Elder Stow arrived at about the same time as the lead dwarf reached the group. Elder Stow got right up on Mudd.
“Welcome travelers,” the dwarf said. “Sanyas has been informed of your presence. Chief Pavhara is talking to the Princess, there.” He pointed toward Boston. “I think Sanyas wants us to escort you to her, but first, you should come inside for the night. The grub-diggers won’t find you in the underground.”
“Grub-diggers?” Lockhart asked.
“Humans,” Alexis said.
“You got a name?” Katie asked.
“Yu Me,” a second dwarf said. “His family is all immigrants, but Yu know how immigration works. Get it? Yu knows?”
“Got it,” Katie said, and managed a smile.
“Can I give it back?” Decker asked.
“Underground?” Lincoln complained, but it was not so bad. The dwarfs had a big cavern, well lit by fires and plenty of torchlight. They also had plenty of food, as might have been expected. Best of all, they had a long tunnel, big enough for the horses and wagon, that led to the far end of the pass and the hills of Gandhara. The Swat River was not far. There, on the first hilltop, they found Sanyas and her camp. She had roughly three hundred soldiers hidden among the trees.
The travelers moved slowly into the camp. Soldiers saw them, but also saw the dwarfs, so they waited for orders from higher up to make a move. When it appeared that the dwarfs were leading these strange people straight toward the command tents, a large number of soldiers got in their way.
A woman in her fifties pushed through the line of soldiers and yelled that these were old friends, and the soldiers should go back to whatever they were doing. The soldiers parted, without question, and more than a few bowed as they walked off. The travelers figured this had to be Sanyas.
“Boston,” Sanyas said, with a happy smile, as the red head jumped into her grandmotherly embrace.
“Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi?” Lincoln carefully pronounced the name. He had to ask, just to be sure.
Sanyas frowned. “Roughly translated, that name means I renounce being ruler or goddess. As for Ruler, my older sister Yasomati is queen, and her husband is king, and that is as close as I want to get to running things. As for goddess, I cannot deny the sprites of the earth, air, fire, and water, but I will never be counted as a goddess over people. Never over people. The gods have gone and what is done is done.” Sanyas smiled.
“And yet, here you are with several hundred soldiers who obviously take your orders,” Lockhart pointed out.
Sanyas frowned again. “My husband, Brahmagupta is supposed to be in charge, but he has no military heart or mind. I love him for that, but someone has to be in charge. Come, I will show you.” She yelled and men hurried to collect the horses, the mule and wagon, so all the travelers could follow her. Several soldiers also followed, old friends or not.
They came to a ledge and a fifty-foot drop that gave a view clear of trees. To their right, they saw a camp in the valley, and men on horses. When they got the binoculars out, way in the distance on their left, they saw what looked like a city.
“Peschawar,” Sanyas named the city. “The valley is made by the river from the Khyber. It joins the Swat not too far from here. The Alchon Huns still rule in Gandhara, though they have pulled back from the Punjab.”
“We saw Huns fighting on the other side of the Khyber,” Katie said.
Sanyas nodded. “I managed to get the Nezak and Alchon to fight each other, but after the Alchon from the Punjab returned to their capital in Kabul, the Afridi moved back into the pass and now the Alchon that are still here on this side of the pass are cut off from their home.”
“We got held prisoner by the people in the pass for a while,” Lincoln said.
“Tell me,” Sanyas turned to Lincoln, and he gave a fair telling of the story. Lockhart interrupted to tell the important part.
“The chief worked for the Masters. He wanted our guns, not necessarily us. I shot him.”
“You were right to kill him,” Sanyas said, even as she looked down, and would not look in Lockhart’s eyes. “There is no telling what damage he might have done if he lived, and if he lived and had your weapons…” She did not finish the sentence.
“Huns in the valley?” Katie asked.
“Yes,” Sanyas said. “I had hoped trouble in Kabul might have encouraged them to abandon this side of the pass altogether and go home. They are cruel and intolerant toward the people. They make great demands and show neither grace nor mercy. Now, if I can’t get them to abandon Gandhara because the pass is blocked, I don’t know what I can do. They might not even know there is trouble in Kabul if the messengers can’t get through.”
Lockhart noticed again and pointed before he stared through the binoculars. That same alien ship they had seen a few days earlier rose into the sky not far from the city. Lincoln had the other pair of binoculars while Katie and Decker used the scopes for their rifles. The ship quickly entered the clouds and disappeared from sight.
“Not your concern,” Sanyas said. “They have been told and will leave this world alone.”
As she finished speaking, a troop of roughly thirty men rode up. One of them turned out to be a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy, who came running to Sanyas to meet the strangers. One of whom looked Sanays’ age, or maybe sixty. He walked.
“The Huna are leaving their camp and going back to the city,” the boy reported in an excited voice, as he hugged Sanyas and took in the travelers from the safety of her arms.
“The thing is,” Sanyas finished her thought. “With the Huna fighting each other, if I can get these last ones to go back through the pass, I might be able to help the local Afridi people close down the pass to all but merchant caravans. Then we can have peace.”
“Peace is a good thing,” Alexis said, and looked at the young man.
Sanyas introduced him. “This is my nephew, Harsha.”
“Good to meet you,” Lockhart said, as the older man arrived.
“My husband, Brahmagupta,” Sanyas introduced the man.
“They are headed back to the city,” Brahmagupta said. “The way should be clear tomorrow. We should be able to leave in the morning.”
“Lockhart. I need you and the travelers to escort my husband, my nephew, and thirty assigned men as far as you are going. They are going to Magadha.”
“Must I go?” Harsha asked.
“You must learn more than just military matters. Yes,” Sanyas said.
Boston pulled out her amulet to take a look and offered a thought. “But, if you go with us, that will just push the time gate further and further away.”
“I will not be joining you. Brahmagupta wishes to see his family and where he grew up one last time before he dies. Harsha has many things to learn, and Brahmagupta can teach him, if he will listen. And I will stay here and deal with the Huna.” She looked once again at the sky. “But there is time before the morning. Let us eat and rest and tell stories until then.”
8.1 Rain and Fire The travelers find themselves in the Yucatán and among the Mayan people, all of whom seem to want to cut their hearts out. Until next time. Happy Reading