Exerpt From In the Wake of Hannibal-A Work in Progress

I felt the baby kick today for the first time. I am excited but also afraid. Many women do not survive childbirth; so much can go wrong, and I’ve heard that it is exceedingly painful. But I really do want this baby; it will be so wonderful see at his little face, his tiny hands. Or maybe it will be a girl. No matter. I will love her madly. It is hot tonight and I am so anxious I can’t sleep. Gisco is still away, out drinking and playing draughts with Mago. Gisco is kind to me, he gives me clothes and jewels and anything I ask for, but it is difficult to be married when we don’t speak the same language. I am lonely here in Kart Hadasht and only my friendship with Imilce keeps me sane.
Only a year ago I was just an ordinary girl in my village. My mother called me to her one day and said that grandfather wanted to talk to me. She took me to his lodge and I knelt before him. His lodge was larger than most in the village, but like the others, a round wooden structure with a hearth in the center and an opening at the top for smoke to emerge. The walls were lined with swords, shields, spears, helmets and war horns. Grandfather drank wine from a cup made from a human skull, lined with gold leaf. He had been a fierce warrior in his younger days and now he was chieftain of our tribe, the Volciani. He was over sixty years old, still tall, lean and fit. He wore a mustache that drooped down at the sides of his mouth.
He motioned for me to sit on a stool. “Sansara, my child, I’m sure that you know that as my granddaughter you must do whatever I say and obey my counsel in all things.”
“Yes, Grandfather,” I replied.
“What I’m about to tell you may not be to your liking, but you are fifteen now and a very smart girl. I feel that I should explain to you how things are and why we must do things that we may not want to do.”
This did not sound promising. I could feel my heart begin to race. I looked up at him and saw love and concern on his face. I returned my gaze to the floor. “Yes Grandfather.”
“Do you remember your father, Sansara?” He asked. “Do you recall how he died?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” I said, “He was killed in a battle against the Carthaginians.”
“Yes,” said Grandfather. “We Volciani were in an alliance with the Carpetani, and we went to war when their leader Hamilcar tried to extend his rule over our tribes. Your father was killed in that war. But Hamilcar was killed in one of the battles against the Carpetani and his place has been taken by a man named Hasdrubal. He is a handsome man and they call him Hasdrubal the Fair. This Hasdrubal seems to have a different policy than Hamilcar. He has offered the Volciani and other tribes alliances based on friendship and mutual interest. I don’t know how far to trust this Hasdrubal, but I am weary of burying sons, nephews and cousins. I am weary of trying to provide for widows. I have decided to accept Hasdrubal’s offer and I have persuaded our tribal counsel to support this decision. It seems inevitable that the Carthaginians will eventually rule all of Spain and it seems to me that it is better to make an accommodation with them than to risk annihilation and slavery.”
He paused to give me a chance to think about his words. Finally I said: “I know little of these matters, Grandfather, but perhaps you are right.”
“So where do you come in, Sansara?” He asked. “Hasdrubal has made alliances with a number of Spanish tribes, the Turditani, the Illergites, the Ausetani, the Seditani and others. He likes to cement these alliances with a marriage of a well-born maiden to one of his kinsmen. I have offered you in marriage with one of his nephews, a young man named Gisco.”
I was speechless. I just stared at him open-mouthed. This would mean the complete end of the life I had always known, an irrevokable change in every facet of my life, a cataclysm of the greatest magnitude.
Seeing my look of panic and my inability to respond, he leaned forward and placed his hands on my shoulders, “I can see that you aren’t ready to contemplate this matter. We will talk again in a few days. Just bear in mind that there are some things in life that we can’t avoid. I want you to be strong and do your duty to your family and to your tribe. This alliance will mean much for the survival of the Volciani. No more will our little girls lose their fathers, and women lose their husbands. Sometimes you must make sacrifices for the good of your people. You may go now. I’m sure you will want to discuss this with your mother.”
I walked out of the lodge and into the sunlight. Mama was waiting for me. “Mama,” I cried, “Grandfather says I must leave here, that I must marry a Carthaginian, someone I don’t know, whose language I don’t speak!”
“Yes, I know, my beloved,” she replied. “Sometimes circumstances are a harsh master. You won’t be the first young girl to be compelled to marry outside of her own tribe. You know that your Grandmother, was Arevaci, and when she came here she did not speak our language and had to learn it. By the time she died she was one of the most respected women in our village. If you are open to new experiences this could be a great opportunity for you–you will be marrying a rich man, you will have fine clothes, food and lodgings there, things that we, who live on the Tagus, have only heard about from traveler’s tales.”
“But what if I don’t like him?” I asked. “Or what if he doesn’t like me? What if he rejects me in favor of a girl who can speak his language?”
“Listen to me, child,” she said, “I have been married twice, to your father and to you step-father Manolo. Words do not bind a man to you. The bed is where you prove your worth to a man. If you can delight and fascinate him in bed, he will always come back to you for more. The first time with a man is painful, but once you get over that, your congress can be very pleasurable. Figure out what pleases him, how he likes to be touched and stroked. Be an eager partner in his games. I’m telling you this because this is your one chance to make the best of a bad situation.”
I could scarcely believe my mother was saying these words to me. She was a modest and respectable matron. “I will try to remember your advice, Mama,” I replied. “I hope I can bring myself to follow it.”
“If you were a boy, I might soon be sending you off to do battle,” said Mama. “Now I’m sending you off to do battle of a different sort. You must be brave, Sansara.”
A few weeks later a delegation from Khart Hadasht came to escort me to their city. Everyone in the village came out to with me farewell. I hugged each of my close friends and kinswomen and we all wept. Grandfather asked my step-father, Manolo, to accompany our party and to see that I was well treated and my needs were met. We traveled by horseback and the journey took over a week.
I was awed by the grandeur of the city. There was a citadel with huge temples, and even most of the ordinary buildings were three and four levels. Mama was right, everything was beyond what a country girl like me could imagine–paintings, statues, sculptures, fine cloth garments—I could not help staring at everything with my mouth hanging open. I must have seemed like an idiot. I had entered a different world, one that would take all my wit and strength to adapt to. The worst thing about it was that I had been deprived of the power of speech. After Manolo left there would be no one I could talk to.
I was taken to a grand palace. A servant began chattering at me, clucking and shaking her head. She took me by the arm and led me to a bath house. I had never seen a bath house before, but had always bathed in the Tagus River. She removed my clothes and bade me step into the bathing pool. The water was so hot I was afraid I would be scalded, but after a few minutes it became comfortable. She rubbed my body with a pleasant smelling lotion-I thought that it had the essence of some type of flower, but it was not one that I recognized. She rubbed another sort of lotion into my hair and rinsed it out.
When the servant was satisfied that I was clean, she motioned for me to get out of the tub and rubbed my body dry with a cloth. Then she helped me don a pretty robe embroidered with flowers and intricate patterns. She combed and braided my hair. She chattered and chattered but I understood nothing.
Finally, she bade me to accompany her and led me to a chamber where three women were sitting on ornate couches doing embroidery. She introduced me but the only words I understood were “Sansara,” and “Volciani.” Seeing me, they all stood up, and I knelt before them.” One of the women appeared to be in her early thirties, and had a stern demeanor, the second was about twenty-one, and the third appeared to be about eighteen. All three of them were dressed in fine cotton robes of bright colors and fancy embroidery, reaching down to their ankles.
To my surprise, the second one spoke to me in a language that, while somewhat different from my own, was close enough that I could understand most of what she said. She motioned for me to rise.
“Welcome, Sansara of the Volciani,” she spoke slowly. “I am Imilce, sister-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair. I come from Castulo. Do you understand my speech?”
“Yes, Madame,” I said. “I am grateful that someone here can speak to me.”

She indicated the older woman. “This is Saponibal, the wife of Hasdrubal, and this is Enidia, the wife of Saponibal’s brother Mago. She is from the Turditani people. I am the wife of Saponibal’s brother Hannibal.”
“I am happy to meet you, Imilce,” I said. “Please tell Saponibal and Enidia that I am happy to meet them too.”
She spoke to the others and they nodded. I could see that Saponibal thought me well beneath her.
“Tomorrow you will meet Gisco, who is to become your husband,” Imilce said. “Don’t worry, he is a gentleman. He will treat you well. Come and sit with us. The servants will be bringing dinner soon.” She took me by the hand and led me to a chair.
The dinner was richer and more bountiful than anything I had ever eaten in my village. There was a thick porridge of peas and beans, pheasant flavored with spices I had never tasted, a fish covered with a creamy sauce, warm soft leavened wheat bread, wine, and a dessert made of wheat, honey, almonds and dates. And this was just an ordinary meal here. I wondered what a feast would be like.
After dinner Imilce showed me to my bedroom. The bed was covered with a soft down-filled matrass and there were cushions and pillows, all elaborately embroidered. There was a table and chair and on the table was an elaborate hand-held mirror. The furnishings looked like they had been wrought by expert craftsmen. “Oh, Imilce, everything is so beautiful, so fine here.”
Imilce smiled, “This must shock you, Sansara, but you’ll get used to it. Carthage is the biggest and wealthiest city in the world and the Carthaginians like finery.” I picked up the mirror and looked at myself. I had never seen my image in a mirror before. “So this is what people see when they look at me!” I said. I had small, regular features, green eyes and brown hair. I was relieved to see nothing objectionable.
“You’re a pretty girl,” said Imilce. “Gisco will like you. We can put some make-up on you to make your eyes stand out. They’re a lovely shade of green. Saponibal, Enidia and I will each give you something of ours to wear for now. Once you’re married I’m sure Gisco will provide you with a fine wardrobe.
“Can you tell me about Gisco?” I asked.
“What can I say about Gisco?” She said. “Of all the men here, he is the one I trust most. He has an innocence about him. There is nothing devious. You can easily read his thoughts in his facial expressions and gestures. He is totally loyal to my brother-in-law Mago, they’ve been best friends since early childhood. But Mago is a leader and Gisco a follower. Don’t expect him to be overly ambitious. You may be better off without an ambitious husband, Sansara. My Hannibal is a most ambitious man and I fear that when he comes to power, Heaven and Earth will tremble.”
“It must be interesting being married to such a man.” I said.
“Interesting, yes,” she replied, “but not always comfortable.”

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