The Sais of Azarhan
Dr Janice Covington, famed archaeologist, and stalwart believer in the fabled Xena Scrolls, entered the Ranja Bar. She looked around at the sweaty, down-turned faces of the locals. Mazabar was nothing more than a dirt hole, populated by filthy peasants. It was just her kind of place. ‘Get me a beer.’ She ordered the barman before taking a stool. ‘We only have chatak.’ The barman slid a tall, badly made glass along the bar.
‘Does it have alcohol in it?’
‘Oh yes, it is the strongest thing we have.’ The barman carried on wiping glasses, watching his latest customer carefully as she downed the drink. Her face contorted with self inflicted pain. The barman smiled.
‘Get me another.’ Dr Covington demanded, still trying to catch her breath. She slapped a few coins on the bar.
Meanwhile, just outside the Ranja, Mel Pappas, straightening her skirt and trying to avoid eye contact with the locals, was desperately trying to balance a stack of paperwork in one hand, a map in the other and what appeared to be a stick under her arm. She trotted around the town square, which was little more than a gathering of mud buildings and a drinking well, until she saw the sign for the Ranja.
‘Oh.’ She sighed as she realised she didn’t have enough limbs spare to open the door. Her problem was quickly resolved when a particularly mean looking local came bursting out from the Ranja, flying across the square. Mel watched him land awkwardly against the water pump, she turned back to the doorway to see a familiar outline.
‘No one touches me like that!’ Janice shouted after the local. ‘Oh, hi Mel.’
‘Janice.’ Mel teetered on the edge of collapse as the stick under her arm slipped and fell onto the floor, swiftly followed by a map, a stack of paperwork, and one very upset Mel Pappas. Janice bent down and casually offered a hand to her partner in crime.
‘Looks like you’ve been quite busy.’ Janice smiled. ‘Find anything good?’ After brushing herself off, yet again straightening her skirt, and ensuring that her glasses were on straight, Mel replied ‘Yes. At least, I think I have.’
Azarhan was a peasant, he’d spent his whole
life dreaming of seeing the world, of discovering what lay beyond the mountains
in the distance. He had heard the stories of far away lands, where
water flowed in great rivers, and the grass was green and lush. But
these tales came from a very unreliable source. A drunken stranger
who spent most of his days unconscious. Most called him Outcast,
but Azarhan knew him by his real name. Iolaus. The pale skinned
stranger had turned up in the their village after wandering the earth for
many years, or so he told Azarhan. He had once been friends with
a mighty hero named Hercules, but that ended many years before, leaving
Iolaus with little left to do in his life. So he travelled, to get
as far away from his home land as he could. And he ended up in Mazabar.
'Tell me more about your home land.' Azarhan would often ask, when he wasn’t busy doing his chores, or working with his father. 'I long to hear of places other than the dry lands. Please tell me everything.' And Iolaus would tell him everything, of a places called Greece, Syria, Brittania, and Norseland. Names that Azarhan had never heard of before, but each of them sounded enchanting. Norseland was so cold, Brittania filled with a warrior nation, Syria with its beautiful queen, and Greece – oh Greece! That was where Azarhan had wanted to go. And when he was old enough he did go.
Mel read from one of her documents. She had discovered that the story of Azarhan was generally considered a legend, and most people no longer believed in the fabled Traveller. But further evidence suggested that it was true, and that Azarhan had gone to Greece.
At this point Janice became interested.
‘Wait a minute.’ She stopped Mel in her tracks. ‘You’re saying that a Mazabarian peasant, having spoken with the mythical Iolaus – who had somehow travelled thousands of miles to this hole – travelled to Greece?’ ‘Exactly.’ Said Mel excitedly.
‘But no one believes this story, right?’
‘Um… no.’ Mel’s smile was quickly wiped from her face. ‘But I believe it.’
‘Great.’ Sarcasm filled the air.
‘I do. I really do.’ Mel persisted. ‘And…’
‘And what?’ Janice downed another chatak. ‘And you’re going to prove it to me? How? How can you prove a legendary story, that not even the locals believe any more?’
‘Because I’ve found the location of Iolaus’ grave.’ Mel was grinning from ear to ear. ‘Just outside Mazabar.’
died on the street, and no one cared to move him. Only the boy Azarhan
had ever truly become friendly towards the stranger. Some of the
local women had called upon him, for certain duties, but it was nothing
more than a financial transaction. He spent the night with them,
they kept him plied with chatak. It appeared to be a situation that
eventually became too much for the Outcast.
By himself Azarhan carried the Outcast to a location just beyond the village boundary, where he buried him beneath a yutou tree, thankfully the strong smell of the yutou leaves helped to prevent lions coming and robbing the grave, and so the Outcast finally came to rest. Azarhan took this opportunity to follow his dream, he would leave Mazabar and travel to the land called Greece.
Mel handed the document to Janice, to show her the village diagram she had made. It clearly defined the border, outside of which Iolaus was said to be buried.
‘Where did you get all this from?’ Janice, strangely sceptical, asked. ‘You told me to meet you here in three days.’ Mel rolled the documents back up, and tied them with the string Janice had given her, she wasn’t going to risk losing any of them now. ‘But it’s only a two day journey from Niare, so I stopped off at the first - and only library - in the whole of this country. Thankfully it’s looked after by a friend of my fathers, and he owed me a favour.’ Mel deliberately avoided looking at Janice when she offered her explanation.
‘A favour, huh?’ That old wry smile spreading across Janice’s face. ‘Yes.’ Mel replied sheepishly. ‘Anyway, he helped me find out a few things about Mazabar, just because I thought it would be useful, and this lot is everything that we found. Including this,’ She carefully pulled out the stick that she had kept clamped tightly beneath her arm, ‘a replica sai.’
‘I knew it.’ Janice clapped her hands together. ‘Mel, you’re amazing.’
‘Why thank you.’ She tried to hold back her blushing. ‘You’re most kind. But we’re a long way from finding anything set in stone.’ ‘But we’re on our way Mel, can’t you smell it?’ Janice took in a long, deep breath.
‘Oh that, I think it’s just the local wildlife.’ Mel pinched her nose.
‘So, where do we find Iolaus’ grave?’ Janice suddenly became focused, she had now returned to the single minded, don’t-stop-until-you’re-the-last-girl-standing person that Mel had become strangely fond of.
‘I believe it’s just off to the north,’ She pointed with the sai on the map of the village, ‘there should be a small outcrop of yutou trees there.’ ‘Then lets go!’
Of the few belongings that the Outcast actually had, by far the most interesting was the scroll of the Warrior Bard, it was apparently given to him by a beautiful, blonde girl, shortly before he took off from Greece. It was said to contain many fascinating stories about a warrior named Xena, as well as a tale of a time when all people had four legs, and two heads. Azarhan was tempted to take this scroll with him, in an attempt to return it to it’s owner. Yet there is no further record of this scroll in Azarhan’s journal, we are not sure if it was ever returned to the warrior-bard, or left with the Outcast’s body. Now, we will never know.
The yutou tree smelled like highly concentrated urine,
mixed with rotting flesh. It was disgusting, and both Janice and
Mel could understand why no one came here. However, if they wanted
to find the mythical sai’s that belonged to Gabrielle, Xena’s life long
partner, then they had to suffer for it.
‘I think it’s over there.’ Said Mel, her hand over her nose and mouth.
She was pointing to an unusually organised pile of random stones.
‘So there could be a scroll in there, huh?’
‘Hopefully.’ Mel swallowed hard, attempting not to vomit. ‘Let’s just hope it doesn’t take long to find.’
As they neared the pile of stones Janice spotted something odd lying on the ground next to the grave. It was a man, unconscious. She gave him a friendly kick to the ribs.
‘Get up!’ Janice shouted.
‘No mother, I don’t want to go to school today.’ The man, still half asleep, blabbered. ‘What? Oh, um…’ He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and found himself staring face to face with an archaeologist and her gun. ‘Dr Covington?’
‘At your service.’ Jaques stumbled to his feet and saluted limply. ‘I’m glad I found you. I’ve got terrible news – ’ ‘Shut up, Jaques.’ Janice ordered. ‘Who sent you here?’ ‘No one.’ Jaques bleated.
‘I came looking for you by myself. I’ve got terrible news – ’ ‘How did you find us?’
‘The guy at the North African National Library told me where you were heading.’
‘How did you know I went to the library?’ Mel stood next to Janice. ‘Because I am a very cunning man, with plenty of excellent tracking skills to call upon.’ He lied. Badly. Janice and Mel both gave him that ‘shut up and talk sense’ look. It was something Jaques had become used to, people looked at him that way all the time. ‘Fine, fine. I followed you from Niare.’
‘You’ve been following me?’ Mel couldn’t believe it. ‘Stalking me?’ ‘No, no.’ Jaques tried to back track, but he knew he wasn’t going to get out of this one easily. ‘I had a very good excuse – I mean, reason. I had a very good reason.’ He fumbled over his words, ‘I have terrible news.’ ‘So you keep saying.’ Janice, putting her gun away, took a seat upon the pile of stones.
‘You won’t find the scroll with Iolaus’ body.’
‘How you do you know about that?’
‘Because Colonel Royter, a German officer, has already been here and taken it.’ Jaques looked at the pile of stones.
‘What? Royter!’ Janice cursed. ‘I should have known.’
‘Who’s Colonel Royter?’ Mel asked innocently. ‘A German fanatic, he’s been trying to beat me ever since he heard I was after the sais of the warrior-bard. Damn it!’ Jan jumped to her feet. ‘There's still one thing I don’t get,’ she whipped out her gun, and pointed it directly between Jaques S’ers eyes. ‘How do you know all of this?’ ‘Because, my dear sweet doctor, he is a prisoner of mine.’ Colonel Royter stepped out from behind the yutou trees, a small army of men just behind him. ‘As are you.’ He laughed.
The first of the soldiers came running forward, a pair of handcuffs in his grip. Janice let off a shot, catching the handcuffs in the centre of the joining chain, splitting them in two. The next shot caught the soldier in the arm, knocking him to the floor.
Another pair of soldiers came forward, neither of them armed. Janice shot once more but missed, one of the guards grabbed Mel, holding her tightly. Mel stabbed at him with the wooden sai, and he bent over double. She lifted the sai again and smashed him over the head. He fell to the floor. Jaques stood in the background, just behind the pile of stones, holding his fists up ready to box anyone that got close enough. Not that anyone did. Janice rolled across the floor, grabbed one half of the broken handcuffs and threw it at an oncoming soldier, it caught him in the face, knocking him flying backwards, into Colonel Royter.
‘Get them!’ Royter shouted, standing back
from the action. A crowd of soldiers circled in on Janice.
Mel – finding some inner strength – took off her shoes and threw them at
the soldiers, it was just enough to distract a couple of them, they turned
on Mel. Janice, now swamped in soldiers, being beaten from all sides,
suddenly lifted herself up, arms outstretched, forcing the soldiers to
reel back. She through punches left, right and centre, catching as
many soldiers with one punch as she could.
Jaques waited faithfully behind the stones, following the action, and throwing the occasional punch in the air.
The two soldiers had grabbed Mel, tugging her in two different directions.
Janice pulled the trigger of her gun, nothing happened! She was out of ammunition. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so she threw the empty weapon at the back of one of the soldiers heads. He fell like a stone. This allowed Mel to swipe at the other one with the first thing she could grab, which turned out to be the string-tied roll of documents. She battered the soldier into submission, until he passed out and fell to the floor.
A moment of silence, Janice waiting for the next round of attack, but it never came.
‘I suppose that took my mind off the smell for a while.’ Janice said looking at the carnage. A dozen or more soldiers lay unconscious around them. Jaques came out from behind the stones.
‘Where’s Royter?’ He asked.
‘The coward ran off.’ Janice picked up her gun, kicking a semiconscious soldier as she did so. ‘But he’ll be back. We can count on it.’ ‘Why don’t we go after him?’ Mel asked, in a moment of unusual bravery.
Janice gave her a side ways glance.
‘Because,’ Janice stood, hands on hips, ‘we’re going to the library.’
‘Back to the library, what for?’
‘I need you to check out this.’ Janice held
up a piece of gold, woven into an intricate twisting symbol, like a snake
coiled upon itself. ‘It came from around the neck of one of Royter’s
hoodlums.’ ‘Oh my!’
North African National Library.
‘Dr Covington, I presume?’ The librarian, an elderly man dressed in a purple sleeveless top and grey slacks, looked Janice up and down. ‘You’re a little short for an adventurer, aren’t you?’
‘And your broken nose really doesn’t suit your face!’ Janice grinned.
‘But I don’t have a broken nose.’ The librarian said. Janice balled her fingers into a fist, ‘you soon will have if you don’t get out of my way.’ Her grimace turned into a smile as Mel came around the corner. She had been routing through the stacks looking for anything she could find on the strange symbol, and what it could possibly mean. She had only found a single paragraph, with that picture above it. ‘I’ve found something.’ She was holding the heavy, leather bound book, close to her chest. Jaques S’er was right behind her, he had hardly left her side since they left Mazabar. She sent him away with a wave of her hand. He scuttled off silently into the recesses of the library. ‘What is it?’ Janice asked.
‘You’re not going to believe it.’
‘Try me.’ She spoke through gritted teeth. Patience wasn’t one of Janice’s strong points, and they were pushed for time as it was. ‘It’s a pointer.’
Mel pushed her glasses up, her lips parted into a wide smile. ‘I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.’
‘What does it do?’
‘Come with me.’ Mel lead her through the dark and narrow racks of high shelving. Many hundreds of dusty, old books raised up to the ceiling, neatly arranged in relevant groups. Mel twisted and turned, this way and that, until they arrived at ‘maps’.
Jaques was there, straightening out a crinkled map of Greece.
‘Thank you Monsieur S’er.’ Mel placed the book on one corner of the map.
‘Could someone pass me a light?’
Janice and Jaques both reached for the same boxed-candle, with a quick slap to the back of his hand Jaques let go.
‘Here you are.’ Janice said placing the light on the table, then leaned in beside Mel to look at the ancient map. Jaques appeared the other side. ‘Can I have the Pointer please.’ Mel held out her hand, not looking at either Janice or Jaques. She was lost in the map, tracing the outline of mainland Greece with her eyes. Janice placed the cold, golden coil in Mel’s hand. ‘Thank you.’
Holding the light in her right hand, and the Pointer in the left Mel performed a strange dance, trying to get the shadow of the Pointer to land on the map at the right size and in the right place. She pulled her right hand back a little, and the Pointer’s shadow grew. ‘There!’ She said.
‘Where?’ Janice and Jaques said in unison.
‘There!’ Mel repeated. ‘Oh Jaques,
you hold the light. Janice, you take the Pointer.’
The others followed her orders. With both hands free Mel showed them
exactly what the Pointer was for.
‘It’s an ancient device, used by the wealthy to help hide their riches. At the head of the snake is a tiny round eye hole, here,’ she pointed to the tiny round gap in the coil of the Pointer. ‘And at the other end, there is a square tail hole.’
‘Engraved upon this Pointer are two locations. In this case, Potidæa, and Amphipolis.’ She quickly realised the importance of the two names she’d just read out. ‘Oh my!’
‘I guess that means we’re on the right track. But I still don’t understand what this thing does.’ Janice, her arm beginning to ache, was getting a little frustrated.
‘Basically, when the shadow of the Pointer falls across a map of Greece, you must match up the eye hole, and the tale hole with the places they have been named after.’ Mel adjusted Janice’s hand a little, so that the light shining through the eye hole touched Potidæa, and the light through the tale hole touch Amphipolis. ‘And then, the heart hole, somewhere along the coil of the snake, will show up where the treasure is hidden.’ ‘There!’ Janice pointed to a small location on the map. ‘Quickly what’s the name of that place?’
Then the light went out.
‘Jaques S’er!’ Janice moaned. But there was no reply.
‘Where did he go?’ Mel rolled up the map.
‘It is too late for your little friend.’ The ominous voice of Colonel Royter filled the darkness. ‘Tell me, what was the name of that little Greek town you were just looking at?’
‘Help!’ Jaques S’er cried, and was quickly muffled. There was gun fire, a few angry faces lit up in the momentary burst of light, a scream, and then silence.
‘Royter, you really should know better.’ Janice was stood behind the German officer, her gun to his temple. Mel was surrounded by Royter’s henchmen. Mel stifled a scream. Janice pushed the gun harder against Royter’s head.
‘Tell them to let her go.’
‘Which is it to be, frau Covington? The girl, or the prize?’ Mel screamed as she was dragged away. Janice squeezed the trigger. Then stopped. The feel of cold, round metal against the back of her neck. One of Royter’s henchmen was holding a gun to her.
‘I believe you were asked a question.’ The henchman said. ‘What is the name of the Greek town you were just looking at?’ Without any other option, Janice said, ‘Sessuria.’ ‘Good work, Gunter.’ Royter grabbed the gun from Janice’s hand. ‘I shall see that you get rewarded for this.’ He shot the henchmen, right between the eyes.
‘Now, I guess we should be heading to Sessuria, don’t you?’
‘What about Mel, and Jaques?’
‘Don’t worry about your little friends, you’ll be meeting
up with them soon enough.’
Janice had been treated little better than cargo on the journey to Greece. Royter had made sure that she was tied up securely, and watched constantly. She hadn’t seen hide, nor hair of Mel. Or Jaques. For all she knew, they could be dead already.
They had landed with a bump at Calza, it was to be a further two hour drive before they finally reached Sessuria. Janice had ridden, bound and gagged on the back seat of Colonel Royter’s jeep. She silently formulated as many torturous ways for Royter to die as she could.
They eventually pulled up to the small, one street town. In the centre of the town was a tall statue of a dark skinned foreigner, definitely not of Greek decent, he was holding two weapons, one in each hand. They looked just like the wooden sai that Mel had borrowed from the library. There was something carved into the stone statue, at its base. “Azarhan, the Traveller.”
‘We’ve found it!’ Royter exclaimed, he pulled the gag out of Janice’s mouth.
‘What exactly do you want to get out of this?’ she asked, her arms still behind her back.
‘Like you, frau Covington, I am a collector of antiquities, but my collection consists of a lot more than some old scrolls,’ He puffed out his chest. ‘I am here for the Sais of Azarhan. They were said to have been given to the Traveller by the warrior-bard Gabrielle…’ ‘When she started using the sword of Xena!’ Janice finally put it all together. Azarhan had travelled to Greece, to find the one that gave Iolaus the scroll, Gabrielle, and he did find her. He must have told her about his connections with Iolaus, the two of them may well have travelled together for a spell, and when Gabrielle went back to Amphipolis, after the death of Xena, she used the Warrior Princess’ sword as a weapon. Presumably giving her sais to Azarhan!
‘So, you want the sais, and I want the scroll. Why don’t we do a deal?’
Janice sat up straight, her arms still behind her.
‘Oh no. No deals, frau Covington.’
Royter laughed. ‘I want it all.’ ‘Well I tried to bargain
with you, but now I guess I’ll just have to kill you!’ Janice,
rage filling her veins, produced her hands from behind her back.
She had untied them somewhere between Calza and Sessuria. She throttled
The German’s gurgled cries for help were heard by one of his more intelligent henchmen, and quickly a group of them surrounded the jeep. ‘Get her.’ Royter garbled.
The fight began.
Whilst Janice was busy toying with Royter’s henchmen, Mel and Jaques S’er, their guards having run over to the jeep, untied each other. Mel looked at Janice (who had just noosed a rope around Royter’s waist, thrown the rope over one of the stone sais in Azarhan’s hand and was busy pulling the German Colonel into the air, using his flailing legs to fend off the henchmen) and decided that she had everything under control. So she made herself busy by digging at the base of the statue with her bare hands. ‘What are you doing?’ Jaques asked, his hands over his head, protecting himself from any stray henchmen that might fly their way. ‘We’ve got to get the sais.’ Mel kept digging. ‘Come on.’ Jaques helped her.
The final henchmen, who had already taken a beating and foolishly decided to get up again, found himself on the end of a full-strength Janice Covington sucker punch. He swayed on his feet for a second or two, and then dropped to the ground, beside his fellow men.
Janice, wiping her hands clean, looked up at the hanging Colonel Royter. ‘So, you want it all huh?’ She smiled. ‘Take a look around, pal, because this is all you’re ever going to get.’ She waved her hand across the mass of unconscious henchmen. Then she spotted the scroll, tucked into the inside of Royter’s jacket.
‘No, no! Get off!’ He wriggled, uselessly, as Janice took the scroll. ‘Just another “old scroll” to add to the collection!’ She spotted Mel and Jaques, covered in dirt, appearing out from behind the statue. ‘What have you too been up to?’ She grinned.
‘Look what we found.’ Mel held up the two sais. Janice took them from her, and waved them in Royter’s direction.
‘Too bad, Colonel. Too bad.’
‘What are we going to do with him?’ Mel asked. Janice flicked one of the sais in the air, and caught it again, handle pointing outwards.
‘Get me down! Get me down!’ Royter shouted. ‘You haven’t heard the last of me, frau Covington! You mark my words.’
With pin point accuracy Janice threw one of the sais at Royter’s head, it embedded in the statue just inches from his ear. She casually walked up, stood on the base of the statue, and removed the sais. ‘Why don’t you just hang around here for a while?’
Janice, Mel, and a few steps behind, Jaques, walked off into the sunset.
If we shadows have offended. Think but this, and all is mended.
That you have but slumber'd here, while these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.
Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Goddess, if we have unearned luck.
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long;
Else the Goddess a liar call; So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends... and Artemis shall restore amends.