Saturday, July 15, 2006

Archippe

I promised I would put SOMETHING up this week. So here's a chapter told from Archippe's point of view (Themistocles's wife). It's not really edited as much as it could be but I just want to put it up. Enjoy!

Archippe pushed her way though the teaming crowd on the edge of the city's south side, her male slave elbowing lesser people out of her way, while her handmaidens slapped at them with fans and parasols. Archippe paid no more heed to the dregs of the city than a clod of dirt at her feet, but like the dirt she went around them. Athen's marketplace had been closed off for another emergency assembly, but the merchants and farmers crowded along the parimeters of the city, refusing to lose business. The mass was mostly made of men too young to participate in the proceedings of the assembly; few respectable women were about. That was why Archippe had chosen a nondescript robe of white linen and plain blue sandals with small heels to hide her identity. Her swag too was a simple sky blue cloth of gauze. She would have added a cloak as well, but the summer heat was oppresive as it was, the sky blazing blue above the stilted temples and toated hills, Helios's fiery rays drying everything they touched. Still, she was clearly of high birth, enough so that people picked up the hems of their robes and parted way for her whenever she came near. Archippe could only hope her disguise was enough to stop tounges from wagging. Already her mother had made her feel like a street hussy for going out. The old coot had flown into one of her dramatic rages this morning, no doubt a result from her Megarian ancestory.

"You should be spinning thread not plots," she had shrieked from one of the second story windows as Archippe prepared to leave the house. Her mother was dressed in black, though Archippe's father was still alive--the two had hated each other since before Archippe was born--and her weathered face was screwed up in dissaproval. "I'm just going to buy a new decanter," Archippe shouted back with barely surpressed impatience. It was only half a lie--they did need a new decantor--but it appeased the crone not at all. "I'm no fool, but you are. A woman has no business with the outside world!" When Archippe had spun on her heel and ordered the back gate opened anyway, her mother was livid. " You are NOT my daughter!" she declared with a flailing of her short, bony arms, and slammed shut the wooden shutters painted clay red. Well tried to slam them. The right shutter was heavy and stuck and so the old woman had to be content with only slamming one.

Now under the guise of shopping Archippe tried to catch what was happening with the six thousand men gathered in the city's center. Athens was the largest city in Hellas, built around a gleaming limestone rock that jetted far into the sky, but over the years men had filled the once lush olive groves with rows and rows of buildings that soon resembled a mouth full of crooked teeth. Everywhere citizens were pushed against each other, trying to manuver between narrow allies and busy throughfares. The agora was the worst. Market and government assemblies made for a seething mass of humanity. It was proving difficult to navigate today. Even the top of the Acropolis was filled up with boys and non-citizen men trying to watch the assembly. War and battle and glory and all that other male nonsense was like a festival to them. Archippe cared little for iron pagentry; it was the fate of Attica that concerened her most. Would they go to war? Would they capitulate to the Persian? She had to know. And so did everybody else. Everywhere she looked youths were trying to climb up on columns or statues to get a better view of what was happening. Archippe would not do that, nor would she try taking shortcuts through back allies or temple porches to avoid the crowd--that would be unseemly-- but as she edged closer to the agora's center she ran into a pack of rowdy youths staring down a wall of Cynthian archers. This could be bad.

Many of the boys were dressed in long crinsom robes pinned at the shoulder with round bronze clips, their hair tied back in short pony tails and wearing raw-hide sandals in the Laconic style. To act and dress Spartan was the rage among young men between fifteen and thirty, and they even used slang words like "mothax" and "tremblers"--whatever those meant. Archippe could admit to herself that she thought the trend rather dashing, but her husband thought it was foolish. "They've never even seen a monkey Spartan," Themistocles had complained just the other day. "Those ugly rock-heads don't smile--I don't even think they CAN smile." His own scarlet tribal cloak made him look rather Laconian, so Archippe had made sure to point that out to him. "I'm sure their cloaks are in far better condition than mine," Themistocles retorted, " since their wives know how to wash clothes." Archippe had slammed the door of the womens' quarters in his face so hard she broke one of the hinges.

Now the youths tried to move past the gaurds, kicking up dust and puffing up their chests in an effort to seem threatening. The archers seemed more humored then scared,their slanted eyes bright with amusement and their smiles marred by bleeding gums, but more than one boy got an arrow knocked at their heart for the effort. Cynthian archers were deadly accurate; the deliquents wisely stepped back.

Leaving the trouble makers to their trouble, Archippe led her group towards the western end of town, hoping that there was room near Ares Hill. I could at least get a good view there. Ares Hill had several tiers of stairs leading up to the houses and apartments at the top, and if it couldn't afford the same view as the Acropolis, it was still close enough so that the booming voices of men could still be heard. As they got closer to the hill however, Archippe could see it was even more crowded than on the south side. Great. All this way for nothing. She could see the crude wooden bleachers set up on the far lawn of the agora and wondered if Themistocles was sitting on splinters. She hoped so. Most likely he's talking to the assembly about how great his stupid ships are. As of late she had heard little else from him.

She wondered aimlessly for a time, scratching her scalp irritably. It burned from the potent mixture that turned her hair blonde, though it was never strong enough to get her roots. As they wondered Archippe was jostled by a farmer trying to lead his cow through the crowd. She yelped and staggered into Daisy, who staggered into Corinthia. When they had righted all their white linen robes were covered in dust, making them look like a troop of beggers. Archippe gave her gown a dusting but the soil was deeply imbedded. "I hate crowds!" she hollared at no one in particular. Daisy mummered an agreement, Corinthia doing the same, but she didn't hear them. Crowds were the worse part of any city. Themistocles loved them, having been raised in the most crowded quarter of Athens, but she was used to sunshine and fresh air and more chattle than people. Her father's sprawling eastates were near the Cephisus River, where artisans paid top owl for the excellent red, buff or orange river clay used to produce Athenian pottery. She had dined on ox tounge and honey roasted tuna as a young girl, and had expected to eat them all her life. But her husband hated both, and so ever since they're wedding banquet it was lamb or fish for dinner. "How will our boys grow big and strong if you don't feed them better food," she had demanded of Themistocles one night. "What are you talking about, woman? Unless they're going to speak to cattle or go live under water I don't think they need your fancy country food. Lamb and fish are healthy enough, and certainly better tasting than tounge!" And that was the end of it.

I'll never get into the assembly this way. Maybe if I find someone to bribe they'll give me a full report...she stopped scratching her hair as a pin fell out of the braided coils atop her head. "Hades in hell!" she snarled, snatching it off the ground before someone could trample it. This day was not going the way she had planned at all, and the throng was getting worse, jostling her and her servants every which way no matter how they pinched and slapped at people. "Give over," she finally ordered.

Busying herself at the book stall while she tried to think of a plan, she randomly picked up a scroll and half hazardly read it. "Law and Order by Tyrtaues of Sparta." "Popular with the young men," the bookseller grinned at her. His teeth were an unattractive sheen of yellow, his eyes hidden by the shade of his flimsy straw hat. "Sold three of them this morning." Curious she unrolled a section and read out loud. "Do not be in love with life when you are a fighting man." She frowned and read on, but it was all about phalanx warfare and hairy-chested drival that made no sense to her. She picked up another scroll called Work and Days, then pretended to drop it. "Oops. I'm so sorry. Corinthia, you dolt! Pick that up at once!" Her slave did as bidden. Archippe continued to feign interest in Hestoid and picked up another copy of his work. She scanned the papyrus at random. "Women are a plauge to mankind..." She closed the scroll with a sharp clack. The bookseller laughed. "And a most welcome plauge," he told her, grinning lecherously. She scowled at him. Just then Corinthia stood back up and gave a quick shake of her head. No good. There wasn't even a way to crawl under the bleachers. Hydras and hellhounds there's not a space anywhere in Athens for a woman! Angrily Archippe dropped the scroll back into the wicker bin and snapped at her servants to move foward.



They moved to the side of the road where there was a small fold of space near a fortune teller. Most people avoided them when they could since they had an unsavory reputation, explaining the lack of people. Yet the woman behind the stall had a fleshy pale face and dark eyes, and her braided hair was carrot-red. Like Themistocles. She hardly looked threatening. Archippe frowned. Fate? The girl--she could not have been older than eighteen-- was certainly not the Pythia of Delphi. Her dark green robes were cinched too tight over her wide frame, and they were hopelessly wrinkled. The plank at the top of the stall had a picture of sticks spelling out the word Cassandra. Archippe had to smile. For that alone I should at least give her a chance. Before she realized what she was doing Archippe sat down on a bench that tried to give way the moment she touched it. She shifted her weight and put on her most winning smile.

The fortune teller did not seem to notice her at first. She fiddled with an array of twigs, muttering under her breath. Archippe cleared her throat. "I would like to ask a question about about Athens." The woman calling herself Cassandra did not look up. "Did you hear me? I said I want to ask about Athens." "Persia is coming." "I know that." Everybody knew Persia was on the march now. The assembly is a dead givaway. The girl looked up. " War is coming, and the women must act. I need only tell you how." "I don't understand. I should act? What should I do?" The woman looked up from her sticks and gave a tiny smile. "Three owls." "Outragous!" The girl went back to her sticks. "War is coming." "I know that, you heifer! I want to know the fate of Athens." The woman said nothing. Angrily Archippe ordered Daisy to take an owl out of the leather purse that accompanied her. "I'll pay you full if I like your answer." "You may not like my answer." "Then I leave." "Don't you want to save Athens?" "Not for three owls." "Is Athens worth so little?" Archippe knew she should have left then and there. Instead she said, "AFTER woman, not before!" The fortune teller stared at her sticks. Finally she took the owl. "Let's see what is in store for Athena's City."

Calmly, "Casssandra" gathered the slim twigs together, organizing them just so. Then with a sudden flick of her wrists she threw the sticks in the air and watched them clatter to the table top. Not one bounced off the surface. She's well practiced, at least. The fortune teller closed her eyes, humming to herself as she shuffled the wood around. Archippe watched, facinated despite herself. There were many ways to read the divine will of the gods. Everything from dreams to a sneeze could be inturprated, depending on the diviner you went to. This one claimed she could see the future through arranging twigs and seeing the pattern made from them. It was crude, but Archippe was desperate.

Finally the plump, beraggled girl looked down. A frown formed around her eyes. Then they went wide. "What?" Archippe followed that wide-eyed stare but could see nothing. She made her voice a command. "What!" The girl drew a shaky breath, not meeting her patron's gaze. She's afraid. "What do you SEE?" The girl swallowed. "The gods really do speak to me!" She sounded surprised. And afraid."What is it they say?" With an unsteady hand the girl began to trace the pattern of sticks. "Bare streets and deserted roads...wood around the rock. A rain of fire from the sky consuming the temples... men jumping into space to escape them. Men with rings and and foreign eyes swarming about the city like locus. The Owl and the Eagle taking flight. And here"--she stabbed a finger at a group of twigs-"a battle will be raged by land and sea. The word is spelled out clearly: Beware." Archippe leaned foward. She's right. Those sticks DO spell out beware. Suddenly it was an effort to keep balance on the rickety bench.

"I leave the city tommorow," the girl whispered, gathering up her fortune sticks. Several dropped from her shaking hands. "I don't understand," Archippe protested. "What does all this mean?" The girl clutched her fortune sticks to her chest. Her eyes were wide and urgent. "Flee. We must all flee. Flee to the ends of the earth!" Archippe felt a chill. " You mean Persia is going to destroy us?" For an answer the girl jumped up and ran from the booth. Startled Archippe rose to go after her, and almost fell of the bench when it shifted beneath her. Daisy and Corinthia caught her halfway to the ground. "Mistress! Are you all right?" Archippe barely heard them. It's just nonsense, anyone could see a pattern in anything. She shooed her servants away without answering and drew a shaky breath. That...mothax was just trying to swindle me. That's all. Only the girl was the one swindled: Archippe still had two owls left.

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pHilo said...

Scratch "explaining the lack of people" Paragraph 10. ;)