Chapter 3: It's Suppertime, Suppertime, Sup, Sup, Suppertime

If he's in some battle slain,

I'll mourn for him when the moon doth wane;

and if he's lost upon the sea,

I'll grieve for him most tenderly...

His tummy sated on roast mutton and his thirst quenched by a tall flagon of Mikonos' warm ale, Herodotus reclined on his fleece-covered chair and patiently lit the bowl of his pipe. Hecuba had prepared another tasty meal: lamb shoulder garnished with pilaf; stewed plum tomatoes from the garden; and a fresh loaf of barley bread drenched in olive oil, sprinkled with ground basil, layered in bay leaf and smothered in dollops of the sweet goat's whey that Lila had churned earlier in the day before she'd gone to town to do the wash.

Lila's churning had been improving. Good sound muscles might yet sprout on that girl. Shapely arms, she had, matted, as were Gabrielle's, with a smooth sweep of soft, light down. And Lila’s eyes: suffused with the same faraway gleam that had often shone in Gabrielle's eyes, a mysterious light in the depths that Herodotus had at first noted with a father's silent pride but whose sparkle, since Gabrielle's abrupt departure, had lately inspired in him a measure of rippling apprehension. Nowadays, on those occasions when he imagined that he could discern a trace of that diffuse and glimmering light come to glow in Lila's lovely eyes, the dark blue eyes of his younger, more accommodating daughter, Herodotus found himself responding to that inner glow with an unaccustomed shiver of fear. A man should give his daughters freely into the safekeeping of worthy lads who've shown themselves able to care and provide for them. He oughtn’t to have them forcibly ripped from his home and hearth, on barely an instant's notice, by a wild and reckless adventuress, a Warrior Princess with a violent streak and a shameful past that rendered her little better than an alley cat roaming the streets of a wicked, sin-infested city.

"Tell me, Lee, if you be not aggrieved by my askin'," Herodotus peered across the table at Lila and shook the fire out of the long wooden match with which he'd lit his pipe, "were you not gettin' a mite broad in the beam of late? 'Twere a ripe pair of limbs you got for the mowin' and the hayin', and a brawny poundin' you give 'pon the churner ere you gone to market."

"Did the cheese come out allright, father?" Lila said, carefully picking up the few bread crumbs that lay scattered on the tablecloth and gingerly placing them on her empty plate. "The curd's not too lean, the whey’s not too bland?"

"By no means," Herodotus blew a thin jet of smoke away from his wife and daughter. "'Twere as fine a spread as a man could dress a crust of bread withal. 'Twere the reason why I'm askin'. Mine eyes were connin’ how shapeful-solid you been grown of late."

Seated across the table from Lila, Hecuba looked down at her plate and quickly glanced up again. The first few drifts of pipe smoke always discomfited her, but her eyes and throat quickly grew used to the thin veil of musty leaf which slowly saturated the interior of the cottage.

"I'm glad you like it, Dad," Lila smiled at her father.

Father..., Dad: the in-between age when young women and their fathers were prone to feel a bit awkward in one another's presence and, being frequently at a loss for words, were sometimes apt, for that reason, to say too many.

"No need to be thankin' me, little one," Herodotus gazed at Lila with affection. "'Twere me what should be thankin' thee. For gracin' our table, your mother's and mine, with the gift of your sweetness and beauty."

"Sakes alive, you oughtn't to be sayin' such things. For sure you'll be makin' your daughter blush," Hecuba softly folded her napkin and placed it on the table beside her plate.

Herodotus looked warmly at his wife of twenty-aught sunmarks. "'Twere a well-cut gem 'pon a tray of rough-hewn stones, this finely faceted girl of ours, and I'll brook no jeweler to say me nay."

"Aye, and that she were," Hecuba smiled at Lila. "Take no offence at your father's dotin' prattle, my dear," Hecuba placed a tender hand on Lila's arm. "For now the one child needs must suffice for two."

At moments like these, Lila felt a deep love for her father and wanted to – wished she knew how to – reach out and take his rough, pumiced hand in hers, to hold it, squeeze it, wring it smooth of each line of pain and cleansed of every crease of sorrow. And, at such moments, Lila felt a fierce anger rising in her craw for her absent sister, the sister whom she loved and idolized. Father was right: a man's daughters were meant to do him proud, not to bring him shame.

"And mothers? What of a mother's pain and sorrow?" Lila imagined she could hear her mother's eyes speaking as volubly as the nattering of the lids on the iron pots that simmered and rattled on the hearth grate. "To raise a child from the cradle with love and care, to watch her sprout in body and bloom in soul like the bright, colored foliage which, in springtime, rings the fence post and swaths the garden gate, then to see her married well, to be her friend, confidante, caregiver in childbirth, helpmeet ever after."

I'll make it up to you, Mom, Lila had wanted to say – not once or twice – but as many times as there were wooden pins bobbing on the clothesline and strings of wet wash layered in the basket and the welling of unspilled tears in Hecuba's clear, blue eyes; eyes whose light now shone in Lila's eyes as the inheritance which mother had passed, inviolate, down to daughter.

"Nay," Hecuba's eyes had replied, as deep and wide and silent as those of her younger daughter, "you're not to be thinkin' no such thoughts; for to strive to make good 'pon such a loss were naught but to strike a second blow 'pon the very stroke of the first. Ne'er did I bring twa' precious children into the world only to have the one be false to herself by mimin' the counterfeit of t'other."

Lila was grateful for her mother's forbearance. Pride in Hecuba manifested as ambition in Gabrielle, devotion in Lila; and their father's rectitude as loyalty in both, though the elder strained at the bonds which claimed it while the younger clove to those bonds the more fiercely for the sake of the elder's strain.

"'Twere an ill wind hath lately blown from the town," Herodotus struck a second match and, sucking on the amber stem, re-lit his carved, ivory pipe. "Latrinus' ruffians, heavily armed, come pourin' down 'pon our good Mick and a hard goin' he had of it, poor wight. The scoundrels sprung out of hidin' and laid heavy hands 'pon him. Made off with every keg and spigot and what little tithe his labor had got him ‘pon this fine summer’s day. 'Twere a stroke of good fortune that the brigands left him with yoke and harness and the creakin’ of the cart withal."

Lila's eyes grew wide with concern. "Mickey? Got mugged? This afternoon? But I saw him hauling the keg into the pantry when I hanging out the wash."

"Aye, and so you did," Herodotus nodded. "The poor gaffer were set upon within the very candlemark, out 'pon the windin' road to Stagira where the forest were thickest with the dregs of that rude band."

"You were sayin’ as how Mick come through with body and soul intact?" Hecuba said.

"In body, aye. In pocket, nay. In soul... 'twere naught but the gods can say," Herodotus picked up his dinner knife and began to tap its blade lightly against the edge of the table. "And where might our fabled Warrior Princess be 'pon a night when a good and honest lout could do with a timely poke of the pike in his favor?"

Lila and Hecuba exchanged glances and said nothing.

"Might I prevail 'pon you, kitten, to take a kindly needle to the thread of me britches?" Herodotus looked at Lila. "For there were yet a further rent in the seat what shall soon be wide enough for Mick to haul his ale-cart through."

"Of course, Dad," Lila nodded affectionately. "I'll do them up tonight."

"Then I were truly obliged," Herodotus rose from the table. "If you'll be so good as to give me leave, my dear," he looked at Hecuba, "'twere a ewe in the byre what were feedin' poorly and I'm wantin' to press some milk and mash 'pon her."

With a nod to the ladies, Herodotus went out the door.

Hecuba got up and began to clear the dishes.

"Let me take care of those, Mom," Lila offered to help.

"Nay, my dove. You've got your father's leggin's to mend," Hecuba took one of the plates and scraped its gristly remains into the scrap bucket. "I looked after the cookin'. I can see to the cleanin'."

"You sure I can't give you a hand," Lila looked up at her mother's face, Hecuba being a shade taller than either of her daughters.

"'Twere best you tend to your needlework, my dear," Hecuba reached out a soft hand and stroked Lila's equally soft cheek. "You needn't be frettin'. I've plenty of time to curry and cream the leftovers."

Lila lowered her eyes and lightly swept her cheek along the reach of her mother's soft caress. Mo roisin dubh. My dark rose. And in what forest glen, ocean cove or dank prison cell, on this calm, tepid night in late summer, alone or in the company of her Warrior Princess, might the bright one be? Inhaling sharply, Hecuba carried the last of the plates to the dish counter as Lila went to gather up her sewing.

"If Lexie pops in, I’ll be upstairs," Lila said.

Hecuba nodded and lifted the ewer that sat beside the metal wash stand. She poured a stream of water into the tub, shoved her sleeves up to the elbows and nimbly dunked the mugs and dishes into the soapy foam.


Continued - Chapter 4

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