In Their Own Words:  Ten Years On
Community Celebrations with the Characters from Mary Renault’s Novels
part of the In Their Own Words project of the Mary’s Handmaidens LiveJournal community

In the Tent
Greer Watson

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 fact, ….”

“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. .

Ten Years On Celebrations
ITOWverse Index
Fan Fiction based on Mary Renault's novels
Table of Contents for Fan Fiction

These stories and interviews are written purely for entertainment, and as a tribute to the creator of the characters and author of the books, Mary Renault.   No copyright infringe­ment is intended.

The shimmery copper background graphic came from Silvia Hartmann Nature, and had its colour altered with Microsoft Picture Manager.
The shimmery purple background graphic came from Heather’s Animations, and had its colour altered with Microsoft Picture Manager.
The satin, ripply, and sandy background graphics came originally from, and had their colour altered at, and may also have been altered using Microsoft Picture Manager.
The other background graphics and round bullet come from and/or were made at, and may also have been altered using Microsoft Picture Manager.

Original material copyright © Greer Watson 2014.