The Owl and The Eagle: Aristonice by Meghan Sullivan

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SUMMARY: Another excerpt from an upcoming novel about the Greco-Persian War. As I am too close to the story to see how it's turning out, comments and questions would be appreciated (there's a lot of history and detail to cover). Enjoy.


The possessions were never easy for Aristonice. A surge of wild energy would course into her body as the god took over, a torrent as powerful as the tide and harder to control. A radiant light would blast and pulse behind her eyes like sun flares, filled with knowledge too omniscient for her to comprehend. Sometimes the power filled Aristonice's soul to bursting, threatening to sweep her away into a vortex as vast as the sky. Or as infinite as the universe. She had to struggle against it like an archer with a taut bow, every muscle in her body struggling to stay connected with the earth. Her senses became infinitely keener: she could smell the crisp flesh from the ox of the sacrifice that took place outside in the public square, the hum of the chorus on the steps leading up to the sanctuary, the feel of the sacred stone that served as a beacon and burned the flesh of her palm in one hand, the cool smooth leaves of a laurel branch in the other. The god spoke through her, but she never remembered the words, could never fully hear his voice. The possessions always left Aristonice physically and spiritually drained, as if her very being were close to burning out. Sometimes she was so exhausted she could not even rise from the golden tripod that held her up, and the priests of Apollo had to carry her from the main temple where the trance took place to her quarters to regain her strength. The position of Pythia, the High Priestess and mouthpiece of the god was one only the truly pious could embrace, a responsibility as great as it was important. Only Aristonice's love and awe of the Far Striker gave her the strength each dawn to climb the long-legged tripod and resume her status as Oracle of Delphi. But it was never easy.

That day a preminition woke her up early, as though the god were already present, hovering just out of reach of her conscienceness. Her eyes opened to the vaulted marble ceiling above, so high it's surface was lost in the shadows of early dawn. Pale sunlight filtered in through the narrow windows built high above. The room was unbearably cold. The servents had forgotten to tend to the charcol brazier in the late evening hours. Shivering Aristonice threw off the golden silk covers of her office and wrapped up in a simple silver-threaded shift, and quietly slipped down from her elevated bed. Her barefeet echoed lightly off the cold limestone beneath her as she padded towards the great double doors made of shining brass. Opening the doors was always a chore, and even more so now, since she had no desire to wake the sleeping servants on the pallet beneath her bed. The doors groaned softly as they parted, a draft rustling the giant linen drape that covered one of the limestone walls. It depicted an escapade of the god of light, and when the wind brushed it the god seemed to come alive. It was the first of what would be many omens that day, Aristonice knew. She ducked out of her quarters at the north end of Delphi, and tip-toed down the wide marble stairs that led out into the open garden that stretched along the hillside.

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