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Authors: Geoffrey Trease

Mission to Marathon

BOOK: Mission to Marathon
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1 The Persians Are Coming

2 Job For a Boy

3 Over the Hills

4 Where to Hide?

5 The Cave of Pan

6 The Waiting Time

7 The Day of Destiny


Historical Note

Map of Ancient Greece

The Persians Are Coming

‘Is that you, Philip?'

Father sounded impatient. Philip hurried into the workshop.

‘I'm here, Father.'

‘Where on earth have you been?'

‘Only school.' Philip was puzzled. Where else could he have been?

His father faced him, hammer and chisel in hand. The floor was littered with marble chippings. ‘Dawdling along with your school friends, I suppose?'

Father was really the kindest of men. But he was also Lycon, one of the best sculptors in Athens. Any artist could get impatient when his mind was full of the work in hand.

Philip had not dawdled. In fact he had
hurried home. Some of the men in the street looked so worried. They were talking in low tones. He had felt a tension in the air.

He pointed to the shadow at his feet, cast by the sunshine slanting through the doorway. The workshop faced south. That shadow might be short or long, according to the season or the time of day. But its angle proved whether you were late or early.

It now stretched roughly along the line it usually did when he returned from school.

‘I'm sorry,' said Father. ‘I was so anxious to get on with the statue. I've done so little work of any kind today. There was a sudden meeting of the Assembly. I had to go.'

Every citizen was expected to attend. They had to stream out to a little rocky hill, the Pnyx, on the west side of the city, crowding its slopes in their thousands. Every man had the right to speak in the debate if he wanted to. Every man had a vote. Father was not much interested in politics but he had to be there.

Was this why the passers-by had been looking so anxious? Philip wanted to ask, but he knew better.

‘Now you're here,' said Father, ‘I can get back to the statue. It's that left arm. The muscles.'

Philip was his model for the young god Pan, the protector of shepherds, who led the nymphs dancing over the mountains to the music of his pipes. He was worshipped all over Greece but not so much by the townsfolk of Athens. His father had been delighted when a rich man ordered a statue of Pan. The shepherds' god, half boy, half goat, made a change from the more dignified gods and goddesses.

Philip jumped up on the slab of stone they used as a pedestal, threw aside the kneelength tunic which was all he wore, and picked up his pipes, which he had made with reeds corded together and waxed. He raised them to his lips as if about to play.

‘An inch or two higher,' his father ordered.

It was a tiring pose. Father gave him occasional rests but he seemed anxious to get on. The tightened muscles showed in the uplifted arms.

‘I must get them just right,' he said. So many statues were so stiff and solid.
He always tried to get life and warmth into them – even in marble.

At last Father seemed satisfied. ‘That will do. I had to get this done today. I shall not have your services tomorrow.'

‘Why not?' asked Philip in amazement. He stepped down and put on his tunic.

‘You will not be here, my boy. Let me explain. As we heard a day or two ago, the Persians have got as far as Euboea.'

Philip nodded, listening eagerly. Euboea was dangerously close. It was the long narrow island stretching down the eastern coast of mainland Greece, separated from it by a thin strait of sea. So the Persians were now as near as that! No wonder the people in the streets were looking scared.

He had heard a lot about the Persians. Their Darius – who was known as the Great King – ruled over a vast empire. It now extended far beyond Persia itself and came down to the shores of Asia, facing Greece across the Aegean Sea.

‘We were told at the Assembly today,' his father went on, ‘that their expedition has conquered Euboea. They have plundered
the temples and burnt them down. They are deporting the people into slavery—'


‘Yes,' said his father firmly. ‘And now, we learn, they are crossing over to the mainland. The Great King is determined to teach Athens a lesson. But his armies are not likely to sail straight across to us here.'

The invasion forces would choose a place where they could land without opposition, have good anchorage for their hundreds of ships and find a level plain – so rare amid the mountains of Greece – where they could use the splendid cavalry of which they were so proud.

‘So,' Father concluded, ‘the Bay of Marathon is an obvious choice.'

?' Philip's eyes almost started out of his head. What about his grandmother? And his aunt?

‘Won't everybody be in danger?' he asked.

‘Exactly. That is why you will not be here with me tomorrow.'

Job For a Boy

The family talked over the whole situation as they ate their meal.

It was a good solid one. A tasty mutton broth. They seldom had meat. More often it was fish.

‘But I thought we'd better build our strength up,' said Mother grimly. ‘Only the gods know what lies ahead.'

Father's elder brother, Nearchus, had the old family farm overlooking the sea at Marathon. Their mother lived on in the old home. They would all be in terrible danger if the Persians came ashore there. But whereas everyone else, if worst came to worst, could take to the hills, Philip's grandmother was now too frail for that.

‘We must get her down here to us – if she is fit to travel at all,' Mother agreed. ‘And the sooner we get the warning to them the better.'

Philip's elder brothers, Lucius and Callias, were old enough for military service and had been given their standby orders that afternoon.

Philip had made the journey countless times throughout his childhood, but never alone. It was about 25 miles by the usual route. A little shorter if you cut across the mountains by the higher way, but it was naturally steeper and rougher underfoot.

‘I hope he'll be all right,' said Mother doubtfully.

Philip hoped so too, but secretly. Aloud he said, confident and a little cross, ‘Course I shall! I could find my way there with my eyes shut.'

‘Well, don't try,' ordered his father. ‘We don't want you to break your neck.' He raised his hand to quell Philip's protest. ‘You can't do it in the day, even if you run some of it. Your legs just aren't long enough. That's not your fault. When it gets
towards dusk look round for some sheltered corner where you can curl up and get a few hours' sleep.' He laughed at the look on Philip's face. ‘You think you
sleep? You'll see, lad, after all those miles. Then, at first light, you'll be dropping down to the farm just as they're starting their day's work.'

After the meal Philip helped his brothers clean their armour for tomorrow's parade. He felt envious. The bronze metal took on such a superb polish. But, he reminded himself, he could not help being too young to fight in battles. After all, he reminded himself proudly, he was being trusted with this vital and possibly dangerous mission across the mountains.

Both his brothers were tall and strong, so they were in the heavy infantry. That meant a crested helmet with a narrow nosepiece and good protection for cheeks and ears. The helmet was lined with leather inside.

For the body there was a breastplate moulded to the shape of a man's chest, and another to go over his back, the two pieces joined together by leather straps. From kneecap to ankle, the soldier had greaves.

For further protection he carried a round or oval shield on his left arm. It was made of leather and wood, with metal plates. One of Father's friends was a clever painter and he had decorated the shield of Lucius with a very fierce-looking porcupine. For Callias he had gone one better.

He had painted a Gorgon's head. Gorgons were hideous mythical monsters who grew snakes instead of hair. The mere sight of them could turn a man to stone.

Philip hoped the shield would have this effect on any Persian who tried to harm his brother. But he didn't have much confidence in it. Such stories came from long ago.

Athens could muster only about ten thousand armoured infantry. What was that against the countless hordes the Great King could send over from his Persian Empire?

The trouble was, Greece was not only a much smaller country but it wasn't a single united country, ruled by one government. It was divided up, every big city on its own – Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and so on. They were all Greeks, but were often jealous of each other and would even fight wars.

Surely, at a time of crisis like this, they ought to stand together and face the Persians with a united front?

‘They will,' Lucius assured Philip. ‘It was agreed today at the Assembly. We are sending an urgent appeal to the Spartans. The Spartans are marvellous fighters.
come and help us.'

‘Will the message get to them in time?'

Philip knew that Sparta was a long way off. About 140 miles.

‘It should. They're giving it to Pheidippides to take.'

!' Philip was much relieved. He knew that name – that of the finest runner in Athens. He had won trophies at the last Olympic Games. Who could cover the ground faster than he could?

‘And the Spartans won't waste time when they get it,' said Callias. Even in their armour the Spartans could do forced marches at incredible speed.

Philip felt happier. Other cities would follow a lead from Sparta. Troops would soon be streaming in from every corner of Greece.

‘Hadn't you better get some sleep?' Callias reminded him. ‘Marathon is not as far away as Sparta – but you haven't such long legs as Pheidippides.'

Over the Hills

Philip set off at dawn. Now the moment had come, he was really keyed up at the thought of the responsibility laid upon him.

His mother tried to sound matter-of-fact but he guessed that she too was anxious. She insisted that he took a short cloak, fastened with a brooch under his chin. Though it was still September it would be chilly after nightfall, especially in the high hills. His linen tunic wouldn't stretch to cover his legs.

‘And remember, you won't be walking – let alone running – once it's dark. You must find some sheltered corner out of the wind.'

She handed him a little package. Dried figs and raisins, bread and his favourite honey cakes.

‘If you lose your way these will set you right.'

‘They should!' He laughed. The honey came from his uncle's hives, it should have given the cakes the same homing instinct as the bees who had made it.

BOOK: Mission to Marathon
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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