Sunday, 11 August 2013

Peter Alan Orchard: 'The Painter of Lemnos'

Time for another excerpt from my take on an episode from the Bronze Age. The painter Kindulos, blasted out of a quiet life on a Greek island painting mythical and rural scenes on rich men's walls by being selected as a human sacrifice, breaks with age-old tradition by running away:


It was not Kindulos's duty to escape. No-one ever escaped. It was the duty of the chosen one to be caught running to the mountain, to be bound and carried back to the village, borne high like the hunted animal he was. The last sound in his ears would be the keening of his mother, his last sight the painted face of a grinning village woman, priestess for the day, driving a spear into his throat. Then the smith-god would surely be content and the dreadful roaring and bucking of the island would stop, but the victim would know only the darkness and the fluttering unseen wings of dead souls.
Save me!
Panicked, Kindulos began to run again, behind the hill and into a gully sheltered by shrubs and the roots of acacia and tamarisk. He fell, his thin chest heaving, and lay waiting for the women. Voices pierced the air beyond him, the terrifying ululation of women preparing to shed blood - his blood. Kindulos clasped his arms around his head and shook with horror.
The screaming rose and fell away. There was a querulous tone now, the uncertain, indignant sound of hounds that have lost the scent. The women were further away, down the hill. Kindulos lay still, as a snake does when a hawk is hovering, and wondered, Am I the first to escape the women? And if I do, what of the mountain?
The cries of the women floated up the hill again, insistent, desperate, but far away, the crying of seabirds over a fishing boat. The earth settled and lay calm.
Kindulos lay in the gully until the sun died over the sea, and thought, What now?

He woke with a cry, itching from insect bites and ashamed to have slept. It was dark still, but lightening faintly into a grey dawn. Dew hung in the air, chill and sweet, scented with herbs. Slowly, afraid, Kindulos peered over the scrub and saw only the fingertips of moonlight on the sea, felt only the breeze on his face.
Hanging from his narrow waist, a leather belt carried his brushes and sponge in a leather bag, with powdered rocks and bones for pigment. A jar stoppered with a rag held his precious blue, a blend bought from an Egyptian trader.
'I'm alive,' Kindulos told himself with wonder. 'The island is resting again, all of itself. No need for death.' He patted himself down. 'I must work. I have a painting to finish.'
He set off down the hill until he reached a track beaten by goats driven to pasture. As he crossed it he heard the scuffle of hurrying feet. He froze and waited. The women were long gone, but what was this? A ghost? A god?
Out of the grey sky a small figure formed and hurried towards him. Kindulos breathed out deeply, relieved. It was a boy, the son of the trader whose wall he was painting, searching for him in the night.
'I'm safe,' Kindulos said, smiling into the darkness. 'I can start again.'
Paos waved Kindulos away, his thin arms whirling. 'No, Kindulos, you cannot! You must not!'
'But my family - '
'Your family must never find you. Never come back here. Go!'

Unfortunately, the only way of escaping the island is on a merchant ship carrying supplies for the Trojan War...

'The Painter of Lemnos' is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and NobleSmashwords and all the usual outlets.

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