Authors: Laura Gill
an old woman.”
He grew thoughtful. “No, but sometimes you fret and mourn like one. Life already has too many cares to worry about tomorrow. A man who worries too much never does or sees anything. His life is over before it ever really begins.”
Fretting like an old woman, indeed! “And a woman?”
Taranos hugged her closer, planted a kiss on her brow. “She never knows what love is, except that it frightens her. A woman in Canaan once told me: Love is what makes women happy. It’s what makes them beautiful. When I think about it, I suppose that’s true.”
“Perhaps sending the Sacred King’s goods on to Tiryns wasn’t such a wise idea after all,” Aranare observed.
Ariadne gazed at the wooden tablet without taking it; she couldn’t read the Achaean script inscribed on the waxy surface. “You’ll have to tell me what it says.”
Squinting, Aranare held the tablet up to the smoky oil lamp and began to translate: “‘Kretheus, son of Orestas, prince of Tiryns, to Ariadne, Most Holy High Priestess of Demeter at Knossos. This gift of virgin olive oil and fine wool, with your message, is unwelcome. A royal son of Tiryns has no place taking part in a Cretan rite. As his father, I claim his immediate release. These gifts we will keep as compensation, while you may have the rest.’”
Ariadne sensed the scribe’s unremitting scrutiny. If only he would open the door to air out the musty cubicle, or give her space in which to think. But no, the man was always busy, his mind always on the next tablet, the next priest or priestess or assistant scribe waiting to step into his office. Finally, she said, “What he wants is impossible.”
“Should I send the tablet to Aktaios or Kitanetos to look at?”
As though her word alone wasn’t enough. “They’ll say the same thing. Taranos knows the terms of his kingship, he consented, and he isn’t some green youth subject to his father’s will. I will write back to Prince Kretheus myself.”
But when Aranare had a fresh tablet and stylus in hand, the precise language she meant to use eluded her. “Give the prince of Tiryns my greetings. I’ll leave the choice of words up to you. I have no talent for it. Tell him that I, the High Priestess, am carrying his son’s child, and that his son took part in ritual combat against the last Sacred King of his own free will. No one forced him. Only Poseidon can release him from his obligations.”
Aranare scratched marks into the wax, then, chewing the end of his stylus, sat back with a grim look. “Prince Kretheus won’t appreciate your tone, no matter how I word it. You ought to show his message to his son and have Taranos send his own reply. Otherwise, you can expect more complaints, and of a stronger kind. Kretheus may write personally to the Minos, or have his kinsman, the king of Mycenae, do it. From what I’ve heard, Alektryon isn’t a patient man.”
Ariadne spread her hands. “What do you expect me to do?”
“I will set this tablet aside and not send it. Bring Taranos here so he can read his father’s message. He will be able to tell us what to do next.”
Taranos responded with a tirade that drifted down into the North Hall and brought traffic to a standstill. “What did you think you were doing, woman, sending my goods to Tiryns without telling me?”
Ariadne shrank back in her chair; when he shouted, a mere cubicle couldn’t contain his anger. “You have no need for those—”
That’s for me to decide!
“Taranos,” Aranare said sharply, “watch your manners and don’t interrupt the High Priestess!”
Red-faced, his right hand bunched into a fist, Taranos turned on the scribe as though he meant to murder him. “My kinsmen
a pretext to invade. It wouldn’t take much for Alektryon or Idomeneus to raise a fleet.”
“It is absurd to think—”
“No, it isn’t!” Taranos wagged a finger in her face. “How do you think our kings keep their warriors happy and loyal? How do you think they hold onto their power? They
to go to war. They need to go to war
, and they’ve been eyeing Crete far longer than you know. You’re provoking them. From now on, you’d better let me deal with my family.”
Ariadne swallowed past a dry throat. Her ears were still ringing. Her face burned at the humiliation. In a tiny voice, she protested, “But I have always—”
“You always dealt with
families, who are obedient to and overawed by their High Priestess. You have absolutely no idea how to handle Achaeans. You’ve demonstrated that
.” Taranos turned to Aranare. “From now on, you deal with me.”
* * * *
“I understand a certain priest has become a nuisance.” Aktaios, with his long legs, slowed his stride to walk beside her as she traversed the long corridor leading to the western storerooms. Acolytes and servants passed them by.
Ariadne’s entire body went rigid. “I don’t recall mentioning it.”
Wherever he got his information, Aktaios wouldn’t tell her; he was a man who kept his secrets. “I have work for him in the port at Katsambas. You won’t be seeing him for a few months.”
Thanking him, she returned to her sitting room in the House of the Great Mother with her skeins of blue and turquoise wool.
Her purple hem, stretched taut across the loom, was finished but for the embroidery. Ariadne sat down, arranged her sewing tools on her lap, and began working. Elaphos’s absence should have been cause for celebration, yet as she began sketching in the design with white chalk she grew increasingly aware how despondent she felt.
Why couldn’t anything ever be perfect, just long enough to savor it? Ariadne broke off a length of sea blue, wetted it, and threaded it through her bronze needle.
As she punched the needle through the purple wool, she lanced her finger. Ariadne hissed and jerked her hand back. Sucking the blood from her index finger, she shook her head. It was no use. Why did she care what Taranos thought of her? So he hadn’t spoken two words to her in the last ten days. She’d only done what every High Priestess before her did. It was hardly
fault these Achaean men were so quarrelsome and touchy about their pride.
Finger still throbbing, she resumed her task. She hated it that this Sacred King invaded her thoughts so often, to the point that she couldn’t stand it that he was cross. Like a wife trying to placate her man. She wanted to ignore the matter, as she’d so often ignored his predecessors’ requests to see her, but she couldn’t.
Ariadne shoved her sewing tools aside, went to the door, and called down the light-well for Sopata, whose day it was to run errands.
The girl came dashing up the stairs in a breathless flutter of flounced skirts. “Yes, Mistress?”
Mindful how dull-witted the girl was, Ariadne worded her message carefully. “Find the Sacred King and tell him that I would like him to sit with me during the Bull Dance.”
Sopata, placid and dim as a cow, blinked at her. “But, Mistress, he’ll be sitting with you anyway.”
Ariadne honestly wondered which wet nurse had dropped the poor girl on her head as a babe. There could be no other explanation for her stupidity when her half-sisters were so bright. “Yes, I know that,” she said patiently, “but it’s important to be polite, especially since Taranos is an Achaean prince. So I want you to say exactly what I told you to say in the kindest, sweetest way you can.”
“Good girl. Now what did I tell you to say? Repeat it back to me exactly as you would say it to Taranos.”
This time, the girl didn’t disappoint her. Ariadne was downstairs when Sopata returned smiling. “Well, what did he say?”
A woman or older girl would have read her eagerness immediately and smiled knowingly. Sopata, lost in her own bewildering thoughts, didn’t notice. “He says yes, Mistress.”
That wasn’t enough. “Was he angry?”
Sopata blinked at the question as though it never occurred to her that he might be. “I don’t think so, Mistress. Well, maybe at first, when he folded his arms like this and asked what did you want now?” She pantomimed the Sacred King’s terse gestures and even managed a gruff parody of his voice. “But I was nice, like you said, and he smiled and said yes, he would sit with you.”
So he was still angry with her. Ariadne gave the girl a friendly smile, for Sopata had done the best she could, and left the house.
She found herself walking along the main processional corridor with its fresco of offering bearers. A broad flight of stairs led up to the second level and the apartments of the Sacred King.
She raised her hand to knock, then froze. Who was to say he was even here? At this time of day, he might be down in the Western Court exercising and showing off to the young men who gathered around him. Or he might have a girl with him. Sacred Kings could select partners from among the palace’s many slaves. Pemo reported that the girls this year sighed over Taranos. They clamored for his attention, and then, having gone to his bed, yearned to have him make love to them again. Even the two or three virgin girls he’d enjoyed had apparently walked away smiling.
Ariadne didn’t know what to think. Were all Achaeans this insatiable? Was that why the priests had chosen him above all the other candidates?
She took a breath, then rapped lightly at the door. Too lightly, she thought, but when she started to knock again the door abruptly opened and he stood there, filling the doorway with both hands on his hips. “Well, what is it now? Didn’t that girl of yours give you the message?”
Bad enough that she, the High Priestess of the Great Mother, had to come to his door, but now he expected her to grovel, too? Well, Ariadne wouldn’t stand for it. Drawing herself up stiffly, she answered, “Of course she told me.”
“Then what is it?”
“Am I interrupting something?” Expecting to find a lover within, she peered around him, but to no avail.
Taranos leaned against the doorjamb. “Yes, you are. I’ve just spent the morning exercising. I’m trying to rest. Is this important?”
Suddenly tongue-tied, Ariadne tried to find the right words. Why
she come? “I thought—oh, how much longer are you going to go on avoiding me?”
A thick eyebrow went up. “Who said I was avoiding you?”
“You’ve hardly spoken to me since yelling at me over that affair of your father’s message.”
“And you’ve come to apologize?”
He had to nerve to demand that
apologize? “I most certainly haven’t.”
“Then if you don’t mind.”
This wasn’t going well at all. Ariadne thrust out her hand just as he started to close the door. “Wait! I thought you might like—that is, if you’re still speaking to me—to go out. I’ll be visiting my great-grandmother in a few days. She lives in Archanes, not far from here. Perhaps you’d like to come with me?”
At least he didn’t slam the door on her fingers. “Archanes is outside Knossos. I thought I was confined here.”
“You’ve been out before, with an escort. We’ll travel by chariot, with two men to drive and supervise us. Even a High Priestess can’t travel alone.”
Taranos made a face. “I can drive my own chariot.”
Must he always be so difficult? Ariadne would let him argue with the escort when the time came. “You’ll like my great-grandmother. She manages her own farm. She’s seventy-nine now, but she can still shear her own sheep.”
Opening the door again, he stood aside. “Do you want to come in?”
She’d never been inside the Sacred King’s apartments. Taranos occupied two windowless rooms lit by oil lamps. In the smoky light, Ariadne saw simple, well-made furniture. A novice of Poseidon came twice daily to clean and air out the place; Ariadne certainly didn’t see Taranos making his own bed or washing his own vessels.
Taranos’s sitting room was as narrow as hers. A multi-colored curtain screened the sleeping chamber from casual view. Against one wall stood a table on which he had arranged his personal possessions. A boar tusk helmet sat beside a sheathed, silver-studded sword. A wooden figure-of-eight shield covered in cowhide stood almost as tall as she was. A bronze-tipped spear leaned against the wall. “Are these all yours?”
“Yes, they’re mine.” Pride filled out every word. “I made the helmet and shield myself.”
These signs of his warlike upbringing intimidated her. “And you’ve…used them?”