The Mound of Hisarlik
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
Now the other gods and the armed warriors on the plain slept soundly, but Jove was wakeful, for he was thinking how to do honour to Achilles, and destroyed much people at the ships of the Achaeans. In the end he deemed it would be best to send a lying dream to King Agamemnon; so he called one to him and said to it, "Lying Dream, go to the ships of the Achaeans, into the tent of Agamemnon, and say to him word to word as I now bid you. Tell him to get the Achaeans instantly under arms, for he shall take Troy. There are no longer divided counsels among the gods; Juno has brought them to her own mind, and woe betides the Trojans."
Turkey – October, 1940
"C’mon, boys! Put your backs into it!"
Slowly, a massive stone block began to move up a wooden ramp. It groaned in protest like a giant awakened from a timeless slumber, bellowing to find itself trussed up in a haystack of ropes, pulleys, and slings.
"That’s the way, lads!"
The voice was deep and raw; commanding, telling of too much booze and cigars and not enough sleep. It belonged to a slight if imperious figure, standing atop a deep trench that held the ramp and the straining, sweat-streaked workmen. A sudden gust of wind from the north kicked up a blinding squall of dust and dirt, and the figure, clad in a weathered brown leather jacket, khaki trousers, and ankle boots, lifted an arm against it. A blonde head tilted down, allowing a fawn colored fedora to provide additional shielding.
The men in the trench began to cough as the dirt particles drummed down upon them. For a moment, the ropes holding the colossal stone slackened.
Blinking away the grit, the figure quickly noted the reduction in brute effort, and jogged to the far edge of the trench, revealing that the length of it followed along the sub-grade line of an ancient retaining wall.
"Let’s go!" The figure’s sun-burnished face grew dark, angry. "Did your mommas raise a bunch of sissies? Keep those lines taut!"
The workmen couldn’t interpret a word of English, but they certainly understood the tone and gestures of their employer. Keeping their heads down against both the swirling winds and the wrath of the figure atop the trench, they redoubled their efforts. Once more, the stone began to creak forward.
Good. The figure spared a small hint of a triumphant smile. Two months of dogged detective work, back breaking labor, and a bit of luck, too, had brought them to this point.
The ancient writings. The stories passed down from generation to generation. Of a time and a place so blurred and faded in the recesses of human memory, that one might wonder whether it had ever really existed at all.
Well, by God it was real. She, Janice Covington, stood high upon the tangible evidence of it right now. She believed in it, all of it, as Schliemann had before her.
The realm of King Priam. That proud city of mythic proportion, inspiring warriors of the blade and of the heart for untold centuries.
The archaeologist let her gaze sweep down the high plateau that formed the mound of Hisarlik – the ‘place of the fort’ as the locals called it. Her eyes tracked across a marshy, wind-blown plain dotted with sunflowers, wheat, and white poplar, until at last she could sight in the distance the swift flowing waters of the Dardanelles - the ‘Hellespont’ of old.
The fabled city of Troy had been shrouded from the sun’s warm rays for millennia, until the German merchant-turned-adventurer, Heinrich Schliemann, made its stunning discovery a generation before, in 1871. He too had been obsessed with the ancient stories, and had vowed not to rest until the buried fortress gave up its secrets. Unfortunately, Schliemann’s desire for fame and fortune had far outweighed his working knowledge of any scientific archaeological method of the time. The stark markings of the German’s blundering excavations were all around Covington, like crude, vulgar scars upon the body of a sacred thing.
Schliemann had found a mother lode of treasure outside the city walls. ‘King Priam’s treasure,’ he’d called it. To the outrage of the Turkish authorities, he’d slipped the silver vases, copper battle-axes, golden diadems, tasseled earrings and other assorted jewels, back to Berlin. There, he’d ignored the whispers of his critics as to whether the treasures were truly found on the site, or if they were merely a publicity-hounding accumulation from other digs. More debatable, was whether they actually dated from the Trojan War itself, or from one of the eight other identifiable occupation strata at the mound.
But in Schliemann’s mind there was no doubt, and the sheer force and bluster of his will had made it so, at least to the people of his day.
A more scientifically thoughtful excavation occurred in the 1890’s under the auspices of Wilhelm Dorpfield, following in Schliemann’s footsteps. That lead to the first true archaeological survey of Troy, undertaken in the 1930’s, by Dr. Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati. The threatening storm clouds of war had frightened away Blegen and his crew a season before, convinced that there were no further treasures to be found in the ravaged mound.
Enter one Dr. Janice Covington.
"Mustafa!" Covington angrily threw the butt of a smoking cigar to the dusty earth, and ground it underfoot. "Will you tell these sons of simpletons to show a little elbow grease? What the hell do they think I’m paying them for?"
"Please, Dr. Covington!" The crew foreman trembled in the face of his employer’s renowned temper. "The weight… is too great!"
"Not according to my calculations." Covington’s voice was hard. "If they can’t get the job done, there are plenty of other laborers in Çiplak who would be willing to try, and cost me a few less piasters, to boot! You got me?"
The Turk’s dark eyes widened. "Yes, yes, I got you, ‘me'm,’" he cried, scurrying back over the dusty rise to the group of men furiously working the ropes and pulleys.
"And don’t call me, ‘ma’am,’" Covington muttered, returning her attention to the widening expanse where the stone block was being separated from the rest of the wall. If all her research proved correct, this should be the spot.
Where at last she would find the lost treasure of Helen.
Oh, Homer had made no mention of it, nor had his fellow poet, Virgil, or the other classical scribes. But Janice Covington would never forget that day years before, when her late father, the notorious ‘adventurer’ Harry Covington, had shown her the bit of delicate Egyptian papyrus he’d picked up on a ‘business’ trip to Cairo. He hadn’t paid it much mind, considering the scrap of ancient writing a bit of a novelty item more than anything else. No, his focus then was exclusively on his search for the Xena Scrolls.
But the exciting tale the fragile piece of paper described flamed the imagination of the young Janice, and even when in later years she’d taken up the quest that had belonged to her father, a part of her had never forgotten it. The archaeologist knew that many tales of the ancient Greeks had survived through to this day, thanks to their first having been recorded in written form by the Greek-loving Egyptians. They’d been endlessly fascinated by the tales of battle and glory won by the warriors and gods of Achaea. Were it not for those writings, preserved in the dry Egyptian climate, many of the ancient stories would have been lost for ever. In the case of the treasure of Helen of Troy, it very nearly had.
The papyrus spoke of a Troy in flames, of the conquering King Agamemnon and Menelaus. The terror of the Trojans, surprised in their beds, as they tried to escape. And Helen herself, fearing the approach of her scorned husband, gathering her cache of jewels, entrusting them to a serving woman, imploring her to hide them so that they might never fall into the hands of the avenging lord she had abandoned. A well stood inside the city walls, fed by a stone cistern. It was there, ‘facing the tides from whence the enemy sprang,’ that the servant flung the jewels. Shortly thereafter, Troy fell. Paris and King Priam were killed, and Helen returned to Sparta with her husband, the victorious Menelaus.
As for the jewels? Well, Janice Covington preferred to think that they rested right where they’d been thrown 3,000 years earlier. In fact, she was banking on it. Let Schliemann’s people content themselves with a few golden baubles and some corroded hunks of bronze. She was after the real McCoy. Who knew what riches must have been feted upon the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’? With any luck, the archaeologist could make enough dough off of this to finance her digs for years to come. Oh, and set up a nice little museum to placate the Turkish authorities, too.
Covington had concentrated her excavations on the northeast side of the citadel, hard by the Scaean Gate, fronting the Hellespont. All the signs had pointed to the well’s location: it faced the water, was at the edge of a clearing adjacent to a wall in the occupational layer of Troy VI – Homer’s Troy – and the site contained the discarded debris of everyday life typically found near wells; potsherds, animal bones, hooks and spindle whorls. They had been digging through the stuff for the last three weeks. The base of the damn well – and the treasure trove - had to lie just behind this most annoying stone from Troy VII, the result of a subsequent occupation that had collapsed down onto the remains of the earlier citadel.
It was the maddening nature of this site, the way it had been built upon and built up again, after attacks, fires, earthquakes and, finally, abandonment. Foundation walls from the Roman Acropolis of Troy IX might run into slabs from the palace of the noble King Priam, or intersect with a prehistoric fire pit from Troy II. New built on top of old. The living, securing their futures with the remnants of the dead.
But by God, the base of that well was so close she could smell it!
"That’s it! Pull!" Covington bellowed, shoving behind her ear a wisp of blond hair that had strayed from her ponytail. "You’ve nearly got it!"
Mustafa took up his employer’s cry, exhorting the men to even greater levels of exertion. With any luck, the Doctor would be well pleased today, and let the workers off early, with an extra ration of whiskey to boot.
"Janice, look at this!" A tall woman, her sleek dark hair pulled back in a chignon, had hopped into the trench near the base of the ramp.
"Careful, Mel," Covington sighed. "Would ya just wait until we get the stone clear?" Melinda Pappas was one hell of a linguist, able to decipher texts and symbols that eluded the abilities of the most sophisticated ancient scholars. Her father, the late Professor Mel Pappas, winner of the Nobel prize for Archaeology, Dean of the University of South Carolina, had taught her well. But damn! What that woman lacked in common sense!
"You should look at this," Melinda declared, adjusting her narrow-framed glasses as she examined the side of the wall exposed by the now retreating stone. "Fascinatin’," she murmured, "Just fascinatin’!"
"Mel!" Covington glanced worriedly back to where the laborers were straining with all their might, having nearly pulled the stone to the top of the ramp.
"I’ve never seen anything like this!" the tall woman exclaimed, brushing her hands off on the khaki twill pants that her partner had at last convinced her to wear, in lieu of the tailored skirts she usually favored. Mesmerized by her discovery, she swiveled her body around to afford herself a head-on view of the script-etched stone, placing her lanky form between the side edge of the wall and the massive block nearing the end of its journey.
"You can tell me about it later," Covington replied, more sharply than she’d intended. The shouts and grunts of the workers intensified. "Unless you don’t care about getting flattened like a piece of road kill!"
"Janice Covington," the linguist turned and flashed a brilliant, open smile. "Are you saying you have a problem with road kill? Why, my daddy once—"
Later, Covington wasn’t sure what sound she’d heard first. Was it that last aching grind of the stone against the ramp? The crack! of the rope and pulley as it gave way, sounding as if she’d snapped the bullwhip that hung at her side? Or, was it the dismayed warning cry of Mustafa? All she knew was that she found herself flying over the edge of the trench, desperately racing the ancient stone as it angrily skidded its way back down the ramp, intent on returning at all costs to its former resting place.
Blue eyes flew open wide behind her glasses, as Melinda Pappas twisted around to confront her doom.
"Oh, my!" she gasped, just as a brown leathered blur slammed into her, shoving her clear of the ramp.
With a shattering roar, the stone smashed back into the wall, crumbling into a thousand assorted pieces. Covington did her best to shield the body of the bigger woman with her own from the explosion of rock and dirt. Mel Pappas might be one long drink of water, but the archaeologist knew that she was softer and more delicate than most women she’d ever had the opportunity of….
"Janice Covington," Melinda’s voice was a hoarse rasp, "would you mind removing your hand from my—"
"You’re welcome, sweetheart," Covington said gruffly, pushing herself up and away from Melinda Pappas’ chest. She coughed, sending a shower of stone chips raining down from the brim of her hat onto Mel’s blinking form. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" The archaeologist ignored a stricken Mustafa chattering at her side, instead brushing the remnants of the rock and dust from her clothes. Her leather jacket had borne the brunt of the barrage, and she was glad that force of habit had kept the thing on her even though the weather this day was moderate.
"I was merely looking at the inscription," Mel primly replied, levering herself up with her hands. "That is what I’m here for, isn’t it?" A blush colored her cheeks. In spite of her blithe attitude, she knew that she had only narrowly escaped serious injury… or worse. And now, just look at the site! It was a shambles! Darn it, she’d messed things up again, and now Janice was bound to be angry with her. Well, no matter. She was used to it by now.
Covington tilted her head to the cloudless sky above, and closed her eyes. "I’ve got to be crazy."
"You’ll get no argument from me," the linguist muttered, miffed.
"So sorry… so sorry, me’m!" Mustafa tugged at her arm. "The rope… it break… too heavy, I tell you!"
Covington took a deep, calming breath, struggling to rein in her temper. "That shouldn’t have happened," she said, elbowing the foreman aside. She knew her calculations had been correct. The ropes should have been able to handle the weight. Ah, she’d deal with it later. The well! It’s got to be here! She anxiously fell to her knees at ground zero and began to clear the area of rock and dirt. Quickly, she was joined by Mustafa and Melinda.
"I don’t know about this," Mel’s voice was dubious as the debris was wheel-barrowed away. "There doesn’t seem to be any well or—"
"Look, you translate, I’ll excavate, okay?" Covington kept her eyes on her work, refusing glance at the woman by her side, choosing instead to keep the familiar disappointment she felt to herself. Melinda was right. Dammit Covington, you’ve done it again, she thought, welcoming the hurt into her heart like an old friend. All this work – and for nothing.
"Janice…." Was all Mel could say, the helplessness plain in her voice.
"Aw, shit!" Covington waved off Mustafa, and slumped back against the edge of the trench, exhausted. Behind the stone they’d removed was nothing but another large stone. Beneath it, was the telltale change in earth coloration, indicating another occupation layer – Troy V. If a well had been here, they’d gone through it all now, and there was no sign of a damn bottle cap, much less an ancient treasure.
"I—I’m sorry, Janice." Mel lowered her eyes, knowing how much her friend had pinned her hopes to this spot.
"That’s it. It’s all over. Two month’s worth of work." Covington laughed bitterly. It was funny, really. To think that the glory of any great discovery could ever be hers. She, the daughter of a man considered by many to be little more than a tomb robber. How close she’d come to proving to the world that her father had been right, when it came to his quest for the Xena Scrolls! But as soon as she’d uncovered them, with the help of the bumbling yet good-hearted Melinda Pappas, the scrolls had slipped through her fingers. Between the Nazis and that oaf Jack Kleinman… dammit! The discovery of the Xena Scrolls was now the world’s best kept secret.
"We can try again tomorrow, Janice. You can’t give up!" Through a dirt-smudged face, the linguist’s eyes burned a bright blue.
"I’ve only got a week left on the firman!" Covington shook her head. "At that rate, I’m not sure who’ll get here first: the Turks, sore because I haven’t come up with any hidden treasures, or the Nazis, the way they’re poking their dirty noses across Europe!"
Tensions at the dig site had been high, with the threat of Nazi occupation very real to a neutral Turkey. Austria, Norway, and France had all fallen to the Reich; then there were the dastardly air raids over Britain, and just last month the Germans had invaded Egypt. In leaving Macedonia behind, the archaeologist knew she’d unwittingly led herself and Mel out of the Nazi frying pan and right into the fire.
Idly, Covington took a small camel-hair brush out of her pocket, and walked over to the side wall where Mel had noticed the inscription. Gently, she brushed the dust away, revealing the ancient writing. "So," she sighed heavily, "what does this thing say, anyway?"
"Oh!" Melinda adjusted her slightly askew glasses. "As I was saying, it’s most fascinatin’," she said, glad to be of use and to perhaps take her friend’s mind off what had to be a crushing setback. She cleared her throat. "Lost: black and white dog. Answers to the name ‘Blacky.’" Melinda traced her fingers along the inscription as she deciphered it. "Children grieve," she continued more slowly, her voice cracking. "Reward. Inquiries should be directed to Pylos, the King’s blacksmith."
A fresh gust of wind blew another cloud of the grit of the ages down upon them, sounding along the length of the trench a faint, melancholy moan. The sun was beginning to set, and in the distance Covington could hear Mustafa dismissing the men for the day, scattering them to their little homes.
"Ah, hell," the archaeologist said, swallowing hard and turning to move slowly back up the trench. "I don’t think ‘Blacky’ is ever coming home.
The attendants brought on the oath-offerings and mixed the wine in the mixing-bowls; they poured water over the hands of the chieftains, and the son of Atreus drew the dagger that hung by his sword, and cut wool from the lambs' heads; this the men-servants gave about among the Trojan and Achaean princes, and the son of Atreus lifted up his hands in prayer. "Father Jove," he cried, "that rulest in Ida, most glorious in power, and thou oh Sun, that seest and givest ear to all things, Earth and Rivers, and ye who in the realms below chastise the soul of him that has broken his oath, witness these rites and guard them, that they be not vain. If Paris kills Menelaus, let him keep Helen and all her wealth, while we sail home with our ships; but if Menelaus kills Paris, let the Trojans give back Helen and all that she has; let them moreover pay such fine to the Achaeans as shall be agreed upon, in testimony among those that shall be born hereafter. And if Priam and his sons refuse such fine when Paris has fallen, then will I stay here and fight on till I have got satisfaction.
"Mel, are there anymore labels?"
Mel grabbed a sheet of labels and passed them across the worktable. Covington silently accepted them, keeping her head down as she peered closely through a magnifying glass at a decorated fragment of terra-cotta.
"How about a pen?"
The linguist sighed. "I already gave you mine."
"You gave me your tweezers." Irritated green eyes flashed above the magnifying glass.
"In that case," Melinda drawled, intentionally letting her southern accent become more pronounced, "I saw you finish scribbling in your notebook with my ‘tweezers’ not five minutes ago, and put ‘em in your pocket."
"Oh," Covington slapped at the breast pocket of her safari-style shirt, "right," she said, withdrawing the pen and jotting a line down in her notebook. Melinda Pappas knew there would be no apology forthcoming. Not that she expected one.
Many evenings she’d seen Janice Covington like this, here in the large tent where they stored their finds. The focus of the archaeologist was a thing to behold, as she tirelessly worked over broken pottery, and bronze swords, daggers, and bracelets turned a filmy green with age; corroded copper lances and battle-axes, small cups, vases. It had become a ritual for them both, at the close of each day, to tuck into the job which seemed to have no end: the organizing, categorizing, sorting, labeling, noting. It was one of the less glamorous aspects of archaeological work, to be sure, but Mel was amazed at how completely absorbed Janice was in the seemingly tedious task.
For Melinda Pappas, it was the language of the long-dead ancients that brought them to life, but for Dr. Janice Covington, it was their possessions, the simple objects of ordinary, everyday existence, that made the past come alive. The small blonde did tend to go on and on about the ‘treasure of Helen’ she intended to find. Yet Mel had seen how, by the light of a small lamp, she engrossed herself for hours over an inscribed stirrup jar; an engraved cylinder of blue feldspar; a copper dress pin.
Mel had learned much over the past several months, watching Janice work. Whatever reputation Harry Covington might have had, it was obvious that his daughter, despite her bluster and bravado, was a dedicated scientist. She had seen the way Janice had grieved, gazing upon Schliemann’s discarded ‘debris’ piles. Some had been piled up nearly as high as the mound of Hisarlik itself. The German had set hundreds of laborers at work on the site at a time, gouging haphazardly into the hill, wantonly casting away those objects deemed to be ‘unimportant.’ Inadvertently, Schliemann had destroyed a good portion of the very Troy he was searching for. The stories those artifacts might have told, if properly preserved and archived, was gone forever.
But haphazard archaeological technique was something Janice Covington could never be accused of. From the moment they’d arrived at Hisarlik, Mel had been witness to nothing less than a consummate professional at work. Oh, the feisty blond was hard on Mustafa and the laborers at times, but the linguist suspected this was mostly due to the good doctor’s need to make sure the men knew who was in charge, in what otherwise was a traditionally male dominated Turkish society.
It had been days before Janice had even let the men turn a first spade of dirt, so busy was she at reviewing her maps, taking measurements, and dividing the targeted site into a uniformed grid of excavation units. Melinda had found her there, late one night, as the sharp winds blew up from the Hellespont, tying off strings onto carefully marked stakes.
"Janice?" she’d called out, stumbling over the uneven ground in the darkness.
There had been no response from the small figure, dimly lit by a carriage lamp, kneeling over a stake on the side of the hill.
Picking her way forward hesitantly, Mel tried it again. "Janice… Janice Covington, what are you doin’?" she’d demanded, needing to shout over the roar of the wind.
"Just gotta finish this last section," Janice grunted, snapping apart a piece of string with her teeth.
"I do declare, you are gonna wear yourself out!" Mel knew that the archaeologist had been up since before dawn, working, and now it was nearly midnight.
Janice had picked up the lamp, and trailed the line of string along to the next stake. "I’ll be fine," she’d said, hunching over her objective. "Tomorrow’s the day, you know." She’d turned her head slightly, facing Melinda, and in the lamplight the tall woman could see the flickering spark of anticipation in the archaeologist’s eyes. "We start digging." A pause, as she gazed at Mel for a moment, and then she’d returned to her work. "G’wan. You’d better get some sleep."
Mel thought about that for a bit. Then, with a huff, she’d picked up the lead of string and moved to the next stake. "I don’t think so." She dropped to her knees and began to tie the string off. "And leave you out here alone? Lord knows what kind of mischief you’re bound to get yourself into, what with all those dead Trojans around here!"
The winds whipped at her clothes and tore the hair loose from the neat arrangement she’d had on her head, but she kept her eyes focused on the task at hand, before finally giving into the heat of the eyes of another she’d felt upon her. She’d looked up, and seen – just – the quiet look of amazement and gratitude on the archaeologist’s dirtied, tired face. Then it was gone, quickly replaced by the mask of professional expediency she’d come to know so well.
"Geeze, Mel!" Janice had said, picking up the lamp and moving towards her. "Would you lookit what you’re doing?" The smaller woman dropped closely by Mel’s side, and swiped the string from her. "You tie like a girl!"
And so the dig had started.
Slowly, methodically, working their way through each grid, moving ever closer to the spot where Janice was convinced the well was. With each artifact that was unearthed, Janice would make them all stop. With a careful, strong hand, she would sketch out a drawing of how the object appeared in situ. They’d dug their way through the broken pottery; through the remnants of towns that formed different strata of occupation, identified by color, texture, and content. Finally, they’d concentrated their efforts in a trench that Janice was convinced would lead them to the well and Helen’s treasure.
Mel had done what she could to help. Mostly, that included staying out of Janice’s way, and offering her deciphering skills when needed. It had taken weeks before the small blonde would even let her assist with the most mundane of the sorting work; shifting excavated dirt through a wire screen, looking for smaller objects.
They’d worked long hours because time was precious, Mel knew that. The authorities had granted them a firman, or permit, for only ten weeks. And even that had taken some doing. The Turks had been unwilling, at first, considering the young archaeologist’s passionate request with some scorn and skepticism. Finally, when it seemed all was lost, Janice had been forced to mention the ‘treasure.’ The eyes of the greedy officials had come alive with memories of Schliemann’s great find dancing in their heads.
Dr. Janice Covington had been quickly issued her firman. With the proviso that any discovery be shared equally with the Turkish government. Janice had grumbled at that, but finally relented, figuring that 50% of something was better than 100% of nothing.
Melinda let her eyes travel around the interior of the storage tent, taking in the crates and shelves filled with hundreds of important artifacts; recorded, bagged, and labeled. The stuff would keep graduate students back in the states busy for years. But the linguist could sense the disappointment in the air, it hung heavy and thick and low, like the stilted, dead air from Ares’ tomb in Macedonia. In these past couple of months, Janice had accomplished so much! But partnership with Janice Covington was an ‘all or nothing’ proposition; Melinda had quickly found that out for herself. And without the treasure of Helen, Mel knew that Janice would feel that it all had, in fact, been for nothing.
Darn it, it just wasn’t fair!
"So… where do you think we should dig tomorrow?" Mel sniffled nervously. It was the dust… that was it, wafting up from the worktable.
"Dig?" Covington looked up from a fragment of a tablet as though she barely understood the word. "No sense in that," she replied, "not anymore. I told Mustafa to let the men go. I figured we could just keep sorting through this… stuff and get it ready for shipping." She let her eyes passively skip around the tent’s interior. "God knows there’s enough of it."
"Janice!" Mel’s jaw dropped. She had expected the archaeologist to be frustrated. Irritable. Heck, furious, even. But this… defeated Janice Covington, was a stranger to her. "You can’t mean that, Janice! There’s still time—"
"It’s over," Covington said, her voice flat, toneless.
"Doctor Covington, me’m!"
Both women looked toward the entrance of the tent, just as a breathless Mustafa skidded into view. "You have visitors, me’m!"
Covington recognized Baku Ozal, the local official who had granted her the firman. Pushing in behind him, were two total strangers. Instantly, her senses ratcheted up to full alert. Maintaining a disinterested expression, she slowly rose to her feet, planting her boots firmly on the ground. She let her right hand drop casually to her waist, and lightly rest on the military-style leather flap holster she wore, containing a Webley & Scott .45 caliber revolver.
The taller of the two strangers stepped forward and thrust out a hand. "Doctor Janice Covington, I presume," he said. Two blue eyes glittered out of a pinched, pale face. Thin blonde hair was neatly combed back beneath a Panama hat, and his tan slacks, jacket, and white shirt were freshly laundered and pressed, a rarity in these parts.
"Well, that depends," Janice replied, eyeing the visitors evenly. The stranger’s trace of a German accent had not escaped her notice. "You see, you’ve got me at a disadvantage. Who wants to know?" She shifted her gaze accusingly to Baku Ozal, silently demanding an explanation.
"Doctor Covington. Allow me to introduce my friend, Herr Schmidt, and his associate."
Covington ran a flinty gaze up and down the German.
"Uh… Herr Schmidt has just arrived from Istanbul," Baku Ozal continued. "He is a diplomat."
"Try a spy, more like it," Covington’s voice was hard. She eyed the German’s extended hand as though it reeked of day-old fish. Finally, he let it drop limply to his side. "What do you want, and make it fast," the archaeologist demanded, sensing Mel tensely move to her side.
German visitors from Istanbul.
This wasn’t good. Not by a long shot. Located at a strategic crossroads, Istanbul had become a hotbed of spies. A ‘spy capital,’ as it were, where men and women with nothing to lose and everything to gain, would gather to plot, collect information, and spread disinformation through a large network of agents. The fact that Istanbul was awash in refugees from war-torn southern Europe only exacerbated an already volatile situation.
"You brought a damn Nazi spy to my dig site?"
Baku Ozal was fairly scandalized at the archaeologist’s charge. "May I remind you," the official said pointedly, " that Herr Schmidt is our guest, as you are, Dr. Covington."
"A guest?" Janice defiantly thrust her chin at the German, her green eyes flashing. "Not with this war going on."
"Janice, Turkey did sign a ‘Friendship and Non-aggression Treaty’ with Germany in 1925," Mel volunteered, trying to be helpful.
"Well, isn’t that just swell." Covington grimaced. "Thank you, Mel," she said, gritting her teeth before taking a menacing step towards the big German. "With friends like this, who needs enemies?"
Turkey had aligned itself with Germany in World War I, and was still paying the price, economically. Now, the recovering nation that had only recently emerged from generations of Ottoman rule, walked along the tenuous tightrope of neutrality. Their leaders served up platefuls of diplomatic lip service to Britain and the United States, while still supplying the German war machine with chrome shipments earmarked for their armament factories.
The Turks were not overly impressed with Allied assurances of assistance should an attack come from Europe. And the Germans threatened to bomb Ankara if the Turks entered the war on the side of Britain. Of course, the United States had not taken up arms, not yet, but Covington knew it was only a matter of time.
"Please, Dr. Covington!" Schmidt’s voice oozed from between his thin lips like a snake slithering through swamp grass. "I am just… a fan. I had heard that you were on the verge of a wonderful discovery here… worthy of that of the great Heinrich Schliemann himself. The treasure of Helen of Troy!"
"Gold." Covington laughed harshly, shaking her head. "So that’s what all this is about. Typical." She sighed heavily. "Well, I hate to disappoint you, but there is no gold. Not that I’ve been able to find, anyway.
"Really?" Herr Schmidt’s eyes scanned the tent, taking in the crates, the shelves, the table, not missing a thing. "I believe I understood," he cast a sidelong glance at Baku Ozal, "that today was the day."
"Well, you were mistaken." Boldly, Covington turned her back on the German and returned to her table. Following her lead, Melinda quietly did the same. "Now, get out. I have work to do."
Baku Ozal coughed nervously. "You remember the terms of our agreement," he said, his eyes flickering to Herr Schmidt and his companion. Whatever treasure is found—"
"Well, it won’t be found by me." The archaeologist picked up a small brush and began to dust at a piece of dirt-encrusted pottery. "We’re leaving here before the week is out."
The German smiled faintly. "Herr Schliemann’s discovery, the treasure of King Priam, was one of the greatest scientific finds in the history of the Reich," he said, his voice ringing with a hollow pleasantry. "Were there another such discovery, here, at a site first reclaimed to the modern world by… a German, my country would, of course, take a special interest.
"Of course." Covington refused to turn her head.
"We’ll be going then," Herr Schmidt said, waving towards his companion and Baku Ozal. Mustafa held open the tent flap for them. "Oh, one more thing," the German paused. "Have you heard the news today?"
"Zeppya’s goats got into his vegetable garden again?"
"No." He laughed softly. "Italy, a great ally of the Reich, has invaded Greece." His cold blue eyes narrowed. "Have a care, Dr. Covington. Have a care."
And now the goddess Iris, fleet as the wind, was sent by Jove to tell the bad news among the Trojans. They were gathered in assembly, old and young, at Priam's gates, and Iris came close up to Priam, speaking with the voice of Priam's son Polites, who, being fleet of foot, was stationed as watchman for the Trojans on the tomb of old Aesyetes, to look out for any sally of the Achaeans. In his likeness Iris spoke, saying, "Old man, you talk idly, as in time of peace, while war is at hand. I have been in many a battle, but never yet saw such a host as is now advancing.
The next few days were filled with the careful inventorying and packing of the artifacts for shipment back to the states. Mustafa and a few of the laborers worked at breaking down the camp, and as Covington watched the various tents being rolled up and the camp site being returned as close as possible to the condition in which she’d found it, she told herself it was all for the best.
Tension among the locals had increased after the visit of Baku Ozal and Herr Schmidt. The archaeologist realized that nothing escaped the notice of the worried laborers from Çiplak; they moved skittishly around the dig site like a herd of wild horses, scenting a brush fire on the wind. Covington had to admit it: she felt for them. After all, she and Melinda would be long gone, while these poor villagers would remain behind, with nothing left between them and the Nazis but the warm Aegean sea and a cold diplomatic smile.
"Where to now, Janice?" Melinda Pappas gazed at her partner across the camp table in a now mostly deserted mess tent. The great trucks Janice had hired to carry them back to Istanbul and a freighter bound for Lisbon, would arrive in two day’s time.
"Well, Keystone University is what the shipping labels on the crates say." Covington turned away, staring out into the darkness of the Trojan plain. Her thoughts were thousands of miles and several millennia away. Keystone was the only institution of higher learning that had agreed to sponsor her long after other, more prestigious schools had said ‘no’ many times over. The University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, UCLA – they’d all slammed their snobby doors shut in her face. So what if her father’s reputation preceded her? Hell, with all he’d accomplished in his life, in spite of the obstacles? She was damn proud of him!
So it was the tiny Keystone University, her alma mater, that had come through for her in the clutch. Keystone was a small, backwater university located in laurel highlands of central Pennsylvania, as far off the beaten academic path as one could get and still be accredited. It had been the only education that Harry Covington could afford for his daughter while he was off on his ‘business travels,’ and Janice had put her time there to good use.
After finishing her doctorate there, she’d set off to conquer the world. And it had turned out to be some small, goddamned unforgiving world at that, after all.
"Of course, that’s what the boxes say, silly." Mel nervously pushed the bridge of her glasses back on her nose. "I mean us. You and me." A shy smile. "Partner."
"I could go back to Keystone, I suppose," Covington said aloud, flashing a glance at Mel and then quickly lowering her eyes to the ground. God. Just the thought of a dusty old lecture hall, filled with wet-behind-the-ears momma’s boys, made the bile rise in her throat. "And you… heck, Mel! You could have your pick of any teaching job. New York, Philadelphia… and you know South Carolina would welcome you back with open arms." Covington felt a tightness in her chest that she told herself was merely indigestion from the lousy food the cook, Mustafa’s cousin, had been serving them.
"But Janice!" Melinda tried and failed to keep the rising panic from her voice. For some inexplicable reason, she was nowhere near ready to say goodbye to the exasperating, infuriating, temperamental archaeologist. "Surely there are more lost civilizations to be found, more challenges to be conquered!" Her hand fluttered at her face, fanning herself. "And you’re just the one who can do it!"
"The world is at war, Mel," Janice said sadly, resigned to it all. "Maybe it’s time I just surrendered." She pushed away her plate, stood, and shuffled out into the darkness, a woman very much walking alone.
Melinda was never sure whose idea it was that she and Janice bunk together in the same tent, but she hadn’t minded. An only child, she’d always been one to desire order in her life, to have things ‘just so.’ That certainly did not describe the personal habits of Dr. Janice Covington. But another part of her craved a companionship in her life that had been missing since the days when she and her father traveled around from teaching post to lecture tour and back again.
Young Melinda Pappas was never in one place long enough to put down roots, to make any friends. As a result, she’d always felt a bit awkward in social situations, fearful of rejection, and many casual observers ended up interpreting that shyness as a cold, elitist indifference.
But not Janice Covington.
My goodness, but that woman could talk! And listen, too.
Each night, they would lie awake side by side in their cots, reviewing the results of the excavation day, and planning for the morrow. When ‘business’ matters were completed, Janice would fall silent for a bit, but Mel knew it would just be a matter of moments before the young archaeologist would take up with her tales of the ancient gods and kings. Of Troy and Mycenae. Of King Priam and King Agamemnon; Paris and Helen, Hector and Achilles. A long-dead past that came alive each night in their little tent at the base of the mound of Hisarlik, thanks to the colorful story-telling of the little blonde.
During the day, when they were in public view, Janice was often gruff and short with Melinda. Often, Mel would only smile in response, or once in a while give as good as she got. She’d made up her mind from the start that she would take no guff from Janice Covington, in spite of the woman’s intimidating ways. But in the evenings, when it was just the two of them, the archaeologist was patient with her; kind, even. She’d not minded it a whit if Mel had to interrupt her stories to ask a silly question or have a common-sense explanation given to a woman whose pluckish bravery charmingly contrasted with her bookish knowledge of the real world. Finally, Janice would tucker herself out, and then Mel would lie there in the darkened tent, taking comfort in the sound of the woman’s deeply measured breathing; her gentle snore.
Being with Janice Covington had, for the first time in her life, made her feel that she had real value as a human being, outside of being ‘daddy’s little girl.’ Here, on her own, she was making a name for herself. And making a friend in the bargain.
It was quite late at night when Mel awoke, spying the still-empty cot next to her. Janice hadn’t returned after supper, and Mustafa had told her with a knowing wink that the ‘boss me’m’ had headed to town. And so she’d gone to sleep alone, finding herself missing the lively conversation of her partner. Heck, she would’ve taken even the ‘waking the dead’ snoring that the smaller woman was sometimes known to produce. At least it would’ve chased away the cold ghosts of the Trojans that she felt about her now, as she peered outside the battered tent flap into the windswept night.
And saw the flickering shadows of a dim light in the storage tent.
Swallowing hard, Mel crossed over the rocky, rutted ground, sparing a furtive, sidelong glance at Hisarlik. Oh, there were ghosts about this night, that was for certain. Standing there in the shadows, alone on an empty acropolis, her eyes were drawn to it: the lost city of Troy. The wind sweeping up from the Hellespont sighed mournfully over its massive defensive walls, just as it had done over three thousand years earlier. The linguist gripped her arms against her chest, warding off a chill that skipped through her body and stuttered her heart.
Arriving at the storage tent, she pushed open the flap and entered. There, in the dim light of the interior, illuminated by a single oil lamp, she found her partner.
Doctor Janice Covington sat on a chair precariously pitched backwards against a tent pole, her feet propped up on the worktable. Her fedora was slouched down over her eyes, and the glowing tip of a cigar peeked out from beneath the brim, sending a thin trail of smoke skyward, rising to join the already thick cloud surrounding her like the mists of the ages. A tall, amber-colored bottle sat on the table. Resting on her lap, Janice held a bruised tin cup.
Mel cautiously drew closer, wary of the archaeologist when she was in such a state. As she approached, the cloying smoke of the cigar hit her lungs and, involuntarily, she began to cough.
Janice used her index finger to push up back her hat. Slowly, she raised bleary eyes to her visitor.
"Janice Covington! Where have you been?" Mel demanded. She feared she already knew the answer, gauging by the flush to the archaeologist’s cheeks and the bloodshot, glassy stare that met hers.
"Went for a walk." Janice mumbled, reaching for the bottle, and nearly losing her balance on the chair. At the last possible moment, her equilibrium, and the bottle, were saved.
Emboldened by the fact that her partner hadn’t already kicked her out, she stepped closer. "Well, you should go to sleep now, Janice," she put her hands on her hips, "or someone I know is going to be one very sorry young lady in the morning."
Blithely ignoring the tall woman’s suggestion, Covington handed her the bottle. "How ‘bout some raki, Melly?!" The blonde waggled the bottle under Mel’s nose.
"Ugh!" Mel choked, her eyes watering, as the potent scent of the alcohol filled her nostrils. "You can keep your poison to yourself."
"S’not poison," Janice slurred, slopping more of the alcohol into her glass. She added a splash of water from her canteen, turning the concoction into a pale, milky fluid. "It’s good for ya! The locals call it ‘lion’s milk.’"
Mel lifted an eyebrow. "Must be some lion."
"Yeah, well… suit yourself," Janice replied, growing sullen at the realization that her dark haired companion refused to join her.
"Janice," Mel said softly, "You’ve had enough."
Covington spat her cigar to the ground and bit her lip. "No… no I haven’t. Not by a long shot." She let her eyes be captured by the swirling, milky liquid, as though she were gazing into a cloudy, bottomless ocean; searching desperately for answers that remained shrouded to her. "Because…" she took in a deep, shuddering breath, "because I can still feel it, Mel. All of it."
"It… it hurts so bad. The f- failure." She took a swallow of the raki, blinking as it burned its way down her throat. "The knowing… that no matter wherever I go, or whatever I do in this life, that I’ll still be just Harry Covington’s daughter. The wanna-be kid of a never-was father."
"Janice, that’s not true!" Mel eased the bottle out of the archaeologist’s hand, and placed it on the table, out of her reach. "Just look at all you’ve accomplished here!" She waved an arm around the tent at the neatly stacked crates and boxes, and at the survey map of the site. The highly detailed drawing had been laboriously executed by Janice, and it still rested on the worktable. "You should be proud!"
"Hah!" Janice laughed bitterly, and lifted watery green eyes towards the linguist. "Of what? Of a few broken pots and corroded hair pins? Pathetic. I… I deserve to be stuck in some stuffy classroom with kids falling asleep on me. I’ll lecture over the sounds of their snores as I relive the glorious tales of my m- monumental failures." She took another swig of her drink and released a loud belch.
"How can you say that?" Melinda had to fight back the tears anger, and of a fierce pride, too, that she felt springing to her eyes.
"Easy," Covington told her, "because it’s the truth. Face it, Mel, the only reason you’ve stuck with me is because of the ‘Xena Scrolls’ fiasco." She wiped her lips with the back of her hand. "You felt guilty since it was your fault we lost ‘em—"
"I beg your pardon?"
"And so you thought you’d hang around for a while, just in case my next hair-brained scheme actually amounted to something." She snuffled at her nose. "Well, it didn’t. Like father, like daughter, I g- guess." You’d better clear out – hic! – while you can, Mel. No reason for you to throw away your career too. I’ll just drag you down."
It would have been the easy thing to do to serve up a snappy, smart response to Janice Covington. After all, Mel had done just that, scores of time before, whenever the archaeologist had sunk into one of her ‘moods.’ But this time was different, Melinda could tell. Maybe it was the uncharacteristic slump to the younger woman’s shoulders, or the abject desolation she saw staring at her from a pair of green, red-rimmed eyes. Or perhaps it was merely the culmination of a mounting sense of helplessness and despair that she’d known her partner had been fighting against all week.
Now, it appeared that Janice was on the verge of losing that battle. Well, darn it! She, Melinda Pappas, simply refused to let that happen!
"Now you listen here, Janice Covington, and you listen good!"
Mel grabbed the tin cup from Janice’s hand and threw it away, spilling its contents onto the compacted earthen floor. She seized the inebriated archaeologist by the collar of her jacket and hoisted her to her feet.
"You are one of the best archaeologists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing! And I am positive, if my daddy had lived, that he would have been proud to work with you!"
Covington’s eyes widened, at that. "R – really, Mel? Gosh, that’s swell!"
"Well, it’s true!" Mel insisted, amazed and a bit confused, too, as to where her sudden burst of passion had come from. "And if you think for one minute that I am gonna walk away and leave… this partnership, just because of one little-bitty old setback, why you are out of your cotton-picking mind!" Melinda paused, catching her breath and trying to still the pounding of her heart. Heavens, it was warm in here! She pursed her lips. "Don’t you give up on yourself, Janice Covington. Because I don’t plan on giving up on you!"
The little blonde tipped the brim of her hat back and swayed on her feet, Mel’s hold on her the only thing keeping her standing. A silly, drunken, grin over-spread her face as she bathed in the adoration of one Melinda Pappas. "Really?" Covington’s voice was a hoarse, hopeful croak.
"Really," Mel assured her, realizing with some alarm that she was nearly bearing Janice’s full weight. Obviously, the archaeologist was not long for this conscious world. "C’mon. Over here." She began maneuvering her to a cot that had been placed in the back of the storage tent. It was there where Janice had been known to steal a nap from time to time over the course of her usual 18 hour days.
"Wh- where are we going, Mel?"
"You are going to sleep," the linguist replied, guiding Janice to the cot. Strangely, she found herself acutely aware of the weight of Janice’s body leaning into her own. And there was the smell of cigars and leather and sour booze, and the sweet fragrance of a stand of vallonia oaks thriving just beyond them on the Trojan plain; the mind-clearing scent of the distant Hellespont.
Mel barely got her to the back in time.
Covington’s knees gave out, and she collapsed onto the side of the cot in a barely controlled free-fall.
"Unnngh," she said thickly, "I don’t feel so good!"
"Well, it’s no wonder!" Mel clucked her lips as she tugged off Janice’s jacket and removed her fedora. "Not only do you drink like a fish, but you’ve apparently got the brains of one, too!" She squatted down at Janice’s feet and began to unlace her boots. "I will most definitely be saying ‘I told you so,’ in the morning," she said sternly, feeling Janice’s hands lightly resting on her shoulders for balance.
"There!" Mel slipped off the boots and lifted her gaze to her young partner. And was stunned to see something those emerald green eyes settled upon her that she’d never seen before. Not that she’d ever noticed, anyway. How pale and soft the archaeologist’s face appeared now, here in the flickering shadows! The self-imposed hardness had fallen away, and Mel could see now a glimmer of the sensitive, innocent young woman Janice might have been, had her life been different.
Covington sighed deeply, a wondrous smile lighting her features. "Oh Mel," she breathed, "You are so beautiful!"
"Wha – why, I am not, you silly—"
And then Janice Covington’s lips, planted roundly on her own in a wet, sloppy kiss, cut off any further protest from the linguist.
Melinda’s thoughts raced like a freight train barreling out of control. What is she doing? What am I doing? This is disgusting! And then, This is marvelous! Where do I put my hands? What will she think if I kiss her back?
But the decision was taken away from Mel when the archaeologist’s lips slid sideways, skidding haphazardly across the side of her face. The full weight of her torso sagged against her, and her arms fell limply to her sides.
"Gee… Mel, I – I’m sorry ‘bout that," Janice’s muffled voice slurred in her ear. Finally, the smaller woman slumped over onto the bed, passed out cold.
Mel sighed, and swung Janice’s legs up onto the cot. She reached for a light cotton blanket and pulled it up around her partner, tucking her in. She was surprised to see that her hands were shaking. Heavens! What was the matter with her? Was it possible that this small woman now snoring so loudly next to her had the power to affect her in this way? And did she, Melinda, have the courage to let her?
So. Janice was sorry about the kiss. Well, she thought, letting her eyes fall upon a face that now, deep in slumber, was unlined; at peace, I’m not.
Turning, she looked back over her shoulder at the worktable that still held Janice’s maps and notes. You’re not getting off the hook that easily, Janice Covington!
And all about the city dolorous howls
Of dogs uprose, and miserable moans
Of strong men stricken to death; and every home
With awful cries was echoing.
Rang the shrieks 120
Of women, like to screams of cranes, which see
An eagle stooping on them from the sky,
Which have no courage to resist, but scream
Long terror-shrieks in dread of Zeus's bird;
So here, so there the Trojan women wailed…
The fire-glow upward mounted to the sky,
The red glare o'er the firmament spread its wings,
And all the tribes of folk that dwelt around
Beheld it, far as Ida's mountain-crests,
And sea-girt Tenedos, and Thracian Samos.
And men that voyaged on the deep sea cried:
"The Argives have achieved their mighty task 520
After long toil for star-eyed Helen's sake.
All Troy, the once queen-city, burns in fire:
For all their prayers, no God defends them now;
For strong Fate oversees all works of men,
And the reknownless and obscure to fame
She raises, and brings low the exalted ones.
Oft out of good is evil brought, and good
From evil, mid the travail and change of life."
‘The Fall of Troy’
Janice Covington leaned over the side of her cot, and threw up.
"Oh, God!" she moaned, praying that death would come and take her quickly. She sagged back onto the cot and squeezed her eyes shut. Her head ached as though it belonged to a sailor after payday. Woozily, she tried to steady her breathing and hold her eyes still, the better to keep the sledgehammer pounding in her skull down to a dull roar.
She felt hot, flushed, and had a tongue that seemed as though it were three sizes too big for her mouth. As an experiment, she swallowed. Had she been in brawl? The fluttering pain pulsing in her middle felt as though somebody had socked her in the gut.
Oh, no! Janice felt the bile rising in her throat. I will not be sick. I will not be sick. But as she flung herself over the side of the cot and heaved the sour contents of her stomach onto the floor, narrowly missing her boots, she vaguely realized that it was not her choice to make.
Mel is gonna kill me, that is, if I ain’t dead already! Janice flopped back down onto the cot, wiping at her mouth with the sleeve of her wrinkled shirt. As she lay there, eyes closed and panting, bits and pieces of the previous evening came back to her.
The walk to town to clear her head.
The bottle of raki that she’d purchased there, which quickly put her back into a fog again.
She hadn’t intended on drinking so much. It was just that she’d felt so… so goddamned sorry for herself. Hell, she was entitled, wasn’t she, after all the bullshit she’d gone through? And then Melinda had found her. And somehow gotten through to her alcohol drenched brain that… that it was okay. That maybe she wasn’t such a failure after all. Melinda Pappas, in a heartbeat, had described a life worthy of living that she’d never dared to believe was true of herself.
Well. If the brilliant, beautiful Melinda Pappas believed it to be so, then it must be true! She’d been so happy then, and so very tired, too. So, Melinda had helped her back to the cot and—
Janice lurched to a sitting position, ignoring the roiling of her stomach and the screaming shriek in her skull that sounded like a factory whistle at quitting time.
Somehow, she struggled into her boots and jacket. Squinting against the early morning sunlight, she pulled her fedora down low over her eyes and, taking a deep breath, stepped out of the storage tent.
The winds had died down; it was more of a gentle breeze that wafted up from the Hellespont at this hour of the day. She began to stagger back towards the tent she shared with Mel, having no idea, really, what she’d do or say once she found her.
Apologize? Well, she supposed it was the right thing to do, although she didn’t much feel like it in her heart. She was so confused about the whole thing, so mixed up, and if only that damned pounding in her head would stop! She’d gotten so used to having Melinda around; the striking linguist was the last thought on her mind each night as she fell asleep, and her face was the first thing she sought out each morning upon awaking. The last thing she wanted to do was to scare her off. God only knew what Melinda must think of her now, and Covington cursed herself for being vulnerable to the point that Mel’s opinion of her even mattered.
"Mel?" she croaked, pushing open the flap to their tent.
But Mel was nowhere to be found. Grabbing a canteen from her camp table, Covington took a deep, gratifying pull. Where could the dark haired woman be at this hour? Too early, yet, for Mustafa’s cousin to be serving up breakfast.
It was then that she heard it.
The faint chink!-chink! of metal meeting earth and stone.
The dig was over, wasn’t it? She’d put a stop to it herself! Somebody was in big trouble. And where was Mustafa when she needed him?
Covington left the tent and moved gingerly towards the mound of Hisarlik. Every step she took reverberated from her feet, up her legs, and through her belly and chest, finally rattling around in her head like a pinball. God, would the misery ever go away? Well, she deserved it, she figured, after having behaved like such a cad the night before.
She turned the corner of the mound, catching on the early morning breeze the scent of freshly turned earth and brewed coffee. Hmnn. Both didn’t smell too bad, actually. It was the sight of the digger, however, that took her completely by surprise.
"Mel?" Her voice crackled from her bruised throat. "Wha – what the heck are you doing?"
There, about twenty yards to the north of where they’d been digging before, was Melinda Pappas. A pickax leaned against a wheelbarrow next to her, and Covington stared, slack-jawed, as Mel dug into the ground with a shovel. Nearby rested a trowel, a few smaller hand-tools and brushes, and a pot of coffee. The linguist’s ebony-dark hair was arranged in its standard chignon, but it was obvious from the fly-away strands blowing in the wind and the dirt that marked the tall woman’s face and clothes, that she’d been at her labors for some time.
"Well, it’s about time you got off your duff!" Mel turned over another spade full of the dark earth. "I was beginnin’ to think that I’d have to finish this job all by myself!"
"But Mel!" Covington moved closer, lured by the scent of the coffee and by the fact that her partner had obviously taken leave of her senses.
Oh my God!" The archaeologist painfully climbed the hillside until she reached Mel’s side. It’s my fault. I’ve driven her insane!
"Now, you listen to me, Doctor Janice Covington!" Melinda paused in her efforts and lean heavily against her shovel. "I don’t know much about any excavatin’. But my daddy didn’t raise the ‘givin’ up’ kind, and I’ll bet your daddy didn’t either!"
"Forget it, Mel!" Covington swallowed hard, wondering if she fainted right here whether the fall down the hill might kill her, putting her out of her misery. Well, it was an option. "The permit expires in two days."
"Slightly less than that now, Janice, with all that jaw flappin’ you’ve been doin’." Melinda jabbed her shovel into the hillside. "Are you plannin’ on makin’ yourself useful, or not?"
"Unnnggggh!" Covington flopped down onto the earth, holding her head in her hands. Her brain hurt too damn much to argue. The linguist was loco, that was all there was to it. Maybe if she just sat here for a while, and had a cup or two of java, Mel would snap out of it.
"Coffee should still be warm," Mel said, as though reading Janice’s thoughts.
Covington merely grunted in response as she poured out a cup of the rich, Turkish coffee. Mnnnn. That’s better. In another week or two, the damn hangover might actually be gone! She sat there, watching Mel dig, breathing in deeply of the fresh morning air. Finally, her head began to clear, just a little. Well, no better time than the present to get this over with.
"Mel, about last night…."
"You were as drunk as a skunk, Janice Covington!" Mel glanced over her shoulder, a disapproving look on her face. "Why, you probably don’t remember a bit of it."
Covington’s eyes found the laces of her boots. "Well, ah—"
The archaeologist forced herself to lift her aching head and meet Mel’s hard stare. The tall woman had paused in her digging, and was standing there, expectantly, waiting. Covington could see her blue eyes sparking behind her glasses. It wasn’t anger she saw there, or fear. God, was it… hope? No. It couldn’t be. Not from this genteel southern belle.
"Nah." Covington scuffed at a loose rock with her booted foot. "I was so blotto… I don’t remember a thing."
"Oh," Mel slowly returned to her digging. "Just as well, I suppose."
Covington squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed at her eyes. "Yeah." You’ve blown it again, Janice. Sighing at her latest personal failure, she decided instead to focus on just what the heck the linguist was doing.
"So. You’re digging here because… why?" What the hell. I might as well humor her. Got nothing better to do this morning.
"You left all your maps and notes back there in the tent," Mel gasped as she hoisted another shovel of dirt. "I started lookin’ at ‘em, and thinkin’ about that papyrus your daddy found."
"The story of the treasure of Helen."
"Yes. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find all these various levels of stratum—"
"Strata," Covington corrected her.
"…most confusin’. We’ve been looking for a well that was supposed to be – where?"
"‘Facing the tides from whence the enemy sprang,’" the archaeologist recited from memory. "The Hellespont."
"Well, that’s just it!" Breathless, Melinda switched from her shovel to a trowel. She dropped to her knees, and began to clear away the dirt from the base of a delicate limestone wall that was gradually emerging into view. "What if the well we’ve been spendin’ all our time on was, you know, from a different Troy than the one we were lookin’ for?" Her brow furrowed. "So… I got to thinkin’."
Uh-oh. Resting her elbows on her knees, Covington began to massage her temples with the tips of her index fingers.
"What did Troy look like back then? You know, in Homer’s time?"
"A lot different than it does now, Mel."
"Of course, silly. It’s only natural." The linguist pointed her trowel at Janice. "So wouldn’t it make sense that the landscape looked differently, too?"
"Well…" Covington thought about that for a moment. "Yeah," she said slowly, "it would."
"Take, for instance, that area out there."
Covington followed Mel’s gaze to the marshy plain in front of them, dotted with small wildflowers and wheat grass. Beyond, to the north, lay the Sigeum promontory facing the Hellespont, three miles distant.
"Three thousand years ago, Janice, that plain was the Bay of Troy. Dr. Blegen talked about it in those notes of his you have. The water came right up to here, and—"
Melinda continued to chatter away, but Covington no longer heard. A trembling hand lowered her coffee cup to the ground. Bloodshot eyes began to take in what she’d missed before: the scorch marks on the wall, the masses of ‘sling pellets’ strewn among the dirt Mel had shoveled - stark evidence of a lost war; the chips of pottery, the darkened, loamy nature of the earth. And, protruding from a stone battlement above them, already excavated by Schliemann, what appeared to be the remnants of a cistern.
Covington leaped to her feet, her hangover forgotten. "Mustafa!" she bellowed, grabbing the shovel and tucking in next to Melinda.
"You’re welcome," Mel said dryly, making room for her miraculously energized partner. But she smiled to herself, and her heart suddenly felt a bit lighter.
Doctor Janice Covington was back.
The going went quickly as the day wore on; it was as though the ancient gods themselves had appeared to move the mounds of dirt and rock aside. Mustafa had disappeared for a time to the village, returning with a couple of additional laborers. The air grew warm, and a strong, whipping wind began to blow in from the north. It provided them some relief from the heat, but at the same time, unfortunately, blinded and choked them with the dust it kicked up as it swept its way down the Trojan plain. In the distance, shepherds lazily tending their flocks in fields that had become a blur of purple-gold in the hazy afternoon heat.
Covington stood, stretching out her aching back with a pop! "This is it, I can feel it," she said, her voice low and full of conviction. She pushed back the brim of her hat and wiped at her sweat-streaked face with a kerchief.
"Me, too," Melinda Pappas replied, smiling, offering the archaeologist a canteen. They stood at the fore of the newly excavated area. It had become readily apparent, as the digging had progressed, that they were in the right location. Once more, the promising signs of a well had been readily apparent: the tell-tale debris, the foundation, the artifacts.
It made sense, after all, Covington had to admit. A second well. Dug in the same general, convenient location within the fortress as a previous one which had served an earlier occupation. Facing towards waters that were now but a distant, dried-up memory. And it had taken Melinda Pappas to figure it all out. Damn! She wondered if the linguist would ever let her hear the end of it! Well, it just went to show that two heads were better than one. Especially in matters of the interpretation of ancient texts.
"Okay… stand back! This is it!" Covington slapped the canteen towards Mel’s middle. "Let’s have a little space, here!"
Mustafa and the two laborers he’d corralled in Çiplak, edged away. They’d worked often enough with the temperamental doctor to know that she didn’t like to ask for the same thing twice.
Covington suddenly found herself short of breath as she dropped to her knees, facing a depression in the base of the stone foundation they’d excavated. Wielding a trowel and a camel-hair brush, she began to carefully remove the last layer of sediment. The archaeologist struggled to keep her hands steady, and was grateful for the calming, faithful presence of the tall woman now crouched next to her.
The trowel hit something hard.
"Hand me that brush, Mel," Covington whispered, the tone of her voice suggesting a reverence befitting the ancient secrets the earth was about to reveal.
A few brush strokes – and there it was! Peeking clearly out of the sediment, was an object constructed of bronze, now turned green with age.
"Okay… we need to work it clear on this side," Covington said tightly, and she allowed Melinda to do this while she herself executed a quick sketch of the find. It was a small bronze chest, with a hasp once securing it shut with a bolt that was now long since gone.
"Easy does it…."
Melinda stood back while Janice, straining, carefully lifted the chest from its resting place. She moved it only a few feet before placing it down with a thump. It was obvious that the ancient box was not empty.
Oh, God! Covington felt as though her heart might burst through her chest. But what a way to go, she thought, gazing around at the expectant faces of Mustafa and the laborers. And then there was Melinda, whose focused detective work had gotten them this far, today. After she, the supposedly more driven of the two of them, had just plain given up. She didn’t deserve this, that was a fact. How could she ever thank Mel? And how could she ever forgive herself for not believing?
"Are you just gonna stand there all day, Janice Covington, or are you gonna open that thing?"
Mel’s words were impatient, but Covington could see the teasing sparkle in her eyes.
"This stuff has been waiting three thousand years for us, sister!" Janice smirked. "Another minute or two won’t hurt it any!"
The archaeologist squatted down next to the chest. "Gimme that screwdriver." Mel slapped the tool into her hand as though it were a scalpel. It took some doing, levering the hasp away from the corroded bronze lock, and Covington was acutely aware of how loud the prying sounded against the sudden silence that permeated the dig site. There were no words for this moment, nothing that could be said. The quiet held its on echo, folding in around the distant bleating of sheep, and the furious tempo of her own breathing. Even the winds chose this moment to abate, as though they too were arrested by the great timeless drama playing out in a small trench cut into the mound of Hisarlik.
Almost got it! Feeling the perspiration running down the back of her neck, Covington worked the screwdriver as far as she could into the hasp and, leveraging her full weight behind it, gave it a final shove.
"Ungh!" The archaeologist fell back onto her bottom. The screwdriver tumbled from her hand, and the lid of the chest flew open.
There was silence.
And then a sharp intake of breath from Melinda. "Oh, my! Janice… it’s beautiful!"
And it was.
Even though some of the contents showed the ravages of age, that most precious of metals known to man, gold, somehow managed to retain its luster despite the relentless attack it might have been subjected to by temperature extremes, dirt, or immersion in water.
Barely daring to believe it herself, Covington crawled on her knees over to the chest. She forced herself to keep breathing, detecting in the air that tangy, earthy scent that spoke of things old, very old. The smell of it never failed to make her mouth water. Gazing upon the chest’s jumbled contents, there were the mossy greens and blacks of goblets, crests, bracelets and brooches made of bronze, copper, and silver. And, shimmering there in the slanted late afternoon light like a ghostly mirage, were the earrings, diadems, and necklaces made of gold, inlaid with an assortment of precious gems.
"It’s true!" Janice gasped, reaching inside the chest to caress her find. "I can’t believe it!"
"Frankly, neither can I." A hard, German voice spoke firmly over the click! of a pistol cock.
Pantheus, Apollo's priest, a sacred name,
Had scap'd the Grecian swords, and pass'd the flame:
With relics laden, to my doors he fled,
And by the hand his tender grandson led.
‘What hope, O Pantheus? Whither can we run?
Where make a stand? And what may yet be done?'
Scarce had I said, when Pantheus, with a groan:
'Troy is no more, and Ilium was a town!
The fatal day, th' appointed hour, is come,
When wrathful Jove's irrevocable doom
Transfers the Trojan state to Grecian hands.
The fire consumes the town, the foe commands;
And armed hosts, an unexpected force,
Break from the bowels of the fatal horse.’
"I should have known you’d come sniffing back around here if there was treasure to be had," Covington snarled, standing to confront her visitors. Blocking the entrance to the trench was the tall blonde German ‘diplomat,’ Herr Schmidt, along with his associate and the diminutive Turkish official, Baku Ozal. "And you!" she fairly spat at Ozal. "I might have guessed you were as crooked as the road to Damascus! What I don’t understand is how you knew?"
"Really," the Nazi clucked, answering for the Turk, "you must do a better job of picking your help."
Covington swung a pair of dagger eyes towards Mustafa, just in time to see he and his helpers scrabbling up the side of the trench, making their getaway.
"Mustafa, you bastard!" Covington bellowed after the retreating Turk. "You’re fired!"
Herr Schmidt stepped forward, laughing softly. "Very amusing. Now, the jewels, please."
"Now you wait just a dog-gone minute!" Melinda pushed herself in front of Janice to challenge this rude interloper.
"Mel, no!" Melinda heard the archaeologist groan behind her. Well, tough stuff. This ‘Herr Schmidt’ fella had gotten her dander up, and she planned on giving him a good piece of her mind.
"Who are you people to just… just walk in here and take this away?" The linguist thrust out her jaw defiantly towards the armed German. "Janice has worked awfully hard at this, for months, and she got her permit fair and square!"
"This is none of your affair! Now, you all can just turn yourselves right around and go back where you came from, ya hear?" Satisfied she’d gotten her point across, Melinda folded her arms. "You heard me! Git!"
In a flash, a long arm snaked out and grabbed the southerner, spinning her around. She felt her hands being roughly pulled behind her back. Her instincts told her to struggle, to fight it, and she did, until the cold, hard barrel of a pistol jabbed into the side of her head. "Oh…." She sagged against her attacker, the fight draining out of her.
Covington went ballistic. She didn’t care what the bastards did to her. But if they harmed a single hair on Melinda’s head….
"Mel!" she cried out, her hand dropping to her holster.
"Don’t be foolish, Doctor Covington." Herr Schmidt jerked his head towards his associate, who Covington could see now also held a pistol. Pointed directly at her. "You will drop your weapon and give me the jewels, or she dies," Schmidt said calmly, as though he were rationally discussing the wine selection for dinner.
"If you hurt her, you’re the dead man, Herr Shit!" Janice snarled.
"You’re not being very polite." Anger flashed through the Nazi’s ice blue eyes. He shoved his weapon harder against Mel’s temple, causing the linguist to whimper in pain.
"I – I’m sorry, Janice!" she cried, as her glassed slipped down the bridge of her nose.
"The jewels!" Herr Schmidt demanded, his patience wearing thin.
"Okay… ya got me!" Covington snapped open her holster and threw her Webley & Scott to the ground. Then she moved towards the chest, slowly, knowing the German’s eyes tracked her every move. "I could use some help with this. It weighs a ton."
Herr Schmidt silently gave the go-ahead to his associate. The smaller man replaced his weapon in his shoulder holster, and moved to the archaeologist’s side. Grunting, he helped Covington pick it up.
They began to move it along the trench, passing in front of where Herr Schmidt held Mel. Covington could see the light in the Nazi’s eyes as he sighted the treasure, the avarice that painted his face in a cruel, seductive mask.
With these creeps it was always the same, Covington knew. The greed. The desire to possess something that wasn’t theirs; that they hadn’t earned by a long shot and deserved far less than that.
And in the case of Herr Schmidt, it was a character trait the archaeologist was counting on.
"The treasure of Helen of Troy," Covington said, pausing in front of the German. "It’s beautiful, isn’t it?"
Herr Schmidt fell for it. His kind always did. He leaned forward to better view his ill-gotten gains, lowering the pistol… just… enough….
"Yaaah!" With all her might, Covington wrenched the chest from the grasp of the smaller German, and slammed it into Herr Schmidt’s shins.
The Nazi yowled in pain, releasing Mel and dropping his gun in the bargain. He doubled over, grabbing at his abused limbs. Treasure from the chest scattered all over the ground at his feet, but Covington paid it no mind.
"Run, Mel!" Lowering her shoulder, the blonde archaeologist drove herself towards Schmidt’s stunned associate as though she were a blocking half-back, hitting him in the middle and taking him to the ground.
Melinda Pappas had no idea what to do. My word, this was a brawl the likes of which she had never seen! Not to mention the fact that that scoundrel Herr Schmidt had just held a gun to her head. Oh, Lord! She clutched at her stomach. I think I am gonna faint!
Covington and the smaller German grappled on the ground, exchanging punches. Damn. This guy is stronger than he looks! Covington winced as a blow caught her on the chin.
"I’ll get you, Janice Covington!" Herr Schmidt roared, moving to retrieve his dropped weapon. Blindly, he stepped on the scattered treasure; the baubles, bracelets, and golden, discs, and with a "whoooooaaaah!" felt his feet fly out from under him. He fell hard, the air whistling out of his lungs. The gun was pushed further away.
"Scheisse!" he cried breathlessly, scrabbling to get to his feet. Baku Ozal moved to help him, just as Herr Schmidt lost his footing again. He lurched into the official, and sent him toppling backwards to the ground, the Turk’s head hitting the limestone wall with a resounding crunch.Baku Ozal was out cold.
Janice Covington was finally getting the upper hand on her adversary. She had traded enough blows with him by now that she was beginning to feel herself tire, but she knew the German was feeling it, too. Worse, perhaps, by the look of him. With a growl of rage, she shoved him against the wall, pinning him there, her fist poised in the air for the final blow.
One of the German’s eye was turning black and blue, and a thin line of blood trickled from his lip. "Sie hündin!" he gasped, grinning at her sadistically.
"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Covington hauled off and socked him in the jaw. His eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Covington had barely released her hold on Schmidt’s associate before she felt her own body being clobbered from behind. Schmidt! I have to keep him occupied long enough so that Mel can escape! she thought, but soon she realized she had no cause to worry over that. She found herself flat on her back, with the German straddling her. A pair of large, coarse hands began to squeeze her throat, choking her in a grip of iron. Nope. This guy’s not going anywhere. Covington managed to take a perverse pleasure in the fact that, as she lay there with Schmidt strangling the life out of her, Mel was getting away.
"Nnngh!" Covington tried to break the Nazi’s grasp, but it was no use. He was by far bigger than she was, and stronger, and she had worn herself out this day, between working at the dig and disposing of Schmidt’s little friend. Gradually, her defensive motions became weaker. Her lungs burned from lack of air, her vision grew dull and spotty. And then, nothing seemed to matter much, not really. Her thoughts scattered like snowflakes on the wind, floating, drifting away.
A shot rang out.
Hmnn. This is interesting. Covington felt the pressure on her throat ease. So much so, that now she was acutely aware of the stinging pain that wracked her body and, blessedly, was able to take in a choking, hitching breath of air.
Herr Schmidt froze, surprised at this new threat. Slowly, he swiveled around to see a pale Melinda Pappas, holding a smoking pistol pointing skyward.
"You know, I’m not quite sure how to use this thing," Mel said, swallowing hard to keep the tremor out of her voice. She turned the gun on the Nazi, aiming it between his eyes. "Somebody could get hurt."
"You wouldn’t!" Herr Schmidt began to rise towards her, his mouth twisted in an evil sneer.
"No," Janice Covington rasped from somewhere beneath the big German’s body, "but I would!" Schmidt inclined his head back towards Covington. It was just enough to give her the perfect angle for a roundhouse punch to the jaw. Thwack! A dazed, curious expression skipped across his face, and then he collapsed backwards into the dirt.
"Oh, gosh, Janice!" Mel dropped the gun and raced to the archaeologist’s side. "Are you okay?" The tears began to spill down her face as she let her hands roam over the smaller woman's body, as if to assure herself that her partner was still in once piece. "I – I thought he was gonna kill you!"
"Me too, sweetheart!" Covington wheezed. She raised a hand to her bruised neck and began to massage it. "Thought I was a gonner."
Melinda put her arms behind Janice’s back, and helped the blonde to a sitting position.
"How about you, Mel. Did he hurt you?" Covington lifted worried green eyes to the linguist.
"No. I – I’m fine," Mel assured her, reaching under her smudged glasses to wipe away her tears. "It’s just that, why… I was so scared," her voice broke, "I – I didn’t know what to do!"
"Yeah, ya did Mel," Covington said hoarsely. Her eyes flickered around the trench at the three unconscious bad men, and then she smiled tiredly up at her savior. "Yeah, ya did."
When Heav'n had overturn'd the Trojan state
And Priam's throne, by too severe a fate;
When ruin'd Troy became the Grecians' prey,
And Ilium's lofty tow'rs in ashes lay;
Warn'd by celestial omens, we retreat,
To seek in foreign lands a happier seat.
It was nearly midnight before the mess at the mound of Hisarlik was sorted out. Herr Schmidt and the others were carted off by the local authorities to jail in Çiplak, although Mustafa was still on the loose. In spite of Baku Ozal’s vociferous protests and Herr Schmidt’s thinly veiled threats, Janice Covington’s tattered firman won the day. That, and the fact that the village muhtar or headman happened to also be the gentlemen who owned the local kahve where Covington enjoyed drinking her coffee and raki.
"What do you think will happen to them?" Mel asked. The two women sat in the dim lamplight of the storage sent, sorting through the scattered treasure they’d recovered from the bottom of the trench.
"Oh, I don’t know," Covington replied, studying an inscribed gold signet ring with a magnifying loupe. "Probably let ‘em go in a few days, I suppose. By then we’ll be long gone."
"And what about this?" Mel gestured towards the treasure. "Do we just let ‘em have it?"
"No," the archaeologist said carefully, placing the ring and loupe down on the worktable. "I’ll do what I said I was gonna do – hand a share of it to the Turkish authorities. The proper authorities," she allowed. "The shame of it is, is that this collection should really be kept together for future generations to study and appreciate. Why, I have half a mind to—"
"You wouldn’t get an argument from me, Janice Covington!" Mel grinned shyly, tugging at a loose hair at the nape of her neck.
"Oh?!" She smiled broadly, before the realization of Melinda’s words finally sank in. Covington’s face fell. "Oh. You mean… let the Turks keep it all."
"Why yes!" Mel agreed. "It does belong to their ancestors, doesn’t it? It’s a part of the heritage of this place. That is what you meant Janice, isn’t it?" Behind schoolmarm glasses, two blue eyes rounded in question.
"Uh… yeah, that’s what I meant," Janice muttered, glumly considering her limited options.
"Maybe," Mel continued happily, "we could even stay in Istanbul for a while, helping to sort and preserve it? I mean, really, Janice! You weren’t planning on going back to that sleepy Keystone University, were you?"
"Mel, there’s a war going on, for cripes sake!" Covington said helplessly. "Or hadn’t you noticed?"
"It hasn’t hit Turkey. Not yet," Melinda Pappas stubbornly replied. "They are supposed to be neutral, you know."
"Maybe someone should remind ‘em of that," Covington muttered, returning her attention to the signet ring. "Look. I’ll think about it, okay?"
Mel decided to let the subject rest – for now. There was plenty of time to work on Janice Covington on the road from Troy to Istanbul.
"You know, a lot of this stuff is inscribed," Covington said softly, holding the ring up to the light. "It’ll probably take weeks to decipher."
Impatiently, Mel snatched the ring from her partner.
"Hey – Mel!"
"Hey yourself!" The linguist slapped at Covington’s outreached hand. "This is what I’m here for, isn’t it? Hunkering closer to the light, Mel examined the inscription for a moment. Her breathing quickened, Covington could see that, and the tall woman gulped once before she began to read. Her voice was soft and low, rumbling vibrantly though the tent as though it were the whisper of history itself.
"This is Paris’ crest on the ring," Mel pointed out, before she began, "For my adored Helen. Whose beauty, like my love for you, shall last forever."
"Hrmph! Janice took the ring back. "Damn near did." She sighed. "You know, legend has it that Helen returned with Menelaus to Sparta. All was forgiven and forgotten, and they lived happily ever after."
Tears began to fill Mel’s eyes, and she pushed away from the table, moving blindly towards the entrance of the tent. "Ow!" She walked into a post near the flap.
"Mel!" Covington stood up, alarmed. "Wha – what the heck’s the matter?" She followed Mel outside, where she found the tall linguist crying her heart out.
"C’mon Mel!" Covington fumbled in her pants pocket for a dirtied handkerchief. "Don’t cry!"
"I—I’m sorry," Mel hiccuped, wringing her hands. "It – it’s just that… poor Helen! Poor Paris! It’s such a sad story, and such a beautiful one, too. Such a great love, and a great loss. And to have found those treasures, to see that inscription… it kinda makes it all real, doesn’t it?"
"Yeah," Janice agreed, holding the handkerchief up to Mel’s nose. "Blow."
The linguist complied with her partner’s request. Breathing deeply, she began to feel a bit better, out here in the cool of the evening, under a blanket of Trojan stars. "Sorry," she repeated, feeling the flush of embarrassment rise to her face. "I know I can get a little… emotional at times. My daddy always said so."
"Nah, that’s okay," Covington replied. "I – I know what you mean." She gazed out at the mound of Hisarlik. It stood like a wounded sentinel upon the plain of Ilium, guarding its fabled ghosts of the past. "The artifacts, the inscriptions, it brings it all alive, doesn’t it? It’s like…" Covington felt the passion of her craft seize her, "like you can actually see it all. As though you were there yourself when it all happened!"
"Uh-huh!" Mel bobbed her head in agreement, sniffling.
Covington was quiet for a time, simply drinking in the sight of the mound, and allowing herself to be transported back to a time and a place that a memory in her soul still recalled. "The Trojans are asleep," she said quietly, "or drunk in their beds after a night of revelry, celebrating their victory over the Greeks. They’ve accepted the gift of the wooden horse inside their gates, as a parting offering of peace from the vanquished enemy. But under stealth of darkness, the Greeks pour from the horse, slaying the Trojans as they sleep, opening the gates and setting the city aflame."
"It must have been awful," Mel breathed, shivering in the darkness.
"It was." Covington took off her jacket and draped it over Mel’s shoulders. "War always is." She toed at a pebble on the ground, considering Herr Schmidt and people like him, and marveling at how not much had changed in three thousand years. "The treachery of the Greeks was revealed," Janice continued, "but it was too late. They stormed through the citadel, killing every man they could find. Helen must have known the end was near. She knew her former husband was out there. Paris was already dead, and Hector too. And old King Priam himself would be killed before the night was through. Menelaus stormed through the palace, calling her name. Helen knew Troy would be lost. The same fates that had predicted that Paris would steal her away, had foretold that Troy would perish as a result of it. Still, she did not want her treasured possessions to fall into the conquering hands of her former husband."
"The ring, those jewels, the crests…."
Covington nodded. "Paris was gone. Those things were all she had left to remember him by. So Helen held her ground in her chambers, knowing Menelaus fast approached. She sent a serving woman off to do her bidding, to cast the bronze chest of her treasures into the well by the Scaean gate, hoping to retrieve it one day. At the very least, Menelaus would never have it."
"How awful!" Mel sighed, feeling the heartache of Helen across the millennia.
"The story goes that Menelaus burst into her chambers with blood on his sword and revenge in his soul, intent on killing Helen. But as soon as he saw her and beheld her beauty, he forgave her everything, and took her back to Greece."
"Can you imagine how she must have felt," Mel let her eyes rest upon the distant Hellespont, "sailing away from these shores, never to return, knowing what she’d left behind?"
"All those treasures," Covington said turning to Melinda, "and her heart."
Mel sighed and smiled. "That was beautiful story, Janice." She stared down at the archaeologist. It was amazing how… human the woman could be, once she put her mind to it. Even now, here in the starlight, her face had gone all soft and dewy, her features reflecting the hopeful, upturned promise of a young girl.
"Yeah, well… anyway," Covington said, recovering herself, "that was a lousy way to end a love affair." She paused, her pulsing green eyes unreadable, before she began to lead Melinda towards their tent. "C’mon. It’s late. Let’s get some shuteye."
"What about it?"
"You are gonna let the authorities oversee administration of the treasure, aren’t you?"
"I mean, all of it, right?"
"Oh…" Covington said, as if just reminded of something of little importance she’d forgotten, "riiiight."
"And we are gonna stay there for a while too, aren’t we? Just to help ‘em?"
"Whatever you say, Mel," Covington said casually, wondering whether Melinda would even detect her change of mind. Heck, if working with the Turks on the treasure meant that Melinda Pappas would stay close by her side, well, then it was worth it.
Melinda froze. "Janice, ya mean it?"
Covington suddenly found herself swept up in a great crushing bear hug. It squeezed the air out of her and pitched her hat back on her head. "Oomph!"
"Oh, that’s wonderful!" Mel shouted, overjoyed. "I can translate and you can… can… now, wait a minute!" Melinda Pappas suddenly held the archaeologist out at arm’s length, appraising her with a wary blue eye. "Do you promise to behave, and play nice, and do what you’re told?"
Janice Covington winked. "Trust me."
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