The Queen's Belt

Vicky is an ordinary 16-year-old girl from Edinburg. Accidentally, she comes into possession of a stone, which leads her to a time portal. Vicky becomes involved in the search for a stolen ancient artifact. Not fully in control of her time travel ability, she takes a chance and travels to a prehistoric world. There she lives with a female Amazon tribe and learns horse riding and archery. But will she find the stolen relic and be able to come back home?

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3. Chapter 3: The Request

~~Although the stone had “spoken” to Vicky twice now, Vicky still did not know what triggered it to change its temperature and color. The only obvious conclusions that Vicky could draw from the stone’s “behavior” was that it could change its physical state thereby leading her to the time portal. It could also make it possible for her to understand what these Scythian women were saying, although Vicky had no idea what language they spoke. She had to find a way to control the stone.
Vicky decided to reenact her first encounter with the stone in grandpa’s study. She decided that it would be best to drop by grandpa’s cottage after school again so that not to risk having any interruptions.
As soon as she arrived at the cottage, Vicky headed straight for the study. Before she took the stone out of her pocket, she took the file from grandpa’s shelf. Vicky wanted to make sure that grandpa did not leave some instruction as to how to use the stone. She made herself comfortable in the brown armchair by the window and quickly turned the pages of the file until she reached the plastic leave where she had initially found the stone. Apart from the title “The Talking Stone” the page did not convey any information.  Neither did the next page.
Vicky put the file aside. She took the little bag containing the stone out of the pocket and emptied it into the palm of her hand. As soon as the stone touched the surface of her hand, Vicky felt the stone warming up while changing its color. Once again she felt her limbs become heavy until a point when she could not move. As she expected, next followed the bubble where she saw the same woman who spoke to her when she found the stone.
 “Who are you?” asked Vicky, regretting that she started the conversation without a greeting of some kind. The woman did not seem to mind and uttered something which sounded like “Hamazon”. The meaning of the word which was made available to Vicky by the talking stone was “the warriors.” It was immediately followed by a question: “What is your name, child?”
“Vicky, I mean… Victoria,” answered Vicky hesitantly.
“Wagma,” pronounced the woman thoughtfully as the talking stone translated: “the one who never fails.” 
“Yes,” continued the woman, “The old man told me. I saw an old man before, like I see you now.”
“Grandpa,” thought Vicky. “When was this?” she asked, “When did you see the old man?”
“Long ago. He tried to find the belt,” the woman answered.
“What belt?” inquired Vicky.
“My Royal belt was stolen from me. Can I speak to the old man again?” she then asked.
“The royal belt – she is their queen then,” thought Vicky.
“The old man showed us the belt. He knows where it is,” continued the queen. 
“This man must have been my grandfather, but he is dead,” said Vicky. “I don’t know anything about this belt. He’s never told me about it.”
“Then you must help us find it, child. Join us.”
“I can’t join you. I have no idea how to find this belt,” protested Vicky, “I need to think.”
“Do not be long, child. The door will not be open for you for much longer.”
“Do you mean the stone?”
“No, the gate which you entered earlier.”
“What else can you tell me about this door?” inquired Vicky.
“Nothing, child,” answered the queen.
“Can you tell me how to control the stone?”
“No, child. It is the oracle’s stone. Join us, and the one who heads the council will teach you.”
“Who heads your council?” asked Vicky.
“Khase,” uttered the queen, while the talking stone interpreted the word “Khase” to Vicky as “the one who heads the council.”
Vicky guessed that along with the words and sentences the stone was also translating the literal meanings of these women’s names. Khase was someone whose name literally meant “the one who heads the council”, just as her own name, Victoria, sounded as Wagma in this peculiar language and meant “the one who never fails”.
“How does Khase know what to do with the stone?” asked Vicky.
 “She is our Shamaness. She will know. I cannot stay with you longer, child. Join us.”
“Wait! What is your name?”
“Skeleiei…” uttered the queen as she disappeared from the bubble, followed by the stone’s translation: “the woman of Scythia”. Now the stone was getting colder and returning to its whitish color.
Vicky felt considerably more confident: she may not have learned everything about how the stone worked, but she knew that the direct contact with her skin triggered the stone to contact the women from Scythia. She also knew now what the women wanted her to do for her, even though she had no idea how to do it or where to begin.
Vicky decided to stay in grandpa’s cottage for a while in order to search for some information about the queen’s belt. First of all, she took the file and looked through it again. She looked through the drawings hoping that there would be a drawing of the belt. Of course, most of the women on the drawings wore belts of some kind. She concentrated on the drawings of Skeleiei, but instead she was one of those women who were depicted wearing skin threads tied around their waists, with large animal fangs hanging off them. Vicky concluded that it must have been because her belt had been stolen as she had just told.
As Vicky could not find any drawing of the belt, she decided to look for information about grandpa’s travels. As a specialist on precious and semi-precious stones, grandpa had once in a while been invited to join archaeological excavations.  She remembered that when she had been looking for the instructions on how to use the talking stone, she had noticed a map. Vicky quickly turned the plastic leaves of the file and found the page she was looking for.
“That’s it,” she thought as she scrutinized the writing underneath the map.
“Excavations, Ivano-Frankivsk province, Nebylychne village, Ukrainian SSR, 1986,” claimed the inscription, followed by a series of pictures and drawings of objects which seemed to be the finds from the archaeological site. The pictures were unfortunately labeled with numbers instead of the descriptions, thereby leaving the functions of the objects to Vicky’s own imagination. The purpose of some of them was easy enough to guess: these were either the pieces of jewellery or of weaponry.
There were a couple of pictures dedicated to one object, which could be a buckle of a belt. In any case the depicted object could close and unclose since the two pictures showed it in both states. If it was a buckle, it was an unusual one. When closed, it looked like two gryphons biting into each other’s backs. In the open state, the gryphons on the buckle seemed to bite into their own backs.
“It may be what I am looking for,” thought Vicky.
The file did not offer any more information about the object than the pictures. Vicky looked through the coming pages to see if she would find anything more interesting among the objects on the pictures. She noticed a drawing of another object that caught her attention: it was a large round piece of jewellery, possibly an amulet. This piece looked like a round golden shield, with a slightly protuberant surface. It depicted a figure of a woman in the center of a circle. By the lower edge of the circle, where one would expect her legs to be, the woman’s body ended instead in the snake tails or multiple root-like extremities. These outgrowths formed floral patterns along the circular edge going upwards where they ended up forming the woman’s hair. 
When Vicky’s eyes met the drawing of the amulet, she had a feeling that she had seen it somewhere before. She tried to dismiss the feeling as it could have originated from her earlier examination of the file. Nevertheless the feeling persisted as a déjà vu, granting Vicky only a scarce hope of recollection but no actual memory of when or where she might have seen the object before. The amulet was depicted with a thin leather thread attached to it, suggesting that the piece had once been worn as a pendant. Since there were drawings of women wearing animal teeth and sea shells on the thin leather threads around their waists, Vicky decided not to dismiss the object as another belt buckle or a possible part of the belt which she was now looking for.
Grandpa’s file offered no further clues as to what the objects were, or where they might be now. With highest probability they were stored somewhere or at best exhibited in some museum or other.
“In any case,” thought Vicky, “there is no way I can get hold of these objects. So how am I meant to help, what was her name, Skeleia, or something?”
Vicky was sitting in the chair, staring into the room. She was going over the things that she had learned from grandpa’s file and from her conversation with Skeleiei. She learned a lot today, and she was also given a lot of clues, most of which lead to a dead end, like the pictures of the belt buckle which was impossible to find.
“Wait a minute,” thought Vicky, “there was a place and a date of the archaeological excavations, in which grandpa participated. I could try and dig something out about them.” 
The archaeological excavations seemed to be the only line of enquiry which Vicky could pursue at the moment.
“No use of going to the school library – they won’t have that kind of information there,” considered Vicky, “but what if I try that place where grandpa took me sometimes. I think it was the university library or something like that.”
Vicky was not sure about the exact name of this library, but she remembered that it was a very large building. Fortunately, she remembered how to get there. 
 
***

Vicky stepped out of the bus and looked over the grey building in front of her. Over the main entrance large white letters spelled “National Library of Scotland.”
From her few earlier visits to the library Vicky knew that she would not be able to take any books home: even if she was lucky enough to find something useful in such a huge library, she would have to read it in one of their reading rooms. When Vicky visited the library with grandpa, she did not pay much attention to the procedure of finding a book or an article. She knew she would need help. Fortunately, grandpa had once introduced her to one of the librarians he knew personally. Had she met the woman again, she would have recognized her, but her name was not easy to recall. Vicky was only sure that her surname started with “w”. She also had a vague feeling that this woman’s either name or surname bore a resemblance to some literary character or other. “But which?” thought Vicky. She went over the possible surnames in her mind in hope that one of them would hit the mark: “Ms. Wilson? No, Ms.… Ms. Walker? No, not it. Watson, that’s right Watson,” thought Vicky, “like Dr. Watson.”
“Can I help you? You look lost,” Vicky heard a woman’s voice behind her. Vicky must have stood for a while attempting to remember the name of the librarian since one of the employees approached her. She turned around and saw an elderly grey-haired woman who looked just as Vicky would have expected a librarian to look.
“Uhm,” Vicky hesitated, “yes, actually. I’m here to see someone… who works here. Ms. Watson,” said Vicky with rising intonation.
“Do you mean that you have an appointment with her?”
“No, I just had a question to ask her and I came by,” Vicky explained.
“Then you are lucky that she is here today,” the woman smiled as she explained the reason for Vicky’s fortune, “she might have been on vacation, you know”.
“Oh, I see,” answered Vicky, “I suppose I am lucky then.”
“Well,” the woman seemed to consider something, “you stay here, alright? And I’ll find her for you.”
“Great, thank you.”
“Oh and who shall I say is asking for her?”
“Uhm, Vicky,” hesitated Vicky, “no, would you tell her it is George McCray’s granddaughter, please?”
Vicky did not know how long she had been waiting, but the time she spent waiting seemed like eternity. At last, a woman of about forty with straight blond hair gathered in a tidy tail approached Vicky. She wore a white blouse, a light grey skirt and a jacket to match, which gave her an elegant yet a very conventional look. Vicky immediately recognized the librarian whom she met about a year ago on one of her visits with grandpa.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Watson,” began Vicky, “I’m sorry to have bothered you, but I need help in finding… well… some information.” Vicky stopped not knowing how to proceed to explain Ms. Watson what brought her there.
“Well hello again,” said Ms. Watson, “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Have you?” Vicky’s brows rose in surprise.
“Yes,” assured the librarian. “Perhaps not so soon, but George, your grandfather,” this she added as if Vicky did not know the name of her own grandpa, “told me you might come and ask for help some time in the future.”
Vicky felt almost relieved.
“When did he ask you this?” she asked in bewilderment.
“Well,” Ms. Watson considered, “three weeks ago, or so. He seemed a bit … tired. I even thought that he might be ill. How is George, by the way?”
“Oh,” said Vicky realizing that Ms. Watson was unaware of what had happened, “of course, you don’t know. Grandpa died two weeks ago. Of a heart failure.” As she was speaking, Vicky’s voice trembled. A wave of sad memories flashed through Vicky’s mind. She was trying her best to pull herself together.
“Oh, dear child,” said Ms. Watson understandingly, “I am so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s ok,” said Vicky feeling that she should change the subject. “Did he tell you what I would be looking for?” she asked expectantly while realizing how strange her question sounded.
Ms. Watson smiled. “Not exactly,” she answered, “he just asked me to help you if one day you’d come and ask for help. Why, don’t you yourself know what you are looking for?” Ms. Watson seemed surprised.
“Well, in a way, you see,” Vicky began, “I found something in my grandpa’s study, something about an expedition he was once on somewhere in the Soviet Union, I think it was, back in the 80s, and I thought...”
“Well, then I think I may be able to help you, Vicky,” said Ms. Watson. “I think I know what you are looking for.”
“You do?” Vicky was full of hope and surprise.
“Follow me.”
Vicky followed Ms. Watson through a hall past numerous shelves full of books until they reached a reading area with tables and chairs. Ms. Watson installed Vicky at a table inviting her to sit on a chair in front of it.
“I’ll get it for you,” she said and went off before Vicky could ask what it was Ms. Watson so mysteriously referred to.
There was a smell of dust and old paper in the old library, which fit perfectly with the atmosphere and the furnishings of the reading hall where Vicky was waiting.
A quarter of an hour passed, and Ms. Watson returned with an old yet well-preserved newspaper. She handed it to Vicky. It was an issue of Viewpoint dated the 20th of August, 1986. The front page directed Vicky to an article with the headline “Historians in Shock: an Artifact Stolen” on page 6 of the issue.
“This is just what I am looking for,” she said to Ms. Watson, “Thank you so much.”
“I thought so. You are welcome. Here, I made you a copy of it too,” she handed to Vicky a sheet of paper with a rather minimized yet readable copy of the article. “There. Now you are all set. I can leave you,” she said obviously satisfied with her own results.
“Thanks again,” repeated Vicky.
Vicky opened the page and read: “Probably one of the biggest finds of the century was stolen from an archaeological site in the Soviet Union before it reached Hermitage, a museum in Leningrad. A group of international archaeologists, geologists and historians, including representatives from the UK, participating in the excavations, are unable to explain the mysterious disappearance. Neither the object nor the culprit are found.”
The article proceeded with the details about the British participants of the expedition, the location of the site and the details about the lost object. Vicky learned that in 1986 a group of archaeologists excavated a mound near a village called Nebylychne in the Soviet Union.  Among the many objects dug out in the process the archaeologists had found a golden belt buckle buried together with a skeleton of a woman. To the right from the article, apart from several pictures of the participants of the expedition, Vicky saw the picture of the very gryphon belt buckle which she saw in grandpa’s file.
According to the article the buckle had been packed and sealed to be shipped to Hermitage, Leningrad, but on its arrival, the package was empty. As the package had been unsealed when it had arrived, the museum’s authorities claimed that the responsibility for this disappearance must lie with the members of the archaeological crew. 
Vicky remembered that when she was talking with the Amazons’ queen through the mysterious bubble, she mentioned something about grandpa showing her the belt. “Could grandpa have …?” Vicky stopped her thought before it fully formed itself. “No, he couldn’t have,” thought Vicky trying to convince herself as she felt chills running up and down her spine.  

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