The Glass Key Part 3 | Liam Pender


The Glass Key: Part 3

Liam Pender

The Historical Factions Award Part 3


Scrolls of papyrus, stacked several men high, loomed imposingly as they walked through the Great Library. Junia was struck by the religious like silence of the building, only broken by the constant beat of her and her companions’ footsteps.

Silence. She peeked over to her brother as he walked behind her. He had held his silence for the weeks since rescuing Synesius from the burning house. Everyone assumed he was performing some sort of priestly duty. But she knew her brother. He was making penance. His eyes betrayed him, revealing a look of guilt that Junia recognised from his less than saintly childhood. She knew he blamed himself for the suffering of Synesius.

Loukios had called upon her to sacrifice so much of her own desires for Christ. She had resented him for that. But her feelings had softened seeing the anguish he put himself through to follow Christs’ way.

Her brother had sat by Synesius’ bed, nursing the philosopher back to health. He refused every offer of help from concerned neighbouring women. Loukios was here today, still acting as Synesius’s man servant. He was a man to be admired. Her brother’s presence helped keep her nerves in check as she marched, for what seemed like hours, to meet the famed scholar Hypatia.

Junia clutched carefully the fabric wrapped around the glass cup she had made. It had been inspired by a sketch in amongst the scrolls that Synesius had smuggled out of his burning home. The philosopher said he’d been assured the sketched cup could not be made with blown glass. She smiled, still brimming with the pride that had filled her when only a few hours later she produced the impossible. The delicious mixture of shock and admiration emblazoned on the young philosopher’s face had made hours of sweat, soot and struggle worthwhile.

Junia wondered how many interesting sketches were within the thousands of scrolls she had already walked past. And how many hours of careful work had gone into making each piece of papyrus?
As a child, she had witnessed a craftsman carefully peel the papyrus plant and elegantly slice the fibres into thin strips. He soaked each piece then pounded them over and over again, before caressing, almost romantically, the fibres into a smooth papyrus.

Synesius led them into a circular stone walled room, sparsely decorated. There in the centre, sat majestically a woman, studying a scroll. Junia guessed she was Hypatia.

Synesius spoke.

“I have something you will want to see, lady.”

“A glass?” She replied casually looking up from the scroll. “Dare I ask the significance?”

Synesius carefully reached for an amphora which Loukios had been carrying
and began to pour water into the cup until it was half full. He paused for a moment. Hypatia’s eyes widened slightly in what Junia hope was anticipation. Synesius filled the remainder of the vessel, but as the water reached the brim it began to empty out of bottom of the cup.

“Pythagoras’s greedy cup!” Hypatia said visibly amused. “A clever device. It teaches two lessons; one on the consequences of greed, if the drinker fills the cup too high with wine he is punished when the design of the cup empties itself. But if he fills it only half full he can drink in peace.”

“The second lesson has always been more difficult to teach. And that is the law of nature that allows a syphon to force water to flow upwards. The transparent glass makes this process obvious to even the most dull-witted of students. To whom do we owe thanks for the craftwork?”

Junia noticed Synesius motion toward her. She looked down towards the floor with embarrassment. She was proud of her work but the sudden adoration was difficult to process.

“Indeed, Synesius has brought a great gift today,” Hypatia continued. “Young lady come, we have much to discuss.”

Junia hesitated and turned to her brother for approval. He looked back at her with a warm smile, his eyes were glazed with tears preparing to fall. The monk’s support caused a twang of duty to her tribe.

“I hope you can accept my work as an apology on behalf of all us Christians, for the fire which destroyed the papyrus of Plato,” Junia announced formally.

“Fire can be fearsome,” Hypatia spoke in an assuring tone. “But I imagine if we could read the mind of an inferno it would reveal a fear of us. Because everything it destroys we rebuild. Your handiwork is just one of many victories against the destructive elements of nature.”

Junia felt flushed. Hypatia held her work in such esteem. Perhaps one day a papyrus telling her story would sit amongst these scrolls – she immediately arrested her thought. An epic about a young lady glazier? Now she was being greedy.