Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Excerpt from Virgin Unknown

Some would question how much that video I mentioned in my previous post could help contribute to a story.  Below is an excerpt from my historical fantasy Virgin Unknown, set in ancient Greece.  

     Orestes’ lower back twinged as he ascended the slope to the Areopagus, so he signaled with his hand to stop.  It wasn’t so much the upward climb as it was the slippery nature of the marble steps -- if one of his heels suddenly slid to the side, it jarred him right where his back connected to his hips.  The pain had usually been just an ache at the edge of his mind, but now it was jabbing at him, right when he had to reach the top of this rock for judgment.
     Of all the hills of Athens, the Areopagus was the one that essentially looked like a smooth marble rock.  Perhaps thirty or so paces high, many cities would be glad to have such a natural hub of authority as a seat for their leaders.  But Orestes turned on the step he had paused on to look back at the true center of Athens.
      Taller and broader than the Areopagus was the Acropolis, dominating the city in the midday sun.  Orestes saw nothing smooth about this tallest of the Athenian hills, composed of a series of huge, irregular marble crags whose pockmarked sides shone in the unclouded sunlight.  He forgot the pain in his back as he noted the sheer and inhospitable nature of those hillsides, stirring up visions in his mind’s eye of how in generations past the Athenians had used the Acropolis to defend themselves from their enemies.  For Orestes knew the original inhabitants had been a much smaller population, using sword and arrow to keep their dwelling at the top of that rough cragginess that commanded the plain between the two rivers.  There they had dwelt in security, relying on the natural protection of their marble fortress, until . . .
     Until they came down.  The Athenians had advanced far enough in prosperity and military might to expand their city onto the plain.  Then they wrested brick from mud, timber from forests to build themselves houses, shops, and military barracks -- the rectangular buildings that filled the plain beneath Orestes’ field of vision, where once it had just been a place for wandering sheep and goats.  Although a small flock of sheep was being driven through the irregular streets right at the moment, his nose told him the city did not have enough smells wafting upward to be simply a pasture dotted with shacks.  As the population had grown, the herds of cattle, sheep, and goats had increased, and now wandered further and further out from the city to graze as Athens continued to expand.
     To his right he could see sparkling water in the distance, and he recalled the excellent harbors the Athenians maintained on the sea.  Orestes looked with a keen eye at the sails that filled or folded in the stray gusts of wind, wondering which ones were ships of Athenian design.  The shipments of grain were so critical, the Athenians experimented with new designs of penteconters -- those fearsome warships with fifty rowers -- to protect their shipments on the wine-dark sea.  


Anonymous said...

What an intriguing opener. I salute your ability to both intice your reader and weave in crucial landscape and historical details. I want to know more about where Orestes is in his journey. Is the pain he's feeling part of his dreadful sentence of exile or is he still plotting the murder? Brilliant! SL

MrMark said...

This is set after the tragic events in Sophocles' Electra. Orestes doesn't realize it, but he's being sent on a journey to find a long lost sister of his. I'll explain more about it in future posts, but it involves the Furies (hideous women with wings), a mysterious temple, and possible human sacrifice. So it is fantasy, not just Greek history.


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