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Through The Ages - chapter 8
By
Kari

Through The Ages - chapter 8

Wicked came over looking angry. He started to paw the ground then suddenly rushed at us stopping jus

Hercules and other Bulls

My ears heard Duris' voice, “Meet......Hercules.”

We were all frozen with fright as he swiftly trotted toward us, Duris whispered, “Don't anyone run because he will only chase you!”

As the huge animal quickly made his way across the field, I found myself slowly reaching out to Kori putting my arm around her waist pulling her to my side before pushing her behind me. From the corner of my eye, I saw some of the other boys do the same thing. We waited for what we thought of as the end of our short little lives. When Hercules was ten feet from us, Duris drew from his pocket a big apple along with a small dagger and proceeded to cut it into four pieces before offering one to the beast. To our surprise, the bull stopped for a few seconds sniffed the air and made a beeline for that enticing apple. He took it daintily with those mobile lips of his and started to munch on it with complete contentment. At the same time, he was munching he switched the flies off his backside with his long tail. He glanced at us as he chewed and finally swallowed. Looking back at Duris he waited to see if there were to be more pieces coming his way.

Duris laughed as he moved towards me, handing me the rest of the pieces before saying, “Your turn Nikos, don't worry he is as gentle as a kitten. Just give him the apple with the palm of your hand up and open.”

As I extended my shaky arm out to the bull, Duris pulled out more apples that he cut up before handing them out to everyone adding, “I want you all to make friends with Hercules here. He has been hand raised from birth to be a practice bull for trainees like yourselves. He is a gentle giant that will not harm you as long as you treat him well. Never ever tease him, cause he won't forget you for that, believe me, sooner or later he will get his revenge. He has years of training with people learning the art of leaping. Oh and know this... his favorite treat is apples followed by crushed grain. So whenever your training with him, have his treats on hand with you.”

Meanwhile, I watched Hercules smell my hand then reach out with his soft lips gently grasping the piece of apple from my hand. I looked sideways at Kori, who was peeking around me smiling. I couldn't help but grin as I glanced up at him. The big fellow chewed happily on his apple. I bravely but slowly put my hand up towards his nose touching it with the tip of my finger. It was wet and rather leathery to the touch. Getting bolder, I raised my hand higher and stroked his long muzzle finally reaching the top of his head, I gave him a little scratch. He closed his eyes for a few seconds in what I had to call bliss. By this time, he had finished his apple and was now sniffing around for more. He turned his great head and followed his nose to pieces of apple handed to him from the bolder ones of our group. He was enjoying his treats as he watched us.

In no time, we grew bolder stepping near to him reaching hesitatingly towards him. Our shaky hands drew close enough to pet his huge body. His coat was short, black and smooth to the touch. Most of the girls couldn't touch the top of his body, well most of us guy couldn't either. Just myself and one other boy were tall enough on our tip toes.

Duris watched us carefully giving us pointers on how to behave with Hercules. He spoke to us quietly, “No shouting or sudden moves, always talk quietly, touch him gently and, of course, have his treats handy. That way he would always come to you. For the next few weeks, I want you to come here daily and give him treats and groom him. Once you and he are fast friends, then we will go on to the next stage in your training.”

Kori turned towards him and asked what was the next stage. The answer she got was, “Not so fast little lady there is plenty of time to go into more details later on, but I can assure you that you will probably enjoy it.”

After all the apples were gone, we were hustled out of the paddock to continue with our usual workouts for the rest of the day. That evening over our meal we talked about Hercules and how we were going to enjoy our time with him. Eating as usual was a messy affair, using our hands to pick up the morsels of food and put them into our mouths. But we enjoyed ourselves as we talked about our day.

From that day on, our busy days now included one hour with Hercules. He soaked up the attention like a sea sponge. The boys would carry some buckets with brushes with stiff grass-like bristles, rags, footstools and, of course, the girls had the sacks of treats, some being of grain others filled with pieces of apples. Once we got to his paddock, the treats were dispersed evenly among us. He turned out to be very trainable in no time at all when we called his name, he would usually come running to us.

We took shifts working on his enormous body, usually three of us were assigned to a side of him plus we would have to stand on a footstool to reach his back. Then one would work on his rear end, there was never anyone to volunteer for that part, but we all sooner or later ended up there. I liked when I got the chance to work on his fine noble head and magnificent horns. The last two cleaned and polished his hoofs (which was another smelly job), making it two teams of 10 with 30 minutes to a shift. In this way, we kept Hercules looking his handsomest!

Hercules's grooming was done first thing in the morning. Duris told us always to be alert with a bull even one as gentle as Hercules. That first morning with him we got the lecture on how to treat bulls.

“They have different dispositions, so I suggest you get to know each of them as you are introduced. These bulls have been bred for centuries to honor the gods and you will eventually see the whole process from the beginning to the end. Hercules is the only bull you will be grooming as the others haven't been handled as much. But we will get into that later. Again I want to stress even though Hercules seems very docile, don't tease him or be cruel, he does have a temper. We puny humans should always keep that uppermost in our minds. OK...carry on!”

With that, he went off to take care of his many duties. When the bell rang, we brushed off some of the dirt we had accumulated before transferring our supplies to a shed that was just outside the gate to the paddock. There we washed up as best we could and carried on for the rest of the day. These were good days, lots of sore muscles mind you but also lots of good food, soft beds and good company.

The weeks passed by quickly as we became more and more familiar with Hercules, and our bodies grew stronger. There was one incident with Hercules that I want to relate to you. One of the younger boys, Jason as I recall found out the hard way that teasing a bull is not a good idea. He had been holding a piece of apple for Hercules and then decided to withdraw it a few times. The bull looked at Jason for a few seconds snorted loudly but did nothing. Jason took this to mean that Hercules wasn't upset, as he turned to us to laugh, the bull lowered his great head. Before anyone could shout, “Look out!”

Hercules gently lifted that huge head of his with Jason and threw him ten feet into the air. The boy luckily landed on a great big pile of manure, also known as cow-plop! We could swear that is where that bull had wanted Jason to land. When he stood up covered from head to toe in the brown stuff, we couldn't help but laugh. Luckily the boy wasn't hurt plus we all learned a very valuable lesson that day. Duris was right, never ever tease Hercules or any other bull for that matter. We laughed again as Jason sloshed over to the shed to clean off the worst of the manure. We eventually got back to our grooming. Hercules carried on munching his treats with a twinkle in his eye if a bull could smile I swear I think he would have done it then.

One day Duris came to watch how we were doing with Hercules. He smiled seeing that we had him quite content with our grooming activities. He came over as we worked, looked at Kori and me calling us over to him. Once we were standing before him, he asked, “Kori would you like to sit on Hercules' back?”

She smiled and nodded her head eagerly. He knew he had found the right person to try this with. He nodded once before continuing, “OK, once your up there and sitting on him I want you to stand up and walk to his head turn around and walk to his back end. Do this several times before jumping off his rear end to land on the ground with Nikos help if needed. Don't forget to bend your knees just like you've been practicing all these weeks. Nikos, you will stand about 3 feet back and have your arms ready to steady her. Do you both understand?”

We both eagerly nodded that we indeed did understand his instructions. He smiled at us in satisfaction adding, “This is the first step to learning bull leaping you need to take your time with this. OK, Kori bring that footstool over and set it near his front legs, just a bit behind. Stand on it making yourself ready plus, Nikos here can give you a push if you need it as you hoist yourself onto his back.”

He walked closer to the group and announced, “Everyone, I have some new instructions for you, Kori and Nikos are going to demonstrate how to get onto Hercules' back. Now pay close attention to what they do, I want every one of you to do this today, and to add it to your daily routine with Hercules. You have the experience to jump from different heights and land on your feet with the help of a partner as usual. The major difference now is that it will be done from the back of a bull. In the end, you will do the same actions, landing on the ground one foot forward with arms of your partner to steady your landing. OK... you may start now Kori.”

Hercules was given some grain to eat while Kori took a footstool and put it near his shoulder, stepped up onto it getting ready to jump up. She hesitated for a moment took a deep breath and jumped. Even though I was ready to help her, she did it all on her own. She landed squarely at his withers slid her legs on either side of his broad back and lay on top of him with her cheek to his hide, we chuckled at her. She sat up smiled waving down at us while Hercules turned his head glanced at her and kept on eating.

At Duris' nod, she then stood up getting the feel of him under her bare feet before she walked forward towards his head, turned around smoothly and lightly walked to his rear end. We all murmured amongst ourselves. She walked up and down his back a few more times before jumping off and landing on her feet and into my waiting arms. She steadied herself and bowed to us all. We quietly clapped our hands for her. Next was myself, with Kori helping me land. After that everyone took a turn all landing pretty much on their feet if not elegantly.

Duris watched the entire group go through this new routine. In the end, he smiled saying, “Well done everyone, I want you to do this at the end of your grooming session with Hercules until you can do it smoothly and elegantly. I will be checking on your progress from time to time. You may now pack up your supplies and continue with your regular activities.”

We happily went on with our day, knowing some of us were going to have some sore muscles. But we did help each other when it was needed. In this way, no one was left behind.

Once we were good at jumping off Hercules' back Duris took us to an area that had a mock bull that moved on wheels. In that way, we got to practice running up to the bull while someone moved its head around. We jumped up and over its head, and bounced off its rear end and landed safely or not on the ground with our partner's help. There were a lot of falls and bruises as well as a few sprained ankles as we learned, but no one was too badly hurt.

In addition to the leap, we needed to learn how to distract an angry bull away from someone who was in trouble. This was one of the most critical of the lessons we were to learn. It was scary, but we had no choice we had to practice on the semi-tame bulls. Which, of course, ended in more cuts, falls and yes lots more bruises. Our very lives depended on our abilities to distract an angry bull from his target.

Delia, one of the girls, had a close call with a bull called “Wicked.” He caught her by surprise with the tip of his horn, causing her to fall. As he turned around to grind her into the ground, we all ran screaming at him while I hauled her out of his path. That was a sobering incident resulting in our confidence being taken down a couple of notches, which turned out to be a good thing. We knew we had been taking too many chances thinking we were invincible. Delia was lucky, having only a few scratches and a sprained ankle It could have been so much worse.

Meanwhile, the weeks and months went by, we all trained our hardest and were rewarded with the feeling of belonging and accomplishment. All twenty of us became closer as time went by, some of us were like brothers and sisters, others like Kori and I were more. I had been in love with her since the first time I met her. She was the love of my life. For her part it did take longer, she was very independent and had no wish to be tied down to a man. She dreamed of adventures and wanting to see many far off places, not to be a wife and take care of a family and home. But that was not to be our fate anyway. I told her we were not likely to have that kind of life now. We were picked by the gods to do something special and that was to honor them by leaping over the bulls in the celebrations.

Kori came to accept that and let me put my arm around her waist as we went for walks on our times off. On these walks, we got to know the surrounding grounds. There were the pens of animals, mostly the bulls. The rest of the cattle were kept far from the palace. There were plenty of areas for us to walk around and enjoy. I especially liked the small orchards with a great variety of fruits that we were able to pick if they were in season. There was olives, apples, peaches, pomegranates, lemons, figs and, of course, different kinds of grapes. Some for wine and others for eating.

We kept on exploring on our walks and even came across gardens of which we found onions, leeks, and many other vegetables as well as many herbs. The fruits and vegetables sooner or later came to our tables depending on the season. As for meat, that consisted mainly of fresh or dried fish and seafood. Beef and pork was something that was eaten at the time of the religious festivals like the one we were training for. Cheese made from cow and goat milk was eaten every day. I haven't mentioned it before, but eating utensils as we now know them weren't known then. The food was eaten by hand or in the case of soup, bread was used to scoop out the vegetables and soak up the juices. Bread was a handy food, used as bread, a scoop and we even used it as a napkin afterward throwing it on the floor for the dogs to clean up.

There was one memory that I do recall vividly, Kori and I had come to the paddock that the bulls were kept in. We looked for Hercules to give him a treat when that bull called Wicked came over looking angry. He started to paw the ground then suddenly rushed at us stopping just inches from the fence causing dust to fly up in the air. Kori, who had been standing on the fence while looking for Hercules, flew backward when that bull rushed at her. She landed on her butt unhurt, but we were both extremely rattled by his behavior. I quickly helped her up hastily pulling her away from the paddock. Wicked pawed the ground a couple of more times before losing interest. I anxiously asked, “Kori are you hurt? I never saw that coming!”

She shook her head while rubbing her butt, “No, I am fine really except I know I will have a sore butt after this. That is one mean bull, and I hope we don't have to work with him again anytime soon.”

I agreed with her as I kept looking back at the paddock where I knew he still lurked. I had a real bad feeling about that bull but decided to say nothing. 

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