Authors: Cherry Gregory
Tags: #History, #(v5), #Greece
THE GIRL FROM ITHACA
Published by Grinning Bandit Books
Cherry Gregory 2013
‘The Girl From Ithaca’ is the copyright of Cherry Gregory, 2013.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, digital or mechanical, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Cover design: © BookCover.Me
Early praise for The Girl from Ithaca
Here is an historical novel to captivate and enthral. Readers will identify with Neomene’s adventures to the point where they forget these are Greek myths and the story is fiction.
– Rosalind Minett, author
I have nothing but praise for this vast, sweeping, yet enjoyably accessible interpretation of the Trojan legends. Ms Gregory has done her Homer-work well, and the result is a fascinating and finely woven tapestry worthy of Penelope herself.
– Frank Kusy, author
Rupee Millionaires, Kevin and I in India, Off the Beaten Track, Ginger the Gangster Cat and Ginger the Buddha Cat
To Russell Millward.
Dogs of War
Across the Sea
The island of Ithaca, 1200 BC
he ship sailed towards our island, closing in like a dark stain on the blue of the sea. I narrowed my eyes and focused on the sail. Slowly, the lion’s head emerged from the haze. My throat tightened. King Menelaus of Sparta was coming—coming for Odysseus and all the men of Ithaca.
I jumped from the ridge at the top of the cliff and ran through the coarse grass. Reaching the pine trees, I glanced about, hoping to catch sight of Lysander or any other swift-footed shepherd boy able to reach the palace before I could. But all was still. The gods had left it to me to warn my brother. Ahead of me, the sheep track looped down to the road, taking its time like the ghosts of animals whose feet once etched its path. Too slow, it was much too slow. I veered off the track and sprinted to the quicker, more direct route along the spine of rocks.
At first I made good progress, but gathering speed, my foot slipped on the loose scree, sending stones skittering down the slope. They rattled and bounced over the side of the ravine, the clatter of their descent echoing around the rocks. I clung to a boulder, steadying myself before daring to go on.
A shadow crept across the rock face. Looking up, I saw an eagle hovering above me, its large wings covering the sun. With one easy tilt of its wings, it swept round in a circle and drifted to the lowlands, as if mocking my earth-bound legs. It might have been the great god Zeus in disguise, observing the lives of mortals as he soared above us. I laughed at myself as I picked out a path down the outcrop. The king of all the gods had better things to do than watch a fourteen-year-old girl from Ithaca.
Reaching the road at last, I stared into the distance, following the track as it left the rocky terrain. It cut through the grasslands and up the hill, pointing to the town’s hiding place as it nestled out of sight. I took a deep breath and set off, keeping my pace steady like Odysseus had taught me, my legs seeming to move on their own. I raced downhill for a long stretch, seeing no one except young boys with goats and sheep, their pipe music drifting through the air like wisps of smoke.
Then, climbing uphill, I ran past a scattering of huts. A dog barked. Two girls peered out from an open doorway and a baby cried. Over the crest of the road, the town spread before me in a tapestry of grey, blue and red-brown thread. There was a clutter of men and women, carts and animals, all on their way to the market. I chased after them, closing in at every stride. I had to warn Odysseus. I clenched my fists and passed two ox carts, then dodged around the weaver’s son with his heavily loaded donkey.
Dust stung my eyes, but I ran on, the houses becoming a blur until I reached the outskirts of town. In front of the carpenters’ houses, I glimpsed a group of children squatting by the roadside. A dark-haired boy looked up and left the others to run with me, his naked body glistening in the sunlight.
The boy’s company lightened my legs and we picked up speed, forcing ourselves on through the stench from the tanners’ workshops. He took the lead and raced along a row of mud brick houses. I snatched a breath. The skilled tradesmen lived in these bigger homes; we were near the centre of town.
It was only a low murmur of voices at first, but as I followed the boy round a bend in the road, the noise of men and women, mules and donkeys, even pipe music and the rattle of metal and wood, all competed for attention in the chaos of the market ahead.
The boy stopped, his way suddenly blocked by a thick wedge of people. It looked as if half of Ithaca had been crushed into the confined space of the courtyard, herded together like sheep in the pen of a careless shepherd.
“What now, Lady Neomene? Is it the market or the palace?” he asked, pushing the shock of black hair from his eyes.
“The palace, but you go home now, I’ll manage this last part on my own,” I gasped. “And tell me your name.”
“Nessus, youngest son of Remus, the ship builder.” He gave a quick bow of his head and turned to jog back. After a few strides, he glanced over his shoulder. “Lady Neomene, one day I’ll be the fastest runner in Ithaca. Then I will help you again.”
I smiled and forced my way into the crowd. Traders were shouting about the taste of their fruit or the sharpness of their axe heads. People jostled and laughed and talked. A group of slaves recognised me and quickly let me pass, but then I found myself boxed in by a barrier of stalls. Dipping under the nearest, I crawled to the other side. The fair-haired daughter of one of the palace officials was staring down at me, open-mouthed.
“Neomene, Neomene, what are you doing? If your mother finds out, you’ll be locked up in your room till next spring!” She helped me up and her face brightened. “Come see the cloth from Pylos. There’s wonderful colours. Even red. Father’s lent me a slave to carry everything.”
“Not today, I must get home,” I cried, diving past my friend into a sea of frenzied bargaining and wild promises. Putting my head down and acting like a battering ram, I pushed on to the other side of the courtyard.
Once clear of the market, I paused for a moment and studied the steep incline to the palace. It wasn’t far now. I’d raced up the hill many times when I’d stayed in the town too long and feared my mother would discover me missing. I aimed for the potter’s hut half-way up the hill and counted each workshop and house as I ran.
The potter grinned when I touched the wheel. It was what all Ithacan children did when they needed good fortune; no doubt he’d done the same when he was a child. I wiped the sweat from my eyes and took another deep breath. The tops of my father’s trees beckoned me onwards, as if waving from the other side of the palace wall. I took off again, forcing my heavy legs to make one final effort. Skirting along the base of the wall, I ran to the gateway. A stocky guard jumped to attention and I hurried past, relieved now to see the palace entrance.
“What is it, girl? Have the Spartans come?” It was Euryclea, my old nurse, sitting under the trees with my ten-year-old sister.
I nodded and carried on, up the steps and through the large wooden doors into the hall. My feet clattered on the stone stairs two at a time. At the top I saw my brother walking quickly towards me.
“The ship!” I cried. “It’s Menelaus!”
Odysseus put his finger to his lips and then caught my arm, helping me into his wife’s private chamber.
“Quietly, in here with Penelope, no need to alarm everyone. Now, are you sure? Did you see the lion’s head?” He closed the door behind us.
“Yes, yes, I waited until I saw it. Just as you said.”
I leant forward, hands on my knees, struggling for breath and willing my legs to stop shaking. Penelope moved nearby, settling her son in his crib and then placing her arm around me. I looked into her face and noticed a momentary glimmer of fear, before she drew herself up and smiled.
“You must have run all the way. Odysseus, fetch your sister a drink. She needs water before she does anything else.”
Reassured by Penelope’s voice, I took the cup and listened to her instructions. “We’ve still got time to prepare ourselves carefully. I’ll help Odysseus first and then assist you.”
I gulped down the water and watched dark-haired Penelope extract two items from her clothes chest. She held a coarse woollen tunic against my brother, smiling as she did so.
“What do you think, husband?” she said.
Odysseus kissed her forehead. “Perfect, that’s perfect, exactly what I need.” He unclipped the gold brooch on his carefully woven tunic and Penelope helped him slip into the woollen one. He adjusted it on his shoulders and rotated his arms. His smile faded as he scratched his chest and then his back. “Are you sure it’s clean? It feels as if the previous owner’s left a few friends behind.”