PETER COUNTED THE TREMORS.
Nothing much else to do, chained in the hut, so he’d been scraping a mark on the grimy wall for each one. He couldn’t figure accurate timing since they’d taken his watch, but in the three days he’d been here the number each day had increased, so the intervals between had to be shrinking. Like his cousin years ago had told him she gauged her labor pains. As he lay there, riding out the shivering pangs of the mountain, he entertained himself wondering how stable the slope was, and whether the widening cracks in the mortared cement-block walls would loosen his chain-bolt first or collapse on him instead.
“Damn. . . .” The latest wobble subsided in dancing dust-motes, ringing in his ears. Not much this time, but he’d count it anyway. Twisting to gouge the mark, Peter grimaced as pain throbbed up his leg.
He’d stopped taking the pain meds, they were fogging him out. If he got a chance to make a break he was going for it. The metal rods they’d rigged for his splinting were pretty stable, and he could always find something for crutches. Even crawling would be better than hanging around waiting for another landslide to bury him. Though there could be worse ways to go. . . .
He shrugged stiffly. Etse k’etse. But he could tell the women who’d been bringing him food were worried about the tremors, too.
He gave his chain a halfhearted tug. Still holding. He’d given up on trying to gnaw through the leather cuff. Sitting against the wall, he leaned over to press his palms around his throbbing calf. The pressure seemed to help dull the aching. Now he took a deep breath, tried to let all the jittery jostling thoughts go, and imagined cool, healing waves lapping through the pain. It worked a little, or maybe he’d just convinced himself it did, but what the hell.
He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. His hand crept up to scratch his chest, fingers wandering higher to touch the crystal pendant. It was getting to be a habit, but somehow soothing, if he just didn’t think.
Ariadne. His fingers tightened, the pain throbbing again. Damn, that was no good. He thrust it away, focused on relaxing, letting the beckoning waves lap over him.
The polished crystal felt good to his fingertips, warm from his skin but somehow cool inside, the design of the double spirals, like a DNA helix, clearly etched and pleasant to trace. Another deep breath, and he felt oddly sleepy, heavy, sinking down into warm darkness. Like a dream, sliding into a cleanly echoing place inside spiral walls. The ringing in his ears had become distant breathy flute notes, wisps of melody. The tingling warmth of that place kindled up his spine, flowing down his arms and legs.
An electrifying pulsation suddenly locked around his broken leg. Like a thrown switch on a grid, it vibrated down his bones and up the metal rods, cycling in hot oscillations. Pulsing, on and on and on.
Peter gasped, frozen for seconds—minutes?—then jolted out of it, blinking. The crystal pulsed in his grip. His leg tingled.
“Damn.” He dropped his hand to the blanket, shaking his head. The energy still coursed through him, his leg feeling oddly lighter. And he thought about what he’d seen in that chapel on Crete. The girl and her broken arm, Ariadne pressing her hands around it, and then the mother’s stare. . . .
The door of the hut rattled and opened a crack. Dark eyes peered in.
Peter startled, then grinned. “Come on.” He raised his fettered hand. “I won’t bite.”
The door smacked shut, quivered, then inched open again. A little girl, maybe six, peered in at him, long black braids swinging.
He smiled, said quietly, “It’s all right. You can come in.”
She nibbled her lips, then eased into the hut. Gripping her hand, a smaller boy, sandy-haired, stared wide-eyed at Peter.
“I’m Petros. What’s your name?”
She jerked her gaze from the crystal pendant on his chest. “Iris,” she whispered.
“Iris. That’s pretty. You live here on the mountain?”
She nodded, took a deep breath, and said in a rush, “The mothers say you have a magic necklace.”
He wiggled his eyebrows, touched the engraved pendant, and nodded sagely. “That’s right.”
She bit her lip again, staring at it.
Peter pulled it over his head and held it out. “Here, you can touch it. Won’t hurt.”
She took a quick breath, eyes gleaming. Clutching the boy’s hand tighter, she edged over to Peter’s bedding, reaching out to touch the glittering crystal. She gave him a dazzling smile.
“Iris!” The door crashed open against the wall.
The girl dropped the pendant and leaped back, hugging the little boy against her.
It was the Corybant with the schizophrenic hair again. Eurydice, he’d gotten out of one of the others. She glared in the doorway, jerking a hand at the girl. “Back to the hearths! Now!”
Iris shot Peter a look, grinned, and bolted out of the hut, dragging the gawking toddler along. The Corybant looked after them, a smile quirking her lips. Then she swerved back to Peter, scowling. “If you touched them. . . .”
He lifted his fettered hand. “Cool out, Eury.” He slipped the necklace on again.
She spat and shoved the basket over to him with her foot. Pretty much the same stuff, though they’d thrown in some dried figs this time.
“Thanks. Want one?” Chewing, he held one up toward her.
She tightened her lips and stepped back a pace, gripping the rifle, nostrils flaring like one of the New Lambs clutching her hymn book and sniffing out impropriety.
Peter gave an exaggerated shrug and took his time emptying the basket, weighing the bread in his hands, raising his eyebrows over the big chunk of cheese, sniffing a little pot of stewed greens, enjoying provoking her. “Mmm. You women know how to treat a guy right.”
“The basket.” She bent resentfully as he tossed it back. She started to leave, then said grudgingly, “One of our Wise-Mothers has returned. She’ll come to question you.”
“I’ll find room on my calendar.”
She frowned and came up with a parting shot. “Now she’s back, we’ll have a ceremony.” The door latched shut.
Dread shivered through him, this time nothing to do with earthquakes. He’d remembered what the wild mountain Corybantes back in the good old days used to do to the vine king after his short orgiastic reign. Best not to think about the spears, the knives. . . . The teeth.
What were they going to question him about now? He’d convinced the “Wise-Mothers” he’d already talked to that he’d been with Ariadne, not the mercenaries—he thought. The lines of communication hadn’t exactly been flowing:
The old crone, a white-braided Greek who looked to have survived a century of hard labor on the sunbaked hills, had sat blank-faced, dark eyes fixed on a point somewhere past Peter’s left shoulder. The plump young Italian was nursing a baby as she questioned Peter. Her Greek was worse than Peter’s, so they were maybe missing a connection here and there.
By that time, a persistent sensation of altered reality had settled over him. He did try. But the Corybantes wouldn’t answer any of his questions, especially about the upcoming “ceremony.” He’d broken their laws. He explained the logical thing to do was let him go, since they didn’t want men on their mountain, but they didn’t seem impressed with his reasoning. They did make it clear they believed in what Ariadne was trying to do. Something about “the Mother” calling her back. They’d seemed pretty interested in having her make another go at the cavern.
And they’d asked him about the crystal pendant. He could tell the Italian was tempted to take it, but she didn’t. He’d tried to convince them he could arrange a meeting with Ariadne if they’d let him out. They hadn’t bit.
Peter was still stubbornly hoping they’d find Ariadne on the mountain. He was sure they wouldn’t hurt her even if they were crazy—hell, crazy didn’t have a meaning any more. She could be hurt somewhere out there. Maybe it was cracking her head on the stone pillar that had made her go nuts and attack him. What would she do now? Damn. If she tried to go to her connections in Athens, she’d be a sitting duck.
Eyes squeezed shut, Peter blew out a long breath. His hand was clutching Ariadne’s quartz pendant again.
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