They had to pass several rugged areas and small rivers, but finally, at about midnight, they made it to the camp.
In the morning, despite the long passage the previous day, Skedesa had risen early and was eagerly expecting Gaius Octavius to wake up.
Irritated, at last she saw him and approached him.
“You rose early,” he told her, yawning.
“Master, yesterday you promised me something, to tell me where my brother Zipper is.”
Then he called one of his assistants and they discussed something. When they had finished, he told her that a man named Zipper had been appointed to be trained as gladiator, and they had taken him together with the other captive Thracians to the town of Philipopolis.
“Is that for sure, master?” she asked, remembering that the decurion had told her they had been taken to Athens.
“Absolutely,” Gaius answered.
“I am asking, because they told me he had been sent to Athens.”
“No. At first they wanted to go there, but at the last moment they made for Philipopolis.”
“Thank you, master,” Skedesa said and bowed slightly.
Now she only had to steal a good horse and bide the moment at which she could escape from the camp. She remembered the decurion’s horse she had left by the lake in the forest. The animal really obeyed her, and she felt there was good mutual understanding between them.
In the meantime, one of the nurses took out the small future emperor – Octavian Augustus. The boy was about six years old, and he clearly liked Skedesa. When he saw her, he ran towards her. She took him in her hands and raised him high. He laughed happily and waved his arms.
Then she left him on the ground. Several horsemen were passing, and among them was the decurion with whom she had gone for a walk the day before. When he saw Skedesa, his brows twitched into a frown, and his eyes shone with sparks of resentment and a desire for revenge.
The little Augustus saw the horses and stretched his arms towards them, pointing at them.
“What?” Skedesa asked. “Do you want to ride the horse?”
The kid nodded.
Skedesa went to the decurion and told him:
“Gaius’s son wants to have a ride. Can I take him for a ride on your horse?”
Fury raged into the Roman decurion’s heart, but he managed to curb it, for it was at that very moment that he saw Gaius Octavius emerge from his home.
“Yes, sure!” the decurion said and dismounted the horse.
Skedesa raised the boy on the horse, and then she mounted herself, holding Augustus with one hand. Then they started riding slowly.
Gaius was watching the scene with pleasure and joy.
“That’s what a real woman is!” he thought. “She can both bear and raise heroes!”
“Gee, gee, gee,” Augustus shouted, slightly pulling the rein and jumping on the horse. He was delighted and was laughing. Skedesa rode the horse in light trot, and thus they made several tours of the camp.
When they were back, Augustus was beaming with happiness!
“Well done, my boy,” his father said, content, and he took him off the horse. “That was your first ride. And what a ride, with an exceptional warrior of a woman. Skedesa. You’ll remember her all your life.”
However, the boy’s mother emerged and stared in resentment.
Skedesa hurried to return the horse and went away, to escape attracting attention. It was time to huddle somewhere and wait for nightfall.
She asked Gaius to let her go to have a rest, and he permitted her to go.
It was past midnight when Skedesa went out of her tent and started creeping like a ghost around the camp. Everywhere there were guardians, but she would use her cunning to sneak out of the fortification. She had managed to steal a cloak and a helmet of a legatus*. The guardians always opened the gates for the legatuses and did not ask about anything, no matter what time of day or night it was. She got dressed, crept to the stables and took the decurion’s horse. She covered her feet well with the cloak and made for the west gate. The guardians noticed her and she motioned while she was still at a distance, indicating she wanted them to open the gate/
*Legatus: a general in the Roman army, equivalent to a modern general officer.
She went out without problems, and she rode off into the night. She deliberately went westward, so that when they found out about her escape they would think she had gone in that direction. She reached the stream that flowed nearby, and she went along it in an eastern direction. Thus her tracks would be covered.
After a while Skedesa made through the forests, towards her settlement. She hoped she would find someone there, despite the fact that the houses had been set on fire. She rode all night, and it wasn’t before dawn that she stopped on a hill. In the distance, the first light rays of the new day arose borne by the goddess of dawn - Zoura. Zoura was the precursor of the god of the Sun and fire, Pourmeroul.
But she felt like having a nap, and she found a suitable place to have a rest.
When she woke up it was past noon, and the sun was slowly moving towards the west. She mounted the horse and rode off. Towards dusk she reached the settlement, and saw smoke rising while she was still at a distance.
So still some of her people had got back. She approached slowly and cautiously. She saw familiar faces and that reassured her.
Her arrival caused a stir. About twenty people, mostly women and kids, gathered. Then Terks came too.
Skedesa felt resentment towards him, but she did not show it.
“Hi,” he said, approaching her. “I am happy to see you safe and sound.”
She looked at him and nodded barely noticeably.
“And where is Zipper?” Terks asked, with a strange note in his voice.
“Not far from here,” Skedesa replied.
He did not believe her much, but he made no comment.
“Do you want to have something to eat?” Terks asked her. “Come to our house. We have roast boar meat.”
“Even if you have all kinds of meat, from all animals in the world, I still wouldn’t come to share your meals!” she thought.
Then her aunt came running from the forest and hugged her. They went away, and after her aunt gave her something to eat, she said:
“You know, there is a rumour that Terks concluded a union with the Romans, and that he told them where our settlement is, how many warriors we have, and when it is convenient for them to attack us.”
Skedesa could not believe what she had heard.
“That villain deserves that I kill him instantly,” she said.
“Better calm down. Since we came back from the forest, he has become rather evil and short-tempered. He constantly goes around with several guardians to protect him.“
“I will find a way of approaching him,” Skedesa said. “And I may be able to shoot an arrow at him from ambush. Vile traitor. He must have received a purse of Roman trinkets with the image of their Caesar. It was because of him that they captured Zipper, and now I am going to look for him. I found out he is in Philipopolis. I am going there. I decided to see what is going on here, and if there are survivors. I am glad you are alive. I’ll stay here for the night, and I’ll set off early tomorrow morning.”
“Very well, my girl. If it is necessary,” her aunt said.
On the next morning, Skedesa was up very early, at dawn, and prepared to travel. She mounted her horse and rode off. Her aunt accompanied her as far as the end of the village.
Skedesa was going downhill a slope when two men from their tribe emerged. They stood right in her way, with spears pointed forward.
Skedesa was surprised. She turned round and saw that two other men had barred her way from behind. Then Terks appeared.
“Where are you going so early, Skedesa?” he asked in a caustic tone.
“Hunting,” she replied.
“Hunting, you say. Aren’t all animals still asleep, huddled away at this time,” he laughed a mean laugh.
“I am going farther. By the time I arrive at my destination, they will have awoken.”
“But why do you need to go farther? There are plenty of animals around in the area.”
“That’s true, but I heard of a new type of bird, and I want to taste it,” she replied.
“So that’s it, a new kind of bird, you say. Well then. Let’s come with you too, I want to taste that bird, me too.”
Skedesa realized that Terks was reluctant to let her go. And she asked herself if the night before, while she had been talking to her aunt about her plans, there hadn’t been someone listening. She had to escape from the group of men and ride away. She could try at once. Without hesitating, she said it was OK for them to accompany her, but as she nudged the horse, she did it with a strong push into the flanks, as a signal for him to break into a gallop. The horse dashed straight towards the two men opposite her. The one managed to jump back, but the other got a mighty kick from the front hoof. Terks’s voice was heard:
Thus, despite the attempt that the priest’s son made, she managed to get rid of them. She stopped only when she reached the plain. She was constantly looking around for other ambushes, but there were no such predicaments. She spotted a small rivulet in the distance. She felt thirsty, and it occurred to her that her horse must be thirsty too.
They quenched their thirst, and she filled the hide sack with fresh cold water. She saw a tree, and she decided to sit down and have a snack with the dried meat her aunt had given her for her journey.
Just when she had eaten the meat, there were strange noises, like rumbling of a hungry stomach, but the sounds did not come from her, they were heard from the tree crown up there. Skedesa raised her eyes and saw a skinny man with a white beard and a long robe, hiding among the branches. She jumped up, took out her sword and asked:
“Who are you, stranger?”
“Not hurt you,” the old man said quickly.”Me good, me help.”
“You talk in a strange way,” she said. “Where do you hail from?”
The man started slowly getting down from the tree, and when he stepped on the ground, she saw he was also wearing some strange metal ribbon around his forehead; the ribbon was made from silvery metal and adorned with three glittering precious stones.
“I come from far,” the man said. “I come from big round land there,” and he pointed to the northeast. “My land very, very far.”
“And what are you doing here, in our lands?” Skedesa asked.
“I born here. I Celtic.”
“Celtic?!” Skedesa repeated with surprise. “I never heard of such a tribe.”
“Doesn’t matter, tell me in short,” she urged the man.
“My people Celtic, came here two hundred years ago. They were more to east, nearer to sea. Lived among Thracians. Then two tribes quarrelled and Thracians banished Celtic people. Celtic people went west. But some remained here and moved to Rhodope mountain. My parents they also born here, their parents too. We now live in nice place, high in mountain. Have everything. I leader of my people. My father also was leader. I learned secrets from ancestors. Can make spells, and they come true.”
“You are a strange person,” Skedesa told him. “Aren’t you some spy of the Romans or of Terks?”
“No, not strange,” the white-bearded man replied. “Me no such person, me good person.”
Then he took out a piece of cloth and unfolded it. There were some small stone slabs of silvery white stone inside, with strange signs carved on them.
He told her:
“Take and throw these high.”
“Why?” Skedesa asked.
“I tell you your future.”
Skedesa thought about that, about whether she wanted to learn her future. It seemed she did not feel very much like it. What if he foretold her that her lover would be harmed; she would sink into grief and would be possessed by fury and a desire for revenge. No. Better not know anything about the future. In that way she would longer live with the hope.
“No, I don’t want to learn my future,” she told the old man.
“Why?” the Celtic man was surprised. Most people ask about that.”
“For me, this way is better.”
“So I remain hungry again,” the man said and saddened.
“Are you hungry? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have given you to eat without you needing to tell me my future.”
Then she gave him some food.
“And why are you here now, and alone?” she asked him, when he had eaten.
“Your land blessed by God with many gifts,” he started. “Up in mountain near our settlement, there warm waters. We wash there. Diseases disappear. We drink water, become healthy inside. There a lot of herbs. We soak them in hot water and drink. They protect from diseases. There grapes. We make wine. Wine divine. Gift from your god Zelanos.”
“And where do you know that from?” Skedesa was intrigued.
“There was great man, Thracian. His name Zalmoxis. He student of Greek Pythagoras. Learned many wisdoms and then left for Egypt. There got knowledge of soul immortality and returned to teach Thracians too. But here understood needn’t have gone as far as Egypt to become aware of anything, for one day Avtavor came to him.”
“And who is Avtavor?” Skedesa asked with growing curiosity.
“No one knows. Zalmoxis said he is the Inexplicable. His very name that mean - Inexplicable. Avtavor taught him how walk on stars and shift in time.”
Skedesa looked at the wise man, and it seemed to her she was listening to some fairy tales of incredible strengths and capabilities. She even felt fear. Then she remembered and asked him again why he was there and not with his tribe.”
“I got to plain to look for grass. It heal my wife from pain in leg. Only it heal her. Soak wife in hot water, no healing.”
“I know what grass you are talking about,” Skedesa said. “I too picked it for my grandfather.”
Then they went around, and before long they found the grass they needed.
“I thankful,” the Celt said. “Want give you something. It very strong. It named “Tear of Eternity”. Must put it inside, in your body, and you become eternal.”
Skedesa was perplexed. It seemed rather supernatural, and she did not know whether she should believe the Celt, or not.
He felt her distrust and said:
“Look, I too have “Tear of Eternity” in me, in my body.”
Then he showed her a spot between the neck and the collarbone, where there was a small cavity. He pressed lightly with his finger, and from under the lower part of the collar bone a tiny ball, the size of a tear, emerged; it remained under the skin and shone with different lights.
Skedesa was amazed.
“Who gave it to you?” she asked.
“Inherited from my great-grandfather. He was disciple of Zalmoxis. Zalmoxis gave him several.”
“And why do you want to give me that strength as well?”
“Because I saw. You great warrior. You have great ordeals, and because your heart good and large, and you went save your love. In you live huge love, and for person on Earth, love most important!”
“And how will it go there?” Skedesa asked.
“Must cut a little, and put in,” the Celt replied. “Not possible without blood. Blood the price. A little blood – great present!”
Skedesa did not like that. She felt distrust again. She wondered if that wasn’t some of Terks’s tricks again. And if she agrees and that thing inebriates her? And then the Celt can call Terks and hand her over to him?!
“You doubt me,” the old man said. “I prove you. I honest to you! I worthy of your respect.”
The he took out of the folds of his clothes a small piece of sharp flintstone and made a small incision near his collar bone. Blood started streaming, and in his hand shone the tiny tear-sized ball, in zillions of colours. Skedesa was bewildered by what he had done. Then the old man went to the rivulet and washed the ball.
“Here, I give you my tear. And I take other tear. Now believe me?”
Still impressed by his actions, she nodded.
The white-bearded man took out another ball and put it inside the incision on his neck, pushing it inside. Then ne said:”
“Here, take “Tear of Eternity”. It yours. Put it when you want.”
“Let’s put it now,” she said.
The man made a small incision in her neck and pushed the ball inside. It was soft, like jelly, and it seemed to pulsate.
“This tear unusual,” the Celt said. “It can change shape. Become zillions small particles, and then your body shine like sun. Then it become one ball again. Only have to think about that.”
“I have two more “Tears” for my sons. But they not have mission yet. If they don’t find mission, I give them to grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or to people about which I am told.”
“But I know where is one more “Tear”. In palace of Thracian priest who lives on Perperikon Hill. He not carry it in his body. He only guard it. Put in his body, but “Tear” went out, through his eye, and made him cry. Tear remain only in worthy people!”
“Tear choose on its own who can carry it. I gave “Tear” to you because I got sign.”
“And how did you get the sign?” Skedesa asked.
“I hear music, music of kind that no person can hear. Music inside. Can’t explain. You understand if ever meet person like me and you.”
Skedesa felt a melody inside herself. Sounds that permeated her heart with bliss. She seemed to fly and soar among the stars. She was enchanted by the expanse and the freedom she felt! Her whole body was in shivers. She felt an incredible influx of energy. Then the music slowly faded away, and she smiled like she had never smiled before, with her entire soul.
“That’s incredible!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” the Celt said slowly and nodded his head wisely. “Now I must go. My wife wait, ill.”
“And where can I find you?” Skedesa enquired.
“You not need me, but if you need me, think of me, and my “Tear” tell me, and I appear.”
“Very well,” Skedesa said, and she felt like hugging him strongly.
Then she folded her arms around him and pressed him in her hug. He hugged her too. He had incredible strength, given his age.
The old Celt departed, and Skedesa stared after him until he disappeared in the shrubs.