Theodoros was raised in the city of Draka by impoverished parents who were struggling potters. Growing up, his only meaningful possession was a wooden toy horse that was passed down through his family for generations. From an early age, Theodoros was outcasted by the elders of the city because of his unusual views towards the gods. Although free speech was allowed in their society, it was considered disgraceful to question the gods in any way. Those who did so would be considered mentally deranged or sickly, but Theodoros had unique traits that set him apart from the others. He grew to become a striking young man to the people with distinctive features. He had black eyes (a rarity which was said to be a gift from the gods), he was never drunk or malicious, and he spoke with intellect and profound wisdom.
Communal admiration for Theodoros grew and his ideologies spread far and wide. His comfort in speaking in front of large crowds resulted in organized events in the Forum—a social setting for citizens to gather and exchange ideas. The young man would often communicate his contemplations through storytelling and poetry, attracting more listeners, and as his words spread, his audience grew.
The elders watched all of this very closely for years, and eventually, their anger and disapproval of his popularity turned into worry. They knew that the young Theodoros lived amongst the lower class, so they implemented a tax for anyone who desired to host a talk at the Forum. This delayed Theodoros only temporarily as he devised a plan. He knew he might have angered his community by burdening them with this new ‘host tax’, but he also knew that the citizens, including his followers, felt betrayed and angry at the elders, whose disdain towards Theodoros was publicly apparent.
Theodoros began selling admission parchments to his forthcoming events to raise money. This unconventional model sparked interest from even those who had not heard him speak, and so, his platform grew. Quickly, Theodoros was able to pay for the host tax. He would then continue hosting talks and would allow the lower and middle classes to fill up any remaining seats for free. He outsmarted the elders without breaking any laws. Humiliated, the elders set up another attack. They decided to tax all attendees to the Forum with a hefty fee which was only affordable to the middle and upper classes. The citizens of Draka were stunned, but Theodoros had faith and pursued a plan to overcome this new obstacle.
Although the elders kept a close watch on him for many years, they were unaware of the secret meetings that took place after dark. These meetings were mostly arranged by the wealthier citizens since it had become taboo for them to show any signs of interest into the spreading ideologies of Theodoros. Anna, the youngest daughter of the richest shipping oligarch, Metaxis the III, had heard about Theodoros, and she scheduled secret meetings at her estate through the arrangement of her messengers. A few meetings turned into many, and a great friendship struck between the two.
One year earlier, Metaxis III had died and left Anna with a generous inheritance. She knew there was much hatred and anger towards Theodoros, as he had been blamed for the changes of the Forum, but she believed it was important for the people to hear him speak. Anonymously, she donated an enormous sum to him under the condition that it would only be used towards paying his host and attendees taxes. He agreed and shared one last evening with Anna before her decade-long sail across the world. Theodoros would thereon have the Forum packed with listeners of all classes. His popularity increased vastly to the point where it was speculated that over half of the city followed him.
The elders began to panic as they knew an election was fast approaching. They feared the young man would be elected as their youngest elder and disrupt their long standing traditions. In what they hoped to be their final attack, they launched a smear campaign all across the city to publicly shame Theodoros with false claims. They rumored that he was a spy from a foreign land who was collecting information to overthrow their government. Another allegation was that he was a demon who tricked people into wickedness through the disguise of a man. Hysteria grew amongst the citizens, and even his own supporters and friends slowly turned against Theodoros. Establishments would begin to ban him and his home was vandalized and robbed constantly. Rebels would beat him in the open streets while citizens turned a blind eye. The seventeen-year-old Theodoros endured his next decade in exile.
One hot morning, a withered Theodoros arrived to the doorstep of Anna’s estate and knocked with the little strength he had. A young boy slowly opened the door and watched Theodoros gaze mysteriously into his black eyes. A woman soon came and pulled the boy behind her. She was concealed with a headscarf to hide her severely scarred face. Theodoros unstuck his eyes from the boy and asked to see Anna after telling the woman of their past friendship. The woman claimed that Anna had drowned in a sailing accident many years ago. Theodoros wept and fell to his knees. The woman told him to wait as she closed the door, and shortly after, she returned with money, a clean garment, and a pair of her father’s sandals to give for his blistered feet. “May you be with One,” the woman said as she closed the door for the last time. He paused to carefully replay her last words to him. In that moment, Theodoros felt that he would soon meet his death, and so he left.
Later that day, Theodoros walked into the market wearing the sandals and the garment over his body. To disguise part of his face, he used the remains of the garment to avoid public recognition. With the few coins he was given, he purchased four figs, a loaf of bread, a brick of cheese, a quill with blue ink, a stack of parchment, and a small wooden toy horse that reminded him of his childhood treasure he had lost over the years. The seller of the toy was an old man who asked for a name to engrave it. Theodoros hesitated and replied with a name different from his own. As the old man carved, Theodoros felt peculiar stares from strangers walking by. He quickly exchanged the horse with the last remaining coins he was given from the woman and left in such a hurry that he dropped his last coin.
Theodoros walked for miles outside of the city into the deserted Great Plains to find a quiet place of solitude until he was confronted by a serpent. The long creature hissed at Theodoros with a deadly stare from its blazing yellow eyes. He turned away, as it was known as bad faith to look into the eyes of a serpent. The serpent struck at him unsuccessfully. Then, on its second attempt, the creature bit through the white garment directly on the side of his heart. He dropped his belongings and yelled out a screeching cry to the sky to which the serpent became frightened and crawled away. Theodoros unsteadily picked up his belongings and perched himself underneath a nearby olive tree that stood alone. With all his scattered belongings, he was drawn to the toy horse that had fallen on its side. He picked it up and flipped it to see the engraving. It read: Theodoros. He slowly put the toy down and cracked a smile through his crusted lips. Tears flowing, blood leaking, and hands shaking, he took out his quill with the stack of parchment and began to slowly write before falling into his final sleep.
A screeching hiss awoke Theodoros. It was the same serpent. It sat coiled directly in front of him and began inching closer. It hissed with its long red tongue slipping in and out of its mouth. Feeling incapacitated, Theodoros stared back deeply into its glowing yellow eyes until it reared backwards in a sudden motion. It let out a final hiss and disappeared into the haze. Theodoros started to laugh as he gazed up towards the sky and sang a famous song written for the worship of the gods.
Within a few minutes, a misty figure appeared through the haze of the rocky plains, coming closer towards Theodoros. It was a young man who appeared to be homeless and dehydrated. He was naked, apart from ripped cloths tied around his feet. His topless, tanned flesh had bubbled from the sun, with long wavy hair that bounced with each slow step taken towards the singing Theodoros. The young man approached him and asked what had happened. Theodoros replied, smiling at the sky, “A timely death has so appeared, young one. And why have you been brought here to the mouth of Lazlo?”
The young man replied, “I search a new home for my thoughts to rest.”
A large grin appeared on Theodoros’s face. “Take rest here and accompany me in my dying moments with song,” he laughed, and continued singing.
The young man raised his voice. “I have been told to be a mad man who sees apparitions and must seek truth on this journey, and you may be a knot on my string.”
Theodoros stopped and looked deeply into his eyes. “Do you believe that I exist or that I am an apparition you see?”
“I can only be certain about not knowing if what I see is true,” the young man said with a cry in his throat.
“Why is the thought of me any less truthful than my body that you see?” Theodoros asked as the young man gazed into his eyes with wonder and confusion. “Truth is revealed not from the sight of your eyes but the vision from your heart.”
“What is your name?” the young man asked.
“When you leave from me, you will begin to know me as One with you,” Theodoros replied.
The young man walked closer towards him. “May I stay with you in your dying moments to hear you speak rather than sing?”
Theodoros smiled and replied, “Speaking is my favorite song to sing.” The young man sat next to him and the dialogue continued. “Let us both sing sweeter than the iron horn of Galaptigo and louder than the whispers of Zephyr, for if we are men full of blood and beliefs, there are thousands more like us across all the mighty seas.”
“But for those who are silenced like the tongue of a bull, do their thoughts not become as dead as a winter’s breeze?” the young man interjected.
“Frozen rivers gush with blood below. For when the silencers shall melt and exist no more, the silenced become loud and will breathe forevermore.” Theodoros paused to look down on his garment that had been painted red by his own blood. He then slowly turned back towards the young man. “What do you think about most?” he asked.
“I think about the beginning of creation itself and ask: Who created the gods?”
Theodoros smiled and continued to fiddle with the toy horse. Then, after a long pause, he replied to the young man. “Perhaps we should begin at the beginning of your thought and ask: Who is ‘I’?”