Arms and the Girl

(Disclaimer: I have no business connection with JOAN OF ARCADIA. My only purpose in writing this story is to have fun and maybe share it)

(This story is part of a series I'm writing, in which God visits Joan's bookstore and causes her to enter the stories of various books. The previous two stories are KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL and THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY.)

Thersites' body is as good as Ajax's, when neither are alive.

- Shakespeare, Cymbeline

"The Iliad!" complained Grace. "Why do we have to read the Iliad?"

"So what's wrong with the Iliad?" asked Joan. "At least it's stood the test of time. It's not like the teacher assigned the most recent best-seller to impress the students."

"It's about WAR," said Grace.

"The Trojan War."

"Does that make it better? People are always trying to beautify war. Shakespeare considered the civil war in the 1400s the greatest disaster in English history, but what do history books call it? The War of the Roses. Nice pretty flowers."

"I think it's good that kids are encouraged to admire the ancient Greeks," said Luke. "Though I'd rather hear about the great thinkers – Euclid and Aristotle. And even I wouldn't want to read hundreds of pages of mathematical proofs all ending in QED. "

"I think the important thing about Homer is that he was the FIRST," said Joan.

"Unless the Bible is older," mused Luke. "Grace?"

Grace shrugged. "I'm studying the Torah for my Bat Mitzvah next year, but I'm not going to get in arguments about whether it was written by Moses or some other guys hundreds of years later."

"Not going to get in arguments? That's rare!" Joan couldn't resist saying that at the moment, but she regretted it a second later, as it looked like Grace was about to flare up.

"Isn't the Torah supposed to have been written by God?" said a voice behind Joan.

Joan turned around to see an old lady standing by the shelves. Joan had not seen her come in, and suspected that she hadn't; for this was Old Lady God. At least her appearance quieted Grace down. Even if she was mad at Joan, she was not going to embarrass Joan in front of a customer.

"We had better clear out; Joan has business to do," suggested Luke. He and Grace slipped out, and Joan went to the counter to handle the Old Lady's purchase.

"So, who's right?" asked Joan. "You're omniscient."

"Ah, but I'm not going to intervene in a harmless disagreement. Having opinions is fine, as long as they are reasonable and do no harm. Just make sure that you have the facts." She accepted the receipt and left with a wave.

Joan went back to her table and opened her own copy of the Iliad.

Sing, o Muse, of the Wrath of Achilles—

Maybe Grace was right. There were a lot cooler things to sing about—

Joan bent her head over the epic. Then it got lower and lower, until she finally fell asleep with her nose in the book.


Joan found herself on a dusty plain; to her left the sun was setting. She could smell salt water; she must be near a shore of some sort, but something unpleasant was mixed in with the smell.

She saw pieces of wood, though nothing technological, scattered along the ground. Looking around, she noticed what looked like a corral, with horses. Joan was not particularly fond of horses, but it looked like the most coherent thing in sight, so she walked in that direction. At the back of her mind was the notion This is a divine mission, so there must be a meaning here.

She reached the corral, and noticed that even it had signs of decay. As if the builder hadn't intended it to stay up for this long. One of the horses trotted up to the fence, and Joan shyly raised her hand to pet it.

"What are you doing?" bellowed a voice behind her.

She turned around to see a huge, ugly guy walk up to her. His size reminded her of the being she called Tough Guy God, except that with Tough Guy you could detect the divine spirit inside him somehow, and with the newcomer she felt nothing but nastiness.

"Just petting a horse," she said. "I thought he was cute."

The newcomer looked as if cute was not in his vocabulary. "Are you sure you weren't planning to hop on a horse and get away?"

Joan didn't know how to ride; her experience was limited to pony rides when she was many years younger. But get away. Had God put her into another story about slavery, as He had put her into UNCLE TOM'S CABIN a few weeks earlier. But this guy's outfit - a rough leather jacket and some metal hanging down over his thighs – didn't look anything like Civil War fashions. "No – I –"

"What's your name?"

"Ioanna". She had intended to say "Joan", but it hadn't come out that way.

"You're coming with me." He grasped her arm and pulled her away from the corral. Joan didn't struggle. She knew that this was a vision from God and that the deity wouldn't let anything happen to her.

After a few minutes she saw a set of huts and tents, and behind them, some ships floating offshore. The huts were as crudely built as the corral, but Joan was starting to make sense of things now. This was a camp, something not intended to last, but for some reason it was being forced to last far longer than its builders had planned.

The Big Guy walked up to a small windowless hut. "Thersites!"

The door of the hut opened, and a man came out. He was also ugly, but in a completely different way. He was scrawny, and bald, and there was something odd in his proportions. "Yes, Lord Ajax?"

Joan was tempted to giggle. The Big Guy had the same name as a detergent! Then she sobered up as she considered the implication of the names. They sounded familiar… In front of her copy of the Iliad, there was a list of the characters, starting with the Greek heroes. Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Ajax! And she thought she might have seen the name Thersites further down the list.

God had thrown her into the Iliad.


(Author's Note: the title is a parody of the opening line of Virgil's AENEAD: "I sing of Arms and a Man from Troy". Shaw used it for a satirical play, ARMS AND THE MAN)