Age of Edward Contest 2012
Title: Little Dart
Type of Edward: Minoanward
"Crete, second millennium BCE. The Minoan Nobleman Eruthros has plans for his future and secrets he must keep. When he finds an intruder in his room, how will his destiny change?"
The Minoan civilization arose on the island of Crete. Our Edward – or Minoanward – got an Ancient Greek name for this story. Meet Eruthros!
The characters of Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. The plot is mine.
Knossos, Island of Crete
Second Millennium BCE
Eruthros walked briskly along the corridor. The torch he was carrying illuminated the frescoes on his house walls. Under the fluttering golden light provided by the flames, the painted figures seemed to be dancing in the night.
He'd spent hours in his garden, examining the constellations and thinking about the route his ship was going to follow. But it was time to go back to his room and try to sleep, as much as the trepidation over his upcoming departure would let him.
Just a few days. The moment he'd dreamed of for months – the journey he'd planned through hours and hours of study – was going to become real before the new moon.
Memories of his preceptor lingered in Eruthros' mind. Karlakis had taught him about the way stars could be useful to navigate in the open sea, and he'd told his pupil about a large, prosperous land in Occident. Esperia was its name, but Eruthros had heard that other people called it Enotria or Italia. The explorers who had reached its coasts said that the land was so big that they couldn't explore all of it. There were only a few tribes living there, as far as they'd seen – small groups of people who had looked almost like savages to them.
Eruthros was going to leave and reach that faraway land. He'd summoned a group of friends and a good crew of servants who would share his adventure. If the explorers were right, in that region they could look for wood and metals to sell in the countries bordering the Mediterranean.
Minos, King of Knossos and a distant cousin of Eruthros' father, had given his consent to the project. The riches he hoped Eruthros and his crew were going to bring back would be a good auspice for the wedding between his daughter and the most attractive young nobleman of Knossos. In Minos' opinion, Princess Tanis and Eruthros would grant Crete the most prosperous future.
Eruthros averted his attention from his musings. The thought of his upcoming journey was more appealing than his wedding. He had to get some rest in order to be in force for his journey. He hung his torch in the corridor, so it would continue to provide light.
But when he entered his room, he froze.
In a corner he detected a crouching figure, sifting through the coffers where he kept his possessions. Was this a dangerous spy, or just a petty thief? He launched himself at the body in the semi-darkness.
As he slammed his chest against the intruder's back, sending them both to the floor, he saw the blade of a short dagger. Before the sneak under him could catch his breath, Eruthros grabbed his wrist, determined to crush his bones.
The sound that issued from the thief's mouth halted Eruthros in his intentions. The cry of pain didn't belong to a man. Entrapped under his muscular frame, a slim girl shuddered, then writhed in the rough cloak that concealed her.
A little more pressure from his fingers around her wrist was enough to make her release the weapon she'd been clutching. He brought her arms behind her back and held both her hands with one of his. The dagger he retrieved from the ground was his. He'd brought it with him in the morning, when he'd gone to hunt in the woods, and then he'd forgotten to put it back in the coffer.
He took it, then turned the girl in his arms and distanced himself from her, so that they were sitting in front of each other. She kept her head bowed, her features framed by a mass of dark hair that covered her shoulders in loose waves.
"Who are you?" Eruthros growled. Since he got no answer, he pointed the dagger toward the girl. She recoiled when she saw the blade and scrambled toward the room's furthest corner.
"Who?" he snarled, louder.
The girl tilted up her head, revealing big, dark eyes. Eruthros couldn't tell if her skin was naturally pale, or if the current situation had made her blanch. She was trembling, but her gaze held his.
She was at the complete mercy of the man who had caught her. The cloak she tightened around herself couldn't provide any shield against the destiny awaiting her. Given the tales she'd heard about what the Minoans did to the Greek girls they'd taken as prisoners, she was hoping that he would give her the mercy of a quick death.
Eruthros rose to his full height and looked down at the girl curled at his feet.
"Have you been sent to spy on me?" he asked contemptuously. Knossos was the most powerful city in Crete, and the richest because of its merchants' ability. Their ships were better built and less likely to sink. They had many rivals of whom to be wary. But Karlakis had taught Eruthros a way to keep his plans secret; even if a spy had taken away all his wax tablets, nobody could have discovered his intentions.
The stranger didn't answer and looked at him in confusion.
He frowned. Didn't she understand his dialect? Even if she was from another part of the island, how was it possible? Unless...
"Are you a spy?" he asked again, in Greek this time.
Anger flashed in the girl's eyes at the accusation she'd just received. "I'm not a spy," she croaked.
More than the girl's answer, Eruthros was taken aback by the realization that she wasn't from Crete.
"Stay there," he ordered before she could speak further. He glanced over his shoulder while leaving the room. "Don't move," he hissed. She didn't show any intention to leave her corner, but she sat on the ground with her arms clutched around her legs, her chin on her knees.
He rapidly checked the corridor and the garden, as far as he could see from there. There were no other foreigners in sight. He spotted two guards patrolling the most exposed side of the palace. To avoid being noticed and caught, the girl must have been fast and silent. If she wasn't a spy, she couldn't be but a thief.
He assessed his coffers, which were still in order. It seemed that she wasn't looking for his gold or hadn't had the time to do so.
"Open your cloak," he ordered.
She hesitated and didn't comply.
"Do you understand me? Open the cloak."
She shook her head.
In a fast motion, he stripped the garment away from her shoulders. Under the worn mantle – a blanket which she'd wrapped around her – the slim girl was wearing only a short tunic. She wasn't armed. She felt exposed to his scrutiny and held her arms tightly to herself; a whimper escaped from her lips.
Eruthros realized too late what his outburst must have signaled. He felt a new pang of anger, but not toward her. She couldn't know that he wasn't that kind of man. He'd wanted to check that she wasn't armed, but he would have never taken a woman against her will.
He gave her garment back. "Here." His tone softened slightly, and he distanced himself from her.
But something else, in the spot where she'd been rummaging, piqued his curiosity. He retrieved a piece of cheese and some bread and recognized the leftovers of a little meal he'd had while studying in his room.
"You weren't looking for gold, were you?" he surmised. He showed her the food. If she wanted something to eat, she should have gone to the pantry. But surely, there would have been more people there. He knew there were beggars in the villages, but he'd never heard that someone had entered the palace just to steal some food. "You're hungry."
She averted her eyes and bowed her head again.
He told himself that he should punish her, since she was a thief. Regardless, he took her hands in his and put the cheese in them. "You can have it." His discomfort at the unusual situation made his voice grumpy.
The girl held the food as if it were burning. Eruthros was confused when her shoulders began to tremble. "Eat," he encouraged her.
Her body was shaken by hushed sobs, but she spoke loudly. "No."
"Don't you need the food?"
Her eyes bored into his. "I don't want it."
He let out a bitter laugh. "Do you prefer to steal it?"
Her cheeks flushed. "I wouldn't have become a thief if it hadn't been for your people," she seethed. "You took everything from us. You made us prisoners, and you brought every sorrow to our home!"
Eruthros gaped at her. She couldn't have arrived from...He had to know. "Where are you from?"
"I come from Athens," she said. Her voice softened as she uttered the name of her motherland.
He swallowed hard and took a step back, as if he'd found himself in front of a venomous snake. Was she among the Greek girls who were destined for the young prince? Every year Knossos demanded seven boys and seven girls from Athens. At first, the Minoans had thought that the prisoners were going to become slaves. But then, none of the Greeks had been seen around anymore. That, and the stories about the young prince, the one whom not even Eruthros had ever met...Although he was going to marry the princess...
Knossos' queen had lost her life giving birth to her son. It wasn't uncommon, alas, and the king had the consolation that, after two girls, he'd gotten a strong male heir. Or so people had told him, trying to ease his pain. But the prince had never been seen in public. It seemed that he spent all his time in the palace, in a wing where nobody was allowed to go. The girl in front of Eruthros should have ended up there, among the fourteen Athenians who were destined to that wing. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Five years younger than me," he mumbled, almost to himself.
"But I'll never reach that age, will I?"
The fear in her eyes struck him. If I call a guard, if I take her to the royal palace, I would cause her death, he told himself. I can't. I can't be a monster.
He closed the distance between them and took her hand in his. She recoiled from his touch, her skin cold as her trembling fingers tried to escape from his grasp.
"I won't hurt you," he told her quietly, "but I want the truth. Did you escape from Knossos?"
She slowly shook her head. "No. I never arrived there. I...fell from the ship."
He recalled that the last ship from Athens had reached Crete only a few days ago. The sea had been stormy, and the ship had passed very close to their shores. But all the gates and docks were guarded, and no one would have allowed a prisoner from Athens to escape.
"And you came here alone?" he wondered, voicing his thoughts aloud.
"I am alone," she spat, bitterness seeping through her words. She quickly wiped away a tear. "My sister could save only me."
He put a finger under her chin, making her tilt up her head. She flinched as the skin of the Cretan man touched hers; she'd expected the contact to be rough, but it wasn't so.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Bella," she mumbled, almost too low to be heard.
His large hand cupped her cheek for a brief moment. "Say it again."
He repeated her name, testing it on his tongue. "Doesn't it mean darts in Greek?"
He smiled at her. "You must have been as fast as a dart to enter my house without being seen by any guard."
She hung her head in shame. The Cretan villa she'd entered was close to the woods where she'd been hiding. She would have never stolen anything from a family that could be as poor as she'd become in Athens, after she and her sister had lost their parents. But it seemed like a rich house. She'd wandered in the ample garden, thinking that everyone was asleep. When she'd seen that a door had been left open, she hadn't been able to resist the temptation to sneak in and look for something that could help her. A morsel of bread, something to wear...anything could have been of use. But then she'd gotten lost, ending up in the room where the Cretan man had found her.
Only their breathing echoed in the silent room.
She thought about her sister, and the sacrifice she'd made to save her. When they'd found an empty barrel on the boat, she'd insisted that Bella was the one who had to try to escape, since she was slimmer and could swim faster. If there was a chance for one of them to survive, they had to try. Bella hid in the barrel, and her sister had pushed it toward the edge until it went overboard. Then she told the crew that, during the storm, Bella had fallen from the ship and drowned.
The Greek girl shivered, recalling the fear she'd felt while swimming against the hostile waves. Hope had made her fight, and she'd succeeded. But now, it was all for nothing. No one could save her.
Eruthros' voice broke the silence. "I'll let you go. But if you ever come here again, I will have to take you to Knossos' palace."
Her eyes widened as he named the very place where she'd been destined to end up. For all her life, she'd been taught that the Minoans were the ones who had ruined her country. Instead, although she'd tried to steal in his house, this Cretan man had been kind to her.
Eruthros set aside the wax tablets he'd been working on. Bella eyed him while he did so, and he noticed her curiosity. He could show her something before letting her go. He retrieved the torch and took a tablet, pointing to a sequence of syllables. "This is my name," he explained.
She stared at the signs impressed in the wax, squinting her eyes. She wanted to follow the profile of the symbols with a finger but didn't dare to reach out her hand. She averted her eyes from the written words. "I can't read," she murmured.
He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. All the women in his family could read and write. Some of them could even compose poems. "Ee-ru-thros" he uttered, following the signs with his index finger.
"Eh-ru-thros," she said aloud. Her accent was slightly different than his, but the meaning of his name was clear. "Red."
He passed a hand through his unruly hair. "My hair color is the reason for my name," he explained. In the firelight, his strands resembled dark copper.
A hint of a smile appeared on Bella's lips. For the first time since she'd arrived in Crete, the tension in her body seemed to lessen.
He smiled back at her as, for a fleeting moment, he imagined teaching her to read and write.
He took another tablet and put it beside the first one. "See? These signs are similar to those others, but nobody from my country or yours can understand them. It's a language my preceptor taught me. Only a few people know how it works."
His gaze lingered on the girl beside him. Why did he feel that he could trust her? Reluctantly, he reminded himself that Bella's presence in his home was still a danger. He retrieved the little food he had there and handed it to her. "Take it," he instructed. "I'll escort you out of the house. Then you may run away."
Getting around the rich villa Eruthros called home without getting lost posed a challenge even for some of the people who had spent years there. Bella wouldn't have been able to find her way out. When Knossos' king had commissioned Daedalus to build a labyrinth in his palace, he'd just followed an old Minoan tradition. All the houses of the island's noblemen had their secret corridors, and only their owners were supposed to know all of them.
Eruthros could have gone in and out from the villa in many different ways, always without being seen. He didn't choose the quickest one, though, since he wasn't supposed to reveal his family's secrets to a stranger. Plus, his instincts told him to make the walk with Bella last as long as possible. The thought that he wouldn't see her again was making him uncomfortable. She was brave and fierce. Those were qualities he'd always admired, and he would have wanted his wife to have them, too. Alas, other reasons had brought him to agree to marry the king's daughter. It was what his family needed from him, and he didn't want to disappoint them. He tensed at the thought that Knossos' palace, the place that inspired so much fear in Bella, would become his home.
Anxious to leave, Bella kept the pace with Eruthros' long strides. But when she raised her gaze to see how far the way out was, the walls caught her attention.
She gaped at three female figures represented on a wall fresco. Eruthros stopped and enlightened it with his torch, allowing her to admire the fluidity of the lines and the bright colors. He'd seen some painters while working and wasn't surprised that Bella was impressed by their ability.
When his father had gone to Egypt, Eruthros had followed him and had admired the magnificent works of art they had there. But the paintings of his country had a vitality and an elegant freshness that, in Eruthros' opinion, had no equal. An artist had explained to him that Minoans painters were the only ones who knew how to paint on wet plaster. It allowed the pigments to bind well to the wall, but it required the quick execution that only very skillful artists could manage.
Extraordinary, Bella thought. For her, Cretans were nothing but monsters. She'd heard enough about the cruelty Knossos was showing all over the Mediterranean. But the girls on the fresco seemed so peaceful, so free...What had blinded the people they belonged to, Eruthros' people, to the point that they'd lost their humanity?
On a blue background, the fair skin of the Cretan women of the fresco stood out. Their black hair was styled in a very elegant way. The strands were held by pearls, while some loose curls grazed their long, fine necks.
Bella wondered if they were goddesses, since she'd never seen women so beautiful in any painting.
Eruthros had been told that the gods had blessed Crete, giving to his land the world's finest women. But even covered in rags, with her hair ruffled in an unruly mop, the girl beside him was so fine and attractive that he questioned if the gods could be mistaken.
They resumed walking, so close that her slim frame was pressed against his side. He wanted to take her in his arms. An icy shiver glided down his back as he considered what would have happened to Bella if someone else had discovered that she was supposed to be in Knossos' royal palace.
"How have you hidden yourself since you arrived in Crete?" he asked.
"I spent a few days in the woods, where I fed on whatever I could find...then I wandered until I entered your palace...and now..."
Bella swallowed back her tears. She didn't need to complete her sentence, since both she and Eruthros knew that in her condition she wouldn't have many choices. She could offer herself as a slave in a small town, staying as hidden as she could. But that would mean that she, as a fugitive, was at the mercy of whoever wanted to blackmail her.
Eruthros looked at her directly. "I'm sorry," he told her softly, hoping that she could see the earnestness in his expression and hear it in his words.
Her gaze softened. "I know that what I did in your house was wrong. You've every right to make me a slave or a prisoner."
"Little dart, I won't make you a prisoner," he reassured her. The nickname he'd given her brought a little smile to both their faces.
"But there's no chance for me to be safe in Crete, is there?" Her voice was soft, and more than an accusation, her words held the sadness of an ineluctable awareness. "Athens used to be at peace with Crete. We traded with you. But now Knossos demands a tribute of gold and human lives. What have we done to deserve to be treated like animals?"
He took a breath. "There are secrets that I can't reveal."
They left the palace and went through a large garden. The bushes resembled sculptures, since they were trimmed according to an elaborate pattern. A sudden noise snapped Eruthros and Bella out of their thoughts. Neither of them could have imagined what she did: she scooted closer to him and whimpered, "Eruthros, what is that?"
His tension didn't last long, though. He pointed to a hedgehog, which was finding its way through the leaves. "It's but an animal in the bushes."
She sighed in relief but didn't leave his arms. After a few steps, she recognized the path through the woods from where she'd arrived to the palace. Not far from there, there was a small pond where she'd found water and washed herself in the days she'd spent hiding.
Eruthros stopped in his tracks. "You may go now," he told her, "but there's something I want from you."
She balked. Had he played with her, making her trust him, while his plan all along had been to enslave her? Cretans are nothing but liars, she'd been told since her childhood. She stayed frozen, her eyes brimming with tears.
Unaware of her thoughts, Eruthros lowered his head to her neck. His nose nuzzled the soft strands of hair behind her ear. "A kiss," he murmured.
She wriggled her way out of arms and ran toward the depths of the woods.
What's come over me? he asked himself. Fool that he was, he'd thought that if for a moment he could have felt the fine silk of her lips meeting his own, he would be ready to let her go.
A scream set him in motion before he could turn and go back to his home. He sprinted, following Bella's tracks, and he spotted her.
She'd reached a curve where the grass was covered in dewdrop, and she'd slipped, falling in the pond. The water wasn't high, but it was cold, and she was panicking. Consequently, she was actually risking harm.
"Help!" she cried, without seeing that Eruthros was already rushing to her rescue.
He discarded the short mantle he was wearing over his tunic and threw himself in the water. Before she could scream again, his hand covered her mouth. "Shh!" he silenced her. If other people had heard her, she would have worse problems than an impromptu bath in cold water. He held her tightly against his chest. She was sobbing and shivering. "Don't hurt me," she begged, feeling hopeless in her plea. He was a Cretan. He was an enemy. She'd sneaked into his house, and although he'd been clement with her, she'd rejected him.
Eruthros lifted her out then put his mantle around Bella. He remained silent. He averted his eyes while he used his cloak to quickly wipe the pond water from her skin and rub her hair dry. He looked at her for a brief moment. Her eyes were large and piercing, framed with thick eyelashes. He wanted to get lost in their depth, but the fear in them was reminiscent of a lamb's, facing a lion.
"You have to go," he said reluctantly. "People may have heard you and come here."
She nodded against his chest. She had to endure an internal fight before speaking again. The words she was going to utter were against her country, her people, her beliefs, and all that she'd been taught about Cretans. Regardless, she spoke. "May the Gods bless you, Eruthros. You're a good man."
He cradled her face in his hands, letting his fingers brush through the silky, thick strands of her hair. "May the Gods bless you as well, little dart."
His eyes widened as she moved toward him. He stayed still, mesmerized by her. Her cheeks became crimson as she closed the distance between them. He could feel her tension, but she didn't falter. As her lips grazed his, he tightened his embrace around her, holding her as close to his chest as he dared without harming her.
He inhaled her scent. Not even the blooming daffodils he appreciated so much when they filled the fields with color smelled so good. She pressed her mouth against his and brushed her teeth against his lower lip, but then hesitated.
Eruthros could tell that the movement was absolutely new for her. He wondered if she was giving him her first kiss. "You're beautiful," he whispered to her, his words interspersed with light pecks on her face. "You're brave," he went on. "You're strong."
She hid her face in the crook of his neck, embracing him tightly.
"Come with me," he whispered to her. "I'm leaving for a foreign country in a few days. I can hide you in the ship and once we're far from Crete, you'll be safe."
Like the first sunray overcomes a dark night, a plan began to form in his mind, hope bubbling in his chest. "I trust the crew I'm taking with me. They won't harm you," he vowed. Deep in his heart, he sensed that he would have speared every man of his own people before allowing it.
"But what about you?" she asked. "If someone discovers that you've helped me to escape when you return..."
"I won't come back," he declared.
Eruthros stood on the beach, looking at the horizon. It was still strange for him to see one of his ships sailing and not to be onboard. But Jadikira, a mere boy of fifteen when they'd left Crete, was now a seasoned captain, while Eruthros was…well, old. His other two ships were due to return soon from Siris, and so would his son, Alexandros, and his son-in-law, Eudoros.
Twenty-five years had passed since that night in the woods when his destiny and Bella's had been joined. In Hydrus, the Esperian village where they had settled down, only a few trusted people knew what had brought them there.
After landing in Esperia, Eruthros had given his ship to those among his crew who had wanted to go back to Crete. The boat had been loaded with every good they could find, and the rich booty had guaranteed that his companions would say he'd died during the journey.
A small group of young, unmarried men had stayed with their leader. They were slaves, and Eruthros had promised them freedom in exchange for their loyalty.
Knowledge is your wealth, Karlakis had taught Eruthros. Once again, his preceptor had been right. Minoans were skilled merchants and experienced sailors. At first, they had to prove to the chief of a local tribe that they could be employed to build strong, fast boats. Once they'd gained his trust, he'd allowed them to sell his people's goods overseas.
His daughter tugged at his arm, and he gave her his attention. "Father, let's go home."
Eruthros smiled at his dear Thaleia and offered her his arm to lean on. By the time her husband returned from his journey, she would be holding their first child. He closed his eyes and recalled the time when Bella had been pregnant with their firstborn. His little dart had given him three children, and he was even going to have grandchildren, but none of his descendants had seen Crete, nor would they ever see it.
Because Crete was in ruins, a shell of its former self.
The night when the wrath of the Gods had descended on mankind and the world had changed, he and Bella were already far from the epicenter of the disaster. He tensed, recalling how the Earth had trembled even in their new country.
Thera's volcano had exploded. The eruption submerged the island under a thick layer of ash. Earthquakes and giant sea waves devastated the surrounding islands.
Crete had crumbled. Down went the mighty palace of Knossos. Eruthros' world was in ruins. The astonished crews of the few ships that had managed to flee from the devastation had terrible stories to tell. Giant sea waves had swept out the little remains which were still standing. Hundreds of families had been obliterated, regardless of their power and wealth.
His daughter stopped in her tracks. For a moment, she winced, then she caressed her rounded belly and relaxed, smiling. Eruthros had seen that same expression on Bella's face, when she had felt the kicks of their unborn children. What would have been his fate had he not decided to abandon his homeland and create a new life for Bella and himself? Some god had surely inspired him when he'd made his impulsive decision.
He wondered fleetingly what had happened to the monster that had lived in Knossos' palace. Once they'd been safe, he revealed the secret to Bella – that Knossos' prince was an inhuman creature who fed on the young men and women of the Athenian tribute. Surely no tribute would ever be sent to Crete again, but was the monster dead? Could he be killed? Eruthros hoped that the falling stones had crushed him.
But when he had traveled in the Mediterranean and met other merchants, he'd heard a rumor that was rapidly becoming a legend. It told of a mighty hero who had arrived with the other doomed youths destined for Crete's royal palace. The Greek man had fought the monster and prevailed. The legend also told of a beautiful princess who had helped the hero.
A Cretan princess…Eruthros could have had one too, but he hadn't wanted her. He'd chosen his Little Greek Dart, and she'd brought him happiness and fulfillment.
The ship was now a pinpoint on the horizon.
Eruthros and his daughter continued to walk toward their home. In silent agreement, they took a detour and walked up a hill. At its top, a disk of stone marked a tomb. Eruthros and Thaleia knew by heart the words engraved on it. Regardless, he murmured them once again, knowing how Thaleia loved the musicality of the secret language he'd used in Crete and then had taught to his family.
"Here rests Bella. Eruthros' heart will always be hers."
Thanks for reading!
Cretans (or Minoans) actually knew three writing systems: Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A (which has never been deciphered), and Linear B, which is an early form of Greek.
The eruption of Thera was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption. It occurred in the mid second millennium BCE.
About Bella's name: in Ancient Greek, Belos means "dart." Bela (or Bele, depending on the dialect) would be the plural form ("darts"). I added an "l" (call it creative license.) I hope Zeus' wrath won't descend on me for this.
Thank you! to my magnificent friends: Camilla10, author of 1900; TwiArcady, half Greek, half Italian, all lovely; Marlena580 and Jmolly, awesome betas, who always offer me their expertise and support with great generosity.