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Title: Purple Pirate
Author: Talbot Mundy
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Language: English
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Purple Pirate

by

Talbot Mundy


Click here to see more cover images

First published by Appleton-Century, New York, 1935



TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I
Alexandria, 43 B.C.


Hither I have found my real goal unattainable. But I persist, since the attainable is no more than a rung on the ladder of life, on which a man may climb to grander views, though it will break beneath him if he linger too long.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


There was a murmur of voices from the huge throne-room; it sounded as distant as the murmur of the sea through the open window. Charmion and Iras, Cleopatra's confidants, had been dismissed an hour ago. Olympus, the court astrologer remained, hugging his horoscopes in a corner. Tros, in his gold-embroidered purple cloak, stood staring through the window at his great trireme anchored in the harbor. Two deaf mutes, one by each doorpost, watched him; they were as motionless as mummies.

Cleopatra was heavy with emeralds because Caesar had liked her to wear them, but she was simply dressed in plain white. She sat in the ivory chair that Caesar had always used. Her elbow rested on the small table beside her, and her chin on her hand. Her eyes glowed with intelligence, but in that pose she was not very good-looking, and she was so small that she looked almost unimportant. It was only when she spoke that Cleopatra's strength of character commanded notice. Her voice was quiet but it held astonishing vibrance.

Tros had to turn and face her.

"Tros," she said, "you call yourself my friend. Perhaps you are. It is true you have served me well, when it has pleased your tempestuous heart—if it is a heart that beats within you, and not a battle-drum. But a queen has no real friends. It is for a queen to discover, if she can, why people wish to seem to be her friends. I would have made you admiral of all my ships—"

Tros interrupted: "As a friend, I am a free man." But he noticed the smile in her eyes. "As an admiral, I should have to leave my conscience in your keeping, Royal Egypt. I have seen the skill with which you use men's consciences!"

"Such as have any," she answered. "Well, you fume and lecture me, and reject my offers. You appear to think I should be proud to obey your phantastic advice, as you call it, that you hurl at Me like something or other from one of your trireme's catapults. But I know what you want, and you shall not have it unless you do what I want. Now, will you have a commission? See, I have it here, ready—admiral—"

"No," he answered.

"Then begone without one!"

He bowed. She smiled, then laughed—a gorgeous, golden note, resonant with courage.

"And I wish I were coming with you!"

He bowed again. Not for one second did he doubt she was telling the truth about that. At seventeen she had led an army. She had been born to the game of lead-who-can and serve-who-must. Daring had cost her a throne. Daring had won it again, along with Caesar's respect, which no one who wasn't fearless ever had a chance to command.

"Good fortune, Tros! No need to tell you to be brave!"

He kissed her hand, and as he left the room she threw a cushion at him:

"Flatterer! You behave as if I were heartless. I am unworthy of the compliment!"

He went out laughing, which was what she intended. Olympus followed him. The long line of notables waiting for an audience, with their backs to the Babylonian hangings in the heavily carpeted marble corridor, exchanged glances. They bowed politely. Some of them hated Tros because the Queen almost never kept him waiting. And some were jealous because it was time for somebody to step into dead Caesar's shoes, and Tros perhaps might be that man. Some of them even tried to overhear what Olympus was saying.

The astrologer-physician was a man they dreaded. He was too abstemious to be easily poisoned. He had all their birth-dates, all their horoscopes. It was said that he watched the stars and warned the Queen whenever any courtier's celestial chart suggested probability of treason. If not, how was she so swift to discover treason, and for such a young woman so deadly competent to deal with it?

Olympus's star-bespangled, black robes of office and his ominous tau-handled staff made them shudder. He looked as gloomy as a raven, as mysterious as death—tall, gaunt, solemn, shaven. But as a matter of fact he was simply showing his friendship for Tros in his own reserved way—a man of meditative peace encouraging a man of war, revealing, but not betraying.

"Are you wise thus to humiliate her? Tros, she wavers between magnanimity and anger. Half of her hopes she has dismissed you to your death, or that an error will bring you to judgment. Half of her hopes you will return triumphant."

"And?"

"Who else is there whom she could trust to share her throne?"

Tros answered gruffly: "There shall be a mother of sons of mine, I hope, Olympus, when the time is ripe. But I will not breed lads to play this game of kinging it. If she were love itself, I would go my way nevertheless—aye, even though I loved her. She brought forth Caesar's son, and one is plenty of Caesar's get. He may become a prig like Brutus, or a bloody rogue of the Ptolemy sort, or he may be a man. Let her see to it. If she craves a man for her bed, there are dozens eager to accept the post of he-concubine. As for me—"

"Well, I merely warned you," said Olympus. "Farewell, and beware of her pride. She is lonely. And in loneliness there lurk strange longings that beget cruelty."

"Farewell, Olympus."

Rumor credited Tros with being the Queen's lover, but many doubted it, although he was supposed to be closer in the Queen's confidence than anyone else except Charmion. He lived on his trireme, where he received all sorts of strange visitors, some of whom were undoubtedly spies. He could not be spied upon by Alexandrines because his ship was too well guarded. He knew as many languages as Cleopatra did—some said seventeen—and could always converse without an interpreter. If you can't bribe or torture an interpreter there is not much chance of learning what a captain has discussed in the privacy of his own cabin.

So Tros was an enigma, and though it was known that he wished to voyage around the world, no one could imagine why, and his wish was considered impious. Everyone remembered his coming, in his great trireme, hardly three years ago, when Cleopatra was young on the throne and as full of youth as a kitten. Some said she was still a virgin then, and many believed it, because in those days she was deeply interested in religion and undoubtedly in touch with far-off Philae, where the Hierophants ruled a realm of mystery. In accordance with the terms of her father King Ptolemy Auletes's will, and as a sort of traditional gesture, she' had been formally married to her younger brother Ptolemy, an impetuous lad who hated her as thoroughly as she despised him.

At about the time of Tros's arrival on the scene, the palace politicians had reached the sensible but dangerous conclusion that Cleopatra, though only about seventeen years old, was too clever for them. So she was. They couldn't kill her. She escaped from Alexandria. They put her younger sister Arsinoe on the throne in her place. Cleopatra made her way to Palestine, where she borrowed a riff-raff army from her cousin Herod and his Arab allies. Shortly after the Battle of Pharsalia, when the defeated and fugitive Pompey was murdered on the Egyptian beach, Cleopatra was leading her army in person in an attempt to invade Egypt and regain the throne. But she was opposed by a much larger and better supplied Egyptian army, and she was having difficulties with her Arab troops and with Herod, a youngster about as clever as herself, who made no secret of his purpose to become King of Egypt, with her on the throne beside him or without her.

Meanwhile, Julius Caesar, in pursuit of Pompey, had swooped into the harbor of Alexandria with a small fleet crowded with a couple of Roman legions. He had occupied the magnificent palace and was enjoying himself with very practical dreams of conquest. His arrival completely bewildered young King Ptolemy's and Queen Arsinoe's adherents, but Cleopatra's genius rose famously to the occasion. She abandoned Herod and her riffraff mercenary army. Tros appeared off the coast, and she accepted Tros's offer to convey her on his trireme to Alexandria. Tros had had no hand in introducing her to Caesar. She contrived her own introduction. Apollodorus, a Sicilian, brought her ashore in a fishing boat, rolled up in some Syrian rugs, and unrolled her at Caesar's feet as nearly naked as was necessary to arouse Caesar's immediate interest.

Apollodorus had died a natural death not long afterward. In Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, it had never been unnatural that a man should die secretly and suddenly who boasted of having been the Queen's lover. But Tros, who may have listened, certainly had never honored rumor even by denying that he and the Queen were on terms of amorous intimacy. He never even discussed the open secret, well authenticated, that the Lady Charmion, Cleopatra's confidante and Mistress of the Robes, had offered herself to him, and now venomously hated him because he had bluntly rejected the offer.

There was not a notable in all that long palace corridor who had not heard how Tros built his trireme in an improbable country called Britain, but none of them knew or cared where Britain was. Alexandrines liked to know the news from Rome, because Rome was their greatest ready-money market and their deadliest political danger. They hardly ever even visited their Egyptian estates, whence their affluent revenues came. They didn't know Egypt. Very few of them had seen the Sphinx or the Pyramids. They knew Alexandra, with its marble colonnaded streets, library, temples, lighthouse, theatres, schools of philosophy, chariot race, gardens, vivacity, women—and that was enough.

It was a symptom of Tros's unfitness to be an Alexandrine, that he believed the world was round and wished to sail around it. The world could be triangular for all the Alexandrine courtiers cared. Tros's interest in the world's shape was a source of obscene jests, songs and belly-laughter. The Alexandrines prided themselves on their ready wit; people even trained their slaves to sing slanderous songs outside their neighbor's windows. There were at least ten songs about Tros being currently sung whenever people gathered to amuse one another.

However, nobody laughed as Tros strode down the splendid corridor. He was a rather awe-inspiring man at close quarters. Alexandrines affected to despise warriors, because war was in bad taste and not worth the expense. But even to pretend to despise Tros, one would have had to be able to meet his gaze without flinching, and the people who could do that almost-liked him. Nobody had been able to poison him or to have him stabbed in the dark, because he was always well guarded by competent men. To kill him one would have to fight him; and not even among the officers of the Egyptian army—incredible collection of adventurers, soldiers of fortune and swashbuckling braggarts from almost every known country on earth—was there a man who would have cared to meet Tros in single combat. He was in the prime of life, probably something more than thirty years old; but it was difficult to judge the age of a man who had such thoughtful and mysteriously lambent eyes.

At the head of the magnificent malachite stairway a palace servant returned him his sword—a heavier, longer sword than any other man in Egypt could have used; when he had hitched that to his golden belt it was small wonder that men yielded him all the room he wanted on the stairs. He strode down, looking almost as if he owned the palace.

Whatever her motive, Cleopatra had seen fit to command that he should be honored; and there had never been a court on earth more capable than hers of wearing a man's patience with the solemn nonsense of ritual. There were salutes and formal farewell speeches by bedizened courtiers, who made an art of insincerity and who could barb politeness with the sly smile that gives it the lie.

Palace officials, studiously dilatory because they knew he was raging to be gone, strolled beside him through the splendid garden to the guardhouse at the palace gate. There the Captain of the regiment of Royal Guards, Leander, commanded a brilliant ritual of trumpets and clashing arms. Final formal speeches, insolent handshakes, then away at last, behind a Macedonian officer and forty plumed stalwarts cloaked with leopard-skin. Eight drums. A dozen trumpeters. At least a dozen sarcastic exquisites to keep Tros company as far as the Royal Wharf and to irritate with their palace-sharpened malice.

But at the Royal Wharf they left him. Tros strode on with his escort of royal guardsmen. There was always a noisy crowd in Alexandria, especially on a fine spring morning along the magnificent waterfront. The guard made no effort to protect Tros from the crowd, now that the courtiers, who might have reported them for neglect of duty, were gone.

Even without that splendidly useless escort Tros would have been a show by himself, with his raven hair bound by a broad gold band, and his magnificent stride that was so unlike the effeminate gait of a fashionable Alexandrine. His cloak made him look like an ambassador from some foreign power, or perhaps even a king, although a king or an ambassador should have been borne in a litter. Everybody knew who Tros was.

But Tros had no exact official standing. It was rumored, and many believed it, that he was a high priest of some secret Mystery or other; but it was common knowledge, on the other hand, that the priests of Isis, Osiris and Serapis disliked him intensely. The only priests who did like him were the officials of the Museum and Library, the splendid buildings that were actually part of the Royal Palace, and that made the waterfront of Alexandria the most magnificent on earth.

Thousands of men and women on the long Great Harbor front, and all the slave-gangs and their overseers, and the sailors on the decks of the long-prowed Delta sailing vessels that lay nose to the key, sent up a roar of noisy comment and conjecture. Something big was afoot, but none knew what, although t was known that Tros's trireme was ready for sea, anchored out in the middle of the Harbor of Happy Return—the western harbor, separated from the Royal Harbor by the Heptastadium seven furlongs of artificial causeway that connected Alexandria with the Island of Pharos. On Pharos, surrounded by a village and protected by forts, stood the colossal marble lighthouse, one of the world's prodigious wonders. But in its own way Tros's ship was as remarkable. It was a three-masted trireme, sheathed with tin, painted vermilion, purple sailed; and armed with the deadliest engines that had been invented.

Many of the pestering crowd were ex-Roman soldiers. Some were deserters. But the majority were destitute veterans whom Gabinius had left in Egypt to fend for themselves, in the days when he and a young cavalry officer named Mark Antony had led a lawless filibuster into Egypt to reestablish Cleopatra's drunken father on the throne. When old Ptolemy Auletes died, people remembered what they had had to endure from those Roman soldiers, so they found employment difficult to get. They had been prosperous again during Caesar's brief regime. But after Caesar's death they were out of work again. Caesar had left two regular legions, under an officer named Rubinius, to support Cleopatra; but they despised the Gabinians, and would have nothing to do with them. Even Caesar's legions had disintegrated. Hundreds of them had deserted. They were hardly better than a rabble, although their officers drew Cleopatra's pay and were an arrogant nuisance at court.

The Roman soldiers wanted berths on Tros's ship, no matter what his business might be, but piracy preferred. Anything for a leader, Anything for a few coins to jingle, and food, and the right to style themselves again miletes. Some of them displayed scars on their breasts in proof of bravery; one of them declared he had been the orderly of Pompey the Great. Tros advised them to join the Egyptian army, which welcomed all sorts of foreigners, deserters, and even runaway slaves. But the lower ranks of the Egyptian army were no temptation even to destitute men, who had once marched with the Roman Eagles. It was better to beg, although at that there was competition.

There were men and women of all nations with monkeys and parrots for sale. There were people of all colors, who offered to pray in the temples for the success of the voyage, at so much a prayer. There were vendors of magical charms for the cure of wounds and scurvy. There were map-sellers, who offered astonishing charts of unknown seas; and men who guaranteed to cast a fortunate horoscope for the voyage, as if a guess could guide destiny. There were women who wanted to touch Tros's cloak, because it was common knowledge that he had held Caesarion, the Queen's son, in his arms on the day the child was born. And was Caesarion not already accorded recognition as a god, as Caesar, his reputed father, had been? Surely, Tros's cloak must be a charm for human fertility and fortune. There were women who offered themselves for the voyage, for the use of the crew; crimps, who knew of drunken crews who could be dragged aboard in broad daylight at so much a head: agents with slaves for sale; and merely curious people by the hundred. Tros kept his temper with them all, his eyes alert for the face of some spy who might have news of value.

And at last Esias, old and dignified, with two young lusty Jews to help him, struggled his way to Tros's side. Reputed to be the richest man in Alexandria, and though he had privileges and a limited right of approach to the throne, Esias had to exercise discretion. There was no longer a Julius Caesar to treat Jews as Alexander the Great also had treated them. He would not have dared ride a litter or to be seen in public with a too-large following of slaves or personal attendants.

Esias wore the venerable looking robes of a Jewish oligarch, but his manner in public was modest; he was glad of Tros's protection as they followed the royal guards to the southern end of the Heptastadium. There some of Tros's crew were waiting—eight fair-haired Gauls, commanded by a Samothracian Greek named Conops, one-eyed, with a slit lip and hairy bow-legs. The useless royal guards looked on while Conops and his boat crew cleared the way. For half the length of the Heptastadium, to where the boat lay tied to an iron ring, the guards came last and unintentionally made themselves useful, since the crowd could not get past them.

But there was another crowd coming from the direction of the enormous Pharos lighthouse. And near the boat there were at least two score strumpets, popinjayed with carmine, the least gainly of them dressed in raggedly gaudy, semi-Oriental clothing and the better looking ones hardly clothed at all. Five of them claimed the one-eyed Conops as their debtor.

They were there to collect. Their bullies lurked at a discreet distance. They had their whole scandalous story thoroughly rehearsed and ready for Conops's master's ears. It was the ancient game of pay or be shamed in public. Conops stood them off with his knife, or they would have torn off his little gold earrings. Esias clutched Tros's arm in mingled nervousness and indignation.

But then the royal guard did do its duty. It formed two lines and stood off the crowd from both directions, butt-ending the screaming harridans out of the way. The Gauls scrambled down the steps into the boat and tossed oars. Conops faced his master, standing to attention smartly as Tros rebuked him.

"You dock-rat! You wine-swilling tavern cockroach! You godless, impudent, ill-smelling wastrel!"

"Yes, master."

"What have you done with your pay?"

"I got drunk. I was robbed. And now these wenches try to make out they were virgins and I seduced 'em—me!—that could be trusted with a—"

"Silence, you leper!"

"Yes, master."

Tros gave him a handful of silver coins and with an ominous growl commanded him to free the victims of his bestiality. He stood then to acknowledge the salute of the royal guard, and when the drum-roll and the trumpet clamor ceased he turned to help old Esias down the steps.

Conops pocketed most of the silver, somewhere up under his kilt, and thrust his arm between the guardsmen to give a small coin to each of the five obscenely screeching females. Then he followed Tros down the steps, let loose the painter and shoved off, taking his place in the stern at the steering oar. The Gauls, under Tros's eye, rowed like one oarsman and seven copies of him, with one inseparable thump of oars on tholes and a swing that made the longboat leap. Conops leaned forward over the back of the stern seat, thrusting his head between Tros and Esias.

"Master."

Tros made a courteous gesture to Esias and slightly turned his head to signify he was listening.

"A man named Lars Tarquinius—"

"The Etruscan? What of him?"

Esias looked startled. Tros irritated.

"He came aboard with a letter from the Queen's secretary, saying we are to give him passage to wherever he pleases. He asks more questions than a court scribe when the torturers put the hooks to a witness."

"Has he been in my cabin?"

"No, master. He said he had leave to sleep there. So I doubled the guard at the cabin door. I told him you reserve your spare bunk for the goddess Aphrodite Kallipygos when she's tired o' gods and craves a man to comfort her."

"You scurrilous rogue. Has he examined the war engines?"

"Not he, master. All the paulins are one and the crews standing by. The new deck decurion, Paniscos, let him kiss the butt-end of a crankbar, for sticking his nose where it didn't belong. But he'd two teeth missing when he came aboard; so if he lies about it, master, all that happened to him was a cut lip, and now you know."

"The magazines?"

"Nay, nay, master. I drew two chalk lines on the deck and bade him keep between 'em. I told off two young Scythians to treat him rough if he should set toe a skin-breadth too far. But I remembered what you've always said about hospitality, so I set a Greek—young Orodes, of the starboard after-catapult—to answer his questions. That's as likely a lad as there is this side o' Charon's ferry, so the biggest lies 'll be all used up by now, if I know Orodes."

"The young puppy dared to lie to me about the grease on the lower trunnions," Tros answered. "I have my eye on him. Well, what else?"

"Nothing, master; only that the Etruscan asked, as it might be casually, which is your scribe that writes letters for you and keeps the ship's accounts, and where does he sleep. So we fetched him up a blackamoor from the lower benches, and we showed him how a blackamoor has a ring in his nose to hang by, in the salt-fish locker, when he isn't writing poetry and love messages from the crew to the queens of foreign lands. And about the queens, too, we told him plenty. But he keeps on questioning. And, master, if, you should ask me, ours are seafaring lads and as simple-minded as fish. Sooner or later, unless you clap a hatch on him, he'll find out what he wants to know, and without us learning what that is until after the harm's done."

"Keep your eye on him. But I'll have no interference with his personal belongings. Mind that. Is his luggage aboard?"

"Yes, master. In the midship deckhouse. Two canvas packages, roped by a landsman. Nothing in them but some clean rolls of papyrus; fish-ink in a bottle; a set of pens; three suits of underwear; a pair of Gaulish trousers; three shawls; two pair of sandals; three changes of roman street-wear and two red togas, one soiled, a leather bag of money—total, including staters and tetradrachms, about eighty-three denarii; three—no, four tunics, one torn; a bunch of rings tied together with wire, all cheap stuff; two books in wooden boxes; a couple of spoons and a good dagger; lots of bits of cloth to wipe his nose on, some letters—"

Conops paused, about the space of seven oar-strokes. Then, as they neared the great vermilion-sided trireme, and since Tros made no comment, he continued:

"Similax wrote down what's in one of the letters. It's on your cabin table, underneath the box of books. The Etruscan's luggage is roped and sealed as he fetched it aboard."

The boat entered the trireme's shadow. Conops saluted:

"Tros oars, you tow-haired druids—do you think you're fishing?—smart, bow, with your boat hook—hold her!—deck ahoy! Lower the bight of a rope for the merchant Esias."

A trumpet sounded, then a roll of drums. There was a grand metallic thump and crash of arms at the salute, as Tros's head appeared at the top of the boarding ladder. Puzzled, impatient, worried, baffled and involved in invisible toils he might be. But on his own ship he was master. He was captain of the lives and wills and destinies of men whose pride it was to do his bidding.


CHAPTER II
Tros takes counsel with Esias


I was born and taught upon the threshold of the holy Mystery, and all my days I have been faithful to the duty laid upon me to pursue peace—aye, and to forego my own advantage if thereby peace might come. But I have found no peace on earth, nor any honourable way of avoiding war.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The cabin below the poop was dim, although it was painted with bright colors. The ports, which were slot-shaped and could be closed by bronze shutters and wedged tight, were narrow enough to protect archers aiming at the rowers of an enemy vessel. Across all the openings were bronze brackets for the big yew bows that were stowed in racks against the forward bulkhead, between boxes of bronze-tipped arrows.

There were broad bunks on either side of the cabin, some big chests, heavily hinged and strapped with bronze; a curtained closet where Tros's clothes were hung swinging in bags from a brass rail; and in the midst, with an armchair on each of three sides, was a heavy, oak table kept spotless, like the floor, by constant scrubbing. Barbaric embroidered hangings covered the after-bulkhead, and the bed-covers on the bunks were of Gaulish wool, dyed woad-blue—almost sky-blue. There was a box of books on the table—consisting of papyrus rolled on wooden sticks, each one thrust, end downward, in a circular container made from a section of bamboo.

Old Esias sat at Tros's right hand, leaning against the chair-back, with his eyes half-closed, watching Tros's face. His full beard and the locks that fell beneath his almost Arabian headdress were ash-gray. His ageing figure looked frail. But there was a very bright gleam beneath the lowered, wrinkled eyelids. He was a handsome old man, whose great wealth had not frozen his sense of humor, although it had made him suspicious and panicky. Salves,' of which he owned hundreds, had not flattered away his judgment. At the age of seventy he could enjoy power, and he plainly had it, of a kind that suited his temperament. He was much more than a typical Jew of the diaspora; he was an exceptional man in, any company, the richest merchant in Alexandria, with connections all over the known world.

A Syrian steward, whose other job, his battle station, was at one of of the starboard-side arrow-ports, entered and set wine before them, seaman fashion with brusque courtesy, and two goblets of turquoise-blue glass from a Theban tomb, which he took from a chest and unwrapped as carefully as if they were red-hot. Tros mixed the wine with water. He and Esias sipped, spilling no libation to anyone's gods, to the great scandal of the steward, who stood watching, his lips moving in silent supplication, or perhaps apology to invisible presences, until Tros ordered him to get forward and use his eyes on the dirt on the pantry floor.

"And mark me! Let me see a beetle when I make my rounds, and you shall eat it for supper! Ever let me catch you at prayers before your day's work's done, and you shall see whether praying balms a sore hide! Poseidon's trident! Have I shipped a crew of Osirian acolytes? Gods worth praying to love clean ships and diligent men. Fall away. Send in the deck decurion."

Old Esias sipped wine to hide a smile. Tros noticed.

"A good enough sailor, Esias, but if I let him, he would have me on my knees to half the gods of Homer."

A young Phoenician, from Sidon, with gold ear-rings and a knife at his belt, entered and faced Tros at attention. He was kilted like a Greek, in Tros's livery of unbleached cloth with a dyed border of Tyrian blue.

"Post your sentries six full paces from the cabin door with their backs toward it. No interruption except by Conops if he chooses, until I sound the gong."

The Phoenician saluted, fell away and shut the door with a thud. Tros waited until he heard the sentries ground their spear-butts at the proper distance. Then he grinned at Esias. He had a grand grin.

"Fifty corn ships, Esias! That means how much money?"

The old Jew made a wry face. "Too much. I and my syndicate had to pay higher than last year's price, though this year's crop is heavier. You know the law of Egypt. Corn is royal revenue—royal monopoly. They won't let us buy from the grower direct. The Queen's new finance minister forced us to buy at his own figure, and to pay in advance."

Tros nodded "That thought was the Queen's, not his," he answered. "That tricky eunuch would rather have borrowed the money from your people at twenty per cent, for the sake of a half per cent commission on the deal."

Esias corrected him: "One per cent! But she has eyes, ears, imagination. She learns quickly. Caesar taught her. But now Caesar has been dead more than a year and I think she remembers his daring, forgets his caution. Hey-yeh! Was there ever a woman of the Ptolemies like this one? Her elder sister Berenice was a wanton who thought of nothing but loans and lovers. She died the death of a Jezebel, and good riddance. Arsinoe, the younger sister is more beautiful, and in a way more dangerous, because more ignorant; but perhaps as Queen of Cyprus Arsinoe can't do much mischief. Cleopatra is not ignorant. No woman ever had vaster knowledge. None ever had greater difficulties. Instead of grieving for dead Caesar, Cleopatra emulates him. She seizes power. But what will she do with power? She has the grasp of a man and the guile of a woman."

"The courage of a lad," Tros added. "The imagination of a mystic. A man's love of power. A woman's sense of men's weakness. No womanly fears."

"A sphinx," said Esias. It was not a compliment. He had a Jewish dislike of graven images.

"Aye, but not silent! Cleopatra's voice is a weapon—a sweet sounding menace. Her riddle is hidden with laughter. Her moods are beneath the surface of gaiety. Beneath her soft speech and her flattering gentleness there is iron. Beneath her sensuousness there is strength."

"Can you read her riddle?"

"I must, Esias. Her throne hangs by a thread. She will play me like a stake on the board, unless I use intelligence."

"Well, you have it to use," said Esias. "Who is this Etruscan, of whom your man spoke? Do I know him?"

Tros raised the box of books. He withdrew from beneath it a strip of soiled papyrus, on which something had been hurriedly written in Greek characters. He scanned it once and then read it aloud:


"Many of the letters in his little leather case are unsigned but addressed to Lars Tarquinius reporting simply that his letters were received by those for whom they were intended. One letter is signed by a man named Felix, who writes from Rome, saying that Octavianus, Julius Caesar's nephew, is the leader to whom the wise are attaching themselves, because he is Caesar's legal heir, and because he reveals great common sense and shrewdness, despite an unpleasing appearance, delicate health and disagreeable character. Felix says Octavianus has offended many of the legions by condoning Caesar's murder, but the soothsayers nevertheless declare him to be invincible.

"Another letter is from a woman named Flora, who implores Tarquinius to find her a post in the Queen of Egypt's household, adding that she will reward him generously. She writes from Messina in Sicily, where she says there is a strong party in favor of Sextus Pompeius who is said to inherit his famous father's gifts and to be of a gallant disposition.

"Another letter is from a woman named Sappho, who writes Greek, saying she is in Rome, whither the proconsul Cassius sent her from Syria to watch certain people while Cassius makes ready to invade Egypt. But, says she, Marcus Antonius is the leader whose fortune it will pay to follow, seeing that he is in all respects a greater than Cassius, or than Brutus, who is in Macedonia, or than the degenerate Octavianus who is only a schoolboy, and at that a timid one with a perpetual cold in the head. Sappho adds that all the soothsayers favor Marcus Antonius, whose horoscope indicates brilliant success in all matters pertaining to politics, arms and money.

"The other letter has been written in a clear hand by a secretary, but the signature is difficult to read. It looks like Gaius Xenobarus, legatus, S.P.Q.R. The letter is short. It says simply: 'Promises are of no more worth than threats. Neither will the one feed legions, nor the other win battles. Only deeds are worthy of a Roman's consideration. See to it that thou be worthy of my good will'"


Tros frowned. "That," he said, "is an important letter. Flora and Sappho can sink no ships at sea. If Xenobarus is, as I think, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, he commands a Roman squadron—perhaps even a fleet. There is no knowing where to look for him, but he is sure to be on the side of whoever he thinks strong enough to undo in Rome what Caesar did. Ahenobarbus's father was one of Pompey's captains in the war against the pirates. He led five ships against half a hundred and defeated them all in the Bay of Antioch. You remember? A ruthless victor. They say he crucified so many prisoners that he ran out of trees and nails and they had to cut the lucky last hundred's throats. Mark Antony slew him with his own hand at the Battle of Pharsalia. He always hated Caesar. The obstinate old die-hard believed Pompey meant to reestablish republican rule in Rome! Perhaps that gives you an idea of the son's mentality. He hates Julius Caesar dead even more than his father hated him before Cassius and Brutus and that lot stabbed him in the name of the Republic Rome, mind you, is hungry. So are Rome's legions in Italy. So are Brutus's legions in Asia. If Ahenobarbus is at sea with a squadron, and if I know Ahenobarbus, the cargoes of your fifty corn ships will be eaten by whichever side Ahenobarbus favors. And he will favor whoever he thinks will restore the Republic. But who then will pay you?" Tros grinned. "The Roman senate?"

"Lord Tros, what are the terms of your commission?" Esias asked.

"I have none."

"Eh? What? You have only the Queen's word? A Ptolemy's word? The word of a woman of the Lagidae who plays against Rome for a kingdom?"

Tros nodded. "The Queen's word, flatteringly murmured in the room with the tortoise-shell walls studded with turquoise, where she and Caesar once talked philosophy and plotted together to conquer the world. The room stank of rose-leaves in Persian jars."

"Hey-hey-hey! Lord Tros! A stout heart and a strong ship may prevail over winds and waves. But she—that woman—she had even Caesar in her net!"

Tros laughed. "She has me in a net that never could have held him. Caesar, to gain his larger purposes, would have abandoned a hostage. He often did it. I not. She has all my Northmen—splendid, loyal seamen. She sent them all—even my lieutenant Sigurdsen—to forced labor, I don't know where, for brawling in the Royal Area."

"She understands you!" said Esias. "Truly she understands you. A man's scruples can become a bridle and bit to his better judgment."

"Aye," Tros answered. "Not that she hasn't scruples."

"Of a sort," said Esias. "Of a sort."

"Feminine," Tros agreed. "But it was another woman who thought of this trick. Cleopatra's ministers were not picked for their righteousness, but a man can reckon with them, servile ingrates though they be. A man can out-think the rogues, as readily as she can. But her only intimate is a woman, whom none of her ministers dares to offend."

Esias stared, trying to read the thought behind the words. "The Lady Charmion?" he asked. "From a cub that could be petted, she has changed, since Caesar's death, into a she-lion, snarling mateless. I have heard it said, Lord Tros, and also contradicted, that she loves you. What is the truth of it?"

The stormy look came into Tros's eyes—the hint of red that boded unpredictable but limitlessly angry deeds.

"A bitter virgin's barrenness is not my business in life, Esias."

"But she has her fingers in all the Queen's business! She directs the Queen's spies. She knows the Queen's secrets. Tros, you should have pretended to love Charmion! At least you should have let her love you!"

"It is enough that she loves intrigue," Tros answered. "It was Charmion's idea to send your corn fleet to sea under escort of a war-fleet manned by officers and crews from Cyprus. Charmion knew—for who doesn't?—that the crews were mutinous and their officers as full of treason as a beggar's hair is full of lice. Sphaerus, the assistant minister of marine, had been blamed. It was a woman's trick to get Sphaerus in trouble. He was Charmion's enemy, or she his, no matter which. He commanded what she suggested. She blamed him, and he has now been sent to Berenice to cool himself on the shore of the Red Sea, waiting to tax the yearly Greek ship from Socotra and the spice fleet from Punt."

"And the meaning of that?" Esias asked. He knew, but he preferred to learn how much Tros did not know.

Tros surprised him. "It means this, Esias. The Queen's younger sister Arsinoe is Queen of Cyprus. Having once been Queen of Egypt, and having a double share of Cleopatra's energy, but less than half her statesmanship, she is not in love with a throne on an island that is actually ruled by priests, pirates and exiled eunuchs. Arsinoe has never forgiven Cleopatra for not saving her from being made to walk in Caesar's triumph through the streets of Rome. She was in golden chains, half-naked, jeered by the Roman mob. Spat on. I saw it. The two sisters love each other like a pair of poets at a competition. However, it was Caesar who made Arsinoe Queen of Cyprus. He did it mainly to annoy old Cato. But Caesar did it, so Cleopatra puts up with it. I think she has convinced herself that Caesar really was the god-upon-earth that she taught him to believe himself to be. If she can possibly avoid it she won't undo whatever Caesar did. However, Arsinoe's, minister Serapion—you remember Serapion?—big, handsome fellow with a voluptuous smile—is a fool who thinks he sees a chance to steal the throne of Egypt for Arsinoe again by intriguing with Cassius. The idiot believes that his cheap treachery is good enough to outwit a man who dared to stab Julius Caesar, made himself proconsul of Syria by force of arms and who now dares to imagine himself the coming ruler of the world. Cassius has six or seven legions in Syria and Palestine. They have devoured the country like locusts. They need corn, and so does Brutus. There is news, to hand this morning by a fast felucca, that Serapion has detained your corn ships in the port of Salamis. The crews of the escorting warships have declared for Cassius and Serapion has sent them to Sidon, to get in touch with Cassius. Serapion is supposed to be urging Cassius to invade Egypt, to put Arsinoe on the throne a$ a political puppet in Cleopatra's place, perhaps with Herod for husband, and to send your fifty shiploads of corn to Rome as Cassius's own gift, thus making Cassius popular in Rome, where Antony and Octavian are at each other's throats, creating anarchy and getting themselves hated."

"Does Charmion love Cassius?" Esias asked. "I have heard he sours all women with his mean smile. Does she wish to see Arsinoe Queen of Egypt? Do you mean to tell me that Charmion has turned against Cleopatra?"

"She has never even seen Cassius," Tros answered. "Charmion wishes first and foremost to convict Arsinoe of treason, for future reference. She hates Arsinoe, because Arsinoe once drove Cleopatra from the throne. She also hates a Jew as utterly as she detests me. You Jews—and to this the Queen agrees, as does half Alexandria—are too rich, too powerful, becoming too ambitious. Your corn can cost the Queen nothing. No matter what becomes of it, the Queen's treasury has received the money. It would not break her heart to see you and your syndicate bankrupt."

Esias nodded. "Her estimate," he remarked, "is lacking in imagination. Does the Queen not fear Cassius?"

"It might serve the Queen's purpose," Tros continued, "if Cassius should get possession of the corn. Cassius may be the coming man. She doubts it. She hates him. He slew her Caesar. But Cassius may be the coming ruler of Rome. She would like to be able to have in hand some sort of evidence that she intended the corn for Cassius, just in case Cassius should turn out to be stronger than she believes. But should Cassius fail, as she hopes and believes he will, she will now be in position to blame Arsinoe for having tried to misdirect the corn into Cassius's hands."

"Cat-and-mousing while Rome starves!" Esias commented. "Rome must not starve! That is the one thing that must not be allowed to happen! Are these women and their courtiers demented? There will come a Roman fleet to Alexandria to subject Egypt to the fate of Gaul, Pontus, Carthage, Syria, Palestine! Don't they know that Romans, like the wolves, are merciless when famished?"

"Aye, they know it. So the corn fleet lies in the harbor of Salamis. And the Queen sends me, with a fleet of ten vessels, to fetch it away."

"Ten vessels, Tros? Where are they?"

"God knows, Esias. Somewhere between here and Cyprus, unless they have already joined the other fleet and have followed them to Sidon. Or unless they have met with pirates, who are out in fleets again, and growing bold, since Caesar's death. Did you hear that a fleet of them gutted a Roman trireme off the south of Sicily a month ago? Or they may have run from Ahenobarbus. If he were short of provisions Ahenobarbus would fight an Egyptian fleet for its crew's rations!"

"Are the ten ships to be under your command?" Esias asked.

"No. I am to cooperate, particularly against pirates. There is no profit to the Queen in feeding pirates. To destroy pirates at sea, could hardly be interpreted as challenging the Romans' claim to rule the sea. Rome, Esias, is at civil war and none can guess the outcome. But sooner or later someone will prevail. There will be a new dictator of Rome, with an empty treasury. Cleopatra can't afford to give that Roman an excuse for making war on Egypt."

"Well? Then what?"

"I am to deliver the corn to the highest bidder."

Esias answered calmly: "It is my corn—our corn—my syndicate's. It is consigned to my agent in Rome, who is to sell it to the Roman corn commissioners. They await it. They expect it. They need it, to prevent the Roman mob from taking law into its own hands."

"The bids," said Tros, "are to be in terms of good will, not money. The Queen does not need money. She needs the friendship of the strongest Roman. The corn has been seized by Serapion, on behalf of Arsinoe, who has disclaimed allegiance to Egypt and is not a recognized ally of Rome. Neither is Cyprus any longer a Roman province. Therefore, any Roman commander who can seize the corn will claim it, unless someone out-thinks him."

"Think me your thoughts aloud, Lord Tros. I listen," said Esias.

Tros, with a gnarled forefinger, drew an invisible map on the oaken table.

"There is Lepidus," he began, striking the palm of his hand on the western end of the imagined map, "said to be strong in Gaul, with many legions and perhaps some money, but few provisions, and with vanity and luck in place of brains. Lepidus is aging and is probably not dangerous, but needs to be borne in mind.

"There is Pompey's young son Sextus, said to command a fleet of pirates, ravaging Roman shipping. Out for himself. A very dangerous young man. After Caesar defeated him at Munda and destroyed his army, he became a bandit in Spain. Now that Caesar is dead, Sextus reckons himself any Roman's equal. Sextus has nothing to lose and all to gain by almost any act of daring, and he is rumored to have seized some shipping, and to be cutting off Rome's supply of corn from Africa, Spain and Gaul.

"Then there is Cassius in Syria, with seven legions. A mean man. A murderer. Like Brutus, he would rather injure other men than win. He has his hands fairly full. He has ravished and plundered Syria, which is up in arms against him and swarming with bandits. Brutus wants him to march northward. But Cassius would like to invade Egypt.

"Brutus is in Macedonia. He is scavenging the land for corn and money, talking about high principles and honor, but burning cities and selling well-born people into slavery. Brutus knows he will have to fight whatever combination results from the civil war in Italy. He will have to fight either Antony or Octavian, and possibly even both of them if they can only come to terms with each other. So Brutus makes a great show of friendship for Cassius, whom he needs, detests, mistrusts and would like to restrain from invading Egypt, partly because he is jealous and partly because he needs the six or seven legions that Cassius would have to induce to march southward across the desert in order to invade Egypt with any chance of success. Is that clear?

"Meanwhile in Italy, Mark Antony and Octavian are at each other's throats. Incompatibles, loathing each other, but big men. Mark me: they two are the big ones. Antony is rumored to be having the worst of it. He is said to have won a battle but to have retreated northward. There is no knowing what has happened. The Queen secretly favors Antony, because he was Julius Caesar's friend, and because he dared to denounce Caesar's murderers."

"She has sent him money," said Esias. "She sent him a tenth of a year's revenue of all Egypt. She sent it within six weeks of Caesar's death—within a week of her return from Rome."

"And if I know Antony," said Tros, "he threw away the half of it on wine and women. Nevertheless, the man has something more than a mere appetite. He has faculties, courage, imagination, health, high spirits. He is a great cavalryman. But he is no Julius Caesar. Antony needs a master. Perhaps the Queen thinks she can master him."

"Well? And you—what do you do?" Esias asked.

"I go to sea. Now."

"At your own cost?"

"Aye. Should I accept her wages and become her catspaw? Or should she pay me and become responsible for whatever I do? In a certain sense, Esias, my predicament and hers are as well matched as the Heavenly Twins."

"I perceive what she perhaps—eh, perhaps—perhaps can gain," said Esias. "But, Lord Tros, what can you gain?"

"My men! She has taken hostages—my Northmen, who have stood by me in many a hard fight. The Queen wanted them for her bodyguard, but they and I said no to it. So Charmion snatched an opportunity to score off me. She had them sentenced for breaking the heads of the Roman officers of those two legions that Caesar left here to keep the Queen on her throne. A true charge, but a false reason."

"I was told of it," said Esias. "But it was said they were Gauls."

"My Northmen. The best seamen on earth—battle-ax men—stubborn, superstitious, hard drinking, grumbling, loyal-to-the-last-breath comrades-in-arms. The Queen was glad enough to have those arrogant Roman cockerels humiliated. They have served her purpose. They cost more than their insolence justifies. She would be glad to be rid of them. She even joked me about the thrashing my men gave them. The flowers that she sent to the injured roman officers were arranged in the shape of a Northman's ax. But Charmion saw a chance to clip my wings; she and the Queen had second thoughts. Northmen are heavy drinkers. It was no trick to arrange a trap and then a tosspot quarrel with a company of soldiers. And so now I may have my Northmen back if I succeed on this venture."

"And your Basques?" asked Esias. "Those saucy rogues who obliged me to double the guard over my slave-girls' quarters?"

Tros scowled. "They went on a raid of that kind once too often. But that wasn't Charmion's doing. My Basques conceived a passion for the wrong man's slaves. They were fortunate not to be sent to the mines. They were conscripted for the Berenice Coast Patrol. There are few women and fewer wine-shops on the Red Sea littoral, but I imagine they are finding ways of making trouble for their Greek officers."

"So you go to sea short-handed?"

"Short for a sea-fight, yes. I have a good crew—good rowers—good men for the catapults. But if I meet Ahenobarbus I shall sorely lack men for such a battle as he will bring on. If he can catch me, you understand. I can out-sail and out-row any Roman ship afloat, except for a few of their liburnians that are too lightly armed to be dangerous. There is going to be thick weather, and that is all in my favor."

"April? Thick weather in April?"

"Yes. I can smell it coming. And mark me, Esias, there is always dirty weather when the world's thrones are toppling and men's minds are a turbulent sea. Nay, I know not why. Shake your head as you please. I say it is so. And if I find that corn fleet, I shall have to escort fifty laden ships as slow as logs, in vile weather."

"Egyptian sailors are good," said Esias.

"Good, yes. They can stand hardship. But they scatter and run like thieves. If I should bully them, they'd surrender to the first Roman in sight and accuse me of being a pirate."

"Which you are!" said Esias. "If you have no Queen's commission, then you are a pirate. And this Etruscan with the letters in his luggage?"

"Lars Tarquinius is supposed to be a passenger for any Roman port where I can deliver him. He is supposed to be a spy, acting in behalf of Sostratus, the Queen's secretary. But he owes his appointment to Charmion, so I haven't a doubt he has been put on board to spy on me. Tarquinius is a man with a woman's malice and lack of scruples. He is like a camel, with incalculable treachery at both ends. He would betray even himself for sufficient reward. I suspect him of having warned Ahenobarbus to look out for that corn fleet and for me also."

"Can he swim?" asked Esias. "Could he swim in armor?"

"I may find a better use for him. And now about money. Esias, I shall need money."

"Lord Tros! Lord Tros!" Esias threw up his hands—beautiful old hands, as finely lined as Tros's fists were gnarled and hugely strong. "There has been no market for your British pearls. They are too big and too good to be thrown on a market that groans with the loot from Rome's wars and with the unsold eastern merchandise that gluts the warehouses. We must wait for more prosperous times. But no need to worry about them. They are safe. They are well cared for. My slave-girl Mariamne, at the proper intervals, cherishes them on her breast to preserve their life and lustre."

"I have no fear on that score," said Tros. "But do you think such a ship as mine, with all my men, costs nothing?"

"I can lend you a little."

"Nay, nay. I could have had a loan from the Queen, were I so minded. A borrower, Esias, borrows more than he gets, and pays more than he owes."

"Lord Tros," Esias leaned toward him pointing a finger. "Should as much as four-fifths of that corn reach my agent through your doing, so that he can sell it instead of its being stolen by a Roman fleet; or if you yourself can sell it, for four-fifths of its value—one-fifth of the money is yours. My word on it. I allow a fifth for spoilage, sinkage, shipwreck, accident or loss from any cause whatever."

"Your word is good, Esias."

"And in writing better." Esias produced a small roll of parchment. "Pen! Ink!"

Tros groped in a box and passed them to him. Esias wrote in Greek, and then the same in Latin, on the one parchment.

"There—from Esias, Jew of Alexandria, to the Lord Tros of Samothrace and of the trireme Liafail—authority to sell the corn and to receive the money."

"How much money?"

"It is written on the parchment—price, quantity, cost of loading, cost of freight per day from date of sailing, tax on export, harbor charges, interest per day—it is all written plainly. And now, Lord Tros, none can call you a pirate. You are an accredited agent."

"A Roman officer will call me anything he pleases, given a short enough range and a big enough prize!" Tros answered. "I will do my best: But the seas are wide in which to lose a fleet of fifty ships, and it is easier to bargain with Apennine wolves than with famished Romans making war on one another. Should I fail, Esias, I shall still need money, aye, and likely need it worse. I must sell pearls. I have no other resource against future need."

He got up and manipulated the cumbrous lock of a bronze-bound chest. He produced a small gold box, engraved with a barbaric design. He pushed the box along the table toward Esias.

Esias glanced at him for permission and then opened the box. He gasped. He held it to the light from the port behind him. He poked with his forefinger. He stuck his tongue between his lips and made peculiar sounds with his nose. His old eyes glittered. He glanced at Tros and then again stared, fascinated by the contents of the box.

"Lord Tros, I believed you had reached the end of your treasure of pearls."

"These are the end."

Esias poured eleven pearls into the palm of his hand. Two were as large as pigeon's eggs. One, that was almost as big, was as dark as the sunlit breast of an Ethiopian.

"How many lives, Lord Tros? How many lives have these cost?"

"None that I heard of," Tros answered. "I had the other pearls from the druids. These were a gift to me from Fflur, the wife of Caswallon, the king of a corner of Britain. He and she and I were friends and we upheld each other. There were twelve pearls in that lot. I spent the smallest on sending my homesick Britons back to their fog-bound island. Britons are good slaves but bad freedmen, and not Poseidon himself could make sailors of them."

"Lord Tros, who could buy these? There is only one possible purchaser."

"Take those two largest, Esias, and sell them to her, for the highest price you can imagine and your skill collect."

"Hey-hey-hey! Who shall appraise these?"

"Caesar made war on Britain because he had heard of them," said Tros. "But Caesar never saw them. Take those two big ones and sell them to Cleopatra."

"Be advised by me, Tros. Give them to her! Sell the others."

"Nay, nay, Esias. I have had my fill of that mistake. I have given her pearls, to my sorrow. Such gifts excite greed that devours the giver. She would think I am an oyster than can vomit pearls whenever ill-used."

"She could smother herself in the pearls she already has," said Esias. "Pearls and emeralds."

"Nevertheless, she would cat-and-mouse me for my last one; and with the last would be gone a boughten tolerance such as ill suits my temper. Gifts are no way to a woman's confidence, not if it be worth having. As it is, she sets a value on me myself. And when I have my men again, she shall either keep Caesar's promise and let me re-dig and widen and deepen that canal that her ancestor dug from the Nile to the Red Sea, and that the other Ptolemies let perish of neglect—or I will sail away westward."

"Through the Gates of Hercules again? To prove that the world is round?" Esias asked. Even he smiled. It was one of Alexandria's standing jokes, but Tros had no appreciation for the jest.

"Aye!" he answered, glaring. "I would have gone on that voyage long ago, but for befriending her, and so first one thing, then another. It is my life's goal, and she knows it. But she knows, too, I will not sail away and leave my Northmen. Sell her those pearls, Esias. Enter the amount, less your percentage, to my credit. Pay me when I return. If Ahenobarbus or some other Roman sinks me, and I return not, then the money is yours. But remember my Northmen. Remember my Basques. They are all my freedmen—prisoners of war, to whom I gave their freedom. They are good men. They have stood by me better in foul than fair weather, better in war than in peace, as good men ever will. See that they are not sold into slavery. Bribe—intrigue—use influence—set them at liberty. Send the Basques home in some trading vessel at the first chance. Buy the Northmen a ship and let them find their own way to the land they came from."

"I will do it. You may depend I will do it. And now one word—"

Conops burst in, slamming the door behind him. "Master—"

"Have you no manners, you graceless drunkard?"

Conops, fuming with impatience, stood at attention and touched his forehead, to Tros first and then to Esias.

"Master—"

"Set that back in the chest."

Conops took the gold box from the table, wrapped it in a cloth, packed it away in the chest, locked it up, tested the lock, and handed the key to Tros.

"And now! What?"

"Master, there's a sixteen-oared boat alongside, full of men and—"

"My boat," said Esias. "I ordered it sent to save you trouble, Lord Tros."

Conops groped in his blouse and laid on the table a small package tied up in linen rag. He had three raw knuckles, which he tried to conceal.

"The merchant Esias's boat, it may be," he remarked. "But Tarquinius the Etruscan has a fish, too, on that skillet. Tarquinius threw that to a rower."

Tros untied the package. It contained a folded letter, unsealed.

"Does Tarquinius know you have this?"

"Nay, not he! I made believe that minute to need to inspect the new flax hawser that's coiled up forward. I set a crew to laying it out on deck on the port side. What with me being hasty, and our lads knowing something was up and acting clumsy, and him in the way, he was discommoded more than anyone of his rank should be. So I had to ask him, nice and civil, to keep to starboard of the midship deckhouse, and I set a deck decurion to mind he did it. Then I went after that. But the Etruscan had thrown a coin, too, along with the packet so the boatmen got nasty—all four bow-oars. But I knew which one had it."

"And the coin?"

Conops was silent.

"Show it to me!"

Conops opened his hand.

"Oh-ho! Silver?"

Tros read the letter. He passed it to Esias and Esias read it. Their eyes met. They nodded. Esias laid on the table ten strips of parchment and an Egyptian government tax receipt.

"And now, Lord Tros, before I leave you, and my God preserve you for a safe return, let me make you a gift. I have ten slaves—"

"Nay, nay, no slaves, Esias. There isn't a slave on the ship. Oar-work breaks slaves' hearts, and a slave in a battle at sea is only one more enemy to keep an eye on."

"Lord Tros, these are ten young Jews who fought their way out of Jerusalem when Pompey laid siege to the city. They were hardly more than boys then. They burst their way by night through the Roman lines. They lived in the mountains until they were surrounded by Roman troops and starved out. They were sold in the Athens slave-mart, thence to Delos, where they were trained as gladiators and sold to Ephesus, whence they escaped. They reached Tarsus and went to sea as oarsmen on a pirate vessel. The pirate broke faith with them and sold them to my agent in Rhodes, who sent them in fetters to Alexandria. I have told them that your custom is to set free any slave who proves himself fit for freedom. So I offer them to you, from a friend to a friend, as the best gift I can make to you, and the greatest kindness I can do for them. These are deeds to them. This is the receipt for the tax on the transfer of ownership."

"You honor me, Esias."

"You accept them?"

"Aye, on your word, for I need them. Conops, fetch them up on deck and turn them over to the storekeeper to be clothed; then to the armorer—"

Esias interrupted: "Lord Tros, it is, as you know, against the law to arm slaves. Nevertheless, I have armed these. They are splendid archers. They have bows, swords, bucklers and the body-armor of Thracian hoplites taken from the battlefield of Pharsalia and sold at the auction in Rome after Caesar's triumph. But the helmets are of the new style, of your own design, made in my workshops. They are also already clothed in your honor's livery. And each one brings with him a basket of two hundred arrows, plumed with goose-quill and tipped with bronze. My countrymen can fight, and these are young men of good breeding. Perhaps they will no longer be slaves when they return to Alexandria."

"They shall have their chance," said Tros. "I love a man who loves freedom well enough to earn it."

Tros and Esias embraced each other, whispering, first in one ear, then the other the ritual phrases of a secret brotherhood' as ancient as the monuments of Thebes, far older than Eleusis. Then Esias took Tros's arm to the deck and ten sturdy young Jews in Thracian body-armor but with strange, uncrested helmets, went down on their knees to kiss Esias's hand.

"Your new master," said Esias, and Tros bade them stand up. They looked him straight in the eyes, measuring him as he measured them. He examined them each in turn from head to foot. They appeared to like it. They were in no wise ashamed of themselves. They had cleaned their armor until it shone. They had the impudent health in their eyes of men who have nothing to lose but manhood.

"A good gift, Esias: They shall not lack their chance to show merit."

Then, as a deck decurion helped Esias down the ladder into his sixteen-oared, awninged boat, there began the orderly, heart-thrilling marvel of a great ship getting under weigh. There was no wind. For the sheer love of splendor Tros ordered the purple sails unbrailed and sheeted down. A cymbal clanged the "stand by, all!" To the sharp shouts of the oar-bank captains three banks on either side shot forth vermilion oar-blades, all together, to half-length, with a thump of the ash looms on the oak ports. The forward captains clanked to a deep-sea chantey—the immortal, hilarious one about Zeus and the sea-god's daughter. There was a cry from Conops in the bow. And then, from Tros on the poop beside the long-limbed Argive helmsman:

"Out oars! Ready! Dip!"

He set the time for the drums with his right hand. They thundered. The oar-blades flashed in the noonday sun. The ship leaped. The blue sea boiled alongside. The gold-leaf covered tongue of the wide-mouthed serpent at the ship's bow darted and flashed on its hidden gimbals as if the serpent were alive.

"An omen, Lord Tros, a great good omen!" said the helmsman, pointing to the glistening summit of the Pharos lighthouse. Sea-birds soared around it, evenly spaced, in an almost perfect circle.

Tros waved to Esias. Then he answered the helmsman:

"Four hundred and three score men—the best ship on all earth's oceans—a dangerous voyage beginning—bad weather a-brew in that haze to the South—that's desert dust. Eyes on the course, you Argive dreamer! She'll be blowing a three-reef gale by midnight."

Then, to his chief-lieutenant, a Phoenician, fifty years old:

"You may change the sails, Ahiram. Get these stowed and bend on the new flax set. Order the lower-deck captains to check the oar-port covers and have them ready."

The Phoenician glanced southward, met Tros's eyes and nodded. There was a storm on the way from the Libyan desert.


CHAPTER III
"Betray me"


Treachery can ruin only traitors. No spy can perceive the purpose of him whose heart is free from treason to himself. Guile is a form of wisdom that an honourable man may have and honourably use, persuading traitors to employ their ill will ignorantly in the service of him whom they aim to destroy.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Tros's cabin reeled. The lamp swung. The shadows swayed. Lars Tarquinius was seasick, but too mean-spirited and obstinate to vomit. He asked Tros's permission to remove his corselet, a very handsome specimen of armor that made him look a great deal more Romanly heroic than he felt. He eyed the spare bunk yearningly; it looked warm and luxurious; but Tros, perhaps purposely, had heaped it with odds and ends of furniture that were roped to keep them from being pitched to the floor.

But Tarquinius was a prisoner. He' knew it, although nothing had been said about it and he still wore his double-edge Egyptian dagger in a Roman sheath.

There was no longer a rhythmic oar-pulse. The weary, well-fed rowers were asleep in the dark on shelves, like corpses in a catacomb. The ship wallowed and creaked as the Libyan Khamasin, sand-laden, bullied a following sea into steep waves. It was as much as Tarquinius could manage to keep himself off the floor. He had to grip the chair-arms. It was humiliating to him that Tros should be able to keep his feet and even to pace the floor, to and fro, with his arms behind him.

"Take it off, yes," Tros answered. "Why did you put it on? Why the dagger?" His own double-edged sword, in the second-best sheath, lay on the starboard bunk, fore and aft, with the hilt on the pillow. His helmet and armor swayed from the hooks on the bulkhead.

"Those are fierce men in the deckhouse, where your insolent man Conops told me I may sleep," Tarquinius answered. He let his corslet fall to the floor with a thump. For a moment he sprawled with his elbows on the table and his eyes shut. Then he' sat back and huddled himself in his scarlet equestrian toga. "I don't care to be murdered," he remarked.

"Do you know an honest sailor when you see one?" Tros retorted. "Those are my petty officers. They would no more think of harming you than I would—"

Tarquinius looked relieved; even his aquiline blue-red nose looked a bit less cynical, until Tros added:

"—without cause!"

Tarquinius found a flare of temper somewhere beneath his miserable surface. "Cause, eh? You invited me into your cabin. What for? By Bacchus, you haven't offered me a drink, nor anything but insult. I am sick."

"So I see. You will be more sick before we make the let of Cyprus. Talk while you can."

"About what? Bona dea! Can I see into your thoughts? I am here on the authority of the Queen's secretary."

Tros stood still in front of him, holding a chair-back, leaning across the table with the lamplight aglow on his eyes. "Why did you write to the merchant Esias, in a letter which you threw, along with a piece of silver, to the bow-oarsman of Esias's boat, saying he would have you to thank if his corn should ever reach its destination?"

"You have a powerful imagination, Captain Tros. The answer is simple. I didn't."

"The proof," said Tros, "also is simple. Here is the letter. Look at it. You see it? The last paragraph reads: 'remember me, Jew-Esias. One of these days I shall ask for my honorarium.' What does that mean?"

Tarquinius felt too sick to invent any lies. He was like a witness under torture. The truth seemed relatively unimportant, except as the easiest means of hurting the inquisitor's feelings. He wanted to go away and lie down.

"I intended Esias to know that the secret is out," he answered. He sneered like a wolf. "His and yours also! Have you heard that the Cyprus fleet has declared for Cassius? That was Esias's doing! You are the Jew's catspaw. One of my informers' is a slave in Esias's office, who overheard Esias telling his partners that he would offer you a fifth to see that the corn reaches its destination. The corn is meant for Cassius, who is to invade Egypt and to install Arsinoe on the throne. Cleopatra—"

He made a gesture with his hand across his Adam's apple. Then, at last, suddenly he met Tros's eyes at full stare. His own, that were flinty and watery-gray with red rims, hardened in the lamplight, excited, as if he were staking his all on one throw of the dice.

"Tros, you are not the only wise man! I also know on which side of the platter the food is. I, too, am on the side of Arsinoe. There will be some pickings for smart fellows when that young woman gets her rights."

"Her rights?" Tros went and leaned against the after bulkhead. "Do you mean her revenge?"

"Rights was the word I used."

"Explain it." Tros awaited a roll of the ship and then eased himself into the chair at the end of the table. He struck a gong. It was the only release of emotion that he permitted himself, and even that might be charged to the noise of the storm. He struck so suddenly and so loudly that Tarquinius turned as if to ward off a blow. But Tros had to strike three times before the steward heard through the storm and came in from his cubbyhole under the break of the poop.

"Wine!"

The steward returned very quickly with a skin of Egyptian wine, which he hung from a hook on the overhead beam. He poured two silver bowls about a third full, then returned to his quarters. There was no need to spill a-libation; the ship's motion attended to that. Tros sipped. Tarquinius drank and began to feel less wretched as the strong stuff stirred his blood.

"Explain," Tros repeated. "You said Arsinoe's rights."

"I said it. Do you realize that when Caesar came, the Alexandrines had deposed Cleopatra and driven her out of Egypt? She was legally deposed. No longer Queen. They didn't choose to have a seventeen-year-old girl reforming their government and cutting off the wrong heads. They wanted someone they could manage. So they made Cleopatra's younger brother and sister joint rulers, under a regency that knew its business. Regents' business is to get rich, isn't it? But then Caesar came, who knew more about grabbing other folks' money and spending it than all the robbers since Alexander. Cleopatra showed she has genius, even though she is a Ale-Ptolemy and they're a rotten lot, the Ptolemies. Instead of invading Egypt with a Syrian army, she had herself smuggled back to Alexandria. Some say she came on your ship. Did she? Anyway, she was taken in to Caesar's presence in a roll of rugs, and she became his mistress. But Arsinoe was still the lawful Queen of Egypt. The young king was killed in battle later on and Queen Arsinoe became Caesar's prisoner. But she was never deposed by the Alexandrines. She was still Queen of Egypt. If not, why did Caesar walk her through Rome at his chariot-tail in his three-day triumph? Why he didn't have her beheaded afterwards, as is usual, I don't know. He had Vercingetorix the Gaul beheaded after that triumph, you remember. It was an actual fact, and still is, that Arsinoe was the court's choice. She is the lawful and the only Queen of Egypt. She was recognized as such by the Roman Senate by being so described on the placards before and behind her when she was marched through the streets in humiliation. She has not been legally deposed by anyone who had authority to do it. Thousands of people saw her crowned Queen, with the double crown of Egypt, by the high priest, on the steps of the temple of Serapis. Cleopatra was never crowned in public. Queen of Egypt Arsinoe still is. And the gold of Egypt, Captain Tros, let me tell you, will fall plop-plop-plop into the laps of the men who have the good sense to perceive the girl's manifest destiny and to help to bring it to pass."

Tros humored him: "You think Egypt would accept Arsinoe?"

"Aye. Egypt will accept whatever men of discretion impose. Rome, too, will swiftly recognize her as the lawful Queen of Egypt, because she is one of those priest-ridden fools who are easy to manage. No matter who helps her back to the throne, Arsinoe will pick Octavian to win the civil war, because she has never seen him, so she can't hate him as much as she hates Antony. That will mean a river of Egyptian money pouring into Octavian's pocket. Plunder! Plunder! Can't you see it? She may even try to marry Octavian, and the pimply pervert could do a lot worse for himself, let me tell you. Give me more wine, it seems to ease my belly."—He raised the bowl in both hands.—"Captain Tros, I pledge you youth and beauty, the cult of Venus-Aphrodite, mystic merry-making, woman in her right place as man's convenience! To Queen Arsinoe of Egypt—may the gods give her a Roman husband!"

Tros got up and re-filled Tarquinius's bowl from the swinging wine-skin.

"How much of this," he asked when he had sat down again, "do you think Queen Cleopatra suspects? You should know. They say you are in the Lady Charmion's confidence, and she is supposed to know the Queen's thoughts."

Tarquinius smiled. It was meant to be the kind of smile that fluxes understanding between man and man. But the ship was plunging, tossing her stern to a blast from the Libyan desert. It was a sour smile. He had to wait a few moments before he could speak.

"As you know, Captain Tros, no one is in that woman's confidence, nor in the Queen's either. Such a poor devil as I am—I had a tidy fortune, but I lost it—has to swallow condescensions, though they make the blood boil. Hecate! I knew the lady Charmion when she hadn't a shift to her name, when she climbed in through a palace window to beg clean clothing from one of Arsinoe's slaves. One would think now however, to hear her speak to me, that she had bought me at auction, cheap."

Tros nodded. He could almost sympathize with anyone who had suffered Charmion's temper. It was just as well, though, that his elbow was on the table and his right hand, supporting his chin, concealed his mouth. His smile might have silenced Tarquinius, who, unaware of the smile, continued to reveal himself, in a desperate, gambler's effort to win Tros over. He had no hope of winning Tros's friendship. Even with the strong wine in his brain he was too shrewd to pretend to try to do that. Very shrewdly indeed, he even took for granted Tros's contempt, and showed his own contempt for Tros's scruples.

"Such a man as I am, Captain Tros, has to use all available means to an end. And the end is, to take good care of me, Tarquinius. It is my business to learn what is going on."

"Why not call yourself a spy and have done with it?"

"If it pleases you. Very well. Call me a spy, if that makes you feel virtuous. But I spy in my own interest. Do you understand that? There is only one person whose interests I serve. He is Lars Tarquinius, Etruscan, eques Romanus, to myself the most important person in the world. The world may rot, for all of me, unless it treats me handsomely. When I accepted a beggarly pittance from Charmion, it was in order to serve my ends, not hers. I know all about her having wanted you for a lover, and how she hates you for refusing. I didn't know whether that meant you are a Samothracian ascetic, or whether you aim higher. Some of the court gossips insist that you are Cleopatra's lover." He paused, staring straight into Tros's eyes. But he learned nothing. "Anyhow, I offered to spy on you, because I knew of no better way to reach Arsinoe. When your servant opened and examined my baggage"—he paused again, guessing at the probable depth of Tros's credulity, but Tros betrayed no emotion, so he continued. It was a bow at a venture—a shrewd guess, but his eyes betrayed that he was guessing—"he removed a confidential letter. Where is it?"

"Why not say he stole your money also?" Tros asked.

It was too late for Tarquinius to take a different line. He had chosen his gambit. He had to carry on.

"Did you know," he asked, "or have you perhaps guessed, that the crews of the fleet that a fool of a minister ordered to escort the corn ships are mutinous, and that before they sailed they had corrupted your crew? I have been a sick man, ever since we left port, but I am not blind. I am a professional observer. I saw the whispering going on among your station captains and decurions. I will make you a wager of all the money I have, that they all now know the contents of that letter that your servant removed from my baggage."

"Are you sure you had the letter with you?" Tros asked.

"Yes," Tarquinius spoke slowly, carefully inventing detail. "A letter from a friend of mine in Rome, asking whether you can't be won over to Arsinoe's side. My friend says that Ahenobarbus is at sea with a fleet, and no one knows whose side he takes but, certain senators in Rome having denounced you as an enemy of the Roman people, Ahenobarbus intends to treat you as a pirate. My friend's name is Publius Cinna; he is one of the secretaries of the senate, so he learns pretty nearly everything that is going on. He asked me to advise you to abandon Egypt and to attach yourself at once to Queen Arsinoe, because Rome intends to recognize Arsinoe's claims." He paused. Then: "You realize, of course, that Cleopatra would disown you in a moment. Arsinoe, on the other hand, is one of those romantic fools who wouldn't—not if you had helped her in a tight place."

"How did you get that letter?" Tros asked.

"None of your business. Buy me if you want my channels of communication. The point is, your crew know the contents of that letter, and they know what it means to be treated as pirates by any Roman captain who can catch them. Have you ever heard, Captain Tros, of a commander being forced by his men to change sides? Doesn't a wise commander change sides before they force him? Learning what they wish, doesn't he command that, so that they may think him a wise leader? Your man Conops, whom you think is such a loyal dog, employs his loyalty this minute in persuading your crew that the way to save you and them from crucifixion is to force you to declare for Arsinoe."

Tros smothered a smile. Roman torturers, in Gaul, had burned out Conops's eye for refusing to tell Tros's secrets. However, there was no need to say anything about that. He struck the gong. The steward entered.

"Conops."

The steward vanished. Tarquinius tried to employ the ensuing minute shrewdly, "Doubtless," he said, "he has thrown the letter overboard. He isn't likely to admit having stolen it."

Conops entered, with his knitted red cap pulled down over his blind eye. He was dripping-wet, barefooted, chewing a clove of garlic.

"My cloak. No, not that one, you unthrifty wastrel! Do I wear my best one on a wet night? The shabby one. The old brown one. So. Now the sword. Stay here. Sit down and do your best to entertain this Roman eques."

Eyeing the Etruscan, and particularly his dagger, with obedient, watchdog curiosity, Conops took the third chair. By way of suitable entertainment he began dying tricks with his knife. Tros grinned and went on deck.

Immediately outside the door, to port and starboard of a short passage, were two low-roofed cabins. The one on the port hand contained the steward's quarters, pantry and bunks for Conops and several other dependable men. Tros, waiting for a moment of balance between waves, opened the door and peered in. There was no light—no other sound than snoring, but the steward came to life from somewhere and loomed like a ghost in the dark.

"Go in and fill the Etruscan's cup. Give Conops about a third of a cupful. Then fetch out the wine-skin, get a lantern, and wait for me at the door of the starboard bunk-house."

Tros climbed to the poop. It was almost too dark to see the steersmen, two of them at the one long oar, their eyes straining to catch the least gesture of the Phoenician Ahiram, who leaned with his back against the taffrail and sensed the course by only he knew what means, but it was partly by the wind on the back of his neck, and partly by the feel of the roll and plunge, and partly by the angle of the waves that thundered astern. There were no stars visible. There was no sign of the Pharos lighthouse, visible from forty miles at sea on clear nights. The deck watch of twenty men had been brought up to the poop, to have them handy where they could hear commands; they were herded together close to the bulwark and their humming was faintly audible below the howl of the wind. Ahiram asked leave to come about and heave to. Tros studied the sea and the wind and the ship's motion for about three minutes before he answered:

"Carry on, Ahiram. This should blow itself out before tomorrow's sunset. If the wind eases, we'll shake down a reef. There'll be no chance to use oars. Even under the lee of Cyprus there'll be a heavy sea for a couple of days."

The Phoenician's teeth showed for a second, in a flash of a grin that might have meant anything. Tros leaned beside him for a while, listening to the weight of the wind in the reefed sails, reconsidering his judgment, estimating speed, and then, little by little, letting other thoughts enter his mind. There was a weird sensation, nowhere to be felt but on a ship at sea, of hundreds of lives confined, in silence, within a living thing that was all sound and motion. Four hundred and three-score men, as ignorant of their destiny as the ship herself, all under one man's hand, all drilled and armed for not even Tros himself could guess what violent event.

He was determined, if wind and sea would let him, to reach Salamis ahead of the ten Egyptian ships with whose admiral he was supposed to cooperate. He hardly doubted that admiral's treason. It was almost a certainty. Fleets, since Caesar's death, had become pawns in a game of Who-owns-the-money? That Egypt had enormous stores of food and money was no special reason for loyalty to Cleopatra. Rather the contrary. The plunder would be shared among those who could foresee who would steal her throne.

Some Roman. It could be no one but a Roman. Rome could no longer exist without Egypt's corn and money. But which Roman? Which of the warring generals would sense out his chance to seize Arsinoe, in Cyprus, under pretext of restoring Cyprus to Roman rule; and to do then what Caesar did after Pharsalia—set sail for Alexandria and seize the palace? It would be a simple matter to depose or to kill Cleopatra; should a Roman fleet appear, she would very likely be murdered by the Roman legions in Alexandria. To establish Arsinoe on the throne, with Roman legions in support, would amount to annexation of Egypt. And whoever could accomplish that would have Rome at his feet. He would have all the wealth of Egypt with which to debauch and bribe and buy Rome.

His muttered thoughts went down wind, but Ahiram saw his lips move. The Phoenician thrust his head closer, and dared to repeat his advice to put the ship about and heave to.

"Carry on," Tros answered. "It will blow itself out, like a woman's anger."

The Phoenician shook his head and Tros laughed, no longer thinking of the storms that he understood, but of the minds of three women that he could read rather well but did not understand.

The Greek second officer came to the poop. The watch changed, but the Phoenician refused to go below. He and the Greek stood watch together, straining their eyes toward the faint grayish loom of the sails in the dark. Tros left them and found the steward waiting for him with the wine-skin and a lantern. He entered the starboard bunk-house, where a dozen of his faithful Northmen usually lived, between him and a possibly mutinous crew. He took the lantern from the steward and swung it. The ten young Jews were sleeping two in a bunk, to share five blankets. They had wrapped their armor in the other five, and they had their bows in bed with them, to keep the gutstrings dry and the wood from absorbing moisture. As they awoke with the light in their eyes they fell out of the bunks and stood to attention, naked.

"Fetch the storekeeper!"

The steward set down the wine-skin and went on the run. Not another word was spoken until the storekeeper came, breathless, lugged out of a warm bunk with no time to clothe himself, his naked skin glittering wet in the lantern-light. He was scared; he had never been summoned at night except for neglect of duty. Tros let him take a good look at the bunkhouse interior. Then he smashed him in the face with the full strength of his right fist. The man staggered against the bulkhead and pitched forward with the ship's roll. Tros's fist met him with a crack like the sound of a slaughterer's pole-ax and the man collapsed into a lower bunk.

"Come out of that! Stand at attention!" Then, after another swing of the lantern: "Am I a pauper, that ten men share five blankets? Where are the bow-covers? Where are the woolen bags for their armor?"

"They are slaves, Lord Captain. Should I serve them the same as the others?",

"By the living Lords of Earth and Sea, are my ears failing? Did I hear you? Dog of a Tyrian ingrate, that would let the rats eat blankets rather than see slaves warm! Silence! Slaves, are they? They have saved my property by taking thought, so they have saved you from being punished. You escape with a reprimand." Tros smashed him again in the face. "Now go and fetch ten bow-covers and ten bags for their armor. Bring them yourself, you mean-souled miser, and take care they are dry when they get here. Fall away."

The Jews were shivering. Tros bade them cover themselves and hold out their mugs for the steward to pour wine. First he made them drink enough to keep the rest of the wine from spilling; then he made them stand with their backs steadied against the bunks, holding the cups to their breasts.

"Your officer," he said, "will be my man Conops. You will obey him instantly, to the death, at all times, and whatever he commands. He is neither a beauty, nor a philosopher, nor a man of breeding. He can neither read nor write. But he is loyal. Be you loyal also. Your principal duty will be to guard me, day and night. Your battle station will be beside and behind me, wherever I am. No man who is obedient and brave shall ever look to me in vain, either for his rights or any good that I can do him. Wrap your weapons carefully when the storekeeper brings the covers. Treat him respectfully. Remember: when I reprimand a man, that ends it. I despise—I get rid of a man who lets his malice linger in the bruise that justice made. You may turn in."

He took one more turn on the poop, where he received the reports from the officers on watch that all was well below. Then he returned to his cabin, where the steward re-hung the wine-skin to the beam. Tarquinius was sprawling forward on the table, and his dagger was on the floor under Conops's foot. There was a question in Tros's eyes. Conops answered it as soon as the steward had gone:

"He offered me fifty denarii to tell him the way to your good will, master."

Tarquinius stirred and groaned. "I would have offered more," he said, looking up with his head in his hands, "if I had had it. Tell him to return my dagger. When I lurched he took it from me. He is as suspicious as a scorpion."

Conops looked at Tros and half-closed his one eye. Tros nodded.

"I have given you the ten Jews, Conops. Lick them into shape. And if I catch them lacking discipline, or hating you, or mistrusting you, or unwilling to jump at a wink, I will give them another officer and send you to the lower oar-banks. Learn them first. Then teach them. Fall away."

"Yes, master. Shall I give the eques his dagger?"

Tros took it. He struck its point into the table. Conops was out of the cabin before the dagger had ceased to vibrate. Then Tros sat down.

"Tarquinius," he said, and he watched the man as if he could read through his skin to the nature beneath, "my good will is as easy to get as a death on a dark night."

The Etruscan sat upright with an effort. He laid his right fist on the table and clenched it so hard that the knuckles grew white.

"Captain Tros, I have intelligence for sale."

"If a louse should valuably serve me, Tarquinius, I would let him live, to be a louse, until he should be cracked by someone who loves justice less than I do."

"Make me a bid. I need a patron."

Tros's humor welled to the surface in a grand, unconquerable grin that made the Etruscan's eyes turn shifty and set his fingers drumming on the table.

"Let that dagger alone, Tarquinius. Let us see now: you are the client of the Lady Charmion, and her you propose to betray. You are the spy of the Queen's secretary, and him you propose to betray. You are my guest, and me you have tried to betray; you have tried to make my crew mutinous, and to make me believe they are so. You are in correspondence with Ahenobarbus, aren't you?"

"How do you know it?"

"In the same way that I know you lied about a letter from Publius Cinna, which you said my man Conops stole. You tried to dagger Conops, to prevent him from telling the truth to me; that was why he took your dagger." Tros flicked the dagger and made it thrum again. Then he pulled its point out of the oak and handed it back to Tarquinius with an unspoken and almost unexpressed contempt that stung worse than a blow.

"But that is not all," he continued, observing the ferocious hatred that had steeled the Etruscan's eyes. "You have lied to me about my friend Esias, to whom I don't doubt you would lie about me, if you should see occasion. You intend to lie about us all to the Princess Arsinoe, whom you will betray to whoever shall make it worth your while."

The Etruscan snarled. "You make out a fine case! You remind me of that old four-faced humbug Cicero accusing Cataline and Verres. Name me a man or a woman of any importance in the world who isn't ready to betray you, or me, or anyone at the toss of a coin! Does the Queen of Egypt trust you? Hah! Where are your Northmen? It is because they trust you, and she thinks you are fool enough to keep faith with drunken savages, that she has dared to risk turning you loose to chance your own neck and fortune for her advantage. Win or lose, she would betray you in a minute."

"But you?"

"Bona dea! Didn't I tell you the truth? I told you I serve only me, Lars Tarquinius!"

"The truth saved you from drowning," Tros answered. "That is once when you served yourself well. For that truth, I will be your patron."

"How much will you pay me?"

"Your life. Your liberty. I will set you ashore, to continue to serve Lars Tarquinius. You may sell me to the highest bidder. Make what profit you can."

"You mean—if I should strike a bargain with Arsinoe—you would keep to its terms?"

"I strike my own bargains. I name my own terms," Tros answered. "You live. That is all of the terms of my bargain with you. Go ashore and serve Tarquinius. Betray me."

Tros struck the gong. The steward came.

"Pick up Lars Tarquinius's corselet and carry it forward for him. Help him along the deck to his quarters."

Tros returned to the poop, noticing as he passed that Conops had transferred himself to the starboard bunk-house with the ten new Jews.


CHAPTER IV
"When I swear to the truth, I swear by Lars Tarquinius!"


Too much planning is the commonest cause of defeat. The mediocre strategist conceives a plan and, like a pregnant woman, thinks the offspring of his belly and his mood shall set a heel on destiny. A true commander's plans are changeable, adaptable, reversible, sudden, frequently surprising even to himself; they are the means, that his genius seizes, to employ his whole strength, at a well considered moment, to a foreseen, unflinched from and undeviating purpose.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The seaman's consciousness produced its miracle. Tros made his landfall. A man at the reeling mainmast-head, with the eyes of a gull and the lungs of Aeolus, hailed the poop about two hours after Tros had made it high noon from a study of his three temperamental water-clocks. Conops, who took nothing on land or sea for granted except that Tros must be served, went aloft and confirmed the report. He could see the strange masses of foam on the southeastern shore of Cyprus—the foam from which, as all men knew, the goddess Aphrodite had been born. He could see the vague loom of the mountains beyond. But there was no sign of any Egyptian fleet—not a sail on all those tumbling seas.

Tros made his lee long before nightfall. He hove to, three or four cables' lengths from shore, in comparative calm, to give the cooks a chance to feed the crew. He was no believer in the Spartan diet that the Romans considered good for deep-sea discipline. Full bellies breed few mutinies. The British druids had taught him the secret of clean water-casks, purified with charcoal. He had found out for himself the value of dried Arabian apricots and dates, to offset the eternal Egyptian eggs and sun-dried meat. He had ample store, too, of onions, carrots, honey, olive oil, wheat and barley. His cooks were Syrians, and his ovens were things of his own invention, fired with charcoal. He knew, too, the value of song, to keep crowded men from thinking about hardship. He carried four bards, bawdy and well-paid rogues with harps, whose business was to improvise new words to ancient songs. They were even allowed to be personal about himself, and to put the men's grievances into song, provided they did it humorously. He had learned that good trick from the Northmen, the world's bitterest grumblers, whose skalds had an almost unlimited license to voice the moods of the men who must die at the word of command. Men die more gallantly who know that their leader knows their heart-aches.

He had solved a hundred problems that the Romans, with all their genius for war, had left unsolved. Romans had not understood the essential fact that command of the sea depends on mobile men, not ponderous, floating forts. They were still thinking in terms of the wars with Carthage, making a land-war of a sea-war, grappling ship to ship and relying on size, weight, numbers to offset speed and the ability to turn. It was not Romans—not at the moment—that worried Tros; he had the heels of any Roman ship afloat. It was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, whom he feared as he paced his heaving poop. He had a mystical, obstinate conviction that a man and a woman are as light and darkness, strength and weakness. The woman was forever the betrayer. He was in the toils of a woman who hated Rome as much as he did, and who would use all resources, her own body included, in a war to a finish. A woman so intellectually subtle and steel-witted that she had even persuaded Caesar to despise Rome. A woman to whom religion, and even life, was a means to an end. A wholly admirable, baffling, utterly courageous woman, as rich as Croesus, as ready of laughter as a child, as alone as the Sphinx, as full of mystery as an Egyptian night.

Tros well knew that his crowning indiscretion had been to take Cleopatra into his confidence. He had been fooled by her love of ancient Egypt and by her understanding of the occult teachings of the Mystery of Philae. He had thought her a brilliant mystic in a world of ruthless greed—certainly the hope of Egypt, perhaps the hope of the world. He had discovered that ruthlessness and subtlety were as inseparable in Cleopatra's consciousness as the two sides of a ray of moonlight.

From the moment when he had told her of his projected voyage around the world he had been in her net, although it had taken him time to discover the fact. She understood his loyalties and his prodigious sense of gratitude—his will to repay favors and to reward the giver.

So she had cat-and-moused him, picking his brains while he employed them in her interest. It was her agents in Punt and Arabia who had gathered for him information about almost legendary lands to eastward. She had put at his command the almost fathomless resources of the Library of Alexandria and the spider-web channels of information possessed by the priesthoods of Isis, Serapis, Ammon and Aphrodite. With amusement, and another emotion that she did not confess to herself, though it lurked in her eyes in her moodier moments and Tros detected it, she had shared his prodigious passion for geography. He had an outline map of Africa, compiled from conjecture and hearsay. He had a chart of the Red Sea coastline from Berenice to Punt, and a hearsay and guesswork chart of the ocean and islands between Punt and India, part of it inked in by the Queen's own hand as the result of the examination of three Greek traders from Socotra, but they had been kept thirsty until willing to talk. Then one of them, with the sound of dripping water in his ears, had told too much—had boasted of a voyage he had made from Socotra eastward, to the land where slant-eyed men made silk from the magical vomit of captive worms, and a river as great as the Nile and as yellow as saffron poured into a sea whose fire made midnight luminous. So that Greek toiled now in the middle oar-bank, against the day when Tros might need him as interpreter and guide. Down on the lower oar-bank, was another, possibly useful pilot from an island far to westward of Africa, who spoke no language comprehensible to anyone but Tros himself and Conops, who had picked up scraps of Basque and could make occasional guesses at what the man meant.

But those were only parts of Cleopatra's ways—her baits, like her promise of fifty ships to accompany Tros around the world. Year after year Tros had laughed at himself as a male Penelope, forced for the sake of an ideal to unweave his own work. And now, as he gazed at the cloud-hung coast of Cyprus he knew he was no nearer to his goal, not though he should outwit Romans and Egyptians. He did not even know there were not traitors in the crew, although that was the least of his problems; if Tarquinius, or anyone else, had contrived to corrupt a few of them, he would know how to deal with that. He had the ever reliable Conops and he watched him now, with quiet amusement, training the ten new Jews to their appointed job.

They lacked the heft and whirlwind blast of charging battleaxmen, but they made up for that with deftness, speed and a ferocious will to earn their freedom. Conops lined them on the poop, and again and again made them leap to the deck to repel imagined boarders, their swords held ready for a lunge when the smashing shields should have hurled an adversary backward on his heels, all point, no time-wasting with the edge of the blade. Then, almost before their feet had touched the deck:

"Back to him! Back to your lord, you sons of Solomon! By Dionysus's back teeth, are you corpses, or your owner's bodyguard? You leave him exposed to arrow-fire? Up-shields to left and right of him, and leave him sword-room! You there, Jacob, what's a shield for? To hide your modesty, or to fight with and protect your owner? Gladiator, you? You'd last a minute! Let me see that shield dance! Aphrodite Kallipygos! Are you holding up a mirror for a priest to prick his pimples at?

"Now then: when they come at the quarter-deck you're not the deck! You don't wait for 'em! You're death on the wing, in the air before they know you've started. You don't need half-an-hour to kill your man and get back. You're too slow forming wedge. The wings don't fall back. The leader leaps forward, the rest hard after him, four to port and five to starboard. Hit 'em like a thunder-bolt!

"Jeremiah, let's try you in the centre this time. Now remember: you kick off the edge of the poop with your right foot, shields at half-arm and hilts well back. Smash, thrust, kill—and back quick! Odd numbers retire first, two paces, then even numbers two paces, odd numbers two paces—and you're on the poop before a priest could say money! Now then—clear the poop!—Form wedge!—Have at 'em! That's better! But for the love of your father Abraham, no wonder Pompey took Jerusalem! Why don't you wait and kiss the enemy? Why not be polite and let him reach the poop ahead of you? Haven't you ever seen a wave hit a beach and go curtseying back? Well then, try it again."

The hatches were on over the upper oar-banks, to make deck-room, and the whole ship's company was at drill of one kind or another. Tarquinius, not so seasick now, sat on the deckhouse roof pretending to watch the drill. But Tros had observed what might be signals ashore. He watched Tarquinius, trying to imagine what treacheries were brewing in the man's brain. It would be altogether too risky to arrive in the Bay of Salamis before daybreak, since there were dangerous shoals at the harbor mouth; so it would be quite possible for Tarquinius's signals, if he should make any, to reach Salamis overland hours in advance of Tros's arrival. How much truth had Tarquinius told? What did he know? How much was he merely guessing?

A simple solution would have been to imprison the Etruscan in an empty water-cask in the lower hold, and Tros loved simple solutions. But it would be too much like throwing away a key before discovering which lock it fitted The one almost absolute certainty was that Tarquinius was planning treachery and had not told all the truth, since such men never tell that, even under torture. Parts of the truth, yes. Odds and ends that were true yesterday, or might be true tomorrow, yes. But the truth at the back of his mind, his main information, and the hope or the plan he had based on it, never. There was no way to discover that but to leave him free and watch him.

There had been time, Tros reflected, since the corn fleet went to sea from Alexandria, for Tarquinius to send a message to Cyprus and to receive an answer. He might have sent such a message overland, by runner, by way of Syria. Through Charmion or the Queen's secretary he might very easily have learned of the Queen's intention to send Tros to follow the corn fleet; he might have known that several days before Tros knew it. He might have known it even before the corn fleet went to sea.

Such men usually have at least a dozen plans in mind. They dream dreams of what they would like to do, and of what they could do, given this or that turn of events; so not improbably Tarquinius had snatched at a thread that spider-webbed into a maze of previous intrigue. He was the kind of man who wrecks the designs of his betters, without ever having an honest design of his own; the kind who perceives a plot where none is, and who never believes the truth because he always thinks he sees some subtlety beneath it.

Tros sent for him. He came along the swaying deck between two seamen and collapsed limply, pea-green, on a coil of rope.

"I pity you," said Tros. "My mercy strains patience. Could you eat a stew of onions and beans and pig-meat?"

"Sulphury Cocytus! It makes me retch to smell it cooking."

"Very well, Shall I set you ashore?"

"Great Jupiter! You haven't that much kindness!" He looked incredulous, but a light had leaped into his eyes; they were flinty again, warmed by a colored hint of cunning. The avarice, that such men think is hope, had suddenly dismissed the lamentable complaints of his belly. His fingers gripped his knees. He sat upright. "For the feel of firm earth I would give more than you guess."

"Will you meet me in Salamis?"

"Immo."

"On your oath? By what do you swear?" Tros asked him.

"When I swear to the truth, I swear by Lars Tarquinius."

"Swear then, by your sorry-looking, seasick god, that you won't send word ahead of you by priest or pigeon—for I know there are homing pigeons in every temple hereabouts."

"Trust me! Should I find as much as a heap of stinking sacks in the nearest village, you may imagine me snoring on it all night long."

"And when you meet me in Salamis you will bring me all the news you can gather?"

"Aye and gladly, for I like you."

Tros did not wish to be too well liked by Lars Tarquinius. He craved his treachery, not his good will. Above all, he wanted him ashore before it was too dark for a pigeon to fly, and before it would be too late to find a fast horse. So he interrupted Conops, and at a gesture the Jews went forward toward the cook-house, breathing through their noses. In another moment the bustle and noise of drill and sword-stick practise was interrupted by Conops's whistle and shrill-lunged "boat away!" The boat crew, proud of seamanship as well as wary of rope-end and Conops's knife-hilt, had the eight-oared boat overside before two men could haul out Tarquinius's baggage. The protesting Tarquinius was swung overside in a noose, gangled above the waves and dumped into the stern seat with a thump that made his body-armor clank like a load of javelins. He vomited at last. But the idea of speed—that he must hurry because Tros was in a hurry—and had been jarred into his consciousness better than words could do it. He might not have believed mere forms of speech.

Tros eyed the declining sun, wishing he knew more about the ways of pigeons. However, failing pigeons, he felt sure Tarquinius would find some means of making mischief before daylight.

"Ahiram," he said, after dark, when the ship was again under weigh, hugging the lee under oar and shortened sail, "since Caesar died the rulers of the world have all been guessing. Aye, and all their generals, and all their captains. None knows what may happen. But I know this:"

He paused. Ahiram waited, in a sort of deep-sea silence that was part of his nature.

"An honest man, at such a time, is as a cork on the sea. But a rogue is like a rat that burrows underground toward the weak point."

"Aye. But who can see him burrow?" said Ahiram.

"Where he burrows, he bites," Tros answered, and Ahiram turned that over slowly in his mind. Suddenly he asked: "You think he bites us?"

"Are we weak?" Tros answered.

"Lord Tros, I can read this storm is passing. And another, soon coming, I smell. But your mind I can't read. Have you a plan?"

"I smell its makings. I have only an intention, not yet a plan," Tros answered.

"So? Then I smell trouble," said Ahiram. "As for me, I would have skinned that Etruscan. He has told some of the men that Queen Arsinoe pays double wages."

Tros nodded. He was beginning to see his way clear. All that night long there were beacons ashore, like rubies on the ledges of the hills.


CHAPTER V
"Lord Captain Tros!"


It never was my view, that women are the worse for audacity. To be mothers of sons worth weaning, they should have the manly virtues in addition to the qualities that charm and tempt.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Dawn glimmered through a cloud bank on the splendid temple of Aphrodite, beyond the wooded plain, high on the hill above Salamis. It shone as white as a hound's tooth, an enormous mass of buildings within a high wall. For a while after that the astonishing foam along the shoreline merged into land and sea and sky, creating a polychrome haze in which the crew believed they saw Undines and sea-horses—monstrous, mysterious beings that obey the gods but make trouble for me. Out of that presently loomed the walls of Salamis, seventeen feet thick, and beneath those the masts of a hundred ships.

The River Bocarus, half hidden by myrtle and oleander, was a shadow shaped like a man's leg running, to the left of the city. Foam boiled over shoals at the harbor-mouth. The serpent on the bow of Tros's trireme flashed its golden tongue straight at the city as the ship rose and fell on the waves at the bar that came tumbling from three directions. Eastward, astern, toward the coast of Phoenicia, there were mountainous seas, although the wind had died, but within the wide harbor it was as calm as a mill pond. There, their masts hardly moving against the city wall, the Egyptian corn fleet rode at anchor. Two small Roman biremes lay between them and the seaward channel.

"So we have them," said Ahiram.

"If we have brains, and a little luck, and some guts in our bellies," Tros answered. He was watching the broken rhythm of the waves and the skirling seabirds, studying the channel, which had shoaled badly of recent years. He decided he needed more sea-room. He had in mind the corvi on those biremes—long gangplanks with a spike at the end. Let Romans drop those on a ship's deck and a sea-fight would become a land-fight such as suited Roman genius. So the cymbals clashed and the ship went forward under oars at quarter speed another cable's length toward the city where the harbor widened out and there was room to turn.

There was nothing that was not ready for instant action. The crew had been fed in the dark. The gray flax battle-sails were brailed up to the three big yards, ready to be sheeted down in an instant; even if there were no wind they were a protection against arrow fire. There were men at the sheets and braces, casual-looking, careful to appear seamanly unexcited, but every living man of them watching Tros with the side of his eye. All the paulins were off; the master-archers were lovingly wiping imagined damp off the cords of the arrow-engines. The arrow baskets were in place. The enormous weights that provided power for the catapults had been cranked to the top of the stanchions, down between which they would fall on the propelling levers, and thence on to wicker-work cushions below, at the touch of the decurion's trigger.

Those catapults were the deadliest war-engines afloat. Their lead missiles were loaded with stuff that was worse than Greek fire, and their range was twice that of any Roman weapon, though they were difficult to aim on a tumbling sea and their layers gave themselves the airs of master artists. There were a decurion and ten men to each catapult, to crank the weights, roll the leaden balls into place, pour in water and plug them, and to manhandle the revolving platforms. Those were picked men, who gave themselves more airs than Tros himself, even though they feared the fire-balls and believed Tros was in league with the powers of darkness. If he were not a black-magician, how should sea-water, poured into evil-smelling stuff of which one ingredient was known to be yellowish crystals scraped from beneath old heaps of cattle dung, make the missiles take fire and explode with frightful heat and suffocating stench? They were assistant-magicians, of superior intelligence and entrails, whose special god was Pluto. Nevertheless, they appealed for special speed to Hermes when they aimed the catapults before loading, and then served them like lightning, lest the balls should burst inboard or in air before they struck their target. They were proud servants of a special mystery, armed, nevertheless, with shields and javelins for repelling boarders.

There was commotion on the decks of the Roman biremes. They began to clear in haste for action throwing dunnage and small boats overboard. Their oars appeared and they rowed up close to their anchors, but they did not weigh yet, and the corn fleet seemed asleep. Tros let his trireme swing until her beam was toward the city, so that he could turn whichever way he pleased and keep the Romans guessing.

A man at Tros's mainmast-top hailed the quarter-deck, gesturing. From northward, around the corner, with a man standing in the bow to con the course, and pitching like a porpoise at play, came Tros's long-boat rowed by eight Gauls with Conops in the stern making signals, unintelligible except that they were urgent. Tros, after one glance seaward continued to watch the harbor front.

"You expect Tarquinius?" asked Ahiram, between Tros and the helmsman.

"No," he answered, fairly confident that he had out-guessed that specialist in treachery. "I expect proof of his night's work. With his feet on dry land, vinegary malice should have strengthened his stomach. His is a fox's stomach in a body-full of envy. If there is a horse in Cyprus, he found it and reached Salamis. But he won't show himself to us. He likes to think he makes and unmakes kingdoms from behind the throne."

"I would have drowned him," said Ahriam.

"That is why you are twice my age and not yet captain of a ship," Tros answered.

There was activity at a stone pier at the harbor-front, difficult to make out because of the ships between and because the shadows of clouds were obscuring the view. Low visibility—a kind of hyphen-light between storm and storm. A small boat reached one of the Roman biremes, conveying a man in a glittering helmet. Presently he had himself rowed to the other bireme. Both biremes drew in their oars but continued to ride short to their anchors. Their decks were dark with armed men. The sun vanished. There came a squall of rain, then a sharp blast of wind from east-northeast, ice-cold from the Taurus Mountains. There would blow a Levanter before long.

The longboat reached the trireme and two Gauls collapsed, rowed out, falling on their oars. Conops came up like a monkey, and the boat hard after him, walked up and swung inboard, crew and all, almost before Conops had reached the quarter-deck on the run. He saluted, more for time to get his breath than because he remembered manners.

"Master, there are three quinquiremes and two good-sized liburnians in a cove at the end of a bay to the north of us, just around the promontory. One quinquireme's aground by the beak with a list to starboard and a big sea pounding her. All the others are trying to haul her off. There's a third liburnian scouting seaward. That one hailed me, but I took a chance among the shoals, where he couldn't follow, and their arrows fell short."

"War crews?" Tros asked.

"Aye, master. Full crews. Crowded. One of the towing quinquiremes has lost her starboard dolphin overside. Some lubber let go the halyard. It almost crashed her own deck; they'd the yard braced fore and aft, to ease the roll. If they should stay there and fish for the thing it might be noon before they get here."

"Do they look like saving the quinquireme?"

"Pluto! They're rowing to whip, you can tell that by the jerk of the oars. If weight and strength can manage it, they'll haul her off. But you know Romans. They're towing crisscross o' the way she beaked in."

"Did the liburnian keep you in sight?"

"No, master. She made sail to a squall o' wind and headed seaward, nearly due north. Being low in the water and pretty busy with the sea over the shoals, I couldn't see much. It's cloudy to the northward, and a high sea running, but I glimpsed a fleet of thirty, or maybe forty sail."

"Headed this way? Romans?"

"Pirates, I'd say. All lateen-rigged, masts too high and spars too short to be Egyptian ships. But I couldn't swear to it."

"Do you see that hill yonder? Take a fresh boat crew, have them set you ashore as close to the hill as you can get without being seen, climb to the top of the hill, and come back and report."

"Aye, aye, master."

The cymbals clanged and the oars dipped to keep the trireme slowly moving as a screen behind which Conops headed for the shoal-water, where he was soon out of sight. The trireme returned to mid-channel. The Egyptian doctor, who had been a court physician in Damascus, came out of the forward deckhouse to make sure his assistant had heated the tar; he seemed disappointed that there were no wounds to be cauterized yet. Tros sent a man for his helmet and body-armor; the ten Jews, sitting, out of the way, with their backs to the lee bulwark, smiled and drew their bow-strings between caressing fingers. Tros drew on the purple cloak over his armor. The armor clanked. The crew grinned.

Then the hand of Lars Tarquinius appeared. From the wharf, between the anchored corn ships, came a gaily painted, high-prowed galley rowed by forty oars. It carried an olive branch at the masthead. There was a high-roofed cabin in the stern. The deck was white with the smocks of slaves and the robes of priests in high, conical hats. It came at a great pace and lay alongside, as close as it could without touching oars. Two trumpeters on the roof of the cabin sounded a brilliant flourish; then a herald hailed—a fellow in a bright blue cloak, with a voice as brazen as his helmet.

"Come aboard, eh?" said Ahiram.

Tros laughed curtly. "Go you. Say I will receive the Queen Arsinoe. Have a care for our paint when they come alongside."

So they lowered a boat and Ahiram borrowed Tros's second-best cloak, the canary-yellow one with crimson lining. Grizzled and hook-nosed seaman though he was, with eyes that lay deep amid weathered seams, like all Phoenicians, he knew how to do the honors without compromising himself or his chief. Tros shouted and the starboard oars came inboard with a thud and flourish, all together. Ahiram brought the forty-oared galley alongside, taking command with a-natural authority that left the Cypriote captain speechless. Like Conops, there was only one man in the world whom Ahiram obeyed.

They lowered a narrow gangplank from Tros's deck to the roof of the galley's cabin, and a high priest would have come up first, with two attendants, but he hesitated. The plank swayed. There was no rail, nothing but one hand-rope, and the angle was steep; he thought of dignity, and thought too long about it. Queen Arsinoe stepped past him and came up the plank in six boyish strides without touching the rope. Tros, waiting for her on the main deck, bowed low and she gave him the backs of both her hands to kiss, while two eunuchs and two of her women squabbled with the priest and his attendants for right of way on the gangplank. The trireme's crew saluted—perfectly timed motion and a crash of shields. Ahiram helped the high priest up the plank. Tros led the way to the cabin and slammed the door in the face of the priest and all Arsinoe's attendants.

"A plain place," he remarked, "in which to receive a princess. It is the best I have. I am unused to women."

"Still?" She laughed. "My sister Cleopatra hasn't weaned you of that inexperience?" She sat down in his chair at the table end, throwing open the royal purple cloak that she wore over an almost transparent white Greek himation, edged too with purple. Tros knew enough about women to recognize spur-of-the-moment attempts to storm his interest. She had a garland on her coppery-golden hair, and looked Bacchanalian, with a ribbon beneath her breasts, beautiful bare legs and gilded sandals. Taller than Cleopatra, better looking with a straighter, more Grecian nose, she had all of her older sister's charm and lacked nothing of her regal self-assurance except for something in her eyes. They were beautiful eyes, blue, almost violet, but they seemed to be wondering, guessing, asking. Cleopatra's eyes knew and demanded.

She didn't invite Tros to be seated. He stood studying her, not having seen her since she walked in golden chains at Caesar's triumph, mocked by the Roman women and leered at bawdily by garlic-reeking mobs from the slums of Tiber-side. She had matured. Not yet eighteen, she looked Cleopatra's age—perhaps twenty—twenty-two. She had the same trick of seeming to be about to speak, with parted lips, but lingering to taste the flavor of a thought before tossing it forth in words exactly in the middle of a note. She had almost Cleopatra's challenge, that could make catastrophes look like opening gambits in a royal game. Almost; not quite. There was something lacking, though it surely was not experience.

"Lord Tros, I need you."

He frowned. It was the right, and the wrong way, to challenge his interest.

"You need me," she added.

That was the wrong way. Tros didn't need her. His frown unfroze, leaving only the seams on a warrior forehead. He had read one riddle.

Her secret had crept forth and betrayed her, as her smile changed subtly to that of a woman whose subtlety was merely guile, whose geese were swans, whose will was hope, whose daring was despair. It was the smile of a girl who had tasted failure, seeing lesser recklessness and greater treachery succeed.

"Lord Tros, why are you deceived by the treacheries of that witch, my sister? Do you love dark forces? Is the dying magic of the night of ancient Egypt, that she wantons after, able to oppose the living gods? Do you mock destiny? Or like Ajax, do you defy the lightning? Does it mean nothing, that I was exiled to this foam-born isle of Cyprus, where the goddess Aphrodite was created by the Lord of gods and men?"

That again was the wrong approach. Tros's amber eyes began to glow with a fertility that made her hesitate. He had forgotten that he had just now slammed the door in the face of a high priest. That high priest had been king of the greater part of Cyprus until crusty old Cato came from Rome and traded him a temple for his throne. Tros was too devoutly skeptical, too true a mystic, to fear anything but his own self-judgment. He didn't talk about living gods. He lived life. Destiny was something he created, by dealing with facts as they turned up.

"Let us speak of the corn fleet," he answered.

"Lord Tros, I have heard my sister loves you, but that Charmion, who is like a cat with a wild-cat kitten, said nay to it." Tros was silent. She continued:

"Cleopatra's love is like a quicksand that swallows and awaits the next victim. Not a doubt she loves you. Who else is there for her to love than you, who are descended from the gods—aye, a god upon earth, not a decayed old politician such as Caesar, with bad teeth and a bald head! Are you a son of Poseidon, the god of the Sea?"

Cunning, but unclever. Rare was the man who doubted that the gods impregnate chosen mothers and beget great heroes; rarer yet, the man who would repudiate such parentage, if he could see advantage to himself Caesar held claimed dissent from Venus. Alexander the Great denied his father Phillip, boasting the Lord of gods Zues—Ammon, in the form of a snake had begatten him by this virgin mother Olympus. Cleopatra herself claimed superhuman parentage. So did Arsinoe; she was inviting Tros to claim equality with all the great ones of the earth.

"I am who I am," Tros answered. Cleopatra would have known what that meant, but Arsinoe thought he boasted, and her eyes became luminous, flattering, unwisely confident. Herself a skeptic of all temple teachings and, like most well-born youngsters, drenched with the Aristotelian philosophy, she made the mistake of believing Tros would yield his egoism to the flattery of superstitious nonsense.

"My astrologer," she said, "forewarned me of your coming—"

"Is his name Lars Tarquinius?" Tros interrupted. "Princess, I have come for the corn fleet. I am told your viceroy Serapion has seized it for a bargain counter in his gamble for power."

"Serapion!" she answered. "My viceroy?" Her lip curled. "I am Serapion's puppet." Cleopatra's lips would have been less indiscreet, they would have smiled inscrutably. Cleopatra's voice would have been charged with unguessable meaning but Arsinoe was self-accusing. "I have used whom I could. It was that fox Herod who reconciled Serapion. Lord Tros, I need you! I am Queen of Egypt and whoever the Queen of Egypt weds is King of Egypt. Does the throne of Egypt not encourage you to change your dislike of women for a mood less unheroic? Are you not in Esias's confidence? I know you are! His money! The impatient fury of the hundred thousand Jews of Alexandria! One word from you! Now is the time, Lord Tros—the day of destiny! Seize Egypt! The oracles all declare this hour awaits a man of destiny."

"Let the hour learn patience!" Tros retorted. "I am not he." Arsinoe's face became less charming, but more truthful, and Tros liked her better. The Ptolemy, cat-like watchfulness smoldered within the sudden anger of her eyes, but it revealed courage that despair had disguised, not weakened.

"You realize," she asked him, "what I offer?"

"Aye," he said, "but none else heard it. I am not so constituted that I crave a wider kingdom than my own ship. Least of all have I the genius to be a queen's he-concubine."

She laughed and looked lovely again. "Queens have hearts as well as thrones," she answered. "I could glory with body and soul in the love of a man whose greatness overcame me. Am I, as a woman, unattractive to you?"

"Princess, I have no heart for women."

"A mother bore you. Have you no heart for a son, Lord Tros, who shall reap where you ploughed?"

He was silent, his face a mask that any intelligent woman could read. She knew she had touched his secret yearning. She believed she had uncovered his weakness. She played her last stake—sprung her secret—which Cleopatra her sister would not have done:

"Admiral Ahenobarbus has declared for Brutus, because Brutus, who slew Caesar, will restore republican government in Rome. Ahenobarbus is here to set me on my throne of Egypt, for the sake of the money that Brutus needs to pay his army. As for the corn fleet, whose is it? It shall be Brutus's gift, and mine, to the Roman people!"

Bargain by threat. Triumphant lips and questioning eyes. It did not occur to her that Tros already might have made a bargain and that if so, he would keep it or die. It did begin to dawn on her that he had told her nothing, whereas she had revealed her hand. The noise of squabbling outside the cabin door perhaps suggested to her she should rush her fences, so she squandered information on which the fate of a world might depend, whereas Cleopatra would have watched, listened and kept it secret.

"My sister's ten ships reached here the day before yesterday. They declared for me. They departed at once for Syria to transport some of Cassius's troops to invade Egypt. Better agree with me, Lord Tros! Can you fight Ahenobarbus? He has three quinquiremes, two biremes, three liburnians, and all my army. Did you know I have an army?"

It was a fair guess that she, or at any rate Serapion had some troops who would fight for whoever paid them. It was an equally fair guess that they had not been paid since Cato had raped the treasury of Cyprus, more than three years ago. Tros made an even fairer guess than that:

"Princess, you have not yet had word with Ahenobarbus! You have only heard what Serapion, or perhaps that high priest, says was Ahenobarbus's message. And to that you have added what Lars Tarquinius has said to you since midnight. If you choose, you may come with me and have word with Ahenobarbus face to face."

She sat suddenly bolt upright. Then she leaned an elbow on the table, studying Tros's eyes. Hers were the yes of a rebellious victim who had been played like a pawn in a losing game. She was excited. She was trying to be cautious.

"I believe you would betray me to Ahenobarbus."

"Very well then. Your own galley awaits you. Return ashore."

She stood up, for a moment, almost her sister's strength of character—Strength of decision—revealed itself. She came toward him and put her hands on his shoulders. Her delicious scent was in his nostrils. Her dangerous, sensuous lips challenged his.

"Lord Tros—"

He interrupted. "Are you afraid to return to Salamis?"

"Lord Tros, I need you to be my weapon and my strong right arm! Slay me that dog Serapion! It is he who would sell me to Ahenobarbus, that Ahenobarbus may sell me in turn to Cassius. I think they mean to marry me to Herod. Should they set me, as their puppet, on the throne of Egypt, what shall I be without a man at my side? Herod is not a man, he is a beautiful, sensuous parasite."

Tros put his hands behind his back. He knew Herod—rather like him. She detected her mistake and changed tactics instantly:

"Lord Tros, you are worth ten times ten of Cassius and Brutus! You are worth ten Antonies! That pimply catamite Octavian would flinch beneath the weight of your shadow! And is there a woman more worthy than Ito share a throne with you and to be your son's mother?"

There came a thunder on the cabin door. Arsinoe gripped at Tros's shoulders.

"Answer me! Speak! You and I—"

He removed her hands gently, turned away from her and jerked the door ajar. A hoarse voice shouted through the opening:

"Lord Captain, both biremes weigh anchor! Conops is returning in great haste!"

"Princess," said Tros, "my first task is to meet Ahenobarbus. I have come for the corn fleet."

"You shall see," she said, "whether I am not fit to be your son's mother! To your post, Lord Captain! Give me armor!"

He shook his head. He opened the door to bow her out, grimly amused by the backs of his new Jew bodyguard, who were keeping at bay a high priest who had been a king—an angry high priest and a host of even more indignant priestlings and eunuchs. Arsinoe went past Tros with a stride like Diana's. She pushed a Jew from the ranks as she forced her way through the bodyguard and faced the high priest. He flinched. Her eyes were murderous.

"Go!" she commanded. "To your temple! To your treacheries! To your prayers, O venerable lord of lies! Away with you—before I bid my admiral Lord Tros to toss you overside!"

The ten Jews looked eager to do that. They were grinning. Tros stood speechless. He loved a bold stroke, suddenly done, loved it too well to interfere. The high priest was equally speechless; in his beard and his conical hat he looked ridiculous, with his mouth agape and his eyes stupidly staring.

"I will teach you who rules Cyprus!" said Arsinoe. "Away!" She gestured to the Jews. They glanced at Tros. He nodded. They advanced, opening to right and left to pass Arsinoe. The high priest recoiled, turned, hurried, even ran. He and his followers were crowding the gangplank almost before Tros had reached the quarter-deck. The biremes were already almost within range, abreast, close together. Tros's voice rang like a clarion:

"Forward catapults!" he ordered. "Range five. Ready!"

"Range five! Ready!"

"Port oars aback! Starboard oars, slow ahead!"

The signal cymbals clanged. The last of the high priest's followers jumped for it; six of them fell into the sea, as the gangplank came in and the starboard oars went out, thrusting the forty-oared galley away. Six strokes and the trireme lay head on to the biremes. They ceased rowing. The high priest was signalling wildly; he ordered the olive branch hauled down from the galley's masthead. A bireme, perhaps by way of warning, fired a rock from her forward ballista. It fell short by fifty paces. Tros accepted battle.

"Both forward catapults—fire!"

A moment's pause while the leaden balls were primed and plugged—then two thuds that shook the ship, and suddenly the whole crew roared, the rowers taking cue from the men on deck. Two hits! Both shots crashed among the rowers of one bireme, bursting between decks with a stenching cloud of colored smoke. Green and yellow flame shot skyward. The bireme veered toward the other as the oars missed time, fell into utter confusion, and ceased. There seemed to be no sand for extinguishing fire. There was panic. Men leaped overboard and tried to swim to the other bireme.

"Full speed ahead!"

Vermilion oar-blades flashed and the foam boiled white as Tros guided his trireme straight at the other Roman ship. The Roman's only chance was to meet the attack beak first, then drop her corvus, spike Tros's deck and make a hand-to-hand fight of it. Should the beak miss, she could smash Tros's oars and lay alongside. But Tros had sea-room. He swerved. He let go three screaming volleys from the starboard arrow-engines as he shot past and came hard about, head on again to the Roman, who had backed oars and was turning for shelter behind the burning ship.

"Catapult him!" said a voice beside Tros.

Arsinoe was biting her lip, her bosom heaving with excitement, her clenched hands gripping her open cloak.

Tros glanced and grinned. "I think he strikes. Do you know the cost of ammunition?"

"Sink him!" she commanded. "Burn him like the other! Go in and fight! Do you fear him?"

Tros was watching the Roman. He went ahead slowly, aware Of a rising wind and a strong drift shoreward. He gave the Roman ample time to back out of view beyond the belching crimsoned smoke-cloud of the burning bireme.

"A good soldier!" he said. "A bad sailor! Ahiram!"

"Lord Tros?"

"Send a man forward and warn the archers not to waste arrows. That Roman means to beak us as we come by-looking for him. I'm going around, on his side of the burning ship, to catch him stern on. He fights his ship from the midship citadel, so bid them sweep that when they get the word."

The trireme, with the port oars backed and starboard oars ahead at full speed, turned in a length and a half and then curved in a short parabola until the Roman was in full view again trying to keep station with a rising wind on his beam. He had drifted downward; had he gone straight ahead now his beak would have crashed the burning ship. He saw Tros too late and tried to turn and meet him He was caught, mid-turn, by the screaming bronze-tipped hail of all Tros's starboard arrow-engines, that swept the citadel. A marksman on Tros's midship deckhouse shot down the Roman helmsman. The Roman's stern ballista smashed one arrow-engine with a lump of quarried quartz and an archer was dragged along-deck by the heels to be dealt with by the surgeon, but the concentrated fire from all the other engines struck down the Roman commander. There was no control. The oars splashed purposeless. She beaked the burning bireme and swung sideways, opening seams in the burning ship, whose frantic crew let go the corvus, spiked the other's deck and rushed over that narrow bridge to imagined safety. Others, who could not reach the corvus, threw out grapnels to try to haul, the ships closer together.

Tros ordered "cease fire." Flames from the burning bireme, wind-blown, licked, scorched and set fire to the other, as the locked ships drifted shoreward.

"Catapult them!" Arsinoe struck Tros's shoulder. "Fire them a parting kiss from me!"

He ignored her, staring seaward, calculating how close he dared approach the shoals at harbor mouth to pick up Conops before the rising sea should swamp the toiling longboat. The biremes were no longer of any importance, but Conops, coming at top speed, meant news.

"Now you go to fight Ahenobarbus? Give me armor. I need armor."

Tros made no answer; he was thinking while he studied the sea and watched the arrows being counted and the baskets replenished. The Levanter had come, blowing straight toward Salamis, kicking up seas like foaming hills that surged on one another, raging against the confused waves from the storm of the day before. Ahenobarbus would be bottled, on a dangerous lee.

He glanced at the ten Jews, who looked dejected, ashamed to have had no share in the fighting. He sent one of them to bring the armorer, and when the armorer came, at last he faced the princess.

"Can you fit her?"

"Yes, Lord Captain. Chain mail. One of the new crestless helmets. It was made for the young lad who died off Cyrenaica."

"Do it."

"And a good sword!" said Arsinoe.

"Sword, shield and dagger," said Tros.

"Aye, aye, Lord Captain."

Then: "Ahiram, we'll make sail as soon as we're clear of the shoals. Get in the lower oars now and bid them close the ports. See that they're tight. Bring the men from the lower bank on deck and let them stretch themselves. Inspect arms."

"Aye, aye, Lord Captain."

Arsinoe waited until Tros turned and could not avoid meeting her eyes. Then she stood at attention, saluted him, smiled, spoke:

"Lord Captain Tros!"

Her eyes shone. She was as full of excitement and reckless dare-devilry as a boy about to enter his first battle. Tros, who had had his belly-full of battles before she was born, again made no answer. He went to the rail to signal to the helmsman while the laboring longboat came alongside, under the trireme's upper banks of oars, using three of them as booms—a seaman's miracle, all in a day's work for Conops.


CHAPTER VI
"Dirty weather for a battle!"


Manners? They are like a cloak, that either illustrates its wearer's self-respect, or masks his vileness; popinjays his vices, or reveals his taste. I have observed that decent manners are invariably fitting the occasion—blunt and direct when causes are at issue; civil to the verge of gentleness where nothing but another's momentary comfort is at stake. Too smooth manners in the face of issues is a sign of fear, or treachery, or weakness or of all three.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Arsinoe, without asking leave, returned to Tros's cabin to await the armorer. However, Tros was aware that his chests were locked, and there was enough else to engage his full attention. Four oars, of each of the two upper banks of the port side, had to be brought in to make room to hoist the boat, while he kept way on the ship and navigated her between the shoals against a rising wind and tumultuous sea. It was hard work to gain an offing, but at last he had her with the wind on her beam, under three-reefed courses. The dog-tired oarsmen, helmeted and armed with sword and buckler, came on deck, each group of ten in charge of a decurion; they sprawled in the lee of the weather bulwark, doing leg-and-arm-exercises to resupple their strained tendons; the long deck was all legs in the air. Then leap-frog, around and around the deckhouse. The hatches went on and were battened. Tros listened to Conops.

"Master, I couldn't make that hilltop. There's a village, full of dogs and robbers—not enough of us to force a landing, and a surf that would have capsized us as sure as that the Gauls can't swim. But there's a high rock on yon promontory, with a bit of cove on the far side, so I swam ashore in the cove, and there's a good view, but I couldn't see the quinquiremes, on account of the hill between me and them. It looks, though, by the set of the sea, as if they've luck and might be worse off. If the wind doesn't back any more to the eastward they can probably ride it out where they are, if their cables hold. That liburnian that went scouting has put back in a hurry; she's running from thirty or forty sail of Cilician pirates. They look to me like River Cydnus slavers."

Tros could already see the pirates. They could see him. If they should try to run past him into Salamis, that would give him the weather gauge; he could turn and pursue. Ahiram, as usual, offered advice. His promotion was due to Cleopatra's having sent Tros's Northmen to forced labor. Someday the giant Sigurdsen might escape, of be set free. It was a good idea to prove, in better Greek than Sigurdsen could use, that Phoenician wisdom was at least as good as Baltic pugnacity.

"They can't go about," said Ahiram. "They'd swamp. Some spy has told them of the corn fleet. There's little those fellows' spies don't signal to them. They'll have had word that the Egyptian warships went to Tyre or Sidon, and no more than two Roman biremes in Salamis. We can run. There'll be a fair lee to the westward. Too late to put back into Salamis now. We had only a fathom under our keel, as it was, when we crossed the bar. If we did get in, they'd follow and give us a bad fight. They carry Greek fire, those gentry. With the port side upper oarbank we could bring her across the wind and run westward."

Tros stared at him a moment and then spoke to the helmsman. He was not in the habit of spoiling officers by arguing. He gave his orders and Ahiram went to the deck in a hurry. There were plenty of men at the sheets and braces, but it was quite a trick to trim those reefed and straining sails, as Tros hauled closer to the gusty wind to gain sea-room. He had to beckon two extra men to help the helmsman, and Conops unlashed the spare steering-oar, in case the strength of three men should break the other.

There were several miles of raging sea between Tros and the nearest pirate vessel. He could count four-and-thirty sail that staggered before the wind in far better formation than any Roman fleet could have held in such weather—felucca-rigged, two-masted, shoal-draft and rather beamy vessels, dark with men. It looked as if they carried enough armed men to spare prize-crews for every ship of the corn fleet. Their flagship, a larger vessel than the others, plunged in the lead by a cable's length. She began signalling with arrangements of shields, painted in different colors.

Ahiram returned to the poop. "Dirty weather for a battle," he remarked. "We can't use the catapults. If we go close and manhandle the stink-balls into them they'll smash our oars and grapple. Greek fire's bad stuff—as bad as our stuff."

Tros made no answer. It was not his idea of generalship to offer battle unless he thought he could win, and could gain his objective by winning. Cilician pirates were crafty and determined seamen, accustomed to fleet formation and unused to giving or receiving quarter. Their largest vessel was hardly more than a third of the size of his own, but even only three or four of them would be a dangerous foe to engage at close quarters.

On the other hand, he had no intention of leaving the corn fleet at the pirates' mercy. They were capable of raping Salamis; such fleets had done that more than once, carrying off all the marketable men and women for sale in the Delos market. But in spite of their light draft and good seamanship they would find it difficult to enter Salamis with such a tremendous sea over the bar. They certainly could not do it without passing Tros to windward. Should they try to pass between him and the land he could overwhelm them one by one with arrow-fire and drive them ashore on the thundering beach.

Could they pass him to windward? They appeared to think not. Half of them changed helm slightly, heading up toward Tros, but that might be merely a strategic move to discover his intentions. If so, it was bad strategy. If they proposed to offer battle, they should have headed much more to windward, even at some risk of swamping, in order to come down on him with the advantage of full sails, speed and the ability to use whichever helm they pleased. But they discovered, several minutes too late, that Tros, even with three-reefed courses, had a weather helm. His would be the weather gauge, to seaward of them, before they could come within arrow range. That left them two alternatives: they could either enter the bay downwind and face those Roman quinquiremes, or 'bout helm and run for shelter in some harbor on the northern or western coast of Cyprus. Would they tackle the Roman squadron?

Tros gave no hint of his own intention. With his lee rail almost awash,' the greater part of his crew, sprawling in the shelter of the weather bulwark, were out of the pirates' sight. The paulins had been replaced over the arrow-engines to protect them from spray and bullying squalls of rain. The keenest eyes could not have guessed he was ready for battle. On the other hand, neither could Tros see, he could only guess what the Romans were doing, whereas the pirates could see the Romans. They all changed helm again, as if they thought Tros wished to pass astern of them and avoid an encounter. But it might mean that the Roman squadron was in dire difficulties and an easy prey. And if the pirates had recognized Tros's trireme, they would count on his not coming to the Romans' aid. His hatred of Rome was notorious; pirates and temple priests knew more than statesmen about who was who. Whatever the pirates' motive, their change of helm gave Tros plenty of time and full chance to avoid them if he pleased. He put the time to use, while Ahiram took charge of the helm and drove the trireme, little by little, more and more to windward.

"Conops, go into my cabin. Remember your manners. Lend the Princess Arsinoe one of my cloaks, present my compliments, and ask her to come to the quarter-deck. Lend her a hand if she hasn't sea-legs."

Conops's one eye popped with astonishment, but he knew better than to hesitate, he was gone in three strides and a vault. Tros ordered a series of luffs, which cost time that he could well spare, increasing the pirates' confidence that he meant to avoid them. He wanted them all to leeward; after that he could make up his mind what to do. Meanwhile, Arsinoe.

She needed no help from Conops. She had slapped his face for daring to touch her. He was rubbing his Cheek pretending it hurt, in order to let Tros know what had happened. Sea-legs she had, but not sea manners. She came up the ladder easily and scandalized Ahiram and the helmsmen by hauling herself along the rail to Tros's windward and clinging there, facing him, holding the mizzen preventer backstay, as if she were the captain and he her lieutenant.

She looked, in rather loosely fitting armor, like a mischievous Amazon. Her long hair was coiled in a leather cap beneath the crestless helmet that made her face look boyish and excitingly handsome. With her back to the wind she let the borrowed cloak fly open, revealing the chain mail, sword-belt and Damascus sword in a crimson scabbard. Naked legs. The same gilded sandals, already ruined by the spray. An impudently shortened Coan himation of almost transparent linen, barely to her knees.

"How do I look?" she demanded. "There is no mirror in your ogre's den, though I perceive you have two beds, so I suppose a woman is not so rare in your life as you like to pretend. Of course you dislike women, if you give them no means to make themselves presentable! I wager, if you paid women half the thought you squander on your ship, you would become as great a gallant as you area seaman! Am I right, is it rough or is this nothing to mention? Are we near the Romans? Where are they?"

He strode to the rail beside her, staring at the pirates, directing her gaze with his right arm.

"Are they Romans?" she asked. "All that many? They run?"

"That is a fleet of Cilician pirates. Look at me, Princess. Look straight into my eyes."

She looked, unflinching. She was more interested in him than in anything else, at that moment, on land or sea, and at no pains to conceal it.

"The truth!" Tros commanded, as if he were speaking to one of his own decurions. "The whole truth! By my right arm, if you lie now, I will treat you as I would a drab from the Delos slave-mart!"

She threw her head back and laughed. "Heracies! Unused to women? I would tell you all the truth twice over for the half of that threat! Now you look like a man! I feared you were a sort of hermit, growing barnacles instead of lice!"

"Speak, girl! Did you expect those pirates?"

She nodded, grew suddenly serious. The desperate, searching look returned to her eyes; the cat-like Ptolemy stare, inscrutable, alert. She spoke boldly, as if armor gave her reassurance.

"Lord Tros, I tired of being shuttlecock. I have been batted to and fro between that dog Serapion and Cinyras of Paphos. Cinyras is the throneless king, turned high priest, whom you kept out of your cabin. Each of them was trying to sell me to the highest bidder. I defied Serapion, and he treated me like a prisoner. He sent secret messengers to offer me to Herod, planning to make Herod King of Egypt—two foxes, eating a goose before they have it caught—two schemers who mistrust each other and who haven't a drachma between them. Cinyras, the high priest, has the tribute money, that has not been paid to Rome since Caesar's death. It is stored in the vaults of the temple of Aphrodite. Plenty of money. He thinks that if he saves it to send to Rome as soon as he can guess the winner of the civil war, Rome will reward him by giving him back the throne that Cato took away. So I went to Cinyras, by night, in peril. I claimed sanctuary. Cinyras was glad to give it; he hates Serapion. But he is afraid for the treasure; afraid to spend it; afraid that Serapion's unpaid troops may come and plunder the temple before some Roman comes to demand the arrears of tribute. So I was no better off, though I tried to persuade him to pay the troops and let them slay Serapion. Sanctuary? I was a prisoner, in the hands of a mumbling coward. And I learned that the loving sister who usurped my throne had sent a priest from Alexandria to have me poisoned."

"Were you told that by Lars Tarquinius?" Tros asked her. "If one could believe what Romans say, your sister has tried to poison the entire senate. They will be saying next that she poisoned the daggers that killed Caesar."

Arsinoe's lip curled. "You don't know my loving sister. You only think you know her. She tried to have me poisoned in Rome, when you befriended me and Caesar didn't have me beheaded after his triumph. After being dragged through Rome in chains I was too tired and careless to understand. But a few days later, when I did understand, I pretended you wanted me, and I begged Caesar to keep you away from me. I did that out of gratitude, to keep Caesar from suspecting you and I were in a plot of some sort. And Caesar laughed, as I knew he would laugh."

That was news to Tros. So the girl had a sense of gratitude? Or was she lying? He glanced at her sharply. She continued:

"But I am foam-born. Aphrodite is my spiritual mother. Always wise thoughts come to me, even at the last minute. Always friends appear from among my enemies. I have friends among the priests. One of them conveyed a message for me to the pirate-king Anchises of Tarsus. Yonder is Anchises's fleet! A man of action! How should I have known that you were coming, to be my captain and my right arm?"

Tros scowled to keep himself from laughing; she was a wonderful mixture of sense and nonsense, optimism and romance. He watched the pirate fleet, until more than half of them were out of sight, and even the scattered vessels that brought up the rear were too close to the mouth of the bay to have turned back and headed seaward. Then suddenly:

"What did you offer Anchises?"

"The temple treasure. I told him how poorly defended it is."

"What did you ask him to do for you?"

"I said I wished to go to Cassius or Brutus."

Then Tros did laugh. "Do you know Brutus? A mealymouthed hypocrite! Do you know Cassius? A wolf! Do you know Anchises? A clever robber, who would have had you and the treasure also! Anchises has held more men and women to ransom than even his father Philon did, until old Ahenobarbus, this man's father, cornered Philon and crucified him. Anchises would know what to do with a young queen!"

"I would rather take my chance with Anchises," she answered, "than be any longer the dupe of that dog Serapion, who will die on a dung-heap. I think Anchises would have delivered me to Cassius or Brutus, in exchange for their calling him king, not pirate. Cassius, I happen to know, would like to see me on the throne of Egypt again, for the sake of the corn and money I could send him. However now at any rate Anchises will avenge his father's death. He has caught the son of the man who crucified his father. He will thank me for it."

"Did you expect Ahenobarbus?"

"No. But I learned of his coming. Cinyras and Serapion both expected him, each trying to keep it secret from the other, so as to be first to greet him. Ahenobarbus took refuge from the storm in that bay yonder. That, too, was supposed to be a secret, but a priest brought me the news. One of Ahenobarbus's ships went aground. He stayed there to get her off. But he sent a messenger overland to bid them have the tribute money ready."

"What made you say he has declared for Brutus?"

"He is Brutus's wife's uncle. He has been condemned by the senate as a conspirator. There was nothing else for him to do but to join Brutus. He will take the tribute money to Brutus, who badly needs it for the army that he is raising to oppose Octavian, or Antony, or both of them—no one seems to know which."

"And the corn?"

"He will deliver that also to Brutus. Armies devour like locusts. But now Anchises will make an end of Ahenobarbus and will get both the corn and the money. Brutus's army will famish. That means anarchy—legions looking for a leader who can feed them! What will you do? Why not aid Anchises? Lord Captain Tros," Her eyes grew brilliant with almost Cleopatra's strength of gaze. Her voice thrilled with the passion to seize, and to have, and to hold, "if you should aid Anchises to destroy Ahenobarbus, he would aid you to seize Salamis! Bargain with him for half the treasure! Pay Serapion's mutinous troops! They are my troops, but he turned them against me. Crucify Serapion! Behead that old coward Cinyras! Then I will be truly Queen of Cyprus! Let the Romans wage their war on one another! You and I will gather a fleet of pirates and unite with Sextus Pompeius. I hear Sextus is in league with pirates from the coasts of Africa, Spain and Gaul. They say he is brave and a man of his word. He has seized the Balearics. He is raiding Sicily. Help sextus until all the Roman factions succumb from sheer exhaustion! And then Egypt! My Egypt! Berenice's fate for the usurper!"

Tros stared. He was not squeamish. Magnanimity was rare. But Berenice, who usurped her father's throne, had not died, when her father brought his throne back, in a way that a crucified slave might reasonably envy. He was wondering what poison lay within the craving to be a monarch, that could set sisters against each other and make them hate each other worse than they hated their country's enemies. He misjudged, but so did she. She thought him more than half-persuaded, and he thought her guided more by malice than ambition. Swiftly she disillusioned him:

"Lord Captain Tros, be King of Egypt! I will be the mother of your son! He shall be greater than the greatest Pharoah Egypt ever knew! Greater than Alexander!"

What was in him, he wondered, that Ptolemy women saw only his command of force, but not his hugely greater command of restraint? He loathed the very name of Alexander, whom he thought of as a maniac lusting for glory. Did this young girl imagine that her beauty was enough to turn his head? To change self-respect into self-seeking?

Arsinoe let go the preventer backstay to clutch her sword-hilt. School-girl heroics? A thundering wave that burst on the ship's beam sent her sprawling down the sloping deck. Conops spluttered with emotion as his master's right arm caught, encircled her and bore her back to the weather bulwark. She clung but Tros thrust her away, and when she had clutched the rigging again he turned on Conops:

"Where's your trumpet? Fetch it! Sound 'Stand to battle stations!'"

It was Conops's privilege to sound that call, on a golden trumpet, fashioned like a conch-shell; it had belonged to Nearchos, Alexander's admiral; it was kept in a kind of shrine in Conops's quarters, never to be touched by any other hand than his, nor ever to be used except when Tros committed all hands to an issue with death.

He could see around the headland now. The sun broke between clouds to reveal the foam-encircled bay. He could see the pirate vessels wallowing almost beam-to-beam in massed assault, down-wind under full sail, against the anchored quinquiremes. The four liburnians, under oars but almost unmanageable against sea and wind, were surrounded; one was already grappled and repelling boarders. The grounded quinquireme was hardly visible through bursting surf that had bullied her on to the sand beyond all hope of recovery. The twang of the Romans' ballistae and the scream of their missiles could be heard even up-wind through the thunder of the sea.

Conops returned to the quarter-deck and blew the "Stand to battle stations."

"Ease all sheets, Ahiram! Hard a-lee!"

Off came the paulins; shields on men's arms replaced them to protect the twisted gut bow-strings from spray. Conops—Jack-of-all-jobs—chief of staff without the title—one eye as keen as twenty—leaped from the poop to rouse the station captains and to make sure that the fire-gangs had their wet sand well distributed and ready.

Then—a sure sign that Tros meant to fight to a finish—as the trireme came around and rolled to the following sea under three-reefed courses:

"Ahiram! Full sail! Double-man the sheets and halyards! Cut the reef-knots!"

Speed—muscle—discipline. They had to haul to the rhythm of bursting waves that hove the trireme's stern and spilled wind—roaring the Ionian chantey of how Xerxes flogged the sea for daring to destroy his bridge of ships. The ten Jews, grinning, swaying to the trireme's roll, lined up ready to protect Tros with their shields from a hail of arrows. Conops returned with six men to protect the helmsmen. Tros's steward, at the head of five men, charged into the cabin to fit and man the bows of British yew that could shoot, through the narrow openings, straight into the oar-ports of a ship alongside.

Ahiram returned to the quarter-deck. Then Conops. Arsinoe handed herself along the rail to Tros's side. He ignored her, beyond noticing that Conops had brought two Nubians, who belonged to the lower oar-bank, to protect her with their shields.

"Ahiram!"

"Lord Captain?"

"There's one chance for those Romans. We might hit them if we used the catapults. We'll have to make a Roman's battle of it. I intend to crash that fleet of pirates. When we hit, let go everything and put the helm hard over. Conops!"

"Master?"

"Get forward and have your anchor ready. Stand by to let go when we bring her about."

Tros beckoned a messenger, one of five who had taken their appointed battle station on the roof of the steward's cabin.

"Uncrank catapults, and have the hand-slings ready. Warn them there's the lower oar-bank for the crew that wastes one fireball! They may sling at a half-oar's length, no sooner."

Then Arsinoe, astonished: "You will fight against the pirates? You fight Anchises?"

"Aye."

"Anchises—"

"Would he pay for the corn?"

"You huckster!"

Tros laughed. He glanced at the ten Jews. "You shall see how a man keeps bargains. Your first battle?"

She nodded. "My sister borrowed Herod's army, and led it against mine, before Caesar came; but I was too young then. I have seen riots, and a skirmish, but this is my first battle."

"You are likely also seeing faith kept for the first time."

"True," she answered. "I have never seen that. Are you keeping a promise? Pledge your faith to me, Lord Captain, and I care not whom you battle with—nay, to the ends of the earth I care not!"

He stared. She laughed. He half-believed her. But her eyes reminded him of Cleopatra.

"Does a Ptolemy woman know what faith is?"

"No," she answered. "But she knows good manners."

Tros glanced at her. He liked her. "I will give you a chance," he said, "to show what you are, rather than what you think you are."

Suddenly his voice blared down-wind like a battle trumpet:

"All archers! All arrow-engines! Fire on pirate vessels as they come in range! Wait for the word from station captains! All fire on the uproll! Ready!"

More than a hundred polished shields flashed upward. There was a rower armed with sword and shield, to protect each marksman. The remainder crouched against the bulwarks.

But first blood fell to Ahenobarbus; a net-full of quartz rocks from his citadel catapult struck the mainsail, brained an archer and scattered, doing no more damage.

Tros growled. "Boar of a blundering Roman, you shall rue that!"


CHAPTER VII
"Battle stations! All hands!"


During these years, it would be safe to say a thousand men—aye, more—have died obedient to me, devoting valor to a cause they did not understand. But do I understand? I doubt it, because understanding grows in endless progress, day after day revealing yesterday's mistakes.

Those men were slaves and prisoners of war whom I had freed. I gave them discipline, justice, livelihood and leadership. I gave masterless rogues a master. I compelled them to be proud of me and to oblige me to be proud of them.

Though they died, and I live; and though I live because they died obedient to me, my thought is, that they died well. They were men incapable of self-respect until I led them, out from grossness that they too well understood, into the service of an ideal.

I led them. The responsibility is mine. But, be the Lords of Life my witnesses, I led. We were comrades-in-arms. I did not send them leaderless to meet death that I dared not face.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


In a tumult of waves and colliding hulls, amid a shriek of missiles, imprecations, shouted orders, trumpet blasts and the thunder of pirates' sails let go to wallow on the roaring wind, Tros guided his ship to the left of the pirate fleet until he had them all between him and the Romans. Then he swerved, took the wind on his counter and went headlong at them, with every stitch of canvas straining and every arrow-engine, every archer filling the air with a screaming hail of arrows. Passing between two vessels, smashing their oars to splinters, he struck a third one beam on as she tried to come about to face him.

Cries of crushed and lacerated pirate oarsmen pierced the uproar. The collision threw half of Tros's crew off their feet. Full sail, groaning spars and thrumming sheets, crowded the bucking trireme onward, over the smaller vessel, rolling her under the waves—careened, smashed, crimson wreckage. Leaden fire-balls, one from either bow, leaped from the four-manned slings and thumped into the reeling ships alongside. Their frantic, flogged rowers, at the unsmashed oars on the outer sides, labored to force their vessels inward against the trireme, in order to grapple and board. The fire-balls burst; the pirates' holds became infernos of stenching smoke and fire. They fell away, down-wind, crashing into other vessels.

Tros put the helm hard over. Ahiram's men let go all sheets and braces. Blocks thundered on the deck. There was a havoc of flogging sails aloft and cordage that whipped through the ranks. It slew men, hurled them overside. It wrenched one arrow-engine from its base. But the masts and spars held. There was even a chance that Ahiram's crew could save the sails; they volleyed like Great Jove's thunder as the pitching trireme came around and rolled beam to the wind, crashing into pirates to leeward. Bow-strings twanged. The air shrieked with arrows, thrummed with javelins. Conops, watching for Tros's signal, let go the anchor. The new flax hawser tightened like a bow-string. It held. The trireme came head to the wind within catapult range of the surf on the lee shore. Conops brought ten archers forward to protect the hawser and then made the huge spare anchor ready.

After that the quarter-deck was Ahiram's. It was Tros's job to fight his trireme. He fought her from the roof of the midship deckhouse, where his voice reached fore and aft and he could see all hands, all arrow-engines and all the moves of the enemy. The pirates' hail of arrows curved and quarreled in the gale; hurrying ship's boys wrenched them from the deck, and from the sides of superstructures, to replenish the arrow-baskets. Tros, in mail and gleaming helmet, was a fair mark for the pirates' bowmen. The Jews' shields caught showers of arrows, flicking them aside as their bronze tips struck the curving metal surface. Deflected arrows were a greater danger to the men near-by than straight shots.

There was no chance for the pirates to run, in the teeth of that Levanter. At least a third of them had grappled the three liburnians and were drifting, at death-grips, shoreward amid waves that ground and battered them together as the sea shoaled and waves grew steeper. Such survivors as there might be were awaited on the beach by Roman survivors from the grounded quinquireme that was already breaking up in the surf, and by villagers armed with clubs, and by ferocious dogs. Half Cyprus appeared to be lining the beach, to plunder drowned men's bodies and snatch salvage from the surf.

Ten pirate vessels came about magnificently, under oars—a miracle of seamanship. Three had chopped their masts adrift, but the remainder had managed to lower their curving yards and stow sails. Two of them, one from either side, made a drive at Tros's hawser; they were met by Conops's marksmen with a withering independent fire, aimed at the rowers, and by screaming volleys from two arrow-engines that swept their helmsmen overside.

The other wing of the pirate fleet, under their leader Anchises, had worked in under the slaughtering fire of the quinquireme's ballistae. They had grappled a quinquireme. The Romans were throwing fire into them. Three of the pirate ships burst into flame; their crews swarmed up the Roman's side to protect the grapnel chains and make good the bite of the spikes in the Roman's decks—a Roman's battle. The quinquireme caught fire from the burning pirate vessels.

Then Anchises, in his long red ship, rowed windward under locked shields, in a hail of javelins and arrows. He cut the quinquireme's cable. She rolled shoreward, beam-on, bearing down on the burning pirate vessels, her side in flames, her deck a shambles, doomed. Anchises signalled to his squadron to follow him to the assault on the other quinquireme, Ahenobarbus's flagship, that appeared to be having the best of a hot fight. The pirates scatted to avoid the ill-aimed rocks and clay pots full of iron darts from the quinquireme's ballistae, and then double-manned the oars to get inside the range and under the trajectory of arrow-engines. Tros spared them a dozen volleys, but he was too hotly engaged to observe what happened to Ahenobarbus.

To have slipped cable would have meant freedom to manoeuvre under oars, but the pirates gave him no time to man the upper oar-bank, even if he had dared to risk Greek fire being thrown through the opened hatch. The pirates crashed alongside to port and starboard like killer-sharks after a whale. They caught the leaden fire-balls in sail-cloth, cloaks, nets, anything whatever that served to dump them overside. They drove javelins and daggers into the ship's side to serve as scaling ladders, made a tortoise with shields, threw grapnels aboard, swarmed up by the grapnel-chains, knives in their teeth, protected by master-bowmen on the decks beneath them, gaining the deck in dozens.

Time and again Tros leaped to the port or starboard deck to hurl himself into a melee. He and his ten Jews, in a flying wedge, struck like a steel-shod avalanche wherever the pirates gained a foothold, until the swaying deck was a shambles, slippery with blood, littered with bodies of dead and dying that rolled and slid to and fro. The pirates, in broken groups, were hewn down or driven overside. A last charge, the full length of the deck from stern to bow, with thirty of Tros's armed oarsmen hard at the heels of the flying wedge, brought two or three score crowded Greeks and Syrians to bay with their backs to Conops and his archers. Merciless, grim, breath to breath dagger and sword work—and a yell from Ahiram's men "Ship a-fire"—a frantic clangor of cymbals and roar of the skidding sandcars—"Fire out!"—then the arrow-engines, raking the decks of the pirate vessels as they slipped grapnels and drifted downwind.

Forward by the capstan, sweating, with a dent in his helmet and blood on his armor, swaying to the plunge of the trireme, Tros grinned at Conops, who was wiping his knife on a rag he had torn from a dead man's clothing.

"Master, what we needed then was Northmen!"

Suddenly he gawked—stared.

Tros faced about. Arsinoe, fire-eyed, panting, with her sword gone and blood on her dagger, laughed at him from the midst of the wedge. She was blood-splashed, her helmet awry. She had thrown away her sandals. Beautiful feet she had—legs like Diana's.

Tros liked her better. He knew no reason why a girl, who claimed to rule a third of Alexander's realm, should avoid the ordeal of battle. But he made no comment. There were matters of more importance; he considered those. Ahiram's crew had wrought their miracle of brawn and discipline and seamanship. They had lowered the spars. They had stowed the sails, in the midst of all that tumult. They were stripping the dead and wounded pirates and pitching them overside.

Tros's steward brought wine in a silver jug and reported all well with the cabin archers. Tros drank from the jug, not listening intently to the steward's boast of having shot nine pirates through the starboard port. He gave the jug next to Conops. Then to the Jews. Last to Arsinoe. She could have the last swallow or leave it. She drank, and then tossed the jug overside:

"Lest a coward should ever use it!" she remarked. Young stuff. Tros like it. However, Cleopatra very likely would have done the same thing.

Ahiram shouted from the quarter-deck. He sent a messenger full-pelt for orders; he was gesturing with both arms, like a man rowing; he wanted the upper oar-bank double-manned, to come up on the anchor and gain sea-room to windward. But there was no time.

"Battle stations! All hands!"

Conops's golden trumpet blared its signal. Even the men who were dragging the wounded to the surgeon's tar-pot hurried back to their posts. The ship's boys scurried away with the goatskin wine-bags. There were eighty men short at the bulwarks. Tros left eight Jews under Conops's orders. With the other two he returned to the roof of the midship deckhouse, and Arsinoe followed with one shield-bearer; the other was dead.

There was a pause—a kind of supernatural hush. The howl of the storm and the thump of waves against the trireme's bow became unnatural silence, as if gods attended. Anchises, beaten away from the quinquireme, two of his ships burned and two sunk by the Roman's dolphins, with his choice between a lee shore and a last, desperate feat of arms, re-formed what was left of his squadron and signalled the vessels that Tros had beaten off. Some of them were trying to thrash to sea; others had anchored to ride the gale and rest exhausted rowers. They rallied to Anchises's summons, gathered astern of the trireme and approached, plunging in two lines ahead, rowing like titans, the leading ships protected by a barbette of locked shields.

Tros sent thirty more archers to the quarter-deck to be under Ahiram's orders. Only two of his arrow-engines could be brought to bear astern, and of those one had been wrecked by the flying rigging. Ahenobarbus's balistae could have raked the pirates' broadside. They were just within the Roman's range; a proportion of shots could hardly have failed to hit that sprawling target. But the Roman did nothing. If he awaited Tros's signal for help, he wasted guess-work.

Arsinoe laughed in Tros's ear: "After you have slain my friends the pirates, will you do me the favor to teach your Roman friend a lesson?"

He spared her a grin. He had seen smoke—no need to wish the Romans any worse luck! He watched his own midship arrow-engines taking instant advantage of any swerve in the pirates' line, strode to the men at the after-catapults and warned them to be frugal with the few remaining fire-balls, climbed to the quarter-deck and clapped Ahiram between the shoulder-blades.

"Good comrade!"

"We should have used the oars," said Ahiram.

Tros stared astern at the oncoming pirates. True, he might have made open sea and comparative safety under oars in the teeth of the gale. Might have. It was too late now. The pirates' archers on the leading ships already were getting the range; their arrows fell spent on the deck, but in another minute they would come in screaming dozens that would test helmets and armor. It was clear the pirates meant to grapple the trireme's stern. They would be slaughtered like rats, but some of them would man-handle the flukes of their anchors through the cabin ports. Then the plunging vessels could lie lashed together, to be abandoned, to smash one another and sink. Anchises meant to win the trireme or perish. Tros ordered the catapult crews to bring their slings and fire-balls to the quarter-deck; he put them, too, under Ahiram's orders.

Then, with the exception of the crews who manned the arrow-engines, and their guards, he divided his remaining men and sent a full third of them to the bow under Conops's command.

The remainder he formed up in a solid mass, all forward of the mainmast, leaving the space between them and the quarter-deck to tempt Anchises. Lacking his beloved Northmen, he had no hope of keeping the pirates off the trireme. Even now, after all their losses, they outnumbered him two, perhaps three to one.

They were desperate, well led, well armed, with certain death behind them, and with exhausted oarsmen they could not possibly escape into the storm. They had to win or perish. If they should anchor out of range, they would be catapulted out of existence as soon as the storm died. They were probably short of water, and of food too. If they should make for the shore they would be wrecked in the raging surf, and butchered on the beach if they could swim.

They probably had Greek fire; it was one of the pirates' secrets. If so, they would use it unless they should see a chance to seize the trireme. They appeared to have used it on Ahenobarbus's quinquireme; her lower deck was ablaze, but the Romans, with nothing else to occupy them, had got the fire in control and were smothering it with wet sand. To fight Greek fire and pirates simultaneously would be an almost hopeless feat of arms; but they would hardly be likely to try to burn what they believed they might capture and put to their own use.

So Tros had made the stern impregnable and left the ship's waist apparently unprotected. Most of the men crouched below the bulwarks. He and a group of archers were in full view on the midship deckhouse, and the bow was crowded, but the waist of the ship was the jaws of a trap. There was another anchor ready to let go, in case Anchises should struggle to windward and cut the hawser; but the pirates' rowers were spent; they were rowing to whip, slaves, some of them chained to the benches; they were bucketing, missing badly, laboring with the last of their strength against wind and sea. Anchises, leading on his long red slaver, saw the unprotected bulwarks, signalled his fleet and came on, flogging his floundered rowers until their oars smashed against the trireme and the heavy grapnel, swung by its chain from the slaver's spar, crashed override and bit the trireme's deck. It bit deep. It weighed a quarter of a ton; its chain was as thick as a man's wrist.

Fire-balls lobbed into the ships astern. A hail of arrows swept the pirates' decks; they hardly answered it, hauling along the counter under locked shields, two of them afire, their crews leaping from ship to ship; the burned ships, cut adrift to save the others, wallowed down-wind, their fettered, frantic rowers writhing in the smoke as they struggled to break free. Two vessels, caught by a mountainous wave as they changed helm, crashed and broke like egg-shells. Four fire-balls missed and fell harmless between colliding hulls, but a fifth found its mark down the hatch of the middle one of three vessels that were grappled together, made fast by one warp to the chain of Anchises's grapnel. All three crews abandoned ship, many of them drowning, some crushed between the crashing hulls, others shot down by the trireme's archers. About half of them reached Anchises's crowded deck. He blew a trumpet-blast. It was answered from the far side, and then came the assault, from both sides of the trireme simultaneously. On the starboard side Anchises led—a six-foot Hercules, in Roman armor, with a Parthian scimitar, protected by two Scythians with studded shields. The pirate leader on the port side was a Greek, who fell dead on the deck, shot as he turned to encourage his men.

Rain, and a tempest squall of wind—a heaving deck—thunder—lightning—hordes of well-armed pirates swarming overside—and then Tros's bull-lunged order:

"Charge! Clear the main deck!"

He beckoned Conops. The pirate vessels were fast alongside and astern; there was no need now to guard the ship's bow with more than an anchor-watch of a dozen men. Over the top of the superstructures, with the Jews behind him, and a third of the trireme's crew behind them, Conops came like the heart of the storm. Tros leaped into the melee, the Jews hard after him. He slipped, staggered, fell on the heaving wet deck, but the flying wedge split the pirate ranks and in a second he was roofed by ten shields, hedged by ten swords, hauled out backward and helped to his feet by Conops.

"All right, master?"

"Aye. Clear away their grapnel. Cut their ships adrift."

"Aye, aye, master!"

Tros sought Anchises. There was hardly room in the crowded waist to lunge and parry. He had seen Anchises try to storm the quarter-deck and fall back on the heads of his men. Then he vanished, but there was small doubt what he was trying to do. The sheer weight of his men behind him would be likely to burst the cabin door and overwhelm the steward and his fellow-archers. He would do all the possible damage he could before the now inevitable end. If he could fire the cabin he would do that.

There was an archer, up beside Arsinoe on the top of the midship deckhouse, sending arrow after arrow down the passage in front of the door. Tros sent a Jew to command him to cease fire. Then he charged at the head of the flying wedge, through a shambles, dead and dying cluttering the deck, the pirates slashing at their opponents' faces and Tros's men putting to use the less spectacular, more deadly swordsmanship that he had drilled into them as part of the ship's discipline, the day's work, the efficiency that gave them freedom of the sea.

Half of the pirates, under locked shields, climbing on each other, stormed the quarter-deck, but they were hurled back by Ahiram's men. On the port side, under a leader with gold the archers on the deckhouse. They clambered along outside the earrings and raven hair, some fifty of them tried to fight their way forward. They leaped to the shrouds and were shot down by bulwarks and were chopped by javelins. They charged along the blood-set deck and fell before Tros's veterans. Each decurion and ten was a unit, taught to fight as a unit, but the pirates relied on sheer ferocity and paid for it—four, five, six for the drilled men's one.

On the starboard deck seamen and rowers, bully-damned by Conops and protected by whoever could get near enough, were rigging a purchase on the pirates' grapnel. Presently, above the clash of arms, the thunder, the roar of the storm and the cries of wounded, came Conops's triumphant brass-lunged bellow:

"All clear! They're adrift!"

The weight of Anchises's long ship, loosed and careened to a beam sea, hurled by a mountainous wave against the ships astern, broke chains and tore their grapnels from the oaken woodwork. Ship crashed ship. Ahiram's men broke loose the port side grapnels. Swamping, colliding, foundering. Anchises's whole fleet rolled shoreward.

Then the pirates cried quarter, and Tros let them have it, being minded that some of them might make good replacements on the lower oar-bench; and he had seen another problem—a big one that brooked little delay. A few pirates, expecting to be crucified, jumped overboard in their armor, preferring to drown, but the others threw down their arms Tros glanced at the Roman quinquireme. He had to be quick.

However, first Anchises. Unwounded, unwearied, his scimitar unnicked, unbloodied, his gait a kind of bear-like crouch, he came forth from the shelter of the stewards' lean-to, glaring, his chin on the edge of his shield, his eyes like black opals. Every archer on the trireme drew bow at him, but Tros roared "Hold!" and the bow-strings eased. Anchises was a king by his own reckoning, a bold adventurer by any standard. He had his rights, or at least his privilege.

"Do you yield?" Tros asked.

Anchises spat. He surveyed the carnage. He eyed Tros. In an unexpectedly cultured voice he answered:

"Do I meet Lord Tros of Samothrace?"

"If you make haste yes, Anchises."

Arsinoe leaped to the deck and stood near Tros, unnoticed; she was pushed aside by seamen who were stripping pirates' bodies and heaving them overboard, dead or wounded. Conops, with his long knife flickering, came and shoved the Jews back in a line, to give Tros sword-room. He ordered corpses moved, yelled for a sand-box, spilled it and scattered the sand on the slippery deck. Ahiram shouted from the quarter-deck:

"The Roman's anchor drags, Lord Captain!"

Tros already knew that. Anchises had the privilege to die by duel before Ahenobarbus might claim any favors. The crew roared as Tros strode to the midst of the deck and rutched his sandals on the spread sand. Conops, bent-kneed, crouching behind him in front of the fascinated Jews, stuttered advice:

"He's all edge, master! Watch for his back-hand upper-cut! Give him the point, and keep your shield low! He'll slash at your face! When he does that, step in with a belly-ripper!"

"Keep away, little man! No interference!"

Suddenly Anchises moved. He approached like a bear, swaying, stalking toward the starboard hand to get the rain out of his eyes. There came a terrific roll of thunder—forked lightning—Anchises leaped at Tros as if he were the lightning's rider—down the rolling deck, up-slashing with the scimitar. It glanced off Tros's shield and he reeled backward with Tros's point at his mid-riff, splitting the chain mail.

"Blood! First blood!" yelled Conops.

Tros had to wait for the roll of the ship; it gave Anchises time to recover and resume his crouch. Conops yelled a warning as the deck hove down to starboard and Tros lunged with the whole of his strength and weight. The pirate side-stepped, toward Tros's right, turned the point on his shield and loosed a whistling slice back-handed, upward—by the half of a lightning-flash too late. It slid off Tros's armored shoulder—nicked his helmet. Tros faced the rain and went in after him, forcing him back on his heels toward the Jews, who had to be beaten back by Conops. They were yelling, frantic, gesturing the gladiator strokes that Tros should make. Sword and scimitar flashed, clashed, clangored like sledge on anvil. Tros's shield beat Anchises's face and sent him reeling down-deck, Tros after him—over him, timing his lunge to the trireme's roll. The pirate fell, slid, rolled into the scupper and, catching the roll again, scrambled free—on his feet in a second, but off-balance. Tros's point struck him between the throat and chin. He fell dead. The crew roared. The Jews danced and sang a song about a man named Jeshua who made the sun stand still and slew a hundred thousand. Conops pounced to strip Anchises's armor, as Tros's booty, before some thieving seaman would steal the gold from the buckles and clasps.

Ahiram shouted from the quarter-deck again:

"Good sword, Lord Captain! But the Roman drags! Two anchors down! He drags fast!"

Then Arsinoe: "Lord Captain Tros—"

"You may have your dead pirate," he answered. "Give him a grave in Salamis and carve there: 'he obeyed a royal summons!'"

She had to clutch Tros's arm to keep her balance on the swaying deck. Rain streamed from their helmets. Her drenched, flimsy himation clung to her naked legs, and her disheveled, wet hair blew against Tros's armor as he faced the rain and shouted. She could not have heard, had he spoken with less vehemence:

"Now, next, we deal with Ahenobarbus!"

"Let him wreck!" she answered.

He roared to Conops: "Bid the steward clear his crew out of the cabin!" Then, to Arsinoe: "I am a huckster, not a monarch!"

"You will sell me to Ahenobarbus?"

He laughed. He pointed to the cabin. She refused to enter it. Shivering from cold, bedraggled, but brave she let go his arm, dismissed him with a gesture and then followed him to the quarter-deck, where a seaman found her cloak and wrapped it around her.


CHAPTER VIII
Gnaeus Ahenobarbus


No victory is won until its purpose is attained. Its purpose should be to prevent what was bad from becoming worse.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Mutiny. The battle-weary rowers refused to man the upper oar-bank. They knew what that work meant, with the ship pitching and rolling on breaking waves. They demanded wine. Tros gave it to them, with the wine of his wrath to follow—fist-work, belaying pins, knotted ropes' ends. With his Jews behind him, but his sword sheathed, he charged at the sulkiest groups and flung the strongest, the most vociferous the least tractable, heads over heels down the opened hatch. Conops worked with his knife-hilt. The decurions took courage and became aware of which side they were on. Two Gauls, who drew their weapons at Tros, were knocked senseless and lashed to the mast, for later punishment in case their brains had survived the beating.

The bards were hauled out from the deckhouse surgery by the scruffs of their necks, kicked below and told to be obscenely merry if they loved their hides and bellies. The port covers came off. The waves swished in. But the long upper oars, manned double, went out on the tholes. The wild harps, thrummed and there began the oar-beat chorus about how sailors worship Aphrodite Kallipygos—her of the Olympian buttocks—a heartening song, as full of home truths as there are hairs on a woman's head and dockside revelries in seamen's history.

Then a greater art than war, a greater miracle than love. Seamanship! Mastery—absolute courage—skill beyond the heart or competence of common mortals—godly, superb, unsung, incomparable stuff, for which sins are forgiven. Man's will, for man's purpose, imposed upon winds and waves that know no fear, law, judgment, tolerance nor mercy.

Up-anchor, a broken capstan and the taut flax cable walked in, with the deck awash as the trireme buried her bow and shipped it green. A half-hour's struggle, man relieving man at the blistering, bruising, bucking white-ash oars. A punctured goatskin full of whale oil, shot on a line from a forward catapult to slick down the breakers—a slick that spread down-wind and eased the Romans' oar-work; they, too, had manned their upper sweeps to ease the strain on the dragging anchors, but the wallowing, top-heavy quinquireme bullied her cables and rolled her oar-ports under, nearer, each roll, to the beach where the pirate and liburnian hulls lay smashed in the hammering surf and two more quinquiremes, keels upward, rose and fell amid bursting breakers.

Thunder and lightning. Torrents of icy rain that made high noon a dim gray gloaming. Two scraps of sail for the aid of the laboring helmsmen, set by Ahiram's trusties in the teeth of a squall that blew the stinging spindrift mainmast high. Fathom upon fathom made good, diagonally, crabwise, until the quinquireme wallowed directly astern at last and, at a signal from Tros's upflung right arm, Conops let go the bower anchor. It held. The thick flax hawser held.

There was magic of helm and storm-sail then, manoevering for position, until Conops let go the second anchor. Then at last the cymbals clanged "Rest oars!" The after starboard catapult shot a bag full of sand down-wind on a line to the quinquireme. It killed a man, but the Romans bent on their hawser; that was walked aboard, and for a while both ships lay plunging to Tros's trireme's anchors. The Romans ignored his signals. He had to shoot them another sand-bag, with a written message, threatening to cut them adrift. After that they hauled up on their own anchors, labored by oar up-wind, let go again close to the trireme's stern, and eased away.

For a night, and a day, and the following night the trireme rode out the storm, with an after-watch ready with axes to chop through the Roman's hawser in case the forward watch should signal that the anchors dragged, or that the chafing anchor-cables looked like parting in the strain. Tros spent hours with the wounded, advising this and that gruesome surgery. He ordered the dead laid in the lower hold, beneath one of the purple sails, because a seaman craves shore burial and seemly ceremonies for his bones. He attended to the exemplary flogging of some mutineers, studied the battle damage, promoted men to replace dead decurions, fettered the captured pirates in the gloom of the lower oar-deck to acquire a yearning for the good opinion of their fellow-men; slept, when he did sleep, in a hammock in the midship deckhouse, and avoided Arsinoe although he sent her plenty of water, and was interested that she washed her own himation.

When the rain ceased, Arsinoe appeared clean, on the quarterdeck, in one of Tros's best cloaks and still wearing armor, but without the helmet, drying her hair in the wind. She made no attempt to speak to Tros. She ate her meals alone in the cabin. Tros gave her a bodyguard—six men, in three watches of two; but she ignored them, though she did acknowledge Tros's and all the afterguard's salute when she came to the quarter-deck, coming and going whenever she pleased, gazing at the storm, the land, the plunging quinquireme.

"She is dangerous," said Conops. "Master, mark my word: a silent woman is worse than a lee shore, a tempest, the scurvy, short rations and bad water, a foul anchor, a leaky hull, mutiny—and a mystery added to that! The only good ones are the shrews that let you know what they're thinking about! It's always mischief! Did you see her use that dagger? I did. A pirate struck her sword up—out of her hand—but she daggered him sweet as a skewered kabob—through the liver—not the first man she has killed, I'll wager! I'd as lief trust a Cretan pilot!"

"Aye," Tros answered. "Little man, you're a wizard at reading women. I am warned. I will be careful."

The Levanter died the second midnight, and the following dawn broke splendid on the hills of Cyprus. Tros was on the quarter-deck before daylight to smell the weather and judge the weight of the ground-swell. So he saw a boat leave the quinquireme and waited for the young cockerel in a plumed helmet who stepped from the stern-sheets, clambered aboard and came up the steps to the quarter-deck without saluting. He did make a sort of gesture to Tros with his right hand.

"Are you the ship's captain? Admiral Ahenobarbus bids you let go our hawser."

Tros eyed him, signing to Conops to keep still.

"Tell your admiral Ahenobarbus he may come and see me or take the consequences."

"He is at breakfast."

"I will give him exactly six times as long as it took them to row you from ship to ship."

"Bold talk from a pirate!"

"Battle stations!"

Conops's golden trumpet blared. There was a clangor of arms and a thunder of bare feet. Paulins came off, as the whip-crack-voiced decurions marshalled their men. The great catapult weights went climbing, and Ahiram's seamen sent the yards up, with the sails brailed, ready to be sheeted down in an instant. The red-plumed cockerel in the equestrian cloak went overside without ceremony and his boat's crew did a good job of rowing, for panicky slaves. Very soon indeed Ahenobarbus put his ten-oared barge into the water. He was followed into it by two officers-splashes of splendor against the quinquireme's black freeboard. Ahenobarbus was wearing a general's cloak and a helmet that shone in the morning sun.

A veteran. He was hardly more than Tros's age, but a veteran—an old-style republican Roman, with bad teeth. At sea he had let his beard grow; it was prematurely gray, but his slave had trained it neatly. Gray eyebrows. Deep-sunk eyes, as gray and flinty as ever old Cato's were. He climbed aboard with dignity and stood still, expecting a salute from the entire ship's company. He received none, having neglected himself to salute the quarter-deck. Ahenobarbus would not have saluted a king who didn't first salute the majesty of Roman arms. He stood staring about him. From behind him on his left hand, Lars Tarquinius watched Tros with the eyes of a doubtfully daring jackal. He appeared to be wearing a borrowed helmet; it was a bit big for him, plumed like a tribune's. Less than half a pace behind Ahenobarbus, on his right hand, stood his flag-lieutenant, pock-marked, short, square-shouldered, with a snub nose and eyes like agates, devoid of sentiment or humor—eyes that missed nothing. All three wore the short Roman sword and regulation military armor. Two paces behind them stood a Greek slave, a scribe, a shortsighted, elderly, almost bald Sicilian in a gray woolen smock, with a knitted shawl over his shoulders and a brass-bound box for his writing materials.

Arsinoe came from the cabin, dry-haired and tidy, with her sandals re-gilded by the armorer from Tros's store of gold-leaf that he kept for the serpent on the trireme's bow. The sudden clank as her bodyguard stood to attention startled the flag-lieutenant; he nudged Ahenobarbus, who glanced at her and then stared at Tros. Tros came down from the quarter-deck with Conops behind him. The ten Jews, lined up below the steps, saluted; Conops gestured to them; they followed Tros, who followed Arsinoe into the cabin. Conops approached Ahenobarbus with studied insolence, omitting the slightest gesture that might be mistaken for respect.

"This way, Romans. My master grants you personal protection."

He led the way to the cabin. Ahenobarbus, totally unruffled, unimpressed, too insolent to care to flatter Tros with the slightest display of pique or irritation, strode through the doorway, entered without greeting, and sat, with a clank of body-armor, uninvited, in the chair at Tros's left hand. Tros was already seated at the end of the table, facing forward; Arsinoe sat at his right hand; Ahenobarbus, facing her, stared at her without the slightest change of expression. She returned the stare, equally unembarrassed. She appeared amused. Conops stood behind Tros. The Jew were lined up, five on either side, with their backs to the bunks. There was no place for the flag-lieutenant and Tarquinius except a long chest that had been placed between the table and the door; Conops signed to them to be seated on that. The slave stood behind Ahenobarbus's chair.

Tros gave his helmet and sword to Conops, but Ahenobarbus ignored the hint; all three Romans sat covered.

"Who is this woman?" Ahenobarbus asked suddenly in a quarter-deck voice, harsh, authoritative. When he spoke he looked ready to fight.

"Has Lars Tarquinius not told you? I am the Queen of Cyprus."

"Are you this pirate's prisoner?"

"The nobleman whom you dare to call a pirate is Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace."

"So I have heard. I asked, are you his prisoner?"

"No. What is your business, Roman?"

"I command in these seas. I am here to demand the tribute, two years owing, and to take away the corn fleet, fifty ships, lying in Salamis harbor."

Not even her eyelids flickered. "By whose authority?"

"Marcus Junius Brutus, proconsul in Asia and general commanding the army of the senate and the Roman people."

He removed his helmet, revealing a close-cropped head of iron-gray. Arsinoe had impressed him. Tarquinius and the flag-lieutenant also removed their helmets. But Ahenobarbus seemed to think that concession enough; he growled at the slave, who produced a raw turnip from under his shawl. It had already been pared. Ahenobarbus bit it, carefully because it hurt his stumpy teeth.

"I was at breakfast," he remarked.

Arsinoe spoke with a changed voice and with scorn in her eyes:

"It would interest me just for once to meet a Roman whose first thought wasn't money! You say 'tribute.' How much? What if the Roman senate should ignore your presumption and demand a second payment?"

Ahenobarbus looked at her as if she were a slave for sale. He took another bite of turnip. Then, in a matter-of-fact voice:

"Your assent, young woman, is a mere formality. In the name of General Brutus I will issue a receipt in exchange for all the treasure that I know is in the vaults of the Temple of Aphrodite."

His slave whispered and passed him a slip of parchment. He handed it to Arsinoe.

"Lars Tarquinius has bestirred himself for once. Those are the figures."

Never a Ptolemy lived who cared for treasure out of reach. Arsinoe shrugged her shoulders.

"You agree?" asked Ahenobarbus. "Sign that—"

"In exchange for what?"

"For being Queen of Cyprus. I will answer for Serapion and Cinyras. If they have forgotten Cato's lesson they shall leant it again."

The slave leaned forward and pushed pen and ink toward her. She glanced at Tros, who looked straight before him.

"Shall I?" she asked.

"Princess," Tros answered, "I am neither King of Cyprus nor your legal advisor."

"You are a pirate," Ahenobarbus remarked.

Arsinoe signed, recklessly scrawling her name at the foot of the parchment. Promptly Tros produced a parchment of his own and thrust it in front of the Roman.

"Now you have money, Ahenobarbus! This—here—is the price of the corn, all reckoned, counting interest and charges until tomorrow noon. This other document is my authority to hand over corn against money."

Ahenobarbus stared. "That you sunk my biremes," he retorted when he had recovered his presence of mind, "gives you no authority to deal in contraband. Has the corn fleet any documents such as Romans recognize?"

Tros grinned broadly. "Would you rather recognize defeat, Ahenobarbus? Your biremes in Salamis harbor opened fire on me without notice. Were there any survivors?"

"Some," said Ahenobarbus.

"You, too, fired on me."

"I did. I didn't know you weren't Anchises's fellow-pirate. I may as well tell you, I have four hundred men on the beach. They are enough to keep you well occupied, if you should try to set a force ashore."

"Aye, and you have a half-burned quinquireme within bow-shot! That I saved you from Anchises doesn't make me much beholden to you," Tros retorted. "If you think otherwise, make haste to your ship, and clear for action! I will give you enough time to haul your anchors."

The Roman eyed him coolly: "I have always heard you are rashly magnanimous. Such conceits as giving your opponent time to make ready will be the end of you, one of these days. However, you have me at a disadvantage. My quinquireme isn't fit at the moment to fight. I will pay for the corn. General Brutus needs that more than money—at the moment."

"You agree to the figures?"

"Yes. I have no way to check them."

"Sign then."

Ahenobarbus scrawled his name at the foot of the parchment, adding the words, "legatus, S.P.Q.R." Then his stubborn face set in what might be a thin-lipped smile or might be malice:

"Tros, I offer you a commission from General Marcus Junius Brutus."

Tros smiled. "That assassin?"

"A noble Roman!"

"An ignoble parricide! A prig! Ahenobarbus, may the gods of ill-chance put your Brutus into Caesar's shoes. That would mean the end of Rome. Then there may be honorable living for such Romans as are worthy of it."

"Sententious nonsense—poetry! You talk like Brutus himself! Very well, you prefer your freedom to be caught—and crucified. You may have it. Should I ever catch you, I will crucify you. Lars Tarquinius!"

Tarquinius stood up with the glittering light of triumph in his eyes. Ahenobarbus spoke without even glancing at him:

"I have appointed Lars Tarquinius, equestrian, formerly of Gabinius's light cavalry, to be liaison officer between the court of Queen Arsinoe of Cyprus and the headquarters staff of General Brutus. He will supply the Queen with a bodyguard. I will leave with him a tribune, a centurion and one hundred men, for whom I have no room at present on my flagship. Have you any of the pirates?"

"Yes," said Tros.

"They should be crucified."

"I can put them to better use than crucifixion."

Ahenobarbus seemed to doubt that, but he let it pass. "I will give them the alternative," he said, "of enlistment with the Queen of Cyprus. Roman discipline—my tribune shall see to that—should do them good. They fought, I thought with vigor and considerable spirit. Will you hand them over in Salamis?"

"They shall have their choice," Tros answered. "That, or my lower oar-bench."

"I demand their surrender to me."

"You have heard my answer."

"Very well then. You precede me to Salamis? I will put Tarquinius ashore. He shall march with my wrecked marines to the city. A short march. He will be there long before we are. He will have authority from me to see that the temple treasure is conveyed to the jetty, where it shall be counted in the presence of witnesses and I will take your receipt for the treasure in exchange for the corn. There will be a balance; you may have that for saving my ship in the storm."

"You may have my lee!" Tros answered. "Give the balance of the money to the Princess."

"Very well. She may pay the troops I leave with her. About the corn fleet. The unfortunate disaster to my squadron leaves me with only one quinquireme to escort fifty ships, only as far as Tarsus, it is true, but in pirate-infested waters. Is it within your view of the bargain to keep me in sight as far as Tarsus?"

"On whose word?"

"My commission is from Marcus Junius Brutus."

"No."

"Deal with me then."

"Yes."

"You will bring up the rear?"

"I will ease sheets to the first fair wind within sight of the mouth of the Cydnus River."

"Good. My commission will continue to protect you until you are out of sight of land. You shall not be pursued from the Cydnus."

"Anything else?"

"No."

Tros stood. Ahenobarbus stood. The flag-lieutenant stood. Conops and the slave made faces at each other. Arsinoe laughed. It was Conops who broke the tension. He barked at the Jews:

"General—salute!"

The Jews clashed arms. Exactly simultaneously, Tros, Ahenobarbus and the flag-lieutenant exchanged gestures. Tarquinius was a bit late with his, he was hiding a smile. Then they all turned and saluted Arsinoe. She merely nodded, looking dark-eyed, leaning gracefully limp, in shadow, in the corner of the great oak chair. She remained in the cabin.

On deck, Tros gave Ahenobarbus all the compliment that any admiral could ask. But it was personal to him. The clang of shields—and the Roman knew it—was no acknowledgment of Rome's authority as mistress of the sea. The manned rail roared, but the word was "Tros! Tros!" Ahenobarbus actually smiled as he was rowed away. He even waved his hand in farewell.


CHAPTER IX
"I gave you leave to die in battle"


My worst mistakes were when I doubted my own judgment.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The Trireme, Tolling on the long-backed swell, was halfway to Salamis before Arsinoe came to the quarter-deck. Again she stood to windward of Tros with her back to the rail. She was no longer in armor. She looked feminine and meditative. Tros understood well enough that she would launch an assault at his self-command. He awaited it, wondering what tactic she had chosen. She surprised him.

"Huckster!" she said suddenly.

He grinned, not unfriendly. He was thinking of Esias and of his own fifth of all that money.

"You have sold a kingdom for some dirty lucre!"

"Girl, you err. I crave no kingdom. I pledged my word, and I have kept it."

"With a woman' With Charmion' You love that bitter-sweet virago with a flat breast?"

He laughed. "Princess, as your shrewdness perceives, I am a huckster. My love, such as it is, is in the market for the highest bidder. But the bids must be in terms of what I like, not what I need to have: what I admire, not what I can have for the mere taking. I might love you, if you had the oaken merit of that pig Ahenobarbus. Do you understand me? The world is full of women, to be had for a moment's frenzy, or a life of plump ease, or a war of wits and poisonings and treachery and the gods know what else. But the mother of my sons shall be a woman, whom I neither doubt nor need to question. I shall know her when I find her."

"Do you think you know me?"

"Partly. I shall know you better when I have seen your hand on Cyprus. Only a little kingdom. Mine is only a ship, but I am master of it."

He glanced astern at the wallowing quinquireme, wondering why such a staunch man as Ahenobarbus should ally himself to such a waverer as Brutus. Ahenobarbus, like Tros, was a man of his word, and that meant he was competent to judge other men's characters. Were Octavian and Antony even worse impostors than Brutus and Cassius, that such a sturdy sea-dog should have turned his back on Rome and have thrown in his lot with Caesar's murderers?

Arsinoe interrupted that train of thought:

"So now; what? To whom will you next sell your bravery? To Sextus Pompeius?"

He laughed. "Sextus Pompeius should suit you. He is a gallant youngster, who perhaps will set his heel on Rome's neck. As for me, I have different aims."

"Money? Or do you hunger for Cleopatra's kisses?"

"What shape is the world?" he answered.

"Round. Did you suppose I didn't know that?"

His leonine eyes studied hers. "I supposed you are as ignorant as the people who tutor kings arid queens. You talk of being foam-born, with a goddess mother."

It was her turn to laugh. "How should I have known you are a skeptic? A slave taught me. Who taught you?"

"My father Perseus was a Prince of Samothrace," he answered. "I was not initiated."

"Why not?"

"Because the teachings I had at my father's knee inflamed me with a passion for deeds, not meditation."

"Nevertheless, you are a thinker." She watched him with glowing eyes and parted lips. "When will you sail around the world?"

"I have first to keep faith with my men."

"These men? Do you mean you let them tie you up with stipulations?"

"It is I who stipulate and command, on my ship. But Egypt, your sister, has imprisoned my Northmen. In a country called Britain—"

"I have heard of Britain. Wasn't Caesar defeated in Britain?"

"Yes, twice. I had a hand in it. It was after Caesar's first invasion that I caught some Vikings raiding up a river called the Thames. They gave Caswallon the King and me a tough battle, but we defeated them. All the prisoners were mine, including women, but I had to beat their leader to his knees before he would surrender. A giant named Sigurdsen. He had been a king in his own land. He became my friend. I took his young sister to wife. He and his men helped me to build this trireme. Sigurdsen became my first lieutenant. He and his men have been my good foul-weather comrades-in-arms. Do you suppose I would let them rot in Egypt's labor-gangs, and sail away to please my vanity?"

She dismissed the Northmen without a gesture. "But the young wife?"

"Helma died in Gaul, from one of Caesar's arrows." Sympathy didn't even flicker on the surface of Arsinoe's expression.

"So you took another woman?"

"I have found none to whom I cared to pledge myself in honorable love."

"You love boys?"

"That I hold unmanly."

He turned away. Samothracian mystic though he was, it never pleased him to reveal, even to intimates, the inward consciousness of spiritual law that guided all his conduct. Least of all did he choose to expose it to a woman's mockery. He stared at the hills of Cyprus, and at the weird cream-colored foam that boiled off-shore. He ordered a boat away, with Conops to pilot the clumsy quinquireme—a patronizing courtesy that he knew Ahenobarbus would resentfully accept. It would rankle. He laughed. There were few things he loved better than to prick Roman conceit.

Then he sent the leadsman to the chains and concentrated all his attention on the course between the shoals that guarded Salamis. He said not another word to Arsinoe until the quinquireme, too was at anchor, half a bow-shot distant, and the captains of the corn fleet lowered little boats to come and learn whose prey they were. He took a long look at the harbor-front, and at the burned biremes stranded on a shoal, before he stared again at Arsinoe with a gaze that thrilled her, though he didn't intend that it should.

"I gave you my leave," he said, "to die in battle, since it seemed to me you were in danger of a much less honorable death."

"Lord Tros, I wished that. But I find I don't die tamely, like a butchered sheep. I fight, when there is anything to fight with—or to fight for."

"So I see. But for what did you fight?"

"To walk earth with a man!" Her expression was almost the same as when she threw the silver pitcher overboard. "Oh, if you but knew how I am weary of these palace pimps, treacherous he-prostitutes, sellers of their little leprous souls! Liars, ingrates, greedy cowards, so in love with vice they think a decent man a pervert! I am thrown among them, and what can I do?"

"It is your little kingdom." he answered. "Rule it."

"Mine? Me? My kingdom? Between poison and a dagger—between sale to the Athens whorehouse agents or the pirate fleets that raid when it pleases them—I have two slave-girls, of whom I trust one and not always doubt the other."

"Now you will have a Roman bodyguard," he answered. "And I will choose for you two score of the pirate prisoners. They are likely to be more dependable than Romans, if you have the right stuff in you. There is something in the Romans' character that makes them feel humiliated if they obey a woman."

"Ah, but you are a man! Caesar wasn't half the man that you are!"

"Are you a whipped girl, crying for your nurse's gods to come and punish your enemies?"

"Tros! Seize Cyprus!"

He didn't answer. It seemed less cruel than to arouse hope by explaining again. She might consider argument an invitation to be winsome, and he didn't wish that, he liked her too well.

The corn boat captains came, and were obsequiously grateful for Ahenobarbus's promise of full pay and arrears in Tarsus. The destination was all one to them. It was not their corn. They were not their ships. It would be nothing new in their experience if the Roman should break his promise; but no pay would be better than the fate that pirates might impose.

Soon Tarquinius came and reported failure, full of lies about how diplomatic he had been. But the point was that Cinyras and the temple priests had refused to surrender the treasure. He hadn't dared to attempt to storm the temple gates with such a small force, in the face of indignant hundreds. A big mob had appeared from nowhere and had stoned the hungry marines, who were already badly discouraged by the shipwreck and the long march.

Ahenobarbus set ashore two hundred men, and led them himself to the temple, where he threatened to behead Cinyras. Before nightfall he was in possession of the treasure and the priests, including Cinyras, were his prisoners awaiting imposition of merciless fines as soon as Ahenobaru's spies could discover how much money they had hidden.

But Tarquinius and Serapion struck up something that resembled friendship, and the oily rogue Serapion came to Tros's ship and knelt to Arsinoe, kissing her hands. He begged pardon, promised good behavior, tried to excuse his former conduct by asserting, and bringing witnesses to prove it, that he had made Arsinoe a virtual prisoner in her palace to protect her from the plots that her own rashness had encouraged. He placed his hands between Tros's knees and swore undying gratitude if Tros would not deprive him of his office. Tros, who had no vestige of authority to do anything of the kind, would have removed him to Alexandria for Cleopatra to deal with, because in theory. Serapion was Cleopatra's agent. But Ahenobarbus, who had at least a commission from Brutus and the legend S.P.Q.R. on his standard, upheld Serapion, remarking that Tarquinius would keep an eye on him.

Arsinoe remained on Tros's trireme even when he went ashore to bury his dead in a cave on the bank of the River Bocarus. More to annoy Ahenobarbus than for any reason, he demanded a Roman officer, fifty Roman marines and a standard to accompany the funeral cortege and to honor the dead with a final salute.

"A Roman standard—Roman arms to salute dead pirates?"

"Seamen. They died to save you lubbers. Recognition of their seamanship and valor may humiliate, it won't discredit you."

Ahenobarbus sent a hundred men; and he was liberal, too, about wine and provisions for Tros's ship, which he requisitioned in Brutus's name and paid for with the fines that he imposed on Cinyras, and from the balance of the temple treasure after he had settled with Tros for the corn. But he made all the trouble he could about the pirate prisoners and bitterly resented Tros's selection of two dozen of them to be Arsinoe's personal bodyguard.

"She will be well enough guarded by the men I will leave with her."

But Tros had his way, and it was Tros who had the last word with the pirates, after he and Conops had made the cautious final selection:

"You will guard her with your lives, and you will obey no one but her. You have been chosen because you are men of spirit, likely to prefer an honourable death to shameful profit. You are my men, lent to her, responsible to me; and when I come again to Cyprus I will properly reward your faithful duty."

It was Tros who escorted Arsinoe to her palace—the building from which she had escaped when Serapion set guards at all the entrances to keep her a virtual prisoner at his disposal. It was Tros who dismissed the swarm of servants and engaged others, not that he had any confidence in new ones, but because they couldn't be worse than the others, and perhaps might be a little better. Most of them were slaves, but in the short time at his disposal it was next to impossible to discover who owned them; there appeared to be a contract system for supplying servants, and it was as secret as the methods of the Delos and Athens slaves, whose agents were everywhere, spying, bribing, intriguing. It appeared that Serapion knew all those agents, or nearly all, and many of them knew Tarquinius.

The last night before leaving Salamis, when the treasure was on board and all was ready to weigh at daybreak to escort Ahenobarbus and the corn fleet as far as Tarsus, Tros visited the palace. He and Arsinoe talked by moonlight on the wide stone gallery, where she showed him the branch of the tree by which she had escaped from Serapion's clutches. It had been a daring jump. Not many men would have dared it.

"Girl," he advised her, as they sat together with a shaded lamp between them, "if a kingdom is what you crave, remember this: it can't be yours until you learn those arts your sister Cleopatra better understands than you. She has suffered less than you, thus far, in a great arena, because she knows how to feed the mice and put the elephants to work. She discovers what strong men want, and keeps them wanting it."

"You hate her?"

"No, I admire anyone who can outwit me. Probably she hates me. It would be natural. When Caesar died, she offered me Caesar's place. I refused. She has compelled me, one way or another, to do Caesar's tasks without the recompense—if what Caesar had was recompense."

"Why did you refuse?"

"Because I have no use for Caesar's laurels or his leavings. I haven't Caesar's cynical way with women. I crave no kingdom. I will sail around the world as soon as I can find my Northmen."

"Oh, if I were Boidion!"

"Who is Boidion?"

"No one. Just a bastard sister—my age, born almost on the same day. Boidion's mother was sent to Jerusalem, by friends, I suppose, to save the child from being poisoned: So Boidion hasn't been taught she is a princess. She hasn't felt what it means to be Queen. She hasn't even tasted failure. She isn't surrounded by needy courtiers with wet lips, who steal her pocket-money and try to seduce her while they poison one another for the chance to sell her, imitation crown and all, to any rascal who can out-cheat them with stolen money."

"I have heard Cleopatra say the same thing." Tros answered. "Only she didn't mention Boidion."

"If I were only Boidion," she went on, "I would love a man, and be should love me, and together we would turn our backs on all this filth."

"If you should love a man," Tros answered, "how should he know it? If he should love you, how should you know it? That is something kings and queens have it hard to determine. But the world is crowded full of men and women who ask nothing better than to be parasites. The mother of my sons will be neither queen nor bastard. I will know her by her deeds, not by her appeals to a kind of avarice that, if I have it, I despise nevertheless."

He wished she didn't look so like Cleopatra. She was much taller and more beautiful, but there was the same stealthy reserve in her eyes. It might mask cunning. Or it might be the baffled courage of a girl whose pride had been too often and too severely punished. He remembered how brave she had been, and with what dignity she had endured, barefooted and half-naked, the dreadful march through Rome at Caesar's chariot-tail. He wished he understood women better, so that he might judge her, but he knew he didn't understand them; so he bade her farewell gruffly, rather than be guilty of suggesting more than he meant.

"You will return?"

"Aye, I have promised the pirates."

"But you promise me nothing?"

He thought a moment. "No. But, if you wish, you may make me a promise."

"And if I do? And if I keep it?"

"Then I shall understand you better."

"What is this promise?"

"Rule. Or get out."

He hardly heard her answer; he remembered it afterwards. He kissed her hands and left her, growling a final admonition to the pirates on guard at the door. But to Tarquinius, who came to the moonlit harbor-front to bid him farewell, he was more explicit:

"You Etruscan scoundrel. I perceive a virtue in you that I better like than some men's good repute. Mark this: protect that girl, and you may offend her, treat her treacherously, and I will put you to a dog's death, even if I have to hunt you to the earth's ends."

"If you see my virtue, hire me," Tarquinius answered. "Do you think I live on promises and threats?"

Tros gave him some money.

"Is this an advance of wages?"

"It is a gift. If you want wages, earn them."

"Do you think I sell my good will for such a price as this?" Tros laughed gruffly. "I am buying nothing. I have made you a threat and a promise. You shall find they hold good." Tarquinius saluted.

Tros was rowed to the trireme, where until daylight he paced the quarter-deck. Each time he turned and he stared at a hillside balcony framed amid shadowy trees, where a shaded lamp burned blood-red.


CHAPTER X
"Aye, a fine May morning!"


The great Lord Taliesan the Druid warned me of what I knew already but too often ignored—aye, and still do when the waves of destiny uplift me for a moment. Taliesan said it thrice: Expect not gratitude from rulers whom your efforts serve. Rather they are likely to demand more, blaming you for not enough and taking credit to themselves for what you did. I have never met a man as wise as Taliesan.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


There was no disguising the trireme's injuries. The dead had been so many that the lower oar-bank could no longer be manned. There were smashed bulwarks, hastily repaired but unpainted. There were scars where the pirate ships had grappled and ground the trireme's flanks. The purple sails, bent on for effect (there was no wind) emphasized the battle-havoc. The victorious trireme appeared to be limping home from ignominious defeat—an unfortunate impression to create in Alexandria. The Alexandrines loved successful people and proofs of success.

Tros glowered as he paced his quarter-deck and studied the magnificent harbor-front. It was as busy as ever. One might imagine there were no such people as Romans, at civil war with one another for the right to plunder the whole known world. Ahiram said something about the splendor of the marble buildings in the morning sun. Tros stared at him a moment, glanced at the helmsman, and then answered with cold, passionate anger that made the Phoenician flinch:

"Aye, a fine May morning. Counting wounded who are fit to die, we have lost one hundred and eleven men. And to what good purpose?"

Ahiram sniffed the off-shore zephyr that bore the mingled smell of flowers, spices, vegetables, animals and men. It was good in his salty nostrils. He retorted:

"You've your cabin stuffed with chests of gold enough to buy one of yon palaces. If I were you, I'd buy a palace, instead of wanting to sail around the world. Maybe the world isn't round. You only think it is. You don't know. And the sea is a hard life. Courtiers have it easy. Three special cooks to stew a sow's teats for your breakfast, and a brace of wenches to relacquer your toenails every time you kick a blackamoor for being late with the wine! Wenches—wenches! Think of it—the pick of the world's best lookers any time you want 'em!"

It was nothing new that the Phoenician's thoughts should run in that vein after a month at sea. It had been a long, hard pull from Tarsus, half a month too early for the northerly summer breeze. The helmsman's thoughts also were home-coming seamanly eager. Tros rebuked him:

"Eyes on the course, you Argive satyr!"

Every man who could find an excuse to be on deck, or who could escape a decurion's vigilance, was leaning overside to stare at the Rhakotis wharf, where the bawds were waiting, strumpet-gay in all the colors of the rainbow. Defeat or victory were all one to those parasites, so be the crew had money. Ahiram, thinking of shore-leave, tried to change his commander's humor. Tros was quite capable of withholding the crews' wages, and Ahiram's too, for the sake of wharf-side morality. Dreadful thought.

"And the Queen? She should be feeling good," said Ahiram.

"She has seen our sails since daybreak," Tros answered. "She rises early—stands naked, facing east, at sunrise. By pigeon post from Salamis to Tyre, and thence by runner, she will have had secret information of our victory at sea—aye, and of more besides."

"She should be pleased," said Ahiram. "Her own fleet had deserted to the Romans. We've saved Salamis from pirates. We've out-smarted the Romans. We've sold the Egyptian corn and got paid for it. We've established Queen Cleopatra's sister as safe as a peg in a hole on the throne of Cyprus. The Queen has had plenty of time to hear all about it. She'll be pleased to see us—aye, and generous."

Tros stared. It amazed him that a man could be so simpleminded. "Does your Sidonian intellect perceive the evidences of her pleasure? Where are the garlanded boats to bring us greeting? Not even a signal from the Pharos! Not even the hog-eyed harbor-master in his galley! Not even Esias's boat! Phagh! She has probably warned Jew-Esias I am out of favor. The more you do for kings and queens, the less they trust you and the more they want."

"Like whores," said Ahiram. "But you're no easy one yourself, Lord Captain. True, you pay well, and you're a man of your word. But the price a man pays for serving you well is to be given an even harder task."

"Hard over! Ease your sheets now; there might come a flurry of wind. Down haul, and stow sails.—Cymbals!—Starboard, half ahead!—Port side, half astern!—Easy Starboard, half ahead!—Easy!"

Tros guided the trireme, to the clash of the signalling cymbals, and with gestures to the helmsman, through the narrow entrance of the inner harbor of Rhakotis, where there were docks and repair-yards, hemmed in by offices, lumberyards, storage-sheds and taverns in a spider-web maze of irregular streets.

He was going to have to haul out, and no bones about it. The trireme leaked. She had been damaged under-water by the headlong, full sail impact against pirates' hulls. Esias's largest hauling-out dock was vacant, so he put a crew ashore to warp the ship into it, with Jack-of-all-jobs Conops and the ten-Jew bodyguard to beat the women back and give the crew a chance to handle the lines. There were fifty belly-naked strumpets screaming with laughter and feigning Bacchanalian frenzy, and another hundred swarming across the roof of Esais's office, while their owners watched them through the barred gate.

No sign of the one man in Alexandria on whom Tros felt he could rely. The temple gongs were clanging for some festival or other, but that was no reason why Esias should be conspicuously absent. Jews didn't 'recognize pagan festivals if they could help it, but there was not even one of Esias's partners on the wharf to do the honors and to give the last breathless news of what had happened while Tros was at sea out of touch with events.

It was impossible to keep the crew any longer aboard. From Cyprus by way of Tarsus to Alexandria, short of provisions and water, had been a severe strain on discipline. Tros had an unfashionable objection to cutting the throats of wounded men, so one of Esias's sheds would have to be turned into a hospital; and the Osirian priests, who were pretty good doctors, would have to be sent for and suitably persuaded with gifts of young black bulls and money. The trireme's doctor, assisted by the bards, had done his best, but he was overworked and short of bandages; and besides, he, too, had his eye on the women.

The moment the oars were all stowed in the overhead racks the rowers swarmed on deck, each man with his little bag of personal possessions. The women began to swarm aboard, and there was no stopping them until Tros made it known that there would be no pay for the crew until the trireme had been hauled out and stripped ready for Esias's shipwrights. Ahead, leading between city slums, there was a ramp made of balks of timber, with enormous capstans at the upper end. There were cranes, sheer-legs, workshops, everything for repairing, building or rebuilding four ships at a time, but all the gear would have to go ashore before repairs could commence. The women began to lose enthusiasm. The crew clamored to be put to work and get it done with.

Tros went ashore. He strode into Esias's gloomy office with the air of a man looking for trouble, as if more of it might help him to conquer what he had already. There were plenty of slaves at the long drafting tables, plenty of clerks to bow and be obsequious, but no Esias and not even a partner. There was an atmosphere of unspoken unwelcome, if not ill will, slaves taking their cue from displeased masters. However, a slave in a brown smock, walking backward, opened a door and admitted Tros into an inner office, shutting the door behind him with a peculiar, stealthy movement that suggested a trap.

Hillel, the man whom Tros least liked of Esias's five partners, sat staring across a table that was piled with scrolls. He was a middle-aged man with a keen face and a pronounced stoop from the shoulders, whose hands clutched invisible things with nervous indecision.

"Lord. Captain Tros," he said, without rising, "you were better off at sea! You have brought your ship into a harbor full of intrigues of which no man can foresee the outcome."

"Where is my friend Esias?"

"He was summoned to the palace as soon as your ship was sighted. There is no word from him since. I think the Queen suspects him of intriguing with you. Lord Captain—if he is in the dungeon—being tortured—as his friend, are you not willing to spare his old bones by making haste to tell the Queen your secrets? He won't tell them. He will never tell without your permission."

"You are inventing alarms," Tros answered.

"Am I? It is said that you sold the corn fleet to the Romans."

"I did. I have the money."

"Lord Tros, there is a plot that has been discovered. They are taking many important people to the dungeons. It is being said you have conspired with the Romans to overthrow Queen Cleopatra, and to put her sister Arsinoe of Cyprus on the throne in her stead! Have you her with you on the trireme?"

Tros laughed, angrily. "Am I a madman? Arsinoe is in Cyprus. The money for Esias's corn is in my cabin. Send your slaves to carry it here and get it counted. Give me a receipt and credit me with my fifth of it ail. Get the pay-roll from my clerk. Pay the crew half their wages, after they have hauled out. Has Esias sold my pearls?"

"He sold them to the Queen."

"For a fair price?"

"An incredible price. But let him tell you, if they haven't flayed him to death! The Queen has the pearls. We have the money. But where is Esias?"

"I will see the Queen and ask her."

"Lord Tros, you were better at sea! You were better at sea! The Queen may order your arrest. She is afraid. She is a Ptolemy. A fearful Ptolemy is a deadlier menace to her friends than a poisonous serpent! She suspects everyone."

"Of what?"

"Of conspiring to kill her and put her sister Arsinoe on the throne. There is a rumor that Arsinoe is on her way to Egypt. It is said that the Roman proconsul Cassius is sending an army to her aid from Syria. It is being said that you plotted it, and that Esias knows. It is said it was you who persuaded the Egyptian war fleet to desert to Cassius, that there might be no fleet in Alexandria to resist invasion. And Esias—"

"Is not a fool such as you are, Hillel. Neither is the Queen such a fool that she would risk the enmity of all the Jews in Alexandria by torturing Esias—nor such a fool as to believe Arsinoe could land in Egypt in advance of a Roman army and escape death. You are full of rumors and they belly-ache you, Hillel. I go to the palace. Order me a litter and summon the master-shipwrights. Have them grease the ways thoroughly before they haul out. Can you rid the wharf of those wenches?"

"Lord Captain Tros, at least a third of them are spies expressly sent to learn from your men what you were doing in Cyprus, in Tarsus and elsewhere. I ordered the wharf-gate locked. They came over the roof. I ordered them driven away, and I received a warning, from no other than the personal slave of the chief of police, not to interfere with the rights of the whore-masters' guild."

"Clear me a shed for a hospital."

"Lord Tros, send your wounded to a temple."

"Nay. Let them lie in comfort."

"As for the trireme, frankly, I would not dare to—"

Tros interrupted. "This, Hillel, is a list of the repairs that I know need doing. Check that and write me an estimate. But as for what needs doing below water, we shall know when she is hauled out, so summon the shipwrights."

"Lord Tros—"

"I believe you heard me, Hillel. Attend to it. Order a litter—a good one."

Hillel shrugged his shoulders and sent a slave for a hired litter. Tros overheard the command.

"I will ride in a private litter," he remarked, casually, as if he were ordering the next course of a meal, but his leonine eyes looked dangerous and Hillel noticed it.

"Lord Captain Tros, you are out of favor. Who is there who would dare to lend his private litter? In such times as these, when no one knows who is to be accused next, who shall lend his litter and liveried bearers to a man denounced as a pirate?"

"Who denounced me?"

"One of the Queen's ministers."

Tros threw back his shoulders. He astonished even Hillel, who knew better than to expect mild measures from the man whom Cleopatra had employed to do what not one of her own commanders could have been trusted, or would have dared to attempt.

"Send your best-dressed slave to the palace to say that Lord Captain Tros awaits a litter to convey him to an audience with the Queen."

"Lord Captain, what if she sends a guard instead, to take you to the dungeon!"

Tros snorted. "She is not a coward. She is not a reptile, nor a whore, nor a born fool. She and I have been friends too many years for her to put me to that indignity, on the strength of a mere rumor."

"Lord Tros, dozens of her friends are in the dungeons!"

"Send for the royal litter!"

He strode out of the office and watched Esias's slaves remove the treasure from the cabin—watched the wounded being laid on the wharf in a dismal row—watched the grease being laid on the ramp—ordered all the gear and even the arrow-engines unshipped—foresaw and attended to a hundred details—until at last, to the confusion of Hillel, a litter did come from the palace, borne by eight men in Queen Cleopatra's livery and preceded by a eunuch who was insolent and elegant enough to be the Queen's own usher.

There was no bodyguard provided. That was the only suggestion that Tros might be in disfavor. But he was in no mood to go unsuitably attended. He summoned his ten ex-gladiators. They looked splendid enough in their polished armor to be anyone's escort; but Conops, with his one eye and his slit lip, in a kilt and a tasseled red cap, looked not so praiseworthy.

"Tidy yourself, you filthy dock-rat! Where's your armor? Stick that knife inside your shirt and gird a sword on. Try to look less like an ape that fell into a sewer. Shall I go through the streets of Alexandria ashamed of the commander of my escort? Spruce yourself!"

"Aye, aye, master."

"And remember not to touch your forelock to the Queen's guards! Be insolent."

"Aye, aye."

"Lord Tros," said Hillel, "armed slaves? Armed slaves in the city? It is known that those Jews are slaves and that Esias gave them to you."

"I know the law," Tros answered.

"So do the police!" said Hillel. "Those arrogant dogs—"

"Shall bite a bad bone! Be assured of it, Hillel!"

Conops sent one of the Jews to bring his armor. He made another Jew spit-and-polish an imagined rust-spot. Even the armor could not make him look less bow-legged, nor give him height, but he looked at least businesslike in the gleaming crestless helmet, and there was no doubt at all of his grip on his ten men.

"Fall in, you sons of Abraham! Five of you to each side of the litter! Now then, pick your heels up! March like gladiators! Clank like one man!—Ready, master!—Lord Captain's escort, by the centre, forward, quick march! Left! Left! Left! You're out of step, Josephus—do you think it's a dance you're doing for the dock-side wenches? Left! Left!"

The dock gate opened wide and Tros went forth, to he knew not, and Conops cared not, what fate.


CHAPTER XI
"Give these men their freedom"


A menace and a threat are not the same thing. Perception of the difference between them is the key to successful strategy. A menace is genuine danger, sometimes almost imperceptible, with which it is impossible to compromise. It must be recognized, understood, faced, overcome.

Threats are of three kinds: fair warning; calculated to prevent another's indiscretion; efforts to unmask another's intention; signs of fear pretending to be bold.

But threats may be the cunning mask of menace. They should be studied.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The eunuch got lost in the crowd. He was so full of his own importance that he walked straight ahead with his nose in the air, and when a polyglot swarm of loafers rushed from watching some street-corner acrobats to the more exciting spectacle of a tavern fight between Greeks and Gabinian ex-soldiers, some of them still in the rags of Roman uniform, the eunuch remained ignorant for several minutes that he was no longer being followed by his cortege.

Tros commanded. Conops rose to the occasion. The litter-bearers protested, but the ten Jews prodded them as if they were asses. In a moment the litter was going at a dog-trot up a side street, taking a devious but comparatively unobstructed course toward the splendid municipal building—not, however, toward the front entrance, whose marble steps were packed with people waiting to see a religious procession. Being a festival day, the courts and the principal municipal offices were closed. The whole long marble-fronted, colonnaded Street of Canopus running east and west the full length of the city was a mass of spectators in holiday mood, through which the chariots of exquisites were being driven headlong by charioteers who enjoyed being cursed and whose owners could afford to be fined if the police could get near enough to take their names.

It was a dinning, ululating, pulsing city, full of street lights and laughter and flowers, with the wealth all in view and the poverty kept where it belonged, out of sight in the meaner byways. Nothing—absolutely nothing was allowed to interfere with Alexandrine gaiety. Even business—and it cost money to be gay and splendid—ceased while the Alexandrines played. But from sunrise to sunset, three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, one could pay taxes; so there was one office, entered from the rear of the municipal building, whose doors never closed during daylight hours.

Two or three hundred yards away from the door of that office Conops collected the Jews' swords and piled them beside Tros in the litter. He even piled their helmets in the litter to complete their air of innocence. In armor, without helmets or weapons, they looked ridiculous and they were jeered by the crowd. But they reached the office door without having to use their fists on anyone except the litter-bearers, who felt like lost sheep without their eunuch and suspected, too, that they were being put to unlawful purpose and would be whipped when the eunuch found them.

Tros led the ten Jews into the office and lined them up in front of a long counter, at which sat seven of the most efficient bureaucrats on earth—three to watch the three who did the business, and one to make sure that the watchers themselves did no thieving. There was no astonishment, no comment, no expression of special interest. It was quite usual for Alexandrines to select festival days for rewarding faithful slaves. Tros was abrupt and businesslike:

"Give these ten men their freedom. Here are the certificates of ownership. Here are the receipts for the tax on previous transfer, showing the value at which they were then assessed."

"Ten percent again," said an official. "This is taxed as a transfer of ownership to the slave himself."

Tros paid it. The officials signed and countersigned ten certificates on parchment. There was a charge for the parchment. The chief official sealed the ten certificates. There was a charge for the seal. A corresponding entry was made on the archive-scroll. There was a charge for the entry. Then each Jew received his utterly unexpected certificate of freedom. Tros cut short their jubilation:

"Fall in! Stand at attention! Have I freed a lot of sentimentalists? If I buy garlic, do I kiss the seller? You have paid for your freedom—earned it, like men, in battle. Form two deep! Right! Forward, by the right, quick march!"

Outside, Conops returned their weapons. He observed their faces. He detected symptoms:

"Sulphury Cocytus! Up-snoots, is it, proud and lofty? Which of you wants to fight me for who buys wine? Which two of you? No takers? Swallow this, then: what a slave does well, a freedman does exactly twice as well, or he hears from me about it with the butt-end of a crank-bar! Stand dignified—this isn't Yom Kippur, or the Feast of Esther! By the right—dress! Cock your helmet straight, you! And for the love of your mother Jezebel, try to march as if you never wore leg-irons!"

He was talking for time and to distract attention. There was something going on that Tros might not wish to be noticed by his escort. A slave had slipped a note into Tros's hand just as he was getting into the litter. A very well-dressed Alexandrine, in a two-horsed chariot at a street-corner not far away, was watching, expecting a signal from Tros or an answer by the slave, and Tros appeared to be considering what to do or to say. Then at last the Queen's eunuch came, sweating and very indignant; he had evidently been mocked and not too gently handled by the crowd as he traced the litter through the swarming streets. He tried to reach Tros, to give him a piece of his mind, but Conops interfered, blocking his way:

"Hold hard, capon! You'll be spitted soon enough without crowding your betters! What's the excuse you have to offer? What d'ye mean by sneaking off and leaving the Lord Captain in the streets without a peacock to show his importance? Betting on tomorrow's races, were you?"

The eunuch was half-hysterical with anger. He minced thin-lipped profanity:

"Sailor!" Alexandria knew no worse epithet. "This is a royal litter! The Queen's!"

"Can the Queen go where she pleases?"

"Certainly!"

"Well, here's her litter, where its rider pleases!"

"Drunkard! I have orders to convey your master to the palace!"

"Then why didn't you? I've half a mind to hand you over to the Civil Guard for—"

Tros had made his signal, and the very well-dressed man had left his chariot; he was talking fast and Tros was listening, in a deeply recessed doorway. Conops kept the eunuch too indignant to observe what was happening; he imagined Tros was behind the litter-curtains, but he couldn't get past Conops to discover his mistake, and when he screamed to the bearers to march they were prevented by the Jews.

Tros, done listening in the doorway, thumped his fist into his left hand:

"No, I tell you! Do you know what No means? I will have no part in treason. You take advantage of my hatred of bearing tales to come and tell me of a plot that would cost the lives of dozens of you, were I even to whisper your name!"

"As for that, Lord Tros, your life is as easy to take as other men's. Betray me, and sign you own death warrant!"

"Keep your threats for cowards, Aristobolus! I will give you a piece of information—not for your own sake, for I think you a loose-tongued lecher who would sell his best friend, but for the sake of better men, who might be swept into the same net with you: the Princess Arsinoe is not in Egypt. I left her in Cyprus—"

"But I say she is in Egypt!"

"You call me a liar? Are you armed?"

"No."

"Then govern your speech. I say, I left Arsinoe in Cyprus, well watched, guarded by Roman soldiers and a company of pirates—two score men whom I made prisoner and turned over to her for a bodyguard."

"Couldn't she come with her pirates to Egypt?"

"About as easily as Daedalus flew from Crete to Sicily. Give her wings and a fair wind, scare away the eagles, and she might get halfway. Then she'd have a long swim, Aristobolus."

"So you are on the Queen's side."

"I am not on your side."

"Did you know the Queen has denounced you as a pirate?"

"I know she hasn't."

"Well, her minister did."

"That is different. The Queen of Egypt doesn't denounce. She kills, and explains or is silent. Denunciation is the cackle of a sail-trimmer, guessing himself into the queen's good graces. No one will ever need to denounce you, Aristobolus. Your friends will find your mangled carcass on the city trash-heap, unless you can think of a less clownish plot than this that you have told me."

"Look to it, Lord Tros, that you tell no one!"

"Look to your own tongue. Mine obeys me!"

Tros returned to the litter, and was into it, behind the curtains, before the eunuch saw him. There was a crowd eagerly listening to the argument between him and Conops. A sailor in armor, with bow-legs and only one eye, was an obvious butt for anybody's humor, from a safe distance. And court eunuchs were as much despised as hated. The local wits were doing their ribald utmost to incite Conops to use his weapon. But no two pairs of landsmen's eyes were as good as the one that glinted beneath the rim of Conops's helmet. He had seen Tros return to the litter. He saw another man, not so well dressed approach and whisper through the curtains, so he invented a brand-new set of reasons for delay. He accused the eunuch of having demanded money, and of having decamped because Tros refused to pay him. Tros had spoken through the curtains to no less than three different whisperers before Conops suddenly cut short the argument by ordering the Jews to fall in again and resume the march. He put himself at their head. The eunuch, unable to force his way through the crowd, had to follow the procession, fuming.

Conops led toward the palace by short cuts. He avoided the densely thronged Street of Canopus and made for the guardhouse at the main gate by a route forbidden to the public. There were armed guards lurking, ready to pounce on intruders and either rob and beat them or turn them over to the police, but they recognized the royal litter, and besides, eleven well-armed men were too many to tackle. But the main gate was another story. There the mercenary, polyglot, magnificently accoutred guards were lined up to keep petitioners from invading the palace grounds, and to keep a way clear for the going and coming of palace traffic. Captain Leander in leopard-skin and crimson strolled to the litter and drew the curtain.

"Mystery of mysteries!" he lisped. "So Tros is with us!" It had been "Lord Tros—Lord Captain Tros" six weeks ago, and "remember me, Lord captain when you need a favor!" He pretended to study a list of names on a parchment scroll. "You have a permit?"

"I have access to the palace."

"Ah! But there have been changes recently. The old list has been cancelled, and I can't find your name on the new one."

"Send in my name to the Queen."

"She is absent."

"I will wait for her."

"She has left no command to admit you."

"Why then was the litter sent to bring me hither?"

Tros got out, and Conops came and buckled on his sword. Leander was as tall as Tros, and looked taller in his plumed helmet, but he looked frail in comparison. He stepped backward and two of his men stepped forward, before he could resume his careless ease of manner and vaguely contemptuous tone of voice.

"I believe the Lord Chamberlain has received reports of you that make your presence at the palace not so welcome as formerly."

"So!"

Another officer approached and whispered. Leander nodded. "There is a law against armed slaves, Captain Tros. Have you anything in writing, to explain why you ignore the law? These Jews were given to you by Esias. They are armed, unless my eyes deceive me. I was drunk last night at the palace banquet, but those look to me like swords and armor."

He made a gesture. A platoon of twenty men stepped forward and grounded the butts of their spears with an ominous thud. The crowd of onlookers became excited; all Alexandrine crowds became excited at the least excuse, but to see Lord Captain Tros descending from a royal litter to be put under arrest by the Queen's guards was sheer drama. They began to shout:

"Pirate! Samothracian! Traitor! Judophile!"

That last word was a danger signal. Almost the easiest way to start a riot was to insinuate that Jews were in some way involved. One-third of the population, Jews were two-thirds of the political problem, popular and unpopular in about equal proportion, always enjoying special privileges, always being persecuted. That the crowd accused Tros of befriending Jews suggested that Esias might be in trouble. The crowd took its cue from the court. Perhaps the Queen really had imprisoned Esias. Tros began to wish he had left his Jews on board the ship, not from fear of the crowd, nor of the Queen's guards, but because he needed to be less conspicuous in order to learn what he wanted to know. A man in the midst of a racial riot isn't likely to learn much more than a possible way of escape.

He commanded his Jews to produce their evidence that they were freedmen. Leander examined the documents, flicking his teeth with his thumb-nail, at an obvious loss what to do or to say next.

"You may tell your Queen," said Tros, "that I won't submit myself to further insult from her lackeys."

Without saluting he turned his back and marched away in the midst of his escort, grim faced, leaving the stuttering eunuch to take the litter where he pleased and to invent what lies he pleased. The crowd made way for him, gaping, doubting whether to enjoy his embarrassment or to marvel at his heroic bearing. He looked not at all like a man in disfavor, disgrace or distress. There was scorn in his eyes, and on his shoulders an air of relief. He looked free of the earth, as if he foresaw great events and a wide horizon. His ten Jews looked crestfallen, for it was a poor start for their first day's freedom; and Conops, with his helmet a bit to one side, resembled nothing on earth but a Levantine sailor alert for trouble, glancing backward, suspicious, in fear of pursuit. But Tros, too splendidly contemptuous to shrug his shoulders, strode like a conqueror.

They had marched all the way along the water-front and reached the Heptastadium, where a wide street crossed the city at right angles to the Street of Canopus, before Tros halted. For a minute or two he stood with his back to the city and stared at the gigantic marble lighthouse on Pharos Island, and at the gay-hued crowd that swarmed along the connecting causeway—that causeway from which he had seen Caesar plunge and swim for his life.

"One has followed us, master," said Conops.

"Man or woman?"

"Man-slave. I think he belongs to Olympus."

"Let him draw near."

"Master, he appears to have no weapon, but be careful! Such as he would pretend to deliver a note and produce a cubit's length of poisoned Damascus dagger!"

"Little man, if my name were on the death-list, we should be in a dungeon now, awaiting the executioner's convenience Since we set foot ashore, four different men have tried to fathom me. We are no use dead. The Queen needs living legs for her endangered throne."

"Sail away, master! We could haul out in the Piraeus."

"Aye, within range of Brutus's agents!"

"Very well then, in Tyre."

"Within Cassius's grip!"

"Then through the Gates of Hercules and—"

"Aye, and re-fit on the broad Atlantic!"

"Master, we could get plenty of men from the Balaerics."

"Does he draw near?"

"Aye. He looks treacherous. He seems to be waiting his chance to approach unnoticed."

"Demand his business."

Tros didn't even turn his head. He was still staring at the Pharos—he and his escort forming a little island in the midst of the stream of people swarming toward the city—when Conops returned.

"Master, he bade me say this: The Queen is on Lake Mareotis."

Tros nodded. For a minute or two he was silent. Then he turned and they stared at each other.

"Little man, were it not for my good Northmen, who must be found and rescued, I would set sail, leaks and all, and seek some other port in which to re-fit."

"Master, let those toss-pot ax-men rot—aye, and the wenching Basques, too!"

"Did I leave you to rot when Caesar's men put out your eye and made you half a sailor?"

"But—"

"Do you know Esias's warehouse on the shore of Mareotis?"

"Aye, master. It was there that our Basques made trouble for us by breaking into the compound were Esias keeps the virgins for the household market."

"You were with them, I remember."

"Aye, preventing—"

"To the tune of a virgin for whom I reimbursed Esias for the loss of value."

"She seduced me, master! She was a carroty-haired Circassian, with a pair of eyes on her like green jewels. She could see me in the dark. She—"

"Aye, aye, she seduced you. To Esias's warehouse—forward!"

"Escort—atten-shun! Right dress—hold your chin up, Jeshua! By the centre, quick march! Right turn! Left wheel! Left! Left! Pick your heels up, Jeshua! Eyes to the front and try and look like fighting men, not bathhouse beauties! Left! left! You're freedmen, remember. Don't be afraid to smash some bunions—tread on 'em—bring your feet down with a whallop—let 'em feel your sword-hilt if they won't make way—that's better—left! Left!—and now remember who's your captain, and when we get to Esias's sheds, no pitch-and-toss-play with the guards for a chance at the girls. Left! Left! Straighten your helmet, Simeon! Left! Left!"


CHAPTER XII
"I prefer the Queen's trap to that other"


When a number of men, for a number of different reasons, counsel me to turn aside from danger, I have usually found it wise to recognize the danger but to do the opposite of what they urge. Although they likely know it not, their counsel is directed either by their own necessity or by their love of comfort, good repute and profit.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Again, no sign of old Esias. His block of buildings was almost a city itself, marble-walled and colonnaded where it faced a great gap in the city wall, but built of brick in the rear and divided into a maze of crowded compounds. Alexandria lay between Lake Mareotis and the sea, and the lake-front was a long line of parks and promenade. There were a boat harbor, dozens of wine-booths, some expensive restaurants, and great gaps in the wall, planted with ornamental trees. The wall was useless for defensive purposes. The cross-city canal emerged beneath a marble bridge not far from Esias's warehouse; westward of that the lake shore was reedy and unconfined by a bulkhead, but to the eastward was the Royal Wharf, and beyond that the entire lake front was of well-built masonry.

The size of the lake was unguessable, there were so many islands, fringed with papyrus, many of them white with the marbled roofs of villas. There was always a haze that blended lake and sky, and through that threaded countless boats, some from the Nile through the thronged canal, laden with the produce of the richest land on earth. There were miles of staked nets and hundreds of fishing boats. And amid them all, blazing with paint, were the awninged yachts of the wealthier Alexandrines.

Leaving his escort in the colonnade, Tros entered the warehouse office—a huge, dim mysterious chamber beamed with rough-hewn olive, stacked with merchandise and shelves of scrolls, and reeking of spice. Nathan, the third in seniority of Esias's partners, loomed forth from the dimness, solemn as a vulture but almost painfully eager to seem courteous. Six slaves bowed behind him.

"Greeting! Greeting!"

"Where is my friend Esias?" Tros asked.

Instead of answering, Nathan led into an inner office, a mere cabin of a place, with a window that gave a view of a compound where some slaves were being taught to read and write Greek, to increase their market value.

"Lord Captain, Esias does not dare to be seen speaking to you. Neither do I dare to say why—not even to you, within four walls. Esias is with witnesses who will prove he has not spoken to you.

"And he sends me no message?"

"Yes. He says 'Look to your life!' And I add my warning to his. Lord Tros, we have been forbidden to repair your trireme."

"By whom?"

"The less mention of names the better—but by the same minister who has proclaimed you a pirate."

"Publicly?"

"Yes, officially, no. At a banquet at the palace, where he made a speech to some Roman notables, who have come overland from Cassius's headquarters, seeking money and men I believe, he referred to you by name as a seditious alien, whom Pompeius Magnus would have known how to drive from the sea."

"And the Queen?"

"Said nothing."

"Aye. She is good at saying nothing. Did she say it in many words?"

"I know not. My informant told me that throughout all the speech-making she reclined on her divan and played with a Persian kitten, as if the world might go to wrack and ruin for all she cared. And now she is on Pleasure Island, with her child and her women. They say that Cassius's envoys have returned to Syria empty-handed, except for some trashy presents. And her barge lies waiting at the royal boat wharf—"

"And—?"

"One of the royal barge slaves was in here asking for you."

"When?"

"He left not ten minutes ago. He pretended to be needing a new brass thole-pin. But he found fault with what we offered. And he asked what thole-pins you used. Thus, one word leading to another, he conversed about your trireme, and then wondered where you are. He said that the commander of the royal barge would esteem your advice on certain matters, and that it would be well for us to let the barge-commander know if you should show up."

"That is not all, Nathan. There is something else on your mind. What is it?"

"Lord Tros, as you know, I am no alarmist. But there have been others asking for you, two freedmen, clients of a man named Aristobolus. They also wanted news of you if you should turn up."

"Any reason?"

"Yes. They lied. They declared they were clients of Hippias the Rhodian, who is very wealthy and is said to stand high in the Queen's favor. But I knew them. The rogues forgot that it was I who sold them, thirteen years ago, when Rabirius the Roman money-lender ruined their former master. They said Hippias wishes to do you a favor, but without attracting public notice. They said Hippias's boat awaits you in the reeds, down near the public bath-house, half a furlong westward. They said, if you will take Hippias's boat, it will convey you to him and he will accompany you into the Queen's presence, where he will have much to say in your behalf."

"And—?"

"I happen to know that Hippias is at Dendera, visiting the estate from which he draws his income!"

"And—?"

"They bade me warn you to come alone."

Tros laughed. "Nathan, I prefer the Queen's trap to that other! Sell me a change of clothing. I am filthy from the dust of these streets."

"Lord Tros, why risk your life in either trap? It is safer in Rome than in Alexandria! Leave your trireme in Esias's keeping. There is another corn fleet making ready. We can smuggle you and a few of your men to Puteoli. You have a big credit with us. We can give you drafts on our office in Rome, and I will give you a list of the names of senators who can be bribed to do anything, to forget everything, and to appoint the most improbable men to the most important positions. They will vote you Roman citizenship. They will make you a Roman admiral. Then remember your friends!"

"Bring me new clothing, Nathan. I will visit the source of all this mystery. Trick me up like an Alexandrine exquisite."

"But, Lord Tros—"

"And while you get the clothing, send in my man Conops."

Nathan Bloomed out to do Tros's bidding and presently Conops clanked into the office. He was never quite certain how to treat these powerful but sometimes timid and almost always deferential Jews, whom Tros so confidently trusted. He was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, his manner midway between impudence and respect for prodigious wealth, but another mood shone in his eye when he saw through the window the slave-girls learning Greek, and about a dozen others, in the corner of the compound, learning to sing Greek songs and to dance suggestive illustrations of the theme.

"Drinking already, eh? Never mind those women. Stand with your back to the window. Now then: do you know of a place, half a furlong to westward, near the public bath-house, where a boat might make an unseen landing in the reeds?"

"Aye, master. Where the south wind drives the floating islands in-shore. It is the place where the runaway slaves hide until nightfall and as often as not get snapped up by crocodiles."

"March your men thither and back, and report to me whether a boat lies hidden. If anyone questions you, say where I am. You may say I am here in conference, You may say I am going alone to the royal barge presently. You may say you expect to be drunk tonight, and if they give you some largesse for your wine and women, you may buy one small jar of wine, eleven fish-lines and hooks, and enough bait for a few hours' fishing. Then, after you have reported to me, watch; and if you see them leave the boat, you may send eight of your men to seize it, taking the wine and fish-lines with them. You and the two remaining men will guard me as far as the royal boat wharf. When I am safe on the royal barge, you may make haste to the other boat—pull off your armor, all of you—row out into the lake, follow the royal barge as closely as you dare, drop anchor as near as you dare to the royal island, and remain there fishing until you see me return on the royal barge, or until I signal for you. Better take along some food as well as wine; it may be dark before I need you. And remember: don't be conspicuous. Try to look like fishermen, or at least like a party of Alexandrine tradesmen keeping holiday. Have you understood me?"

"Aye, aye, master."

"Then do it."

There was a good deal of fuss about clothing. Nothing but the best would do for Tros, and by the time Nathan's slaves had bathed him and arrayed him in linen good enough for the Queen herself, and the expert slave-girls had arranged a chaplet in his hair, Tros looked hardly like the same man. He looked, if anything, more powerful because the almost transparent linen betrayed the bulge of his muscles; but he looked like a courtier, not a fighting man; he looked too elegant to care for anything but luxuries, wine, women and song. Conops, breathless from his errand, stood and gawked at him.

"Well?"

"Boat, yes. That fellow Aristobolus and four freedmen. Knives. Aristobolus gave me money, as you said he might. He said his name is Hippias, and he asked after your health, so I told him what you said I was to tell him, and he looked as savage as a man whose drink's been spilled. So I came back, and I've bought thee wine and bread and eggs and smoked fish, and some olive oil and lettuce, and a couple of melons. Master, half a jar's an awful little for eleven men and ten of 'em just received freedom, and not a drink since Cyprus."

"Very well, make it a jar."

"There's no more money."

"Give them a full jar, Nathan. Mind you, if you get as drunk as you did in Cyprus I'll reduce you to the lower oar-bench. You're to divide the wine equally, drink for drink. That is an order. Have you understood it?"

"Aye, aye, master. But I hadn't finished telling. We weren't back here before those four freedmen hit our wake and came strolling along like loafers with nothing better to do. Eastward of here, and this side of the royal boat wharf, there's a wine-garden set in a grove of myrtles and oleanders. That's where they are, and not drinking neither—lurking—up to no good."

"Aristobolus still in the boat?"

"Yes, master. That's to say, unless he slipped away without us seeing him. I'd be willing to wager my share of the drinks he's there yet."

"Then he likely is there! Send your eight men to seize the boat. They needn't be too gentle with Aristobolus, but they're not to kill him if they can help it. Let them throw him in the bottom of the boat and tie and gag him. They may as well take the provisions with them. You and your other two, follow me, and follow closely."

"Aye, aye, master. Are we to have Aristobolus's company in the boat all afternoon?"

"Yes, you may un-gag him when you're out on the lake. Use your own judgment about pretending to agree to any treachery he may suggest. Memorize his words—his exact words."

"Aye, aye, master."

Eight men, trusted for the first time with a dangerous task without Conops's superintending eye, and looking innocent enough, in spite of armor, with their load of wine and provisions, tramped away eastward down the road between the buildings and the shore. Tros, with his sword beneath his left arm, hidden by an apparently carelessly draped himation, strolled westward, appearing to enjoy the freshness of the early afternoon breeze. Conops followed him. Jeshua and Aroun trudged at Conops's heels.

There was a considerable crowd along the road to eastward. Many of them were slaves, permitted a day's idleness on account of the festival; but there were scores of gaily dressed and well-behaved families: enjoying the view or hiring rowboats, or strolling from one public garden, or one wine-booth, to another. And there was a considerable number of chariots being driven at the usual reckless speed by gallants not yet drunk enough to kill deliberately but with enough wine in their heads to enjoy scattering the crowd like scared poultry. There was a disturbance of that kind as Tros drew abreast of the myrtle and oleander thicket. Two racing chariots swerved around the western corner of the thicket and headed eastward, giving Tros their dust and scatting a screaming score of men and women.

Conops snarled a warning. "They're on us! Draw, you chosen people!"

Tros's sword licked out like the flash of lightning. His himation danced on his left arm. Conops leaped. He plunged his knife into a man's throat. The Jews buried their swords in the bellies of two other men. Tros slew the fourth, driving the point through his heart with such force that Conops had to stand on the man's body in order to wrench the sword out. It was all over in almost a second, like a flurry of wind in a copse, or the swoop of a hawk on a dove-cote. A few of the wine-garden's customers peered through the thicket, but no crowd formed; on the contrary, those in the street who had seen what happened scurried out of sight to avoid trouble. It was nothing very unusual that a man should be set upon by his enemy's freedmen; drunken brawls and unpaid debts, the volatile affections of a woman, or even a topical song was enough to start a street fight. The municipal slaves would remove the bodies unless the dead men's friends first did it. Meanwhile, fishermen hurried ashore to be first to steal clothing, and money, and finger-rings, on the pretext of laying the bodies beside the road; they even demanded pay for doing that from passers-by, because Alexandrines disliked to see blood on a glorious May afternoon. They were not like Romans. They could always be persuaded to pay to protect their squeamishness. By the time Tros had cleaned his sword with sand and water, and Conops had wiped it dry, the incident was in a fair way to being forgotten.

Tros dismissed Conops and the two Jews as soon as they had cleaned their weapons.

"That squall's over. Make haste now and get the boat offshore. I'll be safe between here and the Queen's barge."

"Aye, aye, master."


CHAPTER XIII
"It is your throne!"


Choose, and take the consequences. Choose to command, and learn the pain of the barbed treachery of envy. Choose to obey, and learn how soon obedience begets contempt. Choose the philosopher's life, and learn the famished waste of thought that, like a barren woman, lusts unpregnant. Choose, or become a victim of others' choosing.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The approach to the royal boat wharf through the Gate of the Sun—a gate that no longer existed, because the wall had been demolished at that point to make room for imported trees—was almost the only Egyptian touch in the whole city, with its guardian sphinxes and statues stolen from ancient Nile-bank temples. The marble boat-shed was of Egyptian design and even the attending slaves were garbed in the ancient Egyptian headdress. It was a sort of symbolical gateway. Here one entered into Egypt. Today, Greece—Europe, ceased. Yesterday, mystery, melancholy and the fabled land of Khem began. Even the boats on Mareotis were of the ancient Egyptian pattern. Many of the luxurious villas and pavilions on the islands were designed to suggest the Egyptian spirit, in curious contrast to the ultra-modern Greek design of Alexandria.

There were scores of sentries, to keep the holiday-making crowd at a respectful distance from the royal boat wharf. But nobody challenged Tros. He was not saluted, but he was not questioned. He enjoyed a sensation of being seen, and yet intentionally unseen, as if he were expected, even welcome, and yet unmentionable. He decided to test the situation and approached a lieutenant of the guard, who yawned and peacocked on the terrace in front of the Egyptian arch at the landward end of the marble jetty.

"Promoted I see, Periander. I congratulate you. Have I blood on my clothing?"

The officer examined him from head to foot.

"No. But I saw that little entertainment. Good sword!"

Six short weeks ago, Periander would have called him by name, with simulated if not actual respect.

"I thank you."

"Better leave your sword here."

"My man has it."

Tros threw back his himation in proof that he was unarmed. The lieutenant nodded. Tros strolled through the arch, not exactly expecting to be daggered on the far side but, in his minds's eye, measuring three jumps from the arch to the water. However the slaves who stood with their backs to the arch like statues took no notice of him.

The gilded barge lay moored against the jetty with its sixteen rowers in their places; they tossed oars as Tros strolled through the arch. There was no doubt they were waiting for him. The royal barge-commander stood on the jetty actually smiling, looking a bit bacchanalian because his chaplet was awry, but spit and span in Cleopatra's new emerald-and-orange uniform. She had a great gift for designing uniforms that made a man look picturesque but subtly menial.

"Have you a dagger on you?" he asked. "May I feel?"

Again no mention of Tros's name. An air of almost, but not quite cordiality. The best seat on the barge, in the stern, behind the Queen's awninged bridge-deck. No salute from the rowers, but, on the other hand, respectful service from the barge slaves, who blew the dust from Tros's sandals and sponged and wiped his legs. No command. Everyone knew what to do. The gaudily dressed sailors cast off and the barge went at top speed toward Pleasure Island, with the tubas blowing to make fishermen and holiday boating-parties scoot out of the way. No conversation, not even between the barge-commander and his lieutenant.

There was nothing to interfere with Tros's interest in the passing scene, and it was not long before he had picked out the gaily painted pleasure boat, in which Conops and the ten Jews were pretending to be out for an afternoon's amusement. Eight of the Jews were rowing, and like all strong men untrained to that difficult art they were making heavy weather of it; they could easily pass for a boat-load of drunken roisterers, perhaps in a stolen boat, but surely not armed and dangerous.

Pleasure Island loomed, took form, revealed itself in a reedy mirage, two or three miles beyond the staked deep-water channel for the laden barges from the Nile. It provided absolute privacy. Even its flower-carpeted banks were invisible until the barge had gone beyond it, and turned, and approached from the southward, the thump of the oars alarming myriads of water-fowl that took wing from the reeds and filled the air with weird music.

Then the first sight was of naked Greek girls, some bathing and others playing games against a background of marbled terraces and columned pavilion. There was not a man in sight, not even a eunuch, except for a guard boat half-hidden in a water-lane between the reeds. There were probably several guard boats, but only one was visible. The attendants on the boat-jetty were Egyptian slave-girls, dog-eyed, bare-breasted. Their white teeth flashed in sensuous smiles. Their dark skins were like gloriously hued shadows against the sunlit marble.

The women made the boat fast. No one spoke to Tros. As he walked up the marble path, between flowers, the sound of girls' laughter didn't cease for an instant. Even when the path skirted one end of the terrace on which the naked girls were playing, and he was in full view, no one stared at him. He knew at least half of those girls—knew their fathers and mothers; they were the cream of the Alexandrine aristocracy; he had been offered his pick of them, dozens of times, by a court chamberlain who would have been delighted to ally him by marriage with the ascendant political faction. But he might have been invisible for all the notice they took.

The first greeting he received, at the top of the steps, on the terrace in front of the pavilion door, was from Charmion, looking like one of the Fates with her needle and thread and her vinegary air of prim chastity in classically draped white Chinese silk. She looked up from her sewing to answer his bow.

"The Queen expects you. You may go straight in. The child Caesarion has just been punished for saying he loves you."

"Perhaps he does," Tros answered. "Was it you who had him punished?"

"Yes!" She almost spat the word. "Go in and try to redeem yourself! You will need the full resources of your Samothracian guile, I can assure you!"

"I will keep my guile," he answered, bowing like a courtier, "for gilding my esteem, where tart ingratitude occasionally chafes it thin!" He loved to annoy her. Three ladies-in-waiting, who were doing embroidery-work with Charmion, and pretending to like it, giggled. Tros nodded to them and entered the pavilion, down a corridor where seven eunuchs sat on a gilded bench, whispering and smirking like priests in a vestry. One of them opened a door, and then for the first time someone called Tros by name. The child Caesarion, a brat hardly able to toddle, but precocious, and looking already like a miniature copy of Julius Caesar, ran through the doorway and fell at his feet, seizing his legs and calling him "Twos of Samothwakee." There was at any rate someone pleased to see him. But the child was swept up by a protesting nurse and borne off, yelling for his hero. Then a golden voice, that had no equal, anywhere:

"You may come in."

The eunuch closed the door behind him and he was alone with the Queen. She was in one of her strangely magnetic moods that nobody ever knew how to divine—greenish eyes, brooding—rather sensuous lips, smiling—looking smaller than ever, because she was seated in a huge chair facing the view through the open window. Her exquisitely shapely feet, touched with henna, in gold-leafed sandals, rested, on a footstool of carved ivory. On the table beside her were pen and ink and a number of parchment scrolls that fluttered in the slight breeze; and on a long table against the wall were a number of objects obviously rifled from an ancient tomb. In her hands was a golden bracelet.

Tros caught his breath, he bowed low, with his eyes on the bracelet. It was not Egyptian. It was not Greek, Indian, Chinese, Arabian, Persian. It was heavy, solid, hammered, and indented with an unfinished pattern that bore no resemblance to any known Egyptian design; barbaric, and yet masterly conceived and done. He had hard work to show no emotion when he had finished bowing and stood upright. It almost never paid to betray emotions in Cleopatra's presence; it was vastly safer to simulate emotion that one did not feel.

She appeared annoyed that he had seen the bracelet. "Can you imagine," she asked; "a craftsman competent to do such skillful work, who would nevertheless be such a savage as to take a wrought gold vase from an ancient tomb, and smash it, and then desecrate it into such an ornament as this? Who could wear such a thing? It weighs two pounds."

Tros glanced at the priceless objects on the table—necklaces, vases, glass-ware, bracelets, a golden tablet a yard square covered with hieroglyphics.

"He might have smashed those, too," he answered.

He knew who had done it. There was only one man south of the Baltic who would even have thought of making\ such a bracelet as lay on Cleopatra's knee. She laid the bracelet aside.

"Well?" she asked after a moment. "Why don't you reproach me?"

"Royal Egypt, I reproach myself," he answered.

"For having failed me?"

"For having trusted you. I find myself repudiated at the Palace Gate."

Her answering smile was dangerous. She fingered one of the scrolls on the table beside her. It was a list of about a dozen names.

"These are dead," she remarked. She picked up another, shorter list. "These are, at the moment, dying. They betray one another like true Greeks at the first touch of torture. It is not that they are cowards, or I think not. Pain makes them angry. They resent that their accomplices should escape such torment. So they tell."

Tros almost shrugged his shoulders. "It is your throne, Egypt! Keep it if you care to!"

"If I can!" She looked battle-angry.

Tros grinned then. It was the first confession he had ever heard from Cleopatra's lips that there might be an easier seat than a throne.

She resented his grin. Her mold changed to the snake-like anger that made her terrible. She spoke with the vibrance in her voice that aroused men's superstition—the voice that had made her name a byword—astonishing from such a small woman, not in the least loud, but vigorous with a sort of absoluteness.

"I sent for you," she said, "to receive from your lips an explanation of your conduct in Cyprus."

But she was threatening the wrong man, and she knew it. Her eyes changed even before Tros answered.

"You have a strange way, Royal Egypt, of inviting a friend to an audience! It would have been simpler to have written my name on that list, to explain to the executioner—or not to explain, as the case might be."

"Don't talk nonsense. I have a reason for seeing you secretly."

"Doubtless a royal reason! I would have spared you the intrusion, unless I also had reasons, Egypt, as for what I have done, at my own cost—"

"On your own responsibility! You refused my commission, remember!"

"It was the best I could do. I defeated and slew the pirate Anchises, and destroyed his entire fleet."

"Yes, and you sank two Roman biremes, in Salamis harbor, for which the Roman proconsul is blaming me!"

"To which your answer has teen, to permit your minister to denounce me as a pirate!"

"That was necessary. It was a sop to the Roman indignation."

"As I already said, it is your throne," he retorted. "I have never found it necessary to denounce a loyal friend, for the sake of such a cur as Cassius, who stabbed his benefactor! If you choose between me and Cassius, as to which is your friend, I withdraw from the competition! Deadly though it may be, I prefer your enmity to the stench of being less than Cassius's enemy to the last breath he or I shall ever breathe!"

She laughed. "The same Tros! Friend? You speak to me as if I were your mistress, or a servant caught stealing the food from the table! Is my sister Arsinoe not my enemy? My treacherous, envious enemy? Didn't you befriend her in Cyprus? Do you call that being my friend?"

"What would you have had me do?"

"You should have drowned her! She was on your ship. She was present, in the sea-fight of Salamis—where I would give almost my eyes to have been! She was present in your cabin when you brow-beat that Roman wolf Ahenobarbus. I would give almost my ears to have heard that! You gave her money. It was tribute money looted from the temple. You gave her men. They were pirates, whom you took prisoner, and Roman legionnaires, for whom Ahenobarbus had no ship-room. You set her free from Serapion's clutches—Serapion, whom I appointed to be her viceroy because I knew he would hold her powerless, whatever treachery he might invent!"

"I perceive that your Etruscan spy Tarquinius has saved me the necessity of making a report," Tros answered.

"I have a letter from him, written on the very day that you returned to Salamis after the sea-fight. It came in sections, by eighteen pigeons, to the Syrian coast, and thence by runner."

"Surely you show great wisdom in taking that jackal's word against mine," Tros answered. "Did he write it to you, or to Charmion?"

She ignored the question. Suddenly, in a voice that suggested an archer's tautened bow-string, she loosed her secret news: "My dear sister has left Cyprus!"

Tros stared, but he could only judge that she was studying him as alertly as he was studying her. If she was telling the truth, he was in as deadly danger as he ever had been in, in the whole of his dangerous life. Did she suspect him of conspiracy? He did the opposite of what any other man in Egypt would have dared to do. He told her the truth:

"I had been in Alexandria not three hours, Egypt, before several men, of whom one was your spy—I knew him—told me that tale. Your spy—he spoke with me near the municipal building—said she is in Egypt. I wouldn't have believed that rogue if he had told me the day of the week! He invited me to go to her, to command her army. Did he tell you my answer?"

She smiled. "He said you spoke with Aristobolus, and with two others. The two others are in custody. Where is Aristobolus?"

Tros grinned. "I can answer for four of his freedmen. They attacked me, lest I should betray Aristobolus."

"Bloodshed again—in the City? I am told you have freed some slaves, that they may bear arms. Are you planning to send them broiling in the Royal Area, as you did your Northmen?"

He was glad to change the subject. "I came here," he answered, "to claim my Northmen. Of your magnanimity, release them! The only crime they committed was to break the heads of some Romans for speaking about you loosely."

"Do you remember my terms?" she retorted. "You may have them when you have kept your own promise."

"I have kept it, Egypt. Your war-fleet captains had abandoned the corn fleet to its fate. I found it and protected it from Romans and from pirates also. I sold the corn to Brutus, because he and Cassius are at the moment the greatest potential danger to you unless they can feed their armies."

"And you have loosed against me a more dangerous, a more treacherous enemy than any Roman! Arsinoe, I tell you, is in Egypt! Do you call that doing me a service? Well for you, Lord Tros, that I mistrust Tarquinius! He has written a letter to you, in care of the Jew Esias, to await your coming; and it fell into my hands, as I don't doubt he intended it should. He informs you, in that letter, that the Princess Arsinoe, acting on your advice, mind you, has taken those pirates that you gave her, and some men that my loving cousin Herod offered, and some of the Gaulish legionnaires that Ahenobarbus left behind in Cyprus, and has crossed to Syria. At the time of writing, she expected Cassius to help her to reach Egypt, because Cassius would prefer a queen on the throne of Egypt who is more subservient to Roman arrogance."

"I should have slain that rat Tarquinius when you put him aboard my ship to spy on me," Tros answered-. "You know him as well as I do. And he knows me as well as you do. I will wager that he wrote that letter to persuade you to mistrust both me and Esias, who are the two men in Egypt who can't be bribed to betray you. May I see the letter?"

"Yes: No—no, I haven't it here." She studied him for at least a minute. Then, suddenly: "You arc a sentimentalist. Could you be coaxed to betray me?"

"I have been coaxed with hard blows and soft speech, Egypt. But here I am."

"I am sending you to deal with Arsinoe."

"Me?"

"You—secretly—finally—once and for all! She is said to have several hundred men. She moves on Memphis, the ancient capital, where she expects to be able to raise an army. But I have my grip on Memphis. I hold hostages; I have the sons and daughters of most of the important men of Memphis who might otherwise go to her aid. She has raided the quarterly caravan from the emerald mines, and she is robbing the tomb-robbers, for gold with which to lavish bribes. I have caught the ring-leaders in Alexandria, but all the Romans in the city, and many others would take her part if she should begin to succeed. She must be dealt with swiftly."

"I am useless without my Northmen!"

"You? Useless?"

Will against will. It was almost like a physical clash of weapons.

"Royal Egypt, you are too fond of clipping the wings of the hawk that shall fly your errands! You obliged me to go to sea without my Northmen. I fought a battle that I came near losing for lack of their good fighting arms!"

"A few barbarians—a mere handful of brutes with battle-axes?"

"Thirty-eight comrades in arms! Thirty-eight veterans! Egypt, have you their equal?"

She eyed him darkly, resting her chin on her hand. "It is not soldiers or sailors, but generals that I need," she said after a moment. "I can supply you with plenty of men."

"Aye," he answered, "but you haven't one commander whom you dare to trust out of reach of the executioner! So you propose to flatter me by—"

"Yes," she interrupted, "I fear I flatter you. But there is no one else I can trust at the moment. I want her killed, not captured. Tros, incredible though this may sound to you, I love Arsinoe. I saved her from execution after Caesar's triumph when, if the Roman mob had had its way, she should have been slain in the Tullianum. It was I who begged Caesar to make her Queen of Cyprus. But the girl is my ceaseless enemy. There is nothing to do but to kill her."

"Therefore you degrade me to the rank of butcher?"

"I wish her to be killed—not shamed—not put to torture—not cruelly ill-used, as she would ill-use me if she could seize my throne. She must die. You, of all men, should understand that."

It was useless to fence with Cleopatra when she talked in that vein. She lied, and Tros knew it. She neither loved nor pitied Arsinoe, although it was no doubt true that she would take no delight in Arsinoe's shame or torture. Cleopatra had good taste; she didn't enjoy physical cruelty. She merely wanted Arsinoe killed, and to avoid the blame for having killed her.

"Pitying the girl," said Tros, "in the fight off Salamis I gave her a chance to die as you or I would choose to if the world should have no honorable room for you or me. But she fought too well, in one of my men's armor. She came out unscathed, with her dagger dripping and a laugh on her lips."

"Tros—I believe you love her!"

"Egypt, I love man or woman who is brave."

"It is more than rumored that she loves you!"

"So. Am I indictable by rumor?"

"If you love her—if she loves you—need I explain that loving-kindness should grant her a swift death, rather than the ignominy of, for instance, such a punishment as our elder sister Berenice underwent? It is as an act of mercy, that I send you."

"Have you mercy for my Northmen?"

"I depend on your love for your Northmen to outweigh any emotions that a girl might arouse, who is nothing if not capable of seducing such a sentimentalist as you arc!"

Tros strode to the window, turned away from her, turned again and strode back. He was thinking of the two-pound hammered bracelet.

"Egypt—"

"Think!" she warned him. She could see the wrath on his face, and the deadlier integrity behind it—the iron resolution.

"I have done my thinking, Egypt. I am no queen's catspaw."

She had her hand on the padded hammer of a golden gong shaped like a lion's face.

"You refuse?"

The threat of death had never made Tros less than obstinate—but craftily obstinate, lightning quick to guess the weakness that lingered on threat instead of striking first in order to compel. Not for one fraction of a moment did he forget his duty to his Northmen. As long as they lived, he would do his best to be their dependable Lord Captain.

"Aye. I will not go unless on my own terms. If you had another to send, you would not send me. If you trust me to go, and insist I shall go, you shall trust me to do as I see fit."

"Oh well," she answered. "Indiscretion would be bad for your Northmen. You appreciate that?"

He nodded. She had laid that heavy bracelet on the table. He glanced at it, then looked straight into her eyes.

"And I demand Cleopatra's promise. Not royal Egypt's, but the promise of the Cleopatra whom I snatched away from Rome before Caesar's murderers could plunge their knives into you also—do you understand what I mean? I have been your good friend, Egypt."

There was no warm emotion expressed in her eyes. She looked even slightly contemptuous of his claim on her gratitude. But she seemed to be reappraising him, perhaps wondering whether to tell him more, and to trust him less; because the more a man knows, the less easy he is to compel. And as yet she was only learning statecraft. She had not yet reached the ripeness of judgment that, a few years later, almost made her mistress of the world..

"How can I make any other than what you are pleased to call a royal promise?" she asked after a moment's pause. "We Were friends, you and I, when I was a homeless exile. True. But who serves whom for nothing? Has a queen friends? What request can Cleopatra grant, that Egypt might not forbid? It must be something strange—something new in the way of demands on a reigning queen!"

"Not new in your ears, Egypt! If I go to Memphis—if I solve this riddle for you—if I quell rebellion before it rocks your throne—thereafter will you set my Northmen free, and rather than hinder will you aid me to set forth on my voyage?"

She smiled.

"Around the world? You will desert me for that chimera? Very well then. You have Egypt's promise that she shall not interfere with Cleopatra's farewell! How will you find Arsinoe? What guides—what forces will you need? This is secret, remember."

"Secret?" He laughed. "Perhaps Cassius thinks it a secret. If it's true, it can mean only one thing: Cassius, in collusion with the Alexandrine Romans, is attempting to seize Egypt and get rid of you, without the expense and risk of marching his mutinous legions across the desert from Syria. You don't dare to declare war on Cassius; your own army would desert you, as your fleet already has done. So you demand of me a secret effort against treason."

She stared. His frank assertions never failed to bring that frown to her forehead. He continued:

"I will go, and I will do it. Then I will demand from you my Northmen. Is that agreed?"

She nodded.

"It is known I am here. How will you explain my absence from the City?"

"They shall say you have been sent into exile."

"Memphis? There will be a north wind. I can swoop on Memphis. I will be off before daybreak, Egypt, with my own men. Tell me what you think you know of Arsinoe's movements. Mind you, I don't believe the story."

But he did believe it, and she knew he did. Tros was thinking of the blood-red lamp on a hillside amid the phantom trees of Salamis. Cleopatra's eyes looked darkly vengeful.

"Alexis has all the information. He is to go with you."

Tros scowled. He hated her cynical courtier-friend Alexis—a man who had not been long enough at court to amass enough money to pay his debts, but he was doing nicely.

There were two gongs near her. She struck one that clanged like the clash of cymbals. Instantly the curtains on the rear wall parted. It was the wrong gong. Two huge Nubians rushed in, cloaked with leopard-skin, armed with brass scimitars. Trained to be swift to protect their royal mistress, they rushed Tros, one from either side, too swiftly for Cleopatra to stop them. They never even saw her raised hand. Her voice froze in her throat as a scimitar slit the air. It missed—went spinning—struck the other Negro's neck and embedded itself in the door panel. Tros's fist, quicker than the weapon, had clubbed his assailant's arm—struck it numb. His right foot tripped the man; his left fist sent him staggering into the other Nubian, and they fell in a mess of blood at Cleopatra's feet. Tros pitched both men through the open window. Then he picked up a Damascus mat, covered the blood with it, strode to the door, pulled the scimitar out from the panel and tossed that, too, through the window.

"If I am under arrest," he said, "no more than your word is needed."

She looked angry, contemptuous, disgusted, but not afraid for a moment. Suddenly she laughed.

"It was a mistake!"

"Are they sufficiently rebuked?"

"I am! Tros, what an expensive guest you are! Those slaves cost me more than the rug you have used for a mop! I bought the rug in Rome from the spoil of Mithradates's palace. Now the Nubians are useless. You may have them. You may have the rug, too."

She struck the other gong, and then walked to the window with Tros while a eunuch brought in slaves to clean the tiled floor. The rug was rolled and tossed through the window to the Nubians, one of whom was bandaging his neck with a rag from his chiton. The other lay stunned on the terrace. At a gesture from the Queen the wounded man unrolled the rug, hove the stunned man on to it and dragged him out of sight.

Cleopatra's mood had changed as utterly as a landscape changes when the clouds let through the sun. She laid her hand on Tros's arm.

"You, who are fitter to be a king than any warrior on earth—for you have brains as well as courage—is Egypt too little?"

She was almost, not quite tall enough for the crown of her head to reach his shoulder. Not answering, he stared through the window, southward, toward the fabled land of Khem.

"Do you seek new conquests? You, who hate Rome as I hate Rome, and as Rome hates me—there is Syria to conquer—Parthia—India. Egypt or Rome will prevail in the end. But who shall lead the battle-line of Egypt? Southward—forever southward, beyond the desert, aye, and beyond the mountains where they say the Nile begins—there are realms beyond realms awaiting conquest. Does your imagination feel no challenge?"

At last he looked down at her. "Aye," he answered. "In this pavilion you and Caesar used to speak of it. I have sat here listening."

"You are younger, stronger, healthier than Caesar was: And you are not, like Caesar, ham-strung by grudging loyalty to a Roman wife and Roman prejudices."

"No," he answered. "I have other prejudices."

"And no wife."

"No. Nor a master! I am my own man."

"Gyved by sentiment to two score bawdy battle-ax-men, whose hearts are in the brothels and their brains in the lees of a jar of Cretan wine!"

"They are my men. They are comrades-in-arms. I have led them. They and I have fought a main or two with death together. I will do your errand, Egypt."

"You are also a greater fool than Caesar knew how to be!" she answered. "Oh, that Caesar had had your strength, to shake off his assassins!"

"Do you mean oh, that I had Caesar's ambition?"

"Yes, I mean it! Would you like to be King of Syria?"

"Syria is not yours, Egypt."

"Not yet! But would you like to be King of Syria?"

"No—nor King of anywhere."

"Go! You bore me. I will send you Alexis. He shall meet you at the barge. You know him?"

"Yes. I know him."

"Mind—you are to trust him."

"May I trust you, to keep your promise?"

"Keep your own promise. You will not need to remind me of mine."

He remembered her younger sister's promise, given on the gallery on the hill above star-lit Salamis:

"Yes, Tros, I will rule or I will get out. Do you think, then you will understand me?"


CHAPTER XIV
"One of these days you'll be a valuable man"


I have observed that generous determination to attain an objective come what may, reveals the means; as if the generosity were lamplight.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Sunset was bathing the roofs of Alexandria, and the evening mist was rising on Mareotis, when the royal barge left Pleasure Island. Alexis, a very handsome fellow, with a comically aristocratic Alexandrine manner of taking nothing seriously, snuggled himself in a woolen cloak and kissed a parchment order on "any or all district treasurers." It bore Cleopatra's signature and seal.

"No limit!" he remarked. "I bless my father and my mother, who conceived me as full of cupidity as a Rhakotis prostitute! There are compensations, even for having to leave Alexandria. Dreadful ordeal, but sublime opportunity! When I return I will buy me Arabian horses. Hitherto, mine has never been better than second chariot. It is simply a question of money. Buy the best horses. Bribe the other fellows' charioteers. Watch me win next time!"

"Better rob tombs like the Queen," Tros answered. "The Queen keeps her eye on the treasury statements."

"On the tombs, too," said Alexis. "Mining is a royal monopoly. She calls tombs mining! Did you notice that stuff on the table?"

"Where is it from?"

"Near the Great Pyramid."

Tros grinned, thinking of his Northmen.

"Tros, you're a very remarkable man. I have you to thank for this treasury order! If it weren't for you, she would have sent two generals, each to keep an eye on the other. They would have been much more expensive than you and me. I would give ten per cent of my probable peculations to know what you said to the Queen."

"You buy things twice over, do you?" Tros answered. "You heard every word of what I said to her."

"Well, since you have guessed so accurately, I admit it. I was behind the curtain. I saw you smash these Nubians. Gods! Look at them! I don't know yet whether she meant them to kill you, or not, and I'll bet they don't know, either. Perhaps she doesn't know. I think she left it to destiny, the way you or I would toss a coin or bet a fortune on a cock-fight. She is like that—superstitious. What will you do with the Nubians?"

"Oar-bank. I never yet knew a royal slave worth a drachma until he had learned what work is. They shall blister their hams and work the fat-off. That duffer let go his scimitar at a mere touch."

"A pretty skillful touch, Tros!"

"But a touch. He shall learn what it means to hang on to an oar, with the wind across the current and the ship rolling. It needs more than muscle. Will you take them to Esias for me and bid him keep them at heavy labor until I return from this business? Them and the rug. That is my rug, remember! I believe you will find Esias in his office at the east end of the City. You will find me near my trireme."

"I am supposed to keep you in sight."

"Can you swim? Very well then. Go ashore in the barge and find Esias. Bring him to me. I am to trust you, she said. So I will, until you give me reason not to. Let us understand each other."

"Oh, I understand you."

"Let me know when you don't. On any successful expedition there is only one commander. There is only one way of returning home alive and that is by obeying the commander. I am he."

Alexis got up and bowed as impudently as he dared. "I salute you. Should I call you Caesar?"

"You may call me friend if you will. I will judge will, by behaviour."

Tros went forward and, pushing aside the lookout man, stood for several minutes with his hand on the high, carved, gilded stem. Suddenly he plunged overboard and was out of sight in a moment, lost to view in the mist that curled amid the rushes. He swam, as many strong men do, with prodigious waste of effort and it was several minutes before his hand caught the rail of a painted pleasure-boat and Conops hauled him overside.

"Master, let me rub you dry with my shirt. This chill air—"

"Give me food, you idiot! Do you think I can go since daybreak on an empty belly and wait to be bath-housed by a drunkard? Is there wine left?"

"Aye, aye, master. I saved some from the Jews' share. I said to the Jews, I said, it 'ud need an artful eunuch, I said, to poison the Lord Captain. But if he comes to you parched from mistrusting palace wine, would you have him drink up Mareotis? Frogs and all, eh? Frogs, I said to 'em, said I, are against religion. Aren't you Jews circumcised, I said, against the sin of eating frogs? So shall he drink 'em? Here you are, master, good wine! Wine of Chios! Kept cool, too. Here you are—bread, cheese, olives—"

"Where is Aristobolus?"

One of the Jews removed a disordered sail. Aristobolus lay bound and gagged, under the thwarts. Tros ate ravenously. "Head for the cross-city canal. Row slowly. Enter the canal in darkness. Has Aristobolus talked?"

"Aye, master. As soon as we'd ungagged him and he'd wetted his throat with some of our Chian, he began talking a streak. Never heard such wild talk as his, not even from our Northmen when they're drunk and homesick for the Baltic women. Any word of our Northmen, master?"

"Aye. When we get back, sort out all their battle-axes and armor from the storeroom. Wrap them in a sail and have them ready."

"Trust you to make a landfall, fog or nighttime!"

"Carry on with your tale."

"Master, maybe one of our lads hit him a bit hefty. He talked wild. Soon as he saw it was me, and me your man, and us all laughing and acting foolish, and out o' reach o' land and all that, first he offered us money. So we took what he had, and it was little enough for a gentleman of his fine speech and manners. Then we fed him but he didn't eat much; and I told him he's your prisoner, and you not in the habit o' treating prisoners the way a pirate treats 'em—pirate though he said you are. He loosed off a fathom o' talk about your being a pirate, and the Queen intending to have you crucified, because the Romans want it. And he said that if we love you, we should find you quick and let him tell you how to keep your soul inside your body."

"You remember his exact words?"

"No, master. They were too many. Twenty men couldn't remember 'em. But he talked, like a hawse paying out in a tide-rip, about how we'd better find you in a hurry. So I said you're having your fun with a girl and it was worth a broken bone or two to interrupt you without reason why—"

"You—You loose-tongued lecher!"

"And I told him I lost my starboard eye, crack-peeping, to witness your secret interviews with kings and queens, I'm all that in your confidence. These lads confirmed it; they'll make good sailors, time I've schooled 'em. One way and another, and what with threatening to drown him if he didn't, he talked. Chronos! He talked of a prince named Herod, and this Queen's father, and a lady by name of Boidion, and half the history of Egypt! Seems that this Queen's father was a bit of what you're fond of calling me. And he'd a gift for getting daughters, had King Ptolemy the Piper. Nearly all his get were daughters. The boys were sickly, but the birls were well joined, and good lookers, and any number of 'em. One she-child—one of his bastards—was by a Jewess, name of Esther I think he said, and they called the child Boidion. That particular she-child is the spitting image, so said this man when he'd had his second cup of Chian, of that Princess Arsinoe who got us into all that trouble off Salamis—born within the same month, and so like her, said he, it was awkward. But instead of poisoning her along with her mother, as would have been more usual, somebody whose job it was to clean up King Ptolemy's leavings reported 'em dead and packed 'em off to Jerusalem, where the mother's folks lived, and our lads here claim they knew the mother in Jerusalem. They swear she was a high priest's daughter. I've schooled 'em with a rope's end so they don't lie to me worth mentioning. They claim they knew Boidion, too. They say she grew up to be a fine up-standing wench with saucy manners. And they agree she looks like Queen Arsinoe of Cyprus."

The ten Jews nodded, one by one, solemnly, resting on their oars as Tros looked at them for confirmation of the story.

"Well," said Conops, "this here Aristobolus said, if I understood him right, that that swine of an Etruscan Tarquinius—only he called him a smart fellow—who was left in Cyprus in command of Queen Arsinoe's bodyguard, has killed Arsinoe—dagger, poison, bow-string, drowned, he didn't say what—and crossed to Syria, and gone to Jerusalem, and found Boidion, and called her Arsinoe, and brought her to Egypt, and raised an army, and intends to march on Alexandria and make her Queen of Egypt. I made him say it over and over, and I got it right. That's his story. And he said that the thing for you to do is to join Boidion—he said near Memphis—because, said he, for two reasons. First, Queen Cleopatra has your name on her list of suspects for the torturer to examine. Second, knowing this Boidion isn't Arsinoe; soon as you've helped to make her Queen you'll have the pick of whatever's going, and if you're so minded you can even marry her and make yourself viceroy, or you'll tell what you know. There, master, he said plenty more, but that's all I remember."

"Why did you gag him again?"

"I had to take the sail off him, master. If I'd let him go on talking he'd have had me that mixed up I'd never have remembered half of what I do remember. And besides, there were two boats full o' Queen's men, and I saw them search a boat or two, and they might have searched us. So I readied him up. We lashed the iron killick to his feet. We'd have dumped him if the Queen's men came close. No knowing what might have happened if they'd found him aboard of us, and us your men, in a boat that we'd have had to do some full gale lying to explain."

"One of these days," said Tros, "you'll be a valuable man."

That was high praise. Conops pondered it in silence, and Tros sat thinking until mist and darkness blended and suddenly the guard at the mouth of the cross-city canal challenged gruffly. Tros answered:

"Junior court chamberlain Alexis's boat, on the Queen's business."

Someone stuck a torch into a fire-pot and whirled it until five guards stood revealed with the crimson firelight gleaming on polished armor.

"Junior lord chamberlain Alexis came ashore in the Queen's barge. Who are you?"

"Ask him! Who tells the Queen's business to the first fool who asks?"

"Come closer! Row in here to the wharf!"

"At your own risk! Halt me at your peril! I've a prisoner for the dungeon."

"Oh. Well—he'll have company! They've been packing them in! Pass!"


CHAPTER XV
The fly-by-night flotilla


In battle, in mutiny, in mid-debauch, in unexpected crisis, men remember justice, though they know not what it is that they remember. They will leave in the lurch a captain who has spoiled them with over-kindness. They will kill a captain who fears them. They will sham drunkenness—aye, sham death—aye, even choose death—rather than obey a captain who has ever flinched from peril, labor, hardship that he bade them face. But they will rally to a just man, though the night is in arms against him and though they know not why.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Nightmare. The slums of Rhakotis by crimson torchlight. The great trireme, high on the ways, with her gilded serpent, draped in paulin, thrust between the roofs of storage sheds.

There were men beneath her, examining the torn tin sheathing by the light of tow flares. A steam of Esias's slaves, under the watchful eyes of two of Esias's partners, carrying ashore the gear, ammunition and dunnage and Tros's personal possessions to be locked out of reach of 'longshore thieves. Old Esias, with his hand on the master-shipwright's shoulder, listening to Tros and nodding as he watched the secretary-slave jot down instructions.

"Strip off all the tin sheathing, Esias. Test every nail in the hull. They're mostly oak tree-nails, and tight, but some of them may have been shorn from the shock of collision; we hit those pirate hulls with our sails full o' wind and a big sea running; we have had to work double-shifts at the water-hoist, all the way from Tarsus. Have your shipwright test every inch of her timbers. If there's anything soft, out with it; anything cracked, out with it. Replace with Lebanon cedar. There's a lot of that tin too badly torn to be put back; have it melted down, and rebeaten. Watch it, though; it's worth nearly its weight in silver.—Now then: I'll be taking a hundred men. The remainder I'll leave in your charge. Dribble out their back pay miserly. The half they've had already will be gone by morning. Dole out the balance fast enough to keep them from thieving themselves into trouble, but slowly enough to keep them standing by."

"Lord Captain, I have the Queen's minister's order not to repair your trireme," said Esias. "I am already in trouble for having done your business. Selling your pearls to the Queen for such a high price has aroused the anger of the Treasury. They—he—"

"So you told me already. Did he order you not to make ready to repair, at full speed, when you get the word? Do as I say, Esias!"

"I will risk that. There was no order not to make ready. But a hundred—of your own men—before morning? Even your lieutenant Ahiram wenches himself stupid in the House of Carousal."

"Ahiram shall stand by the ship," Tros answered. "He is as useless on land as a whore at sea. Now listen: my prisoner Aristobolus is in your rope-shed, under a guard of your freedmen. Hold him there until I come for him, but drop a word in his ear that I am perhaps more friendly to him than I seem. I need eight more boats—good ones, not too heavy. Set a cask in each boat, full of good drinking water. I need wine and provisions for one hundred and twenty men for ten days—sails and gear for each boat—tow-line—plenty of spare rope—blankets—the fools are afraid to sleep without their heads covered—fire-pots—throw in a bolt or two of bandage-linen, there'll be broken heads to mend—enough cut firewood for a few days' cooking—better put your slaves to work on that this minute—one hundred and fourteen horse-tail fly-switches—I want men fit to fight, not blown meat—and an open letter of credit from you to all your agents up the Nile."

"And all this before morning, Lord Captain?"

"Before midnight, Esias!"

"Impossible!"

"Esias, did I save your corn from the pirates? Did I sell it to the Romans for its full value? That, too, was impossible. But have you had your money for the corn?"

"Lord Tros—"

"May God guide your efforts, Esias!"

"Lord Tros—a moment!"

Esias, a bit feeble with age and shaken by excitement, took his arm and walked beside him.

"This way! This way!"

He led into the deepest shadow between piles of ship's stores.

"Take this! It came from Pelusium. Nay, I know not how my agent got it. There were two letters, one from Tarquinius, so openly delivered that the Queen's spies could not help but know about it; they came and took it; and this one, that my agent sent stitched in a saddle-girth. Seethe seal is unbroken."

"Do you know from whom it is?"

"Nay, nay. I guess. I do not wish to know. Tell none that I gave it to you."

Esias hesitated.

"And?" Tros asked him. "There was speech on your lips, Esias."

"Beware of the Lord Alexis!"

"Aye, I will well beware of him."

Esias hurried away. Tros climbed the ship's side and entered his cabin that had already been stripped of nearly all its contents. The whale-oil lamp still burned. By its light he examined the letter. It was of folded parchment, soiled with horse-sweat, addressed in fine Greek characters to Tros of Samothrake. He felt a curious excitement. He smelt and felt the letter half-a-dozen times before he broke the wax, sealed with a thumb-print, and read it. It was written in Greek, in the same fine, educated hand.


Should you hear of my being in Egypt, doubt not. Should you hear of my dying in Egypt, doubt that, unless they say I died in armor. You will know whose armor. I am altogether weary of being a stake on the board in a game played by fools and swindlers. But again they throw the loaded dice. So it is I who must fight for myself, since there is none other for whom the fight is worth the effort, you not having designed to—(Several words had been crossed out; horse-sweat had made the correction illegible.)—So, if I am to die now, farewell and forget me. But if I live, you shall judge again.


There was no signature. But there could be no possible doubt in Tros's mind of the writer's name. Arsinoe had not returned the armor that she wore in the sea-fight off Salamis. Her reference to the armor was identification enough.

Tros swore. He set his teeth. He burned the letter in the flame of the whale-oil lamp and trod the ashes of the parchment into powder. Two revolutions? Arsinoe in Egypt? Boidion in Egypt? As like as twins—as desperate as hunted felons—as determined as the Queen herself to possess the throne, and as careless of others' danger!

Was Artistobolus's story true? Was it Cassius's plan to substitute the bastard Boidion for Arsinoe? Did Cassius think Arsinoe was dead? Or was she dead?—Was this letter a trick? Tarquinius and Serapion were capable of anything treacherous. Had they killed her? It might be Arsinoe's handwriting, it might not. How much did the Queen know? Why the devil didn't the woman ever tell a man all she knew, instead of sending him half-informed on deadly errands?

There was no time now to think about it. More important at the moment were the Northmen's battle-axes and their armor. Tros went and watched them wrapped up, ready. And then action.

He marched away into the night, in armor because dark Rhakotis was as full of daggers as mongrel dogs. His ten-Jew bodyguard trudged at his back. Conops strode beside him, wise in all the by-ways, familiar with every bawdy-house and tavern from wharf-side to city wall, and from the wall to the slums beyond it, amid the slaughter-yards, slave-barracks, native Egyptian mud-brick huts and factories, along the road to the Necropolis.

First, they entered a tavern called the House of Carousal, that twanged with zither-music and swished with the exciting hiss of shaken sistra, in a reek of wine-fumes. Naked, sweat-wet bellies—brown, black, white, ivory-hued—wove in and out in the reddened smoke of unglazed lamps and torches set in sconces on painted walls. Bare feet thumped on the tiled floor. Song—it was a sentimental, stupid, new-fangled chorus about the blue-eyed girls of Gaul—shrilled from the throats of wenches who sat on the customers' knees and kept them plied with wine. It was a deep-sea sailor's heaven, rigidly exclusive: no one of less than quarter-deck rank might enter and be robbed in that place. The proprietor and four half-naked bullies hurried to the door to protest against the presence of the Jews, who were obviously of inferior rank, and moreover armed, which was against law and custom. Conops hit one of the bullies on his spare-rib with the hilt of his knife—set him spinning—howling—doubled with pain. There was an instant uproar. The musicians tried to out-din the tumult.

Tros spied Ahiram. The Phoenician, in gold earrings, with a silken scarf tied on his head and a girl on each knee, looked frightened. He moved like a man in a dream. But he showed his teeth when Tros shook off a dozen naked dancing-girls who tried to cling to his arms, and to pull off his armor and persuade him to stay and be entertained. Tros came and stood in front of him. Ahiram forgot his manners:

"Teeth of a yellow bitch! Am I your watch-dog—day in, day out—a-sea and a-shore? Did I come alive out of gale and battle to be robbed of a bit of wenching?"

"You have until midnight, Ahiram, to go and stand by the ship. If Esias reports you absent at midnight, I will order him to pay you off."

Ahiram came to his senses, a bit gradually. He pushed the women off his knees.

"What's in the wind, Lord Captain?"

"Treason! If they fire the trireme in my absence, I will blame you, Ahiram!"

"You are going somewhere?"

"Aye. Do I leave a man behind me?"

"Aye, aye, Lord Captain."

Grumbling, Ahiram began there and then the tedious business of disputing the amount of his bill; two or three hours' carousing would only have made the return to duty all the harder to face, so he smote the protesting wenches. Tros left him arguing how much he owed. He flung a coin to the proprietor, who cursed him as he went out.

The next place was a stews where lesser notables foregathered; decurions, stewards; master-arches, helmsmen, boatswains, armorers, ship-carpenters and oar-bank overseers could count on revelry uncriticized by the lords of the quarterdeck. The prices were slightly lower, the pace was faster for that reason. The wine stank worse; the musicians were fewer and made more noise; the women were older, less comely and more artless, except for a big black Galla woman, who was doing an orgiastic dance in mid-room. She recognized Conops, instantly ceased dancing, shouted like an Amazon and rushed straight at him. He sent her sprawling, and she lay beneath a service table screaming that he owed her money.

But Tros had come there for decurions. He set his ten Jews at the door and stared through the lamp-smoke, conning faces, selecting the men who had stood best to their battle stations, and whose squads had shown best discipline in filthy weather against almost overwhelming odds. Some of the best men were already too drunk to bother with, and some were sufficiently drunk to be dangerous. But one man came and asked what it was the Lord Captain needed.

"You!" Tros answered. "You and Conops go and roust out these nine." He named the nine he had selected. "Line them in front of me."

It took priceless time. They had to be wrenched away from screaming harpies, who were egged on by the owner of the place to drag their customers by force into a labyrinth of cells out of sight in the rear of the building. But there were presently ten disheveled revelers standing bewildered in mid-room and even the proprietor ceased his protests as Tros looked them over. The music ceased. Even the garlanded strumpets held their tongues and watched.

"Are you men loyal?"

"Aye, aye, Lord Captain."

They were hiccoughing. Some of them swayed, and one was bleeding from a torn ear were a woman had tried to wrench him loose from Conops's grip; he was fiercely impatient to go and thrash the woman. But he, too, agreed he was loyal—whatever that meant.

"Are you seeking a new captain?"

"No!" They were clear on that point.

"Are you men or monkeys? Are you comrades-in-arms? Or are you toss-pots fit for nothing?"

"Men, Lord Captain!" They were indignant. They had earned that title. "Blood and bread! You know us! But—"

"You 'but' me? Those of you who love your comfort more than duty, fall out! Fall out, I say! The remainder—those of you who like the right to call me captain—"

Conops gave tongue. He could bark like the crack of breaking timbers:

"'Ten-shun! Right turn! Quick march! Left! Left! Left! Left wheel! To the street now—try to march like fighting men, you dock-side drunkards!—Fall in, my squad! Snap to it, you Jew-boys! Two deep! Guard our backs! Left, there! Left! Left! Cloak, eh? Leave it! Buy yourself another with the loot of Egypt!"

The proprietor stormed, cursed, tore his hair, threw his garland at Tros and cited the law. He threatened to-summon the city guards and to have Tros punished for infraction of privilege; no one in Alexandria, except the Queen's police, had the right to interfere with anyone's pleasures provided he paid his score, and the police were on the side of the keepers of stews. But Tros was at war with time; each squandered minute was a notch in the score against him.

"Take your bill to Esias! If it's fair, I will bid him pay it!"

He strode out, filling his lungs with cleaner air, halted his men in the street, formed them in solid squad and gave his orders:

"Each of you decurions is to pick ten men, from your own squad or another decurion's,-no matter which, but strong and willing, fit to pull on an oar, march and fight with sword or bow and arrow. There'll be rough work, now and later, but double pay for all hands on this expedition. There's no time to go and get your weapons, but you'll each have one armed man to protect you, so let me see you wade in and line up a hundred men in short order. Help yourselves to clubs if you can find them—break some furniture—don't be afraid to break the heads of the brothel bullies."

"Expedition, Lord Captain? We'll need—"

"Quick march! By the right!"

He led them, sobering up in the night air, through the torch-lit dimness of the shadowy Rhakotis slums, to the Western Gate, where the Queen's guards made no difficulty. The gate was not closed; Alexandria was an open port of refuge, day or night, for almost anyone—even for runaway slaves who were willing to sell themselves to new masters or to enlist in the riffraff army. That was one of the thousand, excuses that Rome had for picking a quarrel. Tros in armor, with a squad of twenty behind him, looked too much like a Queen's man to be questioned, even if he was not recognized, which he possibly was, he was not sure; Alexis was somewhere, spreading rumors, giving secret orders. There was no guessing what Alexis had said or done since he went and fetched Esias. Tros marched through the Gate and said nothing, saluted no one, was saluted by none. The Gate clanged at his back but recoiled ajar and the cumbrous beam used as a lock was left leaning against the wall.

Then a raid. Such a raid as Alexandria had seen a thousand times, when crews were needed for the royal ships, or porters for the army's baggage loads on the road to Pelusium. Swift, drastic, unexplained, merciless—knives in the dark, like hornets' stings—a panic-savage raided mud-nest—torch-lit riot—smashed doors—drunken seamen hauled out of stinking dives and clubbed into dazed obedience—roared at, deep-sea fashion—their anger, adroitly exploited, turned against the brothel-keepers—against yelping hags—against slaughterhouse butchers and riff-raff Roman destitutes who ran to the brothel proprietors' aid—until they roared at last, half-consciously, their old familiar war-cry:

"Tros! Tros!"

Oarsmen—archers—swordsmen—spearmen—bruised and bleeding. But beginning to be conscious of the deep-sea brotherhood that owned them in one discipline—unarmed, but beginning to feel again like fighting men—were hurled, kicked, clubbed, driven into the street, where Tros stood with his armor crimsoned by a torch that Conops had snatched from someone. And then, suddenly, Tros's battle-voice:

"Stand by for trouble! Fall in, all hands! Line up! Four deep! Line along the road, there! Fall in!"

Conops, barking, nagging, prodding. Ten Jews, armed, and freed that day as a reward for discipline and valor, standing off the snarling dog-fight rushes of dealers in human depravity. Conops, brass-lunged:

"One hundred, one score and eleven, fit to stand up, master!"

Tros, bull-lunged:

"Ship's company! Fours—right! By the right, quick march!"

Staggering, reeling, cursing fours; the Jews in the rear to deal with stragglers; the decurions, full of their lawful pride now, bullying and dragooning; Conops everywhere, up and down the line:

"Left! Left! Zeus and Leda! Can't a seaman take a drink or two and march? Pick that man up! Carry him! Left! Left! Your Lord Captain's showing you his wake, you lubbers! Step lively! Left! Left! Your head hurts, does it? Wait till morning and you'll know what pain is! Left! left!"

And then, suddenly, song—one voice, hoarse and drunken—two—ten—twenty—then the whole line roaring, out of tune but in time to the steadier thud of feet, the indecorous, boistering song about how the seamen taught directness to the Lord of gods and men—saltily amorous seamen, loving Leda, 'long shore Leda, much too eager to embrace the lady to delay the fun by waiting to grow feathers. No need to be swans to love 'longshore Leda.

Western Gate flung wide to admit the procession—no questions asked, but a glimpse of Alexis, junior court chamberlain, in conversation with the Captain of the Gate guard. Riotous streets. There was always a riot in Rhakotis, day or night, when anything dynamic happened. Curious, excited, credulous of any rumor, torch-lit streams of men and women flowed down the shadowy streets to Esias's wharf and fought there for the right to be next to the palings—blocked the way and fought the gangs of slaves and sailors who carried the loads to the boats at the canal wharf—yelled questions—lied—and at last jeered Tros, because somebody said he was under arrest and being sent by the Queen into Southern Egypt, or perhaps to Berenice on the Red Sea.

Full loads at last, and a roll-call. Angry protests from seamen too badly bruised or broken-headed to be useful. Weapons. Armor. Inspection. Two or three more thrown out for looking slack in the ranks and unfit for duty. Quick work by the doctor—there was hardly a man without a bandage. Assignment of places in the boats, each boat and each thwart numbered and each man numbered to a thwart. Aristobolus, with his hands tied and his head in a wheat-sack, lowered into the second boat in charge of Conops. Alexis, looking like a lost exquisite, sweating and rather soiled but philosophically cheerful, jumping into Tros's place in the leading boat—rebuked for it by three Jews and three seamen, who came near throwing him overboard. A last word with Esias and sleepy Ahiram. A fierce last word with Conops—and away, two hours after midnight. Conops's golden trumpet blew the "cast off" and the oars shoved the boats into mid-canal. Then Tros's voice, over-roaring all the tumult of the dinning crowd:

"Flotilla—in line ahead—ready! Dip!"

Silent, except for the thump of oars, the boats stole southward, threading a torch-lit marble city, toward Mareotis, and the Nile, and the mysterious Land of Khem.


CHAPTER XVI
"Never again to speak of Boidion"


To an honest man, though I may veil or dissemble my thoughts, I never leave in doubt the main question: am I for him or against him? Honesty deserves honesty. But I have yet to be persuaded that a lying scoundrel has a claim on me, that I should feel in duty bound to guide his guessing.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


At first the only hardship was the flies. There are no flies at sea. A sailor's skin is toughened to resist such cleanly and natural elements as ropes' ends, hail, the twist of tide-caught oars. A horse-tail fly-switch is a damned unseamanly device with which to comfort the lips and eyes of honest oarsmen. But there was not much rowing. They lay flicking themselves and wondering what monstrous dangers lay to southward. Lions they had seen, in the park cages in Alexandria, and on shipboard on the way to Rome; and crocodiles; and even one hippopotamus. But there were stories of serpents, a half-mile long, that swallowed ships at a gulp; of a land of perpetual night, inhabited by bats that sucked men's life-blood; of ogres that lived in sepulchres; and of two-headed women with one breast apiece, who could drive an arrow through the stoutest armor, and who ate men's entrails.

True, Lord Captain Tros had been right as usual; there was a north wind. The canal from Mareotis to the Nile had been dug by a Ptolemy's engineers so oriented as to make a soldier's breeze, eight or nine months in the year, for the laden barges. The Lord Captain had promised the wind would blow them up the river, and he might be right again. But they had heard stories of whirlpools, rapid, cataracts, and of many a ship that had sailed up-Nile but had never come home again. It made no difference to men recovering from drink, and totally ignorant of their destination or the purpose of the expedition, that they kept continually passing laden barges, all from the South. The South was an ominous mystery. Their heads ached. They made very little conversation, and kept the flotilla closely enough spaced to satisfy even the Lord Captain's demands.

It was nearly low-Nile and the current was sluggish. When the wind failed, at bends of the river or in the lee of cultivated islands, the rowing was not particularly hard work. But it was mostly sailing; and at night-fall, the second night out when Tros called a halt at the site of a very ruinous temple, there was less than fifteen minutes between the leading and the last boat. Everyone was cheerful except Aristobolus, whose hands were no longer bound, but who had been in Conops's boat He looked, by that time, as if he might prefer the conversation of sepulchral ghouls or devils from the world beyond the sources of the Nile.

The Nile was Main Street. They were passing through the richest and most densely populated, cultivated zone on earth where there were villages every few miles and even the reeds were harvested for fuel. There was a continual stream of northbound traffic. The only reason why they had that reedy bivouac to themselves was because the spirits of the ancient dead were said to haunt the place. The evening wind in the reeds, the rustling of the night-fowl, the eerie darkness of Egyptian night, combined to stir superstition. There were hermits, like huge owls, in the ruins. Two of them were bald, scrawny old females—probably ex-prostitutes from Alexandira, speechlessly, piously lousy. The men refused to sleep ashore; they ate their meal in a hurry, in silence, and piled back into the boats. They implored Tros not to risk his life in the ruined temple precincts. But he ordered Conops and a squad to sweep the fleas and bat-filth from a stone-paved chamber, and there he lit a fire and invited Aristobolus and Alexis.

The two Alexandrines eyed each other with alert suspicion. They ate in silence, except when Alexis complained of his lack of a servant to wash him and bring him a change of linen. It might be true, as he said, that he had been too lazy to unpack his enormous roll of bedding and belongings; but there might have been a less contemptible reason. He and Aristobolus omitted to drink to each other, even when Tros poured the wine, and made a hospitable gesture to them both. However, Alexis had been in the leading boat. Tros had talked to him. He was well primed—knew what was expected of him. So, as soon as the meal was finished, Tros went out to wash himself and to post sentries and make sure that the boats were well moored. He took plenty of time about it, and when he returned the two men appeared to be not exactly friendly but to have reached some sort of understanding.

"Look here," said Aristobolus, "your man Conops has been telling me all day long that you're at loggerheads with the Queen—that you only escaped death by jumping off the royal barge and swimming. That confirms what I told him to tell you—that you are on the proscription list. Am I right?"

"I had a narrower escape from four of your freedmen!" Tros answered.

"Oh? What happened?"

"What will happen to you also, unless you obey me—in thought, speech, action, and in the very manner of your gestures! I will presently say what I wish you to do. And I will split you like a fish if you refuse to do it. That is not a threat. It is a statement of fact."

Aristobolus digested the information, then continued: "Your man Conops told me—he said it twenty times, or oftener—that you intend to throw in your lot with those of us who look for a change on the throne."

"Conops is in my confidence," Tros answered.

"Alexis says he has the same intention."

"And you?" Tros asked him.

"Sacrament of Isis! I ran a thousand risks, yesterday morning, didn't I? to warn you of the danger you were in, and to implore you to join Boidion."

"You said Arsinoe."

"I know it.. Was there time, in the street, with the Queen's spies everywhere, to tell you all the details of a plot that has taken us weeks to contrive, after months of study? Man, be reasonable! And consider now how you have treated me!"

"I saved you from the Queen's men," Tros answered. "I was asked where you are. I could only reply that I had slain your freedmen, who attacked me."

"That puts another complexion on it."

"But not on my demands on you!" Tros answered. "You tried to trap me—"

"For your own good, to take you to Boidion!"

"That failing, you tried to have me murdered."

"Why not? I mistrusted you. How should I know you wouldn't turn my name in to the Queen's police?"

"You know now! You have told my man Conops the story of Boidion. Conops has told me. Has our friend Alexis heard it? Tell him."

"Yes," said Alexis, "he told me when you just now left us alone to digest that vulture's food that you adorned with the magical title of supper."

"What did you think of it?" Tros asked.

"Ullage! Army contract ullage! During the past year I have had all my meals at the royal table. Could anybody but a sailor ask me what I think of that stuff?"

"Belly! I spoke of Boidion."

"Oh, her? Well, Cassius seems to have been impressed by her. Boidion has the advantage, from his viewpoint, and from ours too, that she has never been Queen of Egypt, whereas Arsinoe has been. Arsinoe, it is true, didn't last long. Caesar, to use his own phrase, readjusted her condition to comply with custom and the law of Egypt. (Damned old humbug! What was he doing in Egypt?) However, Arsinoe had time to learn more than a little. And when they know too much, they're difficult. Witness our present Queen. It's a mistake to try to win races with beaten horses—probably an even worse mistake to bet on an excited queen to win a revolution. That is why, hitherto, I have set my face against Arsinoe and have continued to be what is known as loyal. But now. Arsinoe is dead."

"Now? By whose hand?" Tros demanded, in a voice that made Alexis stare and speculate.

"Probably that won't be known for a long time, if ever. The mystery is, that she lived as long as she did," he answered. "She was as difficult to play with as Cleopatra. But Boidion is another story. She will do as she is told. She is equally good-looking." He was watching Tros intently. "She is said to resemble Arsinoe so closely that they look like each other's reflection in a mirror. Boidion might be—I say might be a shrewd man's venture. She should amuse a man like you, Tros. Anyway, what choice have you or Aristobolus, with your names on the Queen's proscription list?"

"You already know my mind," Tros answered. "I believe it is time to commit ourselves. Why use one name, when we mean another? If there is to be a substitution it must be kept forever secret. I propose that we three shall take oath, tonight, never again to speak of Boidion. Let us call her Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus."

He filled the wine-cups, groping for them by the light of the dying embers.

"No, no! Queen Arsinoe of Egypt!" said Aristobolus, drinking. "I commit myself. I swear to that. By Zeus, and by the Holy Sacrament of Isis, I swear I will live or die by Queen Arsinoe of Egypt!"

"Queen Arsinoe of Egypt!" said Alexis, wry-faced; the wine was the stuff that Esias sold to deep-sea captains. "I am superstitious. I don't like to take oath about dying. Death is a damned unpleasant event that will occur too soon, no matter when. Who ever heard of Boidion? Long live Queen Arsinoe of Egypt!"

It was Tros's turn. He had given a great deal of thought to what he might say, that would convince two suspicious conspirators without violating his own conscience. He fell back on his rumored connection with the Mysteries of Samothrace and Philae. Even the mocking skeptics knew that such men rarely bound themselves by oath, but, when they did so, held themselves bound by its terms until released by death.

"By my soul, and for the sake of Egypt, until her death or mine I will keep full faith with Queen Arsinoe."

Was Arsinoe dead? And did the Queen know that Alexis was a traitor? Was this Cleopatra's way of outwitting and making an end of a man whom she discovered she had trusted too far? It might be.

"You talk like a shaveling priest, you stormy war-horse!" said Alexis. "Soul? How much for it? If I could find mine, I would sell it for one night of joyous living."

"Aye," added Aristobolus, "and you would sell it for the sake of your hair and hide! The Queen's torturers will attend to us three if we fail. It seems to me, we can trust one another. What now?"

"Do you know where to find her?" Tros asked.

Aristobolus perceived his value. "Do I? Is it likely I would go to all that trouble to persuade you, if I couldn't go straight to her hiding place?"

"Then you shall go!" Tros answered. "You shall take Alexis with you. You shall say I come with all possible haste with a hundred men."

Alexis controlled himself remarkably well, but his voice was strained:

"Do you always go in for astonishing people? I think we should stick together. Suppose I refuse?"

"The consequences might be pleasanter," said Tros, "than being torn to pieces in the Queen's dungeon. But to die for disobedience has always seemed to me a miserable death. I command this expedition. I protect men who obey me."

Alexis sounded as if he swallowed something. He had lost his air of frivolous inconsequence.

"What is your plan?" he demanded.

"To commit you to the hilt! I don't propose to commit myself to revolution and leave you one chance to betray me! And—" Tros added, "I shall need more men."

"Hah! You will look for your Northmen? Don't waste time. I was told they were sent to the mines. By now they have been flogged and starved and worked until they're useless."

"We are to go on ahead of you?" Aristobolus asked. "How will you find us? We are likely to be difficult to follow. There are no streets in the desert." He added slowly: "We should not feel, shall I call it fortunate? if you should turn aside, or retreat, and leave us trying to explain to desperate venturers why we have brought them false news. What guarantee do you offer? What pledge?"

Silence. Then suddenly:

"Conops!"

Tros's quarter-deck voice startled the owls. It awoke wildfowl in the reeds. It brought a hermit peering at him over the edge of a broken cornice. Alexis threw a lump of broken masonry at the hermit. He helped himself to the sour wine with a shrug of resignation. He rubbed his face with the stuff, to allay the irritation of fly- and mosquito-bites. He spoke to Aristobolus:

"We are like clay in this man's hands. I wouldn't trust him—Trim, do you hear me? I wouldn't trust you if I didn't know you sold out in Cyprus to the Roman admiral Ahenobarbus. The Queen was told so, but she didn't believe it. I know it."

Conops appeared; at a sign from Tros he squatted, his one eye as bright as a cat's in the glow from the embers.

"Choose the eight best rowers from the whole flotilla, Conops. You may also have two of the Jews—your own choice. Take these noblemen up-river, at the fastest speed you can make. You are to eat and sleep by watches. Speed is the main thing. Set both noblemen ashore, with a day's provisions, wherever the Lord Arsitobolus says is his destination. Wait there for me. Hide if you can, but keep a good lookout."

"Aye, aye master."

"When?" asked Aristobolus.

"Now! When you have reached your objective, you will send back somebody to guide me from the point where I am to pick up Conops."

Aristobolus objected: "Tros, there isn't any need for all this precaution. Even supposing we weren't honest men, we wouldn't dare to mislead you. There is too much at stake. The Alexandrine Romans are all waiting for news of our first success to declare for Arsinoe and kill that bitch Cleopatra. Do you suppose we would be such clowns as to forfeit your aid by any treachery. We need you! Once we're south of Heliopolis there won't be a living human being who isn't on our side. They wait for nothing but enough troops to strike at Memphis. Heliopolis will follow Memphis. Victory will lead to victory. The Queen's troops will all come over to our side if we win one battle."

"Very likely," said Tros. "But you will do as I tell you. Go and choose your rowers, Conops."

"Tros," said Alexis calmly, "you're a vile commander of an expedition. You begin by offending all the prejudices of the men on whom success depends."

"Criticize me later, when you know what I know, and when you have seen what I will do," Tros retorted.

He went outside and gave secret orders to Conops; then, presently, advice:

"The one to keep your eye on is Alexis. Aristobolus is a mere bungler. I am not yet quite sure that Alexis isn't the Queen's agent. He may have been sent along to worm his way into my confidence, and perhaps to stab me if I over-step discretion. Take a look in his baggage while he sleeps."

"I could kill him, master."

"Do as I tell you:"

"Aye, aye."

"He is probably in the pay, or under the influence of the Roman proconsul Cassius, who is directing a conspiracy from Syria. However, never mind that. Our business is to prevent a revolution before it begins. We have to force the hands of the conspirators. So don't let Alexis out-guess me. Whether he is secretly the Queen's man, or actually her enemy, I want him convinced, until he shows his own hand, that I hate the Queen and that I intend to command the rebellion."

"Trust me, master. I'll convince him!"

"Where are the Northmen's axes."

"All in your boat, master. I took out the Lord Alexis's dunnage and put them in its place. They're sharp, but I packed the hones along with 'em. Their shields are under the paulin in Thestius's boat."

"Good. You may tell Alexis that I told you I intend to start at daybreak."

Fifteen minutes later, Conops started up-stream—an oar-pulsed shadow on the star-lit bosom of the river.

One hour later, the flotilla followed. In the stern of the leading boat Tros slept, at ease, unworried. The outcome was for Destiny to unfold. He had laid his bet on the board. And if Destiny should call upon him for some Odyssean wit and Herculean energy, he had it, and would use it to the limit.

But he dreamed. It was not normal for Tros to dream of women. He dreamed of a girl in armor.


CHAPTER XVII
"Bracelet maker!"


I am familiar with the arguments of priests, whose truth I vigorously doubt because they take for granted claims impossible to prove. And I am equally familiar with logic that denies all speculative thought, as if a midnight to a midnight were the limit of existence, and a man no more important than a house. I find the one as superstitious as the other, and, of the two, perhaps the priests less stupid.

As for me, I am a mystic, not denying what I merely do not like or do not understand, nor claiming absoluteness for the truth I think I know. And I believe—and I enjoy believing, that a Greater Mystery than human mind can even dimly know, selects and sets us amid flames of love and hate, wherein we forge new weapons, and for them new uses, and for our souls new destiny.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Purple Egyptian night. The rising full moon barely beginning to silver the eastern sky. Absolute darkness in among the reeds, and almost utter silence; the wind's whisper out-soughed men's breathing. The wide river mirrored the colored stars. There was occasional clank of steel, as someone's weapon touched his neighbor's armor—an occasional thump of boat against boat. A hum of insects. A mud smell from the caked bank. A hippopotamus blew, in mid-river. Somewhere over on the far bank half-a-mile away a lion roared, melancholy-lonely. The flotilla lay clutched to the reeds by oarsmen's hands, invisible, their owners straining to catch Conops's words as he made his report to Tros:

"Aye, master. I put 'em ashore about five miles south o' here, at a temple. A whacking big one. It looks mighty like a town. There's a fleet o' boats there—some as big as sea-barges. Five-and-thirty armed men—looked like Syrians to me, in scraps of old Roman uniform and what not—rushed to the pier the minute I hailed—and the priests not taking notice. Any number o' priests. I'd say I saw, all told, about two hundred soldiers bivouacked alongside a high white wall that comes pretty near down to the river. Four men whipped the Lord Alexis's luggage out of the boat. I'd looked; there wasn't much more in it, master, than enough fine clothes to keep him looking ship-shape for a year, I'd say, maybe longer; and perhaps some money, in a big leather bag inside his bed-linen. He doesn't believe you're a rebel, but Aristobolus does. It's my belief Alexis means to set an ambush for us. I and the crew were bidden welcome, but I backed away to save argument and came on downstream, same as you said. That was yesterday morning and the lads about all in; there's a Gaul so blistered he'll be no use for two or three days."

"We've enough blistered men to stand by the boats. Go ahead. What did you find out?"

"I scouted all yesterday afternoon, and all today. Both banks are as quiet as death—all the peasants scared stiff, hiding. Found a few, but couldn't kick a word out of 'em. Yonder, master—you can't see 'em from here—four or five miles from here to there, across corn land, but the corn's all been harvested—are the pyramids, and the Sphinx. Tombs, too—thousands of 'em, I'd say. There's a school o' mummies, all laid out like fish to dry; they're stripping 'em, I guess for jewelry. There are three sets of buildings set in a triangle, wide apart. There's a mud-and-straw barrack, near a well in a hollow, with maybe three or four hundred laborers; but they're nothing—needn't reckon with 'em—they eat whip like donkeys. Near-by them is a better built barrack, full o' soldiers. Queen's men I reckon, as shabby as Rhakotis beggars, but well armed. They're a mixed lot, with Greek officers—I'd say about two hundred men, with their officers horsed on little bits o' nags, that eat date-straw, I saw 'em do it."

"Where are our Northmen?"

"Master, I'm laying it out the way I conned it. Let me pay the rope out end-first, or I'll get it snarled. I left the lads were. I went yonder and climbed a pyramid. There's three big ones, and several smaller. The biggest's as big as a mountain. You can't climb that one, it's all smooth white stone—steep as our shrouds, pretty near, and no foothold. But some of the casing of the next biggest is broken, so that one's easy, but it's hotter up there than a spitted kidney. It was too hot for flies. But there were scorpions. I was stung twice—found a Gypsy woman later; and she gave me breast-milk to put on the bites, so I wouldn't bite myself to death the way I've heard happens. I had a good view from up near the top. Between the two biggest pyramids, corner to corner, there are two long mud-brick walls, and they're patrolled at night by soldiers. Inside that space there's a four-walled enclosure of mud-brick. Inside that is the smallest o' the three sets of buildings—a barrack o' some sort, and it's there I think they berth our Northmen, and I think they chain 'em nights, but I'm not dead sure o' that either. It was after sunset when I counted, seemed to me, eight-and-thirty fellows, pretty well tuckered, being herded out of a hole in the ground—maybe a tomb—toward that place I just told you. By the time I was down off the pyramid—it's a long run around from the rear, and me as thirsty as a salt fish—they were all inside the wall, and I couldn't get by the soldiers. But I thought I heard chains. The wall's about two o' my height, and the gate's a boat's deck—takes a dozen men to shift it."

"What then?"

"Came back here for food and sleep. After supper, rowed across the river. Camp o' black tents in a hollow near the far bank, and a lot o' camels. It's all desert to eastward, but there's reeds, and there were two boats in the reeds. Just on general principles I tried to steal the boats, but they'd a watch set, and one of our lads got a cut on the arm—the left arm—nothing serious. So I came back, and before sunrise I was off again, scouting. I tried listening at the soldiers' barracks, but I didn't dare get caught or you'd ha' lacked information. And besides, I thought I'd time enough—didn't expect you until tomorrow night, master. You must ha' come like holy Hermes."

"So what?"

"Up-river, as I told you, there's a temple and about a couple o' hundred armed men—maybe more, with Aristobolus and Alexis and I don't know who else. From the temple there's a road that leads to Memphis. You can see the roofs of Memphis. It's a big city. They've shut the gates, and manned the walls by the look of it. There's another road between the pyramids and Memphis but no traffic. All day long not a sign of a living man on both roads. But over yonder, by the pyramids, they're digging out mummies by the dozen. If our Northmen are there, I couldn't swear to it. I didn't see 'em. They were down in a hole in the ground before I got there, and it was dark before they let 'em out. So I came back."

"And?"

"Master, I'm not lying. I'm a sea-cook if I didn't jump into the lap o' that Princess Arsinoe—her that we left behind in Cyprus. She was sitting down here, on the bank, beside where we are now, talking free and easy to the boat's crew; and them telling her who they are, and where they come from, and where you are. I jumped from the top of the bank, being scared o' snakes, and fell right over here. I rolled off quick. I'd seen her dagger a man in the fight off Salamis. She knew me in a minute—called me by name."

"Was she alone?"

"No. Two boat-loads o' men; I counted ten in one boat; the other boat was downstream a way, in the reeds, and I couldn't see how many. The men I did see were some o' the pirates that we took prisoner and you gave to her in Salamis. The boats were the same we'd tried to make away with from the far bank."

"Men armed?"

"To the teeth."

"How long ago was that?"

"Two hours—maybe two hours and a half."

The moon rose, bathing the land in silver streaked with shadows. The river began to look like molten metal.

"What did she say?"

"Nothing. Barring telling me I stink worse than if I'd been buried a week, she said never a word. Seems I'd hurt her instep. She was spitting mad for a couple o' minutes. Then she laughed. Then she up and went, walking, with a man behind her carrying that suit of armor we lent her and never got back."

"Which way?"

"The way I'd come—toward the pyramids, across the belt of corn land. Her men followed—maybe twenty—twenty-four all told."

"And?"

"I scuttled her boats. They'd set no boat watch."

"No sign of the Lord Alexis?"

"No. Nor of Aristobolus."

Tros cursed the moon. Then, presently, he blessed it. He climbed the bank and made his way to high ground. The whole landscape was bathed in pale white light, streaked with dark shadows of ridges that lay like wafer-courses, roughly south and north, but there was one wide shadow that curved northwestward until it reached the Great Pyramid and seemed to pour into a pool of ink beyond. One pyramid looked black, another gray, but the great one gleamed like marble. He could see the lights of Memphis—very few, scattered apart. There was a dark line that was likely a mud-brick wall, and he could count six watch-fires; probably there were others, down in the dunes, but all Egypt had to be thrifty of fuel. It looked like a long way to Memphis, and the land looked as dead as the bones of death itself, and deathly quiet.

Suddenly he saw what made him bless the moon. There were men on the march—southward—away from the pyramids—not along the road to Memphis, but toward what appeared to be low ground, with what might be the roof of a building barely visible, about mid-way between Memphis and the Nile. Even with a seaman's eyes it was very difficult to judge direction or distance. It was impossible to count the marching men because of the shadows they cast. They might be a couple of hundred, a few more or a few less, with officers on little bits of horses. They appeared to have no baggage-train.

Was Arsinoe with them? Conops said she had gone away in that direction. If so, what of Boidion? Was the Boidion story a mare's nest? Or had Conops mistaken Boidion for Arsinoe? Tarquinius the Etruscan might easily have given Arsinoe's armor to Boidion, and might easily have informed her well enough to call Conops by name. According to Conops the girl had said nothing to him; if she were Boidion, she might have feared betraying her real identity. It might be—it looked like it—she probably was leading, or being led, to unite with the forces from the temple up-river for a march on Memphis. Four or five hundred men might easily take Memphis; there would only be police, and perhaps a few officers and a rabble of impressed, hurriedly armed citizens to be overwhelmed.

Were the Northmen with her? Very likely. They would certainly prefer the prospect of plundering Memphis to the dreary, unpaid task of mining through the sand for the loot, for someone else, from ancient tombs. Surely they would rather fight anyone, anywhere, than toil under the whips of Egyptian overseers.

Tros made his decision. "Conops! Take your boat up-river, and set fire to their shipping. Scuttle and burn."

"Aye, aye, master. What then?"

"Return downstream and follow me. I'm going to march toward the pyramids and make a demonstration in the rear of those soldiers. I intend to burn their barracks. Get going. I'll attend to the landing party."

"Aye, aye, master."

Conops vanished upstream, with a boat-load of dry reeds and a very carefully tended earthen fire-pot. Neither he nor Tros would trust the brimstone matches that were becoming so common in Alexandria and Rome that fire-pots were old-fashioned. Tros ordered his men ashore, selected the badly blistered ones to stand by the boats, distributed the Northmen's battle-axes and armor, and was on the march almost before the thump of Conops's oars had died away around the bend of the river. It was after midnight—the shadows shortening—he had to make haste. He wasted no time avoiding Egyptian huts that looked, and stank like hog-pens, where the peasantry lay silent, quaking in dread of rape, forced porterage and all the other incidences to the march of armed men.

No stragglers. The weird moonlight stirred superstition. They marched in terror, in close order, wondering that Tros should dare to lead toward such monstrous, mysterious things as pyramids, from which they expected to see devils come forth. Word went down the line in whispers that the column they could see in the distance on their left front was fleeing from the ghosts of the ancient dead. They had heard Conops's tale of the mummies lying stripped and desecrated. So they crowded one another's heels. It was cool, so the weight of their armor was no impediment. They marched swiftly. But though they marched in shadow, in the lee of a long ridge, on dusty earth that smothered sound, the moon shone on their helmets, and Tros did not know whether they had been seen or not when, at the end of an our and a half, he halted them within the awful shadow of the Great Pyramid's western side.

He advanced alone, forth from the shadow, until he could see past the pyramid in the direction of the Nile, and twice he almost fell into an open tomb. The horizon blazed smoky crimson. Conops had succeeded; a whole fleet of boats was burning. Tros returned to his men, but he couldn't get volunteers to cross the moonlit waste of sand and set fire to the soldiers' barracks; the men were too overawed by the monstrous pyramid that loomed and seemed to lean against the starry sky.

He had to pick a dozen men and knock their heads together; even so, they followed like frightened children. He fired the roof-thatch with his own hand. Then, as the dry stuff caught and roared skyward, all the laborers stampeded from the other barrack—fled like ghosts, scattering. He had to go alone to fire those other roofs; his men were willing to fight lions, or even dragons, but not phantoms; they were sure those fleeing shapes were the mummies that Conops spoke of.

But when they saw Tros stand alone in the glare of the blazing thatch they were ashamed and approached him. He pointed up-Nile to the glare of the burning boats, where Conops had done his duty.

"So now! I have served my challenge on the Lord Alexis! He can march on Memphis if he pleases, but I think he will first come here to slay me, and perhaps to try to win you to his side against the Queen of Egypt."

"We are few, Lord Captain. We are very few indeed to fight a battle," said someone.

"Shall I fight alone?" Tros answered.

"Nay, nay. Do you doubt us?"

Whether or not Alexis was a traitor to the Queen—and Tros had small doubt on that point; whether or not Alexis was in control, or could make his advice prevail, it was an absolute certainty that the rebels knew knew they had Tros and a hundred men to deal with, at their rear, before they could dare to attack Memphis. If Conops had burned all their boats, their retreat, as an organized force, toward Upper Egypt, was out of the question, at least for the time being. Irresolution might encourage Memphis to attack them, whereas, if they should act swiftly and defeat Tros, that would discourage Memphis; it might even cause the immediate surrender of the city—an initial success that would probably bring over to their side whole regiments of the Queen's corrupt and discontented army, from the Red Sea ports, and Pelusium, and from places higher up the Nile.

There was almost no doubt what the army would do, there being almost nothing else that they could do. But there was plenty of time now. It would be hours before they could unite and attack. They might wait until daylight. They probably would.

No sign of the Northmen. The great wooden gate in the mud-brick wall between the pyramids, that Conops had described, stood wide open. So did the gate in the inner wall.

No guards, no sentries. Half in moonlight, half in shadow, the great enclosure lay forlorn and silent.

"Too late!" Tros muttered.

He cursed himself for having let the flotilla rest too often on the way, for the sake of arriving fit for action. For a moment he was almost irresolute—almost ready to retreat to the boats. Then he began to consider a plan of battle, and his eye fell again on the long, high mud-brick wall that enclosed the space between the two great pyramids. If there was water in there, it would do; and for the moment in any event, it would do to give his scared men a sense of security. He decided to lead them into the enclosure through the open gate. With his frightened squad behind him he crossed the moonlit open ground and strode into the gloom.

He almost jumped out of his armor. It took every scrap of iron self-control he owned to stand still and not show himself stunned with astonishment.

"Hail! Hail! Hail!"

"Tros! Tros! Tros!"

Eight-and-thirty battle-axes swung aloft and trembled to the thrill of their owners' welcome. Seven-and-thirty. Northmen, bearded, unkempt, lean, stood in line behind Sigurdsen, their leader. All Tros's other men had broken ranks; they had become an almost invisible audience that crowded to see what would happen. They could see Tros's face; his feet were in shadow, his head in moonlight.

During six full seconds he stood rigid with his hand at the salute. Then he spoke:

"Brawlers! Your breaking of Romans' heads has put me in a fine predicament! Am I to thank you that I didn't need to search all Africa to find you?"

But he was grinning. He held his voice to the gruff, good-humoured note that carries the full weight of ungrudging welcome. He went and shook hands with Sigurdsen, who was older than Tros, and a full head taller. Sigurdsen was sobbing. Tros punched him, friendly fashion, then walked along the line to shake hinds with each in turn, until, at the end of the line, he came to Angsgar the skald, a shorter, thick-set, thoughtful-looking man. Tros laughed then.

"Gold-beater!" he said. "Bracelet maker! Smasher of relics!"

"Aye, Lord Captain. I had to do that in the dark; but I knew the guards would take it from me, and I thought perhaps you might see it someday and guess where we are—"

"Good work, Angsgar."

Tros returned to his place in front of them. He was not blind. He had seen there was someone else in armor, in the gloom near Sigurdsen, about six paces from him, on his right hand—perhaps even slightly in front of Sigurdsen—small as compared to those Northmen, and slight, but very straight in armor. He knew perfectly well who it was. He knew what courtesy demanded, even common kindness. But his normally quick wit failed him. He stood silent until the moon's rim rose above the pyramid and moonlight shone on the crestless helmet and the pale, girl's face beneath. Then he spoke:

"I left you Queen of Cyprus!"

"Am I unwelcome? I am no longer Queen of Cyprus. I command your Northmen!"

Sigurdsen looked sheepish, head and shoulders in moonlight. He nodded—spoke:

"She was a god-send to desperate men."

Tros ignored him. He spoke to Arsinoe:

"I have been sent to find you and kill you."

"Very well, Lord Captain. I have done as I pleased. Rule, you said, or get out. You will do as you please."

Kill her? Since his Baltic wife died on a beach in Gaul, he had never seen a woman whom he liked as he did this one. But what could he do with her? How save her from Cleopatra's malice?

"I gave you one chance," he said, "to die in battle."

She laughed. "Did I refuse it—noticeably?"

"You are my prisoner."

"Whatever pleases you, Lord Captain."

"Come."

She strode beside him, like an armored squire, silent, when he fell in his men and led them into the moonlit enclosure.


CHAPTER XVIII
"Did you think to win Egypt with two dozen men?"


I know no reason why a woman's quality should not be tested as severely as a man's.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Climax had broken the spell of superstitious fear. The men rallied, obeyed, not needing to be told they were in deadly danger. Tangible, visible forces they could face, and perhaps overcome. There were no supplies. No archer had more than fifty arrows. Their line of retreat to the boats could be cut, and the boats could be seized or scuttled easily, by a mere raiding party. They followed Tros—first the Northmen, then Arsinoe's four-and-twenty pirates, then the flotilla's crew—in column of fours into the walled enclosure. But there was no water in there; even if they could carry enough water, the wall would not be easy to defend. Every last man knew the case was desperate. Some of them went to the well and began hauling water in earthen jars that the Egyptians had left behind.

Tros selected and posted his pickets, and waited for Conops. He stationed the men with the sharpest eyes a hundred feet up the flank of the smaller pyramid that Conops had climbed. Then he returned for the inevitable drum-head council. There was no avoiding that. He knew Arsinoe was capable of day long silences. But she was also capable of forcing issues. He didn't know what to say to her, but he needed information that she probably had. He wanted to get it without being forced to reveal his own mind, or his own predicament. He could think of no other way than to gain time, and perhaps to exhaust her patience, by making her wait until he had the Northmen's story.

Most of the men were already sprawling on the sand, but the Northmen had built a fire of broken baskets, straw and splinters chopped from the gate. They were squatting around it, two deep. They had left a space for Tros, and a box to sit on, so he sat and faced Sigurdsen. Sigurdsen and Angsgar the skald were the only two who could talk Greek fluently, and it was useless to expect a plain tale from Angsgar; runes were already running in the bard's mind; he would presently sing a story, in which facts would merely be the seeds of splendid fiction. Angsgar was an artist—Sigurdsen a pessimist, who battle-axed the truth to lay bare gloom, on which to base a mood of melancholy discontent: a loyal man, unhappy unless he had something to grumble about.

It was a long box that they had laid bottom upward. Arsinoe came and sat beside Tros. She laid her helmet on the box between them and her coppery-golden hair fell loose on her shoulders. She sat with a sword between her knees and said nothing to Tros, who did his best to pretend she was not there.

"And so now we all die," said Sigurdsen. "It is a bad end, to be buried among these mummies, in a land where no man's word is worth the breath he uses. But it is good that you came, Tros. We had given up hope of ever seeing you, until she came. They told us you had gone to sea and left us to our fate. We had to dig, or die of hunger. And at night they chained us. But because we were chained the guards grew careless, and we were making a plan for escape to the Nile, when her man came from over-river, and stole through the dark, spying. He had word with us; and when he had learned whose men we are, he told of the fight off Salamis, and how you had given your prisoners, of whom he was one, to her. And he said she needs men who will fight to the death. And much more also he said. We bade him take back word to her that if we can we will escape across the Nile. And he went, and we made a new plan.

"So tonight, when it was time to cease work in the tomb, and the commander of the guards came and offered us freedom if we will march under his command in an assault on Memphis, we drove him forth with our picks and shovels. So he summoned men and they tried to kill us all, but we were hard to come at. So they tried to bury us alive. But they let in not enough sand, and we dug our way out, in darkness. They were marching away, so we lay still.

"Then she came. And she said she has news of you, and of your doing. And at that, we became like men who are drunk with strong drink. So we appointed her captain, being, as I say, as men drunk.

"But we hid, because you came so soon that we doubted it could be you. We crept near in the darkness. And while you were burning the barracks we called some of the seamen by name, and they knew us. And now you know all, saving what she told us. Let her tell it."

"Though I die for it, I will not," said Arsinoe, "unless Lord Captain Tros himself asks."

"If it pleases you," he said, "be silent."

For the space of at least a minute there was no other sound than bated breathing. Then Arsinoe spoke:

"Very well. Here is my sword. Do you want my armor? If you propose to silence me forever, cut my throat now!"

She stood up. So did Tros. He was raging with emotion that felt like anger, and as such he used it.

"Girl, I left you in Cyprus, well provided. Is it your idea of gratitude to come and raise this—"

Suddenly he realized he wasn't angry. It was another emotion, less familiar, less easy to govern.

"But since you have come," he said, "be seated. Tell me."

They sat down again, side by side. Her laugh was disconcerting; she had Cleopatra's gift of seeing through a man and of understanding his motives. She seemed utterly unafraid. That stirred him. He admired that. But he forced so fierce a scowl that Sigurdsen grew restless. Very chivalrous was Sigurdsen, toward good looking, well-bred women.

"Lord Captain Tros," she said quietly, "do you wish to be King of Egypt?"

"No, and I won't talk about it."

"Neither do I wish to be Queen of Cyprus, so perhaps we can begin to understand each other."

"Did you think to win Egypt with two dozen men?" he asked.

She mocked him: "Is a prisoner permitted to despise what is not good enough for your lordship? Two thrones, and some thought, have taught me what perhaps you only have the right to know. Am I permitted to say I would rather die than be a Queen again? It is true. But may I say it?"

"I have heard you say it. What else?"

"You have heard of Boidion?"

"We spoke of her in Cyprus. Your bastard sister."

"Boidion is at that temple, up-river. She has called herself Arsinoe, or has let them call her so. She believes me dead—or did belive it. That Etruscan jackal Lars Tarquinius, whom you left to command my bodyguard—"

"Ahenobarbus, not I appointed him."

"Yes, and I think Ahenobarbus told him what to do. But it may have been Serapion. Tarquinius began to speak to me of Boidion before you were gone an hour from Salamis. He suggested to me that we should encourage Boidion to call herself Arsinoe and make a raid on Egypt; it was clear that the plot had long been cooking. Cassius knew all about it. I was to lie low, in hiding. Then, if Boidion should succeed in raising a real rebellion, I was to hasten to Egypt, and they would murder Boidion, and set me on the throne. But if Boidion should fail, then I should come out of hiding in Cyprus and denounce her, and all would be well. It was a very intelligent plot, and Tarquinius said I was to be killed if I wouldn't agree. But since I talked with you I had lost my craving to be Queen of Egypt.

"I should have died that night, I suppose, because the plot was well forward. But Tarquinius saved me. I think he couldn't bear to kill anyone like me, who might have an eventual value. Perhaps, too, he is so treacherous that he can't help spoiling any plot in which he has a hand. At any rate, he furnished a good little ship and urged me to take my four-and-twenty pirates and escape. He suggested Sicily, where Sextus Pompeius might befriend me. But he told my men, secretly, to take me to Delos, where the slave-merchant Hipponax would know how to bargain me off to the highest bidder. I escaped that night with my two women. And we set sail. And my four-and-twenty pirates reverted to type. They were civil and even respectful, but they told me frankly they were taking me for sale to Hipponax.

"However, you had given them to me, so they were my men, and I said so. It was my task to prove it. I did. It was not so difficult. They had seen me fight against them, on your ship, so they were not ashamed to obey a woman. And they were as weary of being pirates as I was weary of being used as a pawn in the game by scoundrels and cowards. I talked it all over with them. I made them promises. I said I would bring them to you if I could. But, of course, I did not dare to go to Alexandria; nor did I dare to write to you any more than I did write, for fear Cleopatra might lay her hands on the letter, and suspect you, and have you put to death. I know my sister!

"Words you had said to me burned in my mind. I might have sent a letter to expose the plot, and thus I might even have bought Cleopatra's friendship, for what that might be worth. But I had made up my mind what I don't want, and what I do want, and that couldn't be had by betrayals and writing letters. I had decided I will rather die than any longer be a blackguard's bargain piece. It was my name they were misusing. It was me they should deal with. It was I who should do as you would do and play my own hand against whatever odds Destiny sends. I would deal face to face with Boidion and her masters, who she probably supposes are her servants.

"So we came to Pelusium, pretending to be a slave ship, because the slavers can come and go where it is unsafe for anyone else. Old Esias was at Pelusium."

Tros whistled softly to himself. Careful Esias had played safe, had he? Always on both sides, Esias, and yet never to be caught in an intrigue, because he never did too much, nor too soon.

Arsinoe laughed. "Esias was so timid that I had to threaten to go straight to Alexandria and appeal to you. After that, though, I sold him the vessel and borrowed money from him—quite a lot of money. I was almost caught in Pelusium, because I paid my men with Esias's money and they got drunk. But Esias hid me, and sent his slaves to round them up. It was from Esias that I learned how Boidion had crossed the desert, and how the border patrol had been bribed to know nothing about it. She had gone up the eastern branch of the Nile, she and her party, in a number of vessels that belong to the priests and are not subject to search.

"I bought equipment in Pelusium—black Arabian tents and many other things. I, and my two women, and my four-and-twenty men went up the Nile in laden barges to Heliopolis. It was easy for my men to pretend they were travelers on the way to Arabia. No one questioned them. And as for me and my women, we were wives of Memphis merchants on our way home. I had bought two men-slaves in Pelusium, at a very high price, because Esias recommended them; so that we looked like respectable women. They are very good slaves. They have been spying for me. They brought me news of the arrival of Alexis and Aristobolus; and I knew then it would not be long before they would march on Memphis."

"Do you know Alexis?" Tros asked.

"No. I daresay I have seen him, but I forget what he looks like. Tarquinius told me Cleopatra trusts Alexis, but that it was actually he who first invented the plot to make use of Boidion, and that he suggested it to Cassius.

"I was camped on the far bank, as I suppose Conops told you. I had bought camels, and I was wondering how long it would be before camels and tents and four-and-twenty men would bring inquisitive people to find out whose camp it might be. However, Conops was the first. He came and tried to steal my boats. I didn't know it was Conops—not then. But, as Sigurdsen has told you, one of my men came spying here and talked with Sigurdsen and brought back word. So I decided to come here, at all risks, and to try to rescue and enlist your Northmen. You had spoken so well of them. If I could get them, even if they hadn't weapons, I would begin to feel more competent to challenge Boidion. Something would have to develop from that—I didn't know what, but something. There was just a chance, too, that I might persuade a few Egyptian guards to join me.

"I found Conops's boat on this side of the river, and the men whom he had left to guard it talked like children, because they had seen me in battle on your ship. Sol learned you were coming. And then Conops nearly killed me by accident. And where the faithful dog is, his master is not far distant."

"Oh-heh! Number One! Conops!" cried a voice in outer darkness.

"Oh-heh! Number Two! Conops!"

"Oh-heh! Number Three! Conops!"

Silence. Hurrying, staggering footfalls, deadened by the sand. Then a voice:

"Where's master?"

"This way!"

Ten men reeled through the open gate behind another who was bowlegged and hardly higher than the others' shoulders. Conops's unmistakable voice:

"Halt! 'Ten-shun! Fall out now and get yourselves a drink. Then down the hatch for a couple o' snores and sleep like dead men! You'll be needed at daybreak, sure as death. Stand at ease! Stand easy! Fall away!"

He shoved himself a passage between seated men and stood with his back to the fire, saluting Tros. But he couldn't keep his one eye off the Northmen. It danced sideways. He was grinning—dog-tired—merry.

"Well? What?"

"Did it, master! Easy. All the temple troops were on the march already, direction o' Memphis. Nothing but a lot o' priests to interfere with us; and they were saucy, so we burned the pier, too. Scuttled some boats, fired the others and stood by to be sure they burned good. Had to shoot about a dozen priests, I reckon. Then we cut the moorings o' some and they drifted into dry reeds by the bank lower down. You'd ha' thought all Egypt was burning. It stopped the troops. They halted and sent gallopers to find out whose army was into their rear. We came back downstream as fast as we could make it. Our boats are where you left 'em, and the watch awake. From that bit o' high ground where you and I stood conning, I could still see that column on the march. They've connected that party o' troops from the temple, in a pool o' moonlight and there they've all dropped anchor. Wondering what next, I reckon. My boat's crew are used up, master; I've dismissed 'em."

"You may lie on my cloak and get some sleep yourself," Tros answered. "You have done well."

Conops saluted and backed away, almost into the fire. He grinned all around the circle.

"Thought I smelt herring! Well, I've smelt worse! Battle-ax me if here isn't old topmast himself, alive and growling natural! How's Odin?"

Sigurdsen rose to his feet. Tros interrupted:

"Manners, you wharf-rat!"

Conops came closer and faced Arsinoe. He straightened his face, straightened the knife at his belt, put his hands to his sides, his heels together, and bowed low.

"Your obedient servant, Princess!"

"Fall away!" Tros commanded. "Take my cloak and turn in!"

"Aye, aye, master."


CHAPTER XIX
"Tros! Tros!"


I know of no justification for the wars that men wage on one another. On the other hand, I know no reason, and perceive no wisdom in the floods and famines, pestilence and earthquakes, fire and hurricane, which priests say that the gods devise against us.
From the Log of Lord Captain of Samothrace


"Cavalry! Chariots!" said Tros, aloud, then shut his mouth tight. He habitually thought in terms of swift manoeuvre, ruse, economy of men, and sudden impact. But he had no cavalry, and it was no use wishing. In fighting on land he lacked experience, and he knew it, but he didn't share that secret with his men. They regarded him as almost a god of battles. Arsinoe, who watched him with a cat-wise alertness, wondering at his apparent self-assurance, ventured a half-mocking comment.

"You will need to be lucky tonight! I came to die with you. Like Sigurdsen. I think we die here. Between Cassius's and Cleopatra's claws, perhaps death will be the best thing."

"Luck is on the side of him who knows luck when he sees it!" Tros answered. He didn't want any of that kind of talk.

Luck began to arrive, a full hour before dawn. Scores of the peasant-laborers, who had fled southward from the burning barracks, served as well as any screen of scouting cavalry. They gave ample warning that the enemy was marching to attack.

They came phantoming back to avoid being caught and made to carry ammunition, water and other heavy burdens. Besides, they knew where the supplies of ground millet, onions, radishes and oil were hidden in tombs. They helped themselves. They were pounced on and looted in turn. Every man in Tros's command had had a full meal before sunrise, chopping up the gate for fuel, building little fires behind the wall, out of sight of the advancing enemy. Fed bellies made stubborn fighters.

Tros made his depositions long before daylight. He could not afford to occupy a wide front, against what would be overwhelming numbers unless his force was concentrated and kept well in hand. His scouts reported sixteen war-chariots; those were possibly from Memphis, they might have been concealed in a temple courtyard out of Conops's view. If well handled they were a deadly menace. They would be manned by archers and used for out-flanking purposes. Tros chose his battle-fronts with chariots in mind. He took Sigurdsen, Conops and five decurions to point out to them exactly the positions they should take up. They marked their stations to avoid confusion. He let his men lie at ease behind the wall. Avoiding the usual Roman commanders' mistake of upsetting nerves by getting tired men too soon into the battle-line.

Arsinoe walked with him. There was no denying her, short of blunt rebuke, and he didn't choose to hurt her feelings, if he could help it. She seemed to be studying him and his depositions as if destiny depended, not on what he would do, but on her understanding how and why he did it. A long-thighed, actively striding girl, looking, beside Tros, like a lad of eighteen. Sigurdsen paid her a good deal of attention. He said her hair was like a Norse girl's, and that it was a pity she should die so young and lovely.

"For here we die. But we will hew our swath first! Perhaps they will take you prisoner—and what then?"

"They won't," she answered.

Satisfied with his own assigned position, Sigurdsen took a little interest in the rest of Tros's arrangements, although he gave advice when asked. Tros made a point of asking him to keep the giant from glooming, to force him to try to think and speak in a way less likely to discourage the decurions. But Sigurdsen had always been worse than a pessimist until the actual fighting started.

The left wing was to rest on the long wall with the gate fifty yards to its rear—seamen under the command of two decurions, Pertinax and Thestius. The right wing, under Conops, consisting of the ten Jews and thirty seamen, was to rest against a honeycomb of open tombs that would make them very difficult indeed to outflank. Sigurdsen and his battle-ax-men were to hold the centre, facing nearly due south. Tros himself, with three decurions and thirty men, would take position with their backs to the wall, in reserve, to reinforce any part of the line that looked like breaking. Between the centre and the wings, on either side, some captured laborers were put to digging short trenches, in which the archers were to keep cover and be frugal with their perilously scanty ammunition. Facing south by southwest, with the pyramids on their Left hand, they would not have the sun in their eyes, as the enemy would have, should they attempt a turning movement.

At last Arsinoe broke silence. "And I, Lord Captain? Where is my place?"

"Your men will be distributed to fight under my decurions. I have ordered it so."

She answered him very calmly and without heroics, but she held her chin high.

"Is this not my battle? Is it yours only? Do you think, because I am a woman, and a Ptolemy, I am unfit to lead my own men? They are my men."

"You will obey me."

"Then command me!"

It was true, he had ignored her. He could have told her to hide in a tomb, but he knew he would have to assign valuable men to keep her from coming out.

"You will stand by me with the reserve."

She saluted. He returned into the enclosure and talked to the men, explaining to them what they would be called upon to do, wasting no breath on bombast.

"You men know me, and I know you," he said finally. "Let us remember we are proud to be comrades-in-arms!"

There was no mistaking their answer. It was the growling roar of men who will do their ungrudging utmost. After that, he led his archers to the trenches and gave each man careful instruction.

Daybreak revealed the enemy less than half-a-mile distant, but Tros's position would remain for a long while yet in shadow. The intervening sand was ominously strewn with mummies that resembled blackened corpses on a stricken battlefield. Evidently Conops had only seen about half of the men at the temple up-river; the combined forces of the enemy, in dense formation, looked like five or six hundred men. Some of them were probably non-combatants; but there seemed, too, to be armed men in reserve, in the shadow around and behind a quite small pyramid. There were sixteen two-horsed chariots out in front, in line, and in one of them stood a woman, not in armor. She had two fan-bearers up behind her. Fans such as those were the royal insignia. Her chariot was surrounded by a dozen footmen in splendid armor. Scouting ahead was a line of about thirty men, advancing timidly, expecting to be met by arrow-fire from ambush.

"Boidion!" Arsinoe laughed. "Boidion, you poor fool!"

Not Boidion's chariot, but another, came trotting forward alone. The intention was obvious. From behind the screen of scouts its occupant proposed to harangue Tros's men, to offer terms, and perhaps to offer a price for Tros himself, dead or alive. But there was no sign of Tros's actual position until the chariot approached too near to the hurriedly dug trenches. Then a bow drawn by a Cretan archer twanged. The plumed and cloaked occupant of the chariot fell backward, clutching an arrow that pierced his throat. The charioteer whirled his horses and galloped away. The dead man's cloak became a range-mark for the archers.

It was then that Conops's trumpet sounded "battle stations!" They poured through the gate in good order, in no haste, to their appointed places in the line. It was too late then for the enemy to alter a plan of battle conceived in the dark in overconfidence; a manoeuvre now, at such close quarters, would have offered Tros too good an opportunity to strike and rout the manoeuvring companies. Nor was it possible to come at his flank without being thrown into confusion by the honeycomb of open tombs; and to get behind him would entail a long march, leaving a reduced force facing him.

Their strategy was as evident as daylight: failing overtures, to rely on overwhelming numbers. They could no more afford to try to starve Tros out than could he afford to refuse battle.

They must snatch swift victory or else abandon hope of taking Memphis. The city would surely not surrender to them, and incur the risk of Cleopatra's subsequent revenge, if there were a Queen's force, undefeated, within striking distance.

Alexis might be in command, but at any rate he was certain to have painted a vivid picture of Tros's small force and scanty supplies. He would have represented the Queen as lacking any loyal troops to send to Tros's support. But Memphis would know nothing of Alexis's story—not yet. What Memphis did know was, that the Queen held hostages. If rebellion failed she would be ruthless. Memphis would wait and see. For the rebels it was fight, or fail before rebellion had well begun; they had to smash Tros or else confess failure.

So the chariots wheeled away to the enemy's left flank—fifteen of them, all in one direction. Tros told off a man to watch them. A fanfaronade of trumpets split the morning air. There arose a roar from the enemy's ranks. The advance commenced, in a hurry, with barely space enough between the serried companies to cushion the inevitable pressure of the wings on the centre as they charged a narrower front than their own.

Tros, up on the well-coping with his back to the wooden gallows-post, groaned for his trireme's arrow-engines. They were a motley host that came against him—men of all races, armed as happened. Greeks in light hoplite armor; archers in bronze and leather; pikemen in heavy armor, helmeted like Roman gladiators; coal-black Nubians in lionskin with oxhide shields and iron-bladed stabbing spears that danced in the sun to the time of their thundering song. In the centre marched a heavy phalanx, eighty strong, of men who looked like Thracians. A scattering of Roman uniforms; some turbaned Parthians; Arabs; but no native Egyptians, except the wretched peasantry, who lugged heavy arrow-baskets in the rear of the thundering ranks. Ninety per cent of the officers were kilted Greeks, out in front of their men.

It was a force that should have wilted away under the fire of well drilled archers. Tros's archers were experts; but he had had to order them to hold fire until they could make every last arrow count at close range. Men had been told off to gather the enemy's arrows to replenish the few dozen that each archer had stuck in the sand in the trench beside him.

Sigurdsen's men crouched in the archers' trenches, leaving a tempting gap for the advancing phalanx. It came on at the double—a slow, heavy-pounding jog-trot, to break Tros's line at the gap. Tros's archers, at less than fifty yards range, sent a sudden, screaming hail of arrows into the light infantry on either flank of the phalanx, checking, for a moment halting them in confusion. The phalanx came on alone, led by a Macedonian protected by two swordsmen. All three fell to Sigurdsen's ax—three swipes that split them down before they could think how to engage the unfamiliar weapon. Those were the first three to be slain in close combat.

Sigurdsen went berserker. Heaving the-officer's corpse left-handed, he hurled it against three spearmen, leaped into the gap and battle-axed a swath for his men to follow through. They went in wedge-wise. Long spears, once their front was broken, were as useless against axes as so many ornamental awning-poles. They were worse than useless. The swinging axes shore through bronze armor, or beat men to earth by the sheer weight of the blow. The recovering, back-handed upswing was equally deadly, cleaving arm-pits, laying bellies open, splitting unguarded chins. The phalanx went down, and was not. Three wounded Northmen rolled into an archer's trench, and Sigurdsen went forward, he and his men roaring their battle-cry:

"Tros! Tros!"

That was contrary to orders. Tros had forbidden a charge until he should perceive the right moment. Both his wings were being hard pressed. Conops on the right wing appeared to be doing well against Nubians, who were no match for the seamen who had stood off boarders in the storm off Salamis. But the seamen on the left wing under Pertinax and Thestius were being forced backward along the wall. The line was becoming bent like a taut bow. Two companies of the enemy formed a column and rushed at a converging angle to split Tros's line in half by storming the gap that the Northmen had left in their rear. The Northmen were cut off—surrounded—fighting back to back.

Tros went into battle then. He charged with all his reserves behind him, to make the gap good.

There was ten minutes' carnage. Wounded, with an arrow through the calf of his leg, recklessly protected by his seamen, Tros held the line, until at last the storming companies recoiled and Sigurdsen, ten Northmen shy, fought his way back, exhausted, bleeding, leaning on his axe to recover breath while his men rallied in line in the gap. Tros's archers reopened a withering fire with the enemy's squandered arrows. The enemy's centre was beaten, discouraged, and out of control.

"Charge!" yelled Sigurdsen.

Tros smote him. There was no other way to check that battle-drunkard. The left wing was curling up. The enemy had fought their way along the wall. The wall was in the way of a right-handed man, but they had won by weight of numbers.

They were forming with their backs to the wall on Tros's flank. Tros looked for Arsionoe. He saw her fighting on the left wing, disobedient, but as good as a standard to rally around. She was in the midst of her ex-pirates, plugging a gap in the recoiling left wing. They were fighting for her like well trained and determined devils.

Tros struck Sigurdsen again to get his full attention. He sent him with all his Northmen, hot-foot, to re-enforce the left wing. "Hold them until I join you!"

Tros had seen his chance—the enemy's mistake! Fifteen chariots and at least a hundred men had been detached, westward, with the obvious intention to attack from the rear. To be able to use the chariots they would have to make a circuit around two or three square miles of opened tombs with heaped sand between. They would be useless without support, so their speed was reduced to that of the marching infantry. It would take them more than an hour to make that march over wind-rippled sand—perhaps they were only intended to cut off Tros's retreat northward—to compel him to stand where he was and be cut to pieces. The enemy's right wing was being heavily re-enforced, by men marching in column, in an effort to drive a wedge between Tros and the wall. They intended to have the wall. Tros saw fit to let them have it, At their rear, they had left the line toward the boats wide open; all their reserves had been detached for that encircling movement, to support the chariots.

Tros sent a man to command Arsinoe to come away from the left wing. Meanwhile he reorganized his centre. He sent another man for Conops, who arrived breathless. Conops went down on his knees and carefully cut through the shaft of the arrow that had pierced Tros's leg, leaving about two inches of the shaft protruding.

"Stand by for a hot one, master!"

He struck the protruding shaft one hard blow with the hilt of his heavy knife, then seized the arrow-point with his teeth and pulled it through. He wiped the blood off his face and looked swiftly for a dead or wounded man from whom to strip some sort of bandage. Arsinoe had come. Tros was swearing at her. She had on a gossamer linen dress beneath her armor. Conops, as quick as lightning, knifed off yards of the thin material, and she laughed as he bound it around Tros's leg, artfully placing a pad to stop the bleeding.

"What now, master?"

Tros used terse sea-phrases to explain a land manoeuvre. "East-southeast in line ahead until I change helm!"

"Aye, aye!"

Conops returned to the right wing. Within a minute there began one of those brilliant manoeuvres that, if they succeed, are reckoned proof of military genius, but, if they fail, are denounced as rash, unmartial errors of a fool. An impossible manoeuvre without splendid discipline. It almost failed, because Sigurdsen hated to yield ground. Tros threw his whole line into column, Conops leading, and himself in command of the rear that had been his left wing. He outflanked the enemy's left! The very suddenness of the manoeuvre threw the enemy into confusion. They found themselves, some with their flank against the wall, some with their backs to the wall, some of them holding the line that Tros had held, and their left wing reeling, routed, as the astonishing column changed front. Their baggage-guard bolted; there was not much baggage; it was principally arrows.

Again the amazing column changed front—a mere eighty battle-weary men. Conops's golden trumpet sounded the charge and Tros led them, limping. They were into the enemy's rear before they knew what to expect. Their commander was shot down. He was not Alexis. He was a Roman, wearing Alexandrine armor. The enemy milled, broke, scattered and tried to retreat through the gap in the walled enclosure. Into that hopeless confusion Tros's archers poured a devastating hail of captured arrows. The one chariot that had not been sent with the reserves on that fatal encircling movement tried to escape in the direction of the Nile. Tros's archers mowed down the horses. Boidion was in the chariot—Boidion, Alexis and one other—a man in Roman equestrian uniform—a hood-nosed, mean-faced Etruscan—Lars Tarquinius! Boidion's fan-bearers lay dead on a stricken field beside a heap of dead and dying. Most of the remaining enemy scattered across the honeycomb of tombs toward the encircling column in the distance, but some threw down their arms.

No cavalry. Pursuit impossible. Nothing whatever that Tros could do but set the prisoners to work to gather up his wounded, and to retire on his boats before the fleeing enemy could reach them. He had left only ten blistered seamen to guard the flotilla.

It was little more than an hour since sunrise. Vultures in dozens flew down from the broken ledges of the second pyramid. In the near distance the Sphinx, half-smothered in drifted sand, inscrutably suggested that Tros's problem wasn't solved. Cleopatra's perhaps, for the moment, at least. But his own?

"Is the Princess unharmed?"

"Aye, aye, master."

Conops stooped and mercifully drew his sharp knife across the throat of a Syrian, wounded in the stomach.

"Master, she's the kind that don't die easy. Yonder she is. Look at her! Look at her walk! If I was you, I'd—"

"Pipe down!"

Tros offered his wine-flask. Conops drank and wiped the mouth-piece with his tunic. Their eyes met. Conops saluted and marched away to count dead and wounded.


CHAPTER XX
"What do you wish?"


Of all life's difficulties I have found it hardest to compel myself to recognize and to concede a woman's right to meet me on even terms. But it seems to be equally hard for a woman to understand my attitude. No more than all the priests, philosophers and poets do I know what love is: unlike many of them, I am unwilling to pretend that I do know. Neither do I know what life is. But it seems to me that if love or life lack dignity, neither the one nor the other is worth the sacrifice of half a moment's thought. But I know not what dignity is. I know its comfort. But what it is I know not.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Roll call. Only eight-and-eighty men left standing. Transportation for the wounded was the first problem. Memphis could look to itself; the less Memphis learned about two Arsinoes, the better. Fugitives, who had lost their claimant to the throne, and with most of their officers dead, were no danger at all, unless some of them should make for the boats and get away with them. Outlaws, they would scatter, or be hunted down and executed or enslaved. There were more than a hundred men and fifteen chariots, with some mounted officers, still in the field as a unit, but they were several miles away and had nothing to fight for, unless they should attempt to rescue Boidion. They were far more likely to assume that Boidion was dead, because they would hope she was dead. True, fifteen chariots and a dozen mounted officers might do a good deal to harass Tros's line of retreat to the boats; but they were much more likely to save their horses for flight to preserve their own skins.

Seven Northmen dead; eleven wounded. Three decurions dead, including the gallant Thestius. Sigurdsen out of his head with wounds and melancholy, following on battle-frenzy; it was always that way with Sigurdsen after a hard fight; he had to be sung to by the skald. Too many prisoners, some of whom, however, begged to be enslaved by Tros; but some were undoubtedly getting the story of two Arsinoes, and it was not in the least improbable that one or two of them were Queen's spies. She was better served by spies than by her generals.

Prisoners were put to work to strip and bury the enemy's dead, the battlefield loot was Tros's seamen's perquisite, and they burdened themselves with plundered armor. Tros's dead were laid in a line, in a trench that the Egyptians had dug in search of ancient tombs. And, as he had done after Salamis, he lined up the survivors for a last, farewell salute and, with his right hand raised, pronounced his blessing:

"Ye who dwell beyond the veil of death, receive these my men, who have died with their honor upon them, creditably. Give them honorable greeting, even as we, their comrades, bid their gallant souls farewell."

He had no word yet with Boidion. She and Arsinoe walked and talked together, looking strangely alike, even though the one wore armor and the other a sort of priestess's costume and a garland. The ex-pirate escort kept at a respectful distance, separating them from Tarquinius, whose hands were tied behind him, and from Alexis, who was not bound because he was wounded.

The chariot, loaded with armor and weapons, was dragged by seamen. The wounded, such as could not walk between uninjured men, were carried on the backs of prisoners, and on stretchers made of spears and reed mats taken from the Northmen's prison. Twenty men were sent ahead in a hurry to guard the boats from fugitives. Twenty men brought up the rear, and retirement began.

It resembled defeat, not victory; but Tros knew, and all his men knew that he had saved the day for Egypt. Tros walked alone, unarmored, switching flies and limping, leaving the command to Conops, who had caught an officer's gray nag and was clowning the part of a Roman general on parade.

They, were not pursued. There was not much fighting near the boats, although a group of fugitives did try to rush one boat and make away with it. Tros took his entire force and all his prisoners across the river. Then he sent a messenger at once up-river, to the temple, to command the priests to come and care for his wounded, on pain of having their temple burned and laid waste. He set the prisoners to work to build a reed encampment. He counted Arsinoe's camels. He checked her supplies. Then he sent four more boats up-river, with a demand on the priests for provisions for a week for his entire force. After that, he questioned Arsinoe's slaves. And at last, seated on a camel-saddle beneath a hurriedly constructed bower of reeds, with one of Arsinoe's slaves to flick the flies away, he sent for Boidion.

She stood smiling at him, Arsinoe to the life except for a vaguely absent element of self-assurance. The Queen's and Arsinoe's grandmother had been a Jewess. So was this girl's mother. The coincidence of likeness was astonishing, but not, after all, such a miracle. Boidion could easily have passed for Cleopatra's sister, although she and Arsinoe were much more beautiful than the Queen, as well as taller and with less prominent noses. All that Boidion lacked was an air of inborn royalty.

Tros ordered another camel-saddle to be brought, that she might be at ease. Then he asked, her, suddenly:

"Have you counted the number of men who have died for your false adventure?"

"No, Lord Tros." Her face changed. She appeared now to expect to be executed out of hand. She was considering whether or not it might pay her to weep.

Tros paused, affording her full opportunity to excuse herself or to explain, if she should see fit. She was silent. "Was it your fault?" he demanded.

"Yes. I did it. It was not my own idea. It was suggested to me. I was taken to the Roman proconsul Cassius, when he was in Damascus, and he agreed. He gave me money. But I did it. Who wouldn't snatch at a throne, if the chance were offered? But for lacking the stroke of a scribe's pen, I, too, am a Ptolemy."

"You have taken another's name," said Tros. He made his voice sound stern. He was not yet sure that he might not have to drag this girl to Alexandria, to measure the Queen's mercy.

He wanted, to arouse no false hope. "How can you restore her name to her, you having so misused it?"

"Does she want it?" Boidion retorted. "Have you asked her?"

"No. But I will."

He requested Arsinoe's presence; so they brought another camel-saddle, and she came and sat facing Boidion, wearing a plain Greek amorgina of such fine, bleached flax that it resembled silk. It was of the latest court fashion. She had very evidently had the pick of Esias's imported merchandise, had good needle-women with her, and was not inclined to appear before Tros at a disadvantage. She smiled at Boidion, with malice but without a trace of anger.

"This girl—" Tros began.

"My father's daughter," said Arsinoe.

"Boidion," said Tros, "has assumed your name."

"So I am nameless!"

"You are Queen of Cyprus."

"I have tasted freedom," she retorted. "Lord Captain Tros, I have told you, and again I say it: I am sick of being Queen of Cyprus. Never again will I go to Cyprus. Never. I have been a plaything of the vilest traitors that ever bought and sold each other, and themselves and their powerless victim. So, if this fool wishes to be Queen of Cyprus, let her be it!"

Tros prodded the earth with his sword. He stared at Boidion. Suddenly he asked her:

"Woman, you have taken one step. Will you take the other, and the consequences? Or will you plead for the Queen's mercy?"

Boidion answered: "You have heard her speak. She has said it already to me, just now when we walked together. I am as much a Ptolemy as she is. Perhaps I am more capable of being Queen. She seems to have had small pleasure of it, and no profit."

Tros met Arsinoe's eyes again. "You yield your throne?"

"Yield it? I have thrown it away, for any fool to have who craves it!"

"You yield your name?"

"It is stolen. Let her have it. I will choose a new name."

He stared at Boidion, considering her, and then pronounced his verdict:

"Queen of Cyprus then you shall be, and Arsinoe you are, from this day forward; and the consequences be on your head. Never again answer to the name of Boidion! You hear me?"

"If I am a Queen, you should address me more respectfully," she answered.

Tros smiled. He commanded Tarquinius the Etruscan to be brought before him; he came with his hands still tied behind his back, between two seamen. They had taken away his helmet, but he looked rather spruce in his Roman uniform—lean, mean, avaricious, but possessed of a kind of courage. He kept jerking his head to shake off flies. Tros ordered his hands loosed and a fly-switch given to him. He looked at neither woman—looked straight at Tros, sly-eyed and daring.

"Lars Tarquinius, you are a treacherous, faithless, unscrupulous, lying scoundrel."

"Have I ever pretended to you to be anything else?" Tarquinius answered. "You may as well omit the Ciceronian oration, Captain Tros. You have a use for me, or you would have ordered me killed and thrown to the crocodiles. What is it? Or have I come to hear sentence of death? It wouldn't be like you to waste a sensible man like me."

"You were left in Cyprus, in command of the Queen of Cyprus's bodyguard," said Tros, "and with authority from Cassius and Brutus, conferred upon you by the Roman admiral Ahenobarbus, to advise the Queen how to conduct her affairs. You will return to Cyprus, taking the Queen of Cyprus with you."

"How? When?"

"Now. And by use of your ingenuity." Tros gestured toward Boidion. "Present your respects to Queen Arsinoe of Cyprus!"

Lars Tarquinius gaped. Even he, past-master spy, opportunist, agent of sedition and secret treasons, was too astonished for speech. Then a smile stole over his hungry face.

"Our respects," he said, "I think are due to Captain Tros. But—who shall guarantee us that this other, who so resembles her"—for the first time he glanced at Arsinoe—"will not—"

"I will guarantee your death," Tros interrupted, "if I ever hear of your mentioning this lady, whom you have never seen, nor ever knew, and even of whose name you are ignorant! You left Cyprus, in a design on the throne of Egypt, with that same Princess Arsinoe with whom you will now return to Cyprus, having failed of your purpose. For the rest, silence!"

Tarquinius gulped. Tros commanded the Lord Alexis to be brought in; he came with his hand on a seaman's shoulder, looking gray-lipped and crestfallen.

"You deceived me, Tros!" he began bitterly.

"Do you wish to go to the Queen: I will not deceive your about that, if you would like to offer her your felicitations."

Alexis avoided the eyes of the women. He glanced at Tarquinius, who made no sign whatever.

"Do you wish me to plead for your mercy?" he asked then, staring straight at Tros. "If you will spare my life, I will forever be your grateful client. Is that sufficient? Or should I grovel?"

"Shake hands with your ally Tarquinius!" Tros answered. "Make your bow to your Queen! You are to go with her to Cyprus. There are camels waiting. Doubtless there are prisoners who are willing to make that journey with you; you may choose from among them as many as there are camels to carry them. You and they may have weapons, and I will supply provisions."

"I have no money," Alexis answered.

"You have an order on the Queen's treasury, haven't you? Use that. I am not your banker."

"It is worth my life to use that."

"Die then! You have cost me more good men than your convenience is worth. I have nothing to add, beyond that you may have your luggage; I will tell the priests to bring it."

Boidion smiled it Arsinoe: "And what will you do?"

"I will pity you!" she answered. "When your faithful friends have poisoned you, my dear, or have cut your throat or tortured you to death, I will go to some temple or other, somewhere, and lay flowers for you on an altar. Or do you consider yourself a Jewess? Would you rather I should have some cattle slaughtered and hire beggars to sing psalms?"

At a gesture from Tros the seamen touched Tarquinius's shoulder. Boidion caught Tros's eye. He nodded, and she went out with Alexis. Except for the slave who plied the fly-switch he was alone with a girl who had thrown away throne and name. He knew why she had thrown them away. She had placed herself utterly in his power, and to befriend her would be treason against Cleopatra, as the girl well knew. But she seemed unafraid, confident. They were silent about twenty switches of the slave's arm. Then it was she who broke the silence:

"So you see, I can't get killed in battle."

"I would speak with my man Conops," he answered.

She mocked him: "Don't order him to kill me. Do it yourself!"

"I will come to your tent."

"And kill me?"

"Go and wait for me," he answered.

The slave followed her to her tent, and in a few moments Conops came.

"The priests are here, master. Eight of 'em, hairless as sharks. They've turned to with the wounded. May I fetch one to dress that scratched leg?"

"Later. Little man—"

"Oh Apollo, I know what's coming! Not the woman, master! You and I, since you were knee-high to your father's cabin-lad, we've got on famous without tying up to women. Time we had a woman, we were in and out o' trouble on land like a pair o' soldiers at sea!"

"You dock-side lecher! You shameless brothel-rat! You impudent, ignorant drunkard!"

"Yes, master."

"You presume to criticize me?"

"No, no. But as I was saying—"

"Pipe down!"

"Aye, aye, master."

"I go alone to Alexandria."

"Alone?"

"Oh, I will take two of the Jews and a boat-crew. You are to take the flotilla down the eastern branch of the Nile to Pelusium, and await me there. The ladies—"

"You mean the Queen Arsinoe?"

"She is not a queen."

"Then the Princess."

"She is not a princess. I will give her a new name."

"Chronos!"

"I will name her Hero. Henceforth you will know her by no other name."

"Aye, aye, master."

"She and her two women are the wives of Memphis merchants, visiting Esias's partner's wife in Pelusium. You know Esias's partner. You will take a letter to him, from me. Do as he tells you, even if he should order you all into hiding until after I have cleared up matters with the Queen of Egypt."

"Watch out, master! Cleopatra's another woman. And she's jealous. She has her spies everywhere. She'll know what we've been up to. She's as like as not to hand you over to the rack-and-pincer-crew, to be finished off."

Tros snorted: "Idiot! Has she a use for me dead, do you think? The Queen has too few friends to kill men who cannot be bought to betray her. Have you understood your orders?"

"Aye, aye, master."

"Then obey them."

Tros let a priest come and bandage his leg. Then he bathed in the river, talked with the wounded, inspected the camp, checked the provisions the priests had brought, and at last reached Arsinoe's tent. She arose beneath the awning and stood waiting for him.

"Well, girl—?"

"Lord Captain?"

They eyed each other.

"What shall I do with you?"

"I am your prisoner. What do you wish?"

"I re-name you Hero."

"I accept it.—And—?"

He put his arm on her shoulder. He and she entered the tent. One of her women closed the flap behind them, smiling, and then ran, because Conops pelted her away with lumps of hard Nile mud.


CHAPTER XXI
"You will obey me"


I trust or mistrust, having found no middle course worth following. But the chartless zone between those courses is a wilderness wherein another's treachery by no means can be hold to justify my own bad faith. A man must stand or fall, judge and be judged, by his own faith, always.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


They came out of the tent at midnight and lay side by side on cots, under the stars, in mid-camp. Neither of them felt, yet, that they really knew each other. Tros's wound was too painful for him to make the rounds unless absolutely necessary; but from where the cots were placed he could hear the pickets calling to each other, and would be able to spring to meet emergency.

Hero fingered and caressed Tros's gift, a big gold buckle, curiously wrought and set with gems, that he had cut from his sword-belt.

"Tros, why did you name me Hero? It is a wonderful name. I love it. But why did you choose it?"

"Reasons within reasons, that will take years for us each to reveal to the other. But I have always thought of that name for the imagined woman who was to sail with me around the world."

Jackals whimpered. A lion roared. Hippopotami blew in mid-river. The pickets called their numbers. Conops snored, curled like a dog in a cloak where Tros could waken him without raising his voice. A wounded man cried to be killed. Tros limped across the camp to talk to him, examined the wound again by lantern-light and gave permission. A decurion did it. Tros returned to the cot.

"Tros, if I conceive a man-child, what will you name him?"

"Caswallon."

"What a strange name! And if a girl-child?"

"Fflur."

"Still stranger! But good names—I like them. Whence had you this buckle?"

"It was a gift to me from Fflur, the wife of Caswallon the King. She was a daughter of Mygnach the Dwarf, who was also a king of a part of Britain. She had second sight. She said the buckle would serve a purpose in a day of danger."

"You lord her?"

"Not as you think. She and Caswallon and I were friends."

"And in Britain are kings not cuckolds? Kings' wives were Caesar's favorite amusement."

"I have never emulated Caesar. Girl, remember this: hitherto I have never lied to you, but that was as it happened. I would have lied to you, if I had thought a lie advantageous. Henceforth, we are on different terms. I demand faith to the last breath. But I give it. You may know my inmost thoughts. You, and you only may know them, to the extent of my ability to tell. When I say nothing, know that I am pondering, or ignorant, or baffled. But what I say to you will be the truth; and when you ask, I will answer without evasion. If a day should ever come when I withhold from you one thought that speech or deed can properly explain, then know that you have sinned too utterly against our mutual pledge to be forgiven. Let us not lie to each other."

"I suppose that's why I love you," she answered. "You are full of guile as well as valor, but I have always known I could trust you. Even in Rome I loved you."

"In Rome?" he said. "We hardly spoke to each other in Rome. You were Caesar's prisoner, and too well guarded. I saw you led through the streets, and pitied you. But I only saw you once after that before Caesar sent you to Cyprus. I remember you stared. I remember wondering how soon you would be again in trouble."

"Guarded, yes. But not secluded. Plenty of people came to see me. Do you know why Caesar made me Queen of Cyprus? There were at least a dozen men in Rome who made bids for me. One was Herod. It was supposed then that Caesar intended to proclaim himself king of Rome with Cleopatra on the throne beside him. They said he would divorce Calpurnia, and have the Roman law changed, to make it legal for him to marry an alien or perhaps to have two wives. There were plenty of princes who would have liked to be Caesar's brother-in-law, but none of them met with Caesar's approval. Caesar was already planning for the conquest of Parthia, India and beyond. He sent for me and lectured me like a kind old uncle. I was careful to be deferent and to seem grateful, but I laughed behind his back because I knew what a lecher he was. He told me to keep myself unspoiled until he should find me a husband worthy to be Caesar's friend and ally. And after that he let me have my bow and arrows. One of his favorite freedmen set up a running target for me in a garden. It was pulled by a man on horseback. Caesar said if girls of my age weren't kept exercised we would think about nothing but men."

"He had reason to know," Tros answered. "I heard him speak of it with Cleopatra."

"One of the hardest things I ever did, Tros, was to hold my tongue in those days. I burned to ask Caesar to give me to you. But it might have put you in danger of Caesar's enmity."

Tros laughed. "Had Caesar offered you to me, I would have said no."

"Why? Were you, too, afraid of him? Or didn't you like me?"

"You were only a child. I hadn't thought about you. I didn't know you. I wouldn't have accepted a girl as Caesar's gift, not even if I wanted her."

"If I had escaped to you, and begged you, would you have taken me? I could have done it. I thought of doing it. Would you?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I saved you from that danger."

He laughed again. "Girl, do you think we are not in danger now?"

"I know we are. I love it! What are we going to do, Tros? Tell me your thoughts."

"They are these: Cleopatra's spies will tell her, with a thousand invented details to boot, every move I have made since I started on this expedition. She never tells anyone all she knows. I don't think she would have sent me, if she had known you were in Egypt. I think she knew all about Boidion's masquerading as you. She probably believed the rumor of your having been murdered in Cyprus. But her spies will have told her the whole story of you and Boidion, long before I can reach Alexandria. I think she counted on my disgust when I should learn what she thought were the facts, to make me pitiless. She expected me to kill Boidion. When she learns I let her keep your name and go to Cyprus, she will call me the worst traitor in Egypt, even though she will be clever enough to understand my motive. She will despise me for not having killed Alexis and Tarquinius. And she will hate me for having taken my Northmen without her leave, even though the Northmen have fought gallantly against her enemies. But all that is nothing compared to my great offense. She and Charmion will hate me soul-deep and forever, for having taken you to wife."

"Yes," she said. "There is no doubt about that."

There came a messenger from Memphis—secretary of the City Council, two parts Greet, the remainder of him mongrel. He was rowed across the river in a boat that Tros sent in response to his shouts. Tros sent Hero to her tent, but he had little to say to the messenger. Memphis was none of his business; let Memphis await the Queen's officers, whom she would doubtless send to investigate.

"Such orders as I have, are secret. Mind you own business. No, I need no supplies from Memphis. No, I need no money. No, I need nothing from you. To the devil with you. Waste no breath on me, and there will be the fewer lies on your conscience. Return to those who sent you. No, no message for them."

"What do you think the Queen will do?" asked Hero, when the man from Memphis had gone.

"I suspect her first move will be to send troops up the Nile to Memphis. Now that the rebellion has been nipped in the bud, she will feel she can trust a captain and a thousand men to come and punish."

"Do you think her soldiers will attack us?"

-"Nay, I think not. They would be more likely to beg me to lead a new rebellion. Cleopatra's throne depends on nothing but her own wits, and she is nearly at her wits' end. She will wait for me to make the next move, knowing I must return to Alexandria."

"Must?"

"Yes. My trireme is there, and it needs repairing. All my money is there, in Jew-Esias's keeping. More than half my men are there, and she knows I won't desert them."

"If you go within her reach, Tros, she will kill you. If I were in her shoes, I would!"

"Charmion would," he answered. "She not."

"Why not?"

"In the first place, she enjoys a long revenge. She is not so bloody minded as cruel; not so cruel as intellectually ruthless. She likes to feel her power. And she learned from Caesar the dangerous trick of making men, whom she hates or no longer trusts, destroy themselves and serve her purpose while they do it. But if that were all, I wouldn't trust myself within her reach. It is not so simple, to rule Egypt from a weak throne. One third of the Alexandrines are Jews, and I have studiously won their friendship. She won't dare to offend the Jews too much. Even Caesar didn't dare to do that. It was I who urged Caesar to give them citizenship. But again, that is not all. A Jew is human. He is like you and me. He has his limit, beyond which neither gratitude nor anger can compel him to accept another's danger as his own. I have no right to impose too great a burden on Esias and his friends."

"Then on what do you count? Tros, if she should kill you, do you think your men would follow me in a rebellion against her?"

"She won't try to have me killed—not yet. I will tell you why she will not, Cassius!"

"You mean, it would offend Cassius?"

"I mean the opposite of that. Cassius is at the bottom of all the plotting, and she knows it. She knows I keep the spirit of a promise, even though its carcass is a broken litter of shards. And Cassius knows as well as Cleopatra that she hasn't a competent man, except me, whom she feels she can trust not to turn his sword against her, given opportunity. That is why Cassius demanded she should proscribe me as a pirate. But Cassius hadn't the wit to perceive that as an outlaw I can't be said to represent her. So she can use me against him without his being able to denounce that as an act of war."

"But will she trust you again, to lead another expedition? If I were she, I wouldn't. She will think you would go over to Cassius's side."

"She knows better," he answered. "I cannot be bought by such as Cassius or Brutus. Neither can she buy me. But she can force my hand, and she knows it. She has my Basques; they were sent to the Red Sea Coast Patrol. She has my trireme, and all my wealth is within her reach. My thought is, that she will at first pretend not to know about you. She will try to catch you while she cat-and-mouses me. That failing, she will offer me immunity for you—"

"But would you trust her?"

"Listen! She may offer me immunity for you, provided I obey her commands and they will be stiff ones. She isn't likely to denounce Boidion until she can first catch you. Not fewer than half her ministers are intriguing with Cassius, and if they knew you are in Egypt they would rally to you. Cleopatra doesn't dare to accept the gauge of war with Cassius and he knows it. There is nothing on earth more certain than that Cassius will make another secret move—aye, and swiftly, if only to cover up Boidion's tracks. He would look like a fool if the story of that should become known. Boidion is now Arsinoe, the Queen of Cyprus, and he may make another attempt to foist her upon the throne of Egypt. But if he could catch you, he would probably have Boidion murdered and try to use you instead. Cleopatra's spies are watching Cassius; Charmion is a very competent spy-master. Charmion will have the information, and Cleopatra's genius will guess fairly accurately what Cassius's next move will be. She will wish to send me to prevent it."

"And will you go?"

"The alternative would be death for treason."

"You will go in your great ship?"

"No, it badly needs repairs. Besides, she wouldn't trust me to that extent. She will consider the ship, and my wealth that is in Esias's keeping, a sufficient pledge for my good behaviour. And if Cassius doesn't kill me, she will try some other means of sending me to death."

"Tros, why won't you go to Cassius and make terms with him?"

"I saw him kill Caesar. He and I are enemies."

"You needn't be his friend. You needn't trust him. You can pretend to want to see me on the throne of Egypt."

"Do you want the throne?"

"I want you, and you only, wherever you may be and whatever you may become."

"Then don't talk nonsense. Forget who you were. Remember who you are. You must trust me, and go into hiding, quickly, before Cleopatra's agents begin to look for you—somewhere near the border, ready to escape across the border at a moment's notice. I will go to Alexandria and outwit the Queen. There is nothing else to be done."

"Tros, I will go with you. If it comes to the worst, let us die together. I am not afraid of death. But to lose you, after all this—"

"You will obey me."

She was silent for about a minute. Then, quietly:

"Suppose I refuse?"

"You will obey. This night's doing was no error of judgment. You are not a mere light o' love. You are a woman, fit to be the mother of my sons. I trust you."

"I obey, Lord Captain!"

"You, and nearly all our men, will follow the eastern branch of the Nile, toward Pelusium. I will carefully instruct Conops, whom I also trust, and I will send him with you. He will be respectful, but in any crisis you are to obey him. You will be safer with him than with any other human being whose loyalty is at my disposal."

"When is this to happen?"

"As soon after daybreak as we can load the wounded and the stores into the boats."

"Is the night spent?"

"Not yet."

The tent loomed black against the star-lit sky. Tros glanced at it.

"You could lean on my shoulder," she said, "if the wound hurts."


CHAPTER XXII
"What burns?"


I know the Secret Teaching too well not to understand, in part at least, the reason why I have had to watch my pride burn. Time and again, beneath a mask of admirable manners, I have inwardly laughed at another's downfall. Aye, I know it. But I know no law that binds me to betray my grief when destiny permits another's malice to inflict a penalty I owe.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Alexandria lay serene and lovely beneath the midnight moon. From the Queen's balcony there was a view of the whole harbor and half of the city. The great Pharos beacon glowed like a ruby, and the anchored shipping seemed aswim in a silvered lake. Over to the westward, at the shoreward end of the flickering lights of Rhakotis, were two big basket-flares that Tros knew were the watch-lights where his trireme lay awaiting orders for repairs.

The Queen rebuked him for pacing the balcony.

"You irritate me. And besides, your leg is not yet healed. You will hurt it. Be seated."

"Egypt—"

"So you say they fled by camel toward Palestine. On whose camels?"

"How should I know?" He was angry. He had answered her questions again and again. "Perhaps someone in Memphis."

"Perhaps. I have laid a fine on Memphis that will not encourage them to play again with treason! Why did you send all your men to Pelusium?"

He looked hard at her, and his eyes were as steady as hers. He lied, and he intended her to understand that.

"To keep my Northmen out of mischief. They are angry, that you sent them to a prison-camp, mercy because they broke the heads of men who spoke loosely of you."

"And you can't control your Northmen? I could. Who are the women who availed themselves of your men's escort? The women who are now in Pelusium? I have heard there are three."

"Merchants' wives," he answered.

"Oh?"

"Yes."

"Whose wife is the one named Hero?"

"Egypt, there are questions that are best unasked." He stood up. "I have saved your throne. I have done your errand. Now keep your promise."

"I am grateful, even though you do so curiously harbor—an unknown woman," she answered. Suddenly her voice changed. "I sent you to kill! Instead, you say you sent Arsinoe back to Cyprus! You have taken your Northmen without my leave. And in Pelusium you have a woman! A woman named Hero! Oh, my spies are awake, though my generals sleep!"

"Egypt, I hold your promise. No, no! It was Cleopatra's promise. I have done my duty by you. It is time now for me to repair my trireme, and to set sail on the voyage of which we have so often spoken."

"With this woman named Hero?"

Suddenly he noticed she was smiling. She was gazing westward toward Rhakotis. Tros turned and followed her gaze. Where the basket-flares had glowed on the throat of night there was now a billowing holocaust—a black cloud, red-lit from beneath by a burning hull, high on the ways at Esias's wharf. It was too far away for the roar of the flames to be heard, but a mast fell and the sparks volcanoed skyward as Tros watched. He could see the phantom figures of his seamen, or perhaps they were Esias's slave-gangs, beating out sparks on the warehouse roofs.

"What burns?" asked Cleopatra.

Tros met her eyes in silence. She didn't flinch. She smiled with mortifying sympathy.

"Your trireme?"

He didn't trust himself to speak.

Her voice was loaded with triumphant malice: "Oh, I pity you! What agony to lose that grand ship!"

Then he did speak: "Egypt, I was your friend."

"Don't you think Cassius's agents did it? Or do you think someone may have wanted to keep you from sailing away with the woman, whose name, you say, is Hero—merchant's wife?—from Memphis?—Oh yes, you may go and watch your ship burn. Come and tell me about it tomorrow. I will take care, meanwhile, that nothing happens to you. My secret agents shall protect you—from Cassius's spies. Yes, you may go now. Don't be disturbed if you find you are watched."


CHAPTER XXIII
"Angry? Aye, Egypt, I am"


How hard it is to draw the line between a necessary act of justice, and mere malice; between savagery, and proper punishment intended solely to prevent recurrence of something wrong. No matter what the provocation, I have found it wiser, as Caesar sometimes did, to abstain from vengeance, but to beware of those upon whom I might have had it. Not always, but not seldom they find it harder to forgive the magnanimity, than it is to forgive their enmity. And that is natural enough: nature is not to be trusted to direct our motives, only to beglamour them with false names.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


It was race day; there was no doubt where to find Cleopatra that afternoon. The races had more effect than law and police on the behaviour of the Alexandrine crowd. The priesthood of Serapis might have felt happier, but the crowd would have felt insulted if the Queen had stayed away. Unable to compete with such a popular attraction, the priests had contrived to give chariot racing a vaguely religious significance; they had a row of reserved seats into which they filed with solemn ceremony. Royalty could not afford to miss the opportunity to arrive rather late and be more brilliantly ostentatious than the priests. True, Cleopatra herself was a priestess; on certain occasions she even wore the robes of divine Isis. But it was better politics to appear at the races as royalty, with the priesthood in decidedly subordinate position. Even Caesar, who also was a high priest, had taken that course.

So Tros, too, attended the races, after his own determined fashion. Too indignant to feel tired, even though he had worked furiously all night long to save Esias's docks and repair yards from destruction, he submitted to be washed and dressed in court apparel by Jew-Esias's slaves. He could hardly even feel his wound, he was so angry. He took one last look at the smoking ruin of his trireme, gave curt orders to Ahriam, and had himself carried in a curtained litter borne by eight slaves, past the splendid temple of Serapis, to the royal entrance to the Stadium.

Like the Baltic wife who was slain by a Roman arrow on the northern coast of Gaul, his beloved trireme, the finest warship the world had ever known, was dead. Dead. Dead. Have ships souls? He wondered. The loss might signify another new beginning, stormier, more difficult than ever, nevertheless a beginning.

Money and men he still had. To build a new ship, Queen or no Queen, would be easier than to get another such crew together. He would get that crew to sea again, at all costs, soon; on some sort of ship, to keep them disciplined. He was already storming the future. He looked the part in his gorgeous purple cloak, with the broad gold band binding his raven hair, and his sword in its green-and-vermilion sheath, with the jewelled sword-belt, one buckle missing.

The royal entrance to the Stadium was as elaborate as architects could make it. Fifty helmeted guardsmen stood like statues on either side of the mosaic pavement between the parking place for litters and the marble entrance steps. Two junior guard-officers, wearing a year's income in gilded armor and jewelled belts and hilts, saluted Tros but flinched from facing him. He looked too angry, too important. They turned him over to the Captain of the Guard, Leander, a tall, bored exquisite with intelligent gray eyes, who was at pains to appear humorously gracious. He accepted Tros's sword with his own beautifully manicured hands, instead of letting a slave receive it on a cushion. He himself, with his own hands, laid it on a rack in the guardroom.

"Captain Tros, I hope you bear me no ill will for having had to refuse you admission to the palace recently?"

Tros eyed him, sure, if of nothing else, that what Leander craved was money; not promises or fair words, money. He knew how deeply the man was in debt, and how he loved his social position. So he snubbed him.

"I reserve my ill will for my equals!"

Leander winced. He was merely a parvenu aristocrat, his manners guided by the latest hint of royal favour and disfavour. Evidently word had filtered through the mysterious court channels of information that Tros was not yet in eclipse. Not yet. But Leander was an Alexandrine, and in favour with women at court. His retort was as prompt as an asp's fangs:

"Equals? Has a pirate any equals? I suppose you do feel almost human since they burned your private navy! Have you learned who did it?"

"If you knew what I know, Leander, you would ask fewer questions."

"Omniscience! Was it envious Zeus with his thunderbolts? Did the great god burn your trireme to prevent you from raping Olympus?"

"If I suspected you of having done it, Leander, you would be worth more."

"How so?"

"Feet first on your way to the embalmer. He at any rate would have a profit of you. Is it your duty to keep the Queen's guests gossiping at the foot of the stairs?"

"Way for the Lord Captain! Kindly tread upon my shadow and immortalize it!" Suddenly Leander changed from spiteful raillery to a more familiar, friendlier tone. "Forget your trireme, Tros, and bet on Yellow in the big race; then you'll be feeling better tempered next time we meet. Bet early enough, and you may get odds of five to one, or even better. Red will be favorite, at odds on. Red's owner has been financed by a Roman moneylender, and the Romans have betted their last sesterce. But I think they'll lose their money. Let me do your betting for you."

Was Leander worth buying? Tros decided he might be—possibly—perhaps. No Alexandrine courtier was very likely to be grateful; but easy money probably would whet his appetite for more, so it might be worth while to pretend to be fooled, with a view to the future. Yellow was probably the one chariot that could not possibly win. Leander would simply keep the money and laugh behind Tros's back. But later ho might try another trick and find himself at Tros's mercy.

Tros turned on the lower step and tossed a fat purse to Leander's slave. It contained as much as two years' pay of a Captain of the Guards. Tros had brought it to give to his friend Olympus, who would pass it along by undiscoverable channels to the priests of far-off Philae. Olympus was the unofficial, unacknowledged, secret link with Philae. The way to get true information about India and even more distant countries was to keep on good terms with the priests of the really ancient Mysteries. Their secret means of information reached to the world's ends. However, Olympus could wait.

"Very well, Leander, place a bet on Yellow and keep half the profit. See that your slave gets the right odds."

He didn't miss the scornful laughter in Leander's eyes as he turned on his way up the marble stairs between the frescoed walls. In the same sort of unexplainable way that he could smell his course through storms and fogs at sea, Tros had a feeling that he would laugh last, and for the better reason. Meanwhile, he went forward, upstairs, wishing lie were going into battle rather than to interview the queen. She had had him watched, as she said she would. Even if he had thought it wise, he couldn't have sent a message to Hero without the Queen's knowing it and probably intercepting the message.

The roar from the arena seats—the typical Alexandrine din of men's and women's voices shrilling with excitement—filled the air. The tumult almost drowned the blare of music. From the head of the stair, at the end of the passage leading to the royal box, there was a view of sunlit tiers of people as gay to the eye as rows on rows of flowers stirring in the breeze.

The apartments above and behind the royal box were like a section of the palace in miniature, as sumptuously furnished. Slaves came running forward from the buffet-table at the end of a long room on the left, to urge Tros to rest and refresh himself. He refused. The buffet-room was full of over-dressed courtiers, who stared and made witty remarks behind their hands. Everyone knew about the burned trireme. Nobody except Olympus cared to risk Tros's anger by speaking to him about it.

Olympus, in his official black robes and ancient Egyptian headdress, came and smiled wanly, murmuring official nonsense about conjunctions of stars and burning ships. Then he added, for Tros's real information:

"If I read the stars aright, the daughter of Zeus-Ammon" (he meant the Queen) "is angry and very well informed, but in too grave peril to afford what malice prompts. Oh Tros, you peril lover! Must you do even your loving perilously? I believe the Queen's need of a sword preserves you from her vengeance. But she is a Ptolemy. Beware of her!"

"Thank you, Olympus. I will leave word with Esias to have a purse of money ready for you whenever you call."

Olympus sent a slave to inform the royal chamberlain, who presently came from his seat near the royal box—a splendidly dressed eunuch with secretive, experienced eyes, who was used to being treated deferentially even by Roman ambassadors. He saw fit to be gracious:

"Take you time, Lord Tros. The Queen is in one of her moods, and there is plenty of time before the next race. You have time for a bet. They tell me Red is a certain winner."

"Bet then on Red and be fortunate, but send my name in to the Queen. She awaits me."

"Be discreet, Tros. She has had a sleepless night. You will need all your tact."

"I have it. Lead on."

"Too bad that you have lost your trireme. Too bad. Too bad. Come and fortify yourself. A little wine—a little pickled fish-roe, or perhaps a plate of birds' tongues in spiced sauce—"

"Thanks, I am already fortified—with anger. Is the Queen in her box?"

"Yes—yawning. It looks well. The crowd mistakes it for royal boredom. We Alexandrines like our rulers to appear fatigued with luxury. But the truth is, she listened all night to reports from spies." He stared with his keen, secretive eyes but he could detect no alarm on Tros's face. "She detests the races, although I daresay she would like them well enough if she might drive her own chariot. But the Alexandrines would -never stand for that. They still hold it against her that she once led her own army. She needs a consort—another man of deeds, not words. Do you know—I have always wished it had been you instead of Caesar! An amazing woman, Tros, amazing—incarnate energy. But I warn you, in a deadly temper. She had a royal row with Charmion this morning. Charmion is in tears at the palace."

"Lead on." Tros knew the chamberlain was trying to coax him to indiscretion. He knew, too, that none of the Queen's ministers knew all her secrets, and that there couldn't be a worse mistake than to confide in any of them.

"Lead on, lord chamberlain, lead on! My errand is urgent."

The royal box was a roofed pavilion, banked in front with flowers. At the rear there were rows of raised seats, gay with guests—wreathed courtiers and jewelled women. In the midst, in front of two tall ostrich-feather fans kept in stately motion by slaves who had been deafened and muted for the purpose—was the Queen's divan with room enough for two or three invited intimates. At the moment there was only one woman seated beside the Queen. There was a second's sensation—a change in the note of the tumult, as the Argus-eyed crowd saw Tros approach the divan and bow. Everyone knew him by sight. There was never a dearth of stories of his deeds of valor. Everyone knew of the burned ship. He could hear his name being tossed from mouth to mouth.

Cleopatra looked tired, and when she was tired she looked tiny—almost like a child, in her plain Greek dress of silk-like linen, with a kingdom's worth of pearls. She was the only woman in white; all the other women in the royal party were as brilliant as peacocks; so she looked distinguished. And, despite the chamberlain's warning, she was as gracious to Tros as he had ever known her. She gave him both her hands to kiss and broke off flowers from her girdle for him to tuck into his jewelled belt. He stuck them into the loop where the buckle was missing. She noticed it. Then she suddenly remembered his leg was wounded, and that the wound was received in a battle in her behalf.

"Give him your seat, Hylas."

So the young wife of the wealthiest absentee-landlord in Alexandria had to pretend she liked yielding her place beside the Queen to a man who considered her so unimportant that he didn't even trouble to smile when he nodded his thanks. Tros sat, favoring his wounded leg, waiting for the Queen to speak first and trying to read, what no one ever had read, the intention behind her gaze. Cleopatra's eyes always had that greenish hue when she was gently friendly seeming but as actually deadly as a netted leopard.

For at, least sixty seconds she was silent, vaguely smiling. She was Ptolemy enough to hate him to the death, but she was statesmanly enough to hide the hatred, if she had it; much too wise to wreak unprofitable vengeance, and not wise enough to let vengeance alone. Raging with inward anger though he was, she could have forgiven him, and have been forgiven. He could build a new, an even better ship. But could she, even with her throne in hourly peril, forgive the insult to her person and her throne that stirred her malice? Tros doubted it.

"And the trireme?" she asked, in the friendliest note of a voice that would have made a courtesan's fortune.

"Burned to the keel," he answered. He saw no sense in telling her that he had saved his arrow-engines, ammunition, small arms, and most of the ship's gear. Perhaps she knew it. If not, so much the better.

"You look, and you sound, as angry as—as—" she laughed, "there is nothing, is there, with which to compare you! No one can be as angry as Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace! Is it the pain of your wound? Do you scowl at me because someone near Memphis, whom you probably slew for his presumption, shot you with an arrow?"

"Angry? Aye, Egypt, I am."

"With poor me? Zeus-Ammon shield me! The Lord Tros has come to lecture me again! What on earth shall I do to appease him?"

Tros's big brown fist was resting on his knees. She laid her own little ivory-white hand on it, smiling at the contrast. Tros scowled at her hand, then at her.

"I will tell you, Egypt, what to do. Once and for all I will say it, then never again, for you are too intelligent to need twice or three times telling. Cease from cat-and-mousing with a man who—"

He hesitated. It hurt his pride to have to sing his own praises; that would be too much like an Alexandrine courtier. She promoted him:

"A man who—"

"Who, at the risk of life and fortune, has kept faith with you first and last."

"Yes?"

"Egypt, it was you who bade them burn my ship!"

"I?" She was still smiling, but she removed her hand. "What makes you say it? Tros, unguarded conversation, overheard, has caused too many people recently to pay a call on the executioner. A mere trireme?"

"A man's hope. The fruit of his labors. His means to the end of his heart's desire!"

Her voice changed. "And are the means I use, toward the end that I perceive, to be used for abuse against me? To be thundered at me? Make a song about the truth, Lord Captain! Sing it to me and my ladies! Sing to us the story of the Queen my sister, whom you spared on the field of battle and so ingeniously pretended to send home to Cyprus! Who is Hero, who hides near Pelusium?"

His blood ran cold, but she only guessed it. He showed her nothing of his thoughts. Not even his eyes changed. Smiling, Cleopatra probed with words that cut like lancets.

"You are not like my Alexandrines, who would desert a woman for a horse-race or a full meal. Now that you have lost your ship, and can't sail away with this mysterious Hero person, how do you propose to preserve her alive for the enjoyment of your virile passion? Did you imagine me so ill informed, or my arm so short and powerless that it can't reach Pelusium? Cassius's agents burned your trireme. Do we understand each other?"

Tros was silent. His jaw came very slightly forward, but he gave no other sign of emotion. He hated her. Once he had almost loved her, even though she had almost always lied to him and never, absolutely never told more than part of the truth. He was astonished that he had never before realized that he hated her. He must be careful not to let her suspect it. She was going to count on his sense of responsibility for his men, on his loathing of broken loyalty, and, above all, on his fear for Hero's safety. He could sense all that coming. If she really knew where Hero was, there could be only one possible reason why Hero had not been killed. She was to be held, in secret, as a hostage to compel Tros to obey.

His answer was a blunt attempt to force the issue:

"No one need ever know I sent a substitute Arsinoe to Cyprus. The substitute resembles her well enough."

"No one ever shall know," she retorted. "Let the wench you sent to Cyprus be Arsinoe and take the consequences! But you, also, take the consequences."

"For instance?"

"Trust me, you shall soon know. Tros, our friendship is as dead, of your treason against me, as some hundreds are dead of the plague that is sweeping the city. Never again speak to me of friendship, but of obedience!"

He sat silent, less displeased than he chose to appear. In the name of their former friendship there was, almost nothing manly he would not attempt, if called on. But if Cleopatra chose to end the friendship, she, too, should face the consequences. He would not betray her. But the end had come of her power, which had been wholly based on friendship, to command his service at his own cost and his own risk.


CHAPTER XXIV
"The city will be in a bad temper"


The really dangerous people are not they who believe in violence as a means to every end, nor they who believe in treachery as a means to most ends. Those can be overcome by violence, and by alertness. The deadly menace is the intelligent man or woman whose mystic vision, trained in the ways of wisdom, as was Cleopatra's, has been mis-directed and confused until suspicion has become the guiding principle and power the only end in view.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


There was a sudden fanfare of trumpets. A company of soldiers armed with whips advanced into the arena at the double and drove out the clowns and acrobats who had been entertaining the spectators in the interval between races. That always put the crowd into a good temper, for the purely Alexandrine reason that it annoyed the rich parvenus, who had paid huge prices for the troupes of entertainers. It was great fun to see expensive competitors for popularity interrupted and chased out of sight. The crowd booed the patrons who had paid for the show, and roared with laughter at the antics of the fleeing clowns.

Then, perhaps because her sense of strategy dictated a pause in the conversation, Cleopatra appeared to become as interested in the arena as anyone else. A slave brought her the gilded wreath of victory, to be tossed down to the winner of the next race. A gate at one end of the stadium opened and four-horsed chariots came in with a burst of speed that was reined in, after fifty or sixty yards, to a spectacular canter. Passing beneath the royal box the charioteers saluted. Then, before reaching the turn at the western end, they wheeled and came back slowly to the starting post, which was a gilded pole exactly opposite the royal divan. The tumult of the excited crowd was like the roar of battle on a storm-bound beach.

This was the big race of the year. Fortunes depended on it. In Alexandrine estimation it was more important than war and politics. Unlike the crowd in Rome, they didn't care for scenes of carnage on the strewn sand, although dangerous driving excited them almost to madness. Where a Roman amphitheatre would have had trapdoors for admitting wild beasts, the Alexandrines had wooden gates in a marble wall for the swift removal of injured men and horses. Death was best out of sight, out of mind. They loved life swift and noisy. They loved fortunate people. The owner of the winning team, for a year to come, would be the most envied man in Alexandria. As likely as not, the losing owners would be almost bankrupt and might have to retire to their country estates, or even to flee the country to avoid creditors. Many losing owner had been sold into slavery.

The crowd's tremendous roar was punctuated by the sharp yelps of the layers of last minute odds in the betting booths beneath the tiers of seats. Streams of slaves were scampering along the corridors to make bets for their owners. The bookmakers were laying odds of three to one on Red, even money on White, three to one against Green and ten to one against Yellow. All the royal party seemed to favor Red; they were grumbling at having to accept odds of one to three. Cleopatra glanced at Tros:

"Are you not betting? You, who take such chances! Or is your new woman already risk enough?"

He made a wry face. "Yellow!"

She looked at him intently. "Strange, how wise you sometimes are in little matters, and how foolish in great ones! You will win your bet."

He wondered what she might mean by that. Then he recalled the laughter in Leander's eyes.

"If I win, I shall not get paid," he answered.

"Why not?"

"I gave my money to the Captain of your Guard, Leander. He advised me to bet on Yellow. He will either have betted on Red or else have simply pocketed the money."

"Why did you entrust your money to Leander?"

"To buy his good will. But if Yellow should win, I shall have made an enemy instead of a friend. No matter. He won't last long. I imagine, if you don't pay his debts his creditors will make the city too hot to hold him."

"He is not worth it," she answered. But Tros knew she rather liked Leander. He judged, from her effort to appear uninterested, that he had lodged a thought in her mind. Since Caesar's death she had very frequently consulted Tros about whom to appoint, and whom to remove from office. She was staring at the Romans. They had a whole block of seats, over on the left beyond the seats of the priests of Serapis and the block reserved for the city officials. They were nearly all of equestrian rank; their togas made a solid splurge of color. Noisy, intemperate, insolent, treacherous opportunists, loathing Rome and loving Alexandrine luxury, but proud to be Roman citizens and boastful of Rome's feats of arms. Hated by the Alexandrines. Caesar had imported most of them, but they had rather lost their grip on the city since Caesar's death.

It was a huge stadium, with an elongated oval wall, about four feet, high, on the inside of the course, so that the narrowest parts of the course were at the starting and finishing post directly beneath the royal box, and at the corresponding curve on the far side. There was barely room to get the plunging stallions in line for the start; and it was an accepted principle, hugely enjoyed by the crowd, to injure one's opponent's team if it could be done without risk to one's own. So there was some marvelous manoeuvring—twenty or thirty false starts and at least as many hair's-breadth escapes from disaster. The charioteers even used their long whips on each other, and it seemed that Red got the worst of those exchanges. Red was drawn on the inside. The other charioteers did all they could to make him smash his wheels against the low wall. Their efforts excited the crowd to spasms of frenzy that brought a curious smile to Cleopatra's lips.

Yellow came in for almost none of the rough jockeying. Drawn on the outside, the charioteer was able to keep his stallions from becoming as frantic as the others. They were sweating less. But, on the other hand, they looked less spirited, and he less competent; he appeared to have none of the brilliant audacity that the Alexandrine crowd adored. The odds against him went to twelve to one before the drop of the starter's signal.

They were off at last, amid a tumult that re-echoed from the high marble walls of the stadium and made the blue sky seem to be a roof of solid noise. Tros almost missed seeing the start, because someone leaned over between the fans and whispered to the Queen; she appeared not to notice the whisper, but her left hand tightened on a scrap of parchment. Surreptitiously she read the parchment, and then crumpled it, keeping it clenched.

Yellow tailed off at the start, three lengths in the rear, and made no effort to steal the lead at the first turn. Red was leading, with Green and White neck-and-neck behind him. The crowd, for the moment, grew almost quiet until, beneath the royal box again at the end of the first round, White drew even with Red. The real battle began then. The spectators lost their reason—lost all consciousness of anything but mad excitement. Excepting the Queen and Tros, the royal party went as mad as the rest of them. Tros was watching the Queen with the side of his eye. She was watching the Romans.

There was something ominous about the Romans. Their cheering was arrogant, organized, almost battle-angry, triumphant when Red regained the lead but changing its tone as the tactics of the other charioteers grew more evident. They were forcing the speed at the turns. The speed caused Red to swing wide, so that Green could cut in and steal the inside position. White fell into third place. At the next turn Green deliberately reined wide, forcing Red to the off, and leaving room for White to spurt up again on the inside. The Romans rose in their seats and had to be shouted down by the armed attendants; two or three Romans resisted and were thrown out. The Alexandrine stadium was better policed than the city streets.

"After this race," said Cleopatra, "you will find those Romans reasonable."

Tros laughed. "The only reasonable Roman is he who has won. You know their motto: Parcere subjectis, deballare superbos! Spare the conquered, but lick hell out of the proud!"

She answered rapidly, as excited as he had ever seen her. She seemed to have forgotten enmity, but perhaps that was force of habit. Since Caesar's death she had talked with Tros more intimately than with almost anyone else except Charmion. However, Tros was on guard. It wasn't likely she was talking without a hidden motive.

"This was the Romans' bid for popularity. Everyone knows they have bribed the others to let Red win. Even I knew it! All the city has betted on Red."

"And you?"

"It was expensive. But mine is the deeper purse. The city will be in a bad temper. Watch Yellow."

The spectators were already in a vicious temper, screaming, cursing, calling on a hundred gods, beating one another's heads and being beaten to their seats by attendants armed with batons for the purpose. Nothing but a miracle could save Red. Green and White were worrying like wolves at a stag, first one and then the other cutting in at the turns and forcing Red toward the outer wall. Yellow, three lengths in the rear, was using no whip; his stallions were going well within their strength, and he had lost his look of incompetence. He was awake and alert, with his team in control, and he seemed to know what was going to happen.

Red had the faster team, but they were worried and frightened by their opponent's tactics. He used his whip on the other charioteers and on their horses, but he could never get far enough ahead at the turns to prevent one of them from cutting in on the inside while the other crowded him outward. Six times around the course they fought it out amid a tumult, in which color, noise and motion were all mingled in a sun-lit roar of agonied suspense. And then the end came, just before the finish of the sixth circuit within fifty feet of the royal box, with one more round to go.

At the last turn Red had gained a slight lead, but his bullied stallions were tiring. White, on the inside, called on his team for a last spurt—the last ounce that was in them. Flailing with his whip, he drew abreast. He forced Red almost to the outer wall. He let Green pass him on the inside. That was the end of White; his exhausted horses faded and fell away into last place. Yellow, third now, began to drive like a winner—like Phoebus-Apollo pursuing defeated night behind the Horses of the Sun.

Green, on the inside, with a team that was nearly done for, made a furious bid for the lead. Red accepted the challenge. For fifty thundering strides they were neck-and-neck. Then Yellow challenged—drew even, on the inside. Within fifty yards of the royal box twelve whip-mad stallions strained in a line that wavered like spring steel. Suddenly Green swerved. He crashed Red. There was a yell like the agonied death-cry of a nation. Green and Red went down in a dusty thunder-thump of broken-legged horses, splintered poles, smashed wheels, chariots and men. Yellow went on alone to win the race, with White following at hardly more than a trot.

The stadium slaves were on the job in a second. Before Yellow had made the last circuit at full gallop they were out with their mules and ox-hide sleds and had dragged the wreck out of sight, through a door in the wall. The Queen stood up, on a footstool, to lean over the bank of flowers and toss the gilded wreath to the winner. She looked delighted. But the Romans, over on the left, were dour. The attendants were frightened, forming squads with their backs to the wall behind the topmost tiers of seats. The cheated crowd became a mob as suddenly as if a wind had smitten them and whipped them into fury. They poured into the arena, with the ominous riot-snarl that sounds more terrible than war, and began pelting the Romans with scraps of metal wrenched from the decorative emblems, marble fingers of statues—anything that could be broken off and used as a missile before the soldiers could interfere. And the soldiers were strangely dilatory, although some of the Queen's Guard, commanded by Leander in person, filed into the royal box and formed a crimson-cloaked screen on three sides.

The Queen took Tros's arm, looking tiny beside him. Tros caught Leander's eye and smiled. Leander's grim and stony look was hardly likely to be due to the riot. He was surely not afraid for the Queen. The crowd was unarmed. There were plenty of royal guards. Riots were of such common occurrence in Alexandria that the authorities looked on them as all in the day's work. The royal box and its apartments were as safe as a fortress; being built of marble, they were even fireproof. No, there was something else the matter with Leander. He avoided Tros's eyes. And when the Queen looked up in his direction he deliberately looked away, pretending to be keeping an eye on his men.

The Queen spoke, but she had to repeat it, because Tros was turning over in his mind the problem of what use he might make of Leander, who now owed him a sum of money that he never possibly could pay.

"Tros, I asked you to pick tip that scrap of parchment." He stooped for it.

"Keep it," she said, "Come with me and read it."

Olympus, standing in the corridor like a wan ghost in a black shroud, made a sign with his tau-handled staff—a bit unnecessary, Tros thought. He was already on guard with every nerve in his being. Gloomy old Olympus was a bit too fond of that air of mysterious, all-observing wisdom. However, there was one thing about Olympus: he never claimed personal fees for his friendly efforts to act like the finger of Fate. It was sufficient for Olympus that one made gifts to the priests of far-off Philae.


CHAPTER XXV
"You will obey, Lord Captain!"


It was the sea, with its roaring rage and smiling treachery, that taught me sometimes to appear to yield. Many a time I have luffed and let an enemy believe me beaten. I have avoided battle. I have run. But I have never struck my flag. Storm lover though I have ever been, and conqueror of storms though I have had to be—aye, though I pray for a storm if I must meet an enemy at sea—I see no wisdom in opposing storm and enemy. Rather I use the one to help me to defeat the other. And if it seems advisable I run from both, to await my moment.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


There were three foreign envoys in the buffet-room. All three were unofficial, at cross purposes, as diplomatically rude to one another as they were eager to be first to obtain a private audience. Since Caesar had set the precedent, Cleopatra very often used the stadium as a means of holding secret, strictly unofficial conversations that she preferred not to trust to her minister's ears. Those unofficial envoys were wary of the wine that was being pressed on them by the chamberlain and his staff of beautifully mannered courtiers. Cleopatra's wine had a curious reputation for loosening secretive tongues, though some said it was the Queen's own witchery that did the damage.

One of the envoys was a Syrian in Roman uniform—undoubtedly from Cassius. One was a solemn-eyed Gaul, in trousers, with Mark Antony's name continually on his lips. The third was a Parthian, splendidly dressed and jewelled, but looking ill at ease; he had two companions; they were whispering together. All three envoys moved to attract the Queen's attention, but the chamberlain manoeuvred his crew of exquisites so as to make it easy for her not to notice them. She preceded Tros into a frescoed room floored with onyx and severely furnished. It had a window opening into a small courtyard with three blind walls and a view of the sky. Two deaf-mute fan-bearers followed; they could read nothing, write nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, do nothing except stand, and sway their jewelled fans, and see, and smile, and symbolize Egyptian thralldom to a Greek throne.

"No," said Cleopatra, "read it."

She and Tros stood at the window, where she could watch his face and he could see the fine handwriting on the parchment. It was one of those slips on which the Queen received so many secret messages. It was sealed, but the signature was almost illegible, as if the writer had deliberately disguised it, from fear or some other motive.


"In obedience to commands received by royal messenger, this commander of the royal fortress at Pelusium has this day arrested and imprisoned, secretly as directed, a certain woman calling herself Hero, representing herself to be the wife of a merchant of Memphis but wearing beneath her chiton a silken girdle with a jewelled golden buckle and undoubtedly did formerly belong to Tros of Samothrace. The bearer of this message has the girdle. He is also returning the painted portrait of the woman, which was sent for identification and has been found to resemble her nearly enough, though she is some years older than the portrait suggests and the color and manner of wearing the hair seem different. This may be due lo the painter's desire to flatter, and to the portrait having been made several years ago. In obedience to the royal command the prisoner was searched, but has not yet been questioned under torture, with the consequence that she has said nothing of any importance. Her mood is sulky and her manner toward her custodians insolent, in spite of good treatment. An accounting of the money found in her possession and of her personal belongings, is on a separate sheet, properly attached."


Cleopatra held out a girdle for Tros to examine. It was of new silk and he had never seen that before. The Queen glanced at the flowers that he had tucked into the empty loop on his sword-belt.

"Do you recognize the buckle?"

He was silent.

Few rulers on a tottering throne, surrounded by treachery, amid a populace accustomed to violence, would have dared to laugh at Tros as Cleopatra did then. There were only the unarmed deaf-mutes to protect her. Tros could have pitched them, with hardly an effort, through the window that was letting in the roar of riot. True, there were guards outside the door, but he could have killed her before they could have burst in to interfere The reddening fury in his eyes would have made a coward scream for help. Cleopatra laughed gaily and tossed him the buckle.

"Keep it—for a reminder of my mercy! In all your travels, impudent Lord Captain, have you known another Queen who could forgive such treason as yours? Were you in such need of a woman? You, whose chastity has been a byword! You could have had your choice of any woman at my court. Were she already married, I would have had her divorced to please you. But my sister! My bitterest rival! And instead of slaying the traitor Alexis, you have had the monstrous impudence to send him and that Etruscan rat Tarquinius to put one of my father's bastards on the throne of Cyprus in Arsinoe's place! You purple pirate! Before your first kiss from Arsinoe's lips was dry, Tarquinius had written me! Did you think Alexis, who betrayed me, would not betray you in turn? He, too, has written. Too merciful, too credulous, too amorous Lord Captain Tros!"

She paused, between mockery and waspish anger. He stood silent, weighing the buckle as if in a scale against impulse.

She continued:

"And so Arsinoe, for whom the throne of Cyprus wasn't good enough, has changed her name to Hero, has she, to become the paramour of the very pirate I sent to make an end of her! And Boidion the bastard has become Arsinoe and is Queen of Cyprus! Your Hero, is she so much lovelier than I, that you propose to share my throne with her? Is that it? What did you propose to do with me, Lord Captain?"

He did what he knew she hated him to do—folded his arms and paced the floor. Suddenly he turned on her:

"Egypt, let well alone! Hero—"

"Truly!" she interrupted. "You will say she is no longer my dangerous enemy! She shall be even less dangerous! Pausanias, who commands at Pelusium, is a little too much an admirer of you, Lord Captain. I will send another to replace him, who is less likely to love you and do your bidding."

He thought of Leander, suddenly. It was a poor straw to snatch at. But had he, on the inspiration of a moment, caught in the toils of debt the man whom the Queen would now send to Pelusium? If necessary, he could ask Esias, Leander's biggest creditor, to apply pressure. Did the Queen believe Leander could be trusted to be Tros's enemy because he owed a debt of honor that he couldn't pay?

Cleopatra' sat down in an ebony chair, as dignified as the painting of Penelope rejecting suitors on the frescoed wall. Tros strode toward her, towering above her:

"Egypt, neither Hero nor I would have your throne as a gift. No, nor though you have burned my trireme, which was a cruel and faithless act, would I lift a hand against you. For I know your difficulties, and I pity your fear to trust man or woman. But—"

He hesitated. She was looking haggard. Her youth was gone. The underlying Ptolemaic savagery had overwhelmed her real genius. She was in a mood, at that moment, to summon the guard and wreak vengeance.

"Yes?" she prompted. "What?"

He dared her: "Harm you one hair of her of whom we speak, and count me from that hour your enemy forever."

Instead of summoning the guard she sneered:

"It is easier to deal with enemies than false friends!"

He knew the danger was gone for the moment. Sneer and threat were evidence enough that she had in mind something else than silly vengeance. He laughed. "Aye, you have your executioners. They can lop off loyal heads as easily as any. But they would have done their work on me already unless your need of me were greater than your malice."

"Malice?" She glared.

"Aye, malice! Jealousy! Unqueenly, mean ingratitude!"

"Have a care, Tros!"

"Too little care I have had! I have saved you, at my own cost and my own risk, how many times since the day I snatched you, exiled and defeated, from a beach and brought you—a chit of a naked girl—to match your wits with Caesar's! Have I ever accepted a price, or a gift in return for the blows I have struck to save you on your throne? Have I ever grudged my loyalty, that you should cat-and-mouse me as you do your generals and ministers, who would sell you to the highest bidder if they dared? When have I sold you? When have I taken a bribe to betray you?"

"A man who can change my sister's name and substitute a bastard on the throne of Cyprus, could change his own coat!" she retorted. "I can't even trust you not to sail away and leave me like Dido weeping for Aeneas. No reward can hold a man like you. I even offered you a throne—my own throne! You refused that. Now you wench it with the sister who once stole my throne, who even drove me out of Egypt—who hates me with envenomed pride because I spared her, and begged her life after Caesar's triumph—who wasn't satisfied with Cyprus, but invaded Egypt to—"

Tros interrupted: "It was Boidion who invaded Egypt, and you know it! Your rat Tarquinius betrayed Hero. She is no longer Arsinoe. Hero escaped, and came to Egypt to prevent—"

"I know your Hero! She came looking for you, to inflame you—madden you with kisses on a field of battle! Hero is her new name, is it? I will send Leander to command Pelusium! There shall be a fine new tale of Hero and Leander, I guarantee you, unless you buy my pardon!"

Tros almost lost his self-command.

"It is for sale, is it? Buy it? Shall I bargain with a woman who burned my trireme to escape from keeping a promise?"

"Bargain with you!" she retorted. "After you have bedded with the wench I sent you secretly to kill? You will obey, Lord Captain!"

That suited Tros perfectly. He recovered his self-control, but he dissembled it beneath a scowl that would have frightened any ordinary woman. Pride in his own integrity would have compelled him to keep a bargain. There was no man or woman on earth who could make him obey, unless of his own free will. Obedience was something he demanded of the free men whose captain he was. He was not Cleopatra's subject. He had never accepted her commission.

Cleopatra misunderstood his scowl. She mistook it for irresolution. "Should you disobey, your Hero will endure the fate of my elder sister Berenice, who usurped my father's throne for a while in the days when you were pirating in Gaul, Lord Captain. You may have heard how Berenice died? Not comfortably. And your friend Esias, who sold me your pearls for a price that would build a fleet of triremes, shall hand over your fortune to my treasurer."

Tros did his best to look scared, but the threat reassured him. He began to feel almost at ease. She was threatening what she knew, and he knew equally well, she would not dare to do. Not even Caesar had taken too many liberties with the Jewish bankers. Bad subjects. Easy to scare into secret opposition or open rebellion; extremely difficult to rob by any other means than force of arms. And if she could secretly murder Hero, then her hold over Tros would be gone. She would never release Hero of her own free will. But she was indignant that she would certainly have had her done to death already if she didn't need Tros's services so desperately that she couldn't afford to let spite have its way. There was time. Hero was not in immediate danger.

"What then?" he demanded. "I suppose, as usual you won't inform me fully. You will send me on another blind errand." He deliberately angered her again by doing what he knew she hated—accurately guessing at the thought behind her eyes. "Charmion, of course, has been urging you to have me beheaded, or worse. You refused, because you are in danger from Cassius, and you daren't send an army against him. So Charmion sulks, and you make demands on me. What are they?"

She disguised her irritation. She was too intent now on what she needed.

"Two of Mark Antony's Syrian spies have brought definite news that Cassius is secretly sending a force of Arabs to try to win over the Pelusium garrison and raise a evolution that will compel me to abdicate or perhaps marry Herod. I dread Herod's brains more than Cassius's legions. How many men have you? I know you sent more than a hundred down the Pelusiac arm of the Nile, including your brawling Northmen, whom you had the impudence to release from a prison camp without my order. I know those are now billeted among the villages south of Pelusium. How many men have you here in the city?"

It was no use lying. She probably knew, and, if she didn't, she could find it out in an hour.

"Two hundred and forty and some odd, counting officers," he answered.

"Pirates! Lawless mercenaries! Not to be mistaken for my men. Rebels against me—driven from the city! Can you arm them?"

"Their arms were already ashore when the ship burned."

"All told about three hundred and fifty men? Well armed? Fit to fight against Arabs?"

"If you let me have my Basques, whom you let your lately executed Governor of the City sentence to enlistment in the Red Sea Coast Patrol, I should have more than five hundred men."

She pondered that a moment. Those Basques were one more hold she had on him.

"They are too far away. It would take too long to summon them. Cassius knows, that I know, that it was he who instigated Boidion. His agents have been intriguing with my ministers and generals; he knows I know that. He knows I have uncovered a Roman conspiracy to rise against me the minute anyone of a half-a-dozen plots looks likely to succeed. He is afraid that the minute these Arabs, with whom he hopes to surprise me, reach Pelusium I may order all the Romans in the city butchered. So he has demanded that I send to him—he says to Syria, to be sent on from there to Brutus, all that remain of the two legions that Caesar left here, the old. Gabinian irregulars and every Roman citizen in Alexandria of military age. If I refuse, he will make that an excuse for invading Egypt. If the Romans refuse to leave, he will say it was I who refused to send them. And they don't want to go. They don't like Cassius. They don't trust him. They would rather be here for the looting whenever Cassius invades. That is the meaning of this riot."

She paused. She appeared to be listening to the din through the open window, but she was studying Tros, weighing in her mind how much or how little to tell him. The din in the stadium had perceptibly lessened when she picked up the thread of her monologue:

"Now perhaps you understand why I have spent so much money to make the Alexandrines believe the Romans have swindled them over a chariot-race. There is no easier way than that to enrage Alexandrines and make them murderous. I have more than a thousand agents in the city spreading the rumor that the Romans all betted on Yellow; that they only pretended beforehand to favor Red, in order to lengthen the odds against Yellow. By tonight the Romans will be glad to leave the city. The ships are ready for them. They are not good ships, and I don't care what happens to them. Cassius's excuse for an invasion will be gone and it will take him time to invent another. Meanwhile, there will be no Romans in the city to bribe my officers and to raise rebellion—if, Tros, you should fail to find and defeat those Arabs before they reach Egypt! Cassius knows my army is in no condition to oppose his seven legions. But my spies say his legions would rather mutiny than march across the desert. He believes he could persuade them to march, though, if he can gain a quick success that would make the loot look worth the effort. Cassius has at least five legions, perhaps six by now, at Jericho. I have six thousand men at Pelusium, and I am afraid they may welcome the Arabs. Nearly all my generals are traitors, and the rest are incapable."

"I know one good general," said Tros. "Lend him to me—and a thousand men."

"No. Idiot! Shall I have it said that I have sent my troops to wage war on Cassius's allies? That would make even his mutinous legions march! Besides, I need what loyal troops I have to guard the Red Sea Coast against Arabs, and the southern and western frontiers against Ethiopians, Nubians Senussi, who would plunder Egypt if they saw a moment's chance. I tell you, I don't dare to be openly Cassius's enemy. Rome hates him. Even Brutus, his ally and co-murderer, loathes him. Antony and Octavian intend to rid the earth of him. But Rome would never tolerate my taking up arms against a Roman proconsul. Though the Romans hate him worse than they hate me, they would call it an insult to the Roman people. They would avenge the insult. Such an excuse as that might even end their civil war; they might make common cause against me. So, you understand, I must employ a man whom I can disown, who is not my subject, who has never held my commission, but who has a motive of his own for hating Cassius. You saw Cassius kill Caesar. Caesar was your friend."

Tros put his hands behind his back and kept silence. It was true that he hated Cassius—despised him, and Cassius knew it.

But was Cleopatra telling the truth? If Hero really was a prisoner, why was she, being kept in Pelusium, so, near the border? If Cassius's Arabs should lay their hands on her and learn who she really was, she would again be a deadly menace to the throne of Egypt. Cassius would surely try to use her to foment rebellion.

Was Hero actually dead? Was Cleopatra pretending she had not had her killed, in order to compel Tros to do her bidding? She perceived, but misinterpreted his doubt. She lied, and he knew she was lying:

"Cassius's envoy demanded that your ship should be burned as a punishment for your having sunk two Roman biremes in Salamis. That is another count that you have against Cassius."

"Set Hero free," he said, "and I will do your errand."

"Do my errand," she retorted, "or take the consequences. Defeat Cassius's Arabs, and I will forgive your impudent theft of your brawling Northmen. I will even forgive your treatment of Alexis, and of that whore Boidion. I may even recognize Boidion as Arsinoe and let her leave Cyprus, since you have forced me into that predicament. And if Cassius's intrigue fails, you may have your Hero and go whither you will."

"Is that a genuine promise?" he asked. "Or another cat-and-mouser?"

"It pleases you to be insolent because now you know my danger, Captain Tros. If you don't believe that promise, believe this one: fail, and I will show you your Hero's head on the end of the torturer's pike before the torturer deals with you likewise! Do we understand each other?"

He turned his back on her. He paced the floor. She mistook the strangle-grip of his hands behind his back, the tension of his forearms and the way he averted his eyes when he turned, for signals of defeat. The truth was, that he wished her not to see the battle-anger in his eyes. He knew he could not possibly disguise it, not for a minute or two. Had he answered her then, he could not have controlled his voice. At the moment he had only one wild thought, and he had to dismiss that before he could think reasonably and speak calmly. How could he seize Pelusium with three hundred and fifty men? He must drown that thought. He must think of something practical.

"Stand still, Tros! You irritate me when you pace up and down. If you succeed, I will even help you to build a new trireme."

He laughed, with a shrug of his shoulders. The laugh meant that he would never again trust her, not though she should swear on the secret scrolls of the Hierophants of Philae. But she thought it meant he yielded. He had his eyes in control at last. His cunning obeyed him. He discovered words to flatter her conceit, and yet not make a promise such as self-respect might forbid him to break.

"When do you wish me to go?"

"Now—swiftly and in silence—just as soon as you can get your men together and equip them. I will send a secret order to take from the government arsenal whatever you need and can't get from Esias."

"If I return successful," he answered, "I will hold you to the last word of your promise." But he said that to deceive her, to make her think he believed, or at any rate hoped that she would keep a promise made without witnesses. He knew he had to rescue Hero, if she were still alive. If she were dead, he—even he, who hated with his whole soul to become a turncoat under any provocation—would have vengeance or die.

Cleopatra was not quite unaware of his thought:

"I will send word to Pelusium," she said, "to have your Hero tortured to death if you attempt a rescue. You will go by land, because I wish to be sure of your movements; and also because I have no good ships to spare; and even if I had them, my spies tell me that Cassius has concentrated a fleet at Gaza. He could overwhelm you at sea. And you are a pirate. He would attack you without the least compunction. You will go overland to intercept the Arabs, but leave Pelusium alone. The price of disobedience or failure will be the death of the fool who threw her throne away for your sake! Fortune favor you, Lord Captain. No need to inform me of your plans; I shall receive reports of your doings. On your way out, kindly tell my chamberlain to bring in the Gaul."

He backed out, bowing low to hide his facial expression. By the time the door had closed behind him he was smiling, and none could have guessed his thoughts—unless Olympus did. Olympus watched him. Tros wondered how much, or how little Olympus actually knew of Cleopatra's secrets. Certainly Olympus knew enough to make Charmion jealous. And how much did Charmion know? Charmion's quarrels with the Queen were usually due to the fact that Charmion was the more or less secret director of the Queen's spies and the Queen's secret police. How much did Olympus know of this new development? Tros didn't dare to be seen talking to him—not then.

The riot had been quelled in the arena. Many of the seats were empty, but the racing had resumed. For the time being the remaining spectators were in a state of harmless ecstasy. Tros found Leander at the foot of the stairs, and Leander returned him his sword.

"See here, Tros—"

"Hold your tongue, Leander, lest you say the wrong word! I know what you did. You owe me what your boon companions would call a debt of honor. Can you pay it? Not you! Neither can you pay Esias, who at a word from me would hound you for payment. You can have my friendship if you want it. I spoke to the Queen about you. She may perhaps promote you to command Pelusium. If so, then remember who befriended you instead of compassing your ruin."

Their eyes met. They exchanged salutes. There was no knowing what such a man as Leander would do, or not do. If the Queen should send him to command Pelusium, he might try to repay his debt to Tros by being complaisant. He might let the secret prisoner escape. Or he might try to wipe out the personal debt, and to strengthen himself in the Queen's favor, by setting such a trap as should eliminate Tros forever. It was even possible that Cleopatra wanted that to happen. It would be an easy, subtly ingenious way of executing, without scandal to herself, an old friend who had become as obnoxious as Tros of Samothrace. She was capable of even deeper subtlety than that.

Leander was probably treacherous, but he was certainly not subtle, although he might be one of the dozens of ambitious gallants who owed their positions to Charmion's influence and who would obey Charmion's slightest hint. If so, Charmion's spite was likely to employ Leander's treachery. But it would be safer to trust Leander than the Queen. Cleopatra had forfeited the confidence of Tros of Samothrace, irrevocably and forever.


CHAPTER XXVI
"What matter a burned trireme—?"


When I ask myself, as I think all thoughtful men inevitably do: have I done my duty? Have I acted manly? I perceive it is impossible oneself to answer. That is something that only other men can do, until the god's day comes to issue judgment:—aye, and beware of flattery! Men's speech is seldom sheeted close to Truth's wind. But their deeds are eloquent. So that when ignorant dogs of bawdy seamen, whom I have shepherded and thrashed and loved and led, behave like loyal comrades behind my back, then I take comfort. My men shall judge me. Gods, if gods there be, may judge me by the good foul-weather friends, who have stood by.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Two Romans invited themselves into Tros's litter. He knew them both, and didn't like them, but he couldn't in common decency refuse to give them a lift. They were lean men, but Tros and his sumptuous litter were weight enough for eight Negro slaves; they showed the whites of their eyes, already terrified by the rioting. It had spread to the streets. Some of the enraged spectators were pursuing Romans, hunting them high and low, assisted by a. mob that neither knew nor cared why. Even with the curtains drawn there was a chance that Tros's might be spotted and dragged out to be beaten to death. They sat facing the rear.

"A bad business," said the smaller of the two, a man named Titus Sallustius Varro. He leaned to draw the curtains closer. "Tros, did you lose any money?"

"No. I betted on Yellow."

"Dioscuri! How did you know? Who told you?"

"One of the Queen's officers."

"There! Orosius, didn't I tell you it was a put up job! Tros, Polyclem the banker had it all set for Red to win. He and a few others have been planning it since last year. He spent a fortune on it, in bribes and one way and another. It looked like a sure thing. All we Romans have lost more than we could afford. This is a trick of that bitch Cleopatra's—and a smart trick, too—to put us Romans in peril. When enough Romans have been murdered by the crowd to make a good showing she will turn out the troops to protect the rest of us and then claim credit for being the friend of the Roman people!"

Orosius grunted. "Have you heard the rumor that she intends to put every Roman citizen of military age aboard that fleet of rotten ships and send us all to Cassius in Syria?"

"Of course I've heard it. Ugh! Cassius would be a fine host. He is so avaricious and mean, he would make a cold in the head pay dividends! This may be part of the inducement, to make rotten ships look safer to us than a riotous city!"

"I have not even packed," said Orosius.

"Then you'd better do it, if you don't want your belongings looted," said the other.

"I intend to stay here. Like you, my friend, I came here to enjoy myself and not be liable to military conscription. I hope this wantoning Queen may catch the plague!"

"Anyhow, Tros, we are grateful to you for the protection of your litter."

There was more protection than Tros could explain, although the two Romans took for granted that he had an armed escort. Tros had brought no escort with him. But now he could hear the tramp of armed men, on either side of the litter. Was he under arrest? Had he angered the Queen too deeply? Were the Queen's Guards obeying a secret order to escort him to a dungeon? He found that hard to believe, but it was possible. He peered through the curtain.

One glance was enough. It changed him from a man with heartache to a man whose heart thumped with the surge of daring. He leaned against the back of the litter, and, for the first time since he had watched the fire devour his trireme, laughed with the love of life. He was a man again. He could win. He could not fail. He knew it!

It was an almost noiseless belly-laugh, homeric; huge; but quiet, meant only for Fortune's ears. Not luck. Fortune. Tros never flattered luck. He played his own men fair; so forging faith upon the anvil of events that, though fortune might seem to fall by accident from heaven, it was actually his by right of deeds well done and loyalty well led. But when it happened, it stirred the roots of his warrior's humour.

"You laugh, Tros. What on earth do you find to laugh at—you and your burned trireme? Do you find our predicament funny?"

"No, no. I laugh at memories. Where do you wish to be set down?"

"At the house of Polyclem the banker. We must find out what is to be done to prevent that cursed Queen from ruining us all."

The clanking thirty-inch marching step of men in armor was a key to the right of way through even Alexandrine rioters in quest of heads to break before the city police should interfere. It was only unarmed, unescorted Romans who were being made to wish, for once in their lives, that they looked like other people. Tros's guests dived through the curtains and into a house almost before the litter had come to a halt. Then a snub-nosed face with one eye, under a crestless helmet, peered through the off-side curtains.

"Where now, master?"

"To wherever she is!"

Conops was alive and looking saucy. That was absolute proof that Conops's charge was out of harm's reach. Hero couldn't possibly be a prisoner in Pelusium; otherwise Conops would be there too, or dead, or looking downcast.

The face vanished. The litter proceeded on its way toward the Rhakotis docks.

"Conops! Climb in."

Seaman style, as if he were rolling into a hammock, Conops invaded the litter and squatted, facing Tros. His one eye was as alert and shameless as a bird's. His smile was of brass, his armor as bright as polishing could make it. There wasn't a hint in his manner that anything on earth was unusual, or out of place, or even dangerous. There he was, ready for trouble or anything else.

"Is the hurt leg all right, master?"

"Well enough. You disobedient rogue! I sent you in charge of the men to Pelusium. Where are they?"

"All safe, master, all accounted for. Seven of 'em died of wounds on the way down-river, but the rest of the wounded got 'em a wench a-piece to cherish 'em and they'll be fighting fit again in no time. Sigurdsen's in charge; he's bled enough to fill a water-cask, but he's well enough already to crave a crack at me with his battle-ax. The men are billeted in five villages, all within sound of a bugle-blast, and the flies are bad, but the grub's good, liquor scarce and wenches plenty. There was a bit o' trouble with the village men-folk, but we didn't touch marketable virgins, so there wasn't much they could do about it. All the way down-Nile we'd no trouble at all, barring a couple of fights or so, and one man caught by a crocodile. The fool went swimming. But I saved his armor. Near Pelusium a black he-slave belonging to Esias's partner came up-river looking for us, and then I knew we'd reached the end of a run o' luck and had the dirty end o' trouble to begin on."

"What mischief have you been up to now?"

"Saving your grace and presence, master, I was forced to give a licking to the lady you said was to mind my orders. She can fight back. She was tougher licking than a lad o' twice her weight, what with her pulling a knife, and me not wanting to spoil her good looks, and one thing and another. But she's your woman. You said she was to mind me. I made her do it."

"Where is she now?"

"In Esias's office. Old Esias offered her some slave-girls and a soft bed, but she made him dig out armor that really fits her. Last I saw of her, an hour ago, she was watching the smiths make a change in the set of a shoulder-piece. Esias is scared half-crazy."

Tros scowled. "Understand me. If she wants you flogged, I will do it. Even if I think you did right, I will do it. You have laid your hand on your superior. If she complains to me, you will take the consequences."

"Aye, aye, master."

"Tell your story."

"Esais's partner's black slave came up-Nile and warned us that the Queen's men in Pelusium were watching for a lady calling herself Hero. Seems the Queen had reports from her spies. Like as not that dog Tarquinius, that you saw fit not to kill, had told all about your swapping one princess for another. Or maybe it was just the bad luck along of changing a girl's name, same as changing a ship's. Anyhow the Queen knew. A man had killed a racing camel, carrying a secret message along the sea-road from Alexandria to Pelusium, ordering the arrest of a woman named Hero; and the commander of Pelusium, Pausanias, had sent for Esias's partner to warn him to detain her and hand her over if she should turn up. And he'd sent a lieutenant and twenty men upriver to look for her.

"That was when the trouble started between her and me. Right then. She was for setting an ambush for the Queen's men, and then for fighting our way across the border and sending word to you. You never saw the like o' the way she tried to take command, until I'd proved I'd sew her up in a sail if she didn't obey me, same as you said, 'board-ship fashion, quick and handy and no back-talk."

"Did you hurt her?"

"No more than I had to, master. She'd a wrenched arm that hurt a trifle, along of her pulling a knife, but she can use her arm again, and I let her keep the knife. She'd a bit of a sore rib, and her wrist was skinned. But I was thoughtful not to hurt her good looks."

"Well, what else happened?"

"You remember, she'd two slave-girls. One of 'em nursed Sigurdsen so good that he begged leave to buy her. And your lady's generous. She gave him the girl—a nice buxomly, motherly wench and just the thing for that homesick Northman. But I took the other and I made bold to promise her freedom, and a good dowry to boot, if she'd do as I said. She's smaller, but about your lady's shape. They don't look much alike, and their hair's not the same color, but I made her put on your lady's fine clothes and she was passable. I learned her. I drilled her. I took that British buckle you'd given your lady, and had her sew it to a girdle and wear it next her skin, as if it was a secret; and I dressed up your lady to look like a slave. She and the slave-girl swapped names—Marianne her name is—she's from Idumaea—and I took the slave-girl, calling herself Hero, with pretty near all your lady's fine apparel, along ahead in the leading boat, me and the boat's crew acting deferential.

"She's a good girl. She acted pretty when the Queen's men from Pelusium came swooping out from an ambush in the reeds. It wasn't us they wanted; Esais's partner's slave had made me sure o' that, so I could afford to be impudent, and I was. I told 'em what they'd catch for pirating your woman, and a nice new young woman at that, with the bloom still on her. And they didn't like it, master. Your name's big in Pelusium. But they'd their orders, so they carried her off, she play-acting like a sulky queen, same as I'd learned her, treating the officer like so much dirt and saying mighty little. She was easy learning; she'd waited on quality; she knew how a princess behaves when she's out o' patience."

"Well, and then what?"

"Well, master, I tried to guess what you'd ha' done, saving your presence, if you'd ha' been me. Your orders were for me to stay in command of the men. Maybe I should have obeyed orders. Anyhow, I didn't. I made the best dispositions I could, and then left Sigurdsen in charge; he's well enough to keep order, and too bad tempered not to. Seemed we were plenty near Pelusium. We were so near, I could send Esias's partner's slave for money and a few things we needed. There were villages thereabouts and, as I said, wenches, so I billeted the men. It took a day and a night to get 'em settled down ship-shape and the fighting done with. By that time I'd begun to wonder how long it 'ud be before they'd learn they'd got the wrong girl in Pelusium, not to mention me having the right one, in a way of saying, under hatches. Pluto, she's a hot one, master! Sigurdsen was battle-axing mad about the way I'd handled her. He said she's blood-royal, and me no better than a whore-son seaman showing her the butt-end of a boarding pike. One way and another, it was time to find you.

"So I took the eight Jews you'd left with me, and they're good lads. Time I've learned 'em, they'll be fit for any duty. I didn't dare try the canals, for fear o' Queen's spies; and I didn't dare take one of our river-boats coastwise, for fear of upsetting it in the shoals; they chop up ugly in the least little bit of a norther and our Jew-lads are no more seamen than I'm a rabbi. But we took our boat down-river in the night—only a third of a moon, and the big fort throwing a shadow as black as Baltic tar—and we came on a little jewel of a sponge-ship, in Pelusium for water, with her captain and crew aboard. They were three sheets to the wind on new wine, and only eight of 'em, so we got to sea with no worse than a couple o' knife-cuts, and the sail as full of arrows as a sea-urchin o' spikes. Those sponge-boats can go to windward, and I'd hoped to steal out and be gone before the fort 'ud know it. But there'd been a tidy bit o' head-cracking and swearing, and they'd heard us. They opened fire from the fort bastion. So we had to use sweeps, and well we did; it's a mean passage out through that mouth o' the Nile, in the dark. The rest was easy, master. We'd a fair wind. And when the spongers learned whose men we are, and saw we'd a fine lady with us, and her calling me such names as only a royal lady would ha' dared to use to anyone, seaman or no seaman, and I'd promised 'em money, they made no trouble at all."

"When did you reach Alexandria?"

"One hour after midday, master. And the first thing I saw was the bones of our trireme all black and gutted. Pluto! Then I knew you'd need me, no matter what else. Old Esias was in a panic. First eye-full, he knew who she was. He tried to hide her in a back-room. But all she wanted was armor to fit, and clean linen. I'd laundered what she had on, and it didn't look good, on account o' the mud in the sponge-boat water-cask. Old Esias warned me to go and hide in a sail-loft, and he overpaid the sponge-boat crew and bought their sponges to keep 'em quiet. Then he wrung his hands and said the very sight o' me in the city might start worse trouble than was already. But I got hold of the other two Jews, and eleven fighting men can beat a shipload o' trouble when they're so minded. I guess you'd fouled your anchor on a bad lee and might be needing a hand. Esias wouldn't tell, but Ahiram said you'd gone to talk to the Queen. So it was simple. I'd had the Jew-lads shine our armor, to keep 'em out o' mischief on the sponge-boat. I inspected 'em. We were fit to be anyone's escort. So we marched though the city and acted we'd nothing to do but play knuckle-bones, in among the parked litters. Presently a riot started and we watched 'em chivvying the Romans. They scragged two. Then you came, and a couple o' Romans got in talk with you and got into the litter, so we minded our manners. I reckoned you'd notice us soon enough. That's all, master. Should I ha' stayed at Pelusium?"

Tros peered out. They were approaching the guarded gate of Esias's dock. He looked hard at Conops.

"Had you been anything else than the scoundrelly, damned disobedient, shameless dog that you are, you would have obeyed orders and stayed at Pelusium."

"Yes, master."

"And had you been anything else than the faithful, loyal, dirty-weather comrade that you are, I would reduce you for disobedience."

"Yes, master."

"I am well pleased. I would rather have seen your ugly face this afternoon than a hundred armed men."

Silence.

"You have done well."

Silence. The clank of the ten Jews marching. A shout, and the creak of the opening dock-yard gate.

"It would hurt my heart to have to thrash you."

Silence.

"I will do it, if she wishes."

"Aye, aye, master."

Conops rolled out of the litter before it came to a halt between Esias's office door and the dock where the bones of a splendid ship lay black and useless.

"Escort—'ten-shun! Lord-Captain's salute—pree-sent arms!" Clang.

Then Hero—not so long ago Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus—ex-Queen of Egypt—outlaw—looking like a fair-haired lad in armor:

"Oh, my lord, my lord, how good to be with you!"

She saluted. There was a bruise beneath the bracelet on her right wrist. Gravely Tros acknowledged her salute. He loved that. He would have hated a sentimental scene before his men. But there was something else he would have hated more. "You are in danger," he said.

"I love it!"

His amber eyes admired, but his words were careful: "Have you been well served?"

"Aye, royally!" She made a reckless gesture toward the charred ruins of the great ship on which she had fought beside' him, in a gale, against the pirates hard by Salamis, when she was a queen and he not yet an outlaw. "And what matter a burned trireme, Tros, when we have such men as this one!"

She looked at Conops. Conops eyed his master, unblinking, brass-faced.

"Fall away, little man. Go and get food and then muster the men. Have them fall in at the dock-side. Send Ahiram to me."

"Aye, aye, master. Lord Captain's escort—'ten-shun! Close order! Right-turn! By the right, quick-march! Left! Left! Left!"


CHAPTER XXVII
"I am not she any longer. I am Hero"


Two heads are better than one, and three than two. But when a plan is reached let there be one commander. One only. Let the others obey. I would rather obey a man, whose talent for command I thought inferior to mine, than make the unwise effort to attempt to share authority.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Conops had not exaggerated. Old Esias was a nervous wreck; he had the office shutters up; the dingy room was lit by little clay lamps, and he was chary of those. He refused to listen to Tros's plan, suddenly conceived and brilliant though it was. His gray-bearded face, shadowy and haggard in the dim light, twitched with anxiety. He kept tapping his old beautiful hands on the table in hysterical efforts to keep calm while Tros explained the plan to Hero. He kept interrupting.

"But I say you shall listen. You shall! This once, before you ruin me and mine, I will say to a she-Ptolemy's face what I think of you and all yours!—Hero now you call yourself! Jezabel it should be! The dogs ate Jezebel. You will wish you had died like Jezebel—yes, and and my partners—yes, and Tros, too—yes, and many others—if your sister Cleopatra should even dream you are in Alexandria! Is this your gratitude for secret aid? For credits—money—clothing—slaves that I have given you? Fool! Ingrate! Were it not for the Lord Captain I would turn you over to the Queen, your sister, to be raped by the dungeon slaves, and whipped, and torn with hot pincers, and thrown to the dogs on the city dung-heap! Let a palace sorcerer learn but a hint of the truth, and go murmuring to the Queen and say he saw your face, in a dream, in my office—and then what? Then what! Ruin! You, who had a kingdom! Eh? Eh? Only Cyprus, say you? But a kingdom! Was it not a kingdom? And now Boidion has it—a bastard—I say a bastard. Will she rest until she has betrayed you to death, to be rid of you—you and everyone of us who knows your secret? Ruin! Ruin! You trust her? You fool! Will she trust you? She will betray us all to death, lest you betray her!"

Tros tried to calm him. "Peace, Esias."

"Peace? You? You speak to me of peace? You have ruined us all! For the sake of this girl who was walked through Rome at Caesar's chariot tail—spat on by the Roman mob—who should have been strangled in the Tullanium—or sold into slavery to any fool who would buy! Why didn't you kill her on the field of battle? You, Tros, who might have married Egypt! And what a king, what a king for Egypt!"

He paused for breath. Tros sat silent, perceiving that Esias needed the comfort of released anger. Suddenly the old man resumed:

"You craved a girl for your bed? You had but to ask for the pick of all my slave-girls. Gladly, gladly, free, I would have given! Or was it a wife you wanted? One word—one word from you to me, and every nobleman in Alexandria who owes me money should have begged you to become his daughter's husband!"

The object of Esias's anger, less well schooled than Tros in self-control, but careful not to offend Tros's dignity, tried quiet persuasion:

"Esias, it is true, if I were claiming the throne of Egypt, you would be in danger. But I am no longer Arsinoe. I am Hero, wife of the Lord Tros. So forget I was Queen of Egypt until Caesar came. Forget I was ever a Ptolemy—ever this Queen's sister. Forget, if you will, that in those days all the Jews in Alexandria preferred me and begged Caesar to—"

"Wife?" He nearly screamed at her. "Who will call you his wife? Forget? Jews forget nothing! Never! What a Jew was, he is; and what he is, he will be! Let a whisper—just a little whisper creep into the Jewish quarter—let the Jews even hope you are in the city—and then what?"

He snapped his fingers in her face. He slapped the palms of his hands on the table.

"Then what! There would be an insurrection such as even Alexandria has not seen! My people can fight. They are fools. They would fight. But could they overcome the Queen's' troops? We should all be butchered! Once again they would raise their shout: Plunder the Jews!"

Hero shrugged her shoulders. "Not for my sake, Esias. Did the Jews defend me against Caesar? Not they! When Caesar gave them rights and privileges—"

Esias shook both fists at her and almost spat his anger:

"Rights that Cleopatra steals, ignores, denies—day by day, here a little, there a little! It is not Arsinoe whom they love. Why should they love you? It is Cleopatra whom they hate! Why should they not hate her? Could Arsinoe be worse than she is? The woman whom they hardly know seems better to them than the—"

"But I am not she any longer, Esias. I am Hero."

"Hero! You, Tros, my friend—what will you do with her? Where can you go? We have trusted each other. I have your money. Your pearl money, your corn money—you are wealthy. Where will you take your money? Into Syria, on this mad raid, where Cassius will get it, even if he doesn't catch and crucify you? Shall I give you a draft on Rome? How long, do you think, before Antony would be spending your money on whores and actors—or Octavian spending it on sorcery to cure his pimples! Will you take it to Greece, and let Brutus seize it? The mealy-mouthed hypocrite Brutus is burning cities and selling noble people into slavery for the sake of the last drachma he can wring forth! Will you take it to Sicily for Sextus—or to Gaul, for Lepidus to pay his legions?"

"I will leave it here, in your charge," Tros answered. It was time to bring Esias to his senses. He shook the table with his fist. "I will trust you, Esias, until I find you false. Are we friends? For, if we are not, say so."

Esias stared, gaped and leaned back in his chair. His old eyes shone like jewels in the yellow lamplight, but he looked suddenly feeble and his face wan and tired.

"Eh! Eh! Your pardon, Lord Captain." He was trembling. "My friend, my true friend Tros, your pardon. I am old, and I know these Romans. I saw what Pompey did to Mithradates. I saw him plunder Syria—aye, and Jerusalem. And too well I know these Ptolemies, and the wickedness of their women—massacres! Treacheries! Murders!—Have you not loyally served this woman's sister? And what has happened to your trireme?"

He flared again, pointed, leaning forward with an elbow on the table:

"You! Girl, who call yourself Hero! Be you false to the brave Lord Captain in the least matter—in one small trifle—in one slyness—in one wantonness—in one deceit—in one unfaithful gesture of a finger—and may the God of Vengeance damn you into everlasting death!"

She kissed her hand to him. "Your armorers are good, Esias."

Tros laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Esias, the Queen expects me to march overland. Sell me that ship that is hauled out, three docks along."

"It leaks, Tros. It—"

"Put the caulkers to work, day and night."

"No, no. Summon Eli. I am overwrought. Do as you will. Have anything you will. I will not listen."

"Say nothing then. Know nothing. Leave it to me. I shall need a second ship."

"I have no other. They have taken everything in the harbor that will float, to deport the Romans."

"Leave that also to me. Send word through all your stores and workshops that my orders are to be obeyed."

"I will tell Eli."

Eli, a freedman with slate-colored eyes and a stoop, smiled his way into the room and eyed Tros with the air of a doctor waiting to be told the symptoms. He was capable of running all Esias's business. He had been a pupil of Sosigines the astronomer, trained to forget nothing he had ever seen or heard, and to carry exact figures in his head. He loved Tros, because Tros was nearly as quick a calculator as himself.

"Chariots, yes, Lord Captain. Thirty or forty chariots that Caesar ordered—built by Triphales and never paid for—stored in Triphales's warehouse—could be bought, no doubt, at less than half-price. Must be as dry as a bone by now. Wheels would need soaking to make the tires stay on. No harness, but the harness could be bought from Timon, supplier to most of the racing stables, and would be very expensive if made in a hurry—say a night and a day, if Timon's gangs were paid a bonus. Horses? Mules?"

"Yes, and camels—for a baggage-train for three hundred and fifty men. Have them hired and waiting by tomorrow morning. Understand Eli: I don't want them. But I wish the Queen's spies to believe I make ready to march."

Hero interrupted. "What can I be doing?"

"Imitating nothing, nowhere?" said Esias. "I have had a bed brought for you. Go to bed then, and await your Lord." He shook his finger at her. "You! You! Any spy may recognize you, any minute! Do you wish us all to be burned like Tros's ship? You will hide where I tell you, though I change the hiding place ten times over!"

She shrugged care-free shoulders. "I will visit the armorer again, to have my breast-plate fitted."

"I will send a slave-girl to be fitted for it. You will do as I tell you!"

Tros interrupted: "Hero!"

He was speaking for Esias's benefit, and she knew it, but she thrilled to the sound of the new name that Tros had chosen for her, by the Nile, under the stars. There was something competent and gallant about her that made even old Esias stare with approval. Young—she looked almost a child against the gloom of the office wall, with the lamplight shining on her fair hair—hers was the smile of youth that knows not yet, but means to know; that did not yet, but means to do; that has felt the reckless danger-love of nothing more to lose, and all to win. And she had chosen her man, earned him, won him, knew his worth. He should learn hers. Little she guessed, yet, how he valued her, and she was likely not to learn that from his lips; Tros was no poet, no troubador, but a man of action using what he found good, for present needs and future far-viewed purpose. But that he understood her, as no one else had ever done, she began to perceive. That gave her confidence, which stole away the Ptolemy suspicion from her smile and left it clean, audacious, true.

"You will do as Esias says."

She mocked him, imitating Conops: "Aye, aye, master!"

One of his big hands seized both of hers, and she bit her lip. He was about as able to be gentle as a head-sea. But she didn't flinch, didn't try to withdraw her hands.

"You have not become a courtier's plaything. You have thrown in your lot with a man who owns no roof, no ship, and who must hack his way to what he will have—aye, and will do. You may look not to me for safety, other than as you and I together snatch it forth from danger. I live dangerously. Such is my religion. Sloth, ease, idleness—the love of safety and the fear of death—are no food for the soul. I will no more flinch from endangering you than me, if I believe we can win. But I see no sense in frightening Esias, nor in peril for its own sake. So, until we go, you will obey Esias."

"I will not obey him! Have I thrown away a throne to run a Jew's errands?"

Tros laughed. "I have run Esias's errands—aye, and he mine—in the teeth of Rome! He has asked what! will of you, but he himself has said it. I will have you faithful. Comfort and mere obedience I can have of any boughten wench, who must obey or be whipped. But I wish to trust you as I do my own soul. If you wish that, you shall trust me also. We will have no secrets from each other, I have told you my plan. We have agreed on it. Having agreed, you obey. To the hilt, with all the mind you have, and all the marrow of your being, you will slam the meaning of my orders home into the teeth of destiny, and you will make me proud that I have such a woman to trust."

She stiffened her chin. "Did you hear him, Jew? I will obey because he said it. But—"

Esias interrupted. "Never in all my life have I needed a woman to tell me what orders to give! You will go to your room and be quiet. Go now! I will send you some slaves. Examine them. Use your intelligence. Select one who is fit to serve you as Conops serves Tros. I will send you men-slaves, women-slaves and eunuchs. If you choose the right one, that one will be my wedding-gift. But if you choose the wrong one—"

"Dealer in drabs! I have chosen a life. Do you think I need a Jew to teach me how to choose a servant? Very well, I will go to my cage. And you may try, if you will, behind my back to make the Lord Tros regret that it wasn't you who chose his woman!"

She laid her hand on Tros's shoulder. "He will say I am the daughter of a drunken father, and the younger sister of two bitches whose milk is poison. What will you say?"

"I will speak of munitions, and money, and men," Tros answered. "There is a week's work to be done in two nights and a day."

It was nearly as hard for him as for Esias to take a girl into his confidence. He was already busy with a stylus, beginning to write on waxed wood details of stores, tools and work to be done.

"Observe this, Eli—"


CHAPTER XXVIII
"One of the Queen's ears"


A man may be a murderer and faithful. Many are. A man may be a courtier, and faithful. Some are. But the courtier-murderer, disarmed and faced with the alternative of cold steel in his throat, will babble all he knows to avoid the kind of death that he has meted out to others. But first, disarm him. Armed, he believes himself an honorable man. Disarmed, he knows he has no honor.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


There were dead rats. Some said they had fled from Tros's trireme when it caught fire, but that didn't account for their lying around dead, in dozens. The gloomy Olympus, clutching a purse beneath his black robe, prodded a dead rat with his taut-handled staff as he stood talking to Tros under the flare of a guttering torch, in the doorway of the smithy, where Tros was watching the most skillful armorers in the world convert old war-material to new. They were forging portable emplacements for the deadly arrow-engines saved from the burned trireme.

"Has the Queen sent you to read my thoughts and-tell them to her?" Tros asked.

"She didn't send me. I came for the money of which you spoke. Esias gave it to me. Should the Queen ask, I will say I spoke with you about the stars that foretell danger from a woman."

Olympus could have had the money from Esias by sending his personal slave. He had another reason for coming at that hour, but it was not for nothing that even Caesar used to trust Olympus. He had taught the incredulous Caesar some of the rudiments of astrology. A learned ascetic, to whom vanity and mystery and an amused self-mockery were one, he was a good friend, but an exasperating lover of evasions and ominous hints. He went on speaking:

"I was casting the Queen's horoscope, on the palace roof, two hours after dark, while the chariots waited below to take her to Eleusis. They will be gay until dawn at Eleusis, partly to forget this plague that is killing hundreds. They fear plague. She fears treason. The plague serves her at the moment."

"Aye, and me also. My seamen would have marched unwilling."

Olympus stared. "It is true then that you go by road?"

Tros nodded. He knew Olympus wouldn't consciously betray a friend but he might drop a hint to the Queen in order, after the event, to appear to have been all-knowing.

"Three of my seamen are ill of the plague. So now the others are willing to march to the world's end. Why else are they gay at Eleusis?"

"Because three or four thousand Romans are already being herded on board that fleet of rotten ships. To be sent to Cassius, says the Queen, because Cassius demands it. To escape the plague, say they; for they love not Cassius, nor will they admit that they fear the mob, now that they obey the Queen. They pretend that they go of their own free will. To escape from our wrath, say the Alexandrines, who will tolerate any infamy whatever except a chariot-race swindle. And it flatters the Alexandrines to see Romans driven from the city. Over the wine at Eleusis they are casting dice to determine who shall fall heir to the Romans' leavings."

Tros snorted. "As good as inviting Cassius to come and protect Romans' property rights! Are they mad?"

"No. Alexandrines. And the Queen's guards, under a new commander, are already in possession, so the plunderers will be disappointed. She has sent Leander to command Pelusium—she says, because he is in debt, and might get into legal trouble in the city and therefore could be too easily bribed."

"And you say?"

"That he has gone to Pelusium. I came to tell you."

Tros examined Olympus's sallow face, but the eyes told nothing. No one could guess what Olympus was thinking. He had his own way of making his listener guess.

"Were you speaking of me to the Queen?" Tros asked him.

"Yes. We spoke of you. Then she invited me to midnight supper in her pavilion at Eleusis. But she asks too many questions." He smiled. "She remembers too well my answers. It is never safe not to tell her the truth. I said I would rather go and talk to you, even than watch the beauty of naked bodies in lantern-light on Eleusis beach. She is intensely curious to know what the stars have to say about you and women. She and Charmion have quarreled. They are not yet reconciled."

"And—"

"Leander has gone to Pelusium."

"You ominous old raven, keep your Delphic utterances for palace banquets. You are not standing now at the end of a table to remind the revelers of death. Speak me, as I speak you, in plain words."

"Leander," said Olympus, "is a handsome, unscrupulous man. He would sell next year's prospect for this year's gain—aye, and sell cheap. Have you heard there was a woman prisoner at Pelusium?"

"Aye." Tros ceased looking sideways at the armorers. "Was, say you? What of her?"

"It is a clear night," said Olympus. "The stars distinctly indicate a crisis when Leander takes over the command at Pelusium. He is on his way. And there are pigeons. Before he went he had word with Charmion."

"Pluto! What else have you overheard?"

"That the Queen's police are in search of rotting corpses, to destroy them before they infect the whole city. The city police have no right to enter private premises, but the Queen's police do as they please. Crinagoras is with them."

"That snooper? Charmion's spy? He hunts plague corpses, say you? That is a curious task for a man of Crinagoras's rank, reptile though he is!"

"Who knows what else he looks for? Did you hear of the slave, who wanted sponges for the palace stables, who is said to have seen a girl in armor? Crinagoras, you may remember, is the man who has found so many dead bodies of suspicious people, and strangely they are always full of dagger-wounds. Crinagoras may be here already. He was not far behind me. Esias's guards might not dare to refuse to admit him through the dock-yard gate if—they admitted me, for instance—"

"Count me your debtor!"

Pluto! Why couldn't the man have told his story in ten words? Tros was on his way in a tenth of a second—less, cursing because he had given his bodyguard leave to sleep, and they had his armor. What Hero called her "cage" was a suite of three rooms reached by a stair with an iron re-enforced door that opened into a narrow passage between Esias's office and a warehouse, by the dock where the bones of the trireme lay. It was two hundred yards from the smithy, by devious alleys, clamorous with hammer-blows, thronged with shadowy, hurrying men in smoky torchlight. Every yard of the distance was cluttered with war-material and ship's fittings of one sort or another, and with slaves who counted stores and struggled to bring order out of chaos. Esias's sheds could have fitted out almost an army, in time; but they could not pretend to do one thing, and do another within forty-eight hours, without a pandemonium of yelling foremen, scurrying slaves and clamorous, impossible demands from petty officers, not one of whom knew Tros's actual intentions. Conops guessed, but not even he had been told, for fear an unguarded word might inform the Queen's spies. Only Tros and Hero knew the entire plan. Even Eli and Esias believed that the ships were being secretly readied to carry baggage for men on the march.

By torchlight, from the midst of men who toiled at the packing and wrapping of war munitions, overseen by agonised storekeepers who tried to keep count, Conops's sharp eye noticed Tros thrusting his way through the throngs. Conops knew crisis when he saw it. He blew his whistle. The ten-Jew bodyguard knew Conops and his knife-hilt way of speeding laggards. They awoke from sleep on wheat-straw in a corner, snapping armor-buckles, ready for a fight before their eyes were open. One of them ran with Tros's sword, another with his helmet; a third clapped a helmet awry on Conops's head.

"Fall in! Lively there! All ready, master! Bodyguard, at the double, forward!"

They went through the crowd like a battering-ram, until Tros halted them at the edge of the drunken torchlight, on the dock, between Esias's office-building and the burned ship. There were long rows of packages that looked as if they were ready for mules and camels. Between those and the office was a long, wide, shadowy fairway. Midway down that, beneath a hanging lantern, was a group of armed men, bending over something. Tros strode forward. Conops kept his voice low:

"Line up behind him—two deep! Leave him room to step back! Bodyguard, draw—swords! Now, wait for the word. You, Jeshua, remember your point, the way I told you. A sword isn't an axe, nor a cook-spoon either. Hold your wrist high—foot, knee, rump and shoulder all behind your wrist—lunge quick—slow recover. I don't want to have to find a new Jew to fit your armor, so mind my teaching! Left! Left! You're out o' step, Simeon. Left! Left! Into wedge, like lightning when I give the word, and clear your Captain's left flank. Take care to give him sword room. Halt! On your toes now—ready!"

At the edge of the circle of lantern-light, at the feet of a group of thirteen men, twelve of whom leaned on spears, lay a girl in a pool of blood. The lamplight gleamed on a polished shoulder-piece, but she had no weapon, no other armor. She was quite dead, face downward. Her dress was plain white, blotched with the blood from a dozen wounds. The thirteenth man, who had been down on one knee raising the girl's head by the hair, stood up, with his hand on his hilt, and faced Tros. He had a pleasant enough smile and easy manners. He looked confident, uncrafty, in the prime of life, strong, capable. He was nearly as big as Tros, and better armed, for he was wearing mail, whereas Tros had on only a helmet.

"Your woman?" the man in armor asked. "Who do you suppose killed her?"

Tros drew his sword. "Are these your men?"

"The Queen's men, hunting bodies that have died of plague. Who are you?"

"There is blood on their spears. Who are you?"

"Who asks?"

"Are you Crinagoras?"

"You know me evidently. Better indulge your good judgment, hadn't you? I am used to more respectful manners."

"Finder of daggered corpses! Show your warrant."

"To whom? Are you Tros of Samothrace?"

"I am who I am. Show your warrant."

"Queen's officers need none. Do you know this girl? Look closely. Did she come, do you happen to know, on a sponge-boat? It appears to me remarkable, Captain Tros, that a dead girl, wearing a piece of armor, should excite you so that you forget your manners."

"Draw, if my manners offend you!"

"If I draw, it will be in the Queen's name!"

"She shall need a new night-cart captain! Draw!"

"See here, Tros—"

Crinagoras's men rallied silent behind him. Their spears became a hedge of bronze points. From behind Tros's back the sound of Conops's long knife-blade tapping the palm of his hand punctuated his low-voiced comments:

"Wait for the word o' command I tell you! Wait for it. Then make it sudden, forming wedge on number one."

Tros's voice had grown deadly quiet. "I won't warn you again, Crinagoras."

But Crinagoras took his time. He tugged as if his sword was too tight in the scabbard. Suddenly he stepped backward. His men's ranks closed around him. They began to retreat, like a big, dark bristling crab, into the pitch-black darkness beyond the zone of the lantern-light.

Tros gave no word of command. The crash of battle was as sudden as the thunder of sails that are taken aback in a flurry of wind at midnight. The only shout was from three of Crinagoras's men, who fell like gutted cattle and lay bellowing for quarter. The spearmen's ranks broke at the first assault. Tros's men, obeying Conops's sharp, whipcrack orders, lunged at their faces, forcing them on guard, points upward, and the spears were worse than useless once a swordsman had get close. They tried to give ground to regain the advantage of length of weapon. Tros's men kept too hard after them. Backed on to their heels they were gutted, or stabbed in the throat—killed to the last man.

But Tros had to deal with a man of a different type, a courtier whose trade was murder. He was well armed and a cunning swordsman. He parried Tros's lunges with desperate skill, edging his way back toward the light, with his back to the wall, until he could turn, with the light behind him and in Tros's eyes. Then he took the offensive, and for a minute he held it, until one of Tros's terrific lunges pierced his cuirass. The inbent broken edges of the metal tore him to the bone—hurt him—slowed him—limited his reach. It put most of the burden on wrist and elbow. He dropped to one knee, as if beaten, and stabbed upward, but Tros sprang clear and was at him again almost before he could recover stance. It was only a question then of how long he could last, how soon another thrust would pierce his armor. Conops, having made sure that the bellowers for quarter were no longer in need of it, wiped his knife on the clothing of one of them and came and watched the duel, fascinated by the ruthless, faultless skill with which Tros wore down and weakened his man.

Crinagoras cried out at last and took the risk of throwing up his left hand.

"Hold! Hold!"

Tros stepped backward. Conops yelled:

"Watch him, master!"

The trick failed by less than the depth of the sweat of a man's skin. Crinagoras drew his long dagger and sprang. It was Tros's left fist, not his sword, that sent the Queen's man reeling on his heels against the wall. The dagger went spinning among the shadows. The fist-blow nearly stunned him. His sword fell at his feet with a clatter that nearly silenced his surrender:

"I yield!"

He had forfeited the right to single combat: even the right to surrender. Such a trick as his was outlaw even among pirates. Conops approached with his knife-point flickering like a snake's tongue and picked up the sword. He didn't even offer it to Tros. It was a dishonored thing.

"You yield what?" Tros demanded. "You treacherous dog, your life isn't yours to yield!"

Crinagoras was panting for breath, and in pain, but he forced out a frantic answer:

"What could a dead man tell you? Better listen to me! Spare my life, and I may save yours! There is yet time."

"Bring him this way, Conops."

"Did you hear him? Follow the Lord Captain, or I'll—"

Tros went and stood by the girl's dead body. He raised the head—saw the face of the girl whom Esias had lent to dress Hero's hair. She had been sent to the cells for stealing Hero's money—a light-haired Circassian, chosen because recently arrived from Athens and very unlikely to know who Hero was or to whom it might pay to betray her. The ten Jews, their work finished, gathered in a group behind Conops. Tros and Crinagoras faced each other, in lamplight.

"You have asked for your life, Crinagoras. But you have too long worn a manly cloak above a beast's heart. What is your bid for your life?"

"Beast, you call me? Someone must do the dark errands Captain Tros, or could a throne survive? I am no torturer. I tear no secrets from the living victim. I have made many a secret die and do no more harm."

"I will give you to my men to kill, this instant, unless you tell me why you are here."

"If I tell, you will have to protect me, Captain Tros—I would rather die on your men's knives than as a betrayer of the Queen's trust."

"That is for me to decide. You have one minute."

Conops drew near with his knife. A long knife, to a beaten man, looks worse than a sword. Crinagoras spoke quickly:

"A rumor reached the Queen's ears that you had bribed Pausanias, who commands at Pelusium."

"So? Why should I bribe that drunkard? Come on, speak up!"

"Pausanias is supposed to have released a female prisoner, who came by boat, wearing armor, and was seen in Esias's office."

"Reached the Queen's ear, say you?"

"I am one of the Queen's ears."

"You flatter yourself! Charmion is both ears! Did Charmion send you?"

"It was she with whom I spoke, yes."

"She and the Queen had a recent quarrel?"

"Yes. Charmion urged the Queen to have you seized and executed for treason."

"And—? Come on now—out with the whole of it!"

"The Queen said you are too valuable and too manageable to need killing. They quarreled, accusing each other of being in love. The Queen called Charmion a barren Fury, poisoned by the bile of unrequited passion. Those were her words. I heard them."

"So—you are Charmion's retort to the Queen's jest?"

"She sought to teach the Queen a lesson. Having heard this rumor—"

"From whom?"

"From me. She sent me to investigate it—"

"Unknown to the Queen?"

"Yes. It is Charmion's office to discover treasons that any women have a hand in."

"And—"

"She sent me to look for this girl—and to kill her—why not? Sooner than leave another thankless problem for the Queen to worry over!"

"Did she name her?"

"Hero."

"What else?"

"Then to kill you, if possible, also for treason, and to bring both bodies to the palace—"

"For the Queen's education?"

"Yes, and to prove Charmion's loyal vigilance in spite-of anger. She said: what is to prevent you from joining Cassius, and with him invading Egypt, to put this woman Hero on the throne. That is the whole truth."

"Yes, it sounds like a part of the truth," said Tros. "You may have your life. Lock him up, Conops. Set a watch to keep him from having speech with anyone."

"Aye, aye, master."

Crinagoras tried to get in another word in his own behalf, but Tros was gone, striding down the dark passage to the door at the foot of the stairs. The door was locked. He thundered on it with his sword-hilt—thundered—thundered—and no answer.


CHAPTER XXIX
"Say I will march at daybreak"


If a friend, in friendship, errs, it is vile to retaliate. Recrimination is a waste of time and breath. Regret is stupid. There is nothing to be done but to redeem the error. Friendship is not measurable by an error, no, no matter how great, nor how disastrous.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The door was opened at last by Esias's slave—his old personal, confidential fetch-and-carry man, with a cataract on one eye and a pock-marked face of the color of damp smoke—a slave who knew everything and understood nothing—lantern in hand, so sure of his cripple's advantage that he dared to stand in Tros's way and make admonishing gestures.

"No one here now; Lord Captain. She has—"

Tros pushed past him. Esias was at the stairhead—unmistakably Esias, even though the gloom half-hid him; Esias's shadow was as personal to himself as the smell of a familiar book. He retreated past a curtain, Tros after him, and they two stood together, for a moment speechless, Tros prodding the carpeted floor with the point of his naked sword. In that moment he could almost have killed his old friend, and Esias knew it.

"Tell me. I listen."

Esias hesitated. He and Tros were brother members of one Mystery. Violence between them would have been sacrilege. But Esias could smell the sweat of battle. He knew the vigor of Tros's anger. The room was tidy. The big bed looked as if no one had ever slept in it. In the next room, facing the open door, was the dressing table—bare—no pots of unguents—not a sign of a woman, not even a sniff of perfume. The room reeked of strewn herbs, said to be effective against the plague. A whole gang of slaves must have been busy at top speed; they had done their perfect work and vanished.

Esias found words at last: "She obeyed me. Did you not so order it?"

Tros restrained himself, in silence. Esias, fighting emotion, spoke on:

"Lord Captain, Olympus came to me, an hour ago, for the purse of money. I gave it to him. Then he spoke mysteriously, saying Queen's men come searching for bodies that died of plague. 'The plague,' he said, 'is deadly. Treason is worse. The Queen fears treason. Should' they find here what the Queen dreads, who shall save you?' and he added: 'There are Queen's troops on the march, none knows whither. Could the Lord Captain resist a thousand of the Queen's troops? But would he not try to resist? Better let there be no treason to discover.' And I understood I must save us all from a charge of treason, so I acted in great haste."

Tros spoke, through set teeth: "Curses on Olympus and his raven's croaking! Curses on his mystery making! What then?"

"Said you not she should obey me?"

"Yes, I said it."

Suddenly Esias's self-restraint broke. Age, anxiety, indignation, racial temperament and love for Tros all melded into one Semitic anguish that shook him, tore him, stuttered into agonised invective:

"Ruin! Treason! Confiscation! Do you understand that? Do you care? Do you care? All this—me—my partners—sons—grandsons—at the mercy of a girl you wanton with—you! You! Did I invite her? Do I love her? Is she anything to me or to mine, that I should suffer torture for her—confiscation—crucifixion—slavery for all my family—because you, you madman, rut like a bull—for the Queen's sister—an outlaw—a Ptolemy ingrate—a rebel—a—"

"Tell what happened!"

Tros laid both hands on his hilt. The blade beneath them bent under the pressure of impatience. But no need, nor agony, nor anger might excuse violence between him and Esias. He waited.

"Happened? Nothing! Nothing happened! I never saw—heard—had speech with her! I never knew her! She never darkened my door—never fouled my dwelling! And you—what have you done?—slain the Queen's men?—brought vengeance upon me?"

Tros went and opened the window-shutter—thrust his head out—shouted:

"Conops!"

Silence, solid with the roar of the workshops—footsteps, running—then Conops's voice:

"I have him lashed to a spar in the rope-shed, master."

"Fetch your trumpet. Sound the assembly—all hands! Send Ahiram to me, here."

"Aye, aye, master."

"And now, Esias—?"

"Tros, Olympus's words had shaken me. I brought in slaves to bundle up her things. I drove her forth, in secret, in the shadows, down the floor of the dock to the waterside."

"Alone?"

"No—the slave I gave her and three others. She went away in your little sailboat—she and her baggage. Oh, good riddance to her! Tros, you—"

"Left she no message for me?"

Alarm awoke, vibrant, awful, sudden. Conops's trumpet clarioned the "Stand to arms and fall in!" The din of the workshops ceased on the clang of an armorer's sledge. Then a drum-beat—the tump-burra-tump of the signallers marking the line for the men to form on—torchlight, the clatter of weapons and hurrying feet. Esias talked on:

"Tros, there was a slave-girl—that hair-dresser—the thief—the Circassian girl who stole Hero's money and was waiting to be whipped—I had her fetched—put a piece of armor on her—I told her the police had come to take her to the execution place—so she ran—"

"What was Hero's message to me?"

Tump-burra-tump-burra-tump—"Fall in there!—archers in the rear rank!—where's your helmet, you?—go get it!—hit that man, decurion—is he drunk or asleep?—well, wake him up!—squad-commanders, roll-call!—here—here—here—here!—From the left—by squads—number!—"

"What was Hero's message to me, Esias?"

Ahiram came three or four steps at a time, breathless. He saluted, waited, eyeing Tros with a kind of sulky what-new-madness-now? look.

"Ahiram, have the slaves finished caulking that hull on the ways, three docks along?"

"Aye."

"Are the arrow-engines from the trireme aboard?"

"Aye, there's barely room to work ship, so many gadgets."

"Launch her! Take fifty men to do it. Warp her around to the pier at the end of this dock. Get the water-casks into the after hold. They're full and ready! Manhandle 'em out of the wine-shed. They're in a row by the door."

"In the dark?"

"In an hour, or I'll have a new lieutenant! Then load her—every last package that's ready—ammunition on deck, under paulins."

"All those mules? Those camels?"

"Dunderhead! Am I a cattle-boat captain? I let you go a-whoring in Rhakotis while another did your work, because I wanted the whores to tell the Queen's spies we are marching overland. I hired the cattle for the same reason. Fall away and turn to!—Esias, some of the trireme's gear is under hatches in that wine-ship that came in yesterday in ballast. She's to follow me to sea. I need a crew."

Esias wrung his hands. "Tros, Tros, my crews have all been pressed to take the Romans to Syria."

Tros leaned through the window:

"Conops!"

"Coming, master!"

"Now Esias! What was Hero's message?"

Esias fumbled in his clothing and produced a folded scrap of linen. He unfolded it and gave it to Tros with a trembling hand, irritably beckoning the old slave to hold the lantern closer. Greek characters had been scrawled on the linen with carmine pigment.

"Tros, Tros, let not a woman's pen cause enmity between us!"

Tros read in silence:


"My lord and lover, I obey the Jew because you said it. And it is true, my presence here is too dangerous. But he said not whither I should go. Therefore lest this fall into the wrong hands, be the destination secret I will rejoin you. As I trust you, trust me.

"Hero"


Tros crunched the scrap of linen. Conops appeared at the stair-head.

"Yes, master? All hands under arms and ready! Where's the lady?"

"You're to command the wine-ship."

"Aye, aye, master."

"Pick a crew—you may have the eight Gauls and as many more as you think you'll need. Follow my ship to Pelusium."

"Aye, aye, master."

"Wait!"

Esias clutched Tros's arm. Echoed and reechoed by the limestone housefronts along a paved street in the distance, came drum-and-tuba music and the clanking tramp of armed men marching amid a tumult.

"Tros, Tros!" said Esias.

Tros was gone, Conops at his heels, to the roof by a winding stairway, through cluttered attics, to a trap-door and a pigeon-loft, thence along a parapet to a temple—roof, from where, between winged sphinxes, they could see northward and southward the full length of the city from the Heptastadium to Lake Mareotis. There were priests on the roof, like sleepy monkeys staring at catastrophe.

Beneath, in a blood-red river of smoky torchlight, poured a column of mounted men, infantry, loaded wagons. Queen's cavalry were leading, plumes and pennoned lances dancing like flood-borne flotsam—plumed horses' heads—torchlight on brass—staccato hoof beats. Then a Roman standard, followed by a column of men who marched too slackly to be regular Roman troops, but they all wore Roman helmets, Roman armor. Even from that height, at that angle, it was easy to tell they were out of training. They were men of the Gabinian legions, left behind by Caesar—well armed, but a rabble. Few but the officers and centurions had ever seen Rome. Wagons. Wagons.

Presently another standard, and the remnants of another legion. Behind that, away up the street to the right as far as the flares reflected on Lake Mareotis, shuffled a mob of burdened slaves and men too poor to own slaves, who carried their own baggage: Roman citizens—exiles, old enough and not too old to serve, but who had never marched with a legion—food for Cassius's ambition—on their way to be drilled, marched to an unknown battlefield, and buried—or perhaps to be drowned on their way—or to die of plague in overloaded, rat-infested hulls. The street was lined with women, most of them wives being left behind—wives and children wailing, shrilling, shouting. Tuba music—drum-beat—mob-roar—tramp-tramp-tramp. Eddies among the women, where gangs of roughs elbowed their way to pelt the departing Romans with rotten vegetables.

To the left, the Heptastadium was a seven-furlong stream of smoky crimson. It looked like lava pouring along the harbor-surface. Thousands of torches revealed hundreds of boats—fishing boats, ships' boats, barges, any boat whatever that could be pressed into service—all with their sterns to the causeway, ready to take the Romans to the ships that lay at anchor waiting for them. The ends of the wide Street of Canopus, east and west, were blocked by Cleopatra's infantry, presumably to keep the departing Romans from having a change of heart and bolting east or west into the city.

Conops spoke: "Where is the lady?"

Tros told him, very careful what he said about Esias, because Conops kept no middle ground worth mentioning between friend and enemy.

"Master, I could take the Gauls and a boat and maybe find her. She can't have gone far."

"She has her rights,". Tros answered, "you and I our duty. She obeyed my order to obey Esias. Now she demands that I trust her. I will—aye, even as I trust you. If she is the woman I take her to be, she has more brains than her sister. That is why Caesar preferred Cleopatra to her. He could out-wit Cleopatra. I believe she will make for Pelusium, and we may overtake her. Sending those Romans to sea will be an ugly business. They will be at anyone's mercy."

"Good riddance to 'em, I'd say. A-sea or a-shore, master, we could beat that lot, even with our few!"

"Aye, they're a rabble." He began to talk, to take his mind off Hero. "Cassius—unless I'm out on my reckoning—means to invade Egypt suddenly."

"Across that desert?"

"By land and sea, both. He wants those Romans out of reach of the Alexandrine mob, that might tear them to pieces at the first news of a Roman raid. He would like to be able to boast to the Roman senate of how thoughtful he was for Romans' safety. Cassius craves to do what Caesar did—rape Egypt for corn and money. But he hasn't Caesar's guts, nor Caesar's brains. Caesar let the world go hang or await his pleasure while he took what he wanted. Cassius clings to Syria and Palestine, that writhe in his grip. Caesar would have snatched Egypt and then have turned back on Syria. Cassius is a mean man, Conops; an envious, treacherous, spiteful coward frightened by a bold man's opportunity. He despises his ally Brutus. Yet he fears Brutus might join Antony and march against him unless he marches into Asia Minor to Brutus's aid, against Antony. So he hesitates. I count on Cassius to make a move as stupid as this move the Queen has made to subject and humiliate me. We could be caught here like rats in a trap, if the other woman weren't so sure we intended to march by land."

"The lady Charmion?"

"Aye."

"I warned you against that one, master. All the flat-breasted ones that ever I knew were fit for nothing but to spite their betters."

"Charmion thinks she serves the Queen well.—Listen!" Conversation with Conops hadn't helped. Every emotion in him, every instinct, furiously urged him to send or go in search of Hero. It was another—a new alarm that changed irresolution into quick decision. Esias's old smoky-faced slave came hurrying along the parapet, shouting "Lord Tros! Lord Tros!"

He and Conops awaited the man. The temple priests came snooping along roof-tiles to overhear what they might, since private secrets are a temple's principal resource. But Conops rapped a priest on the ear with the back of his knife and thumped another's skull with the hilt. The priests withdrew to a less uncomfortable distance.

"Lord Tros! Lord Tros! Come the Queen's men—to the main gate, and the Lord Esias—"

The old slave nearly fell from the roof in the wind of Tros's and Conops's wake. He followed as fast as he could run, but he wasn't even in time to see them charge past Esias and down the stairs to the dock-side. Everything there was as it should be. Fifty men had piled arms and gone with Ahiram; they had already launched the newly caulked ship; they were singing the old reprehensible song about what was wrong with Dido, as they hauled the ship around to the pier. Already the ton-weight water-butts were being rolled from the wine-shed. (There were wine-casks going too, but that was for the overseer to prevent if he could, or to tally if he could, in the darkness.)

Down at the end of the yard the main gate thundered to the assault of spear-butts and the shouts of men demanding admission.

"Open! In the Queen's name, open!"

A hundred men fell in behind Tros. He marched them to the main gate and formed them in line.

"Front rank, draw—swords!—Archers—ready!"

Then he opened the heavily grilled port and looked through.

"Open!"

A captain of Queen's police, with fifty men behind him, thrust a sword-point through the grille to emphasize impatience. He missed Tros by a hair's breadth. Conops seized the sword and broke it. Tros ordered ten archers and a decurion to the nearest roof, whence they could command the approach to the gate.

"In whose name?"

"In the Queen's name."

"I know the Queen is at Eleusis. Who sent you?"

"Where is Captain Crinagoras?"

"Oh, is that your trouble? You may have him and his booty. You may send in four-and-twenty men without their weapons."

Plainly these men lacked the Queen's authority, although they used her name. Tros's guess was right: they were Charmion's messengers, sent out to prove to the Queen how vigilant was Charmion, how treacherous was Tros, how wise the Queen would be to listen always to Charmion's secret advice. Their officer agreed to Tros's terms—something he would never have dared to do if the Queen had sent him.

Tros's ten-man bodyguard, at Conops's signal, came and stood beside the postern, ready to deal with any armed man, or with any attempt at a rush. Tros opened the postern and counted aloud, until twenty-four were inside. Then he shot the bolt again and told the officer to wait.

"Fetch Crinagoras. Fetch those dead men. Fetch that slave-girl's body. Lay it on a sheep-skin."

The dead bodies, and their armor and weapons, were laid in a line in the lantern-light. Crinagoras came limping from the bite of the cord with which Conops had lashed him to a spar in the rope-loft. He had recovered a bit of his insolence; he recognized the Queen's police and half-suspected Tros was in desperate straits. But he had his eye on Tros's sword, and he could hardly have failed to see that the police within the gate were unarmed.

"What now?" he demanded, pitching his voice to a neutral note.

"Your friends have come for you. You and your booty, go back to the Lady Charmion, who sent you. Tell her to tell the Queen whatever lies she pleases. Say I march at daybreak, straight down the Street of Canopus. If she dares, let her try to stop me!"

Crinagoras laughed. "If I were you," he said, "which I thank the gods I am not, I would rather quarrel with the Queen herself than with Charmion. The Queen has magnanimity. Charmion has only zeal. However, when they crucify you, I will come and cut your throat in return for your having spared me. Until then, Lord Captain, farewell."


CHAPTER XXX
"I suppose we shall all have to die for the woman!"


No genuine seaman likes unseamanly devices or an ill found vessel. But genuine seamanship includes ability, and will, to make do what a landsman would consider useless, and therewith to accomplish what none but a seaman would dare to attempt.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Fifty of Esias's slaves were sent into the city, to spread rumors, to say that Tros was building a battering-ram with which to smash down the city gate if it were closed against him, and to beg responsible officials to clear the Street of Canopus before daylight, so that he might march away unhindered. With the Queen at Eleusis, a seashore resort a few miles eastward of the city, and most of her court there roistering and bathing as precaution against plague, it would have been easy enough for the officious Charmion to contrive a raid on Esias's dock-yard. Tros had to provide against that. He knew no way to do it, except to tempt her to try a less dangerous trick. She could allege almost any excuse. Almost any officer commanding Queen's troops would obey Charmion, it was so well known she had the Queen's ear, managed the Queen's spies and secretly did what Cleopatra herself could not do openly without too great scandal.

But Tros understood the embittered virgin. He knew what delight she took in surprises and suddenly sprung traps. He out-guessed her accurately, convinced her that he really intended to march overland, and counted on her setting, her trap at the eastern gate.

After the event, Charmion could truthfully say she had heard that Arsinoe, calling herself Hero, had escaped from Pelusium and had come by sea to Alexandria to raise a rebellion with Tros's little army to aid her. It would be a simple business, that any ambitious officer could manage, to start a light near the Gate of Canopus and massacre Tros and his entire force before the Queen, at Eleusis, could even suspect what was happening. It would not be the first time that Charmion had interfered, on her own responsibility, and had saved herself from dismissal or worse by claiming she had preserved the Queen's life.

A miracle had to be made. Tros did it. Before daybreak he had launched one ship, loaded that one and another, manned them both with all his men, and warped them out into the harbor. The seasonal north wind filled his sails as he headed westward, out through the mouth of the Harbor of Happy Return. In the torch-lit darkness he easily slipped past an anchored fleet, on which pandemonium reigned as the luckless Romans were brought aboard by the boat-load, quarreling, complaining, protesting, shouting from ship to ship. He was not even hailed until he had passed through the anchored line of harbor guardships, whose captains probably supposed two freighters with corn or wine were passing seaward. They hailed too late, and though they might have slipped anchor and overtaken him, they were too busy watching the Romans.

At break of day he turned eastward, with the Pharos lighthouse on his right hand and well out of range of the Pharos catapults and archers. The sky was cloudy to the northward. Usually he welcomed, rough weather that would help to baffle an enemy, but now he dreaded it even more than the risk of pursuit. Both ships were unseaworthy. They were loaded almost awash. Their decks were so crowded with gear, last minute loads. and exhausted men, that it was hardly possible to manage the sails. Rowing was even more of a problem. The oars that had been saved from the trireme were too long. There were only hastily improvised tholes. Tros's splendidly trained oarsmen prided themselves on being masters of the sea in almost any weather; but they were used to well designed oar-ports, room and calculated leverage—used to a ship that leaped to the catch of the blades as they swung together. However, with the north wind almost on the port beam and a dangerous lee shore to starboard, there was nothing for it but the oars.

There was more than a hundred miles to go, by any reckoning, and a girl only the gods knew where, who drew at Tros's heart-strings. She was probably somewhere in-shore—perhaps cast ashore, perhaps on the Eleusis beach, where Cleopatra was probably having her early morning swim amid bored guards and naked women. It would be a marvel if Hero had sailed past Eleusis without being seen; an even greater marvel if she had escaped the guardboats that plied off-shore to protect the Queen's person. Between Eleusis and the city, slightly to the southward of the main road, close to the slums outside the city wall, were the gibbets—a little forest of them, plainly visible from sea. Hero would be hardly likely to get further than the gibbets, if she had been caught and recognized.

However, Tros turned seaward—northeast. It was not that he feared the guardboats, or feared being recognized. The news of his flight would be known already; not improbably the Queen had already heard the news by galloper. But to head seaward was good strategy, good tactics. It was even possible the Queen might have seen him from the beach and have jumped to the false conclusion that he had Hero aboard and was escaping toward Syria to drive a bargain with Cassius. If so, that would give Hero a better chance to escape, if she had not been caught already. But it also served to disguise Tros's real intention. And by gaining a wide offing, he would be able, about night-fall, far out of sight of land, to change helm, hoist sail again and make for Pelusium with a quartering wind. There might be too much wind by evening, but even so, that would be better than too little. Conops on the wine-ship had the easier task, a less littered and crowded deck, a lighter vessel; but both ships labored dangerously on the moderate sea; the oar-work was heart-breaking, even though there were plenty of men and they rowed in relays. Progress was agonizingly slow.

At last, Ahiram dared an attempt at a conference and found Tros communicative. He trusted Ahiram at sea and was thoughtful of the Phoenician's dignity; it was only on land that he classed him with all the other drunken sailors.

"And now what, Lord Captain? Come a blow, we drown. And come a Roman ship, we get pirates' dues. We've water, I'd say, for three days, and maybe food for a week if we can find it and get it up out of the hold. We can't fight, nor we can't run—"

"Not in these two crates, no. But Cassius the Roman proconsul has plenty of ships. Cassius is planning to invade Egypt, Ahiram. He has a fleet in the harbor of Gaza. If I remember, there is seven fathom of water there."

"Aye—six-and-a-half, seven."

"But it is a small harbor. Room for only a small fleet."

"Aye, not many vessels."

"But likely good ones. Cassius has had his pick. He plans a very swift pounce on Egypt. He has called me a pirate. I will teach him what it means to call a free-born captain by a foul name."

"So we make for Gaza?"

"Not yet. Cleopatra also has called me a pirate. Did you think I would leave Sigurdsen and more than a hundred men in peril of her malice?"

"There is no room for any more men on these overloaded vessels," said Ahiram.

"And did you think I would desert my wife?"

"Aye, aye, you have a woman. I forgot her. I suppose we shall all have to die for the woman."

Tros turned on him suddenly, savagely, setting his jaw, scowling.

"You Phoenician ingrate! Dog of a shipwrecked pirate's helmsman, whom I saved from Romans and the oar-bench! Show me a man of all my men who doesn't owe me his freedom! You wenching toss-pot! Grudge me, do you? Shall I leave good, gallant seamen to be hanged or worse, and leave my loyal lady at the mercy of Caesar's widow, to preserve you, you glutton, for debauch in dock-side taverns?"

"Oh, aye," Ahiram answered, "we're your freedmen, true enough. And you pay us. You're a man of your word, Lord Captain. I for one won't flinch. You lead well, But—but—"

"BUT WHAT?"

"Hitherto we were venturers, with a stout ship and a safe harbor. Now we're pirates. No good ship. No harbor. If we're caught we'll be enslaved or crucified. And then, there's Sigurdsen. You'll fetch him and all his men from wherever they are, no mater what risk to us all, and if we fetch them out alive that leaves me second-lieutenant again, with that big battle-axing savage to order me hither and yon—"

"Ten times the seaman you are! Ten times your guts, Ahiram! He can out-grumble, out-drink, out-wench, out-brawl, out-swine you—aye, and then out-sail and out-battle ten of you! I can count on Sigurdsen. And by the Baltic Nor'easter that blows in his lungs, he may count on me!"

"Oh, as for that, you can count on us all," said Ahiram. But Tros was in no mood to be flattered.

He was savage with himself on many counts, all contradictory, all challenging and stirring in him the very stuff that once had caused Caesar to offer him the command of all Rome's navies; the same stuff that had made him decline the offer: the stuff that had made him Caesar's enemy, and then Caesar's friend.

Self-critical because of his early Samothracian training; and taught from his youth to be mistrustful and even scornful of all women, he cursed himself for having fallen into Cleopatra's clutches; for having been her friend; for having trusted her. Paradoxically, he cursed himself for having left Hero to her own resources. Educated by his father Perseus, initiate of the Mysteries and Prince of Samothrace, never to let love of woman come between him and duty, he had brought away his men and let the woman take care of herself if she could, telling himself he trusted her as he expected her to trust him.

He did not trust her, as he knew he could trust Conops. He feared for her because he loved her. Having loyally saved his men first, he intended to risk his own life and theirs, too, in an utterly desperate attempt to find her and snatch her from danger, that she might share with him even greater dangers! She was a wilful, audacious girl whom it delighted him to master—a beautiful, brave, royal reckless girl, who had escaped from a throne, and very bravely escaped, to be free to love whom she pleased. Tros had no doubt whatever that she loved him. And he knew why. She loved the very quality that made him capable of taking her at her written word and leaving her to her own resources in the midst of danger, within reach of her sister's deadly hatred. He knew she was proud of being left to her own resources.

It was characteristic of him that he suddenly dismissed anxiety. He went to work, with almost incredible attention to detail, making ready to seize by the throat the unpredictable and shake from that the freedom of the seas. First, last, always the sea was his element. As some men yearn for a home and luxury, he burned for the great adventure into unknown oceans. And he laughed with new zest. He imagined himself showing all those hard-won sights to Hero, wondering under what strange skies she was destined to bear him sons.

It stirred him. Almost impossible things began to happen. Rowing never ceased, except for the few moments when he signalled Conops to come alongside for instructions; and then Conops, too, began making miracles. Sleep never ceased. Relays of men lay snoring amid a tumult of hammer-and-adze. Even Tros snatched four hours' sleep, amid the legs of straining men who pully-hauled the heavy arrow-engine fittings from the hold. Work never ceased for an instant. They rigged a false bulwark. fighting it over the tholes while the oarsmen kept on swinging to the ceaseless drum-beat. They sewed long canvas curtains hung on iron rings, to protect the decks from arrow-fire, furled until needed. And when night fell, and Tros changed helm, southward toward Pelusium, a steadily increasing north wind drove the wallowing hulls so fast that the new caulking, hurriedly done by torchlight in Esias's yard, worked out in places from between the planking and they had to man the water-hoist.

Conops was easily able to keep station by the blue-white glare of the charcoal-forge on Tros's deck and by the sparks as the armorer's sledges struck new purpose upon old and broken gear. They made grapnels and repaired old chain to be spliced to the warps. They rigged derricks for dropping the grapnels to an enemy's deck. They set up arrow-engines and protected them with screens of wood covered with beaten iron. And all night they toiled at the clumsy water-hoist in relays.

Tros watched the stars. It was pitch-dark—no moon. Even he, past-master navigator, did not dare to try conclusions in the dark with the shoals off Nile-mouth. He knew them too well. It had been through those shoals, soon after Pompey's murder on the beach, that he had brought the girl Cleopatra away from her beggarly army of borrowed Arabs, and had taken her to Alexandria to sneak into her palace and stand naked in Caesar's presence. But that had been in daylight. Now he had to time his landfall by dead reckoning, without water-clocks, and with nothing to guide him but the stars, his intuition, the feel of the wind and that rare, sensed accuracy that distinguishes the great sea-captain from the lesser men who are merely careful, competent and bold.

He made it. He heard the first cry of the sea-birds, as the rim of the golden sun uprose into the mauve of the eastern skyline. He heard the breakers, saw the gulls' wings, ordered the leadsman to the chains and signalled Conops, two or three hundred yards astern to follow him closely.

"Down sail! Out oars! Stations!"

They were a proud crew who stood to arms, crowded, but each in his place and a decurion to each ten. They had come near rebuilding a ship in a day and a night. A poxy, evil-smelling barrel of a coastwise rats' refuge looked now like something to be reckoned with. Leaky she was. Slow and unhandy she was; deep-laden and down by the head. But they had even painted the false bulwark bright blue with Tyrian dye-stuff stolen from Esias's sheds. She was a bristling battle-engine, fit at least to engage and to grapple and spew forth men beneath a hail of arrows. Neither Tros, nor a man, nor a ship's lad grinning beside his arrow-basket, cared what came of her, so be they saw some better ship that lacked room to run. There was nothing even theoretically wrong with piracy, from their viewpoint, not with a good Lord Captain on the quarter-deck and a whole world full of loot and wine and women.

And as the wine and roasted wheat came up for breakfast from the cook-stove in the after hold, the good news came down with a roar from aloft:

"Ship at anchor—ahead—in the channel! Two ships! Romans!"


CHAPTER XXXI
"Grapnels—Let go!"


Whatever Caesar's failings may have been—and they were many, judged by whatever standard—Caesar, nevertheless was a man. He was a great man, though I say it, who was once his enemy on land and sea, and though I more than once accused him to his face of conduct unbecoming to a man. I saw that gang stab him to death—mean and unlovely cowards, mouthing about honor to make treachery and cowardice taste sweet. They were all guilty, and I don't know why I hated Cassius more than the others. He was no more guilty than the others, and no less. But I hated him more. And I told myself that if an opportunity should come I would kill him with less mercy than I bestow on vermin. But when the day did come, if gods there be, I think they must have laughed to see me forced to save, not kill him.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The crew gorged wine and hot wheat, in silence except for the gurgle and munch. Ahiram took the helm. Half-a-dozen oars on either side kept the ship in mid-channel. Tros went aloft, to con the situation with his own eyes, sure of only one thing; he could not put back to sea in those crowded, leaking ships. The first touch of an enemy's warbeak would send either of them to the bottom. They would have served their last purpose if they should carry their crews close to better ships, whose captains lacked guts, alertness or the gift for keeping what Tros needed. Pirate was he? He would have the profit along with the name. Tros was taking all chances, that daybreak.

True. The masthead man was right. They were Romans anchored in the fairway. One was a Tyrian built bireme, Roman manned, and beaked with iron. She looked reasonably fast—no catapults—no cumbrous midship citadel—a clean-lined, lateen-rigged cruiser; recently built. No corvus. No dolphin. Ample deck-space. The other vessel was smaller, two-masted, also a bireme but built more lightly than the other. Both ships had arrow-engines. Both were crowded with men in Roman armor. More ominous yet, on the deck of the larger bireme the red war-cloaks of several lictors were unmistakable. Lictors were the inseparable attendants of a Roman magistrate. A proconsul would have ten in his own territory. Tros could count six on deck; there might be others below or behind the deckhouse cabin. It would be just like Cassius to move secretly; equally characteristic of him to refuse to leave behind the lictors that Roman law forbade to set foot on foreign soil, lest Roman dignity be compromised. But would Cassius dare to be in Pelusium, with only two ships?

The Romans should have seen Tros's topmast, but they were keeping no masthead watch. They appeared to expect no attack from the sea. That was as typical of Roman arrogance, which they flattered themselves was confidence, as the presence of lictors. But it also looked as if Cassius—if Cassius it was—had been amply assured in advance of a friendly reception.

It was a beast of a passage into Pelusium, blind with reeds, curving between sand-banks, narrow, with unmarked shoals and almost unnegotiable by a deeply laden ship. But near Pelusium, where the great granite fortress overlooked the ford across the Nile the passage widened, and beyond the ford there was quite an extensive harbor with bulkheads and narrow canals, in which numbers of Egyptian vessels were moored. A huge scow-shaped ferry lay at the ford's western end; it was said to be able to carry a hundred camels. Nobody ever waded that ford if he could help it. It was low-Nile—not deep enough to let the Roman biremes pass to the pool beyond—probably just deep enough for shoal-draft Nile-boats—about shoulder deep to a man, and muddy. The centuries had seen more than one army perish trying to cross that ford. The fort parapets and bastions could sweep its full width with arrow-fire.

The Egyptian, western bank of the river was densely cultivated. So was a narrow, irregular margin on the eastern bank, but beyond that was desert. Just visible, filing across the desert from the eastward, along the summit of a dune, with the early sun silvering their lance-points, came eight hundred or a thousand Arab horsemen with a sprinkling of Roman cloaks and helmets.

Whose men? It seemed Cleopatra had told at any rate part of the truth. Was a Roman army behind them? Rome's was an infantry genius; even Caesar had never developed an efficient cavalry; but cavalry were indispensable for swiftly terrorizing and suppressing newly conquered provinces. So there was almost no doubt that the Arabs must be Cassius's irregulars, newly raised for the looting of Palestine, less expensive than Roman legions, superbly mounted and probably ably led by their own chiefs, held to the mark and critically bear-led by Roman centurions. There were also probably two or three Roman tribunes wearing Arab costume; that was the usual system.

It looked as if Cassius's invasion had already commenced, in a typical, secretive way, that could be called a mistake, or a raid by bandits, or a diplomatic excursion, should it happen to miscarry. There was a mysterious absence of warlike demonstration from the fort. The city, clustered around the fort, was as still as a jungle when the beasts of prey are prowling. The sentinels on the parapet appeared to take no notice of Tros's ships, although from that height they could easily have seen them. At the Egyptian end of the ford, on high ground, barely beyond range of arrow-fire from the Roman biremes, was a small force of Egyptian cavalry—not more than a hundred men—perhaps fewer; the sun shone on their brass accoutrements, and they made a brave show, but they looked about as useful as painted statuary against the oncoming Arabs. It was just possible to distinguish the plumes of the horses' heads that proclaimed them a detachment of the Queen's bodyguard. Was the Queen secretly treating with Cassius?

And now another puzzling detail. Half a mile to the southward, coming northward down the Nile, toward the ford, were ten rowboats, crowded with men in armor, and by people who might be women, unarmed. The boats were rather badly rowed by dark-skinned men, undoubtedly Egyptian peasants. In the bow of the leading boat, with his armor aflash in the rising sun, stood a giant—who might be Sigurdsen—who probably was Sigurdsen—too distant yet to be clearly recognized but—yes, Sigurdsen, the Viking, by his gestures!—Sigurdsen bringing the billeted men from the villages where Conops left them—bringing them straight into a trap, with Arab cavalry to his right, the fort on his left and Roman warships waiting for him with their anchors down near the bed of the ford!

Sigurdsen might have Hero with him. Who else could have summoned him down to the sea? But how swift she had been. And what a blazing, loyal, dunderheaded fool was Sigurdsen! Thoughtful of saving his men for battle-duty, he had brought Egyptians to man the oars, and then undone his forethought by rank stupidity! Was the man drunk?

"Stand to arms! Ahoy there—Conops!"

Tros returned to deck. He put on his armor and donned his purple cloak over it. The crew knew what that meant. They would be able to see that cloak and rally to him. His ten Jew freedmen formed in line and went down on one knee so as not to obstruct his view, but ready—ready for anything. The two ships came together perilously, stem to stern, and Gonops leaped the taffrail with his golden trumpet in his left fist.

"Sound the rally! Sigurdsen is bringing our flotilla head-on into two Roman biremes. Probably he thinks they're ships we've taken!"

"Your lady must have found him mighty sudden, master! Where's her sailboat?"

"Sound the rally!"

The trumpet-call startled a million birds from the reeds in the swamps on either bank. Perhaps Sigurdsen heard it, perhaps not. It was the best that could be done at the moment. Certainly the Romans heard it. Tubas began blaring on the biremes, around the bend, a quarter of a mile away. Tros beckoned Ahiram to overhear the orders he gave to Conops and thus save precious seconds.

"The biremes haven't room to turn. If they slip their cables they'll come toward us stern-first. I'll take the big one. You take the other, Conops. Open fire the moment you can see them. Go in fast and grapple! Lay aboard all hands and gut them before they can bring their archery to bear on Sigurdsen's boats!"

Conops leaped the taffrail, shouting orders to his crew. Tros wasted no more seconds.

"Cymbals! Both sides—full speed ahead!"

Tros to starboard, Ahiram to port, they conned the winding course, as the pulsing cymbal and drum-beat stirred the oarsmen. They whipped up a wake that boiled in the river reeds.

"Archers—ready!"

Off came paulins. Dry bow-strings. Arrow-engines squeaking taut. Ship's lads, alert and trembling with excitement, crouching by the baskets of arrows, cuffed for getting too close with their ready reloads. Master-archers taking sighting-shots at birds on the wing.

"Cymbals—starboard easy! Full ahead, the port side! Faster! Faster! Now then—both sides, let her have it! Full speed! Archers—engage!"

Around a blind island of reeds, with every seam leaking to the strain of the oars, and only a hundred yards to go. The Romans caught unready—disciplined but bewildered. A hail of Roman arrow-fire, baffled by Tros's sailcloth curtains that came clashing on their rings along the lines to protect his crowded crew. Tros's and Conops's arrow-engines—twelve arrows to each volley. Romans falling in heaps as they tried to man their bulwarks.

"Grapnels—let go!"

Crash. The thunder of colliding hulls. A slithering volley of javelins from the Roman deck. The battle-roar: "Tros! Tros!" Polished steel and purple, Tros and his ten-Jew bodyguard away in the lead of a steel-shod company that stormed the bireme's bulwarks like a blast of roaring flame.

"Tros! Tros!"

The unarmed lictors fled into the cabin. Perhaps because they represented Rome's dignity and majesty, or perhaps because of battle-madness, someone shut them in with an iron bar that passed through iron slots and was locked by a wedge that needed a key to extract it. The Roman sea-infantry stood to their arms and fought with the well drilled fatalism of the the farm-born conscript. The arrow-engine fire had killed most of their officers, but a young tribune leaped to the cabin roof and they rallied around him there, too crowded to use their weapons to advantage. Again and again they locked shields and smashed their way toward Tros, who was javelin-proofed by the shields of his bodyguard. Those who did get near Tros died; his Jews were careful to give him sword-room. But he was hard-pressed.

A Roman centurion rallying men in the bireme's bow, caught sight of Sigurdsen's flotilla. Sigurdsen was having trouble with his rowers; they were refusing duty and being thrown overboard; men in armor were manning the oars; Sigurdsen's cow-horn trumpet blared the news that he was hurrying to Tros's aid. The centurion hacked through the bireme's cable, hoping to drift to the eastern bank within reach of the Arab cavalry. Ahiram killed him. The grappled ships began to drift—until the leaky tub that Tros had turned into a warship touched bottom—grounded—held fast. Conops's vessel and the other bireme, grappled together, a floating shambles, drifted down toward them, struck the sunken ship and hung there, all four vessels locked in one death-grip.

Romans climbed to their masthead and were shot down by Tros's archers. Tros crashed through the rallying Roman line and leaped to the cabin roof, where he slew the young tribune. Two of his bodyguard were down; four others were back-to-back in the midst of a melee; they lacked Conops to rag and bully-damn them; they had let themselves be wedged apart by the charging Romans; but the remaining four reached Tros. He sent them leaping over Romans' heads to their comrades' rescue. He had time for one glimpse, then, of the whole field of battle.

Sigurdsen, in mid-ford, had been engaged by the Arab cavalry on horses that could barely touch bottom, disorganized, plunging, slaughtered by the flotilla's arrow-fire. Conops appeared to have the other bireme almost won; he was leading a charge along the deck and some of the Romans were leaping overboard. Ahiram, too, had done well; he had taken no prisoners; the forward deck was littered with dead and dying, hard to distinguish at a glance from the fettered oarsmen, slaves who lay under their seats and bleated "servus! servus! parcete servo!" probably almost all the Latin they knew. On the lower bench there was pandemonium; the rowers were trying to wrench their fetters loose; they had broken their oars in the oar-ports and were using the in-board ends for levers. On the western bank, the cohort of the Queen's cavalry remained exactly where it had been. The fort was silent.

Tros leaped into the midst of the melee on the after deck. He led a charge that swept the whole stern of the ship from mast to taffrail. The Romans were not good at surrendering. Those who didn't die where they stood, leaped overboard and were drowned by the weight of their armor. The few who did surrender were recruits from the conquered Syrian towns, whom Cassius had levied to replace the wastage of his legions from disease and guerrilla warfare.

There was no time yet to get the bireme under control, nor even to force the cabin door and see who was imprisoned in there. The cabin ports were fastened on the inside. Tros set sentries around the cabin. Then he leaped to the grounded ship and got the arrow-engines to bear on the Arab cavalry. He had to beat his master-archers to their posts; they were mad for the loot of the Roman ship. It was not until Conops leaped aboard and joined him, and Tros himself laid and fired one engine and Conops cranked it, that he was able to bring to bear the full terrific hail of his screaming arrow-blasts and clear the ford for the flotilla. The river was full of dead and drowning horses, dead and drowning men.

Then came Sigurdsen, storm-angry because he was late. Northmen, Cilician ex-pirates, Gauls and Spaniards clambered aboard behind him, and some women behind them, all clamoring for plunder. They began to strip dead Romans of their armor. They had to be flat-bladed by decurions before they would form squads and come under control. Then Tros had time to demand news:

"Where is Hero?"

Sigurdsen stared. Conops, with the sweat of battle on him and the blood running down from a scalp-wound because nothing could make him wear his helmet out of sight of Tros, no matter what the odds against him, flared like something spilled in hot fat:

"You Baltic herring-eater, do you mean you've lost her?"

"I haven't seen her," said Sigurdsen, speaking to Tros. It was beneath his dignity to answer Conops. "Hero sent her slave on horseback. I have the hag with us. The horse was half-dead; it drowned when she swam the river to our island. She said Hero was in hiding near Pelusium and we were to come in a hurry. Now what? And whose are the cavalry? I never saw such slaughter. I have a prisoner, but I can't understand him, nor he me."

Tros gave his orders to Conops:

"Clear away the grapnels but stay fast to the sunk ship, ready to let go. Set a sharp watch—keep an eye on the horsemen on both banks. Then count dead and wounded. Tell Ahiram to get the Roman rowers under control. He may tell 'em they'll be set free if they behave. Count Roman prisoners and put them under guard on the stern of my bireme."

"Aye, aye, master."

It was already "my bireme." Tros returned to it. Sigurdsen followed. Tros wrenched at the iron bar on the cabin door. It wouldn't yield. Sigurdsen battle-axed the woodwork; three blows and the bar was loose enough for Tros to break it from the slots. Six of his bodyguard came and formed up behind him as he wrenched at the door. It opened outward. He expected a rush of armed men. Stale air came forth and a kind of solid silence. He could see the red cloaks of lictors lined against the forward bulkhead. It was too dark to distinguish much else except a table down the midst and a number of men in a group, all standing.

"Open those ports!" Tros commanded.

Someone opened one port. He could see then. The cross-light fell full on Hero's face. She was gagged. She was being held by two men with her hands tied behind her. A third man, from behind, held the edge of a dagger so close to her throat that if she had moved it would have drawn blood.

"Do you recognize me, Tros? I am Alexis," said the man's voice. "You have while I count ten, to pledge your oath in the name of Samothrace, and Philae and the holy Mysteries, that you will let everyone—you understand me?—everyone in this cabin go free, unquestioned, unmolested, armed and unpursued. Otherwise, at the word of ten, I will cut this woman's throat."

There were plenty of men who had heard and who could see through the open door. Tros could not make signals to them; Sigurdsen was in the way, peering over his shoulder. He knew Alexis too well to risk a sudden rush. Alexis would cut that graceful throat without hesitating, and very likely stab himself to death afterwards. But there was an archer staring into the cabin through the open port. The man was a crack shot, but a dunderhead. He might or he might not dare to put an arrow through Alexis's ear without being told to do it. Hero's eyes were gallant, angry, unyielding. Alexis began to count.

"One—two—three—fo—"

The word ended in a gasp. A dagger struck him from behind, in the neck. He fell backward. His own dagger dropped to the floor. The dagger that had killed him flicked out through the open port and clattered on the deck, where the archer pounced on it. Tros went into the cabin in three strides and the men who had been holding Hero flinched away, crowding the lictors. Someone's armor clanked as he sat down on a bench in a shadowy corner. With his dagger Tros cut the bandage from Hero's mouth, severed the cord that bound her wrists. "Hurt?"

"No, not much. All well?"

"Aye."

He stared around him. "Open all ports!"

Sigurdsen opened them. From outside, battle-grimy faces crowded for a view of the cabin. Sigurdsen's fist struck one face. Tros's bodyguard attended to the others, stumbling over shadowy legs as they hurried to deliver their punches through the ports. Then the decurions cleared the doorway and the low-roofed cabin filled with light. Tros stood chafing Hero's wrists as he counted prisoners and examined faces. Some were standing. Some were seated behind the others, as if they expected no quarter and might as well show no courtesy. One man lay on a cot against the starboard bulkhead, with a scarlet cloak over his blanket and his head on a pillow, in shadow. Including ten lictors, all those who were standing seemed unimportant. Tros stared at the seated men, one by one, and named them, changing the inflection of his voice to convey his opinion of each in turn. It was a notable assembly.

"Pausanias! Retiring Commander of Pelusium! I regret, Pausanias, that we should meet thus."

Pausanias scowled, with his beard to his chest. He looked immensely dignified and said nothing, but he leaned forward and laid his jewelled sword on the table.

Tros named three others, who were all Pausanias's subordinates. Beside them were two Romans whom he didn't know; he ignored them for the moment, but Sigurdsen took their swords and laid them on the table. Tros faced about, toward the port side.

"Herod! Exquisite Prince Herod! Trying to steal a kingdom!"

The ringleted, ringed, dark-intelligent Idumaean smiled. Instead of laying his scimitar on the table with the others he offered it to Tros, who touched the hilt before he let Sigurdsen take it. He neither trusted, admired nor respected Herod, but he couldn't help liking him. Herod was a graceful and resourceful rogue who had the wit to see life as a game. That wasn't Tros's idea of life, but it was better than the ravening envy of the Wolves of the Tiber.

An even more surprising person sat beside Herod. He was looking comfortless but magnificent in the splendid uniform of a captain of the Queen's Guard.

"Well, Leander, you laughed when I betted Have you finished laughing?"

Leander laid his sword on the table. "Tros," he said, "you are the only man in this cabin who has a sense of humor!" He glanced at the cot on the starboard side. The man on the cot was hardly visible because the lictors had moved, so that three stood between him and Tros.

A man in the shadowy far port corner stood up. Blood from the dead Alexis's neck had splashed his tunic, but he looked very smart in a Roman tribune's uniform. He had a mean face, hook-nosed and alert.

"Lars Tarquinius, the Etruscan! I had it in mind to slay you on sight, Tarquinius!"

"Captain Tros, you waste words. Do you think I didn't know that?"

The Etruscan's insolence was perfect. He didn't even offer to toss his sword on to the table. "I have bought my life, so spare your homilies!" He kicked the dead Alexis. "If it hadn't been for my dagger, you would be needing a new woman."

Hero interrupted, laughing. "Give the dog his life, Tros, as a favor to me! If it weren't for his treachery, I might be in Cyprus yet. Forgive him for having betrayed me to a better fortune!"

"Take his sword," Tros commanded. Sigurdsen strode forward and took it.

And now the choice morsel. He had saved it for the last. He had known from the first who lay so silent on the cot behind the lictors' cloaks. He knew his man. He knew perfectly how to stir the sour spleen of Caesar's murderer. The man who had ganged a group of malcontents to stab his benefactor for being too ambitious, and who now aped his victim's power-lust without that victim's skill, was likely to be touchy of Roman dignity.

"Throw out those lictors, Sigurdsen! Strip them. Throw their fasces in the river, and set the lazy lackeys to scrubbing decks!"

Sigurdsen took two of them by the necks and hurled them toward the door, where they were seized by eager arms and dragged out. Two more followed and their sacred fasces were pitched after them. He on the cot sat up suddenly.

"Tros, you vile pirate, you will pay with your life for this, if it takes all Rome's resources to bring you to book!"

Out went two more lictors. Sigurdsen compelled the others to carry out Alexis's corpse. He slammed, the door behind them. Herod laughed. Conops's face peered through a port on the starboard side.

"All ship-shape, master. Ready now to cast off. Cavalry on both banks doing nothing. Thirty-two men dead or dying. Thirty-seven wounded. Ahiram is hurt. I've ordered corn and wine for the fettered rowers; they're acting sensible; they're mostly Jewish prisoners o' war. Not counting rowers, nor the badly wounded that we've pitched overside, we've forty-one prisoners, three of 'em Romans and the others Gauls and Syrians in Roman armor. Along near the ford on the east bank there's a crowd o' Pelusiumites, men, women, children—all scared, doing nothing, curious. The women that Sigurdsen brought along are starting trouble. They want—"

"Clout them! Put them to work keeping the flies off our wounded."

"Aye, aye, master; but there's one here I can't manage short of killing her. She's bit me. She's a tough hag. A crack of a knife-butt only ires her. I've got her roped—"

"Let her in," said Hero.

"Tros," said the man on the cot; he pointed; his hand trembled with malarial ague, "there is only one possible way for you to save yourself from vengeance for this insult to the Roman people! You will be hounded, caught, crucified—"

Sigurdsen opened the door and slammed it again behind a broad-bodied hag, who fell at Hero's feet and kissed them, blubbering a torrent of mixed Greek and some other language. Tros kicked her for silence, but it was not until Hero had stooped and dog-patted her that she swallowed her sobs and sat still. She was Esias's wedding-gift—the slave that Hero had picked from a dozen or more.

Cassius sat upright, pale, his eyes alight with fever, thin-lipped, lean. He laid an elbow on his knee and pointed again, about to speak. But Tros spoke first:

"Gaius Cassius Longinus, in case your dignity is so offended that you find life unendurable, you may have your choice of these swords. I would like to watch you kill yourself."

Cassius glared. He glanced self-consciously around the cabin and then leaned back against the bulkhead.

Herod laughed.


CHAPTER XXXII
"And now you, Cassius!"


As to whether there are gods, or not, I am ignorant. I have never set eyes on a god, nor seen, nor heard anything, anywhere, that seems to me to justify belief in gods, or to suggest that, if gods there be, their doings justify respect.

But I have been observant all my days. Whoever believes there is no such force as Destiny directing us and our occasions, would waste breath seeking to unconvince me. I have been in the grip of Destiny, have seen its shape, have felt the weight of its hand. I know.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Conops reported again: a boat from the eastern bank containing two officers, one Roman and one Arab, with a palm branch, asking armistice and parley. Tros ordered them admitted, without their weapons. They came in and stood staring—a big Arab, smelly with horse-sweat, who stared at Herod, and a red-haired Roman who saluted Cassius with a splendid gesture and then eyed Tros with unqualified admiration, even envy.

"Half our force dead!" he remarked, cheerfully. "I would like to catch you on land! Who are you?"

"Father of arrows!" said the Arab.

Sigurdsen gathered the surrendered swords and stood them in a corner. Tros laid his own sword across the end of the table farthest from the door. Sigurdsen laid his battle-ax beside it. Tros sat down facing the door, signing to Herod to be seated at his right hand, Sigurdsen on his left. Then he ordered his bodyguard outside and called to Conops to set a deck-watch, to prevent eavesdropping and to be ready to enter the cabin if summoned.

"Cassius," he said then, "you may take the seat opposite me."

Cassius sneered. "You pirate, you will listen to my remarks from where I choose. I am ill. I have been seasick. I have the ague—"

"And you have my leave to live," said Tros, "if you obey. Not otherwise. Assist him to the table, someone."

Tarquinius offered his arm. Cassius snarled:

"You vile traitor, don't dare to soil me with your touch! You serpent!"

He got to his feet unaided and went and sat down with his back to the door between two of his Roman officers, who whispered to him. Herod went and sat on the cot, where he could keep his liquid, laughing eyes on Hero. Herod spoke beautiful Greek:

"Tros, if promises are what you crave, my tongue can utter them in golden words, as good as anyone's. But I advise you that Cassius's gold is more substantial. I have none, as it happens. Cassius has plenty. As proconsul he has had opportunities, haven't you, Cassius?"

"You Jew!" snarled Cassius.

Herod's beautiful white teeth flashed in a malicious smile.

"I wish I were. The Jews call me a Roman, which I thank whatever gods there be I am not either. Tros, hadn't you better kill us all except me? Cut throats are messy but they don't recriminate."

"I would rather show you no discourtesy," Tros answered. "May I enjoy the favor of your silence?"

"Yes," said Herod. "There are going to be some curious evasions of the truth. I, too, would like to listen to them. I will save my equivocations until the pious Cassius has spent his."

But the key to the truth sat at Tros's right hand. He began with Hero, speaking to her as if she were one of his officers.

"By whose orders," he asked, "were you gagged, with your throat against Alexis's dagger?"

"Lars Tarquinius suggested it. Cassius ordered it."

Conops's voice, going his rounds: "All well, master."

"Tell your story," said Tros, and Hero began speaking in a voice that had found the middle of the note since Tros first spoke with her in Cyprus.

"Last night, about two hours after dark, we—that is I and my four slaves—were upset in the surf, not far from here. There was a village. I found a horse. I sent this slave, Taia, who is Egyptian and knows the district well, to find Sigurdsen and bring him. I planned to wait on the beach until daylight, and then to watch for your sail, for you had told me you would come by sea to find your men. I waited close by where Pompey was murdered. My three slaves were trying to haul the upset boat on to the beach when some men came, who I thought in the dark were robbers. My slaves tried to protect me. They were slain and I was seized. Then I recognized Lars Tarquinius. He had a squad of sailors with him."

Tarquinius interrupted: "Yes. And if you had told me Tros was coming, I would have known what to do. I owed Tros a favor for his treatment of me in Cyprus. Tell him the truth: how did I treat you?"

"Impudently," said Hero. "I remember I called you a mangey jackal, which is less than the truth, and you marched me away to this ship, with my hands tied, and you and Cassius discussed me like a slave for sale. The only man who was polite to me was Herod."

Herod smiled: "Unscrupulous politeness at the feet of beauty! I am the only rogue in the cabin."

Hero continued: "From then, until you came, Lord Captain, I have been continually questioned, insulted and threatened with torture. I have told them nothing. The proconsul Cassius sent a messenger to the fort, and it was only about an hour before you arrived that Pausanias came, and then Leander. Cassius had to send his secretary, his ship's captain and his commander of the troops to the fort, as hostages for Pausanias. Pausanias wouldn't believe who I am, although he admitted I far more resemble Arsinoe's portrait than does the prisoner whom he holds in the dungeon. But Leander knew me. Pausanias and Leander quarreled, because Pausanias has refused to turn over the command of the fort to Leander, and Leander with a hundred men has had to stay outside the city. The proconsul Cassius was very angry. He accused Pausanias of having accepted a bribe to surrender the fort, and now of demanding a further payment of more than twice as much money. Herod kept urging Cassius to pay."

"Such honesty as theirs inflamed my generosity," said Herod.

Cassius glared at him. "Silence! Do you hear me? You ungrateful vagabond!"

Hero continued: "The whole plot came out because Alexis objected I was overhearing too much. But Cassius said it didn't matter because I was to be killed in any event unless I would tell all I know. Herod said it would be a pity to kill me; he would rather have me than Cleopatra. Then Cassius complained that the Arab cavalry were late, and Herod said that was probably because Cassius hadn't paid them what he promised. They snarled at each other—"

"Did I snarl?" asked Herod.

"Until it came out that the plan was to occupy Pelusium, unite with some of Cleopatra's mutinous regiments, march on Alexandria and marry Herod to Cleopatra, thus making Herod King of Egypt, and Egypt Cassius's ally."

"My cousin Cleopatra," said Herod, "is used to being married to a man who had at least one other Wife."

"Shut up!" snapped Cassius. "What do you want, Tros? Are you Cleopatra's envoy? According to my latest information she has proscribed you."

Tros nodded to Hero to continue.

"They were all quarreling, except Leander, and except that Herod was making fun of them; he kept insisting he couldn't wait to take Cleopatra in his arms. But he offered to accept me instead, or in addition. Alexis kept on urging Cassius to have me killed, for fear the story might get out that there is a false me on the throne of Cyprus, and another false me in the' dungeon. I dared Cassius to be brave and to kill me himself while my hands were tied. I said it would be much safer than murdering Caesar, who had a pen to defend himself with. It was then that Alexis gagged me with a towel. He pulled out his dagger and offered to cut my throat; he said he didn't mind doing it because Cleopatra would be so pleased and it would make it safe for him to return to Alexandria and be forgiven. Then you came, and your trumpet sounded, and there was a panic, and the lictors fled into the cabin, and Leander shut the door and held it, because he said it wasn't safe for Cassius to go on deck, and then someone fastened the door on the outside. Alexis would have killed me there and then, but Leander—"

"Leander," said Herod, "appreciates beautiful eyes. He behaved with romantic ferocity. I shall always be glad it wasn't Leander who slew Alexis. He would have slain me next for having looked at her."

Tros looked at Leander. Then he glanced at Hero. Hero nodded.

"Continue," said Tros.

"It was Lars Tarquinius who thought of the plan to hold a dagger at my throat. Cassius agreed and bade Alexis do it. That is all," said Hero.

"A very masterly skein of lies!" said Cassius. "I deny that this girl is who she says she is, and I deny each and every one of her statements."

"I have not once told you who I am," she retorted. "Tarquinius and Alexis told you. I say I am Hero. I am the great Lord Captain's—"

Cassius interrupted: "Concubine, eh? Well, Tros, you have her. Now what else do you want?"

"I will take what I want," Tros answered.

Herod chuckled.

"The money," remarked Tarquinius, "is in a chest beneath that cot, Lord Captain Tros."

Tros looked straight at Pausanias:

"How much has Cassius paid you?"

Pausanias was silent.

"At any rate, you have not surrendered the fort?"

Pausanias, looking very uncomfortable and avoiding Cassius's eyes, stroked his black beard and answered:

"Tros, you and I have known each other well since Caesar's day. You know me to be loyal to the Queen."

"Then you will obey her order to make over the command to Leander?"

"Has he his warrant?"

Leander flourished a parchment warrant, bearing the royal seal. He pushed it under Pausanias's nose. Pausanias made a show of reading it.

"Very well," he said sourly. "Why did you send me an insolent verbal message, instead of sending in the warrant for my proper information?"

"Because a warrant in the hand is worth two in your fire," said Leander. "Do I take over?"

"Yes."

Leander looked alertly at Tros. Neither man smiled. "There is a woman prisoner in the dungeon," said Tros. Leander nodded.

"After you have satisfied yourself that she is a slave belonging to this lady," he laid his hand on Hero's shoulder, "and that she was arrested by mistake, will you be good enough to send her out to this ship?"

"Certainly." Leander stood up. He saluted. He smiled. "The Queen told me," said Tros, "that she thought you not worth the amount of your debts. I differ. There is a chest under the cot. You may take it. Give half of the money to Sigurdsen, to be distributed to my crew."

Cassius snarled and struck the table with his fist:

"See here, Tros—"

Tros's hand touched the sword on the table and Cassius closed his thin lips, glaring.

"Yes," said Tros, "I don't doubt there are documents! You may have your sword, Leander. So may you, Pausanias." Sigurdsen returned their swords.

"Cassius's officers," said Tros, "will go with you, Leander, to be held as additional hostages. Open the chest and give me all the documents it contains."

Cassius writhed, but there was nothing he could do. Leander dragged out a bronze chest. It was heavy. He stood waiting for the key. Tros laid a hand palm upward on the table and looked straight at Cassius.

"You want the key?" asked Cassius. "My secretary has it. He is in Pelusium. Have a care, Tros! This is—"

"Take the chest on deck and break it open!" Tros commanded. "Bring all documents to me. Send Conops." Sigurdsen and Leander carried out the chest. Leander motioning to all Cassius's officers to precede him to the deck. Conops came in and saluted:

"Nothing moving, master. Cavalry on both banks dismounted and standing easy. The crowd at the ford is looting dead men's armor."

"Excepting this officer who came under flag of truce, and excepting the proconsul Cassius and Lars Tarquinius, you will send all the Roman officer prisoners, including centurions, to the fort with Captain Leander. Send them ashore in one of our flotilla boats and lay in arrow-engines to protect their landing."

"Aye, aye, master."

Somewhere on the deck the bronze chest clamored beneath a seaman's hammer. Cassius set his teeth. Sigurdsen returned with a very neat docket of papers, which he laid on the table.

"There is a lot of money," he remarked.

"See that Leander gets only half of it. Keep the rest for the crew."

Sigurdsen went out again and shut the door. Tros, fingering the papers, stared at Pausanias.

"If I should send these to the Queen," he said, "there might be one more head upon the gibbets by the eastern gate. What say you?"

"We have been friends, you and I," Pausanias answered. Tros nodded. "I will put your friendship to a test, Pausanias. Go to the Queen. Go swiftly. You may tell her that Pelusium is still hers. And say this:" he tapped the documents, "Memorize my words well. Say to her: 'Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace awaits a letter from her, in her own hand, thanking him for having saved Pelusium and conferring upon him the freedom of the port of Alexandria with her personal, solemn guarantee of immunity for himself, for his wife Hero, and for all his men.' You are to add: 'the Lord Captain Tros is impatient to determine what to do with Cassius and with a fleet of warships.'"

"Fleet?" asked Herod.

Tros ignored him. "If such a letter from the Queen, Pausanias, is in my hands by daybreak, the day after tomorrow, she shall never see these documents nor know from me which of her commanders may have been in secret correspondence with Cassius. But if not, let her look to her throne; and look you to your head! You may go ashore with Leander. Ride Swiftly, Pausanias, and may my friendship ride with you."

Pausanias hesitated, stroking his beard.

"It is a difficult mission, Tros."

"So? Hint to a few ministers and generals that I hold their correspondence, and then see how swiftly they will hurry to the Queen to plead your suit!"

Pausanias nodded. He saluted Tros. He bowed to Herod and to Hero. He even made a gesture to Tarquinius. Then he walked out, ignoring Cassius.

Cassius stared at Herod. "I would like to speak with Captain Tros alone," he said tartly.

"You, Prince Herod?" Tros asked. "Shall I send you back to Idumaea with your Arabs?"

"In the names of their curious gods, no!" Herod looked startled, even almost serious. "They would accuse me of having inveigled them into a profitless trap. I would prefer almost anything. As a matter of fact, I wish to go to Rome. Cassius and I have discovered a mutual disrespect that is bad for his stomach and makes my skin creep. He would crucify you, of course, if the situation were reversed. But I am afraid you won't kill him. But as long as you won't let him kill me, I would like to stay and see what you will do."

"You shall be a witness whether I kill him or not," Tros answered. He stared at Cassius, who glowered back and snarled:

"You pirate, name your demands!"

Tros addressed the Arab chieftain and the red-haired Roman officer beside him:

"You two may go. The proconsul has no use for you, nor I a quarrel with you. Be on the march eastward within an hour and there shall be no pursuit from Pelusium, I guarantee that."

He turned to Lars Tarquinius. "And now you, you viper. I have sailed all known seas. Never—north, south, east, or west have I known such a treacherous scavenger of shame as you are! Four times have I neglected the duty to slay you—on my trireme, in Cyprus, near Memphis, and again now! Stand up!"

Tarquinius stood, very soldierly. He jerked his head, businesslike, at Hero:

"But for me, she would be dead. I slew Alexis. You can't overlook that."

"Why did you throw your dagger through the port?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I was afraid. I wasn't sure I hadn't made a mistake. I had to think quickly. I wasn't sure Cassius hadn't a surprise up his sleeve, he lay so quiet. If the cat had jumped the wrong way, I intended to accuse Herod of having killed him."

"Why flatter me?" asked Herod.

"I have never pretended to you, Captain Tros, to be anything else than a needy fellow looking for a profit. Why don't you employ me?"

"If I ever catch you," said Cassius, "you shall die on a tree, Tarquinius."

"Your life is yours," said Tros, "for service rendered. Dismiss. If you wish employment, report to Conops."

"To that knifing Cyclops?"

"Aye—or else swim for the shore."

Herod punched Cassius's pillow and adjusted it so that he could lean in the corner in comfort. He proposed to enjoy what was coming. Herod had seen Tros fight in the arena in Rome, in the days when Tros was Caesar's enemy and Caesars's friends had condemned Tros to what they imagined would be his death. Herod knew Tros wasn't likely to flatter the pale prisoner who faced him. Tros's tone of voice surprised him, however. There was nothing pugnacious about it. Firm. Cold. Calm. Deliberate.

"And now you, Cassius!"

"Look here, Tros, hadn't you better be sensible. You have been lucky. Is it wise to overplay your hand? You are a pirate remember—proscribed by Rome and Egypt. You know you can't last long at that trade. You could hold me for ransom. You would be paid, no matter how much you demand. But remember: pirates once held Caesar for ransom. He was no more popular in Rome than I am, but he raised the money. What happened to the pirates later? Crucified, to the last man."

"You compare yourself to Caesar?" Tros asked.

"Caesar in those days was an unimportant youngster. I am proconsul of Syria. Convey me to Gaza, set me ashore, and I will forgive this outrage—these insults—this piracy. I will name you the ally of Rome and—"

Tros laughed. "Cassius, I saw you kill your benefactor, to whom you had sworn allegiance."

"Well? What of it? Didn't you once do your best to kill him?"

"Aye—and he me—openly, in fair war. When I became his friend, I stood by him, and he by me. You became his friend, and treacherously slew him. I will make no bargain with you. You wouldn't keep it."

"Have a care, Tros! It isn't lucky for a pirate to offend a Roman proconsul! Your outrageous treatment of Roman lictors is enough to—"

Tros interrupted: "Cassius, that was personal, from me to you. A Roman lictor has no business on foreign soil. It is against the Roman law. You know it. You are caught red-handed in a treacherous attempt to steal a throne that you didn't dare to fight for."

"Are you Egypt's divine protector?" Cassius sneered.

"I am your captor. I repeat—if you prefer to take your own life, I will give you a weapon and watch you do it."

"Don't be presumptuous! Name your terms, you ruffian!"

"Conops!"

"Coming, master!"

Livid, his eyes burning, his hands clutching the table to keep them from trembling, Cassius stood up. Conops entered.

"Find the proconsul a cabin, Conops. Let him have his slave to wait on him, but remove the cabin door and put a Northman to watch him. Change the guard every two hours, day and night."

"No need for that," said Cassius. "I will pledge my—"

"Take him away, Conops."

"Aye, aye, master."

"And now you, Prince Herod."

Herod rose to his feet, looking crafty in his Idumaean headdress, but cavalierly at ease. His eyes laughed into Hero's. He hardly looked at Tros:

"For the sake of a lovely woman," he remarked, "I, too, am capable of madness—be she lovely, mind you! Am I prisoner or guest? I make no promises, so I won't break any. Tros, may I visit Pelusium? May I use your rowboat? May I have an escort? May I have some money? I might find something fit to eat and drink. I might even find an amusing woman. I might even pick up information."

Tros nodded, summoned Sigurdsen and gave the necessary order. Herod went out, smiling. Tros took hold of Hero's hag-slave by the neck and pitched her through the cabin door. He slammed it—bolted it.

"Well, girl?"

"Lover! Tros, you're perfect!"


CHAPTER XXXIII
"He was kind to me. He tried to seduce me."


They who laugh at a commander's failure, usually lack ability or will to understand the nature of his problem. Detail, detail, detail, each dependent on another's or a hundred others' loyalty, devotion, skill, intelligence, obedience and health. One sick man, fretting faithfully to do his stint, unknowingly, unknown, may wreck a well-imagined strategy before its details unfold. I have heard self-styled critics speak—aye, and I have read the books of some historians who write, as if a warship can put to sea without a thousand cares first well attended. And, if a ship, what of a fleet? What of an army? It is a pity, for their foes' sake, that some critics are not taken at their own evaluation and entrusted with command.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Tros's first care was to make his position reasonably safe. Having challenged Cleopatra, he had no intention of being caught off-guard, and no man in the world had had more experience than he of her genius for springing surprises. She and Charmion believed themselves incapable of treachery, but praised it with an almost religious zeal. Between them, they where quite capable of turning the tables. That was one reason why he had given the Queen the irreducible minimum of time in which to comply with the terms of his ultimatum.

Tros hoped, and half-believed that the Queen would yield, or would offer to compromise, if only to prevent him from doing what actually nothing could induce him to do. He despised Cassius. He would not ally himself with Cassius in any event. But the Queen might not realize that. And the Queen might be in the midst of new embarrassments; the sending to sea of the Alexandrine Romans might have removed a political balance-weight and have loosed other forces of discontent. She might be in serious need of Tros's strong right arm.

Hero was for immediate action, and small wonder. Her life would have been worth about a minute's purchase if the Queen's agents could catch her. It was a new and difficult experience for Tros to argue with her; he was too long used to reaching his own decisions in silence, then issuing sudden commands and being instantly obeyed. But he listened to her. He weighed her impatient counsel, in the scale of his own experience, against his own opinion. He already knew what he would do with Cassius, he needed no advice as to how to treat that specimen. But he knew he had to get on working terms with Hero. He and she had to learn to be more to each other than merely lovers, or than merely boon companions-in-arms.

Tros had already thought of that. "Antony wouldn't thank to Mark Antony, against any reasonable terms that Antony can offer! I remember Antony well; he is an opportunist with a reputation for keeping his word. He was kind to me when I was a prisoner in Rome. He tried to seduce me. I think he even thought of begging me from Caesar."

Tros had already thought of that. "Antony wouldn't thank us," he answered. "He would either have to kill Cassius or make terms with him. If he killed him, that would offend everyone in Rome who disliked Caesar. Antony has plenty of political enemies; he can't afford to give them such a talking point as that. If, on the other hand, he made terms with Cassius, that would reveal his own hypocrisy. Antony was Caesar's friend; Cassius was Caesar's murderer. It would give Octavian, Caesars's heir, a fresh excuse for quarrel. Antony has Octavian and Lepidus to deal with, and the three men hate each other like hungry dogs. If the latest advices from Rome are as true as old Esias and his partners think they are, the Triumvirate has only patched up its quarrels in order to present a united front against Sextus Pompeius, who is ravaging the coasts of Italy. True, we have two good ships. But between here and Rome we might meet Cassius's and Brutus's fleet, commanded by Ahenobarbus; or we might meet an overwhelming force of pirates; or we might fall foul of Sextus Pompeius."

"But why wait here?" she objected. "I think Herod is plotting against us in Pelusium."

"Not Herod! He is too afraid of falling into Cleopatra's hands."

"Do you trust him?"

"Not I! But I trust his intelligence to tell him on which plate lies the choice meat."

"Will you surrender Cassius to Cleopatra?"

Tros laughed. "I wish her no such dilemma. It wouldn't profit you and me to see Egypt ruined. If Cleopatra should kill Cassius, that would give Rome a perfect excuse for forgetting its own quarrels and making immediate war on Egypt. The Triumvirate would patch up peace with Brutus and descend on Egypt for the plunder. They need it. Rome's treasury must be emptier than it was in the Punic Wars. But if Cleopatra didn't kill him, that would amount to the same thing; they would accuse her of giving aid and comfort to Rome's enemy. They might even make terms with Sextus Pompeius for the sake of his ship."

"Cleopatra will never forgive either of us," Hero answered. "I know she won't, because I know I wouldn't. She will be our enemy forever, and she will never believe we haven't designs on her throne."

"That is not a reason why I should betray Egypt to plunder and rape by Roman armies. Girl, what we need is a safe port, in which to build the ship we need, for our voyage around the world. There is no other port as good as Alexandria. There, is all my money. There, my friends are. There, is the collected information that I shall need for the voyage. First let us save Egypt from Cassius, if we can, without strengthening Rome."

"But we are pirates! If Cleopatra should destroy us all, including Cassius, not even Rome could accuse her of insulting Roman dignity!"

Tros had thought of that, too. He demanded from Leander a good vedette boat. He sent that to sea, to keep station between the off-lying shoals, with orders to hurry in and report anything that might even look like Cleopatra's or any other war-fleet on the sky-line. Then he himself went to inspect the shipping in the maze of canals that constituted Pelusium Harbor. He demanded, and took, two big sailing barges of the type that bore coastwise traffic—seaworthy—fairly fast. Into those he ordered all the cargo and munitions of war moved from his own two battle-broken vessels.

As many of the wounded as were willing were sent ashore, to take their chance in Pelusium. But few were willing. The city had a reputation. Its maze of booth-built slums contained more desperate rogues than any other city in the world, not even Rome excepted. Pelusium was a port of refuge for runaway slaves, deserters, fugitives from justice, absconding debtors, rebels against foreign governments. All of them were nominally subject to enforced labor. They were very seldom paid. They were always alert for a chance to murder and rob. The Pelusium gibbets were a stenching eye-sore. The slave-traders of Pelusium were the world's worst—far worse than those of Delos or Athens; they were reckless of human life because only well-educated men, or very pretty and obscenely well-trained girls were worth as much as a load-galled ass.

So awnings had to be spread on the barge decks, and the wounded laid beneath those, to make room on the crowded biremes, where there was work going on to make them better fit for battle. Sigurdsen's men's stolen women were put to work to nurse the wounded, but they were not good for much except to fan away flies. The doctor had to whip a number of them; and they were in the way of the men who were working cargo.

Tros had well earned Leander's gratitude, but he didn't trust him for a minute. He thought well enough of him to suspect that, given his choice without too much danger to himself, he would be loyal to the Queen. Leander had a great number of troops wider his command. They, and the majority of their Officers were almost worthless, polyglot, poorly paid and ill-treated-scourings from all over the world. But Leander was an experienced guards officer, who would know how to make them obey. He had probably hanged a lot of them already. There was a lot of bugle blowing in the garrison compounds within the fortress walls. There was drill going on. Leander was energetically taking hold. He wasn't likely to attack the biremes without definite orders from the Queen, but he was probably getting ready for any contingency. He would be a fool if he hadn't used the pigeon post to keep the Queen informed.

Meanwhile, however, Leander promptly responded to Tros's requests for provisions, wine and water. He even invited Tros ashore to come and confer with him. But Tros declined the offer, shrewdly guessing that the Queen or Charmion had sent by pigeon post a carefully detailed plan for a trap. That Tros didn't walk into it wasn't likely to increase the Queen's good opinion of Leander, and that was in a way unfortunate, because Leander might do something on his own initiative to reestablish himself in the Queen's confidence.

The certainties were few, the probabilities many, the possibilities almost infinite in number. It absolutely certain that a tremendous climax was impending. It was equally certain, in Tros's mind, and even Hero was beginning to appreciate it, that Tros would do nothing that he could safely avoid that might endanger Cleopatra's throne. It was not in him to humiliate, more than might be absolutely necessary, a former friend whose excruciating difficulties he well understood.

It was another certainty that Cassius was fuming himself, in a stifling cabin, into a condition in which he should be tolerably easy to manage. Cassius, no doubt, was undergoing mental torture and Tros didn't spare him one pang of it. To a man like Cassius it was very likely nearly as bad as the physical sufferings that his agents had inflicted on the Syrians and Jews in efforts to discover their hidden money. It was equally certain that both Cassius and Cleopatra would wish, if possible, to suppress the whole story of the attempted invasion: Cassius for the sake of his dignity, Cleopatra for obvious diplomatic reasons.

But what would the Queen do? Tros didn't know. He couldn't guess. It seemed probable that if the Queen should have her way, there would be an attempt at diplomatic trickery of some ingenious sort.' She would offer a compromise, and something might come of that. But if Charmion's insistence should prevail, there would be an attempt to use overwhelming force; there would be troops on the march already. The Queen's ministers, on the other hand, well knowing how undependable the troops were, and whose fault it was, would be likely to propose the despatch of couriers to pretend to negotiate terms but actually to attempt murder—perhaps to poison the supplies from Pelusium. Tros was very careful to try out the food, wine and water on his prisoners before he let it be served to his men.

Meanwhile, he carefully read Cassius's correspondence. There were, not remarkably surprising, but immensely revealing letters from Pausanias, and from several of Cleopatra's ministers and generals, most of them asking for bribes in advance, in exchange for more or less vague promises. There was next to nothing that bore Cassius's signature. But there was one priceless document, written in Charmion's spidery hand. Far from suggesting she was a traitress, it seemed to confirm her loyalty to Cleopatra; probably the Queen had seen it before it was sent. But it convicted Cassius beyond a reasonable doubt of treachery to Brutus. Tros gleefully packed it away, on the top of the pile.

Then he and Hero examined prisoners for information, and he put Tarquinius to the same task. Hero was very good at it. She could persuade men to talk, who quite reasonably would have preferred death to telling Tros what they knew. Little by little, hint by hint, betrayal by betrayal, Cassius's predicament was unfolded; it became intelligible why he had run such an apparently insane risk. One of Cassius's lictors, whom he had recently caused to be flogged—an illegally outrageous treatment of a Roman citizen—was seduced by Tarquinius's guile to reveal the details of Cassius's quarrel with two of his generals, whom he had not dared to try to discipline. Tarquinius himself was an unreliable but prolific fountain of information, very eager now to win Tros's confidence.

The captured rowers, fettered, flogged and half-fed, nearly all Jew farm-lads but some of them fishermen, were grateful for being unfettered and rather skeptically encouraged by Tros's promise of freedom before long. But they had little or no information to give worth listening to. Force had to be used to put a number of them on the barges to man the hurriedly improvised oar-benches. They would have preferred to remain on the biremes, where they felt protected. As far as possible Tros separated relative from relative and friend from friend, retaining one lot on the biremes to release his own best men for battle duty and sending the other lot to the barges, where they were likely to obey orders rather than run away and lose touch with their friends. But he set several squads of archers to shoot any who tried to escape.

The townspeople of Pelusium had no means of making trouble. The ford—the notorious, treacherous ford, through which so many armies in the course of centuries had waded, one way or the other in the course of the ebb and flow of Egypt's history, was commanded by Tros's archers. Not a man dared try to cross the ford without his leave; not a boat dared approach from Pelusium without signalling first for permission. Both river banks were protected by wide swamps and high reeds, and he posted a few of his most reliable men beyond the reeds, to give warning of any attempt to outflank his position.

Evidently Cassius had already thought of a tempting proposal to make. He kept sending his slave to request a conference. But Tros would have nothing to say to him. He allowed Casius on deck for an hour at a time, under the exasperating supervision of a Northman sentry. The crew showed him no deference. The men at work repairing bulwarks and remounting arrow-engines, cursed him when he got in their way. Finally, Cassius lost his temper and abused Tros scurrilously from as near as the Northman would let him approach. The Northman sentry promptly hustled him below. Cassius was playing into Tros's hands. Tros understood him. He was quite sure of what he would do with Cassius.

Hero was really the most distracting problem. Tros loved her. He wasn't a man who loved or did any other thing by halves. He knew she loved him. He perceived both justice and expediency in revealing to her as much as he could of his thoughts, and all his plans. But it was difficult. She had none of Cleopatra's mistrust of a friend; less than none of a lover. She was too trusting, too inclined to attribute superhuman virtues to whomever she admired, and she admired Tros with every fibre of her being. But she had even more than Cleopatra's share of audacity, curiosity, delight in swift solutions. Her recent taste of dangerous independence, and release from the mental torture of being surrounded by politicians whom she knew she couldn't trust, caused her to tax Tros's patience more than she guessed. She wanted to know everything. She wanted to know Tros's thoughts before he had had time to think them.

She was amorous. Her frankly passionate interruption of Tros's meditations delighted the crew, but they gave the observant hypocrite Cassius abundant opportunities to sneer. Himself a notorious lecher, he seemed to think it politic to hold her in contempt as being not much better than a prostitute. He smiled with superior disdain, too, at Tros, whose notorious chastity had given rise, wherever Tros was known, to all sorts of surmises. The long imprisoned flood tide of Tros's manhood couldn't break bounds secretly—not on a crowded ship, no matter what small privacy the deckhouse cabin provided. Perhaps Cassius hoped to assume, in Tros's eyes, a superior standard of wisdom and moral restraint, that should serve his purpose in the hour of bargaining for terms. Cassius, whatever his motive—and it may have been mere malice—sneered.

Tros, having made up his mind, like most one-woman men, was squandrous of indulgence of mind and body. A man can't answer incessant questions, listen to eagerly given advice, make vigorous love, and simultaneously ponder a strategic problem that involves at least a dozen unknown quantities.

It may have been love-making, and Hero's impatient attempts to become Tros's one indispensable luxury, friend and confidante, that caused him almost to incur disaster. If so, he never blamed her for it. He was one of those rare individuals who blame none but themselves for whatever happens. As commander, he believed it was his business to foresee, not to be confused by personal distractions. He could forgive anyone, except himself, for almost anything except treachery in the guise of friendship.


CHAPTER XXXIV
"Are you here to preach to me, Olympus?"


There are some who are too proud to yield until compelled by force of arms. They are not to be blamed. It is their privilege; I also, if I think my cause is just, maintain it to the last breath. But let them not blame me when I accept the challenge. I will yield anything for friendship's sake, except a principle that I believe is right.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


It was hardly daylight, but the kites were already circling over the marshy suburbs of Pelusium, when Tros's scouts brought word that an army was on the march from the direction of Alexandria.

Almost simultaneously, from the direction of the ford, came Olympus in a boat rowed by eight slaves. The Queen had picked her man well. Strictly unofficial. Discreet. Indubitably loyal to the throne, and Tros would by likely to believe him, even though he might withhold important truth; no one, not even the Queen herself, could persuade Olympus to be a downright liar.

Tros gave him plenty of time to observe the martial readiness that reigned from stem to stern. He looked dog-tired. He must have travelled by relays of racing camels. Tros donned his armor and the purple cloak over it, watching through the midship deckhouse port for symptoms of Olympus's state of mind, himself agreeably aware that no one less than Cleopatra's sister with her own royal hands was wiping fingermarks from his gleaming corselet.

But the court astrologer-physician, half-Greek half-Egyptian, learned in all the arts, leanly ascetic, was not the man to reveal thought on the surface. Dressed in the loosely flowing robes of a philosopher, tall, solemn, he stood on the deck like a prophet of doom, observant but asserting nothing.

So presently Tros strode forth. He embraced Olympus. The crew stood to attention with a clang and thump of arms. The dignity and circumstance of proper compliment were as important to Tros as the forms of religious ceremony. The utterly unmartial Olympus gravely acknowledged the salute of men whose art and mystery were war. Then, arm-in-arm with Tros, he walked aft to the only place on the crowded ship where it was possible to talk without being overheard. Even so, he spoke low-voiced:

"Tros, you appear to be caught in no such trap as the Queen imagines. Pausanias brought your message. He even confessed it was you who had forced him to obey the Queen's warrant to turn over the command of the fort to Leander. But the Queen's spies were hard on his heels. He knew it. He didn't dare not to be truthful. He knew his enemies were urging the Queen to have him executed. The pigeon post brought details of the battle, and the Queen laughed gaily at the news of Cassius's predicament, before she realized what it might mean to her. It seemed to me that in the first flush she was proud of you, and pleased. But Pausanias told her—hoping, I suppose, to curry favour that he badly needs—that your ships, and the captured biremes, too, are on the mud and unfit to defend. He said your crew was decimated in the battle and that you can't escape. She perceived the implications. So she sent me to talk matters over."

"Do you bring her answer to my message?" Tros asked.

"Officially, no. General Antyllus brings it, and two thousand men, I believe, to help him say it plainly. But privately, yes. Royal Egypt has not altogether forgotten she is Cleopatra, who is beholden to you for many a brave deed you have done in her behalf."

"She was wise to send you," Tros answered. "Lover of hints and reticences though you are, I know you will tell no lies. I demanded a letter from her, in her own writing, signed with her name, and sealed. What of it?"

Olympus smiled. "She is Cleopatra, who admires you, remembers your services, sympathizes with your ambition to go sailing around the world. But she is also Royal Egypt. She is very angry with you. She needs your sword, but you have flouted her dignity. It is not to be expected that she would dream of writing such a letter as Pausanias said you demand. She has imprisoned him for having dared speak such insolence. She was so indignant that she even forgave Charmion for having interfered, and bungled, and let you escape by sea. Women are contradictory creatures."

"Aye," Tros answered. "I know all that, I have learned it. If I had loved Charmion, the Queen would have been her enemy and mine. If Charmion had been my friend in spite of my not loving her, the Queen would have married her off to some provincial governor. That Charmion hates me because I would not love her, is good, says the Queen. That she hates me more because I would not love the Queen her mistress, is better; that spells loyalty and vigilance. But if Charmion's attempts to have me killed had been successful, she would have had her poisoned in a dungeon. Because Charmion tried, and failed, she kisses her and restores her to favor. Yes, I understand that."

"The Queen," said Olympus, "has no more loyal friend than Charmion. She is a better master of spies than perhaps a man alight be. Cleopatra relies on Charmion's jealousy more than she trusts my reading of the heavens. She values me. She even fears my reproof. But she is not my friend. I am her servant. After I had read for her the indications of the stars, she sent me to reason with you, knowing you would trust me to tell you the truth."

"What madness does she plan next?" Tros asked. "What has become of all the Romans whom she sent to sea in thirty rotten ships?"

"Who knows?" said Olympus. "Cassius demanded it. She complied. They are at sea without an escort. But I came to speak of other matters."

He was interrupted by the arrival of Conops, who came, rowed from the other bireme. Tros made a gesture for silence while he listened to Conops's report. Conops never had trusted Olympus. His one eye almost skewered the astrologer. His bow legs were as expressive as a Roman's of insolent suspicion. He stood still, silent until Tros bung-started him:

"You unseamanly leper! Rot me any fighting man who hasn't manners! Where is your salute for your captain's guest?"

Conops saluted Olympus, exactly, smartly, but with irrepressible contempt. Tros resumed his homily:

"You filthy rogue, you haven't shaved!"

"I was up all night, master. We've had to forge new straps for the futtocks to hold her together, and we've had to build a [...line missing...] collision. That two hours' battle did a sight more than two days' damage to hull and rigging. And our grapnels broke the bulwark; we've had to carpenter that." There was pride in his eye. "But all the same, we've whipped the gear and cargo from the sunken ship, and from the other ship, too—tallied it all and stevedored it proper into those Gyppy grain barges. We're tight. We aren't leaking a dram. We can put to sea in a minute."

"That is no excuse for looking like a drunken longshore tout! There is rust on your armor! I might have guessed what would come of promoting a dissolute toss-pot to command a ship! A fine example to your men! Are you ashamed of yourself, you evil-smelling blackguard?"

"Yes, master." Conops looked about as ashamed as a fish, but slightly more discreet.

"Deliver your report."

"They opened the city gates at daybreak, master—but they've shut them again. There's an army coming. The scouts I sent ashore report at least two thousand men—about one hour's march away along the shore road—that look as if they'd marched all night. Fifty chariots, two hundred of the Queen's mounted guards, and the rest infantry, mostly archers. No baggage train to speak of."

"Summon Sigurdsen!"

Conops fell away. The gigantic Northman came slowly, making the most of his recent wounds. Conops had neither rank nor breeding, but had been given command of a captured bireme. Sigurdsen, whose ancestors were kings since long before even the skalds began to memorize legends, was under Tros's more immediate eye, second-in-command on Tros's ship. But Sigurdsen knew Tros too well to speak of it. He tried to appear to ignore Conops—too proud to appear to hate him.

"Sigurdsen—get her about by oar. Anchor by the stern. Be ready to escape to sea."

"Aye."

Sigurdsen went and stood on the roof of the midship deckhouse. On any Roman ship that was, the easiest place from which to control the oars and con manoeuvres. Tros growled at Conops:

"Go and clean yourself, you lecher. Let me catch you again unshaven after daybreak in the presence of your betters and I'll send you to the lower oar-bench to learn manners! Tell off a couple of wounded men to scour your armor. Get those boats on deck, and get your ship about. Feed your crew and stand by, ready to lead seaward when I signal. The two barges are to follow you. I will be rear-guard."

"Aye, aye, master."

"And now, you pardon, Olympus. Loyal rogues such as that one are too scarce in the world to be allowed to lack correction. We were saying—the Queen knows—?"

"More than you know," said Olympus, "saving that she does not know these ships are fit to put to sea. She knows that the proconsul Cassius is your prisoner on this bireme. She knows that once again you have spared the spy Tarquinius, and that you have him also. She knows that Prince Herod was with Cassius on the bireme, and that Cassius intended to make Herod King of Egypt, and to marry her to Herod, or to kill her if she would not. She knows that the girl whom you sent to the throne of Cyprus, calling herself Arsinoe is her own bastard sister Boidion. She knows that Hero, whom you have on this ship, and whose bed you share, is none other than her blood-sister Arsinoe, whom she hates and envies."

"Without reason," said Tros.

Olympus corrected him. "Nay. She is a woman. She has reason enough. Was Arsinoe, whom you call Hero and for whom you dare audacities, not Cleopatra's rival for the throne of Egypt? Her successful rival for a while! She drove Cleopatra from the throne. Had it not been for Caesar, and incidentally you, Cleopatra might have died in exile. That is reason enough for any woman's hatred. And now that the girl has changed her name to Hero, has she not for lover Tros of Samothrace, the very man whom Cleopatra wished to take dead Caesar's place beside her on the throne? That, Tros, is a reason for bitterness. And as for envy, do you think a queen who raised and led an army at the age of eighteen, and who loves danger, who admires courage, who perceives the spiritual value of adventure on the Battlefield of Time, does not longingly envy the girl whom you have dared to steal that she may share your deeds?"

"Are you here to preach to me, Olympus?"

"No, but as your friend, to tell you what the Queen thinks and knows. Plague rages in Alexandria. Many say it is the vengeance of the gods on account of the sins of the court of Egypt. There are riots. The Jews are becoming troublesome again. The Queen needs all her troops. Nevertheless, she sends an army to destroy you, if she must. But she knows what is happening in Rome, and she would trust you to negotiate with Antony. So she sends me in advance of the army, to offer terms."

Tros laughed. "It is I, Olympus, who will dictate terms, if there is ever again to be peace between her and me."

"I read the heavens for her," said Olympus. "I told her she may snatch peace from the very throat of war. But, as usual, she put her own interpretation on it. She has news from her spies in Rome and a letter from Mark Antony. He has patched up a peace with Octavian. He and Octavian have proscribed their enemies. There is such a slaughter in Rome, such butchery and confiscations as have not been seen since Sulla's day. Antony has even had Cicero murdered. Antony begs her again for corn and money, at the same time warning her against intrigue with Cassius and Brutus. She hates Cassius and Brutus; they slew Caesar. She rather likes Mark Antony; he was Caesar's friend. She believes she can manage Antony, if she can help to make him master of the Roman world."

"Aye, Olympus, she fired Caesar with that ambition. When his enemies slew him, she chose me. But I would not, and I will not."

"Now she chooses Antony. Tros, she will forgive you, if you ask it. She will make you free of Alexandria. She will forget, and deny to the world who Hero is, and she will recognize her as your wife. She will aid you to build a new ship—aye, and defray the cost of it; and she will speed you forth on your voyage—"

"If?"

"If you will surrender to her Gains Longinus Cassius—"

"For her to treat as once they treated Pompey on the beach not far from here?"

"For her to treat as Antony shall dictate."

"I will not," Tros answered. "I will make my own terms with Cassius. You may tell the Queen I will not stoop to being a catspaw for a woman whose promises die barren on her lying lips."

Olympus shuddered.

"She had the malice, Olympus, less than a week ago, thinking she had Hero in her clutches, to threaten to show me Hero's head on the torturer's pike, unless I would go and do her errand at my own risk. But it was Hero's slave who was in prison, and even she is now on my ship."

"Cassius is a merciless, rapacious devil," said Olympus. "Does it become you to befriend him?"

Tros smiled. "Let Cassius answer!"

From a hatch, within six feet of Olympus's back, the head of Cassius emerged. He looked like a ghost coming out of a tomb.


CHAPTER XXXV
"Olympus, you may tell the Queen—"


One of the hardest tasks for a commander is to draw the line between personal inclination, that is sometimes honorably hesitant, and the duty toward his men that never demands less than resolution and decision.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Cassius was wearing a plain white patrician toga, not exactly clean. He glanced sourly at his disrobed lictors, who were scrubbing the deck under the scornful eye of one of Tros's decurions. Very closely followed by a red-bearded Northman in armor, and attended by his personal slave, who carried towels, shaving bowl and razor, Cassius looked exactly what he was—a mean, rapacious cynic, suffering from indigestion. Insomnia, exasperating, hurt pride and the prevalent Syrian ague made him tremble in spite of his effort to seem proudly contemptuous. Lean though he was and strong-sinewed, he had the pear-shaped belly of a debauchee; it was only partly concealed by a rather evident corset. His glittering, almost-black eyes searched Olympus's face. He ignored Tros. He put a hand on the Northman's shoulder to steady himself as he turned his back and walked forward. The slave found him a box to sit on, and he learned back against the slave's legs to be shaved with a gold-handled razor and scented Damascus shaving-cream.

Suddenly the masthead lookout shouted an alarm. Three scouts from the approaching army, perched high on camels, peered over the high reeds on the western bank. Both biremes became alive with pugnacious interest. Six of Tros's master archers pulled the covers off their bows and betted noisily with the men near them. They demanded long odds because the range looked too great, but they could gauge it fairly accurately by means of little slotted sticks that they held at arm's length. A decurion, remarking that the archers had the early sun behind them, set the odds at two to one against a hit by any of the six. They laid their money on the deck and it was promptly covered by a shower of coins that the decurion raked together with his foot. The archers drew.

Stag-gut bow-strings twanged a staccato volley amid breathless silence. Six arrows, all aimed at the nearest camel-rider, twanged away and curved in an elipse like shooting stars—one wide—two short—the camel-man struck two aside with his riding stick. The sixth one hit him in the mouth. He vanished. The other camel-riders fled. The crew roared and the archers claimed their money.

"Queen's men!" said Olympus, frowning.

"Aye," Tros answered. "My men's answer to her calling me a pirate. She shall have an answer from me also."

The shaving slave, startled by the bow-twang, cut Cassius, who struck him savagely in the face with the first thing to hand—a wet rope's end. The lookout man at the masthead shouted again: Prince Herod was on the way, in a boat from Pelusium, followed in a second boat by the armed escort that Tros had lent him.

Olympus spoke again: "You befriend Herod?"

"Aye. A humorist. Better to be trusted than a pompous humbug—aye, or than Leander. Herod has been keeping bad company. To accept Cassius's backing was a diplomatic error that I think he thoroughly regrets."

"The Queen would pay you for him," said Olympus. "She could make a catspaw of Herod."

"I don't doubt it."

Hero came out of the midship cabin, where a slave had been washing her hair; it reached to her waist and shone in the sun like spun gold. She was wearing gilded sandals, sent from the city by Herod, who had found them in a shop in Pelusium. He had a gift for making tactful presents, paid for with other people's money. Her only other visible garment was a rose-colored himation of exquisitely woven linen. She greeted Cassius and enquired civilly about his ague. He answered tartly:

"Can't you see I am at my toilet? Have you no sense of decency?"

Hero's hideous slave, who lurked behind her, made murderous faces more like an ape's than a human being's. Tros beckoned to Hero to come and greet Olympus. She was quite capable of rebuking Cassius, but Tros preferred to take that duty on himself. He went and stared at Cassius as if he were a specimen on exhibition.

"I have just refused," he said, "to send you in chains to Alexandria. If I should change my mind—"

Cassius shrugged his shoulders insolently. "I am not afraid of your changing it. You are not such a fool as to forego my ransom, and you'd never get it if Cleopatra once set hands on me. So don't waste empty threats. Surely you don't expect me to be humble to a pirate's mistress? Are you going to sea now? Where are my officers?"

"They are in the fort in Pelusium. Leander will send them to Cleopatra. She is likely to send them to Rome, to betray your plans to Antony."

Cassius bit his lip, then answered slowly in a harsh voice:

"Tros, for each one of my officers, when your day comes to be crucified for these indignities to me, I will remember to order you scourged with a hundred extra lashes."

The bireme's oars ceased churning; she was headed seaward now, anchored stern to the stream. Sigurdsen handed himself carefully down from the deckhouse roof and stood with his hand on his hips. He had overheard:

"Lord Captain, you should have killed him when we caught him!"

Tros turned his back. It was after all rather beneath his dignity to have words with a prisoner. His lieutenant could do it. Sigurdsen, in execrable Greek, let flow a torrent of ill temper that wasn't sweetened by the ache of healing wounds. He had a voice that could out-roar thunder on a raging sea. He loved Hero. He hated anyone except himself who showed Tros less than courtesy.

"You ungrateful dog with a snarl for your betters!" he roared at Cassius. "In my land we would have tied a rock to your neck and drowned you! Two days gone the Lord Captain's lady was your prisoner—insulted—questioned—threatened—gagged—a dagger in her throat! That was your treatment of her. Now you are our prisoner. How does she treat you? Courteously! And you dare to sneer, you mangey Roman wolf that hadn't grace enough to die when the Lord Captain gave you leave to cut your lying throat! You thieving murderer!"

Those were fine words from the lips of a Viking, whom Tros had caught and beaten to his knees up Thames-mouth, raiding British homesteads for a winter's keep and for captured widows for his men! Tros chuckled and walked aft, to eat breakfast with Hero and Olympus—wine, and good wheat porridge soused with honey.

The astrologer was reserved in Hero's presence. It alarmed him to be in conference with Cleopatra's outlawed sister. As a mystic, he admired her courage, because true courage is the mystic's goal; but as an ascetic he shrank from her physical loveliness. Such beauty as hers unnerved him more than the sight of death, that he could face unflinching. And Olympus lacked laughter; he could neither understand nor share a girl's delight in flouting tradition and convention, to live dangerously with the man she loved.

Tros respected and even, in his own way, loved Olympus. But he spared him none of the discomfort that a man of mysteries and half veiled confidences feels in the presence of rebels against a throne upheld by priestly influence. More than a priest, Olympus was a lay communicant of far-off Philae, the unacknowledged but actual envoy at the court of Egypt of the Hierophants, whose names not even kings might know. It shocked Olympus to hear irreverence. Hero was irreverent of everything on earth except her own determination to share Tros's adventures and become the mother of his sons. Young though she was, she had suffered more than most women. But she knew the sting of public degradation and the cruelty of glory. Ptolemy though she was and blood-royal of the proudest lineage on earth, she had none of her sister Cleopatra's faith in the divinity of kings. She had been taught she was a daughter of the god Zeus-Ammon, and no one who valued his reputation for respectability would have dared to doubt that teaching. But Hero had the gift of self-ridicule. She only spoke respectfully of gods and goddesses, like Tros, for diplomatic reasons, to impress or else not to offend less thoughtful folk. She could talk with outrageous wit about her mother's indiscretion with an adulterous god and her father, King Ptolemy's cuckoldry. She had not yet understood the stubborn ruggedness of Tros's mysticism. Nor did she quite understand his respect for the gloomy astrologer.

So she was inclined to poke fun at Olympus. He viewed life seriously. He believed her a mere pleasure-huntress.

"Do the stars foretell another Caesar?" she asked. "Will Cleopatra reduce him, and then deify him, so that he may make her Queen of the World, as Caesar tried to?"

"The heavens foretell terror," said Olympus. "Wars, famine, pestilence."

"And for Egypt?"

"Night."

Retort dwelt on her lips while she watched Herod come overside, followed by Tarquinius, who had been sent ashore to bid Herod make haste. Herod's slave, the Northman escort and all the rowers came up burdened with flowers, fruit, choice wine and prodigious quantity of delectable things to eat, such as suckling pig, geese and guinea fowl.

"Egyptian night!" said Hero. "Cleopatra's anger glowing like coals in the darkness! What a night for her lover!"

Olympus frowned. Herod, with the handsomest eyes and features in the world, and the winningest smile, framed in his Idumean headdress of striped Chinese silk, strolled up and whispered to Tros:

"Leander conspires with Antyllus! Make haste!" Then he took some flowers from the slave behind him and handed them to Hero.

"Vipers in them?" she suggested. "Like the hidden meanings in your compliments?"

He laughed. "Adorable woman, you flatter me. My thoughts and feelings are an open book. I envy Tros and can't conceal, it, but I'm afraid of him, and I need him even more than I desire you. When you were Queen of Cyprus I would have come and carried you off, if I could have raised the money and men. I did have an understanding with the pirate Anchises. But Tros, with his usual good luck, defeated and slew him. I fear, too, that even if Anchises had defeated Tros, he would have had too much good sense to hand you over to me."

He beckoned Tros aside, smiling as if he had a joke to tell:

"Our friend Leander just now offered me a talent—mind you a whole talent, almost a Caesarian sum of money, I have never seen a whole talent—to detain you here at anchor until Antyllus can cut off your retreat. It seems there are some barges that someone has told him about, hidden in the reeds to escape the tax on unused bottoms. He believes he can load them with sand and sink them between you and the sea. So I borrowed some money from Leander and bought provisions for a banquet, to detain you. Are your cooks as deadly as your archers?"

Tros ordered a signal made ready to hoist to the yardarm. He cautioned the drum and cymbal men to be ready to beat time for the oars. But there was no need for haste, or he thought not. He knew how difficult Leander's task would be to block the channel; and Olympus was the Queen's personal ambassador; there would surely be no hostilities as long as Olympus was on board.

"Who has bought Leander?" Tros asked.

Herod chuckled: "For a guards officer I found Leander almost intelligent. He thought at first of sending me to Cleopatra, in chains. I talked him out of that by reminding him that Cassius, you and Hero, would be more valuable. He can't forestall Antyllus; it is too late for that. But he can cooperate. I promised to betray you all, in exchange for his promise to pay me a talent as soon as you're captured or killed. Two promises of equal value. You had better hurry."

Olympus overheard: "Tros, Leander promised faithfully to give me time to negotiate. This is not my doing. If he has betrayed you—"

Herod interrupted: "Tros, why shouldn't he betray you? All you did was to spare his life, give him money and a lot of prisoners to hold for ransom, and then hoist him into high command! Gratitude is such a greasy emotion."

Tros faced Olympus. "Jew Esias," he said, "has nearly all my money. Tell the Queen to keep her hands off Esias."

Herod interrupted: "If I wanted to make trouble for her, I would tempt her to antagonize the Jews. I know them!"

"I will not be a bearer of threats," said Olympus.

"Tell the Queen that she has thrown my friendship to the winds, and I regret it. I will never again negotiate with her except on terms of 'give me what I ask, or take the consequences.'"

"But that, too, is a threat," Olympus objected.

"It is the plain truth. You may say so."

Herod laughed. "I doubt it. Nobody tells the truth to kings and queens."

"And you may tell the Queen," said Tros, "that I demand from her my Basque seamen, whom she seized and condemned. I admit that they slew a dozen or more of the Queen's police. But what of it? They have been punished enough. I need them. I will have them. If not, I will seize indemnity from her such as shall make her wish she had never seen my sail nor known me."

"I will not be a mouthpiece of threats," Olympus insisted. But he could get no other message.

"Tell her this from me," said Hero, "I am not her sister! I am happy with the man she couldn't seduce! Tell her that Tros's arms are more wonderful than glory itself. Say his breath isn't bad like old toothache Caesar's!—Say that!"

Herod interrupted, chuckling: "Say it tenderly, Olympus. Say it without malice!"

Conops was signalling wildly from the other bireme. Mounted men, on tired horses, had ridden into the ford to get a view of Tros's ships, but Conops's signals indicated danger to the northward in the direction of the sea. Tros ordered his signal hoisted to the yardarm. The anchors of all four vessels began coming in hand-over-hand. Sigurdsen signalled to the oar-bank with a roll of drums. There were shouted commands and the thunder of oars against the tholes.

"And now, Olympus, farewell. Give my greetings to Jew-Esias, and to any other man in Alexandria who bears me good will."

"Farewell," said Olympus, smiling, rather wanly; he looked gloomier than ever. "I hoped to make peace."

"You shall see peace between us when she yields," Tros answered.

They embraced. The crew saluted. Sigurdsen's men helped Olympus into his boat. Tros climbed to the midship quarter deck:

"Both banks—both sides—half speed—forward!"

The bireme slid seaward, following Conops and the barges. On a tower of the fort there were frantic signals. Tros spoke to a seaman:

"Bring my helmet." Then, bull-lunged: "Arrow-engines! Archers! Ready! Stand by!"

He had delayed too long. The reeds along the river bank were already alive with armed men.


CHAPTER XXXVI
"You can't save that bireme!"


Certain philosophers, some priests, and many women have accused me of loving war. I hate it. I despise it as an arbiter of quarrels. Would that my intelligence and vigor might be put to a more creative use.

But I have seen that they, whose speech is most contemptuous of warriors, are also they whose blunders, acrimony, ignorance and malice aggravate the quarrels that produce war.

To avoid war, for the sake of friendship, aye, to prevent a quarrel, I am willing to risk all that I have and to forego my own ambition. But I will yield to no tyrant. And, when I find myself at war, I choose to win.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


"A wonderful day for a fight," said Herod, glancing at the blue sky.

Hero ran for her armor. The Northman hustled Cassius into the midship deckhouse. Two of Tros's bodyguard came and stood near him; of the remaining eight, three were too badly wounded to stand up; the others were under Conops's orders on the other bireme.

Sigurdsen had the helm; Tros ordered Sigurdsen to follow exactly astern of the leading vessels. Ahiram knew the winding course better than Sigurdsen did, but he was delirious on a reed mat forward, likely to die of wounds and being sponged and fanned by an Egyptian woman. More than two score women on the barges set up a melancholy wail because they were leaving Egypt, but they would have wailed louder if they had been left behind. Neither their keening, nor the thump of oars, nor the rustling sigh of the rising wind in the high, reeds even flatted the sharp alarm of Conops's golden trumpet.

"Stand to arms! To arms! To arms!"

Even the leading barge was already out of sight around a bend of the channel but Conops's mast was visible. There wasn't room to pass the barges; their captains, promoted boatswains very dubious of their Jewish oarsmen, worried by the wounded and women and nervous of new command, hesitated to yield oar-room for fear of fouling the long-shore mud. Tros wished he had let them follow, even at the risk of their rowers jumping overboard. Three times he checked the speed of his own oars, although he could hear the quarreling whine of arrow volleys and the shout of battle. Conops, judging by the erratic movement of his topmast, was in difficulties. It was Conops's first command of a ship of that size. Good sailor though Conops was, the responsibility for ships behind him in a narrow channel might make him lose his head, or his way, which would amount to the same thing. It was easier to enter than to leave Pelusium; on the way out, the only navigable course was masked and made confusing by the reeds and islands.

Hero, dogged by her she-slave and by a bodyguard of four Cilicians, came and stood near Tros, in armor. She was laughing, joking with the master-archers: she imitated them—stuck a dozen arrows upright in the deckhouse roof and called them from Eros, Ajax, Aries, Leander's End—each a name of its own to give it pride of purpose. There was no doubt now of Leander's treachery. General Antyllus's men had not had time to reach the river-bank in any considerable number. Antyllus was coming at top speed, screened from view by the reeds but undoubtedly close. Leander must have been secreting men in ambush in the reeds while Olympus held Tros in conversation. Smart work.

A master-archer called to Hero to take a sighting shot at a bird on the wing. She refused. Tros smiled then. Even with his mind on the danger ahead, he would have disciplined her savagely if she had dared to set a bad example. He had given the command to "stand by, ready," and that meant "eyes on your captain and wait for the word!"

The channel widened a little. Downstream of a curving shoal blinded by reeds, it forked and passed on both sides of a swampy island that would not have showed above water at high-Nile. Conops was now in full view. A force that could not possibly be other than Leander's men had stolen its way somehow through reeds on the western bank and had reached the island in fishermen's punts and goatskin rafts. Conops had lowered two boats and sent them under cover of his arrow-fire, to cut their boats adrift. They were marooned now on the island, floundering in deep mud amid trampled reeds—perhaps a hundred men.

So far good. But the iron-shod Roman ram of Conops's bireme had fouled the mud on the left bank of the western channel. Antyllus's men were arriving in leg-weary groups; they and hundreds of Leander's men were crashing through the reeds to storm Conops's broadside; they were crushing down the reeds into a carpet to give foothold.

"Boat away!" Tros ordered.

Nine Gauls manned a longboat. It was overside in less than a minute, oars tossed, ready. Tros's eyes were up-wind, calculating.

"Chalcas's squad! Take two fire-pots, Chalcas. Top speed, down the eastern channel, to the north end of that island! Set fire to the reeds!"

The boat went away like something shot forth from the bireme's side and slipped easily between the barges and the shoal along the eastern river-bank. But the barges, unarmed, loaded with wounded and women, blocked the fairway for the bireme. Herod came out of the deckhouse; he had found some plundered Roman armor, a bit too big for him, particularly the helmet; it made him look rakish and rather foolish, but he studied the situation as if only he could invent the right thing to do.

"Cassius," he remarked, "has asked his slave to kill him, but the Northman wouldn't permit it; he knocked the slave unconscious."

Conops's bireme, fast on the mud by the bow, had swung outward, broadside to the stream. That gave the Egyptians an enormous advantage; it reduced the number of arrow-engines that Conops could bring to bear on the attacking force. Beyond him, in the eastern channel, just beyond range of his archers, naked laborers were hauling a deeply laden scow out from the reeds and off the mud toward midstream. They obviously intended to sink it and block the channel. There was no way to prevent them. But the other channel, to the eastward of the island, was clear. On the eastern bank there was no enemy. Herod volunteered advice:

"Tros, the art of winning consists in giving dogs a bone to gnaw on. You have lost that other bireme. Put to sea, down the eastern channel—quickly, or they'll catch us all!"

Tros gave his orders:

"Anchor ready! Stand by to let go!"

His ram was already within fifty feet of the rearmost barge.

"Hold your helm, Sigurdsen!" Then, with a right-arm signal to the drums and cymbals: "Full ahead! Six strokes!" He counted. "Stop her! Port oars—inboard!"

The cymbals crashed the well-known signal. The oar blades missed the barge's shrouds by a hand's breadth. Not an oar was broken, nor a rower unseated, as the hulls collided beam to beam. But the barge oars became splintered wreckage. A dozen of the ill-trained Jews were stunned. Others jumped overside; Tros's archers, from the stern of the bireme, potted at them, killing some, discouraging the others. The deeply laden barge, rolling from the impact, yielded water, sideways toward the western mud-bank.

"Helm hard a-port! Starboard oars, full ahead!"

The mud boiled brown in the bireme's wake. There was a sickening thud as she touched the mud to starboard, but the speed carried her off into midstream with the wallowing barge behind her.

"Hard a-starboard! All oars, full ahead! Steady your helm!"

The captain of the leading barge didn't wait to be thrust aside. He let go his anchor and then took the starboard mud-bank, out of range of the enemy's archers. Many of his rowers jumped overboard, but he had enough archers on his own deck to shoot them before they could reach land. Some swam back. He only lost four or five rowers, all shot, none drowned or escaped.

"Arrow-engines! All archers! Fire when you get the range!"

The river widened a bit before it split into two channels, but it shoaled up badly at the head of the island. There appeared to be just exactly room to come about, and there was no other way to save both biremes.

"Boat away!"

The other eight-oared longboat, manned by Northmen, a particularly smart crew, took the water. Archers were ordered into it, with shields to protect the rowers. A line was passed to them; it was bent to the spare flax anchor warp.

"Fight your way in. Make fast! Stay there, under Conops's orders!"

Hero tried a long shot, but her arrow fell short of a man on horseback; his horse was sinking in the mud amid the reeds and he was standing in the saddle to direct the men who were working their way toward Conops's bireme. The port side forward arrow-engine let go a volley and slew horse and rider. Herod tried to borrow Hero's bow and chaffed her mercilessly. "Anchor—let go!"

Suddenly it dawned on Herod what Tros intended. The bireme began to come about in midstream as the anchor-cable tautened and the oars obeyed drum and cymbal.

"Tros, you madman, you will have us all in chains in Cleopatra's dungeon! You can't save that other bireme. Let them have it. Look! Your fools have fired the reeds—the flames are coming down on us like Parthian cavalry! They will leap that channel and burn Conops's ship! They will burn this one too, unless you make haste!"

Hero answered him: "Tros would give fifty of you for one Conops! And it would be a bargain."

Tros's bodyguard abruptly thrust themselves in Herod's way. He shrugged his shoulders and went to watch an arrow-engine crew. They had the range of the men in the reeds on the western bank. Their deadly efficiency held him fascinated. Crank, with a quick but carefully gradual strain on the twisted gut cords—load, with an artful sweep of six hands, timed exactly, the triggerman's hands last—lay, with eyes, ears, instinct strained for the moving right hand the monosyllabic "up—up—right—a trifle up—right" of the master-archer, prone on his aiming-beam. Fire! Then again, and again, and again, with the weazel-quick ship's boys handing arrows from the baskets to the layers.

The Egyptians had found rafts and cockle-shell boats belonging to local fowlers and fishermen. They dragged them through the reeds to provide foothold on the mud. They were bringing arrow-fire to bear on Tros's broadside, at short range. The air screamed. Deck and bulwarks rattled to the impact. Tros's and Hero's bodyguards were hard at it, turning aside arrows with their bronze shields. The whole deck was a sun-lit wonder of flashing shields in motion. But there were hits. There were men down. Hero's gay laugh yelped above the tumult as she made a hit, then swore she made another and leaned exhausted on her bow.

"Saving the frenzy of love," said Herod, "what excites a woman more than slaying men?"

Tros, with the aid of the anchor, worked his ship around by voice and gesture, dead slow, stirring the mud at stern and bow but governing the oars with patient skill that just saved her from going aground. He made haste slowly.

But the flames came fast, hard driven by the north wind. They were coming due south, the full width of the island, which lay northeast by southwest; every reed and tree on it would be burned to the mud. But the fire had done part of its task; it had put the soldiers on the island out of action; rafts and boats gone, they were swimming and trying to wade. There was no longer the slightest chance of their crossing the island to defend the eastern channel; that way to the sea lay open. But Conops's bireme lay fast on the mud, and the flames came roaring like the red-hot scythe of death.

And the Egyptian troops had dragged up carts, planks, baskets, reed mats, broken and abandoned boats, the-roofs and doors of huts. They were making a negotiable causeway from shore to ship, along which four abreast could advance crouching behind their shields and covered by a hail of arrows from the bank behind them.

The crew of Tros's longboat were caught in the withering arrow-five. There were nine of them down, including five of the Northmen rowers, before they lay alongside Conops's bireme and passed their line over the stern. But then the new hemp hawser began to pay out from ship to ship, and in two or three minutes the biremes were stern to stern with half a cable's length between then, and the cable hummed to the strain of the laboring oars.

The flames roared nearer. Conops had told off a third of his fighting crew to man buckets and drench the decks. But the furled, dry sails were in the path of streaming sparks. Fifty yards to his south the fire had leaped the river; it was raging through the reeds toward him. An Egyptian commander told off a couple of hundred men to stem that menace by cutting the reeds. But the sparks leaped the river again, at their backs, and they were caught between two fires. Tros's and Conops's arrow-engines, and all the archers on both vessels, half-blinded by smoke, raked the Egyptian ranks with arrow-fire. The drums and cymbals thundered the full speed oar-boat. The river boiled to the thrash of the oars—the uttermost desperate effort of driven men—to whip—wild harps thrumming and the hoarse bards chanting the bawdy old song of the seventeen sons of Cyclops—oar-bench captains prancing on the midship plank between the towers, shouting, encouraging, beating time. The mud held. The wind increased. The fire came faster.

The Egyptians fled from the terrific heat. They made a circuit inshore along the bank to attack the barges. Conops's bireme caught fire, but his bucket-gang dowsed the flames. Tros quickened the oar-stroke, thunder and crash of drums and cymbals challenging his men's last frenzy of effort—and suddenly the grounded bireme yielded to the strain. Both crews roared. Tros's oarsmen quit rowing. They had to be bullied to take up the slack on the tow-rope. The flames crackled along the western bank, a charcoal-black cloud shot with leaping crimson. One barge fast on the mud on the eastern side, was safe from the flames, but not from arrow-fire; Antyllus's archers, shooting through the reeds on the western bank, were making it impossible to use the oars to work the barge free. The other barge looked lost; if it didn't fall pray to Antyllus's men it would burn in a minute or two; the Jew rowers were leaping overboard.

The river-boats were stacked high on the barges' decks, and the long-boats were away; without those there was no reaching the grounded barge. But Tros's after arrow-engines, all his archers and all four arrow-engines on the starboard broadside sent a bronze-tipped hail into the reeds. It checked Antyllus's men—slaughtered them—smothered their archery. The expenditure of arrows was prodigious; basket after basketful came up from the hold, and the ship's boys plucked out the enemy's arrows from wherever they stuck in the woodwork. But Conops sent back Tros's longboat, and two boats of his own, all loaded with ammunition. Then the Gauls, who had set fire to the reeds, came racing back along the eastern channel.

Tros crowded all four boats with fighting men and sent them to try save the grounded barge. They took a line with them, bent to a tow-rope from the bireme's bows. His own anchor came in hand over hand as he headed the bireme upstream, protecting the barge on the eastern mud, to give its crew a chance to haul out into the river. One of the longboats took a line from barge to barge.

The four boats and two decimated companies of Antyllus's infantry reached the other barge almost simultaneously. There was a hand-to-hand fight on the deck. Tros's archers had to aim into the reeds, to prevent Antyllus from sending in reenforcements; they, would have slain their own friends, and their own wounded and the women had they tried to support the boats' crews.

But a boat's crew made good with the line. The tow-rope followed. Tros signalled Conops. Both biremes towed with all their weight and might, Tros's ship stern first, backing water—a merciless strain on the oarsmen, for about a tenth of the power that they could have exerted forward. But the current helped a little; and so did the strain on the warp between the two barges. Antyllus, or else Leander, from an invisible position beyond the reeds sent in two more companies of infantry, but they were floundering in mud, trampling one another and harassed by Tros's arrow-fire. Both barges suddenly lurched off the mud and glided into midstream, almost at the moment when the crimson flame reached the Egyptian infantry.

"Cease fire!"

A decurion half-stunned an archer with a belaying pin for winging one last arrow on its way, although the arrow slew one of Antyllus's men. Tros, who missed nothing, saw it; he promoted the decurion that instant. There was no need to do any more killing. Waist deep in the mud, scores of Antyllus's infantry were caught by the fire in the reeds. The smoke, which streamed past Pelusium, effectually blanketed the view to southward, but in the wake of the fire the smoke was thin and the western bank lay exposed. Egyptian cavalry followed the line of the bank, careful to keep out of range of either bireme's arrow-engines; they were merely a threat, to prevent a landing, or to report to Antyllus if the biremes should again go aground. Pursuit was now impossible, unless in small boats from Pelusium, which would have to come at top speed in the face of disciplined archery. Antyllus had no means of knowing that Tros's reserve of arrows was near exhaustion.

It was a weird retreat toward open sea, led by a scorched bireme, towing a larger one stern first, that in turn towed two laboring barges and four longboats. But the eastern channel was even narrower than the western; there was no chance, for more than two miles, to turn Tros's bireme end-for-end; the important business was to get safe to sea.

"You won a victory," said Herod. "But was it worth the risk? Are the barges full of gold? And is the other bireme loaded with lovely women?"

Tros ignored him. Herod turned to Hero: "I can't see what Tros was fighting for. He has a good ship under him, in exchange for a couple of hulls that would hardly float. He has Cassius and his correspondence. He has you. He has me—he has the courtesy to call me a guest, but I'm a prisoner as a matter of fact, and I shall have to raise a ransom if he demands it. Cassius is going to have to pay through the nose. Why all that fighting for an extra bireme and a brace of barges?"

"Fifty of Cassius, fifty of you, for one Conops?" she answered.

"Cassius is a typical Roman politician. But where would you find fifty of me?" he retorted. "Don't you appreciate my virtues?"

"Yes, but who trusts you, Herod?"

"Foolish women and wise men trust me."

He would have said more, but an archer interrupted, saluting and asking Hero for her bow. She gave it to him without thought and was turning away, but he spoke abruptly: "How many?"

"Five that I counted, but some disappeared in the reeds and I couldn't be sure."

The archer laughed. "That's nothing. To hear some of our lads talk, you would say they had each slain at least fifty—and some a hundred. But it takes keen eyes to tell miss from hit in a hot engagement. However—"

"One!" said Herod. "I am witness that she shot one."

The archer cut one small notch with his dagger on the thick part of the bow. He pricked his own arm and let a drop of blood fall in the notch. Then he gave the bow back and saluted, waiting. Hero turned to Tros:

"May I have him?"

Tros nodded. She touched the archer's shoulder with her bow.

"What is your name?"

"Gorgias."

"Unto death, then, Gorgias, I grant you good will and accept you to be my faithful guard by night and day, on land and sea."

The archer knelt and kissed her hand, mightily pleased with himself. There were better archers than he on the ship and men who had been longer in Tros's service; but he was the only one who had had wit enough to remember an ancient custom, and to claim a privilege that might not be denied him, provided he had not flinched in battle and his previous record was known and clean.


CHAPTER XXXVII
Captain Conops


No man, no matter how efficient, is fit for promotion if his fear of rivalry, or his desire to appear to excel, prevents him from training a subordinate to be able to take his place at a moment's notice.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The vedette boat came racing into the estuary under full sail, reeling before the Levanter that was kicking up a high sea on the shoals. Its crew reported an Egyptian fleet to westward—ten ships. Their sails, high prows and broadsides made a fine show. But they were near the sky-line, using their starboard oars to help them to gain an offing from the lee shore. They were too late, and a lot too timid.

Tros wondered whether Cleopatra would have hanged him if she could have caught him. In her latter-day dark mood she was very different from the boisterous, adventurous, chivalrous girl, who used to be magnanimous to enemies and very loyal to her friends. Nowadays she might prefer to kill, rather than feel under obligation for aid given to her generously in the past. Power had filled her with fear. Fear for her throne had made her heartless.

But now that he was safe to sea Tros had no fear of an Egyptian war-fleet—none whatever. They were big ships, well manned, but they wallowed light on the rising sea and offered too much broadside to the wind, being nothing else than armed corn ships in ballast. Egypt already in Cleopatra's father's day had yielded sea-supremacy to Rome. Cleopatra had not yet had time, since Caesar's death, to build a fighting navy and to train good crews. She had no conception of the value of command of the sea. Her sea-captains, too, were men who knew Tros's battle record. They might have been willing to blockade him in the Nile until the garrison of Pelusium could finish him off; but not to meet him at sea. When he turned toward them they all changed helm and started home, no doubt to report to the Queen that they hadn't seen his sail.

When he had done piloting through the shoals and had turned the ship over to Sigurdsen, he and Hero inspected the wounded, recommending dreadful surgery—consulting with the men who thought themselves beyond hope of recovery and who wished to be killed; persuading some to try to live by threats of burial at sea—a prospect that no honest sailor relished; permitting others to be put out of pain by the surgeon. The bards, who were the surgeon's assistants, were cruelly drastic unless watched. Tros gave one bard a liberal pasting of boiling tar.

"You singing devil! Let that teach you tenderness to gallant men! That archer faced death while you were plucking a harp in safety!"

The wounded laughed at the bard's yells; the other bards were gentler for the lesson, when it came to pincering out barbed arrow-heads or driving them through with a hammer-blow, to be pulled out point first on the far side.

The men on the barges, who had been wounded in the fighting two days ago, rolled on the rising sea and probably endured worse suffering than victims on the rack. The seasick women who were supposed to nurse them, were useless—worse than useless—a nuisance. But that was the fortune of war; freedmen, who followed captain of their own free will, in return for leadership, pay and equipment, had no right to complain of wounds, and they did not. They were fortunate, and they knew it, not to be abandoned to the vultures or to the longshore slave-hunters. Better the chance to recover or die among friends, than the alternative of death on the beach, or slavery again. Most of them had been slaves until Tros set them free. Tros was a stern task-master; but he was fair and generous, and, above all, he never abandoned a loyal man. They had seen him risk his life, his ship and all his crew, at least a dozen times, to rescue men who, according to Tros's view, had earned the right to be loyally led.

So they were fatalistic about wounds and death. Few, if any of them, understood Tros's ideals, and nearly all of them dreaded his avowed determination to voyage around the world; far more than any human enemy, they feared the monstrous devils they were sure of meeting—dragons, mermen, behemoths, leviathans, and worse; and they were willing to bet the voyage would end in their all being swept into unimaginable but surely dreadful eternity in the grip of the ocean where, as everyone knew, it plunges over the rim of the earth.

But Tros was a more compelling force even than that dread. He had the gift of spectacular leadership, the genius for doing right things at the right time. Now, in a rising sea, with three days' supply of food and water, very little ammunition, Egypt and probably all the Roman world against him, and no safe port in which to replenish and refit, he had time to promote men who had earned it. He even fetched up certain rowers from the hold, to be promised promotion to duty on deck as soon as men could be found to replace them.

Presently he flew a signal from his yardarm that summoned his little fleet as close together as the state of the sea permitted. He hove to, stood the crew to arms and manned the rail. Then another signal brought Conops, in the stern of an eight-oared longboat, thoroughly puzzled and staring one-eyed at the starboard ladder waiting for him. Conops usually handed himself up by a rope on the port side like a common seaman.

Tros had donned his famous purple cloak, and his gold-hilted sword in the green and vermilion scabbard. Hero, in armor, stood beside him on the midship quarter-deck. Drums rolled and a trumpet blared when Gonops's foot touched the ladder. When his one-eyed face, under a dented, crestless helmet, appeared above the rail there was breathless silence. As his foot touched the deck and his hairy, bowed legs stiffened to attention, Tros's voice thundered:

"Captain's salute! Present—arms!"

The disciplined clang of weapons. Conops, rigid at attention, never at a loss for self-assurance, but pop-eyed with curiosity. Six seconds of excited tension.

"Order arms!"

Then Hero's voice: "Ovation for Captain Conops!"

Conops was too puzzled to return the salute. He stood grinning. The bards led the cheering, and even the rowers below deck, who did not know what had happened, roared to the wild harp music. Even the wounded on the barges sang the Song of the Rising Sun. Many of them hated Conops for his ruthless, devil-driving efficiency; but they knew his loyalty to Tros, and they loved Tros. The goatskin wine-bags went the rounds, but there was none for Conops until Tros summoned him to the quarter-deck, and again there was silence.

"Yes, master?"

"Captain Conops, henceforth you will address me by name."

"Yes, master."

"I said, by name."

"Lord Captain Tros, yes, master."

"You have served me loyally, by land and sea, since we first set forth from Samothrace. You have proved yourself competent to command a ship in battle. I promote you to the rank of captain, equal with Sigurdsen and Ahiram. I lose a good servant. See to it that I gain a better officer."

"Aye, aye, master. As you will, Lord Captain."

"Call me by name, Captain Conops."

"Aye, aye, Lord Captain. Lord Captain Tros. Yes, master."

The steward poured wine in a golden cup that had been Caesar's. Tros had captured it when he and Caesar were at death-grips in Northern Gaul. It had belonged to Vercingetorix. Tros sipped and passed the cup to Hero; she drank and passed it to Conops; Conops drained it to the last dregs. Tros grinned:

"You mannerless rogue, do you leave none for Sigurdsen?"

He bade the steward refill the cup and summoned Sigurdsen from the helm. The giant Northman came and towered above Conops, silent, gloomy, scornful, proud of ancestry and jealous of anyone whom Tros trusted more than himself.

"Pledge each other," Tros commanded.

"Captain, eh?" said Sigurdsen. He took the cup. He drank deep. "If you can command as capably as you obey your betters, you'll be good. Count on me to teach you manners. You were born free; that's something."

He grinned and passed the cup to Conops, who swallowed what remained and grinned back.

"Herrings to you! Battle-ax me, you big drunkard, 'twasn't your fault you were weaned in a northern night on frozen fish! Keep your brains as sharp and handy as your ax, and I'll forget you're a barbarian."

They saluted each other. Then Tros gave Conops his second-best sword, and his second-best cloak, to be cut down by one of the women to fit him. But though he had done justice, Tros had some doubt of the outcome. As long as Conops had been virtually chief of staff without any title or other handle to his name than some abusive or familiar epithet, Sigurdsen had been too proud to quarrel with him. But it would be different now. The giant Northman could be as jealous as a woman of a rival. Promotion wasn't likely to teach a faithful dog new tolerance.

"Now remember, Captain Conops: I have trained you, and you know my rule. No officer is worth his rank who can't teach other men to step into his shoes in case he gets hurt or killed in battle. To the oar-bank with you, if I catch you lacking good subordinates," then slowly, "or forgetting that you owe your equals the respect that I will exact from them also toward you."

"Aye, aye, master."

Conops went over the side with the air of an Olympic victor. Tros's cloak was over his arm; but Hero's slave-hag rather spoiled that effect by snatching the cloak away and raising roars of laughter by saying she would cut it into three to fit him. The sword, much too long for his height, was gripped in his left fist. His helmet was cocked at an angle that covered his blind eye. He was almost drunk with emotion. He forgot the ladder—vaulted the rail from habit—scrambled along the rubbing-strake—jumped to the boat below—then suddenly remembered and gave tongue:

"You tow-haired druids, toss oars! You lubbers! Do you think a captain is a load o' ballast, that you boat him away without a compliment? By Pluto's teeth, I'll each you Caesars's leavings decent manners, or kill you trying! Ready! Give way! Hold your chin up, seven! Bow, you're deep—get your hands down! you're not fishing—Three, are you afraid to bend that stretcher? Legs to work, and row your weight, you lump o' dunnage!—Now then, swing to it, my hearties—yeo—ho! yeo—ho!"

It was the old Conops—nothing added to horn but a title.


CHAPTER XXXVIII
"These are ridiculous terms!"


To slay, except in fair fight when another, though offered quarter, will not yield, is to my mind, cowardice. I have not done it, and I will not do it—saving very rarely when a mutineer needs hanging as an act of justice toward men who kept faith at the risk of their lives. But I have won many a main, without a blow, by keeping secret from a man, who feared death, how ashamed I would be, did I kill him.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


That night the wind shifted to the northeast, nearly dead ahead. Tros hove to again to rest the tired oarsmen. He summoned a conference in the midship deckhouse—himself, Hero, Sigurdsen, Conops; the wounded Ahiram, lest the touchy Phoenician should feel slighted; Herod, whom he had a far-reaching motive for wishing to flatter. He explained his plan and encouraged discussion, but no one said much. Even Hero had nothing to say. Its audacity staggered them all.

Presently he sent for Cassius, and even for Tarquinius, who had been making himself very useful indeed among the wounded. Tarquinius was conscious of Tros's contempt. Of Hero's, too. True, he had saved Hero's life by killing Alexis; but it had been he who betrayed her, again and again. He was shrewd enough to know that Tros would have kicked him off the ship if he hadn't a use for him—equally too shrewd to expect to be trusted. But he took care not to intrude into the cabin until Tros gruffly ordered him to a seat at the table, where he sat with his Adam's apple dancing from repressed surprise.

Cassius sat facing Tros, green and comfortless. More seasick than Tarquinius, he couldn't relive himself by vomiting. He was corpse-faced. His dark eyes glared ill temper. He snarled because his slave was forbidden to enter the cabin. He accused Tros of trying to put him at a disadvantage by depriving him of the service of his personal attendant. Tros was at no pains to calm him.

"Cassius," he said, "when you treacherously murdered Caesar, who had spared your life, men said—for I heard them say it—that they saw Caesar's spirit, in the form of a comet, winging toward heaven. If so, he must have left behind his cruelty and meanness for you and Brutus to inherit. You have Caesar's arrogance without his magnanimity; his treachery without his generosity and courage."

"Caesar is dead," he answered, with a gesture that dismissed that episode. "Gratuitous impertinence won't help you to impress me. I resent your insults in the presence of this female, and of these subordinates. I will not forget them. However, what do you want?"

"Absolutely unconditional compliance with my demands," Tros answered.

"Don't make yourself ridiculous, you pirate! Are you fool enough to doubt that I know your predicament? If Cleopatra could catch you, she would have you crucified—you and this silly young fool of a sister of hers, who threw away the throne of Cyprus to follow your piratical career. You are a pirate; you can't safely enter any Roman port. Your only chance is to accept whatever terms I choose to offer."

Sigurdsen growled in his beard. Conops's one eye watched Tros like a ferret's. Tros smiled.

"Let us hear your offer."

Herod chuckled. "Bid high, Cassius!"

Cassius snarled back at Herod. "Who asked you to speak, you homeless ingrate?—Tros, I warn you to begin with: Brutus's and my admiral, Ahenobarbus, has a fleet of forty warships. He is at least your equal as a sea-commander.

"I know where Ahenobarbus is," Tros answered. "You needn't stretch your imagination about that. What is your offer?"

Cassius leaned forward, resting his hands on the table, staring at Tros's eyes.

"I offer you an admiral's commission! Think that over, Captain Tros. You have no safe harbor—nowhere to water, refit and provision—no reserves of men—probably no money. I am willing to treat with the proper contempt your deliberate offenses against my dignity. I can't forget them, they were too gross. But I will agree not to retaliate."

Hero spoke up: "Cassius, if I had my way, I would order you drowned like any other graceless cur."

"Right!" exclaimed Sigurdsen. "As a king's daughter she speaks!"

Cassius sneered: "Fat old King Ptolemy's daughter!" Herod stroked his pointed beard and repeated:

"Bid high! Better to bid too high than to low, Cassius!"

Tros laid his hand on Hero's. "Girl, that you can draw a bowstring to your ear is not a proof of wisdom. Be silent."

She parodied Conops: "Aye, aye, master!"

Conops yelped delight. He was already wearing Tros's cloak; Hero's slave had cut it down and hemmed it in a hurry. He felt flattered to hear himself quoted; and the full significance of Tros's plan had had time to ripen in his mind.

"Master—I mean, Lord Captain—we could easily seize Gaza! It's only a bit of an undefended harbor—land-locked—no room to deploy—we could slip in after dark tomorrow evening and storm those Roman ships. The Philistines and Jews would give us anything we want, and what they didn't give, we'd take. We'd have it easy."

Tros smiled. "Five Roman legions at Jericho—or is it six, Cassius?"

"Six," said Tarquinius.

Cassius glared.

Tros eyed Cassius steadily: "Elaborate your offer. What else?"

Iron-willed against the vertigo that sickened him with each lurch of the ship, Cassius governed his face. He forced a smile that made his thin lips arrogantly condescending.

"I was shut in this cabin, so you captured my biremes and me without my seeing how you did it. But I observed the battle today, and I know something of your record. I have formed a high opinion of your ability as a fleet commander. My army and that of Brutus require quantities of corn, that can be had nowhere else than from Egypt. At the same time, corn must be prevented from reaching Rome, in order to starve out the Triumvirate. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly."

"Very well then, Captain Tros. I offer you the command of eleven biremes that I have in Gaza."

"In your own name, or that of Brutus, or both?"

"Our joint authority."

Tros laid a folded letter on the table but said nothing about it at the moment.

Cassius pointed a finger at Tros:

"You and Ahenobarbus combine your fleets. Raid Alexandria. Seize the palace and the reins of government as Caesar did—that should be easy enough. Dagger that Ptolemy wanton Cleopatra; throw her carcass to the crows. Hold Egypt in the name of Rome until I and Brutus shall have dealt with the Triumvirate."

"And then?"

"Whatever you will," said Cassius. "I and Brutus will restore the Republic that Caesar betrayed. The senate shall govern Rome. I and Brutus will be consuls for a year. Then Brutus shall have Gaul, I Egypt, as proconsuls. Ahenobarbus is an unambitious man; but you may have whatever you wish, subject to the senate's approval, and I can promise you that. Meanwhile, you will of course deliver hostages to me: Herod as security for the behaviour of certain clans in Idumaea and Syria; and in guarantee of your own good faith, this young woman whom you address as Hero. She shall be well treated."

Tros roared with laughter. Sigurdsen rose to his feet in fury, but Tros clapped him between the shoulders and he, too, saw the humor of it; he out-roared Tros. Hero's laughter galled Cassius even more than the others' did. Conops howled. Even Ahiram joined in, though it hurt him to laugh and he was almost too near delirium from wounds to know what it was all about. Tarquinius's blue-red Etruscan beak and steely eyes suggested anything but humor, but he leered with the majority and calculated cunningly behind a hand that hid his face from Cassius.

"We thank you, Cassius," said Herod, "for the entertainment. Now, if you could dance for us, or sing a little—"

Cassius interrupted: "No insolence from you, Herod!" He was livid with anger—a conceited egotist who couldn't believe himself ridiculous. His eyes were glancing instinctively in search of a weapon; given a chance, he would have stabbed Herod to death. Conops, whose principal job in life had been to bully-damn and break the impudence of saucy-egotists at sea, heaped fuel on the fire:

"You're no true Roman! Why don't you hold us all as hostages for luck and fair weather, while you go and conquer the world! If I were the Lord Captain, blast me Boreas if I wouldn't string you to the yardarm for forgetting how conquering Romans behave!"

Tros's fist crashed the table.

"Silence!"

He had learned by inference, from the nature of Cassius's offer, all that he needed to know in addition to what prisoners had already told him. He had given Hero, Sigurdsen, Ahiram and Conops a sensation of being consulted; and he had used his favorite tactic, letting Tarquinius overhear everything, that his treacherous mind might weigh the circumstances well; thus he would be able to predict Tarquinius's treachery, and to outwit him and use him. He knew everyone's mind, his own included.

"Cassius," said Tros, "do you wish this letter to be sent to Brutus? This—" he held it up, "you recognize it?—is Charmion's letter to you, acknowledging yours to her. She quotes you as having offered to abandon your ally Brutus, who strongly objects to an Egyptian alliance. She promises to submit your offer to the Queen at the first propitious moment. But she doubts that the Queen will agree to enter into an offensive and defensive alliance with you, even though she may concur with your opinion that Brutus would be ground between two forces, and that Antony might, for a while, be satisfied to govern Asia. Do you wish Brutus to see this letter?"

Cassius looked savage. "That was merely a diplomatic trick," he answered.

"I intend to heave to, off Gaza, tomorrow noon. You will stand in the bow of this bireme, covered by a maniple of archers, who will shoot you instantly if you disobey me by as much as a gesture. One of my boats will enter the harbor with a letter from you, in which you will command the captains and the fighting crews, but not the seamen and not the rowers, of all your eleven biremes, and of every other warship, great or small, that is in the harbor, to go ashore without their weapons."

"Look here, Tros—"

"I have not yet finished."

"Very well, you pirate, name your terms and take the consequences! But mark me: you shall suffer for it! I will close all ports against you."

"I will then visit the ships. I shall require full complements of rowers, full stores of provisions and water, all the arrows and other war munitions in Gaza, and all the Greek fire that I know was sent to you by Brutus from Piraeus."

"You are misinformed. I haven't any Greek fire."

"I demand, and I will have, the thousand packages of Greek fire that were sent to you by. Brutus from Piraeus to Gaza, in a ship named The Hound of Artemis."

Cassius sat silent. He glared at Tarquinius. Tros continued:

"You will give your permission to sail with me, to any of your men who wish to do so, and whose service I care to accept. I will not take Roman citizens."

"You may have as many Jews as you please," said Cassius.

"The dogs are incorrigible. Perhaps Herod can teach you how to discipline them!"

"I demand all the money in your treasury in Gaza."

"There is none."

Herod laughed. Tros waived that point. Cassius had taxed the country to the verge of devastation, but there was nothing likelier than that he had removed the money inland.

"According to Tarquinius, Herod and other informants." Tros continued, "you, legions at Jericho mutinied for their arrears of pay, a month ago. You couldn't make them march toward Egypt. They demanded to be led northward to join Brutus's army. Your biremes in Gaza that were supposed to follow you to Pelusium, put about and returned to Gaza because of rumors of plague in Egypt. That is how you came to be caught with only two ships at Pelusium."

Cassius set his teeth and drummed lean fingers on the table. He said nothing. Tros continued:

"Consequently, unless your officers have decided to take matters into their own hands, my final demand should be very easy for you to comply with. You will order the fighting crews, who leave the ships, to march on Jericho, excepting fifty men, who may remain as your personal escort. Tarquinius will accompany those crews to Jericho." The Etruscan looked alarmed, but he said nothing. "Tarquinius will bear a letter from you, commanding all the legions that are camped near Jericho to break camp instantly, burn their camp behind them and march northward. You will appoint a rendezvous at Damascus. You may leave this ship, and take your fifty men, and march to Damascus to join, your legions, as soon as Tarquinius brings me proof—remember, I say proof, not hearsay—that the legions have burned their camp and are well on their way northward. Have you understood me?"

"These are ridiculous terms!"

"They are final. You will accept them or not, as you please."

"The alternative?"

"I will treat you as you treated Caesar."

"You scoundrel!"

Tros pushed parchment and pen toward him:

"Write! Your proconsular seal is in the box beneath the cot here. I will affix it. Write!"

"Cassius, I warned you to bid high!" said Herod.


CHAPTER XXXIX
"You crow like a dunghill cock, but wait and see!"


The incomparable depth of stupidity is that of the commander who invariably does that which his enemy expects, because tradition justifies it. The only time when traditional strategy and tactics are fit to employ, is when the enemy expects something new and therefore mistakes old methods for a ruse.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Gaza was a bad port. It was difficult to enter with a north wind, because of shoals, reefs and a narrow entrance. That was the season of normally fair weather,' but only a combination of emergencies could have induced such an experienced commander as Cassius to make use of Gaza as a base, even for a contemplated raid on Egypt. It was impossible for a fleet bottled in there to come out in a hurry to engage an enemy. Eleven big biremes and three small liburnians, with their complement of boats, so filled the tiny harbor that they could only move one at a time to come out or to defend themselves. True, there was a small fort at the harbor entrance that commanded the narrow channel, but a vigorous landing party could have taken that by assault in an hour.

Gaza itself was a rather strongly fortified town, about three miles from the sea. The roofs of barley sheds and camel compounds could be seen through the silvery green of great groves of olives. There was plenty of water, several square miles of grapevines, and a tolerably good road between town and harbor. But the place looked deserted, almost dead. It had felt Cassius's ruthless heel. His ill-disciplined legions had forayed, plundered, raped and terrorized the country until even the caravans that brought the frankincense and myrrh from Arabia had learned of it and turned back. There was no more trade. Almost every able-bodied inhabitant had been sold into slavery, for inability to pay the assessments of Cassius's tax-extortioners.

But the fleet looked good. They were eleven new biremes, built in Sidon of Lebanon cedar. The three liburnians looked fast and seaworthy. And there were two stout merchant vessels, close to the shore, that were evidently store-ships, full, deep-laden.

Tros stood in the bow beside Cassius, just far enough from him to give the archers a chance if Cassius should try any tricks. Like Caesar, he might be a prodigious swimmer, although he didn't look it. Tros had let him wear his imperator's cloak, so Cassius was feeling less humiliated than he had been. But a boat that had come out to greet him had been turned back by Tros's vedette, and that had made him indignant:

"You compel me to mistrust you!"

Tros glanced at the archers and smiled. He probed with calculated insolence that irritated Cassius beyond the verge of self-control. He gave him no chance to think calmly.

"For a man of your military experience, Cassius, you are strangely reckless. Have you been trying to imitate Caesar's genius? True, to impress his legions, Caesar used to go alone in advance of them. But the legions followed him. Why didn't yours follow you?"

"Mind your own business, pirate!"

"Caesar would not have left a fleet for me to capture. He would have used it or burned it. No vedette boats! Caught in a land-locked harbor!"

Fuming with irritation, Cassius sneered the truth that Tros wanted to know. He had had it from Tarquinius, and he had heard it, too, in Alexandria, and from some of the Jew prisoners, and from one or two of Cassius's wounded officers whom he had left behind in Pelusium. But it was better from Cassius's lips:

"You crow like a dunghill cock, but wait and see," Cassius sneered. "You have been very lucky, but your little success won't last long. Even though I owe you thanks for hastening my march northward to join Brutus, when I and Brutus have defeated the Triumvirate, if not sooner, I will have you caught and crucified as surely as that you and I now face each other!"

That was what Tros wanted to know. It confirmed a dozen reports that Brutus's spies had been at work among Cassius's officers and men to persuade them to compel Cassius to march northward. It meant that concentrating had begun; the advance, to compel Octavian and Antony to fight before they were ready, was actually commencing. Cassius and Brutus probably would cross the Hellespont and establish a base in Macedonia, or even nearer than that to Italy, in order to dry up all Rome's eastern sources of supply. Octavian and Antony would be in dire straits, with the element of time against them. Egypt's turn could wait until Octavian and Antony were defeated by famine and fabian warfare. Two letters in Cassius's chest revealed the impatience with which Brutus had opposed the idea of raid on Egypt.

Tros kept up the irritation, to keep Cassius from throwing off his morbid mood and becoming again suddenly the quit thinker that he once was.

"You and Brutus are both incompetents. You are little, mean men trying to be great. Brutus burns, murders, tortures and enslaves in the name of piety. You do it from jealousy and baulked ambition, but it amounts to the same thing. You are both impostors. That you don't trust each other, is the only wisdom that you have in common. Being right about each other's character won't make you conquerors of Rome."

Cassius stared at the harbor in silence. He was quite familiar with the process. Tros was using Cassius's own favorite method of breaking down another man's self-confidence and arousing an impulse to make worse mistakes, by pointing out those he had made already. But though he recognized it, he was hurt by it, nevertheless.

No man of Cassius's accusing, overbearing type can shake off the effect of his own methods used on himself. Tros understood him. He had seen in Rome, the assassins' panic after Caesar's murder. It had been Caesar's accurate, contemptuous, witty shafts of criticism that rankled in Cassius's mind until he made the gross mistake of killing Caesar, to prevent himself from going mad of jealous inferiority. Cassius could endure any amount of mendacious accusation. But not the truth. That bit home. Bit into his self-esteem. He knew, as he watched Tros's rowboat, bearing into the harbor the sealed orders to his troops that Tros had compelled him to sign, that his ignominious defeat had been due at least as much to his own bad judgment as to Tros's audacity and vigor. That Tros was looting him and contemptuously letting him go, wounded his pride as bitterly as Caesar's lofty forgiveness once had done. He ached to stab Tros for his magnanimity.

And now he would be lucky if the whole world didn't learn of his humiliation by an outlawed pirate. He would have to lie like a Trojan, and to invent skillfully, to prevent his legions from learning the truth. He might even have to kill his slave, on some excuse or other, to prevent him from talking. The prisoners in Pelusium would certainly talk, under torture if not of their free will. They would be sent to Cleopatra. She would be very likely to send them to Antony. Antony was nearly as good a propagandist as Caesar had been. He had, in fact, managed much of Caesar's propaganda. Antony would somehow send the news to Brutus, who would then mistrust Cassius more than ever and would preach reproachful sermons about breach of faith. Cassius had promised Brutus not to invade Egypt. He had been caught red-handed attempting it. Brutus was quite capable of using that as an excuse for repudiating their partnership, and that would probably mean that all Cassius's troops would desert him and join Brutus's army.

Suddenly he turned and faced Tros, typically snatching at a last straw:

"Why do you choose to be my enemy? Change your mind, Tros. There is yet time. I am willing to forgive and to befriend you. Caesar forgave you, and you became his friend, and he yours, though you had done more than anyone else to prevent him from capturing Britain. Why not become my friend?"

"You are Caesar's murderer, not Caesar, Cassius. You slew him, with your own hand, for I saw you, treacherously, as any slave, or a woman in bed, or a snake could have slain him."

"Caesar slew his thousands!" Cassius retorted.

"Aye, he was a cruelly ambitious man. That was why I was his enemy and offered my life and all I had to save my friends in Britain from his clutches. But Caesar was never a coward, and that is why I became his friend. He never stooped to such treacherous infamy and useless cruelty as yours and Brutus's. And he never bore malice. Caesar and I forgave each other. I could trust him, and he trusted me. I would not trust you, Cassius, not even if I thought you capable of ruling the Roman world. However, I see that your captains obey you."

Tros's little squadron rolled on the sky-blue waves and Cassius was too seasick to endure the motion without holding on. He even clutched at Tros's arm when the ship hove her shoulder over a more than usually high wave. Tros ordered a chair brought for him from the midship cabin, and Cassius sat in that to watch his fighting crews abandon ship. They made no fuss, but that was nothing to be wondered at. Roman soldiers were not sailors. They hated the sea. They despised a man who liked it. That was one good reason why they faithfully and thoroughly suppressed the seamen's mutinies which were a regular detail of every voyage; and why the seamen took advantage of every possible chance to escape; not less than a third of the Mediterranean pirate crews were deserters from Roman warships. Cassius's marines took their standards ashore, but they appeared to be making no trouble about leaving their weapons behind.

As ship after ship disgorged its marines, Tros sent boatload of men from his own ships to replace them, to seize the weapons and to prevent the seamen and rowers from going ashore. As he had expected, Cassius's seamen were delighted to change masters. Service under Tros of Samothrace, as most seamen knew, meant stern discipline, but generous pay and justice. Jewish, Syrian, Greek fishermen, whose fate under Cassius's whips would have been to man the oars until they rotted of scurvy or drowned in one of those amazing wrecks for which the Roman fleets were infamous, felt like men released from prison. They behaved like lunatics.

Tros could provide little more than a skeleton crew of fighting men for each ship. He put boatswains and carefully chosen leading seamen in command—men who knew little or no navigation, but who could be trusted to maintain discipline. He divided the fleet into three squadrons, -giving Sigurdsen command of the right wing and Conops the left. He ordered the store-ships towed out of the harbor, and found in one of them the thousand packages of Greek fire that were worth almost that number of men. He had saved a little of his own stenching explosive, that Eough the dwarf had taught him how to make in Britain; it had been safe in Esias's shed in Alexandria when Cleopatra burned his trireme; he had it in one of the barges, along with the trireme's gear and arrow-engines. He transferred all his own explosive to one store-ship, and all the wounded and the women to the other. They were good ships, fit for sea, fit to keep station.

It was night, and Cassius was prostrated with sickness from the ship's motion at anchor on the high-backed swell, before Tros had time to visit all eleven biremes and to receive the seamen's homage. Torchlight added mystery and glamour. Conops had already made the rounds, telling them what treatment loyal seamen might expect at the hands of the great Lord Captain. There was nothing restrained or over-modest about Conops's account and description of Tros, nor any lack of lordly quality about Tros's deportment when at last he made the rounds. Hero accompanied him. None of those half-starved seamen and fettered rowers had ever before seen a girl in armor, though they had heard of goddesses with golden hair. They saw Hero's eyes bright with excitement, and the brightness resembled the gleam of the stars. The torch-sheen on the polished bronze over her white himation might be some superhuman wonder-light. Her low-crowned helmet suggested Hermes rather than Athena. She walked like the flow of sunlight on waves at daybreak. She became a legend too soon. Superstition led them to expect too much of a love-happy girl in her 'teens. But as a beginning it was good.

Master of dramatic action that he was, Tros had reserved for Hero the graceful privilege of relieving the rowers' misery. It was at Hero's command that the fetters were struck from their ankles. The impatient armorers pounced on the rusty chains and anklets to reforge and return them to their original use as grapnel-chains. The rowers were lined up on deck for inspection, given wine to drink and promised freedom within three months in return for loyal labor at the oars. They didn't quite believe that, but the wine took the edge off incredulity. Conops and a few of Tros's dependable decurions had already looked them over, he talked with some of them. As Tros strode slowly along the breathless, awe-struck lines he paused at Conops's barely noticeable signal and selected this and that lean Syrian, Jew or Greek to be armed and drilled, with his name on the muster of fighting men. Those were freedmen from that minute with the privilege of pay and a share of plunder, shore-leave whenever possible and freedom from punishment except by their commanding officer. They were told so. It encouraged the others.

Then Tros chose bards. Men who can sing their native songs can be found in almost any company. Song works wonders, where the whip only makes rowers flinch and waste desperate effort. But he left until morning the very important business of redistributing the crews among the thirteen ships, to break up cliques already formed and to prevent too many men of one race from becoming a self-conscious unit that might make trouble. Mutiny on land is bad enough, but only fire is worse than mutiny at sea.

It was long after midnight when he and Hero returned to the flagship. The wind had fallen and the sea had lost some of its mountainous heave. But the sleepless Cassius sat pale and ghastly beside his worried slave and groaned self-pity. He craved no other man's, but his own self-pity comforted his bitter soul. Tros, accurately gauging the man's state of mind, ingeniously misinformed him, using naked truth to clothe his Odyssean plan, and mockery of courtesy to sting into action the Roman's will to believe what he wished to believe.

"Proconsul," Tros hadn't called him that since he captured him, "I congratulate you on the good condition of the fleet you have surrendered. Food, wine, water, sails, cordage. Clean bottoms, newly scrubbed. But filthy bilges, Cassius. Foul oar-banks. Fetttered and wretched rowers. You are savages, some of you Romans. You enjoy the misery of men who were caught in arms against you. Such discouraged wretches are small loss to you, small gain to me. I shall be lucky to reach Cyprus—luckier yet if Cyprus can supply me with spirited rowers."

"Lucky?" Cassius's thin smile suggested that he knew more than he chose to tell. "Luck doesn't last forever!" He glared at Hero. "Already you regret your throne of Cyprus? You will be lucky if you don't end up in Delos. That is a market which I and Brutus have supplied very liberally of late with well-born women."

Tros wished him comfort of a night's sleep, civilly enough, and led Hero away. They were no sooner within the deckhouse than she turned on him almost fiercely:

"Tros, are you mad? Why did you tell him our next destination is Cyprus?"

"Because it isn't! But if Cassius believes it is—and perhaps he does—he will send by post to Tarsus, urging Ahenobarbus to weigh anchor, to set sail for Cyprus and to wait there on the watch for our sails. That will test Ahenobarbus's patience while we train a fleet at sea! Crusty Ahenobarbus, who isn't such a great commander as he imagines, might prove to be an overwhelming enemy, with forty ships, some of them quinquiremes, if we should meet him before we're ready."

It was no part of Tros's genius to seek, nor even not to do his utmost to avoid, a sea-engagement that he felt incompetent to win. If he could win what he needed without fighting another battle, he would hugely prefer that. But battle or not, he was beginning to feel confident of winning.

"You are laughing," said Hero. Her slave was pulling off her armor in the cabin. "Why? At what do you laugh?"

"At Cleopatra!"

"Why?"

"Like Cassius, she won't enjoy my terms. However, she is likely to accept them with better grace."

"Tros, how can you make peace with her! She turned on you like a treacherous tigress. Will you trust her again? You have hips now—good ones! Raid Alexandria! Burn! Loot! Punish!"

He laughed. She put her hands on his shoulders and coaxed him.

"Tros, I am her sister. I know her. I, too, would have been your enemy forever if you hadn't loved me. This time her aim at you missed. Next time—" tie interrupted: "That she missed her aim at me is not a reason why I should be governed by her malice. And besides, girl, if I know Cassius and Ahenobarbus, they two will present us with a chance such as I love better than you have yet loved anything in all your life."

They argued, nearly until daylight, about whether or not she loved him more than he loved opportunity. But Tros could think his own thoughts behind the ebb and flow of that kind of talk.

He thought about Ahenobarbus's vigorous, obstinate nature and his Roman sense of strategy. He had left him in Tarsus, possessed of one damaged quinquireme and about a dozen ships that had been hauled out for repair. If it was true that he now had a fleet of forty ships, Brutus's shipwrights must have performed almost a miracle. Certainly the crews could not be ready yet—or, if ready, surely not efficient. What would be Brutus's and Cassius's next move, to supply their armies with corn, and to keep supplies from reaching the Triumvirate? How would they employ Ahenobarbus?

When daylight stole along the sea, Tros had puzzled it out. His plan was ready.


CHAPTER XL
"Follow the flagship to sea"


It is useless to expect a clever opportunist to obey, if given opportunity by disobedience to serve himself. Your aims, your plans, aye, and your dangers also, should he know them, would be the natural means by which he would secretly seek to advance himself, inevitably to your cost and perhaps to your ruin. There is one wise way, and only one, to make use of such men. Study their natural cunning, as the hunter studies animals, in order to be able to predict their probable behaviour when free to follow inclination.

From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace

Herod's was an oriental gift of hiding dread beneath a mask of interest in something else. He was afraid Tros might send him ashore with Cassius, and he knew what to expect from Cassius. Herod put no faith in anyone's promises; his own, he knew, were worthless if it should seem worth while to break them. So he began to make himself as useful to Tros as he could.

Tros had not time to spare for Herod's conversational genius, during the three days' wait until Tarquinius returned from his mission in Jericho. But Hero had nothing to do. She was an intelligent listener, rapidly learning how to keep Tros's confidence by accurately summarizing what she heard and telling it to him at the proper moment, facts first, and her opinion late, when asked. Herod had noticed that, and he was clever enough to perceive that Tros was conscientiously on guard against his normal impulse to mistrust any woman's advice.

So Herod entertained Hero by regaling her with amusing details of political intrigue in the area over which Cassius and Brutus were military dictators. He explained their military strength and their political weakness, as well as the viewpoint of the men who might be likely to revolt against them at the first opportunity.

"If Tros would convey me to Rome, I could explain all this to the Triumvirate. Antony could learn more from me than from all his spies."

As a matter of fact, Herod understood Hero far better than he did Tros, whose mysticism was beyond the grasp of Herod's intelligent and artistic but entirely unmystical mind. He employed disarming frankness:

"I am simply an adventurer seeking a throne. Almost any throne would suit me, provided there were revenue enough. Tros could have almost any throne he wanted, but none would please him even if its revenues were prodigious. Imagine what I could do if I were King of Egypt! I would build, build, build! I would out-do all the ancient Pharoahs!—What a combination we would be! Supposing Tros should convey me to Rome and there agree with Antony to do what Cassius wanted to do—marry me to Cleopatra! Tros could do the necessary violence—none better! I would be a good King of Egypt. As for Cleopatra, if she wasn't amenable, there would be ways and means of correcting that condition."

Hero had been kept as ignorant of real politics as designing tutors and guardians could contrive. Her ignorance was almost limitless, for the reason, well understood by her teachers, that she had been taught to consider every problem as entirely personal to herself and not to study it from any other angle. Even Caesar, who had taken prodigious pains with Cleopatra's political education, had deliberately prevented the younger, more unconventional and therefore more dangerous sister from learning anything of any political importance. She was much too naturally clever to reveal a hint of Tros's plans to Herod, but she reported all Herod's ideas to Tros. And Tros was much too clever to attempt to turn the tables by making use of Hero to guide Herod's thinking. It suited him far better to know what Herod was thinking about, in order to guess how Herod might behave when loosed to play his own hand uninstructed.

Tros's hands were full, with the details that make possible the blows that win campaigns. For one thing, he had left plague behind in Alexandria. He had seen plague and scurvy decimate the ranks of armies and destroy fleets. He, had a superstitious notion, mocked at by the priests and vehemently disputed by the doctors, that plagues were produced by rats, and by the filth and the resultant lice, that accumulate where many human beings gather in a crowded space. So he ordered the ships cleaned. And when Trod said "cleaned" he meant it. From lower bilge to topmast, every vessel in his fleet was to be as clean as the polished armor that shone on the decks in the sun. He paid a quarter of an Attic drachma for every dead rat produced and he decreed that in future all beetles, lice and bedbugs found on any of the ships should be served, cooked in the stew, in the officers' mess for supper.

Those Roman vessels were not badly armed for a fleet engagement in the Roman style of fighting. They were fairly well supplied with arrow-engines, and they all had metal rams, some bronze, some iron, that slowed them when under sail but made them dreadful in collision. Most of them, too, had been fitted with the heavy, iron-spiked corvus—a contrivance for spiking the enemy's deck and providing a bridge, along which to charge an enemy's deck. Those corvi had spelt victory in the early wars against Carthage, in the days when Rome sent a fleet to sea against real seamen, who could not otherwise be brought to close quarters. Rome, in her own tradition-ridden mind, was still fighting a Punic war. But Tros was not. He threw those corvi overboard, rendering the ships more stable by reducing the weight aloft.

He had saved his own enormous arrow-engines from his lost trireme. They were safe and dry in one of the barges that he had brought from Pelusium. He ordered four of those installed on his flagship, two of them on Conops's ship and two on Sigurdsen's. They were mounted on turntables and it was a prodigious business to get them fitted, with all the other work going on at the same time, but it was done.

One of the store-ships held a huge supply of arrows, and there were thousands more in the little fortress at the harbor-mouth. Most of them were a bit too short for Tros's best bowmen, but they were long enough for use in the engines; and there were more than a thousand bundles of the Parthian-type arrow, made in Parthia and left behind in Syria by recent Parthian invaders.

On the whole, Tros was in excellent luck. The water-casks were in good condition, and he found enough charcoal ashore to clean them thoroughly. There was enough wine, in skins and jars in the longshore sheds, for all hands for a couple of weeks on a liberal ration. There were huge jars of olive-oil, and tons of onions that some remarkably naive Egyptian trader had barged from the Nile Delta for sale; the trader had been executed on a charge of trying to avoid the import-tax, and his crew were now among the captured rowers.

Very swiftly the hand of Tarquinius made itself felt. Ordered by Tros to hold his tongue, to deliver Cassius's orders to the troops near Jericho, and to return without revealing any information, he had found some means of communication with Gaza, even though Tros had sent with him two faithful Argive veterans expressly to prevent his doing that. There came an almost continuous stream of men from Gaza, many of whom were almost without doubt spies in the Roman interest. But some of them brought reliable news. And more than a hundred hungry but competent fighting men offered themselves for enlistment. Tros accepted nearly all of them, distributing them among the ships, to be drilled in different maniples as a safeguard against conspiracy. Others he fed, and promised enlistment on condition that they should go and bring him independent news of Tarquinius's failure or success.

So when Tarquinius did return, at nightfall on the third day, although he came on a horse that he had ridden half to death, he was several hours behind the information that had come from Jericho by shorter valley-roads, on camel-back.

"Lord Captain," said Tarquinius, "you are a master-reader of the minds of men."

"I lack no skill to measure yours Tarquinius: Make your report."

"Proconsul Cassius's legate, Horatius Vulpes—"

"Yes—to whom you offered a plan to burn this fleet and to rescue Cassius, or else to burn and drown us all, including Cassius, and carry on without him—"

"Not I, Lord Captain. Someone has been lying to you."

"And he answered you: 'If Tros will set Cassius free, why should I go to the trouble? Tros might kill him, if I tried to rescue him. Or Tros might sail away and sell him. There is no food left in Gaza and the baggage wagons are already started on the road northward. These, that you bring me, are Cassius's orders. I obey them gladly, as the legions also will; they have no relish for such a lousy camp as this one.' Were not those his words, Tarquinius?"

"That is nearly enough what he said. But it is not what I said."

"Said he not: 'If Tros should permit you to have private speech with the proconsul Cassius, tell him his legions march; and say that I will send back two full centuries and half a century of horse to await him this side of Gaza and escort him northward'?"

"Aye," said Tarquinius. "That is nearly enough what he said. Who told you?"

"Once again your treachery has turned like a fish upstream and served me! Thanks to your clacking tongue, I have a hundred new men. I am beginning to think you a luck-piece! Do you wish to be sent ashore with Cassius?"

"Not I, Lord Captain."

"Then why did you try to serve him, and to betray me?"

"I didn't. I knew you were too clever to be caught. But I did think, that if I could force you to put to sea with Cassius, I might be able to do myself some good among his legions, what with their commanders quarreling and one thing and another. Kindly don't set me ashore with Cassius. I can be useful to you."

"Go and tell Cassius your news."

But Cassius would have nothing to say to Tarquinius. Guarded by sentries, he spent the entire night on deck, fitfully dozing in a chair, pacing the deck at intervals, demanding wine, gulping a little and then tossing the remainder overboard. By daybreak he was slightly drunk and much less arrogant than he had been at any time since Tros captured him. He even smiled with a gracious wistfulness, of which he was quite capable when he chose, when Tros invited him to breakfast and told him the boat was waiting to take him ashore. He had thought of something, and Tros waited for it.

"Tros, I must admit you have been magnanimous. Now that we have turned a page I can afford to say it to you. You might have delivered me to a more ignominious fate than Pompey's on the Egyptian shore. Had you liked me, your conduct even so would have been remarkably generous. But you hate me, so it is even more commendable. However—"

He paused. Tros made no comment. Even Tarquinius, who was listening, held his breath. Herod smiled, and Hero watched with the cat-like stare that she inherited from the long royal line of Lagidus.

"Don't you think that you might let me have Herod?" said Cassius.

Even Herod's mask of amused dissimulation fell. He resembled a startled fox with every cunning instinct alert. Tros enjoyed that for a moment. He gave Herod time to think of arguments that trembled on persuasive lips.

"I might," Tros said then. "But I will not. You may have my two Egyptian barges that I no longer need."

Herod smiled and relaxed with a sigh. "Count me your debtor, Tros!"

Cassius smiled leanly and looked disappointed. But they all knew he had asked for what he did not want, in order to be refused, and thus to put Tros in a mood to grant something else rather than seem ungracious. It would have been clever enough, if he had only thought of it sooner, instead of making himself as nastily cantankerous as he could.

"Then I will ask you nothing further for myself," said Cassius. He eyed Herod. "I wish you comfort of your Idumaean friend! But I will invite your magnanimity for others, who have done you no injury, and whose gratitude is worth your winning."

Tros waited. He had a half-suspicion what was coming. Cassius was not alone in having racked his wits to think of every possible angle of the situation.

"Recently," said Cassius, "my envoy carried a demand to Cleopatra to evacuate from Alexandria all Romans of military age and to send them to me in Syria. I am informed that she did so, and that those Roman citizens are now at sea."

Tros nodded: "Yes, at sea in thirty rotten ships, commissioned hastily and ill-provided, probably without an escort, undermanned, against a head wind, at the mercy of any piratical fleet that may come across them. They may have the plague on board. What they will do for water I can't imagine."

"It is for them," said Cassius, "that I implore your magnanimity. I understand you are headed for Cyprus. If you should come across them on your voyage, and would protect them as far as the port of Salamis is, in return for that kindness to them what shall I promise you?"

It was a palpable trap. Tros sailed straight into it, with a lordly air of being too much flattered to imagine treachery.

"Poor wretches!" he exclaimed. "I pity them. Yes, Cassius, I saw them being herded on the ships. Among them are some of my acquaintances. If I should convoy them to Cryprus, will you guarantee me against attack by Ahenobarbus?"

"Gladly." Cassius grew almost naively confidential. "Tros, it was my original intention to send Ahenobarbus to sea to meet them and to escort Them to Tarsus. But my wishes were countermanded at the last moment by Brutus, who insisted it was more important that Ahenobarbus should continue reconditioning his fleet. How long do you expect to remain in Salamis?"

"Water—provisions—rowers—perhaps ten days."

"Very well then. On your way, will you search for those thirty vessels?"

"Yes."

"After watering and provisioning in Cyprus, when you are ready to leave, will you send word to Ahenobarbus that my Romans are there and he may send an escort for them?"

Tros pretended to consider it. He paced the deck with knotted fists behind him. He scowled. Suddenly he turned his frown on Cassius:

"Do you swear to me that Ahenobarbus's fleet is unready for sea?"

Cassius smiled. "If he were ready. I swear I would send him to destroy you! No, he is not ready."

Tros nodded. "Very well, Cassius. I hope that you and I may never meet again, that we may never again offend each other. Farewell."

Tros returned him his sword. They saluted, but Cassius ignored the others. He even ignored Hero, turning his back toward her. His ten lictors looked a little forlorn without their fasces that Tros had thrown into the Nile; they were supplied with spears, but they had never been drilled to use them properly so it was not a very dignified red-cloaked escort that followed Cassius and his slave into the eight-oared boat.

Hero, watching him rowed away, spoke her thoughts aloud:

"Is he mad? Does he really believe we will go to Cyprus? If so, he will probably send word to Boidion to get some poisoned wine all ready for us! Boidion would love the chance to poison me and be Arsinoe once and for all!"

"A little mad, a little drunk," said Herod. "Rome next, unless I am as drunk as Cassius! What will you and I wear when we reach Rome? Tros looks like a great man, always. He would look great even naked. You look like a goddess, unless you dress respectably; the Romans have a way of trying to degrade a goddess. As for me, I behave as I look; so I shall need at least clean linen."

Tros said nothing. Rome, yes. That was his plan, and Hero knew it. But the leagues of sea between were deadly with incalculable dangers. First, he had a fleet to weld into a unit. Neither he nor any of his captains had had any experience of fleet command. He had to learn and to teach at the same time, and to do it swiftly, lest Ahenobarbus catch him unprepared. Ahenobarbus probably would not set a trap in Cyprus, but that was too conjectural to count on.

He was sure of Conops and Sigurdsen—as sure of them as of himself. But he doubted whether even they would rightly understand the code of signals that he, Hero and Sigurdsen had written down, that Conops had memorized and had drilled by word of mouth into all the other new, untried, improbably cool commanders of ships, of a type to which they were unused. He watched Cassius land and the eight-oared boat return, then flew his first fleet signal:

"Weigh. By oar. Follow the flagship to sea in single line ahead. Liburnians last. Store-ships between the squadrons."

It was one of the proudest days of Tros's life when the fleet obeyed the signal and not one ship missed her proper station in the line nor fouled another's oars.


CHAPTER XLI
"The Lord Captain is well pleased!"


The test of a commander's competence is battle. There is no other test. There is no denying a defeat. No argument annuls a victory.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Two of the new commanders had to be demoted and replaced. One of them couldn't maintain discipline. The other failed to learn the signals. Tros added to the code and simplified it day after day, but it remained his worst problem. Men who could not, or who could hardly read and write were quicker than those who could, at memorizing the code. The ships' boys were the brightest at it. They were all promoted to the rank of signaller and rowers had to be fetched up from the holds to learn the business of passing arrows to the men who served the squandrous artillery.

But darkness was ten times worse than daylight. The night system was an adaptation of the trick that the traitors used at Marathon, to betray the Athenians to the Persian host: a polished shield, protected from the weather by a deep box on a turntable. A lighted torch was flashed across the face of that and the box could be turned in any direction, so that one ship at a time, or one wing of the fleet, could receive the message. Night after night the fleet got thrown into confusion by mistaken reading of the flashed orders to change formation. But Tros stuck to it, and they improved, obeying trumpet-call and drum-beat orders to disperse when they drew too close in darkness.

There was one very important point in Tros's favor. He had sea-room and a fair wind. Sea-borne traffic had ceased, for fear of pirates, who were expected to take advantage of Rome's civil war. But the pirates could perceive no profit in combing empty seas, so they too, for the most part remained in hiding. There were not even Greek fishermen far from land, who might have reported Tros's movements.

To convince Cassius that he really was headed for Cyprus, he followed the coastline northward for three days, wearing out his rowers against the steady north wind and almost breaking their hearts with incessant changes of fleet formation. When he calculated that his topmasts had vanished below the skyline he was still headed toward Cyprus. But then he changed helm and set a course for the island of Crete, with the wind on his starboard quarter. All the rowers had a day's rest, before they, too, were drilled under arms—an unheard-of innovation.

Many of the rowers were the stuff of which good fighting men are made. It encouraged them to be given weapons. Drill made them feel less like caged animals. And as Tros intended, it gave them, too, awareness that a weapon is an expert's tool for letting life out through a skillfully made hole, directing their attention to the fact that mutiny against such experts as manned Tros's battle stations might be worse than hazardous. And even such men would be better than nothing in a close engagement, hull to hull, when pirate or Roman rowers would be chained below. They were likely at least to fight with spirit against boarders, to preserve themselves from capture and the fate of being fettered to the lower oar-bank of the victor's ship.

Drill was continuous, day and night. The maniples took turns to practise every imaginable feat of arms and sudden tactics that a deck permitted. Twice each day the entire crew stood to arms for battle practise. At least once each day the ships' commanders came aboard the flagship for instruction, to be lectured on the meaning of the word initiative, which is the heart and blood and guts of victory; but also on the art of timing an attack, awaiting signals, so as not to waste a life or lose one ounce of an united impact.

"Break the enemy's line!" was Tros's incessant theme. "In a battle I will so manoeuvre as to strike an enemy in full force, as close as I can possibly contrive it to the middle of his line. Thus, though he may out-number us, he will lose the advantage of greater numbers. Avoid his grapnels, throw his line into confusion, then turn right or left as my signal commands and deal with half his fleet before his other half can recover. Speed! Speed! In battle, use a ship as if she were a maniple of swordsmen! Hurl her at the enemy, but don't try to give him the ram until you've broken his oars and he can't manoeuvre. Then you can avoid his corvus, if your own oars are unbroken. That is why I keep on telling you to train your rowers to snatch in their oars at the word of command. If I can win the weather gauge, you may depend on me to bring you down against an enemy with full sails, and we'll break through his line—no doubt of that. But then the wind will be his; it will bear him down to leeward on to us. But with broken oars he can't pursue us back to windward. So we come about, we win the weather gauge again. We repeat, until we have him so scattered that five or six of us can board him and gut him one by one."

Tros's ten-Jew bodyguard became masters-at-arms, a school for swordsmen. Originally trained as gladiators, that is as professional duelists, Conops had taught them all there was to know about teamwork, flying wedge tactics and the strategy of suddenly retreating, to re-form and to smash home again and again in whirlwind charges. Four of them had been rather seriously wounded at Pelusium, but even they could criticize and teach, and they had picked up some of Conops's scurrilous contempt for anything done merely well. They had learned to demand perfection, and to be caustically pawky in their praise even of that. They went from ship to ship and bully-damned the swordsmen into maniples that even Roman veterans might dread to tackle.

Clean ships, clean water-casks, wine, olive-oil, good coarse bread and onions; song; hard work; the excitement of competition for promotion; speculation as to what Tros's plans might be; fair weather, and the fortune, that always did follow great captains, combined to keep the crews in good health, and to keep down the number of severe punishments. There were very few floggings. The dreaded plague did not appear. There was not a single man down with scurvy or with any similar disease. Very few of the wounded died, and many of them recovered in time to be employed in tasks that thus released strong men for heavier duty.

The women on the store-ship were a nuisance; few of them were any good at mending sails; they were villainous bad cooks, and not much good at dressing wounds. They did their utmost to cause trouble by displaying their charms at every opportunity to crews whose instinct, and favorite sport, was to be free with any woman they could come upon. But Tros ordered four or five of the worst ones whipped, and more or less controlled the others by threatening to sell them into slavery at the first port. It had been a daring experiment, not to leave them behind; his purpose in bringing them had been to demonstrate to his men that he was thoughtful for their rights. True, they were stolen women, but they were not slaves or marriageable virgins, so possession of them was nine points of anyone's law.

However, he regretted having brought those women. He even resented the presence, on his own ship, of Hero's hag-faced slave, whom Hero herself had chosen from Esias's stock-in-trade in Alexandria. The woman was as faithful as a dog to her mistress. But her hideous appearance didn't make her any less attractive to a number of dozens of men whose coarse flattery went to her head, so that she gave herself the airs of a reigning beauty. It was beneath Tros's dignity to take her in hand, and Hero was too amused by the woman's conceit to find fault with her. It was not until she insulted Conops, when he came one morning in his eight-oared boat for a consultation with Tros, that the wine of wisdom entered into her.

"Out o' my way, you camel's sweetheart!"

He struck her twice, like lightning, with his knife-hilt, on the funny-bone and on the spare rib, knocked her sprawling and kicked her half the length of the deck. After that she was so deeply in love with Conops, and so meek about it, that not even Hero could get her to smile except by mentioning Conops's name.

Conops suitably apologized to Hero:

"Lady, she's your slave, but she was in danger of falling foul of the Lord Captain unless I'd cautioned her. The-Lord Tros doesn't let his officers be treated less respectful than himself."

On the ninth day out from Gaza came the stroke of fortune that Tros had prayed for, if prayer was the proper name for such religious attitudes as his. Though he had a sort of vaguely contemptuous, vaguely skeptical belief in sub-human malignant devils, he didn't believe in gods, so he asked no favors of them. He believed that if a man so wrought and fought as to be clean from cowardice, then the Lords of Life—and he would rather have died a dozen deaths than argue Who or What They were—would recognize him and give him all lawful aid and comfort. Virtue, in Tros's view, and he used the Roman Stoic's meaning of the word, was a long way from being its own reward. It was a vigorous, manly quality, whose light revealed tasks to be done and whose impelling urge denied the right to leave them undone.

So he was not surprised, but he was gratified when the masthead lookout reported a fleet of more than fifty sail, hull down on the western sky-line. He flew his signal:

"Fleet form squadrons, left and right of flagship, two deep." He changed helm, heading more to northward.

Now for a genuine test of his new command! Had he promoted wisely? Had he mastered his own inexperience? Had he competently taught his chosen men?

Tros himself went to the masthead, to confirm his first guess. He was right. They were the thirty vessels crowded with Alexandrine Romans. Helpless. But, better than that, they were being hounded by Cyrenaican or else Mauretanian pirates, who were hanging on their flanks like wolves pursuing cattle.

If Cleopatra had provided warships to escort that helpless fleet, it was clear they had abandoned their convoy. They had either returned home or sailed on a pirating expedition of their own—not an unheard-of venture; Cleopatra's undisciplined navy was as greedy a menace to unprotected ports and defenceless ships as any navy in the world had ever been. Possibly even the thirty ships' crews had deserted along with the escort. The panic-ridden ships were all huddled together, many of them dangerously close. As they hove on the white-flaked purple sea their skirts of weed were like a green stain on the long backed rollers.

There were two of the thirty ships a long way from the others, ominously trailed by small boats that suggested killer-sharks attacking whales. Some of the boats were fast alongside and at first it looked as if loot were being tossed into them. But what loot? And why do the looting at sea? It was several minutes before Tros was sure they were men who were jumping to the boats and being promptly dumped into the sea to drown. As he watched, one of the two ships burst into flames. Then the other. There was no possible doubt of the meaning of that. Plague! They had been isolated by the fleet, whose crews had probably compelled them to keep away by threatening what the pirates were now doing. Judging by the speed with which the hulls became roaring flame, it seemed likely that the pirates had thrown Greek fire into them. If they possessed much of that stuff they might be hard to defeat. Nevertheless, Tros ordered his own store-ships to the rear, with the liburnians on either flank; his own supply of Greek fire was too valuable to waste, if he could win without using it.

The pirate ships were long, low, shoal-draft fluccas, lateen-rigged and black with white-turbaned men, who had probably been biding time for their prey to run short of water. But when they saw Tros's sails they made swift to establish prior rights. Custom, of necessity, was far more binding than treaties or acts of legislatures, which all men violated whenever they could. Pirates had to observe each other's rights or be worse than outlawed; they would be ganged, rooted from their lairs and exterminated. Thieves could punish thieves, whom governments preferred to barter with, or threaten, or ignore—except rarely, when a Roman fleet had time, a free hand from the Senate and that rarest Roman prodigy, a fleet-commander who could not be bribed. It was pirate custom that a ship once grappled was the grappler's prey. None might intervene, unless by mutual agreement, or unless summoned to lend a hand.

The pirates' mistake was natural enough. Tros's ships, although originally Roman owned, were not of Roman build or rig, except for the little liburnians, whose design was common to nearly all Mediterranean waters. The foam over the biremes' rams must have been plainly visible, but there were plenty of iron-shod ships among the pirate fleets of the Levant, nor was it anything new for a Roman ship to fall into the hands of pirates. And if there was anything rare on all the seas it was a Roman war-fleet far out of sight of land. There was no imaginable reason why a fleet of thirteen Roman biremes should be cruising westward in mid-ocean. Those were not Roman waters. Almost always too heavily manned for a protracted voyage, Roman warships crawled from headland to headland or port to port, in touch with marching troops who dug the necessary wells for watering the ships. A Roman war-crew would mutiny unless landed at frequent intervals. They were good for a swift foray out and home again, or for such a venture as Caesar's famous raid on Alexandria, but they had no taste for cruising without a very definite objective. Tros was within a mile before the pirates realized that his was not another pirate fleet too late on the scene for a share of the loot. They had already herded the twenty-eight ships into a helpless, colliding mob that looked likely to sink one another too soon to be properly looted. They had boarded half of them, before the truth dawned.

Then their discipline was splendid. It was no slight feat to rally plunder-hungry crews to their own vessels, and haul off in good formation. They deployed to the northward in line ahead, under oars, racing to get to windward—twenty-seven ships that presently hoisted sail and made a soldier's breeze of it, with their oars easy, ready for instant use. Tros changed his signal:

"Strike the middle of their line!"

He led. His ship was slightly faster than the fleet. He had the wind exactly where he wanted it. He held his fire until the hail of the pirates' arrows gave him the range beyond shadow of doubt. Then:

"All archers!"

Every bow-string on his bireme twanged that instant. A withering squall of arrows swept two pirate ships from stem to stern.

Tros's four great arrow-engines and four smaller ones each let go three or four volleys before the ships were within javelin range. The pirates couldn't stand to their grapnels, they were slain in heaps as they tried to hoist them on the slings. Two ships, to port and starboard, had turned inward to engage and lay alongside. Tros drove full-sailed between them, with his own oars snatched inboard. His hull snapped off the pirates' oar-blades. His devastating volleys slaughtered the pirates' rowers, swept their decks and overwhelmed the fighting crews.

Tros's fleet formation was actually three wedges. Sigurdsen and Conops, to his right and left hand, led their wings with a ferocity not less than his. Like his, their impact was increased by the pirates' determination to grapple and lay aboard. Not a grapnel held. A full third of the pirates' line was smashed into a mob of reeling units with broken oars and decimated crews falling away to leeward, beam on, in hopeless confusion, raked by arrow-fire; and as they rolled they were beaked by the rams of Tros's second line, that opened up the pirates' hulls and staggered free again on the uplift of the lumpy waves.

Then Tros's, Sigurdsen's and Conops's trumpets blared the order "Out oars!" Tros changed his signal. The staggering fleet rallied again into line, let go its sheets and came about, dousing its sails as the oarsmen swung to work to windward, with eleven broken pirate ships astern and the remainder of the pirate fleet—sixteen ships—in a double line, racing parallel to get the weather gauge and turn the tables on Tros. The pirates kept just out of range. Theirs were the lighter ships. They were trying to wear down Tros's rowers. Their commander, a dark-skinned man in a striped cloak, on the quarter-deck of their largest ship, at the rear, on the left of their double line, appeared to be having trouble with his signals. Men on the deck beside him were semaphoring with their arms and getting no response. Tros ordered the starboard forward arrow-engine to rake his quarter-deck, but the volley was short; the arrows skittered on the sea like flying-fish and buried themselves in his hull as it hove on a wave.

But the pirates had no arrow-engines. Nor had they bards to whip the spirit of the oarsmen into frenzy. By the splash it appeared they were using the kind of whip that can produce a spurt but no enthusiasm. Strokes missed, throwing a whole bank into confusion for an irrecoverable minute. Gradually Tros's fleet gained on them, and suddenly their commander decided to run.

They understood his signal then, but so did Tros. His entire fleet's sails were hoisted, set and sheeted home, and he was off the wind in full pursuit before the pirates had begun to gain headway. It was a long chase, and as soon as he came within arrow-range they broke up into three squadrons. But he concentrated on one, the largest, bringing all his fleet and all his arrow-fire to bear against the pirate chieftain and his squadron of seven ships. They surrendered, helms hard over and sails aback—and, away in the distance, a Roman ovation roared from the decks of the eight-and-twenty ships that Cassius had hoped would bring Tros within range of Ahenobarbus's quinquiremes.

In the whole of Tros's fleet there were only a dozen arrow wounds. He had not lost one man killed, and, more important yet, his captains had not misread one signal. One ship reported a leak from the shock of having rammed a pirate, but the leak was slight, and the pirate had already sunk, so the balance was well on the right side. Seven of the other pirate ships were sinking, and two more were out of action.

Tros lowered two boats. One went the round of the fleet with the laconic message:

"The Lord Captain is well pleased!"

As the message reached them one by one the ships' crews manned their rails and roared their answer. He had a right to be pleased with them, but it was just like him to take the trouble to admit it in the very moment of victory.

Tros was too well pleased to run further risks. He forbade pursuit of the fleeing pirates. He had done their fleet damage enough. He had another problem now that would tax his uttermost resources of command and ingenuity. He sent the other longboat to summon the pirate captains to come over and surrender in person.

He despatched Sigurdsen's squadron to the rescue of the sinking pirate ships. Two of them sank before Sigurdsen could reach them. Another sank as he drew near; he rescued the fighting crew but the fettered rowers drowned. He saved from the sinking ships about three hundred, all told, including rowers. They had already killed their wounded, to save them from the customary fate of being turned adrift without food or water, to be eaten by rats in a derelict hull.


CHAPTER XLII
"All great men are fools; and wise women worship them"


Money to pay for provisions is more important to a ship's commander than the wind. He can wait for a fair wind. He can hunt a lee in stormy weather. But unless he can pay for supplies there is no alternative but piracy, disguised or open. And whoever thinks that pirates avoid paying for their depredations is either very ignorant or void of common sense.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


The first man to come up over the rail was the pirate chieftain, rather splendid in his striped cloak, curled beard, golden earrings, heavy gold bracelets and amber beads. He offered his jewelled sword to Tros with the air of a man of breeding. He had almost Herod's calmness in calamity; almost Herod's curiosity. Even before he spoke to Tros his beautiful brown eyes had studied Hero, observing her armor, withholding judgment.

"I am Sophax of Iol," he said in guttural Greek. "To whom have I the honor to surrender?"

"I am Tros of Samothrace."

"Cleopatra's captain?"

It was hardly a prisoner's privilege to be inquisitor. Sophax's name was famous; it entitled him to courtesy, but not to knowledge of his captor's allegiance. He was reputed to be the richest pirate on the entire northern African coast. He had certainly been rich enough to buy off the great Pompey's captains, when Rome went to war against all the pirates to reduce the competition with her own marauding hosts. Later he had been able to bribe Julius Caesar not to hound him to death, and Caesar's notion of a bribe had been nothing to sneeze at.

"You are; held for ransom, Sophax."

The Numidian-Phoenician smiled. His captains, in a group behind him, stepped forward one by one and surrendered their swords—dark-faced men, all masking fear beneath an air of slightly insolent calm. They, too, studied Hero; it was possible that a woman, and a young, good-looking one, might plead for their lives if they were careful; but they were very studiously careful not to offend Tros by looking at her frankly. They murmured compliments to Tros, tactfully assuming that a victor who accepted their swords with his own hand was unlikely to order them killed. But there were other, almost equally unpleasant things that he might do, so their gratitude was guarded and almost sullen.

Tros turned abruptly to Sophax:

"Were there no Egyptian warships?"

Sophax smiled. "Eleven. They fled."

"Homeward?"

"No. I think they fled to join Sextus Pompeus."

"Are you Sextus Pompeius's ally?"

"No. But he invited me. If you are his friend, I will reconsider my refusal to sail to the aid of Sextus Pompeius."

"You are held for ransom."

"The amount? I am not as rich as formerly."

"The equivalent in negotiable currency of two golden talents."

Sophax almost lost the glitter in his dark eyes.

"The amount you are pleased to demand, Lord Captain, is such as even the Queen of Egypt might hesitate to promise."

"You will either pay it, Sophax, or else you and your captains may consider your careers at an end. I know what business you have done of late with Jew-Esias of Alexandria."

Sophax made a gallant gesture toward Hero. He was a good actor. Certainly not less than fifty years of age, he could suggest that he had the amorous proclivities of youth. He looked almost as young as Herod when he made that confiding, smiling, wordless compliment. Hero promptly supported Tros:

"If I am consulted, then double the sum! It was Sophax's fleet that raided Salamis and levied tribute of a thousand slaves in addition to all the copper in the treasury and more than one talent of gold. I was told he demanded me also. I fled to the western end of the island, and Sophax had to go away because the fever was wasting his crews."

Tros spoke: "I have named the ransom. Choose your envoy, Sophax. I will await payment in the Bay of Suda. You have thirty days—not a day more."

There was a brief but very earnest conversation among the surrendered captains.. One was nominated. Sophax spoke with him alone and then begged writing materials. He squatted on the deck to write, and then, with Tros's leave, gave the envoy the ring from his thumb and his amber necklace. Tros flew a signal for Conops and, when he came, turned the envoy over to him:

"Let him have his own ship. He will have a fair wind, so take away half his rowers and all except ten of his sailors. Then let him go."

The Alexandrine fleet, swarming with deported Romans, was making its way in disorder toward Tros's ships, but Tros dreaded the plague far more than he did any human enemy. He sent a boat to order the fleet to heave to and await his orders. He watched, amazed at their clumsy lack of seamanship. They had to dowse their sails and come about under oar, the oars all out of time and splashing. One of them, apparently the flagship, sent back word that they were short of water. It was the season of little, if any rain. Tros's own men were already on diminished rations. But the wind was steady and unusually strong for that time of year. He calculated quickly and then sent another message:

"Ration your water and wine to last for three days." Then, by way of after-thought: "Why are you in these seas, and not headed for Syria?"

Then action, rigorous and swift. It took an hour to strike the fetters from the pirates' oarsmen. Tros needed an addition to his fleet of faster vessels, so he distributed the pirates' crews among his own ships and manned their vessels with picked men. Threatened with the customary alternative of immediate and dreadful death, the pirate rowers went to the oar-benches without any demur. Many of them begged to be enrolled in Tros's command, but his dependable men were now so scattered in so many ships that he didn't dare to trust new captives with weapons—not yet.

He gave Sophax into Herod's nominal charge, with an actual guard of two Northmen, because Herod was likely to persuade the man to talk. He sent the other pirate captains to Sigurdsen's ship, because he knew Sigurdsen would drink with them, and lie to them with Baltic imagery and colossal exaggerations of the great Lord Captain's feats of arms. Those pirate captains would be set free when the ransom was paid; should they spread a legend of Tros's prowess along the northern coast of Africa that would not do Tros any damage. Not less than half of Caesar's victories had been won in advance by the magic of Caesar's name. That kind of victory costs less than warfare, and its results are more enduring.

But the best was to come. The longboat brought an answer from the Alexandrine flagship, in writing, hurriedly scrawled on papyrus and hardly legible because it had fallen into the sea when the writer dropped it overside.


Cleopatra's warships abandoned us. After consultation, liking not Cassius nor willing to subject ourselves to Brutus either, who is equally not to our taste, we decided to try to reach Rome and to ally ourselves with with Marcus Antonius the Triumvir, under whose command a number of us first ventured to Alexandria, at the time when Gabinius's expedition restored this Queen's father to his throne. We salute you Tros, as a friend and fellow-sufferer from Cleopatra's misrule. The message was signed Titus Sallustius Varro.


Tros's acquaintance! He laughed. He doubted he could trust those Alexandrine Romans any better than he could the spy Tarquinius. Titus Sallustius Varro was a grasping concessionaire, who lacked financial skill or honesty; he had been in constant trouble with the Egyptian Treasury about disputed or evaded taxes—a man of equestrian rank with very little military, but a lot of shady political experience. If Varro had managed to get himself elected spokesman, those thousands of ruined and desperate Romans were likely to be a difficult mob to manage; there were probably at least three thousand of them, very likely more, even after allowing for the burned plague ships, one of which still floated, smoking, on the sky, line.

But that they wished to put themselves at Antony's disposal was almost too good to be true. Antony couldn't possibly refuse to protect them, at least nominally. He would have to make some show of interest for his own reputation's sake. He would have to recognize Tros as their saviour. Tros sent for Tarquinius.

"Have you ever had plague?"

"No." Tarquinus blinked alertly, using a scrap of linen to his long nose to conceal emotion. He knew well enough there was nothing agreeable coming. Tros had been amazingly magnanimous, but magnanimity has limits.

"It is worse," said Tros, "than you are. It is the efflorescence, odor, bloom and seed of treachery and vile thoughts. There may be plague on Varro's ship. That is your risk. Go and make Varro's acquaintance. When we reach Crete I will expect you to inform me accurately as to Varro's plans, his influence, the extent of the opposition to him, and, above all, the number of Romans on all those ships who might be capable of valiance, if armed and put to it. Get a letter from Varro, addressed to the Triumvir Marcus Antonius, commending me for coming to so many Romans' rescue and promising full and faithful allegiance to the cause of Marcus Antonius. You understand that? Get it! This is your last chance, Tarquinius, to try to betray me."

"And what do I get if do well?"

Tros pondered that for a moment. It was not his habit to buy men's loyalty. It would be as easy to buy the wind as Tarquinius, and about equally sensible. A quoted price would only set him scheming to get a higher price from the men he was being sent to spy on. Herod, who was watching as usual, storing up studies of men for future reference, laughed aloud at Tros's answer:

"Do well, and you shall name your own reward, Tarquinius. If it is in reason, you shall have it."

Tarquinius gulped. He saluted. Tros sent him away in the longboat with a skin of decent wine and a bag of onions. Then he left Sigurdsen's squadron to herd the Alexandrine ships along behind him, with three liburnians to keep the fleets in touch, and laid his course for Suda Bay. He was worried, and yet curiously light-hearted. His plan, sufficiently elastic to allow for unpredictable events, was made. It was clear in his mind as to all important details. Ahead of him, he knew' was the most dangerous task he had ever attempted, and he kept staring at Hero in a way that made her wonder what wrong she had done. When she asked, he perplexed her even more:

"It is the wrong you may do that makes me anxious."

They almost quarreled because he wouldn't say what he meant. She tried to get Herod to give her advice. But all Herod could think of to say was:

"Tros is a difficult man for a woman to understand. Women, who are able to conceive a man, and bring him forth and suckle him and teach him to walk and speak, forever think of men as children whom they can understand, and guide, and manage. So indeed most men are; as, for instance, I am, and as even Julius Caesar was to an extent. But Tros not. Tros thinks faster than a woman. While she puzzles over what he has done, he is doing; and while she thinks of what he should do, he has already done what he will. Tros should have been a king. He would have been a great one, and the world the better for it. He is a fool to wish to sail around the world. However, all great men are fools, and wise women worship them."

Tros, whose worries were beyond the sky-line, kept himself amused by visiting from ship to ship, drilling his men and lecturing his captains. He had no time now for fleet manoeuvres. When the wind fell, out oars. When the wind rose, full sail. He logged every league he could make between noon and noon, until a sunset crimsoned the eternal snow in the shadowy clefts of the hills of Crete, and he slightly changed the course to windward to gain an offing and descend by night on Suda Bay.


CHAPTER XLIII
"Make haste, Herod"


It is not the unpredictables that govern issues. It is the steady, unwavering, day by day persistent exercise of judgment, always hewing nearer to the line of Wisdom. Far though it be from Wisdom yet, that effort rarifies its maker's thought, until he fits himself for swift and right decision in emergencies that baffle them who envision only purpose and let Wisdom wait, as if it were not, or as if it were a poet's word for something unattainable or unknown.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Tros's sails had been seen from the hills. Lights invited him into Suda Bay. A lamp-lit boat came out to offer pilotage, and the pilot demanded a suspiciously reasonable fee. So Tros hove to and awaited daylight; but he seized the pilot, who was a sturdy rogue of Dorian ancestry, well mixed with negroid and Phoenician strains. He had a short thick neck; he didn't like a noose around it.

"Now then! All Cretans are liars. Lie to me and I will string you to the yardarm. Tell the truth, and I will pay you for the treason to your prejudices. Speak! Who holds Suda?"

"None! We were raided by Sextus Pompeius, ten days ago. His men raped our women. He took away for his oar-benches all our able-bodied' men who couldn't escape into the mountains. Then he sailed away, we think, to Sicily, but we don't know. He had a fleet of more than fifty ships."

"So you hoped to wreck my fleet to restore your fortunes! Who then are the wreckers? You have said you all fled to the hills."

"Some of our folk have returned from the hills. But we are all starving."

The man looked well fed. So did his crew. There wasn't a gas-blown belly or a set of fleshless ribs among them. Tros ordered them all under close guard until daylight.

The fleet staggered up during the night one by one and took station, until at last a liburnian picked up a ten times flashed command and lay alongside Tros's ship, fifty feet to leeward, within easy hail. The liburnian's captain, a promoted Gadean boatswain, was ordered aboard and carefully instructed. Then Herod was awakened. His slave was commanded to pack his belongings. Herod looked sleepy, but he was as awake as a fox that scents a hound in the night. The pully-haul and splash of a big water-butt being swung overboard in the darkness, to be picked up by the liburnian startled him so that he set his teeth to suppress an exclamation.

"Where are we?" he asked. He could see nothing beyond the circle of lantern-light. He was afraid. When Hero came, he glanced at her as if he thought Tros suspected him of trying to seduce her.

"Herod, I am sending you to Antony, in the hope that you haven't lied about how well you know him."

"If he has forgotten me," said Herod, "he has a short memory. When I was a boy in Rome he liked me well enough." He laughed.

"Do you owe me an effort?" Tros asked.

Herod laughed again: "For all that you or I know, Tros, you saved me from becoming King of Egypt! Does that put me in your debt, or you in mine?"

"That is for you to decide."

"Very well. I have decided. What do you wish me to try to do?"

"Find Antony. Tell him, concerning me, whatever you see fit to say."

"You impose no conditions, no restrictions? You are wiser than I thought you."

"You may say to Antony, if it suits you, that your advice might swing me one way or another. I will not deny that, if Antony's wishes should happen to agree with my convenience. Tell him I am seizing Suda Bay, and will hold it as long as I see fit. Tell him whatever else you please, and let us see what comes of it."

Herod nodded. His eyes sparkled. He recognized the kind of opportunity that exactly fitted his genius. But he was puzzled. He didn't like being hauled out of bed and packed off at a second's notice. He wasn't quite sure whether Tros was fool enough to trust him too much, or a greater fool to trust him not at all. It might be Tros's way of getting rid of an unwanted observer.

"Here is more than enough money for your journey—take it, Herod. I am putting aboard the liburnian the best I have in wine and eatables. You will have your slave. For a personal escort I am giving you two Romans and six Jews chosen from those I took from Cassius; they have been suitably clothed and armed. They are yours. But make haste, Herod. The liburnian shall take you to Tarentum, where it will wait for a message from you regarding Antony's intentions. I am trusting you to send me full and trustworthy information."

He did not trust Herod to be anything but Herod. That was why he gave him no implicit instructions, no hint of his plans nor any information that Herod didn't already have. Herod was homeless, penniless, almost friendless. More than anything else he needed influence in Rome. To get that he would certainly not minimize, for the grandiose Antony's ear, the feats of arms nor the strategical position of a possibly useful ally who owned a well-manned and well-disciplined fleet. That part could be safely left to Herod.

Tros packed him off on the liburnian, and laughed when Hero complained that he had put their fate into Herod's keeping. When the thump of the liburnian's oars had vanished into darkness, until daylight he discussed his plan with her. It was' his plan now, not hers. It was beyond her wildest dream of daring. It made her breathless, speechless, until it dawned that he meant to trust her even more than he had ever trusted Conops. Then the spirit in her, that he did trust, surged and as they paced the deck she turned and faced him, laughing, saluting the way Conops always did.

"Yes, master! But you call Cleopatra a cat-and-mouser. Your way is equally cruel, isn't it? You demand at a moment's notice all a woman's courage, all her intelligence—"

He interrupted: "Life is cruel, Hero. You have trudged through Rome in golden chains and lost two thrones, before you are yet twenty. Do you call that the tender mercy of a sentimental heaven?"

"One throne," she retorted. "The other I threw away for your sake."

"You regret it?"

"Not I! But—"

"Hero, if I had let you know my inmost thought too soon, you would have been craftily pumping Herod for advice. He is more crafty than you. He would have divined my purpose. And if Herod understands a purpose, he intrigues to bend it to his own ends. As it is, you have learned quite a little from Herod, and more from me. Your genius will rise to this occasion."

"If I lack that genius?"

"Then I am a man of no judgment, and my destiny is written. I intend to trust you."

He knew he was about to impose on her more than was just. She had been trained by artful guardians to leave responsibility to others, and to have her own decisions whispered to her by men who used her as a catspaw. But there was no alternative. He had Sigurdsen's and Conops's jealousy to consider, as well as the probability of Herod's gratitude becoming frayed and cynically thin as distance lent proportion to his views.

Daybreak revealed too many problems for Tros to do any more explaining to anyone. He gave orders and saw them obeyed. The topmasts of the Alexandrine fleet were already reeling on the sky-line. Suda was a heap of ruined ancient splendor laid low by earthquakes, looted and looted again by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, pirates, Romans, and quarried for building stone for jumbled slums and for the numerous small but well-built fortresses that more or less guarded the bay. There were forts in the hills. There were caves in the hills. There were clefts in the hills that probably provided steep and well-defended routes for sudden forays against invaders. There was smoke in the hills. There were probably hundreds of capable fighting men, whose actual home was, in the hills and whose town was nothing nowadays except a lure for incautious ships.

The bay lay empty, except for the bones of a couple of wrecks. If there were any fishing boats, they had been hauled out and hidden. Sextus Pompeius, as the pilot said, had stolen all the useful shipping; had sunk what he couldn't use. Evidently, too, he had far more than commenced to destroy the few substantial buildings—no doubt to compel the islanders to comply with his demands for provisions and men. It was a lean-looking, doubtful prospect.

Tros anchored his fleet in two lines within bow-shot of the town, but the place appeared deserted. No one answered his signals. Nothing moved except dogs and a few stray goats. The pilot said the people had all taken to the hills, and he offered to go and find them and to carry a message.

But Tros preferred to argue from a basis of accomplished fact. Cretans, he knew, were mountain tribes at continual war with one another, and as treacherous as wolves. The name Cretan was a common epithet to hurl at rogues, who, in any port, if they had any pride, would resent it with naked steel.

So he landed two hundred men, under Conops and another of his captains, sending them right and left to seize the nearest stone forts. A few defenders fled at their approach. He landed more men, ship by ship, until most of his crews were ashore and all the longshore defences were in his hands. Then he marched against the fortified hovel-dwellings that commanded the boulder-strewn roads toward the mountains. After that he explored the town and found almost nothing except empty sheds and houses, and a fleet of small craft hidden under debris. They were good boats. So at last he delivered an ultimatum to the pilot:

"One thousand bushels of barley or wheat. One thousand full jars, or the equivalent in skins, of tolerable wine. A thousand milch-goats, as a loan, to be returned in due course. Five thousand pounds of grapes. Two thousand pounds of goat-milk cheese. A thousand pounds of honey. All these by tomorrow noon, or I will destroy the town and the forts and burn the fishing boats. The chief and, if he wishes, his council also, may attend me at noon and learn from me what reward I am willing to pay for diligent obedience to my demands."

He forbade the chopping up of doors and beams; he sent men foraging for fuel, and they brought in several hundred goats, discovered hidden in ravines and caves. By the time the Alexandrine fleet dropped anchor in the bay at sunset Tros was ready for them, quarters and water and fuel and all. But it was nearly midnight before the last Roman had landed; they had burned their boats for fuel and had to wait until Tros's men could row them ashore.

Provisions were now the obsessing problem. True, the fleet could cruise in search of corn ships; with corn in such demand in Rome, African ships of all sorts would be trying to run the blockade of Sextus Pompeius and of the pirates who were in a sort of elastic alliance with him. But to comb the seas for corn ships would be a long-drawn-out business and might lead to nothing. Tros felt fairly confident that his present demands would be met, but to expect the Cretans to continue to support more than four thousand invaders would be utter madness. If the ransom money should arrive, he would be able to pay for what he took, but the Cretans could not eat gold; they would hide in their hills and carry on a grim guerrilla warfare.

He could hold Suda, for the present, easily. Most of the Romans had swords, and he could arm them in addition with the weapons taken from the pirates. Tarquinius brought him an encouraging account of the Romans' attitude; and he was waited on by Varro, at the head of a committee, nearly all of whom Tros had known in Alexandria. They dreaded Rome, or said they did, but they preferred even that prospect to the dire alternative of serving in Brutus's or Cassius's army. When Tros promised to return them all to Alexandria; although he did not tell them how or when they knew at least that they were dealing with a man who always tried to keep his promises. They agreed to form themselves into a military unit, under Varro's command, and to obey Tros's orders. They accepted the task of garrisoning all the little forts around Suda Bay and between Suda and the hills. That left Tros's own men to hold the town itself, ready to take to the ships at a moment's notice. An attack from the sea was improbable; the fleet looked too big. Sextus Pompeius, the only man likely to dare to attack, was hardly likely to return to a port that he thought he had stripped of supplies.

But Tros ran no risks that could be foreseen. He made haste with methodical calm that masked a furious impatience, telling his real plan to none but Hero, and employing Tarquinius to bring him secret information as to what Varro and his Romans were talking and thinking about.

The provisions arrived, on the backs of asses and on the heads of slaves and women from the secret storage caverns in the mountains. Tros promised the chiefs not only more money than they had a right to expect but four of the Alexandrine ships as well, as a present, to replace their own that Sextus Pompeius had sunk or stolen. But neither money nor ships unless, meanwhile, they remained in the hills, reported approaching ships, and faithfully prevented other tribes from raiding Tros's position. Then, in return for a promise of two more ships, he even exacted a promise of more provisions, that they agreed to obtain from a neighboring tribe, and that he agreed to pay for at a price that would yield them a profit. But he put no faith in that bargain; it was little more than a ruse on his part, to give those Cretans something else to think about than retaliation. Sooner or later they were sure to attempt to recapture the town if only for the sake of the fishing, and because they put no more faith in his promises than he did in theirs. He was careful to let them see his archers at practise and his men being drilled by Sigurdsen and Conops.

He didn't spring his surprise on his own men until three days after he had landed, when he had made every provision he could think of, against every imaginable danger. Then he sent for Varro and his subordinates, and all his own captains and subordinate officers. In their presence he appointed hero to the supreme command, with Sigurdsen and Conops ranking equally as chief-lieutenants. He demanded an oath of loyalty and obedience to her. Mystified they gave it, one by one. He gave her his own ten Jews for a bodyguard. Then he paraded all his men and announced the news. They listened breathless.

"You, who know what pride I have in you, shall now have opportunity to justify it. You are all my freedmen. I have given you freedom, discipline, justice, self-respect. And I have led you, holding your lives as sacred as my own. Never had I led you into danger that I have not shared—aye, and a lion's share. Now I go alone, into a greater than any danger yet, and I rely on you all to behave, in my short absence, as if my eyes were upon you. You can reward my leadership and confidence, no otherwise until I come again, than by obedience to Hero, whom I leave in my place in command."

There was no ovation. He made them present arms to Hero, to the thunder and blare of martial music. Then he left them wondering. They were better so, mystified, than if they knew too much. He had made his choice of the fastest liburnian. He had already triple-manned it, with the pick of his seamen and the most skillful rowers in the fleet. He took his Syrian steward as personal servant, sent Tarquinius aboard without a moment's previous notice, and gave a final, laconic charge to Sigurdsen and Conops:

"Obey Hero. Be free with advice. But obey. Be your loyalty to her, and to each other, as ungrudging as to me. Hers is the high command, the final decision in any event, the full responsibility."

He avoided a public sentimental farewell with Hero. He could not have endured it. His last words to her were as martial as to his men. He took care that his officers should overhear them:

"Remember, girl, I will uphold you in any event, no matter what your errors, so be you are brave and faithful. Look to it, then, that you shame me not with laxness, nor with any cowardice that I would have to acknowledge as mine because I left you to represent me."

She couldn't speak. She saluted him warrior style, with the hilt of her sword to her lips, as the liburnian cast off and Tros set forth upon the boldest venture of a life that had been lived in almost ceaseless war by land and sea. Proscribed as a pirate by Rome and Egypt, he was on his way to snatch the visioned future from the locked jaws of the very Tiber Wolf itself.

He was trusting Destiny. If Destiny should call for courage, energy and wit, he had them. He had left his heart behind him; he was trusting Hero far more than was fair to her or even fair to the men who must obey her. In a way he had trusted Herod. But was he trusting Tros of Samothrace too far? Had he risked all he had on one throw of the dice, in a game he did not understand?

He looked up at the stars. There was no answer. He doubted that even Olympus could read the stars aright.


CHAPTER XLIV
"You, Tros!—clear the room!"


Half human history was made by drunkards in their cups and written down by slaves of one impostor or another in the hope of table-leavings.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Three crews to spell each other at the oars, night and day, day and night. A steady wind to starboard that permitted sailing a third of the time. A light, scrubbed hull that had been stripped of all unnecessary weight. Tros at the helm, relieved at intervals by an Argive veteran. The liburnian leaped. The long leagues reeled away astern. But Tros fumed.

He was throwing a main in the face of Destiny. He knew it. Sextus Pompeius, pirates—even the Alexandrine Roman Varro might ruin him, if Varro should have the enterprise to make a bold bid. By this time Ahenobarbus had probably drawn Cyprus blank; he might be prowling in search of the Alexandrine fleet. He might have picked up information from some fisherman or other who had seen sails headed westward. Ahenobarbus had an insult to avenge. He had threatened Tros with crucifixion if he ever caught him. If he should descend on Suda Bay for water and provisions, there could be only one possible outcome; between the Cretans in the mountains and Ahenobarbus's well manned quinquiremes, and almost certain of betrayal by the Alexandrine Romans under Varro, Hero's fate would be death, if not worse. She had once laughed in Ahenobarbus's face, had mocked his ignorance of decent manners. If he should catch her alive he would make no bones whatever about having her scourged and sold into slavery.

Twice the hard-driven liburnian came in sight of Sicilian pirates, but they were down-wind, on the sky-line. Once Tros sighted a small squadron that might be Sextus Pompeius's scouts; but he had the weather gauge of them, too, and though they gave chase they were soon out-distanced. Dread of Roman warships, with unpaid crews and plunder-hungry captains who were worse than pirates, had emptied all those seas of merchant vessels.

But when a dawn broke at last on the shoaling, opal-tinted harbor of Tarentum it revealed a crowd of shipping, nearly all empty hulls awaiting sailing permits or an escort and less certainty of capture should they sail in quest of cargo. But there were several store-ships deeply laden. There were half-a-dozen quinquiremes at anchor, without rowers, manned by a mere skeleton crews. There was a fleet of biremes on the beach, being cleaned and repaired. Two fully manned triremes guarded the fairway at anchor. The city looked dead, of the civil war. But it was probably more than alive with fear of the Triumvirate, not knowing whether Antony was paramount, or Octavian, or neither of them. The Senate might regain authority and punish whoever had been disloyal. Even the anchored fleet could probably not have told who owned it at the moment.

Tros drove at top speed between the triremes. Before they had challenged he was past them, semaphoring with both arms unintelligible signals that checked their legitimate impulse to open fire with arrow-engines. At reckless speed he brought the liburnian alongside the stone steps of the public wharf, tossed oars by way of salute, and made fast, within three hundred yards of the liburnian that he had lent to Herod; luckily its crew were out of sight, perhaps in prison, so there was no telltale cheering.

As he stepped ashore he was met by a score of officials, someone's lictors and two maniples of Gaulish legionaries commanded by an Etruscan tribune who happened to know Tarquinius.

So Tarquinius was useful. It was he who told the necessary lies about Tros being a special secret envoy to the Triumvirate in Rome from Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Asked for his credentials, Tros scowled the officials out of countenance. He demanded proof of their authority to question him. He threatened to report them all to Antony for delaying urgent public business. But he did show his letter from Varro imploring aid for loyal Romans. It appeared then that Antony, not Octavian, was the triumvir whose name spelled terror in Tarentum. Antony had recently proscribed and ordered slain some leading citizens for what he called treason; he had confiscate their possessions and ordered their dependents sold into slavery. It was one of those critical moments when a well told lie, immediately followed by an insolent demand, works wonders. And besides, the liburnian and its crew amounted to a fairly valuable pledge in pawn, so the officials became polite.

But the mail contractor was a veteran extortioner, who swore that his last team had been hired by Prince Herod, two days ago; the prince had bid four times the regular price charged travelers who had no senatorial permit:

"By Phoebus-Apollo, I haven't a horse with four legs, nor a chariot left that hasn't broken wheels."

"So much the worse for you." Tros answered. "For unless I am on my way within the hour, I will have you flogged for negligence."

Those mail-contracts were as good as gold-mines to the concessionnaires, but the penalties for negligence were ruthless. Tros might not be bluffing. The contractor weakened.

"I have to keep horses on hand for people traveling with senatorial passes. A great envoy, such as you say you are, should show munificence. If I risk being caught short, how much will you pay me?"

"Charge the bill to the Roman senate, as is customary in the case of envoys," Tros retorted. "Antony will authorize the payment. One minute over the hour, and your hide shall learn whether I keep my word or not!"

There remained Tarquinius. He had been seasick all the way from Suda. He was in no condition to go bumping a hundred and twenty miles a day, on roads that were last repaired when Pompey brought ten thousand Jews in chains from Palestine and killed them at quarrying stone. To take Tarquinius to Rome might prove more dangerous than to have left him behind to worry Hero. However, Tarquinius spoke first:

"Lord Captain Tros, you promised—"

"Ask."

"Accept me as your client. Leave me here and trust me. Here I have several friends, but in Rome too many enemies. I am not, as you know, a hypocrite, pretending to mealy virtues that are not mine, nor ever will be. Unvirtuously, I can serve you well, and I believe you are a patron who protects and rewards his clients. I have done you some mischiefs, but never again!"

"Aye," Tros answered. "Mischiefs, and I forgave them. But remember: what was tolerable mischief in a mere adventurer, would be treason if you pledge faith as a client. If I trust, and you betray, I will kill you as a duty that I owe to faithful men."

"Accept me. I will not betray you."

"Very well, Tarquinius. I will give you your chance. Remain here since you know these Tarentines. Find out what is in those store-ships. Pick up any other information you can. Find the crew of the other liburnian, and use your wits to keep both crews out of trouble."

That was a great load of Tros's mind, when, a few minutes short of the hour, he got under way, at the steady league-eating lope of the iron-legged stage horses, with his steward, two seamen and his baggage in a chariot behind. But he was burning with anxiety, nevertheless. He hated chariots. He hated to sit still. He loathed the dust. He felt like a blind, impatient human shuttle being threaded across the warp of time by destiny, that mocked his vision. And he loathed the filthy food at bedbug-infested inns, whose keepers were well aware that reputable travelers could claim the hospitality of equals, in country villas, and that only rogues or men in trouble used roadside inns.

But Tros didn't care to claim anyone's hospitality. In the inns, he and his men could protect themselves against the cutthroat rabble who lay in wait for unescorted strangers; all the way to Rome they each had only four hours' sleep, in turns, the others standing guard; only three times they fought for their lives against ex-soldiers, masterless and ganged up for any adventure. There was on invariable formula: a gang would offer itself; employment refused, the fulsome compliments would turn to jeering insult; that ignored, one of Tros's men would be hustled and accused of crowding or treading on someone's foot. Then a fight would begin.

But the average Roman soldier was not a good swordsman. He was not even a Roman. He was a peasant-farmer's son, who had been taught to fight pretty well in mass formation. Without officers to direct him he was peasant-minded, slow, and easily scared by superior skill and courage. Tros's men had been picked. They could fight like gladiators. As for Tros's long sword, he met no gladiator on the road to Rome who was game for more than one encounter with its lightning-lunge. The Roman military sword was not much more than a heavy dagger, almost useless, except in overwhelming numbers, against a man who used more than a yard of artful, glittering Damascus steel.

The constant brawls were a strain on the nerves, and they might have been avoided by turning aside to country villas. Even in the owners' absence, the servants would not have refused hospitality to a distinguished-looking stranger. But such villas were always a considerable distance from the main road, and Tros had not an hour to waste. Besides, there was no knowing who had been proscribed, and who not. There were bands of Antony's and Octavian's soldiers raiding country estates, day and night, beheading any owner who was on their lists or who couldn't give a convincingly proper account of himself. All Italy was in a state of terror, almost all business at a standstill. The only agency of government that still functioned was the mail service with its relay-stations every twenty or thirty miles. There was nothing for it but to drive straight to the heart of the terror, at top speed.

Tros reached Rome one day near sunset, a few minutes before the guard changed and they closed the gate. There was a long row of human heads on spikes outside the gate and, beyond those, a small forest of gibbets on which lingering scourged victims writhed amid clouds of flies. The stench was suffocating. But Rome always stank. Tros's seaman's nostrils, eloquent of disgust, gave him an arrogant air that re-enforced, embellished genuine resolution.

He didn't look like a man whom even Roman officers could safely treat with insolence. His unusual costume, his air of authority, his claim to be a foreign envoy on secret, urgent public business, his free use of Antony's name, and the overbearing ferocity of his impatience vouchered him past the gate guard. The centurion in command detached a man to accompany him, to make sure that he really did go to Antony's house. There, there were two full cohorts of legionaries drawn up in the street, but the soldier's presence seemed to satisfy their officers, who questioned him curtly and waved Tros forward. That vouchered him past the lictors, whose fasces rested in a line, five at each side of the great front door. An insolent tribune, helmeted and scarred like a veteran twice his age, took saucy leave of manners and commanded a whole maniple of the Tenth to lock spears in the splendid entrance. But a partially drunk and wholly jovial senator, with a Grecian vase in his arms and surrounded by slaves all similarly burdened, on his way somewhere, parted the spears and rebuked the tribune.

"Pollux! It is easier to enter this house than to leave it!" Suddenly he saw Tros—recognized him:

"Tros! By the lingering stink of Lethe, Tros! I saw you fight in the arena—in the days when Pompey was the god, and Caesar not yet on the march to play god in his shoes and be, in turn, immortalized with daggers!"

Something incongruous stirred in the senator's drunken brain. Pompey's house—Caesar's—now Antony's—

"Tros, are you here from the dead to warn this bloody-minded drunkard of his end? Or have you, too, come for plunder? Make haste. Octavian has claimed the house, so Antony is giving away its treasures to annoy him. Go in. If he likes you he will tell you to help yourself. But take care not to irritate him! It was you, I remember, who routed him out and bade him play the man when Caesar died of playing despot! Out of the way with your maniple, you saucy young butcher, you half-hatched cockerel, you pretty target for a javelin, you tut-mouthed impertinence! Way for your betters! Go in, Tros. Tell Antony I admitted you. He'll want to know how anybody but assassins, informers, whores and actors got by the door. He'll either kill you or give you a fortune. Who cares? Go on in."

The solemn dignity of Pompey's house had vanished, along with two thirds of its splendid furnishings. But most of the Greek statuary remained; the oriental magnificence of proportion; the utterly un-Roman beauty of the bronze and marble decoration. It was the din that made the place unfamiliar; it had been a haven of literary calm in Pompey's day. The house was crammed now with noisy visitors, most of them drunk—prostitutes, actors, dancers, senators, army officers, professional athletes, gladiators, bankers, politicians, pleaders. In a corner in one room a group of humorists were sorting Cicero's plundered manuscripts out of a basket; someone was reading scraps of them aloud amid roars of laughter. There were sentries in the passages, and a few quiet men who moved amid the crowd, observant, saying nothing.

An efficient Greek slave, noticing the splendor of Tros's cloak and sword-belt, led him aside, enquired his name, dusted him, sponged his feet, provided wine and gave him what was better—news.

"Prince Herod? Yes, two days ago. Yes, he is in the house now—not to be interrupted—yes, my lord, a woman. Yes, he has had several conferences with the Lord Antony, who seems very partial to prince Herod's company. You have come to tonight's banquet? If so, I will notify the steward."

Tros gave the slave a shrewdly calculated tip—not enough to arouse suspicion, not so small as to suggest that he didn't know that slave's importance in the household:

"Bring me a morsel of plain food, here, now. Then lead me to your master. Don't, if you can help it, let Prince Herod know I am here."

There was nothing to be gained by interviewing Herod, who had either already done his work, or hadn't done it. It would have hugely amused Herod to answer questions with adroit misinformation. Astonished by Tros's arrival, he would have simulated delight, and have played for time, in order to invent some subtle means of steering Tros's haste to his own advantage. Good. Herod was with a woman. Might she keep him out of mischief! Tros swallowed food and strode like an envoy of destiny straight to the man who had murdered his way to control of the power of Rome—the coming ruler of the world, if he could outwit young Octavian and smash Brutus's and Cassius's hold on the East.

Mark Antony was drunk—not drunk enough to be irresponsible, but enough to fire his vanity and make him reckless, ruthless, boisterously generous, and savage by turns. Triumvir, co-dictator, Caesar's ex-chief of staff, idol of half the Roman legions, he sat at a table gulping wine and letting whim dictate judgment of life or death. The room was packed with supplicants, some of them well-born women frantically pleading for the lives of friends, sons, husbands, lovers. They who were wise, and who had it, spoke mainly of money.

Herculean, burly, restless to begin a night of revelry, his curly black hair ruffled by a nervous gesture of his left hand, his imperial toga in disarray and his blood-shot, bold eyes, speculating but not calculating, Antony listened, or appeared to listen, and then tossed irrevocable judgments, to a secretary-slave, who wrote on two scrolls of parchment, one for the record and one for the waiting stewards of greed and fear.

The fear—the sense of guilt was unmistakable. It underlay the overgrown-boyish, sensuous-impetuous beauty of Antony's eyes and mouth. It underlay the bullying air of self-reliance. Antony was a statue of a man, with grand, well-moulded, rippling muscles that a gladiator well might envy. He looked well bread, well educated, and he was; but there was something of the parvenu about him, something of the mountebank and self-conscious humbug. Brute and artist were at war within him; he looked aware of it, a bit ashamed but utterly unwilling to deny the brute its day of power.

Suddenly he looked up—saw Tros—recognized him—struck his breast with theatrical gesture:

"Dioscuri! You, Tros—Clear the room!"

Attendant freedmen, lined against the wall, strode forward. The room was empty in a momenta Antony, almost as tall as Tros, strode forward and embraced him.

"Welcome! Herod said you were in Crete. He has been telling me of your exploits. You and Herod must have a conference with me tonight, so keep sober. I have to see Octavian tomorrow and I need facts to oppose his sniffling hesitation. Herod told me all about your little affair with Cassius."

Tros broke into the wine-inspired flow of verbosity:

"Good. Then I needn't waste your time or mine retelling it. Lend me your ears for an urgent matter."

Antony laughed. "Urgent? There is so much urgency abroad that dalliance begins to have a market value! Which are you—idiot or statesman? There's little difference, but which are you? Dioscuri! By the ghost of Caesar, Tros if you had done anything else to Cassius than let him go, I would have been your enemy for life! Cassius and Brutus, damn their hides, are the only two dependable allies I have! They'll give me the game by obstructing each other and being jealous of good subordinates. But what did you gain?"

"A fleet—didn't Herod tell you?"

"Cassius was worth more to you than thirteen ships, you Samothracian dreamer! Herod tells me you have fallen foul of Cleopatra. Easy to do, I don't doubt. Tart little bitch. I remember her better than most of the women I've squandered time on—used to try to make love to her when Caesar had her in Rome, but she was too clever, or I hadn't patience. I don't know which. She corresponds with me at intervals. Her secret agents here in Rome are reptiles; I've beheaded a couple. Bacchus! I remember now, it was you who smuggled her out of Rome and back to Egypt, after Caesar's death, in that great trireme of yours. What became of the trireme? Is it true she burned it? Is it true you have married her sister, or is that one of Herod's fables?"

He signed to the slave-secretary to drag up a chair for Tros, then set him the example and sat down with a thud, shouting "wine! wine!" He kept on shouting until a slave came on the run with a wine-jar. Like many a big man's, Antony's voice was high-pitched. He had trained it in a school of oratory to penetrate and shout down the discordant roar of crowds. It was a battlefield voice. But when he was drunk he forgot the rules of oratory, talked like a waterfall, leaped from thought to thought without pause and never waited for an answer until the sudden moment when he thumped a table and commanded climax.

"Tros, why are you here? To have your head lopped for piracy, or to do me a service?"

"You will do yourself no service if you think I ran this risk to play at which can out-guess the other," Tros answered. "Destiny won't wait upon our convenience. I have a fleet in being."

"What of those Alexandrine Romans that Herod speaks of?"

Tros told him. He showed Varro's letter. Antony tossed it on the secretary's table. He laughed.

"That damned fool Cassius would cut his own throat sooner than act sensibly!"

"He hadn't the courage. I gave him the chance to kill himself," Tros answered.

"Tros, if you had killed him, you would have made me your mortal enemy. Without Cassius as a living menace, I could hardly have brought that little pimply beast Octavian to terms. However, what about those Romans? What do you propose to do with them?"

"They are worthless as troops," Tros answered. "But as political friends, they might be of more or less value to you in Alexandria."

Antony nodded. "Can you do it?"

"I propose to do it. Write them a letter. Promise them your protection. Bid them meanwhile to obey my orders."

"I will do that. How many ships have you? How many men?"

Tros told him. Antony's wits were as quick as lightning when he did use them. He had been a magnificent chief of staff under Julius Caesar. All he ever needed was a leader strong enough to discipline his genius. His eyes grew brilliant. He scowled, swallowed an enormous draught of wine, got up and paced the floor a time or two, then suddenly turned on Tros and slammed a hand on his shoulder.

"Could you defeat Ahenobarbus? Would you dare to try it? He has more than forty ships—six quinquiremes—eight triremes. Spies report' him on his way to Alexandria but it may be a false report. You have spoiled Cassius's plan for invading Egypt. That's good. I owe you a turn for that. Cassius and Brutus are beginning to concentrate toward Macedonia, because of rumors that Octavian and I have settled our differences and are ready to start against them. If Ahenobarbus could seize Alexandria, he and Sextus Pompeius between them could starve us out. Not a corn ship could reach Rome. We couldn't possibly march into Asia."

"It is of that I came to speak," Tros answered.

Antony was silent a moment, speculating, using his intuition; he was too drunk to use critical judgment. Suddenly he demanded:

"Tros, what is your ultimate purpose? Why this woman, renamed Hero? Why, though Cleopatra burned your trireme, did you save her by preventing Cassius's invasion? Are you scheming for the throne of Egypt for yourself?"

Tros stood and faced him: "Antony, if I had craved a throne, I could have had one long ago."

"Yes, I remember Caesar spoke of it. Very well. What are you after?"

Tros told him of his plan to sail around the world. "I need to build special ships for the purpose. All my wealth is in Alexandria, and that is the best place in which to build such ships as I need."

Antony roared with laughter. Tros stepped away from him, glaring. He had no sense of humor where his grand ambition was concerned. He was sorry he had mentioned it, too angry to realize that he had totally disarmed Antony's suspicion. "Did you come to enlist me for the voyage?" Antony asked, swallowing wine.

"I came to offer, on terms, to guarantee that corn shall reach Rome in sufficient quantity to break the blockade and to make it possible for you to march against Brutus and Cassius."

Antony grinned. "You're a bold man. We don't dare to send a fleet against Ahenobarbus. He might destroy a fleet that we need to protect our crossing of the Adriatic. So you'll tackle him, eh? And your terms?"

"The Roman senate has denounced me as a pirate."

"Very simple. I will have that annulled by noon tomorrow. What else?"

"An appointment as Roman admiral, signed and sealed by you, giving me full authority to act at my own discretion against the enemies of Rome on land or sea."

"Impossible! Illegal! Octavian wouldn't agree to it. Even I couldn't get it through the senate without Octavian's backing."

"Is the senate so important? Did the senate agree to the proscriptions—to the lopping of the heads I saw on spikes as I entered the city?" Tros retorted. "Are you Triumvir, or the senate's catspaw? I am told you have murdered half the senate."

"Bacchus! You brought your courage with you!"

"Furthermore, I demand your promise, to be faithfully kept, that you will aid me in all ways possible, as soon as possible, to start away fully found and equipped on my voyage."

"All right. That's a bargain. You may as well perish that way as another. Otherwise your tongue will rob you of your head, unless Ahenobarbus gets you first. What else do you want?"

"A letter from you to Cleopatra, telling her of my appointment."

"Hah-hah! Oh, hah-hah! That's good. She'll enjoy that, I imagine! Oh well, serve her right for being stingy with her money! Damn the little bitch, she only sent me a couple of million sesterces."

"I want your order in writing, permitting me to take the store-ships in Tarentum and their cargoes."

"Ammunition, yes, if you need it. But no corn, mind! We can't spare a grain of corn."

"An escort to Tarentum—now—tonight!"

"Tonight, eh?"

Antony paced the floor, twice, with his hands behind him.

He spread his shoulders, flexed his muscles. At last he paused in front of the slave at the table:

"Write the appointment. Write the two letters he wants."

"Add, in the letter to the Queen," said Tros, "that Antony requests full diplomatic courtesy and protection for Hero, wife of Lord Admiral Tros."

The slave raised his eyebrows. Antony nodded:

"Yes, yes, write it.—Tros, do you know, you are the only visitor in a week who hasn't begged mercy or money! Stay to dinner. I will send you on your way at midnight. What's this rumor about civil war in Alexandria? Any truth in it? A spy—I hardly trust him—sent the news from Athens, where they say the Alexandrine Jews have risen in rebellion. There are several reports that Ahenobarbus is under weigh to take advantage of it. Sit down, man, sit down, have another drink and tell me all you know."


CHAPTER XLV
"Man the fleet!"


Heavens, how many obstacles there are between a resolution and its fulfillment! How much compromising to be done with unessential issues, to preserve the main thing whole and worthy! Each new obstacle to be surmounted in its turn, its smashed entanglements converted into means toward the main end! And the main end never to be overlooked, forgotten, substituted, changed, abandoned nay, nor once dishonored by a coward doubt!
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


All the way to Tarentum Tros remembered Herod's face at the banquet-table—opposite—halfway down the table—angry and humiliated. Tros had reclined at Antony's right hand. Antony hadn't let them even speak together. Clothed in the Triumvir's clean linen, Tros had guardedly sipped wine from Pompey's famous cellar that Antony gulped in goblets-full.

"Do you agree, Tros? I like that fellow Herod—an artist—amusing company—clever—but I wouldn't trust him not to go over to the enemy with all my secrets!"

An uproarious banquet—forty guests—more than a hundred entertainers—decadent indecency—drunken extravagance—revelry of men who might be dead tomorrow. None knew whose name was on the list of suspected traitors, but all men knew Octavian's sly genius for getting his political opponents daggered. Even at Antony's banquet table, there were guards on the watch for Octavian's spies.

But Antony's high spirits had seemed genuine. His drunkenness appeared to be a tribute to his own self-confidence. He sang with the singers. He got up and danced with the mimes. He wrestled with one of his Gaulish freedmen—threw him, with bawdily genial comments, three parts dead into the midst of a group of dancing girls.

And he had been better than his word when midnight came—out Caesared Caesar with extravagance of generosity. He had ordered out the chariot in which Caesar used to burn up distances—a long thing, beautifully balanced, in which a man could sleep. There was a chariot full of choice wines and hampers of cooked food. There were six escorting chariots filled with legionaries of the Tenth, under a centurion named Sempronius Ruber, who had campaigned with Antony over half a world and knew the last hair-trigger trick of saving time on the road. There was a chariot for Tros's servants, new clean clothing for them and a present of money that made them pop-eyed.

And Antony had summoned the public official who had charge of the senate's seal and had compelled him to countersign Tros's commission without reading it. True, the senate's seal was lacking, but it bore Antony's, as red as blood, as big as the boss on a Scythian shield. The letter to Cleopatra was encased in a golden tube that had been plundered by Sulla from Mithradates's palace; it referred to Tros as amicus meus, to Hero as uxor sua pulcherrima fidelis et sine criminis causa.

In the hands of Sempronius Ruber was a document commanding port authorities to give Tros any stores he needed, against the centurion's receipt. Antony had forgotten to exempt corn from the authorization. When they reached Tarentum, Tarquinius, who had snaffled himself a bribe from some credulous fool and was looking well pleased with himself, turned up with an accurate list of all the provisions afloat in the harbor. Not a man of the liburnians' crews was missing.

Wheat, barley, olive-oil, wine—two full cargoes, in seaworthy ships, with pressed Tarentine crews, were snatched from under the very noses of the authorities and orders to sea. The captain of one of the port triremes, overawed by Antony's seal on Tros's commission, and properly flattered by the glib-tongued Sempronius Ruber, undertook to escort the slow store-ships southward and eastward to a conjectural rendezvous at sea where Tros, on his way from Suda with his fleet, would overtake him.

As a precaution, the only one he could think of, Tros shipped Tarquinius off on the trireme, to regale the trireme's officers with any lies he pleased and keep them from abandoning their convoy or returning with it to Tarentum. Then he embraced Sempronius Ruber, gave him gold beyond a mere centurion's dreams of affluence, and set sail—two liburnians in line ahead, whose crews knew only that the great Lord Captain's grim impatience was the cue for even more than their usual seamanship.

The liburnians flew, with a brisk nor'wester kicking up a sea behind them, but not fast enough for Tros and hardly fast enough to snatch another bone from the teeth of fate. One more hour, and Tros would have been too late at Suda.

One day before his sails shone rosy in the rising sun in the mouth of the bay, the ransom had come for Sophax and his captains. It was partly in gold, partly in the form of a letter of credit on Jew-Esias in Alexandria, that Esias had given a year ago in payment for a cargo of African slaves. That was good acceptable currency.

Its arrival had interrupted riots caused by some of the women having offered themselves to Varro's Romans. Hero had demanded the return of the women and the Romans' impudent refusal had put her command in jeopardy. Sigurdsen and Conops, mutually jealous, had supported Hero, but the men had done some fighting on their own account, and the Romans had Sigurdsen's women, which had made him bull-angry and indifferent to sensible caution. He had battle-axed one Roman. Discipline was dangerously undermined. The bards were singing war-songs and the men were testing Hero's resolution. She was hesitant, too anxious to be diplomatic, trying to gain time until Tros should return.

Now the Romans were demanding half the ransom money, claiming, plausibly enough, that they had been the bait in the trap that enabled Tros to capture Sophax. Tros, they declared, had abandoned them all to their fate. He had been gone two weeks. Where was he? They demanded that the fleet should put to sea before provisions gave out and the Cretans came down on them. They had tried to enforce their demands by seizing and cutting off the water supply.

Tros arrived in the nick of time to prevent a tight that would inevitably have brought down Cretans from the hills to attack both sides indiscriminately. Hero, Sigurdsen and Conops were preparing for a vigorous assault on Varro's hurriedly fortified position.

Tros took command. He showed himself in full view of the Romans. He deployed a hundred men toward the Romans' rear, and they capitulated without striking a blow. They sent Varro to beg for terms.

The terms were drastic. Varro was deposed and all except two hundred of the Romans were disarmed. All of them had to go to work at once to fill the fleet's water-casks—a prodigious task; to save injuring the casks they had to sling them on poles and carry them from the filling-place to the shore. The two hundred who were not disarmed were volunteers, who begged to be enrolled for battle-duty. Tros grouped them in tens and distributed them on different ships, so that they couldn't gang up for another outbreak.

The severest part of the penalty Tros kept carefully secret, until he was ready and the Romans gave him the additional excuse that he had no doubt they would give, for indignant drasticism. What he needed was fighting men, not politicians, and he was short of good seamen. He had plenty of rowers; Cassius's captured Jews were becoming good. They were beginning to believe they would be set free, so they put their hearts into the work.

But Sophax's men were sailors, and though the pirate claimed them when he paid his ransom, most of them preferred Tros's offer of enlistment. Sophax and his captains had to leave them behind, and the man who had brought the ransom money also volunteered, and was accepted.

Finally, Tros sent for the Cretan chiefs and paid them—overpaid them. He gave them all the Egyptian women except six, who were the property of Sigurdsen's decurions; and even two of those fortunates he ordered whipped as an example to Hero's slave, Sigurdsen's freedwoman and half-a-dozen others, who might be said to be on the strength and not subject to be treated like cattle.

Then he began driving. Conops's golden trumpet sounded the assembly. The order went forth:

"Man the fleet!"

Tros's men went to work, delighted. But the Alexandrine

Romans demanded navigators and trained crews. Had not the pressed Rhakotis seamen deserted along with Cleopatra's warship convoy? The experience of manning oars and sails was nothing they wished to repeat. Besides, Tros had taken two hundred of their best men, and had promised their best ships to the Cretans, whose chiefs were standing by, waiting for Tros to keep his bargain. It was then that he imposed his staggering decision:

"You will remain here! I have already made terms with these Cretan chiefs for your protection. Queen Cleopatra shall pay their bill for feeding and protecting you until she sends a fleet to bring you back to Alexandria. Do you think me such a fool of a commander as to risk a second time such treachery as yours was the minute my back was turned? I sail on stern business. I need men, not trimmers."

They begged, they implored, they promised, they even wept, but he was adamant. He wanted no slow convoy of doubtfully friendly noncombatants to be fed and guarded while he combed the sea to force an issue with Ahenobarbus's fleet. He had in mind, too, to discover how far he could trust the Cretans. Suda Bay was a splendid anchorage. Cleopatra was not yet—not by a long way yet defeated; even when defeated, she was likely to be as dangerous as ever. A day might come when he would need such a base as Suda, with dependable tribesmen ashore to protect him while he accumulated material and built the ships he had in mind, for the voyage around the world on which his heart was set. So let the Romans stay and test the Cretans' idea of a bargain. He left the Romans as many provisions as he dared. He bargained shrewdly with the Cretans, promising not too much but enough to make it worth their while to keep faith.

As for Hero, he praised her cautiously, taking the blame on himself for having overloaded her with a task that had equally baffled Sigurdsen and Conops.

"Girl, you did well. I am proud of you. But you have yet to learn to use your cunning, and reserve violence for use when cunning fails. You should have guarded the water-supply. You should have let those Romans drink and wash only with your permission. One of the principal means of command is to control necessities and dole them out as favors. You, as a woman, should know that. Is a woman, who can be had on demand, of any value as a bait for men's obedience? It is so with food and water. Nevertheless, we have snatched advantage. I could hardly have left that rabble at the Cretans' mercy, if they hadn't given me excuse. As it is, we are free for the fight of our lives."


CHAPTER XLVI
"What does the Queen think it means, Olympus?"


The worst hour is the eve of final effort, when the goal, that seemed so near, seems passing out of reach; and all the work done hitherto, that seemed so wise, appears ill-done and ill-conceived; and all the unpredictable, imponderable dangers, suddenly invade the mind like spectres. Then a man needs courage. Aye, he needs the courage to believe his vision all along, from the first until now, was clear, and all his efforts well aimed to a good conclusion.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


And now, Tros hunted Ahenobarbus. He extended his probably vastly inferior fleet so widely that hardly a sail could have passed unseen. Even before he overtook the Tarentine store-ships in charge of the trireme, a Delos slaver and three fishing boats had been ordered up into the wind and had given him better than hints of the Roman admiral's movements. The cargoes from Tarentum were whipped out and distributed. Tros took Tarquinius aboard and learned from him that the trireme's officers had picked up rumors of revolution in Alexandria. A Greek merchant vessel loaded with Syrian bears for the Roman arena had reported sighting Ahenobarbus's fleet under full sail, headed southward, somewhere east of Cyprus. Tros invited the trireme's commander to join forces with him, but was rather relieved when he declined and returned to Tarantum.

"You will have a belly-ache of Ahenobarbus," said the Roman. "He has twice as big a fleet as yours."

When the trireme parted company Tros summoned his captains and explained his strategy:

"The two essentials are wind and drinking water. At this season the wind will be from the north—a fair wind for Ahenobarbus, and he will need it if he means to sail his hulking quinquiremes to Alexandria. He will follow the Syrian coast from headland to headland. If he has full war crews he will have to water his ships every third or fourth day, or oftener. Let us all pray for filthy weather. My purpose is to find him but to avoid a battle until weight and numbers no longer give him the advantage."

So Tros worked up to windward, combing the sea for news and not turning southward until his scouts caught four full shiploads of drinking water that were being sent from Salamis in Cyprus to overtake Ahenobarbus's fleet—a priceless capture; it saved a hundred miles of work against the wind, and the tedious delay of hauling water from shore to ship, with all the attendant risks. It might even upset all Ahenobarbus's calculations.

Two days later, rubbish told the tale of the Roman's whereabouts. There were even dead bodies being torn by seabirds; there was no dirtier wake in the world than a Roman war-fleet's.

Then the wind failed. Heat and flat calm, foreboding a storm from the northeast. Conops, scouting under oars, caught and overhauled a heavy boat-full of Ahenobarbus's sick. They had been set adrift to reach the Syrian coast if they could. They were waterless. Given water and wine, they told all they knew.

Six quinquiremes, eight triremes, twenty biremes, eight cataphracts—all short of water. Definite news that the Jews of Alexandria had risen in rebellion, and a guess that Cleopatra might welcome a Roman fleet of help her hold the throne. A tribune with a broken leg, cursing Ahenobarbus's ancestors and get for having set him adrift, volunteered that Ahenobarbus's plan was to seize the island of Pharos, where there was plenty of water; possession of the island should give him the command of the harbor and control of the city.

"As for me, Lord Tros, I hope you wipe him out, although I think your fleet is unfit for the task. If ever my leg gets well again, I am for Antony."

Tros laughed. It had been Tros himself who oversaw the strengthening of the fortifications on Pharos. Even previous to that, not even Caesar had dared to try to storm that well-defended island from the sea, and in Caesar's day there had been no artillery. But Tros, soon after Caesar's death, when he and Cleopatra were on friendly terms, had built huge catapults in the forts at each end of the island. They could hurl rocks weighing half a ton and smash to tinder any ship that tried to enter the Royal Harbor through the eastern channel. Ahenobarbus would have to enter the Harbor of Happy Return, at the western end, where the entrance was wider and his fleet could keep out of catapult's range.

Conference again:

"It's going to blow a hell's own snorter from the nor'east," said Conops. "He's going to have to run for shelter. He'll be parched. We have him, master—I mean Lord Admiral."

"Those quinquiremes," said Sigurdsen, "can't fight in dirty weather. As soon as it begins to blow we'd better get near him and tackle his big ships one by one as they become unmanageable."

Ahiram was all for caution: "We've some experienced men. But we've a lot of new hands who are likely to flinch in the face r, of superior numbers. I'd say, race him to Alexandria. If we're there first, and he's short of water, he'll have to turn back. If it blows hard enough, he'll pile on the beach."

Hero agreed with Conops, but for a different reason:

"If Ahenobarbus should get there first, and if the Jews really are in rebellion, Cleopatra will welcome a Roman fleet. She will agree to support Cassius and Brutus in exchange for help against the Jews, and she will help Ahenobarbus to destroy us. I say overtake him and fight him now."

Tros gave his verdict: "Aye! And arrive off Alexandria with a battered fleet too weak to drive a bargain, no safe port to turn to, and Cleopatra no longer menaced by Ahenobarbus! It is Cleopatra whom we have to defeat. Ahenobarbus hates and despises her. Hero, you hate her and dread her jealousy. I loathe her treachery and like her courage. Furthermore, I need her help, and she needs mine. It is time to begin to worry Ahenobarbus!"

He began by cutting off two of the Roman's provision ships. Prisoners gave him information that was worth more than the food. Ahenobarbus knew of the capture but didn't turn to bring on an engagement, and that told Tros more than the prisoners did. It began to blow. He gave chase in close formation, ready to concentrate on any of the Roman ships that might get separated by the storm.

It was blowing a full gale by the time they sighted the Pharos beacon. By the time they had the Roman fleet in view Ahenobarbus was in trouble, on a bad lee. His advance guard of two biremes had been utterly smashed by the catapults at the entrance of the eastern harbor. A third had been wrecked on the rocks and was sinking in smothering foam. Tros shortened sail and manoeuvred to give the Roman time. He ignored Conops's and Sigurdsen's signals asking leave to attack. He watched the Roman try a futile exchange of arrows with the forts on Pharos, then abandon his sinking biremes and go rolling, with a beam sea that bullied his oarsmen, westward toward the Harbor of Happy Return.

"Oh, go for him! Go in and smash him!" Hero urged. "Tros, have you lost your judgment?"

"No," he said calmly. "Nor he his. If he were a fool, he would detach half his fleet to hold me while the other half entered the harbor to fight for water. I would destroy him then, half at a time."

"But he will water his fleet, and then what?"

"He can't come out against the wind. I have him bottled. And the sight of my sails will give Royal Egypt something else to think about than making him welcome."

"He will set fire to all the corn ships in the harbor. Then how will you keep your promise to feed Antony's army?"

"All the corn ships will be safe out of harm's way on Lake Mareotis, cleaning their bottoms of weed. Ahenobarbus is mine! Watch! Wait, I tell you! Silence, woman, silence!"

It was a summer thunder-gale; it had almost blown itself out by the time Ahenobarbus's fleet had straggled as far as the western entrance. But there was still a high sea. The Roman had a hard time getting his unwieldy quinquiremes into the harbor. Dogging his rear, Tros made a demonstration that drove one quinquireme and a trireme too close to the Pharos catapults. A dozen half-ton rocks splashed wide, but there were three hits, and three were enough. Before Ahenobarbus could rescue the crews from the smashed ships, Tros had let his rearguard have a dose of arrow-fire that threw them into confusion. He almost captured one trireme, whose rowers wilted under arrow-engine hail.

"Drive on in and smash them all!" urged Hero.

Tros hauled off. He liked to win his battles. He proposed to know all that he needed to know before risking a ship. It would do no harm to keep Ahenobarbus guessing. He laughed at the thought of the Queen's perplexity. He hove to, stationing his fleet in two lines off the harbor entrance. He sent a four-oared boat with a spy to Pharos, but neither the boat nor the spy had returned by late afternoon. Perhaps the spy was being tortured. If so, he had been well equipped with artfully invented misinformation.

Even if Ahenobarbus didn't have to fight for water, it would take him all night to get it aboard. Tros had three days' water and a week's provisions. He could afford to wait. Strategy and tactics both demanded he should wait for the moonless darkness, when the Romans almost certainly would be on the defensive. The Roman tradition of fortified camps for the night was as undying at sea as on land. There would be double anchors down and a vedette boat patrol.

There came a boat from Pharos, rowed by sixteen slaves, and in its stern sat the gloomy Olympus. Tros laughed. The gloomy Olympus again! No witnesses—no secretary—no adroit official liar to attempt sly bargains! None but Olympus, in haste, with a personal slave in the stern who urged the splashing rowers. Tros ordered a longboat overside.

"Tarquinius, take this present of wine to Admiral Ahenobarbus. Tell him from me he will need it if he means to accept battle. Add that, if he wishes to surrender, I will receive him on my quarter-deck."

"Lord Captain, that savage will order me killed!"

"Not he. But I think he won't surrender. Bring back all the information you can get."

"I doubt he will let me return."

"Go and find out!"

Olympus arrived as Tarquinius was rowed away. The ship rolled so that he had to be hauled up in the bight of a rope, ruffled and undignified. When he and Tros embraced the crew saluted, but a couple of seamen watched narrowly to make sure Olympus didn't draw a dagger.

"Tros, I am sent to ask what this means."

"What does the Queen think it means, Olympus? Tell me all your news. Be brief about it."

When he wished, Olympus could be as straight to the point as a Parthian arrow.

"Tros, she needs your friendship! Two thirds of her ministers, and all of her guard officers except Leander and a few of his intimates, are in favor of terms with Ahenobarbus. Pharos is loyal to her, but not the city. After you escaped Antyllus at Pelusium she had you condemned as a public enemy and your possessions ordered confiscated. She demanded your fortune of Jew-Esias. He refused. She threw him in prison. That enraged all the Jews in the city, who were indignant enough because there is no foreign trade and they can't ship the corn that she forced them to buy. They rose against her. She suppressed them, slaying more than the plague had done—"

"Has she slain my friend Esias?"

"No, not him yet."

"Let her lay that to her credit! Is she in the palace?"

"Yes. The Heptastadium is held by loyal troops, so if the palace becomes too dangerous she can escape to Pharos. If Ahenobarbus should attack the Heptastadium they are ready to burn him off. The Jews are now waiting to see what will come of overtures that Admiral Ahenobarbus is busily making to the Queen's enemies. What will you do?"

"What say the stars, Olympus?"

"Tros, is it wise to mock because you disbelieve?"

"What say they?"

"I have read your horoscope. You are in danger. Mars and Mercury aid you, but Saturn afflicts. Delay is to be avoided."

"So also is her treachery, Olympus. Go and give her this letter from Antony. Her fate is in her own hands. Say, that if she wishes me to save her from Ahenobarbus I require, this side of midnight, proof—not promises, proof—that she intends to carry out in full, in good faith, every one of the demands that I made before she tried to trap me at Pelusium."

"Tros, consider her dignity, I implore you."

"Warn her to consider this: I have already opened conversation with Ahenobarbus. Make haste, Olympus."

"But proof, Tros? What possible proof?"

"Something better than mere words, Olympus. Let her use her memory—her wits—her sense of decency—her knowledge of the Law that governs loyalty—her sense of justice, affection, gratitude and fair play! That is all my message to her. I have nothing to add."

"Do you need nothing?"

"No."

"The Pharos forts could send you ammunition."

"No. Go tell the Queen that Lord Admiral Tros and his fleet await her swift interpretation of your reading of the stars!"

Olympus was lowered overside by men who almost feared to touch him, lest his magic wreck their souls and bodies. Hero, smothered in a shawl against wind and spray, forefelt the outcome:

"Tros, she will rather accept Ahenobarbus's orders! I would!"


CHAPTER XLVII
"What a task to be worthy of Tros!"


Any form of government is good that actually governs and not offers opportunity to rogues to buy and sell preferment. Let a ruler rule, and let the ruled obey. But woe betide a ruler who is faithless to the lonely task of ruling firmly, generously, justly, decorously, wisely and, to sum the terrifying total—well.
From the Log of Lord Captain Tros of Samothrace


Night fell before Olympus was well on his way. Save for the great lighthouse beacon it was dark on Pharos, but a red glow overswam the city. The thunder of surf on Pharos drowned all noises from the land. The wind had fallen, but the sea ran high. The fleet kept station under oars, exhausting patience, stirring ill temper. Tros signaled for Conops, and presently Conops came alongside with the store-ship that contained Cassius's thousand packages of Greek fire as well as all that remained of Tros's own infernal explosive. Straw mattresses and dry wood were collected from the fleet. The store-ship was crammed to her hatches with inflammables before Tarquinius returned, discouraged.

"Yes, I spoke with Ahenobarbus. He thanks you for the wine, in which he drank to your damnation and he bade me say so. They are bringing provisions and water to him from the city, rather than have him send a force ashore to make them do it, I suppose. He has anchored his fleet out of range of the Heptastadium, which appears to be strongly held by archers. Nearest to the harbor entrance are four quinquiremes and four triremes. The rest of his fleet lies between him and the city. He has six little vedette boats, and they're wide awake, patrolling. He asked how much water you have, and I told him almost none, which made him laugh. He said you shall have your belly-full of sea-water as soon as it suits him to come out. That was all I could learn, except that he has sent some officers ashore to confer with the city officials."

"How did his crews appear to you? Spirited or ship-weary?"

"Pretty good, I thought. The men are singing—laughing at the bawds along the waterfront."

Tros waited, though he knew it was doing his crews no good to keep station under oar in darkness. They were growing nervous, less and less likely to put up a vigorous fight against odds. Meanwhile, he instructed Conops, and then summoned his captains one by one, to be patiently shown with the aid of a charcoal drawing exactly what his plan was. Word stole through the wondering fleet that the Lord Admiral would be granting shore-leave and paying full arrears of wages by tomorrow noon. Sullenness fled on the falling wind.

It lacked an hour of midnight when Olympus's boat returned and was hailed by the fore-deck lookout. Tros stared over the rail and roared suddenly:

"Stations, all hands! Torches there! Our ladder!" Then, in a moment: "Royal salute! Present—arms!"

Cleopatra! She was shawled and merry. She looked tinier than ever. She sprang lightly to the deck and stood under a sort of aureole of crimson torchlight, holding out her hands for Tros to come and kiss. Excitement, dare-devilry, mischief sparkled in her eyes. She didn't look like a queen but a light o' love keeping a midnight assignation. She was like the girl again who stole into her palace to risk a duel of personality and wit against Caesar, and all his sycophants, and all her enemies.

Hero, in armor, striding like a killer, smiling with the catlike Ptolemaic stealthy watchfulness, walked forward beside Tros. He bent over Cleopatra's hands. He rather lingered on the courtesy. He gave her time, should she choose, to avoid humiliation. It wasn't in him to show malice if she would do the right thing, say the right word. She had the genius to realize it.

"Good Lord Admiral! I would rather see you than a thousand ships!"

Leander and Olympus loomed behind her, staring, listening, alert. She looked at Hero steadily. The gleam of torchlight on Hero's armor wasn't as fascinating as the flash of unmasked but, for the moment bridled hatred in those sisters' eyes.

Hero said nothing, making the most of superior height and a smile that suggested triumph was beneath her young dignity. Cleopatra spoke:

"Tros, who is this? Present her to me."

"She is my wife Hero. Hero, make obeisance of the Queen of Egypt."

Hero bowed gracefully and then stared eloquent defiance.

"I congratulate you, Hero. And you also, Lord Admiral. She is beautiful, isn't she? But what a task to be worthy of Tros! Hero, be a loyal wife to him and count me your friend! Lord Admiral, your friend Esias tells me your fortune is safe. He has it. His docks are at your disposal. He is at the moment busy trying to calm the Jews, who have been troublesome. He and his friends will be sorry, and I more than all, when you set out at last on your voyage around the world. But we will hospitably aid you. We will speed our guest, though we will all lament his going." Then—suddenly, in a voice that curiously mingled anger, laughter, tears, humiliation and admission of guilt: "Now, Tros, are we friends again? Olympus said you demanded proof. Is this enough? Can you ask more than that I come and claim your protection? Are we friends again?"

"I was never your enemy," he answered. Hero shuddered when he kissed her. Then Leander laughed aloud:

"Lord Admiral, you have a tougher task tonight than when you fought your way out of Pelusium!"

"The opportunity to thank you for your aid on that occasion is a privilege, Leander!"

Cleopatra saved that moment. "He obeyed me, Tros! He was loyal to me. I ordered it. Forgive him!"

"It is not my custom to forgive an officer for being loyal to his Queen! How now, Leander? You were saying?"

"Tros, unless you smash Ahenobarbus's fleet, the Queen's enemies will have closed a bargain with him before morning."

"Is it known she has left the palace?" Tros asked.

"No," said Cleopatra. "Not even Charmion knows—not yet." Leander added: "If Ahenobarbus knew it, he would imitate Caesar and seize the palace."

"He is a little late to try that," Tros answered. "When I have beaten him, what of the throne?"

Cleopatra answered: "Do you think I would have begged your pardon, humbly like this, if I could have saved my throne without you? To your task, Lord Admiral! Defeat Ahenobarbus, and the city will kiss your feet and pay its fines for having flouted me!"

"Can you safely return to the palace?"

"No! If I were seen it would be said I had appealed to you and you had refused aid! They would offer to sell me to Ahenobarbus!"

"It may be a hard battle," said Tros. "Ahenobarbus is a stout opponent. If you remain on my ship you may be injured—killed."

"Better to die in battle than be a drab of a throneless Queen!" said Hero. Wish was mother to the thought. She didn't even try to mask the malice. She hoped so eagerly that Cleopatra would be slain that Cleopatra laughed and blew her a kiss.

"You have a wife, Tros, whose opinions crackle like a thorn-fire. Let us hope they burn nothing!"

Tros put under Leander's orders ten men armed with swords and shields, whom he could ill spare.

"Guard her with your lives! The safest place will be the midship cabin."

But Cleopatra refused to enter the cabin. Nothing—no argument could persuade her to do it.

"It is my throne that you will fight for. I will share the full risk. And besides, I wish to see a well-fought naval battle!" Tros sent two boats around the fleet. He himself visited the nearest ships. Presently there stole forth from the lightless lines the store-ship loaded with explosives, under oars, guided by rowboats, steered by Conops, manned by seamen who had fought at Salamis, and towing boats into which the crew were to jump at the word of command. The flagship followed, showing one light astern, guiding an almost silent fleet in line ahead, dead slow. The thump of muffled oars was smothered by the roar of breakers on the rocks of Pharos. There was no telltale moon. The silence on Tros's flagship was so tense that he could hear the oarsmen's breathing and the thumb-strum of a bard who tuned a harp. He could hear the creak of a midship walk on which the oar-captains stood under lantern-light and beat time. It was perfect rowing; the oar-drip was nearly as quiet as rain.

Suddenly Roman vedette boats blared a general alarm and scooted toward their fleet. Ahenobarbus's quinquiremes and triremes slipped their cables with a great din of oars going out through the ports, shouted commands and trumpet-calls. The rest of the Roman fleet began hauling their anchors. The high-sided fire-ship, hardly visible, suddenly rattled as if hail-struck. All four quinquiremes had opened on it with their arrow-engines. Its rowers spurted. Conops's golden trumpet tally-hoed a blast of triumph. Oars went overside. There was a rush for the boats. The store-ship crashed between two quinquiremes, whose heavy corvi fell well aimed and spiked its deck. Through the store-ship's hatches burst a fountain of brilliant flame that cannonaded, crackled, exploded and sizzled skyward with a suffocating stench and dreadful heat that hurled back the Roman boarders. The locked quinquiremes crashed their sister ships. The triremes milled around them. From the stern of Tros's flagship the thrice repeated signal flickered:

"Carry on as ordered!"

Trumpets then, and shouting. Wild harps, and the cannonade of oars unmuffled. Conops, back on his own ship, led his squadron hard behind Tros. Sigurdsen's squadron raced along the harbor-front, between the shore and the burning quinquiremes, to engage the Romans' lighter ships and hold them, while Tros and Conops poured a hail of arrow-fire into the colliding, locked, unmanageable fleet in mid-harbor. All four quinquiremes had caught fire; two whose corvi had spiked the fire-ship's deck-beams were already done for, abandoned, most of their crews leaping overboard to drown. The crew of one drifting, blazing quinquireme had spiked a trireme with its corvus, to make a bridge for its crew to abandon ship. They were in the way, masking the trireme's arrow-fire.

The holocaust illuminated the entire harbor—the long, defended Heptastadium—the dense crowds swarming along the harbor-front to view the spectacle—Sigurdsen's squadron obeying orders, avoiding the Roman biremes' deadly covi, outmanoeuvring them, delaying their efforts to come to the main fleet's rescue—and in the midst of the harbor a fiery mirror on which black monsters struggled amid smoke and roaring flame.

Suddenly the fire-ship blew up. There was a moment's glare like the death agony of a thousand meteors, ten thousand thunder-claps in one—then darkness, jewelled by the longshore torches mirrored on the water. Cleopatra's voice and Hero's, simultaneous in Tros's ears, one on either side of him but hardly audible amid the din of battle and the shouts of ten or twenty men all bellowing the same news:

"Tros! there goes Ahenobarbus!"

"Lord Admiral, the Roman captain runs!"

Tros, too had seen him. Almost nothing escaped Tros's eyes in battle. He had time, even in that minute, to observe that Conops's four ships had broken a trireme's oars, had rammed and grappled her, were at the throats of the Roman marines. Another trireme had gone to lend a hand against Sigurdsen's ships. Another, backing water to get in position to use her ram, loomed ahead in the darkness, and toward that trireme Ahenobarbus was being rowed—he and his staff in the stern of an eight-oared boat.

"Lay all arrow-engines on the trireme forward. Full speed ahead!"

The air screamed with arrows. Tros caught the trireme turning, rammed her near amidship, rolled her half over with a gap in her underside that filled her in less than a minute—backed away, by the grace of discipline and masterly helmsmanship too swiftly to be caught by the ram in the rolling Roman's death-wound. The sinking trireme's captain yelled for quarter.

"Cease fire! Both boats away! Bring me that Roman admiral alive! Starboard oars astern! Port oars forward! Full speed!"

He circled around to aid Conops. But that trireme also had struck. Conops and his crew were already disarming Roman prisoners. Tros ordered the trireme left adrift. Its oars were smashed; it was helpless.

"Go and aid Sigurdsen!"

Then Ahenobarbus came over the rail with his dejected-looking staff officers, respectfully but closely followed by Tros's seamen. The Roman admiral strode up to Tros in the darkness. His staff saluted, but he didn't.

"Do you strike?" Tros asked him.

"Yes."

"Then let your captains know it!"

"How?"

Signalling—but no one saw the signals—trumpeting—but no one heard or heeded—Tros raced across the harbor to where Sigurdsen's and Conops's squadrons were at death-grips with what remained of the Roman fleet. It had become almost a land-fight. Grapples, rams, corvi had locked them into one swaying riot with a Roman bireme crushed in the midst, and one ship burning. Sigurdsen's ship had been sunk by a Roman dolphin. Sigurdsen was battle-axing, bull-lunged in the van of boarders on a Roman deck.

By trumpet-call and messenger Tros had called off most of his own men before the Romans at last saw Ahenobarbus standing bare-headed on a torch-lit quarter-deck, and understood, and yielded. Two cataphracts and a trireme, three vedette boats and one bireme were making their way to the sea, circling wide near harbor-mouth to avoid the catapults on Pharos. Conops came vaulting override, saluting, grinning:

"Shall we give chase, master? I mean, Lord Admiral?"

"No. Bring Ahenobarbus's eight-oared boat alongside."

"Aye, aye, master."

"Steward, provision the admiral's boat."

Ahenobarbus stared. He took no notice of Cleopatra, none of Hero. Cleopatra was about to speak to him, but Tros prevented her; he knew the grim, sardonic Roman hated her too savagely to be civil even if his life depended on it.

"So we have met again, Ahenobarbus. You promised, I remember, you would crucify me."

"True. I meant that," said the Roman.

"You can overtake your ships, I think, Ahenobarbus, if you make haste. Ashore you would be a dangerous guest. I don't like crucifying gallant seamen. So I make you a present of the life of a brave commander!"

A slight smile flickered on Ahenobarbus's iron face.

"I accept that," he answered. "You yourself, Tros, are an honorable seaman. You should have been born a Roman. Farewell."

He and his staff officers saluted. They ignored the women, turned away and marched like gladiators to the rail, where the seamen helped them overside. Then Cleopatra spoke:

"Tros, you are a madman. I have always known it. You should have cut off his head."

"I prefer his respect," Tros answered. "His head is valueless. It holds no wisdom."

He gave orders to his lighter vessels to patrol the harbor-front, to prevent the Alexandrine mob from putting off in boats to loot Roman ships. He sent boats for the surviving Roman captains, and to rescue swimmers. But there wee very few swimmers; armor had drowned the men who jumped, and the chained Roman rowers had gone down with their burning ships.

The city roar became noticeable now—ululating tumult, echoed and re-echoed between marble walls. There was a lot of shouting on the Heptastadium. Along the harbor-front two regiments of cavalry, their weapons and brass ornaments reflecting torchlight, clattered and came to a halt abeam of Tros's ship. They saluted with a great flourish of trumpets and thunder of drums. Tros send Leander to bring their commander aboard.

"Tros," said Cleopatra, "you are as mad as Euroclydon, but you are as brave as Alexander and as generous as all the fools there ever were on earth. Now that you have let Ahenobarbus go—no doubt to be your relentless enemy!—what do you propose to do next?"

He was silent for several minutes, keeping her waiting while he watched the lights of his squadrons obeying orders to form in double line with the flagship on the right front and the captured Roman warships in a line down the midst.

"Next?" he said then. "I am Antony's admiral."

"Tros, you could have been my admiral. I offered it."

"Aye, Egypt. I think now they will send their scapegoats and their hostages, to beg terms. We have the city at our mercy."

He meant he had her at his mercy. He was too magnanimous to say so plainly, unless she forced him. She understood.

"Tros, what do you wish me to promise? I will do it."

"Bring those wretched Romans back from Crete to Alexandria. Restore to them their property. Defray the cost of my ship that you burned. Faithfully observe the terms that I conveyed to you by the mouth of Olympus."

"Faithfully I promise."

Careful for their finery and followed by two orderlies, the cavalry commander and Leander clambered from a rowboat to the deck. The cavalry commander saluted with a magnificent gesture, but he looked sheepishly at the Queen and avoided her eyes. He wasn't specially eager to look Tros in the face, but he had his speech ready, and Leander had told him of Tros's new rank.

"A splendid victory, Lord Admiral! A gallant fight! Strategically perfect! Tactically superb! Timed as if the very gods themselves had—"

Tros interrupted: "Have you been in arms against your Queen?"

"No."

Cleopatra put a word in. "He hadn't the courage! he waited to see first what would happen!"

The cavalry commander began stammering denials and Leander laughed aloud. Again Tros interrupted:

"Where are the Queen's ministers?"

"I don't know."

"Take your cavalry and go and find them. Bring them here to me."

"Dead?"

"No. Alive."

Cleopatra interrupted: "They are traitors. Let him kill them."

Tros repeated: "Bring them here to me alive!—Egypt, I will hold them on my ship as hostages until you find others to put in their place.—Stay here, Leander. Have you any loyal guards at the palace?"

"Yes, now they know who is master!"

"Summon their officers here to receive my orders! Squadron-commander Conops!"

"Aye, aye, master—coming!"

"Detail fifty men to escort the Queen! Hold them ready to set her ashore on the Heptastadium with Captain Leander and Olympus when I give you the word. Thence, escort her to the palace, and report to me."

"Aye, aye, Lord Admiral. Ready in half a jiffy!"

Cleopatra turned to Hero, whose archer bodyguard was nicking two more notches in her bow. Hero was watching, listening, smiling. There was no doubt what Cleopatra's fate would be, if she, not Tros were in command.

"Enviable sorceress!" said Cleopatra. "If I might sail away, as you will, I would think a kingdom well lost!"

Hero nodded. Tros smiled. "Egypt—keep it well won!"

"Tros—you fool," she answered, and she glanced again at Hero, "you could have been King of Egypt."


THE END


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