The City of the Dead drifted alongside the barque and its passengers of fine-robed clergymen. It was a great sprawling city of mausoleums, tombs, and cemeteries that stretched along the right-hand bank. The graves had been lain down over centuries, each generation buried alongside their forefathers. The City of Ephesus was extremely old, and it had seen many dead during its long lifetime.
The oldest tombs were unreadable, weathered away to nothing. Further in one could make out the names of old gods and heroes upon them. Zeus, Apollo, Hecate, and Hercules, but every second tomb or more had the name of Artemis engraved upon it. For Ephesus had belonged to the Great Goddess; Artemis of the Ephesians, renowned throughout the world. She had been worshiped here for a thousand years. Yet the gravestones closest to the city walls, bunched up against the stones, had few now pleading for her protection. These graves were more often inscribed with a new name. Christos.
The largest mausoleums floated past as the barque approached the inner harbour. Engraved with figures of memorial, of myth and legendary past. Saints and demi-gods watched over the dead, awaiting the last day when they would rise again. The unrighteous would rise to meet their eternal damnation, the righteous would rise to eternal glory. And who could tell, just from the cold stone carvings above their graves, who was who?
That one, his corpse dressed in stone figures of Christian piety, might he actually have been a determined heretic, a savage wolf among the flock, his sins only to be revealed by the light of God? No mortal man could tell for sure; though of course they tried. Perhaps together, with reasoned debate, they could be more certain? Perhaps only the most righteous among them could really tell?
But if no one could judge the dead, they could certainly judge the living. For the living could be examined, forced to stand before their accusers and defend their public words and inner hearts. And if convicted of holding divisive beliefs, ideas founded not upon the unanimous consensus of the Church but upon their own meandering thoughts, then they could repent. Or they could be expelled and sent into exile from their community.
The vast graveyard fell away and the dead were left to their own concerns. The living came into view before the barque and the Bishop Nestorius who stood upon its deck. A great city of bustling, crowded people, rich and poor, righteous and unrighteous, Christian, Jew, and Pagan. And though they each clothed themselves as they wished others to see them, who could discern their hearts? Pagans dressed as Christians to gain Imperial office, the unrighteous presented themselves as pious to lead the innocent astray. Nestorius knew that this city, like all cities, was a great flock of sheep, and among them savage wolves stalked, wolves who wore the robes and crooks of shepherds. And he knew, as certain as he knew his own name, that it was the duty of the good shepherds to protect their sheep. And he knew also that part of that duty was to unmask and expel the wolves from among them.
The Bishop Nestorius stood upon the deck of the barque, and gazed out steadily upon the city as it rose up before him. He barely felt the baking heat of the day, even in his close-fitting tunic, and his richly-woven mantle. He stood calmly upon the deck, feet apart and steady despite the rolling waves. His clear gaze rested on the buildings, streets, and shops, adorned with bright paint, gold-leaf, and life-size statues, bustling with people. His gaze moved on to rest upon the churches, gymnasiums, and the baths that he could spot; large public facilities endowed by wealthy patrons, richly adorned with decorative reliefs and painted with eye-catching colours. It was a sight to awe the senses, and fascinate the heart. But, even at this distance, the Bishop’s eyes followed the people. He watched them and though he could not make out their faces, he still studied them for signs.
The sun burned down upon the painted walls and the gilded statues on the roofs of the city, a glittering, beautiful metropolis. It was laid out like a jewel, like a chest of jewels, nestled between the feet of two great hills. At the centre was Mount Pion, around which the city had gathered its body; its harbour and main market, its baths, its theatre, and its circus. Across its summit the city walls stretched. To the right was Mount Preon, higher and steeper. Before Pion, the entrance to the body of the city was the harbour, built upon a great flat plain of vast public complexes, squat warehouses and sprawling docks. From the waterside a wide arcade had been built straight through the centre of it all like an arrow, pointing to the great theatre built into the base of the hill.
Between Pion at the heart and the steep slopes of Preon on the right lay a narrow, gentle-sloped valley, along which a beautiful road passed. It was lined with gorgeous fresh-painted statues, richly-decorated shrines, newly built baths, and cool plashing fountains. It led from the centre of the bustling city up the short valley to the political centre of the city; a square agora surrounded by the Town hall, an Odeon where the city elders met in their Boule. The Odeon was the centre of government of the whole Province, and this upper agora was where the most wealthy and powerful men of Ephesus gathered.
Bishop Nestorius had done his research before he set sail, he knew the streets and churches of the city. He knew the names of the most powerful city nobles, all the clergy, and the council’s leaders. He knew the three most powerful leaders, the curator, defensor, and pater poleos. He had asked around about the new Governor Andreas, and of course, he had heard of the Metropolitan Bishop, Memnon, the most powerful Bishop of all Asia.
Nestorius knew that much of what was about to happen would rely on Bishop Memnon, on his loyalty to the Emperor, his loyalty to the See of Constantinople. It would rely on the sincerity of his faith. Memnon was an unknown factor in this. Bishop John had tried to sound him out, but Memnon had refused to be drawn one way or the other. He had said only that he would listen to the arguments and follow his conscience as he was led by the Holy Spirit.
Nestorius was suspicious of the man. Thirty years ago the simony scandals had rocked Asia, and had caused the Church of Ephesus to be greatly embarrassed at the hand of Nestorius’ predecessor John “Goldentongue”. That was a long time ago of course, decades before Memnon had taken office. But Nestorius was still suspicious. Corruption had a way of holding onto a place, and influencing its successors for years afterwards. He would tread carefully with the Archbishop. Nestorius had written ahead before he had left Constantinople, flattering Memnon as much as he could bring himself to, and begging the honour of dining with him when he arrived. He prayed to God the meeting would go well.
The inner harbour itself was as busy as the outer harbour. Though the ships were smaller here they were more numerous. Large barques riding low with bales and jars, huge amphora and crates mingled haphazardly with fishermen and ferrymen, traversing passengers, fish, sacks, boxes, and bags. Wooden piers stuck out into the water, each side thick with masts, gangplanks, pulleys and cranes. And the planks were heavy with cargo, loading and unloading, sailors and officials fighting for space and order among it all.
It was into this morass of people and goods that they rowed. Wide barques pushed for space to unload bustling crowds and men in rich-cut robes. Nestorius scanned the piers quickly, searching for his peers. He could see only a few Bishops disembarking. It was still early, not yet May, and the Council was slated to open on Pentecost, the 7th day of June. He suspected that the greater numbers were still on their way, travelling together for safety in long caravans by land and wide flotillas by sea. But he saw that the early arrivals were already arriving in dribs and drabs, he guessed there would be a handful each morning. As they disembarked Nestorius saw the bright gilded litters, and the retinues pushing through the crowds to greet them, and carry them to their lodgings.
Nestorius barely glanced at his deacon Photius as he stepped off the gangplank onto the jetty boards. His keen eyes were scanning for his own litter. He imagined the governor himself would be here to greet him, notified by a slave posted to watch the ships arrive. Or perhaps a collection of the council leaders would be arguing over the honour of escorting him. Nestorius stood at the end of the gangway, surrounded by the chaos of sailors and dockmen pushing and cursing. He could not see anyone.
Nestorius’ face grew grim and hard. It appeared that there was no one here to greet him. His embarrassment at the slight quickly turned to anger.
His deacon Photius was at his side. “Lord Bishop?”
“It seems we are abandoned,” Nestorius told him through gritted teeth.
“Perhaps they did not see us approach,” Photius replied.
“Perhaps,” Nestorius answered. “But we cannot stand here on the docks waiting for someone to open their eyes.” He turned to his steward and ordered him to supervise the unloading of the barque. The rest of their party remained onboard.
“I will wait onboard, deacon,” Nestorius commanded Photius. “You go on, and see if you can find transportation for us and our baggage.”
Photius nodded and turned away, forcing his way past the broad-shouldered dock labourers and oarsmen. He was growing red-faced and angry also on his lord Bishop’s behalf. And as the sun rose higher, the day was growing steadily hotter.