Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 4 of 6

Lincoln and Alexis tied off their horses. They were both soaking wet from the river crossing, and so were the horses, but none seemed any worse for the wear.  Lincoln thought to try out his wristwatch radio.  “Lockhart, can you hear me?”  He had to wait a minute, figuring Lockhart had to remember how it worked.  He heard Katie’s voice in response.

“We hear you,” she said.  “Keep in mind, every peep on the radio reaches everyone. Meanwhile, Robert is not getting the best cooperation from Elder Stow’s horse.”

“That is a very good horse,” they heard Elder Stow respond.  “You just have to coax it, gently.”  Elder Stow did not have a watch-radio, but he could easily pick up the frequency on his communications device.

“We will try not to get out of range. How does it look, Lincoln?”

“Like we figured.  The people came out to work on the spring planting. There are not many near our location, but even if no one comes close enough, we have a good view of the city wall, mostly a wooden wall, and the city gates.”

“Elder Stow?”

“A merchant ship as I surmised.  We are about to go invisible for a closer look. There appear to be some crew members sitting around a fire. We will let you know what we find out.”

“Roger.  Out.”  Katie nudged her horse into the water and bit her tongue rather than complain about how cold it was.

###

“Are you ready?” Elder Stow asked. Sukki nodded, so he flipped the switch and checked to be sure she went fully invisible.  Then he made himself invisible, so they could still see each other, but no one else could see them.  “Let us see what the people are talking about.”

As they walked up, they saw seven Gott-Druk sitting around the fire, and two men that were definitely not Gott-Druk, standing, with guns in their hands.

“Humanoids,” Sukki whispered. Elder Stow nodded and hushed her.

“So, you say the ship will not fly?” It sounded like a question, but Sukki and Elder Stow had to wait for the translation device to translate the words into Gott-Druk.  Of course, to Elder Stow and Sukki, the translation still sounded like “So, you say the ship won’t fly?”  They had been gifted by the Kairos with the gift of the little ones.  No matter language got spoken, they heard it in their native tongues.  Likewise, they could respond if necessary, and the person they spoke to would hear the words in their own native tongue.  A few alien languages they had come across had been difficult, but Humanoid and Gott-Druk were easy.

“Too much battle damage,” one of the Gott-Druk responded.  “You attacked us with three warships, and we would have gotten away if you had not crashed your shuttle into our cargo bay.”  They had to wait for the translation again.

“I got hungry,” the humanoid said, and appeared to laugh.  After the translation, he added, “So, why did you come here?  This world is marked in green.  No one is supposed to come here.”

“We did not exactly have a choice.”

“But this world is no good for repairing your ship.  It is only good for food.”  It sounded like yelling, humanoid style.

“We did not exactly have a choice,” the Gott-Druk repeated.

“Come,” Elder Stow whispered.  He led Sukki up the ramp and into the ship where he thought to add, “Don’t touch anything.”

They arrived in the engine room where a humanoid held the two Gott-Druk engineers at gun point.  They heard the humanoid yell into his communication device. “I can’t get it to work.  I don’t even understand it.  They call it ion energy and say it powers the photon drive, but they call it dark energy and anti-photons.  I don’t even know what they are talking about.”

They heard the roar from the other end. “Keep them at it.  The longer we stay here, the greater chance we have of being discovered by whatever reason this world is marked in green.”

Elder Stow heard enough.  He pulled his weapon and set it with just enough power to stun a Gott-Druk.  He imagined it might kill the humanoid, but that could not be helped.  He fired.

###

Out in the fields, a middle-aged woman came to rest in the shade of the trees.  Alexis took the chance.  She shaped her fairy-weave clothes to imitate the local styles, and made some small noise in the woods so the woman would not be startled by her sudden presence.  The woman looked back and saw her.  Lincoln stayed out of sight, but he held on to his Patton saber and had his handgun at his side, just in case.

“Your pardon,” Alexis said.  “I am looking for someone and perhaps you could help me.”

The woman did not bother to rise, but shaded her eyes as she looked up.  “You must live some distance from here, like on some outlying farm,” the woman said.  “I know a lot of people, but I don’t recall your face.”

“I do not live near here,” Alexis admitted.  “I do not know the face of the one I am looking for, but I know his name.  It is Evan Cecil Emerson.  Do you know him?”

“Cecil? What do you want him for? He is pretty useless.  He can’t hardly dress himself.  He doesn’t know anything about work or tools.  He can’t hitch up the oxen, and couldn’t plow a straight line if he got threatened with the whip.  He is an idiot.  I got a six-year-old who knows more than him.  What do you want him for?”

“He doesn’t belong here,” Alexis said, plainly.

The woman laughed.  “You may be right about that.  He’s been saying the same thing since he showed up some time ago, hungry and helpless.  I would bet the Etruscans threw him out, but we take in all the strays here.  We got some Etruscans, Latins, Sabines, Albans, Greeks.  We even got some that claim they came from as far away as Asia, from a place they called Troy.  I don’t know where that is, either.  I don’t know where Greece is either, except I heard about it all my life. So, who told you about Cecil, and where does he belong?  He sure doesn’t fit in here.”

Alexis took a deep breath before she decided on honesty.  “A faun from Vatican Hill asked me to fetch him.  Cecil is from the future, and I intend to take him there—to take him home.”

The old woman stared. Then she laughed. “You a believer in the wee people? You go for all that magic foolishness?” She paused in her laugh.  “To be sure, Cecil says he is from the future. He says he got separated from his wife there, and does not know how to reach her.  Funny you should say that.”  The old woman’s eyes got big for a second, before she squinted and pointed.  “Cecil is there, with my husband, probably messing up the planting, again.”

“Tyrus.”  The woman stood, shouted and waved.  “Tyrus.  Bring Cecil.” The man scowled and handed the reigns for the plow to the young boy beside him.  Cecil did not move until Tyrus waved for him to follow.

“What?” Tyrus shouted back.  “We’ll never get the field done if we leave off work.” His voice lowered as he drew near. “Cecil is doing his best, poor as that may be.  What?”

“This young woman says she is looking for Cecil; says she wants to take him back to the future.”

Alexis had to concentrate, but managed a sentence in English.  “Do you want to return to the future?”

Cecil fell to his knees and began to weep.

Tyrus looked flummoxed.  “I can’t allow that.  Lord Tarquin himself told me I could have him if I didn’t lose him. If he goes missing, what is going to happen to me?”

“On the other hand,” Alexis said, reading the couple.  “If I take him off your hands, you will get much more work done and have one less mouth to feed.”

Tyrus rubbed his jaw.  “There is that.”

“Ah-ha,” the woman nodded and smiled, like she liked that idea.

“No, but it cost me to have him.”

“Benjamin,” Alexis called.  Lincoln stepped into sight and made a show of sheathing his saber.  “Do you have those coins you picked up from Ibelam?”  She turned to the couple and explained, even if they would not understand. “Ibelam helped a friend, Artie, and she paid him in gold coins such as the Androids minted for their economy, and mostly for trade.  Ibelam was kind enough to share a few, despite him being a notorious pirate.”

“Here,” Lincoln handed them over and Alexis gave them to Tyrus.

“Ibelam?” Tyrus asked.

“Yes.  I imagine he sailed by here at some point, though that would have been when you were a child.  He captained the ship, Sinbad’s Folly.”

“Sinbad?” Tyrus appeared to know something.  Some light went off in his memory.  “Notorious,” he agreed, and looked at the coins.

“Cecil,” Alexis waved for him to join them.

“Evan?” Lincoln asked.

“Either,” the man said, and he hurried. He almost started to cry again when he saw the horses, but they mounted, Evan behind Lincoln, and they rushed to the river.  “No, that way,” Evan said, turning them away from the water

“We have to get out from under the eyes of the town,” Lincoln insisted.

“We will.  Trust me.  That way,”

They turned downriver and soon came out of the trees where they could be plainly seen by anyone up on the village wall.

“By the time they bring out the chariots, we will be back under cover and out of range, believe me.”

Alexis spoke into her watch. “Katie. Elder Stow.  We got Evan Cecil.  How are you doing?”

“We have a dilemma to resolve, but it should not take long,” Elder Stow responded first.

“Just coming to the cave where Valencia should be located,” Katie answered.  “I’ll let you know.”

Evan appeared startled by the voices that came from the little bracelets the people wore.  He did not say anything, but he looked more closely at his saviors.

###

The riders and their centaur guide came out of the trees on to a small clearing.  The spring flowers grew up to a grass covered ledge, at the back of which sat a clear cave among the rocks.  Colon stopped, so the others stopped with him, and wondered what he would do.

“Lady,” he called.  “My lady.  Gracious lady, I have brought friends of yours.  The faun of the gray hair sent me.  Lady…” Colon stopped speaking, and looked worried.

A wolf slowly emerged from the cave, growling and snarling.  It looked hungry.  The travelers noticed some red hair that grew out of the wolf’s back.  Colon took a step back, but he tried to smile.  Two identical boys, no older than twelve, came from the cave to stand beside the wolf, and both complained.

“Mama.  We have company.”

The wolf let out a little grin before it changed into a woman, about five and a half feet tall, with long red hair down her back, and eyes as dark a charcoal.  “Thank you Colan,” she said.  “It doesn’t fix things, but it helps.”  She turned to the travelers.  “Lockhart, bad timing as usual.”  She opened her arms.  “Boston.” She had to wait.  Boston hesitated because of the wolf, but only hesitated for a moment.

One of the twelve-year-olds put his arms out for a hug, but Boston snubbed him, and the woman slapped his hand. “Romulus,” the woman scolded.

“And Remus?” Katie asked, and got that groupie look on her face.

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 3 of 6

The travelers found a place among the trees and behind a rise in the landscape where they felt they could build a fire without attracting too much human attention.  Boston and Katie bagged a deer, and Alexis found some greens that were better, not bitter, and some tubers that boiled up real nice.  Decker, Lockhart, Lincoln, and Elder Stow climbed to a place on the rise and in the trees where they could watch the village and the Gott-Druk spaceship.  Decker brought his binoculars and night goggles.  Lockhart got the same equipment from Katie, which Lincoln kept borrowing. Elder Stow contented himself with what his scanner could show him.

“They have shrines near the middle-top of the hill,” Lincoln said.  “I would guess Greek gods with Roman names, like Jupiter instead of Zeus and Pluto instead of Hades.”

“I wonder if Saturn is still around,” Lockhart said.  “I recall the Kairos mentioning that he got confined to Italy to keep him off Mount Olympus.  The Kairos said in his passive-aggressive way, Saturn insisted on different names for the gods in his jurisdiction.”

“Not really a different jurisdiction,” Lincoln said.  “Still part of the Greco-Roman jurisdiction in southern Europe.  Zeus threw his father, Cronos into the deepest pit of Hades. He spared his grandfather, Saturn, but confined him to Italy, sort of like a big prison cell.”

“I see three main gates on the wall,” Decker said, interrupting the conversation that neither man knew honestly what they were talking about.  Lincoln had the database and could read about it, but that was not what they were there for.

“I have scanned for Gott-Druk life-signs,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “They seem to be confined to the island.”

“I see several fires,” Lockhart agreed, and Lincoln reached for the binoculars.

“No indication they have seen us, or even that they are looking in our direction.”

“Atypical behavior for the Gott-Druk,” Decker said.  “I would have expected them in the village, making the humans cower and bow down to them.”

Elder Stow frowned.  “You have a very low opinion of my people.”

“Nothing personal,” Lockhart said. “But it is the behavior we have seen and what has been reported about your people.”

Elder Stow took a deep breath and nodded. “But here, the ship parked on the island has some armament and weapons, probably a necessity for space travel, but it does not appear to be a warship.  I would guess it is more like a merchant ship, a freighter of some sort.”

“There’s a twist,” Decker said.

Lockhart lowered the night goggles. It was hardly dark enough yet to make them worthwhile.  “I would say giving these early Romans access to heat rays would be even more dangerous to history than the old Gott-Druk way of taking over and trying to make slaves of the human race.”

“I don’t know how we can get into the village and get Evan without causing an uproar,” Lincoln said.

“The presence of my people does complicate things,” Elder Stow agreed.

Lockhart also agreed.  “Especially if they are on a peaceful trade mission.”

“So, we find the Kairos first?” Decker made it a question, but it seemed the only solution to him.  Throughout their journey, he had learned that the Kairos inevitably knew what was happening, and had some idea how to deal with otherwise impossible situations.

No one objected as they scooted off the rise and returned to the camp.  They found the horses cared for and set for the night, and food cooking, but they all imagined they would be up for a time of debate.  Everyone needed a chance to put in their two cents, and then Lockhart needed to keep them together long enough to do whatever the consensus decided.

###

In the morning, Lockhart felt unhappy, but nothing he could do about it.  Lincoln and Alexis insisted on edging up to the farm fields, where they figured most of the people would come out to participate in the spring planting.  When the workers came out, they imagined they might find Evan and whisk him to safety.  There was one place where the trees came right up to the edge of the fields. They would have a good view of the fields and the village from there, while they could stay hidden.  Lincoln insisted someone had to stay and keep an eye on the village.  Besides, they found a trail they could ride to the river if they needed to evade pursuit.

“We still have the wrist communicators to keep in touch,” Alexis reminded everyone.

Lincoln got to say it.  “I keep forgetting about these things.”

Lockhart could not argue, but he made Katie give Lincoln her binoculars and Alexis the prototype amulet, so Alexis and Lincoln could find the next time gate if they got separated from the rest of the group.  He made Lincoln give Katie the database in case Lincoln got captured.  He figured if the Gott-Druk could figure out how to read it, they might learn some things about the future that they should not know.

Elder Stow, perhaps worse, insisted on checking out the Gott-Druk present on the island in the river.  Sukki would go with him.  He made her swallow a big pill which he said would pass in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, he could use his equipment to make her invisible when he went invisible.  He had a few invisibility disc relays, but insisted the pill was more certain and better for something like this.

“I will try to talk with them to see what their intentions may be,” Elder Stow said.  “I will try to suggest they need to not be here, but I don’t know how they may respond.  Invisibility is just a precaution.”  Lockhart did not object until Elder Stow added a note.  “It would probably be best if you keep the horses with you.  I can levitate us to the island, but visible, flying horses would not work well.”

“It is going to be hard enough trying to wend our way through farms and hamlets to get to the back of the hill where the Kairos is located without giving ourselves away.”  Lockhart complained, but they took the horses.

###

Decker and Katie rode out front, armed and ready for whatever might present itself.  Lockhart and Boston followed, each bringing an extra horse with them.  In this way, they approached the river, prepared to swim across where it got deep, but they found a surprise waiting for them on the riverbank.  A centaur.

“Welcome.  I am Colon, prince of the mountain pastures where my family makes its home.  I have come at the urging of the gray-haired faun, to guide you to the goddess of time.” He smiled.  It felt like a big speech for the brute.

“I don’t suppose Dionysus is around anywhere,” Decker said, a frown on his face.

“Silenus in this place,” Katie said.

“No.  I am quite sober,” Colon responded

“Eh?” Lockhart asked, and Katie explained.

“The centaurs in legend are well known for their wild, drunken orgies, and attempts to ride off with women, to molest them.”

Colon’s eyes grew big.  “You are an elect, as strong and capable as a demigod,” Colon objected, without denying anything.  “You must think me mad to wish to offend you.”

“Just so we understand each other,” Katie said.

“But to be sure, I have also come to see the red-haired girl, the wisest of the wise.  Clopsus the Great said you would be among the travelers, and I am deeply honored to meet the one told of in our legends down through all the centuries.”

“Um…Thanks,” Boston swallowed.

“And it is even as I have been told. You have become as an elf, even a high elf, and a princess among all the elves”

“Princess?”  Lockhart asked, and grinned.

“As in, Disney?” Decker smiled at her.

“Shut-up,” Boston said.  “Truscas had a big mouth.  Can we get going?”

“Of course,” Colon said.  “If you will follow, I will endeavor to lead you in a safe way for my distant cousins that you ride, and away from the human scum.”

“Shows you where we rate,” Decker said.

Lockhart had to tug on the reigns of Elder Stow’s horse to get his nose out of the grass at his feet.  “Come along, cousin,” he said.

###

Elder Stow and Sukki landed among the few trees on the island.  “It will not hurt to look and listen first,” he said.  “Caution is a good thing.”

“Yes, father.”  Sukki lowered her eyes.

Elder Stow smiled for the girl. “You are a good daughter, even if you are adopted.  I wish my daughters by the flesh were as cooperative.”

“Oh, children need to respect their parents,” Sukki said, in complete sincerity.

“My Abella argues all the time, about everything,” Elder Stow said, as he got out his scanner and adjusted several settings.

“Arguing shows a lack of respect. She should at least respect that you are her father.  How old is she?”

Elder Stow paused to think before he answered.  “She is thirty earth years.”

Sukki drew in her breath.

“I am fifty-two,” Elder Stow said.  “And no, I did not have a bite of the apple of youth as Lockhart, Lincoln and Alexis had. I am an honest fifty-two.”

“But…I never heard of many Gott-Druk who lived much after forty.  Forty-five is very old.  I heard one old woman lived to forty-eight, but fifty sounds unbelievable.”

“You come from the deep past.  I understand,” Elder Stow told her.  “But in the future, we have found ways to take better care of ourselves.  My father died at the ripe old age of eighty-six”

Sukki’s eyes got big s she calculated “He was still having children at thirty-six.  But that is so old.”

“Thirty-four, and not so old in the future. Now hush.”  Elder Stow looked at his results.  “It is an ancient Sky-Skimmer; a merchant vessel as I surmised.  Crew of twenty, though quite big.  Minimal weapons, but new-ion driven.  We have made it to the photon age. They might not have a photon bomb, but possibly a gravitron bomb.  Honestly, I am not as conversant with that age in history to say for sure.”

“I did not understand a word you said,” Sukki admitted.  “Why am I here?”

“So I have company.  It is important for families to do things together. Besides, if we have to reveal ourselves, you will not be out of place.”

“Yes, Father,” Sukki said, and with some joy at the idea of being family.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers have split up.  Everyone has their assignment.  We shall see how things work out… or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 2 of 6

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.”

Katie nodded.

“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.”

“We are so inclined.”

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.”

R5 Festuscato: Wild and Dangerous, part 1 of 3

She appeared much too beautiful to be human.  Her black hair fell full but straight, and no doubt long beneath her red cloak and hood. Her features looked sharp, but her tears suggested a softness in her heart.  Behind those tears, she had the hint of eyes as blue and bright as the sky on a sunny day.  Her dress looked like silk, a soft pink held fast by a clasp of gold that sparkled with flashes of red in the sun, a splash of jewels to match the ruby on her ring. Mostly, she looked young, perhaps twenty-one, but that made the picture altogether curious and somehow wrong. There was no way such a rich and beautiful young woman should be walking, much less walking alone on the Appian Way.

Festuscato, all of seven, covered in mud and presently sitting in an orange tree by the side of the road, pondered this vision as well as a seven-year-old can ponder such things.  This girl should have had a dozen guards, and several servants and handmaids besides. And they should have been on horseback, if she was not in a carriage.  After all, it was just thirteen years gone since Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Rome.  And worse, father said Emperor Honorius recently died and he got angry because Castinus, the bad guy, was going to cause riots in the streets.  Festuscato did not follow all of that, but he believed his father.

Festuscato held his breath.  The young woman came over to the side of the road and sat quietly on the grass, in the shade, right beneath his tree.  Festuscato thought it was too perfect.  He quietly plucked a ripe orange, stretched his arm out and aimed as well as he could. Then he thought he ought to give fair warning.

“Bombs away,” he yelled and let the orange drop.  He missed by a good foot to the girl’s left, but the girl reached out with super speed and snatched the orange before it touched the ground.

“Thank you,” the girl said.  “I was a bit hungry.”

“Hey!” Festuscato wanted to protest, but he hardly knew what to say.  He scrambled down the tree and she stood to face him.  “How did you do that?” he asked.

“Magic,” the girl said with a grin, which suggested she might be having fun with him. She had the orange peeled in no time and offered one piece to him.  Festuscato shook his head.

“I am sick of oranges,” he said honestly enough, as a thought occurred to him and came bounding out of his mouth.  “Are you running away from home?”

The girl smiled. “I am a long way from home.  My name is Mirowen.  Do you have a name or should I just call you grubby?”

“I’m Festus. I’m an orphan and I’ve run away from home, too.  Like Greta, I’m going to have an adventure and save the world.”  Festuscato returned the girl’s smile, but on his face, it did not appear nearly as convincing.

Mirowen paused in her orange eating to look serious for a moment.  “How can you run away from home if you are an orphan who has no home?  I think you are going to have to work on your lying, not that I am recommending it.”

“Hey, Festus.” A boy down the street called and waved. There were three boys, all about the same age as Festuscato, and all just about as dirty.

“Hey!” Festuscato waved back.  “Come and meet my friends.”  He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not hesitate to give it to him, even if it meant being dragged down the street.  “Hey guys.  I want you to meet my girlfriend, Mirowen.”

Three boys stopped still and looked stunned.

“This is Felix, Gaius and Dibs.  Say hello, fellas.”

“Awe,” Felix mouthed and threw his hands out.   “How can you have a girlfriend?  You’re only seven.  I thought maybe it was your new nurse.”

“Nurse?  I don’t need a nurse.”  Festuscato protested.

“He’s had three so far,” Gaius said.  “He ran one off, got one to beg to be released from the duty, and one died, mysteriously.”

“I ate her,” Festuscato said, with a straight face.

“Awe,” Felix repeated the word and the gesture.  “Don’t listen to him.  He just likes to give Dibs nightmares.”

“I see,” Mirowen said with a glance at Festuscato.  She let go of the boy’s hand and smiled her warmest smile.  “Maybe you can help me.  I am looking for the home of Senator Lucius Agitus.  Do you know where that might be?”

“Why that’s – ow!” Festuscato stomped on Felix’s foot.

“I know where it is.  I can take you there,” Festuscato spoke quickly.  “But I have to warn you, the lady of the house is a witch in disguise, and the Senator likes to yell all the time, and loud.”

“I’ll be extra careful,” Mirowen said, and this time she took his hand.  “You boys coming?”  The three fell in behind, though they did not appear happy about it.

The house, truly a Roman mansion, was not far.  It sat up on top of a small rise and overlooked the Appian way for a good distance in both directions, though it was far enough in the countryside to be out of sight from the city.  Some of the tenant houses could be seen in the distance, out by the fields, and the house had one great meadow nearby where horses grazed lazily in the sun. Everything about the place said money, lots of money.

“Wait.” Festuscato stopped them outside the main gate.  “Let me check your ears.”

“My ears?” Mirowen sounded curious, but bent down a little toward the boy.  He pushed her luxurious hair back just far enough to touch the tips of her ears before he spoke.

“Just want to be sure your glamour is good.  Can’t have an undisguised elf about the place.”  Mirowen said nothing.  Her eyes got big and then very narrow as she stared at Festuscato.  “Oh, I know an elf when I see one,” he said.  “You are much too beautiful for a human.”  Mirowen heard the compliment, but it felt confusing. She turned to look at the boys following, but they merely shrugged, like this was not even close to the first time Festuscato said something strange.

Mister March came to the door and took one look at Festuscato, mud and all, before he remarked. “You are a brave fellow.”

“Most of the staff is Celtic,” Festuscato ignored the man and talked to Mirowen.  “Mostly from Britain.”

Mirowen looked up and spoke in some strange language.  Mister March answered, and they began a spirited conversation. Festuscato stayed quiet, but he tried to follow what he could by the words he knew and the hand gestures.  It did him no good, but they were shortly interrupted in any case by a woman’s voice.

“March, what is it?”  At the sound of that voice, Festuscato inched over to hide behind Mirowen.

“A young lady come all the way from Britain to speak to Lord Lucius,” March said.  As the woman came to the door, she took one look at Festuscato and shouted.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus!”  That was enough to scold the boy.  “Take your sandals off and try not to touch anything.”

“I found him hiding up an orange tree and thought you might like to have him back,” Mirowen smiled.

The woman gave Mirowen the once over and apparently approved of her dress and deportment, sure signs of wealth and good breeding.  Then she spoke over Mirowen’s head, it being two steps up to the door. “You boys better go home.  I am sure your mothers will not be pleased.”

“Yes, mum. Thank you.  Mum.”  The boys spouted and ran off as quick as they could toward the tenant houses.

“You are from Britain?” The woman asked.

“Mirowen,” Mirowen gave her name and a slight curtsey which seemed the most graceful thing Festuscato had ever seen.  “My father, King Macreedy sent me with a troop for my protection, but we were set upon by Goths just outside of Rome.  I alone escaped.  What you see is all that is left of my small fortune, that and a word for Senator Agitus, though my letters are stolen and I cannot say what my father may have written.”

Festuscato closed his mouth.  The lie was masterful, and the woman, Festuscato’s mother, responded perfectly. “Oh my poor dear, do come in.”

“I found her all alone, crying.”  Festuscato said the truth, but Mirowen’s look urged him to be quiet and his mother snapped at him.

“You need to strip and get in the bath this instant,” she said, before she added in a very soft voice.  “Come and tell my husband all about it.  He spent many years in Britain in service to Rome.  I am sure we can arrange to help you out.”

Festuscato barely got clean and out to dry himself when Mirowen came in and announced she was his new governess.  “I told them my father sent me away for my safety and it might mean my life to return home.  On the other hand, I have a younger brother I have watched, my own mother being gone, and I would not mind watching you.”  She came to dry his hair and whispered.  “I am a house elf, you know.”

Festuscato nodded, but he would have to think about it.  He would never be able to sneak off again.  She would hear his every move.  Then again, there might be some advantages to having a house elf as a governess, not the least in the way she might be able to teach him to lie expertly.