Xena: Warrior Princess is copyrighted to MCA/Universal/Renaissance. Images and characters are used here without intent to profit from or infringe upon this copyrighted material. All US and international copyright laws apply to the original works written by the authors.
This story is the sixth story in this series and follows the characters, Alex 'n' Ellie Wallace. The previous stories are
Living with her ...again
Reading her scrolls...again
On a dig with her...again
I would humbly recommend that you read the story ...
On a Dig with her...again ...before this one....this story is really part 2 of that tale!!
Huge thanks to all who have contacted me about these stories I hope they know how much their kind words have encouraged me. You all know who you are.. xxx
To my wee girl Suzy...for chasing my demons away and filling up my hug battery!!
Uber: X and G meet again in the 21st Century
Disclaimers. There is no really bad violence in this story, and I am still too shy for rampant bodice ripping sex!!! Just love and romance between two women....
This story not for resale or profit.
Plea for mercy!! I suffered a series of mini strokes at 50 years old...yeh...yeh...I know now...too much work and not enough play! The result was I lost the ability to read, write, or remember much for a coupla years.....Long road back but with a lot of help and hard work.....here I am!! However, punctuation remains a mystery to me....so please be kind and roll with the irritations of commas and apostrophe thingies in the wrong place....there's only so much the spellchecker can help me with....but then, in 2007, the Goddesses took pity on me when they sent me a guiding light....I am now blessed with the invaluable services of my dear friend and fellow Bard, Pysta as a Beta reader...the gentle care she has taken, both with the story...and me...leave this Bard with no words of thanks that are sufficient to express my gratitude...XXXXXXX
In December 2005, the Law in UK was changed to make same sex marriages legal....YIPPEEE, me and my girl were married in April 2006 after 16 years together. Who would ever have thunk it possible!!
What do you Bards and readers out there think?? Email me. All comments welcome and hugs will be returned.
Alex's Celtic Knot
Clan Wallace Crest.
Ellie Wallace groaned and reached for her partner Alex, as the shrill tones of the alarm clock penetrated her sleepy brain.
"Hell's bells Hon'! What the heck is going on?" she muttered, as she held onto the warmth and comfort of her lover's arms.
"Today's the day we go to Edinburgh, darlin'. Come on, sweet ... we talked about this. It's the only way to get a day's work done on the pot. We agreed ...didn't we?"
"Hmmm ... that was last night, and now it's today. Wake me in an hour and we'll talk then." Ellie turned over and snuggled back into the duvet.
Alex Wallace smiled and fondly tucked her blond girl in. She slid from the bed, stretched her six-foot frame and grabbed her pyjamas from the floor, where they had ended up the night before. She padded to the kitchen of the tiny croft she and Ellie had shared since they found each other... again - just over a year ago. She filled the kettle and put it onto the range to heat, and she smiled as she realised it would take at least two cups of strong coffee to get her beautiful girl to rise - let alone shine - by 6 am.
The croft was warm and cosy, despite the sub zero temperatures of the Scottish Highlands in February, and Alex took a few moments to plan the day in her mind. They were travelling to the Edinburgh University Faculty of Archaeology, to meet Professor Alan Stimpson. Late in the previous year he - along with Alex and Ellie - had been part of a Greek dig that had revisited the tomb of Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess of the 1st Century CE. Alex and Ellie now realised that they had been Xena and her partner Gabrielle of Poteidaia; in one of the many previous lives they had shared,
The first pot from the Warrior Princess' tomb that Alex found ten years previously, had contained a scroll. The use of a state-of-the-art scanner on the scroll had revealed new information that had led the couple to a new dig on the site. Alex's heart missed a beat, as she remembered one fact she had discovered from this scroll - which she had not revealed to her spouse. The secret still hung heavily on her, but her overarching concern was to save her love from more pain. Ellie had suffered enough in this life from her abusive father, and Alex didn't want to burden her with the pain of a past lifetime, or its implications for the future. The tall Scot shook her shoulders as if to discard this unhappy thought, and returned to her musings about the Greek dig the previous November. They had discovered a second pot on this dig, and had "crossed swords" with an old adversary - Rase Telemon, and an equally old friend - his sister Affie.
Alex felt her excitement increase as she thought of the discoveries yet to come from this second find. The University had the new scanner; it had been used to reveal the contents of the first pot; and today the Wallaces were to begin their exploration of the second pot. If only Ellie would wake up!!
The tall Celt made a very strong cup of fresh coffee, but before she could take it through to the bedroom, a very bleary eyed blond appeared, almost wearing a dressing gown. She simply walked straight into Alex's chest and wrapped her arms around her. Alex willingly reciprocated, and dropped a kiss on her tousled head.
"That's a daft question, Big Girl! Can I have it intravenously? I'm too sleepy to swallow."
Alex chuckled, and the rumblings in her chest caused Ellie to look up at her through half-opened eyes.
"Do you have to make so much noise, Hon? I'm trying to sleep here!" The comedy of this caused Alex to laugh even more!
The previous evening, the two lovers had enjoyed a family supper with their 'almost' brothers, Donald and Hamish, at the Applecross Hotel. The family elders and owners of the hotel - Uncle J and his new wife Jeannie - had joined them for a while to hear about their new plans. Knowing that they had an early start, Alex had loaded their luggage into the big 4 x 4 truck before going to bed. The vehicle was necessary, in order to negotiate the near vertical road that led from Applecross down the pass of Bealach-na-bo to the main road - especially given the snow and freezing conditions of a Highland winter.
Less than an hour later, they were ready to leave, and a still grumpy Ellie settled into the back seat to continue her slumbers. The journey to Scotland's capital was a five hour drive. As usual, they stopped for breakfast just after 9 am, when Ellie had just about reached a conscious state.
* * * * *
They arrived at the faculty of Archaeology at just after noon, and both stretched to get rid of the kinks after the long drive. They knew they had a lot of work to do if they were to unravel the mystery of the second pot. They reached the Lab, and Alex keyed in the entry code. The room was only dimly lit by the flickering monitors in the inner lab. This inner sanctum housed the very sensitive scanner that was able to take slices through the pot, laterally and longitudinally, creating digital images of whatever was inside.
Sitting at one of the monitors was the dishevelled figure of Alan Stimpson. He was a typical academic and the two women were very fond of him. They had, however, kept from him the truth about how they had known where the pot was to be found. His willingness to sell out to Rase Telemon had upset Alex, and she was still not sure that she trusted her old professor. This fact was hard to stomach, but Alex knew that there was great deal at stake, because neither she nor Ellie would jeopardise the safety of the secret hidden within the 2000 year old pot. They knew that it had been the last wish of their counterparts, Xena and Gabrielle, that the pot be hidden. They also realised that it had been their destiny to find it, and act upon whatever the Warrior and the Bard had intended to happen to its contents.
Alex tapped on the glass of the inner lab and Alan turned and waved. He came out through the twin doors of the airlock that protected the scanner, and hugged both women a little self consciously. He knew he still had some way to go before he could make up for his behaviour on the Greek dig, and he blustered...
"It's great to see you! I'll put the kettle on....Tea for you Alex, and a strong coffee for you, Ellie - I know how you love early starts!"
Ellie snorted and her tall girl pulled her into an affectionate hug and smiled.
"She'll be fit to talk to by lunchtime Alan!" And received a tickle for her cheek.
"Don't start with me Hon' ... married or not ... I'll still whup your butt if you get uppity with this Texan!"
Alan smiled at the way the two women were so in tune with each other, and gave thanks that the tall Scot had at last found true happiness. He had watched her for almost 12 years; and seen her grow from the withdrawn and self contained student -through the years of being the obsessed archaeologist hiding in her work - to the relaxed and whole being he now saw. All of this had happened as a result of her meeting and falling in love with the petite blond Texan.
"Love can work wonders!" he mused, as he waited for the kettle to boil.
The scan itself was a lengthy process, and for the next few hours three heads bent over the monitors in the inner lab. They all wore the white coveralls and hoods that protected the delicate scanner from dust, and the face masks that reduced the possibility of droplets from their breath falling onto the pot or into the scanner.
Eventually, Alan activated the repeater screen by the airlock, and began to scroll through the images. They were slices, and at various depths they revealed different elements of the contents. They all expected to see a scroll - similar to the one found in the first pot - and sure enough, that proved to be the case. In many ways the scan was the easy part. What followed would be like a game of three dimensional chess, as the layers of the scans had to sorted and rearranged to make sense of their symbols
While the X-ray type films were being developed, they decided to have some lunch in a nearby pub. It was full of students - and many greeted Alex and Ellie. They were familiar faces around the University, as Dr. Alex Wallace Ph.D. was an associate professor in the faculty, and famed for her many skills as an Archaeologist and a teacher. They enjoyed a light snack and a glass of 70 Shilling Ale, while they told Alan about the recent wedding of Uncle J and Jeannie at the Applecross hotel.
"There's hope for us all if those two can finally discover each other in their 70's!!" He grinned.
"Well, they were always there for each other - but it took Jeannie having a heart attack to get my daft Uncle to realise how much she meant to him." Alex chuckled and thought fondly of the huge hairy Scot who had raised her after her parent's death and who had quickly become the devoted protector of the tiny blond who had so recently joined his family.
By the time they returned refreshed to the lab, the technicians had the films ready for them. They all set to the task of deciding which views would be most likely to give them an accurate picture of the scrolls within the pot. Although Ellie was originally a journalist by profession, she was now a published author and had a keen eye for a story within the scrolls. Also since her marriage to Alex, she had become an integral part of the team, and her knowledge of Greek symbols had grown to the point where she could often use her imagination to extract information from them that Alex, the empirical scientist, could not.
By the time they had decided on the information to go into the computer it was late afternoon, and they decided to leave the computer to chug away overnight and reconvene in the morning. The two women travelled to their usual hotel and were greeted by the staff as old friends. They had a drink in the bar before ordering supper in their room.
The day had taken its toll. Alex drew a hot bath for her wee girl and added a few drops of some soothing lavender oil. As the steam filled the bathroom, she walked back into the room to find Ellie almost asleep in a chair.
She gently brushed back the blond hair from her face and whispered, "Hot bath time, darlin'...want a lift?"
Ellie reached up and put her arms around her girl's neck, and was lifted effortlessly by the tall Scot, and cradled in her arms. It was times like this that made Alex's heart so full of love for her wee girl. The total trust that Ellie had in Alex was borne of many lifetimes and ran deep in both of them.
By the time Ellie was in the tub, she was a little more alert. Alex sat on the floor by the bath and they chatted about the day.
"So, Hon....any surprises so far?"
"No....pretty much as we expected ... I still can't get over that scanner - it's amazing! I heard from Professor Taggart that apparently they are developing a handheld version - not so good at the deep scans - but better than geo-phys at distinguishing the difference between ... say ... metal and wood under ground. It's also not so bothered by dust 'n' stuff like that. Exciting developments, darlin'... But I still like the hands on, getting down and dusty on a dig ... that's real archaeology!"
Ellie laughed and splashed her tall girl with bubbles from the bath. "You coming in too, Hon'?"
And Alex happily obliged.
They ate their meal and sipped a glass of wine. Afterwards, Alex phoned home and spoke to Jeannie, who assured them that all was well, and that Donald had checked on the croft. She asked when the two women would be home. Alex knew that this was so she could ensure the fire was lit, the croft warm, and that there was a meal in the oven. She raised her eyebrow at Ellie, who was listening in on speakerphone; and they smiled fondly and gave thanks to their Goddesses that they were part of the wonderful family that was the Clan Wallace of Applecross!!
The next day after breakfast, they returned to the lab to find Alan already there. In fact, Alex wondered if he had been home at all, as he wore the same crumpled shirt and trousers from the previous day. He had the computer ready to print out the results of the scan, and they waited impatiently to see what they revealed.
As they came out of the printer, Alex swore. "Great Caesar's Ghost...this gets more and more intriguing! Look Ellie....recognise anything?"
The small blond examined the sheets and looked at her partner with wide green eyes. "Well I am not surprised to see the names of Xena and Gabrielle, given that we found the pot outside the tomb." She gave Alex a sideways glance, because they knew that the true tomb of their former personae was not where Alan thought it was.
"Do you see anything else, babe?" Alex probed.
She was so proud of the way her girl had embraced the whole translation of the scrolls thing, and tried at every opportunity to improve her sometimes fragile confidence.
"I'd have to take some time to put the whole thing together, but I think I see "Athens" and definitely "Bard"....so it looks like that part is something to do with Gabrielle."
Alan seemed impressed. "Well Alex, this is your baby, where do we go from here? I'm afraid I will need to give Dimtiri something soon ...if we are going to keep George away from this."
He referred to Dimitri Theodorakis and Klaitemnestra Georgiadou, two members of the University of Athens faculty of Archaeology.
"OK...leave that to me," said the tall Scot, her voice revealed the tension she felt and Ellie reached for her hand. It had been George who had tried to drive a wedge between Alex and her girl. The attempt had failed when the feisty Texan had put George in her place - but still, the woman was ambitious and didn't much care who she stepped on, to get what she wanted.
"We'll take this info home and work on it Alan. I expect you have other artefacts that need your attention."
Alan nodded. "Yes, we got some interesting stuff from an Iron Age site near Inverness, and I am more than happy to leave this to you. After my last run in with Dimitri and Mr Telemon, the less I have to do with it the better. I am a scientist....not a politician."
"So - are you saying, Alan, that what you don't know won't bother you?" Alex's voice was heavy with innuendo, as she fixed her old mentor with her steely blue eyes.
He met them without a flicker.
"I let you down badly last time Alex. I will never jeopardise our friendship like that again. As I said, it's your baby; I'll trust you to do whatever is best for the archaeology."
Alex kept her eyes on his and nodded, a faint smile crossing her face as she realised the trust he was placing in her. She hoped that she would not have to compromise that trust when the full story emerged. She felt Ellie's hand squeeze hers gently, and she stroked the back of the tiny hand in reply. Their connection was strong and Alex knew that Ellie was thinking the same thing.
When Alex and Ellie had decided to 'find' the second pot after their 'dream' revealed it's existence, they were concerned that they did not want the contents made public until they were sure it would not compromise the two-millennia old tomb of Xena and Gabrielle, so carefully hidden by their daughter Eve and her children. The deal with Alan was very clear: the Greek government might still own the artefact, but Alex was in charge of what was to be revealed, and when.
They collected all of the relevant information and said goodbye to Alan. Alex hugged him hard for several moments and he returned the hug. He had been desperately afraid that his clumsy politicking had irrevocably damaged their relationship, and he had not fully understood how much the respect of the tall auburn haired woman had mattered to him, until he almost lost it. His eyes were moist as Alex released him and dropped a gentle kiss on his cheek. Ellie felt the sting of tears as she witnessed the moment. She, in turn, hoped that they could keep the secrets of their past lives without doing to Alan what he had almost done to them. Life was full of strange twists and turns, but Ellie knew that their first loyalty would be to the Ancient Greek lovers, no matter what the cost in the 21st century.
Alan hugged Ellie briefly. "Safe home, you two. We'll talk soon"
As they walked to the truck, Alex drew her girl into her side as if for comfort.
As Ellie put her arm around her tall lover's waist, she whispered, "Whatever fits with you, is what we do, Hon'...I know how much your work means to you."
Alex stopped for a proper hug, "You always know just what to say don't you, my wee girl?"
"I've had centuries of practise, baby blue eyes!"
They continued to their truck, and began the long drive home. As they travelled, Ellie took out some of the papers and began to squint at one particular section. The trick was to discover what layer matched with what layer. It was like unrolling a sheaf of papers that were upside down and back to front, as well as being in an ancient script - the global meaning of which was by no means written in tablets of stone!
Alex looked over and put her hand out to her love, "Darlin' leave it now ...you'll get travel sick...Use the wrist pinch."
Ellie smiled and pinched herself just on the inside of her right wrist, as Alex had shown her. "Careful Hon'....you'll make me want to eat something really awful, and we'll have to stop for sausage and marmalade sandwiches ... or squid on shortbread!!"
They both laughed at the many shared memories that occasionally popped into their heads from previous lives. They had never been bothered or freaked out by these revelations; rather it cemented their eternal bond even more. They travelled on in companionable silence, with Ellie's hand making gentle circles on her lover's thigh as they wandered in their own thoughts.
They arrived in Applecross as the light was fading and pulled up to their croft nestling in the lee of the mountains. The lights from the windows illuminated their way. As they entered the living room, the fire was blazing and Donald was sitting in front of it - still dressed in his green Ambulance Paramedic leathers. He turned as they came in and gave them both a hug.
"My turn for croft sitting today...Jeannie phoned me twice to make sure I wouldn't forget! How did it go?
"Great Don," Ellie said. "We've got plenty to be going on with....keep us out of trouble for ages."
"You two stay out of trouble? That I would like to see!!"
They both pretended to batter him, and all three fell on the worn leather couch in a heap until the big man begged for mercy. They both loved him and his brother Hamish, dearly. Alex and the boys had chosen to be family to each other a long time ago, and Ellie had been welcomed not just because she had married Alex, but for her gentle kindness and her beautiful pure soul.
"Food's in the range Alex, Hamish made sure the generator is fuelled and there's a bottle of Chardonnay on ice. We figured you could use it after the journey."
Alex grinned at her girl...and ruffled Donald's hair. "Don....have we told you lately that you....and Hamish are our favourite brothers?"
"Och away Alex....we're your only damned brothers.... and NO you haven't!"
He kissed them both, and with a wave, he left the two tired travellers to a glass of wine, a meal, a bath and their bed.
They slept late the next day, and it was past 9 am before they made it to the promontory for their morning rituals. Ellie tried to concentrate on her kickboxing, but her eye kept being drawn to her tall Celt. She watched as Alex wielded the great Scottish Claymore, it seemed like a snapshot in time to see her wield the flashing blade as if in some long forgotten battle.
When she saw in her peripheral vision that the blond Texan had stopped, Alex paused with the sword was over her left shoulder as if to block an attack from behind. She was breathing heavily from the exertion, and fixed Ellie with her amazing blue eyes. "Concentrate darlin'."
"I am!" Said Ellie, with a cheeky grin.
"On the exercises, ya goof!"
Eventually they completed their individual sets, and then came together for T'ai Chi. This time Ellie managed to keep her mind on the point of the activities, and it was Alex's turn to cast sideways glances at her beautiful girl. She knew they were both distracted by the enormity of the task at hand, and felt as if they were both putting off the moment when they would have to tackle the secrets of the hidden scroll.
They finished and took deep breaths of the chill, clear highland air, athen turned to walk hand in hand back to the croft. Alex hit the shower while Ellie got breakfast, and they ate together sitting cross legged on the cushions by the fire. They were each absorbed in their own thoughts, until Alex reached up to the mantel and brought down the Chakram and the Sais. These replicas of the ancient weapons had been
their gifts to one another on the first anniversary of their marriage, and were a reminder - if one were necessary - of the glimpse they had received into the lives of Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess and her soulmate, Gabrielle the battling Bard of Poteidaia, on the dig of the Warrior's tomb.
Alex held the Chakram and Ellie took the Sais. They seemed familiar and comfortable in their hands.
Alex held her girl close and whispered, "These are the key, darlin'...I feel it. Why would Telemon be so keen to get his hands on them...?"
"And why would Aphrodite be so keen that he shouldn't?" Ellie nodded. "More questions than answers...Hon' - and it will stay that way until we decipher the scroll....So....shall we get to it??"
Alex looked into Ellie's green eyes and sensed the same hesitancy, reflected in her own.
Ellie held Alex's face in her hands. "What is it babe? - you're making me feel as if you don't want to do this."
Alex frowned and her brow furrowed, "Can of worms, my wee girl...and what is really concerning me is that it is our very own can of worms. We have to be ready to accept what we find out....the things we did then....and their consequences today....Are you ready for that?"
"With you close by Alex, I am ready for anything. There is nothing in those scrolls that is going to change the fact that you are my partner and my soulmate through time...and that I love you with all my heart and soul."
Alex felt her eyes fill with tears, and she leant forward to claim Ellie's lips in a long gentle kiss that said far more than words ever could.
* * * * *
Later, when Ellie had showered and the household chores had been done, the blond and the dark head were huddled over the desk in the corner...
"We need to just work on each section and then try to fit them together in some kind of logical sequence." Ellie suggested. Alex agreed, and the painstaking task began.
Each symbol from the scroll had to be identified and then given an English translation. Ellie listed them for ease of referral:
Ώ omega o as in ode
ω omega lower case
Ϊ Iota i as in intrigue
ϊ iota lower case
Σ Sigma s as in symbol
ς sigma lower case
σ sigma alternate symbol
Φ Phi ph as in philosophy
φ phi lower case
Χ Chi ch as in chorus
χ chi lower case
Ψ Psi ps as in eclipse
ά Alpha a as in drama
έ Epsilon e as in epic
ΰ upsilon u as in put
β beta b as in but
γ gamma g as in go
δ delta d as in decade
ζ zeta z as in wisdom
η eta e as in they
θ theta th as in atheist or pothole
κ kappa k as in kind
λ lambda l as in logic
μ mu m as in meter
ξ xi x as in axiom
ο omicron o as in obstacle
¹ pie p as in poet
ρ rho r as in rhino
τ tau t as in topography
ν nu n as in noon
Each symbol had to be labelled with a number to indicate the part of the scroll from which it had come, then another number to define the line within which it was found, and the position of the symbol in that line.
So they began to build a database of the symbols and their codes.
Fortunately, they had some full words from the last scroll they had translated that had led them back to Greece
Xena. ξ ε ν ά
Gabrielle. γ ά β β ρ ϊ ε λ λ ε
Bard. β ά ρ δ
Battling β ά τ τ λ ϊ ν γ
Chakram. χ ά κ ρ ά μ
Poteidaia. ¹ ο τ τ ϊ δ ε ά ε
And so the day sped past. They stopped to have tea and a light snack made by Ellie - but by now they were in full detective mode and worked for the rest of the day.
By 6pm they were both stiff and sore. They had just about decided to stop when the door to the croft opened and they heard the voice of Uncle J.
"Where are my wee bairns? I havn'a seen hide nor hair of ye fer days. Awa here and give yer auld Unc a hug!!" he bellowed.
They both laughed at his dramatic use of Scottish dialect and rose to greet him.
"Och look at you, my wee girls....you look like you need a good meal and some time to relax. Jeannie sent me over! She has a venison casserole big enough to feed the entire regiment of the Black Watch, and a Cloutie dumpling to follow....What dya say?"
The tall dark woman and the small blond looked at each other and their faces broke into smiles.
"Lead on J....that's too good an offer to refuse!" said Alex, as she collected their coats from the hall. With one of his nieces on each arm, J and his 'Girls' braved the cold evening and walked to the Applecross Hotel, just over the rise from the croft.
They were greeted by the warm arms of their 'mother' Jeannie, and led to a table in the corner of the restaurant by the window overlooking the Sound of Raasay. Fergus, the bar manager, brought over two glasses of a local ale, and the women felt the strains of their task fade away as they enjoyed the food and the company.
The family was completed when Donald and Hamish came through the door.
"I might have known you two would smell my Cloutie a mile off!" laughed Jeannie as she fondly met the pair at the door. "Sit down, wee boys - there's plenty"
The two men brought two chairs from the next table and sat on each side of Alex and Ellie.
"So what's afoot, Sisters ours?" asked Hamish.
"Call yourself a policeman, Hamish? Last time I looked...it was 12 inches!" teased Ellie and gave his arm a gentle pinch.
"Oh ha ha ha....remind me again...who's idea was it to adopt you??" retorted Hamish and gave Ellie a hug as they all laughed.
The family was close-knit, and had weathered many difficulties in the last year. The near fatal attack by Ellie's demented father that had left her traumatised and Alex in hospital. Jeannie's heart attack just before Christmas, had almost robbed them of her. All of this had taken its toll. But tonight all was well with the Wallaces of Applecross and they talked long into the evening. Just before 10 pm, Alex noticed Ellie stifling a yawn.
"Time for bed darlin'?"
"Hmmm ... guess so Babe."
The Clan exchanged kisses and hugs and Jeannie brought their coats. She insisted on wrapping Ellie up so that she would not get cold. Ellie loved these moments; she had lost her own mother when she was young and had never really remembered how it felt to be nurtured until she had met Alex ...again....and been welcomed into her family. Jeannie gave them both a hug, instructed the boys to walk them home, and would brook no argument.
The four made their way to the croft and Alex offered the boys a nightcap. When they were all seated around the now-roaring fire with a large glass of malt each, Alex offered a toast.
"May we all be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows we're dead!"
They chinked glasses to drive away the demons and sipped the peaty nectar.
"Hmmm...It's the Lagavulin J and Jeannie gave you for your birthday Alex....What's the occasion?"
Do I have to have an excuse to spoil my family?"
They all laughed, and Ellie went to the kitchen to get some snacks. Alex joined her. They held each other and Ellie whispered.
"You want to tell them, don't you Hon?"
Alex drew back and smiled. "Get out of my head Ell! What do you think? They are level-headed and we might be able to use their help."
"No argument from me, Big Girl...We both trust them with our lives....why not trust them with a past life too!"
They returned to the living room and settled themselves on the cushions. Alex had her back to the couch; Ellie sat between her legs and leaned back against her chest.
"We need to tell you some things, guys. They are gonna sound really out of this world...but just hear us out willya?" asked the blond Texan.
The boys looked at each other and Donald spoke.
"So - are we finally going to get the story on these weird weapons you had me make so secretly....and their connections to your Warrior Princess?"
"Can't fool you two, can we? " Alex commented. So with a look into the middle distance and Ellie's hand in hers, she began the story.
An hour later, Donald and Hamish were still riveted as the two women took turns to tell of the dreamscape visions they had experienced in Greece, and their conviction that they were the 21st century Xena and Gabrielle. The full story of how they had met in San Francisco had Donald and Hamish smiling and nodding.
"We knew it had to be something like that for you to change our Alex's life so dramatically, Ellie. You two are so in synch with each other. It isn't rocket science to work out that you have been together before." Donald spoke and Hamish agreed.
"So you don't think we should be taken to the Lunatic Asylum, then?" Alex joked.
Only if we can come too - It would be awfae boring without ya!" laughed Hamish.
Alex had known that her 'almost' brothers would receive their revelations with open minds. They were modern men, and although steeped in their Scottish Culture, they each had on occasion, the soul of a dreamer.
"So you think this Telemon chap could be a problem, Alex?" asked Hamish, ever the policeman. "...and that he has powers of some kind?"
"He seemed pretty determined to get the original weapons. As to powers - I don't know....it all got a bit crazy there towards the end of the dig. But only we know where the Chakram and Sais are . . . Well... half of them anyway... ....but I have a strange feeling that the new scroll might be something to do with finding the other halves."
Ellie looked at her big girl with a question in her eyes.
"What have you found Hon'? Holding out on me, huh?"
"No darlin', it's just a hunch...You said something that has had me thinking since Greece. You said that Xena and Gabrielle's daughter Eve and her family hid the second pot so well, because it was 'too precious to destroy'..."
"....and 'too dangerous to allow it to be found'." .Ellie finished the line.
"Well until we decipher the scrolls. It's all conjecture."
"Hmm...right enough," said Hamish. "Any way, time we let you girls get some beauty sleep. I'm on early shift, so I need to get to my bed too."
"Aye, well don't wake me," laughed Donald. "It's my day off."
The party broke up, but just before Hamish left, he turned to Alex. "Want me to check out this Telemon on Interpol, Big Girl?"
Alex looked into her girls green eyes and an understanding passed between them.
Alex hugged Hamish, "Quietly Bro, yep....good idea....lets get all the intel we can....forewarned is forearmed."
When the boys had gone, the two lovers stood together in a long hug. Alex buried her face in the blond hair.
Ellie's face was hidden in her favourite place under the nook of her girl's shoulder.
"I am so glad those guys are ours, Hon'." she mumbled.
"Hmm . . ." replied Alex. "Me too - and now to bed, my love."
"I though you'd never ask!" squeaked Ellie, as she pinched her girl's shapely bottom and ran for the bedroom - with Alex in hot pursuit.
The next few days of hard work resulted in the largest part of the scroll being translated; and now they were, by trial and error, putting together coherent sentences. Some new names had appeared - one of them being Phidian. When they Googled him, they discovered he was a celebrated sculptor responsible for many of the friezes in the Parthenon.
Another name they both recognised was Hephaestus, God of forging and metalwork.
There were frequent mentions of the Athens Academy and the two lovers assumed this was some kind of school, until Ellie made the connection between two sections of the scrolls and added ...'of Bards'.
"Athens Academy of Bards! Again, Alex, the connection with Gabrielle as a Bard....there are stories here to be found, Hon' - I'm convinced."
"Hmm..."Alex mused, "but what would remain after 2000 years? We've only got the information from the pots because we didn't expose them to air. Any scroll not protected would be dust by now."
Another word appeared...Par**en*n...They were pretty sure this related to the Parthenon. Then 'Counsel of Gods'...
Alex wrestled with this. "Counsel??....that's like advice or guidance....the Gods were big into guiding, or - if you want to be cynical - controlling mere mortals. So that could be the meaning..."
Ellie's brow was furrowed..."I'm not sure about the of the 5th symbol, Alex...it could be a 'c'.....making it 'Council of the Gods'...like some sort of judgement or trial??"
This rang a bell for Alex, and she Googled their find. She whooped when she saw the results.
"I knew it....the Council of the Gods is one of the friezes Lord Elgin took from the Parthenon.....It's in the British Museum."
She brought up a photograph of the sculpture and they discovered that Elgin had taken 247 feet of the total 524 feet of the frieze. However, their excitement was dimmed somewhat, when they discovered that the ineptitude of conservators in the 1920's and 30's had resulted in some serious damage to the marble, and they could now distinguish little detail. Then Alex found a link to another site where drawings made from the friezes before 'restoration' were displayed. These were at Thunderham Manor in Suffolk, England.
There was also a quote from a Lord Byron poem, about the sad loss of so much ancient art:
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch'd thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorred!
—"Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"
For Alex, this resonated deeply, and she explained to her girl. "Elgin was an arrogant bastard. He considered that he knew what was best for these precious antiquities. He robbed the ruins of the Parthenon, and the art of Ancient Greece was spread to the winds. There are parts of it all over the world, now, in museums and in private collections. That's one of the reasons I got so angry with Alan over Telemon. Ancient History belongs to everyone, not those wealthy enough to buy it for their own gratification."
Ellie sensed the outrage in her love and squeezed her hard.
They decided that the day had been long enough, and retired to the couch with a welcome glass of wine. Ellie had her notepad on her lap and her head on Alex's shoulder; she chewed the end of her pencil thoughtfully...
"Honestly, Ell...this is the 21st century...We have PDA's and voice recorders and you still use a lump of wood to record things!"
"A quill was good enough for Gabrielle...a pencil is the modern equivalent....and that's good enough for me....so each to her own, Hon'..!"
They chuckled together and then they fell silent.
"Alex, I can hear you thinking....a dinar for your thoughts."
The tall Celt stretched out her long legs and settled Ellie's head on her shoulder more comfortably.
"OK....here is what I think is emerging. Whatever was so precious to our girls has to be the other half of the Chakram and the Sais ..."
Ellie nodded her agreement. "OK....but all the stuff we are getting refers to academia, sculptures, the Gods, and Athens."
Ellie looked up into her lover's piecing blue eye. She loved the intensity she saw there, and pulled Alex's head down for a kiss - and then, as if nothing had passed between them, she continued Alex's thoughts.
"...So the secret of where the weapons were hidden is concealed in a sculpture -probably done by Phidias...and displayed in the Parthenon..."
"....or in the temple of Hephaestus...which was part of the same complex."
"So we need to see this Council of the Gods close up?.....But what the heck are we looking for, Hon'?"
"We need more info from the scroll before we go rushing off to the depths of the land of the Sassenachs....darlin'! Archaeology is 90% slow, grinding, clue searching and 10% blinding revelation... so tomorrow we hit those last few sections."
"What are you going to tell Alan?"
"As little as possible yet. I told him to tell Dimitri we are having real problems with the second pot....that should buy us some time."
At that moment the croft door opened and Hamish called out.
"Is it safe to enter??"
"Aye - away in, H.... we're just chatting...!"
The tall man still dressed in his Police Motorcycle leathers pushed open the door.
"Time for a cuppa?" asked Ellie as she rose to go to the kitchen.
"Aye Ellie, please....it's been a busy day. I've had an interesting conversation with my friend from Interpol today."
Alex immediately sat up and fixed her brother with a steely gaze.
"What've you got?"
"Telemon is a shady guy and there are lots of rumours about him. The Greek police are 90% sure he is behind the theft and sale of all kinds of rare artefacts from the ancient world of Greece, Crete, Turkey....and many more.....but he's clever and covers his tracks. They've never been able to pin anything on him.....he appears to be most interested in ancient weapons....like your Chakram and Sais..."
Ellie returned with a tray of tea and they sat to digest this information.
"Do you think he's dangerous Hamish?" asked Ellie.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Dangerous is as dangerous does Ellie. Depends how much he wants what someone else has got."
"Do you think Dimitri is in on this? He was keen for us to do business with Telemon."
Alex reached out and took her girls hand. "I'm not discounting anything babe. We need to play these cards close to our chest. I want to know the truth of all this and I feel we owe it to Xena and Gabrielle; but I will not put us, or Hamish, at risk. No secret - however compelling - is worth our lives."
The next day found the couple preparing to face another day on the scrolls. Ellie had absentmindedly picked up one of the printouts as she sat in the living room.
"That's got to be Aphrodite!" she shrieked.
Alex rushed in from the kitchen where she was making breakfast.
Ellie showed her tall partner the part of the scroll she was translating. "A statue of Aphrodite carved by Phidias.... in the temple of Hephaestus...commissioned by the Academy of Bards."
Alex checked her girls work and shook her head in wonder. "It all just fell into place once I had gotten the sections in the right orientation."
Ellie was so excited that she almost kicked over the tea that Alex had hastily put on the floor, near to where her girl had spread the printouts of the scroll.
"So is this some kind of monument to the Goddess of love? Why would that connect to Xena and Gabrielle? And why is it in this scroll, and so secret or dangerous?"
"Too may questions Hon' - but I think its time we got down and dusty, don't you?" Alex grabbed her love and pulled her onto her lap and cradled her.
Ellie's arms crept around her lover's neck and she snuggled contentedly, as Alex continued. "As in - a trip to the British Museum! I'll get hold of someone I know there. We should get professional privileges, and maybe see some of the marbles not ordinarily on display. At least we have something to go on now. Well done, my lovely...!"
After a few more minutes, Alex eased Ellie off her lap and planted a long kiss on her tempting lips, before the blond Texan returned to pore over the sections of the scroll. Alex went to her study and returned with a little black book.
Ellie noticed, and shrieked. "You've got a little black book Alex....Give....Give! I love secrets too! What is hidden in this little artefact from your past, my big Scot!" she grabbed the book and ran behind the couch so Alex couldn't reach her. They both laughed as she moved one way and then the other, before 'allowing' the Scot to catch her; and they fell together on the pile of cushion in front of the crackling fire. Alex held her girl and whispered.
"Why don't you look?"
Ellie became serious. She met the blue pools of Alex's eyes and smiled." I was only joking Hon'...I don't need to know...it isn't relevant. The only things that matter are those that happen from here on in. Everything else is just ancient history."
Alex looked into her lover's beautiful green eyes, she saw the truth of what Ellie had said and she hugged her. Still holding her, Alex opened the book and rifled through until she found the name. She picked up the phone from the coffee table and keyed in the numbers.
She held the receiver between their two heads and flicked on the speakerphone.
"British Museum, Sarah speaking. How may I help you?"
"May I speak to Dr.Sears please? It's Dr. Alex Wallace from the University of Edinburgh."
"Hold the line please, I 'm trying to connect you."
The phone cut out and they both heard the sounds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons Suite. They raised their eyes to the ceiling and Ellie whispered. "Why do they always choose that bit? The poor guy wrote hundreds of pieces . . . I bet he gets real fed up with hearing that one...wherever he is!"
Alex giggled, but then a voice came on the line.
"Alex...you old tart...How the hell are you?" the accent was clipped and Ellie recognised it as New Zealand.
"Hya Tim! Less of the tart ... I'm a respectable married woman now!!"
"Wow...congratulations! Who's the lucky girl?"
For the next few minutes, the two old friends caught up with news and laughed over a few shared memories.
"Well, when am I going to meet the 'Tamer of Alex Wallace?"
Alex sighed. "Why does everyone make me out to be some kind of lost case? I had a life."
"Yes Alex - archaeology, archaeology, oh and archaeology . . . Yep - that was some life!"
"Well actually Tim, I'm looking for some help with a project I am working on. I need to take a closer look at some of the Elgin marbles. Any chance?"
"Sure. When will you be arriving?"
"We need to make a plan and I'll email you. Still on the same address?"
"Yes I am. I'll look forward to meeting you and the lovely Ellie soon. "
Alex filled Ellie in on Dr Tim Sears. They had been at University together for a year, when Tim had been an exchange student from New Zealand. They had since kept in touch with Christmas cards and the occasional meeting. Alex explained that Tim was a new type of Ancient Historian, who was willing to think outside the box when it came to interpreting clues. Alex had been delighted when the crusty old British Museum had appointed him Curator of Ancient Greek artefacts. The political furore that still surrounded the Elgin marbles needed to have someone of his calibre, to deal with the increasingly vocal calls to return them to Greece. He could be very useful to them.
The weak afternoon sun of the Scottish winter fought its way through the clouds and shone through the window of the croft, and the two women decided they needed some fresh air. They changed into walking gear and boots. Alex checked the emergency pack they kept in a rucksack by the door, shouldered it, and they went out for a walk. There was a little snow left where the February sun couldn't reach, but the sky was clear and they could see over to the cliffs of Raasay.
They walked south along the coast to the small village of Milton, then on to Camusteel, overlooking the Poll Creadha Bay. The gentle onshore breeze cleared their heads and sinuses. They stopped to visit an old friend of Jeannie's - Maggie McKenzie. She lived in a tiny cottage in the main street of Camusteel, and always loved to have Alex and Ellie visit. She made them tea and fed them her homemade scones with butter and her own jam, and demanded all of the gossip from Applecross.
When they finally got home they were pleasantly tired but refreshed. Although full of Maggie's scones, Alex made an omelette - and they sat by the fire and ate it with some salad. These times were the most precious to the two lovers. They adored the company of their family, but somehow being alone together was when they felt most at peace and safe.
"OK Alex, have a safe journey. I'll have the Boys keep an eye on the Croft." Jeanie reassured the couple as they prepared to leave for London.
Hamish was driving them to the airport at Inverness for their flight to Gatwick. Their hotel reservations were confirmed and they had an appointment to meet Tim at the British Museum. They had made digital copies of all of their findings and downloaded them to Alex's laptop and a second copy was safely stored in Ellie's backpack.
Their journey to the Airport was uneventful, and as they said goodbye to Hamish, he took them both in his arms. "Don't go taking any risks! Any sign of trouble - you get hold of me. I've got my contact at the London Interpol office, and I can call in some favours if we need any help."
They hugged him back, and went to the tiny departures lounge to await their flight. They were, as usual, travelling light - with a backpack each and Alex's laptop secured inside a third smaller rucksack.
The hustle and bustle of Gatwick Airport was a real change from the quiet life of the Highlands and when Alex had been jostled for the third time without an apology, she felt herself getting annoyed. She grabbed the wee Texan by the shoulder, decided on a straight line through the airport, and just pushed her way through to the Car Hire desk. Ellie had to smile at the way the path had opened up before them, as the imposing Celt - with a 'woman on a mission' expression on her face - cut a swathe through the crowds.
They collected their car and negotiated their way from the airport to The Radisson Edwardian Hotel in central London. It was a typical old style hotel, built from red brick in the 1920's.
Ellie looked around in amazement. "This is like something out of an Agatha Christie Mystery, Hon!"
Alex grinned as she remembered the plush modern hotels that Ellie was used to.
They were shown to their room, and found it to be comfortable and well equipped. They each showered and changed before leaving the hotel. The Doorman asked if they wanted him to hail a taxi for them. Alex had decided against driving through Central London, and as it was only a short distance to the Museum, they decided to walk.
As they rounded the last corner, Alex heard Ellie gasp. She stopped, and was amused to see her girl standing with her mouth open, as she got her first glimpse of the imposing 18th century building. The fa¨ade was made up of series upon series of columns - each holding up carved friezes and arches. The steps led the eye up and up to the huge wooden doors, with their metal hinges.
Alex waited for her girl to take all of this is and when she saw the green eyes meet hers she smiled. "Impressed babe?"
"I'll say! Are we really gonna get to play in this place?"
"Perks of the trade, darlin'... but let's look the part of serious academics shall we? Before we start sliding down banisters and hiding in the displays!"
Ellie pretended to swipe at her tall spouse, as they made their way up the steps and entered the museum. Alex introduced them at the reception desk and the guide on duty phoned through to Tim Sears' office. In a few moments Ellie saw a tall lanky figure loping towards them. He was about the same age as Alex, with sandy coloured hair and the dishevelled appearance she had come to expect from archaeologists. He reached Alex and pulled her into a hug while Ellie stood by. When they had finished slapping each other on the back, he turned to her and shook her hand.
"Welcome Ellie, it's a pleasure to meet you."
Ellie smiled, and when her nose crinkled up, Tim was immediately smitten!
"Lucky girl, Alex." he muttered in a stage whisper, and smiled even more broadly when the blond Texan blushed endearingly.
"Put my spouse down, ya smooth talking Kiwi! We're here on business."
They all laughed as Tim offered Ellie his arm and escorted them through the public rooms to a door marked private. When they were settled in his office with some tea, he spoke.
"I read about your Greek tomb expedition last year Alex. Hearing about it made me really jealous. I miss field work. It must have been amazing to find that pot ...any news on the contents?"
Prior to their departure, the two women had decided on a strategy. They needed to get as much information from Tim as they could; but at the same time, keeping their full findings under wraps. With this in mind, Alex pulled out her laptop and loaded the files they had doctored, showing some of what they had gleaned from the scroll.
For the next few minutes, Alex and Tim went into 'Archaeologist mode' and Ellie sat back, her eyes exploring the office. It was filled with books, dusty ornaments, busts of Greek figures and piles of paper wherever she looked. Eventually, Alex and Tim rose to leave and Ellie snapped back to reality as the tall Scot reached for her hand.
They left his office and walked down the corridor to a stairwell, which they took - down flight after flight of stairs - until they ended up in a long dark corridor. Tim switched on the lights, and the harsh fluorescent fixtures flickered to life. The corridor was lined with doors, each of which was numbered. Tim gave Alex a bunch of keys.
"I think what you are looking for is in room 34, Alex. It's where the Elgin friezes are stored. We have got hundreds of feet of the damn things, most so badly damaged as to be useless - thanks to the damned stupidity of early 20th century arrogance.
I find it hard to be here, to be honest. It makes me too angry, so I'll leave you. Lock up when you finish, and bring the keys to my office - and then maybe you'd like to join me for supper? I know a great little place just down the road..."
They thanked him, and he retreated down the corridor. The blue eyes met the green, and they nodded. Alec selected a key and opened the door. The unmistakeable smell of old stone filled their senses, and for a moment they were both back in the Warrior Princess' tomb.
As Alex turned on the lights, they saw row upon row of stacked sections of marble. Each one was covered in a protective cloth and numbered. Tim had given the tall Celt a list of the fragments, and their position on the frieze - so it took her no time to find the relevant piece. It was about three feet high by two feet long. The two women slowly, carefully uncovered the precious relic. It was the right-hand end of the Council of Gods, where they hoped to find the representation of Aphrodite and Eros. They were both disappointed to find that the two figures were so badly damaged as to be unrecognisable. They could see the female form and the coquettish tilt of her head, but no vestige remained of anything she might have been holding.
"Too simple, huh Hon'?" asked Ellie.
Alex nodded. "Yep...but we still have Thunderham Manor. The copy might give us more."
"Did Tim know of any statue of Aphrodite from the Temple of Hephaestus?" asked Ellie, as she poked around gently amongst the rest of the fragments.
"We didn't go into that Ell. I still need to know where he stands on the sale or theft of antiquities. I'm sad to say it, but I smell Telemon around this somewhere. If he gets wind we are sniffing around a statue of Aphrodite, he might get suspicious. Whatever actually happened in Greece - dream or reality - we know that his sister is on our side. Any statue of hers could help us and hinder him."
The two lovers replaced the covering over the fragment. Just as they were about to leave, something caught Alex's eye. She walked to the other side of the room and pulled out a very small fragment. It was only about a foot square and its protective cloth covering had slipped off. She took it to the light, and held it up. Ellie joined her, and as Alex turned the stone, Ellie whistled through her teeth.
"That isn't what I think it is ....is it Hon'?
There, in the faintest detail - revealed only by the changing shadows that flickered over the near-flat stone -was a circular shape ... Alex made a note of the code number of the fragment. She took a thin latex glove from her pocket, donned it, and only then did she allow her fingers to trace the shape. Alex so wanted it to be a representation of the Chakram, but didn't trust her senses, as she brushed away the accumulated dust. Ellie's head was as close to the stone as she dared, and she blew gently to dislodge the last few particles of dust ...
There was no mistake. Their minds both flew back to the dream where they had seen Xena throw the chakram for her great-grandsons. The design, although faint, was distinctive. They were both holding their breath without realising, and as they turned to gaze at each other, they both sighed.
"We need to find where this fragment came from darlin'...It could be the key."
They wrapped the fragment up again and replaced it where they had found it. With one final look around, they closed the door.
* * * * *
Back in Tim's office, they kept their cool.
"Find anything Alex?" he asked.
"Not much. I think we'll head for Thunderham Manor tomorrow and take a look at the copy. But I am intrigued by one of the fragments ...nothing to do with what we need ... but fascinating, none the less."
Alex gave Tim the code number of the last fragment and he pulled up the details on his computer.
"It's labelled as 'unknown fragment'-" he squinted at the screen,"-'from the outer courtyard of the temple of Hephaestus.' The rest of the frieze was destroyed."
"Ok." smiled Alex. "Just an aside, really . . . it's no problem."
She could feel the suppressed excitement from her girl, and put her hand over Ellie's small one, where it gripped her thigh.
* * * * *
The three left the museum, and walked the short distance to a small Italian restaurant. Tim was a regular, and they were quickly seated. They ordered some wine and pasta and indulged in small talk. After about an hour - when the wine bottle was empty - Tim fixed the tall Scot with a direct gaze.
"OK...when are you going to tell me what this is all really about, Alex?"
The tall Celt and the small Texan looked at each other. There was an almost imperceptible nod.
Ellie spoke. "Tim....I'm going to give you a name...and I want to know what you know of him: Rase Telemon."
The Kiwi's face changed and a dark shadow passed over it.
"If you tell me you are working with him....I'm out of here. The man's a lying, thieving, unscrupulous bastard and I'll have nothing to do with him or his business - and if you are involved with him, Alex - we are finished!" He got up to leave.
Ellie stood up and placed a calming hand on his forearm. "Whoa ... time out here, Tim! Sit down and hear us out."
The tall man looked at Ellie for a few seconds. He noted the honest and open nature of the woman, and sat back down. He was still rigid with anger, though, and flashed a fierce glance at Alex, who smiled and spoke.
"Tim, what you said... with another suitcase full of unscrupulous bastard thrown in!
I wouldn't deal with him if my life depended on it. We had to be sure you wouldn't either. This business is potentially dangerous - for us and for anyone who gets involved."
The atmosphere around the table was electric; but eventually, Tim's shoulders relaxed and he reached for his glass. The two women raised theirs too, and the three of them chinked them together and sipped the chilled white.
Eventually, Tim spoke. "Sorry, mate, that man is a thorn in my side - and has been for years. I only found out this morning that he is in the country, and for a horrible moment I thought it might be something to do with you."
Alex and Ellie exchanged worried looks, and Ellie reached for the comfort of the partner's hand.
Tim noticed this and asked again. "Whatever is going on has got you two worried. Let me help."
They ordered coffee, and tea for Alex; then they began to tell the story of how Telemon had bribed the Greek archaeologists, to get hold of the ancient weapons of Xena Warrior Princess and Gabrielle the Bard of Poteidaia. By mutual consent, they didn't include any mention of their past lives.
Tim sat and listened. Once or twice he asked for clarification of some points, but when the women had finished, he wiped his hand over his face and stretched.
"Well, that explains why Telemon is buying up all the ancient weapons he can get his hands on...but not what he needs them for. His story about completing a particular collection doesn't hold water, 'cos he is collecting from Greece, Turkey and even as far as Japan and China. What possible link could there be between such different cultures?"
They continued to exchange theories, but eventually Alex noticed the signs of tiredness in her girl - her face had a faint grey pallor - and they decided to call it a night. Alex and Ellie would go Thunderham Manor the next day, while Tim put out some feelers with the various law enforcement agencies dealing with art fraud. They agreed to meet again the next evening to share what they had learned.
* * * * *
As the two lovers walked back to their hotel they held hands and stayed very close together. When they reached their room, Alex rang room service for some tea and came to sit next to her love.
Their connection was very strong, and as usual, it was Ellie who broached the subject that had been floating between them all evening.
"You've got a bad feeling haven't you Hon'? What aren't you telling me? I'm not gonna be mad, 'cos I know that whatever your reasons, they are to protect me. But maybe the time has come to spill, Big Girl....so I can help you protect us."
Alex's shoulders crumpled and she pulled her love into her arms for a cuddle. Ellie could feel the pounding heartbeat of her girl through her clothes, and reached up to cradle her face. She pulled the dark heard down for a long gentle probing kiss and when they both came up for air, their breathing was ragged.
Alex took a deep breath. "Do you remember before Christmas when Tilly called you over to the hotel?"
"Yes, I do."
"Well I found something on the first scroll."
"Hon'....what was it?" Ellie's impatience almost overwhelmed her.
Alex held her even more tightly.
"According to the first Scroll, Gabrielle wrote that she and Xena are destined to be together for eternity-"
"But that's good, isn't it Alex?"
Alex held Ellie still closer and dropped a kiss on her forehead.
"If that was all of the prediction...yes, it would. But there was more... - that they were destined to be together for eternity - but that after their first death, they would be cursed to be parted prematurely by death, and to lose each other over and over again until..."
Ellie felt her heart beat speed up, and the thought of losing Alex filled her with such terror, she felt like running headlong away from it. But she swallowed hard and waited.
"....until the power of Ares is destroyed forever."
Finally telling what she had held inside for so long was a relief for Alex; but through their connection, she felt the waves of panic flowing through her soulmate. She felt the dampness of tears as Ellie cried quietly. There was no reassurance that Alex could give to stop this pain. She had no answers.
Alex lifted up Ellie's tear stained face, and forced her to meet her blue eyes.
She steadied her gaze, and whispered. "I don't know how yet, my wee girl....but we will succeed! I'll not let anyone part us in this life...trust me! You do trust me, don't you?"
Her reply was clear in the pain-filled green eyes.
"I'm so sorry I didn't tell you, Ell! I hoped it would all go away....but the second scroll just points even more clearly to Aphrodite as being central to this...and that means Ares can't be far behind."
Ellie reached for a tissue and blew her nose. Alex recognised the strength returning in her girl; the fighting spirit flowed through her again. One of the Texan's many skills was to see the fear, but never fully to give in to it. Alex hoped that Ellie knew how much her Scot loved that.
"OK Hon'...I know it all now, do I? No more surprises?"
"That's all of it, darlin'."
There was a knock on the door and the tea arrived. Alex poured them both a cup and they drank it in silence. Later, as they got ready for bed, Ellie got in first and Alex watched for any signs that her girl was knitting some grudge for her keeping a secret from her. She was relieved when the tiny hand came out to beckon her into bed, and she slid in to find Ellie quickly taking her place on her shoulder. Ellie's arm came around her waist and held her tightly.
"No one is going to take you from me, my beautiful Scot...No one!"
And they settled to sleep.
Thunderham manor was in Suffolk, about 100 miles from London. Ellie enjoyed the long drive, which took them through so many quaint English villages. She especially loved the name plates for the villages, which were painted and hung on the main road through them. They showed animals and some depicted traditional events associated with the village like Water Well dressing or cheese rolling. Some made Ellie laugh aloud and some just looked downright weird!
They stopped for lunch in one such village - called Lavenham - which boasted the oldest Guildhall in Britain. The pub had an information booklet, which explained that the Hall was Tudor - but that the history of the town went back to 1257, and that the Guildhall would have been the centre of the business life of the town. After an excellent lunch the two lovers took a few moments to visit it. The time away from their quest seemed, if only for a few moments, to take their minds off the lurking fear
Soon they were on the road again, and reached Thunderham Manor at about 2pm. It was an imposing residence, opened to the public to bring in the funds that all old families needed to maintain such estates. They paid their entrance fee and strolled through the grounds to the Elgin Marbles room. As they got closer, each could sense the tension in the other. They walked around until they recognised the part of the Council of the Gods frieze. The detail was much clearer in this copy, and they both looked to the right hand end, and found the representation of Aphrodite. She was unmistakable - and almost floated within the marble. Her hand was outstretched, as if pointing somewhere in the distance. Being taller than her girl, Alex stretched upwards - but the frieze was well above head height to prevent visitors touching it.
One of the guides notices Alex peering and came over. "Can I help you ladies?"
"Hello, I'm an archaeologist from Edinburgh. You know what we are like - can't get close enough!"
The guide looked interested. "May I ask your name, madam?"
Alex gave it, and the man's face lit up. His impeccable British accent slipped and he lapsed into broad Cockney.
"Cor - swipe me! Dr. Wallace as I live and breathe! I watched your New Year lecture from Edinburgh on the Open University. I'm really chuffed to meet you! How can I help?"
Ellie stepped back and watched. The young man was beside himself with excitement, and was obviously an amateur archaeologist. He rushed over to bring his chair from the door and offered it to Alex. She thanked him and stood on it. She could now see much more clearly, and her heart skipped a beat.
"May I take a picture?" she asked.
The guide looked around and saw they were alone. "Not s'posed to really...but seeing as how it's you..."
Alex took out her cell phone, held it up to the Aphrodite figure, and took a couple of pictures. She put the phone back in her pocket, and got down from the chair. Ellie could see that she was flushed with suppressed excitement and looked at her watch.
"Dr Wallace....we are due back at the British Museum to meet Dr. Sears at 5pm. We need to get going."
Alex nodded. "Thank you for reminding me."
She thanked the young man again and they left the room. As they got into the car, Alex roared with laughter.
"What are you??.....my Personal Assistant?"
"You'd better not do with a PA what you do with me Alex, or you'll make me angry! And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" Ellie joked.
Then Alex dug into her pocket, pulled out her cell phone, and opened the picture she had taken.
Ellie took the phone. She looked long and hard at it - and what she saw made her tremble. Peeping from behind one of the folds of Aphrodite's dress near her waist, was the clear shape of a Chakram - and she was pointing into the distance - with a Sai!
Returning to the museum, they met Tim - and showed him what they had discovered. He promised to find out from the Museum's records in what direction the Aphrodite figure was pointing; and what was likely, in ancient Athens, to have been in the line of sight from the figure's position on the Frieze.
* * * * *
Back at the hotel, Alex phoned home to Applecross and was pleased to get Hamish. She filled him in on what Tim had said about Telemon, and that he was known to be in the country.
"Be careful Alex....this man's a gangster and doesn't live by the same rules we do. I won't be happy until you two are back home safe with us."
The two women's eyes filled with tears at their brother's words, and they assured him they were fine. While they waited for room service to bring their meal, Alex logged on to the hotel's wireless network, and began to search for the known statues of Aphrodite. There were hundreds all over the world, but she discounted those sitting or lying. She began to scroll through those left, and after an hour she felt her eyes begin to sting.
Their meal arrived, and as Alex tipped the waiter, Ellie took over the job.
She was about to give up when something caught her eye. It was a hyperlink to a site called 'Aphrodite ...Help needed'. This intrigued her, and she clicked on it. She was amazed to see a photograph of a life-sized statue of Aphrodite, holding a large bowl and stirring it with a long handled spoon. The site belonged to a certain Claire Drake, who appeared to be a student of Anthropology at Cambridge University.
Alex came to sit with her girl, leaned over her shoulder, and looked at the image.
"I can't recall ever seeing a statue of Aphrodite doing anything as common as cooking! What does this kid want to know?"
"She says the statue has been in her family for years and she wants to know more about its provenance. Her home is only a few miles away....maybe she would let us take a look?"
They ate their meal. Their busy schedule was really taking it out of both of them, and they decided to call the student in the morning.
As they snuggled up in bed, each was lost in her own thoughts, and Ellie's hand was tracing lazy circles on her lover's tummy. Alex had her face buried in the soft fragrance of the blond head on her shoulder.
"Hon'...," whispered Ellie.
"Hmm..?" sounded Alex's soft reply.
"Why is this hanging over us? What did we do, to have this curse follow us through all eternity?"
Alex felt the tears moisten her shirt, as her girl wept silently.
She had no answer, but to hold her love more tightly.
Ellie moved to lie almost on top of her - as if there was too much space between them – and Alex replied, "I don't know, wee lass...but in this life we're going to put a stop to it....one way or another."
There was little sleep for either of them, then - and only their bodies lying so close together and their hearts beating in synch, eased the dreadful darkness hanging over them.
The next day after breakfast, Alex phoned Claire Drake. The young girl was delighted to hear from such a famous archaeologist, and invited them to come to have lunch with her. They accepted, and drove the short distance to her home. As they turned into the impressive entrance to the estate, they looked at each other. This was one wealthy student!
The House was huge; it appeared to be of the Georgian period, with it's beautiful symmetry of doors and windows. The sweeping drive took them between avenues of poplar trees, billowing gently in the breeze. As they pulled up to the main entrance, the door opened, and a formally dressed Butler emerged. He politely opened the passenger door of the car and handed Ellie out. He inclined his head to Alex in greeting.
"Welcome to Bards House, ladies. Miss Claire is waiting for you in the drawing room."
Alex and Ellie looked at each other, their eyes wide.
Ellie mouthed, "Bards House??" and Alex nodded.
The Butler led them through the enormous hallway, which was furnished with fine paintings and rugs. The furniture all looked expensive, with many very old pieces.
The Butler opened a large full-height door and announced, "Dr. Alex Wallace and Ms. Ellie Wallace for you, Miss Claire."
And they went in.
From a desk by the window, a tall girl stood up. She walked towards them with her hand outstretched, and shook their hands. They both noticed that she had piercing blue eyes, and saw nothing in them but delight and welcome.
"I'm so glad you came! Do come and sit down....I get so few visitors." She turned to the butler still standing at the door. "May we have some tea please, Bobby -" and then corrected herself. "- I mean, Roberts."
Roberts gave his mistress a glance unlike that which, in Alex's limited experience, should ever pass between butler and employer, and bowed as he left the room.
Claire seemed younger than her years, waved her hands around a great deal as she spoke, and tripped over her words.
"I didn't know what else to do about the statue...My grandmother died suddenly a month ago, and when my parents went to sort out her effects, they came upon a letter addressed to me. Her letter said that by now I would know what to do with the statue...but I don't have a clue and I so want to do what's right for my Giagia...She was never really well after my cousin was killed in an accident last year...She went a bit odd, after - and talked about lots of strange things. We put it down to her age, and the grief of losing Eve – that was my cousin. Then when the will was read, I discovered she had left me this house, the statue and a safe deposit box in a bank in London!"
The mention of Giagia had already spiked Alex and Ellie's interest. That was the term for 'Grandmother' they had heard the twin Boys in their dream call Xena and Gabrielle...And then to have the name Eve thrown into the mix had warning lights flashing for them both.
The door opened and the butler brought in a tray of tea.
"Is all well Miss Claire?" he asked, giving the two visitors a sideways glance.
"Yes Roberts – fine, thank you."
As he left the room the young girl continued to speak distractedly.
"Bobby was my grandma's butler here for years. I've grown up with him - he's more like an uncle than a butler. But now I am the 'Lady of the House' as he calls it, I have to be more formal with him. I'm really all at sea, with it all!" With this confession, she began to sob quietly.
Instinctively, Ellie went to the girl and hugged her. Claire allowed herself to be held and relaxed into the Texan's arms. After a few moments, she apologised, but stayed within the comfort of Ellie's arms.
"Oh what must you think of me, bleating like this in front of perfect strangers? My parents will have nothing to do with this house. They keep muttering about dark secrets! But I am over 18, and this is my choice. I must find out what it is I have to do. Can you help me?.....I feel I can trust you.....I don't know why....you seem familiar in some strange way. Oh my! You probably can't wait to get out of here! You probably think I am some demented Aristo!"
Ellie's soft Texan burr was soothing as she held the girl's hand. "It's OK Honey....relax....We will help if we can. Why don't you tell us the whole story....or as much of it as you know?"
They sat and drank the tea, as Claire went back to her childhood in the big house. She and her cousin Eve would visit Giagia and spend holidays here. Her grandmother would often take Eve off into her study for hours for her 'lessons', and leave Claire to play with Bobby in the butlers' pantry - where she learned to polish the silver and make a really good cup of tea. There was bad blood between Giagia and her son - Claire's father. Claire didn't know why, and even as the two cousins got older, the Matriarch would never say, Eve's mother would often visit her mother, and was a vital part of the family - but she had fallen ill with cancer when Eve was 15 and, sadly, died - so her daughter came to live with her grandmother full-time. Her father had left them when Eve was a baby, and no-one knew where he was.
Both Alex and Ellie felt an immediate connection to this frightened child-like woman, and were glad that they seemed to be offering her some badly needed support.
Claire had regained some composure, but still held Ellie's hand.
Alex leant forward and met the girl's eyes. "Can you show us the statue Claire? Is it here?"
"Yes, of course! I'm sorry, Dr. Wallace - here I am taking your time with my problems!"
Alex rose and crossed to where Ellie and Claire were sitting. She crouched down until she was at eye level, took the girl's other hand, and smiled.
"Claire, if we are to help you - and we are here to do just that - let's get a few things clear. I am Alex, my partner's name is Ellie, and any time you need to talk things through, we are here. OK?"
Claire's blue eyes met the equally blue eyes of the tall Scot and she nodded.
"Thank you Dr...Alex ...and you too, Ellie. I feel that some of the weight has been taken off my shoulders. You can't know what a relief it is."
She stood up and led them to the large French doors that faced one part of the huge grounds - and pointed. Their eyes followed her finger. The statue was at the bottom of the steps that led from the drawing room into the garden. Alex opened the French doors and stepped onto a wide terrace. She reached for Ellie's hand, and together they walked down the steps. As they reached the statue they stopped and stood very close together. Alex reached out and touched the cool smooth marble of the bowl that the Goddess was holding, and Ellie fingered the long spoon.
After a few moments, Alex turned to find her girl's green eyes watching her.
"What are you getting, Hon'?"
"Not sure yet my love...still processing."
"Yeah ...So am I."
They turned to see Claire standing at the top of the steps, watching them with a fond expression on her face. The two lovers collected themselves and returned to the drawing room. During their absence, Roberts had lit the fire in the impressive fireplace, and the room seemed less formal as a result. He stood up from the hearth with some difficulty, and nodded to Claire.
"Luncheon is served, Miss Claire."
Claire came to stand between Alex and Ellie and put her hands into the crook of their elbows. The gesture seemed quite natural to all three and together they walked out into the hall and through to the dining room. The room was furnished with beautiful Georgian furniture and contained a table big enough to seat twenty or more, which was laid with fine silver, bone china plates and beautiful crystal glasses.
The lunch was a simple one in such grand surroundings - a hearty soup with freshly made bread and cheese to follow. The wine was a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which complemented the meal perfectly.
The conversation was an easy mix of Claire's studies at Cambridge, Alex's archaeological digs and Ellie's convention business in the States.
They sensed a deep loneliness in the blue eyed girl who was trying so hard to be a good hostess; and they could feel that she was still struggling with the enormity of the task left to her.
They returned to the drawing room for tea and coffee; and afterwards, Claire invited them to see her grandmother's study. They walked to the far end of the ground floor of the house. Alex grinned when she thought that their Croft would fit many times into it. Claire stopped outside another imposing door and opening it, she gestured her guests to enter. They felt the atmosphere as soon as they were inside the room; -the same smell of antiquities – and something more . . . a faint hint of perfume.
Claire sniffed..."It's almost gone now...the smell is fading....but Giagia always wore lavender perfume. It was and is a smell that makes me feel somehow safe."
She walked over to the desk in front of the window and the two women followed her. It was a huge piece of furniture: well organised, with beautiful pens in a desk tidy, a filing tray and two photographs. One was of three women, all of them tall. The middle one had long silver hair that floated around her shoulders. On either side of her were two younger women. These both had long dark hair, and piercing blue eyes that matched the older woman's. The second photograph was of the same silver haired woman, standing next to the Aphrodite statue in the garden.
Claire picked up the first frame, and pointed out her grandmother, herself and her cousin Eve. The family resemblance was marked, and Claire ran her fingers over the photograph as if lost in some old memories.
Ellie broke the spell when she began to walk around the room looking at the books and ornaments that filled each shelf and surface. There were small busts of Greek philosophers and Roman Gods, standing next to books about art and philosophy. Ellie felt the spirit of a strong woman in the room.
Claire went to a small safe in the wall, twirled the tumbler and opened it. She took out a large envelope. Motioning to her guests to sit in the comfortable armchairs on either side of the fireplace, she pulled from the envelope a single sheet of paper, and handed it to Alex. Ellie came to sit on the arm of her partner's chair, and read it over her shoulder.
My Dearest Claire,
I am writing this after the sad funeral of our dear Evie. My heart is breaking, and I am so sad and sorry that I must place this burden on you. Eve was the Chosen One. For many years I trained her for her task. Now it falls to you. Keep Love safe from harm. Keep the promises our family have held so sacred for many hundreds of years. Claire, pass the light to your first born daughter and call her Eve - as it has been for generations. You and she are the hope for the world, my darling. I have every faith that you will not let me down.
"Is this all she left you?" asked Ellie gently.
"This - and the safety deposit box. I haven't had the courage to see what's in that yet. I know it sounds stupid, but I have been so confused. I wanted to find out more about the statue, because I have had several people wanting to buy it.
At this, both Alex and Ellie stiffened.
"A man called Telemon?" suggested Alex.
Claire looked at her quizzically. "Yes he is one of them. How do you know?"
Ellie looked at her girl and sighed. "The power of the Internet - huh Hon'?"
Alex explained to Claire that Telemon was an art collector who didn't much care how he got what he wanted. The girl became pale and twisted her hands anxiously.
"Oh Alex, what have I done? I've put Love at risk by posting her picture on my website - haven't I?"
The tall Scot cocked an eyebrow in question: "Love?"
"Yes - that's what we have always called the statue, just . . . Love. What am I going to do? Do you think he will try to take her from me?"
"With Telemon, all things are possible. It may be a good idea to bring her into the house and put her under lock and key."
The three women and Roberts spent the next hour carefully wrapping the statue in layers of protective cloth. The statue was surprisingly light for a marble; and between them, they managed to get it into the house and into a cupboard off the hallway.
Claire was a little happier when they had finished. By now the light was fading and Alex and Ellie needed to return to London. At this, Claire looked down and went very quiet.
Ellie put her arm around her. "What is it, Honey?"
"Nothing really - it's just . . . been so wonderful to have you here. I wish you would stay here while we try to solve this mystery."
Then, realising that she was making a big assumption, Claire returned to stuttering and waving her hands around. "So sorry - why would you want to? I mean . . . it's a bit of a mausoleum isn't it? Your hotel is probably. . ."
During her embarrassment, Alex and Ellie had exchanged knowing glances - and Ellie stopped the girl's rambling.
"Claire, we'd love to stay here with you. We'll go back to London and check out of our hotel. We'll be back tomorrow. OK with you?"
Relieved and delighted, the blue eyed girl just threw her arms around Ellie's neck and hugged her.
On their way back to London, the two lovers compared notes. They agreed that the statue was the key to the mystery. Telemon's interest merely confirmed it for them. They knew that they had to help Claire with her legacy, and felt a strange bond with the young woman that neither could fully explain.
The next hurdle was to help Claire in opening the Pandora's Box in the London bank. They both hoped it would reveal the task with which the poor lass had been charged by her grandmother.
When they reached their hotel, Alex made a call to Applecross and chatted with Uncle J. Then she phoned Alan Stimpson in Edinburgh. She filled him in on the details of the statue, and ensured he knew that Telemon was in the country. She also requested that he courier a piece of equipment to her.
When Alex had finished the conversation, she went into the bathroom - where she discovered her wee lass was enjoying a long soak. She took the proffered soapy sponge and began to wash Ellie's back.
"Hmmm . . . I knew there was a reason I keep you around, Big Girl! You give the best back rubs."
"Oh really, my lovely - and to whom am I being compared!"
"Pick a lifetime - any lifetime Hon'!" And she received a very long kiss for her cheek.
The next day, they checked out of the hotel and returned to Bards House. Claire was anxiously waiting their return, and greeted them both with a hug. Roberts had begun to thaw a little towards the two guests and even smiled at them - once. He took their bags and led them up to their room. It was an enormous space, and it was dominated by a four-poster bed with rich curtains around it. The French doors led out onto a balcony, from which they had a full 180-degree view across the estate.
Alex chuckled. "Hope you don't get too used to this, my lovely."
Ellie moved to put her arms around Alex's waist. "Hon', I love our Croft and Applecross. I wouldn't want to live somewhere like this - although I guess I could get used to a butler!" and she shrieked as Alex's long fingers found her ticklish spot.
By the time they returned to the hall, Roberts had donned a chauffeur uniform and ushered them outside, where they found a classic Rolls Royce waiting! Ellie stifled a giggle, and walked over to the car as if she was used to it. Roberts held the door for her and gave a small bow. Claire was already inside the car and Alex slid in beside Ellie. Bobby got in behind the wheel, started the ignition, and the car drew smoothly away down the drive on its journey to London.
When they reached the bank, Claire was greeted by a grey-haired official in a very expensive suit, who showed them to a small room. Walking to the corner, where there was a hatch, he placed a key from his pocket in one of the two keyholes. He indicated the other keyhole. Claire started - and as if waking from a dream, she took a similar key from her bag, and put it into the other keyhole. There was a click, and some kind of mechanism behind the hatch activated. A few seconds later the hatch opened, and the man withdrew a large safety deposit box. He took it to the table and again indicated that the two keys should be used. When he heard the lock on the box click open, he nodded to the young woman and went to the door.
"When you have finished, Miss Drake, please ring this bell, and I will come to replace the box in our vault."
Alex sensed that the young woman was struggling, and went to her side.
"OK? Shall we do this?"
Claire looked into the blue eyes of the Scot and took a deep breath. She opened the lid of the steel container - and began to remove its contents.
There was a large envelope, another safety deposit box key on a chain, and what looked like some kind of huge journal or family bible, which was leather bound and dry with age. The final thing was a video tape, which appeared to be new with a label on the spine dated October 2006.
It was too much to take in at once, so Alex suggested that they should take the finds back to Bards House, where they could study them in more comfort. Claire agreed and rang the bell. The same official reappeared; and when they told him of their intentions, he left again - only to return a few moments later with a large briefcase. They placed the artefacts inside it. Then he gave Alex the key, she locked the case, and gave the key to Claire. The safety deposit box was returned to the vault, and the three women left the bank. A quick call on Claire's cell phone brought Roberts back with the Rolls, and they made their way out of the busy streets of London to the quiet of the countryside. Throughout the journey, Claire kept the briefcase on her lap and chewed her lip nervously.
After a quick cup of tea and a sandwich, they went into the study and Claire unlocked the case. She took out the contents and ran her hands nervously through her black hair.
"I have no idea where to start Alex! Would you do it . . . please?"
Alex put a steadying hand on the girl's shoulder and glanced at her soulmate.
"Let's see the tape first shall we? It seems to be the most recent addition."
Claire nodded and went to the cabinet in the corner, opening the mahogany doors to reveal a television - and below it - a VCR. She switched on both machines and loaded the tape into the machine. The three women sat and waited, as Claire keyed in the remote control. There were a few clicks and crackles; then a picture appeared; - the silver haired woman from the framed photos on the desk.
Claire put her hand to her mouth and gasped. "Giagia!"
She took hold of Ellie's hand and gulped. The woman appeared to be positioning some sort of video camera; then finally she settled and began to speak. Her voice was deep and impeccably British.
"Hello, my darling...I am so sorry that this is necessary. When Evie was killed, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to teach you all you need to know....and I know that my life is ebbing away. So, my love, this is the best I can do to help you.
For many, many generations, the first-born women of this family have been entrusted with a secret. It is a sacred trust and holds its own dangers. I urge you, child, to find support for your work...you will know who to trust when that time comes. We always have, over these hundreds of years...and I have faith that you will too."
Claire clicked the pause button on the video and looked at her two companions.
"She was right....as soon as I met you two, I knew that we were destined to be important to each other. There have always been some spooky things about the women in this family. I though it had passed me by....until now." Her eyes filled with tears and yet, through them, she smiled first at Ellie and then at Alex.
They nodded encouragingly, and she returned the video to play mode.
"Your task is to guard two precious things: Love and the Scrolls. You have always known of Love, but the Scrolls are revealed only to the first-born woman, and every third generation first-born must ensure that the scrolls are copied and made safe for another three generations. It was Evie's job - and my privilege to guide her....but she is lost to us now, and so it becomes your task. The scrolls are the work of a Bard from millennia ago - and we are her descendants. Her stories tell us that our task is to keep the world safe from the ravages that might result, if Love falls into the wrong hands.
"The Scrolls are hidden in the family crypt, in the coffin of Eve of Worcester - dated 1745. Bobby will show you how to retrieve them. You must copy them onto new scrolls, and return them to the coffin. It must then be resealed, and made airtight.
"I am so tired now, Claire . . .I hope that I have given you all that you need to fulfil this task, and I pray to Aphrodite to bring you the help and support you will need to bear this burden, and to keep you safe from those who have tried for millennia to uncover the secret we guard.. . Goodbye my darling....until we meet again..."
No-one moved as the picture flickered and then disappeared. Tears streamed down Ellie and Claire's faces, and Alex felt her throat tighten too.
Just then, Roberts knocked on the door and entered. He had a silver tray in his hand with a business card on it. He brought the card to Claire. She read it, and stiffened. She handed it to Alex, whose face darkened as she read the name:
'Rase Telemon. Art Conservator'
Claire was pale and kept her eyes fixed on Alex. "What do I do?"
"If he knows we are here, it will make him more suspicious than ever.....If you refuse to meet him, he'll know you have been warned. There's no alternative, Claire - you are going to have to face him on your own."
Ellie's hand was quickly there to steady the child as she began to tremble.
"You can do this, Honey. You come from a whole bunch of strong women. You have that strength inside you. We'll be here, and if you call...we will come...no matter what...OK?"
Claire looked into the green eyes and knew that what Ellie said was true. Her head moved in an almost imperceptible nod and she stood up. Visibly straightening her shoulders, she took a deep breath and went to the door - where she turned and looked back. Alex and Ellie stood side by side, and they both smiled at her.
Roberts was waiting for her in the hallway. "Careful Claire . . . Just be polite and refuse any offer he might make."
She nodded and went into the drawing room, to see the tall dark imposing figure standing near the window. Telemon came towards her, his hand outstretched, and he leant over her hand to kiss it. She tried to extract her hand from his, but he continued to hold it - until she fixed him with a steely glare. He released her hand and backed off a step or two.
"Miss Drake . . . How good of you to see me."
"How may I help you Mr ...um..." she glanced at his card . . ."Telemon?"
"I have noticed your Internet site. I am interested in purchasing the statue of Aphrodite. It would complete a very important collection I am putting together."
Claire went to stand next to the fireplace and leant against it. She tried to look relaxed, but in truth she needed the support.
"I am so sorry to have wasted your time, Mr Telemon . . . but the statue is not for sale for any price."
She saw the dark shadow pass over the tall man's face, as he rubbed his fingers over his sculpted beard.
"My dear Ms. Drake - there is always a price for everything." His tone was light, but she sensed the underlying menace.
"Not in this case, Mr Telemon. Not for sale means just that. And now if you will forgive me, I have some phone calls to make."
She extended her hand to shake his and she felt him bristle at the dismissal, but he kept his tone level and measured.
"If you should reconsider, please contact me."
"That will not happen Mr Telemon - but I thank you for your interest. Roberts will show you out."
At that moment Bobby - who had been listening at the door – entered, and indicated the way out. Telemon took one last look at the young girl and swept past her. She could feel the negative energy of the man, and when he had gone, she shivered. Claire remained still until she heard the front door close. Then she groped her way to the chair and collapsed into it. Alex and Ellie came in then, from the adjoining room, where they had been waiting, and listening.
"Well done, Claire! Your Giagia would be so proud of you! We could hear most of it through the wall." Ellie's voice was soft and gentle.
An hour or so later, Claire had recovered sufficiently to return to the examination of the contents of the safety deposit box. The large leather bound book was a family bible, with the names of generations of Claire's family written in it. The book was very old; its first entry was for 1685 and documented the birth of Eve, first daughter of Titus and Eve Worcester. Alex held the book with reverence, and turned the fragile pages with great care. They were written in beautiful copperplate script, and finished with the birth of Eve in 1986 and Claire in 1987. Each first-born girl of each generation was called Eve - although the surnames changed as they married and took the names of their husbands.
Alex put the book down carefully, and then handed the large envelope to Claire - who opened it and drew out a sheaf of papers. They were letters - written by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her - to their daughters, through the generations. Each one was filled with the hopes and dreams and fears for their task. The commitment to their sacred trust was clear to see, - and the three women felt privileged to read their words. The young girl shed silent tears as she read the letters and when she had finished; she put them carefully back into the envelope, and locked it in the safe with the book.
She turned to Alex and Ellie. "That's enough for today. I am exhausted, and I don't know about you - but I could do with a drink!"
The three women returned to the drawing room, and Claire poured them all a glass of wine. Then they sat by the fire, and discussed what they had found.
The next day, Roberts led the three women through the grounds to a large mausoleum. He opened it with a huge brass key and they all went in. The familiar smell hit them, and when he had turned a switch by the door, the hall was filled with light. He took them to one of the many rooms, and showed them the stone sarcophagus of Eve of Worcester. In the light, they could see that the lid was sealed down with wax.
Roberts took a chisel from his apron and began to clean it away. The wax was quite hard, but eventually he and Alex were able to shift the stone lid. There were no bones or remains inside the sarcophagus, but it did hold a large steel container - which they then lifted out.
"These are the scrolls, Claire." whispered Bobby - with no pretence of servility - and he touched her arm. "Now the real work begins for you."
They took the container back to the house, and using the second key from the bank, Claire opened it. Inside there were about two dozen rolled scrolls, each fastened with a piece of ribbon.
Ellie looked at Claire. May I open one?"
The blond Texan reverently picked up one of the scrolls, untied the ribbon and unrolled it. It was covered in the familiar script of ancient Greece, although it appeared to have been written with a modern fountain pen and ink. The scrolls were yellowed and fragile with age and the ink was faded, but Ellie immediately began to recognise some of the symbols and the patterns of words.
Bobby was standing with his arm around the young girl's shoulders. She looked at him and smiled weakly.
"You have to copy them out again Claire, as the women of this family have done for generations. My family has served this family as butlers for 200 years, and I am proud to be here to help you."
"Is there a translation, Bobby?" Alex asked.
He smiled at her use of his nickname. "No Alex - that has never been the task. The Eves just copy them, and return them to the sarcophagus."
"Do you think it would be alright if Ellie and I took a look?"
"I would like to hear the scrolls, Bobby. I think we should." murmured Claire.
The elderly man smiled and nodded. "I'll put the kettle on. I suppose you ladies need some scroll paper and the registrars' ink." He noted their curious expressions, and explained. "Registrars who make record of births, deaths and marriages now use a special indelible ink that doesn't fade. It will enable records to be kept for hundreds of years. It should work for the Gabrielle Scrolls too."
He noted the sharp intake of breath from both the tall Scot and her blond partner at the mention of the name. "Have you heard of the scrolls?"
"No...but we have heard of the Bard." Alex said, with her eyes fixed on the tear-filled eyes of her partner. She opened her arms, and Ellie moved into them.
Claire and Bobby slipped from the room and left the lovers to their private moment.
As they sat drinking their tea, Alex's cell phone rang and she answered. It was Tim, calling from the British Museum. Alex put the phone on speaker setting and so the others could hear him.
"Word from the Art Fraud Squad is the Telemon has gathered a team around him. He's up to something, Alex. He is under surveillance - but he seems to be able to appear and disappear at will. It's like tracking a shadow....Oh, and I've got the information from the Hephaestus temple you wanted."
"OK Tim - thanks for the info! Has anything come down from Scotland for me yet?"
"Yes...I was just going to mention it. A package arrived for you from Alan Stimpson. Will you collect it?"
Alex responded "I'd like to check out the Aphrodite stuff from the Temple of Hephaestus, if I may, Tim - so I'll come to the museum tomorrow. See you about 10am?"
Tim agreed to this, and Alex rang off.
Ellie spoke." Hon', I'd like to stay here and help Claire....OK by you...?"
"Of course Ellie - you're getting to be more of an expert on this Greek script than I am!"
"Do you think you can stay out of trouble without me?" the blond woman teased her girl.
"The question is more about you staying out of trouble - Cowgirl!" They all laughed, as Alex swatted her lover on her behind and hugged her.
Alex kissed Ellie goodbye in the privacy of their room, and made her promise to remember to eat and drink while translating the scrolls. Alex knew that once the Texan terrier got into a task, her single-mindedness took over and everything else went out of the window. Ellie promised, and ran her hands down her tall lover's high cheekbones, and smiled at her.
"Just you worry about taking care of my love." She whispered, and pointed at the tall Celt's chest.
Both Ellie and Claire waved her off, and watched as she disappeared down the drive.
Neither noticed the shady figures hiding in the bushes. . .
They had decided to work in the drawing room, as the light was better there. Ellie was sitting on the floor with a pencil and pad of paper, and the laptop; while Claire sat at the table copying one of the scrolls. They had managed to put them in some kind of order, based on what Ellie decided was an alpha - numeric code at the top of each scroll.
Ellie had Alex's laptop open. It was loaded with the files of their translations of the two scrolls from the Warrior Princess' tomb. She was making good progress, and had discovered that this scroll told the story of how Ares, God of War, had lost his powers when he saved Gabrielle and the first Eve from dying. There was something about the Olympian Gods, and she thought she had found the name Athena.
The next part was confusing for her, and some of the symbols were unfamiliar. She searched the Internet and got some help, but the best she could come up with was that somehow, Eve was thought to be the slayer ...or destroyer of the Olympian Gods... Ellie didn't know if these stories were true – or if they were from the imagination of the Bard of Poteidaia, but she had a vague sense of familiarity with the rhythm of the words. The translation was much simpler than the rolled scrolls from the pot; and, for the most part, she made rapid progress. Claire was hunched over the table, concentrating on copying the symbols accurately from her scroll onto the new paper. Bobby was coming in and out with glasses of juice and plates of biscuits to keep them going. Ellie smiled and thought she felt Alex's hand in this!
Ellie moved onto a second scroll, and her heart missed a beat when she read how Xena had fought the Nordic God Odin for the 'golden apples' and returned the god- like powers to both Ares and Aphrodite. Was this the repayment of the debt she owed Ares? Still, it seemed to Ellie that to restore the powers to the God of War was an odd thing to do...there had to be more to it. She continued to work on the scrolls, where she found, down at the bottom and almost lost in the part of the scroll tucked into the roller, a short phrase:
'Without war there can be no love....'
She frowned as she tried to make sense of this.
* * * * *
Alex was meeting with Tim. He had found out that the figure from the frieze would have been pointing to the outer courtyard of the Temple of Hephaestus. When she heard this, Alex decided to share what she knew with him.
She explained that the Statue of Love at Bards House may have been the one that was recorded as being in the temple of the God of the forge and metalworking. The fact that the frieze figure was wearing the chakram and pointing with a sai, suggested that there was a connection between the weapons and Aphrodite, and hence, to the Bard House statue. The final clue was the fact that Telemon was interested in it.
Tim agreed to continue to keep in touch with the police. As she left, he handed her the package. She thanked him and returned to her car. She was looking forward to seeing her girl....even a few hours apart left her feeling uneasy. In fact, over the last few minutes, she had been feeling almost sick with it - and reached out through their connection. She was left feeling even more distracted, as she couldn't sense her lover. She wondered if the distance was a factor, so she drove carefully but impatiently through the city traffic, until she could gun the car engine and travel more quickly.
The closer she got to Bards House, the stronger the feeling of nausea became - until she skidded to a halt on the gravel drive. Her heart sank as she saw the flashing blue lights of the police and ambulance. She threw herself from the car, and when a policeman tried to stop her, she thrust him aside and ran into the house, calling -
"ELLIE...where are you?"
She ran into the drawing room, to find Claire sitting with Bobby - the elderly man's head was bandaged, and the young girl was pale as a ghost.
"Where's Ellie!" Her dread increased as she saw Claire's tear-stained face.
"Alex....they took her and the laptop.....there was nothing we could do! They smashed through the French doors. Ellie tried to fight them off, but one of them came behind her and knocked her out. One of them took her - the other grabbed the laptop and they were gone...Oh Alex I am so sorry ....its all my fault!" she wailed, and the child collapsed again into Bobby's arms.
Alex stood in the middle of the room - every nerve ending was screaming at her, and she ran her hands through her thick auburn hair and began to pace up and down.
The policemen she had pushed aside ran into the room with his baton extended and held in the attack position. He yelled at her.
"Police....down on the floor.....NOW!"
Alex didn't even hear him, her grief was so strong. She was only vaguely aware of a slight figure throwing itself between the uniformed man and Alex.
"No! Stop! This is Dr. Alex Wallace! I told you about her!" Claire held her hands up to placate the angry man.
Just then a woman in a tailored trouser suit entered the room; she wore a Police ID over the pocket of the jacket. "I'm Detective Inspector Kate Dunlop. What the hell is going on, Constable?"
"Sorry Guv, she took me by surprise and just ran in here," he answered his superior anxiously.
Claire had her arms around Alex - who was still standing in the middle of the room with a glazed expression on her face." This is Dr. Alex Wallace, Detective Inspector."
The woman approached them, and spoke. "I've only just arrived....Can you tell me what has happened here?"
Claire explained what had occurred - how the men had taken Ellie Wallace.
The Inspector gazed at Alex with gentle eyes. "Ellie is your sister?"
Alex suddenly awoke from her daze and looked at the woman with steely blue eyes.
"No.....she is my Civil Partner, Inspector...and I know exactly who has taken her." Her grief had now morphed into fury as it all became clear. "It's that bastard Rase Telemon."
Fifteen minutes later all of the facts were presented, and Alex had put Inspector Kate Dunlop in touch with Tim at the British Museum. She was involved in a conference call with him and the Art Fraud Squad, as Alex paced the drawing room. Her senses were overloaded with confusions of thoughts, feelings and fears, and she knew that if she was to be any use to her love, she had to get some focus and lock away the feelings of loss and dread that threatened to overcome her.
The tall Scot shook her head, took a deep breath and went out onto the terrace. She stood with her feet apart and her hands at shoulder height as struggled do get the mental control she needed for T'ai Chi, she shut out all thoughts from her mind and concentrated on her breathing. In just a few moments she felt her heart rate fall, she completed the cycle went to sit on the top step of the flight leading to the garden. She felt a body come to sit by her and turned to see to Claire looking at her.
"Alex....what can I do? Just tell me and whatever it takes ...."
Alex put her arm around the young woman shoulders. "This isn't your fault Claire. This thing is much bigger than you or me or Ellie..." she almost choked as she spoke her soul mate's name.
With the young girl still close, Alex took out her cell phone and speed-dialled. Two rings later, she heard Hamish's voice. She could barely speak, but just said his name. . . . "Hamish . . ."
"Alex...what is it?" they could both hear the panic in his voice
Alex managed to explain what had happened, and heard her brother gather himself.
"OK Alex! Donald and I will fly down later today. It's an hour to Inverness and then an hour flight to Gatwick...We'll be with you by tonight. Try not to worry Alex . . . our Ellie is tough! She'll be fine - and remember, if it is Telemon....he wants something from you. That's why he has taken our wee one. He won't risk hurting her. Try to hold onto that, Sis. We're coming.."
Alex couldn't speak for the tears running down her face, and Claire took the phone.
"Hamish, this is Claire Drake...." And she gave him the address and phone number of Bard House.
"Thanks Claire....take good care of Alex. This is going to be incredibly hard for her."
And he rang off with her assurances given.
Whilst Alex's first thought was to drive off and just go look for her girl, she knew this was pointless. The local police, the Art Fraud Squad and the London Metropolitan Police Department were all on the case, and what they needed from Alex were the facts and the evidence she and Ellie and Claire had gathered.
As she sat with Kate Dunlop, she answered all the questions asked. When a detail was missing from her memory, she cursed the loss of the laptop. Suddenly, she slapped herself on the forehead and ran from the room. Kate and Claire looked after her anxiously, but she soon returned with the backup data disk she and Ellie had made before leaving the Croft. The three women went into the study and brought up the information on the desktop. Then Alex's cell phone rang, she answered it and visibly paled as she heard the dark, deep voice of Rase Telemon.
"Hello Dr Wallace, how are you today?" She flicked the phone onto speaker and pointed at it. Kate immediately got up and dialled her own phone.
"Where is she, you evil bastard? If you hurt her....!"
He interrupted her. "I think I might be better placed to make the threats - don't you, Alex? So just listen to me..."
"Not until I speak to Ellie - right now!" she growled.
There was a pause, and she heard the faltering drawl of her Soulmate. Her heart almost broke with pain as she sensed the fear.
"Hon'? I'm alright ...I've got a sore head, but other than that I'm fine...I love you."
The phone was snatched away, and Telemon spoke again. "So Wallace, how long did you think you could keep this from me? I've been watching you for the last few days. You underestimated me - big mistake! So are we going to discuss the deal?"
"What do you want?" Alex asked, fighting to keep her voice steady.
"The whereabouts of the Chakram and the Sais from the Warriors tomb – that is all. You give me the GPS co-ordinates, and I will release your....wife." The last word was delivered heavy with contempt, and Alex wished she could reach down the phone and rip his heart out. She felt a dark force rising in her, and longed to release its power; but despite the ache in her soul, she knew her job was to remain cool and calm if she was to protect her lover from this evil man.
"I will give you three hours to get the information I need. Oh - and don't try to stall me - I know you know where the real tomb is." The line went dead, as he hung up.
Alex felt her kegs buckle under her, and she was grateful for Claire's support. Kate returned to the room, her face guarded.
"We got a partial fix on the call. He is clever - he knew just how long it would take to find him. The best we can do is somewhere in the Docklands. The Met are on their way. Don't worry, Dr. Wallace, they will go softly, softly. They are used to dealing with terrorists and kidnappers."
Alex paced like a caged tiger until her eye fell on the pad with her girls handwriting on it. She picked it up and began to read the translations of the scrolls. Her brow furrowed as she battled to make sense of what she was reading. Godly powers lost and returned.....twilights of Olympian Gods - it all swirled around her, and she felt her head swim. She needed some time alone to think this through, and to try to contact Ellie through their link, so she excused herself and went to their room. She sat on the bed and absentmindedly picked up Ellie's night clothes. She held them to her face and allowed the tears to flow; sobbing for fear of losing the other half of her soul...again. She lay on the bed, put her head on Ellie's pillow, and sensed the echo of her.
Then she was aware of someone else in the room and turned over. Affie Telemon was sitting on the end of the bed - dressed in her trademark pink - and gazing at Alex with a sad expression.
"Hi – how are you doing, Warrior babe?"
Alex sat up, not knowing whether to hit her or hug her.
"Are you here to help?" was all she said.
"Of course I am, Alex...but Rase can't know or he'll start looking too closely at Love...and then we will be in serious trouble...."
"Can you tell me where Ellie is?"
"Only from one minute to another. He is moving her around, while he's waiting to hear from you."
"Can he see what I am doing....or read my thoughts?"
"Not when I am blocking him! And trust me, Honey - I am so totally blocking him! Now listen up, sweetie. 'cos I have a plan. It will mean you giving him the GPS co-ordinates." She held up her hand as Alex began to interrupt.
"Wait! Hear me out. When Xena gave him and me our powers back in the Norse lands, she made sure that his power needed to be channelled through me. I can control him – 'cos ya know love beats war kinda stuff. But if he can reunite the Chaks and Sais - I'm out of the picture. The good side is, he needs both parts of the Chakram and both Sais to get back his full powers. Xena and Gabby knew this, and that's why they separated the round killing thing and those weird daggers, and that's why the Eves have kept the secret so long. One thing I will promise you, oh Scottish Amazon mine, is that I will move heaven and earth, and kick his butt from here to Olympus, if he tries to disturb our two girls. So what do you think? Deal?"
Alex nodded and sighed. Affie moved to sit next to her on the bed and outlined her plan. It made sense to Alex and she placed her hand on the other woman's arm to thank her. Then she rubbed her hands over her eyes, and when she looked again, Affie was gone - and only the slightest twinkle of light remained, where Alex was sure she had been.
A knock came at the door and Alex opened it. Claire stood outside with a steaming cup of tea.
"I thought you could use this. You've been asleep for a couple of hours. Feel any better?"
Alex looked at her watch - right enough, she had left the drawing room over two hours ago. She took the tea and sipped it as she walked back down to the drawing room. Bobby had prepared some sandwiches, and although Alex's stomach rolled at the thought, she knew she had to eat - and she forced them down.
They heard a car pull up in the drive. Thirty seconds later, Alex was wrapped in the arms of Hamish and Donald, who held her so tightly she could barely breathe. The safety she felt in their hug meant more than words could ever say, and she knew that now she could share some of the worry.
Hamish pulled away and held her face in his hands. He saw the strain in it and made her meet his eyes. "Alex, what has he asked for?"
Kate Dunlop came over from the other side of the room - where she had waited, giving the family some time - and introduced herself. Then she answered Hamish's question.
"He wants the co-ordinates of the Tomb Alex and Ellie were excavating last year."
The Boys and Alex exchanged looks. Donald held his sister's hand, and looked into her sad eyes.
"Alex, nothing is more important then Ellie. 2000-year-old anythings are not worth a hair on her head!"
"I know that Don....there's no question...I've already made up my mind to give them to him. He's due to phone any minute now."
As she spoke her cell phone rang.
"Well, Wallace?" His voice was smug, and the hairs on the back of Alex's neck stood up.
"I will meet you face to face and then, when I can see Ellie is OK....you have my word that I will give to the data you want." She growled in a tone that would brook no argument or negotiation.
"Good choice Alex, your word has always been good enough for me in the past. Millennium Dome - 8.30 this evening. Come alone."
Alex didn't wanted to risk jeopardizing Ellie's safety, but the Boys and Kate convinced her that Telemon could not be trusted, and they drew up a plan. The Met police crack anti-terrorist team was deployed to the Dome, and by 6.00 pm, it was confirmed that they were in position. They couldn't risk any kind of back-up vehicle or helicopter surveillance, so Alex was to drive to London with the Boys - hidden in the back seat of the Rolls. They each carried a tracking device, and Kate was following a sensible distance behind with the Art fraud team and their equipment, to monitor their position. Alex and the Boys were also fitted with 'in-ear' receiver transmitters, which would enable them to receive and send messages to their handlers. One thing that they all agreed on was that capturing Telemon was secondary to getting Ellie back safely.
Before they left, Alex went to stand outside on the terrace. She reached down inside herself. All day an ache had nagged at her, but it was manageable, and she was reassured that Ellie was scared but not in terror. She stood still and sent out her thoughts. She imagined her beautiful girl standing in front of her. She traced the contours of her face in her mind. She savoured the touch of her lips, and she fixed her mind on the green pools of her eyes. She drank in her lover like a draft of life- giving water; and at the same time, allowed her love for her girl to wash over her like a warm breeze.
"I love you, my Ellie....I am coming for you......trust me, my love.....we will be together soon....Hold on to me."
She willed her thoughts to her Soulmate, and the ache in her gut eased a little.
She sensed a presence behind her, and turned her head to see Donald standing at the door.
"It's time Sis. Are you OK?" He came to put his arms around her.
She sank into his chest and barely whispered. "I will be Don, when I get her back....until then...everything is in limbo."
He squeezed her tightly in reply.
As they came back into the drawing room, Alex saw Claire hunched over in a chair by the fire - her misery palpable. Alex's heart went out to her, despite her own feelings. She felt better knowing she was doing something. To have to sit and wait as Claire was waiting - was the worst kind of torture.
Alex hunkered down in front of her, and lifted her chin with her hand. The blue eyes that looked back at her were filled with so much pain, that Alex pulled her into a hug. The young girl initially stiffened, and then just sank into Alex's arms and whispered,
"I will pray to Aphrodite with everything I have to help you get her back, Alex. If I could change places with her, I would!"
"I know - and you are not to blame for this. Remember that."
Claire's only response was a weak smile.
Kate checked out that the trackers and the ear pieces were working and that their signals were being received by the equipment in the van. She made a phone call to the Met co-ordinator and was reassured that all that could be done had been done.
They all mounted their respective vehicles and drove away from Bard House, leaving Bobby and Claire standing at the door.
The journey to the Millennium Dome was uneventful, and Alex was kept informed by short messages in her ear piece. She pulled into the car park of the now defunct Dome and said quietly, "I'm here Boys....you all set?"
Hamish whispered, "Yep Alex...we're right behind you. If he tries anything, we'll be beside you in a heartbeat."
Alex unfolded herself from the vintage car and shut the door. She was wearing a flack jacket under a short black leather coat, over black jeans. She had a Police baton tucked into her waistband, in the small of her back, but kept her hands in full view.
She walked to the centre of the empty car park and turned slowly in a circle.
"Bring her to me Telemon....."
She continued to turn in a slow circle and the ear piece crackled into life.
"Coming in at your 9 o' clock Alex, behind the hoarding," she heard Kate's voice, but continued to turn slowly in a circle. When she had completed the 360 degree turn, she stopped with the hoarding in her peripheral vision.
"Glad to see you Alex."
She heard the deep voice and turned towards it. Her heart flipped as she saw the small form of her soulmate standing next to the big dark man.
"Darlin' - you OK?" she called, and did not care that her voice trembled.
Ellie's voice came back - weak, but firm: "better for seeing you, Hon'."
Telemon still held her by the arms, and Alex felt her anger rise as she saw that her girl's hands were tied.
"Untie her Telemon....right now!" She clenched her hands into tight fists and willed herself to be calm.
The man shrugged his shoulders and, taking a knife from his belt, flicked open a 6- inch blade, and sliced through Ellie's bonds.
"OK, Alex....the GPS co-ordinates."
"Not until she is over here with me."
"Do you think I am stupid?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?
She heard him laugh. "OK....I set her off to walk over to you, and when she is half way you give me the data. If you choose to double cross me. . ." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small revolver. He waved it at Alex, and his intention was clear.
Alex nodded and fixed her eyes on her love and opened her arms to her.
"Come to me, love...slowly..."
Ellie began to move away from the tall dark figure.
After ten paces his voice rang out, and told Ellie to stop. "Now your part of the bargain, Wallace - and don't try to fool me! If you give me the wrong data, I will be back for her!"
Alex spoke clearly. "It's 37. 53. 156."
Telemon took a handheld PDA from his pocket, and keyed in the numbers, his lips curled in a sardonic sneer. "OK....you can have the irritating blond back..."
Alex beckoned Ellie towards her. As she began to walk, a faint movement beyond her translated into Telemon reversing the knife - as if to throw it.
In a flash Alex cried out. "Down, Ellie!!"
Alex drew the baton from her waistband. In one movement she had extended it and sent it in a spinning arc towards his raised hand. The baton whipped away the knife and he held his wrist on impact.
Alex felt her fury rise and she called out. "This isn't over, Telemon! You've made a big mistake, and you are going to regret it."
The dark figure turned to leave and waved a hand. "Yeah, yeah - whatever..."
Alex ran towards her girl, and as they met, she swept her into her arms. Her earpiece came to life again and she heard Kate call. "GO! GO! GO!"
After that nothing mattered but the feel of the body in her arms. She held the tiny blond off the floor and they clung together. Alex was aware of the car door opening behind her and she felt two bodies fly past her and go after Telemon. Police cars screamed into the car park with blue and twos flashing and sirens blaring, but the two women were aware only of each other.
Ellie murmured over and over..."I knew you'd come....I knew you'd come..."
Alex cradled her head and crooned. "It's alright, darlin'...I've got you...I've got you...shhhh."
It seemed like a lifetime, but it was only a few seconds later that they felt two pairs of arms circle them both, and they pulled away to find Donald and Hamish with them.
Ellie reached out and kissed them both, and then looked from one set of moist eyes to another, and she managed to smile.
"Hey Bro's, what brings you to the land of the Sassenachs?"
They both smiled, and Hamish whispered. "Someone messed with our family. They don't get away with that."
It became clear - once the chaos had settled - that Telemon had done just that. Kate was talking to the head of the Met team – who had been positioned around the dome - and she was not pleased. Her body language was stiff and her irritation was radiating from her like spines on a hedgehog.
"What do you mean, he disappeared? Talk sense man, what did he do...dematerialise?"
She threw her hands up and stalked over to the Wallace family. Ellie was still firmly held in her girl's arms and the two men formed a protective wall around them. As Kate approached, Alex smiled and introduced her to Ellie.
"Glad you are OK Ellie. We have an ambulance standing by to take you to hospital for a checkup. I'll arrange for one of my men to drive the Rolls to St Thomas' for you. You'll have a police escort all the way, and I have stationed two uniforms at the hospital. I will debrief and then see you there."
Ellie was about to argue, when she felt the rush of emotion from her partner. She just nodded, and allowed herself to be escorted to the waiting vehicle.
The family all got into the ambulance with the waiting paramedic and it moved off, accompanied by two police cars - one in front and one behind - each containing armed officers.
An hour later, apart from a mild concussion and an egg shaped lump on her head, Ellie was given a clean bill of health. Kate made sure they had an escort back to the country and told them she would see them tomorrow. She and the Met team were sealing off the docks and airports in an attempt to catch the kidnapper. They all returned to Bards House with Donald driving the vintage Rolls. Claire and Bobby were waiting for them, and immediately Ellie was wrapped up in Claire's arms. She hugged the frightened girl back.
"I'm so sorry, Ellie. Are you alright?"
Ellie looked at her tall Scot and smiled. "I am now, Claire."
Bobby had made some sandwiches and a pot of tea - the great British salve for all crises - and they all went to sit in the drawing room. Hamish phoned Applecross and let a very worried J and Jeannie know that Ellie was safe. Alex took the phone from him and reassured Uncle J that Ellie was safely cradled on her lap, and Ellie spoke to him briefly, too - but as the tears began to fall, Alex took the phone back. She asked J to send down some things from the Croft, and then ended the call.
"We'll talk to you tomorrow Uncle J, I think Ellie needs some sleep now."
"Aye Lassie, I don't doubt she does. And you too Alex...we love you both very much."
Alex felt the sting of tears at the back of her eye. She had always known that she was loved by the big Scotsman, but it was rare to hear him say it.
"We love you both....give Jeannie a hug from us." And she clicked the phone off.
It was by now close to midnight. After a hot drink, Alex looked at her beautiful girl and wanted nothing more than to be cuddled up in bed with her. Ellie felt her girl's gaze and nodded her agreement. Alex stood up and took Ellie's hand. They kissed the Boys goodnight, and raised a hand to Claire and Bobby.
In their room, they stood and clung to each other. Alex felt the bone tiredness coming from her girl, and took her into the bathroom, where she ran a hot bath and slid Ellie in. Throughout all of this, Ellie's eyes did not leave her girl. She drank in everything about her that had kept her going after she woke up in the dark, damp warehouse in the docklands. Her broad shoulders, the way the light caught the copper in her hair, the high cheekbones and her beautiful blue eyes. It was as if she was seeing them for the first time.
Alex undressed and slid into the bath behind her and cradled Ellie to her chest. She filled her senses with the feel of her body, the smell of her hair and the softness of her skin.
There were no words to say. As the water began to cool, Alex soaped a sponge and cleaned the dust and grime from the little blond. The she lifted her from the bath and wrapped her in a big fluffy towel; then she quickly dried herself. They put on their pyjamas, Alex pulled back the duvet and they slid into the big warm bed. Alex held her girl tightly, and felt Ellie's arm and leg fold over her as if to reclaim her.
"I love you Hon'...I got your messages. They felt like a warm cuddle...Thanks for coming for me...." Ellie's voice began to fade as she slipped into the sleep of exhaustion.
Alex remained awake - her adrenaline level still too high - and she whispered,
"I love you my sweet girl... rest now....I'm right here..."
The tall Scot's brain was working overtime as she went over and over in her mind what had happened. Where had she made the mistakes that put her soulmate at risk? What should she have done differently? There was no-one to tell her that it wasn't her fault, and she kissed Ellie's forehead, with an overwhelming sense of guilt for her failings - and relief to have her back.
The morning light filtered through the curtains at the window as Alex woke. She had been watching the clock tick its way through the small hours of the morning, but must eventually have fallen asleep. As she opened her eyes, she met the green pools of her girl watching her.
"Morning, Big Girl." Ellie murmured and reached up to kiss Alex gently.
Alex responded, as she felt the tears well up at the thought that she could so easily have lost the chance to wake up with Ellie again. Ellie sensed her reaction and pulled the dark head down onto her shoulder.
"It's OK Hon'. . . I'm here and I'm real!"
They held each other for a few moments, and Ellie took her girl's face in her hands.
"Now listen to me. I know you, Alex Wallace. You've spent most of the night beating yourself up over what happened, haven't you? There is only one person who has any blame here, and that is Rase Telemon! Not you, not Claire - but him and only him! Got it?"
Alex nodded, but Ellie still felt the misery filling her girl, and she shook her head.
They dressed and went downstairs, hand in hand. As they reached the bottom of the stairs they heard the murmur of voices from the dining room and went in.
The Boys rose to hug them, and Bobby poured them tea and coffee.
When they were seated, Hamish spoke. "I don't want to rake over this too much, Alex...but what now?"
Alex felt that all the expectant faces around the table were looking to her for answers and, in all honesty, she had none. Her instincts told her to get them all back to the safety of Applecross, but she knew that was unrealistic. She gathered her thoughts.
"We must assume that Telemon will get the two halves of the weapons from the tomb. There is little we can do about that. He has contacts and resources beyond anything we can muster. He probably sent the GPs coordinates directly to Greece within minutes of escaping. My instincts tell me the next step for us is here. We must continue to unravel the Gabrielle scrolls. The reason that they've been preserved can't be just to conserve her writings because they have been kept secret. The scrolls must have information about how we can prevent Telemon from gaining powers from the Chakram and the Sais."
Alex looked around to see everyone watching her. Ellie's face was so full of love and respect that the tall Scot's heart skipped a beat, and the confidence they all had in her made her feel humble.
"Well, let's get to it!" exclaimed Donald.
Just as he spoke, they heard the door bell. A few moments later, Kate Dunlop was shown in by Bobby. She nodded in response to their greetings and took the seat offered.
"Would madam care for some tea or coffee?" asked Bobby.
"Coffee please, Mr. Roberts."
Bobby squirmed a little and whispered, "Just Roberts, madam - If you please."
Kate raised her eyes to the ceiling and everyone chuckled.
"What news have you got?" asked Hamish.
"We have scoured the ports, airports and Channel Tunnel areas. No sign of Telemon. The Greek police are on the look out for him, too. I'm afraid I have some bad news: by the time the authorities got to the area of the tomb, the cave had been uncovered and something was obviously removed from it."
Alex and Ellie exchanged glances before Ellie enquired softly, "Was the grave disturbed?"
"No, only one small pit had been dug."
The two lovers allowed themselves to relax. Alex had told Ellie of Affie's visit - and what had been said.
The Detective Inspector spoke again. "There's little more we can do. I can only hope that he got all that he came for and that now he'll lay low."
The Wallaces dropped their eyes to mask the doubt in them. After a little more small talk, Kate shook hands and left.
Everyone was quiet until Claire spoke. "You don't think we have heard the last of him, do you Alex?"
Her answer was clear to see in the tall Scot's expression.
Claire returned to her task of copying the scrolls, and Alex and Ellie set to the translations. Donald and Hamish took turns standing guard in the drawing room and patrolling the grounds.
The dark head and the blond head worked close together and murmured quietly, as they debated the meanings of the symbols and the phrases they created. After a couple of hours, Alex stood up and stretched out her aching back. Ellie rubbed her hands over her face, and nodded towards Claire. Alex followed her gaze and saw that the dark haired girl looked pale and drawn. They walked over to her and tapped her on her shoulder.
Claire appeared to wake from a kind of trance. "Have you found something?"
"We might have, but we need to flesh it out a bit. We are going for a walk. Care to join us?"
The girl smiled and nodded. The three women donned their coats, and left through the hastily repaired French windows - now blocked with sheets of wood provided by the emergency security company. They walked down the steps to the garden, and Claire stopped where the statue had stood for most of her life.
"Seems strange that she is locked inside, instead of out here....in the light."
Ellie squeezed her arm. "We all hope that she can be put back where she belongs, very soon."
They walked in the afternoon sunshine to a large oak tree in the grounds. There was a bench at its base, and they all sat down.
Ellie nodded to Alex, who began to speak. "Claire, we believe that the Eves are the key to preventing Telemon from gaining the power from Xena and Gabrielle's weapons. The scrolls imply that the original Eve was to be the cause of the downfall of the Olympian Gods - and that is why they tried to kill her. The link that has been maintained between Love, the Scrolls and the Eves for 2000 years is too strong for it to be merely a matter of you all acting as custodians. We have discovered a story in the scrolls about something called 'Mendhi' - which the Warrior and Gabrielle used to defeat an evil demon in their travels in India. We are beginning to think that this will again play some part –that you are the key - and that it will be you who defeats Telemon."
They felt the girl stiffen, and sensed her dismay.
"The evidence is too strong to try to kid you, Claire. There are three more scrolls to translate, when we will have all the clues. After that, it's a question of following the clues - and understanding what Gabrielle has been telling us through all the centuries."
"I don't understand why she just didn't say. Why does everything have to be a mystery?" They heard the frustration in Claire's voice.
"Maybe she was afraid that the scrolls couldn't be kept safe. She had to rely on there being some level of familiarity with their story and history to decode them. Maybe all of the elements haven't come together before."
"But now you think they have, Alex?"
"Too many things fit Claire. I think it is our destiny to destroy the power of Ares, and to release Xena and Gabrielle from their curse."
"Curse - what curse?" demanded Claire. Alex told her what it was, her eyes filled with tears and her shoulders slumped.
"Oh how terrible....I can't imagine how awful that must be. Can you?" and she glanced at the two lovers, who also had tears in their eyes.
Claire's face suddenly showed that she realised all this meant. "Oh my Goddess! It's you two - isn't it? That's why you're here! That's what Giagia meant."
She reached for the two women's hands and clasped them.
For Alex and Ellie it was almost a relief, and they brought their heads to rest against Claire's, silently, for a few moments.
It was the young girl who broke the moment when she again spoke. Her voice - now devoid of tremor - was deep and strong. "Right . . . Let's solve this bloody mystery and sort it out for once and for all!"
Two hours later- after some food and hot drinks - they all assembled in the drawing room. Alex had set up an easel, and pinned some paper to it. They began to throw ideas around, and link them to the clues from the scrolls. A theory began to evolve. The Chaks and Sais had to be together - they were all agreed on that. Otherwise, why would Xena and Gabrielle have gone to such lengths to separate them? It was also clear that once they were together, the power gained could be for good - and Ares would be defeated for all time - or he would regain all of his powers, and unleash them on the modern world.
Hamish mused. "Well we know he has got half of them, but where are the other halves? Until we find those, all bets are off - and the cycle for Xena and Gabrielle goes on. . ." his eyes met Alex's, and he continued. ". . . And that is not an option. Not any more!"
Ellie reached out and put her hand on his arm. He covered it with his, and smiled at her fondly.
Alex thought carefully.
"We have a pretty good idea where they are. At the moment, they are quite safe and that's where they are going to stay. When we are really sure how they work together, we'll confirm our suspicions - but not until then." The faces around the group were curious, but they all trusted Alex and Ellie completely, and nothing more was said.
Claire broached the subject of the 'Mendhi'. "Can you tell us more about that?"
Quoting from one of the Scrolls, Ellie explained how the ancient signs and markings, if worn in the right combination, could focus the power for good against evil. She drew some of the symbols on the paper for them all to see.
"So, the 'Mendhi' plus the recombined Chakram and Sais work together?" Don asked.
"That's about it." Alex looked at her brother, and saw a dawning understanding on his face.
"How can we test this theory?"
Alex took a deep breath, and blew out the air. "That's the problem: it's a one shot deal -no second chances. So we have got to go over and over the scrolls, until we have exhausted every avenue; and then we do it again. . ."
By the early evening, it became clear to every one that they were all jaded, and that any further work would be counter-productive. Bobby made a pasta dish for supper and they all sat around the drawing room eating from trays on their laps. Bobby had objected, but in the end he had given up the fight and joined them. His family had two hundred years of history with the Eves, and he started to tell stories passed down from his ancestors.
"Apparently, in 1804 my great, great, great, great, great-grandfather came to work here." Bobby had counted on his fingers carefully, and nodded to reassure himself he had got it right. "It was three years before the scrolls were due to be rewritten, and by the time 1807 arrived, he was a trusted friend as well as a butler to the Eve of that time. A story has been passed down about two women who came to visit, stayed to help with the scrolls, and then left and were never heard of again."
Claire looked over at her two friends and grinned. "Well, you'd better not try disappearing on me this time, you two!" And everyone laughed as Alex and Ellie put their hands up and shook their heads.
Later the group broke up and began to drift off to bed. As usual, Alex drew Ellie a hot bath, and went to their bags to get the lavender oil they usually carried, but the bottle was empty. She shrugged her shoulders, "The wee one will have to do with ordinary steam tonight."
Relaxed and refreshed, the two lovers were snuggled up and in that wonderful state between sleep and waking, when Alex sniffed. "Can you smell that, darlin''?"
Ellie eyes opened a little. "Uh huh . . . It's just the lavender from the bath, Hon' - go to sleep." And then her green eyes opened wide, to meet the equally wide eyes of her girl.
They sat up, and saw the vision in pink - Affie Telemon - with another form that had long flowing silver hair - standing at the end of the bed.
"Hi there, sweet cheeks! Glad to see you're OK. I want you to know that I sooo totally kicked my bro's butt for the trick with the knife. He is now so far out in left field he may never find his way back! Oh, by the way, this is..."
Alex spoke gently, "Eve. Yes - we have seen your photograph..."
The old woman spoke, and they recognised the voice from the video tape. "I am so grateful to you for staying to help my Claire...I suspect that you know where the two missing halves of the weapons are to be found, and you have almost unravelled the mystery of the scrolls. But I beg you to remember that she has not had the training that I was able to give Evie. Claire is so young! She has the Eve spirit, and I am sure that with you by her side, she will find it within herself to complete her quest. Every Eve for two millennia has had to be ready for this battle - but not until now have all of the pieces come together. This is her destiny - and yours. Aphrodite and I will do all we can to help you, but with half of the weapons in his possession, Ares is gaining in confidence. We can dilute his abilities for a time, but do not take too long; you must be ready before the next full moon."
Affie moved to the bed and stroked Ellie's face.
"This is probably bye-bye for us, my little one. You have always been a true light in my life - through all of your lives. I'm am soooo gonna miss you!"
Ellie took her hand. She looked into Affie's eyes and saw her friend. "Why? Why is this goodbye? What aren't you telling us?"
Aphrodite just smiled, and taking the old woman's hand, they disappeared.
This time, the two women knew what had just happened. They were awake and aware. They gazed at each other, and settled back down into each other's arms, and let their love flow around them.
It was ten days until the full moon, and the group were working many hours every day. Ellie and Claire worked on the 'Mendhi' designs, and Alex refined the translation to the scrolls. Hamish and Donald continued to run security for them, and liaise with the police. Tim from the British Museum and the members of the Art Fraud squad were tracking down any signs of Telemon.
The Bards house was a busy place, with one or other of them talking on the phone. There were often visitors, so when the door bell rang, no one paid much attention when Bobby opened the door. Instead of his normal formal announcement, his face simply revealed a look of complete delight, as he stood a back to usher in two large figures wrapped up in heavy coats. He had recognised them as soon as he had opened the door, and knew how much their arrival would mean to the Wallaces.
Alex was the first to turn and when she saw them she yelled. "Uncle J - and Jeannie! By all the Gods...!" and she ran to greet their family elders. The next few minutes were pandemonium, as voices were raised in greeting and hugs were exchanged. Through all of this Claire stood back, and wondered at all the rambunctious affection this family shared – so very different from the quiet love of her Giagia and cousin Evie.
When the Elders had been divested of their coats, Ellie came to guide Claire to them and introduced her. As she knew he would, J took Claire's hand in his and greeted her with a hug. "My wee bairns have told me all about you, lassie. I hope we are not intruding - but me and Jeannie were going fair crazy up in Applecross, not knowing what was going on."
Claire felt the genuine warmth of this man and responded. "You are welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Wallace. I'll have Roberts make up a room for you."
She saw the glances pass around the room and stuttered, "Have I said something wrong? I'm so sorry - I can be so clumsy sometimes..."
She relaxed when the big Scotsman spoke. "I hope you don't mind, Claire - but no friend of my Girls or my Boys calls me and my wife anything but Uncle J and Jeannie - however big their house is!"
Claire's relief was enormous and Alex and Ellie wrapped her up in a big hug as they all, Bobby included, looked at her fondly. She felt as if she had a family for the first time since her grandmother had died, and she liked the feeling.
Over the next few days, the house rang with voices, and Jeannie and Bobby - who had bonded immediately - produced endless streams of food and drink to keep the troops fed and watered. But underlying everything was the knowledge that they only had three days until the full moon.
At the end of each day, they would all meet to eat together and to debrief their sections. They had involved Tim in their plan, and it was he who put out a tip on the Internet that the Bard House Aphrodite might become available again. They knew that Telemon would not be able to refuse the chance to acquire it. Tim used a known stolen art fence - who was actually a member of the Art Fraud squad working under- cover - to spread the word.
Only one task remained, and it involved the entire group. The statue of Love was brought out from its hiding place and carried into the drawing room. Alex brought in the parcel she had received from Alan Stimpson in Edinburgh and unpackaged a piece of electronic equipment. It was the handheld version of the scanner that Alex had used, to discover the contents of the pots from the tomb of the Warrior Princess. She plugged it in and connected it to the new laptop, which Donald had brought from London. She tested it and calibrated it with the loaded software. Then she approached the statue.
The air was thick with tension, as she allowed the scanner to pass over the contours of the figure of Aphrodite. Ellie was sitting with the laptop, and after each pass, Alex looked over at her love. The first pass gave no readings. Nor the second...nor the third. Claire began to show signs of distress, and Donald went to stand with her. She grasped his hand gratefully. The fourth pass. Nothing. And then, on the fifth pass, Ellie gasped as an unmistakable shape began to appear on the screen. Then the sixth and seventh passes revealed a second unique shape. Everyone came to stand behind the couch upon which Ellie was seated and watched, mesmerised by the emerging shapes. Eventually Alex finished, put the scanner down and moved to sit next to her girl.
She took the tiny Texan's hand in hers, and they looked in awe at the clear outline of the second half of the chakram and the second sai embedded within the bowl and spoon of the statue. The room was silent for several seconds.
Finally Alex spoke. "It was the first Eve who commissioned the statue in memory of Gabrielle, and it was she who hid the weapons with the help of Phidias, the sculptor. For two millennia the statue has protected the world, but kept Xena and Gabrielle in their cycle of loss and grief. Now it is up to us to stop the cycle and destroy the power of the weapons forever."
Claire spoke, her voice trembling as she clung again to Donald. "Does that mean we must destroy Love to get the weapons?"
Ellie moved to be with her, as the tears began to stream down the girl's face.
"Yes Claire. It is the only way to complete the task."
The young girl nodded in understanding, then tilted her head slightly and whispered,
"Can anyone else smell the lavender?" and her face broke into a wide smile as everyone nodded.
As if reassured that the decision was the right one, they put the statue on a large dust sheet, and Bobby brought in a hammer and chisel. Alex looked to Claire for permission and when it was given she smiled Ellie. She saw her eyes, filled with trust, and this gave her the confidence she needed. She looked around the bowl of the statue and saw a fine line that seemed to suggest that there was a join between the two pieces of marble, so she placed the chisel on the line and gave it a sharp tap with the hammer. Some chips of marble flew off, but nothing more - so she grasped the hammer more firmly and gave the chisel a harder blow. The bowl split into two pieces, and the lower part fell to the floor with the spoon attached. They were bemused to find that under the bowl, the surface of the statue was smooth. It appeared that the Bowl had been an addition to the statue. The hand that had appeared to hold the spoon was now left with the finger gently curved, as if in a whimsical pose. As the weight of the upper part of the bowl began to tell on the marble above it, Alex was able to ease it away from the statue. Miraculously, Aphrodite remained beautiful - with only a few marks on her dress, to show where the bowl and spoon had been for two millennia.
There was a collective expulsion of breath as everyone relaxed, and Alex picked up the bowl and spoon. Another few taps released the ancient weapons from their places of safety. Bobby handed her a soft cloth, and gradually she wiped away the protective coverings placed over the weapons before they became part of the statue – and so revealed their intricate patterns and decorations.
Donald came to look at them and grinned. "Didn't do such a bad job of the replicas, did I?" He crossed to the bag that J and Jeannie had brought with them and extracted the replica weapons that Alex had asked J to send to her.
The weapon replicas were inspected by everyone, and they all thought that they looked just like the descriptions from the scrolls and the original's, now in Ellie's hands.
Although the need to rewrite the scrolls for posterity seemed to be unnecessary, Claire returned to her task, and it was clear to Ellie that she was doing this to keep her mind off the coming events. Alex and her girl returned to the scrolls to finish the last of the translation.
The story was emerging that Eve had been the instrument of the downfall of the Olympian Gods, and they had tried to kill her - only to be thwarted by the fact that Ares and Aphrodite had helped Xena and Gabrielle to save Eve. As a reward, Xena had given them back their powers, but with the additional safeguard of Aphrodite's powers to restrain the God of war. The clues - to how the Chakram and Sais could be combined to become the weapon to return or destroy forever Ares' power - were convoluted, and the two lovers struggled to make sense of them.
After several hours, Ellie eased her sore shoulders, and looking into Alex's blue eyes, she smiled fondly. "Time for a break Hon'?"
Alex nodded and Ellie got up and went to the door. The household had long since foregone the formality so beloved of Robby, and she called to him. "Robby....any chance of some tea for the workers?"
His reply from the butler's pantry was faint but clear. "Coming up Ellie....two ticks."
The blond Texan returned to Alex - to find her deeply engrossed in a small scroll from the bottom of the box. She was scribbling on a pad, and had a big smile on her face. Ellie tried to look over her shoulder, but Alex shielded her notes and smiled mischievously.
"What have you found? You look like the cat that got the cream! Spill, Big Girl, or retribution will be swift and terrible!"
Alex pulled Ellie down onto her lap, and settled her.
"Eyes closed darlin'. Ellie . . . do it!!"
Ellie reluctantly obeyed and relaxed into her favourite safe place.
Alex began to read the words she had translated.
There's a moment when I look at you
And no speech is left in me.
My tongue breaks.
Then fire races under my skin, and I tremble -
And grow pale. For I am dying of such love -
Or so it seems to me.
Ellie felt shivers run down her spine - the words seemed so familiar. She felt a gentle kiss dropped on her forehead, and opened her eyes to meet the blue pools of Alex's - and she reached up to cup her face.
"Beautiful Hon'...do you think Gabrielle wrote this...?"
Alex shook her head. "No - this is a poem by Sappho, darlin'."
"So how did it get in with Gabrielle's work?" And then she paused ...she cocked her head to one side as if accessing a memory. "It was a present, wasn't it?" Her voice was soft and gentle, and she reached for her lover's hand.
Their eyes met. Their connection was strong, and took them both back to a cliff top long ago . . . They sat quiet and still for some time.
When they returned to the mystery of the weapons, they felt refreshed and re - energised for the task. They assembled the clues, and checked and double-checked their translations. Eventually Alex went to the table where the replica weapons lay. She brought them back to Ellie, and they stood the Chakram up against a cushion. Then Ellie took the Sais, and slotted them into the Chakram, to form a kind of crossed sword effect. The tsubas of the Sais clipped over the edge of the Chakram, to secure them within the circle. It seemed as if even the replica weapons were part of the whole, as if they had been intended to fit together. Alex held it up, and the joined objects were secure and did not fall out.
She nodded to Ellie. "I think we are ready? What do you think?"
"I think we are as ready as we can be, Hon.'"
With just three days to the full moon, they were having their final meeting. Tim joined them from the British Museum, with an officer from the Art Fraud Squad. Peter Coleman was an experienced under-cover operative, who had infiltrated Telemon's operation some time ago. They discussed how best to lure Telemon to them, and how to fool him into giving up his half of the ancient weapons. Having Peter's knowledge of how the man worked was a huge bonus for Alex, and eventually the bones of a plan were agreed upon. However, one part of the plan didn't sit well with Ellie. She was very quiet and withdrawn, and eventually Alex stood up, pulled her girl to her feet, and took her to the other side of the room.
Alex's two arms came round her, and although Ellie was tense and stiff, she could not resist their warm safety, and she melted into them.
"I know it's not ideal, darlin' ......but what choice do we have?"
Ellie eyes filled with tears as she whispered. "The curse is still in operation Alex.......it's too dangerous."
"There is no other way. I have to appeal to his vanity, and get him so wound up he will focus on something other than the weapons."
Yes I get that part....but ..."
"What if I fail?"
Ellie nodded tearfully.
Alex raised her chin up until she could see Ellie's face, and kissed her. Then she rested her forehead on her lover's and whispered. "I won't fail..."
After a few more quiet moments they returned to the group.
Hamish looked up anxiously. "Ellie....we're no happier than you are - but we will be close by to help."
Ellie nodded and squeezed Alex's hand. "I know Hamish....I know. It's not that I doubt Alex - it's just that this man can't be trusted to be fair."
Alex pulled her into another hug. "Its OK, darlin' - I have some tricks up my sleeve, and some of them aren't very fair either!"
The plan was complete, and all that remained was to set the trap. Tim checked his blog for the website dealing with ancient antiquities, and Peter left to get to a meeting with one of his contacts.
Two hours later, after a snack lunch that no one really wanted to eat, Ellie and Claire put the finishing touched to the 'Mendhi' design, which they had agreed matched the details in the scrolls.
Alex stood by the window, and Uncle J, who had also been very quiet, joined her.
"Well my wee girl.....history repeats itself."
Alex leaned her head on the big Scot's shoulder.
"How so Uncle J?"
James Wallace assumed the mantle of the storyteller and began to speak of Mary Wallace. She had been a famous Scottish Clan leader, whose stories had enthralled Alex as child. Born the eldest child of the leader of the Clan Wallace, she had grown up trained in battle as a son would have been. She was shown in the history books to be tall, with flowing auburn hair and her claymore strapped to her back.
Alex smiled. "I remember the stories Uncle J...."
"Aye I know you do, lassie.....but what I never told you, was that she fought a great battle with an English Lord who tried to take her lands. They fought in single-handed combat over the hills and fields of the Clan lands for three hours. In the end..."
Alex stopped him by putting her hand over his mouth. "Sssshhhhhh...J....I don't want to know..."
Her Uncle just gathered her into his arms and held her without saying another word.
Alex looked her Uncle full square in the eye and spoke quietly but firmly. "Uncle J, whatever happens out there, you and Jeannie stay inside -promise me?"
As J began to argue, Alex stopped him and spoke again. "J, listen to me! We all have a part to play in this. Yours is to guard the scrolls and Claire, and to get them away if Telemon wins. He can't be allowed to get hold of them. Bobby has the car ready and he knows where to go. Promise me J - I can't go out there and concentrate on what I have to do, if I have to worry about you."
The big Scotsman looked at his niece for several seconds before he nodded and hugged her again.
The phone rang and Robby answered. He brought the phone to Alex and murmured.
"It's for you Alex...it's Telemon."
The atmosphere in the room could be cut with a knife as Alex put the phone on speaker setting.
"Well Wallace - still you plague me! So, suddenly the Aphrodite statue IS for sale! Do you think I am stupid?"
"That's the second time you asked me that, and I think the answer is self- evident -because you are speaking to me...."
She heard the anger rising in the man on the phone, and pressed her advantage.
"I have the other half of the weapons that you were too stupid to find, Telemon. It took intelligence and patience, neither of which are qualities I associate with you."
His voice came back, low and menacing, "You don't know who you are dealing with Wallace. Don't try me, or you will come off worse."
Alex allowed her voice to assume a mocking tone. "OOOH....now I really am scared....boots and trembling, in fact!" and she laughed.
Telemon's voice was shaking with suppressed rage, as he shouted. "You and me Wallace! Once and for all, I will shut you up and get rid of you! I will destroy you!"
Alex cut across him and sneered, "Oh yes I know - thunderbolts and tricks! You are some kind of man, you know?"
"I don't need tricks to beat you. The curse is about to fall again - for you and the blond. Only this time, there will be no next life! I'll see to that."
Alex felt her legs begin to shake, but Uncle J's arm steadied her - and she felt her girl come to her side.
"OK big mouth - what are the stakes? Or are you too much of a coward to bet with me?"
"Winner takes all -weapons, scrolls, and statue - all of it." Telemon's rage was palpable.
Alex closed her eyes, and leant her head against Ellie's. She felt the strength coming through their connection, and gathered herself. She kept her voice calm and mocking, "So, I win - I get the lot?"
"You will not beat me Wallace . . .!"
Her final words were clipped and terse...
"Swords... at 6.00 pm tomorrow night - just you and me - outside the Mausoleum in the grounds of Bards House." And she hung up.
For a few moments everyone in the room held their breath - until Ellie reached up to stroke Alex's face - and suddenly they were galvanised into action. Each member of the team went back to their tasks, and left the two lovers standing quietly - with no words needed.
The next day dawned clear and sunny, as Alex and Ellie woke up. They were wrapped up in each other, as if to hold onto each precious second of time. Each could feel the other's heart beating in sync, and each could feel the other's fear through their connection.
Ellie stirred, and Alex held her even more tightly and snuggled her hair.
"I love you...I always have and I always will, no matter what happens - and somehow I will always find you no matter where you are. It's just the way it is."
Alex felt the tears on Ellie's face and heard her whisper, "I believe in you, my Big Girl. I know we'll find a way. I can't think any other way. I love you Alex! Keep me close to you, and we will come through."
When they descended the wide sweeping staircase into the hall, the house was strangely quiet and still. They entered the dining room, where the family was all gathered - all lost in their own thoughts. Donald and Claire were sitting together with their food uneaten in front of them; Jeannie was pouring more tea for her and J; and Hamish was standing looking out of the window. As the door opened they all seemed to wake up, and greeted the two women.
Alex held up her hand to stop them.
"We are all going to get through today. We won't accept any other outcome, and neither will any of you. We want no negativity here - so when you're all ready, we check every detail of the plan ...again. .Agreed?"
The mood lifted, shoulders straightened and as they sat at the table, they began to go through the details.
The day seemed to fly by, and although Jeannie and Robby cooked meals, everyone ate on the move and left a litter of plates on every table. Jeannie and J quietly worked behind the scenes to give the others the space to work, but before they knew it, the clock in the hallway struck the half hour after five o'clock and there was no more time left.
They all came into the drawing room. Ellie began to apply the 'Mendhi' to Claire's hands, and then Claire did the same to Ellie's. Alex was sitting in a chair, deep in meditation. Donald and Hamish were both dressed in camouflage shirt and trousers; they went to Ellie and Claire and kissed them, then they came to hunker down in front of Alex and she opened her eyes to see their concerned faces. She leaned forward and pressed her head to theirs. After a few seconds they each kissed her cheek, and as they passed the Elders, they put comforting hands on their shoulders before leaving the room.
Alex was dressed in black leather jeans and a long sleeved black shirt. As the clock ticked on, she came to where Ellie sat. Claire smiled at the tall Scot, and reached up to stroke her face, before moving away. The two lovers clung together, and with one final, long, gentle kiss, Alex left Ellie . . . the last parting touch was the tips of the fingers of their outstretched hands.
Alex walked to the Mausoleum alone. She knew that she was being watched every step of the way, by both friendly and hostile eyes. She came to a halt outside the building, and stood quietly waiting. A small table had been placed at the door to the Mausoleum, and the tall Celt placed half of the Chakram and a single Sai on it.
Then she called out. "Show yourself Telemon." And she turned slowly in a circle, staying on the balls of her feet, with her hands held in front of her.
She felt, rather than saw him appear behind her, and turned slowly to face him. She assumed an insolent expression and put her hands on her hips and allowed her gaze to run up and down him.
His face was dark, and she could see his rage just under the surface. She cocked an eyebrow and indicated the table. "Time to put the Chakram where your mouth is."
He sneered at her, and stalked to the table - where he placed the halves of the weapons he had taken from the Warrior's tomb -and then he returned to her. He clicked his fingers and two swords appeared. He threw one to Alex, and she inspected it. The sword was clean and sharp, and she twirled it to get a feel for its balance.
They circled each other, their eye contact constant. Telemon tried to work Alex around so that the low evening sun would be in her eyes, but she saw this and moved in the opposite direction. She gradually led him away from the mausoleum and he followed her, until her step faltered a little on the uneven ground, and then he attacked. He raised the sword and slashed at her head. She parried the blade with her own - allowing his blade to run down to the hilt of hers - and then she flung her bodyweight behind it and pushed him away.
Alex kept leading him away from the table where the weapons were, and to keep him coming forward she kept making quiet comments to him.
"Is that all you have?"
"I'm not impressed."
Alex knew that he was stronger, and she could not win in a straight battle of strength, so she kept moving, looking for a way in.
He went at her again and as she parried, he swung around to bring his sword in from the side. Alex anticipated the move, and she knelt down and took the force of the blow on her sword, over her right shoulder. Then she rolled away, and brought up her leg to kick out. She caught him on the leg, and he went down. By the time she had regained her balance and position, Telemon had also regained his footing. He was breathing heavily, and favouring his right leg - Alex knew that the kick had connected and done some damage. She feinted with a slash to his left side, and as he moved to cover it, she changed direction and whirled around to hit his damaged leg with the flat of her sword. He cried out - and using his sword as a support, he moved away - flexing his leg. Alex came after him him. She followed up her advantage and continued to taunt him.
"Not so Mr Big Guy now are you huh...?"
Alex saw the rage explode and knew that he was coming at her. She parried the first and second slashes, but he got through her defences - and she felt a sharp pain on her left arm and the warmth of blood. She took several steps back and he came at her again. She dropped her right shoulder as if she was going to fall, and as his sword came into her peripheral vision, she rolled away and flicked his blade upwards. It spiralled away in the gathering dusk and he roared in frustration. He limped to regain his sword.
Alex tested her left arm. It had little strength, and the blood was flowing freely down it. She knew she was weakening. At that moment, she heard the hoot of an owl, and her spirits soared. This was the signal she was waiting for. She began to back away, leading Telemon back towards the mausoleum. Their blades rang out as they clashed again and again, until they both stood - their chests heaving - a few feet apart. Alex gathered her remaining strength, and letting out a battle cry at the top of her voice, she charged at him and swapped her sword into her left hand. He got his sword up just in time, but she twisted her blade - and with the last of her strength she grabbed his wrist with her right hand and kicked at his chest with her right foot once, and then again.
As she backed away, she transferred her sword back to her right hand - the dark man came at her again, her weapon locked with his, and it flew from his hand. She felt the dark power rise in her and a feral grin appeared on her face as she caught his eye. Then she saw Ellie and Claire, emerging from inside the Mausoleum. Claire held the linked Chakram and Sais in front of her, and Ellie stood behind her with her hands facing palm outwards next to the shield.
Alex watched as they began a simple chant. They repeated it over and over, like a mantra. The tall Scot had no more time to watch, as she saw Telemon come towards her. He reached out his hand, and a sparkling ball appeared, cupped in his palm. It was not a thunderbolt, but a flash of blinding light which he hurled it at Alex. Hit in the face, she staggered, and just managed to keep her footing, but she was blinded, and instinctively moved away from him. She still had her sword, and with her remaining reserves of strength, she twirled it in a defensive pattern around her, but her strength was finished, and she sank to the ground clutching her arm. She tried to slow the blood loss with her other hand, but the scene before her began to fade in and out of focus.
As her vision cleared momentarily, she saw Telemon turn away from her and walk back towards the table, where the weapons lay. Then a shaft of blue light came from the weapon shield held by Claire and Ellie. They were still chanting the ancient mantra, and the beam of light focussed on the moving form of Rase Telemon. The light seemed to envelope him and play around him like a fog. Alex watched Claire and Ellie appear to morph into the light, and the Mendhi on their hands glowed like a fiery tattoo.
As suddenly as it had come, the light was gone - and Telemon lay on the ground. Donald appeared from behind the mausoleum to gather up Claire and Ellie. Both women were pale and sweating, their breathing laboured and rasping. The joined Chakram and Sais fell to the ground, crumbled to dust and eddied around them.
Ellie struggled from Donald's arms, and half ran, half crawled to Alex. As she held her love in her arms, Ellie saw the figure of Affie Telemon walk across from the house. She seemed different; there was no sparkle in her. She still wore her trademark pink, but it seemed dull.
She went to the body of her brother, and turned him over. Just as his eyes opened, she brushed back the hair from his forehead and whispered. "Sorry, Bro... but I had to do it – this has all been going on too long. Time to ditch the God thing -for both of us – and I've just enough love dust for one last trip."
She looked at Ellie, holding Alex in her arms - and smiling, blew a kiss and called out:
"The Ares curse is beaten, my sweet girls - long life and happiness to you! It's been fun...Later!"
And she and Rase disappeared.
Donald and Hamish rushed to Alex's side, and Donald quickly bandaged her arm. Her eyes flickered a little and then opened. The first thing she saw was Ellie's worried face, and she reached up unsteadily to cup her cheek.
"Did we do it, Ellie?"
The little blond pulled Alex's head to her shoulder, and rocked her gently - unable to speak. It was Hamish who reassured Alex that Telemon had been defeated.
They all returned to the house and Donald cleaned and stitched Alex's wounds, as Ellie sat next to her and J and Jeannie hovered.
Hamish came in through the French doors, and held up the two parts of the replica weapons from the table by the Mausoleum. He handed them to Ellie, and she reunited them with their other halves from Jeannie's bag. Whilst Alex had been keeping Telemon busy, Hamish had crept out of the mausoleum, and taken Telemon's artefacts from the Greek tomb to join with the genuine halves from Love that Claire and Ellie had hidden in the building. Reuniting the ancient weapons had enabled them to create the Weapons Shield that had taken Ares' powers once and for all...
What they hadn't known was that Aphrodite's powers would be taken too, and that she sacrificed her Godhead for the sake of Alex and Ellie.
Later, they all sat lost in their own thoughts - until J spoke. He had assumed his usual place by the mantle.
"Mary Wallace beat the English Lord, Alex -so history has repeated itself. I never doubted it."
Alex smiled, and held Ellie more closely to her side.
Meanwhile, Hamish, Donald, Claire and Robby were struggling to bring the statue of Love into the room, and J went to help. Between them they managed to get her out of the French doors and down the stairs. Ellie helped Alex up, and they walked with their arms around each other to the terrace. They looked down, as Claire made the final adjustments to the position of the statue. She smiled up at the two women and held out her hands.
"Because of you, the vow of the Eve's has been fulfilled - and Love is back where it belongs. She is safe. . . now and forever."
Alex gazed into her lover's face, and she whispered. "No-one will part us now, darlin'. Love has beaten war ...forever!"
The Wallace family came to stand and form a circle around Ellie and Alex on the upper terrace.
Uncle J spoke gently. "I think it's time for the Wallaces to go home to Applecross."
Each member exchanged a glance with the others - and as one, their eyes went to the lonely figure still standing next to Love at the bottom of the steps.
James Wallace spoke again, his voice booming out and echoing around the grounds. "Only one member of the Clan Wallace of Applecross is missing, Claire. . ."
A gamut of emotions passed over the young girl's face: confusion, followed by a dawning understanding of what was being offered to her. She began to tremble, and Donald left the group to go down the steps. He took her by the hand, and nodded at her. She looked into his face, and a smile began to play on her lips. With her hand still in Donald's, she walked up the steps until she stood in front of Alex and Ellie. The two women held out their arms, and the tall dark girl moved into their embrace.
Welcome home, Eve." Alex murmured.
The EndReturn to the Academy