NOTE: This prolouge has had MINOR changes as of December 19, 2004.
Protopalatial Minoan Crete (1900-1700 BC)
Crete 1900-1700 B.C.E. Before Common Era
This time began with social upheaval, peripheral dangers and an inflow of emigrants from the Greek Mainland. During this time, the people of Crete, commonly referred to as Mionans, began establishing colonies throughout nearby lands. The people were ruled by different powerful families, located throughout the island. The villagers had fierce loyalty towards their families, who lived like royalty in villas on the outskirts of towns, but they were worried about outside invasion and wished to be united. Towards the end of this period, the Mionans finally centralized their government around one main figure -- a king. Palaces sprung up, and became major cultural centers. Villages and suburb-type settlements circled the palaces, which became the center of their worlds. Social classes divided the people into nobles, peasants, and slaves. Trade flourished between the other ancient worlds at this time, as paved roads began to connect the palaces to each other. Suddenly in 1700 b.c.e., the eloquent palaces were violently destroyed and the cities built around them torn down to the ground. The cause of this sudden destruction is not known.
Despite the impetuous devastation that plagued the countryside, Minoan civilization eventually revived and carried on.
Almost as if nothing had ever happened.
The sun was so bright. You could even feel it behind closed eyelids; the hot, pulsating glare of the Aegean sun. A light breeze whipped it's way through the land, as Apollo gently wheeled his golden chariot across the sky and the sun rose higher.
The young girl lay still, her sun drenched skin covered by only a thin cotton cloth. Her wavy blonde hair reached down to the sand-colored stone floor, where a tangle of silk clothes lay abandoned. Jewels adorned her tan arms, ankles, and neck, glittering fiercly as the sunlight crept into her suite. Shadows retreated to the high, arching ceilings, the open doors of the terrace overlooking the sea bringing in the sweet smell of the ocean.
Her breathing was deep and steady, but she was not asleep.
An open balcony displayed a sparkling sea, framed by rolling green hills and plains. A wooden trunk was flung open, and inside, a dazzling display of colorful fabrics, jewels and veils. An elegant looking glass hung on the far wall, and several other, bigger trunks were stacked adjacent to it. The glaring tan of the burning sands and the shocking blue of the ocean added all the needed color to this seemingly peaceful picture.
But all was not peaceful. The girl opened one chocolate eye, finally disturbing her feigned sleep, at the loud raised voices coming in from the room over. It was her parents, of course, and they both sounded hysterical.
"You must go!" Her father was screaming. "Leave, flee! Take some money, wake Lena, Nikias and Alcaeus, and get out! The king is coming--" his voice dripped with sarcasm and bitterness, and Lena started. King? They had no king.
Crete was ruled by powerful families that lived in elegant houses and controlled local trade, farming and commerce. Families like her own. There was no king. Was there?
But her father continued his desperate pleading. "For the love of the gods, before he arrives. He's pledged to execute every family that will not bend a knee to him. My father ruled the city of Malia before I, and his father before him. The other ruling families of Crete, rulers of the cities of Armeni and Zakros, we have all worked together. Do you know what happened to the ruling families of Zakros and Armeni?!" There was no reply, and Lena's heart sank. He didn't need to voice their fate; all who had ears in the house could hear it in the silence. "THEY'RE DEAD!"
His voice was deep with sorrow now, but fierce. "I will pass this heritage onto Alcaeus. I will not surrender my control to this meandering peasant who calls himself royal!"
But her mother was hysterical and as a low scream was wrenched from her mother's throat, Lena felt a tiny pierce of fear for the first time since she could remember. But a sudden coo and then a wail startled her; her brother, Nikias, was barely weaned off his mother's breast and was still prone to wake at ungodly hours of the nights. On this night, however, he had slept until dawn, but the loud voices of their parents had woken the infant. Lena quickly slipped out of bed and silently padded across the warm floor into the nursery that was connected to her room, where her little brother slept. As she passed the balcony, a fierce wind whipped past their, throwing her sandy blonde hair up into her face. She was still a young girl at heart; only twelve years had passed since the gods had first opened her eyes. But in her world, she was considered a woman. Marriage was not far off. At the thought, she shivered.
She quickly slipped a cotton toga over her head. It fell softly, but in the oppressive heat of the even early morning sun, she was so much happier without it. With a small sigh, she leaned over her brother's cradle. He had began to scream fiercely, and yet his cries still could not drown out her mother's hysterical pleading.
" Cleon, please!" she begged, the tears evident in her voice. "Let us flee together! I won't leave you, I won't. If this king--" she spat the word, "feels he must slay down you, I will stand besides you! Let the children leave, Alcaeus is old enough to protect them until we can later catch up with them! Lena can watch Nikias, and we can all be together! But I won't leave you, Cleon, not now..."
Lena clutched Nikias to her chest, gently rocking him back and forth. Her brown eyes were wide and frightened, and she gently kissed the fuzzy top of her younger brother's head. He was just beginning to grow his hair; golden tuffs that felt like clouds beneath her fingertips. His sapphire eyes seemed to be struggling to take in everything this new world had to offer, and he couldn't do it fast enough.
Lena hesitated, then carefully took a few steps towards her doorway. There was no actual door, just a deep navy cloth that hung to hide her from servant's prying eyes. Servants..speaking of servants..where were they? Normally Melitta would have drawn her a bath, and Kyros would have come in to ask her which stallion she would like prepared for today. Where were they? She glanced down the empty beige hallway. Empty. In fact, the whole villa felt empty..what was going on?
Her parent's voices still raged from their master bedroom directly next to Lena's and Nikias's, but for the moment, she ignored them. With quick, but quiet steps, she walked down the two feet to her older brother's room, fully expecting him to be asleep.
But he was not. The seventeen year old Alcaeus was a notoriously late riser, a notorious hunter, and a notorious womanizer. She fully expected him to be sprawled beneath his thin, cotton sheet, his muscular arms wrapped around his latest conquest.
But he wasn't. He was fully awake, standing before her in his tunic. His leather sack was swung open and he was throwing things hurriedly inside. His dagger gleamed from its position at his waist, the gold handle gleaming. His thick golden hair curled around his ears, and his eyes, greener then the farmer's lettuce, peered anxiously at her from behind thick lashes.
"Alcaeus," she whispered, truly startled. "What in Zeus's name is going on?"
He took one, long pitying look at her and she felt her world begin to crumble. "Have you not heard?" he whispered, his voice rough. "Crete has been claimed by an unnamed king. At this moment, all of the ruling familles hold no power over anyone anymore. The king is on his way here to execute father, mother -- and us."
Lena felt herself begin to tremble. "Us? What harm are we? And father -- must we not flee?"
He gave a short, derisive laugh, but the gleam in his eyes was bitter. "Father would never flee, and all of our cousins -- and servants for that matter -- who would leave us in this perilous time have done so already. We are very much alone, little sister."
Lena took several steps into his room and slowly sank down onto his bed. She raised wide, horrified eyes to his. "What shall we do?" she whispered.
He paused for a moment in his hurried packing to slide another dagger into his sandal, and then lowered himself to his knees, so they were eye level. "Sister, whatever happens, know this. I will protect you, with Apollo, Athena and all the honored gods on Olympus as my witness. I will die before I let harm come to you. But..we must flee. If mother won't leave father, and father is blinded by his power, you and I must run."
She shivered, just once. "But why?" she whispered accusingly. "What threat are we to the nameless king?"
Alcaeus snorted. "Lena, think. The people adore father, but they are ready to be united. Father is the past, and this new king is the future. But if you, or I, or even Nikias--" he glanced down at his little baby brother, whose eyes were wide in confusion, "were to offer to unite the people..think of the support! Father has never done it because he is too afraid of such responsibility. His children poise a much bigger threat to this king. Even as we speak he--"
Alcaeus stopped dead, his eyes riveted on the doorway. Lena's head snapped around. A pounding at the front door resounded throughout the house.
"Open the gates!"
Brother and sister looked at each other, mute in their horror.
"They're here," he whispered, horrified. "Go. Grab your things. Get your jewels, we'll need them to pawn off. Kiss mother good-bye, and meet me on my balcony. We're leaving."
"And Nikias?" she whispered, gesturing to the babe in her arms. "Alcaeus, we're too well known around here. If they place gold on our heads and we're hiding in the village, the villagers will sell us out. Nikias is too young to keep quiet."
"Then he stays," Alcaeus snapped instantly, his panic making him cruel."Then he can share Father's fate. He's not my son.I won't risk our lives for him, Lena."
"Alcaeus!" Lena exclaimed, shocked. Her eyes were wide, and she clutched her baby brother to her chest. Hesquirmed against her, reaching his tiny hand up towards her face, flexing hislittle fingers. Lena extended her arms a bit, bringing the babecloser to Alcaeus's face, her voice imploring."We cannot leave him here to be slaughtered! Where is your heart?!"
"What would you have me do?" he snapped, his voice rough in a whisper. He glanced down at the child, at his sister's trembling eyes. He threw back his head. "Fine. We're taking him. But get your things -- " the pounding grew more anxious, more furious, and they could hear the clink of their father's sword as he prepared to meet them, "--and go!"
"Open the gate, in the name of the king!"
Lena stood motionless in the doorway, her eyes directed down the stone stairway. Her gaze was fixated on the wooden door, now shaking on it's hinges
Alcaeus continued throwing things, this time in a cloth bag he threw on his shoulder. When he realize she hadn't moved, he took two menacing steps towards her, his face a mask of fury. "LENA!" he roared. "GO!"
But at that precise moment, the wooden door flew off it's hinges and the solider stormed through. Lena shrieked, finally startled into motion, running into her room with Nikias clutched to her breast. Alcaeus withdrew his sword, running to the main landing as his father bounded close at his heels. "Father," Alcaeus grunted as the soldiers withdrew their weapons. "FLEE!"
"No son," his father whispered back urgently. "I mustn't. Go. Protect your sister and honor your mother. There is nothing more I can do for you, I have taught you all I could. Go!"
"Sir!" At that moment, the captain of the soldiers raised his voice.The captain was a young man, one of Alcaeus's friends. They had spent many hours together, whoring and feasting in the town, drunk on the respect a captain and an heir were given. Now the two locked gazes; the captain reluctantly looked away. A muscle was twitching in his jaw, but when he spoke, his voice was strong. "Sir, as a last warning, surrender and submit to the new king or face immediate execution!"
But Cleon would not heed the last minute reprieve. His face was stained red with adernaline, and he roared,"I will never bend a knee to a rabble rouser who suddenly decides he's royalty!"
"Sir--" thecaptain tried to plead, but Cleon would not listen.
"Is not my blood just a noble as his?" Cleon thundered. "Have I not led you well all these years? And yet, you would turn on me now! Then I would much rather be dead!"
The eyes of the soldiers glinted dangerously, their faces darkened. The captain drew a resigned breath, then nodded,sliding his sword out ofits sheath with a screech. "Then so be it."
At that moment, Lena flew out of her room, still holding Nikias, her mother close on her heels. They saw the flash of steel, the bright spill of blood. They heard their father's groan when the dagger slammed through his body; Alcaeus screamed as his father's dead body fell across his feet. His mother rushed forward, the blood draining from her face. "CLEON!" she screamed. "CLEON!"
Alcaeus jumped in front of his family, yelling hoarsely at them to move, that they were in danger, that for the gods sake would they just listen to him -- he locked blades with the captain, his friend, who was gasping for breath, shocked at the rage in the young Lord'sattack-- Alcaeus's eyes gleamed with madness and rage and with one fatal blow, the captain was falling, he was bleeding and Alcaeus was moving onto his next victim.
The blades were still swinging, but the mother took no notice and dove on her husband's body. "Cleon," she sobbed, "don't leave me here..here in this house all alone..I won't ..Cleon.."
The next blow fell so softly, Alcaeus almost didn't see it. He was trying to cover his mother as he slowly backed up the stairs, screaming to his sister to run, to leave, to get out with Nikias and head for the hills, but Lena was screaming and his mother was crying and Nikias was wailing---
The closest solider was a young one. He had just seen his first death when Cleon fell, and he staggered with shock as the life drained out of the man in front of him. He stumbled forward, slipped on Cleon's dripping blood, and his blade dropped straight through the mother's back, piercing her stomach. Her scream would echo for years in her children's years...a long lasting scream that never seemed to end..
Alcaeus let out a blood curling scream of rage, his blade dipping and spinning as he stole the life of the man who had killed his mother, and then all of his comrades..by the time his rage was spent, bodies littered the floor.
His hands were covered in blood. Lena stood sobbing at the top of the stairs, her arms wrapped around herself. Alcaeus didn't look up as he sheathed his sword once again, but his chest was heaving with emotion. He closed his eyes, his face splattered with the blood of men he killed and men he watched die. "Get your things," he whispered hoarsely. "We're leaving."
The screams of that day would never be forgotten. Villagers dozens of miles away had heard them, coming out of their huts to gaze in the direction of the villa, confusion etched on their brows. More soliders were beckoned by the shouts, and soon the old villa was swarming with them, all searching for the murderer who had killed their comrades, men who had been acting on the king's command.
None of the villagers went to see what happened to the former ruling family. They expected to see the soliders dragging them out, kicking and screaming to be publicly exectued in the market place. But Cleon's children would disappear.
Time passed, and people forgot about them. The villa remained abandoned, and uncared for. Ivy claimed the once smooth walls, and weeds poked up through the stone. Dust settled on the memories that had once been bright and shining.
And when asked who the villa on the hill belonged to, local villagers would look knowingly at each other and say, "The old ruling family; but they disappeared a long time ago."
Or did they?