Oh hey, blog. I almost forgot you existed. It’s been a busy summer, but in a good way. So many travels, and so much writing.
View of Sleeping Lady in Anchorage, Alaska
Nubble Lighthouse, Maine
Mt. Pisgah, Vermont
This summer I travelled all over New England, hiking, swimming and exploring to my heart’s content. I had no luck finding a decent mocha ANYWHERE, but I’ve accepted that as the one bad thing about New England. I’ll totally sacrifice my mocha addiction though for all the other delicious and beautiful things to be enjoyed.
Why yes, I do love my cats.
I trudged up Mt. Pisgah, went cliff jumping at Warren Falls (in October- twas a bit nippy), swam in Maine, braved the NYC traffic, swam on Long Island and went to a beautiful art show on a vineyard, and even hopped across the US to pay a short-but-sweet visit with family in Alaska.
In other news, I finished Olympus Rising this summer. Many hours spent in the Vermont Law School pounding away at the keyboard have seemed to pay off too *knocks on woods* because SIX LITERARY AGENTS ARE READING IT RIGHT NOW! SIX! I can’t believe it! I was surprised to receive one request for my manuscript, let alone SIX! So keep those fingers crossed, friends, and pray to all the gods you hold dear! Please let one of those agents want to represent it!
Now, without further ado, here is a special treat for all of you.
A chapter from Olympus Rising! Enjoy!
However much my brothers and Ligeia might try to persuade you otherwise, I did like to have fun. And Carneia was always the night of the year when I had the most fun. The embers of half a hundred bonfires filled the air, music erupting from hundreds of canopied tents. My belly was full of good food, I was surrounded by dozens of friends, I could dance for hours, and, best of all, Carneia gave me the opportunity to display my skills and challenge perceptions of Mothakes.
It was unheard of for a woman to join the ranks of the Spartan army, but I was more worthy than they gave me credit for. I was under the firm belief that the only reason they didn’t accept me into their ranks was because I was a woman and a Mothakes.
I bit back a hiss, baring my teeth at my opponent. My knees were slightly bent, and my untamable hair hung around my shoulders like a golden curtain.
Lykou grinned at my feral expression, baring his own teeth in a wolfish grin and twirling the sword in his left hand as he danced around me tirelessly.
Show off. The koprophage was right handed.
I switched my own sparring blade to my left hand, fighting a grimace at the pain lancing up my left arm with the simple movement. That last lunge from Lykou had sent me rolling through the dirt to avoid his touch, and my shoulder had been grazed in the process by the rough stones on the ground. But I still held the advantage. As Lykou danced around me, he favored his right leg ever so slightly, knee probably banged up from escaping a lunge of my own.
His soldier brethren hooted from the sidelines. Even King Menelaus watched from a dais on the sidelines in grim silence, as his beautiful wife, Helen, danced on her toes in anticipation. A spar between a man and a woman hadn’t gone on this long in an age, and never between a Mothakes and true Spartan. I felt naked in front of the jeering crowd, and I practically was. Though many Spartans, men and women alike, dueled naked, I wore a red chiton, cut so short it danced high on my thighs and wrapped tight across my chest.
Lykou wore a pitch black chiton of similar cut, though it bared quite a bit more of his chest, which was broad, muscled, deeply tanned and dripping with perspiration. I could practically hear the panting from the female onlookers at the sight of Lykou, and even some of the male audience. Despite my reluctance to pair with him romantically, I had to admit that he was quite handsome. His tousled raven hair hung just above his shoulders, cut jaggedly to accentuate the sharp features of his face, and the dark intensity of his eyes.
I ignored his roguish good looks though, instead focused on the muscled intensity of his legs, waiting for them to give away his next move. He danced around me like a wolf dances around a stag before it makes the kill shot. But I was no stag.
I lunged for the opening he made as he danced, my sword meeting him as he jumped right into my reach. He gave a startled cry, trying to pull back in midair, but my sword grazed his side, tearing what little he had of a chiton in a strike of victory.
Both men and women in the crowd groaned as Lykou tossed his sword to the ground in defeat, frustration coloring his jerky movements. King Menelaus regarded me with stern dark eyes before nodding to his counselors. I had no idea what the nod meant, but it was enough to know that my King had been witness to my victory.
I panted, my initial joy from victory giving way to anxiety as I took in the stern glares from the soldiers in the audience, and the scorn of the older women. Chin held high, I tossed my sparring sword into the dirt before marching from the arena. I didn’t look back to gather in Lykou’s reaction to the audience as I joined my friends on the sidelines. I would not let the disdain of small-minded Spartans ruin my victory, the night was still young and there was still much more fun to be had.
I caught Alkaios’s disapproving eye as I turned into the crowd, and flashed him a smug smile. Let him disapprove. I had nothing left to prove to the brother who would always find fault with me.
I spun around to greet a red-faced Lykou. Despite his loss, he wore my victory like a banner, and he jogged through the crowd with a broad smile on his face. “Cleo, wait!”
I had half a mind to blend into the crowd, but Ligeia’s words still hung heavy in my mind. Now that I had bested Lykou, could I accept him as a suitor?
I was hard pressed not to give it consideration, as I grew uncomfortably aware, the closer he got, of the reasons why the majority of women in Sparta found him so attractive. He smiled, teeth flashing white in stark contrast to his charcoal black hair and deeply tanned skin, and to my chagrin, I felt a flutter deep in my stomach. I returned the smile with a furious blush, tucking a handful of my unruly curls behind an ear as I turned the full force of my grey eyes on Lykou. “Hope for a rematch?”
Lykou pulled up short, taken aback by my response. Normally, when men turned their interests towards me, I beat them away as brutally as I could to deter any further advances. Lykou was no exception, though all my usual methods of deterrence had left him unfazed and more beguiled than ever.
“I see that your chiton has seen better days,” I commented, pointing to the torn cloth and trying really hard to keep my eyes from wandering cross the broad expanse of his muscled chest.
Lykou blushed, and he dropped into a mock bow, “A beautiful woman just couldn’t keep herself from trying to rip it off of me.”
“Oh,” my fingered the hem of my own chiton nervously, my hands refusing to still. “She must have been sorely provoked.”
Lykou looked hesitant for a moment, thrown off-balance by my changed attitude towards him. “You fought beautifully out there,” Lykou breathed, stepping uncomfortably close as he shifted nervously, “some of the soldiers might have a thing or two to learn from you.”
My friends watched with bated breaths, waiting for me to shoot Lykou down with the same firm hand I always had with men. But part of me knew that Lykou was different from the other men. They were only were interested in me for my body, or for the desire to tame me, or driven with the desire to ensure that I would not rise above them. Lykou wasn’t like that. My heart told me Lykou saw in me something wild, worth celebrating, something that spoke to the feral nature inside of himself.
I couldn’t love him yet, but I could play with the idea for a time.
“If Paidonomos Leonidas ever lets you forget your loss, you and I should spar again sometime,” I could barely believe my words, and I heard my friends gasp behind me. Was I flirting? I didn’t even know how to flirt.
Lykou smiled broadly. It was a handsome smile and held nothing but genuine happiness, “I’d like that very much.”
My cheeks warmed, and as I opened my mouth to try my hand at this whole flirting thing some more, one of Lykou’s friends came up behind him, tugging on his arm, “Lykou, you must prepare for the chase!”
Lykou flashed me an apologetic smile, and I felt an unfamiliar longing fill me as his friend dragged him through the crowd and out of my sight. I allowed my friends to herd me in the opposite direction, sounding like a gaggle of geese as they giggled over my interaction with Lykou. I let them gossip as we moved through the crowd, and I felt like I was leading a troop of Amazonian warriors. Eventually the music of the night drew me away from thoughts of Lykou, and I began searching the crowd for Pyr, hoping to goad him before his chase for the stag.
I saw Alkaios and his wife, my parents Diora and Diodorus, and even Ligeia mingling and celebrating among the crowds of excited Spartans, but no Pyr. I shook away my disappointment, instead focusing on the good food and good friends around me. The smiles of the crowd were contagious, and my feet were quickly moving to the beat of the music, laughter and ecstasy surrounding me.
As I sat out a dance, laughing with my friends and licking the grease of roast lamb from my fingers, a horn at the edge of the festival signaled the time for the chase. Artemis’s full moon hung low in the sky as we celebrated the gifts of her twin brother, Apollo. The crowd moved as one from the main festivities to the dark fields outside of the city. We had waited for this event for an entire year, the most important part of the evening.
King Menelaus and Queen Helen waited in the banks of the River Eurotas as the crowds lined up to watch the race. Thousands of Spartans streamed from the city to wait with bated breaths along the banks of the Eurotas to watch our sons ensure a plentiful harvest and the continued strength of our army.
Four youths marched from the crowd and immediately lined up in front of King Menelaus, bowing low to the ground. I felt my stomach drop.
Pyr wasn’t among them.
My wide eyes met Alkaios’s in the crowd, and I could practically feel the rage emanating from him in waves. If Pyr didn’t show, our family’s honor would be forfeit. I frantically searched the unruly crowd, but Pyr was nowhere to be seen. My anxiety grew with each passing moment, and the restlessness of the crowd grew stronger with it as they waited for the arrival of the fifth racer. Soon they would be calling for all of my family’s blood.
I shot Alkaios another desperate glance, but his face had quickly gone from angry to resigned, and he only allowed me a single curt nod. If Pyr wouldn’t run, then another youth in our family would have to. But if Alkaios was married he couldn’t, and so the weight of my family’s honor and Sparta’s fortune fell onto me.
Hunching my shoulders, and roughly brushing away the hands of my friends, I surged from the crowd, my blond hair falling around my face to protect me from the jeering onlookers.
“No woman should run!”
“No Mothakes! No women!”
I ignored their protests as I crossed the single bridge of the Eurotas, marching to the line of runners and taking a swift bow beside them. The king and queen made no protest as I took my place, only nodding at me with grim acceptance. It was unprecedented for a woman to run, but they would do whatever they had to in order to secure Sparta’s future.
The other runners ignored my presence, intently focused on the monarchs. Lykou, still in a black chiton, stood beside me to my left, and Castor, the Queen’s own brother, stood to my right. He was tall and lean, like his sister, but he was also exceptionally handsome, with long, straight dark blond hair and hazel eyes. To his right were two young men, whom I only vaguely recalled as friends of Lykou.
I glanced surreptitiously at King Menelaus through my hair, but instead my eyes met Queen Helen’s. She gave me a look of both pride and something harder to decipher– was that jealousy? I had no idea what she could possibly be jealous about, for she was far lovelier, richer and more powerful than I ever would be. And then I remembered when I used to see Helen running in the fields before she got married. Alkaios used to say she was the fastest woman he had ever seen, faster even than Atalanta. Did she wish she could run as I soon would? I dropped my eyes to the ground, forgetting about strange looks from the Queen as King Menelaus began to speak.
“The rules are simple,” Menelaus announced, standing for all to see, “these five youths will ensure the gratitude of the god Apollo by retrieving for Sparta the offering of his twin sister, Artemis.”
The stag was brought forth, led by a slave and adorned with garlands of flowers and branches of laurel attached to its antlers. I felt a moment’s pity for the stag, as the whites of its eyes shone in the firelight.
“Retrieve the garland about this offering’s neck before dawn. Should the stag escape and the dawn of the goddess Eos rises before the garland is returned to me, the crops of Sparta will wither and die. The Eurotas will run dry, and the men of our army will fall to illness and death. Stand, my five chosen,” Menelaus commanded.
We did as bid, and servants rushed forward, painting our bodies with red and gold paint, wreaths placed about our necks.
“The runners must not inhibit the potential victory of the other runners. No foul play of any kind. Any action to inhibit the victory of the other runners will be interpreted as treasonous, and consequently you will be banished from Sparta,” our King continued, looking each of us in the eye in turn.
“The weight of Sparta’s future rests on your young shoulders.”
“Retrieve for me the garland of flowers around the stag’s neck, and you, as well as Sparta, will be rewarded justly.”
Menelaus gestured to a servant, and they brought forward a giant cushion covered in a silk sheet. I vaguely heard myself gasp as the sheet fell away, and there, gleaming in the firelight, lay the most perfect bow I had ever seen.
This was a gift not to be taken for granted. The thin bow laying before me was worth more than simply the extraordinary price it must have cost to ship it all the way from the southern continent. The moonlight colored wood was delicately carved with dark vines and laurel leaves. Willow, judging from the light wood, and it would be a challenge to string. The bow was only a small gift though, despite its worth. Any true Spartan wouldn’t be bedazzled by a bow, the weapon of cowards on battlefields. A true Spartan would seek victory in this race simply for the promise of renown and the continued prosperity for all of Sparta.
I wouldn’t win this race for a mere bow. I would win this race for Sparta’s future.
I looked to the other runners, hoping to gauge their interest. Castor looked unimpressed, his eyes slightly dull. He probably had a wealth of bows much more impressive in the royal armory. Lykou looked just as enticed by the bow as myself, his eyes taking on a hungry gleam as they eyed the perfect handiwork. The other two runners looked only vaguely interested, heads slightly cocked. They all understood the distraction the bow served, and where the true prize laid. Though the bow was a masterpiece, the true prize was ensuring the glory and prosperity of Sparta.
Both the bow and victory would be mine.
“Runners at ready!” Menelaus commanded, raising his right arm high.
I rushed to line up with the other runners, my feet impatient. Watching as the deer was led not but ten paces in front of me.
“May the wings of Hermes be beneath your feet!” And with that, Menelaus’s arm fell and I flew from the line.