Chapter 13: Workin' On Wings To Fly
The days leading up to the harvest festival were marred by another hit and run attack. This time Latrinus’ target was Timon, the miller, whose wagon was waylaid and looted as Tim was hauling sacks of flour and meal to the town's grain bins. Though the robbers once again stopped short of murder, they gave Timmy such a savage beating that, unlike the more fortunate Mickey, it appeared as though Tim might bear permanent scars from the encounter.
In the wake of this second raid, there came a warning note: release the two gang members now being held in custody or those responsible for putting them there – meaning Lila and Alexis – would be held accountable.
"Snivellin' cowards," Herodotus groused at supper on the night that word of the attack had reached his ears and, with it, news of the note about Lila and Alexis. "Timmy were a stout lad, but the wastrels crept up on him unawares and whaled the tar out of him."
The portion of the Chalkidiki province of Lower Macedonia that protruded into the nape of the northern Aegean was known as the cheritrisdaktylos, the upside down hand with three suspended fingers; three capes which dipped down from the main peninsula to form an archipelago whose southeasternmost point at Mount Athos lay some sixty trireme-marks northwest of the nearest island of Lemnos. Poteidaia lay at the entrance to the Pallene or westerly cape. Stagira, birthplace of the philosopher, Aristotle, lay not far from the entrance to the Sithonian or central cape. Amphipolis, a good deal larger than either of these towns, lay some seventy leagues to the northeast at the mouth of the Strymon River, the border of Macedonia and Thrace.
With autumn on the way and winter not far behind, it wasn't unusual for roving bands of parasitic warlords to hunker down in sheltered quarters, protected from the wind and rain, where they endured, with much boredom, the bare, frosty time of the year. There they passed the uneventful weeks drilling, swilling and plotting the following springtime's activities as they lived off the booty they'd accumulated in the course of their violent and sometimes deadly raids. During the summer moonmarks, they scoured the countryside, terrorizing selected villages and farms, leaving storage silos high and dry, as families were scrubbed of their goods and shorn of many of their personal and household possessions. Their rogue activities might be held in check for a time by mercenaries like Meleager or even by the occasional cyclops. Yet currently, on account of the war which had conscripted into its service many young, able-bodied men from the surrounding villages, who might otherwise have been enlisted as a security force in the local militia, these bands of marauders had lately been making a widespread and largely unhindered comeback.
The defense of these rural hamlets had thus fallen on the shoulders of the older men, farmers like Herodotus and Clenesthides and their counterparts in town: merchants, tradesmen, day laborers and hostlers. And the occasional appearance of the peripatetic, flamboyant Warrior Princess.
"How bad were Timmy hurt?" Hecuba asked Herodotus at supper that night.
"No worse, let us hope, than the bashin’ Mickey got," Herodotus said. "’Twere a foul deed nonetheless. A good lad don't merit so harsh a hammerin'."
"By the twined snakes ‘pon Hermes rod, I’m wishin’ the lads might soon be showin' their faces ‘pon the docks," Hecuba said. "'Til the young bairns were home from the war, I'm afeared for the safety of our little one."
"Hush, wife. No harm shall come to them what take their nightly rest ‘neath this paltry thatch and timber," Herodotus shot a quick, paternal glance at Lila who was quietly nibbling her tabouli. "Tame though we loaders and luggers may be, no beast in the wild were more fierce in defendin' those that were dear to 'em than us crusty diggers and scratchers."
"Don't you worry about me and Lexie, Dad," Lila reached out a hand to reassure her father. "We can take care of ourselves."
"Of that I've no doubt, judgin' from the dukes the pair of you put up in defense of the marketplace a fortnight latterly," Herodotus chuckled, trying to appear less concerned for Lila’s well-being than he was. "But there were louts what were paid to be doin’ the robbers' biddin', and spyin' wretches may yet be keepin' silent watch 'pon thee."
Hecuba seemed only a trifle relieved at Herodotus' show of wistful confidence. "And I'm wonderin' where, 'pon the dimpled apron of Gaia's green gown, t'other may be patched or petal'ed on such a dark and ghostly night as this," she said in a dreamy voice. "There were two boulders leanin' heavy 'pon the slope of my heart in such troubled times. One, at least, I know were safely propped, not so t'other."
"I'm sure Gab's doing just fine, Mom," Lila said, moving her hand from her father's wrist to her mother's arm. "She's got Xena to look out for her. And last we heard, they were well on their way to Tiryns."
"'Twere many a good league hence, Tiryns; far off in the sugary vales of Argolis, a two day's jaunt south of Corinth," Herodotus said. "A week of ridin' time and not a day less from Queen Admete's grand hall to the garth of this humble cottage with no ruffians 'pon the road to wrangle ‘em."
"So distant a journey as that," Hecuba said softly and shook her head in dismay.
"Ridin' with the warrior witch," Herodotus grumbled. "By the gods, we've not raised our girl to be hussyin’ up hills and doxyin’ down dales in the company of a wanderin' strumpet, layin' up at night in the close of a hasty inn or the mews of a rousty publick house."
"That'll do!" Hecuba cried with rare ferocity. She flung her napkin down on the table, rose to her feet and glared at her husband. "I'll not hear no child of mine bein' spoke’ of with no such words as 'hussy' nor 'strumpet' whilst I were yet mistress in my own house! I'll not bear it! And thou'll't not gainsay me this boon were thou twenty times my lord and master!"
"Mom...," Lila said in a tone just above a whisper, her eyes straining at the pained expression on her mother’s face. "We don't see much of Gab and Xena these days. We don't know what it’s like for them when they're out on the road together. Maybe they're joyful in one another's company. Maybe they're safe and snug and warm at night."
"But were she well accorded in the presence of such a one as the fell Warrior Princess?" Hecuba retorted. "Thinkst not but 'twere a steady stone 'pon the constant gravel of my heart when the candles were nightly 'stinguished and my mind, like a herald 'pon the rocky road to Marathon, doth run far apace to be thinkin' 'pon what brake or bower or greedy landlord's grate the lovely head of thy dear sister doth lie." Hecuba continued to glare at her husband. "'Twere nary a night ere Morpheus' winged chariot doth lift me unto the land of listless slumber ere my final wakin' thought were not bent 'pon the bourn of her whom I do hold most dear in all the world. Of her... and likewise of thee..," Hecuba looked lovingly at Lila.
"I'm beggin' your pardon, wife," Herodotus said with shame, looking down at his plate. "'Twere a quoit ill-played and a chit poor-spent. Such demeaning die from out my gambol'd lips shall ne’er be cast again."
"See to it, then," Hecuba said and began to clear away the dishes.
Later in the evening, as Lila was putting the finishing touches on her festival gown and Herodotus had gone to call on Timmy much as, coming up on two weeks ago, he'd gone to call on Mickey, Lila wondered how she might raise the topic of the Training Academy to her parents who, having been inwardly burned by Gabrielle's desertion of hearth and home, might be twice shy about any plan of Lila's, no matter how limited in scope, to do anything that appeared to be remotely connected with what Gabrielle had chosen to do.
"Copy cat, copy cat, copy cat girl; copy me a copy cat 'round the world..."
Still, it was time for Lila to spread her wings and fly, if only just a little, if only a flitting leap to the nearest branch of the next tree in the yard. In the wake of her visit to the sibyl, Lila knew that it was time to spread those wings – felt them tugging at the guy wire of her gut. She'd confessed as much to Alexis, egging Alexis on, perhaps more to persuade herself than to convince Alexis, who, unlike Lila, came naturally equipped with warrior wings to flex and fly. As for skill at arms, Lila had some skill with her hands, she told herself as she picked up her gown and swatted out the ruffles. Not a bad job of letting out the darts and taking in the tucks if I say so myself.
I'll be playing the role of Demeter again this year, Lila reminded herself; not the show stopper, perhaps, but the pivot. Persephone was the star, gallivanting about the makeshift meadow, getting shanghai'ed down to the underworld where Hades would hit on her heart until she gave in and said okay, man, I'm yours for a third part of the year; now take me home to Mom.
Demeter's job was initially to lament, though ultimately to rejoice. And the spectators were meant to rejoice with her as Demeter and Persephone were re-united in the warm, bright, lucent time of the year. Then, in celebration of the mother and child reunion, the enaretes kores, the lovely, virgin adepts of Demeter, led the crowd out of the telesterion into the main square for a block party rife with singing and dancing and carrying on 'til long into the wee candlemarks – the cool, pleasant, early autumn air filled with the alternately dulcid and raucous strains of lutes, lyres and the beating of Balkan drums.
On the afternoon of thesmophoria, Alexis dropped by the cottage and stuck her head inside the byre where Lila was feeding vegetable peels and fruit scraps to Gida and her kids.
"Break a leg, Lee," Alexis shot Lila a wink. "Catch you when it’s over. The Big O says he's gonna put on his dancing shoes and get out there with us tonight."
Lila dropped the scoop into the slop pail and went over to where Alexis, her ringly red hair splayed out and shagging along her broad shoulders, was leaning against the doorpost.
"Save me a dance," Lila said. "You, me and The Big O."
"Will do. Gotta fly," Alexis said. "Five," she held up the palm of her hand.
Lila grinned and, with an upward thrust of her hand, she gave Alexis' palm a stinging slap.
Lila stood in the barnyard, slop bucket in hand. "I don't know about those loose and lazy red curls of yours, Ms. Lexie," Lila said softly as she cocked her head and gave Alexis' departing figure a wink and a smile, "but roll over, Beethovenides, 'cause tonight, when all's been said and done, this girl's gonna party!"
Continued in Part 14
The Bard's Corner