heartsore one.

I heard nothing from Polemides for above three years. Then one morning a lad came racing with report of a stranger at the gate. I hastened down. A man awaited in blistered leather, shouldering a mercenary's kit. I had never seen the Arcadian Telamon yet knew at once this was he. He would not stay but delivered into my hand a pair of letters. He had packed them from Asia two years.

Polemides was dead, he reported. Not of war but mishap; an iron spike trodden upon and gone to lockjaw.

I beseeched the fellow to layover. “You have trekked leagues, sir, to render us this service. Please stay for supper, for our sake if not your own, or at least come in and wash off the dust.”

The man assented to enter as far as the copse that shades the steading spring. There is a pleasant bench there, as you know. He sat. The girls brought wine and alphita bread and an excellent opson of salt fish and onion. While the man ate, I scanned the letters.

The first was from Polemides, dated two years prior. He is well, he says, and hopes I am the same. He remarks the slender margin of his reprieve from the tympanon and chaffs me for joining him among “the gallery of rogues.”

…I trust, my friend, you harbor no illusions as to my reformation. I dance ever to the time-fixed tune. As all abhorred of heaven, my luck continues brilliant. Nothing can kill me and the girls scratch out each other's eyes for a berth beneath my bed sheets.

The second was from his son. They served together, the mercenary noted, beneath the Spartan colonel Philoteles, in Agesilaus' brigades fighting the King of Persia. Nicolaus informs me of his father's death. This was in Phrygia, the valley of the Maeander, not sixty stades from Deer Mountain.

…as to the contents of my father's sea chest, he would deem it a meed of honor, sir, if you would hold them as your own. I would not know how best to use them. I am not the kind.

The chest had been delivered to my door a month after Polemides' escape by my old shipmate Bruise, who, you may recall, ran the refectory in the lane opposite the prison. Bruise had this tale of that final night.

It was he who had contracted the horses for the getaway and, following my departure, had brought them round to the alley abutting the court. The keeper meanwhile had released Polemides, and, with his son, the trio descended to this egress. As they stepped into the lane where Bruise and the horses waited, three men turned the corner into view-Lysimachus, Secretary of the Eleven, and two magistrates-come to check on the disposition of the executions.

The officers' placement was such as to easily intercept the absconders. A cry would summon the prison's complement. Bruise himself, he declared, nearly pissed the paving stones with fright.

What went through their minds, these magistrates enjoined by the demos to carry out the execution of the noblest of their countrymen? Did they, who were but men and fellows of his race, grasp the enormity? Perhaps by some measure they came to perceive this gentleman turned villain, Polemides, as a surrogate, if not for Socrates, then themselves. He was as guilty as they, not alone for those acts with which he had been charged but for a thousand more, unwitnessed and unarraigned, down thrice nine years of war. Perhaps their silence now confessed such conviction as my own. Let him live, for our sake. Let us once play Zeus and tender clemency, through this man, for all those evils of our own devising.

For whatever motive, the officers stood aside. In heartbeats Polemides and the boy made off. The man's parting prayer to the keeper was that his chest be released to my care, when this could be performed without setting me at hazard.

Here let me insert, my grandson, one final document. I discovered this in our client's chest only days ago, seeking another I wished you to see. It is a transcription of that address delivered by Alcibiades to the men of the Samos fleet upon his second farewell, following Notium, that estrangement from which he never returned.

…what I say now I address to your generals and officers, gentlemen, who must command you scrofulous rabble, may the gods help them. Shall I tell where I learned to lead such men as you? In my father's stable, from his horses. And I call upon our friend Thrasybulus to back me, for he stood at my shoulder when as lads we marveled at those champions on racing day. No one had to teach them to run. Buying a horse, we learned to remark carriage and posture before length of bone or power of ham. Will you agree that a racer may possess nobility? And what is nobility that a beast may own it as well as a man? Is it not that capacity of soul by which one donates himself to an object greater than his own self-interest?

How lead free men? Only by this means: the summoning of each to his nobility.

When I was a boy, my tutor took me down to Piraeus to watch the racing shells sculling from Acte to the Silent Harbor.

My child's eye imagined that one creature drove each boat, a single splendid beast with multiple pairs of arms. But when the shells pulled in, I saw that men propelled them. Will you believe me, friends, when I say that I broke from my pedagogue to touch them with my hand, to see they were real? How could six, I begged to know, row as one? “Look there, little cousin, and see a hundred seventy-four do the same.”

A trireme on the wing: by the gods, here is a sight of splendor!

Nobler still a line at the advance and noblest of all, that symphony, a fleet. And you, my friends, of all who ever sailed or ever will, you are the finest. When sorrowful age has wrung us in its grip, what shall remain? Fathers and mothers, wives, lovers, even our own children, all will fall away, I believe, leaving only these, our comrades with whom we have made trial of death. They are enough, my friends. They are that which few ever feel or know.

You do not need me, brothers. No force on earth can stand up to you. May the gods bear you from victory to victory. The last sight I behold as hell hauls me down shall be your faces. Thank you for honoring me with your comradeship. And now good-bye, my friends. Fare you well.

I studied the mercenary Telamon as he finished his feed. Though calculation put his years well past fifty, his aspect was so lean and weatherworn as to tell thirty-five or even fewer. I wished earnestly to interrogate him, of Polemides' final seasons and his own.

One look told he would endure nothing of the sort. I inquired only where he was bound. To the harbor, he replied, to ship out on campaign.

I had a pair of boots in the barn and a woolen mantle far superior to that threadbare article he wore. He would take neither.

He rose, shouldering his kit.

Upon the bench he set a coin.

I protested that he offended the farm's hospitality.

He smiled. “It's from Pommo, Cap'n. He thought you might find the piece of interest.”

I picked it up. It was a gold daric of Phrygia, a month's pay for an infantryman. The reverse bore a trireme and a winged Victory; the obverse Athena Triumphant framed by an owl and olive branch.

The coin was called an “alcibiadic,” Telamon reported. It was a favored piece, good across all Asia.

The lane passing out from the farm bisects the central compound. The hands' kitchen and service stalls mark the west, as you know, adjacent several cottages and a transients' barracks.

Equipment sheds stand across, with that steading upslope we call the Crease, and the stock pens beyond. As the mercenary trekked down toward the gate, a huddle of gawkers tracked him with their gaze, arrested by his appearance and his kit. This following was comprised not alone of lads but of maids and even husbandmen and dames breaking off at their labors. As he approached the gate, two boys dashed ahead, that he not be put to trouble by the latch, and would have trailed him a distance down the lane, or to the sea itself, had not their fathers hailed them back.

I, too, was held by this apparition, unable to turn apart until he had vanished along the avenue of holm oak, whose blossom yields that scarlet dye which ever colors the soldier's cloak of war.

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