In the Tent
The kings did not, of course, wait in line.
Nor the Greek and Persian ladies, who kept strictly to their own company, especially in
such a mixed crowd. If, therefore, any of the volunteers had been hoping for a close-up
(and, let’s face it, the Ancients did not, on the whole, mingle much with the Moderns,
especially the supporting cast), they were therefore disappointed. The hoplites queued,
of course. However, by now, they were so familiar a sight as to be unremarkable.
The tent was huge, even by the standards of the Moderns. It was also silk, as Ellen
noted to Neil as they approached, glasses in hand: silk in magnificent stripes of rich
dyes, fit for a king. Though they had heard somewhat of the arguments over its disposition,
they had not previously seen the actual tent: it must, they concluded, have been brought the
previous day, and erected long before they arrived. (As some of the Ancients had
observed, more than once, the Moderns rarely rose before dawn.)
The flaps of the tent were tied back to present a large and obvious entrance; and the
sides were also hitched up to let in the breeze. There was a pleasant riffle through
the air, despite the brilliant sun: it was a lovely day.
“Perhaps we should have come over a bit sooner,” Neil said, observing the crowd.
“Or later,” said Ellen, “but then some things might be off.”
It was a mixed crowd, not all of whom were equally familiar with the custom of orderly
queuing; but there were guards to keep people in line. And there truly was need
for a line, for through the open sides of the tent, it could clearly be seen that some
areas were more popular and more thickly thronged than others.
As the two of them joined the main queue and picked up plates, they could see ahead
of them a large number of people in the clothes that they now associated with characters
from the various historical novels. In the minority were those who, like themselves,
were from the contemporaries. Scattered thinly throughout were only a few people in
the garb that they had come to recognize as the futuristic, unstylish clothing of the
members of the community. Even their party clothes lacked the cut and good fabric that
Neil and Ellen remembered from pre-war days.
“I don’t see any of the fancy royal types,” whispered Neil to Ellen. “In
“I know what you mean,” she whispered back. “Look at those three over there.” She
did not point, but merely raised her chin slightly to indicate the direction.
Rather too many of those in line were wearing the rougher cloth and simpler garb of slaves.
On the whole, the Moderns had over the years become accustomed to the ways of
their … elders. Never betters. Well, the Persian royalty might think so; and
Bagoas, of course; and probably King Poros as well, though he was keeping a casual
eye on the goings-on at the elephant rides. (Elephants are not cheap, even in
India.) However, the Moderns, being British, refused to feel awe in the presence of
foreign royalty. The philosophers were another kettle of fish, of course—at least
from the perspective of those who had taken Latin and Greek (which accounted for a
fair few of the men, but only a scant handful of ladies). Oh, and Alexander, of
course: a familiar name to everyone. Oddly, of all the Ancients, he was the
most approachable, assuming you got past the Companions. He had joined the
queue, almost the first of all his army. That, however, simply meant that he had
been served and out before most people arrived.
Although there was a rota of
volunteers, there was so much food (and so many guests) that the food was laid out
on trestle tables for people to help themselves; for the most part, the volunteers simply
supervised. In that sort of situation, a lot is always down to personality. Which is
to say that Sandy rose to the occasion, and Olive didn’t … quite. The
housekeepers—who knew perfectly well what would really be popular with
the crowd—therefore put her on the salad table. Sandy, on the other hand,
lorded it over the pig, which was lifted, sizzling, from the spit and laid on a giant board for slicing.
Like any gentleman, he was a dab hand with a carving knife. He needed to be: all the
wartime Moderns lined up for seconds, and a good few of those from other books;
and the Ancients, of course, considered roast an essential part of any feast. He worked
fast. Fast, one might say, as an Ancient surgeon chopping off a leg. (In all fairness,
he did not, even to himself, consider it good practice for war service. He just
resolved to do his father proud. He always cut across the grain of the meat,
and snapped off a nice bit of crackling for anyone who wanted it.)
As Neil and Ellen moved further up the queue, they could see clearly what the biggest
attraction was, and heartily approved. Even in their post-war novel, there was still
rationing; and the sight of roast pork whetted their appetites.
“Ooh, lovely,” they heard a bleached blonde say ahead of them.
“Bit of all right, that,” approved the man beside her. “They do us proud here, they do.”
At this moment, one of the better dressed Persians walked up from the entrance to the
tent, and butted into line.
“’ere, wait your turn!”
Neil, who liked queue-jumpers as little as anyone, prepared to back up his compatriot.
“Royalty does not wait,” said the Persian, in a most matter-of-fact tone. “Prince
Bessos wants his meal now.”
“Well, want’s going to have to be his master,” said Madge tartly. “Go to the end of the
queue like everyone else.”
However, the man simply stood there, astounded at this impudence.
Neil said, quite audibly, that he couldn’t see why Bessos shouldn’t wait for his ration
like the rest of them.
Sandy, catching the eye of one of the hoplites at the entrance, summoned him with a wave.
Though most of the people around, being Ancients (and largely slaves) kept out of the matter,
the firm insistence of the British won the day. The Persian was escorted out of the tent.
“It’s just like them foreigners not to know how to behave in public,” said Reg.
He and his wife were duly served, and moved off to the next table to take their pick of
the other dishes. Neil and Ellen proffered their own plates in turn. The pork was done
to a tee, richly dark on the outside, with grease gleaming on the board. Two thick slices
were laid on each plate.
They continued to the salad table. “You can come back for dessert,” Olive confided. “Much
easier than trying to juggle everything at once.” As they each already had a glass, this was
no idle comment. She pointed out the cutlery and napkins. Then, plates full, they continued
out of the tent to find a place at one of the picnic spots in the grounds. Red-checked
cloths were laid out invitingly on the grass.
“Mind if we join you?” they asked.
“ITOW - In the Tent” was
originally posted to the maryrenaultfics
LiveJournal community by greerwatson on 2 September 2014.