Artemis of the Dodekatheon Saga

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Chapter I

Linz, Austria

It was a cool night. A bright, full moon shone down upon the earth, smiling sweetly at the inhabitants below. There was a gentle wind, blowing through a field. The waist-high grass rustled as the breeze combed its light green blades. Beside the field stood a small, stone building. Its shadow blanketed the neighboring grass. From the chimney, thick, gray smoke billowed into the starry sky, engulfing the stone-carved cross in its path as it passed.

Within this building, a young man stood, staring blankly outside the window. His hands were held behind his back, left resting inside the other’s grasp, as if in vigil. His auburn brown hair was combed backward, resting on his neck. Dark blue irises took in the sight of the wavy grass. He looked hypnotized by the motion. The rhythmic clicking of the fire in the wood-burning stove deepened his trance. A sudden thud of a fallen log in the fire awakened him though. He blinked. Was that a chill on his back?

He turned to look over his left shoulder, seeing one of the double doors to the chapel had been opened. A young woman walked in, hugging her sides to shield herself from the outside cold. She closed the door with a shove of her hip. Her black, lace dress flowed slimmingly to her ankles. Black gloves disappeared beneath long, coat sleeves. The Chesterfield coat of matching color hid most of her dress, and a lace-veiled hat made her facial features difficult to see. She did not seem to notice the man as she walked down the center aisle to sit in the second to the front, left pew. He watched her from a distance, knowing better than to intrude on a person’s time with God, but he sensed a heart in need of reassurance...

From her place at the end of the pew, the young woman sat quietly. She was asking herself why she had even come inside of a church. She was not Catholic, yet something had drawn her to this little, stone chapel. Could it have been the wind? Shaking her head slightly, she stopped trying to guess. Her gaze looked up at the sculpture of the welcoming Virgin Mary. She let out a sigh. The outstretched arms made her long for the comfort of an embrace.

Her mind drifted into new thoughts. Prayer was a person speaking to the divine. If she prayed, would someone hear her? That would require the faith that a god was listening, but she did not lack that. What she did not have was the courage to trust that help would come. How could she after the things she had been through? Closing her eyes, the young lady silently prayed to the woman before her for someone she could trust, some kind of hope.

“Do you mind if I sit here, miss?”

A gasp escaped her at the new voice. She turned to see the man, standing next to the pew just behind her. His black, Cassock coat buttoned up to his neck seemed mismatched with the carefree, handsome smile on his lips. His brown hair and blue eyes were youthful, making him look no older than herself. Could he really be the chapel’s priest?

“I know some people don’t like others to sit behind them while they pray, so I thought I would ask first before sitting. May I?”

“No…” A timid voice left her throat, “Go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” the young priest nodded in gratitude. Sitting slightly to her left, he glanced up at the statue of Mary. Resting his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward, he spoke again. “They say the virgin comforts all who seek her. I’ve always wondered if that was true.”

“I wouldn’t know,” replied the woman. “This is my first time inside of a church. I only know what I’ve studied about the religion.” She turned back around, feeling slightly unnerved at how close he was.

“I don’t know what you’ve studied, but you can’t know anything for sure unless you see it with your own eyes, right?” He tapped beside his right eye. He knew she couldn’t see it, but he felt she was unsettled. The best way to handle that was to keep the atmosphere positive and welcoming.

“I’ve seen enough with my eyes.”

He heard the heavy burden she carried in her voice. Tilting his head to the left, he wondered how such a young person could feel so aged. From his limited view of her face where the veil did not cover, he could still see she was quite lovely, truly blessed. However, her expression was tired. Perhaps, he could find a way to help her find some rest.

“Do you see the figure on the wall?” He watched her lift her head to look. “He saw many ugly things in his time. Terrible occurrences happened all around him in his life, but he never stopped believing in people, even when he suffered for it. Perhaps he took after his mother.”

“How?” She stared at the larger figure beyond the statue. The gentle visage seemed to be staring right at her, holding out a pierced palm. Tears welled up in her eyes. “How could anyone trust in the world after being betrayed? Only an idiot would ignore such malice!”

“Because not everyone betrayed him.” In a solemn tone, the young man said calmly, “I don’t know who you are, or where you came from, but I know this…”

“What?” She cut him off, turning to look at him. Anger and pain echoed in her voice as she barked at him through her veil. “What could you know? How could you possibly know what it’s like to have everything you ever held true to be challenged? Do not try to paint a pastoral picture just so you can convert another soul!”

“I can try, can’t I?” She let out a low growl at his calm expression. “I’m actually not one of those priests who cares about how many conversions I get in a month. I’m merely a shepherd for people that are lost. If they become Catholic, that’s between them and God, not me. All I do is try to help people that need it, but I give a nice logline just in case you’re one of the guys the Pope sends to check on me.” He grinned boyishly, laughing at himself for a moment before becoming calm again. “So, why did you come into my chapel this evening?”

“It was cold outside,” she replied curtly, trying to cut him down.

“Then I’m glad I had wood burning in the stove.” His bright smile remained on his lips. “It’s a blessing to me to know that I warmed your body.”

The young woman was surprised. He was unlike any priest she had ever met before. Did he genuinely care? His question came back to her thoughts. Why had she come in? She could have driven by the building, as she had done passed many churches before. No, she had stopped by this chapel, gotten out of her car, and come in, looking for something. She had prayed for someone to come. She had asked for hope. Was her prayer answered before she had even asked?

“I…” She paused, feeling hesitant to speak freely after her thoughtless outburst. “I came inside because I felt I might find something.”

“What were you looking for?”

“Something to trust in.”

Her words slipped out without her thinking. She bowed her head in embarrassment. She knew she must look absolutely foolish to him at this point. Instead of the laughter she expected, she saw an arm extend in front of her face. Following where his hand lead, she saw the statue of Christ.

“I think he’s worth trusting, but that’s just my perspective after all.” The priest was kneeling on the ground now, resting his arms on the back of her pew.

“No,” she rolled her eyes, “I meant, someone I could trust, here and now. I’m tired of being paranoid of others.”

“Am I trustworthy?” He asked, leaning his head on his left hand, smiling back at her. “Perhaps what you were searching for was a friend. Again, I don’t know where you came from, or where you are going, but if it’s a friend you need, I wouldn’t mind having one myself.”

Two years she had been on the run. Never stopping, she was always running. In all her life, she had never had a real friend. She had had a companion, but they were more of a mentor than a comrade. Blinking back at his handsome smile, she swallowed the nerves in her throat.

“A friend? You would do that for a complete stranger? I might never see you again.”

“We’re living in the same world, aren’t we?” His smile lingered. He looked back at the statue of Christ, admiration in his eyes. “Christ had many friends he only met once, and they each were loved equally in his heart. Isn’t it uplifting just to know that, somewhere out there, you have someone to call your friend?”

“I suppose you have a point.” Her eyes softened. She thanked Mary silently for responding to her request so quickly. A small smile grew on her tired face.

“Well then, if we’re going to be friends, I think we should introduce ourselves.” Holding out his left hand, he turned to face her to show he was serious. “I’m David Fallon.”

The smile brightened on her face. She was feeling joy for the first time in so long. It seemed like all her burdens and worries were far from her at that moment. Was this what a friendship felt like? Taking his hand, she squeezed it gently.

“My name is…”

The howl of the wind cut her off. Both of them turned to see the source of the cry. The double doors of the chapel were parting. The wind swirled up the aisle to the priest and visitor, bringing a chill of foreboding on its back.

“Oh no…” She whispered. Letting the priest’s hand go, she inched for the end of the pew.

“Wait,” David stopped her with a gentle touch to her shoulder, “I can’t let my friend leave without knowing her name. I’ll be right back.” Winking one, dark blue eye at her, the priest stood from his knees and walked out into the aisle. “Good evening, friends. Welcome.”

In the doorway stood two, tall figures. From their thick cloaks and silver armor, they were clearly Graeco soldiers. They looked exhausted though. Spears in hand, they closed the door before walking up the aisle. Halfway, they stopped. Their black eyes gaped at the sight of the young woman still in the pew. Both dropped to one knee, spears on the ground beside them.

“Your grace,” they spoke wearily, “at long last, we have found you.”

“I beg your pardon,” David spoke softly, blinking in surprise. “Were you referring to the young lady behind me, or do you mean the taller lady beside her?”

“What?!” The young woman yelped in surprise. She had been slipping down the pew, but the priest’s question caught her off guard. Gripping the back of the front pew, she steadied herself. “What are you talking about?! I’m the only female here!”

“Really?” The young priest turned his head for a double take. “Then… who is the black haired woman in the robes behind you? I saw her come in with you. I hope my mind isn’t playing tricks on me. Maybe I need more sleep.” He rubbed his left fist beside his right eye, as if he were removing the last grains of crust.

“My lady, it truly is you!” One of the guards lifted his head. The other looked up as well. The young woman froze. Their black eyes gleamed with relief and joy. “These two, long years of worry and determination have at last produced fruit. We have never given up hope. Now, with the utmost humility, we beg you to return to Lesvos with us.” Both bowed their heads to the ground. “For your father’s sake, please come home, princess!”

All fell silent. The priest stared at the soldiers. He was trying to process everything he had just heard. The two Graeco remained on their faces, awaiting an answer. The young woman sat still. Her head hung as her internal struggle returned to her. From behind her, a soft glow appeared, transforming into a woman. She was holding the younger in an embrace. Finally, the newest arrival looked back at the soldiers.

“How can you ask such a thing of her? Knowing what she has endured, you would beg her to return without answers? You are fools, the lot of you!”

“Oh, I get it now!” David snapped a finger to announce his epiphany. He looked back at the women, a bright smile on his face. “You’re the Runaway Princess! I should have known! Your name must be Artemis then. That’s a lovely name.”

The guardian gaped back at the priest. Was he that empty-headed? Could he not see that the princess was cornered by the king’s men? He couldn’t just ignore their weapons. It was as if Artemis was all that mattered at the time. Were all Catholics this thick?

“How dare you address her majesty so informally, Human! You are in the presence of nobility! Remember your place!” Each one of the guards snatched up their spear, glaring at the priest.

“Forgive me,” David apologized, rubbing the back of his neck. “I wasn’t aware of that when she came in earlier. She hadn’t even told me her name yet.” A nervous laugh escaped him, but it didn’t really sound intimidated.

“Enough.” Everyone looked toward the princess. “I’ve had enough.” She stood from the pew. Removing her hat, black hair fell freely from a previously pinned bun. Her rust-colored complexion glowed in the candle’s light from the alter. Crimson irises gazed ahead, cool and direct.

“Lady Artemis, please do not trouble yourself with these.”

“That won’t satisfy me, Diana,” Artemis replied tiredly. “The two of you will return to my father.”

“But princess!”

“You will give him this message,” she continued. “Tell him that I will not return home until I have uncovered the truth of what happened that night.”

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