It was 347 BC and Maya found herself considering her next project. Alexander, now almost 10 years old, was in very good hands with his mother’s priority on education and Aristotle now on his way to help, thanks to some prodding from Plato and Maya.
She could not return to her friend Myrtale, Alexander’s mother. Her agelessness would create uncomfortable questions and possible accusations. She remembered Cyrus, the court of Astyages, and the reports of the incredible lands north of the sea. Then she thought back to Cyrus, with a tear forming, the questions, exploring together, the closest she would come to being a mother for quite some time. She remembered the tales of a growing people’s north and in the islands to the west, and that many Greeks were moving into those islands building farms and trading.
Just moments earlier Plato had agreed that Aristotle would be the best mentor for young Alexander, but in exchange, he said, “Maya, I have a request for you. I have an interest in Sicily I’d like your help with.”
“Yes, I’ve heard good things about the island of Sicily. I’m happy to go there to learn more about what‘s happening in that part of the world, where Greeks are merging with the old Persian settlements and new Romans,” responded Maya, smiling as she glanced just past Plato, looking off into the distance, then raising her hand, slowly, to the side of her forehead.
Plato was absolutely ecstatic with Maya’s response. Dionysius, the ruler of Sicily had recently died and Dionysius close advisor, Dion, was a follower of Plato. Plato was concerned Dionysius’ son would not make an effective leader, so he wanted to send someone to help negotiate the troubled political landscape in Sicily. He had watched this stranger over the last few months work her way into the center of Athenian society controlling each interaction. This was exactly what he needed in Sicily. Little did she know what he was up to.
After talking with Aristotle and Plato, Maya headed back to her business, a merchant trade, goods she received from northern and western Greece in exchange for tents. The relationships with the outer regions from whom she received goods in exchange for tents had been established while she was with Myrtale. Her business was located in the Athens agora. It was time to hand the business off and move to Sicily.
“Selene, I need to talk to you,” said Maya as she walked through the doors into her small warehouse. It was a little building, nondescript, just like the dozens of others on the outskirts of Athens. Inside was a bustle of activity with a couple of people at one end of the building stitching tents, and a few people loading and unloading carts, and a few people opening and unloading the contents of newly arrived packages. There was a large pile of rolls of heavy tarp-like cloth covering about a quarter of the building floor space. That material came from a contact in the north in exchange for wine and olive oil.
Selene grew up in Athens in a prominent family. Selene managed Maya’s affairs. Maya treated Selene like a daughter and respected partner, and Selene in return admired Maya.
“Yes, Maya, what can I do for you?”
“Selene, I’m leaving for Sicily in a few days. I only need enough time to settle my affairs with you. I’m offering to sell this little business to you…, if you’d like. You can send me payment to whatever terms we agree on as you are able. That is…, if you are interested.”
Selene stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Maya and whispered, “Of course I am interested. What an honor.” And then lightly kissed Maya just under her ear.
Selene stepped back, smiling at Maya. Maya said, “Well then, what do you think is a fair price?”
Just then they heard a knock on the open door and both turned to see an old man, Plato.
“Plato, my old friend, and soon to be sponsor, what brings you into the belly of the beast?” said Maya.
“Greetings Selene.” Plato was an old man, in his 80’s, and seemed to know everyone. Nodding to each, Plato continued, “Maya, I wanted to provide you with introductions to Dionysius II in Sicily. I just finished sending him a messenger to inform him of my gift to him, your arrival and consult. He will be waiting for you when you arrive. He will take great care of you. I am very grateful of your assistance. You should enjoy Sicily. It is beautiful!”
“Plato, how generous. I’m looking forward to the adventure,” responded Maya.
As the muscles at the side of his lips created the hint of a crease forming a slight smile, Plato said, “Well then, I’ll be on my way.”
And with that Plato gave a tilt of his head, a nod to each, turned, and slowly walked away. That would be the last time they would see Plato. Maya would learn upon arriving in Sicily that Plato died in his sleep a few days after this little meeting.
A few months later Maya arrived at what today we would call a plantation, a large agricultural estate with a palace at its center off into the distance. The estate was just outside of Syracuse, the home of Dionysius II. Maya rode her horse along the dusty road that led to the palace. There were olive groves and rows and seemingly endless rows of grapes lining each side of the road. The sun was out creating a heat that felt like razors on the skin.
A young 20-year-old field worker looked up and noticed a woman on a horse heading along the road to the palace. He ran ahead and into a barn situated in the middle of the fields where he told his manager. The older man, who had been informed of a pending visitor, turned and started to jog toward the palace.
The grayed hair man arrived at the perimeter of the palace, breathing heavy, soaking wet from sweat, and after a deep, inhale of air said in a loud deep voice as he exhaled, “SHE.” He took another inhale, and exhaled saying, “IS COMING!”
Then he took a few more deep breaths.
Inside the palace a servant was watching and responded, yelling back to the old man who was bent over catching his breath, “efcharisto,” which is to say thank you, and then turned and walked down the hall toward where Dionysius II was talking with his estate manager.
By the time Maya arrived Dionysius II had a servant waiting for her just outside the entrance.
Dionysius II stood watching Maya’s arrival from his library window. At first, all he saw was a figure on a slow-moving horse, but as the blurry image sharpened he could make out Maya’s dark hair, then her olive tanned skin, then the subtleness of the roundness of her cheeks, her nose, and her striking eyes. Dionysius II felt the very air in his lungs empty at the sight of what he thought was the most beautiful woman ever. He thought, “Plato, gift indeed!”
The evening meal was an event, a small party. Dionysius II had his servants and estate workers all present. Everyone was drinking wine, lots of wine. Dionysius II was on what we would call a sofa without a back, leaning on one arm, and one leg resting on the sofa with the other dangling off the side.
Dionysius II had started sipping wine in the late afternoon while directing everyone in preparation for this event. He was now well on his way out of sobriety.
“MAYA!” He yelled.
Maya was about five feet away, talking to one of the servant girls, learning as much as possible about this little troupe and the character of Dionysius II.
Maya said to the servant girl, “Thank you,” then turned to Dionysius II and said in a soft, gentle voice, “I’m right here. Now, what can be so urgent that it had you exclaim my name so loud?”
Dionysius II felt like he had just been corrected by his mother.
In a quieter voice, he replied, “Ah, Maya, I did not see you there. Come, talk with me. I need to learn about you.”
Maya took two steps toward where he was leaning and sat on an adjacent sofa while Dionysius II lifted and sipped from his goblet of wine.
Maya said, “Well, Dionysius, Plato informed me that you would help me establish my residence here in Sicily, a process over which we will establish a long and lasting friendship.”
Dionysius II eyes were getting wet as he began to melt, thinking this beautiful woman would be seen accompanying him to future events.
He replied, “Yes, of course.” And at that instant, he remembered an old Etruscan farm that had been abandoned some years ago with a fantastic view of the coast. It was a ways out next to a small fishing village, but it was perfect. It would take at least a few years to build a suitable villa, acquire the labor and reestablish the fields.
Dionysius continued, leaning toward Maya, whispering toward her hoping she would lean in toward him, “I know the perfect place.”
And then he smiled.