Junior sat down to watch the newly created Niudim eat. He was trying to discern certain more subtle aspects of his making when Lockhart interrupted.
“So where did the imps go?”
Junior nodded and left off his examination to answer. “The Mojave on the other side of the world where the goddess will never find them. The plan might not work, but at least they will be safe.”
“That’s it? You just sent them off?” Lincoln wondered.
“No.” Junior shook his head. “I gave them a lovely thatched roofed house with roses of the desert in their garden and a big pen full of buffalo and big horn sheep and other animals native to that part of the world.”
‘Sounds lovely,” Katie said.
Junior smiled for the first time and it warmed the hearts of everyone present. “Truth is they will eat through that food in a couple of weeks and probably accidentally burn the house down. Then they will be right back to their same old tricks, make a golem out of buffalo hide, and send him into the nearest village to beg, borrow or steal whatever is edible.”
“We will head down into the underworld this evening at sundown. It would be better if you were not around for that.”
Lincoln shivered. “I can’t imagine not being afraid.”
Junior shook his head. “The Kairos has access to all the underworlds. I have little ones who work down below. I can go down and back up by pledge of all the gods and Hades, Erishkegal and even Hellas have no right or power to prevent me. I also happen to be immune to the food of the dead. A precaution I think, but then I am also immune to ambrosia, the divine nectar, the apples of youth, and of course fairy food.” Junior sighed.
Lockhart looked at Junior for a moment as if trying to figure out something in his own head before he moved. He could not guess, whatever it was, so he spoke. “Okay people, lets pack it up and see how far we can get in daylight.”
Junior and Niudim waved until the travelers were out of sight. The Travelers returned the sentiment, but it was not long before they were beyond of the only source of love in that world. The group moved mostly in silence. When they spoke, it was cordial. They were all trying hard to remember their true feelings, even if they were not feeling that way at the moment.
The sun seemed to take forever to set over that flat land of grass and sand. It was Lincoln who finally came to name the land the desert of Arabia. They were in the Middle East, but a long way from the Tigris and Euphrates. Fortunately, Junior made sure their water skins and canteens were full before they left.
Roland did not have to go far to find a gazelle that appeared to want to be taken for supper. There was also wood in the area for the fire, though no one could imagine where it came from. The animal was cut and cooked, and people ate their fill and drank sparingly from their water. When each person laid down to sleep, Katie started it all.
“Lockhart,” she said. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” he responded, and they both turned on their sides, away from each other and not near enough to touch,
“Roland,” Boston spoke up. “I do love you.”
“I know, and I love you too,” Roland responded.
“I know,” Boston said and she took a minute to fluff her makeshift pillow.
Alexis turned to Lincoln and risked touching him. Lincoln faced her and spoke. “I love you too. I followed you to the end of the world, or the beginning of the world as the case may be because I did not want to live without you.”
“I know,” Alexis echoed Boston’s word. “I’m glad, and I love you too.” She turned over and tried to get comfortable on that hot and sweaty night.
The whole group was up in the early light before dawn. “We better move before the day gets too hot again,” Lockhart said. No one said they agreed. They just went about saddling up and preparing to go.
All that long day was spent in silence, especially when the blazing sun forced them to walk and walk their horses. There was only one brief conversation between Elder Stow and Decker, the two who were unencumbered with immediate concerns about love.
“I do not understand these people,” Elder Stow said. “My people were made to live in just these sorts of small groups. Relationships are encouraged, but so often these appear reluctant, especially among the mother and father of the group.”
“In our tradition relationships are discouraged because they can so easily distract from readiness and from the mission. The brass wouldn’t like this, and people know office romances are generally not a good idea. But in this case, I would like to see these relationships strengthened. It means they will be watching out for each other double hard, and it sets me free to watch the perimeter and deal with whatever may be following us..”
“Exactly, and indeed,” Elder Stow said, and he floated overhead to his place where he could watch the perimeter on the other side of the column.
The travelers walked long into the cool of the night. Though the landscape remained unchanged, full of scrub grass and sand, the night got cold in the wee hours just like a real desert. The travelers had to thicken their fairy weave clothes and bundle up. It was two in the morning when they found the time gate.
Lockhart would have stopped the group by midnight, but Boston kept saying it was just up ahead. No one argued about wanting to stop, and Lockhart thought long about their journey so far. They had been subject to wars, pestilence and diseases unheard of in the twenty-first century. They had been chased by ghouls and demons, trapped and attacked by locals including soldiers, fought aliens, night creatures and a little green man. They twice had their minds and wills taken over by powers in the earth. They once went into a world where the sun never came up, but the group was never so anxious to leave a time zone. A world without love was unbearable.
They broke their informal rule and went through the time gate in the dark. They found themselves in some region of the Alps, as Lincoln reported. There was snow on the fir trees and in windblown piles on the ground, and they appeared to be on a kind of road that wound through the high country. There was a small clearing in that place where they could set a camp.
The travelers dismounted and Roland went straight to Boston. He wrapped her up in his arms and she was eager for his kiss. Lincoln and Alexis hugged first, like old married couples do, but soon they joined the kissing party. Lockhart dismounted and Katie looked at him, but said and did nothing. It was up to him to walk to her and slip his arms around her.
“I’m slow,” he said. “But I will get there.” Katie just nodded as he touched his lips tenderly to hers. She kissed him back, and it wasn’t so tender.
Elder Stow went to hover beside Decker who had yet to dismount when Decker heard a voice.
“Ooo, that is something you don’t see every day.”
Decker looked up. It was a ghost floating just above his and Elder Stows heads. Decker made no sign of surprise. He slipped off his horse and shouted, “Make camp,” though it technically wasn’t his place to say that.