Again, I have to digress.
At the same time that the Allied Greeks face Mardonius and the Persian army at Plataea, the Allied Greek fleet, led by the King of Sparta, pressed eastwards into the maritime heart of the Persian empire; Ionia. Based first from Delos and then farther east, the Allied fleet was cautious at first, but in the end, at Mycale, we caught the Persian flee and routed it at sea and then captured and burned the Persian camp on land, and the Ionians, for the most part, liberated themselves on the spot.
Remember, friends, that Ionia is where the revolt against the Persians began. remember that the Ionians lost, and were defeated, and had satraps placed over their cities, so that they were forced to send contingents to fight us, the western Greeks; at Salamis, most of the best ships came from the Greek cities of Asia Minor.
And while I’d never say this to a crowd of Spartiates, the truth is that Mycale hurt the Great King a good deal more than Plataea. At Plataea he lost a great army; most of it was made up of his own fractious subjects, Medes and Indians and Aegyptians and Africans, and they were losses he could make up in an afternoon.
But at Salamis and Mycale, the Phoenicians were hammered, and the Ionians, in the end, changed sides, and suddenly the Great King had no fleet. Let me add that Sicily was not a different world, and the Tyrant, Gelon, had just defeated the ships of Carthage, robbing the Phoenicians of their greatest allies and their most likely source of reinforcements.
In the aftermath of Mycale, the Spartan King, Leotychides, kept most of the fleet together and went to the Dardanelles to cut the cables for the great pontoon bridge by which Xerxes, the Great King, kept sending reinforcements to Europe. But after that, he sailed home with the Spartan contingent, declaring the war to be over, while the Athenians attacked Chersonesos and took it, more by luck, if the truth be told, than by skill.
I wasn’t there, but Moire was, in Black Raven, with my sons. I’d gone home to be a Plataean.
Enough of the world and war.
I left the beach with Megakles and Hector and Hipponax, and we rode back to my farm over the shoulders of the mountain on mules, far more sure-footed than horses on the steep trails, and we were in the old tower by nightfall. Achilles, my nephew, had given me back the farm after the battle; so many Plataeans fell in the great contest, the Agon as we called it, that there was better farmland and to spare all down the valley, available to any man with a strong stomach for burying the dead, or burning them. So we rode up the hill as we might have twenty years before, and into the yard of what had been my father’s house, and Briseis came down to the yard dressed in a long, flowing Ionian-style chiton of transparent wool with a narrow edging of gold and purple.
She welcomed my guests with wine and barley and cheese, and I was proud to see that although neither Hector nor Hipponax were the sons of her body, she embraced each before she kissed Megakles on the lips, which caused him to squirm in a way that made the rest of us laugh.
‘You bring my sons home,’ she said to me. “What reward can I give you?’
I thought of my mother, drunk in her rooms, and my father, taking out his anger on his bronze, and I pondered how I, the Killer of Men, had come to have so much happiness in my life. ‘I need no reward,’ I said.
‘Get a room!’ Leukes leered. ‘Enough domestic bliss.’
Briseis smiled her Ionian Aphrodite smile and led us into the hearth, where she made the matron’s prayers before we set to a meal.
Leukes, Megakles, and my sons took turns giving her the news from Sicily and the Peloponnese, and she nodded. Listen, friends; most Greek women are superb at managing a house or making a kykeon, but my wife had been a queen and could be again; and she was as good at politics as Aristides or Miltiades, and so she listened with a different ear.
That being said, we’d arrived at ways and means, you might say, and so she waited until they were all gone to our newly built guest quarters before she lay back on a kline and waved her hand.
‘The Spartans don’t want Ionia to thrive,’ she said.
She poured herself a little wine and watered it. ‘Do you know what they fear?’ she asked me.
I shrugged. ‘The modern world?’ I asked. There had been a time when I’d hated Sparta, but Gorgo and Sparthius had changed that for me. I now admired almost everything about Sparta, except their treatment of their Helots and their cowardly, cautious ephors.
She smiled the smile women use when they see that men are not entirely fools.
‘Exactly, my husband,’ she said. ‘They fear that Athens will rally the Ionians and make them strong.’
‘Athens?’ I asked. ‘Athens is a burned husk of itself without a working temple.’
‘Now you sound like a Spartan,’ she said. ‘Athens had the mightiest fleet on Ocean, and she can dictate almost any course she wants. Athens is also the last state standing with a merchant fleet, so she’s going to control trade. Athens is about to be the richest city in the world.’
I nodded. I admit, when I recall these conversations, I’m probably adding together many such; certainly, Briseis and I discussed the future of our world, the world of Hipponax and Hector and her sons too. So, allow me to misremember.
Regardless, what I do remember from that day was her view of the Spartans.
‘They cannot allow Athens to lead,’ she said. ‘And as they see the phoenix rise from the ash,’ she predicted, ‘they will fear her more and more.’ She looked out over our farm sadly. ‘Come, husband. Sit by me. I am sad, because what I foresee is the diminution of my people. Athens will steal the art for Ionia and make herself great, and what will become of Miletus and Mytilene and Samos? Will we Aeolians and Ionians become satellites of Great Athens?’
I thought of her brother, my rival and friend Archilogos. ‘Somehow I doubt that.’
‘And yet Ionia is vulnerable,’ she said. ‘We need to be sure that Athens at least does not abandon the Ionians.’
‘Do we?’ I asked. I was probably running a hand over her thigh at that point.
She brushed my hand away. ‘Yes, husband. We do. And let me remind you that we are in an open room with slaves and ten guests and that perhaps your thoughts should be on packing for your trip to Athens.’
‘Athens?’ I asked.
‘My dear,’ she said. ‘Did I forget to mention? Aristides has sent for you.’