How brilliant the sea looks today, Patisbazos mused from the manor’s high window, looking across the city’s thick rampart to the sparkling Mediterranean. Even more so without the black hulls of foreign triremes.
He was a tall man, thin as a mast. His dark hair and beard were tightly curled in the manner of his Persian overlords, his clothing Medic in origin. His flowing white robe, cinched with a wide belt, ended at mid-thigh to expose trousered legs. His head was topped by a spherical felt cap tailed by a ribbon of white silk. The western sun flashed upon the tiny silver falcon dangling from his left earlobe.
He warmed himself in the sun’s golden cast while his trained senses monitored the household’s efficiency. From the kitchen came the aroma of bread and fish for the evening meal. Fastidious snips echoed down from the hall’s open skylight as rooftop fruit trees were trimmed. Elsewhere an unseen broom methodically pursued the daily dust. All was as it should be.
His thoughts, satisfied with the domestic rhythm around him, moved on to the demands of his master. His man was gripped with a new challenge, this time from the distant Carthaginians who had stolen his ideas and were making inroads against his trading empire. Where most men would curse such privations, Master Mazikurash rubbed his hands with enthusiasm, seemingly thanking the gods for the new challenge.
“To worry is Persian. But to offer an alternative, Phoenician,” the young man would opt with his alien view. Patisbazos, impartial as a rule to the often inexplicable antics of his master, permitted a thin smile to grace his thinner lips. But as he thought, he allowed his long fingers to run along the marble columns framing the window, tracing the fresh fissures and chips in the otherwise smooth forms, and the smile fled his narrow face. The damage had come from a cloud of arrows that had flown like a January storm through the opening, a reminder that his master’s impetuousness sometimes made powerful enemies. While Mazikurash’s comments were often true, they could purchase the young noble trouble. It would be disastrous if a spathaka overheard the words.
Fortunately, his master valued his chief servant’s advice. He could usually temper the young man’s impetuous ways.
His thoughts were interrupted by a pounding that rose from the street door. He nodded to himself as he recalled the day’s schedule and started for the stairs. Halfway there a maniya, a domestic, stepped out to answer the summons but he waved the girl away.
Descending the dimly-lit stairs, he opened the door to admit the vibrancy, dust and noise of the affluent Tyrian street. Carts heavy with trade goods rattled past on the cobblestones, cries rose from the distant market, and every quarter reverberated with the blows of wooden mallets, repairing the recent war damage.
Before him stood a Persian soldier, the butt of his spear resting on his forwarded right foot, a formality of respect. To his side stood a man who’d clearly seen better days. He appeared to be from the isle of Cyprus yet his robes were muddied and torn, his beard ragged from neglect.
“Is this the house of Mazikurash?” asked the soldier, his Persian words slightly stilted by the customary nasally tone of his people. At Patisbazos’ nod, the man continued. “I have brought the slave as specified by the contract.”
Patisbazos formally thanked the man and dismissed him. He then critically looked over the Cypriot, who shuffled uncomfortably in his new station. Finally the head servant observed, “You will require a bath before your initial interview with Master Mazikurash. Come.”
As the new slave entered through the thin, tall doorway, Patisbazos gestured to a dark room off to the side, cots just visible in the gloom. “You will sleep in this room; the master of slaves will detail your pallet and the rules that you will observe.” Moving up the stairs, he spoke without turning to the man who followed.
“As you are aware, you have been purchased by the house of Mazikurash. It was understood that you possessed skills used by the late invader, skills that set you apart from your comrades who labor beneath the sun with reconstruction.”
In reply, the man swallowed, stammered, perhaps only now gripped by the full realization that he was now the property of another. Patisbazos turned to look down on him from the stair’s summit, his form silhouetted by light from a high window. Finally, the man regained the thinnest measure of dignity.
“Aye. I received training in Athens in the arts of geometry and trigonometry. I served with the late invader’s army as a captain of one of his siege engines.”
“Indeed,” Patisbazos observed dryly as he looked down from his elevation. “Then you are aware of my master’s advances in that field.”
“Personally aware,” the man replied, finding some of his former courage. “Might I inquire of him how he managed such amazing accuracies with his engine? It was as if Zeus directed his missiles.”
“You may inquire, but I would not recommend it.” The head servant turned to enter the sunlit hall at the top of the stairs. “The master will trouble your ear like a miller grinding corn. In due time, you will understand the process.”
They stood in the doorway of the audience hall, bathed in the sun that sank towards the darkening sea. For a moment, both men seemed lost, fixated in the calming beauty that flooded the chamber. Finally, the tall Mede turned to his charge. “I am Upahacker Patisbazos, and I direct this household. If you have any questions, you will bring them to me.”
“Upahacker? I must plead my deficiencies in the Persian tongue. I understand that ‘upa’ refers to the position of deputy. But as to the other word, I know not its meaning.”
“It is a title derived from my master’s own. Its meaning is unexplainable at this time, but you will learn its trade. Now, aside from your room and board, you will receive wages of three silver shekels per month. After the first year, that will rise to six. There are also bonuses awarded for advancing the master’s work.”
The slave gaped at the Mede as if he’d suddenly sprouted a tail. “Paid?” For a moment his mouth opened and closed like a fish pulled from the sea. “But I am a slave!”
“It is Master Mazikurash’s way. His homeland is distant and his methods inexplicable.” The servant scratched at his long bearded chin in thought. “Still, we have a number of slaves who have managed to purchase their freedom and remained in the master’s employ. The situation can only be seen as… unique.”
Suddenly, a distant male voice drifted over the room, a voice that sang as it approached. The new slave found the tune odd. Unlike the formal, repetitious beats that he’d always known music to be, this melody sank and soared like the waves of the purple seas outside. It was only as the singer neared the chamber that the Cypriot slave realized that the language he heard was not one spoken in the eastern Mediterranean.
A man swept across the chamber room, his song spilling absently from his lips as he pursued some private objective. He was of medium height and build and was adorned in white Persian robes. His wide cloth belt was deep purple, and the slave sucked at his teeth when he considered the cost such an item represented. The dyes of Tyre did not come cheaply.
More remarkable was the noble’s hair, which flashed like yellow gold in the setting sun. He’d seen such hair coloration only once or twice before, in slaves captured in the areas north of Scythia.
The man, oblivious to the two who watched from the dark portal, continued on his way. His strangely sung words, like the chanted utterances of a Magi, made no sense at all.
I’m the type of guy that likes to roam around.
I’m never in one place, I roam from town to town.
And when I find myself, falling for some girl,
I hop right into that car of mine; drive around the world,
‘Cuz I’m the wanderer,
yeah, the wanderer,
I run around, around, around, around…”
The Cypriot slave listened as the voice, disembodied by the hall the young man had exited through, slowly faded away. He turned to ask of the strange apparition to find Upahacker Patisbazos standing still, fingers held before his own lips, the sign of proskynesis, a show of the greatest respect.