“NOTHING WE COULD HAVE done, you know. Except get ourselves hurt.”
“I know that.” Ariadne was gazing over the side of the sailboat at the smooth swells, like they might have changed in the hours she’d been watching them roll to the horizon. Finally she turned to look at Peter. “I’m bringing you only trouble. When we reach the mainland, you must leave me and go back to your life in Athens.”
“We’ve had this conversation. Let Peter worry about Peter, he’s a big boy.”
A little frown as she worked it through. “No, Demetrios was right. You are a true pallikar.” Valiant warrior.
“Efcharisto, Despoina.” He inclined his head, not moving from his comfortable slouch against the thwart, bare foot steadying the tiller. He’d spent most of the day beating into a maddening, shifting wind and fighting one of the crosscurrents giving sailors since Odysseus a headache. Now the wind had shifted, an iffy breeze puffing from the east. He shook his head, hoping the creaking forestay and shrouds would hold. The boat’s rigging was basic to say the least, so all he could do was keep the single sail out on a broad reach and hope they didn’t drift too far west so they’d miss the landmark islands to the north, Kythera and Antikythera. It was going to be a slow trip.
The canvas was luffing again, so he brought her around a bit. Didn’t help. He glanced at Ariadne’s profile etched against the sea, copper-tinged with the lowering sun. “I learned a word for you, too. Levendissa.” The beautiful and brave one.
She flushed, shaking her head. “That is only for the great women who have served their people.”
He squinted up at the sagging canvas again and gave up on it. “Why do you have to fight it so hard? Maybe they need someone to look up to.”
“As they need someone to hate and kill?” She swung around on him, eyes flaring sharp blue. “You just saw what ‘my people’ can be. I will not belong to them, nor to my father, nor to any—” She pressed her lips tight.
He sat upright to grip the tiller between them. “Look, those villagers, and the Sons, they’re just as convinced they’ve got the Truth as you are. So who’s right?”
“No matter what they believe, no one deserves to die that way.”
“Of course not. But people just do shitty things sometimes. You have to throw out the whole barrel, over a few rotten apples?” He blew out a breath. “Look, I was killing time on Nereid, trying to figure out what you were up to, and I read about this noosphere idea of Teilhard de Chardin. How there’s this sort of global field of energy from all life. And how maybe when people do evil things, it’s because they’re cut off from it somehow. Like they can’t feel or hear the truth any more.” He shrugged. “Maybe those Gaea Speaks people aren’t such flakes. And what you’ve been saying, with the electromagnetic pollution so bad now, we’re really getting cut off from the natural fields.”
Ariadne looked taken-aback. “Peter, that’s it!”
“Don’t look so surprised. I do read, you know.”
She surprised him with a teasing quirk of the lips. “And what is your favorite book, then?”
“Two for one: The Illiad and The Odyssey. Inhaled them when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why I ended up in the Med.” He shrugged again. “Bet you can’t guess my favorite character.”
She laughed in delight, giving herself fully to it as her natural glow broke through the strain, and he remembered with a pang that first day he saw her on the beach. She met his gaze now, sharing the laughter with him, and whether or not that noosphere was real, he could feel the connection.
“Thank you, Peter.” She sobered. “I wish this journey could bring us both to our homes finally, and peace. But I don’t know if there is such a thing any more.”
“Hey. One step at a time.”
Her hand crept up to touch her crystal pendant, and she turned to gaze over the sea. Beyond her, the swells had taken on an oily look in the slanted sunlight.
“I’m frightened, Peter.” Her voice was so low it was almost lost to the hiss of the sea against the hull, the slap of loose canvas. “All these forces battling around me . . . through me. It’s building to a crisis—more earthquakes, more plague victims—and those will be only the start. There’s no time to learn the best ways to counter these disasters. I simply must go on with this work, even if it tears me apart.” She shuddered. “I don’t know who I am any more.”
“Maybe it’s time to let the old Ariadne go.”
She turned back to him, giving him a speculating look.
“Dmitri said more or less the same to me. The way the world’s going, we’ve got to change, step into who we need to be now.” He gave a pale imitation of the old trader’s Cretan shrug. “But it’s got you spooked. What is it you do when you go in there, anyway?” He pointed at her crystal pendant. “Why is it eating you up?”
She closed her eyes, let out a breath, hand starting to rise toward the crystal again, then dropping. “Cassandra told me I needed to be an apprentice to learn the proper way to control the power. Maybe she’s right. When it courses through me, I feel I could be a god. No—I am one. And it’s all so right and righteous, and I’m filled with the light. Do you understand?”
Despite himself, he shuddered, seeing his father’s face glowing with that righteous light as the believers—including young Petey—raised their arms and cried out, “Hallelujah!” and gave themselves to his will.
He took a deep breath and stepped over the tiller, ignoring the sail flapping louder now, and touched Ariadne’s shoulder. “Easy, Despoina.” He squeezed gently. “I’m here. I’ll help if I can.”
“Thank you, Petro.” She touched his hand, her sapphire ring catching a spark of fading light.
He cleared his throat. “So what’s with this family ring, anyway?”
She tugged it off and handed it to him. “You see the inscription inside?”
He turned it to make out the Greek letters. “Lithos athanatos kai akinetos. Like on the flag.”
“Immortal and unyielding stone.” She shook her head. “My family’s motto. It used to represent our gem trade, but now my father applies it to his regime. He wants to extend his control, keep us all in his grasp. . . .”
He studied her downturned face. “There’s one way to get free of the Tyrannos.” He tilted his head toward the sea and lifted his eyebrows.
She hesitated, then nodded quickly.
He flung the ring far out over the swells. “There. You’re a free agent.”
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