After leaving Helikon and Mêlon at his press, Proxenos and Ainias had climbed out of the plain of Korinth. They had continued to the south, with the massive rock of forebidding Akrokorinthos on their right. The peaks of the hazy mountains of the Argolis rose on the left. They were going to Mantineia to prepare the way for the army of Epaminondas to follow. The Korinthian farmers in the fields paid the odd travelers no heed. The two had kept away from the Long Walls of Korinthos and crossed the road to Kenchreai at night. The Doric speech of the Arkadian Ainias and their broad leather hats and wool cloaks made them appear to be two mere rustics of the Peloponnesos doing their business with ships on the diolkos. Along the way, with the gold of the Eleans, they had hired villagers to organize depots for the huge army to come behind. Now at a slow walk, the two were already on the fourth day out from the farm of Mêlon. As they climbed up the gentle vale that marked the approach to the valley of Nemea, Ainias looked back to see both the gulf and the Aegean, and off in shadows some of the Megarid north of the Isthmos, with the neck of Perachora beyond.
At last the sun broke out of the clouds and the beauty of Hellas, north and south, was before them. The winter sea had turned deep blue. All day long Ainias had his hand on his sword hilt. He assumed that to get to the south, they would have to kill a man or two, whether bandits or Korinthian rangers. Ainias followed Proxenos, who was singing ahead as he climbed fast toward the hills above Nemea. The Plataian had never liked the south, where he had done most of his stone work, but he thought his melodies would at least lift his melancholy. The next day the two had the brisk northern breeze at their backs as they continued southward. They had stopped at Zeus’s high temple at Nemea for the night, and paid well for two sacks of food. The townspeople were advised to look for Epaminondas and his horde ten days before the new year—and that they would be well paid for their flocks and granaries by Theban agents four days before the army’s arrival. Finally the two zigzagged down the steep road, and on their sixth day from Kithairon could see fog blowing out from the great swampy plain of Mantineia clearly below them. Ainias was confident that Epaminondas could make this same march this winter, at least this far, and the return home back north across the Isthmos. He had put out more than a hundred stakes to mark the way for the army where food was plenty and local folk were eager to sell the Boiotians supplies.
The two slowed as they made their way down through the mud and past the junction at the Tripolis road. Then in silence Ainias pointed to the left jaw of the mouth of the plain. He had decided first to climb to a low spur of hills overlooking the rising city of Mantineia to scout and ensure the city below was safe to enter. Perhaps from the hillock they could get a good view of the first stronghold of the Boiotians’ grand plans to close off Sparta with cities of free people. From this small lookout mountain—Skopê, the locals knew it as—both would be able to gaze out at the borders of Arkadia and see land that months ago in summer had been rich with cherries and grapes and thigh-high wheat between the ranges of Maenalos and Ktenias.
Here and there on the fields of the plain barley sprouted, though there were few farmers in the field in the winter cold. The sprouts of next spring’s grain had already come up green and were a palm’s width from the ground. But there were no ripe crops of any sort in the countryside. The dirt paths below long ago had turned muddy with streams from the storms raging down from the mountains. Yet the two travelers, who had a good eye for farmland, were struck nonetheless at the layout of this new city in the rich bottomland below—especially Ainias, who stomped and kicked the ground of his native Arkadia, as he climbed up the small lookout. Suddenly a laborer, a dirty-looking stranger in patched leather, came down the path and muttered to a surprised Ainias, “Daimones kakoi, pantes kakoi. “Demons, bad ones, all bad ones.” Then he disappeared into the low underbrush. “Ide. Ide.” “Watch the foul wind, watch the stink up here. The bad hill—lophos kakos, pas kakos.”
Proxenos was atop first, and calling out over the breezes as he gazed from the low summit of Skopê at the city below in the distance. “Forget that rustic. Ignore his superstitions. Look down instead at my Mantineia, and how your Arkadia has a polis bigger than Athens, the tired democracy. Thirty stadia and more it goes off into the horizon. Look at my Nea Mantineia. They have followed my drawings. We can see at least a hundred towers and tall gates, ten and more, with walls as thick as six or seven men.”
Ainias snapped back, “I see, I see. I know who planned it and who built it. But who was that leather-clad fellow coming down off Skopê—the one scared out of his wits?” He was full of bile, and angry at his own detour. On the way up, they had had to fight through dead thistle and the branches of tamarisk, slipping in the mud and ash on the slope. The view from the top was not worth the climb. “From boyhood I knew this valley,” lectured Ainias. “But I never liked the scent up here on Skopê. Now something about this perch riles me even more, more than the terrified stranger who just warned me. A bad wind blows across the crest. Nêto could tell us why. Had we her gift, we could make something of that circling black hawk up there, warning us what plans Zeus has. I wager that black bird above is really a Kêr, and not a hawk after all. I can keep you alive to finish Megalopolis, but only against those who bleed, and not the shades who feed on them.” With that Ainias grabbed the arm of his friend. “Proxenos, come down from this place. I don’t want to ever come back here. Voices of the dead waft in.”
Proxenos laughed. “Ainias, you sound like the bitch Hekuba barking at the crossroads. Skopê is no more than rocks and dirt, not the home of the goblin Empousa to scare little boys. But we go down now. There are four towers unfinished down there in Mantineia that I can see from up here. Another bridge over the water is no farther along than when I was here a month ago—and in the wrong place.” The two began to lumber down and headed back along the road from Tegea to the new city. Ainias immediately felt better to be off. He was home at Mantineia and the two were safe. Now as they walked on flat ground he felt embarrassed about his fears of the hill and tried to praise the genius of his friend, who was somehow growing fainter in voice and slower in his walk.
“Proxenos, you have your immortality. These three cities—if later Megalopolis and Messenê on Ithômê grow as Epaminondas promises—are your legacy. If your scrolls burn tomorrow, it doesn’t matter anymore. Our ideas are already set in stone. For a thousand seasons and more they will be known—or at least until the stones of these cities themselves are carried away by folk whose names are not yet even known. Men not yet here will praise your work. They will wonder how the style of Epaminondas’s cities—your emplekton way—found their way deep into the Peloponnesos.”
“Perhaps, Ainias,” Proxenos said as they walked on. “But we have no idea of the way we shape others, or what word or small act sparks another to do good or evil. Some of us were noble by our disposition and our voice and did good, but that won’t be known until we are long on the other side. Others are foul sorts. But for a moment, a beam of goodness, of to kalon, comes out from them. It hits the bystander more than even do the soft words of the far better. But enough.” He plucked a blade of green barley and stuck it in his mouth. Pointing at his friend, he continued. “No man alive knows more of war than you, Ainias—how to organize the defense of cities and bring in supplies, to spot traitors inside the gates, to discover tunnels and signal with fire, and create passwords and open locked gates. You Stymphalian, better than any, know how to marshal an army on the plain to battle. So I will call you taktikos. Yes, you are to be our Ainias Taktikos—the tactician.” Proxenos was pleased at that new title and was on to something. “Leave something behind of this skill. I have scrolls aplenty in that sack. So scribble down your thoughts. He who doesn’t write, dies. Leave a little behind at least of the mind of General Ainias Taktikos of Stymphalos and his skill that defeated the Spartans and kept the Arkadians free.” Proxenos then grew serious. As the good aristocrat, he was without much envy of the gifts in other men. He had taken stock of Nêto’s warning against crossing south of Isthmos, and he felt now, after the smell and bad air of Skopê, that his life rope had fewer strands here in the south where he should not be; and this oddly gave him relief rather than worry, despite his money and fame.
Why, Proxenos the Plataian wondered, had he once more ended up so far south, in a once familiar country, headed even farther southward? The rich like he who owned green fields on the Asopos had no business down here in the barren crags of the Peloponnesos. But then did the Spartans, men like Agesilaos or Lichas, have any reason to be in Messenia? How would Sparta ever let men live freely if the Proxenoi of the north counted their trees and talked in the stoas of the freedom of Pythagoras and yet did not put a spear under their chin, when ten myriads of helots were but a quarter moon away? At any rate, his legs became heavy and the ash and the blowing seeds of the dead grass on Skopê had clogged his nose and swelled his cheeks. He began to like the idea that he might not need to come back along this long road south when the war was at last over, as most wish to take a different road home than the long one out.
Proxenos then tried to talk his way out of his sluggishness. “I have heard your war talk, Ainias—how warfare has changed, and your rants that fighting is no longer battle between gaudy-crested spearmen on fair and level ground. No more spears and shields. As you say, it is a war to the death of all against all, pantes pros pantas with the slaves and poor and sieges and ambushes and betrayal. We for our part cannot win such a war without the helots of Messenia. Yet you have mastered this new hateful war. Write down how we are to survive, so that we Hellenes don’t relive all the mistakes again and again. You will be a writer of war, you Ainias Taktikos.”
With that, the two forgot their grand talk of tactics, scrolls, immortality, and all that and in no time had left the gloomy hillock of Skopê far behind them. Once they were distant, their spirits lifted for good. As they neared the new walls of Mantineia and crossed a stone bridge over the river, both looked up at the main gate that had been hung since the last visit of Proxenos. It was built of mountain oak wood, twenty feet high, with black iron on its borders. A massive beam hung to lock the doors at night. The gate was ringed by towers—each forty cubits and more above the plain, about every half stade on the walls.
Proxenos was counting. “Ten gates, one hundred twenty towers. Like nothing in Hellas, this city. Yet had I my way, my towers would have been round rather than square. A round one pleases the eye. It is harder to knock down, and the stones and iron of the enemy glance off it better. But it takes a builder with a keen eye, and a mason who knows something of art and beauty.” Mantineia was the largest city to have been built in Hellas in five hundred years and more. Unlike all other walled cities in Hellas, it had not been laid out around an acropolis in the hills or on the slopes, but spread out in a large oval on flat farmland, in a valley ringed by tall mountains. Proxenos’s proud citadel had no need of the high ground to survive, and there was not the bother of the long walk up to an acropolis. He had planned an entire city like the rich houses of the aristoi—with running water piped into the fountains, and with sewers beneath the floors and streets to carry out the waste—all to tower over the hovels of the Spartans. The men of Mantineia would find no help for their security from rocks and heights of nature, but instead their polis grew out of the mud of the valley. Yes, this new city of the Mantineians proclaimed to the Spartans: “We new men of Arkadia can build something in a season better than anything over a lifetime at Sparta—and we dare you, who need an acropolis, to take down our walls in the plain. Come, take them if you can.”
The stone work of the new Mantineia was unlike that of other poleis. It incorporated strange ideas of regular courses, a moat, and a grid of square city blocks inside with streets that made sharp right angles, with the names of the ways chiseled on the building corners. Its dressed stones had the cut of Boiotia with their trademark corner drafts, as if to proclaim also that Epaminondas was on his way and the Arkadians were more Boiotians than Peloponnesians. Proxenos thought that the order and symmetry of his Pythagoras would grow into the minds of these new dwellers. Men foul and low by birth were to be given a new city, and a new democracy, and then they would act with reserve and show taste like those born into the great houses of Boiotia, once their material surroundings uplifted their spirits.
Why were men poor? Because of accident or hurt, or was it rather due to their sloth—poor because they were no good by nature inside? Or drank the unmixed wine? Or stole, and killed and maimed when they should have been pruning the high olive trees? To find that answer Proxenos had followed Epaminondas down here in the first place. So would these freed Mantineians, and better yet, the helot Messenians next, turn away from superstitions of the Olympians to worship the deity Reason that had so ordered their own lives? Or would they loot in their new city as the serfs and helots they innately were, and prove the Spartans right that they were inferiors by nature and would make their new city as foul as they? A voice of the master answered in the head of Proxenos, “No, one day they will think as they live in their new grids. Square corners make square thoughts.”
A storm was blowing in from faraway Thrace. Winds and sleet headed down the pass to the Peloponnesos. The drenched hoplites ran under the arch, happy to be alive and off Skopê when the lightning hit. Mantineia was the first city of this new Peloponnesos where rank was gone, a dêmokratia that made Athens tame in comparison. Owning big orchards or bottomland wheat fields meant nothing. With the promised end of Sparta, bulwark of oligarchy, the idea of the polis of privileged property owners, alone fighting in the phalanx on behalf of the lesser community, was to be over. Instead, here in Mantineia the dêmos would tax the rich horsemen and the orchard growers to pay for the walls to protect the landless. The world of Hellas was to be upside down. The poorer the man was, the more qualified he was to run the polis. Squeeze the soft rich until their juices ran, and then go after the pulp as well—or so the new democrats of Mantineia bragged.
Many plethra of wheat fields were walled inside this strange city’s fortifications, and newly transplanted olives lined the streets. Wooden grape arbors with bare winter canes covered the city squares, as Proxenos’s walled Mantineia was to be both city and country. How could Agesilaos and his Spartan raiders ever starve out a town that grew its own food year-round inside its ramparts? The snake river Ophis had been diverted to run around the oval city’s foundation to serve as a great moat, dug thirty feet deep and lined with paving stones. But far below the foundations of the city, clay pipes brought the water into the fountains and cisterns and fed small ponds around which the city dwellers grew their own gardens, and that they stocked with fish and water fowl as well. In the previous wars, the Spartan army once had turned the river to flood towns in the valley and wash away their mud bricks. Now the waters were to be the bulwark, not betrayers of a far larger polis.
The engineers of Proxenos ensured that no machine of the Hellenes could tear down his stacked blocks, not even the new belly-bows from Sikily that sent iron shafts of twenty palms and more in length—and faster and heavier than any arrow—for two stadia. Double iron clamps, in the shape of axes, joined his blocks, and heavy lead sealed them from rust. The walls were half as deep into the ground as they were tall. Far beneath the earth they were anchored to hold the weight. Subterranean stones stopped the burrower and the miner from pulling out earth from beneath. King Agesilaos could not go over, under, or through these stones, or flood or starve out those inside, either.
Scaffolds still rose above the street. Ainias pointed to them in every direction. Thousands of Arkadians were hoisting cut stones and trays of mud bricks on ropes and pulleys up from booms for the final courses, even as the wind blew ice over the works. Wagons made a continuous trek into the circuit’s gates from the farms beyond, full of household rural folk moving into the still unfinished fortress. Ainias tried to make sense of it all as the sleet began. “Walls reveal a people. You are a Zeus who has taught these Mantineians that they are better than Spartans and can do things because they think they can do things. Yet something more even than Mantineia will soon be rising to the south at Megalopolis, and perhaps in Messenia something greater than Megalopolis. You have turned the men of the Peloponnessos into hemi-gods, and from the barren earth they are building a new Olympos.”
Proxenos stayed quiet and at the boast of Ainias hoped only that the Spartans were wrong who charged that Epaminondas instead was intent on a Hades above the earth, with an Acheron and Styx in the light of day, inhabited with thousands of anonymous and identical empty souls who only looked alive but had long been dead inside. As the two passed through the gate and into the bustling city, a wealthy-looking archon in a clean white tunic, fat and loud, met them. This was Lykomedes, the son of Aristoteles, democratic leader for the ages—barker of the agora. He was the head of the new Arkadian league, the democracy of allied poleis that was to follow the example of Boiotia and turn itself into a federated empire of the city-states. What had struck the careful architect Proxenos—who had seen him first three summers earlier—was not the ambition of Lykomedes, nor even his belly or his clean new long shirt, but his nose. It was Olympian, and worse, out of plumb, in need of saw or hammer work, its boar-like snout nearly resting on his lower lip, with his two bottom teeth like tusks protruding out.
Such a blemish, he thought, would have earned Lykomedes a date with the deep Kaiadas from the Spartans. Even at Athens such defects of birth were seen as a window into a flawed soul. Proxenos frowned, since he certainly did not think his new perfect city should have rabble like this in power—men that did not deserve the proud stones he was building for them. And he only worried more that the Spartans were right, after all.
Ainias remembered that it was also a mythic Lykomedes who the poets said had murdered the good Theseus, and he expected no less from this reincarnated, fouler version. Still, Lykomedes’s success was visible in the looming stones about them. Who could argue with that, since the final end always trumps the messy beginning and middle? In any case Lykomedes was aptly named “cunning of the wolf” for his plots and conspiracies. Because his nose muffled his speech, he had a boy crier with a screeching voice that met the two well before they could greet the man properly and get much beyond the gates. When they neared, Lykomedes’s low murmur and hissing took over. “How do you like Homer’s ‘Mantineia of the many grapes’? Better than your Thebes of dragon-born legend? We have ten gates, not your mere seven. Now Arkadia prepares to build a grand monument, right on the Sacred Way at Delphi. We will buy our spot right in front of the Spartans.” Then, turning to Ainias, he coughed and whispered, “My, my, our famous mercenary. I heard you were back among us.”
Ainias said little but nodded to Proxenos. On the journey over the pass, they had talked of meeting this Lykomedes. The Arkadian had prophesied to Proxenos, “Before this is all over, this boar will rut at the Thebans his benefactors, as much as he grumbles about his hatred for the Spartans. He will do all that for the people, as he puts it.” Ainias boasted that he could read men the way he separated out the fat and thin hoplites in his files and lines of the phalanx, and the cowards as well. His gaze centered on the eyes and the carriage of the head, the steadiness of the hand, and the direction of the toes, to learn who would drop his shield, foul himself, turn tail—or plant himself firm and stab ahead. He knew as well that Phrynê was passing messages all over the Peloponnesos, encouraging the Dorians south of the Isthmos not to expect the arrival of Epaminondas, so confident were she and her cadre in persuading her customers to stop the muster of Epaminondas. And barring that, she would at least provide the Spartans with the numbers and the nature of the Boiotian alliance. All that and more he now read in the face and bearing of Lykomedes.
Ainias’s hard look, his scars, his wide-gapped teeth and stubble beard made his speech even more forbidding and bleak. He also had something of Mêlon in him—with taller ears for the bad than the good, a curse that made him moody with the black bile though seldom wrong. So he warned all to keep their distance from this Mantineian demagogue. Yes, he knew Lykomedes as a two-shoe who would have his new Mantineia turn to either Thebes or Sparta as the iron vane on the tower of the seasons spins to follow the wind.
Lykomedes grabbed them by the arms. He led them up the stairs of one of the towers, about a stade from the gate, as they sought shelter from the sleet. For all his ugliness and age, he was spry and stopped to point out a step too high, or a gate that scraped its threshold as if the Boiotian should fix it. Then he hammered with his staff the stones at their feet, as if he could teach the architect anything about the city Proxenos had planned. “For the mud brick we have stone. For the river we have a moat. For the villages we have a fortress—all built in a year by my plans and the sweat of the men of Mantineia. This is dêmokratia, the power of people. This is what the Dorian spear so rightly fears. I am a dêmokratikos.”
Ainias said little. But he reminded Lykomedes how their Mantineia had been reborn—and how others were at the heart of it all. “Our fortress, Lykomedes, here at Mantineia is the child of Epaminondas. It came from the mind of Proxenos here. Thebes is written over your walls. The city is not mere stone, but formed of free men. For the walls of a democracy are only as strong as the right arms of its hoplites. You can prove that soon at the Eurotas, down among the Spartans.”
Proxenos cut in, “I wish it were so. But we will have a hard time in the days ahead to storm Sparta—if Epaminondas decides to go south once he arrives here.” He pointed to the high passes farther to the south that cut off Lakonia from the center of the Peloponnesos. “The roads are deep in winter mud. There is nothing but cold there beneath Taygetos. Colder still in the shadows of Parnon. Their barrier to the city, the river Eurotas, is ice. I feel it even from here in my bones.”
Lykomedes bellowed out in laughter. “Spartans? They hide inside their borders. Last month they came out to test our mettle, and we hit them hard, even though our walls were not as tall as you see them now.” The three were drenched by the light rain but kept talking in their confidence of the imposing heights of Mantineia, until Lykomedes advised to go over to the city center called ptolis, to see the theater and new temple to Hera, the patron goddess that watched over the growing city. He talked as they walked. “We need only more roof-tiles for our new homes. Sparta has roof-tiles. So we will join your Epaminondas at month’s end and go down to get our tiles from the Spartans. How’s that?”
Both nodded, since the thief would be on their side to steal from the common enemy. The cold drizzle turned to a harder rain, and then promptly abated and left a wet fog. Proxenos held his nose from the overflowing sewer. In anger he reminded Lykomedes that his plans had called for the tile drains beneath the walls to dump into the downstream of the Ophis, not into these pools inside the walls. Surely if these lowly sorts would not work for clean streets, they could at least hold their bowels and empty them only outside the city walls.
“A minor problem, stone doctor,” Lykomedes laughed. “We piled the clay pipe outside the walls, but thieves made off with it all. We need more clay, as I said. Until then, these ditches will have to do. As you heard, we had a bit of looting. Some stealing, too—until my archers emptied their quivers. Things are settling down. You’ll see. Hang up a few thieves for the birds. Toss their corpses to the dogs. Just a few is all that’s needed. We’ll get the crap out and the fresh water flowing soon enough.” As they passed the cesspools, Proxenos saw that the stench came from the two half-eaten corpses hung above the sewers. “To teach the others,” Lykomedes pointed at them. “All executed fairly on the order of my assembly, the will of the dêmos. But first, tell me about the muster of the Boiotians. The year wanes. Rumors spread. We hear Epaminondas will not come in his tenure, that he will not be reelected Boiotarch in the year to come. Hoplites don’t march at the winter solstice, right?”
The three were descending the ramparts and made their way down a colonnaded arch to the ptolis and the central city with its wide agora and broad stoas, the stones clean and shiny from the shower. Proxenos replied that the vote at Thebes probably was being held far to the north amid the cold as they spoke. “Boiotia was full of foreigners when we left. Xenoi, some from far above Phokis and Lokris, no less. Islanders too are camped beneath the seven gates. For good or ill, all say they have come to march. At least as far as Arkadia. Thousands of them, even as the summer is gone and the autumn wanes along with the annual tenure of General Epaminondas. Yet I wager the spirit of Epaminondas and the hard reason of Alkidamas will make it difficult for the delegates of Boiotia to stop the army. But make sure your Mantineia has enough food this cold winter to feed them all. Mêlon, the killer of Kleombrotos, may end up here in the front rank himself. They are coming, coming in just a few days.”
“Count on that,” Ainias broke in. Lykomedes listened more to his fellow Arkadian. “The Thespian killer will tire of his olive press and his protest that he is a misanthrôpos who just wishes to be let alone. We saw that before we left. His man-hatred was cured by Epaminondas. Yes, he of prophecy will come, limp or not—as long as he knows that his Epaminondas can leave Thebes still as Boiotarch with a right to lead out an army, even if it be a winter one that is not even across the Isthmos when his tenure ends.”
Lykomedes spat out between his teeth. “He might, but I hear the gods are finished with your Mêlon, son of Malgis, and from now on he will kill no more kings. Tell him to keep far from our Skopê, as they say it bodes badly for you northerners. Nonetheless, even cripples are needed. We turn none away. We have filled the city’s granaries since late summer’s good harvest. I had to stretch a few fingers of the wealthier ones, and even brand a few, to find their buried grain stashes. But they all coughed up in the end, all legal on the order of the dêmos. A thousand sheep and goats graze inside the walls. Another thousand are along the tall river grass outside near the walls.”
Proxenos wanted to know something else, something he had promised Mêlon to find out back at the press on Helikon. “Now tell us Lykomedes, have you seen Mêlon’s freedwoman Nêto, the prophetess from Helikon? She listens to the priestess of Pasiphai for the things that will happen before they do. Well before last high summer she was down here, scurrying around to find exiles of Messenia to stir the helots on. She might have had this poetess, Erinna, they say with her? They would have stopped here on the way west to Ithômê.”
“Yes, yes, Nêto who babbled about, but a fine tight sort nonetheless she was. But without the erôs of men in her eye, as I learned.” Lykomedes looked sideways and kept on. “The other girl, well now, the fiery one Erinna was even crazier with her talk about a new Athens on the slopes of Ithômê. I know of her songs. That is one reason why she walked freely in my city. But while I have long heard her hexameters—both the laments for her lost girlfriend Baukis, and the dirge on spinning—many have gone by that name Erinna, and all claimed that they were the one poetess of myth. I had never met any of them, so I was surprised that this latest Erinna seemed like one of Queen Hippolyta’s she-men from Pontos with that wicked bow on her shoulder. But maybe she’s more a woman than she let on. Both left—and with raggedy helots, no less. Your Nêto almost took my little Aristôn with them. Yes, the troublemakers left Mantineia thirty days or maybe forty or more ago, and with a full pouch of coins, headed toward the great mountains of Taygetos. Both will draw men, good and bad, on the road—if they are lucky enough to avoid the man-bear or wolf-men on the high passes. Look for that dirty Nikôn; he followed the two women. He’s that helot upstart that I’d rather kill than let run free in my city. All of them found too few Messenian helots here for their liking. They said they were going south. To the new city, no doubt. Nêto fell under the spell of your Alkidamas. Most who do don’t end nicely.”
Lykomedes went on. “This summer Nêto fired up our helot exiles here in Mantineia with visions of a free Messenia—all twenty of them. And that helot mob leader Nikôn, who stinks of leather and lye? Well, he was worst of all the helot brigands, the killer who ambushed and waylaid and had no parley with the Spartans. Still, helots were no concern of ours. She gathered a few of these loiterers off our streets. If they kill Spartans, why, all the better. So she came here, poked around, and left.” Something about Nêto had set the boar’s mouth flapping and he couldn’t stop spitting. “That pale poetess Erinna performed here, as I said, and breathed hard on your Nêto. Nêto thinks that they will lead an army of helots from the highlands of Arkadia. She plans on killing Spartans and freeing her people. I tried to talk some sense into the pair, but who can when these half-helots and crazed poets think they’re gods?”
Proxenos laughed. “You mean you tried to talk erôs into Nêto, goat, and got beat by a poetess no less.”
“That too,” Lykomedes chuckled, “that too, for I like a tall woman with ribs that I can see and yet with breasts that flop and the rear of a wide sort as well. But your philosopher Alkidamas already won Nêto over. Why, I don’t know. He has no fun in him, only serious stuff. For all that Erinna’s short hair, I imagine she had some love of men left in her yet. If not, she’s as good as my pretty little Aristôn all the same.”
Proxenos wanted to have his leave of foul Lykomedes and start on the way to Megalopolis to muster more men for Epaminondas. “But she is among her own folk. And Nêto is far wiser from her long walks with Alkidamas, who, to be frank, is a different sort than you, Lykomedes. I hiked with this woman to Leuktra. It was her prayers that brought the gods out of the temples and her portents that the simple folk cheered. Had she not been with me, Epaminondas would have had only half the number needed to stop Kleombrotos.”
The three walked out of the theater. They kept bantering along the grand porticoes of Lykomedes, planning the provisions for the army they all hoped was already marching. It was decided that Ainias and Proxenos would head immediately westward into Arkadia and the new site of Megalopolis. There they would prepare another army of liberators of the south and join the Eleans marching as well. Perhaps Ainias and Proxenos would be back in half a month with a new army to meet the horde descending from Thebes, as well as the Mantineians under Lykomedes. The three armies would meet up for the final descent into the vale of Lakonia itself—if the generals voted to go on.
Proxenos finished with a warning to the plotter at their side. “Be careful, Lykomedes, when you soon meet Epaminondas. He has gotten word that you are to march with us. His spies have told him you have food that he will need. Don’t deceive him. He is not of the sort as we, but has become something far different, far more dangerous. This is a man, after all, who when he kills his sleeping sentries on his nighttime inspections, only shrugs and says, ‘I left them as I found them.’ ”