Meet the greatest Greek general you've never heard of: Philopoemen. In his day, a leader as skilled and as dangerous as Hannibal: a ferocious fighter, a superb general, and credited as the inventor of modern 'special operations'. More importantly, he was a brilliant political leader.
He commanded Greek forces at the turn of the third century BC, when mighty Rome, fresh from the destruction of Carthage, and Imperial Macedon, the greatest power of the day, chose Greece as their battlefield. In a world of rival empires, slave-taking cartels, piracy, terrorism and failed states, will Philopoemen be able to hold anything together?
(p) Orion Publishing Group 2019
Release date: April 18, 2019
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 416
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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The New Achilles
The Rhodian grain ship Arktos had endured a bad night, the last and worst of a three-day blow. She wallowed in the swell, her oars taken in, her broken mainmast still wrapped in her fallen cordage over the side, her crew struggling to cut it free in such a way that it could be saved. A relentless wind from the north drove her towards the coast of Crete, just a few stades away under a bright grey spring sky.
She only had a crew of eight and another thirty or so rowers, most of them slaves. None of them were citizens except the captain, who had given up bellowing orders from the foredeck and was now in the water, using a knife to cut the tangled shrouds one by one while his most trusted mate watched the water below him for sharks.
The ship’s passengers lined the starboard side rail, watching the repairs with varying degrees of interest. The Spartan aristocrat, his red cloak flapping in the freshening wind, sneered.
‘A touch of the whip would make them move,’ he said. ‘By the gods, what a useless lot.’
There were two women, from Kos, prosperous enough to have a slave to attend them. They were heavily veiled, their linen and wool forced against their bodies by the wind.
‘You are an expert sailor, perhaps?’ asked the older woman.
The Spartiate ignored her.
An Athenian merchant frowned. ‘If I was younger,’ he said, to no one in particular, ‘I’d get in the water and help.’
The Spartiate glanced at him with contempt.
There was one more passenger. He’d kept very much to himself since Rhodes, and now he stood amidships, looking out into the flat glare of the clouded Mediterranean day under his hand. He was looking south, over the port-side rail, at the north coast of Crete.
‘Is that Knossos?’ asked the younger woman. She was at an age to find lonely young men attractive.
‘I think so,’ the young man said, his voice dull, as if only courtesy forced him to reply. Then he frowned. ‘I think …’
He stepped up on the rail, balancing like an acrobat. He glanced back at his fellow passengers, uncertainty written on his features. Then he grabbed a shroud, looked again, jumped back down and crossed the empty benches and the central catwalk to lean over the side where the navarch was sawing away at what he hoped was the last of the movable stay that, in better times, had raised and lowered the mast.
‘Navarch!’ the Rhodian called. His voice was suddenly sharp and military.
‘Soon, citizen,’ the captain called, his voice full of the oil he needed to keep his fractious passengers at arm’s length.
‘There are three boats coming off the shore,’ the Rhodian called. ‘And we’re going to touch on the beach if we keep drifting at this rate.’
Every head turned. Four sailors ran across the deck and the little galley rolled slightly in the water.
‘Pirates!’ yelled a sailor.
The captain swore. ‘I need another man,’ he called. ‘Kephalos, get the boat-sail mast set. The artemon!’
Kephalos waved, and the navarch dived below the wreck of the mast.
The passenger who kept to himself dropped his chiton on the deck, drew a small bronze knife from a sheath at his neck and leapt into the water. His chest was criss-crossed with scars.
The women were watching the Cretan shore now. First one boat came off the beach, and then a second, full of men. A third boat was being readied.
‘Lady Artemis protect us,’ said the younger woman.
The older woman took a deep breath, but she released it without speaking. Her hands were trembling.
The Spartiate laughed. ‘Perhaps they’ll give this tub a tow,’ he said.
Suddenly the deck began to vibrate like a living thing, and the whole ship seemed to shudder. Then the mast and its attendant wreckage of torn sail and trailing ropes exploded out of the water like the very Spear of Poseidon.
Now the mast floated clear of the wreck. The captain’s head appeared, and he swam powerfully along the side of his ship, ducked under the mast, and looked back.
The passenger surfaced behind him.
The captain reached up, caught the low rail, and hauled himself on board.
‘Get the fucking mast aboard, you whoresons,’ he shouted. ‘You, and Kephalos! Set the artemon. I told you already, you rabble.’ He pointed at another man. ‘Throw the weighted line. Tell me how much water we have under the keel.’
The ship was now moving more rapidly in with the land. The dragging submerged mast had been like an anchor, and free of it, the current moved the ship all the faster.
‘Get that mast aboard!’ he roared.
Then he leapt across the amidships platform, but he could already see the three low shapes pulling towards them, oars flashing as they left the water in perfect unison.
‘Fucking Knossos,’ the captain spat.
‘King Cleomenes has a treaty with Knossos,’ the Spartiate said. ‘I’ll see that we come to no harm.’
‘See how you feel about that when some Cretan’s pole is up your arse,’ the captain said. ‘Sailors, arm yourselves!’
The Spartiate stepped back before the navarch’s vehemence, and the man turned as red as his cloak with anger. He put a hand on the sword he wore.
‘No one speaks to me that way,’ he said.
The captain wasn’t listening. He stood amidships, naked, the seawater still coming off him as if he was Poseidon risen from the waves. He was a big man, well past fifty, with grey hair on his chest, a grey beard, and equally grey eyes.
He was watching the foremast sail, the artemon, run up the stubby foremast. A boy not more than ten climbed the mast, reached out with a sharp bronze knife, and cut the yarns holding the sail furled. It snapped open right under him. The stiff southern breeze filled it with a crack, and the ship made way immediately, turning slightly to starboard but still making way south, dragged by the swell.
‘Helm!’ roared the captain.
‘She steers!’ called the mate at the steering oars.
The passenger was just hauling himself up onto the deck. The Athenian merchant gave him a hand.
‘Poseidon’s throbbing spear, you sacks of seal shit! Arm yourselves, unless you want to try mining silver on Syracusa or blowing flutes on Crete!’ The captain turned, looking at the passengers. ‘Women to the deck cabin. Gentlemen, you’ll want to fight.’
‘I won’t be taken,’ said the older woman’s voice from under her veils. ‘I’ve been a slave. I won’t be taken alive.’
The captain bowed. ‘Nor will I, despoina. Nor will any sensible body. But these ain’t noble Knossian warriors with armour and their pick of fighters. This is some sea-scum – out of work fisherfolk and broken men. If we kill a dozen, they’ll run.’ His voice was firm and confident.
The younger woman burst into tears and her knees all but failed her, so she seemed to jerk in the wind. The woman who had spoken took her head, and their slave took her feet, and they carried her into the cabin.
The naked passenger came to the command platform, drying himself with his chiton. By the time he reached the navarch, the man had a wool chiton over his torso and his slave was holding a bronze thorax open for him.
‘You’re Rhodian,’ said the navarch.
‘Yes, sir. Born on Kos. What can I do?’ But he knew what came next.
The slave closed the body armour like a form-fitting clam shell around his master and began to push the pins home to lock it closed.
‘You a Citizen?’
The navarch’s question capitalised the title. Citizens served at sea. They had extensive training.
‘Yes, sir. I have done my service – I was a …’ He looked away. ‘Marine.’ The young man waved vaguely at his sea bag, lashed under the port-side railing, the military way. ‘I have a sword,’ he admitted, as if it might be a crime.
‘Best news I’ve heard all day. Kephalos! Javelins and a pelta for our young citizen.’ He eyed the former marine. ‘You’ve fought before?’
‘Twice.’ The young man snapped the answer, and his eyes went elsewhere.
‘Excellent. Pirates are all gamon. You’ll see.’ The captain looked down at his mate.
Kephalos, a huge man with a fine head of red hair, grinned.
‘Aye, boss,’ he called.
He reached down between the benches and threw a bundle of javelins onto the main deck. Then he began to throw shields up, and the sailors grabbed them. The oarsmen looked uneasy.
The captain stood up on the command bench. Now he wore bronze greaves and the well-made bronze breastplate, and he looked even more like an image of the sea god.
‘Listen up, oarsmen,’ he said. ‘I don’t plan to fucking die, and you shouldn’t either. Now take a spear, and a shield, and fight. If we’re taken, slavery is the least thing that will happen to you. If we fight free, I promise every man of you ten silver drachmae, hard silver, and a word to your owners.’
The rowers were not all slaves, but they were all professionals, and they knew that pirates tended to slaughter their kind, or work them to death. One of the freemen leant over and picked up a pair of javelins and a pelta.
‘That’s the spirit, lads,’ said the navarch.
‘Knossos is an ally,’ the Spartiate insisted.
The navarch didn’t bother turning his head.
‘Not to Rhodes,’ he said. ‘Not this year.’
The Rhodian put the strap of his sword belt over his shoulder and half-drew the weapon.
‘Not bad,’ the captain called out.
The original work party had managed to get a purchase on the butt of the mainmast, put a rope around it, and hauled it inboard without staving in the side or turning turtle.
‘Two points to starboard,’ he called to the helmsman, then turned to the Rhodian passenger. ‘Pray for a wind change.’
But the grain galley was too big to be driven solely by her boat-sail, and they were still making way south while the rising wind drove them west. The three smaller boats were on converging courses.
‘Who did you serve under?’ the navarch asked the Rhodian passenger.
‘Orestes, son of Alexander, sir. Asklepios.’
The young man saluted, one arm held stiffly out parallel to the deck.
‘By Artemis! Were you in the fight last autumn? With the Aegyptian?’
The navarch looked at him and said nothing. Perhaps he bowed his head slightly.
‘And your name?’
‘Alexanor, son of Philokles.’
Even with a hundred pirates clawing after them in a long chase, the navarch managed a smile.
‘Philokles the Victor? The Olympian? Well, Alexanor, son of Philokles,’ he said. ‘I hope you can fight as well as your father. Is that his sword?’
The sword in question was hanging over Alexanor’s shoulder. It had an ivory hilt, banded with gold, and the image of Poseidon was set into the pommel. Alexanor’s father was a merchant, but also a well-known hero of the older generation, an Olympic champion in boys’ pankration and triumphant in a dozen sea-fights as well.
Alexanor nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said.
The navarch looked back over the goose head at the stern.
‘They’ll be up with us in an hour. But every stade we make will give them less light to take us, and I don’t intend to slow or turn. The pity of it is that with our mainsail up, we’d leave them in our wake.’
‘Any chance we could get the mainmast up?’ Alexanor asked.
The navarch looked around the deck. With the wind almost directly astern, there was nothing more the rowers could do, and the storm had cost them half a dozen sweeps, anyway. Two rowers were badly injured, their ribs broken by their own oars, from a rogue wave that had struck them in the dark.
‘Better if the wind would change to blow from the south,’ he said. ‘But let’s have a go, anyway.’
Alexanor looked north, towards Mount Olympus, and began praying that the King of the Gods would order the winds to blow from the south.
The navarch was more direct. ‘On me, you ruffians. Listen, then! Fighting is the last resort. Let’s try and get the mainmast up.’
There was a murmur of agreement.
But the execution of the idea was much harder than Alexanor had imagined. He’d only raised a mainmast from the deck in open water before, with all the raising tackle laid along by professionals. It was a different matter with all the side ropes torn away, and the mainmast an inert mass along the ship’s centreline. If its weight shifted even a foot or two off the centreline it was enough to make the ship fall off course if shifted abruptly. He didn’t even want to think of what the mast would do to the deck if the ropes let it go.
Alexanor, who had taken very little interest in anything since leaving Rhodes, took a deep breath and prayed to Poseidon. And then, with two Persian slaves and an Athenian rower, he took hold of a rope and pulled when he was told to.
The pirates, if they were pirates, drew closer.
Overhead, the boy and two Aegyptians rigged a cradle of ropes to the artemon’s mast at the navarch’s orders, and then everyone hauled away. The mast rose, a handspan and then another.
A gust of wind made the artemon crack and flap, and the mainmast swayed, and the men on the ropes were dragged two steps along the deck.
‘Steady there!’ the navarch called. ‘Two points more to starboard.’
The boat-sail flapped and then was still as the ship turned to run north by west.
‘Someone has a line to the gods.’ The navarch smiled at Alexanor. ‘By Poseidon, one breath of the wrong wind …’
The Rhodian looked back over the stern. The three pirates were hull up and halfway from the horizon; their low boats had colour now, the hulls black with pitch, and he could just make out faces. They were perhaps five hundred paces away.
‘Heave!’ called Kephalos, and the mast rose again.
‘Heave!’ he called again.
At each heave, the waterlogged mast crept higher. The navarch stood at the butt with four heavy wedges at his feet and a maul in his hand.
‘Heave!’ called the mate.
An arrow clattered against the goose head that decorated the stern and fell harmlessly to the deck.
‘Heave!’ roared the mate.
Alexanor was covered in sweat. When he looked across the deck, he could see the older woman from Kos and her slave had clapped on the port-side rope. Her veils were wrapped around her head like a turban and she had strong arms. She looked at him, and then back at her work.
‘Heave!’ begged the mate.
The mast went up, and then up again. And again. It was now at such a steep angle that it almost looked erect. There were parties of men on either side holding belaying ropes that kept the mast from swaying … much. But as the ship rolled, the mast swayed with it, and it was all six grown men could do to hold it.
The navarch’s face gave away the looming disaster.
Alexanor looked back and saw the prow of the nearest pirate boat just a hundred paces aft, and gaining, the pirate’s oarsmen pulling like men racing for a prize. An arrow zapped in like a vicious insect and struck one of the Rhodian oarsmen with a sound like a butcher cutting meat. The man fell and emitted a thin scream.
‘Fuck,’ spat the navarch. ‘So close.’
‘Hang on!’ called Alexanor.
He could see it in his head. The mast; the roll of the waves. It was almost impossible, but if it worked …
The navarch looked at him.
‘Drop the mainmast on the lead pirate,’ he said.
‘Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,’ spat the navarch.
Alexanor considered just roaring out the orders. He could see how it could be done, how tight the time was …
But he was a veteran, and he knew that no man could cross a captain on his command deck. No one would obey him.
‘It could work,’ he said softly.
The navarch made a face. And then a minute shrug that barely moved his armoured shoulders.
‘Let’s try it.’
He clapped his hands together and raised his voice.
‘Listen to me, you lot. When I say “Let fall!” all the belayers let go. The mast will swing to starboard as we turn. When I call “now”, every fucking one of you on the stays lets go. Got it? Don’t fuck this up. You there, on the gangway. You have a stay in your hand. Got that? “Let fall” is for those of you holding belaying lines. “NOW” is for those amidships. Got it?’ He looked forward. ‘Oarsmen, to your benches. Ready to row on command.’
He looked around. He didn’t wait for an answer.
‘Hard to port,’ he called.
The man in the steering oars didn’t believe him.
‘Hard to port!’ the navarch screamed.
The man in the oars obeyed.
As soon as the turn began, the nearest pirate boat surged forward. As the merchant turned, the pirates were racing to catch the merchant amidships and board.
‘Belay!’ the navarch roared, and the men at the rails let go their ropes.
Instantly, the masthead leant out to port with the sudden turn. The men holding the tall monster were pulled forward, and the swell under the turning ship heeled her over still farther.
The pirate galleys didn’t have rams; they were lembi, coastal boats for fishing or routine trade. Or rape and murder. The men in the bows had leather armour and spears. They were close enough that men were getting ready to leap aboard.
‘Now!’ The navarch’s voice was like a trumpet.
The mast fell like an axe. Smashing the low railing of the Arktos and descending on the pirate like a Scythian’s axe. The end of the falling mast went through the lead boat’s side; the force of the blow broke her back, and suddenly the seawater was full of men, some swimming and some already going down.
The merchant’s turn had slowed her, and the mast over the side turned her again, so that her bow pointed up into the wind, due south.
‘Here they come,’ called Kephalos.
‘Cut the mast free!’ called the navarch.
Alexanor had time to put his pelta on his left arm. He had two javelins, and he ran to the port side of the merchant ship, near the bow, and leant out, even as, deep in his mind, he thought here we go. Again. The pirates were coming up both sides now, but they were going too fast; the merchant’s sudden turn had caught them by surprise, and they were racing past.
The first javelin went into a man standing in the bow. An arrow shattered against the rail next to Alexanor, and then a sling stone buzzed by like a wasp. The pirates were throwing grapnels on ropes, but the merchant sailors were cutting them as fast as they came aboard. The mast was cut free and the ship seemed to come alive, no longer bound to the mast or the sinking pirate vessel.
A man was drowning beneath Alexanor’s feet, sinking away into the depths as though being pulled by a hand. His eyes were open and his mouth, too, as if he were screaming as his lungs filled with salt water.
Alexanor leant further over the rail, his eyes on the dying man, and then he made himself raise his head to the fight, and caught sight of the enemy steersman. As the enemy stern came even with the merchant’s bow, Alexanor threw with a step and the full power of his hips.
The javelin went into the man’s belly, and he doubled forward, hands clutched to the wound. He fell to his knees, and the oars fell with him, and suddenly the pirate boat was turning to port, away from the merchant – turning, turning …
‘Ware!’ roared Kephalos.
Alexanor turned to find that the pirates on the port side were boarding. He drew his father’s sword straight up into a parry, using the strong steel spine of the xiphos to turn a spear before stepping in close to finish his man with a thrust, exactly like a drill on the deck of the Asklepios.
Exactly like the other fight.
He pushed the dying man back into the arms of his mates. A spear licked out of the enemy mass and caught him in the shin. He had no armour, and the needle point hurt, but the leg held, and the spearman whipped his weapon back. Alexanor held his shield out at arm’s length, strapped against his left arm, so the little shield was edge-forwards, almost invisible to his enemies, and he went forward into their spears, regardless of numbers, because that’s what he’d been trained to do.
They flinched. Only one blow came at him, a hasty spear thrust that he caught on his shield. Then it was just fighting, close and terrible – and he had no helmet and no armour. He was hit, who knows how many times. He didn’t really feel the pain, and his father’s sword left a red path to death written across half a dozen foes until it broke in his hand, and all he had was a stump of iron. His right arm was red to the elbow and his head throbbed.
Exactly like the other time. Bodies like gutted fish. The stench of everything inside a man; the terror, the animal rage, the animal fear. Black, and deep, and horrible.
And then he was standing against the bulkhead of the bow, panting like a smith’s bellows, and Kephalos was handing him a clay flask full of fresh water.
The redhead had as many cuts on his arms as Alexanor had himself. Indeed, he was bleeding from a dozen wounds – some just dull aches from spear-shaft blows which had not broken a bone – but he had three cuts in his right forearm, a gouge taken out of his shin, and a puncture in his right thigh that was leaking blood. His father’s beautiful sword, stolen in anger from its place on his father’s wall in the andron at home, pattern welded by the expert sword-smiths of Colchis, was a stump, stuck to his hand by sticky, congealing gore.
How symbolic, he thought, bitterly.
His vision tunnelled, and he thought he might be sick.
‘By Zeus above and all his thunder,’ the redhead spat. ‘Oh fuck, here they come again.’
Those were his last words, as a thrown javelin caught him in the back of the neck and he went down like a sacrificial ox. The boat that had lost its steersman had now returned to the fight, but her crew seemed less willing, less ferocious. Alexanor put a man down with the javelin that had felled Kephalos, and then he made himself stand with the navarch and the other sailors on the command platform, watching the vessel approach. The sailors pushed him into the front rank.
He was next to the navarch, flexing his right hand, trying to get feeling to return to it.
‘If we kill five of them, they’ll run,’ the navarch said in a matter-of-fact voice.
‘My king has a treaty with Knossos!’ the young Spartiate said petulantly, though he sounded less sure of himself. He had a fine breastplate on, an aspis on his arm and his sword was red-brown.
‘Where’s Kephalos?’ the navarch asked.
‘Dead,’ Alexanor said.
The navarch turned, and his grey eyes looked old inside the bronze of his helmet.
‘Damn.’ He shrugged his shoulders, as if indifferent to his mate’s fate, or perhaps he was just settling the weight of his armour on tired shoulders.
Alexanor bent down to collect two javelins. He also killed two wounded pirates while he was about it.
The pirates came up both sides, all together, at a horn call. But they stopped just as the spears crossed, hesitant to close. Alexanor had to make himself stand tall. His knees wanted to fold. He felt as if he’d run thirty stades. And it was all happening again. The deaths. The waste.
‘Give us your grain and we’ll leave you to go,’ called a voice.
‘Come here and die,’ growled the navarch.
‘If you are men of Knossos—’ called the Spartiate.
‘Shut up,’ the navarch spat. ‘Rhodes makes no deals with these scum.’
‘Maybe …’ muttered one of the oarsmen.
A sailor shuffled back. The pressure on Alexanor’s back lessened, as if the rear rank was considering flight.
There’s nowhere to go, he thought.
Alexanor ignored the pain in his right arm and the fatigue and his near despair. The last thing he wanted to do was to kill, but training held, and his hand went back, almost without his willing it. He threw like Zeus flinging lightning from heaven, and one of the pirates – one of the few with a breastplate – fell screaming, the iron point lodged in his belly right through the bronze.
The pirates, despite odds of three to one, hesitated.
And then, as if pulled by unseen strings, they turned, all together, and fled into their boat.
The woman who had hauled on the ropes put a hand on his arm. Her hand was covered in blood, and he realised she had been fighting too.
‘Don’t touch me,’ he said dully. She flinched away.
He sat suddenly, in his own blood, and then …
Two days later, as dawn raced across the surface of the sea, the merchant galley, running lightly west with a jury-rigged mainmast and just ten oars in the water, crept past the rocky crags of the island of Agistri like a wounded water bird and then wallowed slowly onto the beach of Epidauros.
Alexanor thought that he was ready to go ashore on his own legs, but he was still exhausted, and his hands gripped the ship’s rail just to keep him upright as the oarsmen manoeuvred towards the beach. He had a wound like an angry mouth in his thigh, and his shin still leaked blood. He still had encrusted gore under his fingernails.
The other passengers left him alone at the rail.
The town rose on the promontory to the right, with fine red-glazed tile roofs, white buildings and a magnificent Temple of Apollo on the headland.
The navarch was braver than his passengers, and he came and stood with the scarred passenger.
‘What will you do here?’ the navarch asked. ‘Your wounds aren’t that bad.’
Alexanor knew that the older man intended to help, but he had no interest in a conversation.
‘I’ve come to take my vows,’ he said. ‘I’m going to be a priest. We’re hereditary priests, in my family. Priests of Asklepios.’
The navarch was watching as a bale of dyed Carthaginian hides came out of the maw of his ship.
‘You? A priest?’ He laughed. ‘You’re a killer.’
‘Yes.’ Alexanor shrugged, aware that the other man had meant his comment as praise, not damnation. ‘I’m not interested in being a killer any longer,’ he said, with more vehemence than he’d intended.
He thought of the deck when the pirates broke; and his mind flashed back to the other time, when the men he’d trained with had died. Corpses like gutted fish, white in death.
The elder of the two women, a matron of perhaps thirty, came forward and put a daring hand on his arm.
‘Why study here, so far from home?’ she asked. ‘Kos has a fine Asklepion, if you want to be a doctor.’
‘I come from Kos, despoina. Kos is too close to Rhodes.’ He turned away from her.
‘Perhaps—’ she began.
He turned a little too suddenly, as if he meant to attack her. She started back, but he merely bowed.
‘I’m sure that you only mean to help,’ he said. ‘But I do not intend to go back to Kos, or to Rhodes. For any reason.’
The woman backed away as if he’d stung her.
And later, when he’d gone cautiously over the side with his bag and the hilt of his father’s broken sword and splashed ashore in the warm water, she glanced at the navarch.
He was watching the young man as he walked up the beach. A tall, white-haired man in a long white robe came down and spoke to him, and then a slave came and took his pack.
The navarch looked back at her.
‘What a waste,’ he said.
The woman had her veil back over her head, and a straw hat over that, but she met his eyes.
‘I agree,’ she said softly. ‘Someone has hurt him.’
The navarch shrugged. ‘That’s the world. Right, you lubbers! Corinth! Get the anchor stones in!’
Alexanor bowed to the older man. ‘Alexanor, son of Philokles of Kos,’ he said.
‘I am Chiron,’ the priest said. ‘You may call me by my name, or you may call me “Hierophant”.’ He gave the Rhodian a little grimace, as if the title amused him. ‘Let me see your arms. You are injured. Your hands are filthy. You smell of death.’ The older priest’s voice was impersonal. ‘This is not the way aspirant priests usually appear. Come with me.’
They walked to a booth at the top of the beach, where two other younger priests were greeting pilgrims from a Corinthian trader. Inside the wicker construction were two stools, four low beds, and a variety of phials and clay containers neatly labelled on shelves. An overweight man lay on one of the beds, deeply asleep.
‘Sit down,’ Chiron said, brusquely.
‘I’m …’ Alexanor began. I’m not here as a patient. ‘I’m here to study to be a priest.’
‘Are you?’ Chiron said. ‘Please sit down.’
‘I assure you …’ Alexanor hated the petulant tone he took. The tone he used when arguing with his father …
‘Do you always find obedience this difficult?’ Chiron asked. ‘Sit down. I’m going to look at your arms. You were fighting?’
‘We were attacked by pirates.’
‘You have fought before,’ Chiron stated.
‘Yes, sir,’ Alexanor returned. ‘How do you know?’
‘If you stay with us, you will learn to read a man’s body like a scroll. Who dressed this arm?’
‘A lady of Kos,’ Alexanor replied.
‘Well trained,’ Chiron said. ‘And yet she didn’t wash the blood from under your nails. What was her name?’
Alexanor knew a moment of shame as he realised he had never asked the woman her name.
‘I don’t know,’ he admitted.
Chiron paused for a moment in his examination. He sniffed.
‘Interesting,’ he said. ‘You are a very lucky young man. Raise your forearm. Like this. Over your head.’
Alexanor did as he was told.
Chiron shook his head. ‘This cut should have severed the tendon. You would have been crippled for life. As it is, it will take a long time to heal. The tendon is like a rope on which you pull to move the arm. Do you understand?’
‘Yes,’ Alexanor said. ‘I have read Aristo
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