Soldier of the Mist

Page 11

I must remember that.
Chapter 12 The Goddess of Love
The Lady of the Doves once blessed this place. Her statue was thrown down by the barbarians and both its hands broken off. When we came, the black man and I set it upon its base again - an act of piety, so says Pindaros, that must surely win us her favor. Though her hands lie at her feet with her doves still perched on their fingers, she is a most lovely goddess.
But there are a great many earlier things I wish to record here while I still remember them.
We came into the Bay of Peace about midmorning, I believe, though that is lost in the mist. The first thing I can recall clearly from this day is seeing the huts stretching far up the hillsides of Peace, many unroofed.
It was on that island, so Hypereides told me, that the poor of his city found refuge when the Great King's army came, and where they remained for the most part even after the Battle of Peace, for fear it might come again. Now that a decisive victory has been won on land, they are abandoning their huts and returning to the city.
There are three bays on the east coast of the island, and the city of Peace is on the southernmost. The richest families that came to Peace are there, having paid heavily for their lodgings. We put in at the middle bay, Hypereides hoping, as he said, to ferry some poorer folk back.
"Besides," he told me, "this is where we were before the battle. The families of a lot of my men are here, and other people who helped us out in various ways."
Pindaros, who was listening to Hypereides with me, put in, "You were wounded in the battle that freed them to go home, Latro. But since you were on the wrong side, you'd better not tell anybody that."
"And you'd better not go ashore at all," Hypereides told him. "Once they hear that Cowland tongue of yours, they're apt to stone you. Didn't you fight, too? You can't be much more than forty, and you look able enough."
Pindaros grinned at him. "I'm thirty-nine, Hypereides - the best time of a man's life, as I'm sure you remember. But as for fighting, you know what Archilichos wrote:
"Some lucky lout has got my noble shield.
I had to run, and dropped it on the way;
So 'tis with us who fly the reeking field.
Who cares? Tomorrow's loot is what I lost today."
Hypereides shook his finger at him. "You're going to get yourself in trouble, poet. There are many in the city who won't honor your supple mouth. Or tolerate it, either."
"But if I should get into trouble, good master, why, you're in trouble too. So why don't you free me?
Then in the next war you may be my prisoner instead of I yours. I'll treat you royally, I swear."
We were under oar already, for the wind was in the southwest and the strait runs due south; thus it was easy to bring all three ships into the wind to enter the bay. By that time I could see the crowd on shore, and the kybernetes came forward to suggest we stow our mast and sail.
Hypereides wet a finger and held it up, "There's not much of a blow. Don't you think it might swing north later?"
The kybernetes shrugged. "I've seen it happen, sir. I wouldn't count on it."
"Neither would I, but let's not count it out, either. Besides, these fellows should welcome the chance to sweat a bit and show their wives how hard they're working."
"There's something in that. But if I were you, Hypereides, I'd put a couple of soldiers at the gangplank. Otherwise you'll get enough women on board to capsize her."
"I've already ordered it," Hypereides told him. "Still I'm glad you mentioned it. It won't hurt to lie to for a bit here, will it? I've got a speech to make to the crew."
"We'd have to, to unship the mast."
"Good." Going aft to face the crew, he waved for their attention and bellowed, " Up oars! In oars!
Waterman, you can pass the dipper while I'm talking. Men, how many of you have families still on the island? As far as you know?"
About half the hands went up, including Lyson's.
"All right. We don't want to lose a lot of time here, so those who don't, stay on your benches. The kybernetes will call the ones who do to the gangplank by oar groups, one from port, one from starboard.
That's no more than six at a time, ever. If you see 'em - that's wives, children, parents, or your wife's parents, and nobody else - tell 'em to come to the gangplank and the soldiers will let 'em board. If you don't see 'em, they're probably back home already, so go back to your bench so the next oar group can come up. I have to go ashore - "
There were a few muttered groans.
" - to consult with the authorities. Acetes and his men will keep order; if you know what's good for you, you'll do as they say. While they're on this ship, your wives and families are your responsibility.
Keep 'em in hand or they'll be put ashore, and not on the mainland, either. Otherwise nobody's to leave the ship till we get to Tieup. I should be back by the time your families are on board and the kybernetes has found places for 'em and got 'em settled down, and as soon as I'm back, off we go. I want to make Tieup before nightfall, you hear me?"
That brought a rousing cheer.
" And I won't be denied! So get some rest, because you may have to break your backs before we do. Now - Out oars! Mind the count! " He beat the rowing rhythm with one hand on the other as the flute boy readied his instrument.
"I love my wife, and she loves me!
But all I do is stir this sea!
I love my girl, and she loves me!
But all I do is stir this sea!"
The rowers took up the chant, and soon men with mooring lines were leaping to the quay, where a thousand slatternly women greeted our ships by calling out names that might have been anybody's, holding up their babies, and waving rags of every color, and many that were of no color at all.
Hypereides, whose armor I had polished with similar rags, could hardly get a foot on the gangplank for the press of them, and at length the soldiers had to drive them back with the butts of their spears to permit him to leave.
Astonishingly (or so I thought) a few of these women were actually the wives of various rowers.
When the first hugs and kisses were done with, the kybernetes made them sit on the thalamite benches (which run completely across the ship under the storming deck) and threatened to put them on the ballast if the ship became unstable, as he assured them it would if they let their children run loose.
A bowman came aft to join us as we watched. "I am Oior," he said. "You do not remember?"
When I shook my head, Io pulled at my chiton, whispering, "Watch out, Latro. You know what Lyson said."
"Oior does Latro no harm. Spu was the Son of Scoloti who wished harm to Latro, and Spu is gone."
Pindaros drawled, "I heard about that. Hypereides thinks he jumped ship at Teuthrone. What do you think, Oior?"
The bowman laughed. "Oior is a Son of Scoloti. Oior does not think. Ask any man of your people.
But tell me, does it not make you sad to see so many men who now greet their families again, when you do not?"
"I don't have much of one, for which I thank the gods," Pindaros told him. "If I did, somebody else would have claimed my estate. Let's just hope that our noble enemies here leave me in possession - otherwise, I'll need a few rich relations to take care of me, and I haven't got them."
"Sad for you. Oior has wife." He held out his hand at waist level with the thumb folded and all four fingers extended. "So many sons. Many, many daughters, too many for any man. You want girl? Play with this one, take care of her when older. You choose. Oior sell very cheap."
Hilaeira gasped, "Would he? Really do that? Sell his own children?"
"Of course," Pindaros said. "All barbarians will, except for the kings. And very wise of them too, I'd say. Children are easily got and lots of trouble afterward. I'm with you, Oior."
"Easily got by men," Hilaeira snapped. "Not by us. Not that I know for myself, but I've helped others.
Why, my aunt - "
"Is somebody we don't want to hear about now," Pindaros told her.
"You talk to captain very much. Oior wants to know what you think this ship will do."
"Go to Tieup and get refitted. She's in pretty good shape now, so that shouldn't take more than a couple days. After that, perhaps join the fleet, which I should imagine is hanging about the Circling Isles hoping for a chance at the Great King's navy. Or the strategists may cook up another special task for Hypereides. One never knows."
"And you? Not just you only, this girl, this woman, this man, black man."
"We'll be left in the city, all of us. Those of us from the shining city will be sold as slaves, I think we can depend on that. If they've left me my estate, I'll buy our way out, and if they haven't, they haven't.
Latro and the black man may be sold too - if they are, I'll buy them and free them, so that Latro can obey the oracle of the Shining God. If they're held as prisoners of war, well, I'll see what I can do."
Hilaeira said, "I don't want to be a freed slave. I'm a freeborn citizen."
"Of a conquered city," Pindaros reminded her dryly.
"Bowmen go ashore in Tieup?"
"Certainly. I imagine you'll be paid there, at least if you ask for it. Then you can go home, if you like."
"Oior will maybe leave this ship, go on some other."
I asked him whether fighting for anyone who would hire him were the only way he had to earn his living.
"You also," he said. "So this man speaks."
"I know," I said. "I wanted to learn about you because I thought it might tell me something of myself.
You have a wife and children; do you have a house too, and a farm?"
He shook his head. "The Sons of Scoloti do not have those things. We live in wagons, follow grass.
Oior has many, many horses, many cattle also. Here in south you have pigs and sheep. We never see them if not we come. They are slow to walk. They could not live in my land."
Pindaros asked, "Is the sun in your eyes, Oior?"
"Yes, yes. Light from the water." He seemed to stare at the deck. "Eyes are the bowman. I go now."
When he had left, Pindaros remarked, "That was rather strange, don't you think?"
I said, "For a bowman to have weak eyes? I suppose so."
Io murmured, "They were only weak when they looked at you, master."
Hypereides returned as the last of the sailors' families were being settled, just as he had promised.
With him were a dozen attractive women, finely dressed in gowns of yellow, pink, and scarlet, with much silver jewelry and some gold. Several held flutes or little drums, but their many bags and boxes were carried for them by porters whom their leader paid.
This was a plump woman somewhat younger than Hypereides, with red hair and cold blue eyes. She came aft with him as we pushed off from the quay, now riding so deep that the greased boots of the thalamites' oars were almost in the water. "Well, well," she said, looking at me. "Here's a likely boy!
Where'd you get this one?"
"Picked them all up at Tower Hill after we left Dolphins, as I told you. He's the perfect confidant - forgets everything overnight."
"Really?" I would not have believed those hard eyes could be sad, but for a moment they were.
"I swear it. I'll introduce you to him, but tomorrow he won't know your name unless he notes it down.
Will you, Latro?"
Wishing to please her and discountenance him, I said, "How could I forget it? No one could forget such a woman, whom once seen must remain in the eye of the mind forever."
She dimpled and took my right hand between hers, which were small and moist. "I'm Kalleos, Latro.
Do you know you're quite the figure of a man?"
"No," I said. "But thank you."
"You are. You might pose for one of the sculptors, and perhaps you will. In fact, you'd be just about perfect, if only you had money. You don't, do you?"
"I have this." I showed her my coin.
She laughed. "One spit! Where'd you get it?"
"I don't know."
"Is this a joke, Hypereides? Will he actually forget who I am?"
"Unless he writes it in that book he carries, and remembers to read what he's written."
"Wonderful!" Smiling at me still, she said, "What you have there isn't really money, Latro, only change. A daric or a mina, that's money. Hypereides, will you let me have him?"
He shook his head as though in despair. "This war's ruined the leather trade. In the old days, certainly.
But now ... " He shrugged.
"What do you think it's done for us, cooped up on Peace with a bunch of refugees? Latro, you look strong enough. Can you box or wrestle?"
"I don't know."
Pindaros said, "I've seen him with a sword - no spear and no hoplon. If I were a strategist, I'd trade ten shieldmen for him."
Kalleos looked at him. "Don't I know you, pig?"
He nodded. "Some friends treated me to a dinner at your house just before the barbarians came."
"That's right!" Kalleos snapped her fingers. "You're the poet. You got Rhoda to help you with a love lyric. It ended up being a little, uh - "
"Paphian," Pindaros supplied.
"Exactly! Pinfeather ... What's your name?"
"Pindaros, madame."
"Pindaros, I'm sorry I called you a pig. It's the war, you know - everybody does it. Hypereides will let you come with him tonight, if he knows what's good for him. I don't know if my house's still standing, but we'll make it up to you whether it is or not. No charge. If you need money, I could even lend you a few drachmas till you get home again."
I do not think Pindaros is often without words, but he had none then. At last Hilaeira said, "Thank you. That's very, very kind of you, madame."
"Wait!" Pindaros leaped into the air, waving his hands. "I've got it - the city's saved!" He whirled about, arms wide, to address Hilaeira and Io. "Our freedom! My estate! We get to keep them!"
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