OF MAN AND GODS - BOOK TWO - SEEDS OF THE ALLIANCE Greg J Miller
CHAPTER EIGHTY EIGHT – CHILDREN OF THE SEA
As I likely should have reasonably expected, the relatively utopian atmosphere prevailing inside the walls of the fortified Athens would soon prove to present as a stark contrast to what had been gradually brewing just outside.
Of course, I hadn't remained completely oblivious to what might lie ahead. It was more the case that I'd been hoping that something or someone might act to pleasantly surprise me and provoke a different outcome.
After all, Athenian leaders had already surprised me more than once and turned things around toward tenuously better consequence. However, none of those achievements were completely without flaws or a certain element of short-sightedness. Even potentially serving to contribute toward further provocation of certain likelihood.
In 431BCE, after only fifteen years of the 'Peace of Periklés', a Spartan King had cast aside that treaty. Under the direction of Archidamos, Spartan troops had mounted a campaign of raids upon the rural settlements of Attica.
Given that the treaty was meant to hold for another fifteen years, I was suitably disturbed by that turn of events. I soon put aside my interest in performance at that time, and returned to more closely monitoring the events unfolding in that part of the Helladic lands.
It was difficult to determine the exact cause for the renewed Spartan hostility. As I understood it, Periklés had maintained openly friendly relations with Archidamos. Rumours had indicated that there had been a falling out between them. However, that was not exactly clear from public record.
There was one incident that had possibly contributed. During a dispute between Korinthos and one its colonies, Athens had intervened on behalf of the lesser colony, creating a mood of tension between those allied to the Delian League and those allied directly to Sparta, which included Korinthos. However, that alone was more mild insult than open provocation.
Some believed that it was more a result of wider tensions that had grown from the increasing divide brought about by Athenian prosperity. It also rumoured that Archidamos had come under increasing pressure from his peers over building tensions and risked losing authority, if he'd failed to support calls to bring Athens to account for various perceived slights.
In truth, it seemed just as likely that the Spartans could no longer stomach the peace. It seemed to me that the Spartans craved the state of warfare above all else. Without it, they seemed lost. Warfare and conflict appeared to be the drama and sport of Spartan existence. By comparison, the Athenian lifestyle had become the near opposite of the Spartan culture. In that manner, Athens had again become the primary focus of Spartan resentment.
At first, I had hoped that the state of warfare would remain short-lived. However, it soon became evident that it was not likely to be the case. As the attacks upon Attica continued to escalate, more of the people of the countryside were subsequently moved into Athens behind its protective walls.
Periklés had remained resistant to directly engaging the Spartans. Apparently, he had held to the hope that future negotiation could still resolve the conflict. However, Sparta remained rather less than interested.
After a brief seasonal respite, with the new year, the attacks continued. Even more of the people of rural Attica fled to the protection of the city walls. With the overcrowding and poor sanitation that resulted, a more dangerous circumstance emerged. Disease began to spread among the people of Athens. In no time at all, the city was afflicted by a plague.
The Spartans forces did not relent. Although the Athenians were able to defend themselves from the defensive walls, the waves of attacks had effectively trapped the citizens of Athens within the confines of the city. In that circumstance, disease continued to claim the lives of many Athenians.
The citizens of Athens had quickly begun to lose faith in their leaders. Periklés was soon deposed from the office of general. Thereafter, he was tried for his failures, fined and reappointed to a lesser role.
If there was one clear flaw of the Athenian version of a 'democratic' process, that kind of thing served as common illustration. Although the greater number of eligible citizens held some say in the governing process of their state, it seemed to me that it lacked a proper measure of mechanism for tempering over-reaction in the face of adversity. Far too often, the call for allocation of blame appeared to greatly outrank the need for appropriate resolution. Although I could understand the notion behind the practice of ostracism, it seemed to me that it was a tool far too easily abused, instead of held in check as a function of last resort.
Although it had seemed an impossible situation, I would have thought that Periklés had represented the better choice for finding resolution to Spartan hostility. However, far too many citizens of Athens had thought otherwise.
For Athens, the emergent circumstances of that conflict seemed absurd. Effectively, Athens commanded the most powerful naval force of the region. Still, it stood upon the precipice of defeat at the hands of a land army. More obscene, the walls designed to protect its citizens had served to entrap those people. More died from disease, than by Spartan arms.
After another brief seasonal respite, active hostilities resumed. The Spartans had expanded their campaigns to also lead an assault upon Plataea. The situation in Athens had not improved. The siege of the city did not abate, and the plague had continued to take the lives of Athenians. During the third year of Spartan attacks, disease had also claimed the life of Periklés.
I had quickly begun to lose all optimism for what might lay ahead for all of Hellas. In that atmosphere of growing despair, I also began to lose my interest in the continued observation of the progressive deterioration of those lands. I recalled the downfall of the Mycenaean era, and lengthy dark age that followed. I anticipated the potential likelihood of a repeat of that circumstance.
During a day of 'fishing' with Poseidon and Mercuré, I had expressed those views. At that point, I had been considering a fresh change of activity. However, I had yet to decide what direction I might turn.
It was then that Mercuré had directed my attention elsewhere. He had told me that Triton had been observing a small tribe of Nereus that still lived much of their lives in the sea, apart from their land-dwelling cousins. Triton had been in contact with that tribe, and was assembling a small group to spend some time among them. Mercuré suggested that I might find such a change to be of interest. Given other recent developments, he was not completely wrong.
With my curiosity already piqued, Mercuré went on to elaborate upon what his brother had in mind. Triton's intentions were two-fold. He intended to more closely observe the current state of those Nereus and their lifestyle. He also intended to extend an invitation of sorts. An offer of assistance, when needed, to help them maintain their lifestyle whenever they came under threat from land-dwellers. That help would take the form of assisting them with finding better locations where they might be safer. He would also make them aware that they would be welcome to find sanctuary in Olympus as required, if that was agreeable.
Although there was a standing agreement to allow for the invitation of certain peoples other than mundane humans into our extended community, in practice, Council approval was still required before proceeding. Triton had already secured the approval of the Council for that specific case.
Shortly afterward, I met with Triton and agreed to join him. In full, there would be five of us in the small team. Triton's current wife, Ario, would be joining us. Like both of us, Ario was one of the first Changed Terragodaeans. Although, she was originally only part Terragodaean, before having undergone The Change. The fourth individual from Olympus was a part-Nereus called Maltin. He was a grandson of Elektra. The fifth was a part-Nereus, part-Titannian woman called Callinira. She was a great-granddaughter of Senetious Nereus. Although both of some Changed heritage, neither of them had actually undergone The Change. However, their dilute Nereus heritage was effectively a source of interest for both of them.
Several days of preparation would pass before we would set off. During that time, Triton and Ario had travelled back and forth from the current location of the Nereus tribe, in readiness for our upcoming extended visit with them.
Upon a number of occasions, Maltin, Callinira, and myself had met with either Triton, Ario, or both of them, to make ourselves ready. The main objective was to familiarise ourselves with the basics of the culture of that particular tribe of Nereus. The rest we would learn during our stay with them.
Before living among them, we needed to familiarise ourselves with the current language of those Nereus. It was a curious blend of Phoenician and Helladic dialects, with some of their own unique variations mixed in. It made perfect sense, since although those Nereus kept mostly to their own, they did covertly mix with the local land dwellers from time-to-time. Learning the language was no great chore. I was already familiar with the parent dialects, and the rest was easy enough to absorb from the Remote Oracle in my company.
We also needed to brush-up upon ensuring that we would be readily accustomed to spending extended periods of time in the seas. Some relatively brief training was needed for that purpose.
Of course, spending shorter periods beneath the surface of the sea without breathing was easy enough. However, it required some measure of discipline to maintain that for longer periods. Curiously, it was somewhat easier at greater depths, since it was necessary to maintain Telekinetic shielding under such great pressures. It was actually in the shallow waters that the discomfort of not breathing served to undermine that discipline. It was rather different from spending time in the vacuum of space, with the reverse circumstance of increased external pressure.
The Remote Oracles also required some attention to be able to accompany us in that environment for those extended periods. Although reasonably airtight, most Remote Oracles were not generally constructed with perfectly water-proofed shells. Suitable modifications were made to their shells to accommodate that need.
Less a moon after the time that I had firstly spoken with Triton, and we had agreed that I would be joining them, all five of us met at the home of Triton and Ario to set off together.
Although those Nereus often roamed further afield, the bulk of the tribe would be returning to their home base at that time. Accordingly, we would be meeting with them at that location. It was a tiny island off the southern coast of Kythera, the larger island situated south of the Peloponnesus peninsular.
That small island was rather barren. It was largely ignored by the Helladic sailors that often passed by. From the sea, there was no evidence of any permanent settlement. No obvious structures. Such things were not a part of the nomadic lifestyle of that Nereus tribe. If we had not known of the island, we could have easily missed it.
For the first few days, we remained upon that island, or close to it. With the recent winter only just giving way to the coming spring, the greater number of the Nereus tribe had retreated to that home base during recent moons.
It was during that early time among those Nereus that I had first begun to fully consider certain matters that I had given only passing thought. Although I was quite partial to seafood, I do not think that I had fully reflected upon the nature of the diet that lay immediately ahead. Still, I had it easy during the time we remained at that island. Taking fish from the sea was nothing new to me. However, I had yet to acquire the taste for eating it raw. I preferred to take the cleaned carcass back to shore and cook the meat. Members of the Nereus tribe were suitably amused by my need to burn the flesh of fish before eating it, and made no effort to hide that sense of amusement from me. Ario had also found raw fish rather less than palatable. To their credit, both Maltin and Callinira had tried to embrace that custom, but elected to ease their way into it more slowly. By contrast, Triton had been no stranger to it, having done so many times before.
Before long, we had travelled with the tribe as the bulk of them swam away from that island to other nearby locations. That circumstance necessitated a change in diet. I can not say that I easily gained the taste for raw fish. There were some of the smaller species of fish that were somewhat easier to stomach. Still, not so much.
I had found that there were certain species of molluscs that were more palatable for eating that fashion. More so in the shallow reefs about islands. I found that oysters taken straight from the sea were more to my liking. I had previously turned up my nose at oysters in the marketplaces of land dwelling cultures. However, I found the flavour of those freshly removed from the shell at location to be far more appealing.
I found travelling with the Nereus an interesting experience. However, I had also found that it was rather difficult to keep pace with them on their own terms. There was no great difficulty in managing to remain beneath the waters for as long as them. At least in the deeper waters. Although, I still found some minor problem about the shallows. It remained somewhat difficult to remember to stop breathing underwater, when regularly breaking the surface so often. Evidently, I did manage, if somewhat awkwardly at times.
Maintaining speed beneath the waters was another issue. Most of the Nereus were adept at shapeshifting their form, merging their legs into something akin to the tail of a dolphin. That enabled them to move far more quickly through the water. That was not something that I could manage so effectively. Not with everything else in mind, and not for long. It was far easier to propel myself Telekinetically to keep pace with the Nereus.
In the course of making our way from one place to another with that tribe, we would sometimes need to avoid passing sea vessels and the eyes of the sailors aboard. That would generally require merely keeping a good distance from them. If an awkward circumstance brought our paths too close, then retreating to deeper water was the order of things.
Still, if spotted from a distance, we were easily mistaken for something else. Particularly so, with the relatively great number of dolphins and porpoises in those waters.
During the travels through those waters, we could not help but encounter many of those creatures ourselves. Some were actual tribes of Kil-Dolan. Others were their lesser-developed counterparts.
At a glance, I still had some difficulty telling them apart. They both travelled in similar sized groups. Similar in general appearance. The behaviour and hunting style also seemed quite similar to my eyes. Both were equally curious of our presence in their waters.
I would rarely notice the difference at all until they approached quite close. The shrill vocalisations were not enough of a clue for me. They all seemed the same to my ears.
However, with the Kil-Dolan, a Telepathic buzz generally accompanied the screeching chatter. They did not seem to utilise the formal linguistic structure of our own Telepathic communication. Still, they seemed to sometimes transmit recognisable images or intent. It was rather strange for me. It was more an attempt to communicate ideas, rather than language as I might recognise it.
I often sensed the notion of curious delight, mixed with a certain flavour of potential mischief. Although I enjoyed their presence, I often felt that there was some sort of joke being delivered, and there was some anticipation, as if waiting to see if I could understand the 'punch-line'. I sometimes thought that perhaps my apparent lack of comprehension was the actual joke.
Upon rare occasion, a few members of the Nereus tribe would actually venture onto the land at certain islands with communities that serviced trading vessels. The language that they spoke was close enough to permit some understanding. They would pretend to have come from nearby fishing villages or nearby islands to trade a catch of fresh seafood for clothing and jewellery. The clothing was useful. Especially when the cooler seasons came. However, the fascination with rather simple, but essentially non-valuable trinkets, was something I'd found strange, and just a little amusing. Still, I suppose that such things were really fairly universal throughout most cultures.
Nevertheless, that kind of interaction with the land-dwelling communities often remained rather rare. For the most part, the Nereus tribe tended to keep away from those cultures, favouring the open waters and the many tiny uninhabited islands that dotted the sea.
During that first year among the Nereus, a series of somewhat unexpected occurrences had transpired, which would bring fresh change to the dynamic of our group. It would have been during the mid-autumn. Although the summer had passed, the cool of winter had yet to set in. At that time, the tribe had been slowly making its way back from further east. We had reached the waters just west of the main island of Thera, where there were several smaller islands. Some of which were really the direct result of earlier volcanic activity.
Just off the coast of one of those lesser islands, we had spotted a sunken wreck. It appeared to be a Phoenician trading vessel. From the state of the wreck, it looked to have been there for quite some time. At least decades. Perhaps longer.
The Nereus seemed to show little interest. They were more motivated by the rich source of food located closer to the shore of the island. However, I was more interested in examining the sunken wreck. Both Callinira and Maltin had come with me to investigate.
There were many fish to be found about the wreck. I thought it a little odd that the Nereus would ignore that. At first glance, there was little to see. Presumably, the sailors of the vessel had abandoned the sinking ship. There were no human remains immediately evident. There was some sort of soggy rotted material that might have once been rugs or fabric of some sort. A number of broken urns, and a few still intact. Some looked to have contained grain. Others, oil of some sort. Probably olive oil. After some further poking around, I spotted some gold and silver coin. Evidently, the wreck had not been previously disturbed. In any case, at that depth, only other Nereus or others like myself would have been able to do so.
I had become fully engrossed in my investigation of the wreck, when I'd heard Callinira calling out to me Telepathically. I did not turn until her second call. That second call, seeming more far more urgent than the first. As I turned toward the direction that I thought she would be, I saw a shark circling to bear down upon me.
Although it was probably less than two metres in length, it seemed much larger. I'd reflexively formed a hard Telekinetic shield. That reaction had not been a moment too soon. Even so, I had not moved fast enough. I was in the process of curling up into a foetal position, when the beast latched onto my left leg. More the case, the shark had clamped down upon the shield about my leg. Nevertheless, I could feel the great pressure upon my shield.
There was probably a myriad of things that I should have done. None of which involved staring at the ragged maw enclosing my lower leg, and the cold unblinking eyes behind it.
Fortunately, Callinira had the matter in hand. She had moved in quickly from the right, and reached out to touch the dorsal fin of the beast. Callinira delivered a forceful electrical charge to the creature. I had felt just a portion of the jolt, almost losing control of my shields.
The shark lulled and rolled, before releasing its grip upon my shielded leg. Callinira proceeded to release a concussive blast that pushed it aside. The stunned shark then stumbled a little before struggling to swim off at a limping pace.
Callinira moved toward me to check my condition. Her expression, a mixture of concern and stern disapproval over my lack of due caution.
Assuring her that I was relatively unharmed, I thanked her for her quick assistance. By that time, Maltin had come about to our location, having been around the other side of the timber wreck during the whole incident. He was quickly filled in with what had transpired.
That close call had served to remind each of us of the need to reconsider any complacency and remain more vigilant. I had certainly become more wary of the presence of sharks from that time onward.
Before that incident, there had been little in the way of a connection between Callinira and myself. I would think that we had remained more acquaintances than friends. Afterward, we had bonded in a fashion, quickly becoming more like friends. Then, over the course of the following days, we had somehow become rather more intimate. In some respects, that development had taken me a little by surprise. Nevertheless, it had occurred quite naturally, and felt quite right in that time and place.
For a time, Triton and Maltin had been like the best of friends. In fact, before I had paired up with Callinira, the three of us men tended to pass more time together, than with either Ario or Callinira. Although she said nothing, I had suspected that Ario was just a little peeved that Triton had commonly behaved more like a young man off with the lads, rather than as a husband.
That circumstance began to change shortly after I had partnered with Callinira. By the time that we had made it back to the island that served as the home base of the tribe, Maltin had paired off with one of the young women of the Nereus, called Loesin.
Accordingly, Triton had again begun to spend more of his time with Ario.
Several seasons came and went as we remained with the Nereus tribe. One summer, we'd made it as far east as the larger island of Rhodes. Another summer, as far north as the island of Samos. Throughout that period, Callinira and I remained together. Maltin had also remained with Loesin up until the last year that we remained with the tribe. Maltin had actually left a few moons before the rest of us. Although he did not directly say, I suspect that the falling out with Loesin was the main reason for his early departure. I would further presume that the matter of his eventual future departure was the likely reason for their parting.
In due course, having gathered as much detail of the Nereus tribe as was likely, the time came to dissolve the remainder of our group and return home to Olympus.
After leaving behind the Nereus, Callinira and I remained together. Although not formally bonding, it had often seemed as though we were. Back in Olympus, although still maintaining our separate homes, as much time was passed together in either home.
After the passage of a few moons, I would think that some measure of boredom might have begun to creep into our relationship. With no other pressing activities in hand, we had both chosen to attend refresher course for defensive training. For myself, that was for fourth level training. For Callinira, it was second level. We had managed to schedule for when both of those refresher courses were occurring simultaneously. Of course, those refresher courses were rather less active than the actual full training modules.
Following the passage of several more moons, another state of restlessness had begun to emerge between us. That mood was soon broken by a renewed call to action. Another call to attend to the culling of an outbreak of mutation was issued. Upon that occasion, it was in the south of modern-day Russia, just north of the Caucasus Mountains. Of course, we had both volunteered to participate. Compared to some earlier culling missions, that had not proved a particularly hectic one. However, in addition to the more common mutant organisms, just a few of those wolf-like hybrids were also encountered. Nevertheless, the task was completed without any great level of difficulty.
Rather than remaining in Olympus afterward, Callinira and I had decided to visit those lands of the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Those located south of the Caucasus Mountains, not so very far from the region of that recent culling.
During earlier times, Kolkhis had been the dominant land of that region. That circumstance was no longer the case. Although a city that owed its lineage to the Kolkhis of old was located not far from that site, it seemed rather less grand than the wealthy cultural centre of that earlier time. A great many of the lands closer to the Black Sea had seemed to have owed much of their cultural heritage to earlier Kolkhis.
However, a different circumstance was evident further eastward. Much of that territory had been claimed by the Persian Empire during its efforts to expand northward. However, it had seemed that Persia had been rather less driven with regard to northward expansion. More concerned with the greater challenge along its western and eastern borders. Nevertheless, we were more interested in the smaller centres in the east, near old Kolkhis, than those occupied by the Persians.
In a coastal trading centre near one of the main rivers that flowed into the sea, we'd encountered a large bear that had chosen the local farms as its preferred hunting ground. We chose to gently relocate the creature a little deeper into the forest. As much for its own protection as that of the local people. For a brief moment, we had thought that it might be something else, given the recent culling less than two hundred kilometres north-east of that area. Still, despite the fanciful local legends, we had not actually encountered anything of that kind during our brief tour of that region.
After leaving that region, with the warm weather at hand, Callinira and I passed a few days upon one of the tiny uninhabited islands of the Black Sea. It was a pleasant respite, with little to do other than swim and lay about. The only casual duty, collecting fish, which were properly cooked before being eaten.
Afterward, Callinira and I again returned home to Olympus. Our collected observations from our tour of the old Kolkhis region were passed on by the Remote Oracles that travelled with us. We soon settled back into our former routine.
Several moons after that time, it seemed evident that our time together had begun to run its course. I would think that at first we had both been somewhat reluctant to accede to the obvious. We had grown rather comfortable in one another's company. However, it had become difficult to ignore the fact that the fire had begun to burn low. After a few faulting missteps, we had eventually accepted the inevitable and parted company.
I was not terribly despondent over the circumstance. There was no bitterness. Perhaps, just a small measure of disappointment. I held no regrets over our time together. Nor that it had come to its natural end. I held fond memories of that period. However, there was no real future for us together. The time had simply come to move along.
With nothing much else in mind, I began to turn my attention back toward the casual observation of the nearby Helladic lands.