Updated: Oct 20
431 BC, Cranii:
Goats bleated as Melos stood practising his sling on a nearby tree. Stone after stone smacked onto the same worn mark on the ancient cypress tree. A distant cursing reached his ears. Looking down he saw the portly form of his Uncle Phileus making his way up the track on his long-suffering donkey Argos. His uncle waved at him and then drew his steed to halt. "My boy, my boy" he called out. "Come talk to your favourite uncle.” Melos grinned and ran over, he shook his uncle's hand and stroked Argos's neck. His Uncle passed him a small bag stuffed to the brim with black olives. "We are rich. Richer than Croesus. I am already planning my palace of gold. It will rival the halls of Mount Olympus itself! How do they taste? Good, yes?"
Melos popped three in his mouth and munched. He gnawed off the flesh and spat out the seeds in a well practised rotary motion. "They are excellent Uncle."
"I bought the olive grove from Mikka. We will be wealthy beyond measure." Phileus grinned and raised his arms to the heavens basking in the midday heat. I must go and tell your mother at once. "Come, the goats can look after themselves."
Argos groaned as Phileus whipped his rear with an olive branch. He began trundling down the trail as Melos jogged at his side. Experience taught him to keep well away from the argumentative donkey's hind legs.
It didn't take long to get to the cluster of small whitewashed cubes that marked the family home in the rural outskirts of Krane. Melos saw his brother Nikos outside practising with his spear and training shield. The thick, oversized training shield was too heavy for Melos to hold for long but his older brother could heft it for long hours. Sweat dripped from his tunic as he ran through the patterns.
Hearing them approach, he turned to greet them, at the sight of his uncle, Nikos scowled, tossed his equipment to one side, and strode over. "Phileus, you rogue, have you brought me my money?"
"You can have your money at once, immediately,” Phileus said holding his hands up in mock surrender, “but I don't have it on me." Nikos’s eyes flared with anger. "I have better news though that will see this family rise to the ranks of the richest in Greece."
Nikos folded his arms. "Like when you decided to become a donkey breeder? How well did that go."
Phileus pointed at Argos. "They sold me a gay donkey. That wasn't my fault." Argos flicked his tail majestically. "Anyway, this is much better. Here." He tossed Nikos a bag of olives. "I, we are olive farmers."
Catching the bag out of the air, Nikos looked at Phileus, his expression deadpan. "What do you know of olive farming?" He blinked. "Where did you get the money to buy a farm? You owe me money. The farm must have cost several hundred times that. You don't have any money."
Smiling Phileus wafted away the question. "I am a smart man. I can do anything." He dismounted from Argos who whinnied with relief as Uncle Phileus thudded to the ground.
Melos mother came out with a tray of figs, bread and honey. She smiled at Melos then scowled at the arguing men. Placing the tray on the table, she jumped back as Nikos moved in for a hug, whipping a cloth at him with a practised aim. "Wash before eating. You don't need a sword to repel people. You smell like a pigsty." Nikos feigned a wounded pride. He turned to Melos who pulled a face and nodded at him. Throwing his hands up, he wandered round to find a water butt to sluice over himself.
Phileus was tucking into the bread and figs, honey dripping down his chin. He pulled out a cloth and mopped at his sweating bald pate. "Is there not honeyed wine?" Nikos returned at the mention of wine, his face and long black hair still dripping from the wash. His mother Chryse shook her head and then walked back inside. "No to the wine then." Phileus lamented. Nikos rummaged around in his pile of equipment and pulled out a wineskin.
"You didn't answer my question. Where did you get the coin to buy an olive grove, and where is my money?" Nikos asked. Phileus reached out for the wineskin, and Nikos held it out of his reach.
"I will pay you immediately Nikos, you know I'm a man of honour. Every second, this debt hangs over me. I am in pain. You can collect it now if you like?" Phileus said. He brushed crumbs off his bright, embroidered chiton.
Nikos muttered under his breath. Then thundered "Collect from where?"
Phileus tried twice before managing to mount Argos. "Oh." He thought for a moment. Then eyes widening he gestured over to the town. "Jocasta has it. She needed money to replenish her wine, the Corinthians--". He spat on the ground "--sank the last shipment she ordered." I knew you would never stand by when a lady was in distress." Nikos glowered at him. "And offering very reasonable terms of interest." Grabbing a fresh chiton Nikos dressed quickly and belted on his sword.
Melos cried out suddenly, clutching his head he fell to his knees. Vomited and passed out. Nikos swiftly reached down and touched his forehead. He called for Chryse who saw Melos and ran forwards him weaponising the cloth in her hand to drive away the two men.
As she wiped the vomit from Melo’s lips, he stirred. “I saw a naked, young man, he had raven feathered wings and long black hair. He was chained to a rock face, and, and the heat was so intense.”
Eyes sparkling with pride. Phileus knelt down and patted his shoulder. “I had a very similar dream this morning. You are becoming a man.”
Chryse batted him away. Melos was still clutching at this head. “How are you feeling Melos?”
He pushed himself to a seated position and groaned. “It is getting better. Still hurts a bit.” Phileus handed him the wineskin.
Chyrse intercepted it and took a sniff. “Go and water this for Melos.” She handed it to Nikos who nodded, heading to the kitchen to find a fresh water jug. “Has this happened before?”
Taking a deep breath, Melos stood up, his legs getting steadier. “Only once, it happened in the fields last week. I saw three triremes and then soldiers were fighting in Krane’s harbour. Nikos was there in armour fighting.”
Returning with the wineskin, Nikos passed it to him. “How many did I kill?”
“You were Ares in human form brother, they couldn’t touch you.” Melos said with a smile.
“They must be visions sent by the gods.” Nikos said. “It does said believable.”
“Did you see me?” Phileus asked. “Was I fighting?”
Melos shrugged. “I’m sorry Uncle, I didn’t see you.”
“I am too sensible that is why.”
Chyrse went into the house and returned with a small purse. Tossing it to Nikos she ordered him to return with a priest. Melos interjected. “I will walk with him. I feel fine now. I want to walk.”
Looking doubtful, Chryse never the less nodded. “Straight to the priest Nikos. No taverns.”
“Of course, I was going to collect my money anyway.” He flashed an annoyed look at Phileus who mounted Argos. “Come Melos.”
Melos trotted after him.
"Nikos wait," Melos said. Nikos slowed his pace to let Melos catch up. He was singing a marching song as they crunched along the path.
"See you look better already.” Placing his arm around Melos shoulders he looked down upon him with a smile. “Some advice for you. Never lend money to that leech of an Uncle, he is worse than a Persian," Nikos said. Melos nodded, he chose not to comment on how Nikos made his money. "He still didn't answer how he afforded to buy an olive grove. Father would have bounced his head off the wall." As they approached the town of Krane, the track widened into a road and the road got busier. Packed dirt became stones, worn smooth through time and use. Melos smiled as people waved at his brother as they passed. He was a frequent visitor to the town when he wasn't selling his sword abroad in Persia. They stopped when they reached the smithy, and Nikos disappeared inside the smokey interior ordering Melos to stay put. He returned with a heavy linen-wrapped bundle, wiping the sweat off his brow before gesturing for them to continue. “I don’t know how he does it.” He reached under his chiton. “Yes, as suspected, it is as hot as balls in there.”
The sound of revelry announced their arrival at Jocastas taverna. Nikos gestured for wine, to Melo's delight he also got him a cup. “Do not tell your mother,” he said sternly. When Jocasta came over, she moved with casual elegance, her hair up and her chiton gleaming white. A warm smile instantly soured as Nikos mentioned Phileus. She spat on the ground. Nikos did the same. "Yes, I agree, I was telling Melos the same thing but nevertheless, I am not leaving here until I get my money." She looked him straight in the eyes and he looked coldly back. Thumping down the wine she marched away from them. Nikos shrugged and looked back at Melos. "We'll get the money." He handed over the bundle. Melos unwrapped it with excitement, inside was a bronze sword, a Xiphos. He pulled it out of it's lacquered wood scabbard. It gleamed, freshly oiled. "Be sure to name it, names give power." Melos nodded. Nikos took it off him, hefted it and made a few practice thrusts, he then looked down the length of the blade.
“I will name it Justice.” Melos said.
Nikos swore. “Ok, so don’t name your sword. You are terrible at names and it will become an unlucky sword.” Nikos said. "Perfect balance, it's about time you got a real one, you will be a man soon. Besides, you are getting better with the wooden training sword at home." Nikos helped Melos belt it on. "There is a bad feeling in the air, I don't like it. I think our uncle has gotten himself into difficulty again." At that moment Jocaste came and dumped a purse onto the table. Nikos rewarded her with his best smile and she sneered.
"That is half, I will have the remaining half for you in a month.”
Nikos nodded his assent. As she walked away, he exclaimed to Melos. "This is half? This?" He slid it under his chiton. "For all his scams, Uncle Phileus is not gentle with his terms of interest." Looking at his wine cup he downed it. "Well, best find you a priest." Melos scabbard banged against the bench and he laughed with glee as he stood. Nikos shook his head and refilled his cup with the last of the jug and downed it. “Priest. Right.” They walked through the dusty streets towards the Temple of Apollo.