Shield of Fire: Chapter 2

The second chapter to Shield of Fire.

Click here to read past chapters of Shield of Fire.

CHAPTER 2

Andreas sat idly, dipping bread into honey. He was awfully hungry, even though his father had just threw a dinner party last night. He smiled at the memory. There had been no special occasion, but his father had invited all his friends around anyway, serving them expensive beef and pork. Most of the friends were politicians or people in high places. His father was Themistocles, after all. Themistocles never did anything without a hidden agenda. His father had not become a player in Athenian politics without cunning.
And without his father he would not be sitting eating honey bread this morning, Andreas thought to himself with a smile. No; without him, he would be working on the fields like any other earnest peasant looking to earn enough to live without having to sell himself off as a slave. Shackled on their own fields, locked in their own chains was a fate that Themistocles’s wealth had surely cleared away from ever entering his son’s destiny. Andreas felt grateful, chewing the honeyed bread. He even had the privilege of having a personal tutor, and the even higher privilege of having days off where he did not have to be tutored. Today was one of those days and he loved them, where he was free and he could be his own man.

As he lay thinking about his father, he walked down the stairs. Andreas glanced over.

“Andreas, can you go ask Aristides to come over? I want to talk to him.” Themistocles asked without greeting. Andreas rolled his eyes.

Aristides’s house, while within walking distance of Themistocles’s own, did take time to walk to and from.

“Any message you’d like me to carry? Why don’t you ask a slave, anyway?”

“I’m taking the slaves out to help me in my publicity campaigns.” Andreas rolled his eyes again and the word ‘publicity campaign’. Themistocles’s innovative method of pleasing the poor and walking down their filthy roads were the talk of the town. Greasing the palms of the voters themselves were not unheard of in Athens, but never to such an extent that a politician would be wooing the simple craftsmen. Andreas smiled. Themistocles was not a noble-born. He did not need any aristocratic pretensions. His father was no stupid man, even though he used his son as a slave.

“So, any message?”

“Just tell him to come over to me. We’ll walk over to the Agora together. I wanted to talk to him about today’s assembly.” Themistocles sighed.

“You seem a bit stressed. What’s going on?”

“Some Ionian tyrant is coming to appeal for Athenian troops.” Themistocles replied. “I don’t like the sound of this but I want to know Aristides’s opinion on this too. I don’t know too much about the Persians, but from what we know they’re a great power. We’re not interested in war with them.”

“I understand.” Andreas said. “I’ll go to Aristides now.”  As Andreas walked to the door, however, Themistocles gripped his shoulder.

“Another thing.” he said. “Don’t think I’m using you as a slave. You’re my son, Andreas. I’m rising and so will you.” Andreas smiled. There was no false modesty with his father. “But so is Aristides. You should make his acquaintance, or his son’s at least. Making connections. They’re important.”

Andreas nodded. He’d heard the lecture a hundred times before. “I understand, father. I understand.” Andreas emerged out from the house into the street of Athens. Themistocles had chosen to live in the area of Athens known as the Ceramicus, near what is called the Hangman’s Gate. Themistocles had chosen to be so close to the voters as to live among them, which was in itself unheard of. Andreas did not like living in the Ceramicus, although he fully understood his father’s reasons. The area was one of the filthiest of Athens, filled with poor craftsmen. The buildings there were so closely stacked against each other that they completely blocked the view of the Acropolis. Andreas was glad that Aristides lived just outside the Ceramicus, however. He was fit and he only had to walk for a couple of minutes before reaching Aristides’s house. He knocked on the door, which creaked open slightly after only a few moments. Andreas did not hesitate before greeting.

“Hello. I’m Andreas, Themistocles’s son. I’d like to see Aristides, please.”

The door opened further and a young girl stepped out. Andrea remembered that Aristides had a daughter; he had seen her a few times before distantly. He’d never been this close to Rhene before, and he now knew why he had never really recognized her. He’d never looked at her face to face before. Her piercing blue eyes were enough to break through any pretension of confidence that he had.

“My father’s upstairs. Is this urgent?” She asked.

“My father wants Aristides to come to his house and walk with him to the Agora for the assembly today.” said Andreas.  He try his best not to give her the impression that he was staring at her.
Rhene smiled. “I’m glad to meet you. My father talks often about Themistocles. I’ll go up and bring him down.” As Rhene was about to walk in, however, a man, looking slightly older than Rhene, stepped out of the door. Andreas recognized him as Cleon, another of Aristides’s sons. He spoke first, respecting the slightly older man.

“Cleon.” Andreas said.

“I’ve heard your conversation. Aristides is coming down now.” Cleon said, gazing back over his shoulder. “Oh, there he is.” Andreas noted how deep Cleon’s voice was. Cleon, gazing over his shoulder, said “Oh there he is. Father, Themistocles’s son is here. He wants you to go over to his house.”

Aristides stepped out into the sunlight, smiling. He was a tall man, thin, about the same age as Themistocles. “Hi Andreas. Nice to meet you. I’ll go right now, I’m ready.” He walked out with Andreas, quickly waving to Rhene and Cleon.

Walking with him, Aristides asked what Themistocles wanted. Andreas shrugged. “He just told me that the Assembly will be discussing some Ionian proposal today, and that it’d be foolhardy for Athens to give in.”
Aristides chuckled. “Oh yes. He’s a guy named Aristagoras and he’s been staying in the city for two days now. I’m sure your father would have told you a bit, and admittedly I don’t know much more than what he or you would know, so I don’t know what he wants to discuss.” Soon enough they were back at the house and they found Themistocles sitting patiently.

“You’re back from your publicity campaigning?” asked Andreas.

“I changed my mind and decided not to go. I didn’t want Aristides to wait.” Themistocles said with a smile. “We’ll set off now. You can go wherever you want.”

“Is this Assembly really that important?” asked Aristides. “My slaves have taken a short leave of absence, and life is so busy these days. All the administration stuff. I’d been thinking of spending today with family.”

“Andreas could go help keep them with company.” Themistocles said quickly. Andreas rolled his eyes. More connection-making.

“That’d be a good idea. Be on your way, Andreas. We’ll be on ours too.” Aristides said, starting to walk towards the Agora. Andreas quickly left. Themistocles’s tone of voice quickly changed with his son’s absence.

“This Assembly is important, Aristides.” he said seriously. “We can’t let the citizens vote to make war on the world’s greatest power. We just cannot. The Ionians brought this on themselves. It is not our trouble.”

Aristides nodded. “I understand that, but surely the Assembly isn’t going to vote themselves towards a big war…”

“No.” Themistocles interjected. “No. We live in a democracy. I haven’t bothered to meet with Aristagoras yet, so I don’t know what his oratory skills are like, but it’s not just us educated classes who are going to be voting. Everyone is. All the citizens, no matter how rich or poor. But this isn’t just a matter of voting to go to war against a city like Sparta. We can beat Sparta. This is voting to go to war against Persia. I have no idea…” his voice trailed off. Aristides noticed how Themistocles had mentioned ‘oratory skills’ and silently sighed. Themistocles was legendary as an orator and his speaking skills were said to be the best in Athens. Aristides, meanwhile, simply wanted to speak the truth. Honesty was all that mattered to him, not twisting the facts. It was something he disliked about his friend, but there was nothing he could do about it in the world of Athenian politics.

“Fine. What do you want to do about it?”

“I want you to come up and speak right after Aristagoras is done.” Themistocles said. “The people trust you. Try to find a way to calm their nerves after Aristagoras gives his speech. He’ll probably give you all sorts of patriotic crap that we don’t need to hear.”

“Sounds good.” Aristides replied. “But tell me, though; you’re not having some sort of secret agenda here?”

Themistocles laughed. “Of course I’m not! Don’t be so suspicious, old friend. I do know they call me a man of twists and turns, but this time I really am motivated simply for the good of the Athens.”

“Fair enough.” Aristides said with a smile. “But doesn’t every politician say this?”

“Perhaps.” Themistocles admitted. “But really. I’ve never lied to you before.”

“Oh, yes you did. There was this time at the party when you said there wasn’t any wine left when there was this last jar…”

“Yeah, yeah, but I was really thirsty.” Themistocles interrupted. Aristides smiled. Despite the fact that they were both still trying to make a name for themselves, to be among Athen’s most prominent politicians, they were still good friends. By this time the two men had walked to the Agora, a complex of buildings that were the nerve-center of the city. As they entered the area, they met a large statue of the Tyrannicides.

Themistocles found himself slightly ambitious every time he saw the statue. The Tyrannicides were two male lovers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, whose family had been offended by a tyrant of Athens, Hipparchus, before the days of her democracy. Together, the two lovers had slain Hipparchus, earning for themselves forever a name for loving liberty and slaying down a tyrant. It served as a reminder for Themistocles. Not only would a democracy allow one to go far, it also allowed for personal intentions to be so well mixed with public glory. The two were always entwined, but today, Themistocles would for once not be doing something for his own personal gain. He would be trying to save Athens from voting itself to going to war with the greatest power on the three continents. Themistocles on his most optimistic days dreamed of a powerful Athens, with himself as its head.

Certainly it was a worthy dream, Themistocles thought as he took a seat in the Assembly.

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