Monday, February 11, 2013

A Gift From Mars - Excerpt from Guiamo

In the excerpt below, we find Guiamo traveling with Gabinius, the blacksmith who has taken him in and is training him.  As they enter the temple, Gabinius reminds Guiamo of the mysterious oracle given concerning Guiamo's relationship to the god Mars.


            Six days they traveled to Lugdunum, arriving on the fourteenth day of Quintilis to the sweltering
markets teeming with jostling crowds, rolling carts, vendor stalls manned by shouting merchants and hucksters.  The streets were filled with poor farmers, arrogant priests, destitute beggars in rags, proud nobles, thieves, squawking chickens and busy servants going about their daily work.  Amateur oracles conned the unwary with ecstatic visions mixed with the exotic aromas of smoldering incense.
            Guided by Gabinius, Guiamo and the two servants threaded their way to the center of the crowded market where statues of the gods had been placed around a circular pool of water.  In the center of the pool stood a marble statue of Jupiter Olympus.  All the sculptures were painted in vibrant colors, giving them a most realistic appearance, though the pigeons had left them in need of a cleansing wash.
            Gabinius led them to the east to the entrance of a great temple where they paused to look at the impressive painted carvings on the pedimental triangle above the six-columned portico.
            “We must see this temple to Mars.  Surely you remember the words of the oracle,” stated Gabinius.
            “Of course, I remember,” replied Guiamo.  “You think I am the ‘son of Mars.’ ”
            “Perhaps Mars may speak to you here today,” cautioned Gabinius.
            Gabinius led Guiamo, Sertorius and Ulleria through the bustling crowd and up the twelve steps which spread across the entire front of the temple.  Guiamo guessed the temple to be ten passuum wide.  He walked to the left side of the porch to see more fully the building’s design.  It looked to be a building of marble walls, outside of which was an encirclement of crafted stone colonnades identical to those of the portico at the front, and about fifteen passuum long.
            Gabinius turned to look around the portico and was nearly knocked off balance by a number of priests who ran out shouting excitedly and calling for the augur.  Sertorius saw first what they were agitated about as they pointed toward the sky.  An eagle was soaring serenely overhead.  Guiamo walked back to Gabinius, Ulleria and Sertorius and together they gazed for a while as the great bird floated effortlessly across the city.
            “They get so excited about the calls of birds, which way they are going and if they are accompanied by other birds,” said Sertorius.  “I do not know what to make of it all.”
            “Who are you speaking of?” asked Guiamo, not understanding.
            “The Flamines Martialis, those priests of Mars you saw running past as geese when the fox is about,” Sertorius replied.
            Ulleria became upset with Sertorius’ flippant comments.  “Be respectful, Sertori.  They are men chosen of the gods.”
            “Men chosen by men to serve the gods, you should say.  By the looks of their fat bellies, I should think they wanted this honor simply as a sure means to fill their gullet.  It is a much easier path to riches and good food than honest work,” Sertorius snorted.
            “Sertori!”  Ulleria hissed in dismay.  “For such disrespect, the god will surely strike you down with a bolt of lightning!”
            Sertorius said, “Among so many fat men, I should hope he has good aim,” and he roared in laughter.
            Gabinius laughed quietly behind a hand raised to hide his enjoyment of their spat, but finally choked down his mirth enough to say soothingly, “That’s enough, you two.”
            Guiamo watched the priests pointing out the direction of the eagle’s flight and their frustrated efforts to determine its meaning.  They were clearly disputing among themselves.
            Gabinius said, “The gods speak in many ways.  Our priests seem to know how to interpret them, though I have seen that some of them may disagree to the point of blows.”
            An older priest, senior to the others, came out to see the bird aloft.  Gabinius pointed him out to Guiamo and said, “This one is the augur.  He will ‘take the auspiciis’ and decide the meaning of this event.  This could take some time and I have not the patience to wait.  In the meantime, we should visit the temple.”
            Gabinius led the three into the building through two massive doors.  The silence within the walls was profound, but Guiamo found it wonderfully serene rather than stifling or oppressive.  Guiamo saw a solitary structure in the center, a small building, and before it stood a stone table.  On the table he saw a sword, quite a few coins, and two small statues.
            Gabinius said, “The room you see before you is called the cella.  This is where you will find the image of Mars, the god of war.  The plinth table in front of the cella is where the people are to place their offerings.  People will give money, votive statues, and weapons.”
              Gabinius strode forward to the plinth table and placed a dozen silver denarii upon it, and then motioned for Guiamo to do likewise.  “Place a few coins here,” he said.
            Fumbling for his purse, Guiamo grasped the first three coins he found and placed them upon the table.  To his dismay, he saw they were gold aurei.  He was too self-conscious to exchange them for silver, so left them as they lay.
            A priest had been watching the four to be sure that none of the gifts given by others earlier in the day were being stolen. As Guiamo’s hand revealed the three gold coins, the priest walked briskly over.  He smiled greedily and said, “You are most generous to the great god.  Mars shall surely smile on you today.”
            Gabinius took Guiamo alone with him into the cella where the image of Mars was placed.  It was carved of wood and painted in vibrant colors.  He stood naked with one foot upon a fallen enemy, holding a spear triumphantly in his outstretched arm.  He carried a shield and wore a bronze helmet in the style of Corinth.
            Gabinius stood respectfully and bowed with his right hand on his heart and the left lifted up in supplication.  He quietly offered up a prayer of protection for them all during their trip.  Guiamo felt out of place and hesitated from offering up his own prayer.  Gabinius saw his embarrassment, and without comment, led him back out of the cella.
            Gabinius took the three around the perimeter wall of the temple, showing them the beautiful stone carvings of the heroes of old battling the classical enemies of Rome.  He explained each of the battles to Guiamo who was completely captivated, and listened with rapt attention.  Sertorius knew the stories well, so lingered behind with Ulleria who clearly had no interest in history whatsoever.
            When they came to the back of the temple, a very old man with a wooden staff exited the adytum, a small chamber behind the cella.  Gabinius recognized his garments and hat.  “That old man is the pontifices.  He is the chief priest in this temple to Mars,” he said to Guiamo.
            The pontifices glanced at the four visitors and then paused as he looked intently at Guiamo.  Gabinius found it a little unsettling and kept them walking to the far wall where he continued his history lessons.  He noticed that as they slowly made their way to the entrance, the pontifices kept staring curiously at the boy.
            As they exited the building, Guiamo lingered behind to look again at the cella.  Gabinius, Sertorius and Ulleria had nearly crossed the portico to the steps when Guiamo finally stepped out of the temple into the sunlight.
            Just at that moment, the eagle swooped down out of the southeastern sky and lighted upon the uppermost branch of an ancient tree just to the side of the forum.  The brilliant sunlight shining on the eagle cast a shadow directly onto the temple doorway just as Guiamo stepped forward through it.  As Guiamo emerged, the eagle spread its wings and screamed into the morning air.
            While the flamines yelled eagerly about the eagle landing so closely, the augur alone knew what to look for.  He turned quickly to see where the shadow was cast, and saw Guiamo in the doorway.  The augur shouted loudly to the flamines and pointed at Guiamo.  The priests ran to surround the boy.
            Gabinius saw the rush and hurried back to the temple doorway to secure Guiamo from the crowding rush of the younger priests who were overly eager to please the augur.
            The boy was confused by the sudden crush of shouting priestly bodies, but Guiamo calmly stood his ground.  He realized that he was not being attacked, and was being treated more as a great prize.
            Gabinius elbowed his way into the tight circle of triumphant flamines and boldly pushed them back into a larger circle.  “Hold, I say!” he roared, and the flamines fell silent.  “Why detain you this boy unjustly?”
            The augur gently pressed his way through the excited young priests and motioned for all to remain silent.  Ignoring Gabinius’ commanding stance, he looked first at Guiamo.  Then he spoke gently to all.  “Today I have seen a most auspicious sight, of such import that few have been so urgently counseled by the gods.  We must take this boy inside to see the pontifices.”
            Once Gabinius saw that Guiamo was not in danger, he conceded to the wishes of the augur.
            The boisterous crowd moved into the temple hall where the pontifices was already hurrying to the disturbance at the doorway.
            The augur hurried forward to greet the pontifices.  Breathless with excitement, he said, “A great sign has been given this day about this boy!”
            “Tell me what you saw and divine its meaning,” commanded the pontifices.
            “I saw a great eagle circling the city.  It descended and landed in a tree.  At that moment, it cast its shadow upon the temple doorway just as this boy emerged.  The eagle screamed and spread its wings,” said the augur excitedly.
            “A great sign it is, indeed,” said the pontifices.  “What is its full meaning?”
            The augur took a breath to calm himself and said, “The meaning is manyfold.  The sign being an eagle shows the boy to become a great warrior.  Its flight from the southeast tells that the boy will travel to the northwest.  The eagle settling into a tree tells me that the boy will settle in that land.  The shadow cast on the doorway to the temple shows me that he has the guidance of Mars.  With spreading wings, the war god will enlarge his lands, and the screaming voice tells me of triumphant victory.  This is the meaning of the portent.”
            The pontifices looked down at Guiamo and said, “He does not look like much, does he?”
            Several of the flamines laughed a little too loudly.
            “But then, Mars himself was once just a boy,” said the pontifices, annoyed with the fawning priests.
            The laughing abruptly stopped.
            He looked back to the augur and said, “During my meditation and prayers early this morning in the cella, the image of Mars seemed to come to life, and the face of Mars turned to speak to me as man to man.  He told me that a great one was coming to carry his strength to a new land. 
            “He said to me, ‘Place my sacred spear into the hands of the great one.’
            “I asked of him, ‘Surely it must be kept here safely for all ages!’ 
             “ ‘Nay,’ said he.  ‘Only for a season have I placed it into thy keeping.’
            The flamines murmured unhappily at the words of the elderly pontifices, and it was clear that they believed his mind had fallen into dotage.  The augur became frustrated that the flamines were so clearly motivated by greed, and most did not have not a truly devout mind.  Without the sacred spear to draw gifts to the temple, the flamines knew the supply of money would dwindle precipitously.
            “ ‘How shall I know the great one?’ I asked. 
            “ ‘The augur shall name him even yet today,’ he replied, ‘but say nothing to anyone until he is revealed.  By this sign you will know him.  He shall be the least to come into my holy temple, yet his offering shall be the greatest.’
            “I see now that this boy is the one spoken of by Mars.” 
            Turning to Guiamo, he spoke with command, “Come with me.” 
            The pontifices put his arm upon Guiamo’s shoulder to direct him, and they walked directly to the cella.  After signaling that the other priests were to remain outside the cella, the two walked up to the image of Mars.  Without fanfare, the pontifices reached up and grasped the spear.  It came easily out of the painted wooden hands, and the pontifices said to Guiamo, “I do not understand the reasoning of my god Mars, but I certainly obey him.”  He put the sacred spear into Guiamo’s hands and released it with only the faintest hesitation, but still with trembling fingers.
            “This sacred spear is the very spear that Mars invented when living among us as a mortal in ages long past.  This is the spear for which he was honored with godhood.  What most people do not know is that Mars crafted his powers into the bronze spear point.  If he shouted “ibur” it would hit whatever he threw it at, and if he cried “athibar” it would always return to his grasp.
            “I know not your destiny, but Mars sees much.  I see you shall have need of his spear to survive your ordeals to come.  The spear’s name is Lúin.  He has a twin named Assal with the same powers, but he is lost in the mist of time."
            Guiamo asked, “How did this temple in so remote a location come to have such a great treasure?”
            The pontifices replied, “Some generations ago, it was stolen from a greater temple in Rome by the command of a corrupt pontifices.  Even today, they do not know they have a replacement.  The flamines and augur here know its worth, but not its powers.  Only the pontifices is allowed to know its full story.  Since you are taking the spear of Mars with you, I shall have to quickly put a replacement in the image’s hands so that the masses will not know.”
            Concerned he was hearing only bits of a critically important discussion, Gabinius stepped forward silently into the cella to stand beside Guiamo.  “Your gift confirms, and yet deepens, the mystery of the oracle sent to me from Nicaea.”
            “Speak to me of the oracle,” asked the pontifices.
            Gabinius quoted the oracle to the elderly pontifices who listened intently.
The pontifices replied, “Great destiny awaits this boy.  He is covered by the guiding hand of Mars.  Remember this,” he advised, “someone will surely try to steal Lúin.  If they should succeed, remember to call “athibar” and he will return to you.”
            The three walked quietly out of the cella to the anxious flamines.  The pontifices commanded all the priests to stay within the temple hall so Guiamo could leave without attracting too much attention.  The pontifices announced, “The will of Mars is that this spear be given to the boy.  We are all bound by a vow of eternal silence on this matter.  Whosoever objects must say so now.”
            His challenge was met with silence, for all knew an objection would result in expulsion from the order of priests.
            Turning to Guiamo he asked, “Before you go, tell me, then, your name.”
            Guiamo answered, “Guiamo Durmius Stolo.”
            “Then go with peace, Durmi, for surely the strife of battle awaits you in years to come,” the pontifices said in parting.
            Gabinius put his arm around Guiamo and led him out of the temple hall.  Guiamo felt very self-conscious and small carrying such a valued treasure, but walked with confident steps knowing it truly was meant for him.
            As they exited the temple, Sertorius and Ulleria quickly found them. 
            “What happened in there?” Sertorius asked curiously.
            Gabinius replied, “Nothing of consequence.  It seems Guiamo gave such a large offering that they generously gave him this old spear in return.” Gabinius winked at Guiamo, while Sertorius looked at Guiamo suspiciously.

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