Prologue

Following along behind the old Austrian priest and watching the flashes of light from his lantern on the tunnel walls, Katya felt chilled. The dampness seemed to close in like a fog. A peculiar musty smell mingled with the cold and moisture to create a strange otherworldly atmosphere. Katya felt as if she were in a forbidden, threatening place, yet one that seemed somehow familiar. She had never been inside the old salt mine before.

A holy place, Father Dannenfelder said. A place people had used before the Christians started to worship Jesus, perhaps even before time began to be measured.

His heavy shoes slapped along the stone floor of the mine, echoed by the taps of her own felt footwear and those of the two children behind her. In these strange surroundings, to Katya the shoe taps sounded suspicious, and she could hardly keep from turning around to be sure that those behind her were known and friendly.

Dark streaks and chips in the tunnel walls shone and sometimes sparkled as the priest’s lantern cut through the blackness. Then he turned out of the main tunnel into a narrow shaft. There was little air, and Katya found it hard to breathe. A soft buzzing began in her ears. She felt lightheaded, as though she were about to face a crisis in her life. What could it be? She wondered, frightened.

Then the priest stopped. The other two young people moved up, crowding in next to Katya. The priest spoke: “Look down here, on the floor of the tunnel, right in front of me.” He moved aside slightly. The seekers saw only some shreds of cloth and shards of bones but enough to know that what lay before them had once been human. Katya shuddered.

“Now look at this wall.” A shelf had been cut in the wall of the tunnel. On it lay some recognizable bones and strips of cloth. Someone dead had been placed there, someone more important, Katya thought, than the person whose body had once lain on the floor of the tunnel.

Looking at these remains, Katya’s feeling of dread dissipated, and she felt respect and almost reverence for the person who had once lived and left those bones on the shelf. A woman, Katya thought. It had been a woman. Someone of consequence, someone revered...

“See what’s above the shelf,” directed the priest.

Katya raised her eyes. She saw two strange and striking symbols carved into the wall above the bones, symbols with the faintly recognizable remains of red paint filling in the incisions.

Here it is, Katya thought. Here is the significant experience. These symbols. They appeared to enlarge as she looked at them. They seemed to fill her eyes and strike to her very soul. She knew the symbols were vital for her, would always be vital. Staring at them, she felt their power, their eternal consequence. She wanted to touch them, to be electrified by their potency as it entered her fingertips.

She stepped forward and put out her left hand. Someone behind her gasped. The priest said nothing, merely watched curiously.

Katya traced the first symbol with the tips of her fingers. It was a long oval with points at either end, like two crescents fitted together. Its edges bore a faint design, something like the zigzag stitch she had sewn on a sampler when she was five.

Touching the arced design proved to be a pleasurable, even sensual experience. Katya felt a tingle of excitement in the deepest part of her abdomen as her fingertips followed along the serrated edge of the design.

This is a symbol of love, Katya thought. It’s about passion, rapture...things I haven’t even experienced.

“We’d better go,” said the priest, suddenly apprehensive.

“A moment,” Katya pleaded. And she raised her right hand to touch the second symbol.

An intricate design. Her fingertips followed a series of lines networking through a rounded-off square, but most of the lines came up short at a crosspiece, a line that prevented access...Ah! A labyrinth, or a maze. She had once seen a picture of a maze. Every maze has a way out, no matter how convoluted, she remembered, following the narrow channels until she found this one’s exit. This design is about discovering solutions to problems, she thought. It’s about finding a way out of one’s difficulties. It leads us...

“Come. We’ve spent enough time here.” The priest swung his lantern away.

But Katya had memorized the designs. They were incised in her mind. She would never forget them.