Hidden among age-old forests and trees, the Perperikon forest was not noticeable from any side. People had to know about it in order to be able to find it.
There was no road leading there. People could reach it only if they knew the area around the fortress well.
The priest and Skedesa were in the fortress tower. The priest had laid Skedesa on a wooden bed, and he was chanting some strange words and spells.
However, she did not react.
He was angry he could not wake up, and he went out of the room.
Skedesa was dreaming.
She was floating, soaring deep into the stars, and she saw Z|ipper against her; he was also waving his arms and legs, trying to reach her.
But suddenly Skedesa noticed a huge black cloud. It was approaching them and blocking the light. Skedesa started waving her arms and legs harder, but the cloud was faster and it soon overtook them. They got lost inside it, and she cried with pain in her dream.
She opened her eyes and saw that she was lying in a strange room. She remembered how she had been escaping with Zipper along the river, and how she had suddenly fallen into the water and had been dragged along. Then she had lost consciousness.”Where is Zipper?” she asked herself. She tried to rise but neither her legs nor her arms obeyed her.
That embarrassed her.
She heard the sound of steps and decided to close her eyes and remain lying without moving.
She heard how someone entered, and she held her breath. She felt some strange smell of suet and old age. If that had been Zipper, she would have recognized his smell. No, that was somebody else. The anxiety sharpened her hearing and smell even further.
The man approached her and started rustling with something. It seemed he was unfolding a papyrus. Then she heard his voice. It was hoarse and off-putting:
She resented that. The person was making some spells on her. If only she could move, she would strangle him with her bare hands.
She felt how he snorted and went several steps away.
Skedesa decided to risk, and she opened one eye slightly to see him. He was standing with her back to her, and was concentrated on the papyrus. He was clad in a long dark robe, a little bent and without a single hair on his head. There were pale spots on his skin. She was put off. She asked herself what had happened to Zipper and why he wasn’t here. Was the man, clearly a priest, willing to help her, or was there something else?!
She had to wait.
A little while later there was a knock on the door. The bare-headed man opened and another voice, the voice of a woman, was heard:
“Here, master, the herbs that you ordered me to bring.”
“Leave them on the chest,” the man told her.
There were soft steps of a person going away. The door opened and closed again.
“Now it should come true,” the bare-headed man murmured to himself. “She shall be my wife, at any cost!”
“His wife?!”Skedesa repeated in her mind, astonished by what she had just heard. “So the man is an evil person and does not want to help me. He is an enemy! What has he done to my lover?” she asked herself, concerned.
The man mixed some substances and lighted them in a clay vessel. He started censing around, and he murmured some spells again.
Skedesa took a deep breath and tried to keep it as long as possible, to avoid inhaling the smoke.
„But if he is not affected by the smoke, then I should not be affected too,” she thought.
When she took another breath, however, she felt dizzy and she felt she was breaking into cold sweat. She coughed but did not open her eyes. Encouraged by her reaction, the villain started to chant even stronger and cense around her. But Skedesa had already become used to the smoke and did not move.
Finally he gave up. But not quite.
He came nearer her, and she felt he was approaching his hand towards her face. His repulsive clammy fingers touched her forehead, and he tried to raise her eyelid with one finger. She anticipated his intention and turned her eyes upwards.
The bare-headed man sighed and let go of the eyelid.
“I must get out of here!” she said to herself. “But how, if I cannot move? What has happened to me? Has he done something to me?”
That was tormenting her.
In the evening, something strange happened. There was a disturbance in the fortress. There was the sound of running people and clinking of arms. There was something wrong.
“The Bloody Mouths are around the fortress,” a loud voice was heard somewhere around, by the door.
“Bloody Mouths?!” Skedesa thought in astonishment. Then she recalled she had heard about them in the stories her grandfather had narrated. There was a tribe that were roaming like demons around the Rhodope mountains. They lived in groups of several people, and they enjoyed drinking the blood of animals, and of people once a year. When they had to carry out the blood drinking ritual, they gathered and set out to attack some village. But her grandfather had told her that they had not come out for years, and even he considered them a mere legend which could be used to frighten invaders.
However, there was ominous howling and roars outside. Even Skedesa felt frightened. All the more that she was there and she was helpless.
She heard how someone approached, and there was the sound of many people moving in the room.
“Take her carefully, and get her to the basement,” the bare-headed man’s voice was heard.
A couple of strong hands raised her and carried her down the stairs.
At that time, from the room in which she had been, there was a violent roar and growling. Some of the Bloody Mouths tribe had climbed the steep rocks and had penetrated inside.
“It was good we managed to take her away in time,” the priest said.
Skedesa felt very cold, and she realized the reason was they were entering the basement. However, one of the people carrying her tripped and staggered down the steps. He started falling and dragged Skedesa along. Finally they collapsed and Skedesa felt how her head hit a stone. She lost consciousness again.
When she came to, she was glad to find out she could feel her fingers and toes. She moved them slightly and smiled. But she felt rather faint and exhausted. It was quiet and warm around. She did not hear anything and that was why she opened her eyes. She looked around. She was inside something like the hollow of a tree. There were tree trunks, identical in length, arranged by the wall of the cave, to keep it warmer.
She looked at the opening and saw that outside there was daylight.
“So I am somewhere outside that fortress,” she thought. “Where is the evil priest?”
She hesitated if she should try to rise, but she heard footsteps and gave up the thought.
“Did you kill some birds for supper?” she heard the familiar voice of the woman from the fortress.
Clearly she was talking to some man.
“Just one duck,” the hunter replied.
“We need more. The priest will be angry,” the woman said.
“OK, I will go for more.”
When Skedesa realized they were just the two of them, she and the woman, she opened her eyes to find out more. She saw the woman bent over the bird. She was plucking its feathers. She was a thin, nimble woman, with short hair. She was clad in a long white robe, tightened with a rope around the waist, and a vest from hide, seemingly the hide of a wolf.
Skedesa also noticed two swords propped on the wall, and a couple of spears. She liked that.
But where was the priest?! What had happened to the castle? Had those creatures left it? Or were they still there?
Now she had to regain her strength.
“Water, water,” she moaned quietly.
The woman instantly left the bird and dashed towards her. Skedesa opened her eyes slightly and met her look. The woman’s eyes were brown, a little scared and simple, but deep inside they were warm and good. Skedesa felt that she could probably reach an agreement with her, although the woman was the priest’s servant.
“You want water,” the woman with the short hair asked.
Skedesa nodded slightly.
The woman went out quickly, and in an instant was back with a clay vessel full of water.
The gladiatress drank two bowls and felt refreshed.
“Are you better, girl?” the servant asked.
“A little better,” Skedesa replied.
“Do you want something to eat?”
“There is soup, eggs and roots. I’ll give you some. It is very strong and will restore your strength.”
Skedesa ate and really felt an influx of energy.
“What roots were in the soup?” she asked.
“Strong and powerful,” the woman replied. “We give them to the sick people, and they become healthy in a day. Golden root and juice of “fearless herb”.”
“And where is the priest?” Skedesa asked.
The woman turned around and looked at her. It was clear from her look that she had realized Skedesa knew on whose territory she was.
The woman smiled and said:
“He will be back. But I don’t know when. He went to look for something.”
Skedesa knew that she had to make the woman take her side, in order to manage to escape more easily. She hoped she would be able to really recover quickly and be back on her feet again.”
“Why am I here?” she asked.
“I don’t know. One evening he brought you and started to try to wake you up.”
“He wants to marry me,” the gladiatress said quietly.
The woman looked at her strangely. It seemed she really didn’t know about that.
“But I have a lover and I love him deeply,” Skedesa continued. “He is looking for me and is worried about me. I don’t want to marry that priest, and I can’t do that!”
The woman approached her and looked at her with compassion.
“The priest is very powerful,” she said. “I was her wife too, but when I grew older he forgot me. He left me to service him, and he enjoys himself with young maidens during the Orphic mysteries and other ritual celebrations. Such are men.”
“Not all men,” Skedesa said. “My Zipper is unique. He loves me only, and he will never be with another woman. I will never betray him either. Our love is eternal.”
The woman smiled again, and it seemed there were small tears in her eyes. She stroked Skedesa on the cheek and said:
“I believe you.”
At that moment the hunter returned and saw Skedesa had woken up.
“The master will be glad when he comes back,” he said.
In the evening she was again fed the “strong” soup, as well as finely chopped poultry.