Monday, September 25, 2023

Xerxes - One Last Mischief


One last mischief before manhood

It deems important to share the perspectives of youth unwasted. It was glorious. And to speak of the wealth of opportunities for gentle pleasures before the rougher duties of manhood presented itself to us!

At the age of ten or eleven we Persian boys were treated as kings. It was as if the adults knew of our future not yet foretold and gathered up every moment to spoil and treat us with more care than can be imagined.

If we desired an adventure in the wooded forests, it was permitted and encouraged. We were not aware then of the watchful eyes of the men kept hidden far enough away.

On more than one occasion in the heat and stillness of late summer, we trudged through the forests to that favorite spot opened to the expanse of stars. We would bathe in the stream to cool ourselves. Eat from the many baskets of fruits, meats, and breads that were carefully packed for us. And drink to our fill. Flasks of watered wine were not unusual in those last days of youth

We shared stories told to us by our elders, told to them by ancient ones we had never met. And in the few hours before the entry of our sun into the morning sky, we would settle down on blankets woven with colorful designs. Emblems of our rich upbringing and fortunate youth.

It was after one such adventure that we older of the boys stayed behind to tend the fire and play in the stream. Four of us. Or was it five? We felt the pull to manhood that wells up in the gut of every boy at some point. The sweetness of our youth and freedom fading, we were becoming aware of the work that approached us. The training in the ways of war. The rigid schedules of preparation for the expansion of our beloved Persia. It was spoken in hushed tones around the evening tables by the adults. And the years ahead for us were planned by the generals and the councilors who steered our fates.

Now I reflect and ponder. What forces unseen whispered into the dreams of our leaders to create such a savage future for our people? The principles underlying the spread of war and conquest were not seen in the light of day. The idea to take and take and take was surely sparked in some unknown darkness to be spread over decades and decades of governance?

To the last mischief before my manhood.

It was at the expense of a group of young soldiers. Camped not far from the edge of the forest that intersected with the last fields of our great horses. Training for the calvary meant a life of diligence and compassion for the large animals in their care. Each one given care of two to three horses, these soldiers attended to their duties with great honor. It was time consuming to feed. Wash. Brush. Tend to the hooves. Work through the rigors of training and galloping and charging. And when completed with one stallion, to begin with the next. So from daybreak to days end, the young soldiers and their horses were engaged.

It was after dark one hot summer night that the oldest of us boys sparked the idea. Why not sneak into the field and lure away a dozen or so of the horses? Take them through the woods to our favorite spot? At that moment we five agreed and carefully worked our way out to the horses. It was as easy as that. Or so we thought. Again unknown to us was the watchful eye of the adults that followed our every move. Hidden.

It was only eight horses. Or was it ten? That we were able to slip away quietly. Untying one from the next proved the hardest tasks because one move could spark a horse to bay up and alert all to our agenda.

We each rode one horse. Two of us had the tether of another horse in our hand. Another horse or two that were loosened from the rest followed in curiosity. It was not a long trip. We easily made it to the edge of our camp where we. Allowed the horses to drink their fill of the water. The simple plan was to keep the horses hidden here until dawn when the soldiers would be alerted to the missing ones.

It did not go as planned. The care of the horses was taken very seriously. If one was injured in the folly of a youthful prank it could mean that the horse was killed by its caretaker. And that potential loss was unthinkable to all who trained and served for so long.

It seems watchful eyes alerted the soldiers. They followed far enough behind us to avoid being seen or heard. When we were finally resting and nearing sleep, the soldiers pounced. It was a beating unmatched by any previous tussle. The twenty year olds were twice our size with even more powerful fists from the days and months of hard training.

Well bruised and bloody. We boys were rescued from near death by the watchful eyes. But not before being trounced. Severely. Well deserved? It was not until the end of our punishment that we had the luxury of pondering that swift and fierce beating.

It was a full month of servitude to the soldiers that we were sentenced. Side by side washing. Feeding. Training. And falling into exhaustion each night without the soft blankets and cool beds of our homes. The hot and dusty tents and living quarters smelled of bitter sweat and horse manure.

And from that moment on my own youth was ended permanently.

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