Calla told me we were going to Mount Parnassus in Delphi. The Ancient Pythoness lived there in an ancient temple, the Sanctuary of Apollo. The handmaidens and the Ancient One prayed to Apollo, the Greek God of Knowledge, Light and Harmony. All of those things sounded like good things to pray for. If they lived by those tenets, I could find a place among them, even if I was a Christian.
“How old is The Ancient Pythoness?” I asked Calla as I tried looking at the ocean we were crossing in a luxurious private jet. I couldn’t see anything of course. The ocean was miles down.
Calla gazed out of the oval window as she considered my question. I learnt quickly that she liked to measure her answers before saying them aloud. So now I sat patiently for her to decide how to answer my slightly invasive question. I couldn’t help it though. They were all talking about an ancient woman with Godlike reverence and fear. I was curious.
“We call her Pythia. As a human, she was the oracle of Krisa, or Pythos as it was called more recently. She was head priestess of our Sanctuary before Jesus Christ came along. Long before that actually.”
Before Christ. BCs. Pythia’s age was in the BCs. I fell silent and tried to digest the fact. Fae were ancient too. But their world was unchanging. Fae art, knowledge, rituals and politics remained almost constant even when their kings and queens were killed to make way for new ones. They lived in a different dimension, making then as inhuman as any aliens from a different world would be for us.
But the Ancient Pythoness, who had witnessed thousands of years of our actual history, had been a human once. She must have seen the rise and fall of Kings and Kingdoms, terrible epidemics and wars, the dark ages and the renaissance. She had been there before Christ walked the Earth as a man, must have seen his rise to sainthood, lived as a new world religion emerged out of the ashes of the old Kingdoms of Rome, Greece and Egypt. The kind of people she must have met, the savage things she must’ve seen, the vast knowledge and experience she would have in her very bones…
Just thinking about it made goose bumps rise all over my body. I was going to meet this ancient immortal. She had seen something about my baby and me. We mattered. We were meant for something important enough for an ancient Oracle vampire to have seen us in one of her visions. This thought filled me with awe and terrified me in equal measures.
The temple, the Sanctuary of Apollo, was unlike anything I had seen before, and I had seen some pretty spectacular Fae architecture in my time there. Their main complex was a huge building in the form of undivided hall. Immense stone pillars supported a high roof over open arches on one side and a thin white marble banister on the other. The arches overlooked a lush garden, the banister was a fine line between the hall and a deep jagged cliff over a deep valley. There were mountains upon mountains beyond that.
Calla and Shikha had left me at the entrance of the hall and had urged me to walk ahead alone. I walked the center of the hall, looking, gawking at the meld of stone and wild natural beauty around me. I was so busy taking it all in that I didn’t notice the stone dais I was heading to. In my defense, the dais didn’t face the arched doorway I’d come in. It stood in a deep alcove to my left, walled in from the garden and facing the mountains. Gold lamps were scattered around on short stone pillars standing on the five inch high stone platform. I could tell these people liked stone and pillars.
A woman sat on a high stool kind of chair in the middle of the dais. She was surrounded in a thin mist. I noticed the mist rose from a crack in the stone platform. It was jarring that in the middle of all the splendor, the one broken stone I saw was right beneath the Ancient Oracle’s high chair. That the crack emanated mist just added to the mysterious vibe they had going on.
“Wandering about the mist and cracked floor, I see.” A croaked whisper rang out. “Scared of looking up at me?”
I looked at her face. She had clearly been old when she was turned to vampire. But not as old as I had imagined. Her back was straight, hands folded on the lap. She was covered head to toe in red robes. Her hair was a hallow of grey contrasting sharply with the gold of her skin. On her eyes was a thin white silk blindfold, just covering her eyes. Black ink dots followed the shape of her eyebrows on her forehead. Her ears were pierced at multiple places and she wore a multitude of different stones and metal earrings, no two alike as far as I could see. Her left nostril was pierced too, a simple ring of silver showcasing her straight nose. She was something else, unlike no other vampire I had met. I couldn’t hear her, but I felt her presence and that presence was huge.
The Ancient High Priestess of the Sanctuary of Apollo looked wild and out of the world.
“You are awake during the day?” was the first thing I thought to ask. No hello, no good morning or by your leave ma’am. When had I forgotten my manners so thoroughly?
“I am Pythia first, vampire second. The Gods mold me as they see fit.” She croaked. “I hear you have questions. Ask what you will, daughter of Iris.”
Pythia might have had a blindfold on her eyes, but I knew without doubt that she saw much more than physical eyes could see. I felt pinned to the spot, yet strangely not nervous at all.
“My mother’s name was not Iris.” I told her while I thought about what I wanted to ask first.
“I speak of the Goddess Iris. She hears what Gods and humans think. You have the same talent child. In the old world you would have been revered as a priestess of Iris. Now, ask your questions.”
There was a certain weight to Pythia’s words, as if they carried more meaning than casual strings of letters usually carried. I decided upon the most important question I had and asked.
“What do you know about my unborn child?”
She hummed and bent her head slightly to inhale the mist, even though she didn’t need to breath.
“I tell what Apollo shares. The child is prodigal. He has the true sight. He is a power. His coming has been portended.”
I gulped, suddenly feeling cold to my bones.
“If he has so much fae magic, his father and grandfather will destroy Heaven and Earth to get their hands on him.” I whispered, not feeling like hiding anything from this old old priestess, who was now vampire, the most powerful and protected vampire of the world.
The Ancient one shook her head.
“Sight is not fae magic child. Sight, such as mine, doesn’t come from the fae. It is entirely human, miraculous creatures that they are. He gets something else from the fae. You will know in time.”
That answer didn’t make me feel any better. If anything, it sounded like my child was special and unique enough for the fairies to covet him even more. That realization scared me.
“How can I hide him from the fairies, Ancient one? If they get their hands on him, God knows what they will do to him. Or to me. I never want to face the fae again. I can’t go back to their world. They won’t kill me. They will torture me for eternity and use my child in ways I don’t want to even imagine.”
Pythia inhaled the mist surrounding her for two breaths.
“Mapped out your entire future in fear, have you?” she croaked with condescension, “Tell me, do you often think about the fairies catching you? Do you imagine getting tortured before falling to sleep, or when you wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares?”
I grit my teeth at her tone. High vampire Priestess with special sight or not, she didn’t know what I went through with the fae, and she didn’t know what it took to get away from them. She had no right to judge my fear. After all, I knew exactly how the fairies tortured half breeds like me.
“I don’t have to imagine what they would do.” I answered, ” I have been through it many times to know exactly how it would go. Those are not pretty memories. Of course they scare me. You can’t understand how debilitating that fear is, how it makes me feel cold and tiny and powerless.”
She remained silent for a couple beats, till the time I felt my tears recede. When next Pythia spoke, the rough smokey voice was considerably gentler.
“I know about the world’s predators, and their prey. I too was prey once. The human world didn’t always have these rules and regulations, police and courts of law. I was not always a High Priestess, or a powerful vampire. Ages ago, I decided to not be prey anymore, or dwell on my misfortunes. This temple where we stand, has been broken and built many times. We build because we look to the future in hope, not despair.”
Pythia stepped down from her chair and extended her hand to me. I took her hand in both of mine. They were cold, but dry and steady. She was approximately my height. Some of the mist from the crack in the floor followed her to me and I felt it’s heat on my arms. It felt strangely reassuring.
“I pray to Apollo, to give you peace and wisdom in face of your despair. Today, here, you will decide whether you want to rise above your fears or go under.”
Her words lit something in me. The choice to be or not to be prey sounded so simple and yet so out of reach, I didn’t know where to even begin. Was it possible? Could there be a time when I didn’t feel so afraid of my past and for my future anymore? Was I able enough? Would fate favor me again?
“I am scared.” I whispered, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whats right and whats wrong and what I am capable of anymore.”
“Answer this. Do you want to be scared all your life?”
“No! Of course not.” I cried out, “I want to leave my past behind and build a happy life for my child, a safe haven for us.”
Pythia smiled, a half smile, but a smile nonetheless.
“So you have chosen. We will get along after all. Go now. My handmaidens will show you around, find room for you and some food. I want you to do this tonight, first chance you get to be alone. Tell your child you are brave and will take care of him. Tell it as many times as it takes to settle this truth in your bones. Before going to sleep, after waking up, when you eat, when you breathe, all the time, hold your child in your heart and tell him you are brave and will take care of him. Take the burden of your fears off the little one and then he can start growing instead of refusing to grow and putting his energy in keeping you sane.”
“He is doing that? How do you know?” I gasped.
“The God of prophecy, reason and divination does tell me things you know.” She replied artlessly.
I had a sudden feeling that if there was no blindfold on her, she would be rolling her eyes. Eye rolling or not, she had just told me how to protect my child from my fears. I was grateful for that.
“Thank you for telling me all this Ancient One.”
Pythia pulled back her hand and waved towards the exit.
“Find strength child. Go.”
I bowed and turned left to start my trek towards the exit doors. I felt like I could try to make a home with these people. Someday I hoped to find the strength to stand tall amongst these people.