CHRONICLES

IN

PROGRESS,

VOLUME IV,

RETROSTAR

UNCHRONICLE OF THE HEAVENLY RUNEBOOK

Part II of the Heavenly Rune-book Chronicle in its entirety:

Taking of the Muslim Stronghold by Becca and his Allied Basques before his return home to take a wife

With victory, Becca is freed to return home to his own Dane-Mark or his newly adopted home north of it on the Holm River of the Norse-landers, whichever he prefers. His last task set him by Charles the Great concluded successfully, he can now retire with honors and considerable wealth, and go and take a good wife if he can find a suitable partner among the girls left behind.

The first part contains the concluding part as well, with the interlude of the Basque campaigns over with in Part II.

How much of you, Retrostar Challenger, is still like that self-centered snit, that middle-of-the-roader, Larry Prufrockski, Esquire? The Larry Prufrockskis of the world are everywhere, operating high and low in human society while promoting the so-called "Golden Mean" of medocrity. They like to think of themselves as middle-of-the-roaders, fair and balanced guys following what Horace the Golden Age Roman poet first called, "The Golden Mean." Hardly! In truth, there is no real golden mean in human reality, it is fool's gold that gleams along their lucite-paved path. If they have their way (and it seems they soon shall), humankind would still be contentedly gnawing the gristle off mammoth bones in a dark cave somewhere and sometime in the New Ice Age (see the recent news on MSN that they have just found dinosaur bones gnawed by mammals? MSN and science have just caught up with Retrostar!). That is what self-centered mediocrity ultimately brings. This is the fate that is now yawning, promising to engulf all humanity once again, as the world slips back from real diversity into the numbing mediocrity of socialized, equally structured, crystaline ice, ice.

Chronicle of the Unfurled Sail, Unquest of Larry Prufrockski, the Man Who Never Launched, A. S. 1986, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle, The Man Who Never Launched, Unchronicle of the Unfurled Sail, The Unquest of Larry Prufrockski, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle of the Man Who Never Launched," Part II, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle Conclusion, "The Man Who Never Launched," Vol. IV, RETROSTAR

The 22nd Century, the Crystal Age, just before the final crack-up of the infrastructure due to the Greek pandemic, a hitech, nano-cultured disease that attacked the latest state of the art technology and architecture, reducing it to a shapelss, cheeselike mass:

In the 23rd Century, Olson and Hodgkins, aboard the Atlantis II dirigible flying from Holland America to the Holy Land, with a stop-off at London, at one point could look straight down at the Bank of England, the treasure chest, thanks to Chillingsworth the Crystal Age's World Government ruler, that held most of the world's gold reserves even while most of the Northern Hemisphere was sinking rapidly back into the Stone Age due to Global Cooling. [What happened to "Global Warming" Prophet Al Gore? He and his hoax were exposed as a fraud and he vanished into ignominy, though two lines about his fraud and his swindling millions with it were preserved in a special C.I.A. file that listed national and international swindlers.]

For Chronicle Sixty-Two's Unchronicle I, in which Ero flies the Wally-programmed copper dome of the City of Destiny's old Union Train Station to 19th century Chicago just as the Uproarious Hog Butcher of the World erupts in the Great Chicago Fire, and next to the 21st century's dramatic debut with Puppet Master Osama bin Ladin's Muslim terrorists wreaking destruction on the World Trade Center, then a direct hit on the Pentagon, followed by a near take out of the White House, go to Unchronicle I.

CHRONICLE SIXTY-TWO, ANNO STELLAE 10,999, QUEST OF THE CYBERNAUTS

CHRONICLE SIXTY-TWO, PART II, Ero in Never-Never Land

In Wally's cyberspatial retirement plan gone awry, each ship is allowed three turbo thrusts in the Cybernaut game. To escape the pirates, who were waiting just on the other side of the Clashing Rocks, Captain Pikkard chose his option to escape with only the loss of his tail feathers. The White Ship reappeared in the South Sound, just off Point Defiance, Tacoma, or what was Tacoma in the 1970's before it was hit by a 9.7 killer quake that dropped the whole peninsula and outlying areas into a hole that nearly reached China.

Sent ashore to provision the ship and have a look around, the crew dispersed, glad to get to land and go find whatever fun is available in the port city. Ero went walking along the Ruston village beachfront, which had been a scene of liveliness decades earlier with lumberyards, boat-building, a fishing fleet marina, and busy docks lined with ships from all over.

Now it was deserted--as this city was stuck in virtual reality, with scarcely an inhabitant to hold down Fort Nisqually since it had been moved up to be the centerpiece of Point Defiance Park. He wandered around in the Park and looked in at Never Never Land, which included both Mother Goose Land (a children's area with nursery rhyme characters) and the old, reconstructed fort.

The palisaded fort was his first stop. There weren't any Indians or fort soldiers and officers, of course, not even in virtual reality (unless he arrived at the wrong time for a performance of a full-scale attack of Indians on the fort!), so he did not linger long.

It was Mother Goose Land that was populated with characters he now met for the first time, as they were English, beef eaters, not Greeks, goat and rice eaters.

He found and turned in at the bookish entrance to Mother Goose's enchanted territory, where soon he was to discover that these "Nursery Rhymes" were far more sophisticated than they first seemed. If Wally's helpful screened consoles and popups hadn't been available at every nursery rhyme exhibit he visited, he would have been at a total loss to understand any of them.

After stepping through the entrance, he encounters a big post full of markers to paths leading to a whole menagerie of Nursery rhyme book characters, which have been altered in some cases by Wally and even passing time and its vagaries. Some changes were good and worthy, others not so admirable. Crows, spiders, even worse things, moved in early on into the Works Projects Administration brainstorm, and when Wally got ahold of it, it had slightly exceeded expectations already in creating a fantasy children, and even some impressionable adults, could not easily forget.

Ero does not recognize the names, so he set off at random along the path leading to "Humpty Dumpty."

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king's horsemen and all the king's men

couldn't put Humpty together again!"

That's what Ero read on the old WPA board, the letters now showing weather, badly stained and the paint flaking off.

But his popup alerted him, and he found that Wally had something to say that Humpty might not have thought of, but which could be of use to Ero.

He read the new verses of the Wally-amplified nursery rhyme.

"No egg but a cannon to blow parliamentarians to smithereens--

"Humpty" set on top the Colchester church tower while a squad of royalists cooked their beans.

They didn't know what hit them-- but Humpty met his match, that day.

The top of Colchester church's tower was blown off, poor Humpty tumbled down all the way.

The crash was terrific, you could hear it a mile around,

and royalists scrambled to retrieve it, where it lay half sunk in the ground.

Alas! Twelve weeks less one they held Colchester Towne,

Yet Humpty would never be mended,

as a royalist blacksmith could not be found!"

Ero was completely puzzled, of course, like any Greek would be by this 400-pound Anglo-Saxon oddity. He had no idea whatsoever what these parliamentarians and the royalists were fighting about. All they seemed to have in common were cannons, powerful ones at that, and a determination to wipe each other out if they could! It appeared that the royalists lost the civil war, at least at Colchester. Did they lose the whole kingdom after that defeat? he wondered. He himself didn't seem to be the worse for it, however it turned out, so he saw no need to be concerned.

But Humpty himself, in his eggy-form, was very much alive.

"Not that intrigued by British politickings, I take it!" Humpty remarked chattily.

Ero nodded. "I never was much for English nursery rhymes, Sir. I am Greek, you see. We Hellenes have been around a lot longer than any Briton! We have plenty of our own tales and verses. You know, Aesop's Fables? Well, I loved those as a child! They wsere fed me with my mother's milk. And our famous heroes--Perseus, Jason, Achilles, Herakles, Hector, Aeneas--they were great stuff for me as a boy. I couldn't imagine life without them. But eggs that are really cannons used in a civil war--well, that is a bit too much of a stretch of imagination for a plain Greek like me. Can you explain why it should matter to me, sir, what happens to a cannon that looks like an egg-man? It is nothing but silly stuff and nonsense!"

Humpty looked less grim, and more than a little indignant. "Really! You are a bit condescending for a little Greek, aren't you? It should be the other way round. We Brits rule the world, don't you know, something you Greeks never quite achieved from your little pond of the Aegean Sea! And I am not an 'egg-man,' as you describe me. I am perfectly human in every respect! Perfectly human! Michaelangelo's first study for his statue of David in Florence--if I have to say so myself. It is you that looks most odd a specimen in my estimation!"

"No, I don't know that you Brits rule the world!" Ero retorted, a bit annoyed himself at the Egg's tone, which sounded to him a bit testy and arrogant. "But I do know that we Greeks ruled it, for quite a long time too--don't you remember Alexander the Great? Come now! Whom can you name of your country that compares to him?"

"Harumph, where would I start? Harumph, where would I end? We have plenty such fellows as your bloody Alex! Everybody knows the sun never sets on the British Empire! That's how big we are--er, I admit the Empire isn't all what she used to be, and has shrunk a bit more than we like these days, but we ought to be given some modicum of respect for that, ah, accomplishment! What do you say to that, boy? Where is the respect due us, the British Empire, I mean, from you colonials?"

Ero stared at the Egg-Man for a moment. "I am not your colonial and really don't know why I am speaking to the likes of you. According to my instructions, you aren't an egg at all, you are really supposed to be a cannon that was damaged in a fall from the Colchester church tower. Just because someone from the WPA made an Egg-Man character out of you and set you in Mother Goose's Land, you needn't take on airs and think yourself a cut above a Greek and carry a chip on your shoulder. Can't you just sit there and let it pass, whatever I think of you-- after all, need I remind you, I am the visitor, you are the exhibit. I came for a good time, not a lecture on manners from the exhibit!"

"'Exhibit! Indeed!'" the Egg-Man snorted as he rocked back and forth. "I never heard the like before! What an outrage to a gentleman's sensibilities! Is this what we've come to in civilized society? Must we pillars, the old guard and soldiers of the Realm, be insulted by a mere puppy of a boy like you?--and a foreigner at that!"

The huffing and puffing Egg-Man nearly fell from the wall, he was so indignant by now. And he wasn't finished with Ero either. "By the way, you rude, little fellow," he contined. "Do you always go about without a hat, coat, tie, trousers, the proper hose, spats, gaters and tails? It is disgraceful! Cover yourself up, boy! Look at me! I am most properly attired, as you can see, and I am only an 'exhibit,' as you so vulgarly put it. At least we Brits, unlike you low-bred Greeks, have enough sense of dignity to dress properly licwhen going about in pub, whereas--"

At this point Ero felt he had enough of the pontificating Egg-Man, who was wheezing and short of breath and seemed about to fall off his perch. Not wanting to converse any longer with such a ridiculous stuffed shirt, he turned away.

"Now just a minute, come back, young man! come back! I'm not finished with you! I've got more things to say--" Humpty shouted, but Ero kept going anyway.

"Such shameless, bad manners in these ignorant, little colonials!" the Egg-Man remarked. "He just walked off when I was speaking, without so much as a tip of the hat! Such cheek! Well, that's an American for you! Manners are entirely lost on such barbarians and ruffians! No wonder we turned them out of the Empire--they would have been the ruin of it!"

Ero felt he was standing on something while the Egg-Man was huffing and puffing at him, and so he bent down and felt, and found a board sunk in the grass. He pulled it out, and the thick black letters were still readable.

"WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU, SOMEONE HAS STOLEN HUMPTY DUMPTY. IF YOU SEE HIM, OR KNOW WHERE HE IS, PLEASE CALL 535-HUMP. A REWARD IS OFFERED."--PARK SERVICE

What a job that would be, lifting this 400-lb. Egg-Man without breaking him and then getting him off the property! He must have had some awful experiences, yet acted like a conceited ass so stuck on himself. But something came of the strange encounter. Ero was extremely curious to discover where reality and the WPA ended and the fantasy took over. Was it all fantasy, sheer make-believe, was he in a world of its own? How could he tell what was real anymore? He had to try to find out if he could. He spotted a castle beyond the Egg-Man's wall. Was it real or a fake? This sort of question suited a Greek more than any other question. This would be just the thing to check out, he thought.

Pfui! he thought, stepped behind a wall of the castle. The whole thing was an ingenious but hollow, painted set-up, he saw. The WPA had gone to great lengths to make everything so real that it fooled him from a distance. Why, even that Egg-Man had seemed real, talking like he did--though he had to be made of cardboard with a recorded voice and soundtrack coming from inside it. This was a great relief. Now he felt more sure of himself, for he knew he was real, but all this around him, certainly wasn't! Knowing this for sure, he could take whatever unplesantness might lie ahead, since he now knew it wasn't anything real to be concerned about.

He was still standing there, wondering where he should go next, or whether he should just take the shortest trail out and back to the City of Destiny, when the loudspeaker system crackled to life.

Ero heard someone manhandling a crackling microphone, then a voice, "Testing, one-two-three-four-

if you think this is too loud,

then don't get sore.

It was too loud, but the voice continued, singing.

"Hey, this is Matthews Washington Nesby your pal and friend

--you can have my shovel, pick, paintbrush, hammer and nails!

I now workin' for the old Navy, which like Uncle Sam never fails!

Sorry I can't work with you to the end!

I'm gonna sail, I gotta ship,

If ya'll don't like it, I don't care a flip!"

Hey, like that rhyme of mine? I worked hard on that one to record it for the loudspeaker system! Ya'll deserve that much from old Nesby. Well, I enlisted in the Navy, and I'll be leavin' here and you won't see me come next shift. Say a prayer for me, I gotta go fight the bloody little Nips who done us bad at Pearl Harbor--"

The loudspeaker crackled, sent out ear-splitting, high-pitched shrieks, and then went dead.

Ero rubbed his ears, then left the WPA's fake castle. He decided he would still look around a bit more. Continuing on his tour of Never-Never-Land and Mother Goose, he came next to a girl sitting by herself, eating something he couldn't imagine any girl in her right mind would want to touch--something that looked like--well, Greek goat yogurt that had gone bad!

Was she real? She seemed to be! He was watching her consume the spoiled yogurt with a big wooden spoon, and feeling queasy, his stomach about to turn over, when he saw a spider run up to her. What happened next was to be expected, the girl screamed in a hollow, somewhat cavernous baritone and ran off, scattering the bowl and its putrid contents.

Again, there was a WPA (Works and Parks Administration) board with the nursery rhyme inscribed on it in fading, flaking letters:

"Little Miss Muffett,

sat on a tuffet,

eating her curds and whey.

Along came a spider and sat down beside her,

and frightened Miss Muffett away."

Ero read the rhyme, which he hadn't seen before, and it meant nothing to him, of course. But again, the Wally-popup on the screen tried to be helpful:

"NO CERTAIN MEANING KNOWN. MEDIA LIBRARY ARCHIVES SUGGEST THE POSSIBLE ASSOCIATIONS AND MEANINGS:

The reason MISS MUFFETT screams and runs off is apparent by the looks of her uninvited GUEST, who happened to be a governor of the PROVINCE when it was a province of the COUNTRY in question.

Ero saw the highlighted words and clicked on each in turn.

MISS MUFFETT turned out to be: the horrified electorate, that learned too late what scandals and corruption riddled the whole administration that they had voted into office.

GUEST was the loathsome, money-grabbing spider-governor, Garry Locke, who headed the administration that was sucking the blood out of the electorate with an elaborate system of bribes, pay-offs, kickbacks, excessive taxes, runaway spending, diversion of public monies to private bank accounts and rewards to political cronies and groups that had helped him get elected.

PROVINCE was Washington State in the COUNTRY, the now defunct Federal Union of the United States of America.

Ero clicked on HOME, and the popup snapped back. "Well, that explained the old English nursery rhyme," he thought. Why should he care about the piggish and priggish Miss Muffett and her problems though? Greeks had their own corrupt governments. Their governments had always been corrupt to the core. It was nothing new. They had the Turks once to deal with too, making everything infinitely worse, a fragment of hell. At least now, the monsters in office were their own! That was something at least to be thankful for, even if there was never any improvement in the government, and the country was always on the verge of bankruptcy and chaos.

Again, he reminded himself that Miss Muffett was just a cardboard or paper mache mannequin, with a soundtrack and voice pre-recorded on big 78's and and set to play whenever a visitor showed up at her site.

Now what else was there to see. He looked around, and couldn't miss the mountain covered over with glowing lollipops. They glowed all the more as the lights suddenly dimmed to night, intentionally or not.

But he didn't want to remain there, and started to run through the scene, hoping he would find the path that led him out of Mother Goose territory and back to the main gate.

What a land of variety Mother Goose supervised! he marveled, even as he was trying to leave it. The lights flickered, then cut off completely, except that the fluorescent props shone to greater advantage without background lighting and floodlights. Here he saw a cat playing a fiddle, a little dog laughing, and a cow jumped the moon--all in sight of Big Rock Candy Mountain!

Then, even more crazy, a Cookie-Man dashed by him.

What was that? he wondered. He followed to find out. It took a burst of speed for him to catch the fellow, who was anxious to keep ahead of a flock of hungry, big black crows.

But Ero could see the Gingerbread Man's destiny would be a short one. He wouldn't last very long with all those crow birds hot on his tasty backside!

He next encountered someone very different, not so likeable. It was like watching Miss Muffett making a pig of herself on spoiled yogurt!

After viewing the conceited little Jack Horner make a pig of himself with his plum pie, Ero walked on and saw how wretched the crows made life for the Gingerbread Man. They literally pecked him to pieces, and by the time Ero got to him, it was too late, he had been completely devoured by the flock. Was that the end of the Gingerbread Man? No! Somewhere the WPA had a cookie cutter that still worked, and it produced a perfect copy, which took up where its predecessor left off, running hither and thither in Mother Goose's domain until the crows caught up with him and took him also down.

"That's the mistake of being too edible in this world!" Ero thought, as he observed the latest Gingerbread Man torn apart by the vicious crows.

It was a horrid sight, even if there was nothing that could be done for the sweet little Gingerbread guy. Where could he run to find safety? He was trapped in Mother Goose Land, which was the only world he knew. Round and round it went, with the same result each time. It was nothing but a circular nightmare that never ended. Only the greatest fool would want to change places with the Gingerbread Man, he thought.

To get it out of his mind, Ero continued walking down this lane and that. He came to a pleasant country scene, very much like farm country.

Now who could he be? he wondered. Wally's popup was again helpful:

"Little Boy Blue,

come blow your horn.

The sheep's in the meadow,

the cow's in the corn.

Where is the boy who looks after the sheep?

He's under a haycock, fast asleep.

Will you wake him? No, not I.

For if I do, he's sure to cry."

Ero took a closer look at Little Boy Blue under the haycock. Really? Would he cry and shed real-looking fake tears if he waked him? Should he test the rhyme out?

Ero couldn't help himself. He reached out and prodded the sleeping shepherd boy, who should have been awake to protect the corn and watch the sheep but was dozing soundly, as if the whole world could go by and he had no care for it whatsoever!

It startled him when Little Boy Blue's eyes popped open, saw Ero, and didn't cry exactly but began quoting Thomas Wolsey to the effect things were not going so well for him. Now Thomas Wolsey was a notable figure of the distant past Ero knew nothing about, but who cared to mourn with him that he had put all his eggs in life in the wrong basket? What in the world did a shepherd boy like this have to do with a man called Thomas Wolsey who had made some kind of bad investment?

Ero consulted Wally's Library immediately, and he was led to various sites with information on Thomas Wolsey.

He found among the items this anonymous portrait of the great Lord Chancellor of England:

"My, oh, my! He was a fighter,

one hat red, the other York's mitre.

He was not only churchman,

but verily the king's right hand.

Not fish, not fowl, his powers combined

mix't fear and hell into the writs he signed.

Lord Chancellor, he was kept very busy

and knocked the English Nation into a tizzy.

Henry VIII gave him loose rein,

you might say it was Wolsey's reign.

A wizard with his courts and tax,

gold and silver stuffed his sacks.

He built a palace fit for kings,

forgetful that man's fortune swings.

One day he may dine on gilt,

but on the morrow his blood is spilt.

Henry--in trouble with Pope--had had enough

of Wolsey and his pearly cuff.

He took Hampton palace, gave Wolsey gaol,

the kind with no reprieve or bail.

But on the way poor Wolsey croaked,

disillusionment-soaked.

Matthew Sixteen rang his death knell--

he knew it, he knew it, quite well!

No wonder he turned so sad and blue!

The fowler jerked, Tom's spent soul came due!"

After seeing this, Ero realized there was a lot more to these simple nursery rhymes than he first thought! A motor-mouthed egg-man that was really a cannon in a big civil war...a shepherd boy in blue pants and jacket that was really the Lord Chancellor on his way to prison--only he died en route. What was next? Would there be anything like what he had just seen-- a great man's downfall after serving his king, enriching him and himself, only to have everything taken away and himself arrested and sent to the Tower of London?

But nursery rhymes have great variety, he found. Anything was possible with them.

The next character was seemingly just the opposite from Little Boy Blue, he discovered. Unlike Thomas Wolsey, the little maiden with the huge bonnet and dark, saucer-like eyes wasn't dozing at a critical moment, unaware of the forces that were about to pounce and sweep him away forever. No, she was very much awake, and frightened too. What was making her so upset?"

He read the old WPA board that he found lying down on the ground in the tall grass.

Oh, is that all? he thought. The girl lost her sheep!

"This is ridiculous. Am I supposed to care about that? Shepherds are always losing their sheep, aren't they? They do on Seriphos! Sheep are fools and love to wander--they always will. It's their nature to wander and get themselves in all kinds of trouble!"

The popup helped him out with the information that a 1927 silent film was one of the last made by the famed pioneer filmmaker, Griffiths, with the Gish sisters starring and featuring various nursery rhyme characters including Miss Bopeep. It had been a smash hit for seven straight months at the Broadway movie houses, and another film along the same lines was planned but all the silents in production were suddenly cut one dark day when the Talkies came. That was in 1929, transforming the movie industry instantly overnight. The Gishes, silent screen heroines who had already made millions, lost more than sheep in the transition and also the Wall Street crash. From then on, like hundreds of other silent film stars, they had to be content with bit parts in Talkies, or become complete Has-Beens--the very worst thing that could happen to celebrities. Aging actors and actresses, living in cheap hotels and decaying Catskill resorts, their costumes gathering dust and moths in trunks and empty brandy bottles thrown under the bed--horrible!

Well, the Roaring Twenties cinema and its stars, silent or talkie, was interesting to Ero the Cybernaut, but he didn't quite know what to think about silent movie actresses, these quaintly dressed, look-alike Gish sisters, for example. What if he spoke to Miss Bopeep? he wondered. What would she tell him? Would it just be more nonsense rhyme, more of which he had already heard?

He caught up with her, curious to find out how she might react.

Was she a mindless doll? She certainly looked like one. But the WPA had done a great job, and Miss Bopeep turned to face him when he called her name.

"Yes?" she said in a tiny, childlike voice. "I heard you and your sister lost your careers in the movies, I mean, when sound pictures came in. Wasn't that a hard thing for you to deal with back then, Miss?"

Miss Bopeep's eyes widened, if they could widen anymore. Her mouth, a rosebud, nearly disappeared as she considered what he had just said, and her forehead showed a crease as if she were thinking very, very hard.

Then a brilliant smile flashed at him from her eyes, without any teeth showing, however, just that tiny red, rosebud mouth of hers.

"Oh, not at all! Lilian and I had such a smashing good time. Where is Lilian anyway? She has to be backstage waiting for me. She's my stand-in, when my feet get tired, you know. And when I take my turn at stand-in, I do the same for her, and our producers never seem to know the difference just which one is doing the acting! Well, as I was saying, we both realized this fun we had making films couldn't last forever. Nothing ever does, does it? So when we weren't wanted anymore as leading stars, we did the next best thing and applied for bit parts. All the producers in New York and Hollywood knew we were experienced at acting and could carry our lines without stumbling and forgetting, so they didn't mind using us, despite our names being so famous, more famous still than the actors in those films they were making with sound in them. Often, we took parts with no names attached, just walk-ons, just in order to keep working.

Yes, some younger actors and actresses resented us having become big stars long before them, but they soon got used to us, and saw we simply adored making movies with the gang, whether we made any more money or not-- that wasn't really our intention anyway, as both Lilian and I had plenty to last us, and then some, even if we both lived to be 100!

She took a few girlish, mincing steps toward him, then stopped. Her eyes widened.

But who are YOU, dear boy with all the questions? I don't believe we ever met. And what character are you playing, pray tell? I can't place you at all in the script. Are you a stand-in for somebody? Are you sure you are on the right set? This production is 'Mother Goose Goes to the City of Destiny.' It's a sequel to 'Mother Goose Goes to Washington,' I think. Well?"

"My name is Ero," he said. "No, I am not a stand-in. I have never been through here before. You see, I am a visitor."

At first she stared at him blankly. Then she reacted, all of a sudden very talkative and lively. "A visitor? But we don't have 'visitors'! You mean you just wandered onto the set like this? Who gave you permission to do that? And what sort of name is that? 'Arrow'? I never heard the like, except I recall an 'Arrowsmith', or something like that in men's haberdashery. How very strange! I had my doubts you were on the right set!" she declared.

"We don't have 'visitors' on Mr. Griffiths's sets. Imagine such a thing! How could we get any work done! His epic, "Birth of a Nation" drew loads of looky-yous, but Mr. Griffiths had been quite stern and made sure they didn't interfere, else he could have never gotten it done? Now I really suspect you don't belong here, Mr. Arrow! You take yourself off immediately, or Mr. Griffiths will hear about it surely, and send the Pinkertons to escort you off!"

When he didn't move immediately, she remembered that there was a list somewhere that could prove if he belonged or not, if she could remember where she had last seen it. She had to find out if he was truly an actor on the Mother Goose production or was a walk-on tourist trying to rub elbows with famous movie stars--they had plenty of such nuisances invading the lots in Hollywood and didn't need any more.

She fumbled in her bag, which she pulled from behind some fake hollyhocks, and the script fell out of her hand, and the list she was searching for flew in a different direction.

Ero quickly scooped both items up and handed them to her.

She smiled again, curtseyed in an old-fashioned way, then excused herself. "Sorry, I treated you so rudely, young man. I was so surprised to have to deal with an intruder, I mean, a 'visitor' on the set. But I don't have time to check your odd little name! I really must be going! The director will be angry if I don't keep playing my part to the end. I can't risk being put out to pasture--not at my age, as I'd never get hired back once I left. And darling Lilian would kill me if I got us both sacked, that is, so I mustn't delay any longer. Adieu!"

Ero watched the little worrywort run off, pause dramatically to shade her eyes with a hand, and then call with the other gloved hand cupped to her rosebud voice--soundlessly--to her lost sheep in the meadow.

It was all done so dramatically, as if a piece of sculpture were moving, and it fascinated him to see her old-fashioned acting style performed with such perfection.

Apparent to him, this little aging but still eternally girlish star of the silent screen loved her bit part and was content to play it forever, exchanging places with her look-alike sister in the wings whenever she felt like a rest.

"Well, let her play the part then, silly as it is!" he thought. There had to be more to life than being big-eyed and running around looking for lost sheep in a land of make-believe, wasn't there? Who was there, besides himself, to admire her acting ability anyway? He didn't see anyone connected with the production staff around. The director and producer, Mr. Griffiths, where was he? Or her sister Lilian? She seemed to be the only actress on this part of the set. Nobody was even filming it!

Ero continued walking. He came to a strange scene--rail tracks and a little railway car fashioned like a washtub that ran on the rails, with the main character, Jack, flying overhead on wires and little wheels and pulleys.

Roosevelt's Works Projects Administration (WPA) board had been blown over and destroyed in a storm, it appeared to Ero, but Wally's popup on a screened console that appeared there beside him filled in promptly:

"Jack, be nimble,

Jack, be quick.

Jack, jump over the candlestick.

Jack jumped high,

Jack jumped low.

Jack jumped over

and burnt his toe!

Somehow a local tradesman called Banana Republic got its word in too, announcing a sale on men's pants, the same brand that Jack was wearing.

Wally's popup of a yellow Questionmarked HELP on the screen referred him to RUB-A-DUB-DUD for the identities of the three men. So he hit the highlighted word and the rhyme came up:

"Rub-A-Dub-Dub,

Three Men in a tub.

And how do you think they got there?

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker--

They all jumped out of a rotten potato!

It was large enough to make a fish stare."

Ero looked again at the scene, then thought he recognized the three men in the tub, though they were all sleeping, or stone drunk. No wonder Jack was jumping over the candle in the rhyme, the Candle Stick Maker crammed in with the other two characters.

But where or what was the fish? he wondered. And there was no sign of a rotten potato either.

Poor Jack, even if he was wearing Banana Republic's pants, all he got was a burnt toe!

He tried Wally's HELP again for any more references, and was immediately presented with ROTTEN POTATO and FISH and TOE FRAGMENT DISCOVERED FROM LOST STATUE OF LADY LIBERTY.

"I'm in luck!" he thought. The mystery would soon be explained.

Rhymes came with ROTTEN POTATO, one of a number of more modern nursery rhymes that children were singing long after the events, without any understanding of course what they were really about. It just amused them to sing about a rotten potato named Nancy.

"Ms. Nancy Pelosi is a rotten potato.

She puts out for big union guys, you know.

Don't wake them up, they earned their rest.

They rode her rails--tsk, tsk--and did their best."

Ero didn't know who this "Nancy Pelosi" was, so it meant nothing to him.

He tried Wally's HELP again.

HELP drowned him with screen after screen of rapidly scrolling dope on Ms. Pelosi. Nancy had been a 21st century liberal Congresswoman and a radical activist for all sorts of shady causes that always served her interests first. Becoming "Speaker of the House" after years of wheeling and dealing, she lay in bed with unions and with extreme activist groups and even Muslim jehadists--for she was a "reconstructionist," a socialist or Leninist, determined to make over the constitutional republic of her country into a socialist paradise that would support her high among the super wealthy governing elite while reducing the mass of people to cringing, dependent wards of the all-powerful State.

Ero didn't like the Speaker- Woman's description from these details. Speaker-Woman claimed to be a loving grandmother, but she was so cruel as a witch at heart, to rob her own people (and her own descendants TOO)of all their freedom just so she could gain immense power and money and prestige while she was in office. As a Greek who loved freedom more than life, he could not help but abhor such a low creature, who sold everyone down the river to serve her own interests and her party's.

That was enough Grubstreet politics of the 21st century for Ero! He was Greek, a nation famed for clean, sharp lines, not foggy grays. Oh, certainly, old as it was, Greece had long-standing problems with self-serving politicos of its own to deal with, so he didn't need those from this no longer existing country called the United States of America! But evenso, Greek crooks stood out in sharp contrast, they couldn't be disguised because of the clarity that surrounded them--such a contrast with the 21st century's crooks, who merged one with the other, a clot of sameness and mediocrity with only one passion: getting more wealth and power, no matter how many people had to suffer for them. Sucking parasites, they finally sucked their host white of all its vital juice, then they started on each other, and finally at the end there was nothing but drying husks of parasites littering the barren landscape! Oh! he thought. Couldn't they see what was coming? Didn't they care? Apparently not! All they could think about was sucking, sucking, sucking, till they had sucked out the last drop of blood from their host's veins. Vampires all, they never changed.

The scene shifted to something very different with FISH, fortunately, as Nancy Pelosi's scene left a bad taste in his mouth.

So how about FISH?

Another rhyme from the HELP icon: "'Fishy, fishy,

in my dishy!'"--

sings Sally, that saucey servant wench.

I eat her fish,

clean up the dish,

and Jack in scullery does the wash-y.

That seemed innocent enough to Ero, but a HELP WORD, MOSQUE, popped up.

It gave him:

"A mosque on Ground Zero deseves a zap.

Mayor Bloomberg okayed it,

but he's a sap.

Firefighters, policemen,

they know the cost

when over three thousand lives were lost.

They didn't die by some mistake.

It was all planned out, for Allah's sake.

Islam has a darker side,

It lays a trap, Obama lied.

Hooked and drawn to your defeat,

you've no one to blame, but the elite.

They eat their fish, and throw the bones,

and dance in the ballroom while the beggar moans.

Betrayed and beaten, no house, no job,

you voted for leaders who know how to rob.

It's too late now to turn it around,

your country is now wholly socialist-bound."

Well, what about TOE? He thought he could do no worse than he had already done.

"When Iranian missiles struck New York,

and hit capitals across Europe in a lightning strike,

Obama was lifting a champagne cork,

and naked riders in Seattle cruised downtown on a bike.

Those clouds took some time to dissipate,

and while doing so sealed Western Civilization's fate.

As glaciers receded in the long ages ahead,

and nothing was remembered, so nothing was said,

a simple Toe, giantess-sized, washed up on a beach,

and if it could speak, a lesson it could teach--"

'Don't be fools, like us who burned,

we threw away Wisdom, what our Founders had learned.

We made our own rules, and laughed at the thought

that we had enemies, and that we could be bought.

Oh, they bought us for sure, and then foreclosed,

and bought armies in while our sentries dozed.

After the EMP, they pulled the net trip,

and by the fowler we were taken, just like Ismay's ship."

"Ismay's ship?" he wondered. He hit SEARCH. That gave him Lord Bruce Ismay, owner and director of the White Star Line that built and launched the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912.

As for "EMP," he found that meant "electro-magnetic pulse." Also, that was supposed to destroy all electrics in a nation when a plutonium bomb, carried by a missile, was expoded above it--producing the 19th century.

My, he was certainly learning a lot, he thought, but he decided to go on, as he was spending too much time on these items, and needed to complete the tour of Mother Goose Land.

This looked like trouble in the making to Ero--three mice-like creatures dressed in little suits running away from a giant Crooked Neck squash made into a quaint bungalow.

Here was a WPA sign that had escaped the ravages of weather and time:

"Three blind mice,

see how they run!

They all ran after a farmer's wife

who cut off their tails with a carving knife!

Did you ever see such a sight in your life

as three blind mice?"

No, he hadn't!--as a matter of fact.

Ero looked around, but no farmer's wife appeared to cut off the mice's tails.

Not that he wanted to see this part happen! But the mice went through their role in the story anyway, and ran from the squash-house belonging to the farmer as though his wife were pursuing them with a big knife.

He turned to the unfailing, faithful little Wally via the screened console.

Wally first gave him, surprisingly enough, WALLY:

Ero clicked WALLY. "Iranian whistleblower in early 21st century. Classified information from secret service files that was later declassified, identifies the mice in the well-known nursery rhyme as a volunteer informant in the mullah-run dictatorship of a certain Iranian regime. Taking the name Wally, he fed information to the Americans for years about the secret attack plans of Iran, which targeted European capitals and Israel and the Persian Gulf emirates and states. One of his messages: 'RED ALERT! REPEAT. RED ALERT! They are going to attack with a pre-emptive strike, it is certain! An electro-magnetic pulse, generated by a plutonium explosion high over the American Midwest, will be the means to render the whole country powerless to defend itself, and at that time Iran and her allies will send in their attack forces from the north and south, east and west, simultaneously in order to overwhelm any tracking agencies that are still able to detect incoming objects.'"

Really? Ero thought. But did they ever catch the mouse and his two friends? The rhyme wasn't very encouraging. And that farmer's wife! She certainly had a cruel streak to her! Did she represent those mullahs that ran Iran? Evidently, and knife-wielding mullahs did not promise a particularly nice ending to the story of the fleeing mice.

But HELP could not furnish him with any more data on the Wife directly, as the files had not survived that could tell him the secret agent's end, whether good or bad. Instead, the CROOK-NECKED SQUASH came up, taking him yet another direction with a set of verses called:

"The Pumpkinification of Governor Gregoire,"

"The Crook-Necked Pumpkin swelled orange and mostly round

admidst eco-green vines that choked the ground.

This goddess springs forth at birth,

no shell for Venus but plain earth.

Tractors pull her hybrid car

covered with crepe to where the Fair crowds are.

ACORN bands with pot plants twirled

escort Christine in parsley swirled.

'O Queenie of Hope and Change for all!'

intones a priest in the Progressive-packed hall.

'Bless thou our diverse society,

and crush all right-wing extremists from Spokane to sea!

Reign over this thy paradise,

no ethics here, no morals, just lies.

Sell hard stuff in state-run stores,

thanks to Her Majesty the booze tax pours.

Yes, on Sunday too, that's her law;

You say DUI's took your ma and pa?

Dry your tears, child! Drink Christine's Reserve Beers,

and just be glad Comeuppance nears!'--

"Well, they hauled him away,

he's lost his mind.

He'll get sensitivity-training and a

very stiff fine.

Judgment Day's coming for the Crooked Pumpkin,

She'll not talk her way out of a single sin.

Good riddance! he thought, looking at a picture of Ms. Christine Gregoire still in her salad days as another of Washington State's party hacks and crooked governors. That mask-like, strained face of hers-- that practiced smile--she evidently had to wear it to keep from being seen for what she really was.

He decided to move on to something more pleasant if possible, and he came to a big clock, the kind once seen on street corners outside downtown jewelry shops. He had to wonder how long it had been stopped at that particular time, and why no one had come to fix it.

Curious about it, since everything here seem to have a story to it, he turned to Wally. HELP produced:

TITANIC and DOOMSDAY CLOCK.

He was surprised, for he knew that was the name of an old ship that sank a long time ago in the north Atlantic. Was this clock taken from the ship? he wondered.

The verses that Wally supplied from an anonymous source gave him more information:

"Mark the time, when this ship shook,

when star and ice produced a hook,

a cruel thing that struck its prey, by thousands drowned, on the seabed lay.

There the rich man, there the poor,

there the boilerman under a watertight door.

Is that the captain that went down with his ship?-- right next to a champagne glass with a ratfish at its lip?

There the sucker, there the card sharp,

there the cards scattered across a gaily striped tarp.

Deck chairs, Parisian gowns, toilets and jewels, all tossed in a salad with wise men and fools.

There's no such thing as a lesson learned.

Nothing is gained when a finger is burned.

Man's other parts will yet be hazarded,

experience is scorned, when all is done and said.

They perished in vain, and are voicelessly crying,

"Take your flowers away,

they scorch us, for dying.

What happened to us will happen to you!

Go mind your own folly, you'll reap your fate too.

Just mark the great Clock that stopped with our lives--

that Clock chimed for you as well as Dives!"

Who, or what, was "Dives"? He had to go to HELP again. And Wally gave him: CHRIST'S PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN.

Ero clicked it.

"Dives was rich and lived most swell,

he never gave one thought to hell.

Whate'er he wished, he could afford,

in his vaults his gold was stored.

A poor old man lay outside his gate,

while Dives dined until very late.

The banquet over, he went off to bed, while the old man outside groaned unfed.

Lazarus was his name, and dogs his friends,

the only comforters misfortune sends.

They licked his sores, warmed him at night,

that was all they could do until it grew light.

Another day dawned, but Lazarus had died,

the dogs howled for him, whimpered and sighed.

Angels came and took his soul in hand,

and brought him to his loving Father Abraham.

There he was comforted for years of pain,

when outside Dives' iron gate, suffering, he had lain.

Dives died, but found himself in fire,

in darkness and heat like a funeral pyre.

He lifted his eyes and saw a beautiful scene,

flowers, trees, and grass--what could it mean?

He looked again, and then cried most amazed,

"Why, that's old Lazarus!" Or was his wits dazed?

Yet it was he, the beggar he knew,

who dirtied his gate and spoiled the view.

Why should he be in such a nice place,

such a horrible creature, with sores on his face!

Then he saw next the beggar, his arm round him fast,

Father Abraham who all good souls eternally hast.

"Am I in hell? Was I so bad?" thought Dives? I never killed anyone, just beat my wives!

Plenty men I knew deserved such a fate,

but this beggar--how can he paradise rate?

He called out to Abraham across a deep pit,

so deep, so wide, none ever crossed it.

"Father Abraham, cool my tongue, I thee pray. It burns, scorched black, all the long day!"

"Nay, son," said Abraham, "that cannot be.

You lived for yourself, with every luxury.

You closed your heart to the poor at your door.

And now you've become like one huge burning sore."

"Yes, that's true, but go send and warn my close kin,

lest they too continue in their sin.

My brothers--surely, they will listen to you,

please warn them not to come here, if they ever knew!"

"But they won't listen--they scorned prophets sent.

God's warnings rejected, they'll never repent." So that was the last time they ever spoke.

The nightmare continued--Dives' clock had broke.

"Life's clock broken, forever stuck? Fifteen after the stroke of eleven, endless, endless bad luck?" he thought, falling into the easy rhymning habit. Nothing ever changed for the better then! It couldn't change? Ero shivered at the ghastly thought of endless, unchanging misery as he finished the parable. Hades, where Dives had ended up--what a terrible place to wake up in!

He had seen some awful places in his life, but what happened to the selfish rich man was worse--and it was the result of his own choices, apparently.

Yet he soon found he was mistaken if he thought there was nothing that approached Dives' torment. As he walked further on, he soon came to a scene of terror and destruction beyond anything he had yet witnessed. A whole city was engulfed in flames mounting high into the sky!

It didn't make the scene any more pleasant being neighbored by the Old woman living in the house-sized Shoe with her huge family. An entire city was perishing in agony before his eyes! A popup told him what city too--the "Emerald City." He looked for more information and found plenty, which seemed all based on crimes of one kind or another. Murder, rape, violence, greed, corruption of the government, gangs, prostitution, drug addiction... the crimes were too many to count. Arson was one crime that involved them all. The city spawned pyromaniacs, who often were environmentalists, strangely enough. They wanted to make an Animal Planet without humanity and human civilization. It mattered nothing to them how many people suffered or died because of their burnings. Humanity to them was a cancer on the planet and needed to be surgically removed--and so they set fires wherever they could.

He turned around so he didn't have to see it, struck out in another direction, and found himself surrounded by thick woods.

He wanted to know, nevertheless, what city this could be, if only to avoid it if he possibly could! Wally's programming was helpful once again, and gave him, "SEATTLE" to click on.

What came up explained what Seattle, the Emerald City so-called, was all about, as he read:

A Northwest city has no shame,*

She flaunts her sins to make a name.

Old Nineveh is cast in shade

By the transvestites' motorcade.

Queens dressed by gay couturiers

Give passers-by free obscene tours.

2

Our Sodom on the Du-wam-ish**

Has everything that hell could wish.

Crowds of jaded cosmopolites

Break up Bumpershoots with fights.***

Police are bashed if they step in;

The papers brand them "brutal men."

3

These sybarites respect no law,

They want the jungle, tooth and claw.

Gamble, drink, sex, drugs too,

Then march for "Peace", and riot on cue.

Mayor, police chief, and city council

Prove powerless against mob will.

They fear this scum beneath their feet

Will rise and vote their sure defeat.

4

There's only one philosophy:

It's "What I want to do," you see.

Blame the woman who's axed to death,

It's not your fault you're high on meth.

Go wine and dine on the Mystery Train;

It's "fun" to stab, then plead "insane."

The same who protest McDonald's meat

Will chew a carrot and sushi eat.

They wouldn't think to call it rape

Whenever they assault a grape.

Countless vegies, alfalfa sprouts

Are slain to feed these "caring" louts.

Non-dairy latte? A liquid carcass--

Soy that's killed with a caffein buzz.

5

Infanticide is "mother's right,"

Moloch's courts have won the fight.****

It's okay, conceive and kill,

All you need is a French pill.

6

Not all that gleams here is emerald.

Ask an old man dead and cold.

Teens found him at his watchman's job,

Kicked him to death, when nothing to rob.

7

Flee, O Christian, towered Pride,

Her end is coming sure as the tide.

Not one of her crimes has gone by the Books

Into which only the Death Angel looks.

God bides His time, till Judgment must fall,

Lest one soul be lost, who'll yet heed His call.

Yes, there's a sword designed for this place,

But Love holds it back and makes way for Grace.

8

The Space Needle that now lights night sky

Will someday be threaded by waving rye.

You'll not find a city that once stood here,

Instead will be life that is righteous and pure.

9

Will someone remember this City of Vice,

Where wickedness thrives, like swarms of hog lice?

Only once will its name be brought up again,

With Sodom's, Gomorrah's, and Zeboiam's.*****

10

Where's Jonah when he's needed most?

He'd deflate most any boast.

Nineveh heard his terse death sentence,******

Then--everywhere--repentance!

11

But hearts are hard in Smooth Jazz City;

Beneath that gloss it's tough and gritty.

It's Nineveh, but something worse--

Witches drive this sleek, black hearse.

Well, so much for the Emerald City where buck naked men rode bicycles down main downtown streets for a so-called city tradition!--reduced to a pile of smoking ashes, then reborn after each burning, only to burn to the ground again--a cycle of madness he wanted no part of if he had any choice! Turning away from it in relief, he continued touring Never Never Land and found a forest engulfing him.

The tree trunks were enormous! Greece had nothing like these trees for size. Nor had the ancient aboriginal Hellenes reported the existence of giant trees in old, pre-Greek Hellas. One was even large enough to be used as some kind of dwelling, apparently.

He pulled open the large, creaking door and looked inside. A room, filled with furniture and all sorts of items!

He could see signs it had been long abandoned, though. Cobwebs and dust were thick, and there was no sign anyone had been there for a long time.

He felt like an intruder, but he went in.

As soon as he was inside, a very tall, lanky shadow moved and stepped forward, astonishing Ero. He was the strangest looking man he had ever seen, other than the Egg-Man!

"Who are you, sir?" Ero burst out, forgetting he was the trespasser.

The old gentleman smiled gently down on Ero, then looked a little confused. He removed his stovepipe hat and scratched his head. "Reckon my memory is resting a spell, young fella," he finally drawled. "But would you be so kind, Perhaps you can tell me a little something--and I'll get get my box of memories back. Otherwise, maybe I ought to go look for it."

Ero was at a total loss, but he could always consult Wally's yellow questionmarked HELPs. Maybe Wally could come up with this nice old gentleman's lost identity.

He had to type in a description, as he hadn't a name, and Wally the expert at deciphering mysteries came to the rescue with ABRAHAM LINCOLN, U.S. PRESIDENT, EARLY DAYS, LAW CAREER, POLITICAL CAREER, REPEATED DEFEATS AT THE POLLS, PRESIDENCY, CIVIL WAR, MARRIAGE, ASSASSINATION BY JOHN WILKES BOOTH, CHIEF CONFEDERATE CONSPIRATOR HEADING ATTEMPT TO OVERTHROW FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BY ASSASSINATING TOP LEADERS.

Ero was given a poem to start the file:

"Repute," by Stuart Hawkins, a poet in the 20th Century, who was one of the few honest men left in the City of Thieves

"Abe Lincoln was once a shopkeeper

who rose to the ultimate top

But who would remember his wisdom

if he kept on keeping shop"

For starters, this was enough, Ero thought. "You kept a shop somewhere, sir, before you became President of a country called U.S."

The gentleman stroked his wispy beard, meditating on what Ero had revealed.

"A shopkeeper, you say? Still don't ring a bell, son! Well, that is at least an honest trade, I reckon. What was the merchandise I traded in, son? Maybe that would help me a tad more get my bearings straight."

Ero tried HELP and SEARCH and got: GENERAL STORE INVENTORY, MID-1800S, MIDWESTERN AMERICAN RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS.

He went into that and found items like: Higgins' Superlative Boot Black, Paul Revere Silver Tarnish Remover, Jenkens and Son's Nails All Sizes, Iron, Bronze to Copper, Mother Jubilant's Soda Crackers, by Barrel or Crate, Godey's Fancy Dresses and Hats for Ladies of High Fashion, Gingham by Bolt or Piece Measure, Calico by Bolt or Piece measure, Roebuck Shovels, Pitchforks, Hoes (all sizes), Cultivators, Harness for Mules, Horses, and Donkeys, Olson and Son's Fancy Chicago Canned Meats, Onion Sets, Wheat Seed, Corn Seed, Hatched Baby Chicks by the Crate, Roebuck's Fancy Straw Brooms, Feather Dusters, Flypapers, No-Fail Gopher Traps, Remmington Rifles and Pistols, Horse Shoes all Sizes, Nabisco Flour by Sack or Measure, Sorghum Molasses, by Bottle or Tin, Select Havana Cane Sugar by Sack or Measure, Rice by Sack or Measure, Argo Cornmeal by Box or Can, Madame Tourray's Whale-Bone Corsets and Bustles, With Assorted Trusses, and Gynmnastic Appliances for Weight Reduction After Child Bearing, locally brewed Spirits and Hard Apple Cider in bottle or earthenware or hickory-lined jug, --the list went on for a couple thousand other items. Ero thought these would do as a sampler to jog the old gentleman's memory.

He started reading them off, and he didn't quite get half-way down the list when he heard a commotion, looked up and saw the gentleman was tapping his huge head head with his big, bony hand, and shifting back and forth on his feet, his eyes wide with what he was remembering.

"Hold it, hold it, young fella!" the gentleman cried out. "My head is plumb near to splittin' with--with--"

He staggered to a bench, slumping down on it, and Ero thought it might collapse, by the sound it made.

"Lord, Lord, I do recollect," the man marveled. "It's all come back! Why, I was store keepin' back in my own home state, doing none too good a job and going bankrupt at one point, but paid back all the creditors, then went to lawyerin', did better at that, almost got myself a sweetheart of mine, but--but she passed-- nearly killed myself then, but got my spirits up and went on, lost so many elections, can't count them all-- got married to a society lady from the South, children, the Presidency, then the war that tore the Union and us all apart--"

He broke off, his head dropping, and Ero wondered if he were ill, he just sat there breathing heavily, so heavily he was sounding as if he were in deep pain.

Ero watched in astonishment as huge tears began to course down the man's heavily lined cheeks and spatter on his shirt front, and the man made no effort to wipe his eyes as if he didn't notice.

Ah, McClellan! General McClellan!" the man moaned. "What a splendid fellow you were! I gave you the state treasury, you built up the biggest and best equipped army in the world, then you sat down and wouldn't budge! You wouldn't command it into the field! I had you to dinner. I begged and begged--but still you wouldn't move an inch! You couldn't hazard anything, and war is lost if you don't hazard yourself and your fighting men! They can't be kept standing week after week in camp doing drills and looking pretty like that-- without falling all apart like a stale fancy cake on the shelf! So I had to git someone else, this general and that, and what did they do for the Union? Lost us one great army after another to the Rebs and Robert E. Lee! They chewed them up like a sausage grinder. The blood of our poor boys ran like rivers from Washington to the Brazos! I had no general who could lead an army properly and beat the Gray Line back! Then, finally, the Lord had mercy on us, and gave me Grant and Sherman--one who loved the bottle too much, and the other one so cruel he scourged the South until it was a desert! But they could command armies in the field--and win!"

"But all that is water under the bridge, young fella!" He slapped his hat as if to dust it off, then put it back on his head and went out the door. "I feel my feet telling me I gotta go. So farewell! Watch out for actors, especially the ones in comedies! That's my best advice for you, son!"

With that remark, Lincoln rambled down the path away from the tree house.

Ero watched Lincoln go, then turned and saw Abe Lincoln's signature on the wall. Was it there before? He hadn't noticed it until now.

He too felt his feet restless beneath him. Why should he stay in the WPA's old hangout. Doubtless, there were many other things to see.

He took the path leading away and was soon in the thick woods again. The path narrowed, then vanished beneath his feet.

What was this he saw ahead? He stumbled through some thick undergrowth and found a delapidated structure beneath the old growth trees so damp that its roof and walls were covered with mold and thick green moss. Vandals, no doubt truants from local junior high schools, had been tough on it too, but he could make out that it had been a children's theater. This proved out by the old sign that said SHIRLEY TEMPLE PLAYHOUSE. The pink and blue-flowered seating was all torn away, leaving masses of Himalaya blackberry vines and nettles, with the cement fittings left as the only remains of the ten or twelve rows of seats. Carefully, he picked his way through the blackberries.

The stage was still surviving, though he didn't dare walk out on it, it could collapse any time.

Looking at it, he was wondering what stage presentations the children had once viewed there with delight. It must have been wonderful, he thought. He went round the back, and found a backstage door off and the room tumbled and torn up by vandals. Peering into the gloom, he saw paper litter on the cement floor, and he reached and pulled out some items. Two were playbills from the 1990's, describing the last presentations.

He also found an old yellowish newspaper that informed him that Never Never Land closed in the 1990s, and was to be torn down by Metro Parks, October 2010.

Ero turned back to read the faded, water-damaged playbills. One was "Peter Pan" by J.M. Barrie.

He knew nothing about Peter Pan, of course, but the illustration showed what looked like a young man, or possibly a girl, dressed in green tights swinging on a rope above the stage.

He wanted to know what Peter Pan was about, so turned to his helpful, big yellow Question Mark icon and clicked with his index finger twice on PETER PAN REVISITED, A BALLAD OF THE ?? IN GREEN TIGHTS. What came up was:

"PETER PAN REVISITED,"

"The Ballad of the ?? in Green Tights,"

--The 2005 Washington State Governor's Race, in Retrospect--

What is that she is wearing? It looks like green tights!

And bow and arrows? These are some sights!

A cross, a hybrid—a Robbin’ Hood-Peter Pan?

She swings from the rafters for the wallet

Of every man.

Does she really think she fits this our time?

I guess, as she scoops up every nickel and dime.

She’s green like the grass, and trees, and our bucks,

But her tax program soaks everyone including the ducks.”

She’s “Robbin’” and got her big hooks in our Hood.

We’d ship her to China, slow boat if we could.

People like her they grind for chop suey,

Before they even get one little clue-y.

Whatever the Chinese perceive as a threat,

Off goes its head, it won’t last, you can bet.

Thousands of years, they’ve seen every type

Of con artist, crook, and wolf in pin stripe.

This masquerade foisted on us as our chief,

Over there would be treated as a petty thief.

Let her crack the whip, and sign her tax bills,

When the Sheriff arrives, she’ll be gobbling horse pills.

It won’t help a bit when her whole crew ships out,

From her thieves’ nest that has a convenient seaport.

Maid Marian, where are you when you’re needed most?

Can’t you rally Seattle’s worst, not best, to boast?

They’re paid good money to support such as her—-

It’s normal for them to stick on like a burr.

But maybe they got wind like rats there’s a hole

Right in the hull of the ship’s very soul.

It’s gonna sink fast, this whole scheme of hers,

So why climb aboard?—you need feathers, not furs.

You better run, or fly if you can,

From this wriggling, sinking, hopeless worm can.

She may think she’s got a Royal Viking cruise ship,

But look what greed opened—in the bow a big rip!

Oh, Friar Tuck, can’t you bail out her boat?

But the hole’s got too big, and she can’t stay afloat.

Bye, bye, it’s no surprise there goes sly, old, fat Tuck,

First to high-tail it now Robbin’ ’s lost Lady Luck.

Amazing how votes put her in over Dino Rossi--

they kept “finding" more ballots just ahead of his posse.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when someone

Wears silly green tights?—-

Robbin’ Hood? Peter Pan? O King Arthur, PLEASE SEND YOUR KNIGHTS!

Refrain (to be sung after this legislature goes down in the halls of political infamy):

Yes, we have no money,

Yes, we have no money.

Liberals had a big tax ball,

And stripped us bare, right to the wall!

Ero turned to the remaining playbills. The second play featuring a top folk singer and female recording artist and war protester was supposed to bring in "Baby Boomers" to the playhouse, those who in their teens and early twenties had idolized the star of the production back in the 1960s and early 1970s. That was during the Sexual Revolution and Flower Children's revolt against Middle Class society and their parents' America (so Wally's HELP informed him).

Born long after that era, Ero still didn't know what in the world Wally was talking about, until he viewed the clips that Wally provided for him to click on, using the screened console that popped up out of the strangling blackberry vines and litter of smashed seats.

I Childhood--

1940-

Rockin' on Joanie's horse,

Her Pop and Mom her joy,

A horsey was her toy--

Joanie out-smiled any boy!

rockin'...rockin'...rockin...

II Youth

1952-

Singin' brought her fame,

and then she toured the world,

her banner--Peace!--unfurled,

hair, bangs, uncurled.

singin'...singin'...singin'...

III Midlife

1987-

Hair short, she raised a son.

There's Someone at the door who's waitin'.

The inside latch not yet releasin'.

Hear that gentle, faithful knockin'?

knockin'...knockin'...knockin'...

IV Latter Years

2006-

Has she heard the Answer in the wind?

Is she still out travelin' and folk singin'?

Is she still out war and nuke protestin'?

There's Someone at the door who's sighin'.

sighin'...sighin'...sighin'...

Epilogue

Even feet of steel can't last.

She's done her draft resistin',

and done her meditatin',

but every soul needs restin',

restin'...restin'...restin'...

Jesus said: "Come unto Me all you who labor, and I will give you rest."

After Joan Baez had played her last performance among the blackberry vines to an audience of one bewildered Greek cybernaut and Olympic torchbearer, Ero continued to explore.

He found the ruins of a train station! It was about twenty feet long, but shaped like a giant hotdog in a bun with all the trimmings. The remnants of one of the cars lay on the tracks, a tea cup turned over and its seats ripped out. He continued down the weedy tracks until he came to a ravine. Looking over into it, he saw there had been terrible disaster, the train trestle had collapsed and the engine and tea cup cars had all gone down and lay broken on the big rocks. Had there been passengers in them? If so, they would all have been killed, it was so far down.

Next to an old WPA sign saying "DEAD MAN'S GULCH" he saw a screen lighting up, and Wally gave him all the information he needed to know:

"2TrainsRap

I

“All aboard!” a voice cried out,

The crowd rushed forward with a shout;

the whistle blew, the steam out puffed,

the clinkers clinked, the engine chuffed.

(Refrain)

This train! Oh this train!

Don’t take no preachers, no Bible-totin’!

This train! Oh this train! No public prayer, no gospel singin’!

This train! Oh this train! Sheer vanity, but gets you there!

This train! Oh this train! Climb aboard, Child, if you dare!

The Gravy Train is par to none,

you’re going to have a lot of fun!

Drugs, sex, and anything you want, it goes;

Where this train stops everybody acts like nobody knows.

A judge got on, attorneys too,

Their baggage stuffed with cash brand-new;

In First Class sits a billionaire,

and his banker and his best lawyer.

And there she is! That lovely lass!

Miss USA sure has got class!

Scholarshiped by U of Dub,

she wears her crown in the hot tub.

Drink up, boys! And do some drugs;

This latest stuff has got some bugs;

You might not see the coming day, but take the chance, man, anyway.

Those blond-haired kids tied up and gagged--

Seattle chicks that some trader bagged

in a mall or out from school--

they bring big bucks--oh, ain’t it cruel?

Want a magazine of porn?

The racks are stuffed like cribs with corn;

Here’s “How to” on kinky sex,

teens all use it for their text.

Choose a movie from the list,

Bette Midler’s never missed;

Like some violence and gore?

PG-flicks no longer bore;

Anyone with a gay bent

now can gang-bang, slice Clark Kent.

Or how about an “Evening Star”

whose PG-13 was an R;

Shirley MacLaine had it changed

(anything can be arranged).

Up front there’s “Jump on the track”

for those tripped out on crank and crack;

What else is there when you’ve done all

except to take the final fall?

Tonight there’s Beefcake in the bar,

add whipped cream,and he’ll go far;

Mickey Mouse is on tee shirts;

it adds some class to same-sex flirts.

“I did it my way,” croons a lush

as gay to gay connect up tush.

Need some cash? Go play the slots;

The tribal council’s upped the pots;

Bingo, high-stakes gambling too,

one-armed bandit, Topsy GREW!

Gangs, oh, well, it’s just some phase

these kids need to fill their days;

Parents let them play at school,

now they’re trained, each one a fool.

Empty-headed, goal-less thugs,

they prowl the streets, malls, for new drugs;

Now they’re on this train for sure,

headed straight for “Air-head Pure.”

No matter that they rob and kill

to get a fix, another thrill;

No matter that their victims die

most brutally, to their last sigh.

The judge on board, he’s lenient;

He treats their crimes like unpaid rent;

Society, he says, must pay,

for these poor youth it cast away.

“They’re victims! Not all those they shot;

Their big mistake was to get caught;

This court awards them to the street

[that butcher shop that makes ground meat!].

He lets them know with "bargain plea,"

they’re free to strike again most certainly!

Whene’er they’re hauled before his bench,

it won’t be such a nasty wrench.

They’ll know they’ve got a big heart here

who lets them off without a tear;

No matter what they’ve done again,

the game goes on, plug in, my friend!

How this train does roll along!

It’s no use to cry over wrong;

So times are bad and won’t reset?

Oh, well, who cares? Why stew and fret? You’ve got your fare paid to the end,

the train will crush what it can’t mend;

Officials and the candidate

boarded last --almost too late;

Bands, balloons, and speeches made,

his campaign surely earned high grade!

Promise good times are ahead,

pull some young thing into bed;

Pay her off if there’s a squawk;

Party Faithful? Take a walk!

This train rolls on no matter what,

the bridge is out, trestle kaputt;

The party still goes on full blast,

no matter that it cannot last.

Each passenger rides thoughtlessly--

“Why worry ‘bout what I can’t see?

Sex and drugs and party deals--

they’re thirty-weight to grease our wheels!

“Don’t ever tell us right from wrong,

or sing that old James Lowell song --

"We live our life in our own way,

yeah, who are you, sir, to gainsay?

“Where this train goes is our choice, [a trip to Hell in a Rolls Royce?]”;

Do you think they listened back when

Noah cried, "Repent, be saved, O men!’?

They had their train, he had his boat,

the problem was theirs couldn’t float;

“Repent!” he said, “or you will drown;

A Flood will cover up the town!”

“They partied then, we party now;

"Is that YOUR problem? I don’t see how;

This is OUR train, don’t you forget,

we’re going all the way, you bet!”

So onward rolled the Gravy Train,

playing smooth jazz (what, no Cobain?);

In diamonds and designer jeans,

they dined on Lo-cal French cuisine.

This cool and glitzy, done-all crowd

grew bold and brash and really loud

until a silence stunned the ear

as rolling wheels met thin, thin air....

At Dead Man’s Gulch the track stopped short;

The Good Times? All abort;

Tumbling, screaming stream of woe,

landing, smashing far below.

There goes Beefcake down the river,

he don’t move and he don’t shiver;

The rest are piled upon on the bank,

except for coaches that just sank.

Strange enough, the people cried the very Name they once denied;

“Christ!” wept a leading prize fighter,

the same man known ear-chewer, raper.

“Jesus!” moaned the Candidate.

“I’ve got business that can’t wait!”

His campaign’s clearly over now,

blood is bubbling down his brow.

“Pardon me, O God, my sin!”

pled the unjust judge within a shattered skull

as brains ebbed out,

his money scattered all about.

“I printed slush,

I purveyed mush!”

someone confessed in the hush

of bodies laid in long, white rows--

those who shuddered with death throes.

“I cheated on my husband, Dave;

He never knew, O God, please save--”

And then the woman died,

both legs cut off, laid by her side.

“I blasphemed You, dear Jesus, Lord!”

cried a lawyer beneath Death’s sword;

His testimony came too late

as devils dragged him through Hell’s gate.

Psychic, Larry Rainbow hissed

the Savior’s Name he widely missed;

His horoscope read “Take a trip”

and so he made his final slip.

His gang friends offed, a tough kid cried

“Who can find my arm?" and died. “No-ooo, not me...” the beauty queen told him,

her crown now lost to eyes grown dim.

Tribal councilman no more,

an old man turned from out-worn lore;

“Dear Lord Jesus, this is me!”

he cried for help belatedly.

A local mayor, he too was hurt,

his best-laid plans all lay inert;

“What matters now is...” all he said,

then medics covered up his head.

A young man and his wife and child

lay thrown amidst a tangle wild;

he wondered how his theater would fare

without him acting manager.

A renowned bishop, firm Pro-Choiced,

heard the cries of the Unvoiced;

“You killed us, forty million strong,

then preached on civil right and wrong!”

A warlock sweating sure, sharp fate

now thought of all the things he ate

in rituals his coven staged

with children kidnapped and then caged.

A teacher in the public schools

now said, “God, we acted fools!”

Too late she turned a penitent,

the Class of ‘10--hell-bent!

A master contractor of fame,

Curt built great mansions for sheer gain;

Now they’ve crumbled in his view,

his prospects void, to start anew.

He thought of housing for the poor

he could have built--but no more!

Instead he catered to the rich,

and now his dreams lay in this ditch.

A pro athlete figured his score:

“Zilch, I guess, I’m out the door!”

No more babes and drugs and stash,

no more chance, it all went smash.

He lay a rag doll, paralyzed,

it hit so quick he was surprised;

There was no way to use his legs,

for now they’re stiff like wooden pegs.

A hustler on the SeaTac scene,

Krysti saw her life obscene,

how she threw away all good

for nothing really--just: she could!

A producer of filth and trash,

awarded Golden Globes like hash,

rolled in his own body waste,

clever brains now pressed to paste.

Talk show hosts, too, got their due

as lives then flickered in review;

Sighs, and sighs, and still more sighs

over fortunes built on lies.

“Help me, Lord!” was Oprah’s plea,

so strange to hear from one like she;

a thousand shows, and not one true,

her day of birth she now could rue.

The businessman who paid slave wage,

then bought a yacht, the latest rage,

he hasn’t saved, not one red cent--

his wealth all stolen and misspent.

CEO of a mall chain,

Stan lay in blood, all filled with pain;

The high price of pain-killer brands?

Like life, it’s now torn from his hands.

Trainmen, too, who worked the line

found it hard to Death resign.

“Why me, Lord?” asked one of those.

“My record’s pretty as a rose;

Always did my job, then some;

St. Peter, why’s your face so glum?

I paid my bills and union dues,

I own my home, don’t drink much booze;

Anger, yes, I have done that,

but nothing worse than kick a cat!

Some cussin' too turned the air blue

when things refused to go just right--

I couldn’t help but get uptight.

Just little things like that, O God;

I surely don’t deserve thy rod!

So why am I now sinking down?

I feel fear and hear a sound

of cackling laughter, a voice obscene:

“Gotcha! Gotcha!” cries a fiend.

And at the same time he crossed the bar,

another soul dropped just as far;

He lived his life as he had sung,

and now the noose on him was hung.

His cooling tank is dark and cold;

A one-inch cube will both enfold

a sinner’s soul, and swarms demonic--

Hell’s greeting corps and Philharmonic.

Heavy metal’s not as loud

as racket from this attack squad;

They jeer, they sting, and celebrate

the day he swallowed up their bait.

The Word of God--he never read;

And as for what Bill Graham said

he thought, “You’re wrong, we live, then die,

then we go--poof! with our last sigh.”

“I did it my way,” moaned the lush

as devils gave him one big push

that sent him down to a cold tank,

for which he had himself to thank.

And what about the billionaire

who built a palace for his lair?

He lay now on a muddy plot,

a few square feet on which to rot.

He called on God--it’s true, he did,

then waited for a lower bid;

When one was offered for his soul,

he grabbed and fell down a deep, dark Hole.

His banker? Oh, a broken neck!

His life was like a returned check

that came back with a stiff bank charge--

could he pay it and discharge

both debt and fee accrued to him,

this soul bankrupt because of sin?

(No, his debt’s too big for human good

to ever pay all that he should;

Only Christ’s blood sacrifice

will ever pay it and suffice;

Except Christ pay up your account,

there are no funds that can amount

to what a soul owes from the day

when each of us fell in sin’s sway.)

And thus his soul was foreclosed on,

and he was thrown in debtor’s prison;

And he could see there was no door;

Whoe’er came in would leave no more!

Agnostics, atheists not few

cried out “Jesus, please forgive me too!”

Just as hospice doctors say,

no other name was prayed that day.

II

What a contrast, back to back,

with the train of narrow track!

Travolta, Van Damme, Stallone--no sign!

Real men are Christ’s own kind.

(Refrain)

This train! O this train! E. V. Hill and Bible totin’!

This train! O this train! The Lord’s own prayer and gospel singin’!

This train! O this train! Sheer happiness, and gets you there!

This train! O this train! Climb aboard, Child, with free fare.

Magic Johnson’s got a berth,

ever since his second birth;

Remember Mickey Mantle who died sick?

He’s arm in arm with mighty Chick.

Little Richard, up from Macon,

has a Reason for his jivin’.

Bob Dylan weeps and sings a song,

proclaiming Christ who rights all wrong.

Mahalia, she rocks the train

with a celebratin' strain:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!...”

is her song heard all around.

Dale Evans, Roy and Trigger--

they look super, and somehow bigger.

“Happy Trails” rings out too,

all its promises come true.

Great Pascal, Newton, Wilde--

each man humble as a child;

This Kingdom train rejects proud man,

each passenger is born again.

And children! All the children lost

by choice at cruel cost

-- they’re safe aboard this glad express

that runs on Jesus’ faithfulness.

And martyred millions tyrants killed--

their graves unmarked in death pits filled--

all these sheep who bore Christ’s Name

wear the crown, Undying Fame.

Wiping tears from their dear faces,

Mother Teresa, ever full of graces.

Billy Graham and wife, Ruth,

still are sharing Gospel Truth.

Efrem Zimbalist reads the Word,

majestic is the tone that’s heard,

where Moses watched with skipping heart

the great Red Sea split two part

(no marsh of reeds, a real sea

divided by the Almighty!).

Now likewise there’s Vict’ry too:

Jerusalem shines in full view.

Aren’t you glad you chose to ride

the train that runs from Jesus’ side?

Across the chasm, Sin, has stretched,

the Glory Train is safely fetched!"

Wally's screen told him these facts in addition:

"2TrainsRap dedicated to James Russell Lowell, composer of “Once to Every Man and Nation”;

The Glory Train Fare: ”Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” John 6:47; Last Days like Days of Noah: Luke 17: 26-30;

The billionaire, CEO, and such: Luke 18: 24-25; Trainman: Luke 18: 9-14

Well, that shed a lot of light on the train that crashed into the gulch! And also the "Glory Train," that was one he would like to ride. Was there a station where he could board it? Going around the ravine, he found the railroad track, and it led to a depot, a miniature Union Station. He went in the entrance, where the doors had been ripped off long ago by vandals. A raccoon was rumaging in the litter on the floor. Turning a face to him that looked disturbingly like a human's, it squeeked in surprise, then ran out of the lobby. Pigeons also flew about in the dome, which had a big hole in, letting them in with the rain and wind. Ero stepped out on the platform and found a row of cup and saucer riding cars, but they wee all rusted and not going anywhere. Fir trees grew right out of them, and they were filled with moss and pine neddles.

Blackberry vines choked the track. He went back in the station. He found a gift shop that once sold souvenirs, candy, pop, and popcorn. He picked up a souvenir--a little rocking horse, blue painted, the horse's head broken off. There were also miniature Humpty Dumpties, smashed flat by someone stomping on them. Broken bottles, parts of the popcorn machine, the whole counter and its stools torn back to the metal--it was a dismal sight, so he left.

Out the side door he found a path the raccoon-man had taken that led back into the deep forest called, a greenish, weathered sign said, the Grove of the Patriarchs. There he discovered a house hidden amongst the dark, tangled roots.

What house was this? he wondered. It looked like it was built of mostly candy. He was glad a screen appeared. Wally gave him, GINGERBREAD HOUSE and HANSEL AND GRETEL. Clinking on GINGERBREAD HOUSE, he was given: "The beautiful, candied residence of a wicked Witch, a cannibal who lured children to her house by a decoy bird, then caged them until she was ready to roast and eat them. The house was only a lure to deceive its intended victims." What a horrible beast she was, he thought. But who were Hansel and Gretel?

He clicked on them and a whole tale in rhyme came up:

"A Woodcutter despaired one day,

for he and Wife could see no way.

Crops all failed, his business too--

and Wolf was scratching at their door.

Cow went dry, and a sly fox

had snatched their hen in her coop box.

No eggs, no milk, one slice of bread,

their children would starve in bed.

"If someone rich, a nobleman,

would adopt them as his children..."

It was their wish, a fading hope,

the father sighed, he could not cope.

Good Wife, however, hatched a plan. "Let's go and take them by the hand.

We'll lead them into the big trees--

tell them we go hunting honey bees.

I've fixed them lunch, a little bread. "We'll leave them someplace," she said.

"And tell when we find the honeycomb,

we'll return and take them home."

"But Wife, that cannot change our plight,

if we return for them," said the poor wight.

"But we will leave them there, O Husband dear!

But hush now, lest the children hear!"

So on the morrow they all set out,

this woodcutter who's turned a lout.

They carried through their evil plan

and thought they'd done all that one can.

Hours passed, and it grew late. Soon the wolves would be their fate!

Hansel thought, while Gretel cried. She feared the worst--their parents died. "That mossy log could make a bed!

Let's crawl beneath it," Hansel said.

And there they slept all that dark night,

and woke, still safe, at the first light.

Gretel cried, "There's no way back!"

But Hansel laughed, and shook his bread sack.

"I dropped bread crumbs the whole way here,

they'll lead us home, O Sister dear!"

Gretel smiled and wiped her tears,

but then her joy was turned to woe,

the bread was eaten by a doe!

Just then a birdie sang so sweet,

it hopped around on bright gold feet.

First forth, then back away it flew,

and chirped and chirped as if to say,

"Come follow me, I know the way!"

And so they followed, hand in hand,

and were led to an enchanted land.

The birdie drew them into the forest deep,

then left them in the great trees where dark things creep.

But up ahead shone a wondrous sight,

a house of cake and candy, full of light!

The children rushed to get a taste,

and Hansel put goodies in a bag at his waist.

The door swung open much to their fright,

and an old woman in red robe, and green shoes,

gripped Hansel tight.

"I've just the place for a boy to take a nap!" laughed the old crone in the yellow cap.

She locked him in an iron cage.

"You're needing fat for a boy your age! Ten pounds, I think, you'll need to add, and then I'll roast you, my pretty lad!"

Ero kept reading. Days passed, as Gretel cried her eyes red, and Hansel was fed with food the witch brought to him. He didn't want it, but acted like he was eating while he passed Gretel a lot of it, so that he remained thinner than the witch liked. Deaf as a post, she didn't hear Hansel and Gretel talking to each other. She couldn't fathom why he wasn't getting fat. Finally, she was going to boil him in the big black pot on the top of the stove, thin or not. After she loaded the stove with big logs and filled the pot with water she had Gretel carry in jugs from the well, she was ready. She ordered the girl to open the oven, stick her head in, to test if the oven was hot enough. Gretel pretended that she couldn't understand, and when the witch had her back turned to Gretel, she unlatched the cage door for Hansel. Exasperated, the witch cried out that she would show the stupid girl what she wanted, and the moment the witch stuck her head in the door of the oven, Hansel was out of the cage in a flash, and he and Gretel ran forward and pushed her in, then banged the door shut. It was quite a story, how Hansel and Gretel got the best of the wicked old witch! Of course, later, more compassionate society grew squeamish about exhibits commending children who killed witches before the witches killed and ate the children, and the house was locked up against the public, the reason given by the Park Board that children's minds might be damaged by such violence.

Ero took a look inside, a little leery about what he might see. Human bones from a cannibal's dinner? A pot to boil children? An old stove?

The house's interior was a total wreck, he found. Moldy walls, broken windows, smashed furniture, gang graffiti scrawls. Despite the lock-down, vandals had come and gone, leaving nothing recognizable about the witch's house. No witch. No Hansel and Gretel. No chirping little, bright-feathered bird either. But there was a figure of man on a horse! How he had gotten there, Ero had no idea. Who could he represent?

Ero turned to SEARCH, and after many false leads he narrowed the search down to a Revolutionary War hero called Paul Revere. The version given, Wally informed him, was a late 20th century production by a local poet describing the infamous, politically and morally corrupt Clinton co-presidency of the late 20th century.

A MIDNIGHT CALL

Down the road through rain and dark, a bold man rode toward Meeker Park; Ezra’s mouth dropped open wide, to see Paul’s second horseback ride. They may have thought him outdated, incorrect, and long since dead; yet there he goes as midnight strikes, a PATRIOT (not of their likes!). What’s he shouting in the night? What could make him so uptight? Business trends are not too bad, and interest rates are down a tad. There’s rioting on the Left Bank, the peace process looks like it sank, but comedy--oh, my! Entertaining Seinfeld’s good as “geld”. A big laugh drives away all doubt that we don’t know what we’re about. Clinton is our winner yet. Uh, Bob Dole? His day is done, his sun has set. When times are going well as these, why change docs in mid-disease? Chemotherapy--no way! Our cancer treatment’s far more gay; it’s Band-Aid here, and cough drop there, until the patient can declare “Splendid! Or ought now I take a little pot for this headache? You seem to know just what to do, I might do worse than aping you. When there’s chance to lend a buck and reap a thousand (oh, what luck!), I’d be a fool not to try and stick my finger in the pie. And if I see some nice young thing-- why not have a little fling? My wife--like yours--will look away, Toleration reigns today! Officer, arrest that man! He needs to stop and understand he can’t shout “Wake up!” in our town--you need a permit written down. And that horse he’s riding on destroys the ozone, and our lawn! It must pass a rigid test the EPA has for this pest. Diapers are needed too, or be prepared when plaintiffs sue.” And so Revere was thus unhorsed, the law against him was enforced. Led off to the county jail, no bond was set for both their bail. Parole? Don’t hold your breath! The first degree gets certain death. There’s no appeal for his crime, even if it’s set to rhyme.* No need warning us of fate: liars wrecked our Ship of State. Ike and Johnson, Harry too, twisted truth to suit our view. Now we’ve got the perfect man, he’s just like us, he loves Both/And. Talk tough on crime, but spend a dime. The war on drugs? Shoved under rugs. At the same time, say you hurt, you feel each "owie," you assert. Speak well of family and flag, but slip two Moms in Janie’s bag. Sign each bill for nice effect, but promote shams that re-elect. Use the gays and blacks and poor, tell them it is Either/Or; “Either put me back in power, or Dole will be your final hour.” It’s the same you did in Arkansas--the school that taught you: bend the law. How it worked! Your polls zoomed high, and Dole got to say “Bye bye.” That stage he fell off is the one where you now stand up next to none. Perot can sue till he turns blue, You even have each voting Jew. Good Times are what you guarantee, and peace, goodwill, from sea to sea. It sounds so good, but can’t be true-- oh, Paul Revere, you’re deja vu! Why fight the tide? they said when tyrants ruled far and wide. Why risk your life and limb, dear Paul? To ride at night, it begs a fall! And yet you thought your freedom worth a fight to save your land of birth. Tyrants change their mode of dress, but always ever they oppress. Foes you faced are still the sort that enslave us from bench and court. Or substitute ACLU, the pressure group that loves to sue-- attack a school kid because she prays, slap on fines till she obeys; her parents driven into debt despair and cower in your net. And then there’s activists for whales or whatever sprouts claws and tails. Man has no right, or so they claim, to murder clams without some blame. Their underlying agreement holds human life is excrement. Thus they spare no sacrifice to save the lives of field mice. What matters least is people starve till bark off trees is what they carve. Make all factories shut down so noble beasts rule Earth around. This list of tyrants knows no end! Dear Paul Revere, please ride again! No jail can hold a man so bold, whose record shines like purest gold. A true American like you is not ashamed of Pilgrim view, that God and church are our mainstays, foundations we must never raze. You’ll face the stocks of ridicule, the taunts of the most learned fool. How dare they rip you from your page** you wrote with Honor as your wage. No one paid you for your ride, it was enough you took Right’s side. You might have done like we do now, look at Wrong as friend, and bow; but, free man with integrity, you rode to save our Liberty."

Additional facts were:

*Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”; **Paul Revere, resident citizen of Boston, from a French Huguenot family that emigrated to America and established household businesses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in colonial days; patriot, silversmith, coppermill founder, Paul Revere is being rewritten out of American history books for public school children; Exekiel 3:17-19. For further study, doubleclick on PAUL REVERE FIELD STUDY (INTERACTIVE SERIES). To return, rightclick on HOME.

Ero's Greek spirit and zest for exploration got the best of him again--he clicked on PAUL REVERE FIELD STUDY on the screen. Wally was always full of options and tweaks, and this Field Study was no exception. He was offered SEASONS. It didn't matter to Ero particularly, and the very mild winter on Seriphos was all he really knew, so he clicked on WINTER by a careless slip of the fing--and got a New England, not Mediterranean, version! The next moment a window/portal opened, caught him, and off he flew!

Where was he being re-located now? What was going to happen to him?

PLEASE GO TO THE PAUL REVERE FIELD STUDY:

"Paul Revere Field Study," CHRONICLES IN PROGRESS, Part II

Returning via HOME, Ero stood and looked about him, and could hardly believe where he had been and all he had learned in a short time. Was it a dream? Anyway, he could see plainly he was back in Never Never Land. Leaving the Gingerbread House and Paul Revere with his lantern riding his galloping horse to warn the Colonists of the approaching Redcoats, he found another path and followed it and came to one of several attempts to update Never Never Land. It was a "Native American Exhibit," with a giant raven and several totem poles set outside a longhouse of cedar logs.

Again, vandals had proceeded him and torn everything to pieces. He tried to make sense of it, but couldn't. So he did as he always did, he consulted Wally. Wally gave him a number of items to check out. One was RAVEN AND THE POISON APPLE.

Br'er Raven flew to take the view,

He saw Tacoma, Puyallup too;

From the Bay to Orting Town

He made his tour of all around.

Once he dropped down for a rest,

A place where vultures strut their best;

A huge, new building blocked the site,

A Temple raised to Wrong, not Right.

Thousands flocked to make fast gain,

Gambled like they were insane;

Lost their rent and savings too,

But Temple thieves all got their due.

Raven looked this way and that,

Continual traffic where he sat;

"What's going on?" he thought.

"What is this bug they have caught?"

“They come in full and go out stripped,

They cannot help but get horse-whipped;

They throw their money in a hole,

Then hand their kids a begging bowl.”

While he watched the crowds galore,

A roar went up, “The Governor!”

Greeting all with practiced nod--

It was as if they saw a god.

Locke signed the Pact that gave them this,

The legal means to rob--what bliss!

No longer would thieves go to jail,

They’re dressed in silk, from snout to tail.

High-stakes now, and slots come next,

Lawyers too have stacked the decks;

Petitions, if they serve the cause,

Also work to subvert laws.

Promise voters kick-backs too,

Casino with a heart true blue;

Throw some charities a buck,

Bank the rest by armored truck.

“Who are these thieves?” Br’er Raven mused.

“They get rich quick off the abused;

No matter that our Valley dies

Beneath dark wings and clouds of flies!

“Gangs and rape and murder grows,

The Temple thieves add to these woes;

The wealth they take is income lost

By foolish people at great cost.

“This Valley is no place for me,

It’s filled with violence, I see;

It was my home, a gentle place

Of friendly people, laid-back pace.

“But now, this Temple’s changed all that,

With poison worse than rabid bat;

One bite and they’re hooked for life,

A vampire they took for wife.”

With a sigh Br’er Raven rose,

He flew off where the sunset goes--

The land where once he came from hence,

To look for people with more sense.

He flew and flew, an ocean crossed,

Until he found a land long lost;

The people there were long since dead,

Destroyed by greed and graft, it’s said.

“At least, it’s quiet here!” he thought.

“No sirens, bullets, for my lot;

Here I’ll spend my final days,

And ponder mankind’s sorry ways.

“Why should they choose what’s clearly wrong?

What’s the reason, short or long?

Madness must be the main cause,

That makes them break all nature’s laws.

“You cannot rob unless you gain

A thing that turns to deadly bane;

Hurting one must hurt them all,

On this road, they’re bound to fall.

“‘It won’t harm us!’ thinks some poor fool.

‘And look, I’ve got a swimming pool!

And my children? College-bound!

Lawyers, doctors, parade gowned.’

“The truth of it, they’ve lost all soul,

They wander blind, without a goal;

All because their leaders thought

A future could be money-bought.”

Br’er Raven shook his sleek, dark head,

And grieved for those who made that bed,

For those who rushed to certain doom,

To stoke a pit of fiery gloom.

At last these words came to his mind:

“What others loose, you cannot bind;

Unless they see their hopelessness,

They think that Wrong can somehow bless.

“I’ve given them all that they need,

My holy laws for word and deed;

‘Covet not, nor kill and steal,

Unless you hate the commonweal.’

“Now, Raven, weep for them no more,

It’s useless to scratch up a sore;

I paid the price of sin, you see;

My Son, He died to set them free.

“If they turn from Him and run,

There is no more that could be done;

If they refuse and won’t obey,

Judgment falls as their due pay.

“So, Raven, rest your weary brain,

This started even before Cain;

When Eve, the woman, first had sinned,

Her husband, at her fall, then grinned.

“‘What harm is it?’ he thought back then;

He took a bite, and lost Eden!

For like the fruit of Adam’s fall,

Gambling’s sweet, but turns to gall.’”

After the nursery rhymes, RAVEN did not appeal so much to him, so he went off down another path, which ran up a steep slope to begin with and thus was little used, and found a number of nursery rhyme characters all set up as if marching in a parade. They were mostly all intact, with little signs of damage by vandals. Along the route were people dressed in odd clothes and strange headgear, looking as if they were cheering the fat-bellied, skinny-legged naked man with the king's crown leading the parade--except for one little boy who seemed to be laughing and pointing to the naked man.

What is this about? Ero wondered, turning to Wally. He was given THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES.

The nursery rhyme told him all about political correctness in the early 21st century. But who was the naked "Emperor"? Wally's HELPS gave him PRESIDENT BARACK HUSSAIN OBAMA. Who were the foolish townspeople cheering him? Wally gave him DEMOCRAT PARTY, DEMOCRAT VOTERS, and various BILLIONAIRES, HOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES, BANKERS, OPRAH WINFREY, as well as MAINSTREAM CHURCHES, FOUNDATIONS, MAJOR CORPORATIONS, MAJOR BANKS, THE AMERICAN RULING CLASSES, THE IVY LEAGUE UNIVERSITIES, THE LIBERAL MEDIA, UNIONS, ALL MAJOR NEWSPAPERS, and MIDDLE-EASTERN DICTATORS and OIL MOGULS, both Middle Eastern and American and British.

Despite all this impressive support, one bright, rather plump little boy wasn't fooled, nossir, and he cried out in a shrill voice that carried across town, "Obama, the king, is stark naked!"

Who was the little boy in leather jerkins who broke the spell Obama had cast on all those people? Wally, without fail, supplied CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST AND COMMENTATOR, RUSH LIMBAUGH.

Wally had a quote from Mr. Limbaugh that laid the first ax blow to Obama's illusion: "I hope he fails." From the moment he said that to America, the Emperor's gorgeous new clothes of political correctness began to be stripped away by reality--and in only twenty months of his administration he was exposed and walking about buck naked, only he was the last to know it! By then the snickering laughter of one "little but honest boy" was joined by the laughter of millions of people. The self-infatuated Emperor, who had been suckered by his own tailors who had fashioned a suit for him of his own ideology sewn with his own pride, was forced to dash back to the palace to escape the jeers and hoots and rotten eggs and stale vegetables (whatever had at hand) of his own subjects, who now all saw him revealed for the fool he treally was.

What a lesson that was, all wrapped up in a simple nursery rhyme! Ero thought. Still laughing, he ran down another path, then suddenly came up against giant vine blocking his path. Fortunately, it wasn't a prickly blackberry. A bean's vine is smooth, making for easy climbing if it is big and leafy enough giving numerous hand-holds.

This vine definitely was perfect for climbing! Always a Greek wanting to discover some place new, he couldn't resist, even if he knew he were hazarding life and limb.

Leaf to leaf he climbed, sometimes hoisting himself up by grabbing the coiled ends of tendrils. The air grew colder as he advanced. Stars began to glisten in the dark blue sky.

Still the vine stretched upwards, though the trunk grew slimmer and the leaves fewer. He found he could climb using only the trunk grasped in both hands, and he made more rapid progress. It was just as well he did! It was getting very cold, ice had formed on the trunk and leaves, and as much as he breathed in, he couldn't seem to get a good breath.

Should he turn back? How far would this vine take him? It seemed to be taking him out of the world! But where?

He had his answer as he climbed further on.

It was not a pleasant sight--the vine had reached a kind of huge floating rock in the dark, ice-cold sky. This didn't seem like an attractive place to end up! Shouldn't he turn around now, and return to the warm ground as fast as possible? He couldn't breathe, his muscles were starting to "charley horse," and that big flying rock was an ugly sight, indeed. Yet he had come all this wasy for nothing? He felt he just couldn't turn back now! Gritting his teeth, he forced his protesting muscles and burning lungs in a last effort to reach the top of the vine. When he reached it with his last gasping effort, he found Someone waiting for him!

It had been one surprise and adventure after another for him in Never- Never-Land and Mother Goose's colony of Roosevelt-era WPA oddities. He had much to remember, his meeting with Abraham Lincoln, his climb to the top of the giant beanstock and his flight back to the ground, followed by his disastrous collision with the flying cow and an equally unexpected view of the Red Star, but he never wanted to leave solid ground again!

Loving the feel of real earth beneath his feet, he retraced his path on the steep streets to the waterfront, which suited him more, being a sea-loving Greek.

UNCHRONICLE OF THE MILLENNIAL AGE AND THE FINAL WORLD WAR, EARTH I, A. D. 3002, CONVERGENCE AT BASEL, VOL. IV, RETROSTAR

Deep in the eye of the Vampire, the evil Spirit-Form of the perverted Carbuncle, Ero wended his way from photo-file to photo-file. The Vampire itself resided deep in the heart of the Star-Stone corrupted by Lucifer in the long ago war in Heaven-- its counterpart on the Twin Earths being the strange jemstone, the Carbune, traded by the nomadic tribes of North Africa since earliest ages. Ero wings his wayon the fading but still faithfully, Wally-programmed mast-bot from the Union Train Depot station of the City of Destiny. The mast itself has faded away, but the base still remains to transport him to world after world. What was he going to see now in this new world emerging out of the photo-file?

Leaving the howling, red-hot fragment of hell that was the Western Front of the Great War, Ero no sooner entered the new photo-file than something streaked blazing and starlike by him, and the mast-bot immediately followed in hot pursuit.

A cosmic Carbuncle, the Vampire-Stone, moved from Earth II to Earth I, as things get too hot for it in its old haunts. The Time Portal serves to give it entrance, as it answers the call, not of distressed cells resident in Marty Yeager, freshly killed and hidden in the forepeak where they kept the anchor chains of the Titanic, but of unbelief and faithlessness residing in the statue of Karl Barth (which contained some timecapsuled papers and writings by the author), the famed theologian of the mid-20th century. Vampire-Stone and Karl Barth, it was a passionate same-sex marriage from the first. These two malevolences were meant for each other. Zeroing in on the emanations from the statue and its nearly decayed but lucite-encased writings, the Vampire-Stone found a habitat it could use as a base for exploiting and overwhelming billions of people during the Millennial Reign of Yeshua.

The Alien Entity invaded Earth II in the dead of night, and no one saw it. But there was an explosion at the point of impact with the surface of Tell Basel, the mound that was all that survived of a once great, thriving, cultured, cosmopolitan Swiss city. The ground was so disturbed that it drew attention, and from the looks of bones of ancient peoples strewn about the crater, it seemed to be a prime site for excavation, and archeologists were called in. What they found soon revolutionized people's knowledge of the world's development. All they had known was the Millennial Reign, but here were evidences that people had lived quite differently, and even served other "gods" or things. And this statue of some great god of the pagan past, it spoke most eloquently even in its cracked, somewhat dissolute condition, of a most civilized culture that held very different values and beliefs than were permitted in the Jerusalem-Centered, Messiah-Ruled Millennial Age. Anthropologists, though they were not called that in the Millennial New World Order, were called in to make what sense they could of the find, and write them down for others to read and talk about. The statue itself of the god was worked on meticulously, so that it wouldn't suffer any more cracking, as it was extremely brittle, liable to shatter into a pile of little pebbles and shards. Slowly, painstakingly, the head and shoulders were unearthed, down to the waist.

What kind of god was he? The titanium-encased writings were found in an exploratory penetration, and they gave a most complete answer, though it was hard for the Millennialists to comprehend, as the concepts were so foreign and new. That it was all written down in a dead language was difficult and slowed the process, so it was good the Millennium was just that: there was a lot of time to spend on such questions, and the researches themselves lived indefinitely, so they weren't impelled by sickness, age, or other considerations, but could and did spend more than a century on the project. Just as slowly, the meanings were deciphered as the entire text was reviewed by many scholars, and then a translation was made that could be shared with the public that was eager to find out about the discovery.

Rowena Plantagenet Llwys-fsyladdamoryayy Gladonneyhhw (R.P.L-f.G.) undid and removed the gold and garnet clasps of her arm bracelets and various neck and hair ornaments, then moved up her sleeves to free her arms and wrists so she could work more expansively at her writing table. Working alone as she preferred to do, she need not then be concerned about the opposite sex looking at her bared arms, as men would be apt to do with still young looking unmarried women, she knew from experience. After all, she had to be careful, being only four hundred years old, and her abundant, curley red hair and green eyes hadn't helped either to keep the men away--and leave her in peace to do her work at the site. So she had brought by wagon her own portable office and could be safe there from staring site workmen and many others who wandered up to the site to take a look.

She had been translating the ancient script into her modern Welsh language, spoken over virtually the whole continent formerly called Europa and once divided, in Karl Barth's time, into France, Spain, Britain (U.K.), Germany, etc. Those nations and the godless empire that had bound them together under the Anti-Christ in one last violent effort to overthrow the rule of the Lord God had long ceased to exist, of course, and their names buried and forgotten hundreds of years ago, beginning at the time when the Messiah returned to rule the Earth at His Second Coming.

But Rowena was not thinking of these dead nations or the Anti-Christ and his prophet who had been cast into hell, so much as this remnant of tidy, ancient script before her, speaking of a defunct but once flourishing "Switzerland", a tiny mountainous country that prized its isolation and freedom among the snow and glacier- capped crags once called the Alps. But the ancient wiseman did not spend much time describing the land of the Swiss, though he lived and wrote there for many years, producing his greatest works. He was called by his own people and times a "theologian." Theologians were a special kind of scholar devoted exclusively to the study of holy books and the Bible in particular, both Old and New Testaments. Karl Barth was one such Bible-scholar, and his writings were focused on certain questions he asked and attempted to answer in many volumes on the general theme of how he thought it was best to approach understand the Word of God, called the Bible. The right perspective, in other words, was what he aimed to lay out in detail, in books that numbered 4 million words in total.

Rowena found all of this intense study and highly nuanced and detailed "theological" argumentation so amazing! That they were so rich in those times that certain men could devote all their time and energy to studying the Word of God--when it was readily available to every one in society, being the most disseminated and published book in those early societies. What drove particular men to become life-long Bible scholars? Was it love of the Word of God, coupled with a driving passion to discover all of its riches of meaning and truth?

She saw little such men, or evidence of such a love for the Bible and a desire to inquire into its meaning and truth in the society around her, indeed, as far as she travelled, which was to the world center and Messianic capital, Jerusalem, every year to attend the prescribed Festival and Feast of Tabernacles.

It was regarded as a tiresome duty by most people nowadays she knew to attend the Festival, as they did it only to escape the well-known penalties for not honoring it--poor harvests, scanty rainfall, disease among the flocks and herds, miscarriages among women and animals, etc. Of course, many authorities now explained such things as purely natural things, a sign of the deteriorating natural order under the iron scepter and rule of the world's overlord and king of kings, Yeshua the Messiah. But she wasn't so sure--her parents had instilled in her an old-fashioned reverence for God and the Bible, and even now, as a graduate from a secularist-leaning School of Exhumation (as digging up the ancient pre-Millennial past cultures was called), she tended to handle any artifact relating to the Bible and divinity with trembling in her hands and a certain awe deep in her heart.

She kept such things to herself of course, as she had written her thesis on subhumation in the acceptable secularist mode, without a single reference to God being the origin of life and the center of civilization on earth, whatever names it was called in its various divisions, or "nation states."

What unnerved her, however, and increasingly made her both excited and feeling as if she had stolen and eaten forbidden non-kosher candy, was the unbridled spirit and voice of post-Christian secularism she found in Barth's writings. It was so much like the secularism that dominated her own time and society, that she felt a kinship, a certain identification, with Barth, even though he was definitely of an alien culture and a dead, condemned, anathematized society and nation--one representing a proscribed, fallen, anti-Messiah civilization that met its total destruction and eradication when Christ set foot the second time on the Mount of Olives just outside the eastern Golden Gate of Jerusalem. Imagine, such cultures had practiced infanticide for profit, while killing elderly people to save the health care costs! How barbaric and inhumane and cruel they were, while constantly calling themselves civilized people of the highest order! It was clear they were beasts in human bodies--but with technology they had risen to heights that made them imagine themselves to be gods! That pride and arrogance caused them to defy Almighty God and the Son, the Messiah of the Jews, precipitating their greatest folly, declaring war on God to the bitter end, their own utter destruction.

So why was she so drawn to them, when they were clearly so depraved and misguided and self-destructive a race and civilization? Why did it excite her and unsettle her at the same time? She was looking at forbidden things, she knew instinctively and also by her childhood training showing her the whites and blacks of rights and wrongs. But yet she identified somehow, feeling and seeing at the same time a likeness to what they said and felt and thought in Barth's time to what people were now daring to feel and think and even speak about openly in society. Jerusalem's hold was weakening, and the powers emanating from the Davidic throne on Mt. Zion had been waning for many years in fact; people were becoming more and more liberated and gradually shaking off Messianic Rule from Jerusalem, it was clearly apparent to all who lived in the Welsh-speaking regions. Someone even had lately suggested people ought not to put so much value on the "slaughterhouse religion" being practiced in Jerusalem and particular in the Messianic Temple! It was a most daring thing to say, and Rowena, like most of her class who heard it, were shocked almost speechless. But once said, it became common currency in an amazingly short time. "Slaughterhouse Religion," that stuck fast to all that signified the Messianic Temple and everything that Jerusalem represented. The sacrifices of animals that went on there, all supposedly depicting for the Millennial Generations the Atonement achieved by the Substitutional Sacrifice in the Death and Crucifixion of the Messiah in 33 A.D. of the previous world order? Well, they--along with the Messianic Atonement for mankind's sin and rebellion of the past world--were now viewd by an ever growing number of the world's peoples and empires as products of a backward, retrogressive, messy "slaughterhouse religion." It was all rather poor taste, in other words, and beneath their refined sensibilities--and they increasingly resented being forced by severe consequences and penalties to take part in them as a civic duty under Messianic World Rule.

Billions of people now thought and felt unashamably and even outspokenly in the same way, that the Slaughter-House Religion centered at Jerusalem was oppressive and out of step with the times, though she, a more timid, old-fashioned sort of person, was gradually learning how to think and feel the same way while fighting a deep-seated tug in the opposite direction.

Why had she volunteered to work on Barth's artifacts? After all, if it didn't suit her, she could have chosen any of a hundred other exhumed periods of pre-Millennial cultures and nations. Why did she center on the Karl Barth find?

Something in the night, perhaps, coming from far stretches of space and stars, had bewitched her and drawn her to Barth? Wild tales of her ancient Welsh culture told of such things--and were passed on from one generation to the next in children's nursery tales.

An educated soul, even one so old-fashioned as she was, so "traditionalist", with so much residual respect and reverence for the Messianic customs and Festivals, not to mention the Word of God, the Bible, still ought to be above childish, nursery-tale "bewitchment" or subject to the influences of similarly non-rational things. Or maybe she wasn't as educated and fact-centered as she thought she swast? She had to wonder about this. Perhaps, she ought to have stuck to animal husbandry, her natural gift, which led her to cultivating very fine, highly prized flocks of wool producing sheep, goats, chamois, and eveb some mountain-bred varieties of llama too. Weavers, merchants, and buyers from all over the world all knew her from her various, highly sought after woolens, which she wove herself on her specially hand-crafted looms of her own design. Why then did she leave her trade, which she found so satisfying and akin to her quiet-living disposition, for the vigorous, intellectual pursuit of Exhumation and Study of Ancient Pre-Millennial Cultures?

She couldn't settle on a satisfactory answer. She simply followed where she felt impelled to go. There was a drive in her that weaving and animal husbandry could not fulfil, and she thought it might be in mental development, study of ancient texts, and discovering just what the dead, ancient civilization had to teach those who followed.

Well, she ought to be happy then, at her work translating the ancient Dead German of the Barthian texts into modern Welsh--correct? No, she was not happier. She was excited, even tantalized, but not happier. It was unnerving, unsettling, the further she delved into the meanings Barth was attempting to convey. Yet she couldn't stop, though her instincts all cried to her increasingly to stop and put the work away, let someone else have it who wanted it more than she did, but who would that be? She herself was more passionate about Barth than anybody else in the field at present. The circle of fellow Exhumers and Studiers was small and select, really an elite of experts in that subject of inquiry, and she was ideal for the task--and so the Chief Exhumer had given her what she requested: the main body of work on the Basel excavation writings to translate, as much and as long as she wished to do the work. Others could come after her to resume wherever she chose to leave off, it was understood, but she found she could not leave off. The writing was gripping her very soul-- tighter and tighter! She felt a Greater Power than her own spirit reaching out and the long, ghostly, pale, bluish fingers of the Ancient Past, the Deadman's own bloodless hands were digging into her being at its core and squeezing the very life out of her!--yet she could not get free or drop the work, she was captivated by this supernatural force entangling her with almost a convulsive rapture, she was forced to continue, though she was growing very frightened, feeling it might well kill her before long if she didn't make a violent effort and somehow wriggle out of its vise-like grip and escape.

Was this what the Ancients of the lost, dead civilizations before the Millennial Kingdom Reign called "addiction" or even "psychotic fixation" or the more vernacular "madness"? Whatever it was, she was helpless in its clutches, she found, and sensed it was too late to get free. Strangely, she no longer cared very much about her freedom. This attraction had turned into an intoxication, even to the point of rapture. In other words, Rowena was "hooked bad."

Realizing the tremendous hold her work had on her, she tried sporadically to gain some rational control back, and tore herself away and went on a walk one day to think it all over again. She had often walked in the past along the lakeshore, just to smell the flowers and the many different palms' fragrances, which were exquisite in the warming sun. She loved the scent of fresh cinnamon most of all, and there were thousands of cinnamon palms along the shore and climbing up into the hills. Ahead of her she saw one big cinnamon palm thrust about one way and the next, and knew that the Cinnamon Grazer was the cause. Placid as cows, the huge beasts always moved away when she approached, if they noticed her at all. This beast, far as she knew, fed only on the Cinnamon Palm, hence its name, and would never run out of food. There were many others of this species, but there was no danger of depleting the palms, as they covered the slopes everywhere around the great mountain lake.

Rowena observed the Cinnamon Grazer for a while, as she thought how strange it was in the previous world, when Barth lived, a time without such grazers, though there were some large land mammals called elephants, giraffes, and rhinosauros, while in the sea swam even larger mammals called whales of one kind or another. Still, Barth's world did not contain anything on land to equal the Grazers. It was a good thing, being so huge, they were so gentle and cared only about eating their favorite plants and trees! Some people she knew tamed certain species, the winged varieties, and flew them, taking passengers from place to place. Others employed the giant ox for logging, stump removal, and plowing new ground. But most were left alone to do what they naturally did: control the subtropical vegetation that covered the whole earth. It was too big a job for human beings. They couldn't have found one open spot in the forests and jungles if it weren't for the Grazers. Thanks to them, there were even large plains that the Grass-Eaters kept treeless, where the animals of the plains could thrive. The whole world benefited from them, and people were grateful. They could lead them like docile pets with a thin rope for a leash if they wished, right into town and they wouldn't harm anything deliberately--but being so immense, one little swing of a tail could knock over a house and so it was seldom attempted.

She knew children loved to climb their backs, and the beasts wouldn't shake them off, or grow annoyed and put their big feet on them. But still, it was not safe to do so, as the beasts uually had small heads for their immense body size, and that meant their eyes were small and their vision limited. Try and explain that to fun-loving little boys! She knew they would always be playing with the Grazers, no matter what their parents said--and take their chances one day the poor beast wouldn't see what he put his foot on. It was tragic when that happened, but it wasn't the beast's fault, and so they just had to be more careful to warn the children not to take such chances and hope they obeyed.

She herself was glad she hadn't children, and remained unmarried so long. She could still choose to marry if she found someone suitable, who wouldn't interfere with her intellectual pursuits, but she rather liked her independence of men. And what would she do with children under her feet? She loved her animals and now her work as an Exhumer. Everything she had done previously to Exhuming seemed inconsequental in fact. Barth was everything to her! Everything! She couldn't get enough of his wonderful philosophy! It was so liberating to her mind and soul. What puzzled her was how this spiritual giant could be writing so many books, and yet the world he lived in took such little notice at the time, though he received quite a lot of prestigious honors from various universities and colleges. If only they had given him the attention he deserved and followed out his teachings to their logical ends! Wouldn't their world have been much better for it, and possibly have escaped destruction? Yet they continued to co-exist with lesser ideas, with lesser expressions of the intellect and man's spirit, and the pathologies of the whole culture overwhelmed them in the end and destroyed them.

Now it remained for her to bring the liberty and truth of Barth forth for her own people to read and learn all the things he taught an earlier mankind.

What things? a voice seemed to ask her as she turned her feet toward the site of the diggings.

"Why, for instance, that God is infinitely transcendent, infinitely beyond human grasp and understanding! That thought alone could be the subject for an entire volume! It was a most revolutionary thought. It was earth-shaking, in fact. Imagine such a God as Barth conceived Him-- it would liberate the whole population of earth from the degrading, enslaving, autocratic idea that God could be touched and spoken to and whom they needed to deal with problems on a human level. All that interference and meddling by the Absolute was quite impossible, and unnecessary. God, since he was Absolutist, was infinitely removed from humanity, being infinite being. Man was limited being, there was no denying it, and therefore that was all he could possibly know--finitude and the humanly knowable world. There was a gap between God and man that nothing could bridge--nothing whatsoever! Even God could not bridge it--as then he would cease to be less than Infinite Deity. To be personal with man, then, was logically a contradiction, by the very definition of God the Absolute. To become personal, God would have to give up his own essence and cease to be Infinite God!

This liberating, thrilling thought took her all the way back to her quarters. She paused before going in her private office to touch the face of Barth, and the coolness of the stone made her tingle with joy. How much she owed this great man! He was setting her free from centuries and centuries of shackled thought and bondage to a knowable, personal, demanding Godhead. Now she could exist on her mundane human plane, and God would exist on his infinite plane, and she could contemplate Him, while remaining absolutely free, without being forced to worship and praise and give offerings and make the yearly pilgrimage to the Messianic Temple in Jerusalem at the the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Absolutely free as she now recognized herself as a moral agent, could she refuse to go? What would happen if she didn't? She had always gone out of solemn religious, traditional, and family duty and fear of God, but now she wanted to exercise her newfound freedom, whatever the consequences. After all, her intellectual integrity demanded that she not compromise what she had discovered: man is a free agent in the universe, created so by God the Absolute who could not deny His own infinite apartness from Creation.

Then a thought came to her that clinched the entire question for her: how could this Son of God reigning in the New Jerusalem over the entire earth possibly be what He was claimed to be--the Savior and Lord over all people and the earth? God could not have such a Son in the first place! An Absolute, Supreme Being could not produce an intermediary who was God too! God had no such Son! What was the logical conclusion? This "Christ," Yeshua, the "Son of God," "Messiah of the Jews," was nothing but an imposter!

With this conclusion, her mind closed on the question like a steel trap. There could be no other rational, logical conclusion! It was settled. Yeshua was a vast fraud perpetrated upon all humanity and the whole earth, for hundreds and hundreds of years. But something had to be done. Mankind was enslaved by a lie. Mankind was enslaved to a false God, a mere man made up to be God.

What should be her response? She had to think long and seriously about that. She left her work and went on yet another meditative walk.

This time she did not go along the lakeshore, she went to the Basel excavation, and gazed upon the revered statue of the Great Ancient, Barth.

Since this was the very man who had helped set her free beyond anything else she could identify, she felt great gratitude toward this dead giant of intellect and truth. It was a gratitude that caused a kind of worship to well up within her heart, and so she found herself praising him and even praying to his dead spirit that still lived and flourished in his immortal words and writings.

"O Great One of the Ages, you have set me free from the shackles of the Age, from the false one who sits on the throne this day in the city of Jerusalem on the mount, who has enslaved all men, and whom must be exposed and driven out from the temple and his shackles dashed to pieces! Great One, you have inspired me, your daughter, to begin the noble struggle to fight for the freedom of my fellow men. They are lost in darkness, slaves who do not know yet they are slaves, but I know the truth, and I will never compromise with the darkness and the lies of the imposter. I promise you, O Great One, I will remain true to your teachings, even if I should suffer early death at the hands of the imposter's many armed men and servants. Give me strength of will and resolve, O Great One, that I will not relent until the innocent, oppressed masses are set free, to be once again free moral agents as I am lately become, and no longer abject subjects of a false son of God, when God being Absolute and Supreme and Infinite could never have birthed a son. In honor to the Absolute God who reigns beyond the universe, in honor to you, O Great One of Tel Basel and the Ages, I commit myself and all my endeavors in the coming days. Amen!

While Rowena was casting off all the shackles she thought were chaining her, preventing her from becoming a fully free, liberated human being, Ero was encountering difficulties with his mode of transportation.

At first, he easily adjusted to the change, the loss of the mast on his mast-bot. The base remained, and it served well enough, a free-flying saucer. He was able to see large parts of the Millennial World with it.

The greatest sight of all was, of course, Zion, the New Jerusalem on its holy mount. Here all the nations came yearly at the Feast of Tabernacles to present themselves before Lord Yeshua.

It was nearing the Feast of Tabernacles, in fact. Already pilgrims were hurrying from all parts of the globe, by all sorts of means available. One way was the dragon-carriage, which had been around for a long time, and though archaic was still preferred by those who didn't like the more modern conveyances.

As Ero drew closer in than ever before to Mount Zion, his eyes adjusted and he was able to see into the blazing light shining from the mountain-based city, the New Jerusalem.

He saw incredibly fearsome winged creatures, one on the right and one on the left, standing guard along with some winged soldiers in full battle gear. He couldn't turn back now, his eyes were beholding things he had never imagined, and at the risk of his life he wanted to see more if he possibly could.

As he flew closer yet, he thought, "How can those few buildings on the mountain hold billions of people? The world, he thought, is sending millions to join in the Feast of the Tabernacles, but the City of the Great King is supposed to hold billions of his people already. Where are they? Far off he could see moving dots that were entering or moving upwards through transparent tubes--but that was all he could see.

He flew closer, and to his surprise the houses or structures on the mount continue to grow in size, increasing as he was decreasing.

Whatever he looked at in particular, the name of it came to his mind without Wally's popups. He saw on the left, "Palace of the Alabaster Box." To the right on an upper level he saw, "Palace of the Wise Virgins." Above another level or two was a Menorah, the "House of Israel." Beyond that on the left was the Triumphal Arch of the 144,000 Martyred Witnesses. Above that rose a candle from the Menorah whose top he could not see, that was "Yeshua's Candle," he was somehow informed.

When he moved closer, however, guardians moved to meet him. They were all giants. One came and spoke for the others to Ero.

"Tsaddiquim greets you! We are the Guardians fof the Seven Churches of Asia and now the New Jersualem. The others are named Nesu, Ashre, Chesid, Smichu, Pallet, and Sether.

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS EPISODE

The door to the Palace of the Wise Virgins happens to be the eye-gate, which are single slices of a great pearl.

Ero came to Basel, which meant nothing to him, except that he felt a sudden chill when passing over it. He felt drained of all his courage and strength too. And soon afterwards his saucer-bot began malfunctioning, flying erratically, then, most alarmingly, it began to grow thin and transparent.

Wouldn't it happen now, after the most wonderful sights and experiences at Mt. Zion, the New Jerualem, still brightly glowing his mind?

He fell to the ground when the saucer dissolved, dropping bolts and coupling plates. It was a soft landing, as the whole earth was covered with dense vegetatation whereever the dinosaurs had not mowed it or men had cleared it to grow food or graze cattle and sheep and horses. What was he supposed to do now, without transportation? He still had the Kater's Compass, he remembered. He pressed on it until he got a Popup, then tried HELP.

SEARCH took him to various options.

But he couldn't find anything that answered to his particular dilemma.

Then he thought of something. He pull some long fibers from a palm trunk, that hung long and hairlike in huge tufts, and tied on the plates from the mast base, and then as he rose up, he tried to maneuver and even fly. But he couldn't coordinate, and soon found he was crashing back into the vegetation.

He saw he was in a real fix--no transportation! He was grounded! He might as well add "Z" to his name, making himself Z-ero, for what good could he be now, unable to get from one place to another without walking? Climbing through dense vegetation would take him forever to reach any destination. He might strike for a river to use it to travel, but where were the rivers? He couldn't see them from ground-level! But was it as bad as that? He had to remind himself that he hadn't always had the convenience and vantage point for seeing things thanks to the mast and dome. Before that he had been a torchbearer for the Olympics, and then a mariner on a ship, the Argo, used for an expedition. Now what was he going to do? He seemingly had come to the end of his possibilities.

As he looked about, he noticed some things however that gave him some hope of improving his mobility. He found that the native winged fauna and even the huge insects such as dragonflies were not at all hostile to man or unfriendly to him. They were so tame, in fact, he thought he could ride them. He chose a dragonfly, since there were no dragons in the vicinity. Magnificent fliers and huge enough to carry him, they could take him anyplace he wanted to go.

Catching a dragonfly was easier said than done, he discovered.

Skittish creatures by nature, though fearless, the dragonfly he was approaching flew off the moment he showed any interest in it. He looked around for another. Fortunately, there were many, so he didn't have to look long.

He had to find someway to catch them them when they were sleeping or not paying attention, but their globular eyes were so multifaceted, and lidless too, he knew they could always see around them 360 degrees and never be caught off guard.

He asked HELP, and Wally had these suggestions:

CUT, PASTE, OR DRAG AND CLICK ON SPOT WHERE YOU WANT YOUR ICON PLACED.

It took ingenuity, but a Greek is famous for that quality. Quickness too helps with on the job training. He was able to leap and CUT and COPY. DRAGGING the image to him, as the original zoomed away, he PASTED it where he wanted it, beneath him, and then he was off and away on his dragonfly-bot!

As Ero learned how to handle his new mode of transportation, Wally's program was busy programmning a medallion winged with laurel leaves, a copper embellishment on the copper dome of Union Station.

The medallion lifted off the dome and fluttered down to the sidewalk, where it lay momentarily, while it was being booted up.

It did not take long, and the fully loaded medallion-bot was on its way to join Ero.

Ero noticed he was being followed. Was it a bird? A dragon? It had winglike appendages, a round flat body, with a hat like head.

Whatever it was, it caught up to him. The Kater came alive, informing him about the bot and it look good to him too so that he decided to transfer to it, while keeping the dragonfly-bot for what useful errands he might think to give it.

The moment he stepped over on it, it was transformed into a kind of flying boat combined with a jet contrail. With this highly maneuverable bot he could go anywhere quickly, and he was to find that a very handy feature in the days ahead.

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS EPISODE

UNCHRONICLE OF THE POET'S VISION, VOL. IV, RETROSTAR

What is it about Orion the Hunter that makes it so special? The Romans and Greeks thought it special, the Minoans and Mycenaeans before them, and the Hebrews before them all. Advances in astronomy, Copernicus, mathematical developments, and refinement of solar observatory lenses over the ages helped--pinpointing specifically the cloudy walled Nebula that is about midpoint in Orion's sword, that contains the largest cavern perhaps in the Univese.

Yet science followed art in this respect: the greatest leap toward understanding and discovering Orion's primal role in the Universe was not by the likes of Sir Edmund Hoyle, Britain's premier astronomer, but a teen-aged vicar's son with a huge talent for versifying coupled with a genius's capacity for revelation through giant strides of meditation and imagination.

Britain's Poet Laureate to be and most popular poet of the 19th century, young Alfred Tennison (spelled that way on Earth II, although spelling in the 17th century until the late 19th was anybody's choice and so his ancestral name could be "Tennyson," "Tennison," "Tenniesonne,"--however a bearer of that family name chose to write it) set out early like a comet to blaze a path for himself across the firmament of English poetry. With youth's infinite capacity for starting on impossible ventures with the greatest hopes and expectations of succeeding gloriously, Tennison thought he could become Britain's Homer, perhaps forgetting he would be standing on the shoulders of giants--Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth--to name just a few. However you spell him and his forgivably youthful presumption, the brilliant young poet was on his way to guessing or intuiting something HUGE about Orion that astronomers hadn't even guessed at in the 19th century, though Orion was much admired for its arrays of spectacular stars, and the ancient Egyptians were first and foremost Orion's fans.

Before going on, consider ancient Egypt. We all have heard how the Giza pyramids were aligned with Orion, haven't we? But why? What was so vital about Orion to them? Since Alfred Tennison's time astronomers got hold of wonderful telescopes like Hubble and have revealed the spectacular splendors of Orion and the Nebula, discovering that it is the teeming with what seemed to be newly formed and forming stars. It is a "star nursery," astronomers like to say. But, evenif that were true, there is much more to it than that even. Well, let Alfred Tennison speak for himself, as he was always well able to do just that:

Newly turned seventeen, Alfred considered his prospects. He was the 4th of twelve children by his father George Clayton Tennison--former rector of Somerby, also rector of Benniworth and Bag Enderby, and finally victor of Grimsby. Though disinherited by his titled father, George, or Reverend Tennison, remained relatively well off for a country clergyman and proved able to afford a wife and numerous children. But more than simply providing well, his father had taken an active interest in his son's education. He had lacked for nothing in tutors, books, and free run of his father's library. Winters in Britain are dreary ofcourse, with time spent concentrating on studies, but summers? How nice it was that the whole family could go and stay at their summer house in the west of England.

But even nice things can turn "unnice," can't they?

Feeling he had attained his majority and right to considerable independence, though his mostly younger siblings might not all agree to that, Alfred felt things had changed for him--it was metamorphosis, he had outgrown the pupa stage and needed to spread his wings and fly. All of a sudden, he couldn't bear all the eyes watching his every move and remarking on it too! He needed to breathe! The house was far too stuffy, smelling of camphor in the lately shuttered rooms stuffed with dusty dark furniture and ghastly red wallpaper. He thought he would perish if he remained one moment longer!

Once it had been his childhood paradise--now it seemed an aged horror. It was the house his family used only on holidays, but kept the rest of the year with a caretaker--an old cranky fellow housed free in a gardener's hut to tend the grounds but who did nothing but smoke his pipe and remark on the foul weather that agitated his ague and kept him to his chair, he said. The garden was overrun by brambles, the fish pool dried up after the pipe feeding in from the brook cracked and wasn't mended, the shrubberies a disgrace of half-dead or misshapen overgrowth littered with long abandoned starling nests. That was all his father could think to do with the place--preserve it in its state of decay. What with his father's drinking and his swwet but inattentive mother shut up in her sewing room taking no notice of the world, the household was a shambles, no order to anything, the servants who tended the kitchen seldom able to run up regular meals or change the sheets.

With his brothers rough-housing continually, or his sisters bickering peevishly over the least trifles right into the late hours, he could hardly endure sleeping there.

Fortunately, days of bad weather that forced him to stay indoors were few, as he went out walking and rambling, regardless. But it just wasn't the house stuffed with a large, squabbling, disorderly family. The time he lived in, the society around him, also stifled his vital spirit, to the extent of insult. Sensitive to things, he couldn't but feel it was a time of vast unquiet, noise, confusion, and demands of all kinds. Despite the wonders of industry, gaps loomed like caverns in the fabric of modern society. They weren't being addressed either--they were ignored or shamelessly belittled. There was no escape for the soul and spirit of his inner man--even God was denied, and that once sure Refuge cut off. A vicar's son, he knew how theology was now thought antiquated, really a despised calling, whereas once it had been the most respected, attracting the best minds.

The "important people" all seemed to believe Science now at last had the ability to identify all the answers, reasons, and causes of life--it was just a matter of a few years more and there would be no more questions worth asking, for Science would answer them all!

How mistaken they were! he thought, realizing he was very much alone in taking that stand.

That stertorius declaration voiced by various mouthpieces of the Establishment--"Science has surpassed God and all the Bible's so-called Revelation!-- galled Alfred's soul and spirit and mind, as much his stays in the old, lake district house. It made him feel almost claustrophobic. Oh, if he had only been born centuries before! Back when life still prsented vistas of the unknown yet for man to conquer! But now what was left to conquer? What indeed? Dry academicians, their moustasches stiff with tobacco smoke, claimed to know everything, and nature was utterly subdued, tamed, explained. Nature was a sort of trick dog now. These people made Nature to do amusing tricks for them in the laboratory and the lecture room. "See!" they cried, winking at each other. "Nature performs just as we predicted it would! Over the hoop, through the hoop, under the hoop! Nice doggie, here's your treat! Bloody nature's under our complete control!"

Well, Alfred knew they were wrong! They couldn't be more wrong, in fact. He knew there was so much they were missing, which, as Shakespeare said so well, they had not even dreamt of!

Of course, they all scoffed at such a suggestion, that there was something left outside their neat equations. Who can teach us anything? We are the ones to teach YOU!

How he detested such men. They had buried Mystery-- along with the Middle Ages and all adventurous, challenging times when young men, like the famed Argonauts, launched forth on great journeys of exploration and discovery.

Yes, they had ruined it for the young men of Britain! All the sparkle had been drained from life. Why live?--just to repeat their drab careers?

To get away from the house and just as much from the 19th century, he bolted out the back door and ran down through the unkempt garden. Without stopping, he climbed the ha ha wall keeping sheep off the house lawn and went walking alone in the hills he liked best in this Lakes District on the western coast. Unmindful how much time he was spending out there, he crossed fields and roads alike, climbing ever higher for the views.

He met few people that way, but many wonderful creatures caught in their various activities and haunts--fox, ducks, deer, hedgehogs, voles, weasels, all sorts of intriguing, wonderful creatures. Away from the resorts and their civilized clapttrap, this semi-wild haunt of wooded ravines, unvisited lakeshores, steep hills with ancient weathered menhirs on some of them, was his favorite place for outings and philosophizing about life's meaning and his own possible place in things.

How he hated the thought of returning to that old house where everything had seemingly lain in its place forever, begging not to be disturbed!

After being closed up so long during the winter, it smelled musty to him, and needed airing out, the shutters on all the windows thrown wide open. Even then, that musty smell lingered. And when he opened a drawer of any of the furniture, he smelled camphor and ammonia from the mothballs!

It took hours to clear all that out of his lungs and soul and feel free and alive again, with something to hope for.

He carried paper and pencil for when he thought of something to write, though he would need a lantern soon to see what he had written. It was late in the day, and the dusk was deepening, and the first stars beginning to shine. His family was used to his random ramblings taken at any hour day or night in the countryside, so wouldn't worry too much, he knew.

As he stared upwards, he could make out Orion the Hunter easily, and looking at it some thoughts formed that he felt he must try to capture on paper while there was still enough light for him to write. For weeks, the Zoadiacal patterns, the Arabic names and their meanings particularly, impressed him more and more toward an inescapable conclusion--these formulations and stories governing the starry host above him were not accidents or mere human whimsy--oh, no! In truth, taken together, they revealed the First Theology, written before there was a printed book in the stars's names and their positions as viewed from the vantage of Earth. Viewed from any other world, one would see only a jumble without any meaning of course. The millennial-old Holy Bible was right about it--these were precisely arranged and set Signs given man to guide him and explain the mystery of life itself! How set and arranged? He had read enough astronomy to know that the stars in any given constellation were no where near each other--they only appeared to be so. But that wasn't a problem at all. The stories handed down from the dawn of man in the Garden of Eden created the arrangements, and then explained them. You couldn't start with the stars themselves and arrive at sense and meaning. Revelation--the metaphysical stories and narratives--were the beginning point for tremendous discovery.

How exciting this was, to think such a Key was given man, to unlock all mystery. Well, he couldn't wait to turn that golden Key!

Writing large, he began to jot down his thoughts on note paper he pulled out of his shirt and tucked into his belt.

"A single misty star

which is the second in a line of stars

That seem a sword beneath

a belt of three,

I never gazed upon it but I dreamt

of some vast charm concluded

in that star

to make fame nothing.

"Were I to find a ship of fire, perhaps with speed like light itself,

which flies from star to earth and sun to planets, what would I see in that far place?

Perhaps a cavern of palaces,

stars forming thrones beneath massy domes, so I might wander there ever going from chamber to chamber?

"What precious things would I find within those halls, that waited there in glorious chests-- treasures of the Universe, hidden since our Word first spoke these worlds' birth?

"At death at least, will my spirit fly, to realms, domains, and empires high? Will I find scepters glowing bright, many-colored and powered with pride?

"What Titans dropped all in their haste, their powers, dominions, all gone waste?

What Power o'erturned theirs so great, Greater still,

that cast them into depths of space

to wander in dreary dark disgrace?

"Secrets of the stars must await,

woven ingeniously in sworded belt!

A tapestry of destiny--

and a Door to crystal Wonders--

would we have the right key we'd see and know and those wonders embrace!"

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THE UNCHRONICLE OF THE POET'S VISION

Where was young Alfred Tennison going with this? What did he mean by "Secrets of the stars"? Secrets woven into the sword of Orion the Hunter? What could they possibly be? Surely, this Universe is a mechanical thing, without any secrets, right? According to Charles Darwin, Huxley, and Evolution, it started up on its own and keeps running on and on until it finally stops, a thing completely purposeless, without meaning,a no direction, in other words, a Boeings 747 created from a junkyard that a tornado happened to plow into (believe that and you need a brain transplant!). But that isn't the picture astronomers have been conveying for decades now--the Universe, on the other hand, is designed beyond our knowledge to completely comprehend and also full of unfathomable mysteries and wonders and enigmas of all kinds. They are baffled oftentimes by what their telescopes convey to them. Man may never in a thousand ages be able to unlock the puzzles he finds among the stars, there are so many and they are so vast and interfaceted. The Universe, for all the glib talk about it being "finite," is as good as infinite as far as our human capabilities extend, even if we had a million years to develop science beyond what it is today.

What was this incredible Crystal Bridge? Why did it mean so much to Yeshua? Damon and Ero, Knights of the Axes of Honor, soon as the bridge appeared in sight, were immediately overwhelmed by the centerpiece of Orion the Hunter.

How beautiful! There was nothing else like it in the entire Universe. It was shimmering blue, it was crystal of the greatest purity, and despite its fragility it was strung across the shining depths of Orion, across thousands of miles in the Cavern of the Great Nebula. But what was its significance, meaning, and purpose? They would have to wait a bit more before they could find out. At any rate, they knew their purpose: defending it against any assailants.

The Knights, closer in, saw the gap in the Crystal Bridge for the first time. What had caused that? How could it be mended? They would soon learn what Yeshua had described to them, as each Reconciler, each Champion of some special kind appeared to take his or her place on either side of the breech, in preparation for the final repair and the drawing together of the severed halves.

Since the Bridge was completely new to them, Guardians met them and as they were escorted along were giving them names and information (no time was wasted). They were introduced to Blue Bridge champions. On one half stood the champion facing the champion across the gap in the span on the other half. In this way Magonus Sucutus Patricius faced the Irish People. Ilse (the Dutch Jewess put in Auschwitz) faced a former Auschwitz guard. Pearl faced Mr. Shoop. David Guth faced a Dakiota Indian chief whose life he once saved. Joseph II faced Lamed and Abdullah. These were just a few of the champions they met.

NEW CHRONICLES SOON IN PROGRESS:

CHRONICLE OF THE BLUE BRIDGE SALIENT, A. S. 73-79, Part II, Starship Titaness, a Hollywood screenplay writer is working on a Grade B movie script to star Zsa Zsa Gabor when the actual events took place in Orion the Hunter with Elektra, a princess of the Atlantis that was destroyed in A.A.S. 10,000, who is vying for the super-powerful crystals she has discovered in the Cavern of the Great Nebula.

UNCHRONICLE OF CORPORAL CODD AND THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, CHRISTMAS EVE, A. S. 1916, VOLUME IV.

Corporal Codd, driver for a knucklehead, a stuffed-shirt Lieutenant in the 4th British Army fighting disastrously on the Somme against Imperial Germany on the Western Front of the Great War in 1916 witnesses an unofficial ceasefire all along the line from the Atlantic west coast of Brittany to the Somme River in France. The Lieutenant was clewless, and explained it away. Codd saw it for what it was: a stupendous miracle, truly supernatural.

UNCHRONICLE OF THE NEW CLEOPATRA, A.S. 60-79, Vol. IV, Part I. Dramatis personnae: the Great-Granddaughter of Herod the Great, Berenice, and Nero, and the Flavian Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, not to mention Plinius the Younger, writer and statesman, his uncle Plinius the Elder the renowned naturalist and writer, and Mt. Vesuvius in venues of Jerusalem, Roma, and Pompeii. How a beautiful woman from the East played a major role in the destruction of Roma and Jerusalem and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and how Nero first refused the warning from his own soothsayers quoting the Sybilline oracles when he gave the order to behead Paulus the Apostle of the sect of Christus in Roma, thinking he could thus squelch the worrisome new religion by eliminating the leader.

FOR PART I AND PART II OF THE UNCHRONICLE OF THE NEW CLEOPATRA, GO TO:

Chronicles in Progress, Unchronicle of the New Cleopatra, Part II

PLEASE GO TO CHRONICLES IN PROGRESS, PART II, FOR MORE OF THE UNFINISHED CHRONICLES AND THE UNCHRONICLE OF CRISPUS AND THE PHOENIX.

RETROSTAR TIMELINES

"ERO AND PIETER VAN PANN IN PANAMA FIELD STUDY," VOL. IV, RETROSTAR

J.M. Barrie's classic about the charming boy who refused to grow up and lived on a far-off island up north somewhere in Scotland where he bravely fought all sorts of villains while he kept untainted and free of money-grubbing human society. This combination of knight errant and free soul in the person of an ageless boyhood struck a chord in urban human hearts everywhere, and there were plays, movies, book sequels by other authors, and a lot of wannabe free-souled "Peters" too. It was a name that sometimes carried a fateful significance the parents quite possibly had not imagined when they named their newborns after the mischievous, never-aging Peter Pan, the free spirit who never had to settle down to a nine to five, humdrum existence in the city. Certainly, this proved true for the 9-5 yoked Van Panns of Amsterdam, Holland, after they named their son Pieter.

At first, the fatal allusion did not seem to carry any effect beyond the ordinary. Pieter looked just like any other tow-haired Dutch boy, but then, at age six, he settled on his life career: photography. What? His parents could not fathom it, but despite them, photography obsessed him like a drug addiction from the earliest age when one fatal Christmas he received that harmless-looking, lego-toy kiddie camera set from them. How they lived to regret that careless act! Once he had it put together with his parents’ help with the instructions, there was no stopping him.

It didn't help that there was a cultural bias. His parents thought their son’s penchant for photography a bit odd, since they were stock brokers, very prosperous ones too, in a long line of eminently respectable stock brokers. However, stocks and bonds and markets and futures bored little Pieter to tears--he wanted nothing to do with stockbrokerage--which was tantamount to sin in their eyes.

Like a boozer and his bottle, that toylike camera could not be parted from him night nor day. He graduated to bigger and finer and more expensive specimens, of course, all the while honing his skills, which handily won him entrance and a top drawer scholarship at the best photography institutes of Paris and New York. After finishing with masters program (submitting one black and white photograph of icicles hanging from a garbage can lid), he quickly sallied forth as a free lance, taking assignments from various magazines.

One assignment particularly intrigued him and frightened his parents. After his friends weighed in against it, he felt impelled to take it, and stepped off the plane with his gear in Panama City, Panama, proud that he hadn't given in to people's silly fears for his safety.

A week or two passed, as he penetrated deeper into the jungles, pressing like Livingstone in East Africa beyond where the fat, cigar-smoking, dypspeptic provincial governor advised him to go. Nothing untoward had happened to him, either, despite his friends' fears, and he thought they had been very silly now that he was doing so well and even finding new species, so he thought. He was excitedly photographing the intricate courtship rituals of a certain unidentified hummer that sported a purplish and gold crown like a cockatoo's, which he knew had to be an undiscovered species, when things went wrong. He didn't know how wrong at first. He just grew aware, by degree, that he was surrounded by the strangest looking native people he had ever seen.

Not wanting to interrupt his work, he thought that if he just went on working and ignored them, they'd fade away as unobtrusively as they appeared. How wrong he was about that! They just crowded in closer and closer until they were rubbing up next to him! Naked except for a g-string and a bit of loin cloth , each man was topped with strange headgear, and carried a spear in one hand and something else in the other hand he couldn't possibly identify--and, if this wasn't enough strangeness, they didn't speak, or if they did speak, it was by means of squeaks and rapid clicks of the tongue.

Strange as they appeared and acted, Pieter still wasn't afraid in the least these native people, just curious.

He noticed some other things about them. They had mutilated their noses to look like bats, he thought, but why go to that trouble? Were they bat-god worshippers?

He wanted to photograph them of course, to add to his pictures of the new hummingbird species for the magazine that had sent him to Panama, but his visitors rudely grabbed him. He found out immediately how extremely strong they were. He couldn't do a thing to resist them, they handled him like a doll with their massive, iron-hard muscles. They threw down his world-class camera and tripod despite his protests, and...kidnapped him!

Yes, he told himself, it was a genuine kidnapping, no question about it. He was somebody's captive. What was he to do now? He thought hard. He knew he had his rights--and they were breaking international law, and could be brought before a court, since he was a Dutch citizen. But what language did they speak? It seems an utterly nonsensical language he would never be able to alphabetize!

They gave him no time to talk his way out even if he could have mastered their gibberish-type language, or, failing that, to bribe them with something--money or a watch or a ring he wore.

Squeaking and clicking with calculator-like speed, they manhandled him head to foot as they hustled him through the jungle up and down steep slopes, and finally threw him into a small bamboo enclosure.

There they left him to stew and fret about his captivity. For hours and hours, his hands tied behind him, he had time--but time for what? Everything of his former life had been taken from him by force. Now he had all the time in the world to study things that didn’t Particularly appeal to him--bamboo, ants of all kinds and sizes, poisonous centipedes, and how a man in his position sweated and felt other signs of discomfort.

As for ants, the whites ate holes in his clothes, while the red headed white ants burned him like fire when they bit him. The blacks attacked the white ants and left him alone. The tiniest ants were ferocious, and burrowed into his flesh with forceps-like mandibles that caused him great pain wherever they fastened on to him. He was constantly trying to shake them off him, or out of his shirt and pants, and he couldn't keep them out, as the white ants ate holes they could easily slip through.

But this, interesting to someone else maybe, was not at all what he had signed up for, not what he was trained to do, and he was becoming more and more upset and impatient and restless.

He could hear the tribesmen's click-squeaking plain enough. Only their tones communicated something to him: excited, or indifferent, excited again, angry. He didn't like to hear them grow angry, it made him sweat even more, at the thoughts of what they might want to do with him if he happened to be the object of their ire.

Over the hours, he worked frantically to free his hands, but they had tied him expertly with braided bamboo fibers, and he couldn't break them. Yet with enough work and the grease of his own sweat glands he managed to free one hand, and then he carefully moved aside one bamboo stake just enough so he could take a peek at his captors.

Whew! What ugly brutes they were when seen in repose! It was better when they were moving about. But now he could examine every horrible detail! Then he saw the bone litter around them. A horrible feeling swept over him. Were they actually going to COOK and INGEST him? Would their teeth masticulate him and his body tissues actually slide down their throats, swallowed, and enter their stomachs and intestines and eventually be eliminated?

Why not? He had heard how there were many cannibals still in the wild regions of the tropics in tropical Australasia, so why not here in western Panama?

The possibility made him sweat, all the more he considered it. Why hadn't anyone warned him about these wild, unwashed, utterly uncivilized tribes of western Panama? It was hepatitus from impure water, and malarial mosquitoes, typhoid and parasites and jaguars, not to mention sharks and poisonous jellyfish and snakes that his friends warned him about--not the natives! After all, the natives were reputed to be pure, uncontaminated, noble souls--all living in perfect accord with nature and the eternal cycles of life and regeneration.

The filthy scoundrels! They had first taken all his gear away, then, worse, stripped him of his cell so he couldn't call out for help. He was at the mercy of these clicking, squeaking devils! Evidently, they had no regard for the authorities, human rights, and the Oslo Accords. If this was native culture, he wanted nothing more to do with any of it!

Worse than their appearance, their eating habits were appalling! Apparently, they were omnivorous, and did not disdain consuming rodents of all sizes and shapes. One fellow dispatched an ugly rat-like creature right at the edge of the camp that had wandered in too close to snatch the tasty little tidbits they left lying about.

It was so disgusting, he felt sick to his stomach watching the brute reach in the pouch of the hideous rodent-mother, then remove the fetuses she had there clinging to her teats, wriggling and hairless pink things, which he then shared around with his peers, who delightedly popped the blind living morsels into their mouths and lustily chewed away. After that he watched the rodent's belly slit open with a machete, and the yellow and greenish guts pulled out and thrown into the stew pot, while the carcass was flung to the edge of the camp, discarded for the vultures hanging about in the trees overhead to come and pick at..

Why waste the carcass, Pieter wondered, until he remembered reading something about native cuisine, how certain rodents were rendered inedible due to poisonous oil glands. Evidently, this was the toxic type they were gourmandizing on as if it were a delicacy. Too bad they knew the difference! he thought uncharitably.

One of the brutes then did something even more nasty. He relieved himself, right into the fire, and liberally sprayed the pot too, as the steam rose up and enfolded his companions!

Yet his unhygenic act didn't turn the edge of their appetites any, it seemed. His companions smacked their lips and wriggled their mutilated noses as the mighty hunter who shot the rodent stirred the mess in the pot with the rudely carved ladle--but only after he had wiped his nose with it!

Did these fiends know nothing about Dutch cleanliness? Their cook took the paddle spoon out from time to time, licking it with their thick, agile, dog-like tongues, then gave the others a lick or two in turn, before he stuck it back in the to stir again.

Acrid smoke of burning green wood sprayed with urine and a stench of stewing flesh and guts and burnt hair wafted over him--it couldn't be kept out of his bamboo enclosure, and he couldn't cover his nose with his hands.

St. Ursula! he groaned. Was he going to end up in that same pot with that awful rat and all those filthy guts? It was one thing being multicultural and diversity-minded in a clean, scentless, civilized setting, but here? Everything he had been taught since he was first able to go to school was now being challenged by these naked ruffians with the odd noses and outlandish headgear!

"If only they would let me at them, one by one, I'd show them what a Darling can do, given a fair chance to defend herself!" She was furious, moreso than frightened.

She had been going about her business, photographing the glyphs of the latest discovered Mayan ruins of Zatpotecacoatl when a gang of Indians (what tribe she couldn't guess at the moment), sprang out of the bushes upon her, and everything she had been doing was spoiled--as all her gear and film had been left behind, to get wet and ruined, no doubt, in the next tropical downpour!

It was all their fault! Whoever they were, she would see to it they were punished as soon as the authorities came and set her free!

She struggled to get free, nevertheless, from her bamboo bonds, just the same, as it was hard to tell when the police would come--though surely, they would come to inquire about her welfare--since she had taken the precaution to instruct her hotelier that should she not return by a certain date, he was to alert the authorities immediately and hand over a map she had made for them giving her exact coordinates.

A young woman, operating free lance (not by choice really, as two porters and a cook (bonded!) had run off, taking her canoe with most of her provisions after only two days, crying some nonsense about "vampire people"), had to be careful to make such arrangements, she knew. She had determined back at the university when receiving her degree, she wasn't going to end up just another "young, promising" researcher "missing in action," reported for a few days on the news, then forgotten.

But now, as the minutes stretched into hours, and the heat and bugs and her cramping arms and wrists took a toll on her patience and stamina, her assurance of rescue began to wane as well.

She realized that if anyone was to help her, it had to be herself, or nobody.

She listened to their strange, rapidfire clicking-squeaking speech of the Indians squatting round a fire only feet away from her, the constant smacking of their lips, the other rude sounds they made too regardless of a female's presence, and wondered how long she could endure their odious company without screaming?

Funny, she thought, she hadn't thought of screaming before. It wasn't much encouraged in civilized society, true; even in martial arts, hardly was it mentioned. But why not do it? Her voice trainer had told her she had “good pipes”. Maybe it would draw her rescuers, she thought. They were evidently having trouble finding her in the terrific rain forest undergrowth, after being hauled off from her work camp set in the tomb of a Mayan noble or prince an earthquake had fortuitously opened to view.

She estimated she couldn't be more than a couple miles off that map she had made, for they didn't take very long to stop and make camp, but the jungle was so thick and claustrophobic, whole Mayan cities once containing tens of thousands of inhabitants had been swallowed up in it, and were invisible even to low flying aircraft. So how was she going to be spotted, if she couldn't be seen? No, she had to be heard first, and that meant using basic equipment, her vocal chords, which, fortunately, were still in great shape.

Wendy drew in her breath, and...

Only five or six feet away in another bamboo pen, Pieter's pity party came to an abrupt halt as he heard the most horrendous, earsplitting scream he could not have imagined ever coming from a human being--or was it human? Maybe it was a howler monkey? He could not tell at the moment.

The infernal, heart-stopping, blood-curdling scream finally ended, then it sounded again, only louder, shriller, if possible.

At the first scream, there was a a deathly hush in the Indian camp. After the second, he heard sounds of scrambling and scuffling around, as the Indians evidently panicked and ran this way and that to escape. Peering out between the bamboo stakes, he saw the camp was deserted entirely, the bubbling stew left to boil and burn up in the pot if his captors didn't come back soon.

But it wasn't the stew burning up that worried him. He realized, with a terrible feeling, that his ticket back to civilization had just been ripped up! These noxious, evil, nasty bat-people knew where they had found him, only they knew, and he had to find them, or he would wander in the jungles, and perish. Fancy that! His survival depended on the very ones who were most likely to make stew or skewer choice parts of him for shish kebab!

But there was nothing for it! He had to find them before they vanished forever beyond his reach!

He could use his hands, so he scrambled to free himself of his bamboo cell, but yet another shriek emanating from the adjoining enclosure stopped him from leaving. He turned back, pulling aside the bamboos, and his eyes met an indignant female's.

Startled, he sprang back. Then he recovered his senses, and called out, "Hey, who are you? I thought I was the only captive here. What's your name!"

The response to that was a series of unladylike expletives that burned Pieter's ears. Then more uncivil words followed:

"Hey yourself! Now get me out of here!" the young woman yelled.

Pieter could tell this unknown female was serious. He was soon at her side, helping her get free of the handcuff, and she stood up, rubbing her wrists.

Now what? he wondered, as he watched her.

What was he going to do with the likes of ? He needed to do only one thing: to run and try to catch the bat-people! This young lady was definitely a complication. He had to get rid of her somehow, but how? He wasn't usually so impolite to the opposite sex, as to just run off and leave them in the howling jungle without a word first of rational explanation.

But how could he explain it best to her and not get more screams in response?

"Well, I'm Pieter van Pann," as she stood and glared at him. He went on. "But I really must go now, you see. You are free to go too-- so maybe this is the last we will see of you, but...er, the fellows who kidnapped me--and you too it seems--are the only ones who know the way out, or at least where they found me. From there I can make it out myself, I think. Here, it is hopeless! You understand that, of course?

That I really must go--"

Her response was just what he feared.

She absolutely exploded.

"What are you saying? You'd leave me stuck here like this? Alone? How could you ever find me again? But then you inferred you wouldn't even be trying, it was just yourself that mattered to you. I understand perfectly these Latins are all products of a society based on machismo, but you--really, truly, being Western, you're supposed to know better--yet you’re an absolute beast in my opinion! To even consider doing a thing like that! Leave me to rot in this stinking armpit of Panana? Just try it! You're not going anywhere, unless we go together!"

Pieter was overwhelmed. He hadn't really meant to give her that impression, that he cared only for his own safety and to hell with her. What an appalling inference! He wouldn't just let her "rot," as she said. If only she could see his point he had tried to make. He just wasn't accustomed to taking female companions on his expeditions-- being free lance and all.

Once again he tried to explain this, but got nowhere, and soon stuttered to a halt, as they started panting with frustration (Pieter) and anger and feminist female outrage (Linda) at each other.

Civilized discourse had failed both of them, and restraint with it, it seemed.. She grew even more angry as he attempted to get the dialog couched in more diplomatic terms, explaining how he preferred to work in the field--which was uncomplicated and solo, of course.

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS MEETING OF STONE-AGE PANAMANIAN CHIRIQUI BAT-PEOPLE CULTURE WITH 21st CENTURY REPRESENTATIVES, PIETER VAN PANN AND WENDY DARLING

UNCHRONICLE OF THE NEW CLEOPATRA, PART I:

Unquestionably, Popilius Serapis was the chief authority (behind the scenes) in the governance of the Imperial palaces. Indispensable, no emperor could think to do without him, for he kept everything moving efficiently as if on a thousand well-oiled little wheels and levers. He also controlled the maintenance of the grounds, stables, carriage houses, estates, factories, ranches, and villas strung out all over Italia, Sicilia, Gaulia, Corsica and Sardinia--everything the currently reigning emperor possessed. He also oversaw the staffing, which mean he was life or death to thousands, slaves or freedmen. Soldiers and guards too bore his watchful, beady eye--as he knew all about how they were most likely to harbor an assassin against the emperor.

If once he detected anything and suspected a guard was up to something, he had him tortured until he confessed, then he was put to death and buried in a rufuse dump outside the walls.. The same was done to any accomplices he named, all done quietly without trials in the lowest levels of the Mamertine. His spies were everywhere too, watching places where he was not physically able to be present, and they reported to him any irregularity. He kept voluminous files, but they were not written down--oh no, he trusted no one with his state secrets--no, they were all safely deposited and filed in his head. Besides, fear was the best weapon he held in his hand, he found from long experience. Maybe it was theft, or seduction, or even murder and assassination—the standard, garden-variety of threats to imperial power. Rarely, did threats take other forms—but he always held open the possibility of them—just in case someone thought up something new. He recalled that in Nero’s reign the cult of Christus had penetrated even the imperial palace, reaching from the guards in the dungeon to the servants in the palace kitchen and thence via chambermaids to the upper officialdom and even royal members of Nero’s household. The head of the leader of that conspiracy, a certain Paulus of Tarsus, was removed—and certain others tortured or executed, depending on their obduracy in holding to their faith. Though no assassination attempt had arisen from that quarter, he always had to keep an eye out for it, as the cult of Christus was not exterminated fully, and had spread to many outlying cities and provinces. Fortunately, he could keep a tight lid on its activities in the palaces, even if the provincial governors weren’t up to it.

If anyone was up to something, the very thought of Popilius and his gimlet eye finding him out could stop that one from trying it. Then again, a little sorcery never hurt anyone's power base, he had found early on in his job. Popilius purposely cultivated his reputation of an Egyptian seer, of his being able to see through walls and hear every word spoken and discern a man's secret thoughts. His Egyptian roots served him well. Both his superiors and inferiors reckoned him a great sorcerer just because he came from Alexandrea, that prolific breeder of thousands such.

He let it be known, in fact, that a great serpent, a sacred cobra, had nursed him in a temple, after his mother offered him to the god. From his adoptive serpent mother, he had learnt the arts of wisdoms and sorcery, and the art of select poisons as well.

Actually, the truth was far different and yet not uncommon. He had been a slave to a childless, elderly Jewish banker, and done so well as a youth in his master's business that before he died, the old man wrote his will and adopted him as a son and heir and freed him with a considerable fortune to make his way on or establish a trade or business of his own.

Seeing that Alexandrea was too full of bankers, he looked abroad to Roma! Once his adoptive father honorably interred in a sumptuous pink, gold-enlaid alabaster tomb, Popilius had taken ship immediately for Roma, the greatest city of opportunity in the world for enterprising freedmen like himself with some capital to invest.

Arrived in Roma, Popilius Serapius wasted no time. Worming into the good graces of aristocrats and senators through special services, bribes, and expert banking advice, he was soon hired by Nero's palace chancellor. Cupronius Hecius Attus, a thoroughly lazy nobleman used to having servants do everything for him, the fellow despised anything so menial as handling books and accounts, servants and kitchens and estates, so his assistant Popilius was put immediately to work to supervise the imperial domains and palaces. Attus held the official title while Popilius Serapius did the actual work in the shadows. He didn't mind the worthless Attus received Nero's accolades for his fine work, so long as he held the real power. Without exciting envy by being conspicuous, Popilius continued in power after Erattus choked on an overstuffed dormouse and had to be replaced with another Lord Chancellor. Attus's successor soon found that Popilius Serapius was irreplaceable, and his successor too found the same thing to be true, so that Popilius continued emperor to emperor. He gained so much knowledge of the workings of the palace machinery and wielded so much power, finally no one could rival or supplant him, he was just too efficient and, just as important, knew too much for anyone to dare unhorse him.

He moved about with difficulty, however, so he seldom walked anywhere on his own two feet. Even in the palaces, in his own private rooms, he never took a step, as it wasn't necessary. A litter with eight litter-bearers, each muscled like a gladiator, transported him from room to room, hall to hall, wherever he went to inspect and direct how things should go.

Another thing he supervised was the daily schedule of guests and visitors. Important as they might be, as a shrewd master of protocol, he had a final say about them, whether they gained entrance and exactly how long he allowed them to be on the premises. A key man like himself, with that much power and girth, was someone to reckon with! Nobody got around Popilius! He had been in charge since early on, from Nero's earliers days onwards, and he wasn't about to retire, though he was showing signs of age and slowing down a bit. His one vanity, his hair! What hair remained to him was reddened with henna from imperial farms in the province of Asia. A special ship brought it in to Ostia, then it was carried by his own porters directly to his quarters, as he risked nothing to insure his henna was of the highest quality without a single chance of adulteration in the common markets. This way he also insured no rival or enemy slipped in something poisonous too--always something to keep in mind in a palace society of poison experts.

As his hairdresser, an expert Greek from Corinthus, applied the henna freshly to his newly washed white hair, no one else was permitted to be present. Kohl was also applied to his eyelashes and brows, and powdered rouge to his cheeks, to keep his color up, though additional color was not necessary, his Egyptian skin had retained its color well enough after long years under a northern sun.

Given a mirror, Popilius studied his hair and face carefully. He demanded some more rouge, and a little more henna for his hair, then decided it was enough, and dropped the mirror.

He clapped his hands, and chair attendants, admitted by guards, rushed into the room and bowed low, waiting.

"Wine," he said. A bottle was rushed in to him, covered with a fine white linen.

Water too was offered, to mix it in a cup.

When the glass was handed him, Popilius studied it for a moment, smiled, then ordered the servant to drink it himself.

The servant obeyed and drank. When the servant did not drop and writhe on the floor, only then did Popilius order a glass for himself poured from the same bottle.

After that, the bottle was no good, as it couldn't be given to anyone else to finish, and it was taken away to be smashed, as Popilius never drank from the same bottle twice, as it could be switched easily with another containing poison. He permitted none of his servants to drink his leftover wine either-- being the primary scourge of drunkenness among the palace staff.

A spy came and was admitted, showing himself first to the guards, who then attended him into the presence of Popilius.

Popilius waved his attendants and servants away, then listened to the spy's bit of information.

Popilius's kohl-darkened brows lifted.

He clapped his hands, and the attendants approached. "Take me to the emperor, at once!"

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS EPISODE, AS POPILIUS CHECKMATES THE LATEST MOVE FOR POWER BY THE JEWISH PRINCESS-ADVENTURESS, BERENICE, IN HER DARING BID TO BECOME THE EMPEROR'S WIFE AND ROMAN EMPRESS.

UNCHRONICLE OF THE NEW CLEOPATRA, VOL. IV, A. S. 60-79, Part II

Tullius Septimius was born and bred in Pompeii, truly one of the world's finest, most sophisticated and thriving cities on the move.

Growing up in the shadow of a smoking mountain was never a serious concern to him as a boy. Earth-shattering quakes were another matter. Yes, he had heard of a great shaking six years before he was born, that wrecked hundreds of buildings and houses, great and small, in his city, but most all that damage had been repaired and new and even larger buildings were built to replace what had been damaged. His teacher had read him the philosopher Seneca's own account of the quake, and Seneca was the teacher to the Emperor Nero! No wonder Roma had taken notice of it. Not only Pompeii, but his own home had been knocked mostly flat. His father, Cassius Ancus Semptimius, with a large business in garum, fish sauce for which the city was famous, was not ruined by the loss of the old Samnite structure. With his saved capital reserves he set out to make everything much bigger and better. He had supervised the complete rebuilding of the house from its foundations, while enlarging it considerably by taking over two older houses, leveling them, then building on their foundations.

Their house now promised to be one of Pompeii's most luxurious and biggest. But, of course, their residence was modest in comparison the Great House he had seen, one of the most luxurious, able to rival even the best houses in Roma.

Tully was used to workmen in the his home, busy in one room or another, going about their work as masons and painters--and he made friends with most of them.

After his Greek pedagogue, Hymenaeus, was finished teaching him and went to his quarters several blocks away, Tully ran to the work in progress and had fun talking to common workmen and hearing their crude stories--he thought little about the cause of their being there.

One painter painted some hairy satyrs--lusting, goat-like men fondling naked nymphs--and his father saw it and had him paint over it with flowers and fruit baskets, olive wreathes and such innocent trifles. Tully had been in other houses and seen these wicked, hairy satyrs, so why couldn't his home have them too?

He didn't dare ask his father, so he asked his mother. "You're not old enough to look at such beasts and their naughty antics," she replied, though he was nine at the time and thought himself old enough. "You must wait a bit more, and then your father will tell you what that is about."

Well, he didn't wait! He ran first thing and asked the workmen. They told him everything! One even drew what he was talking about, which made Tully's eyes widen and his mouth hang open. He was astounded. That is what men did to both women and sometimes even other men? His father came back in just then, saw what was going on, called the house guards and had the workmen thrown out, with their tools thrown in the street with them.

At that moment a friend of his father's, Nathan bar-Shlomo came calling, saw the disturbance, and Tully creeping behind the pillars heard his father explain what the men had done, inflaming his young son's tender ears with their lewd orgies with prostitutes.

His father's friend made a comment that Tully never forgot, though he didn't understand it. "They are but ignorant men, they are slaves to their base desires. After all, this city is just another Sodom or Gomorrah."

"Yes, it certainly is, thanks to the Romans!" his father agreed. "Ever since the Romans came, this city has never been the same! But not here, not in my house! We Samnites still believe in virtue and noble, clean living. That is what made us strong and resolute men, able to endure life's troubles and hardships."

"You are a good man among your people, and a good father, Cassius Septimius," the friend declared. "You will always have my business, even if my God is not yet yours, and you still throw incense to your vain Greek and Roman idols, and even the Emperor Vespasianus as a god, though he is a mere mortal of flesh and blood like us!"

"Be careful, dear friend!" his father cautioned. "You are free to speak your mind and religion in my own house, but the Emperor may have a spy nearby listening to us, and throw us both in the arena with lions and leopards like they are doing the followers of Christus in Roma and other places up in Gaulia, I hear! And if you should ever persuade me to give up my gods for your one nvisible Jewish God, why I would lose all my business in a day--since you Jews are too few in this city to keep my business prosperous!"

Whatever was said after that, Tully did not stick around to hear, for they were coming his way, and he had to run quick, or be caught eaves-dropping. He was frightened now. After the affair with the naughty painters, to be caught listening from behind the pillars to grown-ups, he feared his father would severely discipline him. He ran to his mother's room and pretended nothing had happened. After a while, he went to his own room. He climbed up into his window and sat gazing out at the chief sight, Vesuvius Mons.

His teacher had told him about Etna Mons, a fire-spitting mountain on the big south island of Sicilia. If the Vesuvius Mons ever awoke and spat out rocks and fire, the tall, wide wall surrounding the city would surely stop anything like that, he thought. He remembered how he had climbed the wall, and a friendly guard gave him a ladder so he could look over the top of the tower. There he could see not just Vesuvius but whole country as far as Neapolis, as well as the Appennines Mons stretching north to south along the backbone of Italia.

The most exciting scenes of the city, however, were to be found at the Palaestrina, the school for gladiators that occupied the huge courtyard and pillared square building that completely enclosed it and the big swimming pools and exercise areas for training the gladiators. Boys of his age were excluded, of course, and the guards were rough if they were caught on the grounds. But he and his friends had found a way to view the gladiators, though they couldn't do it too often or the guards would find out about it. A public urinal adjoined the courtyard of the Palestrina, and lying below ground level, but if they climbed up on the further wall, they could see out into the courtyard through a light and ventilation window.

There they had a close view of the gladiators as they fought and trained, and sometimes seriously wounded each other. For that reason, his father would never take him there, thinking him too young to see bloodshed and other things that went on there among the rough, hard-drinking, carousing and womanizing men in the school.

He was still there, thinking about the gladiators, when his mother came in the room. She asked him why he wasn't out playing before dinner, and he could give no good answer.

His father was talking to his friend, and only later did Tully see him when they had dinner, which was set up on the terrace in a garden, the triclinium for dining outdoors. The subject of what happened to the workmen did not come up, fortunately for Tully. He hardly knew what he was eating, wondering all the time what his father might say. Strangely, his father never breathed a word about it, nor the part he had played.

Instead, his parents discussed something else. "I'm sorry your dear friend is not here to dine in our new triclinium," his mother said. "Didn't you invite him, Cassius? It would be impolite for him to turn down our invitation."

His father shrugged. "But you forget something important, dear, which they, being Jews of strict religion never forget."

"What is that?"

"They cannot eat our foods prepared as we normally prepare them. Meats and dairy foods must be handled and cooked separately. They use entirely different sets of utensils, that they use to prepare and cook with. Even the garum sauce we use and sell, they cannot use. So we make a special garum in the port factory without using unscaled fish. For the Jewish customers we have, only scaled fish will do in the sauce. I thought you knew that. We would have to prepare and cook their way, separating meats and dairy foods, using separate sets of utensils, pots, and dishes. They cannot even be washed and rinsed in the same scullery tub, nor can the same towel be used to dry both sets."

"Yes, I think I heard some of this before from you," his mother replied wearily, "but I never understood it, so I forgot it. I also recall you said they never eat pork. How can you have a tasty dinner dish without some pork?"

"Well, the Jews are very strict about their dietary laws, which they believe their single, invisible God, whom they decline to name out of reverence, commanded them to follow, but they are good people for all that, and I don't believe they mean any effront to us. My friend and good customer, Moshe bar-Shlomo, who always pays on time, isn't at all anti-Roman or a hater of our ancient Samnite customs, as some people say who would give them all a bad name--the Jews, I mean.

I could trust him in my home at any hour, day or night. I can't say that about most people we know! Even our families and blood relatives--I wouldn't allow them free run here!"

Then they changed the subject to something about the layout of a new garden and its decorations.

What a relief that was! Yet he never forgot that "Sodom and Gomorrah". Were they cities? The names were strange and foreign. They didn't sound like good places to be. What had happened to them? It was a mystery to him, and he didn't dare ask his parents. He had kept quiet and escaped a whipping, hadn't he? As his teacher said in Greek, "Don't ever tempt the gods, boy. If you do, they will crush you like my shoe heel crushes a bug!"

That was good enough advice for him! And another thing his pedagogue said: "Best leave sleeping dogs lie."

So too with the quake that destroyed their house six years before he was born. His parents did not speak of it, so he never really thought about the cause or connected it to the big mountain a few miles to the east of the city. His pedagogue, taking him outside the walls to teach him names of wild plants, herbs, trees, and even rocks that Aristotelius had written about, noticed something and pointed it out to him--the city was perched on what had once been a swarming mass of melted rock.

"But where did it come from, Teacher?" he asked.

His teacher pointed to the north, toward the mountain, Vesuvius Mons!

Tully couldn't believe it. "How could it melt rock and spit it out like the Sarno all the way here? What would melt the rock, Teacher?"

"If I take you to the goldsmith or any other smithy, he can show you that fire, when it is blown hot enough by the bellows, can melt rock, until you can pour it like water!"

Tully was dumbfounded. He looked again at the mountain. "But I see no fire on it. No rock is being melted there."

"Oh, but just wait! It may awaken and start a fire and melt rock again. Other mountains, one far south of here, Etna Mons is smoking and burning all the time. It is presently melting rock. Sometimes these mountains fall asleep, sleep for a time, then wake up and suddenly spew fire, smoke, and melted rock."

"Not our Vesuvius Mons!" Tully replied to himself. "It's always been sleeping like a lazy, old dog since I was born. It's not going to wake up for a long, long time yet! But I wish it would, I'd love to watch it melt rock and do those other things you say they can do!"

"Silly boy!" the teacher said, shaking his head as he left Tully. "It would bring the death of all of us and this city too!"

Tully soon forgot about his teacher's ominous words. Life wasn't that serious! Pompeii had everything a boy could want--and much more! It was always changing, being built in all the time since the last earth shaking. It was again a wonderful city. Theaters, gymnasium, gladiator school, huge swimming pools, arena, forums, markets of all kinds, grand temples, which were thronged with people from the cities all around and even from far parts of the world. He had learned several languages already, among the many he heard spoken by visitors.

With all this to interest and entertain him and his friends, why should he worry about the clouded mountain towering in the near distance? It had always looked that way since the day he first saw it--and hadn't changed, nor had it ever hurt anyone he knew.

He had climbed the lower slopes with friends too, and there was nothing dangerous about it, other than maybe some snakes and wild dogs. Much was covered with trees and plants, it was nice up on it. The bare, sharp-edged rocks and black, cinder-strewn slopes above the trees were harder going, of course, and the wind whipped at you, and it could get cold. Cliffs too--but they didn't venture to climb them, though some older boys claimed they already had done it and even bragged about how they had made it to the very top--though he didn't believe them. Someday, he vowed, when he was a year or two older, he would really do it! He just turned eleven, so he knew he would grow a lot soon and be a big, strong boy, able to reach the very top, where the eagles soared.

One day his father came in during the tutoring session, dismissed the teacher, and took his son along with him as he made business rounds.

Tully was tremendously excited. It was like a holiday, only better than the ones for honoring various gods and the emperor, since his father was introducing him to his business affairs, just as if he were a grown-up! This was just as good as watching the gladiators train. which was strictly forbidden by law of course--but boys can always find peep holes to watch things that would shock even adults.

He already knew the businesses of the tradesmen that rented rooms where their house fronted busy intersections of streets--the shop that sold hot foods, and the tavern, and the taberna, and how they didn't want their landlord's son hanging around.

First, his father took him to a number of his garum customers, right into their splendid houses that were normally closed to anyone but select friends, family, and household servants.

They came to the bar-Shlomo residence, and Tully was met by Aaron, who escorted them into the atrium while a servant announced them to his father. As they waited for him, Cassius S. pointed out a wall painting of a King Solomon of Israel, whom the Jews revered for his great wisdom. He explained the story to Tully. The painting portrayed two women, each a mother, one of whom had lost a child soon after birth, while each was now claiming a surviving baby boy was hers. The mother of the dead baby had placed it in her neighbor's crib and taken her neighbor's baby for her own. Since no one could prove which woman was telling the truth, the case came to the king.

"Whose baby was it?" Cassius S. asked his son. Tully had no idea. "Well, the king devised a sure test to reveal the true mother." "How, pater?" "He simply ordered a guard standing there to divide the child with his sword and give half to each. Immediately, as the wise king foresaw, the true mother was revealed, when she fell down in tears before the king and pleaded strenously for the child to be given to the other claimant, despite the fact she had approved the division of the child, since the king wasn't going to award her the whole child.

"No true mother would hesitate to give her child up to save him," Cassius instructed his son, to drive the point home. "I suppose so," said Tully. "But what happened to the other woman, the one who lied?" "What would you think happened? She stole her friend's baby, then lied before a king to keep him. She committed two crimes at the least, even showing contempt to her king the judge by seeking to deceive him. Of course, he ordered her to be severely punished."

Aaron's father entered the atrium with Aaron at that moment, catching Cassius's last words. "Ah, I see you are showing our great wise king and the testing of the two mothers to your son! He should profit by it."

"I am not sure he is yet old enough," Cassius replied doubtfully eyeing his son. "But I know I have profited. Your king proved himself the wisest man on earth. If only we had emperors as wise as this Solomon of yours! I find them nothing but fools and shameless beasts!"

Natan bar-Shlomo cleared his throat. "May I caution you in turn, friend Cassius, for that is daring talk even for you, a nobleman among the Samnites. If I, a mere Jew, were to say the same thing, and it was reported, I might find myself in deep trouble even though I spoke it in my own house!"

Cassius nodded. "By Jove, I will not mention the misbegotten emperors of Roma again for your sake. And please forgive me. I just misspoke, naming my god within your own walls."

Aaron's father inclined his head, accepting the apology.

All this was boring, political talk for young boys. "Could Aaron go with them?" Tully asked his father the moment the talk lapsed. Aaron was his best friend, he added.

His father consulted Aaron's father first. His wife came to greet them at this time, and so she entered into the matter. Since this was a special outing, and they felt they could trust their son with their friend Cassius Septimius, they approved it.

"He will learn something important about business," Aaron's father remarked, smiling. They escorted Cassius Septimius and the two boys to the delivery wagon, and the driver took them to the next customer, the House of the Vetii

It wasn't large like other houses of wealthy people, but the two merchants, Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva, had spent huge sums to decorate it with wall paintings, statues, fountains and pools.

It was like a wonderland, a picture-gallery of all the best heroes of Graecia and Roma and their exploits.

But, strangely, Tully's father wouldn't let them look at certain paintings in the entrance hall which featured Priapus, the god of fertility himself, but everything else in the public rooms were allowed them to view while Aulus Restitutus conversed with Cassius Septimius.

The two boys started off, with Aaron making a face and spitting as he passed by the lararium of the household's gods, while Tully at least paused for a respectful moment.

Tully was delighted to discover a snake in one of the gardens. It crawled out of the mouth of a ceramic garden ornament.

Chasing the snake was a little dangerous. Perhaps it was venomous, though it was permitted by the gardeners to help catch mice and rats. It found a culvert drain for the fountain and crawled in. When it wouldn't come out at Tully's prodding with a stick, he and his friend turned elsewhere for amusement. A certain room near them had been repainted recently which Tully's father had no knowledge of, and the boys found scenes where hairy, horned satyrs were seducing young maidens--truly lewd things for any age to view.

Tully wasn't shocked by the various things the satyrs were doing, but Aaron covered his face after one horrified look. He ran out a moment later, while Tully lingered, keen to see everything.

Cassius S. and Aulus R. happened to be passing that very chamber when Aaron dashed out and ran right into Cassius S. Aaron was going to run again, but Cassius S. took hold of his arm and pulled him into the room he had just left. "What has happened, to make you run you run out like this?" he asked the boy.

"I can't look, it's an abomination, it's Sodom and Gomorrah in there!" Aaron blurted out. "I'll be defiled!"

Cassius S. then saw the wall-paintings, then glanced back at his son and little friend who was so upset.

"Son, you know better than to look at such things! They're not for children. I shall deal with you later."

He turned to Aulus R. "My son has misbehaved, so we are leaving now. I regret this happened. I thought they were old enough to accompany me--"

Aulus R. laughed. "I forgot to tell you this room was repainted last week, that's all it is. Don't hold it against the boys, Septimius! Lighten up! Boys will be boys. They won't see anything else that will offend your propriety. I beg your pardon for the naughty little bacchantes of this room if they offended you, but I got so tired of the floral wreaths and little birds, I told the painters to do as they wished with it, just so it was amusing to look at, and not so dull."

"Yes, I see they did as they wished!" Cassius Septimius observed wryly. "Just the same, I think it is time we were going. Good earnings, Aulus Restitutus!"

"Good earnings to you too!" said their genial host.

Back at the wagon, Cassius S. turned to Aaron. "Run along home now," he said. "Can you find your way, Aaron?"

"Yes, sir! I can!"

Aaron scampered off, leaving his glum-faced friend to his fate.

"You come with me," the father said to the son.

"You've shamed me before my patron and also the son of my friend the Jew!"

Cassius S. led him into a small open-doored warehouse, and found a notched measuring stick for the sacks of wheat and other grains.

They emerged a little later from the warehouse, Tully's face red and streaked with tears.

"Now will you behave, or must I send you home?"

"I'll behave, Pater! Please let me go with you! Don't send me home!"

Cassius observed the tears, and shook his head. "Your tears will not move me as they do your mother, but I will give you another chance. Just don't treat it lightly!"

They continued to the Forum, and the wagon, now empty of long-necked garum sauce jars, was sent home with the drayer.

His tears dried and half-forgot, Tully really felt important now as he walked by the side of his father who had business there. No one would dare run him off, like they did small boys from the street that sometimes wandered in to take a look.

Ero approached the huge black mount of Vesuvius Mons and its necklace of thriving, bordering cities.

The city's great amphitheatre was already drawing spectators from Pompeii and all the surrounding cities, coming to view the restart of the gladitorials after an hiatus of years.

Kater's Compass guided Ero's mast-bot down to one city in particular. Pompeii? It looked nothing like the ruins he had seen once in pictures. Below shone the city in its original classic splendor. Why Pompeii? He would not know that until much later, when he found himself caught in the midst of drama of life and death.

In the heart of Pompeii the main Forum was bordered by the city's chief temples, halls of civil government and municipal offices, and halls of the major industries and trades. They had just started from the huge open court and turned into the Basilica, Ero passing overhead at that moment, when they were hailed by Nathan Bar-Sholomo, Aaron's father!

What good could that entail? Nothing at that moment for Tully!

What would Aaron's father say? Aaron must have told him everything, Tully thought, and now...

He would have liked to run, but he couldn't--his father held his hand fast.

With his head down, filled with dread, he waited for Aaron's father to tell his own father what Aaron had said. Wouldn't Aaron make it worse than it was? And wouldn't he get whipped again when they got home? But Aaron's father started talking business.

Tully waited, hardly able to breathe, but still not one word about him.

Finally, his father gave his hand to Aaron's father to shake on their joining in a new business venture.

"I will be happy to join you and finance half the cost. You talked to the right official. How did you get close to him enough to receive your offer. Imagine that, we'll be supplying the garum sauce to the officers of four legions! The gods of fortune have smiled on us and our houses this day!"

"No, not the gods, my friend, there is only one true God. He is the one who smiled on us, and gave me entrance in the Capitol to the high official I needed to see, who had the power to give that contract, and then decided I was the man for it. My Roman name, Cavus Marcus Porticus, works well in Roma!"

"Yes, I know, you call your god of the Jews, strangely enough, the 'God of Abraham'--He is the one who favors you and blesses you and gives you such a sharp ear and eye for business."

"It is the truth, you know it is the truth, Cassius. You should have been there, seen Pompilius's vestibule and atrium packed with the most important men of business, all seeking what I alone walked away with! Our holy scriptures say, 'God promised Abraham our forefather, I will make you into a great nation...I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.'"

Tully heard his father heave a deep sigh.

"Speak no more, friend, I am almost persuaded to become a believer in one God and worship your God! What sane man would not choose such blessing as you have on you over curses? But should we speak so openly of your God here? We might be overheard by an enemy of your people. I am Samnite, born of the most ancient aristocracy, and my people were civilized and city-bred, flourishing here for centuries before Sulla's legions put down our last resistance to Roma. Freedom was a nice thing, but we have been under Roma for a long time now and have grown accustomed to the Roman yoke on our necks and shoulders. You Jews refused to submit wisely as my Samnite forefathers did, so Roma destroyed your country, your temple, and enslaved your people by the hundreds of thousands--all those they didn't slaughter. Surely, Roma has a curse on her now for that, if your God is still the God you say he is."

"God never changes, if that is what you are asking! Oh, deep in your heart, you are a God-fearer, Cassius! Know that the One True God has his eye on you!"

Tully's father was edgy, and looked around. "But will he protect me as he protected your own people and country? Look how your own people the Jews were destroyed, and your temple burnt, leveled to the ground, and teams of oxen pulled plows over the cleared earth where your great holy city once stood. Why didn't your God deliver you from our legions, and the fury of Vespasianus and his son Titus? They were worse and more merciless than even Cornelius Sulla was to our city. He could have destroyed us, but refrained, reducing us to a colony but allowing some vestiges of local government here of our own. Is that what the blessing of the God of Abraham brings his people--total, merciless destruction?"

"No, my friend, that was punishment for transgressing his holy laws; but still his covenant with us holds fast, he will never forsake us utterly, he will bring us back to our own country, he will plant us there and make us flourish once again, as in the days of our greatest kings, David and Solomon his son."

"Ah, your great namesake, the wisest king on earth whose proverbs you gave me in a book, which I keep by my bedside. Thanks to him, I will not grow slack at discipline and spoil my son, like I see other fathers doing with their sons in this beautiful, rotten city of ours."

After a few more words, Nathan bar-Sholmo asked for a favor. "Certainly, what is it I can do for you!"

"My wife and I think so highly of you, Cassius. Here is the key to my house. We must leave and go to my father who lives in Stabia. Report has come he is fallen very ill and may not live long. I am leaving only our household servants. If we are gone more than a few days, would you go and look in, to see if things are in order? It would be a great relief to our minds if we could see to my father and not worry about our home."

"Of course, I am happy and most honored to render this service to you, good friend!" Cassius replied, taking the large brass key handed over to him and attaching it to his belt. "When will you be leaving for your father's home?"

"As soon as I found you and finished talking of our business! But now I am free to take my wife and son and go. I am anxious to be at father's side as soon as possible. As his eldest son, he depends upon me to handle his final affairs."

"I am so sorry to hear of his illness, and would pay for prayers for him at the temples of Jupiter and the others, but wouldn't offend you, so I will just commend him to your God's care, and not detain you a moment longer."

Exchanging the customary Pompeiian "Good earnings!" to each other, they parted, Aaron's father hurrying off to Tully's great relief, without one word about Tully's misbehavior in his son's company to disgrace him.

They proceeded toward the far end of the Basilica, toward the equestrian statue of Caesar Augustus that stood in front of the Tribunal where all the civil cases were handled.

"Son, I have to check on my petition to the emperor, son. Remember how I told you we lost most of our lands and vineyards, and businesses--the laundries, bakeries, laundries, dyeworks and cloth weaving, when Sulla took them? All we were left was our garum manufacture and the little shops round our house. Remember the great house I took you to, to see the big floor picture of Alexander the Great fighting Darius, king of Persia?"

"Yes, Pater! I liked it very much! May I see it again?"

"Well, perhaps. Anyway, that great house was built on our property with our lost fortune. Sulla is little thought of these days. We may get back some things back if the emperor approves my petition. Our family has tried for generations to get compensation, but we could never reach the emperor's attention, whoever the emperor was each time our family applied with a new petition and the necessary bribes. But our city has risen in imperial favor since then. Vespasianus has his temple here, and a villa on the mountain slope. The Governors erected an arch to Germanicus and numerous statues of the members of the imperial families adorn the public places. Noble Romans have their villas here, sparing no luxury on their embellishment. All this was bound to help us in my suit, son. We cannot be ignored as in former days when we Samnites were still considered conquered, inferior people by Romans. Samnites have come to occupy some of the highest positions. Who knows? Today we could even hear the disposition of the case."

Tully wasn't sure he understood all this adult talk, but he caught parts of it.

And Cassius Septimius was right, he was not toO disappointed this auspicious day--this 24th of the month of Augustus. They had just climbed the finely made wooden stairs to go to the entrance doors when four men came out of the Tribunal. Cassius recognized two of the men as the city's duumvirs, the dual-serving Governors of Pompeii. The tallest of them, Governor Publius Lucanus Torenus spoke for his peer as well as the others, greeting Cassius with a beaming smile.

"Oh, Cassius Septimius! How wonderful, you've come! There was no chance to inform you ahead, as the news arrived with us! We sent messengers to fetch you, and here you pop up right in our path! We were on our way to the amphitheatre to inaugurate the gladiatorial games and wanted you to come with us and throw the baton to the lucky man among them! Well, indeed the great goddess Augusta Fortunata has smiled on you, Cassius Ancus Septimius, my noble Samnite friend! The Lord Chancellor of the Imperial Court here by our side, the Most Excellent Gnaeus Leptomius Severanus, took your petition to heart, for he is terribly fond of our beautiful city and wishes to do her some great favor, as his daughter and husband have a new house here. He presented your case personally to the emperor, and he read the paper and declared he saw the absolute justness of your appeal. This means you shall have full compensation for your family's great losses due to General Cornelius Sulla's depredations. Our city's aediles have already sent in an inventory and audit of the unlawful confiscations. When the Imperial Treasury officer reviews it, you may draw on the treasury in Roma to the fullest extent to compensate you. Only you cannot have the properties returned, as they have passed to successive owners who had nothing to do as parties to Sulla's unjust robberies."

"Pater, you're hurting me!" Tully gasped, trying to twist his hand free.

Cassius realized he was gripping his son's hand like an iron vise, he was so overwhelmed by what the City Governor was declaring to him.

He let Tully go, so he could rub away the pain. "Pardon me, son, I can hardly believe this much good news--"

He turned back to the smiling Torenus.

"Excuse me, Governor, I am somewhat shaken by such good fortune falling so suddenly on me, I nearly crushed my son's poor fingers."

"Yes, I can understand why you might find this news gripping," quipped Torenus. "But now our other suits can go forward on the tail of your successful one. We may even be awarded self-government, and with freedom rise to become one of the greatest emporiums and port cities of the empire, as wealthy and great as Antioch or Alexandria or Athens and Ephesus. There will be no limit to our expansion and trade and industry. What was hard for us before this time in our inferior status imposed by the infamous Cornelius Sulla, will be made easy in the days to come. Your success is the golden key that opens the door to a glorious destiny for our city! What a day this is to celebrate, both in your home, Most Noble Cassius Septimius, and throughout the city. We Governors declare a holiday to be celebrated four days hence, so that preparations can be made beginning now. You, Cassius Septimius, will ride with us in state chariots through the Arch of Germanicus and receive the people's acclamation. In the Forum, at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, you will lay a wreath of gilded laurel--"

After the officials were finished giving Cassius instructions and congratulations, the governor again urged him to do the honors at the amphitheatre's new opening, after a ban of the gladiatorials for ten years by Nero and the Senate due to a very bloody riot between the Pompeiians and the rival Nucerians that left many dead and wounded, including some important officials and their Roman guards.

Cassius respectfully declined. He had some urgent matters at home to attend to, he informed them.

"Oh, but you must come, Most Noble Cassius! You cannot miss seeing the Jewish candlestick we brought down from Roma. The Imperial Treasury and Archives released it to us just for this occasion. Other cities have asked, but they were all refused. What with the dancers and music, it will be a sensation, the like of which we may never see again!"

Bowing deeply, he declined a second time.

Keen disappointment showed in the officials' faces, but how could he help it? Cassius thought, his whole being sickened at the thought of what they were describing. Gladiatorial "Games" were distasteful to him, with the crowds screaming to see more and more blood shed for their entertainment. He could force himself to go, but to see the actual sacred candlestick of the Jewish temple defiled? No, it was out of the question--even if he lost his suit and favor with the emperor.

He would never forget his last visit to the amphitheatre nine years previously, how the city had staged an elaborate tribute to Vespasianus and Titus and their crushing of the rebel Jews of Judaea. A huge model of Jerusalem was constructed, the Temple of the Jewish god most prominent, then gladiators in Roman army uniforms fought Jewish rebels, other gladiators costumed in Jewish robes and beards. A lot of blood was shed in this mock battle, but that wasn't the worst of it. When the battle was over, and the "Jews" crushed and the city and temple set aflame, surviving Jews were strung up on long rows of crosses erected to form a giant Star of David. He and other prominent citizens all wearing laurel crowns of victory were then to form a mock-up of a triumphal procession and shout praises to Vespasianus and Titus for their great victories, waving banners while the tens of thousands in the stands celebrated. But that wasn't the whole story as it developed. Gladiators posing as Jews on the crosses were stripped naked of course. He had expected that. But when he saw he saw Pompeii's highest officials and chief citizens all joining in making the most vile, lewd fun with the naked, uncircumcised "Jews" on the crosses, it was so degrading a spectacle, he drew back. The crowded amphitheatre was roaring with laughter and could not get enough of watching their leaders make beasts of themselves. Yet the outrages of this paled in comparison with the centerpiece: a copy of the holiest object of the Jewish temple, the giant golden sacred candleladrum the Jews called the Menorah, was brought in by dancing naked women and satyr-lovers, and set on a stage. As the music of water organs and lutes played, the satyrs and the women danced around it, then copulated round the base of it. Satyrs copulated with satyrs too, to the vast delight of the crowds.

These were civilized Roman citizens? he marvelled, aghast as his fellow Pompeiians disgraced themselves for the sake of the crowd's amusement. Nay, they wern't civilized, they were barbarians of the nastiest, coarsest sort!

He recalled how he had run out of the amphitheatre, discarding his gilded laurel crown just beyond the gladiators' entrance where prostitutes plied their trade, inside and out of a nearby latrine.

And had the Pompeiians and Romans changed in nine years--clearly not, as now this day they were going to repeat the same atrocious spectacle, only using the real Jewish temple candleladrum, the solid gold Menorah, the arrogant and impius Titus had displayed in his triumphal procession in Roma!"

How then could he explain his true reason--his utter disgust--for declining their invitation?

After expressing their disappointment and failing to induce him to go with them, the officials threw up their hands, shook their heads, and departed.

Cassius S. led Tully away with great relief, since he had stood his ground and not returned to the scene of such monumental horror.

Just the same, he felt somewhat weak and drained immediately afterwards, and a little afraid of the repercussions his refusal might entail to is business and social standing. He knew he couldn't deny the wishes of the governors and the high Roman official with impunity. No doubt they regarded his behavior as an effront to their dignity.

The temple of Vespasianus was nearest them. It was every Roman citizen's and subject's duty to honor the emperor's divinity and gilded image, and Cassius Septimius was a good citizen of Roma, and hadn't the gods just now favored him in an extraordinary fashion as to restore his patrimony? Only had he not now risked the gods' displeasure, spurned their favor, by refusing to take part in the defilement of the Jewish temple's sacred candleladrum?

He paused, in the courtyard, and did not proceed to the altar where the priests waited on the temple's patrons to make donations and throw a pinch of incense as they recited their ritual prayers.

"Is the emperor really a god?" Tully asked candidly as a child would.

"The Senate declared him a god, son. It is our duty to honor him a god, and impious not to believe it."

"Yes, Pater," said Tully. "But Aaron doesn't believe he is a god, he told me so!"

"Don't you say another word! Just for that, we're leaving, and maybe the Genius of the divine emperor Vespasianus will send you a bad dream tonight or a bad stroke of fortune tomorrow!"

Yet his father wasn't really angry with him, for he took him next to the homes of some of Pompeii's wealthiest people. Servants let them in, knowing Cassius Septimius, even thoughWIDTH=500

most families were gone to the amphitheatre by this time.

In the finest house, Tully saw again his favorite, a magnificent mosaic of Alexander the Great on a horse chasing King Darius of the Persians in his chariot as their armies battled.

Toward evening, they turned toward home, and swallows began flitting about by the hundreds. It was the usual scene at dusk. They flew up from the River Sarno and spread over the entire city, catching the insects that flew up from all the columned gardens of the great houses of the wealthy. Yet something went wrong with them. Was the air turned foul and noxious? Or was it something worse? They began flying into walls and buildings, as if frightened out of their wits. Tully and his father had to step around dozens and dozens of dead birds. Some dropped right out of the sky, and when Tully picked one up, it struggled a little, then went limp in his hand.

His father could not explain it, when Tully asked. "I've never seen anything like this happen before," his father said. They could also hear dogs everywhere across the city, howling.

But worse, they came to an incident at the Arch of Germanicus, the mad, cruel "Little Boots," or Caligula.

They came upon a horrible sight. An infuriated drayer was beating his donkey to death, and a passing soldier had to intervene.

"But he won't pull the cart, officer!" the drayer protested. "He just wants to lie down and roll his eyes stupidly like that! I don't know what's got into him. Yesterday he was just fine!"

The disgusted officer flung the bloody stick away the drayer had used.

"Get your cart and your filthy beast out of here at once!" he ordered. "Kill him if you please, but not here! You're blocking the road and disturbing the peace!"

"I'll kill him all right, and cut him into little pieces if he doesn't get to his feet soon!" the drayer muttered as he went to the nearest taberna to hire some fellows to help him.

Tully pulled his father's sleeve.

"What's wrong with him, Pater?"

"I don't know, son--his eyes, he seems paralyzed with fear of something, though you would think he would be more afraid of his master's club!"

"It'll make good dog meat if nothing else!" observed one man, the proprieter of the nearby, very popular gambling house for rich, idle youth, whose sign featured two phalluses alongside a tall vase.

Cassius moved Tully away from the distasteful scene after they saw the wretched, mad donkey was being dragged off by several half-drunken men assisting the drayer, all done with plentiful kicks and oaths at the donkey's expense.

While this scene was playing out at the Arch honoring the bloody Caligula, eager, excited crowds already taking the best seats they could at the Amphitheatre for viewing the restarted gladitorials and--already the rumor was being noised abroad--the grand exhibiting of the Jewish Temple's menorah complete with bacchantes and nymphs.

Tully and his father arrived home. At the door an anxious servant met them. He came with urgent word that their watchdog was behaving most strangely. The horses in the stable were also agitated, kicking at their stalls. The stableboys could not settle them down either.

"Go and see to Sulla," Cassius Septimius told his son, while he hurried off to see his wife, whom he knew must have grown concerned about the strange disturbances.

Tully found Sulla was seemingly turned mad, scratching his footpads bloody as he fought to get free.

Afraid to even touch the dog, he stayed clear back as the dog lunged against his metal collar, which cut into his neck and choked him. Whimpering and whining, the dog's eyes rolled back in their sockets. He had even bitten his own tongue, and bloody sputum drooled from Sulla's mouth.

Tully, horrified, ran to tell his parents. He interrupted his parents, for his mother turned and hid her tearful face when he entered their private chamber.

"Pater! Pater!" he cried.

"What is it?" his father said, gripping his shoulders to calm him.

Tully couldn't know what to say. There's blood, blood all over him!" he blurted out.

His father's face went pale but very stern.

"Oh, do something, Septimius!" Tully's mother moaned. "I cannot take any more of this! The gods are punishing us, for daring to put them aside for that awful solitary god of the bar-Shlomo Jew! And I don't believe a word of it, that we are getting all that money from the Imperial Treasury. It's all foolishness. It'll never happen! Romans don't care about us Samnites getting justice!"

Cassius Septimius flung her a glance to silence her, then took his hands off his son, whose shoulders he was gripping too hard and hurting.

He turned to the door, with cold, ancient, aristocratic Samnite dignity in his bearing.

"You stay here with your mother, son, I'll deal with Sulla, and the horses too. It won't take long."

He went out, and Tully forgot his weeping mother and stayed by the door, waiting and listening anxiously.

Then he heard it, a sudden, shrieking, horrible yelp, like a dying animal in mortal agony would make.

His father did not return, so he crept out and retraced his steps.

What he found was Sulla lying in a heap, twitching, but his eyes closed. Then he saw the wound in his chest, pouring out blood, and a bloody sword, his father's, lying close by.

He hardly cared to do it, but he crept breathlessly to the stables. Peering round a corner he watched his father and the four stableboys lead out the snorting, stamping horses, one by one out the posticum and into the street.

"Take them to the fields and hobble them there!" his father ordered the men. "But make sure they have water. One of you stay. Calinus, stay and watch them, the rest of you return immediately. You, Cinnamon, on return, fetch the dog, for he is dead, and carry him in a grain sack and bury him someplace outside the wall. Take a shovel along too. You're broad of shoulder, you can manage it yourself. I'll look for another watchdog tomorrow. Clean up the dog's mess and wash all the stains. Do a good job! My wife is not to see anything if she goes back there--"

Tully didn't dare listen to more, he ran to his own room and hid in his bedclothes of his couch, his heart thumping. What had happened to cause all this turmoil? In less than an hour the whole household was turned upside down, and the city too seemed rocked all out of joint and its normal course of life!

With Sulla gone, the horses taken away, his mother upset, all the servants nervous and talking together, and his father troubled-- what was Tully to think and do? He did not know what was going on, and no one could tell him. Were the gods really punishing his house and family? He went to his room, and was left alone. He spent a lonely night, listening to the howling of watchdogs all over the city. Finally, they fell silent, one by one, and he could sleep.

The next day dawned like any other, the bright sun pouring in on the peristyles and the gardens and through the roof opening to the atrium. He could see the sun coming in his window, and knew it was time to get up.

He rose and washed his face in a basin a servant placed just inside the door, and used the towel to dry, and then he went to see if the cook had something. His parents rose later in the morning, usually. He was passing by their chamber when he heard voices, so he knew they were up--which was strange. He paused to listen, and heard his father speaking, with his mother interrupting him now and then. It sounded so serious to him, not like their usual conversations.

What were they planning? he thought, growing concerned. Were they going to move from Pompeii? The thought was horrible. Leave his wonderful city, which he liked so much? He knew there was none better in Italia. Even the thought of Roma did not appeal to him! Pompeii was perfect for a boy like him! He knew it, and loved his city. The thought of having to leave it for some villa elsewhere horrified him. Leave his friends and pastimes all behind? Surely, they wouldn't do this to him!

He was moving away when his father burst out the door, turning toward Tully's room. But he saw Tully and took his arm,

"You're just in time, son. Come in! Your mother and I have something for you to do."

Tully's heart sank. His feet dragging, he let his father lead him into the bedchamber. There he saw his mother lying on a couch in the shade of the room, her eyes dark with tears. Her hair wasn't arranged like it usually was--no servant had been called to do it in the fine coils she piled up on her head.

His father sat him down, and then he sat down opposite his son with a small table between them.

"Son, it is time to inform you of some things, important things.

As you know, there have been some things going on in this house that seem most strange to me, to you no doubt, and to the servants as well. They cannot be explained. It is not true the gods are against us, for if there are no gods how--"

Tully's mother cried out, "How can you speak so to your son, husband? That is impious talk!"

His father shot his mother a glance, then firmed his jaw, and continued.

"Anyway, the gods of Olympus and Roma have grown old and enjoy such great power over men anymore. Everyone knows that, and I am just telling you what most people I know believe about them.

"But what about the Jews' god, is he dead too like Jupiter and Mercurious, Juno and Minerva and Venus and all the rest?" shot back Tully.

His mother gasped and put a hand to her cheek. His father too looked shocked, and seemed speechless for a few moments.

"Well, son, no, he may not be dead, if what I have heard from my friend is true, I think, that he is a jealous god and is punishing his Jews for abandoning himn for other gods."

Tully was emboldened to continue. "I have heard from Aaron of a Christian god and son of god too named Christus, and a servant too told me about him, that he is Savior of the World and born of a virgin and rose from the dead after the emperor killed him on a stake--is he dead like all our ancestors' gods? Didn't he rise from the dead like our cook Maconius said?"

His father shook his head as if Tully were speaking nonsense. "Give no ear to servants' foolish talk. I never intended to speak about religion with you like this. But now that you want to know, and you are almost a man, it might as well be now. As for your question, I can't answer to it, as my friend told me nothing about any Christian God, just that where was for a time the one called Christus, whom he does not believe in and calls an imposter. So he can't be a god. And he couldn't have risen from the dead. Anyway, the Jews believe only in the invisible One True God, called by a name they dare not utter, they reverence it so much."

"Can I go play with Aaron today, father?"

"Oh, so you tire of these questions of religion and gods so easily," his father laughed. Well, you're just a boy, not yet a man, it is plain. Yes, you may! It would be good for you to get out of this house-- and when you return maybe it will be set more in order. You may even go with me to select a new watchdog, if you like, and take your friend too."

Tully rose. "Is that all, father? May I go now. I want something to eat, and then I will see my teacher and do my studies."

"No, Tully. I just remembered. Aaron is not at home. Nathan and the whole bar-Shlomo family has gone to Stabia, and won't be back for maybe some days until the his father's affairs are settled. Didn't you hear my friend tell me that? I thought you would be listening in."

"I did hear something, father, but I forgot when it might be. I wanted to see Aaron so today!"

"Yes, he is a good companion for you. He's not like the others scamps of our insula--I hardly know what they will lead you into doing. I caught several hanging around the door of the gambling house the other day and sent them home! But you will have to wait for Aaron's return. But you may go out with me later today, after your breakfast and time with your teacher."

Tully's face brightened. "I'd like that, father! Will he be the same kind as Sulla? Sulla was a mean dog, and wouldn't let me pet him. He growled a lot too. Can't we get a dog I can take with me on a leash and let sleep with me?"

"No, son, I know you miss having brothers and sisters for playmates, but dogs aren't for such things. Whatever we get, has to be fierce as possible, or robbers won't fear to come and break in. You understand that, don't you? A good dog will be able to keep them out. If you want a dog, it has to be another kind, not a watchdog."

"Could I have a dog of my own then? I so want a big, black mastiff with a white crown and white patches on his legs, like the one a friend of mine has!"

Tully heard a noise and looked up. His mother was signing to his father and shaking her head.

"Well, not now, Tully. First, we must get the household back in order. Now go and get something to eat and prepare for your teacher. As for the other matters I intended to speak about with you, they will have to wait."

Tully was glad to hear that last remark, for he wasn't keen to hear about those "other matters"--they sounded too serious to him, and might entail the family's moving from Pompeii, the worst thing he could think of.

He scampered off to the kitchens, and Maconius was there preparing the noon meal, and had fresh baked rolls and other things to give to Tully along with milk and some honey for a treat.

For Tully at least, the rest of the morning passed quite routinely. His teacher, a Greek, came and taught him Rhetoric and made him give a little speech to sharpen his delivery and handling of speaking points. His other studies in math and music proceeded as usual too. He had got through them and his teacher had departed for the day, and was wondering if he had to do his studies now or later, when his father interrupted him. It was now forenoon, and time for another meal.

But there came no servant to call him. Instead his father appeared and sat across from him at the table in the study. His face looked most solemn, and Tully let his writing tablet slide from his hands and forgot the things he was finishing on it in his Greek essay on the Persian wars and the sack of Athens by the Persian king.

"I must speak to you privately, son. Lunch will wait. That is best, for I don't want to upset your mother, and she doesn't want to dine anyway, and is keeping to her room. Now be a man, a true Samnite, and listen carefully."

That got his attention. He straightened up, and waited.

"Son, I have been too busy perhaps to educate you on our family and its affairs. You are growing up fast, and I need to say something more to you. I have spoken my mind to you concerning the gods, as well as the god of the Jews who is so singular. Then you should know how our ancestors, how they came down here to the coast from our original country, Isenia, that lay across the Appenines Mons. We were strong and numerous, and needed new lands for our growing population. We found and took this city of the sea-faring Etrurians, people who had many chariots and lived here before us. Before them were the Greeks and Oscians too, who worked to build this city on the high rock ridges--though it was a very small one they made, and not at all so beautiful and strong as ours. It was left to us Samnites to civilize and raise this city up from a mere town with a river and seaport. We Samnites were the ones who made it flourish with trade and splendid fori and fine buildings and streets that divide the city into proper squares, and all you see here today is our work and genius. Then the Romans came with their armies and generals. We accepted their rule, as our interests were similar. It went well here, until we saw we had no proper representation in the Senate in Roma. They sent legions attacking us after we went to war with all the other cities of Italia to gain citizenship and an equal right in the Senate in Roma.

"Cornelius Sulla was leader who ruled with the consent of the Senate, and he was without mercy, but the gods spared us from his destroying hand after he defeated our brave Samnite defenders, which were betrayed by false counsel and fought in the midst of the foolish circumstances against him, and lost. Even Sulla could not bring himself to destroy such as splendid city as this, so he relented, and took away our freedom, but allowed us two governors, making us a colonia, without autonomy and self-government as some cities under Rome enjoy. But evenso, our city was spared destruction, and soon Sulla's own family moved here to enjoy the beauty of the city. The finest house in this city is one of those they built here.

"Those days are past, however, and we entered into a prosperous period under the Romans, despite their high taxes and our inferior status as a colonia. Then came the violent shaking of the earth that leveled most of our city. Yet our industrious Samnites rose up to the misfortune. They did not flee but stayed and rebuilt the city better than it was before. We also stayed, when we could have removed to Roma, where we already had some business.

Pompeii is our native city. That is how we Septimii feel! Pompeii flows in our veins like our blood! Pompeii is our heart beating in our chest. Our pride and lineage are Pompeiian. We will always be proud sons of hers! Long live our city!"

Tully had heard these lofty, somewhat pompous sentiments concerning the city and his Samnite family lineage before, so they were not surprising or even all that interesting to him, but he kept a respectful expression and tried to keep attentive and not let his eyes wander.

His father cleared his throat, then continued. "Let no one say we do not love our city. However, things have changed for us. But the chief matter, son, is this, and listen very carefully and do not forget it.

"My civil case has gone forward very well at the imperial court, I have just been informed by courier. We are due compensation for all our family's losses under General Cornelius Sulla. It will be considerable too! We will be very wealthy again. I have been a garum merchant a long time now, but I may turn this business over to a manager here, and we will move the household to Roma, where I will take a palace on the Palatine that befits our ancestors. We can move in imperial court circles, as we will be sought after, once the decision is made public and our family fortunes fully restored.

Do you understand me, son? I want you to know this, in case something ever happened to me, and you need make claim to it. You are our only son--and much depends on you once your mother and I pass to the underworld."

Tully was growing restless as his father explained the new changes in their prospects, and when he understood that it could mean a move away from Pompeii, permanently, he grew alarmed.

"Are we leaving? Please, Pater, I wouldn't like to leave here. Can't we stay?"

He felt close to tears, but manfully held them back.

"Son, I will do as I feel is best with this household. When the time comes, I will decide, and you will hear of it. So that is all I wish to say about it for now."

Tully's face showed his unhappiness. But he couldn't challenge his own father. "Is that all, Pater? May I go and play now? I've finished all my studies in advance for tomorrow."

His father sighed. "Yes, I suppose you can! It is nearly noon, and I must try to get your mother to eat a bite or two, or she will waste away if I let her! She has lost flesh lately, with all her worrying and stewing about inconsequentals. Women! Always so temperamental! They love to stew and fret about all sorts of that amount only to trifles in the end! But not even heaven and the gods can change them! Even Minerva and the other goddesses of old acted this way-- and high heaven was always in a stir because of it!"

Tully rose from his seat, and was about to take a step when they heard clattering, rolling objects on the roof overhead. Some of the things fell through the compluvium and landed in the water of the pool too, hissing as they struck the water.

"By Jovius, what hit the roof?" his father cried. "It landed too hard, it can't be rain. Some ruffian in the street throwing rocks at my house? If I catch the soundrel, I'll thrash him!"

He sprang up to go see, Tully right behind him. But before going out to the street, he paused and with his hand fished out a dark object from the impluvium, then jerked his hand away from it, letting it fall to the floor.

Tully touched it, and it burned his finger, which he yanked back.

"What is it, Pater?"

Cassius's voice was full of wonder. "I don't know, son. Something hard fell out of the sky, and it is very hot, and dark like the black rock on the mountain. Could it be from the same place? Or did it fall from heaven itself and is a sacred thing like the sky-stone Jupiter has in his crown in Roma?"

His father moved quickly to go and went out the door take a look at the mountain.

In the street, he found whole families, all hurrying as fast as they could, making for the closest gate of the city, or if not there first, to gather up other family members and possessions.

A nearby brothel was turned out at that moment into the street, its clients and their prostitutes evidently frightened by what was happening.

Cassius had never seen them come out together like that before--as it operated discreetly in certain hired apartments and baths of one of the great houses. Some of his business friends, as well as certain public officials he met in his various dealings at the Forum, had offered to take him, but he always declined, knowing that his wife was an intensely jealous woman, and if she suspected his dalliance, he would never would hear the end of it!

Since the hard, burning objects were still pelting down like bombs on the city from darkened clouds over the mountain, the women screamed and hurried off, without waiting for carriages. The house owner was arguing with the operator of the bawdy house, and Cassius heard the owner was demanding some compensation if they all abandoned their lease suddenly like that.

The bawdy house proprieter pushed the house owner back violently, and he fell down, then rose partway, shouting for officers to come and arrest the man. Swearing at him, his attacker hurried off to catch up with his women, while some of his clients pursued him, demanding their money back for yet certain unprovided services.

But this distasteful scene was not so worrisome to Cassius as others. As he looked up at the churning dark clouds, he saw lightnings and and flashes of what looked like huge flames of fire jutting upwards into the high heavens.

A dark, wet, heavy, pellet-like material then began falling in huge swathes and clumps upon the whole city, darkening the sky further. Roofs began to fail all over the city, unable to bear the load of it.

A horrible presentiment seized Cassius. Was this the end of the world for them? The temples--what good were they now? The gods had abandoned Pompeii, it was clear from what he was seeing. Pompeii was rapidly falling apart before his eyes. Wasn't this the judgment of the Jewish god Jehovah, who was angry at them for what Vespasianus and Titus had done to his temple in Jerusalem?

He fled from the street back indoors his own house, slamming the doors, but he did not bolt them. Why bolt the doors now? His house was no longer a safe refuge, it had become a death trap, a tomb! He thought immediately they must all go, taking whatever they could, but leaving as soon as possible for their own safety's sake.

But then his heart nearly stopped with cold terror at what he had done: he had sent all the horses away. Their carriage and wagons were useless! They would have to flee on foot! But could he induce his wife to do that--run in the streets? She had never run anywhere, even as a girl. Ever since Tully's birth, her health had not been good, and her movements had been severely restricted. She hardly ever went outdoors, and then only in a carriage.

He passed by his son who was still fishing out hot rocks from the pool with a piece of pottery, and went directly to his wife's side.

"Drusilla, we must leave! Something has gone very wrong with the mountain--it is spewing up fire and clouds, and there is lightning flashing all round it. It is looking very dangerous."

His wife stared at him for a moment, her eyes rigid, and he saw his own terror reflected in her expression.

"No!" she screamed. "I am not leaving!"

"But you must! Everyone is going! Everyone! The streets are full of people leaving the city."

"But how will we go? You sent away our horses!"

"I will go hire a horse to hitch to our carriage, or if not that, hire a carter and wagon and he'll drive us out. You can take some nice things with you, if you will only hurry."

There was a huge crash on one side of the house across the impluvium. Tully ran in a moment later.

"Pater! Mater! A big smoking rock fell right through the roof!"

Hearing this, Tully's mother groaned, and turned her face away, sobbing.

Cassius tugged at her arm. "We must go now! Leave all the things--there is no time, we can take nothing. We must get up and go as we are, for our lives are more precious than these things. We can always replace them. Maybe in the street we can ride with someone else in his carriage or wagon."

"I'm not going!" his wife sobbed into her bedclothes. "Go without me!"

Cassius was beside himself. "I--I cannot leave you."

"You know I can't run in the streets like a commoner--I could never do that! And my legs are too short, I can only move slowly. No, I won't leave my home, no matter what the mountain does to me. You go, let me die here, where I am, in my own home!"

Cassius put his face in his hands, then he rose and took a few steps away toward the door, paused, and turned around with a grim face.

"Tully, I have to stay with your mother. We will be all right here, the roof is new and good, with strong supporting timbers. But you must go. Run as fast as you can, and go to the ranch and retrieve a horse. Ride to Aaron's grandfather's home in Stabiae, you can ask directions when you get to there. Ask them from me for lodging, until you hear you can return home safely to us. But if you hear you cannot return here, well, they will know what to do to help you along in life. You have a rich inheritance in Roma's Imperial Treasury to claim. That will be more than enough to compensate us for whatever we lose here at this house. The bar-Shlomos will be your guardians, I do not doubt it. They will not fail my trust. They will see their duty and do it. Reward them when you can. Here is my seal ring. Keep it on your thumb. And your neck charm, that has yours and our family name on it too. No more proof will be required of you by the government. The bar-Shlomos can also testify as to your identity and claim if need be. Now off! Go at once!"

Tully wanted to object, even with his father's ring on his thumb, but no son could do that and escape chastisement for flat disobedience. His face flooded with tears, not because he was leaving his parents so much but because he was forced to leave Pompeii. How long would he have to stay with Aaron's family and grandfather? He didn't like the idea at all, even if Aaron was his best friend. After all, weren't they Jews and had queer ideas of eating and living?

His father didn't give him any time to reflect about it, he was running Tully to the door, and there he saw him out into the street.

"Farewell, son! And my blessing be upon you, the bearer of my name! Run past the theaters to the Stabia Gate, and go as fast as your legs can carry you to the stables and take a horse from there to Stabiae!" His father kissed him.

"Son, be a man and take courage. You must get out of here now. This city may not hold out much longer--"

He craned his neck, trying to see what was going on in the sky, but it was just too dark now, even with all the lightning flashes and flames.

It suddenly dawned on Tully at that moment what was happening, as he saw for the first time what his father was so concerned about.

"No-o-o-o, Pater! I don't want to go! Please don't make me!"

"Go! Obey your father!" a hoarse, choked voice cried in his ears.

Tully grabbed his father's arm.

"I'm afraid, Pater!"

"Stop crying, Tully! Samnites don't cry! Run as fast as you can, as long as you can. The Stabia Gate--now go!" His father pushed him roughly away. Tully saw how determined his father was, that he would even beat him if he didn't obey that very moment.

Turning, he started off, his feet dragging. He glanced back once, and saw his father holding up his arms to shield his head from falling rock bombs and watching from the street to see if he was really obeying him, or maybe intended to just circle around.

He was intending to turn around the block of houses, as a matter of fact. He ran until he was out of sight of his father, then stopped. A boy passed him, and he called to him, as he thought he was a friend. He was! It was Porcius, whose father was an aedile and very important in the city, since only the duuimvirs were greater.

"Hey, where're you going, Tully?" the boy said. "Are you scared? We aren't scared like the others! We're not leaving. I only went out to see what is going on and then go back and tell them."

"Your family isn't leaving the city?" exclaimed Tully.

"No, never! This will pass, my father said. We can't risk robbers breaking in if we should leave like the others now that our doorkeeper and other servants have run off," he said.

The sight above them was getting worse as they looked at it.

There was a huge noise as a lot of rocks rained down nearby. Then another roaring sound as a roof gave way, and a moment later, they heard screams coming from the house.

The boy's face turned a sickly greenish hue.

"Hey, that's my home!" he gasped. He dashed away toward it.

Left alone, Tully continued walking round the block, and didn't get very far, not quite reaching the lower decumanus when he saw many other families fleeing in wagons, too many at one time, and a wheel came off one, and was blocking the whole street.

He treaded his way through the jammed wagons and all the excited people shouting to each to move aside.

"Just beyond the stalled wagons, he came aside one moving along, piled high with goods. The driver called down to him, "Boy! Aren't you Master Tullius Septimius--but where's your father and mother?"

Tully recognized him, a neighbor, a well-to-do fabric merchant with a fullonica business and shop in his large house.

"They sent me away, sir! They aren't leaving the house."

"Fools!" the neighbor shouted. "This city is doomed by the gods! !They are enraged at us. Can't they see that? We should have never erected that big of a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus in the Forum, when this city has always been devoted to Venus Pompeiana, our city's ancient reigning queen of heaven. She's angry, mighty angry at us for that, and you never spite a woman and get away with it! We're all undone, I say! Undone!"

The words sounded so terrible to Tully, he started crying again.

"Coming with us or not?" the man cried as his wagon started off.

Tully shook his head and kept walking.

"You're a little fool yourself, you'll never make it on foot by yourself," the man said.

Tully was about to turn back around the block to his father's house, but he realized he couldn't do it. His father had strictly commanded him to go. He must do it. He must obey or be severely beaten.

At the same time hot rocks were raining down on more and more houses, along with a heavy, gritty pellet-like silt fall of water that made a kind of falling mud, coating everything. He passed a temple devoted to Isis, its tall white pillars no longer white but streaming with black mud. Even the basin with water from the sacred river Nilotus had been fouled and defiled black as bitumen tar that bubbles from the ground.

A priest ran out from his chamber behind the temple, a big heavy bundle in his hands spilling gold coins and jewels from the temple's underground treasury as he ran.

He didn't even glance at Tully who was gaping at him, as he dashed away, his mud-streaked white robes flying about his heels.

Tully looked down at the gold coins trailing after the priest. But there was no time to gather them. The crashing roars and rumbles of the fiery clouds were deafening now. There was a strong smell of sulphur. The fall of rocks and mud was thickening too. Terror seized Tully, as he turned at last toward the Stabia Gate. He started to run, seeing that the light was going, it was turning dark, dark at noonday!

He heard screams, shouts, moans everywhere as he run through the streets and made his way around the wagons stalled by trying to all go through the streets at the same time, each driver shouting and swearing at the other to move aside so they could pass.

Tully reached the Stabia Gate, and strangely, there were no guards at all in sight-- so people were free to come and go as they wished.

He passed through and just outside the gate, a man reached and grabbed his arm. He was an older man and well-dressed, and Tully thought he looked familiar.

"Help me, boy! Yes, you, child! My own servants pushed me out of my carriage and left me right here in the street! The guards and soldiers won't even fetch me my carriage back. I need help! My legs are no good for walking very far."

Tully thought he knew the man now, recognizing his voice.

It was old Restitutus Vetus, his father's patron!

The man leaned so heavily on him, that Tully staggered beneath his heavy arm.

The old man could go only a few short steps at a time, and when they reached the other side of the gate Restitutus Vetus gasped. "Stop! Stop! I can't go any further. Oh, my heart! It is racing so! Help me rest, boy, over there."

The man sank down by a new statue of Venus, this one called Venus Felix by the Romans, one of the hundreds set up in and outside the city by prominent citizens in honor of the most ancient patron goddess of Pompeii, Venus Pompeiiana, the city's oldest and most revered deity.

Tully stared at the old rich man, who now was anxious only to rest.

"I must go now, sir," he told Restitutus Vetus. "My father commanded me to go at once to fetch our horse and--"

"Yes, yes! Go, boy! I don't need you now. I will be fine here. Oh, it pains--"

He clutched at his chest, and his eyes closed as he leaned forward on the base of the Venus, sinking down as his legs stretched out and twitching.

Frightened, Tully turned and ran.

The boiling black and lightning-blazing clouds, after engulfing the whole city behind him, almost outraced him, swepping over the others on the road just behind him. He fell, then got up, feeling burns on his legs and arms.

His clothes smoking in places too, he brushed them wildly as he ran.

He had just passed through some large, luxurious villas adjoining the road when the ground shook, along with a tremendous roaring like a thousand bulls and Tully's heart nearly stopped as his legs buckled. Whatever it was, he knew he had to keep going or be covered in flying debris from villas, which tumbled about like houses of cards as the earth continued shaking.

The quaking stopped, but the rumbling behind him told him the dark, churning clouds were gaining on him. He left the road, racing down a lane that led to pastures and the country stables his father kept for the horses, donkeys and oxen used for their business and household.

He reached the stables, but found the servants supposed to watch them had gone, taking all the horses but one. But how was he to handle him without help? The remaining stallion was too unmanageable and had been left hobbled. He had gone wild with fear.

Ero, meanwhile, had gone over the city just before the storms from the mountain erupted, and thus was able to observe it conducting its affairs in its last minutes of normal activity. As he proceeded up over the mountain slopes, Vesuvius came alive, suddenly and catastrophically, threatening the whole region all around it, not only the cities, ports, and farms and villas, but all life, human, animal, and plant, as well as the landscape.

Racing back down ahead of the increasingly violent explosions of the eruption, Ero had passed back over the city and into the country when he found the mast-bot slowing, as he came to stables set in big pastures and a lone boy struggling to get control of a rearing horse.

Somehow the horse, who recognized Tully, sensed the boy was trying to save it from the clouds that were rumbling close to the stable by now. It stopped rearing on its hindlegs and quietened, shuddering as the boy got hold of him. Tully was then able to lead him to a fence, then mount him from the fence.

Ero watched all this, and the mast-bot lowered even more, and as the boy started off, Ero was moving right ahead of him.

He could see Tully was well aware of him, and yet not afraid to follow him.

"What could he be thinking of me?" Ero wondered. "Does he think I may be some Roman god trying to lead him out of danger?"

Ero was right, for Tully did think he was a god, though he hadn't expected to see a real god come to life in front of him like that. Wouldn't his father be surprised too, hearing that the gods really existed? it came to Tully's mind as his horse leaped to follow the god.

As for what god exactly was this, his teacher had instructed him that Mercurius was the most fleet of the gods. And as for the mast-bot, Tully wasn't surprised by it either. It looked somewhat strange to him, like a shield with a long spear stuck in the middle, but couldn't a god do as he pleased? He knew all the gods did whatever they wished to do.

But the volcanic clouds were rapidly gaining on Tully, proving as fast as his horse could run.

Ero saw he had to do something, speed things up or lose the boy. He reached out, and Tully took his meaning and goaded the horse to run faster until he was alongside the mast-bot. Their hands met, and the moment Ero had hold of him, he pulled him aboard. The reins still in Tully's hands, Ero took them and then watched to see the stallion's reponse. The horse followed them. With Tully aboard, they made better progress too. By now the stallion was keeping up out of sheer terror. It felt the hot breath of the monsters galloping just behind his heels, while flinging many stinging hot darts at his flanks and haunches.

They reached Stabiae, but could not stop. Ero saw the devouring hot clouds were not stopping, they were going to sweep over the city and cover it with darkness and hot mud and ash just as they had already covered Pompeii, Herculaneum and other cities.

What to do? They must continue on as fast as the horse could run.

But as they passed Stabiae and the roads choked with its fleeing people, the horse seemed to be tiring and falling back. They could not keep him running like that much longer, Ero realized. He was running himself to death. The lather was thick on his flanks already. Ero had to let the reins go.

The Pompeiian boy in his hand saw this happen, and he seemed dazed at first, accepting this, but then he grew very perturbed as he saw the stallion whinnying with fear and falling back further and further, the clouds gathering round him thicker and thicker.

The boy fought to get free of Ero's grasp, but he held him fast, and the boy struggled all the more, screaming and kicking and scratching.

The mast-bot reached Salernum, which was like other cities in the south jammed with refugees, as it seemed as if it was not going to suffer the same fate as the other cities round Vesuvius were suffering.

Here the streets were impossible, just too full of people and animals and goods people had rescued from their abandoned homes and farms. But Ero saw an open space, a courtyard in a hillside temple, and there the mast-bot set down according to the mental instructions constantly being relayed from him to the Kater's Compass guidance system, which never ceased scanning him. It did not touch the ground, however, it hovered a foot or two above it.

The priests were utterly amazed, of course, to see this apparent glorious god coming to visit them.

But which god was he?

One of the priests saw a distinct similarity between Ero's features and physique and their own huge gilt image of Apollo standing in the temple, and he cried out the Greek god's name.

Ero looked the man's direction, as he recognized the Greek language (even though its accents were far more classic than his), and of course he could speak to these Greek-speaking priests too, as they all began jabbering their first praises and welcomes to him.

Bowing, the priests treated him as they would Apollo himself, whom they believed him to be.

But who was this child, this boy he was carrying?

Ero had to explain him as soon as he could to the priests.

Word of his appearance spread rapidly, and hundreds of people began to crowd into the courtyard, many carrying what offerings they could snatch on the way to present to the god.

"This boy has suffered much already. His horse was overcome by the clouds. He is separated from his parents. Please take care of him," Ero said to the priests.

Fortunately, Tully had his father's signet ring, a carved Samnite eagle on a garnet, set on his thumb, and a neck chain that held his Samnite charm with his name, Tullius Drusus Ancus Septimius, inscribed in gold. These items soon identified him to the priests beyond any question, though the god Apollo's word was, even without those things, all that was necessary to the priests for them to take Tully in under their care.

"I do not know where his parents are in the city that is now covered by the clouds, but you may be able to locate them once the mountain stops erupting and it is safe to go back there."

The crowd in courtyard was now out of hand, everyone trying to get close to Ero to touch him if possible and seek some kind of favor a god might be pleased to grant. Gold and silver coins showered down on the mast-bot, and flowers flew through the air pelting Ero. One man of wealth even brought an ox to sacrifice it in an offering to him. "My daughter and son-in-law are in Pompeii," he cried to Ero, weeping in his great distress. "Deliver her safe to me, great Apollo, and you shall have two fine oxen! or three! and anything else you want!"

Ero felt he needed to go, the boy's welfare was now as assured as it could be in the circumstances, and he couldn't bear to see all these foolish people think he was a god to be worshiped.

He lifted off, the hundreds of desperate people crying out to him to stay a while longer, for many had loved ones caught in the cities that were being blackened and buried alive right before their eyes.

How different was his life in Roma, after leaving the custody of the priests of Temple of Apollo and moving from Salernum with his guardians, the Nathan bar-Shlomos! At first rumors came that nobody from Stabiae had escaped alive, but then refugees came flooding into Salernum, taking every available room in the inns and also the houses of whoever had spare rooms. The rest jammed into the Forum and the modest stadem to camp out until they found means to go plead for assistance from the emperor in Roma should he not come down to see their plight with his own eyes.

As for the bar-Sholmos, they had brought some household goods, Nathan's ailing father, records and cash, and servants out in several wagons--so they were more fortunate than most of the Stabians, who fled Stabiae with just the clothes they were wearing, leaving at the last moment before the city was overwhelmed by the dark clouds of grit and poison gases.

It took several days before Tully knew there were refugees from Stabiae, as he overheard the priests talking about the latest news coming in at the Forum, carried by the refugees themselves.

He thought of the bar-Shlomos, and mentioned them to the chief priest who took personal charge of Tully and gave him the best chamber and provisions the temple afforded. Treated like a prince, Tully lacked nothing, except his family and city--which he knew in his heart were utterly lost.

The gravity of this sank in now that Ero, the godlike being he thought was Mercurius had come and rescued him, though he had failed to save his horse.

A little boy cannot become a man overnight, even in times so troubled and distressed as this. He wept much, and the priests tried to comfort him with toys and good things to eat, but had no way to know how to comfort a child like only a mother or father could.

Only when a priest, seeking to divert him from his grief, took him to the stables of the temple and he saw the horses, did he calm down and take some interest for the first time in his surroundings.

The horses may have saved Tully, for he quickly grew attached to one, which resembled most the one he had lost.

He spent most of the day, each day, with the horse, and the chief priest was much relieved, for he had feared the boy the god had brought might perish from sheer grief.

Tully fed and watered the horse, and could hardly be induced to go his own bedchamber at night, he had grown so attached to it.

It was in the stables one day that Tully looked up from watering his horse (for the chief priest had given it to him as his own), when his eyes met those of Aaron.

Tully would always remember that moment--it was like the ugly, roiling black clouds of Vesuvius Mons parted at last and the full light of the sun shone through on him for the first time!

Five years in the metropolis and world capital of Roma, where all roads led to the Golden Milestone set up in the Forum Romanorum, had passed so quickly since his reunion with Aaron and his father together with their family, and now he was sixteen, a grown man! His father's patrimony, the part returned to him by the Imperial Treasury, had made him very wealthy, indeed. At his age he could manage his affairs, with trained men skilled in bookkeeping and estate management at his side of course. He had his own house, really a palace Crassus, a famed triumvir with Antonius and Octavianus, had built on the Palatine Hill, but being a Samnite with far less a taste for luxury and arrogant display, he preferred to reside with the bar-Shlomos in their more modest house near a forum and a warehouse district on the Tiberus.

One day everything changed once again for Tully. Only it was not just remarkable change, it was extraordinary what was proposed to him!

Nathan bar-Shlomo took him aside, sending away all the servants and confided in him seriously, as one grown man to another, on a delicate subject meant only for their ears. As for Isaac, for some reason, he was not present either, and he felt constrained not to ask the father about it.

Tully knew one thing for sure. Nathan bar-Shlomo was not leading him on and meant every word, for in five years he had come to know his father's friend well, and found him to be a man of absolute integrity and truth and moral probity like his father. How could he not respect such a man, when he could see how the men of Roma commonly behaved? What a contrast it was! His respect for the Jews and their religion had increased enormously in consequence, and he even attended synagogue with the bar-Shlomos from time to time as a "God-fearer."

Now this matter Nathan had brought to him, it was absolutely astounding and most challenging, to say the least. He had never guessed he would ever be involved in anything so dangerous and...yes, exciting and glorious, as thrilling his young man's heart with the brilliance and boldness of the plan.

"Well, what do you think, Tullius? Will you hazard your life for the sake of this venture, rescuing the sacred Menorah from the ruins of our lost city?

"My people would be forever indebted to you, dear Tullius! Even if we should fail, they will feel just the same toward us--we will be their heroes forever. But heroism bears a stiff price. Know it is a very dangerous thing, and we could very well lose everything, even our lives if caught, so will you think hard on it first, friend of Israel? Will you count the cost, and only then let me know your decision?"

Later that night, as he lay in bed, the "friend of Israel's" mind whirled with Nathan bar-Shlomo's sobering words.

The plan was well though out. Nathan had spent many hours and even years on it, ever since the Jewish temple's giant gold candlestick, called the Menorah, had been brought to Roma by Titus and paraded as a chief item of the war spoil before the cheering and celebrating crowds packing the triumphal route of Titus and his victorious troops.

The Menorah, certainly the most sacred piece of the Temple's golden utensils and furnishings other than the lost Ark of the Covenant (which was not really lost, Nathan confided to him, but hidden away), was put after Titus's triumph under guard, day and night, in the Imperial Treasury vaults. But Nathan never ceased thinking about it, day and night. The Jews must retrieve it, somehow or other! With it there was hope of reviving the Temple, he believed, and he told Tully so.

"But how can we get it away from the Treasury without being discovered?" Tully asked, jumping ahead of Nathan.

Nathan smiled. "No, that is not the way. We're not going to rob Roma's Treasury! We'd have all the legions of Roma after us! On the other hand, it will come to us! I mean, after years of being locked up and guarded, the emperor--who after all used utmost violence and force and stole it from my people and God's house!--released it for the inauguration of the resumed gladitorials at Pompeii, and it was brought to the Amphitheatre just as Vesuvius Mons erupted, catching the crowds assembled there along with the officials from Roma and Pompeii."

"Didn't the guards take it back to Roma then? Is it here? How then can we get to it, sir?"

Nathan smiled again. "Nay, it remains in Pompeii, my son! It was accounted lost or destroyed in the eruption, and never retrieved these five years, though many inquiries have been made concerning its whereabouts, since the emperor felt its loss keenly as his chief war trophy. None of the guards survived to tell of it either, and attempts made by officials to find it in the ruins of the city have all proven fruitless. Meanwhile, I have thought long and hard, and this is my conclusion: there is one place where it could be. It was supposedly searched, but in my review of the records, I discovered that a completely thorough search of this certain prime site was not made by the official in charge--on the contrary, he falsified his account to cover up his lazy incompetence. I found out he spent far more time in the taverns and brothels of Neapolis than he did searching for the Menorah! How I found this out is a story in itself, for I had to get the true details from the men under him, who shared in his commander's depraved tastes and escapades, and one of them talked freely to me, for a certain sum of course!"

Tully's eyes widened. "So you really know where it is, sir? Tell me!" And Nathan was ready but he shook his head.

"No, as much as I would like to, I dare not tell you at this hour, but I know where it is most certain to be. Will you first think about the great dangers involved in retrieving the Menorah? Count the cost, for it could cost us our lives, and yours and your fortune too-- if we are discovered at this, even here where ears may be listening to report what we are saying."

Tully nodded. "Sir, I will consider it privately," he said.

"Good, and if you still choose to help us and assist me in this venture, speak again to me, and I will tell you where we will most certainly find the Menorah in the ruins of our city."

In the morning, Tully was more than ever resolved to join his worthy guardian and his friend Isaac (who had since become a brother to him) in the finding and carrying away of the Menorah to the Jews' keeping. He had not been back to his city, even though others had gone back seeking valuables from their buried villas and houses.

Roman troops still arrested everyone who was not a proper owner and former resident, and looters were executed when caught. But he was appalled by the thought of the saddest part of the venture, locating his dead parents in his desolate house, and had not been able to face the reality of it until now. Could he go now to them, and retrieve their bones and render them the proper burial in a place of honor?

He felt it his solemn duty, now that he had the means to do it properly and well as his parents deserved.

When he spoke again to Nathan about his desire and resolve to find his parents' remains, Nathan was very pleased. His eyes shone.

"Yes, yes, that is best, and a son's filial, solemn duty. And it will be our best explanation for being there, and the soldiers and guards on duty there will leave us alone after we tell them this. As a Jew, I would be under suspicion, of course, but you, they will not suspect, and we will then be free to retrieve the Menorah! Excelllent. I left this to you to think of, for I could not use your parents to gain the Menorah, that would be mercenary. No, you had to think of it yourself. And you have! The Great God of Israel is indeed leading us, for that is proof he has this in his heart for us to do."

"How may I help, sir? I really want to help you and your people."

Hearing that, Nathan got down to business, after first checking there were no servants anywhere near them.

"Tullius, you must call out your best horses and harness, with your largest carriage, the carruca, so we will be able to transport the Menorah with absolute privacy and safety. I will have with me the cloth of taliths to wrap it in, for we must not defile it with our hands. Besides, we shall need to lodge in the area of the place I am certain we will find it, and there no lodgings available for miles around. This way we will be able to look and dig down for it, when I see the guards and sentries are far enough away from the area or at their barracks. They all have their set patrols, which I shall find out first, before we venture to do anything. We shall need some trained men-servants of our own to help us, and they will be ones I have already picked, those I can trust with our lives. It is the Menorah that is important, not our lives, but without us it will be jeopardized and suffer re-capture. But we need not discuss this here, where even the walls have ears. It is far too dangerous in this city to even speak of this. Better we continue talking about it out of the city and are well on the way down to the city. The noise of the wheels will drown out our conversations!" He paused, then eyed Tullius for his reaction.

"I've had things ready for this very moment," Nathan continued, seemingly assured. "Can you be ready to go on the morrow? Take just what you want to wear, but make sure you take and wear your finest robes, as you will meet first with the commander in charge, and he must be impressed by you, so that he will not think to interfere with us nor restrict our freedom. I will act as your guardian and speak for you whenever necessary. He will understand that you may be troubled by your grief, so he will not pry you for much information. I know how these men of the military think, they are much like businessmen.

"The praetorium commander, Horus Ceius Pantherus by name, will be told the truth, that we have come so that you can gather your parents' remains in urns and take them to Roma for interrment along the Appian Way. He is quartered in Misenum's port, not far from the infamous Baiae where the emperors have their private pleasure palaces and theatres and arenas. We will go to Misenum after I have shown you a certain point on the walls first. He will not question our primary reason for coming, as it is for your sake, not mine, as he will only be told that I am a merchant of garum in Roma who was a business associate of your father's, and am now your guardian for want of surviving family.

"Again, know that by joining to our cause, what you have done is give us the means to retrieve the Menorah that is so sacred to my people. It could not be done otherwise. But now we have a good chance of succeeding. We the Jews of the Diaspora cannot thank you enough, Tullius!"

Nathan bar-Shlomo was right, Tully found out, that Roma was overflowing with spies, and it was best they conduct their discussions aboard the carriage en route, with only Isaac listening in to them. One of the servants was caught listening in to them, and when questioned by Nathan he confessed that certain men had employed him with a bribe to find out all he could and then report it to them for a big reward. Nathan immediately had the slave taken away, far from Roma, and sold in a market, as he could not be trusted again in his household--only he made sure he was taken into a household, not sold to someone who would work him like an animal in the cattle ranches. As for what the slave had heard, who would believe him, a mere slave? Slaves were known for tittle-tattle of such nonsense.

The axles and heavy wheels of the 2,000 pound carruca were so noisy on the pavement stones that no one could hear them talking, Tully knew. Besides that, all their servants and guards rode behind and in front of them, with only the driver and postilion riding aboard (men Nathan bar-Shlomo had picked, so they were not even Tully's servants, whom he scarcely knew, as he spent so little time at his own residence).

Tully had many questions for Nathan, and so the time flew swiftly, as Nathan answered one after the other. Misenum was out of the way, but first they proceeded to the Southeast Tower because Nathan particularly wanted to show it to Tully before anything else.

When Tully stepped out of the carriage with Isacc and his father, it struck him for the first time in all its magnitude what had happened to his native city. The once imposing wall and all its towers looked nothing like he remembered. He couldn't even recognize the surrounding terrain, it was so changed and barren and heaped with black cinders and many rocks, with scarcely any vegetation after five years, just some tufts of grass here and there, and some patches of weeds. The Sarno, once a beautiful stream lined with trees, grass and villas, meandered through it, making a vast swamp, no longer the wide, clear running, deep river it had been. The dreary desolation was more than he could stand. He felt overwhelmed, dreading going on further to see what Vesuvius had done to the city itself. If the walls and countryside looked that bad, what did the city look like? And what was even worse, somewhere in the city of the dead lay his parents, unburied and forsaken.

He was so troubled, he scarcely felt Nathan's fatherly arm as he stood, manfully holding back his tears.

Isaac too was shaken by the desolate scene, and the three of them just stood there, silently, for a time.

But they had to move on, so Nathan squeezed Tully's arm to get his attention. "Tullius, get hold of yourself, for your parents' sake! You are a man now, just like Isaac my own son. You are as good as mine now these last five years, and yet you must make your own decisions regarding your destiny. Do you wish to go on with your task? And what about our plan for the Menorah? Whatever you decide, I will respect it."

It was the hardest thing to hear himself being asked, on both counts. He had to force himself to master his own feelings and stiffen his resolve, though everything in him seemed to urge him to wash his hands of it all and walk away.

Tully shook his head. "I've got to do it, I've got to do it!" he stammered, then paused.

"What do you mean, Tul?" asked Isaac.

Tully ran his hand through his hair as he looked again at the dead, once splendid city of his birth. "I've got to find my parents, first! Then, I'll do the other, I mean, I'll help you find the Menorah."

"Tullius, you don't have to do it alone. We'll help you find your parents, first, if you insist. We're not leaving you to do that by yourself. If you still want to help find the Menorah, well, you are welcome. But we'll understand if you bow out."

Tully winced as if he had been struck. "I'll not bow out, sir!"

He turned to Isaac. "But I gave my word, I'm helping you find it, no matter what it takes. I'm not going back on my word. My father would never approve of me if I did that! And if you think it is best we search for the Menorah first, then fine, I will agree to that."

Nathan nodded, then gestured toward the carruca. "We must be going. The commander in Misenum must be informed in person of our presence."

They returned to the carruca and sat without words for several miles as their entourage of guards and men-servants escorted them. They entered Misenum at just before nightfall, and in the waning light found an inn, but Tully shook his head. I don't want to speak to anyone. Go if you wish, but leave me here alone. I don't want anything to eat either."

Isaac protested. "But Tul, can't I stay with you? Please, let me. We can talk. Tell me, what is troubling you."

Tully couldn't explain it, but Nathan knew somehow, and he nudged Isaac, and drew him away.

As the door shut, Tully sank back on his couch, his eyes open in the dimming light. Servants had come along with them, and he had only to call, and one would come and fetch anything he wanted--but mostly he wanted to be left alone that night. He had to get his thoughts and feelings in order, and this was the only way he knew it could be done, alone, without distraction from other people.

After a time, he felt uneasy in his young body, and got up to stretch and take a look out the shuttered window. Drawing it a bit, he looked out, and there were buildings, temples and high walled port defenses blocking his view, but he saw a looming shape that was blacker than the night sky, and he knew it had to be Vesuvius Mons.

A kind of shadow seemed to slip into his heart, dark and cold. That mountain had robed him of the things and the people dereest to him. He had been forced to flee his own home, leave his parents for dead, and live in a strange city he still did not like or feel a part of. The mountain was his enemy, he felt instinctively. Yet his ancestors had chosen to live in its shadow, thinking it would never turn on them to destroy them. How wrong they were! It had come to life, a monster, and slain a whole city, and other cities besides.

He hated it with all his being, but he was helpless, he knew, to take vengeance on it. Yet...and the thought gave him a measure of satisfaction, he could recoup some of his losses. His parents were lost, he'd never see them in life again, his home was gone, his city destroyed, but he had something to do he knew his father would have approved.

He felt better, and was ready to rest. Sinking down on his couch, he took a drink of water, then lay back and rest and sleep came easily. Dawning light came in a crack in the blinds on the window and ran across his eyes, and he blinked. Then his eyes shot open, and he looked about, wondering for a moment where he was. He sprang up to look out, saw the strange city, then recalled it had to be Misenum. But where were the bar-Shlomos? He urgently wanted to join them, and he threw open the door, startling the guard posted there, and stepped down. Just then he saw Nathan and Isaac coming toward him from the entrance of the inn.

Tully smiled, and Nathan gave him a keen look, then returned his smile.

"You rested well, Tullius?"

"Yes, sir, I did. I am ready to go."

"Not so quick, Tullius. We need to go see the commander at the Praetorium. He will authorize our going to the ruins. Remember, let me speak and introduce you first, as you are of princely rank, and in your fine robes there will be no question of it. He will no doubt seek to be of service to you."

As they were being listened to, Nathan said no more, and he let Tully go and take off his travelling clothes and put on his robes.

When Tully was finished, he stepped out, and Nathan looked at him, and nodded. "Let us go, it is a short walk from here through the Forum, as the commander's palace lies hard by it, I am told by the inn-keeper. I will inform the guards that we wish to see the Most Noble Horus Ceius Pantherus, Commander of the Garrison and overseer of the ruined cities. We will wait until he is ready to receive us. In the meantime, we can find something to eat, if we don't want to share the commander's table and the many questions he may want to ask (which I advise against). Better we eat first, then decline his invitation."

Isaac and Tully followed Nathan as he set out through the Forum.

After informing the guards at the entrance guardpost, Nathan turned to Isaac and Tully, and they were just walking away when the praetorium commander came out on the balcony above and called down to them. "See me at once in the main hall!"

An hour later the three left the Praetorium, escorted by the commander.

"If there is anything you wish to have, let me know. I will be very happy to be of assistance to you!"

Nathan bowed his head, thanking him for his gracious reception.

"No need, Commander, we have no lack of anything. But we do ask for privacy, for the sake of memorial to the Dead."

"Yes, yes," agreed the Commander, as he eyed Tullius sympathetically. "I myself lost a niece and nephew in the calamity, but to lose your parents--that is a great loss indeed. As you wish, you have freedom to go wherever you need to go, and I have given orders to be sent by courier to the sentries and guards posted at the ruins to not interfere with you in any way."

"You are most gracious and understanding, Commander Horus Ceius Pantherus," Nathan said. Then they left him and returned to the carruca. Setting off down the road, they soon reached the gates and left Misenum and headed toward Pompeii's ruins, not by way of the coastal road which passed by the ruins of Herculaneum, as that way was impassable, but back around the northern flanks of the mountain, the way they had come to the port and naval base of Misenum.

As they were travelling, Nathan had some news about Misenum for Tully he thought might interest and divert him.

He told him about the inn-keeper, who had memories of a certain famous nephew of the great naturalist, historian, and naval commander, Plinius the Elder.

The inn-keeper told how when they at Misenum saw Vesuvius Mons was spitting out fire and smoke, round about noon, many people then were so frightened, thinking the mountain might fall upon Misenum, they were fleeing in every direction away from it, some by sea, most by land.

He himself did not choose to flee, having an inn to safeguard and not wanting to see it ransacked if he left it unattended.

As an inn is the best place for gathering news, he learned before most everyone else that the Admiral of the Fleet, Plinius the Elder, had left the port with several ships, intending to rescue boatloads of people already fleeing Pompeii by way of its port. Yet as news came back from that attempt, his nephew, Plinus Secundus, who was also in Misenum at the admiral's palace, was grieved to hear his uncle had perished, along with all who went out with him.

It was then looking very bad for Misenum itself. The remaining ships were sent out to save them, and the Praetorium emptied of troops, the entire force marched out of the city, leaving it to whoever chose to remain and take their chances.

Days later, most of the people returned after hearing the conflagration and clouds of poison gases had not quite reached the city, but were blown away by a prevailing wind from the west. His inn was soon filled with people bearing all sorts of news. He learned that Pompeii was utterly destroyed, along with Herculaneum, Stabiae and Nuceria. In fact all life was extinguished all the way to the environs of Neapolis! This appalling news could not be more disheartening, as then it was plain to him that not just hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, had lost their lives--and the cities covered with thick mud, rock, and ash, not just a few finger's depth as in Misenum, but to a height of the second or third storey of a large house!

This account wasn't pleasant so far to Tully's ears, of course, but the story interested him, and he wanted to know how it went.

Nathan continued, quoting the inn-keeper, who said, "I actually got to speak with Plinius Secundus, the seventeen-year-old nephew of the Admiral! He found my inn open as he first came to the city, and drew up here with his raeda. Could I quarter and feed his horses? he wanted to know. Of course, at your service, sir, I told him. I was so pleased a patrician so young and splendid as this one would want to take lodgings in my humble inn, I gave him my best. I even had my wife fetch our finest linens and cutlery and dishware. The food--well, my cooks were hard put to supply the many tasty dishes this young man ordered since the markets are so disturbed and lacking so many things of late, but he gave me no complaint though not all the ingrtedients were as you would find them in Roma. In fact, when he departed, he paid me well above the usual charges, and thanked me for my efforts, saying his visit was pleasant despite the circumstances.

It was then that showed me how he was taking his great loss. He actually shed tears speaking of his uncle! He said he would write about it someday when he felt more composed in his spirit.

I was so honored, I replied, that he felt so at ease with me that he would share such private thoughts with me, a mere inn-keeper. I told him that his uncle the Admiral would be sortely missed by us all. It was a great calamity to Roma to lose him and his leadership, I assured him.

He seemed to like hearing that very much, and he patted my hand, as if I were a friend, and then departed."

Nathan went on to tell him what Plinius Secundus had seen from the vantage of Misenum, and then how he had fled the city when the fall of darkness and ash grew threatening the city.

"Will he be writing more about it to you?" Tully asked. "I should like to read his letter sometime."

Nathan nodded. "I think he will write about it, as his uncle was a prolific man of letters, and so it runs in the family. Perhaps he has a book out already in the bookstores in Roma. I just hadn't thought to look for one by him before, but now I will and fetch it for you."

Tully thanked him. "I should like that. Does he write Greek or Latin?"

"Both, probably, as his uncle was most learned a man, and his uncle no doubt had him schooled well."

"My parents schooled me well too, as I know both Greek and Latin. I never thought to write about what happened to us, though. Would anyone want to read about it if I wrote an account of it? I only know what happened to my family, and maybe a few others. We had no time to go and talk to other people, so why would people want to hear about just my family?"

Nathan darted him a certain look. "Oh, I think they would want to read your account, most certainly if they already knew all we are planning to do now as a direct consequence!"

Tully fell silent, catching the meaning Nathan intended. Isaac didn't understand it at first, then he too realized what his father meant and exchanged a glance with Tully.

The rest of the way they said little more, as each was preoccupied with his own thoughts, but as they drew near the Southwest Tower, Nathan began speaking to both young men with very sober tones.

"My men are trained and already know what they will do, only they don't know where I will employ them. But I can tell you. This tower standing nearest us is the most certain location of the Menorah. I know it has to be the place after inquiring into all the reports. Emperor Titus was here in person, twice, to look for it, but he quit after digging all along the roads leading to Nuceria and Stabia where his chances best lay to find it, he was advised."

"But sir," Tully interrupted, "why did he not search this tower you speak of? Why just the roads?"

Nathan's eyes gleamed. "You see, heaven deceived him with his own advisers! He was going on the reports given him by various witnesses, which led him away from the tower instead. Titus himself was so sure the Menorah was not left in the city he never seriously thought there was any likelihood of finding it there, however much he had his soldiers dig it up."

"It was not heaven's will that he should find it and set his defiled heathen, bloody hands upon it! That is the explanation for his missing the true location. He and his general Tiberius Alexander--that impious apostate of my people--destroyed a million Jews and enslaved the rest, dragging 70,00 to Roma in chains to build the Flavian amphitheatre, where they stage their bloody games and ceremonies. I should never have given so much credence to those witnesses of his-- they were conflicting, and who knows really what they saw--they might have concocted stories to find favor with him. But I, from the first I set out to find the Menorah, sought to think as the Menorah's guards and their commander would think in distress.

"They could see they were doomed if they remained in the city. Everyone could plainly see that! And they could see another thing, that they had only a short time to make a decision and carry it out. The commander's chief responsibility was to protect the Menorah, even at the cost of their lives, and he did what a commander in charge of so valuable an object from the Imperial Treasury would do--he had it carried straight to the nearest and best stronghold available, rather than risk it and lose it possibly on the open roads, which were jammed anyway and soon impassable."

Tully's mind whirled. He saw it too now. Nathan did not have to tell him the rest. He saw the commander, after a moment or two's agonized hesitation, steel his will and command the guards to take the memorah to the Southeast Tower at once. Following, he shut the doors, and bolted them, and prepared as best they could to weather out the calamity, or as Romans, die with courage while at duty.

So the soldiers were all there, with their commander, their bones lying in the Southeast Tower of Alexander, along with the sacred Menorah--not covered with ash, mud and rocks out on the surrounding plain as Titus had presumed! Trapped, the poison gases had killed them all, and following, the rain of mud and ash continuing on, covered up the tower, leaving only the upper parts exposed. Who would care to break in after that? Guard towers held nothing valuable. It is the ruins of the villas and mansions, and the temples too, that would be searched for treasure.

Tully had to ask, beginning to sweat, he ws so excited. "But sir, are we really the first to return there? What about the sentries and soldiers sent by the emperor? Surely, they have looked into it if they could, even if it was a mere guard tower."

Nathan shook his head. "The Emperor, who was Titus then, would have heard of its discovery, as you cannot keep such a thing secret. No, the Menorah remains there undetected. We will be the first to see it again. Besides, anyone caught looting, whether a commoner or a soldier, was executed. So I doubt the guards wished to risk their lives for it, valuable as it is, as they would know they could not succeed in taking it and not being apprehended by the Emperor."

The carruca stopped, they were at the spot Nathan had chosen, and they got out. Nathan issued orders to the six men he had brought to do the digging, then he first sent out his own sentries to go and station themselves in the ruins beyond the Tower, who were to blow a horn and warn them if they saw any guard approaching. Everyone was to drop work immediately, and Nathan would go and speak to the guard and handle him, bribing him if necessary, while the others kept out of sight.

He already knew their schedule of patrols, he said, after making inquiries of the solicitous commander in Misenum, so when they reached the tower, they had time to do what they needed to do without fear of any guard stumbling into their midst and catching them red-handed with the Menorah. They set to work, while Tully and Isaac stood aside in case guards came and they needed to be sent away from the area.

It was a tense situation for all. Tully and Isaac had already been instructed. Nathan went to the command post to check on the guards, but while he was gone Isaac and Tully were on their own. Some clever excuse would have to be made why they were in the area, of course, if some guard happened to find them there. Or if that failed, a bribe must be given. Since the guard would know nothing about the Menorah, they needn't make the bribe too high, or he would grow suspicious and perhaps report them to his sergeant back at their command post. Then they might have a lot of difficulty!

When Nathan arrived at the Southeast Tower, he relieved Tully and Isaac to take some men and go search for Tully's parents' remains.

It was a very difficult journey, Tully soon found, as there was no way into the city without climbing over countless heaps of rocks and rubble. They made slow progress. Even when Tully and and Isaac his helpers reached the Decumanus where his house was located, he had the greatest trouble finding the house, as all the landmarks were obliterated, fallen down or covered by rocks and roofling tiles, mounds of hardened mud, and gritty, black piles of ashfall. It was like he were in a dump that had burned.

When Tully finally decided where his parents' bed chamber had to be, or hoped it would be, he set the men to digging. That was where he had last seen them alive! This was his best chance of finding them.

It was very hard going. The mud and ash were mixed and solid, nearly petrified in the five years since the city had been covered up. They dug with their adzes, and made slow progress. The first hole got them nothing when they reached the floor of the chamber. His mother's couch bed was found, but no one was in it.

Tully was dismayed, though relieved that he hadn't yet had to set eyes on his parents' bones. Where would they be? Where had they gone?

He scanned the area, and there was no telling where his parents had gone after they had fled from the bedchamber, perhaps when the roof began to collapse onto them from the weight of the rocks, and raining mud and ashfall.

Isaac tried to suggest several places, but Tully shook his head. "My mother couldn't walk but with difficulty. She wouldn't go far that way. I just don't know where--"

The men continued working on their own, but each hole produced nothing.

Seeing this, the hours dragged on, the men were exhausting themselves, and Tully had to wonder, "Had his parents succeeded in getting a carriage from a neighbor, with horses to pull it, and had escaped out, only to be caught somewhere on the roads? If so, he would never find them!"

Tully called a halt, and told the men to take their rest.

Isaac tried to comfort Tully. "Let's try over there, Tul," he said pointing out a new area. "You never know--"

Tully shook his head. "It's hopeless! Hopeless!"

Isaac grabbed an adze as if he was going to do the men's work for them, but Tully stopped him. "This is my house. We will leave it as it is, no more digging. It is over!"

"But Tul--?" Isaac started to argue, and Tully left him, went and stood against the other side of a shattered wall, just to get his thoughts together if he could. Isaac too gave up, and throwing down the adze went and sat down, casting glances back toward Tully for a time.

While Tully was mourning the loss of his parents and suffering defeat, events were taking place that Ero was well aware of, that could change everything for Tully and his guardian, in a bad way.

Commander Pantherus, as he looked out the high window facing Vesuvius Mons and ruined Pompeii an other dead cities in his charge, had reason to smile and count his chickens before they hatched. He had given Nathan and Tully just enough leash to hang themselves, and now he was drawing the noose tight!

He sent two detachments of soldiers out, one to take Tully and Isaac and their helpers, and the other to arrest Nathan and his workers and seize what Pantherus suspected was the Jewish Menorah.

If his suspicions were correct, he would soon have in his possession the Flavians' most prized trophy of the Jewish wars! What wouldn't that gain for him in special favors from a grateful Emperor Domitianus! He would probably be promoted to general, or a chief officer of the Imperial Guard!

Pantherus rubbed his hands together, hardly able to contain his anticipation of appearing before the Emperor to receive the acclaim of the whole court as the Menorah was brought forward and presented to him. He stayed by the window, waitingi for the first courier to return to him with the news his soldiers' mission was accomplished, and the two birds and their golden egg were in hand.

While Tully grew to his majority at age 16, Ero had not been idle in the last five years. He had seen the Roman Empire from end to end, north, south, east, and west--from Britannica to Armenia, from Trevorum in Belgica to the Third Cataract of Aegyptus. No Roman alive had enjoyed such a tour as Wally's guidance system had given him. It was truly a world empire-- and almost incomprehensible, that one man should rule all of its varied, farflung parts from a single capital. Yet Roma managed, and continued to build stupendous public works of all kinds while holding off huge hordes of barbarians that pressed on the empire's every border. Europe, Asia, and Africa were all united in one gigantic government and economic system. Truly, the Romans' greatest genius was in engineering, but yet beyond that was their system of law and government which held everything together and made a world society work.

But before all this, after dropping Tully off at the Temple of Apollo in Neapolis, Ero couldn't just stand aside while so many people were still perishing. He went back, flying toward a part of the mountain that hadn't yet unleashed any lava flows. On the way he found a whole group of warships, a fleet caught in giant whirlpools.

But as the sailors fought their vessels from swamping and foundering to keep, black clouds of poison gas and ashfall descended, engulfing the ships. They were all plunged into darkest night. In seconds, hundreds of sailors and the galley crews were gasping, doubling up and dying.

He tried to save some of the sailors and soldiers still struggling for life, but couldn't reach them. One man looked like the commander of the fleet, surrounded by chief aides--but suddenly the crowded ship broke up and dove, sucked down by a whirlpool. Circling, Ero found no ships where there had been a fleet! He turned back, appalled at the disaster. There was nothing he could do there.

He reached the land and continued ferrying others to safety until midnight--whoever, that is, who dared to take a ride with a godlike being and climb aboard with him! Most people refused and even ran from him despite his pleas he wanted to help them.

He was just hovering over Herculaneum when the mountain roared once again. Huge flames and black clouds boiled upwards, then a whole side of its rim collapsed, and millions of tons of superheated water, gas, rock, and mud cascaded down directly toward Herculaneum.

He was able to reach the port's boat sheds, massive cement vaults set along the sea wall that were sheltering refugees just before the pyroclastic mudflow swept over it.

People huddled by the hundreds in the sheds, thinking they would be safe there until rescue came by way of imperial warships sent out from Misenum, the nearest big port where the main Roman fleet was anchored under the command of Plinius the Elder, the Fleet Admiral. When Ero arrived, they had only seconds to take his offer, communicated in Greek, to ride to safety with him.

Astonished by the sight of him, none would take his offer--thinking him a god who was playing with them most cruelly--except one family with two small children, they eagerly ran to him and Ero helped them up. They had no sooner left the port when the mudflow reached the sea wall and boat sheds, and it was all over with the people there. Five hundred degree temperatures extinguished all life instantly even though the mud did not completely fill the boat sheds, just blocking the entrances for the next the next two millennia.

As soon as they reached a safe enough place, nearest Neapolis on the road, he let the little family disembark, which they were eager to do anyway, god or no god. Strange things happen in catastrophes, and this was certainly one--a god transporting them to safety! The grateful woman wanted to give him her pearl and amber bracelets and earrings, but he thanked her though he couldn't accept them. He knew they had probably lost everything and would need what little money and jewelry they had left on them. They were both young, he saw, so there was a good chance they could build a new life in Neapolis.

This encouraged Ero, that he had saved these lives at least. Previously, he had tried to save people on board some ships, one carrying the Admiral of the Fleet, Plinius the Elder.

Never would he forget what he had seen at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Now, five years later, the mountain lay asleep. But he knew the sleep was deceptive. Someday again no doubt it would suddenly awaken and destroy just as it had in the past.

Returning to Pompeii, Ero was just in time to meet the first detachment coming to catch Tully and Isaac.

First century Romans saw him swoop down below Wally's version of the Roche limit, beyond which he became visible to them--and typically, they thought they saw a god, though he was actually only a "deus ex machina." The simple, superstitious soldiers halted on the path, as Ero blocked their way forward.

No human enemy on earth could stop Roman soldiers like this without a fierce response. "Hail, the god Mercurius! Hail!" one cried out. Others fell down worshipping him as Apollo instead, whom he greatly resembled. The sergeant himself had fallen on his knees, his hands outstretched, pleading for favor, as he had failed to sacrifice to Mars for some time and feared the god had come to punish him.

Ero held his hand out, as if to push them back, and they understood the gesture, and began moving back. He continued to move toward them, and they fell back even further. Finally, they all turned, and with the sergeant bringing up the rear, they fled all the way to Misenum, not even stopping in Neapolis or Putteoli.

Meanwhile, Tully, Isaac, and the working men headed back to rejoin Nathan, and missed the drama between Ero and the soldiers.

Ero then received an alert from the Kater's Compass, and the mast-bot swung back toward the South East Tower, just as a second detachment from Misenum was approaching it.

Nathan stood watch, and gave the alarm to the men, and it seemed it was all over for them. He was caught red-handed, just as the Menorah was being being wrapped with blankets. Their rejoicing over the discovery of the Menorah-- the most glorious event since the destruction of Antiochus the defiler of the Temple--was cut short, and they were cast into despair. Now the Menorah would be recaptured and taken back to Roma by defiled, pagan hands, the same that had slain a third of his entire people without mercy as well as burned and torn the holy Temple down to its foundations!

Nathan knew that he and his men could fight for the Menorah, and they would all be slain and the Menorah taken. What could he do? Yet he ran like a coward, the soldiers would pursue him, and his son and Tully would suffer all the more, and perhaps be slain too. Should they take their ownlives rather than submit to capture? But that would leave Isaac and Tully utterly defenseless.

Perhaps he could talk to the soldiers? Could he bribe them to spare Isaac and Tully and take them back to Misenum to their commander. It could be the commander would not treat them so severely as their elder, as they were not found at the SE Tower and not actively involved with the actual unearthing of the Menorah.

These thoughts whirled in Nathan's head, and he had no reason to think the soldiers would show any clemency and not kill them all, since they were-- under the law, looters.

Ero then descended, and Nathan stared at the approaching marvel, a splendid, athletic specimen of a young man riding what looked like a shield and javelin joined into one aerial carriage.

Nathan and his men forgot their despairing thoughts as they stared spell-bound at Ero, awestuck, yet not terrified like superstitious Romans would be. Nathan did not believe in the Roman gods, of course, knowing them to be men's creations, or vanities--but this he could not deny was real. If he were no god, was he an angel? Was he Michael the archangel?

Or a deceiving devil? He had heard Tully's account of such a being helping him escape Pompeii's destruction--and told him it had to be an angel. At least he knew no devil would do such a good deed as Tully had described to him.

Ero, Cybernaut-errant, lowered the mast-bot, using the Kater's Compass, and then looked up and beckoned Nathan and his men. He had seen the second detachment, and there was little time. He wanted them to load the Menorah immediately.

The men were dumbfounded. But Nathan understood what Ero wanted, and hoping against hope this was God's messenger sent to deliver them and the Menorah from the Gentiles, he shouted to the men. "Load the Menorah on my shield, and tie it to the javelin! Hurry!"

Quickly, the men woke up as from a sleep, and set to work and soon had his instructions carried out exactly.

It was just in time for Ero to turn, rise, and fly to confront the approaching soldiers who were double-timing it to the Tower of Alexander. The moment they saw him, they stopped so abruptly they piled into each other, their shields clattering to the ground.

Terror shone in their eyes, their mouths gaped, and they began falling, prostrating themselves.

He was Mars, the fearsome god of war and bloodshed, they thought, whose red star winged overhead and cast doom and destruction on the earth whenever it came close. And though seasoned men of war themselves, they all had reason to fear a cruel, mighty god who was known to turn on friend and foe alike, he was so capricious and vengeful of any offense or slight done to him!

The second group was just as easy to turn to flight, they were so overawed and, convinced he was Mars, of whom it was said a single angry glance could slay a man. Forgetting their shields and spears, they scrambled to their feet and sped back toward Misenum, not even stopping in Neapolis, a small, ash-covered town on the way.

With the soldiers out of the way, Nathan soon had the carruca's roof torn off, the compartments ripped out, and the entire interior freed to accommodate the Menorah. Ero next lowered the Menorah. Strangely, it had grown in size while aloft on the mast-bot, Ero's lofty Argo. The base of it barely fit the carruca's interior, expanded in size as it was by Nathan's workmen.

Nathan made sure the walls torn from the carruca would not be discovered, for he had his workmen bury them some distance from the road.

Tully and Isaac mounted on horses ahead of the carruca, Nathan's men behind them on the carruca itself, they made for Brindisium, the main port on the eastern side of the Boot of Italia where ships connected with all points of the empire. There were hours now to talk about the events they had just witnessed,ime to depart! and Nathan could also advise his sons on his plan of action and what he wanted them to do.

He himself would sail from Brindisium on a hired ship that would carry only the Menorah, himself, and captain and crew. When they reached Joppa, he had contacts in Palestina who would meet with him in a prechosen spot, then convey it to a hiding place only they would know about. They were all to take a lifelong vow of silence concerning its exact location, and none could break silence escept in the presence of either the chief priest or the supreme council or Messiah. In any case, it was to kept in that place until the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem, however long that would take. That last stricture would prevent their revealing the location prematurely.

Perhaps, after the Flavian emperors had passed, God would smile on his suffering people once again, an emperor more favorable to the Jews would come to power, and then their request of a new Temple might be approved. That was Nathan's hope, he told his sons after reviewing his plan and as many of the details as theyt might safely be made privy to.

Tully and Isaac had many questions about all this of course.

"Father," Isacc protested, "you know perfectly well the beast in roma will never approve of our having a temple again. Surely, you don't believe any emperor will change his mind about us! They hate us, Father! They hate our One True God! As long as we worship Him, we cannot worship them! They would just as soon see us all dead than be denied our worship! They just can't bear it, that we refuse to worship each of them as a god!"

Nathan bar-Shlomo grabbed his son by the shoulders. "No, no, you and I must believe, we must have hope for our people! The psalm says that the time for God to favor us has come. I believe it! The time has come! God is able to turn the wrath of these Roman overlords! We must never give up hope of seeing our temple restored in all its glory and all the rites properly restored and ob. If we come to despair and lose our hope, we are finished! Our enemies have vanquished us. Don't you see that? And somehow we must restore the records of the Messianic line--else we never are to trace and prove his lineage should the Messiah appear. That, not the Romans, is our biggest problem, my son! We must find copies of those temple records which the levites wrote and preserved all through the centuries until now! There have to be copies, as they were too important to be kept as single books. Somehow we will find them if we have to look into every cave in Judaea!."

Isaac looked at his father, then hung his head, seeing he was unable to counter his father's arguments, nor did he care anthing about the Messianic line and the books recording his lineage.

"But why can't we go with you? Please take me with you!"

Nathan let his son's shoulders go, took a few steps away from him, turned back and said: "It just won't work--can't you see?-- if we go together. The emperor has a thousand thousand spies. They are watching everywhere for us by now. Every innkeeper and posted soldier along the roads is looking to win a reward for first sighting and reporting us! The three of us, even the two, would be suspect while traveling together, with our exact descriptions already given the emperor by spies."

He waved off the protests he saw coming. “Hush now, son! Be strong! We must be parting!"

Isaac turned to Tully with his appeal, but Tully's expression was not encouraging. "Your father is right, we would only attract attention if we accompanied him. Then the sacred candlestick would be lost. Surely you wouldn't want to risk that, my dear brother?"

Isaac slowly shook his head, but his look was one of mourning.

Tully then spoke for the two of them. "What is it you want us to do, sir? We will do it!"

Nathan, drawing them close, gave them instructions. The carucca was to carry them back home, as if nothing had happened. They could ride inside or outside, whatever they chose, but they must make themselves visible along the route. A servant would ride inside, garbed in Nathan’s clothes, so that he could be reported too. No one was to say a word about the Menorah and its discovery, not one word either spoken or written, or the emperor would no doubt hear of it, and they would all be rounded up and executed after confessions were extracted from them through torture.

Nathan continued, to make all things clear. No one had seen the Menorah but themselves and his loyal servants, right? So if they said nothing, there would be no tangible grounds for suspicion. As for the demolished interior of the carucca, which was now just a shell, it could be discreetly repaired in his private stables and carriage house after some months if Tully wanted it again, otherwise it could be pulled outside the walls and abandoned in some desolate place and burned.

Tully agreed to all this, while Isaac kept silent and listened. The trip from there on was not very happy, as each thought about what they were called to do and the dangers involved.

At Brindisium, delaying their entrance, they pulled up outside the gate in a field for privacy, to wait a bit while one of Nathan's men went in to inquire at the port for a ship for hire.

Nathan and his sons had dinner and prepared to spend the night, with a fire made by Nathan's workmen to warm them and the light but tasty meal, along with some Lucanian wine, fetched from a thermopolium and a bakery inside the gate.

There were baths just beyond the gate too, where they steamed and washed off the dust and weariness of travel. When they returned from the baths, they were more than ready for an evening meal and also the news about the ship from Nathan's servant.

He came at last, and spent some time speaking confidentially with Nathan alone. Nathan finally sent the servant away, and he turned back to his sons. "I cannot tell you the details, it is best you do not know them, but we have a ship! It is hired and waiting for our cargo to be delivered and loaded. One thing remains--for me to choose the moment to transfer the Menorah from here to the ship. It must be done when we are least likely to encounter any soldiers or officials of any kinds in the streets. Now we must wait for that moment. My servant will come and alert me."

The hours passed, and the three lay on their beds, unable to rest or think of anything else except Nathan's imminent departure. Isaac's eyes, Tully observed, were fastened on his father the whole time.

Suddenly, the time Isaac dreaded most came. The servant, Justus, slipped into the tent, and Nathan sprang up to hear him whisper a few words in his ear. Isaac also sprang up, beside himself, while the servant stood aside and waited for the order to move the Menorah. Before Tully could stop him, Isaac threw himself down and seized his father's ankles. "I can't let you go alone!" he wept. "I will die if you leave me! Let me go with you, I will not ask for anything more--I vow it with my life!"

Tully could see that Isaac was sure he thought he would never see him again, and he felt the pangs of his own loss of parents before their time--moving him to put his hand on Nathan's arm.

"Is there no other way to do this thing, sir? Regard your son, and please regard me your adopted son and your friend's son. You see yourself that Isaac would rather die now than lose you like this. Have mercy on him and me too, I implore you! I cannot bear to return to Roma with him if his heart is utterly broke, so that he is in continual mourning for you."

Nathan shook his head. "It simply can't be done! You both must return to Roma! There is no other way! With so much at stake, we simply can't allow feelings to destroy our chances to get this sacred thing to safety in the Judaean desert or wherever else we may choose to hide it."

Isaac turned a despairing face to Tully, and he tried again. It was his last chance, he knew.

"Sir, this is my final appeal for your son's sake and mine. Did you not plan a companion for us, who would wear your clothes and deceive the Romans into thinking you were accompanying us? If it will work for you, why won't it work for us? Hire two who are near our age and appearance to wear our clothes, so that we are freed to accompany you and the sacred candlestick! Is this not reasonable, sire?"

Nathan stared at Tully. He started to say something, then shook his head and moved away. Pacing, he ignored Tully and Isaac.

Suddenly, he swung around, his face lit with a broad smile. "Of course, it is reasonable! It will work to a certain point, as far as it needs to work! Only now we must find two can serve as yourselves on the carucca's journey to Roma!"

The able Justus, given instructions, hurried out at Nathan's bidding to do just that: fetch another Isaac and another Tully among the numerous tribe of street boys.

They did not have long to wait for Justus's return, and he had in hand four youths. Nathan could now choose the better two of the lot.

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS EPISODE WHEN IT COMES ON-LINE SOON

UNCHRONICLE OF CRISPUS AND THE PHOENIX, VOL. IV, RETROSTAR

Crispus was as good as born in the purple when his father turned out to be emperor, one of Roma's greatest and noblest. It did not matter so much that his mother Minervina was not of exalted family and was mere flesh and blood. A provincial woman of commoner blood and status, she was soon forgotten by the rising Constantinus, if not by her son, after Constantinus left her and took a high born woman, well-connected, from an imperial family for his wife, thus pleasing his mother who favored the re-match.

Despite his mother's low birth, Crispus was elevated to Crown Prince, the Emperor Constantinus's eldest son. As such his education was of utmost importance for the Roman people and the great world empire he would one day rule over.

Knowing his good work in restoring the ravages of barbarians in Gaul and other premier provinces of the Empire, and strengthening the defenses and the Army, Constantinus Augustus knew it would come to nothing if his son, soon to be appointed a Caesar, or sub-ruler beneath him, proved an incompetent or unworthy, corrupt. Constantinus gave the matter much thought and then chose the best teacher available in the realm--Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, the renowned Christian author and philosopher, author of many books including "die Ave Phoenice, about the wondrous bird, the Phoenix, that perished in flames but was reborn from the ashes, as well as "De mortibus Persecutorum," his daring defense of the Christian faith.

It was a very strange choice to many. His African birth in Cirta of eastern Numidia, that wasn't too strange and too obscure, as emperors like Severus, had come from African provinces, but this fellow was a man who had suffered long years of neglect and deprivation, thanks to Diocletianus's attacks on Christians through the realm. Once he had been chief lecturer in Diocletianus's own palace in Nicomedia, the eastern capital, but all privilege, rank, and reputation was lost when the emperor, ill-advised by pagan advisers, turned against Christians, treating them as enemies of the state. From the royal court, he was forced to flee into obscurity. He had suffered subsequent bitter poverty, keeping himself alive only by occasional paid lectures and tutoring.

Finally, after hundreds of churches across the realm were smoking ruins and thousands of Christians slaughtered in arenas or driven into the mines of Proconsularis Africa and Egypt and even Palestina, the bloody, cruel persecutions of Diocletianus waned. Diocletianus--some whispered, it was the One True God putting the false god-emperor to pasture to grow common vegetables--amazed the world and retired into obscurity to his palace in Spoletum, Dalmatia, content to tend prize cabbages in his palace garden, he said, until his death, and other emperors came and passed in succession. With heaven's favor upon the young Constantinus, shown by the sign of Chi-Rho, signifying Christus, which appeared to him, given him to bear as his standard as he battled with his army against a more powerful opponent, his chief imperial rival at the Milvian bridge outside Roma, the star of Lucius Lactantius, so long in eclipse, rose at the same time as Constantinus won victory and the throne. Though grown aged, his shining intellect and learning were undiminished. His task was to instruct Crispus in Rhetoric--in both Greek and Roman sources and outstanding practitioneers. Demosthenes figured chiefly for the greatest Greek Rhetoricians with his brilliant argumentation that had dictated the policies of the Athenian state, and Tullius Cicero, of course, for the Romans due to his own great role in the Senate and in Imperial circles due to his wit, charm, writings and rhetorical argumentation. Writing fluently in both languages, and declaiming eloquently in both languages on chosen passages of the great philosophers and teachers of classical civilization, were required of Crispus by his mentor, who for all his Christian faith did not despise good things God had put in all men to glorify Him. Fortunately, for both student and teacher, Crispus proved brilliant and eager to learn, not a lazy, spoiled darling of the elite class, and passed both sections of Rhetoric so well, L. Lactantius allowed the boy his chief love: Julius Caesar's camp journals and accounts of his bloody wars with the naked, yellow-haired, screaming, barbarian Gauls.

After a particularly good test showing, Lucius could not be more pleased with Cripus and his progress. Augusta Trevorum, a large and sophisticated city with many temptations for boys and men, the elegant capital of the prefecture of Belgica, wasn't proving to be the distraction he first feared. The royal court and palaces with all their pomp, entertainments, and lavish ceremonies, was distraction enough, but a boy couldn't be kept within the royal palace's confines forever--he was bound to venture out and seek amusements in the city streets, the baths, the theaters, and the amphitheater, which showed all sorts of bloody contests, sports and games--even though the worst excesses had been banned. Then there were the bawdy tavernas with their drinking and dancing and prostitutes and whores, and the gambling houses set with lewd phalluses of Priapus to catch the attention of youth with money to burn..

The theatres were not much better, with their comedies fearing the sex plays that came out of Roma, with the actors and actresses performing acts shameless to mention, and also the Greek comedies of Aristophanes, no less bawdy.

Crispus, he knew, could not be kept away from such things forever. He was rapidly growing up. For that reason, he the master teacher had to make a deep a mark on him as possible in his remaining time with him. So far, it seemed he was making such a mark, as the boy was responding well to his moral teachings, into which he inserted many Christian doctrines along with the better, more moral Roman and Greek morals.

Lucius decided to test his student on morals too, just to see if he was retaining them. He knew he couldn't repeat the lessons overmuch, since Cripus would be seeing the wider role soon and engaging in it, and that meant he would have to know what was right and wrong, or be forever swept into the immoral sewer of public life--where marriage vows and chastity before marriage meant nothing anymore, and a man's career was everything and Roma's security could be sacrificed to personal advancement, and so on. Such defilement, once it stained a man to the depths of his soul, was extremely hard to remove. Only in Christ, by his divine power, could it be cleansed away, its strongholds in the soul and heart utterly destroyed. That was rare, indeed, as total surrender by the infected individual was absolutely necessary for the full operation of Divine Grace--and few men would submit to such operation, even in their extreme wretchedness of sin and bondage. Most preferred compromis to divine cleansing and excision of evil--choosing pain forever in hell to the temporary pain of healing now in their earthly tabernacles. How many men had he seen, starting like Crispus with great promise, end shortly as moral ruins! In his lifetime, many, too many to count or remember! His warnings had fallen on dull ears, as they tried first this delight and then another in Satan's garden, only to be bitten by a deadly serpent hidden among the petals of a flower of sensual beauty.

He had Cripus put down his writing tablet, and just wanted to get his views on various important issues of manhood, moral probity, and self-discipline.

"What is best, Crispus, to revel drunkenly like a soldier at the taberna, and do the other vulgar things he does there, boasting of his exploits and such to his drunken companions, or to live soberly before all men and discipline one's base desires and appetites for the public good?"

Crispus answered well to this. The prince replied: "Most Noble Teacher, many proofs there are for this: Drunkenness makes a man a fool, and destroys his reputation and his vigor. Who can trust such a man when he drinks too much and doesn't know what he is saying from one moment to the next? Wiil he not continue and destroy his family, stealing the food from his children's mouths to feed his own appetite for drink? No, master, that is not the best way of a true man who has a noble heart! He boasts, but it is a fool boasting of his own ruin and folly. The public good cannot be served by such a man when he behaves so, rather, the commonweal is undermined and put in jeopardy and in a state of constant upheaval, distress, and alarm."

"Excellent!" responded Lucius. "But he had another question or two for the prince.

"What of the low and easy women you meet there in such places. They are very attractive to the eye, are they not? They paint their faces, perfume their bodies and their clothes, wear jewels and bright colors, and sing and dance, baring their legs and bosums to the men. Men pay for the company of such women, even fight for them if they must. What if he takes such a women to his bed? How can we say this too will defeat a man in his heart, spirit, and body, and also undermine his doing the public any good? Give me some examples, too, of those who have chosen these immoral creatures over the public good and their own duty to their country, to their great loss and Roma's too."

This was a little harder. But he had taught the boy about outstanding cases of moral failures among the nobility and also the emperors. After all, he had written a book on them, how they had brought divine revenge after they weren't content with commiting immoral excesses but dared, like Belshazzar of Babylon, dared to lay violent hands on holy things, seizing and burning the holy scriptures, then wasting the sanctuaries with fire and ax, finally imprisoning, torturing and slaying God's people, the Christians. He had named them all--Nero, Domitianus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelianus, Diocletianus, Galerius, Maximus-- as a perpetual hall of ill fame that would possibly warn and dissuade rulers to come from adopting their evil practices and following their examples.

Crispus hesitated, and Lucius noted this.

"Well? You know the many infamous cases I cited from my book. Speak of them."

The boy seemed even more reluctant, and his head went down.

When Lucius saw that, he really began to have some dark forboding in his own spirit. What was causing Crispus to act so strangely? He had to find out! It was the look of guilt or secret shame. This was indeed ominous!

Lucius set down his book, and, reluctant to find out what the cause was, intended to call the studies done for the day when Crispus rushed over to him and knelt before him. "I have sinned greviously, sir!"

"What have you done, son?"

That was his fatal question, for Crispus then proceeded to pour out the whole sordid account that was causing him such misgivings and twinges of conscience.

The more Crispus told him, the worse it got, and then it was utter misery to hear the details. Finally, he had to stop his ears with his clenched hands! It was such a torrent of filth flowing out of this mere boy it was driving him mad!

Summoning all his remaining resolve, for his knees were shaking at the thought of what this entailed, he dismissed Crispus for the day. Study this and that author, he told him in parting, but he scarcely knew what he said, his mind was whirling into the darkest places imaginable, with all the furious birds of hell pursuing him with talons and tearing beaks.

Where could he go with this crushing burden of horror and forboding? He couldn't return to his own apartment and face his servants in his deplorable, distraught condition, he had to find some place apart where he might regain his self-control.

Could he flee into the country and think what he might do in this calamity? But no, he would be observed going, and there would be questions, all kinds of questions. What could he say in response? No, he had to find some place that would not excite attention of any kind. The basilica! The state basilica! Of course! He fled to Constantinus's church which was part of the palace compound, within the fortified, towered walls of the imperial park. No one would think twice about his going in, even at that time of day when most people sought the comforts of home or maybe entertainments in the city and its baths, theatres, and pleasure spots.

The moment he entered through the great double bronze doors of the basilica church, he knew it was the perfect choice of refuge for him in his state. He continued on through the great columned and domed sanctuary, seeing few at that hour in the edifice. He found a chapel where there was no one, and no one even close to it. What a relief! He could be utterly alone with his trouble and misery. Going in he passed behind the pillars and fell on his knees and then on his face. With groans, he cried onto the Lord God for Crispus. His own agony was so great he felt like his heart might stop, he was so pained.

He was drenched with sweat, and it poured off him, though the marble floors were cool, even cold beneath him.

What Crispus had told him smashed his soul from side to side.

In a few moments two shameless, wicked servant women had undone all the good he had tried to do, to turn the boy's heart and fix it on the eternal things of God rather than the things of the world. Oh! they were Satan's tools to destroy the anointed son of Crispus, to make him yet another of Roma's immoral monsters. One more Nero or Julian the Apostate or Caligula or Elagabulus--and they were finished! Constantinus was holding back the destroyers with his magnificent, godly rule, but one after, like Commodus after Marcus Aurelius, would truly destroy the empire and the hard-won civilization, which had grown weakened and babarbian-ravaged and was at the point of collapse in many provinces.

Roma's hopes rode on Crispus! He had to be a strong, unwavering moral leader, or if turned hideously depraved, no question about it, Roma was lost! Might of arms alone would not save Roma from all her foes! Roma could win all the battles yet lose the empire, as her barbarian enemies pressed in on every side and bit off chunks until nothing was left. It was like trying to hold back an ocean from swallowing an island of sand!

But if Crispus was defiled and violated now at such a tender, impressionable age, what would he be as a hardened man in charge of the legions and the state? He could beat his enemies in battle, since no properly trained Roman army could be beaten man to man on an equal field with the enemy, but the enemy, Satan, would beat him in his continuing, worsening moral lapses and follies. With a dissolute leader in these times, and the slackening of morale in the defending legions, their enemies would soon find a weakness and exploit it. After that, the barbarians would march into Roma and burn all its glories to the ground. All real struggle would cease, there would be nothing left to defend, as they would lose the valor of men who still had heart to defend family, church and country.

"Oh, Lord," he prayed. "Tell me what to do! I must not run away from this, I must turn some of it to good at least. So much is at stake! A whole empire may fall to ruin because of it. Crispus must be saved, if it is at all possible now! How am I to handle him now? His father will soon learn of what has happened. Women whisper such things, one to the other, and soon the whole court will know of the scandal."

Lucius knew that he himself would not be charged by the emperor with negligence, as he was not in personal charge of the prince's sleeping arrangements—which lay within the purview of the Palace Chamberlain. That was the least of his worries. He was now old, so not much of life could be taken from him, he had seen it all, and cared little for it his remaining days anyway. The gaudy, fleeting charms of court life no longer allured him, if they ever had. He had wanted only one thing, to please God, and to please the Emperor! But now he had failed, if not in responsibility, at least in his own expectations. Oh! He had wanted so much more from Crispus, who held such great promise of making a great soldier of Christ and a splendid Christian emperor! But it was all dashed to ruins, was it not? A pair of low-minded, lewd, servant wenches had beguiled the poor boy into their bed, when he engaged in a momentary prank and slipped into the women's quarters, eluding the guards, and instead of innocent amusement was fed the deadly fruit of the Forbidden Tree, the same that Eve first ate of, then slipped between Adam's lips. A boy's simple lark was made his downfall! How cruel and conscienceless those harlots were to destroy Crispus and his destiny like that--just for the sake of their base lusts and wicked amusement!

As he thought about them, and how the Emperor would be hearing about it and responding, he knew he could do something within his responsibility. He could arraign the two women, when he had found out who they were, and from that point on, their guilt clearly established by other witnesses or their own confessions, he could choose sentencing of a merciful kind or submit them to the full penalty of their crime.

He would take a man who was a judge of the court, while an official, who could order the women executed or at the least sent away to seculusion in a cloister the rest of their lives.

As he thought more about this, he grew certain this was the best he could do, rather than wait knowing what he knew already and do nothing. After all, the scandal would spread quickly after this, and he needed to act swiftly to keep it confined as much as possible to the inner circles of the court that were closest to Crispus and himself.

Finding his feet and knees were able to carry him without staggering, he slowly made his way out of the basillica and to the Praetorium. He called for several guards to come with him, after he explained he would need them for a private investigation. That was all he gave the commander to understand, and the commander did not press him for more, as he was a high official, close to the Emperor and not to be questioned by anyone inferior to him if he so wished.

Next the judge! He proceeded to his own quarters, then sent a messenger to fetch the judge he would need to preside as he himself questioned the women and laid bare their guilt. At the women's quarters, he could find out quickly what he needed to know, by questioning the eunuch in charge as to the women under his authority. Such fellows knew everything, they had to know, it was their life. He might be frightened, but he would tell everything rather than hide it, since he would be tortured if he did not cooperate. The guards went and took in hand the two women in question and bound them and brought them to Lucius's house, making them stand in the main hall where chairs were set for himself and the judge.

The judge came quickly by carriage, as he was at his home in the city when the messenger found him. Inn the meantime, Lucius had interviewed the eunuch, and with his help quickly narrowed the search to two particular women who customarily shared a bed. He also had several witnesses, or women who thought they knew what had happened.

When the judge arrived and was seated next to him, Lucius sent the eunuch away as not needed (thinking he would probably make a great gossip and spread the tale of the proceedings far and wide if given the opportunity), and the two women were retained, along with the four witnesses.

The arraignment proceeded, with Lucius having notes taken by a court recorder he had brought in. He wanted the best record possible of the proceedings for the Emperor.

The women's oaths to tell the truth before God and the Emperor were taken and recorded.

The witnesses were also sworn in. Of course, the women were guilty, the eunuch of the women's quarters and the witnesses knew what they had done, and could be tortured to confess the truth, as the standard practice was in the courts, but Lucius hated the thought of torturing ignorant servant women. He would try persuasion first, appealing to their better instincts and their reason. If they did not cooperate freely after that, well, then, they asked for such cruel means to extract a true testimony and left him no other recourse. He could not let them go unpunished once he started a trial, for what they had done was a high crime against the state. He himself would recommend clemency if they cooperated with the court, but evenso, the Emperor could deny his plea for clemency and have both women executed, since they had demeaned and polluted his own precious son and royal heir.

He first warned them most solemnly after taking their names and their oaths.

"If you speak truly and freely, and do not seek to deceive me, it will go better with you. I have it on testimony that you--"

One woman's face, he noticed, Hostia, showed no change of expression, while her accomplice, Monica, paled and flushed alternately and she couldn't meet his gaze.

He knew right off which one was going to be difficult and resist him and his bid for clemency. That didn't mean the second would not deceive him too, however, when cornered and frightened out of her wits. Both might well have to put to death, their bodies burned and their ashes flung with curses into the city refuse dump outside the walls as was done with criminals.

Next, he began the examination.

He addressed the woman, Hostia, suspecting she was the most guilty party.

"Confess your crime committed with the innocent boy you took into your bed and defiled, and this court will plead for clemency, though it will be subject to the final disapproval or approval of the Emperor."

Hostia did not hang her head as her accomplice, Monica, was doing, he noticed. She gazed at him evenly, without a flicker of her eyelash, and was slow to reply, so the guard gave her a blow on the back.

She winced with the pain, but did not cry and straightened up immediately, her expression unchanged.

"I repeat, woman, you may receive clemency at the discretion of this tribunal if you cooperate and confess. Otherwise it will go severely with you, by your own choice. Which is it to be? Clemency or the full force of the penalty for your heinous crime? Speak now!"

"I don't know what boy you speak of, sir," she drawled. "Why am I here with this other woman? I have done nothing wrong! Who has lied and accused me basely before you? Let him or her speak, dare to speak their lies before my face!"

Lucius marveled, and the judge sitting beside him gave him a shake of his head, indicating he was just as much surprised by her stubborn stupidity. This creature was so brazen she thought she could defy the testimonies of the eunuch, the Imperial Steward of the Women's Quarters, and the other women? She was calling them all liars!

Obviously, there was no use to try to persuade her. Perhaps, fear rather than reason might work better.

"You will be taken out by the bailiff and stripped and flogged until you confess. Is that what you prefer, rather than clemency?"

"But by the gods, I have nothing to confess!" she protested. "I've been lied against most evilly, so let those who lied against me be beaten, they are the guilty ones!"

"You have defied the court and spurned clemency by your attitude of defiance. So then, you leave us no choice."

"For shame, just where is this innocent little boy you say I defiled?" she flung at him as the sergeant took her roughly in his hand, twisting her arm so she was gasping with pain.

Lucius felt anger rise. He detected in her attitude and words a phantom's presence, meaning an accomplice and a powerful one at that stood behind her, giving her boldness she wouldn't ordinarily possess. So this was what was the cause of her recalcitrance! She had been put up to it by someone who sought to pull down both son and father into the quagmire of scandal. No, he would never bring forth Crispus to be humiliated by this low creature and whoever had paid her to do this! All emperors had deadly enemies,and even a great, good ruler like Constantinus attracted his share!

It was time to call a halt. He conferred a moment aside with the judge.

"I turn her over to you, Most Excellent M. Prospero Cyrenus," Lucius said. "It is useless in my view to bring forward any further witnesses now, as she will simply seek to impugn them and waste our time with more of her lies and nonsense. Witnesses can be examined on their own merits in private, if you think that is best."

The judge nodded approval, and the woman was dragged away to the flogging post. He was to bring her back for final sentencing after extracting her confession.

Now as for the accused and guilty accomplice, Monica...

It so happened that while the trial was proceeding, Crispus wandered moodily around the palace, looking for some distraction, and happened to turn into a room where new mosaics had just been finished by artisans. Stepping over piles of various colored cubes of stone and pots of half-hardened plaster, Crispus's went to one mosaic that caught his eye first.

It had to be the wondrous Phoenix, he could make no mistake about it after studying his teacher's book, “Ave Phenice,” and memorizing various assigned passages.

He had read his master's book as an assignment, but the artisan's depiction fired his imagination more than any words could do.. Was there really such a wonderful bird? He had thought it was a mere symbol and a nice story. But this mosaic made it seem greater than a symbol. He somehow felt the things the bird must have felt--the scorching heat of the flames, the burning of his body, the descent into the ashes and darkness of Hades, then the triumphant rise from death into immortality and everlasting glory. This creature that was dead, dead, dead, sprang forth from cold ashes back to life! This was all in his master's story, of course, but now, thanks to this one picture, the event sank into him as if it had really happened. He couldn't look at it the same again. His desire was now to be like this bird, rising glorious and triumphant over every obstacle and difficulty in his path. Like this bird, he could not be stopped and destroyed; he would prevail!

The following days, after the two women in the secretly handled case were dealt with by the authorities (Hostia was put to the sword, and Monica, because she truly repented and showed no defiance, was sent to a cloister), things returned to normal in the relations of teacher and student, or so it seemed on the surface.

But as days turned to weeks since the incident in the women's quarters, Lucius detected some troubling signs in his star pupil. Crispus turned restless, drumming his stylus on his leg, staring off into space at times and forgetting his lesson, even losing attention while being addressed. Wasn't this normal for his age? He wasn't sure that growth pains explained it all. Lucius could reprimand him and give him only so much extra work for his inattention, he found, for the prince's eyes sometimes smouldered with resentment. Gone was the boy with his sincere, candid, trusting ways, replaced by a youth made a man too soon who was growing increasingly hard to govern and correct. His attitude now had hardened, his will had stiffened, and his heart--it was no longer so tender and teachable, so willing to admit his mistakes and short-comings.

And the way Crispus paused whenever a female servant happened to come with something or do something, just to look her other, was most disconcerting--he had no business looking at servant women like that, and at his age it called for sharp rebuke! But what would be the prince's reactioin if he were strongly rebuked? Wouldn't he turned completely rebellious?

What was to become of Crispus if this continued? Lucius wondered in growing dismay.

He thought he might as well resign his post, as he thought himself a failure.

One day the student challenged his teacher. "Master Latantius, why must I be assigned these texts over again after I have aleady been tested on them, and my scores were high? It is so tiresome. Can't I look at some new things from other authors? It bores me to go over the same, old things!"

Lucius Lactantius was not just annoyed, he was angered; but he controlled his anger, waited a space of time, and then replied. "Knowledge of a text is not enough, and does great disservice to it and its eminent creator; knowlege alone creates monsters of great intellect who presume they can act beyond all the constraints of God's and man's moral laws; surely, I have taught you this, and you should not be asking me about it. You know, by my own book on the persecuting emperors who defied Christus, that they all were men of high intellect and learning yet they erred in reverence for what is truly moral and good while presuming they were free to act beyond God's laws. Seneca taught Nero, who started out rather well, but look what a monster he turned out to be! Just like the others in their turn! Marcus Aurelius the philosopher-emperor and warrior, what did he produce for all his fine thinking but the despicable Commodus! No, I wouldn't destroy you with knowledge alone! Unless you get these truths deep in your heart and soul, you too will swell with pride when you come to great power and then presume to commit any folly your foolish heart desires."

He paused to see what effect, if any, this had on Crispus, and what terrified him most was the blank stare. Was he indifferent? Was he hostile and defiant?

He could not tell. His pupil had turned into an inscrutable mystery to him!

One day, just as he was determined to return home to write to the emperor about his son's greatly changed temperament, an officer of the palace guard stepped over to him, blocking his way. He saluted Lucius, but Lucius could see something serious was about to involve his entire life in the officer's manner.

"Most Noble Lucius Lactantius, your presence is requested immediately for a private audience, please follow me!"

A "private audience" with whom? That sounded ominous enough coming from a senior officer in rank! Would it be arrest and execution for some conspiracy in which he was wrongly or maliciously named, or assassination by an enemy of the emperor and his household's servants?

If it were a trial, normally he would be sentenced summarily, his guilt already decided, as imperial royalty enjoyed the perogative of placing its judgments beyond the Usual courtesies of court procedure and precedent.

If an assassin awaited him, would he be granted the opportunity for his last prayers? He could not tell what fate would befall him, but he quickly followed the officer.

He was led out through the palace gates to the street, and fifty paces beyond, there waited a carriage, a rather ordinary looking raeda with no special markings or ornamentation with its window curtains drawn and its blinds pulled down.

The officer stood at the door, waiting for Lucius to climb in.

Lucius's heart was in his hand at this point, but he has this one comfort, he reminded himself. He was an old man now, he had lived long and as well he could for the Lord Jesus Christ, so he did not fear. He stepped in, and the door was closed.

Inside, his eyes adjusted gradually until he found himself not alone. A tall, distinguished man with large eyes and longish face was present, quietly observing him.

Lucius's heart leaped. The Emperor Constantius himself, come at last!

Nothing went as he had anticipated.

Without courtiers present to stare at them, the emperor dispensed with formalities, even the usual greetings, but he was friendly enough.

“I believe the reports I had of you, but was taken up with a number of incursions of unsubdued tribes on the frontier in Dacia, so I was unable to respond until now. Besides, I felt this required my presence, not a message or decree delivered by couriers.”

The emperor paused, and since he did not request nor seemed to expect a response, Lucius kept silent and waited.

“You will not return home from this interview. That would not be in your best interests, or mine too. A carriage is waiting to transport you immediately after we are done here to an estate in the south I have arranged to be yours until your decease. Your books and papers will be gathered, boxed up, and brought to you in your new home.”

Lucius’s ears began to burn at this moment, thinking he was being punished, though not severely, except to place him in exile or perhaps house detention until he expired.

The emperor gave him a keen look. “You shouldn’t think you could return to your former place, not after this—so you must be taken to a safe place, a haven, where you will enjoy as much peace as a man can, in our circumstances, in this troubled old age of the empire. No, this is best, for you, for us.”

The emperor paused again, glanced about the compartment, back at Lucius, and seemed to grow restless.

“Whatever you wish, sire…” Lucius began, thinking a response now was the polite thing after hearing these plans. But the emperor frowned, and Lucius bit off his words.

“I have reports of a conspiracy, which you know very little of, if you know anything, and you are listed a dead man along with all the others named on the list, so naturally I could not leave you at their mercy, not after all you did for the sake of my son and my own honor, not to mention the fortunes of the state that God has given me to administer as my responsibility…”

Again, the emperor’s eyes darted keenly into Lucius’s own, as if discerning his very thoughts and feelings.

“As for my son’s shame in this matter, it is slight, considering how he was taken advantage of, and I wouldn’t have him exposed and my own administration cast in a bad light for little or nothing, the folly of extreme youth. You did what you could to cover him and I commend you for it. I shall see that you are rewarded for that. But he is to have no teacher now but myself, in the arts and statecraft and in war. I have neglected him too long due to the affairs of state, with many conspiracies afoot to stamp out, and I held his teachers too much responsible for him, when he is about to enter manhood and all its temptations. No, he will not be left here—and worse happen to him than what you have seen. Today he is leaving with me!”

The emperor rapped on the wall next to the side window. An officer came to the door and opened it. Lucius rose, bowed, and was about to kneel, when the emperor rose. He smiled for the first time at Lucius. “Go at once, my friend Lucius—and seek comfort beneath the wings of your fiery-gold phoenix! You have worked long and well, and deserve this coming rest! Christ keep you! Pray for me and my son. Farewell!”

Lucius had no chance to complete his own farewell to his emperor, who had dealt so kindly and generously with him, for the officer showed him out and into a carriage, a cisium for rapid transport, and with an escort of twelve mounted soldiers he was taken away at once from the city, and sped through the gates without having to stop.

Only after he was on his way did he have pause to think of the life he was now embarked upon. A sort of respectable detention or honorable exile? Yes, perhaps, but that wasn’t so bad, was it? He would have an estate to call his own, while he lived, and that was enough for himself, after having experienced poverty and want and disgrace. He could resume his studies and writings once his books and papers—promised him by the emperor—arrived. Perhaps he might even be allowed to travel a bit, though perhaps not without a guard. And the emperor had made one request of him: to pray for him and his son.

Surely, that was a light duty imposed upon him, as he already intended to do it. How could he forget Crispus and not pray for him? The lad would need his prayers, greatly, if he were to escape worse follies and worse conspiracies that no doubt lay like snares in his path.

Such an intelligent young man, yet there were so many perils that came with the throne, would his wisdom be equal to them?

Lucius sighed, as he poked between the blinds of the shuttered window to see what sort of country lay outside his carriage. He read a milestone in passing, and realized he was indeed being taken south toward Arles.. Perhaps there a ship would take him from there to the city nearest his estate. It would be a long journey, made easier by ship of course, and he had much time to reflect on his life and what he had experienced in the north with Crispus.

As he rested, his mind drifted to the allusion Constantinus had made to the phoenix—the grand bird of firey death and resurrection rebirth that had captured his spirit so that he had written an entire book of verse about it. Evidently, the emperor had read the book and liked it, or some courtier had read it and commended it to him. Crispus, he knew for sure, had liked it, much better in fact than all his moralizing instructions. Perhaps the Phoenix and its lessons would stick to Crispus’s untried, impulsive heart faster than all the moral teachins of the nobler of the ancients? That was to be hoped.

Lucius sighed. Time would tell, he thought, as he succumbed to the rocking of the cisium on the roadbed and his weary eyes closed. Hours later, though not at a time he could tell, Lucius’s eyes shot open. The carriage had stopped, and the horses were being watered or changed. He peeked through the window blinds, but saw only some walls and what looked like provender in a wagon. It was a mere halting station perhaps, he thought. Soon they would be traveling on, with fresh horses.

He lay back on the cushions and shut his eyes, but pictures came to mind, clearer and clearer. He heard voices too, coming from outside the cisium, which seemed to have to do with what he was seeing in his mind’s eyes. How could that be?

While seeing a court trial of some sort, he recognized the features of the defendant, it had to be Crispus, only a few years older. And there were three magistrates, with one in imperial insignia, presiding. Crispus sat on a backless stool before them, as his crime was read out to him, and there was no expression on the crown prince’s face, none whatsoever—he seemed utterly detached, like a stoic. His crime?

Lucius could not believe what he heard. “Incest!” “With the queen mother, though not his own mother!” But the words were coming loud and clear through the thin walls of the compartment.

Outraged at the charge and beside himself, Lucius Sprang at the door of the cisium and burst it open. He Nearly fell out onto the ground, but an officer, standing guard, seized his arm, and prevented the fall.

“Is anything wrong, sir?” said the concerned officer. “Can we bring you something? Wine, bread, cheese, a blanket?”

Lucius stared agape at the man. “What did you say just now? Incest, with the queen mother? How dare you!”

It was the officer’s turn to stare open-mouthed. Then he recovered, smiling as if he were humoring an old man who had lost his wits. “It has been a hard strain on you, sir, traveling all this way by night and day. Perhaps you should go back in and rest. It is not safe to be out in this dank night air. Please return to your rest, sir. You will feel much the better for it in the morning.”

Lucius was first furious. He thought he was being laughed at, but he caught himself from saying worse things—he could see this man was not trying to make a fool of him, he did not know what Lucius had just heard.

Wondering if the man was right, he turned and went back in his carriage and sank down on his couch, his hands over his head. How could he have imagined a scene and heard such dreadful things involving Crispus, unless somehow the Lord God had seen fit to give him a foreshadowing of things to come?

If so, it was horrible! Horrible! Most detestable! Crispus tried for incest with the queen mother, the second wife of his father? No, he couldn’t think of it now. He had to dismiss it, or he knew he might go mad. How could Roma sink into such a state worse than the pits hitherto dug?

This was a Christian emperor, and his son was Christian at least in sympathies and training—surely the Lord would have mercy on them, and prevent this great calamity from coming to pass?

He could not help but pray, sinking to his knees in the cisium, and he remained for hours, imploring mercy for Crispus and his father.

The voyage by ship, when it began and when it ended, was scarcely noticed by Lucius, so preoccupied he was with Crispus and the fate he was praying for God to avert..

The ship landed at Neapolis, and then he was taken by closed carriage and armed escort to an imperial estate set aside for his retirement. Once there, he found plenty time to pray and reflect in the days ahead. His books and papers also arrived, and he was among his old friends once again, as he filled the library with his things.

News came to him via the guards, who were in contact with the imperial post, and could relay information to him. He posted letters, when he began writing again, to various colleagues in various parts of the empire, inquiring for news of the emperor and Crispus. All wrote back to him, so he knew that he was not censored and was free to make such such inquiries. The news was always good, even praiseworthy of Crispus. Crispus proved himself excellent in every way, and began winning battles for his father. Hearing of one stunning victory after another achieved by Crispus, Lucius’s fears came to seem very foolish to himself, as Crispus did nothing but good for the Roman state and his father.

“That had to be a lying dream of Satan’s!” he concluded, thinking of the night vision he had of Crispus being tried for the high crime of incest with the imperial wife in a secret court.

After several years of such good reports, Lucius’s health declined, and he spent less time praying and fasting for Crispus, as there seemed no further urgent need.

He felt comfortably assured the prince was at last on a good, solid path and would not stray off it precipitively. Hadn’t he already thrown back into the faces of his many carping critics, all of them much older and experienced of course, the doubts and charges they made concerning his “extreme youth” and “inexperience”? Despite all their fears and reservations, in but a few years he accomplished numerous and outstanding military feats for his father as Caesar—silencing his Enemies. His brilliance in arms as well as governance proved he was more than fit to wear the emperor’s crown whenever his imperial father was forced by death to relinquish it.

Yet, even with such a son and heir, Constantinus did not yet show signs of decay in his powers. Crispus was still quite young and needn’t be saddled with more onerous responsibilities than any other Caesar reigning beneath his father might expect. But with Constantinus in power, and Caesar Cripus in training, everyone could easily deduce that the Constantinian dynasty was assured a supreme, commanding role for years to come at the helm of the empire.

A day came that Lucius could not stand on his feet. He had fallen and hurt himself badly, and had not left his bed for days as doctors tended to him. His appetite fell off, he could taste nothing, which was a sign to him that he was hastening to the grave. From that point on he forbade the doctors to force him to eat anything more.

As he lay waiting for a welcome release from pain, his windows open to the sea breezes, he heard a clatter of hoof beats in the courtyard, and there was a shout, and a minute later servants rushed in, announcing a courier had come with a special message. Would he receive it?

He was so weak he could scarcely respond, except to move his fingers in a way that beckoned, meaning the courier was granted entry.

Lucius did not look up at the courier as he was shown in. The tablet from an anonymous person was handed to him, but he could not summon the physical strength to take it, though he knew it had to be from Constantinus, for no one else would dare to demand access to him in this manner. . Instead, Lucius’s secretary took it and read it to Lucius, then paused as if he dreaded reading more, but Lucius’s eyes glared at him until he continued and finished.

When the secretary finished, Lucius closed his eyes for the last time, deciding not to open them again. And he never did open them again.

The message was quite clear, the most shocking events couched in precise, cold, military terms, without any emotion or sentiment. Caesar Crispus had been relieved of his command of the imperial armies, taken into custody, and tried in a secret tribunal, in Cisalpine Italia, at the command of his father the emperor. He was judged guilty of the state crime of incest committed with the emperor’s wife—and both were subsequently executed and their bodies interred in unmarked graves, treatment dealt state criminals.

After the servants and the courier had gone, left to suffer his final death pangs in peace, Lucius had not the strength left to shed tears or even groan to relieve his agony. That was his worst nightmare come true.

What did he have left to live for? His phoenix had turned into a hideous vulture, a bird of prey gorged with death, its head, talons, beak, and even its wings dripping with gore..

Satan had won a most significant battle for rule on earth. The Christian empire of Constantinus was lost.

“Crispus! My son! My poor son!” were his last words, as if he had been the sorrowing father and not a mere teacher of rhetoric, grammar, and literature.

Ero and the Paul Revere Field Study

Ero and "Paul Revere Field Study," Vol. IV, Retrostar

UNCHRONICLE OF THE TITANS OF LAKE CONSTANCE

Titans locked up for ages, confined in deep water storage? The unexpected discovery electrified the world and news centered on it for many weeks as discovery was soon followed by exploratory visits and assessment by teams of experts. Three colossal figures in stone had been discovered 252 meters down on the lake bottom, where the glacial water was coldest and darkest. At such a depth, in those extreme, inhospitable conditions, they had eluded detection for thousands of years.

It took several years for teams of scientists and preservationists to devise a working plan to retrieve them for eventually setting up in a structure that had held the floating Zepellin hangar. Many people of a purist mind and inclination thought they should be left in situ, not disturbed, but how many people could see them that way?--very few indeed could go down in submersibles and bathyspheres to reach it, which restricted visitation to strictly scientists. So a museum was made ready where the public could come and take in the awesome sight. Information was also going to be made available, showing the ancient landscape as it had once been, and how the lake bottom had once stretched for hundreds of miles as a grassy, savanna-type plain on a gigantic mother continent, long before the relatively modern eras continental drift and rapid mountain building that created the Alps and other major mountain chains across the globe. There was even some evidence that the monoliths had even been brought in, not carved from a rock formation on its present foundation, which was formed of an entirely different stone than the bluish (not normally greenish) serpentine of the figures.

Cut away by robotics with diamond-tipped drills and its immense shell filled with innumerable flotation chips, slowly, the first titan was cabled to the surface of Lake Constance-- and the first who reached it called to the many others waiting along the shores to come and see for themselves. The flotation chips were gradually extracted and the interior of the titan was refilled with a hard but light composite that bonded to the shell and made a solid within the shell, hardening so strong that it enabled the titan to be moved to shore without danger of cracking or breaking apart.

Two of the Titans were distinctly humanoid in appearance, but one in the center of the triad was definitely not human, resembling an Ancient Egyptian zoomorphic raptor, such a an eagle or Horus-hawk at the head and neck, while the bird part was joined seamlessly to a human-like body. Many people thought it was horrible, to mix human and animal so promiscuously, but somehow the creators of this raptor-humanoid had contrived a noble looking being, kingly and commanding in presence.

Was this the god Horus in his original form, the feathered divinity that the Pharaohs of Egypt believed made them also divine as his putative descendants? Questions rose up immediately with the statue. Had the Ancient Egyptians made themselves a god, immersing him in water to preserve the image eternally? After all, it predated the Ancient Egyptian hawk-headed god Horus by tens of thousands of years.

The discovery of the colossi seemed fortuitous to some. This great glacial-melt lake in the mountains bordering Germany, Switzerland, and Austria happened to be the very site of the floating hangars that birthed the first Zeppelins, those giant rigid airships created by their ingenious namesake, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who himself was born in Constance (Konstanz). What marvels they were at the time, unleashing unparalleled destruction upon the greatest, proudest cities. Waves of them were sent across the English channel in World War I and carried men and munitions to strike terror in the hearts of Londoners, who before this had thought airships or air travel rather amusing playthings, not deadly instruments of mass destruction. Now they saw the raw edge of reality, like a ripping saw blade it cut across everything they had assumed was permanent and untouchable—reducing all assurances of civilized life to shreds.

Londoners had good reason to think that Civilisation was coming to an end as they gazed helplessly up into the sky while these vast, dark-grey, sinister cigar-shapes reined down death and destruction. There came a respite with the Defeat of the Central Powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, but later, all too soon, before they could be forgotten, the awful Zeppelins returned to British skies as Hitler's bid to reclaim the world's airspace for German glory.

All that was "past" of course, but in Europe nothing ever is "dead" even though "past." For that reason the "discovery" of the Colossus in the Obersee inevitably evoked memories of the mayhem of the Second World War, and the First as well--particularly among the older generation, whose dreams were oftentimes still troubled, despite the tranquillizers and benzedrine they took to sleep nights.

The younger generation? Their feelings were naturally different, not sharing the hangups and guilt and traumas of the old folks.

To them this archeological marvel signified possible jobs, a good thing for the economy, perhaps creating more tourist flow year round. And for them as well it was a novelty. Who didn't want to go tour it, any way they could manage it?

Trini and Karl Burmeister were of that mind--both interested in the novelty of it, and hopeful about its economic stimulus in the region.

At breakfast, which meant a little bread with jam and a cup of coffee, they seldom spoke to each other, but this morning was different--Karl had received a call from work, and it looked as if he would get the job they had just heard had opened.

RETROSTAR TIMELINES

Retrostar Directory and Linking Page

Concluding Parts of Unchronicle of the Heavenly Rune-Book," Vol. IV, Retrostar:

Conclusion of Unchronicle of the Heavenly Rune-Book

Listing and Links for All Chronicles in Directory II:

Retrostar Chronicles, Directory II

Oaringintheriver Home Page

Part IV of the Unchronicle of the Last Ship to Massilia:

Part IV, The Road to Jerusalem, Unchronicle of the Last Ship to Massilia, Vol. IV, Retrostar