AFFECTION AND INITIATION
The world shut away suddenly, entrapping the youth within the bedchamber and its cold, suffocating rush of reality. She was more alone than she'd ever felt in her life, though in the flesh she was not. The terrifying figure, large and fearsome, loomed near the door, unmoving, menacing, and she could do naught about it. Naught at all, for she was trapped by the bonds of marriage. Kassandra's heart thundered as she felt his eyes on her. Still he merely watched, perhaps content to see her squirm and quiver on the kline that was to be the death of the parthenos status that she had quite enjoyed.
Finally (no!) he took one step toward her out of the engulfing shadows, and another, and yet one more, the strong male body moving fluidly, gloriously, with each step. Gods, she was so small, so… insignificant against such solid strength.
She cried out, desperate to stop his hated approach. "No!" Lurching back on stiff limbs, the girl realised with consternation that she had reached the far wall. Crouching, she thrust out her hands in a poor attempt to fend him off, and clenched her eyes shut and her legs against her body helplessly. "Please, no."
"I will not hurt you, wife." The rich near-murmur reached her as he approached yet closer, this time slowly and carefully. Then his large palm, surely thrice the size of hers, gently stroked her hair back from her brow before coaxing her chin up. As her eyes met his startlingly kind gaze, his features softened yet further into a small smile. "You have beautiful eyes, Kassandra of Miletus. How old are you?"
"Ten and five, my lord," the girl murmured. In her lifetime she had never met other men than her father and brothers, who had seldom even visited anymore before she left. But oh, she had heard the rumours and suspected they were all true. Men wander like bees from flower to flower, her mother had once said with a wistful sigh. Oh, and the komos she'd once glimpsed out on the street as an unruly child. And the slaves' empty stares when they returned from her father's symposia. There was drink, mistress. That is all, they would say with downcast eyes. That is all.
I am not a fool, Kassandra presently thought, tears slowly escaping her eyes. I will not be made one.
"I am a score and nine," her husband said, rocking back onto his heels to peer more closely into her bowed head. "I can imagine what you must be thinking. I was once as supremely frightened as you are."
"Verily?" Goddesses, she needed to hear him say yes.
His eyes crinkled wonderfully as he smiled. He was a beautiful man. "Verily."
They were both silent as she pondered her next course of action. They were married before Zeus. Duty now demanded she obey customs and the man who now ruled over her new household. None had prepared her for this moment, though all had urged her to prepare for the coupling, and she had. Beneath the folds of her clothing, her skin was pleasantly oiled and perfumed as tradition demanded. Kassandra met her husband's eyes, heat suffusing her cheeks as she murmured, "I'm so frightened."
He nodded wisely, and her heart clenched that he did not deem her weakness as appalling. Her father had. "I was told it hurts," her new husband said presently, "but the pain recedes."
"How old were you?" Kassandra blurted before thinking. A woman never speaks of things she has no business knowing. "I'm sorry," she back-pedalled quickly, "I did not mean to pry."
He looked away, as though in discomfort, and she berated herself viciously for drawing the man away already. You have failed within the hour alone with him. "Very young," he replied at last, startling her. "I was very young when I had... things done unto me. But I swear to you, sweetling, I will never cause you pain more than this once."
Kassandra hated her voice as it cracked. "Do you promise, my lord?" Oh, she desperately needed to hold onto a promise! She desperately needed to trust this man. But trust seemed so elusive, especially in the face of her uncertainty as to her confidence in him.
His words resounded with heartfelt sincerity. "I do," he said, then added, "Please call me Saulos."
For a long moment, young Kassandra continued to stare at her husband, capturing his form to memory. A well-hewn specimen, he had a handsome face with fine patrician features and eyes the sharp colour of the sea, a startling contrast to the thick, dark hair that framed his face. A short beard dusted his chin and jaw, and the powerful body beneath his immaculate white toga seemed carved from stone. A man at his prime, her father had claimed, and he had been right. The young Parthenopoulos heir, he'd said, was a rising figure within the polis in philosophical circles, and he was, as she had now experienced firsthand, a kind, caring man.
"Saulos…" she tried the name on her tongue, and found she enjoyed the sound of it.
Kassandra next did something she'd never thought she would ever do. The apokalypsis that had seemed so foolish to learn with her mother's friends and their daughters now surfaced, as though without a thought, and she lifted a fold of cloth off her shoulder with trembling fingers in awkward invitation.
The large palm of her husband traced the movement, sinuous and warm and easing, whispers of cloth the only sounds beyond the heavy thuds of her lifting heart as he approached, so much closer, and captured her lips in a kiss that took her breath away.
Author's note: I had a novel-sized author's note here before I decided to let it all go. The main point was that I'm currently taking an Art History class that focuses on sex, gender and political relationships in Ancient Greece, so I at least know a little bit of the period I'm writing about ;)
30 year-old men married girls half their age. Before that, the young men were first involved in what we would now call pederastic relationships with older men, and then the roles would reverse when they reached the age of 18 or so, and a little later they would then be introduced to women, or rather prostitutes (hetaerai). Having sex with an older man as a young boy, and with a young boy as a young man, was all part of a coming of age for them, a tradition. Though many people mock Greeks as the homosexual nation by excellence, obviously there were men who didn't like it and just did it to "become a man".
(By the way, homo-, bi- and heterosexuality did not exist until about 1892. We cannot superimpose modern morality onto the Ancient Greek nation - among others - because they just didn't treat sex the same way we do. To do so is to show ignorance and is just uncalled for.)
Respectable women and girls were, most sources agree, locked away from the outside world. Men usually preferred the company of a hetaera to their wife, and some men even talked in scathing terms about their wives and how they were the evil of the earth (how times have not changed). Obviously, however, there must have been some loving relationships, and that is what I wanted to portray here - a man who respects and soothes his new wife at a time when she is the most vulnerable.
I don't throw the terms "beauty" and "beautiful" lightly here. The Greeks adored beauty above all, and to behold beauty is to be gifted with a side of heaven that the soul once visited but had forgotten. In fact, if you asked a Greek where love came from, they would say "from the gods". That is why they took great care of their bodies, and revered beauty above all things. That Saulos says Kassandra's eyes are "beautiful", and that Kassandra thinks Saulos is a "beautiful" man, are not to be taken lightly. To them, they are beholding something gifted from the gods.
A kline is a couch.
A parthenos is an unmarried maiden up until the age of perhaps 15 when she marries.
A symposium (pl. symposia) is a party with sex, wine and prostitutes. A komos is the pre-party in the streets when the men and hetaerai go around town advertising the party to friends and all.
The gesture called apokalypsis is exactly as I have described. A woman lifting a fold of her clothing was basically making advances to a man (her husband in most cases, or her clients in the case of a prostitute).
Oh, I almost forgot. There was never any flirting between noble-born women and men. The only true courtship men ever experienced was from other men as young boys. This explains why Kassandra keeps saying that he is a total stranger to her: before the wedding they had never met.
Right. I'll shut up for now. If I forgot something, ask me, my teacher was pretty thorough in teaching the subject :)