Ollivander worked on a chair-leg with a rasp. Back and forth, the tool in his hands shaving away the wood a sliver at a time, the repetitive task freeing his mind to wander. Why was Simaetha so eager to be married? No, that wasn't the right question. Any girl -- young woman -- of her age would be anxious about her prospects. That was only to be expected. Unless she aspired to be a priestess. Which would not be so unusual, for a witch. He watched as the leg took shape in front of him, its graceful curve becoming more pronounced with every pass.
Had she seemed eager, in the theatre? Happy to be there with him, certainly, though it was possible she'd enjoyed the company of Oedipus more than that of Ollivander. He turned the workpiece over, to start shaping the other side. She wasn't unwilling, he was sure of that. But wasn't it really the rest of her family who were going out of their way to favour him, arranging this apprenticeship to keep him in Athens, buying him a theatre ticket? Back and forth, push and pull. Admittedly, it had been Simaetha who'd liked him, apparently, the evening they first met, and wanted to see more of him. Except, he realized now for the first time, that he had only Callias' word for that.
With each forward stroke of the rasp, a fleet of tiny wooden chips fell to the ground, there to lie becalmed on an ever-growing pile. But the questions were not so easily brushed away. Why him? Whose plan was it really, to marry him off to Timandridas' elder daughter? Was there something wrong with her? An evil temper, perhaps? Before he knew it, his imagination had pictured the two of them as an unhappy couple, quarreling in a house too small to contain them. The image persisted for several disagreeable moments before he was able to banish it.
Erastos stopped by. He was a man of few words; it was enough for him to glance at Ollivander's work for a few moments, nod approvingly, and move on. Back and forth, the chair-leg beginning now to resemble the other one Ollivander had made earlier in the day. He remembered Callias' casual dismissal of his sister's other suitors: none had lasted a week beyond the first introduction, he'd said. If that was to be Ollivander's fate too, then Simaetha would be sending him away the next time he saw her. He resolved to do better than that, though he didn't yet know how.
There, that was the back legs roughed out. He kicked aside the offcuts and other debris and held the legs upright, one in each hand, his mind's eye adding the rest of the chair for them to support. They were long, tapering curves, splayed out behind the chair to keep it stable, and sweeping upwards into the back, where an imaginary occupant was resting his shoulders. Varnish would bring out the pine-grain nicely. Each leg had a small but conspicuous knot, one a little higher than the other, making them appear -- he frowned slightly -- mismatched. That wouldn't do, he decided. Slipping out his wand between two fingers, he pressed its tip to one of the knots, murmuring “Episkey!”
Gradually, as he concentrated, the knot began to move, the grain of the wood shifting and flowing around it. Guided by the olive wand, it swam slowly through the timber, coming to rest at last in a spot exactly aligned with its counterpart in the other chair-leg. Ollivander removed the wand, released the breath he'd been holding, and admired the perfect symmetry of his work. This was going to be a magnificent chair.
Ilyas the potter was stacking his kiln; as Ollivander drifted past his shop that evening, the two men exchanged a friendly wave. The rows of soft clay vases and bowls, intricately painted with their stark black designs, would soon be hard smooth ceramic -- a transfiguration involving no magic at all. At least, Ollivander was fairly sure that it didn't. He was rather vague on the details, and he made a mental note to have Ilyas explain it to him some time.
His own experiments with Transfiguring wood were not going well. Cedar that had once been olive was never quite the same as cedar that had always been cedar, and it didn't take magic to tell the difference. Perhaps a different approach was needed, he mused as he approached the house of Timandridas. There were, after all, good reasons why wand-makers needed so many different timbers. A childhood memory jogged his attention: he sat on his mother's knee, allowed to hold three or four unfinished wands in his small hands, as she chanted to him:
the cedar wand fills ev'ry boast.
Great power lies in wands of yew;
but tamarisk will love you too.
The date-plum tree knows every curse;
a beech-stick saves from something worse.
But the wand that is made of clear true pine,
is noble, unyielding, loyal, and fine.
“You're looking pensive,” remarked Callias, opening the door to his father's house before Ollivander had got around to knocking. “Come and have a drink, to take your mind off whatever it is.”
Ollivander was ushered into a room he hadn't visited before, one furnished with a pair of low couches. A shaft of Athens' early-evening light, entering through a small window, struck a painted jug half-full of wine where it rested on a carved wooden table. Into the sunbeam reached a pale hand: Simaetha's, as she filled a cup for Ollivander. They smiled at each other as she offered him the drink. At least she seemed pleased to see him: that, and the first sip of wine, sparked a tiny, cautious hope inside him.
Resting comfortably on the other couch was a much less expected figure. Perseus the scholar held his goblet in a bony hand, his wispy eyebrows rising by just the slightest margin at the sight of Ollivander.
“This is Perseus, a student friend of mine from Plato's Academy,” Callias explained. “Perseus, this is Ollivander of Croton.” Perhaps he'd forgotten that Perseus and Ollivander had met before. More likely, he was diplomatically smoothing that previous encounter -- which had not reflected well on Ollivander -- out of existence.
“Well met, Perseus,” said Ollivander neutrally. “What brings you to this house?” It was the same question he'd immediately burned to ask when he'd seen Perseus conversing with Callias and his father at the Theatre of Dionysus.
“Oh, Perseus has many interests,” replied Callias at once. “Mathematics and rhetoric and moral philosophy, certainly, but also law and punishment, the building of ships, comic poetry, beekeeping, and tales of lands far away.”
“I am interested in everything,” said Perseus, with a dismissive flick of one hand, as if to suggest that the subjects Callias had mentioned occupied only the smallest part of his brain.
A man whose mind encompassed all there was to know: it was a sluggishly familiar thought. Wasn't that what Ollivander himself had wanted to be, in the sunlit moment when he'd leapt off Euthymios the Cretan's boat? But being in the presence of such a scholar -- of Plato's favourite student, he shouldn't wonder -- didn't feel nearly as inspiring as he'd expected. Was that because Perseus had no magic to go with his other talents? Or had Ollivander himself changed so much in just a few short weeks?
“Perseus has thought of a new way of carrying messages between cities,” Simaetha was saying. “You should hear this, Ollivander.”
“Something more than pigeons, that is,” Perseus added. He turned to Ollivander. “You're familiar with the use of pigeons to carry news?”
Ollivander nodded. Didn't every city in the Greek world send pigeons to Olympia along with its athletes, so that the names of the winners at the Games might be known as quickly as possible? He suppressed the impulse to mention this interesting fact. Perseus surely knew it, and might well have remarked on it already.
“Yes, well,” said Perseus, settling back against a thick square cushion. “Pigeons are all very well, but I have in mind an improvement of considerable value. Imagine writing a message at dusk, just before retiring to bed. While you sleep, your words are carried through the night, to be received in a distant city the very next morning, just as soon as the dawn brings enough light to read them by. Wouldn't that be a fine thing?”
All his audience agreed. There was no real need for such swiftness, of course. News spread across Greece all by itself within a few weeks, and it was hard to imagine a practical reason for wanting to send it any faster. But still, it would be a splendid achievement just to be able to.
“How would you do it?” Ollivander asked. Have the messenger ride a Thestral, he thought, that would be the way. But he doubted Perseus was about to suggest any such thing; Thestrals were likely just myths to him.
Perseus held up a finger. “We can agree, I think, that no pigeon could carry a message overnight. The poor bird would be unable to see where it was going!” His laugh was dry and rustling, like papyrus reeds in summer.
Ollivander frowned, wondering how much Perseus really knew about the capabilities of pigeons. Another memory came to him: on the beach at Croton, gazing across the wine-dark sea to the invisibly distant cities of Ithaca, Delphi, and Athens -- and somewhere just beyond them the sun, about to rise. As Helios in his chariot burst above the horizon, his first rays touched a pigeon, flying arrow-straight, its crossing of the sea completed with the dawn.
“The message-bearer,” Perseus was continuing obliviously, “must be able to fly at night, swiftly and surely, without getting lost. It must be large and strong enough to carry a written message, but not so large that its care and feeding become burdensome.” Not a Thestral, then. “I suggest,” he went on, “that the best beast for the task is -- the bat.”
“The bat?” This Perseus, Ollivander conceded to himself, certainly knew how to surprise.
“Yes. I propose that every Greek city establish, at public expense, an office of posts, housing bats of every kind. The smaller varieties will suffice for local deliveries, but the great cave bats from the mountains will be needed for longer journeys. Each office should be served by a cadre of carefully chosen philosopher-marshals, men educated to train the bats for their important work and attend to the messages they carry.” Perseus raised his goblet to his lips and coolly awaited Ollivander's reaction.
“It's -- what a remarkable idea.” Ollivander was impressed despite himself. “I'd been thinking of it as a feat to be performed only once, like Pheidippides' famous run from Athens to Sparta before the battle of Marathon. But what you've given us is a system, something that could be used every night of the year.”
Callias seemed just as enthused. “I never would have thought of the bats,” he declared. “But then, what else flies by night?”
“What will you do now?” Simaetha wanted to know. She leaned forward, and Ollivander seemed to see the whole room -- Callias, Perseus, and himself too -- reflected in her liquid brown eyes. “Present your idea to the archon? Catch a few bats and train them, to show how it can be done?”
An expression of slight distaste flickered across Perseus' face, as if he'd been asked to carry water down the street. “Do? I'm a philosopher, not a mechanic. For us, the idea is everything. If any should wish to gain the benefit of my thoughts, I leave the implementation to them.”
“Come on,” said Callias, rising to his feet and stretching. “Let's find a wine shop and lubricate those thoughts a bit further. Are you coming, Ollivander?”
It was a decision made in a moment: Perseus and Callias were both standing, but Simaetha remained solidly on her couch. “I think I'll stay here a while longer,” Ollivander said quietly. “If that's all right with everyone, that is.”
“Well, I suppose...” Callias, caught off guard, looked briefly doubtful.
“Oh, it's all right.” Simaetha was suddenly assertive. “We'll get Ripi in here. Ripi!”
There was a sharp sound like a pine-branch snapping as the house-elf materialised. “Yes, Mistress Simaetha?” she asked.
“Just stay in this room with us, please.”
“Certainly, Mistress.” Ripi's dark, beady eyes fixed on Ollivander, still seated. “May I bring my mending, to work on while you talk?”
Simaetha granted the elf permission to sew. Callias, reassured that his sister would not be left unchaperoned, followed Perseus out of the door, leaving silence in his wake.
With four occupants, the room had seemed crowded. With two and an elf, it suddenly felt empty. Ollivander looked across the quiet space at Simaetha, comfortable on her own couch (a well-made one, he couldn't help noticing). She was simply dressed tonight, and her hair was bound only with a single brown band, free of the multifarious gewgaws with which it had been laden for the theatre outing. He tried to think of something to say to her.
After a brief while, she smiled again. “What did you really think,” she asked him, “of those messenger bats?”
“They're a clever idea. I wonder why no-one thought of it before?”
“What makes you think no-one did?” She fixed him with a penetrating look. “As long as it's only an idea, it could have passed through a hundred heads. Socrates might have thought of it, or Solon, or Draco the Lawgiver. But none of them did anything with it, so their thoughts aren't worth remembering.”
“I suppose not.” An unwanted possibility flickered in front of Ollivander: was Perseus one of Simaetha's rejected suitors? “Perseus didn't impress you, then?” he ventured cautiously.
“No. He's a wise fool: good ideas, but nothing else.”
She wouldn't want to spend the evening talking about him, then. Ollivander's gaze drifted away, to where Ripi sat on the floor in a corner, plying her needle. The peplos she was repairing looked like it might fit Simaetha.
“Was it really you,” he asked quickly, before he could think better of it, “who asked Callias to suggest introducing us?”
“Yes, of course. Who else?”
“Your father, perhaps?” Though Ollivander's true suspicion had been that the initiative was Callias' own.
Simaetha's face broke into a broad, unstudied smile of true pleasure. “No, he has never done that. Timandridas knows the duties of a father, but he indulges his daughters more than is good for them. Of course he should be pressing both of us to marry, but...”
“He doesn't need to?” suggested Ollivander. Everything he'd seen in this house suggested that Timandridas could support his unmarried daughters indefinitely, if he so chose.
“He does need to,” Simaetha corrected him firmly. “He just doesn't realise it.” Suddenly, she looked different: sitting up straighter, eyes brighter, leaning forward slightly and looking intently at Ollivander. Had she been half-asleep before? Had he been? “Wandlore,” she went on, “is the most precious of all our magic, and the most difficult. My father will be making wands for years yet, but not for ever. We must have another wand-maker in this family, learning the art here and now, ready to carry on when he's gone.”
“He has three children,” Ollivander remarked uneasily, taken aback by her change in tone. “Callias is the eldest; won't he succeed his father?”
“Callias!” The name escaped her lips in a puff of exasperation. “So much talent, he could have done anything, but all he wants is to be yet another philosopher! A mathematician, drawing his geometry in the sand all day long, and then erasing the lot before going home!”
“So -- you then? Or your sister?”
She settled back onto the couch and laughed. It was a warm, savoury chuckle, the kind that could be enjoyed even by the butt of the joke, if indeed there was a joke there at all. It left Ollivander wishing he could hear that laugh every day.
“Our father is too traditional to let himself be replaced by a woman,” she said, shaking her head in wry amusement. “Even one who loves him dearly. Although, I think his mind could probably be changed on that point, given time. But really, Hermione would be the first to admit that she has no interest in wands. Or woods, or magical trade, or anything of that sort.”
It crossed Ollivander's mind to wonder where Hermione's predilections did lie, but he was much more interested in what her sister would say next. He leaned forward, prompting Simaetha to continue.
“Which leaves me. The next wand-maker, completely incapable of making wands.” Her smile was still in place, but with a half-sour taste behind it now. Evidently her father wasn't the only one whose flaws she found faintly amusing. “I've tried, really I have; I've read every wandlore scroll in the house so many times I know them all by heart. But I just don't seem to have the knack of it. My last wand could just about turn eggs bad.”
“That's something,” offered Ollivander, wanting to be encouraging. “It must have had some magic in it, then.”
“They were a month old already.”
“Ah.” There was a pause, during which the words Well, wands aren't everything formed up in Ollivander's head, but were chased away before any foolishness could utter them. “I think I understand now. This is why your husband cannot be just any man. He must be--”
“A partner in all things,” she said firmly. “A doer, not an ideas man. Someone who can commit to a good thing and see it through, even if it takes years.”
“Yes, I see.” And in a flash of imagination, he did see it, with all the clarity of morning sunshine on a fresh vase-painting. Partners in business, as well as marriage. Laughing together, their success an inspiration to the long line of descendants who would follow them. The image was there for just an instant; only when it was gone did he realise that one of the figures in it had been himself.
“You don't ask for much,” he said with an attempt at lightness -- though there was really no need to prevaricate now. None at all.
“Most of the wives in Athens,” Simaetha told him evenly, “had their husbands chosen for them, the marriage arranged between the families. I wouldn't have minded that for myself: I'd trust my mother and father to choose wisely, if they chose at all. But as things are, I'm left to do my own arranging.”
Ollivander smiled, confident again. There was a piece of pine, straight and strong and an unblemished span in length, waiting where he'd discarded it that morning on the sawdusty floor of Erastos' workshop. It was only an offcut from one of his chair-legs, and he'd held it only briefly, but that had been enough to tell: this stick had potential. He would have to stay up all night to make anything of it, and even then it would be far from finished. But he had no doubts. Noble, unyielding, loyal, and fine. He had no need to be Perseus; he would be Ollivander.
Simaetha was waiting for him. “I have a new wand needing a core,” he told her casually. “Would you like to help me choose one?”
She gave him a tiny, knowing smile. “I would like rather more than that,” she said. “But that would be a very good start.”