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A bold young shadow queen and her devoted companion flee pirates, assassins and a looming dark age. Not even the two brave giants who vowed to protect them know what to do when they are caught between the desperate armies of antiquity's two most powerful empires.
The first installment of a five part novel titled WEST, EAST, SOUTH, NORTH and CRUX, Starlight on Stone draws ficitonal and historical figures together from across the known world of 900BCE. WEST is both an adventure and a socio-political commentary of a wild, devolving period which came to define current thinking about our relationship to the world around us. The characters are memorable, bold and strong but swept up, like children everywhere in the turmoil of events beyond their understanding and ability.
Starlight On Stone is 190 pages and features original artwork by the author.
I will sing of well-founded Earth,
Mother of All, eldest of all beings.
She feeds all creatures ... upon the
goodly land, and all in the paths of the seas,
and all that fly.
From Homer's Song of the Earth
"It is very beautiful, Grandmother!"
The golden butterfly flashed an orb of sunlight as the old woman twirled it and Tyrana, arms clasped around her knees, was dazzled. A thick haze of incense hung on the air, blurring her vision.
"It is quite old," her grandmother replied, handing the treasure to the girl.
Each wing was as big as her nearly adult hand and had been worked with the most delicate of wire. The veined structure gave support to a diaphanous webbing of yellow metal and at well
strengthened points tiny gemstones had been set. Tyrana recognized most of them - sapphires, lapis, turquoise from copper mines in the moonland of Sin, mother-of-pearl. "What are these red
ones," she asked.
"Carnelian, dear, and corals. One must never forget the sea."
Tyrana turned the bronze shaft slowly, making light reflect upon the crone's face and in her own eyes. It was quite heavy. "You say it is old, Grandmother. How old?"
"Who knows, child?" She sighed and prepared to tell a story she had told many times, only to women-children, as her own grandmother had related the tale to her.
"It belonged to a great queen," she began, "long ago, before the world was swept away." Could she even imagine it herself? How did one picture the sea raised up over the mountains, the great cities and fine fleets awash with froth and fishes. Did the land sink or the sea rise up? Did, as some have speculated, the world turn over, north for south?
As a storyteller she always did her best to describe this calamity but with each telling she felt a waning of passion and drama. A few of the words and phrases had probably survived for all of those centuries but how could one be sure. How are poor, sometimes obscure words to convey so monstrous an event?
"Poseidon rebelled, it is said. From The Great Beyond to Qemt he rolled upon the land, scourging it of all life. And then with ash and deadly fumes, he poisoned it all so that no woman could ever again grow crops or tease fish from the sea, or beg rain from the heavens." Those were the words, some of them.
"But the threefold goddess fought back. She raised her skirts and Poseidon, seeing the truth, fled back to his place. A pact was made. The sea agreed never to rise up in rebellion again, and the goddess gave him Tyros as a gift for the ocean's son, Baal-cain."
"I am named for Tyros, aren't I?" Tyrana asked, already knowing the answer. "Qemt is an old name for Great Africa, isn't it?"
The old woman nodded twice. "New people came to Kriti," she continued, "from the north. Damned sons of Acheus! They had heard of our greatness, but were not of it. From our ruins they rebuilt much, but, mindless of the truth, they made their own stories, fashioned after their own race ... forced on us." Both of them had seen ruined waterworks, bathing pools, interior walls covered with colored tiles depicting creatures of the sea and paintings immortalizing the epic dance with the Minoan bull. But no one knew, any longer, whether these marvels were simply old, or very old creations of the real Kritti. And now the Phoes seemed everywhere unchallenged.
Tyrana stirred uneasily. "But aren't we the daughters of these Danaans? Isn't it all ours?"
She glared at her ward for a moment then sighed. "Yes, clever one. It is our curse." Grandmothers were the source of the future and Tyrana had been told to expect a great task from this ancient woman with wrinkled skin and used up breasts. Whenever the new people were mentioned it foreshadowed something ominous. But recently, it was being whispered, even they were in serious decline. She made the butterfly spin again and waited for the words which would determine her destiny.
But the crone was not quite ready for that. She liked this particular member of her family, her adopted family, enjoyed the smooth vibrance of her athletic body, the budding breasts and her fearlessness. She was a special one, and the grandmother did not see very much of that any more.
"The scepter you hold is a rather classic example of the way the Achaeans twisted life. Plainly, it is a butterfly you hold, a symbol of change from buried egg to that which crawls to that which conquers the air, a creature of all three worlds."
"As the among bees." Bees and their hives had been sacred among the Kriti, in the earth as in heaven. Tyrana recited the mantra flatly, as People of the Hapi mentioned Ra, the sun. "Amen," they said, at the end of certain prayers. "Herak," certain Kriti said, for the same reason.
"Yes," answered the crone. "The New Ones saw something else in the butterfly, something of themselves. You know it?"
"Yes, Grandmother. The double-headed fighting-ax."
She nodded. "And that is the way of the world since long ago, when the seas rebelled."
It would come now, Tyrana thought. The path of her life would be shown to her. But not yet.
"You have pleased me, child." A toothless grin creased the ancient face. "You are quick to learn, and nimble. Did you not enter into the cleft of Mother Earth and share the wonders of the underworld?"
Tyrana nodded, for she had twice gone onto the holy mount and down into the sacred twisting caves where Ziu and Minos had been born.
"Have you not danced with the bull on three occasions? And now you wish to fly this last time."
"Yes. I must. Soon I will be a woman and it will be too late."
The grandmother smiled. Tyrana's body was growing fleshier and her bones, if type held true, would soon be dense and strong and heavy.
"It is seldom done anymore. Have you doubts about your preparation? Are your wings sufficient?"
"I think so." She patted the bundle beside her. "It is the best material, the finest wax of the finest hive."
The crone frowned. Charlatans and frauds would say such things to a child with the most beatific of faces. But even if they were honest, how would they know? Flying was a lost talent. She sighed. Not everything could be anticipated, else it could not be called adventure. "You will be wonderful, Tyrana. The goddess shall soar with you and be enchanted, for she seldom has a chance to bless us anymore. Thus she will become your patroness and guide your steps upon the earth."
There followed a long pause and Tyrana squirmed inwardly. Patience, she cautioned herself. Patience, as her grandmother had taught.
"Are you ready," intoned the old woman in a raspy, terrible voice, "to be the earthly home of a goddess?"
Few spoke the deity's name, for to speak it was to call her and such arrogance was never acknowledged. And yet they knew her name. Once all humans had known it, but in this dark time only women still yearned for protection under Tiamat, Diana, Nut or Nu, as the various languages rendered Danu-at. In the islands of the Great Green Sea, especially here on Kriti, she had always been called Herakat, goddess of the cats and serpents which protected granaries from rodents. Truly, this was a worthy deification and had been so these many millenniums. A small marble statuette of the goddess and other ritual tools waited in the shadows. Good health, even survival lived in her smooth, colorful image.
"Yes!" Tyrana replied.
"Then follow me," she said, taking the ancient scepter. In a far corner of the ruined temple they knelt before an alabaster cross, inlaid atop a pedestal in the stone floor and oriented toward the cardinal points of the world - north, south, east and west. Also understood were three other places; up, down and 'where you are'. Cupped into the stone was a small vessel where offerings were given. The painted marble goddess watched with approval.
"Give me your arm," ordered the crone, and when the girl complied, she quickly cut into it with a small, sharp knife. The design she carved was of seabirds as they hover above the waves.
Into each forearm the second of these chevrons were made and as the dark slow blood welled down over the wrists and fingers it dripped into the oblation bowl.
Tyrana felt no pain. If she survived she would offer her blood again and again, though in a woman's body. Now she watched with detachment as her mother's mother spoke of this offering to each of the world's directions, of the winds which ruled the sea and those which ruled the destiny of individuals and nations and races. Seven times she murmured a pledge and ended with the name "Herak."
When the bowl was full the priestess smeared her wounds with a black, tarry substance which caused fiery pain and both stemmed the flow of blood and marked the wounds proudly, indelibly, as one does badges of rank.
"Don't forget to honor every corner of the earth, my dear."
"I haven't, grandmother." She hardly felt the frail embrace.
Moments later, bundle under her arm, she marched out of the temple, down the broad, widely spaced steps of the main street, between stone houses built right out to the street, onto a broad flat terrace which overlooked the sea.
The ancient woman watched her go, marking the maturity in the girl's step. She sighed, sadly anticipating the one last secret Tyrana would have to learn. And soon.
Once this village had been a real town and when athletes came to honor the sea the town's king would have turned out. So would merchants and, from as far away as Mirsini and Gournia,
farmers and fishermen, and priestesses from great Knos. Then, of course, there would have been many girls, and also boys, to perform on the swirling breeze.
Today people peeked furtively from their windows and Mochlos had no queen or king. Those who bartered in the marketplace were poor, and at noon, took naps. And instead of a natural harbor full of boats laden with catches of fish, a fleet of warships crowded upon the protected shoreline, its warriors loading foodstuffs and sharpening weapons.
Once, centuries before, a narrow bridge of natural rock had risen out of the seabed and crossed the bay to a tall, slender point of an island. The athletes had marched, single file, out to
Pseria, and from there had offered themselves to the air and sea.
But that was long gone. Rebellious Poseidon had taken it, along with so many other things.
For Tyrana there was only a steep cliff jutting hundreds of feet above rocks and crashing surf. Far below, and well away from the dangerous shoreline, a small boat rode on the waves. In it was Tyrana's friend and co-conspirator, Mene, and it was she who would save Tyrana from drowning, if she could fly far enough.
Her wings had indeed been made of the finest Nile cotton, Hapi cloth, and coated with thin wax from the hives of the most diligent bees. It was a glorious color, like the sun when viewed from below, and azure, like the sea when seen from above.
She fastened it around her heels and across her ankles with strong cords. Rare feathers of the bennu bird, brilliantly multi-colored, were attached there. Already they fluttered on the stiff
breeze and she could see flashes of it reflecting in the sun.
Next she knotted it to her waist and felt the bottom half billow and strain like the sail of a fast ship. She secured it also between her legs, lest, in the rush of wind and water, it become unmanageable.
Finally, with some difficulty, she climbed into the shoulder harness, and tightly tied the ends of the cloth to her still bloody wrists. She made a rude loop for each hand and was ready. For long moments she stood facing the north in a silent, calming pledge. She saw the sea stretching forever until it folded back upon itself and became the sky. She felt the wind strain to lift her.
Quickly, as one approaches the onrushing bull, she stepped to the cliff's edge. She took a deep breath, shouted at the spirits of the north, spread her arms and launched herself into the void.
End of Chapter One