Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 3 of 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 2 of 6

Muhamed was not a doctor.  He could only guess at what chemical reactions might be taking place within the woman’s living human body.  His elixir of life had been made to bring the dead back to life, not bring life to living tissues.  The woman developed a high fever.  He knew that much, even if he was not a doctor.

When the woman stiffened, he imagined the elixir killed her.  He thought, double life might be death.  She felt cold to his touch, and lay unmoving.  He checked outside.  He hardly noticed the dead body of the man by the door.  The sun began to set.  It appeared bright outside the window beside the bed.

Muhamed sat again at the table.  He had waited and watched all afternoon, and now it became time for supper.  He thought he might finish what little food the couple had, then he resolved to go.  He decided it would be a waste of his precious elixir to try another drop on the woman’s possibly dead body.

Earlier, when the sun began to drop in the afternoon sky, Muhamed spied the glint of sunlight off the walls and domes of a distant city.  Of course, he could not be sure because he did not cross the Assyrian wilderness on his way out of the last time zone.  An angry Ashtoreth brought him to the time gate, instantly, and yelled at him. Muhamed chose not to think about that, lest it make him angry again.  He thought instead that the city in the distance might be the same city from the last time zone, where he brought the zombies to life.

While he sat, and watched the woman, and nibbled on the bread, he wondered how the time zones worked.  He figured he jumped fifty or more years into the future when he passed through the time gate.  This city, if it was the same city, would be fifty or more years later. He guessed it was Babylon.  He had been educated.  He did college before pharmacy school.  He knew something about ancient Mesopotamia.  He knew enough to recognize Assyria, even if he guessed. The Tigris and Euphrates sort of gave it away.

“The distant city must be Babylon,” he said to himself, out loud, before he held his tongue.

The woman moved.  She stretched, and Muhamed heard the clicking sound of bones falling into place. He thought he might have dislocated a few, and maybe cracked a rib or two.  The woman sat up.  Her eyes popped open to stare at him.  He stopped still, a piece of bread half-way to his mouth.  He returned her stare.  Her bruised and bleeding face healed itself, piece by piece, until she appeared perfect, beautiful, and quite possibly younger than before.

Muhamed swallowed when the woman put a hand up to block the light of the setting sun.  She swung her legs to the floor, stood, and closed the shutters. Then she surprised Muhamed when she spoke, and in perfect Arabic.

“The bright sun always gives me a headache.”  She turned and appeared to smile.  At least Muhamed thought it might be a smile.  In his uncertainty, he moved to the chair on the other side of the table, and pushed the bread toward her.

“Are you hungry? he asked.

She sat in the chair Muhamed vacated, and nodded.  “Yes, but bread will do for now.”  She ate some, and Muhamed watched until he thought of what to ask.

“How is it you speak modern Arabic?”

“I seem to know a lot of things now.”

“How do you feel?”

“I think you made me immortal.  I feel wonderful.  Strong.  Alive. Hungry.”

Muhamed slipped his hand to the pommel of his knife.  “I hope you have no desire to get revenge on me.”

The woman laughed.  “Why should I do that?  You destroyed a good woman.  You killed a good man.  And I have a feeling you have more that you wish to kill and destroy.  I think I will help you.”

“Good, good.”

“Besides,” she said, and stared at him so intently he had to look away.  “You have the elixir of life, and know how to use it.”

“Good,” Muhamed said.  He let go of the knife, but kept his hand from going to his inner vest pocket where he kept the elixir.  That would have given its location away, and that would not have been wise.  He thought instead to explain.

“They began five days away, but they are on horseback, so slowly catching up.  By now they may be three or even two days away.  We will go to the city where we can get lost in the crowd, and wait for them.  Since they will eventually catch up, we might as well let them find us in a place where they cannot find us.”

She smiled at the thought, and said, “You have a way with words.  I appreciate confusion.”  Muhamed knew what he meant, so he continued.

“Once they arrive, and I will point them out to you, you can help me kill them all.”

The woman seemed to appreciate the idea of killing.  Muhamed wondered what kind of psychotic the man in the doorway married.  But he shrugged it off, thinking the madness of unbelievers was beyond his understanding.  He took no classes in psychology, or theology. He became a simple pharmacist.

“We will leave when it is dark,” the woman said.  “It will be safer to travel in the night.”

Muhamed shrugged.  He had gotten used to traveling in the dark, and knew it would be safer.  Homes, villages, and wilderness campfires, in particular army campfires, were much easier to avoid in the dark.  He stood and walked to the door to look.  He felt glad the sun had nearly set.  The woman behind him started giving him the creeps.

###

“Let me go in alone,” the woman insisted. “The widow who lives here knows me and will raise no alarm.”

“Why don’t we just go into the village?” Muhamed asked.  “The sun will be up soon enough, and we are less conspicuous, being a man and a woman traveling together.  We should be able to beg bread easily enough.”

The woman shook her head.  “I won’t be long,” she said, and walked to the front door of the house.  She knocked. Muhamed watched closely and fingered his knife.  It appeared as if the old woman of the house did know her.  She got invited in, so Muhamed relaxed.

Muhamed heard the scream.  He stood, but hesitated in indecision. Which woman screamed?  Surely the old woman, but why?  He had a feeling he knew why, but he did not want to think about that.  Shortly, the young woman came back, a bag over her shoulder.  In it, she had bread, some vegetables and a bit of smoked meat. Muhamed did not complain, or ask what the scream was about, as they walked the rest of the way to the village. He did not want to know.  He imagined the young woman had to hurt, or maybe kill the older one.  He did not see the young woman lick the blood off her lips.

When they got into town, the young woman took him to the well in the village square.  “I know a shopkeeper,” she said.  “He is a lonely sandal maker, very poor, but he will make a room where we can sleep today.”

Muhamed used his hands to cup some water out of the bucket meant for the well, and he stared at the woman.  He asked, “Why are you helping me?”

“Your wish is my command. Honestly,” she said.  “Farm life is terrible, hard, and boring.  You saved me from all that.  And you have such wonderful plans—to kill people and destroy so much.  It is exciting.  I can’t wait.”

“Good,” Muhamed nodded, but decided the only safe thing would be to lose her as soon as the deed was done.  He would hurry into the future, where she could not follow.

She touched his arm.  Her hand felt cold.  “But, wouldn’t it be better if there were others to help?” she asked.

Muhamed had already considered that, but her encouragement helped.  “You find the sandal maker.  I will stay here by the well for a while.  In the cool of the morning, people will come to fetch their water.”

“No,” she said, quickly.  “Come and see the place, so you know where to go. Then come back here, and I will prepare food for us.  I will not bother you in your work, and you can stay by the well and come when you are ready.”

Muhamed stood.  He did not argue.  He figured that was one way to do it, and if the woman wanted him to watch her make contact, and be there in case something went wrong, he thought he could do that.  He fingered the pommel of his knife.  She was only a woman, after all.