The Pythagoreans: Chapter 5

Chapter 5

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Galankos tried not to duck as a gilded plate sailed past his head and crashed into the wall behind him. For a moment, his urge to attack the man who had nearly hit him with the ornate dish was almost overpowering. The Captain of the City Watch knew that his livelihood and perhaps his very life depended on maintaining his composure until the meeting was over. As such, he willed himself to stare forward impassively, despite the overwhelming fatigue in his muscles and the fact that he had barely managed to change out of his soaking wet field uniform, let alone get some sleep, before being summoned to the large house that stood just up the street from the city amphitheater. He had seen far more theatrical tantrums during his time as a palace guard for a Persian Satrap. If he could hold his temper around obnoxious foreigners like those, he could withstand Cleon’s wrath as well.
After the capsizing of the Artemisium, Galankos had no other options but to turn out most of the watch to assist in its recovery. The criminal element of Croton caught on quickly and seized on the opportunity to spend the entire morning causing mischief of various sorts throughout the city despite the wind and the rain. Stores and homes were robbed, and old scores were settled. Five citizens and twice again as many slaves were dead, and while no women of note had come forward to say that they had been raped, Galankos was sure that someone would before long. Indeed, the sole ray of hope from the entire night was that the storm had washed the Atremisium into much shallower water before it finally hit the bottom, only partially submerged. This in turn allowed more than half of the two hundred man crew to successfully reach the shore with their lives. They were half drowned and miserable by the time they crawled onto the beach, but they would eventually recover.
Galankos returned his attention to the red faced man in front of him. The mercenary commander of the City Watch was a seasoned killer, and as such, had a habit of instantly appraising the physical strength and martial bearing of just about anyone he encountered. The white-robed individual that was currently screaming at the top of his lungs appeared to have little of the former and even less of the latter. That was not what made him dangerous, though. Galankos knew from long experience that his appearance as an unassuming member of the Council of One Thousand was a deliberate deception. He maintained the look and mannerisms of a soft-spoken, collaborative politician eager to advance the prestige of his home city because it suited him. The colonists of Greater Greece were understandably suspicious of domineering individuals who sought to amass great amounts of personal power. Many had fled the more established cities on the Greek mainland and surrounding isles to escape the yoke of such tyrants. In fact, Croton’s most famous resident, Pythagoras, had fled one such tyrant when he rose to power on the island of Samos. As such, if a man in Greater Greece wanted to amass great power over his neighbors, he would have to do so covertly. No one was better at it than Cleon. Galankos knew full well that the man he was facing was a monster much like himself, and even more adept than he at concealing his true self behind a mask of civic duty.
In fact, Cleon was arguably the most powerful man in southern Italia. Although he only cast one vote out of, well, one thousand, any time there was an issue that needed settling in the city, Cleon almost always had the final say. Cleon had carefully constructed a network of political allies over the years, and at the most recent count, four hundred twenty-three other council members could be counted on to vote in lock step with Cleon regardless of their own personal beliefs. This meant that Cleon or his allies would only need to convince a handful of council members to vote alongside them while their opponents would need to convince hundreds.
For the last ten years, these tactics had worked quite well. Cleon was not above using the personal grudges or petty ambitions held by council members to leverage their votes against his rivals. Those who voted with him knew that, if they were loyal, their own projects would eventually be ratified as well. As such, Cleon and his followers had amassed great wealth over the years. If a blacksmith was being driven out of business by a rival or foreign imports, oftentimes he could simply go to Cleon, and in exchange for a sizable “gift,” watch with glee as the part of the city where the rival worked was declared to be off-limits to industry of that sort while imported ironwork was taxed heavily when it arrived in the port. Of course, this in turn made the tax collectors very pleased to support Cleon’s ambitions as they received a percentage of the revenue that they collected or as grudging merchants would say, extorted, from the populace. He would have done very well in the Persian courts of Galankos’ youth.
Croton was an important port and was the sole gateway to the ever growing market of Greek farmers in southern Italia, and as such, Cleon’s taxes did little to dissuade merchants from dropping anchor in Croton’s harbor. They simply raised their prices, and passed their expenses on to the Greek farmers struggling to create new lives for themselves and their families on the peninsula. The farmers were not fools, and they sometimes got the idea that they could separate themselves from Croton politically. Of course, those were the times when Galankos might send a few of his less scrupulous Watchmen into the countryside to remind recalcitrant farmers about how vulnerable they were living so far from proper civilization. It was easy to leverage the farmers’ collective dislike of the goat-herding mountain tribes and lay the blame at their feet.
Of course, Cleon had his rivals. Chief among them were Milos, the old Crotonian war hero that had once led Galankos and thousands of others, both mercenary and citizen, in a fight for survival against the neighboring city of Sybaris. Also, there was Bromycles, a blacksmith that enjoyed the support of many of the merchants and craftsmen that felt that they were being dealt a great disservice by the unnecessary laws and expenses levied by the ever-growing Crotonian government. Fortunately, even these two would occasionally disagree with one another, further weakening their own positions while strengthening those of Cleon. If Galankos was going to be punished for the morning’s failure, it would be in no small part due to the potential humiliation that Cleon’s rivals would attempt to heap upon him.
Galankos reassured himself by thinking about the difficulty that Cleon would experience if he tried to replace him. As Cleon and his cohorts passed more laws, the necessity of a strong City Watch to enforce them increased as well. Galankos had served alongside Cleon in the war against Sybaris, and had supported the ambitious young man when he argued vocally against Milos’ rash strategies in response to the overwhelmingly powerful Sybarite land and sea forces. Though Milos had ultimately been vindicated by his success, the people had short memory and rarely called Cleon to task for his long ago strategic blunders.
Cleon had learned from his mistakes, and as one of his earliest allies, had installed Galankos as City Watch commander as soon as he was politically able to. He used the minor threats of Samnite raids and pirates from the northern Adriatic as an excuse to build a standing City Watch and an accompanying small fleet of warships. To date, the Watch consisted of two thousand men and four, technically three now, Galankos thought ruefully, permanent warships. Half of the watch was stationed in Croton itself, while the other half was garrisoned in the surrounding farming settlements. In exchange for ruthlessly enforcing Cleon’s laws, and often ignoring those of his rivals, Galankos had amassed far more wealth than even the most powerful mercenary field commanders in Anatolia could think of earning.
For these reasons, Galankos considered himself an important strand in Cleon’s intricate web of plots and pawns, but knew full well that the man’s temper made him unpredictable. Therefore, he listened with great deference as his benefactor vented his frustration.
“All this, for a boat full of smuggled wine!” Cleon concluded his rant. Eyes wide, chest heaving, he waited for Galankos to explain himself.
“Councilman, we are interviewing the surviving crewmen from the Artemisium as we speak. It will not be long before we find out exactly what went wrong. From what we have been able to piece together so far, we know that one man was seen jumping from the ship. My lieutenant assumed that he was attempting to flee, but according to one of the men stationed on the deck that we fished out of the sea a few hours ago, he was somehow able to seize control of the ship’s helm. He then used the incoming wind from the storm to capsize the ship before the crew could react. The only question is how he got onboard in the first place. We do not believe that the attacker survived, but my men are combing the beach regardless.”
Cleon cut him off. “Do not waste my time with speculation. When you find the answer, tell me. Until then, I need to find a way to keep the stewpot from boiling over. Do you have any idea what kind of situation this has put me in?” Galankos could tell that Cleon was starting to get angry again. “That bastard Milos will use this against me at next week’s meeting. He will question the necessity of a standing City Watch and ask why we are spending a bull’s weight in gold for warships and weapons when the people are not being kept safe. I will need to call in dozens of favors to silence him. Worse yet, Patrocles is cousin to councilman Artanos. If I let him go unpunished, others will try their luck smuggling. If I punish him publicly, I will lose the support of a key ally. I might even have to give him a years’ exemption from the cloth tax to keep him on my side…” he trailed off, mind fully occupied with the complex set of deals that he would have to make to maintain his agenda in the council.
He turned his back on Galankos and took a few steps towards the window that overlooked the Amphitheatre. The morning’s rain storm had washed it clean. The stone seats and arches glistened in the setting sun. “Galankos, you know as well as I that at your age, starting over as a mercenary in Asia Minor with no contacts would be a death sentence. The only reason that I am keeping you at your post in light of this disaster is that you have been loyal to me for these ten years. I do not have the time to train and groom a replacement, though I could if I had to, I suppose.” He turned back toward Galankos, “we are done here for tonight. Tomorrow, I want your men to start salvaging the Artemisium. If you cannot get it afloat, break it up for scrap wood. I will not have my enemies chuckling into their sleeves every time they see the greatest ship on the western coast of the Adriatic languishing on a beach.”
Galankos finally spoke, “It will be as you say, Councilman.” Before spinning on his heel, he asked one final question. “What do you want me to do with Patrocles, Sir?”
Cleon did not even blink. “Break his legs. Yes both of them. One above the knee, one below. Leave him at his cousin’s and say that he was resisting arrest. Tell him that he is lucky to have such an esteemed relative. Otherwise, he would be outside the walls waiting to see if the wolves or Samnites would get to get him first. Give Artanos my compliments along with a jug of that wine, and tell him that I look forward to his support next week. He will get the message; I am sure of it.”
Galankos allowed a ghost of a smile to pass across his lips. He would be alright after all, not that he could say the same for Patrocles, who was lying in a pile of his own shit in the southern gatehouse. The fatigue that had wracked his body before was nearly gone for the moment. No one had ever accused Galankos of having a hands-off approach to leadership. This next part would be fun.

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2 thoughts on “The Pythagoreans: Chapter 5

  1. Pingback: The Pythagoreans: Chapter 4 | abouttogetreal

  2. Pingback: The Pythagoreans: Chapter 6 | abouttogetreal

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