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Chapter 1

The Island

Like all her friends, nine-year-old Roula was a confident diver. But this time she had gone too deep and stayed underwater too long. While most of the sea inlet was shallow, along the southern side there was a deep submerged cleft. The ground there descended in a series of giant marble steps, each as tall as a fully-grown man. There were seven steps altogether.

Roula had previously easily reached the sixth and even touched the seventh step. But she had never risked to venture further – to the looming sandy bottom, where the sun-rays were so weak that it stayed perpetually gloomy as in Hades, even, as today, when the hot midday sun was beating directly down.

But today she dared. Clutching a large smooth pebble in her left hand, she used its weight to help her to descend through the layers of gradually darkening water. Holding her breath, moving as little as possible to conserve the air, Roula slid past the seventh step into the gloomy depths below. The great weight of the sea was pressing against her small body on all sides, the salt water tickling the inside of her nose. The water was getting darker, denser. Suddenly, her outstretched hands bumped into the soft sand, stirring a layer of silt. She was at the very bottom of the sea. It was not much deeper than the seventh step. Nothing to worry about...

Roula loved swimming underwater. The moment the pleasantly cool waters of the lagoon closed over her head with a soft splash, she would be instantly transported to the silent and sombre world of weightless wonder, where one can glide over submerged rocks like an eagle soaring over mountain tops. Diving was the closest a human could come to experiencing what flying felt like.

Her little village stood by a shallow lagoon, at the end of a long twisting sea inlet. With the water being pleasantly warm most of the year, it was not surprising that swimming and diving were the favourite pastimes of many of its inhabitants.

Feeling calm, for she still had plenty of air, Roula looked around inquisitively. She could not see much further than her outstretched hand. There was nothing there, but the smooth sand, strewn with little pebbles and spiral seashells. And it was so cold here... As she looked, dark, ill-defined shapes stirred in the abyss. Were they blind monsters, coiling in the dark, or simply shadows of the clouds?

A faint urge to breathe intruded upon her consciousness, and she looked up. Her younger brother, Heraclion, and their big black dog, Zeus, were paddling next to the raft. Their two friends were diving just under the surface. The children, the dog and even the raft now looked impossibly small. They looked hopelessly far! Roula had gone really deep this time. She felt pride at her achievement, but she was starting to get a little worried too.

Unexpectedly, she thought of a little boy who had drowned three summers ago, how his mother had wailed and his father, a strong and proud man, had been tearing his hair out and pouring ash over his head.

Keeping her nerve, for she knew that panic was the enemy of divers, the little girl picked up one of the seashells, and dropping the heavy pebble, pushed against the sand with both feet. The initial kick had propelled her through the water, and she ascended rapidly, confidently treading with feet and her free right hand, feeling the water rush past her naked skin.

The sea around her was getting lighter, but the raft and the little swimmers above her head were not getting any closer.

Roula knew this was an illusion. Distances and perspectives were deceptive underwater. She forced herself to calm down. There was nothing for it, but to hold her breath and keep moving. But moving her arms and legs vigorously was using the air fast. Her lungs were burning and the urge to breath was growing, growing, until it became overwhelming. This was a familiar feeling and she was not unduly concerned. She could hold her breath for good many more heartbeats yet.

Regretfully, she dropped the beautiful seashell – her prize. Now she could use both her arms more efficiently. But no matter how hard she kicked the water, no matter how many times she pushed it back with her hands in a downward stroke, the surface still remained out of reach.

She seemed to be heading directly for the sun, like that man from a myth, Ikarus. The fact that Ikarus died in his quest was not comforting. In her head, Roula started praying to Poseidon. But her words were all wrong, jumbled somehow. She became aware of the dull ringing in her ears and her vision started to dim. It looked funny, though, the sun was black and its rays were dark and cold, with only a tenuous circlet of light remaining at the edge of her fading vision.

Yet still she resolutely held her breath, still her feet kicked and her tired arms swept the water down with grim determination. The previously sun-suffused turquoise water turned to dark crystal and she was a tiny mote of dust suspended in it.

Abruptly, her head broke the surface. The air never tasted sweeter. She floated on her back, taking in great gulps of it. The sun was hot on her skin. It was no longer the black sun and its rays were warm.

“You sure went deep, sister,” Heraclion called to her. “Found any treasure?”

“Nope,” she replied in a shaky voice.

Her arms were so tired, she barely had strength to pull herself onto the raft. She lay there in a daze, watching the hills above her village. These hills had a curious striated appearance – silvery grey of the communal olive groves and lush green of lemon and orange trees.

She shifted her gaze to the left, where her family’s fields were. This being the hottest part of the day, there was nobody there: nearly everyone would be enjoying their midday sleep by now. But her uncle was striding leisurely with a wicker basket in his hand through his tomato patch in the next field.

Roula’s uncle was a boring and grumpy old man, who was only interested in his tomatoes, olives, and fermented grape juice, but now she was mightily glad to see him. She thanked Poseidon, and promised herself to be more careful in the future.

***

Her parents farmed three small fields that were gently sloping down to the emerald-green sea. They grew tomatoes, peppers, wheat, and beans, as well as assorted fruit trees and walnuts. They even owned a rare avocado bush that her father had bought, when visiting a faraway island on a trading expedition.

Farming was not hard work on the island of Inaous, for the land was fertile, the weather hot and sunny most of the year, the rain fell at least once a week, and weeds and pests were very rare. It was just a case of raking the soil, planting seeds and doing nothing more until the harvest time, but coming now and then to admire green plants growing stronger by the day. Some years there was a profusion of large snails that would creep out in the evening to eat young plants, but the snails never ate too much and were quite delicious cooked in olive oil with garlic and parsley. Every family had a goat or two and about half a dozen sheep. They also kept chickens and rabbits. The mayor had three donkeys, which he lent to villagers on request. Thanks to the mild climate, there was plenty of lush grass for all of the animals throughout the year.

Like everybody else in the village, Roula’s family would do a spot of fishing from time to time. Fishing too was an easy and pleasant task, more fun than work. Fishes of all sizes and shapes teamed in the shallow sea inlet. One could see them darting this way and that just under the surface: green, blue, yellow and purple shapes chasing each other playfully. All one had to do was lower a net and haul them in. Therefore, it was no surprise that the people of Inaous were happy, healthy and had a lot of free time on their hands. So easy was their life, they spent most of their waking hours composing poems and reciting them to each other, gossiping, or carving statues of gods, mermaids and dragons out of hardwood-logs and soft limestone.

Although Inaous was not a large island (one could walk across it in two hours) it provided an abundance of everything the people needed. But food was not the only thing the island produced. In the centre of Inaous there was a mountain from which a clear stream ran, and in the stream-bed among the pebbles there sparkled large blue crystals. Some crystals were so enormous that when split skilfully one could glaze entire windows with them.

These crystals were much valued by the people living on the neighbouring isles, who would be happy to trade their goods for the crystals that were rumoured to grant magical powers of supreme wisdom. Once a fortnight boats would come from the neighbouring islands and a swap market would be held by the harbour side. All work would stop for the day and the people of Inaous and traders from neighbouring isles would swap goods and stories by the quayside.

High-quality marble blocks, amphorae of wine, barrels of yellow sulphur and crates of wonderfully large and delicious grapes would be unloaded. Sometimes spices and rare fruits would also be brought, as well as ingots of iron, copper and tin. Nobody was trading grain, olives or fish, because things like that were equally plentiful on all of the islands.

Inhabitants of Inaous would bring piles of crystals on donkey-carts and in wheel-barrows. A whole day would be spent trading, singing and reading poems. There would be much laughter and gossip exchanged on these days. On some occasions traders from lands far and near would bring statues and paintings that they would swap for the works of local artists and sculptors. The best statues would find a place of honour in the local museum, while the rest found employment as scarecrows, road markers, or were just lined up on top of the harbour wall to amuse the local sea-life.

Roula had no interest in marble or sulphur, but she liked the large as plums purple grapes from the island of Svirious. For some unknown reason, the grapes grown on Inaous were small and sour and were only used to make vinegar and to feed pigs. Heraclion and other boys, however, would secretly swap crystals for sulphur that they used to make fireworks, rockets or just burn it to create dense clouds of intolerably stinky yellow smoke. The adults often berated the boys for their mischief and would frequently chase them with belts, canes and birch twigs, for children are not meant to play with fire. Because of this they had to obtain sulphur in secret.

Trading boats from Inaous would also regularly sail to the neighbouring lands, taking boxes and sacks of crystal glass to their markets and bringing back wine, marble and stories. Children were fascinated by the tales of the lands beyond the sea, stories of sea-monsters, mermaids and medusas. Most tales had been silly and soon long forgotten, but once in a while a story would be told to fire one’s imagination up. Everyone remembered a story brought from the island of Marbolius. The story went like this: there had once been a talented local sculptor who had carved out of a block of marble a female statue of such beauty and perfection that he fell in love with it. He had stopped eating and sleeping and would just stare at it for days on end. His relatives and neighbours became so concerned that they threw the statue into the sea, hoping to cure the man’s affliction. But the next day, he rowed a boat to the spot where the statue had been sunk, tied a stone around his neck and stepped overboard. This he had done in plain view of the whole village, so the rescuers quickly rushed to the spot and dived in. But they were unable to find neither the man, nor the statue, despite the sea being shallow and clear. It was as if the sculptor and his creation dissolved in the water.

One of the children’s favourite things was making rafts and sailing them around the inlet and lagoon for days on end, watching the fishes below and seagulls above. One day Heraclion was running with Zeus through the winding goat-trails in the woods when he came upon an abandoned old fishing boat in an uninhabited cove a mile from the village. Nobody knew where the boat came from; it was assumed it drifted from faraway lands on the sea currents. Water-logged and damaged, it was no longer sea-worthy. There was a gaping hole in its side and many timbers were rotten and letting in water.

“Maybe it was once a pirate ship!” Heraclion declared excitedly.

“Let’s repair it and take it to our village,” said his friend, Hermes, who was named after the god of speed and commerce. This boy had a practical mind. The next day the children borrowed hammers, saws and chisels and with planks of wood had fixed the holes in the boat’s side. For a week they toiled. They made a mast from a young pine, and Roula and Hermes’s sister, Toula, had sewn three old curtains into a sail. When finally they sailed the boat into the village harbour all the other children, as well as a few adults, stared at them with astonishment.

The mayor smiled and said, “We thought the traders have arrived early, but it is our dear little children!” There was much cheering and rejoicing, but the mayor who used to be a sea captain in his youth, examined the boat and frowned. “It is a miracle the boat has not sunk from under you. Look at this”—he plucked a long sliver of crumbling wood from its side—“it is all rotten.” The children were allowed to keep the boat, but on the condition that they would only use it in the shallow inlet on which the village stood. Under no circumstances were they permitted to take it to the open sea. Of course the children readily agreed, for they had been worried they would not be permitted to keep the boat at all.

They spend the next few days sailing it back and forth along the two-mile long inlet that winded like a river through the island. And they could sail it around the shallow lagoon to the small islets there, where they could pretend to be pirates. Heraclion was so taken by the boat that he would even sleep in it with his faithful dog, Zeus. The children’s uncle, a carpenter Theseus, decided to help and replaced the most rotten sections of the hull with new planks. He caulked the seams with fresh tar and fragrant pine resin. Heraclion and Hermes worked alongside him, and in a few weeks the boat was no longer taking in water. They even built a little cabin in the bow, with two long, wide benches for sitting or sleeping and a table for eating. Now Heraclion and Zeus would not get wet even when it rained. The cabin had a door and two round windows or portholes either side of the hull. Theseus skilfully glazed them with slivers of blue crystal, so when Heraclion lighted a copper oil-lamp at night, the windows glowed with blue light, like the eyes of a mythical sea-monster.



***

Roula watched the sun-cast shadows of palm fronds sweep the ground at the feet of the chief priest, as he exhorted the villagers to praise the god Poseidon. The man’s monotonous voice droned on and on. The air was redolent with fragrances of lemon trees, eucalyptus and pines, overlaid with the ever present hint of sea salt. Sitting on a warm stone bench, Roula felt sleepy. Her head felt heavy and she kept nodding off.

Every seventh day the villagers would gather at the temple of Poseidon. They would listen to the sermon, then enjoy a relaxing afternoon, feasting on sea-food and wine in the temple grounds. Everyone knew that Poseidon could do real magic.

Every day, for four hours, any boat belonging to the village would sail twice as fast. It has been thus as long as Roula could remember. But the magic worked only if one in six villagers served as a priest.

On the days when less than one in six was a priest, the boats would still go faster, although not at the double speed; but if less than twelve priests were employed, the magic stopped completely. Because it was useful for the boats to go faster, and because doing the priest’s duty was fun and easy, the temple had no shortage of volunteer priests.

Neighbouring islands had temples to other gods, such as Hephaestus, Ares, Hades, Athena and Demeter. Each of those gods could work their own magic, but their miracles were mostly war-related and the little archipelago had not known war for a very long time. The people of those islands found their deities not particularly useful, so their temples stood abandoned.

There were two other types of gods, known as the Changers and the Masters, who did not ask for temples to be dedicated to them and who did not expect to be worshipped. These gods were periodically causing strange disruptions in people’s lives.

Disruptions caused by the Changers were usually minor and benign, although they could be frightening in the extreme. A few years ago the sun stopped in its run, and ominous hush and cold fell over the world. Lights pulsed from horizon to horizon and strange symbols in an unknown language scrolled and un-scrolled across the sky. The terrified people tried to scream, but no sound came out of their open mouths; they tried to flee for the hills, but the ground under their feet no longer felt solid, although the earth did not swallow them.

The great disruption lasted for a few hours, and then suddenly the sound returned and everything was normal again. Later the people found their island’s outline had subtly changed and new strange trees appeared in the forest, as well as great granite rocks and boulders sprouted, where previously there had been none. People found the new trees to be good and the boulders and rocks picturesque. It was generally agreed that the Changers were friendly gods.

There was much argument about the nature of the Masters, though. Philosophers have argued with each other for millennia whether the Masters were good or evil. Some said they were no gods at all, but demons. There were learned men of science who argued that Masters were good. Their argument was that in some faraway lands they ordered people to build great cities with massive walls and palaces, operas, libraries, museums and universities. Great many interesting things were produced in those cities: pretty clothes and jewellery, printed books, machinery and tools, massive sailing ships and fine objects of art. Life in the cities was sophisticated with daily theatre performances, and ever changing art exhibitions.

The other philosophers contended, however, that in order to build those cities the Masters enslaved people; send them working down the mines for no pay and without any regard for their health and safety. Those who were not enslaved were forced to pay tax in gold. They installed a king with numerous officials, generals and soldiers who would boss the people around. Some Master gods were also known to make people build weapons and warships and to attack their friends and neighbours without any reason.

It was not possible to disobey the Master gods, and there was no escape. People tried to pray to Masters and Changers, to appease them with gifts, or even with sacrifices, but it was no use. Masters and Changers never took account of people’s wishes and never answered their prayers. But fortunately the local Master of Inaous and neighbouring islands had not been heard of for centuries now. Still, everybody dreaded that one day he may return.

“Behold the magic of Poseidon!” chanted the priest, pointing to the god’s statue floating in the air on its marble throne, seemingly unsupported.

Nobody knew how such a heavy thing could simply hang in the air without crashing down. The strange rock was found after one of the disruptions caused by the Changers. It was a large boulder that simply floated a foot off the ground. The villagers gathered to gawk at the unusual sight, and when a man pushed it, the great rock moved. It was as if it had no weight, no mass. So the strange rock was dragged with ease into the temple of Poseidon, and they carved a throne out of it, on which the god’s statue now sat.

Roula caught herself nodding off again, and in that brief moment between sleep and wakefulness she glimpsed strange letters in unknown language overlaying everything: people, trees, rocks. She opened her eyes fully and the vision disappeared.

Intrigued, she half-closed her eyes again. The strange symbols reappeared, but faint, barely there. Her eyes chanced on the blue crystal pendant she wore. She took it between her fingers and stared at it intently, and found that if she looked at it for a long time without blinking she could see the strange writing all over it. The letters were foreign, and she could not understand a single word, although some letters looked familiar. She focused intently on one letter and it slowly dissolved. The pendant suddenly changed colour from blue to black. Frightened, Roula dropped it.

“Hey you, little girl in the back,” the priest called out to her with mild disapproval. “Wake up!”

Roula sat up straighter, and gazed at the priest with a little guilty smile. The wind sang in the palms and pine trees above. Seagulls wheeled across the great blue dome of the sky, calling mournfully to each other. When the priest moved his eyes away from her, Roula dared to look at her pendant again. It was black as soot, black as the darkest night, but it sparked quite attractively. Roula sat quietly, but inside her heart danced for joy. She could do magic!

***

Later, sitting alone on the beach, Roula tried the trick on a small pebble. After staring at it until her eyes hurt, lines of letters gradually appeared, neatly written on the pebble’s smooth surface. She studied them for a while. Although she could not understand them, it appeared that there were words and symbols that sometimes would be repeated with small variations. She focused on one symbol, memorised its shape and wished it gone. The symbol dissolved. Nothing happed to the pebble. She wished for the symbol to reappear and it did. She went on to dissolve a few more symbols and suddenly the pebble disappeared in her hand with a loud pop. Roula sat thinking for a while, and then studied her black pendant, finding the line in which she erased one letter. She wished the letter to reappear and it did. The pendant promptly turned blue.

If she were to find and remove the same symbol in a pebble, would the stone turn black too? Picking up another pebble, she found the relevant line and removed the letter. The pebble gleamed black in the palm of her hand. The girl returned the letter back and the little stone was restored to its previous colour. It was magic, alright.

By practicing, Roula found she could not only change the pebble to black and make it go pop and disappear, she could also cause the pebble to become as soft as mist, so she could dip her finger into it, and finally she could make it float in the air like the great rock of Poseidon. She was so engrossed in what she was doing that she had not noticed her brother and dog, until Zeus nuzzled her ear with his hot, wet tongue.

“What’s the matter with you, big sister, are you asleep again?” Heraclion gazed at her quizzically.

“Let’s go sailing,” he said. “The Poseidon’s Time will soon be upon us and the mayor said we can sail all the way to Svirious.” Everyone knew that during the Poseidon Time the boats went not only faster, but the waves calmed and the wind always blew in the right direction.

***

The sail filled with a great breath of fresh sea wind and the boat launched out of the cove into the open sea, picking up speed as it went. It was an exhilarating, if a little frightening ride. Their home, Inaous, receded into distance; the boat swayed and creaked. Dolphins raced the boat and each other, splashing water at the children.

Svirios was only five miles away and in less than an hour they were moored in the harbour there. The boys dragged sacks of blue crystals to the local trader, who promptly swapped them for crates of the famous Svirios grapes. He refused to swap some for wine, though. He said he was a responsible trader.

“Now, onto Sulphuria!” laughed Hermes, as they cast off.

Sulphuria was another five miles away, and they had to change course, but the wind obliged and turned direction too. In no time, the boys were swapping blue crystals and sweet grapes for barrels of sulphur. While they had been sailing between the islands, while nobody was looking, Roula had changed one blue crystal to black.

“What will you give for this?” she asked the local sulphur trader, a balding, pot-bellied man.

The man gaped at the jet-black jewel in astonishment. “By Ares, what an unusual gemstone!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything like it before... How about a barrel of sulphur...?” He paused to reconsider, and reluctantly said, “Two barrels...”

Before Roula could say yes, Hermes interrupted, “Now, surely sulphur is really plentiful on your island, but black crystals are very rare and precious, we can’t possibly take less than twenty barrels.”

“I will give five barrels”, said the trader.

“Fifteen,” Hermes said with a gleam in his eye.

“Ten, and this is my final offer”, said the trader.

“Agreed,” said Hermes. They shook hands.

“I’ve never seen a young boy haggle so well over the price,” the trader smiled, holding the black jewel to the sun.

Their little ship now fully loaded, the children set off directly home to Inaous. With its heavy cargo the little ship set deeper in the water and moved slower.

“Where did you find such a precious stone?” Hermes asked Roula.

“I found it in the cove where we found the boat. It was just there, pocking out of the sand,” Roula lied. She wanted to explore her new-found talent some more, before telling everybody about it. And she was scared, too, for humans were not meant to do magic, only gods could do that.

“It must have been lost by the pirates, when they crashed their boat,” said Heraclion excitedly. The boat’s sail fluttered in the wind.

“Must have been,” Roula agreed readily. Hermes gave her a quizzical look, before turning his attention back to steering the boat.

They did not sail directly to the village harbour, unloading the illicit sulphur in their secret cove. After rolling the barrels into the dense, fragrant pine bushes, the boys and Toula searched the sand for more black crystals. Zeus helped by digging with his paws.

Roula pretended to be looking too, but when everyone’s head was turned away, she took a small blue crystal from her pocket, changed it to black, and then dropped in on the wet sand dug up by the dog and wondered off. A few minutes later Hermes gave a yell of triumph and started doing a little victory dance, holding the gem up for everyone to see.

On the way back, everyone was chattering excitedly as to what they could get for the unusual black crystal. But Hermes said, they should not tell anyone where they found it, otherwise everybody will run to their secret cove with spades and rakes and they might find their barrels of sulphur hidden in the bushes.

Roula sat at the bow, watching the boat rise and fall with the waves, as the verdant shore slid by the portside. The westering sun cast a blazing trail of molten copper across the sea and the air was getting cooler.

"How pretty is the sea!" Toula exclaimed. "Look! We are sailing through gold and silver."

But Roula paid no heed to this. She was deep in thought. She did not know why she was able to change the crystals to black, but not to any other colour. She could not change their shape or size. Roula stared at her hands intently, and could see small writing there too, but it was so dense, so interwoven, as to be illegible. Out of her pocket she took a small brown pebble and a shard of blue crystal and placed them side by side.

She found the line that was responsible for changing colour and compared them. The lines were identical, safe for one word. Roula removed the world in the pebble, and as expected the pebble turned black. She then carefully copied the word from the blue crystal into the brown pebble. The pebble was blue now, exactly the same shade as the crystal, except it was still a pebble. It did not sparkle in the sun, nor was it transparent.

An intense joy overcame her, for she had learned words for ‘blue’ and ‘brown’ in the mysterious and secret language of gods. She also suspected that the word preceding the ‘blue’ and ‘brown’ actually meant, ‘colour’, and a symbol of two short horizontal lines ‘=’ between these words means ‘is’ or maybe a command ‘shall be’ – as in ‘the colour shall be blue’. Roula noted that the ‘=’ symbol was very common, as it appeared in almost every line.

Later, back on the shore, she ran to the nearest tree and plucked a leaf. She found the secret word for ‘green’ and put it into a pebble and a crystal. They promptly turned green.

She gathered red, pink, orange, yellow, purple and white flowers, and learned the secret names of their colours too. By the end of the day her pocket was full of crystals in all the shades of the rainbow. She made some of the gems capable of floating and others soft as mist.

Instinctively she knew that her little hoard was priceless and could be swapped for an unimaginable amount of goods. But the people of Inaous already had everything and lacked for nothing, except perhaps knowledge. Unfortunately, the knowledge was not for sale.

Next day Hermes announced that he met a passing trader from faraway lands on Svirios, who gave him a black crystal in exchange for a bag of blue ones. The mayor said this was an amazingly good deal and such a rarity belonged in the museum.

“I want a new sail, a proper real sail, not a curtain for our boat, or I can’t possibly part with my crystal,” Hermes said shrewdly.

“For a priceless gem like this, I give you two sails,” the mayor proclaimed in a booming voice of an old sailor.

“And ten yards of strong rope?” Hermes asked with an innocent expression.

“Yes, a rope too...” the mayor said with a little exasperated sigh. But his eyes sparked merrily.

“Deal!” said the boy.

***

Roula meanwhile made her way to Poseidon’s temple. She wanted to tell the chief priest everything, and to ask if he could teach her knowledge. She found the priest sitting in the garden, eating a bunch of grapes.

“How can Poseidon help you today, child?” he greeted her. The priest, of course, knew Roula's name. Theirs was but a little village, the only one on Inaous, but he always called her child. Maybe he was doing this to emphasise his seniority, or maybe he had a poor memory for names.

“I thirst for knowledge, Sir, I want to know what those strange symbols scrolling across the sky mean, when the Changers are at work. I want to know why Poseidon's rock floats in the air, and I want to know how he makes the boats go twice as fast,” Roula said timidly. The priest was an imposing and intimidating figure, even though he was her distant uncle.

The priest’s fleshy face darkened like an angry storm cloud. “'Tis not for mere mortals to know, or to question the ways of gods. Do not ask again, or I will tell your parents to give you a good thrashing. Now run off and play, like good children are supposed to do.”

Dejected and alone with her secret, Roula wandered through the woods. Majestic pines towered over her, and warm shafts of sunlight lit their trunks like bronze columns, but Roula hardly noticed the beauty of it or where she was going.

Perhaps the priest was a self-important fool, or maybe he was afraid of the wrath of gods. In any case, it appeared he did not have the knowledge she sought. He was just good at talking about the might of Poseidon, and that was all. Thinking of the wrath of gods did not make her feel better. But if the gods did not want her to do magic, why was she allowed to see the secret writing in everything, if she looked very hard?

Eventually, she come upon a deserted beach and sat down in the shade of a sprawling pine tree. Absentmindedly she picked a stick and started scribbling in the sand. She wrote the secret words for colours that she had learned, and a secret word deleting which made objects float in the air, and another word that made them soft like mist.

Then she collected some pebbles and sticks and started examining them deeply. She wrote some new words in the sand: a word that she found in the wooden stick and a word found in stones. By swapping words around she could create a stick made of stone and a stone made of wood. Except it was still as heavy as a stone, and sunk when she put it in the water.

She experimented for several hours, adding and deleting words and whole lines, and transferring them from object to object. In the end she was able to make a proper stony stick, and a properly wooden rock; she could make them transparent like crystal, and still float like wood in water, or to be like the Poseidon Rock, with no mass at all. She found strange symbols that when swapped around changed sizes and shapes of objects and the intensity of their colours. She could make rocks crumble in her hand and could turn them invisible.

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