Zipper didn’t know where Skedesa had headed for.
“Could it be that she learned I was taken to Philipopolis?” he asked himself. If she did, she must have headed for there. Which meant that he should get back to the town from which he had recently escaped.
He didn’t like the prospect, but when it was a matter of reuniting with his beloved woman, he was ready to do everything.
When Zipper approached the town, he spotted from afar the smoke hovering over it.
“They have ravaged everything,” he thought. The Odryssae and the Moesia people were rather vindictive. He remembered a legend. A legend of a large-scale war which broke out because of a love. The love between the Trojan Paris and the beautiful Helena. His teacher had narrated to him of Achilles and his myrmidons. They were part of the Bulgarian tribes. Achilles also was a descendant of the Bulgarians who roamed around all lands and established a number of kingdoms all around Asia and East Europe. And in the Trojan War, the side of Troy was also protected by Thracians of the Moesia ??? tribe led by Chromius.
But in fact, Thracians and Bulgarians were one people. They lived on these lands a number of millennia before. But suddenly there was a deluge. The water started rising fast, and they started fleeing towards the high peaks. One part of the people headed southward on boats and rafts, and there, by the Tiger and Euphrates rivers, they established their towns. They called the first town Sham, after their king. Then gradually they started referring to it as Shoum, and finally the name Sumer was coined. They also established Mesopotamia and Ur. They gave their state the name of Idel. These people were very intelligent, and they processed metals. They tamed animals from the wolf species and called them dogs. They tamed horses and started riding them, as well as used them to carry cargo and till the land. They prepared an invigorating drink from fermented mare milk and they called it koumiss.
When they established their state, Egypt was not existent yet. Egypt and its capital Memphis were established ten thousand years later.
But after several millennia, a tribe from the west, the Ugro-Finnish people, started attacking them frequently, and finally they resorted to an artifice in order to cause discord and internecine wars among Bulgarians. When they grew weak, the Ugro-Finns attacked and subjected them. Most Bulgarians fled and settled in the Hindu Kush mountains, and there they established a new state. They called it Bul, and later started referring to it as Bulhara. Thus, century after century, when the people’s number soared excessively, a large group of the population set off towards new lands. They reached as far as the lands of Mongolia, and inhabited them for a certain period. They often attacked the Chinese and robbed them. They knew of the planets and celestial phenomena much more than others did. Thus, during a solar eclipse, they ravaged the main city of the Chinese who hid away in fright, believing that the end of the world was coming. Bulgarians took small Chinese girls in their household as slaves and maids. When the girls matured, they made them their wives. Later they stared calling themselves Hons. But everyone else called them Huns.
“Thraco-Bulgarians have a host of names given to them by other people,” Zipper remembered his teacher’s words.
All of a sudden, a strong sound of galloping hooves interrupted his ruminations on his great ancestors.
Zipper hid among the trees and waited. A group of horsemen passed by in gallop, and disappeared into the thick of the forest. They left behind a cloud of dust, and there was astonishment in Zipper’s look.
“What are they fleeing from?” he asked himself. “But perhaps they are not fleeing, they are heading somewhere, for they have an important mission?!”
He had noticed they were Thracians. At least a hundred people. He waited for some more time, but no one was chasing them.
Zipper mounted the horse and went nearer the town. He noticed a large cloud of dust on the other side, and there seemed to be some movement going on.
He went on a hill, and in a while he saw the flashes of soldiers’ shields. He waited for some more time, and made out they were Roman legions.
“So they understood about the attack, and now they are coming to take the town back!” Zipper told himself. “That was why those horsemen were fleeing!”
He was worried about Skedesa again. Was she in the town as well?
He had to wait for several more days, to see how things would develop.
On the third day he met a man. The man told him that the Romans had seized the town without being offered resistance, as there had not been a single Thracian soldier. They had all fled as soon as they had heard of the approaching legions. Only the local residents and the Romans remained in the town, and things were slowly reverting to their normal course.
Then Zipper decided that he should not wait any longer, he had to go there.
He covered his face, hands and feet with the juice of some tree, and thus adopted a dark complexion. That was part of his disguise plan, to prevent being recognized. He had a long cloak and put it on, then he headed for Philipopolis.
“Who are you?” the guardians asked him when he approached.
“I come from Asia Minor. Come to trade,” Zipper said with a strong accent.
“Go away. There’s a war going on here,” they ordered him.
“I travel from very far. Want buy some wine,” Zipper insisted.
”Go and get wine in another place!”
Zipper did not want to attract the attention, so he spurred his horse and went away. He had to penetrate into the town at all costs, to search for Skedesa. He resolved he should wait until nightfall, and then he could try to sneak in. There was a ford by the river he knew, and he could pass from there. The Getae man had shown it to him. He himself had learned about it from a local Thracian who was also taken on for training when they were in the gladiator school.
He could hardly wait for darkness to fall, and he set off. He managed to sneak into the town, but he had to hide until the morning. The streets were deserted, and there was still a smell of blood and smoke everywhere around.
He found a comfortable place and bid the time. In the morning, when the town woke up, there was a bustle. Zipper mingled with the crowd. He didn’t know where to look for Skedesa, in the inns, or in the pubs. She would not have gone to a pub. Women hardly ever went there. He inspected the town inns, but did not find her.
“Where are you, my love?” he asked in his mind.
“I’m here, my love,” he seemed to hear the echo of her voice.
He looked around embarrassed, permeated by the sensation that she was really nearby. But she was nowhere to be seen. And yet the feeling that she was somewhere, quite near, did not leave him.
He resolved to get on a high building and stay there. He intended to remain and look on the people passing along the central street. If Skedesa was in the town, she was bound to pass there sooner or later. So he could spot her.
He got a hide sack of water, a loaf of bread and dried fish. He was ready to remain there until the evening.
He didn’t see her by noon. In the afternoon the sun started sweltering mercilessly. Sweat streamed from him, like a rivulet, but he was adamant. In the blazing heat of the noon hours, the residents had withdrawn into their homes in the shade, and very few passers-by were seen in the street he was so anxiously watching. In fact, from the place where he stood, there was also a partial visibility on the neighbouring street, but he hardly ever looked in the direction of it.
When finally the sun started sinking and receding towards the west, it became a little cooler. A soft breeze blew, and Zipper started breathing more easily.
The street became alive with people hurrying for late purchases, or eager to sit in the pubs. Roman soldiers’ guards also passed often.
Dusk was starting to set in, when suddenly Zipper felt some warmth coming from under his collar bone, right where the white-bearded man had inserted the “Tear of Eternity”. He looked in that direction, and his glance was cast right on the section of the neighbouring street. Suddenly something pricked him. He saw a woman huddled in a cloak that was completely covering her head and body. He recognized her walk. That was his Skedesa. He was certain. No other woman walked like her. However hard she was bent and however slowly she was treading, like a weak woman, he still recognized her.
Zipper jumped from his place and made for her. He approached her and slowly followed her, walking a couple of metres behind. He wanted to show her immediately that he was there, but he restrained himself. He was hoping she would turn into a less busy street, and then he would show himself.
He followed her for a couple of minutes, and indeed she turned into a smaller street.
Zipper followed her, but when he turned into the street himself, she had vanished without a trace. Then, from a door nearby, a hand stretched out and pulled him inside.
Zipper saw Skedesa, and his eyes shone. They started kissing each other, wildly and passionately. With no words and no explanations. Finally they managed to part their burning lips and looked at each other with boundless love and desire.
“You are alive and free,” Skedesa rejoiced. “I was so afraid for you.”
“Yes, darling. I was scared for you myself. I prayed to Zbelsourdos to protect you. I thought the Romans captured you, and that thought gave me no peace,” Zipper shared.
“I prayed too. Every single moment,” she replied.
“Very well. We found each other,” he said. “Now we have to get away and disappear from this town.”
“Let’s go, don’t waste time,” she urged.
They made for the door to open it, but there was a noise of feet in Roman sandals, so they shrank back. But alas, they were late. A group of soldiers rushed in and captured them. There was a man among them that Skedesa recognized instantly. He was the decurion whose horse she had stolen.
He grinned maliciously and said:
“No one has escaped Rome’s hand!” Then he added, “Love is a nice thing, but when butterflies get too near the flame, they get burned!”
“Take them away,” a rough voice ordered. “Gaius Octavius will be happy to see them.”
“The man looks like one of the gladiators who escaped,” one of the soldiers remarked.
Zipper recognized him. He was one of the guardians that had looked after them in the camp.
“He put something on his skin, to make it less pale.”
Another soldier approached and spat into Zipper’s face. He wanted to rub the spit to see if there was really paler skin underneath, but Zipper had already flown into a rage; he pushed away the two soldiers who were holding him. He drew out his sword from the sheath and cut off several fingers from the hand of the one who had spat at him. He stabbed two more soldiers, and suddenly he felt a strong blow in his neck. Someone had hit him hard with his shield. Zipper collapsed on the ground, losing consciousness.
The two fugitives were taken to the home of the town chief. Gaius was there too. When he saw Skedesa, he smiled a somewhat sad smile.
“He’s your man, right?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s my man!” she replied proudly.
“Very well then.”
“Take them to the cages and look after them very carefully,” the town chief ordered.