The Games had run their course. Delphi had emptied, its song having been sung.
When the last pilgrim emerged from the temple, red-eyed and shaking, I stepped forward with a young goat under my arm and a laurel branch clutched in my hand.
A hunched priest led me to an altar where I rinsed my hands and face with Castalian water, and made my offering to Apollo. The goat flinched when its throat was slit and soon slept in a pool of its own blood.
I fanned myself with the laurels as the priest’s knife cut with precision, his old hands unshaking.
He nodded and I was led down the flight of steps where another priest muttered instructions that I did not hear.
It was dark but for a sputtering torch in an ancient bracket upon the wall.
Above, in the cella and outside, the smell of incense was sweet, the marble white and gleaming in the sun upon the mountainside.
But as I went deeper into the earth, my legs heavy as lead, the walls were of deepest green and black, the smoke not sweet but acrid and overpowering.
A humming drummed in my ears, my mind… my heart… my…
There she sat.
The girl I had loved in my youth.
The woman I had married.
When I entered the sanctum to see her in the sacred tripod, the blood-red veil shading her once-bright and dancing eyes, I knew she was no longer mine.
I had intended to plead with the god for my Love’s life, to promise a thousand statues or the fall of enemy nations if I could but have her back.
As the question formed upon my trembling lips the fumes suffocated me where they rose out of that black fissure.
My laurels fell and shrivelled, and the god told me to leave.
To leave…even as a single tear bled from those black eyes…for me…for us.
I do not regret my actions beyond the sanctuary boundaries. The noose upon that olive wood branch was tight, and hugged me like a friend.
Now I am free to wander the silver slopes of Parnassos…to wait for the day Apollo releases my Love.
Then…then we shall be together again.
My request granted.