“You’re planning on doing WHAT?”
Isabella exclaimed, her voice emerging higher and louder than she expected, but her startled outburst had little or no effect on her group of friends. The men of the party, Luke and Marius, who were normally so protective of their female companions, just grinned at Aelia and Zenobia, who looked pleased with themselves and quietly excited.
“But one of you might get hurt!” Isabella continued, trying her best to convey her alarm to them.
Marius draped an arm lazily around Aelia’s shoulder and said smugly, “No, they won’t. They’re professionals!”
At that assertion, the four of them smiled at each other in such a complicit way that Isabella wanted to scream.
Sighing heavily with frustration, she glanced away from them at the beautiful scenery on the lovely Aegean island where they had found themselves. She looked down from the small rocky promontory where they were standing to take in the most glorious view of the calm, rich turquoise colour of sea dotted with the fluttering sails of little ships.
The balmy air and the soft, golden glitter of the sun on the dazzlingly clear, blue water made her feel as though she were in an idyllic dream. This would be a perfect location to travel to, if her friends hadn’t turned out to be stark, staring mad.
While they were in the Library, that cathedral-like space that sat between times which served as Luke’s still room, surgery and think tank, his plan seemed sensible enough. He had gathered them all there so they could travel back in time in order to thwart his nemesis Gabriel, or Gavrillus, as Isabella’s Roman friends called him; or at least clear up some of the damage he had left in his wake as he blundered destructively through the delicate balance of time greedily chasing wealth and power.
As Luke had outlined their destination, he told them they would have to venture into the far past, distant even for himself, Marius, Aelia and Zenobia, who came from what Isabella would call First Century Rome. For a modern young Englishwoman growing up in the early years of the nineteenth century, this was both thrilling and surreal.
Luke described their objective on the ancient island of Thera in the Aegean Sea nearly two thousand years before his own time, and Marius had a far-away look in his eye and breathed the word, “Atlantis.”
His imprecation made the other two girls from Rome gasp and look at each other in awe. Even with her sketchy Classical education, Isabella had heard of this legend in Plato’s writings; Atlantis being a mythical island that had been swallowed by the sea in the mists of time.
She had looked at Luke expectantly, but he merely avoided Marius’ eye and said crisply, “Well, that’s one theory. However, Thera is very much a real place at the time we are visiting, so we need to focus on our mission there.”
He paused and looked at Isabella. “You would know it as Santorini,” he said casually as though Isabella was a regular visitor to the Greek Islands.
He continued, “It is a most advanced civilisation, and as they are traders and used to different peoples passing through we should not cause too much attention for the brief time we are there.” He hesitated and with a sudden, unexpected grin he said, ”That is, as long as we successfully defuse the weapons that Gavrillus has left lying around.”
He then opened the parchment that he was holding in his hand and spread it over the table so they could all see.
”This is a map I have made of the main settlement of Akrotiri.”
He explained further, and as she peered over Aelia’s shoulder Isabella marvelled at the clear layout of a town that existed nearly three thousand years before she was born. As he continued to talk, Luke’s plan seemed so straightforward and clear that she had not thought to question anything at the time.
Before she knew it, they were walking through the real streets of the Bronze Age town, and she was dazzled by the fine, stone buildings with their large windows, some of them reaching three storeys high. She had thought that Ancient Rome was marvel enough and startlingly ahead of its time, but this place was even more impressive, considering how far back in time they had reached.
She was so enthralled by the atmosphere and the hustle and bustle of the streets near the port that it did not occur to her that Luke had hidden any part of the mission from her until it was too late for her to object.
This was not Isabella’s first journey into a different time. In fact, this was now her third mission. The first, with Casey, Luke’s reckless friend from the far future, had been close to disastrous. But her second adventure, where she had met Zenobia, Aelia and finally Marius in classical Rome, had its risky moments but was well planned and organised.
After that undertaking, Marius had not only absorbed the knowledge that Luke, who he had thought long dead, was very much alive; but was the most recent of Luke’s friends to have been let into the secret that Luke had the ability to travel through time. Given how outrageous this must seem to him, Marius had taken the knowledge stoically and now seemed eager to join them.
So with the inclusion of Luke on this assignment and with all five of them assembled together in the past and the cutting edge technical know-how of Casey and her brother Zac, Isabella had thought that things would be straightforward, although not without some hazard. But now, standing on a shoreline in a land more ancient than she could imagine; dependable, sensible Luke was suggesting something that could get at least some of them killed.
She turned back from the sea to face her friends. They all stood there on the headland silently; their light draperies stirring in the breeze making them appear like the stylised paintings on an ancient vase.
Isabella took a deep breath and said, “Let me get this straight, Luke. Your grand plan is that Aelia and Zenobia let a huge bull charge at them and as they attempt to leap over its horns and this will serve as a distraction while we dismantle an enormous gun. Have I got that quite right?”
To her surprise, her voice was unnervingly calm.
Marius interjected pompously, “The proper name for the animal is an aurax, actually.”
Looking into Marius’ fine dark eyes and at his handsome, regular features Isabella felt an overwhelming urge to slap him. Before she could inflict the first violence of their mission, she felt a gentle, restraining hand on her arm. She turned to face Zenobia, whose deep brown eyes were wide with concern, the dark lines painted around them in the fashion of these islands making her look more exotic than ever.
“Luke would not suggest this if he did not think we were capable of succeeding without endangering ourselves,” She said gently.
Isabella looked from her to the always smiling Aelia, with a twist of affection for them both. Zenobia had generously taken into her household in Rome with considerable risk to herself, and also, Aelia had immediately befriended her without question. That friendship had only grown closer once Aelia, pursued by Gavrillus in Rome, had come forward in time and sought refuge in Isabella’s own home near the English country town of Hartfield.
She glanced at both the young women, trying to find the right words to explain her concern without causing offence to them, knowing they had both been accomplished gymnasts in a gladiatorial household.
“I’m not doubting your skill,” she began.
Aelia smiled at her in her usual open fashion and said immediately, “We know that. You are just worried about us.”
Zenobia added, “But Luke would never ask us anything he thought we could not do.”
Isabella glanced over at Luke who was deep in discussion with Marius. For all the world, they looked like two shepherds in a peaceful, pastoral scene, despite the fact that they were talking about the most effective ways to dismantle a cannon.
Zenobia said reassuringly, “I promise we will practice properly before we attempt the real thing, and if we feel we are not ready, we won’t make the leap.”
Aelia nodded her head in agreement but despite the soothing words Isabella saw the eagerness for the challenge shining on their faces and she knew they would go ahead and take the risk, come what may.