The Private Diary of Elizabeth Quatermain, vol. III: The Wintering
by Lady Norbert

A/N: I'd just like to say I've really been overwhelmed by the amount of interest people have shown in this series. There may not have been a whole pile of reviews, but the personal emails I've received from a number of readers have been incredibly gratifying and almost life-affirming. I never really expected any of this. Thank you, everyone!

You may have noticed that I've changed the name of this volume, which was originally going to be titled "A Grecian Turn." Owing to a number of details I neglected to investigate before announcing that name, I can't keep the League in Greece for very long, so the title no longer felt appropriate; I did keep it for the first chapter. "The Wintering," however, is appropriate, because that's pretty much what's going to be happening in here -- they're passing the winter. This volume is going to carry the Nautilus through until March or so; therefore, you can expect it to be longer than either of the previous installments. I hope you like it anyway.

Bit of a short start, really, but here it is. All set? Here we go!

Standard disclaimer -- if you recognize it, I don't own it.


20 October 1899

Over this morning's meal, we discussed our plans for the visit we intend to pay to Greece. Nemo insists that we not remain in these waters for more than a few weeks; the Mediterranean Sea is often visited by treacherous weather in the winter months, including what he terms "cyclonic activity." He will not risk harm to the Nautilus by staying here past mid-November. We are little disheartened by this, for Greece is a comparatively small country; most of the things we desired to see can be visited within a matter of weeks. Moreover, should we decide we wish to see more, there is precious little preventing our return to these waters in the future.

Greece has only in recent years claimed its independence from the sprawling Ottoman Empire, to which it had previously belonged for a very long time. The country is in the process of attempting to liberate all Greek-speaking nations from the Empire, to reform the Greece of history. We would prefer to remain entirely apart from the political proceedings, of course, but Nemo feels this will not be difficult.

I am looking over my diary entries of this year, this last year of the nineteenth century. It seems quite impossible that I have been in the company of the League for only two months! Easily, they have been the most eventful, dangerous, and altogether exhilarating months of my life. Who could have guessed that I would be where I am, and with whom?


22 October 1899

Today we disembarked the Nautilus in the Greek town of Piraievs, not far from Athens. There is the faintest chill of impending winter on the air, but on the whole the weather is still quite pleasant. We will travel through the countryside to Athens, there to visit the Acropolis; after a day or so in the capital, we will take a rail journey farther inland to see Mount Olympus, once believed to be home to the ancient Greek gods. I am writing this quickly, while Nemo and his men arrange our transport. I will most likely not get the chance to write again until we reach Athens.

Oh -- Skinner does make me laugh! He wants to know why the Greeks had a god of wine (Dionysus), but no god of Scotch.


23 October 1899

We are staying for a few days at a small, quaint rooming house in Athens proper; I wonder how old it is. The whole of Athens gives one the feeling that one has gone backward in time -- all in the best sense, of course. Indeed, at one time, the city in which we now find ourselves was the hub of learning and culture in the known world.

The Acropolis can be seen clearly by day and night alike, but we are waiting until tomorrow to make the climb, for today it is raining. Our hosts in the rooming house have suggested that, should we feel ambitious, we make the trip at night; the ruins are said to be particularly spectacular by moonlight. I do not know whether I am willing to make such a climb twice, but Mina at least seems interested in the prospect.

I have been doing a bit of reading about the Parthenon, the greatest of the buildings at the Acropolis, and have learned some fascinating things. It was a temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens, also the goddess of wisdom and war. (Odd combination, if you ask me.) It has been standing since the year 438 B.C., and took ten years to complete.

The inside of the Parthenon is divided into two rooms. The west room was the Treasury Room. It's nearly as wide as the Parthenon is tall, and was where the treasury of Athens and the Delian League was stored.

The east room is called the Naos, and it houses the Parthenos -- the great statue of the goddess. Athena reaches very nearly all the way to the ceiling. In one hand she holds a statue of Nike, goddess of victory, who is taller than most men; Nike holds a garland with which she is about to crown Athena. The war goddess is, for reasons I fail to understand, adorned with snakes. There are no less than eleven snakes depicted on her armour, belt, and bracelets. She was carved by the sculptor Pheidias, with ivory skin and gold garments, and is believed to have been perhaps the greatest statue in all of ancient Greece.

Growing up in England, I am quite accustomed to being surrounded by ancient structures; the city of Bath, for example, has existed since the Romans ruled our island. Even so, I am amazed at the longevity of such a work of art as the Athenian Parthenos.


24 October 1899

Days like today make me wish I were an artist! The view from the top of the Acropolis is really breathtaking. There is something quite thrilling about being seated among the ruins of the ancient civilization, gazing out over the beautiful blue sea.

First we had to climb many, many stairs through a series of ruined buildings called the Propylaia, which included a temple to Nike. The Acropolis was ringed round by a defensive curtain wall, and this was the only way to enter; even though a large portion of that wall is now gone, the stairs are still the easiest access point. This was a long and slightly treacherous climb, as the steps are old, but I was never far from someone to help me if I stumbled. Below us as we climbed, we could see what remains of the immense open-air theatre called the "Odeion of Herodes Atticus." This interests me; the theatre was not built until 161 A.D., which means that as ancient as it is, by the time it was added to the area, the Acropolis was already some five hundred years old!

We went into the Parthenon itself, which made me almost fearful, as though I had no right to trespass. But I am glad we did, for the statue of Athena is extraordinary. Even if I were an artist, I would not have attempted to draw an accurate representation of the statue; it is simply something which must be seen in person in order to be perfectly understood. Even Skinner was reduced to silence.

After touring the Parthenon, we all sat outside and enjoyed an excellent picnic lunch which Nemo's men brought for us. It was a wholly delightful afternoon, and made the difficult climb to the top of the hill well worth the effort. I have not picnicked in ages, and certainly not in such a diverse and splendid company. In some regards, I took more pleasure from watching my friends than I did from observing the ruins.

I sat on a rock with a lap full of the last of the wildflowers which grow on the Acropolis hill; I amused myself by winding these into a garland. Mina sat on another rock not far away, and Henry -- jacket off, sleeves rolled up, and looking perfectly the picture of contentment -- was lounged on the grass with his head against her knee, reading to us from Homer. If I could draw, I would have drawn a portrait of the two of them. She looked no less content than he did, with her hat off and her hair unbound, and it was such a sweet picture I wish I could have recorded it.

Nemo too sat regally on a stone, uncharacteristically relaxed. Tom and Skinner preferred to emulate Henry, and made themselves comfortable on the grass. Skinner, once he had finished eating, pillowed his head on one arm and seemed to drop off to sleep. I finished making my floral garland and draped it over his head, and his mouth twitched, so I knew he wasn't really sleeping. The weather was pleasant, the wind light, and the day was just altogether marvellous. At times like these, I feel less like I am among friends and more as if I have a family.

The sun is all but down, and we are to take our evening meal in the dining room. I can't begin to pronounce the Greek dish we will be eating, much less spell it, but it amounts to rice and lamb wrapped in grape leaves.


25 October 1899

Well, this is hardly a surprising development -- and yet even so, we were not prepared for it!

After dinner last night, Henry asked Mina if she wished to make the climb again, to view the Acropolis by moonlight as our hosts had recommended. She agreed, and while the rest of us lingered over the table, they made their way back up the hillside.

I don't know details, of course, and it would be terribly improper to press on this subject, but I do know they were gone for quite some time. They returned so late, in fact, that I for one had already retired for the night; whether the others were still awake, I do not know, but for whatever reason they waited until breakfast to make the announcement.

Henry has asked Mina to marry him. She said yes.

It is incredibly delightful to see how happy he looks! Apparently, from what little reference was made, even Edward is quiet and content at this particular time. Mina too appears very happy -- in point of fact, she seems gentler and warmer than she ever has. We know very little about their courtship, which has largely taken place quite privately. I am aware that the recent experiences in Egypt brought up many bad memories for Mina, and that Henry was a great source of comfort; they were already in the process of growing close, and the closeness was only increased by the events. I think each is just what the other needs to cure their loneliness.

I wish I knew how the proposal went, exactly. It must have been terribly romantic, among the stones and ruins with the moon overhead. I do envy her for that. He presented her with a marvellous engagement ring, which we all -- myself especially -- admired this morning; I have to wonder when he had occasion to purchase it, for it is rather singular. Perhaps in Alexandria? Or did he get it as long ago as when we were in Paris? That seems more likely, though I wonder at his foresight, or his patience, whichever virtue enabled him to keep it so long. The engagement band features a sparkling diamond, the stone of commitment to love, flanked on either side by deep red garnets, the jewel of truth and faith.

Nemo has promised to celebrate their joyful news with a splendid banquet upon our return to the Nautilus. There has been no talk yet of the ceremony date, but it seems quite probable that they will wed before the year ends. I am extremely pleased for the happy couple, of course, though I was concerned for Tom -- I think his attraction to Mina still lingers. If this is true, however, he has perfected the skill of concealing it, for he congratulated Henry most enthusiastically and wished Mina every happiness imaginable.

Today and tomorrow we will simply amuse ourselves in the city of Athens as we like; after that, we board the train which will take us to see Mount Olympus. The train will also be an excellent way for us to view a larger portion of Greece than we otherwise might. As I understand it, we will take a different rail route on the way back to Athens, thus doubling the amount of countryside we will be able to see.