Part 2 of Chapter 9 from Archimedes of Syracuse, a Historical Novel

I thought I would post one of the chapters from my historical novel, Archimedes of Syracuse. It’s a little long for a blog so I’ve broken it down in parts. If you missed Part 1, scroll down. Enjoy.

 Archimedes is visiting Alexandria in Egypt. His best friend is Conon of Samos. After a night of drinking and talking, Conon takes Archimedes to the chariot races.  One of the teams is driven by the beautiful Helena daughter of King Ptolemy, King of Alexandria and Egypt. Archimedes has fallen in love with her.

 CHAPTER 9—THE RACES (Part 2) (247 BCE in Alexandria)

 All the chariots dash forward at once into the straight-away, each in their marked lane. After a short distance, the markings stop, and the chariots begin to change lanes, fighting for the inside lane occupied by Berenice.

Suddenly, the first accidents happen. One chariot is overturned, and the chariot breaks away from the horses. The driver cannot get out of his reins, and is dragged half way around the track. Another chariot loses a wheel. A collision happens seconds later with one chariot losing a wheel, but the other charioteer maintains control, and stays in the race. With each collision or near collision, the crowd cheers, and Conon holds his head.

“Are you ill?” asks Archimedes.

“Could you ask the crowd to keep the noise down? I had too much beer last night.”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Then, please, kill me to take me out of my misery.”

“Have some more wine. I understand that it will take the sting out of your pain.”

“I don’t think so, but I will try it,” drinking more wine.

Berenice has the coveted inside lane, and takes an early lead. Now she must fight to keep her position. She moves her horses as close as possible to the spine for the turn. As she enters the first turn, she shifts her weight to lean the chariot into the turn. This maneuver makes the chariot easier to turn left but is very dangerous. The chariots are made lighter by removing the floor. The drivers must balance on the center yoke, and leaning to either side is tricky.

Berenice gives the outside horse his head by twisting her hips to the left. This also pulls in the reins on the left side horses. She calls the right outside horse by name, and strikes him with her whip to start the first turn. The left hub of the chariot misses the spine by a hand’s width.

Slaves run out onto the track to remove the injured drivers, and young boys run out to clear the debris. The boys removing the debris are too slow, and are nearly struck by other chariots. One leaps up on the spine, and out of harm’s way. The others cannot make it that far so they fall flat on the track, and lie parallel to the spine, trying to make their bodies as small a target as possible. They are lucky this time. No one runs over them.

Berenice is able to keep the lead position by blocking her challengers. Just before each turn she moves in closer to the spine. On the straight-away she steers the chariot farther out to keep the drivers behind her from cutting inside while lengthening the distance they must drive to pass her on the outside. These tactics enable her to easily win the first race.

Helena is in the second race but is in a stall several lanes over from the inside track. She will have to fight to gain the inside track. She manages to reach the inside track four chariots behind the lead chariot from Samos.

Her chariot swings wide around the first turn–too wide. Helena realizes her mistake, and tries to regain the inside position but two chariots cut in ahead of her before she can move over. She curses herself for taking the turn too fast to hold the position, and vows not to make that mistake again.

Conon is feeling better, and begins to take some interest in the race. Archimedes fears the worse for Helena. She is still in the race but some six chariots behind the leader. His heart races along with the horses, and he sways left or right with every move Helena makes. More than once he yells to warn her of near collisions. Everyone is shouting or cheering, so no one pays any attention to Archimedes.

The chariots approach the second turn. Helena slows the chariot slightly, and is able to hold the turn. Her left hub misses the spine by three finger’s width. Before she is out of the turn she spurs the horses on to accelerate. This gives her the extra speed to cut inside the chariot in front of her. The driver had taken this turn too fast, and swung wide. Ahead of her, another chariot loses a wheel, and is out of the race. One of the dolphin counters is pulled down to signal one complete lap. Helena is in fifth place.

Archimedes’ heart jumps whenever he sees Helena nearly colliding with another chariot. Helena spends the next two laps trying to get inside the chariot to her front. However, the driver is an experienced driver from Pythia and holds onto the inside track. On the next straight-away, Helena pulls away from the inside, and moves to the outside of the Pythian chariot. Going into the next turn, she drives her horse to keep abreast of the Pythian chariot. It is a tactic that Berenice taught her. By staying abreast in the turn, she is actually racing faster, and pulls ahead in the straight-away. Now she moves back inside. This same tactic works on the next chariot too. Most seasoned drivers will pass only on the straight-away because they consider passing on a turn to be too dangerous. They are right. Helena knows she is among the top four chariots, and concentrates on holding her position. She successfully blocks any attempts to pass her, and finishes the race in third place. She and Berenice will both be in the final race. Archimedes is relieved to see that Helena has survived the first race.

Helena and Berenice take their places with the Royal Family to watch the third race but do not socialize. They discuss tactics. Berenice will have a good chance to win the final race, but anything can happen. She coaches Helena on how to achieve a position where she can block some of the other drivers, and help ensure victory for the royal stable. They are the only two teams from the same stable, and by working together, they will have an advantage over the other teams.

“What is the matter with you?” a finally sober Conon asks Archimedes. “You are sweating as if you were in the race yourself.”

“I guess I got caught up in the action.”

 END of Part 2

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