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Interviews of Kephrath - Nikleos and Kastiandra

[]Interviews of Kephrath

[]Nikleos and Kastiandra

[]~ from ~

[] The Flame Before Us

Richard Abbott


© Copyright 2015 Richard Abbott.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.


[]Publication details

Matteh Publications


For Roselyn, for family

[]Also by the Author

Historical Fiction set in the ancient near east

p.   In a Milk and Honeyed Land
p.   Scenes from a Life
p.   The Flame Before Us

Short stories:
p.   The Lady of the Lions
p.   The Man in the Cistern

Science Fiction

p.   Far from the Spaceports (in preparation)

[]Cover information

Cover artwork © Copyright Ian Grainger www.iangrainger.co.uk
Original Matteh Publications logo drawn by Jackie Morgan.
Original photographs taken in Israel and elsewhere.
Cuneiform tablet jointly produced by the author and Ian Grainger.
It reads:
[_    If the strong attack your strongholds –_]
[_      warriors your walls –_]


Interview – Nikleos and Kastiandra

Extract – The Flame Before Us


About the author

About Matteh Publications

[]Character interview – Nikleos and Kastiandra of the Sherden

&Praise now Akamunas&,[ **]      who went with us against Wilios[ **]Where sword and spear was stronger[ **]      than the charge of chariots.[ **]Gold was gathered,[ **]      women wailed,[ **]Their menfolk mastered,[ **]      scattered in the smoking sky.[ **]Praise now Akamunas,[ **]      the slaughterer of cities.

&This is one of a series& of character interviews of individuals and couples from my works of fiction.

In this case we meet Nikleos and Kastiandra, members of the Sherden tribe and now living just outside the village of Yabesh, east of the river that forms the boundary of the Kinahny province. The story of their journey may be found in The Flame Before Us.

The Scene

&I arrive in the late morning& of a festival day. I am directed to their home by a lad who is watching a group of cattle grazing in the fields down beside a stream.

The house is made of rough-cut wood with a few courses of stone at ground level. A wagon, dismounted from its wheels, is built into one side. Nikleos, sharpening some tools outside, sees me approach. He calls back into the house, and welcomes me in.

Kastiandra is already sitting on a stool beside a table, with a very pregnant Kinahny woman standing behind her. Alone among the women I have seen in the camp, she wears a kef, a Kinahny headscarf, and her hair is braided into tails underneath it. Forewarned about their customs, I ignore the women and sit where Nikleos indicates.


The Conversation

“My thanks for your hospitality on this feast day.”

“It is one of the festivals of the land we now live in. We are scrupulous about keeping them, so that both the people here and the land itself will accept us.”

“Your own customs must be very different?”

“Oh yes. There was no celebration for this season in the home of my fathers. I am learning to acknowledge new holy days and the gods who are honoured by them.”

“I am told that you make festival in your own way, though.”

“Oh yes.” He laughs, a great booming noise which fills the little room. “I will honour the spirits of this land, and I will respect their proper days, but I will do so with my own hands and my own heart. I negotiate, but I do not submit.”

I had already heard from others how they would celebrate later in the day – martial games of various kinds in the evening, as the light faded, would give way to music, song, and riddle contests. They practiced at aggression and competitiveness in the common land between their houses, in order to keep ready for the field of war.

“And how have you learned the ways of the land?”

“From my son’s wife, for the most part.” He gestures to the Kinahny woman. “Come forward, Dantiy, and speak for yourself.”

She comes and stands at his side, making sure to position herself very slightly behind him.

“This girl took the heart of my son. Took him right away from the daughters of the clan itself, and came into my wagon to be his bride. Her brother negotiated the terms of the arrangement with me. And look at her now. My wife tells me that there is only a single child in her, but she is big enough for twins. It will be a boy, for sure.”

He rubs his hand over her rounded belly in a possessive manner. Dantiy kisses the top of his head and addresses me directly.

“My brother and I took refuge with the Sherden when we fled from Ikaret. They gave us a home and a place of respect: how should we not share all that we know with them?”

My curiosity was aroused.

“But Ikaret was burned by clans which are cousins to the Sherden. Has this not been difficult for you?”

“Not for me. Nor my brother. The Sherden are not like some of the other clans. And Yasib and I took our personal revenge by killing the Peleset man who led his tribe to Ikaret.”

Nikleos nods vigorously.

“That was a good fight, and a satisfying end for us all.”

Dantiy smiles, full of her own satisfaction, and I shiver inwardly at the ferocity of her maternal features.

Kastiandra leans forward and looks at Nikleos, waiting until he gives permission to speak.

“That was just after we nearly lost Dekseus. He was in one of the raiding parties, at the time when the Mitsriy learned how to defeat us. The severity of that loss turned the clan aside from war, to look for peace here in the land. My son barely escaped with his life, and many of the other women were grieving that day. We halted at that place and burned their bodies. But Dekseus lives, and his child will be among us in a few weeks.”

She looks across at a hawk icon, perched on a stand opposite the door, and makes a gesture of supplication.

“And if you could live through those months again, would you do anything different?”

“I would have trusted Dantiy and Yasib sooner. Perhaps then I would already be holding a grandchild in my arms.”

Dantiy smiles, shakes her head a little, and moves back again to stand beside Kastiandra.

Nikleos laughs again.

“I would change nothing.”

At that moment a man’s voice comes from outside, calling for Nikleos. He stands and leaves without ceremony.

“It is the arkon Antos, our clan head. You must excuse my husband for a while.”

With Nikleos away, Dantiy pulls across another stool and sits beside Kastiandra.

“Dantiy, what happened to your brother?”

“He lives in the house of Antos. Kastiandra worked to secure this at about the time we met the king of Shalem. That was when we all still lived in wagons. Antos also arranged a marriage for him, to Amphidora, one of the clan girls.” She sighs, frustrated. “Yasib has never been as content here in the clan as I am. For a while he resented the strictures of our way of life. I think he is learning to work within them now.”

“Your brother should be content. It was not easy to ensure his place with Antos. None of the other women worked so hard for their sons as I did for Yasib.”

The women laugh together, and the closeness of their companionship opens out a dimension of Sherden life which I had not seen while Nikleos was present.

We talk on for a while, until Nikleos returns and it is time to go together to the festival.

[]The Flame Before Us – Extract

&Praise now Akamunas&,[ **]      who went with us against Wilios[ **]Where sword and spear was stronger[ **]      than the charge of chariots.[ **]Gold was gathered,[ **]      women wailed,[ **]Their menfolk mastered,[ **]      scattered in the smoking sky.[ **]Praise now Akamunas,[ **]      the slaughterer of cities.

&Nikleos was walking& beside the lead ox. It had been slow work up and down the swell of the land in the afternoon sun, but his clan’s aim was to get across into the rougher area ahead before halting for the night.

For part of the day there had been a track that they could follow, but that had turned east a while ago and they had abandoned it. He supposed that it led to one or other of the chain of cities off in that direction. The land there was arid and exposed: not at all to their taste.

The clan was spread out like a straggling flock, making no attempt to keep any kind of order, content simply to be in sight of each other. Elsewhere, other groups of wagons like their own were making their own progress, connected loosely by ties of kinship and covenant, but they were far away, out of direct contact. They had never felt an obligation to stay close to each other. Outside of the needs of war, not one of the clans thought to impose order on another.

It had been a long journey for them all, south and east after the great city of Wilios had fallen. That long siege, and the sack which followed, had been a moment of concerted initiative for them, a beginning of something new. They had gathered together for that in larger numbers than ever before, and come over the sea together in absurdly full boats. They had learned patience as they waged war outside the walls of Wilios, and finally secured victory by trickery and deceit.

Afterwards, a few of the smaller clans had returned across the sea to their former homes. Most of them, however, had carried on travelling, lured on by the thought of other rich prizes scattered up and down the land. The valleys of their former home seemed narrow, and the land meagre, compared to what lay on this side of the water. They had set off from Wilios with the grand intention of finding new homes.

That was a great many months ago, however. Nikleos’ clan, and its leader Antos, had started to grow weary of the endless, relentless movement onward. Over the months they had lost friends and kinfolk: a few from sickness, but the larger part in war. It might well be a good way to die for those concerned, but for the ones who were still alive, every loss left the remaining families a little less able to manage. Before too long they would need to settle for a while and recover.

The heady unity of the original impetus was ebbing away. This land was so much vaster than any of the clan leaders had expected. When they turned from the flames they had set in Wilios, there was something grand about the sight of so many fighting men moving together, so many wagons and families all setting off as one. But the single coast road leading south from Wilios had branched many times, and each clan had followed its own inclination. The land was starting to swallow them up.

There were only a few young men with them now. Most of their lads were to the east, moving faster across the land with the raiding parties, making larger or smaller groups as the situation demanded. His own son Dekseus was with one of them, led by Tiripodikos. Other clans supplied young men to swell the gangs attacking the cities along the coast.

He dropped back to the wagon, letting the pair of oxen lead themselves for a while. Kastiandra, his wife, was busy with one of the sacks of supplies and did not notice him until his shadow fell across her arms. With the effort, her hair had escaped into wild straggles. She straightened, holding her hair up around her head as though it was properly braided before turning to see who had come near. Seeing it was him, she released it, and it fell loose around her face again. She leaned back.

“Thirsty again, husband?”

He shook his head.

“Not yet. I just wanted a change from seeing the face of that ugly beast beside me for one pace after another.”

She laughed, and tilted her head to one side for him.

“Good enough?”

He grunted appreciatively. She stood up, balancing delicately on the swaying deck of the wagon, bundling her hair up into something more like a braid. The wagon was packed tightly in an excess of neatness, an outward reflection of Kastiandra herself. Only the sack she had been working with was out of its place. Before long, both the wagon and her own appearance would be neatly arranged again.

“Where are we?”

He shrugged. “I hardly know one name from another in this land. But one of the scouts told me that we were a little north and west of a city called Damaseq.”

She shrugged, shook her head.

“No, I had never heard of the name when he told me, either. But our purpose for today is to get over that crest ahead. Beyond it the land is different, they say. Rougher, but we’ll be following along the grain of the land instead of rubbing across it all the time. And in another couple of weeks we’ll be skirting round the west side of a fair size mountain.”

The wagon jolted across a sudden dip, and she kept her balance with one hand on his shoulder. He squeezed it, held it, feeling with his fingers the thinness of her skin over the bones.

“This same scout told me that Periphas will be here with the raiders in a few days. He is already heading this way from the coast road. There is a city that he wants to attack, a larger one, so he will be gathering more of the lads together.”

“So we will see Dekseus again? For a night or so at least?”

“It seems so.”

She nodded, pleased.

“So long as I do not have to welcome Periphas myself. He is a foul man, for all his skill in the fight.”

She looked out towards the hills on the horizon, as though Dekseus might already be coming in sight.

“Also, you should know that Murtilis is over with Kastor’s family again.”

He glanced across to one of the other wagons, a few hundred paces away to his left.

“Arkelawos is not there, surely? You did not allow her to be with him?”

“No. Of course not. He is ahead scouting somewhere. I made sure of that before letting her go. Only the women there with Kastor.”

She paused, took one last look around and then sat again on the wooden cross-bench.

“We should settle on an arrangement for her before the overflow of spring fills her heart like new buds opening. If it is to be Arkelawos then let us declare it, and let her move into Kastor’s wagon and his household itself. Better we decide it now than she lets somebody else pick that particular flower.”

He nodded but said nothing. She frowned at him.

“It has to be you that talks to Kastor. I cannot in all decency do that.”

“I know. Do you think I don’t know?”

A note of irritation had crept into his voice. He looked sideways at her, saw unguarded amusement on her face.

Before he could become angry, he also saw that the lead ox had started to drift away from a true line to where the slope was less pronounced. He waved his hand and shouted at it, to no effect. Kastiandra jumped lightly down to the ground.

“Go and see him now. Persuade him to plan something within the next few weeks. I’ll keep these two going up the hill. And also, go to see Antos again when you have done that. He will name an out-of-family successor soon enough, now that he only has one son left alive. Make sure that it is you who he names.”

“I am hopeful.”

“Make it more than hope. Go and see him today. You have been the most loyal of his supporters throughout the journey. Make sure he names you, and Dekseus after you.”

He nodded.

“He worries that we only have one son now ourselves.”

Her face hardened.

“All of the families have lost sons. He himself has lost sons. It is not as if Moqsos was weaker than any of the others. It has been a difficult journey for all of us.”

“I know. But he has to reckon all of these things when he chooses.”

“I want to hear that we have done everything that we can do to persuade him. All that you can do.”

A quick flash of anger came over his face.

“Don’t you be telling me what I should be doing.”

She refused to back down, and met his glare calmly.

“What I should be doing is looking after these oxen so you are free to go.”

She ran forwards, whispered in the ox’s ear, flicked the hazel switch a few times across its back, and tugged the traces across to one side. The wagon creaked and started to head back towards its proper path. Nikleos shrugged and branched off at an angle, aiming towards Kastor’s wagon, its own pair of oxen straining at the slope.

[]Notes and Background

[]About the author

Richard Abbott has visited some of the places that feature in this story and others set in broadly the same region. As well as writing fictional accounts of the period, he has also participated in the lively academic debate surrounding it.

Richard now lives in London, England. When not writing he works on the development and testing of computer and internet applications. He enjoys spending time with family, walking and wildlife – ideally combining all three of those pursuits at the same time.

Follow the author on:

  • Web site – www.kephrath.com
  • Blog – richardabbott.datascenesdev.com/blog/
  • Google+ – google.com/+Kephrath
  • Facebook – www.facebook.com/pages/In-a-Milk-and-Honeyed-Land/156263524498129
  • Twitter – @MilkHoneyedLand

Look out for his other works, which include the following.

Fiction – full-length novels:

  • In a Milk and Honeyed Land, available from most online retailers, and general booksellers in
    • soft-cover ~ ISBN 978-1-4669-2166-5
    • hard-cover ~ ISBN 978-1-4669-2167-2
    • ebook format ~ ISBN 978-1-4669-2165-8 In case of difficulty please check the web site www.kephrath.com for purchasing options.

Feedback for this novel includes:
the author is an authority on the subject, and it shows through the captivating descriptions of the ancient rituals, songs, village life, and even a battle scene… the story grabs hold of the imagination… satisfies as a love story, coming-of-age tale, and historical narrative…” (Blue Ink Review)
…The lives of these ordinary people are brought to life on the page in a way that’s absorbing and credible. The changes that are going to take place in this area are quite incredible… a wonderous land that seems both alien and yet somehow familiar…” (Historical Novel Society UK Review)
  • Scenes from a Life, available from most online retailers, and general booksellers to order in
    • soft-cover ~ ISBN 978-0-9545535-9-3
    • kindle format ~ ISBN 978-0-9545535-7-9
    • epub format ~ ISBN 978-0-9545535-8-6 In case of difficulty please check the website www.kephrath.com for purchasing options.

Feedback for this novel includes:
The author is extremely knowledgeable of his subject and the minute detail brings the story vividly to life, to the point where you can almost feel the sand and the heat…” (Historical Novel Society UK Review)
…lovely description – evocative sentences or phrases that add so much to the atmosphere of the book” (The Review Group)
The striking thing about ‘Scenes’ is… its sensitivity: its assured, mature observation of people” (Breakfast with Pandora)
  • The Flame Before Us, available from most online retailers, and general booksellers to order in
    • soft-cover ~ ISBN 978-0-9931684-1-3
    • ebook format ~ ISBN 978-0-9931684-0-6 In case of difficulty please check the website www.kephrath.com for purchasing options.

Feedback for this novel includes:
…A surprising tenderness in the face of brutality, loss, and displacement is the emotion that underpins the action…” (Breakfast with Pandora)

Fiction – short stories:

  • The Man in the Cistern, a short story of Kephrath, published in ebook format by Matteh Publications and available at online retailers, ISBN 978-0-9545-5351-7 (kindle) or 978-0-9545-5354-8 (epub).
  • The Lady of the Lions, a short story of Kephrath, published in ebook format by Matteh Publications and available at online retailers, ISBN 978-0-9545-5353-1 (kindle) or 978-0-9545-5355-5 (epub).

Science Fiction – full-length novels:

  • Far From the Spaceports, in preparation for release later in 2015
    • soft-cover ~ ISBN 978-0-9931684-4-4
    • ebook format ~ ISBN 978-0-9931684-5-1 In case of difficulty please check the website www.kephrath.com for purchasing options.


  • Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian, published in ebook format by Matteh Publications and available at online retailers, ISBN 978-0-9545-5352-4 (kindle) or 978-0-9545-5356-2 (epub).

[]About Matteh Publications

Matteh Publications is a small publisher based in north London offering a small range of specialised books, either in ebook or softback form. For information concerning current or forthcoming titles please see mattehpublications.datascenesdev.com/.

Interviews of Kephrath - Nikleos and Kastiandra

This is one of a series of character interviews from The Flame Before Us. This interview is with Nikleos and Kastiandra, who travelled with their Sherden clan east across the sea and then south from Wilios. The clan has now settled peaceably outside the town of Yabesh, to the east of the River and just outside the hill country. If you like the interview and extract, The Flame Before Us is available as a full-length novel. The Flame Before Us: Conflict and commitment in the shadow of a city's downfall The raiding ships have come before, but this time it is different. This time the attackers are coming to stay. The great kings and their vassals collapse as the newcomers advance. Walk with refugees, migrants, and defenders of the land alike, as they struggle to create a different way of life beside the ruins of the old. Can alliance, commitment and love survive the turmoil?

  • Author: Richard Abbott
  • Published: 2015-11-03 13:05:20
  • Words: 3584
Interviews of Kephrath - Nikleos and Kastiandra Interviews of Kephrath - Nikleos and Kastiandra