Chapter 1: New Boy
When Aeschylus had sacrificed an old black goat to Ares, his prayer had been for an old soldier to join the city guard of Aegina. Someone with strong nerves and the calm that came from many campaigns. Someone who'd put away the idea of glory.
Whoever applied would need to be calm. The citizens of Aegina had either just returned home from sailing abroad in Aegina's vast merchant fleets and were very drunk on their pay, or they owned the fleets and had grown pricklier the wealthier they got. Nicodromus , the wealthiest man on the island, had to be handled as gently as a man's cock or he'd spout off, and most of the others weren't much better.
Anyone who wanted glory should join Aegina's Navy. Nearly two hundred triremes strong, it sailed with Aegina's merchant ships as they travelled the wine dark seas and protected Aegina's goods on the whale roads from pirates and monsters. Not to mention protected Aegina's exclusive access to Egypt's grain and other trade goods. That one really pissed Athens off.
Which was why Aegina even had a city guard. It wasn't as if Aegina and her small surrounding islands were that big. Just over thirty miles squared. Aegina didn't have daughter cities like some city states. She didn't need an army when she had a Navy. At least that's what the Aeginan Council of Fifty-One argued, but they were famous for making a drachma squeal.
Five years before, the rivalry between Aegina and Athens had broken out into municipal kidnapping, which hadn't done anyone any good. Athens had hired magistrates, a hundred guards and bought three hundred slaves to be the Rod-Bearers that kept the peace and kept their citizens safe.
Aegina's most wealthy citizens let the Council know they needed a guard in the city of Aegina and to patrol the island that shared the same name.
The Council hired Aeshylus, a washed up old sailor home from the sea after one wreck too many, as Chief of the guard, and he bought five slaves to serve as Rod-Bearers. Then there was the revolving door of the one guardsman. For whatever reason, the post had been filled by thief after drunk after drunken thief.
Aeshylus had managed to stop the kidnappings on Aegina, which meant he kept his job. He made sure their own hostages, because Aegina wasn't giving up theirs until Athens released Aegina's citizens, were kept in a nice villa on one of the smaller islands and used his Naval connections to keep them guarded by sailors waiting on repairs for whatever trireme was in dock.
These days Athenians were back to visiting Aegina's beaches, brothels, and taverns. There was even a group of them renting what had once been the king of Aegina's palace on Mount Oro, the sleeping volcano south of the city of Aegina. Aeshylus was under the impression they were training for the Olympics.
But Aeshylus couldn't seem to keep a decent guardsman to save his life.
That was why he'd prayed to Ares. Also, he couldn't very well pray to Athena given the problems with Athens. Ares was a god of city guards, or so he'd heard. He gave Ares a try.
As he contemplated the one room Rod-Bearer barracks, cell for drunks, and guard office, he was reflecting that this was what he got for asking for help from a god that he'd always felt a bit sorry for. What with being trapped by giants, ignored by his parents and generally being defeated in every contest with his sister.
He'd reached no conclusions when the door slammed open and a young man rushed through as if the gods were every moment judging his actions for wasting time on the previous step. For a very brief moment, there was a crackle of energy in the room, as if Aeshylus had rubbed two pieces of wool together on a dry, windy day.
The man mountain said, "I am Thêritas of… Thrace. You'd be a fool if you didn't take me for the guard."
That faded the moment right quick. "Really," drawled Aeshylus. He leaned back in his chair. The man was barely out of boyhood. His cheeks were still fuzzy for Zeus' sake. Oh, he was tall and broad as a Persian temple, and his armour was of the best quality, but Aeshylus frankly doubted he had the skills needed to do the work without offending old Krakades , the drunk who lounged at the end of the port, much less the leading citizens.
While beggars could not choose their handouts, but Aeshylus had better test the waters. Aeschylus said, "Thêritas means brutish and beastly." He let his chair fall forward on the earthen floor with a thump. "Someone's parents must have disliked him," and waited to see if Thêritas tried to kill him.
He could practically see the oars churning the waters of the man's mind. After a long pause, Thêritas replied, "Says the man whose name means shame."
Aeschylus snorted, "A fine hit there." Thêritas smirked. "If this were a war, which," Aeshylus stood up and circled around the man, "it isn't." He walked slowly to draw the moment out. Thêritas had kept his response to words, which was a good sign.
By time Aeshylus had completed his circumnavigation, Thêritas ' smirk had faded, which was good. Showed he wasn't a complete idiot as well as arrogant. "If you weren't the only one to show up that hit would have talked you out of the position. Is that what you want? For me to show you the door."
Thêritas said, "No," His lips twisted into a sullen pout.
"Again, and remember that I am your superior in every way," said Aeschylus very softly.
"No, sir," said Thêritas , his face going expressionless.
If Aeshylus was going to be in command, he had to grab the short whiskers now. "Now some sad fucks think that the role of the city guard is to skim a little off the top of every fine. They think that they are due free fucks with the municipal pornai and free drinks at the taverns. But I am out of fucks to give for those sad fucks." Aeschylus hardened his voice to a fine point. "To be a guard is a sacred responsibility to protect the people of this island from themselves. Is that understood, Officer!"
"Yes, sir!" barked Thêritas. Standing that little bit straighter and taller, which Aeschylus wouldn't have thought possible. He'd had some military training somewhere. Aeschylus hoped it hadn't ruined him.
"Good, because I'm tired of giving that speech, but it's the only time you'll hear it. Cross the line and you're out. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir!" shouted Thêritas.
Aeschylus did not roll his eyes at the three Rod-Bearers lounging at the back of the room. They were foreign slaves. They didn't get the speech. "Now when one of this island's wealthy citizens calls you a brutish thug, what do you reply?"
"Thank you, sir," shouted Thêritas , which said all Aeshylus needed to hear about Thêritas' family life.
"Nice try, but wrong answer. You answer that the only name your superior officer, Aeschylus, the Chief of the City Guard of Aegina, has given you, is Officer New Boy, and you cannot answer to any other name until you earn it. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir!" shouted Thêritas. If he stood any taller, he'd have knocked over the ceiling. More worrisome, he was looking at Aeshylus like a pup looks at a new master, which gave Aeshylus more than a twinge in certain regions that had felt dried up since he'd come home to roost, but he suppressed the feeling.
"At ease, you have the job, and…" Aeshylus waved at Thêritas, "stop shouting."
"Yes, sir!" said Thêritas, who eased up his stance into a sort of parade rest. Aeshylus wondered why he hadn't run off to the wars instead of washing up in Aegina. Aeshylus had grown up in Aegina, but Thêritas had no such excuse.
Aeshylus introduced Thêritas to the three Rod-Bearers not on patrol duty: Miltiades, Nereus and Epiktetos.
Miltiades gave his report from the night before. Thêritas didn't ask why Miltiades didn't write his report like the last idiot, an upper class fool on the run from debts in Corinth.
The report was nothing unusual. A rich actor from Athens had gotten drunk in the city fountain with his Eromenos. There'd been three brawls in the taverns by the docks, which was a record low. The would be Olympians had decided the thing to do was get drunk and steal Aegina's statues to the gods, because they were made from olive wood from Athens and some such drunk stupidity. They might have ended up dumping the lot in the bay, except the statues, and here Militiades' normally Spartan report became practically Athenian. "The gods in their great power reached down in a flash of golden light and the wood of the statues transformed as if made of golden liquid into kneeling stone of rich golden marble that would cost more than the villa the fools are staying in. Sir."
Aeshylus suppressed a smile, because this was clearly Militiades' first miracle. Aeshylus turned to Thêritas. "What do you think?"
Thêritas was as puffed up as if he had personally transformed that statues. "A miracle worthy of praise and sacrifices."
"If you like gold marble." Aeshylus shook his head. "The gods see with immortal eyes and it's good that they saved the statues, but…" he sighed as he trailed off, unwilling to say anything that might offend the gods.
Thêritas looked confused, which he suspected was a common state with the man. Aeshylus took pity. "My grandfather carved those statues with his own hands. The things he could do with wood." He looked down at his own hands with their very different calluses. The tip of his right hand's little finger had long ago gone missing from a battle at sea. "They were once alive and now they never were. Sounds like they aren't even the way he carved them. But, yes," he looked in the general direction of up, "a fine miracle worthy of much praise. MUCH PRAISE!"
Thêritas wide grey brown eyes were folded up like kicked dog. Aeshylus clapped him on the back, in what he told himself was a fatherly way. "Relax, Officer New Boy. It's not as if you transformed them."
"Yes, sir," mumbled Thêritas. But the man perked up enough when Aeshylus offered to show him some of the island that he'd now be protecting.
The Council might think this was their city, but they didn't know every stone in the city streets. While on patrol, they came upon Eualia , a down on her luck Heteara , who'd fallen a few ranks, and now liked to dip her sandals in red paint and mark the stones with the words, "Follow me," which at least meant she was looking for clientele who could read.
Aeshylus stood back and let Thêritas handle it. He looked to Aeshylus, who gave him the city ordinance and correct fines for painting on public property, which the streets certainly were.
Thêritas fined her and confiscated the offending sandals, which given the benefits of rank meant that Aeshylus hand's weren't covered in red paint. "Not the worst thing you'll be covered with in this job," said Aeshylus.
Thêritas nodded as if slowly and carefully engraving this wisdom on some corridor of his mind. Aeshylus found that he was staring as the man slowly thought, and made himself look away.
They went back to the exciting accounting that was the backbone of the job. Managing the dock fees that the Navy had dumped on the city guard once there was a guard to take their scut work.
At nightfall, Aeshylus pointed Thêritas at the open bunk in the room where the officers slept behind the main barracks. In past, the most Aeshulus'd had to worry about was a guard snoring, or possibly attempting to steal Aeshylus' tiny store of funds.
Thêritas stripped down and revealed muscles that had muscles. Aeshylus made himself stop staring and tried to tell himself that this was not a mistake. That he was a grown man and Thêritas was a grown man and Thêritas was too old to play the boy even if he hadn't yet managed to grow a beard. Though a small voice whispered in the back of his head that he was training Thêritas for better things and that came with certain privileges.
Aeshylus told that voice to shove it, and pulled his blankets up to his beard.
Normally, when he woke in the middle of the night, he read by the light of the small oil lamp, but instead he rolled over and found Thêritas examining the moon painted ceiling. It seemed the most natural thing to talk about the day. The absurd things Aeshylus'd seen the wealthy do. What it had been like to grow up on the island.
Thêritas was as transparent as lightning blasted sand. He tried to be opaque, but Aeshylus soon polished him into transparency. He admitted that he was one of a king's many sons, which had been Aeshylus' guess. "You were right about my parents. They don't particularly care for me. They don't really like my older brother either. Father prefers his children by his other wives." After a long silence, Thêritas said in a low shamed voice, "He gave something that was supposed to be mine to his favourite, one of my sisters."
"Rough break. Do you get on with the full brother though?" Aeshylus wondered at how easy it felt to talk in the dark.
Thêritas laughed. "Not really." Aeshylus heard the blankets shifting. "I fucked his wife and fathered a child with her. He found out and laid a trap with a net. When we were bound and naked, he brought in our entire family to see."
Aeshylus tried to think of what to say to that. "Well, it could have been worse. He could have turniped you."
There was a creak from the other bunk as Thêritas sat up. "What?"
"Turniped, you haven't heard of that? It's mostly an Athenian practice, but it's in the law books here too. If a man catches a man with his wife, he has the right by law to shove a turnip up that man's ass. Don't ask me why a turnip."
"That cannot possible a thing." There was a pause. "Sir."
"Here, I'll show you." Then winced to himself at what that sounded like, but nowhere to go but forward. Aeshylus lit the oil lamp and went into the main room to get the book where that law was written. He sat next to Thêritas on his bunk and leafed through it. He pointed to the place that called for a husband's right to turnip.
Thêritas leaned close and looked. "That would have been worse. I'd hate to be turniped by my own brother." His smile was soft and his lips very red in the lamp light.
Aeshylus told himself that there no reason to want to lean over and kiss the man. There was nothing suggestive of romance in this conversation.
Which was why it took him by a bit of surprise when Thêritas kissed him with all the passion and subtlety of a cavalry charge up a hill.
Aeshylus sat like a lump, before pushing the man, the boy really, away. "No, none of that. If we were to... no, I have a sacred obligation to not abuse my position as your commander, and this would definitely be an abuse of my position, if we were too..." He cleared his throat. "No. Just put that sort of thinking out of your mind, yes." He stood up abruptly and put away the book. "Best we go back to sleep though."
"Yes, sir," was the glum sounding reply.
Aeshylus turned off Thêritas' frown by blowing out the lamp.
He woke in the morning to the sight of Thêritas doing pushups. Naked pushups. Tight ass, very toned and muscular pushups.
The man grinned at Aeshylus with an absurd amount of energy for the hour. "Good morning, sir."
Aeshylus pulled on a tunic, feeling the soft folds of his aging body and all his scars. "There is nothing good about the morning."
Although, when Thêritas ran out of their room and came back with fresh bread and watered wine, Aeshylus could barely suppress a smile. He managed by frowning and saying, "You didn't go out like that, there's a law against walking naked in the streets."
"No, sir. Of course not, sir." Thêritas gave him an earnest look.
Aeshylus blamed sleep dulled wits for saying, "So, you stripped again for my benefit."
There was a snort from one of the Rod-Bearers from the main room, which Aeshylus was going to ignore. Thêritas flushed and said, "I was," he pointed at the floor and possibly the underworld.
"Thank you for breakfast." Aeshylus let him off the hook and shuffled out to get the Rod-Bearers' morning report.
Chapter 2: Aegina Dreaming
Aeshylus was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming because he had a house and his house was made of pure white marble with extremely unlikely white curtains fluttering in his wide open windows. At the borders of dream, Thêritas waged battle at the battlements of his mind.
He felt them give way, but somehow Aeshylus was so surprised to see Thêritas striding bare ass naked through the wide open door in this ridiculous white marble house that he said, "What the fuck do you think you are doing, Officer New Boy?"
Thêritas said, "I'm invading your dreams to see if you want to have sex." He flushed at Aeshylus' glare. "My lover suggested it."
Aeshylus said, "You don't get to invade my dreams. You're the new boy." He walked up to Thêritas. Somehow with each step, his clothing disappeared until he stood there stark naked, which if he'd been awake would have horrified him, but he was dreaming in a white marble house. He whispered, because he didn't need to shout to be heard. "Are you a good new boy?"
"Yes, sir," whispered Thêritas in the same hushed tone.
"Are you my good boy?" Aeshylus asked in a deeper tone.
"Yes, sir," said Thêritas.
"You're going to have to prove it after invading my dream at your lover's suggestion. Seriously, what the fuck," Aeshylus stood face to chest with him. "On your knees before a superior officer."
Thêritas dropped to his knees with a thud that shook the entire building. He was so tall that this didn't so much result in being faced with Aeshylus' increasingly interested cock, as his chest. As far as Aeshylus was concerned, Thêritas could just bend. Aeshylus said, "Now relieve your superior officer." Thêritas licked those red, red lips. "Without using your hands."
Thêritas' hot mouth swallowed his cock down.
Since this was a dream, the man had no gag reflex. He eagerly lapped and licked in a way that had Aeshylus standing to attention, but Thêritas went about it with all the finesse of two armies meeting in a field. "Slower. Be my good boy," Aeshylus tangled his fingers in Thêritas' thick black curls, "and go," he pushed Thêritas back until his lips were wrapped only around the head of Aeshylus' cock, "slower." Thêritas slowed his attack on Aeshylus' cock into something soft and delicate as a home invasion. Full of attention to detail. Little licks and swallows. "There's a good boy. My good, good boy." That went on for some timeless liquid dream, until all Aeshylus could shout was "Good!" and came in that hot eager mouth.
After, Thêritas pulled away gently and looked up bold as a brass shield. "Was that good, sir?"
"Very good, so good, you've earned a reward. On your feet." Theritas jumped up with a dexterity that Aeshylus admired, but then this was a dream. They could both probably fly if they wanted. Since it was a dream, Aeshylus had a bottle of olive oil in his hand, which he poured into each palm until they were slick with it. He slid both hands around Thêritas ' erect cock. He twisted his fingers like he was playing a lyre. He'd been quite good at it once. He had Thêritas gasping within moments. Thêritas came like a rocket spilling gleaming white come on Aeshylus chest and hands.
Aeshylus idly tasted it. It tasted like brave adventure and last minute victory.
Thêritas grinned. "Sir, I'm afraid if you wanted to discourage me from invading your dreams, you've gone about it the wrong way."
"Next time," Aeshylus kissed him, "be a good boy and knock. I'll let you in."
Aeshylus was in the midst of a kiss when he woke up. Aeshylus felt the sticky cling of his blanket. "Fuck!" He glanced to see if Thêritas was in the room, but he'd already run off. Probably to get Aeshylus ' breakfast, which had become their custom in the month since he'd arrived. Since Aeshylus was alone, he growled a string of profanity at himself for being so stupid.
Then because there was nothing to do about it, he got up, cleaned his bed, and resolved to not think about it.
However, his first sight in the barracks was Thêritas with his breakfast. Thêritas grinned widely with an absolutely obnoxious level of energy for so early in the morning, and Aeshylus could think of nothing but those red, red lips wrapped around his cock. So he growled, "Stop smiling, it's the morning. There's nothing to smile about."
"Yes, sir," said Thêritas, who looked a little uncertain.
Aeshylus resolved not to hold his own dreams against Thêritas. After all the man had nothing to do with Aeshylus ' inappropriate thoughts, and thanked him for breakfast, which had the man back to smiling like the sun reflecting on the waves.
Chapter 3: Intermezi-something
It got a little harder not to keep that resolution as time passed, and he dreamed a series of similar dreams each night.
If during the day, he banished idle thoughts about Thêritas' well toned ass, in dreams he found himself ordering Thêritas to be a good boy and bend over the marble table. In dreams, there was nothing awkward like the hidden couplings aboard ship, always listening with one ear to keep from the shame of discovery.
Dream Thêritas shouted with pleasure. There was little that the Thêritas of dreams would not do when praised.
Which wasn't too far from the actual Thêritas' eager response to being told he'd done well, or his glum look when he'd overstepped.
The man took an almost childlike delight at the miracles that the gods had for some reason decided to start raining down on Aegina. They were admittedly almost always the most awkward or upsetting thing, but the bar brawl where the chairs turned into feathers made Aeshylus laugh.
They often talked when Aeshylus woke in the slow still of night. Thêritas was always awake at the same time. They'd lie in their bunks quietly talking until conversation drifted into sleep with a knock at the gate of dreams.
Far from not taking his duties seriously as every guard before him had done, Thêritas took them almost too seriously.
He studied the laws constantly, if not entirely always accurately understanding their meaning.
He never begged weariness for any patrol. He didn't complain about sleeping in the open when visiting the far side of the island. He often ran along the shore in full armour with his spear in hand. He even insisted on checking on the status of Mount Oros at least once a week to be sure the volcano wouldn't wake up and suddenly explode, "Because… volcanos do that."
Oros hadn't erupted since they'd started recording history, but Thêritas insisted it was a real threat and insisted on remaining vigilant.
Chapter 4: Rod Training
One day, Aeshylus came back from inspecting the conditions of the Athenian hostages, and found Thêritas berating Nereus about the state of his armour and the slovenly way he held the wooden rod he used to keep the peace.
Aeshylus pulled Thêritas aside. Aeshylus knew this was his own fault for growing so close to the man that he'd presume on his position. He said, "If you have a problem with the Rod-Bearers, you bring it to me. You do not take it upon yourself to discipline them. Is that understood?" At Thêritas affirmative, Aeshylus said, "Now since you think you know how to use the Rod-Bearer's weapons better than they do, you'll go three rounds with Nereus in the training yard."
Aeshylus hoped Nereus would go easy. Stick fighting was a bit different than fighting with a spear and shield, and fifty other soldiers at a man's elbow. Soldiers forgot that when fighting sailors.
He needed have worried. Thêritas had Nereus disarmed and lying on his back in the sand within moments.
Nereus flushed bright red.
Thêritas said, "There's no shame in being defeated. That's the nature of war." He held out his hand. "The only shame is in not getting up to fight again." He said something more in Scythian, the man's own language, which Aeshylus wouldn't have thought he knew. Aeshylus only knew enough words to curse in it.
But Nereus brightened and took Thêritas' hand to get up.
Aeshulus clapped. He couldn't help himself. "I've never seen anything like that and I've been in my share of battles."
Thêritas was so pleased, he would have wagged his tail if he had one.
Aeshylus cleared his throat. "Your father is a fool to prefer others to a warrior as skilled as you, but his loss is my… I mean our… I mean Aegina's gain." He felt old and foolish. "From here on, you'll spend time each week training the Rod-Bearers."
"And you as well, sir?" said Thêritas with an expression he possibly thought was subtle and innocent.
He very much wanted to say no, but that would make him a fool. A warrior with Thêritas' skills would not be staying in in Aegina's guard long.
But no reason to ache over wounds that hadn't yet happened. "I as well." He held up a finger. "After I watch you with the Rod-Bearers. Let young bones wear you out."
When his turn came, Aeshylus lasted no longer against Thêritas than the Rod-Bearers had. Aeshylus wondered if Thêritas had stood so close to the Rod-Bearers. If the warm current of Thêritas' breath had washed over their ears in the same way as did when he made some correction to Aeshylus' stance. The twinge that he told himself was the ache of old bones who'd made too much contact with the sand of the training yard.
If Thêritas was good with the wooden staff issued by the city, he was a whirlwind with his own spear. There he had no one to spar with.
In dreams, Aeshylus stood in the training yard again. It had transformed into a wide airy space with white sand and proper racks for weapons. Thêritas stood behind Aeshylus and for some many minutes adjusted his stance. He turned his neck and met Thêritas; lips in a kiss. They were still kissing as he slid his foot behind Thêritas' legs and tumbled them both to the ground, which shifted into a green meadow.
The meadows of dreams come with skin already slicked with olive oil, as if for wrestling. Every inch of their flesh slid slick and smooth against each other.
Aeshylus pinned Thêritas to the grass. Thêritas did not struggle, but eagerly participated in his own surrender. He spread his legs as Aeshylus demonstrated the use of the rod by sliding his oil slick cock smoothly into him.
As Aeshylus moved dream slow within him, Thêritas whispered, "During the day, I defeated you. Now here at night, you defeat me."
Aeshylus pressed Thêritas further back into the warm grass. "I'm not the one invading dreams," and sped up so that there was no room left for words.
Aeshylus hoped as he woke that Thêritas took his groan for pains from the day before. He made sure to complain for the rest of the day.
He did not avoid the training yard though. No more than he avoided sleep.
Chapter 5: Relatives
They were at the port collecting the docking fees when Aeshylus first met one of Thêritas' relatives.
"If they hadn't told me, I'd not have believed it," boomed a voice over the wash of the waves in the harbour.
Aeshylus looked up to see Thêritas embrace a tall man with a curling white beard and the kind of bronzed skin that came of years at sea. He even walked like a sailor only visiting the land. When Aeshylus looked him in the eyes, his bright blue-green gaze was that of a captain or admiral. The eyes of someone who had absolute rule over his domain.
Thêritas said, "This is my Uncle… Asphalios. Uncle, this is the Chief of the Guard, Aeshylus."
"Hoping to guide my words by naming me," said Asphalios, his smile shifting to a frown as quickly as a squall comes to the bright waters of the sea.
Aeshylus said very quickly, "Your parents surely take some credit. Here in Aegina, where we owe everything to the sea, you'll find none to argue with such a name, and many willing to pay for your drink in the hopes that your name will give the luck to have a safe journey home."
Asphalios' face cleared of storms as quickly as it had come. "What's a sailor like you doing trapped on land?"
"Keeping the peace here on Aegina and the smaller islands around us." Then he laughed at himself. "Also, once the Charybdis eats your ship, the ship that rescues you is smashed in half by a kraken, and the one that rescues you from that is becalmed for a week before a pod of Neriads pulls the thing to shore, you start to think it's time to go home and settle down."
"And did you?" twinkled Asphalios. "Settle down with a wife and children?"
Thêritas cleared his throat. "Uncle!"
"Relax boy, just asking questions." Asphalios stroked his curling white beard.
"My Lord, I've too much salt in my blood to settle and seed the earth," grinned Aeshylus, which earned a laugh. "Sir, if you're going to be in port tomorrow, it's time for us to visit the smaller islands around Aegina and see to what needs doing. I'd be happy to have a third on our ship."
Asphalios replied, "I've a mind to visit the temple of Poseidon today, and see what there is to see, but I'd be very interested in seeing if you can make a sailor of my nephew."
Thêritas protested, "Uncle, I can sail."
Asphalios' snort proved a correct assessment of Thêritas' skills on a ship, though he gamely tried every task Aeshylus gave him, until Aeshylus gave up. Asphalios more than made up for the lack.
They were done with their duties by mid-day, and so spent the afternoon fishing. Aeshylus had never met a man luckier than Asphalios for pulling fish from the sea, which for some reason had Thêritas groaning the entire time. But he agreed to eat their catch quickly enough.
Of the round of thefts after one of Thêritas' brothers blew through the city, the less was said the better.
Chapter 6: The Mystery of the Hanged Man who was Also Drowned
When it all changed, it didn't seem like anything at first. Epiktetos reported that some solidly lower middle class Athenian had come to the lovely island of Aegina to hang him in the Myrrha tree. This wasn't all that unusual. Ever since old King Cinyras had come to Aegina over a century before for a dirty week with a younger woman his daughter's age, who in the way of these things turned out to be his daughter. Before he could kill her, the gods turned Myrrha into a tree. Old King Cinyras hung himself in her branches for shame.
Idiots had been coming to the island ever since to do the same thing. It was a nuisance more than anything. Aeshylus sent regular patrols down the road to Mount Oros to collect the bastards.
So when Epiktetos came back from hanging patrol with a dead man slumped over the back of the city mule, which was a necessary expense for all the Council complained about paying for the grain, Aeschylus didn't think much of it.
It seemed fairly straight forward when Nereus reported back from the docks that the man had come over from Athens five days before. They even caught a break when Caucus, who worked at the docks, had recognized the man as Epiphanes, a wrestler from Athens, who'd lost to a Spartan in the Olympic games.
Epiketos passed Nereus the wine jar. "Probably was filled with shame and decided to end it." He made a gesture with his hand at his own throat.
Thêritas glared at the dead man, seeming to find the idea that the man offed himself especially offensive. "He should have trained even harder and gone back to the games again to defeat his enemy."
Aeshylus was about to say something when he noticed bruises on the man's shoulders and arms. He knelt down and on impulse opened the dead man's mouth. What he found, he didn't like. There was a dried up fish and pond scum. He was certain if they cut him open, they'd find water in his lungs. Aeshylus sat back on his heels. He told himself that it was the duty of the man's family to pursue the killers. His only obligation was to assemble a jury, and use ropes covered in fresh red paint if no one volunteered. He sighed, because he didn't buy the shit he was selling himself. "This man was murdered."
Epiketos gestured with the wine jar. "But he hung himself."
"Someone hung him, but since he also performed the neat trick of drowning before he hung himself, he was murdered." Aeshylus stood up to pace and think. Also, he wasn't so young that crouching on the floor was doing his knees any favours.
Thêritas' forehead wrinkled as the oars of his mind churned. He said, "Aeshylus, sir, we have to find out who murdered this man."
Epiketos took another drink from the wine jar. "Not our problem. Drunks at the docks and a festivals. Theft. We don't avenger murder."
Thêritas shook his head like a bull flinging off flies. "Aeshylus, sir, if our task of defending this city is a sacred obligation, then we have to find out who has done this and bring him justice."
Aeshylus sighed again.
"Please, sir, we…" Thêritas's wide face had the look of a dog, whose master has forgotten to feed him.
"I'm not arguing with you, the man died on my island and that makes him mine." Aeshylus felt gritty and tired.
He almost sent out the Rod-Bearers to ask around the local taverns, but this was outside of their skills. They were fine for cracking heads, but nothing more subtle.
In the third tavern shop, he and Thêritas were in luck.
Elpis, one of the slaves who served the cups of beer from the amphora where it was brewed, remembered the Olympian wrestler. "He was askin' all sorts a odd questions. He wanted to know where the women hostages from Athens were kept. I told him we only had men. He gave me a drachma and thanked me." She pulled the coin from a pouch sewn into her tunic. "Not so many as would give a slave a coin to buy her freedom." She blinked and held the coin tightly.
Aeshylus put a hand on Thêritas' wrist to quiet the words he could feel bubbling up the man's throat, then realizing what he'd done, he let go. "Go on."
"One minute he was thanking me and then next he sees Little Prick, and he got terrible angry. He and Little Prick argued a bit, and went off together without buying any beer."
"Little Prick?" asked Aeshylus, who was almost afraid to ask.
"That's what we call Tereus. Some Athenian cockhead, come sniffing around every other week." Elpis' lips curled. "All the pornai by the docks, and he comes in here acting like it'd be an honour for me to play flute player with him."
"When I turned him down, he went on about being good friends with Phryne," said Elpis. She sniffed. "As if that could be."
Aeshylus understood the feeling. Phryne was the most famous heteara on the island. Her home was a meeting place, and presumably fucking place, of the wealthy, powerful and well known. It was said that she made ten drachma just walking down the street. Men, Athenians and Aeginans alike fell in love with her at a single glance. Aeshylus had seen it happen a time or two.
He looked at Thêritas. He wanted to say, "Be polite." He wanted to say, "Don't offend the most influential woman on the island." He wanted to say, "Don't look at her and fall in love." He said, "This should be interesting. Feel like a walk?"
Thêritas, straightened from "accidentally" dropping a drachma at Elpis' feet. "Yes, sir!"
The slave at the door to Phryne's villa didn't want to let them in, but Thêritas out loomed him. "Don't you know, this is Aeshylus, the Chief of the Guard of Aegina."
The slave muttered something about officials who didn't make more than 100 bushels of dry goods a year and let them in. It looked the same as when Aeshylus had been summoned to personally handle a domestic dispute that ended with a visiting Heteara from Corinth being put on the next boat off the island.
He was a little surprised to be greeted by the lady of the house herself in her courtyard. "Aeshylus, it's been too long. Why haven't you been back for a visit?"
"I'm afraid that I don't earn enough to trouble your precious time, Lady Phyrne." Aeshylus put on his best smile. He'd been all around the wine dark seas and knew how to put a good face on.
He couldn't help but look at Thêritas, who far from looking impressed, was glaring at the flower pots by the fountain.
Phryne glanced at a young girl playing a lyre on the edge of the small stone fountain that flowed into a marble basin. The girl smiled prettily. "Good day, sirs. May we offer you refreshment? Perhaps some wine." The smile didn't go to her eyes when they said no, or when she started to play again.
She did squeal when Thêritas jumped in the basin and started thrashing about looking at the edges.
"Uh," said Aeshylus, "sorry about my officer. I can only assume he's never seen a fountain before."
Thêritas said, "But sir, the fountain leads into a pool of water." He widened his eyes and would have accused Phryne of murder in the next breath, but Aeshylus snapped his fingers and pointed at the stone tiles outside the fountain.
Thêritas' jaw snapped shut. He stepped dripping out of the fountain and stood at a sort of parade rest with his spear in his hand.
"Like I was saying, my officer hasn't been called to many of the villas on Aegina and doesn't realize that many of them have fountains." He smiled meaningfully at Thêritas "The rest of us have to make do by going to the well in the town square or a public fountain."
"Of course," Phryne laughed as if they were in on a joke together. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"We wanted to ask you about a guest to your house." Aeshylus held up a placating hand. "It's a matter of an unpaid bill. Some Athenian," he rolled his eyes one Aegina native to another, "came to our island then killed himself over on Myrrha's tree. It's nothing to me, but there's some unpaid fees. He was seen with a man named Tereus, who I believe is a friend of yours. I'm just seeing if you know where Tereus can be found. See if he'll cover his friend's debts."
Phryne smiled pleasantly. "Oh, Tereus. There's no need to bother him. He's staying in the villa of Nicodromus." She looked at him a long moment to let the name of that prickly citizen sink in. "Tell me what Tereus' friend owes, and I'll give to you. I'm sure he's good for it."
He told her an amount that would have paid for an elephant getting drunk. He hardly knew what number he said. Mainly he was thinking they were fucked, because the way she was smiling at him, she was neck deep in what was going on. Briefly he wished he could be Thêritas and blindly shout that she should tell him what she knew, but as he pocketed her money, he realized two things.
This could conceivably be seen as accepting a bribe, which would buy them some time. Also, Nicodromus's villa was a short walk from Myrrha's tree.
When they left, Thêritas said, "You found something. You're smiling like you found something. What was it?" He circled around Aeshylus as they walked down the road.
"I found out that our mysterious man from the tavern is staying with a man who paid for himself to be elected onto the Council of Fifty-One, and who happens to live near where Epiphanes was found."
Thêritas grinned, which meant he either didn't know how much trouble they were in or didn't care.
"We should really drop this whole thing," Aeshylus said, trying to convince himself.
Thêritas kept smiling and walking circles around Aeshylus.
"Why are you smiling?" asked Aeshylus, trying to force a frown. "We're well and truly fucked."
"I'm smiling," said Thêritas, "because you're not going to give up. You're going to keep going."
"How do you know that?"
"Because we're on the road to Myrrha's tree."
Since it was true, Aeshylus didn't argue. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other, which his gran had always called a form of prayer. Because if the gods were fucking with you, you'd at least be closer to where you were going, and if they were helping, the same was also true.
They reached Nicodromus' villa by mid-afternoon. In keeping with Nicodromus' opinion of his position on Aegina, it was massive monstrosity. The thing towered three stories high. But for all the pretention of the art painted on the façade, it was made of mud bricks like any other building.
Aeshylus said, "Now we can't just go in and confront one of the richest men on the island." He about to go on, but Thêritas was already climbing up a vine on the wall. Aeshylus said, "What the fuck are you doing?"
"I'm breaking into the villa," said Thêritas.
Aeshylus sighed. "We're not thieves. We don't break in. We're guards. We protect the citizens." He nodded. "We wait for evening when the men of the house have had time to get drunk, claim to have seen someone piecing the wall of the villa and go in the front door to help."
"Oh," said Thêritas. He jumped back down to the ground. "I never think of those sorts of things." He sighed. "My sister would have thought of something like that."
"The sister your Father gave your inheritance to?"
Thêritas heaved out a sigh worthy of the cliffs of the Scylla. "Yes. She lives in Athens." Aeshylus was more than a bit curious about the sister, but changed the subject and was rewarded with a smile. As the sun set, they went to the front door and knocked until someone opened the door a sliver.
Aeshylus said, "Quick! We saw someone break through the wall. You're being robbed." They didn't wait for him to let them in. Just pushed their way into the central courtyard.
There in the center of the courtyard was a bubbling fountain that was a marvel of engineering. It replicated a mountain stream running into a small pool. Ferns were arranged in small pots clustered around the pond. Several were chipped. There was a gap where one had been broken.
Aeshylus could hear Nicodromus talking to his male guests in the Andron room. He decided not to waste time on pots.
He said to Thêritas while carefully watching the slave's expression, "I'll look on the second floor, you take the third."
Thêritas winked at him. "Yes, sir. I'll look for that criminal breaking into this villa."
Aeshylus reflected that Thêritas would win no prizes for acting.
"No, you mustn't. Only the Master's guest, Tereus, is allowed to go to the third floor," said the slave, which meant they should skip the second floor and go straight to the third. They ran up the stairs.
The door was securely latched, but Aeshylus glanced at Thêritas, who not only kicked the door in, but had it flying in from its frame to reveal a small bedroom. They went through it and in the next room found a Gynaikon with a single dusty loom. The floor was covered in beautifully woven rugs. Each one had the word, "Tereus," woven into the pattern.
A pale slip of a woman stood next to the narrow window letting in slashes of moonlight. She held a boy, maybe two years old, in her arms. She groaned at them. Her tongue had been cut out.
She wept and garbled out words. Aeshylus said, "Don't worry, my Lady, we can get you out of here." He wasn't entirely certain how as they looked down the stairs to see five men spill out of the Andron. On the upside, they were clearly well into their evening symposium, and were still clutching their wine cups.
Thêritas cracked his neck and grinned. He swung over the railing and dropped two floors. He landed on his feet with his spear poised.
Aeshylus said, "Quickly, my Lady, while my officer keeps them busy." Then he paused. Thêritas had already thrown two of the men into the ground, knocked another back with the butt of his spear, and made short work of the fifth, who sadly was Nicodromus himself. Aeshylus could only hope that he'd had so much wine, he'd black out just who had attacked him.
Thêritas ran back up the stairs three at a time with his man-mountain legs, saying, "That trash wasn't worthy of their weapons," and Aeshylus resisted the urge to kiss him. He also didn't suggest that eating knives and wine cups weren't much in the way of weapons.
Aeshylus turned back to the woman, only to see her and her child transform into brown birds and fly out the narrow window.
Theritas said, "Now they can be free."
"Fuck," said Aeshylus. "Now she can't tell us what's going on." He grabbed a woven rug. "We'll just have to take this and go."
"But," said Thêritas trotting after Aeshylus, who was propelled by anger and was therefore outrunning the mere advantage of long legs, "she couldn't have told us anything. She had no tongue to speak. The rugs all say it was Tereus." His tone was pleading. "The gods have given her a new life."
"We already know Tereus is involved. We could have asked her questions and she could have nodded. She could have written the answer. Clearly, the woman could weave words. Something. Anything. We could have… fuck!" Aeshylus wanted to spit, curse, and if he had the power of Zeus, hurl lightning.
He looked at Thêritas, who looked like he'd been kicked. "I'm sorry, it's not your fault." He sighed thinking it wouldn't take long for them to be identified. He smiled and lied. "I'm sure that woman and her child will have a good life as birds. Probably will sing beautifully. It's all fine." He shook his head. "We have to go back to the beginning. Ephiphanes was from Athens. If we go to Athens, maybe we can find someone who can give us some clue as to why he came here."
Thêritas stopped. He said, "My sister lives in Athens."
"We don't have time for a family visit." Thêritas hadn't moved. Aeshylus said, "She'll never know you were there."
Thêritas glumly said, "She'll know, sir. She knows everything."
Aeshylus did not roll his eyes at the idea of a well born lady being able to leave her house much less harass her grown ass brother. He resumed his march down the mountain.
They reached the city docks just before dawn. Aeshylus considered just taking the guard's ship to Athens, but it was a long enough trip to require at least a crew of two. Thinking back to the sailing trip with Thêritas' uncle, he decided to go through the naval barracks until he spotted someone he knew. He ruthlessly woke up an old lover and abused their long ago affair to get some help for the voyage.
Thêritas spent the entire trip alternatively glowering at poor Erastos and telling him that Aeshylus was the captain of the guard and couldn't possibly run away to sea.
Aeshylus was at the end of his rope, tether and overall patience by the time they reached Athens' port of Pireaus.
They left the ship after getting one more warning from Erastos that he needed to be back in Aegina by mid-day. Aeshylus was considering just where to start looking for an Olympian's home, when they were stopped by a woman in elegant and beautifully embroidered clothes at the end of the docks. She narrowed grey eyes. "Welcome, to my city."
Aeshylus had no idea what to say to that. It seemed unlikely a Hetaera would need to look for new custom at the docks. But no woman of status could walk alone on the street.
Thêritas said, "I have nothing to say to you since Father gave you…" he glanced at Aeshylus, "my inheritance."
"Father gave," the woman emphasized the word gave, "me nothing that you," her lip curled, "have the capacity to use. I sprang from him meant for what I do and have earned all the rest. You just think that because I am a woman, I am not capable of my role, but I am better at it than you will ever be."
"Yeah, well, you weren't even supposed to be a girl. That prophesy said that any son Father had with your mother would..." he glanced at Aeshylus, "inherit the kingdom in the usual way. That prophesy should have been about me. I'm older than you are. Mother's his first wife. I should have been the one to…"
"Please, even your mother isn't jealous of my mother's fate. I love Father dearly, but the only reason he didn't eat me at birth is I was born a woman. So here we are. I lack a tube of flesh between my legs to signify my right to succeed Father and you lack the mental acuity to do anything other than run head first at walls." The woman turned to Aeshylus. "Since I doubt my brother has the social skills to introduce me, you may call me Sophia." She smiled sourly. "It means wisdom, which is also something I certainly didn't steal from my brother's inheritance."
At which point, Aeshylus had had it. "Lady, I am out of fucks for this conversation. I haven't slept. I just had to force a man who was once my lover to help me leave my home because the only person who knew why there's a dead Olympic wrestler rotting ten feet from where I normally do my sleeping turned into a bird."
Sophia stared at him in the complete and utter surprise of someone not used to that kind of response. He'd have felt embarrassed, but he was too tired.
Finally, she said, "Ah," she pursed her lips, "then you were wise to come to me. What was the wrestler's name?"
"Epiphanes. But you're not going to know…"
"She knows everyone," said Thêritas.
"I make it my business to know everyone in Athens. Yes, he lives with his brother-in-law, who is one of our leading Athenian citizens, and does much to support the training of our…" she smiled a peculiar smile, "Olympians." She quirked her eyebrows. "I mean the athletes of course."
"We'll need to talk to the brother-in-law," said Aeshylus.
"Then, you have come here for nothing, because he sailed to Aegina days ago, as he does every few weeks. The man's chosen to train our best on your island, as if we do not have mountains or beaches here."
"This brother-in-law's name wouldn't happen to be Tereus would it?" said Aeshylus.
"Yes," said Sophia drawing the word out, "but how did you know?"
"Oh, oh," said Thêritas, "I know." His unrolled the rug and flapped it at Sophia. Although, how he expected her to read it, Aeshylus didn't know. "I know something you don't. That has never happened." He grinned and bounced on his toes. "I know his name and what he did and you don't." He practically stuck his tongue out at his sister.
Aeshylus considered bashing his head against a wall so he could get some sleep. "Thêritas, I know you know. Now we need to take what we know and talk to Epiphanes' sister."
"Fine, I'm coming with you," said Sophia.
"No you're not!" said Thêritas. "This is guard's business. That's not one of your..." he looked at Aeshylus, "areas."
"The city and her justice is very much my area. Anyway, how do you think you'll be allowed in to see an upper class woman unless there is a woman with you?" Sophia waved a finger in the air as if she was counting points.
"Great, you're coming with us," said Aeshylus. At Thêritas' wounded look, he said, "If you're going to honor your oath to serve my city, then we have to follow any lead and use any resource to find out what we need to know."
"Yes, sir," said Thêritas.
Sophia raised her eyebrows. "Does Dite knows about this development?"
"She's the one who suggested I spend some time exploring some of my other aspects." Thêritas shrugged. "And he prayed to… for… he prayed."
"Interesting." Sophia snapped her fingers and men carrying golden litters trotted to where they were standing.
Aeshylus spent the entire ride thinking. There was something just on the edge of his understanding. Something that he'd almost put together. Aeshylus thought about the Olympic athletes staying on Mount Oros to train. He tried to remember how many of them there were, but couldn't. The faces always seemed to be changing. He wished he knew who that woman had been and what she'd known. What was Nicodrumus connection to any of this?
As soon as the litter came to a stop, Aeshylus rolled out while the men were still lowering it. Not his smoothest move, but he collected himself and waited impatiently for Sophia to gain them entry into the house.
Sophia said to the woman at the door, "We bring word to the lady of the house about her brother."
The woman's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, no. Our Lady Procne had a dream about her brother. Please, this house has already had so much suffering. Don't say that we've lost Epiphanes too."
"We need to speak to Procne," said Sophia.
The woman nodded and took them across the courtyard and up the stairs to the door of the Gynaikon where the women of the house were weaving. One of them, a woman with pale skin and dark eyes that were red with tears was working was fierce determination.
Sophia went to her and said, "Procne it is admirable that you're attempting to bury your fears in honest labour, but let the shuttle lie still. We have word of your brother."
"I knew it," said Procne. She wrapped a hand protectively around her own throat. "He's dead isn't he?"
Aeshylus stood awkwardly just outside the doorway to the room. He said, "Yes, I am so sorry for you loss."
"You. You are from Aegina." Procne would have launched herself at him, but Sophia and the other women held her back. She struggled in their grip and hissed, "Why, Aeginan would you take all I have left. First you kidnap my sister, and now you kill my brother. What is this hatred you have for my family?"
Aeshylus was honestly confused. "Aegina isn't holding any women hostage."
Procne struggled at the grip of the women holding her. "Liar. You had her kidnapped from this very house."
Sophia let go of Procne. She said, "Did you see the Aeginans who took her?"
"No," she shook her head. "It was three years ago. She was just gone one morning. But Tereus has highly placed friends. They told him who had taken her. She came here to be safe. Tereus convinced Epiphanes to move them in with us when there were so many kidnappings happening. Philomene was so good with my son, Itys, Tereus insisted they stay."
Aeshylus shifted on his feet. "What was your husband's relationship like with your sister?"
Procne looked around at the women in the room. "What do you mean? There's nothing improper. He liked to bring her treats and little presents, to coax her out of her shell. I told her not to be shy around him. That he's her brother. She's shy just around him. That's all. There's nothing improper."
Sophia said, "Procne, you already know the truth." She plucked the rug out of Thêritas' hands and unrolled it. The women looked at it whispering. "You all know Philomene's work at the loom. You've worked next to her for hours. You know that you're looking at it now. You all know the truth. But you have hidden it from yourselves."
"I saw the Master try to kiss her one morning," said a woman very softly.
"He was coming out of her room a few weeks before she disappeared," said another, tears rolling down her face.
"No, the Aeginans are holding her prisoner," said Procne. She was touching the rug. Thorns had been woven around Tereus' name. "Oh, Philomene. Not my sister. Not my sweet sister. She's just a political prisoner. She's well treated. Tereus promised."
Thêritas blurted out, "Your husband cut out her tongue keep her from talking, but the gods have turned her and her bastard into birds in a miraculous miracle."
Procne breathed in sharply. "No!"
Sophia glared at Thêritas. "We don't need your blundering and…" Just then, a little boy ran into the room, crying for his mother. Procne looked at her son in horror. She held him at arms length as he wailed. Sophia looked at the boy. She looked at Procne. "Oh, dear. We can’t have that. Not on my watch. Not in Athens." As she said it, Procne and her son turned into birds.
Aeshylus said, "Oh, for fuck's sake," while the women in the room tried to capture them with scarves.
Thêritas looked at his sister. "I could have told you he wouldn't approve. He never likes the miracles."
"I don't care if this man approves," said Sophia through tight lips.
The birds flew out the door.
An older woman said, "Leave. You've done enough harm."
Sophia stood up and walked out the door, leaving them to follow her.
She climbed up the hill to the Parthenon, and slipped through the building as if it were her own home. She brought them to a small room with a view of the city. From the way the priests behaved as they passed, Aeshylus assumed Sophia had something to do with the temple. It might possibly explain why the woman was free to roam Athens.
Aeshylus didn't have time to figure out Thêritas' sister.
Aeshylus said, "So, Tereus was having an affair with Philomene."
"Raped her more likely," said Sophia, rapping her knuckles on the small table in front of her.
Aeshylus conceded the point. "She became pregnant. He kidnapped her, said it was my people."
Thêritas said very slowly, "Her brother discovered the Aeginans didn't have any women hostages, confronted Tereus, and Tereus killed him."
Aeshylus rubbed his eyes. "But that doesn't explain Tereus' connection to Nicodromus, or why he is sending Olympic athletes to train on Mount Oros. I have as much civic pride as anyone, but it's just not that tall a mountain."
"Oh," breathed Sophia. "Those idiots. Idiots. Idiots. Idiots. I told them not to attack Aegina for at least thirty years. I told them."
Which was when everything fell together for Aeshylus. "Fuck! There are no athletes being trained. He's sending soldiers. Or someone's giving them to him to send, and he's just the convenient cover. His price was a place to hold that poor girl. While Nicodromus will be set as the king he's always thought he deserved to be."
Sophia visibly calmed herself. "It can't be a plan by the entire Athenian council. This would have had to go through an open vote to obtain the funds. There must be just a few well-placed Athenians, who plan on looking for forgiveness rather than permission. I can think of one or two who have been speaking loudly of late that Athens should have access to the markets in Egypt."
Thêritas slapped the table, making it groan. "That's why they've been taking their time. The soldiers have been getting the lay of the land. But there are not enough to take even so small an island. There's always a few naval ships in port." He snapped his fingers. "But they have enough to hold a beachhead for when Athenian ships sail in with more troops."
"Those idiots," repeated Sophia.
Thêritas said, "What do you care? Athens is your city. They take over Aegina, they're that much more powerful."
"Because, brother, we'll need Aegina when Persia settles her internal matters and attacks, which by my estimation, will be in another twenty-five years. Think… I know you understand how this works."
Thêritas said very slowly, "This plan will take the island, but not the bulk of the navy."
"Yes, Aegina has nearly two hundred triremes, which are currently sailing about protecting Aegina's interests." Sophia spread her fingers as if they held all of that fleet. "They will become an enemy to Athens. They will need a new home port, and there will be Persia offering them earth and water."
"While Aegina will see Nicodromus and whoever follows him as an Athenian puppet," said Thêritas.
"Which he would be," said Aeshylus. "We may not seem as proud as Athens, but Aegina's our home. We're…"
"You'd do anything to get rid of them. Accept any help," said Thêritas.
"Which would put an island hand crafted by morons in place to support Persia not twenty miles from Athens." Sophis tapped a growing crack in the table. "When instead, what I want is Aegina, complacent after a long peace, the hostages long since released, threatened with same invasion as Athens will be. Primed for our leaders to come wooing with Athenian logic to lay out all the things we have in common."
"So, Aegina will throw in her navy on Athen's side of the war," said Thêritas. His bright eyes were looking in the distance as if he could see the battle. "Aegina has twice the ships Athens does, and more skilled sailors. Uncle was very impressed when he visited."
"Precisely," said Sophia.
"That's all very good," said Aeshylus, "but I expect to be dead in twenty-five years. Let's deal with the invasion now. Between our little home invasion and our visit to Phryne, they'll know who we are. Phryne's villa is a perfect place for Athenians and Aeginans to have been meeting with no one the wiser. She's probably neck deep in the plot."
"You must return to Aegina now," said Sophia.
"Yeah, I got that, but we don't know where they'll land troops." Aeshylus felt like exploding with frustration, but settled for rubbing his eyes again.
"I'd land on the south-east side of Mount Oros," said Thêritas. Sophia looked at him. He crossed his arms. "Portes is a small fishing settlement with a dock. It's remote enough to land a large number of men. The soldiers they have could overwhelm the people there easily. It has a direct road across the island into the city of Aegina. If the ships bring horses, they could be across the island in an hour."
"No, they won't," smiled Sophia. "No ships are going to arrive. You are going back to Aegina and deal with the local threat. While I deal with malcontents in the Athenian navy."
"Uhhh…" said Aeshylus, "You and what navy. They're not going to listen to you."
She grinned and Aeshylus finally saw a resemblance with Thêritas. "They will not be arriving. I am not letting some fools who want immediate glory ruin my plans. They were warned to wait."
"Even if you succeed," which was all very well and good that Sophia was insanely over confident, but Aeshylus had to say, "that's still not going to help us. Aegina's army amounts to an old sailor, five scattered slaves and a guard."
Sophia smirked. "You may have more of an army than you think." She embraced her brother, who gaped at her in surprise, and she left the room in three strides.
"Yeah fine," said Aeshylus. "Let's go back and face insurmountable odds."
"In battle!" agreed Thêritas.
Their departure was somewhat delayed in that they had to figure out how to get back to port. Finally a priest bustled up to where they were standing confused on the steps of the Parthenon and said, "My Lady asked we arrange for a litter for the two of you."
They rode back in close quarters, which since they were probably going to die, Aeshylus didn't tell himself not to enjoy. They were halfway there when he told himself to fuck what was right and kissed Thêritas.
Thêritas kissed him back enthusiastically, though they had to calm down or tip over the litter. He said, "It isn't only in your sleep that you want me!"
"Figured out that I was dreaming about you from the state of my blankets each morning?" laughed Aeshylus.
Thêritas looked shifty. "And other things," which presumably meant Aeshylus had been talking in his sleep as well. It would be embarrassing, if he wasn't cuddled in Thêritas lap.
They arrived at the dock and untangled themselves. Thêritas told Erastos, "He's mine now and you cannot have him."
Aeshylus smiled apologetically at Erastos, and was snogged for far longer on the way back than was good strategy. It was fortunate they'd brought Erastos, or they wouldn't have been able to sail at all.
As they sailed around the south side of the island, Aeshylus saw it was already too late. There were some fifty armed men standing on the dock and throughout the small village of Portes.
He was going to say something to Thêritas, when the man tied his spear to his back and dove off the side of the ship. There was nothing for it, but to dive after him. Leaving Erastos to take the ship to shore.
As he swam, Aeshylus composed his own death ode.
Except by the time, Aeshylus arrived at the dock, Thêritas had already climbed up the wooden pilings and was ploughing through the men. Aeshylus stood there in shock. He'd known that Thêritas knew how to fight, but Thêritas fought with a fury like nothing he'd ever seen. His armour wet from his swim seemed to glow golden in the sunlight as his spear whirled and thrust.
Men fell before him like Egyptian grain.
Within moments, their nerve broke and they were running away. Thêritas ran after them yelling, "Die scum!"
Aeshylus hoped his lungs would keep up as he ran after. He yelled at the fisherman to send word to the city, but some followed him with knives and cudgels. They ran like some sort of odd race up the mountain trail. At the top of the mountain, they came upon a small encampment on the edge of the caldera of the volcano.
There were just a few men, slaves mostly. Aeshylus spotted Nicodromus peering into the distance for ships that weren't there.
Aeshylus yelled. "You may as well give up. The Athenian navy has been delayed."
Nicodromus shoulders were slumped. He already knew the truth.
While another man, presumably Tereus, yelled. "You, you took my Philomene from me."
"Under the circumstances," said Aeshylus, "she wasn't yours to begin with." He was about to say something to Thêritas, who had the last of the soldiers on their knees and was taking their weapons, when Tereus yelled and ran at Aeshylus.
Thêritas shouted, "No!" He tackled Tereus with no regard for how close they both were to the edge and they both went over into the volcano.
Aeshylus felt his heart stop. He felt looked over the rim, almost certain that he would see Thêritas clinging to a tree or a rock, but there was no one there. He could not even give moments to this grief. He couldn't. He had a duty to his island.
He turned and stopped the villagers from beating the Athenians to death.
He marched them all down into the city and sent a Rod-Bearer, in his haze, he hardly knew which one, to arrest Phryne and assemble the Council. He gave his report and wearily answered questions.
Nicodromus was proud and unrepentant. He called them all fools, but confirmed that this had been a plot by a few Athenians who wanted access to Egypt's trade.
Aeshylus was commended and told that his and Thêritas images would be stamped on a coin, which was just wonderful. Just great. Aeshylus must have told someone that he needed to let Thêritas' sister know, because he was placed on a fast ship headed for Athens.
He went to the Parthenon. He didn't know where else to find Sophia. The priests led him into the same room as before. He stared dully at the view of the city. Eventually Sophia came to see him. She said, "My apologies for keeping you waiting, but once I stopped the fleet, I needed to see that the heads of the families involved were dealt with for putting their own interests over that of Athens. Of Greece. Of the will of the gods."
"Sophia…" he trailed off. He didn't quite know how to say it, but smiled sadly to himself, Thêritas would have just blurted the words out. "We confronted the Athenians and chased them up Mount Oros. Thêritas saved my life. He…" Aeshylus took a deep breath, "He and Tereus went over the cliff into the caldera of the volcano."
"Oh, dear," said Sophia, "that's awkward. He and Hephaestus haven't talked since the incident."
"Sophia maybe you didn't hear me. He fell into a volcano. He's dead. Thêritas… your brother, he's dead."
"This is what happens when my brother attempts subtlety." Sophia shook her head. "He's not dead. He and our brother are most likely having a long overdue and extremely awkward conversation. I suppose I should go keep Oros from exploding." She looked at the ceiling. "Why do I have to be the reasonable sibling?" She looked at Aeshylus. "Thêritas isn't my brother's real name, which I think you're clever enough to put together if you think about it."
She disappeared. One moment she was there and the next she was gone.
Aeshylus thought about whose temple he was standing in and how deferential the priests had been. He thought about the city of Athens and Thêritas' visit by his sea faring uncle. He thought about who was said to live in Mount Oros. He thought about Thêritas' skill with weapons. He thought about his prayer all those months ago. He told the empty room. "I am an idiot." After a moment he added, "But in all fairness it was very unlikely."
He did the only thing he could think to do. He went home. He went back to Aegina and fell into his bunk, which he had not slept in for a very long time. When he woke, Thêritas… he supposed he should call him by his name and not an epithet, Ares, was sitting on the bunk opposite him.
Aeshylus never at his best when he woke up, said, "You."
"Yes, me." Ares shrugged. "Ares, god of war and patron of guards. I brought breakfast."
Aeshylus grumbled and ate his bread. As he chewed, he thought. He said, "You were the source of all those miracles."
"Yes, though they never seemed to accomplish what I wanted. Still," he raised his chin in his familiar way, "I had to keep trying."
Suddenly, it seemed profoundly stupid for Aeshylus to be sitting three feet from Ares and not reaching out to him. He laughed. "Of course you did. Because you're my good boy."
Ares' eyes widened and then he tackled him. The bunk groaned, the bread rolled who knew where, and none of that mattered.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Aeshylus met Thêritas' brother at the end of the festival of Dionysia, which was generally a quiet time in Aegina. All the drunken idiots were in Athens parading around with large wooden and bronze phalloi, getting shit faced drunk and attending plays.
Oh, they celebrated in Aegina. They weren't stupid enough to piss off Dionysus, but it was more that the men of the island paraded with phalloi, the women of the island carried baskets of bread and amphorae of wine from the opposite direction. They all met in the agora at the center of town. The men had to compose poems to woo for their bread and wine. Those with and without musical abilities played instruments. Everyone was there. There was even a latticed area where the upper class women could mingle together.
This year there was even a contingent of Spartans, who'd arrived some months ago, eager to train with Aegina's guard.
Naturally, since he was in charge of the guard, Aeshylus and the Rod-Bearers worked the festival. Ares tried to insist he had to work as well, but Aeshylus told him, "You're not using the festival as an excuse not to break bread with your brother now that you're finally talking together.
Not that Ares and Hephaestus seemed to be speaking much. But they were sitting quietly and Mount Oros wasn't exploding.
Aeshylus was watching some Spartan women dancing a thigh slapping dance with some Amazons, when someone tapped him on the shoulder with a canopic jar in the shape of a golden falcon.
At first, Aeshylus wasn't sure if the heavily made up and perfumed individual tapping him up was a woman or a man. A wine reddened tongue licked plump lips. "I'm Dimêtôr, that means twice-born."
Aeshylus sighed. "Of course, Lord-Lady Dionysus. Would you care for some wine?"
Dionysus looked over Aeshylus' shoulder. "Relax brother mine, I'm not about to poach." Dionysus put a hand on Aeshylus shoulder. "Though we could…"
Dionysus didn't get to finish, because Ares hustled Dionysus to the foot of the short stage where the musicians performed.
Hephaestus ate bread. In the distance, Mount Oros puffed white clouds.
Vines coiled like serpents at Dionysus feet, while Ares waved his arms and pointed at Aeschylus.
Aeshylus did the only thing he could think to do. He threw Eustanthius, a young sailor from the merchant ship, Eye of Horus, up onto the stage to play his flute.
They got off lightly. Some vines grew up the lattices of the ladies pavilion. The women inside claimed to be fine. However, protocols during a Dionysia were fairly strict. They were still lobbing amphora of wine inside when Dionysus and Eustanthius disappeared.
Hephaestus went back to Mount Oros around the time the vines were losing their leaves and being tied down to the lattices of what was now going to be a permanent structure.
Since the festival was over, Aeshylus took Ares home to their house at the edge of town to celebrate Dionysia in their own way.
With all civic pride and proper procedure for good guards and the gods who guard them.