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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours ~ Ancient Crete

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month, it's the turn of author Martin Lake, who invites us on a journey back to Ancient Crete

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MY FANTASY DAY
CRETE FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO

Hundreds of people streamed across the fields to the great complex of Knossos. At first, I smiled at their excitement. They were farmers from distant villages, shepherds who dwelt in the wild mountains of the south, fishermen who bore the heady scent of the sea in their hair. And all of them were agog at the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the city. For me, who had lived here all my life, the city was as familiar as my thoughts, as constant as my breath. I congratulated myself on my worldliness, on my sophistication and immunity to novelty. Knossos was the greatest city in the world and I gloried to be citizen of it.

But as they passed close to me I seemed to catch their mood, almost as a person can become infected by an ailment, or the grief of others, or love. Loud chatter filled my ears, the steady trudge of countless feet drummed upon the hard-packed earthen paths until it reached my legs sprawling upon the earth. My heart began to quicken, my breath grew faster and my skin began to tingle. And then, surmounting all this noise, came the mighty bellowing of the great bulls, the aurochs, as they were led into the arena.


I put down my stylus. The papyrus was filled with my marks, listing the harvest which had arrived at the city. Wheat and barley to the weight of ten thousand oxen had been poured into dark vaults beneath the city streets. A thousand barrels, each as big as a man, were crammed with figs, almonds, beans and olives, the most precious gifts of the Great Goddess. Huge jars of wine lay stacked beneath trees which waved their branches to keep the liquids cool. Honey pots nestled beside them, each containing a tiny lake of gold. And all this wealth was recorded by my symbols, as much as if all were stacked in front of me.

Storage jars used for wine - image via Wiki Commons

And below I had scratched more marks, listing the dozen aurochs which had been taken on the most recent hunt. Fine beasts, marvellous beasts, the guardians of our land. Taller than a man, stronger than an ox, faster than a horse, more courageous than a lion. They would, in a short while, charge like tempests across the arena, seeking to slay the puny men who dared to leap them. Some might succeed. The younger bulls, less experienced, might not kill but merely maim. 
I shifted my leg anxiously at the memory. It was bent in an unruly fashion and still, a dozen years later, gave me pain on the coldest nights of winter. 


And then, although I had no wish to do so, I recalled once more my final day in the arena. I was a skilful, experienced bull leaper and had been matched with Krawq, the greatest aurochs of them all. On hearing this I had grown anxious, for few had been able to best him. But all too soon, the encouragement of my friends gave me a sense of invulnerability. I entered the arena, confident that I would leap Krawq and win the acclaim of the crowd.

But then I realised. Krawq was huge, his head half the size of a man, his horns immense, his eyes red as fire. He trotted quickly around the arena, yet, despite this speed, he moved with a delicacy I had never witnessed in any aurochs before, like a young girl dancing for her admirers.

And then he turned towards me. I saw his massive bulk as he charged, smelt the stink of his breath, trembled with terror at his rage. I wondered whether to dodge or leap and saw the look of cunning in his eye. To dodge would mean my death, I realised, so I forced my legs to jump, forgoing now any clever moves, artistic flourishes or acrobatic wiles. High above the rippling back I leapt and heard the applause of the crowd crash across the arena. 


Vain and preening, I raised my hand in triumph. How could I have been so foolish? I lost my focus but my adversary kept his. His vast bulk skidded to a halt and his head lunged, one spear-sharp horn catching me in the calf. I felt the flesh rip away and landed on the creature’s back before sliding to the arena floor.

I still marvel but, despite my injury, I managed to get to my feet and hop towards the arena wall. The aurochs, thankfully, did not pursue me, for if he had my life would have ended. Krawq waited and merely watched me make my escape. I swear that, as I risked a glance over my shoulder, he looked upon me kindly.

I took a deep breath, thrusting the memory back into the past. I glanced down at the papyrus and shook my head in surprise. There, beneath the list of harvest goods, unbeknown to me, I had newly drawn a series of marks. 

I gasped. They seemed to describe the memory of that terrible day. There was a circle, very like the arena, with a gate through which a stick-like man entered. It was me, I realised, it was meant to be me. And there, close by, appeared Krawq, a dark shape with huge horns and powerful back. The stick like figure leapt above the aurochs, the horn slashed out and the figure fell to earth. But then it rose and made its way safely to the edge of the arena. 

I shook my head in wonder. Since leaving the arena and becoming a clerk I had made countless lists of provisions. And this, I realised, told the truth of my last battle with Krawq as accurately as my symbols showed the wealth of corn and oil and fruit within the city. I clapped my hands with joy. 


And then I bent to my papyrus again. I redrew the figure of the aurochs to appear larger, more formidable, even more deadly. And then I made the figure of myself leap higher and appear to be caught by only the tip of the horn. And finally, I added a new drawing, in which the aurochs and man raised hand and hoof to salute each other. 

I sighed with pleasure. This was a finer use of my pen than ceaseless scratching out of lists and inventories. I climbed painfully to my feet and made my way towards the arena, the papyrus tucked into my belt.

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Born and raised in England, Martin Lake discovered his love of history and writing at an early age. After graduating, he worked as a teacher before deciding to combine his two passions and write a historical novel. Since then, he has written eleven novels including A Dance of Pride and Peril, set in ancient Crete. When not writing, he can be found travelling, cooking, and exploring fascinating places. He lives on the French Riviera with his wife.
You can find his books here: viewAuthor.at/MartinLake


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