Chapter 7: Tracks of My Shears

Clonie was there, Polemusa, Derinoe,
Evandre, and Antandre, and Bremusa,
Hippothoe, dark-eyed Harmothoe,
Alcibie, Derimacheia, Antibrote,
And Thermodosa glorying with the spear.
All these to battle fared with warrior-souled
Penthesileia: even as when descends
Dawn from Olympus' crest of adamant,
Dawn, heart-exultant in her radiant steeds
Amidst the bright-haired Hours; and o'er them all,
How flawless-fair soever these may be,
Her splendour of beauty glows pre-eminent;
So peerless amid all the Amazons Unto
Troy-town Penthesileia came.
A sudden commotion from a nearby alley riveted Lila's and
Alexis' attention.

"There they be, the snivellin' snakebellies!" A pack of armed villagers, waving sticks and cudgels, with Herodotus and Clenesthides in the lead, came bursting down the midway. "After 'em, lads! No quarter now but a pint pot of warm bitters to the lout what lands the first blow 'pon the pestilent pates of yon scruffy scoundrels!"

Two gruff-looking characters, clad in iron mail and leather jerkins, came racing along the avenue, upsetting the vendors' stalls as they fled from a dozen or more joiners, carters and haywards now bearing down on them in hot pursuit, wielding rakes, hoes and pitchforks. Desperately searching for a place to hide, the pair dashed behind a tilted wagon, ducked under its axle and scooted out the far side. "This way!" the one in the lead shouted and headed for the narrow alley whose entrance was overhung with dark, damask tapestries stretched on lengths of cord swooping between the closely set buildings.

"Leg it, lads!" Herodotus flourished his pitchfork, "ere the rabble elude our grasp!"

"It's two of Latrinus’ goons! The guys've got 'em cornered!" Alexis cried. She dropped her tubular netting and bolted toward the alley in an effort to cut off the goons’ intended escape. Unaware of Alexis' fleet-footed rush at their blind side, the goons were unprepared for her lightning assault.

"Hyaagghhh!" Alexis bellowed, red hair flying as she lunged at the lead runner and clotheslined him with a hard thrust of her forearm. The lug went down with a thud, his back plopping on the turf. Whirling about with hot green flame in her eyes, Alexis faced his panicking partner who feinted and tried to dodge. But Alexis' quick foot, gold anklets jingling, hooked him a sharp kick behind the knee and, as he went down, she cuffed him a hard one with the back of her hand.

The stout company of villagers descended upon the melée as the armed goons, grunting and groggy, were hoisted staggering to their feet, all hope of further flight in vain.

"Nabbed 'em at last!" Herodotus rallied his cohorts. "Spread out, lads. All the way ‘round. Leave the brigands no leeway lest they strive to take flight!"

The men encircled their prey, thrusting and jabbing with their sticks and clubs.

"Bring on the noose! Away to the gibbet! 'Twere a round justice these rakes'll reap! The rope's what they'll rue and not one ring less!"

"Nay! Stay thine eager hands!" Herodotus motioned the circle to close like a trap around the two miscreants. "'Twould be yet further folly were our testy tempers to lather us to a lynchin'. Come, we'll convey the wretches to the constable and let the law have its say."

The nods outnumbered the grunts, so the necks of the unhappy pair were spared the curly twists of hemp.

"Good show, Democles," Herodotus clapped one of the villagers on the back. "With wings as fleet as thine upon thy sandals, I doubt not that thou hast bested Hermes himself ‘pon this brisk and breezy day."

"'Tweren't I what laid 'em low," said Democles, a candler whose stall now sat untended at the far end of the market. "I come racin' up a full ten paces shy of you and all these others."

"You, then, Trachis," Herodotus waved a beckoning arm. "A mug of brown ale shall pay the fee o' thy stout courage."

"'Tweren't me neither," said a broad-chested cobbler whose lasts of threadbare boots lay adjacent to the candler's rows of fresh, fertile eggs. "Them varlets were lyin' low in the dust ere I come trippin' up in the thick of the pack."

"Then which stout staff shall claim the prize? Tasso? Zoster?" Herodotus looked around the circle, beaming his broad smile at each face. "Come, 'twere no honor in false modesty. T'apprehend these villains were a doughty deed whose mettle doth merit a rousin' cheer and a flagon of mull besides."

"'Twere them twa’ lasses what were lurkin' by them hangin' carpets. I seen 'em wiv me own eyes," a young grocer with an apron tied around his tummy pointed to Lila and Alexis who were slinking quietly away from the men’s circle. "The redheaded one, she come runnin’ up from behind and popped the toff a stiff smack 'pon the belfry, and then the darkhaired one come rushin' in and harried t'other so bad his legs give out from under him and down he plops ‘pon the powder."

The men turned to stare at Lila and Alexis who were standing quite alone with embarrassed looks on their faces.

"Them girlies? 'Twere them what whacked these raffish ruffians?" Zoster, the fishmonger, said with surprise.

"Aye, by Father Zeus on the night he were lyin' disrobed 'pon thy mother's bed," the grocer said. "Like cozy cats 'pon a caged canary did them bosomy lasses pounce and, in a trice, did lay them rascals out as cold as the bleedin' clay."

"Heh, heh," Alexis face turned as red as her hair as she let go a toothy, oh-dear grin and fluttered a few shy fingers – "Hi, guys; guess we'll just be moseyin' on our way..." – while Lila, smiling grimly, made a little curtsey.

"Lila!" went Herodotus.

"Alexis!" went Clenesthides.

"Hi, Dad," went Lila and Alexis, sheepishly.

"What were the meanin' o' these boist'rous bagatelles?" Herodotus glared at the pair. "'Twere market day. Wherefore were you not ‘ttendin' to your fruits and fabrics?"

"Chasin' down roughnecks," Clenesthides chided. "Why such reckless goin’s on were like to get you skewered as a choice cut of mutton 'pon a sharp-pointed poker."

"You were yelling that these goons were about to get away," Alexis said, some color returning to her cheeks. "And you guys were too far down the midway to catch up with them."

"But this one's got a sword 'pon him," Clenesthides ripped the weapon from its scabbard, "and that one, what's he got?"

Democles patted the guy down and found a dagger lodged in a sheath concealed in the fellow's boot. "And would you look at that now, the bleedin' spanner were packin' a bloody dirk," Democles held the dagger up for the men to see.

"By the gods, girl," Clenesthides scolded, "you could've been diced as fine as a carrot. I vow as how your dear mother shall hear of this saucy bout of horseplay."

"I never seen you so much as lift a broom to scurry a mouse," Herodotus said to Lila. And then, to the men, he added, "'Twere the gods' own truth as how I seen the girl hold the corn crib wide upon its hinge and spend the better part of a candlemark coaxin' the little creature out the byre and not, I might add, ere the greedy rodent had gorged himself 'pon his fill of the kernels. And now you're tradin' fisticuffs with armed hooligans?"

"Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with it," Lila shook her head. "Lexie decked the both of them."

"No way," Alexis shook her head, her flouncy curls bobbing up and down. "I clobbered this one and Lee kay-oh'ed that one," Alexis pointed to the goons who were now sulking silently in custody.

"Lexie!" Lila huffed. "That's not true!"

"You can see she’s in denial," Alexis said in a blasé tone of voice.

"I did no such thing!" Lila protested. "It was Lexie who clocked them both!"

"And notice how she gives me all the credit," Alexis appealed to the men.

"Alexis!" Lila flummoxed.

"By the gods, she were a modest thing," Herodotus beamed at Clenesthides. "Always has been. Fine trait in a girl. Got it from her mother, I don't wonder."

"But Father, Lexie’s telling a big, fat, boldfaced..." Lila pleaded.

"You needn't say more, lass," Herodotus raised his hand and looked proudly at his daughter. "'Twere a foolhardy deed you done and I'll not gainsay it. But 'twere brave and boldly done all the same."

"And you, little one," Clenesthides said to his daughter. "What with you takin’ a headlong plunge out Miss Lila's dormer hard upon yestereve and now, ere this dizzy day were scarce halfway done, tanglin' with brutes 'pon yon busy thoroughfare, I'm afeared we'll have no choice but to slip a girdle 'round your waist and strap your hams snugly to the buckle for the sake of preservin' intact the lock and latch of your own well-tested modesty."

Clenesthides let go a hearty laugh and the men joined in.

"What say we dispose of the rubbish," Herodotus addressed the others, "and then 'twere off to the pub to drink a health to our twa' bold lasses. For I say 'twere hale to the one and hearty to t'other!"

The men let out a rousing cheer.

"Oughtn't the lasses to be joinin' our merry company?" Democles said to Herodotus and Clenesthides. "For sure my good ear did lately hear thee cry as how 'twere a pint o' warm bitters to him what bagged the refuse. And now, in truth, the him were like to have been a her! Though the deed were done by none but thy brash and buxom daughters, sirs, yet thy purses need must prove a goodly voucher 'pon it."

"Indeed, I swore an oath," Herodotus looked around the circle at the others.

"Aye, and in our presence," Trachis cried with glee. "And a man what sweareth him an oath, by Athena's twin-edged sword, were bound, in faith, to keep it."

"Then wretch and rogue would I be to falter in the payment of it," Herodotus said. "I vowed a pint and a pint it shall be. Tipplin' in the tavern with me own dear daughter, by Apollo's liltin’ lyre. Very well, may the wench's mother find it in her humble heart to feign me the forfeit of it."

"'Methinks 'twere merrier to fathom the bowl with these fine lasses than to press a pint 'pon some bland cripple such as the lump-footed Orestes what even now were connin' his debits and credits in the cool of yonder counting house," Clenesthides chuckled. "Now there were a poor wait what shall ne'er woo him a winsome lass to wife, I'll wager. Not when the lad were lackin' a fair diggin' stick wherewith to spade and spike her."

While Alexis' face turned as red – and painfully tender – as a bad sunburn, the men let out a round of rough laughter as they grabbed Latrinus' luckless lackeys and marched them off to the town lockup.

"Join us at Canty’s or not as you please," Herodotus called back to Lila and Alexis. "We'll be scrummed in our booths by and by."

The men toddled off and Lila turned to look daggers at Alexis.

"You've got some nerve," Lila barked. "Now he thinks that I had something to do with it."

"Good," Alexis said. "Let's see if you can make the most of it."

"The most of what?"

"The opportunity."

"To do what? Make a fool of myself in front of my father?"

Lila picked up her netting and started walking rapidly toward the produce wing of the open air market. Alexis, stooping to gather up her own netting, hurried after her.

"Maybe it's time your Dad started seeing you in a new light. Have you ever thought of that, Lee?" Alexis called to Lila.

Lila, grumpy, slowed down to let Alexis catch up.

"Weren't you telling me yesterday, over by the wash basin, that it's Gab who gets to run free while you're the one who’s got one leg tied to the stake?" Alexis overtook Lila.

"So what if I was? What does that prove?" Lila began to pick over the oranges that were piled high on one of the fruit carts.

"It didn't sound to me like you were any too blissed out about it," Alexis said. "Gab goes racing off with Xena. Perdy, Andros and my brothers go chasing off to war. And you and me get to sit on our hands, waiting for our ship to come in – a ship that I'm not sure that either one of us really wants to come in."

"Lexie," Lila said with a mixture of fondness and annoyance, "some sleeping dogs are better left to lie."

"Which ones?" Alexis pressed the point. "The ones that gnaw on the bones of our hopes and dreams?"

"Not every dream is meant to come true," Lila dropped one orange and then another into her now heavily laden sack.

"Then that's the difference between you and Gab, then," Alexis picked up an orange and gave it a squeeze.

"What difference is that?" Lila inspected more fruit.

"It wouldn't occur to Gab to think a thought like that," Alexis said. "Gab's not afraid to test the waters even if it means she sometimes gets wet."

"And you think I am?!" Lila turned to look at Alexis with the first hint of an inward fire flaring in her pretty blue eyes.

"Face it, Lee," Alexis said, "Gab's going for it. You aren't."

"Says who!" A stung look marred Lila’s soft, pleasant features. "It’s not that simple."

"What isn't? Going for it or finding excuses not to?" Alexis selected and orange that appealed to her, then reached to examine another. "Gab and Xena are turning the known world upside down while you and me are diddling around, sorting through piles of oranges and lemons."

"Gab does as she jolly well pleases," Lila let loose a sudden burst of anger. "And I'm the one who gets left in the lurch to pick up the pieces. Anyhow, I haven't the least desire to go chasing after some Warrior Princess who seems to be devoting the rest of her life to making up for whatever it was she did in the first part of it."

Lila dumped, actually flung several more oranges and lemons into her bulging sack.

"Then what do you want to do?" Alexis said. "Or are you still too ticked at Gab to let yourself want to do anything?"

Lila swallowed hard. "I don’t know what you're talking about. I love Gab. Shes my sister. I look up to her. I care about her."

"You can love somebody and look up to them and still be mad as all get out at them," Alexis said.

Lila paused and, for a long turn of the sandglass, stood stock still. "You know those two goons you just put the screws to?" Lila said at length.

"Yeah," Alexis looked into Lila's eyes that were soft and sweet even when they were angry.

"The families in these dirt poor villages work their fingers to the bone, trying to make ends meet," Lila said. "Dad busts his butt to keep a roof over our heads. As far he's concerned, the sun rises and sets on my mom. And then these... idiots come busting in, trying to tear down what my dad and your dad and most of the other men around here have spent their lifetimes trying to build up. You know what I'd do if it were me and not my dad who was heading up that group of noodlebrains over there?"

Alexis waited.

"I'd string 'em up. High above the wash basin," Lila spoke with an assertiveness that Alexis had rarely heard in her friend's voice. "I'd get out the rope and march 'em up to the block, hoist 'em high and watch 'em swing."

Lila and Alexis were silent as they made their way further along the produce stalls, fingering the dates, apricots and ripe kiwi fruits.

"I'm not proud of feeling like that, by the way," Lila said, softly. "I'd like to think that I wouldn't really act on those feelings. But frankly, I can't be sure that I wouldn't."

Alexis nodded and followed a step behind.

"Not the Lee that people think they know and love," Lila said in an offhand way.

"I know the Lee that I know and love," Alexis came around from behind and stood in front of Lila, blocking her way.

"These nutty ideas of yours," Lila went to brush past Alexis but Alexis wouldn't let her get by. "Running off and having adventures. You, me and what army?"

"You’re not gonna blow me off that easy. I meant what I just said," Alexis stood her ground. "Maybe it's only in your own mind that you're Gab's little left-behind. I don't see you that way. I see you glowing with a bright, shining light of your own."

"Sexy Lexie," Lila relented. "Lovin' 'em one minute, whuppin' 'em upside the head the next. Sometimes I wonder how well you know your own self."

"I know what's in my heart," Alexis stood in front of Lila at roughly the same height. "And I know who’s in my heart."

Lila smiled in spite of herself. "C'mon, we've got bags to fill before all the good stuff gets gobbled up."

"Did you hear what my dad just said about The Big O?" Alexis continued to pick over the stacks of fruit and veggies. "That's what a lot of the folks around here think. What girl in her right mind would seriously consider a guy whose got a gimpy leg when, if she played her cards right, she might get to have her pick of most any guy in town?"

"Does your dad know about you and O?" Lila said.

"I'd be surprised if he did," Alexis said. "I sort of wish he'd figure it out, though."

"I couldn't pull the wool over Mom's eyes when it comes to stuff like that," Lila said. "She knows me too well."

"So he won't be a farmer, big deal," Alexis pouted. "He'll run the counting house and we'll have a place in town. Wait 'til they see the beautiful babies he can make. They won't be laughing at his gimpy leg then."

Now it was Lila's turn to look hard at Alexis. "Really? Do you mean that?"

"I don't know," Alexis shook her head. "I'll probably end up a farmer's wife. You will too, most likely. You know what Dad said to me the other day? We were out in the byre, nursing the lambs, when Dad turned to me and said that since it looks like Gab's washed her hands of Perdicus, maybe, when the guys get back from the war, I ought to cast my feminine wiles in Perdy's direction. 'He’d be a whopping good catch, don't you think… Your feminine wiles,' he said. I felt like saying, ' What feminine wiles are those?'"

"Did you?" Lila said.

"Nah, I laughed it off," Alexis said, "but it gnawed at me. It made me feel... I don't know... kind of cheap. My own father, you know?"

"I've never gotten those sorts of vibes from my dad," Lila said. "It's more like Dad has this ideal image of me that I'm supposed to live up to. I get that same sort of idealized thing from Mom sometimes, which may be part of the reason I'm ticked at Gab: for leaving me to try to live up to both our images."

"Maybe it's Gab's impulsiveness. Maybe it's the faith she has in people. Maybe you think she's naive."

"No, it’s not that, unless it's... do you think that Gab may have outgrown me? I suppose that’s possible."

"I doubt she’d ever think that. Though it wouldn't surprise me if Gab felt you were selling yourself short."

"In what way?" Lila said.

"I'm not sure. Maybe by not thinking that you deserve to have a Warrior Princess of your own."

Barely breaking stride, Alexis turned to haggle with one of the fruit vendors about the price of grapes, leaving Lila to think about what Alexis had just said and, partly as a result of it, to strike her own bargains in a more subdued fashion as she moved further down the row of vendors' stalls.

Quintus Smyrnaeus' The Fall of Troy: Book 1, lines 49 - 62

Continued - Chapter 8

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