The Olympic Conspiracy by Katherine Roberts
The Olympic Conspiracy
By Katherine Roberts
Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books (2004)
In conjunction with the Olympic Games currently taking place in Tokyo, it’s just befitting that I read this novel revolving around the Games – which was set in ancient Greece during the time of reign of Alexander the Great. This book is not one fun-filled magical adventure though, as I had initially thought it to be. Little did I suspect that this story about teenaged boys chasing their dreams of an Olympic victory could take a turn so disturbing and dark, and that there were to be tragedies and deaths, and a lot of evil, evil sorcery. This book – which I personally considered a fantasy-thriller – is also full of information about ancient Greek beliefs as well as Olympics rituals that were conducted at the time.
Fifteen-year-old Theron of Macedonia was determined to become an athlete and compete in the Olympics. Unfortunately, his foot was hurt by a stray javelin one day and his practice had been hampered severely. Despite his injury, Theron badly wanted to compete and win in the Olympics no matter what. This to prevent his father from deciding that he’s no good for sports and then forcing him to enlist in the army instead.
Determined to do anything to get his place in the Olympics, Theron sought the help of his younger brother Sosi, who had the supernatural ability to change his physical appearance every full moon – just like a snake shedding its skin. Theron had ordered Sosi to assume his looks and take his place to continue with the Olympics training – so that he would be able to secure his place in the Games while buying more time to heal his foot.
It was believed that Sosi was cursed at birth because their mother, Lady Alcmena, had sneaked into Olympia during the Olympic Games when she was pregnant with Sosi. Married women were not supposed to be allowed to attend the tournament – or hanging around Olympia during the Games – at all. So here is Sosi, who was endowed with not only the extraordinary power of shape-changing, but also some other subtle snake-like characteristics. However, Sosi was much more gentle in personality than his brash older brother.
Nevertheless, Sosi agreed to help Theron, albeit he had his own ulterior motive for that: if Theron secured a place in the Olympics, Sosi would want to go to Olympia together with his brother so that he would be able to find out more about his strange curse, too.
***WARNING!!! SPOILERS BEYOND THIS LINE***
And so Sosi began to join the daily practices all Olympics hopefuls endured. He met many boys at the training camp, who, of course thought that Sosi is Theron. One of the boys, Pericles, told Sosi that he suspected the javelin incident that injured Theron was no accident – because he saw the javelin coming out from the nearby woods and not a stray javelin coming from the fields.
When Sosi tried to investigate in the nearby woods, he found evidence of the planned javelin attack. Sosi found a handmade cord which apparently have been used as a throwing loop for the javelin that hit Theron. While in the woods, Sosi also encountered a Persian boy named Rasim who will compete in the chariot races in the Olympics.
Rasim insisted that the attack on Theron was not only deliberate, but done with sorcery. Even more shocking was the discovery of Theron’s hair twisted inside the cord, which seemed to confirm Rasim’s assumption. Rasim also warned that the perpetrator was one of Ahriman’s followers – a more extreme faction of Zoroastrianism – as a revenge against the Macedonian King Alexander’s continuous war with the Persians. It seemed logical enough because Theron was not only a Macedonian, but his father was a high-ranking commander in Alexander the Great’s army storming Persepolis.
But then, the threat from the so-called Warrior of Ahriman began to take a more sinister turn when other boys – who did not hail from Macedonia – also came under attack from the mysterious enemy. It seemed that the man who were trying to harass the boys were all the same man. He was Persian, and every time he was caught in the act, he would kill himself – or get himself killed in any way – and then made his body vanish. But afterwards he would reappear again to cause more trouble.
Apart from the javelin attack on Theron, other attempts on the boys include trying to run over Pericles with a chariot and the poisoning of a fountain water in which all the competitors (almost) drank from.
When the boys eventually got to Olympia for the Games, confusion over the incidents that followed them since their training at the camp began to make sense to Sosi as he obtained more information, especially from the Priestess Nike and also from Rasim.
The Warrior of Ahriman was targeting the most essential part of the Olympics, namely the Great Sacrifice ceremony, in which 100 oxen will be sacrificed for Zeus at the Great Altar. For the Great Sacrifice, the winner for the boys’ sprint event will be carrying the Sacred Torch to light the fire in the altar, and the Priestess Nike will complete the ritual by opening a channel for the gods.
Priestess Nike had chosen the best athletes as her favourites to win in each sporting events. If her chosen athletes did not win in the contest, it will affect her strength and she may not be able to open the channel. And that was what the Warrior of Ahriman was trying to do.
The Warrior of Ahriman wanted to make sure Priestess Nike to be as weak as possible so that she would not only unable to open the channel to the gods, but he would in return be able to take the priestess herself as a sacrifice for Ahriman. The Warrior of Ahriman planned to sacrifice Priestess Nike at the fire-altar and bring dead Ahriman followers over to the land of the living, right there in Olympia. The Warriors would then cause havoc in the lands of King Alexander, destroying his gods as well as his lands – the way he did to Persepolis in Persia.
Worst of all, the Warrior of Ahriman was not a living person, but was resurrected over and over through sorcery – thus his ability to reappear time and again.
Sosi was afraid of the undead Warrior of Ahriman, but Priestess Nike had reassured him that he is the one who will be able to stop the Warrior. Sosi had apparently lost the memory of his past life: he was the immortal snake-child, Sosipolis, which meant “saviour”. According to Priestess Nike, he had the ability to reincarnate himself in the body of an unborn child so that he could protect the Olympic Games when needed. And that was why, twelve years ago, Sosipolis went to Lady Alcmena who was pregnant and eventually reincarnate himself as her so-called ‘cursed’ son. Sosi was, in fact, not cursed. Priestess Nike herself had the ability to change shape, too – but she can transform into an eagle instead of a snake.
Meanwhile, the Warrior of Ahriman continued to strike at Olympia. Pericles, Priestess Nike’s chosen champion for the boys’ wrestling tournament, suddenly had a bad leg that badly hampered his movement after the Warrior was seen touching his leg during sleep. Rasim and Samos, the chosen champion for the chariot race and the boys’ boxing respectively, died in a freak accident controlled by magic. And Theron, the chosen champion for the boys’ sprint, had been out ever since before their arrival at Olympia.
During the boys’ events – which preceded the Great Sacrifice ceremony and also the men’s events – all winners were not Priestess Nike’s chosen athletes. Sosi did win the sprint in the name of Theron, but still, he was not Theron himself. Priestess Nike went weaker and weaker, and finally passed out just one day before the Great Sacrifice.
However, it was fortunate because the night of the full moon happened right before the Great Sacrifice ceremony in the morning. Sosi was able to change into his black snake shape in the night, and he hid among Priestess Nike’s black hair while she was being stretchered up the fire-altar for the Great Sacrifice.
The priestess, though, was unable to perform the ceremony because she had been severely weakened from the tragedies that befell her chosen champions. The Warrior of Ahriman then made his appearance at the altar to hijack the ceremony: he stoked the fire with magic, which caused the flames to turn purple, and was about to sacrifice Priestess Nike when Sosi – as Sosipolis the snake – suddenly showed himself in front of the warrior.
Sosipolis beckoned Zeus to strike – and suddenly a bolt of thunder shot from the sky straight at the fire-altar. The Warrior of Ahriman was struck by the lightning and he himself fell into the purple flame that he had prepared, and the portal that would bring dead Warriors of Ahriman into the world – was sealed completely. Spectators who beheld the incident were relieved that victory was on the side of their gods.
As soon as the Warrior of Ahriman was sent to perdition, Priestess Nike recovered from her half-conscious state and regained her vigour. All victims of the warrior, including Theron, also instantly healed from the ailment brought to them through sorcery. It was unfortunate, however, that those who had died, remained in that state even after the Warrior of Ahriman was destroyed.
Meanwhile, Priestess Nike quickly brought Sosipolis to see his family – Lady Alcmena and Theron – so that he could return back to his human form. Only the love of his family would be able to revive him and prevent him from remaining as a snake.
Unfortunately, despite the insistence from both Priestess Nike and Theron, Lady Alcmena was still unable to bring herself to show his love for Sosipolis: all these while, she had never accepted her second son’s ability to change shape, where she would beat him every time Sosi did so. Sosipolis realized that, and he wriggled himself free to hide himself in a cave and remain as a snake forever – but Theron immediately grabbed the snake to prevent its escape.
Tearfully, Theron pleaded Sosipolis to become his brother again because he loved Sosi and wanted to continue having him as his brother. Theron was also very proud that Sosi, at the age of twelve, had taken his place in the Olympics and won the boys’ sprint for him.
Theron’s brotherly love for Sosi successfully revived him, and Sosi returned back into his human form – but now taking his own physical appearance instead of remaining as Theron’s lookalike. And due to the athletic training he had to endure while assuming Theron’s place, Sosi realized he had become much taller, stronger, and more muscular than his previous weakling physique.
Sosi and Theron were afterwards caught by the Olympic judges who had realized their cheating in the Games. But the bond between the two brothers – which had strengthened significantly after all the traumatic incidents – caused them both to claim responsibility and willing to take the blame for the other. However, the judges noted that Sosi had saved the Games from a terrorist attack, so they decided to instead built a temple specially dedicated to the snake-child Sosipolis. As for Theron, the judges decided to proceed with the prize-giving ceremony and allowed him to remain as the sprint champion because they knew that would be the best punishment for him. Indeed, Theron received his olive wreath in shame rather than pride!