D. J. Belt
Copyright: The characters of Melinda Pappas, Janice Covington, Xena, and Gabrielle belong to Studios USA, or whomever owns them now. The other characters and the story can be blamed on me.
Sex/violence/other good stuff: Alt, if labels are needed. This one has a fair amount of violence in it, but nothing worse than you'd see in an episode of X:WP. There is reference to a tragic rape in here (the actual event is not depicted). Sorry to have to include it, but it was part of an actual historical event which forms the backdrop for this story. There is no graphic sexual content, but some humor of a mildly sexual nature and some nasty language. Hey, Jan's in here, after all!
Comments, etc.: Comments can be mailed to me at email@example.com. If you wish to write, please do. I love hearing from you and look forward to it.
Misc. blathering: Dear friends, another installment of the Mel and Jan series, just for you. This makes number eleven, I believe. You asked for it, you got it. I must apologize in advance for the length of this tale; it just got away from me! So, grab your favorite drink, snuggle down in your overstuffed chair, and prepare to go on another wild adventure with our favorite girls!
Southern England, Summer, 1951.
"Doctor MacKenzie, you'd better come and see this for yourself."
Sallie MacKenzie blew a shock of unruly brown curls from her face, looked up from the archaeological dig pit where she was carefully excavating a piece of pottery, and focused on the graduate student peering down at her. She noted the puzzled expression on the young man's face and asked, "What is it?
"We've finished uncovering that grave. I think we've found someone of real importance."
Sallie climbed out of the dig pit. As she shoved her soft-bristled brush into her back pocket, she asked, "What makes you think so?" Ever the mentor, she prompted, "Be specific."
He explained, "He was buried with weapons. There's spear points, arrowheads, and a sword and shield. We're finding several other artifacts in the grave with him, including some jewelry on the remains. Only someone rather important would have been buried so." He puzzled, then added, "The shield and sword don't appear Roman, though."
That piqued Sallie's interest. She mused, "A Non-Roman warrior, buried in a Roman army cemetery? That's a puzzle to unravel, ain't it?" When they reached the edge of the burial pit, Sallie eased her petite frame down into it, carefully placing her feet astride the skeleton half-protruding from the dark English earth. The other students stood aside, quietly awaiting her thoughts. Sallie did not keep them waiting long.
"He was just approaching middle years, from the condition of the teeth and the spine. I don't see any fractures yet, indicating a violent death." As her eyes traveled up the bones, she paused, then carefully relocated her feet, clad in knee-high rubber boots, so that she could lean over the skull. "Wait a minute, guys. What's this?" She produced her soft-bristled brush and began cleaning dirt from the skull. "I thought I saw something here. Look at that."
The assembled students craned to follow her finger. In the skull, a round hole about the size of the diameter of her little finger appeared as she cleaned dirt away from the cranium. "That's quite a knock on the head. Might be what killed him."
"In battle?" One of the students conjectured.
"Or a power struggle, if this was somebody important." She asked, "Where's the sword and shield?" One of the students pointed, and Sallie glanced at the spot. She squinted at it, then said, "Let's clean it off some more." As two of the students began brushing earth away from it, Sallie felt the hair rise on the back of her neck. She glanced down at the skeleton again, perused the bones, then muttered, "Well, I'll be damned. I missed it the first time. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it."
A new voice jolted her from her train of thought. It was the cultured accent of Paul Franklin, an archaeologist associated with the Royal Museum of London and one with whom she had worked on a previous English dig. "I say, Sallie, what have you got there?"
Sallie looked up at his pleasant, inquiring expression, then around at the students gathered at the edge of the pit. She ran a hand through the unruly mass of brown curls on her head, then answered in her thick Brooklyn accent, "You're sure not gonna believe this one."
He raised an eyebrow. "Spear heads, sword blade. Roman soldier?"
She answered, "Nope."
He puzzled over that reply. "Well, who, then?"
Sallie took a deep breath, then replied, "He's a she."
A murmur arose from the students. Paul blinked in surprise. "What? Why do you say that?"
Sallie leaned over the bones and pointed. "See the pelvic bones, the angle formed by the attachment of the two pubic bones? See the width of the pelvis as it compares to the shoulders? See the slender jaw-line? This is a woman."
He hummed in amused interest. "A Celt?" he conjectured.
Sallie shook her head. "Nope."
He cleared his throat, then diplomatically suggested, "But Doctor MacKenzie, if it's not a Roman soldier, and it was, from the weaponry around the grave site, clearly a warrior, then it must have been a Celt. Wasn't anyone else mucking about this part of England during that time, was there?" When he noted the sparkle in her dark eyes, he tilted his head in question and asked, "Oh, all right, my dear. Why do you insist that it isn't a Celt?"
Sallie pointed at the shield. "Celtic shields were oblong, almost at large as Roman shields of the period. This shield is circular and smaller." She leaned across the body and dusted at the face of the shield with her brush. "Plus, it's got remnants of hide on it, over what appears to be wood, although it's badly decayed. Celtic shields were metal-covered." She pointed at an arm bracelet, partly surrounding the exposed bone of the upper arm. "And this arm bracelet has lettering on it. Anybody look closely at it?" A chorus of heads shook in unison. Sallie brushed carefully at it, then pulled a magnifying glass from her back pocket and studied it. After a moment, she stood erect and announced, "The lettering is Greek."
Paul exclaimed, "You don't say!" He lowered himself into the pit and accepted the glass from Sallie, then leaned down to examine the bracelet himself. After a moment, he nodded in agreement. "It's Greek, all right, but there was much Greek artistry floating about the Roman Empire of the first century AD." At Sallie's skeptical look, he relented. His voice was a pleasant laugh as he theatrically asked, "All right, my dear Doctor MacKenzie, if he- excuse me, she- isn't a Roman soldier, and she isn't a Celt, then whoever is she?"
Sallie smiled as she replied, "I'll bet you a fiver she's a Greek Amazon."
Mack MacKenzie entered the large tent where the dig's artifacts were sorted and catalogued, chuckling as he saw Sallie. "Hey, doll," he noted, "you've got the whole dig in an uproar. An Amazon, in Roman England? You sure stuck that pretty little neck of yours out on this one, didn't you?"
She looked up, grinned, and pointed to a stone slab sitting on the table before her. "Read it and weep, oh-skeptical-husband-of-mine," she replied.
He approached her and hugged her to his side as he studied the slab sitting on the table. It was about the size of a book, and displayed lettering in Greek and Latin. "The marker?" he asked.
"Yeah. They found it at her head when they excavated a little more. I just cleaned it off."
He perused the lettering, then said, "Varia, queen of the Amazons of Thessaly. Well, I'll be damned." He thought about it for a minute, then asked, "Oh, by the way, Paul asked me to give you this. Did you lend him money?"
She looked down at his hand. In it was a five-pound note. She snickered, then plucked the money from his hand and jammed it into her pants pocket. "Nah. He bet me it wasn't an Amazon. I won."
"You never cease to amaze me," he responded. "Tea time. The dig is knocking off. Let's join them."
"Yeah, I'm with ya. Besides, I can't wait to gloat a little."
Outside, the dig's participants were sitting at a long table, indulging themselves in their afternoon tea. Sallie and Mack seated themselves next to Paul, who looked up with a bemused smile. "Well," he proclaimed, "your wild theory proved to be right on the button. I say, an Amazon! I still can't believe that she squeezed five quid out of me, Mack."
Mack nodded in understanding. "Yeah, Sallie learned from the best."
Paul joked, "Yes, Sallie learned at Jan Covington's elbow. She's the only other person I know who can voice such mad theories and prove herself right every time. How are Jan and Melinda, by the way?"
"Finishing the semester," Sallie replied. "Jan's got a full professorship now. Keeps her busy."
"Her free-lance translations are keeping her at it. Her reputation is spreading."
Paul nodded. "I daresay. She's remarkable with old Greek." He sipped his tea, then added, "Speaking of which, we uncovered a pottery amphora in the burial site with papyri inside it. It's in Greek. Do you think she would care to take a crack at translating it?"
Mack laughed. "She'd love to, I'm sure. We'll telegraph her."
"Nonsense," Paul countered. "Ring her transatlantic on the telephone this evening, why don't you? The university will pay for it. And see if Jan can come, too. Perhaps she can lend her insight into this little Amazon puzzle, as she's the expert on Greece."
United States, that afternoon.
In the Department of History and Archaeology, the department's secretary, Virginia, sauntered down the hallway, stopping at a scarred door-jamb adorned with a placard reading, "J. Covington, PhD, Professor of Archaeology". She stuck her head in and saw Jan sitting behind her desk, absorbed in reading. "Doc?" she asked.
Jan looked up, then smiled as she saw Virginia's inquisitive face, the young woman's jaw working over the usual wad of chewing gum. "Yeah, Ginnie?"
"Your honey called. She wants you to call her at home."
Jan grew concerned. "Did it seem urgent?"
Virginia snickered, then answered, "You forgot your anniversary."
"What? Oh, shit!" Jan's head jerked to one side, and she squinted at the calender hanging on her office's cluttered wall. "I did not," she retorted. "It's not for another two weeks."
Virginia leaned against the door-jamb and folded her arms across her chest, watching Jan's reaction with amusement. She snickered, then said, "Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?"
Jan allowed a broad grin to cross her face. "Damn, Ginnie. Don't do that to me. You about gave me a heart attack. She didn't say what it was about?"
"Naw, Doc," Virginia cooed. "She just said something about you coming home soon. She also mentioned massage oil." Virginia rolled her eyes melodramatically, then added, "I am so jealous."
Jan felt a hot blush creep up her cheeks. "Um, Mel said that?"
Virginia laughed delightedly when she perceived Jan's blush. She pointed and teased, "Got you again. Gee, Doc. You're really blushing. You must actually have some of that stuff, huh?"
Jan lowered her head, hid her face with a hand, and muttered, "Shaddup. Quit pickin' on me, will ya?"
Virginia affected a false pout, then sighed and turned to leave. "Well, if I gotta. Teasing you is the only fun I get around here." As she turned, Jan's eye peered through her fingers and involuntarily studied Virginia's shapely hips and almost-too-tight skirt. She thought, Damn, Virginia, you're killin' me. Why couldn't you have been born ugly? On second thought, cancel that. Her thought was interrupted by Virginia's voice. "You know, if you two desperately-in-lovebirds ever go splitsville..."
"If the impossible ever happens, I'll be on your doorstep, Ginnie."
The secretary paused and looked at Jan. "Gee, Doc. I was talkin' about Mel." With that parting joke and a snap of her gum, she disappeared. Jan blinked at the comment, then snickered.
"Touche," Jan muttered, then lifted the receiver of her telephone and dialed a number. After a second, she purred, "Hey, gorgeous. I've got your massage oil, and I'll be home in an hour to make your wildest dreams come true." Her face fell as she listened, then sheepishly mumbled, "Um, sorry, Sister Margaret. Wrong number." She quickly placed the receiver back down on the cradle, then clapped a hand over her eyes. She could feel the blush heat her face. "Jeez," she intoned. "Dial the right number, why don't ya, Covington? Okay, let's try this again."
She lifted the telephone's receiver again and carefully dialed a number. This time, she recognized the voice. "Hey, Mel," she said, relieved. "Ginnie said you called. What's up?" She listened for a moment, then exclaimed, "No kidding? Oh, man! Start packin' our suitcases. I'll be home in two hours. Love ya. Bye." She clapped the telephone's receiver down on its cradle, then rose, rubbing her hands together in glee. "England, here we come!" she gloated. She walked to her door and shouted, "Hey, Ginnie! Find me the dean. Get me the number of that travel agency we use. Oh, yeah, and find that graduate assistant of mine and tell her to get her butt into my office, pronto. She's got some classes to teach for the next week!"
England, two days later.
Paul Franklin brightened as he saw the car stop at the edge of the dig site. He met the occupants as they squeezed themselves through the doors and stretched in the afternoon's sun. "Jan! Mel!" he exclaimed. Wonderful to see you both again." He noted that they had come ready to work; Jan was wearing her trademark worn fedora and leather jacket, and Mel's traveling attire had been left at their rented room. She was in dungaree pants and a sweater. Both had beat-up leather boots laced to above their ankles. That encouraged him.
As he pumped their hands in greeting, Jan said, "Thanks for asking us to come. I was getting cabin fever, stuck in that musty office."
Mel added, "When I told Jan of your request for our help, she just about leapt for joy. You've really got us curious about your find."
"Yes," Paul agreed. "We're excited about it, too. We just can't explain it, I'm afraid." He turned to Jan and asked, "Tell me, Jan, how much do you know about the Greek Amazons?"
"Enough to know that they aren't legend," Jan replied. "How in the blue blazes one ended up here is beyond me, though."
"Anything in the bard Gabrielle's writings to hint at it?" Paul asked.
"No," Jan said. "What eventually happened to them all is a mystery."
"Well," he suggested, "Perhaps we'll shed some light on it during this dig. I imagine you'll want to get right to it. Not too tired from your flight, are you?"
Mel chuckled at that. "We slept halfway across the Atlantic. Jan and I will probably both be up all night."
Paul brightened. "This way, then. Let's visit the grave site first."
In a few minutes, they were at the edge of the grave. Sallie was bent over the skeleton, carefully removing a bracelet from the upper arm bone. Jan said, "Hey, Sallie. Can't get away from old Greeks even in England, can you?"
At the familiar voice, Sallie's head snapped up, and she beamed. "Damn, guys! Good to see you again." Then, she waved them into the dig pit with the exhortation, "Get your butts down here and look at this, will ya?"
Jan snickered, looked up at Mel, and said, "That's our Sallie." Carefully, they both lowered themselves into the pit and took a place at her side. She held up the bracelet, dusting centuries of dirt from it, and held it out along with her magnifying glass.
"What's that say, Mel?"
Mel received the items, studied the bracelet under the glass, and squinted. "The lettering is rather worn, but I believe it reads, 'To the glory of Artemis, patron goddess of the Amazons."
"Oh, yeah!" Sallie exclaimed. "Evidence that she's an Amazon. I love it. She's not in bad shape, Jan."
Jan leaned down, hands on knees, and studied the bones. "Good earth here. Bones intact, but no decent bits of clothing left. It's a female, all right. Still young, not quite middle age. Man, look at that hole in her skull."
Sallie noted, "Obviously, it killed her."
"Maybe," Jan cautioned, "although you have to be careful about that. There's been evidence of healed skull surgeries in first-century Rome." She borrowed the magnifying glass, knelt down, and examined the hole closely. "Yeah, look here." Sallie knelt by Jan's side, and they both peered down at the skull. "Do you see how the hole is almost perfectly circular, and the edges are rounded, not jagged? That was done deliberately. And look here," Jan said, as she pointed with a finger. "See these lines, radiating from the general area of the hole?"
"Skull fracture?" Sallie guessed.
"Yeah. Healed skull fracture. See the bone callus? Evidence of healing. She survived this knock on the head."
Mel asked, "Why did they drill a hole in her head?"
Jan looked up. "When she got the initial crack on the head, it probably bled underneath the skull, pressing on the brain. The hole relieved the pressure and cured most of her symptoms of head injury. The operation wasn't unheard of to a good Roman physician."
Mack, the dig's resident historian, added, "Yeah, and one thing the Roman army had was very good physicians. Their techniques were incredibly advanced for their time. They lost less men to infection and disease back then than we did during the American Civil War."
Paul clapped his hands together and announced, "It seems we've got the right people on the job. Mel, would you care to have a look at the writings we recovered from this grave?"
At her enthusiastic nod, the group traveled to the central artifact sorting tent, where the fragile pieces of papyri were carefully laid out on a long folding table. They gathered behind Mel as she leaned over the scrolls and slowly perused them, then returned her attention to the first one in line. After a couple of minutes in which the entire group waited in pregnant anticipation, Mel straightened up and turned to Jan. "Honey, you'll be excited to know that many of these were penned by Gabrielle."
Jan beamed. "This is getting better all the time. Damn, Paul, thanks for asking us here."
Mel continued, "These others, though, are a puzzle. It's Greek, but I don't completely understand it. It's going to take some time to translate a lot of these."
A new voice spoke now. "Yes, I had considerable difficulty with it, too. I expect that it's a dialect of Greek that I'm presently unfamiliar with."
Mel looked up. The words were spoken by a serious-appearing woman standing near her. The face was thin, studious, and the complexion pale. Paul interjected, "Melinda Pappas, may I present Doctor Glenda Cornwall, of the Classics Department? She's been kindly helping us."
Mel smiled. "How do you do, Doctor Cornwall?"
The scholar loosened up a little and replied, "Call me Glenda, please," as she shook Mel's hand. "I've gotten a little translated, but there are gaps. I'm also rather puzzled with some of the bard Gabrielle's writings. I would appreciate your help, of course."
Mel smiled. "Of course. I'm quite familiar with her style. Where can we work?"
Paul directed a student to make room for them in the tent, then ushered Jan outside as Glenda and Mel proceeded to huddle over the scrolls, and Sallie herded curious students back to the dig pits. Jan noted the conspiratorial air about Paul, and asked, "What's up, ol' buddy?"
"Well," Paul whispered, "there's some flack from the fellows at the university about this dig. You know, we're supposed to be excavating a first-century AD Roman army camp, not coming up with Amazons."
Jan shrugged. "This is big news in the world of archaeology. I thought they'd be happy. What's their problem?"
"A couple of prominent members of the oversight committee have maintained for years that Amazons are myth, not fact. Now that we've discovered one in England, well, you see..."
Jan snorted. "Yeah, I see. Runaway egos at work again."
"Yes, so we must keep our discoveries rather quiet until we obtain overwhelming evidence that Amazons were here, evidence that they can't attempt to explain away. Mack, here, has been doing some research, and I think he's forming a theory about how they got here."
Jan looked around. Mack sauntered toward them, hands in pockets, his trademark devil-may-care grin evident, to join the discussion. Jan noted, "Yeah, Mack's one of the best historians I've ever met. If anybody can figure it out, he can." She slapped him on the back and asked, "So, what's your theory, Mack?"
He shrugged. "Can we talk about it over dinner? It's almost time to knock off for the day."
That evening, at a tavern in a nearby town where they all had rooms, they sat around a long table, speaking over the buzz of conversation in the large room, pints of beer in front of them. As a cheerful young lady cleared dishes from their table, Jan looked over at Mack and prodded, "Well, let's hear your theory."
Mack nodded as he sipped his beer. "Yeah, well. There's nothing firm to go on yet. I'm hoping the scrolls that Glenda and Mel are working on will help. In the meantime, I can only look at what was happening in that part of the world at that time and guess. Now," he began, "as you all are aware, the Roman Empire was expanding. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, and the Romans were in the process of occupying Greece. They were brutal and efficient overlords; the Amazons, who flourished in the disjointed politics of Greece, might never have seen themselves as able to exist under Roman rule. I'm suspecting that they migrated north and west in front of the advancing Roman legions, pushed farther and farther away from their homeland, until they were finally forced across the English Channel. Of course, it's only a theory. I'm researching Roman records of the time to find some support for it, but so far, nothing."
Paul agreed, "It's a good theory, I think. I'm hoping that the writings we found will help explain the presence of an Amazon queen here."
Jan blinked. "Queen?"
Sallie interjected, "Yeah. I never told you who she was, did I? Her name was Varia."
Jan and Mel exchanged glances. Mack noted this and asked, "Ring a bell?"
"Damned right," Jan explained. "Varia was the last Amazon queen mentioned in Gabrielle's known scrolls. She and Gabrielle once fought a personal combat to decide rule of the Amazons of Thessaly." Jan looked around the table, then added, "Gabrielle lost. Not long after that, Varia was disgraced in a plot to kill Gabrielle during a particularly bitter war which the Amazons were waging. Gabrielle assumed leadership of the nation and led them to victory, but at horrible cost. Almost half the remaining Amazons were killed."
Sallie suggested, "Perhaps Varia made her way here alone, after she was disgraced?"
Mel replied, "I don't think so. According to Gabrielle's account, she and Varia came to an understanding and resumed their friendship. Gabrielle voluntarily surrendered leadership of the remaining Amazons to Varia and left, choosing instead to be with Xena." She shrugged apologetically as she finished, "That's the last mention of Amazons that Gabrielle made."
Jan sighed. "So, all we have so far is one Amazon?"
Sallie shook her head. "Nope. We uncovered a second grave this afternoon. It's another Amazon. We've got two."
Paul looked over at Mel, then at Glenda. "Any luck with the translations today?"
Glenda answered, "We didn't have much time, but Mel was wonderful with the bard Gabrielle's writing. We'll know more after a few days' work, I imagine."
After dinner and a welcome bath, Jan collapsed into bed, then snuggled against Mel. "Man, I'm beat. You awake, Mel?"
Mel stirred in the darkness and whispered, "Yes, Jan. I think I'm almost too tired to sleep, if that makes sense."
"Yeah. Not me. I'll be out in two minutes, I think."
Mel giggled. "In that case, cutie, kiss me good-night now."
"Good idea." Jan lifted her head, found Mel's lips in the darkness, and they kissed quite tenderly. Jan rested her head next to Mel's, draped an arm across her lover's waist, and sighed contentedly. Mel knew from long habit that the sigh indicated that Jan would be asleep shortly. Mel, however, could not close her eyes. She lay on her back, staring at the vague outline of the light fixture on the ceiling, listening to Jan breathe. After a few minutes, she was startled by Jan's whisper.
"Yes, honey? I thought you were asleep."
"You're thinking hard about something. I can feel it."
Mel snickered, then wondered aloud, "How do you do that, Jan? Have I no secrets from you anymore?"
"After ten years? Nah. I know you. I can hear those wheels and gears turning in your gorgeous head. What's up?"
"I don't want to burden you with it. It'll wait for tomorrow."
Jan's arm squeezed Mel's waist. "Tell me now. Maybe I can help."
"Oh, all right." Mel paused, then confessed, "It's one of those scrolls."
Jan instantly became more alert. "What about it?"
"Well, it may be nothing, but I translated the first few paragraphs of it."
"Jan, it referred to something called 'the treasure of the Amazons'."
Jan sat up in bed. "What? Treasure of the which? What the hell did it say, Mel?"
"I haven't gotten that far, except that it did say that the treasure went with the Amazons when they traveled."
"She didn't say what it was?"
Jan remained motionless, sitting up in bed, for a long time. Finally, she speculated, "So, if the Amazons of Thessaly migrated to England as a tribe, they would have brought the treasure with them."
"Holy crap, Mel. Do you know what this means?"
"Yes, darlin'. We're very possibly sitting on top of Amazon treasure. Now get some sleep."
"Sleep?" Jan repeated. "You drop this in my lap, and then you want me to sleep? Why the hell didn't Glenda say anything about this at dinner?"
"I don't know, dear. She's very reserved. She probably didn't want to speak before she knew more, I imagine."
"Yeah, probably so." Jan sat in bed, musing over the revelation, until Mel's cultured southern drawl interrupted her thoughts.
"Go to sleep."
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I knew I was forgetting something."
She settled down in bed, nestled against Mel's side, and wrapped an arm around her waist. Mel purred, then pulled Jan close to her. She yawned, then whispered, "'Night, cutie. I love you."
Jan smiled at the words. Almost every night for the last ten years, she'd heard those words. It was a wonderful little ritual of theirs, repeated every night just before slumber. It reassured her, gave her certain knowledge that Mel was there for her and always would be. She answered softly, "'Night, gorgeous. Love you, too." At that, she felt Mel purr in contentment. She closed her eyes and remembered nothing else until morning.
The next day, activity at the dig resumed. Jan huddled next to Sallie, carefully digging out Varia's grave site, while Mel and Glenda pored over the scrolls displayed in the artifact sorting tent. Mack, for his duties, had taken the train into London to further his research at the expansive library at the university, and would be gone until evening.
Jan and Sallie had cleared Varia's skeleton of dirt, and the disjointed bones lay in careful order atop a canvas spread out at the edge of the dig pit. They now combed the earth underneath where she had lain for centuries, attempting to find any artifacts which may have dropped from the body in its process of decomposition. They were just about to give up when a student called from his corner of the grave site. Jan and Sallie immediately rose and joined him as he carefully turned a hand-spade full of earth and brought a corroded metal box to light.
Thirty minutes later, the box was cleared of earth and opened. It proved to be about the size of a modern cigar box, and was not locked. Inside, in rather good condition, were two scrolls. Sallie pulled a pair of white cotton gloves from her hip pocket and donned them, then slowly lifted a scroll and unwound it. It was lettered in Latin. At Jan's urging, Sallie read it aloud.
"By the order of Gaius Callus Ignatus, general of the XI and XII legions and representative of the emperor Nero, the rank of Centurion in command of the Auxilia of Thessalonian Amazons is bestowed upon Varia, queen of the Amazons, with all deserved honors."
Sallie, Jan, and the student all sat in shocked silence for several seconds. Finally, Jan broke the quiet with the muttered epithet, "What the f- ?"
"Auxilia of Thessalonian Amazons?" Sallie wondered. "This is getting weirder by the minute."
"At least," Jan noted as she perked up, "this sets the date for her time here. Nero ruled Rome from, I think, the early fifties to the late sixties AD. Mack will love to see this." She nudged Sallie. "Open the other scroll."
"Yeah." Sallie carefully rolled the first scroll and placed it back in the box, then lifted the second scroll in her gloved hands. She unrolled it and leaned over to Jan. "It's in Greek. My forte is Latin. Can you read it?"
"I'll try." Jan squinted at the lettering, slowly perusing it as she kept place with a finger hovering just above the fragile papyrus. "It appears to be a will. Holy crap, it's Varia's will." Again, she slowly scanned it, then said, "Varia had no daughters. She left her rank and status as centurion, and her right of caste as queen of the Amazons, to- " Jan halted, rubbed her eyes, and looked again. "I don't believe it."
Jan looked up, a dumbfounded expression on her face. "Gabrielle," she said.
Mel sat down to tea at the outdoor table, removed her glasses, and rubbed her eyes. Jan noted the familiar symptoms of overwork and chided, "You really should take more breaks, you know. You'll go blind one day, doing that."
Mel giggled, then cast Jan a teasing look through reddened eyes. "Now you sound like my mother, telling me that if I overdo it, I'll go blind."
Jan rolled her eyes. "I didn't mean, um, that. So," she said, quickly changing the subject, "What does Gabrielle have to tell us?"
Mel pushed her legal pad, covered with her neat, cribbed writing, over to Jan. "Read, dear. It's fascinating."
Jan poured two cups of tea, placed one in front of Mel, and sipped at the other one while she flipped the writing pad open. It read:
While on sojourn in Potidaea a year after Xena's death, a missive arrived by a young Amazon imploring me to visit Varia in Thessaly. The tone of the message seemed urgent. The young Amazon was able to describe the general state of affairs which would greet me there, and it filled me with foreboding and sadness. I feared for the very existence of the dwindling nation, and after meditation upon the situation and an earnest plea for Xena's wisdom, which her spirit is occasionally able to impart to me, I resolved to hasten to Thessaly and place myself at Varia's service.
The young Amazon proved a capable traveling partner and quickly ushered me by sea to Thessaly's coast, where we bargained for horses and found the Amazon lands after two days' difficult travel. At first glance, nothing seemed changed from whence I had last seen it; however, the mood in the village was one of impending danger.
Varia looked older and thinner than I had remembered her, as the duties of queen had weighed heavily upon her. She welcomed me warmly, tending my needs and showing me all graciousness, after which she sought my counsel on a matter which, upon hearing it, broke my heart.
She showed me a letter from one Gaius Callus Ignatus, commander of the Roman legions then intruding upon Greece, which presented her with a difficult proposition: they resolved to include Greece and its Amazon lands under the rule of the emperor Nero. Varia was entreated to either gird for war, or submit to Rome's rule and agree to pay tribute and taxes.
Now, I must explain that the Amazons are, by nature, extremely proud and have never submitted to rule by outside authority, especially the rule of men. Their lands have usually been respected, and when not, defended zealously. She ached at the prospect of leading her nation into war against Rome, as she was aware of the inevitable outcome of such a struggle, but was determined not to see the remnants of the proud and warlike Amazon nation reduced to submissive slavery under Romans. She asked my counsel, and I wept at the situation. I feared that I was about to witness the end of the Amazons.
After much counsel with Queen Varia, I resolved to visit Ignatus as emissary of the Amazons and speak with him, and so dispatched a message to him. His answer came back to us. He would receive me in honorable fashion.
The following day, I traveled toward the Roman army camped on the plain to the west of our forests, in the company of an escort of five warriors. I wore Amazon dress, painted my face and body, and traveled armed, as I wished to present as fierce and warlike an appearance as possible. Likewise, my escort, chosen from among the tallest and finest warriors the tribe possessed, presented themselves so. The effect was not lost on the Romans whom we first encountered. They appeared fascinated and a little frightened by our manner and appearance, showed us due respect and distance, and escorted us immediately to the tent of Ignatus.
My first impression of the Roman general was of a clever, ambitious man and an experienced warrior, a man of moderate height and build, and of approximately my age. He received us with solemn politeness and spoke with me in his tent while my escort was given food and wine without. After polite conversation, our deliberations began. He repeated Rome's ultimatum of submission or annihilation to me, after which I endeavored to explain that neither choice was acceptable, describing the nature and history of Amazons. I strived to make my discourse as eloquent as possible, remembering my younger experience as a bard, and unfolded a story of great emotion to him. Much to my surprise, he listened in rapt attention, saying little, until I had finished with the declaration that Rome may do as it wishes with Greece, but the Amazons have never been, and will never be, conquered.
His response was most surprising. I had expected a repeated threat of war if we did not offer immediate submission to the rule of the emperor Nero, but did not receive it. His reply was an earnest request to meet again in two days' time. I readily agreed. Our meeting ended with a sense of relief in my breast, as I had not expected such restraint from Romans. I did notice that he personally escorted us to the edge of the Roman camp and made much effort to show us the size and composition of his legions. His unspoken message was clear to me: Rome can crush the Amazons, if and when it chooses. In my heart, I knew that his message was probably true. We did not have the numbers to resist such might.
Jan looked up. "Is there more?"
Mel placed her teacup down. "Yes, dear, but that's all we could do today."
"That's plenty," Jan agreed. "You did great."
Mel warmed at the compliment as she lapsed into weary silence, sipping at her tea. Jan, for her part, was still lost in the revelations of the day, and did not notice Mack and Paul approach their table.
"Hey, Jan. You look a thousand miles away. Man, you guys sure came through today."
"Huh?" Jan replied, blinking.
They sat at the table and poured tea as Mack chattered. "Those documents you and Sallie found, they were great. They change my whole theory."
Jan perked up. "Let's hear it."
"Okay. Varia was queen of the Amazons of Thessaly, right? She was also endowed with rank in the Roman army. She kept both titles at the same time. It's obvious."
Jan and Mel looked at each other, then back at Mack. "It's not," Jan said. "Humor me and explain it."
Paul jumped into the conversation, his excitement piqued. "Well, the Romans made a habit of attempting to assimilate various tribes into the Empire as it expanded. With warrior tribes, especially ones who had fighting skills which the traditional Roman army lacked, they would induct the whole tribe into the army, keeping them intact to serve under their chieftain. Obviously, they assimilated the Amazons of Thessaly into the army."
Mack added, "Yeah, and they often transferred those tribes, now part of the army, to far-away portions of the empire so that they'd be less trouble. You know, less likely to get into mischief if they're not on their home turf."
Jan asked, "So this Auxilia thing- ?"
"The Roman army was rigidly organized. An auxilia were not your typical Roman soldiers, and were usually specialized. The Amazons were probably magnificent scouts, light cavalry, adept in the thick forests of Britain, and that sort of thing. They wouldn't have been employed as mere foot soldiers."
"I see." Jan mulled it over, her expression frowning, then grunted and shook her head. "I can't buy it yet."
Mack chuckled, while Paul seemed shocked. "Why not?"
Jan huffed, then objected, "The Amazons were fiercely independent. They never would have been willingly conscripted into Rome's army. It just doesn't smell right. Something else was going on." After a moment, she added, "And what about this 'treasure of the Amazons'? Anything about that?"
Mel patted Jan's leg as she said, "There's more in Gabrielle's scrolls. I have a feeling that she'll explain it all. Have patience."
Mack snickered. "Yeah, right. You're talkin' to Jan, remember. Hey, what about the stuff that Glenda was working on? Where is she, anyway?"
Paul looked up. "Oh, she had to go to the telegraph office. I imagine we'll hear from her later."
Algiers, North Africa, that same day.
Stavros Palo studied the open telegram in his hand, and his already swarthy complexion darkened in thought. He stroked the goatee beard on his chin as he contemplated the possibilities being unfolded before him, then turned to the man behind the window marked, "Telegram".
"I will send a reply," he instructed. The man nodded and picked up his pencil. Palo dictated, "Need more information regarding Amazon treasure. That's all. Sign it, 'SP'." Again the man nodded, finished scribbling out the message, and calculated the cost. Palo handed a couple of colorful currency notes to the man, received his change, and left the office.
In the street, he turned left, mingling with the crowds of people on the wide boulevard, and walked the two blocks to the Hotel Algiers. In the expansive lobby, he seated himself, opened a newspaper, and began reading. Before long, a man seated himself at his elbow and spoke.
"Good morning, Palo. My boss asked me to speak with you. He's very interested in Amazon artifacts and heard a rumor that you might be on to something. Are you?"
He folded the newspaper, then nodded. "I'm working on it. Tell your boss that I'll have more information from my agent in a few days. I'm encouraged by what I've learned so far."
"He has authorized me to pay generously, if the artifacts you offer interest him."
"Yeah," Palo replied. "I've done business with your boss before."
England, the next day.
Mack MacKenzie stood on the steps of the research library and lit a cigarette, relaxing in the mid-day sun. He flipped open his notebook and reviewed his columns of handwritten notes, huffing in frustration. His attempts to find any mention of Amazons in England had borne no fruit; indeed, he was having trouble finding credible records of the Roman armies guarding the empire's northern frontier during the reign of the emperor Nero. He glanced up when a voice interrupted his train of thought.
"Ah, my dear Doctor MacKenzie. How is your research progressing?"
It was the chief research librarian, a pleasant little man with whom he had dealt much. The fellow was huffing from his climb up the steps, and his pale skin shone with the effort as he mopped his brow with a handkerchief.
"I've hit a brick wall, I think. Summer's heat getting to you?" Mack asked.
"Oh dear, yes. Never been much of an outdoors type, you know. I say, what is it that stumps you?"
Mack took a final puff on his cigarette, then threw it away. "No records of the Roman army in Britain, I'm afraid."
The little man smiled. "But there are. They're just buried away. Have you tried the Special Collections, in the basement?"
He shook his head. "No. Access is quite restricted, and the librarians there guard their hoard very jealously."
The librarian chuckled pleasantly, his head nodding rather like a chicken pecking at grain. "Yes indeed. They fancy themselves the Knights Templar guarding the Cup of Christ. Come, I'll introduce you to them. Once they know that you're not out to pillage their precious collections, they can actually be rather accommodating."
Mack stood. "I'd sure appreciate it." Together, they climbed the remaining steps, entered the cool interior of the library, and hastened to the elevator. As the car slowly descended to the basement, Mack could hear the hum and protest of ancient gears, and listened to the wheezing of the little man's exertion at his noon-time walk. Finally, he looked over and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes," the librarian protested, his bow-tie bobbing up and down as he spoke. "Just the exertion of the walk. Here we are."
They left the elevator and strolled down a hallway, entering a room marked, "Special Collections; no admittance without authorization". The librarian apologized, "Sorry to be so secretive, but there are some rather valuable items down here."
"Yeah?" Mack said. "Like what?"
"Oh, hand-copied medieval Bibles, records of the feudal realms, personal papers." He cast Mack a knowing expression as he added, "And some Roman records, I believe." Seeing Mack's interest at that, he asked, "You can read Latin, I presume?"
"Yeah, I'm okay at it," Mack replied. "My wife is the real expert."
The librarian nodded again, unconsciously performing his chicken imitation. "Oh, yes. Doctor Franklin spoke most highly of your wife. I do hope that I'll meet her."
"Depending on what I find here, I might coax her along next time."
The head librarian introduced Mack to the Special Collections librarian, then departed. When Mack explained his needs, the librarian nodded enthusiastically.
"Of course," the man exclaimed. "We do have some Roman records from the first century AD. Come, and I'll show them to you." He waved a hand and led Mack into the recesses of the heat and humidity-controlled archives room, weaving expertly among the tall stacks of shelves. Occasionally, the man paused, tapped his chin with a bony finger, and muttered, "Now, where are they?" Then his expression would brighten and he would lead Mack ever deeper into the room.
Finally, they stopped at a series of thick binders, high atop one shelf. The man climbed a ladder, pulled down two dusty tomes, and turned to Mack. "I believe that you'll find these most interesting," he predicted. They headed back toward the door to the archives, and in a moment, Mack was seated at a table in the reading room, the tomes resting on the table in front of him.
"Now," the librarian said, "they are plastic-covered, so there's no need to wear gloves while touching the pages. Obviously, you must not remove the pages from the plastic sleeves. They're very fragile." Mack nodded. "If you need some pages photo-copied, we can do that for you. My office is just there, if you need anything else."
"Thanks," Mack replied, and the man nodded in satisfaction and turned away. After he left, Mack opened the front cover of the first tome and his heart thudded in excitement. Oh, yeah, he thought, this was it. It read, Records of Britannia's Roman Legions, AD 1 to AD 150, Volume 1. He began scanning the first document, then shook his head and turned the page. The second document was little more informative; it dealt with mundane matters of governance. As he slowly flipped ever farther into the tome, he whispered, "Amazons, Varia, show yourselves, girls. Come out, come out, wherever you are."
It was almost an hour and a half before Mack grinned and muttered aloud, "Oh, yeah. Bingo."
In the pub, Mack, Sallie, Mel, Jan, Paul, and Glenda were gathered around the table which had become unofficially theirs every evening. Over pints of dark beer, they chattered about the day's finds. Sallie reported clearing the second Amazon grave and discoursed on the state of remains and the artifacts which the grave had produced. After she fell silent, Paul turned his attention to Mel. "Any more progress on Gabrielle's writings?" he asked.
Mel nodded, then flipped her legal pad open. "It's most revealing," she remarked, then adjusted her glasses on her nose as she looked around the table. "Would you care to hear it?" At the chorus of nodding heads, she began, in her cultured southern drawl, to read her English translation of the pages over which she had labored that day.
On the second day, I returned to Ignatus' camp. Again, I presented myself and my escort in warlike state, painted and armed. The Roman general welcomed me warmly, set me at ease, and offered refreshment both to myself and my escort. In his tent, we spoke privately.
He expressed high regard for Amazons and amazement with my story, told two days before. He seemed quite anxious to avoid war, and presented a message which I, as Varia's emissary, was to carry to her. He proposed to incorporate the Amazons of Thessaly into the Roman army, in a group intact and under the command of the queen Varia herself. She would be given high rank in the Roman military, and her tribe was to be accorded all privilege as Roman soldiers. In return for twenty years' service to Rome, the Amazons would be discharged forever from Roman service, given citizenship, pension, and land to retire to which would be theirs forever. Ignatus explained that such an arrangement had worked well for tribes which inhabited the country north of us, in Germania, and he hoped by this offer to avoid war with the Amazons, an event which would surely result in our annihilation. Outwardly, I remained polite and agreed to carry his proposal to Varia, but inwardly, I shook with dread at the implications of service to Rome. I did not trust Romans, having found them in the past to be ruthless and devious. Ignatus, however, seemed genuine, and I found, much to my surprise, that I believed his sincerity. If any Roman would deal honestly with the Amazons, it would be him.
I took my leave of his camp and returned to our lands, at once seeking out Queen Varia. She called a council of Amazon elders, at which I delivered his proposal. The council erupted in a violent argument, much emotion displaying itself as the members expressed their opinions. Varia listened to each member's argument in turn, then asked my opinion. I had considered nothing else all afternoon, so I knew what my words would be. As trusted advisor to Varia, I spoke, my anguish pouring forth in my words.
I said that the survival of the Amazons was my first and greatest care. I loved my adopted sisters; I surely did not wish to see them annihilated in a fruitless war against overpowering odds. After years of destruction, I was weary of further bloodshed. I told them that I believed that Ignatus was honorable, unusually so for a Roman, and that if we allied with him, he would be true to his word and treatment of us. At the others' hisses of disagreement, I reminded them that at least our tribe would remain intact and under the leadership of Queen Varia, and that, in twenty years, we would be released to settle in peace and retirement, able to concentrate on raising our daughters and grand-daughters, and with claim to our own lands. Some of the council objected to my words, but all opinions were expressed, and Varia retired to consider her decision while we waited.
She returned in due time from the privacy of her hut and announced that, in conversation with the spirits of our ancient sisters, she saw no alternative but to submit to Roman authority and ally with Ignatus. She instructed me to return to Ignatus and inform him of our acceptance, but added one proviso: that we were to serve only under Ignatus, and no other general. In great sadness, but believing this to be our only assurance of survival, I agreed. To help bind the council together, as I realized their discord and great emotion over this, I pledged my allegiance to Varia and vowed to support her unconditionally. This seemed to inspire the other members of the council; one by one, they agreed to the same, and the meeting ended with a general, if reluctant, unity among the leaders of the Amazons.
Mel removed her glasses, rubbed her eyes, and said, "That's as far as I was able to get today."
Jan rested a hand on her thigh under the table, squeezed gently, and said, "You did great."
Paul agreed enthusiastically, then looked over at Glenda. "Dear, how are you coming with your documents?"
Glenda smiled painfully, then said, "It appears to be poetry. The dialect of Greek is unlike anything I've seen. I've deciphered most of it, but there's gaps. I'm afraid it doesn't make much sense. Shall I read what I have?" At the general consensus of nods around the table, she opened her pad and began reading.
Today, the sun rose cool in the gray sky.
Weeping rain upon us, the goddess Artemis
Sees our travail from on high
But does not answer our entreaties.
(Illegible)... we stand
Torn between our... (unintelligible)... and our sacred honor
The mutiny called and prepared for
(unintelligible)... a sacred odyssey
Muhonna (?) is our goal and refuge
The Esscennee (?) our compatriots
Boadsee (?) our sister-in-arms
Leave we with the... (unintelligible)... of the Amazons
There to make our stand.
When she finished, Glenda shrugged apologetically, then said, "Like I mentioned, it's rather difficult."
Paul was quick to reassure her. "Nevertheless, you've made a marvelous attempt, my dear. Tell me, can anyone make sense out of this?"
"May I see it?" Mel asked. Glenda passed her writing pad down the table, and Mel perused the script. She asked, "These question marks; what do they signify?"
Glenda explained, "Those words are obviously proper names, but I did not recognize them. I attempted to transliterate them phonetically, from Greek to modern English."
"So this is what they would sound like, spoken by a Greek?"
"Yes," Glenda answered, "as closely as I can bring them to modern English."
Jan leaned against Mel's shoulder and read the notes. "Read 'em aloud again, Glenda," she suggested.
Glenda pulled the notes toward her, then pronounced, "Muhonna, Esscennee, Boadsee."
Paul asked, "Can you tell where the emphasis might be? For instance, 'Esscennee' might be pronounced as, 'Ess-cen-nee', or 'Es-seen-nee."
Mack's head jerked up. "What did you just say?"
Paul shrugged. "I said, 'Es-seen-nee'."
Mack echoed, "Iceni?"
There was a moment of dead silence around the table, and then Paul's eyes widened to the point where Jan thought that they might pop forth from his head and splash into his beer. "Iceni!" he cried. "Of course, Mack." He slammed a fist down on the table. "Bugger me, I should have seen it immediately."
Jan snickered to note that several of the locals standing nearby, sipping their pints and engaged in a game of darts, paused to look their way. She instructed, "Read the other names."
Glenda repeated, "Muhonna, Boadsee."
Paul slapped his forehead. "Of course. It all makes perfect sense, now that the first one came clear."
Mel blinked in question. "It does?"
Sallie said, "Sure. I think you're on to it, Paul."
"Well, we're not," Jan huffed.
Sallie looked at Mack, then Paul. "Do you guys want to explain, or should I?"
Paul indicated his deference to Sallie with a gesture, and Mack laughed as he said, "Take it away, Sallie."
"Look." Sallie began. "The Iceni were a tribe of Celts in England. During the Roman occupation in the first century, they were a subject kingdom of Rome. They paid tribute and taxes to Rome, and the emperor left them alone. They were a prosperous people and were led by a king named Prasutagus. Now, he died, leaving his wealth divided into three parts; one part for each of his two daughters, and one part for Nero. He thought that would satisfy the Romans." She looked around the table, then added, "It didn't. With the king dead, while the governor of the territory was away, a couple of greedy subordinate Romans attacked the Iceni with their soldiers, ravaged their wealth and brutalized them. As a final insult, they humiliated the Iceni queen by whipping her in public and raping her daughters in front of her." She looked at Glenda and asked, "What was the third proper name you mentioned?"
Glenda replied, "Boadsee."
Paul echoed, "Boudicca, actually."
Sallie smiled. "Right. Boudicca was the wife of the dead king Prasutagus, the queen who was so badly used. We're talking the revolt of the Iceni here."
Mack nodded. "The time fits. It was during the reign of the emperor Nero."
Jan interjected, "And the third name? What was it?"
Glenda said, "Muhonna."
"Mona," Paul corrected.
"Who's that?" Jan asked.
"Where is more precise," Paul replied. "Mona is the Latin name for an island just off the coast of Wales. It's where many druids fled, taking refuge from Roman rule, and an island which the Romans attacked and subdued at least twice, attempting to eradicate the druid influence."
Jan became animated. "So plug these names into the poem and read it again, Glenda."
The scholar scribbled for a moment on her pad, then read:
"Mona is our goal and refuge
The Iceni our compatriots
Boudicca our sister-in-arms
Leave we with the... (unintelligible)... of the Amazons
There to make our stand."
Jan wondered aloud, "Didn't I hear something about the goddess Artemis in there?"
"Yes," Glenda said. "She is mentioned as one to whom the writer paid homage."
"Not a Celt or a Roman," Mack said. "This must have been written by-"
"An Amazon," Jan interjected. "Artemis was their patron goddess, the goddess of the hunt and the hearth."
"So," Mack suggested, "the Amazons went to Mona with the Iceni, led by Boudicca?"
Paul held up a finger. "Historical records indicate that Boudicca never went to Mona. She died somewhere in southeast England."
"Well, who in the hell did go to Mona?" Jan asked.
"The druids, mostly, with some of the Celts. It went like this: Mona was a refuge for the druids, as I said. The Roman governor, Seutonius Paulinus, saw the druids as subversive to Roman rule and wanted to eradicate them. He was in Wales with his legions, attacking the island, when the dreadful insult occurred to Boudicca and her daughters. Immediately afterward, the Iceni took to arms and, with the help of other Celts, rallied to Boudicca's side. With her in command, they waged a horrible war upon the remaining Romans, even slaughtering an entire legion and sacking London. It appeared for a while that she would chase the Romans out of England. It wasn't until Paulinus returned from Wales with his legions that Boadicca was finally defeated in a bloody battle somewhere, we think, in the midlands of England. The remaining Iceni and the other Celts who participated in the revolt were ruthlessly hunted down and exterminated."
"Did some get away?" Mel asked.
"Presumably," Paul acknowledged. "They wouldn't have been able to get them all, I suppose."
"If you were a Celt, where would you run to?" Jan asked. "Mona?"
Paul's expression brightened. "I say, Jan! I think you're on to something." Then, his face fell. "But doesn't the poem hint that the Amazons went to Mona?"
Mack added, "Yeah, and if they were part of the Roman army, what's this about Boudicca being their sister-in-arms? Nah," he muttered. "Something is fishy. We need more information."
Glenda said, "I do wish I could determine these missing words. It might add something to our quest, mightn't it?"
Mel leaned toward Glenda and pointed to the pad. "Do you have this word, written in the original Greek?"
"Yes." Glenda flipped back a few pages, then pointed with her pencil's tip. "Here."
Mel considered the word, then said, "That seems vaguely familiar. I believe Gabrielle used that word once. It's a regional expression. Let's see, what does it mean?" She stared at the ceiling, tapping her chin with a finger, then exclaimed, "Oh, I remember now. It means, 'something beautiful, something valued, something treasured."
"Treasured?" Jan said. "How is that used in the poem?"
Glenda recited, "Leave we with the blank of the Amazons, there to make our stand."
In unison, as if on cue, the entire table intoned, "The treasure of the Amazons."
"Hot diggity damn," Jan exclaimed, as she pounded the table with a fist. "Paul, do we know where Mona is?"
"Yes," Paul answered. "It's today known as Anglesey Island."
Algiers, North Africa, the following afternoon.
Stavros Palo leaned back in his rattan chair, contemplating the telegram in his hand. His expression clouded in thought, then relaxed again. Things were coming together. He handed the telegram to his butler, then instructed, "Send this reply: Keep me informed. Sign it, 'SP'."
The butler nodded, then retreated from the patio. As he left, Palo absent-mindedly pulled at his goatee while he considered what he had learned. After a long silence, he muttered, "So, Covington is there? That little pissant has caused me more trouble over the years than I'd care to admit. And where she is, her girlfriend Pappas is near." He lapsed into silence again, then mused, "And where Pappas is, Xena is. Got to hand it to the warrior-princess. She's been dead for almost two thousand years, and she's still causing me grief. That's perseverance. I'll just have to figure out where this 'treasure of the Amazons' is and beat them to it." A slow, cruel grin spread across his face as he reconsidered. "No," he decided. "I'll let them find it and then just take it. I ought to be able to figure a way to do that. Hades, I'm an immortal, after all."
England, that afternoon.
Sallie scribbled furiously as she sat in the depths of the research library, constantly referring to the tomes of Roman records. Occasionally, Mack would look over and watch her repeatedly brush a lock of unruly curls away from her forehead as she worked, her dark eyes focused intently on the pages of Latin. He sat back and waited patiently, intuiting from her body language that she was into something of deep interest. Finally, she rested her pencil on the table, sighed, and looked over at him. Their eyes met, and she smiled. Without a word, she slid the pad upon which she was writing toward him. He picked it up and perused it. It read:
The recent addition of Ignatus' two legions, fresh from Greece, to our contingent of the Emperor's army has strengthened our hand in Britannia. It is not without problem, however. Attached to his legions is an auxilia of perhaps a hundred Greek Amazon warriors serving as scouts and cavalry. Although Ignatus professes deep regard for them and they appear loyal to him, I personally find them to be troublesome.
They rebel at discipline, and will take direction only from their queen, Varia, and her advisor, Gabrielle, a Macedonian. Queen Varia is headstrong; only Ignatus can control her, and then only with difficulty. She is possessed of some intelligence, much beauty, strength, and is a ferocious fighter, reputed to be the best among them. Varia's pride is her most difficult quality for me to bear; it knows no restraint, and she holds herself proudly before any general and before me. Were she to be suddenly in the presence of Nero himself, I feel assured that she would show even him no deference. She appears to fear no one and nothing.
Her advisor, Gabrielle, is a different sort entirely. Never have I met anyone like this Amazon. She is small of stature but extremely fit, as fit as I have ever seen a woman; and she displays upon her back a most ornate tattoo of a serpent. She is a thoughtful soul, extremely intelligent and clever with spoken argument, able to move a crowd or an individual to great emotion with her words. About her person, though, one immediately senses a great sadness, a burden which weighs heavily within her and reflects through her eyes, perhaps the saddest eyes which I have ever had occasion to witness. Varia keeps her constantly near, and listens to her with great earnestness. They appear devoted friends; as to whether they are lovers, I cannot say with certainty.
The Amazons have formed deep friendships with the local Celts, in spite of my directives to the contrary. They are also a proud, quarrelsome bunch. When approached by soldiers (who are no doubt encouraged by wine and lust), a brawl always ensues. When this happens, the Amazons are inevitably victorious, and several soldiers have died as a result of these fights. The Amazons also disdainfully refuse the company of men, instead taking each other as lovers. Their very presence here is causing discipline among the male soldiers to decay. They are more akin to the Celtic barbarians we rule than they are to Romans. I have removed their camp to some distance from the legions in hope that this would help restore discipline, but it has not had that effect. During the nights of the full moon, they are given to ceremonies in which much pounding of drums and howling is heard across the hills, a practice which causes unrest in the legions, as Roman soldiers are a superstitious people, and they interpret this ritual as an evil portent.
Still, Amazons have proven to be invaluable as scouts and skirmishers. Their fighting skills are impressive. They are at home in the forests, as adept there as the Picts and renegade Celts with whom we battle. When Amazons present themselves ready for war, they appear ferocious, painted and half-naked, mounted upon horses. Their skill with bow and arrow is superior to anything I have seen in my travels, and in close combat, they are brutal. I endeavor to keep them occupied most days in scouting and hunting, as that keeps them away from my camps, and they are able to provide fresh game in abundant amounts for the soldiers of the legions.
Ignatus is soon due for promotion, as he is ambitious; inevitably, he will be sent to lands distant to Britannia, there to achieve his fame and a governorship. When he does, I earnestly hope that he will take his auxilia of Amazons with him, for if he does not, I fear the consequences if they are left in Britannia. Mark my words, we shall probably have to fight them one day.
In service to the Emperor Nero,
Governor-General of Britannia and
Commander of Rome's legions.
He looked up. "This is fantastic, Sallie. You've filled in another big blank for us."
She beamed. "Thanks. It only took me most of the day."
Sallie nodded enthusiastically. "Hungry enough to eat the ass out of a rag doll," she joked.
"I'll feed you before we hit the train back home."
Sallie raised an eyebrow. "There's an Indian restaurant near the train station."
"I hope we don't run into any rag dolls before then," Mack quipped. "Let's have the librarians photo-copy this original document for us, then get the hell out of here."
Late that night.
Unable to sleep, Jan rose from the bed and slipped a robe over her body. With a look behind her to assure herself that she had not awakened Mel, she tiptoed across the floor and leaned out the open window, staring up at the stars. The night was clear; she noted that the moon was approaching its full roundness, and guessed that it would take a few more days. It was only during the full moon that her ancestor, Gabrielle, could completely manifest herself to her, and Jan felt impatience at its slow progress toward that phase. She was, in the past, though, able to at least speak with Gabrielle at various times during the moon's cycle, and determined to do so tonight. Too many questions were unanswered.
She breathed deeply, cleared her mind of the nagging little voices and concerns which peppered her conscious thought, and concentrated. Softly, she whispered, "Gabrielle?" After a moment's silence, she whispered the name again. As she felt herself relax into a contemplative state of mind, a cool, gentle breeze wafted across her face. Within her or about her, she was not sure which, a voice answered.
I'm here, my distant daughter.
"What happened here?"
It is a tragic story, Janice. You know much already.
"But not enough. What happened to the Amazons?"
To seek out the end of the story, travel to Mona.
Jan hesitated for a second, then said, "Gabrielle, what happened to- ?"
You are wondering about the 'treasure of the Amazons'.
Sheepishly, Jan admitted, "Yeah."
It is closer to you than you know, distant daughter.
"Will I find it in Mona?"
It is not what you think, Janice. The quest for riches is a vain, misguided quest. Your nobility will guide you to the right path.
Jan considered the words. Finally, she admitted, "Yeah, I guess I was getting a little carried away about it."
Trust your nobility, distant daughter. A word of warning: you are not the only one who seeks the treasure of the Amazons. The path you tread is fraught with danger. Believe in your own goodness; I will be there for you, as Xena is for Melinda. Remember that.
Jan felt a thrill of anticipation course through her at that statement. "Thank you, Gabrielle," she whispered.
Our love for you both is our duty, distant daughter. We will be watching.
At that, the curtains at the open window rustled, and a cool breeze kissed Jan's cheek. She felt a strange, lonely emptiness, and knew that the conversation had ended. Jan exhaled, then allowed her mind to run with a thousand thoughts at once. Danger? Goodness? Nobility? The end of the Amazons? Jan shook her head to clear her thoughts, then tiptoed back to the bed. Gabrielle always spoke in grand terms, terms which seemed at first cryptic to her, but were always right. The full meaning of Gabrielle's warning would become clear to her before long, she knew. Until then, she resolved to keep the words close to her. She had a feeling that they'd come in handy soon.
Very soon, no doubt. Danger. Well, Jan thought, what else is new? I've been a match for anything, so far. She slipped off her robe and eased into bed, then looked over at Mel's face. It was angelic, relaxed in repose, and Jan felt her chest tighten with sudden emotion as she contemplated the woman who shared her bed and her soul. No, she thought, we've been a match for anything, so far. If it wasn't for Mel, her strength, her unconditional love, I'd have never have gotten to this point. Thanks, Mel.
Algiers, North Africa, the next day.
Stavros Palo sipped his wine as he studied the telegram which lay open on the table before him. Covington's headed to Mona, he thought. That irritating little blonde is up to something. She knows more than she's letting on, and my agent is too dense to figure it out. It's so hard to find good help these days. He contemplated the situation a little more, then decided, I think it's time to get involved in this myself. Mona, he thought. Anglesey Island, hangout of dead druids and sheep-herders. I'll bet it's the resting place of the treasure of the Amazons, too.
England, that same day.
"Jan, a trip to Anglesey Island is wasted until we know where to look for this treasure." Paul's concern was genuine, and Jan silently agreed with him.
"I'd have to agree, Jan," Mack said. "We need more research."
"Yeah, yeah," Jan intoned. "You're right. We need to kick this thing in the ass. Look, what have we got so far?" She began ticking off the major points of her thought on her fingers as she spoke. "We know that the Amazons of Thessaly were inducted into Ignatus' legions and shipped off to Britain with him, right? We know that Gabrielle went with them. We can assume, from the poem which Glenda is translating, that they took their treasure with them. We know that their queen, Varia, died in Britain, and that she left leadership of the Amazons and her right of caste to Gabrielle. After that, it gets murky."
"What do you think happened, Jan?" Sallie asked.
"I have my theory, but I want to hear Mack's first. He always has a good one. Mack?"
All eyes turned to Mack. He placed his teacup down, then spoke with slow deliberation. "I think," he said, "that at some point during all this, perhaps during Boudicca's revolt, the Amazons switched sides and fought alongside the Celts. Glenda, read that poem again, if you would."
Glenda opened her tablet and began reading.
Today, the sun rose cool in the gray sky.
Weeping rain upon us, the goddess Artemis
Sees our travail from on high
But comes not to our entreaties.
(Illegible)... we stand
Torn between our... (unintelligible)... and our sacred honor
The mutiny called and prepared
(unintelligible)... a sacred odyssey
Mona is our goal and refuge
The Iceni our compatriots
Boudicca our sister-in-arms
Leave we with the treasure of the Amazons
There to make our stand.
"There it is," said Jan. "Most of the story in a nutshell. Mack, good guess. They mutinied, joined the Iceni, and fled to Mona, probably to escape Roman punishment for treason."
Mel, who had been listening quietly, joined the discussion. "The progress I've made on Gabrielle's record tells us more. She's speaking of their travel north, their settlement in Britain, and the difficulties they incurred there." After hesitation, she added, "And of Varia's injury." At that, all eyes turned to her with renewed interest. Mel offered, "I'll read from there." She flipped through her legal pad, then halted at a particular page. "Here it is, in Gabrielle's words."
Our sojourn in Britannia has been quite difficult so far. Varia's pride has made dealing with the Romans difficult, although it has endeared us to the local Celts, who refer to themselves as Iceni. In addition, our Amazon sisters rebel at Roman rule. There is discord among our tribe, and it has been the occasion of great sorrow for me. Varia has twice been challenged to combat by Cenae, a particularly disruptive Amazon, and the trial played out this day. Varia won the combat. Cenae's pride cost her her life, but Varia did not escape unscathed. She received a grievous blow to the head, and I fear that it may take her. The Roman surgeons are even now attempting to heal her, but I secretly fear that her reign as queen is ended. Until she recovers, the council appointed me regent, to rule in her place. It is a task which brings with it much heartache, compounded with my worry for Varia's condition.
Paulinus has marched with his legions into Wales, there to quell some unrest, and left Ignatus' two legions alone to guard most of Britannia. It is an impossible task. We were dispatched to the northern frontier. Varia, in her wounded state, remained behind. The trip was arduous; this season of the year, the territory was beautiful to behold, but dangerous with outlaw Picts. After perhaps thirty days' time, we returned to make our report to Ignatus, and the sight that greeted me was not a pleasant one.
Varia had recovered some of her wits, and her wound was healing without obvious infection, although she kept a constant fever. She was still very ill, given to fits and blinding headaches. She seemed not at all her former self, but shy, and upon occasion, would weep and cling to me as if she were a frightened child. I ached at her condition; it broke my heart, for her magnificent spirit was gone. Secretly, I knew that she would never rule again. My visits with the local Celts, which I had come to enjoy immensely, proved sorrowful, too. They were angry with the increased taxes which our Roman rulers extorted from them, and recently, their able king had died, leaving their queen, Boudicca, to rule.
I felt instant kinship to the queen when I first met her. She was tall, with hair reaching to below her waist and the color of a fiery sunset, clothed in colorful tunic and thick pants, a most impressive queen. She had two daughters reaching adult age whom she adored. She undertook her dead husband's duties with an ability born of sorrow, and won her peoples' affection. In addition, she was reputed to be a druidess, possessed of much knowledge and privy to magic incantations and spells. I felt sadness that we represented her oppressors, for I felt that Amazons were much closer to Celts than to Romans. Nevertheless, our difference in stations did not prevent me from becoming quite friendly with Boudicca, a state of affairs which eventually caused me grievous heartache.
"That's it," Mel said. "That's all of Gabrielle's writings. There's no further mention of the 'treasure of the Amazons', I'm afraid."
Jan hummed in thought, then turned to Glenda and asked, "What about those other writings, the ones you're working on?"
Glenda's severe manner brightened, and she opened her pad. "Oh, yes. I was able to make some headway. Would you care to hear?" Heads all around her nodded, and Glenda began reading.
Our retreat to Mona is terrible
Our pride in ragged array
We guard with care the treasure of the Iceni
And carry the treasure of the Amazons west.
It is a frightful journey
Beset by pursuing Romans
Surrounded by outlaws
We have vowed on our honor to defend
the treasure of the Iceni
And preserve the treasure of the Amazons.
If Artemis is willing
We will keep them in safety
In the sacred groves of Mona
At the priest and priestess' lair
Where we will make our new home
Safe from Rome
Our daughters to raise
As guardians forever of the treasure of the Iceni
and preservers of the treasure of the Amazons.
Jan drove a fist into the palm of her other hand. "Oh, yeah!" she exclaimed. "Paul, do you know where this is?"
He nodded. "It's thought that the sacred groves were decimated by the Romans on their second attack on Mona, about twenty years after Boudicca's rebellion. This 'lair' of which the poem speaks, though, is a mystery. Presumably, it's deep within the groves, where the druids' ceremonies took place."
Jan's nervous energy radiated from her as she considered the news. After a moment's silence, she looked up. "When's the full moon take place?" she asked.
Sallie shrugged. "In about two days, I think. It's almost full now. Why?"
In answer, Jan merely smiled. Finally, she asked, "Can I get there before the full moon shows?"
"Probably," Paul answered, "you can get there in a day. You can take the train to the coast, then the bridge to the island. It's a very short hop. I say, Jan, what's up?"
"I'll bet I can find it, with some help from an old friend." She glanced over at Mel. "You up for a little trip?"
Mel smiled knowingly. "After all these years, do you really have to ask?"
Algiers, North Africa, the following day.
Palo smiled coldly as he read the telegram. That little twirp Covington is up to something, all right. She's off to Mona. I'll bet she's after the treasure. Oh, yeah. It's coming together. He turned to the telegram window and said, "I'll reply. 'Will intervene. Keep me informed.' That's all. Sign it, 'SP'."
As the telegraph clerk scribbled on a form, Palo passed a couple of currency notes through the window, then walked out of the office. He stood in the hot sun of Algiers, then breathed deeply. Wales, here I come, he thought pleasantly. In forty-eight hours, I'll have this wrapped up.
The train to Wales' coast, that evening.
Jan thumbed through a book titled Druidism in Anglesey which Paul had loaned her, stopping at a map and studying it intently. After committing it to memory, she looked over at Mel, who was napping on the opposite bench in their private compartment of the train. Jan stood, unfolded a blanket, and spread it over Mel, then gazed through the window at the countryside. She closed her eyes, thought, Gabrielle, I need your help on this one, and listened for a reply. She felt none. That worried her; although she had spoken to Gabrielle before and received silence in return, she wondered if this meant that her ancient ancestor was displeased with her action. Perhaps what she sought was not meant to be discovered, Jan mused. If so, her trip would be a failure. If, however, it was there and could be found, it would add incredible authenticity to claims that the Amazons were fact, not myth and legend. That, alone, would be worth the effort.
With another glance at Mel, still sleeping soundly, she stepped from the private compartment and headed toward the little bathroom at the far end of the car. It was occupied, and she had to wait for some time to use it. When she returned, she blinked in surprise. Mel was gone.
Twenty minutes later, Mel had still not returned. Jan began to worry; that was not like her lover. She rose and headed toward the door to search for her, then hesitated. She was getting a bad feeling about it, and gut-level bad feelings made her nervous. She pulled her rucksack from the luggage rack above her head and rummaged in it until she found her revolver. After checking it to assure herself that it was loaded, she slipped it into an inner pocket in her jacket, then stepped into the hallway to seek Mel.
A walk through the train from one end to the other, and a questioning of the conductor, did not turn up Mel's presence. She was not in the restaurant car or the bar; she did not answer when Jan knocked on the door of the cramped little bathroom. Now intensely worried, she returned to their compartment and slid the door open. What she saw froze her to the spot.
Inside her compartment, a swarthy, cruelly handsome man lounged. He was dressed in an open-collared white shirt, the sleeves rolled partially up to his elbows to display powerful forearms. As one hand absent-mindedly stroked his goatee, he grinned. The grin did not extend to his eyes. They were like ice, and sent a thrill of fear down Jan's spine. She swallowed it, instead adopting a posture of defiance.
"What the hell are you doing here, Palo?" she demanded. "Get out of my compartment."
In reply, he grinned. "Damn, Covington, that's no way to greet an old acquaintance. But then, you never were a big one for manners, were you?" He waved a hand. "Come on in and take a load off. We need to talk, you and me."
Jan shut the door behind her and sat on the edge of the seat facing Palo. "Talk about what?" she inquired cautiously.
"I think you know."
"Gimmie a hint."
"Okay, but I thought you were brighter than that. I'm talking about the 'treasure of the Amazons'. You know where it is, don't you?"
Jan shrugged. "Don't have a clue what you're talking about."
"Oh, come on, Covington. Quit screwing around. You're after it; I want it. I've got a buyer for it already. All you have to do is find it for me."
Jan hissed, "I'd never do business with you."
"Oh, I think you will," Palo assured her. "You just haven't heard my offer yet."
"I don't need to."
"You'll want to, trust me. You've got forty-eight hours to find it for me."
Jan snorted in derision. "Yeah, right. Or you'll what? Kill me?"
"Oh, no. You've been a pain in my ass for years, but this miserable little world would be a lot less interesting without you around to complicate my life. I like the challenge you give me. No, I wouldn't kill you." His eyes grew even harder as he added, "Unless you give me a good reason."
Jan leaned back against the wall of the compartment. Inside her jacket, she felt the comfortable heaviness of her pistol against her side. "You still haven't told me why I'd do business with you."
Palo raised an eyebrow. "I propose a trade."
"Oh? What have you possibly got, Palo, that I would ever want?"
He sighed, rolled his eyes, and hinted, "Look around, Covington. Seen that good-lookin' girlfriend of yours lately?"
Jan's face fell at the words, and her chest tightened in panic. Palo noted the reaction and chuckled. "Yeah, now you get the picture, don't you? An even trade, Covington. That's all I want. Her for the 'treasure of the Amazons'."
Jan sat up on the bench, leaning forward and staring at Palo's face. She felt the heat of deep fury well up within her at his laughing, cruel expression. In an instant, she launched herself at him, landing on top of him and gripping his neck with both hands as she screamed, "You goddamn son-of-a-bitch, Palo. I'll kill you here and now."
Just as quickly, she flew backward across the compartment. She hit the wall above the bench with a resounding thud, then bounced off the seat and landed on the floor, on her hands and knees. Palo, who had risen, kicked her in the stomach. The blow crumpled her, and she melted to the floor, her hand reaching inside her jacket. Gasping for breath, she pulled her revolver out. She never got the chance to aim it. Palo reached down, grasped it, and pulled it from her hand.
"You're going to shoot me? Get a grip. I'm an immortal, Covington. I've been alive since the dawn of time. I'm Ares, god of war. Remember me?" He kicked Jan in the stomach once more, then looked down at her, his voice mocking. "I'm like that guy in the comic books. You know, what's-his-name? 'Faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap-' yeah, whatever. You can't best me in a fight. No mortal can. I can bend the elements. I can appear and disappear at will. I can travel great distances in an instant. You're just a puny little mortal. You can't take me on and win."
"I kicked your ass in Algiers," Jan wheezed.
"Lucky shot." He dropped the gun on the bench seat, then crouched down and lifted Jan by the front of her shirt. His face was inches from hers. "Listen to me, you irritating little blonde. You've got forty-eight hours to find the treasure and deliver it to me, or Pappas goes bye-bye." As if reading the fear in Jan's soul, he teased, "Oh, don't worry. I won't kill her. That would be like destroying a Rembrandt. She's a beautiful woman. I'll just find a buyer for her, instead. Get my drift?" With that, he released Jan. She fell to the floor with a thump. Palo stood, then opened the door and stepped into the hallway. Before he closed it, he said, "Forty-eight hours, Covington. Pappas will thank you for it."
"How-- how do I find you?" Jan asked, her voice still tight from pain.
"I'll be watching. Just call out the name of the god of war." With that, he closed the door and left.
Jan lifted herself to a sitting position, then put a hand over her ribs. She ached, but she was all right. Jan wheezed, then succumbed to fury. She drove a fist into the padded back of the seat and cursed liberally. Then, she began crying, driven by anger, fear for Mel, and desperation. After a few minutes, she sniffed loudly and regained control of herself. Rising, she washed her face in the compartment's sink, then dried it. After she straightened her clothing, she gathered her rucksack, stuffed her pistol into it, and sat down to study her map. She could not lose a minute.
She would take the train as far as Bangor, on the coast of Wales, then rent some kind of transport and cross to Anglesey Island either by ferry or by the Menai bridge. There, she would seek out the location of the sacred groves, the ones marked on the map in the book on druidism, and trust blind luck and her intuition to find the lair mentioned in the poem. Forty-eight hours. She looked at her wrist watch; it was afternoon now, on a Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, Mel's luck would run out.
Bangor, Wales, that night.
Jan climbed down from the train, her rucksack over her shoulder, Mel's bag and small purse in her hand. Seeking out the station attendant, she inquired about a place to rent a car of some kind. The station attendant informed her that it was impossible that night, but that she may be able to find something in town the following day. As Jan turned to leave, she stopped and asked one more question.
The station attendant replied, "Yes, ma'am. I do have an almanac. Let's see, now. Where is it?" He poked about in his desk, then produced a dog-eared, paper-bound book. "Yes, here it is."
Jan accepted it from him, checked the page for that week, and noted that the full moon was not actually listed as beginning until the following night. That was cutting it close. There was nothing else she could do that night. She was so close, and yet she was still so far from her goal. She sighed, then handed the book back to the attendant. "Thanks," she said. "Is there a place around here to get a bite and a room?"
"A bite?" the man inquired, then brightened. "Oh, a meal? You Americans! Certainly, there's a pub just across the street. He also has rooms to let."
"Thanks again," Jan said, then stepped out into the cool night air. She walked across the nearly-empty street and entered the pub. It was worn, done in dark, thick wood, and smelled faintly of smoke, a few locals and travelers present in the tavern room. She crossed to the bar and dropped her rucksack and Mel's suitcase and purse at her feet. In a moment, the man behind the bar had approached her. Before long, she had rented a room for the next couple of nights and had a bowl of stew, some bread, and a cup of hot tea in front of her. As she ate, she attempted to make conversation with the pub's proprietor. At first, he seemed a little sullen and reluctant to talk, Gradually, though, he warmed to Jan's forthright manner and American accent.
"Say," she said, between mouthfuls of bread, "I need to rent some wheels. You know where I can do that around here?"
"How far you going?" he asked.
"Anglesey Island," she replied. "Need it for maybe two days."
"Naw," he replied. "No auto rental in Bangor, I'm afraid. There's not much in Anglesey, anyway. What's your interest there?"
"Tourist," Jan replied. "I hear there's old druid hangouts over there."
At that, he brightened. It seemed that Jan had hit on a particular interest of his. He began chatting pleasantly about the local lore on druids, spun a story or two of strange ceremonies still reputed to happen out there upon occasion, and filled Jan's ear with legend. When she pulled Paul's book from her rucksack and showed the map inside it to the proprietor, he was pleased to point out several of the supposed locations of druid ceremony sites still marked by large, flat rocks. Jan noted these with a pencil and offered him profound thanks. As she paid him for the room and the meal, he noted the wad of bills in her hand. He scratched his chin and asked, "You need some transport, you say?"
"Yeah. Got something I can rent from ya?"
He chuckled, then asked, "Can you handle a motorcycle, young lady?"
Jan's face slowly erupted into an ear-to-ear grin. "You bet your sweet ass I can."
He waved a hand and led her through the door behind the bar. In a moment, she was out in the yard behind the pub, entering a barn. When the man switched on a light, a British surplus army motorcycle stood before her. "Oh, yeah," Jan said. "Sweet. Two-cylinder, chain drive. Four gears. Does it run?"
"Like a virgin from a sailor," the man joked.
"Full of gas?" she asked.
"I keep it topped off with petrol," he answered.
"Oh, five quid a day ought to do it."
Jan peeled a currency note from her bankroll. "Here's ten. Two days. Oh, and I need to wake up at dawn. You do breakfast?"
He nodded. "My cousin, Lizzie, will be here in the morning. I'll tell her to knock you up at dawn."
Jan glanced up at the man's face, and saw the twinkle of humor in his eyes. He was teasing her, and was obviously aware of the difference in meaning that the quaint English expression bore to an American. In reply, Jan grinned and said, "Oh, yeah. I love this country. Thanks, pal. You've been a godsend."
"Call me Nigel," he said, extending his hand.
"Jan Covington," Jan replied as she pumped the meaty fist. "Glad to know ya."
Back in the pub, she downed a few shots of strong liquor to help her find the sleep which she knew would be illusive to her that night. As she felt the liquor begin to affect her, she sniffed the air, then said, "Hey, Nigel. You got any smokes?"
He nodded, dropped a pack of English cigarettes on the counter and said, "Help yourself." Jan fished one out and lit it. As she smoked and drank, she felt herself begin to relax. Soon, she bid good-night to Nigel and headed for the stairs to find her room.
Dawn, the next day.
Jan rolled the motorcycle out into the street and slung one leg over it, wiggling around on the seat until she felt comfortable. Then, she flipped on the ignition switch, turned on the fuel, and kicked the engine into life. It sputtered and popped for a moment, then settled down into a smooth growl as she fiddled with the choke. She kicked up the stand, pulled her worn fedora down on her head, and urged it into motion, heading toward the bridge across the shallow Menai Strait, to the Island of Anglesey.
The trip would have been more pleasant if Jan did not have so much to occupy her mind. She knew from the maps that the sacred groves were not too far from the eastern shore of the island. There, she would begin her search of the supposed druid ceremonial spots, sniffing around each one until she found- whatever she hoped to find. One thing was sure; if she did not find it before the afternoon of the following day, Mel would suffer God-only-knows-what at Palo's hands. Her only hope was the full moon which she anticipated that night; it would make Gabrielle's physical presence possible, and that, she reckoned, was her greatest and last hope for success. She wondered, as she headed out of Bangor toward the Menai bridge, if Gabrielle would help her. After a moment's doubt, she smiled. Her ancestor would help.
An unknown location.
Mel stirred, then whispered, "Jan? I had the most unusual dream." She turned onto her side, then noted that she was chilly. She opened her eyes, and gasped in shock and surprise. She did not recognize where she was. She fumbled in her shirt pocket for her glasses and slipped them onto her face with a trembling hand, then looked around. She was resting on a mat of straw in a small room. The walls were of stone, and a single window, barred, allowed a dull gray light to enter the room. A wooden door, hinged in metal, led outside. She sat up, drew her knees up to her chest, and heard a clank of metal beside her. She looked down. Around one ankle, a thick manacle rested on the top of her boot. The chain attached to it snaked across the floor, and the other end was fastened to a ring set into the stones of the wall. Her voice squeaky with fear, she called, "Jan? Jan?" There was no answer.
She rose and looked out the window. She was definitely not on a train crossing Wales. In fact, the terrain and the heat already evident in the morning's air beyond the window did not even seem English. Instead of rich green, she saw a rocky, red soil, Cyprus trees and the occasional olive tree dotting the landscape. In the distance, a herd of sheep bleated and roamed on the hillside. She wondered in amazement when she noted the shepherd with them. He was dressed oddly, in brown, rough tunic and sandals. She fought down a rising sense of panic; she could make no sense of her surroundings or how she had come to be there.
She turned when the door creaked open. A woman entered, carrying a wooden bowl and a cup. The woman smiled a little when she perceived Mel standing by the window. She knelt, placed the bowl and cup down on the floor, and addressed her, saying, "Oh, you have risen." The language was not English. It was Greek.
Mel blinked. "Pardon me?" she replied in Greek as she studied the woman. She was dressed oddly, in a coarsely-woven cloak open in the front to reveal a white tunic underneath. Her feet were in sandals. Her hair was long, and pinned back with a metal ornament of some sort. "Where am I?" Mel asked, and the woman seemed surprised at the question.
"You are in the temple of the god of war," she replied in a matter-of-fact manner.
"What?" Mel exclaimed incredulously. "Where is that?"
The woman said, "Delphi," she answered. "You seem surprised. Ares has taken an interest in you; he has ordered us to tend your needs while you are here."
"And who are you?"
"I am one of the priestesses of the Temple of Ares, charged with caring for his temple." She considered Mel curiously, then noted, "You are dressed very oddly. From where do you come?"
Mel didn't know what to say at that. Finally, she answered, "America."
The priestess puzzled over that answer. "I do not know of that place. Is it far from here?" When Mel did not answer, the priestess said, "No matter. Do you have any needs?"
"Yes," Mel replied. "I need to use the toilet."
At that, the woman walked across the room and pointed to a lidded pottery jar in a corner. "There," she said, "I will return later." At that, she turned and left the room. The door slammed shut behind her, and Mel heard a metal bolt slide home. She crossed to the door, but the chain around her ankle did not allow her to reach it. She huffed in frustration, then glanced over at the pottery jar. "Well, first things first, I suppose," she muttered, then walked to the jar and lifted the lid, wrinkling her nose at the odor.
Afterward, she lifted the bowl and cup and sniffed at them. The bowl contained what appeared to be a gruel made of barley. The cup smelled of thick, strong wine. Mel placed it aside, then returned to her mat of straw and sat down. She studied the manacle on her ankle, sliding it up and down her leg. It was rather large, but would not fit over her boot. After a moment's thought, she unlaced her boot and slid it from her foot, then attempted to slide the manacle over her foot. It wedged over her sock, across her instep and heel. She grunted and struggled, and eventually, it slid from her foot. She replaced her boot, then rose and tugged at the window bars. They were solid, and would not budge. She huffed again in frustration. When a voice sounded just behind her, she turned in surprise. "Ares," she hissed.
Stavros Palo stood before her, clothed not in his twentieth-century garb, but dressed in black leather armor of impressive quality. His hair was a flowing mane of curly black, descending to his shoulders, but his face was the same. She recognized the cruel, cold eyes, the handsome features, the massive build of the god of war. Whether he was called Palo or Ares, he was the same man. He nodded, then noted in modern English, "Well, Pappas. I leave you alone for a minute, and you're already trying to escape. Nice job with the manacle, by the way."
"Thanks," Mel intoned coldly. "Where am I, and what do you have to do with this?"
"You're my honored guest," he said. "At least for the next day and a half."
"And after that?" she asked. She really didn't want to hear the answer.
"Well, that's up to your little girlfriend Covington. Y'see, she's out there desperately trying to find me the treasure of the Amazons. When she does, we trade, you for it. If she doesn't find it by, let's see, tomorrow afternoon, then you're all mine." He allowed a few seconds for Mel to digest that thought, then added, "And don't try to escape. You don't have anywhere to go, anyway. In case you haven't noticed, you're not in England. In fact, you're not even in your own time-realm."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," Ares continued, "that you're in Greece. About 600 BC Greece, to be exact. Neat little trick, huh? I figured Covington would come looking for you instead of going after the treasure, so I put you someplace where she'll never be able to find you."
"Hey, I'm an immortal. In this time-realm, I'm even a god. I can do anything I want. You think I can't cross time barriers? Think again, babe. Easy money." He approached her, drawing near, and warned, "You're stuck. There's no way out for you, so just sit tight and take it easy. Your fate is in your irritating little girlfriend's hands. She can free you, if she brings me the treasure of the Amazons in time."
"And if she doesn't?"
Ares grinned. "I've got faith in her. If she doesn't, though, then you'll make a great commodity. Remember, slavery is a legal institution here. Later, hot stuff." He turned and paced toward the door. Just before he reached it, he paused and looked back at her. "Nah, I don't trust you to sit still. You're too much like your ancestor." He turned back, waved his hand, and Mel felt a cool chill cross her body. "Let's see you try to escape like that," he gloated, then left the room.
Mel looked down. She was naked except for the manacle, which had mysteriously reappeared around her ankle. She crossed her arms across her chest, stamped her foot in exasperation, and retreated to the corner of the room, where she huddled on the mat. Her mind was whirling in confused thought, and she could see no sense in the current situation. Finally, she closed her eyes, rested her head against the wall, and silently wept. "Oh, Jan," she whispered, "please be careful, but please come through for me."
Anglesey Island, that day.
Jan raced from site to site, navigating the motorcycle down country lanes and through the narrow forest trails of Anglesey, seeking out the telltale flat rocks which still stood, sites of ancient druid rituals. By noontime, she had found four, and frantic, close examinations of each one revealed nothing of use to her. As she mounted her motorcycle and sought out the fifth one, she was close to tears from desperation. She paused, studied her maps again, and opened her compass as the bike idled underneath her. The next site appeared to be a couple of miles to the south. She kicked her machine into gear, spun the back tire, and headed down the grassy hill toward the country lane.
When she had ticked off two miles on the odometer, she paused. She was at the top of a gentle rise, and could see for some distance. Thick woods dotted the distant hillsides, but she could see nothing of the expected wide, flat rocks. She desperately thought, You're missing something, Covington. Think. Where did they hold their rituals? Yeah, in oak groves. Oaks were sacred to them, and the mistletoe which wrapped the trees held a special significance. Oak groves. Hell, I was raised in Boston. I don't even know what an oak tree looks like. This is useless.
The motorcycle sputtered, then silenced. "What the hell?" she said, then popped the cap from the gas tank. It was dry. "Well, damn!" she hissed. "What else can go wrong?" She looked around; at the foot of the hill sat a small cluster of stone houses. She squinted, then pulled a telescope from her rucksack and studied them. One of them had an antiquated gasoline pump in front of it. It must be a store. She clapped the telescope closed, stuffed it into her rucksack, and shifted the bike into neutral. Then, she gave it a shove, and it began coasting down the hill toward the cluster of buildings in the distance.
She rolled up to the gasoline pump, parked the motorcycle, and entered the store. A middle-aged woman was inside, and greeted her in a thick dialect of Welsh. Jan didn't understand her, but replied in English, "I'm in need of some gas, um, petrol. Does your pump work?"
"Oh, yes, dear," the woman replied, then shouted through the back door, "Sean, come and tend the petrol pump." A gangly boy in his early teens emerged from the door, halting when he saw Jan. "Go on now," the woman urged. "Don't stare. Our guest needs petrol."
The boy asked, "That motorcycle; is that yours?"
"Yeah," Jan said. "Fill it up for me?"
He nodded, then walked out the front door, Jan just behind him. As he popped the cap from the tank and began working the hand-pump, he asked, "You're a Yank, aren't you?" Jan nodded. "You here on holiday?"
Jan replied, "You might say that. I'm interested in old druid ceremonial sites."
"There's some good ones close by," he offered. When the tank was full, he closed the cap, returned the pump nozzle to its resting place, and asked, "Take me for a ride?"
Jan smiled. The kid was okay. Any other time she'd have done it, but she was in a desperate hurry. Then, she hit on an idea. "Hey," she said. "You born and raised around here?" He nodded. "I'll bet you know all the druid sites, don't you?" Again, the boy nodded. Jan pulled the book from her rucksack and opened it to the map. "Look here. I've got these marked down. You know any others?"
He squinted at the map, then noted, "You don't have the biggest one marked. It's a few miles from here, deep into the woods. Only us Anglesey folks know about it; the tourists don't go there."
"Off the main road too far." He eyed the motorcycle, then suggested, "You can reach it with this motorcycle. I can show you the paths."
Jan grinned. "Let's go talk to your Mom."
Five minutes later, she emerged from the store, kicked the motorcycle into life, strapped the rucksack onto the gas tank, and jerked a thumb toward the narrow seat behind her. "Hop on, Sean." With the boy clinging onto the back of her seat, she guided the bike out onto the road and roared south, following the lad's pointing finger.
It did not take them long to reach the woods where the site lay hidden, deep within the forest. At the boy's urging, Jan guided the motorcycle off the road and rode up the narrow path into the woods. They traveled slowly, ducking to avoid tree branches, and wound along the path. When they reached the crest of a hill, they emerged into a clearing. There, in the middle of the grassy knoll, stood a huge, flat rock, built upon a base of smaller rocks and overgrown with vines and weeds. Jan turned off the bike, dismounted, and approached the site. Sean followed her, watching her actions with interest. They slowly walked around the outside of the slab, then halted. Jan pulled some of the vines and tall grass away from the stones, and studied them.
The stones were not piled haphazardly, but placed with precision, ancient mortar evident in the cracks between the stones. Oh, yeah! she thought. I'll bet this thing is hollow inside. Bingo! This is it, I can feel it in my bones. She continued pulling grass and overgrowth from the stones, working her way around the slab. When she was about three-quarters of the way around the slab, she halted and took in a breath. The formation of the stones was different. It appeared to be- a door! She stood, nodded, and said, "Sean, you've earned your keep today. This is what I'm lookin' for. Come on, I'll run you home."
"Can we go fast?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah, we can go fast. Let's get you back to your store."
The Temple of Ares, Delphi, 600 BC.
The priestess of the temple of Ares entered the room, then stopped, a surprised expression on her face. In her archaic Greek, she asked, "Where are your garments?"
Mel looked up. "Ares took them," she answered. "Please, can you get me something to wear?" At the priestess' hesitant manner, Mel begged, "Please? I'm cold."
She nodded, then turned and left the room. When she returned, she held out a tunic of linen and a woolen cloak. "This will clothe you. Stand."
Mel rose, and the priestess helped her into the tunic, gathering it around her waist with a cord of soft material. She pointed to a scar on Mel's arm and asked, "How did you receive this injury? It is odd."
Mel looked down. The priestess was pointing to a vaccination scar on her upper arm. "Oh, that's an inoculation," Mel answered. At the priestess' clouded expression, she said, "A healer did that. It was to keep me from disease."
"Oh," she replied. "And you shave your body?"
"Yes, some of it." Mel said. "It is custom in my land."
"An odd custom, to be sure. I am told such things are done in Egypt." Her thought was interrupted by a soft growl from Mel's stomach. "You are hungry?"
Mel struck upon an idea. She was in a horribly vulnerable situation; she could use a friend, particularly a priestess in the temple. In addition, she would relish the chance to speak with an actual inhabitant of ancient Greece. What an opportunity, she thought. It's a wonderful way to spend the time until I'm freed. She suggested, "Bring us both some food, and sit with me. I'll tell you all about my home."
At that, the priestess nodded enthusiastically, then turned and left. Mel wrapped the woolen cloak about her shoulders, then sat on the straw mat, awaiting the young lady's return and desperately attempting to keep her thoughts optimistic.
Anglesey Island, that afternoon.
Jan returned to the druid ceremonial rock, parked her motorcycle, and pulled a flashlight from her rucksack. She tapped on the stones with the base of the light until she heard a hollow thump, then studied the pattern of the stones. When she had located the outer margins of what she perceived was a door, she examined the wall for any sort of trip mechanism. After a few minutes, she pulled out her soft brush and cleaned the centuries of accumulated dirt from a stone. Beneath it was writing. She did not recognize it, but did recognize a trip mechanism. She attempted to trigger it; it did not move. She tapped on it with the base of her flashlight until it moved freely, then pulled again. With a rumble, the door creaked open about a foot. She placed her back against it, pushed with all her might, and it suddenly gave way, sending her tumbling down into the darkness beneath the huge stone slab.
"Man, I gotta learn to start landing on my feet," she exclaimed as she sat up, rubbing her shoulder. She looked around; she was in a chamber about ten feet square. The ceiling, reflecting light from the open door, was just high enough for her to stand, albeit uncomfortably. She found her flashlight and clicked it on, shining it about the chamber. It stopped on several chests, resting in one corner. As she continued her inspection of the chamber, she noted niches carved in the walls, niches containing human remains. The skeletons rested quietly, their grinning skulls seeming glad to see her. Jan counted them; there were perhaps a dozen ancient remains entombed here. She slowly approached them, studying them in the dim light. Her flashlight trailed down each body; around the skeletons, there were shards of ancient material. Some were buried with weapons, dull and crusted from the centuries of neglect. Her flashlight's beam illuminated letters carved into the rock at the head of each one. The first several contained a script which was unfamiliar to Jan. She huffed in frustration, then shone her light on another one. At this one, she gasped in surprise. It was lettered in Greek. She brushed at it with her hand, and the letters became clear. When she mentally translated it, it read, 'Cleis, queen of the Amazons and protector of the treasure of the Iceni'.
"Damn," Jan said, her word echoing in the chamber. "Treasure of the Iceni. What about the treasure of the Amazons?" She continued her hunt around the chamber, returning to the chests sitting in a corner. With the blade of her pocket-knife, she pried a chest open. When she raised the lid, she noted scrolls within. She carefully withdrew one and unrolled it, then walked over to the entrance and sat, using the light of the sunbeam entering the door to study it. It was written in Greek. Slowly, she translated it in her mind. After about half an hour, she stopped. Her mouth dropped open in shock. "Oh, my God," she said aloud. "I think I know what the treasure of the Amazons is. Ares isn't gonna like this at all."
The Temple of Ares, Delphi, Greece, 600 BC
Mel carefully tasted the barley gruel. It was not unpleasant; sweetened with honey, it was quite tolerable. The wine was watered; Mel worried at it, but when she considered that Romans used to use wine as an antibiotic, she decided that it had sat long enough to kill anything in the water, and sipped at it. Dregs floated in the bottom of the cup, an unappetizing sight, but tolerable. The bread was coarse and gritty. The fresh fruit, though, was welcome.
Also welcome was the conversation with the priestess. She proved to be intensely curious about Mel, asking many questions about her and delighting in the answers she received from her most unusual guest. Mel, for her part, was fascinated by the priestess' stories and listened with great attention to her manner of speech and phrasing. She was determined to learn all that she could in her constant quest to perfect her understanding of ancient Greek. She adapted to the dialect quickly, and soon, the two women were chattering pleasantly, even sharing laughter.
The pleasant lunch was interrupted by the creak of the door. The priestess looked up and paled when she saw Ares enter. The god of war said nothing to her, but merely pointed toward the door, and she quickly rose, collected the meal cups and bowls, and retreated from the room with a backward, concerned glance toward Mel. In an effort to set her at ease, Mel smiled reassuringly at the priestess, then turned cold as she focused on Ares. Slowly, she intoned, "Yes?"
Ares snickered at the frigid welcome. "Damn, Pappas," he said, "you can really turn on the ice. Nice job, by the way, conning those clothes out of my priestess. The more I know of you, the more I'm impressed. Disappointed that you're dressed, but impressed, nevertheless." Ares paced a little, clasping his hands behind his back and regarding Mel with a vaguely interested expression. "I just thought I'd come and fill you in on how things are going."
"That was so considerate of you," she replied, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Yeah, I'm just that kind of guy. Well, your little girlfriend is combing the hills of Mona, looking for Amazon treasure. I think she might have found it." At Mel's raised eyebrows, Ares continued, "She's good, all right. She uncovered a secret room beneath one of the druid sites."
"I'm sure that she'll come through," Mel said.
"Yeah, you just keep thinking that. Tell me, Pappas, how well do you really know her?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean that Amazon treasure is going to be worth a fortune on the black market. That's got to be a tease to a larcenous little heart like Covington's."
"Jan would never do that."
"Oh? She's done it in the past." Ares expressed surprise as he mocked, "You do know about her history before she met you, right? She was just like her papa, selling stuff on the black market for a few bucks, and then boozing and whoring up half the profit."
"I know a little about her past," Mel answered as she looked away.
"We tangled in Algiers a couple of years ago, her and me. We had a little heart-to-heart chat while I was rearranging her face with my fist. I asked her why she didn't do that kind of stuff any more. Do you know what she said?" Mel remained silent. Ares continued, "She said it was your influence that kept her on the straight and narrow path. Well, you're not with her now, are you? She's on her own in the twentieth century, just her and her larcenous little heart. When she gets her hands on the treasure of the Amazons, what do you think she'll do with it? Just hand it over to me? Yeah, right. It can make her rich, bring her fame. Hell, she doesn't need you. She's a looker. She can scrounge up another girlfriend in a heartbeat."
"You don't know Jan very well, do you?" Mel replied.
"Do you? That Covington's got a pretty adventurous spirit." Ares taunted. "Let's see, how long have you two been together now?" When Mel did not answer, Ares said, "Ten years, thereabouts? Man, things get a little stale after that long. Same old lover, and all that jazz. The fireworks settle down to a dull flicker. Ho, hum. You don't think that Covington gets the wanderlust sometimes? Hey, she's only human. You are, too. Don't deny it, Pappas. You've thought about it, haven't you? Sure you have. Know what I think?"
Mel turned away from him, staring toward the wall. "I really don't care what you think, Ares."
"I think that when she gets her sticky little fingers on that treasure, she's going to ride off into the sunset with it, either for the money or the professional glory, and she's not gonna look back. Against that treasure, you don't stack up to squat. She'll get some fresh new girlfriend in a week, probably younger and sweeter than you." Ares leaned down, much closer to Mel, and taunted, "You're replaceable, Pappas. Face it."
Mel turned on him with a vengeance. She leaned up, her face very close to his, and screamed, "Shut up! Just shut up! What do you want from me, Ares?" Her hand swung around and struck his face with a loud crack. He caught both of her wrists and held them hard, forcing her back down on her mat. As Mel struggled in his grasp, tears trailed down her face. She shouted, "Why are you saying this to me? Is it fun, hurting me? Is it?"
Ares shoved her away from him and stood up. As he looked down at her, he answered, "Yeah. Actually, it is. Like I said, I'm just that kind of guy." He walked to the door, then paused and looked back at her. "Gee, I enjoyed our little chat. We'll have another one soon, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, he left. The door squeaked shut behind him, and the bolt slid home.
Mel sank back on the mat, huddled in the corner of the room. Ares seemed able to read her innermost fears and play upon them like a concert violinist. She had never admitted it to anyone, especially herself, but she was scared that Jan would leave her one day. She was fearful of Jan's past, of her buried wildness, of her history of her more youthful, self-destructive, occasionally illegal behavior. Her secretly-harbored nightmare was that Jan would find life with proper, ethical Melinda Pappas boring, lacking the dangerous excitement that such a personality as Jan's craves, and move on.
Ares was more right than he knew. Mel thought of herself as puppy-dog loyal in love, but even she had felt an attraction to other people sometimes. Never would she admit it to anyone, but she had even, upon occasion, entertained a fantasy about Sallie. She considered it harmless, a guilty, secret pleasure, and dismissed the thoughts, but for her, that was easy. How much harder must it be for wild, full-of-life Jan? She had seen, upon occasion, the easy camaraderie between Jan and her department's secretary, Virginia. How long could Jan resist such a treat? Had she already partaken of temptation? Suddenly, Mel wasn't so sure of the answer anymore.
The rock upon which she had built her life over the last ten years was the assurance of her love with Jan. At that instant, she felt it crack, and with that realization, she plunged into a depth of desperation which she had not known in years. Alone, lost, scared, vulnerable, she surrendered to despair and wept bitterly, her knees drawn up to her chest, her face buried in the linen and rough woolen material clothing her body. At a gentle touch on her head, she slowly looked up. The priestess had returned. With whispered words of sympathy, she knelt and allowed Mel to collapse into her lap with muffled wails of anguish.
Anglesey Island, that evening.
Jan sat in the dwindling light of the open door of the druid site, the chests open at her feet, scrolls piled around her. Her eyes ached and she fought the beginnings of a pounding headache as she persisted in scanning and mentally translating the Greek and Latin of the scrolls. She lowered a papyrus and rubbed her temples. Then, realizing that she had not eaten or drunk anything since that morning, she rummaged in her rucksack and pulled out a large bottle of apple juice which she had bought at the store where she had obtained her gasoline. She opened it and drained about a third of it at once. Hopefully, it would help to fight off the headache that she felt approaching.
The scrolls were fascinating, unfolding the story of an Amazon nation torn between friendship to Boudicca and duty to Rome. It also reinforced Jan's growing suspicion of the location and identity of the 'treasure of the Iceni' and the 'treasure of the Amazons'. That suspicion was not reassuring. If what she suspected was true, Ares would not react kindly. Mel was in desperate danger. She checked her wrist watch; it was nearly dusk. Just a little more time, and the moon would rise. When it did, she would invoke the help of her ancient ancestor. She was frantic, at wit's end with worry over Mel's safety, and she did not know where else to turn. Gabrielle would understand; she would have to.
Jan rose, stepped outside with her half-finished bottle of apple juice, and studied her surroundings. The woods around her were already dark, the little clearing in which she stood lit more brightly by the sun's diminishing rays. She had a sudden, fierce urge for a cigarette, then fought it down and smiled sadly at the thought of Mel chiding her for smoking. She had quit at Mel's insistence, and remained faithful to it because her fear of displeasing Mel had far outweighed her desire to smoke. Now, Mel had been gone from her life for twenty-eight hours, and already she was backsliding. Way to go, Covington, she thought bitterly. She glanced up at the sky again. Come on, moonrise, Jan urged. If ever I needed a full moon, it's tonight.
The Temple of Ares, Delphi, Greece, 600 BC
Mel jerked, then slowly awoke. She was alone. The room in which she was imprisoned was dark. She must have slept through sunset. Mel wiped her face with the hem of her linen tunic, then slipped her eyeglasses onto her face. She stood, feeling stiff and painful, and stretched. When she peered from her little window, she noted that it was night. She pulled the woolen cloak more tightly about her, then studied the tops of the surrounding hills. Peeking just above one hilltop was the beginning of a moonrise. It promised to be big and beautiful.
She sighed, then returned to her corner of the cell and sat. Never before had she felt so helpless, so threatened. Where was Jan? Ares said hours ago that she had found the treasure. What if Ares was right? What if Jan felt so seduced by the prospect of its value that-- no, that wasn't Jan Covington. Of the many things that she was and had been, Jan was not material. She had never cared for wealth or the glittery trappings which accompanied it. Mel had to keep believing, in spite of the nagging voices of doubt in her soul, that Jan would come through for her, for them both. The alternative was too painful. Mel shuddered to think of being trapped in a difficult age, of life without the love she knew with Jan, of the prospect of being chattel in a legal slavery system for the rest of her days, of being at the mercy of Ares. She decided then that if the unthinkable came true and she were resigned to such a fate, she would use her own hands to end her life. Despair could drive a soul to extreme ends.
She looked around again. The room had brightened a little; the sliver of a silvery moonbeam sliced through the gloom of the room and lit the night, illuminating a small square of stone floor. She heard a scurrying in a far corner and the squeak of a mouse. Defensively, she pulled herself into a ball, knees under her chin, and winced. It was going to be a long, fearful, lonely night. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall. Softly, she whispered, "Xena, I need you." Unbidden tears again wet her cheek, and she allowed them, unrestrained, to flow. As she wept, a whisper cut the silence in the room, pronouncing her name. Mel's chest tightened in fear; she opened her eyes and blinked. She was not alone in the room.
A shadowy figure stood in the moonbeam, tall, imposing, dark. Again, the voice spoke to her. "Despair is the enemy of hope," the voice whispered. Mel blinked, removed her glasses, wiped her eyes clear, and settled her glasses back onto her face. She squinted at the figure. It approached her, knelt in front of her, and reached out with a darkened hand. In a moment, the unlit candle near her mat flashed into flame, illuminating that corner of the room in yellow, flickering light.
Mel gasped. She was staring into her own face, above a body of tight muscle and leather-and-bronze armor. The eyes were the same piercing blue, the face wore the same lopsided grin, but the hair was long and braided. Behind the figure's right ear, the pommel and handle of a sword glinted in the light. Several healed scars displayed themselves on the arms and one cheek of the face. It was her face, but it wasn't her face. "Xena!" Mel whispered.
The sultry voice spoke softly to her, in modern English traced with a musical, undefinable accent, the accent of centuries. "Why do you despair? I have told you that I would always be near you, that my love for you is my duty."
"Thank you for showing up," Mel said. "I've been horribly worried. I need you." In answer, Xena merely nodded, her eyes reflecting the sparkle of the candle's light. "Are we leaving here now?" she asked her ancestor.
"Not yet," Xena replied. "Ares will not easily give up in his quest for the treasure of the Amazons. We must face him tonight. I would rather it happen here than in your century."
"How did you find me?" Mel asked.
"I was never apart from you," Xena answered.
Mel nodded, then studied the floor at her feet. She felt the heat of embarrassment come over her, an embarrassment at losing her most important possession, her faith in her ancestor and in Jan, in her hour of greatest need. Xena seemed to read her heart, and spoke gently.
"Ares is quite skilled. Both Gabrielle and I have almost fallen victim to his honeyed persuasions upon more than one occasion. There is no shame in your falling today."
"I should have been stronger."
Xena smiled painfully. "You are stronger than you know." She shifted, then sat on the mat next to Mel. With an air of mild curiosity, she lifted the chain to Mel's leg manacle and studied it. The manacle fell open, and lay on the mat next to Mel. "Now," Xena said, "what would you like to talk about until Janice and Gabrielle arrive?"
Anglesey Island, that night.
Jan watched the full moon ascend above the trees. Its progress was maddingly slow, but eventually, she perceived the tips of the tall grasses in the clearing colored with the moon's silver light. She closed her eyes and whispered, "Gabrielle?" She waited for a minute, then repeated the name, desperate to hear the familiar voice.
In a moment, a gentle breeze wafted over her skin, and a voice behind her spoke, clear and distinct, in modern English but with a willowy accent. "I am here, my distant daughter."
Jan spun around. About six feet from her, Gabrielle stood. Her features were nearly identical to Jan's, except that her eyes were deeply-lined and appeared to harbor the sadness, the pain of ages. Within the lined sadness, though, a deep, resonant sparkle of optimism burned through. Jan took heart in that.
Her eyes trailed down Gabrielle's figure. She was the same height and build as Jan, but her form was lean with hard muscle where Jan's was softer. She was dressed in a reddish-brown, short skirt and worn brown boots, the handle of a sai protruding from the top of each one. Her midriff was bare, and her chest was modestly covered with a top of dark material, leaving her arms uncovered. Jan noted a thick metal bracelet on each wrist, and in one hand, Gabrielle held a staff as tall as she was. Her hair was shoulder-length and light-colored, but streaked with silvery highlights. She patiently awaited Jan's thoughts, her expression showing pleasant amusement at Jan's reaction to her appearance.
Finally, Jan said simply, "Thank you." They were simple words, but delivered with the import of a world of barely-suppressed emotion. At that, Gabrielle merely smiled. Again, Jan spoke. "I'm full of questions, you know."
Gabrielle nodded. "I know. Later. Now, we must rescue Melinda."
Jan lamented, "I don't even know where she is."
Gabrielle answered, "I know where she is. Xena is with her, and I always know where Xena is. We are soul-bound."
"Gabrielle, Ares is dangerous. He wants the treasure of the Amazons. I'm afraid for Mel's safety."
The ancient spirit's expression reflected seriousness. "The treasure of the Amazons is not what Ares thinks it is. When he learns the truth, he will be furious. He will think that we have deceived him and may attempt to take his vengeance on Melinda."
"How about the treasure of the Iceni? Any hope there?" Jan asked.
Gabrielle shook her head. "It is the same with the treasure of the Iceni. We must face Ares tonight. It is the only way." At Jan's reaction, she gently chided, "Unless you trust me, Janice, this will never work. Do you trust me?"
Jan nodded. Slowly, a jaunty grin spread across her face. "Damn right. Let's go get Mel."
Gabrielle cautioned, "This trip is unlike anything that you have ever undertaken before. Are you ready to face whatever may come, Janice?"
"I'm with you. Oh, hey. I need my pistol."
"Not where we are bound. It is useless against the god of war, and it will raise unwanted questions." At Jan's hesitation, Gabrielle squinted her eyes in an admonishing expression, and Jan relented.
"Okay. Let's get it done, then."
Gabrielle extended a hand. "Hold on tightly. Don't let go of me." Jan took the hand. It was cool, but the grip was strong and tingled with an almost electric sensation.
"Are you- I mean, do you have a body right now? You're not just spirit, or whatever?"
"I am made of the material of the universe, just as are you. I am merely of a different composition. Tonight, I am physical, and yet I am not. Now, prepare yourself for the journey of a lifetime." With that, Gabrielle closed her eyes, and Jan's vision was clouded in a swirl of magnificent color.
Greece, 600 BC.
Jan opened her eyes. A sudden wave of nausea hit her, and she fell to her hands and knees on the forest's floor, suddenly sick to her stomach. Gabrielle leaned down, placed a hand on Jan's head, and reassured her, "You are not used to such travel. I will heal you."
Jan felt a surge of energy animate her, and her nausea disappeared. She slowly stood, looked around, and said, "Thanks. Neat trick. Where the blue hell are we, anyway?" They were in a tangled forest, illuminated by the rising of a bright full moon. It lit the forest to almost a dawn-like tint.
"Soon, you will know." Gabrielle studied Jan severely for a moment, then decided, "Right now, we must do something about your manner of dress. It will cause undue alarm."
She waved a hand, and Jan felt herself enveloped in a strange glow. When it dissipated, she looked down at herself. She was clothed in a dark, sleeveless tunic of roughly-spun material which reached to halfway down her thighs, light but durable, and supple, hand-sewn leather boots. A leather belt encircled her waist, and in it was thrust a dagger of odd design. She pulled it from its sheath and examined the blade. It was bronze, sharp, and long. As she replaced it, she muttered, "Neat." After a moment's thought, she said, "The blade is bronze. Gabrielle, why am I dressed like this? Where in the hell are we? Or more precisely, when in the hell are we?"
"You understand quickly," Gabrielle noted. "By your calendar, we are in the time-realm of approximately 600 BC." She pointed. "In that direction, very close by, is Delphi. Melinda is being held in the Temple of Ares there. In this direction, two days' travel, is the home of the Thessalonian Amazons." She smiled in amusement at Jan's expression of total amazement, then pointed to a nearby pond. "Come, look at yourself. You make a fine Amazon."
Jan followed her to the pond and looked down at her reflection, bright in the moonlight. Her hair was braided into multiple braids, held away from her forehead and face by a brightly-decorated leather headband. Jan studied the reflection in wonderment for a long time, then looked up at Gabrielle. "But I'm not an Amazon," she protested.
"But you are," Gabrielle insisted. "To be an Amazon is a condition of the spirit, of the soul, not merely of time and place. You are my descendant, the descendant of an Amazon queen. Your lineage was passed down through countless generations. It is a part of you, no less than your bone, your muscle, your spirit. You are an Amazon, as much as I or your ancient sisters who inhabit these distant hills and forests. Believe it. Let your pride and defiance burn through your manner, your bearing, and your eyes. That is the true mark of an Amazon."
Jan looked down again at her moonlit reflection in the glassy pond. She was an Amazon. She could feel her heritage in her bones, in her very soul. She felt possessed of renewed strength, an energy born of-- what? Pride, defiant pride and strength of soul. Gabrielle was right. She was an Amazon, in every sense of the word.
Every sense but one, she realized. "Gabrielle, I don't have a weapon."
"Ah, yes. You need one. Not a sword, though."
"Why not?" Jan protested.
"Too limited," Gabrielle replied. "Here is just the thing for you." She held out a hand, and a staff materialized in it. It was slightly taller than Jan, bound with a slender hemp rope, and tipped on both ends with bronze sleeves. She handed it to Jan, who expressed surprise as she examined it.
"A staff?" she wondered. "A big stick? That's my weapon?"
"A deadly weapon, in the right hands. It is balanced, and the ends are bronzed and heavy. A single blow to the head can kill; a body hit can break ribs; a strike to the limbs can cripple. A sword is only good for attack; that is why it is matched with shield. A staff is equally reliable in either attack or defense."
Jan looked up. "Gabrielle, I don't know to use it."
She smiled. "I will teach you."
"That could take weeks or months."
"It will take an instant." With that, she stepped forward and placed her hand on Jan's forehead. Jan closed her eyes, felt a flood of dizzying energy thrill through her, and then felt Gabrielle's hand leave her skin. When she opened her eyes, she blinked in surprise. Gabrielle stepped back a few paces, then urged, "Try it." Jan looked down at the staff in her hands again. It seemed somehow very different now. It seemed intimately familiar, a part of her. She hefted it in one hand and instinctively performed several drills. As the staff flashed about her at lightning speed, Gabrielle watched in satisfaction. After a moment, she said, "Prove yourself proficient. Attack me."
Jan's mouth dropped open. "I can't fight you," she gasped.
"Try," Gabrielle urged. "You cannot hurt me."
"Okay," Jan replied. She lifted the staff, assumed a fighting position, and approached. When her staff flashed out, Gabrielle's staff parried it, then swung. Jan deflected the blow without even consciously thinking about it, then settled into an energetic sparring with her ancestor. After a moment, Gabrielle stepped back and said, "Stop."
Jan lowered the staff. She was panting, but energized to an extent that she had seldom felt. "Wow," was all she could say.
"Do you see?" Gabrielle asked. "You must let yourself go and trust your instinct. You have it; just believe in it."
"I do," Jan replied. "Can we please go get Mel now?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yes. Do not worry so. She is safe for the moment," she said. "She is with Xena."
Together, they began walking down the forest's path. Jan mused over her much-altered appearance, then assumed a puzzled expression and raised her arm over her head. She looked down at a fluff of silky, dark-colored hair beneath her arm and said, "What's this? Hairy pits? Man, I just shaved yesterday."
Gabrielle's expression twinkled at the remark. "You must look the part and time, Janice. People are very perceptive. They notice many things and ask many questions."
Jan grinned as she joked, "If I didn't know better, I'd think I was a French Amazon." They walked a little further, and Jan puzzled at something else. "This tunic is kind of, ah, breezy. Do Amazons wear, um--?" She slowly lifted the hem of her tunic to her waist and glanced down. "Whoa, guess not."
Gabrielle laughed. "It is as I said."
"Yeah. You've got some neat tricks up your sleeve, Gabrielle. How do you do all this stuff?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "An enlightened will can bend the universe. In a few centuries, you can learn it, too."
"Great. Something else to look forward to. Life sure doesn't end at death, does it?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Death is merely the beginning of a greater adventure." At that, they lapsed into silence, hurrying toward the Temple of Ares, just over the next wooded hill.
Anglesey Island, that night.
Stavros Palo, still dressed as Ares, stood in the clearing near the druid ceremonial rock, scratching his beard as he contemplated the situation. Covington's motorcycle and rucksack were here, but she was not. He had checked the subterranean room under the flat rock; there were numerous scrolls, but again, no sign of Covington and no sign of treasure. "What's that little pissant up to?" he wondered aloud, then shrugged. "I wonder if she actually found it and took off with it? Doesn't matter, I guess. No treasure by tomorrow afternoon, no Pappas. That's our deal." He smiled evilly at the next thought. "I rather hope that she doesn't show up. Maybe I'll just keep Pappas for myself. Oh, yeah. Hey, being a god has its perks. Speaking of which, I'm late for a very important date."
The Temple of Ares, Delphi, Greece, 600 BC.
Jan crouched in the shadow of the temple near Gabrielle's elbow as she watched two of the temple guards loll near the door, talking quietly. Gabrielle whispered, "We must take them quickly. The far one is yours, Janice. Are you ready?"
Jan nodded. "I was born ready. Let's do it."
"Remember, attack as the lion does, quickly and ferociously. Offer no hesitation, no quarter."
With that, she rose, Jan by her side. Their feet padded quietly across the stones as they charged the temple door, their staffs at battle position, and they were halfway up the steps before the startled guards could react. Before he had lifted his spear, Jan was upon the guard and swung with her staff's end, catching him on the side of the head. The blow jarred her arm to her shoulder. The guard staggered, the helmet knocked from his head. He collapsed on the steps, and Jan looked down at him. He was limp, a trickle of dark blood coursing down the side of his face. She looked at her staff's end, raised an eyebrow, and mused, "Damn. She wasn't kidding. This thing kicks ass."
"Come, Janice!" Gabrielle's urgent whisper startled Jan from her thoughts. She joined her ancestor, and the two of them pushed the temple doors open. They entered the main hall at a trot, then halted as they confronted a group of a half-dozen more guards engaged in a game of dice. The guards looked up, startled expressions on their faces, and rose, reaching for their weapons. Gabrielle whispered, "Like the lion, Janice," and rushed forward. Jan joined her, and they plowed into the group of guards, staffs swinging. In a couple of deft moves, Gabrielle had disabled two of them. Jan picked out the nearest guard and swung her staff. The end caught him on the forearm, and a loud crack sounded. The guard screeched in pain, his arm falling limply by his side. She swung with the opposite end of her staff, and struck him just above the shin greave on one leg. His knee gave way beneath him, and he crumpled to the floor in pain.
A spear's point flashed across her line of sight, mere inches from her nose. She replied instinctively, her staff coming down upon the spear's shaft and splintering it. Again, she swung, and a guard spun around, his eyes glazed from the blow to his head. He staggered away, then fell heavily to the floor. She did not watch him; she had two more guards to deal with. One flashed his sword before her, his shield covering his torso. Jan banged her staff against his shield, then struck with the other end of her staff. It knocked his sword's thrust aside. They hovered before each other a second, and the guard attacked. As his sword's arm thrust out toward her abdomen, she backed away. It barely missed her. She swung upward with her staff, and it knocked the sword from his grip. He raised his shield, and she dealt it several blows, backing him against the wall. The next blow knocked the shield aside, and she jabbed hard. The staff's end caught him in the abdomen, and he doubled over with a loud grunt. The final strike echoed loudly as she split the back of his head open with the heavy bronze tip of her staff. He dropped to the stones like a sack of cement, not moving.
She saw a guard turn and flee toward a side hall, shouting an alarm. She was about to pursue him, when Gabrielle's voice halted her. "No, Janice. Let him go. Melinda and Xena are in this direction."
Jan blinked at the scene of carnage in the temple. Several incapacitated guards were sprawled around them, a few groaning weakly. None were a threat anymore. Gabrielle was pointing in the opposite direction. Jan nodded understanding, and they took off at a run across the main chamber of the temple, seeking out the darkened hallway that Gabrielle had indicated. They had made it only halfway across the spacious interior room before several more guards poured from the hallway, in various states of undress, their swords and spears at ready. Quickly, the guards spread out and blocked their way. Jan looked around; they were seeking to surround her and her ancestor. That was a dangerous situation.
Gabrielle tapped Jan on the shoulder and said, "Back to back, quickly." Jan stepped close to Gabrielle, then turned and faced away from her. The guards were hovering about them, glancing from one to another, looking for a chance to attack. At one guard's shout, they closed with the two Amazons.
Jan was panting, energized at the combat; she felt intensely alive, her muscles tensed, her senses at high pitch. When the guards closed with her, she felt her instinct assume control. Her staff flashed with lightning speed, the repeated blows to shields, swords, and bodies jarring her arms and shoulders. Spear shafts splintered before her; swords were knocked away, shields were deeply dented under her violent assault. A guard collapsed before her, his head split open. Another one retreated, his arm held at a strange angle from his body, his face contorted in pain. The next one doubled over from a strike to his groin, dropping his weapon. Jan brought her staff's end down with vicious force upon the back of his neck, and heard an audible crack. He fell, not moving. She knew that she had broken his neck with that last blow. Panting, sweating, she swung wildly, again and again, her instinct guiding her in her combat against superior numbers.
Then as suddenly as the battle had begun, it ended. She stood, nostrils flaring, eyes wide, staff at ready, and saw no one in front of her to challenge her. Gabrielle's voice, just behind her, echoed in her ears, seeming far away.
"You have won the day. Come, Mel waits for you."
"Huh?" Jan blinked, then felt herself slowly returning to a realization of time and place. She looked around; behind her, Gabrielle's numerous, fallen opponents were in much the same shape as Jan's. "Yeah, yeah. Let's go." Together, they stepped over prostrate forms and broke into a run toward the darkened hallway where Mel waited for rescue.
A room in the Temple of Ares.
"My lord! My lord!"
The voice echoed through the room as the door burst open. Ares looked up, an immensely irritated expression on his face, and said, "What? This had better be important, or you'll regret this interruption."
The temple guard's expression visibly paled, and he stuttered a little as he replied, "Ah, my lord, your temple is under attack by Amazons."
"What?" Ares cried. "Are you drunk, man?"
"No, my lord. I saw them myself. They quickly overcame the guard posted at the main door and are now into the central chamber. They are slaughtering us." As if to punctuate his words, a distant, muffled scream and the sounds of combat echoed through the hall.
"How many are there?"
"Ah, two, my lord."
"Two?" Ares cried, a look of disbelief crossing his face. "Two miserable Amazons? Kill 'em, you moron!"
"My lord, we cannot stand to them. Their skill is incredible. Most of the guard has fallen before them already."
"Two--? Wait a minute," Ares said, as a look of suspicion crossed his face. "Is one of them a little blonde with a staff?"
"My lord, they both are."
"Both?" He rolled his eyes. "Oh, no. Not two of them. One's bad enough. Now there's two?" Ares sighed heavily, then rose from his prone position and looked down at the priestess lying beneath him. "Go nowhere," he ordered. "I will be back in a moment."
Fearfully, she nodded understanding, then pulled the edge of a sheet across her body to cover herself from the guard's eyes. Ares stood, tied a wrap about his waist, and lifted his sword from its place near the bed. To the guard, he muttered, "Must I do everything myself? Show me."
In her room, Mel looked up when she heard strained voices in the hallway outside her room's door, followed by commotion. She glanced over at Xena, who smiled. "It begins," Xena cautioned. "Be ready to leave this place." Then she stood, drew her sword, and faced the door.
A scream, cut short, sounded outside the door. A second later, the bolt slid back and the thick door swung open with a protesting squeak. An Amazon stood in the door, brandishing a wicked-looking staff. Mel stood, amazed, then felt her chest flood with relief as she exclaimed, "Gabrielle!"
The Amazon strode forward, her staff in one hand, her arms spread wide. "Nope," the Amazon cried in modern English. "Guess again, gorgeous!"
Mel's mouth hung open in shock. She squinted, then said, "Jan? Is that you?" She knew in an instant that it was. The grin, the manner of speech, the laughing, fiery expression about the eyes; it could only be Jan. She squealed in delight, then rushed forward and clasped Jan tightly to her chest, holding her for a long moment. In the interim, Gabrielle entered behind them, and Xena welcomed the bard with a touch and a smile.
Jan looked up at Mel and said, "Sorry to cut this short, but we're in the middle of a scrap here. Let's get ready to blow this joint."
Another, deeper voice objected, in modern English but with a cold, undefinable accent. "Not so fast, Covington. Where's my treasure?" At the sound, they turned toward the door. Ares' imposing bulk was outlined in the doorway, his unsheathed sword in his hand. He stepped into the room and only then perceived, in the light of candle and moon, the presence of Xena and Gabrielle. He smirked. "Oh, this is just too good. Xena! Long time no see." He considered Gabrielle and sneered, "Well, if it isn't the irritating little blonde." When his eyes traveled over to Jan, he added, "Both of 'em. How in the name of Hades did you get here? Xena, you had something to do with this, didn't you?" He pointed his sword at Jan and hissed, "My treasure, Covington. I want it. Cough it up, and I just might not welsh on our deal and kill both of you."
Jan pushed Mel behind her, then faced Ares. "It's your deal, Ares, or Palo, or whoever. I didn't want any part of it." She pointed at the dark wrap about his waist and noted, "By the way, is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see us?"
Ares looked down, then back at Jan. With dripping sarcasm, he observed, "You're a laugh riot, Covington. Ha, ha." His voice returned to a roar as he demanded, "Cough up the treasure, and I'll forget this little irritation you caused me tonight. You've got lousy timing, too. Y'know, I was just getting chummy with that priestess." He pointed at Mel and added, "The same one your girlfriend here was getting very cozy with this afternoon."
In the moment of awkward silence which followed, Mel frantically whispered, "That's not true, Jan. It's not like he says."
"I know," Jan replied, then turned her attention back to Ares. "You want the treasure? All right, you've got it. You're standing in the same room with it, right now."
Ares regarded her with disbelief, then spread his arms wide. "Then show me. Where is it, Covington?"
"You're lookin' at it," Jan replied. "I'm the treasure of the Amazons. Me, and the thousand descendants of the Amazons of Thessaly, scattered all over the twentieth-century world." She looked around the room, then asked, "Isn't that right, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle nodded. Ares gave Jan a withering stare, then scoffed, "Yeah, right. You're clever, Covington, but you're not that clever. That's a load of crap, and you know it."
"Is it? I read the scrolls, Ares. I found the missing pieces; I unraveled the mystery of the treasure of the Amazons. Me. Read the scrolls for yourself. The whole story is contained beneath the druid site in Anglesey. I'll show 'em to you. Meet me there, read 'em, and weep."
Ares was unconvinced. He sneered, "The same Anglesey that the Romans pillaged a second time, twenty years after the Iceni revolted? They slaughtered everybody, Covington. Read your own history books. There's no way that any descendants of the Amazons survived that. The Romans rolled over that place like a plague of locusts. They annihilated everybody on the island. And do you know what that means? You couldn't have been descended from the Thessalonian Amazons. The Romans ended their existence at Anglesey." He waved his sword at Gabrielle as he continued, "And there's no way that you could be descended from the irritating little blonde, here. She only gave birth once, and that was to that demon-spawn weirdo daughter of hers who didn't last long. Face it, Covington. You're a fake. You guys' illustrious ancestors, here, have been lying to you. You're no more a damned Amazon than I am."
In the silence which followed, Jan turned toward Gabrielle, leaned on her staff, and considered her ancestor. Finally, she asked, "Do you want to tell him, or should I?"
Gabrielle sighed. She replied, "It is my story, Janice. I will tell it." When she looked back at Ares, she confirmed, "I bore two children in my life. The first was as you say; the second was born on Anglesey Island, perhaps two years after the revolt of Boudicca and the Iceni."
Ares winced. "That's a lie."
"No, it's not," Jan countered. "I read the scrolls. It's true. The treasure of the Amazons is their heritage, their seed, their legacy. Their children, Ares. There is no gold, no silver. There never was. There's me and a thousand others, descendants of the survivors of the Anglesey massacre. We're the treasure of the Amazons."
Ares folded his arms across his chest, his sword dangling from one hand. "There were no survivors. Read your own history books, Covington. Read that Roman doofus, Tacitus."
Jan snickered. "Tacitus was the son-in-law of the Roman in command. He had a vested interest in making 'daddy' look good. His histories of the time and place are interesting, but suspect. No scholar worth his salt would believe them. Gabrielle?"
"It is true, Ares. Part of the population of Anglesey left the west shore of the island before the attack, in boats. They traveled to the coast north of the Roman influence, there to exist for generations before disbursing over the world. That part of the Iceni, and the Amazons who were the sworn guardians of the treasure of the Iceni, survived."
"And the treasure of the Iceni?" Ares asked. "That's got to be worth something. That'll do in exchange for Pappas. Where is it? Or are you going to tell me that doesn't exist, either?"
Jan replied, "That exists to this day."
"Well, Covington, just bring that to me, and we'll consider ourselves square. I'll forget this little disturbance tonight and maybe even cut you in on the action. But that's just the understanding kind of guy I am."
"I can't," Jan said evenly.
Ares became furious. He marched forward, leaned down into Jan's face, and bellowed, "And why not?"
Jan remained defiant in the overwhelming presence of the immortal before her. She calmly explained, "The treasure of the Iceni was the druids; their knowledge, their skills, their wisdom." After a second, she added, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Ares, or Palo, or whoever. There's no gold, no silver. There never was. There's nothing that you can sell on the black market. There's just a proud lineage."
Xena, who was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed, one foot on the wall, snickered. "Sorry, Ares. You lose." After a second, she teased, "Again."
At that, Jan watched the immortal grow furious. He reddened in anger, and the veins on his neck bulged out. "Laugh it up, Xena. I'll get one thing I want tonight. I'll get to wipe your descendants off the face of existence." With that, he grabbed Jan around the throat and lifted her off her feet. She gasped, struggled, and brought one bronzed end of her staff up. With it, she smacked Ares in the side of the head. He grunted, then laughed derisively. "I'm an immortal, Covington. You're going to die tonight, and you can't do squat about it. This will make us even for Algiers."
Jan felt herself gasping for breath. Her vision reddened in front of her; she vaguely heard Mel shrieking. A staff's end came down on Ares' arm, and he roared in pain and dropped Jan. She fell, coughing, to the floor and was dragged out of the way by Mel's frantic grasp.
Gabrielle faced Ares, her staff at battle position. The god of war lifted his sword, swung it around his body in anticipatory glee, and grinned. "Oh, this is just too good," he said. "I'm going to love every minute of this."
"No, you're not," Xena replied. "Trust me." She grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and pulled her away from Ares. "Get them out of here, Gabrielle. I'll occupy him for a while." She jerked a thumb toward Mel and Janice, then returned her attention to Ares just in time to duck a sword swing. She replied with a roundhouse punch to the face, and Ares staggered back, a hand over his nose. He stared in disbelief at Xena.
"Man, that hurt. How--? I'm an immortal."
"But I'm spirit. Come on, Ares. Let's see what you've got."
He recovered himself and grinned. "Just like old times." He swung with his sword, and it passed through Xena's body without apparent injury. Xena laughed at his crestfallen expression as he stared at his sword's blade, seemingly useless in his hand. He muttered, "Oh, oh. I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Spirit, Ares," Xena reminded him. "That trumps immortality every time."
Ares dropped his sword and lifted a hand, pointing at Xena. "Yeah? Try this." A fireball formed in his hand, and he hurled it at her chest. It passed through Xena, bounced off the back wall, and flashed back toward him. His eyes grew large; the fireball hit him squarely in the chest, and knocked him to the ground.
Slowly, he rolled to one side, leaned up, and coughed. "Man, that hurt. I gotta remember to stop doing that." He looked down at smouldering hair on his chest and growled, "Okay, Xena. That's it. You're toast." He gathered his strength and began rising.
Xena caught him by the hair and pulled him toward the far edge of the room. "We've only just begun." She glanced over at Gabrielle and said, "Go, love. You know what to do."
Gabrielle nodded, then herded Mel and Jan through the door. She led them down the hall, toward the temple's entrance. The last sight Mel had of Xena in that time-realm was of her engaged in a vicious, fist-to-fist combat with the god of war.
Together, they left the temple and ran into the coolness of the night. As they ran, Mel noted the shadowy figure of the priestess slip from the temple, a bundle in her hands and her cloak pulled tightly about her. As she watched, the priestess saw her, waved, and smiled. Mel returned the wave, then resumed running after Jan and Gabrielle. After a moment, they stopped. Gabrielle spoke to them both. "Join hands. Do not let go, whatever happens. It is time to leave this place."
Anglesey Island, 1951.
A flash of cream-colored light lit the environ of the ancient druid monument. Within it, three figures materialized. When the light subsided, Mel and Jan fell arm-in-arm against each other, a frantic embrace punctuated by a passionate kiss. Gabrielle watched from several feet away, and smiled softly at the scene. When they parted, they both turned to the ancient bard.
"Thanks, Gabrielle. Couldn't have done it without you," Jan said.
"Yes, you could have. You would have found a way."
"Where's Xena?" Mel asked.
"She will follow shortly."
As if on cue, another creamy flash of light illuminated them, and Xena appeared, standing next to Gabrielle. Mel smiled at the sight. "Thank you, Xena," she said.
Xena shrugged. "It was my pleasure. I actually found the combat exhilarating. Ares, I believe, merely found it painful."
Gabrielle noted, "You always did enjoy a fight more than I did."
Xena nodded, then hugged Gabrielle to her side. To Mel and Jan, she confessed, "She is the lover; I am the fighter."
Jan snickered. "Opposites attract, they say."
Mel looped an arm around Jan's shoulder. "They sure do, don't they?"
Gabrielle peered up at the moon. It was waning, and near the horizon. "We have little time. We must depart," she said.
"Yeah, I understand," Jan replied. "Um, Gabrielle?" The ancient bard studied Jan with a quizzical expression. Jan continued, "About that second child..."
"The story is in the scrolls, Janice. Read it; it is too painful for me to recount to you now."
"Yeah. Do you want the scrolls preserved or destroyed?"
"Preserve them. They are history. Tell my story with passion and sympathy. In that, you will honor me more than you know."
Xena added, "Our love for you is our duty, distant daughters. Farewell, until next time."
At that, Xena and Gabrielle clasped hands, glowed with a creamy light, and vanished from sight. Both Jan and Mel stood in silence for a long moment, contemplating the incredible journey that they had undertaken that evening. Finally, Jan suggested, "Guess we'd better collect those scrolls and hit the road, huh?"
"Oh, my God, Jan!" Mel exclaimed.
"We're still dressed for ancient Greece. We forgot to ask them to restore our clothes!"
"Aw, shit," Jan echoed. "My passport, my money; it was all in my pants pocket."
"Check your rucksack, Jan. It's just over there, by that-- did you come here on that thing?" She pointed at the motorcycle with horror.
"Is that how we're getting home?"
Jan snickered. "Looks like we don't have a choice." At Mel's aghast expression, she urged, "Try it for once. You'll like it." Jan walked over to the motorcycle, leaned her staff against the tree, and lifted her rucksack. She opened it, clicked on the flashlight, and rummaged in it. "Yeah, here's my passport and money. Whew. And my hat and jacket are in here, too." Her expression grew puzzled, and she mused, "I don't remember putting that stuff in here."
Mel giggled. "That Gabrielle thinks of everything, doesn't she?"
Jan grinned. "Yeah, she sure does. Come on, gorgeous, let's get those scrolls and hit the road. I've got a place to stay just across the bridge to the mainland."
"Like this?" Mel exclaimed as she looked down at her clothes.
"Unless you want to go naked," Jan retorted. "Oh, come on. It'll be an adventure. The locals will love it."
Mel rolled her eyes as she followed Jan into the open room beneath the druid ceremonial rock. "Jan, hanging out with you is always an adventure."
"Oh? And you're complaining?"
Mel giggled again. "Not in the least, cutie."
An hour later, they had carefully packed the scrolls into the smallest chest and stuffed it into the rucksack. Jan lifted the motorcycle away from the tree, fastened the rucksack to the gasoline tank, and kicked the machine into life. Cautiously, Mel settled herself onto it behind Jan and lifted her feet from the ground. "I'm ready, I suppose," she said in an unsure tone of voice as she wrapped her arms about Jan's waist.
"Hang on. Here, hold my staff, will ya?" Jan lifted the fighting staff from its place against the tree and passed it back to Mel, who wedged it across her lap between them. With a growl of the motor, Jan released the clutch and they headed down the path, the gray light of a new dawn illuminating their way home.
The pub at Bangor, Wales, forty minutes later.
The few travelers and locals who were silently taking their morning breakfast in the pub's common room all looked up in unison, their subdued conversation melting into shocked silence at the sight of the two women who entered the pub. They were dressed most strangely, and Jan sensed the confused silence as soon as she entered. As she and Mel crossed the room to the bar, Jan grinned and said, "Costume party. Lasted all night. Those Anglesey folks sure know how to have fun."
The lady behind the bar added, "My, but you two must have had a time. Look, your friend's lost her shoes."
Jan looked down at Mel's feet; they were bare. "Yeah, she goes through more shoes than a horse. Loses 'em all the time." She looked up at Mel and noticed a raised eyebrow. That wasn't a good sign. Quickly, she changed the subject. "Hey, you hungry? Breakfast is on."
Mel eyed Jan severely for a moment, then allowed her expression to relax into a charming grin. "Yes, indeed. Hungry as a-- a horse, I suppose. Let's change and eat."
As they padded up the stairs near the bar, ascending to Jan's room, Mel said, "A horse? Really, Janice."
"Figure of speech, Mel."
"Just for that, Jan, I get first dibs on the bath."
"Okay, okay," Jan sighed. "Hey, before or after breakfast?"
A moment's silence reigned, and then both voices exclaimed in unison, "After!"
At that, another round of laughter sounded within the pub's common room as the patrons watched the two oddly-costumed women disappear around the top of the stairs.
A room in the tavern near the dig site, England, two nights later.
Mel lay on her back in the darkness, drained of energy. She sighed in contentment, then giggled. "Jan, honey?" she whispered.
"Yeah?" The bed rustled and bounced a little as Jan sat cross-legged on the bed next to where Mel lay. She leaned forward and smoothed the loose hair from Mel's face, awaiting her thought.
"If you get any better at that, you're going to kill me," Mel teased.
Jan snickered, then leaned down, her face near Mel's. She replied, "Yeah, but what a way to go, huh?"
"I wonder," Mel thought aloud, "if anyone has actually died from lovemaking."
Jan's reply was matter-of-fact. "Yeah, my crazy uncle Orville did."
Mel lifted her head from the pillow and considered Jan. "He did?"
"Sure," Jan confirmed. "His girlfriend had a jealous husband."
Mel snorted in laughter and slapped Jan's arm. "Oh, stop it." She gazed up at Jan, momentarily transfixed at the sight of her. In the night, Jan's nude body appeared an almost ghostly silver, lit only by the light of the moon tracing through the open window. Her hair was loose and disheveled, absent-mindedly brushed away from her face with the occasional flick of her hand. Janice Covington, Mel silently recited. What a doll. One in a million. After ten years, we're still in love. It's all so gloriously decadent. "I wonder," she whispered as she yawned and stretched, "if everybody feels this way after ten years together."
Jan shook her head. "Nah. Not everybody, Mel."
"Oh? And you speak from experience?"
Jan snickered. "Hey, what do I know? I was a virgin when I met you."
Mel cackled in laughter. "Oh, Janice Covington, you're goin' right to hell for that whopper of a lie!"
"Yeah, that's what Sister Elizabeth always told me." She scratched her chin and mused, "I'll probably see her there."
Mel rolled onto her side facing Jan and rested a forearm on Jan's knees. "No, really. Are you still passionate about me, Jan, or is it all a kind of comfortable familiarity now? Is it still fireworks for you, or just a glowing ember? Are we still a magic thing?"
Jan cupped Mel's face with a hand, the thumb brushing her cheek quite tenderly. "I still love you, gorgeous. I always will."
Mel became thoughtful. "Yes, but don't you ever think about-- well, you know? I mean, I know that adventurous spirit of yours, and ten years with one person is a long time."
Jan's head tilted in question. She studied Mel in the silvery light for a moment, then insisted, "You've been in a weird mood since we left Anglesey. It's 'fess up time. Come on, out with it. What's up?"
Mel shrugged. "Well, I was just thinking, wondering..." Her voice trailed off, and her eyes flickered up to Jan's face, a questioning glance. Jan finished the thought for her.
"If you're wondering if I've ever cheated on you, the answer is 'never'."
"But don't you ever even think about-- I mean...?"
"I've been with others. It's never been like what we have. It never could be." After a moment's pause, Jan asked, "What brought this on?"
Mel glanced down at her fingers as they trailed a slow pattern on Jan's leg. "Well, it's something that happened when I was at the Temple of Ares."
Jan felt a frigid chill run up her spine. That priestess, she thought. Slowly, she said, "Anything that you want to tell me about?"
"Ares said that you-- I mean, that you were tired of me, of us. He said--"
Jan lifted Mel's face with a hand beneath the chin. "And you believed him? He's clever, Mel. He's a manipulative, lying bastard, and he's good at it. He can look into your soul, find your deepest fears, and pick at them until he makes you doubt yourself and everything you hold dear."
"Yes, he can," Mel agreed. She looked at Jan. "He kept going on and on about it. I must confess, I began to believe him. I wondered if maybe he was right, if you were bored with me, if you would just take the treasure and leave me behind for someone new. I was so scared, so alone, so-- "
"Vulnerable?" Jan asked.
Jan's next question was blunt. "Mel, did you screw that priestess?"
Mel's eyes widened. "Did I-- ? Oh no, Jan! Nothing like that happened, I swear!"
Jan sighed in relief, an audible sigh. She said, "Right. So, what's the problem then? Why all the soul-searching here?"
"I--" Mel hesitated, then whispered, "I was so worried that maybe you thought--"
"That you had?" Jan guessed. "Nope."
"Not even for a moment?"
"Look, Mel. We're both only human. We probably both wonder about it sometimes, sure. We'd never do it, though. We'd never want to cause each other that hurt, that disappointment, that loss of what we have together. Nothing's worth that. For me, not the treasure of the Amazons, not a roll in the hay with some gal, nothing is worth losing you. I love you more than all of that. I always will. The only thing I want in life is us. The only thing I fear in life is disappointing you. I never will, and you never will either, for the same reason. We believe in each other. If we didn't, we wouldn't have made it this far."
"Oh, Jan," Mel said. She rested her chin on Jan's knee, thought deeply for a moment, then said simply, "Thank you."
"For being such a sweetie. You understand me better than I do, don't you?"
Jan smiled. "Soul-bound and thought-bound. That's the way it works with us."
"And it's a beautiful thing." Mel rolled onto her back and stretched her arms out toward Jan. "Come lie with me, you cutie."
"You bet, gorgeous." Jan stretched out and snuggled next to Mel, worming around until she fit comfortably against her lover's body.
As Mel pulled the sheet over them, she whispered, "I've been silly, haven't I?"
"No, you've been afraid. That's not silly." They settled into a comfortable quiet. After a moment, Jan added, "Thinking I'd ever leave you, now that's silly."
"You never will, really?"
"Nah," Jan assured her. A moment later, she snickered and added, "I'd never give your mother that satisfaction."
"Jan Covington!" Mel exclaimed. "You're awful!"
At that, the bed erupted in a frenzy of kicking feet and shrieking laughter. Jan's voice was wheezing, gasping between fits of laughter. "Stop... Mel... I can't... stand being... tickled!"
"Give up?" Mel asked. "Going to behave yourself?"
"Yeah, yeah," Jan pleaded. "Stop, Mel... please."
"Well, all right," Mel decided. "Just because you said the magic word."
The commotion quieted. They slowly sat up in the bed, fluffing pillows and straightening out the sheet and quilt, and then settled in to sleep, wedged against each other's soft, familiar, reassuring warmth. Again, the room fell silent, punctuated only by the contented sighs of two lovers. This time, a full minute passed before the silence was broken again.
"Don't you ever think about Virginia sometimes? I mean, you two seem to be very friendly, and you're with her every day at work..."
"Nah. We're two gals in a department full of men. That's why we get along so well."
"But she's such a flirt, Jan, and that walk of hers could stop a freight train."
Jan snickered. "She's a tease, doll, but she's all talk. Heck, if I ever did make a pass at her, she'd probably faint on the spot." Jan added, "Besides, she's attracted to you, not me, I think."
"Yeah, really. Now don't worry about it. Go to sleep."
"She's attracted to me? How do you know that?"
"I'm a girl. I can tell. Go to sleep."
"Me? She's attracted to me?"
Jan snorted in laughter. She joked, "Look, if you want, I'll invite her over. We'll get her drunk and have a threesome."
"Oh, my God, Jan! I could never do that. I would die of embarrassment first."
"My point exactly. Now go to sleep, Mel."
"Have you ever done that? I mean, a--" Mel pronounced the word carefully. "Threesome?"
A moment of awkward silence followed. Jan cleared her throat and repeated, "Go to sleep, Mel."
"You have, haven't you? Was it in college? Mack told me a little about you in college," Mel insisted, her curiosity aroused.
"Go to sleep, Mel," Jan repeated.
"Oh, all right," Mel pouted. "I'll shut up. Kiss me goodnight, darlin'."
"Mmm. 'Night, gorgeous. I love you," Jan whispered as they kissed quite tenderly.
"'Night, cutie. Love you, too," Mel replied. As they snuggled deeply into the quilt and into each other's embrace, a soft breeze rustled the curtains gently against the open window, its sound lulling the two lovers into a contented sleep.
Archaeological dig site, three days later.
Jan entered the artifact sorting tent where Mel was hard at work, placed a cup of tea next to Mel's elbow, and said, "Tea time. Take a break, why don't you?"
Mel placed her pencil down, rubbed her eyes, and smiled gratefully. "Oh, thank you. I let the time get away from me."
Jan sat on the edge of the table, pushed her worn fedora back on her head, and asked, "How's it coming?"
"I'm done, at least with Gabrielle's scrolls. It's a moving story." She raised an eyebrow and asked, "Would you care to read it?"
"Would I? Heck, yeah. Let me see."
Mel passed her legal pad over to Jan, who set her teacup on the table next to her and flipped the pad open. Mel stood, said, "I have to visit the girls' room. Have fun," and walked toward the tent's door. She looked back; Jan was already into the story, reading with concentration, sipping her tea as she flipped through the pages.
The writings of Gabrielle of Potidaea, warrior-bard and queen-regent of the Amazons of Thessaly, dating from approx. 60-63 AD, unearthed by J. Covington at Anglesey Island, U.K. Translated from the original Greek by M. Pappas, 1951.
Upon return from the north, we found our queen Varia's condition to be little improved. She languished in lethargy and pain, and her fever worsened. It had been two months since her grievous injury, and she appeared outwardly healed, but her wit was damaged, I feared, beyond repair. I attempted to keep my manner optimistic, but inwardly, I wept at her condition. In my soul, I knew that she was not long for this life.
One evening, her fever worsened. That night, my fears were realized. In my arms, as she slept, she took her last breath and joined her ancestral sisters. I grieved deeply for my loss, but was relieved that she had finally found a peace. Before nightfall of the following day, as is our custom, she was resigned to her rest. The Romans would not allow us a funeral pyre, so we buried her in Roman fashion, her weapons and treasured items around her, but mourned in our fashion, in frantic dance and pounding drums.
I, however, had another reason to mourn; as instructed by Varia's will, I was now the queen of the Amazons, having inherited not only her right of caste and title, but her rank as a centurion in the Roman army. I did not relish that last title.
Soon after, I was instructed by Ignatus to lead the Auxilia of Amazons on a trip into the countryside, so as to keep him informed of events there. On that trip, we made a most horrible discovery. In Paulinus' absence, greedy subordinates of his had attacked the home of the Iceni, pillaging not only their wealth, but most particularly, the honor of their queen and her family. An Iceni merchant told us the story, and it was difficult to bear. We hastened to Boudicca's home and found our worst fears realized. It, along with much of the village, had been sacked. I sought her out and found her in a nearby house, in a terrible state. She had been scourged by the Romans in front of her people, and her back was raw with stripes. She wept in anger and pain, not so much for her own state as for that of her beloved daughters. During her torture, she had been forced to witness the Roman leaders ritually rape both girls.
I went to her daughters and attempted to offer what comfort I could, but to no avail. They were inconsolable. My anger toward the Romans burned within me, an anger dark and ferocious, the intensity of which I had seldom experienced in my life. It overwhelmed me. I stepped from the home and gathered the Amazons about me. I ascended to the bed of a wagon and began speaking to them, a speech unlike any I have ever undertaken before or since. I, who have always sought peace, rallied my sisters-in-arms to a brutal war. I spoke passionately of the insult to our Celt sisters and of the arrogant abuse which the Romans had visited upon them. I spoke of my experience with Romans, and of the inherent distrust and contempt with which I held them. There, on that day, I recanted the pledge of loyalty which we had made with the Romans, using the harshest terms I knew, and before my sisters, tore the sign of centurion's rank from the armor across my chest and hurled it to the dirt. I vowed a terrible and bloody vengeance against the authors of this vile act, and called upon my sisters to join me. To a warrior, they did.
After pledging friendship to Boudicca, I left, leading the Amazons back to the Roman camp. I instructed them to gather their belongings and prepare to leave permanently, that afternoon. It was not a hard thing; we had been sent to live some distance from the legions by Paulinus, as he considered us troublesome. Our mutiny was successful. When the tribe was safely away, I traveled alone, armed and painted for war, to the dwelling of Ignatus and delivered an impassioned report regarding the attack upon the Iceni. I demanded the heads of the Roman officers responsible for this atrocity, and the return of the Iceni's wealth. He refused to grant my request, and at that moment, I knew what the future would hold. I feared no retribution, no Roman, no law anymore.
With all the passion I possessed, I vowed to take personal, terrible vengeance upon the leaders of this deed, and warned him not to interfere. As a final gesture, I threw the badge of my centurion's rank at his feet and cursed it. He rose, horrified, and warned me that such treason was punishable by immediate execution. My only reply was a look of such anger and hatred that he actually backed away from me. My final words to him were that if I ever learned that he had profited from this atrocity, I would kill him. Nowhere in the empire would he be safe from me. I left his camp; he did not pursue me. For that, I can only guess that he secretly sympathized with my passions and gave me that respect.
I knew the names of the two Roman centurions directly responsible for the act, and determined to seek them out that night before word of my treason could be spread by Ignatus. I rode hard toward their camps, and found them that evening in a nearby town, in relaxation at a bath-house and brothel frequented by high Roman officials. As I dismounted from my horse, I slid the sword which I had obtained in Japa from my saddle and thrust its scabbard through my belt. Its blade was thin and sharp, fashioned from a metal of incredible resilience by Japa's artists, and has been known to sever the softer Greek and Roman iron and bronze with ease. With grim determination, I ascended the steps and announced my presence and rank to the owners, who ushered me into the large bath area of the brothel.
The assembled Romans, servants, and prostitutes regarded me with wonder as I loudly inquired of the two centurions I sought. When they responded to their names, I approached the nearest one and drew my sword, severing his head from his body in a single stroke. Screams of horror resounded through the room, and many of the occupants rose and fled into the night. The second centurion attempted to flee. He took only a few steps before my chakram brought him down. He shared his companion's fate a few moments later. Their severed heads wrapped in a linen, I departed to seek out Boudicca's home town. I arrived the next morning and dropped the heads at her feet. It was not enough. It did not prevent war. Vengeance, it seems, bears an insatiable thirst for blood.
The neighboring tribes of Celts joined Boudicca's revolt, along with my Amazons. Our army thus massed, we marched against Rome. The first Roman town to fall before us was Camulodunnum, a settlement of Roman veterans. To our surprise, it was not surrounded by defenses. It fell easily, and after a siege of two days, the temple fell, as well. All were slaughtered, a scene of horrid carnage. Not a Roman was spared. Quickly, the IX Legion marched against us, but wavered before our ferocious onslaught and was cut to pieces, the few remaining Romans fleeing in terror before us. We were flushed with success. Verulaminum, a Roman town, next fell in like manner. Fire and sword, driven by a dark lust for vengeance, overwhelmed the Roman defense. Onward, ever onward toward the center of Roman influence in Britannia, we marched. Finally, we achieved it: London. It, too, fell before our attack, fell to our fire and sword, fell to our screaming onslaught as we chased the Romans south of the River Thames. Thousands perished in those terrible days. None were spared; the River Thames ran red with blood. Boudicca appeared unconquerable. Her Celts worshiped her, and we Amazons were swept up in the insane course of events, our hatred of Rome and our lust for vengeance guiding us in our bloody vendetta.
Finally, we met Paulinus himself upon a field of battle outside London, upon land which was much in their favor. The array of his legions gave me dreadful foreboding, and I spoke to Boudicca of my fears. We would have to attack uphill. He had positioned himself with thick forests behind his back so that we could not flank his legions, but had to meet them from the front, a horrible prospect. I believe that she secretly agreed with me, but would not heed my advice to withdraw and meet them upon more favorable terrain. The Romans had defiled the sacred places on that hill, and her pride demanded that she meet them there and then. As a final act before the battle ensued, she graced me, as queen of the Amazons, with the title of 'protector of the treasure of the Iceni'. She directed me to take under my protection the Celtic druids and their immediate families, spiriting them west to the island of Mona, there to establish them and protect them forever from Roman brutality. She appointed a young Celtic warrior to guide us, and admonished me to make haste. I believe that she knew in advance what the outcome of that dreadful day would be, and spared us on purpose.
I did as she directed, assembling the wagons of the Druid families and sending them west under the protection of the Amazons. I remained behind to witness the battle from a distant hill-top. The last sight I had of Boudicca was of her, resplendent in her fiery hair and war chariot, leading her Celts to battle against the massed Romans upon the hill. It was a ferocious battle; many fell on both sides, but the Romans took the day, and the strength of Boudicca's army was broken forever. It has been rumored that, rather than be captured, she took her own life. I find this believable, given her intense spirit and pride.
After witnessing the ghastly slaughter from a distance, I hastened to rejoin my tribe, and rode without rest until I found them. Day after day, we plodded west; night after night, we protected the druid families from the onslaught of bandits, marauders, and Roman patrols. The land was wild and our progress difficult, helped only by the quality of the roads which the Romans themselves had built. Eventually, we reached the island, separated from the mainland by only a shallow strait of water, and forged across it. There, we began to build a new life for Amazon and druid alike.
My first concern was of an imminent Roman attack, so I prepared our defenses, but the onslaught never came. The Romans seemed content to leave us to our own devices. As the weeks went by, we turned our attention to preparing for another enemy: the harsh winter to come.
The druids themselves, both the males and females, were unused to harsh labor, being persons of learning, music, medicine, and such, but with their husbands, wives, and children, joined our Amazons and fell quickly to the task of building strong houses, gathering around them flocks of the sheep and goats which populated the island, and learning to sail and fish. Our Amazons melded well with them, and provided much fresh game with hunting forays to the mainland every day. We put up all that we could for the winter, and when the cold winds began to blow, I felt reasonably assured that we would survive.
The winter seemed to endure forever, a winter unlike any I have ever seen with the exception of the Norselands. Much time was spent indoors, in the company of both Amazon and druid, and we found them to be exceptionally learned and able people. Among the druid families were potters and craftspeople, carpenters and farmers, skills of every sort. The druids and druidesses themselves, though, proved most fascinating. They were skilled bards, healers, astronomers, makers of potions and ointments, and purveyors of spells and incantations. In fact, they could do all but fight. That, it seemed, was our task. We Amazons gloried in our sacred duty: the protection of the treasure of the Iceni.
During the long winter, I witnessed Amazons and Celts become at home with each other and quite friendly. Not surprisingly, several of the Amazons became pregnant, and I smiled at this. The legacy of the Amazons, their treasure of right of caste and heritage, would endure. It seemed that I would not, as I had once feared, witness the end of my beloved Amazons.
The winter also gave me time for reflection, and I considered the events of the last year. I felt that I had abandoned Xena's dying admonition to further the greater good, and had surrendered myself to brutality, bloodlust and dark vengeance instead. I looked into my own soul and was not pleased with what I saw there. In meditation, I implored Xena's wisdom, and she graced me with it. I felt a renewed desire to return to Greece, there to regain her legacy and further the greater good. Perhaps, in that quest, I could again find the peace of soul which had eluded me since Xena's death. My departure, however, was lacking one thing. I lacked an Amazon leader ready to assume my duties here. I sought one in Cleis, a warrior of exceptional skill and quick wit. Earnestly, I trained her to assume my spot, and as the winter waned, I believed her to be ready. Then, she became pregnant.
My departure was delayed by four seasons, as she could not lead the Amazons to war until she was a season past the birth of her child. As she swelled with child, she appeared in joyous health and spirit, and I found myself longing for such joy of spirit, as well. I had, since Xena's death, felt the weight of desperate sadness and melancholy constantly upon me, and my lapse into savagery and vengeance only bore me further down. After contemplation, I determined to bring a new life into the world, a legacy for the treasure of the Amazons. In accord with our customs, I began to carefully consider a possible father. I found one in a young druid named Eurther.
He was a person of beautiful temperament and body, of melodious voice and of deeply spiritual discernment, fitting qualities for an Amazon princess to inherit. I struck up a friendship with him, and within due time, I became pregnant. The seasons of the year passed quickly, for we all prospered, Amazon and Celt alike, and found ourselves ready for the winter. I was pleased at this gentle turn of events, for I was now very heavy with child and anxious to give birth in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity. During the winter's solstice of that year, I did. Eurther said that the timing was auspicious; a child born during the solstice would possess exceptional qualities.
The child did possess them. It was beautiful; it had the black eyes of Eurther, but my light hair. When I beheld it, my heart soared with love, but broke at the same time, for my child was a male. He could never inherit my right of caste or be considered an Amazon. I had failed in my earnest wish to give the Amazons a future queen. In addition, our law requires male children to be sent from the Amazons after the first year of life, given to the father to raise, or in his absence, to a trusted family outside the tribe. Males had no right of caste or inheritance among the Amazons. I had no name for him, either, for I had anticipated a girl.
Eurther gave our son a name reflecting the qualities he so admired in me, the qualities of warrior and bard. A dragon's pen, he suggested one evening, touching the serpent tattoo on my back as I sat writing. The pen of the dragon. Pen-dragon. I agreed, and so he was named. I devoted myself to raising him during his first year. How I loved my little Pen-dragon! The seasons passed quickly, and when it was time for him to leave the Amazons, Eurther and his new bride took him in and treated him with deep affection and tenderness. I knew that it was time for me to leave. When the spring came, I endowed Cleis with my right of caste and my title as queen of the Amazons and protector of the treasure of the Iceni, and prepared to depart.
I weep piteously as I write these final words, for tomorrow, I leave by ship for the Pillars of Hercules. I am oppressed with melancholy at the prospect of never again seeing my little Pen-dragon, whom I love so dearly, but am filled with grim resolve to assume Xena's legacy, the legacy which I had vowed to undertake but had abandoned three years before. Upon reflection, I look upon my sojourn in Britannia with both pride and shame. I had managed to protect the treasure of the Amazons, their future, and the treasure of the Iceni, their druidic knowledge and powers. I brought forth into the world a beautiful new soul. But I failed in my attempt to extend the line of Amazon royalty, and I had allowed myself to descend into a whirlpool of blind, bloody hate and vengeance against Rome, dragging my Amazon sisters with me.
Perhaps it is best that I leave this place, for little Pen-dragon's sake. All those close to me have come to a violent, early end: my family; my beloved mate Xena, to whom I am and will always be soul-bound; my spirited friend Varia; my unfortunate daughter Hope; the gentle prophet Eli; even Perdicus, the village lad with whom I grew up and who adored me; all have died around me. My curse is to wander in solitude, carrying my burden of dark melancholy and aching conscience alone upon my heart, until whatever gods are left take pity on me and allow me to rest next to the ashes of my Xena. Often, I implore them to mercifully break my body's cage and allow my spirit to soar free and reunite with hers. May that day come soon, for I do not know how much more tragedy of spirit I can endure before I finally go mad.
May the eyes which read these words consider me kindly, for in all things, I have followed my heart. If it is you, my darling Pen-dragon, know that I left because I love you as only a mother can love a child.
Jan placed the legal pad on the table and sipped her tea. For a long time, she pondered Gabrielle's words, then rose and walked out into the warmth of the summer sun. Mack met her there, and said, "Hey, Jan. You'll never believe it."
Jan looked up. "Yeah, I probably will. What?"
"Sallie finished translating those Latin scrolls. It confirms what you said about Anglesey. Seems some of the Iceni and the Amazons did survive the Romans' second attack on Mona, twenty years after the Iceni rebellion. They were carried north by their fishing boats, to settle on the coast. They were led by a young druid named, I think it was-- "
"Pen-dragon?" Jan ventured.
Mack blinked in surprise. "Yeah. Pendragon. How'd you know?"
"Lucky guess," Jan said.
"Man, how you do that is beyond me. Anyhow, I wonder if he's the great grand-daddy of the Pendragons of legend."
"Huh?" Jan said.
"You know, Uther Pendragon and his son, Arthur Pendragon." When Jan did not reply, he hinted, "The King Arthur of legend? Knights of the Round Table, and all that? Man, where are you, Jan?"
Jan smiled. "Sorry. Guess I'm just not with it today."
Mack slapped her on the back. "Ah, that's okay, ol' buddy. We all have those days." He looked around. "Where's Mel?"
"In the can."
"Oh. Well, meet us at the pub. We'll have a beer."
"Yeah. We'll be along." With that, Mack left, and Jan waited for Mel to return. She shoved her hands into her pockets and gazed around at the verdant green of the English countryside. In a soft whisper, she said, "Gabrielle, you did good. You left a great legacy. You should be proud."
And, ever so softly, a gentle, warm breeze touched Jan's cheek, accompanied by the whispered reply, I am.
A moment later, Jan felt her hand grasped. She looked down. Mel's hand enveloped hers, their fingers interlacing. "Jan, darlin', are you ready to call it a day?"
"Yeah. Got all your stuff?" She noted the bulging briefcase in Mel's other hand. "Let's go home, Mel." Together, hand in hand, they walked toward the car in the distance, delighting in each other's touch and the pleasant warmth of the summer's sun.
Author's notes: Dear readers, a few notes of explanation:
I received a number of requests for a M&J story which included Amazons, and which depicted our girls together with their ancestors, Xena and Gabrielle. Here, I tried to comply. The delightful challenge was interweaving the Xena saga with previous episodes of this Mel and Jan series and actual history.
The revolt of the Iceni, led by Boudicca, was an actual event, as was the dreadful insult which the Romans dealt her and her daughters. The BBC website has some marvelous histories of it, for anyone curious about the story. Also, Tacitus' record of the Romans in Britain, the attacks on Anglesey Island (Mona), and Boudicca's rebellion can be found on the internet, translated. (Athena Review, Vol. 1, No. 1) As Jan said, he's interesting, but suspect in his accuracy of the events he describes.
As to Amazons in England, it seems that there were! I refer you to the magazine Archaeology, May/June, 2005, which contains an article titled Rescuing an Old Dig, by Hilary Cool. In it, she describes unearthing an old Roman cemetery in England and finding the remains of female warriors from south of the Danube buried within it. It is the article which sparked the idea for this story, and it is fascinating reading. (The cover blurb reads, Amazons in the U.K.! )
-djb, May, 2006.
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