Chapter 10 - The Island of Lesbos
One long day had them approaching the southern tip of Lesbos. The captain directed the men at the tillers to turn north heading up the east coast of the island. Once they started up that side of the island they lost the wind that had been filling the sail.
“We will be putting in to the port at Mytilini, and we will be here at least a couple of days. You will take turns staying with the ship, so that all can spend time ashore. Be sure to be careful here. Now, man the oars so we can get into the harbor before dark.” The captain’s left eye was twitching as he spoke and he turned away as he rubbed that eye. Something was not right, but no one spoke to question the captain’s decision. Some among the crew began whispering to each other as they took their places with the oars, and it was clear to Sinon that they knew something about the island.
Mentu looked to Sinon. “What do you know of the island? Have you heard of this place?”
“I have. But I don’t know if I believe what I have heard, and I have too little experience concerning those things.”
Mentu’s brow wrinkled up as he tried to understand what Sinon was saying or not saying.
“Is it an evil place?”
“That depends. Some of what goes on here might be of concern, and some might be quite satisfying.”
Now Mentu looked even more confused and shook his head as he turned to look forward to where the island lay on the distant horizon.
“Mentu, I heard sailors speak of this island. There are women here who can give great pleasure. It is their trade.”
Mentu smiled and nodded.
Strymon joined in, “There is also a woman here who is a poet and some say a philosopher.”
“How can this be when women and slaves like me are uneducated?” Mentu glanced at Sinon with a wink. “The only women I know of who are educated are the Hetaera, and only for the service of men.”
“This woman is of a wealthy family, and she is well educated. Her poetry is well known.” Strymon put his hand to his chest, closed his eyes and began to chant:
“Immortal Aphrodite, on your intricately brocaded throne,
Child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, this I pray:
Dear Lady, don’t crush my heart
With pains and sorrows.
“But come here, if ever before,
When you heard my far-off cry,
You listened. And you came,
Leaving your father’s house,
“Yoking your chariot of gold.
Then beautiful swift sparrows led you over the black earth
From the sky through the middle air,
Whirling their wings into a blur.”
He paused, opened his eyes and spoke in a low voice. “There is much more to that song, but now is not the time for that.”
Mentu’s jaw dropped open and his teeth were like rows of stars against a black sky.
Sinon leaned to Mentu and whispered, “I think there is much more to this sailor than we know.”
Mentu nodded as a broad smile replaced the wide-eyed look of astonishment.
Strymon was not done, “Mytilini has a tyrant who the people here elected. His name is Pittakos and he is known to be a wise ruler. He has created laws that must be observed by all who come to the city. It would be best if you allow me to accompany you when you go ashore. There is someone I want you to meet there as well.”
“We’ll welcome your company, won’t we Mentu?”
“Yes. I am sure we will.”
As the port and city of Mytilini came into view, Sinon kept looking over his shoulder at the place as he continued to pull on the oar.
“Mentu, look at that. That is the biggest town I could ever imagine. It looks the way I imagined Athens to look from what I have heard.”
“It is huge. There will be much to see here.”
They continued to row and look as more of the city came into view.
By the time the day began to yield to night, the Amphitrite was secured to one of many docks in the bay by the city. Aristomachos was busy right away with men who met him at the dock. They would not be unloading cargo until the morning, so when a couple of the men volunteered to stay with the ship, Sinon, Mentu and Strymon headed into the city as did other members of the crew. In Kirra, everything would be shutting down for the night, but here, torches and lamps drove the darkness from the streets and people were everywhere. Some shops were open for business as well as taverns full of men and women. No doubt the women were not the men’s wives or daughters, but clearly performers of all manner of things. Many were dancing to the delight of the men. Some appeared to be making other arrangements.
After winding their way through several streets they found a place farther from the bay that had several empty seats at tables. It was a little quieter here than most of the places they had seen, but men and women engaged in conversation here as well. The three of them took a table near the door. A woman who was much less covered than Sinon and Mentu were used to seeing, asked what she could bring them. She was beautiful and young, long black hair draping down her back, and when she moved it was like watching cool water flowing in a brook.
Strymon spoke up, “We will have wine, the best you have, and keep it strong.”
Sinon and Mentu looked at each other and then to Strymon, and finally to the woman as she glided away and returned moments later with three cups on a tray. Strymon gave the woman some coins and she moved on to another table.
“You have proven yourselves worthy sailors and you deserve this time to relax a little.”
“I cannot speak for Mentu, but I feel like there is so much more to know.”
This brought a brilliant white smile to Mentu’s face.
“There is always more to learn. I have been at this a very long time and I still am learning but you have earned your keep with this crew. The captain even said so just the other day. He also mentioned that you are going to Colchis. Now I wonder what is there for you.”
Strymon’s face lit up with a knowing smile. Did he know why they were going? Is this something that the others would know as well? His father had said that he didn’t share the purpose of the venture with the captain, so how could Strymon know anything of it?
Sinon decided that he was letting his imagination run wild, and that there was nothing to be worried about. Besides, Strymon had made himself an indispensible friend.
The three of them sat for a time drinking their wine and watching the people, especially the woman who was serving. There were other women as well, but they seemed to be plying a different trade. Two of the women approached the table, but turned away when Strymon shook his head. Sinon did not know about Mentu, but he realized that his body was taking interest in these women.
Strymon treated them to another round of wine. Sinon began to feel the effects of this drink. Wine was the common drink for all, but he had never had it this strong.
“Do they mix this wine with water at all?”
“Yes, but not much, and the honey they add makes it more palatable. It is excellent wine to begin with. This island is well known for its wine and its women.”
Getting back to the ship took a little more effort than Sinon was used to even though it was downhill most of the way. In the morning, he didn’t really remember getting to the ship, but he woke up there so he obviously made it somehow.
Sinon’s head throbbed as they began unloading the cargo. He could hear pounding in his ears and his whole body ached. It was clear that Mentu was struggling as well. As the day progressed though, Sinon gradually felt better, but he made the decision to limit the strong wine in the future.
In the morning some men came with several items as additional cargo, a box, several grain bags and four large amphorae. That was quickly stowed and secured, and they were free that afternoon. They hadn’t seen Aristomachos yet this day.
“Strymon, where is the captain?”
“Something or maybe someone here takes him away for a time. That is why we have a couple of days here. It happens anytime we come to this island.”
Strymon didn’t offer anything more on the subject.
“I told you that I wanted you to meet someone. Come with me now if you are up to it.”
“Mentu, shall we go?”
“There is nothing keeping us here, but I don’t want that strong wine today.”
“Do not worry. This isn’t a drinking invitation, quite the opposite. We need to be on our best behavior.”
Strymon led the way into the city and through several streets moving away from the busy center of the town and into an elegant area with buildings that were obviously wealthy residences. They came to one where Strymon knocked on the door. A tall man with biceps as big and Sinon’s thighs and dressed in the best linen toga he had ever seen opened the door and spoke.
“Strymon, welcome. You bring guests.”
“These fine young men are new members of the crew of the Amphitrite.”
Sinon and Mentu instinctively nodded to the man. Sinon had never heard Strymon speak so elegantly as he was now. The tone and enunciation and cadence were all strange to hear.
Strymon turned to Sinon and Mentu. “This is Lagos.” He turned back to the giant. “Is she here?”
“Yes. I will go let her know you are here.”
Moments later Lagos returned and made a sweeping gesture with his right arm and stood towering over them as they walked following Strymon into another room. A strikingly regal woman met them as they entered the room. She was not tall and had a dark complexion, yet confidence and sophistication radiated from her. She was dressed in a purple linen toga with a gold trimmed scarf draped across her shoulders.
“Strymon, it is so good to see you. And who are your friends?”
“This is Sinon of Kirra,” Strymon said with his hand held out to Sinon with the palm up, “And his close friend, Mentu.”
“Sinon and Mentu, this is Sapho, a poet and dear friend.”
Sinon swung a quick glance at Mentu who was obviously as surprised as he was, before bowing deeply to the woman.
“It is truly an honor to meet you.” Sinon managed. His voice was strong and solid which was far from what he was feeling inside. Mentu bowed as well.
Sapho led them all to couches in the middle of this large room. The walls and floor appeared to be marble and there was a tile mosaic of a woman reclining on a couch worked into one wall. A wide doorway at the other end of the room from where they entered led into a garden. They couldn’t see all of it, but there were many flowers and a couple of small trees readily visible as well as part of a water-filled pool.
Lagos entered carrying a large pitcher and four drinking cups. He set them on a low table between the couches and poured the well-mixed wine into the cups. Sapho invited them to drink as Lagos left the room.
“Please accept this wine as a welcome to my home.”
Strymon responded, “You are too gracious, dear friend.”
Sinon and Mentu were so overwhelmed that neither could speak. Instead they each sat listening to the conversation between Strymon and Sapho until she turned to Mentu and asked, “Are you Nubian?”
He swallowed and spoke clearly, “Yes.”
“How long have you been gone from there?”
“I left as a child and was taken into the home of Sinon’s family.”
Sinon was most impressed with the way Mentu answered.
“And what prompted you two to join my friend on the Amphitrite?”
Sinon looked to Mentu and then back to Sapho and answered, “We come at the suggestion of the Oracle of Delphi who directed us, actually me, to travel to the end of the Black Sea where I would find my future. My brother agreed to accompany me on the venture. My father arranged for us to travel with Captain Aristmachos.”
“Strymon speaks highly of the captain, and his bringing you here speaks highly of you. I think you are in very good company. Maybe more than you know.” She gave a sidewise glance to Strymon who nodded thanks to her.
For at least an hour, Strymon and Sapho discussed events happening in Mytilini and Lesbos. Sinon and Mentu listened as they learned of political and social happenings in the city and island.
Eventually, Strymon stood, “We have taken enough of your day Sapho. Thank you so much for allowing us this time and hospitality.”
Sinon and Mentu stood, as did Sapho. She walked with them to the entrance of the building. Sinon noticed that Lagos had appeared from nowhere and was standing quietly nearby.
Then Sapho leaned toward Strymon and spoke more quietly, “I may be leaving the island soon. There are things happening that will probably make that necessary. If that happens I will leave information about where I will go with Lagos as he will be tending things here. Thank you for your visit.”
Then she spoke more directly to Sinon and Mentu. “It was a pleasure to meet you. Take good care of my friend here.” She smiled as she touched his arm.
“Thank you for your hospitality and rest assured he has taken good care of us. We will do the same should the occasion present itself.” Once again Sinon surprised himself.
Mentu spoke as well, “Thank you for your generosity.”
Sinon and Mentu stepped across the threshold and paused until Strymon joined them.
They walked down several streets toward the ship before anything more was said, and then Sinon broke the silence. “How, may I ask, do you know her?”
“It is a long story which I may tell you some day, but this isn’t the time nor the place for that.”
Sinon thought to himself, He says that same thing often. He must have a clear sense of what is the time and place for everything. They walked back to the ship in silence. Sinon’s mind was racing and he knew he would have a hard time getting to sleep, but sometime later that night, long after he bedded down, sleep finally did come to him.