Keeper of the Wild

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The crescent moon rose unhindered, it was the first cloudless night in days. Diogenes leaned against the wall of the temple of Artemis, wolfing down a scrap of meat. Not meat from the temple, of course, he would never dream of incurring the wrath of a god by stealing the sacred offering. No, he got most of his sustenance from the scraps the palace people left out for their dogs.
“Diogenes?” a voice whispered behind him.
He turned and saw an old man gesturing frantically. Dio walked hesitantly to the man. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Diabolos,” the man replied.
“Slanderer?” Dio translated.
“Yes, son of Zeus,” she man replied, smiling. “We do not choose our names.”
“Maybe you didn’t, but I did,” said Dio. He was always pleased when someone commented on the meaning of his name.
“Well, that’s quite something to boast,” Diabolos said, “but that is not the reason I wish to speak to you. Come, we go where we may not be heard.”
The man led the way up the side of a mountain to a small cave. As soon as they stepped inside, they were assaulted by numerous smells, herbs, incenses, olive oil lamps. The inside of the cave was lit with a soft flickering glow. The air had a translucent quality from the swirling smoke. The back of the cave was hidden behind a beautiful tapestry that rippled and swayed.
It was woven with a quality worthy of Athena herself. It displayed a scene of the gods and goddesses on Mt. Olympus. The scene looked normal enough from a casual glance, but if one looked closer the true image was revealed. It displayed the gods in all their worst, the way the beggars spoke of them in hushed tones at night, deceitful, lustful, slanderous, playing humans like puppets.
Diabolos heard Dio’s gasp and found the source of his discomfort.
“Ever heard of Arachne?” the old man asked.
Dio knew the story well, the mortal weaver turned to a spider for boasting that her skills were greater than Athena’s.
“This isn’t – oh gods, is this her tapestry?” he looked reverently at the cloth. “But didn't Athena destroy the tapestry?”
“So some stories have it. We found this when we came to this cave. It was in a chest in the back.”
“We? Who else lives here?”
“My apprentice,” the old man replied simply. “Now we really must….”
He was cut off as a girl came rushing in. “Diabolos!” she exclaimed, “I did it, I heard Apollo speak to me.” She noticed Dio then and stopped in her tracks. “Oh. Hi.”
“Diogenes,” Diabolos said, “this is my apprentice, Rhea.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Rhea said stiffly.
Dio nodded to her.
“Rhea, go into the back,” Diabolos instructed.
The apprentice complied. As she pulled the tapestry aside, Dio tried to get a good look at the back room. However the glimpse was too brief and no images stuck in his mind.
“Who are you?” Dio asked, “What do you do? Why do you live up here? Why do you have an apprentice?”
“I’m the priest of the wild places, the caretaker of the realm of the great god Pan.”
Dio glanced at Diabolos’ feet, to check if they were cloven hooves. “I thought the satyrs and fauns were the worshipers of Pan.”
The old man sighed, “And are humans not also allowed to worship him? The cloven folk are probably his most devoted followers, but they won’t accept that he’s dead. It was Thamus, who brought the news of the great god’s death, that was the first priest, and then after him Nikias, my predecessor. I came from near Delphi, where Thamus lived at the Temple of the Wild Places. I was taught there, but when my training was almost complete a group of men from Athens burned down the temple. My mentor was killed that night, and I fled, taking what little I could salvage.
“I hid nearby, and came back the next night. There was barely anything left of the place, nothing worth rescuing. I joined on with a convoy heading for Sparta, hoping to rebuild the temple out here. Along the way I met Rhea, and took her in as my apprentice.
“Upon coming to Sparta, we searched around the area for a place to rebuild, but instead found this cave. So this is now the sanctuary of the wild.
“As for my apprentice, I’m instructing her to be the next caretaker after me. Does that answer all your questions?”
“I think so,” Dio said, “I’m glad you don't want me to become the next priest or something. I don't think I could ever do that. What did you want to talk to me about?”
Diabolos furrowed his brow, “It’s getting late, we can discuss tomorrow. For now, you may sleep in back.”
Dio drew aside the tapestry and beheld the room beyond. A narrow passageway, lit by oil lamps, that branched in two at the end. He turned to ask the old man which way to go, but Diabolos was gone.
Dio walked to where the passage branched. He stood indecisively, peering down one, and then the other. He took a tentative step down the right hand passageway.
“This way,” Rhea was standing where he had been a moment before. She had snuck up so silently, he hadn’t noticed her lurking in the shadows.
“Oh, thanks,” Dio followed her down to a small room. It was sparsely furnished, one mattress, one low table, one wooden chest.
“I guess you’ll be staying in here,” Rhea said, rather unenthusiastically.
“I’ll take the floor,” Dio offered.
“Sure.”
Dio wondered why she seemed to dislike him. They had barely met, yet she treated him like a pest. She was giving the bare minimum of the hospitality required by the gods. He decided to try to talk to her a bit.
“So what did you say about Apollo earlier?” he asked.
She flashed him a look that clearly said none of your business.
“Do you hate me or something?” he asked, in a half joking voice.
No reply.
“What did I ever do to you?” he asked, “I do apologise, whatever it was, I didn't mean it.”
“How can you act so ignorant?” she snapped, “we both know why you’re here, so stop making it that much harder.”
“Making what that much harder?” he asked.
She snorted in exasperation, “You know what! That’s what you and my former master were having that nice little chat about out there; I might as well pack up and leave now!”
“Leave? What are you talking about?” This was the most confusing conversation he had ever had by far. “What do you mean by ‘former’ master?”
“Do you think Diabolos wants a girl for an apprentice?” she ranted, “How humiliating for him! And to have a girl be the next caretaker of the wild places? Never!”
“But this is Sparta,” Dio said.
“And? Don't play all high and mighty because you grew up here. I’ve seen enough to know that your city-state is not as great as you like to boast. You say you treat men and women equal, but really, you aren’t any better than Athens!”
He recoiled, as if slapped, then drew himself up to deliver a stinging retort and defend the pride of his home. But Rhea was speaking again.
“I hope you’re happy, priest to be,” her voice was rich with sarcasm.
“Priest to be? I don't want to be a priest!”
“Well that’s why you’re here, to replace me. Now you know why I can’t stand the sight of you.”
Dio took a step back. Priest? He couldn’t do that. “I think you’d make a much better caretaker than I,” he said. “And I swear I knew nothing of this until you told me. If I were to leave, would that help?”
“Oh, you can take your fake sympathy and feed it to Cerberus,” Rhea exclaimed, and stormed out.





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