Happy Halloween, everybody! Today I'm dressed as a Greek Goddess (how my co-worker and MC for our costume contest got the idea I was princess Diana I have NO clue) and thought I'd post the begaining of one my O&E chapters (it's a WIP btw). This is from the POV of Themistocles, the smart yet devious think tank behind Athen's new fleet. Enjoy!
Isthmus of Corinth 481 BC(E)
The Acrocorinth rose above the coastal plain like a pair of taut breasts, with nipples black and hard. No wonder Aphrodite is their patron goddesss, Themistocles thought as the ship split the muddy sand beaneath its hulk. It was the very first trimere built from Athen's silver funds, named The Owl and rowed by hard-bitten men from Ionia who drank wine neat and slurred their words. They were refugees from Aristagoras's rebellion ten years ago, men who rose up against Persia only to see the city-states smashed to pieces. When they heard about the Athenian victory at Marathon, they had come flocking over to Attica in droves in hopes of fleeing Persian fire. But without Attican citizenship they were nothing, and spent their days in taverns and fist-fights. Until Themistocles came along. "Pull the oars of my ships and some day you'll be heroes," he had promised them. And here they were.
The Owl's pilot laughed heartily when Themistocles let him in on his geographical discovery. "It rarely snows in Corinth, but when it does the peaks look like they're weaning," he told Themistocles with a grin. He was dressed in corse leathers and his beard was salted with white hairs and sea salt. "How far is it to the Arcopolis from here?" Themistocles asked him as men below the hulk manuvered the ship between other vessels on the crowded beach front. The ship gave a sharp lurch beneath his feet. "Acrocorinth," the pilot corrected. "About a handful of stades, no more. Beware General: Corinthians may be festive, but when it comes to their polis they can be as prickly proud as any Spartan." Great, thought Themistocles.
The captain now ordered the ladders to be lowered so his passengers could disembark. He was a Phalerum tough by the name of Androcles , a bulky man who had made his living both as a fisherman and a bouncer at his father's tavern. He was surprisingly good at training men to row, but he was a greedy sot as well. Themistocles had been unimpressed when he had tried to haggle over passage to Corinth right. "Oars break, ropes snap, sails tear, and leather hole coverlets need fixin'," he had argued. Themistocles refused: "That's not my fault." "The Corinthians ain't cheap," Androcles protested, "and last time we sailed to Corinth my men broke ten oars." "Train your men better then," Themistocles had told him, "or I'll find someone who will and you can go back to your glourious job as a bouncer." The tough had given him a sullen look, but knew he was beaten.
Themiostlces watched him now as he took the satchel of silver from Nikandros's fat fingers and tucked it neatly into his vest. "Keep your men out of trouble and you'll receive a bonus when we return," Nikandros promised. "Remember: your men are the face of Athen's new navy, so I excpect them to act like it." To prove he wasn't bluffing he produced another satchel of coins and jingled the metal within. "They'll behave themselves, or by Posidon's trident I'll make them row all the way to the Pillars of Herekles and back without a break," the captain vowed solemly. He practically drooled at the sight of all those owls. And why not? A man could get well and truly drunk off of the money he's being offered.
As they made their way down the swaying ropes to the sand below, Themistocles noted the names of other ships beached nearby. There was the Thetis, the Amphitrite, the Lioness, the Sea Horse, and two Corinthian patrol boats aptly named Aphrodite and Aries. Further along the western beach side were two unstable looking tubs, Castor and Pollux, beached slightly apart from the rest. Themistocles got a chuckle out of the names Rape and Pillage--until he recognized them for Aegian ships. So Aegina is going to be on the right side of justice this time, he though wryly.
There were only three of them representing Attica: Themistocles because he represented the navy, Cimon because he represented the land nobles, and Nikandros because he funded both. The man chosen by the Corinthian government to host their small embassay was jolly and fat as Nikandros, dressed in bright robes and gold jewlery that clinked and clacked whenever he moved. His auburn beard and hair was shot with white, but he maintained a youthful air. "Aletes, son of Bacchis at your service," he piped as they made their way off the sandy beach and onto the busy waterfront where their host was waiting. "Aletes? As in of the old royal family?" Cimon sounded impressed even with his clipped tone. The rolling of the ship had turned his face an unhealthy shade of green, but now he wrapped his purple hitomon around him deliberatly and stood very straight, nose in the air. "The very same," the Corinthian said proudly, "though we have not been in power since Periander's tyrany." He grinned. "Come. I have arranged for my finest chariot to take you to my estate just outside the town, and tommorow I'll guide you to the Acrocorinth where you can be greeted by our archon. The assembly is two days from now, so you're just in time." Themistocles elbowed Cimon out of the way so he could walk astride their host as they ambled towards the gold-lined chariot being attended by a lone servant. Around them robeless men hefted clay jugs and crates full of various city-state goods, while merchants haggled loudly about prices. "I see some of the other delegates have already arrived," Themistocles had to shout to be heard over the clatter of commerce. Behind them Cimon muttered conspiculously, rubbing his arm, while Nikandros waddled after them in his verdent hitomon, panting. "Those that intend to fight." Aletes shrugged, then abruptly changed the subject. "At any rate your Excellencies, I hope my lodging is to your liking. My baths are wide and deep, and my lady servants should be to your...liking." He favored Themistocles with a sly smile. "Bought them from a Carthiginian slave-trader. The girls are from Libya. Very exotic and very frisky." They piled onto the chariot, barely fitting, and their host signaled the charioteer to snap the reins.
Corinth was older than Athens, though not so ancient as Thebes, and situated on the narrow Isthmus between the Pelops and Attica. To the east dusky mountain chains rose up above the coastal plain, creating a peaceful enclave. To the west were the mountains of the Pelops, silent and brooding across a narrow strip of sea. They wound their way north and west then north again, following the stone highway's serpant-like path. I wonder if I spat into the wind if it would land in Sparta, Themistocles thought as the Pelops seem to inch closer and closer. He would have to try it sometime.
The multi-columned estate was hidden in a dense olive grove along the crowded Periander Road, hidden within a canopy of gray-green leaves. As the chariots turned out of traffic and onto the private causeway, Themistocles caught the musty scent of olives baking beneath the parched dome of Uranus. The uneven cobbles beneath the wheels bounced the chariot around, their host forced to apologize for the uneveness. Shadows danced along their forms as the horses trotted beneath the silver-green leaves that sheltered them from the summer sun. Male slaves wearing nothing more than a sheen of oil knocked the fruit from their branches into wicker baskets, chattering in the lilting Corinthian dialect. "I head the olive crop in Corinth is good this year," Themistocles called over the rumble of chariot wheels. Aletes laughed. "In truth it is a normal year, but with Prince Gelon fighting Phonecians in the west there is no competition from Syracues." "Is there cooperation though?" Themistocles asked, trying to maintain his balance when the chariot suddenly lurched in a small dip in the road. He did not care much about the Western colonies of Hellas, but if the Persians cut off Attica's resources from the Black Sea, they would need Sicilian grains and metals. The man took his meaning. "If the Spartans--whoah!--if the Spartans called Sicily to arms, they haven't shared it." "So Sparta is here!" Cimon said excitedly. Anything and everything Spartan facinated him. Themnistocles answered for their host. "No, son of Militides. Sparta is in Laconia. Here is Corinth." He ignored the younger man's scowl as their host pulled on the reins to stop the silver-maned horses in a sunny patch just outside the mansion. The house was impressive enough: the pink-veined colums were wide and flat, great marble shoots growing out of their foundations. "The Pelopponnesian League will be represented at the assembly, I take it," Themistocles continued as they stepped off the chaiots. Bare-foot Men in simple tunics and caps ran foward to help them--it took two strong men to help down Nikandros-- then unhitched the horses. "Aye." Aletes did not sound happy about. Themistocles was not surprised. Relations between Corinth and Sparta had soured after the coastal city had refused to follow the Mad King's plan to make Isagoras tyrant of Athens some thirty years ago. By default that meant equally strained relations with city-states like Elis and Olympia. If the Corinthian wasn't happy though, Cimon surely was. "The Pelops in this war will make all the difference," he told them. "We of Marathon, together with the Spartan army leading the way will beat the Persians back." "We will," Themistocles agreed, " though I should remind you Cimon that you weren't at Marathon." And I have no intentions of letting Sparta lead us anywhere.
That night their host treated them to a lush banquet in his spacious garden, the scent of honeysuckle and hyacinth heavy in the star-speckled air. A singer recited odes to Aphrodite and Dionysus, and recounted the poems of such famed locals as Arion and Eumelus. The dusky Libyan girls followed up with a dance, their hypnotic sway appraised by all. They dined on slivers of succulent goat shanks, bowls of cured olives, plates of fresh goat cheese and flatbread and saucers brimming with honeyed wine. By the end of the night Themiostlcles could not recall how much wine he took in, or who he danced with (one of the girls had particularly alluring eyes). He fell asleep on the stone walkway...and woke up in a cold sweat. His head and heart were racing. His stomach roiled like the sea in a storm. The dream was already fading, but a sinister thread remained: the image of a hundred foot Persian standing over the slain body of Theseus, his massive sandled foot on the hero's head like a conqueror. Themistocles recognized him: he was the first man he had ever killed, not only in battle but in life, a Persian who had looked more fit to be at court than at battle. His wicker shield had not protected him against Themistocles's sword, the man helpless before his enemy's wrath. Now the Persian was no longer a frightened, helpless archer but a fearsome giant with blue-green eyes that saw Themistocles, and the giant had laughed.