Avalon 4.0: part 3 of 7, The War on Drugs and Others

“Alexis, Katie, Lincoln, and Mingus, see if any enemy wounded might be saved,” Lockhart ordered.  “Decker, watch them.  Elder Stow, see if your scanner can pick up any more in range, and let me know which way they head.  Boston, with me.”

People moved, and Lockhart lead Boston back to face Shanjo.  His old police instincts were acting up.  “So what exactly do you have in those bags of yours?”  The twelve donkeys had a double bag slung over their backs so they had one bag on each side for balance.  Those twelve bags looked exactly alike.  The travelers assumed they did not all have the same thing inside—but maybe they did.

“Close your mouth,” Boston began with a laugh.  Shanjo and his men were staring with their mouths open at what just happened.

“A powder,” Shanjo said.  “It is a powerful medicine we are bringing on command of the Lord Hsia.”

Lockhart opened one satchel and found dozens of smaller bags inside.  He pulled one out, opened Boston 3ait and found it was indeed a rough ground powder, like some spice.  He looked toward Alexis to identify it, but she was needed on the field if they hoped to save any of those men.

“What is it?” Boston leaned over Lockhart’s shoulder.

“A powder made from a flower.  That is all,” Shanjo swore.

Lockhart licked his finger and took a small bit to touch it to his tongue, but it was rough and raw, and he could not identify it right away from smell and taste.  Boston tried a small lick and began to sing.

“Camptown ladies sing dis song …”

”Poppies.  Opium,” Lockhart named it immediately.  He knew it had an odd affect on elves.  They had been through this once before with Mingus but unlike Mingus, Boston was not the least embarrassed by it.  When Mingus and Lincoln ran up to see what was the matter, Boston spread her arms, twirled around, and sang.

“The hills are alive …”

“Opium,” Mingus did not hesitate to name the substance, even without seeing it.

“At least Boston can carry a tune,” Lockhart nodded.

Lincoln looked around at the donkeys and their packs, and calculated.  “There must be a billion dollars’ worth, street value in our day.”

Lockhart, the former police man, nodded again.

Alexis came up and took a pinch.  Once she heard and saw Boston singing, she also knew what it was.  She added her pinch of raw, ground poppy seeds to a cup of water and offered a word.  “Two are dying more slowly than the others.  You people were pretty thorough.  This much may kill them, but at least they shouldn’t feel any pain.”

“Elder Stow?”

“There,” Elder stow pointed generally at the hills in the direction they were headed.  “But they are at a distance that makes it hard to tell numbers, or really anything about them.”

“Not much help,” Major Decker said.  “I better have a look.”  He stepped off to where he could sit quietly and meditate.  His horse, Weber, followed him, but did not bother him, being content to munch on the scrub grass that covered the area.

“I am not equipped for such an expedition,” Elder Stow sounded defensive.  “I have only such small things as an officer carries, including my weapon.  This scanner is practically a child’s toy.”

“Don’t let it bother you,” Lockhart said.  “You are doing fine and have been a great help so far.”  He considered giving the elder a reassuring pat on the shoulder, but got interrupted.  Lincoln plugged into the database music library and turned on Born to be Wild.  He turned it up, and Boston sang along, and danced like a wild woman as well.  The opium compelled her to sing until it worked out of her system.  It did not necessarily compel her to dance, but she did not let that stop her.  She was always one with too much excess energy.  Becoming an elf and gaining elf metabolism only exacerbated that problem.  Lockhart expected her to start running up and down the road at about fifty miles an hour any minute.  He saw Decker move further away for some quiet.

Alexis 2“It is used for medicinal purposes,” Alexis explained over lunch.  “It at least numbs the pain.  If Lin, the Lord Hsia, is still fighting battles with nomads and such, she was probably willing to risk a small side bar of history to bring her people some relief.”

“Nuwa did tell us the Silk Road was used mostly for drugs, slaves, and occasional armies,” Lincoln added.

“Not much of a road,” Boston interjected.  Her voice sounded a little rough, but at least she did not have to sing it.

“Mine is not the first expedition to retrieve the seeds of the poppy,” Shanjo offered.  “But most of the others never returned.”

“And I can see why,” Lockhart said.

Katie had a thought.  “I would bet the brigands burned the first stuff and got hooked on the smoke.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Something like that, and I would guess we haven’t seen the last of them.”  He paused as Decker walked up and grabbed a piece of deer.  It was beginning to turn in the heat, but Shanjo had men smoking what they could to save for later.  The evening meal would be something like deer jerky.

“We got bigger troubles than thieves,” Decker reported.  “My eagle totem showed me three groups in the wilderness.  The thieves are camped above a valley, about a thousand of them, and they are keeping a sharp watch on the people down in the valley.  It looks like a small army, about two hundred men, with dragon flags and other banners.  They are camped along the edge of a big lake.  Very Chinese looking men and banners.  I would guess our friends here need to make it to the protection of the army group, though the thieves have them outnumbered at least five to one, so that might not help.”

“And the third group?” Elder Stow wondered.

“Right in our path, on the edge of the desert, in the next place where it gets narrow, about where we should stop for the night.  A good place for an ambush,” Decker said, and when he had everyone’s attention, he said, “Ghouls.”  He took a big bite of deer meat, and added, “I am guessing the next ten.”  That got everyone talking at once, but eventually, talking led to planning.

“As far as I know,” Mingus said.  “The ghouls ability to see through a good glamour is no better than humans.”

“The database confirms that,” Lincoln said without looking up from his reading.  “It specifically databasestates that while they are masters of making others see things that are not really there, and can cast glamours over their enemies to make them appear and sound like someone else, their own ability to see through glamours is surprisingly stunted.”

“The dragon is the emblem of Gingsu, the governor of the far west and defender of the border,” Shanjo said, not really keeping up with the rest of the conversation.  “I am sure if we can get there, he will grant us safe passage the rest of the way, though I worry that he is so far from the border.  There are many days yet to travel with the army before we can be truly safe.”

“One problem at a time,” Lockhart said.

“Let me take Alexis and Miss Riley,” Mingus pressed his suggestion.  “We can disguise ourselves to look like these merchants, and our horses to appear as shaggy ponies, and walk beneath their noses.  And we should have enough firepower between us to hold back the brigands, should they try another attack.”

“And the rest of us can circle around and come up behind the unsuspecting ghouls and pick them off from the rear,” Katie understood what Mingus was suggesting.

“For the record, I don’t like it.  I don’t like dividing us up,” Lockhart said.

“We still have these wrist communicators,” Lincoln pointed out, and raised his wrist to show the watch.  Everyone else simply looked at Lockhart.

“But I can’t think of anything better,” Lockhart said.  “We go with it, provided Mingus gives the prototype amulet he took from Avalon to Katie, in case we get seriously separated.”

Mingus paused, smiled and pulled the amulet out from an inner pocket.  “It is not as sophisticated as the other, and harder to read accurately,” he said.  It had a gold chain that fell to the ground as he held it.  Lincoln spoke as Mingus handed the amulet to Katie.

“Captain Harper has the brains to figure it out while the rest of us stand around and look at it, dumbly.”

“Those are your words,” Mingus said with a grin as Katie slipped the chain around her neck.

Katie 4

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To Be Continued…

Be sure to return Monday (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) for the concluding posts of Avalon, Episode 4.0.  Happy Reading.

 

Avalon 3.12: The Moon Goes Down, part 1 of 5

After 2508 in Eastern Anatolia. Kairos lifetime 45: Barak in the wilderness

Recording …

The night sky was cloud covered so neither the moon nor stars could be seen. The rain was not pouring, but certainly dribbling enough to dampen everyone’s mood. Only Roland and Boston kept smiling. The rest of the group might have imagined there was something about elves that made them immune to the weather, but Mingus was miserable enough.

“You could call this a dark and stormy night,” Roland suggested.

Boston turned her head and shouted. “It was a dark and stormy night.” She giggled while the others moaned, and Mingus came riding back from the point. He stopped beside Lockhart and Katie, but Lincoln and Alexis listened in.Barak dark night 3

“I think the edge of the poppy field is just up ahead. Anyway, there are trees like the edge of a forest.”

“Thank god.” That was the general consensus.

“And for the record,” Mingus continued. “There’s no point in putting my son and that girl up front. They could lead us in circles and not care one bit.” He turned his horse and rode out again to the point, hopefully to find a campsite.

“I bet Roland and Boston would still be smiling, too,” Katie said.

Alexis turned her head. “You mean his son and that girl.”

“I remember,” Lincoln mused. “That girl was a television show back when.” Alexis nodded.

“I’m sorry everyone,” Lockhart spoke up and apologized for the tenth time. “I did not want to camp in the middle of a poppy field, but I never imagined it was the biggest field in recorded history.”

“Somebody call Guinness,” Katie said.

“Are you getting sarcastic because of the rain?” Lockhart asked.

“No, you,” Katie said. “I am learning from you. I am getting to be just like you.” It was hard to tell if she thought that was a good thing or a bad thing.Barak dark night 2

“Not true,” Lockhart objected. “I am getting a lot from you.” Then he did not want to talk about it.

The travelers finally stopped in a clearing just inside the trees. That was still too close to the poppies for Lockhart, but the others assured him the opium was not going to leak out of the plants in the night. “Okay,” Alexis finally could not lie to the man. “I secretes a little liquid at night, but it cannot even be seen unless there is plenty of light, like moonlight.”

“So we should move further away?” Lincoln asked.

“No,” Alexis assured her husband that as long as they stayed out of the field, they would be fine. “I mean, it isn’t airborne. Just don’t wander around the field touching the plants and then licking your fingers. Opiates are basic medical stuff.” She said the last to satisfy how she knew what she was talking about.

“Actually, Opium has already been medical stuff for at least a thousand years, as pain killer and like an anesthetic. Also used by priests in ritual practices, or so the text books say.”

“Doctor Katie, ancient civilizations and technologies,” Lockhart said with a smile

“The plants haven’t had generations of selective breeding, either,” Katie added a bit more to the discussion. “I can’t imagine even in its raw form it is very strong.”

Barak opium“Now, don’t go all twenty-first century know-it-all,” Mingus interrupted. “These people are certainly capable of some selective breeding, especially when there is a good market for the product.”

“A field that size certainly suggests a good market,” Alexis agreed with her father.

“Who would have thunk it,” Decker said. “A bunch of cavemen getting high.”

“Decker!” Several people protested, and Katie tried to straighten out her superior officer.

“There is a twenty-first century know-it-all. We left the stone age almost from the beginning and went through an age of copper and soft metals. Now we are in the bronze age, and we will be for a couple of thousand years, but anyway. The point is these people are hardly stone age cavemen.” Decker put his hands up like he was not going to argue the point, but he pointed at Elder Stow and the Gott-Druk took that as an invitation to speak.

“My people, and the Elenar—especially the Elenar knew all about the poppy seeds in the before time. I also have an historical record of sorts, though it is not detailed and I have already seen where it is quite wrong on several rather important points. Still, assuming it is accurate in this case, we cultivated the poppy’s in the before time and may well have bred them for potency. The opiates affect our physiology the same as they affect any human.”

“Not elves,” Mingus said, and then wanted to take it back.

“How does opium affect elves?” Lincoln was curious, but Mingus shut his mouth, and Alexis showed deference to her father. She would not even tell her husband about Opium and elves.

People began to settle in to sleep. Lockhart called for one person, short watch through the night. He had no reason to believe they were in any particular danger that night, in the rain. He exempted Boston and Roland, who were in their own world and already resting in their tent, as far as anyone knew. Everyone else slept under the tarp they made by splicing their fairy weave tents together, temporarily. They did not need to sleep inside. It was hot out. It had been a warm rain.bonfire

Lockhart was about ready to doze off when he heard shouting out among the poppies. Someone was shouting at them, and drawing closer. Decker had his ever present rifle, but Katie spoke.

“I sense no evil intent.” As an elect, her senses were refined to feel out an enemy miles away. Decker, a trained navy seal had some pretty refined senses as well. All the same, he kept the rifle in his hands. Mingus, the elder elf, settled it.

“I sense fear, overwhelming, and near screaming panic. Even if this one means us harm, he is in no position to do us harm.”

Every eye went up when they heard the great howl of the wolf in the distance. Roland and Boston came out of their tent, rubbing their eyes, and looking like they had not really slept in a week, while Decker spoke.

“I’m guessing the moon is full tonight.” He pointed at the clouds and drizzle of rain.

“But is it the first moon, the middle moon, or the last moon?” Katie asked.

Alexis did not care. She had her wand out and grabbed Roland’s free hand. His other arm was around Boston, to hold her up while she tried to get her eyes open. Elder Stow shot a flare out over the poppies, but the only thing they saw was the man as he burst out of the field and collapsed in front of their fire. Katie and Lockhart went to him, while Alexis began to chant.

Moon 3“Surround, around, and swallow it down…” It was not very good poetry, but easy to understand. She was causing the opiate poppy seeds to be attracted to the wolf and get in its mouth and up its nose. Each verse ended with the refrain, “Sleep, sleep, sleep,” and she was drawing on the magic of Roland and Boston as well as her own. The spell was seriously strong.

They heard a growl in the distance followed by a kind of whimpering howl, and then nothing. Roland and Boston were both asleep by the time Alexis finished. They fell to the ground where they held on to each other. Alexis sat to get her breath as Mingus made a comment for Decker.

“I trust we will be safe tonight.”

“As long as it doesn’t snow,” Decker said, drawing on a childhood memory.

Lincoln, Katie and Lockhart were only then getting some story out of their visitor.

“Hatusti, my friend and I—I am Puzziya—we came out from the camp in the hills to test the poppies in the night under the moon to see if they were ready to harvest.” The man had a scarf over his mouth and nose, and gloves on his hand. “Hatusti was good at knowing such things. But when we got deep into the field and the sun went to rest, the clouds came and it began to rain. The rain was light and not hard, so we prayed to Nerik of the storms and waited, thinking the rain will soon go and the sky will clear. We waited a long time, but the storm god did not answer us.”barakpuzzy man 6

“We were ready to return to the camp in the mountain, when the answer came in the form of the great beast of the mountain, the servant of Lelwani. My friend, Hatusti was taken, and I am ashamed. While Hatusti was being eaten, I ran. I thought of nothing but to run away. I might have run to the end of the world and fallen off the cliff if I did not see your light. I saw your fire. I came to this place. I am ashamed.”

Alexis stood by then and summed up her work. “With a full belly, a sleep spell and plenty of opiate poppy seeds, the wolf will sleep. It will probably wake in the morning when it returns to being a man, but I assume we will be gone by then.”

“Your brother and that girl are back in their tent, asleep,” Mingus said, and to Alexis’ look, he added, “I should have left the girl out in the dirt.” He turned his back on everyone, lest they see the lie in his face. He dragged Roland into the tent and carried Boston gently to lay her beside his son. Decker and Elder Stow saw, and though Decker would never say anything, Elder Stow let out his full grin and said, “Family.”

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Be sure and check in tomorrow for the second post in Avalon, episode 3.12, The Moon Goes Down

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