Chapter 1: Kottabos
Athens, 423 B.C.
“I’m not going to embarrass you any further by beating you at kottabos, angel. Let’s switch to something else.” Crowley swirled the lees in the cup and threw down the last dregs of the wine onto the floor, forming the shape of a jagged capital alpha as dark as blood. “There, an alpha for Aziraphale.” Crowley sat back, playing with the fillet tied around his head, adorned with red roses, deep purple irises, and laurel leaves.
“Oh please, you’re going to make me draw a kappa for Crowley?” Aziraphale straightened himself up on the cushions, the lamplight shining on his crown of white roses, pale purple crocus flowers, and laurel leaves. “Very well.”
“It’s all in the wrist. Come on, you can do it Aziraphale.”
“When you say that, it doesn’t sound like you believe I can.”
“Eh...” Crowley leaned forward to watch intently.
“But kappa isn’t quite right.” A mischievous grin crept upon Aziraphale’s lips and Crowley raised his eyebrows.
With a flick of his wrist, Aziraphale tossed down the dregs.
“That’s definitely not a kappa.” Crowley got up off the supper couch, coming over to Aziraphale’s couch so that he could lean on the edge and look at the spilled wine on the pale gray inlaid floor, the folds of his black linen chiton draping elegantly against his hip, the linen dress bordered in jagged crimson. “What is that exactly, an epsilon? A zeta?”
“Oh no, it came out wrong,” Aziraphale said mournfully. “I was trying for a lowercase xi.”
“Looks the snakiest of the letters,” Aziraphale sighed. “I had a concept, it’s just that my hand doesn’t want to obey me when I’m more than two cups in...”
Crowley laughed, and reached for the ladle in the wine mixer, lovingly painted in the new red-figure style with winged Eros wrestling with a winged Himeros, love and desire struggling, their arms and legs twined in a tight, fierce embrace. “Your hand never wants to obey you. Here, let me pour you another...”
“No, please. Let me serve this time,” Aziraphale sat up, but Crowley was already pouring.
“You serve all the time. This is my place, angel. Let me show you some hospitality. You never let me take care of you.”
“Well, it’s just that I would feel better knowing that I was helping.”
“You’re always helping. You’re helping just by being here. Helping me drink up all this good wine. Time to take a break, let someone else do the work of taking care of things. Of taking care of you.” Crowley refilled the shallow kylix.
“I would really feel better if you’d let me.”
“No. I’m afraid I must insist on you being my guest. But there is something you could do for me?” Crowley stepped lightly over the spilled wine on the mosaic floor to return to his own couch across from Aziraphale, admiring his handiwork and even Aziraphale’s awkward squiggle of a xi.
“Oh? What is it?”
“I see you brought your kithara. Why don’t you sing something for me?”
“All right, I can do that. After all, I am supposed to be a poet from Ionia.”
Aziraphale took a sip of wine before getting up, straightening his cream-colored chiton as he stood, settling the linen where it was pinned over both his shoulders, smoothing the blue-bordered fabric. He unpacked his concert kithara from its travel case, tuning the gut strings. “You know, I’m glad to have come to Athens. I didn’t even realize you had set up a house here.”
“Yes, well. Good to be where the action is, when you’re in my line of work,” Crowley said lazily. “I’m surprised you didn’t take up the barbitos, it would suit your voice better, wouldn’t it? Deeper and more resonant sound, that.”
“Oh, I can play the barbitos too. The kithara is just less bulky, easier to carry,” Aziraphale said, waving it off.
“What are you going to sing? One of yours?”
“Oh no, I don’t really compose. I know I’m supposed to, but really, I only sing other people’s songs. Makes it easier; that way no one’s expecting me to do things like enter the City Dionysia contest or the Lenaia.” Aziraphale smiled. “How about Sappho?”
“Yes, that’s always good. She was such a lovely singer.”
“She had a beautiful voice, so rich and resonant. I don’t think I can do her justice, but I’ll do my best. Remember this one? I’m awful fond of this one.” Aziraphale ran the plectrum over the strings delicately, sounding the beginning of the song:
Like an apple
ripening on a top
branch in a tree top
not once noticed by
harvesters or if
not unnoticed, not reached.
“That’s cheating.” Crowley said, sipping his wine.
“Cheating! What do you mean, cheating?”
“You’re just speaking the words, not singing it. That may fool the humans into thinking you’re singing, but I’m not fooled; you’re not singing at all.”
“Hmph.” Aziraphale hugged the tall kithara against his body. “Then what am I supposed to do about it? It’s not like I can just...sing as I please, whenever I want and wherever I want.”
“Why not?” Crowley tilted his head, curious.
“Why not? Because I’m an angel, that’s why. I used to sing in the heavenly choirs, praising the Almighty. I don’t think I’m allowed to sing anywhere else.”
“Sing in the choirs? I thought that’s what the Cherubim did.”
Aziraphale shot him a dark look.
“Oh.” Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “Really? You? A Cherubim?”
“Really. There was a reorg; I’m not one anymore. It was a long time ago, nothing to worry about,” Aziraphale waved it off.
“That high up...you must have seen God every day!”
“Well, not every day but definitely on the first and third days of the week for planning meetings and on every day of rest and- and look, there’s no point in going over this, my singing days are over.”
“Thought you sang with the whales.”
“That’s different. For one, I don’t remember it. I only have your word that it happened.”
“Yes, well. It happened, trust me. You were very excited about it, I wouldn’t lie to you about your own words.”
“And for two.” Aziraphale sighed. “You just can’t ask me to sing. I want to, really I do. I rather like singing. There are so many songs that I like. And then there are all these wonderful new songs that the Hellenes have made, lyrical songs of love. I know all of them by heart. I just...don’t think I am allowed to sing, not truly.”
“Because you sang in Heaven?”
“Because I serve God.” Aziraphale said simply. “That was part of the deal. Our voices are only for the Lord, no one else.”
“Seems awfully unfair,” Crowley said. “That your voice can’t even be for you.”
“A lot of things are unfair. Did you want to sing something? I brought a lyre too, a nice one.” Aziraphale stood up to put the kithara away, unpacking the lyre. “Not one of those symposium instruments that gets beaten up by too many careless hands. It’s my own personal lyre, you know, the one I bought in Lesbos. She played it too, once, and since then I’ve kept it in perfect condition.”
“Sure.” Crowley watched as Aziraphale tuned the lyre for him, and took it with gentle hands, feeling the strings quiver beneath his fingers.
Now, today, I shall
sing beautifully for
my friend’s pleasure
The song was over soon enough, and Crowley fell silent, feeling the strings of the lyre vibrating through the frame until the notes decayed and faded away.
“Now who’s cheating? That’s not nearly the entire song.”
“A partial song for a partial song,” Crowley said smugly. “Unless you feel like singing another one? And actually singing it?”
“Maybe another time. Oh, next week, you’ll have to come over to my place,” Aziraphale said, looking at the dark wine in its broad shallow cup. “I’ve ordered some wine from Crete that should be in by then. I think you’ll like it; it’s very much like the one we had in Gamelion when our little party got snowed in.”
“Oh, next week? Sorry, next week isn’t good for me. Have some business next week, can’t meet at all. In fact...it’s pretty serious business, I may not be able to meet for a while.”
“Serious business?” Aziraphale teased. “Do you ever even do that?”
Crowley gave Aziraphale a look. “Yes, when commanded to. I’m getting evaluated. Two Princes of Hell are coming to see how I’m doing. But honestly I don’t think it’s so much an evaluation as they’ve heard about the party scene in Athens and want to hit the symposiums during the Anthesteria festival.”
“Should I ask who?” Aziraphale did his best to sound casual, to sound as if he didn’t care, even as he cared a great deal.
“Oh you know, the usual. Beelzebub and Asmodeus.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale fell silent. “Is that why you put in a third supper couch for this room?”
“Uh. Well. Just...I’ll put up the usual signs to let you know where I am. That way you won’t run into us by accident.” Crowley spoke a little too quickly. “Better yet, take off that ring and hide yourself; they both have sharp senses for the Opposition. No, even better; leave town. They’ll be here on Choës, on the second day of the festival, in the evening.”
“You know I can’t do that.” Aziraphale said. “Because...oh drat, that is next week, isn’t it?”
“Gabriel and Michael are coming to town. They wanted to see for themselves the sinful state of the world. But if you ask me, I think they just want to check out the symposiums. Awful lot of buzz in Heaven about the parties in Athens.”
“Where the night life goes, so angels yearn to tread,” Crowley said dryly, and Aziraphale laughed.
Chapter 2: Visiting Angels, Fallen and Otherwise
Crowley waited in the garden in the deep shadow of a sycamore tree as the last of the sun’s light faded, leaving only a soft wine-dark twilight that slowly faded to night. As he paced, he checked over each small silver fibula that pinned his long black chiton over his arms and shoulders, nervously feeling the metal to make sure that everything was fastened tightly, adjusting the silver-gilt belt that cinched comfortably loose around his waist.
A full moon lit the growing night like a silvery lamp, but it didn’t matter to Crowley, whose slitted eyes could see in the dark just as easily as if it were daylight.
Soon enough, the ground trembled and fire burst forth, lighting the little courtyard with an eerie glow. Right on time, just as the message had promised, and all Crowley could think of was that it must have been Beelzebub’s doing to keep both Princes to a strict schedule.
Beelzebub brushed off a speck of dust from black-clad shoulders, and stepped forward, long chiton and himation draped as neatly around the Prince of Hell as if a statue. The necklace of flies glittered at a slender throat, and Crowley knew the Prince was not here on official business when he saw that Beelzebub was not wearing that heavy black horned crown.
It took him a beat too long to look to Asmodeus and immediately he knew that he had made a mistake; even though Beelzebub deserved the honors as First Prince, Asmodeus was still his master.
To cover up the brief lapse in etiquette, Crowley moved to kneel, to prostrate himself, but a familiar hand caught his wrist, tugging him back up onto his feet.
“No need for that, darling.” Asmodeus said, his voice dark with amusement. “After all, we wouldn’t presume to receive divine honors, now would we? In this day and age, only barbarians prostrate themselves before their princes.”
Beelzebub walked around Crowley’s little house, feet crunching over boughs of resinous rosemary as the Prince of Hell examining the simple elegant lines of the furniture, the sculptures and the fashionable red-figure ceramics. Asmodeus lingered at his wine mixer, long fingers stroking the curved lip of the krater as he contemplated the wrestling Eros.
“That takes me back,” Asmodeus said, with a thoughtful smile. He stepped forward, straightening the folds of his short crimson chiton and the chlamys that was so black that it seemed to absorb the light from the room. “Thou art as lovely as ever, Crawley. Thy dress is very fetching. Hellene clothes suit thee.”
Eyes modestly downcast and head tilted so that his long hair shrouded his face, Crowley nodded, staring at the mosaic floor inlaid in pebbled perfection with spiraling geometry, the ground scattered with bits of fragrant rosemary. “Thank you, Lord Asmodeus.”
Beelzebub sat down on the supper couch across from Crowley, leaning an infernal chin on one hand. “Demon Crawley, tell uzz first what thou hast made of thyself here in Athenzz.”
Crowley cleared his throat, straightening up and putting on his best presentation manner. “Lord Beelzebub, following orders from Lord Asmodeus, I-”
“It doesn’t have to be so formal, does it?” Asmodeus looked to Beelzebub, who shrugged. “Why don’t we get comfortable first?”
Asmodeus took the supper couch across from the First Prince, the couch that Aziraphale usually took, reclining with a gracious, practiced ease. The demon prince took deep, curious breaths, one after another, his tongue flicking out to taste the air thoughtfully.
While the princes seated themselves, Crowley mixed and served the wine himself from the krater, pouring first for Asmodeus. He glanced questioningly at Beelzebub, but anticipated that the answer would be no.
“Thou knowest well enough that I do not seek to purify the infernal splendor of my form with material matter,” Beelzebub said crossly.
“Oh, don’t be so fussy my dear, wine is good on Earth and does good work for us. Bad work,” Asmodeus chuckled at his own joke. “With wine, we hardly have to tempt men into wrongdoing; it sends many men to their doom without us ever needing to lift a finger, tempting them into all sorts of trouble. Cruel words, stealing, brawling and fighting. Beating their wives, their children. Despoiling both, given the opportunity. Crawley, pour our First Prince a cup. If you don’t like it, my dear brother, you needn’t drink it.”
Bringing the cup over, Crowley set it on a low table beside the supper couch at Beelzebub’s gesture. A black cloud of buzzing flies settled on the rim of the cup, tasting the wine, and Crowley made a note to throw that particular cup out.
He stayed standing close by the krater. Crowley eyed the empty third couch just beyond the two Princes but decided to just be grateful that he wasn’t being asked to do more than to serve.
And then Asmodeus gestured to him.
“Come, darling, these things are no fun without company.” There was a sharp edge to Asmodeus’ smile that Crowley knew all too well, and carefully, feigning enthusiasm, Crowley came to sit beside Asmodeus, bringing his cup with him.
As he reclined beside his master, a possessive hand ran over his hip, curling around his waist, and Crowley shivered, taking care to keep his breathing under control.
“Speak, child, and tell uzz of your doingz first before we get to the Deedzz.”
Crowley took a deep, shuddering breath. “Yes, Lord Beelzebub. Following orders from Lord Asmodeus, I’ve been living in town as a foreign courtesan. Specialty job, you know, catering to the wealthy and powerful. A hetaira, in the local dialect.”
Beelzebub looked to Asmodeus questioningly.
“It’s excellent placement, my brother. You would think that the humans with their wives and lovers would find that to be enough, but they are also greedy and like to pay for the charms of a pretty young thing too. Especially those in power. Foolish, to place so much trust in women of low repute.”
“Yes, well,” Crowley muttered, before clearing his throat. “Technically I’m only paid in gifts, not cash. I’ve had some good opportunities with politicians, demagogues, men of power...even some visiting royalty, if you can believe it. Tempting them into all sorts of trouble, not just for themselves but for all of Attica. And some of Corinth, and just a little bit of Lakedaimon. Chios, Lesbos, Crete, Ionia... Actors are poor but they get around and I accept smaller gifts for their friendship. Arts discount, you know.”
“Very good. Subtle as ever, Asmodeuzz, you have done well,” Beelzebub sounded pleased. “Now let uzz recite the Deedz of the Day. I have completed written evaluationzz for ten thousand of the vilest demonz today. Now we will know which onezz are deserving of the deepezt Pit of Hell.”
“You mean the Filing room? Accounting?” Asmodeus asked.
“Human Resources,” Beelzebub replied.
“Very good. As for myself, I have tainted an Oracle,” Asmodeus said. “She would have spoken only the truest of prophecies, but now all her words and advice will only lead men down the path of destruction. She will know what she speaks is wrong but she will not be able to control herself.”
Both Princes of Hell turned their collective attention to Crowley.
“Oh, I think you’ll like this, my lords. I tempted a poet into slandering a philosopher in a comedy,” Crowley said. “Once it’s performed, he will be remembered as a famous comedic poet, but not for the right reasons.”
“And what benefit to uzz is that?” Beelzebub looked skeptical.
“Ah...” The words were on Crowley’s lips, ready to go, but then Asmodeus’ fingers ran through his hair, and his breath caught. As Beelzebub stared, the explanation seemed to fall out of his thoughts and he could feel rising panic as he struggled to get a word out.
“Obviously it will lead to misery, brother,” Asmodeus said smoothly. “Slandered philosophers are liable to get exiled or put to death, and we don’t need any more humans spreading notions of Truth and Beauty, do we?” Asmodeus played his fingers thoughtfully through Crowley’s long curling hair. “Beauty perhaps, but we don’t need more Truth.”
Letting go of Crowley, Asmodeus drank the rest of the wine down to the lees. Crowley glanced at Asmodeus’ cup; the bottom of the kylix which used to have a charming image of Eros in a garden was now the image of Eros seducing a youth.
It was probably time to get new cups anyway.
“To the beautiful Crawley,” Asmodeus said, tossing down the dregs where it formed a perfectly neat, block-print lowercase xi, as clearly as if it had been carved from stone.
Crowley drank his wine down, as if taking medicine. “To my master, the powerful Asmodeus,” Crowley said, and with a flick of his wrist, the dregs fell into the shape of a jagged capital alpha.
They both looked to Beelzebub.
Beelzebub arched an eyebrow.
With one languid motion of a dismissive hand, Beelzebub pushed the full cup over the edge of the table where it shattered on the ground, flies buzzing madly, wine splashing across the mosaic floor, erasing the letters.
“That’s new,” Aziraphale said as he walked through the Agora, noticing the new statue of Apollo that had been brought out into the sunny courtyard of a sculptor’s shop. He paused in the crowd to watch the sculptor at work, carefully tinting the stone with pigmented wax, painting delicate red scales on the serpent twining the trunk of the tree against which Apollo leaned. “Has that been there long?” he wondered aloud, but no one answered, so he kept walking, looking around at the bustling city streets.
In the pleasant warmth of the bright afternoon sun, carrying a basket of crisp sweet winter apples, Aziraphale hummed pleasantly to himself as he walked home until two Archangels appeared, flanking him on both sides.
“Oh.” Aziraphale gasped, nearly dropping his fruit. “G-Gabriel, Michael. What a...pleasant surprise!” He took a moment to get his breathing under control, the smile fixed on his face.
“Aziraphale, we expected you to be at your house at sunset,” Michael said, her face fixed in a pleasant expression that meant nothing.
“Oh, I do apologize for not being early enough; I was held up in the market. You see, there was a-”
“Wait, what’s that?” Gabriel pointed to Aziraphale’s basket of fruit.
“Uh, gross matter?” Aziraphale said, clutching the basket close.
“Do come in,” Aziraphale beamed, the smile frozen on his face as Gabriel and Michael entered his modest house.
“Seems kind of...rustic,” Gabriel said, eyeing the shelves full of papyrus rolls, stacked from the floor to the ceiling, and at the subdued chaos of Aziraphale’s desk where a copy of Alcmaeon's On Nature was set out, weighted down by a pale quartzite knife.
“Well, I do have guest-friends I could have stayed with, but I thought it better to find a rental since I don’t do things like sleep. Most people that would have the extra rooms for a guest-friend also own slaves, and I’d rather not be found out, that would be very-”
“Yes, yes, very good.” Michael took down notes on a wax tablet, holding the slim wooden case in one hand. “Everything seems up to regulation, if a little ostentatious.”
“Ostentatious?” Aziraphale’s smile wavered.
“You know, all these human things. You don’t really need them, do you?”
“Well, it does look good to play the part-”
Walking into Aziraphale’s modest dining room, Michael and Gabriel sat down on the supper couch that Crowley usually took, both Archangels sitting straight upright on the edge, not bothering to recline.
Gabriel sniffed the air with a sensitive nose. “And what’s that smell? It smells evil.”
“Oh, it must be the snake,” Aziraphale said breezily. “They have a very distinct odor.”
“Oh yes, I have a tame snake that lives in the house,” Aziraphale explained. “Keeps the mice and rats down you know. All the Hellenes do it, they’re nice little pets to have. Her name is Cra-uh, Squirmy, and she...oh look, there she is.” Aziraphale reached down to pick up the leopard-spotted snake that had been slithering along the wall behind the furniture. Responding to the heat of his skin, the snake twined itself around his arm in a familiar and friendly manner, the orange-red splotches of her scales gleaming warm in the golden afternoon light that streamed into Aziraphale’s house from a high narrow window.
“A serpent? In your house?” Gabriel asked.
“It’s more likely than you think,” Michael said, checking notes scribbled on the tablet. “It’s true that the Hellenes practice this...appalling custom.”
“See, absolutely harmless,” Aziraphale smiled politely, as the snake tasted the air with a curious forked tongue. He held the snake carefully at a neutral position, despite wanting to bring it close to his chest and cradle it as he was accustomed to doing. “She’s good at keeping the house free from rodents. She likes an occasional sip of milk and a warm hearth when it’s chilly.”
Gabriel made a face. “Ugh. Is that why you were transporting gross matter?”
“You know, that. That basket of gross matter. Those red things. Apples. Is that what those are for, for feeding your...pet? Serpents eat apples, don’t they? I seem to remember something like that.”
“Uh, well, that is-” Aziraphale blinked.
“Gabriel, we should begin our survey soon. I have mapped out coordinates of some places that we should inspect.”
“Ah yes, the sin. The Assembly wants a report on whether this place needs a good purification.”
“Purification?” Aziraphale looked up, startled.
“You know, a cleansing,” Michael explained. “Like Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Oh, a cleansing. That kind of a cleansing,” Aziraphale blinked. “Well, I’m sure that you’ll find Athens is quite nice and doesn’t need much cleansing. After all, they’re hardly done rebuilding the Acropolis and to see all that lovely sculpture and work go up in flames again would be-”
“Aziraphale, you know that’s not up to us to decide,” Gabriel said.
“But you’re both on the Assembly?” Aziraphale suggested cautiously.
“True, it is our job to help decide, but it’s not our responsibility to decide what happens; that alone comes from God. Well, the Assembly of Heaven, acting on God’s behalf.”
Actually that is literally the definition of responsibility, Aziraphale thought to himself, but instead changed the subject. “Oh look, let me warm up the hearth for Cr- uh Squirmy for the evening; we’ll be able to get into any dinner party, any symposium if I’ve been doing my job right.”
“I suppose that’s something of a stretch but we’ll see,” Michael said coolly. “After all, Aziraphale, your last two written evaluations didn’t quite put you in good standing.”
Tart words were on the tip of his tongue: I am a rather fashionable singer these days to have at any gathering, but Aziraphale swallowed them down, ducking his head as he passed the Archangels. It was easier and would cause him far fewer problems to just keep his mouth shut and let it go.
Chapter 3: Demonic Flower Crowns
Crowley followed behind Asmodeus, and as he walked, he stared at the twisted crown of a ring that the Prince of Hell wore on the smallest finger of his left hand, a slender gleaming serpent that tangled gold around his finger.
“My dear brother,” Asmodeus began, “It’s so very kind of you to join us but you must tamp it down some, the humans are noticing.”
“Hmm?” Beelzebub looked up to Asmodeus. “Tamp what down?”
“The hellish miasma, my dear. Your aura of influence. Look,” Asmodeus pointed back along the path that they took; it was strewn with cracked jars and pottery, humans exclaiming over spilled food and curdled milk, babies wailing, animals shivering, bricks crumbling.
“Oh.” Beelzebub frowned, making an impatient gesture, and it seemed that the air itself no longer trembled with the Prince of Hell’s infernal presence, fading into seeming nothingness.
“That’s better,” Asmodeus said. “It’s hard on reality when we’re present in it, much less two or three of us all together at once.”
“Certainly,” Beelzebub said, fingering the necklace of obsidian flies that simultaneously existed as a buzzing cloud of black flies. “But you seem to be cauzzing some commotion yourself.”
Crowley glanced up at the tall blond Prince of Hell, wondering what Asmodeus would say. About a palm taller than Crowley himself, Asmodeus was by far one of the tallest figures in the streets, which drew some attention, but far more than it should have. As they walked through the streets of Athens, people had been staring and murmuring, pointing to Asmodeus, and it took Crowley only a glance to realize what was going on once they passed through the Agora and saw the new statue of Apollo that had been set up in a sculptor’s courtyard.
In the torchlight that sharpened all the shadows, the articulation of the muscles of the statue seemed exaggerated. Tall, muscle-girt, broad of shoulder and slim of hip, with strong arms and legs, the statue was proportioned as perfectly as the Demon Prince that it was modeled on, down to the hint of a knowing smile on its lips and the sharp look of determination in its eyes. The statue had been tinted and painted, with hair the color of torchlight and eyes set with quartz and lapis, framed by delicate eyelashes of gilt copper. It was looking pensively at a black and crimson serpent twined around the bare slender trunk of a tree.
Crowley looked away.
“These sculpting humans didn’t quite get my eyes right, but they have some specific ideas about how they want Apollo to look. Malachite would have been better.”
Crowley’s eyebrows went up, but he managed to keep his mouth shut.
“When did thizz happen?”
“I had some free time recently, my dear.”
“Free time? You do not have free time, only time stolen,” Beelzebub began, voice slowly raising and Crowley winced, drawing up the edge of his dark crimson himation over his head to cover his face, edging away from the two Princes as he felt the world fall silent around them as they slipped out of human perception.
Beelzebub’s voice rang out, echoing in the stillness. “Your time izz time that should be spent wizely, working for the sake of our master’z work, not your own! You have had Hizz wrath fall upon you yourzelf, why are you not more careful? No matter what we do, He is rarely pleazzed with us and when the punishing hand fallzz, it fallzz hard; none can escape Hiz power, Hiz wrath. He has made it very clear on many occasionzz that He would rather us toil than play.”
“Play? What I do is never play,” Asmodeus said sharply.
“Then what izz it that you do with your time when you spend it posing for statuezz?” Beelzebub snarled.
“Fomenting evil on earth, my dear Beelzebub.”
“Foment? That sour smell of controlled rot? What doezz that have to do with statuezz?”
“No, my darling brother, fomenting, not fermenting. It’s to break humans down in more insidious ways, a subtle creeping evil like the memory of the scent of perfume. Humans love ideals, so why not promote ideal beauty? Unattainable, unmatched beauty, the kind an angel naturally wears, the kind of beauty that a human cannot hope to attain.”
“You muzzt mean demon.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Demon, angel...all the same original stock, aren’t we?” Asmodeus waved it off with a flippant air. “What I appear like without effort costs humans hundreds, thousands of hours of toil, the ongoing trudge of vanity that takes them away from thinking too hard about things like the slavery of tens of thousands for the sake of some clothes or food or material goods, or even that of the suffering of the poor for the sake of the rich. And besides that, it does so much good for us that the humans worship beauty so dearly that they hardly look past the surface,” Asmodeus smiled, and with a gesture the sound, the texture of the world returned to normal.
Asmodeus caught Crowley by the waist, drawing him close. Crowley’s breath caught as the Prince of Hell cupped his face with a possessive hand, turning Crowley's face up toward him, his thumb stroking Crowley’s cheek, the cold serpent of his golden ring pressed against Crowley’s jaw. “For a pretty face and some lovely loose limbs to tangle with, they would never question the intentions of a young beauty from Ionia who has so many friends in high places, never question that such beauty could tempt men of power into such destruction.”
Crowley stood very still, eyes attentive, his expression fixed and carefully void of any true emotion until Asmodeus let him go. He found himself standing in the middle of the Agora for a moment, dazed, life passing by all around him as he caught his breath, struggling with the intense moment of longing that had passed through him. The Princes had continued their walk; Crowley quickened his step to catch up.
“That an image of you existzz in the human world...” Beelzebub scowled.
“You have your own images too, I’ve seen them. Don’t be jealous, my dear. After all, they always make you taller than you really are.”
“Jealous!” Thunder murmured in the distance.
“So humans don’t like to party much if the weather is bad,” Crowley began.
“What about here?” Asmodeus asked, and the world slipped back into normal. Grateful for the distraction, Crowley glanced at the front gate of the house, before looking up. In the early evening light, a vulture preened its feathers in a tall tree. It could be coincidence, or it could be a sign Aziraphale had left him, and Crowley decided it was better to play it safe.
“Nah. This place is boring. More water than wine and just a bunch of sophists talking about the Good Life here. Let’s go somewhere else, somewhere where they’ll have flute girls and acrobats and such.” Crowley set off down the street, turning a corner until he found another place where he could hear the chatter and music from outside.
He glanced at the Herm, the lintel and at the roof of the house and noticed that there were no signs; Aziraphale was definitely not here. “This is better. Let’s peek in, shall we?”
“Yezz, we muzzt attend the matter at hand.”
“Well, we’ll need flowers. They don’t do serious drinking without wearing a fillet, with some greenery or flowers for decoration. Like this,” Crowley said, and with a snap of his fingers, he was crowned with laurel, irises, and red roses.
Beelzebub gave the two a flat look before gesturing languidly, and a crown of wine-dark orchids and poisonous larkspur appeared on the Prince of Hell’s head, flies settling amongst the blossoms.
Asmodeus raised his hands and crowned himself with juniper and roses, crimson roses so dark they were almost black in contrast to his golden hair.
“Great, I think we’re ready to go in,” Crowley said. He waited for the others to step into the courtyard of the house before following, and at the beck of his pointed fingertip, an empty basket appeared, leaning against the protective carving of a Herm just outside the front gate, his sign to Aziraphale. He stepped inside.
“One thing.” Asmodeus caught Crowley by the wrist.
“Hmm?” Crowley stopped to look up; Asmodeus’ golden hair gleamed in the torchlight, and for a moment all seemed to be flames.
“I would keep thee by my side, Crawley. Thou shalt share my couch. Beelzebub will of course have one alone as befitting the First Prince.”
“Oh. Sure, sure thing. Of course, why not. I’m looking forward to it,” Crowley managed a smile as he felt himself shiver, and whether it was with anticipation or fear, he wasn’t certain. But he managed to mostly mean what he said next: “It is always a pleasure to spend time with you, my lord.”
“It is very useful that thou hast already established thyself as a hetaira; only a woman of thy standing could enter a party that is solely the realm of men. And of course, thou rememberest what I like to see on thee,” Asmodeus said, pushing back the heavy mantle of her himation to reveal long curling locks the color of dark copper. Immediately Crowley could feel the heat of Asmodeus’ influence passing over her as the Ionian chiton that was pinned over her arms and shoulders became a sheer sleeveless peplos in the Athenian style, pleated black silk sliding icy against her skin, sending a shiver over her entire body.
She glanced at the belt around her waist. The silver-gilt belt had turned golden, and it cinched firm around her body like the coils of a constricting serpent.
“Yes, my lord,” Crowley’s mouth moved into the parody of a smile as she felt at the cold stippled snake bracelets of purest gold twined tight around her wrists, their eyes set with gleaming emeralds. “How could I forget?”
As the angels walked through the moonlit streets, sparse and poor suppers turned into great feasts, artists were inspired to new heights of creation, barren women miraculously conceived, foundations were strengthened, trash and graffiti disappeared, and animals of various and conflicting species cuddled up.
“It might be a little much for two Archangels of your stature to be wandering the streets,” Aziraphale said. “Usually it’s best to tamp it down some so that humans and the rest of the world don’t notice the presence of your heavenly influence.”
Gabriel and Michael glanced at each other and shrugged. Immediately the streets went back to normal.
They turned a corner, and it seemed that everything along this particular street was trouble.
“Evil,” Gabriel made a face.
“I wouldn’t call this evil per se,” Aziraphale said as he gently miracled his way through the streets, fixing crockery and uncurdling milk, soothing babies and animals, subtly repairing brickwork. “It just seems like a bit of bad luck. Certainly humans aren’t responsible for bad luck.”
“Doesn’t it seem like something is off?” Gabriel said, looking to Michael. “Someone’s been through here, someone powerful. Maybe even as powerful as a Prince of Hell.”
“I doubt a Prince of Hell would be in town at the same time we are. What are the odds?” Michael tittered nervously. “It’s probably just human evils, amplified. Oh, like some kind of a violence gang has been through here.”
But weren’t you two doing the exact same thing just a moment ago? Aziraphale thought to himself. After all, that was what all celestial beings did, distort reality around them to one degree or another.
They passed a house. Hearing music and loud laughter, he glanced at the entry but saw the empty basket leaning against the Herm by the front gate.
“Should we go in?”
“Not this place. I’ve been here before. No sinning, just philosophers talking about the Good Life here, no need to try,” Aziraphale eyed the empty basket. As they walked past the house, Aziraphale stared at the blank expanse of wall, at the neatly carved Herm, wondering what Crowley was up to.
Chapter 4: Angelic Flower Crowns
A man who had been reclining leapt up to his feet on the couch and pointed as Asmodeus entered the symposium, followed by Beelzebub and Crowley.
“Apollo from the Agora!”
“Far-shooting Apollo, Lord of the Mice, the Apollo of the Plague,” Asmodeus smirked, but it didn’t seem that anyone noticed his remarks.
“And he brings with him his own water nymph, a pretty naiad clad only in the thinnest veil of black water!” Some jokester shouted, and the whole room collapsed into lewd comments and loud laughter.
“Which spring did you kidnap her from? Tell me so I can find it later.”
“Who did you steal her from, Apollo?”
“Apollo! Is her mother weeping for her at home?”
As the humans laughed at the jokes, Crowley’s smile was fixed on her face, noticing the dozen or so pairs of lustful eyes fixed on the curves of her body, visible through the sheer material. Before she could pull her himation close about herself, Asmodeus plucked it off her shoulders, folding it and setting it gallantly upon his arm.
“Come.” He offered her his hand, and led her to an open couch. Once Asmodeus was seated, Crowley reclined herself beside him, resting against his bent legs, settling the thin folds of silk around her carefully.
Crowley glanced over as Beelzebub settled on a nearby couch, icy blue eyes watchful. It didn’t take long for the First Prince of Hell to draw out the wooden case of a wax tablet and open it up. With a sharp stylus, Beelzebub gouged some writing onto the soft wax surface, lazily doing some work while reclining.
“You’ve come at a good time, Apollo. You’ve missed the supper, but we have yet to vote for the symposiarch!” A man said, and all around voices shouted in accordance.
“Apollo for symposiarch!”
“Tell us how to mix the wine!”
“Tell us which games we should play!”
“What is the prize for winning a contest?”
Quickly votes were tallied and as the humans fussed among themselves, Crowley wondered how much Asmodeus knew of the custom.
“The proper ratio is three to one: water to wine,” Crowley murmured, just loudly enough for Asmodeus to hear. “The humans are accustomed to it. Any less water would be unseemly-”
“I did not ask for thy suggestions,” Asmodeus said, his voice cold.
“Yes, my lord.” Crowley flinched, hugging herself as if she could make herself smaller and then remembering where she was, who she was with, forced herself to stretch back out, knowing Asmodeus preferred her to show off her body, to invoke lust and jealousy among the humans.
“Symposiarch, what is your pleasure?”
“What kind of contest shall we have?”
“How strong should the wine be tonight?”
“Strong, to ease off the strong cold of an early spring night. Add just a dash of water and no more,” Asmodeus said, sly pleasure evident in his voice. “The game will be just to drink, as fast and as much as possible. Empty those deep goblets of wine at my signal; he who first sees the bottom shall prove himself a real man, a happy man. After all, 'he that drinks most shall have the least sorrow.'”
Amphorae of wine were poured into a massive krater, and the slaves began to do the mixing, to do the serving.
And if anyone were to complain, to object, their voices were caught in their throats, unable to speak. And if anyone were to want to leave, they found that they could not do that either, no matter how hard they tried.
Beelzebub looked up from the work to watch the festivities with an approving nod of an infernal head.
“Gross matter? On your head?”
“I’m certain of it Gabriel; the Hellenes don’t drink without it. They think it helps moderate the drunkenness to wear something tight about the head, and if it should look pretty, all the better.” Aziraphale explained.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Like this.” With a snap of his fingers, a crown of laurel, crocuses, and white roses appeared on Aziraphale’s head, nestled against his pale curling hair.
“But are you sure it has to be gross matter?”
I’m certain you could miracle something celestial that has the appearance of gross matter if you really wanted to. In fact, if you were that concerned you wouldn’t be wearing human clothes and buying new human styles every few decades or so, setting the style standards in Heaven among the Assembly of Heaven and all the other angels, Aziraphale thought, but instead he smiled, endeavoring to be polite and to be of service. He touched the tender petal of a rose soft beneath his fingertips, and took a deep breath, taking in the sweet scent of flowers. “Well, it is a silly custom among humans, certainly I don’t agree to it, but it helps us blend in.”
“I suppose if we must do it to blend in...” Gabriel turned to Michael, giving the other Archangel a knowing look before miracling up a crown of pale lilies and fragrant pine.
“It’s no halo, but if it’s only for a few hours, I guess I can put up with it,” Michael said, running fingers through short-cropped hair until a crown of spring violets and young oak leaves appeared. “There, is that presentable?”
“Excellent work, Michael!” Gabriel exclaimed, “The humans will never suspect a thing.”
They went into the grand house and following in the wake of the Archangels, Aziraphale gestured with a quick motion of an outstretched finger, sketching in the air, and a drawing of a vulture blinked into existence, a smudge of black charcoal on the whitewashed outer wall next to the door.
Aziraphale walked in with a sigh. It was chilly, and he wondered if Crowley was warm enough, if Crowley’s himation was thick enough to keep off the evening air.
Chapter 5: The Scent of Roses Without Myrrh
Regretful, Crowley eyed her himation, which at the moment was folded up under Asmodeus’ elbow. She looked away, knowing there was nothing that could be done, and watched as the slaves moved around the room serving wine, knowing that there would not be any good end to the evening; all she saw before her was death and destruction.
She watched as the men drank at a furious pace as if they were compelled, which of course they were, emptying cup after cup and tossing the lees in a frantic game of kottabos for which there was no winner. Slowly as she resigned herself to whatever fate waited for all of them at the hands of a Prince of Hell, she noticed that the slaves who were quietly mixing the third krater were slipping more water into the mix than had been ordered, and for a moment it frightened her to see it, making her wonder what dangers they were bringing upon themselves, but it seemed that they had no fear of being caught out; this was something they were accustomed to doing, protecting their masters from themselves.
This was not new to her; Crowley had seen this before, slaves subverting their masters in the smallest and most subtle of ways, but it was good to be reminded that there were small things that could be done even when resistance was difficult or seemed almost impossible. She wondered if Asmodeus had noticed the subversion, but dared not to catch his attention by looking at him directly.
When she surveyed the room, it seemed that the men were already sliding into a dangerous state: a fight had broken out in the middle of the room over possession of one of the naked flute girls, who was trying desperately to continue playing her aulos despite groping hands. Behind them, Beelzebub watched with amusement, the flies that buzzed around the Prince of Hell clustering around a cup, jostling to lap up the wine.
Unsettled, and despite having decided earlier to try to avoid wine and stay as sober as possible, Crowley reached for her cup and finally had a sip from the deep bell-shaped skyphos. Immediately she realized that the wine was neat, as strong as if it had never been mixed – no, stronger – and without meaning to she glanced up at Asmodeus in alarm as she set her cup back down.
“A little demonic intervention of my own, my darling one,” Asmodeus murmured, drawing her into his arms, sending that heady but familiar mix of longing and fear through her. “There, isn’t this fun? Drink up, Crawley. There is work to be done. Evil never rests, does it?” His hands went to the clasps of her peplos, and he unpinned the silk, so that it slithered off of her shoulders, exposing her to the waist before gently easing her out of the rest of the fabric, so that she laid naked beside him. When she moved to cover herself, he caught her hands.
“Oh no, no need for false modesty here, my dear. This is not the first time thou hast taken all thy clothes off at a party; I know everything thou dost, darling. Everything,” Asmodeus hissed.
Not everything, Crowley thought, but with a pang she realized that she could not afford to think of Aziraphale right now, could not taint her thoughts of the angel with how she felt in this moment, and so she pushed all that away, moving closer to Asmodeus, hooking a trembling arm around the back of his neck, feeling her heart pound with anticipation wondering what Asmodeus would want from her next, and desperately wishing they were alone.
“Lovely one, all eyes are upon thee,” Asmodeus murmured, as he brushed her hair back so that nothing was left hidden, nothing was unexposed. “What shall we do to make them burn with a destructive desire?”
But before Crowley could speak, a man’s voice interrupted.
“Are you well, fair nymph?” In a minor breach of etiquette, a friendly man to Asmodeus’ left had turned around on his couch, leaning over. This was a man in the prime of his life with clear brown eyes and a gentle smile, old enough to have grown a reddish beard and sweating a little from the heat of the room, his brown hair tousled under a crown of myrtle. “Lovely stranger, flee Apollo’s embrace; the god’s heavenly fire will burn you and leave you nothing left for yourself. Come if you like, I’ll shelter you from his sharp arrows. I am but a poor and humble man with no presents to give you, but I do not wish to receive presents either, not even that of friendship. Think of me as merely a tree with sheltering branches, where you may pause for a moment’s rest before returning to the clear waters of the spring you call home.”
Asmodeus’ hand closed tight around Crowley’s wrist.
Crowley managed something that sounded like charming laughter. “Oh no, Apollo’s sanctuary is my only shelter; I would never dare ask for anything else. What makes you think I’d be happier in the shade of a mere tree...”
“You dare try to take what is mine?” Asmodeus’ voice rang out, and the sound of the party died down around him. The Second Prince of Hell pushed himself up to glare at the intruder.
Even Beelzebub sat up, looking up from the wax tablet upon which the First Prince of Hell had been working on, watching with cold, curious eyes.
The man with the myrtle crown blinked, but stood his ground, not backing down. “Apollo-like stranger, you may be a gentleman but so am I. Even a common whore has her dignity and she is not a common whore but a hetaira, an honored companion; if she flees, let her flee, for soon she will follow. That is, if she truly loves you, even unwillingly,” the man said in a steady voice. “And if she doesn’t? Well, she’s allowed to pick her own friends, you don’t get to choose for her.”
Asmodeus’ hot anger turned cold, and Crowley’s breath caught. She tensed, sensing and seeing the shift as the snarl on Asmodeus’ lips turned into a false, supple smile.
“You fancy yourself a poet, don’t you, Cleander, son of Heraklitos?”
“A meager and middling talent,” said the man with the myrtle crown. “Normally I manage farms and smallholdings. Wait, how do you know my name?”
“I know many things about you, Cleander. Everything. A failed poet who will never be famous, whose name will never ring forth through the ages, whose verse limps and stumbles more than it flies.”
Cleander smiled politely. “I don’t mind. I would rather live in the sheltering shadows of Simonides and Sappho than try to vie with them for the bright light of fame. I chose differently than Achilles, and I don’t regret my choices.”
“Then what about the thousands of hours you’ve spent creating? All that time that could have been put to better use.”
“I don’t do it for fame; I do it for myself. That time was never wasted, when I think of all the pleasure it gave me to sing my own songs, even if they limp in the foot.”
“Why don’t we sing then,” Asmodeus smiled, all teeth and no amusement. “Winner takes all, including the nymph.”
“I think the nymph should choose for herself; she belongs to no one but herself-” Cleander began, but the men of the symposium all around them shouted him down.
“Winner takes all!”
“To the best goes the best!”
The best and most fashionable party of the night was at Agathon’s and when Aziraphale entered he was glad to see that the brightest philosophers of the day were already in deep discussion about what constituted the Good and the Beautiful by the time the angels entered the symposium. It was already so crowded that people were sharing couches that normally would not. Miraculously, there was one open supper couch available, in a prime spot near the host.
“Michael, let’s take that empty couch. Hopefully you can find a seat, Aziraphale. Maybe someone will move?” Gabriel said, optimistic as ever.
Aziraphale sighed, biting back some cutting remarks. “It’s quite all right, I shall wait outside. Please take your time and see what the humans have to say about love.”
“Oh, I’m sure nothing they say about love is anywhere near our profound understanding of it,” Gabriel remarked as he reclined back on the supper couch.
“After all, we are angels,” Michael said, joining him, pulling out a stylos and a wax tablet, settling down to get some work done.
Beings of love perhaps but somehow not of compassion, Aziraphale thought, as he slipped out of the party and stepped outside into the cold.
His breath came in a great cloud as he exhaled with a huff. He waited in the courtyard for a little while, circling the household altar as he paced and then realized that there was no point waiting here; he couldn’t even hear the conversation, not even murmurs. There probably wouldn’t even be musicians at this symposium, Aziraphale thought, and he stepped out of the courtyard onto the street.
Gabriel and Michael could find their own way around Athens, he thought, and if they ran into any demons, that would be their own problem entirely. Though he made a mental note to come back within a few hours to check up on the Archangels.
The sky had grown cloudy, too cloudy for the moon to be seen, and the scent of damp soil in the air of the early spring night reminded him of deep forests even though they were far from any forest here.
He took a deep breath, caught the heady scent of roses from his garland, and longed for the resinous scent of myrrh that he had for so long associated with roses.
He smiled a little to himself, thinking what it would have been like to attend that symposium at Agathon’s house with Crowley instead. They would have met as if by accident, even though nowadays it was rarely an accident, given how close their houses were to each other. They would have shared that last empty supper couch, drinking wine together. Crowley would have leaned against his legs, and tried to make him laugh inappropriately by adding snide remarks to the philosopher’s statements, whispering her comments in Aziraphale’s ear in a low and sensuous voice. Maybe a human would have been jealous that such a beautiful and desirable hetaira was with him, a modest and unassuming poet. After all, he had run into Crowley’s lovers before in public, and they were not all kind nor understanding men. But Crowley would have laughed it off and charmed them all into friendship or at least an uneasy truce.
And then once they had played a few rounds of kottabos – and of course Crowley would win, as usual, even against the best human players – the demon would catch his eye with a wink and toss down the last dregs of wine into the shape of an alpha for Aziraphale...
Aziraphale sighed as he walked the empty streets alone, sandals pattering lightly over the hard-packed ground. Eventually he found that he had wandered back to the house where the empty basket leaned against the Herm.
Kappa for Crowley, alpha for Aziraphale. But they had decided to use Egyptian hieroglyphs, so that these sounds were represented with a basket and a vulture, and it was a clever code that they had used for some time now, warning each other of their presence.
The party inside was getting loud and raucous, he could hear it through the high walls, and the angel found himself leaning against the whitewashed brick, looking at the open gate from which a heavy dark wooden door hung, wondering what Crowley was up to.
Chapter 6: The Song Contest
Cleander, son of Heraklitos, opened the case to take out the lyre and tuned it with the heavy dark leather tuning kollops, taking some pains to adjust the instrument, making sure that each note sounded correctly. From that, Crowley wondered if the human was more of a musician than a poet. But once he started singing, Crowley understood that this was an artist too. Not a poet proper, perhaps, but a talented amateur whose station in life did not allow him to give up his responsibilities and follow where the song led him, whether through poverty or riches, through stolid Lakedaimon or the distant shores of elegant Ionia. Yet even in his modest talent, Cleander played beautifully and sang even better, playing the lyre with a mix of the plectrum and his fingers, sounding and dampening the strings to add contrast and texture to the piece.
He is more than a hero
He is a god in my eyes –
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you.
He who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of your voice,
the enticing laughter
that makes my own heart beat fast
If I meet you suddenly
I can’t speak –
my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under my skin
my own ears drumming
I drip with sweat
Trembling shakes my body and
I turn paler than dry grass.
At such times
death isn’t far from me.
Cleander finished with a showy cadenza, well-practiced and well-rehearsed, as good as a kithara player and Crowley was impressed; it was rare that a guest at a symposium could perform as well as a professional, and moreover sing an excellent Sappho. Even with a song so recognized, Cleander had added individual flourishes to the music, playing with the timing and phrasing of the melodic line so that familiar words seemed fresh and lively, as if a new piece altogether.
And when Cleander smiled at Crowley, a gentle and modest expression, as if to thank her for listening, she realized two things: one, that the human had intentionally directed the song to her, and two, that the human would probably not live to see the morning.
She shivered, and Asmodeus rested a possessive hand briefly on her bare shoulder before taking the offered lyre from the human, catching the plectrum swinging from the cord that attached it to the instrument in one smooth motion.
“Oh, now he’s done it, watch out for those who would try to steal from Apollo! It never ends well! Not unless you’re ready to invent a new instrument as a gift,” A wag laughed, and all around the symposiasts clapped politely for Cleander, who returned to his proper place on his couch, reclining back to listen.
Asmodeus didn’t bother tuning and immediately began to play. His voice was deep and velvety, but he sang uncaring, cold and precise, with the supernatural perfection of a celestial being of his stature.
Taking the girl, I laid her down
in the luxuriant flowers.
Having wrapped her in my soft cloak,
supporting the nape of her neck with my elbow...
Crowley listened, pretending to be attentive, leaning against Asmodeus’ legs. It would be Archilochus, Crowley thought, who had in his lifetime been a favorite of Asmodeus, a mercenary poet in every sense of the word, driven by lust and destruction and yet sang lyrical words with a honeyed tongue.
and gently touched her breasts with my hands
...revealed her skin fresh with the approach of youth...
Crowley felt a strange tremor go through her, remembering something from long ago. A great serpent, its golden scales gleaming in the light of a sulphurous lake as it twined around a battered, fallen body, feathers blackened and singed. The sputter of fire and the deep unyielding darkness and the reek of the underworld as the reality of Hell set in...
As quickly as it crept upon her the feeling passed, though it left her shaken, feeling as though she had passed through fire, and for a moment she felt her hand move of its own accord to touch black wings that were not visible to human eyes before forcing that treacherous hand back down to her side.
and stroking her beautiful body all over,
I loosed my vitality, touching her blond hair.
Asmodeus finished with a flourish. He leaned over and caught Crowley by the chin to claim what was his, kissing her hard so that she could feel his teeth behind his lips as the humans cheered loudly for him.
“My vote is for Apollo!”
“Excellent work, Apollo-like stranger. I know when I’m bested,” Cleander said graciously, and Crowley wished she could say that like so many music contests, it was not so much the best song that won, but the most popular.
“Obviously Apollo would win a singing contest. But you,” Asmodeus’ voice grew dark and rich in timbre and he gestured expansively, his brilliant green slitted serpent’s eyes fixed on Cleander’s eyes. The human swayed slightly, as if dazed. “You who would dare challenge me for what has always been mine and mine alone...I think that you’ll find that you were right in thinking that death isn’t too far from you at all.”
A moment later, Asmodeus’ eyes returned to normal, appearing like any other human’s, and the Prince of Hell gestured for the slave to refill their cups.
Cleander paled, and reaching for his cup, draining it down to the lees before stumbling off his couch, dazed, wandering blindly through the party for some time as if lost before he eventually staggered out into the darkness of night.
In the dark shadow of night, Aziraphale stayed hidden. Peeking through the doorway, Aziraphale could see Crowley. She was fully unclothed and enjoying it, long sinuous limbs comfortably at ease, every part of her formed so beautifully that Aziraphale watched with more than a bit of envy and some other unnamed emotions, seeing her so comfortable with herself, with her corporeal form. She was reclining on a couch with someone, someone whose company she seemed to enjoy quite a bit. She threw back her head, laughing at a joke, her entire face lighting up, and when she leaned back for a heated kiss, Aziraphale finally realized that it was Asmodeus that she was with. The Prince of Hell was stripped to the waist and flush with wine, and his body was as beautiful as that of a statue or more so; it seemed that the statues were only pale representations of him. Aziraphale quickly looked away, hands pressed to his chest, his face hot.
He’s handsome and he’s charming, and I like him just fine. Stricken, Aziraphale remembered Crowley’s words, and they seemed to echo in his mind like the repeating, clomping lyrics of a working song.
Heart pounding, Aziraphale stumbled away and leaned against the household altar in the middle of the courtyard for a long moment, catching his breath. He knew about Asmodeus, had known about him for a long time, but it had been ages since he had seen the Second Prince of Hell and then only in an official capacity, not like this. Not like this; at ease, with Crowley in his arms as naturally as if she had always belonged there…because of course, she had always belonged to Asmodeus.
And Crowley seemed happy, happier than he had seen her in a long time; he was used to seeing her scowls, her moods, those troubled creases in her forehead when she was thinking, because wasn’t she always thinking? and he realized that this was a side of Crowley he had never seen before.
A strange sad longing went through him. Years ago Aziraphale had said he would protect Crowley from Asmodeus if he could, but what was there to protect from? It was obvious who Crowley preferred. There was no way he could ever compete with a Prince of Hell, who was powerful and beautiful and charming. And maybe a long time ago, he had also been powerful himself, flaming sword in hand, but he had never been particularly beautiful or charming, just an ordinary angel in many regards, not created to be a dazzling gem in the court of Heaven, not created to lead but to serve. Even if there were things that Crowley didn’t like about Asmodeus, for he was a Prince of Hell after all, Crowley would be a fool to prefer anyone else, especially a nearly fallen Cherubim who could hardly be invited to share a supper couch with an Archangel, much less the deep intimacy that Heaven used to represent before all the unpleasantness surrounding the War in Heaven and the Fall of the Angels.
Aziraphale looked up, hearing the slap of sandals on the tamped-earth courtyard; someone had left the symposium, and quickly he moved out of the way into the deep shadow of a colonnade, concerned that he would run into a demon.
In the torchlight that flared bright, lighting the courtyard, a bearded man crowned with myrtle stumbled out, and he seemed quite drunk, dazed with wine.
Aziraphale watched with an amused smile until the man wandered his way over to the household altar and took up a sacrificial knife that had been left forgotten.
“A failure...always have been...always will be,” he muttered, and raised the knife, which flashed silver in the torchlight.
“Wait! What are you doing?” Moving fast, Aziraphale caught the knife before it could come down into the tender hollow of a stubble-rough throat.
The man in the myrtle wreath blinked, dizzied, stumbling back and Aziraphale easily wrested the knife out of the man’s hand, throwing it aside so hard that it disappeared from reality.
“Stop that, that’s no way to live and that’s certainly no way to die,” Aziraphale scolded. “You have a wife and young children at home to think of, who put these thoughts into your head?”
“I...I don’t know,” the man in the myrtle wreath shivered; he had walked out of the symposium into the cold night air without his chlamys and was clad only in his sweat-damp chiton. “Where am I?”
“At a party. What’s your name?”
“Cleander. Cleander, son of Heraklitos.”
As the man spoke, Aziraphale raised his hands and passed them over the man’s head and heart, feeling the weight of a demonic compulsion clinging to the spirit that animated the flesh, the enthrallment that could only have been put on him by a serpent. Aziraphale frowned. With a sharp gesture he snapped the compulsion weighing the man down and it broke like a thread, disappearing into nothingness. While Aziraphale was at it, he dried the sweat off the man and dropped the man’s chlamys warm over his shivering shoulders.
“A party…yes, I sang a song. I think.” The man blinked. “I lost a contest to...Apollo?”
“Apollo.” Aziraphale frowned, guessing who that could have been. “Never mind him, you’re going to go home now. And...and you’re going to take your family out to your farm in the country for the rest of the season. Leave tonight. No more supper parties or symposiums for you, not for three years time. Understood?” Aziraphale said firmly.
“But keep up with the music, Cleander, son of Heraklitos. Your heart is good and in the right place. We appreciate your offerings to Heaven. They come with great love,” Aziraphale said softly, guiding the man out the doorway of the courtyard onto the streets, walking him home.
Chapter 7: Setting the Trap
Naked flute girls and dancing guests filled the middle of the room, and Beelzebub watched with a critical eye as a man collapsed unconscious onto the cold stone-paved floor, coughing as he choked on his own vomit.
“Crude but it workzz,” Beelzebub said to Asmodeus, clicking shut the wooden writing tablet upon which the Prince of Hell had been working. “I have seen enough here and need no more.”
“Already leaving? But it’s just getting fun,” Asmodeus said.
“Now I wish to see about some sophisztzz and philosopherzz,” Beelzebub said, swinging short legs down from the couch to stand.
“Lord Beelzebub, shall I accompany you? That is, if it’s all right with Lord Asmodeus?” Crowley asked immediately, straightening up, looking to Asmodeus for approval.
“It izz not ne-” Beelzebub began.
“Actually Crawley, why don’t you go with Lord Beelzebub,” Asmodeus caught the Prince of Hell’s eye and they exchanged a knowing look.
“Yezz. Crawley, come. Thou shalt accompany me, and direct me to a suitable place.”
Quickly Crowley pinned her dress back on, glad to be clothed again, and pulled her himation over her shoulders and head, sinking into the heavy fabric with deep relief, grateful for Beelzebub’s intervention.
“Let me walk you out, my dear brother.” Asmodeus got up, offering his hand to Beelzebub, who took it lightly.
They crossed the courtyard together and as they passed the household altar, Asmodeus stopped mid-stride, tasting the air, inquisitive.
“Are you certain you wish to stay, brother?” Beelzebub asked. “We may switch partiezz at will; there are plenty tonight throughout the city.”
“I want to see this through. I have a bet with Hastur that I can cause a half-dozen deaths from alcohol poisoning at a single party, and I’m only up to three. Well, they’re not dead yet, but they will be soon enough.”
“Fine, if you muzzt, you muzzt.” Beelzebub paused in the doorway, and turned to Asmodeus, who was looking at something leaning against the nearby Herm. “I will send Crawley back to you az soon az I am done.”
“Hmm? Yes, good. I would appreciate having my darling subordinate back,” Asmodeus said, his eyes moving over Crowley. “Come back soon, my dear, we have much to do tonight.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Asmodeus watched Beelzebub and Crowley leave. Once they turned the corner, he looked back at the empty basket by the Herm. He picked it up, sniffing it curiously, his long forked tongue flicking out for a taste of the air around it. Recognition came over his face.
“Oh Crawley. You’re full of your own little secrets, aren’t you?” Asmodeus said aloud.
The basket burst into flame in his hand, burning fast, and disappeared into ashes that the wind whisked away without a trace.
Asmodeus smiled, pleased with himself, and went back inside to wait.
Michael glanced down at the data on the wax tablet, checking it one last time before tucking the stylus away and closing the wooden case with a snap.
“Well, I think that’s all that I need to see here,” Michael said, swinging long legs off the supper couch and onto the floor.
“Oh, but shouldn’t we visit a few more symposiums?” Gabriel asked, leaning up. “Is this a thorough enough inspection?”
“Maybe not, but I’m afraid I have some pressing business to attend to,” Michael replied. “If we need further data I’m sure we can ask Aziraphale.”
“I thought you were concerned about his performance? What about his last two evaluations, you said they weren’t great.”
“Oh, his performance is fine. You know we can’t give out perfect scores on evaluations, Gabriel. It keeps the angels on their toes, knowing that they must always strive to be better. I have never given out a perfect score, not even close. The highest mark I give out sends a message that there is much room for improvement. If I gave out great marks, they’d all stop trying. It’s best for them to think they’ve done something wrong, so they’ll reflect on what they can do to make those marks better.”
“Excellent job as usual, Michael. You really understand how to encourage our subordinates to be the best they can be. I didn’t think of it that way, but you’re absolutely right. How else can we strive toward the perfection of God’s divine goodness and grace if we are told we are doing well?” Gabriel said warmly. “This is why you’re the Second Archangel of Heaven, standing high above all others. Well, except me, of course.”
“Thank you, Gabriel. Now then, I’ll be off…” Michael said with a tight little smile.
“All right, let’s go then. When we get back, I think we should-” Gabriel moved to sit up, but Michael gestured for him to stay.
“Gabriel, please. You come to Earth so rarely. I know you’ve been enjoying these talks. Why don’t you stay and see this symposium through to the end? Another few hours won’t make much of a difference. If anything comes up, I’ll cover for you.”
“Well thank you, Michael. You’re a true angel,” Gabriel smiled brilliantly.
As Michael left the party, the Archangel noticed the graffiti on the outer wall beside the door. It was a crude, jagged drawing of some kind of hook-billed bird with sloping shoulders, hastily scrawled, and it marred the pure whiteness of the wall.
“Some untalented, inconsiderate human must have left this ugly mark. Humans are absolutely incomprehensible,” Michael said aloud.
With a frown, Michael gestured with an imperious hand, and the graffiti was gone, leaving nothing behind.
Chapter 8: Wine and Truth
Aziraphale waited for the human with the myrtle crown to be on the road out of Athens with his family, and once he had seen them off, he realized he had been gone too long and hurried back to the party where he had left Gabriel and Michael, running down the street and in through the front gate. The couches were all still full, the humans were in deep discussion, and to his surprise, Gabriel was alone.
“Where’s? Where’s Michael?” Aziraphale panted, catching his breath.
“Business back in Heaven, I think. Or on Earth? I don’t know. These humans are amusing,” Gabriel said. “Look, Aziraphale, the insides of the cups are drawn with pornography.”
“Yes, of course,” Aziraphale muttered, gasping for air. “Do you mind if I…?” And before he asked to sit, Gabriel spoke.
“Oh no, I don’t mind if you go. I’ll let you know if I need any more information from you."
“Oh.” Aziraphale’s smile was fixed on his face.
With a sigh he wandered out into the street again, alone. A komos weaved by just as he stepped out, a group of drunken singing men happy to raise their voices to the heavens in salute to their happiness, and he stepped back to watch them pass, exultant faces lit by torchlight. On a whim, he followed the komos for the length of the street. The full moon peered through a veil of cloud, low on the horizon, before slipping back into darkness again, and in the empty night he walked until he found himself again at a familiar house. Only now the basket beside the Herm was gone.
Perhaps that meant that Crowley was free. It probably meant that he wasn’t there anymore, but Aziraphale felt a twinge of hope, thinking that he could see Crowley, even if just for a moment. And to have a cup of wine together, that would be so lovely after everything that had happened tonight...
But it would be best to be safe. He slipped off his ring and threaded it onto a cord around his neck, slipping it into his clothes. He patted the hidden ring, and thought of a disguise; a young athlete was always welcome at a party, and so reality would see what he thought.
Aziraphale stepped inside.
Among the clamor and the music, the dancers, the naked flute girls, the lounging symposiasts with their grasping hands, the heady reek of alcohol and sweat and vomit, he saw Crowley sitting alone at a supper couch in her black linen chiton, pinned with silver fibulae over her arms, reclining in such a way that he couldn’t quite see her face. Glad to see her, Aziraphale picked his way over, dodging puddles of splashed wine from kottabos and unconscious drunks who he gently nudged back toward life and away from the brink of death without even thinking of it.
“Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here alone?” Aziraphale asked, leaning against her couch.
“Beautiful youth, why don’t you have a seat?”
Aziraphale smiled to himself, feeling a thrill of excitement; it was obvious that Crowley didn’t recognize him in disguise. He wondered how long it would take Crowley to notice, and decided to play along. “This symposium is full to the brim so I can’t stay too long. I’m just seeing if a friend is here.”
Crowley took a deep breath through her mouth, running air over her tongue. “Come on, sit with me while you look. If you don’t see him, perhaps your friend has stepped outside for some fresh air and will be back soon. Have a rest, relax. A young man like you has probably been running around all night without a pause, going from party to party.” Crowley’s mouth moved into the hint of a smile, and Aziraphale shrugged.
“Something like that. I suppose I could rest my feet.” He looked around. “Is anyone watching?”
“Nah,” Crowley. She gestured for him to sit, patting the supper couch. “Your reputation is safe with me. Here, come and relax. Recline with me, Angel, and have some wine.”
“Oh, thank you,” Aziraphale said with a smile, realizing that Crowley had recognized him despite the disguise.
“’Wine, o dear boy, and Truth,’” Crowley quoted, pressing the deep bell-shaped stryphos to Aziraphale’s hand. “The truth always comes out in the end, doesn’t it?”
“Certainly. Thank you Crowley,” Aziraphale said and took a sip, making a face when he realized the wine was neat. “Did they not mix this yet? What kind of party is this, that they’re drinking wine unmixed?” He set the cup back down on the low table.
Crowley took a deep breath, tasting the air with the tip of a forked tongue. “These flowers are nice,” she said.
“Oh thank you, I’m rather fond of the crocuses myself.”
“They’re beautiful, but you know they give you away,” Crowley said. “Not even the right season for crocuses. Hasn’t anyone commented on them yet, Angel?”
“No, not really. I’m surprised myself…?” Aziraphale paused, noticing that something unusual. The party had grown quiet, very quiet, and it seemed they had slipped into a resonant space where their voices echoed bell-like in the deep stillness, slightly out of phase with the rest of reality. “Is something wrong? What are you doing?”
“Oh no, nothing’s wrong, darling,” Crowley said with a smirk. “Nothing at all.”
Aziraphale’s eyes grew wide. “Crowley, really, doing this to a human. You know you’re not supposed to...to interact with them like this? There are the rules... Of. Um. Of engagement… Wait a minute, I know you can’t do this. You’re not powerful enough to offset us from reality the way an Archangel can; how are you doing this-”
And then Aziraphale paused, realizing what was not right. In a flash, he moved to scramble off the couch, but Crowley caught him by the waist before he could push himself away. She was stronger than she had any right to be, and she pinned him hard to the couch.
Aziraphale gasped as the air was knocked out of him, eyes wide with surprise and fear.
The cushions were striped, Aziraphale thought, and when he could breath again, his nose was filled with the scent of juniper and roses, and he immediately realized his mistake.
“Beautiful Angel, who are you? I have tasted your scent before. You taste like rain and the cold wind over a mountaintop underneath that Egyptian lavender...”
“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken,” Aziraphale tensed, speaking politely. “I am an ordinary human being who has wandered into the wrong party. As a free-born citizen, it is my right not to be manhandled in public by a foreign hetaira-”
“Nice try, darling, but that’s not going to work. It’s far too late for disguises. It’s been so long since I began to suspect that you have been lurking around my Crawley, and now I finally have proof. Aziraphale isn’t it? Principality, Representative on Earth, you who are a Servant of God. It is an absolute pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.” Asmodeus smiled, tossing away all pretenses as he reverted back to his actual form, and it seemed that the air itself around them shivered, pulsed with the powerful aura of a Prince of Hell. The infernal influence was so strong that Aziraphale could just about see it, like the wavering shimmer of heat on a blistering hot day. Bare to the waist, with only the belt of his chiton holding the short folds of crimson fabric over his hips, Asmodeus shifted lazily, pinning Aziraphale’s wrists easily with one hand, his legs holding Aziraphale’s hips down.
“You can’t do this!” Aziraphale felt the disguise slipping off of him as he struggled hard, quickly realizing that Asmodeus was too strong for him. “This is outrageous. I...I will lodge a formal complaint!”
“To Beelzebub? The First Prince of Hell is on my side. Satan? He won’t listen to an Angel; he’s done listening to your kind. Or were you hoping that God would take your petition? She’s not listening, hasn’t been for a long time.” Asmodeus leaned down, his forked tongue flicking out before Aziraphale’s face. “I knew I have tasted you before. Crawley always tries so hard to cover up the traces you leave behind in reality, but it’s impossible to wholly cover up or destroy the changes left by a celestial being. You’re the one who’s been consorting with my demon, haven’t you?”
“N-no, of course not. What kind of madness would that be, an angel consorting with a demon. This is a dreadful mistake. You are absolutely mistaken.”
“Oh, but I know I’m not. I know everything about Crawley. Or Crowley, as you say. That expressive face can’t hide anything from me.”
Aziraphale flinched, realizing that he had accidentally given away the secret that had been held between them for over a millennia, that Crowley had changed his name.
“There’s so much I could do now that I’m sure it was you snooping around what rightfully belongs to me. Let’s discuss this rationally,” Asmodeus continued. “You don’t want Heaven to find out what you’ve been doing behind their back, do you? Consorting with the Opposition, with Hell’s Representative on Earth.”
“There are many and very reasonable reasons for occasionally meeting with Hell’s Representative on Earth,” Aziraphale said coldly. “I can assure you that any contact with your side is purely business.”
“If this had the sanction of Heaven, I would have known about it,” Asmodeus hissed, and Aziraphale blanched. “Try again, but this time make it believable.”
“H-how do you know for certain? You can’t know what Heaven is up to!”
“Hmm, don’t I, though?” Asmodeus smiled, and there was something very sly in his eyes as he changed the subject. “I know because you’re terrible at bluffing, Angel, and even worse at lying. Every fiber of your being gives away the lie. That’s the problem with Angels. Your faces betray everything. Perhaps you’d like to do some work to undermine Heaven for me, as a double agent. Or better yet, perhaps I shall make you one of mine, claim you as my own. What do you think of that? Wouldn’t it be lovely, to see that gorgeous colorless hair set against a backdrop of black wings? I don’t think I have a blue-eyed serpent in my holdings; would your scales be electrum pale just like your beautiful hair? Tell me, Principality, how much do you think I could taint you with even just a kiss?”
Frozen with fear, Aziraphale tried to speak but could not find his voice; it had never occurred to him that something like this could happen, and he thought of all the times that he had touched Crowley’s hand or held the demon close and he wondered how dangerous it had been for him this whole time.
“Aziraphale, I think I know exactly how much I could taint you to make you fall. With your celestial spirit trapped in a corporeal body, that makes you all the more vulnerable. I couldn’t touch you if you were merely spirit, not unless I too gave up this corporation. Poor Heaven, if only they knew what kind of profound danger they put their servants in, just to meddle a little with the humans.”
“I. I don’t think you know how bodies work…!”
“On the contrary, I’m quite an expert. Carnal knowledge from a Prince of Hell would be enough to blacken your wings to coal, wouldn’t it? And then you’d be the first to fall since the Fall itself. What a coup it would be for me.”
“You can’t do this!” Tears welled in Aziraphale’s eyes, and the Prince of Hell blurred in his vision. “There...there are protocols!”
“Empty words spoken at empty altars, pretending like we all equally care about the rules. All the more reason to break them. How furious will God be with me? But then again, if She cared, She would have never led you to this very moment. It must be all part of the Great Plan, that you would be mine.”
Shocked, Aziraphale gasped, realizing the implications.
“I’ve never had an Angel before,” Asmodeus said thoughtfully, cupping the angel’s face with his free hand, stroking Aziraphale’s cheek, the cold serpent ring pressed against Aziraphale’s jaw. “At least, not one that hasn't already fallen.”
“And you won’t,” Crowley said, leaning over Asmodeus from behind.
With a snap of her fingers, she stopped time.
Chapter 9: The Fallen
Aziraphale froze where he lay, and a moment later Asmodeus sat up, letting the Principality go as realization of the interruption set in.
“Darling, that wasn’t very fair. What hast thou done to this poor angel?” Asmodeus said, drawing away, leaving Aziraphale lying by himself on the couch, eyes open wide in an expression of horror. “What power is this that thou hast, that thou canst-”
“Me? What were you doing?” Crowley said indignantly. “This is my project, Lord Asmodeus, I’ve been working on this for ages and you were just going to take it from me?”
Asmodeus tilted his head. “Thy project?”
“It was meant to be a surprise for you, my lord. But I suppose it’s not much of one now that you know.”
“A surprise? Really.” Asmodeus looked at Crowley, skeptical.
“For some time now I’ve been working on tempting Heaven’s Representative on Earth into falling,” Crowley said. Reaching to Aziraphale, she slipped the cord out from around the angel’s neck, revealing the tiny crown of Aziraphale’s ring that had been hidden in the folds of his long chiton. “Look at this. When he left Eden, it was made of the purest gold. Over time it’s been very slowly turning into electrum. The taint of impurity has set in. I know I can make him fall of his own accord, given enough time.”
Asmodeus examined the ring without touching it. “Tell me more.”
Crowley tucked the ring back into Aziraphale’s clothing with a dismissive gesture. “Lord Asmodeus, compassion is the Principality’s weakness. This Angel can’t help but want to treat me with kindness. Did you know he offered to protect me from you, when he found out that you were my master?” Crowley laughed. “His heart – no – his goodness will be his downfall.”
“Angels. So optimistic and so gullible, despite their cleverness,” Asmoeus said. “Still, I would have liked to have had a taste...”
Crowley took a deep breath, meeting Asmodeus’ eyes. “Lord Asmodeus, if he falls from his own choices, it will be far worse than if he falls by your hand.”
“You surprise me, my beautiful Crawley. Or is it Crowley now? You’re full of secrets, aren’t you? And here I thought I knew everything.”
Crowley blinked, surprised to hear Asmodeus addressing her formally, as if an equal, and then realized that the Prince of Hell had addressed her by her name, the name she chose, not the one that Asmodeus had chosen for her so many eons ago. “T-thank you, my lord. I try my best.”
“You always do, and that’s what I like about you. Whatever you put your hand to, you always put in as much effort as possible, whether it’s pleasing me or doing my bidding. But why didn’t you tell me before?”
“You know I couldn’t trust you.”
“That’s what I like to hear from my favorite.” Asmodeus touched her face, cupping her jaw, leaning in to give Crowley a lingering kiss. “Well, this evening has gone by swimmingly, hasn’t it? And here I thought I was going to have a bad time of it, since an Angel walked in and saved my drunks from dying. I’ll have to tell Hastur that the bet’s off; the Opposition stepped in and ruined the whole thing.”
“A shame, lord.” Crowley said boldly. “You’ll get them next time.”
Asmodeus paused, noticing the change in how Crowley addressed him, but let it pass. “Next time. I’ll leave you to your project, darling. Let’s keep all of this a little secret between the two of us; I don’t want the others to interfere and skew the results. I know you won’t fail me.”
“It will take time,” Crowley said. “It won’t be easy. He was a Cherubim once, and was reduced to a Principality. He’s prone to slipping but the second time will be harder and take more work.”
“I know. Take all the time that you need. I’m looking forward to the results,” Asmodeus said, leaning down to run his hand through Aziraphale’s curling hair, to stroke his fingers over Aziraphale’s cheek. “What a beauty. Once he falls, Aziraphale will look very lovely on my arm, just as you do. A gorgeous, plump little angel with tarnished wings, fallen of his own accord. I shudder at the thought; the anticipation sends shivers of delight through me. And finally having him...that will be a triumph before all of Creation. I think I shall make the Opposition watch when I claim him the first time and turn that lovely fallen angel into a serpent like me. Like us,” Asmodeus chuckled.
Crowley’s smile was tight-lipped. “Yes, of course. It’s just a matter of time.”
“I will leave you to your little project. Do not fail me, Crowley.” Asmodeus, said as he kissed her again in parting.
“I would never dream of it, my lord.” Crowley said, and without meaning to she touched her lips.
She watched him leave, and then with a sigh collapsed against the supper couch after he was gone, feeling the air itself lighten as the heavy pulse of his influence left the room. Slowly the sounds of the party trickled back. Though the humans did not notice them, the two angels, fallen and otherwise, were no longer slightly off-center from the rest of reality.
“Angel,” Crowley said softly, staring at Aziraphale’s frozen, stricken face. “You shouldn’t have come here. I wish you had just left well enough alone. This makes everything so much harder for us.” She snapped her fingers. In an instant, Aziraphale gasped, sitting up with a start.
“Are you all right?” Crowley asked, brushing the tears from Aziraphale’s cheeks.
“Yes. No. No wait. I’m fine. No, I’m not. I don’t know...” Aziraphale shuddered, his entire body trembling. “What happened?”
“I wish I could tell you it was a dream but...” Crowley sighed, exhausted. “Let’s get out of here.”
Chapter 10: Trust
They walked through the dark streets after the moon had set, and Crowley carefully guided Aziraphale around some broken crockery that lay in a jagged heap just outside the empty lot of a house that had recently burnt down.
“You don’t have to walk me home, Crowley. I’m fine,” Aziraphale said, teeth chattering, shaking uncontrollably.
“I know, but. He’s still around here somewhere and I don’t want him to reconsider.”
“Do you think he’d come after me?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so, he’s surprisingly good about being consistent to his word, but...I’ll protect you, I promise.”
“How did you get rid of him? One moment he was on top of me, the next...”
“I. Well, I. May have told him that I was tempting you to a fall,” Crowley admitted. “But it’s not true, I swear it. I would never do that.”
A komos passed by, loud and raucous, and she drew Aziraphale aside to let them pass.
As she watched the drunken humans dance and sing, Crowley pulled the mantle of her himation around the angel’s shoulders, feeling him tremble, the fine wool of his pale, undyed chlamys against her bare arm.
Aziraphale tensed with a start, remembering Asmodeus’ claim that he could be tainted by a demon’s touch. For a moment he was torn, trying to decide if he should pull away, if he should push Crowley away, but then he remembered carrying Crowley in his arms across a river, so long ago, and the countless other times they touched.
He drew close; perhaps if it was of his own accord, he wouldn’t be tainted.
Crowley tensed and quickly began walking again, weaving through the last stragglers of the komos in the flickering torchlight and by the way she walked, he knew that she had noticed.
As he walked alongside her, Aziraphale leaned in close, close enough for his lips to brush against Crowley’s hair, for his breath to breathe hot against Crowley’s cheek. He took a deep breath, taking in the scent of roses and myrrh that clung to her. “I know you wouldn’t. I trust you.”
“You shouldn’t,” Crowley said, feeling her feet forget what they were doing for a moment, and Aziraphale caught her right elbow, catching her as she stumbled. “Not after tonight. Not ever.”
“Because what if I were truly tempting you into a fall? You can’t know what I’m capable of, or if I’ve been truthful to you. After all, if you were to fall, then you and I could...”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“I know you wouldn’t do it.” Aziraphale said, meeting Crowley’s eyes, which gleamed gold in the shadow of the folds of the crimson himation that covered her head. “Because if you did, I am not sure that I would be capable of forgiving you.”
“Right.” Crowley sighed. “I understand.” He fell silent, drawing his crimson himation closer over his head as they made their way to the front gate of Aziraphale’s house. Aziraphale made to open the door, but his hands were shaking too much and he handed the key to Crowley who let them in, locking the gate behind them.
“I can’t stay for long. Here’s the key, I’ll crawl out over the wall when I go.”
“Thank you, Crowley.” Aziraphale drew away, leaving the warmth of Crowley’s himation. “Please, come in for a drink.”
“I think I’ve had enough for tonight,” Crowley said, immediately regretting his words.
“Oh. I could use one.”
The angel was silent but still he trembled, even though Crowley knew that Aziraphale never really got cold.
“Well, Aziraphale, if you don’t mind, would it be all right if I came in and warmed up a little by your fire? This dress is a bit on the thin side.”
“Yes, of course. Do come in.”
Chapter 11: Crawly
They sat down together on the hard stone tiles in front of the warm hearth, Crowley on the angel’s left-hand side. Slowly, Aziraphale felt the cold that seemed to have seeped into his very being slip away and as the tremors abated, Crowley pulled away from him, though the edge of his himation stayed around the angel’s shoulders.
Weary, Crowley uncinched the golden belt around his waist and removed those gold bracelets that had hung heavy on his wrists, setting them down on the stone. The light of the fire flickered, reflecting on the gleaming metal, and Crowley had to make himself look away from the stippled serpents whose glittering emerald eyes stared at him coldly.
“Are those new?”
“No.” Crowley’s voice was full of resignation. “Been wearing them a long time now.”
“I’ve never seen you wear them before. They’re rather lovely, with all that delicate work-” Aziraphale began, and then he noticed the emeralds and realized where they must have come from. Or more accurately, who they must have come from. “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“It’s fine.” Crowley waved it off with an eloquent gesture. “Used to it.”
“I said it’s fine. Stop apologizing,” Crowley hissed, sharper than he meant it, and then he drew the himation closer over his head.
Distracting himself in the awkward and uncomfortable silence that he had created, Crowley reached out to stroke the drowsing snake curled up upon the warm stone. The snake flicked its forked tongue out at him, recognizing his scent, and climbed onto him, coiling around his hands in a friendly manner before twining itself around his wrist and up his arm. “Why you named her Crawly is beyond me. I still have trouble believing that you named your house snake after me.”
“The reddish patches on her scales reminded me of your hair, and her golden eyes remind me of your eyes, and she’s gentle and lovely and-” Aziraphale covered his mouth suddenly with his hand.
“How I put up with you is beyond me.”
“How I put up with you, you mean.” Aziraphale said, smiling a little to himself when he saw that Crowley’s mouth twitched with amusement. “You know, it’s times like this that I wish I could just say things aloud when I need to. The things I can say to you and no one else. Instead, it all just settles here and makes me feel upset and ill.” Aziraphale pointed to the rounded curve of his belly beneath his chiton.
“Best not to give anyone in charge any backchat. Believe me, I know. I can’t say half the things I want to either,” Crowley said, settling an arm around Aziraphale, drawing him close. Disturbed by Crowley’s movement, the snake slipped off of his wrist and back down to the hearth, settling in a loose coil on the heated stone. “And sometimes even when it’s just work and I speak up, they get very angry.”
“Even though...” Aziraphale paused. “I’m sorry my dear, I didn’t mean to do it but I spied on you briefly at the symposium. You seemed like you were having ever so much fun.”
“With Asmodeus?” Crowley’s mouth moved in a strange way. “No, angel. It’s all appearances. I would be lying if I said I didn’t desire him, but beyond that it’s all masks. I’m afraid I’ve gotten quite very good at that particular mask. It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but I find I don’t like him very much.”
“Wait, did you...did you say desire?” Aziraphale was puzzled.
“I don’t know if it’s because I want him or because his influence is so strong that I can’t help but want what he wants.” Crowley sighed. “Maybe you’ve noticed it too, but when he is near, I feel like I can’t help but abase myself before him. I can’t help but do what he desires, dress as he wishes, and let him do as he pleases with me. Even when I don’t want to, even when the word ‘no’ is already in my mouth, I do as he says,” Crowley said, his arms tight around Aziraphale’s shoulders beneath the shelter of the himation.
“I think I know what you mean. There was a moment when I almost...” Aziraphale looked away, his hand pressed tentative against Crowley’s shoulder. “A Prince of Hell is too powerful to be safe.”
“Yes, truly. Their influence is too powerful. It’s a design flaw, I’m certain.”
“The highest ranked Archangels are like this too. You can’t help but do what you’re told, and saying your mind is hard; you’re fighting against the power of their influence with every word. And if a few of them are together, the effect is amplified and it’s even worse.”
“I wonder if this is how we appear to humans,” Crowley said thoughtfully. “Probably more so; the distance between me and even a Prince of Hell is not nearly as great as the distance between us and humans.”
“Oh, that must be awful for them. I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. Best to use a light touch, as light as possible.”
“Yes, I’ve been doing that for a long time now, without thinking about it in so many words.”
They were quiet for a long moment together, watching the fire crackle merrily in the hearth, and then Aziraphale shifted, moving closer to Crowley.
“I spent all night walking around the streets,” Aziraphale said. “There was no place for me at the symposium. For a night of merriment, it wasn’t very merry at all.”
“I spent mine in the middle of an awful party. I think my...my boss induced a man to suicide,” Crowley shivered. “Just because the human was foolish enough to speak up for me.”
“Oh, Cleander, son of Heraklitos?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Did you see it happen?”
“Oh no, I saw him leave the party though. Whatever was placed on him was strong, but I blessed him and set him free. He’ll be fine,” Aziraphale said.
“Thank you. It was good that you were there, angel. I’m glad to hear he’s not dead.”
“It was merely a coincidence, my dear, an accident.”
“I think that just means that you were where you were supposed to be.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale paused. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Sometimes the best things that happen to us are by accident, good or bad. I’ve found over time that there are always threads of good outcomes hidden among the stones of bad experiences. You know, angel, that’s something I learned from watching humans. There’s something to be said about them, that I learn new things from them every day. Tonight I watched slaves subtly try to thwart their master, and an ordinary human try to protect me despite everything. He didn’t know what he was doing, or who he was talking to, but he was willing to go against a Prince of Hell and for what? He didn’t want anything from me; there was no lust, no greed in his eyes. And yet he spoke up for me, even though it almost cost him his life.”
“My dear, I believe that’s what the humans call ‘common decency.’”
“Common decency.” Crowley said thoughtfully. “What ordinary words for such extraordinary actions.”
“Isn’t that what humans are best at? Bringing out the extraordinary from the ordinary?”
“Yes. I think you’re right,” Crowley said. “He was very ordinary, and by far the better singer too. If anyone in that room had the taste to look past a certain Prince’s physical appearance and that awful Archilochus song that people like so much, they would have voted for Cleander. I certainly would have, if women were allowed to vote.”
“Sometimes humans are too easily swayed by beauty, and forget that a plain jar can hold honey too,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley’s mouth moved into a hint of a smile. “Still, you should have seen Asmodeus’ face when that human told him off in front of God and everyone. I could hear it in the music too; the human started playing the introduction to that one song of Sappho’s that has that line that goes, ‘Rich as you are, Death will finish you’ before switching mid-phrase to something less provocative.”
Aziraphale laughed, delighted. “You mean the one that ends with the person dead and flitting about Hades, invisible and forgotten? Oh, that’s a nasty one, she had a tongue on her when she was mad.”
Crowley found himself laughing, just a little, remembering the past.
Aziraphale leaned over to catch Crowley’s eye. “I’m glad that you rescued me tonight. I will always be grateful for your friendship.”
Crowley’s smile grew tense. “You wouldn’t have gotten in trouble if it weren’t for my acquaintance.”
“I wouldn’t have a lot of things if it weren’t for your acquaintance. Though I must apologize; I let your real name slip.”
“It’s fine, angel. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it,” Crowley said, waving it off. “In fact, after tonight, he seems to respect me more.”
Aziraphale sighed, disappointed. Knowing he did not want to hear more about Crowley’s feelings about Asmodeus, he quickly changed the subject. “It wasn’t much of a good night for parties, was it? But our own little party here seems better than all of those others combined.”
“Doesn’t it? All we need is some music.”
“I could do that. Do me a favor, my dear? Hand me my lyre.”
“Of course.” Without letting go of the angel, Crowley reached over to get the lyre that had been leaning against the desk, passing it over.
Aziraphale sat up straight, drawing away from Crowley to play.
“Are you really going to sing one for me?”
“I must suppose that I should let my voice out just a little, after holding back for so long.” Aziraphale said as he tuned, sounding each string to make sure that its pitch was accurate before he began
Aziraphale glanced at Crowley with a tender fondness, and then brought the plectrum down on the strings with a light and delicate touch, dampening the strings with his fingertips. He played very softly, accompanying a voice that was no more than a whisper. Each word was sung with deep feeling, the melody flowing sweet from his lips so that Crowley had to lean in close to listen, the sound of Aziraphale’s voice sending a lovely shiver through his heart.
With his venom
of limbs, Love
strikes me down
Crowley’s breath caught. As the song went on he could already feel the regret in his heart that this moment would soon end, and the music would be over, and perhaps Aziraphale would not dare sing it again. And so Crowley clung to each syllable, each note, each long and wandering phrase that twined around his heart as if a tangling vine of roses or perhaps merely a serpent.
And then it was over. In that blissful moment of silence after the end of the song, he waited, enjoying that breathless sensation of tranquility that followed all good songs once the music had ended.
“I wouldn’t dare to strike you down, Aziraphale. I would be too afraid of hurting you. If you fell, I would never forgive myself. I wouldn’t even dare to ki-” and Crowley closed his mouth, realizing what he was about to say.
“Dare to what?”
“Nothing, nothing. It’s nothing.” Crowley said lightly. “Just...know that I would never do anything to make you fall. I swear it.”
“I believe you, Crowley.” Aziraphale shifted, and Crowley drew back politely to give him space, but he took Crowley’s hand, pressing it to his cheek. “I believe you.”
Chapter 12: Our Own Symposium
They sat at the hearth on plumply stuffed cushions filched from the supper couches, toasting hunks of fresh bread on the fire and eating it with soft new goat cheese, slices of crisp apples, and honey. The wine from Crete had been mixed and poured, and they drank it from the same kylix, each taking a turn at a sip. There was another kylix too, filled with fresh spring water that they both drank from as well, sharing the cup.
As Aziraphale ate, his found his thoughts returning to Asmodeus’ words. Was it truly dangerous for him to be so close to a demon? It had never occurred to him that Crowley’s touch could taint him – they had been friends for so long, and had over time grown closer and closer – it didn’t seem likely. Especially since no one had fallen since the Fall itself; perhaps that was a one-off thing, and an angel could not fall again, not without the direct intervention of the Almighty.
But then Aziraphale realized that if it was dangerous for him to be tainted by a demon's touch, he in turn would be dangerous to one of the Fallen. After all, if Asmodeus was right, if an ethereal being was all the more vulnerable once it was melded into a corporeal body, it had to follow that it was possible for him to remove the taint of the Fall from Crowley.
The realization was stunning, dizzying, and for a moment it felt as if the breath had been knocked out of his body.
“Something on your mind?” Crowley asked, noticing Aziraphale’s expression change.
“Next time we go to a symposium, let’s share a couch,” Aziraphale said cheerfully, spreading some soft goat cheese on an apple slice and handing it to Crowley, who ate it in one bite.
“Who wants to share a couch with you?” Crowley scowled, but Aziraphale could tell the demon was hiding a smile behind that scowl. “I have a reputation to uphold.”
“Then the next time we have our own symposium, let’s share a couch.” Aziraphale said, drizzling some honey over the hot-toasted bread and handing it to Crowley, who ate it with a pleased murmur.
“Then I get to be symposiarch and set the terms of what we have at the party. Four to one ratio of water to wine. You have to sing. No dancers.”
“No philosophers,” Aziraphale suggested.
“No flute girls,” Crowley added.
“No Princes of Hell.”
“Just you,” Aziraphale said.
“And you,” Crowley replied.
“As long as you promise not to be anyone else.”
Crowley gave him a look. “I’ll make sure that you know it’s me.”
Crowley shrugged. “Don’t know, have to think on it.”
“What about if we work out a signal?” Aziraphale said, brightening up at the idea of solving a problem. “Some secret sign by which you would know me and I would know you, no matter what.”
“That we haven’t thought to do that yet seems kind of silly,” Crowley agreed. “We have all sorts of other ways of communicating.”
“Oh, though we’re going to have to get rid of that basket one, I think. Either someone took it or it was found out, but whatever the case we’d best change that,” Aziraphale said. “It was gone when I went into the party, otherwise I would have never entered.”
“Good point. I was wondering where that went when I got back. Thought something was wrong so I hurried on in.”
“Oh, how about clasping hands? Oh no, the humans do that one already.”
“Hmm, I’ll have to put some thought to it.”
“I know. I have an idea, if it’s all right with you.”
“Yeah, sure, anything,” Crowley said flippantly. “I know I can trust you.”
“If I’m at all uncertain,” Aziraphale smiled, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. “I’ll do this.” He cupped Crowley’s face with both hands and leaned in, pressing his lips to Crowley’s forehead.
Crowley flinched back as if burned, hand pressed against the demon’s mark that Aziraphale’s fingers had grazed. “Wh- ah- th- fkgh-”
“Exactly, the real you would never put up with it. Whereas a demon of lust would certainly want more. See, already you’re as red as if you were three cups in, and you’ve hardly had more than a few sips,” Aziraphale said coolly, with the sharp edge of mischief in his smile.
“Gnk- urgh- ah- erm-” Crowley flailed.
“Take your time, my dear, we have all the time in the world. Perhaps you’d like some water to cool off?”
“Guh?” Crowley asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry, perhaps I should try something less obvious. If you don’t like that, why not this? I am very certain the humans don’t do this in public as a greeting.” And Aziraphale took Crowley’s hands, kissing long delicate fingers one at a time...
Chapter 13: The Beta and the Gamma
“Oh, it’s you.” Gabriel startled, drawing his legs closer to himself as he felt the approach of something infernal. “What are you doing here?”
Pausing for a moment and looking around before finding no empty seats, Beelzebub scowled and clambered onto the supper couch beside Gabriel, amused at how the angel drew away as if the demon could char him with a mere touch. As the Prince of Hell settled down beside the Archangel, the pent-up pressure of their dampened influences fluxed around them until it settled down into a calm and pleasing void, where each canceled the other one out.
“I should say the same thing, seeing you in the mortal realmzz. It hazz been some time, hazz it not?”
Flies settled on the untouched wine in the cup by Gabriel’s elbow, and he made a face, waving his hand to shoo them off before realizing that it could not be done; the flies were inexorable. Carefully he nudged the cup away from himself, the tips of his fingers pressed against the ceramic base, pushing it as far away from himself on the low table as he could without knocking it to the ground.
“Sure has been some time. Good to see you, Prince Beelzebub,” Gabriel said, without meaning it.
“And you, Archangel Gabriel. The pleasure izz mine.” Beelzebub watched as the flies sipped up the wine.
Gabriel tried to return his attention back to the humans and their discussion, but it seemed that all he could think of was the infernal being by his side.
“It seemzz you have an interezt in human philosophy?” Beelzebub asked, cold blue eyes fixed on Gabriel as the Archangel endeavored to stay at ease, as he tried so very hard to appear calm and collected, to appear as he should be, a confident leader of the Forces of Heaven.
“Well, yes, of course.” Gabriel laughed nervously. “To be honest, I don’t leave head office very often. It’s nice to be able to get out and about, to see the world up close instead of from field reports.”
“Seeing the world izz my particular interezt too,” Beelzebub admitted. “I leave head office so rarely that there izz much pleazzure to be had in merely walking about amongszt the mortalzz.”
“You know, I actually like walking around Earth too. I saw a marketplace today. Can you believe they sell everything that they think is of any value? Even people?” Gabriel gestured broadly which made the Prince of Hell flinch back from the possibility of touching.
“Yezz,” Beelzebub scowled, “and our Representative on Earth received a commendation for that, many agez ago.”
“Well, ours received a commendation for inventing law,” Gabriel said, pointing, which made Beelzebub cringe back from an outstretched finger.
“Ours received commendationzz for coming up with money and loans.”
“Ours received commendations for coming up with judges and justice.”
“Enough. I know well that we are alwayz adversariezz.” Beelzebub’s expression was hard to read. “It needz no further discuzssion; I have enough paperwork awaiting my hand downstairzz without talking about it incezssantly here on Earth az well.”
“You do paperwork too? I have so much to sign off on. And making policy decisions on the Assembly, that’s a lot of work, meeting every few years.”
“I complete much paperwork that is necezzary. I am personally evaluating all the demonzz. It is a great and mizerable task, both at once. It shall take many yearzz of Earth time to complete.”
“So true. I don’t do any of that myself, we have departments for that, but I know how hard it is being in upper management. Everyone’s so demanding. Wanting things, asking me for my opinion...”
“We Princes who sit on the Dark Council are obligated to do the work becauze of our rank. We muzzt do what is necezzary for our many subordinatezz, so that they have a strong hand to keep them steady and focuzed. It is a grave responsibility we hold, not only to ourselvezz but to our head office.”
“Right? Responsibility, I’ve always said that that’s the key thing. All those millions of angels are like my kids in a way, depending on me and the other Archangels who are in the Assembly of Heaven.”
“Oh, but the trick is regular training to keep them obedient. Empty the mind of all those non-compliant thoughts that build up over time. We’ve gotten very good at that.”
Beelzebub looked interested. “Perhapzz that is worth exploring. What izz it that you do?”
“Trade secret,” Gabriel winked.
“Hmm.” Beelzebub thought. “We need no training; the fear of dezztruction keepzz them in line.”
“Oh, bad angels aren’t destroyed.”
“How do you control them then?”
“Well, it’s easy. There are obviously no bad angels,” Gabriel smiled brightly. “And if there are no bad angels, they don’t need to be destroyed. They are all obedient to the Will of Heaven, every last one.”
“As are the demonzz. None dare stray. All serve the Will of Hell at all timezz. Rebellion is not an option. They who know the price of rebellion are unlikely to stray a second time.”
“You know, it’s almost a shame we have to work for different offices, seems like we have some things in common.”
Beelzebub said nothing, but the flies seemed to abate, becoming a black obsidian necklace, and Gabriel felt a little better. The angel picked up the kylix and tossed the lees, which instead of hitting the kottabos target, ended up on the ground in the shape of a neat capital beta with a long curling tail.
Beelzebub blinked, and Gabriel smiled awkwardly.
“S-say, did you notice that these cups have pornography drawn inside of them?” Gabriel handed the cup to Beelzebub, who examined the drawing of a youth fornicating with a hetaira curiously. “Is that your side’s doing?”
“No,” Beelzebub admitted. “Very clever, I would have thought it the work of Asmodeuzz if I did not already know it was not him.”
“Humans,” Gabriel said. “Am I right?”
“Humanzz,” Beelzebub nodded.
In due time, a slave came over to refill the cup, and this time, Beelzebub took the kylix off the low table before Gabriel could touch it.
The Prince of Hell sniffed at the wine curiously, not tasting it.
“Disappointing. Almozt the color of blood, but not like blood in the slightezzt,” Beelzebub said, and without warning, threw the entire cup of wine down to the floor, surprising Gabriel and everyone around them.
A great lowercase gamma appeared on the mosaic floor, drowning out all the other puddled letters of splashed wine lees, and immediately the flies descended onto it, covering the gamma in a mass of black buzzing insects.
Chapter 14: The Arrangement
An hour after the setting of the moon, Asmodeus arrived at the appointed place.
“You’re late.” Michael frowned, stepping around the painted grave marker, cool eyes glancing with disinterest at the graven image depicting the parting of two close friends.
“Apologies, my dear.” Asmodeus appeared from the shadows, an icy wind swirling around him, rustling the folds of his long black chiton and black himation as he strode forward. “I had some pressing matters come up.” Asmodeus tipped his head politely to Michael who did the same, acknowledging their respective and equally powerful positions in the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell. “Where’s Gabriel?”
“Distracted.” Michael smiled. “And Beelzebub?”
“Distracting Gabriel. Unwittingly,” Asmodeus smiled, offering Michael his outstretched hand, which the angel disdained, instead passing him the wax tablet.
“Our numbers. Yours?”
“Right here,” Asmodeus said, plucking a similar wax tablet out from thin air, handing it to Michael.
Both angels, fallen and otherwise, cracked open the wooden writing cases of the wax tablets to study the information.
“Let there be light,” Michael said softly, and a gentle glow appeared before them so that the Archangel could read. Greedily, every word and every number was devoured and Michael silently compared the memory of Heaven’s tallies to Hell’s.
Asmodeus skimmed the information, only looking at what was ultimately most important, and was done far sooner than Michael.
Old grave markers whose paint had all but faded from ages of wind and rain and snow shone like old ivory in the warmth of the celestial light, slightly yellowed as if tinted with gold, and Asmodeus’ eyes ran over the frost-limned curves of the carving of young woman, parting reluctantly from her mother, at the rounded face of a child as it stared sadly out from eternity.
Then Asmodeus fixed his eyes on Michael thoughtfully, and a little smile appeared on his lips as he recalled the events of the evening. Clever, clever Crawley, Asmodeus thought. Always reliable, always coming up with exciting new project ideas.
Once the Archangel was done reading and closed the tablet, Asmodeus gestured and the light disappeared.
“Looks about even,” Michael said.
“Perfect. If it weren’t for the Arrangement, darling, I would think our work would be far more difficult,” Asmodeus said, strolling in a gentle circle around Michael, eyes fixed on the Archangel.
“It was always a good idea to keep each other informed of what is going on.”
“Truly,” Asmodeus agreed. “Everything would be absolute chaos if we didn’t keep each other informed and know what was going to happen.”
“Oh yes. Which is why you should know that the Assembly will rule that there is just a little too much fun going on in Athens, and that more war and some hunger might help quell some of that fun.”
“Then the Dark Council must agree to vote for the war to continue. Of course, my dear, we always vote for the war, but I think it will be nice to suggest a few more fronts and perhaps a demonic intervention or two to make sure that nothing holds the war back from being all-out. Farms should be burnt, the harbor should be blocked; that will stop the flow of food into Athens. No more parties then. There is nothing quite so lovely as total war.”
“I’m glad we can agree on this.”
“Oh yes, you have my word as a Prince of Hell that I will support you.” Asmodeus offered his hand, which Michael clasped briefly. Asmodeus kept his expression carefully neutral. The touch of the Archangel’s cool hand sent a tremor through him; this was a coup, an absolute coup, the first time ever that an angel, that an Archangel had accepted his touch.
He knew that this was a weakness that they all harbored, angel and demon alike; Asmodeus had been taking full advantage of it for eons now. Since the Fall, since the deep intimacy of Heaven had been broken, all celestial beings were flawed, wanting to return to that closeness that no longer existed anywhere in Creation. Any offer to share some kind of closeness was enticing to a celestial being; they could not resist it anymore than a human being could resist food or water or breathing.
Asmodeus smiled to himself, just a little bit. The next time would be easier. Ages of manipulation told him that all it took was one brief lapse and the rest would fall in line as if by intention.
Intention, or the Great Plan.
“Anything new with your Representative on Earth? Crawley, right?”
“Oh yes, Crawley. No, nothing new. The same orders as usual stand,” Asmodeus lied, pleased with himself. “What about your side?”
“Nothing new,” Michael said. “No new orders for Aziraphale. And Satan?”
“The same as ever. He knows nothing of this. The Metatron?”
“Wouldn’t pay attention if he was ordered to,” Michael said with a brittle smile. “He might be the Voice of God, but he is certainly not the Ears.”
Asmodeous laughed, delighted.
“What about Gabriel?”
“He thinks what we want him to think. And Beelzebub?”
“Responsible as ever, and far too busy working to care much for anything else.”
“Good. Keep Beelzebub busy and I’ll make sure that Gabriel is occupied.”
“Oh of course. The First Prince knows nothing of our meetings,” Asmodeus lied.
“Neither does Gabriel,” Michael said earnestly.
“Nothing would get done without us, would it?” Asmodeus said, bringing a rare and genuine smile to Michael’s face.
“Something would be done without us. I’m sure someone else would be doing the work but it wouldn’t be as orderly and manageable, would it?”
“Oh no, it wouldn’t. Now, as much as I truly enjoy the pleasure of your company, darling angel, I must return to head office before someone remarks on my absence. It is always a pleasure doing business with you, Archangel Michael.”
“The pleasure is mine, Prince Asmodeus,” Michael said, and Asmodeus was pleased to notice that there was the barest hint of regret in the Archangel’s parting words. “Until next time.”
With a flash of fire and a crack of lightning, both celestial beings were gone.
Chapter 15: Notes
Warning, the notes touch on topics that would have been normal in ancient Greek times but can be very upsetting and triggering in our times, so proceed with caution.
Many thanks to Elena for our wonderful discussions and for prereading, especially for those excellent comments, questions, and suggestions that made this story a much better one than the original draft. Thanks as well to Elinekeit for listening, despite all the distressing Asmodeus scenes. Special thanks to reader Cris05 who helped me with the research by recommending books and articles. Thanks also to user mecurtin for catching some of those pesky mistakes that I managed to add to the text after my prereaders were done fixing things, because you know, mistakes were made. Sometimes by Aziraphale, sometimes by Crowley, but mostly by me.
For background, beyond what I remembered from studying a little classical Greek history, I read some relevant chapters of Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture by Marilyn B. Skinner and selected essays from A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities, edited by Thomas K. Hubbard.
This story is set during the Peloponnesian War, in the one year of truce. There’s a lot about the Peloponnesian War which you can read about in Thucydides or Xenophon’s Hellenica for the last part of the war, but the main combatants are Athens and Sparta, and it very much does not go well. A bit more on this later. https://www.ancient.eu/timeline/Peloponnesian_War/
Greeks dined while reclining on couches. Fortunately Crowley is very flexible in the waist, and Aziraphale is flexible enough: https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/reclining-and-dining-and-drinking-in-ancient-greece/
Kottabos is an ancient Greek drinking game that was played using the lees of the wine. There is a good video here that shows how it would have been played: https://www.livescience.com/49441-greek-drinking-game-kottabos-recreated.html
I’ve read about this variant game of throwing the lees down on the floor to form the initial of someone one admires/loves, but I don’t remember where I read it.
The wine at the time was unfiltered so that people didn’t drink the dregs/lees, and was watered down. It was very socially unacceptable and considered unhealthy to drink wine neat. More on mixing wine here: https://laudatortemporisacti.blogspot.com/2004/10/wine-and-water.html
Together, all the flowers that appear in the story (roses, crocuses, violets, irises, lilies and larkspur) form Persephone’s bouquet. https://www.theoi.com/Flora1.html
Here are my writing notes on the flowers, in no particular order:
Beelzebub: Dark purple orchids, larkspur (poisonous)
Asmodeus: Juniper and red roses
Crowley: Red roses, irises, and laurel
Aziraphale: White roses, crocuses, and laurel
Michael: Violets, oak
Gabriel: Lilies, pine
More on Greek flowers here: http://members.mrtc.com/anvk/greeceturkey06/greekflowers/greekflowers.html
Besides signifying victory, Aziraphale and Crowley both wear laurel because like the nymph Daphne, they’re trying to avoid Apollo’s sexual advances.
I might have been thinking of math when I picked which Greek letters were upper or lower case. Xi tends to show up in differential equations.
The ladle might have looked something like this. Probably with the duck. No wait, definitely with the duck: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/29602/unknown-maker-ladle-greek-second-half-of-4th-century-bc/
A krater is a big wine mixing vessel, which would have looked something like this in shape: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/251413
Around 525 CE, Attic (Athenian) pottery switches from black-figure to red-figure. Which for Crowley and Aziraphale is pretty new. As Marilyn Skinner states, “Black figure emphasizes action and setting, while red-figure focuses upon the spatial presence and bodies of individuals.” More on red-figure and black-figure ceramics: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vase/hd_vase.htm
A kylix is a type of shallow footed drinking cup; there are examples of kylixes in the articles from the Getty Museum on reclining and dining as well as in the article on kottabos: https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/reclining-and-dining-and-drinking-in-ancient-greece/
Eros is Love and Himeros is his twin, Desire. I saw a documentary once that pointed out that our conception of angels as people with wings really comes from the Greco-Roman imagery of Eros, as the angels of Jewish tradition tend to be a little more along the lines of eyes and wings and wheels and fire. So an alternate interpretation of the sculpture of the wrestling angels in Crowley’s flat would be Love and Desire in a wrestling match.
More here on Eros and Himeros:
Most of the music references come from Apollo's Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory In Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Thomas J. Mathiesen and Music in Ancient Greece and Rome by John G. Landels.
A kithara is a type of harp-like instrument that was mostly played by professional musicians, whereas ordinary gentlemen (and in this time, to be educated including being educated in music; this is in Plato’s Symposium) were usually at least proficient at the lyre. The specific type of kithara would be a instrument with a flat base as opposed to the horseshoe-shaped type which was played by amateurs. Unlike the lyre, the kithara was played while standing and had a strap for this purpose. The plectrum was attached to the instrument with a cord, so it was theorized that the instrument could be played with both fingers and the plectrum, where the musician could temporarily drop the plectrum to switch to fingers.
Around this time the standard kithara had 7 strings. The strings were probably gut or flax fibers or animal sinew, and it was tuned by a leather mechanism called a kollops. Each string had a name based on the finger used, and later music theorists would accidentally flip the hierarchy of the strings thinking that the ‘highest’ string meant the highest pitch, whereas it was actually the ‘highest’ finger (the thumb) and thus the lowest pitch. For example, modern piano notation designates the thumb as ‘1’ even though on the right hand that would be a lower pitch than ‘5’, the pinky.
The lyre was smaller than the kithara and could be played either standing or seated. Historically the body was made from a large tortoise shell with an ox-hide stretched over it, with gut strings. In mythology, the lyre was invented by Hermes and the favorite instrument of Apollo. The lyre originally had 7 strings like the kithara, but according to tradition, Pythagoras added an 8th string, and by the 5th century B.C.E., the lyre could have up to twelve strings, such as the scandal surrounding Timotheus of Miletus whose extra strings were snipped by court order.
For book references for clothing, I used Costume and Fashion by James Laver as well as 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher. I also suggest hitting up the museum websites for artistic depictions of the clothes.
A barbitos was as tenor instrument (analogous to a cello in the modern string instrument family), and there are famous depictions of Sappho playing the barbitos: https://tinyurl.com/yyanxwgj
More on the barbitos: https://en.luthieros.com/product/the-dark-lyre-of-sappho-ancient-greek-barbiton-lyre-9-strings-top-quality-handcrafted-musical-instrument
Ionia is on the west coast of Anatolia in modern Turkey, where there were a lot of Greek city-states during antiquity. Ionian is one of the major orders of column capitals, as well as one of the seven main musical modes of Western music (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian).
"Festivals in Ancient Greece and Rome" by Fritz Graf http://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-58 discusses festivals like the City Dionysia and the Lenaia, which are famous dramatic festivals where poets would compete for prizes with performances of their plays. This article is also where I got the idea to set it during the Anthesteria festival. More on that later.
Speaking of Sappho, the book I am quoting poetry from is Sappho: A New Translation, by Mary Barnard. All the songs quoted in this story are from that book except one and in general I kept the formatting unless I didn’t. This first song that Aziraphale sings is #34, Lament for a Maidenhead, the First Voice.
I’m choosing to interpret Cherubim as singular here, for reasons. The Cherubim were traditionally thought to have sung praises to God.
When Crowley talks about the whales, this is referring to events that happened in Mistakes Were Made: The (Babylonian) Story of the Flood.
The ancient Greeks called themselves Hellenes: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zxytpv4
One of the things that was popular to do at symposiums was for the guests to perform music. Capping verses, singing skolions, etc. There were also professional musicians hired, some of them for more than just their musical abilities. More on this later.
Crowley’s song is the first song listed in the Barnard book. Most of the works of Sappho that have survived to modern times is in fragments.
Gamelion is the month prior to Anthesteria and is in winter. It’s also the most popular month for weddings in ancient Athens. More on the Athenian calendar here: http://abacus.bates.edu/~hwalker/00-01gk202-302/AthCal.html
The Anthesteria festival is known for a lot of drinking, especially on the second day of the festival on Choës: https://sites.google.com/site/dionysusofthemarshes/home
Mistakes Were Made: The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel has more about Crowley’s past with Asmodeus.
“The sycamore tree was related to romance, due to its manifestation in it of the goddess Hathor, the goddess of love. More specifically, it was a trysting tree; it was a place where lovers met. It doesn't only provide cool, deep shade and seclusion, but actively participated in lovers' affairs.” From: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313473899_The_Sycamore_in_Ancient_Egypt_-_Textual_Iconographic_Archaeopalynological_Thoughts_Mohammed_AZZAZY_Azza_EZZAT
The style of chiton Crowley is wearing is Ionian, and Ionian chitons were made of linen. Aziraphale also is wearing clothes in the Ionian style. Fibulae are like ancient safety pins that hold the fabric together. https://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/6-2/Ancient.pdf
Some more about Greek clothes: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grdr/hd_grdr.htm
Belts were worn by women and men alike, but only hetaira wore gilded belts.
Nocturnal snakes often have slitted eyes. It has nothing to do with if its venomous or not. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/fake-snake-news-how-not-identify-poisonous-snake
The meeting is set at sunset.
In the book, Beelzebub addresses Crowley in the same manner, with the second person singular informal (thee/thou/thy). Asmodeus does the same. It’s to signify their higher rank. A helpful reader, Mecurtin, pointed out in the comments that Ancient Greek doesn’t have this second person informal distinction, but I didn’t intend for the demons to be necessarily speaking Greek. They’re speaking whatever they were speaking in Eden, which in the Good Omens universe, is probably just contemporary English. Of course, they speak whatever local language it is when they speak to humans.
As a note, 'thee/thou' etc is informal and 'you/yours' etc is formal. This is equivalent to the French tu/vous dichotomy, the Spanish tú/Usted or the German du/Sie, but in English. So one would talk to a child, a dog, a close friend, a social inferior, and God, etc. with the thee/thou form, whereas other people of equal or higher rank or strangers are addressed as 'you'. It's complicated and varies from language to language over time and place.
Beelzebub’s necklace of flies comes directly from the Babylonian Flood myth, and appears first in Mistakes Were Made: The (Babylonian) Story of the Flood.
Asmodeus is referring to ancient Greek customs regarding prostration as opposed to Near Eastern customs in the form of the proskynesis ritual https://www.livius.org/articles/concept/proskynesis/ Later there would be a very famous controversy over prostration when Alexander the Great takes over the Persian Empire.
The ancient Greeks called non-Hellenes “barbarians” because Hellenes thought the way non-Hellenes talked sounded like they were saying ‘barbarbar’.
I don’t think ancient Greeks covered their floors with rosemary; Crowley is actually trying to cover up any scents that might have been left by visitors, which is to say, Aziraphale. Unfortunately it doesn’t fool Asmodeus.
Asmodeus is wearing something that’s more like military garb, though the colors are just an inversion of Crowley’s colors. According to Criso05’s research, the black chlamys is usually worn by young warriors.
The mosaic floor in Crowley’s house was inspired by this later mosaic: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/6576/unknown-maker-mosaic-floor-with-head-of-medusa-roman-about-ad-115-150/
The ancient Greeks also had white wine, I just chose to use red wines in general for this story since it would show up better on the ground.
Hetairas were usually foreigners, meaning non-citizens, and could not legally marry. However, they were the only women allowed in symposiums, and could converse with men freely. Hetaira had stable arrangements with a few men, usually accepting gifts and not being paid outright in cash, and did things like accompanying a client to a symposium or were hired as an entertainer. There is a conversation between Socrates and a beautiful hetaira named Theodote in Xenophon’s Memorabilia (Recollections of Socrates), Book III, XI. “If someone who has become my friend wishes to do me a kindness, that is my living.” Alternately this has also been translated as “My friends are my life and fortune, when they care to be kind to me.”
If you were wondering, probably a lot of other assignments that put Crowley into a situation similar to this are most likely Asmodeus’ idea. Though not being Shamhat, that was Crowley’s own initiative, and hopefully by now those hips are back to working order.
Sparta is in the region known as Lakedaimon: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100048235
Athens and Sparta are the main combatants in the Peloponnesian War. Various models of teaching Western Civilization focus either only on Athens, on the dichotomy of Athens and Sparta, or the trichotomy of Athens, Sparta, and Corinth. https://corinthianmatters.com/2012/02/21/athens-sparta-and-corinth-in-western-civilization-texts/
The very famous oracle at Delphi is an oracle of Pythian Apollo, which is another title for Apollo as slayer of the great serpent Python.
Crowley tempted Aristophanes into slandering Socrates in The Clouds, which was premiered later that year, about 2 months later. Plato, among many others, considered the unfavorable depiction of Socrates in The Clouds to be a contributing factor in Socrates’ trial and execution, many years later.
This talk about Truth and Beauty is a reference to Platonic ideas of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Asmodeus missed Goodness for obvious reasons. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-aesthetics/ Of course, Plato is later, but let’s attribute this to Socrates who is definitely around and hanging out at symposiums having discussions.
This is the cup of Eros seducing a youth: https://collections.mfa.org/objects/153677
The circular painting in the bowl of the cup is called a tondo.
“To the beautiful...” or “To my beloved...” is apparently a common type of salute to a friend or lover while throwing down the lees of the wine as if playing kottabos. One rather sarcastic reference to this comes from Xenophon's Hellenica, Book 2 Chapter 3, which describes the death of Theramenes, who is induced to drinking hemlock by the actions of Critias, and afterwards tosses down the lees “To the beautiful Critias.” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Xen.%20Hell.%202.3&lang=original
Beelzebub reminds me of a cat, pushing cups off tables.
Ancient Greek statues were painted/colored. https://io9.gizmodo.com/ultraviolet-light-reveals-how-ancient-greek-statues-rea-5616498
More on statues a later.
Because they’re angels, Michael and Gabriel are several hours early and expect Aziraphale to be ready for them, despite dropping in unannounced at the wrong time. Unlike the demons who were just barely on time.
Here’s some background on Greek houses. I based the details and layouts of all the houses from these articles and some images: https://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/background/33_p1.html
At the time, texts would have been handwritten on papyrus rolls and not bound in books. The first things that look like books as we know them were codices (singular: codex). https://www.bl.uk/greek-manuscripts/articles/ancient-books
I picked Alcmaeon because he might have been a Pythagorean. On Nature is both a philosophical and a medical text, and the book is lost to us. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/alcmaeon/
Aziraphale’s Neolithic quartzite knife is being used as a paperweight. It’s mentioned in the previous stories, and starting around 33 C.E. belongs to Crowley.
Most travelers and traveling poets at that time (and through Roman times) stayed with friends when they traveled.
A wax tablet was wax spread in a thin, light wooden case that could be used for writing with a pointed stylus. Erasing was an option; these were used in schools too. https://www.lib.umich.edu/papyrology-collection/ancient-writing-materials-wax-tablets
Here is an artistic depiction of someone using a wax tablet: https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.org/2016/06/02/ancient-roman-tablets-reveal-voices-of-the-earliest-londoners/douris_man_with_wax_tablet/
The kind of snake Aziraphale keeps in his house is a Leopard Snake: https://www.cretanbeaches.com/en/fauna-and-animal-species/reptiles/snakes/leopard-snake-elaphe-situla
Here’s a fun article about ancient Greeks and snakes that I found online while researching house snakes: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/12076680/Scientists-in-Italy-rediscover-snake-that-was-used-by-ancient-Greeks-as-a-weapon-of-war.html
Ancient Greeks kept snakes as pets: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/CJ/44/4/Household_Pets*.html
The Acropolis was destroyed by the Persians in 480-479 BCE during the Second Persian Invasion of Greece. The rebuilding of the Acropolis including iconic buildings such as the Parthenon was instituted under the Athenian leader Pericles. More here with lots of images (warning, big file): http://people.duke.edu/~wj25/slides/18%20Acropolis.pdf
Crowley mentions the Dark Council in Episode 4, and so the Assembly of Heaven is its Heavenly counterpart. The name was inspired by the assembly of the gods in the Babylonian Flood myth.
I based Asmodeus’ snake ring off of a Roman ring. It’s the middle one, labeled 24.2.9: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/547914
Here’s a useful website for comparing heights that I used, using the existing heights of the actors, except for Asmodeus:
Specifically for this story: http://www.mrinitialman.com/OddsEnds/Sizes/compsizes.xhtml?Asmodeus~male~193.0_Crowley~female~185.4_Beelzebub~female~167.6_Gabriel~male~185.4_Aziraphale~male~177.8_Michael~female~175.3
This statue of Apollo is based on the Tiber Apollo, which is a Roman copy of a Greek original. Since the Greek original did not survive, I have taken some liberties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiber_Apollo
The artist was Kalamis: https://tinyurl.com/y24mlhx3
Here is some information on where the marbleworkers set up their shops: http://www.agathe.gr/Icons/pdfs/AgoraPicBk-27.pdf
And some stuff about eyes in statues: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255977
And eyelashes: https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/greece/gr1162e.html
And just as a note, the ancient Greeks thought that the ideal man did not have a big penis. So the statues were accordingly carved with small genitals with the foreskin modestly covering the tip. https://thoodleoo.tumblr.com/post/187739263475/he-had-the-body-of-a-greek-statue-completely
This effect with the ambient noise disappearing happens in Episode 4, when Aziraphale is confronted by the four Archangels on the street. Thus I think Princes of Hell can pull it off too.
It probably would have worked out even better if this statue was the prototype for the Apollo Belvedere which was considered an ideal beauty when it was rediscovered. However that statue is unfortunately 100 years too late to fit in the timeline of this story. And the Tiber Apollo has the snake, which I really wanted to incorporate.
Statues of Baal exist. https://www.ancient.eu/image/514/baal-statue/
Here’s a nice little article about Baal statues: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/322889
What’s the difference between a sophist and a philosopher? Not too much at this time, except Socrates and Plato changed the definition so that there was something less savory about the sophist. https://www.iep.utm.edu/sophists/
The native vulture that would have been in the tree: https://greece.greekreporter.com/2018/06/02/greeks-fight-to-protect-majestic-rare-vulture/
Technically these should be aulos girls, but it’s often translated as flute girls. Aulos players were of both genders, but these musicians at a party meant something else than just musicians. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/590340 and alternately an article about hetaira and flute girls:
Flower crowns were definitely a thing. A victory thing, but mostly a drinking thing: https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/the-ancient-origins-of-the-flower-crown/
Juniper is traditionally associated with Asmodeus. In the Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel, Crowley spent a lot of time smelling like juniper and roses. More here: https://tinyurl.com/yyoh56pn
A Herm is a protective statue of Hermes that was found outside homes. The most important features that a Herm had to have was the head and the phallus, so it’s often a big column that has a jutting phallus and a head on top. It seems like a lot of museums only have Herm heads, which makes me wonder who lopped off the rest (I’m going to guess Victorians). More here (NSFW? Prominent classical statue genitals): https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255933
They could be very big, and made of stone too. Here’s a later Roman version (same warnings apply):
This imagery of hair the color of torchlight comes from Sappho.
There is a theory that the very sheer dresses Athenian women wore and were depicted in art wearing were made of silk. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/AJA/33/1/Silk_in_Greece*.html
Between this story and the Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel, it seems that Asmodeus may have been the one to come up with ridiculously uncomfortable women’s clothing.
The Athenian peplos was pinned with fibulae at the shoulders, leaving the arms bare.
The imagery of the snake bracelets come from Alcman’s first Partheneion:
For there is no abundance of purple clothing sufficient to protect us,
nor a stippled snake bracelet
of purest gold,
nor a Lydian cap, adornment
of tenderly glancing girls...”
In the original draft as the angels passed, I had also included something like “enemies turned to friends, friends turned to lovers” etc.
Aziraphale’s ability to sense evil isn’t as sensitive as the Archangels.
Of course, no one thinks this is really Apollo, but they all know he’s the model.
These are all various titles for Apollo: Paion (the healer), Pythian (the slayer of Python), Alexikakos (averter of evil). But Far-shooting Apollo, Lord of the Mice, etc. refers to Apollo’s ability to bring about death from plague. In that case he should be Ioimios Apollo, the Apollo of the plague.
Apollo slept with/raped/pursued a lot of nymphs. I’ve read that it has to do with Apollo’s cult supplanting older local cults. Same with Zeus, etc. Thus the many, many children and partners.
The ancient Greeks are thought to have practiced ritual kidnapping of brides, in a mock abduction, called harpage. This is what these men in part are referring to, but mostly because it’s Apollo who does the same to nymphs (or Zeus, who does the same to...well, everyone). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.2041-5370.1983.tb00443.x
I borrowed Asmodeus’ decisions on the wine from Athenaeus: “When all was quiet, Proteas jumped up from his couch and demanded a six-pint bowl, and filling it with Thasian wine with just a dash of water he drank it all saying, 'He that drinks most shall have least sorrow.'” That last quote about the drinking comes from Euripedes. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Athenaeus/4A*.html
“He who first sees the bottom shall prove himself a real man, a happy man” is a modified quote from Aristophanes’ Archanians. The original is just about drinking and not about toxic masculinity. “Oyez, oyez! As was the custom of your forebears, empty a full pitcher of wine at the call of the trumpet; he who first sees the bottom shall get a wine-skin as round and plump as Ctesiphon's belly.” Interestingly enough it is also set at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristophanes/acharnians.html
Wine at the time was transported and stored in amphorae, where the pointed end would be set in sand.
The specific species of crocus (Crocus sativus) are where saffron comes from, so I thought they would be most appropriate for Aziraphale. Mmm, paella.
Pines were associated with Poseidon and oaks were associated with Zeus.
Aziraphale’s graffiti would be in the cursive hieroglyphic form, which is different from hieratic or demotic (both of which are much more stylized and abbreviated). Check out Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs by James P. Allen, chapter 1.9 for more information on the differences between hieroglyphs, cursive hieroglyphics, hieratic, and demotic.
A symposium shouldn’t go past the third krater, and that’s after the wine’s been mixed with water. This symposium will definitely go way beyond that. We’re still just at the start of it. There is a quote from Athenaeus attributed to Eubulus (probably the poet): "Three bowls only do I mix for the temperate — one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this is drunk up wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes. The eighth is the policeman's, the ninth belongs to biliousness, and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture. Too much wine, poured into one little vessel, easily knocks the legs from under the drinkers." http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Athenaeus/2A*.html
Everyone has agency, even when they don’t appear to have agency.
An aulos is a double-reed instrument, and came in double and single varieties. Modern double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon. The aulos is also called a tibia in Latin. It was used in symposiums and warfare, and was played by people of all social standings from professional musicians to prostitutes. A double aulos could be played in unison intervals or with one pipe as a drone. By the 5th century, was improved in such a way that the three traditional tunings for the aulos (Dorian, Lydian, and Phrygian) could all be played on the same instrument.
A skyphos is a much deeper drinking vessel than a kylix. This is a shallow kylix painted with a hetaira playing kottabos with a skyphos: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/10103/attributed-to-onesimos-attic-red-figure-kylix-greek-attic-about-490-bc/
Since I kept running into that image of the naked hetaira on the supper couch playing kottabos during my research, it made sense to have Crowley disrobed in this scene. This might be one of the least awful things that’s happened to a hetaira at a symposium; the Skinner book has at least one extremely harrowing story that I will not recount.
To be fair it’s probably not the first time Crowley’s been sexually harassed at a symposium or has been naked in public/naked at a symposium, but everything is different when it’s with Asmodeus.
There is a very telling quote from the Skinner book about men and their relationship with prostitutes and hetairai: "Their liberty is that of the female who belongs to no one man is sexually available to all."
From everything that I’ve read, sex at a symposium was not out of the question.
The interloper, Cleander, is alluding to the myth of Daphne and Apollo.
Apollo does have a sanctuary, a very famous one at Delphi.
The ancient Greeks did make a distinction between common prostitutes (pornai) and hetairai. There were buyable women, and then there were hetairai who were more like courtesans, generally well-educated and accomplished in contrast to buyable women who were mostly slaves. https://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/hetairai/hetairai.html
Cleander paraphrases some very famous lines from Sappho’s Ode to Aphrodite. The Barnard book translates this poem a little differently.
For if she flees, soon she will pursue,
if she does not receive gifts, she will give them,
if she does not love, soon she will love,
I pulled names at random out of Xenophon’s Anabasis for Cleander son of Heraklitos. This person is fully fictional and not based on any real poet or musician.
Myrtle is sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
It’s interesting that from Dukes on up, the demons have a lot more power and can see into people’s hearts and minds whereas Aziraphale and Crowley absolutely do not have this power.
Simonedes of Keos is another famous lyric poet, who with Sappho of Lesbos would later be considered one of the nine canonical lyric poets of ancient Greece.
Agathon is a famous Athenian tragedian, and his party is where Plato’s Symposium was set. However, this is about 7 years before that party, which was to celebrate his first crowned tragedy. While he might not be as famous yet, nothing says he (or his family) can’t throw a good party.
There’s a great quote in the Brothers Karamazov:
“It's just the same story as a doctor once told me,” observed the elder. “He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he's too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.’
Tuning is important. Always tune before you perform, even if you just tuned it 30 minutes prior.
Some info on tuning a lyre: https://www.ancientlyre.com/blogs/ancient_tuning_methods/
This poem is listed as poem 39 in the Mary Barnard book. I changed the formatting slightly.
This wag is referring to Hermes pranking Apollo by stealing his cattle and making them walk backwards, and then making up for it by inventing the lyre as a gift to Apollo.
There’s some hidden critique of auto-tune here with Asmodeus’ song.
This translation of Asmodeus’ song comes from the Skinner book. There is a lot more commentary on the song in the book.
Besides being known for his negative and attacking songs, Archilochus is known for driving a man’s daughter(s) to suicide after the man reneged on betrothing one of his daughters to Archilochus. This particular song seems to be related to that, because it has to do with having sex with a girl who is not yet at a marriageable age behind her father's back. Says Skinner: "The bedroom scene in the Hymm is clearly designed to give voyeuristic pleasure, so it is arguable that Archilochus' account was also aimed at exciting his all-male audience with a racy description of plucking forbidden fruit."
Skinner’s comments on Sappho versus the male lyric poets: “In contrast to the male erastes’ adversarial relationships with his love object and with the god afflicting him, [Sappho’s] dealings with both mortals and divinities seem mutually rewarding. Most obviously, her speaker does not attempt to impose her will upon the person she loves, but instead, through engaging appeals, tries to elicit a corresponding response from her.”
Asmodeus has many of the same powers as Crowley, including hypnosis, which is mentioned in the Good Omens radio drama. Of course, as a Prince of Hell, he also has other powers that Crowley can’t possibly match.
The quote that Aziraphale recalls from the past comes from The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel.
The last time that we know of that Aziraphale saw Asmodeus was during the Flood, when Asmodeus stood second to Beelzebub as Heaven and Hell watched the Flood and its outcome.
Ancient Greeks practiced animal sacrifice, thus the sacrificial knife at the altar.
As the annotations in the New Oxford Annotated Bible point out (Genesis 2:7), “Human nature is not a duality of body and soul; rather God's breath animates the dust and it becomes a living being or psycho-physical self.” Emphasis from the original text.
Asmodeus recognizes that the basket was not made by human hands, and furthermore recognizes Crowley’s touch.
Gabriel is no better than a figurehead; Michael is the de facto head of Heaven.
Just as Gabriel said, the ancient Greeks had a lot of erotic kylix: https://www.jbagot.com/obra/erotic-kylix Skinner has some choice words about this erotic art: “Hence these vases and cups were designed for proper viewing by specific individuals under specific and controlled circumstances.” Emphasis from the original text.
Skinner also notes that “It may be advisable to distance ourselves from these images occasionally by putting ourselves in the place of the female slave who cleaned the tables and washed the dishes the next morning.”
A komos is a drunken procession that was either for guests to head home or to go symposium hopping. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/01-02/ancient-greece-symposium-dinner-party/
We first find out about this ability of Aziraphale’s to hide his angelic presence in The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel.
There are some nice artistic depictions of dancers in ancient Greece (and its colonies): https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/103247/unknown-maker-statuette-of-a-dancer-greek-south-italian-tarantine-400-200-bc/
“Wine, o dear boy, and truth” is a quote from Alcaeus. https://www.loebclassics.com/view/alcaeus-fragments/1982/pb_LCL142.397.xml?readMode=recto
Crocus sativus is a late summer/early autumn flower. And yet both Europa and Persephone gathered crocuses in the springtime too...possibly a different species?
During Episode 4 when the four Archangels confront Aziraphale on the street, everything becomes very silent and their voices echo in the silence. I assumed that if they could do it, so could Princes of Hell. Something almost similar to this happens in the moment after Crowley freezes Aziraphale’s jailer during the French Revolution in Episode 3, but the sound quality is different.
Rules of engagement usually refers to military guidelines about how to use force and under what circumstances it may be used.
According to the book, Crowley has known since at least Eden that he wanted a new name. In my story, he first tells Aziraphale about it in The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel.
Asmodeus is basing his logic on a very different belief about the interaction of body and spirit than we're accustomed to, a belief that comes from an old Biblical tradition and not the one we inherited from generations of philosophers and theologians influenced by Plato. We in the West are used to a Platonic sense of a soul separate from the body, where somehow the soul is imprisoned within a shell of flesh. However, Biblical tradition as aforementioned suggests that "Human nature is not a duality of body and soul; rather God's breath animates the dust and it becomes a living being or psycho-physical self." (New Oxford Annotated Bible on Genesis 2:7). In this case, celestial spirits animating a body (dust). Thus the spirit is melded with the flesh, as opposed to Plato's sense of duality which we inherited from the Greeks.
Asmodeus is definitely an expert on the body, at least carnally.
Asmodeus is referring to events such as the Flood where Heaven and Hell met to make agreements.
Crowley picked up this time stopping power in the bonus chapter of The Epic of Gilgamesh after eating a plant of immortality.
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and other metals, mostly silver. Here is a comparison of Aziraphale’s jewelry in the series, one from 41 C.E. and the other from modern times: https://evilasiangenius.tumblr.com/post/187691639709/when-aziraphale-left-eden-his-ring-was-made-of
Nice little detail: Aziraphale’s cufflinks are stylized lyres.
Aziraphale offered to protect Crowley in The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel.
In the book, Crowley addresses the person who contacts him over the radio as “lord” instead of “my lord”. I think that this may be the first time that Crowley is testing his boundaries with Asmodeus by addressing him as “lord”.
In ancient Greek art, as Skinner points out, “lovers may be portrayed facing each other wrapped in one cloak.”
Aziraphale walked on water and carried Crowley across the Nile in The Tale of the Shipwrecked Angel.
The ancient Egyptians invented locks. Here is some info on ancient locks and keys:
For obvious reasons, Crowley doesn’t normally wear jewelry that was given to him by Asmodeus around Aziraphale.
The Sappho song that Crowley references was my first choice for Cleander’s song, until I realized that Asmodeus would probably have set him on fire right there and then for singing it. This is song number 82 in the Barnard book. Here is the text:
Rich as you are,
Death will finish you
afterwards, no one will remember
or want you
You had no share in
the Pierian roses
You will flitter invisible
among the indistinct dead
in Hell’s palace
Of course, Hell’s palace here references the abode of Hades, not the Christian sense of Hell that we are more familiar with.
Aziraphale and Crowley both hung out with Sappho.
The song Aziraphale sings is song 53 in the Barnard book. Perhaps Sappho wrote it for Aziraphale and Crowley.
Up until the advent of recording, music was an ephemeral thing and a person might only hear a particular piece once ever in their lives. In many ways, music really is still ephemeral. No two performances are identical, and no reasonable person confuses a recording or a video for real life.
Athenaeus has lots to say about food and the different kinds of food that existed, but I kept it simple. Originally they had brined olives in this meal too, but I decided there was enough saltiness earlier and omitted olives in the final draft.
I spent some time worrying about how they would toast the bread and researching cooking utensils before remembering that Crowley is a demon and doesn’t worry too much about fire. So the answer is, probably Crowley is just holding it in the fire. But if you want a source on cooking utensils: http://www.oxfordsymposium.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Tanis.pdf
Athenaeus talks about drinking water, which comes from special springs, along with wine: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Athenaeus/2A*.html
Why not ngk? Because in the book, Crowley only uses it when he’s being directly threatened by an authority from Hell, so I decided to use it only if he is under serious duress and feeling threatened. Otherwise, it’s all sorts of other noises.
Somehow it’s fitting that the chapter with Beelzebub and Gabriel happens to be chapter 13. Of course, Beta and Gamma refer to the first letters of their names, respectively.
The last time they saw each other in the series was officially, during the Flood. I don’t know if they have seen each other since, and if this is their first unofficial meeting or not. Quite possibly?
Beelzebub, while working at a party: This counts as a vacation.
Obviously Crowley did not come up with slavery; the humans thought it up themselves.
Aziraphale did not come up with laws; the humans thought it up themselves.
It’s suggested that Crowley came up with money in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Aziraphale probably came up with loans to help people out but that backfired spectacularly once predatory interest became a thing.
Aziraphale did not come up with judges and justices; the humans thought it up themselves.
Beelzebub does a lot of paperwork and does it all mostly without help, whereas Gabriel just signs off on things.
Hell is way better organized since it has strong leadership. Heaven, without God’s leadership, is a lot messier. It’s all appearances.
Regular training = ideological brainwashing. Heavenly ‘training’ and its effects on Aziraphale are explored further in The (Babylonian) Story of the Flood, and in 41 A.D.
I think that tail on the beta might also have a point on the end.
This is probably the cemetary in the outer Kerameikos just outside the city wall: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dbag/hd_dbag.htm
Some examples of grave stele: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/sculpture/styles/grave4.htm
And https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892366125.html You can download the pdf of the book for free, has lots of images of grave steles.
Like other graveyards, this is meant to be a liminal space. The time can also be interpreted as liminal, in the time between moonset and sunrise.
Asmodeus changed clothes for this meeting to dress more conservatively since he’s meeting with an important official from Heaven. These clothes would make him look like a Hellene version of what Crowley looked like in the Eden scenes.
The Assembly of Heaven and the Dark Council are both working on making the Peloponnesian War a lot worse. About seven years after this meeting, the Athenians are going to beseige and destroy Melos. The men will be killed and all the women and children sold into slavery. Then in due time Athens will embark on a destructive war, lose most of its army, and be besieged by the Spartans and starved into submission. Thus, the Peloponnesian War is considered by some to be the first or one of the first total wars, where nations will do whatever it takes to destroy each other, even to economic collapse and environmental degradation: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Total_war
This Arrangement predates the Arrangement between Crowley and Aziraphale by quite a bit; as far as we know, that Arrangement happened sometime between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance.
The question came up; are there a lot of other angel and demon relationships? I would say there are probably more relationships between angels themselves and relationships between demons themselves (like Hastur and Ligur) than we see, and that there isn’t as much fraternizing between Heaven and Hell as within Heaven and Hell. But it probably happens very discreetly in Heaven. And Hell doesn’t have rules about fraternizing.
Thank you so much for reading and thanks to all the readers for their comments and kudos. More to come. Right now I’ve just finished sketching out the next story, set in The Book of Tobit, and at the same time have trying something a little different, a comedic reversed roles story tentatively titled The Seventh Prince of Hell, where Aziraphale is the 7th Prince of Hell, Crowley is an ordinary angel, and we begin in Genesis, chapter -7.