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Through The Ages - chapter 1
By
Kari

Through The Ages - chapter 1

I'm known as Nikos...just Nikos since my last name is of no importance as you will come to realize.

Through The Ages

Book 1 Crete

Chapter 1. Nikos

I have decided to write the story of my long life. Someone like myself might come across it one day and know they are not alone. If not, I'm sure it will make an interesting read. I'm known as Nikos, just Nikos since my last name is of no importance as you will come to realize. I was born around 2000 BC in a very tiny village, so tiny that it didn't even have a name. But for your knowledge it was situated about a day's walk from the great port city of Malia located on the northeastern part of the island of Crete.Yes, I was born in the time of the great civilization of the Minoan Empire.

The people of our village were mostly peasant fisher folk, including my family. I was a middle child, Andros was my older brother by three years, then there was our baby sister Aglea. I knew from an early age I did not want to follow in my father's footsteps like Andros who had been helping out for years. After all he was a natural born fisherman just like our father. Whenever I was asked to help out, I found my father shaking his black curly head at me. I would scowl at the way Andros would snicker and vowed to one day make our father proud.

What I did find fascinating was pottery. I remembered at the age of 6, I would find some clay and mold it into different shapes of pots, plates, even animals effigies. Once I was satisfied with my efforts I would leave them in the hot sun to bake. My Mother would smile as I proudly handed her my latest creation. They never lasted very long since, as I was later to find out, they weren't baked at the proper temperatures. My hands gloried in the earthiness of the different kinds of clay I would experiment with. When not doing chores I could be found by the small stream near our house working on the different shapes and colors of my creations. So much that I began to dream of becoming the first potter in our family. Finally, at the age of 10, I approached my father with the plan of going to the big city of Malia to learn the craft of pottery.

This might sound strange now, but at that age boys were expected to know what they wanted to do with their lives. After a considerable amount of arguing, my father finally gave me his blessing. I was determined to make him proud. Finally, the day came for me to leave. With much crying my mother and sister went about the small kitchen putting some food together before carefully bundling it all in a small sack. It was not fancy just some flat bread, cheese and some figs, little did I realize I would later dream of my Mother's wonderful bread and how it smelled when freshly baked. A small leather water vessel completed my gear. It was hard for my family to watch me swing my pouch over my shoulder as I began to walk down the road. I stopped once to promise them I would return whenever I got a few days off. I have to admit I had tears in my eyes that I hid as I waved my goodbyes and carried on.

As I made my way along the road to Malia I saw many sights, some were beautiful such as the landscape and ocean, some frightening like the wild animals I saw in the far distance. As I walked along I spied a nice stout stick by the side of the road, thinking it would make a good walking stick to protect me as well as to help with the terrain. 

Not long before noontime, a short distance off the road I saw a small herd of goats tended by shepherd boys, I waved at them. They waved back and called for me to join them. I did just that and enjoyed a good lunch with the brothers, Maron and Maro. Just before I was about to take my leave, we heard some bleating from the goats. To our horror, we saw a pair of wolves stalking a young kid. We all ran like the wind shouting and waving our sticks. The wolves cowered before quickly slinking away and on to easier prey. It turned out I made some good friends that day. With many well wishes, I was soon back on the road to Malia.

It was late afternoon by the time I reached the outer limits of the port city of Malia. It was a huge city, I had never seen so many people coming and going before. I will admit this, I must have looked like a gawking country bumpkin. All I could do was stand at the side of the road and watch with my mouth hanging open wondering,

"Where were these people all going?"

It was totally confusing to a boy like myself. After some time I continued to walk on, I soon found myself approaching a group of men who looked like they were on their way home from a long day at work. Stopping in front of one I inquired,

“Please sir, where do I find the pottery makers area in this fine city of yours?”

He stopped talking and looked me up and down before asking a question of his own,

“Well, young man which pottery maker do you seek?"

That made me pause, I had assumed there was only one, being quick witted I replied,

“Why the best one sir.”

He chuckled before pointing towards the north,

“Keep to the north for one hour, you will come upon the best pottery maker in all of Malia. Just ask for Alexis.”

He turned to rejoin the other men as I gratefully thanked him and continued on my way.

With relief I finished the last leg of my journey, I dug out the last of the food my mother and sister had packed for me. The bread and cheese had been shared with the shepherd boys, so all I had left was a handful of figs. I ate the last one as I drew up to a large white building surrounded by the most amazing display of pottery you can imagine. With a sigh of relief I knew I had found the right place if the examples of all the different kinds of pots were any indication.

I wiped my hands clean and knocked on the door. As I waited for someone to come out, I glanced at the nearest earthenware jar just to the left of me. Running my hands over the designs I couldn't help but be fascinated. It was the biggest vessel I had ever seen, being just under 6 feet in height, this was one giant storage jar. I had heard from visitors passing by our little village that these jars were made for the Malia palace. I was very impressed.

Just then the door opened and a small man came out demanding, “What is it you want little man?”

I hastily took my hand away from the vessel turning towards him.

“Greetings, I am looking for a man known as Alexis, I understand he is the greatest teacher of pottery in all of Malia.”

He crossed his muscular arms on his chest eyeing me up and down before replying,

“I am Alexis, now tell me boy, why should I teach one such as you my fine craft?”

I stood up straighter lifting my chin up,

“Because Sir, I have a talent, or feeling for working with clay, its hard to explain but I know it in my bones that I have what it takes to become a great potter. I just need for you to give me a chance to show you what I can do.”

We both stood looking at each other for what to me felt like forever, then he suddenly laughed out loud, slapping me on the back,

“So you think you can be a great potter? Ha, I like your spirit boy, and therefore I believe I will give you the chance you are asking for. Now tell me your name and something about your people.”

I smiled and told him all about myself. As I talked, he hauled me inside showing me his work area. I couldn't help but be impressed at all the different types of vessels, pitos, cups, and rhytons to mention a few that surrounded us, all at various stages of completion. When I asked a question, he shook his head replying,

“Nikos there will be lots of time tomorrow for questions, now I believe my dinner is ready, will you join me?”

I gratefully accepted his invitation, since, as a growing boy, I was feeling quite empty by now. I followed him through to a room at the rear of the building. A simple but generous meal of bread, cheese, and a delicious smelling stew had been set on the table. Once we were seated, he called his wife Melitta for another plate and cup. She was a kind woman that smiled and was happy to oblige filling my plate before sitting down herself. 

I ate heartily, soon after we had all finished they noticed that I looked like I was worn out. So Alexis kindly took me by the arm and directed me to a small room just off the kitchen. This would turn out to be my room for the duration of my apprenticeship. I gratefully laid my head on the pallet located on the floor next to the north wall. It got the coolness from the sea there. I reached for my things pulling them to my chest. No sooner had my head hit the pillow than I fell into the deep dreamless sleep of the exhausted.

The next day I awakened early, too excited to sleep any longer. I waited until I heard noises in the kitchen, then I poked my head out the door. There was Alexis just sitting down to breakfast. Seeing me, he indicated that I join him. We a had breakfast of cooked grain topped with yogurt and berries. 

Soon afterward, I met Alexis's other three apprentices, all of whom had been there for different lengths of time. It turned out I was the youngest, so at first I was given all the mind numbing tasks. I came to understand that that was the usual way of things, so I accepted this and did as I was told. The apprenticeship from what I understood would take me 5 years in total with few days off here and there to visit family. 

In those five years I learned to make drinking cups, plates, jars, vases, rhytons, vessels, amphora, jugs, the giant pithoi and some religious figurines that were done in clay. But two of the most important things I was able to learn was how to make my own potter's wheel as well as a kiln. 

This knowledge would give me the advantage of being able to set up shop anywhere I desired, and as I was to later learn, I would certainly need it. I learned the various aspects of pottery, and as I had boldly told Alexis I had a particular talent for forming clay into all kinds of shapes. Particularly rhytons and figurines. They were to become my specialty.

I got along well with the other boys, but one boy in particular was to become a serious competitor. We would try to outdo each other in not only pottery but in sports or anything else we became interested in. His name was Helios. He was two years older and therefore way bigger then me, but we quickly ended up becoming great friends. 

Unlike me the boys' families all lived in the city. I was indeed lucky that Alexis had that extra room for me. It turned out that Alexis expected a lot from his students but was a fair master. His wife treated me well like a second mother. I was happy most of the time, other times in the beginning at least I was homesick.

I had a natural talent when it came to working with my hands. In those 5 years I was not only to learn the craft of pottery, but many other things as well, some good some not so good. Helios and I would get into trouble at times, oh it was never anything really terrible. He eventually took me to meet his family and friends. We became almost like brothers.

In those days, boys had a lot more freedom than girls, therefore we were able to go about the city with all impunity. Because we were able to go anywhere we wanted on our time off, we saw many things that I wouldn't have seen in the country. The result was you learn to grow up early in the city. As time went on Helios and I even competed for the same girls. Not that anything could come of it, girls were never ever without their chaperons, so all we could do was to try to catch their attention with our silly antics. If an especially beautiful girl smiled at us, we were happy and would argue who she favored. I did miss him when his time was up and he was ready to move on to start his own pottery business.

Helios even invited me to join him when I gradated, believe me I was tempted but in the end I knew that my path lead back to my tiny nameless town. I did visit him often, when I had some time off we would sit outside and watch the girls walk by. Each of us trying to outdo the other to get their attention. Oh, but those were good times indeed.

As for my family I was able to visit them only once a year, needing three days to do this. That was the way of apprenticeship, you worked very hard as well as you learned. Now looking back, those years were well spent, giving me a lifelong craft that would never leave me wanting for food or shelter, or so I thought at the time.

Time passed quickly and before I knew it my apprenticeship was complete, I was 15 years old, and a man. I had learned all I could from Alexis and I knew it was time. I packed up my few things and prepared to go back to my village. I would miss Malia and all the people I had come to know. Especially Melitta and Alexis who had taught me so much, but I was also excited to begin my new life. I had a reputation to build, to be the best craftsman in the Minoan Empire and make my father proud. This I had vowed to all the gods!

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