From the Memoirs of Alexandra the Greek:
In my experience, there is nothing more terrifying than being sold.
My parents, brothers, and sisters were slaves to a landowner near Athens. His sons had pursued their own interests in the city and, when the landowner died, they decided to sell his farm along with all his possessions. The farmer treated us as well as any slave owner treated his chattel. Even so, I vividly remember the night he came and took my sickly baby brother away. Mother held me close and told me that it was for the best even as tears glistened on her own cheeks. Listening as my brother's pitiable cries receded into the distance, I knew the farmer was going to leave him on the hillside for the wolves.
I sobbed into my mother's breast and trembled. I was scared for my brother, but for the first time, I really understood what it meant to be the property of another. Laws in Greece governed the treatment of chattel, but as long as a slaveholder wasn't outwardly cruel, they could do as they pleased with their property. There were stories of slaves from neighboring farms who had been forced to work out in the wind and rain until they were so sick they had to be put out of their misery. There were also stories of willful slaves who were beaten so their spirits would be broken. How could the farmer's actions be deemed cruel when wealthy Athenians were encouraged to leave their own sickly children to the wolves just as the farmer had done with my brother?
I was named Alexandra in honor of the Macedonian who ruled our land at the time of my birth. There were slave owners who might have seen that as a presumptuous name for a slave to give his child—especially his female child. However, the farmer believed that my father was paying respect to the king and allowed his choice of my name to stand.
The farmer's youngest daughter taught me the basics of reading, writing and music. Even though it was not uncommon for slave owners to allow their servants to be educated, there were plenty of slave owners that would not have bothered with more education than was necessary for a slave to perform their duties.
The landowner was good as slaveholders go. However, the cries of my brother have haunted me all my life and I never forgave the man for what he did to my brother. The problem of being sold was that I could be given over to a man I would hate even more. I had no more control of my destiny than my tiny brother did when he thrashed helplessly in the farmer's arms all those years before.
There was a flurry of activity over the next few days. The land was divided between the men that owned the adjoining farms. My older brother and sister were sold to one of the farmers while my mother and father went with the other. I wanted to stay and work the land, but neither of the neighboring farmers seemed to have interest in me or my skills. As I understood, each of the farmers had already purchased as much as they could afford. Instead, one morning an unsavory man who wore too many rings on his fingers and adorned himself in purple robes arrived at the farm and told me to pack my belongings.
"Who are you?" I asked. "What gives you the right to give me orders?"
The farmer's eldest son stepped up next to the man in the purple robes. "He is a trader from Athens. You will do what he says."
My heart sank. I was being given over to a slaver. Listlessly, I packed my few belongings, then sought out my mother and father and hugged them good-bye.
The slaver led me to his small horse-drawn cart. He told me to put my belongings in the back. The cart was only big enough for one rider. He climbed aboard and instructed me to walk alongside. As we made our way along the gravel road toward Athens, I turned around and looked back at the farm with tears in my eyes. I saw my father and mother waving at me. As I raised my arm to wave back, I felt the crack of a whip next to my ear. The slaver scowled at me and bellowed for me to keep up with the cart. Shoulders slumped, I turned around and followed him to the city.
The farm where I grew up was only eight miles outside of Athens. I had made the walk to the city many times with the farmer and either my brother or father. We used to go into the city to trade our best crops for items we'd need. I knew the road well, but it had never seemed so far to the city as the day I walked beside the slaver's cart. Usually when we would go to the city, the farmer would stop by one of the public cisterns just inside the city's walls and allow us to refresh ourselves with a drink and a little cooling water on our wrists and feet. The slaver rode right by the public cistern and barked an order for me to keep up as I looked longingly at the building. As though to taunt me, he lifted his water skin to his lips and drank greedily.
The slaver led me to a building not far from the city's walls. He climbed down from the cart and unhitched the horse, then led it to a stable where it had food and water. He then came back and told me to grab my things. Once I did, he led me through the gate into the building's courtyard. The building must once have been the residence of a wealthy man, but it had fallen into disrepair—probably during the years of the Macedonian's occupation. The slaver took out a key and opened a door. As the hinges creaked open, my nose was assailed by the odor of unwashed humanity. Self-consciously, I took a step backward.
"Your quarters are there," he said. "Some buyers are coming tomorrow. I think you'll fetch a pretty price."
When I didn't step forward, he gave me a rude shove from behind and I stumbled into the dark, smelly room, dropping my bundle of belongings at my feet. The door slammed shut behind me and I could hear the key turning in the lock. I stood in one place, trembling even though the room was actually quite hot. Eventually my eyes adjusted to the darkness. There was a little bit of light coming in from small windows set high in the walls of rooms that surrounded the hallway I found myself in. I picked up my belongings and took a few tentative steps down the hallway.
Eventually, the hall ended in a large room. Eight pairs of eyes glared up at me from wool-covered straw mats that lay upon the hard floor. Most of the people just curled up again and one even snarled at me, clinging to his mat protectively. One man's gaze remained on me. He stood from his mat and stepped toward me. As he did, I could tell that he hadn't bathed in several days and I stepped away from him.
"I'm sorry." In spite of the way he smelled, his voice was surprisingly gentle. He was tall and well muscled. It was difficult to make out his face in the gloom and a week's worth of beard covered it, but I sensed he was about my age. "This is a terrible place, but hopefully someone will come soon who will buy us and give us new, respectable homes." He held out his hand. "I am Kallius. Come, let's find you a place to sleep and I'll get you something to eat and drink."
I followed him into the dank room where the mats covered the floor. He led me to one of them. I set down my belongings and then sat on the mat. He left, but returned a short time later with a bowl of water and some bread. "I'm sorry to say, this is all the slaver allows us."
"Thank you for your kindness." As I spoke, I heard the hoarseness of my voice. I took the bowl of water and drank greedily. He took it from me and refilled it, then brought it back. I drank the next bowl more slowly, then ate the hard bread thoughtfully. "How long have you been here?"
"About two weeks," he said. "The slaver says buyers are coming tomorrow. I hope that will be the end of my stay. I hope you won't have to stay longer than that either."
"Ha!" The derisive laugh came from one of the bodies huddled on the floor. "The slave trader is a poor one indeed. He hasn't made a sale in over a month! We’ll be lucky if we end up shoveling out the city stables."
"Be quiet, you," called Kallius.
I looked down at the hard bread in my hands and tears began to flow. Kallius moved beside me and started to put his arm around me, but the smell of him caused me to flinch. I don't know whether he was offended by my flinch or thought I wanted to be alone, but he moved off to his own mat and stared up to the window. "If you need anything, please let me know," he said softly. I could hear the tension in his voice and I realized that I had hurt his feelings. Even so, I wasn't certain I wanted a stranger near me just then. I set the bread down, curled up into a ball and cried myself to sleep.
* * * *
I awoke some time later when someone kicked me in the legs. I looked up bleary-eyed and saw it was the slaver. "There'll be buyers here soon," he barked. "There's water for cleaning in the courtyard. Make yourself presentable." With that, he turned and left.
Soon after, Kallius appeared with a chunk of bread and a bowl of water. Either I had grown used to the foul smells of the slave quarters overnight or Kallius had availed himself of the cleaning water. No matter the cause, his smell did not repulse me. "Thank you." I did my best to put on an apologetic smile.
"Don't mention it," he said. "You better eat quickly and wash up, before the buyers arrive."
"Truth be told, I would rather not be bought by anyone." I took a bite of the bread.
"You want to stay here?" His eyes widened.
I shook my head and washed down the bread with some water. "I would rather be free."
"Unfortunately, that is not an option. Better to be bought by a good house than remain in this hell hole."
I took another bite of bread and frowned while I chewed. Kallius was right, but I didn’t like it at all. Even worse, I didn't like the fact that I had no say in who would buy me or what they might do with me. Hurriedly, I swallowed some water, stood and stepped quickly out to the courtyard. There, most of the slaves milled around. Two of them hovered over a trough filled with dirty water. It was better than nothing. I stepped up and washed away the tears of frustration that were threatening to burst to the surface. Returning to the slave quarters, I found my bag and retrieved the hairbrush my brother had made for me from the bristles of a boar he had killed. I did my best to tame my long, curled hair, then tied it back with a leather strap.
As I put my brush away, I noticed Kallius smiling at me from his mat. "You look beautiful," he said.
I snorted. "I don't necessarily want to attract the kind of slave owner who buys me for my beauty."
"All the finest homes want beautiful slaves." He stood and indicated the door. "We should go and get ready. The buyers will be here soon."
As we stepped into the courtyard, the slaver was busy lining up all of the slaves, getting them ready for viewing. "There you are!" he barked. "Get over here!"
Kallius and I joined the others in the lineup. The slaver stood back and looked at us, shaking his head. "What a pitiful lot, but you'll have to do." With that, he went to the gate.
I don't know how long we stood out in the courtyard, but eventually the first buyers began to arrive. A dozen men in all, wearing colorful cloaks moved along the line, looking us up and down. Several of the buyers reached out and touched arms and thighs, evaluating the slaves' strength. Several of the men were happy to oblige by flexing their muscles. One old man who reeked of garlic grasped my arm and nodded approvingly—I had well developed muscles from my years in the field. A moment later, his hands drifted and he grabbed my breast. My breath caught and I resisted the urge to strike him. Much as I wanted to, I judged that the slaver would not hesitate to kill such an insolent slave. The old man winked at me and then joined the rest of the men.
There was some discussion among themselves and then the bidding began. They started at the far end of the line. Prices were shouted and soon the first slave in the line was ordered to stand apart. The next person in line was an older woman—about the age my grandmother would have been if she had still been alive. No one seemed willing to start the bidding. The slaver tried to egg the men on, but there was a shuffling of feet and a shaking of heads. "Back to the quarters, grandma!" shouted the slaver. The old woman shuffled past us and through the door that led to the room with the foul-smelling mats.
The bidding process began again with the next slave in line. As the process continued, I saw that the old man who reeked of garlic kept eyeing me, while hefting the weight of his money pouch. About halfway down the line, they reached Kallius. The bidding was vigorous for him. I was not surprised. Out in the sunlight and cleaned up even slightly, it was clear that he would be a strong and worthy servant for whatever house succeeded in winning him.
Just as the bidding on Kallius was reaching a climax, I saw a man in a simple white tunic embroidered with golden thread step into the slaver's courtyard. His eyes roved over all of the slaves, including those already purchased. When his eyes fell on me, I somehow felt that I was being examined far more intimately than I had been by the old man.
One of the buyers had succeeded in winning Kallius and was paying the slaver. The new man stepped up to the slaver and pointed to Kallius and then to me. The man who was in the process of purchasing Kallius protested, but the new buyer opened his purse and began counting out gold. Kallius' buyer looked only a little disappointed as he accepted the gold. The slaver did not look disappointed at all as he accepted his share. He pointed to Kallius then me and ordered us to stand apart from the others.
The new man approached us. "Please retrieve your belongings. We will leave presently," he said in a commanding voice. He looked over his shoulder. "I find these proceedings … disquieting."
Kallius and I looked at each other and then stepped into the slave quarters where we quickly gathered up our bundles. We met the man in the courtyard and he led us out into the street.
"What shall we know you as, Master?" asked Kallius with humility.
The man smiled sardonically. "I am known as Democritus. I am the chief servant of the banker Theron."
"You're a slave?" I asked.
He simply inclined his head as he strode down the street. I noticed that Democritus was leading us into the heights of the city, closer to the temples, where the very finest houses were. He turned toward the largest house I had ever seen. My breath caught as I saw the gate. Hanging there was a bronze relief of a gorgon's face. I had seen bronze and stone reliefs of gorgons near doors and gateways before. They were believed to ward off evil spirits. However, this gorgon's eyes seemed to peer right into me. Its fangs looked all too ready to lock onto my throat. Democritus unlocked the gate and I stepped hastily past the grotesque relief and walked down the walled entryway toward the central courtyard.
In the courtyard was a statue of the Medusa. Her countenance was at once terrifying and beautiful. Instead of giving this Medusa a head full of snakes as I had seen many times in the past, the sculptor had carefully woven the snakes through her hair as though they were faithful companions. The sculpture was painted so realistically that I half expected the Medusa to step off her pedestal. "Our master seems to have a fascination for gorgons," I remarked.
"It is one of his eccentricities, yes." Democritus stepped up to me and indicated a lavishly appointed room to our left. "These are my quarters. Do not hesitate to see me if you need anything." He continued into the courtyard and took another left into rooms that were dimly lit. Unlike the slaver's quarters, my nose was not assailed by the smell of reeking humanity. Instead the aroma of baking bread and herbs greeted me. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light from the windows, I saw a kitchen where two women were working.
Democritus led us further down the hallway. There was a room with four beds. "These are the men's quarters," he explained. "They are out on errands for the master today." Leading us a little further on, Democritus indicated another room with four beds. "These are the women's quarters." He indicated which bed was mine and I set down my belongings.
As we continued down the hallway, I noticed storerooms and a workshop. Finally at the end of the hall was a small, tiled room. A woman was heating water and filling the tub. "You should be presentable when you meet the master tonight," said Democritus. "Please bathe and rest. Take your time, we have several hours before the master will … appear." With that, he turned and left.
Though I felt Kallius needed a bath worse than me, he allowed me the first use of the tub. The woman who was filling the tub invited me in and closed a curtain behind me. She placed laurel leaves and sweet-smelling herbs into the water. I pulled my dusty, sweaty chiton over my head and stepped into the bath, letting out a sigh as the water caressed my body.
The woman retrieved my chiton. "I shall bring you a new garment. The master likes his slaves well adorned." I thought I caught sight of her wrinkling her nose as she picked up the tunic. However, I didn't care. The water felt divine and it was delightful to breathe in scents other than human sweat and waste. I was still frustrated at the idea of being owned, but Kallius was right. If one had to be owned, it was best to be owned by a good master.
Find out what happens to Alexandra in Dragon's Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order
David Lee Summers © 2013