M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 3 of 3

It did not take long before they began to pass people—the huts of the workers.  Women were fixing the leaks while children ran amok. A group of children ran and played alongside the train for a while, but they gave it up when the travelers came to a hill.  The house of Ingut stood on the high ground, but when they reached it, it hardly looked like the house of a prosperous and successful man.  In fact, it hardly looked different than the huts of the workers.

The old man sat outside on the front stoop, whittling with a wicked looking knife, and having a rather wicked look on his face.  That he had been there most of the night seemed evident from the number of wood chips piled around.

Luckless got down, and the old man did not even bat an eye in the face of the dwarf. Vingevourt raised the man’s brows a little, but he knew and respected the sprite, even if he did not particularly like him.  It seemed hard to say exactly what their relationship might be.  It also seemed hard to say what he thought Mousden might be. He batted at the Pixie like Mousden was a giant insect or bat until Mousden confronted him, face to face.  The man blinked and took a step back.  Seamus came up, having fallen to the back of the pack, and Mirowen slipped off the back of the beast and stepped straight for the door.  At this, the old man took a big step out of the way, and bowed.  He might not care for Dwarfs, or Vingevourt, or giant insects, but he knew a light elf when he saw one.

Bran, Gregor and Hrugen kept a wary eye on the workers who appeared at the top of the hill. Mirowen opened the door, followed by Seamus, Luckless, Vingevourt, and Mousden.  Festuscato still lay in bed with Inga, and though covered, it was evident that both were stark naked.  Inga let out a little embarrassed peep and covered herself further.  Festuscato put down his plate.

“I can’t eat another bite,” he said.  His clothes were dry, but he could hardly stand naked in front of the ones staring, open-mouthed.  He let his heart and spirit reach out to his place, the place of the Kairos, the island that stayed forever in the Second Heavens.  He caught hold of his armor, the chain and leather which had been the gift of Hephaestus, and the elf spun cloth that shaped itself to whatever life he was living.  In an instant, he became clothed in that glorious armor and stood, even as Mirowen spoke.

“He is only human, after all,” she said, meaning it as a simple fact and not entirely as an insult.  All the little ones bowed, to Ingut’s surprise.  Ingut had been watching from the doorway.  He pushed his way into the room and stepped up to Festuscato with a most curious expression.  He held one hand over one of Festuscato’s eyes.  Perhaps Gregor had given him the idea.

Festuscato shook his head, hid his left hand behind his back and pointed to his wrist as if his arm ended there.  Ingut’s eyes got wide as he imagined which god Festuscato might be, until Festuscato revealed his hand with a broad grin.  Then Ingut guessed.  He spat.

“Loki,” he said.

“Loki!?” Festuscato felt insulted, while Mirowen giggled.

“Who is Loki?” Seamus asked.

“Trickster,” Luckless said.  “Not a nice fellow, I understand.”

“He wasn’t,” Vingevourt said, as he pushed himself forward while Ingut stepped back. Vingevourt fell to his wobbly knees and begged forgiveness for his inaction and innocence in not knowing who was aboard the fateful ship.  He said the whole little speech in the language of Jutland, reverting from the British without thinking; but Festuscato understood it all, though he did not speak the tongue of the Jutes, because he heard it in the heart.

“Do not worry, great king,” he said, and resisted the urge to kneel which would have insulted the little one.  “You have no power over the storms, and I did not call out for help.  Perhaps it was my time to die.”  Festuscato had to pause on that thought.  “You never know.”

“All the same,” Vingevourt began, but Festuscato cut him off.

“Will you travel with us for a time?” he asked.

“I will,” Vingevourt said, without hesitation.  “But where are we going?” he asked.

“Thorengard.” Ingut said.  He had been listening in.  “Yut-heim.  Thorengard.”

Festuscato looked at his host and lifesaver.  He pulled a big ruby ring from his finger and gave it to the man.  “Would you tell him thanks for saving my life.”  Vingevourt hesitated.  Mirowen told him.  Ingut looked at Festuscato with some shrewdness in his eyes.

“And where is Yut-Heim?”  Festuscato asked.  Mirowen asked Ingut and then translated the response.  “In Thorengard.”  She shrugged.

Ingut stepped outside and began to bellow orders to the gathered crowd like a man accustomed to being obeyed.  Some of the men peeled away and came back in a very short time with two saddled horses and some bread, cheese, some smoked fish and watered down mead.  Bran, Gregor, Hrugen, Seamus and the little ones had little time to eat, however.  Ingut said something to Festuscato who had come outside with the others while Inga dressed.

Vingevourt translated this time.  “He says he assumes this is your horse he found wandering down by the beach.” Festuscato looked and nodded.  He mounted as Inga came running out of the house, calling his name.  He leaned over and gave her a long kiss and lifted her gently off the ground to do it, but then he set her down.

“Thorengard?” he asked.  Ingut pointed, and Festuscato started out without waiting for the others.

“But I’m not finished eating,” Luckless complained.

“So what else is new?”  Gregor said and nudged the dwarf as he got back on his horse to follow.  Fortunately, Vingevourt had run back to the sea as fast as the gingerbread man could run.  He promised he would be waiting for them in the city.

“For a small one, you eat more than anyone I’ve ever known,” Seamus said to the dwarf.

“High metabolism,” Festuscato shouted back.

“I’ll explain,” Mirowen promised, as she took her place behind the cleric.

“But I’m not done!”  Luckless shouted and realized he was last.  He grabbed as much bread and cheese as he could carry and climbed up on his pony.  “Wait up!” He kicked the animal to a trot and cursed for dropping half his booty.

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

MONDAY

The Jutes.  Ingut, the ship builder, takes Festuscato and his crew to the Jute capital to meet the king.  No telling what kind of reception they might get.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 1 of 3

It did not take long for Mousden to have the driest wood he could find stacked in a neat pile. Unfortunately, no one could get it started until Luckless came along from the opposite direction.  Dwarfs can nearly always get a fire started.

“Unless I’ve lost my tinder, too,” Luckless grumbled.  He had not, and in a moment, the flames rose with the sun.  The rain was over.  “I see you saved your books,” he added, with a nod to Seamus.

“It was Bran,” Seamus explained.  “We were able to stay aboard ship until there was nearly enough light to see.  The pounding of the waves made the ship lean more and more terribly to the weak side, where the hole was.”

“List,” Hrugen interrupted.  “Ships list, they don’t lean.  I don’t know why.”

“Yes, well, all that time, Bran kept tearing up boards and lashing them together with what rope he could find.  In the end, he said we were in danger of turning over altogether and he dropped the raft on the side closest to the water.  I got down with the books and Bran dove in and hauled the raft free of the ship, which by the way did turn over shortly after we escaped.  We came to shore, and it was a miracle the books are not more soaked.”

“Common sense.” That was all Bran called it.

“I don’t suppose you saw my tools?” Luckless asked.  The poor dwarf was still wringing buckets of water from his clothing. Dwarfs were not good swimmers in calm water.  Their legs and arms were too short.  They had a tendency to sink like stones.  The others all shook their heads, but Seamus turned and pointed to the sea.

“You’re welcome to take a look,” he said.  “The ship is not very far out.”  He pointed, and sure enough they could see the hull just above the water line in the distance.  It could not entirely sink, being grounded there on the rocks, but in time it would be broken to pieces by the relentless sea and become driftwood for someone else’s fire.

Luckless warmed his hands.  “What’s the point?” he asked.  “All is lost and it is all my fault.  If I hadn’t come along, you would have had clear sailing to the Danish coast where the Lord wanted to land.  I’m such a jinx.”

“No.” Everyone spoke together, but Luckless felt convinced.  The only reason they hit that storm had to be because he was a jinx, and he lost his precious tools as well, the last gift of his father, and now he would just sink into the rock until he was no more.  He felt miserable and he would not be talked out of it.

A couple of hours later, they caught sight of Mirowen.  They were hungry and just about to give up waiting and go in search of food, when she appeared, meandering sweetly down the coast.  She looked perfectly dry, her long black hair flowed in the light breeze, every hair in place, and her dress looked like it had just been cleaned and pressed.  By contrast, the men looked disheveled in their muddy, damp and wrinkled clothes. Hrugen’s blond head looked brown from the mud.

Gregor one eye was the first to notice that she was talking while she walked.  “I can’t hardly make out what it is, though, she is talking to,” he said.

Luckless squinted. His eyes in the day were barely better than Mousden’s.  “Water sprite.  I think.” He did not sound sure.

“Be back.” Mousden announced and flew off to greet the Lady.

Mirowen arrived with not one, but a whole train of water sprites in her trail.  They were true little ones, from eight to twelve inches tall and looked like a gelatinous mass roughly in the shape of a person, with a shimmer along the edge, which made a casing, like a nearly transparent exoskeleton that held them together.  The chief walked beside the elf and had a voice high pitched like a mouse, but sounded sweet as a baby.  The others, what Festuscato might have called liquid gingerbread men, carried all of the boxes and personal things that could be salvaged from the ship.  They also brought two more horses and a pony.

“Gentlemen.” Mirowen spoke when she got close enough. “May I present Lord Vingevourt, king of the water sprites and ruler of the Baltic.”

“The whole sea?” Hrugen asked, and looked ever so uncomfortable.

“No,” Vingevourt squeaked in Danish.  Mirowen had to translate.  “I’ve got a nephew in the North Sea, and a third cousin in the Channel.  I don’t know about the Arctic, what ice blob has that at present.”  Luckless and Mousden, of course, understood every word.  The little ones had the uncanny ability to understand each other regardless of the language, but even as Mirowen translated, the rest of the crew looked at Hrugen who shook his head.

“Not proper Danish,” Hrugen said.  “Jutland dialect which is difficult and has some strange soundings.”

“Odd pronunciations.”  Seamus returned the favor.  “Words are pronounced, not sounded,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

Vingevourt continued while his train set down the cargo and dove back into the sea to disappear. “Imagine my horror when I came to discover through this fine Lady that I nearly drowned my own god in that storm.”

“Your god?” Hrugen asked.  He was the new member of the group and didn’t know the full story of Festuscato.

“Sure,” Gregor said with a sly grin.  “Didn’t you know your captain was one of the gods?”

“God only for the sprites of the earth,” Luckless said.

“God for us, too,” Vingevourt responded.  “Many sprites of the waters, the air, and the fires under the earth belong to him as well.”

“Mostly, you might think of him as the Watcher or a Traveler.”  Mirowen explained before the argument hardly started.  “But he is just an ordinary human to you.  That is inevitably how he or she is born.”

“She?” Hrugen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” Mirowen nodded.  “You don’t suppose he should always be born a male, do you?”

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 2 of 3

“Mousden!” Festuscato shouted to the top of the mast where the last member of the motley crew spent most of his time. “What do you see?”  The light seemed to be fading too fast and Festuscato started becoming concerned about the possible storm.  He wondered if he should turn the ship toward the shore to seek shelter.  Certainly, the sea began to turn rough.  Fortunately, the Cornish Pixie’s eyes were very sharp in the dark.

“I see the usual collection of lazy layabouts on the deck,” Mousden shouted down.

The men looked up. “Hawk!”  Gregor shouted and suddenly pointed.

“Hawk?” Hrugen looked up, but Mousden had already shrieked and flown to the deck faster than an eye could see.  He crawled under a coil of rope to hide, being only a foot and a half tall, altogether.

Gregor laughed with the others, and after a moment, even Hrugen thought it was funny. Mousden, however, got mad.

“How would you like a hot foot,” Mousden threatened Gregor for the millionth time, but everyone knew the old, one eyed Saxon really cared for the little winged man. Even Mousden could see that much.

“Ahem!”  Festuscato cleared his throat.  “I meant, what can you see at sea?”

“Oh.” Mousden nodded.  “Just some monsters spouting water and headed right for us.”

“Whales on the whale road.”  Hrugen jumped to the railing and Bran caught him before the pitch tossed him.  All the men, carefully strained in the growing darkness to catch a sight of the wonder.

“Ahem,” the captain said.  “I meant the clouds.  Is there a storm coming?  Should we seek the shelter of the shore?”

“Oh, yes, Lord,” Mousden said, frankly, but without the least comprehension of what he was saying.  He was just not very used to moving among men and did not fully understand human needs in the face of a hostile universe.  For that matter, most of his life got spent in caves and such, and he still just started learning about things like bad storms.  “There’s a big storm coming.  A monster storm.”  Festuscato had already turned toward the shore.

“When?” Festuscato asked.

It started to drizzle.  “About now. Why?”

At that moment, a giant swell washed the front of the boat, nearly swamped the whole bow. Mirowen held to her place, like a magnet to iron, but she got soaked head to foot and reacted as any woman would. Festuscato had one moment to view her glorious water soaked figure and the sheer vulnerability of her in her state, and the heavens opened up.

“Hrugen! Gregor!  Tear that sail.  Bran! Seamus!  Loose the horses.  Mousden to Mirowen.  We need your eyes in the dark.  Mirowen! Call out direction.”

“To port.” She spoke right from the beginning. “There are rocks to starboard.”

The lightning began and rapidly came in sheets like the driving rain.  It took only moments before Gregor and Hrugen cut the chords of the sail and the ropes began whipping in the wind.  They still had enough tension in the canvas to give the ship some real impetus and direction, but not enough to cause the mast to snap. That would have been a real danger. As for direction, Gregor and Hrugen quickly joined their captain at the tiller.

“To Port. We’re drifting,” Mirowen said.

“I see the land. I see it,” Mousden shouted, excited, though how the men at the tiller imagined he could see anything was beyond them. He bobbed up and down about a foot above Mirowen’s head, barely able to stay aloft in the wind.  He got hard blown toward the sea twice before a particularly close lightning strike made him quit his post and seek out his hiding ropes.  Luckless had already come back on deck with his precious bag of tools.  Seamus also came back up, his precious books in hand. He held the ropes across the deck from Luckless and hunkered down over his papers.  Bran came last, rubbing his shoulder where a terrified horse kicked and grazed him.  All the same, he joined the men at the tiller.

“More to port.” Mirowen shouted, her words somehow got through against the rain.  The swells came, and the little ship began to bob up and down like a cork in water. They began to take on water, but there seemed no point in bailing.  Everyone had to hang on for dear life as the sea took them for a ride.

For three hours Mirowen shouted, “To port!”

And Festuscato shouted back.  “She’s hard over already.”

For three hours, Mousden shivered under the ropes, Seamus and Luckless protected their priceless cargos and four men kept the ship turned hard to port, though whether they went to port or were driven to starboard in spite of everything, none could say.

“There are rocks to starboard!”

The lightning flashed, and the rain and thunder crashed, near deafening.

The sail ripped altogether in the third hour.  It flapped in the wind and the ropes flailed about and became dangerous for those amidships. That condition did not last long as the mast cracked in a snap as loud as the thunder.  When it broke altogether, it fell into the sea right over Luckless’ head.

“Luckless!” Seamus shouted.  The dwarf did not answer.  Leaving his books to the wind and rain, Seamus crawled toward the spot.

“I’m okay,” came the call.  “Mousden snatched me away in the nick.”  Seamus crawled quickly back to his spot by the railing.

“More to port! We’re getting too close to the rocks.” And they did get too close, first to hear the horrifying sound of an underwater ridge scrape up against the bottom before a boulder, taller than the rest, crunched into the ship’s side and caved in a portion of the deck below.  The ship jerked to a stop and Festuscato got thrown overboard.  He barely missed the rock itself as he plunged headlong into the cold waters of the Baltic.

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 1 of 3

Festuscato:  The Halls of Hrothgar

After 416 A. D., Outside the Western Roman Empire

Festuscato 1:  Shipwreck

The clouds gathered, gray and dark on the eastern horizon, but the evening was near and Festuscato was not sure if the darkness got caused by a storm or the slowly fading sun. He considered the problem when his eyes became utterly taken by another vision.  Mirowen came up from below where the seven horses, and two ponies sounded restless, even against the sound of the wind and the waves.

“Lord.”  She acknowledged him in the way she did ever since they left Rome on this impossible journey.  Long gone were the days of his childhood when she called him sweet names, and his teenage years when she called him spoiled brat.

“My Lady.” He responded and watched her walk to the bow to stand, statue-like; her habit of the past seven days.  Everyone else watched as well and only returned to their various distractions after she came to a stop.  Festuscato, held the tiller dead on and had nothing better to do than stare.

Mirowen’s long green dress flowed out beside her with the wind and made it seem as if any moment, the beauty might take to flight.  She appeared, not so much a beauty one could point to, Festuscato decided, but more of an unearthly kind of something that made her impossibly attractive. It could be seen in the perfection of her form and figure, in the grace of her every gesture, in her long black hair and pitch black eyes, in her elvish ears with those perfect little points. Festuscato decided she needed a mate, if one could be found to match her perfection.  Sadly, at present, all he could do was sigh for her and turn his eyes away.  Besides, Hrugen seemed much more interesting.

Hrugen claimed to be a great Danish sailor.  He volunteered to guide them safely through the waves, once he found out their proposed route would take them near his homeland.  He said he had nothing against living in exile in Britain, but secretly, Festuscato imagined the man just got homesick.  As Festuscato suspected, the man proved to be no sailor at all.  In fact, Festuscato had started calling the man Gilligan, from time to time, even if that made himself the Skipper. Presently, Hrugen tried again to tie down the sail in the corner where it came loose and flapped, furiously. Gregor One Eye, the old Saxon, finally got tired of watching him and did it himself.

“I was about to do that,” Hrugen said, defensively.

“Nothing compared to what I was about to do,” Gregor said.

“Yes,” Festuscato thought.  “Seven days at sea could be interminable.”

Gregor sauntered over to where Seamus, the Cleric and Bran the Sword sat quietly.  Seamus wrote in his book, and Bran leaned on his sword, contemplating the cross.  The first was a cleric in the true sense, a priest of the Irish, a present from Patrick. Bran was a puritan through and through, and also a present, given by Constantine whom Festuscato anointed as the first Pendragon to rule Britannia in the name of Rome until such time the Romans returned, if ever.  Bran had been charged to defend the Senator’s life until Festuscato could safely return to his home along the Appian Way.

“What is it you write in that book of yours, anyway?”  Gregor asked as he sat on the cleric’s other side where he could keep watch with his good eye.  “You’ve been writing for seven days now and I have not heard a word except out of that other book of yours, that Bible thing.”

“I am keeping a record of our journey and adventures,” Seamus said.

“Adventures?” Gregor let out a hearty laugh. “Haven’t had any yet.”  Bran, craned his neck a little as if to take a look, though he had not yet shown anyone reason to believe he knew how to read.

“If you must know.”  Seamus spoke fast, corked his ink and set it and his quill in the pouch he always carried. “I have just written how we came into the Baltic from the outer sea yesterday morning, rounded the height of Jutland and came within sight of the coast which ran from horizon to horizon.”

“That’s all there is at sea.  Just horizon every way you look.”  Hrugen spoke as he joined the group.  The others paused.  For one minute, it appeared as if Hrugen might be sick, again.  “I try not to think about it.”  He finished, and looked down at his shoes.

Bran still craned. “It’s poetry,” he said.  “It’s not supposed to make sense.”

Seamus shut the book even though the ink was not quite dry.  “It makes sense,” he said.  “It’s just poetic.”

“Latin?” Gregor asked.

“Of course,” Seamus said.  “Just because we were wise enough not to get entangled with Roman overlords, doesn’t mean every Irishman’s an uneducated lout.”

“Quite true,” Gregor said with a big, friendly grin.  “Well, partly anyway.”

Bran stifled a laugh and stood up for the cleric.  “David was a poet.  I’ll grant you that,” he said.

“A barbarian of high esteem?”  Hrugen asked.

“A king for God’s people,” Seamus said.

“God’s chosen,” Bran said, almost at the same time.

“Which god?” Gregor asked, and then relented.  “That’s right, you only have one, so you say.”

“The Danes know of the Alfadur.”  Hrugen suggested.

“Can he protect my tools from salt water?”  A new voice joined the group.  Luckless the dwarf had come up from below where he hourly checked on his precious possessions.  “Pray that they don’t all rust.  Some of them were my great-grandfather’s, brought all the way from the mines of Movan Mountain.”

“But I thought your father was in the thick of it when the dwarf lords drove you out?” Seamus said.

“I don’t blame him,” Luckless said, with half a heart.  “Got to seek my fortune.  Besides, what would you do with a bad luck charm?”

The two Christians shook their heads.  The other two, however, looked like they would throw the dwarf overboard in a minute if he was not under Lord Agitus’ protection.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki rode out front, as usual.  Decker and Elder Stow still took the wings, but on this trip, Harpalus and one of his soldiers came behind Boston and Sukki.  Katie and Lockhart got relegated to the third place in line, with Lincoln and Alexis, and then Evan and Millie behind them.  Wallace rode at the back, next to the mule that drew the wagon full of the traveler’s things.  That would have been it, but Harpalus assigned his last two men to act as a rear guard.  They rode thirty paces back and passed the time with quiet conversation.

The group made good time, but they would not reach Thermopylae until afternoon on the second day.  Then, it would be a few days across the Thessalian plains, and they figured they would find the time gate just shy of the Macedonian border.

King Phillip had sent word to the Athenian garrison that had been assigned to block the pass.  Harpalus assumed the Athenians abandoned their position and returned to Athens and a Macedonian garrison now watched the narrow place.  He had an optimistic view on life, and his conversation came out as positive and complimentary.

“I can tell you folks are used to traveling in the wild,” Harpalus said over lunch on that second day.  They had stopped just shy of entering a copse of trees before the pass.  “You seemed uncertain at the inn, last night.  But here, out on the grass, under the blue sky, you seem perfectly at ease.”

“Lots of practice,” Elder Stow responded, absentmindedly.

“Plus, we have a few secret weapons, like a fire starter,” Alexis said, pointing at Boston.

“And a good cook to compliment the good hunters,” Lincoln agreed, and gave Alexis a pat on her shoulder as he leaned over to smell the roast.

“Everyone does their job and it works out,” Lockhart suggested.

“We go with our strengths,” Decker added, as Evan, Millie, Wallace, and two of the soldiers came from tending the horses.

“What?” Boston watched Katie who had her eyes turned toward where the road ahead entered the trees.

“Yes, what?” Millie looked up and echoed the question.  Sukki turned her head to look down the road to see if something might be coming.

Katie shook her head and appeared to come back to reality.  “It’s just… We have been a day and a half and haven’t run into a single trap set by the witch.”

“I hear that,” Decker mumbled.

“Maybe we went in an unexpected route,” Lockhart suggested.  “We came up to the coastal road, rather than traveling the one we were on.”  He made a space beside himself.

“Maybe,” Katie said, as she took that seat by the fire.  “But Thermopylae is a narrow place.  If she expected us to go this way, that is the place where we need to look out.”

“I’ve been looking out for traps this whole way,” Boston said.

“Me, too,” Sukki echoed.

“Me, too,” Lincoln whispered.

After lunch, the woods appeared darker and more foreboding than before.  The sky did not darken, and the woods did not crowd the road any more after lunch.  The travelers just spent lunch thinking about Katie’s words, and the witch, and they got wary.  Elder Stow scanned the little wooded area and saw no sign of people, but it did not prevent anyone from being careful.

Boston rode out front to where she could see the road exit the little woods.  The soldiers in the rear just moved fully into the woods.  Boston got ready to shout about the light at the end of the tunnel, when the trees moved.  They did not pull up their roots and move, but they bent over the road, like trees in a strong wind, and the branches grabbed at the people.

People shouted.  They panicked.  Swords and knives came out to hack at the branches.  People pushed their horses toward Boston and the edge of the woods.  Even as the rear guard closed the gap with the group, Sukki got snatched right out of her saddle.  The branches tried to close around the girl, but Sukki flexed her Gott-Druk muscles, grabbed one of the branches, and ripped it right off the tree.  She fell to the ground.

“Get out,” Lockhart yelled, though it was unnecessary.  After the initial shock, people rode for the exit from the woods as fast as they could. Boston rode back to Sukki, and shot flame from her wand, setting that tree on fire.  In true rodeo style, she reached down.  Sukki grabbed Boston’s hand and leapt up behind her.

The ground beneath their feet began to shake.  Boston and Sukki on Honey rode like wild women as the ground started to open up.  Honey had to leap over a tear in the ground at the end, but they made it to the grass beyond.  They got down right away to try and stand while the ground trembled.  It would not have been good to stay on horseback during an earthquake.  The people and horses protested, but it ended quickly.  People made sure everyone got out in one piece.

Katie and Lockhart stepped up, and Harpalus limped over to the edge of the road, while Elder Stow checked the readings on his scanner.  They examined the crack in the surface of the road which ran into the woods for as far as they could see.

“Strictly local,” Elder Stow reported. “Not really an earthquake.  No depth to it.”

“That crack in the ground would have ruined the horses if we hadn’t gotten out of it,” Lockhart said.

“We might have broken our own legs,” Katie agreed.

Harpalus smiled.  “Good thing I already have a limp.”

“Speaking of broken legs,” Lincoln joined them.  “Alexis says the mule is down.  Decker says the wagon is still in good shape.”

“Pioneer built for the Oregon Trail,” Lockhart said.

“They still make that game?” Katie asked.

“Thanks a lot,” Lincoln frowned. “Now I am going to have that song running through my head for the rest of the afternoon.”

Harpalus could not even imagine what they were talking about, but he could laugh with Katie and Lockhart.

Sukki found her horse Freedom, safe and sound.  The horse had followed the others when Sukki ended up in the tree.  She got right up, but then had to wait while they hitched Wallace’s horse to the wagon.  Wallace would still ride the horse as it pulled the wagon.

“Just don’t expect me to ride very fast,” he said.  The others understood, but up until then, the whole trip had been at a walking pace. Sukki got sent back to keep Wallace company, which neither minded.  Wallace liked the big girl, though he did not really grasp the concept that she was a Neanderthal wearing a magical, human-looking disguise.  He got shown back in Diana’s day, but he forgot. Katie suggested that the fact that Wallace did not remember details well could be why he was not a very good scholar.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “He reminds me of lots of people I know.  He has a very narrow and limited view of reality. Anything that doesn’t fit with his pre-conceived notions he justifies or rationalizes away, or just erases from his memory.”

Lincoln butted into the conversation. “What a sad little way to go through life.”

Alexis nodded, sadly, but Katie added a thought.  “If we can get him back to Professor Fleming, we need to encourage him to stay there. He will never survive this journey.”

They all looked back.

Sukki, on the other hand, also liked Wallace well enough to talk to him, where she stayed shy around some of the others, so it worked out well for the moment.

Katie and Lockhart moved up to the front, and put Boston behind them.  They opted to keep to the road for the present, but Katie and Lockhart wanted to keep their eyes open.  Decker and Elder Stow sharpened their watch on the wings.

Boston extended her elf senses, trying to find any little spirits that might be in the area.  She sensed a dwarf village in a nearby mountain, but when she sent her thoughts ahead, the dwarfs, in typical fashion, had no interest in helping. One dwarf named Bogramus said he might meet them in Thermopylae.  Closer to the pass, she sensed a fairy camp well off the road and in a different section of woods.  Most of the fairies took the same stance as the dwarfs.  Boston felt their reluctance to get too close to the humans that seemed bent on killing each other at every turn.  Philoxes and Maren, a young fairy couple, thought they might look ahead, but they were not sure what they were supposed to be looking for, and Boston felt reluctant to mention the witch.

The travelers came to a rise in the road and Harpalus spoke as they started down the other side.  “Up ahead, there, where the mountain presses toward the sea, is Thermopylae.”  He expected them to stop and gawk, but the travelers pressed on.

“We have been here before,” Lincoln explained from behind.

Katie spoke from the front.  “Here, three hundred Spartans stood against all the hordes of Asia.”

“True enough,” Harpalus said, and nearly fell as his horse stopped suddenly.  Lockhart and Katie stopped, and Boston stopped short behind them all.  Lockhart pulled out his binoculars.  Katie grabbed the scope for her rifle.  They saw bodies of dead men up ahead, near a fortified position.

Elder Stow’s voice sounded out from the wristwatch communicators.  “Get to a defensive place,” he yelled.  They saw him riding hard, being chased by a troop of soldiers.  Though the soldiers were still some distance off. Lockhart turned his binoculars in that direction and saw one of the cowboys leading the pack.

Decker came up from the other direction, waving for them to join him.  He also got followed by a dozen riders, but these looked like Macedonians or Thessalians.  “Get off the road.  The road is mined.”  Even as he spoke, the two in the rear hit something.  It exploded between the two horses, and the horses went down while the riders got tossed to the ground.

Four of the Macedonians broke from the pack and bravely went to check on their compatriots.  The rest, with Decker, stopped short of the road, while the travelers quickly vacated the highway.  Wallace got the wagon to the grass, and wisely did not stop.  Sukki, Evan, Millie, Lincoln and Alexis stayed right with him and encouraged him in the direction from which the Macedonians had come.

Decker pulled his rifle.  As Elder Stow neared the road, Decker let loose with several streams of automatic fire.  The cowboy recognized the sound and backed off, letting the others get in front of him, even though he could outrace them all on his big mustang. Several men and horses in the attacking party went down before Elder Stow crossed the road, and Decker turned to ride with him.  Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and let loose behind him.  He expected the pursuing horses to complain, but he managed to set off several of the explosives buried in the road.  They were large enough to damage anyone close, and while the enemy did not yet reach the road, they stopped short and looked hesitant.

The travelers found a sheltered hollow in the rocks that held nearly a hundred horses, nibbling on whatever they could find.  The Macedonians filled the rocks, and most had bows and arrows to defend their position. They had several wagons, but only had two tents set up, so clearly the men had slept in the rocks over the last two or three days.

Alexis found wounded men in one of the tents, so she, with Lincoln to assist, got right to work.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 5 of 6

“It is true,” Alexis said.  “Boston was born human and became a spirit of the day to marry my brother.  I was born a spirit of the day, but became human to marry Benjamin.” she reached for Lincoln, but he was studiously staying out of the conversation.  “I still have some magic, though.  On my bad days, Benjamin calls me his witch.”

“Like the witch we are following?” Felix asked.

Alexis shook her head.  “She is a very powerful sorceress.  She can do things I cannot imagine doing.”  Alexis slid back beside her husband, and Katie took up the telling.

“Lincoln and Alexis are especially worried about Evan and Millie.  Evan and Millie also belong in the future, and Lincoln and Alexis found Evan about three hundred and fifty years ago in what was going to become Rome.  Romulus and Remus were young boys then.”

“We met the wolf, Valencia,” Lockhart interjected.

“She was a woman,” Katie said. “She could turn into a wolf to suckle the boys when they were babies.”

“It wasn’t Rome yet,” Lockhart insisted.

“But it was getting there,” Katie said. “Anyway, Millie, Evan’s wife, got lost in Babylon.”  Felix did not know what Babylon was.  “But Evan went back to the founding of Rome.  Lincoln and Alexis were the ones who found him and saved him, so they kind of feel responsible for him, and for Millie.”

Felix understood that feeling of responsibility, but he said nothing as Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front.  Boston looked like a superb rider.  Felix expected that from the spirits of the earth, but Lockhart said that was not it. Boston rode in rodeo competitions when she was young.  Felix nodded, though he did not know what Rodeos were.

“Rome,” Boston shouted and pointed behind her.  The group saw the trees, but the glimmer of the city could be seen through the branches.

Decker and Elder Stow, who rode out from the edges of the road, came in to join the group.  They fell in behind where they could protect the rear. Boston and Sukki continued out front. Lockhart asked a question.

“You can take us to Diana?”

“Furi Camilla Claudia, or Claudia Camilla, however the names work in this part of the world,” Katie added, with a look at Lockhart.

This was something Felix could do. “I am an officer among the Romans, and counted a patrician among the Romans, even if my family is Etruscan rooted.  I don’t know where she is in the city, but we can find Furi Claudia Diana.”

Katie confessed.  “Roman naming conventions are hard to follow, and I studied them.”

“As long as we find her,” Lockhart said. “The Kairos will know what to do if there is any hope of saving Evan and Millie.”

“Yeah,” Boston spoke up, having heard with her good elf ears.  “It wasn’t me that got kidnapped, or shot, or anything for a change.  I even escaped the spiders, unscathed.”

“No,” Sukki said.  “I got stung instead.”

“I must be rubbing off,” Boston said, with a true elf grin.  Sukki did not look sure if that was a good idea or not.  “Anyway,” Boston continued.  “At least we got Alexis.  The best healer in the business.”

That much was true.  Sukki looked back and smiled at Alexis, whom she thought of as an aunt, even if Alexis did not see the smile.  She looked again at Boston, her best sister, and wondered. Who would have ever thought she would be sisters with an elf?

###

When they arrived at the house, Boston got right down and raced up to the gate.  She saw a girl through the gate, one becoming a young woman, but one with a cloth tied around her eyes.  An elder elf, with some gray in her hair, an unusual sight in an elf, stood next to the girl, whispering in the girl’s ear.  The girl looked uncertain, but smiled well enough.

By the time a servant came to the gate, the others joined Boston.  When the gate opened, Boston did not know what to do.  Katie and Alexis came to the front and smiled for the girl and the one they thought of as an old woman, though Alexis suspected.  Decker, Lockhart, and Lincoln kept back while Felix spoke.

“I am Lucius Falerna Felix.  Is Lady Diana home?”

Elder Stow and Sukki came in last. Elder Stow explained to Sukki that her familial feelings for the travelers was perfectly acceptable.  He said, “For now, they are the only family we have. And all things considered, they are a rather good family.  We just need to find your cousins, Evan and Millie.  That’s all.”

Suki smiled, as they heard a woman’s voice from inside the house.  “Lockhart. What’s wrong?”

“Diana?” Boston asked before Lincoln could mouth the words, but the woman came into the gate area with her arms open. The woman had red hair and light brown eyes, and Boston said, “You’re red, like me,” as she ran into the hug.  She added, “You hug like a mom.”

“We are evaluating the hugs now, are we?” Diana said.

Boston grimaced.  “You even sound like a mom.”

Diana laughed and held on to Boston with one hand while she opened her other arm and hand.  The blind girl smiled and slipped under Diana’s wing, though some wondered how she knew, not being able to see and all.

“My daughter, Justitia,” Diana said.

“Lucky girl,” Boston whispered, and Justitia nodded.

“The best mom.”

Diana turned to Justitia.  “These are the travelers I told you about.  The ones from the future.”

“Oh,” Justitia exclaimed.  “That makes sense.  They are hedged around by the gods.”

“Yes, sweet,” Diana hugged Justitia into her side.  “But that does not solve everything.”  Diana looked and Katie, and Lockhart who walked up beside her.

“We lost Evan and Millie,” Katie said.

“Oh!” Justitia exclaimed again as Decker spoke from behind.

“And all of the guns.”

“It was the witch,” Alexis explained. “She hypnotized Evan and Millie and had them steal our weapons when we slept.  Now she has them as prisoners, maybe hostages.”

“And the weapons,” Lockhart added. “Which we have needed far too often in our journey.”

“Nanette?”  A young man came from the house.  He heard something, and every eye turned toward him as he came into the light.  “Nanette is holding Evan and Millie hostage?”

“Charles Wallace Dodd,” Diana introduced the young man.  “Yes, Wallace.  The evil Nanette has taken Evan and Millie prisoner.”

Wallace shook his head, like he did not like the term, evil Nanette; but Justitia tapped her mom’s side and whispered. “He knows something.”

“Wallace?” Diana said, with some command in her voice.

Wallace reached up to scratch his beard before he nodded.  “I think I saw her, this morning.  She was surrounded by men, and with a wagon.  I don’t know the cargo.  It was covered with a blanket, but it looked heavy.  The other woman could have been Mildred, but I couldn’t be sure.  It was far away.”

“Where was that?”  Lincoln asked the intel question, not doubting the veracity of the report.

“A warehouse by the docks, down by the river,” He paused and glanced at Diana, who betrayed nothing on her face, but from the look on Wallace face, maybe he went somewhere he was not supposed to go.  “I didn’t see Publia and her friends,” he confessed.  Alexis, at least, imagined there was a story behind that.

“How did you know it was Nanette?” Lockhart asked the police question, not willing to run off on a rumor.

Wallace acted like it was obvious. “She was a darkie, like your friend there.”  Decker rolled his eyes as Wallace continued.  “There are not many negroes in Rome, if any.”  Alexis and Lincoln looked miffed, and about to speak. Boston opened her mouth in surprise, but waited to see what happened.  Lockhart covered his chuckle as Katie elbowed him in the stomach. Diana raised her hand for quiet.

“1905,” she said.  “Don’t forget Wallace came here from 1905.  Be gracious.”  She stared at the group and saw no objections, except Wallace who looked confused and wondered what he said wrong.  Diana continued.  “Alexis.  Justitia is learning to cook.  I would appreciate you sharing some thoughts on that with her.  The rest of you need to come with me.  Before you go running off, you need to be properly armed.  She led them to a big, open room where she had metal Roman helmets and breastplates, pikes, sears, and boxes of Roman short swords.  She also had several famous, big rectangular Roman shields that she was edging with metal. She explained.

“The Gauls are getting restless. Next time my father takes out the army, I am going to make sure the army is properly equipped to fend off those Celtic broadsword hammer blows.”

Katie told Lockhart.  “History imagines her father came up with all these innovations and outfitted his army overnight…”  Lockhart nodded that he knew better.

Meanwhile, Alexis asked about the scales in the kitchen.

“Oh, I have to weigh everything,” Justitia said.  “I even take the scale and weights with me when I shop.  Of course, no merchant in their right mind would dare cheat me at this point.”

“Your mother?” Alexis asked.

Justitia grinned.  “Mom lays down the law.”

“And your sister?”

Justitia’s smile turned to a frown. “Publia delights in breaking the law.”

Alexis took and patted Justitia’s hand gently.  “She is a teenager.  You will understand better in a year or two.”

###

The travelers still had their binoculars, along with the rest of their equipment.  They examined the warehouse from a distance and saw signs that the witch had indeed taken up residence.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Elder Stow formulated a plan.  Boston listened in and explained it to Sukki.

Diana put in her two cents and then stepped back to let them argue.  She wore her armor, where she had a sword at her back and a long knife across the small of her back, but she looked more formidable than she felt, especially since Justitia insisted on tagging along.  She knew she need not worry about the girl, but she felt a mother’s worry all the same. Gaius, her son, was absolutely forbidden to be there.  She charged his nurse, Livia, with tying him to the front gate if she needed to. Then, who knew where Publia was? No doubt gallivanting with her friends in the market, and getting into trouble.

Diana looked at Justitia.  She had removed her blindfold.  She was not utterly blind, and could make out shadows and light well enough, but people expressed feeling awkward and uncomfortable looking at her eyes.  She got better reception when she wore the cloth around her eyes.  Diana once imagined making sunglasses for the girl, but obviously, she was there to keep history on track, not change history. The only reason she got to upgrade the Roman arms and armor is because that was going to happen anyway, and while she might have been the reason it happened, the point was, it happened.

Diana shook her head.  Her lives were much too complicated.

Diana kept the girl between herself and Lincoln.  Justitia ignored him, but showed great anticipation, wondering how events would unfold.  Of course, Lincoln would no doubt keep himself in reserve.  He would hopefully grab Justitia if she ran out in her excitement. She would have asked Alexis to take that position, but thought Alexis might be needed for her magic.  Lincoln seemed the right choice.  Diana knew Lincoln would not run out in excitement.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 4 of 6

Lucius Falerna Felix,” the goddess Diana spoke to the officer in charge, the same officer the travelers met in the gate the day before.  “The spiders are all gone.  But the family in this house are also gone.  You need to send the night watch to collect the bodies and prepare them for their funeral.”

Felix, the name the travelers latched onto the day before, nodded, and got his men moving.  He would have gone with them, but Lockhart waved for him to join them, and the goddess also urged him in the spirit to come.  He came, but he would not lift his eyes to so much as look at the Diana, and he felt in awe of the travelers who appeared to be on very familiar ground with the goddess.

“Speak,” Diana said, and Felix spoke.

“I thought these people were strange enough to keep an eye on.  I gathered some of the night watch.  I wondered if they might have something to do with the ghosts in town, though when I mentioned it to them, they pretended like they did not know about the ghosts. We saw the first giant spiders at sundown, and I called up the gate guards and got the full night watch to surround the house, to keep the creatures contained.  It would have been a disaster to have giant spiders all over the city.”

Diana interrupted.  “The ghosts, as you call them, were wraiths in the night. I have sent them back to the place from whence they came.  There is one that is out of time placement that I am not authorized to touch.  She is with the witch, but she has been partially subdued.  There will be no more ghosts in the town.  Continue.”  Felix continued.

“We fought in every quarter.  The spiders seemed everywhere.  I saw two of the strangers come out of the gate, their arms loaded down with equipment of some kind; but I was too busy to stop them and ask them what they were doing.  Fortunately, they left the gate unlatched.”

Diana interrupted again.  “Evan and Millie were enchanted by the witch.  She called it hypnosis.  She could not make Evan and Millie harm you in any way, but stealing your weapons was an easy thing.  Continue.”

“Well, at last there seemed a break in the spiders climbing over the wall.  I gathered my men and broke into the house through the unlatched gate.  I found these people fighting against the same spiders in the court, which suggests the strangers were not responsible for the spider swarm.”

“I assume that the witch made the spiders get big,” Lockhart spoke, and Felix nodded.  Diana said nothing.

“That is really it,” Felix finished. “With the last spider killed, I saw the most glorious sight I ever thought to see…”  He began to weep softly, tears of joy and fear.

“Yeah, yeah.  Blah, blah,” Diana said, and turned to the travelers.  “My brother says the time of the gods is coming-to-a-close.  Just as well. After thousands of years of being worshiped, it gets kind of tiresome.  Now listen.  I am breaching etiquette a bit, but Evan and Millie are alive, disenchanted, but prisoners of the witch.  You will have to save them… or not.  And before you ask, there is nothing I can do about the witch.  She is the creation of Minerva.  That will be your headache.”

“Can’t you ask Minerva to fix it?” Katie asked.

“Minerva?” Lockhart was not sure who that was.

“Athena,” Katie told him, as he remembered.

“I can ask, again,” Diana said.  “She knows full well in the spiritual world, identical twins often produce one good and one bad, like the two faces of Janus, who some say should have been born twins.  But you know Minerva.  She can’t ever admit she made a mistake.”  Diana shrugged, and vanished.

Katie stepped over to hug Felix. He looked grateful, until he thought about who was hugging him.  These travelers seemed human enough, but who knew the truth of it?  They were on a first name basis with the gods, or at least one goddess, and that made him wonder just how human these people really were. He did not feel entirely surprised when Boston came in looking like the elf she was.

Boston saw the stares and quickly restored her glamour of humanity.  “I was the only one who could wiggle out of Elder Stow’s screens,” she said.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Elder Stow apologized. “I should have left some discs for the rest of you to come and go.  I didn’t think of it.”

“That’s okay,” Lockhart told him. “We were kind of in a hurry.”

“And preoccupied,” Decker added.

“Boston,” Katie saw something. “What is that look on your face? You look upset.”

Boston took a big breath.  “Honey and Freedom are fine, and so is Sukki. Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse were bitten, or stung, but Alexis got the poison out in time and they will heal.” Boston found some tears.  “Black Beauty and Misty Gray are gone.”  She did not have to say anything else.

Katie found some tears, but Lockhart hugged her and helped her walk toward the back door.  Decker and Elder Stow followed.  Felix shouted to the men in hearing distance, and the two from the road that first met the travelers, the ones Lockhart called two-headed chicken and two-headed snake, followed after Felix and the travelers.  No one paid attention, the travelers thinking of the horses as they were, but it came as a bit of a shock when they locals walked smack into Elder Stow’s screen.  Two-headed snake yelped, and two-headed chicken landed on his rump, where he rubbed his bruised nose.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Elder Stow said. He gave the men discs and invited them in.  They came carefully.  He took all the discs back when he turned off his screen device.  Everyone got too busy being in tears or comforting the others to notice.

###

The travelers stayed the rest of the night and into the next day, to give the horses as much time as possible to heal. Then, they planned to walk them the ten miles to Rome, but Felix and his two soldiers offered to go with them, and Felix felt sure he could scrounge up some horses for the journey.  No guarantee that they would be good horses.

Alexis and Lincoln were especially worried about Evan and Millie, but Boston and Katie rode out in the morning on Honey and Freedom and both got the impression that for the time being, they were fine.  They appeared to be walking to Rome themselves, and on horseback, the others thought they might catch the couple.

Elder Stow said he could not pick out, on his scanner, which travelers they might be.  He would have to work on being able to do that.  Meanwhile, the road between Rome and Veii had become well used since the city of Veii fell to the Romans.  Decker, on the other hand, looked for them with his totem eagle.  He felt sure he saw them in the distance, beyond the range of his eagle flight, but two, walking beside a wagon filled with shiny objects of some sort.  That had to be their weapons.

Finally, around noon, the travelers left their horses in a new barn and stable; the place they found the horses they borrowed, or actually rented.  Felix charged his two soldiers to watch the travelers’ horses under threat of crucifixion if anything happened to them, then the travelers and Felix headed out on the south road toward Rome.

Lockhart, Katie, and Felix kept the group to a reasonable pace.  Boston, Decker, and Lincoln especially wanted to ride ahead and catch the wagon before the witch made it to the city, to get lost in the city streets.  Felix assured them that if the thieves walked all night and all morning, they were likely in the city already.  They would get there, and Lockhart had to repeat the phrase. “We will find them.”

Felix did not say much.  He seemed shy in front of these people who were friends with the gods.  Lockhart and Katie, and sometimes Sukki and Alexis included him in their conversation, but mostly he asked questions, even if he did not ask some questions for fear of the answers.  He did ask where they were from and felt disturbed enough by that answer.

“We come from roughly twenty-five hundred years in the future,” Katie said.  “But we started this journey about four thousand years in the past.”

“We have been on the road for about three, going on four years,” Lockhart agreed.  “We have about two or three more years to travel to get home.”

“That is a very rough estimate,” Katie said.

Felix nodded before he shook his head.  He did not understand.  The words made sense, but his mind could not grasp the concept.

“Maybe a story would help,” Alexis butted in.

Lockhart told the story about being in Troy during the war.  He told about meeting Diomedes, and old man Nestor.  “We met the Amazons bringing cattle to the relief of Troy.  You know, my wife is an honorary Amazon queen.” Lockhart grinned at Katie who did not deny it.

“We did not get to stay long, though,” Katie said.  “Aphrodite, the one you call Venus, moved us along before we had a chance to see the city or any of the war.”

“We were being chased by monsters at that time,” Lockhart concluded.

“Somehow,” Felix mused.  “You and monsters I can understand.”

Lockhart nodded, but Katie continued. “Diomedes and Athena, that is, Minerva, seemed to be in love.  I wonder if they ever had children.”

“The virgin goddess?”  Felix looked shocked by the idea.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Lockhart quipped.

Felix shook his head again.  “They say Diomedes was one of the only Greeks that got home safe from the war.  But soon, he abandoned Greece and came here, to the Apulia region in the south.  They say he left his weapons as an offering in the temple of Minerva Achaea there.”  Felix could not imagine it.  “But what you suggest, that the virgin goddess might have had a child.  It makes no sense.”

Sukki overheard the end of the conversation, and quite uncharacteristic, she offered a thought.  “I met Hercules.”  Felix looked up at the girl in a way where she had to tell the story of Jason, and all the Argonauts.  She did a credible job, especially when she told about the volcano.  Gott-Druk, living in the small family groups, particularly in the dead of winter, developed very strong storytelling skills.  Sukki got a little carried away, praising her friend Boston for saving their lives. She finished the story and rode out front, where Boston had ridden ahead to scout the land.  Sukki remained a very shy girl, but she started adjusting to having a family, even if most of it was not a Gott-Druk family.

“The spirit of the day?” Felix asked, to clarify who Boston was.

“The red head,” Katie nodded, and Alexis moved up again, and interrupted.

“My sister.”

Felix gave the woman a strange look. He watched when the red-headed elf put her glamour of humanity back on.

Lockhart saw the look of slight disgust, and chuckled.  It seemed the same way he still felt sometimes when he came face to face with the ones the Kairos called little ones.  Especially goblins.

“Don’t worry.  She is human, like us,” Katie said of Alexis.

Felix squinted at Alexis and twisted his brow.  “I don’t know about us, but I will take your word for it.”

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 3 of 4

“Millie agreed to go with me into the past, to see if we could piece together how the Republic got started.  Wallace insisted on coming with us when Nanette showed up at the time gate.  Wallace wanted to stay with Nanette.  Tony talked about heading into the future, but he said he could not leave the professor to fend for himself.  Of course, I don’t believe the Nanette who went with us was actually Nanette.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all went well enough until we arrived in Sicily.  But Nanette seemed changed from the start.  She did not talk to us.  Her warm and friendly personality changed into a sour personality.  She got plain rude, and mean to Millie.  But when we got to Sicily, she began to be able to do things—impossible things.  I don’t know. Like magic or something.  Like she had powers all of a sudden.  It was just little things at first, but her personality got worse with everything she learned she could do.  It was like the magic made her turn evil.  Millie said she noticed some things earlier, when we were traveling through China, somewhere in there.”

“Sicily?” Katie interrupted.

“That was the time when Pyrrhus of Epirus got invited to drive the Carthaginians off the island.  I guessed the year at 279 or so.  Millie and I discussed making the long trek to Rome. This would be on the eve of the Punic wars.  But Nanette forced us through the next time gate, and after a while, she followed us, or so it seems.”

“But why do you say it was not Nanette?” Lincoln asked.

“Because of the way she acted, and many things she said.  She talked about still being there with Professor Fleming, and how she would never leave him.  But there she was with us.  She talked about being in two places at once, and how hard that was.  And she talked about Janus, the two-faced god of the Romans, you know, one face comedy and one face tragedy.”

“One face good and one face evil,” Katie said.

“We met him, once, in the Alps,” Lockhart remembered

“So, maybe Janus split her into two Nanettes,” Boston blurted out.

“You mean, the god?” Evan had to ask.

“Don’t underestimate what the gods can do,” Lockhart said.

“We met the wicked witch, briefly,” Alexis said.

“Nanette?”

“Yeah,” Lincoln said.  “She’s taken up with some cowboys.  1870s?”  He looked at Boston.

“!870s,” Boston nodded. “I got shot.”

“Same age our horses came from,” Katie added.  The others had not realized that.

“Benjamin,” Alexis did not spell it out.

“Just coming to it,” Lincoln said, and after a minute he reported from the database.  “The Other Earth reaches half full in 525 BC, and is good until 225 BC.  Then we go into dark moon until 75 AD.  We are in a dark period right now, since 825 BC.  Now let’s see…”  Lincoln fell silent for a minute.  “Interesting…”  more silence. “I put in Sicily.  Umma from Carthage.  323-267 BC.  After her, Meng Shi in China.  267-228 BC. They both live in days when magic is possible.”  They had to explain for Evan, and Sukki, since it had not come up before.  Once again, they all looked to Lockhart to explain.

“The Other Earth fills the same relative space as our own earth, but in another dimension.  As it has been explained to me, it is what they call a physics universe, not a parallel earth.  As I understand it, the further you travel across the physical dimensions, the more the laws of physics that we know break down or cease altogether.  You don’t have to go far before life itself becomes impossible.  In the case of the Other Earth, it may be closer to the core than our own universe, because all of the laws of physics we understand function there too, but it has an additional force or energy like gravity or magnetism that we don’t have.”

“It is called creative and variable energy,” Alexis interrupted.

Lockhart nodded.  “We common folks call it magic.  Magic energy.  And some people, not many, can somehow tap into it and do miraculous things.”

Alexis spoke up again.  “Even in our day, we have not determined the genetic component, but it does tend to follow bloodlines.  It sometimes skips a generation, like grandmother and granddaughter, but not the mother.  It shows up about two-thirds in women and one-third in men.  No one knows why.”

“So, Nanette is a witch.  She can tap into this magic power…”

“…Creative and variable energy,” Alexis corrected.

“But what does this Other Earth have to do with her?” Evan wondered.

“Camp first,” Lockhart said, and pointed to the next group of trees, which looked like the edge of a forest. “I know it is early, but there are too many eyes in the sky.”  He pointed back; the way he had to look to be able to explain things to the others.  People looked.  A larger ship moved slowly across the sky, and Lockhart finished his thought.  “They are either surveying the area or looking for something.”

“Or someone,” Katie agreed, and she headed out to find an acceptable, defensible campsite.

Once the camp got set up, and the horses got their fair share of time, the people settled in around the fire, hoping the deer Katie bagged would be more edible than the goat Decker provided for lunch.

“Okay,” Lockhart began.  “The Other Earth has two differences to our earth, besides the magic energy we told you about.  One is, the Kairos never got born on the Other Earth.  At some point, the gods went to war with one another.  The landscape got shoved around pretty good and most of life got wiped out.  As for the humans, there were no survivors.  One of the gods who survived over there was Poseidon.  Somehow, he got the other surviving gods on that earth to agree to try and merge the two earths.  It did not work, for several reasons, as the Kairos explained it to me.  For one, Poseidon and the gods in our earth were not keen on the idea of merging with another version of themselves from another universe.  Second, the Other Earth existed as a mirror image of our own, with Europe pointing east instead of west, and so on.  And third, as the two worlds came into what they called conjunction, all this magic energy began to leak into our universe and caused all sorts of problems.”

“You mean, the people in our world suddenly became witches and warlocks.”

“Wizards, not Warlocks,” Boston said, and turned up her nose.

“Not many.  Never many, but some,” Alexis said.

Lockhart coughed.  People quieted.  “When the worlds got close, the Kairos Amphitrite figured out how to make a hole between the worlds and travel from one to the other.  The gods on the Other Earth wanted people, and life restored there, so they could have someone to be gods over, I suppose.  Amphitrite made the agreement.  Plenty of ordinary people crossed over, but especially those who were gifted to use the magic energy that world offered.  The gods of that earth set it in motion, relative to ours. Every six-hundred years, the worlds come into conjunction, and some people cross over.

“Not many come into our world,” Alexis said.  “But some went there, especially in the ages when witches get burned at the stake.”

Lockhart continued.  “The best way I have been told to picture it is to look at the moon.  Between the half to half-moon, through the full moon, we get close enough to the other world, so like increased moonlight, we get magic energy leaking into our world. That is when travel becomes possible between worlds, though it takes considerable magic to do it.  From half to half through the dark of the moon, the leakage really is not enough to activate any magic potential.”

“Right now, we are in a dark time,” Lincoln said.  “We should go through the light time from 525 to 225 BC, which would make the full moon in 375.  You said Nanette began to show signs of magic after entering the Chinese time zone. That had to be after 228, up to 323 BC, so well within the light time.”

“I see,” Evan said, whether he saw exactly or not.

“It sounds like Nanette had the potential,” Alexis said.  “The world went light around 1875, but by 1905 she maybe did not have enough light to bring out her potential.  Going back in time to where the light started in 225, and you landed about 279or 280 in Sicily, that sounds like light enough to bring out her magic.”

“If you were traveling with evil Nanette,” Lincoln said.  “You are probably lucky to have escaped.”

“But that is not the only way magic can happen,” Alexis added, and waited for Evan to look at her before she explained. “Most of the spirits, such as greater, lesser, and even most of the little spirits have natural magic inside them. Also, half-breeds can do things, though lesser and lesser, even down to the seventh generation. The blood is not considered fully human again until the tenth generation, for example…”

Evan looked at Boston, the elf.

“Mine is mostly fire magic,” Boston said.

“I guessed from the red hair,” Evan smiled, then looked at Alexis again.  “Don’t tell me you are a witch.”

“Lincoln only calls me a witch on my bad days,” Alexis admitted. “Boston and I are not dependent on how close or far away the Other Earth might be.  My magic is in the wind, and healing magic.  I used to be an elf.  Boston used to be human.”

“From Massachusetts.  You know, Salem witches and all that.”

“But how can that be?  What do you mean you used to be an elf?”

“Boston became an elf to marry my brother, Roland,” Alexis admitted.  “I became human to marry Benjamin.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Evan said.

“It isn’t done, except in special cases.”

“The Kairos?” Evan asked.  Everyone nodded.  Then they quieted to give Evan some room to breathe.  It was a lot to take in.  They ate.  Finally, Alexis became concerned about the look on Evan’s face.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Wondering if Millie made it to safety,” he said.  “I pray for her every night.”

“I pray for Roland,” Boston said. “He disappeared.  We are believing he got a free ride back to the future. But there was a wolf.  Not a wolv, but a real werewolf, and he may have gotten torn up.  We don’t know.”

“Same,” Evan said.  “Except mine was a Wolv.”

“I can pray for Millie, too.”

“And Roland?”  Evan was not sure of the name, but Boston nodded.  After that, Evan seemed to relax around Boston, even if she was an elf.

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Don’t miss tomorrows post for the end of the story.

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Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 1 of 4

This episode is in four parts.  Don’t miss the final post on Thursday of this week.  Enjoy.

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After 702 BC The Levant. Kairos lifetime 76: Tobaka, Nubian Prince of Egypt

Recording …

The travelers moved five long days through Etruscan held territory to get to the next time gate.  They were seen, and sometimes watched, but not bothered, as long as they moved on in the morning and did not settle.

People left Evan alone to his thoughts for most of that time.  In part, because he told them about his wife, Mildred, and how they became separated in the time zone to which they were headed.  He got captured by the aliens, and their soldiers that he called wolves.

“Wolvs,” Lockhart said, pronouncing the word a bit differently, and shivering a little as he said it.

“Damn,” Lincoln used his word, and Alexis agreed with him.  They at least read, in the so-called Men in Black records, about the one they found in New Jersey after two thousand years in cryogenic sleep.  One Wolv shredded a dozen people and would have eaten the nearby town if the Kairos had not showed up and stopped it.  They would explain it later to the others.

Evan felt sure he would have been eaten, if a group of strange looking men had not rescued him.  He only just found out they were not men, but were creatures of fantasy, elves, dwarfs and an ogre, when they forced him through the next time gate.

“Where Millie ended up, I cannot say.” Evan wanted to cry, but forced himself to finish the story.  “The Etruscan lords and kings are not a tolerant bunch, but the ordinary people in the countryside were nice enough.  They slowly moved me south, over about a month, until I came to Rome, or what would one day be Rome.  Lord Tarquin said if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat.  But I met Valencia, a person I do not understand, and she gave me hope.”

He did cry.  They figured he wept mostly for his wife who he felt surely must be dead. So, they mostly left him alone with his thoughts.

The other reason they left him alone, and stayed generally quiet over those five days, is because they knew that he, and his companions, came from 1905, not 2010, like the travelers.  To that end, they did not know what might be safe to say in front of him, assuming he could one day get back to his own time. They feared every word they uttered might be too revealing about his future.

Alexis and Lincoln stayed with him. They taught him to build his fairy weave tent by commanding it into the right shape.  They found he already dressed in fairy weave clothing, so the tent did not surprise him.  Lincoln decided not to ask about that until everyone gathered to hear the answer. Then he forgot to ask for a couple of days.

Alexis taught Evan how to complain about the deer, deer, elk, and deer diet, though Evan said he did not mind the meat, even if he did not care for the gamey flavor.

“You get used to it,” Decker told him.

Evan and Decker went off for one long talk.  No one intruded, but the result seemed to be that they came to an understanding.  Evan only later confessed one thing privately to Lincoln and Alexis.

“I don’t know why he said to call him a black man.  We don’t call people white men, though I have heard the term used as a general description. But we don’t call Chinese people yellow men, or Indians red men, though I have heard those terms used, unkindly.”

“Native-American, not red men,” Lincoln said.

“You are right,” Alexis said.  “And you better not call Boston pointy-ears either.”

Evan looked.  He freaked, as they say, when he found out Boston was an elf.  But Lincoln got his attention back when he concluded, “People have a right to decide their own self-designation.  If Decker wants to be known as a black man or an African-American, that is his choice.”  That was where they left it.

On the third day, Evan asked about Elder Stow and Sukki.  “What kind of people are they?  Do they come from somewhere in South America or something?  I have never seen the like.”

“They are Neanderthals,” Lincoln said, plainly.  He waited for Evan’s eyes to get big before he said more.  “They call themselves Gott-Druk.  Elder Stow and Sukki are not related by blood, but they have adopted each other in their own way.  Sukki comes from the before time.  That is, before the flood.”  He had to wait again.

“You mean, n-Noah and all?” Evan stuttered.

Lincoln nodded.  “As I understand it, she is what you might call a true cave-woman.  The Gott-Druk at the time were still working in stone, and just using some soft metals, like copper and tin.  During the time of the flood, they got whisked off world and given a new home world.”

“Whisked off.  You mean like in the spaceship we saw?”

Lincoln nodded.  “Since that time, over thousands of years, they learned to build their own spaceships, like the one you saw.  Elder Stow is really just Stow, I suppose.  I don’t know if he has a second, family name.  He doesn’t talk about it.  Elder is a Gott-Druk designation, like an officer of a ship. He isn’t the Captain, which in Gott-Druk terminology is Mother and Father for co-captains.  You might hear Elder Stow or Sukki refer to Katie and Lockhart as Mother and Father now and then.  Elder is one step down from captain.  Elder is a ship’s officer, but to us, he has always been Elder Stow.”

“Wow.”

“I might add, after thousands of years, since the flood, the Gott-Druk have learned a bunch of things, not just about spaceships.  He has, what you might call, a bunch of gadgets with which he can do some pretty remarkable things.”  Lincoln waited until Evan appeared to get his thoughts in order. Then Lincoln had a suggestion.  “You should go talk to them.”

It took Evan a whole day, but eventually, he did.

By the time they reached the time gate, Evan settled on Lincoln’s horse, Cortez.  Lincoln rode behind Alexis on Misty Gray, where he said he could pull his handgun if needed, an idea she did not like, but where he could also read from the database without worrying about where his horse wandered.

“So, read,” Lockhart said.

“The Kairos is Tobaka.  A male.  A Nubian.  I assume he is black.”

“’bout time,” Decker said, as they came through the gate and he and Elder Stow split off to ride on the wings.  They understood less than four month ago, the area was full of Humanoid officers and Wolv soldiers.  They would be extra careful, and watch the skies as well as the land.

Sadly, the land offered little cover. It appeared arid and hot.  The travelers moved up and down little scrub-grass and prickly-bush covered rises in the ground, and only had occasional trees and groves of trees here and there to offer shade.

Evan offered a reminder, since he already told them about the wolv.  “My brief time here happened nearly four months ago.  I understood there were two competing space races here, but both in small numbers.  I imagine that trouble has been cleared up by now. At least, that was what my escort suggested.”

Lincoln nodded, and turned to the database.  He spent several hours of quiet just reading.

Major Decker and Elder Stow rode out on the wings and sometimes a little up front in order to guard their travels and extend their eyes further into the wilderness.  They could not hear what Lincoln reported from what he read, but Lincoln had gotten good at giving a summary of the information over lunch or supper, depending.  Katie and Lockhart rode in front and tried to keep one ear on Lincoln’s report.  Boston and Sukki rode behind, and as long as they kept up, Sukki could hear as well.  Of course, Boston, with her good elf ears, could hear perfectly well, even when they straggled out behind.

“The Levant,” Lincoln finally said, and explained for Lockhart.  “That’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel to us.  We are somewhere in there.”

“Yes,” Lockhart said.  “I figured that out.”

“I believe the British call it Palestine,” Evan said.

“Let’s not go there,” Alexis suggested.

Evan didn’t understand.  “But we are there, aren’t we?”

“Well, this isn’t Egypt,” Lincoln said. “But she meant that was a subject she did not want to talk about.  You see, in our day, the area is still in turmoil, with Jews and Arabs claiming the same land.  It’s a mess, and most people can’t talk about it without choosing sides, so plenty of people would rather not talk about it.”

“I see.”

“But you came this way before,” Alexis said.  “What did you actually see when you were here?”

They all paused, as a ship of some sort zoomed overhead.  It did not look very big, and it soon disappeared over the horizon.

“Apparently, things have not been cleaned up, yet,” Lockhart said.

“Remarkable,” Evan said.  “When we arrived in Rome, I read in the paper where Mister Wright from Ohio kept an aero-plane in the air for thirty-nine whole minutes.  I thought that was remarkable, at the time.  Somewhere in North Carolina, as I recall.”

“Yes, but what about this place?” Alexis asked.

“It might help me pinpoint the location of the Kairos,” Lincoln added.  “And maybe the more accurate time frame, here.”

“Hold up,” Lockhart said, and then spoke into his wristwatch communicator.  “Lunch.”

They came to a grove of trees fed by a small spring that made a stream, which soon petered out in the arid conditions. Someone planted an olive tree there, and Alexis found some ripe ones. That was at least something other than the dead goat Decker bagged and carried over the back of his horse.

When the goat started cooking, and the olives proved sour, Evan opened up.  “To be honest, there is not much I can tell you about this place.  Just plenty of scrub grass and occasional trees. My wife, Mildred, and I, avoided people as much as possible, especially when we came into a time zone that was not part of the Greco-Roman world.  Wallace came with us, at first, and Nanette followed Wallace, or the other way around, or so we thought.  It turned out it wasn’t Nanette, exactly.”

“Nanette?” Katie asked.

Lockhart added, “Who?” at the same time.

Evan waved off the questions, took a deep breath, and began again.  “We left New York at the beginning of the semester and arrived in Rome after fifteen days.  I turned twenty-four, just married, and just got my first job.  Professor Fleming kindly made room on this trip so I could bring my wife.  She just turned nineteen in August.  Oh, it was a wonderful time.”  He got lost in his thoughts for a minute, and people kindly waited.  “Anyway.  Professor Fleming liked a paper I wrote on the days of the Roman Republic, and how they reached the height of Roman civilization, and how the empire was doomed to fall apart from its inception.  I think I got hired on his word, and he insisted I come on this trip. It was a great opportunity.”

“Nanette,” Lincoln reminded him.

“Yes, sorry.  She was Professor Fleming’s darkie.” He paused to look at Decker and apologized.  “Sorry. Major Decker.  I guess things are different in the future.”

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 3 of 3

At four in the morning when people began to stir, Festuscato got his turn, and he did not gripe because at eight o’clock, Gerraint stepped in, which meant Festuscato still had the next turn.  The sun was due to come up, not that they would see it through the fog.  More important, the width and depth of the river changed overnight.  In some places, there were obstructions in the river and the place of safe passage narrowed.  Everyone needed to be awake and poles ready just in case they needed to fend off any rocks or other obstructions in the water.  Gerraint felt confident that his water babies would guide them safely to the dock, but it would be better to be prepared, just in case.

Gerraint picked at breakfast, and at eight o’clock he traded places with Diogenes.  Diogenes was not hungry, th-thank you.  He sat in the middle of the deck, pulled his sword and laid it across his lap.  Then he spent the next four hours making Lucius uncomfortable by staring at the man and trying to puzzle out just where the man’s loyalties lay.

At noon, Doctor Mishka took a turn.  She was more animated than most and did not mind sharing lunch and several stories from the future about the very land they were traveling through.  She kept her voice low, but she figured after all that snoring the night before, surely the Wolv knew where they were.  Unless, as she hoped, they were checking out the Muskva River awaiting their arrival.

There came one moment when the boat came rushing around a corner as it turned to the east.  The boat swayed and tilted heavily to starboard as it got caught in a side current.  Hermes almost slipped and fell overboard, but Mavis grabbed him and they both tumbled to the deck, laughing.  The rest of the group shouted Wee! and Aah! like they were on a log flume ride before the boat settled down in the new current.  The boat then slipped into the calmer waters behind a jetty, which had been built out into the river.  A short while later, they came around a second jetty, and there they came gently to the dock of a fine-looking village.  They did not exactly stop perfectly.  They felt a bit of a bump, but Vedix and Hermes jumped to the dock with the ropes and tied the boat fast.

“Where are we?” Alesander whispered, having spent the day without speaking at all.  People looked up and all around as the fog lifted from their immediate vicinity. They could still see where it clearly covered the river downstream and back upstream, but after twenty-four hours, the fog started to feel a bit suffocating.  People breathed, and looked all around.

The village where they docked had been carved out of the hills and short cliffs that penned in the river.  They found several buildings by the docks that looked to be warehouse buildings, and a three-story tower about where the central village square ought to be.  The houses looked odd, a style of building unfamiliar to both the Romans and the Celts, though to be fair, they had not gotten a good look at the houses of Samarvant. Mainly, there did not seem to be anyone around.  There were no signs of life in that village.

Mishka kept back to see which way Lucius might be interested in going.  He moved immediately to the left off the dock where the village actually ended at a kind of small fort.  The fort looked shut up tight and showed no one on the walls, so Mishka assumed the fort was as empty as the rest of the place.  True, she could not be sure about the dungeon.  She saw another big building there beside the fort, like a great hall for meetings, but it also looked to be closed, and probably locked. That building stood beside what looked like a cave entrance that let people inside the hill itself.  Lucius became self-conscious when he realized everyone followed him, and he said something to ease any suspicion the others might have had.

“I think we go this way.  I think the cave should take us under the heart of the goddess.”

Greta came back, letting the good doctor Mishka return to the future.  She looked at Mavis, but Mavis shook her head.  The only thing Greta remembered saying was they had to go north.  Neither Greta nor Mavis told anyone about the signs they had been following.

“Where is everyone?  Where are the people?” Hermes interrupted.

“Deserted the village,” Alesander suggested.  “Ran away, or headed downriver to get away.”

“At least there aren’t any half-chewed bodies in this place,” Vedix offered.

“Quiet,” Greta said, and they quieted and looked at her while Greta sighed at having to face her own cave.  I would rather have a bridge to burn, she thought, but she said something else.  “Alesander, Briana, stay out here and keep hidden.  Be prepared for us to come racing back out in case the cave is full of Wolv.  Bogus and Pincushion, see if there are any people around, but stay invisible.   My guess is this is a Venedi village, so they may become friends.  Mavis and Hermes, see if there are any horses here for the borrowing.  From here on we follow the Road of Dreams.  Lucius and Vedix, you go with me to check out Lucius’ cave.”  Greta turned to Lucius.  “After you.”

“Lady?” Mavis did not exactly protest, but Greta waved her off.

“It will be all right,” she said, as she stepped toward the darkness.

Lucius drew his sword, but Diogenes said in Greta’s head that it was for show.  Lucius walked slowly up what appeared to be a wide and well-kept path, not unlike the back-door path in the village of the Dragon Clan.  Vedix fingered his wristwatch shield, thinking worst case scenario.  Greta found a stack of torches by the entrance and lit two with her little bit of flint.  She handed one to Vedix while Lucius stared off into the dark.

They did not walk far before they reached a great chamber, like a massive entrance hall carved out of the dark.  It looked like a smaller version of one of the great dwarf halls they saw in Movan Mountain, but this looked strictly human made, with great columns regularly spaced to support the ceiling.  Greta saw the path continued up and out the back of the chamber, but first she became concerned to light the torches that she found spaced regularly around the walls.  She figured this would be the way her group had to go, and guessed that they were beneath the Heart of the Goddess, whatever that was.  She managed to only light the first torch before all the torches around the room came to life as if by magic.

Vedix growled like a true member of the Bear Clan as Greta’s eyes shot to the exit tunnel on the other side of the room.  A small man in a long cloak and Phrygian cap stared right back at her.

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MONDAY

Greta faces the second piece of Mithras, the Persian.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

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