The novel takes place 1938 B.C. in ancient Crete. Kira is injured in the bull ring. She has to find a second career and joins her brother in the family trading business. Together they travel to many forign places full of adventure.
A hush fell over the crowd as the bull lowered its head and pawed the ground. It lunged forward with a snort and gathered speed until the earth shook. The massive red and white body charged toward the lone figure of a girl standing in the middle of the ring. Her smoothly muscled body remained erect and motionless until the horns of the beast were close enough to touch her. Extending her hands in front of her, she grasped its horns, pulled herself up over the massive head, and somersaulted to a handstand onto its back. Pushing off with her hands, her body formed a graceful arc as she landed lightly behind the bull and in the arms of her male partner. Loud cheers erupted from the crowd.
Dressed for the arena, the bull dancers wore only loin cloths and high laced leather boots. Kira grasped her companions hand as they trotted to where the king was seated and bowed deeply. Looking up into his smiling face, Kira felt a great sense of pride. With a clap of his hands, the king dismissed them, and the next pair of performers entered the ring.
Kira stepped outside the gate of the arena, draped a light cloak over her body glistening with sweat and turned to watch her school mate who was to perform next. Melissa had only danced with bulls a few times, and Kira worried about the girl's lack of concentration and timing. If it were her choice, Kira wouldn't allow Melissa in the ring without further training. The girl's father was a wealthy merchant and had paid the school a large sum of money to allow his daughter to perform.
The bull entered the arena and stood with head held high. Its nostrils quivered as it tested the air. Kira noticed, by the way the bull was acting, that something was wrong. The great beast looked around and noticed the girl standing in the center of the arena. Shaking its head in frenzy, it bellowed and charged. As it bore down on her, Melissa did not move but stood frozen with fear.
Kira's nerves tensed when she saw the girl's partner vault out of the ring in panic, leaving her to certain death. Without hesitation, she dashed into the ring shouting and waving her cloak to attract the animal's attention. The bull stopped short and turned toward Kira. While its attention was focused on Kira, a handler entered the ring and pulled Melissa to safety.
Enraged, the bull charged Kira in blind madness. She positioned herself in an attempt to leap over its back, but at the last second, it swung its head to the left. One of its sharp horns struck Kira on the back of her right arm, throwing her off balance and to the ground.
Before the beast was able to make another pass at the helpless girl, two bull trainers rushed into the ring with a large net and lured the animal away from Kira. They snared the bull before it was able to make another attack on the girl.
Picking herself up off the ground, Kira noticed a palace official snatch up the cloak she had dropped and come toward her. She looked down at her arm as the man attempted to wrap the cloak around it. Blood flowed from a gaping wound on the back of her arm that ran from just below her shoulder to her elbow. The blood saturated her loincloth and trickled down her legs onto her boots. Staring at it in amazement, she wondered why she didnÉ≠t experience more pain. All she felt was a dull ache.
Grasping Kira gently by her good arm, the official guided her out of the arena to the nearby home of Mylos, the court healer.
Mylos, seated her in a chair and examined her arm. "I am going to stitch this up. It looks as if only the flesh has been torn; the ligaments and muscle seem to be all right. "
Kira was close to tears, not because the pain from the wound, but because the thought of never entering the ring again to do what she loved and trained for these many years oppressed her. Sighing deeply, she asked him, "Will I be able to perform in the arena again?"
"I'm afraid not." Your wound will heal properly, and your arm should gain its full strength, but there is another serious matter to consider." He washed the wound carefully. Then with a sharp splinter of bone threaded with a string of bull gut, he proceeded to close the wound.
Kira winced at the sharp sting of the needle as it pierced her skin time after time and tried to concentrate on the dilemma she was in. She knew too well she could be arrested for profaning the sacred ceremony. Blood being drawn at a performance was a sacrilege.
"Do you think the king will send guards and have me arrested?" she asked in a low voice.
"I don't know, "he replied, and tied off the last stitch.
"It wasn't my fault," she continued. "The bull seemed to go mad and charged Melissa. I thought he would kill her."
Mylos slathered salve on her wound and wrapped a bandage tightly around her arm from wrist to shoulder. "This will keep the flow of blood in your arm even, so it won't swell."
Kira struggled to rise, but Mylos restrained her gently. "I must see the king and explain," she muttered.
He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You lost a lot of blood." He handed her a clean tunic to put on. "Come, lie down on the cot and rest a while. Meanwhile I will speak to the king and see what I can do for you." He poured a clear liquid from a beaker into a cup. "Here is something to relax you."
Kira drank the liquid and slumped down on the cot. What was going to happen to her? The king was a fair man and Crete a wonderful land in which to live, but she knew the laws of their religion were taken seriously. The king had the power to bend those laws but would he? Even if she were allowed to go free, what would she do with her life? The only thing she knew was bull dancing. She had started training on her island of KallistÉ≠e when she was fifteen. Now at twenty one, her career was over. Because of what had happened, she knew the head trainer of the school would not allow her to teach. Fragments of other thoughts drifted through her mind. Then everything faded into blackness.
Kira felt someone shaking her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered open, and she saw Mylos standing over her.
"Wake up, Kira. The palace guards are here."
She sat up quickly trying to orient herself. The dull throbbing in her arm brought back her memory. "Am I under arrest?"
"They didn't say so. They are here to take you to see the king. Are you feeling well enough to go with them?"
She slowly stood. "Yes. I would like to get the uncertainty of this settled."
Stretching her well honed body to her full length, she started for the door. Mylos threw a cloak around her shoulders, hiding the bandaged arm. Regal as a queen and with head held high, she stepped between the two guards and walked through the streets of Knossos toward the palace. They marched along a broad avenue and crossed to the palace side of the ravine where the road split into three forks. The left roadway ran north to a harbor town on the Great Sea three miles away. Kira thought the guards would choose the middle road that led to the west court where ordinary citizens were received. Instead, they marched her to the right branch where she entered a stepped portico of the palace, brightly adorned and supported by downward tapering pillars. This surprised Kira, since it gave access to the state entrance used by palace residents. Ascending the staircase, they continued to great golden doors hung within a frame of silver. One of the guards turned the gold handle and pushed the door open revealing a bronze threshold. The inner walls radiated like the sun, lighting up the high roofed halls topped with blue enamel tiles. Kira noticed a hall that ran to the left and one to the right. Both led to broad terraces. They proceeded straight toward the throne room.
Entering, Kira gazed at the fresco that dominated the east wall. Her eyes drank in the portrait of a charging bull in all its splendor. Pulling her eyes away, she approached the foot of the king's alabaster throne, bowed, and turned her gaze to his large dark eyes. He was dressed in an ankle-length pleated ceremonial robe that was worn during the time of sacrifice. His curly black hair, streaked with silver, was dressed differently then at the arena, but in the latest fashion, with bangs across his forehead. Two braids hung in front of his ears and his waist length hair fell down his back. Like most men of Crete and the surrounding islands, he was clean shaven.
Since religion was such a part of the kings life, he knew each bull dancer by name and reputation. "Kira, I saw what happened today," he said leaning toward her. "We have investigated the incident and do not find you at fault. In fact, I commend you for your heroism."
Kira gave a great sigh of relief. "Thank you, sire."
"Since Melissa is the one responsible, she will be punished. All maiden dancers know that when it is their phase of the month, they are not to enter the ring with a bull for the smell of blood enrages it. Melissa broke this law and provoked the problem."
Kira looked at the king's ceremonial dress. "You're not going to sacrifice her, are you?"
He smiled warmly at her. "No, my dear. We will find a just punishment but not a harsh one."
"Will I be allowed to return to bull dancing?" she asked hopefully.
The king looked at her sadly and shook his head. "No, my dear, Your blood was spilled in the ring. This is a bad omen. We cannot allow you to be a bull dancer any longer."
Kira's eyes filled with tears. "But, Sire, what am I to do? This is the only thing I know."
"You are young and can learn other things. Isn't it about time you found a husband and settled down?"
"I'm not ready for that. In fact, I havenÉ≠t even considered the idea.Éį
The king thought for a moment. "You are welcome to remain in the palace as my guest until your arm is healed and you have decided what you want for your future. I will have you stay with my daughter in her apartments. She is your age and needs a companion." He clapped his hands, and a servant woman appeared from the shadows. ÉĪMari, take Kira to the quarters of the princess."
Mari led Kira through the many chambers and hallways of the palace to the west wing. As they grew close to the apartments of the princess, Kira heard chattering and laughing echoing down the hallway. At the doorway she hesitated. Mari nudged her into the room. The scene overwhelmed Kira who was accustomed to a simple life. Ladies in waiting entertained themselves by spinning wool or playing games. The princess sat in a chair while several of her handmaidens did up her hair and manicured her nails. All the women had their long hair elaborately curled and adorned with jewels. It was the normal style of the Keftiu women, but, since Kira was a bull dancer, she always wore her hair simply, tied at the nape of her neck with a leather thong.
Scanning the lighted chambers, Kira felt the cool evening breeze drift in through air vents that allowed the scent of flowers to float in from an outside garden. In one corner of the room, she noticed a fresco of playing dolphins over a bathing pool.
Mari strolled over to Princess Taru, bent down, and spoke to her in a soft voice. The princess looked up at Kira with a saucy smile. "I understand you will be staying with us awhile. Welcome." She stood and told Mari to draw a bath for Kira. Turning back to Kira, she looked at her new guest and cocked her head to one side. "You will need some fresh clothing, and we must do something with your hair." Clapping her hands in glee, she added, "we're going to have such fun."
Kira soaked in the warm perfumed water, careful to keep her bandaged arm dry. The princess found a Keftiu dress, usually worn by the ladies of court, and gave it to her to put on. The tight fitting bodice was peacock blue and exposed her breast. The flounced bell shaped skirt fell in gaily colored tiers of red and blue from her narrow waist down to her ankles. After she was dressed, the servants piled her long dark hair on top of her head and arranged delicate ringlets over her forehead and along her cheeks. Small pieces of jewelry were fastened in her curls.
The princess surveyed the work of her servants and nodded with approval."I envy you. You look so graceful, yet you must be very strong to pull yourself up over a bull like you do."
"It takes years of training in acrobatics to give us the strength and agility to dance with the bulls. Now that I'm not allowed in the ring any longer, I fear I will lose all that I have learned."
The princess smiled broadly at Kira. " Let's not worry about it now." Grabbing Kira's hand, she pulled her into the hallway. "Come, we'll sneak over to the great hall to watch the sacrifice."
They passed a private shrine on their way, and the princess stopped to pray. Strolling through a maze of hallways, they finally came to a balcony overlooking a great room below. Kira noticed a four foot pillar of orichalcum, a metal resembling gold, near the far wall. On it, the laws of Crete had been inscribed by the first kings.
The two young women heard shouting, and a bull lunged into the middle of the room billowing and tossing its head. The king entered wearing a bull mask. With him were two priests dressed in white robes. Carrying nooses, the three men threw the ropes over the bullÉ≠s great head and led it to the pillar where they stretched the animalÉ≠s neck over the top of it. The king picked up the sacred double ax, and with one easy stroke, cut its throat. Blood trickled down over the sacred inscriptions as the legs of the beast slowly crumpled under its great weight, and it slumped to the floor. As part of the ceremony, the king and two priests stood over the body of the bull to chant a prayer. When finished, they sat on the floor in front of a large bronze brazier of glowing coals.
Removing his mask, the king picked up a high spouted jar and withdrew its stone seal. He poured sacrificial wine into each manÉ≠s cup and passed around pieces of bread. Chanting prayers, they consumed both bread and wine.
"It's time to go," the princess whispered. They will sit there all night praying and speaking of the deeds of gods and heroes."
Kira nodded silently and backed away from the scene before her. Although she knew it happened several times a year, she had never seen a bull sacrificed before. She had come to love the animals she worked with, and to see one slaughtered made her feel ill.
Suddenly something cold and hard jabbed into her back. She swung around in time to see the statue of the mother goddess teetering on her pedestal. She reached out to steady it, but it was too heavy for her injured arm. Both Kira and Taru watched in horror as the goddess toppled to the floor, its head breaking off and rolling down the hall way.
They stood silently in the shadows hoping the moment would pass, and the men below would go on with their ceremony. Kira watched as they spoke in low tones and sighed with relief when they turned their attention back to the sacrifice.
"That was close," Taru whispered. "Let's go back to the apartment before weÉ≠re discovered."
Kira started to follow her, but before they were able to take another step, two palace guards loomed before them and motioned for the girls to follow.
The guards led them through the torch-lit halls and into a small room, bare except for one bench. Signaling for them to sit, the guards left, locking the door behind them.
Kira felt anxious and stood up. Clasping her hands behind her back, she paced the perimeter of the room. This was the second time today she had been summoned before the king. Strolling back to the bench, she slumped down next to the princess. "What do you think your father will do to us?"
Unconcerned, Taru shrugged. "Probably give us a lecture on how important it is to follow the law. That's what he usually does." She smiled and took Kira's hand. "While we're waiting, tell me, do you have any family?"
"Yes,"she replied, trying to relax. "My father owns a trading company on the island of Kallist'e. At one time he sailed to many lands, trading with Egypt, Tyre and other ports along the Great Sea. After he married my mother, he settled down and ran the company from its home port. He owns six trading vessels, and there are a lot of records to keep.
"Do you have any sisters or brothers?
"Two brothers," Kira replied. The oldest is Theo. Since he's much older, we were never close. He works along side my father because he prefers to remain on Kallist'e with his wife and children. I'm only two years younger then my brother Niko. He has his own ship and is always sailing to one port or another with trade goods."
"That sounds exciting. I have never been anywhere except on several excursions through Crete with my father."
The sound of the sliding bolt interrupted further conversation. One of the guards summoned them to follow.
The stern look on the king's face frightened Kira. When she met his gaze, his eyes narrowed to slits. "The two of you have broken a sacred law and must be punished. IÉ≠m confining you to your quarters for one month. You are not allowed to leave your apartment for any reason."
He shook his finger at his daughter as he spoke. "Taru, you know the laws."Turning, he faced Kira. "As for you, if you weren't aware of our laws before, you are now." He stood and pointed to the door. "Now go! I don't want to see or hear from you until your punishment has been completed." The two guards escorted the girls to their apartment and locked them in.
"It seems as if father is a little more ruffled them usual," the princess remarked in an nonchalant voice. "He hasn't confined me to quarters for several years.
She shrugged. "Oh well, let's get some sleep. I have great plans for tomorrow."