A Victor of Salamis

A Victor of Salamis

William Stearns Davis

History / Historical Fiction

There was ceaseless coming and going outside the Precinct of Poseidon. Following much the same path just taken by Simonides and his new friends, two other men were walking, so deep in talk that they hardly heeded how many made respectful way for them, or how many greeted them. The taller and younger man, to be sure, returned every salute with a graceful flourish of his hands, but in a mechanical way, and with eye fixed on his companion. The pair were markedly contrasted. The younger was in his early prime, strong, well developed, and daintily dressed. His gestures were quick and eloquent. His brown beard and hair were trimmed short to reveal a clear olive face—hardly regular, but expressive and tinged with an extreme subtilty. When he laughed, in a strange, silent way, it was to reveal fine teeth, while his musical tongue ran on, never waiting for answer. His comrade, however, answered little. He barely rose to the other’s shoulder, but he had the chest and sinews of an ox. Graces there were none. His face was a scarred ravine, half covered by scanty stubble. The forehead was low. The eyes, gray and wise, twinkled from tufted eyebrows. The long gray hair was tied about his forehead in a braid and held by a golden circlet. The “chlamys” around his hips was purple but dirty. To his companion’s glib Attic he returned only Doric monosyllables. “Thus I have explained: if my plans prosper; if Corcyra and Syracuse send aid; if Xerxes has trouble in provisioning his army, not merely can we resist Persia, but conquer with ease. Am I too sanguine, Leonidas?” “We shall see.” “No doubt Xerxes will find his fleet untrustworthy. The Egyptian sailors hate the Phœnicians. Therefore we can risk a sea fight.” “No rashness, Themistocles.” “Yes—it is dicing against the Fates, and the stake is the freedom of Hellas. Still a battle must be risked. If we quit ourselves bravely, our names shall be remembered as long as Agamemnon’s.” “Or Priam’s?—his Troy was sacked.” “And you, my dear king of Sparta, will of course move heaven and earth to have your Ephors and Council somewhat more forward than of late in preparing for war? We all count on you.” “I will try.” “Who can ask more? But now make an end to statecraft. We were speaking about the pentathlon and the chances of—” Here the same brawling voices that had arrested Simonides broke upon Themistocles and Leonidas also. The cry “A fight!” was producing its inevitable result. Scores of men, and those not the most aristocratic, were running pell-mell whither so many had thronged already. In the confusion scant reverence was paid the king of Sparta and the first statesman of Athens, who were thrust unceremoniously aside and were barely witnesses of what followed. The outcry was begun, after-report had it, by a Sicyonian bronze-dealer finding a small but valuable lamp missing from the table whereon he showed his wares. Among the dozen odd persons pressing about the booth his eye singled out a slight, handsome boy in Oriental dress; and since Syrian serving-lads were proverbially light-fingered, the Sicyonian jumped quickly at his conclusion. “Seize the Barbarian thief!” had been his shout as he leaped and snatched the alleged culprit’s mantle. The boy escaped easily by the frailness of his dress, which tore in the merchant’s hands; but a score of bystanders seized the fugitive and dragged him back to the Sicyonian, whose order to “search!” would have been promptly obeyed; but at this instant he stumbled over the missing lamp on the ground before the table, whence probably it had fallen. The bronze-dealer was now mollified, and would willingly have released the lad, but a Spartan bystander was more zealous. “Here’s a Barbarian thief and spy!” he began bellowing; “he dropped the lamp when he was detected! Have him to the temple and to the wardens of the games!” The magic word “spy” let loose the tongues and passions of every man within hearing.
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