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Chapter 4: Road To Morocco
Janice Covington woke slowly, her dreams fading as pale sunlight crept into the bedroom. She glanced down and smiled. Melinda Pappas was draped across her body, long dark hair spilling over her shoulder. She smiled, feeling the sleeping woman's heart beat against her skin. Looking towards the foot of the bed, Janice saw Argo curled up next to her leg, the dog's large head resting on top of her foot, snoring softly. She was pinned down. With a sigh she glanced at the wall clock. She could barely make out the time in the dimness of the room. At once regretting the need to leave her warm nest, yet looking forward to the trip, she gently caressed Mel's back as she drew her lover from slumber.
"Janice, don't you ever sleep?" Mel mumbled sleepily.
Blushing in spite of herself, Janice smiled. "Not much when you're around," she admitted. "But it isn't what you think, Mel. It's time to get up."
"Already?" the Southerner complained. Rolling off of Janice, Mel sat up in bed, reaching for her glasses on the bed stand. As she moved, the sheet and blanket that had been covering her naked body slipped to her waist. Mel turned at Janice's audible sigh, noting with some displeasure that the woman who had woken her from a blissful sleep had yet to move. "Well?" Mel asked.
"Just admiring the view," the archeologist replied with a grin. "Come on, Argo, wake up." She urged the dog off the bed and slipped from between warm covers. She was surprised to see that she was still wearing the tuxedo shirt from the night before, although it was completely unbuttoned. She glanced at Mel questioningly.
"I was in a hurry," Mel explained, rolling her eyes. "Go on, take your shower. I'll see if Pandora has arrived."
"Don't forget your robe," Janice advised as she headed for the master bathroom.
"Believe me, I've learned my lesson," Mel replied with a grin.
Supervising Pandora's sons carrying their luggage to the truck parked out front, Mel was at the foot of the stairs when she heard Janice bellow, "MELINDA!" from upstairs. Mel nodded to the young men to keep loading the truck as Pandora raced to the stairs.
"Lan' sakes! What's wrong up there?" the black woman said as she cast worried eyes up the stairs toward the master bedroom.
Mel smiled and put a comforting arm around the shorter woman's shoulders. "Don't worry, 'Dora, I think Janice just discovered what she's wearing today." Gliding up the stairs, Mel could hear the sounds of a frantic search in progress before she even got to the bedroom.
"You bellowed, my love?" she asked sweetly as she entered the bedroom. It was all Mel could do not to laugh. Stark naked, hair combed but dripping wet, Janice Covington was frantically searching the closet.
"My clothes, where are they?" Janice asked without the slightest trace of amusement in her voice.
"On the bed, dear, where I laid them out for you," Mel replied with a smile.
"That isn't funny, Melinda. I mean my pants and my boots and my shirt, .357 Magnum and whip. This is an expedition, ya know, not a trip to the opera."
"Don't forget your hat," Mel supplied.
Janice just looked at her, arms folded across her naked chest and seethed. Mel sighed, taking in Janice's nude form with an approving gaze and smiled. "Your work clothes are packed and at this moment loaded in the truck. I packed your pants, boots, shirts, and hat. Your revolver is in the side pocket of your carry-on bag. I wouldn't dream of separating you from your Smith & Wesson security blanket. Your whip and extra bullets are inside. You are wearing that rather casual ensemble on the plane. I've packed another for you to wear on the boat to Athens. You can change into your other clothes when we get to Amphipolis, not before."
"But...but..." Janice stammered, visibly wounded by her lover's words.
"Janice, I've arranged passage for us on a USO transport. We're traveling with Bob Hope, for goodness sakes. I'm not going to have you looking like the wild man of Borneo. You've suffered in a dress all term, a few more days isn't going to kill you. Besides," she added, her voice dropping seductively, "I like you in a dress. Now get some clothes on before I decide to do something that will make us miss the plane all together."
Mel headed to the bathroom, discarding her bath robe. Janice stared after her for a few moments before looking dejectedly at the outfit laid out on the bed. Argo gazed at her with sympathetic eyes which made Janice feel a little better. "When did I let someone else start calling the shots?" she wondered. The retriever looked at her mistress, then towards the bathroom where the other woman had gone, then back to her mistress. She barked once and Janice had to laugh. "I'm either growing up or loosing my mind," she decided.
Melinda Pappas, freshly showered and dressed, descended the grand staircase to find Janice saying her good-byes to Hyperion and Pandora. Her satchel was slung over her shoulder, Argo waiting patiently at her feet. "Be sure to call Linda if you need anything, and Hyperion, feel free to use the truck." Hyperion smiled, his white teeth a shining contrast to his dark brown skin. He and Janice had hit it off instantly, finding a number of interests in common from guns to baseball scores. While he'd always felt shy and awkward around the elegant and sophisticated Melinda Pappas, with Janice Covington he instantly felt comfortable.
"Thank you, Miz Covington," he said, his rich smooth voice filling the entry way. "Thas mighty kind of ya. Me and the boys will see about fixing up that shed out back..."
"Don't worry about that, Hyperion," Janice interjected, "just worry about getting the plumbing done on your house. Not that I mind finding the little ones in our bathtub-especially when it's time to bathe Argo." They shared a laugh at that, but he shook his head.
"No ma'am, it's the least we can do. You let us use the truck to haul the pipes and we fix up the shed or it's no deal." He spit on his hand and extended it to her. Without missing a beat, Janice spit on her own hand and sealed the deal.
"Suit yourself," she said with a grin.
Pandora smiled as Mel reached the bottom of the stairs. "Lordy, I don't know why they need to spit so much," she muttered as she handed Janice a dish towel.
Janice grinned at both women. "It's important to have at least one member in every family who knows how to spit." She handed the towel to Hyperion who wiped off his own hand, then put an affectionate arm around his wife's shoulders.
"Are you saying I can't spit, Janice Covington?" Mel ask primly as she adjusted her hat and donned her gloves.
"I know better than to put anything past you, Mel." Janice replied.
"Good," Mel said with a nod, then glanced at Argo. "Don't we need a leash for her or something?"
Janice was shocked. "Argo's never worn a leash a day in her life. Don't worry, she'll do what I tell her."
"Unless she decides not to," Mel muttered under her breath as they waved good-bye to Pandora and headed for the truck.
Hyperion drove them to the Fort Bragg airfield. Janice was pleased to see the big man in such good shape. He'd suffered an accident working on the railroad several months before she'd moved to North Carolina. She wasn't sure exactly how Hyperion fit into Melinda's life, but knew that his wife, Pandora had been almost a second mother for her. Anything that distressed Pandora upset Melinda and she'd been very worried about the big man's accident. His speedy recovery had been a boon to everyone.
"You take care, Miz Pappas and Miz Covington," he said as he lifted their bags from the bed of the truck. "And watch out for Argo or Thea will have your head," he added looking pointedly at Janice.
The archeologist smiled. Little six-year old Thea was absolutely devoted to the big dog, a feeling Janice knew was mutual. While she knew she came first in the dog's affections, there was a special bond between children and animals that adults simply could not comprehend.
"You tell Thea not to worry about Argo," Melinda interjected, "she and Janice take good care of each other." Hyperion smiled in return, and after giving the dog a final pat on the head, got back in the truck. He pulled away only when he saw the two women greeted by an official of the USO, and escorted to a waiting plane. In moments their gear was loaded onto the C54 and the two women ushered into the large carrier.
"Mr. Hope sends his regrets that he won't be joining you on this flight, Miss Pappas," the official explained as Janice and Mel selected their seats. The young man, dressed in a crisp uniform with freshly cut hair, glanced nervously at Argo a couple of times, but did his best to ignore the dog. "He hopes you'll give his best to your mother."
"I'll be sure to do that," Mel replied with a sweet smile. Janice was certain she saw the young man's heart skip a beat. "I would have been nice to have seen Mr. Hope again, but please convey my gratitude for his finding a spot for us."
"Will do, Miss Pappas. If you need anything, Miss Dayton is your stewardess. Please make yourself comfortable, we'll be taking off shortly." With a final nod he turned and quickly walked back up the aisle to assist the other USO members who were boarding the plane.
"You know Bob Hope?" Janice asked incredulously as she took the seat by the window.
"Well, saying I know him is a stretch. He's a friend of Mother's. I recall meeting him once or twice as a child, but that's about it. Still, if it takes connections to avoid traveling as cargo, I'm willing to do it."
"You won't hear me complaining," Janice agreed fondly remembering her first plane ride with the heiress. Seated with the cargo on a C46, it had been a traumatic event for Melinda. Janice soon discovered all plane rides were. "You gonna be okay?" she asked softly, wishing she could take her lover's hand. Janice's eyes were soft, trying to convey what she otherwise couldn't express at the moment.
"I'll be fine. Sitting between you and Argo-what could be safer?" Mel replied with a confidence she didn't really feel. "You've got everything?" she asked as the plane began to move.
Janice opened her satchel, taking the opportunity to distract her lover. "Now is not a good time to find out if I don't," she said with a laugh. "Let's see, we've got the book from the library, my notes, the stuff from Indy, assorted maps, names of where we're going and who we're seeing..." she rummaged through her bag some more as the plane began to build up speed. "...a gun, some bullets, a whip... ah yes, and a small loaf of cheese bread. I'd say we're all set."
Argo whined softly and put her head in Mel's lap as the plane took off. Mel looked at the soft brown eyes gazing at her and couldn't help but smile. "She learned that from you didn't she?"
"Learned what?" Janice asked, looking at the dog sitting in the aisle with her head resting on Mel's knee.
"Doing the right thing at the right time," Mel replied. As if to answer her question, Argo sneezed suddenly, a fine spray dousing the southerner. "Never mind," Mel muttered as the plane leveled out.
"Hi," a new voice said from the aisle. Janice and Mel turned their attention to the newcomer; a young woman dressed in a smart uniform, with a sweet smile on her face. "I'm Sue. I'll be your stewardess. Can I get the two..." she glanced at the dog who was sitting partly in the aisle and rephrased her statement, "ah, three of you anything?"
Janice shrugged. "Water for the dog would be nice," she said.
"Water for all of us would be great, too" Mel ammended, "and a towel."
"Coming right up," Sue replied as she headed up the aisle.
Janice laughed to herself as she pulled the blue leather bound book from her bag. Seeing Mel adjust her glasses out of the corner of her eye, she held it so they could both read it. She knew that help with the Latin text would be necessary, and anything that kept Mel's mind off the ten hour plane flight would be a blessing.
They hadn't been reading long when they were addressed by a new voice. "Melinda... Melinda Pappas, is that you?" a man asked taking a seat across the isle.
Looking up, Janice noticed that her lover's color pale slightly. "Hunter Richardson, who would have guessed," Mel said sweetly, her composure forced as she extended her hand to the extremely handsome dark haired man. He brought it to his lips and kissed her knuckles softly. Argo growled as Janice narrowed her eyes at the intruder.
"And what is this?" he asked releasing Mel's hand and moving away from Argo.
"It's a dog," Janice deadpanned.
Mel smiled and nodded to Janice. "This is my friend, Dr. Janice Covington, and her research assistant, Argo."
"Dr. Covington," Hunter said with a nod, not wanting to extend his hand past the gleaming teeth of the dog. "It's a pleasure."
"Charmed," Janice replied, her smile static.
"Hunter is from Greensboro, North Carolina. Our families would spend time in the summers together," Mel explained.
"Come now, Melinda, there was more to it than that. Your Mother was convinced we'd marry," Hunter said with a winning smile.
"Hunter, we were six years old," Mel replied with a laugh. "So you're with the USO now?"
He nodded. "I'm a special attachment for the USO from the Army Air Corps. I figured it'd be safer than actual fighting. It wouldn't do for America to start loosing her millionaires now would it?" he laughed at his own joke as Mel smiled weakly.
"God forbid," Janice grumbled.
"So what type of doctor are you, Mrs. Covington?" Hunter asked looking at the open book on Janice's lap.
Janice casually closed the book and studied the millionaire. He wore his hair short, in the military cut, his pale blue eyes gentle and expressive. It was clear to Janice why Kathryn Von Melosa would have wanted her daughter to marry this man. They would have produced inhumanly attractive offspring. Too bad he was such a pompous windbag. "It's Miss, and my Ph.D is in archeology. I specialize in ancient Greece, pre-Mycenean to be precise."
"Fascinating," he replied with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "So Melinda, what are you doing on a USO flight? Fundraising?"
"Well, Janice and I are headed..." she glanced at her companion briefly and saw the warning in her lover's eyes. "...to a conference in Cairo. I assist Dr. Covington with some of her research."
He nodded, unimpressed. "So you followed in your father's footsteps after all. That's unfortunate," he added to himself, "you had real potential in certain social circles..."
"Don't worry about me," Mel said in a deceptively friendly tone, "you'll find the right gold-digger for you. Just give it time."
"Ha," he laughed thinly, uncertain of whether she was joking or not. "If it were only that easy. So, did you ever marry?"
"Well, I..." Mel's reply was cut off by the stewardess' return with the water.
"Here we are," Miss Dayton announced as she moved in between Hunter Richardson and Melinda Pappas. "Water, and a towel." She handed the first glass of water to Janice, then Mel, finally putting a bowl on the ground by Argo. The dog lapped happily at the water, splashing a good deal of it on Hunter Richardson's shoes. Mel discreetly wiped the remnants of the dog's sneeze from her lap then handed the towel to the annoyed millionaire.
"Charming creature," he muttered as he dried his expensive Italian shoes. Not military issue-but so far no one had complained. "But I guess a dog would be helpful in digging up old bones, now wouldn't he?" Hunter laughed again at his own joke, unaware that he was the only one who was doing so. He touched the arm of the stewardess to get her attention. "A vodka gimlet," he requested with out making eye-contact, then dismissed the woman. Janice's eyes narrowed slightly at the pretentiously superior behavior. She glanced out the window, looking at the vastness of the ocean below, ignoring what she could of the conversation taking place next to her. Hunter and a reluctant Mel were catching up on old times. Mel doing little except making brief comments about her life. It was just as well. Hunter appeared much more interested in talking about himself. Which he did at great speed, barely pausing to breathe.
As the stewardess returned with the gimlet, Janice noted her progress down the narrow aisle, the position of Argo and the dog's tail which lay near her feet. When Sue Dayton extended the drink to Hunter, Janice quickly stepped on Argo's tail. Not enough to hurt the big dog, but enough to startle her. The dog's head shot up with a snap, effectively dislodging the drink from the stewardess' hand. The millionaire cursed as the cold drink landed neatly in his lap, turning the beige uniform a dark brown.
"Argo, what's gotten into you?" Mel chided, her voice stern but not angry. She knew exactly what had prompted the dog's action. "I'm so sorry, Hunter," she sincerely told the fuming millionaire, echoing the apologies of the stewardess.
"No problem," he replied insincerely with a smile. "America's fighting force is trained to handle much worse. If you'll excuse me, I'll see what I can do about this..."
Mel nodded as the USO liaison got out of his seat, grabbed a newspaper and held it in front of his crotch as he headed to the lavatory at the back of the plane.
"That wasn't very nice," Mel scolded Janice when he was out of earshot.
"The guy was a windbag, Mel," Janice replied then smiled at the stewardess. "You agree, right?"
The stewardess blushed slightly, then smiled. "Well, that gimlet did find a nice home. If there is anything else you ladies would like, just let me know. And I think I can find some biscuits for Argo. If that's alright?"
Janice nodded and the stewardess departed. "I swear, sometimes you bring out the worst in people," Mel observed wryly.
"I've been told that," she answered, absently touching a fresh bruise under her dress near her neck.
"I don't mean that!" Mel shot back, blushing. With a grin, Janice reopened the Solari stories and began to read.
For the most part Janice found the ten hour flight to Morocco relaxing. She'd read through the thin book a number of times, checking words and phrases with Mel. She made copious notes in her notebook, then finally put the book away to ponder the implications. She looked over to notice her lover reading a book of her own and asked her about it.
"It's poetry," she explained. Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. For some reason the poem, The Tyger, of late has made me think of Xena."
"Read it to me," Janice urged.
After adjusting her glasses, Mel cleared her throat and began to read:
"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
"In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
"And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of they heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
"What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
"When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
"Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"
When she finished reading Mel Pappas closed the book and turned sad eyes to her lover. Janice understood the look. She'd worn the expression herself when she first learned she was related to Gabrielle. Someone who at the time she had thought was a useless tag-along. Apparently Mel was having some trouble coming to grips with her ancestor. "It's a beautiful poem, Mel," Janice said comfortingly. "But I can't say I agree with it. For tigers or Xena. Neither strike me as particularly evil. Each just does what they can to survive and thrive in their environments."
"Yes, but the more we uncover... the more we learn about Xena... there was just so much darkness." Mel shook her head, trying to distance herself from troubling memories she couldn't articulate.
"Yes, there was darkness," Janice countered, "but there was light too." She held up her hand, warding off the comment she knew was on Mel's lips. "Don't say the light was Gabrielle. Xena had a goodness that was all her own. While Gabrielle may have helped her find it, it was up to Xena to let burn. And she did. Besides," Janice added, "if what I've been reading here is any indication, Xena had a lot more to battle then her own personal demons."
"What do you mean?" Mel asked, firmly putting her melancholy behind her.
"These stories," Janice replied tapping the book. "I recognize some of them as Gabrielle's tales. There's the Titans, Callisto, the Thessalian War and other tales from the scrolls, but also some stories that are new to me. There is an Amazon legend about an oracle then later one about this warrior who is healed by one of the hunters. I also see repeated commentary about destiny and combat. Veiled references to Xena and Gabrielle I think. What is puzzling is the connection to Hephaestus and a contest between Ares and Athena. The Scrolls mentioned Ares, the God of War, not the God of Smiths."
The stewardess returned to pick up the dog's water bowl. "We're going to land shortly," she explained. "Welcome to Rabat, Morocco."
Mel handled the plane's landing surprisingly well. In fact, Janice's arm even retained some of its circulation. When Mel released her with a shy grin, Janice couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm going to get off the plane and stretch my legs. Wanna come?"
Mel nodded, agreeing. After grabbing her satchel with the books, Janice led the trio off the plane as it waited for refueling on the tarmac of the Rabat airport. It was night, the stars obscured by the bright lights of the airport. Mel, Janice and Argo headed to a strip of weeds and dirt by a chain link fence near the runway. In no time Argo was wandering among the grasses, relieving herself and marking territory she'd probably never see again. As Mel looked around the airfield, activity at the plane caught Janice's attention. "We were just stopping for refueling, right?" the archeologist asked as she looked at their transport.
Mel nodded. "That's what the USO liaison said," she replied.
"So why are they unloading the baggage?" Janice wondered as she strode over to the aircraft. "What are you doing?" she asked one of the ramp workers in a combination of Arabic and French as he tossed several bags from the plane to the cart below.
"I'll get the liaison officer," Mel said as she headed back onto the plane.
Mel returned with the USO official to find Janice in a heated discussion with the ramp workers. They exchanged curses in a variety of different languages and gestured wildly at each other.
"What's going on here!" the officer demanded.
"Someone's given these... gentlemen... orders to remove Miss Pappas' and my belongings from the plane. Care to explain why?" Janice said as she snatched the clipboard from the hands of one of the ramp workers.
The officer looked over the instructions and frowned. "This isn't right," he explained to the Moroccan, pointing to the few bags on the cart. "They are with us. Put those bags back on the plane."
Janice walked away, leaving the officer to deal with the mix-up. "What happened?" Mel asked, when Janice reached her side.
Nodding with satisfaction as the bags were loaded back onto the plane, Janice turned to Mel, giving the Southerner her full attention. "He said that he was told to take the bags with red tags off the plane, which I noticed were just ours."
"Why would someone do that?" Mel asked, as they returned to their seats.
"I don't know, but it's making me think our trip to Greece might not be a secret."
"Now, Janice," Mel chided softly, "don't you think you could be over reacting?" as they strode down the aisle.
Janice picked up a plain envelope that had been left on her seat. She opened it as she sat down, frowning at the plain white card left inside. "Not any more," she said as she showed Mel the card. "Yankee, go home!" was all it said.
"I don't suppose this is for you," Janice quipped regarding the note.
"I am most certainly not a Yankee, love," Mel replied quietly, her offense genuine.
Janice looked up and down the aisle of the plane. A few of the USO dancers chatted with the comics, and someone Janice recognized as an actor but couldn't place the name read a book. Most of the passengers, however, slept soundly in their seats. She handed the note to Argo who sniffed the note curiously. "Get 'em!" the archeologist whispered to her dog.
Argo sniffed the note again, then the seat where it had been sitting then her questing muzzle explored the floor near the seat. "Wait here," Janice said to Mel, and handed her the light brown satchel. Argo headed up the aisle, stopping occasionally to check the scent on the carpeted floor. Several passengers regarded the duo curiously, some were even surprised to see a dog in the plane at all. That relieved Janice tremendously. She'd hoped Argo had been unobtrusive enough on the ten hour flight for most passengers not to be aware of her presence. Finally the dog came to a stop outside the lavatory at the front of the plane. She sat obediently and barked once. "Thank you, girl," Janice said as she praised the dog with affectionate strokes on her head. "Now, go see Mel," she instructed quietly. Argo waited for a couple more scratches behind the ears then padded softly down the aisle to Melinda Pappas.
Janice watched her go, unable to keep the grin off her face whenever she saw her canine companion in action. Her attention was brought back to the lavatory as the door opened. A startled Sue Dayton emerged to see Janice waiting for her. "Can I get you something, Dr. Covington?" she asked.
Janice held up the note. "Did you put this on my seat?"
She nodded. "I put an envelope on your seat. A plain white one. A woman brought it over from the control tower."
Janice's eyes narrowed. "What woman?"
Miss Dayton moved from the lavatory to the open door of the plane. The two women stepped onto the stair platform that provided access to the carrier plane. "Over there," she said pointing in the direction of the control tower. "A woman crossed the tarmac from the control tower. Tall, thin-she had brown hair and blue eyes, pretty woman. She asked for you, I'm surprised you didn't see her."
Janice shook her head, annoyed she didn't get a look at the visitor. "Miss Pappas and I were taking Argo for a walk. We were over there," she replied, pointing to the area away from the runway."
"Oh. That would explain why you missed her. I'm surprised we can't still see her on the tarmac, it's a long walk to the control tower." Janice listened to the stewardess, her eyes searching the darkness for any sign of movement. Whoever their visitor was, she was gone now. "Is there something wrong?" the stewardess asked.
"What?" Janice replied distracted from her inner thoughts.
"I asked if anything was wrong," the stewardess repeated.
"No, I don't think so," Janice replied, hoping she was right.
"Well that's all taken care of," the USO liaison officer said as he climbed the stairs to the plane.
"What was the problem?" Janice asked wondering if there was any connection between misplaced baggage and cryptic note.
The officer shook his head and shrugged. "Just some messed up paperwork. The ramp workers had been left instructions to remove your bags from the plane, I don't know why. Anyway, they're all back on board and as soon as we finish refueling, we'll be on our way."
Janice thanked the man, then returned to her seat. By the time she'd explained the situation to Melinda, the plane was again readying for take-off. In no time they had finished their ascent, had leveled out, and were on their way to Alexandria. "I think you're getting the hang of air travel," the archeologist commented when her companion finally opened her eyes.
"Don't kid yourself," Mel murmured back. "Why don't you tell me about one of the stories from the book to keep my mind off this insanity."
"Fair enough," Janice replied and carefully opened the weathered book to the first story. "The first story is called The Challenge of Three Ages," Janice explained as she began to read. "From the heights of Mount Olympus, beyond the reach of mortals, the gods entertained themselves with the plight of humanity. Bored, Ares the god of war challenged his sister Athena to a duel. Selecting from the souls of the unborn, Ares chose a champion. 'She will rule the world, nations will tremble at her feet and she will die with my name on her lips,' he roared triumphantly. 'She will not,' Athena replied and the duel was set. It was decided that neither might directly touch the champion of the other in his arrogance, Ares had his champion born of Artemis' chosen. Athena also chose a champion but not of her sister's chosen. Not trusting the god of war to act fairly, Aphrodite and Artemis blessed the champion of Athena and tasked Hephaestus to bestow his blessing on the champion of Ares. Athena approved and thanked her sisters. To which Aphrodite said, 'The name of yours she will utter when facing her darkest hour. Throughout time Ares' thorn will be bound unerring to my flower.'"
"That doesn't sound like Aphrodite," Mel observed.
"I think the author used some artistic license," Janice replied with a grin. "Anyway the story goes on to say that the Fates sent warning of Ares' plan to the mortal realm, and in time the soul of Ares' champion was sent forth into the realm of mortals as well. A fancy way of saying she was born. Zeus gave Ares three chances to demonstrate the devotion of his chosen, if he could not in all three ages, the god of war would forfeit the bet and Athena would be declared the winner." Janice paused in her reading and frowned.
"According to this, the champion triumphed in the first age sending Ares into a furious rage and entombed until the second age. The contest of the second age would see the battle fought in his tomb. Unable to touch the realm of man he called upon the goddess of Chaos to bind the soul of his champion before the battle of the third age could take place."
"Was she successful?" Mel asked, too engrossed in the tale to take note of the sun's earliest rays hitting the Atlas Mountains below.
"I'm not sure," Janice replied after gazing out the window at the splendor of the sunrise below then returning to the Latin text. "Check this phrasing. Doesn't that say that the soul of Athena's champion would be needed to keep the warrior from Ares' grasp?"
Mel adjusted her glasses and read the Latin text. "It's 'Ares' purpose' but the meaning is the same. Do you think the battle of the second age was Macedonia?" the Southerner wondered aloud.
Janice grinned, "I suppose it could be. You... well, you and Xena certainly bested Ares."
"And you left him a nice tomb of rubble," Mel added.
"So I wonder if Leesto's Island dealt with foiling the goddess of Chaos before the third age?" Janice asked, gazing again to the sunrise below. The snow of the Atlas Mountains reflected the morning's sun, bathing everything in crisp white light.
"If that's the case, then why are you so frantic to find our ancestors?" Mel asked softly. "I know you Janice," she added, her voice gentle. "It's beyond solving an ancient riddle, like the scrolls. You've been on edge lately, restless. Something is pulling at you, and I think we both know what it is."
"What would that be?" Janice asked, taking her lover's hand and quickly looking around to see if anyone noticed.
Mel's eye's sparkled as the sunlight streamed in the airplane window. "Your destiny, perhaps?"
"No, love," Janice corrected her. "Our destiny."
...Xena and I slowly walked back to the encampment with Argo following behind. Strangely, there were many signs of battle but not a single member of Ares' army could be seen, aside from the corpses that is. A group of women were gathered around the now resurrected Amazon Darbin had killed. She stood over Darbin's decapitated body. At the sight of our approach Ephiny rushed over, rage evident in her sculpted features.
"Ephiny, don't!" I demanded, not trying to curb the forcefulness in my voice. "Xena was under some sort of spell. This was the work of Ares. Leave her alone. You two can talk about this later."
Ephiny blinked, surprised at my outburst then her face softened. "You're right, Gabrielle. Xena, I apologize."
"Don't be ridiculous, Ephiny," an Amazon I did not know remarked. "It's the curse. Xena was not able to destroy us this time, but she will eventually..."
"Diana, that's enough!" Ephiny barked to the Amazon. "Queen Gabrielle has made a request and it will be honored. Go back to the village and let the others know we're alright."
"What curse?" I asked, as we walked back to the Amazon village. Xena walked next to me, her eyes downcast, her thoughts distant.
"It's nothing," Ephiny assured me, "just an old story. Really, Gabrielle, don't worry about it." Her words were believable, but something in the way she glanced at Xena told me that she was lying. I wondered if perhaps it was a story I'd need to hear from my warrior.
We hadn't been in the village long when Xena and I retired to Terreis' hut. I still had trouble thinking of it as mine. "Argo okay?" I asked conversationally, hating the silence that hung between us like a curtain.
Xena nodded mutely, her back to me as she stared at the smooth surface of Terreis' dresser. I stared at her back for a few minutes, deciding where to start. "What happened after I left?" I finally asked.
Xena continued to stare at the dresser. Finally, she took a deep breath and began to speak. Her back remained towards me, and she spoke with an even, expressionless voice. "Gabrielle," she began. "I spent some time thinking after you left. It didn't take long to see how wrong I was, how much I'd hurt you. I debated with myself whether you'd be better off without me." She stopped talking and paused for a moment deciding how much she was going to say. Coming to a decision, she rushed on. "While I knew you'd probably be better off without me, I knew I simply couldn't live without you. I wouldn't want to. I decided, selfishly I suppose, to go after you. You said you were going home so I went to Poteidaia to find you. What I found was a decimated village. A plague had run rampant through the area claiming almost half your village. Both you and Lila died from it.
"But that's impossible..." I gasped.
She nodded and I saw her shoulders sag slightly. "Somehow I should have known it couldn't be true, but it was so real. Strife and Pestilence had been hard at work. Your family was in mourning." She turned around to face me, and for maybe the second time since I'd known Xena, I saw tears that threatened to fall from vibrant blue eyes. "Gabrielle, I stood next to the ashes from your funeral pyre." She shook her head trying to banish the images that were obviously haunting her memory. "I don't know what happened, but something snapped. I felt myself die. Nothing mattered." She smiled at me sadly. "I've had that feeling once before." With a shake of her head she continued, "I had been so afraid of you being in danger from being with me. Or being in danger away from me by warlords or thieves. It never dawned on me that you could die from something as senseless as illness. I found out that the plague reached Poteidaia because someone brought in meat from a hunt that had been tainted with sickness. Two rival raiding parties had fought a battle near Poteidaia. The rotting corpses that littered the battlefield brought in the sickness."
"So what did you do?" I asked as I watched her intently. She put her thoughts in order, seemingly by sheer force of will and continued with her narrative.
"I set out to track down the raiding party that won. I tried to tell myself it was to bring them to justice. To drag them back and force them to help rebuild what their skirmish had destroyed. For a time I really thought I could do what you asked, not become a monster." She shook her head sadly as she gazed at me "I'm sorry, Gabrielle," she whispered, "I couldn't. I'm not that strong." Defeated she slumped into a chair.
I didn't know what to do or say, so I walked over and put my hands on either side of her face, drawing her head up to look at me. "You didn't let me down, Xena," I said softly. "I love you. It was wrong of me to leave you the way I did and I'm sorry. No more leaving-for either of us. We stay together and work things out together." Her body began to tremble as my hands moved from her cheeks to her shoulders.
"How can you forgive me?" she asked as her gaze moved to my injured shoulder. "I've hurt you."
I took a deep breath. My next words surprised even me. It's funny, how sometimes you heart can say things that are true, even as the rest of you wishes it weren't. "You're a violent person, Xena. I know that and I accept it. That doesn't mean I like it, but it's part of you. I just want to know why you did it."
She cast her eyes downward. "I thought you were Ares," she whispered. "He came to me, as you several times. At first they were dreams, then I wasn't so sure. I can't believe I was so foolish. I'm sorry."
With a sigh I drew her to my chest. What else could I do? I held her as tight sobs wracked her powerful frame. I ran my fingers through her dark hair. I don't know why, but I was surprised again at the softness of it. It's funny, to realize just how much about Xena was soft. I don't know how long I stood there. It only seemed like a moment, but when I raised my head I could see that it was getting dark outside. Xena had been quiet for a while. Things between us felt strange, but at the same time her arms around my waist felt so good. I sighed and felt her arms tighten. Xena was feeling this too. "Why are the Amazons afraid of you?" I asked.
"It's an Amazon legend," she answered finally.
I could tell she was uncomfortable and didn't really want to talk about this. Still, the Amazons had become my family and I felt that I had to know. Especially if I was in a position to bridge the mistrust between the Warrior Nation and the Warrior Princess. "Would you tell me about it?" I asked.
Nodding, she dried her eyes and took a drink of water before relaying the story. It was then that I could really appreciate just how much I meant to Xena. Xena's willingness to break down in my presence, then not try to cover it up meant more to me than she could ever know.
"The story isn't from this village, but a remote one closer to the Black Sea, although by now I'd imagine it's spread throughout the Amazon nation." She stood and began to pace the room as she told her tale. I took the seat she'd just vacated and listened with rapt attention to the unlikely occurrence of Xena the Warrior Princess telling a story.
"Five women who were part of a hunting party found a lost traveler, an oracle. She was young and alone in the woods, having gotten lost on her way to Chalcedon. Since the Amazon nation was originally unified under the guidance of a very powerful oracle, Amazons take oracles very seriously. The lost woman was taken to the village to recuperate. That night she had a vision. She told the Queen that one of the five women who rescued her would give birth to a daughter, a child who would grow up and make the world tremble at her feet and lead the entire Amazon nation to their doom in the service of the war-god Ares. The prophecy was very specific. The child would be female, raised an Amazon and gifted in the art of war."
"You?" I breathed.
"The Amazons seem to think so," Xena replied. "Naturally all five Amazons were horrified that they might be responsible for the destruction of their people so they agreed not to bear children. Everyone was content, assuming that would circumvent the oracle's prediction. The next year a wounded warrior was found by a scouting party on the banks of a large river that separated Centaur and Amazon land. He had been hit by a stray centaur arrow. The first skirmishs between Amazon and Centaur nations was well under way by then. The Amazon scouts took pity on the warrior, since, by all signs, it appeared he had simply been in the wrong place at the right time. The custom would have been to care for the man in the custodianship of the Queen. But the Queen had a young baby, named Melosa by the way, and it was decided the man would take healing elsewhere. He was carried on a stretcher to the hut of Xelana who shared it with her daughter, Cyrene."
"You're kidding," I breathed. "Your mother? So the warrior was Atrius?"
Xena nodded. "Yes, Gabrielle. My mother was an Amazon and she fell in love with Atrius while tending to his wounds. But make no mistake, he felt the same way about her. Anyway, the entire tribe was in an uproar, especially when she realized that she was pregnant. Atrius was kept under house arrest as everyone anxiously waited for the child to be born. It had been decided that if the child were female, a trial would be needed to decide their fate. As it was, a son was born. They named him Toris, a name honored by Atrius' family. Much relieved, it was time for decisions to be made. If Cyrene wanted to stay with Atrius, she would have to leave her people-otherwise father and baby would have to go on alone. So mother said good-bye to her family and left with Atrius to start a new life. I can only guess they felt they'd beaten the prophecy by having a boy. The next year she became pregnant again. Now that she was well away from the customs of the Amazon, she was only slightly concerned with the birth of a girl."
"So you were named after your grandmother?" I asked.
Xena nodded and continued on with her narrative, "Mother made Atrius promise not to teach us about war or weapons. Being a warrior and proud of it, he refused. But after hearing of the prophecy, he agreed not to teach me. Finally Lyceus was born and named purely from mother's heart."
"So how did you learn to fight?" I asked in a rush.
"Atrius respected mother's wishes and only taught Toris and Lyceus the art of warfare. What they did not expect was that the two boys, needing someone to practice on besides each other, would teach their lessons to me. I'll be honest, Gabrielle, Lyceus lacked the killer instinct and Toris was plain clumsy. It didn't take long before they needed to work together to keep me at bay."
"And the Amazon customs, how did you learn about those?"
"Mother would tell stories about her people in the evenings. I don't think she realized what she was doing. But the stories were exotic and exciting; Tor and Ly never seemed to tire of them. I enjoyed the stories too, but tried not to draw attention to myself when mother spoke of her people. I guess that even back then I knew mother would freeze up if she knew I was paying close attention. I would sit near Lyceus and play with his toys when mother told stories, but I listened to every word. When I was five she saw me sparring in the field with my brothers. It's an understatement to say she was livid. I think Atrius left shortly thereafter, I suppose I was about four summers old at the time. Mother changed after that. She detested violence of any sort, and a strict 'no weapons' policy was started in the Inn. One night I heard her praying to Athena that I be spared the consequences of the prophecy."
"Did the Amazons try to keep in touch with your mother?" I asked, realizing the depth of the chasm that separated Xena and Cyrene.
"I think that maybe two or three visits were made. I remember one where she made it clear that she wanted Amazons well away from her family. By the time Cortese came to Amphipolis it had been many years since an Amazon had journeyed there. I certainly would have enlisted their help had they been a resource I could have turned to."
"And that's why you're so sensitive to being called Amazon?" I asked. Her blue eyes flashed with humor. For the first time in too long, she smiled at me.
"I wouldn't say it's because I'm particularly sensitive about it, Gabrielle. I may be born of Amazon blood and know their customs, but I don't feel like one of them. I suspect most Amazons feel the same way about me."
"Valaska called you Amazon when I was taking your body back to Amphipolis," I observed.
"Yes," Xena agreed, "and we all know what type of Amazon she was."
"So that's why your mother disowned you, because you became a warlord?" I asked as gently as I could.
"What I became, Gabrielle, was a horrible person." Xena said gazing out the open window. "I think mother would have disowned me, curse or no curse."
"But you've changed, Xena," I reminded her.
Xena turned to face me, an incredulous expression etched in her features. "How can you say that?" she demanded. "After what I just did to you?"
"Xena, you could have easily killed me, but you didn't. Even under the spell of Ares. What I want to know is what's the point? Why the curse in the first place?"
"Who's to say, Gabrielle," she replied softly, turning to the window once more. "The Fates, the gods? I don't even know the validity of the prophecy in the first place." She sighed and turned her beautiful face back to me. "The Amazons take it very seriously though. I don't think we should stay here beyond tonight, Gabrielle." She glanced down at her boots. "At least I know I shouldn't."
I stood up and moved into her embrace. "Xena, I go where you go. Above all else, I love you."
"I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered fiercely, resting her chin on the top of my head. "With all my heart."
"I think we should go to Poteidaia," I murmured against her chest. "I'd like to see my family, make sure they're alright."
"I understand," Xena replied, holding me tightly. "We'll leave at first light."
Chapter 5: Family Reunions
Janice Covington sighed as she boarded the yacht, Lovely Lunacy, its name proclaimed in gleaming gold paint on the stern of the magnificent vessel. While boats of any kind were not her favorite mode of transportation, she had to admit, Mel Pappas had style. The elegant luxury ship stood out among the variety of fishing boats moored at the harbor. This followed the ride in the immaculate black Bentley which had met them at the airport, then chauffeured them to the harbor at Alexandria. "Another family friend?" Janice asked wryly as they headed below decks.
"A cousin actually," Mel replied as she unlocked the door to the main cabin. "That was his car as well. Nice man, though I've only met him once."
"And he's not worried about you taking his yacht into a war zone?" Janice asked as she looked around at the accommodations, which were quite spacious for shipboard setting. The cabin was furnished with dark antique furniture: dresser, dressing table and small desk were on one side of the room, an amoire and fluffy antique bed on the other. The archeologist plopped down onto the bed, experimentally testing the mattress. Argo took that as her cue and jumped up as well.
"I told Cousin Martin that I was touring the Aegean sea. I decided it would be best if I left out the war zone parts," she smiled at her lover warmly, "as well as the roguish company I keep."
Janice grinned back with mock surprise. "You don't think Cousin Martin would approve of me?" Suddenly her eyes were alight with mischief as she gave her lover a suggestive leer. "You don't think we have a crack at being a Von Melosa family scandal, now do you?"
"I swear, Janice, you're incorrigible. If I didn't find it so dammed charming, I'd be positively indignant," Mel said resting her hands firmly on her hips and frowning down at the reclining archeologist.
"Ah, but you're at your most irresistible when you're indignant," Janice shot back flirtatiously.
Mel laughed and picked up the satchel of books the archeologist had deposited on the dresser and tossed it over to the bed. "And you have work to do. We'll be at the museum in Athens tomorrow. I want a full run down on what it is we hope to discover there."
"Fair enough," Janice replied. "Work first, then I'll have to test you... see how closely you paid attention."
As Lovely Lunacy left the harbor, two sets of eyes watched her departure. The shadowed figures watched through field glasses from the battered deck of an old fishing boat. "Dr. Covington does not seem to frighten easily," the taller of the two commented.
"That is unfortunate for her," the shorter figure replied. "Contact our people on board The Charmer. At least we know where she's headed. We stop Dr. Janice Covington at Athens, she gets no closer to Xena than that." The taller of the two nodded and headed to the radio equipment to relay the order. The other straightened her skirt then left, her heels clipping softly on the wooden planks of the dock as she headed to a waiting car. Comfortably seated in the white Mercedes, it sped off towards the airport for the next available flight to Athens.
Mel Pappas awoke slowly in the dimly lit cabin. Her arm leisurely made its way to the side of the bed normally occupied by her lover. Azure eyes opened in surprise when she found the space empty. Instantly her attention focused on the woman sitting at the mahogany desk. A small lamp cast soft shadows on the wall, bathing Janice in an eerie glow. Mel watched silently as Janice worked, Argo curled up, asleep at her feet. Carefully she turned the brittle pages in the decaying book, comparing the passages she studied with the notations scribbled in her notebook. Several times she checked references from a variety of loose papers she also carried, including the sarcophagus rubbing from Scotland. Melinda Pappas smiled. This was a Janice Covington she rarely had the opportunity to see: Janice the Scholar. While the Southern heiress was well acquainted with Janice the Adventurer and Janice the Lover, seeing the studious woman absorbed in her work was rare. Even while they had been translating the scrolls during their first months together Mel saw Janice the Suitor as much as the Scholar. It felt odd at first to be courted by someone who lived under the same roof, but Mel soon adjusted to Janice's surprisingly romantic nature. Smiling at the memory, Mel knew something Janice didn't. While pleasant, the courting was entirely unnecessary. Before settling in North Carolina with the archeologist, Melinda Pappas had already fallen completely and utterly in love.
"What time is it?" she asked, the gentle rocking of the yacht making it difficult to wake up.
Janice glanced over her shoulder and smiled. While she was wrapped in a warm bath robe, her lover was wearing nothing save the satin sheets they'd slept in. Janice decided that Mel made satin look especially inviting. "It's almost time to get up. I'm surprised you slept so long."
"Surprised?" Mel challenged with an arched eyebrow. "You wore me out, love."
"You should talk," Janice replied with a grin. "If we were on solid land I'd be sleeping like a baby. You know, we should get some sheets like this for home."
"If I'd known you didn't like ships I'd have gotten us a flight to Athens," Mel offered sincerely. "And since when are you a connoisseur of sheets?"
Janice beamed. "Since last night," she said with a wink. "Seriously though, I think traveling by sea is safer in light of the war. The Nazis are less apt to pay attention to a remote boat dock than the Athens airport. But truth be told, I detest sea travel, always have." Unconsciously as she spoke, the index and middle finger of her right hand firmly pressed a pressure point on her left wrist.
"You didn't seem to mind it on The Gauntlet," Mel observed.
"Let's see..." Janice said with a smile, tapping her finger on her chin. "I got in a fight, got thrown overboard, had to swim in icy water to Remember Nothing where I promptly got shot." She paused scratching her head for emphasis. "Then I got in another fight, had to blow up the ship, swim back to The Gauntlet where I promptly got blind drunk then had to endure the removal of the bullet. I don't think I had the opportunity to get seasick. Besides, Pop taught me how to hit a pressure point to keep the sickness away, only it makes me hungry so I try not to use it too often. Archeology isn't known for its leisurely lunches."
"I see," Mel replied with a grin. "You neglected to mention in all of that, that it was the first time you slept with me as well."
Janice turned in her chair to look directly at her lover. Soft blue green eyes began to darken with a now familiar passion and Mel felt her insides flutter at the sight. "Then let me correct my oversight right now," Janice said softly. "I adore you and there isn't an instant we've shared together that I don't relive over and over again whenever we're apart. I wish I'd let you take that bullet out of my arm with me sober just to have the memory of lying in bed next to you."
Mel felt a lump in her throat, "You're sober now," she whispered.
"Yeah, I guess I am," Janice agreed slowly standing and moving towards the bed.
"And no one has shot at you for..." Mel paused to think. "At least a month or so."
"Good point," the archeologist agreed as she slowly removed her bath robe. Mel smiled as her lover's naked body was uncovered. A smile that quickly turned to a frown as she saw Janice continue walking past the bed to the adjoining bathroom.
"Just where do you think you're going?" Mel demanded.
Janice took two steps backwards and grinned. "To take a shower and get dressed for the museum. As I recall someone recommended, no, insisted I wear a dress. You know it always takes me longer to get ready when I have to dress up." Still smiling she continued on to the bathroom. In moments Mel heard the sound of running water. Slapping her pillow in frustration she also had to laugh. Her lover had indeed repaid torture for torture. Still, she did not see how the discomfort of wearing silk and heels could compare with a day of sexual frustration. "I'll show her," Mel decided, "I'll make her wear make-up."
Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas arrived at the Acropolis museum at Athens without incident. Mel was especially pleased that the preparations she'd made for the trip had thus far worked out so well. A light breakfast was ready on deck. Mel made a mental note to write her cousin and thank him. The yacht was wonderful and the crew so professional and discreet as to have seemed almost invisible. As Martin promised a car for touring Athens was waiting for them at the dock. Dressed in smart skirts and blouses, the duo made their way to the city of Athens.
For all of Mel's planning there were certain things that could not be counted on, the temperament of other people being one of them. As she and Janice walked up the steps to the museum they were rudely stopped by the guard at the door.
"Is there a problem?" Janice asked evenly.
"No dogs allowed," he replied, his accent rough and heavy.
Janice glanced down to her left. Argo stood patiently at her side. As the guard and Janice argued, she sat down. Gazing up at her mistress, she waited.
"That's no dog," Mel interjected, "that's Dr. Covington's research assistant."
The guard looked at Mel and snorted. "If that is the research assistant, then what are you?"
"Would you believe mistress?" Janice quipped.
Mel jabbed her in the arm and turned her attention back to the guard. "I am Melinda Pappas, Dr. Covington's financial underwriter for this expedition and I have an appointment with Mr. Lendos."
"Fine," the guard replied. "You may go in, but the dog stays outside."
"Alright then," Janice said with a thin smile. She waved her arm towards the front door, "After you Miss Pappas." Mel glanced at Argo, clearly not wanting to leave the dog unattended as Janice made a grand show of hand gestures to make the dog stay. Argo sat obediently, looking a bit confused herself. Leaning close to the canine, Janice whispered "big noise," before following Mel inside the building. The moment the door closed separating dog from owner, Argo got up and paced in front of the museum doors like a caged predator. Howling followed, punctuated by barrages of barking. People heading up the steps toward the museum took one look at the distressed animal and headed quickly away from the building.
Mel and Janice had not made it further than the information desk when the guard rushed up to them. "You have to keep the dog quiet," he said. Janice noticed that a subtle pleading tone had crept into the stern man's voice.
Janice looked down to the vacant spot by her left side. "What dog?" she asked innocently. "Funny, I don't see any dog." The guard was about to protest when she silenced his objections with a wave of her hand. "Look, buddy," she began, "I've got work to do. A lot of it. I'm going to be here for at least a couple of hours. You said the dog had to stay outside. Fine, she's outside. Now you want her quiet. It's up to you. Let her inside and I guarantee she'll be so quiet no one will know she's here. Otherwise you're going to have to put up with her for the next two hours." The man's expression began to darken and Janice narrowed her gaze. "And I warn you, if anything happens to her out there... I'd like to point out that she has several brothers and sisters owned by prominent members of the United States Congress."
With a frown the guard turned on his heel and headed back to his post. Moments later Janice heard the unmistakable clicking of Argo padding across the marble floor to join the rest of her 'pack'. Mel made eye contact with the dog and grinned, then frowned at her owner. "Prominent members of Congress? Don't you think that's over doing it just a bit?"
"Maybe so," Janice agreed. "But think about it, two houses of Congress... there has to be at least one or two prominent members in all of that."
Mel asked for Mr. Lendos, the museum curator, at the information desk.With a smile, the receptionist phoned her request. "Mr. Lendos will be a few minutes, the police stopped by first thing this morning. If you don't mind waiting..."
"Not at all," Janice assured the receptionist with a smile. "We'll just be looking at the exhibits." She pointed toward the exhibit to the left. Seeing the woman behind the counter nod in acknowledgement, the trio headed over. The first artifact encountered was a portion of a frieze from the Parthenon. The figures in the ancient marble stood in weathered relief, forever static in their poses. Next to the frieze was a stele of Athena. Janice was familiar with the sculpture of the warrior goddess. Her eyes glanced at the identification plate mounted on the wall near the stele. It read c. 450 B.C. Janice nodded, that sounded about right.
"Janice, over here," Mel whispered from a nearby display case. Inside was an amphora with the distinctive black and orange glazing of ancient Greek vessels. She smiled seeing why Mel called her over. The pictures depicted a huge man wrestling a large beast. The information plaque said: Hercules Wrestling with the Nemean Lion, Psiax. Amphora 520 B.C., On loan from Museo Civico de Brescia, Italy. "It doesn't look a thing like him," Mel said softly.
Janice agreed, not too surprised that she knew exactly how Hercules looked. "Remember, this stuff was created by artisans who never met the man." Janice stepped over to the next case. "Oh great," she grumbled at the artifact housed there.
"What?" Mel asked, then read the information plate. "Proto-Attic amphora c.675 B. C.,The Blinding of Polyphemus: "And they thrust the stake of olive wood into the monster's eye, for he had but one ye, and that in the midst of his forehead, with the eyebrow below it." On loan from Eleusis Museum, Greece."
"Ulysses, my favorite," Janice said with a scowl.
"Janice, stop it," Mel chided. "I've been a good sport about Solari, don't start with Ulysses."
Knowing she was right, Janice smiled. "Fair enough," she agreed. Her attention was drawn to Argo who barked once sitting next to another glass case. Janice quickly scanned the museum to see if anyone noticed. Fortunately, it was early morning and the museum was almost empty. "What is it, girl?" Janice asked as she joined her dog by the display case. Laughing out loud, Janice called Mel over to take a look at Argo's discovery. A faded and tattered dress was displayed on a somewhat mountainous dress form. Dozens and dozens of necklaces were positioned over the dress, hanging around the 'neck' of the headless dress form. Something about the sight was so familiar. After a moment of rapt gazing Janice and Mel looked at each other and uttered one word in unison: "Widgie."
Peering over to the information plaque she grinned as she read its information. "Ceremonial robes of the Widgian Oracle, date indeterminate."
"Widgian Oracle?" Mel repeated with a laugh. "I don't know what's funnier, calling her that or saying that housedress is a ceremonial robe?"
"You got that right," Janice agreed, kneeling down to peer more closely at the bracelets that were arranged in the base of the display case. "But you know, Mel, this is the first physical evidence of Widgie I've ever..." Her voice trailed off as she looked up. Mel was no longer standing beside her but had wandered over to another display.
Janice followed her over, sensing something was wrong. Mel stood rigid, still as a statue, in front of the display case. Looking at the display, it didn't take long for Janice to see why. The artifact in question was a large wooden board blackened from an ancient fire. Words had been etched deeply into the wood, the scrawl barely legible. Janice felt numb as she read the ancient writing silently to herself.
The sky rained fire as the hour of death drew near and the anguished screaming of my mother and my sister faded until all that could be heard was the din of burning. I was not strong enough to drag their broken bodies from the flames. Burned by charred flesh as I tried, I left them to smolder. The embers of their bodies burned down as all the love, mercy and goodness drained from me, suffocated by the killing smoke. All that is left of my world is this to mark the site of their murder.
In the village square I saw the princess of death looking down at me as if I were inconsequential. "Why?!" I screamed, daring her to make the murder of my family complete. I chose my path as the warrior princess looked away. One day she will wish she had killed me when she had the chance.
From this day forward I dedicate my life the destruction of the warrior princess. I pledge with what is left of my soul to make her, the torch that set my world ablaze, pay for her crimes. If justice is denied me, I will welcome revenge.
I do not know her name, but the monster with blue eyes and raven hair commanding an army of ruthless killers murdered 62 men, 71 women, 28 children and 17 infirm this day. Though I have looked for survivors, I find I am all that is left.
Callisto of Cirra