A Cycle of Gods
                                 - Henry L Lazarus
Chapter One



My Bear is fidgeting, Penelope thought. She forced her face to smile as she listened to the two women arguing their
case.

The courtroom was the largest room in the walled city of Naxos. Her husband, Odyl, had built it with her in mind.
There were huge windows that made the room feel comfortable on a warm, sun-filled day. But today, the rain blew
cold air through those windows making her shiver. She longed for the end of the rainy season, when the long room
would be warm and sunny again. The mural-covered walls showed pictures of people dancing and having fun, not the
somber scenes found in other royal courts. Odyl knew Penelope disliked the inhuman face of justice; she looked for
solutions that would solve people’s problems.

Did they dance in celebration of my incompetence? she wondered. Odyl would have done a better job. Occasionally
he did indeed sit in judgment, rendering decisions that cut to the heart of the matter. Mostly, like today, he preferred to
let her handle the litigants, even if he was present.

Penelope felt the pain in her back radiating up her neck from hours of sitting. The rainy season always brought extra
complainers, and many of those complaints reached the royal attention. It made for long court sessions, and today
was no exception.

The room centered on her and Odyl. At least it centered all eyes on her. Odyl’s throne was movable, and usually was
off to the side so he could observe.
And fidget, she thought with an internal smile. He often avoided the court all
together, preferring to work with his laborers and craftsmen to make his island kingdom more prosperous.

Apacia, the slave in front of her, was still talking. She looked to be in her mid-twenties with enough beauty to still
interest a man. “I know I’m a slave,” she said with a whine. “However, the laws of Naxos say I should not be beaten
day and night without just cause. Don’t they?”

The laws of Naxos, Penelope knew, were merely Odyl’s casual words.
My Bear is far too free with them. She sighed.
Penelope had seen Apacia often in the city corridors, carrying water and other supplies on her head. Her back had
always been covered so there was no indication of the beatings; even today, she kept her back covered.
Was she lying
today, or too embarrassed by the welts to show them normally?

Penelope stretched slightly, tired from having sat for hours as she handled the usual complaints. Her huge, redheaded
and red-bearded man was King, Lord, and Ruler of Naxos. He may not have liked the pretentious titles, but he was the
lord. She gladly took the drudgery off his back. He had stayed at home on Naxos since winning the Minoan War. He
hadn’t even gone raiding as other kings had done. Sometimes, he seemed wistful and missing war. He had stayed with
her, she realized, because he loved her so much.

“Slaves can be beaten whenever their masters decide,” the slave-owner’s wife, Mirabelle, claimed, jumping in without
invitation. Her voice squealed through the quiet court, rasping at Penelope’s ears. That voice grated even more
because Penelope heard it occasionally late at night from five floors below. Penelope knew Mirabelle had an harsh
personality, insisting on strictures that drove even her friends to despair
Was she beating her slave because the girl
didn’t measure up to her high standards, or was there another reason?

Now Penelope had a headache. She longed for her son, Anticius. How many more cases would she have to hear
before she could relax and have dinner with her husband and child?

She glanced around the room, watching the two scribes note every word. Peleminos, the husband and owner, was
drunkenly sleeping on a bench. He was clearly oblivious to what was happening. Five more people sat on the other
benches, watching her attentively. She hoped they were family and friends of Peleminos rather than other cases
waiting to be heard.
Why didn’t Odyl interfere?

Penelope knew that although Odyl hated slavery, it was too well-established to abolish. He hadn’t bought slaves since
the war, but he tolerated slave ownership. She waited for him to interrupt the proceedings, maybe even free the slave,
but he yawned.

“I can’t do anything to please you,” the slave screeched back. “Why won’t you sell me?”

How much beating would be too much? Penelope wondered. Probably Peleminos refused to sell Apacia. The wife,
with no power to replace her, was beating the poor girl all the time. The case presented too many complications.
Setting limits would make discipline problems for other owners, and for shippers passing through. It would be a tough
problem to solve peacefully, and she wondered if she was ready for this challenge.

What should I do?

While she half listened to the bickering women and tried to find a just solution, the face of one of Odyl’s war
companions poked through the black curtain at the rear of the room. Pellion’s hair, as blond as hers, showed starkly
against the black cloth; his pointed beard seemed more mussed than usual.
Obviously, Penelope thought, something
has come up.

Odyl’s face broke into a smile as he saw his friend. Oh no, Penelope thought, he’s going to leave me with this mess.
As if in answer to her thoughts, Odyl stood up, suddenly alert, and, Penelope thought, ready for battle. His right hand
curled around the god-metal sword the priests had presented to him when he won the war.
My Bear really longs for
action
, she thought and wondered how she could provide it for him. Odyl may not have known why he was needed,
but something had brought Pellion to the courtroom. He wouldn’t have come for something simple. Whatever it was,
it provided Odyl an excuse to leave the court and its problems.

Odyl stopped at Penelope’s seat and leaned down to kiss her. She loved the feel of his beard on her lips. The kiss
might have been perfunctory in the open courtroom, but they would make it up tonight.
Maybe my womb will open
tonight and provide us with another child?
She loved him so much. Why couldn’t the gods give us a second child?

“I’ll see you at the evening meal,” he told her softly. Then he was off with a strong stride, never looking back. He
looked as if he had been freed from prison.

You may not like watching me at court, but you never leave my bed, she thought as the curtain closed behind him.
Unlike most men in the city, Odyl was truly faithful. He was a perfect husband—why he couldn’t give her a second
child was a mystery for the gods, but she was glad for his love.

The two women still were screeching.

The interruption gave her a solution. She let the two women screech for a moment before ordering Peleminos roused
from his drunken sleep.
Obviously, Penelope thought, Well! He’ll learn not to ignore his household problems, and let
them reach my court.

She looked down at Peleminos, wondering if he would pass out before she gave judgment. The man lurched
unsteadily in the hands of two of the guards.

“Peleminos!” She glared at the slave-owner. “You may be a good bronze worker, but you cannot control your
household.”

“But…”

“This case should have never come before me. Do you understand me? Never!”

“My Lady, I…”

“I don’t care what excuse you have. Your fine is the slave Apacia.”

“But I can’t afford…” Penelope saw shock appearing slowly on Peleminos’ face.

“I don’t care what you can or can’t afford. I will nullify this order if, within three days, you either leave Naxos, or
marry Apacia.”

“But I can’t afford a new slave and Mirabelle won’t let me marry again.”

Penelope ignored his protests and let the guards drag him out of the room. Mirabelle and Apacia followed quietly.

The case was over. Penelope felt good. Apacia wouldn’t be beaten in her household. Odyl might have left the court,
but she had solved this case without him. Proud of her just solution, she forgot about Odyl’s odd summoning.

Was there another case? I’m ready for it.

* * *

Pellion looks excited, like a hawk chewing on a small bird, Odyl thought. Pellion had led the archers in the war and
was the best of them. Five warriors had been drawn together in the rebellion against the Minoans: Pellion, Eugonis,
Larpos, Ajax, and himself. Of all his comrades, Odyl always found Pellion easiest to talk to. Odyl had spent much of
the last peaceful years in cheerful tavern discussions with him. Today, Pellion was dressed for war with his quiver on
his back, bronze armor polished, and boots on. He hadn’t worn his armor in at least a year, and he looked happy to
have it on. He was carrying Odyl’s bronze breastplate and helmet, which hadn’t been worn since the war, and hadn’t
been kept polished the way Pellion’s had been.

What is going on? This must be serious. “I thought you were calling me out of that godless room to go drinking,”
Odyl told him, stretching out the kinks from sitting for hours. “Where’s the war?”

Behind Pellion, a giant of a man with a huge bronze ax on his shoulder stepped forward. Easily a head taller than Odyl,
he towered over other men. “We’re going happily,” he said. Ajax’s muscles bulged with solid power, his leather jacket
dark with blood spots where it wasn’t covered with heavy bronze. Odyl had watched slaves try to get that blood out.
It was an impossible job. Ajax was a strong fighter, and would take on impossible odds without thinking.

Odyl heard a high-pitched scream from a floor or two above them. Then there was shouting. Odyl jumped for a
second then realized his city guards were probably already on the way to handle that situation. He might as well stay
with Pellion and Ajax and discover what had them so eager for an expedition.

“We’re not really going fighting,” Pellion said. “Your eunuch advisor, Menias, had reports of a ship beaching on the
eastern shore. Jethus’ youngest son spotted it, and Menias thought a guard should go and investigate. We just wanted
your permission to go, instead of the guard, and investigate.”

Jethus was one of Odyl’s councilors and quite intelligent and did a good job keeping Naxos herds of sheep healthy.
His son, Garmonious, was probably too young to watch sheep. That didn’t mean the report should be ignored. “It’s
probably just a merchantman beaching to get out of the rain,” Odyl told Pellion and Ajax.
But, he thought, I could use
the exercise
. “Let’s all go and investigate.” He felt the pull of possible adventure. Maybe there would even be danger.
The possibility lured him.

“All five of us?”

“Eugonis and Larpos could also use the exercise.”
They’d be hurt, Odyl thought, if I go off without them. Ajax,
Pellion, Eugonis, and Larpos were the only comrades who had stayed with him on Naxos.

Pellion scowled. “I suppose you want your troops along too.”

Odyl shook his head. “No. It’s just a merchant ship. The five of us will be fine.”

“We can take on thousands, just the five of us!” Ajax said.

Odyl laughed. “One merchant ship at least.”

“All right.” Pellion shrugged as if disappointed at others sharing his fun. “Where will we find Eugonis and Larpos?”

Odyl smiled mysteriously. “You just have to know where to look.”

They found Eugonis in the home of his second girl friend, an older widow of thirty whose husband died in the Minoan
war. Eugonis was stretched out on the floor, his head supported by fluffy pillows, while his three girl friends worked
colored ribbons into his full, black, braided beard, which reached halfway down his chest. He was dressed in Minoan
style; his beard mingled with his bare chest hairs.

“It’s just a merchant vessel,” he told them, not even bothering to stand. “The ship will be gone by the time we get
there.” Eugonis liked older women, especially wives of comrades lost in the war. The three women were close friends
who felt they shared the warrior. Eugonis, Odyl had been told, could have married them, but preferred to stay single
and the women accepted Eugonis’ decision. Odyl knew other men thought Eugonis a bit lazy, but the spearman stuck
though the worst of battles. Eugonis’ accurate spear throwing often made the difference between victory or defeat.

“We didn’t need him,” Ajax said as they left the room and headed up the corridor. “We three are plenty for any battle.”

Maybe, Odyl thought, but not for friends looking for a bit of exercise. It was disappointing Eugonis didn’t share their
excitement.

“Wait for me,” a voice called behind them. Eugonis burst from behind the door. “I can come too,” he said as he
caught up. He was hurriedly wrapping a red turban round his head as he spoke. “It might be worse than you think.”
He somehow had managed to grab a bundle of three spears in his hurry, but not armor.

Larpos found them. There were still shouts and screams coming from a floor up, and it was obvious Larpos was
responsible for them. The sounds all made sense now. Larpos had probably been dallying with a lady friend, and ran
out half-dressed when discovered by the husband. Odyl sighed.
Another husband to come complaining to court.

Larpos wore an ill-fitted robe, an indication of the speed at which he had left. He was a good fighter; his swordplay
usually matched Odyl’s own. If Larpos didn’t get his legs caught in the cloth of his long robe, he would be deadly to
the invaders. He joined his comrades, calm, as though he hadn’t just been running through the city, though Odyl saw
Larpos’ chest heaving.

Odyl looked over his small band. “Are we ready?”

“Yes,” they shouted.

Odyl looked them over carefully. They might be ill-prepared, but they were deadly.

* * *

God moved about the land for the first time in eight centuries. He stared down at the blue Aegean Sea through a crack
in the Universe. A rainy mist half-hid the view.

Directly below Him, clear in spite of the rain, the island of Thera glared up, challenging Him to acknowledge its
wholeness. White steam drifted skyward.
The volcano is hot, He thought. Why hasn’t it erupted?

Through most of its existence, the island was a crescent shape with a smaller dot of an island in its huge lagoon, like a
blackened eye.
But that was the last Cycle, billions of human years ago, He thought. That was the Cycle during which
He had orchestrated humanity’s survival and spread throughout the entire Universe. Those humans hadn’t survived
the Big Bang, He remembered, but they provided Him with ideas on how to accomplish human survival
this Cycle.

He liked to nudge events along, starting as soon as a change was possible. He enjoyed using the minimum effort to
cause the effect he was looking for. For instance, He encouraged the growth of human morality by starting in the
Bronze Age with a small sect of pagans who worshiped an invisible god.

He wished He was as omniscient as human worshipers thought him to be. The future was as blank to him as it was to
humans. All He had to go on was the recycling of the Universe from Cycle to Cycle. If something happened to
change, or if He made a change, then He was unable to predict the consequences.

The volcano in the center of the island hadn’t exploded. The greatest Bronze Age event hadn’t happened. He needed
that explosion to guide human beings toward morality and ethics. It had taken millions of years to insure the volcano
was in the right place and ready to erupt at the time he needed. It hadn’t.

He sent His senses down to the open vent of the volcano, finding the tiny piece of Him that was supposed to report
when the volcano was ready to erupt. The piece was still functioning, but the heat and pressure of the magma was
less than needed. The volcano wasn’t even close to erupting. The magma seemed to have found a new path and the
volcano had become stable.

He felt the energy of anger roll though His sensory structure. A human might have likened it to a stomach growling
with frustration. He had lived too much with humans and had picked up too many of their emotions. He was
frustrated.

I came so close to achieving my aims in the previous Cycle that I took the historical path Earth would follow for
granted. One small change, he thought, shouldn’t change everything. One change!

Lightning bolts smashed down on the tiny island. It made Him feel better, but killing a few trees wouldn’t get the
volcano to erupt. He had to discover why the eruption had been stopped. He had to learn what was going on.

Humans of the previous Cycle had suggested fourteen worlds on which He could create intelligence. He had spent his
time away from Earth, when He knew He wasn’t needed, working on those worlds.

I made such a minor change in humans this Cycle. I just inserted the modification suggested by the previous humans
into the genome of a few pre-humans.
Most of the humans in the present Cycle, He noticed, showed little effect from
this genetic change. Since history had stayed on the same path, He expected He would only have to be around for the
high points.
I arrived to greet Abraham at the correct time, some two thousand years before humans created their
calendar last Cycle. Everything was on schedule!

I was too confident. Eight centuries of watching other worlds, and I miss the most important event on this one!

He knew He would have to investigate the changes. He would have to find out what had happened and correct the
changes.

I will make it right! History will be on track again! I will make it so!

The crack in the Universe closed. God had places to go and people to see.
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