Something happened on the next day.
There were cries and shrieks outside.
“Somebody attacked the town,” one of the guardians called out.
The gladiators sprang to their feet, with wild eyes, and started kicking the grids.
The guardians had gone outside and were clearly busy with the battle.
Feeling the opportunity of regaining their freedom, the gladiators went wild. Some managed to rip off the grids and helped the others.
Zipper also managed to rip out part of the grid from the ground, and he destroyed the cage with a couple of mighty pushes.
They went out and found weapons. They started attacking the Romans in their back, and soon they took the upper hand. Elated by their victory, they made for the entrance. There they also took the guardian unawares in the back, and opened the gates. Outside there were a lot of Thracians from different tribes. They violently flooded the town and swept the Romans mercilessly.
Zipper found a horse and decided to head northwards, towards the territories that were not so strictly controlled by the Romans. He intended to hide somewhere for some time, and then he was going to start looking for Skedesa.
He felt someone riding behind him, and he looked back. It was the Getae man, Getan.
Zipper waited for him.
“Where are you going?” the Getae man asked.
“Don’t know. Somewhere farther from here,” Zipper replied.
“I am going northward, to the Ister river. If you want, you can come with me.”
“OK, but only to a certain point. When we reach the first hills, I will turn westward. I have to get back to my settlement, to find out what’s going on there,” Zipper replied.
Then they rode on, until darkness fell.
Zipper killed a couple of hares, and Getan skinned them and roasted them.
After they had finished their meal, the Getae man asked:
“I heard the Romans say that when they attacked your settlement you killed a lot of their people. You were clearly born for battles.”
Zipper looked at him and nodded his head.
“Those Romans are very perfidious and cruel,” the Getae man went on. “They didn’t spare anyone in a settlement adjacent to our settlement. I have hated them ever since.”
“We are all merciless when we have or when we are forced to,” Zipper replied.
“But we don’t go to attack them in Rome, do we?!”
“We don’t, but when we fight with each other, we are cruel too!” Zipper insisted.
Getan was silent. After a while he said:
“They took away my wife.”
“If they took her away, then at least she’s alive,” Zipper said. “And I don’t know where my beloved woman is, and what happened to her. I saw her in my dreams several times, and my soul was seized with pain.”
“You’ll find her,” the Getae man told him. “You are a seasoned warrior, and you know how to cope.”
In the morning they woke up early and set off, and at noon Zipper parted with Getan and went westward.
He rode all day long, and finally he saw the peaks of the Rhodopes in the distance. So he was soon to enter the mountain, where he felt the most secure. The mountain gave him safety and strength. There he felt protected by the gods and nature. He discerned each noise and each whiff of wind.
He found a suitable spot to spend the night and lay down to rest. He saw Skedesa in his dream again, but this time he did not hear her utter a word.
He woke up from the vibrations he felt with his body. Somebody was walking in the forest above him. He listened and soon heard the noise of steps. He climbed a tree and waited. Then he saw an old man with a metal ribbon on his forehead and several shiny stones encrusted in it. The man was digging the ground with a stick, and from time to time he stopped and dug with another, shorter stick. He went nearer the tree where Zipper had climbed, and he stopped again and started digging. Then he picked up some black object, like a stone that could fit the palm of the hand, and he was visibly glad. He cleared it from the soil, and washed it with water from his hide sack. He smelt the stone and put it inside the bag he was carrying over his shoulder.
Then the old man approached the tree where Zipper was, and without raising his eyes, said:
“I know who you. Not hide here. Get down talk.”
Zipper was astonished.
“Apparently the old man’s sight is sharp, and he noticed me from afar,” he thought. “But he talks in a very strange way.”
He got off the tree, as it was no use hiding any more, and also he felt intrigued, as the old man had told him he knew who he was.
“How come you know who I am?” Zipper asked.
“I know many things. You help me?”
“Help you? What for?”
“I want you go to cave. It steep, I can’t get down.”
“And why should I go there?”
“There snake. Very rare kind. Snake back dotted. They different colours. I need snake posion, for medicine.”
“Poisonous snake,” Zipper thought and felt an aversion. He resented snakes. He was not afraid of them he simply disliked them.
He eyed the old man from the head to the toes and said:
“OK, if it is for a medicine, I’ll go.”
They approached an aperture in the rock nearby, and Zipper saw it was barely wide enough for one person to sneak through.
“Can it be that the man is cheating me?” he thought.
He looked at him inquisitively, but the white-bearded man smiled nicely.
Zipper decided that he would cope. He went through the aperture cautiously and started looking around. A couple of minutes passed until he got used to the dim light. The cave was widening inward.
“But how will I find that snake in the dark, how will I see it?” he asked himself.
“Its points glow,” the strange old man called, as if he had read his thoughts.
Zipper went slowly and warily, and he really saw the snake in a recess in the wall. It had coiled up and was not moving. Zipper had prepared a fork and hide from the saddle of his horse which he had put around his arm. The reptile felt him and hissed. Zipper had caught other snakes before, and he had experience in that. He stalked the snake and managed to pass the fork behind its head and press it to the ground. The snake started twisting and coiled around the stick, but it was late already. Zipper caught it behind the head and held it firmly.
He went to the opening. The old man was happy.
“Leave snake on ground,” he told Zipper.
“But why, it can bite us?!” Zipper was astonished.
“It not bite. Let it go.”
Zipper let it go and and went away.
The old man made a couple of strange movements with his hands, the snake stood up, and it seemed to bow to him.
Then it crawled to him and stood in expectation. The white-bearded man took out a small earthenware bowl and put it in front of the snake. It bit the bowl and liquid streamed from its mouth.
“OK, enough,” the old man said, and the snake crawled away towards the cave.
“Are you a priest?” Zipper asked him.
“You can say me priest,” the white-bearded man replied.
“I have never seen an animal obey man in such a way. Especially a snake!” The Thracian seemed astounded.
“You not see many things yet! But me thank you, and give you present for your bravery.”
“Special. I gave it to woman several days ago. She went save beloved man from Romans. Very beautiful and brave woman. Warrior!”
“What was her name?” Zipper asked, excited.
“She tell me some name, but I forget. But she help me much, and we become one force!”
“You became one force?”
“Yes, you understand. And she give me several locks of her hair in sign of trust. Me too give her some of my locks. Look here.”
Then the old man showed a lock of hair tied with a thin piece of fabric.
As soon as Zipper saw the lock, he felt his heart leapt and started beating fast. That was Skedesa’s hair. He had caressed it so many times. He could recognize it with his eyes closed. He even smelt the pleasant specific scent of flowers.
“Where did you see that woman, old man? When? How long ago?” Zipper asked, perturbed.
“Several days ago, but on other side of mountain.”
“That’s my woman, my love!” Zipper said with affection. “I am looking for her too. When they attacked our settlement, she was away hunting. I was captured and taken far away. I saw her in my dreams, and I am worried about her. I must find her!”
“You find her!” the old man said.
Then he explained to Zipper in brief about the “Tear of Eternity” and how he had given one to Skedesa too. He put one in Zipper’s collar bone and wished him luck.
“Really in love people – in love eternally!” he said to the young man as they parted.