Lords of the World - Alfred J. Church

Cleanor, Son of Lysis

The wealthiest, best-born, and generally most influential citizen in Chelys was Lysis, son of Cleanor, father himself of another Cleanor, so named, according to a custom common in Greek families, after his grandfather. He was descended in a direct line from the original founder of the settlement, an Ephesian Greek, and was also distinguished by the possession of the hereditary priesthood of Apollo. The family prided itself on the purity of its descent. The sons sought their brides among four or five of the noblest Ephesian families. The general population of Chelys, though still mainly Hellenic in speech and habits of life, had a large admixture of Phœnician blood, but the house of Lysis could not be reproached with a single barbarian misalliance.

Lysis had been the leader and spokesman of the deputation which had vainly approached the Roman commander. His house, in common with all the principal dwellings in the town, had been occupied by the Roman marines.

But a douceur, judiciously administered to the sub-officer in command, had procured for him the privilege of a brief period of privacy. He found that his wife and children were still in ignorance of the Roman admiral's decision. They did not, indeed, expect any very lenient terms—they looked for a fine, that would seriously cripple their means; but they were not prepared for the brutal reality. Lysis tasted for the first time the full bitterness of death when he had to dash to the ground the hope to which they had clung.

"Yes," he said in answer to a question from his wife, unable or unwilling to believe her ears; "yes, it is too true—death or slavery."

Dioné—this was the wife's name—grew pale for a moment, but she summoned to her aid the courage of her house—she claimed to be descended from the great Ion himself, the legendary head of the Ionic race—and recovered her calmness. Stepping forward, she threw her arms round her husband's neck. Her first thought was for him; her second, scarcely a moment later, for her children.

"And these?" she said.

Recovering himself with a stupendous effort of self-control, Lysis spoke.

"Listen; the time is short, and there are grave matters to be settled. It was hinted to me, and more than hinted, that I might purchase your life, Dioné, and my own. These Romans are almost as greedy for money as for blood. What say you?"

"And these?" said the woman, pointing to her children, while her cheek flushed and her eyes brightened with the glow of reviving hope. "Can they also be ransomed?"

"That is impossible," said Lysis.

"Then we will die."

"That is what I knew you would say, and I gave the fellow—it was the admiral's freedman who spoke to me about the matter—the answer, 'No', without waiting to ask you. Our way is clear enough. My father learnt from the great Hannibal the secret of his poison-ring, and he handed it on to me. You and I can easily escape from these greedy butchers, but our children—" He struggled in vain to keep his self-command. Throwing himself on a couch hard by, he covered his face with his cloak.

The children were twins, very much alike, as indeed twins very commonly are, and yet curiously different. Apart, they might easily have been mistaken for each other, supposing, of course, that they dressed alike; seen together, any one would have said that such a mistake would hardly be possible, so great was the difference in colour and complexion—a difference that impresses the eye much more than it impresses the memory. But whatever dissimilarity there was accidental rather than natural. Cleanor had been seized at a critical period of his growth with a serious illness, the result of exposure in a hunting expedition. This had checked, or more probably, postponed his development. His frame had less of the vigour, his cheek less of the glow of health than could be seen in his sister's, of whom, indeed, he was a somewhat paler and feebler image.

"We will die with you," said the twins in one breath. They often spoke, as, indeed, they often thought, with a single impulse.

"Impossible again!" said Lysis. "The priesthood which, as you know, I inherited from my fathers, I bound, under curses which I dare not incur, to hand on to my son. If the gods had made me childless—and, for the first time in my life, I wish that they had—I must have adopted a successor. This, indeed, I have done, to provide for the chances of human life; but you, Cleanor, must not abdicate your functions if it is in any way possible for you to perform them. And then there is vengeance; that is a second duty scarcely less sacred. If you can live, you must, and I see a way in which you can."

"And I see it too," cried the girl, with sparkling eyes. "Cleanor, you and I must change places. You have sometimes told me that I ought to have been the boy; now I am going to be."

"Cleoné!" cried the lad, looking with wide eyes of astonishment at his sister; "I do not know what you mean."

"Briefly," replied the girl, "what I mean is this. You masquerade as a girl, and are sold; I masquerade as a man, and am killed."

"Impossible!" cried the lad; "I cannot let you die for me."

"Die for you, indeed!" and there was a touch of scorn in her voice. "Which is better—to die, or be a slave? Which is better for a man? You do not doubt; no one of our blood could. Which is better for a woman? It does not want one of our blood to know that. The meanest free woman knows it. By Castor! Cleanor, this is the one thing you can do for me. Die for you, indeed! You will be doing more, ten thousand times more, than dying for me!"

"She is right, my son," cried Lysis. "This was my very thought. Phœbus, the inspirer, must have put it into her heart. Cleanor, it must be so. This is your father's last command to you. The gods, if gods there are—and this day's work might make doubt it—will reward you for it. But the time is short. Hasten, and make such change as you need."

The twins left the chamber. When they returned, no one could have known what had been done, so complete was the disguise which Cleoné's skilful fingers had effected. The girl's flowing locks, which had reached far below her waist, now fell over her Shoulders, just at the length at which it was the fashion of the Greek youth to wear them, till he had crossed the threshold of manhood. His were rolled up, maiden-fashion, in a knot upon his head. She had dulled her brilliant complexion by some pigment skilfully applied. His face, pale with misery, needed no counterfeit of art.

Lysis and his wife had gone. By a supreme effort of self-sacrifice they had denied themselves the last miserable solace of a farewell, and were lying side by side, safe for ever from the conqueror's brutality. While Cleanor and his sister waited in the expectation of seeing them, a party of marines entered the room.

"Fasten his hands, Caius," said the sub-officer to one of his men, "and firmly too, for he looks as if he might give us trouble. By Jupiter! a handsome youth! What a gladiator he would make! Why do they kill him in this useless fashion? The girl is your business, Sextus. Be gentle with her, but still be on your guard, for they will sometimes turn. But she looks a poor, spiritless creature."