Greeks Bearing Gifts

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A different take on a well-known classic tale.

Greeks Bearing Gifts

by (AJ) Eric

Hoxa was annoyed.

A wealthy merchant was visiting King Lycomedes -- somebody said it had something to do with trading privileges between their island realm of Skyros and some of the states on the Greek mainland, whatever that meant -- and all the young girls in and around the palace had been invited to join them outside the main hall at noon, where the merchant would be handing out gifts. There weren't many details, but word had spread quickly that he had set aside a chest full of precious jewelry for the occasion.

Somehow Hoxa hadn't realized that when they said "all the girls", they didn't just mean classy, prettily-dressed eight-year olds like her, the daughter of the commander of the king's host. Just about every preadolescent female in the palace who could walk was here, from the seamstress's three-year old daughter to the snooty eleven- and twelve-year olds who hung out with the king's two youngest daughters, Thea and Deidamia.

It might have been even worse, Hoxa guessed. The princesses already had their gifts, and were standing in the back next to their royal parents, alongside the merchant, resplendent in his own finery, and a lean, richly-dressed younger man who might have been his bodyguard.

But instead of handing gifts to each of the girls, the merchant had taken the jewelry chest and poured out its contents onto the center of one long table, and they'd all been told to help themselves. That worked out nicely for the older and bigger girls -- and, Hoxa noticed, for a red-headed nine-year old near one end of the loot who was beating off contenders for her new gold-and-emerald necklace and matching ring with her fists. But it left the rest of the younger and smaller girls, including Hoxa herself, unable to get near the middle of the table, let alone pick up anything of their own.

Then, near the edge of the jewelry, she saw an equalizer. Somebody had left a sword there. All she needed to do, she decided, was to snake in for half a second, grab it and then use it to, uh, persuade the bigger girls to get out of the way and leave their new riches behind. She figured she wouldn't have to gash them up very badly before they caught on, and if she shared the jewels -- she hated that idea, but you do what you have to -- with the others who'd been left out, the adults, who seemed content to let things proceed, probably wouldn't interfere.

Hoxa picked her moment, flashed inside and grabbed the sword. It was longer and heavier than she'd expected, and she wondered if she'd be able to wield it at all.

She didn't have a chance to find out. Faster than she'd have believed possible, the lean man had crossed the open area, reached the table and grabbed her in one hand and the sword in the other. He grinned. "You're coming with us, my boy."

Boy? Hoxa prided herself on quick thinking, but couldn't make any sense out of that.

"Your plan worked, Odysseus," the merchant called out. He turned and addressed the king. "If the oracle is true, he's going to become our greatest warrior and make us unstoppable when he's older and we're at war with Troy."

"Remember that when you trade with us," Lycomedes replied with a smile. He turned to his daughters. "I'd heard a rumor some years back that a young mother in another kingdom, concerned about a prophecy that her infant son would die in battle, sent him to us to be raised as a girl, in hopes of avoiding that fate. But the gods don't get fooled easily, and when Kokalos here told me his story, I told him he could go ahead and try to find him."

Kokalos continued. "It was Odysseus's idea that if we put a sword out along with lots of jewelry, the boy would grab the sword and we'd learn who he was. It seems to have worked."

Hoxa looked around. The man -- Odysseus? -- had let go of her hand, though his arm was loosely around her shoulders. With her knowledge of the area and her smaller size, she might be able to break away and hide before any of them could stop her.

She knew they had made a mistake. Boys and men exercised and competed in the nude, and it was easy for her to see that parts of their bodies were different from hers. So she couldn't have been the boy they were looking for, if he even existed.

Still, she found a lot in favor of going along. "Our greatest warrior" sounded a lot more interesting than anything in store for her here in Skyros. Her illustrious father didn't pay much attention to her and didn't even see her that often. As a warrior himself, Hoxa decided, he ought to welcome her being trained to follow in his footsteps, even in a foreign land. He and Hoxa's stepmother -- her mother had died giving birth to her -- had always kept her well fed and decently clothed, but they devoted most of their attention to her small half-siblings, especially their two-year old son. Hoxa wondered, melodramatically, if they'd even notice she was gone.

True, Odysseus and the others were bound to discover soon enough that she wasn't a boy, though she hoped it wouldn't happen until they were off the island. But if they decided not to train her, Hoxa had heard stories about woman warriors called Amazons. Perhaps these people knew where they lived and could send her away for training with them.

And if not -- well, there must be a lot more jewels where that chest came from. Still wearing her pretty clothes, Hoxa accompanied Kokalos, Odysseus and their retinue out of the palace and away toward adventure.

(A thank-you to my beta readers, Holly Hart and A.A.)

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