Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 1 of 6

After 44 B.C. The Levant

Kairos 88: Candace, Nubian Princess

Recording …

“I said I heard gunfire,” Boston whispered.  Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker spied on the gun shop across the street using the binoculars and the scopes from the rifles.  Elder Stow had his own spyglass, so to speak, and Boston could see better than human with her elf eyes.  At that distance, in the daylight, she needed no assistance.

Nanette, Alexis, Sukki, and Tony who held Katie’s handgun just in case, kept the horses and the wagon.  Sukki wanted to talk to Alexis, who had once been an elf and became human to marry.  Sukki wanted to know everything there was to know about being human, now that she was one.  Though she had been told over and over there was no real difference between being Homo Sapien and Homo Neanderthal, Alexis did not mind mothering the girl a bit.  Sukki only turned twenty-one, after all.

Tony was older.  He had been born in 1884, and Nanette in 1887.  Tony turned twenty-one in 1905, Nanette was eighteen when they got sent through time to Rome in the time of Caesar.  After seven years in Rome, Tony turned twenty-eight, and Nanette was about to turn twenty-six.  Needless to say, they both knew about horses, mules, and wagons, from their upbringing, if not from Rome.  Tony regularly took a turn driving the wagon, and even helped some of the others learn how to do it properly.  Nanette often rode with him in the wagon, so they could talk about shared understandings from their youth, and about Rome, and the people they knew.  Nanette regularly prayed for Evan and Millie, though mostly that they be happy.  She sometimes wept for Professor Fleming, and Tony did what he could to comfort her.

“They have a rifle range in the back,” Decker said.  Lockhart shifted his binoculars, but he did not have the angle to see the back of the house.

“Someone is coming out the front,” Katie said.

The man came out carrying a rifle.  He looked like an Arab from some old black and white newsreel, or maybe from Lawrence of Arabia.  The rifle looked that primitive.  But instead of a camel, the man got up on a horse.  An old man came to the door and said something.  The man on horseback responded with something before he rushed off down the street.

Decker followed the man on horseback with his scope, and his rifle, until the man went out of sight.  Lockhart turned to Boston, who heard the conversation with her good elf ears.

“The old man asked, how will you find them?  The one on horseback said, my information says Bethlehem.  That was it, but I think the man on the horse looked like the centurion in the Roman gate.”

“Me, too,” Lincoln said, and Lockhart put down his binoculars and rubbed his eyes.  Katie rubbed his shoulder as a sign of support, having a good idea what he was thinking.

“We are not made to be judge, jury, and executioners, no matter how strong the evidence,” Lockhart said.  “My every police instinct objects.”

“I considered it,” Decker said.  “But marines are not trained assassins.  We don’t shoot unsuspecting people in the back outside of a time of war.”

“Major,” Katie said.  “I understand the hesitation, but I think we need to consider this a war against the Masters.  Some innocent bystanders may suffer.  That is always the risk in war.  But I think going forward, anyone with a gun in this day and age needs to be considered an enemy combatant and taken out.”

“I double that idea,” Lincoln said.

Decker slowly nodded.  “I can do that.”  He did not sound entirely convinced, but he was a marine, seal trained, and he would do his job.

“Elder Stow and Boston.”  Lockhart sat up.  “Elder Stow with your weapon and Boston with your wand.  You need to melt any guns and all the gun making equipment in the foundry at the back of the house.  We don’t just want the building burned down.  We want to put them out of business before we burn the building.  Katie, protect Boston.  Decker, go with Elder Stow.  Lincoln, you and I need to look for invoices, or whatever evidence we can find that might tell us how far spread this gun maker’s work may have gone.  We can’t follow up, but the Kairos might appreciate the information.”

“We need to get to Bethlehem,” Katie said, some worry in her voice.

“Are you thinking about a baby in a manger?” Boston asked.

Katie nodded.  “I checked with the innkeeper.  The census of Caesar Augustus was two years ago.”

Lockhart pulled out his revolver, walked the group across the street, and knocked on the front door.  When an old woman answered the door, the travelers pushed inside.  Katie and Boston went up to the living quarters, and checked the guest room, the upper room, and the loft.  Boston checked the roof, but it was empty.

Decker and Elder Stow went out the back door and into the foundry building.  Decker shot all three men working there, and then began to pile up the tools in the center of the room.  Elder Stow turned his weapon on the pile and turned it into a useless slag heap.  They made a point of utterly destroying any futuristic equipment they found, like the hand-turned lathe.

“Most of this is typical blacksmith material,” Elder Stow said.  Decker grunted as he tore down the furnace.

The old man and old woman sat quietly on the rug while the policeman Lockhart, and the former spook for the CIA, Lincoln, tore the room apart, looking for what they might find.  The downstairs appeared to be one big room, apart from something that might have been a closet room in the corner.  A thick piece of leather served as the door to the closet room, but they heard nothing back there.

Lockhart pulled his handgun and turned on the couple.  “Who has gotten the guns?  Where have you sent them?”  The old man shook his head.  Lockhart did not expect an answer, and he would not resort to torture even if he had the time and knew what to do.  Perhaps the couple knew that.

“We can’t water-board them,” Lincoln said, as he began to tap the walls, looking for a hidden chamber.  He used the English words for water-board, not having an equivalent term in the local tongue.

The old woman laughed.  “Water-boarding will get you in trouble,” she said, entirely in heavily accented English.

Katie and Boston heard as they headed down the stairs.  They also saw a young man pop through the curtain to the closet room, a handgun in his hand.  The young man pulled the trigger.  He had a one-shot, primitive sort of gun, so he had no second bullet, and the first went wide, between Lincoln and Lockhart, like at the last second, he could not decide which man to shoot.

Katie returned fire from the stairs, and the young man curled up and died.  Katie looked at Lockhart, but Lockhart did not want to think about it.  He shot the English-speaking old woman so she would not suffer and turned on the old man.  “Where have you sent your guns?”  He wanted an answer, but the old man could only wail and cry.

Katie and Boston went to the back where Elder Stow and Decker were working.  Decker said, “The barn.  Be careful.”

“Sir.”  Katie nearly saluted and spoke to Boston as they walked out back.  “You left the upper room on fire.”

“Mostly mud brick.  It will burn slowly,” Boston said.

“But we don’t want to attract a crowd until we are done and away from here.”

“Yeah.  Sorry,” Boston said, as she put her wand in her left hand and pulled out her Beretta.

The barn was not really a barn.  There were two oxen tied out back that Boston tried to scare away.  Otherwise, the building appeared to serve as a warehouse.  They found piles of ingredients to make gunpowder, and barrels of gunpowder already made.  They also found no one around, and Katie thought, Thank God.

Finding no real information about how far and wide the guns may have spread, and getting nothing out of the old man, Lockhart stepped to the street.  He looked for neighbors and such, but it seemed a very quiet street.

“Katie?” he spoke into his wristwatch communicator.

“The back building is full of cases of gunpowder,” she responded.  “I recommend Elder Stow’s sonic device from a distance.”

“Decker?”

“Mostly blacksmith stuff.  All melted.  Elder Stow suggests one blast of his weapon, and that will reduce the building to charcoal

“Alexis?”

“Here, boss.”

“Bring the horses and wagon to the front of the house.  We are done here.  The rest of you need to meet out front.”  Lockhart paused when he heard a gunshot from inside the house.  Lincoln came out, and Lockhart apologized.  “Sorry, Lincoln.  I didn’t mean to leave you with the old man.”  Lincoln nodded, but said nothing in return.

People arrived and went to their horses.  Tony and Nanette took the wagon, their horses already tied to the rear.  They moved a short way down the street.  Lockhart asked for Elder Stow’s sonic device.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  “I will do it.  Cover your ears.”  About twenty seconds of high-pitched squeal, and the building Decker called a barn exploded and sent a ball of flame and smoke a hundred feet in the air.

Boston looked sad, and when her ears stopped ringing, she said, “Fresh cooked oxen.”

Elder Stow went invisible and lifted out of his saddle.  He flew over the house and foundry, and turned his weapon to full strength, wide angle.  One shot, and both buildings burned, cracked, and crumbled like there were struck with a piece of the sun.

“We need to get to Bethlehem,” Katie reminded Lockhart.

“I’m not doing that again,” Lockhart said.  As he started down the street, I’m not doing that again seemed all he was willing to say.

R5 Greta: Betrothed, part 2 of 3

The walk began in silence, but they had not gone very far before Greta prompted the old soldier. “Go ahead,” she said.  “Tell me what you wish.” She easily saw that there were things Gaius wanted to say.

“Tribune Darius is a good man,” Gaius began.  “He is a good soldier and commander, and he cares about the men under his command as much as any I have known.  He is honest, fair and hardworking.  All in all, about the best young man I have known.”

“Admirable,” Greta said.  “You are a good spokesperson, loyal to your commander, and that is also admirable.”

“Tonight, he was singing your praises.  I am sure he will make you a good husband.”

“Was he indeed?” Greta did not mean to sound sarcastic. “Tell me so I can see if he can carry a tune.”  Gaius looked reluctant.  Greta had to insist.

“I am no poet,” Gaius hedged.  “And I hardly remember, at least not exactly.  But he did say your hair was like the moonbeams, light and soft, to make a halo around your face.  Your eyes, he said, were the softest brown, like two fauns, wild and free.  And your cheeks were like currant and your lips, full and pink, like new raspberries.  Surely they must taste as sweet.”  Gaius stopped and cleared his throat.  This was hard for him.  Greta thought her Lord’s poetry might be improving, but that would not change the way she felt.  Despite his familial connection with Mother Hulda, he remained a Roman and that made him the enemy in all but fact.

They walked past a bonfire where several men were celebrating with gusto.  When they could talk again, Greta told him to finish. She knew there was something more, the crux of the matter.

“It is your father,” Gaius said.  “And Lord Marcus, especially.  My Tribune does not drink apart from wine with his meals.  But tonight, they insisted, and they kept giving him more, and they kept insisting.”  He stopped to face Greta so she had to stop.  She could tell this was the essence of the whole thing.  “Please, lady.  Do not judge him on this night.  He does not know how to handle drink and I am afraid his condition is not the best. Please keep an open mind tonight so you can get to know him as himself.”

“First impressions are lasting impressions,” Greta said.  She stopped talking.  She was not sure why she did not tell him she had already met Darius and felt suitable impressed by the way he defended her even when speaking in a language she presumably did not understand.  She knew him to be a good man, only she did not love him, and she decided that mattered to her.

Gaius turned around heavily and led the way without another word apart from asking her to wait at the door while he announced her.  Greta pictured him lifting his Tribune from the ground and setting his drunken Lord in a chair where he might stand a reasonable chance of staying upright.  When she entered the tent, she saw that was not the case.  Darius stood beside a small table and stool.  A parchment covered the table.  He appeared to have been writing.  Now, he looked only at her, and he did not even need the table to lean on. He dismissed Gaius.

Greta set her scarf on a stool by the door, and thought, In for a pound.  She removed her red cloak and laid it on top of the scarf.

“I will be just outside.”  Gaius saluted and left.  Greta did not know if Gaius said that for Darius’ sake or hers.

“Please sit,” Darius said, very stiff and formal.  He offered another stool, but Greta declined.  Darius requested to see her so she thought he should have the first go. It might have been a Koren kind of awkward silence if the drink had not loosened his tongue.  She could hear the slight slur in everything he said and she recognized the will it took to pronounce his words properly.

“I have been writing to Mother,” he said, is a casual tone.  “I thought perhaps you could help me with some choice phrases in your tongue, excuse me, in our tongue.”

Greta shook her head.  “It is not a written language,” she said.  “Besides, I will not help you do something you will later regret.”

She saw the anger flash across his face.  “I want to curse her for not telling me.”

“No,” Greta countered with equal fervor.  “Mother Hulda is precious to me, and I am sure her niece is a fine woman.  I will not help you curse her.”

“I thought she was Greek, you know.”  Darius spoke lightly, as if not giving the letter a second thought.  “There is no shame in having a Greek mother.”  She watched the anger in his face turn to pain. The drink started to play havoc with his emotions.

“There is no shame in being of the people.”  Greta said. She felt for the shock he must have suffered.  In time, he would see his blood as good and honorable, but it must have been a shock at first.

The drink turned his thoughts again.  “If it had to be someone.  I am glad it was you.  You are educated, and now I see you also have a heart.”  He took one staggering step forward, but stopped.  Greta felt the pressure on her own mind.

“I will be a good wife.  I will do my duty,” Greta said.  “But it is only fair to tell you my heart belongs to another.”

Instead of the anger or disappointment she expected, he smiled.  “How convenient,” he said.  “I also love another.”  Greta did not like the sound of that.  “But my dear Potrucias has not written to me in months.  I fear I have lost her to someone else, only no one will tell me.” He got angry again.  “I have lived my whole life in the dark, blind, stupid…” He turned and knocked over the table and sent the quill and ink flying.  He turned back to look again at Greta.  “By Jupiter, you are lovely.  Perfect, really.  He stepped to face her and she did not stop him.  He set his hands on her shoulders as much to steady himself as for any other reason.  “More than pretty to satisfy a man for a lifetime.”  When Greta looked up into his face, she saw the deep desire there and she thought she had better leave.

“We are not married yet,” she whispered

“What is marriage?” he quipped.  “How do we barbarians do it?  Ah yes, the men get drunk and take their women by force.”  He staggered back a step, but his ring caught on her stitching and tore her dress, nearly exposing her.

“Oh.”  He said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean.”  He apologized, utterly, but extracting his ring did not prove easy, and he nearly tore her top some more.

“Gaius!” Greta called before her anger could get the better of her.

“I.”  His eyes pleaded innocence as he staggered back and plopped down on the stool.

“How could you?” She said and held her torn dress up to cover herself.  “We are not animals, and I am not Lucretia.”  Just when she felt sorry for him, she was glad to be reminded that he was the enemy.  Gaius came in and covered her with her red cloak and then placed his big cloak around hers.  He started to guide her from the tent, but she turned her head for a last word.  “I will do my duty,” she said, a bit sharply, and left.

Gaius guided her home muttering to himself about how he should never have left them alone. About half way there, Greta calmed down enough to speak.  “Forget it,” she said.  She knew full well it was an accident.

“Pardon?” Gaius asked.

“This night never happened.  Just don’t let him drink anymore, ever.”  Greta pulled the soldier’s cloak tighter because it started getting cold.  “My scarf!”  She remembered taking it off with her cloak and setting it down in the tent. Gaius must have missed it in his haste to cover her up.  “Return it quietly if you find it, and then, as far as I am concerned, this evening never happened.”

“My lady is gracious beyond words.”

“Not really.” Though it pained Greta to say it. “I will be his wife whether I like it or not, only I will have no drunken fool for a husband.  You say he does not drink.  Good.  See that he stays that way.”

“On my honor,” Gaius promised.

Greta looked at him as they walked.  She felt certain he spent his whole life in the army, and he seemed the right age. When they were almost home, she ventured a statement, though it came out like a question.

“You were with Trajan in the valley the night his weapons factory exploded,” she said. “You were preparing to face the united front of Parthians, Persians and Arabs.”  Gaius stumbled.

“Yes.  How did you know?”  They stopped and Gaius answered his own question.  “Little Mother.”  He called her that in the vernacular.  “I was Lord Darius’ age, just twenty-two, an excited soldier in the ranks.  I got handed a weapon and taught hastily how to use it.  And I did use it.”  His voice trailed off.

“But now?” Greta prompted.

“But now I am a gray beard over fifty and I no longer find war exciting.  Peace is better, preferably peace with honor, but peace,” he said.  Greta liked what he said, but not what she was probing for.  She decided on the direct approach.

“I mean, if you were handed a gun today, would you use it?”

Gaius stood perfectly still and spoke with absolute certainty.  “No.  Such weapons do not discriminate.  Men, horses, women, children, they do not care.  I saw guns in Mesopotamia.  I saw blood and body parts everywhere.  No test of strength, courage, determination, discipline.  Such weapons do nothing to make a man into a man.  They make only carnage, for the sake of killing.  As far as the world is concerned, those weapons never existed, and those who remember do not talk about it.”

“Some of those weapons still exist,” Greta said, as she turned toward the door of her house. “I may very well need your help to destroy them.”  She handed him his cloak and went inside before he could answer.  She shut the door, believing it best to let him think about it.  Perhaps there were others of the same frame of mind.  She hoped by the time she found out where the weapons were, she might have some help.

Somehow, Greta got to the back and changed without waking Mama or Hans.  She then took the dress outside and started a little celebration bonfire of her own.  She did not want there to be any questions.  In the light of the fire, she thought of Salacia’s charge.  She saw no way around it.  The goddess clearly said that Greta would have to deal with it.  It hardly seemed fair.  Then it occurred to Greta that Salacia was simply herself in another life.  In a sense, she had to say she only did it to herself.  She could not blame anyone else.  She thought long about the implications of that, but concluded that it was still not fair.

When the fire burned down, she went straight to bed.  She dreamed in the night about Darius caressing her and she responded. She felt glad, at least, that it was not a nightmare.