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Through The Ages - chapter 5
By
Kari

Through The Ages - chapter 5

Just before we were to enter Knossos, Kori and I had the incredible luck to have an opportunity to e

The Journey

As we watched the last house disappear, Kori started to cry. We were both in shock at the swiftness of events that lead us to this position. I shook my head as I bent down and whispered, “Don't worry Kori, I will keep you safe, no matter what happens, I will always be there for you.”

This did help her to calm down a little. For the next few hours, we sat on a bench that was attached to each side of the cart and watched the countryside go by. We glimpsed the odd herd of goats with their shepherds and dogs. While occasionally whispering words of comfort to Kori, I tried to remember some of the stories I had heard about the great religious ceremonies surrounding the Cult of the Bull.

We all grew up hearing about the lucky boys and girls that were trained to leap over the massive animals. I remembered how they were all honored and loved by the people, including King Minos and his royal court. Those were the stories we loved to be told when put to bed. But I also remembered other stories now as we traveled along the dusty roads. The dark stories, the ones about how some of the youths got injured even killed. Or the other ones where the children never came home. I wondered if we would ever see our families again. I decided to keep these thoughts to myself.

I glanced down at the sleepy girl in my arms and knew being the oldest it would be up to me to find a way to escape. The sun was beginning to set when our driver got the signal to stop and set up camp. I thought it would be nice to have a roof over our heads, but then I realized that staying in a village would only alert the people to hide their youths. These men sure knew what they were doing.

Our driver, whose name was Gelo unhitched the horse, fed it and then proceeded to start a fire and prepare some food. As I watched him, I wondered if we could get his help to escape at some point. It wouldn't do any harm to become friends with him. Once the fire was burning, he got an iron pot out of the large storage box at the front of the cart and filled it with water. When it was boiling, he added some beans, grain and dried meat to it. Soon enough, we were given a bowl of this concoction along with some spoons and told to eat up, there wouldn't be any more food until the next day.

After we had finished eating, Gelo asked if either of us needed to relieve ourselves. We did, so he stood guard as each of us did our business afterward we were walked back to camp where the others were getting ready to bed down for the night. He ordered us to get back into the cart before jumping up just behind us. Handing us each a blanket we were instructed to get ourselves comfortable. I watched him reach back into the box. To my dismay, I heard the rattle of chains as he lifted out two sets of light ankle chains. Trying to sound calm I told him, “There is no need to chain us, we promise not to run away.”

He shook his head before replying, “Sorry, I have my orders. These are light chains I am using, just try and get some sleep.”

To his credit, he did wrap some rags around our ankles before attaching the metal clamp. The end of the chain was then attached to a ring embedded on a heavy sideboard of the cart. Kori started to cry once more, all I could do was to put my arms around her and hold her until she quieted down and finally fell into an exhausted sleep. I sighed and realized, unfortunately, there would be no opportunity to run that night. I tucked the blanket around the both of us and I too soon fell into a troubled sleep.

The next morning the sun came up in its usual way, but Kori and I didn't appreciate it like we had all our lives. Our caretaker unchained Kori and told her to go relieve herself and come right back. As soon as she climbed back into the cart, he did the same for me. I could see they were not going to make it easy for us to escape. One thing I will say, Gelo wasn't a cruel man he just had a job to do and he did it efficiently. He didn't put the chains back on our ankles, so it would seem we were to be locked up only at night. As soon as we were settled on our bench again, he went to the pot and ladled us each a small portion of the leftovers from last night, mumbling, “Better eat up, I don't know when we will be stopping again.”

The other men looked after themselves as well as the man in charge. I had learned from snatches of conversations overheard the day before, the man was indeed one of the high priests from Knossos. He and only he could choose the youths that were needed for the celebrations. While pretending to be overwhelmed by all that had happened, I hoped to overhear more information that might be of some use in making an escape.

Aside from the high priest, the others were men from King Minos' army. The youths they were collecting had to be under 17 years old, and pure. The pure part I still didn't understand, but intended to learn all I could. Seven boys and seven girls were the number for the celebrations, but they were gathering more like twenty in total. The reason for that being some would be weeded out in the training.

When breakfast was finished, Gelo packed up the supplies and we started off again. A few hours later we came upon a small village at the bottom of a large hill. The houses hugged the hillside since it ended in the sea. Small boats were tied to docks on shore. While Kori and I sat in the cart, the people gathered around the priest and his men. We watched a repeat of what had happened in our village the previous day. I wanted to shout and warn them, but Gelo hissed, “You two have a choice, either keep quiet, or I'll be forced to tied you up and toss a blanket over you.”

He looked intensely at each of us adding, “Shame on you both, don't you two know what a tribute it is to be chosen for this highly important event? It only happens once every seven years. If the gods are pleased, we will be blessed with another seven years of good harvests and trade.”

We kept our mouths shut, but as soon as he turned his back on us, Kori stuck her tongue out at him and sneered. I smiled at her feisty attitude thinking, (where we're headed, we both are going to need it.) Soon enough two boys and one girl were singled out from the crowd of people. The soldiers quickly brought them to our waiting cart and handed them up to Gelo. Again it was all done quickly, as the high priest explained what an honour their youths were being handed and therefore, the entire family was as well.

Before we knew it, we were on the move again leaving the small town behind as our cart moved around the hill. Kori and I looked the newcomers over, as we continued down the dusty road. The girl looked to be about twelve years old, and very frightened. Kori assured her that things were going to be alright. Gazing at the boys, I estimated their ages to be around 13 and 14. Since they looked alike, I assumed they were kin. They talked with each other about this great honour the high priest had been telling the townsfolk and whether it was true or not.

I decided not to inform them otherwise. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of hysterical kids, we needed to give the impression of being a group of passive frightened children. Since Kori and I were the oldest, they looked to us for assurance and security. Glancing at Gelo to make sure he wasn't listening, I moved closer to the newcomers whispering, “Look for now, we must keep calm and do as we are told. But I want you to gather as much information as you can while making sure they don't suspect us of anything beyond being fearful little children. Do you think you can do this?”

The two boys and girl nodded their heads. After this talk, we all quietly settled down, watching the passing scenery with the occasional whimper from the girl. In time, the sun moved overhead signaling to the men it was noontime. Gelo stopped the horse turned around and dug into his sack of food, handing out bread and cheese and water bags to us. Jumping down, he let the horse drink from a nearby stream before putting a feed bag on his head. He would eat his food later when we were back on the road.

The men and priest as usual kept to themselves. Once we were done eating, we were given another break for anyone needing to relieve themselves of course with Gelo a short distance away. Soon after that, we were loaded up and on the move again. Late in the afternoon, we came upon another small sleepy village. The same procedure unfolded, this time we collected two young girls that looked no older than 11. I thought the selection must be pretty sparse to take such young girls. We were now a group of seven. Kori and I introduced ourselves, in return they told us their names. In this way, we quietly got to know one another.

We made camp as soon as we were far enough away from the village that no one could easily come across us. Gelo got the girls to give him a hand preparing the food while the brothers and I went to forage for wood. All the while watched carefully by the soldiers. None of us were ever left on our own for any reason. Once the food was dished out, the high priest came over and gave us a little speech about what a distinction it was to have been chosen for the greatest of all celebrations. It was after all not a thing that many youths experienced. We said nothing just watched him in awe and fear, his outward appearance did instill fear, what with that elaborate headdress and black outlined eyes. He was a large imposing figure, especially to young people like ourselves.

So this is how things went for the next week until we had gathered ten maidens and ten youths. As new youths were added to our number, we got to know each and every one of them. We became like family, replacing the ones we had lost. Since I was the oldest, (my sixteenth birthday was but a few months away), everyone looked to me for leadership. But there was another boy Alex that I often consulted with. We weren't their parents and wanted them all to be able to have a say. It was in this manner that we all became a close-knit group. Our motto was to become “We watch each others back.”

Every night, make no mistake we were chained at the ankles so no one had a chance to run. When the priest was satisfied with this years collection of youths he and his men turned towards the greatest religious center of the known world. That center was the city of Knossos. I had heard many tales of it's beauty and power, it looked like we all were going to find out just how powerful a city it was first hand.

As we drew nearer, we came across larger and larger towns. I did wonder why we never stopped to collect youths from any of them. Only the gods would know that answer, or maybe the people knew all about what these men did and took the opportunity to hide their children when they knew it was the year of the Leaping of the Bulls. Who knows? 

Just before we were to enter Knossos, Kori and I had the incredible luck to have an opportunity to escape. An argument broke out between two of the older boys, and as the soldiers and Gelo went to sort it out. I realized we had a chance to run. Without thinking, I grabbed Kori's hand dragging her to nearest bushes. I threw myself to the ground pulling her down with me. We waited to hear any shouts of pursuit, there were none. After a few minutes, I looked around to see if the coast was clear enough for us to run further into the brush.

I took a deep breath readying myself for the next sprint when Kori yanked me back. I looked down at her to see what was wrong, she pulled me closer before whispering, “Nikos...we can't leave them all behind while we save ourselves. We are their family now. If we run, watching each others backs would mean nothing. They would all be lost. Please, we must go back before we are missed.”

I let out the breath I had been holding while she spoke. I knew she was right. Sighing I nodded my head in agreement. Either we would all get out of this or none of us would. I glanced around again and pulled Kori to her feet and we raced back to the place we had been before the commotion had broken out. Luck was on our side, we hadn't been missed. We smiled as we looked at each other, knowing no matter what our fate was to be, we had done the right thing in coming back.

Minutes later, the priest's men herded everyone to the cart, Gelo came over indicating that we had to join the rest. By the time he got the chains on all twenty of us, the sun was setting. We settled down taking the blankets that Gelo handed out. Because there was so many of us now, one blanket was now shared between two. I tucked our blanket around Kori kissing her before settling down to sleep.

The next morning, our routine of breakfast, pack up and travel was to be changed. Yes we did have our breakfast of flatbread and cheese with some grapes that had been purchased from a local farmer. But instead of long hours of sitting in the cart, we soon turned off the road and travelled along a rough path that lead to a fast running creek that had a small waterfall with a pool at the base. To our surprise and delight Gelo pointed at the pool and directed us to wash ourselves and our clothes. We were very near the great city of Knossos and we needed to present ourselves in the best possible light.

We didn't care about presenting ourselves in the best light, the chance to swim in the pool was more than the boys could have dreamed of. But some comments could be heard that washing clothes were women's domain. They soon found out, that they wouldn't be getting away from that chore at all. We were all given some hard soap to use on ourselves as well as our clothes. Running and screaming most of us readily jumped into the refreshing cool water. Kori coaxed the youngest two girls to come with her.

Because of modesty, we all washed with our clothes on, as best as we could. Later we were to learn that modesty would become irrelevant to our way of life. For now we enjoyed the moment, it was so good to wash all the dust and sweat off, after traveling for many days. The rest of the morning was spent drying in the sun talking and laughing amongst ourselves. Near noon, Gelo as usual, got the girls to prepare the food as the boys collected wood for the fire. The food we had been given all these days was filling, but when it came to flavor, well what can I say? There was none.

After we had eaten our fill, Gelo in his usual way got us to start packing up the supplies when the high priest came over to us. We stopped what we were doing and waited for him to speak. Looking us over he smiled one of his rare smiles followed by another one of his speeches, “You are all about to embark on a new life, I want you to hold your heads up high when we enter the greatest city in the empire. There will be people lining the streets that have been waiting to greet you, you will smile and wave at them. Do you all understand?”

He waited for us to nod our heads before continuing, “Good now if you have any questions this would be a good time ask me.”

No one did, so he cast his gaze over us one more time then motioned Gelo to load us up in the cart. We were once more on the move, but this time it was with excitement that our journey was now near an end. We glanced at each other, some held hands some just nodded, but we all knew we must stick together no matter what happened. We had only ourselves to rely on.

It was not long before we started to see more and more houses as well as people along the road. The closer to the city, the fancier the house and yards appeared. Tall buildings could be seen in the distance. Once we were in the city proper wherever we looked, there was beautiful painted public buildings with lush gardens of foreign fruit trees and flowers. We were more than impressed, and we were overwhelmed by all the richness of this city. Eventually, we saw crowds of people lining up along the road, they were waiting to see us. They waved and called to us. At first we were silent when Gelo turned his head and whispered, “Wave at the people, smile and wave at them!”

We did as we were told and were rewarded with shouts and more waving. This encouraged us to become more animated. As we traveled along the stone-lined streets of Knossos, the crowds became thicker until we arrived at the famous palace of Knossos, where King Minos lived and ruled. 

King Minos, the embodiment of the god of the bull. It was astonishing, the statues of bulls, double axes, and many many of the giant storage pithoi located at the corner of the various buildings. Beautifully colored frescoes could be seen on many of the more important buildings. We had left the crowds of welcoming people outside the palace. This place was quiet and serene, a place of reverence.

Gelo drove us to the main building where we saw a group of colorfully dressed men. I soon realized these were more priests, they had even more elaborate headdresses on than our priest did. Our cart was stopped at the bottom of a huge staircase. The priests hastily positioned themselves on either side along the steps and looked up towards the grand entrance to the building. Drum beats, suddenly, could be heard, as everyone bowed their heads in respect.

A tall muscular man came out of the entrance wearing only a kilt wrapped around his hips. On his broad shoulders was the head of a bull. It was black with gold horns. I immediately realized it was a mask, but it still made me tremble in fear as it did all the others. This was King Minos showing the gods honor in accepting us for the up coming games that were to be held later this year. He briefly glanced at us stopping when his gold eyes fell upon me. I couldn't move or breath until his eyes left mine. He finally turned around pausing to speak to one of his priests before returning to his quarters. It looked like we were acceptable to him. 

As the mighty King Minos disappeared from sight, I was able to breath once again. I knew I would never forget him as long as I lived. He was the most powerful being in our world, and I got to look upon him. I glanced at my friends' faces, which showed the same awe. As soon as the king had disappeared, without a glance in our direction the priests returned to their own smaller building located to the west of the main living quarters of the king.

After all that had happened we all stood in the cart in bewilderment. What was to happen to us now?

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