From the journal of Ellen Lambert:
Greece - The Journey
For many years I wandered with little care to belongings save for the flask of the transformation elixir given to me by Nyree. I kept that hidden on my person. I followed the migrations of various nomadic tribes, finding this the easiest way to make my conquests and then move on without arousing suspicion. From my victims, I took whatever they had on or with them, these articles used to trade and sell for other goods and supplies. Sometimes, to my excitement, I found gold and silver coins, those much-valued commodities honored everywhere. I traveled with a servant woman named Tirafa who had come to Egypt with her husband Olajuwan as Nubian slaves.
At the Luxor palace, Tirafa worked as a scullery maid while Olajuwan assisted in cutting the massive stones that would become Pharoah Hakor’s elaborate tomb. One day, a stone slab loosened from its tethered mooring and plunged to the ground, crushing Olajuwan beneath it. Now as a widow, Tirafa had nothing to bind her to Egypt except her indentured servitude. When I asked her if she wished to travel with me, she gladly agreed. I had been the first person to ask rather than command, and she felt grateful for the opportunity. I had no trouble wresting Tirafa away from her service to the royal family. I simply took her with me in the dead of night.
Tall and big-boned, Tirafa had strength to carry our belongings if we had to walk, but we preferred to travel by donkey or camel when available. She wore the sarong of her native land, the fabric dyed in graduating colors of red, yellow, bright purple and green. Around her long neck she wore a leather cord strung with carved beads and several sharp animal teeth, a wedding present from her husband. For travel, she wrapped her tight raven hair in a linen turban. Unlike me who had to shade my skin from the sun with a full head scarf, Tirafa welcomed its rays on her smooth sable flesh.
As an intelligent, observant, and astute servant, it didn’t take her long to inquire about my particular habits, why I rarely dined with the other travelers, and why food stuffs traded and bought were procured mainly for her alone. I knew I had to reveal the nature of my existence and what I had to do to maintain it. Surprisingly, Tirafa showed no outward signs of shock or disgust at my revelation, but seemed to accept my strange existence. When I told her that sometimes my “food” did not survive and I had to either bury or burn the body, she never flinched at such a loathsome and barbarous practice.
With my existence revealed and accepted, I asked her if she wished to stay with me on a permanent basis. I could make her an immortal as well, although the process was complex, arduous, and fraught with dangerous side effects if they transformation did not progress properly. With Tirafa, I knew it would be an easy metamorphosis, for she possessed the sturdy body and fortitude needed to withstand and embrace the change. She agreed but with one proviso: she wanted to live no more than one hundred years.
“I don’t want to live forever,” she told me in that matter-of-fact tone of hers. “Although I lost my husband, I still love him dearly, and I want the chance to see him on the other side as regular mortals do. To live forever means I’ll never see Olajuwan again. So, promise me you will kill me when I say the time has come.”
I had to agree if only to placate her, although one hundred years would be a mere drop in time to an immortal. In turn, Tirafa vowed never to reveal our true nature and how we maintained our existence. Thus, in the same manner I had died, I stabbed Tira with a long blade and then quickly gave her the elixir. In two days’ time, she drank the nectar of the gods—the blood of an itinerant peddler to be exact—and became an immortal like me, her transformation smooth and effortless.
Before we continued on our journey, I gave her a small filigree ring with twin hidden sharp needles that extended when she wanted to feast. The needles pierced the skin and provided a nice gush of nourishment. This ring would become her invaluable tool, since the old way of teeth on flesh often proved difficult and messy.
We traveled at will, at whim and where the sands of time took us—Babylonia, Byzantium, Assyria, Phoenicia, Persia, Judea and Mesopotamia—all the while taking the bounty of those we plundered. We heard from other travelers about my old homeland. Nepherites had inherited the kingdom but had ruled only a short time as Pharaoh. The Romans had invaded Egypt, burning and sacking the palaces and looting our sacred tombs. Those of the royal family who hadn’t escaped the invasion were systematically beheaded. I thought of Tadu, and knew she had not survived. No doubt the same fate had befallen Darshak, my old love. The Romans despised the Egyptian priests and scribes because they represented the false idols we considered our gods.
Soon the Roman Empire would extend far and wide, but I avoided the annexed territories when I heard about the cruelties inflicted upon peaceful people by the barbaric Roman troops once they had conquered and subdued a region. I refused to be such a victim, subject to the harsh whims of others; in fact, the very idea repelled and even frightened me.
Luckily, Tira and I had been able to amass enough money to settle down for an extended length of time and in a place free from tyranny. I chose Greece for its open society. The Greeks had no taboos, superstitions or strict rules of moral conduct. The Greeks also valued music, poetry, drama and art, and I came to value such artistic endeavors as well as science and philosophy. In my new persona as Evadne, I posed as a widow who had come from Thermopylae to start a new life with her servant, Tira.
We settled in the Attica region and in the thriving city of Athens, chosen for its sophistication and prosperous economy. Because Greece was a patriarchal society, I could not own property outright, so I made the acquaintance of a money lender and property dealer by the name of Philemon, a barrel-chested man with a thinning ring of gray-black hair around his bald pate. He helped me acquire a small rental house under the name of my fictitious dead husband whom I called Demetrius.
The house had an open floor plan with tall stone pillars and niches for busts of gods and goddesses, the few pieces of furniture that came with the rental functional in nature but certainly not aesthetic or eye-pleasing. The full-length windows in the bedroom opened to a balcony that offered a panoramic vista of the green hills above the city proper. My first view in the morning, of those verdant hills, set my mood on a happy, positive path for the rest of the day.
As a widow who collected her military husband’s pension, I lived a discreet and somewhat modest life—at least on the surface. My household staff included Tira and a young servant girl named Lakshmi. Through Philemon, I acquired the best in furniture, fabrics, tableware and artwork, transforming the house into my lovely and comfortable home.
Within six months, I acquired lovers, although I made sure to be discreet about our meetings as well as my association with them. I took four in total including Philemon. The others were Lysander, a high-ranking military officer; Thaddeus, an important member of the council of elders and a textile merchant; and Nicomedes, an artist and philosopher. I allowed Philemon and Thaddeus—both middle-aged and paunchy—to shower me with jewelry and trinkets as a trade-off for their lack of physical beauty and prowess, while I enjoyed the muscled, hard body of Lysander and the lean, dreamy-eyed form of Nicos.
Thaddeus’ generosity extended to a tutor by the name of Kastor who helped me improve my Greek and increase my vocabulary. In addition, Kastor—an accomplished lyre player—taught me how to play the lovely, stringed instrument. Since I learned to play quickly and fairly well, Thaddeus presented me with my own lyre of polished, sleek Cypress that I kept it on a stand made of the same wood.
I had one hard and fast rule: I never feasted on the men whom I engaged in sex. Instead I trolled the back alleys and byways for homeless souls and travelers who would not be missed. Tira became adept in procuring and disposing of the detritus of our meals. Her services were invaluable and I would miss her dearly should she choose to end her existence sooner than expected. For now she remained my loyal and devoted friend, an ally as well as a servant.
In my position, I had to take additional and often special steps in order to maintain my livelihood and provide decent living arrangements not only for myself but for Tira as well. We never took chances, but calculated the risk and added an extra measure of security. Our lives—by the sheer enormity of what we had become—took perilous turns from time to time, but we always managed to set the course of action in our favor...sometimes doing whatever necessary to secure our survival. We could never for one instance let our guards down and become vulnerable.
Not long after Tira and I settled into our new surroundings, I became aware that I was being watched, although the person observing my comings and goings had been clever enough so far to avoid my detection. But I knew of his existence as he lurked in dark corners, behind doors, wagons and chariots. He followed me very discreetly, all too discretely for my liking. For the first time, I felt the very real threat of danger, something that had been there from the beginning but hadn’t seemed so close to me as it did now, a cloying and growing presence much like a gathering storm that would prove violent and overwhelming. I wondered if one of my four lovers had hired someone to watch me, doing so out of jealousy; but each of them swore they had not when I approached them with the possibility.
And I believed them. Philemon and Thaddeus were married men of important standing, and would never jeopardize their positions by giving in to such behavior. And although Lysander and Nicos were bachelors and possessed spirited natures, they, too, frowned upon petty emotional actions and words. All my lovers were aware of my stand: I took them to bed for physical gratification only, no romantic attachments allowed. They felt the same way—all except Thaddeus who had grown rather fond of me. I allowed his affection to blossom slightly, although I kept him at arm’s length. And yet, despite my rather cool regard, he appeared quite happy with our arrangement and continued to shower me with expensive gifts.
All in all, I had a full and extremely satisfying life, except for that nagging feeling someone had been observing me on a regular basis, learning my habits, and quite possibly acquiring enough damaging information to force me to pay him to keep quiet. This enigmatic and dangerous interloper had dared to disturb my peace of mind and kept me on edge until I grew tired of the suspense.
One evening just before dusk, I decided to take a walk in the hopes of spotting my watcher and finally confronting him. I made a leisurely journey, or as leisurely as I could muster, along the residential streets, touting a basket of flowers to pretend as if I had been to the flower market.
When I turned and began to walk back to my house, I spotted a dark form standing in the shadows where two plastered walls met in a V. I knew instinctively that this was my watcher. As I took a steadying breath, I stealthily approached the form, but stopped before the light of the waning sun disappeared into shadow.
“Who are you? I commanded. “Come forth and show yourself!”
As the form slowly approached me, I caught a glint of something shining, perhaps from a silver belt or sword. But to my amazement, the form turned out to be a woman, a very lovely woman, slim and petite. She possessed a head of cascading chestnut curls that framed her oval face, her features classic and elegant, her green eyes highlighted with black kohl to give them an oblique shape. On her head she wore a golden tiara studded with small multi-colored gemstones that glimmered in the waning light; and over her gown she wore a deep purple robe with gold fretwork trim.
“Do not be frightened,” she said in a low, lyrical voice. “I don’t wish to harm you. That has never been my intention.”
“Have you been the one following me? And if so, what is your intention?”
The woman offered a warm smile with full, carmine lips. “I followed you in order to gain a picture of the kind of women you are, Evadne.”
A tight ball of anxiety hit me hard in the stomach. If she knew my name, did she also know about my nightly excursions, and if so, would she try to blackmail me to keep silent? “So you followed me, lurked in corners, shadowed my movements. If you wish to know more about me, why not approach me directly?”
Her smile broadened. “I never receive the truth when I enquire directly. Women tend to be vain and evasive. But do not worry, your private affairs are just that...I never pry further than I need to. And I always keep my affairs and that of others quite confidential.”
Her words did little to comfort me. “So, out with it! Why have you been following me these past few days?”
“I have a proposition that may interest you greatly. You see, my name is Cleofys and I run a highly successful business called the House of the Muses.”
When I frowned, she went on to explain. “My business is pleasure and my protégés provide such to willing clients. Have you heard of the Hetaeras?”
Now I nodded. The Hetaeras, women of culture and intelligence, enjoyed an elevated status in Grecian society, much like the Geishas of later Japanese society. The Hetareas received special training in order to converse with men on many subjects, be it politics, the sciences or the arts. They also played musical instruments, sang and danced sublimely.
“You see,” Cleofys continued, “I have chosen you to become one of my protégés if you wish to align yourself with me and the House of the Muses. May we go somewhere to sit down and discuss it?”
Her proposal piqued my interest more than daunted me, and so I suggested that she follow me to my home where we could sit and talk over a cup of wine. Cleofys readily agreed.
When we entered my house, she praised my decorating skills. “Yes, I see, I have chosen well. You have a flair for color and textures.” Going over to a side table, she gently picked up one of my alabaster statuettes. “You also appreciate art and know the difference between fine artwork and commercial art.” She referred to the cheaply-made vases and trinkets sold in all of the markets.
“Yes, you have an eye for the elegant and finely made.” Next, Cleofys opened my small carved casket of rosewood where I kept my household keys. Then she glanced about, noticing my lyre on its stand by the window. “As I thought, you also have an ear for music. Do you play well?”
“I play satisfactorily,” I confessed and then bade her to have a seat on the divan. When I rang a small brass bell, Tira appeared and bowed. I asked her to bring a jug of wine and two chalices, and she returned moments later with the items on a silver tray. Joining my guest, I sat in a cushioned chair near the divan and accepted the cup of wine Tira poured for us. Before she left, Tira lit the numerous candles along the two floor-length candelabra to give us warm glowing light.
When she retreated, I returned to the subject at hand. “Now please, Cleofys, tell me your business and what you wish of me.”
Between sips of her wine, Cleofys told me her story. She had ten women who worked for her full-time at the House of the Muses, their duty to provide men with whatever they wished, a feast and congenial conversation, a night of song, dance, or a dramatic performance, a lovemaking session, or a combination of all three. Plus, the courtesans served as escorts on those occasions when a client needed a woman at his side, be it for a chariot race or a social event.
Most of Cleofys’ patrons were important and wealthy men, willing to pay a goodly amount of money for these services. Then she asked me if I had an interest in becoming one of her courtesans. She could guarantee that I would make good money while entertaining important men, politicians, scientists, mathematicians, playwrights, musicians, military generals...just to name a few.
Although her offer sounded wonderful, I had to think for a moment, to weigh the good and the bad. Cleofys offered me a chance to better my position in society while making money—lots of money. What better way to socialize with important people, enjoy the arts and attend special events, while earning money for the effort? The position seemed ideal. And what did I have to lose? Of course, I would have to work out a detailed plan to keep my affairs private. In fact, I would have to work hard to conceal my lifestyle so as not to provoke questions, speculation...and prying eyes.
When I broached that particular subject again, Cleofys reassured me. “No one will delve into your personal affairs. What you do when not entertaining is your business. You will have ample quarters to call your own where you may keep your servants. You will also receive an extensive wardrobe of the finest fabrics and trims. You may also accept jewelry and trinkets as part of the payment from your contacts, but I expect a certain percentage of your intake in order to run the business. Therefore, when calculating your share and mine, you should ask the highest price.”
She offered another lovely smile, this one with a clever edge. “You see, men will pay dearly for the honor of your company, alone and in public. That I know for sure. You see, I choose my protégés wisely and with an eye for quality. You meet all the specifications for quality, Evadne.” Setting her now-empty cup on the marble-topped table between us, she leaned forward and fixed her gaze on me. “Do you wish time to think it over?”
I had never flinched from anyone’s gaze before, but Cleofys’ arresting, green feline eyes seemed to penetrate my outer armor as if wanting to delve between the layers of my defenses and find my vulnerable spot. If I accepted her proposal, I would have to be on guard, for the woman possessed a knack for deciphering a person’s inner thoughts, desires...and differences.
“I need no more time,” I told her. “I will join you.”
“Excellent!” Sitting straight, she clasped her long and slender fingers together. On her left ring finger, she wore a sparkling emerald in a silver filigree setting. I wanted emeralds, too, and other fine things.
“You may take a week to wrap up any business here,” she told me, “and then come join us at the House of the Muses where you will be welcomed with open arms.”
I had one more question. “You know about my affairs with certain men.” It was a statement rather than a question. Cleofys nodded in assent.
“Will I be able to continue my relationships or must I concentrate solely on the men who will pay me?”
“You may keep whomever you wish. But I also know that Thaddeus, of the Ephor council, will pay your price gladly, even if it considered a business transaction. As for the money man, Philemon...he keeps a tight purse, but I know he will come around when he realizes your special value. Now for the other two—” With a shrug of her slim shoulders, Cleofys offered a wry smile. “You may consider them your bonuses, trinkets if you will, like a pair of frilly ear bobs that give you pleasure.”
I laughed as I thought of Lysander and Nicos as frilly trinkets. Now excitement welled in me as I told her I would sign her contractual agreement when she returned tomorrow, making me an official Hetearas from the House of the Muses.