The Hermaphrodite's Curse Ch. 31byCleophila©
PART FIVE - MOUNT IDA
- 2 -
"Wait," Gabe, confused, demanded clarification, "You're saying that Robert White, the eminent academic expert in classical mythology, the author of Love's Children; and the transgender woman shot with an arrow at the National Gallery, the one who left the symbol on the wall, are the same person?!"
"Don't sound so surprised," Gerard, the Hospitaller Grand Prior grinned evilly, "It has always been really rather obvious."
"As I said, I had suspected it from the first," Saphy replied, "But something held me back from committing to the idea. Because, to make sense, the theory relies on one important detail."
"The victim was transgender, she looked nothing like the picture of White in his book?" Gabe asked.
"Exactly. In order for us to believe that the Rokeby Venus victim was Robert White, we couldn't believe that he had had himself surgically or hormonally transformed. There was a far deeper physical difference. The victim was naturally intersex, a hermaphrodite. To believe it was Robert White is to believe, truly believe I mean, that a power exists to transform a male body into a hermaphrodite, to believe in a real Fountain of Salmacis."
"But, if it requires such a leap of faith from you then why do you believe Robert White was that woman?"
"Because it's the only explanation that fits...'Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'," Saphy responded, quoting Sherlock Holmes' famous words, "We already know that the victim was killed by naiads, the white feathered arrow tells us that. As I told you before, that's a fairly unique murder weapon. So, why do the naiads kill?"
"To protect their secret," Gabe responded instantly, beginning to follow Saphy's train of thought.
"Right. That means that they must have thought that this transwoman was in possession of some knowledge that threatened that secret, that could lead to the Fountain of Salmacis. We also know that the victim's clothing was another unusual detail. She was dressed in a plain white smock and no shoes running through the London streets. It meant nothing to us at the time, but it might do now."
"It's what I'm wearing," Gabe realised how obvious a lot of this should have been to him.
"So, she must have recently been held prisoner by these thugs. The victim was never identified because they had a completely new physical identity," Saphy went on, "But that doesn't mean she had no identifying marks. She left a symbol behind, remember, the joined Venus and Mars symbol, right in front of the Rokeby Venus. We were both there, we saw the hurried panic, saw how she headed straight for that particular painting and left that symbol with some painful determination. Whoever she was, she must have known the secret of the painting, what it really depicts and left that symbol as a clue, a warning about the men hunting her, the assassins Phobus and Deimus. Who else knew how to interpret all of that?"
"Professor Cavendish?" Gabe recalled.
"Exactly. So, the victim, the person who left those clues, would have to have a similar background, similar knowledge, maybe even left the clues for Jane herself. It suggests somebody who was a colleague of hers. Somebody like Robert White," she paused for a moment, looking around at the Hospitallers and Gerard, all were staring at her, listening in rapt attention to her laying the whole case out, "Do you remember in White and Gerard's office, you found a piece of paper?"
"Yes, the list of museums: 'Louvre, Villa Borghese, Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme, Uffizi, Prado, Met'," Gabe remembered, "All the places with a Hermaphroditus sculpture. It's what lead us to the Louvre and then to Bodrum."
"So, that is how you managed to make such quick progress," Gerard cut in, "By stealing from my office!"
"You said it listed all the places with a sculpture," Saphy responded to Gabe, ignoring the Grand Prior, "But it's not quite all. An ivory miniature of the Borghese Hermaphroditus was brought back from Rome in the 17th century by the diarist John Evelyn. I looked it up when we were in Paris, suspecting that there had been something torn from the bottom of that list. However, with what we discovered at the Louvre, the missing sculpture never seemed important. At least, not until Bodrum, where we saw Dr. Gerard there baptise his minion from a miniature ivory sculpture that looked very much like the one Evelyn brought back from Rome."
"But that didn't do anything," Gabe added, "We saw it."
"Yes, but that may just be that these guys don't know the secret," Saphy smirked tauntingly at the sinister hooded figures standing around them, "They don't know what White knew, what the naiads knew. There must be some way of activating the waters, of making them transformative, otherwise the secret would have been known years ago."
"So, how could White have known it?" Gabe asked.
"White was a historian, right? A researcher with an interest in rare books," Saphy explained, "John Evelyn's diaries aren't so well known these days as Samuel Pepys', but they have always been read and published. White would have been familiar with them. He would also have known that all the earlier years, the time when Evelyn would have acquired the Hermaphroditus sculpture were compiled much later by notes he took at the time. There has always been an idea that there may be some original lost diaries of those years. What if those diaries from the time he acquired the sculpture contained some other discoveries, some lost information? Evelyn's tomb was broken into in 1992, nobody knows why, but his skull was stolen. Perhaps he was buried with something else as well."
"You're saying that a secret diary or set of instructions for the sculpture and the Fountain's waters might have been taken from his tomb?" Gabe asked.
"And then White, on taking an interest in Evelyn and the sculpture, managed to track them down, managed it and tried Evelyn's instructions on himself. It worked and he was transformed into a new intersex body. Knowing Gerard was interested in his search, he revealed the transformation to Gerard but refused to give up the secret," Saphy speculated, "Eventually, this must have made Gerard angry and desperate enough to use his eunuch assassins to capture and interrogate him. White must have known that his escape would only be a temporary reprieve and so rushed to leave a message that could only be understood by those in the know. He just managed to leave his message for Jane Cavendish before the naiads got him, preserving their secret just a little longer."
"Once again, I appear to have underestimated you, Miss Cross," Gerard had a patronising sneer on his face, "You have done a most excellent job of deduction, but I do not see this realisation being of any more use to you than it is for me. Robert White's knowledge died with him, just as your own knowledge will, very shortly I can assure you, die with you."
"I don't get it," Gabe purposefully ignored Gerard's reference to their impending doom, focusing on straightening out every detail of Saphy's story, "If we always knew the naiads had killed Robert White, then why are you not angrier with them than you are with these guys?"
"Because I understand just why they had to do it," Saphy explained, "I understand why this is a secret that can't get out, why protecting it from what the likes of this so-called monastic order and their wannabe world domination would do with it is important. You, however," she went on, turning her attention aggressively toward Gerard, "Not only would you commit the worst atrocities with this secret if you discovered it, you've already committed senseless violent murder. Jane Cavendish was a good, innocent woman, a woman who did nothing but help people and who did nothing to get in your way. You should pay dearly for her murder. You should suffer for it. I wish every single bit of pain you gave to her was revisited doubly on you!"
As she got angrier and angrier, her face becoming as red as her hair, Saphy struggled against the grip of the two men holding her back. Both men were a good head taller than Saphy but she was fuelled by righteous anger. She tore her way out of their arms and leapt across the clearing, racing toward where Gerard's smug smirk turned to an expression of surprise.
She slapped him violently across the face, scratching her sharp fingernails as they trailed after her hand, causing red stripes to appear across the Grand Prior's face. Her second hand swung after to land a heavy punch into his jaw, while the scratching nails of her right hand grabbed and tugged at his thinning hair.
Her assault was ferociously violent but ended as quickly as it begun. The two large hooded Hospitallers from whom she had broken free took a moment to recover from their surprise, but then they were right back on her, grabbing her arms even as she scratched and tore at their leader. As they pulled Saphy off him, a clump of his hair came away with her hand.
As the Hospitaller guards held her back with an even greater firmness, Saphy appeared confrontational but pleased with herself. Gerard's composure, however, had completely gone, no longer the suave intellectual completely in control of his, and everyone else's, destiny, he looked flushed and flustered. His face was scratched up and deformed by an angry grimace.
"That's enough," he let out a high pitched scream, "Kill them! Kill them both! We will not let them live another moment."
Gabe felt his heart beating faster, even while standing still he felt his breath coming in sort bursts. Just a few minutes earlier he had been feeling the respite of Gerard's decision to keep them alive at least long enough to witness his triumph. Now, after encountering Saphy's rage, the Grand Prior capriciously decided their time was up and Gabe began to feel, with a newfound certainty, that this would truly be it for him.
Time appeared almost to stand still, it was as if Gabe was watching his own life in slow motion as Gerard screamed and shouted and Saphy kicked and struggled. His whole existence of constantly observing from behind his camera left him completely unprepared for being the centre of attention, he just stood stock still.
As he watched, aghast, Gabe saw the tall, sinister shapes of the assassins Phobus and Deimus emerge from the trees and stride across the clearing towards them. Still seeing as if slowed down, Gabe watched as each drew their long ugly curved daggers, the same that had killed Jane Cavendish.
"You have sinned and now will be punished," hissed one in their chilling high pitched whisper.
"We will bring you to the world of dread and fear," the other agreed.
They continued forward as the Hospitallers fell away from them, even they appeared afraid of the fanatical assassins and their implacable progress. Gabe winced as he watched them raise their daggers in unison.
"At last," Gerard screeched at them, "Where have you been? Kill these interfering meddlers right now!"
Gabe shut his eyes as the knife came down and a blood curdling scream split the air.
And then, a moment later, opened them, surprised at the lack of the expected impact. Before him he saw Raymond Gerard, his scratched face distorted in pain. It was him that had let out the scream and Gabe could see why. Rather than turn on him and Saphy, Phobus and Deimus had brought their daggers down slicing into their employer, cutting and gouging into his flesh, causing blood to come spurting and flowing from him. There was nothing efficient about their actions, they were not trying to kill him instantly, rather they hacked and slashed, causing Gerard as much violent pain as they possibly could.
"Did you think you could commit such sinful acts before us and there would be no price to pay?" hissed one.
"You hired us to destroy the wrong and unnatural, so that is what we do now," the other said, slicing his dagger through Gerard's throat until he finally dropped dead at their feet.
Gabe breathed a sigh of relief at the narrow escape from what he had felt sure was the end of their quest. His moment of escape was brief, however, as, with Gerard dispatched, the two assassins turned toward him and Saphy a nasty glint in their eyes. They towered over both Gabe and the guard still holding him back.
Looking up into the bright blue sky, he saw the long arm of one of the twin assassins raise high above his head, the dagger blade glinting in the hot Turkish sun, the blood of their last victim still sticking to its tip.
"And now," the assassin said, "To finish the job. There will be no escape this time."