Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Themistocles in Aegina

The wind whipped his hitoman about his legs and arms and hit him with the sharp, tangy scent of salt water and pitch. We're close now, Themistocles thought. He could see the ship sheds over the ridge, their steepled roofs rising and falling like red tiled waves, ringing round the harbor and jutting to either side like a perfectly shaped omega. The ships, tarred black with pine resin gleamed in the dull sunlight. As they made their way down to the harbor they could hear the buzz of human voices muted by the roaring surf and sharp cry of sea birds. "That man spoke the truth. The sea is rough today," Mnes said. "Nikandros is a fool. It would be easy enough to postpone the race for a few days." Themistocles said nothing. He agreed, but the enthusiasm of the masses waxed and waned and the promise of a more dangerous race had brought them out en mass, hoping to see action. Their appiteite was huge. And isn't that what I wanted? He made his way to his ship shed, where Cunning was just now being brought down the ramp by a large group of men. Her hull jutted out proudly, her marble eyes promising mischief. Now there's a good wife. Boyent, beautiful, obedient and serves me well.

They would have to make their way carefully; the straits of Salamis were narrow and windy, and hidden shaols and what not were waiting to catch the ship up. Thems could here the clicking language of dolphins even through everything and Thems smiled. That was a good sign. Stories claimed if a man was shipwrecked the dolphins would push him to shore. As they rowed they passed a small fishing vessel making its way from Salamis, the startled fishermen gawking at the trireme. Until the wake caught them and then they toppled over each other. He hoped the dolphins were still nearby.

The man guaffed. "Salamis? Look around you, my good man. You're not on Salamis." Themistocles frowned around the clouded mist. It had hid the seashore but now was breaking up a bit, swirling away with the wind and revealing a rocky bank further inland and patches of stubborn seagrass. Salamis was a sleepy little island full of fisherfolk and modest villages. This was a crowded seaside villa, the evidence of an industrious city-state. Above on pine clad hills were colorful buildings lined up like a row of crooked square teeth in too small a mouth, shouldering agianst each other as though each wanted to be the first to dive into the sea. Dive into the sea. Themistocles knew with a sinking feeling the man had spoken the truth. When he turned back the man favored him with a cruel smile. "Welcome to Aegina, my Athenian friends. You're all under arrest."

Archippe hurried through the dusty streets, heedless of the burning noonday sun or the angry scowls from people she was knocked out of her way. In truth Archippe had no idea where she was going. She had been circiling the city for hours, anxious and fearful for news on Themistocles. The Assembly was meeting now, deciding how to proceed against Aegina. As a woman she had no access to Ares Hill, no way of knowing what was going on. She had paced the house until her mother threatened to tie her down with carted wool. So Arch paced the streets instead.

I'm going to strangle that man the moment he walks in the door. I bet he's arranging a marriage with an Aegian princess in exchange for his freedom, she seethed. Only that was nonsense. He had enough to negotiate as it was, and anyway there was no royalty on Aegina. Only an ogliarchy. They can't kill him. We still have Crius and the hostages. She had always felt sorry for them, but now she couldn't be more greatful they were here. Still, the Alcaemenid might be more than happy to leave Themistocles on Aegina. Or worse, declare war. If they went to war, the Persians might just sweep in and take Athens while the men were away. It was enough to make her feel sick with fear.

If Aristides were here, he would know what to do. He could convince the Assembly to quit stalling. She was not sure where the thought came from. Aristides had no reason to love Themistocles, not the man who threw him out of the city. But Aristides had been the voice of reason with the Alcameanae, who were wolves among the sheep. Or so Thems always claimed.

She turned a corner and only then heard the hooting. Before she could locate its source the horses were almost right on top of her. was nearly run down by [nikandros' son]'s holligans, racing through the agora yet again. Arch yelped as she someone caught her by the arm and pulled her out of the way. "My lady are you hurt?" Revolted Archippe leaped back angrily. The face hidden deep in the cawl was still just visible enough to make out those piercing dark eyes and handsome features. "Sir Aristides!" He hushed her. "Do not say my name." He frowned at her servants, then quickly peered around the shadows. Finally he gestured. Come with me." Unthinking she followed him, her alarmed slaves catching her up in confusion. She glared at Xenos when he protested he should find Sic. Sic will tell Thems if he doesn't kill Aristides first. They walked along the narrow ally, under cool shadows that hid them from the blazing summer sun, around and over pottery shards that once held wine and apparently a lost sandal, and past painted walls that were badly peeling, until they came out in a small grove of pine on the northwest side of the marketplace. Along the way Arch tried to straighten her skirts and hair, knowing she looked frightful. Ever since Thems had been captured she had barely paid attention to her toilette, her concern on getting her husband back and keeping her family together. You're a fool. He's married and you're too tired to think straight. But she couldn't help herself. As he looked around for witnesses she could no longer hold her tounge, though she managed a near whisper. "What are you doing here? It's dangerous for you to be in the city!" "I know, daughter of somebody. But I could not stay away." Even tired he was so handsome, his glossy black hair combed and shining like a Spartan, his beard shaved to help hide his identity. He was dressed in rough wools of dark green and brown, part of his chignon over his head to hide from men as well as the heat of the sun. He looked so much younger, like a young god. He'll help me. He will. His silver voice and golden words could sway the citizens of Athens it was said. Gold and silver could not save him from my husband's conviction to ostrasize him, a voice inside her head warned, but she shoved it aside. He was so gallant and his love for his city-state was so admirable. Themistcoles always said the content of a man could be known by the love he had for his city-state. "You love Athens that much?" "The city? I do, but truth be told I could not stand to be away from my wife. I love her more than my own life. And my children. They are the most precious thing I have. I could not stand to be parted from them, thus Xanthippus and I--" he stopped. "Alas, I have said too much." "I won't tell anyone, I swear," ARchippe said quickly. Her heart hurt. He came to see his family. Just his family. No one else. She could hear Themistocles laughing at her. She was sure he would if he knew. Aristiedes frowned. "Forgive me. I did not mean to imply you would talk. You are quite intelligent, I am sure." She realized she was glaring at him and made herself smile. "Sir Aristides, you must know about Themistocles. [Aristides writes a letter allowing Thems to be 'put on trial' Thems will know that when he gets to the asembly room in Aegina. He'll have to thank Aristides for that and convince both Xan and Aristides to come back.] He's been captured by the Athenians." "I cannot go before the Assembly," Aristides said, stricken. "I am not of this city for a few more years yet. I should not even be here, but I cannot stand the thought of being without my family for so long, and so I snuck in." "As a Xenos, you could convince the Assembly of what is right. Of what just!" When he shook his head she pressed on stubbornly. "There's no law against a man being a guest-friend. I know. Themistocles told me all the laws. He likes to practice speeches and my father taught me a lot and I know it's legal. They CAN"T prosocute you." She knew she was rambling now, but she couldn't stop. "Please. I don't care what Athens says about me or Themistocles. He's a good man and my children won't understand what's happening." The twins' plaintive questions made tears spring in her eyes. "Please. I have to do SOMETHING." I'll march into the Assembly myself. How she's get past the archers she had no idea though. The man sighed. "Attica cannot afford bloodshed. Not now. Persia is coming. I came to warn some close friends of it, and now it seems I must tell all. If Aegina and Athens go to war the Persian will merely sweep in and defeat them both. A hostage exchange might be possible, yes." "But the Acamaenae--" "will listen to me girl. Even THEY must listen to reason, now." "Good!" a voice boomed. Arch nearly jumped a stade in the air. "Xanthippus, you should have announced yourself," Aristiedes scolded. "And YOU should not be letting anyone know of our presence here, especially the wife of our greatest enemy." "Archippe glared. Xanthippus was known to have a short temper, and had was known to act first and ask questions later. Or so Thems said. "You're in the city together?" "Not exactly," Aristides told her. I arrived a few days ago, and since my wife and his are close friends she let it slip her husband is also in the city. Perhaps this is an omen." "I know you don't like my husband, but it's not his fault six thousand men voted you out of the city-state and not him." She could have bit her tounge off--that was the same situation as with Aristides, but she stubbornly plowed on. "You're both influential men. Can't you do something?" "Why should we? We both oppossed the man's fool idea to place the safety of the city-state into the hands of hoodlums and slaves," Xanthippus said. "He's corrupting the system. My own son questioned me just this morning on why it would be so bad for the poor to be a part of our new democracy. I've never heard anything so outragous in my life!" He turned to look behind him. In the shade of a distant pine a boy of no more than fifteen with dark curly hair was studying his sandals, unable to meet his father's stern look. Great. Everyone in Athens will know Aristides is here. She didn't care a fig for Xanthippus, but she'd defend Aristides from harm, ugly wife or no. Aristides sighed, and for a moment Arch feared he could read her mind the way Thems could. But he only shook his head and said,"Perhaps we were wrong, Xanthippus. Perhaps it is time to conceed that the navy is our only hope." "Are you mad? You're going to agree with that Thracian welp?" "My husband's mother was from Caria and of Ionian blood, same as yours!" Arch snapped defensively." Xan shrugged. "I hear Halicarnnasians speak Doric, not Ionic. Halicarnassus for one thing speaks some twisted dialect of Sparta's language." "We're wasting time. Who knows what the Aegians are doing right now!" "I understand your anxious, my lady," Aristides said soothingly. "But I am not sure how we can help." "You could go before the Assembly. Your words are always so golden and persuasive and they'll listen to you. I know they will. You're Ariston The Just." "Listen to her," Xanthippus snorted. "She thinks you're some sort of god to win the people with your mighty powers. I swear you have the strangest hold over women." Arch blushed angrily. She wanted to black the man's eye. "I won't help!" Xanthippus said stubbornly. "You WILL help, or I'll run to Cimon and tell him you're here!" "He has no love for you, and I don't either. I'll swear up and down that not only did I run into you but you tried to force yourself on me." She gestured to her dress, and saw his face change from anger to alarm. "So you will help me, Xanthippus. Or all thirty Demes in Attica will know you're here if I have to climb to the top of the Acropolis and scream it." The man's jaw dropped. Even Aristides looked shocked. "My lady," the younger statesment stuttered, " are tired and frightened, I know. Yet you mustn't say such things." Archippe whirled on him. "My husband is right. You are NOT just! You're a coward! The whole city is going to burn by Persian fire and nobody cares! I hate you! I hate all of you!" She was shouting now, crying now, but she didn't care. "Why won't you go to the Aseembly and say something."

"We cannot help your husband directly," Aristides said slowly, "however it may be possible to call on some former guest-friends to help." "Who?" Arch asked anxiously. "The Spartans." Thems will go through the roof tiles! If there was any city-state that he hated more than even Aegina, it was Sparta. "I once was a guest-friend of King Ariston. A good man. Honest and just, as a king should be." He sighed. "I wish his son were still in power, but the Mad King drove him off some years ago. In any case, his cousin King Leotychias once made overtures about the hostages we hold here from Aegina. Perhaps I can write him and he'll help." "How long do you think that will take?" "It depends on the messenger-" "Alexandros!" Arch blurted. "He's the fasted runner in all of Attica! He's the cousin of [runner of Marathon]. He'll get there in a day or two I know he will." "It's not that easy, girl!" Xanthippus snapped. "He could have Hermes' winged sandals and arrive there in a flash but it could still take days, if not weeks." "But why?" "Because of the Ephors," Arisites told her. "Because Sparta never hurries. They are slow and deliberate, and will sense no urgency in this. It is not their problem, and if Aegina and Athens go to war it will free Sparta of outside interfearence. I know very little of King Leonidas, save that he is supposed to be a hard man and focused on righting all of Cleomenes' wrongs. Perhaps he will right the wrong of Cleomenes interfearing in our affairs." "He's the brother of Cleomenes," Xanthiuppus growled. "You'll get no help from that quarter." "We must try," Aristides said. "Persia is coming. We must gather our resources and form an alliance, or not one of us will know freedom."

Archippe followed the two men into the agora, their hoods up and among her entoruage so it looked like they were merely slaves escorting their lady about the city and had to pass through the marketplace in order to get to their destination. She prayed anyone glancing her way would mistake them for Xenos and Sic. Where was Sicinnus anyway? He had stayed by her side night and day as if she were a queen in need of a bodygaurd, as if somehow he thought she might try to swim to Aegina and save Thems herself. Yet this morning he had been at dissapeared, and last night he had gone out, only explaining that he had seen something suspicious the day before (marchois). She hadn't asked--she was too busy fretting, but now she was both glad and upset he wasn't there. Xenos was at home, nervously going about his chores but all the slaves looked to her for answers. As if I had any. And so she had taken them out, though now she had to send Xenos off to look for Sic. The agora was full, but they found who they were looking for. It wasn't hard; only one man with long hair and a scarlet cloak that had seen better days existed in Athens. At the moment he looked grumpier than ever, and no wonder: a chariot salesman was hounding him. "I have a sturdy cart with everything you need," the man was saying. "Four-spoked two-wheeler, pole, yoke and harness included, a removable leather seat, beatifully decorated rails and Corinthian style box with bronze folaiage design, with room for four." The Spartan scowled. "I have two feet and a good horse." The salesman stepped back but amazingly still persisted. Before he could speak Aristides stepped foward. "A moment of your time, my Spartan friend," he said in a low voice. The Spartan turned his ferocious scowl on him, and opened his mouth as if for a serious tounge trashing before he peered closer and nodded. He frowned at Arch though he squirmed under the scrutiny. It wasn't a leer, but rather a dissaproving look that made her feel unwanted. Perhaps they had no need of her now, but she refused to leave. Dorians weren't the only ones who could be stubborn.

"In my country men obey the laws," he scolded. If his harsh words affected Aristides, he showed no sign of it, but Xanthippus scowled back at him. "We were thrown out unjustly. You should know something of that." The Spartan hurumphed. "What is it you want then?" "We have need of your connections to Sparta," Aristides explained. "As you no doubt know, Themistocles of Deme was captured by the Athenians and is being held hostage. Perhaps Sparta can help persuade the Aeginians to let them go." "Why should Sparta care?" "What do you mean why!" Archippe cried. "Their hostages." The Spartan looked utterly amazed that she had spoken; Xanthippus shot her a nasty look. Aren't women freer in Sparta? What had Melissa said about that? " "You asked me why, and it is because of Persia. The country is assembling for a massive invasion." "I know." Now Xanthippus looked amazed. "You KNOW?" "I just said I did!" the Spartan snapped. "How?" Xanthippus demanded angrily. The Spartan looked as if that were the rudest question he was ever asked. Clearly he did not like having to explain himself to men he no doubt thought inferior. "Our king Leonidas suspects as much." "And how do you know." Xanthippus demanded again. He was as bad as Thems said, she realized. He really didn't know when to keep quiet. "My Listner wrote as much and Bulis doesn't lie!" the Spartan growled. The two men stood glaring at each other. Archippe shuddered. It seemed everyone knew about Persia and did nothing about it. Aristides stepped in smoothly before the two came to blows. "We did not come here to fight, or to beg. Merely to be reasonable. If Aegina mediazes again, it will give the Persians a jumping off point to invade both Attica and Laconia, and even Corinth. These three areas are invaluable to our freedom, however we express it." "The eclipse," the Spartan muttered. He seemed to be thinking, however slow and dull-witted Thems claimed the Spartans were, they weren't really stupid. "And the code...I will let them know. I doubt Crius and his ilk are any threat now anyway, and whatever makes that bastard Leotychidas squirm..." he shook himself. "I talk too much! I'm as bad as any of you." He frowned at Arc as though seeing her for the first time. "Are all your women part of your politics? Who in Hades' Domain is she?" Archippe drew herself up and wrapped her swag around her tightly. She was short, but he was not much taller and that put them on almost even footing. "I am the daughter of somebody, wife of Themistocles and chair of--" "shut your mouth woman. I didn't ask for your life story." Stunned Arch gaped at him. "Have a care, Spartan," Aristides said heatedly. "She is gently bred, the daughter of an important man of Athens and wife of a Marathon man and current general. " Archippe felt her heart take flight. He was defending her, her handsome demigod. She stepped closer to Aristides and gave the Sperthius a challenging look that did not phase the Spartan in the least. "You're women are weak," the xenos snapped. "Her duty should be to wait, not to interfear." "It was her wise council that brought us here now," Aristides said patiently. "And now Captain, if you would write a letter to your general and king, perhaps we can save Hellas before it is too late."

"My liege, I have been sent a coded message from Sperthius. Something is amiss in Athens that may affect Sparta." He presented the letter formally, the king taking it with a a nod before reading the code. When he was finished he handed it over to his twin to read aloud. 'Listen well. General of Athens captured by Aegina. Persia moving. Aegina mediazing. War for both. No allies against Persia unless we interfear. Asked help by The Just Athenian and Xanthippus. Request help." Cleombrotus through down Sperthius' letter, exasperated. "Who are these two Athenian swindlers I've never heard of!?" "I've heard of Aristides, and Cimon is the son of the general who led the battle at Marathon," Bulis said slowly. " More than that, if Aegina hates Athens still, they may mediaze for sure this time around. We have our warning. Even the Ephors cannot fail to see that." A silence followed, and all eyes went to the king, who frowned past them all, clearly weighing his options. Finally he slowly stood up. "Send an assembly to Aegina." "An assembly?" Cleombrotus sounded personally affronted. The king's look was sharp. "An Assembly. As soon as Eurabayetes is ready to sail." "When should I return?" "You're not."

Themistocles stared around the hall, made of gray-veined marble and limestone, a six colum wide and seven columed bulding with enough open space for a hundred men or so. There were only half that number now, but all fourty nine were hostirle towards him. Themistocles made sure to note who was curious and who was angry. None smiled or even looked sympathetic. He knew he looked terrible and smelled worse, and the fetters did not help either.

Aegina was a mountainous volcanic rock that jutted out of the Saronic Gulf, its inhabitants of Doric ancestory and therefore a quarelsome and stubborn people, which made them nearly as irritating as their land-lubbing kin in Laconia. The city-state was an ogliarchy reigned by maritime traders, their coin stamped with the image of a turtle. The Aegians were said to love their silver the way Lydians loved their gold. Themistocles wondered how much of Athens' silver it was going to cost to win his freedom. I need that money for my ships! His ships. He turned to look back east. Perhaps they would mount a rescue, or use this as a reason to formally invade. The Assembly would have no problems with that. The island was not exactly a haven for for a fleet, but if drawn out into the ocean Athens' sturdy ships and superior numbers would render Aegina's small swift fleet vulnerable to attack from the wind and waves. And ship rams. If only the Alcamaedae were smart enough to see the opportunity in this. He sighed. But they were stupid, and would only smirk he was out of their hair. The common men will see the insult. He had reminded them enough of Marathon and their place in glory. But who will lead the charge? No. He couldn't count on the Assembly. Too much like sheep, and the Alcamaenae too much like wolves. He still suspected their trechery. He would have to free himself and the ships. And the crew, of course. He glared at the Captain's back. The massive bruise on his shin a result from his boot.

At first the men had protested--some had even been dumb enough to reist--but the soldiers, or maybe sailors was a better word--managed to chain them up quickly and start the long march towards the magistrate. The man hadn't believed he was a general, though Themistocles supposed most men in high positions of government didn't volentarily row ships or socialize with their social inferiors. [sorry general we thought you were one of them. I am, he said placidly.] It was interesting to note that the rowers were no better socially than in Attica; perhaps he could use that to his advantage.

There were taken in chains up the steep mountain top, a temple looming majestically atop the acropolis. As they slowly wound their way uphill, Themistocles tried to remember everything he knew about Aegina. Knowledge was the key to survival. Instead of being paraded on the main roads they took smaller paths that were full of dry brush and dusty air that even the sea breeze did little too diminish. As the storm broke up the Aegean bled through the mist like spilled [Egyptian/Phonecian?] ink, and inland rows upon rows of colorful well-kept houses appeared, most four colums across (bigger houses need more colums?). Evidence of brisk ocean trade, and if not so wealthy as Corinth still well-to-do. What surprised Themistocles in spite of himself was the sudden appearence of a palace or two in the distance--something not seen in Attica since the Pistratid lands were divided up. The few people about-farmers with creeking wagons pulled by sleepy mules or merchants on horseback with the occasional slave weaving around them--gave them puzzled looks and hailed the gaurds and said only "Athenians." It was all they needed to say--the quizzical frowns turned into nasty grins. That doesn't bode well, Thems thought. They followed the winding roads, their captors saying little though they smirked openly at their windfall. And why not? For ten years Athens had held their most prominant civilians as hostages, a strange but welcome gift from their former enemies at Sparta. Now the tables had turned, and Themistocles knew that there would be no easy way out of this. He had to think fast. Those hostages back in Athens were the only leverage he had against this. They won't kill us. They know they can't. Their men will die if we do. But probability was not certainty.

The men looked at him, their faces a mixture of accusation and fear. "Let me do the talking," he told them over a meal of crusty bread and brackish water. "I have practice turning a room full of enemies into alies." It was true. He had escaped ostracism twice, convinced men to pay for warships instead of dividing funds among themselves, and swindled one of the most prominent men of Athens out of his only daughter. Though the latter might have been more a loss than a gain. "Now lisen. I may have to slither and grovel like a worm, but I'll get us out of this alive, I promise." They looked as if they almost believed him.

"Themistocles of Athens, you are hearby charged with intention to spy and land without permission upon our city-state. The penalty for Athenians is death."Little good we'll be dead," Themistocles said as casually as he could. "You'll have to build gallows or build a pit to throw us in or pour wine down our throats until he die. Although I wouldn't mind the latter, you'd have to import wine from Attican vineyards, and your people may not like that." A few chuckles sounded. A good start. "It costs nothing to throw you into the ocean," one pointed little man snapped. "I wonder," Themistocles said coldly. "How much is a man's life worth I wonder? How much is ten?" The sharp one snorted. "Ten against your dozens seems a fair bargain to me. And Crius and his ilk were a nuisance at any rate. None are sad to see them go." "I"m not that popular myself, but killing a Marathon man let alone any citizens of Athens will incite wrath in our Assembly. You may have noticed we arrived on a ship. There's plenty more where THAT came from. So whatever you do to us will be paid back ten fold to your own." "Is it war you want, Themistocles of Athens? Just say the word, and Attica will be drenched in blood. We're not afraid of you and your ships." "The waters here are narrow and trecherous, you could bring 1000 ships here and the storms would crash them and a well trained navy could easily manuver you into position and ram them. "Though I am a general, Sir, I live in a democracy and cannot speak for the whole of my citizens. That is how we do things in Athens. In any case, I'd say not war but peace is best between us. There is a much bigger threat coming this way." The man frowned. "Persia?" "Indeed. A hostage exhcange and a pledge of peace will make all the difference." I don't like this," the chubby youth murmmured. "Just a few weeks ago that volcano (Meghana) was smoking and a series of tremmers. Then the eclipse. I fear the gods are trying to tell us something." "That's there's trouble coming, no doubt." The sharp little man pointed at Themistocles. "And if we align ourselves with this man and his Athenian friends we're sure to be dragged into it. I say we remain out of the drama." "You can see this ugly rock from Pireus," Themistocles pointed out. "And if the Mede decides to vacation in our city, they can see it too." The men exchanged uncertain looks. "So be it. We'll send a messenger to Athens and have a hostage exchange arrranged at once." Themistocles smiled. Perhaps the storm was no accident. Perhaps the gods were with him afterall. Suddenly a comotion outside could be heard. For a moment Themistocles feared the ship's crew had tried to break free and were trying to break into the hall. When the huge marble doors were pulled inward however it was not his men but something far worse: the Spartans.

The leader was an ape of a man, stout, muscled like a bull and offensively ugly. He was dressed in full armor, as though he meant to lead his men into a full-phalanx charge. Their scarlet cloaks and long hair were identical in nearly every way, and will the man wore no helmet the others did, as though they expected battle to break out any minute. "Who are you?" the beak-nosed man demanded. "Eurybates, Navarch of Sparta." The man's bronze armor was turning due to the salty air of the sea. Clearly he was a Navarch in name only. He looked like he had never cracked a smile in his life. He certainly didn't do so now. "What do you want?" "The Spartan king Leonidas sends word to let the Athenians go." The room exploded in outrage. The leaders openly cursed or guaffed. "You Spartans are as stupid as you are ugly. Ten years ago your crazed king Cleomeones came here demanding hostages and we were forced to hand them over to Athens. Now that we have Athenian hostages you want us to let them go. You Spartans had best make up your mind." The Spartan men shifted hands to swords. "Don't threaten us with those nail files you brutes," the beak-man screeched. This is no good. Both sides were Doric stubborn and neither would budge. If I don't say something now that Spartan will draw his sword. Spartans never made idle threats with their weapons, and the Navarch's hand seemed to twitch with a strained effort. "We have hostages. They have hostages. Why argue? Why not a hostage exchange?" he asked. "You be quiet, Themistocles of Athens." The Navach's glare slid over to him. "You're Themistocles?" His tone was dubious. "I am, Navarch. I appreciate your king's request. I owe him a great deal, although I'm afraid you've come all this way for nothing. The Aeginians and I have come to a reasonable agreement." The man studied him suspiciously. ""They will let us go provided we return Cruis and the others to Aegina." "The hostages will be let go because a Spartan king says so," the man retorded angrily. "

Leotychidas stared at nothing. In truth he could insist on them releasing the hostages--that would do much to repair his damaged reputation. Those damn Athenians! He still had not fogiven them their insult. It would silence his critics at home as well and might earn him a measure of respect from the Lion's Den, though he doubted it. He was a Eurypontid, meant to be clever at negotiation, but somehow he lacked his uncle's ability to strtegize or his cousin's ability to placate. Cleomeones was dead ten years now yet people still thought him a lapdog to the Agiad. Yet there was still the matter of Persia. If we involve ourselves in a fight, we could be overtaken by rebels. It was especially restless out there if even Dieneces couldn't get a handle on things. Where is Dems? He heard the boots stomping towards him. Only one person stalked around Sparta in a huff for no reason. "Jason." "You Highness." The youth inclined his head. He had grown accustomed to the name, and seemed to answer to it more readily than his true name, and so Leotychidas continued to call him by his hall name; now everyone did so. "A summons from the Lion's Den." Leotychidas grunted. He had ignored the summons twice already but now was required to appear before the council on the third one. It was a small measure of revenge, a way to salvage his pride. If it bothered Leonidas, the man made no show of it. He's a lump of ice, not a man. He had displayed so once again with his request to send an assembly to Aegina, cold and disspasionate yet oddly persuasive. The Gyrosia was divided and had been for a long time, an even mix of man who had supported his cousin and those that supported Cleomenes. The Agiad king commanded their respect though, and his rare requests were always granted.

"We wish to go with you." Marchois arched an eyebrow at them. "To Persia?" "To the king," Bulis told him. "None save noble blood can just appear before the king," the man explained patiently. "But perhaps I can send along vessels of earth and water--" "It is not a submission," Sperthius snapped. "We wish to amend a terrible mistake," Bulis added with a look meant to silence the older Spartan. His Inspirer had once been known to be outspoken by rocks he was so quiet, but lately the man had been unable to harness his tounge. Clearly Athens was to blame. "Ten years ago our king Cleomenes ordered the deaths of two Persian heralds. We wish to erase that debt." "No amount of money or words can atone for that," Marchois warned them. "But blood might," Bulis said. "We two are Heraclids, men of high birth and prestige, willing to die so that Sparta may live," Sperthius declared. Marchois frowned thoughtfully. "Not the first time I've heard similar words from an exile such as yourself [Dems]. Very well. It is a great risk, but no man ever won a battle without some risk, or so I have been told." He smiled, reminding them of Themsitocles' earlier words. "I will write to Hydranes in somewhere and tell him of your arrival. He can pass word on to Artiphranes who is brother to the king and satrap of Lydia. I cannot gaurentee you will the king personally, but perhaps your message will reach him. Now gather your things quickly. We sail on the morning tide."

"I tried inviting the Spartan but when I made a joke about a Spartan cup of wine he growled at me and stalked off." "They're very sensative about such things," Aristides said diplomatically. Xanthippus was less kind. "They're hypocrites. I hear they're king was crazy because he drank so much." "They consider wine not well-watered to be unseemly. I stayed just outside of Sparta, and though they didn't say so, they clearly disaprove of our way of life."

"I swear Themistocles you're worse than your wife!" Xanthippus snarled. Worse than my wife? When Aristides gave his college a withering look he knew something was afoot. "What does Arch have to do with anything?" "In truth General it was her idea for us to help you," Aristieds said slowly. "I had the misfortune of being seen by a guard and went to hide in the ally, though that didn't help my cause. Nikandros' son and his band nearly ran her over. I pulled her out of the way, and she recognized me." "How fortunate." Try as he did he couldn't stop sarcasm from entering his voice. His wife had been no doubt elated to run into her imaginary sweetheart. "Nikandros thinks because he married my wife's cousin he's Acamaedae but I assure you the whole family is made up of a bunch of idiots." Xanthippus waved his hand dissmisivly. "The only one able to even afford a worse is that impetious boy of his. The rest he bought for his friends." "No worries there," Themistocles told them. "That idiot group is going to make a bad mistake, and Cimon will be more than happy to catch him." The youth boiled to get his hands on his rival, but could not do so until an actual crime was comitted. Arch was right though: there needed to be a formal law against all that riding about before someone got seriously hurt. "In any case, I didn't ask you hear to talk about hoodlums and my wife's inability to stay out of trouble, I need you to help me pursuade the Assembly-" just then the backgate swung open and crashed against the stones. All were up from their couches at once. Siccinnus stalked towards him, sword unsheathed as though enemies were in front or behind him. "Good gods he's going to kill us!" Xanthippus cried, clawing for a sword he didn't have. Aristides at least knew better. "What is it, slave? What is amiss?" Sic ignored him. "Master. There is a high-ranking Persian in the city." The men gasped. "What? Where?" Xanthippus' head swirved. "He is heading in this direction. Of that I am sure." "Gods!" Xanthippus swore. "Clam down rock-head he's not going to start a fight in the middle of the city," Thems said even as his stomach churned. A Persian inside the city. A spy? "Sic how did you know?" The slave frowned around him. Ah. The trust issue. "It's OK Sic, they helped me and now I owe them the truth." Or some part of it. "Now tell me what happened." "A few days ago I was told there were two strange men in the city." He frowned at the ostragized Athenians. "But then I caught sight of a man near the Athenian fire temple he was...his words were different from other prayers. I followed him to his master's place in Phaleum and saw his master's dress." "That's why you dissapeared." Sic nodded. "I did not wish to alarm the mistress." "Good thinking." The news would only kindle her paranoia about that supposed prophecy. "We'll have to accomodate our guest, won't we? Xenos!" The boy approached him ashen-faced. "Don't be scared everything will be fine. Just wake up Cook and then mix another bowel of wine. Just tell Daisy some late-night gate crashers are coming and to get another wheel (?) or cheese and see if there's any lamb or squid left. Go on." The boy nodded, mute as a post as he ran into the kitchen as if an army of Medes were right behind him. The Spartan [is there?] frowned thoughtfully at Sic. "I think you would be a good match for Cerb," he murmmered. Whatever that meant. He heard voices then, and expected to see a fish-scaled warrior stroll through the door, but instead it was Cimon. He nearly groaned. No. Not now. He seemed to have made an enemy of time itself. "Strange to see your gate open in the middle of the night," the youth said in clipped, precise tones. His golden badge of office glittered proudly against his purple cloak, something most men wouldn't wear in such atrocious heat. The youth barely seemed to sweat."Your Highness what brings you here?" Themistocles tried not to seemed rush. He wanted to drop kick the boy over the wall! "Sorry father," a youth said breathlessly behind him. "Pericles, you moron! What do you think you're doing?" "You dissapeared for so long I was sure they had caught you. I only wanted to..." the boy trailed off. "He came in to my office demanding--demanding! to see his father. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about but was sure Xanthippus was in the city and illegally! The boy thought you were in some sort of trouble, and we've been looking for you ever since, for his sake I kept it quiet until I could confirm your presence. Now that I have I must arrest you all." "Don't be stupid!" Thems and Xanthippus said at the same time. "You can't!" Pericles added, horrified. "I have my duty," Cimon said cooly. Considering Xanthippus was the one who wanted to execute his father, this must have been a great moment of triiumph. Behind him were a guard of Scythian archers, almost lazily leaning against the door. The Spartans and Sic looked ready to form a phalanx. The archers seemed ready to go, and the Persians were edgy for sure. Only Marchois and Aristides seemed calm, though Marchois arched an eyebrow at Sic, who had thrown himself in front of Thems, who in turn was utterly baffled. There's going to be a war in my courtyard! He could practically feel the stones beneath his feet humming with battle. "Could we all just sit down and have a cup of wine?" Thems said as lightly as he dared. He felt like sicking up. Everything that could go wrong seemed to be going wrong all at once. "If you sit two or three to a couch I'm sure we can all have a nice time." Nobody moved. Then Marchois glided over to a couch and sat down, all smiles and nods. The Spartans sat down backs straight on one, clearly not willing to share and expecting a fight, for they were both even more stone-faced and had thrown back their cloask, hands on sword hilts. No empty threat there. Xan and Ari sat down on another. Pericles sat by Thems, terrified of his father as much as the Persian. He looks a bit like my twins. If anything happends Sic has to get Arch and the boys out of here. Only his slave seemed to have no intention of moving. He glared at Marchois as though at a personal enemy. Cimon had donned a cool air of indifference, though he was still clearly shaken. Without thinking he ruffled the boy's hair, but instead of being affronted the youth grinned at him, as if to put on a brave show. Cimon and Sic stood, one for formality the other defensively, and the gaurds were sent out on all sides. The tension eased, if not by much. "Now then, Sir Persian, what brings you to our fair city?" The man gave an easy smile. [cimon's rival kicks up rumors about him cajoling with persians, and cimon is forced to agree to thems terms in order to get what thems wants: support for the navy] "I have been sent out to see the mood of this city." "Looking for friends are you?" Thems shrugged. "You won't find many here. Most of the Pistratid are out of the city--almost all in fact. Though I supose there are others." He only had a suspcion of who had turned that shield, but Hippias and his ilk no longer had a grip on the city. It was the Alcamaedae he worried about now. "The Great King is most wrought with you," Marchois said sypathetically. "Sardis burned. His men at Marathon killed." "His father's men," Thems corrected but the Persian ignored him. "I myself owe the Great King a debt. When my father abandoned me to the somebody he offered me land, a wife and a fortune. All I had to do was convince my people to submit. It has been the best of decisisons." "The best decision?" Cimon seethed. His composure was unraveling now. "Oh yes. The Persians can help keep the Scythians away from my lands. They're terrifying in battle, their accuracy with a bow most terrible, as you no doubt know." The man had a way of placing an insault in the most sincere of compliments. That's a talent. Cimon bristled, but Xanthippus was furious. "You dare come strolling in here knowing you'll never fight your way out and then say such outragous things!" "I did not come to fight, but merely to make an offer." "An offer?" "Oh yes. The Great King is gathering his army as we speak. But in truth the men see little reason to invade such a poor land. It is the king's pride you see." "You're Persian and you speak thus?" "I am not Persian, but I speak thus, yes."

"Barbarians have nothing trustworthy or true." Themistocles frowned, looking over the letter for more, but there was nothing. "The youth was puzzled. "A joke?" "Spartans don't make jokes. Oh sure. Men say they love a good quip, but they don't mean to be funny."

Bulis read the note for them to hear. "There is nowhere so much gold or a country so outstanding in beauty and merit that we should be willing to take it as a reward for going over to the Medes and so enslaving Greece. In fact there are many important things stopping us from doing that even if we wanted to. And then again there is Greekeness, being of the same blood and language, and having shared shrines and rituals and goods and similar customs which it would not be right for the Athenians to betray." He lowered the paper. "They could have just wrote 'we know,' Cleombrotus muttered. The king's look was hard as he scrutanized the letter."You are sure of this?" Bulis nodded. "Attic dialect is impossible to understand spoken, but easy enough to decipher on paper." The king set aside the letter and looked around the room. "Well?" "They got the message," Diences said with a lazy smile. "But this is not an official letter, so one man against a mob isn't promising." "This one man is said to be a good speaker, which counts for something in Attica," Bulis told them. "Yet we get no signs of a positive outcome." "We have a wrong to right."

Leotychidas decides to send Jason or Menes to Aegina to check for Dems. He still worries about Helot revolt, which Paus will use to take said helots into battle in exchange for their freedom. Priest encourages Leotychidas to make sacrifice to right wrong, perhaps Persia will not attack. Not because he's scared but one less thing to deal with? Leotychidas agrees and calls attention of issue before Assembly.

Tyrion merchants, their fingers stained purple from breaking open the small shells of Murex, told of a fantastic bridge of boats and a canal that ran through Macedonia.

Glass manufacturing, Sidon's most important enterprise in the Phoenician era, was conducted on a vast scale, and the production of purple dye was almost as important. The small shell of the Murex trunculus was broken in order to extract the pigment that was so rare it became the mark of royalty.

Thems snorted. "I would rather be thrown in the barathrum (criminal pit) than do that."

I hope that I never hold an office where I could not benefit my friends more than strangers who do me no pleasure," said Themistocles. Aristides was only interested in what was good for Athens, not in increasing his own wealth or prestige. He therefore would admit when he had made a mistake, even though it made him look like a fool. Once Aristides proposed something, and the council of four hundred -- over the objections of Themistocles and his party -- approved it. When it was submitted to the people for their ratification, and some good reasons were presented against it, Aristides got up and spoke against his own bill. It was his opinion that every honest citizen had a duty to serve the public interest without hope of any money or glory.
The Athenians chose Aristides to be their treasurer, and he discovered that Themistocles (who had held this office previously) had embezzled large sums of money from the public funds. When Aristides presented the evidence, Themistocles and his party made such a show of outrage and wounded dignity at this accusation that Aristides was fired and also fined for abusing his office. But the best men of Athens saw that a great wrong had been done, and they managed by their efforts to convince the people to repeal the fine and to allow Aristides to continue in his office for the next year.
After that experience, Aristides said nothing about corruption, and therefore the crooks praised him for being an outstanding public servant. These were his loudest supporters for another term in office as treasurer. After he was re-elected in a landslide, Aristides addressed the Athenians: "When I did my job to the best of my ability, you fired me and fined me. When I said nothing about the theft of public money, you called me an honest man and re-elected me. I want you to know that I am more ashamed of the honor you give me today than I was of the dishonor you put on me last year. It's a shame that you think it better to please the wicked than to preserve our city." He then proceeded to give them a full account of all of the corruption of the past year as the crooks listened aghast. That dog doesn't love anyone but Xanthippus.

The Spartan's face seemed frozen into an expression that said, "don't mess with me."

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