CHAPTER LXVIII

Home


How good when the Bishops’ carriage brought him home to its lovely gardens, fine statuary, the pools with their finning- their-wavy- welcome fish, those laughing fountains, and, in the house, Helen. She wore no Roman robes, but the bright colors of her Galatian dress, and as a silk scarf holding pin. the stunning close-worked jewelry of Scythians, delicate bronze with, for Scythians, unusual gold fillagree, 

of horse and rider It was said the Scythians’ land was so far away that it was beyond any horizon. Helen also wore a necklace of white pearl, these brought on the Silk Road, that Road which made Antioch Rome’s most bountiful and exotic bizarre.  Traders from the nearer East called its market the souk.


 A joy to have that woman  greet one, be this wife of sometimes haughty beauty, surpassing pride, strong opinion, and with that blessing accompaning these birthright traits, encompassing love and uncommonly common sense, that an administrative gift.  Still, she could be a trial. Even so, here, with her, he was complete. Two unions he knew, this one daily constant and real at every moment, the other, an altered state, that earlier ecstacy but now of surpassing calm  It also reached beyond the known horizons. 


 She had seen to his favorite snacks, fruit, nuts, fish with sauce,  just baked bread, and wine. She smiled, saying,


“I thought by dressing up a bit, you might forgive my not going to hear your sermons, but as I told you, that Assembly or yours,  the whole of the Jesus sect’s extravagance,  is not for me. As for the campaign to save Rome and Christianity, that’s modest enough a project to keep you busy, however it turns out. I approve of that one, it fits you, a grand thing I’d say, with enough enemies guaranteed to keep even a bishop’s brain and an hero’s sword arm busy.  I won’t ask you to be careful, it’s not in you to be, but I hope you’ll allow me to warn you if I see something particularly dangerous coming up, alright?”


“My love, I welcome you in every way, including the good sense of you which I know is better than mine.  Any special warnings at the moment?”


She reached out to hold his hand, no smile now as she spoke, “Yes, I did scan your talks that you left on our table. Quite good for the most part. You’ve worked hard to make Christianity even more difficult, as if the rabble of yours aren’t in enough trouble.  People hate change, you know that, and most of them hate Rome. John and his Revelations to which you so rightly objected, well, that’s where most of your folk are.  And, you are every inch true Roman of the blood and best rearing. Sensible Ignatius saw you coming. I can’t measure souls, but I presume yours is more Christian than most, for you don’t’ lack any benefits that I can imagine.    I credit Ignatius, a crusty old bastard he was, so I hear, with rather good intelligence, on a par with what Apollo’s priests could gather,  REDO ou know that anyway, but my sense of it is that while you’re new at the helm, inventing so to speak what you as their Bishop are, all that impromptu regalia and ritual, while you are in this unsettled period, some of the hotheads will think it a good time to react.  Insult, knives, arson, rowdiness, plots of course, Syrians are not that much different from the Roman mob, whether  Christians or not. It’s a time to be careful, my love, for no one loves you as much as I do, and most of them, I don’t care what the talk of it is, don’t love you at all.. And yes, dear Mule, as you invent your Bishop self, here, and there in your talks, keep in mind, it’s the ceremony of office,  but don’t, and I repeat, don’t practice being Bishop at home. I’ll put an arrow in you,   Cupid’s (Cupide) yes, but I’ll see that it stings, that place even more tender than your heart.

The tired, stony face of him broke into smiling crevices, crinkles of cheer, lines ready for deeper fissures in the now no hard face at all of him.


“Regarding sanctimony, people expect it and it comes too easy to me. As for this period of settling in, you’e right, any general knows that when the enemy is not yet in position, off guard that’s the time to strike. But I have a particular problem,  some of them are my enemies, but I’m not theirs. I’ve killed enough men to be sick of enemies, although I will say the ones who might be here are not just poor fellows soldiering, the ones here will be sincere, whether in hate, righteousness or the politics of it I can’t even guess.  So you see,  not an easy defense when I don’t want to make one.

She squeezed his hand, kissed him. “I know exactly what you’re feeling, I love you for your strength in doing it your own way, whatever else might be more sensible. I suppose by that I mean “expedient.” There, I have had my say.  We both know the possible costs,  but the gains are already made, made years ago in fact, in what you are. And that is a wonderful thing”


S. Cornelius grinned, “Helen, love, I don’t give a hang if you ever read another Bishop’s word of mine. I’ve made enough trouble with them, and no doubt will make more. Of course most people want a general who won’t fight, nor fit his soldiers for uniforms not to their taste.  To hell with it, come, hug me, my princess, priestess, you are as beautiful as Paris’ Helen must have been, and I didn’t have to steal you.  I say enough of cosmic presences.”


“Recanting are you? “ She grinned at him as they held each other close.  She already knew this man, she had read him well and thoroughly. She needed no further texts of him. She had, as he knew, no interest whatsoever in Christianity, nor did he often care.


“You know better than that” he replied, “You also know that a man needs more than food for the character, the soul, or saving Rome.  I need you, my love, and now. Let’s go to bed”


She hummed a Galation melody as they trotted up the stairs. Foresighted, she had already had the house slaves put more wine and fruit in their bedroom. They were celebrating being alive and loving one another. There came a rather wild and sweaty coupling, and extended, this erotic music of her moans, and yes, demands,  the hard wet thrusting of his accommodating, the “yes my darling” of it. Ecstacy, the mind shouting the flesh of it, the sweet savagery, glow and, finally but not final, the wet fatigue of it.  


“I model all the beauty on earth in your image” he told her softly, as they rested, “I sometimes am jealous that you were once Apollo’s, however it was he entered you.”


“A man is not allowed to know an oracle’s mysteries, but a little truth will not harm. Whatever the statues of him imply as concrete, Apollo to his oracle is entirely spirit. You know very well the arrows he shot in Daphne were by his hand, but on my bow. I rely on my own fletching and quiver.  So, sweet prince of the faith, keep in mind I can be dangerous. So, provoke me only to my desires and best impulses.”


“Indeed”  Spent, they lay for a while, stroking, sleeping, sipping wine, dreaming lightly, letting all the tired muscles of the day relax.


He was the first to awaken, to turn to wordly matters,  “Have you heard anything further from our Emperor Hadrian?


“No,  all is well, I am sure. He admires and has hopes for accommodations of the sort you do, as you know.  As far as trust, well he is not generous with that, but, I am confident, as long as he trusts me, and he wrote me privately of this, he will trust you. He honors you of course, but gratitude in Emperors is another thing.  And so ,because he thanks Apollo, am I your guardian?


“You are all to me that you want to be”


“Will you allow me to tell you of the dream that visited me last night?”


“Of course.  I was thinking of telling you the dream that came to me last night”


“Perhaps the same dream visited us both”


“It happens, and the when of it is foreordained. So, tell me your dream


“It was both sad and happy.”


“As with mine, although you know much more of prophecy than I do.  I have not heard of a woman called a “seer” before, but an oracle is the same, but more honored and political. ”


“Among my people, such women are called “good witches.” But an oracle outranks them”


“As befits a princess”


“Exactly.   Now as to the dream which visited.  I have had one very like it once before, as I believe you also did, it, sad and yet the prophecy in it reassuring, One knows that there is a personally attentive order in the near- cosmos which is lawful, governs us, may even be caring, and can be known. ”


“Some call that “God”,  Did you think of that?


“I thought of Chaldeans, my Dear, astrologists extraordinary. Or haruspex, seers, soothsayers, shamans, the good onese all have intuitive charts of the order of things. But now, to the dream, There was the simple tombstone, its narrow sides carved with crosses and angels. the sun and a Greek god as archer, Apollo, the haunting face of a deeply sad and thoughtful man, Jesus as your Visitor I would think. On its stone face were carved our footprints. Yours my love, I would not remind you but you already have seen the stone, leave life’s path earlier than mine. But mine do leave that path, mortal steps, whereas a mere legend of a woman has only a shadow on a stone, but nothing solid of her to be carved.  Until those final dates are entered. nothing tells us times. For the two of us alive that is a kind of relief, we do not dwell on the shortness of it. Anything that is not eternity is a shorter time than we like, and so whatever the interim before stones are set and carved, we would be disappointed , and in the sadness, anxiety of it, might waste some days and years.  


“Christians are not so anxious” he affirmed.


“I know, and I am glad for them. Do hope they’re right, but, well, hoping is a poor basis for  belief In my case, having moved from being Apollo’s voice forecasting morrows, I am now attentive to the now and the us. These are our moments, sweet Mule, truly mortal ones because we hold each other’s substance, proving that with each other kisses and our animal sweat and moments of anger, for, yes,  we are both tempermental, This Helen of yours, having known completeness with you, can now grow old, for that is the price mortals must pay, as indeed do creatures of legend who, if becoming substantial move as time does, the sequencing events of us. As years pass, the cycle of us ever nears completion.  Here I am then, this now of me, this Helen simply of Antioch fulfilled as your wife. I use my memory of other times as my teacher. Or perhaps it is the moments, events, which teach my memory. We need no water clock like the one near the Forum for being here with one another. Our time tells itself.


The dream showed me, and you were there to see it for you were standing besides me, for we holding hands last night as we stood before that simple little park around our stone, the park made into our cemetery near to the House of the Assemby  Before our stone were bright flowers . Before it kneeling, doing tendence, but also chatting, were several old women in black recognizable from reaches worldly and unworldly, these old women, tending. It is a memory also, flowers set against a wedow’s black tendence, for I was once myself so robed and attending.


“Yes, as with the dream that visited me, that same dream with footprints, flowers and women, I believe I recognized each of them doing tendance.”  So her husband, the lover of him replied, for he reached out in the now of them to hold her hand. She gripped his, sad and happy. 


She spoke;  “This world and the other, together as we are and can hope will be. The boundary not as sharp as many fear. But you know that, for yours, dear Mule, has always been a light shadow” .

----------

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter