“This is the back way,” she said as she led him up a narrow set of marble steps. “We find it better to bring heroes in here first, and let them browse around the storeroom. They always find something that interests them, and it helps them adjust.”
At first he thought she was speaking Katharevusa, the modern Greek dialect almost exclusively used by scholars and intellectuals. But the style and pronunciation were different… older. It was almost a bastard classical version she spoke, though his early learning in Katharevusa enabled him to understand her.
Why was she playing this language game with him? Was she another discoverer of this place, determined to re-create the original dress and speech of those who first served their gods here? If so, she was a failure. The early priestesses of this temple surely spoke Achaean, or something even older.
“What is your name?” he asked.
She turned her head from the task of opening the rear door, and arched an eyebrow at him.
“An odd first question. You may call me Moira, if you wish. Later there will be time for other names, including your own.”
There was a moment’s flash of humor in her eyes as she spoke, and perhaps a touch of pity, though Pavlos could imagine no justification.
Moira? It had a strange pronunciation. Wasn’t that an Irish name? Very odd.
They entered a large chamber that was dimly illuminated by gaps in the marble wall slats, and by one flickering oil lamp. The beam and post construction was genuine. A little more than two meters separated each of the simple columns that stood in even rows throughout the interior. Most of the colonnade was used to support row after row of shelves, upon which piles of dusty memorabilia were laid.
“I will leave you now,” the woman said. “You will find food and drink at the far door. Do not pass beyond until you are called, hero.”
Again, Pavlos felt the self-assured power in her voice, as well as a benign amusement. He wondered what fanaticism bred such arrogance. He called out to her after she had gone a few meters from him.
“Say, why do you call me hero? That’s not my name.
She looked at him. The lamplight flickered in her eyes.
“Is it not? How strange that you don’t think so. Most heroes know who and what they are. I shall have to ask Clotho to check her pigments.”
She left. Pavlos heard a scraping sound, then a sliding clunk as a bolt was placed.
With a sigh he let his pack slip down against one of the pillars, then he sat on it, his back to the cool marble.
This was all too strange to be true. A “genuine” priestess of an ancient cult… Had she implied there were others? He wondered what sect they had chosen to re-create. What rites?
He was glad he still had his machete.
Pavlos was growing mildly worried about his frame of mind. He felt detached, numb, almost as if he were watching these proceedings through a protective barrier of cotton batting. Things were being revealed to him in a dramatic sequence. The next scene obviously called for him to go poking through the dusty shelves of this storeroom.
Hadn’t he been invited to do so? He grunted as he pulled himself up and went to the shelves that looked most rummaged.
If the storeroom was supposed to catch the interest of heroes, this certainly
It was an odd mixture, not in keeping with the apparent classical fixation of the woman’s cult. The front shelves held an anachronistic assortment of old, but not archaic, weapons. There was a fine Spanish rapier, resting upon a matchlock musket that had to be five hundred years old, if a day. He blew the dust off a flintlock pistol and peered past halberds and Turkish helmets in search of the real treasure.
The benumbed haze kept him calm and complacent when—finally—he found what he was looking for.
The bronze was incredibly well preserved. It had maintained much of its original shine and hardness. He wiped dust away from the decorated nasal of the ancient helmet. Its crest of horsehair was still long and stiff, though discolored and flaking. He set it beside a round shield, three feet across, and a short sword with images of snakes running down the haft.
For a long time he merely looked at them. Then he found the nerve to try on the helm.
It fit perfectly.
The musty odor was oddly compelling. Carefully, he fought down the thrill of power he felt. Pavlos removed it and put it back on the shelf.
In the middle of the room, near the hanging lamp, he found the books.
There weren’t many. That fit. The type of fellow who would fight both nature and his own instincts to come to this place—whether on a pilgrimage or out of obstinate curiosity, would not have been likely to carry much reading matter with him.
Pavlos smiled as he returned to his pack and rummaged through the bottom flap. He quickly found the flimsy, air mailed edition of
The newspaper looked good, lying there. Some future… “hero”… might see it and think that a twentieth-century Frenchman had been here.
Besides a few Bibles and other apparent guidebooks for a faithful wanderer, there were several crude maps and scrawled notes in many languages. One stretch of vellum came embossed with seals and endorsements. It looked like a treaty of some sort. He could tell that the signatories were Turkish and Italian, but the text appeared to be in some sort of cipher.
He had carelessly flattened one scroll of brittle, burn-etched sheepskin, and read at least twenty lines of very archaic Greek script, before the meter and carriage of the words penetrated to whatever place his critical faculties had taken to hide. He stared down at the ancient libram then, halfway between agony over the damage he had done it with his rough treatment and ecstasy over his discovery.
He read, with mounting excitement, the anguished story of a Titan, chained, yet still defiant.
“Nor yet nor thus is it ordained that fate
These things shall compass; but by myriad pangs
And fortunes bet, so shall I ’scape these bonds:
Art than necessity is weaker far.”
“Who, then, is helmsman of necessity?”
“The triform Fates and ever mindful Furies.”
“Is Zeus, in might, less absolute than these?”
“Even he the fore-ordained cannot escape.”
How easily the classic language read! After all, Pavlos had seen these words before, many times. No one had ever written as once did Aeschylus… unless it was the sage, inspired or not, who first chanted the rhyme that later became Ecclesiastes.
He dared not imagine that Aeschylus himself had burned the words onto the vellum, any more than Jean Francois Revel had hand-set the newspaper on the shelf, inches away. No, this was surely only a copy of
Prometheus, according to the ancient pantheon of Hesiod, had been of the race of Titans, children of the Earth and Sky, who preceded Zeus and the other Hellenic gods. When Zeus rebelled and drove most of the Titans from the face of the Earth, he nevertheless kept Prometheus by his side, for he grew to depend on the advice of the Titan whose name meant “forethought.”
How humanity came to be was never made clear in Greek legend. His destiny as a thinking being, however, was said to have been the gift of Prometheus. The Titan, in his pity, supposedly lent mankind a sliver of his own power—the fire of imagination, alternately fabled as the skaldic mead of poetry.
For this, Zeus had Prometheus nailed to a rocky crag, where an eagle daily tore at his ever-regenerating flesh.
The story was said to have ended happily. Prometheus was released, coming to a reconciliation with Zeus and Man.
Yet that part of the story had never read as convincingly. It was as if Aeschylus had allowed his fixation on the palpable, growing presence of justice in the world to prejudice his storytelling. Perhaps he simply couldn’t reconcile leaving the archetype of justice and pity stranded for eternity in torment.
Pavlos sniffed. A heady, flavorful aroma suddenly reminded him how hungry he was. He carefully laid the parchment on the shelf and turned to follow his nose.
A tray of roast lamb, still steaming on the spit, lay on a bench by the door the priestess had used to exit. That he had heard nothing didn’t surprise Pavlos at all.
The meat was tasty, if somewhat unevenly cooked. He chewed slowly as his mind fell deeper into a paradoxical state of numb, bemused excitement.
Somewhere on that shelf of scrolls might be the
So many secrets on a shelf of ancient cedar! Could there be a fragment that some Cretan scribe left here, one that might tell of the founding of Knossos or its fall?
Might there be a tablet that would shed light on who it was, who did whatever deed it was, that caused men to build a legend that became Prometheus?
There were things here for which a hundred men he knew would gladly kill.
The bronze helm alone was worth a fortune.
Iron slid along granite. The oaken door swung back, scraping noisily on the stone floor. Pavlos stood. The woman, Moira, regarded him.
“Beginning to adjust at last, I see. But you are a strange one, hero. No souvenirs? Or have you stuffed all our gems in your backpack, hoping to fool us?”
Pavlos was beginning to understand the condescension and amusement in her voice. It hurt, a little, that she thought him so stupid as to choose the poorest treasures, or to attempt a simple theft. He was tempted to protest, but managed to refrain. She looked at him much as his teacher had when he was five and in nursery school. The analogy was probably not unrealistic.
He tried, and found it easier than he had expected, to meet her gaze. There were lines around her ice blue eyes that he imagined to come from long, sad laughter. They did not detract from the handsomeness of her high forehead and fine nose. Her carriage was erect and slender, yet there was something in the careless braiding of her hair, or the curve of her ironic smile, that spoke of a burden of waiting that had long passed tedium.
“Are you ready to see more?” she asked.
Pavlos waved his hand in what he hoped was an idly grand gesture. “What else could you have that would astonish me more than this room has?”
She stepped back to hold the door for him.
“Everything else that has ever mattered, hero,” she answered softly, but with a vatic tone. “Everything else that has ever been.”