered.  “We have definitely been moved to another place, and no telling how far we have traveled.”

“How can we have traveled?” Brianna asked.  On seeing that Jennifer was all right, she stood and put her arm around Elsbeth, her daughter.

“Teleport,” Lincoln mumbled, coughed to clear his throat, and tried again.  “Like on T.V.”

“We could be in space,” Alexis added, speaking for her husband.  “On those shows, they usually transport to a ship in orbit.”

Lincoln nodded and pointed to his wife, adding, “It feels like space.  I got sick when I got taken to space by the Vordan, back in the real world.”

“When was that?” Nanette asked.

“A few years ago.  Before we found you.  About thirteen hundred years in the future,” Lockhart answered, and grinned.  That was the kind of thing the Kairos usually said.  “Back before we got stuck on this time trip.”

“Well,” Elsbeth spoke up.  “Wherever we are, I am sure Roland will get Charles to turn out the whole Frankish army to look for us, and then woe to whoever kidnapped us.”

“That might not be so easy if we are in outer space,” Nanette said.

Brianna looked at Lockhart and Katie.  “By space, you mean above the clouds, like out among the stars?”

“Hopefully not as far as the stars,” Katie answered.  “But outside the atmosphere, maybe between the earth and the moon.”

“That will make it hard for any army on horseback to find us,” Lockhart said.

“But you have experienced this sort of thing before?” Father Aden spoke up from where he doted on Jennifer.

“Not exactly,” Alexis answered, but Lincoln waved, like he wanted to say something.  People waited for him to swallow.

“I read about teleportation in the database after the first time the gods moved us from one location to another.  The television version is impossible.  There is no way to account for the infinite number of variables.  Finite creatures can’t do infinite.  There are ways around that.  I remember a temporary wormhole is one way.  I don’t remember the others.”

“You mean, you did not understand the others,” Alexis said with a smile for her husband.

“That too,” Lincoln admitted.

Elsbeth turned to her mother.  “Maybe you could call Doctor Pincher and he might know a way to get us out of here.”

“No, baby,” Brianna said.  “Margueritte might, but I’m not connected to the spiritual world in that way.”

“Little White Flower?” Elsbeth looked at Jennifer who sat with a hand on her stomach.

“No,” she said.  “I’m not connected anymore, either.”  She explained to the others.  “I used to be a fairy.  I became human to marry Aden.”

“Really?” Alexis spoke across the room.  “I used to be an elf and became human to marry Benjamin.”

Father Aden interrupted before the two women started comparing notes.  “It seems to me it is less important how we got here as why we are here.”

“Obviously someone brought us here for some reason,” Katie agreed with the father.

“And what do they want?” Brianna asked.

Lockhart punched the wall, but not too hard.  The wall stiffened on impact, so it showed no dent.  “I would guess we can’t shoot our way out of here.”

Nanette pushed her finger gently into the wall, and it showed a deep dent, but healed over as soon as Nanette withdrew her finger.  “I may be able to do something, now that I have my magic.”  She went to discuss it with Alexis even as one wall began to change.  Jennifer and Father Aden had to quickly move away from that side.  The wall turned transparent to where it appeared to vanish altogether.  Lockhart slapped his hand against it to show that it was still there, only now it was invisible and see through.

Elsbeth looked while Lockhart distracted everyone with his hand slap. Elsbeth screamed.  There were multi-legged insects of some sort, about the size of an average table chair, crawling all over the floor, walls, and ceiling of a much bigger room.  People backed away from the transparent wall, but Katie took a close look.

“My god,” she said.  “They look like Trilobites.”

###

Margueritte got the blacksmith and his helpers to take care of the horses.  Tony and Decker had ghost unhitched from the wagon, and Tony figured the mule would not wander off.  Margueritte took everyone inside and sat them at the table.  Father, Lord Barth, sat in his regular seat on the end.  Boston, Owien, Decker, and Tony sat on the side where Brianna, Jennifer, Margueritte, and Elsbeth usually sat.  Sukki, Margueritte, and Elder Stow sat on the opposite side, with Margueritte in the middle, where Margueritte’s big brother Tomberlain sat with Owien and often enough, Father Aden and Roland.

Margueritte put her hand out to Elder Stow and said, “Scanner.”

Elder Stow only hesitated for a second before he pulled out the device.  “You think some sort of matter transportation happened?”

Margueritte nodded.  She opened the device carefully.

“Couldn’t Danna do something?” Owien asked.

“Or maybe one of the gods,” Boston was thinking the same thing.

“The gods aren’t cooperating,” Margueritte said, and then added, “Father, don’t look.”

Lord Barth covered his eyes for a minute as Margueritte went away and Martok, the alien Bospori came to take her place.  Martok, a mathematical engineer, was a life that came from far enough in the future to understand all the technical specifications of the Gott-Druk device.  He went to work, and Lord Barth only let out a small peep when he uncovered his eyes.  Owien, Boston, and Decker all laughed.  Tony had another thought.

“We might know what was going on if we had the database.”

“I was just thinking that,” Sukki said, but Martok shook his head.

“Stow, explain,” Martok whispered, while he worked.

Elder Stow had to think for a minute, but thought he understood.  “We have basic matter transportation that we have been able to achieve in laboratory conditions.  The actual breakdown and restructuring of matter is considered untenable.  There are limitless variables and no way to account for them all.  There are ways to sidestep that limit, but we are just beginning to experiment in your twentieth century.”

Decker understood.  “So, whoever we are dealing with has a technology superior to the Gott-Druk, even a thousand years in the future.”

“Essentially, yes,” Elder Stow admitted and looked down at the table

Martok appeared to have finished and Margueritte came back to another peep from her father.  She said, “There are plenty of choices.  The question is which one—who are we dealing with?”  She pressed on the scanner and a holographic image of a ship appeared to hover over the table.  “Parked above us,” she said.  “Just on the edge of space.”  She studied the image and heard from other lifetimes and finally from Alice of Avalon herself.  “Damn,” she said, as the image began to waver and break up.  Something fizzed in the scanner, and the image vanished.  “Damn,” Margueritte said again, and glanced at her father because of her words, but he just looked serious.  Margueritte never swore.

Neither did Elder Stow, but he almost made an exception when he grabbed his scanner to check for damage.  He got out the eyepiece he used for the microcircuits and almost cursed again.

“But we need help,” Margueritte yelled at the ceiling.  By then both Boston and Sukki needed to know.

“What kind of ship was that?” Sukki asked.

“Who has a damn ship?” Boston asked at about the same time.

“Trilobites,” Margueritte said without explanation because Lady Alice made a suggestion.  She stuck her hand out to Elder Stow and said, “Communication device, please.”

Elder Stow looked at her and pulled his scanner out of reach, like a child might protect his toy from the one who broke it.

“Just to make a call,” Margueritte said.  “There should not be any feedback this time.”

Elder Stow detached the device from his belt and handed it over, reluctantly, and Margueritte went away so Martok could return and fiddle with the device.

Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 1 of 4

After 697 A.D. The Breton March

Kairos 101: Margueritte, the Bride

Recording …

A blonde, about thirteen, sat on her old mare like a young woman who spent plenty of time on horseback. She wore a fine-looking dress and had a silk scarf, which spoke of money, if not nobility.  Her old mare waited quietly, unlike the younger stallion beside her that pranced a little and did not seem to want to settle down in the face of the oncoming strangers.  The young man, maybe a year or two older than the girl, sat on the stallion and fidgeted a bit himself.  He did not appear alarmed, however, and had no weapons in any case other than the knife he wore on his belt.

Boston and Sukki drew near, but then stopped a few feet away from the young couple.  “Is this the road to the Breton March?” Boston asked.  “We are looking for Margueritte.”

The blonde rolled her eyes at the mention of Margueritte’s name, but before she could say anything, a fairy squirted out from her horse’s mane and flew up to face Boston.

“Hello Elf,” the fairy said.

Boston grinned and Sukki looked positively delighted.  “Hello fairy.  My name is Boston, and my sister’s name is Sukki.”

“My name is Goldenrod.  My best friend is Elsbeth, and Owien is her boyfriend.,” the fairy reported.

The boy and girl looked at each other, and Elsbeth raised her voice a little.  “Owien is not my boyfriend.”  She glanced at the boy.  Owien looked like he would be happy to be her boyfriend.  Sukki covered her smile.

“The rest of our group will be here in a minute,” Boston said.  Even as she spoke, Katie and Lockhart came around the bend in the road, followed by Tony and Nanette.  Lincoln and Alexis drove the wagon and Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear in the rear-guard position.  Everyone waited for them to catch up, then Boston introduced everyone, including Goldenrod.

“Are you going to the wedding?” Katie asked, kindly.  They heard all about it in the village where they spent the night.  The King and Queen of Brittany with their son Judon, who often went by the name of David would be going.  They felt, after all the trouble they caused it was the least they could do.  The village chief, Brian was looking forward to it, though he never did explain exactly what the trouble was.  They would all be following in the morning.  “I expect Margueritte will make a lovely bride,” Katie finished with an encouraging smile.

Elsbeth rolled her eyes again as she and Owien turned around to lead the group to the triangle, which is what they called the home of the Lord of the March.  Then she opened up and seemed to want to talk about it.

“Margueritte is my sister, and the Breton are coming because my mother is a Breton.  My father is Count Bartholomew, Marquis of the Breton March.  He is Frankish, so Margueritte and I are half and half.  Owien, son of Bedwin, is all Breton.”

“I am not,” Owien objected.  “I am page to Lord Bartholomew and have pledged to the King in Paris, so I am a Frank now.”

“Lord Charles and Roland have been fighting in Vascony,” Elsbeth continued after another eye roll.  “We got word that they will be here tomorrow, and the wedding will be the next day.  Then Margueritte and Roland will go away with the army and Mother and Lady Jennifer will cry and miss her.  Then she will have adventures while Owien and I will have Latin every Wednesday.”  She made a face.

“It’s not so bad,” Owien said, and they all continued for a time at a very leisurely pace, letting the horses walk as they will.  Owien eventually thought of a question.  “So, where are you from?”

“And how do you know my sister?” Elsbeth added, though she seemed to have an idea.

“We are from a land far in the west called America, not Amorica,” Katie said.  “And how we know Margueritte is kind of complicated.”

Elsbeth harumphed.  “It’s that Kairos thing, I bet.  I met Gerraint and Festuscato, and she has got about a hundred more people that she has been in the past and some in the future.  It must be hard to keep track of them all.”

“We met Gerraint and Festuscato,” Lockhart said.  “We haven’t actually met Margueritte yet, to be honest.”

“I figured that,” Elsbeth said.  “Otherwise, I would remember you, or at least heard of you.  You know, Little White Flower, that is who Lady Jennifer used to be, she and her father Lord Yellow Leaf, the fairies, they came from America when I was little.”

“Lady Jennifer used to be a fairy?” Nanette asked from behind.

Elsbeth nodded.  “Margueritte made her human so she could marry Father Aden.  They have a little girl.  Father Aden will be doing the ceremony.”

Katie spoke up.  “Alexis, the one driving the wagon with Lincoln, she used to be an elf and the Kairos made her human so she could marry Lincoln.”

“Boston used to be human,” Lockhart added.  “She went the other way.”

“I didn’t know she could do that,” Owien said, sounding interested in the subject, but Elsbeth turned her nose up at the idea of being an elf.

“You could be a fairy,” Goldenrod spoke from where she relaxed in the mare’s mane.  Elsbeth nodded slightly, like maybe that would not be too terrible.

It was not that long before the group rounded the bend and arrived in the triangle.  The big barn in one corner sat nearest the road and backed toward the fields which spread out, just down a small incline.  At the top of the triangle, a tall tower of stone sat like a castle keep, and in the third corner sat the manor house.  A great, old oak grew outside the house, and a bench sat beneath the tree where one could sit in the shade on a hot summer day.  The whole scene looked peaceful and quiet, but the sensitive members of the group felt the hurried tension in the air.  A table had been built outside, under an awning.  It looked like it might seat thirty, but the man who stepped over from the blacksmith area outside the tower looked at the table and all the new people in the triangle and wondered if the table would be big enough.

“Father,” Elsbeth called to the man while she got down and let Owien take her horse with his into the barn.  Two women and a man dressed like a priest came out of the house, smiling and anxious to greet their guests.   Elsbeth went to stand beside the older woman who Katie guessed was Brianna, the mother. Then a young woman with dark hair and green eyes came barreling out of the door, shouting for Boston, her arms already open in anticipation of her hug.  Boston happily obliged.  Then Margueritte, who the young woman was, went happily from traveler to traveler hugging them all.

Margueritte’s mother, Brianna, did not know what to make of it all, but she did not seem surprised that her daughter knew complete strangers.  Margueritte’s father, the one from the blacksmith area simply looked confused.

Margueritte ran to him to grab his hand, and as she did, his mouth opened to say something, but he paused as a clear blue light filled the triangle and half of the people vanished.  Sukki, and Elder Stow stayed, since it was their turn to care for the horses and they followed Owien into the barn.  Tony and Decker did not disappear since they got busy taking the wagon across the road where they could park it next to the church that stood there.  But Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, Alexis, and Nanette, all vanished, along with Elsbeth, Brianna, Jennifer, and Father Aden.  Boston stood there suddenly alone, until Goldenrod fluttered up to land gently on Boston’s shoulder and speak in Boston’s ear.

“What just happened?”

The people vanished, but the horses remained in the yard with Boston and Goldenrod the fairy who tugged on Boston’s hair to get comfortable.  She repeated herself.  “What just happened?”

“What?” Margueritte’s father, Sir Barth spouted, and Margueritte let go of his hand to run forward to get a closer look.  Owien came running out of the barn, followed by Elder Stow and Sukki.

“Where did everybody go?” Owien asked.

Decker and Tony left Ghost and the wagon to cross the road.  Decker spoke.  “Somehow I don’t think the Masters are involved in this one.”

“No,” Margueritte agreed.  “Even Elder Stow’s people do not have that level of technology, if I am reading it right.”

“What just happened?” Goldenrod asked again.

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 2 of 6

Aapo led the way with his son Yochi and his daughter-in-law Eme.  Eme stayed with the old man and helped him over some rough spots in the path.  Yochi kept a firm grip on his spear and kept his eyes open.  Lockhart looked around as well, wondering if there might be jaguars, puma, or other dangerous or wild animals in the area, but eventually Lockhart figured Yochi mostly kept an eye on them, like he did not entirely trust them.  No doubt Yochi questioned their being messengers of the gods and wondered if Lockhart was actually Gukumatz.  He did keep his distance from Decker, probably to be safe in case Decker turned out to be the god of darkness.

The path narrowed in spots, but nothing that ghost and the wagon could not handle.  Tony got down and led the mule from the front, and Ghost responded well to the gentle hand.  The path also got steep in a couple of places and Decker had to get out his rope.  He tied one end to a corner of the wagon and the other end to his saddle so Ghost and Decker’s horse could pull the wagon up the steep places together.

The sun felt hot that day, but the travelers imagined it was better than a rainstorm.  Mud would have made the journey unnecessarily hard.  Eventually, they came to the top of the mountain and a place the wagon could not cross.  The path became a narrow ledge, barely as wide as the wagon.  A rocky hill went up one side and a thirty or forty-foot cliff fell off on the other.  The travelers had to stop and think, so Aapo, Yochi, and Eme stopped to watch.  Yochi smiled a little wondering what these so-called messengers of the gods would do with their so-called wagon.  Yochi nearly choked when Elder Stow volunteered to fly over to the other side to see how far the ledge went.

“I better go with him,” Sukki said.  She knew her adopted father tended to focus on one thing at a time.  He might fly right into trouble and never see it until it was too late.  So, the two of them flew around the bend in the path while the rest of the travelers got out their blankets to cover their horse’s eyes.

“Better for the horses not to see the cliff and get nervous,” Katie explained to Aapo, even as Elder Stow and Sukki returned.

“About a hundred of your meters or yards and it turns into a meadow,” Elder Stow reported.  “The path looks improved and begins to go downhill.”

“Yes,” Aapo agreed.  “Downhill to the city and the road.”

“It’s all downhill from here,” Boston said, and giggled.

Elder Stow took a few minutes tuning his discs and handing two to half of the travelers.  “We will have to go in two shifts,” he said.  “One disc for the horse and one for the person.  You won’t be able to fly, but if you slip off the ledge, you should float long enough to be pulled back to the path.”

“Wait,” Alexis interrupted and took the disc back from Boston.  “She is an elf.  She can dance safely on the head of a pin” Alexis explained.  “You are just tempting her to deliberately step off the ledge just to see what floating feels like.”

Boston gave the disc back without arguing, but grinned a true elf grin, almost too big for her face, and nodded vigorously, while Decker explained quietly to Nanette.  “She might have done that if she was still human.  Becoming an elf did not change her much as far as I can tell.”

“Hard to believe,” Nanette said with a shake of her head, but she sounded like she believed it.

Sukki grinned with Boston as she helped Elder Stow attach two discs to the wagon, front and back.  Then she and Elder Stow lifted the wagon right off the ground and flew it to the meadow on the other side.  Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, Alexis and eventually Sukki led their horses while Tony led Ghost across the ledge.  Lincoln was the only one who said anything.

“I wouldn’t mind a blanket over my eyes.”  He tried hard not to look down.

Yochi and Eme held two ends of Yochi’s spear so the old man would be trapped on the inside of the ledge while they walked.  When they reached the other side, Sukki flew back with the discs so Decker, Nanette, and Boston could cross.  Sukki brought Tony’s horse.

Once safely on the other side, they began the decent to the city.  This time, Decker had to use his rope and horse to slow the wagon on the steep parts.

“Don’t worry,” Katie explained.  From Kaminaljuyu north, the road will likely follow the rivers right out of the highlands.  Most of the Mayan homeland in the north is on the relative flatlands of the Yucatan.”

“Good thing,” Lockhart responded.  “Obviously these people did not build their roads with wheeled vehicles in mind.”

“No horses or oxen to speak of,” Katie answered.  “They invented the wheel, but without big domestic animals to carry the load, they never bothered with things like wagons.”

On the way down, the sky clouded over, and it started to drizzle.  Fortunately, they got to the valley area before the ground got too slippery with mud.  As they approached the city, they saw the path, now nearly a road, along a causeway that had been built up like a man-made ridge, three to five feet above the rest of the ground.  Most of that ground outside the road looked like swamp or marsh.

“Like a moat,” Katie suggested.  “Any enemy army would pretty much have to stick to the road to prevent snake-bite and who knows what.”

Lockhart nodded, but he had a question and turned to look back.  “Lincoln.  When was the last time we were in this place?”

“I remember Otapec and Maya, and their children,” Katie said, while Lincoln got out the database to look it up.

“She called him Opi,” Lockhart nodded that he remembered.  “Decker said, like the Andy Griffith Show.  And the children were Chac, Kuican and, I can’t ever remember the girl’s name.”

“Ixchel,” Katie reminded him.  We met her all grown up, not that long ago.”  She also looked at Lincoln.

“About a year and a half ago, travel time.  That was twenty-eight time zones back.  About fifteen hundred years, normal time,” Lincoln said, without ever lifting his eyes from the database.  “Ozma—Ozmatlan.  La Venta Island when the Olmec civilization fell apart due to Monkey Brain Fever.”  Lincoln paused to shiver at the memory.

“About fifteen hundred years ago?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes,” Lincoln confirmed.  “We left the time zone about where Yamaya is located in this zone, between Tikal and Calakmul if Boston is right and if I am reading my maps correctly.”

“Between Tikal and Calakmul, you mean between Athens and Sparta like in a war zone?”

Lincoln shook his head.  He read some, and everyone stayed quiet to listen.  “Tikal got beaten down about sixty years before Yamaya was born.  They pull it together enough just before Yamaya became queen of Calakmul to build a new trade city in the north, but that goes sour.  Tikal doesn’t really get it back together until about forty years after Yamaya dies.”

“Passes on to her next life,” Boston interrupted.  Lincoln nodded.

“So, maybe the war isn’t going on at the moment,” Lockhart concluded.

“I would guess,” Lincoln agreed.  “But the database reports that Ch’en II, the Calakmul ruler after Yamaya’s husband dies is a warlord who always appears to be fighting someone, and he rules for about fifty years.”

“Enough,” Katie said.  “We have unauthorized ears listening.”  She nodded at Yochi, whose eyes looked really big, and Eme, who seemed to have a hard time blinking.  Aapo, walking between the two, kept smiling and looked like he might start whistling any moment.

People quieted just in time for some forty warriors to rise up out of the muck on either side of the causeway.  A dozen more came from the trees to block the path to the city.  One stepped forward.

“Aapo,” the warrior said, apparently knowing the old man.  “I see no baskets of grain for the Holy Lords of the city.  What do you bring as an offering?”

Aapo smiled.  “I bring messengers of the gods,” he said.  “Gukumatz and his consort, the yellow haired daughter of the sun.  I’ic’ ajaw, who you can plainly see, and his woman.  The girl who carries fire on her head, and the animals that serve them.  Does the king of Kaminaljuyu not wish to see them?”

“And these others?”

“I have feared to ask their names,” Aapo admitted.  “But they claim they have come to see the Serpent Queen.  I thought it right to bring them here first.”

“I saw the old man and his daughter fly through the air like the serpent itself,” Yochi shouted and Eme nodded.

“And these animals?”

Katie spoke up.  “They serve us and are filled with poison lest you be tempted to try and eat them.”

“And this box.  How does it move?”

“Magic,” Boston lied like an elf and let the fire come up into her hand.  She tossed the fireball into the swamp where it sizzled and steamed, and the men in the swamp all took a step back.

“We have a long way to travel,” Lockhart said.  “But we have been told to acknowledge the king of whatever cities we pass through.”

“Only right,” Alexis agreed.  “The Kairos has mentioned that often enough.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln agreed.  “When he has not been telling us to keep away from kings and things.”

The poor man looked stymied, before he sighed and waved for his soldiers to lower their weapons.  “At least you are not warriors from Caracol.”

“You were expecting soldiers from Caracol?” Katie asked.

The man nodded.  “They defeated Naranjo this last year, and the king fears they may seek to extend their territory.”

“Good thing to keep watch,” Decker said.  The soldier looked at him like he was surprised the Lord of Darkness would speak.

As the travelers walked slowly down the central avenue of Kaminaljuyu, Tony suggested that the city had seen better days.

“Adobe bricks.”  Katie pointed to a couple of structures that appeared to be crumbling.  The people did not seem to be concerned about fixing the structures.  “Further north, in the Mayan lowlands, the structures and pyramids are made mostly of limestone blocks, if I recall.”

“They must not have many Shemsu around to cut and lift the blocks, and keep things repaired,” Lincoln spoke up from behind.

Aapo led the procession like a conquering hero, though Yochi and Eme looked wary.  As soon as they reached the outskirts, the head warrior, Cadmael, sent runners ahead with the news.  He had his men line up on both sides of the travelers as soon as there was room.  Lincoln thought it made them look like prisoners.  Nanette, in the back with Tony, Elder Stow and Decker, called it an honor guard.  Alexis, in the middle, countered the two of them by saying that might be the same thing.  In fact, they discovered when they reached the broad central avenue, that the main function of the soldiers was to keep back the crowd.  People gathered to see, maybe a thousand on each side of the avenue.

Boston and Sukki walked up front, just behind Aapo and his family.  She turned to Sukki and grinned.  “And you’ll find all sort of toys at Macy’s.”  She giggled, though of course Sukki had no idea what Boston was talking about.

Avalon 8.1 Rain and Fire, part 1 of 6

After 606 A.D. Yucatan

Kairos 99: Yamaya, the Serpent Queen

Recording …

The old man and old woman stepped in front of the villagers and bowed to the strangers.  They looked uncertain, and some of the villagers behind them looked afraid.  Lockhart and Katie tried to smile, and Lockhart thought it was a good thing Decker stayed busy trying to get the wagon through the time gate.  Decker’s smile had something of a shark-look to it, or maybe like the way a crocodile smiled right before it ate you.

“We mean you no harm,” Katie said.

“We are just passing through and will go as soon as we are all gathered,” Lockhart tried.  He noticed Sukki sat calmly on her horse and the horse stayed still beneath her. Boston’s horse kept wiggling, like he wanted to get moving already.  Boston paid little attention as her eyes focused on the amulet that pointed to the next time gate.

Lockhart glanced in the other direction behind him.  Elder Stow had his scanner out, searching the farm fields that snaked up the mountainside, and the deep forest ahead of them, in case something ahead might present a danger to them.  Lincoln assured them that the Maya had no standing armies, and only raised men to fight when they went to war.  Several people said that was fine, but they did not want to walk into a war.

“What is the hold up?” Lincoln asked.  Alexis looked content to wait, but Lincoln, and sometimes Decker, could be as impatient as Boston’s horse.  Lockhart shrugged and turned his attention back to the older couple.  The old woman let out one very soft shriek and looked down at her feet while the old man took one more step forward and spoke.

“I am Aapo.”  He bowed.  “My wife is Akna.”  He bowed again.  “This village is our children, mostly, they are our children.” He bowed for a third time.  “The great city of Kaminaljuyu, is in that direction.”  He pointed off toward a mountain to the right and a little behind the travelers.  “How may we serve you?”

“No,” Boston spoke up, and when Lockhart and Katie looked, she pointed north, in the direction they faced.  Before Lockhart could respond, the man lifted his brows, almost smiled, and spoke again.

“That way is the great city of Tikal where the feathered dragon king rules over all the cities and the people.  Certainly, the messengers of the gods would be most welcome there.”

Decker pushed up from the rear to report. The old man shouted, “I’ic’ ajaw,” and fell to his knees.  The old woman let out a little shriek again, and joined him on his knees, though it looked like her old knees did not want to cooperate.

Decker ignored the couple and reported.  “We are ready to go, but Tony says the wagon probably won’t make it if we have to drag it through the jungle.”

“What?” Lockhart asked.  “Not you,” he said to Decker.  He wanted to know what the man said and wondered why his mind did not automatically translate the words into English.  That one gift of the Kairos made this journey possible: to understand and be understood no matter the language spoken.

Katie frowned.  “I think I’ic’ is the word for black and ajaw is lord, I think.  Like a name.  Some names don’t translate well.  Maybe black lord, or ruler of the blacks or blackness.  Maybe Lord of the darkness.  Then again, it may be a reference to Africa, like Lord of Africa or something.”

“We get the idea,” Lockhart said, and Decker nodded slowly as he thought about accepting that designation.  Katie’s blonde locks and Boston’s red head got plenty of notice from time to time, but mostly Decker, and now Nanette, stood out in some places as something different because of their dark skin.

“Tell him we are looking for Yamaya,” Lincoln shouted from behind.

The woman Akna let out her full shriek and fell to her face.  The people behind her also gasped and shrieked, fell to their knees to join their parents, and quite a few of them scanned the skies for something unnamed.

Aapo swallowed before he spoke.  “The Serpent Queen.  The enemy of Tikal.  The thief from Ox Te Tuun, who stole the feathered dragon for Chiik Naab, to burn the great cities of Tikal.  Even the Yaknoom, ruler of the enemy city Calakmul of the three stones fears her…” Old man Aapo’s words petered off as he fell silent and got down on his face beside the old woman.

Lockhart frowned and turned to Katie.  “Translate?”

Katie shook her head.  “My knowledge of Mayan and Mesoamerican languages in general is very limited, but my guess would be mostly names.  Ox Te Tuun is probably a city name.  Chiik Naab might be a region, or maybe the area that city controls.”  She shrugged.

“Lincoln?”  Lockhart raised his voice without turning around.

Lincoln got out the database to be sure, but he already read about it, so he related what he remembered.  “Tikal and Calakmul are two great cities in the classical Mayan period.  They are competitors.  Think Athens and Sparta.  And like Athens and Sparta, they have different cultures and worldviews.  Tikal may have been conquered by a pre-Aztec people in the pre-classical era.  That may be the source of the feathered serpent or feathered dragon image.  They have a king.  Women are merely wives and concubines.  Very patriarchal.  Calakmul is more classic Mayan, some think.  They are the city of the snake—the Kan is the snake symbol.  The nobles are even called the divine lords of the snake.  I know.  The snake versus the serpent can be confusing.  Anyway, kings and queens tend to joint rule in Calakmul, though sometimes they have just a king, but women are more equal, and some even fight on the battlefield.”

“Get to the point,” Decker said.

“Mayan cities are independent city-states more or less like the Greeks used to be.  Tikal and Calakmul have a network of allied cities that they minimally control, for trade and military purposes.  Sometimes, cities switch sides.  It’s complicated.  But Calakmul and Tikal are the Athens and Sparta—the big players.  Yamaya was born in Palenque.  Her city got conquered by Calakmul when she was six.  She got forced married to the son of the king of Calakmul.  She actually became queen of Calakmul for about six years before her husband Cauak died in battle trying to take another city.  The younger brother, Chen took the crown, and drove Yamaya into the wilderness of Tikal.  The king of Tikal planned to cut her heart out—they all practice human sacrifice here—but she somehow set the feathered serpent of Tikal free from its cage, and they escaped back to the wilderness between the cities, ending up in a smaller city called Uaxactun, if I said that right.  Now, both the Athens and Sparta cities are afraid of her because she has some control over the serpent, that is, the dragon.”

Lockhart shook his head.  “This isn’t helping,” he said, and looked again at Katie who smiled.

“Quetzalcoatl,” she said, calling him by that name.  “Looks like the Kairos found a dragon, and she has both main cities scared of her.”  Katie smiled and noticed Aapo looked up and looked curious at the name.  Katie tried another name and pointed at Lockhart.  “Kukulkan.”

“Gukumatz,” Aapo said, nice and loud, and he almost smiled.  Most of the village looked up, and looked pleased, though the old woman shook her head, kept her face pointed toward the dirt, and continued to look scared.

Lockhart still frowned as Decker whispered, “I’m content with Lord of Africa.”  He went back to check on the wagon crew.

Lockhart sighed.  “Stand up, Aapo.  No one is going to eat you.”  Even as he spoke, the early morning sun broke free of the hills to bathe the travelers in the light.

Aapo stood slowly.  He watched, as Elder Stow pushed up on one side, and Boston, who finally got her horse to settle down, pushed up next to Katie.  Boston and Katie pulled out their amulets to compare.  They looked like pieces of driftwood, or maybe seashells, shaped like miniature conch shells of some sort.  Elder Stow spoke.

“My father.  I checked when our friend here mentioned a city on the other side of that mountain.  There appears to be a narrow path between here and the city, and from the city, something like a road appears to head north, the way we are headed.”  He looked over at Katie, and she nodded and pointed north.

“The highway,” Aapo pointed to the mountain.  It is the safe way between Kaminaljuyu and Tikal.”  Lockhart nodded as Sukki got down.  She found Alexis already headed toward the people.  They both ended up beside a nervous Aapo and reached down for the wife.

“Stand up, Akna,” Alexis said.  She and Sukki each took one arm of the old woman and lifted her to her feet.  The woman still would not look up, and backed up, bowing, until she got surrounded by her children, most of whom were standing again and watching.

“You can take us to Kaminaljuyu?” Katie asked.

“Show us the way?” Lockhart clarified.

“As the gods command,” Aapo said and bowed deeply.  Lockhart frowned again, but Lincoln spoke up from behind.

“Good.  We can start moving.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 5 of 6

“We all set?” Lockhart interrupted.  “Everybody clear on their assignments?”

People nodded, and Elder Stow touched the spot on his belt that made everyone invisible.  They could still see each other, but no one else would be able see them.  They all stood back and waited while Sukki went to the gate that had them locked in.  The gate got tied on the outside with a rope around a nail.  A simple but effective barrier.

Sukki stepped up and thought a minute.  She put her palms out to face the gate, and flat-handed the right and left sides.  The rope on her right puled the nail from the rock with it.  The hinge on the left busted completely, and the gate fell flat to the ground.  People silently indicated what a good job she did and how proud they were of her as they exited the cave.  The guards came in, wondering what happened, but they saw no one.

Elder Stow, Alexis, and Nanette walked to the horses, just outside the cave.  Boston, Sukki, and Tony ran ahead of them.  The horses stood in a small fenced off area, still saddled and ready to ride, with the bags and equipment still tied up.  Next to that area, a larger fenced in field easily held a hundred horses.  Twenty more horses, still ready to ride, got tied to the outside of the big fence, up near the hut.  Elder Stow figured they probably belonged to the men who rode into the camp with Chief Bobo—the servant of the Masters.

Boston, Sukki, and Tony found their own horses, and only startled them a little by being invisible.  Fortunately, the horses responded to the familiar voices, and did not mind the riders, as the three got right up and got ready to ride.

Elder Stow offered a thought when the other three got to the gate.  “The horses look untouched.  The locals probably got instructed not to touch anything until the chief showed up.”

“Either that, or they were afraid,” Nanette said.  “Who knows what they were told.”

“Or maybe the horses would not cooperate,” Alexis suggested.  “I imagine Chestnut would be wary of being touched by strangers.”

When the three at the gate opened up, Boston, Sukki, and Tony slipped an invisibility disc under the front of the saddle, and the horses disappeared.  Fortunately, the horses stayed calm, now being able to see their riders, who rode them through the gate, which Elder Stow and Nanette quickly closed.

Men ran around the camp.  They shouted and made an atmosphere of near panic.  Most looked for the travelers, but a group of five men came up to the fenced in area, and seeing horses still there, they relaxed.  They did not count the horses, and that made the travelers relax.  Elder Stow got the gate closed in time, before the five locals came to make sure it was still secure.

“Decker said, when they don’t find us in the camp, they will organize searches in the wilderness,” Nanette worried.  “They will especially search the road.”

“I am sure they will,” Alexis whispered back.  Elder Stow busied himself with his weapon.

Tony, Sukki, and Boston found the wagon off to the side of the fence.  Like the horses, it looked untouched, though Ghost had been taken from the harness.  The mule stayed by the wagon, a familiar anchor in a sea of strange men.  It quietly chewed on the grass and tried to ignore everyone.  Tony gave the wagon the once-over and checked the saddles and equipment in the back to be sure everything was there before he hitched up Ghost.  Ghost moved to the sound of Tony’s voice, who talked softly to him the whole time as he put him back in the harness.  Once secure, he attached a disc to the leather by Ghost’s shoulders.  Ghost went invisible.  The other two discs he carried got attached to the front and back end of the wagon to make it invisible as well.

Boston took the reins of Tony’s horse and started carefully down the hill.  Sukki pulled up alongside Ghost to help guide the animal, while Tony got up on the buckboard.  They wanted to get as far as they could before the locals discovered the wagon was missing.  They wanted to get off the direct line to the road in case some men grabbed the waiting horses and rushed to the road, searching for them.  Being invisible was a good thing, but it would not do to have horses slam into the back end of the invisible wagon.  Besides, they could still be heard.  The wagon was not exactly silent moving across the rough ground.

Boston led the way but stopped a second when she heard gunfire come from above.  They all looked.

Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln, and Decker went to find their weapons.  They rightly guessed the weapons got stored in the hut, away from the wind and rain.  They fully expected to find the chief of the Masters and his local leaders there, and imagined him to be examining the weapons and maybe describing the basics to his lieutenants.

The hut appeared quiet, even as the men in the camp began to run around and shout, but they did not burst in the front door.  They did not want to give themselves away, even being invisible.  They walked once around the hut to check for windows.  They found one window open out back by the cooking fires where women had a cow quartered and roasting.  Some of the women stirred cauldrons and others made flatbread.

“Okay,” Decker whispered.  “Now I’m hungry.”

The others looked inside.  The chief sat with four other men, examining the weapons that they laid out on a big table.  None of them touched the weapons except the chief, who turned a few over and mumbled.  The Travelers understood that the servant of the Masters had another lifetime in the far future, where the masters lived and instructed him.  There was no telling, however, how far in the future that lifetime might be.  He might not be familiar with something as primitive as guns—projectile weapons from the early twenty-first century.  He might have to examine them closely first, to understand how they worked and what they were capable of.

Lockhart spoke softly.  “Katie and Lincoln.  See if you can get inside by the window.  Decker and I will go back around to the front door.  I can see from here; the door has a simple rope latch.  It should not be too difficult to kick in.  Give me a peep on the watch when you are inside.”

They paused as the Chief spoke up.  “Go and see what all that noise is about,” he said, and sent one of the men out of the hut.

Katie nodded, and hurried, when Lincoln pointed, as if to say, ladies first.  Decker and Lockhart also hurried by the far side of the house, where the local horses were tied off.  They saw Alexis and Nanette walk up to start untying one horse after another.  They opted not to stop and ask what they had in mind.  Alexis waved.

“When I bust the door,” Decker said, quickly, volunteering to do the deed.  “You go right, and I’ll go left.”

Lockhart shrugged.  “Okay.”  He did this kind of thing plenty of times back when he served as military police, and then after he joined that Michigan police force.

Lincoln’s voice came through the watch communicator.  “Peep.”  He sounded like an electronic timer just went off.  Lockhart breathed not aware he had been holding his breath.  He worried they might make too much noise climbing through the window and be found out.  Lockhart saw men coming to the hut, but he did not have to say, hurry.  Decker did not give himself much of a running start.  The door gave little resistance.

Everyone inside the hut shouted at once.  Katie grabbed one man’s knife and stabbed him right in the middle.  Lincoln grabbed another man’s knife, but the man turned into the touch, so Lincoln stabbed the man’s arm.  The man fell but might survive.  The third man in the room jumped up.  Decker did not have time to look for weapons.  He grabbed the man from behind, slipped his arm around the man’s neck, and used his other hand to grab the man’s chin.  He snapped the man’s neck.

Lockhart went straight to the table.  He grabbed the closest handgun which went invisible as soon as he picked it up.  The Chief man grabbed a different handgun and began to look around.  He saw no assailants as he fired three random shots around the room.  Lockhart put three bullets in the man’s chest.

“Everyone okay?”  Lockhart asked.

“My shoulder,” Lincoln said.  “Just a scratch, but I think the man beside me is dead.”

“Should-a ducked,” Decker said, as he put on his gun belt and picked up his rifle.  He turned to the door while the others grabbed their things.  Men started running toward the hut.  Decker flipped his rifle to automatic and sprayed the crowd with bullets.  He put five on the ground, and the others scattered.

Lincoln grabbed Tony’s gun belt and Sukki’s belt that had only a knife, and they exited the hut as quickly as they could.  They caught up with Alexis and Nanette, who finished untying the local horses.  Elder Stow, floating about ten feet in the air, let his sonic device squeal.  The travelers tried not to object.  The local horses, already skittish because of the wild activity in the camp, scattered.  Elder Stow floated closer and got them into a good run.

When the others reached the pen that their horses were in, they found five men by the gate.  The men all lay on the ground, probably unconscious.  No one saw any burn holes in the men, so they assumed Elder Stow turned his weapon to the stun setting.

“Take Mudd.  I’ll catch up.”  Elder Stow spoke through his communication device.

Nanette, Alexis, and Katie used the last three invisibility discs on their horses. Lockhart’s, Lincoln’s, Decker’s, and Eder Stow’s horses would have to remain visible.  They did not wait, as Nanette took Mudd’s reins so the others could have their hands free for their weapons, and Alexis could pull her wand if needed.

The travelers stopped when they got down to the road.  There were men on the road, but they were all on foot.  The wagon had not been moved much further along.  Lockhart imagined the wagon being half-way to the exit of the pass, but Tony opted to pull the wagon off the road and a short way across the grass where it would not be heard moving, and not be seen as long as it remained invisible.

Katie looked back at the red and orange of the sunset.  The day was done.  It would be dark soon enough.  She thought, if they could get past the men walking the road, they might get away completely.  Decker spoiled that as he pulled up his rifle and single-shot one of the men.  Katie almost yelled, but they saw a sudden opening in the side of the hill, and some twenty dwarfs came pouring from the hill, axes swinging.  Men screamed.  About half of them got chopped up, but half ran right past the travelers, and did not look like they would stop running any time soon.

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 4 of 6

Lockhart studied the two armies as the travelers hurried to get out from between them.  “I can’t see any difference between the two groups,” he admitted.  “How do they know who to fight?”

“There are subtle differences,” Katie said.  “But they are both Huns.”  After a minute, she added, “I think the one on Elder Stow’s side is the bigger army.  Of course, that may not matter.  I haven’t seen this kind of battle, and the scholars describe how they think it worked but they really don’t know how it worked.  I can only guess.  The scholars mostly just report the winners and losers.”

After another minute, Boston said a bit too loud.  “What are they waiting for?”

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said, “But we better hurry and get out of the way.”  He hardly had to urge people to hurry.  Even Ghost, the mule, moved as quick as he could, the tension in the air being as thick as it was.

Finally, the travelers squirted out from between the two armies.  Still the armies waited, until the travelers were beyond harm’s way.  Then, all at once, with no discernable sign given, both armies charged each other across the road.  The travelers paused to watch.  It soon looked like a killing free-for-all.

“How do they decide who wins?” Lockhart asked the rhetorical question.

Decker shrugged.  “They will fight for a while, but they can’t keep it up at that level of intensity for long.  Shortly, one side will signal a withdraw, and the other side will also pull back.  They will rest for an hour, or maybe several hours before they form up and go at it again.  They will do this until sundown.  No one fights after dark.  Then one might sneak away in the dark, if they have lost too many men, or feel they are losing the battle.  If both still feel they can win, they will be right back at it at sunrise.”

“The thing is,” Katie said.  “If one side starts to withdraw, because maybe they are losing too many men and they need to regroup, if the other side is not ready to break, or maybe feel they are winning, the withdraw can become a full retreat, and in these days, retreat risks becoming a route, where it’s every man for himself.  In that case, the winning side will give chase, and they usually end up slaughtering the retreating army.”

Decker grunted.  “Unless the losing side escapes in the night under the cover of darkness, they will end up being slaughtered, retreat or no retreat.  Some commanders don’t know when to quit.  That can be a good thing, or really stupid, depending.”

“We need to move on,” Lockhart said.  They rode a little up into the pass before Lockhart called for them to get down and walk the horses.  That was when Katie shared a thought.

“I bet the two armies waited for us to get out of the way because the three witches on one side, and Elder Stow and Sukki on the other side put a real fear of God into them.  They waited until we were far enough away so we would not be caught up in the battle.”

Lockhart looked back at his group.  “I suppose that is very possible.”

###

In the afternoon, the travelers came to a narrow way in the pass.  Shale mountain cliffs pushed in, and the road narrowed.  They discussed stopping and building a camp before entering that strip.  Elder Stow had put away his scanner, but Lincoln had the relevant information in the database.

“The narrow spot is not that long.  It should open up again on the other side and we should be able to find a place to stop where we can watch, but not block the road.”

People went with Lincoln’s suggestion.  Ghost appeared to make it up to the high point without too much trouble, and as the saying suggested, it was all downhill from there.  The rest got down from their horses and planned to walk through, in case they came to a spot that got exceptionally narrow.

They got about half-way into the narrow place before men stood up and came out from behind the rocks.  The travelers found men in front and behind.  They became surrounded with spears.

“Don’t resist,” Lockhart ordered.

“Do they want us to pay the toll?” Lincoln asked. He read about that and may have mentioned it to the others a day ago.  He picked up a leather pouch in one of the villages they passed through and filled it with what he imagined was a generous number of coins.

The men said nothing.  They immediately began to strip the travelers of their weapons, including their gun belts. Decker was reluctant to let go of his rife, but he honestly had no choice.  When the men tried to grab the reigns of the horses, Alexis’ horse, Chestnut, and Boston’s horse, Strawberry, balked.  It took a minute to get them settled down.  Ghost refused to move at all.  Tony had to lead the mule by the nose, and he explained to the mule.

“We have to cooperate, or these men might make you into mule stew.”

They went to the end of the narrow place and got taken to a hut on the hillside near a shallow cave.  The travelers got pushed into the cave and a simple door got closed across the entrance.  Clearly, the cave had been used for sheep.  Katie pointed to the dry water trough, but the general smell of the place gave it away.

“I hope they take care of Cocoa,” Sukki said of her horse.

“I still have my things,” Elder Stow said.  “But what to do is the question.  There are about eight guards outside the door.”

“I have my wand and stuff in my slip,” Boston said.  “I haven’t done it much, but I could try going insubstantial enough to slip through the door and maybe check on the horses.”

“No,” Alexis said, firmly.

“Sukki could use some of her strength and break the door open,” Nanette was thinking.

“But then what?” Decker asked, and people quieted to think.

Katie finally asked, “Elder Stow, how many of those discs do you have where you can make us all invisible?”

“I have a whole pocket full of multi-purpose discs,” he answered.  “I just have to tune them to the invisible spectrum.”

“Do you have enough for all of us, our horses, Ghost and the wagon?” Alexis asked.

After a moment to calculate, Elder Stow shook his head, “No.”

“Maybe we should see what they want first,” Lockhart said, and people sat down to wait.  They waited for an hour while the sun started toward the horizon.

At last, they peered out between the gate railings and saw a small troop of something like soldiers arrive.  One man got down right away and marched with a swagger to the door.  The guards opened up, and he came inside with two rough looking men with swords drawn flanking him.

“So, these are the travelers,” he said.

“Are you charging a toll to let us move on?” Lincoln asked, and the man laughed in his face.

“Do you use money on Avalon?” he said.  “I never would have imagined that.”  He laughed again at his own thoughts.  “Besides, I have all your money, and everything else already, including all of your guns.”  He shook a finger at them.

“The Masters,” Katie said to identify the man.

“You have been noticed and interfered once too often.  I decided, instead of making more guns and powder for you to come along and blow up, I would just steal your guns.  After using you for target practice, we will make our guns, and model them after the ones you so graciously provided.”

“What do you hope to gain?” Katie asked.

The man paused to look over the travelers.  He did not seem to care if he told them or not.  “We sit at the center of the world between east and west.  The Alchon Huna already did me a favor by tearing down the Gupta in what you call India.  Now, after the Alchon Huna and the Nezak Huna beat themselves to exhaustion. we will move in.  I have men working on the Turks further north.  I expect they will join us for the riches they can gain.  We will invade Sassanid lands to break the back of the New Persians and reestablish the Kushan Empire.  Then we will cross the so-called Persian Gulf to Yemen and drive up the Hejaz to burn Mecca.  After that, only Constantinople far in the west and the Sui Dynasty far in the east will remain to pose a threat.”  He stopped talking and smiled.  “You get the idea.”

“Lord Bobo,” someone called from outside.

The swaggering man and his two guards left, and the gate got tied shut again.  Lockhart frowned and stuck his hand out.

“Elder Stow get out your discs,” he said.

“Boston.  You need to go invisible using one of Elder Stow’s discs, like the rest of us,” Alexis insisted.  “If you go elf invisible, we won’t be able to see you, and we will all need to keep in touch without having to talk.”

“That’s okay,” Boston said.  “Being elf invisible, as you call it, is still very draining.”

Alexis smiled for the girl.  “You’ll get used to it.  You know, being invisible and insubstantial at the same time is how the little spirits of the earth get around and do most of their work in the world.  You will get the hang of it.  Soon enough, it will become the most natural way to be.  Manifesting into a visible, physical form will feel awkward.”

“Not awkward,” Boston said.  “But like a second choice.  That’s what Roland told me.”  She flipped her emotions, as fairies and young elves do, from happy to sad in a blink.  “Roland said being physical still feels natural, and takes no effort, even if it is second choice.”  Boston let a tear fall.  “I miss Roland.”

Alexis gave her a hug.  “I miss my brother, too.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 2 of 6

Two men rode across the stream to confront the two travelers standing by the wagon.  They did not know one of the two by the wagon was a woman until they got close.  It got hard to see distance well in the failing light.  When they got down from their mounts and approached, they appeared surprised.  The man looked like a giant, and the woman, which they then noticed was a woman, looked as tall as them, and she had yellow hair.  Not what they expected.

“Hello friends,” Lockhart said, giving it his friendliest voice.  “This is a good place to rest if you plan to spend the night.  The water is fresh and clean, the grass is soft, and it does not look like rain tonight.”

The two made no response, so Katie added a thought.

“We would invite you to supper, but we only have one sheep, which is not nearly enough for your whole company.”

One man spoke.  “You are from Sogdiana?  You are Scythian?” he guessed.

The other man interrupted.  “You are merchants?”

“We are simple travelers from far away in the west,” Lockhart began.

“Beyond Persia.  Beyond Rome.” Katie added.

“I have herd of this Rome,” the first man admitted.

“You are Huna?” Katie asked.

“We are not Xwn scum.”  The man spat like Decker.  “My great-grandfather left the Kaghanate to seek out new pastures for our many people.  He crushed the Wusun and overran Sogdiana.  He fought the numberless Scythians before my father followed the Hephthalites into this land.  We drove many ahead of us and destroyed the last of the Great Yuezhi.  This land is good, but our people are many, so we seek to extend our pastures.  The Xionite people that came here ahead of us will serve us, and our name will be great in all the earth.”

“Turkic people, perhaps Shahi,” Katie identified the speaker.  “Tony will be glad to know that the Turks are already on the move at this early date.”

Elder Stow turned on his lantern, much stronger than the human lanterns that the travelers had and mostly left in their luggage.  It caught some twenty horsemen ready to cross the stream, down some distance where they no doubt thought they would not be seen.  Decker’s voice came through the watch communicators.

“We got enemy trying to circle around and get on our flank.  I would hate to have to kill them all.”

“Hopefully, they will have the good sense to return to their own camp now that they are seen.  Wait for instructions.  Out.” Lockhart responded.

“Did we mention the sorcerer in our camp?” Kate said, kindly.

“Who?” Lockhart asked.

“Elder Stow,” Katie answered, sharply.  “His gadgets are near enough to sorcery in this age.”

“Oh,” Lockhart got it.  “And the two witches.”

“What about Boston?” Katie asked.

“She is an elf,” Lockhart explained.  “That is different.  But what do we call Sukki?”

Katie huffed.  “I swear, Vrya and Ishtar made her practically a demi-god.”

Lockhart looked up.  The two Turks had mounted and were riding back to their camp without asking any more questions.  When Lockhart and Katie rejoined the group, Elder Stow spoke.

“My mother and father,” he said, referring to Katie and Lockhart as the mother and father of the group.  “I cannot set the screens against intruders tonight, but I have scanned the visitors and have their signatures.  I can set an alarm in the night in case any are tempted to come to our camp in the dark, even as I did back when my batteries needed charging, back before the god Vulcan made a cell charger for my equipment.”

“That would be good, but standard watch as well.”  No one complained.  It was their routine.  Tony and Nanette, new to this traveling business, watched from six, about sundown, to nine.  Lincoln and Alexis took the nine to midnight shift.  Lockhart and Katie watched in the middle, from midnight to three in the morning.  Decker, the no nonsense marine, and Elder Stow with his scanner took the dark of the night between three and six in the morning.  And Boston with Sukki watched from six through sunrise, until about nine, when everyone was up for the day and ready to travel.

Normally, the travelers did not expect visitors in the night.  People never used to travel in the dark, especially in the wilderness.  It was too dangerous.  But that night, around three in the morning, three Turks tried to climb over the rocks that sheltered the horses.  Elder Stow happened to be up when his scanner beeped.  He cut the sound right away, and while Decker woke the others, Elder Stow watched the men carefully with his scanner.

Lockhart, Decker, Lincoln, and Katie got their Patton sabers and waited.  They figured the Turks would not know what guns were so they would not be a good choice.  When the three would-be thieves dropped to the ground, they got surrounded.  Sukki held her knife, while Boston and Alexis held their wands.  One thief tried to move, and Alexis raised a wind that slammed all three back into the rock.  One hit rather hard and fell to his knees.

“Not smart,” Lockhart said.

One man, fast as a gunslinger, threw a knife at Elder Stow who just happened to walk up at that moment.  No doubt he thought the older man had to be the one in charge.  The knife bounced off Elder Stows personal screens, the one built into his belt that conformed to his body and moved with him but could not be expanded to cover more than one person.  Sukki momentarily looked afraid, before she got mad.  She grabbed the knife, bent it until it cracked.  She handed it back.

“You dropped this.”

The Turks made no more moves, and the two still standing decided to fall to their knees to join their companion.  Regret showed on at least two of those three faces.

“Get naked,” Lockhart said.  The Turks did not move.  “You heard me.  Get undressed.”  The Turks stood and slowly stripped down to their under things.  “I meant all of it,” Lockhart commanded.  He tapped one on the shoulder with the flat of his sword.  “Or I could cut it off you, but I can’t guarantee I won’t cut your flesh with it.”  The men finished undressing.  “Lincoln and Alexis, will you stack these things over on the rock at the end of the horse rope?  Yes, there.  You three, move.”

The three naked men walked to where the wagon was parked.  “Okay,” Katie said, having figured it out.  “You can walk back to your camp and give a message to your chief.”

“What message?” one found the courage to ask.

“You are the message,” Lockhart said.

“Git,” Boston raised her voice and waved her wand.  Three sparks, like electricity, zapped three naked butts.  All three men hopped and shrieked in surprise.  They hurried, but soon enough slowed down to a walk, while Elder Stow walked up holding his scanner.

“I will watch them,” he said.  “You all can go back to bed.”

Decker turned to Lockhart before Lockhart walked off.  “Better idea than what I had in mind,” he said, but he never did explain what he had in mind.

At five in the morning, about thirty minutes before sunrise, the Turks headed back up the stream from whence they came.  When the travelers got up and had their typical leftover breakfast, they packed up and started out.  They left the Turkic clothes and weapons on the rock, in case three naked men wanted to come back for their stuff.

###

The next day, the travelers avoided a few villages.  They stayed on track for the Khyber Pass which they knew was the way into India. The trail, which Katie imagined was what remained of the Silk Road, seemed good in some places, but not so good in others.  Tony, being from 1905 where he grew up driving mules and wagons, drove most of the way, and said he did not mind.  Sometimes Nanette or Sukki rode with him in the wagon.

Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings as they traveled.  They reported no problems and no more dusty columns in the distance.  Boston stayed out front, her elf senses on alert just in case.

That night, Lincoln got to read some about Sanyas, the ninety-eighth lifetime of the Kairos, the one who lived in this time zone.  “It says she got engaged at age three.  Her father, Yashodharman, if I said that right, was king of Malwa.  Aulikara Dynasty.  He died when she turned three, but he managed to engage her to Brahmagupta, a son of the King of Magadha’s younger brother.  They married when Sanyas came of age, which… it doesn’t say.  We can assume when she turned sixteen or so.”

“Wait,” Boston interrupted, which was good because she did not always pay attention.  “I thought we figured the time gate would be round Malwa.  They can’t be living there.”

“No.  And they are not living in Magadha, either.  They got sent to the frontier to defend against the Huns—the Alchon Huns that previously overran most of northeast India.  They got driven out before Sanyas was born, but they continue to raid.  So, the couple got sent to help defend the border, so to speak.  Sanyas’ older half-sister is Yashomati.  She is queen of Thanesar, married to King Prabhakaravardhana… That does it.  I can’t pronounce all these names.”

Alexis laughed.  “It does sound a bit like a poorly written piece of science fiction.”

Lincoln nodded, but Lockhart said, “I wouldn’t know about that.  I don’t read science fiction.”

“The thing is,” Lincoln continued.  “Thanesar is closer to Melwas, considering where we came into this time zone.  That means, she must presently be closer to us, doing what?  I have no idea.”

“Sanyas,” Sukki repeated the name.

“Actually,” Lincoln said, “Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi is what she is sometimes called.”

“I miss Devi,” Boston said.  “Our friend in India,” she explained to Nanette and Tony.  “And Varuna was very nice, too.”

“Devi is the word for goddess,” Katie said.  “The Kairos sometimes gets pegged by that sort of thing.”

“Really?” Lockhart joked, before he said, “No surprise there.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 1 of 6

After 542 A.D. The Khyber Pass

Kairos lifetime 98: Sanyas, the Queen’s half-sister

Recording …

The campfire sent sparks into the cloudless sky while the sun slid behind the mountains.  The travelers would have another hour of daylight in the hills between the peaks, but the valley would be bathed in twilight before nightfall.  They had enough light for Alexis to finish cooking the sheep, or goat, or whatever animal it was that Decker shot.  Katie called it a Marco Polo sheep, but Lincoln looked it up and called it a mouflon.

“Afghanistan,” Lieutenant Colonel Decker said, and spat into the fire.  The seal-trained marine stared at the mountains.  “I recognize that ridge.  We are northeast of Kabul.”  No one doubted he did a tour in Afghanistan, and probably a couple of tours back when he was Captain Decker, special forces.

Nanette, who knew nothing about fighting in Afghanistan having fallen back in time from 1905, gently slapped Decker’s knee.  She loved the man.  She could not help it.  Aphrodite herself brought the two of them together as a last act before the dissolution of the gods some five hundred and seventy years ago, as Lincoln estimated things.  But she was trying to break his habit of spitting when he got his hands on some jerky to chew.  Spitting was not on her approved list of activities for a future husband.

“No spitting in the fire,” Alexis scolded the man.  She kissed her husband, Lincoln, who looked lost, reading in the database he carried.  It had all the relevant information on the time zones they traveled through as they slowly made their way back to the twenty-first century.  She basted the sheep-goat with some concoction of her own making and considered their predicament.  She was an elf who became human to marry Lincoln.  Her father could not handle that.  He feared she would grow old and die right before his eyes, so he kidnapped her and dragged her back to the time of her supposed happy childhood.  He tried to convince her to seek the Kairos and ask to be made an elf again so she could live her more reasonable thousand years and die well after he was gone.

Alexis looked at Lincoln.  The marriage would not have worked the other way around.  Benjamin would have made a lousy elf.

She basted and thought about when her father knew he got caught and would be in trouble.  He dragged her to the very beginning of history and pushed her into the chaotic void before human history began, hoping to get beyond the reach of those following.  All he did was screw things up.  The Kairos, the Storyteller, had to offer himself to the void in exchange for her.  Now, he is lost, and everything on Avalon is confused, and the time-connection between the many lives of the Kairos are out of sync…

“And we are stuck going from time zone to time zone, from one lifetime of the Kairos to the next, and it is a long way back to the twenty-first century,” she whispered to herself.  Of course, Boston heard with her elf ears.

“I don’t mind,” she said, as she pulled back her red hair into a ponytail.  “This way I get to see every life of the Kairos and love and hug every one that lived before my time.”  Boston pulled out the amulet that showed the way between time gates.  No doubt she wanted to check her direction for the morning.  After a moment, she moved to sit beside Lincoln so she could check her direction against the map in the database for that time zone.

Alexis sighed.  Her father disappeared, and likely died on their journey.  If so, at least he died before her.  Sadly, her baby brother Roland also vanished and is presumed dead, though don’t tell Boston that.  Boston went the opposite way Alexis went.  Boston was born human, though a wild child.  Lockhart called her a Massachusetts redneck.  She rode in rodeos, and hunted, including bear once in Canada, and grew up with brothers.  She was also a bit of a genius, getting her doctorate in electrical engineering by the time she turned twenty-three.  She already thought and acted pretty much like an elf before the Kairos agreed to make her an elf so she could marry Roland.  It felt doubly wrong when Roland vanished.

Alexis sighed and sat on the other side of Lincoln.  “What?” Boston asked and stuck her red head right between Lincoln’s face and the database.

“Nothing,” Alexis said.  It was better not to bring up Roland.  She changed her thoughts.  “I wonder how Elder Stow is coming along in fixing his screen device.  It has come in handy in the past.”

“Yeah,” Boston agreed and turned to nudge Sukki.  “How’s it going?”

Alexis considered Elder Stow, the Gott-Druk—the Neanderthal that traveled with them.  She remembered at the time of the flood, the Gott-Druk were given space flight, a great leap forward for a people who were just beginning to work in copper and bronze.  It seemed the only way at the time that the gods could save them from the global catastrophe.  That was maybe fourteen or fifteen thousand years before Christ.  Over those thousands of years, the Gott-Druk made the expected technological progress.  Elder Stow came from the same future as the rest of the travelers, other than Tony and Nanette, but he had all sorts of technological wonders on his person. He called them toys—mere trinkets such as a ship’s officer might carry.

Boston nudged Sukki again.  “Hey, Amazing Woman.  Earth to Sukki.”

Sukki turned her head.  “I think he has almost got it,” she said.  “Hush.”

Alexis thought how Sukki used to be a Gott-Druk, a very family-oriented people.  She came from those fourteen thousand years in the past, but spent all those millennia in suspended animation, or cryogenic sleep, or whatever it was called.  They found her about thirty time-zones ago, which was about two years ago, travel time.  Though Elder Stow agreed to adopt her as a daughter, she swore she never felt comfortable, being a Gott-Druk as part of a Homo Sapiens family.  She finally prevailed on the Kairos to make her human, as she said.  He—at that time the Kairos was a man—got a number of goddesses to do that, but the goddesses got a bit carried away.  They empowered Sukki like some sort of comic book superhero, and Boston wanted to give her a comic book name.

“Not Amazing Woman,” Alexis said, and Nanette agreed.  Alexis remembered that Athena at least gave Sukki a fundamental understanding of physics and astrophysics, so she could understand when Elder Stow and Boston got lost in all their technical jargon.

Katie and Lockhart stood.

“Where are you going?” Alexis asked. “Food is almost ready.”

“Just checking on Tony,” Katie said.

“Her elect senses are acting up,” Lockhart added, as they walked to where the horses were grazing.  Tony was there, brushing Ghost, the mule that pulled their pioneer wagon, sent with the horses back from the 1870s.  Tony had his eyes on the horizon, and Ghost kept nudging him for more attention.  Ghost turned out to be a big baby.

Lockhart said nothing.  As the Assistant Director of the Men in Black, he was the one charged with leading this unexpected expedition back to the future.  As a former police officer, though, he learned to wait until others revealed what was on their minds.  He doubly learned that lesson on this trip.  Charged with making the hard decisions, he learned to listen closely to the input of others.  He especially listened to his wife, and not necessarily just because she was his wife.

Major Katherine Harper-Lockhart, besides being a marine, and a doctor in ancient and medieval technologies and cultures, she was also an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, who was faster, stronger, more agile, more capable in combat and tactics than most men.  She had a very refined intuition that could sense an enemy or danger to her home and family when the enemy was miles away.

“I’ve got that Rome feeling,” Katie said, and explained for Tony who had not been with them at the time.  “When we came into Italy shortly before Rome got founded, we found all the Latin and other tribes hating and fighting each other.  They all assumed we belonged to a different group, since we were strangers, so they wanted to fight us, too.”

Lockhart pointed up.  Something moved through the sky.  An alien ship of some sort.  It came overhead but did not stop.  Suddenly, it shot off to the east and quickly disappeared from sight.  “Our direction,” Lockhart said.  “Something to look forward to.”

Katie frowned but turned their attention back to the immediate problem.  Tony just pointed.  They saw the dust being kicked up in the distance.

“How many?” Lockhart asked.  Tony shrugged, but Katie paused to concentrate.

“About a hundred,” she said.

“Let’s get the horses in for the night.” Lockhart called for his horse.  “Seahorse!”  The horse looked up, but shook its head and stomped its foot like a child not ready to come in.  Katie’s horse, Bay, came right up.

“Like a faithful puppy,” she said, and doted on the horse.

The travelers camped in a rock hollow on the side of a hill, not far from the stream in the valley.  They stretched out Decker’s rope and had enough room to tie the horses and Ghost for the night, plus room for their tents and a fire.  They had to leave their wagon outside the entrance from the stream-fed meadow, but otherwise, they felt secure in what Katie called a good defensive position.  Katie, with her rifle, and Lockhart, with his shotgun cradled in his arms waited out by the wagon.  The others looked over the top of the rocks.

“I sense nomads, a scouting party, well prepared to fight, if necessary,” Katie said.  “I don’t sense it is a war party.”

“Tony said they are probably Huna people, though they might be Turks,” Lockhart responded.  Tony was a graduate student in antiquities in 1905 and might have been expected to know things like that.  Of course, Katie had her doctorate, so Lockhart asked, “Huna?”

“Huns,” she said.

“Great,” Lockhart said, sounding like Lincoln when he got sarcastic.  All he could picture was Attila and a hundred warriors coming to do a clean sweep of the area.  “You know, for people who are trying to not disturb history, we use these guns far too often.”

Katie could only nod as the Huns or possibly Turks stopped on the other side of the stream.

M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 2 of 3

Charles built his permanent army around his veterans, but then he had to pay them so they could support their wives and children, most of whom moved to Reims, so they could be there where the army quartered for the cold months.  Charles also worked his men sometimes in the cold months.  He knew what was coming, and in 732 it came.  Europe and even Rome trembled, but Charles felt vindicated.  The only thing he did not guess correctly was, instead of coming out of Septimania, the Muslims brought their massive army right over the Pyrenees from Iberia.

In March of 732, Margueritte got a letter from Duke Odo, and another from Hunald, even as they were appealing to Charles for help.  “Here is the way it went,” Margueritte said over supper.  “The old duke, and he must be well into his seventies at this point, he made an alliance with one Uthman ibn Naissa, a Berber ruler in Catalunya.  He feared the Muslims, that they would try again, and at his age he did not imagine he had the strength to fight them off again.”

“I am understanding something about age these days,” Peppin said quietly

“But he won the battle of Toulouse.” Walaric said, while Tomberlain and Owien sat silent to listen.

“Handily,” Wulfram added.

“But there were circumstances, like the Muslim commander got lazy and did not set a good watch during the siege, and Duke Odo came on them unprepared, and took them by surprise.  He cut them down before they could mobilize their cavalry, and the odds of all that working a second time in his favor are like none.  But according to Hunald, Duke Odo thought an alliance with the rebellious Berber would put another friendly land between himself and the Emir of Al-Andalus.  Apparently, Odo gave his daughter Lampagia to the Berber as a bride.”

“You mean a bribe,” Margo said quietly, and Margueritte nodded.

“But it all came down in 731, last summer,” she continued.  “Charles came out of Bavaria to march up to face the troubles in Saxony, but Odo did not know that.  He feared Charles would attack him for making the alliance.  The agreement with Charles was Odo could rule in Aquitaine, but he would defer to Charles on dealing with any outsiders.  So Odo kept his army at home while Charles marched through Burgundy, up along his border.

“Meanwhile, the Wali of Cordoba…  Wali is like a governor-general, like the Romans used to have a Magister Millitum for a province.  The Wali, a man named Abu Said Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al ‘Aki Al Ghafiqi, brought his first line troops against the Berber.”

“There’s a mouthful of a name,” Elsbeth said.

“Worse than a name for a Beanie,” Jennifer interjected.

Margueritte nodded.  “And it seems the Berber, without help from Odo, got killed.  Hunald says his sister probably got sent to some harem in Damascus.  But now Odo is between Charles and the Muslims, the old rock and the hard place, and he doesn’t know what to do.  And now the Muslims have an excuse to cross the Pyrenees and take Odo’s land, and the Duke does not see any way to stop them.  Hunald says Abdul Rahman brought his army over the mountains, in early February, and he fears the Vascons will not resist, and Abdul Rahman will overrun Tolouse this time, and they won’t be able to escape.”

Margueritte stood and put down her papers, while Owien asked the operative question.  “What can we do?”

“Go home and train your young men, as planned.  Tomberlain has the Sarthe area.  Peppin has the Mayenne.  Owien, you have the Mauges, south of Angers, south of the Loire, while Wulfram has the north and east, between the rivers and Baugeois.  Walaric, I want you here in Pouance and to work with Captain Lothar on all the men from Segre and Haut.  I will write to Count Michael and Count duBois to be sure they are ready.  We follow Charles.  We have to wait and see what Odo and this Abdul Rahman do.  But be prepared to come on short notice.  No one under eighteen, and no first-year students, but you will need to bring as many as you can, footmen as well as horsemen.”

“Where?”  Tomberlain asked.

Margueritte thought a minute.  “Tours,” she said.  “We will all pay Amager a visit.  From Tours, we can head wherever we need to go in Aquitaine, and we can see what men he might add to our numbers.”

###

It became a warm June before Margueritte got another letter from Aquitaine.  Odo got badly defeated around Bordeaux, and now the city was under siege.  Margueritte sat down and wrote to Charles, who stayed in Reims.  What was he waiting for?  Odo would not be able to fend off Abdul Rahman by himself.  It became a scolding letter, and she would have to think about it before she sent it.  She went for a ride.  Concord had gotten old, at eleven years.  A ride for him became more like a walk.  Calista rode with her, but no one else bothered them.  They went out into the Vergen forest, on one of those trails Festuscato marked out years earlier.  This one came near the main road to Vergenville, and Margueritte eventually turned her horse to the road.

“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted.

“I don’t know if you have to do anything,” Calista said.  “Of course, I don’t know how humans work, exactly.  I know what you have told me about Islam, and it sounds terrible and dangerous, but I have heard from some of your little ones living in Iberia, and they say it isn’t so bad.  Of course, that is from an elf perspective.  I don’t know how humans work, exactly.”

“You said that,” Margueritte sighed and she saw Calista whip out her bow.  An arrow from some foe hidden among the trees struck Margueritte in the side, and she had to cling to her horse.

“Quickly,” Calista helped get the horses off the road and helped Margueritte get down and sit, leaning against a tree.  Calista fired an arrow, and quickly fired two more, and Margueritte had a stray thought.

“Poor Melanie.  You are going to get ahead of her.”

“No, Lady.  She got six Saxons and two Thuringians back east.  I am still six behind.”

“Wait six and two is eight.”

“Yes, Lady,” Calista let loose an arrow and announced, “Five to go.”

The arrows trying to get at them stopped, and a half-dozen Saracens charged.

“Hammerhead,” Margueritte yelled the name that came to mind, even as she once yelled the same name close to that very place, so many years ago.  The ogre came, and so did Birch, Larchmont and Yellow Leaf.  Only Luckless and Grimly were missing, but they had duties to attend back in the castle.

The Saracens did not last long.  This time, one made it back to his horse to ride off, but Larchmont and Yellow Leaf went after him, so he did not get far.  Fairies can fly much faster than any horse can run.

Calista complained.  “Thanks.  Melanie is still three ahead of me.”

Margueritte tried not to laugh.  It hurt too much.

“Lady.”  Hammerhead picked her up, gently, and Margueritte tried not to throw-up from the smell.  She closed her eyes and thought about flowers while Hammerhead carried her to the Breton gate.  The guards on duty balked at letting in the ogre, but they knew Birch, and Margueritte, of course, in the ogre’s arms.  They also knew Calista and the two horses she brought that shied away from the ogre.

“Open up, and be quick,” Birch said.  He stood in his big form and looked like a true Lord.  They opened but kept well back as Hammerhead brought Margueritte to the house.  He laid Margueritte down and backed off so men could carry her inside.  Hammerhead remembered he was not allowed in the house, so he sat by the oak sapling and the bench and waited.

Elsbeth and Tomberlain held Margueritte’s hands and called for Doctor Pincher.  He came and scooted everyone from the room, but let Jennifer stay.  Margueritte lost a lot of blood, but he said she should recover.

“It will be a few weeks in bed and several more of low activity.  We will have to watch to be sure she does not get it infected.  Keep it clean and clean cloths,” he said, and Jennifer said not to worry.

After those three weeks, as Margueritte first stood and thought about trying to go downstairs, Roland came roaring into the castle with twenty men on horseback.  They were all older men, traditional horsemen, Childemund among them, but they had all seen the lancers fight the Saxons and Thuringians, and they were anxious to get their hands on such weapons.

Roland held Margueritte and carried her down the stairs.  He became so cute and attentive, Margueritte almost got tempted to stay injured for a while.  Soon enough, though, she was able to sit for supper in the Great Hall, and she spoke from the end seat, where her father used to sit.  She wanted Roland to take the end seat, but he would not hear it.  He took her mother’s old seat so he could cut her meat, if she needed his help.

Jennifer sat on Margueritte’s left, opposite Roland and next to Tomberlain and Margo.  Owien and Elsbeth sat next to Roland.  Margo kept Walaric’s wife, Alpaida next to her.  Alpaida was still not entirely comfortable with the fairies, elves, gnomes, and dwarfs that occasionally popped up around the castle, though she had no complaints about Lolly’s cooking.  Walaric sat next to his wife, and Wulfram sat beside him.  On the other side, Childemund sat next to Elsbeth and Sir Peppin, and Captain Lothar sat across from Wulfram.

Tomberlain stood and toasted his family, and he counted everyone at the table like family because they had become that close.  Then Margueritte asked a question that started everything.

“What is Charles playing at?  He knows he has to come out and fight while there is time.  Odo cannot do it alone.  He should have gotten the message from Bordeaux.”

“He wants Odo taken down some before moving.  And I agree, it is a dangerous game.  Odo may lose entirely, and Abdul Rahman may be emboldened by the victory.”

“We will be ready,” Owien said.

“But we fight for Charles,” Tomberlain reminded him.  “Right now, we have to wait until he calls.”

“He may be waiting for winter,” Wulfram suggested from the far end of the table.  “These Saracens are used to the hot weather.  I was thinking they have not experienced the kinds of winters we have.”

“I just hope he does not wait too long,” Peppin said, and he nudged Childemund who looked up with a dumb look on his face.

“What?  I’m just enjoying this apple pie that Lady Elsbeth did not make.  I am attacking it, and the pie is going to lose.”