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Authors: Gilbert Morris

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The Gate of Heaven (32 page)

BOOK: The Gate of Heaven
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Chapter 25

As Demetrius strolled along the paved courtyard, he lifted his eyes to the palace towering over him. The many-tiered stone-block structure seemed almost airy as it rose from the very rocks of the earth. Actually, the palace covered only five acres on the north central coast of Crete, and the colonnaded wings softened the outline of the block construction. Much of the palace was a delicate pink color, the color of some of the island's wild flowers, but the rounded and graceful colonnades, which held up the various tiered roofs, were a rose color that made the massive structure seem almost delicate. Trees added their green foliage—some sharp-pointed, some rounded, and all carefully tended—and flowers were everywhere, adding their yellows, blues, and brilliant oranges like paint splashed on a canvas.

Demetrius could not go more than a few steps without greeting those who spoke his name, for everyone knew him. He towered above most of those who were celebrating the festival, and his tall figure was draped with an intricately patterned kilt that hung low in the front. He was bare from the chest up, and the muscles of his fair skin made a pleasing symmetry that caught the attention of many. In fact, most of the Minoans (as the dwellers of Crete were called) had a horror of flabbiness. Men kept trim through gymnastics and other vigorous exercise, and most of them exaggerated their leanness with tight-fitting belts. Almost all of them were beardless and wore their hair long.

The women that crowded the courtyard were more elaborately dressed. They also worked hard to achieve their slim figures, and almost all wore narrow-waisted skirts flounced in gaily-colored tiers from hip to ankle. Above the waist they wore tight-fitting jackets that left their bosoms bare. Most of them piled their dark hair high on top of their heads in coiffures that sometimes included delicate ringlets that curled over their foreheads and cheeks. The use of cosmetics was not spared either, for lips were redder than nature had intended. Their eyebrows were shaped, and eye powders enhanced their large dark eyes.

Music filled the air, and Demetrius stopped to watch a group of musicians. Their instruments included a string cithara, a rattle called a sistrum, and pipes that shrilled their music high in the air. A sacred dance was under way, and a circle of three women with arms outstretched were dancing around a fourth woman. The maidens wore long, light robes, and the men who joined them in the dance wore tunics of fine-spun cloth. All had anointed their skin with olive oil, and the sharp, acrid odor of incense hung on the air. The girls wore garlands on their heads, and the young men carried golden knives that hung from sword belts of silver.

More and more of the younger citizens joined the dancers and formed rows, which moved in a structured pattern for a time. Around the dancers stood a great multitude, pressed together, watching as acrobats joined in doing backflips and twisting and turning in the air.

“Come, Demetrius, we must join them.”

Demetrius turned to face a young woman who was dressed in the height of fashion. Her tiered skirt was dyed all the colors of the rainbow, and a silver belt nipped her waist in, emphasizing the fullness of her upper figure. She wore a garland of fresh green leaves on her head, and her black hair hung down behind in carefully tended tresses. Her lips were full and rich with promise, as were her dark eyes that danced as she took Demetrius by the arm.

“I'm sorry, Adara. I'm on my way home.”

Adara laughed. “Come now, you can't refuse to worship the Mother Goddess. That would bring bad luck indeed!”

Demetrius smiled. He had a strongly masculine face. His teeth were whiter than most, and his skin was fair—in contrast to most Minoans' naturally olive skin. His eyebrows were black as a crow's wing and so was his hair, which hung down his back in long locks. His jawline was firm, and his ears lay flat against his head. There was something intensely alert and masculine about his features, but when he smiled at the woman, there was an ease that was pleasing. “Ordinarily I would, but I've got to see my parents.”

“Oh, you can see your parents anytime.” Adara moved herself closer and pressed against him. He was aware of the delicate perfume she used and of the smoothness of her skin. Memories of his nights with her rushed through him, and he was tempted but shook his head. “I've got to leave before dawn.”

“Where are you going this time?” Adara sighed, but she did not loosen her hold.

“Taking a ship full of olive oil and wine to Syria.” He smiled and ran his hand down her smooth cheek. “I'll bring you back something very nice.”

Adara was pleased but still clung to him. “You don't have to leave until dawn? Then we have plenty of time. Come with me.”

“I can't do it, Adara, much as I'd like to. I've got to go to my parents' house, and after that I have to be at the ship to be sure everything is set. My men are a little careless sometimes.”

“You're so restless, Demetrius,” Adara said with asperity. She shook her head, her lips pressed together with displeasure. “Always sailing far away to strange places.”

Demetrius laughed. “That's what sailors do, didn't you know?”

“I
know
what sailors do! I'll bet you have a woman in every port.”

Demetrius laughed. “No, you're the only woman I care about.”

“Oh? I've heard that before. Calandra told me you said the same thing to her.”

“Oh, well, that was a long time ago.”

“What about Ennea? You told her the same thing and that was just last month.” Suddenly Adara laughed. “You're a faithless man like all the rest, but somehow I forgive you. I always do.”

Demetrius put his arm around her and kissed her lightly. “I'll be back, and I'll bring you material that you've never seen before for a gown. I saw it the last time I was in Syria. I should have gotten it then. It's all the colors you can imagine and as delicate as this beautiful skin of yours.”

Adara leaned against him. “Don't be long,” she whispered. “I'll be waiting for you.”

Demetrius kissed her again, then turned and walked swiftly away. He liked Adara, but then he liked other women as well. He filed away his promise in the back of his mind.
I'll have to bring that cloth back with me or she'll never forgive me
.

“He should have been here by this time.” Metus was pacing the floor nervously. He was a handsome man with his dark hair just beginning to go gray at the temples, and he was still trim. There was authority in his features, and his dress and the ring and bracelets he wore proclaimed that he was not a poor man. Indeed, he was the king's counselor and one of the richest men in Minoa. He turned now and went over to the woman who was looking out the window. “Theodora, are you sure he said he'd come by?”

“Yes.” The woman was small and dressed rather simply. There was a dignity about her, and her early beauty still revealed itself in her well-shaped eyes and lips. She put her hand out and said, “Husband, you know that Demetrius always does exactly what he says. He promised he'd be here to take dinner with us, and he will.”

Metus stood there looking dissatisfied. He chewed on his lower lip briefly and then threw his hands out in an expression of helplessness. “I can command the whole kingdom, but I can't command one wayward son.”

“Don't be foolish! Demetrius isn't wayward.”

“How can you say that? He spends too much time with silly women!”

“You know that's not true. You're just upset.”

“Well, he does!”

“So did you when you were his age.”

Metus stared at his wife, his eyes wide. Then suddenly he laughed, came over, and put his arm around her. “You know me too well,” he said fondly. He kissed her cheek, then released her. “I suppose he'll be here, but I can't see why he has to go on these voyages.”

“He's restless, Metus. He's young, and he hasn't figured out his role in life yet.”

“Well, it's high time he did. How old is he now? Twenty-five? Why, we were married and I was well on my way up into the king's council when I was his age.”

Theodora was accustomed to her husband's impatience, especially with their son. She spoke soothingly. “He loves the sea, but he'll tire of it one day and settle down. And as for his antics, women chase after
him
.”

“They certainly do,” Metus growled. “Why can't he settle on one of them and marry and give us grandchildren?”

“He hasn't fallen in love yet.”

“Love! I'd like to marry him off to the daughter of Haemon.”

“That pitiful, plain thing! She's doesn't have the personality of a snail!”

“But she's the richest heiress in Minoa. She'll have all of Haemon's money when he has the good sense to die. He's old, you know.”

“If you're so worried about riches, why didn't you marry Xenia, the daughter of Claus? She would have married you in a moment.”

Knowing he was trapped, Metus kept his face straight. “I didn't like her voice—too shrill. Aside from that, I would have gladly taken her and all her money.”

“You would not. You were so in love with me you would have married me even if I hadn't had any money at all.”

The two argued amiably. The room they were in had a high ceiling and the walls were covered with colorful frescos. The Minoans were famous for this art, painting on wet plaster, and had spent much effort in developing the oils that gave them their colorful hues. Done in life-size patterns, some of them portrayed the Minoans at sport—such as that of two boys boxing, each wearing only one glove on his left hand. Others portrayed antelopes at a full run across the wall. There were landscapes with lilies and swallows, and one showed the Mother Goddess standing with her arms outstretched, holding a serpent in each hand.

At a voice, both turned to see Demetrius enter. He came at once, kissed his mother, and then clapped his father on the shoulder. “Well, I'm on time for a change.”

“You're not on time. You are half an hour late,” Metus snapped.

“Metus, be still.” Theodora smiled. “Are you hungry?”

“Always.”

“Come, then. Everything is ready.”

The three of them went into the dining room and took their seats. The walls of this room were also covered with frescos, and as they sat down, Theodora glanced around at them. “I don't know why you painted that horrible picture there.”

Demetrius turned to look at the fresco she indicated. It portrayed a monkey of a bluish color scrambling over orange rocks. Strange flowers of an unusual aqua color filled the background.

“I'd never seen a purple monkey, and I thought there ought to be at least one.”

“You could have made a good career as a painter,” Theodora said. “You have the talent for it.”

“You could have made a fortune as a metal worker too, if you had set your mind to it,” Metus put in.

“I'm just a simple sailor, dear beloved parents, nothing more.”

This was hardly true, as all three of them knew. Demetrius had tried several careers, including painting and two years in a foundry learning the art of making bronze and other metals. He had a good ear for music and was an excellent dancer, as were most Minoans. Still, the many avenues he had tried had narrowed down his choices until finally, after his first long voyage, he had come back sparkling with excitement and announcing that the sailor's life was for him. Since then he had learned his seamanship well and was now captain of his own ship, the
Argus
.

“Why do you have to go just now? The festival has just started.”

Demetrius had heard this protest often enough that he knew how to handle it. “This will be a profitable voyage, Father. I've got the ship loaded down with olive oil and the best wine, and I'm coming back with a cargo that'll make us a fortune.”

“We
have
a fortune.” Metus sighed. “You're still like a boy—always looking for some kind of adventure.”

“Don't scold him—not on this night,” Theodora pleaded, and Metus at once grew gentle.

“All right. I won't say any more.”

They finished the meal without further talk of the voyage, but as soon as it was over, Demetrius said, “That was such a fine meal. I won't get one that good until I come back.”

“I wish you would stay at home and marry and give us grandchildren,” Metus said. Then he managed a smile. “But go on your way, son. Maybe you'll get enough traveling on this voyage.”

Demetrius embraced both his parents and kissed his mother. “This is farewell, then, but it won't be a long journey. We'll unload our cargo at Syria, where we'll take on the return load, and we'll sail right back. Just a few weeks, depending on the winds.”

Theodora clung to her son, and when he left she turned to Metus. “He's the only son we have left,” she whispered. “May the gods give him safety.”

BOOK: The Gate of Heaven
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