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Gifts of the Gods: Fire and Ash

Excerpt

Piraeus
11th day of Poseideon
December 21, 413BC

Thick, acrid smoke hung in the air like a blanket. The sun had risen two hours earlier, but little could be seen of it along the Watering Lane. It was a dreary place in the best of times with small, dirty houses built on top of one another in the poorest district in Piraeus. People stopped and stared at the fiery spectacle. They clogged the narrow streets and covered their faces against the heat and the thick smoke.

One house was ablaze, a small timbered hut crammed with recent immigrants from the islands, but the flames had already spread to adjacent structures. It was only a matter of time before the entire block went up. The heat pulsated through the street as flames licked hungrily at the dry wooden structure.

"Help!" A thin wail arose from somewhere deep within the thick smoke. "Save my..." but an explosion of fire suddenly ripped through a small window and cut off her cries. Many in the streets ran for cover as bits of blackened timber and glowing sparks filled the air around them. The curious spectacle was getting dangerous now.

A young woman ran around the corner suddenly with a man at her heels. She was small in stature, but her frame belied a strength that could only have come from a lifetime of hard labor. Her face registered shock and despair at the sight before her. This was her community, her neighborhood. When she focused on the source of the flames, her heart skipped a beat. This was close to her home! "Damn the gods!" she cried as she ran forward.

A firm hand gripped her arm. "No, Lissy! There is nothing you can do, not now. You'll only get yourself hurt...or worse."

"Matty, what about Cora?" Her friend had been at home watching the children. For all she knew, they were still in the inferno.

"If they got out, they're safe. If not..." the man's voice trailed away.

Suddenly, she tore herself loose from his grip and ran forward, almost blind in the intense smoke emanating from the fire. She noticed a dozen men armed with buckets of water had made vain attempts to quell the blaze, but they couldn't get near enough to make any progress. Fires in the crowded districts often had to burn themselves out, frequently at the expense of entire blocks. The poor accepted their lot in life and often just picked up and moved on. For some, however, tragedies cut deeper to the bone. She looked frantically around, hoping to catch a glimpse of her friend or her two young children in the crowd of onlookers but they were nowhere to be found. The heat kept her back, however, and she was forced to watch helplessly from a distance as the flames leaped from one building to the next. Tears streamed down her face as the fire raged out of control.


Fire and Ash