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Everybody saw him, and nobody was in the least bit scared of him. The talk at the Pitt Rivers Museum that day was given by a Professor of… well, I can’t remember her exact title or which uni she worked at but she was basically an expert on mythology. Dad knew of her and was impressed that she was at the museum. She might have been on telly as well and I think dad had a “nerd crush” on her because he got as excited as he would as if he’d met Lionel Messi, or the Queen or someone really famous. Dad’s funny like that sometimes.
Anyway, she gave a talk on some ancient gods and how some of them morphed over time, how other cultures took them over and adapted them to their beliefs. I remember how she said that Mars, the Roman god of war, had other associations before he became the god of war. Agriculture I think, and in some research, the god of protection against flesh wounds.
I was really getting into this talk when he finally appeared. An image of a Roman burial stone appeared on the screen and I caught the words “burial” and “Thrace” before everything went dreamy. I could see it was him – that cold look, the icy skin, the (almost) black eyes. The central image was a man on a horse holding aloft a mighty sword and The Cold Man appeared in a row of three images beneath the main sculpture. To his left was Minerva and to his right was Mars. Before this lecture I wouldn’t have known who they were.
I don’t know if she talked about him because everything went silent and the image of The Cold Man seemed to absorb my whole being. His face grew larger, expanding like a balloon… until I realised the face was actually coming towards me. He was just inches away and I was about to cry out when the image disappeared and we moved onto the next slide. My heart thumped in my chest and it took all my effort to bring my breathing back under control. I looked to dad but he was too involved in his “nerd crush”. Thankfully, nobody noticed my mini panic attack.
We joined the queue to thank the lecturer. She shook dad’s hand and then mine and dad told her what a fan he was and did she have any new documentaries coming up?
“Yes”, she replied, “and I would love to tell you all about it but contractual stuff” (or something like that) but she did tell him that some of the material from today would make its way into the series. Then I took the chance to ask her a question – I was dying to know about The Cold Man. She looked at me funny as if not knowing what I was talking about; when I reminded her of the tomb stone, she remembered then. The conversation went something like this:
“Oh yes! the mysterious figure with Minerva and Mars. If I am honest, we don’t know very much about him.”
I felt disappointed – I must have looked it too because she immediately went on.
“He doesn’t have a name and he appears almost entirely on tombstones of this period. It’s unusual because we don’t know where he came from but we do know he’s associated with death. He only appears on tombstones of those who died of anything other than natural causes – disease, war, murder. That sort of thing.”
I remembered the time, just a few days before, that I saw him standing over the sleeping form of my sister. I first saw him when my grandma died of cancer… so what did this mean? That poor Lizzy would be murdered?! NO!
Again the lecturer must have noticed the concern on my face because she quickly moved on.
“It’s strange because though he’s largely associated with violent and tragic death, he also appears at some shrines in Thrace known to be centres of healing.”