My story begins, as it so often has, with the spring trading fleets coming in from Sicily. By the spring of the year after Plataea, I owned four warships, all laid up in my own boat-sheds just over the mountain from Plataea, and six round ships, varying in size from a small tub that could just carry a few hundred big amphorae of wine or olive oil, to the new ‘Poseidon,’ a slab-sided monster that could carry almost six thousand methimnoi of grain. I’d paid for her to be built to keep the shipwrights in business over the winter, but I’d imagined that she might play a role in the grain trade with Aegypt, because I could guess that it would be a few years before the farmers of Attika and Boeotia had recovered.
I also had ‘Leto’, who’d been all but rebuilt over the winter, so that she had shining new wood, golden in the spring sunlight, stark against the grey-brown of the older wood in her hull, and ‘Io’. Hector, my adopted son, took ‘Leto,’ as he had in the year of Plataea, and Hipponax, my son by Gaia, took ‘Io,’ and they were away in the first blush of spring.
If you’re not a sailor, listen. Greece is a country made by the gods for sailors, and not least because the land trails away into the sea in many directions, allowing a good captain to get off a beach in almost any wind. My sons were not taking such a foolish risk so early in the year; they could run down the Gulf of Corinth past Naupactus, all the way out into the Italian Sea, and never be so far from land that a man couldn’t swim ashore. And then, a single day’s sail, and they were in Croton, or one of the other Greek colony cities in Magna Greca, and they could stay in with the coast around the toe of the boot and then for Syracusa on the first good wind.
They were joined by Leukes, who came from Piraeus to take the big grain ship. He was the best of my captains, in any weather, now that Megakles and Moire had their own ships and their own business.
We laded all three ships with whatever we could find to trade; hides, mostly, and some salt, and linen from the year before, and some loot; I remember loading one of the great tents that the Persians had left behind, and some Persian bows. It was an oddly jumbled cargo, but Leukes also had gold and silver to buy things we needed, and a long order list made up by half the citizens of Green Plataea; roof tiles and fabrics and statues and ironware.
My sons were right sailormen, and Leukes was the toughest helmsman afloat for all that he was a wild-haired Briton from the other end of the world. And the weather was surprisingly mild; indeed, we were in for one of the best summers any of us could remember. And the round tubs we used as marchant ships were all but unsinkable.
None of that kept me from worry, because to be a parent is to worry, so that, every two or three days, I’d ride down to Prosili, our little port on the Gulf of Corinth, and look out over the flat blue sea and wonder where they were. And I made a dozen sacrifices to Poseidon in the first week alone, and more as the month grew on, so that the priest in the small shrine came to know me and offer me wine when I rode up.
It was the new moon of Elaphabolion, as we reckon it in Boeotia, when they came sailing back across the Gulf; a west wind wafted them all the way from Patrae and Hector bragged as he landed and kissed the beach that they hadn’t touched the steering oars for two hundred stades.
And there was Megakles, in a new built trireme. It was the heavy Phoenician type, and had clearly been built to carry cargo, but his rowers filled the beach and he himself was proud of his ship.
He was full of news from the west; news of Sicily and Massalia, where Doola and Sekla had their warehouses. Why were a couple of Africans running a small trading empire in Gaul? That’s another story you’ll have to hear another night, my friends. Although, if you stay with me, you’ll hear why it matters to this tale.
‘In Patrae they say the Spartans don’t want to fight Persia and more,’ Megakles said, and Hector, my adopted son, stopped embracing his own friends and came across the sand to me.
‘It’s true, Pater,’ Hector said. ‘I heard the same in Syracusa. They say the ephors want to send all the Ionians to colonize Italy.’
I’m sorry to keep playing old tunes, but of course, this was what the ‘Sparta First’ faction had wanted in the year of Plataea. What they always wanted; Ionia removed. I thought of what my wife, Briseis, who had once been queen of Ionia, might say.
I thought of what my brother in law and life long friend and enemy Archilogos might say.
And for the first time in many months, I wondered if the war with Persia was actually over.