BlueRule
Greece in photos and words



 


OTHER STORIES


I've written many short stories with a Greek background. Maybe you would like to read one of them. This is a romantic drama, set on the island of Santorini (then called Strongyle) in the year 1650 BC and based on fact. Then, the island volcano exploded into the major eruption which wiped out most of the land. Sea water filled the void and formed the present-day beautiful caldera lake. The picture you see here is part of the ongoing excavations on the actual site of Akrotiri. Gradually the ash layer is being dug away, to reveal the ancient town in situ.

If you enjoy this story, perhaps you would like to read my e-Book Awakenings, also set on Santorini, but in the year 2008 AD.


ARETA'S CHOICE


    They came after grey dawn had lifted the cloak of darkness from the Mountain.
 
    Running feet, thumping and banging, crazed voices, urgent orders, all superimposed over the rumbling.

    Areta could hear them from her bed chamber. She curled herself tighter, clasping her knees with her hands, and screwed her eyes shut. Not now, not now, not ever. Please.

    Yes. Now.
                                   
    “Get up Areta. Be quick. We are called.”

    Areta opened her eyes. Her mother, the Priestess Leda, stood over her, a tall grey form in the sulphurous yellow-grey light, already clothed for travel in her bell-shaped mustard-coloured skirt, best geometric patterned apron and sleeved bodice. She had covered her breasts with a bolero top and wore a woven beret over her raven hair.

    “No.”

    “Yes Areta. Come. Your father awaits, for it is time. The Mountain Demon is awakened. You know your grandmother, the High Priestess Jocasta, has spoken and the prophecy is doom for Akrotiri and Strongyle. It is time to heed her.”

    As if to add urgency to her words the house shook as a tremor caught hold of the land and a deep groan issued from far beneath the earth. An oil jar fell from the stone bench to the floor and shattered. A frisson of fear ran across Areta’s skin. She flung off her bedcover and swung her legs to the floor.

    “Hurry now. I must find Jocasta and guide her to the ship. We must all stick together.”

    “And Timaeus?”

    “He must go with his own family, Areta. We cannot take him with us.”

    “Then I will not go. I will stay here and endure the wrath of the Mother-Goddess and the Mountain Demon. Timaeus’s family say they are not leaving, so I will stay with them.”

    “Do not be stupid, Areta. Get your things together. Now.”

    There was a renewed banging on the door. Leda turned and swept from the chamber. Areta sat on the couch, uncertain. She turned her head to listen to the shouted words as her mother opened the door.

    “Make haste Blessed Priestess.” It was Master Poronios, the merchant from Crete who lived next door. He sounded hoarse and breathless. “Elder Solonikus has reported a fissure in the direction of the mountain. It is spouting ash and hot vapours. He says we have very little time, and if the Mountain Demon should blow, we will face devastation.”

    “We leave immediately, Master Poronius. My husband is loading the bulls onto a vessel at this moment. He awaits us at the port.”

    “He should forget the bulls.”

    “But they are sacred, Master Poronius. They cannot be left behind.”

    It was one of the reasons the family had not yet departed the island. As Convenor of the Bulls, Leuvenor was responsible for the sacred herds. Bull Games had been scheduled for the next week and he had been engrossed in the organisation. The leaping competitions and acrobatic performances were most popular, and patrons became restless and noisy if not sufficiently entertained. He had been most reluctant to listen to a postponement, let alone a total evacuation of the island. When finally persuaded, his whole attention had been taken up finding transportation for the animals. There was no way he would leave them behind. Leda had understood and taken the responsibility for the rest of the family and the servants.

    The other reason was Jocasta. The High Priestess had insisted on remaining in the temple, since proclaiming her Portent of Doom.

    “People are more important than bulls,” said Master Poronios. “My ship is loaded and ready to sail, I only have to remove my household to the quay. You are welcome to come with us if you wish. We meet at Quay number seven before the sun reaches the zenith. The fleet leaves then for Crete.”

    Another tremor shook the house. Something rattled violently, and there was a loud crash from the basement. Poronius departed swiftly and Leda shut the door. She turned, coughing.
Oh Mother-Goddess, thought Areta, what are you doing to us? Have we been so decadent that you are punishing us in such a terrible manner? Did we not make sacrifices to you, and offerings of the finest gold and silver? Why are you setting the elements against us in such a manner, releasing the pent-up forces of the Mountain Demon? Why?

    “Areta. Place your things on the cart. Limeos will show you.”

    Areta dressed quickly, taking the initiative from her mother and wrapping a bolero around her shoulders and over her breasts. She gathered up her few treasures - some jewellery, her small collection of clay figurines, a tablet, a gold votive, some garments she was fond of - and wrapped them in a cloak. Around her neck she hung the tiny pearl shell she kept as a talisman. Timaeus had given it to her. When she wore it she felt his spirit with her.
 
    She put on her outside shoes, sewn from the hide of a fallen bull, then placed the bundle in the middle of a bed cover, slung it around her shoulders, tying the ends across her chest, and crept towards the front of the house. She would not obey her mother on this occasion. Leda did not understand. If calamity was about to occur she would face it with Timaeus. He was her future.

    Leda was busy organising the servants. Poor Limeos was running around in circles and several of the women were sobbing in alarm. As Areta opened the door to the street, closing it quickly behind her, another long rumbling growl came from beneath her feet.

    For a moment, as she took in the scene before her, she hesitated. People had been evacuating the town for the last week, ever since the High Priestess Jocasta had given her Portent of Doom and the Mountain had begun trembling. The town elders had been of two minds, for tremors and rumblings were always occurring on Strongyle, but two days ago it became obvious this was no ordinary occurrence, for a strange plume of hot ash had suddenly appeared from the side of the mountain and the rumblings and tremors had become almost continuous. Then suddenly the plume had disappeared as mysteriously as it emerged and the activity beneath the earth had stopped, but orders had gone out to the populace to evacuate. All vessels at the port had been commandeered.

    It had happened this way before. Already there had been several major evacuations. Some people had returned when the Mountain Demon had ceased his demonstration of anger, others had stayed away. Many had never left at all, believing nothing would come of each emergency, Areta’s and Timaeus’s families among them. But this time it was impossible to ignore the High Priestess Jocasta’s portent of doom. Her word was not to be disregarded.
 
    A large number of the remaining populace had already set sail for Knossos on Crete but it was thought they would have a hard sail, for the autumn winds were now tending to gust from the west. Some thought to make for the nearby island of Anafi. It was here that Areta’s father, Leuvenor, was sending the bulls. Areta did not want to go to Anafi. It was reputed to be backward and poor, and Timaeus would not be there.

    Areta could see things were now far worse than before. The streets were thronged with panicked people dragging carts, barrows, any vehicle, towards the port. Their own cart was blocking half the street. The two oxen hitched to it, were red-eyed and fidgety, their tails swishing. A very fine film of grey powder fell on Areta’s uplifted face as she took in the dull yellow ochre sky, and it was then she noticed everyone was slightly grimy - garments looked soiled, skin seemed greasy-grey, faces unwashed.

    She must make haste if she was to find Timaeus. She was going nowhere without him. If he was to stay behind with his family, she would remain with him and chance the wrath of the Mountain Demon. If they were to die, they would die together. Had Timaeus not said this to her but three days ago?
 
    “Beloved Areta,” he had said, cupping her face in his hands, “we will never be parted. Never.”

    Timaeus’s father grew wheat, barley and chickpeas on the lower slopes of the Mountain. He also had a small vineyard and an olive plantation. His wife managed their merchant business from a house on the outskirts of Akrotiri, and it was towards this house Areta began walking. Her progress was difficult. The further she went towards the rear of the town, the worse was the congestion on the streets. Carts, donkeys, oxen, frightened children, weeping women, grim faced men, all heading in one direction.

    “You walk the wrong way, pretty one,” said a man. He was shepherding a woman and three small children, pushing a barrow stacked with boxes and artisan tools. His tunic and apron were dark with grime and his hair looked like a grey wig. “The port is behind you.”
 
    “I seek a friend,” said Areta.

    “Do not seek too long. The Mountain Demon is angry.”
 
    She hurried on. Gradually she eased out of the melee and into silent deserted upper streets where the remains of many hurried departures were obvious - discarded household goods, broken furniture, cracked jars and pots. Only a few souls were about, attending to last minute tasks.

    Areta came to a large square. The house of Timaeus’s parents was on the corner, a striking double-storey stone dwelling flanking a small walled courtyard and garden. She hurried across the square, skirting piles of rubbish already coated with a film of grey ash, and arrived at the door just as it was flung open. A woman peered out and squinted at her.

    “Areta? What are you doing here? Why are you not departing with your parents?”

    It was Flota, Timaeus’s mother. “I seek Timaeus. I will go nowhere without him.”

    “Fool.” Flota shook her head vigorously and ran her hands through her hair to dislodge the ash. “He is not here. Come inside, I cannot stand this filth.”

    Areta smiled. Flota was fastidious in her house. It was well-known she drove her servants to distraction with the cleaning.  Areta glanced momentarily upwards and received a fleck of dirt in one eye. She followed Flota through the doorway, blinking furiously. The speck felt as big as a stone. The eye immediately watered and tears fell on her cheek.
 
    Flota misunderstood. “Stop crying child. Last night I sent him to the fields to get his father. He should have returned by now. Have you eaten? I have fruit and curd.”

    “I’m not crying... Thank you, I left without taking food. Perhaps a little fruit...”

    Areta set her bundle on a stool. “You have decided to leave?” she asked Flota as she ate from the bowl set before her.

    “Well, I would be anywhere but in the middle of this turmoil. It seems worse outside now. But my husband is set on finishing the grape harvest. I hope Timaeus can persuade him to postpone it until we can return.”

    “The Elder Solonikus has reported a fissure in the Mountainside. It is supposed to be worse than the last. We are all told to depart immediately.”

    “And the High Priestess Jocasta? She is still predicting doom?”

    “I am afraid so. My mother has gone to fetch her from the temple. Jocasta says she must stay until the last.”

    “You should have gone with your mother.”

    “I will wait for Timaeus.”
 
    Flota sighed. A deep rumble came from afar and seemed to roll towards them. As it passed beneath the house, the place shook as if gripped by a monster. A zigzag crack appeared in the stone wall behind Areta with the sound of a whip. Both women cried out in alarm.

    Flota went to the doorway once more. She had a little difficulty opening the door for it was stuck in one corner. A rush of warm air flowed inside bringing with it a cloud of grey ash. Areta scraped a small piece from the floor with her finger. It was warm to the touch. She joined Flota at the doorway. The older woman seemed fixed to the spot.

    “Look,” Flota said and pointed.

    The street leading from the square faced the open fields beyond the town. Away in the distance should have been the Mountain, starkly outlined against a blue autumnal sky. But it was completely shrouded with a pall of what looked like smoke. Just a vague suggestion of its shape could be seen. A huge billowing cloud of ash was rising high into the sky. As they watched, an errant gust of wind blew the cloud away from the shanks of the Mountain and they saw the grey-white plume issuing from the fissure.

    “Oh great Mother-Goddess,” whispered Areta. “Jocasta is right. Akrotiri is doomed.”

    “Where can those men be?” Flota tried to slam the door. She had to push it closed, for it seemed not to fit so well any more. Areta was thinking of the shrouded Mountain. If they were still on the farm, they could be in trouble from the gathering ash. It would be much worse closer to the fissure.

    “Are you packed and ready to depart?” asked Areta. She could see no goods anywhere.

    “I am taking nothing,” Flota said, “except the gold, some plate, and my jewellery. We must wait for the men to help carry it.”

    They settled down to wait. Flota started to cough. She left the room and returned with drinking water and four strips of cloth. “We must tie these around our mouths and noses to keep from breathing in the particles.”

    It seemed like a good idea. They became glad of it by the time the sun had reached its zenith and Timaeus and his father had still not appeared. Fine ash was beginning to infiltrate the room. Areta was beginning to feel very anxious. Her mother would be frantically looking for her, of that she was sure. She heartily wished she had mentioned to someone where she was going. All the remaining boats would be loaded and ready to leave by now. Maybe waiting for Timaeus had not been such a good idea. After all, she could have met him in Knossos when they were all safely there. And anyway, they would be returning to Strongyle once the Mountain Demon had done his worst. Surely it could not go on like this for long.

    A heavy thumping on the door made the women jump. Areta’s heart leapt. Timaeus!

    But no, it was the local Elder, Phidrus. He stumbled inside. He was caked with ash. Even his eyelids were grey with it.

    “You should be long-gone Madam and Mistress. I am doing a last check of my area to make sure everyone has left for the port. I will be on the last ship with the rest of the Elders. Why are you still here?”

    Flota explained they were waiting for their men.

    “Wait no longer, lady. Elder Solonikus says the fissure has widened and poisonous gases are escaping. Also the ash is now burning. See, my cloak is smouldering.”

    Sure enough, tiny holes dotted the garment and wisps of smoke came from it. Flota looked at Areta and saw the panic in her eyes.

    “Yes,” she said. “Come, Areta, we must set out. We can stay here no longer.”

    “Have you water?” asked Phidrus.

    Flota pointed to the well in the courtyard. Phidrus showed them how to wet their cloaks before putting them on, and made them all drink. They tied the strips of cloth around their faces again and Flota showed them the parcels she had made ready. With Areta’s bundle they were mightily laden, for much of Flota’s goods were heavy. Phidrus led the way out the door.
Areta was staggered when she saw the situation outside. Already the whole square had partly disappeared under ash. The pile of odd rubbish was no more than a large rounded hump. The roofs of the houses were uniformly grey, everything was grey, her feet sank into grey sludge to her ankles and grey dust fell and swirled around in eddies like powdered rain.

    “Hurry,” said Phidrus.

    They needed no urging. At one point Areta had to stop and put down her burden while she pulled her cloak further over her head to protect her eyes. When she reached for her bundles, they were sunk into the ash. Smouldering embers burnt through the diaphanous material of her bolero so she had to clutch the cloak further around her breasts.

    Several times the women fell, their feet catching hidden projections under the ash cover. It became difficult to get up again, and the ash swirled around them causing them to cough and choke despite the masks. They reached Areta’s house. She banged on her door and cried out. Nobody came to answer it.
 
    “All gone,” said Phidrus.

    Surely not, thought Areta. They would have left someone behind to lead her to the port and the ship. Her mother would not abandon her. It occurred to her that she herself had abandoned her family, and her mother would have no idea of her whereabouts. Perhaps she would have remembered Areta’s taunt about staying on Strongyle with Timaeus’s family. But if that was so, surely she would have sent a servant after her.

    “Come, hurry,” said Phidrus. “It is no use wasting time here. Besides, it is getting hard to see. We do not want to get lost.”

    This was true. Visibility was becoming very poor. There was a strange odour too. It smelled like something rotten. They started off once again, as quickly as they could stumble. Flota fell and they had to stop to help her. She had great difficulty standing up. She was panting now, her breathing ragged.

    “Go on without me,” she wailed. “I only delay you. I will continue at my own pace.”

    “No! We go together, Flota. Here let me take more of your things...”
 
    Flota had already abandoned some of her burden but she clutched one parcel to her bosom and would not let go of it. Areta thought it must be the gold. She cast her own bundles to the ash and seized it from Flota. It was very heavy.

    “Hold on to me, Madam. I will help you along.”

    Flota keened some more but did as she was told and they struggled on. Another tremor shook the ground, longer and fiercer and accompanied with a grinding rumble that set Areta’s teeth on edge. It sent them sprawling into the ash once more. By the time they had righted themselves she was exhausted. She put her hand to her bosom and clutched at the pearl shell. Timaeus, my love. Protect me. Help me.

    “There is the port,” shouted Phidrus. “We are nearly there.”

    As they came out onto the quay, the wind shifted momentarily. It disclosed a scene of chaos. Abandoned goods, carts and barrows, smashed pots, jars and vases and discarded garments littered the area.

    “Where are all the boats?” gasped Flota.

    They stood still, aghast. The large evacuation fleet had gone. There was one ship out on the bay about to turn in the direction of Anafi - the ship bearing the Elders? Far out to sea they could just make out tiny sails disappearing over the horizon in the direction of Crete. They’ve abandoned me, thought Areta. I said I would stay and they believed me.

    “There!”

    Phidrus pointed to the far quay. A boat was still tied to the wharf. It looked pitifully small and low in the water.

    They tried to run towards it, but Flota had sunk to her knees and by the time they got her to her feet again, they could see it had hoisted sail.

    “Run,” said Phidrus, gasping. “You are the youngest. Stop it if you can.”

    Areta whispered a prayer to the Mother-Goddess. She took off as fast as she could, screaming. The heavy parcel weighed her down so she raced to the edge of the quay and threw it into the water. Then panic took hold of her feet and she raced, jumping obstructions, waving her arms, yelling at the top of her voice.

    “Wait. Wait. WAIT.”

    A figure appeared on the quay. It was staring in her direction. There was a flurry of activity on board the vessel and the sail was furled.

    “Areta?”

    The shout drifted towards her. “Yes,” she screamed.

    The figure began to run towards her.

    “Areta, oh Areta.”

    The figure came close, and as they met, swept her into his arms.

    “Timaeus. Oh my love,” she whispered, exhausted. “We waited for you...”

    “I went directly to your house,” he said. “Your mother had gone to collect the High Priestess Jocasta from the temple. The servants were ready to take your cart to the quay and load the boat. They said you had gone ahead, so I went on to the quay. I couldn’t find you anywhere. Your mother said you must have gone to look for me, so I stayed. They could wait no longer so have set off for Anafi and we are to follow. Our Captain was about to hoist sail as you came onto the quay.”

    “I was waiting with your mother for you and your father. Eventually Phidrus came and helped us get to the quay.”

    “My father did not arrive?”

    “No.”

    “He was to collect my mother and bring her here.”

    “Well he never came.”

    “The fissure. He went to look at the fissure. Something must have happened.”

    At that moment the wind changed. It blew up from the south, from Crete, and for a moment the ash was driven northwards. Phidrus and Flota finally reached them and Timaeus helped them to the boat. The sail was hoisted once more and the ropes let go.

    Areta stood at the rail and watched as they moved swiftly away from Strongyle.

     “Master Timaeus?” It was the Captain.

    “Yes?”

    “I do not think we should head for Crete, or for Anafi.”

    “But we are to follow the High Priestess Jocasta to Anafi.”

    “If the Mountain is to truly erupt, as Elder Solonikus has predicted, the prevailing winds  will send the smoke, ash and other debris to the Eastern edge of the sea, across the near islands such as Anafi, to Assyria and Egypt, and maybe to the South. I think we should travel North. I tried to tell the Priestess, but Leuvenor was intent on following the Sacred Bulls. North of us are many islands and we can move between them in easy stages. There is an island called Melos where we could shelter. Then maybe we should head for the Peloponnisos. Or we could follow the others to Anafi at a later date...”

    They stared out across the water. They could see the Mountain clearly now, the shroud of the huge pall of ash, lifted. A large new cloud of white puffed from its side at the position of the fissure and a few seconds later they heard the huge rumble of an explosion. Areta clutched Timaeus’s arm. They could see rock and something else, something red, flung into the air. The wind changed. The ash cloud moved slightly to their right, in the direction of Anafi. Would they ever see Akrotiri and Strongyle again?

    Timaeus folded Areta into his arms.

    “All speed, Captain. We go where you take us...”

    The ship heeled as it turned north.


BlueRule

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