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Chapter 2: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Janice awoke with a start, waking Mel, who rested peacefully on her chest. "What is it?" Mel asked. "Bad dream?"
Janice looked confused for a moment, then gingerly touched her head. It was a hangover all right. "Ah, bad dream, and how. Do you know anything about Xena trying to kill Gabrielle with a quarterstaff?"
"Xena... trying to kill Gabrielle... with a staff?" Mel asked dubiously.
"It was so real, in my dream," Janice muttered, almost as if she was talking to herself. "Something happened... after Ulysses... Gabrielle went to the Amazons and Xena rode at the head of Ares' army."
Mel smiled and gently touched her lover's cheek. "Remember, love, you drank two bottles of wine, ate six stuffed grape leaves, had some whiskey and brandy. Not to mention a conversation with one Dr. Jones whom I suspect you don't like very much. And had to fend off the flirtatious advances of one Dr. Byron all evening. Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't dream that Xena was a bard and Gabrielle wandered the countryside sacking villages."
Nodding, Janice hoped that Mel was right, that her dream had been a work of fiction, not a memory. "Did we see a mention of an Amazon named Solari in any of the scrolls?" she asked, easing from underneath the quilt of their bed.
Melinda thought a moment then nodded. "Yes. I think she was Ephiny's second in command. She supported Gabrielle against Valaska. Why?"
"Any mention of her and Gabrielle as lovers?" Janice pressed.
Melinda's eyes narrowed slightly, "Are you saying as in an affair, Janice Covington?" Getting out of bed, Mel stormed off in the direction of the bathroom. Pausing at the bathroom door, she turned to glare at her lover. "Think about it, Janice, if you cheated on Xena, would you write about it?" With that she withdrew, slamming the bathroom door behind her.
Janice shut her eyes tightly as the sound of the slamming door continued to reverberate in her aching head. Argo hopped up on the bed and nudged her a couple of times, clearly concerned. Petting her absently, Janice rested her head against the soft fur of the dog's face. "This is not going to be a good day," she whispered.
"Blast it," Fiona said in greeting as Janice entered their office, squinting against the sunlight coming in from the window.
"Nice to see you, too," she growled, collapsing in her chair.
"I just lost a five dollar bet with Simpson. Higgins didn't make it in today. I figured neither would you," Fiona explained.
"Yeah, well, I hope he feels every bit as wonderful as I do right now."
"I'm sure he does. Where did you learn to drink like that, luv?" Fiona asked, mercifully adjusting the window blinds to cut down on the sunlight streaming into the office.
"An old flame," Janice replied. "But, Fi, I've gone all morning without throwing up, and if we talk about her, I will."
Fiona laughed. "Not to worry, my friend. I've got a class to teach, and you have desperate students to console. See you later."
Like clockwork, the students showed up for their appointments. For the most part the questions were genuine and sincere, not just fishing for test questions. By late afternoon, she even began to feel human. It didn't last long.
"Hello, Dr. Covington," Prof. Byron said cheerily from her doorway. Janice looked up and with a resolve she didn't know she had, forced herself to smile. Sure enough, he was holding flowers.
"Dr. Byron," she replied. "Going to a funeral?"
He laughed, an empty sound that paled in comparison to Mel's laughter. "Er, no. These are for you." Janice's smile didn't budge.
"Ah, thanks," she said, accepting the flowers. Sadly she realized that William Byron was probably the only member of the department that did not know she lived with Melinda Pappas. She suspected it was because he was so annoying, no one would talk to him. Finally settling on an empty glass for the flowers, she poured some water from Argo's drinking bowl, then deposited the bouquet. Argo watched the scene with interest, never moving from her place on the couch. When she finally yawned, displaying an array of sharp white teeth, Prof. Byron flinched nervously.
"I think Argo likes me," he said.
Janice glanced over at the big dog. Argo looked as bored with Byron's company as she was. "Maybe, it's hard to tell. If she doesn't attack you, it's a good sign."
"I was wondering if you'd be interested in joining me for a cup of coffee. We could continue the fascinating discussion we started last night." He stood there smiling, occasionally blinking, waiting for Janice's answer.
It took a moment for Janice to realize that he'd stopped speaking. "Right. Coffee." She bided her time as she checked her appointment list. Unfortunately, she was finished for the day and didn't have any reason not to accept the young man's offer. She raised her head, preparing to accept her fate when she saw a familiar face in the doorway, just behind Prof. Byron.
"Mr. Raimi, can I help you?" Janice asked, hoping she'd kept most of the relief from her voice.
"I've got my term paper, if you want it," he replied sullenly, easing past the now irritated Prof.
"Of course. Dr. Byron, I'm sorry. It'll take me a while to go over this with Mr. Raimi. I wouldn't want to keep you waiting." She smiled, confident that she'd avoided his company for another day.
"No problem," he replied. "I'll wait outside. We'll leave when you're ready." With that he turned and closed the office door behind him.
Janice shook her head in frustration then turned her head to her student. "Have a seat, Mr. Raimi. I'm glad you decided to take me up on my offer."
The young man sat next to Argo on the couch, absently petting the big dog a few times. "I was wondering, if... ah... you wouldn't mind reading it now."
Janice glanced toward the door. She wanted more than anything to avoid Dr. Byron as long as possible, still she wouldn't do it at the expense of a student. "You know ethically I can't grade this in front of you, Mr. Raimi. The department chair would have my head..."
"Oh, I'm not suggesting an official grade ma'am. Just an idea... a suggestion." Smiling Janice found it hard to believe that this polite young man was the brash combatitive student who'd glared at her from the back row all semester. What the hell, she thought. It was a stupid rule anyway. Besides, she decided, gambling was a part of archeology-'bout time this boy took a chance and won. "Very well," she said taking a red pencil from her drawer. "Nothing official, I'm just giving this a once over. I'll go over it again with the others when I assign final grades."
Janice studied her student out of the corner of her eye as she read his work. She jotted a few notes down on the paper, as well as several comments in a notebook of her own. "You've been up all night, Mr. Raimi," she commented as she read. "Care to tell me why?"
He fidgeted a few moments before answering. "I have to fly back to California right after finals. Daddy was transferred. I don't know if I'll be back next term."
Janice put the paper down and looked at him squarely. "Transferring to another university?" she asked.
"No ma'am." He shook his head. "Enlisting."
"If that's true, then why bother with this paper at all?" Janice asked, eyeing him critically.
He looked at his shoes for a few moments before answering. "You were right, Dr. Covington. What I did was stupid. Stupid and unnecessary. I actually love archeology. The research I did for my paper is the sort of thing I do for fun anyway."
"Then why the plagiarism?" Janice asked as she returned to the man's term paper.
He cleared his throat before answering. "I... I resented you as a teacher," he said quietly.
"Because I'm a woman?" Janice inquired.
The young man nodded, his cheeks blushing crimson. "My Daddy has some rather strong opinions about women, especially ones that teach. He swore up and down that you were only here because some other professor must be sweet on you. He said I shouldn't worry about your class, that you wouldn't know enough about the subject to grade us anyway." Janice studied him for a few more moments before returning to her reading. "Dr. Covington, I didn't know you wrote that paper," he continued. "I chose it because it was written better than any of the others I'd read. You really do know what you're talking about."
"Nice of you to notice," Janice said as she put the paper down and leaned back in her chair. Crossing her arms, she studied the young man again, taking note of his tie, his freshly shaved face, and clean clothes. "Do you mind if I smoke?" she asked, opening her desk drawer. Startled, he shook his head. "Thanks," she said, reaching behind her and opening the window. "Mr. Raimi," she continued as she lit the small cigar and blew a few smoke rings, "half of the population of this planet is women. If you were on a dig site, would you ignore fifty percent of your discoveries? Of course you wouldn't. You'd make the most of whatever you found. I don't know what your father's problem is, but I'd hate to see it passed down to you. Women are a fact of life, Mr. Raimi. There isn't any place you can hide to avoid them. They won't always do what you want or be what you expect. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
He smiled. "You're not like the other women who teach here, Dr. Covington."
"How so?" she asked as she made a few more notations on his paper.
He shrugged. "You're very honest and direct. Not very Southern." He thought a few moments more. "And fearless. I think that's why a lot of women look up to you."
Janice laughed at that. "Actually, Fred, I'm hungover. Granted, it looks a lot like fearless, but there are subtle differences." She paused, making up her mind. "I'll give you some free advice. There is a simple reason that so many women are enrolling in my classes." Several thoughts flashed through her mind but she managed to keep the smile from her lips as she spoke. "I don't treat them any differently than the men. I expect as much, not less, from them and I'm demanding, not patronizing. If you've any interest in being popular with the women on campus, don't treat them like 'women', treat them like human beings. You'll get razzed by your friends, but you'll have dates on Saturday nights."
He blushed again. Dating advice was the last thing he expected when he'd come to turn in his paper. In fact, everything about this encounter was not what he'd expected. "Why did you go into archeology?" he asked quietly. "Was it your father?"
Taking a long drag from her cigar, she held the smoke in her mouth for a moment before slowly exhaling. "Yes and no. My father taught me about the seedy side of archeology. He was driven, obsessed even, with finding out the truth about Xena." She shook her head. "Archeology isn't about truth, philosophy is. Archeology is about facts. Originally I entered the profession because it was what I knew, what I loved, what I felt a part of. Lately it's because I've developed a respect for the past. A genuine affection for people centuries dead, a passion for events that happened long ago. I want facts Fred, and the truth."
"But you just said archeology wasn't about truth," her student asked, perplexed.
"I also come from an unconventional line of archeologists," Janice replied. "Pop wanted the truth, not necessarily facts. I want both. Understanding the facts gives one a picture of the truth, just be ready for that truth to change from time to time." She smiled and blew a small puff of smoke towards his face. He blinked, startled, then noticed he'd been holding his breath. "Here, Fred, have a cigar." She fished one out of her drawer and lit it as he tentatively puffed. "You did a hell of a job on this paper. I'd say it's in the 'B' range. Let's face it, you did rush it. Work on it over the break and send it back to me. Let's see if we can get it up to an A. If you come back next term, it couldn't hurt. Right?"
He beamed as he stood, extending his hand. "Thank you, Dr. Covington," he said, shaking her hand firmly.
"Any time, Mr. Raimi," she replied, smiling as he departed. Thoughtfully, she put out her cigar and glanced at her pocket watch. She'd taken a while with her student, hopefully long enough to bore Prof. Byron into leaving. With a chuckle at the flowers perched in the drinking glass, she grabbed her keys and headed for the door. "Let's go, Argo."
"Not trying to sneak away are you?" Byron's voice echoed across the near deserted hallway from where he'd been gazing out the third story window. There was something mildly taunting in his voice that set Janice on edge.
She sighed, resigned to her fate. "Not at all, Dr. Byron, coffee it is."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd call me William," he encouraged quietly as they headed down the stairs. "As long as there aren't any students around."
"Fine," Janice replied, her opinion of the eager young man sinking another notch. "Pretentious and boring," she thought as they walked across campus. There was little about the man that held her interest and she failed to see why he'd chosen her for this misplaced crush. He was only slightly taller than her, with pale blond hair and light brown eyes. His build was slim, and she doubted he'd done much field work. He did not look the sort of man who could handle days on end at 110 degree heat. His speech was crisp and clipped, betraying his New England upbringing. Maybe it was the Yankee thing she decided. Like Fiona Cyrene, they were outsiders in the land of Dixie. Surely, she reasoned, he could find more suitable company from the faculty of the Home Economics department.
As they entered the small cafe Janice noticed several female heads turn in their direction. Looking objectively at her companion she supposed he was handsome. Not that she would have found him particularly attractive even if she were remotely interested in men. No, she found the dark sculpted features of Melinda Pappas much more captivating. In comparison, William Byron was rather vague.
"Do you mind if I call you Jan?" he asked as they were seated at a small table by the window.
"Yes," Janice answered flatly without thinking. He blinked at her in surprise. "I hate being called Jan," she explained when it appeared a simple answer was too much for the young professor. Idly she wondered if he was trying to bait her, or just thick.
"Pity," he replied, smiling, as he gazed at Janice, "Jan is such a lovely name."
"If you say so, Bill," she said as she glanced out the window, noting his frown out of the corner of her eye.
After a moment's reflection he laughed. "Touche."
Something on the floor caught Janice's eye. She gazed down noting a discarded newspaper. It had taken all of her effort to simply make it to the university in one piece. She'd not picked up a paper. She leaned over in her chair and picked it up off of the floor. The headline, as usual, was about the war. British forces had just defeated the German troops at el Alamein in Egypt. The Suez Canal was still under Allied control for now. It was another article however that caught her eye. Theft in Athens, the headline read. Authorities were puzzled by the modest heist.
"Pity about the drawings," William commented, taking note of where her eyes rested on the paper.
"What happened?" she asked.
He shrugged, watching her carefully as he answered. "I read that article this morning. Apparently someone broke in to the Acropolis museum in Athens and made off with a number of large drawings. The drawings were ancient renderings of a number of friezes, statues, that sort of thing. Not a total loss though."
"Why do you say that?" Janice asked, folding the paper and setting it aside. She'd read the article when she got home.
"Several of the drawings were of antiquities currently housed in museums all over the world. I didn't pay it much notice. It had little to do with Egypt after all."
Janice nodded, making a mental note to research the topic further. It might be a coincidence, then again it might not. When the waitress arrived, William ordered coffee for them both. After a consious effort, Janice found herself warming to her companion. He was trying so hard to impress her, it was difficult not to be flattered. The waitress returned shortly thereafter and smiled warmly at Janice as she poured her coffee.
"So what are your plans for winter break?" William asked, drawing Janice's eyes away from the departing form of their waitress.
"Oh, I don't know," she replied casually. "Might do some traveling. I miss California, maybe I'll spend some time in Hollywood. It would be nice to get out of the cold."
"Ah, a warm climate Yankee," he said smiling, sipping his coffee. "I'm surprised you're not going on some expedition or other." He nodded pointedly at the folded paper she had adopted. "Perhaps something in Greece? Several members of the department are doing just that, research during break."
"That's true," Janice agreed. "I know Fi is heading to Ireland and I think Dr. Scully is heading to New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, I believe." She chose her next words carefully, wondering briefly if this eager young man could be a plant of Leesto's. "While Greece is lovely this time of year, it is occupied by Germany at the moment. Contrary to my reputation, I don't travel into war zones lightly."
"Well, you were in Macedonia six months ago," he countered, studying her intently.
"And I wasn't happy about it," she replied. "Had I not been on the verge of discovering the scrolls, I'd have been well away from there. Now that their discovery is ready for the history books, the leg work completed, I've earned some time off to write to my heart's content. Now, my good man, is the time to publish." She toasted him with her coffee and hoped she'd been believable. Then again he seemed too young and idealistic to be of much use to Leesto. The pup would probably have fallen for her too. "So, William. What are your plans for break?" she asked.
"I plan to pay a surprise visit to an old friend," he answered smiling, as he launched into a detailed description of all he wanted to do and see during his time off. With a little luck, she decided, he'd carry the entire conversation by himself.
Indiana Jones pulled up to the white mansion on Franklin Street, grateful the dean had insisted he use his car while in town. His eyes widened in appreciation of the immaculate black Auburn in the parkway next to a new truck. It was easy to envision the two women who lived inside as living representations of their cars. Melinda Pappas could very easily be a 1938 Auburn while Janice Covington was every bit a pick-up truck. He was greeted at the door by Pandora, a large black woman with smiling eyes. She took his hat and coat and led him through the entryway to the living room where Melinda stood waiting. "So good of you to come, Dr. Jones. I'm sorry but Janice isn't home yet. May I get you a drink?"
He nodded, looking around the elegantly furnished living room. "Sure, but please, call me Indy. I hear the word 'doctor' and think of my dad. I'm not old enough to be him yet. I'd like bourbon if you've got it."
Melinda laughed. "I think you saw from Janice's little display last night that there isn't an alcoholic beverage known to man that we don't have on hand. I don't know what's keeping her, she must have gotten tied up at the university."
Indy walked to the small bar where Melinda prepared their drinks: a tall glass of sweet iced tea for herself in addition to his bourbon. "It happens to me all the time. This is her first term teaching, isn't it?"
"Yes. I don't think she's ready to admit it, but she loves it. She's so passionate about it. But you know Janice; she's passionate about everything."
"I suppose," he agreed. "How long have you known her?"
Mel smiled, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. "A little over six months. But, truly, it feels like I've known her for a lifetime."
He nodded and walked over to the fireplace. Janice Covington and her passionate nature were not his favorite topics of discussion. Still, there was no reason to vent his personal bias about Janice to her lover, so he tried a new topic instead. "Are these Xena's?" he asked, studying the breastplate and staff that were mounted over the fireplace.
"The breastplate belonged to Xena, the staff belonged to a bard named Gabrielle."
"I'm surprised they aren't in the university's museum. Aren't you worried about someone trying to steal them?" he asked, noting the secure mountings that held the artifacts to the wall.
Melinda shook her head, handing her guest his drink. "We were paid a visit this summer by a thug of Leesto's. Argo bit off three of the man's fingers and took a chunk out of his thigh. No one's tried since. Pandora, that'd be Pandora Booth my housekeeper, and her family stay here when we're gone. Janice thinks they're safer here than they would be in a museum." She stood next to her guest admiring the ancient artifacts.
"They're unlike anything I've ever seen," he commented. "What time frame do you place them in?" he asked peering closely at the detail work of Xena's breast plate.
Mel smiled as she sipped her drink. Indiana Jones certainly had the 'bug' as she called it. An absolute fascination with anything older than their country. "Well, we've run into a bit of trouble placing Xena's exact time frame. We'll need some more evidence to be sure, but if the scrolls are accurate, a lot of other scholars are going to have to rewrite their history books." Her attention was diverted by voices at the front door. Inwardly she gave a sigh of relief. Janice was home at last.
"Hello, Indy." A icy voice called from the doorway to the living room. Melinda started, seeing a woman she didn't recognize. The woman was short, Janice's size with dark hair that curled at the ends. She was pretty, and judging from the expression on her face, furious.
"Marion!" Indy exclaimed in surprise, "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I'll bet you're surprised to see me. 'Stay in DC,' you said. 'It'd be a boring trip.' I can see that you're quite bored..."
"Marion, please." Indy cut in, gesturing to Mel. "This is Melinda Pappas, and it isn't what you think."
"Going to see an old colleague?" Her voice rose in fury as she stormed into the room. "Funny, you've never mentioned this particular colleague before." She quickly looked Mel up and down. "She's beautiful. Can't imagine why you've kept her a secret." She shook her head as her voice tightened with emotion. "Indiana, I've told you how I feel about people who cheat. I've been there, on the receiving end of it, and I'm not going there again..."
"Ah, hi. Marion is it?" Melinda said rushing over with her hand extended, "I'm afraid this has been a terrible misunderstanding..."
"Hello, Marion," a new voice said from the entryway.
Marion spun at the sound to face the source of the voice. "Janice Covington," she said, smiling without a trace of amusement in her voice. "It's been a long time."
Janice shrugged. "Not long enough for you I'd expect."
"You got that right. But still, there's something I've wanted to say to you for some time..." She walked over to where Janice stood, waiting. In an instant her fist came up, striking Janice across the jaw with a solid right cross. Spinning from the impact, Janice landed face down on the hardwood floor. Mel rushed to Janice's side as Indy shook his head and rolled his eyes. It was going to be one of those evenings.
"I take it you're still mad?" Janice asked quietly when she rolled over to a seated position, gingerly touching her bleeding lip.
"Still mad?" Marion seethed. "You have no idea how long it took me to get mad in the first place. For months, Janice, I believed you, believed your reasons and your cowardice. I was so ready to take the blame for it all. I invested two years of my life with you, two years that you disregarded in an instant..."
With Mel's help, Janice stood and glared back at Marion. "I never expected you to take the blame for anything." she said. "I did, however, expect you to shoulder some of the responsibility for why it didn't work. And I did not disregard our two years together in an instant..."
"Like hell you didn't!" Marion shouted. "You waited until you were fully entrenched with Tiffany before cutting me loose. You were cheating on me for months!"
"It wasn't as if we had any kind of understanding, Marion. You didn't want that, remember?" Janice shook her head sadly. This had probably been one of the worst days of her life. "I'm not proud of what I did. You're right, it was wrong. I was selfish and treated you unfairly, I'm sorry."
Mel rushed back to the bar to get a napkin to staunch the flow of blood from her lover's lip. Her eyes narrowed in anger at the sound of Marion's next words: "I regret nothing like the day I met you, Janice Covington. You were the worst thing to ever happen in my life."
"I thought your Uncle Albert had that distinction," Janice asked, apparently unaffected by the coldness of her former lover's words.
"It's one thing to be hurt by someone you hate," Marion shot back livid, "quite another to be destroyed by someone you love."
"Destroyed, my ass," Janice replied, taking the napkin that Mel offered. "If it means that much to you, go ahead, take another swing,"
Marion's fist was halfway to Janice's face when Mel caught her arm in a vise-like grip. "Those lips are mine." Mel said quietly, her eyes like ice, "and you've damaged them enough for one evening." Marion's eyes widened in surprise at the quiet threat threaded through the taller woman's voice. The fight left Marion Ravenwood and was replaced by fear as Melinda Pappas released her grip.
Pandora rushed into the room with a wet towel and delicately dabbed at Janice's bleeding face. "Dinner is ready," she announced to the awkward foursome. "I've set another place." She nodded in Marion's direction. "Take your seats, just give me a minute with Miz Covington." When no one moved Pandora spoke again, "Mr. Jones, you have business here. Miz Ravenwood, the car that brought you drove off. Unless you want to walk back to town in the cold, you'll stay and have some pot roast." Too shocked to do otherwise, Indy and Marion headed through the indicated doorway. Mel headed toward Janice, but the black woman shook her head. "Seat your guests Melinda. I'll bring Miz Wolf in shortly." Mel nodded and followed her guests.
"Waf ub at ab out?" Janice asked around a mouthful of towel.
"Hush, child. They needs to settle down. There's too much anger with you and Miz Marion in the same room. Let her make peace with Melinda." Janice nodded, looking glum, getting a chuckle from Pandora.
"Waf?" Janice asked accusingly.
Pandora threw an affectionate arm around her charge and led her to the dining room. "You sure have a way with women, Janice Covington."
Seated at the table, Marion glanced at Indy and Melinda. "I'm sorry, Miss Pappas," she said formally. "I didn't realize, you and Janice... I owe you an apology too, Indy."
"I'm not the one you should apologize to," Mel said primly taking her seat across from Indy. Janice and Marion would be sitting across from each other. "Out of striking distance," Mel hoped.
"Marion," Indy said, his voice gentle. "My dad had some papers he wanted me to give to Janice. I knew it'd only upset you, which is why I didn't mention it. How did you find me anyway?"
Marion glanced at him with a wry smile. "You left your itinerary at my place, you big oaf. I knew you were at the university so I just called the dean. He was very helpful." The smile left her face and the laughter faded from her voice as Janice entered the dining room, towel still held next to her face. With a neutral glance at Marion, she took the seat between Mel and Indy.
"Now that you're here, Indy, what was it you wanted me to see?" she said as clearly as she could, wincing from the pain of using her mouth.
"Right," he said nodding as he reached into the pocket of his trousers. "This." He handed Janice a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it as Indy explained, "This is a rubbing from a sarcophagus belonging to Sir Glenford of Nottingham. He fought in the First Crusade and traveled through Greece. He eventually made his way to the Scottish Highlands where he died. A contact of my father's included this in some other information he requested involving the Grail."
Janice studied the paper as Mel looked over her shoulder. "Do you mind, Janice?" Mel asked gently.
"Sure," Janice agreed, handing the paper over. "You read it."
Mel adjusted her glasses and in a rich voice read the text. "And the Knight, though he shone with the virtues of Christendom, did not wear his beliefs like a badge or a shroud. Instead he delighted the Clan with tales of their own history that he had heard long ago on his travels. Telling stories of the Children of Solari he endeared himself to them and was considered a MacGab of their own blood. So rich was his vision of the Warrior Princess and Bard it seemed to all impossible that the gentle Knight was not of their blood as well. The MacGabbers cared for his injuries which were many, laying him to rest when the Lord called him home, in the honored tomb of their family." Mel blinked when she was finished. "That's what it says all right, only it doesn't make much sense. And that's the second time today I've heard mention of Solari," she said frowning at Janice.
Janice shook her head, puzzled. "First Crusade," she murmured, thinking. "That would be 1096 to 1099. It was proclaimed by Urban II to aid the Greeks against the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor, among other things."
"Right," Indy agreed. "Nicaea in Anatolia was captured in June of 1097. Antioch in Syera was captured in June 1098, Jerusalem in July 1099."
"So this knight was in Greece and heard the stories of the Children of Solari. Any idea what that means?" she asked.
Indy pulled another folded piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Janice. "My father wondered about that as well. At first he thought it might be related to the Grail. These are his notes," he said handing the papers over.
"What about the Clan MacGab?" she asked as she began to read the elder Jones' notes.
Indiana shook his head. "Dad didn't find out much about them. It's a family name centered around a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. There is a crest and specific tartans associated with the Clan but he didn't find out much more. I guess they kept pretty much to themselves."
"Perhaps eventual descendants of Xena and Gabrielle's family?" Melinda wondered.
Janice nodded as she glanced through the notes quickly. The elder Jones' writing was clean and readable. "It says here that 'Children of Solari' was a name given to a specific Amazon tribe. I would guess it's the tribe that Gabrielle belonged to. I suppose it would make sense. That tribe knew the stories of their Bard-Queen. If Solari had a number of children and they were especially good story tellers and passed the stories down, they could pick up a name like that." She read further, her eyes widening in surprise, "It also says here that the Children of Solari are pictured on a temple frieze. Your father made a note to contact the curator at the Acropolis museum at Athens."
Indiana Jones nodded. "He did. Apparently the actual frieze has long since been destroyed, but the original plans for that particular frieze still exist. They are at the museum."
"Plans," Janice repeated. "You mean as in drawings?"
Hours later Janice Covington sat at her desk in the cozy study brooding. She held two halves of a Celtic medallion in her hand. Absently she studied the intricate detail then gazed off into space.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Melinda asked from the doorway.
Janice glanced up, her breath catching in her throat. Melinda stood, framed by the doorway in nothing save for a black slip. One thing was for certain, Janice Covington never got used to the sheer beauty of Melinda Pappas. Every time she laid eyes on her statuesque lover she had to remind herself that she was not, in fact, dreaming.
"No, Mel. Come on in, I was just thinking," Janice replied with a smile.
Mel gracefully walked into the room, and rested her hip on Janice's desk.
"Janice, you're not thinking. You're brooding." She glanced at the newspaper folded to a specific article on the desk. "What are you brooding about?"
Janice snorted, shaking her head sadly. "I don't know, Mel. Xena, me, the shitty things I've done and the mistakes I've made. And wondering what in blazes happened to Xena and Gabrielle after they died, and how their descendants ended up in Scotland."
Melinda was quiet for several long moments before drawing a gentle finger along her lover's cheek. "Janice," she whispered. "I've drawn you a bath. Would you please come and take it? The newspaper article will be here in the morning. The rubbing and Dr. Jones' notes will be here, and Xena and Gabrielle will still have a mystery for you to solve. For tonight I want to talk with the woman I love and see if I can get some sense into her think head without causing bodily harm." She reached for Janice's hand to lead the woman from the study. "Tonight, when you got home, Argo wasn't with you. Where was she?"
Taking Mel's hand in hers, Janice brought it to her lips and kissed the palm softly, wincing at the throbbing of her painfully swollen lip. "I sent her out back with Pandora."
Mel's eyes widened in understanding. "You heard Marion's voice from the front door, and knew she was here, didn't you? You knew she'd attack you."
Janice shook her head. "I didn't know that for sure, but I knew if Marion did she'd be justified."
"I don't see it that way," Mel replied flatly.
Janice cast her eyes to the floor, unable to look at her lover. "Everything she said was true, Mel, all of it."
Mel smiled as she drew Janice's face up with a gentle hand under her chin. "You can tell me about it while you're in the tub."
Following Mel to the bathroom Janice felt utterly spent. Sensing her exhaustion, Mel helped her lover out of her clothes, talking a few moments to massage her knotted shoulders. "All in all, I reckon dinner went rather well," Mel commented as Janice lowered herself into the steaming bath water.
"If 'rather well' means that no one was killed, I suppose so. The pot roast was good though." She sat motionless as Melinda soaped up a wash cloth and used it to caress her back.
"When was the last time you saw Marion?" Mel asked quietly.
"About six years ago," Janice replied. An involuntary sigh escaped her lips as Mel rinsed the soap from her back. Her body began to relax, urging her mind to follow suit. "Marion and I met when we were teenagers. Our fathers were on the same dig in Egypt. Abner Ravenwood was independent enough that associating with Harry the Grave Robber didn't bother him too much. He and my dad were kindred spirits. Pop looking for the Scrolls, Abner searching for the Ark of the Covenant. Marion and I became good friends. A couple of years later we got reacquainted in California, at Berkley. Abner was teaching, Pop was selling some artifacts. I enrolled in collage with Marion."
"But I thought Diana was your first." Mel asked as she gently washed Janice's arms.
Janice nodded, saying, "She was. Marion um... consoled me when that fell apart. We spent a lot of time together as friends, and well, things changed. We were together for two years until that too fell apart."
"What about her Uncle Albert?" Mel asked, tenderly caressing Janice's breasts with the soapy washcloth.
"Abner's brother, Albert," Janice said with a grimace. "He was a violent man. Drank too much and got into fights. He'd never hit Marion if Abner was around, but Abner wasn't always around. He was there in Egypt for a time. The bastard even took a swing at me."
"So that's why Marion solves her problems with her fists?"
Janice shook her head. "Our break-up was rather long and drawn out. What can I say, it was messy. It didn't have to be. Certainly not as messy as it was, and that was my fault. I was more interested in protecting myself and Tiffany and left her hanging out to dry. Marion has every reason to hate me."
"Perhaps," Mel agreed as she shifted to wash Janice's neck. "But we all make mistakes. It's not as if you were a crazed warlord burning the countryside."
Janice shook her head. "It's not as if I've done the good Xena has done either, Melinda."
"You're good for me, Janice," Mel said moving into her lover's field of vision so she could look directly into her vibrant green eyes. "Don't underestimate that. I know you, Janice. I suspect that when things fell apart with Tiffany, you didn't repeat your mistakes. I'll wager that you've still not repeated them. Janice, you're the sort of person who learns from her mis-steps sometimes. Okay, so you haven't discovered the connection between drinking and hangovers, but in other areas I see you go forward, not back. Let this guilt go. As you can see, Marion survived. True, she's still got strong feelings for you but that's just the way you are. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't adore you or... ah... strongly dislike you."
"Thanks, Mel, you say the sweetest things," Janice said as she made a small splash in her lover's direction. "But give me a break, I've only been drunk twice in the time I've known you. Last night and when you took the bullet out of my arm." Janice splashed again, this time getting Mel wet.
"Don't even think about it," Melinda warned. "What I don't understand is how you ever ended up with anyone named Tiffany..."
"What? Who me?" Janice asked innocently as she splashed again, more forcefully this time.
In seconds, howls of laugher and splashing echoed through the big house. Pandora paused from where she stood letting herself out at the front door. "I'm glad I just washed towels," she murmured as she closed the door softly behind her.
...Xena stared down at me, her eyes cold, her expression unreadable. She put the end of her staff onto the ground near where I sat helpless on my hands and knees. Taking a step back from me she spoke to one of her captains. "Organize a hunting party. We'll need dried meat for the campaign. And get some men to build an enclosure. These Amazons are going to be our guests for a while. I want them to have suitable accommodations."
"Why don't we just take them back to the village?" one man asked.
"Holding Amazons in their own village? Don't be stupid." She cast her gaze to Ephiny and slowly sauntered over. "Don't be foolish yourself, Ephiny. I've ordered my men to shoot the first Amazon that makes a bird call," she drawled. "Anything happens to any of my men and it'll be two Amazons who suffer for each of my men injured. You cooperate with me and I might not burn the village on my way out of town."
Xena walked by me again, without saying a word. She did look at me though, I honestly don't think she could help it. She barked several more orders to her men: telling them where to make camp, how to set up the watches. She explained that the Amazons travel through the trees and ordered effective defensive measures. There was no doubt about it, this was Xena the warlord.
"Ares said to kill the bard right away," one of her men commented.
"Are you questioning my orders, Piros?" Xena asked in a deceptively light voice. "You don't think food for the men and a secure enclosure for the prisoners are good ideas?"
After meeting those cold blue eyes he shook his head emphatically. "Yes, Princess, they are good ideas. No, Princess, I am not questioning your orders."
"That's good, Piros," Xena purred. "Because nothing upsets me quite like disobedience. And nothing angers Amazons quite like killing their queen. It wouldn't do to throw away our most powerful bargaining chip, now would it?" The terrified soldier bowed deeply then hurried to join his detachment.
I sat tied up with the other Amazons for the rest of the day. The pain from my dislocated shoulder was agonizing, even after Ephiny had set it. She slammed her open palm against my back with surprising speed and force. Before I could react the shoulder joint was back where it belonged and I was on the ground, sobbing. My legs were tied to the line of other Amazons but I scarcely noticed.With surprising speed a large cage was constructed before our very eyes. When it was finished, we were unceremoniously ushered inside. After that, the makings of a war camp materialized around the wooded glen where we were held captive. Tents were erected, fires built, training exercises took place. It was clear that Xena intended to stay for a few days, training her troops, gathering supplies for her army. Whenever she was in my line of vision, I watched her. I put everything I had into those unflinching stares, trying to glimpse the woman I loved. Sometimes she returned the eye contact, sometimes not. When she looked at me, I felt cold to my very core. The face was Xena's, but those eyes weren't. She had the eyes of a cold blooded killer.
The hunters were successful and began pulling a variety of game from the rich Amazon hunting grounds. These men were competent and skilled. They behaved with disciplined efficiency, splitting tasks among themselves and working together. I shuddered to think how they would perform in battle. By nightfall they'd divided into teams of watches, patrolling the perimeter of the camp, watching those of us in the cage and scanning the treetops for signs of other Amazons. Things looked pretty bleak.
"Any ideas?" Ephiny asked me quietly.
I shook my head. I had none. "I don't know what's happened to her. If I could talk to her, maybe I could do something."
"I think she knows it," Ephiny agreed. "You've seen how she's been avoiding you. Not really looking at you. It's as if she's trying to pretend that you're not here. I'm sorry, Gabrielle, but if she plans to attack, the Amazons and Centaurs will fight her."
"I know," I whispered. "Somehow I've got to get through to her before she makes that mistake."
Around midnight I stood looking out beyond the bars of my cage to the mostly still camp beyond. There was no moon, the only light came from fires scattered around the camp. As a precaution we'd decided to keep watches of our own, not trusting Xena or her guards. Everyone else was asleep, and the guards posted around the cage were silent in their duties. I looked around at my companions, they were all ready to die in battle against the woman who held my heart. How I didn't hear her approach I don't know, but when I looked up, there she was.
"Xena!" I whispered.
"Gabrielle," she replied looking at me appraisingly. "How's the arm?"
The sound of my name rolling off her tongue, like a caress, did the same thing to me it always did. I felt my knees getting weak and pulse doubling. "It hurts. Ephiny set it," I replied unable to tear my eyes away from hers. I knew the love I felt for her was evident on my face, but there was nothing I could do about it. "You don't have to do this," I said pressing myself against the bars of my cage to get as close to my love as I could.
She shrugged. "Perhaps it's my destiny."
I shook my head defiantly, "It doesn't have to be. You've proven that time and again. Whatever pain you suffered at the hands of Ulysses, it doesn't have to make you... this."
She looked away for a moment before turning back to me. She put her hands on the bars of my cage and pulled her body close. Eyes of ice blue bore into mine as she spoke and I realized why she struck fear into the hearts of so many. "This isn't about Ulysses, Gabrielle. Or Ares for that matter. Rage is who I am. I can wear that rage on the outside and satisfy the fury, or I can keep it locked within, screaming until my mind is deaf from the din. I thought I could change my calling, Gabrielle. But I can't. But I guess you know that, now. So, what were you doing here? You said you were going home."
"Xena," I said, covering her hands with my own. "You were my home, you are my home. Since the day I met you. I could not stand around and watch you with Ulysses, anymore than you could watch me marry Perdicus. I know you sent him away for my benefit, but that didn't erase the hurt of you loving him."
Her hands flinched under mine but she didn't move them. "I did watch you marry Perdicus," she growled.
"Right," I agreed. "But you weren't planning to hang around and watch us raise a family, now were you? Xena, I was hurting, that's why I needed to leave. But that does not mean I stopped loving you, I'm not that strong. You have my heart, Xena, and you always will. If this is what you choose to do with it," I said indicating the cage, "I can't stop you. But it doesn't change how I feel. I really thought your feelings for me ran as deep."
Her beautiful blue eyes were so cold as they stared down at me. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Gabrielle," she said as she withdrew her hands from beneath mine. "You were most... diverting, make no mistake about that. But the time for diversions is past. If you push me to kill you, I will, and without hesitation. I suggest you remember that."
"Xena, find the courage to admit you've made a mistake," I pleaded as she turned and walked away.
"That didn't go well," Ephiny commented from behind me.
I nodded, trying to fight back tears.
"Get some sleep, Gabrielle." She said gently. "Solari and I will keep watch. I've seen movement in the trees. I think our sisters are going to try to get us some... help."
"It's too dangerous!" I whispered fiercely, drawing the attention of a guard.
"Just sleep, Gabrielle," Ephiny said, with a quick glance to the guard. Her tone was unmistakable. In my current state of mind I was a liability, not an asset. So, with my heart heavy I curled up on the forest floor and in time, slept.
Chapter 3: Myth Directions
Janice opened her eyes, blinking a couple of times as they adjusted to the darkness of her bedroom. She lifted her head from the cradle of Mel's shoulder and quietly got out of bed. Stepping silently over Argo and stopping to put on a bathrobe against the early morning chill, she made her way to the study. After lighting a fire in the fire place she looked at the clock on the mantle. It read two-thirty. "I'm never up at this hour," she thought. Deciding to make the most of it, she settled herself behind her desk. After reading the newspaper article once again, and taking some notes, she read the imprint from the ancient sarcophagus then the notes of Dr. Jones. A knight, Amazons, two desecrated graves, stolen drawings and vivid dreams. It wasn't much to go on.
Gazing at the fireplace, she watched entranced as orange and yellow flame danced on wood. Unbidden, an image of Marion came to mind and with it the bitter taste of guilt. Other images ebbed and flowed through her consciousness, loves she'd had and lost, hearts she'd broken and the broken hearts she'd suffered. Finally her wayward thoughts centered on the image of Melinda Pappas and she felt herself relax. A sense of calm overcame her as she thought about the tender woman sleeping soundly in her bed. Mel was right, she could hang on to Xena and Gabrielle's past for as long as she desired but it was time to let her own demons go. She'd made mistakes and survived, the only thing she could promise herself was not to make them again.
She knocked the fire down and separated the burning logs. Satisfied it was safe, she returned to her bedroom. Carefully stepping over the dog, she slipped back into bed.
"Where'd you go?" Mel asked sleepily.
"Another dream," she whispered, "I couldn't sleep so I did some work. I feel much better." Her voice was warm, inviting. Mel recognized the tone and smiled.
"I'm glad to hear it," she said as she reached up to touch Janice's face with gentle fingers.
Janice leaned in for a kiss but was stopped. "Your lip," Mel warned.
"I don't care," Janice replied, her voice needful, hungry.
"But I do," Mel said as she eased herself up on an elbow. With a gentle push she shoved Janice down onto the bed, gazing down with fiery blue eyes. "Just let me love you," she whispered as she slowly drew her fingers down the length of Janice's right arm, bringing the hand to her lips and kissing the palm. She turned Janice's hand over and proceeded to kiss the tips of her fingers before trailing her tongue over sensitive fingertips. She smiled at Janice's sigh of pleasure as she drew the archeologist's arm over her head and held it pinned with her left hand. She repeated the gesture with Janice's left arm. Now holding both her lover's hands pinned just above her head, she tenderly touched the contours of Janice's face with her free hand. Light fingers traced the outline of her lover's eyebrows, down the sides of her nose to pause on the left side of Janice's mouth-away from the swollen lip.
"I love you," Mel whispered as Janice's tongue lightly touched the resting fingers. It was less painful then pursing her lips for a kiss. Briefly Janice tried moving her arms, to enclose her lover in a tight embrace, but her hands were held firm. It was no use, Melinda was simply too strong. Her arms would remain where Mel held them until the raven haired beauty decided to let her go. "I love you," Mel repeated in a fierce whisper. "And I'm going to have my way with you."
"Yes," Janice panted as long elegant fingers made their way down her throat and traced the line of her collarbone. Mel lowered her head, her hair spilling over Janice's face, it's softness tickling her skin.
"I'm going to touch you, watch you and taste you," Mel breathed into her lover's ear. As she pulled back, a devilish grin spread across her perfect features. "I might even bite you," she added.
"Are you serious?" Janice asked, mildly surprised. The aggressive woman on top of her was certainly a new side to Melinda Pappas. She struggled once again against the hand that held her arms firmly, stopping when she saw the wicked smile on Mel's face.
"You know I'm serious," Mel purred. "That's why you're struggling. You know what I can do, how I can make you feel and tonight it's making you nervous."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Janice gasped as she felt her heart rate quicken. "Melinda, what's gotten into you?" The blue of Mel's eyes shone violet in the dimly lit room. Janice had turned on a small reading light to find her way back to bed and avoid stepping on the dog. The small light cast faint shadows on the wall and dimly illuminated the classic planes of Mel's face. Her white teeth reflected the dim light, the expression in her eyes showing something primal... primitive.
"You'll see," Mel replied, her voice thick with the promise of things to come.
Soft hair spilled over Janice's chest as hungry lips descended on her throat and collar bone. "You're so good for me, Janice," Mel whispered fiercely between kisses. "You make me feel so protected... and powerful. No one has ever let me be strong, like you, before." Her hand began to trail down Janice's body, its touch light and feathery. "But you do. I want you, Janice. All of you. That isn't so much to ask, is it? To want your complete surrender? To see you as helpless before me as I am every time you look at me?" Mel's voice was low, husky, which excited Janice even as her anxiety increased at being trapped. She'd never seen her lover this aggressive and the thudding of her own heart in response scared her.
Responding of their own accord, Janice's muscles twitched and shuddered at Melinda's touch. Janice tried one last time to jerk her hands free, this time seeing Mel's bicep flex in response as more pressure was applied. With a sense of wonder she stared up at the woman above her, giving herself over completely to the sweet torture.
As Mel's questing mouth made it's way to Janice's responsive breasts, her hand moved lower teasing the insides of quivering thighs. "God yes, Mel," Janice panted as her nipple responded inside the warm soft wetness of her lover's mouth. Her ears picked up the contented sounds Mel was making at the back of her throat and she was sure she'd climax before she could be touched anywhere else. As if sensing her urgency, the feather light touch of Mel's fingers increased in pressure as they slipped into warm wetness.
"You feel wonderful," Mel commented as she shifted her attention to Janice's other breast.
"You have no idea," Janice managed to say, but with great difficulty.
"So tell me," Mel demanded, kissing the valley between her lover's breasts and moving back up to her throat. Her hand picked up a slow easy rhythm as she enjoyed the feel of her lover's wetness.
"Uh... perfect," she finally managed as colors began to swim before her eyes.
"Perfect is good," Mel agreed as she began to nip at the side of Janice's neck even as her hand quickened its pace.
"Yesssss... ah... god... yes!" Janice moaned as Mel sank her teeth into the sensitive flesh of her lover's throat just as she slipped over the edge. Only when Janice's breathing slowed somewhat did Mel withdraw her hand from her center and lips from her throat. She released the archeologist's hands, massaging each arm as she brought it to rest at her lover's side.
Mel studied Janice's face, noting the expression of awe mixed with fear, noticing just how little iris was visible around dilated pupils. Janice's arms reached up and gently touched her face and hair, making their way to her shoulders then coming to rest around her upper arms. "You make me feel so much," Janice whispered, "almost too much."
"I can do more for you than that, Janice," Mel replied as she slowly lowered her face to Janice's center. Repeatedly Janice's world spun out of control as her senses reveled in the loving attentions of Melinda. Passionate, tender but also demanding. It soon became clear to Janice that Mel was satisfying a need of her own as much as she was pleasing her lover. That awareness shattered any last pretense of Janice's self control. As the sounds of Mel's contented feasting became louder, Janice's responses increased in volume as well. Finally, when she felt the fingers caressing her to her heated core, she unconsciously bit down on her lip as the final wave of climax crashed through her body.
Mel was instantly aware of the pained shudder that shot through the archeologist's body. After placing one final kiss on damp curls she lifted her head to gaze into green eyes, brimming with tears. "What happened?" she asked, concerned.
"I bid dy ip," Janice replied as tears began to fall freely from her eyes.
"Oh, my. I'm so sorry Janice," Mel whispered as she gathered the smaller woman into her arms.
"It's okay, Mel. That's not why I'm crying," Janice replied through sobs when the throbbing of her lip lessened somewhat.
"What?" Mel asked, moving away a little so she could see her lover's face.
"You make me feel so much, I can't help it. God, Mel, I don't deserve you." Janice finally said when she could breathe enough between sobs to talk.
Mel held her close once again and breathed next to her ear, "Yes, you do, my heart. As much as I deserve you."
Janice smiled, despite the pain of her lip, at her lover's words. The smile remained on her face as Mel's arms remained around her body, even after she drifted into a contented dreamless sleep.
"Well, don't you look like the cat that ate the canary," Pandora commented as she served Janice Covington breakfast. Melinda Pappas choked briefly on her orange juice at the comment, which drew another snort from the large black woman. "Or do I have my cats and canaries mixed up today?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Why I declare, Pandora, I don't know what you're talking about," Mel replied primly then cast a sidelong glance to her lover. Adjusting her glasses, she peered at the archeologist more critically. "Ah, Janice, I think you'd better wear a scarf with that blouse."
"What?" Janice asked puzzled. She thought she'd finally gotten the hang of dressing for the university. "What's wrong with my outfit?"
"Nothin', child," Pandora assured her with a friendly pat on the arm. "'Cept dem love bites y'all can see clear 'cross campus."
"Oh," Janice replied meekly as her hand went to her throat. She flinched as her fingers encountered one of several deep bruises.
"Somethin' 'bout seeing your lady beat up last night make you want to attack her ya'self?" Pandora asked Mel innocently.
"Pandora, please," Mel protested, having the good grace to blush. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Janice shook her head smiling as she went back to eating. She finished off her eggs and biscuits, leering at her lover suggestively as she dribbled honey on the latter. Satisfied that the rosy blush to her Mel's cheeks was not dissapearing any time soon, she sipped some coffee and opened her notebook. "Okay, we've got everything arranged for tomorrow?"
Mel nodded, finishing her juice. Janice stared transfixed as Melinda put her juice glass to the side then picking up a banana and a knife, efficiently peeled the fruit and sliced it into bite sized chunks over her bowl of cornflakes. "We've got transport lined up from Fort Bragg. We get supplies in Morocco, then head to Alexandria where we'll catch the ship that will take us in. If you want to stop in Athens, I can arrange it."
"I think we should," Janice agreed. "See if you can arrange a meeting with the curator Dr. Jones was talking to." She glanced at her notes. "Here it is, Mr. Lendos-he's director of the Acropolis museum at Athens."
"Okay. I'll see what I can do. The diggers have been arranged, but they won't arrive on site until you decide where the digsite is actually going to be."
Janice nodded smiling as she watched Mel delicately dab the corners of her mouth with her napkin. That sight alone would keep her smiling all day. After checking her pocket watch, she quickly finished the rest of her coffee. She gave her lover a quick kiss, the throbbing of her heart making up for any discomfort her lip may have felt. "Let's go, Argo," she said to the dog as she headed for the door.
"Miz Wolf," Pandora called, stopping her in her tracks.
"Scarf, right." Janice remembered. She turned around to see Pandora holding a silk scarf that matched the gray and mauve of her outfit.
"I hope you don't mind, Miz Pappas," Pandora continued as she tied the scarf around Janice's neck. "I got one of yours since Miz Wolf don't own any."
"I don't mind at all," Mel replied smiling. "But I think we're going to have to do something about that. However, since it's your last day, I think you'll get a reprieve from shopping."
"Thank God," Janice said adjusting the scarf. "I'd rather wear yours anyway, they smell like you." With a wink she was out the door, dog in tow, headed for the university.
"I'm afraid I don't know what she's talking about," Mel replied primly to her broadly smiling housekeeper.
"Lord Almighty, what happened to you?" Fiona asked as soon as Janice entered their office.
"What?" Janice asked, hand moving reflexively to her neck.
"Your face. You look like you've been hit by a shileigh!"
Janice touched her lip gingerly. "Well, it was a right cross, but it felt like a shileigh, sure enough."
"Can't say Miss Melinda strikes me as the punchin' type," Fiona commented looking over the rim of her glasses at her officemate.
Janice shook her head. "Not her, Marion Ravenwood."
"Ah, the lass who was looking for Dr. Jones yesterday," Fiona's eyes brightened in understanding. "Don't tell me she's your..."
"Ancient history," Janice supplied.
"If'in you say so." The Irishwoman peered closely at her friend from across her desk. "Saints preserve us, what happened to your neck?"
"Damn, did the scarf slip?" Janice asked as she adjusted the scarf.
"Here, let me fix it." Fiona offered gasping when the scarf was removed. "My goodness, did Miss Ravenwood do that?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Janice protested, "Mel did that. Look, Fi, I've only got a minute, I'm on my way to the library, but I wanted to ask you about something."
"One woman hates you, one loves you and they both leave you black and blue. You lead one interesting life, Janice Covington," Fi said as she finished with the scarf.
"Have you ever heard of the Clan MacGab?" Janice asked, ignoring the jibe.
"MacGab you say? Why of course I have. My cousin, Sara, married a MacGabber. Angus MacGab. Now there was a bonnie lad who cut a fine picture in a kilt. How he loves to play the bagpipes, it would bring a wee tear t' the eye."
"That good?" Janice asked.
"No, luv, he's horrible. Tone deaf without a musical bone in his body. But how he loves to play. Why d'you ask?"
"This," Janice said as she handed her office mate the folded sarcophagus rubbing.
Fiona read it, eyes brightening as she did. "That'd be the MacGabbers alright. Lived in the Highlands, a days journey from Inverness. Last I heard Sara and Angus had seven wee ones. MacGabbers raise large families." Fiona returned her gaze to the rubbing then continued. "Solari, now there's a word I've not heard since I left home."
"What does it mean?"
"It's a Gaelic slang term for a feisty woman in a bad mood. Lads would say- 'you're not a-goin' Solari on me now are ya?' I believe the regional equivalent here is 'het up'. Children of Solari, now? That'd be a new one on me. I could write to my cousin. See if she'll ask Angus what he knows of his family. But don't get your hopes up, luv. Angus has a heart of gold, but he isn't very bright."
"So why did your cousin marry him?" Janice asked.
"Aye, he does look fine in a kilt." Fiona replied with a bright smile.
The Wilson Library interior was deathly still, not just quiet, but silent. Janice paused at the door, then looking back checked the hours. The library was indeed open. She held the door open for the dog and followed her inside. "Oh, yeah, finals," she reminded herself. Tomorrow her Archeology of Archaic Greece students were going to be among the last to be taking their final exams. Most of the student body finished with their tests today, then left for winter break. She looked around several areas of the large building noting an occasional student studying silently, either at a small table or on the floor. Satisfied that the building wasn't deserted, she headed for the rare book collection.
Mrs. Flax's desk was just as Janice remembered it. Immaculate. While she'd been a regular fixture at the campus library for three weeks prior to her first term as faculty, she'd had few opportunities to visit since. Janice smiled. Mrs. Flax had always been open in her dislike for the 'young female archeologist' as she called Janice, but had been an invaluable resource nonetheless.
"Mrs. Flax?" Janice called out in a whisper that sounded harsh to her own ears in the still silence of the building. "Are you here?" Feeling the hairs on the back of her neck begin to stand on end, she spun around. No one was behind her, but she still felt as if she were being watched. Glancing down to Argo, who sat next to her feet, she noted that the dog's ears were perked forward and alert. She heard the rustle of a paper and looked up.
Janice started in surprise at an elderly man. He sat at Mrs. Flax's desk and was sorting through several books, making notations on a pad of paper. Janice was puzzled, she'd not heard the man come into the room, nor take a seat. And there hadn't been any books on the desk when she'd first approached. "Hello," Janice said quietly.
He looked up, his watery blue eyes magnified by his reading glasses. After squinting a moment, he smiled warmly at Janice, showing a mouthful of near perfect teeth slightly yellowed with age. "Dr. Covington? Dr. Janice Covington?" he asked in a friendly voice.
Janice nodded. "Yeah, that's me. Ah, do I know you?" she asked, knowing full well she'd never seen the man before in her life.
He shook his head, extending a shaking hand. "Tildus, Walter Tildus. I saw the Scroll exhibition. Impressive work, young lady, quite impressive work."
Smiling, Janice shook his hand warmly. His skin was thin and felt like parchment, but his grip was strong and sure. "Thank you. I was looking for Mrs. Flax. Is she here?"
Letting go of Janice's hand, Tildus shook his head. "No, I'm afraid Mrs. Flax is out sick. I'm filling in for her. I used to work here years ago, but while the heart is willing, my poor eyes are not. I fill in now for emergencies." He continued to smile, which Janice found infectious.
"What an adorable man," she thought to herself.