It was finally celebration week!
Our first day seemed to go so very slowly but eventually we found ourselves at the dinner table discussing what we should do that night. There was a pile of ideas being discussed, all at one time, but eventually, we settled on going as a group. I thought this would allow the people to recognize us by the black and gold colors of our outfits. The group saw that the idea was good, being proud of their clothes, especially the colors. As for the rest of the week, we agreed we would do as we pleased, either stay together or break up into smaller groups or in couples.
As soon as we finished eating, the boys went to clean up and change into their new clothes, as did the girls, giggling as girls seem to do. The boys were ready and waiting by the outer gates talking excitedly. Soon we were joined by the excited girls. After admiring ourselves, we hurried on our way, conscious of our limited time. From what we had heard, the center of town was where the various activities and goods for sale were to be found.
As we drew near, it was obvious that as a group we were attracting a lot of attention. We smiled, nodding our heads as we passed folks. As we got nearer, people started to stop us in order to ask us our names, touching us for luck and so on. It was obvious that they were happy to see us, we were both surprised and pleased at the same time.
When we eventually reached the market area, more and more people came over wanting to greet us, touch us, know more about us, including our family, even where we originally came from. We soon realized that tonight we probably wouldn't see much. Smiling, we relaxed and made the most of our popularity. We were young and it was heady stuff to be admired and sought after like that. There were even a few men that bought some delectable street food, offering it so we would be more inclined to talk about the bull vaulting. We gladly obliged, it was good to know that people were looking forward to seeing us perform with the bulls. All our hard work and sore muscles were worth it, seeing their eyes light up with interest.
Two hours passed very quickly and before we knew it, I announced that we needed to start the short walk back to the palace. There was, of course, some moans and groans, but we knew that we had to comply with the rules if we wanted to come back. We chattered like a flock of blackbirds as we made our way back to the palace. We discussed how the people felt about us and how we had to do our very best when performing. Not just to put on a good show for them but for the goddess. The next seven years, good or bad, would be up to us. That was a sobering thought.
As Kori and I walked back, we spoke of all these things as well as what we would do on the following evening. She, of course, wanted to see what kinds of items were for sale. Looking up at me she said,
"You know I have never been to a special celebration like this one, I'm sure there will be untold kinds of items to look at. I want to buy something as a memento of our time here. What are you interested in seeing?”
I smiled down at her thinking about her question,
“Well, first off I would like to sample some of the street food. I smelled some very enticing aromas coming from some of the stalls we passed.”
We both nodded in agreement to that thought. Soon we found ourselves at Kori's quarters. I kissed her good night and soon found myself slipping into my own bed. Surprisingly it didn't take me long to fall asleep.
We were up at our usual time and had a hearty breakfast before getting into our routine for the day. Whenever we had a minute to spare, we talked about our plans. Duris had a few words with us about keeping our concentration. But all in all, the practice session went well. At the end of it, we ran back to our quarters to get cleaned up. To save time we dressed up in our good clothes before happily going over to the eating hall. I had decided to eat light since I intended to sample as many of the foods as I could get into my mouth. After telling my plan to Kori, she laughed letting me know what she thought of that plan,
“Nikos, you better watch how much you eat, cause I won't carry you home if you're not capable of walking. And I wouldn't put my hopes on any of the guys either, they probably have the same idea in mind.”
I saw some of the guys were nodding agreement as they too ate lightly. The girls didn't seem to be too concerned since they were eating their usual amounts of food. They laughed at us as they ate, causing us to frown at them. In no time at all, we were finished, wiping our hands and mouths with our bread before having one last drink. Nina handed out the coins to each of us as we walked out of the building. Since we hadn't had time to spend the coins last night, I thought we should do well tonight. I still hoped to find something pretty for Kori, so I was glad to have the extra coins in my pouch.
As we walked to the market, I put my arm around Kori and whispered endearments in her ear. This always made her blush, making her whisper back,
“Nikos, you're so bad, stop it! What if the others hear you?”
What could I do but shrug and declare,
“Let them. I sure don't mind!”
Once there we quickly split up and went our separate ways. Kori and I, the youngest girl Helen, along with another couple, Aella and Alexis, headed towards the first colorful stalls. It turned out we would form this small group for the next few days. This was fine with me for the time being since Alexis and I got along well together. We boys needed to see if the food lived up to the tantalizing aromas coming from the many open braziers. The girls headed for a table laden with all kinds of jewelry, a bright red cloth for a shade over their heads.
Once we had armed ourselves with grilled meat on skewers, we walked the short distance to the red tented jewelry table. Chewing on the tender morsels, we watched the girls as they sifted through the assorted trays of earrings, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. Helen picked out a pretty bracelet, paid for it, and smiled happily. Aella and Kori told the owner they would think about it for now.
As we walked away, we offered the girls some of our food. Sharing was a good way to be able to taste way more kinds of food. For the next two hours, we guys followed the girls around, sampling more delicious finger foods from the many different food stalls, always sharing with the girls.
While perusing the foodstuffs, we saw all manner of things for sale. To mention only a fraction, there were spices, meats, fruits, vegetables, different kinds of cloths, foot-ware, birds, cookware, and even some pottery. I spent some time looking over the stalls with pottery. There was one man with a small potter's wheel ready to make custom clay pots. For a small coin, he would make what you wanted and would fire it later. You would pay the balance when you picked it up at his shop. It was a clever idea as a way to bring in more business.
In this fashion, the evening went quickly and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the palace. The timing was good as we couldn't put another bite into our mouths. Much to our annoyance, we boys found ourselves holding our stomachs and groaning. The girls had not overindulged as they had been too busy looking for items to buy. They couldn't help but laugh at us as we made our way homeward.
I kissed Kori good night before joining the groaning boys as they walked to their quarters.
One thing we did do before leaving the market place and that was to give thanks to the goddess with wine or honey offering. Small shrines had been set up throughout the market, so this was easy to accomplish as we left to go back to the palace each night.
So the next few days proceeded pretty much like the last two, with sampling, browsing, laughing, and discovering all the different things that existed in our world. I loved to watch the exotic animals that were to be seen, in and outside of cages. Some of these were from far away lands, especially the cats. I don't recall the names but there were some huge ones, fierce but beautifully colored animals. Some pitch black, some spotted, one gigantic one was striped. We wondered who would buy such creatures and what would they do with them.
The birds in cages were equally as beautiful making all kinds of noises, from lovely sounding songs to ear-splitting squawks. At one point I noticed that Kori had gone back to a particular table with sparkling jewelry but she shook her head while perusing the merchandise, mumbling something I didn't catch before joining the others. I hung back wanting to ask the owner which piece Kori had been interested in. It turned out to be a gold pendant on a leather cord. The pendant was the shape of a pair of honeybees sitting on a honeycomb, a truly lovely piece. When I saw the price, I knew why Kori had walked away. I vowed to save my coins and buy this for her.
Little did I know that these bees would have great significance for both her and me, it being a sacred insect associated with connecting the natural world to the underworld.
Our evenings were spent like this, only now I was not so free with my coins. Oh, don't get me wrong, I tasted the wonderful street food, just not quite as freely. I hoarded my coins and counted them each night. Smiling secretly, I knew I would be able to buy my Kori the beautiful bee pendant before we were to perform in the bull vaulting. I hoped she would wear it for luck.
Night of the Dance.
The night of the dance had come and I could see that Kori and the other girls were really looking forward to this night. There were plenty of stories circulating among the men in town, which I was very interested to know about. The one thing I was to learn right from the start was that it was taboo for any men to see the women or even be near them. This made me want to know more, much more. For one thing, I needed to know that Kori would not be in any danger. From what I had heard things could get mighty uncivilized, even primitive. It was a very old ritual, no one knew how far back in time it went. All I could learn was that the women went into the woods, danced to the goddess, had some wine, and came home at dawn. It may not be the best idea I have ever had but I decided to follow Kori and the other girls when they went off by themselves.
Our day went as usual, with exercise, practicing with the bulls, more exercise, then finally getting cleaned up for dinner. This night when we boys went to the eating hall, the girls were not dressed in their black and gold costumes. Instead, they wore animal skins and bare feet. I have to admit, they did look primitive.
They were quiet as they ate sparingly. When asked about the rituals, they shook their heads and told us it was forbidden to tell anything about it to any men. We couldn't change their minds, so we carried on with our meal and soon after as a group all the boys set out for the marketplace. There was still plenty to explore and amuse ourselves with.
Meanwhile, earlier when the girls had come in from the day's work, a priestess from the nearby temple was waiting at their sleeping quarters. Signaling them to have a seat, she proceeded to speak,
“My name is Melita and I am here to instruct you on the very important celebration that is to take place tonight. We will be honouring the goddess in the form of “The Lady of the Beasts, also known as The Huntress.” As you know, no males are allowed anywhere near, the goddess will be watching over us the entire night. I have brought you the robes you will be wearing. You will have a light meal. Afterward, we will go into the woods where the rituals will begin. You will be honoring our goddess, something that you will remember for the rest of your lives. OK, please wash and dress quickly, if you have any questions leave them for later for when we are walking through the forest. One more thing, this is a sacred night, you will behave with quiet dignity. Go now and prepare.”
She nodded her head as the girls followed her instructions. Soon they filed out making their way to the eating hall where they found the boys waiting for them. They were informed they would be on their own tonight. The meal was soon over leaving the girls to go with Melita. She led them into the forest, all the while answering any questions they put to her. After about one hour they came upon a clearing where other women stood in small groups talking quietly amongst themselves. More women arrived until finally there must have been at least sixty altogether.
Suddenly, all talking and sounds stopped, including birds and insects. Everyone turned their heads towards the small spring that was located at the far end of the clearing. A woman stood beside the spring, wearing a cap-like headdress, and the usual flouncy dress with an open bodice. One hand held a staff. A large lioness padded up to her side and glanced around before sitting down. It was a majestic sight. The cat stayed by her side most of the night, except for a short while just before the prayer was chanted. In the meantime, the women slowly made their way towards the sacred spring, ready to receive the words of the goddess.
Once all was still, the priestess put up her hands and recited the ancient prayer of the Mother Goddess.
Oh Atana Potnia
Mother of Old;
Holy Idaean Goddess of Crete,
Thou art the MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA.
To remember thee is
to remember the mother of all.
Thou art the mother and we art thy children.
Thou hast created the universe after thy will,
The elements serve thy command,
Thou art the Mistress of the animals,
at hilltops we worship thee;
at springs we worship thee;
at caves we worship thee;
Oh Atana Potnia
Mother of Old;
Sacred Idaean Goddess of Crete,
Thou art the MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA.
Thy sacred essence shall never be forgotten.
When she had finished the priestess smiled raising her arms above her head, calling out for all to hear,
“Let us now celebrate with the Mother Goddess, for our joy is her joy. I have had mead and wine brought for those who wish it. Let us now partake and dance, showing our love and joy to all who have joined this important event. Tonight we are one with the goddess and all of nature!”
Once she had finished speaking, we all felt the joy she spoke about seep into our bodies. We glanced at each other with warmth in our hearts. Some women had brought with them musical instruments which they now started to play. Others had brought food, mead, and wine. The mead and wine skins were passed around. Soon small groups of women started to hold their arms up to the sky and dance. All the girls, including Kori, felt the goddess enter their minds and bodies, causing them to stand up and join in the dancing. They would continue to drink, dance and eat throughout the night. Some became exhausted, curling up with each other and falling into a deep, restful sleep while others continued until dawn. Our girls were of the group that could dance for only half of the night, before finding some soft mossy bedding and curling up with each other and falling asleep.
As the sun rose, the sleeping women awoke and started the long trek home, calling out to the still dancing ladies to come with them. They walked or stumbled through the forest until they came to the outskirts of Knossos. There they found their men waiting to put their arms around them and take them home. Both the men and the women were happy to be together again. The men would take good care of their women, knowing they had done well in honoring the goddess.
Melita took us back to our quarters, making sure we cleaned up before getting into our beds, also telling us that we had permission to sleep until noon this day. Sighing, we happily snuggled into our beds and were soon fast asleep.
Much earlier in the evening, as stated, I had decided to follow Kori and the girls into the forest. So when the rest of the boys had gone off to the marketplace, I told Alexis I had other business and would meet up with him later. I waited quietly for the priestess and the girls to leave the palace, giving myself plenty of space, so they would have no idea someone followed. Once I saw them enter the clearing, I settled myself in a place where no one would come across me, but I could still see everything that was going on. I sighed to myself, thinking what a clever man I was.
Suddenly I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, followed by goosebumps on the rest of my body. There was a hot breath in the form of a huff that touched the back of my neck. I slowly turned my head, what I saw caused me to suck in my breath knowing that I was going to die now. The priestess's lioness stood over me, watching me with huge unblinking yellow eyes. I didn't dare move or breath as long minutes passed. Finally, she made another huff, turned her head and loped back to her mistress. You never saw a person move as fast as I did. I literally ran all the way back to town, wondering if at any moment the huge cat would jump on my back and end my life. I dared not look behind to see if it pursued me. Finally, I stumbled to the edge of town, falling in exhaustion. I lay there of a long while, just breathing and thanking the goddess that she spared my life.
Feeling like I could use a drink and some food, I shakily got up and slowly made my way over to the nearest brazier. As I was buying something to eat and drink, Alexis sauntered over to me asking,
“Did you get the business done that you intended?”
In answer, I replied as normal as I could,
“Oh yes, it's all taken care of, now tell me, Alexis, did you find anything interesting while I was gone?”
I ate my food and let him talk, deciding that I would never tell anyone about what had happened to me. Until now of course. I hope I don't bring down the wrath of the goddess by doing so.
It wasn't long before we were headed back to the palace. Even with my record breaking run through the forest, the two hours were up only minutes after I had finished my food and wine. Once we were back, I briefly wondered when Kori and the others would be back before literally falling into my bed and into a deep sleep. I dreamed of a big tawny cat chasing me through the forest, causing me to wake up sweating, only to look around in the darkness for big yellow eyes. There weren't any, of course, so I lay down again, falling asleep once more.
The last day before the finale of the bull vaulting was upon us and I was determined to buy Kori that bee pendant she had fallen in love with. I was still feeling the effects of the night before but got through the day without any mishaps. The girls didn't join us until after lunch, so we had to adapt some of our practices, pairing up with boys. When they joined us, I couldn't help but notice that none of them looked any worse for wear over last night's activities. It caused me to wonder what really went on in that forest clearing, but then stopped, it was not for men to ponder the ways of the goddess. It was healthier to keep our noses out of it as I had found out. The rest of the day carried on as usual. Once dinner was finished and we were prepared for our last evening out, I checked to make sure I had my pouch, adding what Nina gave us that one last time.
We happily talked on the way to the marketplace, once there I quietly slipped away when Kori and the others stopped to watch a monkey hopping about to some music. The owner of the stall smiled as I quickly came over reaching for that particular piece of jewelry. I nodded my head, emptying my pouch of coins, and as it turned out I had enough, with a few coppers left over for a snack later on. He wrapped the pendant in a soft green cloth and handed it to me. I carefully put it in my pouch, tying it back onto my leather belt, before I hurried back to the dancing monkey show. It seemed no one was the wiser. On our way back to our quarters I took the gift and put it in Kori's hand saying,
“Kori this is for you, you are the love of my life and I hope you will wear this small token of my feelings for you .”
She looked down at her hand in surprise, smiled, and undid the cloth. Her eyes got huge before becoming shiny with tears,
“Oh my, I never thought to have anything so beautiful! You, too, are the love of my life, Nikos. I want you to know I will always cherish it. Here, help me put it on now, please!”
She turned around as I fastened the leather cord settling it between her breasts. With tears of joy, she turned again and kissed me deeply, showing me just how she felt. Finally, she turned around and took my hand, putting a cloth wrapped object in my hand. I laughed as I looked in the folds of cloth. There was a bronze medallion with a small gold double ax in the center. I slipped it over my head before putting my arms around her, whispering in her ear as I held her,
“Thank you, my love, I will wear this for as long as I live.”
We held each other for a long time until we heard someone call out to us. Laughing, we soon joined the others, Kori showing the girls her gift.