Reads: 105

I woke up on the third day with a sense of relief. Dad’s next competition wasn’t for another day and a half. Today there were no contests. It was the day after the full moon - time for the festival of Zeus. After breakfast, Dad joined the procession of athletes on the grounds west of the temple. They marched toward the temple, puffing out their chests. Crowds on both sides cheered. I watched from the north hill, the pleasant, woody smell of incense filling my nose. When the procession reached the altar inside, priests sacrificed white bulls to Zeus. We would get to enjoy the roasted meat for supper. In the meantime, most people partied. Dad rested.

He sat on his mat getting an oiled massage from Nick. I sat in my chair reading poetry aloud. I had to stop when a stranger came to our tent with a message.

The messenger bowed to Dad. “Your majesty, Cynisca of Sparta requests the company of Zoe, daughter of Midas, for refreshment.” 

My mouth fell open, and I looked wide-eyed at Dad. Dad raised his eyebrows, then nodded his okay for me to go. He waved at Nick, signaling for him to go with me. “I can get the rest of my massage later.”

I looked down at my outfit and felt my hair. “I need to get ready first.” I went to Agathe. She was in our cooking area cutting beets and carrots to go with the roasted ox we’d have for supper. I asked her to help me put my hair up in a decorative headband.

The messenger waited outside until I was ready, then led me and Nick to Cynisca’s tent at the Spartan camp. I took a scroll of poetry and the cloak I was weaving to show my grown-up friend. When we arrived, Cynisca held her tent flap open, waving us in.

I was surprised at Cynisca’s appearance. She had cropped her hair, she wore a belted tunic that stopped at her knees, and she had the faintest bit of dark coloring on her face that made her look square-jawed. She looked like a young man. 

“Sorry about this.” She waved a hand over herself. “It’s how I watch the competitions without getting scrutinized. I miss my hair and the flow of fabric on my legs.” She leaned forward, touching her fingers to her shins. 

Cynisca’s tent was plain inside and out. There were no colorful draperies to accent the white tent fabric. There were no rugs, and the chairs were not ornate like ours. The only things that caught my attention were a few leather bow cases, and a horse brush. 

We sat in chairs facing each other. Nick politely excused himself to wait outside. Cynisca’s servant brought us tea then left. I drank carefully from the plain two-handled cup trying not to let herbs stick to my upper lips, then I tried not to cringe at the bitter taste.

“How are you enjoying the competitions?” Cynisca took a gulp of tea and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

“They’re amazing.” My eyes widened. “It's amazing what athletes can do. Your chariot team was incredible.”

“Thank you.” A little smile formed on Cynisca’s lips. “I enjoyed your Father’s contribution. Was what happened at the discus throw and foot race also your idea?”

I nodded.

“Clever girl. Do you miss home? What’s it like?”

I told her about our palace and little city-state. She told me about her small, plain home in her city of similar houses surrounded by efficient, gridlike streets and markets. 

“And tell me about your mom. You must miss her.”

I felt my heart swell.

“She’s smart and skilled and creative. She’s always teaching me about cosmetology and herbal remedies. She used to love to visit with other noble women, sharing knowledge and laughing together.”

My shoulders drooped.

“But ever since my little sister died, she’s been alone a lot. My sister died from an illness, and ever since then Mom secretly has servants leave medicine for sick, poor children.” I straightened my shoulders back up. “She’s kind like that.” 

Cynisca nodded. “No one would be that kind in Sparta. Does your dad know about her buying medicine for others?”

“She told him about it the first time she did it, which was for the child of a beggar. He said she shouldn’t do that because beggars spend their money on strong wine.”

Cynisca knitted her brows. “Hmm, sounds like your dad and Cleo have judgmentalism in common.”

I perked up, remembering what I’d brought. “Mom’s teaching me how to loom.” I unrolled the almost finished cloak on my lap. Cynisca leaned close to pick up the end where I had added threads of blue and examined the detail. 

“Oh, lovely. I wish I had time to learn to loom with such skill. What we do here,” Cynisca gestured vaguely, “draws a lot of admiration, but women’s work is much more important. You’re actually producing a necessity.”

She set her cup on the ground beside her chair. “Now, I would like to show you something.” She gestured toward a bow cover with quiver feathers peeking out. “Put your items on the chair and come with me.”

She led me out a different way then I’d come in to a sort of courtyard formed by several tents. We faced three tall boards driven into the ground covered in X’s pierced by arrows. 

“Now, watch how I stand and my arms and fingers as I draw an arrow.” She drew the bow and glanced at me to see she had my full attention. Her fingers holding the string taut let go and the arrow thunked into the middle board in the center of an X.

“Now you try.” She showed me how to hold the bow, the inside of my left elbow turned toward it, and draw back the string. My arrow made a sad arch to the ground .

“Try again.” Cynisca directed me to aim upward more and made me pull back the string until my right arm shook from the effort. The arrow made a satisfying thunk into the lower part of the board. I smiled up at Cynisca who nodded at me, pride in her expression. 

Before I left, I picked up the cloak from the chair and held it out to Cynisca.

“I want you to have this to remember me. Maybe you could have a friend help you finish it.”

“Are you sure?” Cynisca’s eyes glistened as she accepted my cloak. “I’m honored.” She looked around. “I want to do the same for you.” She held the cloak with one hand and with the other picked up a bow. “I hope you find a way to practice and remember me.” My mouth fell slightly open as I accepted the bow and two arrows placed in my hand.

Submitted: January 24, 2022

© Copyright 2023 LaVonna S.. All rights reserved.


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