Afterwards, everyone went to their respective ships and there I was in Cephalopod along with fifty-nine more vessels. One hundred and fifty oarsmen, fifteen hoplites, including me, five archers, the helmsman and Diókles as trierarch (Officer who commands a trireme). It seems a small crew, but Athens preferred maneuverability for ramming (Shock between two vessels during a naval battle) rather than boarding. A correct perpendicular shock is capable of splitting a vessel into pieces.
Unfortunately for me, the weather darkened with huge clouds towards our destination, but a bigger problem was Nikephoros, a short bald, xenophobic and very religious Athenian. As soon the sails were set the buzz has begun:
– A misthios and a poor blacksmith from Aegina. What the fuck is that? Don’t we have enough men in Athens? I am an Alcmaeonidae (a powerful family from Athens), these frets are not worthy to be with us.
It was not the proper time to start a fight and luckily Diókles heard the whisper:
– Worthy? – The trierarch asked aloud. Anyone capable of sending enemies to Hades is worthy to be on my ship. I don’t see faces here, but oars, spearheads and arrows. Remember that you are a bastard, young man, your surname weighs as much as the air you breathe. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, but on a ship of your “family”. Occupy your mind with the battle ahead.
I whispered to Isocrates, I was getting sick again and perhaps a conversation could be a good distraction. My head swam in disharmony with the boat, when my head went up the ship went down and vice versa. I couldn’t walk straight, every step I took was as if my body jutted out and even when I stopped I felt my body continue to walk. The cold sweat and nausea were increasing until I couldn’t resist and I vomited on the stern sill. Everyone turned to me with a disapproving look.
– Is this way we’re supposed to win? – Commented Nikephoros.
– Shut up! – Replied Diókles. – Is everything okay misthios? You didn’t tell me you had problems with the sea. Do you think you can keep going? See, there is no problem giving up, not all of us were made for the sea. Besides, I won’t be able to pay you if you can’t fight.
– I already told you that I will be responsible for half of the deaths of this ship and you will give me my extra drachma. I need hot water, I have sideritis, tea will do me better. And if that piece of shit doesn’t shut up, I’ll throw him to the sharks myself.
– Silence! No one is going to throw anyone overboard except enemies. What the fuck, what rotten picker I have to choose a crew. Listen, everybody. I don’t want you to like each other, I won’t force you to eat at the same table or laugh at each other’s jokes. I just demand you all to focus on our goal. Understood?
– Look at this storm captain. – Said Nikephoros. It is a bad omen, I had a dream that night about a storm and drowning men. We have one less man with this barbarian on our ship.
– Enough! You bastard Alcmaeonidae stay at the bow and misthios at the stern or inside the deck. Now, everyone go back to work.
Right after the discussion I got some water on the deck and made a tea. I took three sips and instantly started to sweat. The rest I kept in my wineskin in case the sickness to return. On the advice of Isocrates, I wrapped myself in my cloak and paddled down. I was getting a fever and the cold autumn wind wouldn’t do me any good after a hot drink. Isocrates constantly put wet cloths on my forehead while I was hallucinating on the deck. The mental confusion was so huge that I had a vision of my childhood running across the plains of Plataea, at the hill of the sanctuary. When I felt like I was going to pass out, I just managed to say:
– Say I didn’t sleep well and I’ll be back …
My last sight was of Isocrates nodding his head. I end up blacking out, but I remember a few moments where water splashed on my face and the boat rattled a lot. When I woke up, my face was hot, not from fever, but from the sun on my face. The storm was over.
– It was a storm worthy of Odysseus. – Said Isocrates. The worst I’ve ever been through. Lucky you were sleeping. Do you feel better?
– Yes, the nausea has gone, I’m much better. Where are we?
– Captain commented that shortly we passed Naxos, we should be halfway there. We will arrive at night and have a free day before the fight. Come on, let’s eat something.
We got close to midnight on the island of Tragia (Current island of Agathonisi, ~ 35km south of Samos), I was exhausted even though I had done nothing on the ship. In the following day Pericles spoke to everyone to share the plan. It was not good, the siege was inevitable and my luck was in the naval battle to be fought the next day. In case of victory, the mercenaries would be dismissed. But I was afraid because it had been a long time since my last naval battle and sixteen ships had dispersed during the voyage to other missions. Besides, I needed to calm poor Isocrates. Getting the strength to keep up appearances and make it look okay is not an easy task, but a necessary one. There are situations in which you know you are going to lose, like an ox going to slaughter, but whatever it is, do not make it clear to your companions.
– We will be outnumbered – Isocrates said.
– And when we Hellenes were not? Athenians have a good record of maritime victories. They are the most prepared, they train a lot and use strategy instead of brute force. Trust our commanders, for it is better to have a plan, however bad, than nothing. However, I don’t like a siege at all, we need to win as quickly as possible to be dismissed.
– But the longer it takes, the bigger our payment will be, no?
– How much is your peace, Isocrates?
– Well … priceless.
– You are smarter than most of our crew. If we stay here for a year, we will have a lot of money at first, right? But what if we die in the last fight? What good was all that supposed money? Besides, it is easy for them give us a default. I accepted this job because I need the money, but I need it to be quick.
– Don’t you have any reserves?
– Although I only need one coin to pay Charon, I am not as lacking in intelligence in these matters as some might think. I have a piece of land in Plataea. It is not quite mine because I cannot have possessions in my name, but I bought it. I leave it to trustworthy people to take care of, children of those who raised me. Since I don’t have the skills and I don’t have the patience to plow or weave, I prefer to get my drachmas as a misthios. A fifth of what I earn in the year I take there to cover whatever is needed for tools and repairs, usually early in the summer. I usually spend the coldest winter days there, as jobs are scarce at that time. However, I don’t like to stay very long. Traveling and knowing the world is what I like to do and for that the less I take with me the better. But enough talking and let’s train a little. Exercise helps to slow down anxiety and we need to be prepared.
As Tragia is a small island we ran a full lap, around 100 stadiums (18.5KM), but it took us longer than expected because Isócrates was physically in a poor condition even for a young blacksmith. After the exercise we went to eat but nothing fancy when you are at war and you are a mercenary. Oatmeal porridge and some dried fruits. Meals were served on the ships themselves, moored in the port. As requested by Diókles, I tried to stay out of trouble and sat far from Nikephoros. We spent the afternoon training maritime maneuvers in the hot sun. Transition from line to circle formation and boarding an enemy ship. Unfortunately, nausea started to torment me again and I had to drink some to mountain tea. At night some sheep were sacrificed and we were finally able to eat some meat and drink some wine. At least the Athenians showed compassion for the mercenaries and offered us a decent meal that for some would be the last.
The next day I woke up with the screams of the seagulls at the top of the Cephalopod’s mast. Isocrates was still asleep and I did not want to wake him up, he should be very tired, maybe he had never exercised so much. I felt a little sorry for him and his poor wife. As in any fight, the youngest and most inexperienced are always the first to fall. He could drown, either with a spearhead through his back or a blade buried in his thigh, or even be captured and sold as a slave. In any case, his wife would no longer see him. I felt the responsibility to take care of him even though I knew I could not with certainty keep my promise and the gods know how to punish those who do not keep their oaths. I let him sleep a little more because it could be his last.
I swallowed a wheat porridge and lit a small fire to make my offerings. Poseidon and Athena, the ones who had once fought for the tutelage of Athens were now the targets of my prayers. After I went to the sea, nothing like an icy bath in the morning to wake up the spirit. Upon returning to the ship Diókles was already up, like a good captain who always wakes up before the crew.
– Good morning misthios. Are you feeling sick?
– No captain. Sideritis is helping me.
– Are you sure you can fight? If you think the trip was difficult it is because you have never been on a ship during an impact.
– Are you sure you can pay me my extra drachma?
– Uh! Stubborn as a mule. Aegidius warned me. I can pay you half if you want to stay on the shores and take care the wounded. I cannot put my ship at risk. If you want, I can allocate you on another ship, I know other captains.
– I cannot break an oath to the gods, captain. I ask you not to make me give up anymore.
– It’s up to you.
– Captain, who’s that next to Sophocles?
– Thucydides, son of Olorus of Thrace. They own their own ship, probably financed by the gold mines they have at Mount Pangeu. Why are you asking?
– I don’t know, maybe I can be useful for him after this conflict. If he has a gold mine, payment shouldn’t be a problem. I would like you to introduce me tomorrow, if the three of us will be still alive.
After a while everyone gathered in front of Pericles and his speech went something like this:
– Attention men. My speech will be brief, as our time is short. Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring state; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Our administration favours the many instead of the few, this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality. Unlike the Lacedaemonians who always fight on enemy soil accompanied by their consorts, we Athenians always answered the call of our allies with our own strength. In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian But let us not forget our ancestors, who through generations conquered us the freedom that we enjoy today, through their sweat and blood. They chose to die rather than submit to the strength of others. We as survivors must honor them.
After taking our position on the ships, we sailed north towards the island of Samos. The enemy vessels were already at sight, side by side with little space among them. The sails were down and it seemed that with each beat of my heart they grew in size. But the worst was behind. A great storm on the way. Even though I managed to breathe, unfortunately nausea started to bother me and my head was spinning inside the heavy iron helmet. I prayed the gods to allow me to survive but as I passed my hand over my waist I realized my wineskin was not where it should be.
– Maláka. Isocrates, come here! Did you see my wineskin? Shit, I must have forgotten it on the beach. Look at Nikephoros’s face. What are you smiling at? Do you think he stole it?
– Is everything alright, Kassandra? – Diókles asked me.
– Yes captain, I’m just thirsty and forgot my wineskin.
– Here, take mine. Attention everyone! I’ll be brief, since I don’t have the same talent as Pericles to make beautiful speeches. Some of you, perhaps myself, will not live to see the sun set tonight. But know that between us and true glory the immortal gods have placed the sweat of our brows to test our courage. Never to surrender, even in the face of death. The pain and fatigue resulting from endless training will bring us victory with excellence. Conquer your fears and I promise you, you conquer Elysium.
Nothing like few encouraging words to ignite the spirit of the youngest, I am no longer touched by such tricks. With a simple command the sails were raised and the oars lowered. The war had just started. Sea battles always gave me the chills. With flag signals given by Pericles’ ship all ships rearranged as planned and the Cephalopod was the first on the left flank. When I looked around I saw the boats arranged in two lines where the rear one had a larger space between the ships. Each one of us took our position in the ship and there I was at the stern on the right side. We hoplites filled in the outline while the archers stayed in the center. To dictate the rhythm of the sailors, the helmsman starts the song, soon sung by everyone:
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! Ο ενοσίγαιος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O γαιήοχος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O Φράτριος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O Πελαγαίος!
Χαίρε! Χαίρε! Χαίρε!
Hail Poseidon! The earth shaker!
Hail Poseidon! The protector!
Hail Poseidon! The father!
Hail Poseidon! The seaman!
Gostou? Comente & compartilhe!