The Moon Endureth
III. The Lemnian
He pushed the matted locks from his brow as he peered into the mist. His hair was thick
with salt, and his eyes smarted from the greenwood fire on the poop. The four slaves who
crouched beside the thwarts-Carians with thin birdlike faces-were in a pitiable case, their
hands blue with oar-weals and the lash marks on their shoulders beginning to gape from
sun and sea. The Lemnian himself bore marks of ill usage. His cloak was still sopping,
his eyes heavy with watching, and his lips black and cracked with thirst. Two days before
the storm had caught him and swept his little craft into mid-Aegean. He was a sailor,
come of sailor stock, and he had fought the gale manfully and well. But the sea had burst
his waterjars, and the torments of drought had been added to his toil. He had been driven
south almost to Scyros, but had found no harbour. Then a weary day with the oars had
brought him close to the Euboean shore, when a freshet of storm drove him seaward
again. Now at last in this northerly creek of Sciathos he had found shelter and a spring.
But it was a perilous place, for there were robbers in the bushy hills-mainland men who
loved above all things to rob an islander: and out at sea, as he looked towards Pelion,
there seemed something adoing which boded little good. There was deep water beneath a
ledge of cliff, half covered by a tangle of wildwood. So Atta lay in the bows, looking
through the trails of vine at the racing tides now reddening in the dawn.
The storm had hit others besides him it seemed. The channel was full of ships, aimless
ships that tossed between tide and wind. Looking closer, he saw that they were all
wreckage. There had been tremendous doings in the north, and a navy of some sort had
come to grief. Atta was a prudent man, and knew that a broken fleet might be dangerous.
There might be men lurking in the maimed galleys who would make short work of the
owner of a battered but navigable craft. At first he thought that the ships were those of the
Hellenes. The troublesome fellows were everywhere in the islands, stirring up strife and
robbing the old lords. But the tides running strongly from the east were bringing some of
the wreckage in an eddy into the bay. He lay closer and watched the spars and splintered
poops as they neared him. These were no galleys of the Hellenes. Then came a drowned
man, swollen and horrible: then another-swarthy, hooknosed fellows, all yellow with the
sea. Atta was puzzled. They must be the men from the East about whom he had been
hearing. Long ere he left Lemnos there had been news about the Persians. They were
coming like locusts out of the dawn, swarming over Ionia and Thrace, men and ships
numerous beyond telling. They meant no ill to honest islanders: a little earth and water
were enough to win their friendship. But they meant death to the hubris of the Hellenes.
Atta was on the side of the invaders; he wished them well in their war with his ancient
foes. They would eat them up, Athenians, Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Aeginetans,
men of Argos and Elis, and none would be left to trouble him. But in the meantime
something had gone wrong. Clearly there had been no battle. As the bodies butted against
the side of the galley he hooked up one or two and found no trace of a wound. Poseidon
had grown cranky, and had claimed victims. The god would be appeased by this time,
and all would go well.
Danger being past, he bade the men get ashore and fill the water-skins. "God's curse on
all Hellenes," he said, as he soaked up the cold water from the spring in the thicket.