Chapter 10: Who, Me? Yeah, You. Couldn't Be. Then, Who?

After supper that evening, Herodotus went to look in on Mickey who seemed to be recovering rather nicely from his wounds. At Hecuba's bidding, Herodotus took the pitchfork in case any of Latrinus’ goons might be skulking about the village, looking to avenge the capture of two of their number. When the dishes were done, Hecuba sat at the table with a new a hobby that she hoped might become a source of pin money for the family: making rag dolls to sell as gift items at local bazaars and holiday fairs. Meanwhile, Lila settled down on one of the cushioned chairs beside the hearth and took up her mending.

"So you gone with your father to the pub," Hecuba glanced at Lila over her oddments of cloth, buttons and wool. "How'd you take to it?"

"Canty’s a stitch, but I didn’t much care for the ale," Lila said.

"Grim stuff, weren't it?" Hecuba reached for some cotton batting. "Mug for mug, your father's brew were costin' us more than my cups of fruit punch."

"Lexie didn’t take to it any better at it than I did," Lila chuckled. "You should have seen her pouring dribs and drabs into her dad's mug 'til her own was nearly empty. Then she polished it off with a big slurping gulp to try and make it look good."

"You were sayin’ as how Alexis took both them stooges down?"

"I couldn’t believe it. First she socks one guy, then she hamstrings the other."

"Not very ladylike, is she, Alexis," Hecuba said, piecing scraps of material together.

"I don’t know. I think she is," Lila looked up from her mending. "Lexie's really neat looking, her full, round face and all that teeming mass of flaming red hair. She could attract a lot of guys, but I guess she's pretty much got her heart set on The Big O. I won't be surprised if O gets put in charge of the whole counting house one day."

"The entire operation?" Hecuba raised an eyebrow.

"He’s got the smarts for it," Lila pulled a length of thread from the spool, then bit it off.

"This young man, Orestes, were a decent enough lad, perhaps, but weren't Alexis runnin' the risk of bringin' shame 'pon the good name of her family? Goin’ off to tryst in the meadow, under the stars, late at night," Hecuba said with disapproval. "I'm not likin' the notion of Alexis’ wild ways settin' no sort of bad example for any young lady what were housed 'neath this matted clump of thatch."

"Not to worry, Mom," Lila smiled at her mother across the low-ceiling'ed room. "Lexie knows what she's doing – I think."

"Still, I can't say as I'm keen to be lookin' kindly 'pon it," Hecuba stuffed a hank of batting between two sewn pieces of fabric. "Though I'll own as how I were fond of the girl. She got a blunt way about her. You were always knowin' where you stand with Alexis. And the dear thing got a warm heart."

"She's a good friend," Lila said, threading the needle.

"Then I pray the girl might be keepin' a tight rein 'pon the gallopin' steed of her passions," Hecuba said. "Olympus knows but there were them, to their lastin' regret, what aren't."

Hecuba turned her attention to her doll making while Lila busied herself with her sewing.

The events of the past twenty-four candlemarks had given Lila much to think about. Perdicas and Andros had mustered off to war with Alexis' two brothers and a number of other young recruits from the neighboring villages. Their squads formed a platoon of the Poteidaian company of the Pallene brigade of the Chalkidiki regiment of the Macedonian division of the Army of Northern Hellas, whose frontier, under the command of Diomedes, extended from the furthest borders of Illyria in the west to those of Thrace in the east; the Army of Central Hellas, from Ithaca to Boeotia and Attica, being under the command of Odysseus; the Army of Southern Hellas, from the Peloponnese to Crete and Rhodes, being under the command of Menelaus, the Allied Armies being under the supreme command of Agammemnon, the Achaian, of Mycenae and the House of Atreus.

Meanwhile, Gab and Xena had traveled more than three hundred leagues to Tiryns, south of Corinth, in the hope of retrieving from Queen Admete the jeweled belt which Herc had apparently taken, at the cost of so much bloodshed, from Hippolyte, a powerful queen of the Amazons. The upshot of this outrage had apparently prompted Penthesileia, who must have succeeded Hippolyte as the new Amazon queen, to commit her elite force to the defense of Ilium and, indirectly, if the rumors were true, to contemplate pronouncing a death sentence on Ephiny and even, possibly, on Gab for the alleged crime of having usurped an Amazon throne which, ironically, neither Gab nor Ephiny had coveted.

And now, in the hope of saving Ephiny from falling prey to the wiles of her rival, Velasca, Gab and Xena were seeking to return Hippolyte's belt to Penthesileia who, for her part, seemed bent on committing suicide by engaging Achilles in mortal combat. But then... oh, dear... hadn't Xena herself earned the undying hatred of many an Amazon when, back in her warlording days, she'd doublecrossed and then, in alliance with Alti, the shamaness whom the Amazons had expelled from their ranks, impaled on pointed tree limbs Cyane, a grand Amazon queen, and no less than a dozen of Cyane's chiefs?

No, the Amazons, as a whole, had no reason to love or trust Xena nor to feel particular affection for Xena's closest friend and sworn companion.

In that case, why not have Autolycus steal the belt and pass it along to Salmoneus who could smuggle it to Amphipolis where Cyrene might then entrust it to Minya's safekeeping until Minya could hand it off to Gab and Xena who could then bring it to Penthesileia as a peace offering? Solari, Eponin, Chilappa, Messalina – Ephiny's loyal following and members of the local Amazon high council – needn't know a thing about it and so couldn't be tortured to reveal any information as to the belt's whereabouts if, for any reason, they should be apprehended by a rival Amazon faction and detained for questioning.

Arrested? Tortured? Held incognito and subjected to the third degree? What am I thinking? Lila frowned darkly at her sewing. What kind of a mess has Gab gotten herself into? And what did the Felafel Man mean when he said, referring to Herc, that the worst of deeds had been done by the best of men?

Absently, unaware that she was doing so, Lila reached into her skirt pocket and took out the flyer for the Warrior Training Academy which she'd picked up from Chiron's information table earlier in the day. She unfolded it and scanned, under the Academy's logo, its mission statement, entrance requirements, course descriptions and a capsule of its various career opportunities.

The curriculum emphasized three areas of concentration: physical, mental and spiritual. The physical regimen included basic fitness training; weapons handling, beginning with the staff and continuing on through the dagger and sword, to more exotic weapons like the sai, the nunchuck and the garotte; horsemanship; woodsmanship, orienteering, survival bivouac and overall endurance skills. The mental regimen focused on honing the senses; influencing the thoughts and perceptions of one's opponent via marshalling the powers of the will; and advanced meditation techniques for calming the body and clarifying the mind. The spiritual regimen involved basic through advanced hatha, raja and karma yoga, a mastery of the yamas and the yanas, a lengthy practicum on the sacerdotal practices of the various Hellenic and Phrygian priesthoods, mystical contemplation of the Three Realms: the living, the dead and the gods; prayer and supplication and, finally, ritual ways of affirming the soul's commitment to a life of true and humble service.

There were structured career tracks that one could choose from. One track prepared the candidate for a vocation as a solitary to wend his or her way from village to town, offering his or her services as a keeper of the peace or a gendarme in time of trouble. Lila had been a toddler when Meleager had come to Poteidaia to help rid the town of an overbearing cyclops who'd been holding several of its satellite villages hostage to his demands for a greater quantity of livestock and dry goods than the villagers could reasonably supply. Gab had taken an immediate liking to this shy, awkward champion. His gruff, tongue-tied manner when not hefting an axe or wielding a blade had endeared him to the tow-headed urchin who, unlike her more docile sister, could never get enough of his wild and wooly tales, any number of which, in retrospect, had probably been concocted on the spot expressly for the purpose of satisfying the knee-jiggling demands of Gab's eager, open heart.

One could seek to become a professional soldier and rise through the ranks of infantry, artillery or cavalry to a position of wealth, prominence and power. This was the route taken by many who eventually became kings and nobles, like Jason and Theseus, or knights of the realm like Ajax and Achilles.

One might receive the grant of a tract of land and break ground for a monastic community whose cells and glebes might support a temple dedicated to one's chosen deity, a place of sanctuary and a night's – or a season's – bed and board to host travelers, landless laborers, runaways, refugees. Or one might join an existing society like the Amazons where fully half its membership was drawn from a pool of non-native, qualified applicants. Or one might freelance, like Iolaus, wandering about the countryside, doing good deeds, standing up for the right and the true, bringing hope and faith and good cheer in his wake wherever the hoary winds of need or the heady currents of circumstance might blow or lead or chance to find him.

Or one might return to being what one had always been: an ordinary cottager, merchant, workman or shopkeeper of no particular achievement but rendered inwardly richer and outwardly more confident for the sake of having met and mastered the warrior's high calling.

And, the flyer concluded, one needn't have the tenor of a warlord nor the prowess of an athlete to seek to become a warrior, nor need one veer from the path of kindness, mercy, compassion and peace. A gentle warrior was no more an oxymoron than a fierce lover, a wounded healer or a penitent priest. The hardest diamond, after all, came encrusted in the softest coal.

"Well," Lila mused, "maybe Lexie's got what it takes to be a warrior after all. I wonder if she’ll give it a go."

Lila, an interior voice chided, you wonder if who might give it a go?

Lexie. You saw how she put the kibosh on those goons today and how she laid Tasso's mate low when the dude gave me a hard time about accidentally klepto’ing a pomegranate.

I saw all that. But I'm asking: is it Alexis' gifts and talents that you're wondering about?

Are you saying that Lexie hasn’t got what it takes to give the Training Academy a shot?

Alexis is quite capable of making up her own mind. The one I'm concerned about is you.

You're not thinking that any of this might apply to me. Gimme a break. Look at my tummy, see how squishy it is. Feel my arms. Squeeze my boobs. I'm soft as jelly. I can barely lug the week’s groceries home from town without having to stop give my arms and shoulders a rest. Besides, I like being able to take warm baths at night and to lather up my hair and have Mom give me back rubs when she's in the mood.

I know what kind of shape you're in. You tote baskets of wet wash. You haul groceries home from the market. You bale hay and load wagons and pull the ricks in from the fields. A bit broad in the beam, yours is a gut that's built to carry weight. You're no powder puff, my dear, and don't let that soft, pretty face of yours fool you into thinking that you're some kind of delicate bird on the wing. An owl or raven or hawk perched on a crag is more like it. You saw how Alexis handled those bullies. Is her mettle tougher than yours? Think again: is it your friend whom you're wondering about, warrior-wise, or might it be someone a bit closer to the over and under movements of this busy needle and thread?

With thoughts like those swirling around her brain, Lila set her mending aside, said goodnight to Hecuba and climbed the ladder to the loft. As she got ready for bed, brushing and streaming the long, dark sweep of her rich, luxurious hair, Lila had a thought about the future, then stopped herself from thinking further. No more ruminating on a world of might-be's and what-if's, she said to herself with unaccustomed resolve, until I've gotten to the bottom of something.

Her teeth scrubbed with a licorice astringent and her ruffly, white, evening gown lightly draped over her soft, roundish body, Lila, having reminded herself that flab was muscle waiting to be fibred, swung her feet onto the cot, pulled up the bedsheet, blew out the candle and sunk, nearly at once, into a deep, restful sleep.

Continued in Chapter 11

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