“Balthus, I want you to find Pythia for me. I can’t get the woman of her off my mind.”
He gave me a self-conscious half grin. As occurs whenever a man’s quite taken with a woman, here was a nervously preoccupied Mule indeed. I’d been in the same place many times. Well, perhaps only the first few times in love, but maybe never this awkward, since I am a more casual cat. It’s been a long while since I wasted time on rowdy back fence roiling, or putting extra pomade on my hair to impress a woman. Poor S. Cornelius, there’s little he does off a battlefield that’s comes easily.
Boss, if I can’t find the most famous woman in Syria, one living somewhere in the forest in a small temple the Emperor Hadrian himself had had built for her as residence, who had Apollo guide her arm when she stuck the pig. Apollodorus, who by Apollo’s grace knows the future and tells it in her precinct in his temple, well, I’ll hand in my spy kit and go back to Suebia to tend the cows”
The Mule smiled, even the big scar on face softened, poor devil, as all men are when in love. To think he’d never seen her, oh my, what if she turned out to be a hag? “Mule, please, like a woman’s voice, fine. Delight in her mind, of course. Be grateful for her personal interest and trust, absolutely, but wait until you meet her before you fall in love.”
He protested, “Balthus, you exaggerate. It is not love. I’m grateful to her, want to learn how things are going with the temple after the fuss with Apollodorus. Is the palace stipend enough? What’s going on in Daphne after Apollo’s sacred revenge? (I noted he’d elevated the pig sticking to the ‘sacred’ category now. Yes it had been justice, and nice bow work too, but, while ‘sacred’ has panache to it, he was gilding the arrowhead. Buy the “sacred” shooting bit, and the story would be told years from now with added thunder, earthquake, the goddess Diana applauding, and the arrows roasting the pig on the spot. We do love our stories embellished. And S. Cornelius wanted to be sure no one got too curious about who stuck the pig.)
“And?” was my only reply
“Alright, ‘and’ I want to see her, permissible or not. She asked me for help on behalf of the temple. She got it. That was over a week or so ago. Not a word since. She talked to me as woman as well as an oracle. I should think I have a right to see her…
He was trying to persuade himself. We all knew the rule that the Pythia remain anonymous, celibate while in office, Apollo’s voice on earth hidden from all normal intercourse. I put it crudely,
“Boss, you’re Quaestor representing Rome’s full support for Apollo, and, to be crass about it, looking out after all that pilgrimage money, the fame that accrues to the temple. Tourism requires we pay handle it, as you so ably have. I can fix the way the story plays, put it out officially if you like that Apollodorus’ whore house cronies in Daphne are plotting revenge on Apollo’s temple for the god killing their lead financier. I don’t know whether people will believe they that bunch of lechers have the guts to oppose the god, but if the palace investigators say so, that’s makes it so.. That’s basis enough. I say you have a duty to direct me to inquiries. You have a duty to protect Pythia, the chief priest, the priestesses, the temple precincts. Fact is they might well be in danger. I propose you place them under protection. Come to think of it we haven’t had a recent report from the squad of troopers we left there to look after things. Things really do need a look-see, one from the top. There, Boss, that’s our line on finding Pythia, law and safety, the god, his oracle, criminals to the cross, and the money, the taxes. Okay?”
The Mule was all smiles. “Balthus old knife, you are a rogue of the first order. I will propose you take on a new job, palace spokesman “
I grinned, swelled out my chest, put on a pompous face, announced, “On behalf of Rome and Apollo, the oracle and the temple, Quaestor, Sir, I’ll find her, no matter if I speak to her while she’s concealed, but I’ll put your seeing her in person as either her duty to Rome, or your order, or, depending on how she’s playing it, and you never know about women, Boss, Pythia or not, you never know, I’ll give her the option of a clandestine meeting with you at your house, all appearances thereby maintained. Fastidious, Sir, impeccable, Sir, something will be arranged.
“I’m grateful. Keep your wits about you, this whole thing is sensitive, possibly town versus temple, that sort of thing. There can be no possibility rumours that the palace is ordering the Pythia’s residential temple defiled by our even searching for it. I’d rather not see her, if we risk any bad outcomes at all. My own interests come last in this, mind you, absolutely last.. We can’t have repercussions of any kind.”
I said, “Nothing will ever be heard, Boss, even hints of the improper, nothing not entirely good in itself, nothing not in the best interests of Rome, this palace, Apollo, the temple staff, Pythia herself. And the pilgrim and merchant trade in Daphne. All that is guaranteed , if I have to cut a hundred tongues out to stop any gossip.?”
“Absolutely” This time he sounded a bit of a prig. He was so excruciatingly intent upon being honorable, and yet he was totally involved with some fantasy of her, this phantom love. I hoped she didn’t look like Hecate of the Crossroads with a personality to match. Again I thought, poor devil, at this stage in life he was a crisis come to boil. That visit he’d sent me on the Christians was more than palace work, he was more than curious. And now, Pythia of considerable wisdom, no doubt, but some sweet talk too. A woman doesn’t snare a man’s interest without setting the tender trap. He entertained two phantoms then, the Christian “God” and Pythia, two potential loves, for the moment and perhaps never more than that, a man needing love to give and receive, a man taken with the immortals, Christian and Apollo’s Pythia, and here he was with no idea of what was really there,. By Jupiter, all the Olympians and every Druid’s tree in Suebia, I prayed something would work out. Yes, ‘pray” I have done it pro forma as custom required, once in a while secretly to any god or tree spirit handy when I was in deep trouble, but this time? Well, perhaps my better self. I was happy to do rogue’ s work for him, for Apollo and for Empire, I’d best get on with it. I was leaving when he added, “one more thing, Balthus, , invite her to dinner at my house. Whatever it takes, persuade her, please.”
He put his hand out, holding my arm, “Another thing, Balthus, tell her, I’ll have no other guests, no one will bother her sacred privacy. Balthus, I’ve got to see her! “
I put my hand on his arm, a gross familiarity, ‘Mule, relax, take it easy. I’ll take care of it. I’ll come by your place tonight to tell you what I’ve learned, and whether you’re going to have a secret guest for dinner.”
S.Cornelius rarely smiles, but he was almost managing it when I left.
The palace stables had readied my horse. The ride to Daphne is a short one. Once there, I went first to the office of the Daphne town praefect; a clerk, sequestered in a hole-in-the-wall office on a side street of lesser merchants and guild crafts. It was next to a tavern, but then in Daphne it would be unlikely to find any commerce not close to a wine shop. Naturally there were a few sluts working out of the tavern, one of whom hailed me offering “sweetie” a low cost job, as I went into the official city office. I introduced myself, although my palace uniform and insignia did that for me. It is not my custom to be friendly with city clerks. In this instance the man was well into his cups. The office was a filthy mess.
“I want your report on events in this town since Apollo ‘s sacred killing of your town pig, Apollodorus” My voice was peremptory
The clerk was a grey fellow, face, hair, tunic, and sandals made so by dust. “I don’t know of events” He slurred his speech, wine does that.
I shot a routine provocation, not even a hunch behind it, the same tactic a wolf uses when howling on the hunt; any nearby rabbit, frightened, jumps, the wolf hears it, and dinner has announced itself. “We’ve heard there may have been trouble. I’m visiting the military squad we left here after I leave you, so if you have anything to tell me, do it now or I’ll have your lying head crowning a pike”
His blurry eyes tried to focus on me, this unexpected wolf in his office,
“Yea, there’s been some trouble. Apollodorus ran this town, you know, along with Eros, the whoremaster; the Magus throws some weight here too, ‘events’ you call them, eh? The Magus has a couple of shops here, usual healings, herbs, curses, not much forecasting though, lest the oracle makes them idiots. Even so, pilgrims the oracle won’t bother with, come to the Magus shops. Cut rate fortunes for a high price, but mind you, that’s my confidential opinion, right?
“What troubles? I had hit, maybe, some kind of news, if he wasn’t too drunk to get it straight,
“I don’t know anything mind you, your troopers know more than I do, it happened just last night, well, before dawn anyway. Someone set a fire near the back of Apollo’s temple, the timbers inside are wooden you know. By the god himself I’d never take a chance like that, not after what the god did to Apollodorus, but some people never learn. Anyway, one of the troopers saw it, it’s not my business, understand, none of my business at all…” the clerk was slobbering a bit, gulped half a cup of wine, went on, “ I heard there was some damage, don’t know how much. Maybe somebody died, I don’t know, smoke you know, or get too close to a fire and it catches you, like I say, I have no idea. I’ve been very busy all morning, “ he pushed aside some crumpled dirty parchments on his desk “yea, you can see, very very busy. “ His head fell on his desk. His hand knocked his wine cup to the floor where it shattered. He had passed out dead drunk there in front of me.
His drunkenness was annoying, his report was deeply disturbing. Arson to the temple. Sacrilege, and frightening it was, that much disrespect for Apollo and by implication, Rome’s law. Such dramatic arson required signal, public retribution. If half-dead Olympians couldn’t manage it, and of course they could not, the duty for justice, teaching lessons of respect and civil order, fell to Rome. At this moment I was her agent in charge.
The squad that had been left on guard after Apollo’s arching arm stuck the pig were living in tents between the temple and the town, rather a good plan their sergeant’s was, like a shepherd dog placing himself so he can best see as much as possible at once. I was on my way at a gallop. I saw, coming in from Antioch, a century of legionnaires also at a gallop, their standard bearer on the lead horse. It was, as such should be, a showy and impressive arrival. Obviously the officer here had sent a report to the barracks; presumably it would have passed through S. Cornelius hands, asking for reinforcement. These damn provinces, why can’t they keep themselves in order? Well, we’d see to order soon enough. The tents were empty, I saw behind the temple, the building seen from here seemed intact, but there was the dark smoke still drifting up from its rear, drifting, not roaring, so it was the last of the fire. Soldiers and priests, some townsfolk but not as many of these latter as I would expect to be there, were in a bucket brigade. The spring water streams, as I had noted before, ran past both sides of the temple, so that there was water close at hand. The rear of the temple, the columns of which were carved wood there, was a charred mess. Two columns were destroyed, the roof sagged dangerously where they had been its support.
I rode up, saw the dirt and sweat covered chief priest, old when I saw him before, exhaustion, injuries I did not know about made him look terrible, perhaps near death.. A priestess, middle aged, was sitting beside him, and softly crying, both her hands and lower arms were burned. A townswoman was applying pond leaves, mud, some other herbs to the burns.
I swore. Here was a nasty business that would be news around the Empire as fast as post roads and ships could carry it, this sacrilege done to Apollo’s temple, but thank the god it was limited. I’m a nasty fellow myself, done lots of dirty business with the legions, seen life. Even so, torching Apollo of Daphne, home to one of our greatest oracles, one prized by the Emperor., Pythia, that was an outrage. I surprised myself with my anger. I hoped the troopers had captured someone I could crucify on the spot, not that I had the authority really to order that. There must be nothing rash on Rome’s part. Arrest and beating yes, all under my command, but the torture before the crucifixion, I must be patient, await an higher order. I must also find the man who paid for this, for the thugs who did it would have been commissioned for pay. Hired by whom? That would be the torturer’s question. We would learn. Apollo and Rome will be pleased to see new use for the special crosses that we use “educationally”, these not hidden away on that dirt street in town, but standing at the point where the road from Antioch enters Daphne. The law of Rome is seen not only in the books, but in practice with those hanging in agony. We let the corpses season a bit up there, for such odors make lasting memories. One goal of law is, after all, to deter.
Pythia brought much wealth to Daphne by way of pilgrims- most who came by sea to Seleucia- as well as nearby Antiocheans, Syrians, but Roman Asians, Palestinians, well, the same mix one saw in Antioch itself, but Daphne was for the holiday, holy or festival or game day folk, luxury and licentious-minded, and richer because of it. The tourist season brought people from all over Empire. Visitors patronized the brothels and wine shops, bought the silk, soap, the famous perfume of the place, and toured the temples to sacrifice there Many visited magicians and healers, or sat by or splashed in the spring-fed ponds, or simply sat back and be glad for the beauty of the place. They stayed nights hereabouts, more in Antioch which had the greater accommodations. Money. Rome took it and cared.
Simon Magus, as I noted, owned several establishments, which bore his attracting name. There a visitor would pay something to bind a curse or two- for example to impose on some enemy or rival impotence, infertility, a stillborn baby, an ugly pox, any awful disease to make him or her writhe, in other words, bring about normal wishes upon one’s enemies. One might also bind a rival’s love to oneself, or common enough and understandable, bind the mind of dying relatives about to make out their wills. A binding curse executed here, ones wish-work done, served to give a visitor’s stay a lasting, gratifying spice. One went home feeling really good.
I learned enough from preliminary inquiries to know that I must stay a while here for more careful investigation. I sent a trooper back to the palace to inform S. Cornelius of events, and of my initial efforts. I learned, for example that Simon Magus had fortune-telling magicians in his shops in Seleucia Pieria, which is Antioch and Daphne’s thriving port. One of their jobs was to intercept arriving seagoing arriving tourists intent on oracular appointments, which were by no means easy to obtain. Should the traveler not gain an oracular appointment, Simon’ fortune tellers were authorized, so they said, to tell fortunes as authentic. What the god failed to provide, the merchant mantic would. For those returning home from the port, having failed to win d the honor of being seen by Apollo’s Pythia, or perhaps dissatisfied with what the Magus shops in Daphne had offered by way of fortunes told, they could take another chance on their future. One wag assured me the embarking tourists were always rewarded with good news, whereas, rather as with Apollo’s Pythia herself, Daphne ‘s futures told were at least more ambiguous, whereas the oracle’s were often dire. The Magus shops in Daphne were likewise more likely pessimistic in prophecy The reality of that made Simon’s exit port hacks attractive.
I was told by several that this differential emphasis, “engineering the sucker’s luck” one said of it, was the means whereby Simon Magus motivated his customers to go for a second fortune in Seleucia. No one wants to leave from a fine vacation with any but reassurances as to the future, and, for some, that bag full of purchased curses. Whether a tourist ever looked upon the not-too-common diseases one picked up in the brothels as souvenirs to brag about, the price of a particularly good time with world-famous whores, seemed unlikely, but young men are ready to brag about anything.
Examine the merchant logic of the prestigious temples as prime lures for travel, and you understand that I concluded that it was personal vindictiveness, no economic motive, that powered the arson. The link was clear, Apollodorus had been killed by Apollo, his temple must be burned. Yet it would take a lunatic in a prospering merchant’s family or allied clientele to destroy the temple that brought in so much by way of visitors,. Vengeance on the pig’s behalf be hanged, profit comes first. Furthermore the heirs to Apollodorus were already decided, why should any one of them jeopardize money in hand by infuriating the god, the merchants, and Rome?
Furthermore with the pig’s arrow stuck body as warning, it would be a brave and insane cabal indeed to seek vengeance on the town’s chief and guardian god at the cost of income. Vengeance on a god, the archer himself? No, not done, not here, not anywhere in Empire. No one has ever heard of it. I keep referring back to Herostratus who burned Artemis statue, one of the wonders of the word, at her temple at Ephesus. That was out of a small man’s vanity. He had no malice toward the goddess. I am told he died in a way that forced him exquisitely to focus on how she felt about the insult, let alone the wronged Ephesians. Think of the tourist trade!. Or must I worry about revenge by some client given audience because the god’s prophecy came true? Frankly, as my anger ebbed, I was puzzled. And here I was, myself a rogue, and not to have a ready guess as to what other rogues were about? That was bothersome.
The trooper squad non-com reported to me with a salute by his left hand. Hardly drill, but his clothes were half burned off his right side, and his right hand and arm were lobster red. No woman was tending his burns, this was a soldier’s soldier still on duty, not just ordering the fire brigade’s work, but also leading it. I would nominate him for a service emblem. Now with Hadrian and no frontier wars, at least that we initiated, emblems of merit were harder to come by. Giving him one would be news that also traveled across the legions. It would speak well of Syria as a peacetime post. When the troops learned that some bastards in Daphne had tried to burn Apollo’s temple, put his Pythia in harm’s way, Syrians could also expect a backlash. Soldiers in peacetime are like that, for a few years now, any incident in Syria involving troops and civilians, would see more brutality than perhaps warranted. People, not just legionnaires are like that, a righteous grudge requires scourging.
“Yes, Sir, two of them. The had snuck up from the rear, dragging dry brush with which to start a fire at the wall.
“They stabbed him, Sir, in the back. He’s in a bad way. Everything had been so quiet, Sir, there was no reason to post extra sentries. Daphne is ordinarily a peaceful place…” he was pleading”
“I understand the situation. I would have done the same. I told him what he deserved to hear, “No fault of yours, squad leader. Your burns tell me you’ve done well. I’ll put you in for a commendation Now, the Antioch reinforcements are arriving”- a squad of about fifty on horse were pulling up- ‘They can man your buckets and put the rest of this smoldering mess out. I’ll have them chop some columnar trees temporarily to shore up the temple roof. When that’s done go knock down the burned columns before they fall down on someone. In the meantime, we’ll get someone to tend your burns. I ordered the woman tending the priestess to get a nurse for the squad leaders burns.”
I turned to the chief priest, tendered my genuine outrage and regrets, told him Rome would see to Daphne’s citizens paying for Apollo’s home to be rebuilt, but in the meantime, with that sagging rear roof, charred supporting timbers, the building wasn’t safe. He was near to tears, but so frail and old he was, his eyes only reddened more.
“Now, how about Pythia, is she alright?” My question carried my worry. Pythia had been Apollo’s bowman, but that connection, known or guessed, seemed unlikely. Her danger was from some broad, lunatic, general vengeance directed toward all things near to the god. It was prudent to find her. When a Syrian town experiences a calamitous incident such as this arson, and what would soon be a couple of crucifixions if not more, the general discontents can erupt in riot. General excitement seeks a channel which agitators can direct. More troops would be needed. Syrian are a naturally unbridled lot. Besides, rioting brings the opportunity to loot, and there was much by way of merchandise in Daphne to attract the looting grasp. Riots have been engineered just to give cover to looting, but also rape and murder as well. A riot is an entertainment. All of this went through my mind as I waited tensely for the old man to summon enough energy to answer me
He was slow.” I have not seen our Pythia. She had appointments today, but she would not have come to her sanctuary as early as this fire was started. She would have seen the smoke. She cannot reveal herself, but I would expected her to come in some disguise, so I do not know if she is here or not, nor may I ask in such a way that others might recognize her. I do know her face of course, but she will not show that with this crowd about. Apollo told her something of this, for yesterday she warned me, she does not prophecy to me, that unpleasantness was upon us, not irremediable but painful, but, she used the words, ‘deadly for some, life changing for others, that much is my intuition of it, I am not sure this from the god himself”
“If I have troopers prepare a liter for you to carry you about, your looking at women in the crowd, would you be willing to return to me and simply nod “yes” or “no” that you believe she is safe?”
“I can do that, yes. Your Quaestor S. Cornelius has been good to us since Apollo’s vengeful arrows flew. You are his aide, the welfare of Pythia is in your hands now much than mine.”
The commander of the newly arrived unit, a century with its usual about 80 men, most Asians, Syrians, a few Dacians from the lighter look of them, presented himself. He was, in keeping with Roman career- grooming policies, no more than twenty-two, a Spanish name I recognized as old and noble, and obviously both sure of himself and able. I outranked him civilly in the province, but technically I had no military rank, whereas respecting lineage and future, he was well above me. We resolved the awkwardness spontaneously; he graciously deferred to my situational command, I courteously proposed mutuality in handling the tasks to be done. I told him of the need for a liter so the old priest could distribute his blessing, see what he could see while he was about it. We both saw to the old priest being eased in to it. The young centurion was particularly respectful. I asked the centurion to ask the young fellow to have his troopers clear a path for the liter, as it made it was to make its rounds slowly through all the crowd, the old man scrutinizing women in it, of whom there were several hundred all looking at the damage.
I was surprised that the whole of Daphne was not on the scene, drama like this attracts crowds, but here I surmised the townsfolk were frightened. It took powerful curiosity to come out here in the archery range of the god, for, in their minds, who could say if the fury of the god might not lead to more of his s arrows decorating corpses with feathery plumes? Put torch to his temple? Apollo would have terrible vengeance. Look what he had done just a few days ago to the patron of his temple who had dared defile its priestesses, an awful thing that, which ravishing was by now common knowledge in the town.
All of this could be put to some advantage. I ordered the young centurion’s herald to announce that the chief priest would pass among them assuring them Apollo would harm no innocent person, none who respected him. On the other hand, the arsonist and their masters who had desecrated the sacred, angering the god, so deeply offending Rome, would suffer excruciatingly. That would be my pleasure as well as Apollo’s, and most of the townsfolk as well. There would be a large reward from Rome, perhaps levied on the town folk, for informing on those behind this. Evidence would be required. Rome was harsh on false informers.
I rode about, pretending not to be useless although I was, barked orders as a dog does by way of showing he is doing his dog’s duty, was careful not to look at any pretty women in the crowd. What a pleasure it was, quite soon after the herald and the priest and delivered their message, there was a stir of dust coming up the road. Town elders had a third man, hands tied, being dragged bouncing over and about at a good speed behind horses. He was handed over to the troops and, hustled bleeding to be tied to a tree next to where the two captured arsonists were bound, trees quite within all our sight. What had we here? Caught in the act, two pimply faced, filthy, raw-boned, slack jawed, big nosed, low forehead, greasy haired, no doubt lice-ridden, skinny, dulled eyed, one bawling the other trying a snarl which was trapped on his snot-clotted lips, yes, the typical worst I see in despicable Syrians. These two were maybe 15 or 16 year old, their hands bruised from hauling heavy brush for their fire, their faces only a bit pulpy from preliminary beatings, Neither breathed easily. I presume some trooper’s boot had put a rib or two in a lung. So good, we had two the two of the arsonists plus the third fellow dragged in, who we were told, was part of the team, having been lookout down the road and, they said, the day before, scouting the temple for its most fire-vulnerable, inconspicuous section. The one dragged was in bad shape, threadbare clothes torn half off, ragged bleeding flesh beneath (dust helps clot but makes a red lumpy mess) Heads do not bounce well on rocky roads.
It would not take a strong cross to support their scrawny bodies. I looked forward to being present when they were hoist. The centurion’s men then brought in a body of a fourth lad, this one drowned in trying to escape. He had been pushed to the shore of fast flowing stream fed by the underground river called a “spring” Not many people her -about know how to swim, but had he might still have been swept away. Branches there had held him until the trooper’s search and discovery. He was a bit older but of the same useless breed and no help to us in the pale, wet corpse he was.
It was not the time to question this trash, let them heal a bit and gain the strength for torture, confessing and the cross. My questions were about Pythia and for the high priest. I saw the priest’s liter moving back toward the rear of the temple where the healing women worked, for now there were others of the original squad of fire fighting troopers who had also been burned and were now being nursed. I urged my languorous horse to a trot, no bad beast at all but as any animal after hard exercise, happy to have a rest.. The old priest, when I rode up to his liter and dismounted, was in a bad way, himself burned, but beyond that, tired and worn and sick with the shock of his desecrated temple, the profanation of his god. This kindly old fellow, Apollonius, was dying.
“Is she safe? I asked, “tell me by your nod” He was beyond nodding, this old man. His dimming eyes gave me no answer. In those eyes, he kept them open looking straight at me, I saw something, a figured shadow behind his pupils, as if moving out of mists, from beyond to the almost here. “It’s Apollo you see there waiting. How fine. I will be his guest” He died without answering me, and the moment of it left me with a greater question as to whether gods might be with us after all? This old man, having served it, was now was leaving a mystery, only to enter another one. Even a practical Suebian, having seen Apollonius’ eyes, is allowed to wonder
I cannot tell you over how many battle deaths I have presided, and apart from the obligatory praise given a warrior dying as he must, I was mostly indifferent. So many battlefields and corpses, thousands perhaps, but this one especially pricked me. He had died before his natural time, nor was he a soldier his duty it was not to complain when his time came. Apollonius had not survived the nature of his fellow humans, if that word fits the Syrian excrement now tied, slumping and whimpering, to trees.
Sometimes, as a member of this race, I can even dislike myself for it. I thought of S. Cornelius, much more sensitive than I about this humankind. Slowly, given this, yes, I will say sacred death, I was beginning to understand my boss’s depths.
Having had that sentimental moment, the dead priest no informing help, I must find the Pythia. Should she have been killed, the vengeance of Rome, she needed no Apollo assisting, might lay waste to all of Daphne and her pleasures. But then, one school of Greek philosophers, the Hedonists, attending to pleasures and the pain they cause, could have forecast that outcome as natural in itself. Daphne needed no further curse of the Christian Paul, although he too had out of spite laid one upon it. Pleasure overdone, and no one is yet wise enough to balance the copper scales in that measure, leads to pain, if not retribution. Only old age, if we reach it, saves us, and that out of fatigue. Wisdom and restraint are rare gifts. Perhaps the gods themselves are jealous of happy humans. It seems to me likely, for the gods, all in all, are a beastly lot. Nearby I saw the priestesses trembling. I ordered double blankets and hot wine for them. I queried them. One, she had been a lyre player in the temple, she had her instrument beside her, had any idea of where Pythia lived. She gestured point in a direction northwest, a heavily forested area immediately behind the temple where the mountains began. “Apollo protects her, it is forbidden to go near her private sanctuary. You might well die if you go.”
The direction was helpful. My immediate task was first to search for her closer by in her oracular seat beyond the door at the temple rear that I had seen S. Cornelius take. It was dangerous given the destabilized roof above it. I raced in, reached the marbled chamber, shouted, had no answer, and hurried out. I would be trapped. I presumed there would be a tunnel for Pythia to use so as to arrive unseen behind the marble lacework. It would be safe in spite of fire or the temple’s damaged state. I had no sooner gotten into the temple, heading toward the entrance, when a portion of its roof collapsed behind me. It was a great roar and crashing, burning embers flying about, the stink of smoke. Nothing touched me. I had the sense, or nonsense as it might be, but the mind prefers protectors, that Apollo was blessing my search for his Pythia.
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