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Authors: Laura Gill

Tags: #Erotica

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BOOK: Claiming Ariadne
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“Well now,” said Iphame, “I got your message. I didn’t believe it, of course, but looking at him…” She raked Taranos with an appreciative glance. “He’s quite a handsome fellow.”

Ariadne saw him start to puff out his chest. “Don’t encourage him, Great-grandmother.”

Iphame chuckled, revealing that she still had most of her teeth. “Didn’t you say he was a prince? Ah, and look at that—wearing his sword and carrying his shield and helmet like a good little Achaean. Yes, my dear young man, I know you’re from Tiryns. My dear great-granddaughter managed to tell me that much, when she wasn’t complaining about your lack of manners.”

For once, Taranos was speechless.

Iphame called out to the drivers. “You two boys glowering over there, let Kuparo unhitch your chariots and tend the horses! Come inside. A bit of wine will cure your indigestion.”

Off the narrow entryway, Iphame led them into the main room, which was supported on four inverted cypress columns and decorated with an elegant partridge fresco. The household altar with its many gods occupied a side niche. Light spilled in through narrow windows.

“Sit here.” Iphame ushered them to the table. “I’ll bring you food and drink myself. Sera is off doing laundry today.”

Ariadne dropped her hat onto a bench covered by sheepskins. Taranos propped his shield against the wall by the altar and set his helmet on the floor alongside it. While waiting, he studied the frescoes, then the altar and ritual equipment. “I don’t think I know this goddess.”

As Ariadne came over, he pointed to a ceramic figure standing among the others. At no time did he touch the goddess; one didn’t trifle with a host’s household gods. Ariadne relaxed a little. To have Taranos lay hands upon that faceless female figure would have invited the worst kind of disaster. “She’s called Qe-ra-sija.” She indicated a single pumice stone sitting in an offering cup decorated with writhing octopi. “She’s easily offended.”

Taranos thoughtfully rubbed his beard. “Qe-ra-sija.” With his accent, the name came out as
Therasia
.

No sooner had he retreated to the bench than did Iphame emerge from a side room bearing a tray of cheese, green olives, and flat bread. A boy followed her in with jugs of water and wine, and three cups balanced one atop the other. Once the items were set upon the wooden table, she waved him away, along with the two charioteers. “Go amuse yourselves in the kitchen, boys. Tarato, you still have work to do. I want that kitchen spit scraped clean by nightfall.”

Ariadne smiled inwardly. Many tried to cheat Iphame on account of her age and small stature, much to their woe. Servants who slacked off quickly found themselves on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing that would make Poseidon himself blush. Iphame, who was not a priestess, never came to Knossos, and Ariadne had met her for the first time at fourteen, yet from the moment they first saw each other it seemed she had known her great-grandmother all her life.

Iphame set out the cups and the mixing bowl. “You may cut your wine any way you like.”

Pouring a measure of thick, undiluted wine into the bowl, Taranos added two measures of water and stirred it. “Where may I pour the libation?”

Iphame indicated a little bowl by the altar. Another vessel decorated with nightmarish sea creatures. She seemed fascinated with them.

Taranos filled the small
rhyton
, went over to the altar, and made the offering: a splash into the grape-stained bowl for Poseidon, for the Great Mother, and for Father Zeus. Then, surprisingly, he tipped the cup again. “This portion belongs to Qe-ra-sija, the faceless goddess of Thera. Remain quiet and placated. You are remembered and feared.”

On his return, Iphame shot him a dark, inquisitive look. “Do they worship Qe-ra-sija among the Achaeans?”

“No,” he confessed, “but I’ve lived three years here in Crete. Occasionally I heard mention of a faceless goddess who summons the angry powers of the earth.”

Iphame nodded. “Now tell me, Achaean, why a prince from Tiryns decided to become a Sacred King.” Just as swiftly as that, she’d changed the subject. “You are too old, too warlike, and as my great-granddaughter says, quite the fool. I think the priests of Poseidon might have lost their wits in letting you stand for the honor.”

Taranos popped an olive into his mouth. “Yes, I’m all three, but when I saw what the High Priestess had to offer, I couldn’t resist.”

Ariadne rolled her eyes. “He saw me from several feet away, in all my paint and finery.”

“With your lovely breasts exposed,” he finished. “They were so firm and white, with the most delectable reddened tips.”

Oh, Goddess, he was going to make her blush, right in front of her great-grandmother. “Mind your tongue!”

“My tongue is safely in my mouth, but later…”

Iphame chuckled. “Perhaps I should have brought more food? Your appetite seems quite unquenchable.”


Don’t
encourage him!” Ariadne cried. “He says far worse things when we’re alone.”

“Ah, but does he follow through with his boasts? So many men claim to be marvelous lovers, and then the reality is
so
disappointing. But I won’t embarrass you, dear. I want to hear more about what this ambitious young prince was thinking when he saw your pretty breasts and your face all whitened with paint.”

Taranos flashed her a smile guaranteed to make any woman melt. “You say that like the lady was wearing a veil, as they do in the eastern lands. I come from Tiryns, not Babylon. My sisters and cousins wear the same fashions you do here in Crete, and the women in Canaan and Egypt wear even more paint than our blushing High Priestess here. So it isn’t difficult at all to discern what’s under it. I could tell Ariadne was young and beautiful. What a magnificent wife she would make, I thought, once she had the right man.”

Ariadne could have smacked him. “I am
not
your prize.”

“Yes, you are.” Leaning in, he claimed a quick kiss before she irritably shoved him away. “You’re better than gold or cattle, and the only reason I don’t insist you parade around with an open bodice is because those breasts with their hard little nipples belong to me alone.”

How could he humiliate her like this? Worse, her great-grandmother seemed to find this all terribly amusing. Once Iphame stopped tittering, she explained, “Considering the Sacred Kings you’ve had, girl, you could do much worse than this specimen. Now why aren’t you eating anything? This young man here is halfway through the olives and has already devoured two pieces of bread, and—oh, dear, now he won’t eat at all unless you join him.”

Noon had come. Ariadne should have felt better by now, well enough at least to take a light meal. The chariot ride must have unsettled her stomach more than she thought.

Taranos made her excuses for her. “She was sick on the journey here. I took the road slowly, I assure you, and she didn’t complain, but perhaps she might like to lie down.”

Why not ask me directly?
“Taranos, I don’t think…”

“Ah, I see.” Iphame cast a knowing gaze upon her. “So you’re already with child. I think you’re happy about it, too. Yes, you are, girl. All those other times you came to see me you were so sick you had to stay the night. And you’ve certainly never brought those other boys to visit. Well, with this fine man as the father, you ought to be pleased.” Leaving Ariadne bereft for words, she turned to Taranos. “Has she told you what a fine lineage she has?”

“Aktaios mentioned her great-grandfather was Minos Rasuros.”

Iphame made a face. “Pah! Potinia likes to put it about that she has royal blood. Maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t.”

“A priestess of Knossos, descended from a line of priestesses,
is
royalty,” Taranos pointed out. “It doesn’t matter whether Ariadne has a king in her bloodline or not. My ancestor was the Perseus who founded Mycenae, and
his
father was the great Zeus. My blood is good enough.”

Ariadne liked this talk of kings and gods and bloodlines no better than she liked her mother’s occasional boasting. “Wicked old Minos Rasuros isn’t an ancestor anyone would be proud to claim.”

Iphame grunted assent, but her attention remained fixed on Taranos. “Through me, Ariadne has blood ties to Kalliste.”

Though he didn’t look at her and held his silence several moments before speaking, Ariadne sensed Taranos’s change in mood. “They call it Thera now. Fear. There’s no other word for it,” he said. “I’ve sailed into its great circular harbor, if you can call it that. Its sheer cliffs drop into the sea, and into such depths no line can plumb them. It’s a dead land. Sailors refuse to go ashore.”

Taranos’s description opened something inside the old woman, some long-suppressed memory that flowered as she spoke. “When I was young, it was a whole land, covered in orchards and vineyards and pine forests. Kalliste, we called it, the most beautiful.

“I remember going out to the saffron fields with my mother and aunts; the saffron harvest belonged to the women then, and afterward we made our offerings to the Great Mother and danced. And in the autumn, when the days were still warm, we made a pilgrimage up a high mountain whose peak was always touched with snow. Up there, we could look out over the bright blue sea. For miles and miles we could see. On clear days, I heard, you could even see Crete.

“One winter the mountain began smoking. The ground began shuddering. Noxious vapors issued up from cracks in the earth. Sometimes we found our beasts dead in the fields, and any men unlucky enough to be with them. But it was a death that crept unaware, with no taste or smell. Wells became tainted. Then the tremors grew worse. Ash rained down from the sky. People didn’t want to leave. Even at the end, when Poseidon gave us no choice, we wept as we boarded the ships. Some went to nearby islands, others here to Crete.

“My family went to Malia. There were so many refugees, so little homes or food to be had. Many families we knew moved away to other places along the coast or inland. Soon the bad times would stop, we thought, and we could go home.

“Our family was fortunate. We found a home with people we knew. My father found work, and there was a boy I liked.” A smile suffused her face with echoes of her long-faded youth. “I was glad when his family stayed.”

As Taranos started to interrupt, Iphame snapped like a whip back to attention. “You were about to tell me that we should have left, gone inland as far as we could go, that we
weren’t
fortunate, weren’t you? Who can truly know the wrath of the gods who hasn’t witnessed it before? We knew earthquakes. We’d even come to expect the ash that sometimes dimmed the sun, but who could have expected what came next? No singer of tales has the words to describe the horror. Even my poor account can’t convey what it was like.”

Over the years, Ariadne had heard various accounts of the disaster, but never from one who was actually there. Although she’d always known her great-grandmother came from the accursed island, she never thought to ask her about it.

“I remember the day the sky fell and the sea came. Father Zeus shook the darkness with thunder and flashes of lightning. It was late summer, hot and close, when we should have slept on the rooftops. Ash drove us indoors, and the earth tremors drove us into the streets. It was maddening, terrifying, like a battle between Zeus and Poseidon, and we were in the way. No one could sleep. No one could work. We huddled in our houses and waited. It would get better, my mother said. My father just grumbled and never said anything.

“One night Admaios came knocking at our door. I’ve never told you about him, Ariadne. He was such a handsome boy, two years older than me, and so gifted. He could carve wood. He saw spirits. I think he even spoke to them. Had the disaster not come, had we not left Kalliste, I think he would have become a priest.

“Admaios told us we had to flee at once. Death was coming with the tide, he said. We must go to high ground, even though it was dark and thundering and ash was falling everywhere. Rubbish, said Father. We were two days from Kalliste. Whatever the mountain did, it couldn’t touch us in Crete. A little ash was nothing.

“Admaios got me alone. When the thunder came and the house shook a little, he held me tight and asked if I trusted him. Yes, I trusted him, with that sweet, innocent trust any girl has who loves for the first time. I fled with him. I fled sick in my heart because my family refused to come with us and because my father swore not to take me back if I did go. But I believed Admaios as thoroughly as I believed in anything. I’d believed him back in Kalliste when he’d pointed to the mountain and said it would be the island’s ruin. I’d believed him when he told me Poseidon’s wrath would swallow everything, and I believed him now when he told me the sea was coming.”

BOOK: Claiming Ariadne
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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