by: Rick Johnson
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I decided that I needed a vacation and thought that walking the Tokaido in 15th century Japan would be exactly what I needed. A century earlier and the Road would be a 500 km. garden path. A century later and it would be too regulated. In the beginning, the Tokaido was simply another road connecting one part of Japan to the other, in this case, Edo with Kyoto. But during the wars of the Northern and Southern Courts, the Tokaido became important and inns and towns sprang up to service the travelers. I recall one section along what would later come to be called the Okitsu station-point was famous for it’s cherry trees blossoming in the Spring. One could picnic under the trees and watch the sea, which was a very calming view. True, I had had some trouble at one inn with a ninja killing the people in the next room and Sato trying to have the Shogun outlaw me but their catfish was excellent and one could find peace their garden so the Tokaido it was.
The hard part was to look inconspicuous. I was a near six foot Irishman with dark brown hair and would be visiting a nation where the men were a good six to eight inches shorter than myself. Europeans were visiting at that time but so rare that unless you lived in Nagasaki, you’d never know we existed. Obviously, I would stick out. But my size would convince the local Samurai to avoid trouble, which was what I wanted.
I collected a wicker back-pack, kimono, my two swords (they hadn’t yet been regulated and you could wear whatever you wished), some food and a canteen, Chinese money in both copper and silver as gold wouldn’t be minted for at least a century and Japan’s inability to mint decent coin ensured a healthy importation of money from China, a straw hat and a few other useful items, then I left for the stargate that should take me to the other side of the world and five centuries ago.
Once I appeared I knew something was wrong. I was in the slums of an industrialized city. Obviously the Stargate had diverted me to some other quae. Portals are perfect. They work or they don’t but they are artificial and limited to two places. And you had to build your obverse portal then go to your destination by another means to build the reverse portal. Then when activated and linked, they worked perfectly.
Stargates were whimsical. Being a natural phenomenon, they tended to get diverted by anything from the wrong entry mass to a solar flare a dozen light years away to the attitude of the traveler and something messed up here. So I would need to know where and when I was before I could recalibrate to Japan.
Looking around and recording the stargate in my journal, I stashed my pack nearby but hidden and wandered around. I hung my katana from my back leaving my wakazashi through my sash and headed towards the noise I could hear in the distance. It wasn’t much, a ship’s horn on a river echoing off a bridge but it denoted something other than this endless ruin of filth. My choices weren’t much, slum on one side or something else on the other so I crossed the bridge and halfway across I interrupted a woman climbing the guard rail.
In the dimness of the light I could see she was young, very early twenties or late teens, blonde and were it not for the hopeless look in her eyes, she’d be beautiful. Being the kind of person who was prone to over-thinking my moves I wandered up and said, “Excuse me! Might I interrupt you for a moment to get some directions. I seem to be lost.”
She looked at me and almost lost her footing. It isn’t every day you see a Samurai accost you in a modern European city. She started then yelled, “Stay back or I’ll jump!”
I removed my straw-hat then said, “I was under the impression that this was your intention. I really don’t mean to cause you trouble but if you could postpone your self-destruction for just a moment to tell me where and when I am, I’ll continue on and you can continue with your planned suicide.”
She stared and I ignored her having been there before. You cannot stop a person from killing them self. But if you interrupt them for even a minute, the moment passes and they often reconsider. “What the hell are you!” she said, not asking.
“Just a tourist. I’m taking a vacation to Japan to watch the cherry trees bloom and got lost. Where and when am I?”
She laughed, almost hysterical and said, “You are a long way away from Japan. This is Chicago! Illinois! USA! You have heard of the place haven’t you?” She obviously recognized my accent.
I smiled back as I leaned over the bridge and spat, watching my saliva fall into the darkness. “I’ve heard of it and frankly, if the rest of the city looks like that side of the bridge, I can see why you are jumping. When am I? The date I mean.”
“What the hell do you know about anything!” She demanded, screaming. “Have you lost the love of your life because of some stupid war? How can you know what I feel or why I want to…”
I didn’t look at her then, memories flooding back and I said, “The British police burned my house to the ground in Ireland. They waited until I had left and my wife and children were inside, alone, then they barred the door and torched the roof. By the time I got back, it was over and their charred bodies had been left in the fireplace as a warning to me. I know how you feel.”
She climbed down and looked at me then said, “I’m sorry. I lost my husband and baby. He died in Vietnam and I miscarried shortly after getting the news. They said it was a stress miscarriage brought about by depression. How do you deal with it?” Now she was pleading.
“You don’t. You simply exist and hope a rock falls from the sky to end the pain. When it doesn’t, you do things to stop the pain, cross the streets without looking, drink a lot, try to turn your heart off. I hunted Brits. I killed every British soldier and Bobby I came across until one day, I found a patrol. I killed two immediately and slammed the third against a tree with one hand by his neck. I was shoving my knife into his belly and he didn’t spit in my face, he didn’t cry ‘rule britannia’, he simply wet his pants and cried for his mother.
“I knew then that I could kill every Brit in Ireland and it wouldn’t bring Kore and our babies back. It wouldn’t even make them rest any easier. And the Brits would still keep coming faster than I could kill them. So I dropped him, still alive, and left Ireland for Indonesia to hunt pirates. I hoped that if I put space and time between us, I could heal or live with the pain.
“The pain never goes away, but you learn to live with it. And if you are lucky and can divert your mind into other areas, you survive and begin to heal. I crossed 12 thousand miles and a couple centuries to forget.”
She watched the waters in the darkness then asked, “You’re some kind of time-traveling adventurer?” I didn’t know if she believed me or wanted to believe me so I told her the truth. “When you are walking down the street, the universe is flat. When you are flying an airplane the universe is curved. When you approach light speed the universe is saddle-shaped and when you exceed the speed of light, the universe becomes a tangled ball of string. Sometimes this string rubs against another part of itself and a weak spot forms. Under the right conditions, you can cross from one part of the universe to another through these worn spots. In my case, I was going to 15th century Japan for a vacation and got diverted here. Once you tell me when I am, I can recalibrate and continue on.”
“June second, 1972. I think. I haven’t been paying much attention since…” She trailed off.
“Thank you. I’ll be going now and I know it doesn’t seem like it but take it from someone who’s walked your Path, it will get better. You just need to divert yourself until then. Do you have anyone close?”
“Fiona, my best friend. I asked her to get me some ice cream so I could be alone to…. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to do anything, I just want the pain to end.” She was pleading again.
“Then talk to her or cry with her. Talk about stupid things to get the gates open and the words moving. Hopefully, she’ll hear the important things and drag you out and keep you busy and diverted. And if everything here reminds you, go someplace else for a vacation. Someplace so different it will have nothing to trigger a memory. Is that her?” I asked pointing to another woman running across the bridge calling a name I couldn’t understand.
“Yes, I hope you have a nice vacation.” She then turned and waited for Fiona so I figured she was safe and left them to their lives. Chicago, 1972. Distance is another few thousand kilometers, time another decade, mass remains the same, easy to calculate. I found my pack and was struggling into the thing when the girls arrived. Fiona was arguing, the other adamant. “Fi, I need to get away. I can’t heal here, there are too many memories. Hey! Samurai! You said I needed a change, you can’t get much further than medieval Japan. I want to go with you.”
“What!” I hadn’t meant this. “Have you any idea of what you are saying? You don’t even know me. I could be some insane slaver or serial killer or lunatic. You need to stay with your friend who cares enough for you to hate me.” I could see the anger in Fi’s eyes. She saw in me only some refugee from a Kurosawa festival trolling for victims to rape.
“Well, tell me then! If you are a serial killer, then I don’t commit suicide, you do the job. And if you are a nice guy, then I’ll be safe with you. I can keep you company, play chess, hell I’ll even do your laundry and sleep in the hall when you bring some geisha home. Besides, aren’t vacations nicer when you share them?” Fiona tried to argue with her but she waved her off. Fiona! Irish features but definitely American. Probably her grandparents came to America during the famine and never left so she has our temperament but the American arrogance.
I sighed, how to make this undesirable? “Japan in the late 1400’s has just ended the Ten Year War and is beginning the century of warfare. The Emperor is a figurehead and the Shogun holds power which is being eroded by the separate kings who are fighting with each other for land and political power. In Japan, farmland is wealth and power! Women and peasants still have some freedom but this will be taken away in a few decades when Hedeyoshi and Tokugawa become Shogun so we are in a sort of grace prior similar to the Renaissance. Art is expanding, war is happening and society is on the verge of expansion. Europe has discovered Japan but they haven’t yet started trade. Noh, gardens, flower arraigning, poetry, all are exploding and haven’t yet been forced into rigid rules. And money is mostly copper, bronze and some silver from China with the lower classes still bartering. I survive because I am bigger then they are, of noble birth and I avoid trouble. But any Samurai has the legal right to kill any peasant for any infraction and they often do simply to test their swords.”
Fiona complained to her, still trying, “This is where you want to go? And that assumes that this guy is telling the truth. If time travel exists, then why someone like him and not the government? You can’t keep anything like this a secret. Di, I love you and worry about you. I know you are suffering but will this help?”
“Maybe he is lying but let me hear him out. For a couple minutes on that bridge, I almost forgot. It didn’t hurt as much. For a few minutes I shared my pain with someone who understands and I saw hope. Please, Fi, let me try. And if it doesn’t work then you are here to save me from him. Ok, Samurai, how does this time travel work?”
Defeat! I never could argue with a woman. “First of all, my name is Jason Obrien and I’m from Ireland, same place as Fiona’s grandparents. Your Navy experimented with time travel during the Second World War but with only enough money for one super-weapon, Einstein convinced them to abandon time travel as impossible and focus on nuclear weapons. First we need a key. Here!”
I found a couple large bolts and asked, “Which way is north?” Then I lay them facing north and pounded them repeatedly with a big bar of steel. “I’ve realigned the structure of these steel bolts to lock into this quae, this time and place. These are your keys to get back here. The stargate is a natural phenomenon that goes here and there. This is a tsuba, an iron sword guard made in 1488 in Japan. It’s the iron and where and when it was cast that triggers the gate. Now, feel this,” and I held my hand to the stargate which lay between some water-pipes near the bridge. “Feel that tingling? It’s the warping of space-time. This running water and metal mass is the actual focus of the gate. Take my hand and watch as I run the tsuba around the gate. The water running around the steel is generating a magnetic field that is collecting tachyons from this tsuba. Because I am holding it and you, the gate is adjusting to our mass and opening a way to where the tsuba was made. Once it is ready, we step through into Japan. To return, you do the same thing with those bolts.
I could feel the static charge increase as the small hairs on the back of my neck rose. I moved the tsuba in a decreasing spiral until I felt the charge run up my arms, then I pulled back an inch or so and pushed, then stepped through, pulling the blonde with me. A moment of disorientation then darkness and heat, dry heat.
I let her go and said, “oh, oh.”
“Oh, oh?” I heard a voice that wasn’t the blonde’s. “What the hell does that mean!” it demanded.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to calm down to avoid a fight. Turning around I saw Fi holding the blonde’s hand. “It means that I keyed the stargate for the mass of two people. You appeared to have taken her hand as we stepped through and your additional mass, probably about an additional one-third, threw the gate off and diverted us here. Wherever here is.”
The blonde looked around, “It worked! We crossed time and space! Chicago is gone, everything is gone. Who cares where we are.”
“Di!” the other women shook her. “We aren’t in Kansas anymore! You, Samurai or Obrien or whoever you are, get us back now!” She was yelling at me but more concerned for her friend.
“The stars look the same, air is breathable, gravity seems normal so we are probably still on Earth. Northern hemisphere and within a few hundred thousand years of home according to the star patterns it seems.” I dropped my pack and removed a brass device. “This is a Locator. It should tell us where we are then I can use that to get back.”
I unscrewed the lid and base, wound the key and used the bubbles to level the device which was about six inches diameter by two inches tall. The compass told me magnetic north and I lifted the gnomon and adjusted it to Polaris and waited. While it did it’s job I looked around to see mountains and some cedar forests but our area was fairly bare. The rocks we stood upon were probably iron-copper with quartz and moving water beneath. Fi resisted the urge to yell since she knew it was her fault. At least I could respect her for that. Di just wandered around smelling the air and staring at the sky, “So many stars! You never see this many in Chi.”
I pulled a penlight, slid a red filter over the lens and noted the angle of the gnomon, “About 38 degrees 32 minutes north latitude.” From the bottom, I took a pierced cover and skimmed through the metal discs until I found 38o which I slid under the pierced cover. I then turned it to 32 minutes and waited. To pretend I was doing something, I moved it around to compare the sights to the star patterns, pointing out the Dippers, Cassiopeia, a couple others I recognized. Then I noted the angle of the gnomon and the turning edge and saw, “September, probably around the Equinox, about 11:30 pm, looks like… 1483.” I made another adjustment on the cover plate and said, “37 degrees, 30 minutes east.” And finally removed another disc with a mercator projection and located us… “Turkey. About halfway between the Black Sea and Syria. See?” I showed them the disc by red-light. Both looked but neither were impressed. The British Crown had offered a fortune to the man who could determine Longitude and it wasn’t until the 17th century before someone figured it out using a clock. This device used star patterns and movement to do the job better. Even in the girl’s time in the 20th century, I could patent this Locator and become rich enough to buy a country.
Fi, asked, “And that means what?”
“We are in Turkey at latitude 38 degrees, 32 minutes north by longitude 37 degrees, 30 minutes east around the 20th of September 1483. The Ottoman Empire is expanding, Vlad Dracula is dead or about to die after fighting the Turks his entire life. Columbus hasn’t prepared for this voyage across the Atlantic. Ferdinand and Isabella are pushing the Moors from Spain and about to confiscate Jewish property to finance their new government. Henry VIII is alive but not yet king. Ann Bolyn is still a child if she’s even born. Venice is a great military power and the Bubonic plague destroyed feudalism a hundred and fifty years ago. Michelangelo and Di Vinci are rising stars and Copernicus is terrified of being burned for discovering that the earth orbits the Sun. Innocent VIII is about to shift the Inquisition from killing protestants towards killing Witches. Silver is about $485 an ounce but gold is around $8 an ounce. Need more?”
“Yes, how do we get home!” she demanded.
The Locator had stopped whirring and I looked at the result. The central disc pointed south and the log-scale read 900 kilometers. I did some mental math to convert and answered, “About 600 miles that way.” I pointed. “We should start before it gets too hot.”
Fiona took a deep breath and barely controlled herself. “We have to walk 600 miles? Why can’t we just wave those bolts you made around and step back like before?”
“Because Stargates don’t always work that way.” I tried to be patient. It would be easier if she understood a little astronomy and physics. “The Japan Gate is permanent. It isn’t reliable but it’s constant so once through, you memorize where it is and you can return anytime. But this one isn’t. It doesn’t even register on my Locator so it must be a one-way Stargate. Your additional mass diverted us to here and the nearest stargate is about 600 miles south in Jordan near the Dead Sea. Once there, we can degauss the bolts and you can return, possibly to the exact moment you left.”
Di asked, “Does this happen to you a lot? Getting lost I mean.”
I shouldered my pack and headed south, “Not often. I’ve been doing this for a number of years and rarely get lost. Diverted, yes, but I usually manage to get to where I want to go.”
Fi started to snap but looked around and thought better. Besides, Di wasn’t crying or trying to kill herself so even if I were lying, it was ok so long as Di diverted. “Incidentally, who are you two? We’ll be together for the next month or so and it might make things go easier if we knew a bit about each other.”
“You first,” Fiona demanded.
I shrugged in the darkness and began, “My name is Jason Obrien from Innis in Ireland. I’m also a Tierna which is Irish Nobility, a Baron or Duke, it’s hard to say. I’m descended from the High King, Brian Boru who united Ireland and drove the Vikings out. I left Ireland as a kid when I discovered the Stargates and used them to pay off the overly-large taxes that the Brits place on Irish Nobles to keep us too poor to hire soldiers to be free. So I adventure. I do what you Americans pay $7.50 plus popcorn to watch on a cinema screen in a dark theater. I suppose now you’ll be the same. The nice thing about the Stargates is that they take you to places where you learn that life isn’t what you imagine. Magick and ghosts and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night really do exist along with all the marvels of history and imagination. To be honest though, I am not certain if these Stargates take me to the real past or to a parallel universe that simply resembles ours. For example, I have found no firearms here though matchlocks and cannon should be common. Magick exists and you can buy a canteen that never runs out of water or a backpack that carries nearly thirty cubic feet of gear and yet all the famous people of history live here and if you go that direction about 1500 miles, you can meet Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Galileo. And I’ve returned to our time and found my name and adventures mentioned in the history books.
“I’m a widower, my wife and children killed by the British police as a warning to give up my pesky ideas of Irish freedom. You Americans talk a good deal about freedom and brag how you fought for your freedom from England but when Ireland or the Confederacy or the Red Indians seek their own freedom, you condemn us as terrorists. So whose to say what’s real and what’s not?”
Politics get me angry. That’s why I travel a lot, to avoid getting involved in local fights but somehow, a visitor can easily see the injustices that the locals have learned to justify and live with. I’d spent my life fighting for my country’s freedom and it cost me everything. And the hurt was that no one outside Ireland knows or cares what we endure.
After a while, the Blonde spoke up. “My name is Diane Winters. I’ve a native Chicagoan and only twenty years old. A Widow like you I guess. My boyfriend was drafted and we hoped that if we married and had children fast, he could avoid the war but they sent him to Vietnam anyway. He died, I miscarried and got really depressed. I’m a literature major in college but I suppose I’m not welcome back since I haven’t been to class in months. There isn’t much else to say, I guess I lead a really dull life.”
She nudged her friend who jumped in, bitterness in her voice, “I’m Fiona O’Neil, also from Chicago. Twenty four, divorced, the courts took my children away because they disagreed with my choice of religion. And no, my parents are Catholic but I’m not and I’d like to leave it there. My grandparents are from Ireland but I don’t know where though they told me stories about the rebellion and how the English would burn the houses of suspected patriots just to make an example so I understand how you feel. I’m a dancer, singer and actress and it looks like I’m going to miss my play tonight. Damn but it was a good role! Di and I have been friends forever and stuck together no matter what. That’s why I’m here. I couldn’t let her run away in her condition so if you hurt her in any way, I’ll make you wish you were in an English prison. Now, how about something to eat and drink?”
I understood family, mine all being dead and me being raised by relatives so since Fiona considered Diane to be her family, that was fine with me. “I hear water ahead, we can eat there.”
After settling down, I unpacked my pack from my basket. One of the nice things I learned is to not be too picky about what I eat on the trail. I had money but it was all Chinese silver and brass and so almost worthless here in Turkey. But I carried more water than I needed and had made tortillas wrapped around lettuce, meat and cheese and preserved in waxed-paper. The snack was healthy and easy to eat with fingers. These I passed around then unstoppered a canteen, took a drink and handed it over, “Please don’t back-flush. When you are done drinking, put your tongue over the opening and remove it from your mouth so your saliva doesn’t contaminate the water.” That got me a dirty look but she did as I asked. Fortunately, she was wearing no cosmetics so I didn’t have to worry about wiping lip-stick from the canteen mouth.
While we ate, I removed my tabi and replaced the socks I wore under them and tied my zori’s back on, “An adventurer always cares first for his feet.” I’d have to replace this kimono for local clothing when I could find some. Also the girls would need a dress or such here for the Ottoman Empire looked poorly upon women dressed as men. I’d also have to teach then how to defend themselves and survive in this world. Fortunately, in a month I’d be able to send them home. Diane would be over the worst of her depression and would look forward to a hot bath and clean clothes in Chicago.
Near sunrise I began to look for a place to stay but finding none, we continued until I saw a small village in the distance. “We can stay there and maybe buy local clothes and horses. Can you two ride?”
Fiona laughed, “My grandparents owned a farm in Illinois and I won an award for my riding. Di is almost as good. Don’t worry about us.” Good! It meant I’d not have to teach them the difference between a horse’s teeth and tail. Before it got too hot I stopped under a tree and called them to me, “I want to teach you a few martial arts tricks that may save your lives. If someone grabs you, take your thumbs…” Fiona jabbed me in the upper ribs and then tossed me to the ground then explained with some smugness, “Black Belt in Aikido, Brown Belt in Judo. I also have an IQ of 112 and had three brothers who taught me to fight dirty. And in case you were wondering, I do know how to milk a cow, weave, paint and turn fireplace ashes into soap. I’m more than a set of double-D tits. Anything else?”
Laying there, I asked Diane, “What about you?”
“The same in Aikido and Judo. My IQ is 115 plus she forgot to mention that we were both considered for the Olympics in both fencing and archery.” They were laughing at me now so I got up, dusted myself off, bowed to them and said, “I apologize for thinking less of you than you deserved. Perhaps I should hire you to protect me. This trip promises to be very interesting, especially with my not having to worry so much about your safety now. I should know better. Half the women I meet are helpless, the other half are better than I am. Then ladies, may I request your pleasant company in yonder village?”
They tried to curtsey but had never done it before so laughing, we made our way into town. “Please understand that when I explain something to you, I’m not trying to treat you as useless, but rather attempting to share the benefit of my experience so if I tell you something you already know, please resist the urge to beat me to a pulp.” They laughed at this then Diane mentioned, “I am tired and could use a night’s sleep before we move on. We both run five miles a day and work out regularly but this isn’t like a jog in the park.”
“The two of you never cease to amaze me. I hope to learn a great deal from your company. Our big problems will be first, clothing. None of us are dressed for 15th century Turkey and second, money. My cash is Chinese, mostly brass but some silver. I can trade the silver for local money at a loss but may not have enough for our expenses so we’ll have to earn what we need as we can. Hopefully we can find a merchant’s guild where I can exchange my coin for local currency. They charge high conversion rates but we may have no choice. How’s your Turkish or Arabic?”
“What? They don’t speak English here? Everyone speaks English!” Fiona insisted.
I commented, “I’m glad I can do something better than you. English, the English you speak, won’t exist for another couple centuries. You can read it written but the spoken language is different. Around here, if you can speak Latin, Arabic and Mandarin, you can get along almost anywhere in Eurasia. They speak old Turkish here and Arabic. Also, never use your left hand to do anything in public. It’s impolite and insulting.”
“Why?” asked Diane.
“No toilet paper!” I enjoyed their shudder at this tidbit. Unfortunately, we attracted a lot of attention as we entered town because of our clothing. I, in a Japanese Kimono that they’d never seen, the girls wearing pants which isn’t allowed in the empire. The Turks would tolerate the lack of veils and Fiona’s low shirt that exposed half her ample chest but a woman in a man’s clothing was unacceptable.
I called out in Turkish, “Is there a Merchant’s Guild nearby?” to which one man laughed and said, “Yes, about three days ride west.” His friends thought he was the greatest comedian ever.
“No Guild, we’ll take a big hit on our money when we buy something.” I explained and led them to a shop that seemed to sell everything from clothing to weapons. Inside we looked over clothing and I found a set that would fit then began to bargain for not only the clothing but the exchange rate for my money. Arabs love to haggle and I’m not good at that at all. I was loosing when Fiona came over with a couple of dresses and a harp, I think she called it a seng. Diane arrived immediately after with her clothes, a tambourine and some zils. Then the bargaining began anew with Fiona speaking English and the merchant Turkish, neither understanding the other and occasionally shouting. Finally, Fiona said, “Give me your money, not all of it but make it look like it’s all we have.”
What could I do, I handed her my main purse, a silk bag hung from my sash by a netseke and she dumped the money onto the counter, then the haggling began again. When she was done, she returned a few coins then walked to a screen saying, “How did you ever survive without us?” Then she and Diane changed and we left the store, me carrying their old clothes and they the musical instruments.
“Why the harp, tambourine and zils?” I asked.
Fiona said, “You may be ok in your own field but there are more ways to earn a living than with a sword. Assuming that you can use that thing. Where are we staying?”
“The shopkeeper said that there is a coffeehouse with rooms the next street over. It’s modest and I can afford a night and a couple days rations with what I have left.” Of course, we still attracted attention as I hadn’t yet changed but with the girls in decent dresses, at least the looks weren’t angry.
Once inside, I haggled with the innkeeper and got a clean room and meal then as we were eating and the girls sipping a cup of coffee, I being a tea drinker myself, Diane said, “Ready?”
Fiona agreed then as Diane began to play the harp, Fiona danced something that looked like a belly dance as she accompanied herself with tambourine and finger zils. She looked like a gypsy dancing there and as she attracted the attention of the men in the room, she’d occasionally hold her tambourine and as they added coins to her instrument, she’d dance away and drop the money onto our table. Finally, when she was done, she asked, “Can you do anything with that pig-sticker other than carry it?”
Not to be undone, I took a few fruits then juggled them to the music of my companions. I asked “blindfold me” and continued to juggle as she did, then tossed the fruits up and drew my wakazashi and cut all three into quarters before they hit the ground. Fiona and Diane immediately applauded and started the men in the room to do the same, then they made the rounds, collecting more money as I removed my blindfold. “I need a stick about three feet long,” I called and Diane quickly handed me one she found someplace. I struck the ground a few times to judge the strength of the thing, then set it upright, leapt up and balanced on the thing. Once settled in, I leaned down and made two swift cuts with my katana then regained my balance. Taking a deep breath, I reached down and tapped the center section of my now cut stick out where I cut it in half as I fell to the floor. Without pause, I kicked the other two pieces up and cut them lengthwise then resheathed and bowed to thunderous applause. I removed my blindfold and sat as the girls collected more money then Fiona did another dance and when done, exhausted, she asked, “Is this enough?”
I kissed her hand and said, “Close. We can buy gear and weapons now but no horses yet. Perhaps another show tonight when the evening crowd arrives. You are right, I don’t know what I did without you for you never cease to amaze me.”
Fiona stared at me and said, “I told you I was a dancer with a degree in performing arts. I can play a dozen instruments and dance a dozen kinds of dance including Arabic, Israeli, Greek and Slavic folk dance. Di, her husband and I spent a summer supporting ourselves as we traveled like this. Buy me some decent outfits and we’ll own this town in a month.”
Diane smiled at this and asked, “How about a hot bath then and a nap before tonight’s show? Then tomorrow we can head out.”
“I’ll arrange it immediately. If you trust my skill, I have an idea that’s dangerous and flashy and may make more money.”
“Ok, by then we’ll have gotten used to these instruments and play better. I can play an Irish harp but this Turkish one is trickier. Good thing the tambourine and zils are what I’m used to from belly dance class.”
I handed her my wakazashi and asked, “Can you use this to protect yourself if need be?”
Diane took the sword and asked, “Leave the knife too but don’t go too far in case we yell. Some of those men were looking a us in a way I didn’t like and you’d scare them off faster than we can win a fight. By the way, what would you have done without us to make this money?”
“My needs are less than are yours. I’d have slept outside and waited for someone to mug me in an alley. I’d have killed the criminal and robbed his body.”
“Then,” Fiona said, “It’s a good thing we are here to keep you honest.” The two them stood and left for our room and their bath and their vulnerability just then made me feel better about myself. A cautious Adventurer lives longer than an arrogant one. I then began to question people on where to buy and not buy the gear we needed. Japan was so crowded that it was sometimes difficult to not find a village. Here, you could go days or weeks without village or well so proper equipment was vital to survival.
I remember George, my first teacher back when I was still a teen trying to get out of Arabia alive. He told me that if you can entertain, fight and steal, you will never go hungry but you need to be able to do all three. The secret was to know when to do each and which ones to combine and with Diane and Fiona, my survival and comfort just increased.
It seemed like hours when I began to get worried and pounded on the bathhouse door.
“What! We’re busy! Come back later!”
“Are you all ok? I’m getting worried.”
“Fine, fine, can’t a girl enjoy a hot bath without being disturbed?”
“Fine, I’ll be in our room catching a nap. Wake me when it’s time to do something.” Women! I can’t remember how many times I’ve been married or the living-together equivalent over the past century and I still don’t understand them. I found a place to hide the money, kicked my zori’s off lay my katana nearby and dozed off immediately.
I was awakened by something tickling my nose and sneezed to the laughter of strange voices. I started then said, “waking someone up like that can be very dangerous. What if I had reacted instead of acted?”
“Then we’d be dead and you’d feel really sad. Come on, it’s time to rehearse. Oh, this is… I can’t remember but we met her in the bath. So we need you to translate for us.”
The other woman was smaller than either Diane or Fiona but was as blonde as Diane. Unlike other women, this one wore men’s clothing and was armed and seemed to get away with it. She looked me up and down like she was examining a horse she was thinking of buying then spoke in Arabic.
“Her name is Tears of the Moon and she’s an Amazon from Russia. … She’s wandering around doing something I can’t translate. … She just wandered in here and saw us. … She liked the way you took my sword and asked for the tanto. … She thinks we are strange, but in a good way. … She wants to know where we come from and where we are going. Give me a moment to explain to her.” I then told her the briefest outline of our past and that we were going to Jordan then either back to Chicago or on to Japan. She listened for a moment, thought about it and said, “Da, I think I might follow you for a time.”
When I translated this, Diane asked, “An Amazon, the real Amazons like the ones Hercules had to fight to get the golden girdle? And from Russia?”
I translated and Tears explained, “She says that she is Greek but her ancestors left Greece after they killed their husbands. … Then they settled in one of the Aegean Islands until Jason and the Argonauts found them. … They were afraid Jason would report them and they’d be punished for their crime. … Then they moved to Turkey where they learned to be warrior women and helped Troy fight Agamemnon. … Then the Turks pushed them into Russia where they live now. I don’t know if I believe her or not. She may be crazy or she may be telling the truth or she may simply be making a story to explain why she’s running around dressed like a guy in a country that forbids that.” I tried Russian from when I was with Tatiana after I had bought her from some Chinese Pirates and Tears replied in Russian but her Russian was 15th century and the Russian I had learned was 22nd century so that didn’t prove anything.
“I’m not happy with playing translator between you three so I say we leave her behind.”
Diane asked, “And what happens to her if we do? Look at how tiny she is. She’s barely five foot tall. The first guy who decides he wants her for his harem or a night’s fun won’t have much of a fight from her. I say we take her along and protect her.”
Fiona agreed though I argued, “ She only looks small, she’s as tall as you are Diane and her sword looks well-used. Also when I return you two to Chicago and continue to Japan, what then? If she is from Russia, that’s almost two thousand miles from her home and she’ll have to cross that alone.”
Finally Fiona suggested that we sleep on it and see what happened tonight. So they rehearsed their show to an extent, discussing the music and dance and then how I should give them a signal so they could give an impressive crescendo immediately before a stunt. They also suggested that Tears be the one to collect money for the performances. We discussed this awhile then rested and prepared for the show which I hoped would make enough money to buy some horses and tack. Tears already had a horse so we only had to buy three plus pack animals and extra food. This vacation was getting far more complicated than I had planned.
We took a table near a corner but convenient to the open floor, tipped the inn-keeper some money to pay for the right to entertain and when Fiona judged the crowd to be about right, explained “I paid for college by dancing and singing for tips. I’m an expert at this.” She and Diane started to play as Fiona sung a love song that I didn’t recognize. The men in the inn didn’t understand her words but the tone and voice made them pay attention and when she was partway through her third song, Tears walked throughout the crowd soliciting tips which she returned to our table, though I had no idea of how much of that money vanished into her own pockets.
Then Diane and Fiona began a lively tune and Fiona danced around the inn, flirting with the men, enticing them and, on at least one occasion, slapping the head of one man with her tambourine as he got too fresh. He took it in good stride however and even tossed money onto the basket that the Amazon carried and held before him.
After three dances, it was my turn. I juggled fruit to memorize the pattern and position then quickly drew my wakazashi and cut them into multiple sections before they could strike the floor. Then I was blindfolded and the three women stood about me and each whistled then threw a fruit at me which I turned, drew and cut. The act seemed magical but I knew exactly where they were and knew that they would be throwing the fruit at my head as they whistled so it was simply turning into the sound and slashing before my face.
When that was done, and the money collected, I removed my blindfold and did my stick-balance act where I stood upon the stick, then cut it into sections, knocked them into the air and cut them before they struck the ground.
Finally, each woman approached me and I placed one fruit on Tear’s head, one under Diane’s chin and one in the cleavage of Fiona then stood in the middle, blindfolded myself then as they all sweated, I drew my katana and cut each fruit in half, then removed my blindfold and bowed as the women panted in terror that I may not be as good as I said I was. All three then, still covered with juice, collected money and we ended with Fiona singing and dancing again.
After it was over, I had slid most of the money into my lap and we sat counting the remainder to give the impression that it hadn’t been a profitable evening to prevent a mugging. Men approached, flirted with the girls and were politely rebuffed by Fiona and Diane who couldn’t understand their words but knew the meanings and attitudes. But the rebuffs came with a smile and often the men would leave another tip before leaving.
“Enough?” Asked Fiona, sweating somewhat.
“I think so,” I added. We’ll know more when we are alone. I suggest that tonight we do not separate.” They all agreed and after another cup of coffee for the two, we returned to our room where Fiona stripped to her underwear and sponged herself off. I just stared with my jaw slack until Diane jabbed me, “She’s an actress, she changes all the time in front of other actors but you don’t have to drool over her like that.”
“The woman is absolutely beautiful and built to steal a man’s heart.”
“It’s not your heart that your thinking of now. Focus on the money or you’ll sleep in the hall tonight.” So much for her offer to sleep in the hall herself if I got lucky.
So as Fiona cleaned and dressed, we separated the money into copper, bronze and silver, there being no gold at all. The amount of bronze was impressive but the silver would buy the horses and tack we’d need. I held up a few bronze coins and explained, “This will buy us a good meal. This will toss the waitress in for the evening. This a room for the night, and these a good horse. This is clothing, this field rations for one person for a day, this will buy off a cop and this buy a judge.” They looked at the various piles I had made and commented, “The horse and cop are about the same, the judge is expensive but the waitress is cheap. I guess Fiona got us a really good deal at that shop.”
“Fiona,” I submitted, “got us a deal so good that the shopkeeper will be beating himself at his loss when he does his books tonight. We should probably visit him tomorrow and buy more gear and let him cheat us a bit to salvage hard feelings.”
“Why?” Fiona asked. “It’s his loss.”
“Because if he thinks about this for awhile, he may hire mercenaries to kill me, take our gear and sell you three into slavery. Sometimes you have to pay extra for good will. I‘m good but a crossbow bolt in the back is a great leveler.”
Diane sighed and asked, “you know our talents and skills but we don’t know yours other than you speak English, Russian and Arabic and are good with a sword. What can we expect from you in the way of other abilities?”
“I fought the Kumite in Malaysia some years ago. Full-contact, no rules martial arts. I won 18 fights, lost none and four of my opponents died in the ring or shortly after. I’m best at Karate with some Kung-Fu, Penjat Salat and ninjitsu. I’m an excellent swordsman and archer and staff-fighter but not very competent with a halberd or naginata. I cannot sing or dance well unless it’s simple and repetitious and my cooking is typical Irish which means barely edible.
“I speak fluent Gaelic, English, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese, Slovak, Serbian, Turkish, Latin, Arabic, Russian and a few other languages. A bunch more not so fluently.
“I can sail almost anything with canvas from a Nile Felucca to any of a dozen Dhows to modern sailboats to Chinese junks to Polynesian out-riggers. And drop me naked and I can survive almost anywhere south of the Artic Circle. You pick up a lot of skills over the years and I’d rather learn a new skill than get drunk in a bar. I’ve been almost everywhere north of the equator and some places south in the 15th, 20th and 22nd century. Anything else?”
Fiona commented casually, “If you had told me that in Chicago, I’d call the guys with the white coats and butterfly nets for you, but today I think I’ll believe you. Honestly, can you get us to that Stargate and get us home?”
“Yes! Without a doubt. BUT, you may need to listen to my orders immediately and without question at times even when you want to argue. This isn’t an easy world in which to live and the idea of Feminism, democracy and Equal Rights would never cross the minds of the Turks.”
“You also seem to be a wiz at history,” Diana mentioned.
“Not really. If someone were to arrive in Chicago and walk up to you, would you have any trouble telling them the political and world events of your time? I don’t need to know History, I only need to know what’s happening in the late 1400’s.”
“Don’t the stargates go anywhere else?”
“Lots of places, but the ones I use mainly go to the 15th century or the 22nd century. There are some in France and Arizona that go to Mars but most people who use those die very quickly. Once I went back to the turn of the millennium but Rome owned most of the world and I don’t get along well with them and so rarely go back. And very few people want to use the Pell-Star gate because the Allosaurs and Smilodons love people as a snack. No teeth or horns or claws, to a carnosaur we are just meat on a stick.”
“What if we change history. Like we accidentally let Hitler win the war or we go back and kill an ancestor so we won’t be born?” Diane was thinking now.
“Well, if you go back and kill your father before you were born, then obviously momma was fooling around on daddy. Temporal physics has a reason why you can’t change history. Something to do with multiple timelines that I could explain but I think that tonight, that would just give you more information than you can process. I wouldn’t worry too much about that so do the best you can to survive, try to avoid the obvious changes and let Time worry about time. As for me, I’ve been up for two days with only a short nap so I need a good night’s sleep. I’ll take the floor and let the Amazon have my bed. If you cannot sleep, I would suggest that you learn Arabic from Tears as once we reach the border, Turkish won’t be much use but Arabic is universal.” And with that I made a bed in the corner and fell asleep almost immediately.
The next morning we divided the money into four bundles so if one got robbed, we’d still have something and had breakfast in the inn. We discussed plans and agreed that Tears could continue with us for a day or so but we’d watch her in case she was a simple thief. We then bought horses, tack, supplies and returned to the original shop where we bought more gear, three bows, arrows and a couple light swords for the girls. If they were fencers, then a longer and lighter scimitar wouldn’t be useless though I decided to drill them for a regulated fencing class was far different from a real life-or-death battle. Then shortly before lunch, we left the town and headed south.
It took us a week to get out of the mountains. The nice thing was that with nothing to do but ride, the girls learned Arabic quickly. Tears taught them mostly vocabulary by the simple method of showing an object and repeating the word until they both could say it properly. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they were learning woman’s Arabic and not standard Arabic which is spoken only by men and only when alone with other men. It would upset their feminist feelings. I gave them grammar and conjugation and declension as needed but although a vocabulary of 7,000 words and at least 18 conjugations and twenty declensions are needed to become fluent, most people can easily communicate with 500-1,000 words and a dozen conjugations and declensions.
It’s been said that you need six weeks of constant work to be fluent with a new language but I found that it took me only a few weeks to learn Farsi. Of course, at that time I was a galley slave and the whip was a good incentive to learn quickly. If we could reach the Stargate in a month, they’d be home long before they reached fluency.
The mountains were beautiful and the road easy to travel. Unlike the usual Ottoman roads, this one wasn’t paved but it was kept in good order so we traveled easily without getting lost. Though there were a few incidents. While resting over dinner Fiona approached and sat next to me. We watched Diane brush her horse then Fiona said, “She’s doing much better. I haven’t heard her cry in her sleep in days so I guess this was a good idea. But,” and she looked at me carefully, “If you hurt her, I’ll make you wish you were dead.” Then she stood and went to care for her own horse.
There were incidents.
The first day Tears rode to me and said in Russian, “We are being followed.”
“I know, since the village. Probably slavers or rapists or thieves who think we have more wealth than we do. They’ll hit us in the dark. Can you shoot that bow?”
“I am an Amazon. We are born to the saddle and cut our milk teeth on the bow. Let me mount and I can ride circles around them and kill them easily.”
“Ok, when we camp, leave your horse saddled but make a show of grooming it. Keep your bow and quiver handy and when they arrive, mount and try to stay out of our line of fire. Diane, Fiona!” I called as I slowed to match them. “Don’t look around but we are being followed. Tears and I think that they will strike in the dark when we are camped. This isn’t a dojo match, this is real! If need be, we kill them or they kill us. Don’t close with them, when you get a chance, string your bows and hide then shoot from a distance when I say so. Try to not hit Tears or me please.”
“How do you know they aren’t travelers?” Diane asked. She was scared which was good, to a point. “We’ve passed people before. What makes these different?”
“They are keeping their distance, slowing as we slow. Speeding up with us. They are armed and keep their weapons handy. And instead of talking and laughing like normal travelers who are bored, they are quiet and communicate in whispers. I’ve been here before so know the drill. Just don’t look back and act normal but be ready. Tears and I will do most of the fighting. Just defend yourselves and don’t get hurt.”
We then spent the next hour riding, language lessons and seeking a good place to camp. The latter revealed itself at sunset for the Turks had placed wells and campsites at regular intervals along the road.
We settled down and when the group of five arrived, they found us waiting and ready. Both Diane and Fiona were at opposite edges with ready bows, I was in the middle with bow and swords and Tears wasn’t around. The fools had bunched up and rode into our camp with drawn steel expecting to meet one man but were totally unprepared for female archers. “May I help you gentlemen?” I asked.
They looked around then heard a whinny to the side to see Tears guiding her horse with her knees as she sent two arrows into the ground at their feet within a few seconds.
“I believe that you are outmatched and Amazons have a reputation for doing nasty things to men who seek to abuse them. Might I suggest that you dismount now while you can still do so.”
One started to bluff until Diane sent an arrow through his turban. “Damn! I was aiming for his earring.” She said without much conviction. They all dismounted instantly and Tears sent their horses off with a swat on the rumps.
“Now gentlemen, please drop all your weapons and remove your shoes. Then if we are happy, you may leave. NOW!”
They did so slowly but one had an arrow through his hand when he pulled his boot-knife too fast. The rest disarmed and stripped their shoes fast after that. “Now, gentlemen, your horses are already halfway back to town. Unless you want some wandering merchant to take them, I would suggest that you chase them down and not return.” They turned and left, complaining about the rocks on the soles of their feet. Both Fiona and Diane came out laughing and cheering at that, Fiona screaming, “We won! And we didn’t have to kill anyone. Di, you were wonderful with that shot! I couldn’t have done better myself!”
Well, their first real problem and no bloodshed to speak of. I wished that the rest of the month would be like that but I doubted it. “Tears, would you please follow them discretely and make certain that they go home and don’t plan anything stupid.”
“If they do, they’ll not live to follow through!” She cantered by and retrieved her arrows from the ground without dismounting, she simply leaned over and plucked them as her horse cantered past. Then she followed out would-be thieves.
“Tonight, we set watch. I’ll take last watch as I get up early. You two can fight over the first and second depending who likes to stay up late. But for now, I’ll start the fire if one of you would please make us something edible.” I asked.
“I tasted those things you made yesterday. I’ll cook!” Diane said with good grace.
Dinner was ready when Tears returned. “They are too humiliated by mere women to brag about their defeat or tell any what they were doing. They won’t be back. We make a good team.”
Tears sat next to me and asked, “They’ve never done anything like this, have they?”
“No, they are city girls and probably never met anyone more dangerous than an alley thief. But they kept their heads and that’s good.”
“Are you and they together?”
I looked at her and laughed. “Me? Them? They are out of my league. Back home they’d laugh at me for asking them to dinner. No, Diane is seeking a way to forget her dead husband and Fiona is here to protect her friend. I’m just their unpaid bodyguard until I can return them home.”
“You are different from most men. Those I know would never let a woman, any woman, fight or carry a weapon. Yet you do and you trusted my word and abilities. Why?”
“I’m Irish. Back home I hear men who think with their genitals and insist that women cannot fight or that homosexuals cannot fight or any such stupidity. But I’ve traveled a lot and find that once you compensate for biological differences, anyone is capable of war.”
“What do you mean ‘compensate’?”
“Here, let’s arm wrestle.” And I easily defeated her. “Because I am stronger than you does this mean you are helpless? There are many men bigger and stronger than am I and yet I win because I never fight with a man’s chosen weapon. I am stronger than those smaller than me and faster than those bigger. I think that if we were to fight hand-to-hand, I’d easily win so you compensate by staying at a distance and using your bow. I’ve fought with men and women, with gays and straights and with few exceptions, respected them and their abilities.”
“We Amazons know this and prefer to fight from horseback and avoid the huge muscle-bound oafs who think we will scatter and cry when they give their war cries. Sometimes we have to run and sometimes we can fight but we do so on our terms, not theirs. I think you’ll do.”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Later,” she answered. “We need to teach them to shoot a bow from the saddle and I want to learn their fighting ways,” and she stood to care for her own horse.
It was late when Tears came to me. I was surprised because I’m not the kind of man who attracts women but her intentions were obvious and when done, she kissed me and returned to her own bedroll.
In the morning, Diane came to me while I was on watch and asked, “Well, did you enjoy yourself last night?”
“It was unexpected and quite pleasurable. Though I wish she had remained because I like to fall asleep holding my lover in my arms.” I was embarrassed and found myself blushing.
“My husband never did cuddle. He’d roll over and fall asleep afterwards. Listening to you two I realized that I don’t miss the sex but I do miss the intimacy. And I like how you treat us as equals. Thanks for bringing me along, even if Fi did get us lost. Breakfast is ready when you are.”
We passed a number of people on the road, some on horseback, some with wagons and most on foot. As they passed, they stared at us and kept their weapons handy but no one wanted to fight, especially when they saw how Tears was teaching the girls to use a bow at a gallop.
The third night, we shared the campsite with three wagons and Diane and Fiona earned more money and some jewelry with another song and dance concert. Tears visited me every night but by the time we were out of the mountains, she ceased the pretense and simply crawled into my bedding when she or I went to sleep. She wasn’t insatiable and accepted what I gave with good grace, not asking for love or marriage or anything other than a pleasant time. I found her attentions somehow comforting. They lacked the passion of Lujon and the experience of Lyssandra, former lovers both, but still, I enjoyed her.
As we reached the desert floor, Fiona startled a bear which stood and terrified her horse. She didn’t fall as I expected but rode the rearing horse, not fighting it until she could guide it from it’s panic. The bear didn’t follow but returned to it’s kill. When she rejoined us, I mentioned, “Impressive. Most people would have been thrown or fought the horse.”
“Men fight horses, women ride with them. I just allowed him his head then slowly guided him to what I wanted. It’s no different from bedding a man.” She smiled, blew me a kiss and rode on.
I found another well and decided we should make camp here even though it was early. As the girls made dinner and Tears hobbled the horses, I took the dozen empty water bags I had insisted on bringing and rinsed and filled them from the well. “In the desert, you hydrate or die! So we take extra water and store it in our bodies, not our canteens. If you try to ration it and miscalculate and drink too little, you can hallucinate and die with a full canteen. Two millennia ago, this was a cedar forest until Solomon deforested the region to build his temple in Palestine. It never recovered. Oh, and wear those hats and cover your bodies. You may think long hair is hot but let it fall loose anyway. It’s better to sweat a bit then have the sun bake the back of your neck and boil that blood running to your brain.”
I removed my binoculars from my pack and examined the desert. “Looks like a town about… maybe three days out. We should set out before sunrise, rest during the mid-day and stop at sunset or after.”
I noticed Fiona fiddling with her clothes and asked, “Problems?”
“My clothes are falling apart. It’s like my bra is ten years old.”
“It’s the elastic. You cannot bring gear through a stargate that cannot exist in this time. It prevents people from the future invading the past with lasers and anti-grav fighters. These binocs are made of leather and steel and glass. A better set would be mostly plastic and acrylic lenses which would disintegrate within days here. Cameras cannot be made here with current technology so they cannot exist here but these binoculars can be duplicated even though the actual design for prisms and adjustable focus won’t be considered for centuries.”
I looked down at her chest and asked, “This may be embarrassing but it’s important. Do you have implants?”
“What?” she demanded, upset. “What the hell does that mean!”
“It means that implants are plastic bags filled with silicon. Since neither can exist here, the plastic will disintegrate within days like the elastic in your bra. Then you end up with hydrocarbon goo and free silicon flowing into your system to poison you. It may be embarrassing, but it’s important to know so I can plan our travel and get you to a hospital if need be.”
She thought a moment than laughed. “I can see why you’d think that and thank you for your concern but these are all me. I’ve always been a bit larger than normal, more like Diane and much larger than Tears but I’m natural. Nursing a couple kids added a couple inches and force me to wear a bra or I’d be bouncing on the floor. So, since my bra is self-destructing, I’ll need some kind of replacement support. Any suggestions?”
“I’m relieved at that and here they have a way to bind with vests and can make a bra for you if you work with a seamstress. We’ll see what we can find in that village. Also, it occurs to me to ask about contact lenses?”
“No, neither of us need glasses but what about dental fillings?”
“It depends. If you have had them for a number of years, your body will accept and protect them to an extent. But false teeth, glasses, recent fillings, artificial heart valves, that sort of thing break down quickly here. Think of it like this, if the device CAN be made here, it can exist even if it hasn’t been invented yet. Anything made of plastic or aluminium or nylon or rayon disintegrates. Stainless Steels revert to normal steel. Oh yes, disease. Diane, Tears, come here please.”
I opened a small box and removed a hypodermic needle and a vial. The vial had a cork, not rubber and the hypo was glass and looked like it came from the middle ages. “This hypo isn’t as good as modern ones but it can exist here, though it’ll hurt going in. This vial contains a serum that will prevent almost any disease you come across. You may be sick for a few days until you adjust to it but it gives immunity to Typhus, Plague, Hepatitis, Cholera and a dozen other diseases you may come across. I take it regularly and I think you should now before you meet someone infected with a nasty bug. It won’t cure a disease you already have but it can prevent you from catching them. But, it probably won’t prevent or cure some VDs so be careful with your affairs.”
Diane pulled her sleeve up and said, “I’ve had enough illnesses in my time, go for it.”
I cleaned off the needle, filled the hypo and found a vein. “No tourniquet to pop a vein?” she asked.
“No, it’s better this way. Here, bite this and squeeze this with your other arm. This hypo is larger than you are used to.” To her credit she did manage to relax that arm even though I could tell she was in pain from the injection. When I was done, I cleaned the wound, had her hold a cotton ball over it and work her arm and exercise to get the serum throughout her body. Then I cleaned the hypo and said, “Next.”
Fiona wasn’t happy but allowed me to inject her too with similar results. Tears asked then, “This stuff will prevent plague and other diseases?”
“Most it will. It’s like if you catch cow-pox, you get sick but are forever immune to small-pox. And if you scrape an old cow-pox pustule on a knife and use that knife to scratch your arm, you will catch a very mild case of cow-pox and forever be immune to small-pox. This does the same only better.”
“My sister and half my tribe died of small-pox. I got sick and almost died myself so if this will prevent other sicknesses, give it to me.”
She refused either something to bite or squeeze and took the pain stoically. “What now?” she asked as she rubbed her arm.
“You all exercise, move around, walk, whatever it takes to get your heart beating faster and the blood throughout your body. Tomorrow you will have a fever that will get worse the next day then you recover and in three days, you will be well with just a tiny scar on your arm. We should probably remain here then until you are well. I’d hate to cross the desert with a fever.”
Fiona called over, “Where did you get this stuff?”
“One of my adventures in the 20th century I met a doctor from the future. I did him a favor and he gave me the serum. The one he uses is more advanced but cannot exist in this time so he created a more primitive version that works almost as well. We Adventurers pass stuff like this along to each other. I had a hypodermic needle made and when I went back, it reverted to the best that could exist in this time. The serum was designed to exist here but if I went back a few centuries earlier, neither would exist.”
Diane came over, “Then you aren’t the only time-traveler? There are more?”
“Lots,” I laughed. “Some from this time to earlier times or to our time period. I sometimes wonder if Da Vinci met someone from the future or if he had a friend who traveled to the future and described what he saw. Others come from the future and some even from other planets. I know of a half-dozen people who travel to other worlds like I come back here. The important thing to remember is to NEVER let any government know about the Stargates or that time-travel exists.”
“Why not?” Diane asked. She was genuinely curious. “The universities would love to be able to travel and see history.”
I sighed, “Look at Vietnam. In the future America will invade dozens of other nations, most because it will make your country wealthy and powerful, some because it will divert the media from the president’s indiscretions and a very few to genuinely help people and always innocent people will die. Before America looses the Vietnam War and is driven out in another five years, over 58,000 Americans and four million Vietnamese women and children will die. Would you give Richard Nixon the ability to travel to the past and change history or the power to travel to the future for advanced technology?”
“You lead an amazing life, Jason,” Diane said. “This is something that is unheard of and probably for the better. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
True to my promise, they started to get sick as their bodies reacted to the serum but none badly. Most of the symptoms were a mild fever, headache and a slight case of nausea but they recovered by the third day. At least the symptoms meant that the stuff was working. In Kosovo with Lyssandra, I lost a lot of good men to plague when the locals refused to clean the rubbish from their streets. Lys and I and our coven kept cats to eat the rats and toads and chickens to eat the fleas and ate a lot of garlic so we were immune and we had forced our company to do the same so our losses were light. I wished then that I had enough of the cocktail to treat my company back there & then.
We avoided the travelers who shared our site fearing that they’d mistake the symptoms for some dangerous disease and report us for in this country, the government tended to kill and burn suspected infected without question. When the Plague killed one quarter of Europe, it went there by way of Turkey where it killed one half. As bad as Plague was in England, by the time it arrived in Britain, it had become a shadow of it’s former virulence.
Once recovered we entered Gaziantep, the last town before the desert and decided to seek company for the travel across the Syrian desert. “This road goes to Damascus, Amman and should pass near the Stargate. But it’s all desert and unless you girls are accustomed to that, we should take precautions which include a large company. Three women, especially you two blondes, will attract unwanted attention simply because the Arabs will pay a lot of gold for a blond girl, even more if she has good teeth. Maybe we can take passage as caravan guards? If so it would be best for you all to pretend to be Amazons. The Turks know about them and won’t argue much.”
The city was only a few thousand people and along an caravan route that had existed before Rome so these people were cosmopolitan enough to accept almost anything, so a tall man and three women, all armed, caused little stir as we asked for a room (finances wouldn’t afford two or more) and bath. After a week, we had lost our embarrassment at seeing each other naked though I rarely looked at the girls when I was naked for my interest was obvious to them. Despite my physical relations with Tears, I found both Diane and Fiona sexually desirable and had dreams about them, dreams I kept to myself though Tears seemed to not care if I looked so long as I touched only her.
On the outskirts of the city were the paddocks for the camels and horses of the caravans so we visited and paid a copper to a kid who explained to us the system they used. In the center of the city was a fortress, more of a palace with thick and high walls for the Caliph. Around this were the homes of the wealthy then the homes of the poor mixed in with businesses. Around this were the numerous bazaars where each merchant paid a small fee for the right to place his tent and sell his wares. Like every such bazaar everywhere from Japan to Arabia to England to America, you always watched your purse and women. Outside the city near the wells were the paddocks for the caravans. Some of these were large and some small but none were allowed into the city for fear that so many animals would foul the city too greatly and case plague. So the caravans from the north rested and filled with food and water before the twelve day trek to Damascus with only two decent towns between. Those from the south would rest and recover from the desert before entering the mountains. The local merchants would visit the caravans and buy whatever they could from the caravans who wished to lighten their loads or pay for the food and water even if it meant a smaller profit. These goods would enter the bazaar and be sold to the people of the city and surrounding areas. Some merchants would fill a wagon with goods and travel to the nearby farms and ranches to sell needed goods. And always the caravans would seek guards to replace those lost in bandit raids or to provide enough show of strength to convince bandits to seek easier prey elsewhere.
The kid spoke mainly Turkish with enough Arabic for Tears to understand about half and Diane and Fiona about a tenth so I spent a lot of time translating twice for them. “I have an idea. Let’s go shopping.” And so I jumped off the fence and led the girls away and back into the city. “Keep your purse hidden and where you will feel a pickpocket. Avoid crowds and tie your weapons down to prevent some thief from stealing your knife. I don’t think anyone will kill us here in public but most people in Third World countries are either wealthy or poor with no middle class. So the poor survive any way they can and stealing from us who they deem rich enough to replace our goods is acceptable to them. The fact that the penalty for theft is loss of a hand after the third conviction deters no one.”
“What are we looking for,” Diane asked.
The girls loved the bazaar and wanted to buy everything. “How would you carry it?” I’d ask but I understand for you could decorate an entire house here for less than you paid for a television in Chicago. Although the quality ranged from poor to excellent, Fiona screamed, “Have you any idea of how much I could make selling this one rug back home?”
Finding a Sufi was easy, they were all over. Finding one that was real was difficult. Finally I found what I wanted and took the girls inside. “Good hash,” Fiona sniffed. I breathed through a damp cloth.
I explained my desire to the Sufi and in return for my Chinese silver coins received three amulets. Thanking the holy man I left quickly and spent a few minutes flushing my lungs and Diane and Fiona commented on their buzz. “Here,” I placed one amulet around each of their necks. “Magick works, but by your time, people have forgotten the discipline necessary to learn the Art. They think that if they read a few words from a book they will become rich and powerful. If magick were that easy, everyone would be wealthy. But that guy has spent decades doing nothing but study magick. He has no other life and probably has never dated either. But to finance his studies, he sells his trade. He sells love spells and healing potions and anything else that will pay for another book or trip to a Lodge. The difference is that his magick works!
“These are language amulets. It probably took him a month of hard work to make each of them but they will help you learn the language faster. Wear them and you will never forget a word you learn and so will learn Turkish, Arabic, Russian or any other language faster than you can believe. I could only afford three but they are worth the cost. I wish I could have bought more of his stuff.” The Sufi had a healing potion that would take a man run over by a bus and have him dancing within an hour. A longevity potion that would add ten years of youth to a life and much more that I wished I could afford.
“How much did these cost?” Fiona asked.
“All my Chinese silver and half our Turkish. I got a deal only because I told him about the wonders of Chinese sorcery and he is now thinking of going there to learn more from the Shoalin monks. So I exaggerated a bit.”
The bazaar on the way back was as busy and beautiful as before with only three attempts to rob us, two by children, one by an adult whose wrist Fiona almost snapped once she realized that it was her purse and not her body he was after. I think she was personally insulted. Unfortunately, we were near broke and needed to save our remaining cash for food and a roof until we found employment. The fact that the bazaar was filled with dancers and entertainers, all begging for a few copper coins prevented us from entertaining so we resorted to visiting the caravans for work.
Most laughed until we demonstrated our archery and unarmed skills then the idea of Amazon Caravan Guards became more interesting. Still we searched half the day before we found one that would hire us. “The man was a cheat!” exclaimed Diane. “He wants us to risk our lives for pennies!”
“He didn’t become rich by overpaying the help.” I replied. “But he is going in the right direction and we go alone or in the safety of numbers. At least he feeds us and so we save food money and get some cash as well. But we don’t leave for a couple days so Fiona, Diane, I suggest we return to that clothing shop next to the inn for your, undergarments, to be made. Unless you want aches from all day on a horse without support.”
“Are you always so blunt?”
“Usually. At least you know where I stand.”
While the girls had their brassieres made, Tears being much smaller than the Yanks and more average, though not as attractive, I took stock of our gear and tried to decide what to take and what to leave and what to buy. We had a total of six horses, four to ride and two for pack. Weapons were important but you could easily get bogged down carrying more than you needed. Phil, a merc friend of mine, once tried to carry so much cutlery that he had no room for food and fell over from the weight. He had watched too many ninja movies I suppose. So we each had a bow, arrows, sword and knife. Tears carried a Kindjal and what looked like an ancient Shasqua or a curved saber with no guard. Both Diane and Fiona had bought Simple Jumbaya knives and light Kilij’s which were closer to the sabers that they had both fenced with in America. And I, of course, had my Katana, Wakazashi and Tanto plus a couple Sai from my original intent to visit Japan. I also insisted that we each carry two canteens on our body at all times just in case for I remembered in Ethiopia being told that we’d only be out for an hour so we didn’t need to wear ourselves out with water. But that hour turned into two days so I never take chances.
Food was mostly jerky and hard cheese with some kind of bread that had a very hard shell but was edible inside once you got your horse to stomp on it a few times to open it up. Then the usual flint and steel and char-cloth and medical kit. I’ve been accused of over-packing but when I needed something, I had it when most of my companions would beg bandages, food and water.
We killed time looking over the caravan, getting to know the master and guard captain and reminding the girls that this wasn’t our profession, just a job that we should endure for a couple weeks until we reached the Stargate so please try to not kill anyone we were paid to work with.
When we finally left, it was at sunrise. The caravan drivers had been up hours before packing the beasts and hitching the wagons but all we had to do was to saddle and pack our horses and mount, then patrol to ensure that the locals wouldn’t take the last minute confusion to rob our employers.
For three days we rode until we developed saddle sores. We never stopped until it was time to pack for the night, eating in the saddle and patrolling ahead, behind and both flanks. Tears and I took opposite sides of the Caravan, each with one of the girls so we could teach them the language and so long as we didn’t bunch up, the captain didn’t care much. But it gave them more of a chance to learn the language. Occasionally, we’d be sent to check out a curiosity and then we’d go halfway, one would stop and the other continue to the ridge but within sight. Then if the forward scout was attacked, the mid-scout would be able to return alive to warn the caravan. Each time I saw Diane or Fiona take lead, I worried. I had done this most of my life but a couple weeks ago, the worst they had to consider was a taxi running a red light as they crossed the street. But we arrived in Haleb safely.
The Caravan Master paid us all for the last three days with no combat bonus and we were now expected to pay our own room and board until he was ready to travel again in three days. By then, he expected his guards to be broke from feeding themselves and what was left would be taken by the local whores and taverns for although Mohammad forbade the grape, few obeyed and when I was a kid running from my former pirate companions, even I was able to get drunk in Mecca.
By now all three were almost fluent in Turkish and fast approaching the same in Arabic with the girls learning medieval Russian and Tears modern English.
A skeleton guard was kept around the caravan to discourage thieves but we weren’t trusted enough for that duty so were laid off with the notice that we’d be re-hired when he left Halab so we returned to playing tourist and collecting memories. Diane was watching people in the bazaar and said, “This is fantastic. I’d never even thought of coming here. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere outside the Mid-west except for a two week vacation in Paris.” She hugged me and continued, “Thank you so very much for this experience. I’m doing things I never thought I could do.” So we three watched Fiona follow along with some belly dancers as she learned a new dance and shared some bread and goat cheese.
One night we were followed to our room by some ruffians but we never even had to draw steel to discourage them. Amateurs! Bah!
We returned to the caravan when it left and the job was as dull as before save before we left the captain warned us, “To the west is Masyaf. Sulieman, the Old man of the Mountain, rules the citadel with his band of religious fanatics who think he is Allah himself. He shows them Paradise and they follow his orders without hesitation. Not even the Mongols or the Sultan have been able to topple his power so Sulieman remains lord of all he sees and he sees this caravan. Be alert that if he casts his desires upon us, we can only sell our lives dearly.”
There was a rumor that every caravan that passed this road paid Sulieman tribute for safe passage and we were no different. One of the guards, a Greek Catholic who had been a Janissary in his youth admitted, “Sulieman drugs his men with hash and when they awaken, they are fed lamb and serviced with houris who pretend that they are in Heaven. That is how he keeps the loyalty of his men, by deceit. But he is ever in need of blondes such as you two so cover your hair and be alert to kidnappers lest you be one of his sex-slaves.”
Regardless of how angry this made the girls, we agreed to be careful for, “This is not America where you can call a lawyer or cop to defend you.”
The five days to Damascus were uneventful. Well, mostly uneventful. We had one small band of bandits try to cut our sheep from the caravan but a few arrows from our bows reduced their number to a point where the remainder fled. Tears and I with a couple other guards went to strip the bodies and as soon as Diane and Fiona saw what they had done, both lost their lunches. I held Diane as she cried, “I never killed anyone before. That’s horrible. Did Paul look like that when he died in Vietnam?” I let her cry for a bit then looked into her eyes and said, “This is what adventurers do. We kill or we die. It isn’t easy and I was the same when I killed my first in Ireland and my tenth in Africa. But you have to learn to steel yourself. Or you let me do it all and hope I can keep you all alive.”
Fiona looked at Tears and asked her, “How can you be so casual? He was a man and you are robbing his corpse as if it were a doll.”
“I am an Amazon. If we didn’t fight, the Sarmatians or the Georgians or the Mongols or Turks or a dozen other nations would overrun us and we’d all be in some harem or on a slave block. So I fight and kill and remember that if I didn’t kill them, they’d kill me.”
They remained together that day and night but were better in the morning but I saw that neither had their bows strung or swords untied and had to remind them.
Finally we reached Damascus, the capital of old Syria and the creator of Damascus Steel. I would have loved to trade in the girl’s swords for Damascus swords but we couldn’t afford to do that so as they bathed in our inn, I visited a smith and watched him forge a sword. Steel, good steel could only occur in small pieces the size of a small coin. The Japanese solved this problem by welding together a bunch of these pieces into one bar, laying another bar of lesser steel over it then welding them together then cutting, folding and welding again. The process took months and the katana I was carrying was made from a dozen folds and maybe 8 thousand layers of steel. The Persians solved the same problem by welding thousands of these coins of steel together into one sword.
Of course, Damascus was the only major city within hundreds of miles and along a number of major caravan routes so I noticed that a number of swords from Iraq were passing through and sold as ‘Damascus’ steel simply because they were sold in this city. How disappointing.
We remained a week until the caravan was ready and restocked for the trip to Amman in Jordan. “Girls, from Damascus we are at a major fork. To the east is a road that leads to Baghdad. To the west is Beirut on the shore of the Mediterranean. South it leads to Ammon then branches west to Cairo and south to Mecca. It’s about six days to Ammon then another three or four to the Stargate. So plan to be home in a week and a half.”
We were passing through one of the Dune Seas that dot this part of the world when the bandits hit. They outnumbered us and we had less than five minutes warning to prepare. While the caravan master raced his caravan south hoping to save some, we divided our forces, half to run point to protect the caravan, the other half to take on the bandits in the rear. Tears had been teaching us Sarmatian and Mongol cavalry tactics which the Amazons had adopted so we four remained together and raced along the bandit flanks sending arrows into their ranks but remaining outside their spear range. They tried to return fire but were poor archers from camels and we were able to kill easily a dozen with each pass. By then, the numbers were equal and the battle joined so we remained outside the battle and kept moving, shooting any bandit we could hit until the battle was done. A moving horse gives one a tactical advantage and people who ride their steed into a mob then stop to fight are little more then dead men awaiting a spear in the back.
The Captain congratulated us and said, “You four have earned your bonus well over.” Then he and the survivors stripped the bodies as did we. Even the girls were high on adrenaline and helped. As we returned to the caravan which had slowed their panic, Tears totaled up the fight. “Diane, you killed four as we passed and then three during the fight. 7 kills. Fiona, you did 3 in passing and five in battle. 8 kills. A contest I think?” she laughed. “I did 7 in passing and eight in battle so made 15 kills but I was trained to this since birth. And Jason, I thought better from you. Six in passing and seven in battle to make 13 total. Doubtless when we are on the ground, you will do better.” And she laughed again. “Only the captain did near as good and he killed only five total. Yes, we earned our bonus and built a reputation. Now we can charge more for our services.”
We 4 together killed 48 bandits of a total of 80 dead. The remaining 32 were killed by the two dozen other guards and they lost four themselves. “We won only because the bandits expected us to break and run. Bandits are accustomed to fighting unarmed civilians and when faced with trained soldiers and equal numbers, they generally loose.” The girls had been blooded and did better than many men with whom I had fought and the camels and gear we took as our part of the booty we would sell to the caravan to increase our profit and pay for better rooms and meals in Amman. “Girls,” I continued. “I know this wasn’t easy for you but think of it like this. Had we been alone, those bandits would have outnumbered us 20-to-1 and without us, they would have overrun the caravan and killed everyone. You did good work today and I am proud of you.”
A day after leaving the dunes, we reached a small village and bathed. The village celebrated our news because they had been plagued by the bandits for some time so even broke out wine for us. We collected our bonus, sold our camels and decided that we could afford to take passage the rest of the trip if we wanted.
“The caravan master is offering us double wages if we continue to Mecca. I told him we had to leave just past Amman.”
“Why not get those double wages now?”
“Because we agreed to our current pay.”
“Sometimes you are just too honest, Jason.”
“We’ve been together three weeks and you are just learning that?” I laughed at their observations.
Amman was a decent sized city. No Damascus but larger than any other we passed through. We had another four days of rest and this time we were asked to remain as guards during that period. “The man definitely respects the power of you girls.” I commented.
Fiona immediately stood and sang “I am Woman”, a popular song from her time though her Arabic translation suffered from the spontaneity. When she was done, she leaned over and said, “By the way, Jason, we are women, not girls!”
I looked at her breasts which were almost popping from her shirt, so low cut was it and said, “yes you are! What colour did you say your eyes were?” Ok, I deserved the blow she gave me.
Because of the scarcity of guards, we had to take alternating shifts with one on duty and the other three off but we were expected to sleep in a wagon or tent on the caravan site for although we were officially on duty only six hours, we were expected to be ready if the caravan was robbed. “At least we don’t have to shovel camel shit!” commented Fiona as she started her tour. She hated camels ever since she tried to pet one and it spit on her. Camels are nasty beasts in the best of times.
Our duties were to walk around the area we rented, chase off the curious who could be thieves and direct the curious who could be customers to the master and to look mean. Two ruffians thought that Diane would be a pleasant companion and refused to stop bothering her so she punched one in the throat, kicked him in the crotch and put the other in a wrist-lock that made him scream which entertained the crowd and embarrassed the men. “Tonight,” I warned her, “they will return with friends so don’t be alone.” She nodded then loosened her blade and began to practice a quick draw as she worked.
The ruffians returned in the dark but I had called the Watch to be there and so when we broke the arms of two and wounded a third, we were exonerated and not arrested for assault which would have happened under normal conditions.
At sunrise we were awakened as usual by the Call to Prayer so Tears rolled over and went back to sleep but I got up to pee and met Diane watching the sun come up. “I always thought that Moslems prayed five times a day. I see prayer rugs rolled up at the fountains but no one seems to use them?”
“Moslems are as religious as Christians and Jews and anyone else. They pray when it isn’t too much trouble and they follow the Five Pillars when it is convenient. Islam says to pray five times a day. Christianity says Thou Shalt Not kill and both religions ignore these rules when it suits them. That’s the advantage of worshipping a god that forgives you, you can commit the most heinous crimes and still go to heaven because god has to forgive you.
“We pagans are stuck because we don’t have forgiveness so we have to pay for our crimes.”
She laughed, “I don’t know much about Islam so I have to listen to you. I read the papers and watch the news and see all these Palestinians killing Israelis for religion and I read about you Irish killing English for religion and it makes me wonder sometimes.”
“Well, dear, here is a thought. History and the news are written by the winners. So consider that to many, your own George Washington was a traitor and George Custer was a terrorist. The only thing that made them into a hero was winning and having the right person writing the books.”
“And what are we?”
“Adventurers. We killed those people because they tried to kill or rob us. We defended ourselves and our charges. But someday you may be in their position and be no better than they are unless you keep your ethics firmly in mind. All we can do is to do the best we can and hope we don’t cross the line too far.” I watched the sunrise with her until it became too bright.
“Do you love Tears?”
“No. I like her and respect her but don’t love her and I think she knows that.”
“Have you told her? Women need to know these things or we believe what we want.”
“The subject never came up.”
“Probably a good thing. I’ve seen the way you look at Fi and me even though you are with Tears. Want to find a place and be alone together before she wakes up?” She rested her hand on my knee and squeezed which caused me to gasp.
I had no idea of what to do. I’m not that experienced even though I’ve been married and ‘married’ a number of times. So I panicked a bit, “I think you are a wonderful woman, beautiful, intelligent, sexy as anything but…. I’m with Tears so as much as I want to, I can’t.” and I removed her hand which wasn’t easy to do.
She leaned over whispered into my ear, “that was a test. You passed. Had you agreed, I’d have kicked the shit out of you.” She then kissed me on the cheek and left. Then, turning, added, “I’m hungry, let’s get some breakfast.” And waited for me to try to stand.
We were eating a bland meal which I tolerated easier than the girls as I had eaten far worse as a galley slave in Iraq and a merc in Africa when Fiona and Tears arrived. Tears immediately sat and ate from my plate, a habit of hers I could never break, and she immediately opened up, “Hüsamettin, the Caravan master wants to talk to us. I think it can wait until after breakfast but he seems nervous. You, Jason, look nervous too. Have you been doing something I should know about?”
“No, dear, I’m fine. I’m completely innocent. Well, it depends on what you call innocent.”
“Good, I want all your seed for me and you shouldn’t be spreading it around.” Unlike Kore who would have brained me on the spot, Tears was casually stating a fact with little emotion.
I wondered what she knew and if she and Diane had been playing me for a fool. But rather than open my mouth and prove it, I wisely shut up and ate as they talked about unimportant things. For such a tiny looking girl, she ate as much as I did and I was a foot taller and easily 50 pounds heavier.
We were admitted to Hüsamettin’s room in the city almost immediately and he invited us to sit and drink. Since the attack at the dunes, he had decided to act as if the girls were not women but Amazons which placed them in a class of near-equality with men even though he still spoke woman’s Arabic around them. He, being a Turk, had grown up with legends of the warrior women before they moved to Russia and so was better able to accept their abilities than would any Arab from further south. He offered us coffee which Tears and I declined but Diane and Fiona took with relish. “A bit weak today Hüsamettin, I think if I stirred it with my knife, it wouldn’t even pit the steel.” Diane commented.
“These southern Arabs think coffee should be as weak as their mother’s milk. But soon I will return home where the coffee grows hair even on the fish.”
We had to laugh at his joke because he was our employer and after some small talk about the weather, hot and dry, and the trail, hard and dry, he finally got down to business. “Yesterday I purchased an item, a lamp if you will, from a certain Sufi. I have been negotiating with this man for some years and finally purchased the item but last night it was stolen and the Sufi murdered.”
He sipped his coffee some more then continued, “I am informed that the bandits have fled to the west along the road to Yerusalayim but so far have evaded capture.”
Diane leaned over and I whispered, “Jerusalem.”
“I wish you four to pursue the brigand and return to me my property. I leave in three days for Ma’an where I will await you. If we miss, then you will leave the item with a trusted soldier, Teoman here, who will chase me down. You may wonder why I am entrusting you with this task.” He waited and when we finally asked, he continued. “It is easier to trust a stranger than a friend and I have watched you closely enough to believe that you four are honest men. Return to me my lamp and I shall reward you handsomely.” He then slid to us a package that when we opened it revealed a number of carefully done drawings of the lamp with enough detail to ensure that we brought the proper one back. There was also a description of the thieves which lacked detail and could be almost anyone, but was better than nothing.
We bowed to Hüsamettin and assured him that we would do our best and left for the paddocks where we saddled our horses and packed our gear.
“What do you think the truth really is?” Tears asked in Russian to ensure we wouldn’t be overheard. “Why would an old brass lamp be so important that not only would Hüsamettin spend years to buy it but someone would murder a holy man to get it.”
I thought and added, “The Scots had the Stone of Scone upon which all Scottish kings were crowned. When the English conquered Scotland, they spent men and money to capture that stone to not only prevent the Scots from crowning another king but to prove that the English King was the King of Scotland too. They stole the Stone for political reasons. I recall also a story about someone claiming to own the cup that jesus used at the last supper and that anyone who drank from that cup would live forever. He was dead and robbed that very night and all who possessed that cup were robbed or murdered for it until it was destroyed or lost. Maybe this is similar?”
Tears listened then asked, “It seems to me that if the cup had such powers, the first owner would have survived the murder. Since he died, it proves that the cup was powerless.”
“But Sufi’s have power as your language amulets prove. Who knows what he did to that lamp.”
“Sheherazade & the King of Samarkand.” Fiona exclaimed.
“What?” Diane asked. “You mean The Thousand and One Nights?”
“Exactly. The King of Samarkand was a Tarter whose wife cheated on him with a slave so he killed her. When he visited his brother, he discovered his brother’s 40 wives cheating on him too so they killed those wives. They then went on a journey to contemplate the perfidy of the female gender and saw a djinn rise from the sea. They hid in a tree until the djinn fell asleep then were discovered by the djinn’s wife. The wife threatened to have the two kings killed unless they slept with her and so the King of Samarkand decided that every woman was a cheat and he married only virgins who he killed the next morning to prevent them from cheating on him. Finally, after three years, he married Sheherazade who had a plan and asked the king to allow her to tell a story to her sister. She told only half the story then stopped and said that if she were still alive the next night she’d finish the story. The king had listened to the story and wanted to hear the end so he postponed the execution but Sheherazade finished the story and immediately started another. This lasted for 1001 nights until the king died.
“One of those stories was ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ which had a lamp within which lived a Genie that granted wishes. Maybe….” She finished.
Diane commented, “I’ve heard the story of course but not the way you told it. My version had the King of Baghdad falling in love with Sheherazade and living happily after with her telling him stories.”
“My version is the older and truer version, not the politically cleaned up version for kids. But I see what Jason means. If a Sufi could do magick like what we see in these amulets, who knows what magick is in that lamp.” Fiona offered.
“Well, we agreed to recover the lamp and if it is magickal, then it isn’t safe in the hands of someone who would murder to get it. Let’s get the thing and worry later about what to do with it.”
We hurried to catch the bandits but everyone we met on the road wasn’t they whom we sought. Obviously, as fast as we rode, they rode faster for the same reason that a deer must run faster than the wolves chasing it. By dark we were in the valley near the Dead Sea which was much larger 500 years in the past. Since we couldn’t track in the dark, we were forced to rent a room with a herdsman and spend the night waiting and wondering. That was the first night Tears refused my advances saying, “I’m too sore from that ride. How can you want sex? Aren’t you sore too?”
“I spent extra money to pad my saddle to avoid that discomfort.” But I accepted her refusal and tried to hold her which she, as usual, refused. I didn’t understand that woman. She approached me for sex and did so nightly. But she never let me hold her in public or private and threatened castration if I slept with another woman but allowed me to look all I wanted. And how could a woman born and raised in the saddle be sore.
We awoke early, had a hurried breakfast and rushed on across the valley, passing the ruins of Jericho then up into the hills into Palestine. The second night found us outside Jerusalem but unable to enter in the dark so we camped outside the city with a number of pilgrims from three religions and a dozen nations, all seeking a sight of a city that had been fought over for 2500 years. Ever since David took it from the Philistines who were the descendants of the Phoenicians and would be the ancestors of the Palestinians people wanted the city. We wandered around, asking questions but needed translators of most as even the English who we found spoke an older form that was unintelligible to us.
“I thought you spoke English?” Tears asked. “Then why do these English pilgrims not understand you?”
“Languages change over the centuries. We can read and write their English but they pronounce it differently.”
Finally we questioned a shepherd who, for a few coppers, admitted to seeing the bandits enter the city only a few hours before. We got an accurate description, paid the kid and prepared for the confrontation the next day. I wanted to sneak in tonight but after centuries of war during the Crusades, the local Watch was actually doing what the taxpayers hired them to do.
Early the next morning we had a meal of jerky and cheese then entered the city. Tears acted like her back hurt but she had been born to the saddle so I couldn’t understand what the problem was. When I asked, she snapped at me them rode on. Diane rode up and said, “Sometimes you are as dumb as a post,” then rode to join Fiona and Tears.
“Let’s try something so totally unorthodox that it will be completely unexpected.” I suggested and rode to the gate where the guards insisted on tying our blades to our sheaths and unstringing our bows. The guards were extremely vigilant even though there hadn’t been walls around Jerusalem in more than 250 years since Malik-al-Muattam had them razed. Obviously, the barrier was psychological and meant to keep honest people like us out while bandits like they who we pursued would enter easily.
“Excuse me, I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis of Hibernia. I need to talk to your commander.”
When faced with a noble demanding to speak to authority, there is not a soldier in the world who would refuse to kick the problem upstairs and so within minutes we were led into the office of the Commander of the Watch.
I handed the Commander our papers and explained, “Our employer’s property was stolen a few days ago in Amman and a Sufi Holy Man murdered during the crime. We are charged with recovering the item and so would ask for your assistance in this matter.”
The commander looked over the papers with care and attention while he wondered if he should send us to his commander and be rid of us safely. Finally, he relaxed, returned the papers to me and said, “I don’t have the manpower to hunt down these fugitives unless the commit a crime in my city. However, I won’t stop you from searching yourselves. So long as you break no laws, you are free to search for them and do as you will.” Then we were dismissed.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” Fiona complained bitterly.
“Not at all,” I replied. “Now we have official permission to search for them which allows us more freedom and latitude. Had we just come in and started asking questions, the Watch would see us as criminals.”
Hüsamettin had given us a small purse to assist us and this we spread generously about though Fiona and Diane had other ways of collecting information. They entered an establishment, toyed with their hair until someone flirted and they let it be known that they’d be ever so grateful if someone would find the thieves for them so they could stop hunting and simply relax with such a strong looking man as were they.
I was embarrassed with my gender that so many brains fell from so many heads but I admit that they got results. It was only a couple of hours later when we received the name of a tavern where the thieves could be found.
It wasn’t far and seemed to cater to the lowest people for all within were armed and even the whores looked used up. We immediately attracted attention for blondes were rare in this part of the world, armed women even rarer and we dressed too fine and had all of our teeth and body parts so obviously we were slumming or lost, either of which could get us raped and robbed and these wouldn’t care if the person they violated was male, female or a sheep.
I took my charges to a table against the wall but near the door and the entire trip we were being watched by everyone. “So much for our being incognito” Diane mentioned.
I ordered drinks which I cautioned the girls from drinking, “they don’t wash dishes well here” and asked the maid, “I am looking for some men,” and gave them the descriptions we had. “They violated my wife and before I stone her, I want her to see me kill the men with whom she thought she could cheat.” Tears gave me a filthy look and the men nearby laughed and whispered among themselves.
“Why the hell did you say that!” she demanded in Russian. “You made me look like a doxie!”
“Because, my dear, all here are thieves and murderers and rapists. If I told the truth, they would protect their own from those who they deem to be their rightful prey. But, by chasing down an adulterer, they will tell us where to find the men and not warn them because they want to watch the fun. If I loose, they all get to take turns with you three. If I win, they get to watch me stone you and help out. Either way they see a fight and none of them have to risk their own lives.”
I pretended to drink but cautioned the girls to be vigilant and keep their knives ready. “No one will try to pick you up until this matter is resolved so I don’t have to worry about you castrating some guy whose eyes are bigger than his brain and warning the thieves.”
Conversation was subdued but we all noticed that the patrons stared at both us and a group of men at another corner. “There is our man. When I start trouble, I want you to search their belongings for the lamp. If it’s that valuable, I doubt they will leave it alone. Now to try to stay alive long enough to recover the item.” I took a long drink, belched then remembered that the glass wasn’t clean. Oh well, “YOU THERE!” I shouted and pointed. “I want to talk to you about my wife. Sit down tramp, I will deal with you later after I beat your lover to a pulp!” I left my katana behind and carried my wakazashi and Sai feeling that a sword invites combat and leaving it behind and carrying only smaller weapons implies a fist fight. Also, a sword is too large to use inside so I could use my shorter blade and Sai easier than they could a longer scimitar.
Diane stood up and took my arm crying out, “Please master, do what you must but please harm not my sister. She was led astray by the excitement of a strange and handsome man.” She followed me then I pushed her away to fall near their table. Now she was close to their gear and all attention was on me. The three stood, faced me and laughed, “If you weren’t such a skinny and unmanly fop, maybe you could satisfy your women and they’d not need a real man!” He looked around and all laughed so I hit him. Ok, he hit a nerve with that. Lyssandra had cheated on me during our entire marriage with dozens of men and women and I had a flashback then.
He got up, wiped blood from his lip and said, “You hit like a girl!” and swung.
First rule of a fight is to not get hit so I blocked, backed, dodged, whatever it took to avoid being hit for even one solid blow would stun me long enough for his friends to take hold and finish me off. The fight seemed to last forever but they always do. The shortest five minutes of my life were waiting for my match in Malaysia. The longest five minutes were fighting in that ring. Eventually, years later, I heard Tears cry out in Russian, “Let’s go! We have it!” so I did a side kick to one to leave him puking on the floor, blocked and backfisted another in the temple who dropped and snap-kicked the knee of the third then hammered his nose as he fell. I wiped my nose which had taken a lucky blow and yelled, “Now wife, your turn. Outside!” and all parted to watch the fun. Diane and Fiona took Tears outside and then as we neared the horses I yelled, “I’ll finish this at home. First you will service me greatly, THEN I will stone you as your father watches.” And we mounted and left under the disappointing eyes of the crowd who dropped the stones they had collected. Everyone loves a good stoning.
We rose away and I called, “We need to get away fast before they discover we robbed them.”
Diane laughed back, “I took their money and everything else I could find of value. With luck, they’ll think another drunk robbed them and not us recovering the lamp.”
We rode south fast then dismounted and walked the horses to cool them then mounted and rode again until we were all too tired to go further. When we had to stop, we all were sore and the horses were lathering so we found an oasis and had to push the horses away to prevent them from cramping. Then as they cooled, we let them drink more and finally they were safe enough to be allowed to do as they chose.
After hobbling them for the night, Diane brought out the lamp and we looked it over. “Such a small thing to cause so much trouble. I wonder what it does?”
“Don’t open it or we may find a djinn that swore an oath to kill the man who released it.”
She wrapped it again and replaced it in her pack then joined us for dinner. We set watches in case we were followed and with one awake, the rest fell asleep, groaning for our aching muscles.
I woke them up in the dark, “Riders, riding fast in the dark.” Each awoke and strung their bow as Fiona commented, “They’ll break a leg riding that fast in the dark. This must be important.” She and Diane took positions behind rocks while Tears found a tree and I stood near cover and waited with bow. Arrows barely missed me only because it was too dark to see and I rolled under cover and screamed, “beware!”
The three rode into camp with bows drawn and cried, “Return the lamp and lower your arms and we will let you live.”
“Why should I believe you?” I called back.
“Because we are three to your one. We don’t want your women, just the lamp.”
“What’s so special about the lamp?”
“My employer wants it. That is reason enough to make it special! Toss it out with your blade and bow and you may walk away.”
“Ok, just don’t harm my women! They are harmless to you,” and I tossed my bow and katana into the firelight.
“Stand!” Their leader cried as his companions dismounted to recover my weapons.
“Kill them!” I called and three arrows struck the men. I approached their leader who was still alive despite the arrow in his side and having fallen from a horse and I asked, “What is so special about that lamp?”
“I don’t know,” he coughed red foam from a collapsed lung. “I was only told to recover it at all costs.”
“Who is your employer?”
“Go to hell, infidel!” and he tried to spit but racked with a fit of coughing and died.
“Well that was productive,” Diane offered as she stood by me. She was getting used to death. “We know as much now as before. Should we really return it to Husamettin?”
“He bought it fair from a Sufi. If it was too dangerous, the Sufi wouldn’t have made it. Despite their greed, they are holy men and so are careful not to make really dangerous spells for unscrupulous people.”
I began to strip the body and drag it away from the oasis and downwind so the horses wouldn’t smell whatever came to eat them. “We have a few days before we reach Ma’am to think it over.”
We had no more trouble and a few days later Tears returned to my bed with renewed attention.
We crossed the mountains about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba and headed for Ma’an then saw a fortress in the distance. “We need water,” I suggested, “and Moslems are supposed to give hospitality to travelers so I don’t see any choice. Besides, we are lost.”
“Lost!” Fiona confronted me. “Doesn’t that Locator of yours tell us where we are?”
“Yes it does. I know exactly the latitude and longitude of our position and exactly how far and in what direction is the Stargate. But it doesn’t tell me where water is or where to find food or what pass to take to get through these mountains. For that we need a guide.”
“Damn! And you were doing so good up to now.” She rode away in disgust.
It took hours to find the fortress and all we saw were ruins. “Looks Crusader,” I commented. “There, see those walls? European, not Arab. This is an old Crusader castle. Probably abandoned centuries ago but there must be water there because no one will build a fortress unless they have food and water nearby.
We rode in and found the well still in good order. We also found dried camel dung piled against a wall so the castle was probably still used by people like us. We set the horses to grazing among the sparse vegetation and moved our tack and gear into a gate house that still had walls and roof and door of sorts.
We were settling in when Tears arrived with a beggar in tow. “Alms, for the love of Allah, alms,” he cried with a bowl outstretched. I tossed a few copper coins into his bowl and so did Diane and Fiona then the man settled down and counted his wealth as we prepared our meal.
“Old man,” I squatted near him, but not too near for he seemed to be more interested in drinking than bathing in the well water. “How do we reach Ma’an?”
He looked to me then held his bowl again. I tossed another penny and held a few more and waited. “To the east is a road that heads south then joins the caravan trail after it passes Petra, the city of Ghosts. Maybe another day to Ma’an.” And he held his bowl for his fee.
I turned to Fiona, “See, we’re not lost, we are right on course.”
“Dumb luck,” she muttered.
“Beware the City of the Dead!” he cried.
“Why?” Diane asked, really interested in this. “Maybe I can get a story out of it?”
“Despite the great wealth hidden in Petra, the dead walk on moonless nights to consume the souls of the living.”
“Wealth?” Now Tears was interested.
He held his bowl again, his audience hooked. Tears offered a few coins in one hand and some cheese and bread with the other. He looked at both, torn between then finally took the food and explained between mouthfuls. “Petra was once the home of a powerful tribe of bandits. Then they found that they could make more money by taxing caravans than they ever did raiding. So a city sprung up. But the ancients gloried in their dead more than they did God so one day, Allah in his infinite compassion, caused the Earth to tremble and killed all in that city. Now only Bedouins stalk the dead roads and tombs seeking sustenance from the living.”
“You said wealth” insisted Tears. He held his bowl and tears said, “I paid you. Speak or receive a beating instead. If I find your story useful, then you may have more money.”
He cringed back and continued, “A little south of here an ancient caravan trail goes west to Petra. You pass through the Syk which is a narrow crevice between high cliffs. And as you exit the Syk you will see a temple carved from the stone. High up in the center is a stone pot and within this pot is a king’s ransom in gold.”
“If you know this and have presumably told the tale to everyone who pays, why is it still there?”
“None can climb the cliff. And those who remain to build a ladder or scaffold are eaten by the dead that inhabit the city.”
“You said that Bedouins live there too. Why do the dead not eat them?”
“Mayhap they feed the dead? I know not.” And he shook his bowl again so she paid him a few more coins and he crawled away into his room within the fortress.
She lay back, looked at the fire and mused, “I would like to see this Petra.”
Fiona piped in, “Why not? If we miss Husamettin, we can give the lamp to Teoman so a day more or less won’t hurt.”
“I don’t care. I’m having fun so why not see everything before we return to Chicago. A day to Ma’an, another three or so to the Stargate. By this time next week we are home so I have no problems with another delay.” Diane was the easiest to convince so I also agreed.
We set out early the next morning on rested horses and with full canteens for Petra. The old trail was easy to find because the desert had no rain to wash away the past. So we turned west and easily found the Syk, a very narrow and winding crevice that looked like an earthquake has split the mountain then filled the bottom to provide a level path. As we rode, Fiona asked, “What do you think of the old man’s story?”
Tears thought then, “He said Bedouins live here. They probably rob travelers and spread the story of ghosts to keep the army away. But I don’t think there is any gold here. If there were, it would have been robbed long ago.”
“Then why are we here?” asked Diane.
“Why not? Maybe there is a chance that he was right, if not, the Bedouins may have wealth from those they rob.”
To the right we saw a tunnel and I stopped and looked within. I could barely see daylight on the other end, maybe 80 or 90 meters away and noticed the weathering on the sides. “Water! This was cut to bring water here. When the source dried up, the city died.” I remounted and we continued on until a turn revealed a temple carved from the cliff. We all stopped, looked at the grandeur through the crack. When we finally continued and left the crevice into a large flat area, we looked the building over. Designed to impress, it did it’s job well. The ancients had taken a cliff face and carved it back to create a thing of unsurpassed beauty. Six Corinthian columns maybe 30 meters tall framed a doorway and carried a lintel that was obviously Greek. Above that another set but with the center cut away to reveal a round tower with elaborate dome and crowned with a stone cauldron large enough to hold a standing person.
Tears pointed and said, “to the sides, those are gods of the ancients. The Moslems tried to destroy them but there on that center tower is Al-Uzza the Arabian Moon Goddess and on the top, the stone pot. Now how do we climb it?”
“It must be 80 meters up.” I calculated. “No wonder no one managed to get it. There isn’t enough wood in this desert to build a ladder to reach that. The cliff is too sheer to climb so we can’t rappel down. I have an idea.”
We tied a cord to an arrow and shot it to bounce off the tower but leave the cord over a projection. It took a dozen tries but finally we had it and pulling the cord, we pulled a rope over the projection. Tears being the smallest and lightest climbed the rope, her arms strengthened by a lifetime of pulling a bow and she was soon at the first level 40 meters above us. She then moved to the furthest recess and repeated the shot to loop the cord over a boss upon which the stone pot rested. Then she pulled the rope up and tied it to her cord and pulled the rope up to and over that boss then anchored it and climbed to the pot. From there, she pulled the rope, tied it to a projection and tossed the remaining down to allow a quick slide to the ground.
“I wondered why you carried all that rope. Maybe your being a pack-rat is useful after all.” This from Fiona. “Too bad you didn’t have a grapple hook.”
Tears was at the pot and looking around when we heard voices. Diane went to look and rode back crying, “Bedouins, lots of them. Tears, pull the rope and hide. Jason, we need cover fast!”
We rushed our horses into a nearby tomb, for that is what these buildings were and hid in silence. We could see into the courtyard and saw dozens of Arabs on camel milling around then shooting at the pot with their bows. Diane said, “They found Tears, we have to help her.” But I stopped her, “Listen, they are just talking about breaking the pot, they don’t know she is there. Let’s wait a bit.”
It didn’t take long for the Arabs to get bored with their game and continue on past our position. As soon as they were gone, we left the tomb and called to Tears. She poked her head from behind the pot and said she was safe, then she slid down the dome to a projection, looped the rope over that and slid to the next level. Flipping the rope free, she repeated that act and soon was on the ground with us. Diane hugged her then Fiona then I, so relieved were we.
We moved back into the tomb for cover and Diane was looking for cloth to wash Tears’ abrasions when she moved the lamp and heard sloshing. “Oil! There’s oil in this lamp. It was dry before and look, none leaks out when I turn it over. Maybe that’s the magick, a lamp that never spills or needs refilling. But we need light so,” and before I could stop her, she had struck flint and steel and the lamp lit instantly before a spark could reach it.
A wind rushed through the tomb and the flame flickered but steadied as the wind died then the lamp gave enough light to illuminate everything. “More magick!” Fiona commented. “Not only does it not spill or need refilling, it lights instantly and provides as much light as we need. No wonder it is so valuable.”
I had a bad feeling about this. “You may be right but who murders for such a thing?”
“Maybe it glows brighter when treasure is near? That would make it worth killing for.”
I left the tomb to check on our visitors and when I returned I told them, “From the outside, the tomb is still dark. The light goes no further than is needed. Whatever else it does, I’d like to own one myself. Now, Tears, what happened up there?”
“I got to the top and there were arrow nicks in the stone as if the Arabs had been shooting at the pot for centuries. Guess they thought that if they could break it, the gold would fall to the ground but that wouldn’t happen. The pot was solid stone. Not hollow but a simple carved decoration. The whole effort was a waste of time and effort. What now?”
“It’s getting dark so we should find a place to stay the night then leave in the morning for Ma’an. This one is too crowded with the horses and us.” So we left and followed the trail after the Arabs looking for a place to sleep.
Even weathered as it was the place was magnificent! We looking into a number of carved openings with the lamp illuminating the way and all we saw were shallow graves. The ancients had dug only deep enough to bury their dead and focused their energy on carving the façade. We passed an arena that had been dug into the ground and would rival the Coliseum of Rome itself. Then turning a corner we found the Bedouin camp. Not wishing to interfere and start a fight over possession of land or our horses or the bodies of the girls, we turned and left before they saw us and sought an empty tomb large enough for us and the horses.
As we settled in, I suggested that, “If those Bedouins got rich over their victims, they’d not be living in such a rag-tag camp.” We had our horses in the rear of the tomb and us in the front where we could see out and so after setting watches, fell asleep.
I was awake when the horses began to panic. I woke up Diane who was nearest and she woke the others as I tried to calm the terrified animals. Then I heard the rocks move. Not the rumble of an earthquake but the grinding sound of stone sliding on stone. The horses broke free and near trampled us in their effort to escape. We ran into the night but they were gone, running themselves to death in the darkness.
Moments later the camels and horses of the Bedouins followed.
Outside, watching this panic I had no idea of what to do until I heard a scream from the tomb. Returning, we saw shapes in the tomb, shapes that lumbered and we all left immediately, carrying only our swords and with Tears, her bow and quiver also. In the road, we saw shapes leaving every tomb, man-like shapes that staggered, half rotted. One reached for Tears and I cut it’s arm free only to see it reach out with the other which I also severed. Then I had to remove a leg to stop it and it crawled in the dirt, still seeking her. I removed it’s head and that caused it to move randomly, it could no longer see but still moved.
“High ground!” I yelled and we ran for a cliff face that we could climb to a safe shelf. We heard screams from the Bedouin camp and the dead, for that was what they were, ignored us as unreachable and staggered, limped and crawled in the direction of the screams. “This is the last time I enter a graveyard!” I promised. “Look, they are all following the sounds of the Arabs. If we remain quiet, they will pass us by,” and so we hid there silent but scared as were our long-gone horses.
When it looked as if all had left our area, I suggested that we get our gear and leave the city so we carefully left our place of relative safety and entered the tomb for our tack and supplies. We couldn’t carry all so Diane struck the lamp alight again, an action that matched that unnatural wind, and we quickly chose the best food and water and left intending to run the desert if need be but we were caught by the dead who returned to their tombs.
“Up the cliff!” I commanded and as they did so, I remained aground to dismember as many as I could. I must have cut the limbs and heads from a dozen before Diane yelled for me to follow. Judging them safe, I sprang for the face and climbed as fast as I could and when I was safe too, we hid and watched.
“That’s strange,” Fiona commented. They are ignoring us. Before they sought to kill us and now they are just returning to their graves. Why?”
Diane added, “And as Jason was cutting then down, they mostly ignored him. Those on the sides kept moving and he only cut those who… It is as if he were in their way. Why the change?”
“If you want to go down, feel free to do so,” I said. “As for me, I am taking a nap. Set a guard please and wake me when it is my time.”
As I fell asleep, I heard them say, “How the hell does he do that? The man could sleep through World War III.”
I awoke with both Tears and Diane in my arms for warmth. Carefully, I removed myself and let them hold each other as I scooted to the edge to talk to Fiona. “Report.” I called, then at her look changed it to, “What’s been happening?”
“Last night they all returned to their graves and nothing since then. It’s almost as if it never happened.”
“The rest of our gear is inside that tomb, we need to retrieve it or we are dead in the desert. Watch them and scream out if you see anything.” And I began to climb down when she touched me and said, “Please be careful.” I smiled and continued.
It took me some time to enter the tomb. Mostly I remained outside in the shade and looked ad listened then finally forced myself to enter only to find our gear undisturbed. I never wasted time lighting the lamp, I grabbed a handful and ran outside. Then with no pursuit, I reentered and repeated my moves until everything was outside. By then Fiona had awakened the others and they joined me on the ground. “What now?” Diane asked. “We have no horses and too much gear to carry.”
“Ma’an is a day and a half away with the caravan only a half day to the east. We can carry bare weapons, food and water that far easy if need be. In the meantime, let’s take advantage of the light and see what happened. Maybe the Bedouins left a camel or two penned up someplace. I’ll go that way.”
Fiona suggested, “Diane and I will return to the Syk and Tears can go with you. I don’t want to loose you.” And taking a couple canteens, we piled our gear against the cliff and away from the tomb and went off exploring. It was only a half mile to the Bedouin camp and aside from tents pulled down in the flight, we saw little evidence of the night before save a few dead Arabs and a few more dismembered corpses that had been unable to return to their crypts. “They put up a fight before they broke and ran,” Tears commented as she searched the tents.
There was plenty of food and water and Tears found a box with money and jewelry which she decided to take. Unfortunately it was too large to carry so she hid it between some rocks and covered it until she could return.
“Look there,” I pointed. “That wall runs from the cliff to cliff and protects the north. There is another in the south and as the Bedouins never passed us, they must have run… there! See that fortress on that west hill? Another Crusader fort and just north where the hill ends is a wadi. They must have run that way.”
“Then we should gather what we can and leave before they find the balls to return.” I agreed and helped her search when Diane and Fiona arrived on our horses. “We found them in a blind valley near the first tomb. I think the dead trapped them there then left before they could kill them. They were too scared to run so we now have mounts again.”
Tears retrieved her chest and tied it to a pack horse then mounted, “Let us be away from this place before they decide to rise again.” And so she rode back to the Syk and freedom.
We followed and I talked to Diane and Fiona about the event. “The Bedouins have been here for some time. They seem to graze their sheep here and use it as a base for raiding so last night was unusual and so rare they may not have considered it possible. What changed last night?”
“Maybe us sleeping in their tombs?” Diane suggested. “The Arabs would loot the tombs but not move in.”
Fiona asked to this, “Then why would they not care about their graves being looted but care about a few transients?” We talked about this until we found the caravan trail and turned south. We had to sleep under the stars but had no trouble and despite our recent visitors, Tears again sought my blanket and body.
We awoke the next morning early and reached Ma’an by noon and found our caravan still there, though making arrangements to leave on the morrow. “Trading must have been good for him to wait this long.” I suggested as we searched for Husamettin.
We were ushered into his room immediately and when we handed the lamp over, I gave a report of our trip, including the events at Petra as he requested then asked, “Husamettin, We brought you the lamp and even risked more than you paid for to get this to you. What exactly is so special about this lamp?”
He laughed, bade us to enjoy our meal and explained, “No, noble soldiers, the secret to this lamp is no djinn or an unlimited supply of oil, though both would be worth what I paid. No, the use of this is to raise and lay the dead!” and he laughed himself silly.
Diane almost stood and screamed, “You mean that when I lit the lamp in that tomb, it raised the dead in the city? And when I lit it again, it sent them back to their graves?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I never gave you a warning because I never thought that you’d feel the need to sleep in a graveyard.”
“And why, sir, do you wish such a thing?” Fiona asked, holding her own temper.
“Sometimes, a man in my business passes through areas where the dead reside. If they rise while I am there, it is useful to be able to send them back safely.”
“And,” I added, “Since the ancients buried their wealth with their bodies, it makes grave-robbing easier and safer.”
“It would if I partook of such an endeavor.” He smiled as he sipped his coffee then added, “You four are the best I have ever seen and the most honest which is a rarity in your profession. If you wish to serve me further, I shall triple your pay and shower you with gifts.”
I never even looked at my companions but answered, “Your offer is most generous but as I mentioned, I promised to see my companions to their homes which is a bit to the north. Then I intend to continue to Nippon. But if we pass this way again, I hope you will remember your offer.”
He agreed and promised to remember us then Tears broke in, “Master Husamettin, I have come into some fortune recently and wondered if you would buy it from me?” She showed him the box over which he drooled and examining every item, divided the loot into two piles, one he wanted and one he didn’t. Then he made her an offer and they bargained for some time until he agreed to take all and pay her more. The deal was struck, he had her paid in silver and gold and then bade us goodbye.”
“I’ll pay for the rooms and bath tonight!” she said and as we bathed and ate dates to wash the sweat and dust off, she handed each of us a share. “We fought together, traveled together so we should share our fortune together.” We thanked her then she opened another bag and said, “I didn’t sell everything. Here, Fiona, is a necklace and headband to attract a man’s eyes for you complain that he sees only your chest and not your eye color. Diane, anything I give you would take attention from your hair so here, take this bracelet and rings. And Jason, a jeweled jimbaya to think of me as you slit someone’s throat.” She laughed and we again thanked her and settled in to relax and talk about our plans.
Being in no hurry, which I thought was unusual being only a couple days from home, we remained in Ma’an a couple days, saw our former employer off and then headed north. “Tears and I will keep the horses and head north to Russia. Be careful how you sell those coins and auction them slowly and in small amounts. I don’t know if you will return to Chicago seconds after you left or a month later to equal your time here. But I’ll leave it up to you to make your excuses as to what happened.”
The Stargate was between some rocks at an oasis where the water ran along a stream to fill the pool and as we made camp, I ensured that they had the bolts I had made and explained again how to use them. “Diane, Fiona, you two have been excellent companions. In addition to a pleasant sight, even in the morning, I couldn’t ask for better men at my side in a fight. Plus your skills at making money have kept me out of a lot of trouble. I admit that I’ll miss you and hope that we meet again. You can adventure with me anytime.” I hugged them both as did Tears then as Fiona began to activate the Stargate, Diane stepped back and said, “Goodbye Fi, I love you and tell our family and friends not to worry. I’ll be fine.”
Fiona stopped, the static discharging and demanded, “What! We go through all this and you aren’t coming home? What the hell is going on?”
“Fi,” she took her hands, “I never planned to return. I hate Chicago. There are too many memories. So what do I do, sell some Arab gold and go back to college? Hope to marry again or get a job writing advertising for some product I hate until I can get my novel published? Hell, this last month IS a novel! I’m not healed yet but I am healing. And I don’t want to meet someone and have him drafted and die too. You heard Jason. The Vietnam War won’t end for another five years and 58,000 men will die. I lost one, I can’t loose another. At least here, I have control over my own life. Besides, I have a plan! I love you Fi and I’ll miss you so much, but I need this. Try to understand and be happy for me.”
She turned to me and said, “If you meant what you said, then I’m yours.”
I admit I was shocked but hey, I was telling the truth so said, “The same rules apply. I can’t promise anything that you haven’t already done and seen. But,” I laughed, “I think we’ve gotten past that you sleeping in the hall if I pick up a geisha.”
She hugged me and said, “Bye Fi, think kindly of me.”
Fiona looked at the Stargate, a couple rocks leaning over a stream and put her bolt back in her pocket and said, “Di, I can’t let you go off alone. Who’ll protect you form Jason’s lecherous looks? We’ve always been there for each other and so… Ok Samurai, were next?”