The New Normal
Long, long ago, in days when heroes of the Trojan War still walked this earth, terror came to the island of Crete. It came in the form of mysterious sea peoples who attacked and raided the coastal cities. After their beloved city of Malia was sacked for a second time, a desperate group of Minoan refugees began heading to higher ground.
"Where are we going?" asked a small boy named Kikeru.
"To the peak sanctuary of Karfi," explained Idaea, his mother. "We'll be safe from the sea peoples there."
"But where did the sea peoples come from in the first place?" he wanted to know.
"No one knows. Some say they became marauders after they were displaced by earthquakes."
"I heard it was a great drought in Anatolia," said Kikeru's father, a merchant named Yishharu.
"I heard it was plague," said Didikase, another merchant.
"I heard that a god with no name struck Egypt with ten plagues," said a third merchant, Nashuja.
Kikeru was puzzled by the notion of a god with no name. In whose name did the worshippers of that god pray? Of course, the Minoans had no such issues with their gods.
"We shall pray and sacrifice to Britomartis," said Ariadne, Malia's head priestess, after they reached Karfi. "As goddess of mountains and sailors, she is certain to protect us up here and deliver us from this scourge of sea peoples!"
"Will--will we be up here for long?" asked a little girl named Europa, nervously remembering the terrifying sea peoples who had attacked and burned her home the previous night.
"Of course not, dear," replied Kitane, her mother. "The Greek fleet will wipe out these pirates soon enough. You should just think of this as a little adventure."
And so, they settled into what they all assumed would be a temporary shelter, living more roughly than they had in their grand city with its palaces and frescoes.
As days turned into weeks, Malia's merchants gradually and reluctantly took up new careers as farmers and shepherds. It was especially difficult work when they could only occasionally venture into the lowlands and valleys to tend to crops and livestock. Some refused to take up such work, sure that life would be returned to normal before harvesting time anyway.
Then weeks became months, bringing a winter that was especially cold and windy up in the mountains. And yet, there was still no Greek fleet.
"I don't understand why the Greeks have forsaken us," said Nashuja. "Is this how they repay us after our King Idomeneus fought for them at Troy?"
"Forget the Greeks!" said Yishharu. "Where are the Egyptian and Hittite fleets? They rely on us for their wine and olive oil, but we never see them anymore either. What's going on?"
Whatever was going on, the Minoan refugees at Karfi never learned what it was for their coast continued to be dominated by pillaging sea peoples and no one else. As months became years, young Kikeru entered manhood. He became engaged to Europa.
"I've been thinking about our old lives," he said to her one day. "If we ever do go back, I can't wait to watch bull-leaping again. What are you planning to do when we return?"
Europa sighed. "I would like for us to be married in Malia."
"Are you sure you want to wait that long?" asked Kikeru. "Many couples our age are getting married now."
"I know," she said, "but I want to get married properly in a real temple. Couldn't we wait just a few more years? I'm sure the sea peoples will be gone by then."
"They were supposed to be gone years ago," he pointed out.
"Yes, but surely, it'll be soon by now!"
Kikeru turned to look out at the sea, the sea from which their maritime civilization had retreated. "I always thought that I would grow up to be a merchant like my father," he said finally, "but now I wonder if that will even happen."
"I know what you mean," said Europa. "As a child, I wanted to become a priestess, but I certainly don't anymore."
The reason she certainly didn't anymore was that the people were increasingly turning against the priestesses. Their rituals did not seem to be working. Not only did the sea peoples persist, harvests were poor and getting poorer, and the priestesses sacrificed animals that could have been used to feed starving people. One dark, overcast day, the people's frustration with the priestesses came to a head.
"Why does Britomartis fail us?" Yishharu demanded to know.
"I--I don't know," said Ariadne. "We pray and sacrifice to her every day, but it doesn't seem to be enough. I think she must be very angry at us. Perhaps she requires a human sacrifice."
"Yes…" said Didikase, drawing a sword, "…yours!"
"You--you can't sacrifice me! I am your head priestess, y-your link to our beloved patron goddess!"
"You don't seem to be doing a very good job of linking to her," said Didikase. "It almost makes me wonder if Britomartis even exists."
"That's blasphemy!" Ariadne gasped. "You mustn't speak that way or all the gods will make life very difficult for us!"
"Well, that would make for a change!" Didikase retorted.
For a moment, Ariadne seemed to consider raising her ceremonial labrys in defense, but then she cast it aside. "Strike down a holy priestess, and you will never see the end of the gods' wrath!"
Didikase only hesitated for a moment before he did strike her down. The other priestesses were less martyrly-inclined and tried to fend off the angry mob with their ceremonial labryses, but they were killed just as easily.
With the death of the priestesses, it became impossible to conduct formal weddings at all. Kikeru and Europa simply moved in together without any ceremony. They labored as farmers, using primitive tools for there was no more imported tin and copper with which to make bronze. They gave birth to a new generation, who would be raised knowing only life at Karfi. As more and more years passed by, the last scribes and merchants died off. Their skills no longer needed or taught, their deaths also marked the death of the written word.
Kikeru and Europa never did live to see their people leave Karfi. Instead, the people were still holed up in the mountains when Kikeru and Europa died of old age. Their children and their children's children did not live to see it either. The generation that did leave the mountains didn't even remember why the lowlands and valleys were supposed to be so dangerous. Slowly and cautiously, they reclaimed them, surprised to discover no apparent danger.
By that time, they were, of course, no longer a sophisticated civilization of seafaring merchants. They had become simple, illiterate farmers and shepherds for whom the world that existed before their exile was but an oral myth. Their old cities were now unfamiliar, mysterious ruins. It would still be centuries more before advanced civilization returned to the island of Crete.
Matthew McAyeal is a writer from Portland, Oregon. His short stories have been published by Bards and Sages Quarterly, Fantasia Divinity Magazine, cc&d, The Fear of Monkeys, Danse Macabre, The Metaworker, Scarlet Leaf Magazine, Bewildering Stories, The Magazine of History & Fiction, Tall Tale TV, Fiction on the Web, and Necro Magazine. In 2008, two screenplays he wrote were semi-finalists in the Screenplay Festival. "The New Normal" was previously published in Journeys through Chaos.