This is a continuation of earlier posts. Context is found in previous parts.
She is sitting at the city walls, her meagre possessions, all that she can carry at her side in a canvas sack. On her other side, curled nose to tail is her dog. She has folded a large hessian sack, placed it between the dog and the cobbled stones as they both sit at the city gates; on top she has tucked in one of her own jumpers. She herself shivers beneath Selene, even as she tucks the coverings tighter about her companion.
“He must be a faithful companion to be afforded the warmth you so need yourself.”
“Since a pup has he stood by me. Saved me from the roving eyes of more than a few brigands even before I came to this fate.” A wary glance adds emphasis to her words; would women harm a sister? I shudder.
“What knot in Klotho’s labours sees you beyond the protection of even the winds and rains? Is there none who would shelter you?”
“Would it be so, but not all appreciate my canine companion, for he serves only me. He will go to no other, guard for no other. A truer friend I could not hope for. In him at least are his actions plain, not some play-act for the benefit of another.” The bitterness in her voice belies betrayal, her glistening eyes evidence of a pain not yet hardened by time.
“One who said he loved me, who ate at my table and took of my flesh brought me to this ruin. A soldier of moderate rank, he stayed after a battle, he and others of his corps. It seemed they meant to stay, but when the harvest failed in the floods and coin was available elsewhere for less effort, he left taking with him my purse. The earth beneath our home was carried away by the flood waters, the walls crumbled. With no silver, no crop, I could no longer pay rent to the landowner, let alone rebuild the walls that kept the winter squalls from my pate.”
My blood runs cold. Atlas could be so cruel, the fates of puny humans forevermore dashed by one conquered Titan. Titanomachy or not, the ancient Gods retain more power than any one man or woman can ever dream, I thought. I wonder why they do not dispense their wrath upon those who have desecrated their memory and works rather than some simple person of simple means.
“Your wares, are they your own work?” I ask of the pieces at her side.
“Yes, but I have help from friend. She sells similar in another town. We meet to share our skills to make something that blends from what we both know.”
Not items of any great value are her wares, nor even great skill, but she is not begging. I want to give her coin, a little I have saved from my own toils, but it is better to preserve her dignity by trading. I select a woven band of green and blue and pay her, wishing her better fortunes before heading on my way. I leave the walls of the city behind me and tie my band to the post of my cart when I return to my abode, a reminder of one with lesser fortunes than me.
Next day, I make offering to the Gods in grateful acknowledgement of the opportunities given me despite my losses. I spend some time by the blessed waters and wash to clean myself of the worldly grime. I stand at the sacred flame and gaze deep into it’s glow, seeking some sense for how the world can function thus and not by some more logical mechanism. I wonder, will Athena explain the reasons?
I spend so long in contemplation that when I finally move I notice the curious gaze of a priest has been trained upon me. He approaches, saying “Most people come and pay obeisance to their favoured god, most leave in short time. You have spent until the glowing in the sky has passed it’s apex, something only one dedicated to worship of a god would do, and yet, you wear not the robes of an initiate or a priestess. What brings you hence?”
“Fortune, it would seem, although I never realized how I could be so until yesterday. To give thanks for what I have and wonder at the choice of the gods when others with perhaps no more reason to suffer than I have felt much worse and been left with naught. I had hoped Athena would enlighten me.”
He smiles, guiding me to a bench at the temple’s walls. “No sense is there to be made. For reasons that none will be told, the gods favour some and not others. It may be a blessing from birth, it may be a favour earned. But just as favour can be earned, so can it lost. There is no point in seeking such answers without knowing the tale of each one who lives in fortune or hardship.”
I consider these words, saying “So one must ask of a person his tale before he can know if he is blessed by birth or cursed? And one should follow the path from birth to present to see the point of any change in fortune?”
“Well yes, that would be so, but who will be completely honest about all they may do that fails to appease the gods?”
“It would seem that the councilors and president are immune from the wiles of the descendents of Gaia and Uranus. Such inquisition seems bound by laws not meant for ordinary men.”
“Far from truth,” replies the priest. “Have you not heard of Hypatia, taken by the followers of the One New God for speaking the words of a heretic? Of high family was she, blessed from birth, and yet rise of this One New God had power. It overwhelmed any fortune Olympus may have vested in her and saw her body thrown to the hyenas outside the city walls. A philosopher was she, one honoured by those who worship the Olympians; not so the Christians of this modern era who inhabit some cities.”
I know of Hypatia. It was she who saved much of the writings of the Great Library a hundred years earlier. Much was lost, but some were also saved to be found many years later by my forebears and taken to a new place. Philosophy was still valued in my Alexandria a century later and efforts had been made to restore the losses that had damaged human growth in that one senseless act upon a teacher of reason. It had become apparent to the new custodians of the writings that it would never be possible to completely restore all the knowledge.
“This One New God, as you call him, he is not of Gaia and Uranus, though. What of that line?”
“You need look no further than Helen, again a mortal of high rank destined for destruction by the goddess of strife herself, Eris. In such, it was not any wrong on the part of the human that caused such battles and destructions of lives in Sparta and Troy, but the bickering of Gods.”
“Not unlike the bickering of the councilors and president themselves. I guess they have become our gods. They have elevated themselves above the rest of us.”
His face darkens as he speaks in a grave tone, “Let no man make the mistake of believing he is god lest he anger one or more of those with such universal powers. Once man forgets his place in the grand design of which we are but a speck, he sets mankind in its all on a path to destruction. Any one man who speaks such heresy must be denounced, lest the idea of greatness, that one is worth more than another, becomes so prevalent as to bring discord among people who once were friends. This is the work of Eris, to sow strife.”
He pauses, as if considering whether to speak further. “In the vein of that One New God is a vision that could be of Eris’ making, in which four horsemen ride upon thunderous grey clouds carrying destruction. They have borrowed, these new worshippers I think from our tales, but the lesson is the same. Let no man put himself above his true station. We are all mortal, we are all subject to the whims of the gods. At any time they may choose to strike one man down or raise another, as easily as moving pieces on a chess board in a game where the rules are made and unmade by the game’s very designers.”
I thank him for his wisdom and rise to leave.
“Whatever your worries or fortunes may be, remember what I have said: we are all of mankind. The true power lies with the Gods, be you president or serf. It could be you some day that is given the throne of power that was once that of another.”
I nod and leave the temple, heading back into the world of men, considering the priest’s wisdom and wondering at the games gods play and the presumption of men.