Alike as Two Bees
By: Elin Gregory | Other books by Elin Gregory
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Mar 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781937976194
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Mar 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781937976194
Word Count: 19,664
Available in: Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
DescriptionHorses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey...
In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.
After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hillarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants—and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.
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Nikias dipped his cup into the crock set in the shadows and sipped the well-watered wine. His team of apprentices and journeymen had been working hard since cockcrow, but the sun was high now. It was time to rest.
“Tools down,” he called. “Anatolios, you too. Now, please.”
His youngest apprentice, dear as a son, continued to work until Philon, older but equally dear, took the mallet from his hand. Their voices didn’t carry over the chatter of the other workers, but Anatolios looked his way and mouthed an apology. Nikias smiled and passed the cup to the next man before going to see how his boys were getting on with the frieze for Eutychos’s dining room.
Four hundred paces away on the rise above the beach, the walls of the new house had grown fast. Eutychos the merchant was paying well for Nikias’s services but could easily afford it. A generation ago his family had been coastal traders, but a stroke of luck plus a good marriage—topped off with hard work and the ability to take calculated risks—had increased their single boat to a fleet. Now the family ships sailed up into the Pontus to trade wine and ceramics for grain, hides, slaves, and it was rumored, gold. Eutychos’s father had lived on his ship, keeping a small house for his wife and children at the little port farther up the coast. Eutychos’s brother lived in the gods knew what kind of barbarism, trading directly with the savages. But Eutychos was well on the way to being a great man now and needed a home that properly reflected his new status. A home a short ride from Athens, where he could entertain and impress.
He knew what he liked and was prepared to pay for the best. Nikias knew Eutychos would have liked to have employed some great name, but he was not prepared to wait the five or ten years it might take before his turn came around. Nikias had been trained in Athens by a pupil of a pupil of Pheidias and could start work almost immediately.
Nikias knew he could not be faulted on either the quality of his work or that of his team, or on the talent of the promising youths he was training. Philon and Anatolios were working on the north side of the yard, shaded above by a rough roof of woven withies. The deep bed of beach sand underfoot was a safeguard. If one of the marble panels fell, it might not shatter. If the panel fell on a man’s foot, it might not crush it beyond repair. Gods willing, of course. Nikias stepped into the broken shade and raised a hand, preventing Philon from covering the panels with the protective grass mats. “Let me see, “he said.
Nikias gathered the boys, one in each arm, to stop Philon from stepping back. Anatolios was inclined to court his attention, but his other boy deserved consideration too.
To call Philon a boy was a habit of thought. At twenty he was old for an apprentice; he was as tall as Nikias and as heavy in the shoulders, his jaw shadowed by stubble. His big, scarred hands fiddled with his belt as he looked at Nikias sidelong through strands of sweat-dampened hair. His plain brown face was anxious, as though expecting correction.
Anatolios’s sooty curls barely came to Nikias’s shoulder and his bones were prominent in his wiry frame. He was looking at what they had achieved that morning with his lips parted in an eager smile, expecting constructive criticism. This difference in attitude as much as talent set them apart.
Even at thirteen, Anatolios promised great things. He had been brought up in an artist’s workshop, his father being a potter of some note and one of Nikias’s oldest and dearest friends. Nikias had taken the child in when an illness killed both parents, and he had never regretted it. Anatolios’s figures were already almost as good as Nikias’s. His eye for design was good, and he regularly turned out pieces both eye-catching and beautiful. Nikias was more proud of him than he was prepared to admit and was only slightly wistful that in days to come, the student would outstrip the master. His main concern at present was to stop the boy from getting too ambitious, to keep him to agreed designs rather than adapting them because he had an “idea.”
Philon was another of the safeguards Nikias had put in place. Nikias had spotted him working alongside his father, who was one of the masons who had been employed to build Eutychos new house. One day Nikias had noticed a chipped out graffito on what would be the hidden side of one of the blocks, a satyr of comical proportions chasing a top-heavy nymph. Nikias had laughed, identified Philon as the culprit, and given him a gentle telling off. After a word with Philon’s father, he had taken the new apprentice off column drums to team him with Anatolios. Philon took to his new profession very well. He handled his tools with precise strength, followed templates, and worked with accurate speed. A year on and he was more than fulfilling his promise, though he continued to view himself as more of an assistant than a potential master. Nikias found this praiseworthy, having more than enough to do in curbing Anatolios’s invention without killing it completely.
This month his boys were carving a bas-relief frieze copied from that of Pheidias in Athens. Gods, demigods, and enemies processed from panel to panel accompanied by worshippers and their sacrifices. Anatolios was carving the fine detail of the figures and finishing them to perfection. Philon was roughing out figures but had been allowed to carve the horses from start to finish. Each arched neck, each pawing hoof, was rendered with the same devotion Anatolios applied to the mighty shoulders and curling beard of Zeus. Between them they made magnificent centaurs.
“Oh yes,” Nikias said, taking his arm from around Anatolios to run his fingers across a taut torso and shaggy flank. “Very good. I like the way you have the same curliness in the feathering on the hooves as in the beard.”
“The other way about,” Anatolios admitted. “When I saw what Philon was doing with the hooves I thought it all ought to match.”
Nikias squeezed Philon’s shoulders and gave his chest an approving slap. “Good texture,” he said. “Nice big quarters. You’ve changed this line of muscle since the last time I looked. Why?”
Philon always took a moment to think before replying, but that was good. It showed he was likely to take a moment to think before setting his chisel to an expensive block of marble. A good trait in a jobbing sculptor.
“I looked,” Philon said. “At a horse, I mean.”
“Well, you’re not going to go wrong doing that,” Nikias said, grinning at Philon’s surprised look. “But be sure to pick good ones for when you do Castor and Pollux.” The two youthful demigods and their mounts were already roughed out. Their horses were prancing, the foremost youth turning to look back at his brother. “The Dioscuri would have good horses, Philon, not nags. And when you carve Castor and Pollux, ’Toli, don’t forget they are twins as well as gods. They need to be alike as two bees, so everyone can see that.”
“I wonder…” Anatolios said. He was probably trying to look guileless, but experience told Nikias that the boy was up to something. “Sometimes they cool their horses on the beach. We could go and look at them. Just to be sure of getting them right. If you can spare us?”
The question gave Nikias pause. No need to ask who “they” were. He had seen the group of young men racing their horses past the yard on many occasions, always with Eutychos’s son, Aristion, leading them. Given the chance, Anatolios would be there to watch, waving and flashing his brilliant smile at them. More than one had turned his head to return the smile. While Nikias expected Anatolios would at some point get a dear friend to help guide his steps to a useful and civilized manhood, he was still very much a child, far too young to cope with the wrong sort of attention.
On the other side of the balance was Philon, who could go with him to see off the sharks and put those eyes of his to good use at the same time. Also, Nikias would quite like a nap, and there was no chance of peace until the apprentices had worked off some energy.
Nikias smiled. “Get your hat,” he told Anatolios, “and one for Philon. Don’t stay in the water too long. I don’t want you getting burned. Don’t swim out too far. And take a bite to eat for after, while you dry off. I don’t want you getting cramps or wasting time when you get back.”
Nikias huffed out a laugh as Anatolios scampered away before Nikias changed his mind. He slapped Philon’s shoulder again.
“You’ll keep an eye on him,” he instructed. “He’s a good lad. I don’t think he’d mean to give anyone the glad eye but…”
Philon grunted agreement. “Eros,” he said after a moment. “If I had to carve him, ’Toli’d make a good model. And no—he wouldn’t mean to. He just…” He gestured then made a peculiar face, staring at Nikias.
“I know that look.” Nikias chuckled. “Feels like he’s trying to suck your brains out with his eyes. It just means he’s interested in your bone structure, but some might think it means more. Yes, Philon, take care of him.”
Philon nodded, clearly feeling no more needed to be said, and went to help Anatolios, who was already puffing toward them with two hats on his head and a basket on his hip.
Nikias watched them go with a fond smile then went to get himself a place in the shade.
Reader Reviews (1)
Submitted By: gayromanceguy on Feb 3, 2013This was a truly charming and delightful read! The characters were well drawn and engaging, and the story, while not long, felt complete and well developed. I enjoy historicals very much and was pleased with this entry for the classical period. I definitely recommend this novella!