Acknowledgements: Thanks to Hypatia and Kerichi for thorough beta-reading, and to Golbon and Shahin for help with the Persian spell incantations.
A special mention is due to Daniel Ogden, for his book "Magic, witchcraft, and ghosts in the Greek and Roman worlds" (which he probably never imagined would be put to this particular use), and all its insights into a culture where everyone knew that magic was real.
1. Honey-cakes by CanisMajor
2. The Academy by CanisMajor
3. The Wand of Orpheus by CanisMajor
4. Summoning by CanisMajor
5. Oedipus Tyrannos by CanisMajor
6. Transfiguration by CanisMajor
A gentle Mediterranean breeze rocked the handful of triremes as they dozed at anchor on the sunlit bay. The bright arch of the sky was a magnificent blue; its few ragged white clouds clung diffidently to the horizon, like emigrants from some lesser foreign place. No-one was present to appreciate the splendour of the scene, for on a day as fine as this, all but the most idle citizens had business of their own to pursue.
In the hour before noon, a little ship -- a boat with ambitions, no more -- wafted into the anchorage and shrugged off its heavy square sail. The sailors plied its oars for just long enough to break a sweat in the morning heat, and then the hull was bumping lightly into the wooden jetty. Ollivander was the first to leap ashore, a small leather bag bouncing at his shoulder.
“Many thanks!” he called back to the captain, who was growling at his crew to secure lines and might or might not have heard him. “If I need to return home next year, I'll look first for Euthymios the Cretan's ship!” He turned and strode away, sandals slapping against the rough-cut wooden boards until he reached the shore and disappeared between the boat-sheds. With his brisk pace, he completely overlooked the close-shaven figure in the cloak of foreign cut emerging from the shade of a cypress tree, and following deliberately after him.
It was a day for starting things, for getting on with matters at hand. Ollivander was certainly in the right place, at long last: where better than Athens in the springtime, the centre of the world? A more leisurely traveller might have taken half a day to walk from the harbour to the gates of the city herself, but Ollivander was in no mood to spare even that much time. He was a tall, athletic young man, with jet-black hair and beard framing an angular face of determined set. His tunic was plain, in the Spartan style, and soon damp with sweat as its wearer marched along the dusty road. Mirages danced in the unseasonable warmth, and both ahead and behind the way was hidden in haze.
He'd intended to make directly for the Academy, but once inside the city he couldn't help pausing, to weigh it in the balance against all he'd hoped and imagined it would be. Athens' citizens seemed no better-dressed than those of Italy, its thoroughfares no wider, its houses just as modest and of much the same low mud-brick construction. But the overall effect was much grander, somehow, than anything at home. This was, after all, the home of Plato and Sophocles and Falco Aesalon -- and to prove it, Ollivander had only to lift his gaze to the city heights. There, upon the Acropolis, stood the famous giant-sized statue of Athena Who Leads The Charge, with the sun glinting off her bronze helmet and spear-tip. They didn't have one of those back in Croton.
After a time, he realised he was gawping like the provincial boy he no longer was, and also that he was ferociously thirsty. A colourfully painted wooden sign offered assistance in the second respect, if not the first, and he crossed the street -- three impulsive steps -- to enter the open door of a wine-shop.
The place turned out to be a single cramped room with a dirt floor: cool, dim, and redolent of spilled wine. The three benches along its walls were all fully occupied, except for a space at the end of one, next to a pudgy-looking young man with green eyes and a neatly-trimmed brown beard.
“Mind if I sit here?” Ollivander asked.
“Be my guest.” The man proffered his hand. “Callias, son of Timandridas the sorcerer.”
Ollivander's eyebrows flicked up. “Ollivander, the son of Ostanes of Croton,” he introduced himself carefully, shaking Callias' hand. “Perhaps we might share some honey-cakes, if there are any available here?”
It was as good a way as any of letting Callias know that he, too, was of magical descent. Wizards needed excellent memories, and throughout the Greek world they often had heads filled with stories about accomplished mages from the legendary past. Usually they were happy to collect one or two new ones over the customary sweet morsel.
As Callias waved at a hovering slave to order the honey-cakes, Ollivander could see him thinking about the story he would tell. Evidently, the Athenian expected to go first, even though it was Ollivander who had suggested the game.
“Perhaps you have heard,” Callias began, “of the witch Medea, and her bounteous knowledge of herbs with magical or healing properties. The uses of aconite, hedge-mustard, cassidony, and white hellebore -- all of which you're familiar with, I'm sure -- are among her discoveries; others still have since been forgotten. She could make herself either crone or maiden girl at will -- altering not only her appearance, as with any common rejuvenation draught, but her true age. She is said to have once transformed an old ram into a lamb by boiling it in a pot. After her death, Medea's ghost was sure that she had died untimely, and her son Thessalus had to use his mother's own methods to convince her otherwise.”
Ollivander listened appreciatively. Medea was a fairly well-known figure, but even the more common honey-cake stories, like this one, were seldom written down.
“Let me tell you of an ancestor of mine,” he reciprocated, as the honey-cakes arrived and Callias bit into one. “Many stories are told of Pythagoras of Samos: a sage, seer, and supremely powerful sorcerer of six or seven generations back. If I were to mention all of his achievements in arithmancy, mysticism, charms, and local politics, we'd be here all day.” He sipped from his wine-cup, hoping Callias wouldn't already know all there was to know about Pythagoras.
“Go on,” smiled Callias, waving negligently at the honey-cakes. “Don't let these get away, they're good.”
Ollivander took one of the cakes; it filled his mouth, heavy with unfamiliar spices. “Yes, well,” he continued, speaking through the crumbs. “One day, news reached Pythagoras that Midas the vine-dresser, one of his strongest and hardest-working slaves, had been bitten on the toe by a viper and lay close to death. Pythagoras rushed to the house where Midas was, and drove the poison out of him with a charm. It was such a powerful spell that Midas picked up the stretcher he'd been brought in on, and returned to work in the fields within the hour. You might think this an unremarkable cure, except for its speed. But after that, Pythagoras went out to the farm, and circled it three times, calling out in a strange language. At once, a host of asps, vipers, darting-snakes and puff-toads came crawling out before him. The mage said that someone was missing, and chose one young snake to go back with a message. Shortly, it returned with an old snake which had been too deaf to hear Pythagoras' command. When at last they were all assembled, Pythagoras blew upon them, and they were all burned up by the blast.”
“Very good,” said Callias approvingly, as Ollivander took the opportunity to finish his honey-cake and drink more wine. “Are you truly descended from Pythagoras?”
“I am. I arrived in Athens only this morning.”
“Yes. I'd have ridden a Thestral, but they're hard to catch. Even for those of us who can see them.”
Callias nodded credulously. “Well, if you do catch one, I'd refrain from riding it in daylight, if I were you. Not that Athenians aren't broad-minded people; we take quite calmly to the notion that there are wizards among us, who pass their time working charms and conversing with ghosts. Magic is a moderately respectable profession here, and perfectly legal, of course. All the same, there's no need to flaunt it in public. Mugloi like these” -- he gestured at the wine-shop's motley collection of other inhabitants -- “don't like to be reminded that we can do things they can't.”
“I understand,” murmured Ollivander. He'd expected no less, from this most enlightened of city-states.
Callias drank the last of his wine, then seemed to notice that there was only one honey-cake left. He pulled out a slender red-golden wand, waved it wordlessly over the plate -- and suddenly, one cake had become two. “One each,” he explained.
“Nice wand,” Ollivander observed politely. “Cedar?”
“Yes, cedar and cyclops eyelash. Yours?”
Ollivander drew his own wand, darker and more variegated in colour. “Elder and sphinx tongue.”
“An elder wand,” Callias remarked with surprise. “You don't see that every day. Some say elder is an ill-omened wood.”
Ollivander shrugged. “Not for me, it hasn't been. It was my father's wand; Mother wanted to bury it with him, but that seemed such a waste.”
“Some wands do seem to choose whole families, don't they? Forgive my curiosity; my father Timandridas is a wand-maker.”
“There's wandlore in my family, too,” said Ollivander, pleased to have discovered another point in common with his new-found friend. “My mother's made wands for half the magical folk in Italy, dozens of them. But I never wanted to stay there and do that. I came to Athens because of the philosopher, Plato. My father used to tell me all about the philosophers: he met Socrates himself once, when he was younger. The essence of water is to moisten things, the essence of the moral man is to make others moral--”
“--and the essence of philosophy is to go on about the true natures of things,” Callias declared. “That's Plato, all right, carrying right on where Socrates left off; he loves his essential qualities and ultimate substances. They have a lot of application to some forms of magic, I've often thought.”
“Well, yes -- and then we heard that Plato had opened his new Academy a few years ago. I've wanted to be there ever since, immersed in all the knowledge of the world's finest minds. Now at last I have the chance, and here I am.” The words tumbled out quickly: Ollivander could be a fast talker, given the chance.
“But that's what I'm doing, too!” Callias burst out, sounding genuinely delighted. “I've been studying philosophy at the Academy for almost a year now. Let me take you up there this afternoon, and I'll introduce you to the tutors, and to Plato himself, if we can find him.” He gulped the rest of his wine, and wiped his grinning lips with the back of his hand. “Finish your honey-cake” -- there was again only one remaining -- “and we'll go at once.”
Callias was the local, but it was Ollivander who led the way through the busy streets. He had only a hazy notion of where the Academy lay, but Callias seemed content to follow his navigational choices, so they were probably good enough. What attention he could spare went mainly on people-watching: a raucous argument between neighbours; a man selling figs door-to-door; a curly-haired actor chanting his lines. Two slaves carried a vast amphora, one to each handle, while Ollivander himself held up one end of a conversation about the feathers of the equine descendants of the legendary Pegasus, a subject on which Callias turned out to be promisingly knowledgeable. The mysteries of advanced magic, it seemed, were opening up around him like so many flowers, and it would have been almost wasteful not to sample them all.
Even this greatest of cities was not really big enough to get lost in, and before long they had reached the sacred olive grove outside the city walls. The trees grew thickly, obscuring a low building behind: it was not until they were almost upon it that Ollivander was able to read the inscription he had known would be there above the entrance.
Yes, this was the place, all right. No-one seemed to be about, except for a single slave who had been sitting in the shade inside the doorway, idly watching their approach.
“Greetings, Amyntas,” Callias called out. “This is Ollivander, who hopes to become one of us. Is anyone important here today?”
“Good afternoon, young sir,” replied the door-slave, scrambling to his feet to reveal dark eyes and a wiry physique. “Your friend Eudoxus is around somewhere, casting horoscopes, I believe. And the master himself might turn up in a bit. He hasn't scheduled any lectures today, but he did mention that he might drop in to try out a new argument or two.”
“The master can try them out on me, if he likes,” said Ollivander at once. “No time like the present, is there, Callias?”
Callias smiled patiently. “Or the near future. Let's wait under here” -- he gestured towards an olive tree -- “where we can catch Plato when he arrives.”
It was a good plan. They were still discussing winged horse breeds (“It's not the flight feathers that make the best wands, my father says--”) when Ollivander's attention was diverted again by two men in white woollen cloaks coming up the path. One was tall, thin, and young: he was listening, and nodding earnestly from time to time. The other was of stout middle age, and breathing forcefully as he expelled a steady stream of words for the edification of his one-man audience.
“Plato!” called out Callias, jumping to his feet and trotting towards the new arrivals. “Perseus! We have a new scholar among us -- come and meet him!”
Plato paused, catching his breath as he waited for Callias to approach. Ollivander, following behind, felt Plato's glance fall sharply on him, and hastily composed his thoughts. It wouldn't do to be self-conscious, not at this crucial moment.
“Ollivander of Croton,” he managed, remembering just in time to hold out his hand for Plato to shake.
“Greetings, Ollivander,” the great man murmured. “I have never been to Croton, but no matter: we philosophers are citizens of the world, for the essences of things are the same in all places and all times. Is there a particular topic you wish to pursue among us? Or are you one of those, like Perseus here, whose mind is apt to all subjects alike?”
“I think -- Transfiguration,” said Ollivander confidently, trying to appear as though he had not had to think up this answer on the spot. “The Transfigurer shows us that nothing has an absolute nature: that which is large may become small; that which is moist, dry; that which is fair, grotesque. Then, too--”
Perseus' face showed confusion; Plato's was displeased. Callias looked as if he'd have liked to interrupt, but didn't quite dare. Evidently, Ollivander was extemporizing in a poorly-chosen direction; he hastily picked another.
“--Divination,” he continued firmly, naming a field as different from Transfiguration as possible. “To look into the future, to read the intentions of the gods in a libation of wine or the entrails of a sacrifice, this surely is the truest magic of all.” He looked into Plato's troubled grey eyes, desperately seeking some approval, but there was none to be found there. “What do you think, Callias?”
“Would you say,” queried Plato carefully, as Callias hesitated, “that it is proper to tell fortunes?” His tone was one of mild concern. “Is it right to offer a man a glimpse of the future, if he desires it?”
“Yes, if one has the true sight. For by so doing, diviners fulfil their essential nature; divining is their purpose in life.” Ollivander was rather pleased with that last part; it sounded like something Plato himself might have said.
“Isn't it rather common that auguries and foretellings are vague and unhelpful, or even wrong?”
“True, more often than not.”
“What you're saying, then, is that it's right to mislead people?” There was no accusation in Plato's voice, just a quiet intellectual curiosity.
“I wouldn't say that.” Too late, Ollivander remembered Plato's famous fondness for verbal traps. “Even a hint,” he persevered, “a faint suggestion of a chance to avoid misfortune, might be better than nothing at all, don't you think?”
“But should the misfortune mysteriously fail to eventuate, then that is the will of the gods, I suppose, and no fault of the sorcerer who gave the advice?”
“Well, yes.” Ollivander thought for a moment, then saw his chance to turn the tables on the master. “But surely, Plato, you aren't arguing” -- he imitated the other man's gentle, questing tone -- “that sorcery is not efficacious at all? That it is all in our heads, and not real?”
“Of course it is all in our heads,” declared Plato authoritatively, “and that makes it more real, not less. Is the setting sun real?”
“Yes. Yes, it surely is.”
“The rim of a wine-cup, is that real?”
“Yes...” Ollivander could tell he was being led down a fool's path again.
“The arc of a sling, wielded in anger?”
“Yes, that, too.” There was no way out.
“I suppose, then,” mused Plato contemplatively, “that the circle, which is all of these things and more, must be even more real than they are. But where will you find a circle, a true, ideal circle, unless it be inside your own head?”
Ollivander carefully reminded himself that he had come to Athens to learn from Plato, not to get the better of him in debate. “I think you're absolutely correct, my friend,” he said, with a forced smile. “It seems that every mage must be a philosopher as well, if he is to use magic with propriety.”
But that didn't seem to please Plato, either. “You will find, my friend,” he said with his first hint of asperity, “that in Athens we have moved on from the days when philosophers were magi. If you have come aspiring to be both, you are several generations too late. Tell me, can a skilled musician use music to make others unmusical?”
“I-- I don't see how.”
“Nor can a fire cool you. That is the function not of warmth, but of its opposite.”
“Yes, I suppose.” Ollivander felt like a novice swimmer in a strong river, swept away to a shore not of his choosing.
“How, then, could a philosopher teach magic, which is the opposite of reason?” Plato turned to Perseus, whose face had brightened with amusement at the delivery of this final line. “We'll begin shortly. Forgive us, young Ollivander” -- he spoke over his shoulder as he and Perseus moved towards the Academy's building -- “we have business here this evening.”
There was a pause.
“That -- could have gone better,” said Callias eventually, finding his voice at last. “You probably shouldn't have mentioned magic quite so much. Plato doesn't hold with it, you see.”
“So I gathered. But how can he not, when he -- wait” -- realisation bloomed at last -- “Plato isn't a wizard?”
“Goodness, no -- he hasn't a magical pore in his hide. Whatever made you think so?”
What, indeed? Remembered second-hand fragments of Plato's teachings flitted through Ollivander's brain, one after another in rapid succession. Ultimate Substances. Natural laws. Ideal geometric figures. Some of it had certainly sounded like magic.
“He doesn't even seem to like wizards very much.”
Callias laughed, without much mirth. “I don't often mention what my father does for a living around Plato, though he knows, of course. He thinks of our people as” -- a moment's thought -- “professional rivals.”
“What? Wizards and philosophers?”
“We're both in the same business, offering folk something a bit brighter and better than their ordinary lives. The sorcerer cures their sick children or tells them their destiny. The philosopher sweeps out the space between their ears and makes sense of the world. Any man with political or commercial ambitions needs both -- and if he should want to have an enemy cursed, either can do it for him, in their own ways. Which aren't so very different, really.” He scuffed his sandals in the dirt.
“It's all just words, then, this philosophy?” Ollivander tried hard not to sound plaintive. “There's no proper magic taught here at all?”
“There's a kind of magic in words, too, you know. A wand isn't the only way to heal your friends, or harm your enemies.”
“I didn't come here to heal or harm anyone,” muttered Ollivander. “Or to throw words about, as if they were spells in some kind of duel.” He glanced helplessly about him, but the two men were again alone except for Amyntas the door-slave, who was carefully looking elsewhere. From a distant fallow field came the sound of a woman scolding a child.
Ollivander's feet began to transport him away. He was heading back towards the city gate, though he felt strangely unaware of the direction; he'd been trying to reach the Academy for so long that in walking away from it he was instantly lost. Everything he knew about the place was mistaken, every scrap of rumour gleaned from travellers who'd passed through Athens and heard Plato speak and then taken ship for Croton. It was all a trick; one that he'd played on himself, mostly. Incredible, but true: there was no magic here.
“I'm studying mathematics,” offered Callias gamely, following behind him. “You might like it; there are some talented geometers here--”
Ollivander gave a short, harsh laugh. “Geometry?” He didn't look back. “I can square the circle whenever I want to using magic -- or at least, convince people that I've squared it, which seems to be much the same thing.”
Callias was quiet until they reached the city walls. “What will you do now?” he asked, as they passed through.
“I expect I'll think of something. I usually do.” The words were bold, but Ollivander knew they were empty; his head was too full of disappointment to think of anything just now. One thing he was sure of, though: he would not be going back down to the harbour and asking after Euthymios the Cretan, or his ship. There would have to be a better way than that.
“You can stay in my father's house tonight,” Callias offered a while later, as they skirted the Temple of Hephaestus. “No-one will mind, if you arrive with me. They'll all be glad to hear news from outside the city.”
“Thanks.” The day had been warm, but the clear sky foretold a chilly night. That was one problem solved, at least.
The city streets, filling with late-afternoon shadows, seemed much lonelier than they had a few hours earlier. Where was everyone? There were no boys returning from a day's learning in their pedagogues' houses, or slaves running errands; no beggars, even. It was as though the rest of Athens felt as tired and forlorn as Ollivander, and had withdrawn indoors for the evening.
Callias led them into a side alley, so narrow that a man could almost have touched the houses on each side with outstretched arms. It was even darker here, and Ollivander glanced upwards in dull surprise; surely the sun was not ready to set just yet? A breath of air touched his face, and he was astonished at how cold it was: it sighed of a hard winter's dawn, not this fine spring afternoon. And that, curling around a mud-brick wall further down the alley: was that mist?
Both men stood still for a moment, glancing quickly at each other and at the tenebrous something seeping into view around the corner ahead. All at once Ollivander was struck by his own hopeless foolishness: not an Academy scholar, not an Athenian citizen, he couldn't even go home without facing shame and ridicule. He would be miserable forever; it would be better if he died...
“Alastor!” shouted Callias harshly, breaking the silence. “Come on, get away from it!” He grabbed Ollivander's hand and dragged him back the way they had come. Ollivander stumbled the first few steps; then his brain began to work again. An Alastor: that explained the cold, and the terrible, unreasoning despair. Ollivander knew what to do, at least in theory. It was a difficult spell, and he had no confidence in his ability to cast it effectively. But he had done it before; perhaps he could again.
They reached a tiny square with a Hermes statue in the middle. The sculptor had modelled only Hermes' head, and the whole thing, plinth and all, was too small for one person to shelter behind, let alone two. But it would have to do. Ollivander drew his wand and looked back. There were two of the Alastores, huge cloaked figures, faceless beneath their hoods, and coming on frighteningly fast; he concentrated -- and in the moment before they were on him he glimpsed another figure behind them, cloaked in their darkness.
“Phobos!” he cried, changing his spell at the last possible moment. Simultaneously, Callias' voice called out beside him: “Barangiz Pedarkhande!” A great silver cloud leapt from Callias' wand and resolved itself into a dazzlingly bright hippogriff. The creature's shining beak opened in a silent squawk, and it charged into the mouth of the alley, which it almost filled.
Ollivander looked away; afterimages of the brilliant hippogriff danced on his eyes. When he opened them again, Callias was calmly putting away his wand, and the immediate threat appeared to have passed. The sun was back in the sky, where, Ollivander supposed, it must have been all along. The wretched despair he'd felt only a few heartbeats ago was gone. Better than gone, he realised after a moment: not only did he have nothing to be gloomy about, he was ideally placed, fortuitously free of all obligations in a city full of opportunities. Any number of advantageous things could happen to him now. Would happen, once he decided how best to bring them about.
“Nice move,” he said casually, confident once more.
“Thanks,” replied Callias modestly. He was breathing a little more heavily than usual, but seemed otherwise unshaken. “You'd have done the same for me, I'm quite sure.” He hesitated, then went on, “I don't mean to criticise -- you were under pressure, I realise -- but that was a rather odd choice of spell just now. Fear? Against an avenging ghost? You know, of course, that an Alastor fears nothing; nor can it be made afraid by magic.”
“I must have been mistaken,” muttered Ollivander awkwardly. The third assailant hadn't looked at all ghostly to him, but he had seen it only very briefly and indistinctly. Perhaps a Fear Charm -- all he'd been able to think of, under the circumstances -- hadn't been the best one to use against it. Perhaps it had never been there at all. “Let's get out of here. We need to get on with things.”
“True. Well, we're not far from my home now. I could use some bread and honey, and I daresay you could, too.”
Callias' family home was on an undisturbed back street, squeezed between the houses of a lawyer and a sandal-maker. He pushed open its thin wooden door and ushered Ollivander inside, revealing a small courtyard with a cement floor. After a brief stop at a bronze altar to pay the usual respects to Zeus, the two men followed the soft chatter of female voices towards a lamp-lit room at the rear of the house, and the smell of burning olive oil.
The room's occupants reclined on couches or sat on chests; they seemed to be in the early stages of their evening meal. The floor was piled with mats, several deep, on which an assortment of large plates and bowls bore bread, artichokes, olives, cheese, and a steaming kakavia. A great barrel-chested man with striking deep-green eyes looked up at Callias as he entered.
“Decided to join us tonight, have you?” The man's voice was gravelly, but not harsh. “Better here than out drinking with -- who's this?”
“Ollivander of Croton,” Callias introduced him smoothly. “A wizard and fellow scholar, visiting Athens.” Ollivander was glad that Callias, at least, was still affording him that much status. “Ollivander, this is my father Timandridas.”
“Be welcome in my house,” said Timandridas, leaping energetically to his feet and pumping Ollivander's hand. “Any friend of my son's is a friend of mine.” He gestured at the large, straight-backed chair -- by far the grandest in the room -- in which he'd been sitting. “This place is yours. No, I insist; you are my guest.”
The seat of honour was of some dark wood, elaborately carved with a profusion of date-palm leaves, and so high that it required a footstool. As Ollivander climbed into it, Timandridas was continuing, “This is my wife Thestylis.” He indicated a smiling matron, a little on the plump side, who was already examining Ollivander with her sharp eyes. “My daughters, Simaetha and Hermione” -- two young women of around Ollivander's age -- “capable witches both, as I expect they'll tell you in great detail, if you give them half a chance.” Neither looked particularly dangerous, but having seen their brother in action so recently, Ollivander wasn't inclined to doubt their father's word. “And there,” Timandridas went on, waving negligently at the other end of the room, “is my household slave, Ripi. Ripi, a cup of wine for our guest, please.”
A diminutive figure jumped to its feet, brushing past Simaetha. “Certainly, sir,” it squeaked, snapping its fingers. A large double-handled drinking goblet stirred itself from the floor and rose into the air, there to rendezvous with a tall earthenware jug intricately painted in black and orange. Cup and jug orbited gracefully around each other as the wine poured itself, without spilling a drop; the cup then floated over to Ollivander and hovered invitingly within reach of his right hand. Unsure how long the house-elf's magic would keep it there, he moved quickly to secure it by non-magical means.
“A strange thing happened to us on the way here tonight,” said Callias, over the rim of his own wine-cup. “We were in the alley behind the vase-painters' street, minding our own business, when we were attacked.” He put down his cup and filled his mouth with bread.
“Attacked!” Thestylis instantly forgot the cheese she'd been reaching for, and fixed her eyes on her son. “By whom? For what?”
Callias chewed nonchalantly; by the time he was quite finished, he had the full attention of everyone in the room. “We don't know why. Actually, we don't really know who, either. They were a pair of vengeful ghosts.”
“Lykanthropos!” gasped Simaetha, the elder of his sisters. Her big brown eyes were wide with excitement. “There've been rumours of them on Mount Lycabettus lately; I wonder if--”
“Now, Simaetha,” interrupted Timandridas. “You know better than that. Only ignorant Mugloi think that werewolves are a kind of ghost.” He turned to Callias. “Alastores, were they?”
“Yes, I'm sure that's what they were. We had to move quickly, but we saw them off.” Callias modestly didn't mention that the credit for the seeing-off was due mostly to himself.
“That's very odd,” mused Timandridas, raising his thick, bushy eyebrows. “Most unusual for an Alastor to go wandering the world of its own volition, and by sheer coincidence choose a wizard for its prey.”
“Someone could have sent them,” suggested Hermione at once. She was dark-haired like her mother, but had her father's remarkable eyes.
“Or they might be seeking revenge against those who wronged them in life,” Callias offered, pulling at his beard thoughtfully.
“That's possible, but I wouldn't think it likely,” said Timandridas. “Alastores are, or were, the ghosts of the victims of the most unspeakable crimes. Most of them died long ago; their vengeance is still terrible, but they have long since forgotten why, or even on whom, they seek to inflict it. Still, I suppose these two could have had recent deaths.”
There was a brief silence, during which Ripi the house-elf got up to -- quite unnecessarily -- rearrange the comestibles on the floor. This did not prevent Ollivander from noticing the others now regarding him -- a perfect stranger in their house -- with the faintest hint of cool suspicion.
“Ollivander,” Thestylis asked him neutrally, “do you know of anyone recently killed, who might have turned back from Hades with a grudge against you?”
“No, certainly not!” He considered affecting a quick laugh, but decided against it. “I'm sure I've never murdered anyone. The Avada Kedavra is for Persians and other barbarian mages, not civilised Greeks like ourselves.”
“A mystery then,” said Callias lightly, ladling kakavia into a bowl and adding a chunk of bread. “We should all be on our guard for the next few days.” The fish stew did look good; Ollivander hopped off his chair to fill his own bowl, grateful for the distraction.
The air seemed to clear, and everyone turned their attention to the food for a while. Ollivander's mouth watered as he sprinkled black pepper on his stew: Timandridas must be a successful wand-maker indeed, he reflected, if the everyday fare in this house ran to ingredients from the uttermost parts of India. In such comfortable circumstances, it was easy to forget that his precarious “visiting scholar” status might not last beyond this one night.
“Tell us about Croton,” Simaetha beseeched him after a while. “I've never been beyond Athens myself, and I love to hear about exotic places.” She smiled encouragingly.
“Well,” said Ollivander, caught with a handful of nuts halfway to his mouth. “Croton's not such an exotic place, really. It's a Greek city, like Athens, though smaller of course, and without the great minds and monuments you have here. My mother makes wands there, although I daresay they aren't as good as the ones made in this house.”
“Oh, we are both from wand-making families, then!” Simaetha seemed delighted that she shared this detail of background with him. The light in the room seemed to brighten for a moment, perhaps from the flickering of the lamps.
“Yes, indeed, although I'm sorry to say I've made only a few attempts at wands of my own, and with rather mixed success. Do you have intentions of pursuing the craft yourself?”
Simaetha hesitated, looking embarrassed.
“All our children are still too young to be master wand-makers,” her mother interjected firmly. “Wand-making is not simply a matter of following instructions, like brewing up a potion to cure boils. It is an art that demands years of magical experience before one can even properly begin. None of you young ones should be ashamed of your efforts so far; if you have the talent, it will show itself in time.”
“Ollivander has a most unusual wand himself,” said Callias, saving his sister from the need to respond further. “It's of elder -- show them, Ollivander, go on.”
That caught Timandridas' attention, and before Ollivander could think about it much, he was placing his wand in the capacious palm of his host's outstretched hand.
“An elder wand; goodness me,” rumbled Timandridas, holding it by its ends and inspecting it at close range. The whole family watched as he shook it gently. “Elder and...”
“Sphinx tongue,” Ollivander supplied.
Timandridas frowned. He flexed the wand between his fingers, then held it up vertically next to his ear, as if listening to music he didn't approve of. An uneasy feeling came over Ollivander; could there be something wrong with his wand?
“How did you come by this wand?” asked Timandridas abruptly.
“It was my father's,” Ollivander told him nervously. He noticed that Callias had stopped eating in order to listen.
“How did it pass from him to you?” Timandridas' green eyes were piercing him, as if to let the truth escape.
“He died last autumn.”
“How did he die?”
“Of a fever.”
“And the wand simply changed its allegiance to you?”
“How -- remarkable.” Timandridas' voice passed no judgement; he just seemed intensely curious. “Not that a wand should be passed on within a family -- that's hardly unknown. But I can tell, for sure, that no sphinx gave its tongue for this wand.”
“Wha--” That was unexpected. Of course his father's wand had a sphinx-tongue core; Ollivander had known that all his life. If Timandridas had remarked that this was not a wizard's wand at all, but only a rare variety of sea-urchin, he would have been no less astonished. “Are you sure, sir? My mother would have known the core of this wand, if anyone did.”
“I don't doubt it.” Timandridas was lost in thought for a while. Simaetha, wide-eyed, looked back and forth between him and Ollivander, as if guessing which of them might deliver the next revelation. No-one was paying attention to their plates any more, except for Callias, who took the opportunity to sip his wine and sit back, waiting.
“I suppose you know the legend of Orpheus,” stated the wand-maker eventually. It was unclear whom he was addressing, but it hardly mattered: everyone else in the room, including Ripi the house-elf, nodded and murmured that they did.
“He was the one whose wife Eurydice was poisoned by a viper on their wedding day, and he descended to the underworld to bring her back,” summarized Simaetha, unnecessarily.
Timandridas nodded. “Quite an undertaking, that must have been,” he said deliberatively. “Cerberus, the guardian of the front door, is said to be an exceptionally bad-tempered specimen, even as giant three-headed dogs go. But then Orpheus, I suppose, was no schoolboy. Well, you know the story: Orpheus wrested three favours from Hades, but only one of them did him any good. His cloak of invisibility served him well to the end of his days. Otherwise, though, the gods punished his hubris most cruelly: his Eurydice was resurrected, but only as a pale apparition, with no desire to return to the mortal world. And as for the other thing he brought back--”
“A wand,” breathed Callias, leaning forward and starting to grin, “of rare and potent make.”
“Yes. A most unusual and powerful wand, which Orpheus might have found quite useful, had it not been immediately stolen by one of his followers. I suppose he was lucky not to have been murdered for it; that seems to have been the fate of most of its owners since then. Not that they didn't deserve it; they were quite an unpleasant lot, on the whole. Salmoxis was one.”
“Oh, I know of him,” said Hermione at once. “He founded a cult whose rites involved--”
“Nothing you're too familiar with, I hope,” her father cut her off quickly. “Salmoxis was a slave, though not for long after he got hold of the Wand of Orpheus. He died in Thrace, and the histories don't reveal where the wand went then, although it may have been reclaimed by his former masters: the Pythagoreans.”
“Of Croton,” declared Callias eagerly, making a vigorous slashing motion with one hand. “Where their descendants still live -- the family of our honoured guest among them. And here he is with an inherited wand; that sounds like rather more than a coincidence to me.”
Glances of surprise and delight flashed between Timandridas' children. Ollivander stared incredulously at his wand as it lay in the hands of the master. By some trick of the flickering lamplight, it looked smaller, now that it had been taken from him. Could that harmless-looking stick really be a semi-mythical artifact, something fashioned, not by any mortal wizard, but -- he shivered to think of it -- by Hades himself?
“Not just any inherited wand,” continued Timandridas, his voice as cool and contemplative as when he had begun. “An elder wand; that is rare enough in itself. With a core of Thestral tail-hair: doubly ill-fated. I would never create such a wand, even if I were asked to, for fear of the consequences; I know of no wand-maker who would. Yet here it is.”
“I mislike this,” said Thestylis, who alone in the room looked uneasy, even frightened. “Whatever shall we do?”
“I think,” said Timandridas carefully, “that I will give the wand of Orpheus back to its owner.” He proffered it, holding it by its tip between a finger and a thumb. “And I advise him to take good care of it, and use it cautiously, and above all to have nothing to do with Orphic cultists -- though that last point would be good advice in any case.”
Ollivander took the wand, relieved to have it back despite the aspersions on its nature. It was his wand, after all: he had given up the wand of his childhood (an undistinguished construct of apple and doxy wing) for it, and now he would never need another. As it nestled into the palm of his hand, he knew that using it cautiously was out of the question: he used it for everything, and always would.
Callias changed the subject after that, to some athletic friend of his who aspired to throw the discus at the Olympic Games, and whether he had any real chance of doing so. It was a relief to feel the centre of attention shift elsewhere, although Ollivander knew that he had only the customs of hospitality to thank for the rather forced lack of scrutiny. This family would be more than happy to part company with him, and his mysterious wand, on the morrow.
As he lay restlessly before falling asleep that night, Ollivander reflected that there was quite a lot he needed to accomplish the next day, if all of his troubles were to be deferred, let alone resolved. Should he return to the Academy, and hope to find Plato in a compromising mood? If not, then what? Where would he be sleeping tomorrow night? He had a wand that made him a dangerous wizard to know, apparently; it was unclear how to improve that situation, or whether he even wanted to. And, if he had the time to spare from his other concerns, he should beware of Alastor attacks: at least two of the restless ghosts were after him, possibly driven by some unknown enemy. Then, in the later stages of drowsiness, his brain relaxed enough to wonder if Simaetha had been consciously trying to flirt with him, and whether he should just put that out of his mind, or...
In the last moments before oblivion, he realised that there was one problem, at least, that he did know how to address.
He would need a piglet, though.
The next day dawned cloudy and dull. The paving stones in Timandridas' courtyard were grey in the half-light, and the water in the wash-jug was chill. Ollivander was glad to heft his leather bag and escape to the street, leaving the house before most of its occupants were awake.
Callias came with him. Ollivander was surprised and made wary by that, exposed as he was now to questions about his mysterious elder wand and the way he'd acquired it. He would say nothing, he decided: if Callias wanted to probe further, he would have to break the ice himself. But the other man was content to simply follow at first -- and when he did speak, it was apparent that he had other things on his mind.
“What did you think of my sister?” he asked, at the second street-corner. “There might be an opportunity there, if you cared to pursue it. I could see my mother approved of you the moment you came in the door.”
That might be true, thought Ollivander to himself, although he seemed to remember rather less approval at some of the other moments. But he would not take the conversation in that direction; there were things he had to do first.
“Does she have many other suitors?” he asked instead, cautiously.
“Half a dozen at least,” replied Callias cheerfully, “but none you need to worry about. The longest any of them's lasted so far is five days from the first introduction. Your luck might be better, though. She likes you.”
This was not the conversation Ollivander had expected to be having today. “I know almost nothing of your sister, beyond her name.”
“A beautiful name it is, too,” urged Callias enthusiastically. “Isn't it?”
“It's common enough. Half the girls in Greece seem to have the name 'Hermione' attached to them.”
“Don't play the fool, Ollivander. Simaetha was the one looking at you all evening. She's almost a little past marriageable age now, and -- well, never mind that, why not agree to be introduced to her properly?”
It seemed to Ollivander that at present he was surrounded by rather too many half-open doors with dubious hopes beyond them; he felt a strong urge to simplify matters by firmly closing a few. But how was he to know which one concealed his destiny? He wondered if he should be asking Callias to recommend an honest Diviner of genuine talent, and trusting in the gods.
“Maybe, but not today,” he temporised. “There are other matters I must attend to.”
Callias chuckled. “Too busy to fit it in? Perhaps you should buy a slave to remind you of your many appointments.”
Ollivander ignored the gentle sarcasm. Callias was all right, he decided, even if his sister was putting him up to intercession on her behalf.
“As a matter of fact,” he said, with careful dignity, “I do have an important purchase to make this morning. I need a young piglet.”
Thankfully, Callias didn't demand an immediate explanation; he only scratched his beard in thought. “You should have mentioned that yesterday,” he said. “It was market day in the agora. But Miklos the butcher might be able to help you. His shop is just around the corner here.”
Athenian butchers kept early hours, it seemed: the stout wooden door of Miklos' shop was already propped open when the two young men arrived, and a trickle of slightly bloody water was emerging from within, accompanied by a tuneful whistling. Callias hung back, and gestured to indicate that Ollivander should enter first.
Inside, a huge block of stone bore the hindquarters of a goat. The whistler, a portly individual with a red nose and a black moustache that extended to completely cover his cheeks, was busily dismembering what remained of the animal, carefully ensuring that each portion got its fair share of the fat.
“A piglet?” said Miklos, after Ollivander had verified that it was he. “I've a nice one out the back; just finished draining it. Two obols, will that do?”
Ollivander explained that it wouldn't do; what he wanted was a live piglet, with the blood still inside it.
Miklos looked carefully hesitant; he ruffled his moustache by blowing on it. “There is one I was keeping, to be fresh the day after tomorrow,” he admitted. “There's only one, mind, but it's yours if you want it badly enough.”
There followed a lengthy discussion on the monetary value of the trouble Miklos might be spared by not having to feed his last piglet for one more day. Ollivander thought he was handling the negotiation quite well, at least until it was complicated, in its later stages, by his belated realization that he would also need a small sack to carry his purchase away in. A proper fool he'd look in front of Callias, if the animal escaped.
“Right,” said Callias, when he, the piglet, and its new owner were back in the street outside the shop. “I think you should probably tell me where you're planning to do it -- and more importantly, why. I don't mind helping, and two heads might be wiser than one, don't you think?”
“I -- well, I suppose so,” Ollivander replied. In truth, he hadn't considered taking anyone's advice but his own. He'd expected to be alone again today; he didn't really know why Callias was here at all. “You must be wondering what I'm doing.”
“No, that's obvious enough,” said Callias dismissively. “You're going to make a sacrifice to Zeus, anyone could have guessed that. Very pious of you, I'm sure, to be honouring the Father of Gods on a day of no particular significance whatever. Either you're a lot more devout than I've noticed so far, or you have a fairly urgent favour to ask. Something to do with those two ghosts that came after us yesterday, perhaps?”
“Yes -- well, maybe,” Ollivander conceded. “I was thinking things over last night and, well, I've become concerned that my father might have become a ghost. Not an ordinary one; he wouldn't have wanted to linger. But it can happen, can't it, that a wizard is so troubled by some terrible purpose that he cannot truly die, in the same way that you can't fall asleep when there's something on your mind? The grave doesn't press heavily enough on him, and he cannot depart?”
Callias nodded. “Yes, there are a few of those. Most are still furious over some wrong done to them in life, and too stubborn to let it go. Was your dad like that?”
“Well, no, he wasn't, not really. He forgave all kinds of transgressions when he was alive, especially mine. But he's the only person I know who's died recently, and I have his wand. He didn't say I was to have it, I just sort of claimed it, after he was gone. He never said anything about it being a legendary wand made in the underworld, either; it was always just my dad's wand as far as I knew. Might he be mad that I took it? Might he have driven those two others to attack us last night?”
“He might,” said Callias briskly. “It's possible. So -- we're going to address this in the usual way, are we? A decent sacrifice and the right spell, and any local ghosts who might be angry with you will be irresistibly summoned, whereupon we can sort them out?”
The businesslike tone was quite reassuring, as if the laying of ghosts were quite a routine matter. Perhaps, in Athens, it was. Not that Ollivander hadn't been quite confident he could perform the necessary magic unaided: he knew how to do it, in theory at least. But Callias seemed to regard it as a mere exercise, something that any of his family could have done while mentally composing an essay on Scythian timber species, and trimming the edges of the papyrus they meant to write it on.
“Have you done this before, then?” he asked.
“I've seen it done once or twice,” Callias replied casually. “Where would be a good spot for it, do you think?”
“Outside the temple of Athena, on the Acropolis?”
“Yes, good choice. If I were a restless spirit, I'd think twice before refusing a call from the home of the city's own goddess. You should see the inside of the temple, too, it's really quite impressive.”
“Business first,” muttered Ollivander. “I can play tourist later.”
As they ascended the city's central hill, the first sunlight reached them through a break in the clouds, and the air immediately felt warmer. It seemed odd to be speaking of ghosts outdoors in such comfortable weather, as if they might enjoy the fresh air. Surely some dank crypt would be a more conducive spot for the work they had to do. But Ollivander had no family cemetery available, nor even a dark night. He had, in truth, nothing at all but the clothes he wore and the ground he walked on; they would have to suffice.
It was crowded atop the Acropolis: every space big enough for five or six men to gather seemed to be occupied by some statue or temple. Narrow paths and squeeze-ways somehow fitted between the monuments, sidling around sculptures and beneath the carved glyphs and friezes. It was hard to be sure, but amid all the Pentelic stone there didn't seem to be anyone around, a circumstance for which Ollivander was grateful. If this didn't go well, there would be no-one else in Athens to ridicule him further.
As if guessing his thoughts, Callias pulled out his cedar wand and began gesturing with it, tapping it on invisible walls behind and ahead of them, muttering incantations. Ollivander thought of offering to help, and drew his own wand, but instead found himself regarding his father's unintended legacy with new eyes. This humble elder stick was both the cause (possibly) of his current peril (if peril it was), and the instrument with which he would resolve it. Perhaps even Plato might have approved of the symmetry, had he been a sorcerer after all.
“That should give us some privacy,” announced Callias with satisfaction, finishing his enchantments sooner than Ollivander had expected. “Nothing to do now but get started.” A muffled squeal from the sack in Ollivander's hand seemed to express -- rather unwisely for the squealer -- similar sentiments.
Ollivander gave his wand a determined look. Reaching into his leather bag, he pulled out a handful of crumbs -- the last of yesterday's bread -- and salt. He sprinkled these on the ground in a rough circle around himself, purifying the place for sacrifice. A libation of wine wouldn't have gone amiss, either, but he couldn't supply that just now. He hoped almighty Zeus would understand.
“Eimai edo, o thanatos!” he declared, making gentle circular motions with his wand-tip. “O person, whether you are a man or a woman, come forth and reveal to me why you linger, and will not cross the Styx. I would know the causes of your quarrel with a living man, and how you may be given rest.”
“Or otherwise dealt with,” muttered Callias in the background. Ollivander felt reassured to have a friend watching his back; it was good to know that any Alastor coming from that direction would not get far.
“In the name of immortal Zeus, attend me!” he cried. Laying his wand on the paving stone in front of him, he drew his belt-knife with one hand, and reached into Miklos' sack with the other. Out came the piglet, snuffling a little, perhaps expecting to be fed. “Drink of the blood that runs down into the earth, O spirit, and be at peace.” He mentally rehearsed the correct way to jugulate the animal.
“No need for that,” called a voice. Ollivander, his concentration broken, turned his head quickly to see a stranger appear from behind a temple column. He was no ghost, and no Athenian either -- his beardless chin and completely shaved head vouched for that. He wore a kind of long robe dyed darkest black, and there was a wand in his hand.
“Who are you to say so?” Callias challenged him at once, his own wand held out combatively in front of him. “This is a public place; anyone may sacrifice here. Our doings are our own business, and none of yours.”
“I am called Moeris,” said the newcomer easily, his voice honey-smooth. “And you are very much my business, Ollivander; I am not yet finished with you.”
Ollivander had never seen this man before, and said so. He gripped the knife-handle tightly, and would have liked to take up his wand as well. But then he would have to let go of the pig.
“You are no citizen or metic sorcerer,” Callias stated suspiciously, “or I would have met you before now in polite society. So who--”
“Oh, but we have met, young man,” said the wizard. “Yesterday, before you so ably dispelled my servants.” He chuckled, at a pitch just slightly too high to be reassuring. “I fear you were blinded by your own bright lights; a common failing, in the young and talented.”
“What do you want?”
Moeris nodded at Ollivander. “Aren't you going to pick it up? Your father was much quicker than this to put it into play, I must say.”
Ollivander, who had indeed been on the point of relinquishing both knife and piglet to seize the elder wand with two hands, hesitated. He sensed a trap. Confrontations between wizards, he reminded himself, were usually decided by the best spell, not the fastest. He had Callias there to react quickly if things turned nasty; instead of grabbing for the wand, he should be thinking of something clever to do with it once he had it.
“How did you know Ostanes of Croton?” he asked cautiously. “I don't remember his ever going to Egypt.”
Moeris laughed again, under his breath. “A good guess. No, I crossed the sea to come to him, and I would have gone peacefully home again, had his interfering wife not denied me my prize.”
“Which was?” Ollivander began to ask, but his words were overtaken by a jet of blood-red light from Callias' wand, which struck the foreign wizard precisely between the eyes. Or so it seemed -- and yet a moment later, Moeris stood unharmed two hands-breadths to the left of where the bolt had struck. He did not even seem to have taken a step.
Before Ollivander could think twice, his own wand was in his hand. Whispering “Apokalypto!”, he swiped it quickly across his own face at eye level. At once the scene changed: now he could see the cracks deep inside the marble statue beside him, his piglet trotting away into his peripheral vision -- and Moeris, pressed up against a wall where he had leapt to his right to evade Callias' spell. Already the Egyptian was readying a counter-attack, his wand foreshortened to a point as he took aim.
“Avada Kedavra!” Ollivander threw himself forward, flat on his face with arms outstretched; emerald green light flashed above him. He took another breath and realised he was still alive. Somewhere Callias was working up another curse (“Taartanak Betan!”) and Moeris was shouting something in return. He scrambled back up to his knees and then -- one moment his wand was between his fingers; the next, it wasn't. Horrified, he watched it sail through the air, its dark elderwood glinting in the sunlight for just an instant before the foreign mage snatched it, turned on the spot, and vanished with a sound like the snapping of Zeus' fingers. A heartbeat later, a huge and ropy cobweb, suggestive of a bear-sized spider, thudded into the column by which Moeris had stood, completely enveloping it.
“Too slow!” Callias cursed. “Ollivander, are you hurt?”
“No, no; I'm fine.” Ollivander climbed back to his feet. “That is, I'm not injured, but I'm wandless.”
“Not a problem, for the moment. I don't think our friend will be back.”
Ollivander clenched his empty hand into a fist. “He has what he came for, you think?”
“I'm sure of it. He as good as admitted trying to steal that wand from your father, and if my dad's notions about its origins are accurate, it's not hard to see why. Not many versed in wandlore would care to take on the Wand of Orpheus, but if it's wielded by an old, sick wizard -- or a young one, far from any friends or help -- well, he must have thought it was worth a try.”
“But he won't get to keep it.” Now that the excitement of battle was draining away, Ollivander began to feel the loss of his wand -- his special wand! -- for the first time. “We'll get it back. That is, I will, and I'd be glad to have you with me if you want to come along.”
Callias shook his head. “We might find him taking ship at Piraeus, if we chase him, but it's more than likely he has other means of transport. He could be halfway back to Egypt already, for all we know.”
“But he tried to kill me! You heard him -- Avada Kedavra! That's a crime in Athens, isn't it?”
“Under Athenian law,” said Callias carefully, “he who kills a man with magic is neither more nor less culpable than any other murderer. So if you were dead now, you would be perfectly within your rights to pursue this Moeris through the courts. Or rather, your grieving family would. But the law of Athens does not run throughout the whole world: it can be evaded, by those willing to settle for residence elsewhere.”
“But he has my wand!” Ollivander insisted with hot desperation. “The only one like it in all the world, and it's mine!”
“Better not,” Callias admonished him. “Only one Wand of Orpheus, but no lack of dark sorcerers who fancy having an invincible weapon. Let this one spend his life fending all the others off! Besides, I know someone who'd be happy to make you another wand just as -- well, almost as good.”
“You mean your father Timandridas, I suppose.”
“Who else? Not your sisters, I'm sure.”
“I might. You might be surprised what Simaetha can do, when she thinks she has a reason to. Have you considered taking her to the theatre? They're doing Oedipus Tyrannos again this year; it might be just her sort of thing.”
“Perhaps. I'll think about it. The drama, that is, not the wand-making.”
“Of course, there is someone else who might make your next wand.” A small smile curled around Callias' mouth.
“Ollivander the son of Ostanes. He comes of good wand-making stock; hasn't the taste for philosophy, it seems, but might have the patience for something more practical, if he applies himself to it.”
Truly, this was a day for opening doors. “It's worth considering,” Ollivander said.
The day's first sunbeams fanned out above Athens' roofs, brightening the dust over the manufacturing district. In the narrow streets below, an early chorus was warming up: the chipping chisels of the masons and sculptors, the carpenters' rasping saws, the antiphonal ringing of the bronze-smiths' hammers. At intervals, as if waiting for their cue, hides splashed in the tanners' pits, potters' wheels whirred, and a master bellowed to some underling to fetch and carry. It promised to be another warm day, but few here -- except perhaps for Helios, the sun himself -- could expect the leisure to enjoy it.
As Callias the son of Timandridas threaded his way between the workshops, he heard all of their more or less tuneful noises, but paid scant attention to most of them. Not through over-familiarity: Timandridas the wand-maker, a skilled artisan himself, lived in a rather quieter part of the city. Rather, Callias already knew where he was going, and had no need to listen to find his way. The same, he reflected, could not be said of the man he was going to meet.
Erastos the carpenter's workshop was full today: a dozen men crowded into a space too small for them. Some were Athenian citizens, some metics, and the rest slaves, but in this place they were hard to tell apart, for all worked alike on the same tasks. They laboured over bow-drills and saws; one plied a broom, sweeping up the first sawdust of the day. The back doorway was blocked by a clay pot of varnish being vigorously stirred by a long-haired Macedonian. Despite the feeble attempt at ventilation, the sharp stink of the stuff was everywhere.
Halfway down the ladder from the storage loft above the rafters, Ollivander paused to run his fingers through his dense black hair. It didn't feel any tidier than usual, and he made a mental note to Summon a bowl of water to examine his reflection in. Then his attention was caught by the door swinging open on its leather hinges, and Callias -- looking slightly out of place in his best tunic -- squeezing his way in. Ollivander waved furiously, inhaled a lungful of balsam resin, and called out to him.
“Callias! Come in - I have something to show you!”
Leaping to the ground, he beckoned Callias over to the rear of the workshop, elbowing his way past the sweeper as he went. There in a corner stood a large oak couch-frame, the backrest elaborately carved with laurel wreaths and a representation of Apollo.
“What do you think?” Ollivander gestured grandly.
Callias stumbled over a loose plank as he attempted to follow his friend. “That's very fine,” he said, admiring the piece. “The man whose house this will furnish must be wealthy indeed. But surely it isn't all your own work?”
“I did the sunbeams, here, at the top.” Ollivander ran a forefinger along the wooden contours, as if to give them a final smoothing with his own skin. “Your father shot close to the mark when he suggested I apprentice with Erastos. He's an excellent teacher, and just being here all day is giving me ideas. Like -- see this.”
Ollivander looked around hurriedly at the workshop floor, before spying what he wanted: a hand-sized offcut, poplar by the look of it, with the bark still on one side. He picked it up and turned carefully so that only he and Callias would see what happened next. Drawing a wand -- pale golden, but with a striking dark grain -- he waved it slowly over his wooden scrap, muttering. The offcut seemed to stir itself briefly, and then, in an instant, it was gone, Ollivander closing his fingers as it vanished.
“What?” exclaimed Callias with quiet surprise. “I was sure you were Transfiguring it--”
“I was.” Ollivander opened his hand to reveal a splinter the size of a toothpick. “Here you are, best Lebanese cedar.” He held it up to the light for Callias to inspect.
“Mostly cedar, though I wouldn't call it the best,” Callias frowned. “Certainly not wand quality. Where did you learn that trick?”
“I thought of it just last week. Plenty of room for improvement, with practice. But think, Callias. What are we surrounded by a great shortage of?” Ollivander waved his arms in a way that encompassed the world in general.
A bemused Callias regarded the busy workshop. It didn't suggest a shortage of anything, except perhaps idleness and free time. “Ah--”
“Wood! I noticed it as soon as I got off the ship. This part of Greece has hardly any good timber trees, just olives and a few scrubby bushes. Nearly all the wood in this shop was brought to Athens from lands far away. Wood is so scarce and precious, Erastos tells me, that when Athenians move house, they take their doors and window shutters with them, like furniture.”
“Well, yes,” Callias conceded slowly. “But it's not a serious impediment to wand-making. Wands are expensive: my father can well afford to buy exotic timbers from far-off places. Actually, he throws away at least half of what he buys, because it turns out not to be good enough.”
“Wand-makers are small fish.” Ollivander's hand caressed the couch-frame again. “Every rich man's symposium in Athens needs one of these for every guest, and the smallest of them has more oak than a hundred wands.”
Callias took a deep breath. “Speaking of wands,” he said, “how's your new one performing, the olive and Siren hair? Has it accustomed itself to you yet?”
“It's not perfect -- I'll have a better one someday -- but I can manage with it for now. I must remember to thank your father for the loan of it.” Ollivander spun the wand between his fingers, the light catching the patterned wood-grain. “But let's not tarry here! Erastos has given me the whole day off to attend the Dionysia! Let's be going, and make sure we get good seats.”
“In the Athenian theatre, all the seats are good,” Callias smiled, as they made their way out through the workshop. “But it wouldn't hurt to get there before my mother and sisters do, and save them places in the lowest tiers.”
It was an odd and strangely uncomfortable feeling, Ollivander thought, to be idle when the potters, the cobblers, and the rest were hard at work all around him, the feet of their slaves and messengers pounding the dusty ground as they hurried past. Only he and Callias had the luxury of dawdling, with no obligation more pressing than their presence -- some time later that day -- at a play being staged for their appreciation.
It wasn't even the first time. Only a few days before, the work of the whole city had halted for the opening day of the festival of Dionysus, a holiday for all. Ollivander had been there in the crowd, cheering like a native, as the ceremonial procession wound its way through Athens, leading the unwilling sacrificial bull to the theatre where the drama festival would take place. He had looked for Callias and his family amidst the politicians, foreign ambassadors, and wealthy citizens parading in their finery -- but in vain. Nor were the daughters of Timandridas among the high-born young women carrying the golden bowls of produce, spring flowers, and wreaths of laurel and ivy. Callias, he knew, had taken a direct part, one of fifty men in a chorus representing his deme in the dithyramb-singing competition the next day. But they had not won, and in any case Erastos' demands had not allowed Ollivander to be there to hear them.
Prompted by memories of the girls in the procession, Ollivander recalled that he did have some work, of a sort, to do today after all. He was wending his way to the Theatre of Dionysus not merely to enjoy the dramatic performance, but for the serious business of meeting with the mother and father of his prospective wife. And with Simaetha herself, of course. He was unsure, as yet, how he intended that meeting to go. Certainly, it was a chance that should not be left to wither. But how would his plans, such as they were, be affected by his marrying into a family with the status of Timandridas'? He was a foreigner: wouldn't that create legal complications? Or could those be resolved with some well-timed magic? And, could he decently get married at all? Any self-respecting bride would expect to immediately move into her husband's house -- and the space where he slept above Erastos' workshop would not do. He hoped Simaetha wasn't in a hurry.
“They're here.” Callias waved at a group standing by a Hermes statue at the junction of two streets. By now they were near the Acropolis, and Timandridas, Thestylis, and their daughters were breaking up a steady flow of excited theatre-goers like a rock in a spring spate. Within moments Ollivander was out of the stream and among them, assuring them that yes, he was in fine health, and that Erastos was a lenient master, and that he was almost as capable with the new wand as with the old. Before he knew it he was giving a demonstration for the curious Hermione, Transfiguring a pair of fraying threads from the hem of his tunic into white lilies and presenting one to each sister with a bow. Hermione slipped hers into her shining black hair at once, tucking it behind a golden diadem engraved with wheat-ears and thanking him graciously -- and then hinting, teasingly, that he'd chosen lilies because everyone knew they were the easiest, especially when in season. It crossed Ollivander's mind that perhaps she needed footwear more than flowers: she was barefoot on the hard ground. But this was surely by choice rather than necessity, and her shapely feet did look fine just as they were.
It was the first time he'd seen Simaetha since he'd sheltered in her father's house on the night of the Alastor attack. Like her mother and younger sister, she was loosely draped in a full-length white woollen peplos, wrapped several times around herself and secured with jewelled pins. The red and blue threads embroidering the peplos were repeated in her hair, which was tied into a voluminous brown bun, made glossy with olive oil, and further adorned with myrtle flowers, red ribbons, a tiara like her sister's -- and now, one white lily. Red-agate earrings brushed against an orange-dyed scarf of some very fine material, beneath which a necklace of bright yellow beads peeped out. Unlike Hermione, Simaetha was fully shod in tight-fitting half-boots lined with cat-fur. The overall effect was of elaborate profusion, and Ollivander wondered how early she'd needed to rise that morning, to prepare her appearance for the day.
Simaetha was a span taller than her sister, almost of a height with Ollivander himself, and he found her smiling nervously into his gaze. Her deep brown eyes, he noticed, had been carefully shadowed with charcoal. “You look magnificent,” he managed, “and by Athena, that scarf, is that really--”
“It is,” she replied eagerly. Ollivander had heard of silk, but until this moment had never seen any. “It's very precious and mysterious stuff. It comes from somewhere beyond Persia, but no-one seems to know how it's made.”
“By magic, I suppose,” Ollivander shrugged. “No great wonder that those eastern magi keep their secret to themselves. I would, too, if I knew lore like that.”
“Perhaps,” said Simaetha thoughtfully. “Although one trader spun me a tale of raising worms--”
“And shearing their fleeces in the spring?”
They both laughed at the absurd image. Ice broken, Simaetha seemed to relax a little, and turned to the rest of her family to urge them onwards to the theatre.
“I'm afraid you'll have to pay,” Callias whispered to Ollivander. “Entrance is free for citizens, but for anyone else it's two obols a day.”
Ollivander began a reply to the effect that he didn't mind, and was sure it would be a worthwhile investment, but he was cut off by Callias' sharp-eared mother.
“Nonsense,” she snorted, gently pushing Callias aside with one hand and proffering a little grey disc with the other. “Take this ticket, it's our gift.” It was a small gift, but heavy -- lead, by the feel of it -- and Ollivander reflected once more on his good fortune in falling in with these generous people.
The theatre of Dionysus, once they got there, was becoming crowded. Rows of long wooden benches mounted the slopes of the Acropolis like breaking waves; in the lower half of the amphitheatre, they were already submerged beneath a flood of chattering Athenians. Callias took charge, bounding up the hill to claim a slice of the remaining space, then holding it until the others arrived. Places were dutifully allocated to Timandridas and Thestylis, and Ollivander found himself seated between Simaetha, on his right, and Hermione, on his left.
Despite being so far up, he had a good view. At the foot of the slope lay the circular space, or orchestra, half-inclosed by the lowest tier of seats, with a few late-arriving spectators scurrying across it to reach their places. Beyond the orchestra circle, a long, low building served as a backdrop for the actors. On the side facing the audience, its wooden wall had been painted with marble columns, stairways, and fountains, depicting the Theban palace that would be the only scenery required for this play.
“Do you know Oedipus Tyrannos?” Simaetha was asking him, drawing his attention back to his immediate surroundings.
“I remember most of it,” Ollivander was willing to claim. Well, he had seen it once. “A travelling company performed it in Croton a few years ago. But they had only three men in their chorus, and their words might have been changed a bit from Sophocles' original.”
“Simaetha knows all the words,” said Hermione peevishly. “She has all the scrolls at home, the complete Oedipus series and dozens of other plays as well. She reads them to pass the time.”
“Well, what else should she do with them?” quipped Ollivander lightly, with an inward pang of envy that he did his best to hide. All of his own books had been left behind when he came to Athens; there hadn't been any plays among them, but there were several works on magic he suddenly wished he had at hand. “Better than leaving them rolled up, collecting dust on their outsides.” He smiled at Simaetha and was rewarded with a quick smile in return.
Hermione sniffed. “Plays are for poets to recite, and actors to learn, and audiences to appreciate. No-one with a proper memory needs to read. Words get all dried out when they're squashed onto papyrus without any spaces between them.”
“Hermione takes after our father,” said Simaetha, unperturbed. “They can both remember anything after reading it once, even without saying the words out loud. But Timandridas never writes anything down. He remembers perfectly every wand he ever made, its core, its nature, and the wizard or witch it chose. I think it's important to keep records, though. My children” -- she met Ollivander's eyes and coloured slightly, but kept going -- “will know of every wand that passed through my hands, even the ones that were sold before they were born.”
Ollivander considered making some comment on Simaetha's future children, but was surprised to discover that for once his nerve had failed him, and his tongue remained still. He was saved from the need to change the subject by a sudden lull in the noise around him. Chattering faded to murmurs; heads turned; the circle below was empty.
The double doors in the centre of the backdrop swung open with a bang. Out onto the stage limped King Oedipus, an actor in an ankle-length golden robe, wearing a golden crown, and holding a dark wooden mask -- with unruly long hair attached -- in front of his face. He paused for a few long, patient moments until complete silence filled the amphitheatre; then he began to welcome the imaginary throng that had awaited his appearance. His oration reached every ear -- audible even, it seemed, to the ponderous clouds drifting above the audience's heads, and to the gods presiding higher still.
Before Oedipus had drawn a dozen breaths, Ollivander's concentration was broken by Hermione tapping on his shoulder. With a silent, inquiring look, she proffered a small clay jar, which proved to contain walnuts dipped in spiced honey. Ollivander took a handful for himself, only to discover a dilemma: Simaetha was clearly hanging on Oedipus' every word. Which would be the greater solecism: to interrupt her enjoyment of the play like an oaf, or to fail to pass on the snacks like a glutton? After a short pause for thought, he surreptitiously extracted his borrowed wand, held the tip momentarily over the nuts -- just long enough to acquire the aroma -- and then raised it to his lips.
“Nasim bedam!” he murmured under his breath, blowing gently in Simaetha's general direction.
Her tongue flicked out; she turned and saw the jar. “Oh, thank-you,” she whispered. She inclined her head towards the masked voice on the stage. “He's good, isn't he?”
Ollivander had to agree that he was. The actor certainly seemed sure of his role, which was more than could be said of the character he was playing. King Oedipus was vowing at length to punish the murderer of his predecessor King Laios, who (the other characters helpfully explained) had been slain on a road in a right-of-way dispute. (Ollivander silently gave thanks for relatively safe magical forms of travel.) But the crime was years old, and Oedipus seemed to lack any clues as to whom, or where, the killer might be. So, inevitably, he called for the wizard Teiresias, and commanded a Divination.
“I wish him much luck with that,” Simaetha murmured sardonically, unconscious of Ollivander still watching her. It was, evidently enough, not what she would have done.
Suddenly self-aware, Ollivander glanced over his shoulder. Hermione's attention had already begun to wander; she stared upwards, as if wondering whether it would rain. Further down the bench, Thestylis listened while carefully not glancing in her daughters' direction; Ollivander guessed that was for his benefit. A respectable family could hardly have allowed Simaetha to leave the house in the company of a young man she barely knew, but social convention would -- just barely -- permit an outing like this one. Perhaps he should be making the most of it.
In time, Oedipus' queen Jocasta appeared on the stage, her femininity indicated by a white-painted mask, a long-sleeved white robe, and an almost-believable falsetto voice from the actor playing the part. She (or he) could almost have been the sensible witch in a crowd of hare-brained males. Put no trust in oracles and auguries, she declared scornfully. Why, a seer once told my first husband that he was doomed to be murdered by our own son, and look what happened to him! Killed on a road by a foreigner, and we never did have any children. Well, except one, but that false prophecy was the end of him:
Simaetha's mouth opened in a shocked, silent “Oh!”, although she must have known the revelation was coming.
“That was a terrible thing to do,” Ollivander found himself saying under his breath. “Even in a tragic drama.”
“It wouldn't be much of a story if they hadn't,” Hermione sniffed at him.
Ollivander was half-inclined to dispute the point. Surely the poet could have made a different story out of it, if Laios and Jocasta had chosen to let their child live? Apollo might reveal pieces of the future, but was it not still left to mortals to assemble them?
Deciding that this was hardly the time or place for such a discussion -- though it was worth remembering for later -- he looked past Hermione and her mother, to her father and brother. Neither man seemed to be paying much attention to the play; instead, they were conducting a whispered conversation with a thin young man leaning forward from the row behind them. Ollivander's eyes widened in surprise as he recognised Perseus, the Academy scholar he'd last seen on his first day in Athens, in the company of the philosopher Plato. How in Athena's name, he wondered, could a man like Perseus possibly have any need to communicate with a wizard? Timandridas' stock-in-trade didn't even include the finding of lost objects, cursing of enemies, messages from the underworld, and other minor services an Athenian consulting sorcerer might be expected to provide. He was a wand-maker: someone for whom a follower of Plato, jealous rival of wizards, would surely have little use.
Ollivander leaned closer to Hermione. “Who's that?” he asked her as quietly as he could. “The man talking to your father?”
She glanced briefly in Perseus' direction. “Just an acquaintance,” she replied off-handedly. “Probably talking about money and the state of business, the way men do.”
Ollivander wished he was close enough to hear what they were saying. He silently vowed to introduce himself to Perseus at some later opportunity; for the moment, he was trapped where he was, watching Oedipus limping towards his destiny.
It was a destiny being outlined ever more clearly. Oedipus belatedly recalled a rather regrettable violent incident from his journey to the city many years earlier, before he became king. Then it transpired that he had left his home in Corinth and travelled to Thebes in the first place only to avert another of Apollo's prophecies: that he was doomed to marry his mother and murder his father.
“Slow to catch on, isn't he?” muttered Hermione.
“He knows,” whispered Simaetha. “He doesn't need the silly Divinations, he knows his fate already. Oh, stay there!”
This last demand was addressed to a fly making a determined assault on the sticky nut-jar, which she was holding in one hand. It buzzed around her head, landing occasionally on her shoulder or hair-jewelry, but never remaining stationary long enough to be caught by any of the soft little curses she was flinging at it from her wand.
Ollivander drew his own wand. It had the same deep black-on-gold patterning as Simaetha's, he noticed; the two might have been fashioned from the same tree. Perhaps olive wood was a favourite of Timandridas'; he imagined a room full of olive wands, hidden in a secret room somewhere inside the house.
“Zalizo!” The magic cracked sharply past Ollivander's ear; the fly, hit as it launched itself off Simaetha's orange scarf, arced lifelessly into the aisle, where it bounced once on the ground. He turned to see Hermione holding a cedar wand, rather like Callias', between two fingers of her left hand.
“Thank-you.” He wished he had thrown that spell himself, but he could at least be gracious.
“Don't mention it.” Hermione was once again staring disinterestedly at the sky, as though something of vague consequence might soon be arriving from the distant sea. Beyond her, Perseus seemed to have disappeared, and Timandridas and Callias were watching the play again.
The chorus' final lines were sung, lamenting the sad end of Oedipus, no longer king. The flute-player's last few notes were engulfed by cheers and thunderous applause; Ollivander found himself joining in, standing up and stamping his feet on the wooden benches in time with thousands of others.
Hermione shuddered. “I don't know what you see in such a horrible play,” she shouted to Ollivander over the din, although the remark seemed addressed to Simaetha.
“I think it'll last,” said Simaetha quietly, as they filed out past the statue of Dionysus at the theatre entrance. She looked happy. “I shouldn't be surprised if Oedipus is staged again, at some time or another.”
Ollivander decided that when it came to Simaetha, he was still undecided. She seemed nice enough, at least when doing something she enjoyed. But she was rather old for a would-be bride -- past twenty, he guessed -- and he wondered, not for the first time, why that was.
When had he become so hesitant? He was used to knowing what he needed, and reaching for it without delay. But the last time he'd been so sure of himself had been outside the olive grove at the Academy, watching Plato walking confidently up the path. Now his own path was unclear in front of him, and he knew not how to interpret it. Should he resort to Divination, to questioning the gods, after all? No, he thought at once: on that point, at least, he knew his own mind. A man of any worth would not rely on oracles and foretellings. He would find his own way.
Ollivander worked on a chair-leg with a rasp. Back and forth, the tool in his hands shaving away the wood a sliver at a time, the repetitive task freeing his mind to wander. Why was Simaetha so eager to be married? No, that wasn't the right question. Any girl -- young woman -- of her age would be anxious about her prospects. That was only to be expected. Unless she aspired to be a priestess. Which would not be so unusual, for a witch. He watched as the leg took shape in front of him, its graceful curve becoming more pronounced with every pass.
Had she seemed eager, in the theatre? Happy to be there with him, certainly, though it was possible she'd enjoyed the company of Oedipus more than that of Ollivander. He turned the workpiece over, to start shaping the other side. She wasn't unwilling, he was sure of that. But wasn't it really the rest of her family who were going out of their way to favour him, arranging this apprenticeship to keep him in Athens, buying him a theatre ticket? Back and forth, push and pull. Admittedly, it had been Simaetha who'd liked him, apparently, the evening they first met, and wanted to see more of him. Except, he realized now for the first time, that he had only Callias' word for that.
With each forward stroke of the rasp, a fleet of tiny wooden chips fell to the ground, there to lie becalmed on an ever-growing pile. But the questions were not so easily brushed away. Why him? Whose plan was it really, to marry him off to Timandridas' elder daughter? Was there something wrong with her? An evil temper, perhaps? Before he knew it, his imagination had pictured the two of them as an unhappy couple, quarreling in a house too small to contain them. The image persisted for several disagreeable moments before he was able to banish it.
Erastos stopped by. He was a man of few words; it was enough for him to glance at Ollivander's work for a few moments, nod approvingly, and move on. Back and forth, the chair-leg beginning now to resemble the other one Ollivander had made earlier in the day. He remembered Callias' casual dismissal of his sister's other suitors: none had lasted a week beyond the first introduction, he'd said. If that was to be Ollivander's fate too, then Simaetha would be sending him away the next time he saw her. He resolved to do better than that, though he didn't yet know how.
There, that was the back legs roughed out. He kicked aside the offcuts and other debris and held the legs upright, one in each hand, his mind's eye adding the rest of the chair for them to support. They were long, tapering curves, splayed out behind the chair to keep it stable, and sweeping upwards into the back, where an imaginary occupant was resting his shoulders. Varnish would bring out the pine-grain nicely. Each leg had a small but conspicuous knot, one a little higher than the other, making them appear -- he frowned slightly -- mismatched. That wouldn't do, he decided. Slipping out his wand between two fingers, he pressed its tip to one of the knots, murmuring “Episkey!”
Gradually, as he concentrated, the knot began to move, the grain of the wood shifting and flowing around it. Guided by the olive wand, it swam slowly through the timber, coming to rest at last in a spot exactly aligned with its counterpart in the other chair-leg. Ollivander removed the wand, released the breath he'd been holding, and admired the perfect symmetry of his work. This was going to be a magnificent chair.
Ilyas the potter was stacking his kiln; as Ollivander drifted past his shop that evening, the two men exchanged a friendly wave. The rows of soft clay vases and bowls, intricately painted with their stark black designs, would soon be hard smooth ceramic -- a transfiguration involving no magic at all. At least, Ollivander was fairly sure that it didn't. He was rather vague on the details, and he made a mental note to have Ilyas explain it to him some time.
His own experiments with Transfiguring wood were not going well. Cedar that had once been olive was never quite the same as cedar that had always been cedar, and it didn't take magic to tell the difference. Perhaps a different approach was needed, he mused as he approached the house of Timandridas. There were, after all, good reasons why wand-makers needed so many different timbers. A childhood memory jogged his attention: he sat on his mother's knee, allowed to hold three or four unfinished wands in his small hands, as she chanted to him:
“You're looking pensive,” remarked Callias, opening the door to his father's house before Ollivander had got around to knocking. “Come and have a drink, to take your mind off whatever it is.”
Ollivander was ushered into a room he hadn't visited before, one furnished with a pair of low couches. A shaft of Athens' early-evening light, entering through a small window, struck a painted jug half-full of wine where it rested on a carved wooden table. Into the sunbeam reached a pale hand: Simaetha's, as she filled a cup for Ollivander. They smiled at each other as she offered him the drink. At least she seemed pleased to see him: that, and the first sip of wine, sparked a tiny, cautious hope inside him.
Resting comfortably on the other couch was a much less expected figure. Perseus the scholar held his goblet in a bony hand, his wispy eyebrows rising by just the slightest margin at the sight of Ollivander.
“This is Perseus, a student friend of mine from Plato's Academy,” Callias explained. “Perseus, this is Ollivander of Croton.” Perhaps he'd forgotten that Perseus and Ollivander had met before. More likely, he was diplomatically smoothing that previous encounter -- which had not reflected well on Ollivander -- out of existence.
“Well met, Perseus,” said Ollivander neutrally. “What brings you to this house?” It was the same question he'd immediately burned to ask when he'd seen Perseus conversing with Callias and his father at the Theatre of Dionysus.
“Oh, Perseus has many interests,” replied Callias at once. “Mathematics and rhetoric and moral philosophy, certainly, but also law and punishment, the building of ships, comic poetry, beekeeping, and tales of lands far away.”
“I am interested in everything,” said Perseus, with a dismissive flick of one hand, as if to suggest that the subjects Callias had mentioned occupied only the smallest part of his brain.
A man whose mind encompassed all there was to know: it was a sluggishly familiar thought. Wasn't that what Ollivander himself had wanted to be, in the sunlit moment when he'd leapt off Euthymios the Cretan's boat? But being in the presence of such a scholar -- of Plato's favourite student, he shouldn't wonder -- didn't feel nearly as inspiring as he'd expected. Was that because Perseus had no magic to go with his other talents? Or had Ollivander himself changed so much in just a few short weeks?
“Perseus has thought of a new way of carrying messages between cities,” Simaetha was saying. “You should hear this, Ollivander.”
“Something more than pigeons, that is,” Perseus added. He turned to Ollivander. “You're familiar with the use of pigeons to carry news?”
Ollivander nodded. Didn't every city in the Greek world send pigeons to Olympia along with its athletes, so that the names of the winners at the Games might be known as quickly as possible? He suppressed the impulse to mention this interesting fact. Perseus surely knew it, and might well have remarked on it already.
“Yes, well,” said Perseus, settling back against a thick square cushion. “Pigeons are all very well, but I have in mind an improvement of considerable value. Imagine writing a message at dusk, just before retiring to bed. While you sleep, your words are carried through the night, to be received in a distant city the very next morning, just as soon as the dawn brings enough light to read them by. Wouldn't that be a fine thing?”
All his audience agreed. There was no real need for such swiftness, of course. News spread across Greece all by itself within a few weeks, and it was hard to imagine a practical reason for wanting to send it any faster. But still, it would be a splendid achievement just to be able to.
“How would you do it?” Ollivander asked. Have the messenger ride a Thestral, he thought, that would be the way. But he doubted Perseus was about to suggest any such thing; Thestrals were likely just myths to him.
Perseus held up a finger. “We can agree, I think, that no pigeon could carry a message overnight. The poor bird would be unable to see where it was going!” His laugh was dry and rustling, like papyrus reeds in summer.
Ollivander frowned, wondering how much Perseus really knew about the capabilities of pigeons. Another memory came to him: on the beach at Croton, gazing across the wine-dark sea to the invisibly distant cities of Ithaca, Delphi, and Athens -- and somewhere just beyond them the sun, about to rise. As Helios in his chariot burst above the horizon, his first rays touched a pigeon, flying arrow-straight, its crossing of the sea completed with the dawn.
“The message-bearer,” Perseus was continuing obliviously, “must be able to fly at night, swiftly and surely, without getting lost. It must be large and strong enough to carry a written message, but not so large that its care and feeding become burdensome.” Not a Thestral, then. “I suggest,” he went on, “that the best beast for the task is -- the bat.”
“The bat?” This Perseus, Ollivander conceded to himself, certainly knew how to surprise.
“Yes. I propose that every Greek city establish, at public expense, an office of posts, housing bats of every kind. The smaller varieties will suffice for local deliveries, but the great cave bats from the mountains will be needed for longer journeys. Each office should be served by a cadre of carefully chosen philosopher-marshals, men educated to train the bats for their important work and attend to the messages they carry.” Perseus raised his goblet to his lips and coolly awaited Ollivander's reaction.
“It's -- what a remarkable idea.” Ollivander was impressed despite himself. “I'd been thinking of it as a feat to be performed only once, like Pheidippides' famous run from Athens to Sparta before the battle of Marathon. But what you've given us is a system, something that could be used every night of the year.”
Callias seemed just as enthused. “I never would have thought of the bats,” he declared. “But then, what else flies by night?”
“What will you do now?” Simaetha wanted to know. She leaned forward, and Ollivander seemed to see the whole room -- Callias, Perseus, and himself too -- reflected in her liquid brown eyes. “Present your idea to the archon? Catch a few bats and train them, to show how it can be done?”
An expression of slight distaste flickered across Perseus' face, as if he'd been asked to carry water down the street. “Do? I'm a philosopher, not a mechanic. For us, the idea is everything. If any should wish to gain the benefit of my thoughts, I leave the implementation to them.”
“Come on,” said Callias, rising to his feet and stretching. “Let's find a wine shop and lubricate those thoughts a bit further. Are you coming, Ollivander?”
It was a decision made in a moment: Perseus and Callias were both standing, but Simaetha remained solidly on her couch. “I think I'll stay here a while longer,” Ollivander said quietly. “If that's all right with everyone, that is.”
“Well, I suppose...” Callias, caught off guard, looked briefly doubtful.
“Oh, it's all right.” Simaetha was suddenly assertive. “We'll get Ripi in here. Ripi!”
There was a sharp sound like a pine-branch snapping as the house-elf materialised. “Yes, Mistress Simaetha?” she asked.
“Just stay in this room with us, please.”
“Certainly, Mistress.” Ripi's dark, beady eyes fixed on Ollivander, still seated. “May I bring my mending, to work on while you talk?”
Simaetha granted the elf permission to sew. Callias, reassured that his sister would not be left unchaperoned, followed Perseus out of the door, leaving silence in his wake.
With four occupants, the room had seemed crowded. With two and an elf, it suddenly felt empty. Ollivander looked across the quiet space at Simaetha, comfortable on her own couch (a well-made one, he couldn't help noticing). She was simply dressed tonight, and her hair was bound only with a single brown band, free of the multifarious gewgaws with which it had been laden for the theatre outing. He tried to think of something to say to her.
After a brief while, she smiled again. “What did you really think,” she asked him, “of those messenger bats?”
“They're a clever idea. I wonder why no-one thought of it before?”
“What makes you think no-one did?” She fixed him with a penetrating look. “As long as it's only an idea, it could have passed through a hundred heads. Socrates might have thought of it, or Solon, or Draco the Lawgiver. But none of them did anything with it, so their thoughts aren't worth remembering.”
“I suppose not.” An unwanted possibility flickered in front of Ollivander: was Perseus one of Simaetha's rejected suitors? “Perseus didn't impress you, then?” he ventured cautiously.
“No. He's a wise fool: good ideas, but nothing else.”
She wouldn't want to spend the evening talking about him, then. Ollivander's gaze drifted away, to where Ripi sat on the floor in a corner, plying her needle. The peplos she was repairing looked like it might fit Simaetha.
“Was it really you,” he asked quickly, before he could think better of it, “who asked Callias to suggest introducing us?”
“Yes, of course. Who else?”
“Your father, perhaps?” Though Ollivander's true suspicion had been that the initiative was Callias' own.
Simaetha's face broke into a broad, unstudied smile of true pleasure. “No, he has never done that. Timandridas knows the duties of a father, but he indulges his daughters more than is good for them. Of course he should be pressing both of us to marry, but...”
“He doesn't need to?” suggested Ollivander. Everything he'd seen in this house suggested that Timandridas could support his unmarried daughters indefinitely, if he so chose.
“He does need to,” Simaetha corrected him firmly. “He just doesn't realise it.” Suddenly, she looked different: sitting up straighter, eyes brighter, leaning forward slightly and looking intently at Ollivander. Had she been half-asleep before? Had he been? “Wandlore,” she went on, “is the most precious of all our magic, and the most difficult. My father will be making wands for years yet, but not for ever. We must have another wand-maker in this family, learning the art here and now, ready to carry on when he's gone.”
“He has three children,” Ollivander remarked uneasily, taken aback by her change in tone. “Callias is the eldest; won't he succeed his father?”
“Callias!” The name escaped her lips in a puff of exasperation. “So much talent, he could have done anything, but all he wants is to be yet another philosopher! A mathematician, drawing his geometry in the sand all day long, and then erasing the lot before going home!”
“So -- you then? Or your sister?”
She settled back onto the couch and laughed. It was a warm, savoury chuckle, the kind that could be enjoyed even by the butt of the joke, if indeed there was a joke there at all. It left Ollivander wishing he could hear that laugh every day.
“Our father is too traditional to let himself be replaced by a woman,” she said, shaking her head in wry amusement. “Even one who loves him dearly. Although, I think his mind could probably be changed on that point, given time. But really, Hermione would be the first to admit that she has no interest in wands. Or woods, or magical trade, or anything of that sort.”
It crossed Ollivander's mind to wonder where Hermione's predilections did lie, but he was much more interested in what her sister would say next. He leaned forward, prompting Simaetha to continue.
“Which leaves me. The next wand-maker, completely incapable of making wands.” Her smile was still in place, but with a half-sour taste behind it now. Evidently her father wasn't the only one whose flaws she found faintly amusing. “I've tried, really I have; I've read every wandlore scroll in the house so many times I know them all by heart. But I just don't seem to have the knack of it. My last wand could just about turn eggs bad.”
“That's something,” offered Ollivander, wanting to be encouraging. “It must have had some magic in it, then.”
“They were a month old already.”
“Ah.” There was a pause, during which the words Well, wands aren't everything formed up in Ollivander's head, but were chased away before any foolishness could utter them. “I think I understand now. This is why your husband cannot be just any man. He must be--”
“A partner in all things,” she said firmly. “A doer, not an ideas man. Someone who can commit to a good thing and see it through, even if it takes years.”
“Yes, I see.” And in a flash of imagination, he did see it, with all the clarity of morning sunshine on a fresh vase-painting. Partners in business, as well as marriage. Laughing together, their success an inspiration to the long line of descendants who would follow them. The image was there for just an instant; only when it was gone did he realise that one of the figures in it had been himself.
“You don't ask for much,” he said with an attempt at lightness -- though there was really no need to prevaricate now. None at all.
“Most of the wives in Athens,” Simaetha told him evenly, “had their husbands chosen for them, the marriage arranged between the families. I wouldn't have minded that for myself: I'd trust my mother and father to choose wisely, if they chose at all. But as things are, I'm left to do my own arranging.”
Ollivander smiled, confident again. There was a piece of pine, straight and strong and an unblemished span in length, waiting where he'd discarded it that morning on the sawdusty floor of Erastos' workshop. It was only an offcut from one of his chair-legs, and he'd held it only briefly, but that had been enough to tell: this stick had potential. He would have to stay up all night to make anything of it, and even then it would be far from finished. But he had no doubts. Noble, unyielding, loyal, and fine. He had no need to be Perseus; he would be Ollivander.
Simaetha was waiting for him. “I have a new wand needing a core,” he told her casually. “Would you like to help me choose one?”
She gave him a tiny, knowing smile. “I would like rather more than that,” she said. “But that would be a very good start.”