(note: this is an extremely rough draft of something bouncing around in my head. I’m hoping to get back to it soon. But read on anyway…)
Blaine Vezick sat hunched over her desk, glasses perched on the end of her long, slim nose, her forehead creased in concentration. In red pen she circled yet another incorrect answer on a student mid-term. With a sigh of frustration, she sat back and stretched long, muscular arms above her head.
Am I such a terrible teacher that a student thinks Athens is in Italy? Not for the first time, she entertained the thought that she should have remained in research and far removed from teaching. But the larger part of her felt that she had knowledge to impart, if only the students were receptive. And to be fair, most of them were. Many had even gone on to train in the classics or as archeologists. In her seven years as Department Head and Professor of Mythology and Classics at Bridgestone University in Boston, she enjoyed giving lectures on Homer and Ovid, Virgil, Sapho, and the sociological aspects of the their respective cultures. And yet, every year she got back exams that showed how often she failed to reach some students.
“You shouldn’t frown like that. You know it gives you headaches.” Blaine’s student assistant swept in to the office with a steaming latte and blueberry scone. Setting them carefully on the desk, she plopped down in the extra chair and peeled a banana.
“I don’t know how you can eat those things. They’re so slimy and mushy,” Blaine said, grimacing as her cute assistant slurped the disgusting yellow fruit.
“And I say it’s no wonder you get leg cramps,” Sheila retorted, taking a large bite and smiling through the mush in her mouth, making Blaine shudder.
“So, what’s on the plate today, Doc? Do you want me to finish grading the papers? Or make copies of the handouts for tomorrow’s class?” Sheila asked,, and Blaine watched as she folded the peel neatly into a napkin.
Sipping her latte, perfectly made with two shots of espresso and two packets of Splenda, she shook her head.
“No. Actually, I need you to do some research for me. I’ve been invited to Germany by Professor Gesa Sykes at Heidelberg University to investigate the mythology surrounding an archeology site in Northern India. I need you to pull up information on Skeleton Lake in the Himalayas. Include all the historical information you can find, as well as weather conditions and possible routes to the lake itself.”
Nodding, Sheila reached slowly across the professor’s desk, the low cut of her top dipping to reveal considerable cleavage. Blaine shook her head and grinned.
“Hey, a girl can try. Besides, I need to write this stuff down. Pen?” Shiela grinned mischievously, and Blaine sighed good naturedly while studiously avoiding looking at the smooth skin and lacy black bra showing over the top of her assistants v-neck.
“I’ve told you, Sheila, I don’t date students. Ever.” Blaine didn’t mention that she had, upon occasion, slept with one or two when the semester had ended and they were no longer in her class, but she found that it complicated her life when she attempted to move on. Her lifestyle was not conducive to relationships, and she was happy with that. Enjoying the temporary company of women from around the world suited her just fine, even if, lately, she had begun to feel a cavity in her soul when she returned to her empty bed.
“Okay, anything else you need researched?” Sheila smiled sweetly, bluntly ignoring Blaine’s assertion.
“Hmm. Yeah. Find out what you can about Gesa Sykes as well. I’ve only met her once or twice at conferences, and although I remember liking her, I’d like to know more before I meet her in Germany.” Blaine, remembering the attractive German professor at the last conference in England in a low cut crimson blouse and tight black slacks, decided that it would take a stronger woman than herself to forget that kind of body.
Sheila nodded and bounced out of the room, her cute blonde ponytail swinging in time to her nicely shaped hips. With a long suffering sigh, Blaine picked up the red pen once more, determined to finish grading the papers.
The next day, Sheila swept dramatically into Blaine’s office. Flopping down on the sofa, Sheila read from a printout. “Professor Gesa Sykes, a cultural anthropologist, visited Skeleton Lake about two years ago and studied the skeletons, of which there are between three and four hundred. Taking samples of bone and hair, she discovered through further DNA testing that the people of the nearby village are descended from the people who died at the lake in the 9th Century. She published a book on it, which I’ve ordered for you and should be here tomorrow. Evidently she’s taken a lot of flack for the research, because she expounds at the end of the text on a possible mythological link between these people and the myth of the Orb of Helios.”
Blaine raised her eyebrows in interest but said nothing.
“Well, the book will be here tomorrow. Who’s going to teach your classes while you’re traipsing through the Himalayas with some woman?”
Blaine decided to ignore the slightly petulant tone in her assistant’s voice. Clara Thompson, from the English department. I told her you’d get her up to date syllabi.”
Sheila’s face lit up and she smiled enthusiastically, saying, “I’ll miss you, of course, but Professor Thompson is easy on the eyes, and not quite as hardened against dating students.”
Blaine tilted her head to the side and glared at her assistant, sighing loudly as Sheila left the room laughing. There were things she didn’t want to know.
Blaine stretched tight back muscles while waiting for her baggage. Damn, she hated flying. It wasn’t a fear of heights, or a loss of control that frightened her. It was a fear of falling for a long, long time with only one possible result at the end. Strangely, she didn’t feel that way about helicopters, or skydiving.
During the long flight from New York to Luxembourg, she had read all the research on Skeleton Lake, as well as a large portion of the book by Dr. Sykes, whose picture on the back cover reminded Blaine of the professors sexy good looks, and of just how long it had been since Blaine had been with anyone for longer than a night.
In the taxi on the way to her hotel, she decided to have dinner first, and then give the good Doctor a call to determine when she wanted to meet. Blaine had to admit she was intrigued by Sykes’ assertions about the link between the Indian skeletons and the myth of the Golden Globe. Blaine had studied classical mythology for most of her adult life, but she had never come across this particular idea before .The statue of Helios was still disputed by some archeologists to have existed at all, even while it was considered one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. While Sykes’ theory seemed a bit far fetched, she did make some points that could validate her research.
Traveling the world, Blaine had found, and been paid for, enough artifacts of historical significance to lead a very comfortable life, further enhanced by the books she wrote. Now she took every opportunity to find even more oblique artifacts, chasing down little known myths to find the secrets they buried in real life. Deep down, she hoped the Orb of Helios might be one of those.
She checked in to her hotel, and took a long hot shower, washing away the re-circulated air from her flight and letting the water flow over her trim, muscular body. Stepping out of the shower, she ran across the room to pick up the shrilly-ringing phone.
“I’m sorry, Doctor Vezick. Have I interrupted you?” The deep, sultry German accent sounded amused.
“No, not at all. I was just…. How can I help you?” Blaine blushed, not wanting to admit she was standing there butt naked and dripping wet.
“This is Doctor Sykes. I was wondering if we could have dinner this evening. I am excited to meet you and discuss this project.”
“Absolutely. I’ll admit I’m intrigued. And starving.”
“Then I will meet you at the Alt-Luxembourg at eight o’clock, yes?”
“See you there.”
Blaine appreciated the silver candleholders with animal cutouts on the tables in the restaurant, which gave the illusion that animals were dancing across the table. Recognizing Dr. Sykes from her picture, Blaine navigated through the restaurant, her stomach growling loudly as she passed tables covered with delicious food. As she approached, Gesa Sykes stood to shake her hand, and Blaine quickly took in a tall, voluptuous woman with sharp, angular features in an equally angular, tight black dress. Her eyes and hair matched her outfit, and Blaine shivered at the seductive and dangerous effect. The yellow gold on her wrists and fingers glinted in the candlelight, the deer image from the candle flickering erotically across her skin. Blaine thought of the goddess Diana who ran with deer through the forests, and killed any man who hunted in her territory.
Blaine was glad she had chosen to wear something other than the usual jeans and sweatshirt. Her black slacks hugged her slim hips and her white button down shirt was pressed and starched. Black leather boots reflected the candlelight as she walked. Her only jewelry was a thin palm-rope necklace an old medicine woman had given her deep in the Amazon years ago. At six feet tall, she was used to being substantially taller than the women around her, and yet she found herself looking almost eye to eye with Gesa Sykes.
After a few minutes of small talk, they ordered their meal and then began talking about the project. Blaine couldn’t help staring at Gesa’s face, with its confluence of angles and softness. She swallowed hard as she watched full red lips sipping equally red wine.
“Why Skeleton Lake?” asked Blaine, crossing her legs in an attempt to stop the pulsating coming on quickly between her legs as she stared at the beautiful and intelligent woman across from her.
“It has been a passion of mine for years, since I read about it when I was a little girl. When I got to a point in my career, as I believe you have, to be able to run my own large scale research projects, I decided to start with Skeleton Lake. One of the only things we do not know with scientific certainty, is exactly who these people were. We do not know where they came from, or why. We know only that they were killed en masse by a horrific hailstorm, shown by the massive injuries sustained by nearly all of the remains. Large, round fractures show the manner of death. We know also that they were related to the villagers who live nearby today.”
“I imagine your work with DNA in that regard was well received?” Blaine sipped her wine, focusing once again on soft red lips.
“Yes, it was. However, my interest now lies primarily in the link I believe exists between the Skeleton Lake tribe and the Greek god Helios.”:
Gesa looked down at her meal, pushing the food around in small circles on her plate. Blaine watched as the German woman pushed her plate away and ran the tip of her finger around the top of the wineglass. Blaine shifted, suddenly too warm.
“So, Gesa, flesh out your theory for me. I got a glimpse of it on the plane, but fill in the gaps, if you will, from the beginning.”
She shifted in her chair, giving Blaine a peek at her impressive creamy olive cleavage.
“Very well. Once upon a time, if you will indulge me, Plutarch wrote about the Colossus of Rhodes, the Greek god Helios. The people on this island, removed from Greek and Turkish rule, erected the statue to the god they worshipped above all others. According to the writing, the Colossus straddled the strait, but with research it seems impossible for it to have done so. More likely, it was built on the edge of the water, as a sort of beacon to incoming ships, much like the Statue of Liberty, which, of course, is based on the statue of Rhodes. Less than fifty years after it was erected, a massive earthquake destroyed it. According to Greek historians at the time, much of the statue was made of gold, including a golden orb he held in his upraised hand, representing the earth over which he ruled. The statue lay on the banks of the river where it fell for nearly a century, and then pieces of it were used here and there for other building projects. The orb, however, was never found.
“Which leads me to the next section of the tale. In India during this time, Greek philosophers and the wealthy traveled to India in search of the exotic, returning with food and silks to show to their prosperous friends. Some even returned with Indian brides.” Gesa wiggled her eyebrows and they laughed. “There was a particular Indian tribe, however, called the Vatachari, who paid close attention to the Greeks, welcoming them in every way. They shared religious information, societal ideas, and even philosophies. Their location on the coast allowed them to greet the Greeks when they arrived in port.”
Blaine nodded to show she was listening, forcing herself to focus on what Gesa was actually saying instead of staring and drooling over the German’s exotic eyes and shadowed cleavage.
“Here is where my contention comes into play. You see, the Vatachari tribe disappeared quite suddenly, coinciding with the destruction of the Colossus.” Sykes leaned forward, fire in her dark eyes. “I believe that a group of Rhodes philosophers brought the orb to the Vatachari tribe. However, the only way for the tribe to keep it safe was to relocate, deep into the Himalayas. At Skeleton Lake, there are between three and six hundred bodies in the ground, all killed at exactly the same time. We know this because we have carbon dated the skeletons, and all show the same degree of degeneration.
“In India, especially in the ninth century, a group this enormous would have been noticed migrating; and yet, there is no mention of it in any written records of the time, of which there are many. I believe they were ostracized because of their belief in the Greek religion. As you know, the Hindu in the area were very protective of their gods. So, the Vatachari began a journey to the Hall of the Mountain Kings in the Himalayan Mountains to keep the orb of Helios, the Golden Globe, safe. The Hall is a long set of virtually undetectable caves located at the bottom of the valley, or hall, carved deep into a mountain, barely passable even in good weather. But, during their trek, they were assaulted by a massive hail and snow storm, with hail stones the size of softballs, which, as I mentioned before, is indicated by the large, round fractures on the skulls and bones. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to take any kind of shelter. Some of the bodies tumbled into the lake, where they froze. While the majority of the remains are skeletons, some were frozen in a fantastically preserved state. That, of course, is how we were able to get enough DNA to tie the villagers who still live in the area to the Skeletons at the Lake.”
“And so you believe that the orb is still in the region of Skeleton Lake? Or with the villagers?” Blaine tilted her head, her brow furrowed in concentration as she considered the implications of the Doctor’s supposition, while at the same time subconsciously contemplating the creamy skin stretched over Gesa’s collar bone.
“I am certain. I have researched this, and I have studied Skeleton Lake’s remains myself. I could not dig at the time because I was not prepared. But I want to go back, and I believe with your help, we can find the lost orb of Helios. Legend has it that it has the power to bring spiritual insight to any who possess it.” Gesa sat back, staring intently at Blaine, who met the woman’s intense gaze, contemplating.
Blaine remained silent, thinking of all the difficulties and pitfalls they might encounter. The look in Gesa’s eyes when she mentioned the spiritual aspect made her slightly uneasy. That kind of obsession could lead to trouble. In the end, after a lot of trouble, they could come up empty. And, although she had seen some amazing things in her explorations, she had yet to come across anything that delivered on some esoteric promise.
“Dr. Vezick—Blaine. Please. I know it is true. I know it as surely as I know my own name. Your background in mythology and sociology will help interpret the tales the villagers tell, and so where at Skeleton Lake to begin the search. There are still stones, pottery, weapons and even a bit of clothing to help determine which member of the tribe would have been given the honor of carrying the sacred treasure. I have read your book on the ancient Indian pantheon. I speak Telugu, but I do not know all of the ancient mythologies as you do. Please.”
Gesa’s unflinching dark eyes gazed into Blaine’s, pleading with her to make the leap of faith and undertake what would be a long, arduous trip. At least now Blaine understood exactly why Gesa had chosen her instead of someone much closer, geographically, If they succeeded, it would prove not only the existence of the Colossus of Rhodes, but could also prove that Gesa was right, and that this was the Vatachari tribe, long forgotten but incredibly important.. Successfully finding the orb would also add to her credentials as an expert in her field.
“I suppose I’ve made more difficult journeys, and with less information,” Blair admitted, hesitantly. “I’m in, as long as you take care of the travel difficulties.”
The professor’s face spread in a gigantic smile, her full cherry red lips parting over even white teeth, and she grasped Blaine’s hand tightly.
“Thank you. I know you won’t be disappointed. And I will handle all of the travel arrangements, as well as the guides and climbing gear. Can you be ready to set out on Friday?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll need to call my University and get my classes covered until the end of the term. Even if we make it back before it ends, I have a feeling I’m going to be tired when this is over.”
“Please, come to my office. You can call from there at no charge to yourself, and then I can drop you at your hotel.”
This time, Gesa gave a slow, seductive smile, and Blaine reciprocated, thinking that perhaps this would be a worthwhile trip after all. It had been too long since she had shared an adventure with an attractive, single woman. Maybe this would finally assuage the pit of loneliness that kept her tossing in her often empty bed at night. At the very least, it would provide a long and pleasant distraction.