“The three of you are dissidents?” The apparent leader of the village looked at them in humorless disbelief. “Where the hell’d you come from?”
Chess swallowed hard, reluctant to try answering that question. But, next to him, Ileana raised her voice. “We come from civ, of course,” she proclaimed. “We came out here in order to live in truth, like you.” When the guy frowned and stepped closer to her, she lifted her chin and added, “We heard that there’s a big rebellion getting underway out here, somewhere. We were hoping to join.” She glanced at Chess, and he nodded in what he hoped was naive-looking agreement.
The corner of the leader’s mouth seemed to twitch for an instant, but he quickly turned away and held a quiet discussion with two of the other men. Chess glanced nervously at the girls, but, apart from Sariel’s stony expression, they appeared calmer than he felt.
They were sitting on the ground in an open area between some run-down houses. Around them, Chess observed, were several dozen people, men and women, seeming only partly interested in the proceedings. Chess was relieved to see no children in the area. He was sure that his first impression had been right: these were dissidents, out here for some purpose of their own, and not a village of outsiders like the one his platoon had destroyed.
Chess’s heart jolted as the leader turned toward them again. “Well, you talk like dissidents.” He squinted at them. “You seem harmless, anyway.” He shrugged and sat down, facing them, and some members of his group settled themselves around him. “We would never have even seen you, out where you were, but we’ve set up extra guards because of the gangs.”
Ileana shifted a little. “Gangs?” she prompted, and Chess admired her fearlessness.
“Yeah.” The leader nodded. “You three should take care. There are trucks on the roads. There’s a big compound nearby that gangs work out of, but the amount of activity, lately, is unusual.”
“Do you have any contact with these gangs?” Ileana asked, sounding casual. She was thinking of Tez, Chess knew, and the way he got information from the nearby villages.
The leader eyed her sharply, but he only replied, “Not willingly. We try to keep clear of them. But something happened there,” the guy continued. “Something big. We don’t really care, except that we don’t want them bothering us here. Plus, if the gangs make too much trouble, government forces might come in. One is as bad as the other.”
Chess, lost in memories of his time with Home Defense, nearly missed the next words spoken.
“Those people who came through said --” one of the other men added.
The leader cut him off. “There have been some people traveling by here, in small groups. We believe they all lived at that compound – or maybe just outside of it, because they looked really thin. Even worse than us,” he commented, glancing around.
He was answered by some self-mocking laughter from the group. Chess took the opportunity to glance sideways at Ileana, but she was sitting rigidly still.
The leader frowned again. “But these… well, I guess you might call them refugees… The stories these refugees are telling are really strange. I wouldn’t think much of it, except that we’ve heard several versions of the same story.”
“And what story is that?” Ileana asked, sounding suddenly bored.
“It’s about a thief.” The man who had started to speak earlier could no longer be silenced. “The people who came by here, they all talked about a thief who stole something valuable from the gang leader there,” he related, growing more excited as he spoke. “And the gang chased the thief all over the place. These people: they watched it all, the whole chase, because there were all these lighted glass corridors at the compound. And, then, all of a sudden, there was chaos. The gang began to fight amongst itself, all shooting at each other. And the thief, they said, was able to escape in the confusion.”
The leader sighed heavily and shrugged. “And then, there was a small group of obviously sickly people who could talk of nothing but a witch. Strange things are happening out here.”
Continued next page...
“Halflings!” laughed the rider that stood beside Eomer. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?
“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”
- The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
In short, although I felt the need to read both the Iliad and the Odyssey in their entirety because they have had such an influence on both mythology and literature of the western world, I was not terribly impressed with either the stories or the themes of the two books. Odysseus, however, is truly the original Captain Kirk! In both stories, he is a brilliant strategist: resourceful, diplomatic and crafty. He is both a wise leader and a trickster folkhero; a fierce and powerful warrior and a romantic leading man.
One thing that is rather amusing in the Odyssey is the section dealing with the land of the Lotus Eaters, which is a story that most have probably heard of -- except that it’s not a story! In his translation, Alexander Pope spends less than 22 lines on it: they went, they saw, they left. And they apparently left some crew members behind without so much as an intervention:
The rest in haste forsook the pleasing shore,
Or, the charm tasted, had return'd no more.
- The Odyssey of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope
The treatment of women in the Odyssey, as in the Iliad, is less than kind. Penelope, of course, is hailed as a good wife because, against all odds and dangers, she remains true to Odysseus -- unlike some other wives who were left behind. But she is obviously running out of time and options by the end of the story, so one wonders what would have happened if the Crafty One had stayed to hang out with Circe just a little longer. As for Penelope’s servants, any of the girls who had shown attention to the suitors (...perhaps out of a sense of self-preservation? Well, certainly not because they were ever forced or threatened by those big men, right?) are executed in a brutal way, and we are meant to cheer for the end of their disgraceful lives. And there was much rejoicing.
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