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Authors: Christian Cameron

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BOOK: Poseidon's Spear (Long War 3)
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Doola shook his head. ‘A dream,’ he said, ‘is an important thing, but a cup of wine is better. The tin of Alba is legendary. But with a little luck we could buy a small ship,
and have a good life.’

‘Don’t you want to go home?’ I asked.

Doola and Seckla exchanged a look.

‘No,’ Doola said. Sometimes he sounded like a Spartan.

I waved at the wine slave for more wine. ‘I, for one, would like to go to Alba.’

Daud leaned over. ‘If you are going to Alba, I’ll stay,’ he said.

Doola grinned. ‘Insane,’ he said.

‘We don’t even have a ship,’ Seckla complained.

Doola looked at me. ‘You can navigate?’

I nodded.

Demetrios looked offended. ‘I can navigate.’

Doola grinned his big grin. ‘This one has been a trierarch. I can see it. On a big ship – yes?’

I nodded.

Doola and Seckla exchanged a long look.

‘Let’s swear,’ Doola said suddenly.

So we swore out a pact. It took some time to argue the details, but we swore to be brothers, to split shares evenly: to save and buy a ship, sail her to Alba, take on a cargo of tin and bring it
home. We were as drunk as lords by the time we put our right fists together and swore by Zeus and four other gods.

With other men, it would have been a drunkard’s oath. Something we talked about while we traded for bits of amber and salt fish.

But I was not the only man there under the hand of the fates. And when the seven of us were together, it seemed that there was nothing we could not do.

So we swore, and in the morning, we took ship for Sicily.

Now, I had been to Sicily several times by then, but never as a free man with a few obols and a sword, and it tasted better. This time, we landed on the beach by Syracusa, the
greatest Greek city on the richest island in the ocean, and we gaped like country hicks. Syracusa is a magnificent city, the rival of Athens.

By all rights, we ought to have squandered our hard-earned drachma in brothels and gone back to sea as oarsmen, or at best, marines. But that’s not how it fell out because, as I say, the
gods were close. On landing, we went together up to the big Temple of Poseidon on the headland and spent good money on a ram. I sacrificed him myself, and his blood poured across the altar, and
even as a junior priest collected his blood, a senior priest was dividing the meat. It was everyday work for both of them, but a few routine questions – they were courteous men, those priests
– established that we were sailors looking for a boat, and that the junior priest’s brother had a small boat to sell.

Twenty days of day-labour, and that boat was ours. It was scarcely forty feet long and just about wide enough to walk the length when the mast was down, but it could carry cargo. I guarded
temples and carried sacks on the waterfront for a week, and then I found skilled work at a forge – and suddenly we had the silver to buy the boat. It was odd, and perhaps sad, that I made
more in a day as an underpaid journeyman bronze-smith than all five of us earned doing the sort of day-jobs slaves usually did. But access to the shop allowed me to repair our war gear and to make
us all some small things: cloak pins, clothes’ pins, buckles. My new master liked my work a great deal – he was mostly a caster, not a forger – and he paid me well enough.

So the other four went to sea with a cargo of salt fish for the cities of Magna Greca, and I stayed in Syracusa making cheap cloak clasps in bulk because, truth to tell, I was making more cash
than the boat.

It may seem funny, after a life as a pirate and a lord, that I took pride in keeping a tiny tenement apartment in Syracusa clean and neat, in earning a good wage smithing bronze. Nor did I ever
think they’d sail away and leave me. In some way that I still cannot define, we were bonded, as deeply as I was bonded with Aristides and—Well, now that I think of it, most of the
friends of my boyhood died at Lades, and I had never really replaced them. Hermogenes, Idomeneus – both were fine men, but more followers than friends. Too many men saw me as a hero, as
distinct, as
above.

Those six – Doola, Seckla, Daud, Gaius, Demetrios and Neoptolymos – it was a different thing. And I find I’ve been a bad poet; I haven’t sung you what they were like.

Doola was big without being tall, and always at the edge of fat without being fat. He had no hair on top of his head, and once we were free he grew a thick beard. He had heavy slabs of muscle,
but a sensitive, intelligent face. He was quick to anger and quick to forgive.

Seckla was tall and thin, almost feminine in his face and hands, anything but feminine in his temperament – eager to resent a slight, eager for revenge. He never forgave. His dark skin was
stretched tight over fine features, and his hands were long and thin. Despite his combative nature, he was really a craftsman, and his hands were never still, making nets, wrapping rope ends,
making thole pins fit their holes better – he never stopped moving about the boat, and on land, he never stopped fussing with food.

Daud was all Keltoi – tall, heavily built, a fearsome sight in armour. He drank too much, and was quick to anger and as quick to weep. He tried so hard to hide his emotions, and failed so
badly – here’s to him, thugater. He had red-blond hair that was just starting to darken, eyes the colour of a new morning and skin so pale that it never tanned properly, and he often
wore a chiton when the rest of us were naked, just to save himself from burning. I’m pale, and my paleness was nothing next to his. We used to mock him about it, and he would join in,
agreeing that there was no sun where he came from. He could ride anything, and he was a trained warrior, where Seckla and Doola were really not very good when I met them.

Demetrios was a Sikel – small, swarthy, dour. He laughed easily but seldom showed his thoughts – unlike Daud, who sought to hide his thoughts but inevitably failed, at least back
then. His skin was dark, his nose was prominent and he hated to fight, not from cowardice but from genuine aversion. He was slow to trust and quick to worry. He was, in many ways, a countryman
among cosmopolitans. But he was a sure hand at sea and on land; he knew how to fish in any waters, and his boat-handling and seamanship were infinitely better than my own. Indeed, working with him
quickly showed me how little a pirate chief actually knows about handling a boat. His navigation was weak; he preferred to coast everywhere, even in dangerous waters. He worried constantly, and he
often reminded me of a pet rat I had as a boy – snout quivering, hands rubbing together. Yet he would have died for any one of us, if he’d had to.

Neoptolymos was, as I have said, Illyrian. He had muddy-blond hair and watery blue eyes and he drank – constantly. He was easily angered and, to be honest, never a very pleasant companion.
He felt that he had forfeited his honour when his sister was raped to death. He seldom smiled. He was harsh with others and himself. Yet buried under the broken unhappiness of youth was a man who
had the manners of a gentleman and the easy habits of a rich man. His purse was always open to his friends. His knife was always ready to defend us. His code was barbarous – but noble. He
could also play any musical instrument he was given after a few hours of mucking about.

And finally, there was Gaius. He left us for a while, but he was one of us nonetheless. He was Etruscan; but that is like saying ‘he is Greek’, because every Etruscan city is at odds
with every other, and they rarely unite. He, too, had red-blond hair and pale skin – when I first met the two of them, I thought he and Daud were brothers, when in fact they weren’t
even from the same people, and both were a little annoyed at my assumption.

We had divisions. Four of us were warriors, and three were not; three of us were at least nominally aristocratic, and three were working men. Slavery can erase arrogance, but it cannot erase
habits of mind and body; so Daud, Neoptolymos, Gaius and I would work on our bodies and practise with weapons, which the other three looked on as an affectation or a foolish waste of money. We
tended to spend freely. Daud especially could empty his purse for a beggar, even if the gesture meant that he was instantly a beggar himself. I would buy the best wine, and the best cloak, I could
afford, and the three men born to labour would roll their eyes and pray to Hermes for deliverance from the spendthrift. I remember this happening in the Agora of Syracusa, and I laughed and told
them that they reminded me of my aristocratic wife – and then I suddenly burst into tears.

I tell this now because, truth to tell, what they looked like and how they acted was – well, to put it bluntly, it was muted, unimportant while we rowed for our lives as slaves. Slavery
made the bond, but once we had survived, we had to know each other.

My daughter is smiling. I have digressed too long. But those were good times.

The boat returned from its first voyage, and we had just about broken even. A small boat carries a limited cargo, and even if the skipper picks his cargo well, he has to sell all of it at a good
price, over and over, to cover the cost of four men eating, drinking wine, their clothes ruined at sea, their oars broken on rocks. The overheads of a sea voyage are, to be blunt, enormous for poor
men. Our little tub had four oars, a big central mast that could be unshipped and room for about two tons of cargo – which is nothing, in wine or grain. Less than nothing for metal.

On the positive side, we were not in debt to the vicious moneylenders of Sicily. They were notorious, and for good reason, and they had amazing networks of informants. So that by the second
afternoon after our little boat was pulled up on the back, a pair of men came down to her. One sat on her gunwale and the other stood with his arms crossed. They were quite large men.

‘You need more money to make a profit off a boat this size,’ said the man sitting on our gunwale. We were all there, scrubbing black slime out of the bilge and weed and crap off the
hull. Demetrios had brought in a cargo of Italian wine, and made what should have been a handsome profit, but about a third of the amphorae had either broken or slipped some seawater, so that his
profits just about covered losses with a little left over.

Before this gets monotonous, let me add that had we not been ambitious to buy bigger ships and go farther, this would have been a good life. The boat covered expenses and then some, and I was
starting, even after six weeks, to make a steady wage. It was only the scope of our ambition that rendered the pace slow.

I’m digressing again.

‘I don’t feel that I have your attention, gents,’ said the man on the gunwale. His partner picked up a large piece of wood and came over to the boat. He struck the hull, hard,
just where the strake met the bow.

None of the oak pins came loose, but no one likes to see a stranger hit his boat.

‘I see I have your attention now,’ said the man on our gunwale.

Daud and I walked down either side of the boat, and we must have looked like trouble. The man on the bow stood up, dusting his hands.

‘I don’t think you know me, gents. But if you touch me, you are all dead men.’ He laughed. ‘I’m a little surprised you don’t know me. Hurt, even. But
you’re all strangers – foreigners. So I will let it go this time. Especially as I’ve come to offer you money.’

Demetrios shrugged. ‘We don’t need money,’ he said.

‘Really?’ said the man by the bow. ‘Let me introduce myself. I’m Anarchos, and if I wish to loan you money, then you need to take it. Please understand this, gents
– I own you as surely as your former owner owned you. Your slavery is written in the sky. Don’t pretend you are free men – I know escaped slaves when I see them. And I can sell
you into slavery, or kill you – and no one in this city will even shrug. You aren’t citizens. You aren’t even registered metics. You are poor men, and you have no friends.’
He smiled, and the hardness left his voice. ‘But I am a reasonable man, and an easy master. You split your profits with me, and I loan you money when you fail. I am your patron, and you are
my workers, and all is well. I will help you in the courts, and in the assembly, if it comes to that.’ He looked around. ‘No one in Syracusa will say Anarchos is a bad
patron.’

Daud was ready to fight. I could see it in his posture.

I was calculating.

This was new to me, even though I prided myself in being more like Odysseus than Achilles.

If the man spoke the truth – even a wicked, cocked-up version of the truth – attacking him would serve little purpose. Nor did we plan to stay in Syracusa. No local crime lord could
possibly imagine what we had in mind.

I put a hand on Daud’s shoulder. ‘My friend is a Gaul,’ I said. ‘And prone to violence.’ I smiled at the hired muscle – the man was big. ‘I know a
little about violence myself,’ I added. ‘But we don’t want any trouble.’

Anarchos nodded. ‘You’re the smart boy, then.’

I resented his tone and his use of the word
boy
. But I was not a great lord with fifty hoplites at my back. I was an ex-slave with six friends. I think my hands trembled.

But I smiled. ‘We had a good voyage.’ I had another knucklebone to roll, and I cast it slyly. ‘And of course, I make a fair wage as a bronze-smith.’

He nodded, pursed his lips. I had scored a hit. Not a hit that would win the fight, but a real score, nonetheless. Bronze-smiths were a close-knit clan with their own rules and laws and status,
and men like Anarchos, however powerful, didn’t cross the smiths.

‘I’ll check on that,’ he said. ‘The bronze-smiths wouldn’t like an ex-slave making a claim that wasn’t true.’

I reached into the boat and took out my leather satchel – made by Seckla. From it, holding it up so that the hired muscle could see me, I took a bronze eating-knife with a pretty bone
handle, the bone dyed green with verdigris; there were fine silver tacks in the handle for decoration. It was in a sheath of Seckla’s make with a long bronze pick.

‘My work,’ I said, handing it to the moneylender.

He nodded.

‘Keep it,’ I said. ‘A token of my esteem.’

BOOK: Poseidon's Spear (Long War 3)
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