Chapter 12

Sep. 21st, 2009 07:31 am
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[personal profile] aemilia
They spurred their horses on, running them as fast as they dared, the day growing steadily darker. He could smell the sharp and acrid scent of the smoke. The orange of the flame was visible on the horizon, and they pushed their horses to a flat out run. A wall of fire could move faster than a running horse when the wind was right, racing through the tinder-dry grasses and scrub brush. If they got cut off....

Loukas urged Rayna on.

Fate favored them, and the winds changed again, briefly halting the flames' progress. Loukas struggled to breath, his eyes watering. It was still afternoon, no later that the fifth horai, but they were left in a gray twilight. Loukas couldn't see the road before him, and it was only the sight of Iereus's horse before him that kept him on track.

Iereus slowed the horses. “We'll have to leave the road, and skirt the flames. It's longer, but we can't trust the wind and the horses can't keep this pace.”

They made a wide southern arc, still heading for the hills that Loukas could no longer see. Loukas nodded in the saddle, fingers clinging to the pommel, letting Rayna pick her own way over the rough terrain.

He didn't immediately realize where they were as they started the final ascent up to Iereus's estate, the familiar scenery now strange. Metrodora met them in the courtyard, slaves running to help Loukas down. He allowed himself to be led, more than half-asleep, water pressed into his hands, before the collapsing into bed.

---

Loukas slept late the next day, finally waking sore and still tired. Poppy was already up, sitting at his window and looking out.

“How is it?” Loukas asked.

Poppy shrugged. “If the winds hold, we'll be all right. If they don't ... who knows?” He grimaced. “I know you are not much given to piety, but now would be a good time to pray.”

Loukas dressed hurriedly and wolfed down some cheese and a bit of bread. Iereus was in deep discussion with Metrodora when Loukas found him. They turned as he entered.

“Sorry to interrupt, Husband. I just wondered what is to be done,” Loukas said.

Iereus sighed. “It's all right, I was going to send for you momentarily. Fire breaks are being built around the groves. With luck, the fire won't jump them.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Loukas said.

“Why don't you help Myrrine?” Metrodora suggested. “Her pregnancy has made her uneasy and she could use the company.”

Loukas looked to Iereus. “Is there anything useful I could do?”

“I could use another body on the lines -- I've got all the slaves out watching for flare-ups.”

---

Loukas helped to finish clearing the dead zone of empty dirt between the encroaching fire and the grove. The olive trees that had once seemed so permanent were now rendered vulnerable. A single spark caught on the wind and carried a mere dozen feet over the buffer could end them.

The hill the villa was built on leveled into the horse pasture before a sharp and rocky drop-off. Coming out of the northwest, the flames would be stopped by rock. The slaves stationed at the top of the plateau put out small fires started by drifting ash or ember. The real danger to the groves was the eastern face of the hill the flames would creep past. As long as the wind stayed out of the northwest, the breaks would hold.

Loukas scrambled up to the plateau; Rayna was too fractious to ride. Ash drifted down like the snow that fell high in the mountains. Loukas could see the orange glow as it grew closer, its light caught and reflected by the cloud of smoke that hung low in the sky. Even from that distance, he could feel the heat. Slaves drew water from the spring, cranking the water-screw as quickly as they could. Loukas carried them, refilling buckets so the slaves didn't need to leave their lookouts.

He tied a square of cloth over his face to keep from breathing the smoke as he made his rounds. Poppy had taken a position at the spring, cranking the screw. Loukas's arms shook with exhaustion from carrying the water, but Poppy labored on, showing no sign of weariness.

Sparks caught in the dray grass, and Loukas feared the worst as the grasses ignited, a bright and sudden red. He ran, awkward with the heavy buckets, spilling water over the sides. They were half-empty when he got there. A slave had already tossed a bucket onto it; Loukas helped him throw soaking cloths over it, smothering any remaining embers. They poked through the ash together.

“It's out, Master,” the slave said.

“Yes. This one,” Loukas replied, collecting his buckets once again.

---

There were four more flare-ups before dawn. By the last, Loukas had his part down, quick with a soaked blanket or bucket of dirt or water. Wrestling with a tenacious spark that returned just as he thought he'd killed it, he burned his hand. He yelped and snatched his hand back, but the flame was out.

The fire passed just after dawn, pushed on by a strong western wind. They left a few slaves watch, just case, and Loukas helped Poppy down, the eunuch protesting he was fine even as he stumbled and nearly fell. They reached the bend in the path and Loukas could finally see out over the groves, tentative sunlight breaking through the haze.

The breaks had held. The trees stretched out to the start demarcation of the breaks, but beyond them there was nothing but black ash and smoke.

Iereus met them as they reached the house. Ash coated his tunic and his hair was gray with it. He clasped Loukas's neck and pulled him into a quick embrace. “Are you well?
“Yes. But I burned my hand.” Loukas winced as Iereus examined it.

“It doesn't look bad, though I'll wager it's painful enough. Thank you.”

“For getting burned?”

“For risking it.” Loukas ducked his head to hide his smile and Iereus went on, “And the pastures?”

“They remain more or less intact,” Loukas said. “And the wind continued from out of the west, thank the Mother.”

“Hardly,” Iereus sighed. “Those flames are heading straight for Edessa's grain supply.”

---

Loukas knocked on Nika's door, taking a breath to steel himself against the afternoon's activity. She opened the door abruptly. Her hair hung loose and she pushed it back out of her face, one hand on the door frame.

“Loukas?” She seemed surprised to see him.

“You wanted help stringing your loom?” he prompted.

“Ah. Yes.” She pushed the door all the way open and waved him in. “I forgot. I'm sorry.” Loukas looked to Poppy in amazement. Poppy shrugged.

“It'll be good for you to learn. Keep you busy this winter. Have you ever warped a loom before?”

“No, but I've seen it done.”

The loom was imposing, walnut polished to a high shine, its pegs in a row like teeth.

“Watching and doing are two very different things,” she said, patting the great loom. She showed him how to use the threading needle to separate single threads from the skein and wind it around the teeth. It took a couple of tries for him to get the knack, but in the end she declared him proficient.

Loukas found he didn't mind the repetitive work; it kept his hands busy, but his mind was free to wander. He jumped when someone knocked on the door. Nika sorted yarn and she flinched as well, dropping a skein to the floor. She ignored it, hurrying to the door.

Myrrine entered, carrying a small package wrapped in linen. “Here it is, Nika. Careful not to drink more than three cups a day. I included some chamomile -- have you been having nausea? And mugwort if there's too much bleeding.” She noticed Loukas and came up short, glancing from his to Nika in uncertainty. “Oh. Hello.”

“Myrrine is just dropping off some tea. I'm afraid my digestion is a little weak,” Nika explained.

“Stringing the loom, eh?” Myrrine, voice pitched slightly higher than normal. “That's a tedious job.”

“I don't mind,” Loukas replied, twisting a loose thread in his fingers.

“I heed to go; I promised Metrodora I'd help her this afternoon. Um, good luck with the loom -- better you than me.” She turned and fled, the door shutting behind her with a bang.

Loukas turned back to the loom. Over, under, through. Over, under, through. His hands could do it without direction from him, each taunt threat lined up next to the others.

Nika put a pot of water on a brazier. She measured out a generous measure of loose tea into the water and then opened a small chest and locked the rest of the tea away. She sat, watching him, though her eyes were distant and unfocussed, her strong fingers curled around the stoneware mug.

“It's not for indigestion is it,” Loukas said.

“No,” she agreed and took a sip. The tea must have been bitter, because she made a face.

“Does Iereus know?” Over, under, through went the warp threads.

“No.”

“Is he the father?”

She brought the mug to her lips, owing several long swallows. “Does it matter?”

“He has a right to claim it.”

She laughed darkly. “Easier for him to claim it than for me to bear it. And easier for you to tell me I should.”

Loukas kept his gaze on the loom.

“I've already born him three children. Bion is my eldest. In a few years I'll have to watch him be married off or dedicated to whatever church is convenient.” She took another quick sip of the astringent-smelling tea. “Are you going to tell him?”

Loukas twisted another thread into place. “No.”

---

The next evening, Nika didn't make it to dinner, her eunuch explaining that she wasn't feeling well. Myrrine sat very still, the lamplight catching in her gold bracelets as she brought a small bite of pheasant to her mouth. Loukas held his breath.

“Does she need a physician?” Iereus asked, setting his wine glass down. “She is no often ill.”

“Only rest, Archon,” Star replied.

“Let me know if she worsens, then.”

Myrrine met Loukas's gaze for a long moment and then they both looked away.

Loukas caught up to her after dinner, waiting for her with his arms crossed. She hesitated when she saw him, her jaw tightening. She said nothing, pushing past him to enter her room. Loukas followed through the open door, Poppy on his heels. She took a seat at her vanity and began coming her hair furiously.

“Can I help you?” she said after a moment.

“Where do you get your supplies?” he asked idly, picking at loose thread on the one of the wall hangings.

“It grows naturally around here. Stop doing that; you're unraveling it and it's an heirloom.”

“Sorry.” He left the thread alone. “It's not the first time you've done that, is it?”

She pulled the comb through a tangle with a vicious tug. “I don't see what business it is of yours.”

“I thought it was my responsibility to help remind my siblings of their duties to our husband.” He met her narrowed gaze. “You're always reminding me. But despite all your lectures on the subject, you go behind the back of the husband you claim to serve. Why'd you decide to keep this one?”

Myrrine froze. “You don't know anything about it, Loukas Kommene. I have never,” she drew a struggling breath, her cheeks flushed and her eyes glistening, “never sought to take from Iereus what was his.” She pressed the back of her hand to her nose. “Don't you dare accuse me of it. I help Nika, yes, but if I did not she'd find other means. And until you've carried as many children for Iereus as she has, I suggest you keep your judgments to yourself.” She slammed the comb down onto the vanity. “Now please leave.”

Loukas slunk out, carefully avoiding Poppy's eyes.

---

Three weeks later, they were packing to return for the winter. Myrrine helped him sort through the clothes he needed to pack -- a process which involved her going through his wardrobe and pronouncing the majority of it unsuitable while he picked pips from a pomegranate. The swell of her stomach showed through the loose fabric of her tunic.

“What about all the things Nika got me?” he asked and she tsked yet again, tossing a tunic he rather liked into the unsuitable pile.

“That was all fine for summer, Loukas. But the standards are so much loser then; the heat makes people careless. The Festival of Ardalia is just fifteen days hence, and you have nothing to wear. To show up in this,” she shook a pale green tunic that had once been dark green, “would be an abomination.”

“I'm glad we're having a sense of proportion about this,” he observed, licking pomegranate juice from his thumb.

“Has this even been washed?” she demanded of Poppy. “It smells like horse sweat.”

“I'm afraid that's permanent,” Poppy said.

“It's disgusting.” Myrrine condemned the tunic to the discards.

“But comfortable. What does it really matter, Myrrine? I'm the fourth wife of a minor House. No one will be looking at me.”

“Loukas,” Myrrine frowned. “Don't talk like that. And don't touch the bedclothes, you'll stain them.” She set a couple of linen under-tunics in the pile to take. “Aren't you glad to be going back? You'll get to see your family.”

“I'm actually hoping to avoid them. Bad enough that they married me off, I'd rather they didn't get a chance to gloat over my misfortune.”

“Misfortune?” Myrrine repeated.

“To be stuck out here in a lesser match,” Loukas said without thinking.

Myrrine's face colored, “I didn't realize you felt so debased by our association.”

“I didn't mean it like that, just -- I was born into Kommene, a House older even than Amira, a founding family,” Loukas tried to explain, but Myrrine didn't give him a chance to finish.

“Well, if you feel like that, I won't pain you with my lowly presence any longer.” She turned and stalked out, her eunuch on her heels.

Poppy collected the clothing she'd discarded. “You probably deserved that.”

Loukas scowled. “Oh, shut up.”


Go to chapter 13.
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(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-22 06:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wow, this is an amazing story, and I can't wait until you update. I absolutely love your characters, and I think you're very good at writing. You ever think about trying to get published? :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-25 02:30 am (UTC)
lorax: A Stack of Books (Default)
From: [personal profile] lorax
I followed a rec off of a comm on LJ and read all that you have offered up in one sitting this morning. The world building in this story is fabulous and evocative. I like that the characters aren't always particularly likable, but that as the story goes on, you start to see the initial impressions of them break down. They're flawed and complex and the story draws you more and more into the world you've built.

I'll be following the rest of the story as it posts! I'm loving it! And the extras that give added scenes and world details are fascinating!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-25 03:16 am (UTC)
lorax: A Stack of Books (Default)
From: [personal profile] lorax
lol. It's the little details that give this a lot of life and depth though, so knowing the breakfast foods is great. I kept catching myself wondering about pronunciation, and how the family and title systems work, and was pleased as punch when I saw some of it explained in the extras. I like how Loukas was introduced as our hero, and he is, but once he was set up as the hero/protagonist with the prank against his asshat brother, we start to get to know Lou and realize that he's not exactly perfect. I love that he's very permissive and callous toward the slaves and such - he's very much a product of his upbringing, it seems, and he gives us a great window into the prevailing attitudes without becoming hugely unlikable - just complex and a product of his society. We see hints that it isn't a case of good brother/bad brother, and the little extra while we see his brother - whose name I would totally have to look up to spell - was pretty much boxed into his role too, and isn't a villain so much as just trying to find a way to avoid the same fate that Loukas is so horrified by. It's nicely done. I'm hoping we see a little more of the family dynamics in future chapters.

I also have some sort of irrational love for Nika. I don't even know. She's just kind of awesome.

And no pressure! :) I'm just enjoying it, and wanted to let you know that. And I think anyone who writes craves a bit of feedback. I get happy whenever I get comments, so it's totally understandable. I try to remember to comment to things I'm reading, but I tend to forget for every chapter of WiP's, 'cause most of the time I read on my phone. And am lazy.

So yes, I'll stop babbling now. But it's a lovely job and a fascinating world.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-06 11:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I 'm practicing some work at home
I can not wait to be an expert
 
 
 
 
<>url = http://tommaso.byethost18.com/no-seas-tonto-y-di-lo-que-piensas/ ] enter <>/ url ]

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