Iain Darby

It had been back in ’99 that Josiah had returned to Greece, hoping to find a peace in the mountains that he could not find at home. That had been fifty years ago.

He shook his head, the shaggy grey mane of his hair falling down into his eyes. Then he had been strong and vital, a man in his prime yet without need for either strength or vitality. He had come because of Joan.

Joan. He paused, summoning up her image in his consciousness like one of his mantras, her face still a prayer in his mind. The memory of her no longer pained him as it once had.

He knelt, his weight back on his heels, before the shrine, gazing at the figure that sat upon the small altar. The statue was a little over two feet, its face that of a beautiful woman, long flowing hair topped by a crown of turrets. In one hand she held a sceptre, in the other a key. At her feet lay a watchful lion.

Tellus, the Mother Goddess. Once he had not even known that. Now he knew every curve, every indentation, and every stain the weather of the centuries had left upon it.

He finished his brief adoration.

"Benedicas me." Please bless me. And so she had, for these last fifty years. Looking up he could see those years just behind the statue, reaching back like a long travelled road. Dusty in places, uneven and broken at its start. Each of the breaks a heartache -- until he had found the shrine. From that point forward, it was smooth and even.

He remembered the day as though it were yesterday. He grinned to himself. Old men live in the past. It was one of the vagaries of age that as the years advanced the mind lived ever further in the past. Ignoring the growing stiffness in his limbs he let his mind drift….


Joan and he had honeymooned in Greece. Twenty years old and full of love, for two long weeks they had explored the islands and each other.

Thassos had been their favourite place. The Green Island they called it, as far North as you could go and still be in Greece. Unspoiled, the brochures had said, primitive they meant. In a world then rushing headlong into the unknown of a new millennium, it seemed timeless, its beaches golden and deserted, its coast dotted with small harbours from where the fishing boats left each morning as they had for hundreds of years. The people were simple and content, sleeping in the heat of the day and sitting outside the tavernas in the cool of the evening. Life was unhurried; change just a far away rumour.

They had swum in the azure blue of the Aegean Sea, walked the dusty trails that led up into the mountain villages where olive trees garlanded the hillsides, and made love in the quiet groves and gullies.

Back then they had taken care that Joan should not fall pregnant, determined that nothing should interrupt their studies at the university or their complete ownership of each other. But ten years later, Joan was still fruitless, that lack the greatest concern of her life.

Memories of Greece had been carefully put away, deposited like a forgotten book on a shelf in a far corner of their minds, there to lie unopened, gathering dust.

After graduation Josiah had started a small business and done tolerably well, their home modest but comfortable. Joan taught primary school, each day with the children reminding her that she did not have one of her own. The Doctors had been sympathetic -- sympathetic but unhelpful.

But in the world of scientific marvels that they lived in there was always an answer, and so an answer was found for Joan. As her belly grew big so their life seemed perfect, their evenings spent alone, holding hands, pride glowing in her face as they sat and held each other.

The delivery required a new procedure, but it was perfectly safe, the Surgeon had said.

Perfectly safe. Josiah still remembered the shock in the Surgeon's eyes above his mask as the haemorrhage raged beyond his control, a flood of blood that he could not dam.

In one morning Josiah had lost everything. He sat in their home after the funeral, and suddenly it seemed empty, not just of her but of meaning. The days turned to weeks and months and the pain of loss grew no less. He felt remote, unconnected from his life, his world colourless without her. His thoughts as grey and bleak as the day he had buried her, their child at her bosom.

The depth of his despair frightened him and after another empty evening flicking through the pages of their photograph album he simply packed a case and left. Left to where he had been happy. Thassos.

There the memories had become bitter. Arriving alone, Josiah felt deserted, betrayed -- as if Joan had chosen to die. In a way she had, for the longing for a child had been mostly hers ... Mostly. But he could have convinced her that the new treatment was too risky, could have tried, at least, and he had said nothing, blinded by the hope he saw in her eyes.

Overwhelmed by guilt he wandered the Island, but even that was not as it had been. Side by side with the pensions they had known were bright, modern hotels, with stucco artwork on the walls, and satellite television dishes on the tops of the sloped roofs. A man sat at the table of the taverna in the main street, working at a laptop computer.

He took a ferry to Kavala, the port town on the mainland, and from there a bus to the ancient city of Fillippi. Standing amongst the fallen columns and broken stones of the forum he listened as the guides summed up the history of the city in one afternoon, in imperfect English:

Built by Macedonian King Phillip, now most famous for fathering Alexander, who conquered the world, Fillippi mined gold from mountains above ...

But another people had conquered the world in their turn, and for most of its life the city had been Roman. After a life of a thousand years earthquake and plague had finally destroyed it and its ruins had lain below the earth until someone had again decided to look for gold in the foothills of the mountains. They had found no gold, only this echo of elder days.

The beauty of the place bothered him, cracked, imperfect mosaics, the ghost of grandeur. As the tour party moved on Josiah wandered away, lost in thought. He decided to take a walk up into the mountains; the afternoon was warm but a cool breeze blew from the North. For more than an hour, he wandered amongst the foothills, until the breeze died and the heat of the afternoon overtook him. Then he stopped, looking down on what had been the city walls, resting against the hillside.

Closing his eyes he pictured Joan, always an amateur student of history. She would have loved this. His fingers pushed deep into the soil -- and struck something. Intrigued, he cleared a little more of the surface soil away.

Yes, something was there. He told himself it was probably no more than a rock, but so close to the old city, thoughts of buried treasure flitted across his mind and he cleared away more of the soil, becoming more enthusiastic as he realised the thing below the surface was smooth and cold.

"Sir, sir? Are you lost?" The tour guide's voice interrupted him. He looked back at her guiltily, feeling his face redden, the ground about him all torn up and a shallow hole about two feet deep gouged into the hillside.

"What have you found?" she asked, her voice accusing. He stepped back. The blank eyes of a statue stared out at him.

"I -- I don’t know."

"We must report this to the site office. You must touch nothing, you understand?" She spoke slowly, as if suddenly doubting her command of the language. "No-thing."

She gestured imperiously, indicating that he should go first. He realised that she thought that he had been trying to steal something, vandalise the city in some way, if such a shattered place could be damaged any more.

Back at the site office there was a flurry of calls, some excited chatter and amongst it all he was forgotten. Eventually he simply slipped away.

He tried to put the incident out of his mind. Greece was an ancient country and such finds were far from rare. Yet, this find had been his. It was as if all the awful circumstance of his life had been designed to bring him to that point, to stand on that hillside… The thought was ridiculous, of course. But the next morning he took the ferry back to Kavala and boarded the coach once more.

Avoiding the guides he made his way back to the hill. There was a flurry of activity about the spot where he had discovered the statue. Two young men and a woman were digging about it with exaggerated care. An older man, a wiry little character not more than five feet tall, seemed to be directing them. It was some moments before he noticed Josiah’s presence. Then he spoke to him, but ignorant of the language Josiah could only shrug, a bemused expression on his face. The man was probably asking him what he was doing here and Josiah had no answer, neither in Greek nor anything else.

The man looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled as understanding dawned and he spoke again, this time in English.

"Ah, you are the tourist who made this discovery, yes?" Josiah nodded dumbly.

"The guide told me you were English. I am Professor Theodopolopolis, from the University." He held out his hand and Josiah took it, surprised by the strength in it.

"Congratulations. You’ve made an interesting find," the Professor told him.

Josiah looked beyond him. The small excavation that he had made had been expanded, a narrow semicircle opened up in the hill. For the most part still covered in the grime of centuries the statue sat on a long table whose stone supports disappeared into the earth. Yet even through the dirt its beauty was apparent. The eyes had been cleared of verdigris and seemed deep and knowing. He felt a chill as they seemed to focus on him.

He turned to the Professor. "Is it Greek?" he asked.

Theodopolopolis shook his head. "No, Roman. Such shrines were popular, about the third century BC. Once it would have been tended with care, an acolyte given the task, perhaps dedicating his whole life to it, making small sacrifices to it. But such things fell into disuse with the rise of Christianity."

"Who is it?"

"Oh, it is Tellus, the Earth Mother, no question about that. It is very distinctive."

"May I stay and watch?" asked Josiah.

"Of course," agreed the Professor. "The ground is soft, this should not take long."

He spent that day watching the Professor and his students carefully working to reveal the shrine. The table the statue sat on was granite. Once, the professor told him, it would have been faced with marble but the years or thieves had stripped that away.

Professor Theodopolopolis worked on the statue itself, a soft brush worrying away the disfiguring clay that clung to it, each stroke revealing another glimmer of beauty.

Eventually it was almost entirely disclosed, its solidity cool and aloof, yet its very form wanting, demanding attention. Summing up both worship and abandonment, there was a depth to it beyond stone and Josiah wondered what the life of the craftsman who had fashioned it had been. Had he been the first to tend it? How many others had followed before it had been left, forgotten, as the weight of centuries covered it?

As dusk closed in the professor approached him. "Another day and the excavation will be complete."

"Will it be taken to the university, Professor?" he asked.

The little man smiled. "Stakis, please, only my students call me Professor."

"Josiah," he told him, returning his smile.

"No, Josiah. We’ll photograph it, catalogue it. But, no, while in the past the treasures of Greece have been scattered around a thousand museums across the world, these days policy is to leave them in place. It is close enough to the city to be protected. It will stay here, as it was meant to.

"Will you return tomorrow?"

Josiah nodded, his eyes still on the shrine.

"Would you like a lift back to the city?"

He shook his head. "No. Thank you. I’ll stay a little longer."

Stakis followed his gaze, looking back at the shrine. "It still has a power to fascinate, does it not? Even after all this time…."

Josiah nodded, moving closer to the altar.

Stakis watched him curiously for a moment, then with a shrug of his shoulders signalled to his students and together they made their way down the hill.

For long minutes Josiah simply looked at the statue, drinking in every detail. At the foot of the altar he saw that Stakis had left behind his little brush. Hesitantly he reached out and taking it began to gently sweep the last of the muck from the statue.


The next day he watched the Professor and his students complete their restoration of the shrine. Once they were done, a photographer took endless photographs. Afterwards Josiah joined the Professor's group in a small celebration in a taverna in the city.

"When do you return home?" asked Stakis, as they shared a glass of ouzo.

"A few days," Josiah told him, realising as he said the words that he had not thought of home, not for one moment since the discovery of the shrine.

"Then I wish you safe journey, my friend," said Stakis, raising his glass. "You will come to my country again, yes?"

"Yes," he agreed. "I will come again." But in fact he did not leave.

He spent the remaining days of his holiday at the shrine and when he checked out of his hotel he did not go to the airport but instead found a room in the city. While the airport terminal echoed to the sound of his name warning him that his flight was boarding he sat on the hillside gazing at the face of the Goddess.

When Stakis found him there a week later he did not seem surprised. "You stayed, then."


Stakis looked into his face, seeing the pain there. "I hope you find what you are looking for, my friend."

"I think I have," Josiah told him. "For now, anyway."


Josiah arranged the sale of his business over the phone. It was quick and easy because he sold at a ridiculously low price, but the profit was enough to keep him a year, perhaps even two if he lived frugally. He gave no thought beyond that.

Stakis loaned him books that described the worship and history of the Goddess, but he read them with little interest. Instead he worked around the shrine, re-creating it as he thought it should be. He planted flowers about it that bloomed in the following spring with a vigour that the thin soil hardly seemed capable of.

One day, recalling something that he had read in one of the books, Josiah lit a small fire before the altar, and carefully crumbled a heel of bread into the flames. As the smoke from the burnt offering curled toward the heavens he felt an overpowering feeling of… of gratitude. Tellus was Goddess of the Earth, she cared for all, and now after a thousand years, someone was again caring for her. After that he did this each day, sometimes adding some wine.

He became a familiar sight, trudging up and down the hill each day. The locals thought him mad. Mad, but harmless and they would wave and greet him with huge smiles.

Stakis found him a small house, only a half hours walk from the hill. To stretch his dwindling savings, he cultivated his own garden. His needs were few and he lived simply, buying only what he could not grow for himself, tending the shrine.

Sometimes Stakis would visit in the evening and they would sit, sipping wine. Stakis, whose work was the past telling him what was happening in the present. He would listen, glad of the company but disinterested in the conversation. Later he would lie in his bed, and think of Joan. He remembered their time together, the touch of her hand, the warmth of her skin, the timbre of her laughter. Still the memories pained him and he was always eager to greet the dawn and begin his morning walk to the shrine.

During his second year his funds were exhausted and regretfully he prepared to leave his little house.

"What will you do?" asked Stakis.

Josiah had smiled. "The Goddess will provide," he told him.

Stakis’ eyes sparkled, amused. "Do you really believe that, Josiah? You are well educated, a sophisticated man. Have your days at the shrine really made you believe it has power? Do you truly believe in the Goddess?"

Josiah shrugged, unperturbed. "I believe in belief. That is enough, I think. It is an anchor in a troubled world."

"I doubt it is an anchor you were seeking, more a refuge. However, and you will interpret this as you will, the caretakers at Fillippi are paid a small stipend and as the shrine is an extension of the excavation there I have convinced the Government to extend such a stipend to you for your care of it. So you needn’t pack after all," he concluded.

Josiah laughed. "See, the Goddess did provide."

"Yes," agreed Stakis, remembering the long arguments he had had with the Bureaucracy, the bullying and cajoling he had done to secure the position for his friend. "Yes," he said at last, "I suppose she did."


After that a few visitors came each year to the shrine, directed by the guides. He felt a little pang of jealousy as he watched them, standing before his shrine. His!

It's no more mine than theirs, he admonished himself. There was fear too that someone would somehow despoil it. But they sat by the well he had dug, or stood respectfully by the shrine, took their photographs and left. In the fifth summer a few knelt before the altar, in the sixth some made offerings in the small fire that he kept burning before it and when they departed left him notes or coins. The Goddess continued to provide.

He had been ten years in Greece when Stakis’ visits ceased. In the last year they had become rare, the little man's pain plain in the lines of his face as his body fought a losing battle with the cancer that ravaged it.

The work at Fillippi had ceased. All the University’s funds and resource were directed toward the future; there was no time now, Stakis said, for the past. He said it as though he understood, but Josiah could hear the regret in his voice. It was as much the loss of his work as the disease that had killed him.

Josiah had been surprised to be asked to speak at his funeral. The little man had had many friends and there was a large crowd there. In his heavily accented Greek he had addressed them. Uncomfortable amongst such a crowd he had kept his oratory brief.

"Stakis Theodopolopolis was a fine man," he told them, "but more, he was a fine soul, generous and unselfish. He will be missed by all who knew him. He would gently mock my service to the Goddess for he did not believe in her. But such a soul as his will be welcomed in the heaven of any God, and while he may not have believed in her I am sure she believed in him and even now welcomes him. He has gone where we will all one day go and in going ahead has given us a final gift. For the thought of meeting him again will make our journey easy."

Alone that night at the shrine he had sacrificed before the altar, spilling a little wine onto the ground before it. "Farewell, my friend." Tears stung his eyes. "Take care of my Joan. Until we meet again."

That had been in 2009. In 2012 the cure for cancer had been found.


In the years that followed there were many visitors to the shrine and other statues to the Goddess were raised in other places. This neither pleased nor displeased Josiah. His days passed as they always did. He spent years building a path from the ancient city, spurning offers of help, laying each stone by hand.

From his visitors he heard news of the outside world, the economic meltdown of the European Union, America splintering into a dozen separate states, the reforms that had turned India into a superpower that threatened to further destabilize the already chaotic world, and the launch of the first Mars mission.

He rarely ventured into the city anymore and although he understood the benefits in the demise of the carbon combustion engine he found the tubular transits that had replaced automobiles claustrophobic and vaguely threatening as they hurtled about the streets on invisible power lines. Much of old Kavala had been demolished to make way for the Towers, huge structures that stretched their steel fingers into the clouds, each housing, to him, unimaginable numbers of humanity.

The melting of the arctic ice sheet, a possibility long forecast by scientists but dismissed by politicians, had forcibly redistributed much of humanity, and Josiah had wept, praying for hours at the shrine, when he had heard of the loss of his former home, now under the waves of an expanded Atlantic ocean.

That had been the year he finally finished the pathway.

In the summer of 2030 no one had visited, and although he tried to pretend to himself that it did not matter he felt disappointed -- not for himself but for the Goddess. The site office at Fillippi had long been abandoned and he saw no one for most of the summer. From the hillside he watched one night as fireworks exploded over Kavala, brightly coloured rockets and spirals, wheeling and crashing in some spectacular celebration. The next day he made his way to the city to find out the cause.

Stopping at a taverna he took a little water and sat. The customers faces were flushed with excitement. Joy. Slowly he asked the reason.

The owner of the taverna gripped him by the shoulders. "Haven’t you heard? We’ve won the war. We’ve won!" The other customers smiled and laughed, a few cheering enthusiastically.

Josiah sipped at his water. So that was why no one had come that summer. "So there was a war, was there? Who with?"

They looked at him wonderingly.

Then in’38 pilgrims had came not in ones or twos but in their hundreds. That had been the year that a mutated form of the AIDS virus had become airborne, transmitted not by intimate contact but in the wind itself. People had came and prayed for a miracle, and for those who had survived to be inoculated with the eventually discovered anti-virus then he supposed it was a miracle. That was also the year that all worries about overpopulation had disappeared.

Soon afterwards the huge steel towers began to be torn down.



He stirred, his reverie broken by the soft voice that called his name. Though it was no longer a name. When it had became a title he couldn’t remember, but it had. Spoken with head bowed and hands clasped. Always quietly, reverent.

He turned his head slightly, looking at the figure who spoke. "Frank?"

"It is time, Josiah."

He nodded. "Help me up." He grimaced as he rose. Arthritis nagged at him, his shoulders cold and aching even in the heat of the summer sun.

The man who leaned down to help him up seemed no more than twenty-five but Josiah knew he was twice that. Unlike Josiah’s, Frank's body’s cells were constantly regenerating themselves just as they had when he was a child. Rejuvenation treatments were still only in the reach of the very wealthy but Frank had always been rich and had been one of the treatments first successes.

"You should allow us to take you to the hospital," Frank told him. A little testily thought Jonas. Reflecting that Frank’s body may not have aged but his mind had.

When the notes and coins that had been left at the Shrine became cheques and donations Jonas had to find someone to manage the money. To direct it where it would do the most good. That had been Frank. Now there were schools and hospitals all across the globe that owed their existence to the munificence of the Goddess.

The thought that, by doing nothing, he had managed to do more good than he could have ever have hoped to in his once active life made him smile.

Now he only spent a few hours of the day at the shrine, for the rest it was open to the pilgrims, some of whom had travelled from the Lunar colony, to worship.

He looked again at the statue. His gaze falling on the lion that lay at her feet. "You may watch forever, my friend, but my day is near done," he whispered.

"Do not say such things, Josiah," said Frank, catching the words.

"When it is my time, Frank, it will be my time. I can accept that." He looked up. A shuttle was crossing the vermilion sky, its great ion driven engines powering down as it entered the atmosphere to dock at Athens port. They had demolished the whole city for that - so much lost, so much.

His eyebrows lifted and he gave a wry smile. "I have lived longer than I expected."

"There are procedures now…" Frank began exasperatedly. This was an old argument.

Josiah held up a hand to silence him. He bowed his head to the statue and placed one gnarled hand over his heart. "Dono tibi, Dea."

He straightened, giving his elbow to Frank, letting the younger man support him. It had been a vanity, he thought, to learn the Latin in which the Goddess had been originally praised, but it had felt right. Since the day he had found her everything had felt right.

Painfully they made their way down the path. How many times had he swept that path on his way to light the candle fires that would burn before the altar and tend the flowers that now bloomed about the alcove?

Frank was still talking. "We could clone you -- that way you can continue to serve the Goddess, perhaps forever. It’s straightforward and…"

Josiah stopped, fixing Frank with cold blue eyes. "No. Do not even talk of it, Frank. And I know it could be done after my death, so promise me, promise me now, that no such thing will be done."

Frank swallowed. "As you wish, Josiah."

Josiah nodded. "Do not forget." They continued on. The crowds were not allowed near the shrine while he was performing his private devotion but now, a half-mile down the path they waited, lining the route.

Most bowed respectfully as he passed, a few clasping their hands but some called out to him. "Pray for us, Josiah."

He stopped by one young woman who called so. "I am not a priest," he told her. "I just serve the shrine. Your prayers to the Goddess or anyone else must be your own." Her face shone with elation as he spoke to her. Sighing he resumed his journey.

An hour later he sat at last, alone in his garden. As always he wondered at the crowds. How long, he thought, until the Goddess is forgotten again, covered by the cold Earth. Who would serve her when he was gone? Frank? No. There was too little pain in Frank’s life. But no doubt there would be someone, someday.

He was glad to be alone. Frank had been unwilling to leave him, sensing his strange mood. The pain in his chest was greater now, as always a dozen people were outside, all he had to do was call…

He breathed deeply, enjoying the scent of the summer blooms one final time and his old heart burst within his chest.


The Goddess came to him, a crown on her head, the key and sceptre in her hand, a smile of welcome on her face. But her face wasn’t that of the statue in the shrine -- the Goddess wore a face he knew. Joan’s eyes lit up in delight as he opened his arms to greet her.


© 2005 by Iain Darby

Bio: Iain Darby hasn't provided one. However, our friend Google tells me that his stories have appeared in various venues, including Alternate Realities, the late great Titanzine, Redsine, Neverworlds, Via Galactica, the Razorblade Press anthology 'Hideous Progeny', ... and Aphelion ( The Kashmir, May 2000). He resides somewhere in the UK, and has been known to frequent the Critters online writers' workshop.

E-mail: Iain Darby

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