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Cold, metallic fear was all we tasted. Blood tinged air was all we breathed. Waiting was the worst part, knowing they were coming and couldn’t be stopped. No matter how much we offered the Gods it never slowed the stream of wounded warriors staggering into our town. The streets remained nearly empty; everyone you passed had terror shinning in their eyes. Each day friends and neighbors fled in small family groups. No one ate, the food had no taste, no substance; no one slept, night was when the nightmares began. The pounding feet in my mind’s eye sounded of a thousand steadily beating drums, the cries and screams waking me to an eerie, silent night.
The wild battle cry rang out behind me. I turned just in time to see him charging at me with a spear. I sprang forward in bed, my heart beating erotically. My eyes frantically combed my room as if the warrior from my dream would be there waiting for me. I slid out of bed and pressed my cheek to the cold dirt floor to cool my burning skin.
I heard my mother’s light, practiced foot steps before I saw the soft candle light in my doorway. She said my name gently, kneeling beside me to wipe the stringy, sweat drenched hair from my face. I sat up and she enfolded me in her arms. Her smooth, cooing voice told me everything would be okay but I could hear the false bravery in her words.
The Romans were advancing into Greece. No matter how many warriors were sent, we couldn’t stop the onslaught of bloodshed. Every day, battered survivors told us of what transpired in their city-state. We knew they would arrive within a few short days. Our plan was simple enough in theory; tomorrow, under the cover of a moonless night, my mother and I would leave our home in Ambracia for the island of Crete and then to the port city of Cyrene.
My mother finally let me go and we walked to the offering alter we had in our main room. We prayed to Athena, the protector in war; Artemis, the Guardian of cities; Ares, the god of war; and Poseidon, for safe travel to Crete and Cyrene. I slept with her that night, her soft, warm body lulling me into a false sense of security.
I didn’t wake until the sun was half ways done with its journey. I ran my fingers through my knotted hair and went to the water basin to splash my face. I stood above it looking at my reflection. My skin was pale and pasty and I had grown skinnier over the past months from fear and malnutrition, not good for baring sons. I was supposed to be wed this summer, on my sixteenth year, but this war had made that impossible. All the men in the country were fighting against the Romans most of which were slaughtered like lambs. I couldn’t stand looking at my gaunt expression anymore; I ran my hand through the water to disrupt the image and then walked into the main room where my mother was.
She already had out a few bags packed with food, water, and coins. She sent me to the orchard to pick a basket full of apples. The sun was warm and a light, cool breeze blew in from the water. The sky was of the purest blue and I knew we would make it far tonight. I brought the basket back and we waited in silence for nightfall. We left the house just as the last rays of light turned everything blood red.
We seemed to glide across the land; sauntering in the darkness like long dead spirits. I had always been afraid of the shadows in the night, but running alongside them in the blackest of nights seemed almost peaceful. We reached the city of Corinth after a little more than a week.
We paid a family to sleep in their hay house for a night and then we went to the fish market to buy us passage. My mother haggled for the lowest price she could while I walked to the water. A million different detached thoughts ran through my mind at once. All of life’s uncertainties were glowering down on me, as if the gods wanted to punish me for every sin Greece had made. Tears were threatening to spill over but I choked them down, only the weak cried. My mother came up behind me then with a big man.
We sailed to Crete and my mind went back to the story of the Minotaur and Theseus. About how, despite all the odds against him, Theseus managed to kill the beast and get out of the maze alive with nothing more than the sword of Aegeus and a ball of thread. We stopped on the island to get supplies and left the same day.
After what seemed like an eternity we landed in Cyrene, my mother paid the man and we set out into the city. The streets were a bustle of people buying, selling, and talking. It was lively and erotic compared to the streets of Ambracia and I found myself smiling despite everything. Maybe the gods weren’t punishing me after all; maybe they were helping me start anew without having to live in fear. A merchant selling a rug got my attention and asked my name. “Kalliope,” I said giving him a dazzling smile. My name was Kalliope and I was finally free of the bloodshed and horrors of my old life.