Once the usual splashing and ducking were over, they settled down to swim, racing along to where a few timbers were visible from the wreck of a small ship. Philon won easily this time because he was thinking about his work; normally he took care to cut it a little more finely, to at least give Anatolios the possibility of winning. The boy could be annoying, pushy, demanding, and too clever for his own good, yet Philon was fond of him and tried not to beat him soundly every time. But today the horses of the Dioscuri were much on his mind. He had already chosen one of his models, had made a start on carving her, in fact. He had seen her many times, fleet-hoofed, high tailed, flying along the road outside the yard while the rider raised a hand in response to Anatolios’s shout.
“You won!” The panting cry brought him back to the present. Anatolios had caught up. He splashed a couple more ragged strokes to cling to one of the barnacle-dotted timbers. “I’ll do better on the way back.”
“When we’ve got our breath back,” Philon said. Setting his feet down on the gravelly bottom close to the wreck, he ducked under to cool his shoulders before offering Anatolios his hand. “Dive?” he suggested and laughed as his young friend swam close to clamber up his back. Anatolios’s feet slipped on his wet shoulders, tugging his hair. Then the boy caught his balance and stood. Their shadows lay, green and shifting, on the sand beneath the clear water. Anatolios was poised with his arms spread, as though he might take off and fly.
“Horsemen coming!” Anatolios called. He dived from Philon’s shoulders and struck out for the beach.
By the time they were calf deep, the horsemen were close enough for Philon to hear the sharp beat of hooves on wet sand. There were only four of them today instead of the usual band, riding fast and shouting back and forth. The chestnut, bay, gray, and black coats of the horses were darkened with sweat and seawater. Spray flew as one rider took his red-brown mount into the sea.
Anatolios reached to grip Philon’s wrist. “Look,” he said, pointing. “Oh, look.”
Philon grinned at Anatolios’s rapt expression, though he had to admit the picture the horse and rider made as they churned the blue sea to white foam was very appealing. But his attention was drawn by chestnut rather than bay flanks. The mare ran neatly, her chin tucked in and an ear cocked for the word of her lord who leaned forward, shouting to the rider of the gray as the two horses ran shoulder to shoulder. His skin was almost as brown as the mare’s hide, and his pale hair mingled with her mane.
Philon and Anatolios often stood at the side of the yard to watch as the horsemen streamed past. Most of the riders smiled at the boy, probably remembering when they had been as young and as excited by the world, but the man on the chestnut mare always looked beyond Anatolios, and his smile was for Philon.
“Aristion has a new horse,” Anatolios said,drawing Philon’s attention back to the bay and the young man astride it. “Isn’t it big?”
Aristion was Eutychos’s son, an elegant, black-haired youth for whom, Philon suspected, Anatolios had developed a little hero worship. Philon liked him less well, having noted that his well-shaped mouth was more prone to sneer than smile. Eutychos had dropped some broad hints that they were unlikely to do better for a model to stand for the depiction of Apollo, and Nikias had agreed and cursed about it later.
“I think the horse may be of the Thessalian breed,” Philon said, his attention wandering back to the other riders. “I wonder if he can hold it?”
He left Anatolios to watch the bounding progress of Aristion’s bay through the surf and went a little further up the beach, raising a hand to shade his eyes. The rider on the chestnut mare raised his as well, waving. Philon smiled and waved back.
Given an appreciative audience, the horsemen were bound to show off a little. They raced toward Philon almost knee to knee, but parted neatly to pass him by. He turned on his heels to watch them go, but they pulled up, setting their horses to prance. The youth on the black horse made his mount rear, forehooves pawing, his eyes on the brown-bearded man on the gray who laughed and called him to his side. The man on the chestnut laughed too, then trotted the mare back and pulled her up a pace or two away from Philon. He smiled. “Hello, sculptor. A fine day for swimming.”
“Hello, rider,” Philon said. The man was fine-boned and lightweight, but well muscled in his chest and shoulders. On his left thigh was a long, pale pink scar, curving like a smile against the brown skin—a sword cut?—suggesting his horsemanship had been gained on the battlefield rather than just the riding square. The brief exomis he wore was frayed at the edges where the embroidered braid, once expensive, was threadbare, and it had fallen from his shoulder to gather in sodden folds in his lap. The sparse hairs on his chest looked like fine wires of gold.
“A good day for a gallop,” Philon said. “Your mare is beautiful.”
“She is,” the man agreed and gave her a little nudge so she arched her neck, sidling closer. Philon raised his hand to place it on the mare’s glossy hide and stroked down her neck to her shoulder until his hand was an inch or two from the rider’s sweat-sheened thigh.
“Her name is Charis,” the rider said, reaching forward to tug one of her ears.
“Charis,” Philon said. He grinned as the mare turned her head to lip at his chest.
“She won’t bite. She just likes the salt,” the rider assured him. “I know your name too. I asked about the sculptor’s apprentice. I said, ‘No, not the boy. I want to know the name of the youth.’”
The warmth in Philon’s face was suddenly not just due to the sun. “I don’t know who to ask to find out your name,” he admitted.
“You won’t need to ask if I tell you. I’m Hilarion.” Hilarion’s smile was very white, aside from the missing tooth just below the scar at the left side of his lip. He didn’t seem at all self-conscious about either. Philon returned the smile and patted the mare’s neck again in lieu of thinking of something to say.