Auction Day

Auction Day
by Zalman Velvel

There will be excitement tomorrow, that much is certain.
I, Rollos III, will sell the beautiful, the incomparable, the exquisite Iona to the highest bidder. She has become the legal age, sixteen.
How I enjoy my craft! I am an auctioneer, as was my father, and his father before him. We Rollos are actors on the stage of money. We sell the spoils of war, trinkets mostly, sometimes slaves. We also auction property when a loan has been foreclosed. We take our fee, one coin from each ten, and from this we prosper.
But what I love to sell, what this Rollos cherishes, is the sale of our finest young women as brides when they reach the legal age. It has been a part of our tradition in Herodotus since Alexander the Great was ruler of the world, almost a hundred years ago.
Outsiders think it barbaric, but we find it produces a colorful social tapestry. Our worst and finest traits are woven into the stories of public auctions. It is a glimpse of the base, and the sublime inside us.
We do not shrink from our humanity, we embrace it publicly.
Ah, what a buxom beauty Iona is! Her hair is as gold as the sun, her skin as smooth as the finest silk of the Orient. Her azure eyes pull the puppet strings born in a man's heart. Her lips make my belly shudder, and I am old enough to be her father. There is fire behind her eyes, a passion lurking below that sweet face. How I would revel on her delectable flesh, and then ravish every port in her bawdy harbor. The world would see testimony to my passion and potency, when her breasts were swollen and her belly rounded from the fruits of my seed.
Ah, but I spin fantasies in my mind, and these lead me into false and ignoble worlds. I am a married man, with a fine wife, and no wish to upset the splendid balance we have created in our combination.
Zenon loves Iona, that is easy to see. The front of his toga distends mightily whenever she is around. They linger together at her father's table in the market. I see their hands touch secretly as he examines the silks and linens.
Zenon is a magnificent specimen of manhood, tall and strong, honest and virtuous. His hair is thick and curly, as mine once was, and at 25, his belly is still firm. My own has long since been transformed by the excesses of wine and sweet meat, the spoils of a successful businessman.
Zenon is the greatest soldier in our army. He has killed hundreds on the field of battle. The men tell stories of his exploits around fires at night. We know he has a large treasure stored from the spoils of battle, as befits a man of his exceptional bravery. How much? That is anyone's guess.
But Zenon is used to an enemy that approaches directly. He is unaware of Beryl, spinning his clever web near the innocent honey blossom.
Beryl is my business partner, a genius in monetary matters. Together we have grown rich trading spices and land, while Beryl has grown enormously fat and gross. He does not care. After his wife died from the chest sickness, he has lived for two things – gold, and food. While we discuss business, I watch him gorge on fatted goose and racks of spicy pork ribs, then wash it down with goblets of wine.
I, alone, know of his desire for young Iona. Beryl brags to me, in private, how he must massage his tool into submission each night when he thinks of her. It is a disgusting image, and when I conjure it, I start to lose the contents of my stomach.
Beryl has whispered to me that he is prepared to pay as high as a thousand gold coins for Iona. A thousand gold coins! An average bride fetches ten. A beauty, fifty. A rare beauty, perhaps a hundred. The most ever paid was one hundred and thirty six, but that was after the conquest of Babylon, when every man had a pile of gold and hordes of slaves to sell the greedy Egyptian traders.
A thousand gold coins! A man could buy a whole town for that much money, and still have funds left over to never work again.
Beryl and Iona? My intestines revolt at the thought of Beryl's chubby fingers, with rancid chicken parts under his nails, roaming over the virgin garden that is Iona.
How much gold is contained in Zenon's treasure trove? Perhaps several hundred coins. But a thousand! Can such a thing be possible? We will see tomorrow. Will the young eagle, Zenon, possess his heart's desire, or that vulture Beryl?
Who could ask for a finer spring day? The sun was shining gloriously, and the air was kissed by ocean breezes. I began the auction at noon, as scheduled. All of Herodotus was present.
I started with the sale of three dunams of vacant land outside the western portion of our town, high up in the hills. It was the baker's land, but he had borrowed on it from the miller. The miller extended the loan twice, but still the debt remained unpaid. Beryl bought the parcel for 12 gold coins, a fair price. I did not want a share of it, and was content with my commission of one gold and two silver.
Next, I sold a horse, then a donkey, that our soldiers had taken from Babylonian rebels. Two and a half for the horse, one and half for the donkey.
I saved the best for last. Iona was led up to my platform by her father, as is our custom.
He kissed her cheek, then scampered back into the crowd and held the hand of his ugly wife. Only a God would know how the two of them spawned such a work of art.
"Now, men of Herodotus, we reach the highlight of the sale, the offering of Iona as bride. You know the rules. Only unmarried men may bid, although married men may dream…"
That line received the usual laugh.
"Second, after a man bids five times, an unveiling may be requested."
An unveiling is when the future bride is disrobed and stands naked on the platform for all to see. I am not proud of this practice, although I admit it sometimes excites me. There is a purpose to the custom – it forces a bidder to be generous in his increments, and speeds up the auction process. I looked down at my audience and saw the men mentally undressing Iona, as they licked their lips.
"Last, the final banging of my gavel, and my utterance of the word 'SOLD!' to the last and highest bidder will stand as a legal and binding marriage contract. The sale price must be paid immediately in gold and silver. No notes are acceptable unless authorized beforehand by the parents. And my fee is the standard one in ten – cash only, please – the parents to receive the remainder. Are there any questions?"
Zenon stepped forward, dressed in formal battle attire, including a sword. The crowd parted, and gave him wide berth at the front of the stage. His aide stood beside him holding a chest. It was a heavy chest, too, judging by the perspiration on the aide's face.
This was going to be a profitable day!
"If there are no questions, let the sale begin." I banged my gavel for good measure.
A hush went through the crowd. All eyes were on Zenon.
"Two hundred gold coins!" Zenon shouted in his magnificent baritone voice. He squared his shoulders and stood erect. He looked at the townspeople defiantly, daring another bidder to step forth.
The look of adoration on Iona's face was heartrending. It was for these moments, I live and breath as auctioneer. Where else could a common man see such an expression in a woman's face? Never has my wife cast such a gaze in my direction.
"A new record, and only the first bid!" I called out. "Do I hear another bid?"
I looked over at Beryl, who was drinking wine and carousing with the town whores. He ignored my stare, just as he appeared to be ignoring the auction. I shrugged. He had probably changed his mind and come to his senses.
"Going once for two hundred. Going twice for two hundred-"
"Two hundred and one!"
Persis, Judge of our town, and just passing his 70th birthday, raised his hand. You could have heard a flea pass wind in the silence that ensued. I looked over at Beryl, who had a wine gourd to his lips, then Zenon, who had a look of outrage on his face. Iona's lips trembled.
"Now, your Honor," I began. "I'm sure you have the funds, but do you have the … energy … for so vivacious a bride?"
The crowd looked to Persis.
"My dear Rollos, just because there is snow on the peak of the volcano, does not mean the fire has gone out below."
It took a while, but Zenon was the first to laugh. The crowd followed suit, repeating the Judge's words, and the inflection.
"Thank you, your Honor, for introducing a bit of levity to this too somber event. Now, if I do not hear any other bids-" I raised my gavel.
"You have a bid. Two hundred and one." Persis called out.
"Your honor?"
"The bride is not for me. I am bidding for one who does not want his presence known."
This had never happened before. I looked over at Beryl. He had his head buried between the pillowy breasts of a fat whore.
"This is an outrage!" Zenon drew his sword. "Let the sniveling coward who bids against me make himself known!"
Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
You may print this story for yourself, but not make copies without author's permission.