Out Of The Waters — Snippet 15

He came out into sunlight so bright that in the waking world, the contrast should have made him blink and sneeze. The Sibyl waited at the edge of a precipice which plunged off in the opposite direction. Every wrinkle of her face, every fold of her soft gray garment, was sharply visible. She had thrown back her hood so that she stood in a halo of her thick silver hair.

“Greetings, Sibyl!” Varus said. He bowed, then straightened. “Why did you call me here again?”

“Greetings, Lord Varus,” the old woman said. “Who am I to summon you? You are real, Lord Magician, and I am only the thing your powers have created.”

Varus looked out toward a great city far below. It was a moment before he recognized Carce, lying along the Tiber River and spreading in all directions from the villages which were its genesis.

Instead of the familiar Alban Hills to the southeast, the horizon lived and crawled forward on myriad legs. Tentacles flayed the ground to rock as bare as this on which the Sibyl stood. Typhon, growing with each innumerable step, advanced on Carce.

“Sibyl…?” Varus said, sick at what he was seeing. How long before that vision is the reality which my neighbors see loom above Carce’s ancient walls? “What am I do? Where do we look for the answer, my friends and I?”

“I am a tool that your mind uses, Lord Varus,” the old woman said. Her tone was that of a kindly mother to a child who demands to know the secrets of life. “I exist only through your powers. You know the answer to your questions.”

“I know nothing!” Varus said. “I know–”

Immeasurable and inexorable, Typhon crashed across villas and the tombs on the roads leading out of the city. Varus’ view shifted from the danger to a house on the slopes of the Palatine Hill, facing the Citadel and great temples on the Capitoline across the Forum. It was still luxurious, though it had been built to the standards of an older, less grandiose, time.

That’s the house of the Sempronii Tardi, Varus thought. He had visited it a year past to read the manuscripts of three plays of Ennius which, as best he could determine, existed nowhere else in the city.

“You know all that I know, Lord Varus,” said the Sibyl, smiling. Then she lifted her face and cackled to the heavens, “There is a dear land, a nurturer to men, which lies inn the plain. The Nile forms all its boundaries, flowing–”

Varus was in the Tribunal with his startled friends. Corylus held his shoulders; Pandareus had taken his right hand in both of his own.

In a strained voice, Varus heard himself shout, “–by Libya and Ethiopia!”

“It’s all right, Gaius,” Corylus was saying. “Here, lean against the railing and we’ll get a chair back up here for you.”

Varus shook his head, partly to scatter the drifting tendrils of cloud.

“No,” he said. He hacked to clear his throat, then resumed in a firm voice and standing straight, “I’m quite all right.”

The humor of what he had just said struck him, so he asked, “Well, I’m all right now. But thank you for holding me, Publius, because mentally I was in a different place for a time.”

“You were speaking of Egypt,” Pandareus said. He considered for a moment with his head cocked sideways, then said, “A voice spoke which didn’t sound at all like yours but came from your throat. Was speaking of Egypt. What bearing does Egypt have on our situation?”

“I don’t know,” Varus said. He shook his head ruefully, remembering the way he had said the same thing to the Sibyl in his…. His dream? His waking reverie?

He considered the whole dream, frowned, and said, “I saw–I focused on, I mean; I saw all Carce. But I focused on the townhouse of Commissioner Tardus. I suppose I might have been thinking about him because of the strangers who accompanied him in the theater.”

“It’s equally probable,” said Corylus, “that the thing that disturbed you in the theater is the same thing that you saw, saw or sensed or whatever, in the vision you just experienced. That’s what you did, isn’t it? Have a vision?”

Varus bobbed his chin up in agreement. “Yes,” he said. “I saw Typhon starting to destroy Carce. It was much bigger than what we all saw here in the theater, but it was clearly the same creature. Then I was looking at Tardus’ house.”

“If we assume that the connection with Egypt is important…,” Pandareus said. He was in professorial mode again; he turned his right palm outward to forestall the objections to his logic.

“Then the crypt to the god Sarapis beneath the house of the Sempronii Tardi might explain the cause.”

“But, master?” said Corylus. “Private temples to Serapis–”

Varus noted that his friend pronounced the god’s name in Latin fashion while Pandareus had used Greek.

“–were closed by order of the Senate more than eighty years ago. Were they not?”

Pandareus chuckled. “Very good, my legalistic friend,” he said. “But my understanding–purely as a scholar, of course–is that the Senator Sempronius Tardus of the day chose discretion rather than to strictly obey to the order closing private chapels. His successors have continued to exercise discretion, since closing the chapel now would call attention to the past.”

He shrugged. “I’m told this, you understand–” probably by Atilius Priscus, but Pandareus would never betray his source “–but it’s entirely a private matter. The aristocracy of Carce do not open their temples–or their family secrets–to curious Greeklings, however interested in philosophy and religion.”

Varus sucked in his lips to wet them. “I think,” he said, “that Commissioner Tardus would open his house to the authority of a consul.”

Pandareus and Corylus both looked at him sharply. “Will your father help us in this?” the teacher said.

“I think he might do so at my request,” said Varus.

He smiled. Looked at in the correct way, everything is political. He said, “And I’m quite sure he will obey his wife in the matter. Judging from Hedia’s actions, she is just as concerned about this business as the three of us are.”