In the morning, the travelers found people on the beach, and some rough-looking fishing boats in the water, not far from the shore. The travelers got up quietly and tried not to attract attention. Boston woke everyone with a warning to keep quiet, while Sukki kept an eye on the people. Lockhart opted not to build up the fire. They chewed on what they had, packed what they could carry, and got ready to ride.
“No sign of Aneas,” Lincoln stated the obvious.
“I have a feeling he will show up.” Lockhart was not worried. He recognized it took a great deal of courage for the fauns to contact them as they did. “Their distress must be real and serious, and I imagine they will not miss the chance to solve their problem.”
“I was thinking,” Katie said. “Maybe their dimension is more in line with the fourth dimension of time. They may be in tune with the man’s distress because of his time displacement.”
“You mean because he is out of his own time,” Lockhart put it in his own words. “And maybe that is how they found us and knew who we were.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Elder Stow said, as he mounted. “The little bit of data I gathered might suggest something like that.”
As Elder Stow got up on his horse, Sukki and Boston scooted down from the ledge where they watched the humans on the beach. Sukki got right up, being a much-improved horsewoman. Boston grew up riding rodeo in Massachusetts. She leapt up on Honey, her horse, and could ride rings around the rest of them.
“Are we ready to ride?” Decker asked.
Lockhart nodded and pushed forward. They had to come through the gap in the rocks single file. They tried not to rush, but the women down the beach who saw them and screamed did not help.
Once they started up the shoreline, they quickly got out of range of the screamers. Shortly, they turned inland and imagined they would not be followed. They had seen some horses used to pull the plow, and saw a chariot once, but they had not seen any horsemen in the villages, so they were not too worried. Elder Stow’s scanner spotted a village up the shore, so they had to turn inland in any case. But they figured they could outrun any men who followed them on foot. They already had.
It did not take long before they found Aneas and his two companions waiting for them. Lockhart pushed out front and called to the gray-haired faun. He had instructions. He got down, thinking Aneas might fear the horse, but the horse did not appear to be the faun’s problem. Clearly, Lockhart himself made the faun wary, then Lockhart remembered the faun mentioned the centaurs who still lived in the mountains and figured the horse might be no big deal He got ready to speak, but Aneas spoke first.
“We will stay out front, and you may follow.”
‘Fine and well. We will keep our distance as long as you don’t lose us. Keep in mind, the path you choose must be acceptable for the horses.”
“I understand. We will go the way of the centaurs so you will have no hardship.”
Lockhart nodded. “Also, it would probably be better if we stayed away from other people.”
Lockhart nodded again. “Also, it would be best if we had some warning when we come near the village where the man is kept prisoner. It would be better to see it secretly from a distance and decide on the best approach.”
Aneas paused to think, and finally shrugged. “I do not understand humans. You do not care for each other, and even hurt each other and hurt everything else. I do not understand why you should not ride in and say, “Hello neighbor”. But your ways are not our ways. I will do as you ask.”
Lockhart did not nod that time. “All the same,” he said. “One more question. Does the man have a name?”
To Lockhart’s surprise, the faun smiled a little at the question. “One of our kind has made a song of the name. It is Evan Cecil Emerson, Assistant Professor of Antiquities in Latin and Greek. It seems a ponderous, long name, even for a human.”
“Thank you. We will do our best to help.” Lockhart turned and got ready to ride. He realized he forgot to ask about lunch, but he imagined it was too late. The fauns stood ready, but looked uncertain about the humans. “Burn that bridge when we come to it,” Lockhart mumbled.
“What bridge? Katie asked.
Lockhart waved her off.
The fauns led them all day by a path that in some places almost appeared to be a dirt road. Katie imagined the future Appian way, and said so. They never saw any people, and sometimes wondered if any people lived in the area, though they felt certain some did. One time, they climbed a hill and saw what looked like smoke in the distance. They could not be sure. The fluffy-white clouds, gray on the bottom, sat low in the sky and melted into the horizon. It might have been a piece of a cloud, or something smoldering from the thunderstorm two days earlier. It might have been a fire built by some of those centaurs Aneas talked about.
Lunch did not take long. The fauns disappeared. The travelers did not build a fire, so they only had smoked leftovers to chew on, a breakfast repeat. Alexis and Sukki found some grapes and greens. The grapes were not quite ripe, and the greens tasted bitter, but it would sustain them.
Elder Stow pulled out his scanner to read what might be on the horizon. Decker meditated to let his eagle totem lift him into the sky for a similar look around. Both reported the mix of woods and fields covering seven hills on the other side of a river.
“Every hill appears to have collections of buildings,” Elder Stow said. “I would only call three villages. The rest would be hamlets, or family farms and homes; though it seems to me they are all relatively close to each other, and building closer. Soon enough, the fields and pastures will begin to disappear under buildings.”
“Farmers and shepherds, for the most part,” Decker agreed. “But I hope they are all good neighbors. If they keep building, it won’t take long until the whole area looks like urban sprawl.”
“The main village, at least the biggest one, appears on the center hill, and built on the side where the people can overlook the river. They probably watch for river traffic and whatever trade might go up and down the river. They probably also watch for enemies.”
“Enemies, for sure,” Lockhart said. “All of the different tribes around here do seem to hate each other.” Decker agreed, but then he reported on something different.
“The fauns appear to be angling us up above a bend in the river, north of the town-hill, to a place where the river and a large field of a sort stand between where we are headed and the villages and people on the hills.”
“Rome,” Katie named the seven hills.
“Agreed,” Lincoln checked the database. The villages and people on the seven hills would one day be Rome.
“I imagine the fauns intend to give the people a wide berth,” Lockhart suggested.
“Boss,” Boston spoke up. She had her amulet out to check what she could see, though the map on the amulet remained skimpy on most details. “I can see where the Kairos is located, like near a village, but a little north.”
“Likely in his own place on the back side of the hill,” Elder Stow said.
“Her place,” Lincoln corrected the Gott-Druk. “Valencia, the Kairos in this life is a her.”
“Of course,” Elder Stow said, graciously. “It is hard to keep up with the him and her changes.”
“You got that right,” Decker mumbled.
“Let’s see where the fauns lead us,” Lockhart concluded. “We may be going around the seven hills to some other town further away. After we get Cecil, we may have to backtrack to see Valencia.”
“Evan,” Boston blurted out. “Not Cecil.”
“Evan,” Alexis agreed.
“Evan,” Lincoln supported his wife.
Lockhart looked at Katie who shrugged. “Professor Emerson?”
It did not take long after lunch to reach the river. They stayed in the shadow of the woods, but saw the distant village on the hill. They also found an island in the river, and everyone reacted, though they did not stop for a good look.
“I remember that island,” Boston told Sukki. “Truscas the Centaur carried me across the river there. Saturn’s house sat at the top of the hill, there.”
“Palatine Hill has had some occupation since back before the flood,” Katie told Lockhart and the girls. “Early Neolithic, that is stone age.”
“My people are familiar with the area,” Elder Stow said. “It was one of our gathering places in the before times.”
Decker got Elder Stow’s attention and pointed. He saw something shine on the island. He got out his binoculars. Elder Stow got out his scanner.
“Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow reported. “They are powered down and well camouflaged, like they were when we found them on Malta.”
“I did not see them from the sky,” Decker admitted.
Katie looked and handed her binoculars to Lockhart, who also caught a glimpse before the trail took them more deeply into the woods.
“Well,” Lockhart said, as he returned Katie’s binoculars. “Looks like we will have to backtrack and find the Kairos for sure.”
“The Gott-Druk do not belong there,” Lincoln said. He had started getting good at stating the obvious.
After that, they quickly came to another small hill beside the river, but on the near side. The fauns stopped, and Aneas approached the humans, carefully. Lockhart and Katie dismounted and walked out to meet him. They tried not to scare him.
“Our home is in this place,” Aneas said.
“Vatican hill,” Katie called it.
“There is nowhere on this planet where the sickness of violence does not intrude. But mostly, in this place, there is peace.” Katie and Lockhart looked around. They felt the calm in the air, and the sense of peace that pervaded the area. No doubt, they sensed the faith and quiet contemplation that would fill the area in the centuries to come, but they never would have understood it if they were not time travelers who knew where they were.
Aneas spoke again. “The man from the future is captive in the village you saw across the river. The goddess of time lives in a cave near there. If you are willing to take him into the future with you, you will have our gratitude, forever.” He stepped behind a tree and was not present anymore.
Katie and Lockhart held hands as they walked back to Lincoln and Alexis who held their horses. Alexis had a suggestion.
“We could camp here tonight.” It sounded like a question. “We might be far enough away from people where we can build a fire and honestly get a night’s rest.”
Katie shook her head. “We should not violate this place with our humanity.”
“No,” Lockhart answered Alexis directly. “We have to backtrack to a place where we can keep an eye on the village, and on the island. Then we will need to decide what to do in the morning.”
“I got some good data,” Elder Stow told Boston. “But it will take some serious study to understand it.”