Cover image for The sacred land
The sacred land
Turteltaub, H. N.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, [2003]

Physical Description:
379 pages : map ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In "Over the Wine-Dark Sea "and "The Gryphon's Skull," H. N. Turteltaub brought to life the teeming world of maritime Greece, in the unsettled years following the death of Alexander the Great. Now Menedemos and Sostratos, those dauntless capitalists of the third century B.C., have set sail again--this time to Phoenicia. There Menedemos will spend the summer trading, while his cousin Sostratos travels inland to the little-known country of Ioudaia, with its strange people and their even stranger religious obsessions.
In theory, Sostratos is going in search of cheap balsam, a perfume much in demand in the Mediterranean world. In truth, scholarly Sostratos just wants to get a good look at a part of the world unknown to most Hellenes. And the last thing he wants is to have to take along a bunch of sailors from the "Aphrodite "as his bodyguards.
But Menedemos insists. He knows that bandits on land are as dangerous as pirates at sea, and he has no faith in Sostratos' ability to dodge them. Meanwhile, it turns out that the prime hams and smoked eels they picked up en route are unsalable to Ioudaians. (Who knew?) And worst of all, Sostratos' new brother-in-law has managed to talk their fathers into loading the "Aphrodite "with hundreds of amphorae of his best olive oil--when they're trading in a region that has no shortage of it.
It's a hard day's work, hustling for an honest drachma.

Author Notes

H. N. Turteltaub is the pseudonym of a well-known novelist who is also an accomplished historian of the ancient world.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Turteltaub, better known (as Harry Turtledove) for his alternate-history novels, brings us the third installment in the tales of those Grecian adventurers, Sostratos and Menedemos. The time is 308 B.C.E., not too long after the death of Alexander the Great. Greece is in turmoil, politically and socially, but our heroes are getting away from it all, traveling by sea to Phoenicia, where they intend to spend a few months trading, but things aren't going according to plan. There's the matter of their ship's unwanted cargo, olive oil they are supposed to dispose of (coals to Newcastle). There's the matter of the unwanted guests on the voyage, a band of sailors who are supposed to protect them from various dangers. And, well, the whole adventure is just full of misadventure. Turteltaub keeps things moving at a brisk clip, throwing in just enough period detail to remind us we're in ancient Greece and scattering real historical figures throughout the story (Menedemos himself actually existed). It's a lighthearted, whimsical story, another solid entry in an entertaining series. --David Pitt Copyright 2003 Booklist



1 SOMETHING BETWEEN DRIZZLE AND LIGHT RAIN PATTERED down out of the sky onto the city of Rhodes. Every time a raindrop struck the flame of the torch Sostratos was carrying, the drop hissed out of existence. "Hymen! Iô, Hymen!" Sostratos called as he and his father led his sister's wedding procession through the streets toward the house of Damonax son of Polydoros, Erinna's new husband. Lysistratos waved his torch, too. "Hymen!" he called, as Sostratos called. Then, in a lower voice, he grumbled, "Miserable weather for a wedding." "Winter's the most auspicious time," Sostratos said, "but it's the rainy season, too. Chance we take." He was a tall, gangling fellow in his midtwenties who, unlike most men of his generation, let his beard grow rather than shaving in imitation of Alexander the Great. He'd studied at the Lykeion in Athens and thought the beard lent him the appearance of a philosopher. On a good day, he was right. Relatives and friends capered in the procession. There was his cousin, Menedemos, only a few cubits away, calling out to the god of marriage just as if he didn't enjoy adultery more. Menedemos was only a few months younger than Sostratos, the son of his father's older brother, Philodemos. Sostratos was most of a head taller than his cousin, but Menedemos was handsomer and more graceful. And people like him, too , Sostratos thought with a mental sigh. He knew he perplexed people himself; he thought too much and felt too little. He read Herodotos and Thoukydides, and aspired to write history himself one day. Menedemos could quote long stretches of the Iliad and Odyssey , and of Aristophanes' bawdy comedies. Sostratos sighed to himself again. No wonder people like him. He entertains them . Menedemos, swaggering along with a wreath of ivy leaves and bright ribbons in his hair, blew a kiss to a slave girl carrying a jar of water up the street. She giggled and smiled back. Sostratos tried not to be jealous. He didn't have much luck. If he'd done that, odds were the girl would have laughed in his face. "May the marriage bring you grandchildren, Uncle," Menedemos told Lysistratos. "I thank you," Sostratos' father answered. He gave Menedemos more leeway than Sostratos was in the habit of doing. But then, Menedemos had been known to complain that his own father held Sostratos up to him as an example of good behavior. That made part of Sostratos--the philosophical part--proud. It embarrassed the rest of him. He looked back over his shoulder. There was Uncle Philodemos, not far from the ox cart that carried Damonax and Erinna. Like the rest of the men in the wedding procession, Menedemos' father wore garlands in his and carried a torch. Somehow, though, he didn't look as if he was having a good time. He seldom did. No wonder he and Menedemos have trouble getting along , Sostratos thought. Damonax dwelt in the southwestern part of the city, not far from the gymnasion. Since Erinna, after the death of her first husband, had been living in her father's house near the northern end of the city (and the northernmost tip of the island) of Rhodes, the parade went through most of the polis. Plenty of people had the chance to cheer and clap their hands and call lewd advice to the bride and groom. Knowing his sister, Sostratos was sure she blushed behind her veil. With a final squeak from its ungreased axle, the ox cart stopped in front of Damonax's home. His mother should have received Erinna into the household, but she and his father were both dead, so an aunt did the honors instead. The men in the procession trooped into the courtyard. His slaves had wine and olives and fried squid and barley cakes and honey waiting in the andron, the men's chamber, where the rain couldn't spoil them. The wine was fine Khian, and mixed no weaker than one-to-one with water. People would get drunk in short order. Sostratos took a long pull at his cup. The sweet wine slid down his throat and started fighting the chill of the day. He wondered if the Aphrodite or one of his family's other ships had brought it back to Rhodes. Before long, someone out in the courtyard called, "Come on, everybody! They're going into the bedchamber!" "So soon?" someone else said. "Would you wait, on your wedding day?" a third man asked. "By the gods, did you wait on your wedding day?" Raucous laughter rose. Chewing on a tender little fried squid and carrying his winecup, Sostratos left the andron. Sure enough, Damonax had opened a door and was urging Erinna through. When she went inside, her new groom turned back to the feasters and grinned. "And now, my dears, I'll see you later," he told them. " Much later." People laughed some more and cheered and clapped their hands. Damonax closed the door. The bar thudded into place inside. Along with everyone else, Sostratos began to sing the epithalamion. Presently, he heard the bedframe creaking through the words of the wedding song. As was proper at such times, he shouted obscene advice. When he turned to go back to the andron for more wine, he almost bumped into his father. "I hope she's happy," he said. Lysistratos' smile was wide and a little silly; he'd already drunk a good deal. "If she's not happy now, when will she be?" he said. Sostratos dipped his head in agreement; he certainly didn't want to spoil the day by speaking words of ill omen. Behind him, somebody said, "Will he show the bloody cloth?" "No, fool," someone else answered. "It's her second marriage, so that'd be hard to do unless her first husband was no man at all." Inside the bedchamber, the creaking grew louder and quicker, then suddenly stopped. A moment later, Damonax called, "That's one!" out through the door. Everyone whooped and applauded. Before too long, the noise of lovemaking started again. A couple of people made bets about how many rounds he'd manage. All the numbers they argued about struck Sostratos as improbably high. He looked around for Menedemos, to say as much. Of course, his cousin was as likely as not to boast that such numbers were too low, not too high. And Menedemos was as likely as anyone to make such a boast good. But Menedemos didn't seem to be in the courtyard. Sostratos wandered into the andron looking for him. His cousin wasn't there, either. Shrugging, Sostratos dipped out more wine and picked up another squid with the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand. Maybe that creaking bed had inspired Menedemos to go looking for some fun of his own. * * * As Menedemos made his way up Rhodes' grid of streets, a ribbon on the garland he was wearing fell down in front of his face. It tickled his nose and made his eyes cross and reminded him he still had the garland on his head. He took it off and dropped it in a puddle. His feet were muddy. He didn't care. Like any sailor, he went barefoot in all weather and never wore anything but a chiton. An older man with a big, thick wool himation wrapped around himself gave him an odd look as they passed each other on the street, as if to say, Aren't you freezing ? Menedemos did feel the chill, but not enough to do anything about it. He'd drunk enough wine at his cousin's wedding feast to want to get rid of it and paused to piss against the blank, whitewashed wall of a housefront. Then he hurried on. Daylight hours were short at this season of the year, while those of the nighttime stretched like tar on a hot day. He wouldn't have cared to be on the streets after sunset, not without the torch he'd carried in the wedding procession, and not without some friends along, too. Even in a peaceful, orderly polis like Rhodes, footpads prowled under cover of darkness. He hoped Damonax would make a worthwhile addition to the family. He'd liked Erinna's first husband well enough, but the man had seemed old to him. That's because I wasn't much more than a youth myself when she was wed then , he realized in some surprise. Her first husband would have been about thirty, the same age as Damonax is now . Time did strange things. Half a dozen years had got behind him when he wasn't looking. His father's house and Uncle Lysistratos' stood side by side, not far from the temple to Demeter at the north end of town. When he knocked on the door, one of the house slaves inside called, "Who is it?" "Me--Menedemos." The door opened almost at once. "Did the feast break up so soon, young master?" the slave asked in surprise. "We didn't expect you back for a while yet." That almost certainly meant the slaves had grabbed the chance to sit around on their backsides and do as little as they could. Nothing was what slaves did whenever they got the chance. Menedemos answered, "I decided to come home a little early, that's all." "You, sir? From a feast, sir?" The expression on the slave's face said everything that needed saying. "Where's your father, sir?" "He's still back there," Menedemos said. The slave looked more astonished yet. Usually Menedemos' father was the one who came home early and he was the one who stayed out late. He walked through the entry hall and into the courtyard. Angry shouts came from the kitchen. Menedemos sighed. His stepmother and Sikon the cook were wrangling again. Baukis, who wanted to be a good house-hold manager, was convinced Sikon spent too much. The cook was equally convinced she wanted him to pass the rest of his life fixing nothing but barley porridge and salted fish. Baukis stalked out of the kitchen with a thoroughly grim expression on her face. It crumbled into surprise when she saw Menedemos. "Oh. Hail," she said, and then, as the slave had, "I didn't expect you home so soon." "Hail," he replied, and shrugged. When he looked at her, he had trouble thinking of his father's second wife as his stepmother. Baukis was ten or eleven years younger than he. She wasn't a striking beauty, but she had a very nice shape: a much nicer one now than she'd had when she came into the house a couple of years before at the age of fourteen. Menedemos went on, "I didn't feel like staying around, so I came back by myself while it was still light." "All right," Baukis said. "Do you have any idea when Philodemos will be along?" Menedemos tossed his head to show he didn't. "If I had to guess, though, I'd say he and Uncle Lysistratos and Sostratos will all come home together, with some linkbearers to light the way for them." "That sounds sensible," Baukis agreed. "I really do want to talk to him about Sikon. The insolence that fellow has! You'd think he owned this place instead of being a slave here." She frowned so hard, a vertical line appeared between her eyebrows. The expression fascinated Menedemos. All her expressions fascinated him. They were part of the same household, so she didn't veil herself against his eyes as respectable women usually did around men. Watching her bare face was almost as exciting as seeing her naked. He had to remind himself to pay attention to what she was saying, too. He'd given his father plenty of reasons to quarrel with him--and had also got plenty of reasons to quarrel with his father. He didn't want to put adultery with his father's wife on the list. That might be a killing matter, and he knew it very well. Most of him, at any rate, didn't want to put adultery with Baukis on the list. One part did. That part stirred. He sternly willed it back to quiescence. He didn't want Baukis noticing such stirrings under his tunic. "Sikon has his pride," he said. Talking about quarrels in the kitchen might help keep his mind off other things. "Maybe you would have done better right from the start if you'd asked him to be more careful what he spent than marching in there and giving him orders. That puts his back up, you know." "He's a slave," Baukis repeated. "When his master's wife tells him what to do, he'd better pay attention, or he'll be sorry." In theory, she was right. In practice, slaves with special skills and special talents--and Sikon had both--were almost as free to do as they pleased as were citizens. If Baukis didn't know that, she'd lived a sheltered life before she was married. Or maybe her parents were among the folk who treated slaves like beasts of burden that happened to be able to talk. There were some. He said, "Sikon's been here a long time. We're still prosperous, and we eat as well as a lot of people who have more silver." Baukis' frown got deeper. "That's not the point. The point is, if I tell him to do it the way I want, he should do it." A philosophical discussion--that's what this is , Menedemos realized. I might as well be Sostratos. I'm having a philosophical discussion with my father's wife, when what I want to do is bend her forward and ... He tossed his head. Baukis glared, thinking he disagreed with her. In fact, he did, but at that moment he'd been disagreeing with himself. He said, "You ought to see you haven't got anywhere by charging straight at him. If you compromise, maybe he will, too." "Maybe." But Philodemos' wife didn't sound as if she believed it. "I think he just thinks I'm some fool of a girl trying to give him orders, and he doesn't like that at all. Well, too bad for him." She might well have a point. No Hellene would have wanted to obey a woman's commands. Sikon wasn't a Hellene, but he was a man--and Hellenes and barbarians agreed on some things. "I've talked with him before," Menedemos said. "Would you like me to do it again? With a little luck, I'll get him to see reason. Or, if I can't do that, maybe I can frighten him." "I haven't had much luck with that, but then I'm only a woman," Baukis said sourly. After a moment, though, her face lit up with hope. "Would you please try? I'd be ever so grateful." "Of course I will," Menedemos promised. "Nobody wants to listen to quarrels all the time. I'll do the best I can." Maybe I can slip Sikon silver on the side, so we'll eat as well as always but Baukis won't see the money coming out of the household accounts. That might work . "Thank you so much, Menedemos!" Baukis exclaimed. Her eyes glowing, she impulsively stepped forward and gave him a hug. For a moment, his arms tightened around her. He held her just long enough for him to feel how sweet and ripe she was--and, perhaps, for her to feel him stirring to life. Then they sprang apart, as if each found the other too hot to bear. They weren't alone. In a prosperous household like Philodemos', no one could count on being alone. Slaves saw, or might see, everything that went on. A brief, friendly embrace could be innocent. Anything more? Menedemos tossed his head again. Baukis said, "Do speak to him soon, please." Was that all she'd had in mind when she hugged him? Or was she too making sure the slaves would have nothing to tell Philodemos? Menedemos could hardly ask. He said, "I will," and then deliberately turned away. Baukis' footsteps went off toward the stairs that led up to the women's quarters. Her sandals clacked on the planks of the stairway. Menedemos didn't watch her go. Instead, he walked off to the kitchen for what he knew would be one more futile talk with Sikon. * * * "Good day, my master," Sostratos said in Aramaic. He was a free Hellene. He would never have called any man "master" in Greek. But the tongue spoken in Phoenicia and the nearby lands--and in broad stretches of what had been the Persian Empire before Alexander's great campaigns--was far more flowery, more formally polite. "Good day to you," Himilkon the Byblian replied in the same tongue. The Phoenician merchant had run a harborside warehouse in Rhodes for as long as Sostratos could remember. Silver was just beginning to streak his curly black beard; gold hoops glittered in his ears. He went on, still in Aramaic, "Your accent is much better than it was when you started these lessons a few months ago. You know many more words, too." "Your servant thanks you for your help," Sostratos said. Himilkon's dark eyes sparkled as he nodded approval. Sostratos grinned; he'd recalled the formula correctly. "Sailing season comes soon," the Phoenician said. "I know." Sostratos dipped his head; he had as much trouble making himself nod as Himilkon did with the Hellenic gesture. "Less than a month to go before the...vernal equinox." The last two words came out in Greek; he had no idea how to say them in Aramaic. Himilkon didn't tell him, either. The merchant's lessons were purely practical. With a little luck, Sostratos would be able to make himself understood when the Aphrodite got to Phoenicia. He had more doubts about whether he would be able to understand anyone else. When he worried out loud, Himilkon laughed. "What do you say if you have trouble?" "'Please speak slowly, my master.'" Sostratos had learned that phrase early on. "Good. Very good." Himilkon nodded again. "My people will want to take your money. They will make sure you follow them so they can do it." "I believe that," Sostratos said in Greek. He'd dealt with Phoenician traders in a good many towns by the Aegean Sea. They were singleminded in the pursuit of profit. Since he was, too, he had less trouble with them than some Hellenes were wont to do. Sticking to Greek, he asked, "But what about the Ioudaioi?" "Oh. Them." Himilkon's shrug was expressive. In gutturally accented Greek of his own, he continued, "I still think you're daft to want anything to do with them." "Why?" Sostratos said. "The best balsam comes from Engedi, and you say Engedi is in their land. I'm sure I can get a better price from them than I'd get from Phoenician middlemen." "You'll likely pay less money," Himilkon admitted. "But you'll have more aggravation--I promise you that." Sostratos shrugged. "That's one of the things a merchant does--turns aggravation into silver, I mean." "All right. Fair enough," Himilkon said. "I'll remember that and remind myself of it when I run into a Hellene who's particularly annoying--and there are plenty of them, by the gods." "Are there?" Sostratos said, and the Phoenician nodded. Isn't that interesting ? Sostratos thought. We find barbarians annoying, but who would have imagined they might feel the same about us? Truly custom is king of all . Herodotos had quoted Pindaros to that effect. Himilkon said, "The gods keep you safe on your journey. May the winds be good, may the seas be calm, and may the Macedonian marshals not go to war anywhere too close to you and your ship." "May it be so," Sostratos agreed. "By all the signs, Antigonos has a pretty solid grip on Phoenicia and its hinterland. I don't think Ptolemaios can hope to take it away from him. No matter what they do to each other elsewhere along the shores of the Inner Sea, that seems a good bet." "For your sake, my master, I hope you are right," Himilkon said, falling back into Aramaic. "Whether the elephant tramples the lion or the lion pulls down the elephant, the mouse who gets caught in their battle always loses. Shall we go on with the lesson, or have you had enough?" "May it please you, my master, I have had enough," Sostratos answered, also in Aramaic. Himilkon smiled and clapped his hands. "That is perfect--pronunciation, accent, everything. If I had another half a year to work with you, I could turn you into a veritable man of Byblos, may a pestilence take me if I lie." "I thank you," Sostratos said, knowing he meant it as a compliment. The Hellene tried to imagine himself a member of a folk that knew not philosophy. What would I do? How would I keep from going mad? Or would I see what I was missing? A man blind from birth doesn't miss the beauty of a sunset . He got to his feet and left the Phoenician's ramshackle warehouse. Hyssaldomos, Himilkon's Karian slave, stood just outside, chewing on some brown bread. "Hail, O best one," he said in Greek. "Hail," Sostratos answered. He switched to Aramaic: "Do you understand this language, Hyssaldomos?" "Little bit," the slave said, also in Aramaic. "Himilkon use sometimes. Greek easier." That probably meant Greek was more like Hyssaldomos' native Karian. Sostratos didn't know for certain, though. Rhodes lay off the coast of Karia, and Rhodians had been dealing with Karians for centuries. Even so, only a handful of Karian words had entered the local Greek dialect. Few Rhodians spoke the tongue of their nearest barbarian neighbors, and he wasn't one of them. But more and more Karians used Greek these days, either alongside their own language or instead of it. Now that Alexander's conquered the Persian Empire, the whole world will have to learn Greek , Sostratos thought. In a few generations, wouldn't his language replace not only local tongues like Karian and Lykian but also more widely spoken ones like Aramaic and Persian? He couldn't see why not. The Aphrodite lay drawn up on the beach perhaps a plethron from Himilkon's warehouse. The merchant galley's planking would be good and dry when she put to sea. Till it got waterlogged again, that would give her a better turn of speed. A gull swooped down by the Aphrodite and flew away with a mouse struggling in its beak. One little pest that won't make it on to the ship , Sostratos thought as he walked toward the merchant galley. He was a neat man and didn't like dealing with vermin at sea. A couple of years before, he'd sailed with peafowl aboard the akatos. They'd done a fine job of eating roaches and centipedes and scorpions and mice--but they'd also proved that large pests aboard ship were worse than small ones. Sostratos laid a more or less affectionate hand on the Aphrodite 's flank. Thin lead sheets nailed to the timbers below the waterline helped shield the vessel from shipworms and kept barnacles and seaweed from fouling her bottom. Rhodian carpenters had been over the repairs they'd had done in Kos the summer before, after a collision with a round ship that came wallowing out of a rainstorm. The workmen on Kos had also been repairing Ptolemaios' naval vessels at the time, so they should have known their business. Even so, Sostratos was glad the work met Rhodians' approval. His own polis, in his biased opinion, held the best and boldest sailors among the Hellenes these days. One of the harborside loungers--a fellow who would do a little work now and then, when he needed a few oboloi for wine, or perhaps for bread--came up to Sostratos and said, "Hail. You sail aboard this one, don't you?" "I've been know to, every now and again," Sostratos said dryly. "Why?" "Oh, nothing," the other man replied. "I was just wondering what she might be carrying when she goes into the sea, that's all." "She might be carrying almost anything. She's taken everything from peafowl and lion skins and a gryphon's skull"--Sostratos' heart still ached when he thought about losing the gryphon's skull to pirates the summer before, when he was on his way to show it off in Athens--"to something as ordinary as sacks of wheat." The lounger clucked reproachfully. He tried again: "What will she have in her when she goes to sea?" "This and that," Sostratos said, his voice bland. The lounger gave him an exasperated look. His answering smile said as little as he had. His father and uncle's trading firm was far from the only one in the city of Rhodes. Some of their rivals might have paid a drakhma or two to find out what they'd be up to this sailing season. Men who hung around the harbor could make their money without getting calluses on their hands. They could--with a little help from others. Sostratos had no intention of giving that kind of help. This fellow, if nothing else, was persistent. "You know where you'll be sailing?" he asked. "Oh, yes," Sostratos said. The lounger waited. Sostratos said no more. The other man took longer than he should have to realize he wasn't going to say any more. Muttering unpleasantries under his breath, he turned away. I should have answered him in Aramaic , Sostratos thought. I'd have got rid of him quicker . Then he shrugged. He'd done what needed doing. Another man called out to him: "Hail, Sostratos! How are you?" "Hail, Khremes." Sostratos had known the carpenter for years and liked him. He wouldn't have to play games with him, as he had with the lounger. "I'm fine, thanks. How are you?" "Couldn't be better," Khremes told him. "Your cousin, he's a pretty clever chap, isn't he?" "Menedemos? I'm sure he'd be the first to agree with you," Sostratos said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. A good-natured soul, Khremes missed the edge to Sostratos' voice. He was also in the grip of enthusiasm: "That notion he had for the war galley made special to be a pirate hunter--that was wonderful," he burbled. "A trihemiolia--a ship that can fight like an ordinary trireme and stay up with a pirate crew's hemiolia. Fabulous! Why didn't somebody think of it years ago?" Sostratos had hated pirates with a clear, cold loathing even before they attacked the Aphrodite and stole the gryphon's skull. Now...Now he wanted to see every sea robber ever born nailed to a cross and dying slowly and horribly. If someone praised Menedemos for coming up with a ship type that would make life harder for those whoresons, he wouldn't complain. He said, "When something matters to my cousin, he goes after it." As often as not, Menedemos' ingenuity was aimed at other men's wives. But he did hate pirates as much as Sostratos said. Sostratos had never heard of an honest sailor who didn't hate them. "Good for him," said Khremes, who didn't have to worry about the results of some of Menedemos' escapades. "Well, yes," said Sostratos, who did. He went on, "We're really going to start building trihemioliai, are we?" The carpenter dipped his head. "We sure are. The admirals spent all winter talking about it"--he opened and closed his thumb against his four bunched fingers to simulate a gabbling mouth--"and now it's really going to happen. They'll make three to begin with, and more if they turn out to be as good as everybody hopes." "May it be so," Sostratos said. Thinking of Menedemos as someone who'd done something important for Rhodes didn't come easy. More than a little bemusedly, Sostratos continued, "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind putting to sea in one of those new trihemioliai instead of our akatos here. We're going east this year, so we'll have to sail past the Lykian coast, and the Lykians are pirates at sea and bandits on land." "Isn't that the truth? Miserable barbarians." Khremes paused. "Do you suppose you could use a trihemiolia for a merchant galley?" "No," Sostratos answered without hesitation, and tossed his head to emphasize the word. "However much I'd like to, there's not a chance it'd work." "Why not?" the carpenter said. "You'd be the fastest trader on the sea." "Yes, and also the most expensive," Sostratos pointed out. "The Aphrodite sails with forty rowers, plus enough extra men to handle the sail with all the rowing benches filled. They all make at least a drakhma a day; most of them make a drakhma and a half. That's two minai of silver every three days in wages, more or less. But a trihemiolia would carry more than three times as many men to pull the oars. That'd be--let me see--Zeus, that'd be about two minai every single day. We'd have to carry nothing but gold and rubies to have any chance of breaking even with expenses like that." "Ah." Khremes dipped his head. "No doubt you're right, best one. I hadn't thought about costs, only about the ship." Sostratos was toikharkhos aboard the Aphrodite . Everything that had to do with the cargo fell to him. He thought of costs first, last, and always. But, because he liked Khremes, he let him down easy: "Well, my dear fellow, I wouldn't know where to begin when it comes to putting a ship together." "You begin at the beginning-where else?" the carpenter said. "You make your shell of planks, and you fasten them all together with mortises and tenons so the shell's good and strong, and then you nail some ribs to the inside for a little extra stiffness." "Well, everyone knows that much," Sostratos agreed. "But knowing just how to do it--that's your mystery." "No mystery to it at all," Khremes insisted. "Anybody who works around the harbor could make a proper job of it." Sostratos didn't want to argue with him. As far as the carpenter could see, the harbor was the whole world. Khremes never thought about tanners and potters and farmers, for whom the shipwright's craft was altogether strange--and whose trades were as strange to him. His friends were other carpenters or men who worked in related trades. That all helped make him better at what he did, but did nothing to prove his judgment on matters unrelated to shipbuilding was particularly keen. Of course, he might not agree. "When you do sail off to Phoenicia, I expect you'll slicker those barbarians right out of their sandals," Khremes said. "I hope so," Sostratos said, and his opinion of the carpenter's judgment improved remarkably. * * * MENEDEMOS WAS FURIOUS and made only the slightest effort to hide it. "Olive oil?" He threw his hands in the air. "By the dog of Egypt, why are we taking olive oil to Phoenicia? They grow olives there, too, don't they?" "Yes." Sostratos sounded embarrassed, which didn't happen very often. "We're taking olive oil because--" "Don't tell me," Menedemos broke in. "Let me guess. We're taking it because it's what your new brother-in-law's family makes. Am I right, or am I wrong?" "You're right," his cousin said unhappily. "Damonax used Erinna's dowry to get some of the crop out of hock, and--" "And now he expects us to sell the oil and make him a nice profit," Menedemos interrupted once more. "We might even do it if we were going to Alexandria, since they don't grow olives there. But that's not where we're going. Did you tell him as much?" "Of course I did," Sostratos said. "He doesn't understand how these things work, though--not really, anyhow. He's no trading man. And...plague take it, he is my new brother-in-law, so I can't just tell him, 'To the crows with you,' the way I would with somebody who isn't part of the family. So we have to do our best, that's all." "I'd like to do my best to boot him right into the harbor," Menedemos growled, but then, reluctantly, he subsided. "Family ties." He rolled his eyes. "My father's disgusted, too, but he didn't tell Damonax no, either. He has more trouble saying no to your brother-in-law than he ever did to me, I'll tell you that." The trouble his father had telling Damonax no rankled, like so many of the things his father did. "Believe me, it could have been worse," Sostratos said. "When Damonax first came up with this scheme, he wanted to load the Aphrodite with oil to her gunwales, not leave a digit's worth of space for any other cargo. He had the oil, so why shouldn't we carry it?" "Why?" Menedemos exclaimed. "I'll tell you--" Now Sostratos cut him off: "My father and I have spent the past ten days arguing him down. We won't be drowning in oil, anyhow. Even if we do have trouble unloading it, we'll carry other things we know we can sell. Can't go far wrong with good Rhodian perfume." "Well, no," Menedemos said. "And we still have some of the silk from Kos we got this past summer. All sorts of strange things come out of the east, but I think the Phoenicians will have a hard time matching that." "I should say so." Sostratos dipped his head. "And who knows what we'll pick up along the way? We didn't expect the gryphon's skull last year, or the lion skins, or the tiger hide." "And we got real money for the hides," Menedemos said. "The skull..." He'd twitted Sostratos about it ever since he spotted it in the market square in Kaunos. "I'll bet the pirate who stole it from the Aphrodite hasn't lived it down with his pals yet." "Too bad," his cousin growled. "I still say we could have got something for it in Athens. After all, Damonax tried to buy it for six minai right here in Rhodes." "And if that doesn't prove he has no idea what to do with his money, gods only know what would," Menedemos said. "Oh, go howl." Sostratos eyed Menedemos. "Are you as eager to set sail as you were a year ago? You couldn't wait to get out of Rhodes then." "I won't be sorry to see it drop below the horizon this sailing season, either," Menedemos allowed. He had tried to make that less obvious this past winter. Evidently, he'd succeeded. His cousin frowned and scratched his head. "I never did understand why. You've got no outraged husbands sniffing after you here, or none I know of, anyway." He studied Menedemos as if Menedemos were the same sort of interesting specimen as the gryphon's skull. Sostratos had an itch to know, and he wouldn't be satisfied till he scratched it. All Menedemos said was, "No, no outraged husbands here." "What is it, then?" Sostratos picked at what puzzled him as if it were a scab. "My, aren't we nosy today?" Menedemos murmured, and his cousin turned red. Menedemos brought the conversation back to the cargo the Aphrodite would be carrying. That was important to Sostratos, too, so he turned most of his formidable intelligence on the question. Most, but not all--Menedemos could see him casting about for a chance to start probing again. Well, my dear, I'm not going to give you one, Menedemos thought. Talk about outraged husbands--what would happen if I outraged my own father with my stepmother? I don't want to find out, and so I won't find out. But oh, by the gods, I fear she might want to go to bed with me, too . What would Philodemos do? No, Menedemos didn't want to find out. His father had never stopped mocking him, hounding him, for his love affairs. If the older man were to discover himself the butt of one...Sure enough, it might not stop at words. Menedemos feared it wouldn't. It was all too likely to end in blood. And so I won't sleep with Baukis, no matter how much I want to--and no matter how much she might want me to. And, O cousin of mine, I don't care how curious you are, either. Some secrets are going to stay secret, that's all . "Can we get more papyrus before we set sail?" Sostratos asked. "Papyrus?" Menedemos echoed in some surprise. "I'm sure we can--the Egyptian grain ships that put in here often carry the stuff. But why should we bother? Phoenicia's a lot closer to Egypt than we are." His cousin didn't say, You thick-skull ! or anything of the sort. But the look he got made him wish Sostratos had come right out and called him an idiot. It wasn't that Sostratos was right so often, though he was. In fact, that made him very useful. But when he stared at you with pity in his eyes because you were too stupid to see what was obvious to him... I haven't wrung his neck yet , Menedemos thought. I don't know why I haven't, but I haven't . "Ptolemaios and Antigonos are at war again," Sostratos said. "Ships from Egypt won't be going up to the Phoenician ports these days, not when Antigonos is holding those ports. If we can bring papyrus there, it ought to fetch a good price." And he was right again. Menedemos couldn't have denied it if he tried. "All right. Fine," he said. "We'll get some papyrus, then. Might as well get some ink to take with it. We've done pretty well with ink before." "I'll see to it," Sostratos said. "I'm not sure what the market will be, though. It's not like papyrus: the Phoenicians know how to make their own ink. They're clever about such things." "They copy everything their neighbors do," Menedemos said with more than a little scorn. "They don't do anything of their own." "Himilkon wouldn't care to hear you say such things," Sostratos remarked. "So what?" Menedemos said. "Are you telling me I'm wrong?" Sostratos tossed his head. "No. From what I've seen, I'd say you're right. But that doesn't mean Himilkon would." Menedemos laughed. "Anyone hearing you would guess you've studied under the philosophers. No one who hasn't could split hairs so fine." "Thank you so much, my dear," Sostratos said, and Menedemos laughed again. His cousin went on, "When do you plan on sailing?" "If it were up to me--and if we had all our cargo aboard--we could leave tomorrow," Menedemos answered. "I don't think my father will let me take the Aphrodite out quite so early, though." He sniffed. "He went out right at the start of the sailing season when he was a captain--I've heard him talk about it. But he doesn't think I can do the same." "Our grandfather probably complained that he was a reckless brat," Sostratos said. "I suppose so." Menedemos grinned; he liked the idea of his father as a young man having to take orders instead of arrogantly snapping them out. "I suppose it's been like that since the beginning of time," Sostratos said. "We'll be proper tyrants ourselves, too, when our beards go gray." " I won't have a gray beard." Menedemos rubbed his shaven chin. "And you accused me of splitting hairs--you do it literally," Sostratos said. Menedemos groaned. Sostratos continued more seriously: "I wonder how you'd find out about something like that." "What? If old men were always the same?" Menedemos said. "I can tell you how--look at Nestor in the Iliad ." He paused for a moment, then recited from the epic: * * * "'He, thinking well of them, spoke and addressed them: "Come now--great mourning has reached Akhaian land. Priamos and the sons of Priamos and the other Trojans Would be delighted and would rejoice in spirit If they learned of all this quarreling-- That you, best of the Danaoi in council, were fighting. But hearken--you are both younger than I, For I kept company with better men than you. And never did they think little of me. I don't see such men as I saw then: Such as Perithoös and Dryas shepherd of the people And Kaineus and Exadios and godlike Polyphemos And Theseus son of Aigeus, like the immortals."'" * * * His cousin laughed and held up a hand. "All right, all right--you've persuaded me. Old men are old men, and they always have been." "A good thing you stopped me," Menedemos said. "Nestor goes on blathering for a lot longer. He's a dear fellow...if he doesn't make you want to kick him. Most of the time, with me, he does." "And why is that?" Sostratos asked. Menedemos didn't answer, but they both knew why: Menedemos' father put him in mind of Nestor. Sostratos said, "If you and Uncle Philodemos got on better, you'd like Nestor more." "Maybe." Menedemos didn't want to admit more than he had to, so he tried a thrust of his own: "If you and Uncle Lysistratos didn't get on, you'd like Nestor less." "Oh, I think Nestor blathers, too--don't get me wrong about that." Sostratos started to say something else, probably something that had to do with the Iliad , but then stopped and snapped his fingers. "By the gods, I know what else we can take to Phoenicia: books!" "Books?" Menedemos echoed, and Sostratos dipped his head. Menedemos tossed his. "Are you witstruck all of a sudden? Most Phoenicians don't even speak Greek, let alone read it." "I wasn't thinking about the Phoenicians," his cousin answered. "I was thinking about the garrisons of Hellenes in those towns. They ought to be good-sized; Antigonos builds most of his fleet along the coast there. And they won't be able to buy books from any of the local scribes, because you're right--those scribes don't write Greek. The ones who can read would probably pay plenty for some new scrolls to help them pass the time." Menedemos rubbed his chin as he considered. "Do you know, that might not be a bad notion after all," he said at last. Then he gave Sostratos a suspicious look. "You weren't going to take along philosophy and history, were you?" "No, no, no." Now Sostratos tossed his head. " I like such things, but how many soldiers are likely to? No, I was thinking of some of the more exciting books from the Iliad and the Odyssey . Anyone who has his alphabeta can read those, so we'd have more people wanting to buy." "It's a nice notion. It's a clever notion, by Zeus." Menedemos gave credit where it was due. "And books are light, and they don't take up much space, and we can get a good price for them." He dipped his head--in fact, he almost bowed to Sostratos. "We'll do it. Go talk to the scribes. Buy what they've got written out and see how much they can copy before we sail." "I'll take care of it," Sostratos said. Menedemos laughed. "I'll bet you will. If I sounded that eager, I'd be going off to visit a fancy hetaira, not some nearsighted fellow with ink stains on his fingers." His cousin didn't even splutter, which proved his point. "I'm always glad for an excuse to visit the scribes," Sostratos said. "You never can tell when something new and interesting will have come into Rhodes." "Happy hunting," Menedemos said. He wondered if Sostratos even heard him; his cousin's eyes were far away, as if he were thinking about his beloved. * * * Even a polis as large and prosperous as Rhodes boasted no more than a handful of men who made their living by copying out books. Sostratos knew them all. The best, without a doubt, was Glaukias son of Kallimedon. He was fast, accurate, and legible, all at the same time. None of the others came close. Naturally, Sostratos visited him first. However good Glaukias was, he wasn't rich. His shop occupied a couple of downstairs rooms in a small house on a street near the Great Harbor; he and his family lived above them. The shop did face south, which gave Glaukias the best light for copying. A skinny, angry-looking man was dictating a letter to him when Sostratos came up to the shop. The fellow sent him such a suspicious glare, he hastily withdrew out of earshot. Only after the man paid Glaukias and went on his way did Sostratos approach again. "Hail, best one," Glaukias said. He was about forty, with big ears, buck teeth, and, sure enough, a nearsighted stare and inky fingers. "Thanks for withdrawing there," he went on. "Theokles, the fellow who was here, is certain a Samian merchant is cheating him, and that the Samian has hired people here in Rhodes to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't get what's his by right." "By the dog of Egypt!" Sostratos exclaimed. "Is that true?" Glaukias rolled his eyes. "Last year, he got into the same sort of mess with a trader from Ephesos, and the year before that with somebody from Halikarnassos.... I think it was Halikarnassos. He quarrels with people the way some men go to a cockfight. If he had his letters, he wouldn't have anything to do with me--half the time, he thinks I'm part of these schemes to defraud him." "He sounds daft to me. Why do you keep writing letters for him?" "Why?" Glaukias smiled a sweet, sad smile. "I'll tell you why: he pays me, and I need the silver. Speaking of which, what can I do for you ?" Sostratos explained his idea, finishing, "So I'll gladly buy whatever copies you've made of the quarrel of Akhilleus and Agamemnon, or of Akhilleus' fight with shining Hektor, or of Odysseus' adventure with the Cyclops, or of his return and his revenge on the suitors--that sort of thing." "I see," Glaukias said. "You want all the high points from the epics." "That's right," Sostratos said. "People don't have to buy books--I want the parts that would make them spend their money on Homer when they could be buying Khian wine or a night with a courtesan instead." "People don't have to buy books," the scribe echoed mournfully. "Well, the gods know I've seen the truth of that . But you're right. When they do buy, that's usually the sort of thing they're after. And so, when I don't have someone's order in front of me. I copy out books like that from the epics. Let's see what I've got." He disappeared into a back room, returning a little later with ten or twelve rolls of papyrus. "Oh, very good!" Sostratos exclaimed. "That's more than I'd hoped for." "I do stay busy," Glaukias said. "I'd better stay busy. If I'm not busy, I'm starving. Personally, I wish I didn't have so many rolls to sell you. That would mean other people had bought 'em." "What all have we got here?" Sostratos asked. "The high spots, as you said," the scribe answered. "Most are the ones you talked about, but I also made a couple of copies of the next-to-last book of the Iliad: you know, Patroklos' funeral games." "Oh, yes. That's a good one, too." Sostratos unrolled one of the books and eyed the writing in admiration. "I wish I could be so neat with a pen. Your script looks as though it ought to be carved in marble, not set down on papyrus." "Believe me, it's only because I have so much practice." But Glaukias couldn't help sounding pleased. "I'll buy them all," Sostratos said. The scribe's face broke into a delighted grin. Sostratos went on, "I'll buy them all if your price is anywhere near reasonable, that is." "Well, best one, you know what these things cost," Glaukias answered. "If you were just walking in off the street to buy one book, I'd try to get eight or ten drakhmai out of you. People like that, a lot of the time they don't have any notion of what's what, and you want to make a little extra. But I'll sell you these for five drakhmai each--six for the two copies of those funeral games, because that's an especially long book and takes more time and more papyrus." "You've got a bargain, my friend." Sostratos did indeed know what books were supposed to cost. He laughed. "I don't remember the last time I made a deal without haggling." "It's been a while for me, too." Glaukias sounded almost giddy. What Sostratos paid him would keep him and his family eating for a couple of months. Sostratos wondered how long it had been since anyone last bought a book from him, and how desperate he was getting. When Glaukias went into the back room again, returning with a couple of cups of wine to celebrate, Sostratos suspected he wasn't getting desperate, but had got there some little while ago. The wine was just this side of undrinkable. The cheapest he could buy , sostratos thought. Aloud, he said, "I'm always glad to bring you business, Glaukias. Without the people who make books, what would we be? Nothing but savages, that's what." "Thank you so much." The scribe's voice was thick with unshed tears. Muttering, he ran the back of his hand across his eyes. "That's a plain fact, you know. But does anybody think about it? Not likely! No, what I get is, 'You've got your nerve, asking so much to write things.' If I starve, if people like me starve, where do books come from? They don't grow on trees, you know." "Of course not," Sostratos said. Glaukias talked right through him. Maybe that was the wine; maybe Sostratos' remark had struck a chord. Either way, Sostratos was glad to escape his shop. But that didn't mean he was done with scribes. Nikandros son of Nikon had a place of business only a few blocks away from Glaukias'. Sostratos didn't like his work as well as the other scribe's. He wrote quickly; he could copy out a book faster than Glaukias could. With his speed, though, came sloppy handwriting and more mistakes than Glaukias would have made. Sostratos didn't like Nikandros himself as well as he liked Glaukias, either. Nikandros had a face like a ferret's, a whining voice, and an exaggerated sense of his own worth. "I couldn't possibly part with a book for less than nine drakhmai," he said. "Farewell." Sostratos turned to go. "If you come to your senses before we sail, send a messenger to the Aphrodite ." He wondered if Nikandros would call him back. He'd almost decided the scribe wouldn't when Nikandros did say, "Wait," after all. After some considerable haggling--Nikandros did not offer him wine--he got the books for the same price he'd paid Glaukias. "This shouldn't have taken so long," he grumbled. "We both know what these are worth." "What I know is, you're flaying me." Nikandros was not, however, too badly wounded to scoop up the silver coins and put them in his cash box. "I'm not paying you any less than I paid Glaukias," Sostratos said, "but to the crows with me if I can see why I ought to pay you more." "Oh. Glaukias." Nikandros sniffed. "I see. I'm paying the price because he's not a better bargainer. That's fair. It certainly is." "Your ordinary book is five drakhmai in Athens," Sostratos said. "You know that as well as I do, O marvelous one. Why should it be any different here in Rhodes?" "And the Athenian scribes are just as scrawny and starving as Glaukias is," Nikandros said. "I want something better for myself. I deserve more customers." "I want all sorts of things. Just because I want them doesn't mean I'm going to get them, or even that I should have them," Sostratos said. Nikandros sniffed again. "Good day," he said coldly. Now that the bargaining was done, he had trouble even staying polite. How will you get those customers you think you deserve when you do your best to drive people away ? Polykles son of Apollonios also copied books for a living, but when Sostratos went to his shop he found it closed. The carpenter next door looked up from a stool to which he was adding a leg. "If you want him," he told Sostratos, "you'll find him in the tavern down the street." "Oh," Sostratos said. The word seemed to hang in the air. "Will he be worth anything when I do find him?" "Never can tell," the carpenter answered, and picked up a small file. The tavern smelled of stale wine and of the hot grease in which the proprietor would fry snacks customers bought elsewhere. The mug in front of Polykles was almost as deep as the sea. The scribe--a pale man with a withered left arm that probably made him unfit for any more strenuous trade--looked up so blearily, Sostratos was sure he'd already emptied it several times, too. "Hail," Sostratos said. "Hail t'you, too." Polykles' voice was thick and blurry. Sostratos could hardly understand him. The scribe blinked, trying to focus. "I sheen you shomewheresh before, haven't I?" He gulped from that formidable mug. "Yes," Sostratos said without much hope. He gave his name. Polykles dipped his head and almost fell over. As he straightened up, he said, "Oh, yesh. I know you. You're that trader fellow--one of thoshe trader fellowsh. Watcha want?" "Books," Sostratos answered. "Exciting books from the Iliad and the Odyssey . Have you got any copied out? I'll buy them if you do." "Booksh?" Polykles might never have heard the word before. Then, slowly, he dipped his head again. This time, he managed to stay upright. "Oh, yesh," he said once more. "I 'member thoshe." "Good. Congratulations." He was so fuddled, Sostratos was amazed he remembered anything. "Have you got any?" "Have I got any what?" "You'd do better to ask him questions when he's sobered up, pal," the taverner said. "Does he ever sober up?" Sostratos asked. The man only shrugged. Sostratos gave his attention back to Polykles. "Come on. Let's go back to your house. If you've got the books I want, I'll give you money for them." "Money?" That idea seemed to take the scribe by surprise, too. "Money," Sostratos repeated, and then, as if speaking to an idiot, drunken child, he explained, "You can use it to buy more wine." He knew shame a moment later; wasn't he encouraging Polykles to ruin himself? Whatever he was doing, it worked. The scribe drained the mug and lurched toward him. "Let'sh go. Go back to the houshe. Don't...quite...know what I got there. We can shee." He tried to walk through the wall instead of the doorway. Sostratos caught him and got him turned in the right direction just before he mashed his nose against the mud brick. "Come on, friend. We can get you there," Sostratos said, wondering if he told the truth. Steering Polykles down the street was like steering a sailing ship through a choppy sea and shifting, contrary winds. The scribe jibbed and staggered and all but capsized in a fountain. Maybe I should let him get good and soaked , Sostratos thought as he grabbed him again. It might sober him a little . He tossed his head. If he goes into the fountain, he's liable to drown . The carpenter who lived next door to Polykles looked up from that stool. " Euge ," he told Sostratos. "I never thought you'd pry him out of the wineshop." "As a matter of fact, neither did I." Sostratos wasn't proud of how he'd done it. "Now let's see if it was worth doing." Once they went inside, Polykles pawed through rolls of papyrus. "Here'sh one." He thrust it at Sostratos. "That what you want?" Sostratos undid the ribbon holding the scroll closed. When he unrolled the scroll so he could read what was on it, he let out a long sigh of sorrow and pain. He turned the scroll so the scribe could see it. It was blank. "Oh, a peshtilensh," Polykles said. "I'll find you another one.... Here!" Without much hope, Sostratos took the new scroll. He opened it. It wasn't Homer, either. It was a poem of sorts, by a writer Sostratos had never heard of. It was also, as the first few lines showed him, one of the most remarkably obscene things he'd ever read. Aristophanes would have blushed. He started to give it back to Polykles. Then he hesitated. If I were a bored Hellenic soldier in Phoenicia, would I want to read this ? he asked himself. He dipped his head. That seemed true without a doubt. In fact, he read a few more lines himself. Just to make sure it's all of the same sort , he thought. And it was. "I'll take this one," he told the scribe. "What else have you got?" " I don't know," Polykles said, as if he hadn't the slightest idea of what he'd been doing lately. And, drunk as he was, maybe he didn't. He gave Sostratos yet another scroll. "Here. Thish one'sh new." Sostratos began to read the book. It was part of Xenophon's treatise on horsemanship, something else a soldier might find interesting, or at least useful. It began very well, in a hand as neat and precise as Glaukias'. But Sostratos didn't have to go far before he found the quality sinking. Polykles must have been working while he was drunk , he thought sadly. The script grew scraggly. Lines wandered now one way, now another. Errors in grammar appeared, errors that would have earned a switching for a boy just learning his alpha-beta. Words were scratched out. Other inkblots seemed to be only that--blots. And, a little more than halfway through the scroll, words petered out altogether. "I wish I could keep this one, but it won't do," he said. "Why not, by the godsh?" Polykles demanded. Sostratos showed him the defects in the scroll. The scribe waved them away. "Who'll know? Who'll care?" "The man who buys it from me?" Sostratos suggested dryly. "Sho what?" Polykles said. "By the time he findsh that shtuff, you're long gone. Long gone," he repeated, and made flapping motions, as if he were a bird flying away. That struck him funny. He laughed hoarsely. "Sorry, but no. I'm not a thief," Sostratos said. "You fush about every little thing," Polykles told him. Had the scribe sold a couple of books like the Xenophon? If he had, and especially if he'd sold them to Rhodians, he wouldn't get much business after that. If he didn't have much business, he'd worry more. If he worried more, he'd drink more. If he drank more, he'd turn out more books like the Xenophon...if he turned out anything at all. More than a little sorrowfully, Sostratos held up the lewd poem and said, "I'll give you five drakhmai for this one." If anything, that was generous, for the scroll wasn't very long. Polykles just stared at him. "Five drakhmai. Do you hear me?" "Yesh," the scribe said. "Five drakhmai. I'm shorry, besht one. I wish there were more. But..." Maybe he tried to explain. If he did, he had no words. But then, he didn't really need any, either. Sostratos set the five silver coins where Polykles couldn't help but see them. "Farewell," he said, and walked--almost ran--out of the scribe's place of business. Would those five drakhmai make Polykles fare well? Would they even help him fare well? Or would he, as was much more likely, just use them to buy more wine to pour down his throat? He would think that was faring well . But Sostratos tossed his head. How much did what Polykles drunkenly thought was faring well resemble what would in fact be well for him? Not much, Sostratos feared. And he'd helped the scribe continue on his drunken path. He sighed and hurried away from Polykles', hurried back toward the comfortable life he led. He hurried away from what he'd just done, too. While Polykles didn't follow him--was, indeed, likely to be as grateful to him as his sodden state allowed--his own conscience did. * * * "Farewell!" Menedemos' father said, standing on the quay. "Farewell!" Uncle Lysistratos echoed, adding, "Safe journey there, safe journey home." "Thank you, Father. Thank you, Uncle," Menedemos called from the Aphrodite's poop deck. She was ready to sail. Only a couple of ropes still bound her to Rhodes. Her cargo was aboard, her crew likewise. Soon she would nose out across the wine-dark sea to find out what profit, if any, lay in the east. "Farewell!" Himilkon the Phoenician called. The bright spring sun glinted from the heavy gold rings he wore in his ears. A couple of the Aphrodite's rowers, though Hellenes, wore their wealth the same way. Another had a torn, shrunken earlobe that said some of his portable wealth had been forcibly detached from him once upon a time. Himilkon added something else, not in Greek but in a language full of hissing and gutturals. Sostratos, who stood only a couple of cubits from Menedemos, haltingly replied in the same tongue. "What did he say?" Menedemos asked. "What did you say?" "He said almost the same thing Father did," his cousin answered. "He wished us good fortune on the journey. I thanked him." "Ah." Menedemos dipped his head. "You really have learned some of that barbarous babbling, haven't you?" "Some," Sostratos said. "I can count. I can haggle. I can get food or ask for a room in an inn. I can be polite." "That should be plenty." Menedemos pointed to the base of the quay. "Here comes your brother-in-law." "Farewell," Damonax called, panting a little. "Gods give you good weather and plenty of profit. You know you've got splendid oil there to sell." "Yes, my dear," Sostratos said, proving he could be polite in Greek as well as Aramaic. Menedemos curtly dipped his head. He still wished they weren't carrying olive oil to Phoenicia. He turned away from Damonax and toward Diokles. "Are we set to go?" he asked the keleustes. "As soon as we cast off we are, skipper," Diokles answered. The oar-master was getting close to forty-five, his short beard grizzled. He was the best sailor Menedemos had ever known. Whatever he couldn't get out of a crew and ship wasn't there to be had. A couple of the men on the pier took care of the last detail, tossing into the Aphrodite the lines that moored her fore and aft. Sailors coiled the ropes and secured them. For the departure, rowers sat at all twenty benches on each side of the merchant galley. They looked expectantly back toward Diokles, who stood not far from Menedemos on the raised poop. "Whenever you're ready," Menedemos murmured. "Right," Diokles said. He took out a square of bronze hung from a chain and a little mallet he used to beat out the stroke. Raising his voice so it would carry all the way to the bow, he called, "All right, you lazy lugs, I know you haven't pulled on anything but your own pricks all winter long. But we've got people watching us, and I don't want us looking like a pack of idiots, eh? So even if you don't know what you're doing, pretend like you do, all right?" "He'll make them sorry if they don't," Sostratos said. "Of course he will," Menedemos answered. "That's his job." Diokles poised the mallet. Menedemos settled his hands on the steering-oar tillers. They weren't so smooth as he would have liked, not polished by long, intimate contact with his callused flesh: the Aphrodite had lost both steering oars in separate accidents the year before, and the replacements still had a rough feel to them he didn't care for. Time will fix it , he thought. Clang! Diokles smote the square. At the same time, he called out, "Rhyppa pai !" to help give the rowers the stroke. Clang! "Rhyppa pai !" Clang! "Rhyppa pai !" The men at the oars did him proud. They pulled as if they were serving on a trireme or a five in the Rhodian navy. Indeed, a lot of them had pulled an oar in the Rhodian navy at one time or another. Slowly at first, then with building momentum, the Aphrodite glided away from the pier. "Farewell!" Menedemos' father called one last time. Menedemos lifted a hand from the tiller to wave to him but didn't look back. "Good luck!" Uncle Lysistratos said. "Good fortune go with you!" Damonax added. With his olive oil aboard the akatos, he had reason to worry about good fortune. Artificial moles protected the Great Harbor of Rhodes from wind and wave. The water inside the harbor was as smooth as the finest glazed pottery. A tower at the base of the eastern mole mounted dart- and stone-throwing catapults to hold enemy warships at bay. A soldier on the tower, tiny as a doll in the distance, waved toward the Aphrodite . Menedemos returned the greeting. More soldiers in gleaming bronze corselets and helms marched along the mole toward the tip. The early-morning sun glinted from the iron heads of their spears. Thin across the water came the voice of the under-officer in charge of them: "Step it up, you sorry, sleepy bastards! You can sleep when you're dead." "He sounds like Diokles," Sostratos said in a low voice. "So he does," Menedemos agreed. "His job's not much different, is it?" Little fishing boats were sculling out of the harbor, too. They couldn't move nearly so fast as the Aphrodite and made haste to get out of her way. None of their captains wanted the akatos' sea-greened bronze ram crunching into his boat's flank or stern. The fishermen and Menedemos waved to one another as the merchant galley slid toward the Great Harbor's narrow outlet. Also making for the outlet was a big, beamy round ship, deeply laden with wheat or wine or some other bulk commodity. Like any round ship, this one was made to travel by sail. Her handful of crewmen strained at the sweeps, but the fat ship only waddled along. Expecting her to move aside for the Aphrodite would have been absurd. Menedemos pulled in on one steering-oar tiller and pushed the other one away from him. Graceful as a dancer, the merchant galley swung to port. As she passed the round ship, Menedemos called out to the other captain: "What's the name of your wallowing scow, the Sea Snail ?" "I'd sooner be aboard her than Poseidon's Centipede there," the other fellow retorted. They traded friendly insults till the Aphrodite's greater speed took her out of hailing range. Another round ship, this one with her enormous square sail lowered from the yard and full of the breeze from out of the north, was just entering the harbor as the Aphrodite left. Again, his ship being far more maneuverable than the other, Menedemos gave her as wide a berth as he could, though the harbor mouth was only a couple of plethra across. As soon as the akatos got out onto the open sea, her motion changed. That breeze pushed swells ahead of it; the merchant galley began to pitch and roll. Menedemos kept his balance without conscious thought. Sostratos gripped the rail to help steady himself. He gripped it till his knuckles whitened, as a matter of fact, for he needed a while at the start of each trading run to regain his sea legs--and his sea stomach. Some of the rowers also looked a trifle green. Maybe that meant they'd done too much drinking the night before. But maybe they also had trouble with the ship's motion. Most of them, like Sostratos, would soon master it. As for the ones who couldn't, what business did they have going to sea? Menedemos said, "I think we can take most of the men off the oars now." "Right you are, skipper," Diokles answered. He called out, " Oöp! " The rowers rested at their oars. Menedemos kept the merchant galley's bow pointing into the swells with the steering oars. Diokles asked him, "Eight men on a side suit you?" "That should be fine." Menedemos dipped his head. "We don't want to wear them out." The akatos used its full complement of rowers for swank, as when setting out at the start of each new trading run, and for emergency speed, as when escaping from pirates or turning to fight them. Otherwise, the crewmen took turns at the oars. While the sailors being relieved brought their oars inboard and stowed them, Menedemos peered north toward the Karian coast. We're off again , he thought, and the familiar excitement at being on his own coursed through him. And I'm away from Rhodes, and from my father, and from Baukis . That wasn't excitement, exactly, but it would do. Copyright (c) 2003 by H. N. Turteltaub Excerpted from The Sacred Land by H. N. Turteltaub All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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