From this chest, Brother Iosef removed several parchment scrolls. And, from these I learned the legend of the Melissae.
" 'Born, they were, upon the island of Gorgona. Labia, Ovaria, and Heraclitoris; the Melissae. Also known as 'the Gorgonii' (from their birth-place), they were half-sisters of the Telchines. Those same nine sons of Zeus who were begotten of him, by the demi-goddess Lamia, upon the island of Rhodes. And, when the Telchines became too proficient at the wielding of certain forbidden magicks, they were destroyed by the gods of Olympus. Driving their mother to become a child-killing demoness in her despair!' "
" 'Upon meeting Priapus (a son of Aphrodite), he did use her grief to couple with her. And, she did raise their three daughters to hate all men who worshipped Zeus and the other Olympians. Such is the reason why their own worshippers, the Amazons of Libya, did abduct the Princess Andromeda. She who was betrothed to Zeus' son, Perseus.' "
" 'Huge and mighty was the army which the Greeks of Argos did raise to rescue the princess. For, the Amazons of Libya did intend to sacrifice her to Lamia's mother, Atargatis. Ancient Syrian goddess of the sea! And, only when the Amazons were on the verge of defeat did the Melissae take direct action. Materializing above Cyrenaica in the form of anthropocephalous bees. Each one, the size of the island of Sicily!' "
" 'It was only the direct intervention of Pallas Athena--and the petrifying gaze of a falconry-trained cockatrice--that did snatch Argive victory from the jaws of defeat. In consequence of which, those Amazons who did not die in battle were forced into marriage with the bachelors among their victors. Thus endeth the true story behind the legend of Perseus and the Gorgons.' "
"A most fascinating tale, indeed, good brother," I replied: "But, what happened to the Melissae, themselves?"
"According to the ancient Greek who penned this account (one Timon the Scrivener), Heraclitoris was shrunken to the size of a seed pod; sealed in Hyperborean amber; and hidden far to the west. While Labia was similarly exiled far to the north. So, it was assumed that Ovaria--the fertile queen of the trio--had been similarly exiled to the Far South! But, evidently, this assumption has been proven false."
"What of this Holgar Gudfredsen?" I asked: "Brother Lupo referred to him as a Carolingian paladin. Yet, did not that dynasty become extinct after the death of the Princess Adelaide, nearly a hundred years ago?"
Said Brother Iosef: "Again, according to Timon, the routing of the Libyan Amazons was witnessed by the Melissae from another dimension. A world parallel to ours in semblance. Though, not in the passage of time. For even just one day, there, would equal five score of years, here! And, that fills me with trepidation."
"In what way?" I now inquired.
"Like mortal queen bees, Ovaria can have many offspring from just one mating. And, if she seeks to breed herself an army, she could find no worthier sire than a paladin of Charlemagne's line. Unfortunately, he would never live to see them reach adulthood. For, she would devour him immediately after the consumation!"
I pondered this information for several silent moments. I then asked how and where I might find my way to this parallel world. Assuming, of course, that my quarry currently resided there, along with he whom I was to rescue.
Brother Iosef read, from a third parchment, how the gateway to Ovaria's realm was located on an island. And, that this island was in a lake to the north of Almatu. A city far to the south and east that was better known to some as...the Land of Apples.
Whereupon, I voiced my next concern.
"Brother Lupo did not mention a specific time limit. Yet, I sense I cannot risk tarrying too long in getting to this Almatu. The camel he bequeathed to me, however, I was forced to sell, in the port city of Jaffa, for my boat passage, here!"
Brother Iosef pondered this disclosure. Then, did he smile. Evincing that he had thought of something.
"You must seek out Svyatogor, last of the true Varangiants."
"Varagiants?" I echoed.
He nodded: "Swedish Norsemen whose magical power, to achieve unnatural size, did protect the Byzantine Empire from invasion and usurpation for many years. Svyatogor, alone, has the power, now. And, he dwells north of here, in the city of Jomsborg. Home of those stubbornly pagan mercenaries; the Jomsvikings. If you can secure his help, he will get you to Almatu faster than the seven-league boots of popular myth!"