They remained there for a whole week, not being able to see each other. They had been deliberately separated. Zipper recovered, but he was suffering about Skedesa. She was torn by the same torturous suffering. They were both wondering what the Romans were going to do to them.
One day, late in the afternoon, guardians came and led them to the arena. They threw a sword and a shield to each of them, and then Skedesa and Zipper were left alone. It was bustling with people around. The town chief rose and said:
“Here are the Thracians in front of you. They are good warriors. They are lovers. Today they are going to fight for their love. If they win, they will regain their freedom.”
The audience cheered.
Zipper looked at Skedesa with affection and mild fear for her life, as well with growing fury towards the Romans. Then he met her eyes, and they were very beautiful, and they were strangely radiant. They seemed to send off beams that penetrated his eyes, and that filled him with confidence and composure. Skedesa smiled at him with so much faith and love, that he already knew nothing evil was going to befall them.
They took their swords and shields and prepared for the fight.
They expected human adversaries, but surprisingly for them, a lion appeared from a small door and strode into the arena. The lion was large and strong. Its mane was long and thick.
The audience went wild with screams and shrieks.
Zipper took a defensive position. He had killed a lot of bears in the forest, with all kinds of weapons, and he was not worried.
“However large you are, you are simply a kitten,” Zipper told the lion.
Skedesa laughed. Her laugh was sincere and unembarrassed.
Zipper beckoned to her, inviting her to separate from him. The separation confused the lion. It was at a loss about whom to attack. After a short period of hesitation, it made for Skedesa. That was not to Zipper’s liking.
“Hey, hey, purr, purr, kitty, come here. Hey, she is much skinnier, come to me, I have much more meat for you,” Zipper cried out to the lion.
The beast stopped. It turned its head towards him and stared at him. Then suddenly it darted towards Zipper, ready to fell him and sink its teeth into him. The Thracian was prepared and dashed towards the wall. When he reached it, the lion had almost overtaken him. Zipper took a couple of steps on the wall and sprang in a somersault, dodging the beast’s mouth. The lion had gathered speed, it couldn’t stop and hit its head hard into the wall. The pain from the blow it had inflicted on itself made it utter a strange guttural sound. It fell to the ground, but was soon on its feet again.
The spectators were screaming, happy with the initial development of the battle.
Zipper looked the lion in the eyes and saw they were a little blurred. He only had to manage to lure it and stab it.
He reunited with Skedesa in the middle of the arena, and they waited for the next attack. The lion stepped slowly, but it was obvious it was ready to attack them by surprise. When it came to a distance from which it could reach them with just one leap, it jumped against them, its sharp claws spread out.
Zipper pushed Skedesa to one side, and he himself dived aside in the opposite direction. The lion landed without harming them, and it buried its claws into the sand. It was clear the beast was already raging furious. It dashed towards Zipper. The Thracian waited for him. Then he jumped very high, and the lion passed under him, wondering where his prey was.
Then it initiated another slow attack towards Zipper, but at the last moment it made for Skedesa.
Suddenly the sky went dark with heavy clouds. Fearful thunders echoed, and flashes were seen high above. The spectators started screaming, and a commotion set in. Even the lion was taken aback. A moment later, a double-edged lightning struck the arena. One edge hit the rostrum at which the Romans were sitting, and the other landed on the lion. The beast flew a couple of metres away, and then thumped lifeless on the ground. Its side was burned heavily, and smoke was rising from it. The smell of burned flesh was spreading.
An unbelievable disturbance and hubbub ensued. Lightnings continued to strike, though not so near. The people pushed each other and fell off the seats, and many of them collapsed on the arena. A pouring rain lashed down, and cries and shrieks rose. The thunders were getting stronger, and they were ominous and fearful.
Zipper looked at the rostrum where the Romans were to sit. They were also running and bustling. He met the eyes of the town chief who was scared and astounded. Zipper quickly grabbed Skedesa’s hand, and they darted away.
Several soldiers stood in their way, but they dealt with them soon. Now they were outside the arena and mingled with the crowd of people who were mad with fear. They ran for some time with the flow of scared people, and then hid in a side street.
“Come,” Zipper said. “We’ll go to the river. There are boats. We can escape downstream.”
They reached the river. It was overflowing with the pouring rain which was coming down, in large drops. They found a boat and jumped in. Zipper started rowing quickly, but the river water itself was moving lightning fast.
He did not manage to get round a turn, and the boat hit the high bank. Skedesa lost her balance and fell into the river. Zipper shivered with confusion and immediately jumped after her. Thus, borne by the current, they were swimming and getting farther from the town.
At some moment, Zipper lost sight of Skedesa. He was scared she could have drowned. He summoned all his strength and swam towards the place where he had last seen her; then he dived under the water. But the water was muddy, and hardly anything could be seen. He swam back to the surface and called her name.
He called many times, but his beloved woman did not respond. He was frozen with fear, and he moaned:
“Don’t take her away, Zbelsourdos! I will give you the hugest bear as a gift! Just bring her back to me!”
A lightning tore the sky and landed nearby, by the river bank.
Zipper took that as a sign of the god, and headed for the place.
He went out of the water, and indeed, a couple of steps away he saw Skedesa swept ashore by the waves, prostrate on the stones.
However, she was motionless. He saw her head. Blood was streaming from it. He pressed the wound with his hand, but that did not help. He tore off a piece of cloth from his robe and covered the wound with it. Now the blood stopped. He found out she was breathing, but strangely she did not open her eyes. He patted her lightly from time to time, but Skedesa did not react.
“You will be fine, my love, you will be fine,” he spoke to her and caressed her with affection and hope.
He took her in his hands and started looking for shelter to hide from the rain. Finally he found an old disused boat with a hole in it, and laid Skedesa inside.
He went out into the rain and cried out, like an animal having lost its cubs. He was crying with such power that even the clouds dispersed.
The rain weakened and soon subsided.
Suddenly a boat appeared. Zipper hid to avoid being seen. The boat approached, and he saw the boatman, the old man he had met in the forest and had helped him to get the snake. He wondered what the old man was doing here.
The white-bearded man headed his boat towards the shore, and then Zipper went out to help him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked him.
“Now no time for explaining,” the weird old man said. “Where is Skedesa?”
“Over there, under the boat.”
They went to her and saw she was still unconscious.
“Must take her up in mountain. There can help her.”
They went along the river, and soon stopped not far from two horses tied to a tree. The old man mounted one of the horses, and Zipper with Skedesa got on the other horse.
They had to pass around the town, for they were certainly being looked for.
They rode without stopping, for almost a day and a half, until they arrived in the mountain.
Skedesa was pale, and that was what worried Zipper tremendously.
“We must right away put in hot water,” the white-bearded man said.
They did so, and yet she did not regain consciousness. She only almost restored the colour of her skin.
“That is good,” the old Celt said. “Now I and one your priest go with her to cave of mysteries.”
Then a tall Thracian man in a long mantle and a wand of thick dark wood in his hand appeared. He greeted them, and they all went along a path winding among trees and stones. Zipper was carrying Skedesa. Finally they reached a high vertical cliff.
“Here, we have arrived,” the Thracian priest said.
Zipper looked around but he did not see a cave opening.
“Where is the cave?” he asked.
“In front,” the Celtic man said.
Zipper frowned, thinking they were making fun of him.
“Get on the top of these two rocks, and then push gently the third one aside,” the priest told him.”
Zipper climbed up and pushed the third rock. It seemed to him it would be very difficult, but to his astonishment it moved at once, and the cave opening appeared.
He went down and took Skedesa over his shoulders. He climbed up again, and his companions followed him.
They went inside the cave, and they saw there were torches on the walls. The Celt lighted them one by one. They reached a spacious round hall. In the centre, there was a large stone which was also circular, and on its sides there were numerous carved figures of people with their hands raised towards the sky.
In the walls of the cave there were four holes located to designate the four directions of the world, and there was one central hole above. Light came in through the holes.
“Lay Skedesa on the stone,” the priest said.
Zipper laid his beloved woman there, and he looked at the two men with mixed feelings of fear and hope. Then the Thracian priest took out some herbs from his bag and put them in circular metal bowls which were arranged like large cups around the stone in the centre of the hole. He lighted them, and then blew them so that they could smoulder. Smoke started rising.
Zipper felt he was feeling dizzy, and his eyes were closing. He didn’t realize how his legs gave way and he collapsed on the ground.
When he came to, it was dark around. Only the holes in the wall oozed faint light. He jumped on his feet and looked at the round stone. Skedesa was gone
“Skedesaaaaaaaaaa,” he cried out.
He looked around and was seized by fury and despair.
He heard a faint noise and went in that direction. He tripped into something and heard a moan.
He looked down and saw the Celt’s robe and his legs.
“What happened?” he asked him when the old man managed to struggle to his feet.
“Your priest is mean,” the Celt replied slowly.
“Tell me, where is Skedesa?” Zipper asked in a desperate voice.
“She travelling to Perperikon.”
“Why, what is she to do there?”
“That was priest of Perperikon. He strong and evil. He wants “Tear of Eternity” which I put into your woman and in you.”
“But why does he want her Tear of Eternity?”
“Because only thus can he go in Eternity. And because Eternity not accept him, he must marry woman which has such Tear in her.”
“I’ll kill him,” Zipper said, trembling with grief and fury.
“She won’t marry him! You know that, don’t you!” the Celt said.
“Yes, I know, but that evil man stole my beloved woman. He is causing me suffering. He wants something that does not belong to him! Something that is not given to him, and he is not entitled to receive it! He is mocking at Eternity!”
“And he be punished!” the old man said.
“Yes, but first he shall be punished by me!” Zipper said with determination.