Reflections Wlvn-8 part 2 of 3

“Now what am I going to do?” Flern spoke to herself, but still spoke out loud so everyone heard. “This was definitely not supposed to happen.” She pulled her cloak tight around her. It felt like a cold winter.

Andrea scooted back a bit for a better look, and she put her hand to her mouth, but she did not scream this time, thank goodness. Moriah only stared, but Badl went to his knees in a sign of respect and pulled the girl down with him. His Lord had gone, but his Lady had taken Wlvn’s place. Elleya looked speechless, wonder of wonders, but Wlkn looked thoughtful when Flern burst out with it.

“Skinny Wlkn! What am I going to do? I can’t kill a Titan! You will have to do it.”

“What? Wait.”

“Oh my God, Wlkn, what am I going to do?”

“Wait, wait!” Wlkn said.

“Calm down.” Andrea added.

“Take deep breaths.” Elleya suggested. “That is what I have to do sometimes. Deep breaths. That’s the way.”

Flern put her hand to her chest and took some breaths, but they came rapid-fire and were not very deep. She stared at Wlkn and wondered how she got in the middle of this. Wlkn spoke as calmly as he could. “You have a name?”

“Flern. Flern.” She tried to calm down. “My name is Flern.”

“Well, Flern. This is the way of it. I figure you must be Wlvn inside there somewhere. You look exactly like him.”

“You do.” Andrea confirmed, though Flern heard a softness in Andrea’s voice that Wlvn never heard before.

“You do, but not.” Moriah decided.

“I am exactly like him, except I got bumps and curves and soft places and a woman’s face and hands, and I guess that means I don’t look like him at all.”

“That’s the odd of it.” Badl said. “You look like his twin, but not at all, you being a Lady and all.”

“But Skinny Wlkn.” Flern turned back to the man. Wlkn shook his head in a definite no.

“I know for fact that Wlvn was scared to death to so much as look at the Titan.”

“I am, too,” Flern interrupted. “Even more. I don’t even like to think of him.”

“I’m not finished,” Wlkn said, sharply, and Flern took the scolding well and held her tongue. “But, you see, I’ve been scared of my own shadow all my life, and I probably still would be if I didn’t have to watch over this hopeless, lovely child.” He looked at Elleya and she could not resist her own interruption.

“Do you think I am lovely? Oh, I so hoped you would think that. I’m so happy I—” Wlkn put his hand over the mermaid’s mouth to finish his own thoughts.

“Now, I know without hesitation that there is no way I can face that monster. And Badl, good gnome that he is, well, I suppose there is not a dwarf in the whole world that is built to battle a Titan. And the girls, of course, are not here for that, and I would not ask it of them. So I figure it is still up to you to decide what to do. Either you find Wlvn and change back, or whatever it is you do, or you will have to figure out something else.” He paused long enough to remove his hand from Elleya’s mouth. “I don’t know, but I hope the goddess is happy that I have tried to use the wise old head she said I had.”

Flern said nothing. She just stared at her reflection in the pool and could not find Wlvn anywhere in time or space, or anywhere at all. Perhaps he had been removed from her life forever, she thought. Perhaps she would never know how her friends made out, and that was a bitter thought. Everyone stayed quiet, but even so no one, except perhaps Moriah, heard the approach of Gallred and the elf maid, Laurel. Finally, pulling back from her own thoughts and not being afraid to shed a few tears, Flern spoke again, softly. “I can’t.”

“But you must.” Laurel spoke up in response, even as she went to her knees beside Badl.

Flern looked at the maid and then looked up at Gallred who smiled in that strange elf way where no mortal human would ever imagine what he was smiling about. “My Lady.” He bowed his head. “My daughter has had a vision. She never had a vision before, but she has had one and you must hear it. I do not know if this was given to her by the gods or if she has a natural talent for such things, but it pertains to this journey that my Lord Wlvn was taking with his companions seated here.” He became silent, and everyone waited. Laurel looked to be having a hard time composing herself, and Flern’s heart went out to the girl because she was so young, just over fifty, which in human terms made her closer to twelve-years-old.

“My Lady.” Laurel said, and she looked up once to see Flern’s smile and then she looked back toward the ground as if the earth itself became her strength, which in a way, it was. “You will not find my Lord Wlvn again in the pool, and neither will you be able to return that way. I can only tell you what I have seen, but be assured, Lord Wlvn will continue your journey, and you must continue his. I cannot say if you may find some other way to return to your rightful places, but if you cannot, then you must face the abomination in my Lord Wlvn’s place. There is no one else among the gods or men that can do it. More than that, I do not know.”

Flern closed her eyes and said nothing. She knew what Laurel said was true. She hated it, she hated hearing it, she did not want to think about it. She desperately wanted to find some way out of it. She felt afraid, no, terrified, and all she could imagine was a terrible, torturous death; but she knew that what Laurel said was true and she had no way out. She felt trapped. If Wlvn was not there to face the Titan, then there was only her to stand in his place. She shivered from the cold and not just the cold in the wind.

“But I am so afraid,” she said, and to her surprise, Andrea scooted forward and hugged her. Moriah, whose eyes were filled with sympathetic tears, joined them, and Elleya did not want to be left out. Last of all, Laurel herself came forward and let Flern cry all over her, and she participated with Flern in the tears, in the way of the little ones, sharing in the deepest human emotions in an empathy so deep and true it became indistinguishable from the real thing. But as with all things, Flern could not sit there and cry forever.

By late afternoon, by the time she finished, there remained nothing for her to do but go to the place Wlvn had slept. She knew the way perfectly, as if she herself had slept there, and in that cabin, she shut herself off from the others, and from everyone, except Laurel. When the elf brought some supper that Flern did not feel like eating, Flern asked Laurel to stay the night and the young maid complied. More important, Laurel seemed both willing and glad to do it.

By the time the morning arrived, Laurel would be going with them. She knew the ways over the mountains and across the Were Plateau, which Badl did not know. Gallred could object all he wanted, but it became a settled matter, and Flern would not leave without Laurel, so Gallred’s objections did no good.

Reflections Wlvn-7 part 2 of 3

Wlvn looked frustrated. Baldur looked sympathetic.

“I know something of your Nameless one.” Baldur said, and appeared to think hard to remember exactly what he knew. Wlvn only paused for a moment.

“Anyway,” he said. “I’m just sort of frustrated. I’m sorry I was rude. What was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Why are you frustrated?” Baldur wondered.

“Well, it’s just…” Wlvn got his thoughts together. “I agree that the Titan has to go. This travesty of human slavery has to be ended, but I don’t understand. Why are you all expecting me to do the job? If you want to get rid of the Titan, why don’t you do it yourselves?”

“We can’t, and no, I cannot explain it right now, only trust me. We want this abomination ended as much as you, only we are depending on you to do it since you are not, strictly speaking, one of the gods.”

“I have to do it because I am not one of the gods?”

“Yes. And even that may be saying too much. I was told you were very clever.”

“Not by half.” Wlvn shivered before he confessed to Baldur’s questioning face. “The idea of coming face to face with the Titan scares me to death.”

Baldur nodded to say he understood. “All the same, I know you will try, and for the sake of my daughter whom I hardly know, I am grateful.” He laid his hands on Wlvn’s head then and Wlvn felt the courage rise up in his soul. This was not necessarily a good thing. He should have found his own form of courage in the course of his adventures, but as the saying goes, who can argue with the gods? He even managed a word.

“Thanks.” Then he had another thought. “I may need that courage against Loki.”

“Loki.” Baldur spoke in a not-too-kind tone of voice. “He was sent to spy on the Titan, but some of us know he is egging the monstrosity on. Of course, Odin won’t hear that.”

“I figured it was something like that.”

“Anyway, as for her name.” Baldur stepped aside to show a girl who appeared maybe Wlvn’s age, but she looked like such a little thing, she looked younger, topping out at five feet, if that. “It is Andrea. She is Greek.”

“Andrea. Greek? I thought you folks did not trade people between jurisdictions.”

“Between worlds?” Baldur confirmed what Wlvn meant by the word jurisdiction. “Normally we don’t. I had a whole story about her parents being traders and how she got stranded and how I hoped you could take her back to the land of Olympus. That story is planted in her mind and memory so you may hear about it, but the truth is, Aphrodite and Vrya had a long talk about the girl and told me that the girl would never be happy unless she came north. Naturally, I thought of you.”

“Aphrodite must be awfully young.” Wlvn mused.

“She is. That is why she discussed it all with Vrya, I suppose.”

“I feel like the stupid bachelor on the stupid television,” Wlvn said. “So now I am supposed to take her home to Greece and fall in love with her on the way, is that it?”

Baldur nodded. “More or less, but like the others, you aren’t supposed to marry her until after the Titan is killed.”

“But what if I already love someone else?” Wlvn asked.

Baldur stopped cold. “Do you?”

“No.” Wlvn admitted, but then he had to change his mind. It did seem like there was someone, somewhere, only that thought got blocked in his mind. He noticed the block. Still, he knew one thing needed to be said. “But Nameless is.” And suddenly, Nameless became accessible again, and Wlvn let him come through while he went away. Nameless immediately went to one knee and lowered his eyes. “Sir,” he said.

Baldur examined this new person of the Kairos with his eyes. “The others were right. It is remarkable the way you do that.”

“Sir,” Nameless said again, and Baldur paused to show that he was listening. “I intend to free Eir from Loki and the Titan, and when I do, I would like to ask for her hand in marriage.”

“What?”

“Just me. Not Wlvn or any of the others. Just me, and just my lifetime.”

Baldur knew that Nameless was in fact one of the Gods and that mollified things a bit. “But she is just a child.” He protested all the same. “She isn’t twenty. She can’t possibly know her own mind.”

“Some women know things from a very early age. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. Anyway, I won’t be born for around twenty-seven hundred years, so I suppose she will be old enough by then.”

“What? Oh, yes, I see. That does put a different perspective on things, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I will think about it,” Baldur said and vanished. Nameless also went away and Wlvn came home to get the girl, Andrea, off her knees. He held out his hand, thinking that this poor girl must be grieving for her family and overwhelmed by all of the attention of the gods. He would have to be gentle with her.

“Don’t touch me!” Andrea yelled at him. “Just because the god brought me here, don’t think it was by my choice.” She got to her own feet. “You keep your hands to yourself, mister. I don’t want any part of you.”

Wlvn withdrew his hand and stepped back. “So, what do you want?” he asked, politely.

“I want to go home, and you need to take me there,” she responded sharply.

“I need to? I don’t need to take you anywhere”

“You wouldn’t leave me here. You wouldn’t dare anger the gods.”

“I didn’t ask for you. I have half a mind to leave the whole gang of tag-alongs here. Let Baldur and Mother Vrya and Dite and the rest deal with you all.”

“Mother Vrya? Dite?” Andrea looked at him and then looked down at her sandals for a moment. It was impossible to tell what went on in that mind.

“Aphrodite.” Wlvn took a deep breath. “It’s a long story. Anyway, we happen to be headed in your direction. I suppose you might as well tag-along too. Maybe the night creatures won’t eat you. I don’t imagine you would amount to more than a snack.”

“Night creatures?” Andrea looked up again, and then her face twisted back into her ornery state. “Hey, wait a minute!”

“Lord! Lord!” Badl came running around the corner. Moriah came with him, but she paused a moment to genuflect.

“Lord,” she said. Andrea held her tongue, but her eyes got very big.

“Skinny Wilken is talking about taking Elleya back to the Dnapr so she can swim back to the sea.”

Wlvn wanted to say something, but he couldn’t get a word out above Andrea’s scream. He tried to reach out for Andrea, to hold her and calm her down, but she looked at him and screamed all the more. Wlkn and Elleya came running, and she darted to them, thinking that at least these two were human. They brought her back to the fire and eventually got her to calm down enough so Wlvn could speak to Wlkn.

“You can’t go back to the Dnapr. The night creatures will get you for sure, and you don’t know the way.”

“I figure due east and we are bound to come to the river.”

Wlvn shook his head. “We go over the mountains. It is harder, but quicker.”

“But.”

“What did Mother Vrya tell you?”

“Oh.” Wlkn had forgotten that.

And at that moment, they heard Elleya explaining to Andrea. “Oh, no, dear. I’m a mermaid.” Andrea started screaming again and did not know which way to turn.

“I’m completely human.” Wlvn offered.

“You are not!” Andrea countered.

“Well, I am.” Wlkn said. “And you might as well get adjusted. I would have screamed a dozen times since we started this journey if I thought it would do any good. But these folks aren’t bad once you get to know them.”

“How can I trust you? she asked.

“How can you trust anyone?” Badl asked the pertinent question.

Andrea let out one more scream before she settled down.

“My name is Elleya.” Elleya said having completely missed everything. “Your words sound funny. Why do your words sound funny?”

“I don’t even know what words I am saying.” Andrea spoke to herself. “My family uses these words.” She spoke that in a completely different language and only Badl, Wlvn and Elleya understood what she said.

“If I talk to you in your own words, would you promise to stop screaming? You are giving poor Moriah a headache.” Badl asked while he rubbed his own forehead.

Andrea frowned at the dwarf and shifted her gaze toward Moriah to take in her long, black hair and her pointed ears. “Are you a real elf?” she asked, first in her own language and then again in the common tongue.

“Half elf.” Moriah said, shyly. “My mother was human.” Andrea said nothing but the expression on her face said something like, “Ewww!”

“I’m a mermaid.” Elleya repeated herself. “So tell us about your home and family. I have seventeen sisters and twelve brothers. We were all eggs together.”

Andrea turned her “Ewww!” face on Elleya, but she laughed. It was not exactly a healthy laugh, but not entirely a crazy one. After that, they turned to supper and bed. Andrea slept as far from the fire and the others as she could and still get some warmth against the November cold, when she finally slept.

The morning breakfast felt exceptionally quiet, and peaceful, Wlvn thought, until he heard the mournful wail of the baby in the distance. It had to be miles away, but it had clearly come to their side of the Dnapr and that meant trouble.

“We should make the Pivdenny Brgh before sundown. It has a river that is not too wide or deep, but it is deep enough, and swift.” Badl assured everyone.

“What?” Andrea asked, and they had to explain to her about the night creatures, and then about the horses. Andrea wanted no part of Wlvn’s hands at first. She feared he might hypnotize her, or make her into a slave, or something, but she quieted when he explained that it came originally as a gift from Poseidon, and it would not hurt her.

“My Poseidon?” she asked, and Wlvn confirmed, and he took a deep breath and laid hands on her to give her the knowledge of horses. Then he gave her Strn’s sturdy beast because Moriah had agreed to ride behind Badl on number two.

“What’s Pivdenny Brgh?” Wlkn asked as they mounted up because it seemed the first chance he had to ask.

“Deep old woods on high hills.” Badl answered. “Those hills lead right up to the edge of the mountains, though we won’t be crossing that way because the pass I know is still further south.”

“Anyone live there?” Wlkn asked as they rode.

Badl shrugged. “Few giants. Troll or two.” Wlkn let out a little shriek and Moriah gave Badl a sharp slap in the arm because he was not being helpful. “Okay.” Badl calmed the girl. “Wood elves. Nice folk if you like the sort.”

That was better for Wlkn, but Andrea looked frightened at that thought.

“They won’t hurt you,” Wlvn said to assure the girl.

“Do you promise?”

“The gods don’t make promises,” Badl said what he had heard, and Moriah slapped him again because he still wasn’t being helpful. Poor Andrea rode the rest of the day in silence, but that was all right, because Elleya more than made up for it. Wlvn often rode out on the point, as he called it, just to give his ears a rest.

Reflections Wlvn-7 part 1 of 3

Wlvn got free of the firelight and began to count the stars.

“Beautiful night out, isn’t it?” A woman spoke. Wlvn turned toward her. He did not feel surprised by the visitation and assumed it had to be yet another one of the gods. He looked again at the stars and noticed that the moon had not yet risen.

“Yes. I was just wondering how my brothers and sister are doing,” he said.

“I suspect they are doing well. Vrya is very good with children, and her brother Vry is there to help her.” The woman looked up at the stars with him.

“And you are?”

“Nanna.”

“Of course, the moon has not yet risen.”

“Soon. I must rise soon into the midst of all of that starry splendor.” Wlvn held his tongue. “Sometimes I think I am the luckiest person in all the world, and I would be happy but for one thing.”

“I will try to rescue Eir.” Wlvn said it before she could ask. “That is one reason I am doing this.”

“You have many reasons.” Nanna sighed but looked relieved to hear those words. “I am glad you remember her.” A tear came to the woman’s face, and Wlvn could not remember seeing a god cry before; except Mother Vrya. Nameless saw Mother Vrya shed some golden teardrops a time or two. Even as he thought that Nanna began to rise from the ground. She paused long enough to place her hands gently on his head. “I know the others have already given you gifts, but I believe this may help most.” She let go and rose higher in the sky, but not before she said one more word. “There are four night creatures still behind you. I am sure Loki thought you would be dead by now. They have yet to cross the Dnapr, but it will be soon, perhaps by tomorrow evening. I am sorry. I cannot say more. Remember Eir.” That last was very faint, coming from so far away. As soon as she went out of sight, the moon began to rise. It looked nearly full, as Wlvn knew it would.

Wlvn felt sorry for the woman. Eir was her daughter, and as far as Wlvn knew, the girl had grown up in a cage, a childhood Eir’s mother Nanna, and father Baldur, would never know. “I will save her.” Wlvn felt that in his heart, but he knew it was Nameless speaking, and so he responded down the corridors of time. “I know you will.” He went back to the campsite in silence and lay down and slept. He dreamt about Vash, Perun, Zmey and spent the whole night hoping he did not run into that crowd.

They cut across country in the morning and there appeared to be animals on the hoof, everywhere, like a hunter’s paradise. Toward the evening, Wlvn called them to halt so he could do a little hunting and they could all do a little eating. Wlvn waved his cloak in the wind first to be sure it seemed only a cloak. The others watched. Then he reached into his cloak pocket, the one on the white side, and pulled out a bow and a dozen metal tipped arrows.

“Oh!” Elleya verbalized. “What a wonderful magic trick.”

“Next I’ll pull a rabbit out of my hat,” Wlvn said, and Elleya spent the next ten minutes looking for his hat.

The bow was not the fancy, compound bow he expected, but a much more primitive weapon. The arrows looked primitive too, and none of them silver tipped in the Artemis tradition, but they looked to be expertly made. Badl had his hand out.

When Wlvn handed him the bow, he hardly touched it before pronouncing his verdict. “Elf made,” he said. “Probably woodlanders, though I am sure your sword and knife were made by the dark ones under the earth.” He held his hand out again.

“I thought Hephaestus made all of this stuff,” Wlvn said, as he handed his weapons to Badl for examination.

Again, Badl barely touched them before he spoke. “The gods don’t make weapons, not needing them much. They made some at first for the Titan wars, but that was probably even before your time. Now it is just mostly armor and such to look good, you know. Ah! See here? This is the mark of Krom of Akalantis, and the long knife came out of Vesuvius. I am almost certain.”

“Not made by the Gods?”

Badl shook his head. “Strictly elf made. The gods never touched these.”

“Huh!” Wlvn felt surprised to hear that, but then he remembered Thor’s hammer would be made by elves or dwarfs as well, so it was not that much of a surprise.

“By the way,” Badl said, and he reached up while Wlvn leaned down to examine his weapons. “I got something for you.” He laid his hands on Wlvn’s head and took Wlvn completely by surprise. “Tyr, the God of War told me to manifest and stick with you, to help if I could, and he gave me a present for you. No idea what it is, but he said I should put my hands on your head and that would do it.”

Wlvn sat and shook his head. Now, he knew everything he needed to know about swords, knives, bows and arrows, spears, and a dozen other weapons he never heard of before, and he knew how to use them all, and how to fight like a true warrior. Of course, it would all take practice, but suddenly, Diogenes no longer needed to teach him. He looked at Badl and his look was not exactly kind. Badl cringed a little.

“It never came up before,” Badl offered an excuse.

“And all that business when we first met, about hiding and wanting to eat the horses and all?”

“Yeah, well, you had Wlkn with you. I don’t traffic much with humans. They stink, no offense. And horses do make good eating. I wasn’t lying, but I see they got other uses, too.”

“And that business about how we had to hurry and leave that place?”

“It was true.” Badl defended himself, but he backed down a little under Wlvn’s stare. “But I was going with you, I was.”

Wlvn shook his head again and wondered what the gods were doing to him. First the horses and now the weapons. He could breathe underwater, and frankly, he was afraid to try Thor’s gift of strength, figuring he could probably pull a mature tree right out of the ground, roots and all. He was not sure what Frigga or Nanna gave him, but he imagined it was something to help him against the Titan. He guessed that was what this was all about, but if they kept this up, soon there would hardly be anything human left in him. Even if Ydunna’s golden apples were not effective in turning him into one of the Gods, he was getting to be near enough that way all the same by the slow gift method.

“Hell,” he said, and took everything back. He replaced his weapons; and then he strung his bow and twanged the string once or twice to get a good feel for the weapon. It was certainly far better than anything his village could make, and with that, he turned toward the wilderness only to see Moriah come jogging into the camp with a roe deer over her shoulders. Wlvn’s first thought was this girl had to be stronger and in much better shape than he thought. His second thought was, “Hey!”

“I figured you were going to talk away the hunting time. I had to teach myself to hunt when Mother got sick, but I think I got pretty good with the bow. I took this one with one arrow. Of course, I had to use three on the big cat that wanted to take this deer away from me.”

Wlvn frowned. He handed Moriah his long knife. “Help yourself,” he said, and as an afterthought, he added, “Good job.”

“Thanks.” Moriah responded with a big smile. “You know, you’re all right even if I’m not going to marry you.” She immediately began to cut up the deer for the fire.

“Never fear.” Wlvn responded as he unstrung his bow and put it away in his magical cloak pocket. “It is against my religion to marry any of my own, even half and halfs.” He looked at Badl and Badl hid his grin.

“I’m not yours.” Moriah spoke softly, with her mind on her work, not really paying attention to her own words. “I don’t belong to anyone but myself.” Moriah’s cheeks reddened a little and she paused. Her eyes got big. She looked at Wlvn again as if for the first time, but he wandered off for some alone time.

“Never you mind,” Badl told Moriah. “He is our god, god of all the elves and dwarfs. That’s just your elf blood talking to you. Better you pay attention to what you are doing before you spoil my supper.”

Moriah’s eyes shot back to Badl. They were still big at first, but quickly got small again as she looked down and appeared very submissive, as she had been taught. She smiled and her face reddened around her freckles and the points of her ears. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I got lots of cooking practice for Mother and the old lady. You will get plenty.”

“Know how to make deer bacon?” Badl asked.

Moriah looked up again with a sad expression and shook her head. “No.”

Badl rubbed his big hands together and grinned. “Allow me to show you,” he said, and they went at the deer together.

Wlvn looked back once and saw Badl and Moriah in a deep discussion about the food. Elleya and Wlkn were beside a tree, talking quietly to each other; well, Elleya talked and Wlkn listened, but still, Wlvn thought this could work out very well, and most importantly, he would not have to marry either girl. He smiled, but only briefly. Obviously, the girls were yet another thing the gods were tempting him with. Kill the Titan and marry the girl of your choice; or maybe both if you want them. Yet, for the life of him, Wlvn could not figure out why the gods didn’t just kill the Titan themselves. He walked away from the camp with the hope of getting a bit of time to consider all of this when he ran smack into a man who seemed to be waiting for him. Wlvn took one look and had no doubt about who he was seeing. Baldur was reported to be the most beautiful of the gods, and that was true, if you did not count his daughter, Eir.

“Good evening.” The god said as he looked innocently at the sky. “It looks like a lovely evening, nice clear sky. The stars should be out soon, and the moon is nearly full.”

Wlvn let out his biggest frown. “I already talked to your wife. I will be trying to save Eir. So, what is the girl’s name? And here…” Wlvn leaned over, not in a bow, but to put his head within easy reach of Baldur’s hands. He became terribly rude.

“I’m sorry?” Baldur looked taken aback.

“No, I’m sorry,” Wlvn said, as he straightened up, and had a change of heart. “I apologize. I’m just frustrated.”

Baldur looked at Wlvn closely and seemed to have a revelation. “You’re not five hundred years old, are you? You are just a young human boy after all.”

Wlvn had to think a minute before he nodded in agreement. “It doesn’t add up that way, exactly. In fact, right now I remember seven lifetimes, but they are all lives I will live in the future. I don’t remember any lives at the moment that I lived in the past, except maybe Faya, and the most recent, Kartesh. And that is seven future lives only if I count Amphitrite and Nameless, who I haven’t heard from in a while…”

Reflections Wlvn-6 part 3 of 3

The Dnapr River ran just far enough from the village to protect the houses when the floods came; but Wlvn led his troop back out the way they had come, away from the river. He made a wide circle around the village and nearly reached Flern’s small hill in the south before he headed back toward the water. He hoped when the night creatures came, they might follow the fresher trail and thus come to the river without passing through the village itself. That seemed about all he could do to save the people who had been so kind to feed them and shelter them for the night. Wlvn just started to try to decide how to cross the big river when a figure rose up in the middle of the water. She looked to be made of water, and she looked naked besides, though not exactly naked, more like skintight water that nevertheless covered certain places. She walked across the surface of the river and stood before them on the river’s edge.

“You wish to cross,” the woman said. It was a question but stated like a fact.

“Please,” Wlvn responded. “If the lovely naiad would be so kind as to make a way.”

“It has already been requested,” the naiad assured him. “And your little ones beg forgiveness. They say they failed you when the flood waters came.”

“Ah.” Wlvn thought it might have been them who made the request, but then he caught his swan friend swimming not far from the distant shore. “Tell them I understand. It is not possible for little ones to do much when the waters run so fast and furious. May I introduce Wlkn and Elleya?”

“The girl from the sea,” the naiad said.

“Badl and Moriah.”

“You have little ones of your own, I see, but they are not mine.” She nodded to them all.

“I am Wlvn.”

“I know who you are.”

Wlvn trade places with Flern. He disappeared from his own time so Flern could come to sit astride Thred in his place. “And I am Flern,” she introduced herself and the naiad looked surprised at the transformation. “Some five hundred and eighty-five or so years from now, my friends and I will need to cross the river in a hurry. I would be ever so grateful if you would let those pursuing us fall into your waters after we cross.”

“I will consider it,” the naiad said. “You make a fine-looking woman,” she decided.

“Thank you.” Flern looked down and patted Thred’s mane. “I can ask no more.” And she let Wlvn come back to his own time. Wlvn immediately turned his head to look upriver. A dozen or more men came from the village. They were armed, carrying a few spears, mostly farm implements, but armed all the same.

“Do not worry about these,” the naiad said. She waved her arm. The men from the village stopped where they were like they were frozen in place. “It is not your fault the god brought you here. I will tell them when the night creatures come, I will make a safe way across for them, and when the creatures move on, I will let them return to their homes.”

“Thank you.” Wlvn appreciated the gesture, literally. As the naiad stepped aside, there appeared to be a bridge of solid water across the whole river. “But one thing.” Wlvn let the naiad into his mind far enough to see that horses do not do well crossing moving water. They became afraid of falling and are inclined to panic.

“I see.” The naiad lifted her arms and sides grew up all along the bridge like very tall guardrails, and the bridge became colored with sand and some mud from the river bottom, so it almost looked like a real bridge.

“Thank you for everything.” Wlvn repeated himself, but the naiad said no more, so he crossed the river at that point and the others followed.

They traveled across country, moved southwest as fast as they could and dragged Elleya and Moriah along with them. Just because the naiad was gracious, that did not mean the night creatures would not find another way across the river. There were signs of snow littered here and there across the forested hills and wide valleys in which they traveled, but it did not threaten more from the sky. Wlvn felt grateful for that, too. Wlvn revised his thinking and figured it might be about November first by then, May first where Flern was concerned, and it just figured that she got all warmth and springtime while he froze his tail off.

That evening, the sky became clear as a bell. Sadly, Wlvn was not. He could not figure out what game the gods were playing, as Frigga called it; or rather the question seemed to be, why? Moriah sounded very clear about the game. She cooked and stared at him like he was the enemy, and at last she came straight out with it.

“I don’t like the gods deciding who I’m supposed to marry, and I don’t care who you kill.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” Elleya put her thoughts in. “If my Wilken doesn’t mind.” She smiled for her Wilken who grimaced and looked away like a teenager. He wasn’t fooling anyone. He actually liked it when Elleya talked his ears off.

“Don’t worry.” Wlvn said. “I have no intention of getting married. I am going after the Titan because of my mother and father, because I have two brothers and a sister who deserve a life better than the slavery they are in, because the human race, for all its faults, does not deserve such a life.”

“You know, that Brmr is a smart little thing,” Wlkn said, as he pushed away Elleya’s attentions for the moment. Badl and Moriah looked over. “His sister,” Wlkn explained. “I had to watch them for six months, which reminds me, you never did explain where you were for all that time.”

Wlvn paused. How could he explain? Somehow, “I don’t know,” did not sound like the words of someone who knew what he was doing. He did not want the others to begin doubting this quest. He might have been better off going it alone, but then he would have been saddled with Moriah and Elleya by himself, so it was just as well Badl and Wlkn were along for the ride. Then again, the girls at least were there on the insistence of the gods. Somehow yelling and blaming the gods for unfairly stealing six months of his life probably would not have set well either, so he said nothing. He figured Elleya would pick up the slack, and she did.

“Well, I think it’s horrible what that giant is doing to your people, especially to the children. I hope you can kill it, even if it means I have to marry you…” She went on for a while—a long while. “…I mean, think of the children! I want to have a bunch of children. How about you?” She looked up at Wlvn before she turned and smiled and set her hand against Wlkn’s face.

“I want to get some air.” Wlvn stood up and started away from the campfire.

“Don’t blame you,” Badl said softly. “She just sucked all the air out of this place. Just about put the fire out, she did.” Moriah threw something at the dwarf. Probably food, and that prompted Badl to say something more. “Now, missy, a good-looking girl like you that can cook, I would say if you wasn’t pledged to the Lord I might marry you myself.”

Moriah said nothing. Her pointed ears just turned a little red.

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

MONDAY

Wlvn meets Eir’s parents and he gets saddled with another young woman. They push on, but it turns out the Gott-Druk have not forgotten them and are waiting in ambush. Until Monday…

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 5 of 5

Jai the Mongol became substantial again as soon as Sung Ao fired the photon canon.  He leaped to cover Sung Ao when the canon got crushed just in case it exploded.  Sung Ao quickly checked it, but Gan Ao spoke.  “I thought it best that the weapon not explode.  I turned it off before it got crushed.  Sorry if I overstepped my bounds.”

“You did right as always.  I am very proud of you.  But what are you doing here?”

“I reserved a time for coming back should I be needed.  Apparently, I am needed now.”

“Sung Ao?” Lincoln asked.  He always had to know.

Sung Ao nodded, but then Lockhart had a question for Gan Ao.  “Who are you?”

The old man smiled as men started to revive all over the field.  They had headaches but would recover.  “I am not surprised you did not recognize me.  I am much older than I was when I traveled with my master, the great lord Zhang She of Xi’an, servant of the Great Emperor Guangwu of Han.”

“From Lydia’s day,” Boston remembered, and smiled, knowing who Gan Ao really was.  Sung Ao reached out and gently hugged Boston, then he said something strange.

“I am going to miss my hugs.”

Alexis and Katie knew who Gan Ao was and Alexis spoke before Boston could ask.  “Didn’t you go over to the other side?”

“I did,” Gan Ao said.  “But I can’t remember anything about it while I am here.  Funny how that works.”  He let go of the old man and became Tien Shang-di, king of the ancient gods, and son of the Kairos, the Nameless god of the north.

Lockhart nodded like he had forgotten.  He looked quickly, but the wagon was close by and Ghost, for once, was minding his own business.  Decker and Nanette were busy being lost in each other, and Lincoln and Tony were failing to comfort Sukki, who looked teary-eyed but maybe finally realized there were times she had to act even if it meant people had to die.

“The cyborgs are all dead,” Tien said.  “The super soldiers are all dead as well.  They were possessed for a long enough time so there was not enough of them to come back.  The rest should recover.  Their time of possession was brief.  So, you see, Elder Stow.  Now, you can report to your people that possession by an abomination does not kill a person right away.  The consciousness hangs on for some time, and the body continues to live, though yes.  I see how terrible that must be.”

“Anyway,” Sung Ao interrupted everyone.  “Boston.  I have someone for you to meet.  Jai.  He came a long way just to find you.”

Jai stepped up, and Boston knew he was an elf, like her, but she did not know who until he removed his glamour that made him look Mongolian.  Roland said nothing.  He did not get a chance.  Boston screamed and tackled him.  She kissed his face all over.  Then she began to weep great big tears, and Roland was not against weeping himself.  They stood as Roland’s sister, Alexis came up weeping as well, and joined the hug.  They might have continued for a while, but Lincoln shouted from a distance.

“Alexis.  Nanette.  We have wounded here who need help.”

“May I?” Alexis asked Sung Ao.  She felt a slight curtsey was appropriate.

“Of course,” he said, and turned as three men came to ask what they were doing.  Sung Ao put Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco in Katie’s hands and said she could talk to them as long as she kept her mouth shut.  He went to find Timur the chief and the servants of the Masters.  Tien went with him and waved his hand while they walked.  All the cyborgs and super soldiers, the ship inside the cave and the busted photon canon with the wet spot that had been the abomination vanished.

“Sent to Avalon,” he said.  “To the alien island and museum,” he explained.

“Yes, thanks, but that does not explain why you are here.”

They found Chin Li alive and checking out the bandits.  He had a half-dozen men with him, just to be safe.  Timur, Bozarius and Hakim the Berber were all dead.  Timur got blasted with a super soldier gun and the other two were killed by the travelers. Bozarius got a shotgun slug in his middle.  Hakim got crisped by Sukki.  “No idea what their names were in this life,” Sung Ao mumbled to himself.

Timur’s son, Kohja, knew better than to stick around.  He promised to take the bandits home and not bother them again.  Sung Ao let them go.  Lincoln, who came up to watch the exchange, commented.

“He knew they were out gunned,” and added, “Sorry.”  He knew the Kairos was not a fan of clichés.

In this case, Sung Ao responded, “You were out gunned, but I am glad you butted into a bad situation anyway.”  Lincoln said no more, as they watched the bandits leave. They took their dead and wounded with them, so that was at least one thing they did not have to worry about.  Even so, Sung Ao thought to say something to Lincoln.  “You better go and check on your wife.  You don’t want her working herself to exhaustion.”

“Right.” Lincoln jogged ahead to the camp.

The travelers stayed that night with the Polos, but Sung Ao said it was best if they leave in the morning.  “We will head south, two days to Khotan.  We will rest there a week while our men heal.  You should be able to reach the time gate before we move on again.”

“But Father,” Alexis said, and Sung Ao and Tien took Alexis and Lincoln aside to speak with them privately.

In the morning, Roland stood beside Boston, holding her hand, and repeated what everyone already knew.  “Father is dying.  He never really recovered from his struggle with the ghoul master of the hundred.  Now he is dying.  I came to fetch Boston and Alexis so they could be with him in the end.”

Alexis came out of her tent, an elf again, and she explained for everyone.  “Time is still broken with the Storyteller missing.  Lady Alice can only move her own through the Heart of Time.  I have temporarily become an elf again so I can go and say good-bye to Father.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Lincoln said.  Alexis gave him a kiss and said she was ready.

Tien stepped up, and Sung Ao traded places with the Nameless god, Tien’s father, so the two gods could work together.

“I’ll miss the wagon,” Tony said.  Most of the travelers shook their heads.  They would not miss it.

“I’ll miss my hugs,” Boston said suddenly.  “And Strawberry, and Honey, but I will see you when you get back.  Sukki, sister, take care of the amulet and remember, I’ll be waiting for you.”

Sukki nodded, and Nanette said, “Good luck.”  Nanette carried Alexis’ bag, the one with the vitamins and medical supplies.

Boston said she was ready and looked up at Roland who merely nodded.  They vanished along with the wagon, their Roman saddles and most of their things.  Ghost stood with saddlebags that carried their spare horseshoes and necessary equipment.  They went back to carrying things in saddlebags and having their tents and extra blankets strapped to the back of their western saddles.  The Kairos said they could ride them again.  They were well into the Middle Ages by then.

Tien said good-bye to them all.

Nameless smiled for them and Sung Ao came back to wake up the Polos.

Lockhart spoke as they headed out.  “Sukki, you have the point.  Be careful.  Decker and Elder Stow still have the wings.”  He paused to look at Katie before he turned his head back to talk to Lincoln.  “So, where are we going?”

Lincoln had to look it up, while Katie shouted back to the ones behind.  “Tony and Nanette.  You have the rear.  Keep your eyes open for whoever or whatever might be following us.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln interrupted his reading.  “Watch out for dragons, little green-men, werewolves and vampires, ghouls and genies, witches, displaced people, space aliens and servants of the Masters, and whatever else I can’t think of right now.”  He returned to his reading.

Nanette took his words seriously, but Tony smiled and said, “Hut, hut.”  Ghost, who had his long lead tied to Tony’s saddle stepped up.  Tony did not want to have to drag the mule all the way back to the twentieth century if they should live so long.

END of Avalon, Season 8.

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

TOMORROW

Introduction to the twin tales of Wlvn and Flern, two lives of the Kairos separated by a mere 500 years.  They are genetic reflections, or as they say, identical twins of the opposite sex, and it gets them in big trouble.

*

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 3 of 6

Once again, Katie had to ask.  “Why were you worried about Giovanni getting a hug?”

Leonora looked at Katie like she might not want to reveal her secret.

Katie clarified her thoughts.  “I mean, it is obvious you love him, but I take it you two are not married.”

Leonora got teary eyed and spoke softly, like woman to woman.  “Giovanni dallied a lot in the past.  You know what I mean, dallied?”  Katie nodded and Leonora continued.  “He has been good since I joined the family—that is how circus people talk and think about each other.  Baklovani and Titania, and Constantine our tightrope walker, oh, and Madigan the musician have been with him the longest.  They were in the old circus before Giovanni’s father died.  Don Giovanni is Sir Vincenzo Giovanni the third.  His father was the second. His grandfather started the circus and got knighted by the Duke of Venezia…”

“You and Giovanni,” Katie reminded her, and Leonora sniffed before she continued.

“Anyway.  Giovanni dallied a lot when he was young, but he has not strayed since I came.  The ones who have known him since he was a child all say they never expected him to stop like that.  They privately talk about him becoming a monk or maybe getting ready to explode.  But he has a rule, and he is very strict.  He does not get involved in that way with circus people.  He does not get involved with family.  He says that would be like incest, or something.”  She let out a few tears.

Katie hugged the girl and Lockhart had a thought.  “Did you ever think of quitting the circus?”

Leonora wiped her eyes and nodded.  “But I have nowhere else to go,” she said.  “These good people have become my family, and I cannot go home. That would be like a death sentence.”

“And you got concerned when Giovanni said he wanted to get her hug?” Katie asked, still sounding sympathetic.

“Curious?” Leonora tried, but Katie shook her head.  “Okay, concerned.  But I know his much older and much more important rule is he will never get involved with any of his little ones.  He told me how the goddess Danna once made herself a fairy who did not remember that she was the goddess.  She tried to talk to the fairies on their level and tried to keep them from making a terrible mistake.  It sort of worked out, but in the meantime, she got involved with a fairy prince and had a son.  And Giovanni says for the last four thousand years, Taliesin has been nothing but a pain in the butt.”  Leonora smiled at her own mouth.

Boston came racing out of the inn when they reached the front door, and she hugged Leonora, much to her surprise.  And she spoke.  “Lockhart says I’m a pain in the butt sometimes, too.”  Then she added a note Leonora did not know how to interpret.  “I love you very much.”

Fortunately, Alexis followed Boston out the door and stepped up to Lincoln as she explained.  “Don Giovanni must love you very much.  You recognized Boston as an elf before anyone identified her as such.  And Boston feels the love for you, and no doubt would protect you in whatever way she has to, though she might not exactly do what you ask.”  Alexis gave her husband a peck on the lips.  Katie took Lockhart’s arm.  And Boston spoke again.

“That is exactly how I feel.  Don Giovanni must love you very much.”

“It is just Giovanni, I think,” Lockhart said and looked to Leonora for confirmation, but Leonora was busy crying.

“Let’s go see what kind of swill this place serves for food,” Lincoln interrupted.  “We kind of missed lunch.”

###

Giovanni came in the evening after supper.  He found the travelers with Leonora sitting around telling jokes.  Some of the jokes Leonora told were childish, like one might find in a riddle book for children, but they were fresh and new in that day and culture.  Some were rather bawdy, but Decker matched her there, much to Nanette’s red-faced embarrassment.

When Giovanni came in, Leonora jumped up first, threw herself into his arms and planted a kiss right on his lips.  He did not appear to object, but before he could say anything, she stepped aside and said, “Boston.”  Boston hugged Giovanni hard and whispered in his ear.

“You should marry her.”

Giovanni backed up and shook an accusing finger, first at Boston.  “You have been talking behind my back.”  Then he turned his shaking finger on Leonora.  “You planned this.”

Leonora grinned and leaned back until her hands touched the floor.  She slowly raised one leg at a time over her head until she landed in front of her chair.  She sat down and said, “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.  I still don’t know what that means.”

“From the future.” Katie grinned.

“The Kairos is usually careful about such things,” Lockhart said, and having everyone’s attention he added, “Standard watch tonight.”  He looked around to make sure there were no objections and added another thought.  “I think we need to get up on the wall around the main gate and keep our eyes open.  And go armed.”

“I was just going to say that.” Decker said.

Tony and Nanette got up.  They had the sundown watch, from six to nine.  When Nanette stood, she stared at Decker to let him know she was not entirely happy with his mouth.  But then she leaned over and gave him a kiss, which he seemed to appreciate.  She got Katie’s handgun and knife on the belt which she buckled around her hips like a gunslinger. She had her wand, but she was presently in a time zone where the other earth phased too far out of range to leak magic energy into our universe.  It would be 1275 before her magic returned to her.  Tony, of course, had his own M1911 handgun and trench knife.  Everyone figured he would need them when he got home just in time for the start of World War I.

Alexis and Lincoln stayed up for the present.  They had the nine to midnight shift and an hour nap before the shift always made Lincoln cranky.  Instead, they tended to sleep between midnight and eight in the morning and were occasionally the last ones up in the morning.  Nanette and Sukki took over the breakfast duty, and the travelers usually left the morning camp about nine.  They traveled about four hours, took a lunch between one and two, and traveled another three or four hours in the afternoon, stopping about five or six depending on the time of year and their location on the planet.

The goal was thirty miles per day or about three to four miles per hour, which they rarely made.  Even when the roads were good, twenty-five or so was about the best they could do.  They walked the horses almost as often as they rode, and Ghost the mule had his limits.

Lockhart and Katie took the hard shift between midnight and three in the morning.  They adjusted to a two- or three-hour nap before their shift and five or so hours after their shift.  They were most often the last ones up in the morning.

Decker got up and went to bed fairly soon after Giovanni arrived.  He imagined he would hear the details later.  Elder Stow followed Decker upstairs soon after.  He left his scanner on the table where an alarm would go off if it detected any Wolv within a hundred yards of the wall.  They had the dark of the night shift from three to six, and Elder Stow could be particularly difficult to awaken at three in the morning.

Sukki and Boston had the sunrise shift.  Out in the wilderness, Boston would start the fire and Sukki would get the breakfast going and the all-important tea-fake-coffee.  That normally happened after they watched the sunrise, and people began to stagger out of their tents.  The horses and Ghost got special attention in the morning before they started out.  But that night, they got interrupted well before the morning shift.

Katie and Lockhart got up and got their rifles ready.  Katie got her gun belt back.  Nanette left it outside her door when she went to bed.  Alexis and Lincoln were on duty and expecting Lockhart and Katie to walk down to the gate and relieve them when Elder Stow’s scanner alarm went off.  It was loud.  Lockhart called it loud enough to wake the dead.  Neither knew how to turn it off.  They figured, let it run until Elder Stow himself came downstairs and dealt with it.  They took off for the gate.

Above the gate, up on the walkway, Alexis let out a Sukki worthy scream. She turned around and came face to face with a Wolv that had clawed its way to the top of the wall.  Alexis dropped her wand, but she raised her hands and managed a great gust of wind which knocked the beast off the walkway and down into the street.

Lincoln ran when he heard the scream, but he did not dare shoot the beast for fear of hitting Alexis.  He stopped suddenly when a second Wolv clambered over the wall and landed in front of him.  He pulled the trigger several times, and the Wolv collapsed just before a third Wolv came up from behind and raked its claws across Lincoln’s back.  Lincoln had thickened his fairy weave shirt and made it as leather-like as he could.  All the same, the Wolv nails cut through and left three long streaks of blood.  The claw pushed Lincoln forward where he fell on his face and could not get up right away.

The wolf down below killed three of the four gate guards, even with a spear stuck in its side.  The fourth guard managed a spear thrust that cut something vital in the beast. The Wolv let out a howl, and Lincoln’s Wolv stopped drooling over Lincoln’s body and quickly jumped off the wall to land in the street below.

The fourth guard did not stand a chance, even as he picked up one of the fallen spears.  He screamed as he faced the Wolv and got a good look in the eyes of the beast. He tried to fend off the claws with his longer reaching weapon, but the Wolv proved too agile and quick.  It bit the man’s arm and yanked it off the man’s body as the man screamed again.  Katie arrived with her rifle set to automatic.  She riddled the Wolv with five rounds.  When Lockhart got there, he blasted the Wolv with his shotgun.  Then he blasted the other one just to be sure.

Lockhart and Katie ran up the gate stairs and looked hard over the ramparts to see if they could spy any more Wolv in the dark.  Lockhart found the one Lincoln shot.  It was not quite dead, so he blasted it as well.  Katie found Alexis leaning over Lincoln, practicing her healing arts on his back and crying.  Lincoln could only say ouch until the healing magic penetrated as deep as the cuts.

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

MONDAY

It looks like the Wolv are checking them out, and coming… Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

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.