Last week, tensions were heightened in the sinkhole dig as whispers of a malevolent force being the cause of the accident made their way through the camp. This week, Antonios and his friends consider the merits of such superstitious claims, and Medas pays a visit on Antonios in the night.
We stopped for the night.
I ate with Albert and Helena in the executive tent, which allowed no greater luxuries or comforts than any other tent, I am pleased to report, though it did enable the academic experts to assemble and discuss the day’s happenings at length, undisturbed. Medas, egalitarian that she was, wanted to go and mingle with the common folk, though I suspected and hoped she would be surreptitiously interrogating them to learn more about the death of the poor lady Maria. She was charming when she wanted to be, and perhaps could, by inference, learn more than the men who witnessed the event were willing or able to tell Alexis. After all, this was her realm now. It had gone from being wisps of ideas on paper to a complex, incomprehensible reality, which she knew better than anyone else.
The three of us dined on jerky, dried fruits, nuts, and even fresh breads as portable ovens were employed to bake these little half-baked dough rolls. It was not exactly artisanal baking, but with a little oil, salt and Modena vinegar, it passed muster.
“Again, I am sorry for what happened to your team,” I offered, weakly.
Helena continued to numbly pick at her food. “Thank you. I don’t know what to make of this situation. I…” she choked back a tear and steadied herself, looking at me and then Albert with renewed resolve. “I’m not going to let this lie, but I’m not going to stop this job.”
I frowned and hummed an acknowledgement, for I knew not what to say.
“Finish it for her,” said Albert.
“Yes,” said Helena. “For Maria. What a waste it would be if we accomplished nothing, and she died for nothing. Her name will live on in these findings.”
We ate some more, Albert and I exchanging coy glances at one another over the little fold-out tables we ate upon.
“Do you think the man – the worker who saw it, I mean – was telling the truth?” asked Albert, at last. He, thankfully, had less appreciation for diplomacy than I. “About the statue, and the hole, and the light? I mean, it strikes me that the man could be mistaken, in shock or something?”
“Occam’s Razor, my old friend,” said I. “There is a body beneath a pile of rocks and bronze, beside where a bronze statue once stood on an ancient and crumbling stone curtain ledge, some thirty feet from the ground. I’m afraid there is nothing to deduce here, so don’t go playing at being Sherlock Holmes. Use that big brain of yours to interpret the real findings. What was the statue of, anyhow?”
“Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos,” he said, with a theatrical murmur.
I raised my eyebrows. “The Fates? Well now, there’s a tragic irony. Killed by Fate.”
Helena managed a weak laugh at that. “Maria would have seen the funny side about that: a mortal blow struck by the Measuring Rod that quantifies one’s life.”
“You are well-read in the classics?” enquired Albert, with a keen eye.
She waggled her head, perhaps relishing the chance to forget the death for a second. “A little. Enough. Not so much as you. I’m merely a digger.”
“You do yourself a disservice,” I said. “Albert says you led the Hvar dig a few years ago, where the artefacts of the ancient Iadasinoi warriors of Zadar were discovered. It was a magnificent find!”
“Yes,” she said, with a wry smile. “I was joking, you know.”
Stoicism does not necessarily prepare one for embarrassment. It is hard to preserve a sense of one’s virtues when it is one’s own self that has punctured them. I smiled sheepishly and looked down at my plate. “My apologies.”
“It’s fine. In any case, there is an irony that Lachesis should measure one’s life, and Atropos should cut it.” She paused, and then said, “I do not like this place.”
We ate the remainder of our food silently and then retired for the evening. I had chosen to bunk with Albert, sleeping on little cheap, sprung beds within the tents. I had been asleep for perhaps an hour or so when Medas came prodding me firmly in the shoulder.
“What is it?” I whispered, grumpily.
“I cannot sleep.”
“So you wish to spread your insomnia? Let me be, Medas.”
I rolled over, but she poked me in the shoulder again.
My eyes prised themselves open, and I saw the blurred image of a dark, honey-coloured bell with a golden eye in the centre being waggled in front of my face. I blinked, looked again, and smiled. Medas was waggling a bottle of my favourite brandy in front of me. Like the mule with the carrot, I could not resist being led on, even when I knew it.
“Where did you get that?” I asked, sitting myself up.
“Alexis has a drinks globe in his tent,” she said with a sly smile.
“A drinks globe! Hah! What a tasteless ass he is. But at least his taste in brandy is acceptable. What time is it?”
“Time you were asleep, Antonios.”
“Hmm.” I yawned, and rubbed my eyes. There was a faint clink as Medas produced two glasses from her backpack, into which she proceeded to pour the rich, dark liquor.
“To what are we drinking?” I said.
She raised the glass. “To new beginnings. And to new ends.”
We clinked and took a draught of the wonderful drink. And that was that; I was awake.
“You did not wake me solely for brandy, Medas.”
She took a sip of the drink and peered out of the tent. At night, beyond the dim light of our mobile phones, the dig zone was a merciless and dreadful black, yet it looked as though she was looking at something with great particularity. After a long pause, she began to speak.
“The others,” she said, interrupting and nodding towards the sleeping teams outside our tent. “They are afraid.”
I blinked at the interruption. “What others?”
“The workers, the men and women. They’re afraid. They believe the story about the light and the hole.”
“So what? Superstition afflicts us all. I am afraid it is afflicting you as well.”
“They believe something is in these tunnels. Something unnatural. They can see it. That we shouldn’t be here. That the death of Maria… was no accident.”
I frowned and tried to intimate what she was getting at, but the hour was too late. “Do you suspect somebody?”
“Not somebody. Something, perhaps.”
“Oh, don’t you start reciting such hocus-pocus. It’s the hour, Medas. And the claustrophobia, no doubt. it can play tricks on the mind.”
“Why shouldn’t it? We’re walking in the footsteps of Gods and Giants down here. And even Gods can become angered and afraid.”
“Afraid? How so?”
“Gods fear time.”
I laughed, weakly. “Only men fear time. Gods simply look on, and judge. I prefer to consider my own value, and how I can change the world around me, one step at a time. Mighty gestures are not for me.”
“Gods fear time, Antonios, believe me. Remember the Gigantomachy. Remember Goya’s Saturn. Gods fear the future. Sometimes they feel it is necessary to destroy it. Why do we rage against the dying of the light? Why not embrace the ekpyrosis that engulfs the end of all things? In fact,” she said, knocking her glass against mine and staring at me with eyes of fire. “Sometimes I think, why not be the one to hold the match?”
The effects of the brandy were wearing off now, and sleep was pulling at the edge of my consciousness, and I had no energy left to pursue Medas’s strange mystical nihilism any longer. In the end, all I could muster was, “Go to bed, Medas.”
To my immense surprise, she did.