I had no time to hate because
the grave would hinder me,
and life was not so ample
I could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love
but since some industry must be,
a little toil of love, I thought,
be large enough for me.
Chapter 1: Basin Street
"Lee, wanna toss me the scrubber, please!" Alexis shouted above the swirling roar of the wash basin.
"Catch!" Lila hurled the bristle brush.
It fell short and splashed sudsy water on Alexis' blouse.
"Yaggh...!" Alexis recoiled from the spray, then grabbed the brush before it could float away.
Athenaday was laundry day in Poteidaia. Young women from the surrounding villages toted the weeks wash to the large, circular stone pool in the town square where they spent the afternoon scrubbing and drubbing.
"Heard any word from Gab?" Alexis shouted.
"Not since they lit out for Tiryns," Lila hauled her fathers britches up from the rinse water and began to wring them out.
"Whats down in Tiryns?" Alexis attacked a stain on one of her skirts.
"Some jeweled belt of the Amazons that Queen Admete has but wont give back," Lila flapped the britches against the side of the wash basin, frowning at the torn seam in the crotch.
"I thought those two were taking a break from the Amazons," Alexis called out. "Im done with the scrubber? Want it back?"
"Nah, I gotta book," Lila gave the britches a final twist, then dumped them into the wash basket. She got up and pulled the clasp out of the bun that shed pinned to the top of her head. A wealth of dark, buoyant hair came tumbling most of the way down her back.
"Hey, Lee!" Alexis shouted above the clamor of the wash basin, "how about you and me go get that Amazon belt from Queen Admete. No more scrubbing! No more drubbing!" Alexis swung her wet skirt in the air as though she were waving a battle standard. "A life of adventure means never having to say youre sorry for being groaty!"
"Yeah, right," Lila rolled her pretty blue eyes. "Since when do you know what a life of adventure might be? Or me, for that matter."
"I might not, but I'll bet that Perdy and Andros do," Alexis hefted her basket onto her hip.
Alexis had green eyes and coarse, reddish hair, a bit on the unruly side, which lazed along her wide shoulders. Alexis envied Lilas long, flowing hair, deep blue eyes and soft, round face. Not that Alexis needed to begrudge Lila's pleasant looks. The guys in town all agreed that Alexis, like Lila like Gabrielle was none too hard on the eyes.
But there werent many guys in town. Most of them, including Perdicas, Andros and Alexis two brothers had gone to fight the Trojans. And word had recently started making the rounds that the fighting was getting bloody and that some of the guys might not be coming back.
"I dont see why they to have these long, drawn out wars," Alexis came over to join Lila. "Why can't they throw the javelin or toss the shot put or something?"
"They do it for honor. They do it for glory. They do it to make a name for themselves," Lila and Alexis went strolling past a row of vendors stalls, bargain racks and trestle tables piled high with cut-rate kitchenware and discount furnishings.
"They do it to pillage and plunder," Alexis said.
"Theres times when I think that I might like to go fight the Trojans," Lila said, absently.
"Youre kidding," Alexis raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Lee, you can barely crack an egg without apologizing to the shell."
"Me and Gab used to have our fights," Lila recalled. "I even won a couple of them."
"Well, you couldnt get the better of Gab now," Alexis cautioned. "Not since she's taken up with her hot shot Warrior Princess."
"Have you noticed how Xena's changed? Xenas nothing like she used to be," Lila and Alexis neared the towns main gate which led to the hilly meadows that rolled northeast toward the Strymon River and its broad sloping delta.
"I'll bet Xena could whip those Trojans into shape," Alexis said. "Then the war would be over and the guys could come home."
"Perdicas was telling Mom before he shipped out that theres nothing left to do now but to go out in a blaze of glory," Lila said.
"Really? Perdicas said that? How romantic!" Alexis beamed. "Perd's a cool dude. A girl could do a lot worse than tie the knot with Perdicas. At least thats what my Dad says."
Lila had little notion of how well or poorly a girl could do when it came to tying conjugal knots. Perdicas and his cousin, Andros, were among the few guys that Lila had ever known.
"Finding something or someone you believe in and then risking everything for it or them," Lila thought out loud, "that's what makes a person a hero, isnt it? That's what Gab did when she ran off to follow Xena. Gab said she was born to do more than waste away in a tiny, dead end village."
"Gab's a dreamer. She always was," Alexis said.
"My sister, a hero. Who would have thought," Lila mused as she and Alexis made their way past the parapet that ran the length of the high palisade.
"If Gab and Xena are such heroes, why haven't they rid the town of Latrinus and his gang?" Alexis wanted to know.
"Are those creeps still out there?" Lila said. "I thought Herc and Iolaus kicked Latrinus butt on their last sweep through."
"Except that Latrinus butt didn't stay kicked," Alexis and Lila meandered past a line of tilted fruit carts. "If only we weren't fated to be prissy, little stay-at-homes, you and me could kick Latrinus' butt."
"Speak for yourself," Lila flicked her hair behind her shoulders. "I'm not fated to be anything and neither are you."
"Scrubbing your dad's britches or your husband's, come to that and sitting by the fire at night, patching them up: is that what you want to do with your life?" Alexis glanced at Lila.
"Dad's only got two pair of britches," Lila evaded the question. "And they both get a good workout."
"I mean it, Lee," Alexis pressed the point. "There's got to be more to life than doing the wash and hanging it out on the line til the guy your parents want you to marry makes it home from the war."
"I've faut uv at," Lila said, casually teasing a pomegranate from one of the fruit carts and chomping into its rumpled flesh.
"Hey, girlie! You with the long hair and the nice set of jugs!" An irate vendor came dashing out from behind the cart. "Where do you think youre goin with that pomegranate?!"
"Im sorry, where do I think Im what?" Lila paused, distracted. "You mean this nice juicy pomeg Oh, dear. "
"Thats gonna set you back two dinars, sweetheart," the vendor strode over to Lila with a menacing scowl on his face.
"Goodness, I'm awfully sorry," Lila flushed with embarrassment. "I didnt realize I guess I must have been daydream...."
"Save your breath, sweet cheeks," the vendor, dressed in the loose fitting shirt and britches customarily worn by the local shopkeepers, stuck out his paw. "Two dinars. Fork em over."
"Im afraid Ill have to go home and get my purse," Lila said. "I didnt bring any dinars with me."
"A likely story. Sorry, blue eyes, but that aint gonna cut it," the vendor said in a threatening tone.
"Thats enough!" Alexis stepped between Lila and the huffy vendor. "She said she'll go home and get you your two dinars and she will!"
"You and your pal think you can put one over on me, angel boobs?" the vendor seized Lila and started to shake her by the shoulders. Soft, round and giving, Lilas body offered little resistance.
"Hyaggh!!" came a rasping cry followed by a kick behind the knee, a forearm across the chops and an elbow in the gut. Before the fruit vendor knew what hit him, he lay sprawled on the turf with an angry Alexis hovering over him, fists clenched.
"Next time you grab a babe by the blades, Buster, ask permission," Alexis stared daggers at the fruit vendor who picked himself up and dusted himself off.
"By the drawn string of Apollos bow, now I know who you are," the vendor suddenly backed off, his face stricken with terror. "You're that awful Warrior Princess who goes around strikin fear into the hearts of men. I didnt mean no harm, Ms. Keep the pomegranate." The vendor yanked a leather pouch off his hip and tossed it at Alexis. "There's ten dinars in there. Take em. Theyre all yours."
"I'm not Xena and I don't want your dinars," Alexis said, trying to hand the pouch back.
"And you must be the Warrior Princess companion, the one who whups people upside the head with the handles of them long-bladed daggers," the vendor shrank in fear of Lila.
"This isn't Gabrielle. It's her sister," Alexis set the pouch down on the fruit cart.
"Did you good people see what this warrior woman done?" the vendor appealed to his fellow merchants whod come wandering over to see what the ruckus was about. "Laid me out in lavender when all I wanted was to make an honest dinar."
"You done well to stand by your friend, Ms.," one of the onlookers said to Alexis. "Twere plain as day how this connivin' son of a Boeotian bootlegger were bent on cheatin her. Two dinars for a blessed pomegranate. Why, for that price, you could sit down over a bowl of stew and a mug of ale at Cantys pub."
The cheapskate vendor slinked away in disgrace.
Alexis grinned as she and Lila continued on their way. "Boy, that felt good, standing up to that slimeball."
"I just stole that mans pomegranate as though I were little better than a common thief," Lila said with a troubled conscience.
"And its not like Ive had any formal training," Alexis sauntered on her way, her laundry basket jouncing saucily on her hip.
"Well, that's new data," Lila shrugged. "That was a neat move you put on that pest, by the way."
"Think of it, Lee: stomping bad guys, foiling tyrants, doing our bit for the downtrodden," Alexis said with a flourish, "We could make a name for ourselves. Theres Xena and Gab. Why couldnt there be Lexie and Lee? I can see the roar of the crowd and hear our name go up in lights."
"I'll tell you what I hear sometimes," Lila looked askance at Alexis. "From the sighs and whispers that come drifting up to my window from out by the haystacks at night, it sounds to me as though someone I know is already living a life of adventure."
"What did you say? Sighs and whispers? That come drifting up to your window at night? From out by the what?" Alexis stopped dead in her tracks.
"Haystacks have ears, you know," Lila smirked.
Alexis looked at Lila with alarm.
"And some nights they have mouths that say things," Lila teased.
"Yeah?" Alexis cast a wary eye on Lila. "Like, um, what kinds of things?"
"Oh, things like names," Lila said flippantly.
"Names? Like whose names?" Alexis began to get nervous.
"Names like Orestes. Names like The Big O."
"Dont look shocked. You asked."
"I asked for a name, not for you to go sneaking out at night, spying on me."
"Ive never gone spying on you. Sometimes I gaze out the window at night and hear things going on out in the meadow. And it isnt only the sound of crickets chirping."
"And what about privacy? Or don't haystacks have any."
"I'm only saying what I sometimes hear. The Big O is the name of a guy who couldn't go off to the war on account of his bum leg."
"Eavesdropping on poor, defenseless haystacks in the dead of night. Shame on you. Me and The Big O have a couple of things in common, that's all."
"And if those haystacks arent careful," Lila chided, "one of these days, you and The Big O might have yet another thing in common."
"Well, Id love to keep this up but I really gotta scoot," Alexis looked to make a fast getaway. You gonna be in tonight? Maybe Ill bop over."
"I'm in every night," Lila said as Alexis headed one way at the fork in the road while Lila headed the other.
Johnson, Thomas H., ed. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson # 478 Boston: Little Brown, 1960, 1951
To Be Continued - Chapter 2
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