Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alike as Two Bees


Crikey, that's all I can say. One moment I’m sitting at home reading Elin Gregory’s new novella, “Alike as Two Bees” (and thoroughly enjoying it). There's a whooshing noise, like a bus has driven past too near and suddenly I find myself on a long sandy beach. It’s baking hot, even the air smells earthy and dry. Just ahead of me a broad shouldered dark haired young man in a crumpled linen tunic is sitting on a rock over looking a long beach. He has two plain ceramic cups by his side and a dish piled high with flat bread and olives. He turns his head and smiles as he hears my approach. I get the impression he's expecting me. Do you know? I think it's Philon, the main character from Elin's "Alike as Two Bees".

"Hello Philon," I say, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."




"No, It's nap time." Philon smiles. "We'll have to be quick, though, before 'Toli wakes up."

 "Ah, 'Toli. I understand from your story that he's a clean lad and louse free, for the most part. Is that true?" 

Philon chuckles. "Yes, if we catch him and wash him. We all do our best but everyone gets the odd louse from time to time. Kosmas brings 'em in I think. Or Methodios - he's always scratching."

"Oh," I say. "I was just reading about Kosmas and Methodios. They aren't all that kind to you, are they?"

"Kosmas just forgets things. He doesn't mean it but if he's not thinking about his work he's thinking about girls. I swear his brain's in his hands, or his cock. OH!" Philon turns and looked down at his feet. "I’m sorry, that was a very inappropriate thing to say to a woman. Methodios - he can be nasty. He's getting old and creaky. I think young people annoy him."


(In an aside to you, the reader: That is so cute - he thinks he's shocked me). "Philon, what are you working on now?"

"We’ve been hired by Eutychos." Philon nods along the coast to a rise where new walls are silhouetted against the blue sky. "Galenos is doing herms - his hands are getting a bit old for fine work but he can bash out a herm in a couple of days, as long as someone else dresses the block for him, and every house has one. Methodios is dressing some slabs to put around a doorway. They will probably have acanthus on them. 'Toli is carving Aphrodite - he's doing her tits and keeps giggling." Philon laughs too. "Nikias is working on the design for a drinking water fountain.”

"And what are you working on?"

Philon ducks his head, a pleased but modest little smile on his lips. "I'm roughing out some centaurs. Nikias says I can do the horse parts of them to completion. That will be a first. I haven't been carving long. Last year I was just a stone mason.”

"How has your life changed in the last year?" 


"For the better, I think. I was a good mason but - I don't know. It wasn't enough, if you know what I mean, but Father and two of my brothers seemed content with what I did. I owe a lot to Nikias - the master sculptor. He said it was a waste to have me chipping out column drums when I could do so much more. I hope I've proved him right."

"Are you a romantic Philon?" 

"A what? A metic?" Philon frowns but looks as much embarrassed as annoyed. "Um - no. I am a free born Athenian. Or did I mis-hear you?"

"Whoops! A time warp - I forgot I'm in Classical Greece. Let me try again. Do you believe in love?" 


"Oh yes, love is important. Agape - loving kindness - is a great virtue. I try to cultivate it - don't always manage it, but I try. Methodios would make a Stoic spit when he's had a few too many and tries to shove his hand up my chiton." Philon grimaces. "But at his age I suppose he has to get his thrills where he can"

"Methodios needs to learn some manners, I reckon. What advice would you give to young Antolios ('Toli) on this very subject?"


"Well - assuming he'd listen - I'd tell him to keep at arms length at such times. We keep a close eye on him. He's far too young yet to court trouble but in three or four years I’m sure he’ll be a trial. He's going to have people calling him Kallias Anatolios and we'll be up to our armpits in hares, fighting cocks and lovesick suitors, I shouldn't wonder. For now he's more interested in his next meal. And that’s how it should be at his age." As though recalling the food in the dish he offers the plate to me, taking a piece of bread for himself. 

I shake my head. "Thanks, but I've just eaten...will eat...well, you know. Tell me, Philon, what are you most interested in?"

"Apart from my work?" Philon takes a moment to consider, a little crease between his brows as he chews a mouthful of bread. "I - I like watching the horses on the beach. They are beautiful - Poseidon's gift to us. It’s good to watch them. It improves my carving."

"You watch the horses? Is that all? Are you sure you're not checking out anything else?"

Philon’s brown cheeks warm as though heated by the sun and he looks down at his feet again, his toes digging into the gravelly sand. "The riders - sometimes. I have to make sure I get those right too. There's one man with the most beautiful chestnut mare. She flies and he flies with her. I can't imagine him ever falling. He's - they are amazing. I could watch for hours. Ah – look ... " He raises a hand to shade his eyes and nods along the beach towards a distant mass of dark figures, sweeping along the sand. "There they are now," he says. "See – she shines so brightly and he ..." He falls silent, his hands clenching on his knee, the piece of bread in one of them forgotten. It's very easy to see it's more than the horses he's attracted to.

"Philon, I'll let you watch the beautiful mare and rider. I hope we're going to see a lot more of you in the future. And maybe 'Toli too because he's a little sweetheart - send him a kiss from me."


"A kiss for 'Toli, from a real live lady?" Philon grins. "I will give him your best regards, and weather the storm over me talking to you without him. But maybe another time he can come too? I promise that he will behave."

There's another whoosh and I'm back at my breakfast table. What a lovely character Philon is! And, as I watch the cars zooming past outside, I do admire them in those days for their tolerance towards same-sex relationships. 


*****
That was marvellous to do! Thanks Elin for doing the role play with me :-)

Elin may be found on http://elingregory.blogspot.com and http://elin-gregory.livejournal.com/ and http://elingregory.dreamwidth.org
Facebook
Tumblr
Twitter as @ElinGregory.



Alike as Two Bees
By: Elin Gregory
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Mar 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781937976194
Word Count: 19,664
Heat Index: mildly spiced - korma rather than vindaloo

Blurb:

Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey…

In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.

After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hilarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants—and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.

Excerpt

Given an appreciative audience, the horsemen were bound to show off a little. They raced toward Philon almost knee to knee, but parted neatly to pass him by. He turned on his heels to watch them go, but they pulled up, setting their horses to prance. The youth on the black horse made his mount rear, forehooves pawing, his eyes on the brown-bearded man on the gray who laughed and called him to his side. The man on the chestnut laughed too, then trotted the mare back and pulled her up a pace or two away from Philon. He smiled. “Hello, sculptor. A fine day for swimming.”
“Hello, rider,” Philon said. The man was fine-boned and lightweight, but well muscled in his chest and shoulders. On his left thigh was a long, pale pink scar, curving like a smile against the brown skin—a sword cut?—suggesting his horsemanship had been gained on the battlefield rather than just the riding square. The brief exomis he wore was frayed at the edges where the embroidered braid, once expensive, was threadbare, and it had fallen from his shoulder to gather in sodden folds in his lap. The sparse hairs on his chest looked like fine wires of gold.
“A good day for a gallop,” Philon said. “Your mare is beautiful.”
“She is,” the man agreed and gave her a little nudge so she arched her neck, sidling closer. Philon raised his hand to place it on the mare’s glossy hide and stroked down her neck to her shoulder until his hand was an inch or two from the rider’s sweat-sheened thigh.
“Her name is Charis,” the rider said, reaching forward to tug one of her ears.
“Charis,” Philon said. He grinned as the mare turned her head to lip at his chest.
“She won’t bite. She just likes the salt,” the rider assured him. “I know your name too. I asked about the sculptor’s apprentice. I said, ‘No, not the boy. I want to know the name of the youth.’”
The warmth in Philon’s face was suddenly not just due to the sun. “I don’t know who to ask to find out your name,” he admitted.
“You won’t need to ask if I tell you. I’m Hilarion.” Hilarion’s smile was very white, aside from the missing tooth just below the scar at the left side of his lip. He didn’t seem at all self-conscious about either. Philon returned the smile and patted the mare’s neck again in lieu of thinking of something to say.
Hilarion’s eyes crinkled still further at the corners. “Can you ride? My mare will take double on the sand.”
“I…I don’t know.” Philon felt himself flush again. “I’ve ridden a mule sometimes on the way to collect something.”
“A mule?” The rider of the gray horse shouted a laugh, echoed by the youth on the black, but Philon felt they were laughing at Hilarion rather than him.
Hilarion grinned. “Linos,” he called. When the brown-bearded man looked at him, Hilarion made a gesture to his friend Philon had never seen before. Linos laughed and made it back. “Charis is not a mule,” Hilarion said, hitching himself farther along his horse’s back. “Come. You can sit in front of me. Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall.”
He offered his hand and Philon stared at it, imagining the sleek chestnut hide under his thighs and Hilarion’s arms supporting him, holding him tight. He had been warned that there were some men who might take liberties. Hilarion’s gap-toothed smile seemed genuine enough but…

~~~

Available from Amazon US