We had more than six hundred prisoners, mostly slaves. But we had other problems, as we discovered as soon as we were ashore.
Cleis, the woman who ran Sappho’s school, was the perfection of cool dignity, despite having been manhandled and almost killed. Her iron-grey hair went in every direction, but her face was calm, and she smoothed her long chiton and looked at the Phoenician officer, who was dying fairly quickly on the sand.
‘What a waste of a life,’ she said. She looked at me. ‘Arminestos of Plataea, I believe.’
I bowed. She had more regality than most of the kings I’ve met. ‘Yes, Despoina. My wife is Briseis of…’ I paused. What was Briseis of, now? Plataea? Briseis of Ionia? Briseis of Miletus? Ephesus?
‘I know Briseis,’ she said. A small smile suggested that, despite war and peril, she found my marriage a matter of some small amusement. ‘You’ve gone to war to get some peace?’ she asked.
‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘I’m here at Briseis instruction.’
‘And timely, too,’ she admitted. Behind me, Brasidas and all of my marines were ‘organizing’ the Phoenician marines who’d surrendered.
She seemed unfazed as Leander bellowed ‘lie down on the sand!’ at someone too stupid or too dazed to take direction. Arius, took the man’s arm and swept his leg with a foot-hook and dropped him, unharmed, on the sand.
Leander put a hand on the man’s back. ‘Told you to lie down, mate. You don’t want us mistaking you for trouble.’
I thought of mentioning that the Phoenicians probably didn’t have a word of Greek, but Brasidas and his people knew their business; our business.
Poseidenos had forty of my oarsmen in among the marines, ‘helping,’ with their stretchers.
Cleis straightened the shoulder of her chiton. It was pinned with beautiful golden ‘grasshopper’ pins, and two of them had been bent.
Ever the bronze smith, I stepped up close. ‘May I?’ I asked, and started bending the soft gold back into shape.
Once I was very close, she said, ‘The Archon invited the Phoenicians in. He’ll deny it, but I have ways of knowing things.’ She looked at me, close enough to kiss. ‘He was planning to take the town and make himself tyrant. Tonight.’
Ah, politics. And Greeks. Why do we mock the Thracians for their divisiveness when we’re so damned good at it ourselves.
And the mistresses of Sappho’s school… I knew from Briseis how very effective the school was as a clearing house of essential information. Two hundred girls a year, from the best families in Ionia. Think of it, friends. Most girls have no say in choosing their husbands. They go to a strangers house, and in Ionia, that man can be across the sea, far from home.
And then they may live shut into a woman’s world, visiting other women, taking their slaves shopping… do we men really think that gossip and babies are the circumference of their world? I think not. And loyalties…old loyalties, to school friends and teachers… may weigh far more heavily that some mate chosen for your father’s convenience.
My point is that a thousand or more young women from the first families of the Ionian world sent letters and news to Cleis. When Briseis was the effective queen of Ionia, Cleis had been her best informant. And, of course, Briseis herself was part of the network.
Women. Men always forget them when the swords start to flash.
All that went through my mind in an instant, and I stepped back, bowed, and looked for Brasidas.
Brasidas was standing quietly, his cloak covering his arms so that no one could see whether he had a weapon in his hand or not. He was watching Zephyrides and Kassandros as they rounded up oarsmen and made them sit in rows. The sun was setting; we could lose men in darkness.
I beckoned, and Brasidas came.
‘Take…’ I met his eye so he could see how serious I was. ‘Take Moire’s marines and Archilogos’. Tell them it’s a crisis. Bring them to me at the double.’
‘Yes, sir,’ he said. Black Raven was already on the beach, and Lady Artemis was landing, stern first, and so were Ajax and Athena Nike.
‘What will you do?’ Cleis asked.
‘I’ll go up into the town to make sure it is secure,’ I said.
‘He has mercenaries,’ Cleis said. ‘A dozen men. Professionals.’
I waved at the beach.
She smiled. ‘Point taken. Come to me when you have… secured… the town.’
I bowed again. In a way, it was like seeing Briseis as an older woman; her face was lined, and there was age in every feature, but the same square shoulders, elegant carriage, the same fire, the same determination.
Of course, running a school for aristocratic adolescents is probably not so different from commanding a pirate ship, either.
The Phoenicians weren’t offering much resistance. Even in the long twilight of a spring night on Lesvos, they could see the archers at the rail of my ship, arrows on their bows.
And my oarsmen and marines, moving among them. And now, thanks to all the Gods, Cimon was ashore, leaping into the surf with his marines and running up the darkening beach.
‘What’s happening?’ he asked.
You know that feeling when there are too many people asking too many questions in the midst of what may be a crisis? It is like rage or frustration. And you can’t let it get to you. Cimon was my friend, my peer, and had every right to ask.
I was just a little busy.
‘Can you take charge fo the beach? I’m leaving you my oarsmen and marines, except Brasidas.’
Well, bless him, Cimon is not a man who needs details.
‘Got it,’ he said. ‘Thekles!’ he bellowed, and a big man came running up in beautiful armour; Cimon’s captain of marines.
I turned. ‘I need two men to escort the Despoina,’ I called. All of my marines were working, but my eye fell on Socrates and his daughter Gaia. I had him down as a tough man, and she looked strong and competent, and anyway, this was her destination.
‘Socrates,’ I said. ‘Would you and your daughter be kind enough to escort the Despoina up the beach and to her house?’
Socrates nodded. I pulled a spear out of the pile of weapons collected from the Phoenician marines, and a hooked kopis. I tossed them to Socrates, who dropped the sword belt over his shoulder as if he’d done so a few thousand times.
‘At your service, ma’am,’ he said.
‘Despoina, this young woman is here ot join your school. This is her father. They’ll see you safe up the hill.’
She inclined her head like a queen. ‘My thanks, sir,’ she said. ‘Good fortune, Arimnestos. Come and see me.’
I turned to find Brasidas with thirty marines and Ka and his archers. I could see half a dozen men I’d thought I was leaving behind; Styges, for one, and young Achilles. There were a lot of lonely young wives in Plataea.
‘Poseidenos!’ I called. ‘Get me Leon and two more sailors, and some grapples.’
The old man saluted casually and called out some names.
‘On me,’ I said, and we plodded across the sand.
I know Eressos well. There’s a seaside town, with Vigla, the old fortress, towering over it. Sappho’s family ruled from Vigla, and her school is in the ancient fortress.
But the big town is inland almost ten stades. It is one of the three real towns of Lesvos, with Mythymna and Mytilene, and its people are fractious and tend to go with the Medes when offered a choice, while Mythymna tends to side always with Athens in every conflict and Mytilene shifts back and forth as the winds blow.
Archilogos joined me before we were across the sands.
‘Where are we going with all my marines?’ he asked.
‘We’re going to stop a stasis and probably prevent a massacre,’ I said.
He nodded. ‘I know Makar, the archon. He’s a fool, and he thinks he’s brilliant.’
‘The very worst possible combination,’ I said.
Archilogos glanced at me in the failing light, and stepped closer. ‘It might be better for Ionia if he just…died.’
The lights of Eresos proper were twinkling in the evening air, and I could smell jasmine on the breeze. Ten stades isn’t even an hour’s walk, but as we went the moon came out and th eloast lines of pink faded fromt he western sky behind us, and then suddenly the sky was full of stars.
‘What are we doing?’ Brasidas asked.
‘Taking the city,’ I said.
Archilogos nodded. ‘If we’re challenged, let me talk,’ he said.
I put hand on his shoulder. ‘Why don’t we just claim to be Phoenician mercenaries?’ I asked.
He laughed. ‘I forget what you’re like,’ he said.
# # #
The gates were closed. It wasn’t a big town, but it had excellent walls; a scole of heavy stone, surmounted by a thick wall of mud brick.
‘Halt!’ bellowed a sentry. ‘Who goes armed by our walls!’
In my best Tyrian accented Greek, I called ‘You fucking sent for us!’
Archilogos just sounded like the Ionian he really was. ‘Send for Makar!’ he said.
Grumbling, the gate guard climbed down form his tower.
We called out several more times, mostly to make sure there wasn’t another guard, and then Poseidenos, well along the wall, cast the first grapple, and in two minutes, he and Leon were throwing ropes down.
Archilogos and Brasidas went over the wall.
I stayed with a dozen men.
It was a quarter of an hour before there was a stir in the gate tower.
‘Who’s there?’ came a voice; deep, confident.
‘Adon of Tyre. You asked us to come!’
The man leaned over the wall. He had a purple cloak, and we could see that because he was flanked by two torch bearers. ‘Is that all the men you brought?’ he asked. ‘I have a big town to handle.’
‘Open the gate and we’ll see what we can do,’ I said.
He shook his head. ‘And then I’ll have a Persian garrison,’ he said. ‘That’s not my intention. I’ll be loyal, but I need some assurances first. You see…’
Right next to me, the gate opened silently.
A man I didn’t know was standing there. He was in armour. He raised his hands silently, as if surrendering.
Behind him were a dozen more men. And Brasidas.
Makar turned his head, as if he’d heard a noise. ‘What the hells? You…’
I thought quickly. I thought about a man who was selling his town to the Persians, but was prevaricating even with his new masters.
‘Ka,’ I said.
The arrows all hit him; the range was very short and he was brilliantly illuminated.
Brasidas stepped forward. ‘These are his bodyguard,’ he said. ‘They surrendered freely.’
‘I want no part of this crap,’ the man in the beautiful armour said. ‘I’m Euboeoan. I’m not fighting for the Great King.’
Brasidas pushed past him. ‘The town’s ours. If you’ll give me these men as guides, we can secure all the gates.’
‘You trust them?’
‘Two are Peloponnesian. None of them are Ionian. I’d say, hire the lot.’ He pointed at the man behind him.
‘Get it done,’ I said.
Archilogos came out the gate long enough to take the rest of the marines.
‘Let me handle this,’ he said. And he was the right man to do it. A local, so to speak.
I found myself with nothing to do, so I went back to the beach with Ka.
Eresos had fallen to us with a single casualty; the would-be tyrant.
The Ionian revolt was underway.
# # #
I slept on the beach, rolled in my cloak. That’s what comes of helping people revolt against their masters and then sending all your officers on missions; there’s no one to find you a place to sleep. I couldn’t find Aten, and I couldn’t find any of my people except Poseidenos, who, no surprise there, had an amphora of wine and a camp fire. I sat with my new oarsmen, and eventually my new helmsman, and we told some tall tales–I expect I told some, although I can’t remember–and then I put my head on my aspis and rolled in my cloak, just like the old days.
Except that when I was seventeen and learning to kill for my living, I didn’t awake with every ligament aching and one of my hands so badly cramped that I couldn’t hold my sword.
Apollo! I hadn’t even fought. All I’d done was…
Well, all the normal things. Plus a twenty stade walk.
In the light, I could see that we were in chaos; if a handful of Phoenicians or Carians had appeared off our beach they could have had the lot of us. Bad discipline, bad planning, and mostly my fault. It’s dashing and romantic to make up your assault as you go along, but it leaves no room for error or an orderly retreat.
As far as the eye could see, there were oarsmen lying on the beach, their bodies red in the light of the rising sun. It looked like the wrack of a battle; a disastrous defeat.
They were all going to need food, or this would get ugly and they’d go for the town.
I assumed Brasidas was in Eresos; but a short wander among the campfires and I found Alexandros, who had captained my marines for years and who was now with Moire. He woke his men, most of whom were sleeping in their armour; there was my cousin Achilles, looking very like a young man I once knew, and nursing a hard head.
Aten appeared with bread and cheese. He’d made the natural assumption that I’d sleep in Sappho’s palace on Vigla. More fool I.
Hector appeared, rubbing his eyes, and in an hour I had food coming ashore form the round ships, and Cimon and Archilogos and I were watching the true sunrise over the mountains of eastern Lesvos and drinking hot tisanes. Or maybe wine. Warm wine and water with a little honey is quite good in the morning; add a little cardamom…
‘We need to get to Mythymna and Mytilene before the Persians get a fleet here,’ Archilogos said.
Cimon looked at me. ‘Are we here to liberate Ionia or to make a profit?’ he asked.
‘You sound like your father,’ I said.
Cimon smiled. When he smiled in just a particular way, he looked like his father; when he thought he was going to fool you, he looked like his mother. ‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ he said. ‘I’m good either way. But tell me how you see this playing out.’
‘I thought we’d land here, gather information, and have a meal,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t expected an action and a city in revolt.’
Archilogos glanced at me and I wondered if he knew more than I did. Had I been played? Was this the objective?
I shrugged. ‘Regardless friends, we can have our barley bread and eat it, too. Archilogos goes around to Mytilene. Cimon goes ot Mythymna; its an ally of Athens. I put crews in these three triremes and recruit some local marines and officers. I know the town; there are good men here.’
Cimon rubbed his beard with his right hand. ‘And?’
‘And we rendezvous in three days, off Mytilene. In the harbour, if Archilogos puts up a signal.’
‘Three bronze shields at my masthead,’ he said. ‘Or I’m standing off if the town’s already taken.’
Cimon nodded. ‘Mythymna might contribute ships,’ he said.
‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘There’s room for a few more.’
They were off the beach as soon as their oarsmen were fed; chaos had become order, and there were lines of little clay braziers burning for five stades, and men waiting for their rations. We bought a wagonload of bread; the barley of Lesvos is famous for reasons, and we all stuffed ourselves, and then they were away in the late morning sun, their oars flashing in unison. If you haven’t been to sea, it’s worth remembering that the rythmic flash of oars can be seen far away, much father than the hull or even the mast; sometimes you can see the pulsing light over the horizon, or through fog.
I borrowed a horse from Cleis and rode up into the main town, where I met with the boule, the properly appointed council of the town. None of them struck me as potential tyrants or even very effective leaders, but they were steady and they promised their allegiance to the Allies, and I negotiated a treaty. I could only sign the treat in the name of Plataea, of which I was an Archon, and you can still find a stone stele in Eresos proclaiming that Eresos and Green Plataea were to be allies against all foes for thirty years.
There’s immortality for you, eh?
That took the morning, but it also got the word out to the aristocrats and the hoplite class, so that when my recruiting tables opened there were dozens of men waiting, most with their arms. And the man at the front of the line was the man who’d commanded the would-be tyrant’s bodyguard.
Brasidas nodded. ‘Take him,’ he said, in his loquacious way.
‘Ariston,’ the man said. By daylight, he was of middle height; he looked sharp, and his eyes had the look.
‘From Euboeoa?’ I asked.
‘Yes, sir,’ he said.
‘Ever heard of Eualcidas?’ I asked.
He smiled. ‘Yes, sir.’
I could see that he was as talkative as Brasidas. ‘Are those your men?’ I asked.
‘And you’d like to keep them together?’
‘Yes, sir. I recruited them, sir.’
I considered pointing out that we’d all almost killed each other the night before, and that he’d technically been on the other side, but that was the point; there were quite a few sides, that spring.
Brasidas tapped my arm.
‘Very well. You and your people will be the marines on…’ I looked up at Megakles.
He handed me a wax tablet. ‘Adonis’ he said. ‘The other two are Morning Star and Gat’s Fortune.’ He gave a sniff like an old wife. ‘Unless you want to change their names.’
Sailors do not like to change the names of ships.
‘Who’s Gat?’ I asked. I thought I knew my Phoenician and Canaanite, but Gat wasn’t a name I knew.
A crowd of hoplite farmers is not the Athenian agora full of philosophers. No one knew who Gat was.
I pointed at Aten. ‘Go ask the prisoners who Gat is,’ I said.
I went through a few local farm boys. They were technically hoplites and they all had the panoply, but none of them had ever been in a fight and really didn’t need their blood on my hands. But then there was a likely man; broad shoulders, bouncing with energy, even in his panoply.
He knew how to hold the sword, too.
‘I can row,’ he said. ‘My uncle owns a small ship. I’ve rowed. I’m not proud.’
I liked that. ‘Name?’
‘Phillipos,’ he said.
‘Marine, Morning Star.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
I was lucky enough to pick up a few veteran oarsmen; all of them were local men stranded by the war, one a local firebrand who’d been ostracised for supporting the ‘rebels.’
I have to remind you that in the eyes of the Great King and his officers, we were all rebels, but most especially the Ionians.
Anyway, I took him. He was as big as Leontos and had that look of absolute confidence that you often see in big, handsome men.
‘Damysos,’ he said.
We all laughed. Damysos was the fastest and smartest of the giants in the myths of the war between the Gods and Giants.
‘Morning Star, Damysos. You’ll be the stern thranite. Maybe a helmsman in time.’
He gave the casual wave of oarsmen everywhere; they don’t salute and they seem to take pride in not being particularly military. He picked up his cushion and his pack. He had a pelta shield, three good javelins, and a kopis. A valuable man.
We were closing down the table, having picked up enough men to guarantee that the captured ships would be reliable, when there was a stir in the crowd. We had a crowd; with our glittering panoplies and foreign accents, we were probably the most exciting thing in Eresos in a decade.
The latecomer was running. He had greaves and a leather spolas and carried a spear, and he had his aspis on his back and another bag as well.
‘Sorry!’ he said. ‘I overslept.’
He had dark brown hair, was deeply tanned, and looked as fit as Brasidas or I.
‘I’m sure we can find someone to keep you awake,’ I said. ‘What’s that on your back?’ I asked.
‘Kithara,’ he said. ‘I play.’
I pointed at one of my marines; the barbarian from far off Germania.
‘He wants to be a rhapsode. perhaps the two of you should get together.’
No thinks I’m as funny as I think I am.
‘Name?’ I asked.
‘Welcome aboard. You go to Morning Star.’ I turned back to find Aten had returned.
He whispered in my ear. ‘Gad is Hermes,’ he said. ‘God of fortune and luck and a little… tricky.’
I beckoned ot Megakles, who was recruiting deck crewmen out of the port’s sailors and fishermen. ‘If Gad and Hermes are the same god,’ I said, ‘Can we call her ‘Herme’s Fortune?’
Megakles frowned. ‘I hate to see a name changed,’ he said.
That was a no.
‘Very well,’ I said.
# # #
After some food, I rode back down to the beach and then climbed Vigla. Vigla is a tall hill, probably formed of some ancient volcano; it rises straight out of the sea and the top is relatively flat, as if it was formed by the gods to hold a fortress. Sappho’s ancestors built it, or so the locals say, back int he time of the Trojan War; you can still see the magnificent old walls built form stones too big for ten men to lift; proof that they were all heroes back then, some will tell you.
The road up to the gate is too steep to ride comfortably, so I walked up; a real effort on a hot day, but once at the top you step into a different world. There are olive trees in pots, and cats, and cool shade; the view from the alls is staggering, but the little palace is cool and pleasant, with arcades and collonades in the local red-brown stone.
And girls and women. Sappho’s school is in the palace, of course, and Cleis and her teachers had about two hundred students. There were a few men, but for the most part, it was a women’s place, and I was met at the gate and escorted.
There were girls sitting under the trees, reading from scrolls; a girl reciting verse, and another standing like a statue, watching all of the men on the beach far below, like busy ants. I watched too; they were the former Phoenician oarsmen, loading onto Gad’s Fortune for a little sea trial with their new captain and deck crew.
The young woman glanced at me once and then went back to watching.
I heard women singing; a choir, in fact; and I wasn’t sure I’d ever heard such a fine choir of women, except perhaps in Athens for the PanAthenaic procession. Women’s choirs were rare in those days.
My escort was a very serious young woman in a chitoniskos. I remained young enough, despite morning aches and pains, to find her chitoniskos very short indeed, but I could equally understand that in this climate, women, left to themselves, didn’t need to be swathed in layers of linen.
‘You are very famous here,’ she said, a little breathless.
Fane is a funny thing. I guessed, in that moment, that this young woman would tell her grandchildren someday that she’d met Arimnestos the man-slayer, the killer of men. Or perhaps, here, on Vigla, I was Arimnestos, husband of the great Briseis. We are all many different people, I suspect.
I’m dithering. She led me to Cleis, who sat on a marble terrace, in a great armchair, looking out over the ocean.
‘You look like Penelope, waiting for Odysseus,’ I said.
She turned her head. ‘I’m a trifle old to be Penelope,’ she said. ‘And I have never waited for a man in all my life.’
Then she waved a hand. ‘Don’t mind me. All my girls are upset; there’s flashing armour and young men and goodness, in a moment I’ll have them trooping down the hill to see the ships.’
‘We’ll be gone in a day,’ I said.
‘You think I’m an old prude, but I’m responsible for any girl who gets a round belly,’ she said.
‘I understand,’ I said.
‘See that you do,’ she snapped. And then relented. ‘I called you here to help you, not to give you orders.’
A slave brought me wine. Wine in mid-afternoon is a fine thing. this was honey sweet and there were figs, almonds, and cheese.
She laughed. ‘Arimnestos! I see why Briseis loves you. You enjoy everything. Even my figs!’
I had my mouth full.
She looked out to sea while I chewed. I was hungry…
‘I’ll stop being a barbarian,’ I said.
‘I’m glad you like honeyed almonds. Althea, a bowl of rose water for my guest.’ She looked at me. ‘I can help you, and Briseis would want me to.’
I gave her a scroll tube. i hadn’t opened it; I trusted my wife.
She read it without a twitch on her face, and then she re-rolled the scroll and put it in the tube.
‘I see,’ she said.
I sipped my wine. ‘I have not read that document.’
She nodded and didn’t offer it to me. ‘Briseis says that you are going ot liberate all of Ionia; not just the islands that came over to the Alliance after Mycale.’
She tapped the scroll tube on her teeth; I imagined that this was an old habit in a woman who read constantly.
‘The Satraps of Lydia and Caria have been ordered to suppress the rebellion by any means necessary,’ she said. ‘I can give you list that Artemisia of Halicarnassus sent to the Great King of men she judged loyal to Persia.’
‘Artemisia,’ I said. ‘Was she one of your girls?’
Cleis smiled. ‘I have ways of speaking to her, and friends near to her. That was her, yesterday, you know. In the colourful ship.’
I nodded and sipped wine. It was not the first time that the legendary lady of Halicarnassus had slipped through my fingers.
‘Briseis says you mean to strike a blow that will ring through Ionia,’ she said. ‘Stopping that arse from making Eresos a tyranny is not such a blow.’
‘I didn’t imagine that it was,’ I admitted.
She smiled. ‘Ionia is divided, and a divided Ionia cannot furnish the Great King with enough ships to stop the Allies from sailing wherever they will,’ she said. ‘With determination and a great fleet, you could liberate even the mainland in a year or two.’
‘But Briseis says that the Spartans don’t want to liberate Ionia, much less the mainland Satrapies.’
I nodded again. ‘It is the policy of the ephors that all of you should be sent west as colonists, since you are unable to defend yourselves.’
‘Unable to defend ourselves?’ she snapped. ‘Sparta is some hill-town full of shepherds. Do they cook their meat before they eat it?’
‘They’re fairly competent at war,’ I said. ‘It’s a useful skill just now.’
She took a deep breath.
I raised a hand and interrupted. ‘Despoina, I have fought for Ionia for twenty years. Ionians are like all Greeks; they’ll fight among themselves for the sheer fun of it. I’m aware of the wonders of Ionian culture; I’m married ot it. But the Spartans are not entirely incorrect. We, the Greeks of Attika and Boeotia and the Peloponnese, can only spend so much blood and treasure here. Athens seeks an empire. Sparta seeks to prevent Athens from having an empire. No one is really interested in a war against the Great King.’
She snapped her fingers for more wine and sat back.
‘So…’ she said. ‘What do you plan?’
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tell her. I knew she had sources, but that game can always be played both ways. She was in an excellent position to betray me and my little fleet to her other friends, and I was a fool if I didn’t think that Cleis had friends on both sides of the line.
‘Briseis says you will do something that will set us on fire,’ she said. ‘We both know that sacking Sardis won’t accomplish that. Do you agree?’
‘Despoina, I was there the last time, ‘I said.
‘Ah,’ she was surprised. ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘I was with the Athenians,’ I said. I had the oddest feeling; I’d mentioned Eualcidas that morning to the Euboeoan, and now I was thinking of the fight at Sardis.
I wondered in the blink of an eye if I might end where I’d begun. Full circle, dying on some battlefield in Ionia. Perhaps some young hero would come and retrieve my body.
To be honest, the thought made me smile, not frown.
‘You really have seen Ionia at her worst,’ Cleis said, breaking into my thoughts.
I shrugged. ‘Perhaps.’
Cleis drank off her wine with the enthusiasm of a much younger woman. ‘Listen, Arimnestos. I am accounted something of a seer; in this case, I think native intelligence is all that is required. You plan to surprise the Phoenicians at Tyre and burn their ships.’
I didn’t disguise my surprise. I almost dropped my wine.
She smiled wickedly, reminding me of who she must have been fifty years earlier. ‘It’s simple,’ she said. ‘You seek to unite the Athenians and the Spartans; to rob the Spartans of any excuse for inaction, and to make it possible for the Ionians to rise. What would be more spectacular than an attack on the Great King’s last fleet?’
I didn’t try to hide my smile. Or rather, I did at first, and then I just gave in.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I plan to burn the Phoenician fleet at Tyre.’
She sat forward. ‘Now that would be something,’ she said.
‘So it would, I agreed. I had just betrayed my plan to a woman who could arrange for the Phoenicians to trap me and kill me and I felt like a fool.
But she turned to face me, the sun on her face erasing years and reminding me of who she was. She smiled.
‘I know a woman who can help you,’ she said. ‘A very remarkable woman.’
‘One of your students?’ I asked.
‘In a manner of speaking,’ she said. ‘Her name is Alysia. Let me see if I can find her for you.’
‘Find her?’ I asked.
‘She’ll be somewhere on Cyprus,’ the Despoina said. ‘Give me a few days.’
# # #
I didn’t give her as much thought as I might have because I had three new ships to integrate into my command, and a rendezvous coming up.
I did ask Cleis to help me find trierarchs. I wanted local men of property who could afford to keep their ships and who had some experience. She found them for me, and that way, they owed her a favour, and in a way, she owed me.
I felt like Miltiades.
I met all three of them on the waterfront of Eresos, below Vigla. Parmenio was of middle height, blonde, with aristocratic manners and a certain air of rakishness that decided me that he’d do. Helikaon was from one of Mythymna’s first families; he’d fought for the rebels at Lade and then commanded an Ionian ship on the other side at Salamis.
‘The moment we saw the center give, we turned and ran,’ he said. He smiled. ‘If they hadn’t put Medes on my foredeck I wouldn’t even have stayed that long.’
He was soft-spoken, looked like a sailor, and his hair was blown every which way.
‘I took a fishing boat out last night,’ he said with a shrug of apology. ‘I heard you were looking for captains and sailed around from Mythymna. I haven’t slept.’
My third captain was a short, sandy-headed man with dark brown eyes and a reputation as good captain. He’d been trierarchos of a military trireme for the Tyrant of Samos, and then for the rebels. We knew many of the same people. His name was Herakles, and he had relatives in the Aegyptain Delta and in Cyrene; a useful man to know and to have with us.
I put them into their new ships, and let them choose their own helmsmen, and we spent a long day rowing back and forth across the sea west of Lesvos. All the new oarsmen were the slaves out of the Phoenician ships, back at their oars. I offered them all my usual pirate’s dead; row for food and wine for the summer and I’d give them their freedom.
I’ve seldom known a man to refuse the offer.
So we were a day late for the rendezvous off Mytilene, but I needn’t have hurried. Archilogos had been successful, and had then taken three triremes from Mytilene and sailed for Ephesus, his home. Cimon and I waited a day, told each other a lot of tall tales of our shared past over wine on the same beaches we’d sat on during the Ionian Revolt, twenty years before, and then, when I’d begin to guess what Archilogos was about, I offered to run down to Ephesus and find him.
‘If he’s raising the whole coast, our little foray is wrecked,’ Cimon said, and he had blood in his eye.
I thought about his anger while my people rowed the Raven over to Ephesus to find our errant sheep.
I was worried, very worried, that our early spring element of surprise was already gone. If I could have stopped Archilogos from sailing into Ephesus I would have; messengers could move overland, or by sea, and the news of our fleet might already be stirring the Phoenicians.
And it was becoming obvious to me that my wife had not entirely trusted me with her plans, and that in this case, Archilogos might be following his sister’s orders, or their shared vision, and that I wasn’t fully included.
It’s very easy to grow angry at someone you love. Distance helps, and so does tension, and secrecy. I had all three, and in heaps. It doesn’t excuse me, really.
But I was fuming by the time I reached Ephesus.
Archilogos had them manning ships. The council had already declared for the Alliance and they were looking for ways to participate without being too openly in revolt. If that seems cowardly, keep in mind that Ephesus, one of the homes of my youth and one of the richest cities in the world, is located just a few hundred stades from Sardis, the virtual capital of western Persia, the seat of the most powerful western Satrap.
And as all too often happens, I gave careful thought to the situation, tamped down all my anger and my suspicion, went to see Archilogos…
And it all exploded. Not my finest hour.
I think it was seeing that gate; that house. The house where I was a slave, first to Archilogos’s father and then to Briseis. Ah, Hipponax. Ah, Briseis.
It was there that a number of tutors taught me to be a man; there that I learned to kill. There that Herakleitus taught me to think, and be more than just a killer. There that I fell in love with Briseis.
So I was off my center as soon as I walked through the gate, and when I saw Archilogos lying on a kline in a fine chiton, drinking pale golden wine from a golden kalyx, I didn’t even hesitate.
‘Is this your rendezvous at Mytilene?’ I shot at him.
‘Would you like some wine, Ari?’ he asked, and waved at a slave.
‘We’re paying several thousand oarsmen. We had a plan, if you remember,’ I said. I may already have been shouting.
‘I have liberated two of the greatest cities in Ionia,’ he said. ‘We’ll transform the shape of the war.’
‘Not if the Phoenicians come and burn the harbour,’ I said. ‘You were supposed to nail down the allegiance of Mytilene and wait for us. Now the whole coast knows we have a fleet. I knew you Ionians were lazy….’
‘Am I supposed to be offended?’ he asked. ‘And need you shout at me in my own house?’
‘Are you ready to go to sea?’ I asked.
He leaned on one elbow. A slave had brought me a pretty silver cup full of wine. ‘Ari, your plan is…’
‘Is what?’ I asked.
‘Unrealistic. Unnecessary. All of these towns will fall into our hands now.’ He was almost pleading. ‘We don’t need another victory. That’s what you want. But it’s not what we need. Not what Ionia needs. All we have to do is show the flag and they’ll all fall like ripe figs.’
‘And then?’ I asked. ‘When the Persian fleet puts to sea?’
‘The Alliance will crush it,’ he said. ‘Briseis says…’
‘Not if it never sails east of Delos,’ I said. ‘Not if the Spartans fear the success of Athens more than they fear Persia.’ I drank off my wine. ‘I’ve had this argument with your sister. I know what Briseis says. And I know that she doesn’t have a fleet.’
He shrugged. ‘Too bad, Ari. I made my decision. Why don’t you sit down?’
A little thing. But he said it in the same tone he used to use when I was his slave. ‘I can’t sit down,’ I said. ‘I have a fleet waiting for me. A fleet of my friends, who are not rich Ionian fucks who have clean chitons and brilliant wine waiting for them at the end of every day. They’re bad men with farms and wives and bills to pay, and I promised them a victory and loot. Shall we come back and loot Ephesus?’
‘Even for you, Ari, that’s a foolish threat.’ he began.
‘Even for me?’ I said quietly. I tossed him the wine cup and he caught it, because otherwise it would have hit him in the nose. ‘I can’t afford a diplomatic cruise up and down Ionia, showing the flag. If you wanted that, you should have said so. To Pausanias.’
‘I did. He turned us down.’ He shrugged.
‘So you tricked me,’ I said.
He shrugged. ‘Have you lost by it?’
‘I’m sailing in an hour,’ I said. ‘Come or don’t.’
# # #
He didn’t. I left the port of Ephesus, and my tired crew rowed us back into the teeth of the wind and rowed all night so that we were off the beach of Mytilene when the sun rose over the Olympus of Lesvos in the morning. They were tired and surly and by the Gods so was I.
Cimon met me on the beach and heard my news grimly.
‘I say we try,’ I said.
‘It was always insane,’ he said.
‘It’s not much more insane now,’ I said. ‘We have the wind. We can outrun the news.’
Tyre was more than a hundred parasangs away; thirty-six hundred stades.
Cimon shrugged. ‘No guts, no glory,’ he said. ‘Let’s try. We can always run to Cyrpus if the Phoenicians are out.’
I nodded. ‘My oarsmen need a day to rest,’ I said. ‘And I’d like the round ships full-up with wine, oil, and salt meat.’
‘Agreed. Dawn tomorrow?’
We clasped hands, and I went up into the city of Mytilene, buying provisions.
I was still in a black mood when a beggar, or a dock-boy, came up behind me and tugged at my chlamys.
‘Get away, pais, I snapped.
‘Are you Arimnestos of Plataea?’ he asked. He was a dirty thing, but not so small; a head shorter than me. Not a child.
‘I am,’ I said. ‘What’s it to you?’
‘I have a message,’ he said. ‘From a lady.’
He handed me a scroll tube. Having that filthy adolescent hand me an ivory scroll tube was like finding a golden daric on an ash heap. His straw had was so old and filthy that the sweat stains had darned the brow to black, and his hair was lank.
I reached inside my cloak and touched my sword hilt, just to be sure, and glanced around. I was drinking wine alone, at a seaside taverna; I’d eaten all the little fish they’d fried for me. I was thinking about Archilogos and Briseis, and regretting my attitude a little. Or, to be honest, I was regretting my anger, and then wallowing in it, and then regretting it… am I the only one who does this?
“What’s your name, boy?’ I asked.
He shrugged. ‘Boy,’ he said.
I nodded. A common slave name. I pooped the scroll from the tube. Scroll was too formal a name. It was a few leaves of papyrus pasted together in a small sheet, no bigger than my hand.
Cleis bids me to meet with you. Follow the bearer.
I drank off my wine and waved down one of the taverna’s slaves and sent him to my ship with a note of my own.
‘I’m to follow you,’ I said.
I was not particularly cautious; I trusted that anyone who used Cleis’s name was not an outright enemy, even if the people plotting for the future of Ionia weren’t exactly my favourites at that moment.
The boy wove through the narrow streets of the dockside of Mytilene and then began the climb towards the acropolis, which is like an island of its own. We passed from a terrible neighbourhood of cold, dark tenements into a pleasant place with houses and chicken, and ‘Boy’ turned into an alley and opened a gate. He vanished through, and I followed him.
I had one hand on my sword.
‘Boy’ crossed a pretty outdoor patio covered ion seashell mosaic and went in the back of the house, through the kitchens, which were empty, the fires doused, and into a big, long room where, I suspect, people usually ate.
He turned. ‘I admit I’ve lied to you,’ he said.
I drew my sword.
He pulled off his hat, and all his lank hair came with it, and underneath was a woman with strawberry blond hair and an impish smile that the ‘boy’ could never have worn.
‘My name is Alysia,’ she said. ‘Cleis told me to find you. I gather you want news from Tyre?’
I stood, open-mouthed. How had I ever thought this beautiful woman was a boy?
Alysia began to laugh.
‘My husband has just been to Sardis on business,’ Alysia said. Her slight stress on husband told me a great deal about what was and was not on offer, and indeed, even in wartime, most matrons would not be alone in an empty house with a man, much less a notorious man of violence.
I sheathed my sword and stepped away from her, to lean against the wall; the step away deliberate, a message with body language that I meant no physical threat.
‘What, may I ask, is you husband’s business in Sardis?’ I asked.
She smiled. ‘We’re factors for the satrap,’ she said. ‘We farm his taxes and invest his profits.’
‘Farming’ taxes is a very Persian approach. You sell the whole tax base of an area to a single rich man, or a consortium, for a fixed sum; let’s call it ten thousand gold darics for Lesvos. I pay the whole sum; there’s the district taxes paid. Now I collect it from Lesvos. I can make an enormous profit, or I can be a patriot and protect people, like the little people; or I can use it as a weapon to crush my business rivals by demanding exorbitant sums from them.
Now, to be fair, the Persians have an inspection system as a sort of check on rapacious greed; the inspectors work in secret, and they come to your district and sort of ask around, looking to see if the tax farmer is such a piece of work that he might cause a revolt.
Otherwise, they just collect money and get richer. It’s a little like piracy, except on land and perfectly legal. Tax farmers are the richest, and in some ways, most powerful, functionaries in the Persian empire.
‘Is your husband loyal to the Great King?’ I asked.
‘My husband is extremely loyal–to me,’ she said, with a glance from under her eyelids that told me a good deal. ‘I’m willing to work for the liberation of Ionia. ‘
I nodded. ‘I’m interested in Tyre,’ I said. ‘And the coast of Syria.’
She smiled. She was very beautiful, with hair a colour almost never seen among Greeks, and a face that, if it wouldn’t launch a thousand ships, might be said to be capable of launching some hundreds.
She reached into her bag; like any slave labourer she wore a bag over her shoulder and produced a pencil of charcoal; not a thing snatched from a fire, either, but the kind of shaped charcoal that artists use in the agora. She knelt with the fluidity of a dancer and began to sketch ont he floor.
‘Have you been to Tyre?’ she asked.
‘Never,’ I said. ‘For the last twenty years or so, the Phoenicians have all treated me as an enemy.’
‘Who knows why?’ she said dryly.
I grinned. She was easy to like.
I watched her sketching away. She was unafraid; unafraid of me, unafraid of being caught. Courage is probably the most beautiful attribute a person can have, and courage comes in many forms.
‘This is the main city,’ she said, sketching a triangle. Then she drew a line; the coast of Syria. The long, flat side of the triangle faced out to sea; one point aimed at the coast, one pointed north up the coast, and the third pointed south. Then she drew two half circles, one each on the sides facing the coast. ‘The Tyrians call it the ‘new city,’ because this city, on the mainland, is a thousand years older.’ She drew a shaded rectangle on the coast.
That gave me pause.
‘A thousand years?’ I asked.
‘The priests of Melkart say that the old city was settled two thousand years ago; more, really, but maths aren’t my best thing and they always speak in their own festival dates.’ She kept drawing, indicating the northern of her half circles. ‘This is the ‘Harbour of Sidon.’ It’s called that because it faces north, up the coast, towards Sidon.’
‘This is the ‘Harbour of Aegypt,’ she said.
‘Because it faces south, towards Aegypt,’ I said.
‘So glad you’re paying attention. Off the southern point of the triangle, just here, there’s a long string of rocks. Actually, almost islets; there are goats and sheep on a few. And a tower on this one, with a garrison.’
I nodded. The rocks trailed away south like a dagger pointed at Aegypt.
‘All of the ship sheds are in the inner harbours,’ she said. ‘I don’t think you can touch them.’
I rubbed my beard. I hadn’t voiced it to Cimon, but I’d worried about that. ‘Stone?’
‘Stone, and very handsome, at that; with heavy doors of cedar and iron that would take a demon to burn through. But they have a heavy garrison; towers on the ends of the arms around the harbours, archers.’
I nodded. ‘Damn,’ I said.
She looked up at me.
I half-knelt on the floor beside her. ‘How do you know all this?’
‘I’ve been seven times,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t take the brain of Ares to know that sooner or later, the Greeks must knock Tyre out of the war.’
I laughed. I laughed so hard I ended up sitting on my arse beside her charcoal map.
‘What’s so funny?’ She asked. Her fingers were black from the charcoal.
‘It may not take the brain of Ares, mistress, but I can’t get most of the Athenian, Spartan, or Ionian commanders to see it.’
‘I’m sure that I could convince them,’ she said. Again, that flash of lowering eyes. Very effective.
I shook my head.
She stood up, dusting her hands. ‘Here’s the other thing I can tell you. The southern coast; that’s what the Great King calls Phoenicia and Aegypt, right?’
In fact, I hadn’t known that.
‘The old Phoenician kingdom is divided into four; Sidon, Tyre, Arwad and Byblos. There’s other cities that can raise fleets, but those are the greatest; think of Tyre as Athens, and the others as Aegina.’
I nodded. All of this was news to me, and I was trying to take it all in and wondering how in a thousand hells in Tartarus I’d gotten through twenty years of war and never gotten all this intelligence.
‘All together, the cities, which include Naupactos in the Delta and some other Aegyptian cities, are called ‘The South Coast.’ She was speaking slowly, and a flush had come over her; she was going to say something momentous, and she was very impressed with herself, and she enjoyed a little drama.
Very fetching, I must say.
More than fetching. I had a sort of spike of desire; the sort of thing that defeats marriage vows and blinds a man to consequence.
Luckily for my future survivability, we were in the middle of a discussion of strategy, and military strategy is the very opposite of eros, at least to me. It reaches to the most rational part of my mind.
And I didn’t think she was interested, anyway…
‘So all these cities are the ‘South Coast’ and Tyre is their Athens,’ I said, mostly to indicate that I was following along.
She smiled, and reached into her bag again. She removed a scroll tube, and handed it to me.
‘A faithful copy of the Great King’s sailing orders to his South Coast Naval District,’ she said.
I rose to my feet, and went to the window, where there was better light.
The orders were written in Persian, by a scribe whose Median was better than his High Persian. The cuniform was, thank Gods, the same I’d learned as a boy in Ephesus, and cuniform, because it is made with little shaped sticks, is always easy to read; every letter is always almost identical.
The problem was the dates.
from the Great King, Lord of Lords, by the grace of Ahuramazda says this thing: By the feast of Maidyozarem in the month of Truth you will gather all your ships at Tyre to crush the rebels against our throne, and you will gather in the harbour of tyre and await the directions of my loyal servant.
I could read it. i could understand most of it.
‘When is Maidyozarem?’ I asked. ‘And what it the month of truth?’
‘You speak Persian?’ she said, impressed.
‘I grew up with it,’ I said. ‘But these months are new.’
[NB The Persians instituted a new royal calendar across the empire in 487 BCE or thereabouts, and I do like my historical details. I’m letting you guys look behind the scenes here, but keep in mind, dear readers, that no two cities or nation states in the ancient world used the same calendar; people didn’t even have the same names for days of the week; some places didn’t have a seven day week or a 365 day year… see the problem? Now back to our hero and his plans…]
She nodded. ‘I’ll find someone to ask,’ she said. ‘But I think it must be next month; the second after Nowruz.’
I was thinking.
I was thinking about fitting out the ‘Raven.’ I was thinking of how vulnerable she would have been during the fitting out.
I was thinking of ships coming out of ship-sheds, with a little rot in their hulls; of every shipwright in Tyre working on a hundred upturned hulls.
And then floating the finished hulls into the harbours.
And then putting in the masts and running gear…
It took us a week for just one ship. I knew that Athens, who had an entire bureaucracy tuned to refit the fleet, expected to take almost three weeks to fit and launch one hundred and twenty triremes.
Let’s say the ‘South Coast’ was as good. Even better, perhaps.
I stared at the document. ‘Can you please find someone to confirm that ‘The month of Truth’ is next month?’ I asked.
‘I can tell you the answer in a few hours,’ she said.
I nodded. “Meet you here?’ I asked.
She looked thoughtful. ‘I’d hate it if you were the kind of man who took my information and then sold me into slavery.’
I smiled. ‘I think you’d make a terrible slave,’ I said.
‘Mmm,’ she said. ‘I’ll send you a note about where to meet.’
# # #
Four hours later we were meeting in the courtyard of someone’s home. it was a rich house, and there were slaves moving around, and the burble fo voices and laughter, as if a party was going on in another courtyard nearby.
‘Your house?’ I asked.
She shook her head. ‘A friend. That’s my party you hear; I just had too much wine and went to throw up.’ She smiled brilliantly. ‘I can confirm the date. And I have a further tidbit, but I will only share it if you give me your word not to take a certain ship. It would bankrupt us.’
I nodded. ‘Very well.’
She looked at me. There wasn’t much light, and I thought that she was tryuing to read me, and I wondered what she’d been told about me, and what she believed.
‘I’m Briseis’ husband,’ I said. ‘Not just a sea-brigand.’
‘I don’t know Briseis personally,’ she said, ‘but she and my husband are not friends.’
Ahhh. Not all about me, then.
She inhaled deeply. ‘All right, here we go.’ Her voice wasn’t steady. ‘we got a money order today from Sidon, asking for specie to be transported there immediately, to arrive in two weeks. To pay the shipwrights.’
‘Almost too good,’ I said.
‘The Persians are too big and too well-organized to use their own messenger service as a deception,’ she said.
‘I agree, but your husband is a Persian tax farmer and you want me to make sure your cargo of specie is not intercepted between here and Sidon,’ I said. ‘I see lots of room for you to lie and play me.’
She shrugged. ‘Sure,’ she admitted. ‘But then, I assume you’d come back here and kill me.’
I nodded. And I was Miltiades. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’d sell you into slavery.’
‘Just so we understand each other,’ I said. ‘Nothing personal. Strictly business.’
‘I was starting to like you,’ she said.
‘You are the best intelligence source I’ve met in this part of the war,’ I said. ‘Pardon me if I have to know that you are straight.’
‘I may need to go throw up,’ she said. ‘I’m not used to being threatened. You may go.’
And there I was, dismissed.
That was fine.
In the morning, as our oarsmen loaded onto our ships and the good citizens of Mytilene breathed a long sigh of relief, I found Cimon.
‘Walk with me,’ I said.
‘Certainly Pater,’ he said.
We walked south along the beach and I outlined the source, the quality of the intelligence, the substance, and how I planned to use it.
‘That woman deserves a statue in the agora, if this works,’ he said.
‘But you agree?’ I asked.
Cimon slapped me on the back. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘this is the best news so far. I believe, now.’
I nodded. ‘So do I.’
‘You didn’t believe before?’ he asked, astounded.
‘I believe in Moira. And Tyche. I believe that if you do your part, the gods will do theirs. So yes; I came out here on a wing and a prayer, hoping that we’d get a little luck.’ I shrugged.
He laughed. ‘And that’s why Aristides won’t let you do our strategic planning,’ he said. ‘You and I know there’s Fortuna involved, but Aristides…’
We smiled, embraced, and jogged off towards our ships.