Cyneas and Chloe by Steven Holtz
Cyneas and Chloe
by Steven Holtz
There was once a maid Chloe who, as her name may suggest, was devoted to the goddess Demeter. Chloe lived a solitary life in a small village seven or so leagues to the south of Pella. Her father, a soldier, had been killed by the invaders from the north when she a small child, and her mother carried away.
Chloe spent her days at the loom with the other women in her village, listening to their talk of the old days before the wars. Those only a year older than Chloe would often talk of Cyneas, a comely youth with a reputation as a seducer of maids. More than one confessed to wishing to meet this Cyneas, but none could say in truth they had ever seen him. The older women cautioned them against this talk, warning them that not so long ago, before the dreadful disruption of their lives, maids who only once saw Cyneas were not themselves seen again. But the elders’ warnings went unheeded and the talk continued.
When the day’s work was done, Chloe would retire to her humble dwelling outside the village, at times unsettled by the others’ talk and even unable to take her rest. Her only companions were the few animals that found their way home after the invaders left; their gentle noises outside her door gave Chloe comfort as she tended her hearth and prepared a soft place to sleep.
In the long, warm days of summer, Chloe often walked alone through the woods and hillsides to gather branches to kindle her hearth and pick berries or other such sustenance as she could find. On one afternoon late in the summer, when the sun was low in the sky and the light was overtaken by shadow, she arrived at a glade in the forest she had not seen before, being further away from her home than she had ever been. Not many paces away on the other side of the glade, Chloe could make out the figure of a man accompanied by a dog and as she drew closer still, she could see by his apparel that she had discovered a hunter, busy about his business.
“Hello,” he greeted her, “unless you are a wild hare you need have no fear of me nor my friend here,” he said with a broad smile that illumined his handsome face. Chloe could plainly see that the hunter was removing hares from his traps and putting their lifeless bodies into his game bag while his happy companion leaped about, cheering on his master with an occasional bark.
“By what name are you called?” he asked her.
“My name is known to my friends and not given to strangers,” said Chloe, modestly. She knew she had been unwise to leave the cover of the trees and advance so boldly to the hunter. Strangers in those times were never to be trusted.
“Come, fair maiden, Cyneas is no stranger to the shepherds and farmers who live hereabout. I protect the flocks and the cows who graze. I am a friend and guardian to all who would live in peace. From which village do you hail?”
“I dwell in the village which is found walking in that direction,” said Chloe, pointing back from whence she had arrived, “following the trail that passes to the left of the old olive tree and yet beyond the stream a little further. Are you indeed Cyneas?”
“Unless there is another, I am he. To which goddess must I make an offering or what feat must I perform that I may be counted among your friends?”
Now did Chloe indeed speak unwisely, for where before she had been only curious, a stronger impulse now guided her.
“I am called Chloe and I serve Demeter,” admitted Chloe. And having spoken her name aloud to a stranger, she now blushed to realize her error, remembering the warnings of the elders. Gathering her day’s harvest closer to her body, she then turned to depart.
“What? Leaving so soon? Rest here and enjoy game cooked over an open fire. After, I will gladly show you the way back to your home.” And to encourage her further, Cyneas’ dog looked at her eagerly, as though smiling, tail wagging happily back and forth.
“I thank you for your most gracious offer,” spake Chloe, “but my mother and father and brothers await me and I must hurry home.”
“The day grows quite late, Mistress, it is easy even for those who well know these woods to lose their way. I will guide you home.”
“Oh no, Master Cyneas! Should my father or my brothers see you, I am certain they would kill you. In fact, no doubt they are seeking me now!” And with that Chloe walked quickly from the clearing into the woods.
Undaunted, Cyneas called after her, “ My friend here will go with you to keep you safe. He will stay by your side and return to me when you so command him.” And before Chloe could think of anything to say to prevent Cyneas from sending his dog to her side, he was already in front of her, looking here and there, wherever his snout picked up a scent. He pranced about and in the manner of all dogs even placed his snout into her hand that she might know to scratch his ears.
After a time they reached her modest home. Chloe dropped her bundle of branches next to her door and before the dog could outwit her, she quickly entered her hut and latched the door shut. She stored away the berries, mushrooms and herbs she had picked that afternoon. She forgot about the dog, who meantime had scampered back to Cyneas as soon as Chloe closed her door against him. But her thoughts remained with Cyneas, who both frightened and fascinated her.
The hour was now late. Chloe hurried to build a fire in her hearth and busied herself preparing dinner in the pot that hung over the fire. So lost in thought was Chloe that she didn’t notice that her doves did not coo to her nor did her goats greet her. The cool air from the hills filled the empty spaces in her hut. At that moment she heard a man’s voice calling her name from outside.
“Mistress Chloe, please open your door and your hearth to one who is hungry and cold!”
“Run quickly to your own home and you will warm yourself in good time,” she answered.
“Mistress Chloe, my home is yet twice as far from the glade. Please open your door, if not to me, at least to my friend here so that he may drink and rest.”
“You had game enough for two and more when I left you in the glade, and water nearby and abundant wood for your fire. What need you of my fire and water? Go away now and do not return, neither you nor your dog – begone!”
“Allow me to rest just for a moment, mistress; I will be gone before your father and brothers return.”
Now did Chloe truly regret her foolishness. She thought to fly; she could easily surprise Cyneas by running to the village. He wouldn’t expect her to run and she knew her way in even the darkest night.
But Cyneas persisted:
“Mistress, are you not a devotee of Demeter and are you not bound by your oath of hospitality, even to strangers?”
Chloe had to give pause. Often at the loom had she heard tales of Demeter disguising herself and punishing those who failed to fulfill their oaths.
“I will bring food and water to you where you now stand and fuel for a fire will I also carry to you. That is hospitality enough for one such as you.” And Chloe did as she said she would.
And so the night went. From inside her quiet hut she could hear Cyneas’ fire crackle and she could smell the aromatic smoke. There was no longer any pretense of a father and brothers. Cyneas called to her again.
“Mistress Chloe, come join me here and I will describe to you how the elegant ladies of Pella adorn themselves with rare silks from the distant east and sparkling gems from the far south.”
Chloe had never been to Pella; her visit to the glade in the forest earlier that day – or by now, really the day before- had been as far from home as she had ever gone. All were poor in her village. No one there had ever seen a lord or lady. She no longer felt threatened by Cyneas and succumbed to his offer. She opened her door and walked to Cyneas’ fire, standing opposite from where he sat, as modesty
“How do the lords and ladies carry themselves?”
“It is a magnificent sight, Mistress, and it will please me to tell you of it, as it pleases me to think of it myself. Here, Mistress, enjoy a drink of this spiced wine, a gift from my friends, the shepherds. It is of this wine that they drink on their lonely nights away from home.” And he poured from a skin into the small cup that he offered to her.
And as she drank, Cyneas told her of the great sights he had seen in the court of the king of Pella, and her eyes grew merry and her spirit lifted. His words were as music to her ears. She strove to imagine the great lords and ladies in their finery. Cyneas made her laugh, and as she laughed she had another small drink of the spiced wine. All was in motion now. The fire seemed to be dancing first in one place then another while Cyneas and his dog spun around. He offered her yet one more small drink of the magical wine and she drank. And then, suddenly, all was dark and silent.
The forest was quiet. The gray light of dawn crept into the clearing where Chloe’s hut stood. No creature stirred and a great hush prevailed. After a while, Cyneas’ canine friend roused himself, first stretching then yawning. He sniffed a few sniffs then found his way to his master, who slumbered as one with no thought to arise. He licked Cyneas’ face until, finally, Cyneas sat up and studied his surroundings.
In another few moments Cyneas took a closer look at the remains of the fire. With a stick he stirred the embers, taking care to remove the charred bones. His friend looked on with interest as Cyneas then bundled the bones inside his game bag.
“We will find a place for these deep in the forest where none will find them,” said Cyneas.
“You know, my friend, I never thought to make a meal of her until she told me her father and brothers awaited her. None of her age has a father or brother. They were all killed years ago. It was then that I knew she would not be missed. Come, let us be on our way.”
And by way of agreement, the dog placed his snout in his master’s hand so that his master would know he wished him to scratch his ears.
Moral: Have care in what you say, for villains may make much of very little.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Steven Holtz 2014