Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nano 09~Adventures in Arkady~~

This one's set in Greece around the time of the Trojan War.
The main characters are Ariana, Aristotles, King Theran. There are lots of incidental characters too.


It started like any other early summer morning in Ariana’s short life…how was she to know that what was about to happen would change her life, and she hadn’t even had the good (or bad) fortune to have seen it coming.

She and her mother were in the parlour of their home watching the video screen. When the breaking news fanfare blared and the banner appeared, she felt that something had gone wrong, and nothing would be the same again.

The bad feeling was reinforced when the talking heads stated that the country was at war. The government was going to do all they could to stop the Rebellion, but it would be a long drawn-out ordeal and they needed all of the citizens’ “help” to shorten it.

Neither woman agreed with the current leaders’ idiocy…he was a blathering puppet to his advisor’s puppet masters. When he made appearances, it was like they propped him up and pulled his strings to make him move correctly…

Since they were way out in the country, away from the large cities, they figured they’d have plenty of time to prepare in case the worst came to pass. The crops were all planted and doing well. The winter had been mild, like it usually was, just a dusting of snow, more of an annoyance than a hazard. Ariana had heard that some parts could be completely covered. The big city of Athenai didn’t get much either, not that they went there all that often now that her father was gone. It was amazing to think it had been as many years as it had. She knew that her mother, Helen Zeno, missed him. She had seen her staring down the road too many times when she was younger. She had always hoped that he’d come back. He had to give her away at her wedding. She had been betrothed at the age of 10 in an arranged marriage to a son on a neighboring (if you could say, 4 miles away was neighboring) estate.

While her mother was lost in her thoughts, and Ariana pondered what might need to be done in the fields in the next few weeks, a sharp rap sounded at the door. They weren’t expecting any visitors, because they would’ve been sent a message before hand…

Helen went to open the door anyway. A uniformed man and about a dozen others pushed their way in. Helen was shoved aside as they checked all the rooms on the first floor with guns drawn, then went up the stairs. Ariana sprang to her feet as they streamed in.

“You’ve got no right here!” she yelled, glaring at the leader. “Get out of our house!”

He looked down at her and stated quietly, “We have every right. There’s a war on.”

My mother went to turn off the video screen, but as she did the Archon came on and started to blather on about the Rebels: their appearances; he made them out to look like trolls or worse, except for their leader who he described as having one eye and a beard. Photos were flashed on the screen, as the vitriol continued. It ended with one of the puppet masters telling the citizenry that they were all armed and considered dangerous and anyone giving aid to them would be considered traitors too…

“Wonderful,” Ariana thought. “We’ve been struggling all these years to prevent our home from being taken by the government for taxes, just so they can take it through no fault of ours.”

The voice died out as one of the soldiers put his rifle butt through the screen. Helen gasped in horror, and Ariana picked up a heavy crystal trinket dish to hurl at the man.

“That will be enough!” A different voice snapped. “We are guests in these ladies’ house and will act accordingly.”

“Not the rabble you obviously are.” Ariana muttered under her breath. She didn’t think that anyone heard her, but HE did…

“Very true”. The soldier stated drily, as his ice blue eyes scanned her up and down. Ariana’s spine stiffened and her chin came up as she took offense to being looked over like she was a ewe going to market. It seemed like THIS was the man in charge rather than the one that the Archon THOUGHT was the leader as he seemed to defer to the younger man. “Interesting” Ariana thought to herself.

The one eyed older man came to stand beside the newcomer and an expression of the Gods knew what came into his face as he looked at his leader, Helen and she. Her mother seemed to try to become invisible under the one-eye’s dark gaze. The two men spoke quietly, before the command of “At Ease!” came. The clatter of rifles being dropped to the floor sounded and soldiers kept watch out the windows, while others flopped where they were.

Helen ran out to the kitchen and as Ariana watched her go, she got a chill as she realized that they were just two women against however many armed rebels. She wasn’t keen on the odds at all. The old one eye looked at her and as if reading her mind growled, “There is less harm to come from us than your Archon, so you don’t have to be afraid.”

The leader glanced at his men and then around the room.

“Is there a place to talk here?”

She led them down the hall and into the dining room. It had two open windows which the leader gazed at nervously before she shut them and closed the curtains. The older man stood guard by the door, which he closed after looking behind them.

Without too much preamble, the leader started explaining why they chose this particular place instead of another.

“My name is Aristotles and am the head of this band of soldiers. My friend here” He indicated the one eyed man, “Is Pirata Vulpes and we have need of an out of the way place to house our forces. We don’t wish harm to you or your property, but if it comes to that, we will not hesitate to take what we need by force…”

“We’ve heard what the Archon said.” Ariana stated. “Is it true? That we could lose everything by helping you?”

Both rebel leaders nodded.

“Shit!” she thought. “At least they’re standing up for something while the rest of the country sit and complain and do nothing…”

Aristotles must’ve realized that she was thinking fiercely because when she again paid attention to where she was, he had a wry smile on his face.

It was just about noon and Ariana’s stomach felt the embarrassing need to growl that it was time to be fed. Not that she wanted to be aiding and abetting people on the government Shit List, but ingrained politeness required her to ask if they were hungry.

The three went into the kitchen where Helen was finishing up making some simple sandwiches. They were Ariana’s favourite too: Tuna with celery, onions and tomatoes…She went to the refrigerator, took out the pitcher of lemonade, put it on the table and got four glasses for them all. Her mother opened the jar of Kalamata Olives and Feta cheese and set that out too.

The guys set into the food like it had been years since they had seen any… After the tableware had been set into the sink, Ariana started washing them. “Evkeristo” Aristotles said from too close behind her. She almost jumped out of her skin. When she turned around, he had taken off the soft cap he wore and she saw the blond hair and blue eyes that were so rare in the country. She, herself, had light brown hair and grey eyes, a small nose, and round face from some long distant lost traveler from over the mountains, and thousands of miles and years away.

She could hardly fathom where HIS ancestors were from, except the WAY far North where they wore bear furs and horned helmets and wrote in a strange alphabet, and raped and pillaged. She had learned about some of the cultures outside her own because of her father’s travels. He used to bring back momentos that he’d let her rummage through his cases to find. It was like a small treasure hunt when he returned. Ariana gave herself a mental shake as Pirata’s voice broke through her reverie.

“Gods, Ari, you have good fortune in finding excellent locations.” He continued. “ Although we’re in the middle of nowhere, the estate is in the very heart of Archon territory. Lady Helen told me…”

Ariana’s jaw dropped. How dare the rebel refer to her mother by her given name?!

“She also showed me the storehouses and the root cellar. There’s enough food for all of us…” Us WHO?! Ariana thought “to last a long siege.”

“Good” Aristotles, purred, rubbing at the scruff of a beard. Because the house stood on a bit of a hill and the forest edges were over a mile away with one long winding road in, it was easily defensible…Ariana could almost hear the gears turning in his mind.

Her father had picked the spot for the same reason…”Clever man. Is his daughter as intelligent?” Ariana blinked at the rebel leader.

“Excuse me?!”

Aristotles spoke to her again as if she were a simple child…”I asked if you had any brains in that pretty little head of yours…but since you didn’t answer, I would presume not…”

In outrage, she took a swing at him. “How dare he think that she was a stupid child?!!!” He had hold of her fist before it made it halfway to his jaw. “She doesn’t have very much good sense, does she? I cannot in good conscience converse with a child with a half score of years behind her….”She swung the other fist at him. Pirata grabbed the angry young woman from behind, as she spluttered and hissed like a cross between a wild cat and a serpent.
“It doesn’t look like your daughter has too good of control of her temper, Helen…”

“Sometimes she’s too much like Zeno, rather than me.”

Pirata’s eye widened in surprise…at her father’s name, but Aristotles didn’t catch it. Ariana filed that little bit away in her memory for later.

“I’ve heard of the man. He was an Archon many years ago.” he stated.

“He was my husband.” was all Helen quietly said.

Ariana had loved her father. Her mother hadn’t said too much when he left for the last time…neither of them had known that at the time, though. She still missed him too, even if it had been almost a decade since the bad news had come.

The rebel leader asked for a tour of the property so he could tell his soldiers where to set up tents, and whatever else they might have to use while they were there. The two women wanted to defer, but neither could find a credible excuse. Ariana took Aristotles outside to check the outbuildings while Pirata and Helen and a couple of the other soldiers would do an actual inventory of supplies. They had a stable, but no horses: they had had to sell them to pay the ever rising taxes levied for no good reason. They bartered for meat and wool from some of the neighbours’ flocks, weaving fabric and selling it back. Ariana could read and write and was great with numbers so she’d do the accounts in exchange. They hired some itinerants every year and they were so fair in their dealings that the same people kept coming back for each season. She explained that they were pretty self sufficient. The summer wheat would be ready to harvest shortly. She hoped that the soldiers wouldn’t still be there then. There’d be too much explaining to have to do and if word got out that they were harboring criminals, they’d be out on the street with nothing.

The rebel leader didn’t say much, but she knew that he was processing the information as she prattled on. She noticed that more soldiers had come since they had been inside. How many more would there be? The situation was making her more and more uncomfortable. She didn’t KNOW these men. They could be murderers or rapists or worse! She wanted to run back into the house, bolt the door and hide until it was all over with.

As sick and tired as she was over the never ending restrictions on travel(not that they went anywhere), rising taxes on the middle and lower classes, subsidizing producers not to produce, and outright thievery by the rich, she was not going to openly rebel! She couldn’t! Not if it meant losing the only home she had known, maybe going to prison or having to beg on the streets or become a prostitute, which in her virgin state might prove to be a lost cause(no pun intended), and Gods only knew what might become of her mother! She was too old to be made to do unsavory things…They were both healthy so maybe they could go along with the itinerants as they went from field to field. Ariana sighed. There had to be something they could do. Not like packing up the whole estate in a bag and moving away hadn’t occurred to her more than once.

By a quick count of tents and estimating that each could hold 2 or 3 men, she guessed that there were close to a hundred rebels on the grounds in front of the house…no way that they could hide them in case anyone came around snooping. Shit! She hoped that it wasn’t likely, but it wasn’t like that it hadn’t happened before…

She stopped the rebel leader and asked if it was possible that they could move their encampment to the back of the house or anywhere not so openly “out there.” She made a quick visual measurement to see whether they’d all fit in the back…

Aristotles did the same, taking quick glances between the tents and the house. “I guess you DO have a brain after all.” Ariana didn’t know whether to be insulted or complimented. “I’ll have my men move so we won’t be so obvious. Will that make you less nervous?” Having them find somewhere ELSE to stay would be a big help on that point, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.

He gestured to a young man, not much older than a boy really and told him to have all the gear moved more towards the back of the property so that it couldn’t be seen from the front.
“But I thought…” the kid started. Aristotles didn’t say or do anything to make him, but he stopped and went to carry out his leader’s order. She didn’t know if it was respect for Aristotles, fear, or something else that kept his soldiers in line and didn’t really want to find out the hard way.

They ended up where they started, on the portico at the front of the house. Ariana’s companion rested a hip on the railing and looked around once more, making sure that the kid was doing what he had been told. Helen and Pirata joined them a while later. The older woman had opened up a couple of other bedrooms for the two men to use. Ariana thought it was a bit presumptuous. She’d rather they not be that near NOR anywhere in the house at all. Having a man that they didn’t know and wasn’t family in the house, made Ariana’s skin crawl. It just didn’t seem right; like they were opening their home to them…just opening the doors and saying “Do what you want, we won’t say anything…”

It wasn’t like her mother to be like that, and that was something else that made her nervous. She had never even looked at a guy since her father had died…maybe it was about time…but Shit! Someone who against the government? How could she be that stupid?

The two women went back in the house to start getting supper prepared to be cooked. It would be stuffed eggplants, and peppers with a salad. Helen told Ariana to put out the good dishes and silverware…and they got into an argument when she set the table with the everyday stuff anyways…

“Do you want them to think that we’re rich or something? That would just give them incentive to steal! What are you thinking??!!!”

“Daughter, I am thinking that we are entertaining guests in our house and your father would be shocked to think that his child wouldn’t as respectful…”

Ariana threw up her hands. “What-EVER!!” and reset the table with the good stuff.

Once everything was cooked, Helen sent Ariana out to find Aristotles and Pirata. She would rather be hand feeding Argos and Kerberus…

They were in the parlour listening to the radio…She knocked on the door jamb. Another thing she was adding to the Shit List. Knocking on doors in her own house, broken video screen, aiding and abetting…Dammit! She called…once, then again, then yelled “Supper!!!” and returned to the dining room. They had all the windows open once again as it was hot, and there was no way that Ariana was going to close up the house so that THEY could feel more comfortable. To Hades with that!!! They weren’t invited guests. They were unwanted and she had no reason to make it any easier on them…

She knew she was acting like a spoiled child, but couldn’t help herself. She and her mother had been doing alright by themselves…they didn’t need guys to be underfoot, telling them better ways to do things and to just be annoying. But then the guys that she knew from growing up were like that. 98% of the time she wanted to smack her betrothed senseless because he either deferred to whatever she said or told her that he would do it differently.

There were others who envied the estate and wanted THAT more than her, some that were too young, too old, too fat, too thin, smelled like feet, lots of excuses…but at this point marriage wasn’t a top priority. Getting the soldiers to move on was…

She was running through various delicious ways of making them leave when she heard her name mentioned…
What in Hades name was her mother doing?! It was bad enough that she was making them welcome, but giving names out freely just went against it all! She had made SURE that she hadn’t introduced herself…

“Ariana, that’s a very pretty name…means “Very Holy”…doesn’t it?”

“My husband named her.” the other woman elucidated.

That was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Ariana lost her temper and turned on her mother. “Why don’t you tell them that I can speak 4 languages, write in two others, keep books, thresh grain, churn butter, plant crops, slaughter animals for food, and that though I have been kissed, I have never lain with a man!”

By the end, she was yelling at the top of her voice. Aristotles had the good sense to blush. Her mother had her face in her hands and Pirata was trying hard not to laugh. Once again her tongue had gotten her in trouble. Gods dammit! Would she never learn?!

There were soldiers with guns drawn standing in the open doorway wondering what the cause of the commotion was. Stupidity, basically was the cause…Ariana wanted to hide. The soldiers were mumbling between themselves and she saw coins change hands…Lovely, taking bets on whether their leader could bed the landowner’s daughter…just great…

“Take off!” Pirata yelled. “It’s no concern of yours what goes on in the house…”
“Or doesn’t…” a higher voice piped in.

“10 Lashes, Vulpes,” Aristotles, bellowed getting out of his chair…there were too many shocked faces as the soldiers slunk away…

What the Hades?! He was going to whip some kid because he opened his mouth at the wrong time? Would he stop there or was it possible that they could be whipped too? Pirata told the women to stay in the house. But Ariana being her stubborn self, felt drawn to the actions outside. She knew she shouldn’t care about the soldier’s internal strife, but if it would keep them out of their hair, she wanted to know.

“Ariana?!” Her mother pleaded. “Stay inside with me!” That wasn’t going to happen and she should’ve not wasted her breath.

She went out the front door, and around the house. And she found out WHY she should’ve stayed inside. The boy was shirtless and tied to a tree. Aristotles produced the whip…she had seen one before and wasn’t impressed. But there was some switch on the handle and the cords of the cat o’ nine tails started to glow with some sort of electrical charge…She was fascinated and repelled at the same time. She could only hope that it would NEVER be used on her mother or herself.

The number of soldiers had increased even more and they were spreading around the sides of the house. She had to get to the rebel leader and stop his punishment of the kid…so he opened his mouth at the wrong time. She did it every day at least once. As the first lash hit his back the boy named Vulpes screamed…
“Damn, Damn Damn!” Ariana thought. “This cannot be happening. I can’t allow this!” The kid fell silent as the progression of lashes continued. Somehow or another she got between the soldiers and was able to get to Pirata’s side. She put her hand on his arm. The rebels were all muttering nervously, because it seemed like he had never had to use a whip on any of them before and never for such a little thing…

The old one eye looked down at her, before he cast his glance back to the boy, who Ariana had finally figured out was his son…His knuckles were white and she knew that he was feeling it as much as Vulpes was. She was mentally counting 5-6-7...

“Stop this!!” she shrieked running forward without thinking right in front of the whip’s falling lashes…Ariana wound up taking the boy’s 8th lash.
She couldn’t imagine anything more painful than the scorpions line dancing on her back while wearing cleats. “Shit, shit Shit!” she remembered herself saying. Aristotles was saying worse, having dropped the whip as soon as it had hit her and was kneeling by her side. Pirata cut his son down with a knife from his boot, shoved his leader out of the way and picked up the hurt young woman. There was blood on her back, and he ran to the house anyway with her in his arms. Helen was already in Aristotles’ face about the whole thing…she didn’t know her mother had it in her. Pirata gave her some sort of injection that made her float into the black of unconsciousness.

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