Athens; Training, Philosophy, and Making Friends

The Athenians thought it absolutely scandalous that women should be educated and physically trained like men, so the Spartans were denied the use of the gymnasium in Athens. However, just outside the city, not far from their lodgings, there was a small grove of olive trees, said to be sacred to Athena. They used to spend their time there, after their day’s business, reading and discussing philosophy, and training in boxing, wrestling, and horsemanship. Sometimes, they practiced weapons, and the pentathlon.  As they trained in their short Spartan tunics, they attracted a lot of unwanted attention from the young men of the city, and Athenian sensibilities being what they were, they would often find themselves chased away by the thesmothetai. So, three or four times a week, they would go to train on a semi-secluded beach, where they could practice boxing and wrestling without being disturbed.  And when they wanted to practice in the fields, they did so during the heat of the day, when few would be about. Yet there were always some who would come to peep.

So it came to pass one day, having finished their lecture on philosophy for the morning, the girls were training in the shade of the olive trees. Their teacher Chionis kept a watchful eye on them as he chatted with Epicurus, the young philosopher he had engaged for them. Every now and then, he would call out encouragement or corrections to them.  As they worked, a pair of young men came to the grove, intending to make prayers to Athena.

Both of them were but boys. One was already a giant of a fellow, taller than many full grown men, despite his youth. The other was more of a size befitting his age. They slowed their pace as they drew near and saw the women practicing shield and kopis. They tried to remain still and unnoticed as they watched.

The boys weren’t noticed at first. Medousa sat on the ground by the older men’s feet, watching Helen and Cynisca lunge at each other, shields clattering loudly.  They wore nothing but their red Spartan tunics, their limbs flashing in the sunlight, muscular, lithe, and aglow with perspiration. The boys stared. Eventually, out of the corner of her eye, Medousa noticed their furtive audience.

“Enjoying the show?” she asked, startling them out of their reverie. Chionis and Epicurus looked up. The old Spartan scowled. Helen and Cynisca stopped striving together, and in a stance of relaxed belligerence, turned to glare at the intruders.

“Scandalous,” murmured the shorter of the two boys, suddenly averting his eyes.  But the tall one couldn’t pull his eyes away from Medousa’s gaze.

Chionis snorted. “You’re the intruders, here– What is it to you if we train?”

“Perhaps I should go now,” the philosopher suggested in a tired, gentle voice. He started to rise. “Stay where you are, sir,” Chionis growled. “Today’s lesson isn’t over yet.”

The smaller boy started to say something, but his large companion restrained him with a hand on his shoulder. Helen and Cynisca laughed, and Medousa rose and drew near until she stood nose to nose with the young men. They gaped; she was tall. Taller than most men. In fact, Medousa was almost as tall as the larger of the pair. It was certainly off-putting.

“One Spartan woman is worth any two Athenian men,” she taunted. Her shoulders relaxed as she shifted her stance slightly.  “Care to see for yourself?” Laughter from Helen and Cynisca.  The girls were enjoying the effect Medousa seemed to be having on the boys. A small, wicked grin appeared on Chionis’ face.  The tall boy’s cheeks flushed suddenly as he smiled.

“I’ll try not to hurt you,” he said, removing his tunic and cloak. More laughter from the Spartans, and a worried look from the philosopher.

Chionis, still smiling, rose. “Right– Helen, Cynisca, take a break.” The boy finished stripping off, and handing his clothing to his companion, moved to the grassy patch under the olive trees and waited for Medousa. She smiled and sauntered over and stood facing him a single pace away. The boy took a ready posture. He was bigger than she, but she was no small and frail sapling.  Medousa stood, facing him, relaxed and confident. He found it unnerving.

The young man took the opportunity to stare openly at Medousa as they sized one another up. Her training tunic left very little to the imagination, the elegant curves of Medousa’s hips and breasts clearly visible. His eyes caressed the length of her limbs and sinews. He tried to pull his eyes up from her thighs to look her in the face, as her brilliant blue eyes sparkled in amusement. He struggled to keep his breathing even.

Medousa laughed gently as they faced off. “You don’t train with your women very often, do you, Athenian?” Her eyes glanced down at the young man’s nethers. Cynisca and Helen laughed as well.

Only slightly embarrassed, the boy moved in suddenly, attempting to overwhelm the girl with his superior weight and mass. To his surprise, she lightly shifted her hips so that he ended up charging past her instead of at her. He winced as three sharp, penetrating blows landed on his lower ribs and kidney, staggering him. He then felt himself thrown to the ground as Medousa hooked one of her legs around his, and swept his feet out from under him. She sprang away quickly as the lad lay, gasping for breath.

The two Spartan girls clapped their hands and laughed as the other young man stood dumbstruck at the sight of his companion so quickly taken down. Chionis taunted “Come on, boy! -Do you need a rest so soon?”

The boy scrambled back up to his feet. He looked at the golden-haired beauty with respect. He wouldn’t let her surprise him again. This time, he made as if to rush her, but as she shifted to side-step him, he turned himself so that he faced her square on, punching her hard in the gut. Medousa cried out and fell to one knee before him, but before he could grab her, she quickly rolled aside.

They stood a few paces apart, eying each other warily. “Are you dancing with him, or fighting with him?” Chionis called out. “Don’t close with him,” Helen cried. “He’s too strong!” Cynisca shouted “Strike hard and stay out of his reach; use your speed!”

The young man stepped in and to the side, swinging a heavily muscled arm at Medousa. She ducked under it, and coming up, drove two hard punches into his side, just under his armpit. The youngster gasped and doubled over, clutching his side. Pressing her advantage, Medousa kicked hard at his shoulder, trying to knock him down. He fell, but she wasn’t heavy enough to pin the young giant. He threw her aside and slowly tried to rise, his side in agony.

Thinking to force him down easily now, Medousa rushed in. The boy, rising from his crouch, drove an uppercut into her midsection that lifted her off her toes. Medousa gasped and collapsed forward, trying not to vomit. The young man closed his eyes and sank back down to his knees, holding his side and trying to get his wind back.

He opened his eyes and looked up as Chionis clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Not bad, boy. What’s your name?”

“Ajax, sir. And that’s my brother, Teukros.” He gasped for wind, wincing at the pain Medousa had just inflicted on him. “We’re studying at the Lyceum for our Agoge.”

“Huh. They might be able to do something with you,” Chionis offered grudgingly.  He looked over at Medousa, clicking his tongue. “Are you alright?” he asked her.

“Yes, teacher,” she winced.

“Then get up. Cynisca, you go sit with Epicurus for a while. Helen– Remind Medousa of proper fighting technique; I won’t have it get back home that any of you were beaten by an Athenian whelp.”

Ajax winced as Teukros helped him up and helped him dress. As he was pulling on his tunic, Medousa strode over to him, doing her best not to show that she was still in pain. She held out her hand to him. He grasped it, and she smiled slightly. “Medousa,” she said. She released his hand and turned to continue training.

Ajax called out suddenly “Will you be here tomorrow also?” Chionis looked over and replied “Perhaps. Do you wish to train with us?”

“I think I might,” the boy replied, smiling after Medousa, captivated.

Chionis raised an eyebrow, regarding the boys. “Well, if you come, bring some coin for Epicurus. That is, if you intend to sit in on his talk.” He paused. “For that matter, bring some coin for me, too; I’m the girls’ trainer, not yours– seeing as you want to engage me.”

The boys turned to go, Ajax flinching in pain. Helen called after him “Be sure to get a good massage with medicinal oils, or you won’t be able to move tomorrow.”

#

The boys went to the gymnasium for massage. While Ajax was being worked on, Teukros asked around about the Spartans.

One of the trainers offered what gossip he knew. “The Spartan women? They’ve been here for about a few months, now. The tall beautiful one is a priestess of Athena, if you please.” He snorted in derision. “The short beautiful one is said to be betrothed to a king, or something. Doesn’t seem to stop all the suitors sniffing after her, though.”

“What about the dark haired one?” Teukros asked.

The trainer shrugged. “Dunno. She likes to fight and ride; no way for a decent woman to behave.”

“And what about their teacher? Why is he so abrasive?”

The trainer smiled and shook his head. “He’s Spartan and he’s old; He’s probably just upset that he never died in battle.”

 

#

The next morning Ajax and Teukros found the Spartan women and their teachers sitting under the olive trees again. They were listening to Epicurus holding forth. The dark-haired green-eyed one reclined against the tall golden-haired one who had nearly beaten Ajax. The pretty fair-haired girl sat next to them.

“Pleasure is my philosophy. Only pleasure.  Pleasure is the only goal for a reasonable life.”

“What about love? Or virtue? Or even service?” asked Helen. “Are these not worthy things?”

“Ah, but taken to extremes, even great principles like these can become perverse. When you chase after extremes, you only drive yourself mad, for you can never fully attain your aspirations.  And then, all you’ve left is pain and fear, and no hope for pleasure.”

“But how does pursuing only pleasure make you anything but weak, soft, and decadent?” asked Cynisca, her green eyes flashing.

“Yes,” agreed Medousa. “Anyone who trains and studies for any useful endeavor understands that sacrifices have to be made if you are to attain your goals.”

Ajax and Teukros sat down, apart from the women, near the philosopher. Ajax grimaced as he sat, still smarting from his beating the day before.

“Well,” Epicurus said, “perhaps we need to define pleasure first.”

“I know!” yelled Cynisca.

“Oh, shush,” Helen said. “We all know what you think pleasure is.”

“Fighting and fucking!” Cynisca said cheerfully as Medousa laughed.

Epicurus cleared his throat, directing a severe look at Cynisca.

“Very well,” Epicurus said, rubbing his temples, “Think of it this way– You consider fighting to be a great pleasure, yes?”

Cynisca nodded vigorously.

“Very well; now, name me a small pleasure.”

Cynisca furrowed her brow. “Getting an answer right on a mathematics examination?”

Epicurus nodded. “Good. Now, describe for me the activity of fighting.”

“Well, you face an opponent, and you fight!”

“But what do you do? What is the process? More details, please.”

“Weapons, or pankration?

Epicurus sighed and rubbed his temples again.

“Pankration,” he said.

“Well,” Cynisca began excitedly, “You face your opponent, and move in. You have to try to hit them hard in a vulnerable spot, or throw them down, or break their joints, so they can’t continue fighting. The strategy is–”

“Urm. And you consider that ‘fun?'”

“Oh, yes!”

“But, isn’t it possible you could be injured?”

“Well, of course. I’ve wrenched my shoulder before. And once, I almost broke my hand when–”

“I see. Is this part of the pleasure?”

“No. See–”

“Is it possible to win the contest, but end up damaged and in pain?”

“Certainly. But that’s–”

“Your shoulder. How long was the fight in which you damaged it?”

“Perhaps a minute. Maybe less.”

“And how long did it take to heal?”

“Weeks! But I–”

“So, about a minute of pleasure against, let’s say, three weeks of misery?”

“Well, it sounds miserable when you put it that way….”

“Now, if you are working at your studies, or sitting for a test, and you solve an arithmetic problem correctly, doesn’t that please you?”

“Well, yeah….”

“And when you get that correct answer, what happens next?”

Cynisca snorted. “I ‘get’ to go on to the next question.”

“Aha! So, when you fight, you might get a few minutes of pleasure and several weeks of agony; but when you work on your arithmetic, you could conceivably have hours of pleasure!”

His audience looked at him doubtfully.

“That’s not exactly–” Medousa began.

“Of course it’s ‘exactly!'” Epicurus interrupted. “It’s exactly my point: Moderation. Learning to enjoy the small, mundane things in life will ultimately result in greater pleasure.”

“But what kind of pleasure is that?” Helen challenged the philosopher. “If you’re not happy at whatever you’re doing, how can you derive pleasure from it?”

“I believe happiness to be freedom from pain and fear, to be tranquil and unmoved in one’s mind. Pleasure is to be found in the perfect exercise of one’s faculties. The highest good we can achieve is to be free of pain and fear.”

“Huh,” Ajax interjected. “You’d sit around all day like a useless ass without some desire for excellence. Of what use would you be to your family, your friends, or your city?”

The others turned to look at him. “And what would you, Ajax?” challenged Medousa.

“I am going to be a general, and a king, one day,” he replied proudly. “I will cover myself in glory on the battlefield.  Songs will be sung of me long after I’m gone.”

“Fame?” Epicurus almost seemed to sneer. “Fool’s gold. Count it– can it fill your purse?  Eat it; you’ll go hungry. Chase it; it’ll frustrate you.”

“Then I would be rich and powerful,” said Teukros.

Epicurus shrugged. “Even if you had all the wealth of Croesus, how much could you eat at one sitting? How many fine suits of clothes could you wear at one time? In how many houses could you dwell at one time? In how many rooms could you sleep in one night?” He paused, considering. “I would say, forget politics.  We should live modestly, and spend our lives learning about the world and its workings, and strive to free ourselves from greed, the desire for fame, and to understand the limits of our desires. In this way, we can attain true happiness, and experience pleasure.”

“Yes, yes,” Chionis interrupted. “Logic, quiet contemplation, and rigorous training.” Epicurus looked hurt. “Come on, now; it’s time to work. Thank your teacher and we’ll be going.”

The austere young philosopher received his thanks, and his payment, and got up to leave. “Day after tomorrow, then?” he asked. Chionis nodded, and Epicurus made his way back to the city.

“That little philosopher of yours is a curious fellow,” Teukros commented. “Why do you engage him, particularly?”

“He makes enough sense to me,” Chionis replied. “Besides; He’s the only godsdamned philosopher around here who’ll teach women.”

“A strange one,” Teukros said, watching after Epicurus as he continued on toward the city.

Cynisca, Helen, and Medousa stood and removed their outer garments. Ajax and Teukros stood up with them and stripped down to their tunics.

“So?” said Chionis. “You boys are here to join us, eh?”

“Yessir,” they replied. The women looked over, pleased.

“Huh. You’re the first Athenians brave enough.”

“Actually, we’re from Salamis,” said Teukros.

Chionis shook his head. “Figures.”

“What are we doing today, sir?” Ajax asked.

“We’re running down to the sea today. Can you boys swim?”

“Yessir.”

“Good. When we get down to the sea, we’re going for a swim.  Just follow us.”

#

They tied up their clothes into little bundles on their backs, and raced off down the road to the sea. Cynisca quickly took the lead, closely followed by Medousa. The others trailed by a couple of paces. It was a leisurely thirty stadia to the sea. Once they reached the waters, they ran straight in, without breaking stride. They swam out to just beyond the surf and started swimming parallel to the shore. They traveled another twenty or thirty stadia along the coast, the Spartan women in the lead. Ajax pushed himself, trying to get closer to Medousa. As he swam behind her, he noticed a dolphin swimming along with them.

It was a beautiful animal. It swam around them. It swam in between them. It spiraled around under them. The dolphin was trying to play with them.  Along the course of their swim, the dolphin twice came up between Medousa and the others, as if it were trying to separate her from the group, and when she tried to swim back to them, the dolphin would nudge her away.

Alarmed at the overly playful beast’s actions, Ajax reached out for Medousa and guided her back away from the dolphin. He stayed at her side and gently pushed the dolphin away as they finally began to make for shore. The dolphin did not follow them in to the surf, but remained for a long while, watching them, as if disappointed at the loss of its playmates.

They landed up on a small secluded stretch of beach, about half a stadion long and a plethron wide. Three sides were protected by low cliffs, and the remaining side was open to the sea. There were a few rocks near the shore, but it was mostly fine white sand.

As they walked up onto the beach, Ajax glanced back at the animal. “Odd, that,” he commented. “It was almost as if he wanted to carry you off,” he said to Medousa. She replied as they laid their tunics out to dry on some rocks in the sun, “Yes; that one seems to follow us every time we go swimming.”

“Follows you, you mean,” said Helen.

Medousa made a face at her.

“Last month, it was a white stallion that used to pace us part way down the road to the sea when we ran,” Cynisca said. “And what about that magnificent brown bull in the field where we practice discus and javelin?”

“Oh, yes,” said Helen. “And Medousa’s the only one that gets anywhere near him. For her, he’s gentle as a cow.”

“It’s a good omen, I think.” said Chionis.

“Poseidon favors you, Medousa,” said Ajax.

“Of course he does,” said the old trainer. “Now come on; Time for pankration. Ever practice in the sand before, boys? Heh. You’ll need strong legs for this.”

 

#

Chionis was right. Of course, both Ajax and Teukros had studied boxing and wrestling, but here on the sands, they found it difficult to move, the ground constantly shifting under them.  Chionis worked them hard, for a good hour and a half. They practiced mostly combat drills and calisthenics, and the girls did a good bit of sparring amongst themselves.

Ajax couldn’t help but stare at Medousa. While yesterday her body had been partially hidden beneath her training tunic, today there was no such impediment to his gaze.  She had the curves of a woman, yet her body was well muscled and fit. The rounded swellings of her breasts were supported by strong pectoral muscles. Her thighs and buttocks were firm and powerful. There was nothing soft or weak about Medousa. He found it intensely attractive. Helen and Cynisca were also beautiful, and equally well conditioned; but Medousa outshone them both. Once or twice, she caught him looking at her, and smiled. Chionis noticed the two boys watching the women, and was careful not to allow the lads to spar with his charges. “Foreign boys,” he muttered to himself as he chuckled inwardly.

Eventually, Chionis called for an end to class. Everyone sat in the sand to rest. Ajax and Teukros groaned as they sat and began stretching out their legs. The old man had been right, and their legs were already quite sore. As they sat stretching out, Teukros whispered to his brother. “You like her, don’t you?”

Ajax smiled.  “Of course! She’s magnificent!”

“Dunno what father would say about you dallying with a Spartan thigh-shower. Besides; you’ve only just met her.”

Ajax laughed. “I’ve known her long enough, Teukros.”

His brother frowned.

 

“We’re done,” Chionis called. “Time to head back to the city.”

Ajax and Teukros expected to go back to the sea, to swim back the way they’d come. But when everyone had gotten their tunics and clothes, now properly dried on the rocks, Chionis led them up a steep, narrow trail into the cliffs that eventually led to a gently sloped plain from which they could see the city, some thirty or forty stadia away.

 

#

A few days later, Ajax and Teukros returned to the fields by the olive grove as previously, but saw no one. Ajax was obviously disappointed; He was anxious to see Medousa again. “Too bad, brother,” Teukros teased. “Perhaps she was intimidated by your prowess.”

Ajax ignored him, and they set to their own practice.

Ajax and Teukros went out to the middle of the field, not far from the edge of a copse of trees, and practiced maneuvers. Ajax would wield a huge shield and spear, and his brother crouched down behind him, bow at the ready. When Ajax would raise his shield and lunge forward with his spear, Teukros would dart out, loose an arrow at one of the trees, and dart back behind Ajax’s shield as he returned to guard position.

At first, Teukros’ aim was poor, as he wasn’t allowed much time to sight before firing his bow. But, as they worked, he improved, until he could hit his marks each time. “We should get the servants to throw stones at us or something,” he commented to Ajax. “So we can see how well this would work in actual battle.”

“I’m not sure they’d appreciate your return fire, Brother.”

“I wouldn’t actually shoot them, you know…!” Teukros protested.

They paused in their training. “What do you think of Medousa?” Ajax asked his brother.

“She’s stunning. As beautiful as Hera, as adept in battle as Athena…. I shouldn’t wonder if she has countless suitors back in Sparta. Why?”

“I was just thinking.”

Teukros smiled. “About her, eh?”

Ajax returned his smile and nodded. “Ah, what I wouldn’t give to feel those limbs around me…!”

Teukros laughed. “Careful, Brother– They’re Spartans; you don’t simply want to take her like one of your shepherd girls.”

“What do you mean?” Ajax asked.

“Well, consider; they’re obviously royalty, and their Helots are well-armed, and their chaperon looks as if he could kill us both with nothing more than his bare hands. You can’t simply ‘take’ this one. Spartans have a reputation.”

Ajax chuckled. He fell silent for a moment, daydreaming.

“You have an idea already?” Teukros asked.

Ajax smiled, sighing. “I think I’m in love,” Teukros.

“Love?”

“Well. Perhaps. Come on. Let’s do some more of these drills. Then we should wrestle.” He hefted his shield again, ready.

They heard a noise and looked up toward the far end of the field. “Hey– look who’s here,” Teukros said. Ajax looked up. The Spartans had apparently been hunting that morning; the four of them, pupils and teacher, were mounted on horseback, dragging the cleaned carcass of a large boar behind them. They could see Helen, with her glittering bow, and Medousa and Cynisca, carrying their sharp spears. Chionis brought up the rear, ahead of their Helots.

Cynisca was the first to notice Ajax and Teukros training in the middle of the field. She nudged Medousa, riding beside her. Then, with a ferocious grin and a mischievous twinkle in her eye, Cynisca charged at the boys at full gallop. Her skill was extraordinary. She held her shield close over breast and shoulder, and, reins in her teeth and steering with her knees, she held her spear at the ready.

Startled, the young men held their ground. Ajax braced himself behind his massive shield, bringing his spear up. But at the last possible moment, Cynisca turned aside, avoiding Ajax’s thrust, and giving his shield a hard knock with the butt-end of her own spear. Ajax was red-faced with anger, as Cynisca laughed.

Medousa came galloping up behind her. “Cynisca!” she cried sharply. Her green-eyed friend replied with playful defiance. “Oh, come on. I was just teasing….”

“Little Puppy! We want the Athenians to like us!” Medousa whispered ferociously in reply.

“Teasing!” said Ajax. “I could have killed you!”

“I thought for sure she was about to run you through,” Teukros murmured.

“I’m sorry,” Medousa told them, glaring at Cynisca, who moved off back toward the other Spartans, still laughing. “Look– why don’t you eat with us? There’s plenty of meat on that old boar for all of us.”

“I don’t know…” Ajax said, eying Cynisca as she trotted back to her companions to help with their kill.

“Oh, Cynisca’s just playful, that’s all.”

“‘Playful?'”

 

#

But, Ajax and Teukros relented and joined in with the Spartans for a picnic. Helen sent her Helots to the city to bring back some wine and bread. The boar was cut up, flayed, and roasted, and everyone sat down together. Chionis and the Helots sat ranged around the youngsters where they could be unobtrusive and yet watchful of them, and the children themselves sat together, eating and talking.

“It’s almost like being back home,” Helen giggled. Medousa and Cynisca laughed and reclined against each other.

“You have picnics like this often in Sparta?” Ajax asked.

“Well,” Helen considered, “Not that often. Regularly, but not often.”

“It would interfere with training,” Cynisca explained.

“I dunno,” Teukros commented. “Men and women, mixing together, in public?” He blushed. “Isn’t that…unseemly…?”

The Spartans were provoked to laughter by his comment.

“I didn’t notice you complaining when we were training on the beach,” Cynisca said, wrapping a free arm around Medousa and staring hard at Ajax. Ajax held his tongue, blushing under Cynisca’s playful glare. Again, the Spartans laughed.

“Our women must be just as capable as our men,” Chionis told them. “They must be fit to raise good Spartan men. When our men are off to war, the welfare of the City is in their hands.”

“Our women can’t afford to be weak or useless,” Helen added.

“Well, wait a moment,” Teukros began to ask. “If your women are busy undergoing the Agoge like your men, when do they marry?”

“What do you mean ‘when’?” Helen asked.

“Just as I’ve said,” Teukros said defensively. “Our women are married off as soon as they can start families. Our menfolk finish their Agoge around the same age, and move on to their apprenticeships. So when have you got time in Sparta to raise families?”

The Spartans shook their heads, amused. Cynisca spoke.

“We all finish our Agoge at about the age of twenty,” she told the Salamite. “Our males leave home to go live in the barracks at seven, and we study at home. There’s so much to learn, after all! And there’s the physical training as well….”

Helen continued. “We usually marry then, and start families, but our men will stay with their battle groups until they’re about thirty. Then they come home to us.”

Ajax shook his head. “No one in all Hellas lives that way!”

Chionis grinned. “And no one else in all Hellas is Sparta.”

The girls laughed.

“What strange ways you Big City folk have,” Medousa commented.

“So–Why have you come to Athens?” Ajax asked, changing the subject.

“We’re here selling iron and bronze,” Helen answered. “And our Medousa is an initiate in the cult of Athena Parthenos,” she added proudly.

 

#

Some days later, Medousa spent an evening on the Acropolis with Thaleia, Lysimache’s young assistant priestess. She took her into the temple to show her the night time rituals and duties of the Virgins. They entered into the Parthenon as the sun was setting. Thaleia gestured toward the rear of the sanctuary.

“See? Back there is the Virgins’ Chamber. That’s where they live during their tenure. Two or four will stay here to serve the Goddess and assist the high priestess. They are forbidden to leave the temple.”

“You mean they have to stay here always?”

“For their time of service, yes,” Thaleia replied. “They come out of their chamber only at night, to tend their duties. They’re each allowed only one garment to wear. They perform their functions at night so that no one may see them. They clean and maintain the sanctuary, and they light the fires for the night. And they must never step in front of the image of the Goddess during the course of their duties.”

“Are there other associate priestesses?”

“Of course. We handle the sacrifices and duties that are proscribed for the high priestess.”

“Like what?” Medousa asked.

Thaleia paused, thinking. “Well,” she said, “Lysimache isn’t allowed to handle sheep, or eat mutton, or anything that comes from sheep.”

“A priestess of Athena cannot touch sheep?” Medousa asked, surprised.

“Well, actually, in this case, I think it’s more of a clan prohibition, just for her.”

Thaleia paused. “But never mind that, now–Let’s go meet the resident virgins. You’ll stay with them tonight, and see what they do.”

 

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a faceless drone in a corporate call center, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in my dead grandparents’ house, alone, with an impressive collection of martial arts weapons, where I practice and train daily. I am not currently on any medications.
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