Once Miri had re-established her ownership of the Heart of Isis, Sylvanius was reduced to role of retainer. This suited him to no end as he really didn’t relish the responsibility of leadership. Unfortunately, he no longer had as much access to the wealth of the colony as before and his presents for Parvati became a little less extravagant. Not that they were particularly opulent in the first place, but the value of the gifts had dropped below a certain level where Parvati had become less accommodating. This disapproval was never brought into the open, but a woman can invoke a sense of displeasure without speaking about a subject directly, and this unspoken dissatisfaction had sunk Sylvanius to a morass of depression.
“What’s the matter?” asked Miri as she looked up from the bill of lading.
Sylvanius sighed, not taking his eyes from the distant horizon.
“Nothing,” he said dejectedly.
“A very heavy nothing, Sylvanius!” said Miri.
“His love life is in the bog!” said Polydeuces.
Sylvanius admonished his uncle.
“So, what is wrong?” asked Miri.
“He has been denied access to her delights twice this week!” volunteered Polyudeuces.
“Uncle! I don’t wish to discuss it!”
“She has other husbands, doesn’t she?” asked Miri.
Obviously Sylvanius did not wish to think about Parvati’s other husbands, for his head sunk deeper into his hands.
“Four!” declared Polydeuces, “Such a fine woman! It’s a wonder she doesn’t have more!”
Sylvanius could bear the conversation no longer and stormed out onto the beach. The wind was blowing from the south and he could smell the moisture on the breeze.
“Do you love her?” Miri slipped her hand inside his elbow, and they started walking north along the beach.
Sylvanius was silent, but at length he answered.
“I¾ I think so!”
“Has she told you why she could not see you?”
“Not directly,” said Sylvanius, “But I think she is jealous of you!”
“Of me!” declared Miri, “Why on earth¾”
“You are beautiful!” blurted out Sylvanius. For a moment he paused, a little embarrassed by the force of his outburst. “And rich,” he added. “She has complained about the gifts I bring, that they are not as rich as they once were, but before, I sometimes only brought her flowers or sweets!”
“It does sound as though she has the green eye on her forehead,” admitted Miri, “You are in a pickle, Sylvanius!”
“I have pleaded with her, but she has been busy each time I have visited. Last time, she could not see me because she had to shampoo her hair!”
Miri cocked her head, “There are times when a shampoo is more appealing than a romp in the hay!” she conceded. “Perhaps it is that time of the month and she feels bloated and unattractive.”
“Kumar visited her last night, and Sanjay the night before!”
“So, its jealousy, not avarice?” asked Miri.
Sylvanius stopped in his tracks. “Parvati does not have an avaristic bone in her body! She has more than she needs! Her tavarad is one of the most prosperous in the area! She has no need for gifts!”
Miri smiled. “Every woman has need for gifts!”
Polydeuces ran his hand along the mast. He had smoothed and rubbed and oiled the entire length of the bole until it sang to him. He had been given the job by Sylvanius, and he had been occupied by his task for days as the ship took shape around him. But that day, the mast sang a song of high seas, strong winds and distant lands, and in that moment, his mind was flooded with his forgotten knowledge of ships and their creation. Polydeuces had returned from the land of the gods. He pressed his cheek against the iron teak. Here indeed The Heart of Isis had a new, stronger and braver heart. And he, Polydeuces, had a new mind. It straddled both the world of the gods and the world of men, and he knew, like Teresias, how the world should unfold. He determined he would sacrifice to the gods; he would offer grain and fruits to Poseidon, to Athena, to all the gods he could name.
He stood up. “She is ready!” he shouted. Work around him stopped at his pronouncement. None knew what he was talking about, but they had a strange respect for his pronouncements for, though they did not understand much of his thoughts at the time they were uttered, everything he said seemed to have a terrible significance in retrospect. He was their Cassandra, though her fellow Trojans simply disbelieved her prophecies, the colonists in Yavanadana couldn’t understand anything that Polydeuces said, though they were all sure it would eventually come to have meaning once the events transpired. Such was the fate of the prophet. When divine inspiration prompted a prophecy, there was no telling really whether the forecaster was right or wrong. There were some who thought to prepare just in case and others who would ignore the warning completely and others who would turn to their gods to protect them from whatever evil would befall the others.
So, Polydeuces pronouncement that “She is ready” caused all about him to down tools and look about for a clue as to whom he was referring. When it was apparent that, though she might be ready, she was not about to make an appearance, one by one, everyone returned to work. Polydeuces, thus forgotten, walked towards the Yavana taravad complex and sought out his queen.
“Mistress!” he declared as he stood on the threshold of Miri’s room.
“Polydeuces!” Miri smiled and rose to greet the old man. “Come in!” she said, and took his hand. She led him to a pillow beside hers “What can I do for you?”
“The Heart of Isis has returned,” he began, “We must make haste! She wishes to return to Kemet! You will bring in the men from the village who know how to sew a boat. We have three weeks! Then we must set sail!”
“Three weeks? That is a tall order¾”
“Three weeks!” declared Polydeuces, “It can be done!”
And it was done.
Twenty-one days, and the boat sat clean and proud in her cradle on the beach. Polydeuces had been right about hiring men from the village for they had no stake in the finishing or not finishing the construction, whereas the Greeks upon whom she had sailed were conflicted amongst themselves as to whether her sailing was a good or a bad occasion. Some had strong ties to Yanvanadana; a few had children. For the whole, the marriage customs of the Malayalam were very much evolved from a changing male population. Many of her men were sailors, and the taravads allowed them to leave for extended periods of time without disrupting the social fabric of the matrifocal culture. A woman was never abandoned by a husband in Malayalam, though he may never return to her bed, for she retained her stake in the taravad, and was not deprived by his leaving, unless of course, her heart seemed empty in her absence. But then their were other husbands to fill the void. But the men, or some of them, ached when they thought of leaving this paradise by the sea.
The departure of the Heart of the Isis was a topic of great thought and discussion, and the closer she came to being whole again, the more heated the discussion and the deeper the thought.
Miriam herself was conflicted. India had been kind to her, and she was loathe to leave her lush tropical shores and return to the barren wastelands of Kemet, but the land was not her land, and she felt the urge to return. She had unfinished business there, and she had not entirely freed herself of the image of Setem. Now that her return to Kemet was approaching, he began to figure once again in her thoughts.
Each and every voyager that remained in the colony had demons to face at home. Returning to the motherland meant the adventure was over. Old friends would fill their lives, and soon all they had experienced in this exotic place would be but a forgotten memory, a dream half-remembered. The faces became more somber, the steps more heavy, and the only sign of lightness of being came from the carpenters and workmen from the village who were receiving a double pay bonus if they finished within the twenty one day contract.
Sylvanius, engaged as Polydeuces’ assistant once more simply walked about as though his soul no longer remained in his body, and indeed, his soul was severely damaged, and his heart broken. Parvati had admonished him sharply when she discovered Miri had put out the word for shipwrights, for it was, in her eyes, a sure sign that Sylvanius had taken Miri as a wife. She told him never to set his feet ever again upon her verandah. Sylvanius was crushed.
Still, his duty and service to his uncle, the ship and Miriam kept him busy, and ensured at the end of the day, he was dog tired. Polydeuces had added a great deal of physical labour to his duties to ensure that. Miri, for her part, stood watching the construction as it progressed, as though it were her will that pushed the workers to complete her beloved Heart of Isis. Every board that was sewn to the hull filled her with elation, and over the days, the hull rose higher, and the seams were tight and the knots firm. The new coir rope from the coconuts would give her an advantage of the sisal sewn ship and a great deal of the hull was now built of teak which would extend the life of the vessel for over a hundred years. The cedar was split and used to line the storage areas. She had ordered extra rope to be stowed if it was needed for repair. The Malayalam talked Polydeuces and Miri into adding a higher forecastle and a bowsprit to hold a second sail. The rigging was changed to that of an Indian grab. The Heart of Isis had undergone a great metamorphosis.
Miri’s incarnation as a Princess of Magadha carried great weight with the Malayalam. Unfortunately this new incarnation resulted in the original crew of the Isis calling her “Your Royal Highness”, and the tome was far from reverent. She took the name good-naturedly, but began signing written contracts using her new name. Miri’s concerns regarding her name were trivial compared to the growing depression into which Sylvanius had settled.
Her heart melted at the lost puppy she had in the dog tired Sylvanius. She knew she had to do something to drag him from the depths of despair.
“Polydeuces!” she called finally, “I wish to speak with you!”
Sylvanius took his uncle’s arm to help him through the construction to Miri’s vantage point.
“Alone!” she commanded, and Sylvanius let Polydeuces go.
“We must go to town!” she whispered as she took the old man’s arm.
“Now?” he asked.
“Of course, now!” retorted Miri.
“It is a long walk!” said Polydeuces doubtfully.
“That is why we will travel on Marissa!”
“The elephant?” asked Polydeuces.
“How else would we travel?”
Polydeuces laughed. “The elephant! I shall finally travel like Alexander!”
Miri started for a moment at he mention of Alexander, but then realized Polydeuces had been speaking of Alexander the Conqueror.
Marissa was attended by Rajit, a servant of the Raja of Magadha, and both were presented at her service, meaning once she had no need for their services, they would be returned to the king. Miri had been inclined to dismiss both upon arrival, but decided Marissa would be of great assistance in helping to build and launch the Heart of the Isis. Only she could lift the mast without pulleys, and her great strength would be an enormous asset in pushing the ship into the water.
For the most part Marissa passed her day playing in the pool behind the irrigation dam. She had not taken to the ocean as well, for the smell and taste ofsalt water seemed to put her off, though on very hot days she did venture into the waves which she seemed to enjoy. Rajit and Marissa were ready.
The trip to the village was very pleasant. The sun shone through the leaves and speckled the path with green shadows. The palms brushed against them from time to time, and Polydeuces throuroughly enjoyed the slap and caress of the foliage in their passing. He marveled at the size of the elephant, and through Miri asked Rajit a hundred questions about her care and feeding.
Their arrival at the village caused great excitement. Children swarmed out from their household duties and lessons and gathered about to touch Marissa, who suffered the incessant chatter of excited children with a detached equanimity. They came to a stop outside Parvati’s taravad. The household emptied and poured out onto the great verandah. Parvati was not among them.
“I wish to speak with Parvati!” declared Miri. There was a flurry of discussion on the verandah and someone disappeared into the house. Marissa knelt and Miri slid from her perch. She and Rajit helped Polydeuces to the ground, but Polydeuces became upended and his toga, no longer hanging in a fashion prudent to public decorum, revealed a white bony bottom, an event that caused great laughter amongst the children. Not one to concern himself with dignity, laughed with them.
Parvati appeared in the doorway. Miri and Polydeuces straightened out their apparel and mounted the steps to the house.
“We would like to speak with you about Sylvanius!”
Parvati was not in a mood to discuss Sylvanius, but her mother and aunt prevailed upon her to allow the two Yavanas inside. Keruka, Parvati’s mother, and her sister, Mahullama, the matriarchs of the taravad sat upon pillows upon the floor in a very formal manner, and no one spoke until tea had been served. Parvati poured the tea for the others, but it was evident she wished to be elsewhere.
The tea was delicious, spiced with cinnamon and boiled with ghee.
“I have no designs upon Sylvanius,” declared Miri.
“So you say,” retorted Parvati sharply.
“He loves you deeply.”
Parvati faltered. She stared into her tea then put the delicate tea cup down, her hands trembling.
“I have not felt like this over a man!” said Parvati, her voice shaking. “I do not wish to share him with another!”
“I am not the other,” replied Miri.
“She is not,” interjected Polydeuces, “The boy is infatuated with you!”
“So you say,” replied Parvati, “but his gifts have become¾” Parvati paused for a moment for the right word. “…less thoughtful,” she added at length.
“Then it is about money?” asked Miri, “Are you saying you don’t return his affection?”
“Of course not!” replied Parvati indignantly, “But the gift is the symbol of his love for me. It is how he thinks of me at the moment. It represents the value to which he holds me, and the gifts are no longer given from his heart, and we are ashamed of their pittance! There can be only one reason for that. He has found another upon whom he can bestow his gifts,”
“More than one reason, surely, Parvati. Can you think of no other?” asked Miri, “I am his employer. I suspect that in my absence, he could offer a greater largess when he had a greater access to property than he does now that I have come to reclaim it.”
“She works him to the bone,” interjected Polydeuces, trying unsuccessfully to interject a lighter mood.
“You have rejected him outright,” replied Miri, “Is your wish he not visit ever again?”
“No!” cried out Parvati, “but once the ship is finished, he will leave and never return! What is the point of continuing if my heart breaks while I am with him!” Parvati stood up quickly and with a swish of silk and the patter of bare feet, disappeared into the women’s sleeping quarters.
Mahullama, Parvati’s aunt and the matriarch of the taravad sat motionless before the visitors. She apologized for the outburst.
“I do not know what to do with her,” she said with a sigh, “I have never seen her like this. She does not wish to have Sylvanius to leave.”
“He loves her very much,” said Miri.
“She is also very headstrong,” replied Mahullama, “Her heart suffers for it. Since she was a child it seems she has always acted contrary to her heart’s desire. I don’t know why. She just does. She wants Sylvanius to stay but is too proud to ask him.”
“She must!” declared Miri, “Else Sylvanius will act from his duty to his uncle and I, and she will lose him! If she cannot declare her passion, then she will lose him!”
“So I have told her!” replied the aunt.
Parvati’s mother said nothing. She had never had much influence over her daughter. :She is very much like her father!” she said sadly.
Mahullama harrumped. “He was no good for you! He cared nothing for you or the child!”
“I did not ask him to!” snapped back Keruka.
“My point exactly!”
Keruka fell silent and stared into her lap.
Mahullma smiled at Miri. “We would like very much to settle this unfortunate incident, but as you see, Parvati is a willful woman!”
“Sylvanius will stay with her,” said Polydeuces, “But she must ask him! He will not return on his own or from our prodding!”
“It seems we both have charges who act against their own best interests,” said Miri. “If we suggest to Sylvanius that he should follow his heart and stay, no matter how much he wishes it, his duty to us, to his family will overrule that.”
“It is a very trait to be treasured in a young man, to honour his family. But what will he do here? You are his taravad and you will be leaving. How will he make his way alone?”
“He will find a way,” replied Polydeuces, “I have held on to him for far too long. The boy has been my eyes and my staff, but the time has come for him to step out on his own. Beside, there are others among us who have, I think determined not to return with us.”
“Take me with you!”
Parvati stood at the curtain behind her elder kin.
Her demand caught everyone by surprise.
“Take me with you!” she repeated, “I wish to see the land Sylvanius calls home!”
“Oh my goodness!” cried Keruka, “You cannot leave! You have husbands here!”
“I have no children by any!” said Parvati, “I wish to see the land that spawned Sylvanius!”
“I have never heard of such a thing!’ declared Mahullama. “A Malayalam woman leaving to join a man’s taravad!”
“I shall create another in my name!” declared Parvati, “But Sylvanius must come to me and ask!”
Miri beamed at the women.
“So be it!” she declared.
The village was abuzz.
The Yavanas that had been their neighbours were leaving. The very air vibrated from the tension of the leave-taking. The great feast was over, sacrifices had been performed, Marissa had pushed the boat into the surf with the help of the entire population of Yavananada, and with her prow still wedged in the sand, the Heart of Isis took on her cargo.
Tears ran down many cheeks as friends, wives and sailors kissed goodbye. Sylvanius had asked Parvati to travel to Kemet with him, but as they spoke, he came to realize his heart would not allow it.
“I don’t want to take you to Kemet!” he said plaintively.
Parvati’s eyes filled with tears and she turned away.
“Wait!” he cried and grasped her arm. “I want to stay here with you!”
Parvati stared in amazement.
“You would leave your taravad?” she asked incredulously.
“It is not the same where I come from,” he replied. “The land is dry and dusty. My home is nothing more than a room attached to a hundred like it. My home is here!” He swung his arm to encompass the beach by Yavanadana. This is far more pleasant than the dusty world from which I came. You would not like it there!”
“But I wish to see it!” said Parvati, “I want to know the land that sustained you and made you who you are!”
Sylvanius sighed. He had no wish to return home. He loved the warm moist climate of Malayalam and the fertile hills that stretched from the ocean.
“All my life I have wondered what lay beyond the edge of the sea,” said Parvati, “I have husbands who have gone and tell me little of their adventures, and I have always wondered what another land might be like. Take me with you, and we can return to Malayalam, once I have seen you birthplace!”
Sylvanius could contain himself no more and kissed Parvati passionately. She reciprocated and they entwined in a convoluted knot of passion that spewed clothing with the speed of a Parthian archer’s arrows.
The ship creaked in the waters as the waves lifted her stern. Heavy with cargo she seemed a little sluggish. It was time. They had hung bundles of gingham over the bow so that Marissa could press her great forehead against the prow as the people of the village and the colony surged forward to launch the Heart of Isis. Miri’s heart lifted as the boat moaned and slowly slid off the sand and the waves lifted her into the bosom of the Mother Ocean.
“Take her out, captain!” called Miri to Sylvanius.
Sylvanius, standing aft with the helmsmen, his hands on his hips and robe flowing in the wind, proudly called, “Oars up!” and the sailors responded with an echoing shout, “Oars down!” The first strike of the timekeeper’s drum coincided with the splash of the ship’s oars splashing down for the first stroke of the journey home. The ship backed from the beach and the well-wishers on the beach cheered and waved farewell.
They put out to sea and soon had the boat turned and the sail unfurled, and as a great omen, the last sound from the shore was a trumpet call from Marissa. India was astern, Egypt lay somewhere beyond their bow, and the wind filled the sail.
They were headed home!