Now a master may never safely advise a slave. Arrius saw his indiscretion, and, in a breath, chilled his voice and manner.
“Go now,” he said, “and do not build upon what has passed between us. Perhaps I do but play with thee. Or,”- he looked away musingly- “or, if thou dost think of it with any hope, choose between the renown of a gladiator and the service of a soldier. The former may come of the favour of the emperor; there is no reward for thee in the latter. Thou art not a Roman. Go!”
A short while after Ben-Hur was upon his bench again.
A man’s task is always light if his heart is light. Handling the oar did not seem so toilsome to Judah. A hope had come to him, like a singing bird. He could hardly see the visitor or hear its song; that it was there, though, he knew; his feelings told him so. The caution of the tribune- “Perhaps I do but play with thee”- was dismissed often as it recurred to his mind. That he had been called by the great man and asked his story was the bread upon which he fed his hungry spirit. Surely something good would come of it. The light about his bench was clear and bright with promises, and he prayed- “O God! I am a true son of the Israel thou hast so loved! Help me, I pray thee!”
IN the Bay of Antemona, east of Cythera the island, the hundred galleys assembled. There the tribune gave one day to inspection. He sailed then to Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, midway the coasts of Greece and Asia, like a great stone planted in the centre of a highway, from which he could challenge everything that passed; at the same time he would be in position to go after the pirates instantly, whether they were in the AEgean or out on the Mediterranean.
As the fleet, in order, rowed in towards the mountain shores of the island, a galley was descried coming from the north. Arrius went to meet it. She proved to be a transport just from Byzantium, and from her commander he learned the particulars of which he stood in most need.
The pirates were from all the farther shores of the Euxine. Even Tanais, at the mouth of the river which was supposed to feed Palus Maeotis, was represented among them. Their preparations had been with the greatest secrecy. The first known of them was their appearance off the entrance to the Thracian Bosphorus, followed by the destruction of the fleet in station there. Thence to the outlet of the Hellespont everything afloat had fallen their prey. There were quite sixty galleys in the squadron, all well manned and supplied. A few were biremes, the rest stout triremes. A Greek was in command, and the pilots, said to be familiar with all the Eastern seas, were Greek. The plunder had been incalculable. The panic, consequently, was not on the sea alone; cities, with closed gates, sent their people nightly to the walls. Traffic had almost ceased.