Here are the first five chapters of my first novel: The Pythagoreans. If you’d like to read the rest or just want to share your thoughts, please contact me. Enjoy.
The mist clung to the waters of the Adriatic Sea. Normally, when the fog was this thick, most shipmasters would prefer to remain anchored rather than risk collision with one of the many rocky outcroppings that dotted the coastline of southern Italia. A single small ship cut silently through the water in defiance of the elements. The sleek galley sailed low in the water, its hull and sails darker than most ships of its type. A small man of forty-two years with dark hair and eyes clung to a rope on the ship’s prow, searching for the signal that would indicate that his customers were in place. Compared to the payout, the risks associated with this voyage were nothing spectacular and barely merited a passing thought. He had seen far worse in his two decades plying the Mediterranean Sea smuggling goods past avaricious magistrates and warlords to individuals who wanted what they wanted with no questions asked. If tonight’s drop went smoothly, he and his crew would soon be in Thebes or Tarentum or any one of the more disreputable ports that dotted the Mediterranean where they could find sanctuary and new business.
Due in no small part to his keen eye for talent, not to mention his knack for knowing a good deal when he saw one, Anech had traded in his leaky flat bottomed barge that he had once used to travel the estuaries of the Nile Delta, looking for work wherever he could find it, for a sleek Phoenician galley he called the Heron. The ship was well-built and fast, boasting two sails and a dozen oars on each side, more than enough to power the craft quickly and efficiently regardless of the weather. As outstanding as his ship was, his crew was even better. Anech recruited his crew from all across the Mediterranean, generally taking on a man or two whenever he made a port call. The crewmen waiting silently for his signal were clad in trousers, tunics, and breechclouts made out of furs, leather, linen, wool, and gods only knew what else, representing almost every nation in the known world that depended on the sea for their livelihood.
Unusually for one who worked on the water for a living, Anech was a fervent devotee of the god Anubis. He found it fitting that just as the entrance to the underworld teemed with souls both good and bad, the inns and taverns of every port city were rife with sailors of varying quality looking for work. Just as Anubis would weigh a man’s heart on his scales to determine his true nature, Anech was always able to see past the usual boasts and bluster and weigh the measure of the man before him. Looking around at his men, he was well and truly pleased. This was the best crew that he had ever had. They were discrete, loyal, and competent to the last man. A few more runs with this lot, and he would be able to return to his village in the swamps near the mouth of the Nile to live out his days in comfort.
Even though his eyesight was beginning to fade as he grew older, Anech was still able to spot the brief flash of a lantern about two bowshots from the ship. He recognized the prearranged signal and gestured to his crew to begin work. Crewmen quietly scurried about the ship, striking the two sails and moving their illicit cargo toward the railing. The crew lowered a rowboat into the water and the two carefully-selected rowers climbed down a rope ladder and took their place at the oars, one in front, one in back, with room enough in the middle for cargo. The crew moved quickly, displaying the calm economy of motion that can only be achieved by a group of men that is accustomed to working closely together. The anchor dropped and the cargo was made ready, all in complete silence.
His navigator signaled with a discreet nod once the sails and their associated lines were stowed satisfactorily. He was the crew’s sole Hebrew, and went by the name of Binyamin. Almost fifteen years ago, Anech had bought Binyamin from a slave market in Sidon. Prior to his enslavement, Binyamin had lived as a street urchin until he had been captured for minor thievery by the local authorities. Even after more than a decade of sailing together, Anech did not know much about the man’s personal history. Judging by the ease with which Binyamin was able to learn new languages and his ability to read and write a variety of tongues, Anech suspected that he had never been entirely truthful about his background, but did not press the young man on the matter.
Occasionally, a customer would react in surprise when they learned that the Egyptian smuggler’s third-in-command was a Hebrew. According to whispered stories told around evening cooking fires, that same god had once wrought incredible destruction throughout Egypt despite the protection of Osirus, Ra, Horus, Anubis, and a dozen other deities. Despite Binyamin’s ancestry, Anech has known a good investment when he saw one, and gave the boy the opportunity to buy his way out of bondage by working aboard his ship. Binyamin stayed on, and soon became one of the most versatile members of the crew. He could mend a sail in the morning, coax nigh unimaginable speeds from the Heron all day, and then negotiate a recalcitrant merchant into a corner as the sun set.
To his right, tugging on one of the sides of his long moustache stood Thraxos, the giant Minoan. Anyone unfamiliar with Thraxos simply assumed he was born of some unwashed tribe of savages from north of the Danube river. Actually, Thraxos had no more Barbarian blood in him than Anech, and hailed from Crete. Such trivialities did not stop Thraxos from dressing in trousers and tattooing his body in strange patterns. He said it helped keep the crew in line. Anech had one seen Thraxos beat three men unconscious in a tavern brawl when he had suspected that they were colluding against him in a dice game. Anech hired him on the spot, and Thraxos had proved his worth many times over in the ensuing years, serving as the Bosun at sea and an enforcer and bodyguard while on land. Thraxos was extremely loyal to his Egyptian employer, and ensured that his will was carried out regardless of circumstance.
Thraxos stopped stretching to glower at two men who were lowering jars filled with the fine Cretan wine into the waiting rowboat.
“If either of you bastards spills even a drop, I will tie you together and throw you overboard. I do not give a rat’s asshole whose worthless tribe kidnapped whose great-great-great grandfather’s pet goat, and neither does anyone else on the ship,” he growled in a harsh voice that still managed to carry across the length of the galley. A crew member that had been in the act of stowing the smaller of the ship’s two sails moved a few steps further away from the massive, baldheaded Minoan.
Naturally, he was talking to Vertus and Brondan. The two hated each other for reasons the rest of the crew did not entirely understand. Vertus was a stoic Illyrian with a hard, pinched face while Brondan was a loud, boastful Gaul with red cheeks and wide shoulders from the northern reaches of the Adriatic. They had been hired onto the crew around the same time, and had never been able to stand one another. Still, Vertus was an excellent thief, and Brondan had an encyclopedic knowledge of the patchwork of Gallic tribes that inhabited the northern Mediterranean who were always happy to trade their exquisite ironwork for luxuries from the East. For Anech, the individual strengths of the two men outweighed their combined burden. The men glared at one another continued to lower the fragile clay pots down to the waiting hands of the two men in the rowboat.
As always, Anech had two of his best men going ashore. Shore work was dangerous and required both subtlety and a willingness to commit violence at a moment’s notice. Since he needed to depend on his agents ashore to react appropriately to a variety of situations, he only entrusted a handful of his men to handle such delicate work. One man, Daryus, was an Anatolian who had traded spices in a past life. When his ship had been destroyed by sea bandits, Daryus found himself a pauper begging for coppers on the streets of Corinth. Anech had hired him for his business acumen and knowledge of eastern trade routes, and relied on him heavily when it came to securing favorable concessions during the delicate negotiations that were a near daily occurrence in the life of a smuggler. The other man, who went by Hanno, was from the area around Carthage, a city settled by the Phoenicians much as the nearby city of Croton was settled by Greeks, whose respective homelands could support far fewer mouths than the banks of the Nile. Though still fairly new to the life of smuggling, Anech felt that he showed great promise, and he wanted him to see how things worked ashore.
Anech watched with approval as Daryus deftly maneuvered the last of the heavy jars of wine into the rowboat; not an easy task in the pitching sea. He used an oar to push off the side of the boat while Daryus undid the line. As the men rowed past the front of the galley, Anech waved to get Daryus’ attention.
“Remember what we discussed about the particulars of the trade. I have worked with Patroclus in the past. He is a fairly honest merchant but he will try and squeeze every bent copper from you before agreeing to a price,” he said in a low voice.
Beside him, Binyamin chuckled wryly as he coiled a rope around his forearm, “He’s in a tight spot. If he tries it, we’ll tell him we’ll take these jugs further south and see what the Syracusans will pay.”
From the boat, Daryus nodded in agreement. “Even if we charged him twice as much, he’d still turn a profit with the taxes they’re asking for whenever a ship docks in port.”
“Either way, any less than fifteen drachmas a jug, and I am taking it out of your cut,” Anech said, dark eyes twinkling even in the early morning gloom. Behind him, a few of his crewmen exchanged wry glances. His men knew that he would never pay them less than their fair share, though he often threatened to garnish wages or worse. Thanks to Thraxos, Anech almost never had to play the part of tyrant. The two smugglers began rowing in tandem toward the shore, which was barely visible in the mist.
The carefully maintained rowboat was truly the workhorse of smuggling operations such as this. In situations where a city’s port was closely guarded, the Heron would generally travel several leagues up the coast from the city in order to anchor and offload their wares far from prying eyes. The city of Croton in particular was a very popular destination for smugglers like Anech. Its ruling council levied massive taxes on ships entering its port, causing many merchants to make extralegal arrangements with smugglers to obtain goods more cheaply. The City Watch was both aggressive and well equipped, but the risks associated with doing business were well worth it to Anech. The rowboat kept the merchants honest; if they tried to betray the smugglers, they would only seize a small fraction of the Heron’s wares at the cost of thousands of Drachmas in future lost business, as smugglers often discussed the trustworthiness of various merchants among themselves. Even so, Anech still felt a knot in his stomach when he sent his men into the lion’s den. From long experience, he knew his hands would not stop shaking until both of the boat’s trips were complete.
On a hill overlooking the beach where he had been informed the smugglers had arranged to make landfall, Galankos, Captain of the Croton City Watch, waited with eager anticipation. He saw a group of three men with a large wagon waiting on the beach, eyes fixated open the sea. Periodically, one of them would uncover a lantern, let it shine briefly, and then cover it again. That alone would be enough for Galankos to apprehend the men, one of whom he could tell was the odious little Patrocles even from here, but he wanted the smugglers as well. An athletic man with a close-cropped beard and several prominent scars on his arms and face, he moved easily under the weight of his armor. Spread out along the ridgeline, another dozen city Watchmen kept themselves concealed from view, looking askance at their commander.
Generally, he would leave missions like this to a trusted subordinate, but Galankos had suspected Patroclus of working with smugglers for a long time. With his grubby clothing and constant fidgeting whenever a patrol walked past his shop, Patroclus had always aroused equal feelings of disgust and suspicion in the fastidious watchman. In a way, the smugglers and the local merchants that were enabling them were taking money out of Galankos’ own pocket. The City Watch helped to ensure that the merchants and ship captains paid the taxes that in turn supported the City Watch. If he could make an example of Patroclus, tonight would be a very good night indeed. Galankos slowly sank back behind the crest of the hill so that only his head was exposed.
His patience was soon rewarded. One of the three men started gesturing out to sea, and even though the fog was still too thick for Galankos himself to see the approaching smuggler’s ship. It was almost time to spring the trap.
He turned to the youngest member of the watch and said, “get the fire started. When I call, light the signal and we can catch them all tonight.” He smiled for a moment, “Men, if we do this right, no one will notice if a jug or ten of Patroclus’ wine ends up in the barracks.”
With a muted growl of approval, his men went into action. Galankos and ten armored Watchmen with shields and short swords began to make their way down the hill, using a small draw to conceal their movement should one of the men on the beach turn around. Meanwhile, his archers fanned out along the ridgeline until they could range the entire beach. The youngest watchman remained in place, struggling with his flint and tinder.
The guards’ movements were well-choreographed. They moved silently and efficiently, like the professionals that they were. A decade ago, before the war with Sybaris, the City Watch was made up of rank amateurs much like that of a more established Polis on the Greek mainland. Croton, however, was on the ragged edge of the civilized world, and needed fierce, seasoned warriors like Galankos to protect its people. Galankos spent the first the early years of his life serving as a mercenary across Asia Minor, fighting for Greek and Persian alike. A run of bad luck found him penniless and desperate on the streets of Croton on the eve of its war with Sybaris. Galankos, needing the money, joined the men of the Polis for the duration of the war alongside several thousand other mercenaries. At the time, Galankos had planned to defect to the Sybarite army at the earliest opportunity, but surprisingly, Croton eventually emerged victorious even though they were caught flatfooted at the outset of hostilities.
In the wake of the conflict, the council of One Thousand felt it wise to institute a permanent City Watch, which Galankos was all too happy to join. He rose through the ranks quickly by making the right friends in the right places. Within ten years, he commanded the entire watch, and quickly set about expanding its power and influence. With his new position, he was able to obtain all of the money, power, and the luxuries that accompany such things that he could ask for. His home was both large and well-appointed, and he had quite the hoard of ‘gifts’ from merchants and informants buried in the courtyard. He ran the guard with an iron fist, but they respected him. They knew very well that he was responsible for their prosperity, even if his expectations and standards were high. Hard men from all over the Hellenic world vied for a position in the watch.
Tonight, gods willing, the latest arrow in his quiver would be tested in combat. Built in Athens, the Artemisium was a massive trireme worthy of any of the great Poleis. The ship carried nearly one hundred and fifty rowers, along with another fifty marines for ship-to-ship action. It was less than a league north of the beach, well concealed in a narrow cove. When the fire was lit, it would make short work of the smuggling ship while it was anchored. Every Greek city worth anything had at least a small flotilla of warships, but until now, Croton had lacked a warship of comparable quality to naval powers from the mainland such as Athens or Thebes.
For a moment, Galankos felt a twinge of nervousness. This was a massive undertaking based on the word of one informant. If something were to go wrong… No. He stopped himself. The men on the beach saw something out there on the waves, and this night would be one of triumph. He felt like a wolf closing in on a flock of sheep as he continued stealthily down the hill, the moment’s hesitation forgotten.
By the time he reached the bottom of the hill, he could make out the shape of a small rowboat approaching the shore. Staying in cover, he and his small group of watchmen advanced closer toward Patroclus and what had to be two of his house slaves. The donkey strapped to the cart brayed indolently, probably upset at the disruption to its daily routine. A jolt of excitement ran through him. Just a few moments more, he thought. He always loved this part. He loved it just as much as he had when he had impaled his first Armenian savage twenty years ago when he was a mere boy of sixteen. From here, all was in the hands of the Fates. He had but to play his part, and the bones would fall where they may. He found the uncertainty thrilling.
The rowboat paused before reaching the shore. The two men inside guided the boat in a semicircle with their paddles before rowing the ship backwards toward the sandy beach. Professionals, preparing looking for a quick getaway. Galankos’ breath quickened as he watched the boat run aground in the surf. Two men jumped out, dragging the heavily laden craft further onto shore. From his vantage point at the foot of the hill, he was still not close enough to hear what the men on the beach were saying, but from their body language, he could tell that they were haggling for the ship’s contents.
Just then, a gust of wind briefly lifted the fog revealing a sleek Phoenician galley anchored close to shore.
Now was the time. With a voice tempered in the thunder of half a hundred battles, he bellowed, “In the name of the Council of One Thousand, sovereigns of the free Greek city of Croton, I command you to raise your hands and submit to our custody,” behind him, a massive bonfire came to life, bright enough for the crew of the Artemisium to see. The five men on the beach spun around and stared at the watchmen. One of them began to run away from the swordsmen who, in their view, must have materialized less a javelin’s throw from where they were standing. Galankos gestured toward the running figure.
“Take him down,” Galankos cried again in a clear, ringing voice. Half a dozen arrows peppered the ground around the running figure, one of them passing so close as to pierce his cloak. With a shriek of fright, the criminal whirled around, checking his body for a protruding arrow. His moment’s hesitation proved fatal. The next volley ripped through his body, killing him instantly. The man fell, convulsing, to the ground, his blood oozing into the sand. Galankos ripped his gaze away from the fresh corpse in time to see the smugglers attempting to push their boat back into the water. Not so fast, he thought.
The guard captain and his men sprinted toward the shoreline, blades drawn, shields flashing in the sun that was just beginning to rise over the sea. The heaviest of the lot, the merchant Patroclus, fell blubbering to his knees, chins wobbling. His men aimed a few passing blows with the pommels of their swords at the sobbing merchant as they ran past him into the surf. The third man, still holding his lantern, was already clambering into the boat with the two smugglers, as they began to row, oars pushing off the sand just below the surface. Galankos reached the boat first, splashing through the thigh-deep water. He dropped his shield and grabbed the man with the lantern by the hair, using him to vault into the boat. The lantern went out as the man fell backwards into the water. Galankos heard a gurgling scream from the would-be accomplice as one of his Watchmen slit the man’s throat.
He paid the violence taking place behind him no heed. After taking a moment to regain his balance, he sized up the two men seated one behind the other in the boat. He suspected that they were both easterners, judging by their loose clothing and olive skin. To their credit, they reacted quickly. The closer of the two men, with a plaited beard that denoted him as some kind of Persian, drew a knife from his belt and slashed wildly at Galankos. His oars splashed into the water as he pressed the attack. Galankos thrust his hips backward to avoid the knife, and fell bodily onto the smaller man. The Persian crumpled, mouth colliding with his knees as he dropped his knife.
The other easterner was already preparing to swing an oar at Galankos’ head. Thinking quickly, he wrapped his arms around his quarry, and, pushing off with his left leg, rolled into the shallow water. The sounds around him became muffled as his head was swallowed by the sea. The Persian kicked and struggled, but was unable to right himself before Galankos’ hands closed around his throat. Straddling the smuggler, Galankos arched his head back, breathing in the cool salty air and bore the Persian under the water. Within moments, the man’s struggles grew weaker, and bubbles soon ceased to escape from his mouth. Galankos felt a thrill run through his body. He knew that this was the real reason that he would always accompany his men on missions such as these. There was nothing quite so thrilling as the act of taking another man’s life.
It took another moment or two for the excitement of the kill to recede enough for Galankos to get his bearings. The other easterner was out of the boat now, splashing in the surf. The man was bigger than he looked. He brandished a large oar as if it weighed no more than a walking stick. He had wild eyes and his long beard that glistened with seawater. He swung wildly at four Watchmen as they attempted to surround him. One of his men moved too slowly and doubled over when the oar connected with his breastplate, knocking the wind out of him. Another Watchman seized the opportunity and tackled the smuggler. The other two quickly piled on and brought the man down into the waves, short swords sliding in and out of the smuggler’s body, darkening the water around them. Galankos nodded with approval as his men helped the injured Watchman out of the water. From the way he moved, he looked to have a cracked rib, but he would be able to recover.
He saw the smugglers’ galley crawling with activity. Where was the Artemisium? As if he had summoned it with his thoughts, he heard the muffled thud, thud, thud of the warship’s drum as a single large mast became visible through the slowly vanishing mist. The mast resolved itself into a ship that had no peer for hundreds of leagues. It incorporated all of the latest shipbuilding designs and techniques from the Greek mainland. The ship was so majestic that Galankos momentarily regretted his decision to accompany the land force and leave command of the ship to one of his lieutenants. It was too late to reconsider, of course, and Galankos had never particularly liked sailing, so it was all for the best.
The ship came fully into view. Its ram alone was the size of two men laid end to end. No eastern ship could stand before a Greek warship if it was making speed. Bathed red in the early morning sun, the Artemesium raced toward the galley, which had struck its sails so as not to snap the line securing it to its anchor. Too late, the sea scum realized their folly. The Artemisium would smash them where they stood. Galankos smiled to himself not long now, he thought. His informant would be rewarded handsomely, and his patrons in the Council of One Thousand would surely bestow great honors upon him, perhaps allowing him to finally recruit the additional score of men that he had requested two months ago. Today was going to be a good day. Maybe he would allow a few of the smugglers to live if they surrendered quickly enough. He looked across the water and saw a man on the prow of the ship staring back at him, even as his crewmates began to scramble about the deck, surprised by the massive Greek warship that to them must have appeared out of nowhere. If the gods were kind, that man and his whole crew would be begging for their lives before the sun was fully risen. Galankos made a mental note to put a good word in for the fruit vendor that had given him the needed information to set up such a perfect ambush as he stared intently out to sea.
Binyamin struggled to maintain his composure. He could not let the crew see him come unraveled by the massive trireme bearing down on them. They were the closest thing to family that he had, and their opinion of him mattered more than anything else in the world, even his own personal safety. If any of them were to survive this sudden and dramatic reversal of fortunes, the next several moments would be critical.
He had watched in horror as the City Watchmen descended on his two crewmates and the Crotonians that were waiting for them on the beach. Daryus never stood a chance, though Hanno had struck at least one watchman before he too was overwhelmed. Their apparent leader, wearing an imposing crested helm, still stood thigh deep in the water, watching the Heron intently. Binyamin had seen him wrestle Daryus under the water, never to resurface. Behind him, his men were both pulling the rowboat full of wine onto the beach and retrieving the corpses in the shallow water. Smuggling was a risky business. Any one of the unscrupulous merchants, spies, information brokers, or fellow smugglers who formed the network through which deliveries were arranged and contracts sealed could have turned them in. The circumstances of their betrayal would never be known to Daryus or Hanno. Binyamin hoped that the unknown traitor’s soul would burn one day for causing the deaths of the two good men.
Binyamin could already the faces of the archers stationed at the mighty warship’s prow. It was coming on too fast, propelled forward by what had to be two hundred rowers straining as one beneath the tall ship’s deck. He could see that there were fifty or more oars on each side of the massive ship as it cut through the waves and receding mist like a knife. Their fluid movement, coupled with the large, stylized pupils painted on either side of the ram made for an intimidating sight. Binyamin struggled unsuccessfully to keep images of the ram smashing into the side of the Heron from his thoughts.
Worst of all, there was nothing more Binyamin could do with his sails. The main sail was flapping feebly, while the supplementary one that aided in steering was barely catching anything. The futility of his efforts gnawed at his insides as he struggled to think of a solution. In a few more minutes, the Greek ship would be close enough to attempt to ram them or pepper them with flaming arrows until they would be forced to surrender. Binyamin silently promised himself that he was not going back to prison. He felt useless. Worst of all, what little wind there was came from the east, which would push them back if they tried to flee directly away from the coast. Instead, they had to tack and wait for the trireme’s to reach them.
Thraxos bellowed orders as men scrambled to unfurl sails. Brondan cut the anchor line with his axe, while the other smugglers unstowed the galley’s oars below deck. The Heron only had one-fifth of the compliment of oars compared to the approaching trireme. There was almost no wind for Binyamin to capture with his sails, though he tried desperately to coax even a little speed out of the Heron with the pitiful amount that barely managed to move the sails. Slowly, the Heron began to move through the water. Binyamin gave the captain a look of resignation. They both knew that they could not hope to build the speed they needed in time.
The sun was coming up now, but the color was slightly off. The usual oranges and yellows were muted by a large group of clouds to the east. Binyamin had spent almost half his life on the water, and he could tell when the rising sun was obscured by a bank of storm clouds well before the wind inevitably picked up or rain began to fall. Like a bolt of lightning, inspiration struck. The plan was desperate, but no one else in the crew was a strong enough swimmer to even consider it. There was a slim possibility that this oncoming storm could be used against the warship. The chances of him living until the sun was fully risen were small, but this might buy time for his crewmates to escape.
“Vertus, I need you to take over the mainsail,” Binyamin shouted as the Illyrian ran by. Vertus stopped and gave Binyamin an incredulous look as he grabbed the line Binyamin was holding without complaint. “The wind’s coming over your left shoulder. Keep the sail flush to the wind even if it changes direction. I need to talk to the Captain.” After a cursory inspection to see if Vertus was managing the sails correctly, Binyamin scrambled back to the rear of the ship, grabbing a long coiled rope as he went. Anech, who in many ways was more of a father to him than his own had been, gripped the rudder, face grim.
“Binyamin, what are you doing? We need more wind in those sails,” the Egyptian shouted as Binyamin approached him, rope in hand.
“We both know it will not help,” Binyamin said, glancing back at the oncoming trireme. “I am going to try something. If it works, the rest of the crew will escape. If it does not, we will all be dead anyway,” he continued as he knotted the end of the rope around his waist. Anech had always looked out for Binyamin, and the young Hebrew could see the look of concern on his mentor’s face. He had been part of the crew since he was a small boy, and Anech never neglected an opportunity to teach the Hebrew everything he could about the smuggling business, much as a father would teach a son his trade.
“The Heron has never let us down before. Some god or another will smile on us before much longer,” said Anech without much certainty in his eyes.
“We do not have any other options,” Binyamin replied, securing the other end of the rope to the back rail of the Heron. “If I make it, I will head for the shore and lie low. After I jump, cut to port as hard as you can.”
Anech looked at Binyamin for what they both knew was probably the last time. “You’ve always made me proud, boy.”
Binyamin nodded back, “The gods want us to make our own luck today.”
Another volley of arrows rained down on the Heron, causing the two men to duck. Near the front of the ship, a man screamed in surprise and pain. It would only be a few more moments before the Greek warship was close enough to ram, bombard, or board the much smaller Heron. Binyamin took one last look around the ship that had been his home for more than half his life. He knew every nook, cranny, patch, and contour of the sleek craft, and this could very well be the last time he ever saw it. Thraxos noticed the activity at the rear of the Heron and ran to where Binyamin and Anech were crouched. His eyes grew wide when he saw the rope tied to Binyamin.
“You’ve always been a crazy bastard, Hebrew,” he shouted as yet another volley of arrows peppered the deck, sending the few men that were not manning oars below decks scrambling for cover. He flashed a smile, “If you pull this off, Poseidon will have no choice but to welcome you into his halls, whether you believe in him or not.”
Binyamin returned the smile. While he and Thraxos did not always agree with one another, they had a great deal of mutual respect. “You keep those scrolls of mine safe and dry. I will be wanting them when I get back.”
Thraxos shook his head, “No one would want them even if we did try to sell them. I’ll guard them as long as I breathe, though it might not be for much longer if they catch us,” he said, motioning at the oncoming trireme with his head.
Anech cut Thraxos off. “May your God protect you son, as he has thus far. We will be back for you, so keep an eye to the sea and watch for us.”
Trying to look more confident than he felt, Binyamin looked at the two men one last time before vaulting over the edge of the Heron. The water rushed up to meet him, and Binyamin fought his body’s sudden urge to expel his breath as soon as he hit the cold water. The crisp noise of the world above the surface was replaced with the strange muffled sounds of the sea. He kicked his legs and pulled the seawater behind him with his arms, propelling himself deeper into the black depths. The disorganized splashes of the Heron’s oars were replaced by the rhythmic crash of the trireme’s oars as it cut through the water close behind. The shadow of the warship blocked out the feeble morning light as it passed over Binyamin’s head. Though out of reach of the oars, the oars’ collective current still buffeted Binyamin’s compact frame. Fighting the urge to panic, Binyamin floated beneath the surface, trying not to imagine the jaws of some monstrous sea creature closing around his helpless body. Just as his lungs began to scream for air, he felt the tug of the rope wrapped around his waist. He was now being pulled through the water by the Heron.
As his body began to convulse from lack of air, Binyamin clawed his way to the surface. The light of the surface came closer as Binyamin’s vision grew darker. His head finally surfaced, and he choked down several breaths of fresh air before he could see and think clearly. Once he gained his bearings, Binyamin saw that his plan had worked well so far. Anech had turned the Heron sharply away from shore at just the right time. The trireme was now interposed between the Heron and himself. Binyamin watched in abstract fascination as the uniformed crewmen scrambled to match the smaller, nimbler ship’s tight turn. In doing so, the warship was forced to slow, which in turn allowed the Heron to pull Binyamin closer. The sensation of cutting through the water with little to no effort was very odd, and the rope rubbed painfully around Binyamin’s waist. The rear of the warship loomed up before him, and Binyamin tried to angle his body so that he could hit the ship as close to the rudder as possible. As the rope dragged him closer, a portion slipped underneath the rear left side of the ship. Thankfully, it did not become tangled in the ship’s rearmost oars.
The rear right side of the trireme loomed before Binyamin like a wooden wall. He had judged the speed of the ship perfectly; he would strike the ship between the last bank of rowers and the right rudder. This close, the sheer size of the warship was impressive. Three banks of oars made the current almost irresistible. Binyamin knew the oars on the other side of the ship must be reversing course to allow the ship to turn more easily. From the water, Binyamin could see the last several banks of rowers straining at their task. Fortunately, their eyes were focused away from him, either marking the cadence of a drummer that could be heard from further up the ship or on the drama unfolding through the oar ports on the opposite side of the ship. Binyamin began to fumble with the knot around his waist moments before hitting the side of the ship. The rope fell away and he hit the wooden side of the ship with a wet smacking sound.
Unlike the Heron, which had one rudder, the Greek monstrosity to which Binyamin now found himself clinging had a rudder on each side of the back end of the ship, enabling it to turn relatively well for such a long craft. To his right, a veritable forest of oars splashed rhythmically into the water. To his left, the flat wooden rudder creaked under the strain as it guided the trireme into a tight left turn. Like most ships’ rudders, the design was not intricate. A long pole was bolted to the side of the ship in such a way that it could swivel freely. Above deck, a perpendicular handle allowed an operator to turn the flat rudder in the water. Oftentimes, the left and right rudders were attached so that they could be used by one crewman. Looking down, Binyamin could see that the submerged portion of the rudder was the size of a large table and belted in iron.
The pole attached to the rudder was as big around as his forearm, so Binyamin had no problem finding purchase. Binyamin climbed up the rudder hand over hand, using the crossbars that secured it, or the side of the ship to support most of his weight. After what seemed like an eternity, he reached the railing and looked over. As he suspected, the two rudders were attached to one another by a jointed metal bar. The helmsman was pulling on both rudders at once, trying to bring his ship back in line with the fleeing Heron. The rowers were all below deck, where they would be protected by arrow fire, and the few crewmen and marines on deck were mostly clustered farther up the deck observing the Heron. While he had been climbing, the ship had successfully turned and was once again beginning to gain on the Heron. A man who was obviously in charge due to his ornate armor and imposing helmet had just finished barking orders to the helmsman and was making his way back to the archers at the front of the warship.
Binyamin dropped his head back behind the rail to quickly formulate a plan. The layout of the ship was still clear in his mind. If he could overpower the helmsman before the rest of the crew reacted, his plan might work. After taking a moment to collect himself, he pulled himself over the railing and padded towards the helmsman, bare feet slapping the deck. When Binyamin was only two steps away, the man began to look over his shoulder. Binyamin seized his helmet and lifted it off his head, bringing it back down swiftly. The helmsman crumpled to the ground, barely making a sound. For the moment, Binyamin was in control of the ship.
He kept the ship’s course steady. There was almost no wind in the Greek ship’s sails either, but that would soon change if his guess was correct. The sail was unfurled, with two very slack ropes keeping it more or less perpendicular to the ship. Binyamin knew that he would have only one chance to attempt his plan. He kept quiet and prayed that the men on deck would continue to focus on the Heron and not look back to see who was now piloting their ship.
His breathing quickened as he saw a ripple play across the surface of the water. There it is! It was time to act. Using all of his weight, Binyamin pulled the metal bar that attached the two rudders, causing the ship to turn right, back towards the shore. The deck lurched under the crewmen at the front, knocking several off their feet. One of the archers lost his balance and fell off the front of the ship. Below deck, the rowers shouted in alarm. Several oars slid out of their ports into the sea as oarsmen jostled one another. At the front of the ship, several of the crewmen were already regaining their feet, shouting in anger at whatever idiot was steering the ship so poorly. Their anger turned to surprise, and then back to anger as they realized that a smuggler had somehow made his way onto their ship and worse, was now steering it back to shore. The ship’s captain, ornate helmet askew, began gesturing wildly at Binyamin. Four or five archers took aim while several others scrambled to recover their bows.
They never got a chance to fire. After its violent turn, the trireme was in a very vulnerable position. It was perpendicular to the steadily increasing wind with a fully unfurled sail. The first powerful gust that heralded the oncoming storm was caught in the sail, causing it to twist so that it was now running parallel to the length of the ship. The deck began to lurch beneath Binyamin’s feet. At first Binyamin and the crewmen preparing to pepper his body with arrows tried their best to maintain their balance, but the angle of the deck soon became too extreme. One enterprising sailor attempted to grab a line to pull the sail so that it was not catching the full force of the sudden gust of wind. Too late, the crewmen scrambled to regain control of the sail and the line flew from his grasp as he too began to tumble overboard. The oarsmen below decks panicked first. Some scrambled above deck, while others wasted no time in wriggling their way out of the holes cut in the ship for their oars. The men above deck, Binyamin included, were now sliding toward the edge of the ship as the deck tilted under their feet. Binyamin grabbed ahold of a spare piece of rope and saw the unconscious form of the helmsman hurtle past him into the water. The man’s armor was heavy and he sank like a stone, with only a few bubbles marking his passage.
With a mighty smack, the ship’s large striped sail hit the water. The cloth spread out enough to stop the ship from fully capsizing as the thick mast creaked and groaned under the strain. Feeling vulnerable and exposed dangling from the now vertical ship’s deck, Binyamin let himself drop into the water, careful to avoid entangling himself in any ropes or knots of frantic sailors. An accomplished swimmer, he had no problem moving his arms and legs in such a way as to keep his head above water. All around him, men struggled to stay afloat. It was clear that some men were able to swim quite well, while others were far less skilled. The lucky ones were able to cling to the edges of their ship.
The armored marines were fighting to remove their greaves and breastplates as quickly as possible before their strength failed them and they slipped below the surface, though most were no more successful than the unconscious helmsman had been. Regardless, any attempt to apprehend Binyamin was, for the moment at least, completely forgotten. Binyamin knew that this state of affairs could not last long. As soon as some modicum of order was restored, the sailors would begin searching for the man that had all but destroyed their vessel. As if he needed any more convincing, a quick glance out to sea showed that the source of the sudden strong gusts of wind, an ominous bank of dark storm clouds was moving towards the shore. Worse yet, he could see flashes of lightning within the clouds, though the cacophony around him prevented the sound of thunder from reaching his ears.
Binyamin looked skyward and murmured a quick prayer to his peoples’ God, entreating him to grant the crew of the Heron safe passage through the onrushing storm. Through his actions, his brothers were spared from death or capture at the hands of the men now struggling around him. It would all be for nothing if the Heron floundered in heavy waves and sunk. Binyamin stopped reflecting on his friends’ potential fate when a massive forearm closed around his neck, nearly dislocating his jaw in the process.
Down Binyamin went, into the depths of the sea. Blood rushed in his ears while his lungs screamed for air. The oarsman, he had to be an oarsman due to the size of his arms and lack of any cumbersome armor, continued to squeeze the life out of him. With his last measure of strength, Binyamin drove his elbow into the man’s stomach, forcing him to expel a massive quantity of air bubbles that floated upward into the vanishing light. Taking advantage of the man’s temporary disorientation, Binyamin spun around without fully breaking the man’s embrace. He looked into a pair of angry eyes that stared back at him from within a dark, bushy beard that covered most of the man’s face. Even though his vision was blurred by the sea around him, there was no mistaking the murderous intent behind those eyes. Binyamin seized the man by the beard and smashed his forehead into the man’s nose repeatedly until the oarsman’s grip weakened. The blood that filled the water around his head was warmer and thicker than the seawater around the rest of his body. The oarsman continued to sink deeper into the sea and his ruined face continued to glare up at Binyamin until his form was swallowed up by the blackness. Binyamin frantically clawed his way back to the surface. His vision narrowed until he felt like he was looking through a knothole in a piece of wood. Still, he kicked and pulled the water downward with his arms until his head finally broke the surface. Whether from the desperate underwater scuffle or the ensuing frantic effort to get back to the surface, Binyamin’s shoulder screamed in agony every time he tried to move it. He glanced about at his surroundings and noticed that a sizable portion of the crew had successfully scrambled onto the half-capsized hull of their once proud ship. Most of them were staring out to sea at either the vanishing Heron or the approaching storm, faces filled with a combination of rage and dread.
The storm was moving toward the stricken ship at a seemingly impossible speed, and Binyamin could now not only hear the sound of not so far-off thunder, but see the shapes of individual storm clouds. Even unhurt, Binyamin knew that he had no chance of reaching the shore before the storm hit. After looking about for a scrap of wood or oar that he could use to keep himself partially afloat and finding none, Binyamin began the laborious process of swimming toward shore. To conserve energy and avoid straining his injured shoulder, Binyamin swam on his side, legs kicking like those of a frog’s, while one arm reached forward and pulled the water past his body. He had barely made it two ship lengths when he felt the first drops of rain hit his skin. The waves would come next, long before he could reach the dubious safety of the rocky shore.
“Brace yourselves,” Thraxos shouted as a massive wave crashed into the front of the Heron. Anech grabbed hold of the nearest railing, barely feeling the freezing water wash over his body. He had no idea how that crazy Hebrew had managed to nearly capsize their pursuer, but Binyamin had bought his crew a chance at salvation, undoubtedly with the cost of his own life. As long as he lived, Anech knew that he would never forget the sense of awe that he had felt as he watched the massive ship suddenly tip over in the onrushing wind. Maybe there was something to the man’s strange, solitary God, who the Hebrews believed held sole dominion over the earth. Indeed, even in Anech’s home village deep within the swamps of the Nile, people still told stories in hushed tones of the nearly inconceivable disasters that had befallen the people of Egypt many generations past when they had held the Hebrews in bondage.
Anech snapped out of his reverie when another wave came crashing down on the Heron, and cold water caused his thin linen tunic to cling uncomfortably to his body. He would not let Binyamin’s sacrifice be for nothing due to his own lack of initiative. A few more hits like that, and the Heron would capsize of break apart. Anech was startled by a tearing sound above him. Looking up, he saw that the Heron’s steering sail was ripped almost in half due to the storm’s powerful winds. At last, he felt his grief, fear, and frustration wash away and he began to act.
“Brondan,” he screamed over the rushing wind and crashing waves, “get that sail down.” Brondan did not seem to hear him, but readily understood Anech’s frantic gestures toward the rear sail. Thraxos, Vertus, and three other crewmen followed and began furling both the steering sail and the mainsail. The ship continued to lurch violently as Anech made his way to the ladder that led below deck. Before he could begin to descend, Anario, a Balearic islander who was also the ship’s most experienced oarsman popped his head out of the square opening.
“Sir,” he yelled, desperation adding a gut-tightening note to his normally calm voice, “It’s bad down here, Sir. Two of our oars are snapped clean off, and we have water coming in through the ports. The men at the benches have water up to their waists, and it is rising fast.”
“Seal up the ports,” Anech replied with as much calm as he could muster. If the hold filled with water, they were done for. Anario nodded and splashed back into the hold, barking out orders with a few curses in his native tongue complementing the distinct blend of Greek and Phoenician that was understood by almost every man that sailed the Mediterranean. Above deck, the sails were successfully stowed. Anech ordered the tops pried off several barrels of expensive Cretan wine. With a sigh of sadness he watched as the precious liquid was poured overboard. He then helped a crewman tie rope cradles around the barrels as if they were about to be loaded into a waiting rowboat. As each one was completed, Thraxos, Vertus, Brondan, or one of the other three crewmen still above deck would lower it into the hold, where Annario would ensure that it was filled to the brim with water. That done, the men would haul it up, muscles in their arms and shoulders straining, and pour it over the side.
Slowly but surely, despite the driving rain, and crashing waves, the Heron stopped wallowing. Below deck, the rowers successfully sealed the oar port covers shut with wax and pitch. It would be a laborious process to reopen them when the storm passed, but the hold was no longer in imminent danger of being flooded. At last, Anech gave the order to move the remaining wine, provisions, and other cargo into the ship’s hold to keep as much weight below the waterline as possible. That way, he hoped, a large wave might not bowl the Heron over without warning. Their best course of action was simply to wait out the storm and pray for the best.
With one last fearful glance, Anech followed his men into the ship’s hatch, closing the door after him. As he descended the ladder into the darkness of the cargo hold, he murmured a silent prayer to Anubis. He wondered if the tension and nervousness that was roiling inside him would be similar to the way he would one day feel when he stood before his god awaiting judgment. The wind and waves howled and splashed around them. For the first time since he had seen the man on the beach brought down by a hail of arrows, Anech could not feel his heart pounding in his chest. Around him, his crew murmured in hushed tones listening intently to the sounds of the storm and looking about apprehensively with every pitch and roll of the ship. The entire place smelled of sweat, vomit, and salt water. A few chanted prayers to whatever set of gods the people of their homeland worshipped, while most simply stared at their blistered hands or the water that was still pooling around their ankles.
Thraxos was in possession of the sole lamp to not be completely submerged, and moved from man to man, offering encouragement and approbation in equal measure. Slowly, a small modicum of cheer returned to the exhausted sailors. Before long, someone in the back of the hold began singing the first stanzas of a popular, if somewhat crude, sailing song in a rich, low baritone. Thraxos quickly jumped up and began bellowing out the lyrics enthusiastically, rhythmically clapping his hands and stomping his feet, looking at the other crewmen as if they were acting like grumpy old women for not joining in. By the time he got to the second verse, the entire hold was bellowing out the lyrics. Brondan looked askance to Anech before prying open one of the surviving wine casks, and the crewmen were soon passing wine around in small cups made of metal or wood. The cramped confines of the hold took on a festive atmosphere as the men shouted out the refrain, which involved a Babylonian princess with beautiful, dark eyes sailing off with a sea raider. Of course, the Babylon had fallen to the Persians years before any man aboard the ship was even born, but no one had ever bothered to update the tawdry lyrics. The Heron continued to pitch and roll while the men drank and laughed in defiance of the elements.
Anech was a lucky man to have someone like Thraxos on his crew. Not for the first time, he reflected on how the two of them complimented each other perfectly. Thraxos could handle the crew just as well as Anech could handle the complicated network of contacts and trade that kept food in the crews’ bellies and coin in their pockets. Of course, losing his navigator was going to make it harder to make ends meet, but Anech allowed himself a small measure of optimism. He smiled as Brondan passed him a cup of wine, and took a tentative sip. Thraxos, face flushed from wine and loud, toneless singing made his way over to where Anech was sitting.
“It looks like we just might make it,” he said to the captain.
Anech nodded in agreement, and noticed that the Minoan was holding an oilcloth-wrapped bundle under his arm. Thraxos followed Anech’s gaze and offered him the bundle.
“It’s Bin’s,” he murmured. “Anario grabbed it before someone set that crate of spices and incense on it.
“Good,” Anech replied, relieved that at the very least, his former navigator’s most prized possession had made it through the day’s adventure unscathed. Thraxos gingerly peeled off the oilcloth to reveal a linen strip wrapped around two intricately carved wooden sticks. As Anech looked on, Thraxos carefully pulled the two sticks apart, exposing line after line of densely packed Hebrew script painstakingly inscribed onto the thin cloth.
“I will never understand why he paid almost a year’s wages for this thing when we went to that market outside of Athens,” Thraxos said as his eyes wandered over the lines of incomprehensible lettering. “I mean, he has tried to tell me a few times, but it seems like a collection of old wives’ stories about his God punishing his people and little else.” He began to roll the linen cloth tightly between the two sticks again, keeping a bemused look on his bearded face all along. “Still, he was a good man, and he died protecting this crew. If he found the strength to do what he did thanks to the words written in here, it might be worth keeping.”
“Of course we will keep it,” Anech responded, perhaps a little too quickly and angrily. Then he explained, “The scroll chronicles the entire history of his people. If you unroll it right to left, and if you know the sounds each bit of script is supposed to make, you can learn the entire story of Binyamin’s people. This scroll is probably several centuries old, from before the time when Babylon destroyed the Hebrew’s country and took most of them off in chains. It is a rare and beautiful object, for those who know what they are looking at.”
Thraxos nodded in understanding and finished replacing the scroll. “What is your plan sir?” he asked, looking to the Egyptian. “The sea is calming. I think we are through the worst of it.”
Anech had to agree. “The storm is moving to the south and the west. We will unfurl the sail, and ride the winds that are driving it towards Syracusa. We will sell our remaining wares to Alcadimes or one of the other merchants in the city that will give us a good price. With what we get there, Brondan should be able to find us something worth trading for on the Gallic shore, which in turn should put enough gold in our pockets and cargo in our hold to come to Croton,” as he spoke, Anech was mentally tallying facts and figures, taking everything from the cost of provisions, to prevailing currents and winds, to the bribes he would have to pay port officials in Syracusa to look elsewhere while they repaired the Heron. He excelled at this kind of work, and Thraxos struggled to keep up as Anech continued to lay out his plan. Most of the crew was attempting to listen in on the conversation by now, eager to find out what their captain had in store for them.
“We owe our dead that much,” Anech continued. “I do not care if it takes us a year or more to get back here. We will look for Binyamin, and if we get the chance to find the one who killed Daryus and Hanno, so much the better.”
Thraxos, along with the now silent crew, all nodded in agreement, and continued to wait out the storm.
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.