THE LAST PLACE PETER figured he’d find himself Easter midnight was in church.
Overhead, a twin-barreled roof, the musty dim chapel flickering with candlelight and glints of gold, silver, and enameled icons, choking with incense. He was pressed against the back wall. Beside him, a long crack the quake had split in the whitewashed mortar. Around him, a crush of village women in their best embroidered skirts and headgear. No sign of Ariadne.
It was hot. The villagers had all launched into the Nth round of singsong chants, his throat felt like sandpaper, and the old people were squeezing past for one more circle of the walls to kneel on the floor and cross themselves and get up painfully slowly to kiss each one of the gilt icon frames and the gold-foil plaque with the crucifixion-resurrection scene.
Now he knew why there were so many Orthodox saints and martyrs—suffering this drill.
He cleared his throat and looked over the bowed heads, strings of wildflowers, and racks of guttering candles to the front of the chapel. Demetrios stood beside the brocaded vestments of the visiting priest, holding a thick book and singing the passages for the crowd to echo, his big voice ringing off the walls. No pews, just a few chairs they’d brought in for a couple of really old geezers and the girl with her broken arm in a sling—the only real injury from the quake. The kid with the swinging censer was coming around again, and Peter’s eyes glazed with the suffocating swirls of incense.
He could almost smell another scene:
Fumes of the droning diesel generator, ripe muddy swamp, sweatsoaked powder and lavender toiletwater. Strings of light bulbs flickering over tent walls, and he’s in the choir in his white robe. The Reverend’s voice thunders hellfire and redemption, and the crowd cries, “Hallelujah, amen!”
Ginnie’s beside him, eyes dancing as she pinches his butt under the robe. “Don’t let Pa get a whiff of your breath, you yahoo. Out with Gramps again?”
Peter swallowed, and sent off a silent prayer for her.
The flickering candlelights and shadows, heat and incense, singsong chants ebbed and surged around him in dizzy waves. He sputtered and jerked back as water suddenly splashed in his face.
Everybody was getting sprinkled. The priest moved down through the crowd, holding a decorated candle, followed by men in their shabby best suits carrying a miniature gold casket decked with poppies. The villagers clotted into a procession as overhead the bell started clanging again.
Someone pressed an unlit candle into his hand. “Come, you must light your candle from the Papa’s for good luck this year.”
He jumped at the husky voice in his ear. Ariadne smiled up at him, looking tired but radiant, fresh-scrubbed beautiful in an embroidered peasant blouse, damp tendrils escaping a white scarf. Her eyes, almost indigo in the candlelight, held clear and steady on his.
He started to ask her where she’d been, if she was okay. Instead he just stood there, fingers clutching the wax taper, swimming down like a fool into those deep purple-blue seas.
Demetrios’s voice boomed over them, and he nudged them forward to light their candles before the procession moved out the door. “Chairete, Niece. You’ll tell us all about it, eh?” With a wink at Peter, he strode out into the darkness of bobbing candle flames and bell peals.
Ariadne beckoned Peter toward the doorway to follow the candlelit line snaking around the chapel. A woman in a vest stiff with gilt embroidery cut her off, tugging at her sleeve, ducking her head shyly and crossing herself. She gestured behind them. Some villagers were helping the two old men to their feet as they gripped lit candles in determined hands. The injured girl still sat, face pale, hunching over her splinted arm. The woman went to her, leaned down to whisper, and looked back expectantly at Ariadne.
Beside Peter, she went still, face distant. He thought she would turn and leave, but she took a deep breath, handed Peter her lit candle, and moved over to the girl, crouching beside her chair and murmuring. The girl shook her head and cradled the injured arm, then finally nodded. Ariadne untied the sling, gently unwrapped the bandage and splint. She pressed her hands around the bruised, swollen forearm. The girl gasped, whimpered. Her mother took a step closer. Ariadne murmured again, and the girl started taking deep, slow breaths. They stayed that way for what seemed to Peter a long time, as he stood awkwardly in the doorway and the candles dripped wax.
Peter jerked, swearing as hot wax spilled over his hand.
Ariadne was rising, smiling down at the girl. “You see, it isn’t broken. Just let it rest, and do what I’ve shown you.”
The girl, face flushed, flexed her wrist. She looked up in amazement. “It doesn’t hurt now, Mama.”
The woman darted forward to touch her daughter’s forearm and gently probe it. Peter blinked. It had to be a trick of the guttering candlelight, but the bruising looked less livid. The mother gasped and fell to her knees, clutching at Ariadne’s hand to kiss it.
“Irena, don’t be foolish. It was only a sprain. I simply eased it.”
The mother shook her head, crossing herself. “I felt the broken ends of the bone moving when she hurt herself. They’re joined now. It’s a miracle.”
“No.” Ariadne’s voice was curt, authoritative. “You’re mistaken, Irena.”
The woman stared, confused.
Ariadne grasped her shoulder. “It was not broken.”
The woman finally nodded and helped replace the bandage and sling.
Ariadne turned and saw Peter in the doorway. She hurried past him out the door.
He strode after her, spilling more wax as the candle flames guttered in the breeze. “Damn it. What am I supposed to do with these things?”
She took one of the candles. “Shield it and make a circuit of the chapel for luck.”
The bell had stopped ringing. A gust grabbed his flame and blew it out before he caught up with Ariadne at the front of the church again. He didn’t know if she’d blown hers out, or if the wind had gotten it, too.
“So much for luck. Story of my—”
The sudden scream of a rocket exploded over the village, flare dazzling his eyes.
“Take cover!” Blinded, he lunged to grab her arm.
“Wait. It’s only the celebration, Peter—fireworks.” She pulled her arm free and headed up the road. “I want to show you something.”
She led him uphill through a dark tangle of thorn and boulders, onto a slanting outcrop. Another rocket soared and blossomed in a shower of blue sparks over the rooftops below. In the dark alleys, silver and gold sparklers danced through the night to children’s shrill laughter. A muffled pop and whoosh, and a crimson streamer of fire snaked across the sky, burning its afterimage on his eyes.
“Quite a show.”
“Uncle ordered special rockets from Athens. He’s like a child about fireworks. But come, there’s a place I want you to see.”
She climbed over the rock and down a steep drop, nimble as one of the wild goats. He stumbled, muttering a curse. She took his hand and led him through a gap between crags. “Dmitrios showed me this place when I was a girl. I thought it was a magic world.”
They dropped lower, down a narrow cut, then suddenly out onto an open plateau looking over the distant sea. Peter caught a sharp breath. Before him a white stone maze glimmered under the rising moon—an expanse of twisting curves, convoluted angles, tortuous spirals carved into the rocky earth. A labyrinth of silver and shadow.
He blinked. It was the ruins of an ancient town, broken walls and twisting alleys and fragments of stairways climbing toward the stars, all hacked seemingly of one piece from the white stone.
She led him in silence down the deserted narrow passages between walls, threading the shadowy maze inward. A whisper surged and ebbed in his ears—voice of the sea echoing in an empty spiral shell. Peter was lost, wondering if he’d wander the twisting paths forever.
Ariadne ducked through a dark gap, climbed the stairs carved into the side of a wall, and sat atop it. He sat beside her, looking out from the center over the glimmering stone tracery.
“What is this place?” It came out a whisper.
She lifted her palms. “No one knows. We think one of the ninety-nine fabled cities of the ancient Minoans.”
“And Ariadne. Her labyrinth?”
“Who can say? There is power here.”
They sat in silence, watching the distant flare and sparkle of fireworks.
She turned to face him as another fireburst reflected in her eyes. “Peter, you were right. We need to talk.”
“About what just happened in the church? Saint Ariadne and her miracles?”
“Nonsense.” Her voice took on an edge. “My work has nothing to do with churches and miracles.”
“It did for that girl and her mother. She was down on her knees to you.” Something—maybe the shadowy power of the place urging him to just the opposite—made him goad her. “Why don’t you let them worship you?”
“I don’t want that.”
“Then why did you go down that night and heal those plague victims at the village? That’s what Georgios said. You did, didn’t you?” His voice echoed from the stone walls, angry, and he wasn’t sure why. He edged back uneasily to stare at her.
She met his gaze in the dimness. “I am all too human, Peter. As you reminded me that night.”
“Now, wait, I—”
“And I must ask you now to make a choice.” She sighed, raising a hand in that gesture he’d come to know, to touch the crystal over her breast. Somehow in the shifting moonlight and cloud-shadow the movement was slow and sensual, beckoning him closer—to feel the heat of her skin, inhale the fragrance of her hair flowing over him like dark waves, let his hands ride the full curves of breasts and thighs into sweet oblivion. . . .
He blinked and caught himself leaning closer to her. He pulled back to see she was swaying, eyes closed and lips parted, gripping the necklace.
He shivered. “Ariadne. . . .” His voice came out hoarse.
She lowered her hands and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Ohi. Not that way,” she whispered in Greek.
A ragged cloud drifted across the moon, and she turned back to him, a trick of shadows and moonlight now seaming her face like the ancient, storm-weathered stones around her. She said abruptly, “Peter. Will you come to Delphi with me, to the last site I need to test? It will be difficult, and dangerous for you—not only danger from the mercenaries or my father’s men, but for what you may see. I can’t explain, only that it must be done. If you turn back now, I’ll be grateful for all the help you’ve given me. If you come, you must trust me.”
The waxing moon sailed free of the clouds as she dropped her gaze to her fingers plaiting themselves in her lap. She bit her lip, looking all at once like that shy young girl in the photo in Demetrios’s parlor. “Petro. . . .” Her voice trembled. “As I’ve learned to trust you.”
He reached over to take her hands between his and still their tremor. “Easy, now.”
She met his gaze. She looked tired, but holding firm.
He gave her a wry smile, squeezed her hands, and released them. Etse k’etse. “I guess we’re both crazy. Count me in.”
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