Authors: Laura Gill
She knew what he wanted. She drew back the blanket just enough to reveal the tiny, red-faced infant swaddled in linen. Akamas mewled at the sudden intrusion.
“Look at him—he’s so tiny!” Taranos tumbled off the stool onto his knees and touched those small, grasping fingers one by one. Hard to believe that one day Akamas would grow as tall and strong as his father, with powerful hands to match. “And he’s so soft and red—oh, is he red!” Taranos choked back tears as well as laughter.
“Hmmph!” Iphame snorted from the doorway. “We’ll see how eager you are to touch him when it’s time to clean up baby cack.”
“I’ve never done it myself, either,” Ariadne admitted softly.
A commotion in the outer main room announced visitors. Iphame vanished to harangue the guests when they made too much noise; she alternated scolding with cooing as the well-wishers presented gifts. Ariadne exchanged a tender look with Taranos. “I had no idea the neighbors liked us.”
Iphame allowed one visitor into the room. Ariadne nearly bolted upright when she saw Argurios maneuver through the narrow doorway with a large wooden object. It was a cradle. “You need good one,” he enunciated in his thick accent. “Taranos makes good box, bad cradle.”
Taranos accepted the criticism in good humor. “I make perfectly good chests and doors.”
Argurios laughed when he heard the answer in translation. “Make son his first shield and spear.”
, thought Ariadne. “Akamas isn’t going to need any of that.”
“Out, out, all of you.” Iphame swept the men out the door with her cane. “You go rest, Taranos. Pakowa, put the offerings to Eleuthia over there. Yes, the little cakes are fine, and Kujara just brought...”
Once the door closed, Ariadne shut out the noise and drifted back to sleep. She roused again only when Akamas began to mewl. She nursed and burped him as Iphame demonstrated last night; it still felt awkward. Food and drink lay on the stool where she could reach it without moving too much.
Sera came in later to change the baby’s diaper and place him in the cradle. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, expertly joined and finished, yet simple enough not to be ostentatious. Ariadne wondered if, deep down, Taranos wasn’t a bit jealous.
In the late afternoon, Iphame surprised her with one more visitor. Kitanetos went straight to the cradle, lifted out his grandson, and carried him over with the practiced ease of a man who had held a great many children. “He’s beautiful,” he told Ariadne. “You look well, too.”
Ariadne fretted over her tangled hair and rumpled shift. “What are you doing here?”
Kitanetos laughed. “I came to see my new grandchild, of course! Your great-grandmother sent a messenger to Knossos the moment your labor pangs began. Your mother is conducting solstice rites in the Pillar Crypt, so she can’t be here, but she sent a gift. I have it here.”
Potinia, ever practical, sent a bundle of fine linen nappies. Kitanetos reached into his pocket for his gift, which he deposited in Ariadne’s hand. It was a small wooden bull, much worn and gnawed. “This was your favorite toy when you were a baby. I managed to keep it once you left the nursery. I think Akamas might like it.”
Ariadne let her father carry the baby into the main room. Appreciative coos and comments greeted the newborn, and Iphame was thoroughly enjoying her new role as a great-great-grandmother. Sometime later, as she changed her linen padding and combed her hair, Ariadne heard Kitanetos patiently coaching his son-in-law on how to hold a baby. “You cup your hand behind his head like this. Yes, just like that. No, no, don’t worry, Taranos. You aren’t going to drop him.”
Two days later, Ariadne felt well enough to move upstairs. Kuparo and Orestas carried her belongings up to the third floor and her loom up to the sitting room on the second, where she could now weave beside her great-grandmother during the short winter days. She lined Taranos’s box with sheepskins and a warm woolen cloth so she could watch Akamas while she worked.
Idomeneus sent a length of deep blue wool and an ivory rattle for the baby, an amphora of wine for Taranos, and a fine red shawl for her. With these gifts, he included a reminder to write to Kretheus in Tiryns: “‘He will want to see you again soon. After all these years, he quite gave up hope that you would ever settle down and start raising a family.’”
Taranos brooded over the message. “I will have to write to my father and tell him. Hearing the news from my uncle won’t do.”
The next day, he obtained a writing tablet and spent the afternoon worrying over what to say. Ariadne spied him on the back terrace where the light was best, chewing his stylus and swearing under his breath as he rubbed over parts he didn’t like. “I ought to tell him in person. Yes, I should tell him to expect us in late spring.”
Ariadne wanted to say something but backed down and let Taranos compose his message. Plowistos would reopen the sea lanes in five months, while Akamas was still nursing. She would have a baby still at the breast, so many things to do and learn around the house, and neighbors she didn’t yet know. Scarcely had she begun to settle into her new life than Taranos wanted to uproot her again. This would make three times in less than a year.
Of course, they would only be visiting, but how could she explain to a man who had spent half his life traveling how the prospect of a sea voyage filled her with dread? How could she say without offending him that she wasn’t excited about seeing his birthplace or meeting his family and bastard son? She knew no one at Tiryns and didn’t speak the language. And Kretheus’s sharply worded messages to her in the past warned her against expecting a warm welcome from him.
She had come to Archanes because she wanted a home. To hear Taranos describe it, Tiryns was a high-walled, cramped citadel. It wasn’t a home. Or rather, it wasn’t a home any Cretan could ever feel comfortable in.
By day, she cooked and mended old clothes, and wove cloth for new ones while trying to sort out her thoughts. She didn’t want to keep Taranos away from his family. Certainly she didn’t want Akamas to grow up not knowing his Achaean grandparents, even though she didn’t approve of the values they might try to instill in him. Taranos spoke fondly about helping the boy make his first shield and spear. Nonsense! Akamas wasn’t going to be a warrior.
At night, Ariadne lay awake beside her sleeping husband and tried to swallow her misgivings. A visit was one thing, but once in Tiryns, Taranos might decide they should stay. Would her word count for anything then, or would it be too late?
Sometimes Taranos came to bed amorous or wanting to be close. Now she should tell him, only she didn’t know how.
Tell him to wait
, she thought. But no, he would want to know why.
“You know,” he said, spooning against her, “I never get to see you nursing the baby.”
“Letting you see my breasts wouldn’t be good for you.”
Taranos nuzzled her neck. “You do smell milky.”
“And I taste that way, too. Believe me, you wouldn’t leave any for Akamas.”
“How many more weeks until you’re purified?”
“My discharge should last another week.” Whether she would desire sex after that, Ariadne didn’t know. Oftentimes she felt gloomy and irritable just after childbirth. Iphame and the midwife both assured her that the feeling would pass. After five pregnancies, she already knew that, but it helped to hear it. “Once spring comes,” said Kujara, “a woman can’t help but want a man again. But this time, girl, take the medicine. That old tale that you can’t conceive while nursing is nonsense.”
He stopped kissing her neck long enough to acknowledge her. “What is it?”
“About this spring, I thought—that is, I’d rather—”
“You don’t want to go to Tiryns, do you?”
Just what she was about to say. Hearing the words fall from his lips, half question, half resigned sigh, gave her no relief. She didn’t want to hurt him. “Not now.”
“Is that what’s been making you so troubled lately?”
Yes. No. “New mothers often feel sad or nervous. Giving birth is hard.”
His arm squeezed her middle. “It’s more than just the baby. Whenever I mention Tiryns, you aren’t excited. I know my father wasn’t terribly courteous to you in his messages. He’s a hard man, Ariadne, but he
be kind sometimes.”
I don’t want to meet him
. “I want to settle in and make a home. I don’t even know all the neighbors yet.”
“I know.” Warm lips grazed her earlobe. “That’s why we’re not going.”
Startled, Ariadne shifted around to face him. “But you want to go so much.”
Taranos answered with a lopsided smile. “My father hasn’t seen me in more than three years. He can wait a while longer. It’s my priestess-wife I have to keep happy. And besides, we ought to have a wedding feast. I should make you my wife in the proper way.”
Their lips met in the first real kiss they’d shared since that summer night in Knossos, a night she believed would be their last.
We shouldn’t be doing this
. She was still unclean. But, oh, it was so good to lie next to him in their own bed, with his arms around her and his mouth on hers. She might not be able to receive him, but there were other things she could still do for him.
A mewling whimper from the cradle broke the spell. “I think Akamas is hungry again.”
Taranos’s fingers found her shift lacings. “Can I watch?”
“I doubt very much that you can behave yourself.”
“Of course I can!”
Ariadne clambered out of bed. “Behaving yourself isn’t what you were doing just a few moments ago.”
“I had help.”
Lifting Akamas from his warm nest, she gently rocked him in her arms. “You know, you’re still an insufferable Achaean braggart.”
“You like me that way.”
She turned, and over the baby’s head, she flashed him a smile. “Yes, I do.”