.. | the walls of astyanax | chapter 6
They decided to stop off the road a bit to camp come late evening. The woman was tired and there was a need to conserve the beasts' strength for journeying in the heated daytime where they could be seen.
When Achatës had offered his hand to help Cenna down, the Athenian had scowled at him and slid down the other side of his horse, his knees buckling a bit as he leaned against Patroklos' solid side.
The Spartan had said nothing, but looked at Avicenna with confusion in his darkened gold eyes. Blinking it off, he moved to help the woman, Sybil, down from the chariot and then move with the slave to unharness the horses.
"Is it wise to untack?" Sybil asked. "Perhaps we'll have trouble in the night-"
"We're off the road enough. They need to rest."
Meanwhile he was trying to figure out what had suddenly cause Avicenna's anger towards him. It couldn't be because they were considering going to his home city... could it?
Then again, the two sister cities of Athens and Lacedaemon had a very long history of hatred of each other. The Athenians thought themselves the better men than the surrounding Greek cities. It was an insult that a war-state like Sparta did not put up with lightly.
Surely that wasn't the reason...? The Spartan had spent many years traveling and had come to actually like and respect the way of life outside his polis.
Backwards. The Athenians called their city-state 'backwards'.
Achatës raised his chin and stole another glance at the boy who was grudgingly accepting the slave's proximity as Pyrrhus sat in the grass next to him. Lacedaemon was his home no matter what. It was a hard life of battle and simplicity and lack of luxury. But how dare the Athenian see him as less than a civilized being.
Sybil snapped him out of his indignant thoughts. She sat next to him, leaning up against a broken old tree stump. Her arm found its way around him and she leaned her head on his shoulder, moving closer to his warmth.
Achatës looked once more at the Athenian and wondered why he had been put in that cell.
"Are you refusing to speak to me now?" Pyrrhus asked softly.
"I'm tired. I want to sleep while we have the time." Avicenna attempted to turn his face away from the pale slave. Moments ago he would have jumped at the chance to demand answers from Pyrrhus, but what Achatës had revealed had completely doused any wish for conversation.
"Did you know?" he suddenly whispered despite himself.
Pyrrhus looked at the two figures that sat a bit away from them. He lowered his head. "I knew. I thought you would have been able to figure it out."
"How was I supposed to do that?"
"You could have asked him sooner."
Avicenna growled and pulled his blanket closer around himself. "You consorted with a Lacedaemonian woman. And after what you told me of your family too."
Pyrrhus lowered his head. "She was searching for him, like I was searching for you. I can forgive, Cenna."
The Athenian turned his face away with a small noise. "I want to leave. I don't want to go with them."
"Where else would we go? We'll be safe with them until we know what to do." Pyrrhus inched closer, laying his head on Avicenna's shoulder and turning on his side to sleep. Avicenna had not realized how much he had missed the close company of another person, even if it had only been a few weeks weeks. He relaxed his shoulders as he sighed through his nose.
"What happened at home?" he whispered. There was no answer; the slave had closed his eyes and his head was heavy on Cenna's shoulder. Avicenna looked again at Achatës and the woman curled at his side.
The morning found them on the road again. Avicenna had accepted riding on with the Spartan but had taken the reins, silently declaring that he could direct his own horse. Achatës had shrugged and let them go, resisting the urge to place his hands on Cenna's hips; he rubbed the tops of his thighs instead.
Sybil was talking softly with the slave boy. Avicenna found himself staring at her, now that he could see her in the daylight. She looked much like the Spartan, only her hair was darker, and she herself was slight of build.
Several times she would look over and smile when she caught his stare. Achatës, deep in some thought and passing the time absently picking leaves off of passing branches, said nothing about it.
Seeing the Spartan so at ease made Avicenna relax more, despite his mental tenseness. This was obviously a road Achatës knew well even though the thick underbrush and weeds alongside the dirt path gave away that it wasn't a very traveled one. They passed perhaps three or four people down it all day.
"What of Helanike?" Achatës suddenly asked.
Sybil shook her head. "I could only find Semele." She smiled. "She cried when I told her, and said to tell you that she'll grow some roses for you when we get back."
Avicenna listened without showing his interest. Semele was some servant perhaps? Helanike his mother? No, the Spartan was much too old to still be under the influence of his mother, who Sybil had said was trying to gain his reprieve in council with her father. Someone else then. Not... a wife?
He looked back at the dark-haired woman. Then who was she? A mistress?
His father had had mistresses. They'd distracted Philip, like Lysander had. He hated it. Could he expect a son-less (he didn't know, but he assumed nonetheless) Spartan man to have some sense about that? At least Philip had been a man of respect and earning through his faults.
And yet, he knew very well that grown men were entitled to both their mistresses and catamites without question.
Avicenna squinted at their double shadow that was being cast by the midday sun. Achatës sat close behind him even though Patroklos' back was long enough to carry even three. He was thankful too that the Spartan had neglected to hold his waist as double riders often did. What would he have done then?
About mid-evening they reached a fork in the road. The Spartan slid down from behind Avicenna and walked into the middle of the path. He squinted into the fading light in the direction of one of the roads. He looked at Sybil.
"Should we head for Mycenae?" she asked.
Achatës nodded. "We're halfway to Eleusis already. If we kept on the road we'd reach it by tomorrow. You have friends there, Sybil?"
"What about home?"
The Spartan turned his gaze to Avicenna for a moment then turned back to Sybil. "We'll meet you at home. You and I should part here."
"Achatës-" She looked aghast.
"Go back to Athens and tell Helanike." He put a hand on her shoulder. "They're drawing attention to us the more they fight. Someone's bound to actually look in that cell and see that we're gone.” He touched her cheek.
“I've been thinking about it all day, and I wish I'd realized it earlier."
Sybil was shaking her head. "I don't want to leave you, what if something should happen?" she asked.
He touched her face again. "Then the better that you're not with us."
She looked back down the road they had just come. "But... Travel this road alone? With no escort?"
Pyrrhus stepped down from the chariot. "I'll go with you," he said. "I have some things in Athens that have to be taken care of." His eyes met Avicenna's as he said this.
Achatës nodded in approval, though Sybil still looked doubtful. Her eyes were tearing up.
"A lone woman traveling with a servant?" she protested. "We'll never make it-"
Achatës left her and went to rummaging through the packs hidden on the chariot floor. He pulled out some garments and handed them to Pyrrhus. "Wear these; you'll be her brother."
Pyrrhus looked at Avicenna again as he accepted the bundle of robes. He too, looked as if he were having his doubts. Avicenna steeled his face so that he showed no emotion, though his mind was spinning at the thought of being without Pyrrhus's familiarity. What was he to do when left alone with a Spartan man?
Sybil shook her head. "We'll do as you say," she said softly. "Turnus lives near the cane fields just south of the center of the polis. He will take you in if you tell him what happened."
"Who?" Avicenna asked, feeling as if he should have some right to know whose hands he was entrusting his safety to.
"My cousin," Sybil answered. She turned back to Achatës.
He was looking off in the direction of the coming night. "We can camp off the road here. We'll part in the morning."
Avicenna woke up in the middle of the night to find that the Spartan and his woman were gone from their little camp. His first fleeting thought was that they had been abandoned, but a quick glance showed him that all three horses still stood were they'd been hobbled and their packs of food were still bundled up in the unhitched chariot. The blankets where the two had been sleeping near the smoldering fire were wrinkled and vacant.
He sat up, rubbing his eyes. His strength had returned quickly with the rich foods the woman had bought, though he didn't know how many more days they could make it last. They would have to begin hunting soon.
Pyrrhus, disturbed by his movements, mumbled in his sleep and unconsciously threw an arm over Cenna's midsection, pressing his face against the Athenian's side and quieting again. Avicenna looked down at him for a moment, wondering if perhaps he should wake him. Tomorrow could very well be the last he would see of the slave boy for a long time.
Undecided, he sighed and listened to the sounds of the night for a long time. Then he returned his gaze down to the slave again to find Pyrrhus's large eyes open and watching him. They looked moist and dark in the dim light.
"She got rid of everyone," he whispered. "Your mother did. Got a whole new house full of slaves from the auction blocks. Even Diocles."
Avicenna closed his eyes. Diocles- his teacher. An old man like that had spent years becoming their beloved servant. And to now be thrown into a new house at such an age?
"Where were you that morning?" asked Avicenna, pushing the thoughts of sadness and regret aside to be brooded over later.
The slave idly rubbed his hand over his master's belly, pausing to run his index finger in a circle around Avicenna's navel. "I didn't mean to be gone long," he whispered. "I'm sorry I left you-"
"I'm glad you did," Avicenna said gruffly. "Or else they would have caught you with me that morning." He waited a moment, letting the slave continue to run little patterns over his belly. "Did you do it, Pyrrhus?"
The slave's hand paused. "No," he said.
Avicenna said nothing else and the rubbing resumed.
"Cenna..." Pyrrhus sat up next to him. "I have to go back tomorrow because I owe some people for helping me. They hid me for a while when you were in jail."
Avicenna blinked lazily at the fire. "When will you come and meet us?"
"Might not be for a while," Pyrrhus answered. "If we're not to be suspected with your escape; they'll know eventually if they haven't already found out. We should stall long enough to not be under suspicion for hiding you." He watched Avicenna for a long time after he'd finished speaking. Then, he reached out and touched the Athenian's face.
"I'll pray for your safety," he whispered, running his fingers back through Avicenna's hair. He leaned close and rested his cheek against his master's collarbone. Avicenna continued to stare into the fire.
Pyrrhus sighed at his lack of response. "Can't you even say goodbye to me?" he said, sounding a bit angry.
"Say goodbye?" Avicenna said softly. He looked down at his slave with somewhat softened eyes. "I will think of a way to say goodbye tomorrow."
The slave's own gray eyes held his defiantly for a long moment before he looked away. He stared at the fire in silence, as Avicenna waited patiently for whatever it was he was steeling himself to say.
"I think," he started, "that when I met you in the stables that day, I fell in love with you." He laughed to himself. "Even in the way you got angry at me for touching your father's horses..." He looked up. "But then you were kind to me. You asked my name. I don't know why I thought that way about you, I really don't, but..."
Avicenna's resolve was slipping and he found himself gazing at the slave with genuine interest and confusion. When Pyrrhus looked up, the slave smiled gently.
"Maybe it was that look," he said, reaching a hand up to brush a strand of hair behind Avicenna's ear. "You can be so far away but sometimes... there is still a child in you that comes out."
The Athenian lowered his eyes with a deep, silent exhalation of breath.
Pyrrhus leaned forward and down to look up into his lowered eyes. "What is it about you? Why do you hide yourself from me?"
"I'm tired," Avicenna said suddenly. This was going further than he had wanted or expected. The slave admitting his love was one thing, but questioning his resolve was another completely. No, he couldn't let it happen. To get so close meant to trust. He'd trusted his own father, but never anyone else, not completely even when he and Pyrrhus-
The sound of leaves crushing underfoot alerted them to the whereabouts of their traveling companions.
Sybil made her appearance first, brushing back her thick hair and only flicking her eyes to Pyrrhus and Cenna before she resumed her place in the empty blankets. Avicenna squinted in the light, but he couldn't see her face well enough to see if she was flushed or not.
Achatës was a bit behind her, naked to the waist. He didn't even spare a glance at their traveling companions before settling down next to his woman and taking a bite out of an apple he'd had hidden in his hand. His sun-darkened flesh gleamed in the light of the fire.
When Avicenna finally did catch his eye, the Spartan only offered a friendly smile his way and took another noisy bite.
"Well at least they don't do it in front of people like animals," Avicenna muttered as he rolled over to face the other way.
He'd spoken too softly for those across the fire to hear, but Pyrrhus shot him a look. The slave, however, neglected to make any comment about it as he lay down next to his master. Avicenna reached for him, still a bit shaken at Pyrrhus's earlier words and realizing that he would miss the slave when he returned to Athens tomorrow.
And when Pyrrhus and the woman were gone, he would be alone with that man.
The slave settled with his forehead pressed gently against Avicenna's throat, and the Athenian could just see over his head as Achatës finally tossed the apple core somewhere into the brush and bedded down to sleep.
It was a long time before Avicenna let his eyes close.
It wasn't a big ceremony when the woman and Pyrrhus took their leave to travel back the way they had come. Achatës was cursing the fact that he hadn't thought sooner of it, so they wouldn't have as far to travel. Sybil soothed his mind with a soft touch to the cheek, saying that none of them had been thinking about anything but getting as far away as possible.
Avicenna said little that morning. Aside from helping to gather some fruit from the orchard nearby, he contented himself with watching his traveling companions, particularly the Spartan and his woman.
She didn't cry again, but Avicenna could see in the way she quietly prepared the wild fruit into a bundle to protect it from the sun that she was upset. Her small hands trembled and she moved with quick, stilted movements. Perhaps she never had been able to be alone with the Spartan before this? And here was her chance and he was sending her away?
Achatës on the other hand, seemed not to notice her distress, though he continued to smile and encouraged her on. He took little interest in Avicenna that morning.
As Pyrrhus finished securing their bundle of supplies on the floor of the small chariot, the Spartan stood appraising the two blacks hitched to the tack lines.
Avicenna stood up from where he'd been sitting.
"Something wrong with them? They look sound to me."
The Spartan seemed surprised that Avicenna had even spoken to him, but he recovered quickly and gestured to the two beasts.
"One will be enough to draw this little thing, don't you think? I'd rather have two mounts between the both of us."
"The rigging is for two animals."
"Is it?" Achatës knelt down beside the first black and unhooked the worked metal guard. He was hunched over so that Avicenna couldn't see what he was doing, but soon the entire harness slid off one horse's back and to the ground.
"What did you do?" Pyrrhus questioned, grabbing hold of the free animal's bridle.
The Spartan stood up and pulled away the leather harness. "A chariot for one," he said. He folded the leather and metal thing as best he could and stowed it with the rest of the packs. "In case that other one snaps," he said.
Sybil had a strange smile on her face.
Pyrrhus stared as Achatës cut the rest away from the still-harnessed animal with a knife. "But how did you do that?"
"My father raced." Achatës answered, a bit too quickly.
Avicenna was unconvinced, but he said nothing. He was still quietly impressed by the whole thing, but was careful not to let it show in his face. He wondered if his father had known a trick like that.
Achatës dusted his hands off and looked up. "We should get moving before the heat hits," he said, signaling that it was time for them to part.
Sybil rushed into his arms. "I don't want to leave you," she whispered. "What if you get caught? How will I know?"
He took her worry calmly. "You sound like my own mother now," he said gently. "We will be fine. I know these roads well."
She threw a brief, pointed look at Avicenna. "But with no one to watch your back?"
"We will be fine," he repeated, gripping her upper arms gently through her peplos.
Avicenna crossed his arms and turned away from them, a bit angry at the woman's mistrust in him. Pyrrhus had tied their new second mount to a tree and was coming back towards him.
"Be careful," he said upon reaching Avicenna. "This could be the last time I see you," he added.
"I appreciate your faith in me," Avicenna replied softly. Truth be told he was thinking the very thing and wishing he could be as at ease with the prospect of traveling with strangers as that Spartan man was.
Pyrrhus raised a hand and touched Avicenna's chest lightly with his fingers and finally looked up. "Have you thought of a way to say goodbye?" he whispered.
Avicenna chanced a look over his shoulder at the other two. Achatës had embraced the woman to his chest, and she had buried her face against his arm. The Spartan looked over the top of her head at Avicenna.
He turned back to Pyrrhus. "I will pray for your safety," he said gently, echoing the slave's words from the night before. Then he raised the slave's chin and kissed his waiting mouth.
Pyrrhus returned the kiss, eager for the small display of affection. But then he stepped away with a small smile and a little blush.
"I'll see you at home," he said.
He helped Sybil into the chariot and took up the reins, offering one last look at Avicenna before clucking his tongue to the black gelding and starting away.
They watched the chariot in silence until it was just a dark speck on the dusty road. Then Achatës breathed a sigh and turned to his horse. Avicenna watched him as he secured a bundle over the black gelding's withers and then pulled himself up behind it.
"Are you coming?" he said with a slight smile. With the sun behind him, his hair appeared all gold, like his skin. Avicenna watched him for a moment before moving wordlessly to Patroklos and mounting up.
"Do you know where we're going?" he asked, falling in beside the Spartan.
Achatës squinted down the road. "Eleusis," he said. "By this evening I think, if we keep a good pace."
part 7 | back to part 5 | back to main