The Case of the Strange Etruscan Vase
by Joy Ellen Parker (Joyspc at aol.com)
They were two streets down when Lestrade's outrage was submerged under
the realization that she ought to keep track of which way they went, in
case she and Holmes needed to return to the alley again. After the
maze that was New London, ancient Rome was relatively easy to navigate.
However, she kept getting distracted by unexpectedly garishly painted
monuments, columns of marching soldiers, litters with bearers, and
other sights that screamed, Yes, you are a time-traveler. No, this
isn't a dream.
Holmes appeared to be asking Cyrus careful questions about their
surroundings. Occasionally, the boy let go of one of their hands to
gesture this way and that, or to point out some building or statue. He
was obviously enjoying the role of tour guide and he seemed to have
quite a theatrical streak. I wonder what kind of place this kid calls
home. In Lestrade's experience, kids who got routinely chased by
Yardies -- and she had no doubt Cyrus was an expert at eluding soldiers --
tended to live in squatters' quarters in some old building or in the
hangout of some career crook. Well, we're in the wrong era for Fagin
at any rate.
Given her expectations, she was quite surprised when 'home' turned out
to be a bakery. The warm smell of bread suffused half the street in
front of it and made her stomach growl. Cyrus knocked and the door was
opened by a little brown-haired girl about ten years old, who grabbed
their grinning guide around the middle in an obvious hug of relief
which almost squeezed the stuffing out of him. Lestrade caught her
name, Anna, as Cyrus tried to get a word in edgewise. A gaggle of
other children appeared in the doorway, and she was trying to sort out
who was who when she felt the pressure of Holmes' foot on hers. She
glanced down and saw that the outline of a fish had been carved into
the stone in front of the threshold. She only had time to exchange one
lifted eyebrow for another before they were dragged inside.
Ben the baker was one of the jolliest people Lestrade had ever seen
outside a Christmas pageant. He was as rotund around the middle as a
good baker should be with a large round nose and wide, innocent-seeming
eyes. His hair was almost as curly as Cyrus' but they were obviously
not related -- not that Lestrade could prove that by how enthusiastically
Ben greeted his stray. When Cyrus finally pulled away from another
enveloping hug his face was dusted with flour from the baker's apron.
Ben brushed it away with a chuckle and bussed him on the cheek for good
measure. When he turned to Holmes, Lestrade braced herself to look
calm when she was introduced. She promised herself to flay New
Scotland Yard's most arrogant consultant later, when there was time to
do a thorough job of it.
The introduction actually did cause an awkward moment when Ben greeted
her with "Shalom" and tried to talk to her in Hebrew or Aramaic or
whatever language was current in Jerusalem.
"Tell him I was kidnapped by pirates when I was very small and so I
don't know his language or customs," she hissed to Holmes. Two can
play this game. He's not the only one who's done undercover work.
"Pirates, Lestrade? How melodramatic."
"Just tell him, husband." Ben looked very sympathetic after Holmes
rattled off this explanation.
A tall, elegant-looking woman with her hair in a simple bun had been
speaking to Cyrus in a corner by the shop's large brick stoves during
this exchange. Now she came forward to greet them, smiled, touched her
chest and said "Helena."
Lestrade smiled back and said "Elizabeth," trying not to show how
strange the name felt on her tongue. Holmes bowed in his usual fashion
and said something to Helena which sounded quite different than the
Latin he had been using. "Greek? You know Greek, too?"
"Twenty-second century education is quite deficient, Elizabeth."
"Stick it in your pipe, Linus." Ben's wife was leading them to a table
on which a simple meal was already set and introducing the other
children as they bustled about getting extra place-settings and pulling
out extra stools. Besides Cyrus and Anna, there was a boy of about ten
or eleven called Justin, a small boy of seven or so called Marcus and a
tall kid of about fourteen or fifteen whose name was Zak or maybe
Yak -- he had muttered it under his breath wearing a mutinous teenaged
expression that reminded her of Deirdre or Wiggins on their bad days.
As they sat down he said something fierce sounding to Ben in what might
have been Hebrew.
Lestrade glared at him across the table. "It's very rude to speak
about your guests in a language they don't understand, kid." He stared
right back and raised his voice. Ben looked stern and put a quelling
hand on his arm.
"The young man thinks we are spies," said Holmes as he handed her a
small loaf of bread just from the oven.
"Is that just a guess or do you know his language too?"
"I know enough to get the gist of his remarks, but even if I did not it
is obvious that the climate in which these people must live would tend
to make them suspicious. On the way here, Cyrus told me that Ben and
Helena took him in after the Great Fire separated him from his parents.
All these children are refugees -- and I noticed that Cyrus slipped Helena a
small scroll earlier."
"Right." Lestrade broke her bread in two, dipped a finger in the sauce
bowl at her elbow and drew what would be known in her time as a Jesus-
fish on the inner side. She passed it to Holmes who repeated her
gesture with his own sauce on the other end of the bread and passed it
to Ben. He grinned, offered both of them a wink, and ate the bread in
Dinner was an even more relaxed affair after this. The smaller
children pointed out things on the table and offered her their Latin
names. Lestrade surreptitiously switched on her translator and gave
back the English word for each item. If they kept up like this she
might actually be able to improve the thing's database. Zak was still
inclined to be mistrustful, but he was overruled by the two adults.
Ben and Helena invited Lestrade and Holmes to a secret meeting being
held by some of Rome's Christians the next night -- Sunday, naturally.
"Ben is a leader among the local Christians," Holmes translated. "He
calls himself a Story Keeper because he sees it as his duty to guard
and pass on stories about the Christ...he actually met Jesus when he was
no bigger than Marcus. It was his lunch loaves that were involved in the
miracle of the loaves and the fishes."
Lestrade choked on Helena's homemade stew, nearly spewing it onto
Justin's tunic. "Are you telling me that I'm sitting here having
dinner with someone who actually met Jesus Christ?!" She reached for
her wine with a trembling hand and took a large gulp. Luckily it was
mixed with water or she would have choked again. Holmes pounded her on
the back and muttered to Helena, who looked concerned.
"I told her you were awed to be in the presence of someone who had met
"Shocked is more like it. I thought-"
"Where is your faith, Elizabeth?" He smiled.
"Things are more complicated where we come from and you know it."
"More complicated than Rome? I've said it often: When you eliminate
the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
"Yeah," Lestrade wiped her mouth with her napkin very slowly and tried
not to stare at the man in the blue tunic and white apron who sat
across from her.
She recovered her self-possession eventually and was able to help clean
up. Helena chivvied the children to the beds they shared in the
bakery's cramped second room. Lestrade was surprised at first to see
Zak put on a cloak, call out his goodbyes and head out the door. Then
she reminded herself that he would actually be considered an adult in
this time and probably had a home of his own nearby. He had managed to
eat two plates of food while darting suspicious glances at her and she
washed them carefully and put them away with the others.
She wondered what Holmes was doing. He had asked for a wooden tray
earlier and had begun drawing on it with a charred stick. Now he and
Ben were in a corner of the shop bent over the artwork. She wiped her
hands on a rough piece of burlap Helena used as a towel and wandered
over to look.
Holmes had drawn a darn good portrait of Professor Cromatty, replacing
the New London suit they had last seen him in with a toga. "I
thought," he said, "that Ben's quite extensive network of contacts
might be able to locate our fugitive. I've told him the man is a
dangerous swindler with whom we have had dealings, to our sorrow -- a true
account when it comes to it."
"Let's hope he hasn't finished whatever he's here to do yet. I would
have voted for chasing him first thing, if I'd have had any idea where
to look. How do you know Ben has a network that could find him?"
"Elementary, my dear -- ah, Elizabeth. Eyes and brains. Ben is
the leader of a Christian underground which holds secret meetings and
trafficks in the writings of the Church Fathers. That takes some organization.
There are doubtless Christians in every walk of life in Rome, therefore...."
"Okay, okay, but you better hope this works, Linus, or we could end up
trapped here while Moriarty's little errand boy does irreparable damage
to the timeline." Ben had been glancing back and forth at them like a
spectator at a football match, but now he rose and kissed Helena, who
had finally settled the children. The two of them led Holmes and
Lestrade to a curtained-off area in a corner of the next room and
"A bed," Lestrade groaned, "their bed. They expect us to sleep
here -- together!"
Editor's Note: Characters and situations that aren't from SH22 are from
an animated show called Storykeepers
, which is property of Shepherd Films in Dublin.
As you can tell, it's a religious cartoon about the early Christians evading
persecution. Sorta Hogan's Heroes, except with a family and Gospel stories. ;)
Ad partem III!
Ad partem I
Back to the Fanfic index