They reached the entrance without being spotted. While the cave was strictly forbidden by the village council, they were far more afraid of their parents finding out. Though she was fifteen and he was sixteen, they had been engaged for all of her fifteen years. As was customary, their marriage had been prearranged since birth.
Sometimes arranged marriages worked out nicely. Other times … not so much.
But in this case, both knew very well how this marriage would turn out. For not only had they known each other their entire lives, they had grown up the closest of friends and quite fond of each other. Perhaps a little too much so lately.
Of course, the hardest part was getting away from their parents who watched them like hawks. But with the wedding ceremony only three months away, the two most definitely needed to be watched!
Holding hands, they entered the cave and began looking for a pleasant spot to sit, away from the entrance.
“You are not as smart as you think you are.” she said.
“So you always tell me. But have I not succeeded in luring you into my lair?”
“Perhaps I do not give you enough credit.” she said warily. “However shall I escape from your clutches?”
“Clutches you say?” he laughed, as he grabbed her and began tickling her.
“That’s not fair!” she laughed, trying to tickle him back. “You’re bigger!”
He continued to hold her hands tightly for a moment, and then finally let go. Stepping back, he looked at her. She had long, jet-black hair, cascading about her shoulders.
“You … are so …” he began to say; but was unable to finish as he gazed into her green eyes.
She smiled back at him, and ran her fingers through his dark brown hair. “I am so … what, my love?”
“So, so, so beautiful. How did fortune smile upon me so? What have I done to deserve one such as you?”
“If you were to ask my father,” she replied coyly, “he would tell you when you completed your apprenticeship.”
It was the culture of the day, for one to take a wife when they completed their training as an apprentice in their chosen craft, typically at age sixteen. For that’s when they were considered to be a man and ready to take on the responsibility of providing for a family. Carpenters, merchants and farmers were popular choices in this region. But his size and his strength had better suited him to become a stone mason.
“And if I were to ask you?”
She sighed. “It was when you first looked at me.”
“But you were just a baby!” he exclaimed.
“No, my love, I mean when you first really looked at me.”
He smiled. “And I’ve never been able to take my eyes off of you since.” Then he kissed her.
She laid out a blanket, upon which they both sat. Opening a leather sack, she placed a clean cloth atop the blanket, and set out a small loaf of bread and some cheese. And as they ate, they talked and they laughed, they made plans and reaffirmed their love for one another.
After finishing their lunch, he leaned over to kiss her once more. But he stopped suddenly when they heard sounds coming from deep within the cave. It sounded like … whispering! And not from just one, but a multitude.
“Stay here.” he said quietly, as he began to head back towards an alcove to investigate.
“Be careful!” she warned.
Then he began to see shadows deep within the cave. Many shadows. And they were beginning to come forward. Reaching down, he grabbed a handful of rocks in his powerful hands, and hid behind a small recess to wait for them.
And as he watched the shadows move, he began to know fear for the first time in his life. For the shadows did not move as a man moved. Nor as an animal. He knew what they were, just as surely as he knew that coming here was a very, very bad idea.
Dropping the rocks, he ran back towards the girl and pulled her to her feet.
“We must leave! NOW!”
The whispering behind them grew quickly in volume as the shadows entered the alcove where he had just stood.
As fast as their feet could take them, they ran to the front of the cave. Reaching the entrance and without looking back, they continued running out into the safe sunlight and up the riverbank, beyond where the hidden cave had kept it’s terrible secrets for ages past.
Upon reaching the top of the embankment, they finally stopped to catch their breaths.
They were safe.
They looked at each other with terrified eyes, knowing how foolish they had been. His only thought was that this was not the way for a man to guard and protect his family to be. And he was ashamed.
But their worries were far from over. For it was then, that another frightening sound reached their ears. Far off in the distance they heard people screaming! They ran a short distance ahead to get a clear view of what they feared they might see.
And that’s when they saw the smoke. Nearly two miles away, the village was under attack!
He began to run, but she stopped him. “It is too late!” she cried.
He saw that she was right. For even from this distance, they could see that nearly every building in the village had been burned or destroyed.
He didn’t recognize the attackers. But riding on horseback and armed with swords and shields, he knew their village had never stood a chance. For what hope could a few dozen villagers armed with plowshares and pruning hooks have against such might?
As Elias and Shira held each other and watched, they wept for the loss of their families and friends, and for the life they had known.
~ Visitors From Olympus ~
High atop the tallest building in the city, stood a tall man in a dark brown cloak. He had long white hair, and carried a staff. Elias watched as the cars and trucks passed by on the freeway below.
Long ago, this had been his home.
He had come here, as he always did when visiting this region, to pay tribute. And to remember.
Having been deep in thoughts and memory for the past couple of hours, he never heard the person come up behind him. Startled by the hand on his shoulder, Elias immediately relaxed when he saw who it was.
Not as tall as Elias, the man had long dark hair, dark eyes and a beard just a few weeks old.
Elias smiled at him. “Good to see you, my friend.”
The man nodded and remained respectfully quiet for a time, as Elias turned back around and looked out once more.
“I’m sure it seems like yesterday.” the man said, after a time.
“Indeed it does.” Elias never took his eyes off the small distant riverbed two miles away. “Growing a beard again, I see?”
“I think they’re starting to come back.”
“Do you, now?” Elias laughed. “And since when did you start caring about being fashionable?”
The man snorted.
“Did she make you dye your hair again, too?” Elias teased.
“You know how she gets sometimes.” the man laughed. “What about you? How come Shira doesn’t…”
“When you are as good looking as me …”
“She’s right. You really aren’t as smart as you think you are.”
The man came forward and stood beside Elias, joining him in looking at the distant riverbed. “I assume they are still planning to build?” the man asked.
“They are. Already they begin to send survey teams to the area.”
“Then I guess it’s time.”
“After you, my friend.” said the man.
“No, no. Age before beauty.”