Spring was passing when we came onto the beaches at Delos and found the allied fleet there, engaging in the usual Greek political bickering that always seemed to proceed even the most routine action.
I wasn’t ready to deal with Aristides yet, much less Pausanias. I went ashore with Cimon and our captains, and we made our sacrifices for victory, and we bought stores of wine and oil and grain from the temporary agora that a dozen merchants had set up. Delos isn’t a very big island, and it seemed ot me that we couldn’t stay long, but there were already organized camps springing up, with tents made of boat sails, and timber brought from the mainland.
I won’t say that no one noticed us. Aristides sent for me, but Cimon and I walked into a temporary taverna built of linen canvas, old hides, and piles of amphorae, and we had our slaves bring us seats.
It was beautiful. Spring in the Inner Sea is always an event; everything dry and dead suddenly bursts into life, and their are flowers where you’d swear there was only gravel and volcanic rock, and the lambs frisk about. I’ve been to places like Alba and Galle and Latinium where it seems to be green all year around, but in Ionia, on the islands, it is as if life leaps full blown from arid waste. Demeter’s daughter comes to us, and there are thousands of tiny flowers everywhere.
‘We might as well tell him where we are,’ I said. There were forty men in the taverna; mostly prosperous men, marine officers and captains. It was the most expensive place with the best wine. Not a good place to hide.
Cimon grunted, and as if we’d summoned him by Hecate’s magic, Aristides came in, with Perikles at his heels an a dozen hoplites attending him.
‘A whisper tells me that you all didn’t go to the Ionian cities,’ he said.
‘We did, too,’ Cimon said.
Aristides looked at me.
I shrugged. ‘We raided Tyre,’ I said.
Aristides sat there for a moment.
Around us, the conversations of thirty Greek aristocrats died away.
‘You raided Tyre,’ he said.
‘Someone had to,’ Cimon said. In my opinion, one of the best Laconic lines ever delivered.
Aristides sat back, considering the two of us. ‘You took what, twenty ships? And you kicked the hornet’s nest?’
I smiled. I liked Aristides, as you know, even when he’s being a prig. Today, he’d come instead of the Spartan commander, to read us the riot act about unlicensed piracy in Ionian waters. I knew what he thought we’d done.
He’d come himself, so that we wouldn’t get into a fight with the Spartan. Give him that much.
So instead of gettign angry, or shouting, or just gettign up and walking back to my ship, I leaned back as far as my folding stool would allow, searching for the tent-pole holding the hide roof, hoping I could ease my shoulders against it.
‘We burned the hornet’s nest,’ I said.
Aristides looked back and forth between us.
‘We took seven triremes,’ Cimon said.
‘We burned another fifty. Perhaps twice that,’ I said.
Aristides shook his head. ‘You…’ he was, for once, at a loss for words.
I let myself smile, and Cimon was grinning.
‘The war at sea is over,’ Cimon said. ‘I’ll wager a talent of gold against a mina of silver that the Phoenicians don’t put a fleet to sea except to cover their convoys… not for ten years.’
‘Apollo!’ Aristides said. Not a man given to taking the God’s names in vain, Aristides shook his head. ‘You are serious.’
‘We are serious,’ I said. ‘Listen, Aristides. Remember the forward strategy? Remember the last Olympics but one? Themistokles and Cimon and I argued that we should take the fleet and destroy the Persian fleet bases.’
Aristides managed a smile. ‘We had no idea what we were facing,’ he said. ‘But I remember that.’
I nodded. ‘Well,’ I said. ‘Five years late, we did it. Perhaps the Great King can patch something together out of his loyal Ionian cities; Halicarnassus still has a fleet, and perhaps the rubble of Miletus can raise a few ships. But Archilogos is in Ephesus and Lesvos and Chios are in our hands, and we just set fire to the Great King’s beard at Tyre.’
Aristides was still looking back and forth, as if expecting one of us to reveal a joke, or a lie.
‘If you factor in the thrashing that the Sicilians gave to Carthage,’ I said, ‘I would guess that Athens now has the only major fleet on the face of the Inner Sea.’
Aristides blinked. ‘How many ships do you believe you burned?’ he asked.
So, over some wine, we told him the story. The tavern keeper was an honest scoundrel and brought us some oil-fried shrimps and some bread, and then we were using Almond hulls as ships and puddles of oil on the big trestle table to represent the land, and we refought the whole action. Lykon of Corinth came over and joined in, and Moire; by the time we were done, most of our captains were clustered around, shouting out their own roles in the fighting.
Aristides was quiet through the entire performance. Only after the laconic Moire had explained how he came to take a Phoenician trireme fully rigged and Brasidas another, sailing it home, did he sit back, waving his hand over his wine cup to indicate that he wanted no more.
‘This changes everything,’ he said.
‘Because we can all go home?’ Lykon asked.
‘Because now we can drive the Persians right out of Europe. Free all of the Ionian cities.’ Aristides looked as if he was far away. As if, until that moment, he’d never believed in the forward strategy.
Maybe he hadn’t. In his heart, he was a hoplite, not a navarch.
But young Perikles was so excited that he looked fit to burst. Perikles was no longer an aristocratic boy. He was an ephebe, but a big, powerful one; eighteen, with a growing beard and an aura of command that I suspected was going to make him more dangerous than Xanthippus his father or any of his Alcmaeonid uncles.
‘We can take it all,’ he said.
‘Do not,’ Aristides said, ‘Do not say such things.’
But young Perikles’s eyes were so bright that he might have been one of the gods. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, we can take it all. We can rescue the Ionian Greeks, our own cousins, from their subjugation, and we can make them into a league that will withstand the Phoenicians and the Aegyptians, the Carthaginians and the Persians.’
Arsitides’ mouth trembled with anger. ‘Restrain yourself, young man. Or you will gain us conflict with Sparta and no such sea-empire are you imagine.’
‘Sparta is the past,’ Perikles said, as if Apollo was speaking directly to him.
I hated to throw cold water on a fire I had started myself, but Perikles, for all his spirit, was wrong.
‘Perikles,’ I said, ‘when this war started, you were not yet born or conceived. When this war started, we took Sardis and burned the temples.’
‘I know,’ Perikles said, all injured adolescence. ‘I know all that.’
‘Apparently not,’ I said. ‘Because when the Long War started, we had most of the ships and all of Ionia on our side, and the Persians came and took it all. It has taken us your entire life to get back to where we started.‘
Aristides looked at me; I knew that look, the look he gave me when he occasionally remembered that I was more than a sword arm and a spear.
# # #
If Aristides was surprised, Pausanias was infuriated.
‘You just sailed off….’ he spat. I’ve said before; Pausanias had somehow missed the parts of the Agoge that made Spartiates immune to the sort of pettiness that the rest of us are prone to. Spartans are complicated people; they have many flaws, not least of which is their habit of commanding their slaves leads them to imagine that other people are also slaves; they commit more hubris than any other group of men.
But in one thing, they are like the gods; their system of training makes them better than mere men. They do not easily anger or take offence. They speak little, and when they do speak, they do so with humour and with clarity.
The truth, I think, is that most of us are afraid, at least some of the time. Afraid we will be found wanting. Afraid we are not as good as other men. Afraid that we will be dominated. Afraid that we will have to fight.
The brutality of the agoge appears to relieve the Spartiates of all of that, at the cost of many other things. I do not approve; indeed, it would be hubris of my own to believe that I could approve or disapprove of another people’s system of government.
This is my long-winded way of saying that the best of the Spartans enjoyed a god-like security in themselves that was almost impossible to ruffle. And somehow, Pausanias, their commander, hadn’t got it. He gave voice to angers and tempers that no other Spartiate would have allowed himself. Perhaps that was at the center of the drama we were about to see played out.
‘You just sailed off….’ he spat.
I’ve never liked Pausanias, and he was very much on the other side of almost everything I stood for; he was Queen Gorgo’s enemy, he was a leader of the ‘Sparta First’ faction, and he’d argued vehemently that Sparta should defend the Isthmus of Corinth and abandon Athens. On the other hand, he’d obeyed his government and marched into Boeotia, and he had won the battle of Plataea, although it was not won by generalship, I promise you.
It was won by spears and shields, not by generals.
And I was not a product of the Spartan Agoge, or anything like it. I was a bronze-smith’s son from Plataea.
So I shrugged and barked a laugh. On purpose.
‘You arrogant puppy!’ he yelled. ‘You just sailed off on your own, never thinking…’
Pausanias grew redder and redder.
‘Never thinking?’ I offered.
Aristides glared at me and put his hand on my shoulder.
We were standing in front of the great Temple of Hera on Delos. The Spartan ships were beached on the south west of the island and Spartans have always been partial to Hera, I suppose.
‘Did you give a thought to our strategy? Did you misunderstand that I was the commander of the allied fleet?’ He pulled his cloak around him. ‘All of you foreigners are insubordinate, but this is the limit.’
Again, I shrugged. ‘We won,’ I said. ‘I believe that is its own justification.’
‘I have a difficult time imagining a strategy that is improved by sitting on your arse here at Delos, or worsened by the destruction of the enemy fleet,’ Cimon said.
‘I will decide…’ Pausanias said. He was regaining his temper; he wasn’t weak by any means, merely… curiously vulnerable, for a Spartan of the royal family. He looked at me. ‘I will decide what our strategy will be. I do not enjoy having my choices dictated to me by arrogant upstarts.’
‘Ever been to sea before, sir?’ I asked in mock respect. ‘I’ve been fighting this war at sea since the year we burned Sardis.’
‘It is difficult to imagine a Spartan navarch,’ Cimon said, helpfully. ‘I mean, without an Athenian to put a little spine in him.’ He smiled more broadly. ‘Could you explain what ‘upstart’ means in this context?’
Pausanias turned slowly. ‘I can have you arrested. I am the Strategos of the Greek Allies. You will obey. In future, you will not take any action without my permission. Do I make myself clear? I am the victor of Plataea and I will decide on the strategy of the Greeks.’
Cimon spat thoughtfully and said nothing.
Aristides looked at me and then looked away.
I considered a great many responses, and then decided that I didn’t need to be angry; indeed, I knew full well that I was provoking Pausanias because he was an arse and deserved it. But I needed to stop.
I bowed. And walked away.
Cimon came with me, and a little later, Aristides.
‘You’re welcome,’ I said.
Aristides shook his head.
Cimon smiled bitterly. ‘Night before last, at Naxos, we predicted all of this,’ he said. It was true. We’d sat on the beach and wagered each other whether we were punished for attacking Tyre.
Of course,, we’d been watching our oarsmen divide up the spoils from our take. We’d shared everything, down to the last ostrich egg; we’d taken seven merchant ships, one of them stuffed with Aegyptian treasure.
Captains got much bigger shares, but most of us had used our shares to buy in the captured ships at a pre-set value. We had new ships, and we promoted new captains.
In truth, by the time we landed at Delos, we were a quarter of the ships on the beaches. We could have made a great deal of trouble.
But at least we never expected any thanks. And to be fair, we’d made a small fortune in loot. No one needed to call us heroes. We’d done Greece a service, but at a profit.
It still rankled. Still does. I account the raid on Tyre one of the most brilliant actions of my career, and no one even remembers it.
If you think about it, the Greeks are unkind to all their victors. Look at what happened to Themistokles, and to Pausanias. Maybe it is in our national character.
Bah, let’s have a little more wine, here.
# # #
The next days passed in a blur, and I’m not at all sure that I have the order correct. The things that stand out are two-fold; that Pausanias dismissed most of our ships and sent them home, and that I discovered that Briseis’ son, Herakleitus, was serving as a marine on Heriklaon’s ship. If I say that both of these were of equal import, I suspect I will have a great deal of explaining to do.
Perhaps Herakleitus is the easier to discuss. He was Briseis son by Aristagoras, or so the world thought. I had been at the edge of death in t he great harbour of Carthage when Briseis told me that Herakleitus was my son, and I barely knew him. He had grown to manhood in a household that served the Great King and where I was thought of as a dangerous slave who’d escaped to be a criminal and a pirate.
We’d almost crossed spears on the beach of Mycale, although to be fair, he was largely responsible for saving his mother from the Red King, but you have heard all my stories and you know that one.
We had perhaps spoken two or three hundred words in our lives. Briseis had cautioned me to be wary of him. In truth, I didn’t even know if he knew or suspected that he was my son; after all, he looked enough like me that Cimon smiled every time he saw the boy.
I know that Archilogos had spoken to him on my behalf, a year before.
And Herakleitus might have spent the summer winning his fortune with his spear; it’s a family tradition, and he was fast the way I used ot be fast, and arrogant the way… never mind. He might have been merely an excellent marine among many brave and excellent men.
But Pausanias wouldn’t have us. That is, he had almost forty ships from the Peloponnese and he was determined not to cede any pre-eminence to Athens or her allies, so he only accepted a total of forty more ships. Only thirty from Athens; a handful from Aegina and Euboeoa.
The rest he referred to as ‘pirates’ in a speech to the Alliance council, and he ordered them home. When the ships from Lesvos protested, he told them, to their faces, that all of the Ionian cities should be disestablished and their citizens sent to Sicily to found new cities.
‘You are not members of the Alliance,’ he said. ‘You have no status with us save as supplicants. And it is a foolish risk by these seasonal pirates to allow you the means of making war.’
That was me; a seasonal pirate.
Listen. In the late spring of the year after Plataea, Pausanias was the most famous man in the Greek world; indeed, perhaps in all of the world. He was of the Royal House of Sparta; he was the victor of the battle of Plataea. He did as he pleased, and no one stood against him.
Well, almost no one.
When he was done speaking, Aristides rose. Aristides was a better Spartan than Pausanias; grave, dignified, absolutely just, and almost impossible to move to mere emotion. He could be an awful prig, but he was very good at leadership. And he, too, had led thousands to victory at Plataea.
He rose, and received the homage of silence. We were in the old theatre at Delos, and the sound carried magnificently, but they were silent for Aristides.
‘Friends,’ he said. ‘The Lacedaemonians have the right, from ancient times, to appoint the leader of any army or navy of all the Greeks, and Pausanias has the right to command. He may direct the fleet as he pleases, although it is possible that sending ships home is a little beyond his powers. However, it would seem to me better to listen to the Strategos explain why his strategy is better suited to eighty triremes than say, ninety or one hundred. Are we perhaps too many to fit on a given beach?’
Pausanias rose. ‘It is too many because I say that it is too many,’ he said. ‘I have no need to explain myself. Obey, or go home, Athenian.’
I rose. Pausanias glared.
I smiled. ‘I don’t believe that you can send me home, Pausanias.’
He didn’t rise.
‘I am the archon of Plataea this year. My ship is crewed with Plataeans. I believe that it is beyond even the machinations of the wily Lacedaemonians to claim that Plataea was somehow not part of the Allies, when we fought the Medes at Plataea.’
I got a laugh from the gathered men.
‘And as to the term seasonal pirate,’ I began and Aristides gave me a look that implored my silence.
‘I was a pirate in these waters when you were stealing food in the agoge, Pausanias.’
I sat down amidst general applause, and laughter.
An hour later, Sparthius came to my ship. I was sitting in the shade of an awning stretched from her port side oar gallery, and I rose, clasped his hand, and Aten poured him wine.
Bulis was always the talkative, friendly one, and Sparthius the silent one. But Bulis was dead with an arrow in his eye at Plataea and now it was left to Sparthius to speak to me.
‘Are you here as a herald for Pausanias?’ I asked. I pointed him to a folding stool.
He smiled. ‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘This wine is very good.’
I’ll try not to bore you all with my little triumphs, but we had three ships out of Tyre with holds full of wine, and we were selling it in two locations on the beaches. And sailors are very free with their money, when there’s wine involved. Eh?
I asked about his wife and sons, and Bulis wife, and sons. Bulis wife was an old friend of mine, or rather, a plainspoken acquaintance, and Sparthius and I chatted away fro as long as a priest might say the dawn service in the temple of Olympian Zeus, and he asked after Briseis, and I told him about Hipponax and Hector.
He put his hands on his knees and met my eye. ‘Pausanias does not love you, brother,’ he said.
‘He will allow you to stay with the fleet but the others must go. Understand; there is conflict, even in the heart of the vale of Sparta.’ He looked away.
‘Conflict?’ I asked.
Sparthius met my eye again. His were golden brown and deep and honest. ‘You know that it is not the place of any Spartiate to speak ill of our mother country,’ he said.
‘Sparthius, you speak in riddles like the priests of Apollo; indeed, I might wonder if you’d just been breathing the vapours in the temple.’
‘Do you mean that Pausanias’ decisions to send thirty ships home is unpopular with the Ephors?’ I asked.
He looked away. ‘I am only hear to ask that you not provoke Pausanias in council.’
I held my cup out to Aten for more wine. I was definitely drinking too much, but Delos is a dull island with too many priests and the whole island was beginning to smell like the Olympics; that is to say, flowers and piss. Fifteen thousand men on one tiny island too rocky to dig a proper latrine; I leave the rest to your imagination.
I leaned to put my back against the hull of my new triemiola. It was vibrating, because the oarsmen were scraping the hull clean and applying a new coat of black pitch.
‘Pausanias is the leader of the party that wanted to see Athens destroyed,’ I said.
Sparthius shrugged. ‘Athens was destroyed’ he said laconically.
‘And now they are rebuilding Athens,’ I said.
I waited, leaving my comment in the air. When the Persians burned Athens in Salamis year, many among the Peloponnesians said that Athens no longer existed as a polity. Themistokles corrected them by offering to take the Athenian fleet over to the Persians.
Well, not exactly, but very like.
And the next summer, when the Persian came again under Mardonius, Plaistarchos, the Spartan king who was too young to exercise command, the king for whom Pausanias was regent, came to Athens and tried to insinuate the same thing. Gorgo, wife to Leonidas, who died at Thermopylae; Gorgo, my best friend in Sparta… Gorgo had undermined Pausanias so that instead of abandoning Athens, the young king swore to support Athens.
See? Greeks. it’s a wonder we get anything done, and the habit of Greeks in calling the Thracians treacherous is remarkable in its insolence. The Spartans, especially the most conservative among them, had been trying to arrange the collapse of Athens for fifty years.
But there was another party in Sparta; the party of Leonidas. Leonidas and all his lineage (and his brilliant wife) all wanted Sparta to look outward, not inward, for glory. Leonidas saw Athens as an ally, nor was he the first of his line to feel that way, and he died to prove that many Spartans had horizons wider than the vale of Sparta itself. Gorgo kept his party alive; Gorgo and men like Bulis and Sparthius. Plaistarchos should have inherited the party from his father. But Pausanias, who also should have been part of the outward looking party, was instead the de facto leader of the Sparta First faction, those who wanted Sparta to be pre-eminent, but isolated from the rest of the world. The faction that supported the destruction fo Athens again and again.
Sparthius smiled a bitter, thin-lipped smile. ‘Long walls,’ he said in his Laconian way.
‘Apollo,’ I swore.
You may recall that when I started this story, I mentioned that the Athenians were building long walls from the city all the way to the sea. And not just building walls; but fortifying and building an entirely new port, at Piraeus, because Phaleron was too small for their new fleet, and because Themistokles, who had great vision whatever his other shortcomings, saw in the port of Piraeus a fortress and a city more important than Athens herself.
Say what you will about Themistokles. He planned brilliantly.
‘This is about the Long walls?’ I asked.
Sparthius spread his hands. ‘The ephors asked that they be torn down,’ he said. The way he held his hands said I recognize that it’s a ridiculous request, but what can you do?
Because, let’s be honest, friends. The long walls weren’t built to stop the Persians.
The Long Walls were built to stop Sparta. With long walls to the sea, Athens was virtually impregnable against a land army.
‘So…’ I said. ‘Athens built her new harbour and her long walls, and Sparta can no longer trust Athens. She sends Pausanias out… not to command, but to limit Athens.’
Sparthius spread his hands. ‘We have convinced Pausanias that it is to everyone’s benefit to take Cyprus from the Great King,’ he said.
‘Because otherwise he was going to sit here at Delos?’ I asked.
Sparthius shook his head. No Spartiate would speak ill of another; but if you spent enough time with them, you got to understand their elliptical ways of voicing criticism.
‘If you would avoid provoking him,’ Sparthius said, ‘we might sail off and do some good.’
‘With eighty ships,’ I said.
‘Eighty-one,’ he said. And rose to his feet. ‘Good wine. Perhaps I’ll come back.’
A flash of his red cloak and Sparthius was gone.
# # #
The Athenians worked it out among themselves. Cimon stayed, and so did his brother, but Ameinias went home with Parthenos. The Athenians send eight ships home, and I sent the men of Mythymna and Eresos and Mytilene home; their captains bought their ships outright, and Aritides met with them quietly and promise them that the Allies would admit the Ionian Greeks as soon as it could be arranged. Our Naxian ship, Ariadne, was already home or near enough, and they sailed off with some treasure and a promise from Aristides.
Megakles took Amastris back to Sicily with a cargo of spices we’d taken off the Tyrians, and Mauros took Black Raven back to the Isthmus and then back to Prosili in the shadow of old Kitheron.
I saw them all off with a heavy heart, but if the seas were free of Persians and Phoenicians, then it was time for trade, and the two commodities we specialized in, wine from Galle and tin, were in high demand. Mauros was going ot get a cargo of hides and anything else he could scrape together at Corinth and he was going to Massala.
Sekla took command of our larger round ship with Hector as his helmsman and first mate and sailed away for Aegypt. Leukas sailed with Mauros, intending to put Poseidon on the seas and take her round the Chersonese into the Euxine for a big cargo of grain.
We were sailors. If Pausanias didn’t want men like Sekla and Leukas, they had much better ways of spending their sailing season.
Hector and Hipponax sailed away with Sekla, and I had room for a couple of young marines aboard the new ‘Apollo’s Raven.’ My captured triemiola had no name that we coudl find, and she was so new that her owners hadn’t finished fitting her out; her sides weren’t covered in pitch yet, for example. So we put the long, decorated board from Lydia at the little break where her standing deck rose above the oar deck, a unique feature to the triemiola, just at the mainmast. It fitted neatly there, and the oarsmen tended ot touch it for luck as they passed.
I kept most of my oarsmen and I had room for almost twenty marines; that’s what those big decks aft of the mainmast are for. So I kept all of mine and added my young cousin Achilles and Briseis son, Herakleitus. Brasidas said that he was polite and kept to himself.
If I had views on what kind of fleet would send captains like Leukas and Mauros home, I kept them to myself.
# # #
We met, as a council, one more time before we sailed, and Pausanias announced that we would take Cyprus. He was quite confident that with eighty ships and our marines we could take the Persian capital, Amathus.
I didn’t mention that I’d used Amathus as the feint for our raid on Tyre. I did say that I suspected that the city would be on its guard.
We sailed the next day. We didn’t attempt anything daring; the Peloponnesian navarchs didn’t do a great deal of blue water navigation, so we ran down the coast of Naxos and camped there, and then had an easy day in beautiful weather to Ios, and then we had a long day, two hundred stades and more, going due south into a haze and then rain, and we fetched up on the coast of Crete.
I spent the easy days learning to handle my new ship. She had a tendency to pull hard to port which made steering very tiring, and she took on water in any kind of sea, which was annoying, and I was finding iut difficult to love her with her strange rig and her two big masts, but when we had the wind with us, she handled well enough, pulling off to port, and she was better under sail than any trireme I’d ever handled.
But it was exhausting to stand at one of her steering oars, hour after hour, as the whole weight of the ship seemed ot want to move her bow to port. And as we crossed to Crete, she took on enough water to cause me serious worry and to wish I had some old salt liek Legakles to hold my hand. Damon looked at it severla times and shook his head.
‘Something in the stern, right along the keel,’ he said. ‘I can’t get at it.’
I agreed, after I got soaking wet and filthy int he nioce mixture of various foul things you find in a ship’s bilge, trying to work my hand into the area that seemed ot leak. I swan in the sea for an hour to get clean.
So when the fleet beached east of Knossos, I sent a boat to Cimon saying that I needed a repair, and took my ship into Knossos, or rather, the harbour of Herakles there, a few dozen stades from the city. I found a shipwright happy enough to take her and we beached her just west of the city. The shipwright dug out a section of the beach with forty slaves and made her a little harbour all her own, and then pulled her up, stern first; I’d never seen that done before and I was impressed.
In a quarter of an hour, both the hard pull to port and the leak were explained; she had a hand’s breadth of wood warped away from her stern. It was almost like sabotage; a piece of wood so bad that it was almsot intentional. I smiled to think that somewhere in Ionia, some Greek patriot had set this little trap for the Persian or Phoenician crew.
My shipwright took the whole strake out and replaced it in six hours, using good oak treenails to pin the whole thing. He commented to me about how differently the ship was constructed.
‘Where’s she from?’ he asked.
I shrugged. ‘I took her from the Phoenicians,’ I said.
He nodded thoughtfully. ‘I wonder if she’s from Rhodos,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard they’re playing around with decked warships. But look here. You know ships, I take it?’
I admitted that I had known as ship or two.
‘The timbers are heavier than I’d expect,’ he said. ‘And she’s put together with tree nails to these. Almost as if he assembled the frame and then put the planks on, the way you’d build a house.’
Interesting, if not earth shaking. I fiuled that away, paid him in stolen gold, and my oarsmen put her back in the water. As soon as I had her out to sea, I could tell that the steering difficulty was gone,a nd so was the odd pull to port and the leak.
Suddenly she was a sound and weatherly ship, and Damon and I shared a grin; a grin that grew on Nestor and Poseidenos and a dozen other veterans over the next day. After we rejoined the fleet, we re-stowed her hold; she had a hold aft of the mainmast that took more cargo than most triremes, at the loss of about sixteen a=oarsmen from a proper trireme.
She also had a keep of oak, a single piece of wood that ran from bow to stern and went about a hand’s breadth into the water. This was much more keep than a trireme had, and was going to make beaching on gravel a challenge.
I picked up a pair of long boats, because if she was going to have to anchor it would have to be far enough out that she wouldn’t drag her anchor and run ashore on a breeze.
Pausanias sent me a messenger to tell me that leaving the fleet without his consent was forbidden and if I did it again he’d treat me as a deserter.
I got in one of my new boats and had myself rowed down the beach to Pausanias’s ship, the Rage of Ares. I went up the beach, nearly tripping in the soft sand, and found the great man at a big campfire built of driftwood.
I waited courteously, just within his peripheral vision, until he turned.
‘Plataean,’ he said. That’s what he always called me.
‘Pausanias,’ I said.
‘Say your piece,’ he said, obviously weary.
‘I came to apologize,’ I said. That took the wind out of his mainsail.
‘Apologize?’ he asked.
‘I told Cimon and Aristides that I had to repair my ship. I’m sorry I didn’t inform you. We were taking water.’ I nodded.
He looked at me, trying to read me. The men of Lacedaemon seldom lie, and they don’t expect it in others. Pausanias was sometimes deceptive, however, and I knew he suspected me. I couldn’t decide whether to protest innocence or just stand my ground. If you are wondering why I apologized, try being in a state of near war with your commander for a week or so…
‘Thank you,’ he said, with a slight bow of his head. ‘I hadn’t realized. In future, send such requests directly to me.’
‘Yes, sir,’ I said. Listen, I can be a good subordinate. You cannot lead if you cannot follow. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to try to eat his bread.
‘I suppose that I have to offer you a cup of wine,’ he said, with a slight smile.
‘You don’t have to…’
‘And then all of my people will talk to you, Plataean. And they will ask you for stories, and you’ll tell them, and they’ll all love you.’ He glared at me. ‘ I find it tiresome.’
Learn to tell a good story, I thought.
I also thought that the supreme commander of the Allied Fleet looked a good deal more tired and unhappy than he had any reason to be.
‘I’ll just go drink my own wine,’ I said.
Pausanias smiled bitterly. ‘And I’ll be a poor host, and the gods will spit on me. I’ll endure your stories, Plataean.’
His helots served me wine, and I found myself standing in the firelight with twenty Spartiates, veterans of Plataea and a dozen other fights.
# # #
Spartans are good company, at least if you play by their rules. They are unfailingly polite, and if you can ignore the terrible way they deal with their slaves, they are as fine a group of gentlemen as you’ll ever hope to meet. I mean, if you happen to be a bronze smith, their casual contempt for all the tekne, the craftspeople, may pall after a bit. And their absolute adherence to a set of assertions that they cannot accept as things that can be questioned can also be annoying or just dull; there’s a tendency among Spartiates to have as much disdain for intellectual pursuits as for craftsmen.
I’m hardly a philosopher, but I’m interested in ideas. Even tactical ideas tend to provoke a Spartan. It’s as if they’re aware that they live inside a set of bounds that are themselves open to challenge, and they resent them.
Right, so, if you avoid all that contention and don’t challenge them on their laws or treatment of slaves or their government…
They’re good men.
As I’ve said before, I’m not impressed by Sparta. I believe that they’ve come up with a society that sacrifices far too much to get a fairly slim margin of favour in wartime.
And you may well complain that I own slaves, and I’m no better than they. I’m almost positive that this is true in some absolute, moral sense; Herakleitus would agree. But at a pragmatic level, my slaves, and most other slaves in Boeotia, are the chance effects of raids and war and financial collapse, and most of them will be free within their own lives. I’ve been a slave twice.
What I was not was a racial slave. And the Messenians, the Helots, are enslaved by the shapes of their noses and the height of their foreheads. They can never be free. And therein lies the evil. Sparta pretends to be brave, but at the heart of it is a stain of cowardice; they are afraid of their slaves. They maintain that racial slavery by brute force. They have secret police informers and execution squads. Every Spartan boy is taught that the helots are the ‘first enemy.’ And half the time when the Spartans are supposed to send a contingent, they have to stay home because they fear some uprising.
All of this is directly relevant to the story I’m telling, but on that night, at that camp fire, it was relevant because while I’m fond of particular Spartans like Sparthius, I’m very much on edge with groups of them.
Sparthius came up to me and introduced me around, but half the men present knew me from the days before the fight at Plataea, and Diokles, a big man who’d been in my mess group for a while, came up and took my hand.
‘This old man repaired my greave for me,’ he said. ‘Just to prove that he was not only a better fighter but also better at being humble.’
The Spartans all laughed.
‘And then you all outran me,’ I said.
Pausanias smiled. I’m not sure that, until then, I’d ever seen him smile, except in the moments after the victory at Plataea, in Mardonius’ tent, where he grinned like an Olympic victor.
‘Were you competing to be humble, Plataean?’ he asked. ‘It sounds like you.’
Sparthius laughed. ‘Bulis called him on it, and he stopped being an arse.’
‘He did, too,’ I said. ‘And yet, I really did fix Diokles greave.’
They all laughed as if I’d said something really funny.
Conversation became more general, and the Spartans were discussing omens, seers, and Pausanias’ request for a mantis. They were discussing the performance of their seer at Plataea and wondering if the fleet could find a mantis as effective.
I didn’t enter in. I had nothing useful to add. I have certainly seen remarkable things from seers; I was learning from Aristides to perform the rites and read the entrails myself. And yet, even though I’d seen Teisemenos in action, seen his reading of entrails and other signs and listened to his almost magical appreciation of the complexities of the real world and the dream world, I still felt in my heart that Plataea was won by small farmers with spears, crouching behind their aspides and refusing to run. Perhaps because of Herakleitus, I was unhappy with the idea that events in the world were fore-ordained and all that implied. Perhaps I was just too practical to be a priest.
Spartans are very religious; almost fatalistic. And they do like a good seer.
Euryanax, Pausanias’ cousin and one of his senior officers, wanted the great seer Teisemenos sent for.
And in stating this aloud, Euryanax exposed the rift in the heart of the Spartan force. All I had to do was listen. Sparthius tried to amuse me, to limit my ability to hear what was, in effect, a family quarrel, but I can listen to two things at once; anyone who’s ever been a slave learns to do this.
Euryanax wanted the best battle-seer in the world to come out to Cyprus because Euryanax wanted to win victories and defeat Persians. It was clear from his whole demeanour that he took this seriously.
But there was another man, a senior Spartiate, a little older than me, named Teleklos; another cousin of the kings, and a Eurypontid, I believe. If you want an examination of the Spartan royal houses, bring more wine; it’s not simple. There are two houses, the Agiads and the Eurypontids, named after two descendents of Herakles, my own ancestor. Leonidas and Pausanias were both Agiads. Damaratos, who we met in Persia, and Leotychidas, who commanded the fleet with Xanthippus of Athens at Mycale, were Eurypontids.
Got all that?
Telekos belittled Euryanax. ‘Aren’t you tired of pouring out Sparta’s treasury for these useless Ionians?’ he asked. ‘Thieves and liars. And the Athenians are as Ionian as the Lesbians or the Chians. If we can’t enslave them all, let’s leave them to rot.’
Euryanax shrugged. ‘Why?’ he asked.
‘The Great King is not now, and never has been, any threat to Sparta!’ Telekos said with great authority. ‘If Leonidas had not flouted the legal requirements of the ephors, none of this would ever have happened. We don’t need a battle seer. We only need to sail up and down, doing nothing, until the Athenians lose interest in war and return to trade, their natural condition.’
‘How are you dealing with your son?’ Sparthius asked. He meant Herakleitus. He was trying to distract me.
‘So far, he’s just another marine,’ I said cheerfully. The cheer was a lie. It wasn’t that simple, and we both knew it. Herakleitus and I were wandering towards a collision. I guessed that he guessed that he was my son. Like a man aware that his beautiful wife may be sleeping with his best friend, he was not really interested in facing that reality and he was avoiding it. Also like that same man with the beautiful wife, he couldn’t leave it alone.
I loved Sparthius, and I wanted to talk with him because I didn’t like the changes I saw in him since the death of Bulis. He was withdrawn, cautious, closed.
But I was interested to hear this Telekos, because I felt as if I was listening to the Spartan Ephors themselves. I’d met them, remember. Six deadly old men.
Euryanax was speaking even as Sparthius asked about my son. I didn’t catch it all, but I caught when he said ‘What is excellent! Don’t you want to go spear to spear with the Great King’s best? We were bred like good hunting dogs for this contest.’
‘We are helping Athens to achieve empire,’ Telekos said. ‘We are dying so that their lowest class can rule the future of Greece and free our helots.’
That got a stir out of everyone at the fire. As I’ve said, just mention freeing the helots and they all become automatons.
Euryanax was a good soldier, but he was also a good thinker. He smiled, raised an eyebrow, and raised his wine cup. ‘It’s always a kill shot, claiming someone will try to free the helots,’ he said. ‘But what I think you fear, Telekos, is the constant work of gaining and then ruling a spear-won empire. It would imply change. But despite what the ephors like to say, Lacedaemon has changed before and it will change again. The rules of the Olympics change. The rules of the agoge change. War with Persia will change the way we conduct war. We can rule the change, or we can be ruled by it. And when you speak of the little men of Athens, do you mean Themistokles? Aristides? Cimon? They are men the way we are men.’
‘No,’ Telekos said. ‘We are Spartiates and they are not. There is no comparison. We are strongest and best. Let them obey us.’
‘Telekos, if we followed your path, the world would forget that Sparta even existed.’ Euryanax drank off his wine.
Telekos shrugged. ‘I would be happy to return to Lacedaemon and forget that the world exists, in revenge. I don’t need so much as one olive from outside.’
‘And yet, don’t you think that in a few years, someone with a large army and a new innovation might come and take us?’ Euryanax asked.
Telekos smiled as if he’d gained the upper hand. ‘Even if that did happen, which I doubt, it would be preferable to helping Athens build the engine of our destruction. And even if we fall, we’d fall as Lacedaemon, not some bastard thing.’
I smiled. Sparthius had become caught up in the debate and had stopped trying to distract me, and Telekos saw my smile and resented it. Truly, I’ve gotten in more trouble smiling than frowning.
‘You find us funny, foreigner?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, earning no friends.
Pausanias, of all men, came to my aid. ‘That is no tone to take with a guest,’ he said. ‘And Arimnestos is behaving like any man would, watching his host have a fight with his spouse.’
He looked at me. And met his eye and smiled a different smile, a sort of ‘if you would have it so, I’ll play along,’ smile.
Telekos was not feeling obedient. ‘I insist on knowing why this foreigner finds me funny,’ he said.
‘Walk away,’ said SParthius. ‘I’ll calm him.’
I spread my hands, and then raised one, in the manner of Greek orators.
‘You debate like Athenians,’ I said. ‘You speak of lofty ideals, both of you; of things that would be estimable, whether you chose to go home, or to conquer the Great King.’
Well, that’s not what they expected.
‘But it seems to me that the truth is that you men of Lacedaemon have chosen to move on Cyprus because it aids your allies and colonies in Crete, and does nothing to liberate the Ionians, because you fear that they will be allies of Athens. You are here because Athens rebuilt the Long Walls. So that while you debate two ideals, in fact, you perform a convenient fiction. Like any Greek.’
Pausanias turned and his eyes tried to bore holes in my head.
‘Are you saying we lie?’ he asked.
I shrugged. ‘The Persians, the real Persians, never lie. They don’t even prevaricate. They speak the truth. And they say, ‘All Greeks are liars.’ I paused, considering what I was about to say, but the daemon was on me, or Athena had had enough of Pausanias and whispered in my ear. ‘They don’t say, ‘All the Greeks lie except the men of Sparta.’
But damn him, Pausanias smiled. ‘You see far, Plataean. And you are more like us than you admit to yourself.’
Euryanax turned towards me, and his face was as red in the firelight as his cloak by day. ‘You think we are here only for self interest?’ he spat. ‘You should hear what some proposed we do!’
‘Hush,’ Pausanias said. ‘Keep home arguments at home.’
Curiously, when I stepped out of the firelight, it was Telekos who followed me.
‘Foreigner,’ he said.
I turned, ready to fight.
He was just a shape against the firelight. ‘I like your blunt talk,’ he said. ‘And I think we are allies, not enemies. It is the lying that I hate, not the… ‘ he moved a hand. ‘If they get their way, and we gain a spear-won empire, we will not be ourselves. Look; they are ready to lie and scheme already, and we have not landed a hoplite on Cyprus.’
Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. They are complex men, like any men, the spartiates.
Later, at my own beach fire, I told the whole tale to Brasidas.
He drank off some wine and stared into the embers of the fire. ‘I think that you are asking me, as a Spartan, to explain,’ he said.
‘Perhaps,’ I said. ‘Or perhaps I just needed to tell it out; to play it again, like a good hymn heard at the templke that you whistle on your way home.’
‘I’d prefer the latter,’ he said. ‘Because I’m not a Spartan anymore. I am a man of Plataea.’
‘Of course,’ I said, fearing I’d offended him.
He touched my arm. ‘No, listen. You know that the Plataean phalanx is no match for a Spartan phalanx?’
‘Yes,’ I said, and perhaps I bit it off. I am a proud Plataean. I don’t like to concede second place.
He nodded. ‘So when I was younger, I thought that was a the measure of a man; of a system. The better man can kill the worse. Or defeat him. In argument, or with weapons. That makes him better.’
‘But this is what makes me a Plataean. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that many men are of great value. Perhaps some are better, but treating them as if they are better makes for jealousy and bad feeling. And the wagon maker and the bronze smith are men of worth. The great warrior is only in his place on the battlefield because of the bronze smith and the wagon maker. Yes, Plataea has a few worthless sods, but let us be honest; there are worthless sods even in a Spartiate mess group; just not as many. I would rather live in Plataea. So when you relate to me a debate among Spartiates, men of the royal families…’ he shrugged. ‘They sound to me like privileged foreigners debating an unreal world. I am painfully aware that my former motherland almost failed to come to fight at Plataea. Such selfishness…’
He got up; greatly moved.
‘I’m…’ I started to say, and he was walking. He went about twenty paces and stopped and looked up at the blanket of stars..
Leander, one of my new marines, had been listening quietly. He looked up. ‘I’ve never heard him say so many words altogether,’ he said.
Brasidas was still within earshot.
I nodded. ‘It’s an effect of Plataean citizenship,’ I said. ‘We’re all pretty talkative.’
# # #
# # #
The next morning we put to see and formed in four big squadrons, and like the good Plataean I am I followed the Athenians. I found myself arrayed in Aristides squadron, and we rowed across the wind in a fairly neat line and watched the Corinthians and the Hermionians and the ships crewed out of Lacedaemon itself struggle to maintain formation in a crosswind.
We rowed as far as Karpathos, completing a giant circle for me and for Cimon and Lykon and a handful of others, and landed there. The next day we took a different and much less daring route, rowing northeast to Rhodos and then coasting Asia. landing on empty beaches and eating our sparse supplies because we had no round ships to support us. When we were off the coast of Pamphylia, the Athenians decided to launch a raid; we were, after all, at war with the Great King, and we landed near Sise and pillaged a fortified town, took anything worth taking and burned the place. The Spartans affected to find us all barbarous, but they ate the sheep we provided them fast enough.
Ever wonder why almost every good-sized town on the inner sea is set five or six stades back from the water?
Bastards like me, that’s why. Never be close enough to the sea that someone in a black ship can land before you can call out your militia.
We had to row again the next day. My oarsmen were loud in condemning the lubberly fools who made them row all day instead of sailing across the blue water, and they were happy to tell all the other oarsmen on the cold beach at night how they’d just done this but better and faster.
I didn’t tell them to hold their tongues. Why would I? We were fighting a war at sea like Spartans; with cautious approaches and limited knowledge of navigation.
To Cimon’s immense disgust, Pausanias didn’t even attempt to prevent the Lycian coasters from running down to Cyprus to warn them. Any guild I might have felt for my threats against Amathus were dispelled by the knowledge that most of the fishing fleet of Sise had gone to warn the Great King’s officers that there was a Greek fleet on the way.
And that’s why, when we arrived off Amathus a week later after some of the slowest rowing in Greek history, I was unsurprised to see the gates shut in our faces and a strong garrison on the walls. Pausanias summoned the place to surrender and go a snappy reply from the governor to the effect that we were all rebels against the justice of the Great King and if we’d surrender to him he’d see to it that the King of Kings was merciful.\
There was worse to come.
We built camps on the beach with the usual banter about being the Greeks at Troy. SOme of the camp was built too close to the water line, with the expected results. Our second day int he camp, the wind blew off of Africa to the south, with sand and heat and bigger waves…
And we had to build a new camp. There was grumbling; more grumbling when we found that the Great King’s soldiers, most of whom were Aegyptian, had filled in one of our wells during the night because the Peloponnesians hadn’t set a good enough watch. Reduced to just one water source, we seemed fine for a day…
I’ve done all this before. I knew we were in trouble as soon as I knew we had only one well. I took my new ship, tentatively called ‘Apollo’s Raven’ even though I’ve never had much time for the God of the Lyre and the Golden Bow, and I ran down the coast to Kourion and loaded my bilges with sealed amphorae of water. I may have loaded twenty or thirty big jars of wine, too.
About three hours each way.
I returned to the scene I’d expected. Because what happens in the first day when there’s not enough water is that most men don’t know they haven’t had enough water. They grow angry, and then they grow tired. And then, sometimes, they grow even angrier.
We, and I mean the Athenians here, were closest to the well. Cimon’s marines had found it when we landed, and secured it; about three stades in front of us. We’d extended our camp in that direction and we had a guard of marines on it at all times.
That meant that the Peloponnesian oarsmen were walking six or seven stades to get a drink of water. Most of them had canteens, but not all. Sailors are used ot having two hundred amphorae of clean, fresh water in the hold, available to all.
I landed, shared out some fresh water with my division, and saw the swirl of a handful of scarlet cloaks coming along the beach. I knew it was Pausanias, and I knew he was angry.
Aristides came out of his awning at the edge fo the palisade. Most fo the Athenians were veternas of a dozen sea-campaigns; they used the mainsails of their ships as big communal tents and the boatsail, the smaller one, as the ‘officer’s tents, both run over spare spars. The Athenians had cook stoves and charcoal.
Some of the Peloponnesians did too. But not all.
Pausanias walked right up to me. He had a staff in his hand; I was vaguely aware that it was a symbol of his authority, given by the ephors, the six old men who wanted to pretend that they, and not the kings, controlled Sparta.
‘When we spoke the other night,’ he said, his voice tight, ‘Did you imagine because I guested you at my fire that you could then flout my authority?’
‘No,’ I said. I think I even added, ‘Sir.’
He nodded. ‘I have the right to order you seized and beaten,’ he said. ‘You have disobeyed a direct order.’
‘Shall we do this in private?’ I asked.
‘No, Plataean,’ he said. ‘I think it’s time you learned who is commander here.’
I nodded. ‘I’m aware that you are the commander,’ I said, keeping my temper firmly in check. Aristides was coming. He’d save me. Or save Pausanias.
‘But you disobeyed my direct order not to leave the fleet without my permission.’
‘I didn’t leave the fleet,’ I said. ‘Sir.’ I looked around. No Sparthius; not even Telekos or Euryanax. Not one Spartiate I knew. And they did look like they meant to take me and beat me.
‘You rowed away!’ he said, his temper slipping.
‘I went down the coast for water,’ I said. ‘And I came back. My hold is full of fresh water.’
‘No, I used my own initiative to do something you should have known to do yourself,’ I said.
‘So now you shout my failure…’
‘I asked you to do this in private,’ I said.
He nodded. ‘Very well. Seize him.’
Aristides said, ‘That would be a terrible mistake.’
Pausanias was in control of himself, I’ll give him that. He turned to the Athenian commander. ‘This is not a public assembly,’ he said. ‘Nor are you involved in any way. Good day to you, Aristides.’
Aristides the Just could be a prig; he was an uncommonly difficult man at times. But he was stubborn as a mule when it came to justice. ‘This man is under my command,’ Aristides said. ‘You cannot punish him without my permission. And honestly, Pausanias, if you punish a trierarch for fetching water, when you didn’t punish the Peloponnesian marines for sleeping on watch…’
‘They weren’t Spartans,’ Pausanias said, and then shook his head. Better men then Pausanias have been tricked into debate by Aristides tone. He’s a master at making you debate when you hadn’t planned ot discuss anything. ‘That makes no difference. the Plataean disobeyed me…’
‘I didn’t,’ I said.
‘…And I’ll see him punished.’
By then, Brasidas and all of my marines were gathering a spear’s length away.
Cimon’s marines were coming down the beach.
This was going to be ugly.
# # #
Aristides took a step forward, placing himself between me and Pausanias. ‘You cannot legally punish this man,’ he said. ‘You have to ask me to punish him.’
Because I was very close, I heard what he said. He said, ‘By Zeus, father of Gods, don’t misplay this, Pausanias. Leave it to me.’
Zeus, father of Gods./ Zeus, to whom kings and tyrants and all those in authority pray for good decisions.
Pausanias was losing his hard-won control of his anger. His mouth was twitching, and his grasp on his skutali, his staff of authority, had become a death grip.
But like a brave man fighting a tide of enemies, he didn’t surrender to his temper.
Nor did he glance at Cimon’s marines or mine.
He straightened, and tossed a salute with his staff.
‘Very well, Navarch. See to it.’ He turned and began to stride away.
Aristides turned to me. ‘You are dismissed from the fleet,’ he said, his voice level.
I choked. Anger rose to blind me; rage. The indignity; the unfairness. The blemish on my reputation.
On the other hand, that other part of me; the part that is a commander, that reasons, thast loves Herakleitus. That part flew above my rage, measuring. Admiring Pausanias a little, because he’d foudn a middle way and not broken his fleet in two.
Had I disobeyed? I never intended any such thing.
Had I intended to make Pausanias look bad?
Well. There you have it, friends. I had. And that’s bad for discipline, isn’t it?
All that in the blink of an eye, and still the irrational rage choked me like the black dust of death.
Cimon, close by me, said, ‘Aristides, if he goes, I go!’
I turned on him, and unfairly, perhaps, vented my rage.
‘Don’t be an arse!’ I spat. And then, with more control, ‘don’t make this worse than it already is.’
Cimon couldn’t have looked more shocked if I’d bitten him.
He actually stepped back as if I’d landed a blow.
‘I’ll go,’ I said. I turned ot Brasidas. ‘Summon all hands. Load the ship.’
Men began to edge away.
My oarsmen were muttering.
‘Stow it!’ I roared. ‘Pick up your cushions and your sea bags. We sail in two hours.’
Aristides made a beckoning sign and walked off down the beach towards his tent. I made sure my armour was back aboard and then walked out through the gentle surf around the bow of my ship, the way any captain does, looking for damage. I used to time to calm myself.
Then I made my way along the water, five ships, to Aristides’s ship, Athena Promachos. I walked up the sand and found Cimon and Aristides alone.
‘I had to,’ Aristides said.
‘I know,’ I said. ‘Cimon, I’m sorry.’
Cimon looked at me a moment and then handed me a small cup of wine. ‘ Apology accepted,’ he said tersely.
‘Why before all the gods did you not ask us?’ Aristides asked me. ‘Ask me? Ask Pausanias?’
I nodded and looked at my sandals. ‘I find him overbearing and I wanted him to see what a real commander would do,’ I said.
‘You wanted to rub his nose in it,’ Cimon said, nodding. ‘He’s impossible.’
‘He’s not impossible,’ Aristides said. ‘He’s here under conflicting orders and he’s never conducted a sea campaign. And he doesn’t trust us, and we’re the only people who know how to fight at sea or conduct a siege.’
‘Conflicting orders?’ Cimon asked.
‘It’s a low fence to clear, if Athenians are judged the masters of sieges,’ I said. I thought of the Persian siege mound at Miletus.
‘Be that as it may,’ Aristides said. ‘We’ve conducted more sieges than Pausanias.’
‘Conflicting orders?’ Cimon asked again, a little louder. He was still angry. I couldn’t blame him.
Aristides swirled the wine in his cup.
I shrugged. ‘I think the ephors want Sparta out of the war altogether, and the kings want glory,’ I said.
Cimon nodded. ‘I see.’
Aristides set his jaw, looked out to sea, opened his mouth to speak, closed it, swirled hsi wine, and looked at me.
‘Speak your mind,’ I said. ‘I’m the one leaving in disgrace, not you.’
‘I’ll have you back in a month. Two weeks if you insist.’ Aristides was gentle. A good man and a good friend.
I nodded. ‘Aristides, I acknowledge that I was in the wrong,’ I said. ‘Thanks for getting me out of it; if he’d beaten me, men would have died.’
Aristides looked away, and swirled his wine. ‘I considered letting it happen,’ he said. ‘For everyone’s good.’
Cimon went red.
I hadn’t sat down. But I stiffened in shock. ‘What?’
‘It would have been the end of Pausanias’ command,’ Aristides said. ‘I suspect that in a few days, the Lacedaemonians would have gone home. Absolutely the best course for everyone concerned.’
‘Because we’d have control of the siege?’ Cimon asked.
Aristides looked out to sea again. ‘That, and other things,’ he said. ‘But…’
I understood Aristides. ‘But that would have been morally wrong,’ I said. ‘And innocent men would have died.’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Like Pausanias,’ I said.
He nodded slowly. ‘Yes,’ he said.
I took a deep breath. ‘How do you feel about me sailing for Ionia?’ I asked.
Aristides drank some wine. And finally, his eyes met mine. ‘I will not ask or tell you to go to Ionia,’ he said. ‘But I might privately pray to the gods that you went to Ionia. I might wonder if it was time for your wife to go to her native country.’
Cimon raised his chin, a man taking ina great many things in one moment. ‘Oh,’ he said.
‘We’re playing some serious games here,’ I said, a little bitter.
Aristides nodded. ‘Just because they are foolish, do not think they are not deadly,’ he said. ‘Sparta has deeply divided councils and some evil councillors. But Sparta is not…. unique… in that respect.’
I pressed him, but he drank off his wine. ‘You should get to sea,’ he said. ‘it grows dark. Here are my dispatches for the Assembly and this for the Boule.’
I walked a stade with Cimon. ‘I’m missing something,’ he said.
‘As am I,’ I said. ‘I’ll be gone a while, I expect. Don’t get killed. I’m sorry I bit at you.’
‘Just don’t do it again,’ he said, more like his father than was quite right. ‘What does Aristides think you are going to do in Ionia?’
I looked back, where Aristides the Just stood alone at the bow of his ship, making his evening prayer.
‘Rally it,’ I said. ‘For Athens.’
Cimon looked at me. And then back at Aristides. ‘Fuck,’ he said.
# # #
We sailed after sunset but while there was still light in the sky; another old pirate tactic. I wasn’t after prey, however; I just ghosted along the coast of Cyprus headed west, rounded the great headland of Akrotiri and landed on the first good beach for the night.
I spent a good deal of time thinking about what Aristides was hiding. He was a terrible liar; a man almost honest enough to be a Persian.
So he really only lied by omission.
He knew, or thought he knew, something bad.
And he clearly felt sorry for Pausanias. Pity, even; pity for the heroic, victorious royal regent of the mightiest military state in Greece.
I fell asleep and dreamed of Briseis shrieking at me. Not a pretty dream. She turned into a bear and ran.
I used ot have that dream…. Briseis and I have been separated many times, and I fear… I fear…
I feared that she would leave me. Even then, I still feared it. I had taken the queen of Ionia and made her a farm wife in Boeotia. And now Aristides wanted me to take her back to her kingdom. I lay under my cloak, tossing and turning on the surprisingly cool sand, and I thought about my son Herakleitus, about Briseis, about Ionia. About Sappho’s school and all those women who were patriots for an idea that had never really been a country; Ionia. And Archilogos.
Eventually I fell asleep.
The next day we sailed into Kourion and I purchased stores. I paid out twenty drachma a man, most of the silver I had aboard that wasn’t loot, and let the oarsmen and sailors and marines have a night on shore. They were angry and felt that I’d been abused; fair. But they would have a hard time holding on to ill-usage while they did whatever men do with a pocket full of silver in a dockside.
So we had some hard heads and probably some red faces when we rowed away on the dawn breeze the next morning; a young oarsman had a woman’s scarf wrapped around his loins and no other clothing, and was much mocked, but as I pointed out, he’d probably had more fun than most. His name was Kephlos, and he did indeed have a big head.
I sweated the wine out of them for two hours and then I pointed the bow north and west and raised, first the boat sail and then the mainsail. I was learning the rig on my new ship, and I spent most of the next two days and nights on deck, taking the oars as often as I wanted, watching the clouds over Asia, and learning how Apollo’s Raven behaved under sail. She’d been a bit of a pig under oars; the upper decking weighed more than a trireme’s superstructure and we had about twenty fewer oarsmen to push the extra weight through the water.
On the other hand, we had almost double the marines of a trireme, and six archers. And we could always make sail.
‘I think we need new tactics,’ I said to Brasidas.
He nodded thoughtfully. ‘Boarding, rather than ramming,’ he said.
‘A true ship-splitting ram could bring down the mainmast,’ I said. ‘And that might sink us.’
So we discussed possibilities; oar strikes with the ram to force another ship to turn. We still wanted to strike bow first, amidships, so that our marines could go in cleanly. With Brasidas and sixteen marines, much less our armed sailors, we should be more than a match for any ship on the seas.
When we rowed, which we did every day, Poseidenos drilled his oarsmen on all of the basics and some special manoeuvres; getting their oars in and out in perfect unison, as fast as one of Father Zeus’s thunderbolts; dipping all together on the first stroke, not the third; even very good ships sometimes struggled with the first strokes, and lost valuable time that way; switching directions, so that an oarsmen raised his oar, ducked under it, and sat on the opposite side, pulling backwards. It was a dangerous manoeuvre, because a man could get an oar in the head or in the gut and take real injury, even be killed, and almost certainly end with broken ribs.
Three days to Rhodes, and scarcely a grumble for being out in the Great Green so long. We made a pier side landing at Rhodes and I bought provisions and again gave my people a night.
I sat alone in a good place, with white walls and slaves who weren’t beaten, drinking a good wine and thinking about my wife and Ionia and Pausanias and Sparta and Aritides…
And there was Herakleitus.
‘Trierarchos,’ he said formally.
I made myself smile. ‘Here we go,’ I thought.
‘Please sit down,’ I said.
He looked at the seat. He was wearing a very good chiton, such as only Ionians wear now; embroidered with flowers and acanthus leaves, with a double-woven hem. He was tall and strong and I found him a little dull.
I thought he was going ot refuse to sit, but then he did with a touch of adolescent gawkiness. A slave came over, smiled a slave’s smile, and offered him wine, which he accepted.
‘Are you my father?’ he blurted.
I drank some of my wine, thinking of Aristides swirling his wine in his cup. Understanding that he knew something that he didn’t want to be true.
‘Yes,’ I said.
Some things you say vanish into the wind and are never heard again.
Some things, once said, are set in stone; a road taken, a die cast. They echo down the years and carry a weight of consequence.
We sat in silence for a threatening length of time.
‘Drink your wine,’ I said.
He looked away and then back at me. ‘You never…’
I sat back. ‘I never anything,’ I said. ‘I was in the middle of a ship fight in Carthage when your mother told me. You were already an ephebe, a soldier for the Great King. Why would I come and present myself to you?’
‘And my mother?’ he asked. His anger was revealed.
‘What about your mother?’ I asked.
‘Whoring her way to power with any man who had a strong spear arm?’ he asked.
I thought of fetching his a slap, but didn’t. Instead, I tilted my head to one side. And pointed at the slave girl who had attended us. ‘You think she’s available?’ I asked.
Herakleitus looked shocked. ‘She’s…’
‘She’s a slave in a dockside tavern,’ I said. ‘Can we agree that we could both buy her if we wanted to?’
He blinked. I think I shocked him; good old Arimnestos, corrupter of the youth.
‘Yes,’ he croaked. And then, stronger, ‘I don’t want to.’
I laughed. ‘Not my point. Does she have any choice about who she lies down with?’
‘She’s a slave,’ my son said.
I have learned a thing or two since I was his age.
I swirled my wine and drank some.
‘You mean my mother didn’t choose her partners.’ He bit off each word.
I shrugged. ‘I think your mother chose a great deal. She used the weapons that came to hand. She used them well. And because she used them well, I’m going to put her back on the throne of Ionia.’
‘Ionia doesn’t have a throne,’ he said, as cocky as someone I remembered.
‘It will, when Briseis sits in it,’ I said.
He looked at the slave girl. And back at me. ‘I don’t know you,’ he said. ‘Why did you disobey the Spartan general? Why did you let him punish you? Why did we run away?’
I poured more wine and inhaled the good resin smell of the torches around us. ‘I was wrong,’ I said. ‘I should have asked permission to go get water. I could explain more, but I’d only be telling you what a fool your father can be.’
‘But you are the great killer! And you let yourself be humiliated.’
I nodded slowly. ‘If I’d made a fight of it; if I’d killed Pausanias, let’s say… how many men would have died on that beach? Good, brave men, dedicated to fighting the Persians?’
He didn’t look impressed. ‘It stuck in my gullet to see you humiliated.’
I pointed at the girl. She was mostly naked, or rather, she wore a chitoniskos that covered her genitals and was open at the sides. On the other hand, she was clean and neat and had some dignity. I waved her over and ordered another pitcher of wine. She smiled her slaves smile and I gave her a silver four drachma piece for her own and the smile got real.
She walked away.
‘Tell me, Herakleitus,’ I said. ‘Does she know I was humiliated?’
He made a face. ‘No,’ he said. ‘That’s stupid. How would she know?’
‘Hmm,’ I said. ‘Really, how would anyone know? I mean, I’ll be honest. I was enraged. My rage lasted a little less than an hour. Sometime in the next three weeks, someone will do something as stupid, or even stupider, and no one will remember what happened ot me. In two months it will be a matter for humour. In a year, Cimon will tell a story about it. In two years, I’ll tell a story about it. Rage is pretty worthless, and humiliation is something we feel, not something tangible that happens.’
He nodded, but he nodded like a young man being told something he absolutely does not believe.
‘You sound old and wise,’ he said.
‘ I learned it from Herakleitus,’ I said.
‘Mater’s teacher,’ he said.
‘My teacher,’ I said.
‘Did she sleep with him, too?’ he asked. He shook his head. ‘No, no, I won’t make a scene. But you tolerate her, and I had to grow to manhood with men… men…’ he looked away, and I could tell he was blushing. ‘She never behaved like other women. She never hid herself away, she never shied from public notice, she never mourned…’
I began to understand the size of the boil I had to lance. Interesting, how we think we’re the center of the universe. I thought that my son would either need me or hate me; it was going to be about me.
It wasn’t about me at all. He had no problem, in his head, about being the son of a famous pirate and killer.
His problem was Briseis.
# # #
I walked him back to the ship and I slept like a young child, and in the morning we were away, rowing into the wind one day and sailing other days; we landed on tiny Astypalaia and then we crossed to Naxos. I’d made my decision. I left a note for Ephialtes and sent a long, carefully written apology to Archilogos by means of a merchant bound for Ephesos.
I went back to sea, racing for Athens.
I dropped Aristides’ dispatches in Athens after a mere nine days at sea and took his letter to Jocasta with my own hands. I introduced my young marine, and Jocasta gave me one glance and raised an eyebrow a fraction, which i took to mean that she could count years and also knew who Herakleitus resembled.
And then I borrowed two of the great Aristides’ horses and rode for Plataea as if the Furies were behind me.
Somewhere in the starlit skies of the Aegean I’d made my choice. Briseis was not a bird to be caged. She was going back to Ionia, because she could rally people who wouldn’t even speak to me. And at another level, because she wanted it, and there was no reason she shouldn’t have her way.; I suppose what I’d realized on the beach or shortly after was that all of this new, second Ionian revolt was tied to my fear that I’d lose Briseis to her other life, and… and…
Perhaps Herakleitus untied the knot with his own.
I shook my head and let it go. Pure selfishness, really.
I rode over the path to Erythres, thinking old thoughts. It always made me happy to go home; I loved the moment when I reached the height of the pass and I could see into Boeotia.
‘Where are we going?’ my son asked.
I’d halted my horse and dismounted for the last, steepest climb, and now I was standing where we’d found the dead slave boy, all those years before. I could see the cart ruts, and the deep cuts in the stone where the ancients had made lanes for their chariots, or so the priests said.
That was the day I met Tiraeus, now a prosperous smith with his own forge. So in a way, that boy hadn’t died in vain. Or maybe that’s a false argument.
‘We’re going to the family altar, I said. ‘We’re going to talk to the gods.’
Ann Moore says
This is a terrific story. And it’s so much fun to sail around the islands of Greece with these characters. I want to read more of your work.
Ann Moore says
We are donating to support our local food share during this crisis, but I have started buying the e-books in your series about Arimnestos.