Paris, Spring 1993.
Darius was walking down the north aisle of St. Julien le Pauvre after Mass when he found the rolled-up magazine lying on one of the small wooden chairs. It was an archaeology publication in English which had probably been left behind by a careless tourist visiting the church. At least it wasn't a moldy croissant or a half-full soda can—he had found a few of those before. He tucked it under one arm without looking at it, and continued on his way to the rectory for his weekly chess game with his friend and former student Duncan MacLeod.
The antique phone was ringing as he reached the study door, so he dropped the magazine onto the long table he used as a desk and reached for the receiver. It was Duncan, wanting to know if Darius would mind postponing their chess match for an hour or so because something had come up which required his immediate attention.
"Of course," Darius replied with a chuckle. "I'll be here." It was something of a private joke beween them, for the Immortal priest seldom left the sanctuary of Holy Ground.
So now Darius had some time to kill. His desk was always overflowing with parish-related paperwork demanding his attention, but he wasn't really in the mood to tackle any of it just now. On impulse, he reached for the abandoned magazine. The cover featured a stone head that appeared to be of Egyptian origin, but what grabbed his attention was a small headline for a different article within the issue: "Amazons of the Steppes—New finds suggest that female warriors were not mere myth." With fingers that seemed to have suddenly gone numb, he clumsily flipped through the slick pages searching for the piece.
When he found it, his eyes went wide with wonder and something else, and he felt the need to sit down. Duncan walked in an hour later to find Darius still sitting at his desk staring at the magazine, so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not immediately react to his friend's presence. After several seconds, the priest started, then looked up at Duncan with a faraway expression in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Duncan," he apologized. "I didn't hear you come in."
Or sense me either, Duncan thought, a bit concerned at his strange behavior. "Is everything all right?" he asked, pulling up a chair and studying Darius closely. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"In a way I have." Darius pushed the magazine across the desk.
"What's this?" Duncan quickly scanned the first page of the article Darius had been reading. "Excavations of kurgan graves on the Russian steppes—didn't you tell me that you once lived among the nomadic tribes there? Do you know this place the article mentions?"
Darius pointed to a small photograph accompanying the text which showed a small gold ornament in the shape of a flower lying beside what looked like a rotted leather pouch on a string. The caption identified it as the remains of an amulet. "I know this," he answered. "It once belonged to me."
"Amazing! Something like that turning up again after so many years! Did you lose it somehow?" Duncan asked, hoping he could get his friend to open up about what was bothering him.
"I gave it to someone." Darius reached over and turned a page to reveal a photograph of a woman's small skeleton lying in a pit. Earth still clung to the fragile bones as if trying to shield her from prying eyes. Around her in the hole were assorted grave goods, among them a quiver full of arrowpoints and the hilt of a sword or dagger near the right hand, with fragments of the rusted iron blade still attached. The little leather pouch from the previous photo was just visible around her neck.
"She was wearing that amulet when we laid her in the mound," Darius said, so softly that Duncan could barely hear him.
Duncan stared at him in frank amazement. "Are you telling me that you actually knew this woman?"
Darius took a long, shuddering breath. His hands clenched involuntarily, then slowly relaxed. "It was more than that," he admitted with a sigh.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 02/28/2002)